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Tengen Toppa Gurren Solvernia

Chapter Text

Galaxies, some of the most beautiful things in the universe. Stars abound in galaxies as the sand covers a beach, creating a luminous spectacle for anyone see, or at least anyone who has access to an observatory or satellites, or a really big ship.

The spiral shape of a galaxy represents the way galaxies move themselves in the vastness of the space, where there is only black matter. Or does it represent something more? The eternal struggle of life, always striving to survive, evolve and, especially, live. What is the purpose of a life whose only objective is to exist, to consume energy? Where do happiness, beauty, hope, faith and love fit in? There should be something beyond the Beyond, right? Those were the thoughts of a pensive woman who had lost her innocence long ago. However, she dismissed those thoughts when an entire galaxy exploded in front of her ship.

"Shields are going down," a technician called, tapping furiously at his terminal keyboard, "Milady, mirror armor plate is detaching!"

The woman didn't seem bothered.

"We received some hits in blocks 566 through 630!" another one warned in a preoccupied tone. The blast illuminated the area, showing the flag: a red skull, made of flames, with V-shaped shades, over a blank white background.

"Damage?" she asked, with a neutral voice, calmly walking to the front of the bridge. The woman had long blond hair, with shades of light green, and was wearing a bluish cape, with the same symbol as on the flag. Under her cape, she was wearing a black top, baring her midriff, and blue leather pants, with red stripes on the sides. The sound of her heels clacking on the deck cut through the noise of bridge activity.

"Minimal, but our cloaking device is history!"

"Worry not," she replied; she was starting to get excited at the idea of a massive battle. She strode forward and stood next her loyal commander, a man with a white uniform who didn't look quite human, wearing a blue beret and gold glasses. "What's exactly the size of the enemy fleet?"

"Enemy fleet is off the charts!" a female technician replied, looking at the blinking radar.

"So, all the lights in the skies are our enemies now, huh?" she smirked, as she was toying with a golden pendant, shaped like a drill. "Please, let's give them something special. They're worthy opponents, but they aren't aware of who I am! I'll use the fabric of space and time to wring them out of the existence!" She looked at the commander and ordered, "Now!"

"Yes, milady!" The commander lifted his hand and yelled out an order. "Prepare the Maelstrom cannon! Target the great dimension waterfall!" Nobody questioned the order, even if some technicians had concerned looks on their faces. The main technician ordered, "Start the Dark Matter Harvester!"

One dared to mutter under his breath, "Oh, I don't like where this is going..."

"Gurren Solvernia, SPIN ON!" she said, smugly crossing her arms. "Who the hell do you think I am?" Winds lifted her cape and her hair flowed in the breeze, and the giant ship started to transform, cannons started to move, and the giant face in the front started to accumulate energy. It finally fired, and a massive explosion engulfed everything in sight.

TENGEN TOPPA GURREN SOLVERNIA

This is the story of a woman who has yet to realize what her destiny is.

Chapter Text

Digging tunnels, day after day... That's my job, since my parents died. Everyone has their duty, and that's mine, to be part of the digging vanguard. If we dig deeper and deeper, the village can expand, and this makes the chief happy. Sometimes he gives us pig-mole steaks if he's happy. But I don't dig only for the steaks. There should be more to life than digging for steaks, even if our job is important. The village must expand because, at any moment, an earthquake could make the ceiling fall on top of us. That's a fact of life, if the ceiling falls then everyone dies... just like my parents. A bald wise man said it was seven years ago, but nobody but him seems to bother with time, since day after day it's the same routine for everyone. That's why I dig to find other things, treasures. They're very rare but if I look carefully I can find some really neat stuff.

Day after day, diggers from Jiha Village dug their way through the soil, and among them was a girl named Nia Jiha. Not that last names mattered, since everyone got their last name from the village's name anyway, and everyone called her Nia the Digger in any case. Nia was a thin, light-skinned young girl, with solemn blue eyes and unusual golden hair. Her hair used to be longer, but she was forced to cut it because it was hard to keep long hair in the small, dirty tunnels, and now she had a very short hair, not even covering her neck. She wore a dirty brown cloak over her sarashi, and a brown and dirty skirt and shoes (brown was the most common color in the village), and other than that she only wore her illumination goggles, necessary to work in the dark. In spite of her apparently frail physique, she was one of the best diggers of her village, which was quite a feat, since she was the only girl in the vanguard group.

The diggers were divided into three groups: vanguard, construction and cleaners. The cleaners had the duty of cleaning the way after the vanguard and construction groups did their jobs; the construction took care of working the way dug by the vanguard to build new homesteads and other installations, and the vanguard had the most dangerous duty, to open the way for the expansion by digging forward. Most of the vanguard group was made up of orphaned kids, because it wasn't uncommon to lose a vanguard member to earthquakes and landfalls, so the chief decided that, to lessen the grief, it was better to put orphaned kids in the vanguard, so fewer people would mourn for them. The pessimists said those kids were lucky, because if they died early, they wouldn't have to endure the harsh way of underground life for too long. The life expectancy really wasn't so great either way; the wise bald man calculated that the average person lived 45 of those 'years', and then died.

But, obviously, this wasn't in Nia's plans. In spite of her hardly promising prospects for the future, she wanted to make something more of her life than living and dying underground (and she had friends that thought the same way). Even knowing of the dangers of her duty, she dug 'extra-official' tunnels, looking for treasures. Pretty, shiny stones, bits of scraps, even strange things that she couldn't identify, but we would call 'forks', 'spoons', 'combs' and other stuff. She just kept them, but one thing that always called her attention was a box. It was a small white rectangular box that, whenever Nia opened it, would play a calm and soothing melody (if she knew how to read, she would know that the music was composed by someone named Tchaikovsky, as indicated on the bottom of the box. It was a miracle that it still worked). This was her secret, not because of egoism or vanity, but just the pleasure of having something that only she knew and could show to her true friends.

Speaking of secrets and treasures, while she was digging, she found a new one. She could feel when her drill stumbled upon something different than soil. She marked the spot where the soil was different and took off the dirt. When she rubbed off the remaining dirt, she stared at her new treasure: it was a tiny golden drill, with some kind of hilt. The part that really called her attention was that the drill was glowing, blinking a faint green. Beautiful, she thought as smiled, amazed with the mini-drill.

She turned back towards the village and dug back to the tunnel's entrance, popping out from the soil. The chief, a corpulent and rather unpleasant man, who was supervising some construction members doing their job, saw Nia coming out and yelled at them. "Why can't you dig like her, you losers? And she's just a girl!" he said, trying to encourage them to work harder, waving his sheathed katana like it was a whip, whacking the air. Only the chief could wield the Ancestral Sword, as it was called, a true relic that nobody, not even the wise bald man knew anything about. Just seeing a chief with the Ancestral Sword was enough to instill respectful fear in anyone, but the current one didn't think it was enough.

Nia didn't bother. After she 'sheathed' her drill, she picked a piece of string out of her pocket and tied it with the mini-drill. She quickly transformed the glowing artifact into a necklace, and smiled, proud of her work. She didn't notice when she came across the popular girls, who had come to get some water at the central pool. They were the queen bees of the village, thinking they were above the less popular kids, who were their favorite targets for scathing insults. That moment, their target was Nia; she could see and hear them.

"Ew! It's Nia the Digger!" one of them said in a mocking voice.

"I don't get it!" the other added with a conceited grin, "What's the fun of getting covered by dirt everyday?" All this just because they were allowed to wash more often, although to be fair Nia really was covered in dirt, the only clean area being the ring around her eyes where her goggles rested.

Nia opened her mouth to respond, but she was interrupted when one of them placed her palm in front of Nia's face before she could say anything.

"Please, spare us from your annoying voice," the girl said snidely.

"As if it weren't enough, she's so gross!"

"And smells!"

"I don't know why the hottest hunk in the village allows her to hang out with him."

"That's rich, she's so naïve!"

"Silly flat-chested girl..."

"She doesn't have what a woman needs to make Kamina happy!"

They turned to leave, still throwing insults and cackling malevolently. "Let's go, before we get digger germs!" they shot back as they left, and Nia was left humiliated. Nia had nothing to do but walk away in the other direction, head down and spirits lower. She didn't look where she was going and soon stumbled upon someone.

"Walk with your head held high, Nia!" that someone called out.

She lifted her head and blurted his name.

"Kamina?"

Kamina was Nia's best friend and a kind of mentor to her. His most distinguishable characteristics were his orange glasses, which had a unique shape and also were the last thing his father left to him, his tattoos, that nobody in Jiha Village knew where he'd gotten them, and that his completely lack of a shirt or other similar piece of apparel, only his sarashi and pants. He was (according to the bald man's reckoning) two years Nia's senior.

"Don't call me Kamina," he said, lifting his glasses, voice echoing with confidence. "Call me Bro!"

"Well, I..." Her words failed her. Since she was orphan, she didn't have a family, so it was kind of hard for her to call someone family. That's what she said, but, in fact, she had a little crush on him, which explained why she didn't like to call him 'Bro' much. It was quite understandable, since all the girls in the village had a crush on Kamina. But for Nia it was different; she had been with Kamina since her parents died. He had been the pillar supporting her life all that time, and she had always hoped to marry him when she came of age.

Feeling her lack of confidence rising, he tapped her back and said, "It's okay, Nia, we're soul brothers! You're my soul sister, I mean. We're siblings of the spirit! Don't worry about what those vain, fugly chicks say, I'm happy to hang out with you!" His words reassured her. One of Kamina's other traits was his complete obliviousness to the girls' crushes, even when they proposed to him. All he thought and talked about was the surface he had supposedly seen, leading to many people regarding him as a kind of eccentric. Nia just giggled, holding both hands together, feeling more confident now. Her usual cheer showed through. No matter what the queen bees said, everyone was in agreement that Nia's smile could light the village during lights-out hours, though her joy was usually tempered by sensibility and a tendency to easily become concerned for others.

Kamina noticed Nia's new necklace, taking it between his thumb and forefinger and examining the tiny drill. He gave his verdict.

"This looks pretty good on you, sis!"

And with one swing he placed her drill-necklace over her neck, "Drills are your soul! Now, come with me! Are you pondering what I'm pondering?"

"It's another of your plans?" Nia said, curious. She liked to participate in Kamina's schemes, even though they were often crazy and always failures.

She heard someone breaking the lock of pig-mole pen as they approached it. It was Kamina's other friends, three guys, members of Team Gurren as Kamina called it.

"Gentlemen, sorry for the delay," Kamina announced, pushing Nia along, "Is everything ready?"

"Yeah!" they answered together, one of them giving a thumbs-up.

"Listen up, Nia!" Kamina commanded, pointing to her drill. "You're the best digger in the entire village! The chief gave you this drill so it's not his anymore. It's your drill now! Heck, it's who are you now! You are the drill!" Nia stared, listening attentively, but the last part made her weirdness sense tingle. Kamina dramatically lifted his hand, pointing to the ceiling. "Yours is the drill that will break through the vault of heaven!" Nia had been hearing those words since she was seven years old, and every time she heard them she remembered the first time they had been spoken.

|T|T|G|S|

It was two days after Nia's parents were buried in the burial grounds, in the farthest area from the center of the village. Nia had stopped crying, but she was still immobilized by grief. No family, no siblings, nobody to take care of her. She was sitting on a rock, downcast, when the chief approached her.

"Nia, from now on you're going to be known as Nia the Digger, newest member of the vanguard," he said, throwing her a portable drill and illumination goggles.

"But I don't know if I can..." she replied, not looking to him, voice flat.

"You'll learn fast, it's easy! You start tomorrow!"

Nia grabbed the drill and looked at the artifact, sorrow flooding her heart. She didn't know what expect from the future; after all, her parents were dead, and she could just as easily join them. Nia just stood there, crying and hiccupping.

"Don't cry!" a boy called out. It was Kamina. He also had just lost his father, not so long ago, and since that age he had always worn his trademark glasses. The chief mumbled something about him being a storyteller and went away.

"Why, Kamina?" She still didn't look at him.

"Because I know that your parents won't come back, but I know that they'd want you head towards tomorrow." She stopped to hiccup and lifted her head, as the boy gradually raised his voice, while making dramatic gestures to emphasize his point of view, "I know that above the ceiling there's a surface and with that drill," he pointed to her drill, "you can pierce the heavens themselves! That's the tomorrow we must head to!" He raised his arm and pointed to the ceiling.

"But how?" she asked, still hurt inside, but feeling something different from sorrow inside her.

"Because you're going to be best digger this village ever had!"

"Are you sure?"

"Of course, because I believe in you! Believe in the Kamina who believes in you!"

Kamina's words had instilled a new attitude in her heart. In spite of everything, her parents always taught her to be positive, and now was the time. All she needed was someone to believe in her. Nia got up, and said, weakly:

"Thank you."

|T|T|G|S|

"So this is the time," Nia said.

"Of course!"

"What am I supposed to do?"

"I have it all figured out, don't ask for a reason!"

Ten minutes later, the central pool was being raided by stampede of pig-moles. The big, wooly creatures ran through the village, passing over everything on their way (even the queen bees), with the five members of Team Gurren mounted on their tops. Everyone was panicking and struggling to not let go, but Kamina seemed to enjoy the situation.

"Yahoo! Step away, Team Gurren coming through!"

"We're climbing!" Nia yelled when the group of pig-moles divided, running up opposite sides of the chamber.

"Listen up, Nia!" Kamina called her attention, and pointing to the roof. "We're gonna use your drill to bust through the ceiling, you dig, and then... SURFACE!"

"That's your craziest plan yet!"

"You can do it!" At that moment, Boota appeared. He was a tiny pig-mole and Nia's pet. He had clearly hitched a ride on one of the larger moles and somehow made his way to her. This obviously surprised the girl, but then she realized that Boota likely didn't want to be left behind.

They saw the second group coming from the other side, and, when they collided, they created a stair. When the pigs crashed with each other, they climbed each other, in a brown and furred spiral, rising to the ceiling.

"Fly, piggies!" Kamina yelled, seeing that his plan was going smoothly.

But, before they could reach the canopy, the chief appeared in the highest pathway, holding the Ancestral Sword and yelling "Kamina, you again!"

"How did he get there so fast?" Nia asked, holding tightly to the pig-mole.

"Step aside!" Kamina yelled, waving his arms in an attempt to convey this message to the chief. His efforts were in vain; the chief hit the lead pig-mole and the stair instantaneously collapsed, dropping all of them into the central pool.

Moments later, the chief was scolding the soaked Team Gurren. The entire village looked on.

"Once again I find myself lecturing you. Don't you get it? This 'surface' of yours doesn't exist!"

"Like hell it does!" Kamina replied defiantly. "I've seen it with my own eyes! There's no walls or ceiling! Only a clean blue sky!"

"A liar's son is a liar too." The chief butted heads with him, glaring hate straight into his eyes. "Kami did nothing but fill your head of crap. And what happened to him? He's dead! Buried under a pile of rocks somewhere!"

"You're wrong!" Kamina replied, "My dad is on the surface! I was there with him!"

"Then what are you doing here, smart guy? You're not good enough to go the surface?"

Kamina growled, but didn't reply.

"You have to understand that this village is everything we have! For untold generations, we've been warned not to open the canopy! That's the rule and whoever doesn't obey the rules doesn't eat, understand? Into the stockade with you, without food!"

Upon hearing this, the other members of Team Gurren save Nia immediately panicked and threw themselves down on the ground. "We're sorry, sir!" they begged.

"You backstabbers!" Kamina screamed, indignant. He seethed in rage as the chief slowly released the other three, deliberately feeding Kamina's anger, smirking all the time.

"Sorry, Bro," one of them apologized, embarrassed like the others.

"Staying without food is an extremely harsh punishment," another added. This was a truthful fact; the food was rationed and distributed only once a day.

"Swallow your pride and apologize too, Bro..." the last one said.

Kamina only turned his head and glared daggers at them. "You don't have the right to call me Bro!" he hissed. The others panicked, again. "I don't ever wanna be called Bro by the likes of you three."

"The bonds of loyalty don't run too deep in this Gurren team of yours," the chief remarked, amused. He was also freeing Nia. The girl didn't say a word, only looked down, with a long face. She didn't like being scolded, since she always did her best not to do anything wrong.

"Nia you can go too. It's not your fault, and besides you have an important job in Jiha Village, the best vanguard digger, unlike that idiot."

"But I..." she said, weakly, inclining her head.

"Go ahead!" Kamina interrupted, still irritated but pensive. It was okay that the plan failed, it wasn't the first time, but being betrayed so easily by his so-called friends… that was something he hadn't taken in consideration. But now he knew he would face punishment and Nia's welfare was the only thing that mattered now.

"Huh?" asked Nia.

"Don't worry, I'll be fine."

Suddenly the entire village was hit by a massive tremor.

"It's an earthquake!" someone yelled. The chief ordered everyone to take cover. The village suddenly became complete chaos, with everyone trying to protect themselves. Somebody was yelling that "The sky is falling! I told you this day'd come! The sky is falling!" Only Nia and Kamina stood still, in the middle of the village.

"Kamina, let's get out of here!" Nia said, grabbing his arm, "Kamina!" she tried to drag him but he wouldn't move.

Without looking at her, he said, "I don't run from anything!"

Nia didn't understand. "Please," she begged, and she gave him a very concerned look, on the verge of tears, "If we don't go, we're going to get crushed!"

"Oh," he breathed, and looked at her. "I forgot what happened to you." He smiled and hugged her. "Sorry, sis. Don't worry, it's stopping." Nia felt more confident, her fear dissipating. She sighed in relief.

When the tremors stopped, Kamina took the advantage to talk to the people. "Are you gonna keep living in fear of earthquakes day after day?" he yelled. "On the surface there ain't no ceiling!"

This obviously angered the chief. "When are you going to give it up? I didn't look after you orphaned kids out of the goodness of my heart! It's because I am the chief! And I have to look out for the welfare of everyone, by all means necessary and if you don't want to abide the rules, there ain't no place for you here!" When the chief finished, he was breathing heavily. He wasn't very popular with the villagers, and this surely didn't help to boost his popularity. "Take him to the stockade," he ordered two men in whom he had confidence. "Without food!"

As they took Kamina, Nia just stood still, helpless. He then looked back and gave a smile to her. She, for some reason, felt guilty about Kamina's incarceration. Then the chief interrupted her thoughts. "Nia, finish your shift," he ordered. "Work helps to forget, ignore him." She nodded and went back to the digging area.

"Are you sure this is going to work?" the wise bald man, Hagatama, asked the chief rhetorically. He went to see the situation. Being one of the eldest members of the village, he was also one of the most experienced and acted like a teacher to the kids.

"Don't tell me you believe his blabber." The chief glanced at him, annoyed, but trying to be respectful.

"You cannot impede determined people when they set their mind to something. In my experience, I see that it is part of the human nature seek new things, to break free from the routine. Kamina's father was quite an example, and he inherited this characteristic."

"Who cares? As long as they keep their lives being the same, everything's gonna be alright, we don't have to care about what's beyond that canopy."

"Our only problems are the earthquakes, beside that we are accustomed to living underground. We are so used to it that it has become weirdly comfortable. But it seems that people are willing to give up comfort to have a chance to break free from their ignorance."

"Ignorance is bliss and power, if we avoid creating more people like Kamina we won't have anything to worry about."

"I do not know if that is actually possible, the human instinct is quite mysterious..."

"Think whatever you want, just don't teach the kids this stuff!" The chief stalked off in a huff. The wise bald man just shook his head and sighed.

Elsewhere, at the digging site, Nia was talking to Boota before she resumed her work. "Boota, I can't stop thinking about Kamina," she said as she caressed his back. She had taken care of Boota since she was 10, when she adopted him. His natural mother had rejected him and so Nia had become his mother, sort of, giving him food and shelter. One curious thing was that Boota never grew. The biggest pig-mole ever recorded in the village had weighed almost 450 kilograms (or almost 1000 pounds), but Boota never surpassed a certain size, a bit bigger than the palm of Nia's hand.

"Buu, buu," he replied, purring in delight.

"So, I need to ask you a favor: go see if he's alright and, if possible, bring him some food." Nia let Boota down on the ground and giggled. The tiny pig-mole nodded and ran to see Kamina. Nia grabbed her drill and mused, "Well, it's three hours 'till the sleep time, but I can finish way before, which gives me enough time to do my own thing." She set her drill into the earth and started to dig.

Hours passed, and once Nia finished digging for the village, she dug for herself. The deeper she dug, the warmer the soil became. In curiosity, she decided the follow the heat, digging her way through. She dug down, finding nothing but soft soil in her way. She was starting to wonder how far she would have to dig she finally stuck something different. It was harder than rock and was glowing, like the mini-drill of her necklace; actually, it was blinking in time with her necklace. She dug around to take out the soil surrounding the object; when she finished, she saw it was a face, a big face, red and white. The face didn't show any discernible expression, only idleness, however the details were well-crafted, and she could clearly see the lines of expression as if it weren't metal; there was a circular cavity in the forehead. I must tell him! she thought and smiled.

She went directly to the stockade, since she knew how to go to any place in the village by digging. She even managed to surface right underneath Kamina, popping out of the dirt with an excited "Kamina!"

"Nia?" he said, surprised with Nia's sudden appearance, completely ignoring the awkward positioning of her drill right in the middle of his lap. "What's up?"

"You're not gonna believe what I discovered. You have to see it!"

"Really?" he said, a bit drowsy. "Uh, that would be jailbreak, but who cares?" He flexed his arms and snapped the rope shackles that were holding him.

Nia lead Kamina to the digging area, since it would be difficult for him to go out the way she came in due to his size. During their walk, Nia apologized for her sudden appearance, because she was so thrilled with discovery that she hadn't thought about the time. Kamina made an offhanded comment about the chief getting mad, but it was clear that he didn't care.

"So, what could be so important to make me bust out of jail to see?"

"It's a face!" Nia said, with an overjoyed voice, echoing through the empty village. She would regret that lapse later "It's an awesome, humongous face!"

Suddenly, they were illuminated by spotlights manned by the chief's new helpers, the other three (former) members of Team Gurren. They had to cover their eyes from the light, but they could hear the chief's voice and he wasn't amused. They had both forgotten that the chief stood guard during sleeping hours.

"Kamina! Nia! You two are in serious trouble!"

"Nia, is this the humongous face you were talking about?" Kamina deadpanned once his eyes were used to the light. Nia just shook her head nervously. She was busted.

"Breaking out of jail is a serious crime!" yelled the chief. He turned to Nia. "And don't think I'm not aware of your extra tunnels you've been digging in secret!" She was even more busted.

Kamina stepped in front of her, lifting his arms horizontally, trying to acquit her. "Leave her alone! She hasn't doing anything wrong, it's my fault!"

Again the chief glared at him, smashing his big forehead against his, "Oh, I know how much you're guilty! Corrupting the minds of the kids with this surface-talk, refusing to abide the rules, just like your father! It's time to teach you a lesson you'll never forget!" And he hit him with the Ancestral Sword. In spite of the hard hit, Kamina didn't flinch or even blink. His defiance angered the chief even more. Judging by the look in his eyes, anyone could see that the thought of unsheathing the sword passed his mind, an easy way to finish his problems, but he chose to not do this, and hit Kamina again. Again, he didn't flinch, but Nia noticed he moved his lips a bit, indicating that he was enduring the pain. When the chief lifted his sword to hit him again, Nia gasped and placed herself in front of him, crying, "Please, stop!"

It was too late. The chief accidentally hit her on the top her head. Everyone was appalled by his attitude. Nia, feeling the pain, fell to her knees, putting her hands to her head and sobbing quietly. Kamina forgot the chief and leaned down, trying to console her, massaging her head. "Nia, are you alright? It will pass soon..."

The chief's anger become remorse, and he muttered, "That's gonna leave a mark."

"And do you know what mark is?" Hagatama showed up, having seen everything. "The mark of pain. Our village is a community, everyone knows everyone, and so if one suffers, the entire village also suffers with her. No matter how much we try to counter Kamina's desire to go to the surface, he set his mind to go to the surface, and it is better we finally show him the way his father used to go. I do not want to see anyone hurt anymore."

"Wait, bald man," Kamina said, as he helped Nia to get up. She got to her feet, though her eyes were still watered. "How do you know?"

"And you're saying that the surface is real?" the chief asked, agape.

"You never paid attention to the last instructions of my brother," reprimanded Hagatama. He turned to Kamina. "Your father was treated like a ruffian and eccentric, just like you, when my brother was the chief, and he let him go, showing him the air ducts that link us to the surface. I think you were too young to remember the way."

"And why you didn't tell me before?" he said, with a mix of surprise and indignation.

"Kamina, think for a moment," the wise bald man said, calmly. "Do you not think our ancestors had a good reason to tell us to never open the canopy? Do you not think there are dangers beyond our imagination above the ceiling? Before you go I must ask you: are you aware that this decision may lead to your death?"

"Yes, I am," he said, proud of his own answer, ready to go to the surface at any cost. "A true man must be responsible for his own actions, and face its consequences with manliness!"

"Very well, I will show you the way tomorrow. In the meantime, get some sleep. It's been a long night."

"But I wanna see the surface now!" whined Kamina. He was so eager to go to the surface that he ignored Hagatama's wise advice, in a rather contrasting manner with his last declaration. On the other hand, the tattooed youngster should have chosen his words better. Another earthquake started, waking up the entire village, and once again everyone was running and screaming to find shelter. This time it was a really strong earthquake; they stared in shock when the ceiling started to crack and finally broke open entirely. Beams of sunlight descended upon the village, as dust and rocks fell from the opening in the canopy.

"I see the light," one villager yelled, "And it burns!"

"The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" somebody yelled.

"It's the surface!" the chief screamed in shock.

"There's something more falling!"

What seemed to be a big boulder also came from the opening, falling in the middle of the central pool. When the dust cleared, they saw a white, giant face. It was a frightening view, because the face had lots and lots of teeth, forming a malevolent and creepy grin; it had big and menacing yellow eyes, which glowed out from under a pair of horns. In its hand it was holding a big club.

"So, Nia, this humongous face you wanted to show me..." Kamina said, pulling his glasses down over his eyes. Nia, the chief and the wise bald man were all quivering in terror.

"IS THIS?"

Chapter Text

The dust cleared, revealing the giant enemy face. The first immediate response was panic, which was understandable because the monster looked like something straight out of legends used to scare children. The face let out a cry of "YAAAAAARGH!" and stretched its arms wide, raising another cloud of dust. Everyone was frightened, yelling "IT'S A MONSTER!" and running for cover, everyone but Kamina.

"Look up there! That's the surface!" Kamina didn't budge from his position right in front of the face, finger pointed to the sky, face lit up in excitement. "Just as I told you! This big mug fell from the surface!" He didn't seem to notice the face-monster at all. "Ain't that right, Mr. Chief?"

The face-monster was struggling to move its foot; it seemed to be stuck in the pool. With a roar it pulled it free, sending a wave crashing out to soak the surroundings of the pool.

"If Kamina is afraid," Hagatama said, almost peeing his pants, "he can hide it very well."

"What are you waiting for, Mr. Chief?" Kamina teased, now thoroughly in control of the situation. "I thought it was your duty to protect the village." The chief was too shocked by recent events to listen, but Kamina went right on talking.

"Gosh, it's hard to tell which of us is the liar now, ain't it?" Kamina leaned forward and snatched the Ancestral Sword right out of the chief's quivering hands, spun it around in the air, and finally brought it down to rest on his shoulder.

"Bro, let's get out, this way!" Nia cried, motioning to the panicked crowd that was fleeing for the relative safety of the excavation site. In complete obliviousness, Kamina went in the opposite direction, right towards the monster face, grinning all the way. Nia tried to call him to his senses, but it didn't work; Kamina was hell-bent on facing down the monster.

"OI OI OI OI OI!" bellowed Kamina. "You've got guts to come to my village like this, you and your big ugly mug of yours, know that?" Nia was on the verge of fainting in terror and worry, but Kamina didn't move an inch. "But that ends here! I won't let you destroy the houses of my fellow villagers!"

The face then decided to talk. "Well…" it said, in a deep and resounding voice, moving its enormous teeth. "Who the hell are you?"

"It talked!" Nia was surprised and even more frightened that the monster face could talk. Kamina was only amused.

"Now that you can talk back, I have something to say to you, so you better listen real close!"

He pointed to the sky and raised his voice.

"The reputation of Team Gurren echoes far wide in Jiha Village! When they talk about their badass leader, the man of indomitable spirit, the paragon of masculinity..."

As he talked, he unsheathed the Ancestral Sword, throwing the sheath to Nia, and pointed its tip at the monster. He stared down the blade at the foreign beast, his glasses flashing.

"...They're talking about me, the MIGHTY KAMINA!"

The remaining villagers only sighed and rolled their eyes, but Nia was truly inspired by her brother's eloquent words, feeling the fear and anxiety seeping away as she smiled a smile of hope. Her big brother would protect her and the village!

"You are a simple, big-mouthed human," the monster face replied. "What can you possibly hope to do against me with that tiny thing?"

"All you have is a big stick," retorted Kamina as he swirled the Ancestral Sword in the air. "But my true weapon is the manly spirit coming from my heart, and nothing can withstand the burning passion of a true man!"

"Enough of your blabbery!" the monster face cried. It lifted its arm, intending to crush Kamina. Kamina didn't move, but Nia started to worry for his safety, her small figure trembling. At that moment, they heard a weird noise coming from the surface, and the giant face limped, jerking to the right, slamming onto a wall. They looked up and saw someone shooting at the monster. It was a girl, sliding down a rope, holding a really big gun. To the villagers, it looked like some kind of magic spear that hurled pieces of light at the giant face.

The girl swung down and landed right in front of Kamina. Kamina was very interested in the girl, and to be fair, she was really quite attractive. Her long red hair looked so natural when the surface breeze passed through it, and her peach skin looked so tender and soft. She was wearing a bikini adorned with flames and long pink stockings under a very short pair of black sorts, and a white scarf around her neck. She looked around at them all through her yellow-tinted goggles, and her mouth opened to speak.

"What are you doing here?" she yelled in a frustrated and decidedly un-ladylike manner. "Get back!"

Kamina for once forgot the monster and whistled, feeling his heart pounding. "Something else from the surface?"

"It's a girl, this time," Nia remarked, glancing at Kamina, curious, and a little uncertain of how to judge his reaction.

The surface girl kept shooting at the monster, and finally made him kneel to the ground. She reloaded her rifle and ran to circle him, warning, "I only knocked it on its backside. It'll get up soon."

Kamina ran next to her, casually holding his sword behind his back, and asked, "Hey,baby, how ya' doing? You're having problems with that thing? Let me help you!" She looked awkwardly to him and said, "What? What are you thinking about?"

"I saw you," he said, after they got behind some cover, behind a partially demolished wall. "You came from the surface, right?"

"Pretty much." She was much more concerned with the monster than small talk with a guy she barely knew.

"That's awesome," he exclaimed. He stopped to give her another once-over, and shortly after his gaze was drawn to her weapon. "So, that's a weapon they use on the surface, huh?"

"Not exactly, but something like that."

"Damn, you surface chicks are pretty hot! A breed apart!"

She looked flustered now that Kamina was openly trying to hit on her and raised her voice. "Do I need to tell you again to run? Do you have a death wish?" Kamina himself was a breed apart, though in much different ways.

The shadow of the monster covered them his club slammed down. With their attentions diverted they did not notice, and thus were consequently turned into pancakes by the monster's baton.

...Or, at least, this is what would have happened, if Nia hadn't dug a tunnel under them. They fell in as the baton came crashing down, and were saved.

"Thanks, Nia!" Kamina said. "Nice save!"

"Hurry, this way!" Nia ordered them, going through the tunnel. "Boota, you too!" The tiny pig-mole jumped onto her shoulder. They both followed the little digger down the tunnel.

As they crawled, the surface girl asked, "Where am I?"

"Jiha Village." Kamina replied, behind her.

"Oh, this is the pit next door?"

"What?"

"I'm from Littner Village, the pit next to this."

"What the hell? You said you're from the surface! What's this about a pit?"

"I came to surface just now, but I hail from Littner."

"Geez, you're a pit chick?" Not quite understanding her situation, Kamina was a bit disappointed and demonstrated it by telling her to "Move it, thunder thighs!"

"Are you calling me fat?" She blushed, embarrassed. "What's your problem?" He ignored her and kept crawling, following Nia. Yoko shook her head and opted to let it pass for now. She continued following them.

"Where are we going?" the surface girl asked.

"To the face, that's the only thing I can think now."

"You mean a ganmen?"

"What's a ganmen?"

"That thing we were fighting earlier, that was a ganmen." While they crawled along in the tunnels, the ganmen had continued its efforts to stand, and was thrashing about like a crazed animal. At the very least, the surface girl's efforts had ensured that it was too distracted to attack any of the villagers. They were hiding and hoping that the monster wouldn't notice them.

"Here!" Nia turned on her goggles' illumination beams, lighting the area. Before them rested the giant face she had found earlier.

"This is it?" Kamina asked, amused. "The face you wanted to show me?" Nia giggled and nodded. Kamina patted her head. "Two awesome things in one day, that's terrific, sis!" he declared. She blushed at the praise.

"But it looks like a ganmen," the surface girl said, her face showing a misture of skepticism and concern. "It might be a friend of that other ganmen…"

"It's smaller than the thing that's attacking our village," Kamina said, trying to look smart. "Besides, I like this one!"

Nia hopped onto the minature ganmen. "I think it can be driven or something!" she exclaimed.

"But how?" the surface girl asked, skeptical again. "It has no controls, or a steering wheel."

"Bro, I think you can use this thing to take out that ganmen above us!" Nia said.

"That's what I'm talking about! Let's get rolling!" He tapped his chin in thought. "But, first, we gotta figure out how to pilot it."

"No problem, with you piloting we-"

"No," Kamina interrupted her. "You pilot it, Nia." Nia was stunned. Her Bro was braver and stronger than her in every way. The outcome should be obvious.

Kamina saw her face and explained his reasoning. "It was you who dug up this, therefore you must pilot it! It belongs to you."

"But, please Bro, you're…"

"You think the great Kamina could steal stuff from his blood sister? What kind of person do you think you're dealing with?" The surface girl stared, helpless before Kamina's supreme idiocy. There's a ganmen destroying their village! she thought in exasperation. It's not the time for discussing who should pilot it or not!

Nia looked down and to the side, her self-doubt rising. "Bro, I'm not a fighter, I can't do that..."

"Nia, look into my eyes!" Kamina ordered, grinning and raising his fist. She lifted her head and he looked into her eyes.

"Remember our motto: kick away the logic and make the impossible possible!" he told her. "That's the way Team Gurren rolls!"

"But I…"

"Remember when you doubted if you could be a digger?" The little digger kept staring at him. "Now, you're the best digger this village ever had! Don't doubt yourself now; I know you can do it! Believe in ME!" he pointed his thumb to himself, "Believe in the Kamina who believes in you!"

"What's that supposed to mean?" the surface girl asked, concerned with his the sanity of his words. There was another tremor, and dust fell round them. The white ganmen was pounding everything in sight, trying to find the insolent humans who challenged him.

"Believe…" Nia muttered, almost whispering. The drill on her necklace started to glow, and in response, the eyes of the mecha glowed as well. Kamina and the surface girl took their seats beside her, at her left and right respectively. There were two white joysticks, one on either side, and Nia grabbed them in a spark of intuition. Her slender fingers squeezed around them. The screen in the middle of the panel started to spin, lighting up in the shape of a spiral, the same shape as the galaxies full of stars that she had yet to see. Boota popped out of her cloak and snagged the drill on her necklace, calling her attention to it. She saw its glow and understood that the mini-drill was designed to start up the machine, and with trembling fingers she placed the drill into the similarly sized hole at the center.

"It's your time, Nia!" Kamina encouraged her. She nodded, acknowledging his words, realizing that Yoko was also smiling in support. Feeling fate itself flowing around her, she firmed her grip on the key and gave it a firm twist.

The gauge started to fill quickly; it was like she could feel the mini-ganmen's power flowing through her body. The machine opened its eyes and pure energy blasted from its eyes and mouth. The machine woke from its idle repose, arms and legs popping out of its hull, jet booster firing on its back. It rocketed towards the surface at an incredible speed; they had to hold tightly to not fall, screaming all the way.

On the surface the white ganmen felt a tremor underneath itself. It stopped its relentless pounding for a moment, wondering what could possibly be causing such tremors, other than itself. As it pondered this, the mini-ganmen exploded from the ground, raising yet another cloud of dust.

"What is this? A miniature ganmen?" the white ganmen blurted, surprised. He barely had time to react, but this was hardly a problem because Nia still hadn't mastered the controls, and the ganmen flew uncontrollably through the village.

"Too much power!" Nia grunted, feeling for the first time the harsh power of the G-forces and trying to make the mini-ganmen stop. She pulled back on the controls, trying with all her effort to slow down the ganmen. In desperation she thought Please, stop! with all her might. Much to her surprise, the mini-ganmen reduced its speed and graciously landed on the ground.

"Phew! What kind of ganmen is this?" the surface girl commented, taking a breath.

"Very well, Nia!" Kamina said, "You've mastered the power of Solvernia! Now the big mug doesn't stand a chance against us!"

"What's Solvernia?" the surface girl asked.

"This fella's name. I just came up with it," Kamina replied, patting the mini-ganmen. "Nia is always at my side and I'm always at hers, so I thought it'd be a good name."

"Logic isn't your forte, huh?" the surface girl responded sarcastically.

"What? Where the hell did you get that thing?" white ganmen asked, confused. Then its face darkened, and it loomed menacingly. "Well, it doesn't matter, because no human can ever be allowed to pilot a ganmen!"

"Wait!" Nia interjected. She gathered all her courage and continued. "Why are you destroying our village? Please, can't we live in peace?"

"Peace? With humans?" The white ganmen cackled long and hard, even sitting back on the ground to catch its breath.

"What are you doing?" asked the surface girl irritably. "They're our enemies! There's no point arguing with them!"

In reality, Nia hadn't been lying when she said she wasn't a fighter. She wasn't suited for battle, and couldn't comprehend the drive that drove others to fight. Despite the ganmen's mocking laughter, she still believed that the situation could be solved through diplomacy.

When the ganmen stopped to laugh, it was only to mock her naïve question. "Oh, look, I'm the bad guy who is destroying the village! Hahaha! That's funny!" He pointed his club at her, "You humans are nothing but a plague that infests the surface, and it's our job to keep you underground! This village has become a threat to our king and must be erased from existence!"

"But why? There's no reason to fight now!" Nia protested, raising her voice.

"You're even dumber than your big-mouthed friend! You're gonna die!"

Nia wa completely clueless. She could not understand why the ganmen was trying to hurt them, and it made no sense that it would not have any reason to. This didn't go unnoticed by Kamina. He raised his fist and yelled angrily, "Real men have honor! They fight to protect the innocents and you," he pointed his index finger, "you don't have the right to mock my little sister, you big mug! You refused her offer of peace and now you will feel the justice of Solvernia! Nia, give him what he deserves!"

"You will be the first to die!" yelled the enemy ganmen. It attacked, swinging its club down at them. Nia grabbed the controls and the Solvernia dodged, jumping away with springs that sprouted from its legs.

"Nia! Don't run away!" Kamina ordered, as everyone clung to Solvernia. The white ganmen swiped at them, almost hitting them with its club.

"But he's too strong!" Nia replied. "We can't just attack it!" She didn't get any time to think, however, because the white ganmen managed to hit her, a direct hit ato Solvernia's face. They screamed in fear and helplessness as Solvernia hurtled towards the wall. Nia tried to move the joysticks to regain Solvernia's control and, before they hit the wall, she managed to turn the Solvernia so the leg-springs hit the wall, absorbing the impact. The springs succesfully absorbed the force of impact, but in the process of doing so rebounded the Solvernia directly at the enemy ganmen.

"Great! Now we're going to be smashed against the ganmen!" the surface girl cried. Whether they hit the wall or the ganmen, they would still be smashed flat. However, before they hit it, straps of an unknown pinkish material came out from the sides of Solvernia, creating a canopy over Solvernia's head. The three passengers were forced into a tiny space that had only been designed to accommodate ONE pilot. They didn't have time to complain, though, because Solvernia head butted the white ganmen in the 'nose' so hard that it tripped and fell on its back. Solvernia spun in the mid-air before crashing back to the ground.

"Is everyone alright?" Nia asked, breathing heavily. The surface girl's leg was stretched out in front and Kamina's armpit was over her head, and she herself almost kissing the spiral panel.

"This thing must've protected us," Kamina replied. "It's as solid as a rock." His right arm was outstretched, touching the surface girl, and there was a knot between his legs.

"But it's as cramped as a tiny box." The surface girl also commented. She squirmed and tried to make sure her rifle wasn't broken.

"I don't see anything… did we get it?" Nia asked. When she said this, the canopy turned transparent and they could clearly see outside. They saw the mess the white ganmen had done and saw him, trying to get up, looking rather pissed and screaming "Puny humans!" He finally got up and moved his hand to grab Solvernia.

"The general will be pleased to see this thing!" grated the ganmen. "I'm going to bring you back to headquarters!"

Nia screamed in panic and grabbed the controls, making Solvernia jump again. The ganmen tried to hit her with his club again, swinging wildly.

"Nia… you won't be… able to run… forever!" Kamina protested, talking with difficulty due to the limited space. The ganmen pointed its free hand and a canon came out from its wrist, firing at the roof, collapsing part that hadn't been destroyed by the first crash.

"Ha-ha! He missed!" Kamina cried in triumph. He regretted his words a couple seconds later when falling rocks hit the Solvernia, burying it in a pile of debris.

"We can't move," Nia moaned, "I need more power…" Boota purred and pointed to the key. The little digger looked at Boota, then at the key, and decided to try something. She struggled to reach the key, however, when she finally placed her fingers at it, she twisted it and the spiral gauge filled again, glowing with green energy. Immediately, a drill sprouted from Solvernia's forehead, demolishing the rocks that were covering them.

"A drill?" both Kamina and the surface girl said at the same time.

"I don't know how it appeared…"

"That's perfect, Nia!" Kamina said, "A drill is your kind of weapon! Now go and show him what happens when people mess with Jiha Village! Show him the power of Team Gurren's mighty drill!"

"Right!" Nia ran to the ganmen; the drill that popped from Solvernia's forehead wasn't moving, so she assumed that it was like a horn and tried to strike the enemy, thrusting it against him. The enemy didn't seem impressed; he simply slammed his club on the ground, creating a tremor that destabilized Solvernia, and made Nia's ganmen stumble and lose control. Solvernia rolled to the feet of the enemy ganmen,

"Wh-What happened?" the surface girl moaned.

"Nia, don't give up now!" Kamina tried to encourage her.

The white ganmen grabbed Solvernia and started to crush her. "Your screams are music to my ears!" it chortled.

Inside, Kamina, Nia and the surface girl were being crushed, screaming, afraid that Solvernia wouldn't resist.

"After I finish you, I will kill this entire village!" gloated the ganmen. "I'll hang their bodies as a testimony to all those who oppose us! Your suffering shall be my delight!"

Nia gasped, shocked and appalled. Her expression slowly turned from shock to anger. It no longer mattered that she could not understand the ganmen. It did not matter that she rather wouldn't fight.

This intruder was threatening the people she loved.

"That's it!" Nia cried, clenching her teeth. Reaching out without hesitation, she gave the drill-key a mighty twist. The drill in Solvernia's forehead started to spin, and the arms, somehow, turned into drills. They accelerated to incredible speeds, utterly destroying the hand of the white ganmen.

"Wha-How?" The enemy ganmen shook off what remained of his severed hand in dull surprise. It could not understand how the human cub had broken free.

"I! WON'T! LET! YOU HURT! ANYBODY!" Nia screamed in response.

The three-drilled Solvernia stood on the ground, surrounded by an aura of pure green energy, screaming a battle cry that resounded throughout the entire village. The white ganmen started to become unsettled by the tiny female cub's rage.

"Get going, Nia!" Kamina said. In his heart he knew that Nia had already won. "Remember, it's your time now! Bust through the heavens with your drill!"

The surface girl looked at them half in amusement, half in genuine hope.

For the first time in the battle, the white ganmen felt fear. Its face betrayed its unease, the once-menacing face now presenting only terror. It tried to hide its fear by slamming its club against Solvernia with a mighty downwards swing. Nia clenched the controls and the drills started to spin faster and faster. Finally the machine took off, the thruster on its back roaring to life. Solvernia tore straight through the club as if it were nothing at all, continuing straight through the entire arm. The eyes of the white ganmen widened in pure shock as its arm was reduced to scrap metal. Solvernia continued on until it hit the main hull, where it had greater difficulty, unable to pierce the hull. All the same the sheer amount of thrust lifted the ganmen up until it hit the remains of the canopy, held up solely by the mini-ganmen's power. Nia applied more pressure to the controls andyelled out along with Kamina, creating even more energy. The green exhaust of the mini-ganmen lit up the entire village and created a weak hurricane, until finally they took off to the sky, bringing the screaming enemy ganmen with them.

Everyone in village stared up at their green trail, silent and somewhat confused. It was Hagatama who finally broke the silence, partially amused.

"Well, I guess we don't have to worry about the surface anymore."

In the sky, Solvernia continued its ascent. Its drills spun, slowly reducing the anemy ganmen to scrap even as the ganmen's screams reverberated in the air.

"Farewell, Jiha Village!" cried Kamina with no regret. "We're off to the surface! The surface I saw as a kid!"

Nia was in complete and total control of the situation, and a smirk formed on her face. They all yelled one more time (although the surface girl was yelling in terror) they exploded right out of the underground, green energy trailing behind them, the white ganmen coming apart completely, its compnents scattering to the four winds. Solvernia continued its ascent, rising higher and higher until it almost touched the clouds. The thruster died away, their upward motion sustained by inertia alone, until gravity took hold. The drills and canopy retracted, and for several amazing, breathtaking seconds, they hung in the air.

Nia's cloak accidentally came off due to the wind of their motion, briefly obscuring her view. When it had blown away completely she beheld the most beautiful sight she had ever seen: two shining round orbs hung at opposite ends of the sky, the sun and moon if she had known their names. Although the sun was brighter than the moon, they shared the horizon equally, creating a wonderful gradation from blue to red across a massive, seemingly endless horizon. This amazed the little girl; her eyes glimmered in pure joy and her mouth was opened in amazement. Such splendid colors were amazing to someone who had spent their life seeing nothing but shades of brown and black.

Kamina was also deeply impressed by the view, his mouth open in amazement just as Nia's was. "Wow! This is the surface?" he exclaimed. His question may have seemed redundant, but the surface he was seeing now was too different from what he saw when he was a little boy. It was much more beautiful.

"It's so beautiful…" Nia said, amazed smile forming on her face.

"It's Yoko," the surface girl said, interrupting the others' thoughts. She was satisfied that the ganmen was destroyed and was now enjoying the reactions of the two former underground dwellers. It called back memories of when she had first seen the surface herself.

"Huh?" asked Kamina.

"Yoko. That's my name. I never introduced myself, did I?"

"You're right…"

"I'm Kamina," Kamina said, adjusting his glasses. He ruffled his sister's hair. "And this is Nia."

"Nice to meet you." Her cleavage started to bounce and Boota emerged from it, gasping for air. Yoko looked down and asked, curious, "What's this furry thing doing in there?" He seemed comfortable there.

"Boota, behave yourself!" Nia ordered.

"Whoa, a rodent hiding among the pillows," Kamina deadpanned.

"It's just me or are we falling?" Yoko asked. Indeed, the Solvernia started to fall. Gravity had been waiting in respect for the moment, but now it returned in full force.

"Uh-oh, this can't be good," Kamina said. "Do something, Nia?"

"Um, I don't know what to do," she said, trying to move her joysticks every direction at once. "I was kinda just guessing!"

"You didn't know what you were doing?" Yoko yelled.

"Kind of…" Nia replied, embarrassed. With those words, all three received the signal for full panic mode. Their screams cut through the air as Solvernia fell towards the earth.

Somehow, Nia managed to get the canopy closed mid-flight. They managed to land safely, but the canopy opened again and all three were thrown out. Nia landed right on top of Kamina in an incredibly awkward position, face practically in his crotch. When she lifted her head, she blushed and gulped.

He opened his eyes and smiled upon seeing that his sister was okay, but immediately gasped. Nia was startled, thinking that Kamina was upset over the peculiar position they were arranged in. Then Kamina embraced her, as if he were trying to protect her. He was. The shadows of two more ganmen loomed over them.

"Out of the frying pan," Yoko said, picking her rifle, " and into the fire…"

Chapter Text

One enemy ganmen, the one who was less distant to where Nia and the others were and had a circular head, resembling a monkey, asked, in an angry tone. "Where's our squad leader?" The two green ganmen were as intimidating as the white ganmen; they didn't seem to have any weapons, except their bare hands; however they could as mortal as well. His question would be answered when debris of the former white ganmen Nia was fighting early fell from the sky, like it were rain. Finally the upper jaw of their leader fell on the head of the more distant one, who had a triangular chin and ears, resembling a cat, sort of. "How could?" the first one cried, indignant, "You dare to destroy our squad leader? You must die!"

"Everyone, hop in Solvernia!" Yoko ordered. Nia quickly grabbed the controls, while Kamina and Yoko seat beside her, and made Solvernia jump; the monkey ganmen almost got her, punching the ground instead. Nia ran away from the two ganmen, covering the top of her ganmen, running as fast as she could.

"What the hell! They ambushed us!" Kamina yelled, outraged because the enemy didn't give them a chance to take a breath.

"Sorry," Yoko intervened, "I forgot to tell that there were three ganmen, they attacked me together, if weren't for your village I would be in serious trouble."

"How come?"

"Ok, even more serious trouble yet."

"But that means there's much more of them!"

"Exactly, the surface is crawling with them!"

"If there's more," Nia said, taken up, "They won't leave us alone!"

"The only certain rest is reserved for the dead…" Yoko said, grimly.

"Hey, hey, hey," Kamina replied, "There's no need to get dark. Nia, if you defeated that big white mug, you can take care of those two dimwits!"

"It's not producing any drills," Nia said, as her belly snored, "Bro, I'm hungry, we need to go back to the village, there's no way we can defeat them at once."

"We can't go back, and didn't you eat your meal today?"

"Filar snatched my meal…"

"What? Why you didn't you tell me and then I'd teach him a lesson."

"Sorry, Bro, I didn't want to bother you."

"Guys, look out!" Yoko screamed when the monkey-ganmen kicked Solvernia. She fell at a distance and the cover opened. Nia and Yoko stood behind, using Solvernia as a shield. Kamina, on the other hand, had other plans.

The self-proclaimed badass grabbed and unsheathed his katana, letting Nia stay with the sheath. The two ganmen looked at him, expressionless, after he called their attention, "You giant walking faces over there!" the ganmens looked at him, "You're now dealing with a true man! Having left his homeland, he never yields, never retreats…"

The ganmen weren't paying attention to him, but discussing what they would do with him "Can we kill him now?" the cat-ganmen asked, "Or do you suggest something else?"

"Um, what the manual says about the big-mouthed ones?" the monkey-ganmen asked back, scratching the back of his head.

"The manual talked about male humans, female humans, so I think he's a male, he doesn't have breasts."

"…never regrets, never retreats, and never looks back! Male tenacity is all about the nevers!"

"Did he say 'never retreats' twice?" Yoko asked, concerned with his safety and, again, with his sanity.

"Bro, what are you doing?" Nia talked under her breath.

"Well, according to the page 4, we can kill any human that goes to the surface and it leaves to the pilot whether human cubs should be killed or not." The cat-ganmen picked a book (which title was Human slaughtering for dummies) and reading glasses and read it to his fellow ganmen, pointing to the said page.

"He doesn't seem to be a cub, I mean, they're shorter. The manual has to say something else."

"The great Kamina of Team Gurren is gonna show you what happens when you mess with him!" Kamina kept talking.

"Almost nothing… Do you think if humans could be a nice food?"

"I have a friend that once made that once made barbecue of a settlement he had destroyed. He said that with the right sauces, humans can taste good, otherwise, they're pretty sour and give a sensation that you're eating dirt."

"We could find a chef for this."

"You dumbasses don't stand a chance against a true man!" Kamina called their attention, "You have been warned."

"Well, whatever, let's kill them and go back to the base." The cat-ganmen said, yawning. The monkey-ganmen shrugged and stomped Kamina. If Nia hadn't grabbed him with Solvernia, he would be stomped. Nia ran fast and Yoko shot at them, her shots slowed them down a little, while Kamina was sitting on Solvernia's palms, arms crossed and a serious expression at his face.

"Bro, you could've been killed!" Nia said, showing concern in her voice, "We must go back to the village!"

"How long are you gonna keep ruining, Nia?" Kamina asked, more seriously, while Yoko kept shooting at the ganmens, sitting behind the cockpit.

"Huh?" Solvernia started to fly away, using her thrusters, as if she were agreeing with Nia about withdrawing.

"Nia, hold still!" Yoko didn't seem bothered, she could shoot straight even with the relative loss of stability, since her sharpshooting abilities were much above the average; it helped the fact the ganmens were big and this made them an easy target. She stood up in Solvernia and shot continuously at the ganmens. The cat-ganmen received three hits, powerful enough to crave dents at his front, and fell to his backside.

"We finally made it to the surface," her big brother explained, "Jiha Village is past now, it's time for you to cast off the girl you used to be."

"But I…" the little digger girl looked down, pensive and nervous, while holding tightly the controls, "I don't know if I'm ready…"

"It's now or never, Nia." While they were talking, the monkey-ganmen used his fellow ganmen as a jump pad and almost grabbed Nia's mini-ganmen. She quickly jolted to right, rolling in the mid-air, turning upside down. While Kamina, Nia and Boota struggled to not fall, Yoko was also holding onto Solvernia with one hand, and with the other one she pressed the trigger of her rifle, hitting the ganmen in the eye, startling him for a while.

"What should I do? What should I do?" Nia nervously thought about it; listen to her and go find a way back to the village or listen to her brother and stay and fight. Her mind was in turmoil, she didn't have space to pick a choice, and her stomach snored again; at that moment, the spiral gauge started to fall and the thruster turned off.

"Nia, we're falling!" Yoko warned while Nia closed her eyes and screamed, however she had time only to think Please, Solvernia, don't let them get hurt. In the mid-air, Solvernia rolled over one more time to adjust her position and landed softly. Nia again was impressed and somewhat confused that Solvernia reacted to her thought.

"Nia, what's wrong with you?" Kamina asked.

"It's not working," she again rubbed her snoring belly, while trying to move the joysticks with her other hand, "I won't make it, please, Bro, take the controls!"

"But, Nia, remember, believe in me who believes in you!" Nia was too preoccupied, hungry and confused, to pay attention at him.

"Save the family squabbles for later!" Yoko intervened and prepared to shoot again, but she gasped when her rifle only clicked. There was no more ammo and the enemy ganmen were closing in. No matter how hard, whatever direction Nia pressed and moved the controls, Solvernia wouldn't move. Their lives weren't depending of themselves anymore, they needed a miracle.

And the miracle came.

Coming from the rocks behind them, a volley of machine gun bullet hit the monkey-ganmen. "Concentrate the firepower at one ganmen per time!" the bullets were aimed at the joints, and the ganmen tried to use his arm to shield himself, without avail; the joint were starting to yield, with smoke coming out.

"Dayakka!" Yoko smiled.

"Are they your friends?" Kamina asked.

"Yeah!" she blushed in happiness. The team had ten persons, two of them were women, and, with exception of the leader, they were all wearing blue jackets with the symbol of their village, a hollow white circle.

The ganmen kneeled as the joints gave up and then the hatch in his mouth opened. There, a strange, furred creature got out from the cockpit, in the middle of the machine gun blast, and ran to take cover, yelling, "No, my beautiful ganmen!"

"The sun is setting, time to retreat!" the cat-ganmen said, more than pleased to have an excuse to pull away.

"Show no mercy!" the leader ordered, while emptying the magazines. The cat-ganmen, which was still operational, without problems, picked the creature and ran away, as he cursed them, "You'll pay for this, humans! You will rue the day you were born! You will paaaay…" and his voice died over the horizon, while the cat-ganmen ran away.

"That's what was inside those things?" Kamina asked, seeing the fleeing ganmen.

"They're beastmen," Yoko clarified, "They're who pilot the ganmen. They show up almost every day when the sun rises and leave again when the sun sets."

"Why?"

"I have no idea," she stopped to sigh, "They just want to destroy us."

"So, you've been fighting them during all of your life?"

"That's right!" Yoko replied and walked to the ruined ganmen, "I'll explain the details later."

"Hey, are you alright?" the leader asked Kamina and Nia.

"Thanks for the save, man!" Kamina waved to them.

"No problem!" he replied, cocking his submachine gun, "My name is Dayakka. I'm the chief of Littner Village." He was a tall and muscular man, wearing a white shirt and jeans, and had a big bent nose.

"Thunder tights talked about your village," Kamina replied, jerking his thumb at Yoko, who replied with an angry 'HEY!', "Name's Kamina and this is Nia!"

"Well, I'm gonna take a look on that ganmen over there," Dayakka explained, "Then, come with us to our village, you need to rest."

"Thanks for the offer," Kamina tapped Nia's back, "Rest for a while, sis. We need to enjoy the surface." Nia just stood there, sitting on Solvernia, immobile. Why couldn't I do anything now? What's the problem with me? She stared at the spiral gauge, eyeing her reflection, thoughtful. Boota even licked her face, trying to cheer her up.

"You were awesome today, Nia!" Kamina said.

"But I don't understand…" she said, with a weak voice, "I barely understand what I did… Bro, please, would you take Solvernia? You'd be a much better fighter."

"Nah… no worries," he gently caressed her head, smiling, "Aren't you always the one who saves my ass in the end? And you did again, thanks a lot."

"Huh?" Nia turned to Kamina, surprised; she wasn't expecting her brother be so positive over her apparent failure.

"Oh, myyy!" Nia heard someone next to her. It was a strange, oiling voice. When she turned, she saw an even stranger person. Pale, green hair, wearing purple clothes, he looked like a man, but he also resembled a woman, so the little digger thought that it would better to call him 'mister', if needed. "What's this darling little fellow? He's a handsome devil, isn't he?" he mused, while examining Solvernia. He seemed kind of forward, practically hugging the mecha and, above all, campy. Nia just stared, without talking, while he looked eagerly at Solvernia and rested his chin over his hand, "I didn't mean you, hon. I mean this mecha."

"Mecha?"

"That's another term for the ganmen, more generic," he said, "This is so faaabulous! I need to take a look!"

"Save for later, Leeron," Dayakka called, "We need to take this ganmen first."

"Okey-dokey," he said, winking, "See you later, hon~!"

"Seems that they've got all kinds up here on the surface," Kamina said, a bit surprised, since it was the first time he saw someone like Leeron, but he didn't mind and decided only to contemplate the starry sky, "But the most important is that we're finally here, Nia. Look up," Nia looked to the starry sky, forgetting her doubts for doubts for a while. She again was amazed with the beautiful sight and commented, "The surface is really something else…"

"Day after day, after the lights were turned off, there was nothing but pitch black darkness," Kamina mused, "But here there's so many lights, that big, rounded one, followed by the itty bitty ones… Coming to the surface was the right call, wasn't it? Look at the beautiful sky!"

"Sure…" she said, weakly, however, even though he felt her amazement and sincerity, Nia didn't transmit security. She was still skeptical about the surface, she saw the ganmen, the surface wasn't free of dangers, but was the opportunity of seeing so beautiful sights, breathe the new, clean air of the surface worth? Was Solvernia a blessing or another burden to her arms? Kamina was again concerned with her, she still had many doubts. That's something I'll have to work out with time.

"The big one is called moon," Yoko suddenly appeared, startling them a bit, "And itty bitty ones are the stars. That's they were called long time ago."

"Moon and stars… pretty simple names, eh?" Kamina said.

"If they have simple names," Nia said, "That means they people used to look at them all the time."

"Why do you think that, hon?" Leeron asked, coming out of the blue, leaning against Solvernia while checking his pocket computer.

"Whoa!" Nia was startled with his sudden appearance, but answered nonetheless, "It's because things like water and soil are things we see every day, while thing we don't see every day have more complicated names. I chose Boota's name because it was simple and I knew I would see him every day." Boota purred to make clear he was there, standing at Nia's shoulder.

"You have an interest line of reasoning," Leeron winked. Nia's belly snored louder this time; she rubbed her belly, with a blush of embarrassment.

"Here." Yoko handed her a loaf of bread.

"What is this?"

"It's bread, you can eat it."

"Thank you, Miss Yoko." She happily accepted, eating fast because she was very hungry.

"Please, just call me Yoko, you don't need to be formal." The little digger girl then eyed Leeron typing on his machine and asked, "What is this, Mr. Leeron?" Even if he didn't introduce himself properly, Nia recalled Dayakka calling his name.

"You sure are a polite girl," Leeron happily oiled, "It's my personal computer and I see that you don't know how to read, right?"

"What does 'read' mean, Bro?" she asked, taking the last bite at her loaf of bread.

"I don't know either." Yoko just giggled.

"You aren't exactly a geek, little missy." Leeron replied, still typing at the keyboard.

"But I can read just fine as well," the sniper girl snatched his computer and showed them how 'moon' and 'star' were written.

"Sighs… It's possible that long ago, people lived on the surface," he said, sounding poetic, "Some records say so, but others don't."

"How is that possible?" Kamina asked, he was slightly interested to learn more about the surface.

"It's like how I'm both and neither a man and a woman." He replied, petting Boota's chin in a very straightforward way.

"Then who are you, anyway?" Leeron approached Kamina's face and winked, lecherously, "I'm Leeron, but you can call me Ron. Or 'Beauty Queen' if you like~."

Kamina gulped and replied incommoded, "I'd rather die!" Clearly Kamina wasn't interested in men by the way Leeron was.

"You'd never guess it, but Ron here knows just about everything," Yoko said, "He takes care of all technological stuff and repair our weapons."

"Seems that you're useful!" he said, trying to make the flamboyant engineer go away.

"I can find a use for aaanything you'd like!" he said, furrowing his eyebrows in a provocative fashion.

"There's something I'd like to do right now!" Kamina replied, putting his glasses and half unsheathing his katana, in an angry way.

"Calm down you two," Yoko intervened, sheathing back the sword, "So, Nia, there's something I need to ask you."

"Okay."

"Would you mind carrying that for me?" she asked, pointing to the scrapped gunmen they destroyed early. Nia didn't know if Solvernia could do that, since the mecha's response had ceased before. She picked her drill-key, trying to decide if she was going to try again, when Yoko leaned forward to take a look. "What do you have there? It's kinda pretty."

"This is the key of the mech." she said, glancing at her. She then glanced to the other side, seeing that Leeron didn't stop to tease Kamina, or get out from over him. Nia quivered her lips, but it was an almost imperceptible quiver. Even if it was laughable, the thought of her having a bit of jealousy of Leeron's forwardness passed by her mind. At that moment, the spiral panel and the drill-key started to glow together. Yoko, Kamina and Leeron, who finally let go from the self-declared badass, got out from Solvernia and let Nia start the machine.

"It's working!" Yoko smiled and said, "Over there, we'll tie up Solvernia to push the scraps." Nia obediently moved her mecha to the direction Yoko pointed and let Dayakka work.

"What? How did it move?" Kamina asked, lifting his glasses.

"I think she's a bit jealous of you~." Leeron said.

"She cares a lot with me," he said, and tapped his chin, "that may react to emotions..."

"And I guess you have lot of spirit, huh?" the camp engineer replied, blushing and making a flirtatious look. Kamina just took distance and waved his sword. Leeron only sighed and mused, "Ladies don't care much for a man who can't take a joke."

Few minutes later, they were going to Littner Village. Solvernia was capable of bringing the scrapped ganmen and the villagers, almost fourteen people sitting on the usable pieces of the ganmen. The strength of the mini-ganmen astounded Leeron, who was still checking the details with his computer. Dayakka explained that they needed everything they found and every single scrap of usable technology was already a valuable asset to their fight. The beastmen wouldn't give up attacking them, so they had to be prepared, always.

"Sorry for having you to do stuff for us," he said, "But your aid won't be unrewarded; we will help you with anything you ask."

"Thank you, Mr. Dayakka," Nia replied, and then pointed to a sleeping flying-raccoon and asked, "What is that?"

"That's a flying-raccoon," Yoko replied, "They usually live next to ponds. He must be lost, or something."

"Ah… What is that?" she pointed to three cactus they passed by.

"That's a cactus, it's a plant that grows here."

"Ah… What is that?" she pointed to something resembling a wolf, howling to the moon at a rock, not far away from them.

"You're such a curious girl," Yoko smiled, "It's a lizard-wolf. They can be dangerous, but it won't attack us, since we're in big numbers." The lizard-wolf looked at them and ran away.

"See, Nia," Kamina said, tapping her back, "The surface is loaded of amazing things. There is an entire new world, begging to be discovered!" Nia was above all a curious girl. It was her curiosity one of the factors that led her to support her Bro in his undertakings, besides other factors; it was her curiosity that led her to Solvernia. The surface is so full of new things, I think I may enjoy this, she thought, smiling and asked again, "What is that?"

"That's…" Yoko stopped to talk and asked, "Nia, stop for a while." She took a better look and gasped, "It's a skull."

"What the hell?" Kamina said, typically, "So that means…"

"He must have been killed by the beastmen," the sniper girl said, sorry, "This isn't uncommon. Whenever we fight them, there's always a chance someone dies…" Nia gasped, since she had never seen a skull, it was a frightening sight when she stopped to think about and felt sorry about that person.

Everyone got out and picked their shovels. They dug a proper tomb for him, covering with soil and placing a tombstone.

"That does it!" said one of the villagers, Tetsukyan, the one with an orange bandana.

"Yeah, we couldn't leave his bone lying there." Dayakka added.

Nia was still in shock and afraid; it was a bit hard yet for her to think that skull belonged to someone who was otherwise alive. Kamina patted her shoulder and said, "Nia, don't worry we won't have the same fate than that guy," and he dramatically pointed to the sky, "Our journey will continue until we pierce the heavens! We'll pass by any probations coming against us!"

Yoko just twitched her eyebrow and said, "Huh? You still didn't get how things in the surface work. This is not a playground!" Nia, on the other hand, was still thinking about his words.

|T|T|G|S|

Littner was a village hidden in the valley, also constructed in the rock. Arriving there, Nia took a good look at the installations. Their houses were built from the rock, just like in Jiha, but there were houses built of wood. Dayakka conducted them to the hangar, where she could park Solvernia. At the instant she entered with Solvernia and the scrapped ganmen, she instantly became the center of the attentions. The villagers swarmed to see the red and white mini-ganmen and to know the newcomers.

"Attention, residents of Littner Village!" Kamina stood on Solvernia, raising his voice, making gestures like dramatically pointing to the top, while Nia got out and stood beside her mecha, "My name is Kamina, and this is Nia," she waved, smiling weakly. Boota, who was at her right shoulder, crossed his arms, miffed that he wasn't remembered. Kamina kept his speech, "And we are in a journey, the journey of a true man to the ultimate goal!" the villagers were all paying attention to the newcomer, some women were looking pretty interested at him, although Yoko crossed her arms and rolled her eyes, muttering, "'Ere we go again…".

"We saw the dangers of the surface, the ganmens and the beastmen! But, mostly important, we saw the beauty and awesomeness of the surface! The surface is much better than living underground, where the lights are so faint compared to sun and the stars! Are we gonna give up just because some furred things don't like us?" The audience was whispering, but nonetheless interested, "If they intended to crush us with their feet, we're gonna be the spikes that hurt them! If they intended to punch us in the face, we're gonna bite their fists! If they intend again to place ceilings over us again, we're gonna smash through those ceilings and aim for the heavens!" The audience went in awe, raising their fists. Nia also smiled at him. Kamina will do it! He'll defeat the ganmen and we can live in peace! she thought, flushing.

"Wow, that guy surely can spirit up the people," Dayakka commented.

"What a half-wit," Yoko sighed, skeptical, placing her knuckles on her hips, "You didn't see him in action. He thinks he can solve his problems just by banging his head against it until it's solved!"

"So, you like him, huh?" he teased, nudging her.

"WHAT? No!" she blushed, turning as red as a transgenic tomato, "I-I'm hungry, I need some food." and she went to the cantina, dismissively turning her face away from Dayakka, who just chuckled.

Kamina jumped out of Solvernia and walked away, smiling, heads up, triumphant. Some people remained there to see the mini-ganmen; it was amazing for them that ganmen wasn't attacking them. Another group, under Leeron's leadership was moving away the parts of the scrapped ganmen. Dayakka was with Kamina and Nia, guiding them to a tour through the base; she didn't stop to ask, "what is this?", though Dayakka was happy to give her information; he was getting tired of answering her incessant question, but how could he get mad at a sweet and curious girl like her? However there was something that really had caught Nia's interest, more than anything else in the base.

"What is this, Mr. Dayakka?" she squatted, looking at the flowers of Dayakka's personal flower bed, in a tiny patch of soil where they grow up. They came in three different colors, pink, orange and purple.

"Ah, these are flowers," he said, "They are beautiful but frail plants. I grow them as a hobby, when I'm not fighting or taking care of the village."

"Flowers?" Kamina looked and didn't seem impressed, "They're colorful, nothing else."

"And the ones I have here are only a sample. In the world, there's much more types of flowers; they came in many colors and different sizes. These ones are called tulips. Do you know that in our village it's forbidden to eat tulips? There was a time, not long ago, that everyone was obsessed with tulips," he said, looking to the ceiling, "it's a funny story, looking by today."

"They seem to be closed," Nia said, "Let me open."

"No," Dayakka gasped, "I mean, they open themselves in the dawn, when the sun rises."

"But why?"

"I don't know pretty well, but they open during the day and close during the night. If you try to open by your own hands, the flower will die," Nia gasped, "So, it's better not to interfere."

"Flowers must bloom by themselves~." Leeron said, bringing a shirt for Nia. Since she had lost her cloak, she was shirtless, only with sarashi covering her chest and midriff, besides her digging goggles, skirt and shoes.

"Thanks, Mr. Leeron, it's pretty nice!" she said, dressing the shirt. Nia liked it; it was light-pink, with white stripes in the sleeves, which covered until half of her forearm, and red stripes in her shoulders; in the back, the symbol of Littner Village was sewn there, but she had seen before. She left her shirt opened, and thought about getting a new skirt, since her old one was dirty and she felt it didn't match pretty well.

"You're welcome, my dear, but just call me Leeron, or Ron for short~." He ended with a wink.

"Very well, Nia," Kamina said, "This was the most awesome day of our lives! Tomorrow will be even more awesome than today!"

"Really?" Nia replied.

"Sure, sis!" he caressed her head again "Tomorrow will be a new beginning, believe Nia! To believe is to begin!"

"Seems nice!" she said, giggling, accompanied by Boota saying "Buu, buuu!" he was also anxious to discover more about the surface.

|T|T|G|S|

In the cantina, Yoko finished her meal and decided to get some food for the two newcomers. Picking a tray with food for two people, she wandered through the area, looking for the two. When she found them, they were already sleeping, in a storage, resting their head over a canvas. Kamina was embracing Nia with one arm, while Boota was curled over her shoulder. They were sleeping deep and peacefully, and the sniper girl smiled, "No wonder they're so tired. Today's been a day full of first to them."

Chapter Text

The surface… Nothing here… A man's world… You're not ready… When you're ready… Come up and join me… Farewell… Farewell… Farewell… Farewell…

"NO!" Kamina woke up, startled and holding on to a blanket, "I'm ready now!" he got up, and getting out from the storage, holding the blanket he was sleeping with.

"What's happening?" Yoko said, dismissively tuning up her rifle, "Having nightmares lately?"

Kamina looked baffled, and resumed his way, "A true man may even have nightmares, but he makes the nightmares fear him!"

"O-kay…" she replied, unsure to what talk to him.

"Where's Nia?" he looked around.

"She woke up early, before the sun rose," she said, while checking the aim of her rifle, aiming at Kamina, only to tease him, "She said she needed to see something."

"So, you really know how to use this?" he pointed to the rifle.

"It's been mine since I was twelve," Yoko said, turning it down, and smiling "I guess I have something to brag about."

"Good morning, Kamina!" Nia said, calling him from behind, "Here, try this." and she gave him a cup of cocoa.

"What is this? Looks like some type of dirty water!"

"It's cocoa," she said, giving to him, "I got it in the cantina, it tastes good!"

"Oh, let me see," he said, taking the cup to his mouth.

"Wait, Bro, don't try to drink everything at once!" she tried to warn him, but without avail. He tried to sip everything in one gulp and only screamed, "AAAH! HOT!" in the confusion, he dropped the remaining cocoa at his chest, screaming even more.

"Too much for Mr. Tough Guy?" Yoko cackled, almost dropping her rifle in the ground, while Leeron poured some water at him.

"Ow, shut up, thunder tighs!"

"Hey! I'm not fat!" she fumed.

"That's what they all say." Yoko murmured something and returned to work on her rifle. Kamina then talked with Nia, "So, sis, why did you wake up so early?"

"Remember when Dayakka told us that flowers open when the sun rises?" he nodded, "So, I woke up early to see them open, and it was awesome!" Nia cheerfully said, her eyes gleamed with happiness, "When the sun lighted them, they slowly opened! They were much more beautiful when they opened, and they flown a pleasant smell! And after I went to cloth storage to pick a new skirt for me." She was wearing also a light-red skirt, which Leeron helped her to choose.

"I'm happy for you, Nia!" he smiled, "Didn't I tell the surface is awesome?" His biggest preoccupation was to convince Nia that living in the surface was better than living underground.

At that moment, they heard the alarm of the base. Everyone, but Kamina and Nia, remained still. Kamina asked, "What the hell is this?" A tremor shook the entire base, making them both startled. Nia even tripped and fell to the ground.

"Most mornings in the surface start with the ganmen." Leeron explained. The alarm sounded again, and few seconds later, another tremor was felt, of the same magnitude than the later.

"These tremors…" she mused, still on the floor.

"Get up, Nia!" Kamina said, offering his hand, "Now it's time to kick some major ganmen ass."

"But are you still sure you don't want to pilot Solvernia, Bro?"

"It was you who found her, so it's you who must pilot it! Only you have the key! The key to the heavens!" he said, caressing her head.

Knowing that Kamina had already made his decision and blushing out of fondling, she said, almost whispering, "I'll try…"

"Good! I will go with Dayakka and I'll be waiting for you!"

"Alright, everyone!" the chief of Littner called everyone's attention, cocking his submachine gun, "They probably want payback for yesterday, so execute plan V. Lure them to the valley where we have something special for them."

"Kamina, do you know how to use a gun?" Yoko asked, handing him a pistol.

"Don't look down on me, missy," he replied, trying to grab the gun from Yoko's hand, "Who the hell do you think I am?"

"Oh, I know..." Yoko moving away the gun, don't allowing the self-declared badass take it, because she knew that giving a gun to a man that knows how to use could be dangerous, but giving a gun to a man that doesn't know how to use it, could be even more dangerous yet.

Kamina grunted, but turned to Nia, "Remember, Nia," Kamina said, before running with Dayakka's team, "I'll be waiting for you!" Nia looked concerned and suspired.

"Nia, my darling~," Leeron said, patting her shoulder, "Solvernia is at this hangar." When he showed her mecha, Solvernia was polished from all dirty, a favor that rendered Leeron's entire night sleepless; shining as if had just got out of the factory. Leeron had even applied some fragrance, to give it an additional touch.

"It smells like a flower," she said, after sniffing at the mini-ganman, "Thanks Mr. Leeron!"

"You're welcome, hon," he winked, "But her features doesn't end here: all the bumps and dents made in the last battle disappeared, this meeecha has some sort of auto-regenerative ability. Wooo! It gives me chills! Now go for it, Nia, twist your drill-key like there's no tomorrow~!"

"Okay," she said and did as said. She placed the drill-key in the cavity and twisted, waiting for the spiral gauge to increase. However, nothing happened; the spiral gauge was still empty and Solvernia didn't move an inch, not even twitched.

"I can't understand," she said, confused and trying once more, "What's happening?"

"The rightest question is what's not happening?" he said, tapping his lower lip with his finger. Even Boota, who was at Nia's right shoulder, scratched his head.

Meanwhile, Dayakka's team had taken positions, trenched in a mount, next to the entrance to the ravine. In the plain, there was two ganman, the cat-ganman of yesterday and a new one, a toad-ganman, probably piloted by the same beastman that lost his one.

"Lousy humans don't stand a chance!" the cat-ganmen yelled, while dancing, or doing some sort of taunting dance.

"Humans! You will become humus!" the toad-ganmen tried to taunt.

"That was the best taunting you came up with?" the cat-ganmen turned away from Littner, a little peeved, and asked his partner, putting his hands on his hips.

"I'm trying!" the toad-ganmen tried to justify himself.

"I'll show how it's done: we're gonna take out the trash this morning. And the trash will be you! Because no one wants trash."

"What a couple of idiots." Kamina remarked, unimpressed. "They probably will be easier than yesterday." At that moment, the alarm sounded again.

"Here comes another one…" Dayakka said.

"Another idiot?"

"You may want to cover your ears." Yoko suggested. They could hear the whir of the incoming ganmen increasing as he approached, coming at a ridiculous high speed. They barely saw the shade of the ganman, before having their eyes startled by the flash made by the impact.

The ganman that arrived was something else. It was almost entirely red more humanoid than the other ones, bigger and, much probably, stronger. The look at his face was pretty intimidating, a trait made visible by the lines of the construct, a big mouth with sharp fangs, and it only got worse for Dayakka's team when the ganman stretched his arms and legs a picked his weapons from his back, two swords of the zanbato type, with flat blades that were almost as tall as its bearer; the wordless roaring was much more scary than the blabbering of his two partners.

The impact of his arrival was strong enough to shake Littner to the point of cracking glasses and shake everything inside. Leeron tripped and held on to Solvernia, while Nia gripped the controls. These tremors, she thought, closing her eyes, wishing for it end soon, They're just like when I lost my parents. At that moment, her brain started to process the links, and she opened her eyes, gasping. Wait, that's right! Memories of tremors in Jiha Village came to her mind, like the memory of when she lost her parents, buried by a landfall caused by a tremor.

Nia didn't take well, in other words, she blamed herself because she had just gotten out of their house when the tremor started. She saw their house crumbling and she tried to reach them, but it was impossible. The tremor buried them and it took some time until the villagers removed the rocks, to give them a decent burial. Nia acquired survivor guilty, blaming herself because she couldn't reach them. She didn't sleep for two days after their death and if weren't for little Kamina's words of encouragement, she would probably descend into a spiral of depression and despair until the present day; now everything made sense for her.

"They did it," she said, in low voice, with her head lowered.

"Huh?" Leeron peered.

She slowly lifted up her head, with a scowl and a fierce look, motivated by anger, wrath and hate. Nia wasn't much used to aggressive emotions; in the village, she didn't hate anyone, not even the queen bees; it was like her mind tasted for the first times such burning hate. "They killed mom and dad!" The spiral gauge started to fill, but, instead of the usual green glow, this time the spiral gauge was red, a vivid and fiery red tone; the eyes of the mecha glowed red too. Solvernia had woken up and it was pissed!

|T|T|G|S|

Kamina was marveled with the stateliness of the red ganmen, compared to the other two ganmen. Dayakka's team descended to the plain, and stayed at the entrance of the ravine, trying to lure them. The red ganmen took the forward, roaring and slashing through the valley, trying to hit the humans. When he was almost halfway in the valley, the villagers took cover and detonated the explosives placed in the top of the valley.

"Say, did you like our plan?" Yoko proudly asked, after the explosion dropped rocks on the red ganmen.

"Not bad…" Kamina replied, somewhat impressed, "But I don't think that red one will give up so easily."

"What?" Yoko's cheer was short, because the roaring red ganmen used his swords to cut out the falling rocks, without effort.

"Tough bastard…" she said, disappointed.

"Just as I expected," Kamina said, while a flying rock passed beside him, "That ganman is a badass one! That would be perfect for the great Kamina!"

"Really?" she replied, thinking he was joking.

"I'll take him for me!"

"Huh? What you say?" Yoko faltered; if she were drinking something, she would spit it; she looked at the self-proclaimed badass and her expression could be translated to 'What in the name of Pedro de Alcântara João Carlos Leopoldo Salvador Bibiano Francisco Xavier de Paula Leocádio Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga did you just say?' and she would 've worded out her thoughts if she knew who was this guy.

"I said I'm gonna pilot that thing!"

"Hello-ooo!" she vainly tried to call him back to reality, the reality that meant a big and strong ganmen was ready to crush them.

"Those beastmen, or whatever you call them, are just the pilots," he talked, with arms crossed with confidence, "If they can pilot those things, there's no way in hell I can't do it! It shouldn't be that hard! And, besides, Nia won't stop to ask me to pilot Solvernia unless I get a ganman on my own."

Feeling powerless and losing all hopes to inflict him some sense, Yoko broke the fourth wall to talk her frustrations with the readers, "I have no idea from where he gets his confidence…"

"Screw you," Kamina replied, indignant, "For a guy actions talk louder than words!"

"Oh, yeah? I'm a woman!"

"The spectators like me more!" he smugly argued.

"Guys," Tetsukyan called them out, "We're trying to be serious, this is not a joke! This is not Ed, Edd and Eddy!"

The continuous demolition of the fourth wall ended when Solvernia appeared, running to the battlefield. Kamina looked at Nia, impressed with her change in attitude; he never her having such a fierce and determined expression at her face.

"Bro!" she yelled.

"Got here just in time, sis!" Kamina replied, jumping inside Solvernia.

"That's nothing according to the plan…" Dayakka lamented; in the end, he knew that Nia didn't know what she was doing.

Inside Solvernia, Nia explained the situation, "Kamina, it was them! Every time those things cause a tremor in the surface, it ends as an earthquake in the underground. "

"So, that's what they were!"

"They killed mom and dad," Nia gritted her teeth and watered her eyes, squeezing the controls. She was breathing faster than usual, due to her anger and hatred growing up; also the red spiral gauge was still increasing "They will die!"

"Are you sure you're okay?" Kamina tried to reason with her, "You're acting different."

"The beastmen will pay for this!"

"Nia, calm down, don't let your hate take control of you."

Nia only gasped and softened the grip on her controls, thinking What am I doing? I don't fight for vengeance.

"Sorry, bro, I think I let lose it for a while." The spiral gauge stopped to grow and stabilized, returning to the green color.

"But don't be impatient. To win a fight, you must have both a burning passion and a cool head. I have a plan!"

"I'm listening!"

"Do you see that big, red one?" Nia nodded, while guiding Solvernia to circle the red ganman, "Do you remember yesterday, when that furred beastman got out from the belly of the thing?" she nodded again, "So, I need you to open his mouth and then I'll get inside."

"But, can you operate?"

"Don't worry, how did you know how to operate Solvernia?"

"Well, when I pressed the controls, the knowledge flowed to me. It was like she was teaching me how to do…"

"See, I'll just do the same thing," Kamina posed, even inside the compact space, somehow managing to make a dramatically combative pose, "It's all about fighting spirit and let your emotions flow! I can even smell the victory in my hands."

"This is just a fragrance Leeron applied."

"So, let's do it, sis! Try not to damage him much."

The green ganmen raced to form a wall behind their leader and try to grab Solvernia. Nia gripped the controls, trying to figure a way to surpass them but she slowed down when she noticed a shrub of azaleas in her front, stopping Solvernia to take a look. "Look, Bro, flowers!" The two ganmen weren't expecting the sudden stop and tripped on each other, rolling like a ball and passing by over Solvernia.

"Nia, don't get distracted!"

"Sorry." Now Nia advanced to the red ganman. He tried to swipe her, slashing his sword horizontally, missing by few inches. Solvernia jumped high again and kicked the red ganmen, but it wasn't enough to knock him down. The red ganmen faltered back and tried to recover his balance, however he dropped both his swords.

"You should give a name for this attack." Kamina remarked.

"Huh?"

"Next time, say Spring Jump Kick, it's cool!"

"Okay," Solvernia was still in the air when her spring legs kicked the ganmen again, with Nia saying, unsure, "Spring Jump Kick!" The attack, again, wasn't powerful, but their objective was to make it tumble down. Kamina didn't want to damage much his soon-to-be personal ganmen.

Yoko helped shooting twice the red ganmen, straight at the forehead, or forehead-like region, finally making him fall. Nia took advantage to land Solvernia over the red ganman. The other two green ganmen tripped on each other again, while trying to get up, and weren't being a problem for the next thirty seconds.

"Hey, watch out walking meatbreasts," Kamina opened the canopy and cried, making a fist in both hands, "You could've scratch my Gurren!"

"I'm trying to help you, dumbass!" Yoko scoffed, also shaking her left fist in the air.

"What's a Gurren, Bro?" Nia asked a bit confused.

"It'll be the name of this ganmen, as soon as you open it."

"Okay," she found the opening and used the strength of Solvernia to open his mouth. Inside, a baboon beastman was gripping to the controls, surprised and without know what to do. Kamina unsheathed his sword and ordered, "Get out! I'm taking over now!" After expelling the beastman, he assumed the control, picking eagerly the joysticks, which were almost identical to Solvernia's.

"Oh, yeah! It's all about the fighting spirit flowing!" However, his grin became a frown when appeared a message in the panel, while flashing red. The ganmen wasn't accepting Kamina as the pilot. He tried to move and press the controls, but nothing worked and, outside, the yellow eyes of the ganmen were shut off.

"Commander Guzack has been killed!" the cat-ganmen cried, angry. The got up when they decided that one should get up and then the other one would get up.

"Rotten, stinking humans!" the toad-ganmen added, "We won't accept the death of another leader!" They didn't notice that their commander was on the ground, jumping and trying to call their attention, saying "I'm not dead yet!" and they also didn't notice when the massive foot of the cat-ganmen obliterated Guzack's right little toe. How did the ganmen hit the exact place where Guzack's toe was, only that toe? A miracle of probability.

They proceed to give Gurren a beating, striking him up and down, with punches and kicks. Now Kamina had other things to be concerned than Yoko's rifle denting Gurren. Inside the cockpit, he swayed upside down; if he weren't holding onto the controls, he would already hit his head in the ceiling. With a combined punch, the two green ganmen sent him away, throwing him over the grave he had seen the villagers digging for the dead man they saw before.

"Bro, I'll help," Nia tried to react, but the cat-ganman grabbed Solvernia and tossed her aside. The enemy ganmen decided to play with her, tossing to each other. Nia couldn't grab a hold, she couldn't concentrate. The enemy ganmen quickly got bored of tossing her to each other tossed her against the rocks. Solvernia took much damage, and had already lots of scraps and dents.

Gurren, on the other hand, wasn't moving. Kamina was starting to get impatient and started to punch the front screen, "What's your problem, Kamina?" he punched the screen, "Show!" he punched again, "Some!" punched, "Spirit!" and, after the last punch, the screen cleared, showing him what had in his front. There was nothing, but dirt and the skull of the dead man. Kamina only gasped; it seemed the skull was alive, gazing him with his empty eyesockets, laughing at him with his meatless teeth.

He died on the surface.

"Kamina, what your father would say now?" he could hear the skull mocking him, "You will die, you weakling!"

The surface I was looking for.

"Come on! You're laughable!"

This is it?

"NO WAY I CAME HERE TO DIE!" Kamina cried, pounding the ground with the hand of the ganmen and using it as a support to get up. He could feel the fighting spirit flowing over his body and that he was assuming the control of the ganmen. The screen cleared with a green' thumbs up' sign and Gurren got up. "I'm Kamina, of Team Gurren!" he spread his arms in the air, crying, "JUST WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM? !"

"He really did it!" Yoko said, as much impressed as the other villagers.

After tossing forcefully Solvernia against the ground, the toad-ganmen said, "Time to finish her!" And he stomped. Obviously they should have learned that a single stomp wouldn't be enough, however, as continuously observed in the battle, they weren't the brightest beastmen of the army, however Nia was too tired to react. Seeing that the stomp didn't do anything, he would try again they weren't impeded by Gurren. When they heard "Who The Hell Do You Think I Am Kick", they turned to see Kamina piloting Gurren to kick them, like a bullet. The impact made both Gurren's legs to break down, but it hit both ganmen and, before they fall to the ground, Gurren moved and punched them with "You Don't Mess With My Little Sister Punch", which also broke Gurren's entire right arm, sending them flying away to the end of the ravine.

"Nia, move it!" Nia woke up and said, "Bro, you did it!"

"Sorry I'm late, I had some issues," Kamina said, moving Gurren's hand to grab her mecha, "Now, you have the honor to give them the final blow!"

"What are you going to do?"

"Show me some spirit!" With what remained of his legs, he made a stance to throw Solvernia at the ganmen, taking impulse while saying, "Perfect Combustion Of Manly Souls Cannonball Attack!"

Kamina launched Nia at high speed against the ganmen. She flew in a straight path, and, in the middle of the fly, she retracted her legs and placed a drill instead. The drill right at the enemies, however they dodged her and she hit the walls of the ravine, plunging on there.

"Ha-ha, you missed," both ganmen mocked Kamina, dancing and making gestures, like showing their tongue (who would know that ganmens had tongues?).

"You think so?" Kamina replied, smirking.

Inside the rock, Nia was digging in a speed never dug before with Solvernia's drills, and she tried to control better her way, gripping the controls, "I guess it's time to do it!" and she guided her mecha to the outside, finding the way she entered there. Solvernia popped out from the rock and crossed over the two ganmen like they were air, before returning at Gurren's hand. The ganmen exploded, but only their torso burnt, their limbs weren't caught by the explosion.

"They were destroyed…" Guzack gulped and ran away, scared, only to have his two partners, a sloth and a cat beastmen, to fall over him.

"Captain, what do we do?" the sloth beastman said.

"First, get off me! And second, let's run away!" and they went as far as they could from Littner.

The villagers, on the other hand, were celebrating their most awesome victory yet.

"Talk about overkill…" Dayakka said, rubbing his head.

"But you have to admit," Yoko replied, "That was pretty cool."

"So, he's your type?" Leeron teased, coming out of the blue.

"Leeron, if I hadn't a sense of humor…" she flustered.

"But, I'm impressed! Hijacking a ganmen was something that never occurred to us. They're amazing!"

"Today we also set a new record for defense of Littner," Tetsukyan said, "Now we have the entire day in peace."

"You're right, Tetsukyan," Dayakka called everyone, "Alright! Let's clean up everything and the rest of the day is free!" Everyone cheered.

Inside Solvernia, Nia was breathless, "That was hard," but she smiled when Boota licked her face, "But I had fun too."

"That's the spirit, Nia." Kamina smiled, "No matter how unforgiving this place may be, we're gonna clean it up! Me, in my Gurren, and you, in your Solvernia! Together, let's build a home in the surface! Wait for me, father…" Nia giggled and blushed a bit.

Before returning to Littner, Kamina himself dug another tomb for the skeleton, after he smashed with Gurren's hand. "Sorry, pal, I didn't want to disturb you. No hard feelings, okay?" Before he could go, he saw a blink in the exposed wrist of the skeleton. Kamina's face fell, "No way," he dropped the shovel he was holding and ran to the skeleton and started to undug with his bare hands. Everyone stared him, without know what do talk as the despair increased in his tone of voice, "It can't be! It's not possible!" A red cape was there, covering the skeleton, and the skeleton was also wearing some adorns, like the wrist-bracelet with the shape of a skull. Kamina remained silent for a few seconds, agape, and finally said, "Dad…" Everyone gasped. "You died… You didn't wait," his face was starting to get soaked with tears and he finally screamed in agony, "DAAAAD!"

Chapter Text

"And then, Nia, in a clever maneuver, stopped running, letting those two idiots trip over each other," Kamina was retelling his version of the battle of that day to all people who didn't have the opportunity to see the battle. He was a good storyteller; he managed to capture the attention of his spectators in a unique manner; some people wondered how he kept that tone of voice without getting tired or needing a cup of water (however he didn't abuse of his voice); when people started to get distracted with other things, he could recover their attention without problem.

"After knocking the ganman down with the help of Nia and Yoko, my soul sister opened the mouth of the mecha with Solvernia and I pointed my sword to the beastman inside," he picked a stick and pointed to a random teenager in the audience, a brunette with blue eyes and gap between his front teeth, while Kamina changed his voice, to an imperative tone, "Get out! I'm taking over now!" the teen was taken aback and started to slowly go backwards and then Kamina jumped at him, brandishing his stick, and flung his arm over his neck, "The beastman ran away and since I was in a good mood, I was merciful and let him live, but the mighty Kamina will take on any beastmen threatening this village! Because I have Gurren!" he kept squeezing the teen, who was clueless about everything, "All this thanks to my soul sister Nia!" Everyone cheered, especially the brunette teenager when Kamina let him go.

"Is he okay?" Yoko asked while seeing him at retelling the story of that to the villagers of Littner. He was obviously adding some details and emphasizing his and his sister's achievements, how he stole Gurren and how they defeated the ganman.

"Huh?" Nia replied, somewhat distracted. She was sitting on Solvernia, watching Leeron's crew fixing Gurren. She was trying to get interested in the mechanics of the process; however the truth was that she was just killing time. Using the spare parts of the other ganman, they planned to replace its busted parts with working ones, Leeron was leading them like a maestro leading a symphony. Kamina suggested that they use the zanbatos to make shades just like his trademark ones. Leeron had said that wasn't impossible, to which he replied 'let's make the impossible possible!' but backed away when the engineer-mechanic flirted with him.

"I mean, he came to the surface hoping to be reunited with his father only to discover he was dead all this time," she looked pensive.

"No, I mean, it's one reason, but it's not the only one," Nia explained, "Actually he hated himself because he wasn't able to go with him when he was a kid… But now he can go, he is grown-up now. That's why he wanted to see his father."

"I don't understand very well, he should be depressed now, but he's taking this too well… Surely there's more than eyes met," the red-haired remarked, while resting her arms on Solvernia.

"What do you mean?"

The red-haired stood up, folding her arms behind her head, and said, "At first I thought that Kamina was just a jerk, a big stupid, arrogant, uncouth, loudmouthed one..."

"Please, don't say that." Nia requested, a little offended with her.

"Sorry, didn't mean to offend," Yoko apologized, showing both hands, and realizing that she should have chosen better her words, "I just got off to a bad start with him… But seeing him crying for his late father made me feel compassion for him. And there he is," she turned from Nia to look at Kamina and his theatrics, "He feels he can take on the beastmen army alone. And he even remembered that I helped." What she didn't tell Nia was that she was starting to think that his visible personality was a façade that hid his own fears and concerns.

"Kamina is the most confident person I've ever seen," the little digger said, smiling and feeling proud of having him as her brother "at our village he always had words of encouragement for everyone, even if they thought he was a bit weird."

"You two have a nice relationship," she said, patting her shoulder "I'll look forward to know more about him and I hope we can be great friends."

"Me too!" Nia giggled.

At that moment, another murmur started where Kamina was, people started to discuss and Yoko and Nia went there to see what was happening. Kamina was discussing with an old man; he was wearing a cloak and had a swollen left eye and grey hair, and, while he talked, he was pointing his cane to Kamina.

"So, you're the new lad here, neng" he said, with a rusty and baffled voice.

"That's Kamina for you," he said, in a boastful tone while adjusting his glasses, "A badass man with an indomitable spirit!"

"So you think you're manly, neng?" the old man said, as he walked, circling him, "In my time, manly men had manly jaws that could eat solid rock and drink sand juice in the breakfast!"

"Sand juice?"

"We crushed the sand in our palms until the juice came out," he said, while showing his toothless grin, "Today we just have soup, bland and easy-tasting soup, neng!"

"Daad!" Yoko said, coming from the circle of people, "You should be resting!"

"Yoko, why aren't you training, neng?" he said, turning around, with the help of his cane.

"I already did my training today!"

"Miss Yoko, this is your father?" Nia asked.

"Yeah," as Kamina came next to them, and she said, "Come to think I didn't introduce my parents too."

"So, you forgot again." Kamina said, rolling his eyes, "Typical..."

"I'll pretend I didn't hear this," she pouted, but happily introduced her father, "Kamina, Nia, this is my father, his name is Yezike," and added, whispering, "and he's a bit senile and imagine a lot of things."

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Yezike!" Nia politely bowed to him.

"Ah, you're together with that guy... how many beastmen did you kill today?"

"Kill?" the girl gasped, "N-n-what do you mean?"

"I heard about your victory," he said, while looking at her, "So, you must've crushed them, giving a merciless judgment against everything they've done to us, neng. Did you see their blood?"

Nia cringed at the mention of blood, and her stomach twitched, starting to feel malaise, taking her hands to her head.

"And," she continued, "My mother must be in the cantina right now," she cried, "Mooom!"

Her mother came to the hangar, and greeted them, ""Nice to meet you, my name is Ysoko," she also was an old woman, but had golden eyes just like her daughter, "are you alright?" she opened her mouth to see her tongue, "Have you been eating enough?" she analyzed her hair, "Are you keeping your hair without dandruff?"

"Mom! You're embarrassing me!" Yoko flustered, expecting that Kamina would tease her, but he remained silent.

"Oh, you must be Yoko's boyfriend, right?" Ysoko said, after taking a look at the blue-haired shirtless man.

"Mom!" the red-haired protested. Kamina only raised an eyebrow and said, a bit chagrinned and sweat dropping, "Your daughter is... above the standard, but I don't think this is the case."

"So, you have stories," Yezike cut in, "If you want to remain in our village, be sure to be useful, neng!" Kamina didn't like the last words of the old man, it reminded too much from the chief of his native village, although the tone wasn't as irritating as the former.

"Dayakka will provide you a shelter, only ask him." Ysoko said, more sweetly.

Later at that night, Kamina and Nia were in their new home, after eating their supper they went to their respective beds. The first thing Nia noticed was that the bed of Littner was much more comfortable than the bed she had in Jiha. After the lights of the village were turned off, everyone went to sleep, except the vigilantes in the watchtowers outside the village. Dayakka told them that the vigilantes were trained for this and they didn't feel asleep at the night and set her eyes to be aware of everything during the night. Adding to the fact that beastmen very rarely attacked at night, logically she knew she could sleep without preoccupations, and she needed the sleep to be reinvigorated for the challenges of tomorrow; she was tired. However, her mind wasn't relaxed. She looked at Boota, who was curled asleep on a drawer and wondered if pig-moles had the same thought as humans.

Why can't I sleep?She thought. Her big and blue eyes were fixed at the ceiling above her. This is a strange ceiling. She stopped to think in everything she had done after she went to the surface. Think. That was the only thing her mind could do, she wanted badly to sleep, but her mind wasn't allowing; she thought, she remembered from the first ganman she battled and defeated, she remembered hearing him screaming. Was he dead? But he tried to kill the entire village. She remembered the fury she felt when he made his despicable menace, she felt her emotions flowing to Solvernia as if they were powering her up. The memories flowed like water through a channel, how useless she was after that point, and yet, she and Kamina saved the village earlier, destroying the ganman, while snatching one. And then, Yezike asked how many beastmen she had killed today, if she had seen their blood.

Nia didn't like blood. When she cut her arm when she was 10, while digging and accidentally passed by pointed rocks; she stared at the red liquid slowly coming out of the little cut and became desperate, because she couldn't understand how that red thing could came out from her own body; until that age, she didn't have seen blood, since Hagatama didn't allow her to see the bodies of her parents, probably to avoid more trauma. After Kamina took her to Hagatama to do a curative, he also explained that liquid was blood and that was perfectly normal, that everyone had blood. The little digger girl accepted his words, but not without her own suspicious. And let's not even start talking about when she had her first period. If there was something she was glad to not see, it was blood.

Everything seemed too complex now; two days ago she was just a digger in Jiha, and she could receive pig-mole steaks if she made her job well, but now she was the pilot of Solvernia, she had to fight for survival, but she also remembered from Kamina's words, there was an entire world ready to be discovered. Kamina...

She got up from her bed and poked him until he got up. Kamina, on the other hand, was as asleep as a sack of bricks, even letting escape a loud snore sometimes. It took half of a minute for Nia to wake him up.

"Groan... Whu da ell d'you think I ammm," he muttered lazily, with eyes half-opened, yawned and looked better at the blurred figure beside her bed.

"Bro, I need to talk with you!"

"What? Nia?" still with numbed senses, he sat on his bed and stretched his arms, yawning again, "Why did you wake me up at the middle of the night?"

"Sorry, Bro," she replied, looking down, "I didn't want to disturb you."

"No prob, you're my blood sister, sit down and tell me what's got into you."

She sat beside him and meekly talked, "Bro, I can't sleep... Not after what Yoko's father asked me."

"What did he ask?"

Still bothered with the memory, she answered, "He asked how many beastmen I killed today. Bro, did I really kill them?"

"Why is such a big deal? I thought you wanted to avenge your parents."

"I know," she replied, glancing aside, feeling a lack of confidence, "At that moment I wanted to kill them, but now, thinking better… I'm not sure whether I want to kill them anymore…"

At first he didn't understand her question, but after thinking a bit and hearing her, Kamina remembered that Nia's nature was kind and well-spirited, that's why the idea of killing beastmen or any other living being was difficult for her to assimilate; but he also knew he needed to teach her how to fight, because he knew that the enemy didn't differentiate between good and evil people, they just wanted to kill all of them.

"Because, even if they are our enemies, they seemed so alike to us," she said, concerned, "They screamed when we hit them... that beastman that was in Gurren was so scared when you got him..."

"Nia..." Kamina said, trying to find the right words to explain her about the harshness of their world, he understood that people had died while fighting them, it was a no-nonsense hour. The tattooed blue-haired man wasn't oblivious to the facts, but he sought to protect her from everything, after all she was his blood sister, and this fact alone was reason enough. "Remember what I said before, you must cast off the girl you used to be. I don't know why those beastmen hate us so much, but the fact is that they will kill us if we don't do something."

"I don't understand... if they're like us, then they wouldn't have any reason to hate us, would they?"

"… I don't know, sis…" he sighed.

"But does that mean I have to kill them?" she asked, concerned.

Kamina remained silent for a few moments; he stroked his chin, trying to figure out an answer. The eyes of his sister were gleaming of preoccupation, but Kamina finally got a conclusion, "Nia, you don't need to kill them. You just need to teach them a lesson," he said, slamming his fist on his palm, "We just need to go the beastmen's boss and tell him," he raised his voice, "JUST WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK WE ARE? ! WE'RE GONNA LIVE IN THE SURFACE AND YOU WILL NEVER FORCE US TO GO UNDERGROUND ANYMORE!" Kamina's speech helped to craft a smile at Nia's face and wake up his neighbors. "Sorry," he said, responding to the murmurs. Kamina then looked at Nia in the eyes and said seriously, "But Nia, I must warn you of one thing: don't forget this is war, there will be a time that you'll have to kill your enemy to protect you and your friends."

"Thanks, Bro, I'll do this!" she smiled, "I think I'm better now."

"Good, now go sleep, tomorrow will be another great day!"

Nia returned to her bed, glad that she had that conversation and blushed while resting her head over her pillow, thinking, I love you Kamina…

At the door, a certain red-haired was overhearing everything. Yoko had woken up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and, upon her return, she saw Nia trying to wake up Kamina. After they finished, Yoko returned to her room, thinking, He's a pretty different person when she's around. Who would've thought? And with an amused smile, she rested her head over her pillow.

________________________________________

In the next day, Kamina and Nia prepared for the diary ganman assault, after waking up and eating their breakfast. But, since there was no occurrences by the morning, Kamina decided to take care of other business, taking the rebuild Gurren outside the village and a handful of red, yellow and orange paint.

Close to the noon, Yoko came out, with a quiver full of arrows and decided to take a look at what took Kamina and Nia's entire morning busy. She saw that they painted a logo at Gurren's shoulder pads and Nia's shirt had the same logo sewn at its back.

"See, Nia, this turned out great," Kamina said, admiring their work.

"Sure thing!"

"What's that logo on your back?" Yoko asked.

"Ain't that great?" Kamina replied pointing to the logo, while Nia showed it at her back, "That's the logo of Team Gurren."

Yoko seemed somewhat amused with the design, a flaming skull wearing Kamina's shades, but digressed and asked, "So, I'm about to go hunting. Would you go with me, to keep company?"

"Say what?" he replied, "What we're supposed to do if a ganman show up while we're out?"

"I don't think more will come today," she responded, "They only come in the morning."

"Really?"

"Yeah, they don't attack every day. We must take advantage to find water and food," he adjusted the strap of her rifle and kept talking, "We need to go to the ponds, it's quite a hike and a lift would be nice."

"All right," Yoko was happy that Kamina, but changed a bit her humor when he turned to Nia and said, "Nia, let's go!"

"Yay!" the little digger lifted her fists of happiness, but then asked, "Where are we going?"

"Yoko knows," he jerked his thumb at the sniper, who wasn't much thrilled with the company of the little digger. In a discontented tone, almost frowning, she replied, "O-kay…" Nia wondered why Yoko didn't seem so amused with her company. Yoko actually thought that Nia could be a nuisance to her while hunting, like asking the names of the animals to the point of making her losing the concentration, but they departed nevertheless.

________________________________________

 

"So, let me get this straight," Kamina asked, sitting on the ground, a bit bored of watching Yoko hunting. It was already more than one hour that they had left Littner. "All those weapons are from your village?" Kamina, unlike Yoko, didn't have much patience, he didn't like to stay still, without anything to do besides wait, and he already got used to Yoko.

"That's right," she replied, aiming at a white croco-rabbit, "For generations, it stood guard over a forbidden storehouse." Kamina didn't understand why she didn't shoot that animal and aimed for another, "But one day, poison gas started leaking out of the storehouse and spread over our entire village."

"Your father told us a very different story."

Yoko distracted herself a bit, but replied, "You don't understand, my father stayed back to guarantee that everyone would get out and he find the source of the gas leaking," she sighed and resumed the search for a potential prey, "The gas affected him a bit, he started to have hallucinations… that's why he has a swollen eye and that verbal tic," she said, aiming at a flying-raccoon. She almost pressed the trigger, but the animal hid in the thick grass, "But, thanks to my mom, he's better now, but he still talks a lot of things." She turned to him and asked, "Kamina, you didn't talk about your mother, did you?"

Kamina looked to the sky and answered, "I never met my mom, she died of childbirth."

"Sorry…"

"It's okay now… When I asked about her, dad always said she was a unique woman, shy yet full of dreams, he used to say. When she died, dad raised me on his own, always talking about the surface," Kamina then looked down, "He also said that going to the surface was mom's dream too, she inspired her… Man, how I hated myself for not being capable of following father," he then smiled, "But, after burying my old man, I realized that if I'd go that time, Nia wouldn't have anyone to help her, interesting…"

"We aren't different," she said, returning to aim at a grape-hippo, "If we didn't have these weapons, we would never been able to fight the beastmen," she drifted her aim from the grape-hippo and directed toward a black-heron, "they were stored for uncountable generations and we just started to use like a decade ago." She pressed the trigger, shooting an arrow right at the neck of the black-heron, "Got it!"

"Congratulations." Kamina replied, bluntly.

"You know, this rifle is powered by electricity," she said as she loaded another arrow, "and that's great, because I can swap out bullets for these arrows." And she ducked, aimed and shot another grape-hippo, right in the forehead. HEADSHOT!

"Wow, you're pretty good."

"I'm the best shot in the whole village," she said, happy with the praise, "That's why I'm allowed to use it. Dad always encouraged me to train and hone my skills." She smiled and asked, "And how about you? Do you want to take a shot?"

Kamina widened his eyes and eagerly replied as if that was the line he was waiting for years to hear, "Yeah, you bet it!" Finally some action.

From a distance, Nia was observing them, while pumping water to the gallons using Solvernia. "Boota, why did Yoko ask me to get water instead of hunting?" she asked to her furred companion, "Perhaps she wants to know Kamina better, like she said yesterday, right?" she said, but the way she talked, it looked like she was trying to assure herself of something.

Yoko handed her rifle to Kamina and told him to be careful, since it was irreplaceable. Kamina almost dropped in the ground, but Yoko, after facepalming, held his hands together to teach him the basics, after all, after removing the safety lock, reloading and pulling the trigger, the rifle was pretty much user-friendly. Kamina aimed at an airborne flying-raccoon and shot,, hitting it right at his belly.

"Yeah, I got it!" he cheered.

"Nice shot." Yoko replied, in a mix of amazement, unbelief and even a little of jealousy. How come that newbie hit straight right at his first shot?

"That's the spirit!" Kamina said, getting up, "I'll to go there catch my prize." Unbeknownst for him, a black silhouette also made his move towards him.

________________________________________

After Gurren and Solvernia left Littner, twenty minutes to be exact, a group of three wanderers came to the outskirts of the village. Wearing black cloaks and mounting running-sheepdogs, they passed through the ravine leading to Littner. The guards in the watchtower, recognizing that their mount, wasn't the usual mount of the beastmen, let them through, but they didn't let to have an eye at them. Dayakka lifted his hand to signal the soldiers of the village to drop their weapons, after all he knew the entrants: they were the Black Siblings.

"So, it's been almost a year since your last visit, huh?" the chief of the village greeted them, after all, the Black Sibling wandered through the earth, fighting the beastmen and stopping by any settlement that could give them some provision and shelter and his village always welcomed them. Littner wasn't the only village that reached the surface.

The tallest one unzipped her cloak and greeted him. "It's been an year, indeed, Dayakka." It was a blond and tall woman, blue eyes and a captivate smile.

"Kiyoh, I-I-I-I," Dayakka failed at finding words to talk her, and started to hiccup and blush. Some would say that he was having difficult even to stand still.

"This is so last year," the second sibling also unzipped her cloak, revealing a woman with long and black, but practically purple hair and a mischievous smile, Kiyal.

"Boss," Tetsukyan nudged him, "Weren't four of them last year?" The chief wasn't paying attention to his sidekick and was still repeating "I-I-I-" like a broken record.

"Anyway, we must warn them," the third sibling tried to call their attention, shyly. She was a short-haired brunette, with a timid smile at her face, which had a pair of glasses, Kinon.

Her words helped Dayakka to regain his leader posture and he asked, concerned, "Warn? About what?"

Kiyoh's face hastily shifted from a welcomed smile to a serious expression, "We've been tracking a powerful ganman coming to this area, and we believe he may be heading for this village."

"A powerful ganman?" Leeron asked, coming out of nowhere, tapping his chin, interested in their talk, "How come? Please, tell me all your secrets~."

"The ganman known as Enki was spotted next in the area of the Nyugat River two days ago," Kinon said, holding a handmade map, using her index finger to point the locations, "We believe that he must be next to the Ivaze Marsh, if our prediction is right."

"Here?" Dayakka stared and his expression was now of preoccupation.

"But that's where Kamina, Nia and Yoko are!" Tetsukyan uttered.

"Not to mention that he's dangerously close to Littner!" the chief added.

"Our brother Kittan went to recon the area," Kiyoh said, "I just hope your friends find him before the ganman."

"I understand, but I think that they can hold still against him," Dayakka said, footsure.

"What? You can't underestimate your enemy," Kiyoh said, a bit rattled, "That ganman is piloted by a high-ranked soldier in the beastman army and destroyed many villages and settlements!" Kinon and Kiyal also agreed.

"Sorry, it's because, thanks to them, we have two new weapons against the beastmen: Gurren and Solvernia!"

"What are 'Gurren' and 'Solvernia'?" Kiyal asked, folding her arms behind her head.

"They're ganman at our service now!" the chief of Littner made a smug smile.

"WHAT?" the three siblings shouted at the same time.

________________________________________

After going into the thick grass, Kamina walked his way to find the downed flying-raccoon through the grass. There was a clear path while he walked through, that was made by the villagers of Littner to not get lost while getting water and food. After few minutes, he finally found his game, "There it is," he said to himself. But he also heard someone approaching; by the noise made by the footsteps, it wasn't an animal. He turned around to see a cloaked figure, trying to look intimidating with the big red eyes and mouth painted over the black textile background.

"You must get out of here quick!" the cloaked figure replied, emphatic.

"Who the hell are you?" Kamina asked, jumping and grabbing him by the collar., "Why are you wearing that mask?"

"Calm down, let me unzip my cloak," he said, doing what he said he'd do, revealing his face; he had a blond Mohawk and big, long eyebrows. "My name is…"

"You make a good impersonation of a beastman," Kamina said, interrupting Kittan's introduction and yanking his collar, "Show me your teeth!"

"Wha-"

"I said SHOW ME YOUR TEETH!"

"Okay!" and he clenched his teeth. When Kamina saw that he had the same teeth a normal man would have and he let him go.

"So, you're not a beastman, huh?" the tattooed man casually said, and picked his flying-raccoon. When he looked at him, he saw there was another arrow that pierced the animal, a black one, in contrast with the gray and white that belonged to him. "So, you want my dinner?" he asked to the blond, suspicious; even if he wasn't a beastman, he still didn't feel confidence at him.

"Dinner?" he shook his head, a bit confused.

"Don't play dumb with me!" Kamina said, irritated, "The second arrow is yours!"

"I'm carrying no bow or anything," Kittan said, crossing his arms and furrowing his eyebrows, starting to get impatient with his attitude and then widened his eyes, saying, "That means…"

He didn't have a chance to complete his phrase. Another black arrow flew at their direction and it would have hit one of them if they didn't duck. They could hear the swirling sound of the arrow cutting through the air, not loud and incursive like an assassin to his victim. Naturally, an assassin shot the arrow.

"You dodged," a calm voice talked, "good reflexes, monkeys." He finished with a weak praise and slight amusement; clearly he wasn't expecting the miss. He stood on a rock, holding his bow. He was a humanoid blond beastman, eyes and hair, and had shark-like teeth and cat-like hands. Her clothes were red and he had a big cleaver sheathed around his waist.

"Who are you?" Kamina asked, angry.

Not so far, Yoko was watching that through the scope of her rifle and saw that the fight starting, "Wait a minute," she called Nia, "Nia, I think Kamina is in trouble!"

"What?" Nia spoke, startled.

He threw away his bow and picked his cleaver and put himself in offensive stance, while giving his introduction, "Human Eradication Forces, Far East Theater Commander Viral." He gave him an intimidating grin, with murder stamped on his eyes.

"Say what?"

"There are two things, you need to know: first the Human Eradication Forces eradicate all humans who come to the surface, and second," he pointed to the dead flying-raccoon Kamina was holding, "that's my dinner, you will return it to me."

"Gosh, I'm so sorry," Kamina replied, with a sarcastic apology, "Here take it!" He lifted the raccoon and crushed his tail. To their surprise, the animal started to struggle and scream. The blue-haired man hurled the animal at his face and, while he was distracted, Kittan whistled. His running-sheepdog responded his call; he hopped on and said, "Get out of here too!"

Viral finally got rid of the animal and said, "You won't escape!"

"Escape?" Kamina grinned and stood, immobile. He grabbed his katana and started to unsheathe it slowly, right in front of Viral's eyes, who preferred to wait him to get ready for their fight, "Who said I'll escape? Don't insult me! Who the hell do you think I am?" a glint in his sword was visible, "I'm Kamina, of Team Gurren! Parents use my name to make their children behave, and I never run from a fight!"

"That pathetic bravado will get you killed." Viral replied, with a light insult, after all this was going to be amusing for him. Most predictably, Kamina was the first to strike, swinging his katana horizontally, however he just cut the grass; he should be aware that Viral had enhanced reflexes and agility. Where did he go? He held his katana tightly, waiting his opponent to show. Now Kamina was the defense, and he hated to be defensive, but he was aware that Viral could pop up from nowhere. He came, jumping at him while twiddling his cleaver in one hand, before delivering a powerful blow at him. Kamina gritted his teeth and blocked, but was forced to step back. Viral, slightly amused said, "You fight well," he delivered another hit, forcing Kamina backwards, "but you're just an amateur," the intensity of his blows was increasing while Kamina still had to block his attacks, "Do you honestly think," he charged again, to be blocked one more time, "you're match for a trained soldier!" the shark-cat beastman taunted, while hitting with an overhand strike, making a cut a Kamina's waist, and another one at his arm. The sound of metal clashing with metal resounded through the area, while they exchanged blows. Kamina, in spite of the defensive situation he was put through, replied, "Dumbass!" he blocked the latest hit holding the sword with both hands, a signal that he would yield to his opponent's pressure soon if he didn't do anything, "Real men don't think! They act!" Viral directed his attack to his feet, but the blue-haired jumped, narrowly avoiding, only to be hit again, since Viral took advantage of the momentum to turn it in an attack directed against his head. Kamina managed to block with one hand and, during the precious few moments his enemy's weapon wasn't harassing him, he picked an arrow he kept in his pants and slashed him.

Viral's cat eyes widened in disbelief when the tiny arrow made a cut in his cheek. His attack streak stopped at that point and he was thrown away, but landing without problems.

"Damn… so you dodged it." Kamina lamented, while discarding the arrow.

He wiped the dripping blood from his face and praised him, "Impressive! You managed to injure me," but he warned afterwards, "But a sneak attack only works one time. So, now what?"

Kamina didn't like the expression in his eyes; he knew instinctively that he would attack again, with more force than before, so he prepared himself. The beastman cried, "It's over!" and jumped at him.

"Look out, Bro!" Nia jumped out of the grass, throwing Solvernia against Viral. He used his free hand to impulse himself and don't crash against the mecha, landing on a rock.

"Nice save, Nia!" the blue-haired man said, guarding his sword. The brawl was over.

"Yoko told me to come here." She said, with Solvernia getting up and openinh her canopy. She stared at his light wounds and asked, concerned, "Is that blood?"

"Nia, it's nothing, don't lose your focus!"

"A miniature ganman?" Viral wondered, but he just from the sight after noticing a glint at the higher ground where Yoko was. She had aimed right at his head, but missed.

"He saw me from down there?" the sniper said in pure disbelief, but she quickly snapped out and kept shooting, missing all shots. When she finally thought she was going to hit him, Viral leapt and blocked the bullet with his cleaver and nonchalantly kept running. After that, she gave up, with her pride slimly hurt. Nia ran with Solvernia to catch her and they ran to where Gurren was, with Kittan accompanying them.

Viral raced through the grass to where his ganman was, behind a big rock. The ganman known as Enki was a tall mecha, even taller than Gurren; he was entirely silver, with yellow eyes and a helmet that looked like a second face, with a circle on the top. At the area, there was another beastman, checking Enki that was kneeled; actually, it was a beastwoman and her greased red and orange clothes indicated she was a mechanic, adding to the fact she had a big wrench that was resting on Enki's right leg and she was holding a portable computer, running some kind of test; her hair was blond, with cat ears at the top of her head, that even twitched when she heard Viral coming; her eyes were black, black like obsidian, which helped to emphasize her expression that could be translated in boredom and snarkiness; her last defining characteristic was a red headband covering her forehead; she was rather pretty for a beastwoman.

"Tsuuma!" Viral called her, "Quick, prepare Enki!"

"What?" she nonchalantly replied, "Have you given up hunting and decided to simply accept Thymilph's bucket of crap?"

"I don't have time for you antics now, Tsuuma," Viral replied, hopping on the cockpit, smirking "There's bigger prey to catch!"

"Like what? Someone that can make a proper manicure for your hands?" Tsuuma replied, not shifting her attention from the computer screen.

"Rogue humans!" Viral stated, before closing the cockpit.

"Oh…" she said, world-weary, stopping to type for a moment, "Whatever… let's earn our salaries. Changing Enki's support configuration to Eradication Mode." Viral grabbed the controls, which were almost identical to Gurren's controls and said, "Today will be interesting." The screen made a 'thumbs up' signal, accepting Viral as the pilot and he moved the controls to make Enki rise.

Nia, Yoko and Kamina watched from a distance Enki rising, as Kittan explained to them, while running to Gurren, "There's no way you can win against that! That's Enki, a powerful custom ganman!"

"Custom ganman?" Yoko asked.

"That means he has abilities beyond a normal ganman."

"This is just blabbery!" Kamina raised his voice, "First, we need to get Gurren and then fight like men, ganman versus ganman." After Solvernia jumped to a lower level, she landed right in front of Gurren.

Kittan was flabbergasted upon seeing Kamina entering in Gurren, "A ganman? Why do you guys have one?"

Kamina grinned smugly and replied, "If you want to know, why don't you steal one from an enemy too?"

Kittan could only say, "What are you guys?"

"We're Team Gurren!" Kamina said, grabbing the controls.

"Bro, are you alright?" Nia's face appeared on the Gurren's panel.

"Nia, h-how did you get there?" he asked, startled.

"Leeron calibrated it for us," Yoko said. In Gurren's panel, instead of her face, there was a gray sign written in red letters 'Sound Only'. She was using a communicator, explaining the function and checking her rifle, "This way, the three of us can stay in touch with each other during the fight."

"What we do now?" Nia asked, in an unsure tone.

"We kick his ass, what else?" Kamina replied, smirking.

"Kick ass is you're the only you can do?" Yoko asked, with some sarcasm.

"Well, we can also crush him, smash him, smite him, right, Nia?"

"But Bro, the new guy said it's a really powerful enemy, and he seems to be more powerful than anything we've seen."

"Don't be scared, Nia!" he ordered, "You've got Solvernia, you've got your drill."

"Okay..."

"Then I'll go first!" and he ended his message, his face disappearing from Solvernia's panel.

"Nia, I'll cover you," Yoko said, aiming at Enki, "If things get worse, you'll have to help Kamina!"

"Okay!" she said, still a bit unsure; nevertheless, she clenched the controls, preparing for anything.

"You," she called Kittan's attention, "You there, are you going to fight?"

"When things go like this, there's nothing else to do," he said, putting his hands on his pockets, "By the way, I'm…"

"Please, leave the introduction until later." Yoko replied, to which Kittan looked down, downcast.

Gurren walked to meet his match, while Enki stood still, saying, "There are reports of humans stealing ganman, which was the reason I was called here."

"The description matches with former commander Guzack's custom ganman, Daihihi," Tsuuma said, getting a feed of the situation, "However, it seems that the arms and legs were replaced… looks like someone put barrels as limbs."

"It doesn't matter, I'll have this wrapped up before dinner."

Kamina defiantly clashed faces with the enemy ganman, even ignoring the fact that Enki was slender and taller than Gurren, and started his speech, "'Ganman'? What kind of name is this? It's way too lame to be his name!" They measured forces, one pushing against the other, while talking.

"Of course gunmen is not the mecha's name, you simpleton monkey!"

"You should stop calling them monkeys," Tsuuma interrupted, "It's an offense to monkey beastmen."

"Tsuuma, don't distract me," Viral grunted.

"For your information, this is my Gurren and who the hell do you think you are, having two faces, you cocky bastard!"

"Oh, that's not a face," in contrast with Kamina's obvious hot-bloodedness, Viral replied calmly, "That's a helmet. It's traditional for a warrior to have a crested helmet. But you're just a lowly human! How dare you lecture me on such things? !"

"You people need to make up your minds! What are you? Humans or animals?" one more time, Kamina delivered the first strike of the fight, trying to punch him with his metallic hand. However, Viral blocked without much effort his attack.

"You acquit yourself well enough in person," Viral said, with Enki holding Gurren's fist and twisting him, "But your mecha skills needs improvement!" he finished, shoving away the fist and punching him right straight at his right 'cheek'. Gurren wobbled but fell to his back when Enki kicked him horizontally.

"Kamina!" Yoko uttered and Nia gasped, "Nia, go help him, I'll cover you!"

"I need to do something," Nia gritted her teeth, trying to swallow the fear and closed her, moving the controls of Solvernia frontwards.

"I'll help too," Kittan picked his slingshot and a black sphere. Yoko wondered why he was using those things, but didn't ask, due to the danger of the situation.

Solvernia ran to the battle scene, crying a battle cry, and used a natural ramp to impulse herself. She retracted her legs and replaced them with a drill. However Enki was alert to her movement and fired countermeasures, giant daggers from his shoulder pad. The daggers shot down Solvernia from the air and almost hit Yoko and Kittan.

"Yoko, are you alright?" Kamina called from the downed Gurren.

"Me and the new guy are okay, don't fret." She replied, amused that he actually took the initiative.

"See, Tsuuma," Viral called his mechanic and mission controller, "That was their tiny ganman. I've never seen anything like this before."

"I can run a match to localize its model, but I'll need the computer of the base," she stated, matter-of-fact.

"I think they may want to take a look at that thing."

Solvernia fell next to Gurren and it was in a much better state than Kamina's ganman. Then he said, "Nia! Let's do you-know-what!"

"You got it!"

Gurren picked Solvernia and Kamina announced the attack, "Finishing move! Perfect Combustion Of Manly Souls Cannonball Attack!" And so, Solvernia was hurled against Enki. Predictably, the silver ganman avoided her, after Viral said, "Seriously? Sending little girls to the battlefront?" Nia replaced switched the drill for her legs and used a rock as impulse and switched again to the drill, hoping to hit Enki by behind. However, Viral, with a swift kick, ended with their plan. Nia was knocked off her seat inside Solvernia and, if weren't for the canopy, she would be thrown far away from there. The mecha ended slamming against a wall.

"Nia!" Kamina cried and ran to Enki's direction hoping to take advantage of his apparent distraction, however was thrown upside down in the mid-air thanks to a low kick delivered by the silver ganman.

"Didn't I tell you?" Kamina watched in disbelief the silhouette of Enki, seeing from his panel his face turned upside down, but in the end he was the one seeing everything inverted. "A sneak attack can only work ONCE!" Enki punched him, right at the middle of the ganman, cracking sounds being heard, and sending him against the same that was Solvernia.

"Now it's MY finishing move!" red energy started to accumulate around the circle in his helmet. Yoko and Kittan widened their eyes and watched in despair; Kamina and Nia were sitting ducks. "Enki Sun Attack!" A beam of concentrated fired from the circle of doom, making the sky crimson and vaporizing the wall and melting what remained of the contact.

"Enki Sun Attack? Couldn't you have done better?" teased Tsuuma, bored and yawned, "Those humans had better names for their attacks and the sensors are still picking their vitals."

"This is a provisory name," Viral grunted. He also took advantage to look at the sunset, not because it was beautiful, but because it meant it was his cue to finish for today, "I see they've mastered the art of running away. No matter, I'll wrap this up tomorrow!" And the silver ganman walked away, as if nothing had happened.

On the other side of the battlefield, Yoko was immobilized due to the shock that the possibility that they died caused to her. Kittan, on the other hand, spotted something coming out of the soil, making a drill popping out. The remaining land slid down, allowing Gurren to move after, taking out some dirty with his own hands. Inside Solvernia, Nia was trembling, pale and sweating cold. Boota's licks weren't working to cheer her up. When she saw that were okay, Yoko looked to the skies and sighed.

"By the way," Kittan took advantage of the opportunity to introduce himself again, or, at least, try to, "My name is-"

"I'm not in the mood," Yoko replied, not looking to him, "Save it for later." Kittan again looked down, but this time, he didn't feel much bad. Two of their friends almost died and they need to go back to the village.

Chapter Text

Littner was in turmoil. Everywhere, all the villagers, from the youngest to the oldest, were stocking supplies, packing and unpacking, choosing which belongings to take and which to leave, cleaning and checking weapons, and ascertaining escape routes. Everybody was helping; everybody was very nervous, wondering what tomorrow would bring. Enki would return the next morning, ready to burn Littner to the ground. They had to be ready for any situation, consider all possible scenarios and stay prepared to make the necessary sacrifices, which might even include their own homes. In the improvised operations room, Dayakka was discussing the battle strategy with Leeron, Kittan, Kiyoh and Kinon, helped by his loyal sidekick Tetsukyan. They were gathered around a table in the middle of the room, gazing at a map that Kinon had sketched out displaying the village outskirts.

"Enki would want to land next to the village," Kiyoh said, poking at the map with a pointer to demonstrate. "So he'll probably land on the entrance of the ravine, right here." She placed her pointer at the wide area, not far away from the mark representing Littner Village.

Dayakka was staring blissfully at the eldest Bachika. Tetsukyan nudged him in the ribs, and he snapped back to his senses.

"That's what we should expect!" he hastily agreed, returning to his senses. "I'll tell Tozai's team to dig trenches in the flanks, and then we can surprise him."

"Kamina already told us he'll face Enki again," Leeron interrupted, drawing a point in front of the entrance of the ravine. "He'll stand by here," he pointed to the area in front of what they expected to be Enki's landing site, "and Solvernia will act as backup. We can place snipers among the rocks."

"How are the repairs?" Dayakka asked.

"Gurren took a baaaad beating, but nothing that can't be fixed." Leeron then tapped his lips tentatively. "However I still have my doubts…"

"We need more to stop that ganman." The only male Bachika turned his gaze to the elevated areas. "Why don't put a lot of explosives in the top of the valley and lure him in?"

"We've tried that before," the chief replied, "It didn't work."

"But we need an alternative plan…" Kinon said in a timid way, trying to contribute with more than drawing and interpreting maps despite her natural shyness.

"Before the sun rises, Littner is to be evacuated," Dayakka said, in a rather grim tone.

"That means…" Kiyoh gasped, alarmed.

"If plan A doesn't succeed," Yezike entered in the operations room, followed by his wife, "we will lure Enki inside Littner and blow up the entire village. Everyone has already agreed on this issue, neng."

"But you'd lose your homes, where would you live?" Kinon raised her voice, slamming her hands on the map, overcoming her shyness for once. "On this continent, there's nothing but desert for miles and miles!"

"It's better we escape with our lives than die at home, we've no choice, neng!" Yezike looked down, but his tone remained resolute. Ysoko embraced him and leaned her head against his, her eyes tearing up a little.

"The fate of this village is in the hands of that dumbass!" Kittan cut in, slamming his fist on the table. "Where is he anyway?"

Kamina was sitting on a circular rock under the full moon, finishing up his dinner; he also had some bandages on his chest and face, courtesy of the wounds Viral had inflicted on him. Nia was sitting on the other extremity of the rock, embracing her legs and looking down; she didn't even touch the tray of food beside her. She was too worried about what the next day might bring. Enki was something else; different from anything either of them had ever seen. He beat Kamina without any effort; if the silver monster had beaten her beloved blood brother who was stronger, smarter and more confident than she could ever expect to be, what sort of chance would they have? Boota felt her tumult of emotions and pushed the tray towards her, trying to get her to eat. If worst came to worst he would even give her his tail if it would make her feel better, but Nia just didn't feel like eating.
After taking a bite of his roasted steak, Kamina decided to ask his sister some things that had been bugging him.

"Nia, why'd you drill a tunnel?"

"S-sorry…" she replied, whimpering at what she perceived as a sign of disapproval, "I didn't know what to do. I-I was afraid," she hiccupped, "afraid to die, afraid to lose you, sorry."

Kamina frowned a little, not disappointed with Nia, but with himself; he wished he had phrased his question more tactfully. A smile took the place of the frown and, after tossing away the bone of the steak he was eating, he pointed to the starry sky.

"Nia, pay attention!" he ordered.

She slowly turned to him and looked, curious.

"Your drill is meant to dig toward the heavens! It's not for getting away, gotcha?"

"But, Bro…"

"Tomorrow is the final showdown! The bad guy was just lucky because we didn't fight at our full potential." His confidence knew no bounds. "Don't forget that we're Team Gurren! If the bad guy thinks he's winning, it's because he doesn't know who the hell we are!"

Nia didn't say anything, just continued staring at the ground. Her expression betrayed her feelings of concern and doubt. Kamina didn't let his smile fade and gently patted her back, saying, "I'm getting some sleep. You should finish your meal and go to your bed, Nia."

Kamina walked away, hands in the pockets of his trousers. Behind him, Nia began slowly eating her tray of food. As he entered the village he noticed something on the edge of his vision, and turned his head to face it. It was Yoko, leaning against Littner's gate, arms folded and a serious expression on her face. She uttered a single sentence.

"Let me pilot Solvernia."

The tattooed self-declared badass stopped; the redhead hadn't finished and, judging by her tone, that could take a while.

"I can pilot that thing tomorrow," she continued, just as predicted. "Nia's a little girl, not a soldier! If you let her pilot in the state she's in, you'll end up getting both of you killed!"
Yoko's concern was justified and her worry natural. After all, she'd been fighting the beastmen since before Nia had lost her parents. She had seen death, and one of the reasons she was so good with a rifle was because she feared the consequences of failing, of missing a beastman that was attacking a friend, or being to slow to fire. Sometimes, the images of people she failed to protect came to her mind and, at that moment, she was thinking about them when she warned Kamina.

"Ron can calibrate for me," she went on. "I'm more used to combat than that girl. Can't you see? She's too weak, both her body and her mind! You saw what happened today, she ran away!"

Kamina stood still for a few seconds before replying. "Nia will do it. I'm sure because I know she can."

"Why?" Yoko clenched her fists, failing to comprehend him, which wasn't an uncommon occurrence. This time, though, she couldn't afford not to understand him.

"How can you say that? Why do you have such faith on her?"

Scratching the back of his head, Kamina felt challenged by her words. In fact, on a certain level he agreed with her. But he knew why he could trust Nia.

"Okay," he acceded. "I'll tell you, but it isn't going to make much sense."

This was the last thing Yoko had expected to hear. Her interest was piqued, and she wanted to hear his response.

"What is it, then?"

"Because I believe in her, I can believe in myself," he replied, gazing up at the ceiling. "It's all the same, as far as I'm concerned." He then looked back and smiled at her. "That's what it means to be blood siblings." Even if he walked away with a smile, Yoko didn't let her skeptical scowl falter; after all, she just knew the guy for a couple of days. Even if he was mildly attractive, he was so different. Eccentric even. Perhaps that was why he was so attractive. Still, she couldn't help but think 'What does he mean?'

Outside, Nia was just finishing up her meal. Putting down her spoon, she lay back and gazed at the stars. She turned her head to her loyal pig-mole, her silent therapist.

"Boota, why does Bro have such faith in me?" she mused aloud. "I heard some villagers saying I'm just a little girl, frail, helpless. And maybe they're right." She looked up, staring at the full moon above her. "Perhaps I am… but then, why did I find this thing?" she stared at her drill-key, still blinking with a faint glow. "What do you want from me?" she said, as if she was asking the object.

"You guys from Jiha are a bunch of weirdoes."

Nia squeaked, startled. She turned and noticed that Kiyal was peeking out at her from behind the rock. They had been introduced when they arrived at Littner, and Kittan finally introduced himself. The girls, however, were swooning over Kamina, making Yoko jealous, Kittan furious, and Dayakka worried about losing Kiyoh's attention. Nia was too absented-minded to notice this, but remembered their names.

"First, you guys pilot ganman," the purple-haired girl continued, dismissively. "And then you talk to your stuff." She ended the sentence with a grin.

"I wasn't talking with my drill-key, I was talking with Boota," Nia replied. The little pig-mole purred. "Buu buuyuh!"

"It's been a while since I last ate pig-mole steak," she replied as Boota hid behind the blond-green-haired girl. "But I guess I can wait for a little longer."

"I thought you were with your sisters, Kiyal," Nia said, looking at her.

"Yeah, but they're discussing important stuff like how to defeat the evil, big ganman. I said to use the burning water bombs-"

"What's that?"

"It's something we use to blow ganman and beastmen up. I'll show you tomorrow, I left my stuff in my room. Buuut, as I was saying, I had this idea: we could build a really big bomb and then take a special gas from Helo Village that makes things fly and drop it right on the enemies!" Nia stared at her with a blank expression; she couldn't make heads nor tails of the youngest Bachika's words. "And then Kiyoh said that we couldn't use this idea, because it was costly, dangerous, blah, blah, blah and Kittan told me to do something else, because they were discussing adult stuff." Kiyal threw her arms in the air, exasperated. "I'm just two years younger than Kinon, it's not fair!" She placed her hands on her hips. "Just because I'm the youngest Bachika, it doesn't mean I always have to be in the rearguard!" She then pointed to the sky and said, raising her voice, "They'll see! I'll leave my mark on this world!"

In some aspects, Nia mused, Kiyal reminded her a bit of Kamina. Even if it was Kiyal's version of the story, she couldn't help but notice the parallels, like nobody hearing her and her tendency to be dramatic. The little digger was amused a bit by this strange similarity.

"And you, Nia?" Kiyal said, sitting beside her. "You're gonna leave your mark on this world too, right?"

"What do you mean?"

"Let's use our imaginations." With her right arm she embraced Nia and with the other she pointed to the horizon and said, "Look at the infinite horizon, and then think that, all over that horizon, people will remember that Nia the Digger did something great!" She let her go and nudged her. "See what I'm talking about, hm?"

"I… I never stopped to think about this," she replied, looking down, avoiding Kiyal's gaze. "I would be happy if I could just stay with Kamina." Her cheeks started to turn pink, but the shadows of night concealed it.

"Yeah, he's quite a catch," The Bachika commented, nonchalant.

"What? No, I mean…" The little digger was caught off guard and waved her hands, trying to acquit herself, while her blushing increased.

"If you like him so much, why don't you tell him?" Kiyal suggested, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, and smirked evilly, while narrowing her eyes, "I bet you want to adult things with him."

"KIYAL!" Taking a deep sigh, which helped to bring down her blushing, Nia replied, "It's not the way that it works… Kamina and I have been together for seven years. We are blood siblings, as he says, but I want to show him what I feel, even if he doesn't like interested in me..."

"Anyway, it's better you find a way to say it soon, because there are more girls in line." Kiyal grinned. "And people usually marry young around here."
Nia had a hard time accepting Kiyal's words. The idea of competing for Kamina's attention was worrying, and the implication was that Kiyal herself would also be in that line. She was also convinced that Kamina wasn't interested in her at all, when in reality he was just completely oblivious to any kind of flirting whatsoever.

Without any apparent reason, Kiyal changed the topic of the conversation. "Your hair is a mess," she remarked, looking pointedly at Nia's hair. "Don't you take care of it?" Nia's hair really was poorly maintained. It was dirty, brittle and had many knots.

"I'm surprised you don't take care of your hair," continued Kiyal. "It looks like it'd be really nice if you did.

"Well, I'm a digger, I don't have much time and-"

"Now this just won't do!" exclaimed Kiyal. "You're on the surface now, you'll have plenty of time!" She dug into her pocket and picked out a small comb. "Let me tidy your hair a bit with this comb."

"You use this to tidy hair? I thought you used it to eat." Back in Jiha, she'd been using the combs she found as cutlery.

"Let me show you how it's done." Kiyal sat behind her and combed her hair. After some effort, the comb began to glide smoothly through Nia's hair.

"Say, Kiyal," Nia said. "You've been living on the surface all this time, right?"

"Yup. I'm a born and raised surface girl," the purple-haired Bachika replied. "Kittan, Kiyoh and Kinon were born underground, but the village moved to the surface before I came around." She kept talking as she continued to comb Nia's hair. One particularly bad knot was giving her trouble, and she pressed against it with the comb. "We lived comfortably until I was seven, and then-"

Kiyal's voice faltered. She continued on shortly, but now her words were tinged with a mixture of sadness and regret.

"That Enki came to our village with a bunch of other ganman. It fired its beam once, and all the houses were gone." The image of what the Viral dubbed Enki Sun Attack came to Nia's mind, and she winced. Kiyal continued without even noticing.

"The survivors tried to run away back down the tunnel to the old village, where the ganman couldn't fit. But the pilot came out and went after them on foot."
Kiyal's voice faltered again, and the comb stopped its passage through Nia's hair.

"He slaughtered them with a cleaver… No." She shook her head. "I don't wanna remember!"

"How did you make it out alive?"

"Mom hid us in a cupboard and told us she was going to look for a way out…" Tears began to roll down her cheeks. "But it was only later that I learned she was really trying to distract the beastmen." She sobbed a bit. "When we got out, there was nothing left but rubble and bodies." She put her hands to her face and started crying in full, the comb slipping out of her hands and clinking on the surface of the rock. Nia's eyes filled with sympathetic tears, and Boota shrunk back against Nia's leg.

"But." With effort Kiyal subdued her weeping. "After we became the Black Siblings, we swore to defend every human on the surface! We will kill any and all beastmen that try to harm humans! We've managed to live this long by standing up against their oppression! We laugh in the face of death!" She forced out a laugh that actually raised her spirit and allowed her to stop sobbing for the moment.

Nia sighed. She still didn't want to kill the beastmen, but she knew that she would think much differently if she'd been through what Kiyal had been through.

"Do you have any idea why they hate us so much?" she asked timidly.

"No…" the Bachika replied, disheartened.

"Do you think we can ask them?"

"Those freaks will never listen to us… Huh? Your hair," she said, gradually returning to her upbeat self. "I totally forgot!" She ran three more strokes through Nia's hair and declared, "Here, much better now!"

"I can't feel anything, Kiyal," Nia said, touching her own hair.

"It's because you need a mirror." The purple-haired grinned. "I've never seen hair like yours, half yellow, half green, half blue. What color is your hair?"

"Well, everyone says it's blond, but I don't know either," she replied, giggling a bit for the first time since the incident with Enki.

"I get the same thing! My hair's black but comes out purple," the Bachika said, rubbing the back of her head. Both girls laughed at the same time.

"I have an idea, let's be BFFs, Nia!" Kiyal randomly said, throwing her arms in the air.

"What does BFF mean?"

"BFF means Best Friends Forever."

"Just like Kamina?"

"Hmm," she tapped her chin in thought. "That means that Kamina is your BMFF, so I could be your BFFF!"

"With three 'F's?"

"Yeah, because I'll be your Best Female Friend Forever." She took Nia's pinky in her own and declared, "That means we're friends now!"

"That's nice!" Nia smiled, and Boota cheered.

________________________________________

While Littner was busy preparing for the coming battle, their enemies, the Eastern Eradication Forces, First Battalion, was camped around a tent. Of course, it wasn't the entire battalion; only Commander Viral and his mechanic, Tsuuma. They lacked surnames because, since they were cloned, there was no way to pass surnames on in any case. Their home base had been too far away to return to and still be close enough to engage the humans the next morning, but it didn't really matter anyway. So they camped out under the open sky.

Viral was crafted to be the perfect soldier, always obedient, always willing, always prepared to do whatever it took to defeat the enemy. His intelligence was higher than that of the average grunt, allowing him to possess a greater deal of initiative and a sense of honor. He had climbed the ranks mostly on his own, though he had had some help from the General Cytomander, who was always on the lookout for promising talent hidden among the lower rungs of the military.

Tsuuma was his opposite in every way. Created to be a technician, she was an expert with tools and computers. Where Viral's intelligence was based around efficiency in battle, hers was devoted to learning and improving the various complex processes that went on in the function of machines. She was far above the average beastman, who usually only got a cursory education. She had previously worked repairing machines in the palaces the capital, but insubordination and insolence had caused her to be repeatedly kicked downstairs, eventually landing her in General Thymilph's outfit. He quickly grew tired of her disrespectful manner (reportedly, the final straw had been when she dubbed him "General Tinkywinky"; it took weeks for his crew forget the incident) and she only avoided elimination because it was impossible to simply waste the amount of time and resources that had been spent to craft her finely-tuned mind. In the end Thymilph had designated her as Viral's mechanic, though as less of a gift and more to screw around with him. The relationship between the cat-shark and the coyote-humanoid had actually gone a lot better than expected; I mean, Viral hadn't lose his mind yet.

"Say, besides that mini-ganman, what else happened today?" she asked as she chewed on her rations, a displeased look on her face. "Gosh, I could say this tastes like trash, but then I would be offending the trash. I guess I could say this tastes like you if I wanted to avoid offending anyone."

"Ha, ha, very funny, Tsuuma," Viral replied sarcastically. He sank his spoon into the 'meal' and brought it to his mouth. When he tried to put it in his mouth, he found it was a gelatinous mass that was glued to the spoon. He ended up biting it off the spoon and found that he had to agree with his mechanic.

"This is absolutely atrocious. You must have gotten the proportions of water and powder wrong!"

"All I know about is metal and oil," she told him. "Now shut up and eat!" She stoically chewed another spoonful of ration. She was a bad cook not because of her abilities in the kitchen, but chiefly because she didn't care.

"If that Kamina-guy didn't steal my game today, we could've been eating something much better," Viral mused.

"He took more than your game. Looks like he took some of that shark-blood of yours, too."

"Yeah," Viral chuckled as he massaged his right cheek. "First time that's ever happened, and it'll be the last. Tomorrow I'll face him again." He looked up at the moon, pensive. "It's quite rare to find opponents like him. I'll surely enjoy tomorrow's battle."

"And then, we'll blow up that village, as usual," Tsuuma replied, not bothering to look at him.

"The humans are just stupid, acting like rats running away from the light," Viral scoffed. "But that guy was different. He wouldn't run away, even when it looked like he was going to die. He might just be the first human to earn my respect."

"I couldn't care less about the humans," Tsuuma cut in. "Why can't they just stay underground? It would make our lives so much easier."

"But then, we wouldn't have any job." he tried to argue.

"You wouldn't have any job," she replied sharply.

"Whatever," he said dismissively. "Configure Enki for duel mode and prepare my swords. Then we'll get some rest." He cracked his knuckles. "I have to be at my best for tomorrow."

"Pah, you and your honor...I already mapped out the terrain. The catapult will be ready for you at 0700."

________________________________________

Kamina woke with the sunrise, along with the rest of the village. Bleary eyes were rubbed away as the remaining villagers took their positions on the defenses. The only things remaining in the village were objects too large to be moved, ammunition and explosives. Regular soldiers were positioned around Littner's perimeter, and snipers sat in the observation posts. The civilians had been moved to a bunker, away from the fighting, leaving the village eerily quiet. Kamina was sitting on top of the bulky Gurren; both he and the mecha were patiently waiting, arms crossed. Solvernia stood at the entrance to the ravine, ready to act as backup in case things got ugly. Leeron and the Black Siblings were there as well.

"Before the battle starts, I'd like to make you all members of the Team Gurren!" Kamina declared, breaking the silence.

"What's Team Gurren?" Dayakka asked from his position in the defenses.

"It's a place for manly souls."

"Uh, I don't really follow you, but we'd be honored."

"So, I guess that me and Nia won't be part of this Team Gurren of yours," Yoko deadpanned, listening in on their talk.

"You dumbass!" the manly man replied. "Manliness is not about whether you pee sitting down or standing up! It's all about fighting spirit!"

"Ugh… okay…" Yoko scowled and would have stuck her tongue out at him, if he weren't in the ganman. She checked her rifle for the last time and said, "This place is our only home and I'll gladly give my life to defend it if it comes down to it!"

Nia was also waiting. She had faith in Kamina, but she was still afraid of what was to come. She wanted so badly to believe that Kamina would defeat Enki effortlessly, and that they would all go and celebrate their victory, but she couldn't. Her doubts were still too strong and the burden of responsibility weighed heavily on her shoulders. If something happened to Kamina, she would have to take on the enemy and protect the lives of dozens of people. The idea of failure haunted her thoughts. Since he wanted to duel Enki one-on-one, she hadn't inserted her drill-key into Solvernia. She eyed Yoko's determined stance and the Black Siblings' apparent calm and asked timidly, "Are you afraid?"

"Nia, if we said we weren't scared, then we'd be lying," Kiyoh turned to her and replied. "But if you keep running away you'll be killed."

"Sometimes we must face our fears," Kinon added. "That ganman, Enki, destroyed our village and we can't keep running away from him forever."

Nia was impressed with their attitude; years battling the beastmen had helped to mature their character. Yoko just glanced at her and muttered irritably, "Why does he let that silly girl pilot?"

"Don't worry, Nia!" Kiyal patted her back. "Everything's gotta be alright!" She smiled, winked, and gave thumbs-up to the little digger.

"Yeah and, besides, you have us," Kittan said, trying to reassure her. "We'll mount our sheepdogs and help with the defense. Because what are we?"

"We're the Black Siblings!" the three Bachika sisters shouted at the same time.

"And what do we do?"

"We laugh in the face of death!" The four siblings cackled together. Yoko found their motto rather annoying, thinking that it was hardly the time to be laughing, while Nia just blinked.

"They're also entertaining~!" Leeron mused. "But now the real deal is coming."

True to Leeron's prediction, the telltale whistling of a ganman flying through the air became audible to the defenders. They scurried to their positions, readying firearms and explosives. There was a blink of reflected sunlight, and a large gray shape slammed down exactly where they had predicted it would. A wave of dust rose and covered everything, obscuring all view. When finally it fell to the ground again, there stood Viral's custom Enki unit, gleaming silver in the sunlight.

"Systems initialized, initiating operation," the bored voice of Tsuuma told Viral. She was back at their campsite, sitting in front of a row of monitors that displayed various pieces of sensor data along with a streaming video of what Viral himself could see.

"I must compliment you human," Viral said, his voice resounding through the entire area, calm and intimidating as ever. "For not running away from a battle."

"Yeah," Kamina replied, his insolence and cockiness showing in full. "And I must compliment you for not running away from me, you sorta-human, sorta-animal freak!" He moved Gurren right up in Enki's face.

"You are a rather interesting human, hiding your fear behind your big words and refusing to give up even when it's pointless," the beastman taunted. "What makes you think that you can defeat me? Or rather, even if you could defeat me, what would you do against the entire world?"

"If the world is against THE MIGHTY KAMINA," the self-declared badass replied, raising his voice, "Then THE MIGHTY KAMINA is against the world!"

"So be it. If you fight well I'll carve your tombstone myself, in memory of a better-than-average human."

"I'll show you something better than average!" Kamina replied as Gurren threw a punch at Enki's helmet. Viral sighed and grabbed the red ganman's arm, maneuvering until it was twisted behind its back.

"I'm not even making much effort! Surrender now and I guarantee you a painless death!" Viral smirked malevolently.

"You just don't know me!" Kamina laughed while as he tried to elbow his opponent with Gurren's free arm.

"How predictable..." Viral replied, almost as bored as Tsuuma as he avoided the elbow and let him go, only to kick Gurren in the face.

"Bro!" Nia cried, sensing that Kamina was about to be thrashed again.

"We've gotta help!" Dayakka yelled, seeing that Kamina's primary plan, the duel, was going nowhere. "All units, open fire!" Every soldier of Littner aimed their submachine guns at Enki, hoping to hit a weak point. The bullets exploded all over the legs.

"Something itches," Viral remarked. The Enki's custom armor shrugged off bullets as if they were, well, an itch. The right arm opened and a flurry of massive knives flew out, halting the villagers' attack. Miraculously, no one was permanently hurt. This was in part because Kamina had rammed Enki with all his might shortly after the beginning of the attack, ending it before Viral could cause any significant damage.

"It's Kamina!" the soldiers cried. His action managed to buy them time to retreat.

"You guys are members of Team Gurren now," Kamina said. "I'm not gonna let them take you out like that!" But his charge had left his guard down. Enki lifted Gurren in the air and effortlessly threw him away.

"Tsk, tsk, he doesn't learn anything…"

"Neither do you," Tsuuma cut in. "The daggers are a defensive weapon to be used against incoming ordnance. You didn't score any kills among the humans."

"Tsuuma, I know what I'm doing!" Viral growled, annoyed.

"Oh, yeah? Then I guess you know there's an electric rifle aiming at you, fifteen degrees to the left." A metallic shield lifted from Enki's forearm, blocking Yoko's shot.

"See, no problem," snapped Viral.

"No way!" the sniper cried, incredulous. The other snipers tried to hit him, only to be blocked by the shield. At that moment, something emerged from his left shoulder and fired two missiles, one at each observation post, where the snipers were. They barely had time to retreat back to the main body of the base before the missiles destroyed their posts.
The shield retracted, revealing Kamina trying another charge.

"Pathetic…" reprising a movement of their last battle, Enki booted Gurren upwards and, while it still spun in the air, punched it right in the cockpit. The impact was so strong that Kamina crashed against Gurren's panel, earning him a head wound and a small trickle of blood down his face.

"Kamina!" Nia cried, helplessly watching from the distance.

"All right, Black Siblings," Kittan ordered, climbing on his sheepdog. "Time to take action!" Nia now had the Bachikas to worry about in addition to Kamina, even though they assured her that they were experts at fighting beastmen.

Crying their battle cry, the team of four siblings first circled Enki, while preparing their slingshots, and fired from all four directions at him. They launched the burning water bombs against the silver beast, but they only managed to divert his attention from Kamina; the attack did as much damage as Dayakka's attack earlier, only scratching the argent armor of the enemy. They gasped in shock upon seeing that their attack did no real damage and quickly readied another round of bombs.

"Filthy rats…" Enki jumped in the air, spun, and came down fist first. A seismic impact shook the area. The Black Siblings' mounts panicked, and the siblings slipped and fell out of their saddles. But this wasn't the end of it; some rocks had been knocked into the air by the attack, and when they fell, they fell right on top of the Bachikas.

"Kiyal!" Nia cried. Seeing so many people being easily defeated by that ganman was something Nia couldn't stand and she took action, inserting the drill-key into Solvernia. It took her two or three tries because her hands were shaking so much, but she finally got it in and gave it a twist.

Nothing happened.

"W-w-what's happening?" she gasped.

"Would you look at that," Leeron mused. He leaned over and gave the key a twist himself. The ganman remained motionless.

"No… please… Solvernia…" she mumbled, starting to sob. "I don't want to see you die Kamina, Kiyal, Kittan-"

Her sobbing was interrupted by Yoko's hands slamming down on the Solvernia's dash.

"Pay attention, Nia!" Yoko ordered her. The force of her words ceased Nia's sniffling, and the digger looked up.

"Take a good look at Kamina," commanded the sniper. Nia looked, and saw Gurren getting up once again after yet another beating. "He will get up until you show up!" Yoko locked Nia's eyes with her own, staring down into her soul. "He says 'believe in me who believes in you', doesn't he? It's because he has faith on you." Yoko had finally understood where Kamina's strength came from, recalling their talk the night before; he was Nia's brother as much as Nia was his sister, blood siblings, two of a kind.

Tears began welling in Nia's eyes again. Her brother was in danger, her best friend was in danger, heck, everyone was in danger. Kamina had always protected her; she couldn't be like him, not even if she tried. She relied on Kamina, not the other way around. At that moment, the truth struck her like a lightning: he had always trusted her all along, in every undertaking, no matter how weird it was, he always trusted her. Everything became crystal clear, and any trace of doubt disappeared from her heart. The tears stopped coming, and her gaze steadied. She clutched Solvernia's controls with all the spirit of a true blood sibling.

"If Kamina believes in me..."

The spiral gauge started to rise, filling out in an endless spiral. Solvernia opened its eyes, and they glowed green.

"Then I WILL BELIEVE!"

There was a burst of green energy that lit the ravine, gleaming bright and momentarily blinding those that stood near her.

"Hm?" Tsuuma uttered, surprised. "Viral, I'm detecting a new source of energy."

"I'll deal later," he replied, nonchalant. "First I need to finish this human."

Gurren had just gotten up again and clenched its fists, ready to fight Enki to the last.

"Getting up again?" scoffed Viral.

"I refuse to be defeated!" Kamina replied, the idea of lying down and dying completely unacceptable.

"If nothing else, I must compliment you, human," Viral returned, grabbing his arm again, swinging three times and throwing him into a rock, "for not giving up!"

The impact broke several instruments and fractured several of the screens. Kamina felt his energy draining; even if his will was unbreakable, his body wasn't in agreement. The villagers gasped in horror seeing Kamina so easily defeated by the silver monster.

"You fought well for a human," Viral said, while charging the helmet-ring, readying his special attack. "But now it's over! Enki!" The beam accumulated even more energy, turning the surrounding sky crimson,

"Sun!"

The energy reached firing power. The Black Siblings, who had just liberated themselves from the rocks, could feel a wave of heat coming from the silver ganman.

"Attack!"

"Spring Jump Kick!"

"What?" After hearing a 'clang' sound, Enki shifted to the right and fired the beam; the energy attack was wasted and hit an uninhabited mountain. "Tsuuma, what's happening?"
"I told you I was detecting a new source of energy, you nincompoop," Tsuuma replied in her typical insolent tone. "It's that mini-ganman."

Viral turned Enki to see the mini-ganman standing to his left.

"The nerve of that little thing!" grunted Viral. Then, louder: "Who are you?"

"I won't let your hurt anybody," Nia declared over the open channel, her expression resolute and her eyes burning with passion. Tsuuma's jaw dropped when she saw their new opponent.

"But it's just a cub," the mechanic beastwoman remarked. "And a female one at that."

"So the humans have no qualms about sending their own children out to do battle," said Viral uneasily. She was young, but the fire in her eyes burned bright.

"Who are you?" he repeated, "Are you a soldier or what?"

"I'm neither a soldier nor a warrior," Nia said calmly, her brow furrowed, her every nerve firing with concentrated spirit.

"My name is NIA and I am a DIGGER!"

Chapter Text

"My name is NIA and I am a DIGGER!" Nia's young and female voice soared through the entire ravine, shocking everyone, yet giving hope to the humans. Solvernia stood resolute, facing down the enemy without fear.

"That's the Nia I know!" Kamina said, smiling. He gripped Gurren's controls, trying to make it move.

"Ooooh, this oughta be interesting," Leeron giggled, shaking his hips.

"Where does that attitude come from?" Yoko pondered, flabbergasted.

"That girl is something else!" Kittan said, wide-eyed.

"Woo-hoo! Show 'em BFF!" Kiyal cheered, raising her fist in the air.

"Do you really expect me to fight you, Nia?" Viral asked calmly after regaining his composure. "You are just a little girl… I usually tend to spare little people like you. Hand me the mini-ganman and I'll spare your village... for today." He smirked evilly.

"So what? So you can come back tomorrow?" the little girl replied, not considering his offer even for a moment. "Why do you hate us so much?"

"Hate? Humans?" Viral forced a sarcastic chuckle. "Do I look like I care about humans enough to hate them? We're just following orders from the Spiral King. Why don't you go ask him?" Tsuuma nodded approvingly at his sarcasm. Viral considered that he might have spent too much time with the coyote beastwoman.

"What?" Nia roared in indignation. "You kill humans just because you are ordered to?"

"Of course. I can't be truly efficient if I actually care. How do you think I managed to climb up to where I am now?"

"If your leader told you to kill yourself without any reason, would you do it?"

"What kind of question is this?" the soldier replied, starting to lose his patience. "At least I have my honor!"

"What kind of sick and twisted honor is that?"

"You miserable little girl!" Viral growled, losing his calm. "I'll show you why humans fear the surface! You will regret the day you saw your first ray of sunlight!"

"Gosh, she's annoying!" Tsuuma sighed, only marginally interested in the outcome of the battle. She knew that Viral, even if provoked, managed to control himself without problems and direct his anger efficiently in a battle. In her mind, the battle had already been won.

"We head to the surface to find a better life! You don't have the right to kill us for that!" Nia's blood was boiling. Solvernia's arms turned into drills and spun quickly. "I will protect everyone from any ganman that tries to carry out this injustice!" She then pulled down her digging googles and warned Viral: "Don't make me kill you!"

"Uhn?" Viral's eyes first widened, then his shock turned to mirth. He laughed aloud.

"You must be kidding! Did you hear that, Tsuuma?"

"I've got to admit that's actually funny!" Tsuuma replied, amused, but refusing to laugh or smile. Her attitude bothered Viral, though he had never seen her smile anyways. He reflected on this for a moment.

"Pay attention!" snapped Tsuuma.

"What do you mean?" he asked. He looked forward and realized that the mini-ganman was leaping at him, drill-arms extended. He batted it away reflexively, but Nia simply turned the legs into a drill and dug into the wall she was about to crash into. Viral eyed his sides warily. Nia popped out of the ravine wall and managed to dent Viral's armor and disappear underground before he had time to react.

"Damn, she was too fast!" cursed Viral.

Solvernia did it again, this time emerging from the ground, denting the back of the silver ganman.

"Ugh, she's nothing but a mosquito! She's getting on my nerves!"

"The mighty Viral having problems with a mosquito?" Tsuuma replied sarcastically as Viral took another 'bite', this time scratching the ring at Enki's helmet. "The tiny ganman moves absurdly fast while underground. Her attacks don't do much damage, but if she keeps at it for long enough-"

"Tsuuma, you're not helping," Viral replied as Solvernia, flying in a diagonal direction, managed to take off a part of Enki's shoulder armor.

"I'm in the middle of an exposition!" She rolled her eyes. "Anyway, you have react in less than 1.8 seconds to hit her, after correctly guessing her emerging point. Let me see, according to the sensors, she will emerge at 28 degrees to the right."

"That's all I needed to know!"

As Solvernia was about to emerge, Enki leapt and swung in the mid-air, delivering a roundhouse kick right at Solvernia.

"Gotcha!"

"AAAAAAAHHHHH!" Taken by surprise, Nia could only scream as she was launchedat high speeds. Thankfully, she was caught in a large metal hand.
Gurren's hand.

"Way to go, Nia!" Kamina praised her from Gurren's cockpit.

"Bro!" she cried, relieved.

"So, you're not scared, huh?"

"Actually I am." She looked serious, but then smiled, ending with a giggle. "But I don't have time to pay attention in my fears."

"That's the answer of a true member of Team Gurren!" Kamina replied, winking at her. "Now we're gonna end this once and for all, using the you-know-what!"

"What does 'you-know-what' mean?"

"Don't be silly, what the hell else do you think I'm talking about?" The badass smirked, really eager to do what he had in mind. "WE'RE GONNA COMBINE!"

"They're gonna combine?" Yoko asked, confused.

"They're gonna combine?" the Black Siblings queried, amazed.

"They're gonna combine?" both beastmen pondered, distraught.

"They're gonna combine?" Dayakka's group uttered, hopeful.

"Oh, please." Leeron rolled his eyes.

Inside Solvernia, Nia blushed. Her blush was so strong both in color and temperature that an astronomer would easily mistake her with a red giant star. Through a nosebleed she said, "B-Bro, I think it's too early for us to combine."

"This isn't the time to think, but the time TO ACT!" With those words, Kamina moved Gurren's arm to smash Solvernia on the top of its head; Solvernia's drill broke the canopy of the red ganman and almost hit Kamina's head inside the cockpit. A silence permeated the entire area, as Kamina adjusted the ganman's position on his head.

"Now we've got two faces too!" he declared. "What do you think, fuzzball? Now we're equals!"

Several people were looking rather disappointed, for various reasons.

"Why do I only have one head and two hands?" Tsuuma complained, facepalming with both palms. "Viral, please save the world from their stupidity!"
Viral sighed, a very scornful sigh.

"You're just plain stupid, aren't you?"

The ring on top of his helmet started to accumulate energy again,

"It's not the number of faces that matters, it's the level of ability!"

Finishing his phrase, he fired the energy, hoping to eliminate them once and for all. He didn't even bother to call his attack.

"What is this?" A bleeping sound drew Tsuuma's attention to one of her monitors showing Gurren and Solvernia's energy levels. Both were increasing at a ridiculous rate. When the beam was a few centimeters from them, Solvernia's eyes gleamed and the shot was blocked by an invisible barrier; the shock between both powers illuminated the entire area with a green flash that lasted for a few seconds, feeling as if pure energy had taken form in the air.

Inside Gurren and Solvernia, the spiral gauge increased again and the panels started to exhibit spiral gauges increasing. "What is this?" Nia asked, in pure astonishment.

"What the hell… what's happening?" Kamina said, mimicking her sister's sentiments.

"So, this is combining?" she said, seeing the spiral gauges increasing all over. Sounds of something transforming were heard, as the arms and legs of Gurren changed from their barreled forms to a more humanoid form; Solvernia adjusted itself on top of Gurren, eyes gleaming brightly.

"Sure it is!" he replied, without any sign of doubt. There was another flash of green, blinding all present. When it faded, it revealed a new ganman: a combination of Gurren and Solvernia, taller, more humanoid, and radiating an aura of power.

"How… was that possible?" Viral asked, shaken in doubt and incredulousness.

"Viral, it's still expanding its output," Tsuuma said, concerned and alarmed with the rate of the blinking on the screen. " I have a bad feeling about this."

"You just put that little ganman on… that doesn't make sense!"

The figure walked to Enki, its striding confidently with its new, elongated legs. Now able to face Enki eye-to-eye, it butted foreheads with it, all four faces colliding, or, rather, three, since Enki only had one.

"You like that, general fuzzball?" Kamina taunted. "We're as tall as you now!"

"Go to hell!" Viral moved his arm to punch him, however Kamina also moved at the same time, replying "Oh yeah? You first!" The fists collided with each other, creating sparkles and kept going, making both mecha punching each other.

"A cross-counter!" Dayakka said, impressed, as was his team.

"Remember this, fuzzball!" Kamina cried, "Combining is all about one fighting spirit slamming into another!" The new mecha's hand clamped down around Enki's head, tearing it off and breaking the ring in the process. "Our combined courage sets our souls on fire!" Breaking away from Enki, the new mecha stuck the silver helmet atop its own head. It flashed, and the color red began creeping across its surface for reasons no one could fathom, until it was crimson like the rest of the ganman. "GURREN SOLVERNIA! Just who the hell do you think I am?" The newly-christened Gurren Solvernia stood tall under the sun, instilling respect and awe in all who looked upon it.

"Gurren…" Yoko bemused.

"…Solvernia?" Dayakka completed.

"Oh, please," Leeron scoffed. "They could be more creative."

"Sounds nice!" Nia beamed inside Solvernia's cockpit. In her heart, she knew they could win.

Tsuuma was engrossed in a set of statistics one of her monitors was displaying. Another was flashing the message "STRUCTURAL DAMAGE ATTAINED". She tapped a couple keys, and a comparison came up.

"Impossible," she muttered in disbelief. "They produced in a few seconds the same output the Dai-Ganzan takes two hours to produce..."

"I can't believe I need to resort to use my swords," Viral said, unsheathing his massive katanas. "I underestimated you, humans!"

"I told you," Kamina replied, sprouting drills from cavities in the wrists of mecha. "The name is Gurren Solvernia!" The drills clashed with the swords. After a moment's struggle, they shattered completely, leaving only a small stub of metal at the handle. Viral stared uncomprehendingly at what was left of his blades.

"Viral, get out of there!" Tsuuma said, voice low but serious.

"But I-ugh!" Gurren Solvernia punched Enki right in the gut, almost making it lose its balance. "How did he become so powerful? He just attached that little ganman, piloted by that little girl! You… you HORRIBLE CHEATER GIRL!"

"You'll never understand as long as you live!" Kamina shot back. Nia only smiled, the triumphant smile of someone who's already won.

"I will not tolerate this!" shouted Viral. The missile capsules opened, and eight of them flew out. Gurren Solvernia's drills burst them in midair.

"Viral, we don't know what we're fighting against, get out!" Tsuuma's voice cut through Viral's concentration. His eyes snapped to the image of his partner's face on the viewscreen.

"Tsuuma?"

"GET OUT NOOOOOWWW!" screamed the beastwoman as loud as she could manage. Viral winced due to the reverberation inside the cabin and then realized that he had never seen Tsuuma like this. She was almost... scared. He had no option but to comply with her orders, even if she wasn't his boss.

"You'll pay humans!" Viral said, as he activated every weapon Enki possessed, firing everything at them.

"What! Where do you store those guns? !" Gurren Solvernia made as if to charge, but it had to stop and brace itself for the impact of Enki's attack.

"Kamina!" Yoko cried, fearing that the attack would destroy Gurren Solvernia. Her fears were unfounded; when the dust settled, the mecha was still standing, not a scratch on its crimson frame.

"Unbelievable!" Dayakka said. "It survived that attack!"

"Yeah, they won!" Kiyal cheered.

"Wow!" Yoko said, amazement gleaming in her eyes. "Talk about tough!"

"I wonder if it has a special energy field that neutralizes the enemy's attack," Leeron mused, smiling at their fortune. "Or perhaps they're just special."

"Where did that bastard go?" Kamina said, seeing that Enki had disappeared.

"Let it go, Bro," Nia called down from Solvernia. "He must be far away from here now, let's rest." She smiled her sweet, caring smile. "You must be in bad shape."

"Nia," he said. Then, to himself, "You know, that caring head of yours is the only thing that keeps me alive."

"What?"

"Never mind… you were kinda' quiet just now, huh?"

"It's because you were enjoying yourself while battling that guy, and besides, you don't like that people interrupt your speeches." She finished with a giggle.

"Hm," Kamina chuckled. "Nia…"

________________________________________

That night was a night of celebration. The villagers had returned and, upon hearing of Kamina's miraculous victory, a massive party was held on the spot. Kamina took center stage, recounting his version of the titanic struggle between him and Enki. He completely dominated the Bachika Sisters' attention, which drew Kittan's ire, leading to him challenging Kamina to a duel. Nobody was sure if he was jealous or just overprotective, but most just took it as a surprise piece of entertainment. Their "duel" soon devolved into a ball of fists and dust, and the villagers watched, laughing and clapping.

"Men are just a bunch of immature creatures," Kiyoh sighed and shook her head in consternation.

"D-d-does that include me?" Dayakka asked, timid and shaken, the exact opposite of how he usually acted as leader.

"Of course not!" She then pinched his cheek and smiled. "You're cute!" Dayakka felt himself melting and passed out with a stupid grin on his face.

"Perhaps a bit…" Kiyoh cut her sentence short, making Kiyal and Kinon laugh.

Nia was back in the main village, standing next to Solvernia. Leeron was working hard to restore Gurren and Solvernia to top shape in record time. As she watched him, Yoko walked up.

"Nia!" Yoko called to her. "There you are. I wanted to say that you were awesome today, and I'd like to apologize for having doubted you." She looked slightly embarrassed.

"No problem." The little digger replied, giggling. Boota purred in accord.

"It's here!" Leeron called from Gurren's cockpit.

"What, Mr. Leeron?" Nia asked, curious.

He peeked out and said, grinning, "I found some data about a recall point on Gurren's files." The two girls stared at each other, not really following what the engineer said. he decided to explain.

"Remember that Gurren started out as an enemy ganman? So it has to go somewhere to get picked up."

"You mean their headquarters?" Nia asked and Kamina's words came to her mind: We just need to go the beastmen's boss and tell him JUST WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK WE ARE? WE'RE GONNA LIVE ON THE SURFACE AND YOU WILL NEVER FORCE US TO GO UNDERGROUND ANYMORE! She then asked hopefully, "Tell me Leeron, where is it?"

"Don't worry, hon~" he said, jumping out of the mecha, "It's somewhere in the middle of the desert, I'll be able to pinpoint in no time, I just need some coooofeeeee~!"

"It looks like our little hero discovered something interesting." Kinon arrived, followed by her sisters.

"So, girlfriend, what are you up to?" Kiyal asked, patting Nia's shoulder.

"Leeron discovered the base of the beastmen," she explained. "So, we will go there and finish this war!"

"So, how do you intend do this?"

"We'll figure out a way. First, though, I need to tell Bro. Where is he anyway?"

"He was fighting with Kittan over I don't know what." The purple-haired girl looked to her left and saw them. "Oh, there they are!"

"Hey, this is unfair!" the male Bachika screamed as a very upset blue-haired man chased him with a very sharp katana

"A true man doesn't tolerate assaults to his honor!" Kamina cried angrily.

"Bro, come here!" Nia called, waving her hand, "I have great news!"

"Say what, Nia?" Kamina stopped to hear her. Kittan didn't notice that the chase had ended and kept running away; when he realized what happened, he was already outside the village.

________________________________________

The next morning, Kamina's Team Gurren made their preparations. Their minds were set, their goal clear. They would go to the beastman base and end the cycle of violence once and for all, creating a bright new future for everyone.

Kamina went to his father's grave to pay homage to him. There was a stick planted where they had buried the body, and tied around it was the cape he had always worn. It fluttered in the wind.

"So, Dad, it's time for me to move on," he said. "But I'm gonna see what's over every horizon for you and for Mom." He took his father's cape and tied it around his own neck. As it flapped in the wind he looked like a prince taking up the mantle of a king. A ragged piece tore off and was caught by Nia, who tied it around her arm.

"So, you're really gonna do this?" Yoko asked, concerned.

"Yeah!" Nia answered with a smile.

"If we find their headquarters," Kamina explained, "We'll surprise them!"

"I said yesterday that we're going to end this war," Nia added.

"And then you're gonna destroy the beastmen, neng?" Yezike said.

Nia shook her head in an innocent way, replying, "We're doing this for peace, and besides..."

She smiled a smile that could bring happiness to the darkest hearts.

"...When it's over, we'll need to learn how to live in peace with them, right?"

Yezike's jaw dropped; he didn't understand how she couldn't hate her enemies.

"You're naïve… but I can't blame you."

"We're going too," Kittan said, as he and his sisters mounted their sheepdogs.

"There's a lot of villages that will be happy when they hear that people are starting to rebel against the beastmen," Kinon said, knowingly. "It will give them hope."

"Before we go..." Kiyal dug in her pocket for her comb. "Here, Nia, you need your own comb."

"Thanks Kiyal, but won't you miss it?"

"No worries, I'll find another one. Bye!"

"See ya," Nia waved, with Boota waving too from her shoulder.

"Bye Dayakka," Kiyoh waved to him. "I hope to see you again." Dayakka only blushed, muttering, "She likes me…" and passed out, seeing hearts all over. Tetsukyan quickly poured some water on him, rejuvenating the poor love struck chief.

"Bye, Kamina," Kittan waved amicably, since they already made up for yesterday. "If you ever wanna join the Black Siblings, just tell me."

"And if you ever intend to join Team Gurren," Kamina replied with a wide grin, "Then just tell me."

Kittan grinned back, and with that, the Black Siblings rode off to the horizon.

"Kamina, here are some supplies," Dayakka said, handing him a bag full of food and water. "A lot of us would want to go with you, but we must stay to protect our home."

"Don't worry, protecting your women and kids is an important job too."

"Yeah, I know, but looking at you guys, I feel like I can strive for bigger things."

"I see, but-" He didn't finish the phrase because Leeron appeared out of nowhere at his side, carrying a bunch of bags.

"Hey, what are you doing?" Kamina blurted, panicked.

The engineer placed his hand on his chin. "I thought that you boys would need a top-rate mechanic to help you." He winked at them.

"If you say so…"

"Dayakka, are you sure of this?" Yoko asked, her look asking him why he would let such an important village member leave.

"Leeron begged us to go, so I didn't have much of a choice."

"Besides, I wanna see everything for myself~!" he said, leaning next to her. "And those guys are fascinating! It's possible they might actually change something!"

"Change what?" the redhead replied, unsure.

"Something," was his only reply. He turned and walked away.

"Be a good girl and see to my luggage, would you Nia?"

"Me?"

"See ya around!" Kamina waved to them.

Yoko's body shook; Kamina and Nia turned her life upside down, gave hope to their village and a chance to finally have true happiness in their lives. Kamina was such a strange character. He could be a real jerkass, but then he could turn around and exhibit an uncanny ability to care for others. He was so confusing, and yet Yoko knew her life would never be the same after meeting him. Perhaps there was something salvageable within that jerk after all.

"You must go, Yoko." Ysoko patted her right shoulder, while Yezike patted her left one.

"Huh? Are you sure?"

"We've watched you grow stronger and stronger with every day. You can overcome any challenge set before you, neng," her father said.

"But, no matter what, you will always be our little daughter," her mother added. "And we want you to be happy."

"Mom… dad…" She embraced both of them and, tears coming to her eyes, she said, "I love you both!"

"Here," Dayakka cut in, handing her rifle to her. "You need this."

"But…"

"You can trust us to defend the village," the chief replied, and then smirked. "But I never expected you were a sucker for his type." Everyone laughed, even her parents.

"Geez, it's not like that!" she replied, flustered. She grabbed her rifle and finally said goodbye to them. "Bye, I'll come back!"

"Until we meet again!"

When she caught up with Kamina, Nia and Leeron, the self-declared badass said, "Listen, if your big, heavy ass slow us down, we're gonna leave you behind, got it, pit chick?"

"Oh, shut it," she replied, nonchalant. "Want me to put lead slugs up into your butt and out of your nose, beloved leader?"

"Hold on, Team Gurren," Leeron intervened. "How about we save this nasty stuff for the enemy?"

Nia laughed, amused with their confidence. It was obvious that they had already started bonding.

"Bro," she declared, "even if we're fighting against the entire world, I want my journey to be full of laugher."

"It will be!" he told her. He then raised his voice and announced, "The beastmen better be prepared, because Team Gurren is coming for them!"

And so they started their journey, feeling the joy of a new beginning. They were unaware that another journey seemed to meet its end in the capital, in a place that looked like a training ground (it was unclear, because of the bad illumination of the local), two blades were clashing against each other. 'Chings' and other sounds of metal facing metal were heard as the two figures battled for supremacy; one was taller and the other had the height of a boy. they clashed until they reach a face-off, separated only by their swords. For a few seconds, they measured their forces and let go of each other and the boy took advantage to swipe his enemy's right side, but, in a stroke of bad luck and inability, the boy let go of his sword, slipping from his fingers. The taller person kicked the boy in the gut, making him fall, clutching his belly. The taller sheathed his sword, triumphantly. Their watcher, an even taller and muscular man, was observing their combat skills and just shook his head in disapproval.

Chapter Text

The noonday sun shone down on Team Gurren as they continued their journey. In the time span of a week, they had seen mostly rocks, desert, and an occasional watering hole, complete with herds of animals seeking water. The supplies that Dayakka handed to them had almost run out, but food and water weren't a problem because the watering holes were always two days apart. Every two days they could stock up on water and hunt for meat. Leeron suggested that the waterholes might have actually been constructed by the beastmen, to guarantee that they didn't get lost or die in the desert.

During the seven days, Kamina trained his abilities with Gurren, practicing basic exercises, like lifting rocks, testing its speed during runs and basically enjoying himself, reveling in the freedom his ganman gave to him. He was also somewhat upset that there was no enemy ganmen in sight, meaning no targets to practice his new tricks on. He hadn't expected this journey to be so boring compared to his first days out of the surface. He was getting along better with Leeron, mostly because the mechanic had stopped being so forward and now flirted only occasionally, more to tease than anything else. However his relation with Yoko was very different. They argued over a lot of things, whether they should camp in the hills or in the ponds, whether one got more food than the other, and their bathing schedule, among others. Yoko always brought her rifle with her, whenever she would wash herself in the ponds, a habit she had always had, but with Kamina near, she almost never let her rifle out of sight. Of course, she had also bathed a lot more often back in Littner, while Kamina had never been accustomed to bathing often, and the gradual buildup of "natural aroma" was beginning to irritate the sniper.

"Ugh! Why do smell so bad?" Yoko asked from her place behind Gurren's seat. Of course, she could have easily chosen to ride in the small trailer Leeron had built for storage and living space. Her claim was that it bounced too much.

"This is the smell of a man," Kamina replied, irritated with her. His glasses slid down his nose a bit. "And why don't you go outside? I bet the desert is wide enough for your big butt!" Arguably, despite his words, he actually wanted Yoko near. Just to mess with her, of course.

"Thanks, but I think your head will fit my butt just fine!" she replied, using his head as a seat.

"Oh, you little…" he groaned, annoyed.

Since Kamina hadn't turned the voice caster off, everyone outside could hear their squabbling. Nia sighed; contrary to what she had expected, bonding and friendship, Kamina and Yoko were bickering nonstop over every little thing. On the surface, Nia learned that she could wash herself more frequently, and keep her new clothes somewhat presentable. Her light-pink shirt was in a good shape, but the white stripes on her sleeves and gullet always got dusty. Still, she always tried to keep them tidy, especially the rag from Kamina's cape. The shirt was closed by a something like red tie, snapping closed with a little button. Her light-red skirt, fading to white, covered her legs up to her knees. The skirt got dusty quite often, just like her red shoes, which were prone to having pebbles sneak in without her noticing. In the end, Nia was rapidly becoming used to the sandy environment of the desert. It wasn't much different from Jiha, when she reflected. Even her goggles, previously used to light tunnels and protect from debris, found a use in protecting her eyes from the rage of sandstorms. Thankfully, with Solvernia's canopy, this rarely became necessary.

But their old village was behind them now. Kamina never complained about leaving the Jiha; in fact, he did the opposite. A man never looks behind, he would say, before pointing out all the wonders of the surface as if he had discovered them himself. Granted, only Nia and the paranoid of the village had ever believed Kamina (though the crazy admittedly thought that that the surface was a giant weight that would crush everyone in the village). She never asked Kamina how he felt about leaving Jiha, because she was certain she knew the answer, and as the manliest of men Kamina would almost certainly be reluctant to talk about feelings. As for herself, in the week since they left she caught herself thinking more and more about the people from Jiha. She had risked her life for Jiha every day as a vanguard digger, and she had always expected to die there. When she thought about it, nobody had ever been especially mean to her, and even the queen bees weren't so bad. They only picked on her only when they didn't have anything else better to do, which happened often, but not often enough to become a real problem. And there had been people like Hagatama, who had been especially nice to her. Dayakka had bet that the ganmen's attacks would probably stop for a while and they would have the chance to contact her village, to extend their patrols to its surroundings. Nia, encouraged by Kamina, decided to believe in his words. Jiha was safe.

And so Kamina's words began to sink into Nia's heart, mind, and soul. Her old goals were replaced with new objectives, new possibilities, and new horizons. She also began to learn to read and write with Yoko and Leeron's help, and in the week that they had been traveling she had already learned to differentiate between consanants and vowels and write her name. It's so easy, she chuckled inwardly, grateful she had such an easy name to write while remembering the first time she got her name right on the white sheet. Kamina, on the other hand, didn't apply much effort in the learning process and was more interested in piloting Gurren. It was easy to tell he was happy for Nia, though.

Leeron was checking Solvernia with some kind of spider-like pods, with four legs that climbed on the mecha without any effort and were guided by some weird white gloves that he used. They analyzed Solvernia, emitting electric signals to his computer. Nia couldn't understand how electricity could say so many things about her mecha. Leeron said something about transmission of information, but it was too much for her and she didn't pay attention. She was more involved in cutting the cake she had just baked using the remaining supplies.

"Leeron, would you like some cake?" she asked, taking a piece from the bowl she was holding. The cake wasn't big and was very simple. Nia cut the pieces to fit in an open hand, slicing out five individual pieces. She had already given one to Boota, who was eating next to Solvernia. But, there was something different about the cake, in spite of the pinkish purple streak cutting through the beige mass.

"Thanks, hon~" Leeron accepted, concentrating on his computer, not bothering to look at the cake. "When did you learn to bake?"

"Ysoko taught me before we left Littner," she said brightly. "I'll offer some to Yoko and Kamina, perhaps then they'll stop fighting." She left to find the two bickering fighters.

Leeron continued chewing the cake. He continued chewing, like it was the most normal thing in the world, like the machines he was used to building, eyes focused on the tiny robots, no movement from any of the limbs.

He was being so excessively normal, in fact, that one might suspect that something was wrong.

"Hey, you two!" The little digger waved to Yoko and Kamina as she approached. "Stop for a while." Gurren kneeled and opened its cockpit, revealing Kamina and Yoko in the middle of a fight. Kamina was pulling Yoko's hair and Yoko had placed her foot on Kamina's face and was grabbing his arms, both gritting their teeth and making angry faces. They looked at the sort-of-blonde girl awkwardly and asked, fuming, "What?"

"You two were fighting for a good time," she said coolly, not really bothered with their little quarrel, hoping it was temporary. "So I decided to make something to help you two make up." The two brawlers then eyed each other uncomfortably, feeling a bit immature at the fact that a girl younger than them was being proactive and wanted to put an end to their bickering.

"Say, Nia," Kamina said. "What did you do?"

"I made a cake, and I want to share it with everyone!" his blood sister replied, overjoyed and giggling. Kamina on the other hand, cringed. He then spotted an opportunity for causing mischief, and his grin went from ear to ear.

"You first, Miss Yoko!"

"Yes, Yoko, take the cake!" Kamina insisted.

She accepted her peace offering, saying, "I guess there's no harm."

"Of course not!" He kept grinning. There was something twisted in the grin that caused Yoko to become suspicious.

"Please, take one, Bro!"

"Thanks Nia, I'm fine," he replied casually, smirking and narrowing his eyes. "I'll save mine for later."

"Okay."

"Nia, come here!" Leeron called.

"I'm coming!" she called back, and ran off.

"She was more mature than us," Yoko sighed, looking pensive, still with the piece of cake in her hands. "This bickering won't help us to defeat the beastmen."

"Yeah, I know, but now, why don't you eat Nia's cake, Yoko?" Kamina was still grinning. "I'm sure it will be a surprise."

"Cakes are something that are passed from generation to generation in my village," the red-haired began, once again, to reminisce about her hometown. "My grandaunt Anika was considered the best baker in the village, and it was her cakes and bread that helped us to conquer our place on the surface."

"Oh yeah?" Kamina replied, his grin faltering.

"I wonder what Nia used to do this cake," she said, taking a good look at the cake, not really noticing anything different in the food for the time being. "Do you know that there's a special type of grape-hippo that has purple grapes instead of green? They are very rare, but if you find one, you can make a unique kind of pie!" She was lost again in her memories. "It's the sweetest thing I've ever eaten! When was the last time I ate special purple pie?" She tapped her bottom lip with her index finger, trying to remember. "Yes, when I was five, no, nine, in the great celebration when we defeated a group of five ganmen…"

"Oh yeah?" Ever since the day at the pond when Viral and Kittan had also shown up, Yoko had seemed find every opportunity to talk about her village, even though Kamina showed little interest.

"When we go back to Littner, you have to try it! If I ever find a purple grape-hippo, I'll run back to Littner just to ask mom to make a special purple pie." She sighed and looked up, nostalgia building. "This desert can be so silent… we haven't seen any beastmen yet, only that shadowy figure this morning. What if the beastmen are watching us?"

"The cake…"

"What?"

"It'll go bad…"

"Oh, I almost forgot, hehe!" she said happily. "Sometimes I talk too much. But now, let's see what Nia can do!" She opened her mouth and slowly brought the food to it, while Kamina smirked, trying to hold himself back from bursting out in laughter, as if he was waiting to something happen. But then Yoko put the cake down and looked at the badass and asked, "Are you sure you're not hungry?"

"Yes, I am…" again, Kamina's smirk faded and he scowled, starting to lose his patience.

Yoko looked again at the piece of cake and mused, "Nia looked so happy when she gave me the cake. Is she a good cook?"

"Oh, she's special!" he smirked again. "C'mon, give her a try."

"You're making me interested." She smiled while again slowly taking the food to her mouth. Kamina waited in eager anticipation for the inevitable reaction.

|T|T|G|S|


"Why did you call me, Mr. Leeron?" Nia asked, seeing that Leeron's 'toys' had created something like an electric net around Solvernia.

"Nia, you know, during the years, I've seen a lot of different ganmen," he explained, looking at his computer; on its screen, there was a spiral and points of analysis interlinking between them. "But nothing like yours."

"What do you mean?"

"There exists something called the periodic table," he said, projecting said table on the screen of the computer. "It lists the 168 elements that exist in our world, they seem to have been discovered and listed by our ancestors long ago. Think of them as the world's building blocks. Now, there are also elements that aren't listed on that table, elements that shouldn't exist but were discovered and catalogued all the same. Solvernia's structural composition has concentrations of many types of unobtaniums, like astatine, gundanium, naquadah, adamantine, along with common elements like aluminum and titanium, and more than ten percent is made of three elements that aren't even listed in it. Inside, there are also two other elements in high concentrations." Nia wasn't sure she understood completely. She couldn't understand his talk about elements, but could understand that this is what made Solvernia different from the others. "And not only that, but I can't understand how his drive processor works. It's so complex, it's like it's not of this dimension…" He tapped some keys on his computer and kept talking. "The only feature that I managed to scrape some understanding of is that when Solvernia combines into Gurren, it creates and transfers energy to levels beyond our comprehension."

"And…" Nia tilted her head to the right.

"In other words, Solvernia is a miracle!" he said happily, putting his hands to his cheeks and shaking his hips.

"A… miracle?" Her blue eyes widened; she was piloting no less than a miracle. She was speechless for a few seconds; after all she didn't know how to reply in a situation like this. She breathed in, trying to find the words, but the process was interrupted when Gurren began to run about like it was out of control.

"KAMINA, YOU SON OF A GUN!" Yoko yelled at the top of her lungs, voice filled with rage. Judging by the flashes that were visible from the eyes of Gurren, she was firing her rifle inside it. "YOU KNEW IT, DIDN'T YOU? LOOK AT WHAT YOU'VE DONE TO ME!"

"HAHAHAHA!" Kamina laughed and yelped; he couldn't decide whether he was amused or in pain. "HEY, THAT'LL KILL ME!"

"SHUT UP AND SUFFER LIKE A MAN!" Another flash, and Gurren wobbled.

"OUCH! HAHAHA! YOUR FACE! PRICELESS! OUCH! HAHAHA!"

"YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO ENJOY THIS!" Another flash, making Gurren almost trip.

"Geez, I wonder what happened now," Nia wondered, with a concerned look. "I just gave her some cake… Wasn't the cake good enough, Mr. Ron?"

"I don't know," he replied. "When I put it in my mouth, my gustatory papillae committed suicide."

"Is that bad?" she said, scratching the back of her head.

"Don't worry, they'll get better soon."

"I wish I could say the same of my recipe," Nia sighed, staring at the blue sky. "The next one will be better!" she asserted, hopeful. At that moment, a shadow grew to cover them. They looked up, only to yelp and dive to the ground at the sight of Gurren descending on them. Luckily, the ganman missed, instead punching a hole straight through the ground. Creeping to the edge of the hole, they realized that the ground was actually hollow underneath, and that Gurren had a long way to the bottom.

"I wonder where this hole leads to," Nia mused; in that instance, the ground under them also cracked and they fell too, screaming in shock as they tumbled down.

|T|T|G|S|


When Nia recovered her senses, she was inside Solvernia. Leeron was also there, still dazed, holding the side of the mecha. Nia was holding onto to its joysticks and noticed that Solvernia was floating over water, turned up, floating like a buoy. She poked the engineer with both hands, saying, "Wake up, Mr. Ron!"

"Uh, what?" The flamboyant engineer snapped back and took a good look at their surroundings. They were in a pond, but the walls, which were organized in a honeycomb structure, made the water look a brown tone. There was also a ganman standing next to them, against the wall. It was different from any other ganman they'd seen, different specifically in that it was old. Unlike most ganmen, it had prominent rectangular lines in the face, especially the chin and the forehead; they saw in the forehead a symbol, a hollow circle with a point at its center over a bell-shaped curve, with four lines coming out, aiming for the top. Judging by the decay, it hadn't been activated for a long time.

Inside Gurren, Yoko had recovered her senses before Kamina and realized that her bikini was entangled between Kamina's shades. Her first reaction was total rage, blaming it all on Kamina even though she had been the one to make him lose control. She punched him, hard, and after a moment of convulsions and upside-down Gurren spit out the bluenette.

"Thank goodness I came to first," Yoko said, peeking out of the mecha. What she saw caused her to duck back and find the spare bikini she stored in Gurren's cockpit ("Just in case" had been her justification). There were people staring at them; about twenty people, all of them clad in beige and brown robes that were pretty worn out. Men, women and children, all of them looking at the aliens, all of them showing despondence in their facial expression, backs slightly hunched and eyes weary, though they lit up slightly at this new sight. All of the robes had the same symbol that was in the forehead of the ganmen.

"People came out of the face god!" one of them exclaimed after his eyes adjusted to the light.

"They are messengers of the Celestial Lands!" another added.

"They came here to take us to the Celestial Lands!" a younger voice said, with a slight hint of cheerfulness in spite of the weary atmosphere. They began to chatter amongst themselves, supposedly discussing their beliefs.

Kamina finally woke up. He just moaned, not understanding where the pain came from this time. He swallowed some water, thrashed about a bit, and finally got his legs underneath him. It took him a moment to get reoriented and figure out what was going on.

"What? Face God?" He looked around and spotted the ganman, comprehending. "That's no god, it's just a ganman."

"Kamina, are you alright?" Nia called him from Solvernia. Leeron had rolled up his sleeves and was using his arm as an oar to row them to land. "Are you hurt?"

"I'm fine! But I don't understand," he said, scratching his head. "What's this ganmen doing here?" He approached to take a look, reaching out his hand to touch the armor of the mecha. "How old is this-"

"Please do not touch the Face God!"

"Huh?" Kamina shifted his gaze to see who had called to him. It was a boy, wearing the same beige robe, but with a dark green shirt under it. His hair was tied in a short ponytail, and his big eyes framed a thin nose. His most obvious feature was his forehead, which was broken by a single lock of hair that flopped free of his ponytail.

"This is the guardian deity of our village and nobody may approach it," the boy continued. He came forward and offered his hand, bowing slightly. "My name is Rossiu. Welcome to Adai Village, celestials. Please come with me as our honored guests." Kamina's ego, which had reacted badly to Rossiu's attempts to give orders, settled back down at this display of servitude. Ego mollified, he happily accepted the invitation.

Rossiu led Kamina, Yoko, Nia, Leeron and Boota to a room where he picked a few sticks and made a fire for them. The number of villagers watching them increased; thirty-five pairs of eyes were watching the newcomers and forty mouths murmured something that only made sense to them. They talked about 'celestials', 'face god' and 'news'. Kamina, Yoko and Leeron didn't bother, but Nia started to think if they were going to do something. They seemed scared, but somehow 'fear' didn't seem to be the best word to describe their feelings.

"Yo, Forehead Boy," Kamina yelled. "You don't have any more wood, do you?" He had his cape off and was wringing it out, shivering as he began to feel the effects of being soaked combined with the coolness of the caves.

"My name is Rossiu," the boy replied politely. "Unfortunately this is all we have."

"Man this place has issues!" Kamina complained, earning a glare from Yoko.

"Hey," a red-haired boy called to them. "Did you guys really come from the Celestial Lands?"

"Are you the messengers of the Face Gods?" a pink-haired girl asked them. She hugged a long-eared plush doll close to her chest.

"What's the deal with these kids?" Kamina asked, narrowing his eyebrows.

"Gimmy, Darry, stop bothering our guests," Rossiu said, bothered with their impoliteness. "Go somewhere else." They promptly agreed and walked away. "I'm terribly sorry. Those children have no parents, so everyone spoils them."

"They seemed nice," Nia said, with Boota nodding at her shoulder.

"Well, that's not important," Kamina snapped, his dried clothes still covering a soaked ego. "What's important is why they've got a Ganman!"

"Ganman?" Rossiu's eyes widened. "You mean the Face God?"

"Why do you keep calling it 'face god'?" he asked, defiant. "Has the lack of sunlight made your head go moldy?"

"Puh-lease," Yoko interrupted, tired of Kamina's rude attitude. "You weren't that different from him like a month ago!"

"Shut up, walking breastmeat!" Nia swiveled her gaze back and forth between the two adults, sensing that another yelling match was about to erupt. She steeled herself to intervene, but Rossiu beat her to the punch.

"Um, Miss Yoko."

"What, Rossiu?"

"Umm," he muttered, holding out a folded robe and keeping his head turned firmly to the side. "Could you please wear this?"

"Why?"

"Well, we think it is better for you to cover up…your manner of dressing… well… it's indecent!"

"Ahn?" Yoko stared at him, clueless, while Leeron just giggled. Eventually she complied, mostly so as not to look like Kamina.

"I think this outfit may restrict my movements," she said, spreading her covered arms and looking at herself at her new outfit. Yoko's usual excuse was that she had to keep her clothing as non-restrictive as possible, because although she was a long-range fighter she had to keep moving to find better angles and stay one step ahead of the enemy. This concept of speed over protection wasn't unfounded; warriors such as the Spartans would wear only minimal armour, and the Gauls took this one step further by sometimes going completely naked into battle. Of course, this practice was quickly dropped during the medieval times in favour of heavily armoured suits designed to deflect and disperse the impacts from spears, swords and maces. When guns were invented, armour was rendered useless, effectively reversing the trend and returning to lighter standard uniforms for reasons of cost effectiveness. Millenia before Yoko's time, the practice had reversed once more as technology had advanced. Bulky armour had returned during massive space battles between gigantic warships, protecting the individual from hundreds of different dangers without sacrificing much mobility due to technological improvements. As humanity had returned to a much simpler technological level, Yoko simply represented yet another swing pendulum back to lighter, more mobile clothing.

Of course, the main reason for her outfit is because to deny fanservice in a shonen anime would be an act on par with clubbing baby dolphins to death with carcasses of dead baby seals.

Yoko did have a point, however, as explained two paragraphs up. Heavy cloth like that worn in Adai seriously restricts movement and would seriously hamper her effectiveness in a battle. If fighting were to erupt, she would ditch the cloak in a second, modesty notwithstanding.

Kamina, on the other hand, tapped his chin, raising his eyebrow. "Y'know, after some time you get used to it, but when you cover it up like this..."

"Uh?"

He got up and leaned down, lifting her robe up to her midriff. "I mean really, when you leave everything out like that it just gets old, right? But when you cover it like this, you really don't have anything left!"

It should be unnecessary to describe the way Yoko reacted to feeling Kamina's breath on her belly. Rossiu's eyes widened and his irises shrunk and Nia gulped, while Boota dropped his jaw and Leeron just watched, amused. The redhead lifted her left leg, and Kamina looked back up just in time to see the booted foot coming down on his face, hard. She kept stomping his head into the ground, screaming "Hopeless pervert! You don't learn, do you? What does Nia see in you?"

"Please, stop this behavior," Rossiu called them, having had enough of their quarreling. "You are messengers from the Celestial Lands. It is expected for them have a...worthy demeanor." The villagers who were watching them started to murmur again, wondering if the strangers were really Celestials, if they would take them to the Celestial Lands, if they could provide a better life for them.

Rossiu turned to explain to the villagers how, yes, they were Celestials, and no, they couldn't know what the Celestials might do. Meanwhile, Nia crouched down to see if Kamina was all right.

"What did I do?" Kamina muttered, his voice muffled due to the fact that his mouth was several inches inside the ground.

"Bro, I hate to say it," she said, biting her lower lip out of concern, squatting next to him, "But I think Yoko kind of had a point."

"My own blood sister is against me… what kind of cruel twist of fate is this?"

"Well, girls don't like it when people lift their robes without permission…"

"I guess I'll remember that… Ouch!"

While they talked, a short man ran up to Rossiu. After a moment catching his breath, he managed to pant the message: "Rossiu, please, warn Father Magin that Ucom's wife gave birth."

"That's good news," Rossiu smiled at the announcement of a new member of their community. "Father Magin would be pleased to do the naming ceremony. Has he returned from his prayers?"

"I didn't finish," the man replied, not showing any relief in his voice. "She gave birth not to one, nor twins, but triplets!"

Rossiu gasped, as all of the villagers who were there started to whisper amongst themselves again. Team Gurren only gave them a clueless look, with the exception of Kamina, who was rubbing his jaw. When he finished, he wondered, "Huh? Why are they freaking out?"

"This means the population has reached fifty-two," the forehead boy explained.

"And?" Kamina asked, raising an eyebrow.

"It is something that I will have to talk to Father Magin about." With a polite bow, he excused himself. "I must go the Chamber of Prayer to see if Father Magin has finished to prayers to the Face God; he will know what to do."

"So, you're not the boss?"

"The leader of our village is Father Magin, but I believe I can talk about it later. Please, make yourselves at home." With that, he left to find this "Father Magin". The villagers also dispersed, no longer comfortable around the travelers without Rossiu to mediate. They disappeared into their lodgings, shutting doors tight.

"Heh!" Kamina shook his head and put his glasses on. "What a weird kid…"

"Hey, Mr. Celestian!" Gimmy appeared at his side, cheerful. "Can you take us to the Celestial Lands?"

"What?" the badass replied, indignant.

"We want to see the Celestial Lands, Mr. Celestian!" Darry appeared at his other side, still holding her doll.

"What?" Kamina said, trying to stay away from them. "I'm the Great Kamina, not Mr. Celestian! And I don't have time for you little kids!"

"Please, Mr. Great Kamina, please?" both siblings begged him, their eyes enlarging into full puppy-dog mode. As orphans, they didn't exactly have anyone to go to and nobody to tell them to go. Thus they clung even tighter to the "Celestian".

"I'm busy, I must go… go… get Gurren out of the water!" yelled Kamina, desperate. With that, he darted off, running as fast as he could.

The twins directed their attention to the other members of Team Gurren. "Mrs. Celestian," Gimmy said, speaking to Nia. "Can we go to the Celestial Lands?"

"Uhm, sure… I think…" she replied, not really certain what to say or what the consequences might be.

"Are the Celestial Lands pretty?" Darry asked.

Nia smiled lightly and said, remembering her first sight of the surface. "Sure it is!"

"Nice!" they said at the same time.

|T|T|G|S|

At the entrance to the Chamber of Prayer, Rossiu was waiting patiently for Father Magin. He was thinking about the Celestians. He always thought that people who lived in the Celestial Lands had a different appearance than the people of Adai, but instead of something completely different, they were just like them, as human as any of them; the only different thing was the weird color of that little girl's hair, but this was a minor detail. His main concern was: What exactly are the Celestial Lands? How did the Celestians live? Was it like the world Father Magin had told them about? And, most especially, had Mother gone to that better place?

Rossiu's eyes gleamed in sorrow and he looked down; the Face Gods had chosen his mother through fate to send her to the Celestial Lands when Oje was born, two years ago. She had told him to not cry, that it was the best for them. He hadn't been able to obey, tears rolling down his cheeks and his lip beginning to hurt from biting it in an attempt not to wail. With a last hug and a smile, she had given him a last wave, and with teary eyes went through the Door to the Quintessence. Since that day, Rossiu had decided to follow Father Magin even closer, because the man was his stepfather and therefore the only thing resembling a family that he had left. Rossiu's natural father had died when the boy had been three, and his mother had quickly taken Magin as a husband. Following his resolve, Rossiu had become Magin's most loyal assistant, helping him in the rites and administering the village during his absences. Father Magin was himself impressed with the boy's leadership skills, with his capacities of judgment and keenness to consider controversial issues. It seemed to come naturally to him and people in the village soon started to accept him as Magin's second-in-command.

However the true reason of why Rossiu was close to Father Magin was that he wanted answers. Sometimes old people received the blessing to end their days in the Celestial Lands and surly people received the blessing as a chance to repent, but Mother had been different. She wasn't old, or an agitator; in the depths of his heart, he believed that this could have been avoided, that Mother could have remained with him, even if the situation was that bad. But if they made an exception for him, then everyone would start to request for exceptions and the village would fall apart. That was the logic he used to comfort himself, the logic that, sometimes, tough decisions had to be made. It was something his mother had taught him.

The door opened and Father Magin exited; he was a tall man, with clear lines of age in his face. The average person would place him at about fifty years, possibly older, and Kamina would like to comment that he looked like the ganman of their village. Wearing the same robe that everyone wore and holding a book, he walked over to the boy.

"Rossiu. It is good to see you back."

"You too, Father Magin." He looked at him with a serious, impassive expression and asked, "You did not bring anything…"

"The Face Gods are testing us. I will pray again tomorrow and I am sure They will bring us food."

"I'll pray, too. Anyway, I have news."

"Please, tell me."

"Ucom's wife, Karê, has given birth to triplets."

"That means I must prepare for the ceremony for tomorrow," he said, clearing his throat. Rossiu looked down, balling his fists. Father Magin, noticing tension in his expression, reassured him. "Worry not, tomorrow two people shall receive the blessing of a new life."

"I hope so…" he muttered, still thinking about his mother. No matter what, as long as he saw the red straw, he would always remember her. He decided the change the topic.

"Also, Father Magin, we have visitors."

"Visitors?" he uttered, losing his calm for a moment.

"Something wrong, Father Magin?"

"Show me our visitors."

|T|T|G|S|

 

"…And that's how the surface is like," finished Nia. They were sitting, gathered around a table, illuminated by candles, herself, Yoko, Leeron, Gimmy and Darry, and Kamina, who had joined midway through. The sunlight that shone down through the hole had already faded away, and now the night wind blew through the village. Before she could start again, the twins brought some food to them. It was a very thin soup, almost tempered water. Gimmy and Darry seemed to enjoy the soup, but Team Gurren looked with pity at them.

"Is this everything you got?" Kamina said, not satisfied with the meal. "I need meat!" He glanced mischievously at Boota. "I need succulent, tasty meat!" The pig-mole started to sweat and ran under the chair Nia was sitting on.

"Kamina, don't be rude," Yoko protested. "I guess it's the best the village can afford."

"Jiha was nothing like this," Nia said, saddened.

"They have no electricity, no livestock..." Leeron commented. "Only this pond and that broken ganman."

"But you said that the surface is much better than here," Gimmy said, not losing his optimism.

"Can we go with you?" Darry asked.

"Team Gurren ain't a place for immature kids!" Kamina interrupted, crossing his arms. Yoko just rolled her eyes. Kamina noticed and snapped, "What? As if the dinner didn't suck enough…"

"My apologies," Rossiu said, holding a faint candle. "Was the meal not to your liking?"

"Of course not," Kamina replied, smirking and placing his foot on the table, and his ankle over his leg as support. "But there's something you should know!"

Yoko rolled her eyes.

"The surface or Celestial Lands, whatever you call, has more things than you could imagine," he continued, dauntless; the red-haired girl only looked at him in irritation. "Do you have the brawn to kick away this life and go towards the light?"

"I guess… I'm not sure…" the forehead boy looked down, somewhat confused by the bluenette's words. Kamina's message was so much different from that of Father Magin; it was a message of change.

"So let's start with this simple fact: ganmen are not gods!"

"But this is our belief, and has been since before I was born."

"Please, do not test this boy's faith any further, Celestian People." Father Magin entered the room. "If you really are Celestians..."

"Ha, you must be the boss," Kamina said casually. "And your face looks like a ganman."

"I apologize for the delay in my introduction," he said, calm as ever. "My name is Magin and I govern this village." His expression did not change, but his tone took on an edge of sharpness. "Your words are not those of a Celestian. What is the objective of your visit? Do you come here to bring confusion to our village?" Rossiu gasped, while the others simply stared in incomprehension.

"Wait just a moment!" Kamina jumped up from the table and walked to him, clashing foreheads with him. Nia and Yoko looked on with concerned expressions; after all, he was asking for a fight with their host. Gimmy and Darry looked on, their eyes wide like only children can manage.

"You're the one confused here! Telling them to live like rats!"

"Actually, our village improved a lot after Father Magin took over the administration," Rossiu cut in.

"And it could be even better!" the self-proclaimed badass raised his voice.

"I repeat my question," stated Magin calmly. "What is your purpose for coming to our village?"

"How the hell would I know? We just fell from that hole!" Kamina replied back, his temper flaring and his already-thin patience coming to the breaking point.

"Yes, it was an accident," Yoko added.

"Mr. Magin, we don't intend to do any harm to you or anyone," Nia said.

"Very well." Father Magin's tone softened slightly, minimally, though not impercievably. He turned and walked away, causing Kamina to lose his balance.

"Rossiu," he called without turning his head. You and our guests must go get some sleep. Tomorrow, there will be an important ceremony."

"Yes, Father." The second-in-command nodded.

After the priest left, Yoko snapped at Kamina. "What's your problem? He could've kicked us out!"

Without looking at her, he replied, still frowning: "I don't like that guy! I definitely don't like that expressionless face and that holier-than-thou attitude. He reminds me of someone…"

|T|T|G|S|


One of Yoko's most frequent concerns was that of the beastmen tracking them. After all, they'd managed to defeat Viral, one of their most powerful warriors. If Gurren Solvernia could defeat a high ranked soldier such as the cat-shark commander, what else might they be able to do? Indeed, the rumours of ganmen-stealing humans spread like wildfire through the beastman ranks. Troops had quickly deployed to counter the humans; however, they were far too wary to face them down directly. They watched them from distance, trying to figure out a plan to end the human threat for good.

Jank was the scout charged with pursuing them. He was a short feline beastman, resembling a bipedal rabbit-cat, with white fur, long whiskers which he usually rubbed when something important happened and long bunny ears, the only part of him that clashed with his feline appearance. His ganman was also shaped like a rabbit, totally white and with big bunny ears.

At the moment he stood in a room that appeared to be a bridge of a ship, with a multitude of terminals lining the walls. They were off at the moment, and the large central window framed a beautiful view of the starry night sky over the desert. His boss was in the middle of the room, sitting in the command chair. His boss had an imposing figure, and wore an intimidating gold armour covered with a purple cape. His mask was expressionless, golden, lacking a nose but sporting a pair of catlike ears, and red eyes that gleamed in the dark.

"Commander Cinoshisa, from the Central Western Shore Theater Command, I have news about the location of Gurren Solvernia," said Jank, politely bowing to his superior.

"That mecha might be a problem," the figure intoned in a neutral, almost robotic tone, thanks to the mask. None of the crew had ever seen what was under the armour, though rumours abounded. The Commander's behaviour was rather strange, eccentric even, but his skill ensured that nobody ever complained.

"What's their current location?" asked the Commander, again in that strange, toneless voice.

"They fell on a village, approximately one hundred miles to the south."

"Then they're technically still within Viral's jurisdiction...It looks like those fools from the Eastern Theater are going to let them get away again. I'm assuming the village was underground?"

"Indeed. According to the reports, their mecha accidentally punched a whole in the ground. It was pure chance that they stumbled upon the village."

"Probability notwithstanding, that means the village is not one of those undergoing the Synergy process."

"Indeed, my commander. As things stand, are options are limited. Though it is our sworn duty to eradicate the villages that reach the surface, Viral would undoubtedly be furious if we entered his territory in order to deal with this."

"That will not be a problem," replied the Commander. "The moment that village saw the light of day, it was cursed. Take two ganmen and have them bombard the village with explosives. The village will be turned to dust, and so too shall Gurren Solvernia. Once that's taken care of, send a letter to Viral apologizing for our unintentional invasion of his territory. If he refuses we'll call for Adiane to arbitrate, but I doubt that he will be that angry."

"It is as you command," said Jank, bowing. A smirk grew on his face. "Those poor human bastards won't know what hit them."

"Humans are capable of much more than you credit them for..." advised the Commander, tone neutral as always. But, for just a moment, a hint of emotion leaked through the facade of unfeeling.

What emotions might hide behind a mask like that...?

|T|T|G|S|


The next morning, the rising sun poured light on Adai for only the second time since the village's foundation. Everything looked brighter under the light of the sun, even the drab browns and grays of the walls, and the pond sparkled vividly like it had never sparkled before. The villagers' hearts lightened as they saw their world in a new light, literally. Though an important and potentially sad ceremony was about to take place, Team Gurren noticed that they were full of an energy that hadn't been present the previous night.

Rossiu himself was amazed by the change in the Face-God. In form it wasn't much different, but the addition of colour changed it drastically. The face was light-brown and the forehead red, while the circle in the centre of the forehead turned purple. The light can reveal what is hidden, Rossiu mused.

And there was another thing he didn't notice before. Something reflective shimmered inside the nose, something that had been hidden in the half-light given off by the candles that were normally used. Rossiu approached the Face God and took a better look. It was what appeared to be a lever of some kind. Unable to resist, Forehead Boy reached out and pulled it. A great rumbling shook the Face God, and the boy jumped back in surprise. Then, before his eyes, something strange happened; the face of the Face God split apart, revealing a cabin with a seat and two joysticks. He stuck his head in, curious. As he drew closer to the seat and joysticks, something sparked inside him. He felt a kind of connection between himself and the controls. As he reached out to touch it, he became aware of a presence. A feeling of strangeness, of adventure, of the rush of adrenaline. He clutched a hand to his chest as his heart raced at the presence of something...awesome.

"Wow, does that think actually still work?" Rossiu turned back to see Kamina and Nia staring at the forehead boy.

"Good morning, Rossiu," Nia happily waved. "I hope you had a nice breakfast."

"Um, good morning…" Rossiu replied, unsure, and then realized that he was breaking the rule of not touching the Face God. Embarrassed, he yelled, "I'm not doing anything!"

"Don't be afraid!" said the badass, his expression friendly. "Go on, give it a try. Sit back in the seat and let your spirit bring that thing to life!"

"You mean, enter the Face God?" he said, surprised. "But I had no intention…"

"C'mon, you know you want to!" Kamina grinned. "It's a great feeling!"

"Rossiu!" the voice of Father Magin called. "Who told you may touch the Face God?"

Rossiu winced and immediately threw himself away from the Face God, landing with a splash in the pond. Father Magain's voice had reminded him that he had broken a rule, a big one; never touch the Face God. He didn't know why or when the rule had been put in place, but he had broken it.

"I-I apologize and I accept my punishment," he stated, still startled and anxious.

"I will let this pass for now," the priest replied, monotone. "The ceremony will begin shortly. We must prepare."

"Y-yes, Father Magin!" Ignoring the two foreigners, Father Magin left with the boy, heading towards the main chamber of the village.

"Look at him," Kamina said with indignation, scowling. "He thinks he's the almighty boss, just like our chief back in the village."

"Kamina…" Nia just looked concerned.

The entire village was present in the main square for the ceremony. A kind of nervous tension hung in the air, as if every single one feared for his or her life. Team Gurren was watching from a distance, from the door to another chamber. At a nod from Father Magin, Rossiu began calling people to pick a stick from a cup held in Father Magin's hand. Each resident came up to take a stick, and each one held his or her stick in hand, not allowed to look until the drawing was complete.

Ucom came forward holding his three children, two girls and a boy, each one still mewling, the only audible sound in the chamber. He drew a stick for each of them, in addition to himself. His wife, Karê, was still resting and couldn't appear. He drew for her, too.

"Father Magin," he said, before taking his stick. "Is it strictly necessary to held the ceremony now? All of these three children might not survive their first year."

"W-what did he mean by that, Bro?" Nia asked sadly, gulping nervously in anticipation of the answer.

"I don't know…" was the only thing Kamina could say without causing Nia further distress, though he understood quite clearly. Nia still managed to get a sense of the implications, however, and her eyes welled up with tears.

"Please, do not misunderstand, Ucom," Father Magin calmly replied, smiling to help to ease the new father's worries. "Those who are chosen by the rite receive the blessing of the gods. Now, please, draw."

He nodded gravely, somewhat reassured, and returned to the crowd with his five sticks. The ceremony proceeded silently. Rossiu looked around and saw the fear and anxiety in each face. The most terrifying part was that the two people chosen could be anybody, chosen completely randomly. Each person had the same chance of being, even Father Magin, who drew his own stick from the cup. Despite the term, the chosen were seldom less than happy to be chosen, usually breaking down in tears or cries of anguish. The one exception had been his mother; she had departed with dry cheeks and her head held high, resigned to her fate as the chosen.

The cup was eventually reduced to two sticks. Gimmy and Darry then came forward and drew together, smiling at each other, their innocence leaving them incapable of thinking of it as anything other than a terrific game. The cup empty, Father Magin set it aside and addressed the village.

"You may now open your hands. If your stick is marked in red, then you have been chosen by the gods to ascend to the Celestial Lands."

Each person opened his or her hand. A wave of sighs echoed around the chambered as mothers, fathers, daughters and sons learned that they had escaped the fate of the chosen this time around. A single voice rose above it all, cutting short the sounds of relief.

"Yippee! Darry has the mark! Darry won!"

"But you have the mark too! You won too, Gimmy!"

"Yes, I won too! Yippee!"

"We won!" The kids had just earned their victory, not really knowing what their prize was. Rossiu gulped, concerned with their fate. Father Magin just closed his eyes in resignation and ordered for Gimmy and Darry to be prepared.

After a while, with packs at their backs, they were ready and gathered around a little wooden door. "This is the Door to Quintessence, where the path leads to the Celestial Lands," he announced, lifting both arms in the air. Kamina snorted, equally pissed with both Father Magin and the ridiculous ceremony, especially the grandiose way in which the priest made his point. Of course, Kamina did the same thing, but his logic was that he was actually sincere with his words.

"Normally, you would go down this road alone. However, this time the Celestial Beings have come to take you on your journey. That was their purpose in coming here, and now, they will leave the village with you."

"Wait, what?" Kamina asked, angered and confused.

"Whenever the population of the village reaches fifty," Rossiu explained, "The Face Gods choose people to be sent to the Celestial Lands."

"I can't believe this!" Kamina blustered. "I simply can't believe this! You were going to send a couple of little kids to the surface without anybody to take care of them," here he glared at Father Magin, "but you change your mind and just throw away your problems to us! How convenient for you!"

"But I want to go to the Celestial Lands," Gimmy protested.

"You ain't going anywhere!" the badass snapped.

"You meanie!" Darry clutched her doll and looked at Nia. "Ms. Nia told us that we could go with you!"

"What? Nia, you said that?" Kamina asked in disbelief.

"Uh, yeah..." Her gaze drifted away in shame, finding a convenient rock to study near her feet.

Kamina just sighed. "Very well, grampa square-face, you won this time. We'll take those tykes with us!" Nia, Yoko and Leeron looked surprise at his drastic change of attitude; but he hadn't finished, and pointed his finger at the priest. "But don't think that this'll change anything! Another kid will be born and then what? Are you gonna send someone else alone to the surface too?"

"You do not understand," Father Magin replied, impassive. "Those who are chosen to be in the Celestial Lands are truly blessed. They are released from this life and find an end to their suffering."

"I don't get it! Not one bit!" Kamina raised his voice, his fists clenching. "The only thing I get it is that this is a load of bull! You're just taking the easy way out by doing this!"

"This is not easy-" Father Magin started to reply but was cut off by Kamina.

"If this isn't easy, don't do it and try to figure out something else!"

"Kamina…" Nia muttered, concerned.

"The Great Kamina doesn't care if it's hard or easy, because he'll always follow his heart! He'll do what he wants to and never do anything he doesn't want to!"

"You are just a youngster," the high priest replied, still calm. "You do not have any experience. You are not ready to understand the meaning of true sacrifice."

"Oh, yeah? And you, just who the hell do you think I am? I may be young, but I know that right is right and wrong is wrong, and this is wrong!"

"Kamina, stop at once," Yoko intervened, not in anger or irritation, but rather concerned about the trouble that these kinds of arguments could cause. "They only do this because they have no other alternatives."

"So, let them find one!" the bluenette snapped. "Listen up, people! Stop following this quack and figure out something! Put some goddamn spirit into it!" At that moment, Magin's once impassive expression turned into a glare.

"How dare you!" one member of the crowd booed. Others began to join in. "Respect our priest!" "You don't have the right!"

"Hon, I don't think this can end well," Leeron commented to Yoko. Indeed, both could feel the tension beginning to rise.

"Please, stop this!" Rossiu appeared, scowling at Kamina, gripping a baton in two trembling fists. "What do you know of life in our village? What do you know of the sacrifices that must be made? I refuse to put up with more of your arrogance!" He raised the baton into an offensive position.

"Oh, now you're starting to talk my language!" Kamina smirked and put on his glasses. "Bring it on, forehead boy!"

"Stop this, Rossiu!" Father Magin placed himself between him and Kamina, stretching out both arms. "Do not resort to violence! That is not our way!"

"I don't understand how they can messengers of the Celestial Lands," Rossiu cried, indignant.

"They are testing us," he replied. "The only thing we can do is endure."

"C'mon, aren't you manly enough to take on the Great Kamina?" The badass was still taunting Rossiu, dancing behind the high priest. Rossiu's patience was wearing thin.

"Stop!"

"Huh?" Kamina stopped his taunting dancing and looked at Nia; in fact everyone looked at her. Nia had her head turned down and her fists balled. She then lifted her head and said, "I don't want to see you fighting. It hurts me inside, seeing you fighting each other. Can't we all be friends?" She turned to the village leader. "Father Magin, we will leave your village, but, please I beg you, don't let Ucom's children die!" Her head fell again, and she remained silent.

For a moment, the village remained in silence. Kamina even scratched the back of his head, muttering, "Well..." Rossiu also lowered his baton; for someone who prided himself on his self-control, he was a bit ashamed now. Father Magin's expression had also returned to its usual form, impassive.

The silence was broken rudely by a massive explosion that shuddered through the entire village.

"What the hell is happening here?" Kamina cried.

"It's something coming from the surface!" Yoko yelled.

At that moment, another explosion hit them. A piece of the honeycomb wall crumbled and began to fall. The village entered full panic mode, nobody knowing what to do.

"Guys, you won't believe this!" Leeron said, opening his computer. Apparently he had linked the computer with one of his spider pods he had left on the surface. "There are three enemy ganmen and a pile of dynamite," he said between explosions. "Let me hack into their communications channel..."

"Hahaha! We'll blow up everything!"

"Why don't we drop all the explosives at once?"

"Slower means tastier!"

"And we can't waste such beauties!"

"Look up!" Rossiu yelled, pointing up. Everyone looked where he was pointing, just in time to see a big bundle of dynamite falling on top of them.


Chapter Text

The residents of Adai never had the opportunity to know how explosives like dynamite work or even exist. The thing about dynamite is, it's explosive. Explosions don't generally tend to mix well with fleshy human bodies. If the bundle of dynamite had landed on top of the group of humans (as it was going to, based on its trajectory) there wouldn't have been enough of them left to fill a paper bag.

Thus, they were extremely fortunate that Yoko had gotten into the habit of never, ever leaving her rifle behind. In a split second Yoko had thrown off the ridiculous white habit, revealing her gun (and confusing several people who desperately tried to figure out how she had hidden it when it was longer than she was tall). Before the one second mark was reached, she had already aimed and pulled the trigger, detonating the bundle of dynamite high in the air where it wouldn't cause any damage.

"Thanks, Yoko," Nia sighed in a mixture of relief and shock.

"Yeah," Kamina said, putting on his cape. "Hold them off for now until we get Gurren Solvernia going."

"Don't worry," the sniper replied, readying for the next attack.

"The Face Gods are punishing us because we've angered their messengers!" one villager yelled. Instead of running away to shelter (as would be logical) the villager knelt before Leeron and Yoko, praying for forgiveness. Luckily for them, Yoko's defense had managed to minimize the amount of debris falling on them. All the same, their stupidity caused her frustration to hit a snapping point.

"What are you doing?" she yelled. "It's raining explosives down here! Get out!"

"But the Face Gods are angry!" another villager replied.

Yoko growled; she hated to work with people who didn't know how to receive orders, especially in emergency situations. She suppressed her frustration as she noticed more explosives tumbling down from above. She quickly concentrated herself, aiming to conserve ammo in case the beastmen had more explosives than she expected. A quick press of the trigger sent a slug flying with a blue flash from her rifle. It impacted with an explosive, sending a wave of heat and light through the cavern, but thankfully avoiding heavy damage. She tilted her rifle to her left to bring down another explosive, then panned her aim to the left to bag yet another. Their luck had continued to hold, as there weren't many targets and they weren't hard to hit, but if the beastmen decided to throw more explosives, things could get ugly. Yoko considered all of this as she continued intercepting the explosives, and hoped that Kamina could get Gurren Solvernia up and running before that happened.

Meanwhile, Kamina and Nia were preparing to do just that. "Time to combine, blood sister!" called Kamina as he slid into Gurren's cockpit.

"Right!" replied Nia readily.

Kamina in Gurren picked up Nia in Solvernia and threw her high in the air. She flipped twice in the air, the legs and arms of the shorter mecha retracting to be replaced by a massive drill. The drill went through Gurren's top, almost hitting Kamina, who thought that their transformation sequence was only made more awesome by the fact that he risked his life to do it. Lines of energy ran down the sides of Gurren's cockpit, and the mecha began to change. The limbs exploded as they grew, their shape and proportion changing to better resemble a human. As it grew, Solvernia's mouth opened and roared green energy. Finally, the ringed helmet flipped out of nowhere and sealed itself on Solvernia's head, blinking with green energy.

"GURREN SOLVERNIA!" they both screamed, striking a heroic pose in order to fit with the awesomeness of the moment. Boota made his own contribution by squealing "Buu byuuuuuuuh!"

"Yoko, darling, I've got some news for you," said Leeron, his gaze fixed to his computer. "It appears that the beastmen are preparing to throw more explosives.

"Look!" a villager yelled, pointing at Gurren Solvernia.

"The face god united with the other face god!"

"What could this mean?"

"Stay away!" Yoko ordered, waving her hand for them to back off. "And shut up!"

"Perhaps you should use their language, dear," Leeron suggested.

Yoko sighed and shook her head, but raised her voice all the same. "All right, as messengers of the Face Gods, we order you to get cover!"

"But I was thinking: if you're really messengers, then why don't you stop them?" the villager who spoke first asked. Yoko just growled and palmed her forehead, starting to lose her patience. "Where is their leader? Rossiu, do something!"

The forehead boy was just staring, unsure of what to do; for the first time in a long time, he didn't know what to do. This was an entirely new situation for him; he had seen hard situations before but nothing that could destroy the village.

"Rossiu! I said to do something!" Yoko yelled again at him. He managed to snap out of it only to cry, "Yoko, above you!" She looked up and gasped when she saw that four explosives were almost upon her. She had lost her concentration and now the explosives were about to hit her; she didn't have time to lift her rifle and aim. Her face contorted in hopelessness, but the shadow of Gurren Solvernia's arm covered her, taking the full brunt of the explosions without any visible sign of effort.

"We're even now, clumsy girl!" Kamina said cheerfully. Yoko just sighed and smiled in relief.

"Okay, Rossiu, get them to the inner chambers. I'll cover you."

"Right!" he said. He turned and gestured towards the exit. "Go to the inner caverns! This has been decreed by the Face Gods." With much reluctance the villagers obeyed, slowly walking out of the chamber.

"Bro, how are we going to climb it?" Nia asked.

"There's always a way!" he said, clutching the controls, "Even if we're going to climb with our bare fingers until they're bruised and bloody!" At that moment, the fingers of the combined mecha turned into drills; both pilots stared for a moment at this unexpected ability of their mecha until Kamina grinned and bellowed, "That's the spirit!" Then, with a hot-blooded scream from Kamina and a surprised yelp from Nia, Gurren Solvernia jumped at the walls and tore its way up, its drill fingers boring nearly down to the knuckle into the rock and circumventing the need for handholds. More explosives rained down, but Yoko sniped every single one, while Nia and Kamina climbed up, advancing and leaving little finger-tracks behind them.

"Look, boss!" the pilot of a silver shark-shaped enemy ganman cried from beside Jank's ganman and another ganman that closely resembled a large cat; he had noticed Gurren Solvernia climbing the walls of the village in their direction. "The prize is coming right at us!"

"Excellent, Tonk!" Jank said from his ganman, rubbing his whiskers, cheerfully toying with a bundle of dynamite. "You and Yonk throw explosives at them! They're defenseless!" They were, of course, unaware that the camera of one of Leeron's spider pods saw all this.

"Kamina, the baddies are going for you! Look out!" Leeron announced through the communicator.

"Heh," he said with a smirk, amused. "Alright, Nia, let's jump!" Flexing its legs, the mecha jumped to the left, avoiding the explosives launched at it.

"Woah!" Nia yelped in surprise. "They're throwing those things at us now!"

"Hello-o," Leeron's voice came from the communicator again, "Just to let you know, Yoko's out of ammo. Sorry, but you're on your own now."

"That won't be a problem!" Kamina replied, tuning his controls, the spiral gauge growing. "We just need to go faster!" With that, Gurren Solvernia began advancing even quicker, so quickly that they were nearly running vertically along the wall, the drills against the wall becoming nearly cacophonic.

"Sir, they're getting closer!" Yonk pointed at them.

"So?" he said, unconcerned. "Just blow them up even more." More explosives were thrown; their impact was felt even inside the mecha and slowed its ascent, but Gurren Solvernia's force field proved strong enough to resist and stopped them from falling over.

"Sir, they're closing in!" Tonk cried, starting to panic as the red mecha got almost fifty meters from them, the awful noise of metal clashing against the wall ratcheting up so loud it hurt.

"That just means that they're easier to hit now!" Jank replied, exasperated.

"I can see you, fuzzballs!" Kamina taunted. At that moment, the ground under them started to crack, growing dangerously large, the floor beginning to give out under them. The cracks became a jagged gap; Jank noticed and jumped out, but the floor finally gave way completely, causing Tonk and Yonk and the remaining explosives to fall onto and around Gurren Solvernia, bringing Kamina and Nia back down to the village in the hardest way possible. They screamed as they fell back through all 400 meters only to crash into the same pond they had fallen into the first time. The explosives hit Tonk's ganman, blowing it apart with a loud explosion, making water splash all over the place, entombing its remains at the bottom of the pond. Gurren Solvernia was a little luckier, falling upside-down and landing on its head, while Yonk was fortunate enough to land on his mech's knees.

"Why, again?" Kamina moaned, seeing things upside down. To make things worse, the mecha had fallen into a softer patch of land, getting stuck.

"You killed Tonk," Yonk cried. "Now I will kill you!"

"What? How did he fall on his legs?" Yoko wondered, incredulous.

"Cats always fall on their feet!" he said, with an annoying guffaw, scoffing at the vulnerable humans. With that, he drew a knife from a pocket at the side of its belly and walked over to the immobilized red mecha. "Piece of cake…"

"Oh, no!" Yoko said, gritting her teeth. "If I had only I had more ammo...!" She glanced and saw that Rossiu was running to the direction of the village's ganman. She shouted "Rossiu! It's too dangerous!" but the boy ignored her. She then realized that he was trying to get to the ganman to pilot it. She tried to warn him, "Rossiu, you don't know what you're doing!" Leeron just placed a hand on her shoulder and said, "It's no use. He's following his heart." Yoko just sighed.

Before Rossiu had even stepped into the water, he felt it moving. Ripples began spreading out across the water from the base of the large ganman. As Rossiu watched, the ganman rose up, water crashing around it. It opened its mouth and announced in a bellowing voice, "This village is the place of my final rest and you will not perturb the people I swore to protect! This is I, Agogo!"

"Huh? This voice…" the forehead boy muttered to himself. "Father Magin?" Even if the speakers of the ganman distorted it, Rossiu could recognize the voice pattern of his old man.

Inside the cockpit, Father Magin was holding tightly to the joysticks of the mecha. He could feel the spirit flowing to the controls. With one primal scream, he pushed Agogo's controls forward, launching the mecha against Yonk. The enemy ganman turned to see what was happening behind him and saw Agogo crashing against him.

"Argh!" Yonk screamed, faltering to the left a bit, but he didn't let his ganman fall. Agogo kept his attack, punching the foe with an uppercut with his right hand and then a jab with his left. Yonk stepped back and tried to swing his knife upwards, only denting Agogo's right arm. Father Magin responded with another left jab. In the priest's advantage, the beastman's confusion and surprise prevented it from attacking accurately, and its swings hit mostly empty air. The priest of the village then grabbed his foe's arm and swung it in the direction of the opening, making it slide over the water. The ancient ganman pushed, trying to topple its enemy into empty space, but the beastman struck furtively with its knife. Agogo stopped, but not before the knife dented its forehead.

"Stupid human, do you think that this old thing can really defeat me?" Yonk taunted, opening a hatch in both cheeks, revealing a pair of gatling guns. The barrels revolved and started to hail bullets right at Agogo.

"I will not allow this!" Father Magin uttered, clenching his teeth as the mecha was pelted by the chair-sized bullets. Some kind of progress bar popped up in the screen; as the bullets kept hitting Agogo, the progress bar filled quickly. It blinked when it was complete; instinctively, Father Magin gripped the control with all the forces his hands could allow and cried, "AGOGO!" The eyes of the mecha glowed as if they accumulated energy, and the lines in its forehead glowed purple. "CELESTIAL JUSTICE!" The glow increased even more, as Yonk noticed something wrong, and, inside the cabin, Father Magin's eyes seemed to glow together with Agogo's. "BEEEAAAM!" And a yellow beam of energy was fired from its eyes, hitting Yonk, who barely had time to scream; the enemy ganman was hurled by the energy beam, right to the opening, which led to an endless abyss. From that day on, no one ever heard of Yonk again.

After he finished the attack, Father Magin guided Agogo to its place of its rest, sitting it down back in front of the hole that it had blocked for years. He then exited the mecha, panting and clutching his arm. The first thing he saw was Rossiu's shocked expression. He was preparing himself to explain what was happening when Agogo lurched, inclining to the right, making some rocks fall from the wall. Father Magin's eyes widened and he felt that he was going to fall into the abyss. At that moment, a helping hand came to his rescue; Gurren Solvernia's hand, still covered in mud. The red mecha grabbed him before he could lurch more. Nia sighed in relief, but Kamina didn't share her feelings.

Gurren's hatch opened and the Great Kamina glared out, arms crossed and a scowl at his face. "I do not like you, grandpa square-face," he said, with an angry tone. "Why are you holding back so much of your spirit? If you-"

"I did not understand what I was doing," he replied, cutting him out, still panting a bit. "It was like a trance; I simply let myself follow this feeling."

"What a nice story…" Kamina replied, sarcastic.

"Please, you had enough time at our village," he begged. "Do not disturb our village any further. I must ask for you to leave us."

"You're just wasting your potential!" Kamina tried to reprimand him; he had seen what that man could do and he knew a fighting spirit when he saw one. For him, a spirit hindered was something unacceptable.

"Bro, that's their final decision," Nia said, letting her hands loosen from the controls. "Don't start a fight, please. I care about you."

Feeling that the battle to defeat the enemies was easier than the battle to change the mind of the people, Kamina sighed, accepting Father Magin's request, not without a last complainy. "I don't get it… I don't get just one damn bit…"

On the surface, Jank was truly scared; his ganman was shaking and he was biting his nails in its cabin because there was no response from Tonk and Yonk. "They're gone… What do I tell Commander Cinoshisa now?" And he darted off, returning to the base, fearing that he would be next.

|T|T|G|S|


After they had finished, Rossiu took Father Magin to another chamber to put some bandages on him. Illuminated by two candles, Rossiu wrapped a bandage around Father Magin's arm. The elder man was visibly tired, while Rossiu was unsettled. Timidly yet resolute, he decided to say something.

"The ganmen are not gods…"

"No, Rossiu," the elder man replied. "The ganmen are not gods. The man with blue hair did not lie to us."

"You knew it all the time…" He kept wrapping the bandage.

"Yes, I knew…" He looked down, feeling a bitter taste in his tongue; while he talked, Rossiu picked up a rusty scissor and cut the bandage, "Only two people in the village knew of it. Me and your mother."

Rossiu cringed, feeling the bile coming up to his throat, his hands tightening on the scissors he was holding. He asked, "What did my mother know?"

"Rossiu, there is something I must tell you: I was not born in this village. I came from a village very different from this; we had resources enough to sustain our population. Even so, I wanted more," he continued, his eyes lost in nostalgia and shame. "I was convinced that there was a surface, but nobody believed on me. I was no different from that youngster, wanting to inspire my fellows, trying to find ways to reach for the heavens. What is his name, Kamenah?"

"It's Kamina, father."

"Yes, Kamina. However, one day, my wish came true when a blonde woman appeared in my village. She was pretty and had a smooth voice, like a celestial messenger. She told us that there was a surface, where the sun shone, where we could run until we got tired, a paradise waiting for us. The first thing my fellow villagers did after we stepped on the surface was to apologize to me." He stopped to sigh, a triumphant sigh that had the same effect as a victory chuckle. "For the first time, I was right."

"But how did she enter in your village?" the forehead boy asked. "Was she my mother?"

"No, she was not," he replied. "The woman just appeared there, I do not know how. But that did not matter: she told us that the surface was just the first step towards something else. And then she left. From that day on, we built our homes in the middle of a valley."

"What is a valley?"

"I do not know how to explain, Rossiu."

"Sorry."

"That is fine. We lived happily for two months, I believe, and then they appeared: giant beasts with enormous guns came to our village one day and started to attack. The village could not fight back, so they ran, only to be found by another, bigger beast, bigger than the others, corralling the survivors. I saw all of them dying. I, the once courageous and proud man that was ready to take on the heavens if necessary, just hid myself and waited for the carnage to end." Rossiu was visibly shaken; Father Magin's tone of voice was disturbingly dark.

"I saw that there were no survivors, and at that moment I realized what the woman had meant. She had meant that the surface was just the first step towards death. I wandered for a few days in the wasteland, until I stepped on Adai. The first thing I saw when I descended the ventilation tubes and arrived there was a woman, holding a small child with a big forehead." He chuckled at Rossiu...

|T|T|G|S|


"Who are you?" the woman asked, fearful and almost crying. She was wearing a dirt gray robe, covering all her body except for her head and hands. She had black eyes and long black hair, but her most distinctive characteristic was the very developed forehead, which was shared by her little child, enveloped in a gray blanket.

"My name is Magin," the man replied, a younger version of Father Magin, without the lines of age. "What's your problem? Are you alright?"

"Nothing is alright…" she turned away from him. "My name is Hobelis, but that doesn't make a difference. I'm just waiting here to die with my children," she stopped to snivel, which hurt Magin's heart, "But I don't want to die…"

|T|T|G|S|


"I gave her some food and she explained what happened in her village: people were destroying themselves because the food had run out again. If you think things are bad today, you should have seen those days. They were just under forty total, but it was only half of what their population had been only a couple of months ago. The bodies had accumulated to the point that it was impossible to give them all a proper burial. You father had died only a few days before I arrived." He gulped; to think about all those people dead was disturbing.

"Rossiu, I saw everything in the village, but when I pointed to the ganman, she said that it was their protector god. I explained to her that they were no gods, but demons, as those surface dwellers may attest to you. She did not believe me at first, but she accepted eventually, though not without argument. After that I devised a plan: while they were sleeping I would enter in the ganman and appear to everyone as an envoy of the Celestial Lands. It worked perfectly, and I was appointed as the new chief of the village."

"My mother was part of the scheme."

"Indeed. Hobelis was crucial because she announced that I was the envoy that would bring a new era to Adai. And my first decision was to establish the limit of fifty people. The village's resources cannot sustain more than that. In the beginning, it was hard to accept, but time helped us to get used to it. We can not let our feelings dictate what we do; if we succumb to them, our village will be destroyed. Even if I lose my soul, I will not lose this village."

"So, if everything was a lie...then what about Gimmy and Darry? Were they chosen by the gods...or by you?"

"They are orphans. There would be few who truly grieve for them."

"Then, what about her? Why did she have to go?" the boy asked, tension visible and audible in his eyes and voice.

"Do you wish to know the truth?" Father Magin asked, looking Rossiu right in the eyes. He nodded, his mouth shut tight in anticipation of the truth...

|T|T|G|S|


In a chamber, Father Magin and Hobelis were discussing. The population had again surpassed the mark of fifty persons, with the birth of their new villager, a boy named Oje. Today was to be the final day for someone in the village.

"We're out of options," she said, walking in circles. "There's nobody for us to choose. No ruffians, no elderly, no sick and dying, no ruffians or rebels."

"We must choose quickly," Father Magin replied. "The ceremony must not be delayed any further."

After an eerie silence, Hobelis finally spoke.

"It's decided. I will go!"

"What?" Father Magin's eyes opened wide. "But why? You're important here!"

"The point of the ceremony is that anyone can be chosen. Even you," she explained, pointing for emphasis. "If someone important is chosen, it will vanquish the doubts of anyone."

"There must be a way to avoid this." Father Magin clenched his fists, looking hopeless.

"There is not. I helped to create this; I should've been the first to volunteer to take the toll. No matter what awful things I did, I will not be a hypocrite!" Father Magin looked at her, almost crying. "Don't!" she snapped, forcing her tears back, "You still have to look out for Rossiu!"

"But he is so attached to you."

"He will understand when he becomes older. He has no option but to keep moving forward..."

|T|T|G|S|

Rossiu couldn't believe in Father Magin's words; his mother chose to go to allow the harsh tradition to continue. He put his hands to his head and looked down, eyes wide open, knees trembling, still digesting what he just heard, a very stodgy information.

"This is the truth, Rossiu." Father Magin looked down. "And the truth is that we must follow the rite to keep the village alive, or else…" Father Magin didn't finish the sentence. A gust of wind extinguished the flames of the candles. Darkness fell; but darkness was nothing new for Rossiu.

|T|T|G|S|


"Here, take it," an old woman said to Gimmy and Darry, before they entered the Door to the Quintessence. She handed a purse to Darry. Another was helping to place a bag at Gimmy's back.

"Don't eat everything at once," someone else counseled them. "Eat only when needed, little by little." The supplies could last for five days, if they ate sparsely.

"Thanks!" The twins replied. Many villagers were gathered around them, wishing them good luck and trying to comfort them. It looked like they were much more preoccupied with them than with themselves, though the twins were very happy to be chosen.

In the moments after the battle, when one villager asked about the ceremony, Father Magin said that they were special, in a different way than those who were chosen before them. Kamina just groaned, sick of that kind of talk, and told Nia to move Gurren Solvernia up. After having given their farewells, the four, five counting Boota, entered the mecha. Yoko chose to go with Nia in Solvernia, leaving Kamina with Leeron, pretty much entirely on purpose (in case it wasn't obvious, Kamina was not comfortable with Leeron). Gurren Solvernia climbed up the wall of the cavern using its drill fingers, even as Kamina yelped every time Leeron prodded him awkwardly kind-of-somewhat on purpose. Once they hit the surface, they would go around to where the Door to the Quintessence exited and pick up Gimmy and Darry.

Next to the pond, Rossiu had requested a word with Father Magin; when he saw his disciple wearing a bag, he knew what he had in mind.

"I see that you have made your decision."

"Yes, Father Magin."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, this is my decision. I will go with Gimmy and Darry," the boy explained, a small smile appearing on his face. "The goal of our guests is to make the surface a better place to live. If they do, we won't need to live by painful laws anymore."

"I wish you success where I failed," the elder man sighed, closing his eyes in resignation. "And I will prepare our village for that day."

"Thank you for believing in us. Besides..." Rossiu continued smiling. "Won't it be easier for you if no one else knew the truth?"

"You do have Hobelis' blood in your veins," he said. He held out a hand, in which was held a book. "As a last wish, please: would you take our holy scriptures with you?"

He looked uninterested, but replied politely. "Thank you Father, but I no longer believe." His expression then turned embarrassed. "And I cannot read. I never learned how."

"Oh, is that all?" Father Magin replied, amused. "You do not need to worry, Rossiu." And he gave a big smile, showing all his teeth, laughing at the irony. "I cannot read either!"

Rossiu's ears could barely believe what he had just heard, but it made sense. Nobody had ever questioned Father Magin's authority, and when he read the book at ceremonies, Rossiu had always assumed that he was reading, and hoped that someday he would learn as well. But all the time he had been making things up, which explained some of the inconsistencies in the rites. Rossiu smirked, an ironic smirk.

"I know it is only dead weight for now, but I would like you to take with you," asked the priest.

"In that case, I accept." He took the book and stuffed it in his bag, "Now, Gimmy and Darry are waiting for me."

"One more thing, Rossiu," called Father Magin, his expression turning serious.

"Yes, father." Knowing this expression and tone of voice, Rossiu paid attention.

"Be careful with the messenger of death. When the newcomers arrived at our village, I suspected them to be messengers of death, but I saw that they were no threat because of one characteristic."

"What is it, father?" he asked, taking heed.

"The messenger of death never opposed anyone. She did not know how to say 'no' to any request, she never talked about 'wrong', something that young man knows very well. She always had that smooth talk, easy rewards at virtually no cost, which caused the downfall of my first home."

"I will take care." he assured him at last.

After giving him a farewell hug, Rossiu joined Gimmy and Darry and entered the door. After a last look, where he could see Father Magin smiling at them, the door to Adai was closed. Then, Rossiu walked forward; every step he advanced, his heart seemed to race a little more; he could feel a different breeze and the light increasing its splendor.

"Hey, Darry, the first one to climb the stairs wins!" Gimmy challenged his sister.

But before they could sprint, Rossiu called to them. "No, Gimmy, we must go together."

Gimmy seemed a bit disappointed, but didn't mind. He waited along with them.

And, when they finally reached the end of the stairs, they had to cover their eyes for a while until their vision adjusted. The unreachable blue sky with its fluffy clouds, the blazing sun in the middle of the sky, the endless horizon of land, the wind seemingly soaring a melody...it was hard to describe their first exposure to the surface. They barely knew how to react, although, given the intensity of their emotions, any reaction would have been an understatement.

Team Gurren was also waiting for their new members; Gurren Solvernia stood stately, with Nia, Kamina, Yoko, Leeron and Boota beside it.

"What?" Kamina uttered, distraught. "Nobody told me that Forehead Boy could go with us! It's not part of the deal!"

"Don't be so grouchy," Yoko replied, glancing at him.

"There's still time to throw him in the pit, back to his village!" he complained, flipping his cape.

"Hey Mr. Great Kamina, there is an insect on your face!" Darry said, pointing to his v-shaped glasses. They still thought that 'Great' was part of his name.

"It's huge!" Gimmy added.

"It's not an insect! It's the manliest of all glasses in the world!" he cried, fuming. "But you little kids would never understand!"

"You meanie!" Gimmy said and Darry agreed, adding her own, "Yeah, you meanie!" to the dialogue.

"You little kids, wait 'till I get you!" He tried to grab them, but Yoko (completely innocently) placed her foot in front of him, making him trip. Gimmy then stole Kamina's glasses and put them on his own face. "Look, I'm the Great Kamina!" he yelled, and ran away, laughing along with Darry. Kamina got up and tried to catch him, grumbling, "Nobody messes with the Great Kamina! NOBODY!"

Nia, on the other hand, thought it to be amusing and approached the forehead boy, holding both hands and making a quick bow. "Rossiu, welcome to Team Gurren."

"Thank you, Nia," he replied, also smiling. "I hope to be useful."

"Kamina and I will build a home the surface, for everyone!" she said brightly. "A future where Ucom's children will be able to live happily!" Rossiu smiled at her cheerfulness, the kind of cheerfulness that only pure and optimist people had.

"One friend taught me how to be friends with other person," she said, grabbing his hand, taking his pinkie and intertwining with her own pinkie. "See, if you do this we can be friends now!"

"Friends…" he smiled, blushing in happiness, feeling the bright future that lay ahead of him in his journey with Team Gurren.

|T|T|G|S|


Jank was, once again, in the control room. As he kneeled in respect to the Commander Cinoshisa, fear wrapped its cold fingers around his heart. He gritted his teeth, sweating though he was not hot. The Commander was a demanding person, generous when it came to materials like explosives, but interested in nothing but results.

"Two ganmen lost," the Commander's robotic voice sounded through the room. "A cargo of explosives wasted and a handful of humans running amok in the surface. How will I account for this in my report? Failure, uttermost unacceptable failure."

"I apologize, my commander."

"I did not allow you to speak!" The robot voice became louder, the only way to express emotions that mask allowed. "This does not help my plans to become a general. Are you aware of what I do to those who do not help me achieve my goals?" A cylinder came out of the armor, from the region where supposedly the right side of the trunk was. Jank didn't see, as his eyes were still firmly fixed to the ground, but he did hear the pop as a bullet was fired from the cylinder; before that, the Commander's eyes glowed red. It was the last thing he ever heard.

...Or it would have been, if it had actually been aimed at him.

"And let that be a warning," Commander Cinoshisa intoned as shards of glass fell from the window that had been shattered in place of Jank's skull. "You will be demoted. Now fix that window!"

"Y-yes, sir!" He ran to the depot to comply with his orders, as fast as he could.

Cinoshisa's eyes glowed again as the communicator in the helmet activated. "Attention, Jigitalis, your request to return to piloting duty has hereby been granted. Daorek is now yours to command."

|T|T|G|S|


On the other side of the line, the beastman known as Jigitalis turned his communicator, which resemble a cellphone, off. He was a portly leonine beastman, with a big mane and a big x-shaped scar. His eyes were green and he had a metallic chain he used as a belt.

"Chidori, my request was accepted," he said, smirking. "After such a long wait, I will be once again permitted to pilot a ganman."

"Good," said a feline beastwoman, wearing a pink cap, a mustard shirt, jean mini-shorts, brown boots and cat gloves. She seemed more preoccupied with playing a videogame, not even turning her head to reply.

"Chidori, leave that thing alone. You've been at it for ten hours. How can that thing work for so long?"

"It just needed new batteries, father." The object in her hand bore the label "Game Boy". She had found it in the excavation site, where they had been investigating ruins that had apparently been destroyed several millennia ago. A quick clean and a pair of new batteries had been all that was needed to get the thing up and running again. "Besides, this game gave me a new idea of how to defeat the humans."

"How could that be?"

"See," Jigitalis looked at the screen, "this circle-thing that I control, must eat all the pellets and run away from the monsters." She turned and showed it to her father. "If the monsters get the circle-thing, I lose. But if I eat the big pellet," she said as the circle-thing ate the bigger pellet, turning the monsters a dark gray, "I can eat the monsters back."

"And what does this mean?"

"The humans are the same thing. This Gurren Solvernia is their big pellet, so what do we do? Simply remove the big pellet and then they won't be able to fight back anymore."

"I liked your plan, Chidori." He smirked.

"That shouldn't be hard to do," she said, not looking away from the videogame. "Where are we going next?"

"We will go to Gorodo Village before facing the humans again. Our agent has informed us that they have a new shipment of gold for us."

"Right." At that moment, the vessel started to tremble. "I guess we're moving," she commented, and returned to her game

Smoke billowed out from the furnace. The massive purple legs started to walk and the black and purple drill-shaped prow advanced. The giant ganman was operational. In the bridge, Cinoshisa initialized the systems of the vessel.

"Soon, Gurren Solvernia shall meet its match against my Yamikaze!"

Chapter Text

"You may speak."

"Yes, milord." Viral kneeled and bowed his head in respect. He was in a room in the middle of the capital, with a window overlooking the city of Teppelin. The lights of the city lit up the room, casting the face of Viral's superior in a kind of half-shadow. Divine General Thymilph, the Raging Wave, a blue and portly gorilla beastman, loomed over his subordinate. Beside him he held a huge silver warhammer, the symbol of his strength. The General turned his back to listen to Viral's report of this new threat to the Empire...if it really was a threat.

"The humans have discovered a new weapon," Viral informed his superior, not daring to lift his head. Viral held his superior in the highest respect, and his heart raced in worry at the thought of disappointing the General. Tsuuma, on the other hand, just sat back with her arms crossed in total unconcern.

"It's sort of a miniature ganman," the shark-cat continued. "He combined it with former commander Guzack's ganman, and the result was a mecha that was more than a match for my Enki."

"And why did you run away from those pitiful humans?" Thymilph asked, his tone turning exasperated.

Viral flinched, but, before he could say anything, Tsuuma cut in. "I ordered him to leave the battle," she said, deadpan.

"I didn't ask for your opinion, your insolent skunk!" Thymilph turned to them, his face contorted in anger directed at the beastwoman, his fists clenched. Viral kept his gaze fixed on the floor, but gulped in concern for his mechanic.

"I'm a coyote, not a skunk," she replied insolently, putting a hand to her cheek. "You, on the other hand, judging by your smell…"

"If you weren't as important as you say…" The general breathed heavily, attempting to not choke his right-hand-man's mechanic. When his rage had dissipated somewhat, he turned to his commander. "As for you, Viral..."

"I accept my punishment, sir! I failed you!" Viral replied, respectful and sincere. Tsuuma just yawned.

"No, not today," the general replied, in a friendlier tone. "I'm in a good mood today, so I'll let you off with just a warning. I believe you may want to face those humans another day." With a chuckle, he continued. "It's been a long time since the last time I heard news of a human like him. Oh, I may enjoy this."

"Yes, sir!" Viral nod was prompt and professional, while Tsuuma's was bored and careless.

|T|T|G|S|

"Tsuuma, are you insane or something?" Viral asked, rattled. They were in a public room with lots of computer terminals, utilized by the beastmen for work and for leisure. Viral stood next to his partner, glaring over her shoulder at the computer screen. Hearing his tone of voice, the beastman next to them logged off and left in a hurry, sensing that it wasn't a safe place to be.

"Viral, you poor simpleton. Thymilph can't touch me," Tsuuma replied easily, casually insulting her four-times-heavier boss, which had a really huge hammer, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She was sitting on the chair in front of the computer screen, her fingers flashing across the keyboard in short bursts. Beside her were her purse and her laptop, which was linked to the terminal by a thin cord. She was uploading Enki's battle data into the central mainframe, to use its greater power to analyze it. She stared at the screen with a bored expression, and casually insulted the shark-cat again. "Stop being such a drama queen."

"It's my duty as a soldier in a commanding position to look out for my teammates." He narrowed his eyes in annoyance at her insolence, "No matter how irritating they happen to be."

"Whatever. I'm the finest mind in the beastman army."

Viral just rolled his eyes, but as if she could feel it, she added, "Well, one of the finest minds. I've been fixing machines since before you were created, you know."

"Only thirty years," he stated. "It doesn't mean much."

"You don't know what means to fix a torosonian cooler in the middle of a lightning storm… stupid torosonian coolers, who in the name of the Spiral King designed that crap? And what's with that name? It's like, moonspeak or something! Not of this world, anyhow."

"Oh, well, so I guess you never received the kind of hellish training that my squadron received. You know, like being thrown naked into the desert with one canteen of water. My scars have history."

"Now, here you are," she said disdainfully, her sarcasm at max potential. "The most distinguished assassin of the empire, the ultimate life form, the über-beastmensch of tomorrow!"

"Tsuuma, can't you just be normal for a moment?" he sighed, tired of her manners.

Her cat ears twitched, and her fingers paused their dance across the keyboard as a progress bar popped up on the screen.

"Do you want to have that talk again?"

"Tsuuma, until this day I didn't understand what you mean by 'machines of flesh'."

"We are nothing but machines made of flesh," she said, still refusing to look at him, narrowing her eyes. "Built by the Spiral King, we are no different from the machines I take care of. The machines have oil, we have blood; they have circuits, we have our brain; they have to be shut off sometimes, we have to go to our pods. Unlike humans." She rested her head back on both hands and continued. "Those humans, they are different. If they were created by someone, he was more capable than our Spiral King; in spite of their feebleness, even if they live underground, they just look like they won't give up going to the surface… there must be something different with them and the Spiral King is hiding from us."

"This is nonsense," he snapped, waving his hand dismissively, "We are better than them, any way you look at it. I've faced humans in combat and none of them were a match, not even that cockatoo Kamina. Why do you think this?"

"As a scientist, thinking comes naturally to me, unlike you hardwired soldiers. You just don't understand; there's just something...different about them." She then looked to Viral. "Do you know why human females have breasts?" He just shrugged. "It's for feeding their cubs."

"Really?" he blurted, surprised.

"But look at me," she said, looking down at her breasts. "Why do I have breasts if I'm not able to breastfeed?" She then returned her gaze to the screen. "How useless. It's like our mighty King wants to make a joke of us, a sick joke, because he has nothing better to do. If he doesn't care, why should I?"

"You haven't changed, Tsuuma." He gave up, knowing that he couldn't win this one. "Just the same as eight years ago."

|T|T|G|S|


"Sir, Far East Theater Commander Viral reporting for duty, sir!" the blonde sharkcat beastman reported, saluting the Raging Wave.

"At ease." Thymilph conceded and Viral relaxed his position. "The reason I called you here today is to introduce you to a new member of your squadron."

"But sir, my request was to work alone."

"I'm overruling your request, but for a good reason." He pressed a button on the wall and a part of it retracted upwards, revealing an equally blonde beastwoman. "You now have a your own personal mechanic. Her name is Tsuuma." As she stepped in, Thymilph said, "Why don't you greet each other properly?" He placed his hand on her back, only to thrust her to Viral's direction. With a yelp, she crashed on top of Viral, and both fell to the ground with Tsuuma on top.

"You two better work well together," the general growled. Then he left. Viral could swear that he saw Thymilph leaping in joy before the door closed behind him. Then, the sounds of joyful whistling floated back to him. Come to think of it, the general had been suspiciously energetic when both summoning Viral and forcibly partnering the two together.

But, for the moment, the two beastmen were focused on each other. They stared into each others' eyes, reality slowly sinking in. Tsuuma was the first to talk, swapping her surprised expression for a bored one (which Viral would get used to) and admonishing him in that deadpan voice of hers.

"What are looking at? Have you never felt the breasts of a female against your body?"

"Uh, actually no," he said, awkward, and asked, even more awkwardly, "Have you?"

"Of course not, you idiot."

"Well, it does not matter," he said, unsure. "I guess we have to work together."

"...Whatever."

|T|T|G|S|


"If I change, nothing else changes, so what's the point of changing?" she replied bluntly. "That's the fate of the beastmen; to stay the same. How tasteless…" No wonder she never smiled, Viral thought; with that kind of philosophy, she didn't feel compelled to.

"Your carelessness will lead you to nowhere," he said, uncrossing his arms. "We have our pride, our honor!" Being a soldier, he never bothered with such pointless philosophical maundering. He was a soldier; trained to think no farther than beyond the next enemy, the next battle, the next war. It bothered him that Tsuuma thought too much about this; it seemed to him like she was paying too much attention to such meaningless things and letting the good things slip away.

"It's not nihilism, it's just that beastmen are boring, which makes our lives boring," she replied, looking down. At the same time her terminal beeped as her whatever she was doing finished. "But believe whatever you want."

"No, you don't understand! It doesn't matter whether we are machines of flesh or not. We have to live on!"

"A soldier like you will never understand… I suppose that ignorance is bliss." Her morose reply cut through his enthusiasm.

Viral just shook his head and gave up for good, then changed the subject. "Say, what you are doing?"

"Looking for information about that mini-ganman," she said, eyes fixed on the screen. "Trying to make matches based on the data we got from Enki's combat logs. I found a file, but the encryption required a password 108 characters long, which is probably only available to our mighty Spiral King. There's something fishy about it."

"Why don't do that thing of yours? Hacking, I think it's called."

"What do you think I've been doing? It took forever just to get clearance to search the entire database. This mysterious file? Take my word for it, it's locked up tight."

"Ah, the finest mind in the army has limits…" Viral smirked, enjoying every word he was saying.

Realizing what she had just said, she stopped to type and her eyes widened a bit. Then she sighed. "You got me. Happy?"

"Very much, I suppose," he said. "Tsuuma, let it go. We're the only people on this floor. The terminal room closes in..." He looked at the clock on the wall. "...Five minutes."

"If I stay six minutes, then what? You don't need to obey those petty rules."

"I'd like to point out that breaking rules is not the best thing to do, especially given your record."

"Does your entire existence revolve around obeying rules?" she asked, almost scowling at him. It wasn't a complete scowl, more of a mix of light anger, disdain, sarcasm and, surprisingly, care, because she was interested enough in Viral to ask him this.

"And yours revolves around mocking them," he replied, also looking at her, unexpectedly or not, with the same expression.

"Yo gys bicker like an old married cople." A mole beastman appeared, wearing a janitor uniform, which was a grey jumpsuit and a gray cap, and a sign saying his name, 'Shun'. He wore pair of black glasses, to protect his sensitive mole vision, and appeared to be incapable of pronouncing the letter 'u'. It sounded less like a lisp than a direct avoidance of using the letter, whether it was actually said or not. He was guiding a cleaning cart, with a broom, a bucket of water and a mop. They were both caught off guard by the awkward observation; Viral stared at the ceiling while Tsuuma returned to the computer, closing windows and powering it down. "The terminal closes in five mintes, better finish whatever yo're doing there." With that, he started to mop the floor.

"I guess I'll have to think it about later," she said, getting up from the chair and placing her laptop in her purse. She slung the bag over her shoulder. "So, what are we going to do now? Thymilph gave us a day off, and I guess we shouldn't waste it."

"I heard that a cantina on the 38th south block has a special discount for the Eastern military." He smiled, trying to be sympathetic. "Besides, even machines of flesh have to cool down, right?"

"I guess so… What the hell. Let's go for it."

After half an hour, they arrived at the cantina, named 'The Helix' after a version of the Spiral King's name. The place was crowded; beastmen of all types were there, derived from mammals, birds, fish, insects, or even mixes of two or more categories. The crowd was predominantly military, based on the uniforms and badges, but there were non-military personnel there too. 'Civilians' would usually be the term used to describe them, though given the nature of beastman society, it wasn't necessarily an accurate term.

Given that the Spiral King ruled everything in an absolute dictatorship, it was fairly accurate to think of the entire populace as being one big extension of the military. A military power that spread across the entire world, Teppelin its center and only major city. All beastmen were born there, all personnel spent their leave there, and at the top of it all sat the Spiral King, his domain stretching out past the horizon to the darkest corners of the planet.

"Look! It's commander Viral!" a turtle beastman called, jolting Viral out of his train of thought.

"I admire your work," a beastwoman with the face of a fox added. Next to her were two other beastmen, lemur with the hair of a lion and a donkey, also greeting the commander.

"Thanks for your support" he replied tersely. He wasn't much of a celebrity, nor the most sociable person in the house, but nevertheless he had some followers, people who admired his skills and his rank.

"Commander Viral, it's a pleasure to have your presence in our cantina," the waitress, a short mouse beastwoman, said happily. She had prominent front teeth and short hair that fluffed up around her circular ears. Her nametag read Monica, with a heart drawn next to it. She held a pen and a pad of paper in her hand. "From what I hear, the humans are giving you some trouble."

"Aren't you going to ask us our orders?" He gave her a yellow smirk.

"Right, right!" The waitress giggled. "May I take your order?"

"One beer, please. Tsuuma?"

"A Manhattan cocktail," she said after a quick glance at the menu, "Don't forget the cherry."

"For sure!" Monica said, taking their orders.

"A Manhattan? Trying to be sophisticated, huh?" Viral commented with a smile, placing his hands on knees.

"Beer is for brutes like you," she replied in that deadpan way of hers, resting her elbows on the table and crossing her legs. Viral just blew a raspberry in response.

"Viral, it's been a long time, definitely a long time."

"Lozano." Viral looked at the beastman who had called to him. He was a green parrot beastman, wearing a yellow shirt and baggy brown pants; his gray beak was like a big nose and he had a pointy red forelock. The badge on his chest indicated that he was a high-ranked commander too. Viral smiled. "Yeah, it's been a long time indeed."

"May I take a seat, a seat here?"

"Of course, feel free."

"Okay, waitress, bring me a pineapple juice with mint, lots of mint," he shouted, and then turned back to Viral, sitting on the chair. "No alcohol for me today, due to my… issues. And who is this lady? This lady your mate?"

"That is not the case!" Tsuuma protested, narrowing her eyebrows and giving him a weird look.

"No, not at all," Viral explained coolly. "She is Tsuuma, my mechanic."

"Just your mechanic? I'm the one who keeps you alive," she said, feigning indignation. "You wouldn't have any of those honors if weren't for me." Viral sighed in annoyance because, as they both knew, he'd have gotten by perfectly fine without her. However, as they also knew, missions were just more interesting when they worked together.

"Oh, I understand," Lozano chuckled in amusement at the pair's antics. "How's life in your area?"

"I believe you already know." Viral expected him to be the first to ask about the humans. But it didn't happen the way he had expected.

"No, to tell you the truth I don't. What happened? I've been busy at the Maurania Forest, you know. Five thousand miles from Teppelin, five thousand miles." The parrot waved his arms out to underline the distance.

"Things complicated there?" asked Viral.

"Lost fifteen men," he sighed, mournful. "Fif-teen men. But at least we eliminated the settlement in that hellish forest, stupid hellish forest. They won't rebuild those houses soon. General Cytomander could have sent the Dai-Ganten to bomb that place, but he said we could go on our own, on our own, right?"

"What a joke."

"Those humans knew the forest. Once they discovered our camp and I lost many men in a night strike, attacking us while we were sleeping, sleeping as usual. But we finally destroyed their houses, destroyed every one. There were at least a hundred and we killed most of them, just four or five survived, only four or five." In a low voice he added, "Which we obviously didn't include in our report, obviously." Then he returned to his normal tone, if it could be called normal. "If we hadn't had flying ganmen, we'd have been in serious trouble; a bunch of our land units got stuck in the mud when the rains came. But in the end, they were brave savages, I have to say, resisted to the end, to the end. And you?"

"Here's your order," Monica interrupted, bringing a mug of beer for Viral, Tsuuma's cocktail, and a glass of pineapple juice with mint.

"Have you ever heard of humans capturing ganmen?" asked the Eastern commander, after taking a gulp of his beer.

"Never, why?" replied the parrot beastman, sipping through his straw.

"Because I found one who did. Actually two," he stated matter-of-factly, a flare of indignation rising in him at the thought.

"Keep talking."

"A human who likes to call himself the Great Kamina appeared to me in Ivaze Marsh. He piloted a ganman against me, which just happened to be Guzack's ganman."

"I remember him," Lozano cut in. "That stupid bastard, always bragging about getting such a beautiful ganman. Figures he'd lose it to a human at the first chance he got. Never liked him, anyways. What happened to him?"

"Last I heard, the Kuratori flew to our base and escorted him and his two subordinates to the capital."

"That's gotta be serious…"

"And I heard he avoided death, somehow. Instead he got himself transferred to the Namzgigco continent."

"That frozen hell, poor bastard, definitely a poor bastard."

"But there's more. That human challenged me to a duel, twice."

"What a feisty pilot, feisty pilot indeed. And?"

"I swept the floor with him without any problems." He smirked, remembering how easy it had been to defeat Kamina alone.

"So why are you complaining?" Lozano asked with a skeptical look.

"Because he has an ally, a female human cub," he kept explaining, swinging his mug and making little whirlpools in his beer. "I didn't record her name, but she had really weird-colored hair. Freaky humans… but she pilots a mini-ganman and when the mini-ganman combined with the larger ganman, they became a much more powerful ganman, that could transform its hands into drills."

"Serious? But… serious?" Lozano's skepticism grew even more. Viral's explanation sounded like utter nonsense.

"Indeed," Tsuuma replied, toying with the little cherry stuck into her cocktail. She popped it into her mouth and sipped. "I was there. The energy generated by that mecha, named Gurren Solvernia was really impressive. It was like a mini Dai-Ganzan. I've been working with machines since before I was born and I've never seen something like that."

"That mecha scared you," Viral said, glancing at her.

"I wasn't scared," she hissed, slamming the bottom of her glass on the table. "I was astonished. It's standard procedure to retreat while facing an unknown enemy, especially one that disabled all of your weapons."

"So, you lost to them, Viral?" Lozano asked, tapping his lower beak.

"I prefer to think of it as a strategic retreat." He looked down at his knees.

"We'd be nailing his coffin closed if I hadn't had the intuition to make him pull out," Tsuuma said, sipping her drink calmly. "If we'd been able to retrieve anything recognizable, of course."

"Yeah, sort of…" the blonde commander agreed bitterly, talking between his teeth.

"If they got you, then they must really be different from anything else we've faced," the parrot beastman commented, almost speechless. He knew Viral, he knew that he had some of highest evaluations in combat that his teachers could give him. But looking at him, talking about how he lost, it was very strange. Viral could have omitted the story, lied, added some details, enhanced the truth, but his sense of honor didn't allow him to do so. Of course, everybody both inside the establishment and without knew about it anyways, with the exception of the parrot-beastman.

Trying to ease some of the tension, he said, "But nothing that some bombs and rockets can't solve, right? They should be in the middle of the desert, right? It makes things even easier, not like those miserable forests, right? Hey, perhaps I could go with you and get a look at this 'Gurren Solvernia', Gurren Solvernia, right?"

"I cannot allow that." Viral said politely.

"Why not?" Lozano asked, surprised.

"Because I'm the one who will bring Gurren Solvernia and that cocky pilot down!" Viral smirked, his eyes gleaming.

"Such a sore pride…" Tsuuma commented, draining her drink.

"Heh, it's okay… what's the worst those humans can do?" the parrot-beastman said, finishing his juice. He pulled some coins out of his pocket and dropped them on the table. "Well, I'm going. Take care, Viral, take care."

"You too." The parrot commander left the cantina.

"He talks weird," Tsuuma commented after he had left.

"He's a parrot," Viral told her, taking another sip of his beer. "Lots of bird beastmen talk with some kind of accent. Helps that almost all of them serve under Cytomander."

"At least he's not Cinoshisa," she said, her gaze drifting away. "That guy is downright creepy."

"Agreed, but he does his job. But he already has a destroyer ganman; where did he get the resources to purchase that thing? From what I heard, not even his crew knows how he can track surface humans so efficiently or get credits to purchase stuff." Commander Cinoshisa inspired respect and jealousy all his compatriots. With an impressive record, he had been the military's rising star for over nine years.

"If I were Adiane, I'd watch my own back." Her comment was only slightly sarcastic this time. Cinoshisa had recently been transferred to Adiane's forces, by Cytomander's recommendation, due to his habit to find new talents. Somewhere, somehow, Cinoshisa had gained quite a bit of political power; he was never required to remove his armor, not even in the presence of the Spiral King, even though those occasions were few and far between. This, combined with his impressive military record and clear ambition, made him a threat to whichever general he served under.

"Well, I think I'll go for a second round," Viral said, after emptying his mug.

"Another beer?" Tsuuma replied, cocking an eyebrow.

"Sure."

"You beer-drinkers have no imagination," she sighed, once again wearing that bored expression.

"You're just jealous because you can't hold down your alcohol."

"And why would I want to? Either way, I can drink just as much as you, and have a different drink every time to boot. Tell them to bring me a strawberry blonde."

And so, Viral and Tsuuma started a weird competition kind of drinking competition. Viral would ask for a beer, while Tsuuma asked for a different cocktail each time, sometimes ordering two or more to compensate for difference in size. Sometime during the competition her scientific mind woke up for a moment and asked whether or not she was accurately compensating for the difference in alcoholic concentration between the drinks. She slapped it back unconscious with some kind of weird, soupy mixture that was popular among the Western army. It tasted like crap, but she was determined not to lose to Viral. Besides, considering her cooking record, she was used to taste bad stuff.

An unknown number of rounds later, Tsuuma was struggling to continue sipping her martini without spilling it down her shirt. Viral was doing likewise with his beer, with more success. A crowd had gathered sometime in between, beastmen of various types and levels of drunkenness, watching the strange face-off between the two partners.

"Oh, gosh, I'm sho drunk… thish can't by good…" Tsuuma moaned. She held her head in her hands because if she didn't, she was afraid it would go spinning off into the air. she couldn't even see straight anymore, and her peripheral vision was a colorful blur. She got up from her chair and turned towards Viral. "Yoo did this, didn't you? Confess to yur crimes!"

"Tsuuma, you're talking to a wall," Viral said calmly. Unlike his partner, he showed no outward signs of drunkenness, aside from his unusually friendly tone of voice. Years of experience coupled with a soldier beastman's enhanced body meant that it would probably take much more for him to get that drunk on just beer. All the same, he didn't like drinking much; two or three mugs was enough for him, unless it happened to be a special occasion. His smirk said that he could have stopped at that two or three, but he'd let Tsuuma have her way. He'd played with her ego, as payback for all of the caustic insults, but also, and mostly, because it was just so damned easy. Now his partner was drunk, and worse than if she had been drinking beer. She really had miscalculated her level of alcohol intake; over half of the drinks she'd been drinking had had a higher alcohol concentration than plain old beer, and with many of those, she'd had several to offset the difference in size.

"I swear!" She raised her voice, slamming her fists against the same wall. "If sumting happens to me, I'll have mah revenge! Mah brain cells are dying! They're dying!" Viral for a moment was concerned and considered that he might have went too far. Tsuuma wasn't a drinker, didn't have Viral's enhanced body, and was clearly prone to anger when drunk. Her fears were not unfounded, as her job depended on her brain, but she wasn't an alcoholic, and Viral knew that permanent damage only came to the alcoholics. He'd known a few; they'd been dealt with quickly, but they had left their mark. It was one of the reasons he secretly appreciated Tsuuma; her holier-than-thou attitude meant she refrained from heavy drinking. In his slightly-drunk mind, Viral briefly wondered if he really thought that; if it wouldn't have mattered if she was an alcoholic, just as long as there was another pair of eyes to gaze back at him in the depths of a desert sandstorm...

"I'll become a janitor and that's gonna be yur fault!" yelled Tsuuma, jarring Viral out of his strange line of thought. He suddenly had a mental image of Tsuuma mopping floors while snapping irritably at passing beastmen. He burst out laughing at the thought.

"Stop laffin, Viral!"

She pointed angrily at a nearby fish-beastman. The spectators all started laughing as they realized that Tsuuma was a first-time drunk and did not know how to cope with the effects. This made Viral think for a while; the image of Tsuuma as a janitor suddenly stopped being funny. He thought about his own honor. Where is the honor in getting your partner drunk? This is not funny anymore, Viral thought regretfully. Seeing the cynical, intellectual mechanic lean against a wall in a drunken stupor was a pathetic sight.

"Monica, the bill please." He sighed, his smile disappearing. "We're done for today."

"In a moment." She brought him a little machine, and he slid a small plastic card into it. After he had punched in a short code, the cost of the drinks was deducted from his personal account.

While Viral settled the bill, the strange chemical mixture in Tsuuma's stomach had begun to react...badly, to say the least. Her stomach started to ache and she hugged herself in pain. First she retched, and then the inevitable happened. Tsuuma puked everything out, right on the shirt of a white ox beastman.

The mood in the canteen dropped faster than a rock. The music stopped as the seven-foot, muscular ox glared down at the coyote-beastwoman, who had a golden ring in his nose. Every eye in the place stared at Tsuuma as she panted in the aftermath of her puking fit. Everyone sympathized with her; they all knew what was about to happen.

The ox beastman grabbed her by the gullet of her red suit and glared at her with bloodshot, angry eyes. His breath came out in snorts through his large, bovine nostrils, washing over Tsuuma's face.

"What are you going to do, you idiot?" he yelled in a earth-sundering roar, saliva flying out and soaking Tsuuma's face.

In response, her stomach started to ache again; she tried to fight it back, but it was useless. She puked right at the face of the big beastman, like she was firing a laser from her mouth. He threw her forcefully against the floor and grabbed the towel covering a nearby table. Everyone gasped.

"Monica, feel free to send an appropriate portion of the repair costs to my account," said Viral, standing up.

The mouse-beastwoman had only been sticking around to get that answer. Once that was settled, she dived behind the bar and disappeared from sight.

Tsuuma stood on her fours, still panting, trying to stand up, but the ox grabbed her by her hair. She winced in pain and cried when he shook her with force, like a dusty curtain.

"Look at me, you slut!" he yelled, eyes burning in pure rage. Tsuuma only had her eyes half-open, and her teeth were grit tight. "Nobody messes with The Bandit!" He curled his fingers of his free hand in the palm to punch at her with all his force. Even in that state, Tsuuma could feel that she was going to suffer and so she closed her eyes, locking her eyelids. Judging by the size of the fist of that beastman, she would go unconscious or worse within the first hit.

There was a dull smacking sound. Tsuuma slowly opened her eyes when the fist never hit properly. There was Viral, his hand holding the ox beastman's fist back from brutally mutilating his partner.

"I won't accept this kind of treatment towards my subordinate," Viral said quietly, His eyes narrowing. Both his and the ox's arms trembled due to the struggle, but Viral did not falter.

"So, you're the pathetic no-good commander that lost to a human," Bandit replied spitefully. "Get out of my sight!"

"My mechanic is sorry, and I will cover any loss," he offered, still holding the fist.

"I don't care about your money!" the ox roared, spitting saliva at his face. "This slut doesn't have an ounce of self-preservation in her! Even the humans I slaughter out on the plains have more sense than her! I'll let her go after I beat that into her for you!"

"I will not tolerate injuries to my crew," the cat-shark replied, feeling his anger building. "She is my responsibility!"

"So, take her!" The ox threw Tsuuma at him, intending to brain Viral with his own mechanic and use the opportunity to commence a serious beating. But he hadn't counted with the reflexes of the Eastern commander. Viral automatically caught Tsuuma deftly in his arms and jumped backwards to avoid the attack. Bandit tried to gut him with his horns, but the commander hopped to the side and retreated back until he was certain that Tsuuma would be safe. He then set the mechanic down in a chair and walked towards his opponent, cracking his fists. He didn't have his cleaver with him, but in this case, it wasn't necessary.

The Bandit mooed loudly in response to the challenge. He lowered his head and charged, but Viral stepped out of the way, and instead he slammed into some sort of a vending machine and crushed it against the wall. The ox just rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck, then charged again at the Eastern commander. This time, Viral waited and cracked the Bandit in the chin with an upward kick. The ox mooed in pain and stumbled backwards, but before he could recover Viral was already there, clocking him in the jaw. The Bandit lashed out with a fist in pain and confusion, but the wild blow only gave Viral an opportunity to grab his arm and twist it into a restraining position. The Bandit mooed and, seeing a nearby bottle, threw it at the commander. Viral dodged, and so the Bandit tried again with a chair, forcing Viral to let go in order to block it. The Bandit retreated a bit and lowered his horns again.

"Now, you're gonna die!" the ox cried, charging at him at full speed. Viral simply grabbed the Bandit's horns as they came up, jumped, flipped, and landed on his back. The Bandit bucked wildly and tried to crush Viral against a wall, but the commander flipped again until his feet were on the floor. Then, with a mighty roar, he threw the ox-beastman to the ground. He then put an arm around his opponent's chin and grabbed his nose-ring.

"Ready to give up yet?" grunted the commander.

The ox replied with a sucker punch to Viral's side. Even though the blow was weak, Viral released his hold, allowing the Bandit to get back up.

"How dare you grab my nose ring!" snorted the ox-beastman angrily.

"So, you don't like it, huh?" Viral said, smirking sarcastically.

The Bandit mooed in response, but this time, it was a different moo, deeper, and with a meaning. Before long several dog and pig beastmen had gathered at his side.

"Well, then. So much for fairness," remarked Viral.

"Now it's over!" The Bandit guffawed as his minions began to slowly encircle Viral. The Eastern commander just fell back into a fighting stance and growled low in his throat, his eyes flicking to and fro in an effort to keep track of them all. Things were about to get complicated.

Then he noticed other beastmen stepping out and forming their own ring around him.

"You won't disgrace commander Viral's honor with your dirty tricks!" the turtle beastman from before said, raising his fist.

"So what?" the Bandit snorted.

"Commander Viral won't be alone in this," the fox beastwoman replied, balling her fists. "You misogynistic douche!"

"Yeah, you're a total ass!" the donkey beastman called out. A kind of general grumbling rose from Viral's side in agreement.

"Is this too complicated for you?" asked Viral, cracking his neck.

The Bandit replied with something unintelligible, but it was understood as an order to attack, and his minions rushed forward to meet their opponents.

The following two hours were completely awesome.

|T|T|G|S|

Eventually, the sun rose over Teppelin City, painting the sky a kind of warm orange. The sun sprayed unwelcome light all over the darkest corners of the city, blinding nocturnal beastmen and signaling the beginnings of some serious hangovers.

Deep within the city's depths, one lost ray of light found its way into a dark alleyway. It wormed its way into the alley's depths and looked about. The contents of the alley were restricted to an abandoned dumpster and, sometimes, a lost beastman. This time, there were two, and the lost ray of light set itself down on the face of the larger figure.

Feeling the sun's warmth, Viral woke quietly. As sense gradually returned, he realized that he was slumped against the wall of an alley. He then realized, upon looking down, that he held Tsuuma tight in his arms.

He looked down at her; at her sleeping face, her mussed blonde hair, the two ears protruding from the top of her head, her twisted red headband, and the little trail of drool leaking from the corner of her mouth. He realized, then, that the haughty, sarcastic mechanic really wasn't all that different from any other beastwoman. She wasn't devoid of weakness, no matter how much she pretended to be otherwise. In fact, Viral realized, she could even be...cute...at times, such as the present moment. Except for the drool, that was disgusting.

Viral chuckled softly. She really was an interesting partner. Then he realized that she would go straight for his throat when she woke up. Before he could do anything, however, her obsidian eyes cracked open.

"Ahn, Viral," she muttered, looking up at him with half-lidded eyes. "Is it already morning?"

"Yes, it is," he replied. "Feeling better?"

"I've seen better days," she moaned, putting a hand to her head. "Got a raging hangover here...what about you?"

"Well, actually my back is hurting a bit," he said, stretching. "Otherwise, I'm fine."

"That's good..."

Then she planted a fist into his side, sending him falling over sideways. She continued pummeling him, punctuating each punch with a shout. "Never! Do! That! Again!"

"Yes, Tsuuma," said Viral obediently. He could have stopped her anytime he wanted, but her punches didn't have much power to them, and anyway, he kind of deserved it.

Eventually she tired of beating him up and sat back with a huff. "Why in the name of all that is sane did you let that happen?"

"I just wanted you to have some fun."

"Getting drunk off your ass and waking up in a random alley is your idea of fun?"

"I didn't exactly plan it that way...We should get you an aspirin." He looked at her with concern. "I've seen you drink before, so it's not like it was your first time with alcohol. So what happened?"

"Of course I've drunk before!" she snapped. "Just not so much. Besides, I wasn't thinking about drinking, I was thinking about that talk we had earlier."

"Is that the truth?"

"Truth never did any good to anyone. That's why people lie."

"Not all truths are bad…or need to be."

"Since when did you get so philosophical?"

"I hang out with you." He smiled at her. "Stands to reason I'd pick up a bad habit or two."

"Makes sense," she replied, in an almost friendly way.

"Were you scared? Yesterday?"

"Viral, why don't you go play Russian roulette with an automatic weapon?" she snapped, adjusting her headband.

"I'll take that as a yes," he shot back, coolly.

"I don't need to explain anything."

"Okay, Tsuuma…Sorry."

"What?"

"Sorry for getting you drunk like that…"

"Heh, whatever… but do you remember anything?"

"Not very much, but..." Viral looked down at the large, golden ring around his arm, whose original owner was an ox beastman. "I think we won."

"Good. It was all your fault anyway." She rubbed her eyes tiredly. "It's strange. The nicest thing someone has ever done for me came right after the worst thing someone has ever done to me. I'm not sure whether to be mad at you, or..." She left the sentence unfinished, yawning instead.

"I can still make up for it, if that wasn't enough." Viral wasn't sure whether to be ashamed or proud of the last night's events.

"That won't be necessary," she said, getting up with some difficulty, eventually using the wall as a support. "I think you've done enough..."

Viral got up a little faster than Tsuuma, though he was hardly any steadier than she was. She shook her head when he reached out his hand to her, muttering, "I'm not helpless, you know."

"But accepting help doesn't mean you're helpless." he argued again, Tsuuma's arguments couldn't stand on their own anymore.

"Can we focus on something else?" she groaned, tired. "Like hunting down Gurren Solvernia?"

"That's the spirit!" he said, his eyes shining. He started to feel comfortable at her side, a feeling that seemed to come off nowhere since he woke up, even knowing that she wouldn't stop mocking him.

Tsuuma almost smiled. Maybe the beastmen were cursed to remain the same forever. But maybe, like Viral, she could make the best of it. She took his hand, and the pair staggered off to figure out where, exactly, they were, and how they would get home.

God shines His sunlight down upon both the evil and the good; He sends rain to the just and unjust alike.

Rain or sun, Tsuuma and Viral would weather it together.


Storyid: 6590543
FanFiction.net
Name: Tengen Toppa Gurren Solvernia
Author: RandomNumbers523156
Chapter: 11

A.N.: Update! This chapter is focused entirely on Viral and Tsuuma (basically, if this were canon, this would be supplementary material, I was thinking about creating a side story, but I don't think it'd be necessary, since they will be rare; also makes kind of a genre shift for a while). Also, it has some information on the beastman society (or how I imagine it, it will be relevant in the future).


"You may speak."

"Yes, milord." Viral kneeled and bowed his head in respect. He was in a room in the middle of the capital, with a window overlooking the city of Teppelin. The lights of the city lit up the room, casting the face of Viral's superior in a kind of half-shadow. Divine General Thymilph, the Raging Wave, a blue and portly gorilla beastman, loomed over his subordinate. Beside him he held a huge silver warhammer, the symbol of his strength. The General turned his back to listen to Viral's report of this new threat to the Empire...if it really was a threat.

"The humans have discovered a new weapon," Viral informed his superior, not daring to lift his head. Viral held his superior in the highest respect, and his heart raced in worry at the thought of disappointing the General. Tsuuma, on the other hand, just sat back with her arms crossed in total unconcern.

"It's sort of a miniature ganman," the shark-cat continued. "He combined it with former commander Guzack's ganman, and the result was a mecha that was more than a match for my Enki."

"And why did you run away from those pitiful humans?" Thymilph asked, his tone turning exasperated.

Viral flinched, but, before he could say anything, Tsuuma cut in. "I ordered him to leave the battle," she said, deadpan.

"I didn't ask for your opinion, your insolent skunk!" Thymilph turned to them, his face contorted in anger directed at the beastwoman, his fists clenched. Viral kept his gaze fixed on the floor, but gulped in concern for his mechanic.

"I'm a coyote, not a skunk," she replied insolently, putting a hand to her cheek. "You, on the other hand, judging by your smell…"

"If you weren't as important as you say…" The general breathed heavily, attempting to not choke his right-hand-man's mechanic. When his rage had dissipated somewhat, he turned to his commander. "As for you, Viral..."

"I accept my punishment, sir! I failed you!" Viral replied, respectful and sincere. Tsuuma just yawned.

"No, not today," the general replied, in a friendlier tone. "I'm in a good mood today, so I'll let you off with just a warning. I believe you may want to face those humans another day." With a chuckle, he continued. "It's been a long time since the last time I heard news of a human like him. Oh, I may enjoy this."

"Yes, sir!" Viral nod was prompt and professional, while Tsuuma's was bored and careless.


"Tsuuma, are you insane or something?" Viral asked, rattled. They were in a public room with lots of computer terminals, utilized by the beastmen for work and for leisure. Viral stood next to his partner, glaring over her shoulder at the computer screen. Hearing his tone of voice, the beastman next to them logged off and left in a hurry, sensing that it wasn't a safe place to be.

"Viral, you poor simpleton. Thymilph can't touch me," Tsuuma replied easily, casually insulting her four-times-heavier boss, which had a really huge hammer, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She was sitting on the chair in front of the computer screen, her fingers flashing across the keyboard in short bursts. Beside her were her purse and her laptop, which was linked to the terminal by a thin cord. She was uploading Enki's battle data into the central mainframe, to use its greater power to analyze it. She stared at the screen with a bored expression, and casually insulted the shark-cat again. "Stop being such a drama queen."

"It's my duty as a soldier in a commanding position to look out for my teammates." He narrowed his eyes in annoyance at her insolence, "No matter how irritating they happen to be."

"Whatever. I'm the finest mind in the beastman army."

Viral just rolled his eyes, but as if she could feel it, she added, "Well, one of the finest minds. I've been fixing machines since before you were created, you know."

"Only thirty years," he stated. "It doesn't mean much."

"You don't know what means to fix a torosonian cooler in the middle of a lightning storm… stupid torosonian coolers, who in the name of the Spiral King designed that crap? And what's with that name? It's like, moonspeak or something! Not of this world, anyhow."

"Oh, well, so I guess you never received the kind of hellish training that my squadron received. You know, like being thrown naked into the desert with one canteen of water. My scars have history."

"Now, here you are," she said disdainfully, her sarcasm at max potential. "The most distinguished assassin of the empire, the ultimate life form, the über-beastmensch of tomorrow!"

"Tsuuma, can't you just be normal for a moment?" he sighed, tired of her manners.

Her cat ears twitched, and her fingers paused their dance across the keyboard as a progress bar popped up on the screen.

"Do you want to have that talk again?"

"Tsuuma, until this day I didn't understand what you mean by 'machines of flesh'."

"We are nothing but machines made of flesh," she said, still refusing to look at him, narrowing her eyes. "Built by the Spiral King, we are no different from the machines I take care of. The machines have oil, we have blood; they have circuits, we have our brain; they have to be shut off sometimes, we have to go to our pods. Unlike humans." She rested her head back on both hands and continued. "Those humans, they are different. If they were created by someone, he was more capable than our Spiral King; in spite of their feebleness, even if they live underground, they just look like they won't give up going to the surface… there must be something different with them and the Spiral King is hiding from us."

"This is nonsense," he snapped, waving his hand dismissively, "We are better than them, any way you look at it. I've faced humans in combat and none of them were a match, not even that cockatoo Kamina. Why do you think this?"

"As a scientist, thinking comes naturally to me, unlike you hardwired soldiers. You just don't understand; there's just something...different about them." She then looked to Viral. "Do you know why human females have breasts?" He just shrugged. "It's for feeding their cubs."

"Really?" he blurted, surprised.

"But look at me," she said, looking down at her breasts. "Why do I have breasts if I'm not able to breastfeed?" She then returned her gaze to the screen. "How useless. It's like our mighty King wants to make a joke of us, a sick joke, because he has nothing better to do. If he doesn't care, why should I?"

"You haven't changed, Tsuuma." He gave up, knowing that he couldn't win this one. "Just the same as eight years ago."


"Sir, Far East Theater Commander Viral reporting for duty, sir!" the blonde sharkcat beastman reported, saluting the Raging Wave.

"At ease." Thymilph conceded and Viral relaxed his position. "The reason I called you here today is to introduce you to a new member of your squadron."

"But sir, my request was to work alone."

"I'm overruling your request, but for a good reason." He pressed a button on the wall and a part of it retracted upwards, revealing an equally blonde beastwoman. "You now have a your own personal mechanic. Her name is Tsuuma." As she stepped in, Thymilph said, "Why don't you greet each other properly?" He placed his hand on her back, only to thrust her to Viral's direction. With a yelp, she crashed on top of Viral, and both fell to the ground with Tsuuma on top.

"You two better work well together," the general growled. Then he left. Viral could swear that he saw Thymilph leaping in joy before the door closed behind him. Then, the sounds of joyful whistling floated back to him. Come to think of it, the general had been suspiciously energetic when both summoning Viral and forcibly partnering the two together.

But, for the moment, the two beastmen were focused on each other. They stared into each others' eyes, reality slowly sinking in. Tsuuma was the first to talk, swapping her surprised expression for a bored one (which Viral would get used to) and admonishing him in that deadpan voice of hers.

"What are looking at? Have you never felt the breasts of a female against your body?"

"Uh, actually no," he said, awkward, and asked, even more awkwardly, "Have you?"

"Of course not, you idiot."

"Well, it does not matter," he said, unsure. "I guess we have to work together."

"...Whatever."


"If I change, nothing else changes, so what's the point of changing?" she replied bluntly. "That's the fate of the beastmen; to stay the same. How tasteless…" No wonder she never smiled, Viral thought; with that kind of philosophy, she didn't feel compelled to.

"Your nihilism will lead you to nowhere," he said, uncrossing his arms. "We have our pride, our honor!" Being a soldier, he never bothered with such pointless philosophical maundering. He was a soldier; trained to think no farther than beyond the next enemy, the next battle, the next war. It bothered him that Tsuuma thought too much about this; it seemed to him like she was paying too much attention to such meaningless things and letting the good things slip away.

"It's not nihilism, it's just that beastmen are boring, which makes our lives boring," she replied, looking down. At the same time her terminal beeped as her whatever she was doing finished. "But believe whatever you want."

"No, you don't understand! It doesn't matter whether we are machines of flesh or not. We have to live on!"

"A soldier like you will never understand… I suppose that ignorance is bliss." Her morose reply cut through his enthusiasm.

Viral just shook his head and gave up for good, then changed the subject. "Say, what you are doing?"

"Looking for information about that mini-ganman," she said, eyes fixed on the screen. "Trying to make matches based on the data we got from Enki's combat logs. I found a file, but the encryption required a password 108 characters long, which is probably only available to our mighty Spiral King. There's something fishy about it."

"Why don't do that thing of yours? Hacking, I think it's called."

"What do you think I've been doing? It took forever just to get clearance to search the entire database. This mysterious file? Take my word for it, it's locked up tight."

"Ah, the finest mind in the army has limits…" Viral smirked, enjoying every word he was saying.

Realizing what she had just said, she stopped to type and her eyes widened a bit. Then she sighed. "You got me. Happy?"

"Very much, I suppose," he said. "Tsuuma, let it go. We're the only people on this floor. The terminal room closes in..." He looked at the clock on the wall. "...Five minutes."

"If I stay six minutes, then what? You don't need to obey those petty rules."

"I'd like to point out that breaking rules is not the best thing to do, especially given your record."

"Does your entire existence revolve around obeying rules?" she asked, almost scowling at him. It wasn't a complete scowl, more of a mix of light anger, disdain, sarcasm and, surprisingly, care, because she was interested enough in Viral to ask him this.

"And yours revolves around mocking them," he replied, also looking at her, unexpectedly or not, with the same expression.

"Yo gys bicker like an old married cople." A mole beastman appeared, wearing a janitor uniform, which was a grey jumpsuit and a gray cap, and a sign saying his name, 'Shun'. He wore pair of black glasses, to protect his sensitive mole vision, and appeared to be incapable of pronouncing the letter 'u'. It sounded less like a lisp than a direct avoidance of using the letter, whether it was actually said or not. He was guiding a cleaning cart, with a broom, a bucket of water and a mop. They were both caught off guard by the awkward observation; Viral stared at the ceiling while Tsuuma returned to the computer, closing windows and powering it down. "The terminal closes in five mintes, better finish whatever yo're doing there." With that, he started to mop the floor.

"I guess I'll have to think it about later," she said, getting up from the chair and placing her laptop in her purse. She slung the bag over her shoulder. "So, what are we going to do now? Thymilph gave us a day off, and I guess we shouldn't waste it."

"I heard that a cantina on the 38th south block has a special discount for the Eastern military." He smiled, trying to be sympathetic. "Besides, even machines of flesh have to cool down, right?"

"I guess so… What the hell. Let's go for it."

After half an hour, they arrived at the cantina, named 'The Helix' after a version of the Spiral King's name. The place was crowded; beastmen of all types were there, derived from mammals, birds, fish, insects, or even mixes of two or more categories. The crowd was predominantly military, based on the uniforms and badges, but there were non-military personnel there too. 'Civilians' would usually be the term used to describe them, though given the nature of beastman society, it wasn't necessarily an accurate term.

Given that the Spiral King ruled everything in an absolute dictatorship, it was fairly accurate to think of the entire populace as being one big extension of the military. A military power that spread across the entire world, Teppelin its center and only major city. All beastmen were born there, all personnel spent their leave there, and at the top of it all sat the Spiral King, his domain stretching out past the horizon to the darkest corners of the planet.

"Look! It's commander Viral!" a turtle beastman called, jolting Viral out of his train of thought.

"I admire your work," a beastwoman with the face of a fox added. Next to her were two other beastmen, lemur with the hair of a lion and a donkey, also greeting the commander.

"Thanks for your support" he replied tersely. He wasn't much of a celebrity, nor the most sociable person in the house, but nevertheless he had some followers, people who admired his skills and his rank.

"Commander Viral, it's a pleasure to have your presence in our cantina," the waitress, a short mouse beastwoman, said happily. She had prominent front teeth and short hair that fluffed up around her circular ears. Her nametag read Monica, with a heart drawn next to it. She held a pen and a pad of paper in her hand. "From what I hear, the humans are giving you some trouble."

"Aren't you going to ask us our orders?" He gave her a yellow smirk.

"Right, right!" The waitress giggled. "May I take your order?"

"One beer, please. Tsuuma?"

"A Manhattan cocktail," she said after a quick glance at the menu, "Don't forget the cherry."

"For sure!" Monica said, taking their orders.

"A Manhattan? Trying to be sophisticated, huh?" Viral commented with a smile, placing his hands on knees.

"Beer is for brutes like you," she replied in that deadpan way of hers, resting her elbows on the table and crossing her legs. Viral just blew a raspberry in response.

"Viral, it's been a long time, definitely a long time."

"Lozano." Viral looked at the beastman who had called to him. He was a green parrot beastman, wearing a yellow shirt and baggy brown pants; his gray beak was like a big nose and he had a pointy red forelock. The badge on his chest indicated that he was a high-ranked commander too. Viral smiled. "Yeah, it's been a long time indeed."

"May I take a seat, a seat here?"

"Of course, feel free."

"Okay, waitress, bring me a pineapple juice with mint, lots of mint," he shouted, and then turned back to Viral, sitting on the chair. "No alcohol for me today, due to my… issues. And who is this lady? This lady your mate?"

"That is not the case!" Tsuuma protested, narrowing her eyebrows and giving him a weird look.

"No, not at all," Viral explained coolly. "She is Tsuuma, my mechanic."

"Just your mechanic? I'm the one who keeps you alive," she said, feigning indignation. "You wouldn't have any of those honors if weren't for me." Viral sighed in annoyance because, as they both knew, he'd have gotten by perfectly fine without her. However, as they also knew, missions were just more interesting when they worked together.

"Oh, I understand," Lozano chuckled in amusement at the pair's antics. "How's life in your area?"

"I believe you already know." Viral expected him to be the first to ask about the humans. But it didn't happen the way he had expected.

"No, to tell you the truth I don't. What happened? I've been busy at the Maurania Forest, you know. Five thousand miles from Teppelin, five thousand miles." The parrot waved his arms out to underline the distance.

"Things complicated there?" asked Viral.

"Lost fifteen men," he sighed, mournful. "Fif-teen men. But at least we eliminated the settlement in that hellish forest, stupid hellish forest. They won't rebuild those houses soon. General Cytomander could have sent the Dai-Ganten to bomb that place, but he said we could go on our own, on our own, right?"

"What a joke."

"Those humans knew the forest. Once they discovered our camp and I lost many men in a night strike, attacking us while we were sleeping, sleeping as usual. But we finally destroyed their houses, destroyed every one. There were at least a hundred and we killed most of them, just four or five survived, only four or five." In a low voice he added, "Which we obviously didn't include in our report, obviously." Then he returned to his normal tone, if it could be called normal. "If we hadn't had flying ganmen, we'd have been in serious trouble; a bunch of our land units got stuck in the mud when the rains came. But in the end, they were brave savages, I have to say, resisted to the end, to the end. And you?"

"Here's your order," Monica interrupted, bringing a mug of beer for Viral, Tsuuma's cocktail, and a glass of pineapple juice with mint.

"Have you ever heard of humans capturing ganmen?" asked the Eastern commander, after taking a gulp of his beer.

"Never, why?" replied the parrot beastman, sipping through his straw.

"Because I found one who did. Actually two," he stated matter-of-factly, a flare of indignation rising in him at the thought.

"Keep talking."

"A human who likes to call himself the Great Kamina appeared to me in Ivaze Marsh. He piloted a ganman against me, which just happened to be Guzack's ganman."

"I remember him," Lozano cut in. "That stupid bastard, always bragging about getting such a beautiful ganman. Figures he'd lose it to a human at the first chance he got. Never liked him, anyways. What happened to him?"

"Last I heard, the Kuratori flew to our base and escorted him and his two subordinates to the capital."

"That's gotta be serious…"

"And I heard he avoided death, somehow. Instead he got himself transferred to the Namzgigco continent."

"That frozen hell, poor bastard, definitely a poor bastard."

"But there's more. That human challenged me to a duel, twice."

"What a feisty pilot, feisty pilot indeed. And?"

"I swept the floor with him without any problems." He smirked, remembering how easy it had been to defeat Kamina alone.

"So why are you complaining?" Lozano asked with a skeptical look.

"Because he has an ally, a female human cub," he kept explaining, swinging his mug and making little whirlpools in his beer. "I didn't record her name, but she had really weird-colored hair. Freaky humans… but she pilots a mini-ganman and when the mini-ganman combined with the larger ganman, they became a much more powerful ganman, that could transform its hands into drills."

"Serious? But… serious?" Lozano's skepticism grew even more. Viral's explanation sounded like utter nonsense.

"Indeed," Tsuuma replied, toying with the little cherry stuck into her cocktail. She popped it into her mouth and sipped. "I was there. The energy generated by that mecha, named Gurren Solvernia was really impressive. It was like a mini Dai-Ganzan. I've been working with machines since before I was born and I've never seen something like that."

"That mecha scared you," Viral said, glancing at her.

"I wasn't scared," she hissed, slamming the bottom of her glass on the table. "I was astonished. It's standard procedure to retreat while facing an unknown enemy, especially one that disabled all of your weapons."

"So, you lost to them, Viral?" Lozano asked, tapping his lower beak.

"I prefer to think of it as a strategic retreat." He looked down at his knees.

"We'd be nailing his coffin closed if I hadn't had the intuition to make him pull out," Tsuuma said, sipping her drink calmly. "If we'd been able to retrieve anything recognizable, of course."

"Yeah, sort of…" the blonde commander agreed bitterly, talking between his teeth.

"If they got you, then they must really be different from anything else we've faced," the parrot beastman commented, almost speechless. He knew Viral, he knew that he had some of highest evaluations in combat that his teachers could give him. But looking at him, talking about how he lost, it was very strange. Viral could have omitted the story, lied, added some details, enhanced the truth, but his sense of honor didn't allow him to do so. Of course, everybody both inside the establishment and without knew about it anyways, with the exception of the parrot-beastman.

Trying to ease some of the tension, he said, "But nothing that some bombs and rockets can't solve, right? They should be in the middle of the desert, right? It makes things even easier, not like those miserable forests, right? Hey, perhaps I could go with you and get a look at this 'Gurren Solvernia', Gurren Solvernia, right?"

"I cannot allow that." Viral said politely.

"Why not?" Lozano asked, surprised.

"Because I'm the one who will bring Gurren Solvernia and that cocky pilot down!" Viral smirked, his eyes gleaming.

"Such a sore pride…" Tsuuma commented, draining her drink.

"Heh, it's okay… what's the worst those humans can do?" the parrot-beastman said, finishing his juice. He pulled some coins out of his pocket and dropped them on the table. "Well, I'm going. Take care, Viral, take care."

"You too." The parrot commander left the cantina.

"He talks weird," Tsuuma commented after he had left.

"He's a parrot," Viral told her, taking another sip of his beer. "Lots of bird beastmen talk with some kind of accent. Helps that almost all of them serve under Cytomander."

"At least he's not Cinoshisa," she said, her gaze drifting away. "That guy is downright creepy."

"Agreed, but he does his job. But he already has a destroyer ganman; where did he get the resources to purchase that thing? From what I heard, not even his crew knows how he can track surface humans so efficiently or get credits to purchase stuff." Commander Cinoshisa inspired respect and jealousy all his compatriots. With an impressive record, he had been the military's rising star for over nine years.

"If I were Adiane, I'd watch my own back." Her comment was only slightly sarcastic this time. Cinoshisa had recently been transferred to Adiane's forces, by Cytomander's recommendation, due to his habit to find new talents. Somewhere, somehow, Cinoshisa had gained quite a bit of political power; he was never required to remove his armor, not even in the presence of the Spiral King, even though those occasions were few and far between. This, combined with his impressive military record and clear ambition, made him a threat to whichever general he served under.

"Well, I think I'll go for a second round," Viral said, after emptying his mug.

"Another beer?" Tsuuma replied, cocking an eyebrow.

"Sure."

"You beer-drinkers have no imagination," she sighed, once again wearing that bored expression.

"You're just jealous because you can't hold down your alcohol."

"And why would I want to? Either way, I can drink just as much as you, and have a different drink every time to boot. Tell them to bring me a strawberry blonde."

And so, Viral and Tsuuma started a weird competition kind of drinking competition. Viral would ask for a beer, while Tsuuma asked for a different cocktail each time, sometimes ordering two or more to compensate for difference in size. Sometime during the competition her scientific mind woke up for a moment and asked whether or not she was accurately compensating for the difference in alcoholic concentration between the drinks. She slapped it back unconscious with some kind of weird, soupy mixture that was popular among the Western army. It tasted like crap, but she was determined not to lose to Viral. Besides, considering her cooking record, she was used to taste bad stuff.

An unknown number of rounds later, Tsuuma was struggling to continue sipping her martini without spilling it down her shirt. Viral was doing likewise with his beer, with more success. A crowd had gathered sometime in between, beastmen of various types and levels of drunkenness, watching the strange face-off between the two partners.

"Oh, gosh, I'm sho drunk… thish can't by good…" Tsuuma moaned. She held her head in her hands because if she didn't, she was afraid it would go spinning off into the air. she couldn't even see straight anymore, and her peripheral vision was a colorful blur. She got up from her chair and turned towards Viral. "Yoo did this, didn't you? Confess to yur crimes!"

"Tsuuma, you're talking to a wall," Viral said calmly. Unlike his partner, he showed no outward signs of drunkenness, aside from his unusually friendly tone of voice. Years of experience coupled with a soldier beastman's enhanced body meant that it would probably take much more for him to get that drunk on just beer. All the same, he didn't like drinking much; two or three mugs was enough for him, unless it happened to be a special occasion. His smirk said that he could have stopped at that two or three, but he'd let Tsuuma have her way. He'd played with her ego, as payback for all of the caustic insults, but also, and mostly, because it was just so damned easy. Now his partner was drunk, and worse than if she had been drinking beer. She really had miscalculated her level of alcohol intake; over half of the drinks she'd been drinking had had a higher alcohol concentration than plain old beer, and with many of those, she'd had several to offset the difference in size.

"I swear!" She raised her voice, slamming her fists against the same wall. "If sumting happens to me, I'll have mah revenge! Mah brain cells are dying! They're dying!" Viral for a moment was concerned and considered that he might have went too far. Tsuuma wasn't a drinker, didn't have Viral's enhanced body, and was clearly prone to anger when drunk. Her fears were not unfounded, as her job depended on her brain, but she wasn't an alcoholic, and Viral knew that permanent damage only came to the alcoholics. He'd known a few; they'd been dealt with quickly, but they had left their mark. It was one of the reasons he secretly appreciated Tsuuma; her holier-than-thou attitude meant she refrained from heavy drinking. In his slightly-drunk mind, Viral briefly wondered if he really thought that; if it wouldn't have mattered if she was an alcoholic, just as long as there was another pair of eyes to gaze back at him in the depths of a desert sandstorm...

"I'll become a janitor and that's gonna be yur fault!" yelled Tsuuma, jarring Viral out of his strange line of thought. He suddenly had a mental image of Tsuuma mopping floors while snapping irritably at passing beastmen. He burst out laughing at the thought.

"Stop laffin, Viral!"

She pointed angrily at a nearby fish-beastman. The spectators all started laughing as they realized that Tsuuma was a first-time drunk and did not know how to cope with the effects. This made Viral think for a while; the image of Tsuuma as a janitor suddenly stopped being funny. He thought about his own honor. Where is the honor in getting your partner drunk? This is not funny anymore, Viral thought regretfully. Seeing the cynical, intellectual mechanic lean against a wall in a drunken stupor was a pathetic sight.

"Monica, the bill please." He sighed, his smile disappearing. "We're done for today."

"In a moment." She brought him a little machine, and he slid a small plastic card into it. After he had punched in a short code, the cost of the drinks was deducted from his personal account.

While Viral settled the bill, the strange chemical mixture in Tsuuma's stomach had begun to react...badly, to say the least. Her stomach started to ache and she hugged herself in pain. First she retched, and then the inevitable happened. Tsuuma puked everything out, right on the shirt of a white ox beastman.

The mood in the canteen dropped faster than a rock. The music stopped as the seven-foot, muscular ox glared down at the coyote-beastwoman, who had a golden ring in his nose. Every eye in the place stared at Tsuuma as she panted in the aftermath of her puking fit. Everyone sympathized with her; they all knew what was about to happen.

The ox beastman grabbed her by the gullet of her red suit and glared at her with bloodshot, angry eyes. His breath came out in snorts through his large, bovine nostrils, washing over Tsuuma's face.

"What are you going to do, you idiot?" he yelled in a earth-sundering roar, saliva flying out and soaking Tsuuma's face.

In response, her stomach started to ache again; she tried to fight it back, but it was useless. She puked right at the face of the big beastman, like she was firing a laser from her mouth. He threw her forcefully against the floor and grabbed the towel covering a nearby table. Everyone gasped.

"Monica, feel free to send an appropriate portion of the repair costs to my account," said Viral, standing up.

The mouse-beastwoman had only been sticking around to get that answer. Once that was settled, she dived behind the bar and disappeared from sight.

Tsuuma stood on her fours, still panting, trying to stand up, but the ox grabbed her by her hair. She winced in pain and cried when he shook her with force, like a dusty curtain.

"Look at me, you slut!" he yelled, eyes burning in pure rage. Tsuuma only had her eyes half-open, and her teeth were grit tight. "Nobody messes with The Bandit!" He curled his fingers of his free hand in the palm to punch at her with all his force. Even in that state, Tsuuma could feel that she was going to suffer and so she closed her eyes, locking her eyelids. Judging by the size of the fist of that beastman, she would go unconscious or worse within the first hit.

There was a dull smacking sound. Tsuuma slowly opened her eyes when the fist never hit properly. There was Viral, his hand holding the ox beastman's fist back from brutally mutilating his partner.

"I won't accept this kind of treatment towards my subordinate," Viral said quietly, His eyes narrowing. Both his and the ox's arms trembled due to the struggle, but Viral did not falter.

"So, you're the pathetic no-good commander that lost to a human," Bandit replied spitefully. "Get out of my sight!"

"My mechanic is sorry, and I will cover any loss," he offered, still holding the fist.

"I don't care about your money!" the ox roared, spitting saliva at his face. "This slut doesn't have an ounce of self-preservation in her! Even the humans I slaughter out on the plains have more sense than her! I'll let her go after I beat that into her for you!"

"I will not tolerate injuries to my crew," the cat-shark replied, feeling his anger building. "She is my responsibility!"

"So, take her!" The ox threw Tsuuma at him, intending to brain Viral with his own mechanic and use the opportunity to commence a serious beating. But he hadn't counted with the reflexes of the Eastern commander. Viral automatically caught Tsuuma deftly in his arms and jumped backwards to avoid the attack. Bandit tried to gut him with his horns, but the commander hopped to the side and retreated back until he was certain that Tsuuma would be safe. He then set the mechanic down in a chair and walked towards his opponent, cracking his fists. He didn't have his cleaver with him, but in this case, it wasn't necessary.

The Bandit mooed loudly in response to the challenge. He lowered his head and charged, but Viral stepped out of the way, and instead he slammed into some sort of a vending machine and crushed it against the wall. The ox just rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck, then charged again at the Eastern commander. This time, Viral waited and cracked the Bandit in the chin with an upward kick. The ox mooed in pain and stumbled backwards, but before he could recover Viral was already there, clocking him in the jaw. The Bandit lashed out with a fist in pain and confusion, but the wild blow only gave Viral an opportunity to grab his arm and twist it into a restraining position. The Bandit mooed and, seeing a nearby bottle, threw it at the commander. Viral dodged, and so the Bandit tried again with a chair, forcing Viral to let go in order to block it. The Bandit retreated a bit and lowered his horns again.

"Now, you're gonna die!" the ox cried, charging at him at full speed. Viral simply grabbed the Bandit's horns as they came up, jumped, flipped, and landed on his back. The Bandit bucked wildly and tried to crush Viral against a wall, but the commander flipped again until his feet were on the floor. Then, with a mighty roar, he threw the ox-beastman to the ground. He then put an arm around his opponent's chin and grabbed his nose-ring.

"Ready to give up yet?" grunted the commander.

The ox replied with a sucker punch to Viral's side. Even though the blow was weak, Viral released his hold, allowing the Bandit to get back up.

"How dare you grab my nose ring!" snorted the ox-beastman angrily.

"So, you don't like it, huh?" Viral said, smirking sarcastically.

The Bandit mooed in response, but this time, it was a different moo, deeper, and with a meaning. Before long several dog and pig beastmen had gathered at his side.

"Well, then. So much for fairness," remarked Viral.

"Now it's over!" The Bandit guffawed as his minions began to slowly encircle Viral. The Eastern commander just fell back into a fighting stance and growled low in his throat, his eyes flicking to and fro in an effort to keep track of them all. Things were about to get complicated.

Then he noticed other beastmen stepping out and forming their own ring around him.

"You won't disgrace commander Viral's honor with your dirty tricks!" the turtle beastman from before said, raising his fist.

"So what?" the Bandit snorted.

"Commander Viral won't be alone in this," the fox beastwoman replied, balling her fists. "You misogynistic douche!"

"Yeah, you're a total ass!" the donkey beastman called out. A kind of general grumbling rose from Viral's side in agreement.

"Is this too complicated for you?" asked Viral, cracking his neck.

The Bandit replied with something unintelligible, but it was understood as an order to attack, and his minions rushed forward to meet their opponents.

The following two hours were completely awesome.


Eventually, the sun rose over Teppelin City, painting the sky a kind of warm orange. The sun sprayed unwelcome light all over the darkest corners of the city, blinding nocturnal beastmen and signaling the beginnings of some serious hangovers.

Deep within the city's depths, one lost ray of light found its way into a dark alleyway. It wormed its way into the alley's depths and looked about. The contents of the alley were restricted to an abandoned dumpster and, sometimes, a lost beastman. This time, there were two, and the lost ray of light set itself down on the face of the larger figure.

Feeling the sun's warmth, Viral woke quietly. As sense gradually returned, he realized that he was slumped against the wall of an alley. He then realized, upon looking down, that he held Tsuuma tight in his arms.

He looked down at her; at her sleeping face, her mussed blonde hair, the two ears protruding from the top of her head, her twisted red headband, and the little trail of drool leaking from the corner of her mouth. He realized, then, that the haughty, sarcastic mechanic really wasn't all that different from any other beastwoman. She wasn't devoid of weakness, no matter how much she pretended to be otherwise. In fact, Viral realized, she could even be...cute...at times, such as the present moment. Except for the drool, that was disgusting.

Viral chuckled softly. She really was an interesting partner. Then he realized that she would go straight for his throat when she woke up. Before he could do anything, however, her obsidian eyes cracked open.

"Ahn, Viral," she muttered, looking up at him with half-lidded eyes. "Is it already morning?"

"Yes, it is," he replied. "Feeling better?"

"I've seen better days," she moaned, putting a hand to her head. "Got a raging hangover here...what about you?"

"Well, actually my back is hurting a bit," he said, stretching. "Otherwise, I'm fine."

"That's good..."

Then she planted a fist into his side, sending him falling over sideways. She continued pummeling him, punctuating each punch with a shout. "Never! Do! That! Again!"

"Yes, Tsuuma," said Viral obediently. He could have stopped her anytime he wanted, but her punches didn't have much power to them, and anyway, he kind of deserved it.

Eventually she tired of beating him up and sat back with a huff. "Why in the name of all that is sane did you let that happen?"

"I just wanted you to have some fun."

"Getting drunk off your ass and waking up in a random alley is your idea of fun?"

"I didn't exactly plan it that way...We should get you an aspirin." He looked at her with concern. "I've seen you drink before, so it's not like it was your first time with alcohol. So what happened?"

"Of course I've drunk before!" she snapped. "Just not so much. Besides, I wasn't thinking about drinking, I was thinking about that talk we had earlier."

"Is that the truth?"

"Truth never did any good to anyone. That's why people lie."

"Not all truths are bad…or need to be."

"Since when did you get so philosophical?"

"I hang out with you." He smiled at her. "Stands to reason I'd pick up a bad habit or two."

"Makes sense," she replied, in an almost friendly way.

"Were you scared? Yesterday?"

"Viral, why don't you go play Russian roulette with an automatic weapon?" she snapped, adjusting her headband.

"I'll take that as a yes," he shot back, coolly.

"I don't need to explain anything."

"Okay, Tsuuma…Sorry."

"What?"

"Sorry for getting you drunk like that…"

"Heh, whatever… but do you remember anything?"

"Not very much, but..." Viral looked down at the large, golden ring around his arm, whose original owner was an ox beastman. "I think we won."

"Good. It was all your fault anyway." She rubbed her eyes tiredly. "It's strange. The nicest thing someone has ever done for me came right after the worst thing someone has ever done to me. I'm not sure whether to be mad at you, or..." She left the sentence unfinished, yawning instead.

"I can still make up for it, if that wasn't enough." Viral wasn't sure whether to be ashamed or proud of the last night's events.

"That won't be necessary," she said, getting up with some difficulty, eventually using the wall as a support. "I think you've done enough..."

Viral got up a little faster than Tsuuma, though he was hardly any steadier than she was. She shook her head when he reached out his hand to her, muttering, "I'm not helpless, you know."

"But accepting help doesn't mean you're helpless." he argued again, Tsuuma's arguments couldn't stand on their own anymore.

"Can we focus on something else?" she groaned, tired. "Like hunting down Gurren Solvernia?"

"That's the spirit!" he said, his eyes shining. He started to feel comfortable at her side, a feeling that seemed to come off nowhere since he woke up, even knowing that she wouldn't stop mocking him.

Tsuuma almost smiled. Maybe the beastmen were cursed to remain the same forever. But maybe, like Viral, she could make the best of it. She took his hand, and the pair staggered off to figure out where, exactly, they were, and how they would get home.

God shines His sunlight down upon both the evil and the good; He sends rain to the just and unjust alike.

Rain or sun, Tsuuma and Viral would weather it together.


A.N.: and we're finished with this chapter. If someone read KH:OWA, you'll see the note about my hiatus (blame college; Tuesday, my public econ professor said "the next exam will be a rape" (not making this up), and then I thought, "oh just great, I'm on a hentai"), and I'm still on hiatus, this chapters was post-script, it had some delays, but whatever, everything that matters it's published now, thanks to 1 over 0. If you have any comments, please make sure to let me know. Have a nice day!
 

Chapter Text

The afternoon sun had risen, again, on Team Gurren's sixth straight day of marching through the desert. With the last incident behind them, they progressed on their journey to the Beastman headquarters in order to kick their asses. Kamina would figure out how when he got there, obviously. The red mecha trudged through the rocky desert with its three new passengers, feeling the severe effects of the oppressive heat.

"Are we there yet, Mr. Great Kamina?" Gimmy's voice nagged in Kamina's ear.

"No, we're not!" Kamina replied, annoyed. He hadn't been able to resist the child's pleas, and so had let him climb into the cockpit with him. Now he was regretting it.

With a reflective sigh, however, he admitted that it was better than having Leeron in the cockpit.

"What about now?" asked Gimmy.

"No," Kamina mumbled.

"And now?"

"Look, Gimmy," he said, raising his voice, "you'll know when we get there!"

"So, what will we know, Mr. Great Kamina?"

"We'll know what's to know!" he bellowed. "A true man goes past everything he knows and beyond! Aren't you a man?"

"No, I am boy!" Gimmy answered, simple and clean.

"So, we have to man you up!" answered Kamina matter-of-factly, rolling his eyes.

"Cool!"

Although Kamina really enjoyed his self-given title of "the Great", it was really annoying hearing it every fifteen seconds in the high-pitched voice of a young child. Only three days, and Kamina had already decided that he hated working with children. Muttering under his breath, he bent all of his concentration on the assignment at hand.

All he had to do was look around from the top of the hill. Yoko had sworn she had seen something shining in the distance. Leeron's scans had denied the presence of any Ganmen, but he'd consented into loaning his computer for a closer look.

Of course, he'd insinuated something dark about "debts" if the computer were ever broken. Kamina had gulped at that.

Not too far from the hill Gurren was standing on, Solvernia sat on the ground. In front of Solvernia sat Nia and Darry, playing together. Boota was there as well, waiting to see what they would do.

Nia intertwined both thumbs, while flapping her palms, to imitate a flying raccoon. It flew over Darry's long-eared plush doll, which she was moving over the ground. "Hi, my little friend what's your name?"

"My name is Bunny," said Darry, in a squeaky sound, while moving her doll's head to show that it was speaking. "Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too, Bunny, you are pretty nice!" Nia replied, through her 'flying raccoon'. She giggled. "I can fly, do you want to see the surface by flying?"

"Sure!"

"Hey, guys." Yoko approached them, smiling. "What are you up to?"

"We're playing. My hand is a flying raccoon," the little digger explained. "I was going to take Mr. Bunny to fly, see?" Darry placed Mr. Bunny over Nia's hands. She flapped her palms and said "weeee", moving the hands with Mr. Bunny. Darry giggled. The two ran off, Mr. Bunny flying away.

"Nia gained Darry's friendship quickly," Rossiu said, standing next to Yoko. The red-head stared at him and he explained. "Back in Adai, Darry would play with nobody but her doll, and sometimes Gimmy."

"They're both still kids," she replied, watching Nia running around as if flying with the doll, with Darry and Boota following, both happy, carelessly happy. "I had to stop playing like that when I was very young. Then I had to start training with the rifle, and defend the village…" Her tone became soft with longing. "I don't even remember…"

"Miss Yoko, are you alright?" Nia stopped playing with Darry turned, noticing the shift in her humor. The pink-haired toddler also stopped, as Nia returned her doll.

"It's nothing," she said, waving both hands and giving a smile that did little to reassure anyone. Nia just tilted her head, concerned with the redhead's attitude, but reasoned that if Yoko said she was okay then she was okay.

Of course, she didn't get enough time to think of anything else, as they were interrupted by a series of explosions. They all turned in worry towards the hill Kamina had been standing on, which was now obscured by clouds of dark smoke.

"[=A-lert! A-lert! Unknown invader trespassing=]!" the robotic voice of the turret blabbered; it was a simple cannon, with what looked like a pair of eyes set into the sides. Almost like a kind of stationary Ganman, it was able to fire at anything within a 360 degree radius, including overhead. It still managed to miss Kamina with every single shot.

"Mr. Great Kamina!" Gimmy cried, clutching to the badass, scared. "I don't want to die here!"

"If you're not ready to end your days in a blaze of glory, you're not ready to be man!" the badass replied, as he jumped a shot that hit the ground. The turret appeared to be having trouble tracking its target; luckily it wasn't a repeating type, and Kamina used the seconds between each shot to his advantage. He stopped in a hurry to grab a roughly circular flat rock and continued running as a shot almost hit him.

Spider-like legs detached from the turret, and it began following him. This didn't surprise Kamina in the least.

"Hey, you Ganman-wannabe!" Kamina taunted the cannon. "Trying to surprise the Great Kamina? Huh?" Of course, the turret couldn't respond, but Kamina really didn't care. "But guess what, we have a surprise for you: GURREN!" the red mecha jumped, "FRISBEE!" he started to spin in the mid-air, while the turret shot and hit only air again, "TOSS!" After spinning four times, he tossed the rock at it, destroying the turret's support, causing it to collapse into the dirt.

"[=A-lert=]!" Even without its support, the turret wouldn't give up. It was hardly a threat anymore, however.

"See Gimmy," Kamina grinned, victorious, "Is there any point in getting scared?"

"You're right, Mr. Great Kamina!" the boy replied, relieved. "When I grow up, I want to be like you!"

"Oh, yeah!" He started to dance with Gurren, proclaiming, "Who's the boss? I am the boss!"

"Bro!" Nia arrived on Solvernia, with Yoko sitting on its back, carrying her rifle. "What happened?"

"We heard gunshots," the redhead said. "I guess you've taken care of the business."

"You bet it!" Kamina opened the cockpit, and looked towards the downed turret.

"[=A-lert! Gorodo Village… Auxiliary system…=]" Without any ceremony, Kamina used the controls to lift Gurren's leg and smash the turret, finally shutting it off.

"Kamina, it was going to say something!" Yoko scowled, crossing her arms. "Something about a village!"

"So what? It's just over there!" Kamina shot back, looking down the hill. There, squatting before a ravine, was a small cluster of houses.

And so, they gathered up the rest of the team and made their way down towards the village. Yoko scanned their surroundings with her scope. Should have brought some binoculars, she thought as she looked down at the village. The houses were clustered in a circle around a large well and sun clock; down the ravine was a small cave, presumably leading back to the underground village. Zooming in ever closer, Yoko was surprised to remark that all of the villagers were humans, lacking tails, scales or manes. It was almost like Littner village, only far less fortified.

The villagers halted in their day-to-day activities to regard the massive red figure bearing down on them…and promptly resumed their lives. Only one man walked out to greet them. Apparently, they were familiar with Ganmen. Yoko chewed her lip as she mused on this.

The young man came nearer, and Gurren and Solvernia stopped as he came close enough to be seen clearly. He was almost Kamina's height and wore a blue robe over a white shirt, and black trousers, which made a weird contrast with his purple boots. His hair was brown and relatively short and begged for a comb. His eyes were also dark brown, his skin was pale, and he was smiling as if he was waiting for them. The man politely held his hand against his chest and said, "Welcome back, master Jigitalis. I see that you've acquired a new Ganman."

His expression changed to shock as Kamina opened the cockpit and jumped out, proclaiming, "I guess Thunder-thighs was right! You aren't fuzzballs!"

"Eh… but…who are you?" the young man asked, confused.

"I see the winds have not yet brought Kamina's name to your ears yet!" The badass pointed his finger and grinned.

"N-no…"The young man shook his head in a confused way.

"Well! I'll just have to tell you!" He put on his glasses, a breeze lifted his cape, and he pointed to the sky, proclaiming aloud, "HE COMES FROM THE DEEPEST PITS OF THE EARTH ITSELF! HE RIDES THE FOUR WINDS TO GLORY, AND THEY CARRY HIS NAME TO THE EARS OF HIS WORSHIPPERS! THAT'S WHO I AM: THE MIGHTY KAMINA!"

The young man just looked at him, without a single clue on how to react properly. Solvernia's canopy opened, revealing Nia, as Yoko jumped down to greet the young man.

"Ignore him. He always does that. I'm Yoko; what's your name?"

He cleared his throat and replied, "My name is Kimimaro."

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Kimimaro," Nia said. "My name is Nia. And this is Boota." Boota waved from Nia's arms.

"Well, since there's no danger, I'll call the others." Yoko relayed a short message through the communicator she carried.

"Eh, but…what are you?" he asked, awkwardly.

"WE'RE TEAM GURREN!" Kamina boasted, jerking his thumb at himself.

"No, I mean, are you humans, like us?" Kimimaro asked again, staring at Nia, or more specifically at her hair.

"Sure," Yoko said, turning off her communicator. "Why do you ask?"

"We've never seen any other humans before."

This question caught her attention. In Littner, it was also a shock to discover that there were other humans besides them. "You mean no human has ever visited your village?"

"No, as far as I know at least. Chief Ebara will be pleased to see you." He bowed and smiled, as Gimmy, Darry, Leeron and Rossiu came closer. "Welcome to Gorodo Village!"

A little ways away, a young girl was herding along a group of children. With her long purple hair she could have easily been confused for Kiyal, but for her olive eyes and her white robe with light green sleeves, and the beauty mark below her left eye. She looked at Kimimaro, saluted the newcomers and said, turning to a window next to her, "Msyu, there are some other humans here!"

The girl named Msyu appeared in the window and looked out at the approaching visitors.

And it was clear that she was a Beastwoman. Thin and short, but taller than Nia, her distinguishing trait was the pair of long and slender horns protruding from the top of her forehead, framed by long, red hair. Behind them protruded a pair of calf-like ears. Behind the window, two hooved feet rested on the ground, and a little tail stuck out from her lower back. She had green eyes and she was wearing a sleeveless red dress, with frizzles in the end.

"Hanabi? What did you see?" Her eyes then fell upon the approaching Team Gurren. "But…you're…those are…!"

"Hm?" uttered Hanabi.

Msyu calmed herself, regaining her composure. "Nothing. Let's go check them out."

Soon Team Gurren was the center of attention, which was exactly where Kamina liked to be. Of course, the last time something like this had happened, it had ended in an all-out fight for the survival of the village. They really hoped it wouldn't turn out the same way this time and Kimimaro led them to the chief.

"Welcome to our village," said the chief to them in greeting. He wore a brown tunic and had black hair and blue eyes. "My name is Ebara." After introducing themselves, Team Gurren sat on the floor, while his wife, a pretty brunette whose front bulged with child, brought them some tea, crackers and bread.

Impressively, the cups were worked in rich gold. The mysteries of Gorodo Village continued to pile up.

Kamina and Boota went straight to the food with gusto. Yoko gave a glance to the young man and, ignoring the food entirely, she asked, "Please. Tell me a little about your village."

"With pleasure," replied Kimimaro. He cleared his throat and began to speak. "For generations we lived underground, in a village accessible through the cave to the east, surviving through hardship after hardship. Until, three years ago," he took a sip of his cup of tea, "a blonde woman appeared in our village." Like lightning, Rossiu's eyes widened and he emitted a barely audible gasp. A blonde woman appeared in my village… He felt the urge to speak, to voice the connection, but one of the last things his mother had taught him had been to never jump to conclusions. So he remained silent.

"She was like a celestial messenger…" A celestial messenger… could it be… "…and she taught us the way to the surface." This cannot be good…

"That's a very intriguing story," Leeron chimed in, dipping a cracker in his tea. "Much different from ours."

"I'd be honored to listen to your tale, once I have completed mine."

"Surely!"

This cannot be, if the messenger of death came to this village and let them live, there is something wrong hap- "Rossiu, are you okay?" Nia interrupted his train of thought with a question, to which he replied with a measly "Yes."

"The messenger was very interested in our yellow rocks." He lifted up a solid piece of gold, which had previously fulfilled the function of paperweight.

"But, that's gold!" Yoko practically yelled. Leeron sat back in shock, his jaw working but no words coming out. Kamina and Nia were also impressed, but not nearly to the same extent as Leeron and Yoko.

"That's what she called them. I never understood what she saw in it; the stuff is everywhere in our cave. I have to admit, however, that it is quite pretty when refined. We used to make utensils with it; however, it wouldn't hold up as well as other metals, so we would just dump it after digging it out."

"So, we made a deal," inserted the chief. "She would order her servants to bring things to build our surface village and in exchange she would have all the gold she'd like." That is not what Father Magin experienced, Rossiu thought, raising an eyebrow.

"Rossiu," asked Nia worriedly. "Are you tired?"

"My apologies, Nia." He shook his head to indicate no, and to clear his thoughts a little.

"From time to time, the servants of the messenger pass by our village, whenever Msyu says they'll come."

"Servants?" the red-haired sniper asked. "But how? Who are they?"

"They call themselves beastmen." He said it as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The room fell silent, and even Kamina ceased his eating.

"What?" Kamina uttered. "The fuzzballs are here?"

"Fuzzballs? I don't understand," said Kimimaro.

"Mr. Ebara, the beastmen have been our enemies for as long as we can remember," informed Yoko, trying to sound polite. "They attack our village every day."

"What?" he replied with a shocked expression. "There must be a misunderstanding. I'm sure Msyu never intended to hurt us."

"Now, that's where you've got things wrong!" Kamina leaned forward and pointed his finger in the young man's face. "The beastmen are our enemies! They're evil and beastlike and do enemy things!" He punched his fist straight through the wall to emphasize his point, leaving a hole the size and shape of his fist.

Another, more unexpected side effect was the door slowly swinging open, revealing the two that had been eavesdropping there.

"Hanabi? Msyu?" Kimimaro said in surprise as the two eavesdroppers fell to the floor. "What are you doing here?"

"Eh, Kimimaro, I'm just taking a break, to see the newcomers," Hanabi said, scratching the back of her head and smiling in an abashed way. "Msyu is just hanging out with me."

"Beastman!"

The cry came from Yoko, who leveled her rifle at Msyu. A click sounded out as she prepared to shoot. Similarly, Kamina had a hand on his sword, ready to unsheathe it in a moment. Nia just looked about in confusion, as much as the others.

"Wait! This is a misunderstanding!" Kimimaro had placed himself in front of the cowering Msyu, arms outstretched, practically in response to an instinct.

"I understand just fine! She's a beastman spy!" yelled back Kamina. Still, he relaxed his grip a little on the hilt of his sword, and did not unsheathe it.

"Please, be reasonable!" Kimimaro almost screamed "If they wanted, we would all be dead already!"

"I've seen what they can do! They're all the same!" Yoko cried, furious. This boy, this human was trying to protect one of the creatures that had killed so many of her friends and family. She was about ready to shoot right through him to get to Msyu. She cocked her rifle appropriately and depressed the trigger slightly.

"Msyu is different! She is my friend!" This time he was actually screaming, and it was clear that he was afraid, but he didn't once leave Msyu's side. He had never seen a rifle in his life, but he had seen an angry look before and could tell by Yoko's look that she was capable of doing some real bad stuff with it.

Msyu was still cowering, eyelids shut, teeth clenched, and body trembling. Ebara was trying to restraing Kamina, and Kimimaro stood resolute in front of Yoko's rifle. Hanabi was kneeled against another wall, Boota shielded his eyes, Rossiu hugged the twins, they were scared with all the yelling, Leeron was trying to convince Yoko not to shoot.

Then Nia intervened.

"Yoko, he's right," Nia said, holding the arm of her friend, her hand trembling a bit. "She cannot hurt us, not even if she wanted. You have already won."

Yoko didn't reply immediately. She was still furious, both at the beastwoman and at the…idiot protecting it. But Nia's words brought back the rational side of her, and she realized that she could neither kill an unarmed enemy nor harm a human without descending to the level of the beastmen.

She didn't lower her rifle, but she took her finger off the trigger. It was a start.

Calmly, Nia walked across the tension-filled room and squatted down in front of Kimimaro's legs, looking at Msyu through them. "You're Msyu, right?" she asked kindly. "Do you intend to harm the humans here?"

"N-n-no, of c-course not…" the horned beastwoman said nervously.

"Then it's settled. If you don't want to harm us, then we don't want to harm you." She turned and gave one of her rare glares to her companions. "Kamina, Yoko."

Kamina relaxed and slung his sword back over her shoulder. Yoko grunted, and finally relented, lowering her rifle and slinging it over her shoulder much the way Kamina had. The tension released slowly, and everyone calmed down. Ebara sighed, Rossiu released the twins, taking them outside, and Kimimaro was able to help his two friends. Nobody moved from their position, however.

"Now, let's talk calmly," Ebara said, trying to settle things.

Yoko rounded on him. "Don't ask me to talk calmly!" she yelled at him. "You have no idea the kind of crap I've had to go through for these…things!"

"Msyu is here as the envoy of the celestial messenger!" Kimimaro hollered. "She wouldn't hurt a fly! We all owe her our livelihoods!"

"If Nia says she's good, and you villagers say she's good…" Kamina sat back and crossed his arms. "Well, she'll have to earn the Great Kamina's trust. But I'll give her a chance."

"Yoko, please," said Nia, turning to her redheaded companion. "Listen to reason."

"Here's your reasoning: she's a beastman. What have we been doing for the past month? Killing beastmen, because if we don't, they will kill us."

"She still deserves a chance." Nia had her hands clasped together, and was practically begging. "Please."

Yoko had to relent again. She couldn't resist Nia, and Kamina agreed with her. She looked at Leeron and he also signaled for her to calm down. So she folded her arms and turned to Msyu.

"All right. Let's hear this out."

Still slightly scared, Msyu stepped forward. "I'm…I'm Msyu," she said weakly. "I'm the…liaison between this village and the beastmen. I inform them when shipments of gold are ready."

"And why do they want this gold so bad?" asked Kamina, who was interested despite himself.

"Gold is…useful where we live, more useful than for them," she told him. "We… want to live in peace with humans."

There was a small pause in which silence ruled, because Msyu had already said everything that needed to be said. During this time Yoko stared her down with a piercing glare, causing the girl to shrink in on herself.

"Fine!" barked Yoko after a time, causing everyone in the room to jump. "You get a chance. But only one!" Then she whispered to herself, "Or I shoot you until I can see through you."

"Thank God!" Ebara sighed again. Perhaps he had a respiratory problem.

"See," Leeron cut in, "If we talk to each other, most of our problems can be resolved." He finished this with a peculiar kind of wink.

"Beastmen asking for peace with humans," Yoko said with disdain. "If I told this to the boys back in Littner, they'd tell me to get some sleep."

"But Yoko," Nia replied cheerfully, "wouldn't it be better if we didn't have to fight?"

"That's not the way the world works, Nia." She still didn't believe in Nia's plan to make peace with them, but she never complained because she never took it seriously. She now saw how determined Nia was; however, determination alone wouldn't change anything.

"If Nia trusts her, then it's worth a shot!" said Kamina. "We were going to change how the world works anyway, so why not?"

Yoko didn't deign that comment with a reply.

Team Gurren spent the rest of the day learning about the villagers and sometime helping them. Gimmy and Darry were enjoying the most; they had tons of fun playing with Hanabi's students; the girl was a teacher in the village.

The sun clock indicated six when they finally settled down again. They were grouped around the front porch of Kimimaro's house, which actually belonged to his aunt. Yoko and Leeron had just finished recounting the history of Littner Village. "I didn't know other Beastmen could be so atrocious…" said Kimimaro's aunt in response.

"I doubt it's any different anywhere else," said Yoko flatly. "This Spiral King of theirs is a real cruel ruler. Have you ever met him, Msyu?" She rounded on the beastwoman with a venomous glare.

"N-n-no," she gulped. "I've only heard about him. In fact, I don't know anybody who's even seen him. Only really important beastmen are allowed to speak in his presence, and my position is really low."

"What did you do before arriving in this village?" Yoko asked.

"I-I-I was just an apprentice, I still wasn't assigned to a position in my batch," she replied, again nervous, but unhesitating. "This is my first assignment."

Yoko looked hard in Msyu's body language for any hint of insincerity, but found none. She pressed on: "Have your superiors ever undertaken any operations against us? Have you ever secretly delivered intelligence to your superiors? Do you have any information on current strategic maneuvers?"

Kimimaro cut in, glancing sharply at Yoko. "Msyu, you don't need to answer anything if you'd like."

"In my village we have a word for guys like you," Yoko said, driving her glare from Msyu to the Gorodo. "I can't say it in polite company."

"If you don't like it here, why don't you go back?" replied the boy.

"Maybe I will!" She stomped off, fists balled.

"I've seen her pissed, but not this pissed…" Kamina, the oft-recipient of her temper, sighed in relief that he wasn't the target this time.

"I'm sure she's normally so much calmer," snarled Kimimaro. He looked like he was about to follow up, but Leeron suddenly appeared at his side. Nobody could figure out how, considering he'd been on the other side of the circle only a moment ago.

"So, Kimimaro," he asked with his trademark smile. "You really like Msyu, don't you? Even considering that she's different from you."

"Does he always do that?" Kimimaro whispered to Kamina, who replied with a nod. Having confirmed that he was not the only target of Leeron's strangeness, he turned to the mechanic and replied. "Msyu and Hanabi are my best friends. My mother passed away four years ago, and my father way before, and so I lived with my aunt. When we came to the surface, the messenger sent Msyu to our village." He smiled. "To tell the truth, I've never paid much attention to the fact that she's a beastman. She's a good person, and I brought everybody around to the same point of view, eventually."

"And you." Leeron turned his leering smile to the red-haired beastwoman. "What do you think about living with humans?"

Msyu stared at him like a deer in headlights…which was pretty normal for meeting Leeron for the first time. Then she coughed and replied: "Well, I…it's pretty nice, actually. Kimimaro has taught me that humans aren't that different from beastmen, and I'm glad to have them as friends. Especially Kimimaro."

"Ooooh, that's what I call expanding the horizons!" Leeron said in his oily voice.

"My superiors always said that beastmen are naturally superior to humans, and that's why they have to stay underground. But I see that this is not true."

"Really?" Kamina said, his voice dripping with indignation. "The fuzzballs think they're better than us! Like hell!"

"Msyu, you never told me this," Kimimaro said. Msyu gulped for an instant, realizing it was something she shouldn't have said.

Seeing her discomfort, Kimimaro hastily appended his sentence with "I guess I never asked," and laughed. Msyu laughed too, nervously.

"It's getting late," she said absently, looking towards the setting sun. "I'm sorry, but it's not healthy for a beastman to stay out too late."

"Good night, Msyu," Nia said. "I hope we can continue talking tomorrow!"

She smiled and said, "Sure!" before disappearing into her room in Kimimaro's house.

It was a simple room, with a table, a chair, a bed, and a desk. On the desk were some sketches and makeup projects, along with a vase of flowers; scattered around the room were photos of her time in the village, taken with the curious device the villagers had found underground. Nothing strange at all.

Of course, we haven't mentioned the mirror yet. Roughly the size of a small dish and encase in an ornate frame, it hung on the wall in the most obscure corner of the room. Msyu went to it, reached around, pushed a button…and the mirror turned into a view screen, showing the portly form of Jigitalis.

"What do you want now, Msyu?" he said; by the panting, one could tell that he had to rush to the communicator, "We said that we'd be going in three days!"

"Sorry, master Jigitalis." She bowed. "But I have news. Gurren Solvernia is lodged in Gorodo."

"What? Those bastards!" he seethed. "How did they pass over the anti-intruder defenses?"

"I don't know."

"Dammit. Now we have to push our plans forward. We found a way to counter the humans, and we'll be there tomorrow. Chidori will bring us."

Jigitalis mumbled to himself a bit, and Msyu took the opportunity to bring up something she had been thinking about. "Master Jigitalis."

"What? Speak!"

"What will become of the village?" There was a hint of concern in her voice.

"How would I know? If the plan fails, though, we'll probably just blow them all to hell."

"No!" Msyu cried, surprising the lion beastman. "This village is too important! It can't be destroyed!"

"Why are you so snappy? It's Commander Cinoshisa's decision, anyway."

At the mention of their superior's name, the screen split in half, pushing Jigitalis' face off to the side in order to make room for the Commander's armored face.

"Commander!" Jigitalis yelped, along with Msyu. "But… how are you aware of our communications?"

"I am your commander. You do nothing without me being aware of it. All communications on this ship are monitored by me."

"Eh, commander."

"What's the matter, ambassador Msyu?" Cinoshisa sneered, emphasizing the categorical beastman disdain for talking when you could be fighting.

Though she was intimidated, Msyu rose to the challenge. "I wanted to know what would become of Gorodo once Gurren Solvernia has been eliminated."

"What, exactly, are you expecting?"

Msyu hadn't expected Cinoshisa to answer her query in kind, and thus remained silent.

The Commader leaned helmet on gauntleted fist boredly. "Gorodo is far too important to us. Why are you worrying? Have you become attached to the humans?"

Jigitalis scorned her with a hearty laugh. "What a foolish cub! Why would you bother the Commander with your silly ideals?"

"You were not given permission to speak, Jigitalis!" the commander interrupted. Surprised, the lion beastman stopped immediately. "Do not pretend to know my mind. I have neither denied nor acquiesced to her request." The Commander fixed glowing eyes on Msyu. "You do realize that, for sheltering one of the King's enemies, they should be punished accordingly. However, Gorodo is also a valuable asset. I am caught at a fork, Msyu. As the one most on the side of the humans, convince me that I should spare them."

"They don't need to die," said Msyu, shaking her head. "There has to be a way to help them, but I can't think of anything…"

"Is that all?" The Commander's inanimate eyes seemed somehow…disappointed. "Well, in any case, there should be no reason to kill them so long as Jigitalis' plan prevails. If you wish to save them, Msyu, help Jigitalis. For the Spiral King!"

"For the Spiral King!" agreed both beastmen, though Msyu's response lacked enthusiasm. Cinoshisa's screen clicked off, allowing Jigitalis to take command of the entire screen once again.

"Here is the plan, Msyu…" Jigitalis slowly explained his plan, actually Chidori's plan, and Msyu listened raptly, unaware that she was being watched.

"Something funny's going on," said Yoko, who was watching through her rifle. She couldn't see much, as the mirror was set at an odd angle from the window, but she could clearly see that Msyu had been standing in front of the wall doing nothing for far too long.

"Whatever it is," the sniper vowed, "there's no way I'm letting her get away with it!"

Chapter Text

Team Gurren ate together at the same table – well, all save Yoko, who wasn't in the mood to listen to Kamina brag about his "feats". Speaking of which, the area around the table was absolutely packed with curious people, and Kamina was more than happy to narrate his adventures for them.

"And so I hit the monster with a mighty kick, and it flew so high that it became another star in the sky!" The villagers cheered as he finished his theatrics. Clearly most of them had no idea what existed beyond their village. Nia just observed while delicately nibbling at her food. She had eyes only for her brother – her brother that, she hoped, would one day be something more.

"Have you seen Mr. Leeron or Chief Ebara, Nia?" Rossiu asked. "Yoko told me to talk with them about the turret we destroyed today and take them to see it."

"No, didn't see them." Her eyes didn't even drift from Kamina.

"Okay." This had not passed by Rossiu's notice, and he gave Nia a queer look. "You seem to be awfully…attached to him."

This made Nia blush, and she stammered as she tried to justify herself. "W-well, he's my blood brother... I… I don't know how to explain…"

"If you find a way to explain, don't hesitate to tell me," said Rossiu obliviously. "Oh, there's Mr. Leeron. See you later."

"Bye," she replied, and turned to her own thoughts. How could I tell Kamina what I feel? I can't think of anyone but him. But what if he rejects me? She shook her head to disperse those thoughts. We're in the middle of a journey, of course it wouldn't work. We don't have time for stuff like that. If we show the Spiral King what we can do, though, we can live in peace and then I'd be with Kamina. If it wasn't clear already, Nia's admiration for Kamina had evolved into a kind of girlish, flighty crush. It had done that years ago, of course, and during all that time she'd never been able to speak a word about it to him. The other girls in Jiha had never been able to fathom why such a frail girl ever thought that she would have a chance with the manliest of men, and had told her multiple times. None of this had ever dulled her feelings for Kamina.

"May I sit here?" Kimimaro asked the green-blonde.

Snapped out of her thoughts, she politely said, "Sure."

"I've been thinking 'bout what you said," he said, crossing his arms. "I never could have imagined that things were so bad beyond our village. Are you sure your ancestors never did anything to them?"

"In Jiha, we never even knew they existed before one fell into our village and started destroying everything." Her eyes dimmed a little in sadness. "I just can't understand why they would act so…evil, even if our ancestors did something."

"Didn't your parents…didn't you lose them to them? At least, I assume you did. Is that why you're journeying? Do you…hate them for that?"

"Somehow," Nia said, trying to find the words, "somehow, I can't hate them. I was angry at them, but I couldn't bring myself to hate them. It just feels wrong."

"You surely are different, Nia," he said in reply. "I think, if that happened to me, I wouldn't be able to stop myself."

"Kimimaro, it's getting late," Hanabi said as she passed by his side with some of her friends in tow. "Good night!" she said, winking flirtatiously at him.

"G-good night!" he said nervously, blushing a bit. When she was gone he exclaimed, "Why can't I do anything about this?"

"About what?"

"About Hanabi," he explained, "She's been my friend since we were small. You're not really involved in any of this so I can tell you that…that I love her. And I want to be with her. But I'm not sure whether I would be able to support her, to support a family. So I'm too scared to try for something more, but at the same time I'm afraid that some other guy will take her."

Acting as if she didn't have the exact same problem, Nia replied, "But if you know what the problem is, don't you know what you have to do?"

With an embarrassed smile, he scratched his neck. "Yeah, but it's just…I'm scared."

"And Msyu?"

"She's my sister, even though we're not related. If you're right, though, she's also our hope for a better future with the beastmen."

With a happy nod, she replied, "I promise, Kimimaro! We'll do something about all these things!"

******************************

"And we've got to do something!" Yoko exclaimed as she finished relating her findings. She was with Leeron and Ebara at the hill, inspecting the remains of the turret. Rossiu was holding a light for the engineer so that he could analyze the turret. "Mr. Ebara, your village could be in terrible danger."

"But I don't understand," Ebara said, picking up a scrap of metal. "They always helped us when we needed it."

"I know, I know," she said, getting impatient. "But what if it's just a ruse? They're up to something!"

"First you interrogate her, and then you spy on her." He narrowed his gaze. "Miss, don't you think this is a little much?"

"But I'm doing this for the sake of our safety! That 'frail girl' personality is all just a façade!"

"[=Systems online=]!" buzzed the turret, and it was indeed online again as a result of Leeron's skills.

"Ooooh, it's alive~!" he yelled as he leaped in joy, causing Rossiu to jump back in fright and drop the flashlight.

"What did you discover, Ron?" Yoko asked.

"According to the logs," he said, tapping on his handheld computer, "This turret is part of a camouflaged grid that circulates the village." A three-dimensional map of the surroundings of Gorodo showed up, with colored points that presumably marked the locations of the turrets. "It was made in order to keep other humans out of the village. Although, it really isn't really designed all that effectively… amateurs..."

"But none of us has ever seen one of these," said Ebara, stunned.

"It's because they have a program that recognizes inhabitants from Gorodo. Anybody not from the village gets blasted. The turrets have only been activated ten times; that makes nine other groups got attacked. I'm turning the system off now, so nobody else gets shot."

"This village is only a few days from Adai…" whispered Rossiu. "Mother…" More than ten people had been sent to the surface, but that didn't discount the possibility, especially if there were similar systems in other places in the world.

"See, Mr. Ebara," Yoko said, calmly now. "The beastmen are toying with you and your village."

"I can hardly believe it… after years of good relations." He sighed. "This is hard to accept, but if this is true, we will have to bring Msyu to task."

"One last thing, Mr. Ebara." Everyone turned to Rossiu, who was looking up at the starry night sky. "Father Magin told me something…before I left Adai. I'd like to share it with you."

******************************

The morning sun rose again, filling the world with its beams. Team Gurren slept that night under the open sky in the village square. The village wasn't quite ready to accommodate so many visitors, but they had been kind enough to provide them with blankets, pillows, and some spare cots.

Nia woke up first. She sat up on her cot and rubbed her eyes sleepily. She looked over at Kamina, who was sprawled out on his mattress with the blanket barely covering him. She smiled, went over, and covered him with the blanket. It wouldn't do for him to wake up cold. She also saw Yoko there, she slept hugged to her rifle; by the expression she made, Nia thought she had some kind of bad dream.

She looked over to the village. Strangely, she noticed Msyu exiting her house. She looked left and right and walked off, generally looking suspicious. Nia became curious, and decided to follow her.

"There it is," Msyu said to herself as she approached Gurren Solvernia, which stood near the entrance to the cave. "The Commander told me to make things easier for Jigitalis…but what can I do…" She tapped her chin thoughtfully.

"Good morning, Msyu," said Nia, bowing her head with her hands held together in front of you. Msyu jumped in surprise.

"Ah! Nia," she yelped and saluted, holding her hand against her chest, saluting her in Gorodo style. "I-I wasn't expecting you! What are you doing up?"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," Nia bowed her head again apologetically. "What are your plans for today?"

"W-well, I was taking a look at your ganman," Msyu stammered, desperately trying to lie her way out of any suspicion. "I've never seen a ganman like this little one. Not that I've seen a lot of ganmen."

"That's Solvernia," Nia replied. "With this key, I can pilot it." She showed the little golden drill to Msyu, and then decided to give a demonstration. She inserted the key and spiral gauge increased; Solvernia's eyes blinked green and the ganman came to life. "See?" She turned off the mecha and hopped out of it.

"Oh!" the beastwoman muttered, impressed. Seeing a ganman that worked through a key was something completely new to her.

"With Solvernia, Gurren, Kamina and myself, we can change this world for good," she said enthusiastically.

"You really expect to change the way everyone thinks with just two ganmen?"

"Yes," she nodded. And it was true; Nia never had any doubts. She believed in her blood brother. With him, their journey would be full of laughter and success.

Msyu looked at her quizzically, unable to comprehend how Nia could be so sincerely optimistic. She had always been taught that optimism belonged only to the naïve, and yet, it looked so much better to be an optimist.

"I wish I could do something too," Msyu said, looking to the ground as if searching for answers. "I only started to dream after I arrived in Gorodo. Sometimes I dream I'm powerful, that I can fly and I can shoot fireballs to protect Kimimaro from the evils of the world." She sighed, and her face fell. "But the truth is that I'm just an ordinary cub. There is nothing I can do."

"I wish that Kamina was here. He would have the right words to tell you."

"Really?"

"He would say for you to 'believe in me who believes in you', or at least that's what he always says to me."

"O…kay," she said. It made no sense and she couldn't comprehend it. And yet, the words somehow managed to lodge themselves in her mind.

"Msyu!" a male voice shouted from the middle of the houses. The girls could see Kimimaro approaching. Msyu smiled and whispered, "He still hasn't combed his hair," to which Nia gave a conspiratorial giggle.

"Good morning, Kimimaro!" She waved to him. The man walked up to them, and said, "Ebara wants to talk with you."

"That's great, I have good news too," she said, getting up. "Master Jigitalis is coming to our village today."

"Really? Haven't seen him in a while." Kimimaro led them to Ebara's house.

The atmosphere there was less than friendly. Ebara's face was impassive in a tense kind of way. Around him stood Yoko, Leeron and Rossiu. Yoko glared at Msyu with her arms folded and she had shadows around her eyes, while Leeron looked worried. Only Rossiu remained completely neutral. Nia sensed the tension in the room, and realized that what was about to happen would not in all likelihood end well.

"Is something wrong, Mr. Ebara?" Msyu asked, her happy demeanor disappearing.

"Groan…" Kamina entered, scratching his back, his bleary eyes looking about at the assembled group. "The guys told me you were here."

"Kamina, I did not invite you," Yoko said, annoyed at his arrival. She hadn't expected either him or Nia to show up.

"You're not the boss of me, pit chick!" he replied, annoyed. She just scoffed in reply.

"Msyu, don't worry," Ebara said reassuringly. "I just summoned you here to give us some clarifications. Do you understand that we have nothing against you?"

"Yes? !" she said, not really understanding the gravity of the situation.

"Good. The first thing is that, when our guests entered in our village, they had to destroy a…" he looked to Leeron and asked, "A what, again?"

"A turret, or a thing that shoots bullets that can kill you."

"Yes, a turret. The point is that they were attacked and they had to fight back. Msyu, were you aware of the existence of those turrets?"

"Huh? What?" she said, obviously confused. "Turret?" It was truly a new word for her. Perhaps if he had used 'defense mechanism' she would know.

"Don't make a fool of yourself!" Yoko snapped.

"You don't need to offend her!" Kimimaro snapped back.

"Calm down, everyone, we are not finished," Ebara said. In this unexpected tribunal, Ebara was the judge, Yoko was the prosecutor and Kimimaro was the defense. The chief had to make an impartial decision, and that meant he had to displease somebody. The cost of the decision, however, would be higher if Yoko had the truth and he ignored her.

"Msyu," he continued, "this boy here told us a story that you may want to hear. Rossiu, please."

"For certain," Rossiu nodded and told her the same story that Father Magin told him. Msyu listened carefully. Kamina and Nia listened just as carefully, for it was their first time hearing the story.

"Wait, so grandpa square-face is not your father?" Kamina said. "And this messenger of death?"

"Wait, both the celestial messenger and the messenger of death were blonde…"Nia said, also concerned.

"You should have told us about this earlier, forehead boy," Kamina reprimanded him.

"You're right, Mr. Kamina, my apologies," Rossiu conceded.

Msyu was stunned into shocked silence. All around her, she saw her peaceful life falling apart at the seams. She had never really had to answer many questions, and her answers had always been vague because, in truth, she had only ever had a vague idea of what was going on. Now, though…with this celestial messenger and this messenger of death…

"Your silence is proof enough that you are guilty," Yoko said, stalking over to her. "Come on, beastman! Talk!"

"Of course she won't talk if you intimidate her like that!" Kimimaro placed himself between the two females. "You don't have the right to throw around accusations, either!"

"There you go again, with your blind faith," she said, irritation rising in her voice. "Well then, let's give her a nice, easy question to answer. Your direct superior. What does his face look like?"

Before Kimimaro could protest, Ebara interjected, "That question is reasonable."

Msyu didn't know what to say, but Nia tried to help her, saying, "You're not a liar, Msyu."

Feeling confident, she took a deep breath and said. "My superior is Commander Cinoshisa and I have never seen his face." This statement caused a bit of a stir. "He wears an armor that never comes off. Nobody knows what he looks like."

"And that's what you saw, Yoko?" Ebara asked, whispering.

"Uh, not really…I never got a good look at who she was talking to…" Yoko pouted, miffed that she had no evidence to contradict Msyu.

"When he assigned me to this duty, he told me nothing about this celestial messenger. He just told me to live with the humans. I just spent a few days on his ship after he picked me up from the preparatory facility, so I don't know."

"What? But now we just have more questions!" complained Kamina.

"But the commander is a good person," she said. "He told me that this village is useful to his purposes and he would work so that it would prosper!"

"This doesn't help us at all," snapped Yoko, beginning to pace. "And how can you serve somebody without seeing his face? It's just not natural!"

"Wait," Kimimaro said, drawing their attention. "Msyu told me that master Jigitalis would be coming today. I bet he knows more about these things."

"Yes, he will be able to explain things to you," said Msyu, nodding. "I was about to come tell you that he would be coming today."

"Very well," the chief replied, "So let's wait for him. We'll resume our talk later."

"Bro, does that mean Msyu is innocent?"

"I don't know sis," Kamina said seriously, but then smiled. "But if you believe this is true, then so do I."

At the end of it all, Yoko still hadn't changed her stance on the young beastwoman. She refused to believe that Msyu was telling the truth; even if there was no evidence that she was lying. Still, she couldn't deny the facts: the beastmen were taking a very different direction here than they took with Littner. The beastmen had once tried to lure the residents of Littner into a trap using gifts, though, so this meant nothing to her.

Rossiu, too, remained uncertain. He couldn't decide whether the two messengers were the same person. They used the same technique, but to seemingly different ends. He couldn't quite wrap his head around what separated the two situations. Searching for answers, he reviewed what Father Magin had said about her.

The messenger of death never opposed anyone. She did not know how to say 'no' to any request, she never talked about 'wrong', something that young man knows very well. She always had that smooth talk, easy rewards at virtually no cost, which caused the downfall of my first home.

He just didn't have enough information. Realizing this, he decided to try and gather more.

"Aham… Msyu, I'd like to-"

"Chief Ebara," a corpulent villager interrupted Rossiu, before he could gain her attention. "Master Jigitalis has arrived!"

"Right, Olin, let's see him," he said, as he exited his house, followed closely by the others. Rossiu would have to wait for a little longer.

Outside, Jigitalis waited, glancing at the sun clock that showed eleven. Judging by his expression, he couldn't wait to finish his business and leave. He looked down with disdain on the humans, considering them inferior life forms, subspecies was the trending term in those days. Still, they were useful, and it was in his best interests to keep them alive. So, he forced himself to be polite. Being Cinoshisa's delivery boy was an annoying assignment, but the commander rewarded him well. However, learning that Msyu had started sympathizing with the humans, coupled with the commander's negligence in punishing her, had caused him to file a tentative transfer request to the Great Northwest. Supposedly it was more humid there, a welcome change from the tiresome desert, and definitely lacking in creepy masked commanders.

"Ah, Mr. Ebara," he said, emphatic. "What a beautiful morning."

"Same here, Master Jigitalis."

"I see you brought guests," the lion said, eyeing Team Gurren, and meeting Yoko's glare. "Who are they?"

"We're Team Gurren!" Kamina announced. "How come you don't know us? !"

"Nope. You must be one of those vagrant groups." He clasped his hands behind his back. "Just another bunch of thieves. Well, it's Viral's problem, not mine."

"What?"A vein popped in Kamina's forehead, "Listen, here, fuzzball! We, from Team Gurren, are the terror of the desert! The dozens of ganmen that fell to our hands testify to our hardcore nature!" He exaggerated a little, but he was being ignored. That never went well with Kamina. "Why don't we climb into our ganmen and solve this like true men?"

Jigitalis just yawned, covering his mouth with his paw-like hand. "Let's not. I have business to take care of." He walked over to Ebara, leaving Kamina to fume.

"We will gladly hand over the gold to you," the chief said. "But I must inform you of one thing: our guest had to destroy a turret when they entered in our village. We weren't aware of those turrets."

"Oh, that's something we installed in your village to protect you guys from desert monsters," he lied, like a politician. "And guess what?" He forced a chortle. "Ho ho ho, we forgot to tell you. How about that?"

"But you forgot to tell us every time you came here?" Kimimaro asked, really impressed with his lack of common sense.

"It's embarrassing." He put on an abashed face. "But I was so focused on doing our job for the glorious future that I actually forgot! Shame on me…" He shook his head, emphasizing his point.

Kimimaro and Ebara gave him a weird but believing look. Yoko couldn't believe how they were buying that, but she didn't trust anything a beastman said on principle. She chose to remain silent, because Nia also seemed to believe in his story.

"Your name is Jigitalis, right?" Nia asked.

"Yes," he said, curtly.

"Please, do warn people when you're installing cannons. They are dangerous and someone could get hurt and even die."

"Of course," he replied curtly again, then snorted, quickly transforming it into a cough. No, this kind of little human does not exist. Funniest shit I've heard in days. And look at that hair, it's a joke in itself. "So then! Where is the gold, Msyu?"

"The treasure is beside the cave, behind the easternmost house."

"Parfait!" He spread his arms in the air. He then took his right wrist to the mouth and repeated Msyu's line. "The treasure is beside the cave, behind the easternmost house." The others looked at him, not sure what to say.

"Mr. Jigitalis," Kimimaro said.

"What is?" he replied, not actually looking at him.

"Do you know what happened to the celestial messenger?"

"What are you talking about?" He shifted his gaze to him.

"They are talking about the messenger that allowed them to go to the surface," Msyu explained. "Do you know anything about it?"

"What are you talking about?" he said, losing his patience. "How would I know anything about anything? We get the gold, they get stuff, it's a simple business relation. The commander expressly told us not to think too hard about it, and so long as I get paid, that's fine with me!" Seeing that everyone was looking at him after his little tantrum, he smiled and returned to his suave expression, spreading his arms again. "Speaking of which, let's finish this deal. Lead us to the cave."

They went to the entrance of the cave, where a cart filled with gold awaited them. Gurren and Solvernia stood still at the side of the cave, waiting for their pilots. When the lion beastman looked to the two ganmen, he couldn't help but doubt how two such ganmen could have caused so much uproar. The reports must have been greatly exaggerated. If Jank was demoted because of this meant he was a really incompentent soldier. The bigger model seemed okay, but how that little thing could do what the reports said was still a mystery. It wasn't his target, though.

"So this is yours?" he said, looking to Gurren.

"Of course!" Kamina crossed his arms. "This is Gurren!"

"I wonder how you got it," he said, walking to the mecha slowly, as if he were strolling through a park.

"How?" he cried, indignant. "I'll tell you how, you smug bastard!" Yoko, Leeron and Nia waved their hands, trying to signal him to shut up. It was a vain effort. "A beastman bastard tried to destroy the village of my friends, so I stole his ganman right out of his hands and beat the crap out of him!" Yoko palmed her face, again.

"Is that so?" said Jigitalis, his hands still clasped behind his back as they had always been.

"What do you mean with 'is that so'?" Kamina raised his fist, waving it in the air. "Gurren does not deserve the indifference of someone who can't appreciate true spirit in action!" He put on his glasses and warned, "You don't know me!"

"To tell the truth? I don't need to." From far away, they heard a whistle of something flying through the air, fast, in their direction. Looking up, they could discern the growing shape of some kind of projectile. "You, humans from Team Gurren, have violated the glorious order of the Spiral King. You are not allowed to live on the surface and not allowed to pilot ganman."

"What? What are you saying?" Kamina asked in confusion.

"Beastmen showing their true colors," Yoko snarled. "I am not surprised."

"Therefore we're taking this ganman back to its rightful owner!" he continued, as the dot in the sky began to take shape. Its torso consisted of what seemed to be an inverted flatiron, gray with green eyes, ending in a pair green legs; from the sides, the green arms jutted out, each of its joints adorned with a red hollow pentagon; the limbs ended with massive grey hands. Its name: Nekot. The flying ganman landed on Gurren's top, while Jigitalis proclaimed, "WE, THE SOLDIERS OF THE KING!"

"Trying to steal what's already been stolen, huh?" Kamina began to sprint towards Gurren, but was suddenly and unexpectedly floored by Msyu slamming herself at him. Everyone was shocked. Yoko was furious, so much so that she couldn't decide whether to shoot the thieving beastmen or the disgusting little traitor. She finally decided to shoot Jigitalis, but the Nekot protected him with its hands. Yoko swore at the fact that she hadn't brought anti-ganman shells. She'd opted for the larger clip size of anti-personnel rounds in case Msyu had tried to run, which had in retrospect been a stupid decision.

Kamina didn't even know what hit him. "What?" he grunted, spitting out some dirt and trying to rise from the ground. Msyu held him firmly, with her doing the best she could to restrain him with her arms. "Hey! Let me go!"

"I can't let you do that," Msyu replied, holding tight to Kamina.

"Why not? They're stealing my Gurren!" He cried out in despair as he saw Jigitalis climb into the cockpit and fly away through the air.

"Sorry, but if I don't let them capture it, they will destroy this village!"

"I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS!" Yoko cried, emptying all of her available ammo on the fleeing enemy. Gritting her teeth, she grunted and realized that her grunting contrasted with a low giggling coming from Leeron.

"Yoko, dear, calm down," he said unworriedly, ignoring the growing dispute between Kamina, Msyu, Nia and Kimimaro. Alienated to everything, he had eyes only for his computer screen. Yoko just stared coldly at her teammate, snaring. The screen of his computer flashed 'TARGET LOCKED'.

After gaining some altitude, Chidori said, "Wow! Piece of cake! I never imagined this would be so easy!"

"Excellent, Chidori!" Jigitalis agreed from Kamina's seat, "Humans are such idiots! They really believed that we were their friends." An explosion, and Gurren tilted to the left. "What happened?"

"I don't know!" she replied, as another explosion hit the side of her ganman. Soon, explosions rained on them as the turret grid that circled Gorodo aimed all units at them. From the ground, the villagers saw flashes all around the flying object, causing it to lose altitude rapidly. The cannon fire let up slightly as they approached the ground, and Gurren continued on foot while Nekot floated along at high speed.

While the beastmen were punished by the cannons, Kamina whirled angrily on Msyu. "YOU!" He pointed his finger, and she winced. "You're responsible for this! Those bastards stole my Gurren!"

"Please, Bro…"Nia tried to intervene.

"No, please, you don't understand," Msyu tried to explain, hiding behind Kimimaro. "I did this for the sake of the village!"

"We had a procedure for taking care of traitors in Littner," said Yoko coldly, the kind of cold that cooled the air and chilled the bones of all present. "I never had to use it before now. Hold her while I get a new clip."

"Nobody's going to die!" Kimimaro yelled.

"You are a traitor too. You die with her." Kimimaro flinched at the seriousness of her tone.

"Miss Yoko, you're scaring me…" Nia gulped.

Yoko was beyond caring. She had gone past the point of being furious, to the point where her sole focus was on killing Msyu. Her frustration had caved in, and she was no longer the Yoko they knew and loved. She was now the Yoko who had watched her comrades die for years, and hadn't cried lest it impede her shooting ability.

She popped out the spent clip and snapped in a new one, aiming the reloaded rifle at Msyu's heart through Kimimaro's. Her eyes stared unblinkingly down the scope, nothing but death. Kimimaro didn't move. Running would only cause her to shoot them in the back, and so he hoped desperately that his body would shield Msyu from at least the first bullet. Kamina held the hilt of his sword nervously, unsure of what to do, while even Nia was shocked speechless. Yoko prepared to pull the trigger.

A feminine hand fell on her shoulder and squeezed. Yoko's eyes rolled up, and she crumpled into an unconscious heap on the floor.

"Forgive me, Yoko, but this was for your own good," Leeron said with a long face. The others stared, not really sure how to react. "Oh, you worrywarts. She'll be all right," Leeron explained. "But, first, we must focus on retrieving Gurren. See, the turret grid actually trapped the enemies in the village, because if they try to escape from any side, the turrets will move in their direction, so they will come back here eventually. We'll have to be ready. Nia, you'll have to try to combine with Gurren." The green-blond nodded, "Ebara, Rossiu, take Yoko inside, she needs to rest." They also nodded, Ebara taking her by the arms and Rossiu by the feet.

"I'll go with you, Nia," Kamina said, standing next to her. "Nobody mocks the Great Kamina and gets away with it." He glanced at Msyu; he was very angry with the beastwoman, but she just sat on the ground, embracing her legs with her arms. He wanted to do something, but he had to teach those little robbers a lesson. Nia grabbed him by his wrist and they jumped in Solvernia, where Boota already awaited them. They left, leaving only Msyu and Kimimaro.

"Kimimaro," she said wearily, "did I do the right thing?"

He didn't answer. He didn't know what to say.

Solvernia ran to where the shooting was coming from. Apparently, Gurren and Nekot were running away from turrets that blocked them at every turn, circling around and around the village. The residents were getting concerned with the ganman running by the village. Hanabi quickly ushered the kids into a nearby building and ran over to Kimimaro.

"Kimimaro, what's happening?"

"Master Jigitalis has just betrayed us."

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"Stupid humans!" Jigitalis groaned. "I can't find a gap!"

"Let's try to go by the west!" Chidori suggested. "Wait, what is that?"

From within Gurren's cockpit, Jigitalis could see Solvernia approaching. With a mighty jump, its legs retracted, letting a drill take their place, accompanied by a loud scream.

"No, you don't!" He grabbed Gurren's shades and knocked Solvernia away from its path. Without any damage at all, the mini-mecha stood up, frowning at the robbers.

"Please, return my brother's mech," Nia said. "You might hurt someone if you walk around without looking where you're going."

"Uh… how about this?" Chidori replied, and a wrist-mounted gun emerged and shot at Nia. She laughed at the resulting cloud of dust.

"Very good, Chidori!" Jigitalis said. "That oughta teach them!"

But, when the dust had settled, all that was left was a hole in the ground. They stood perplexed for a moment, before remembering something they had heard once about Solvernia's speed underground. Their faces and their ganmen twisted into expressions of shock, and Chidori tried to boost away from the ground.

It was too late. Solvernia burst out of the ground, drilling straight through the Nekot's right arm.

"Please, I don't want to fight with you," Nia warned one more time. Kamina watched silently, in contrast with his usual loud self, and then smirked.

"Father! We must get out of here!" yelled Chidori in anguish.

"Calm down," he said with a fake calmness. "Let's try to get out of here with this!" he reached out and lifted off the roof of a nearby house. "Run south!" They sprinted that way, with Solvernia in hot pursuit. Nekot fired back at her, but Nia dodged every shot.

Three turrets were positioned in the southern entrance and they detected the enemy ganmen. The hail of energy shots started, but the stolen Gurren placed the roof of the house in front as a shield while Nekot tried to hit them with its wrist gun, hitting only one. The other two tore apart their shield but it proved to be enough: even with lots of hits and smoke starting to come out from Chidori's ganman, they successfully passed through the turrets. Solvernia didn't lose their tail, though. Once passed the protective ring of turrets, Nekot jumped on top of Gurren and the pair began to take off.

"Bro, if they fly away, we won't be able to reach them," Nia said, stopping Solvernia.

"Those bastards!" he snarled. "Keep after them! Don't stop, Nia!"

"Right!" Solvernia sprinted once more. They were gaining altitude, though, slowly flying out of reach. However, Kamina would not give up.

Then he noticed something gleaming behind a large rock, and signaled Nia to stop.

"Why?" she said, stopping at his command. After Solvernia stopped, Kamina exited and returned to the big rock. Surprisingly, there was a ganman there. It was a rather small one, with the shape of a white rabbit with yellow eyes.

"Perfect!" he grinned. "Gurren's backup, the Usaggon!" He entered the cockpit and was slightly disturbed by the photos of cat and rabbit beastwomen posing in bikinis; not that he didn't like to see women in bikini, but he preferred that they didn't have tails or ears at the top of their heads. All of that disappeared when the ganman started up. The ears lifted, and he pumped his fists in the air, yellow eyes blinking.

"Now, let's go Nia!" he said, grabbing Solvernia and making Nia yelp, since she wasn't expecting this. "Let's retrieve Gurren! Together!" Instinctively, Solvernia swapped for its drill and Kamina smashed it on Usaggon's head. The drill almost hit Kamina, which somehow made him happier. The panels on both mechas were filled in green energy. Energy exploded through its legs and arms and they fused, the arms disappearing but the legs increasing, and Solvernia's helmet popping up from seemingly nowhere. He yelled: "USAGGON SOLVERNIA! Let's get them!"

The mecha darted off at ludicrous speed, much, much faster than Solvernia alone, raising a huge cloud of dust behind it as its feet slammed into the ground.

"It's so fast!" Nia said, clutching at Solvernia's controls. "But how are we going to reach them? They're too high."

"It's simple, sis!" Kamina grinned. "We're gonna jump!"

"Jump?" Kamina moved his controls, making the mecha jump. Then, he did it again. And again.

"See, Chidori," Jigitalis said, relaxing in Gurren's seat. "Just as I told you. Piece of cake."

"We're high enough," she replied. "I can't even see them below."

"It's because we're above you!"

"What?" Both beastmen turned their views above and they could clearly see Usaggon Solvernia's legs stretched out to kick the ganmen right in the back. They let out one scream of absolute despair before the two feet thudded into them, sending them careening earthward. The impact put a small crater into the ground.

"But how?" Jigitalis asked in disbelief, as Gurren Nekot struggled to get up. "This is my Daorek! What did you do to it?"

"First, the name's Usaggon," Kamina replied, his shades shining. "Second, you should take better care of your ganmen; I bet you didn't even know he could do this. Third, you're a total perv! And to think people complain about me!"

"Give it back!" he roared. "And what do you know about beauty?"

"Father, what is he talking about?" Chidori asked, unaware of Jigitalis'…interests.

"Nothing, Chidori, nothing…" he replied, hoping the issue would die there.

"Now, I'll get back my mecha!" Kamina announced.

"As if!" The booster on Nekot roared as Gurren Nekot flew at high speed, trying to catch Usaggon Solvernia with its shades. Kamina just flipped the controls and ran diagonally, taking advantage of the supreme speed of his new mecha, to deliver a kick right at the side of the enemy. Jigitalis didn't even have time to react and fell again. With a badly damaged Gurren and a Nekot missing an arm, Kamina advanced and kicked the Nekot from the top of it.

"Now, it's time, Nia!"

"Right!" Solvernia detached from Usaggon, making its arms and legs return to its normal dimensions. Usaggon tossed Solvernia at Gurren and, one more time, the tiny mecha became its second face. The drill punching through the roof scared Jigitalis so much that he immediately jumped out of the cockpit. Kamina exited his own cockpit, punched Jigitalis in the face, and ran over to Gurren.

"Now that's combing, the burning soul of a man, ready to inflame the course of destiny! That's true combining, the blazing friendship that will blast into space! That's Gurren Solvernia!"

"Father!" Chidori cried as she hit Gurren Solvernia with Nekot's wrist gun. The attack had little effect. Gurren Solvernia produced a drill in its hand and aimed it at her.

"You wanna fight?" the badass teased.

Knowing that this might be a problem, she retreated. But the distraction gave enough time for Jigitalis race to Usaggon, now Daorek, and he fled, not before screaming, "We will be back and Commander Cinoshisa will bring doom to you and that village! Doom!"

"Look at him, running away like a scared child to his boss. Let him go. A beast that runs away is not on the level of the Great Kamina!" Kamina flipped his cape, a smug smile perpetually on his face. "No matter what, we bring every obstacle down, no matter how big it is. Right, Nia?"

"We will, Bro!" She smiled and giggled. Boota agreed.

Their stomachs chose that moment to wreck the moment by rumbling loudly (though only Nia was embarrassed).

"Now I'm hungry! Back to the village!" Kamina proclaimed.

Gorodo was in a slight bit of an uproar when they returned. Kimimaro and Ebara had been obliged to explain to everyone that their partnership with the beastmen had ended, and that they would get no more materials and other stuff. Nobody knew quite how to take the news, and they were still in shock after the battle. The result was a kind of restrained worry.

"We don't know what the consequences will be yet," said the chief in a completely counterproductive attempt to calm the people.

"What's happening, Leeron?" Nia asked.

"After years working with the beastmen, they don't know how dangerous the situation can be." He rested his head on his hand. "But the rules of their agreement seemed pretty fair. I wonder why the beastmen were being so nice with them."

"And Yoko?"

"Still resting. Rossiu is with her."

Kimimaro walked over to Ebara, and whispered something in his ear. The chief then announced, "Msyu will explain the situation."

The red-haired beastwoman lifted her head and tried to stutter something. It broke away into sobs, however, and she ran away crying.

"Bro, I think we should check up on her."

"You're right, Nia," Kamina said. "Besides, that girl owes us some explanations."

When they found Msyu, she was sobbing on her knees, cowering in the room of Kimimaro's house. He and Hanabi were there, trying to give her some support, to ensure that she wouldn't be alone.

"Msyu, we are sure we can find a way," Hanabi said, patting her shoulder.

"It's all my fault…" Msyu cried.

"Okay, what's going on?" Kamina demanded. "Anyway, beast-chick, it's time for you to answer some questions. Why did you-" Kamina was cut off by Kimimaro, via a fist to the face. His eyes, and also Nia and Leeron's eyes, opened wide because of the sucker punch.

Kamina massaged the sore spot and laughed. "You have spunk to punch the Great Kamina!" He curled his right hand into a fist. "Let's see if you've got the spunk to take the consequences!" Kamina delivered on that promise, and smashed his fist into Kimimaro's face. Kimimaro staggered back, and Kamina took the opportunity to give him another one. The boy grunted and held his ground, tackling Kamina against the wall.

"Please stop, you two!" Hanabi said, trying to hold Kimimaro back. Leeron and Nia did the same to Kamina.

"Let me get him!" Kamina said, struggling with both members of Team Gurren. "What are you gonna say? That I brought the beastmen to your village, I ended the fake friendship you had with them? Tell me, punk!"

"I punched you for being so insensible!" he replied. "Msyu can't answer a thing now."

Kamina stopped struggling, and his teammates let him go. He crossed his arms. "Fine! So, tell us!"

Kimimaro regained his composure, cleared his throat and told them.

******************************

He stood beside Msyu before the mirror. He watched, somewhat nervously, as she pressed the button behind the mirror. There was a moment of silence as the hidden screen flickered.

Finally it flashed to life, and Kimimaro stood face to face with Msyu's commender.

"Msyu," the robotic voice of Cinoshisa boomed through the screen. "It seems you've forgotten the meaning of the term 'secret'. But, to be fair, it is irrelevant now."

"What do you mean?" Msyu asked.

"I just received Jigitalis' message. The operation is a failure, as I'm sure you already know. The rebels were able to retrieve their stolen ganman. We have no option but to destroy the village."

"What? But you can't do that!"

"Msyu, do you know why I didn't destroy Gorodo at first?" the beastwoman just shook her head, "Gold is a valuable asset. My little fleet was purchased with the gold this godforsaken village provided, so it would be a wasted opportunity if I just destroy this village."

"You've been using us?" Kimimaro snared.

"Would you expect me to say otherwise? I do not squander my resources. I kill humans only because it is expedient to my purposes; in this case, it was more effective to let you live. Whenever I ceased to require your cooperation – that is, if your ore ran dry – I would immediately kill all of you."

"And you're going to kill Msyu too?"

"I never intended for Msyu to survive."

Msyu's eyes widened in shock.

"I needed a messenger, a liaison, to inform me of when shipments were ready. A boring task for any military, but a simple one. However, I knew that whoever I sent would inevitably become attached to the humans. Your kind has a habit of doing that. Therefore I needed someone too weak to prove effective if he or she turned traitor. A factory reject was precisely what I needed. I don't know how you managed to stay alive for so long in that gutter of yours, but I'm certain it wouldn't have been be much longer."

"What do you mean?" Msyu asked, raising her voice.

"Did you ever realize why it took so long for you to be assigned to a batch? When I looked your profile, it said forty years and even today you have the mindset of a little child, naïvety, immaturity, knowing so little of what's happening in the world.

"I am… a failure…?" her eyes started to tear up.

"No, you're not!" Msyu flinched as his eyes glowed; his remark hurt her more than any other insult, "To admit it, it'd count as my failure and I don't fail. You were too weak-willed to question my orders, despite your fondness for the humans. You followed blindly as well, so you have no vital information to give them. Finally, you will be ineffective when Yamikaze comes to destroy you all. Be thankful; I'm doing you a favor. Would you really want to continue that pathetic existence of yours?"

The screen turned off. Silence reigned for a few instants before Msyu broke down into tears.

Chapter Text

"What a heartless person!" Nia said angrily. "He didn't have to humiliate her! Bro, what can we do?"

"There's nothing we can do. We're going to die," mumbled Msyu hopelessly. "It's my destiny…"

"You're wrong!" Kamina proclaimed, putting on his glasses. "Nobody's gonna die! Team Gurren's specialty is giving destiny a good kick in the ass!"

He pointed his finger skyward and, somehow, a breeze blew in and sent his cape billowing. The sun threw its rays into the dark room, lightening everyone's spirits. Msyu stopped crying.

"But… how?" she asked.

"Because…" he pointed to her. "You are now a member of Team Gurren! The first beastman to join Team Gurren!"

"What?" she exclaimed. Kimimaro and Hanabi were equally shocked.

"And you too!" He pointed to the boy. "You dared to pick a fight with the Great Kamina, and I respect that! Now forget about 'destiny' and 'fate' and all that crap, because…"

"We disregard logic and do the impossible!" finished Nia.

They bellowed the last part together, pumping their fists in the air triumphantly, their shout piercing the air:

"THAT'S HOW TEAM GURREN ROLLS!"

Msyu didn't understand. But perhaps that was for the better. The warm feeling in her heart…she could believe in that without logic or reasoning. Still, she had her reservations.

"You don't understand. Commander Cinoshisa will bring Yamikaze! It's a huge ship that can dwarf a mountain!"

"HAHAHA! The spirit of a man is bigger than a mountain!" proclaimed Kamina grandly. "This Yami-whatsit's gonna go down!"

"You make no sense at all." Kimimaro managed to smile. "But I think I like it. Msyu, I'm sure you can help us. You're good at drawing."

"Maybe if you drew the Yamikaze?" Leeron added happily. "That would help a lot to devise a plan."

In characteristic Team Gurren fashion, every single doubt had fled from Msyu's head. The words Nia told her earlier finally started to make sense in her mind. She had nothing but hope for the future.

"I can do this…" she said, getting up and a slowly formed smile substituting her tears "I can do this! Kimimaro, get me a piece of paper and a pencil!" Kimimaro nodded and left running.

"So anybody can join Team Gurren?" Hanabi asked. "So long as they don't believe in destiny?"

"For sure!"

"Then I'll join too!"

"That's the spirit! Now let's go! We have bad guys to toast!"

"Yeah!" they raised their fists in the air, feeling a new energy flowing among them. They would fight and they knew they could win!

******************************

The desert stretches in front of her. But she isn't concerned with that.

Closer to her is the fence. This doesn't concern her either.

Behind the fence are littered several aluminum cans. These used to be her concern; now they aren't.

All she cares about at the moment is the solitary, final can, standing on top of the fence from which its mates have fallen.

She sights down her slingshot, feeling the pebble, the stretch of the elastic.

She releases. The can falls.

"Congratulations, Yoko!" To her right, her mother, father, and three of her cousins are applauding. Twenty cans; twenty pebbles. She has succeeded.

"Yoko, you can now move to the next level, this rifle may look heavy but it's very easy to use," says her father happily. He hands her a rifle. It's too heavy, she can barely lift it. There's a target set up in the distance, but she can't aim at it like this. She thinks for a moment; notices the fence. She walks up to it, uses it as a mount.

She sights down the scope. It's strange, she's not used to it, she's not even sure she knows how to hold it properly. She finds the target after several moments. She spends another few trying to keep the rifle steady. Finally she shoots.

She misses, and the recoil nearly knocks her over. Awkwardly, she lines up again, shoots again, misses again. Her perfect streak is ruined. She begins to get nervous. Shoot, miss, shoot, miss. She curses the stupid rifle for being unwieldy, her slingshot was better really. She shoots and misses again and again. Her crowd is disappointed, but only slightly.

"You have to control yourself, Yoko, neng," her father explains. She just crosses her arms and frowns. "Concentration is everything for a sniper. Don't worry, it'll come; you just need more practice. Unfortunately, this means I'll have to cut down on your play time."

She looks down. She wants to protest. Her cousins group around her. One says, "Don't worry, cousin Yoko, we understand."

"Cousin Yoko has to grow stronger because she will protect us from the bad beastmen!" another adds.

"We'll always play with you, cousin Yoko!"

She smiles. They believe in her.

Yoko woke up, rubbing her face with both hands as she sat up. The dream…it had been more of a recordation, really. Her family and friends…they'd always cheered for her, encouraged her, and she'd promised to protect them all. She felt sick at the thought of the promise because she remembered that was a promise she wasn't able to keep with her cousins. Then she stumbled out of bed, intent on distracting herself from it.

"Miss Yoko, are you all right?" Rossiu asked. He had watched her as she slept. To pass the time he had been flipping through Father Magin's book with the faint hope of finding some kind of meaning in its jumbled characters.

Yoko wandered over to the window. The sun clock outside showed five o'clock.

"Yes, I am," she finally replied.

"I hope you had a good rest. The sun is beginning to go down."

"Are you saying that I've overslept?" She gave a small smirk.

"No, no, not at all," he replied anxiously.

I guess he doesn't know how to tell a tease from a reprimand. "Don't worry about it, Rossiu. Where's Mister Screw-Logic?"

"Who would that be, Miss Yoko?"

Or nicknames. "Never mind. What happened while I was asleep?"

"Actually, I was told to fetch them once you awoke, and have you remain here. Things are more complicated than they seem."

"Well, I'm awake," she said, stretching after the nap, "Bring them here."

After a few minutes, Team Gurren was reunited, sans Gimmy and Darry. They were relieved that Yoko was alright. She even managed to smile upon seeing them.

"Okay, Kamina, what happened?" Yoko asked, quickly dropping the smile. "I only remember that the beastmen were stealing Gurren and then… why can't I remember?"

"You're as cranky as ever," he said, arms crossed. "That's a good sign."

"What do you mean?"

"Yoko, darling, you had a bit of a freakout," Leeron said. "Something happened, and you lost it."

"Serious?" she widened her eyes.

"You were about to shoot Msyu and Kimimaro, but…" Leeron paused, carefully considering his words. "You passed out."

"Wait, now I remember!" she said, now narrowing her gaze, "Where is that little traitor?"

"Calm down, we don't want to go through this again."

"Right…" the redhead lowered her head. "What happened next?"

"They tried to steal my Gurren," Kamina said. "So I took it back, with Nia."

"But now," Rossiu interjected, "the enemy is preparing for another attack. Msyu drew a picture of what she remembers as a super-ganman named Yamikaze. It's most likely they will use this against us, and very soon."

"So, you haven't eliminated her yet?"

"The truth is, Yoko," Nia said, "when the beastmen betrayed us, they also betrayed Msyu."

"You're going to let her get away, aren't you?"

"The only wrong thing she did wrong was to knock Kamina down, Yoko," the digger argued fiercely. "She didn't do it to hurt him, either."

"And besides," Kamina said, "she's now a member of Team Gurren."

"Oh, just great!" Yoko rolled her eyes. "Of all the illogical things you've done, this is the stupidest. Remind me to give you a good kick in your soul when we arrive in the afterlife!"

"That's definitely a good sign." Kamina commented dryly. "You're definitely fully recovered."

"Please, Yoko," Nia begged. "We can't fight each other now. We're evacuating the village right now, and we need to prepare for the next attack. For that, we'll all have to work together."

"Fine…" she grunted. "But don't expect me to trust her."

"We were expecting this," Leeron said. "And that's why we brought her here." He whistled and the door to the room opened. Kimimaro entered with Msyu. She appeared timid and uncertain, and clung to her dress nervously.

"Hi," she said quietly, unsure to what say in this hour.

"Hi yourself." Yoko didn't seem impressed.

For a few seconds they were silent, just staring at each other. Yoko's expression was indifferent, but at least she wasn't openly hostile. Unable to face her anymore, Msyu contemplated the floor. Finally she said, "Sorry…"

"What?" the redhead said, almost whispering.

"I said I'm sorry… for everything my people have done."

Yoko remained silent for a moment. "Do you know…" she finally said, "what it means to watch all of your friends die, for no apparent reason?"

"No."

"Figures…you're a beastman. How could you know anything about that?"

"I don't know. I was only ever told that the humans were inferior and deserved to be kept underground. I knew that the military regularly slaughtered humans, but it didn't matter to me. That is, until…"

"Until you started to care about them?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Yes. I mean, the military rejected me fairly early, because I wasn't strong or aggressive enough. So I guess…when they reached out to me…it's because I'm a failure, really."

"I fail to see how," interjected Kimimaro stiffly, "how that makes you a failure. Those mindless killing machines don't qualify as real people. You do."

Msyu didn't know how to react to this. She looked stunned, and then bowed her head.

Yoko sighed and walked over to the dresser, where her hairband was sitting. She tied up her hair, turned to Msyu, and stared at her. She extended her hand. The beastwoman flinched at first, before recognizing it as a gesture of friendship.

"In the last month, a lot of crazy things happened in my life and I guess that trusting a beastman won't be the craziest of them…" she extended her hand. The beastwoman flinched at first, before recognizing it as a gesture of friendship. Yoko smiled. "Welcome to Team Gurren."

Msyu smiled back and gratefully took Yoko's hand. Tension disappeared completely, as everyone smiled.

******************************

The next morning, the village was empty. Gurren Solvernia stood on the rocky terrain at the entrance to the village, arms crossed, ready to battle. In Gurren's cockpit, Kamina had his usual smirk plastered all over his face. Nia and Boota waited quietly within Solvernia's cockpit. Yoko was positioned behind a makeshift barricade in a slightly elevated area, and was equipped with the specialized anti-ganman shells. Leeron was ensconced in one of the houses, coordinating the turret grid via an old computer he'd dug up from somewhere. Kimimaro, Hanabi, Msyu were there, along with other villagers; they helped Leeron, checking the electric cables and helping with organizing the logs of the computer; the others had long since evacuated; Msyu also brought her mirror-communicator. Ebara had wanted to stay, but Kimimaro had forced him to leave on account of his unborn child. The turrets stood by, disguised as rocks; there were fourteen of them in all. Leeron had improved on them significantly: they moved faster, aimed closer, and hit harder. Every advantage they could get was welcomed: the coming fight would not be easy.

On the horizon arose a big smokestack. The destroyer ganman's steps rumbled out from the distance, shuddering the ground; they were felt as much as they were heard. Everyone remembered the description Msyu had provided them.

"This is the Yamikaze." Msyu pointed to her sketch of the ship. She'd placed some estimates on the side – length 500-800 meters, height 40 - 70 meters. The prow had the shape of a drill, and the bridge stood over the stern, with two arms that served as a base for rocket launcher. It was slightly hunched because of the stacks, where the exhaust from the engines and internal factories was expelled. It stood on two legs, placed towards the back; surprisingly, only those two feet were needed to hold its massive bulk. It was armed with two pairs of twin-barreled cannons at the top of the prow, one pair in the back, and one pair below the prow; there were eight turrets, of the close-in weapon system (CIWS) type designed to anti-aircraft and anti-ordnance warfare, spread next to the bridge tower, one in each leg and two next to the prow cannons. Finally, there were several sets of missile launchers in each hand.

The real thing was even more imposing than described. Yamikaze was a potent enemy; they could swear its smoke stack could cover the sun. It was also followed by the escort of five enemy ganmen, and they could recognize Daorek and a repaired Nekot. It began its attack before it even got within Team Gurren's range, firing a salvo of missiles. Gurren Solvernia never flinched, and the missiles were quickly shot down by the turret grid.

On the mirror, on Gurren Solvernia's screens, and on Leeron's computer appeared the words "INCOMING MESSAGE". The image of Commander Cinoshisa appeared, sitting in the command chair of Yamikaze's bridge.

"I am Commander Cinoshisa, Central Western Shore Theater Command! I demand to know who is opposing the mighty Spiral King!"

"We're Team Gurren!" Kamina proclaimed.

"So this is the monkey that caused such a ruckus in the Eastern Theater. You don't seem to be such a big deal."

"Have fun saying that while you can! Team Gurren is gonna kick your ass!" Kamina then pointed at the image on the screen. "No real man hides behind a mask!"

"What lies behind this mask is not of your concern. What matters is that you have the opportunity now to accept your deaths and save us all some trouble. What is going to be your decision?"

"Like hell I'll accept a fate like that!"

"Commander Cinoshisa," Msyu said. "I, too, have an offer. There is no need to continue this pointless war. Please, retreat now, and leave us in peace."

"You have truly defected," he replied in a low voice. "Pathetic."

"They never think otherwise…" Nia murmured, lamenting Msyu's failed efforts but at the same time steeling herself to fight once more, "At least we tried."

"I have nothing more to say to rebels and traitors. Fight, then, if you value your lives so highly."

The transmission ended. Yamikaze recommenced its rolling walk, and its escort sprinted ahead to meet Gurren Solvernia.

"Missed us, Kamina?" Jigitalis taunted.

"Actually, no." The badass smirked confidently.

"Ah'll be da first!" a purple monkey ganman proclaimed eagerly. His more agile model loped ahead of the pack, and he cackled as he began to make out Gurren Solvernia's combined shape.

He never got the chance to try and make something of himself, as a special, armor-piercing, incendiary bullet went straight through his ganman's outer armor, caused several pieces of vital equipment to malfunction, and finally exploded. There was nothing left but a pile of burning pieces.

"Leeron outdid himself this time!" Yoko commented as she prepared her rifle for another shot.

"There goes one of ours," remarked one of the Yamikaze's bridge crew.

"It's acceptable," the commander replied dully.

"I can't approach by air!" Chidori said, dodging the volley of the turrets. "I'm going back!"

"AHHH!" a blue bull ganman next to Daorek screamed as he lost an arm to Yoko; they fell back and took cover. "Captain Jigitalis, we'll get cut down if we keep this up."

"Try the flanks, Tunzun!" the leonine beastman said, turning to the ganman at his other side.

"Right!" The camel ganman Tunzun ran to the side to try and catch their defenses off-guard. However, four turrets were waiting for him. As the shots pierced the ganman, he had no option but to retreat. However, he was able to launch on grenade from his hump. He got lucky, and managed to disable one turret.

"Captain, the turrets are everywhere!"

"Crap, we should've brought more units!" Jigitalis cursed, seeing his options narrowing. "Commander, we need your assistance."

"It looks like the humans aren't going to give up so easy," mused the masked commander. "They must have set traps for us. That Gurren Solvernia hasn't moved a gear yet."

"Commander, what shall we do?" a beastman with the head of a trout and the body of a fly asked from another computer terminal.

"Advance Yamikaze!" He got up from his seat. "This dreadnought is tough enough to take anything they throw at us! Are the cannons ready?"

"Almost there! Loading is almost complete!" the fish said. "Fifteen seconds!"

"Anyway, we can crush them with our feet," Cinoshisa said, returning to his seat. "What are you planning, human?"

As the Yamikaze approached, the ground trembled. Nia looked on with apprehension, but didn't move a muscle.

"When we will go, Bro?"

"Don't worry Nia," he said, with an assured smile on his face. "The holes you dug yesterday night will make things easy for us!"

Step by step, the giant ganman approached the village at tremendous speed, or it seemed due to massive size of its legs. The sight of a ganman the size of a tiny mountain really could shake an unprepared person, but it would take much more than that to faze Kamina.

"The enemy is in range for the artillery!"

"Excellent, blast them off!" Cinoshisa said, lifting his hand.

However, at that moment the mecha came to a screeching halt. Its leg had sunk into the ground. Around it, the ground started to crack, revealing a hole, not too big, but big enough to trap the Yamikaze.

"What's happening?" demanded the commander. The left leg tried to move, but found itself stuck as well. Carried forward by momentum, the giant ganman tripped forwards and crashed to the ground, prow-first.

"Now, that's our cue, Nia!" Kamina said, uncrossing Gurren Solvernia's arms and racing towards the ganman.

"Protect the Yamikaze!" Jigitalis ordered. Tunzun tossed grenades, but Gurren Solvernia avoided or absorbed the impact without any problems. The red mecha morphed its hands into drills and punched both Daorek and Tunzun out of the way. Nekot attempted to make a surprise airstrike, shooting through its wrist-guns, but it was to no avail, as the red mecha dodged by zigzagging the shots. Nothing could stop Gurren Solvernia. So, instead of trying to hit it, Nekot descended and grabbed Gurren Solvernia by the back of its neck.

"What are you doing, lousy mongrel?" Kamina complained as he rose into the air.

"I'm just removing you from the battle!"

"Like hell!" Gurren's fist swung up in an attempt to hit the parasite, but instead walloped Solvernia. Nia herself was thrown about inside her cockpit.

"Why do you hit yourself?" Chidori teased.

"Bro, wait!" Nia protested, as she tumbled about.

"I think I got it now!" He punched Solvernia again, from another angle. "Sorry!"

"Let me help you!" Chidori said, slamming the huge fists of Nekot on Solvernia.

"Ah! Stop it!" Nia cried.

"You're pathetic!" Chidori teased again. "As soon as we take you off the ground you're helpless."

"Oh yeah? If my hands don't work, I'll just use my feet!" With that Kamina lifted Gurren Solvernia's left leg up to its head and twisted it behind him, making both mecha roll in the air. They lost altitude as Nekot tried to compensate. Kamina's attempt did succeed at last, but he only managed a glancing blow against the aerial ganman.

"You're just being idiotic!" the cat beastwoman cried. "Quit making things so complicated!"

"Haha, losing your cool are you? !" He repeated the maneuver again, this time rolling even faster. They eventually lost stability and crashed into the ground. Chidori fainted in Nekot's cockpit and Gurren Solvernia had little problem removing the hindering mecha.

Suddenly, the blue bull ganman ran right at them, brandishing his broken arm like some sort of club. Screaming at the top of its lungs, it tried to bludgeon the crimson mecha. Kamina just dodged everything, but the bull still managed to knock the red ganman's shades away.

"Guess I'll have to pick those up," Kamina commented, amused by the spectacle of the opponent flailing about with its own arm.

"Oxymoron, keep him busy," Jigitalis said. "We'll be over in a second. How is the situation with Yamikaze?"

"I think we're making progress," a bridge officer said. The Yamikaze's left leg then sank in even further.

"Aim at Gurren!" Cinoshisa ordered.

"But Oxymoron is still there!"

"Do not question my orders! Fire, now!" The cannons thundered, and four shells roared towards Gurren Solvernia and Oxymoron, faster than they could react. They hit hard enough that Gurren Lagann was sent flying. The blue bull mecha, however… well, to say that it was destroyed would be a kind way of putting it.

"We lost one more!"

"That is acceptable!" Cinoshisa snapped. "Reload the cannons, and continue working on escaping this hole!"

Kamina groaned as Gurren Solvernia slowly stood. "That was harsh. Are you okay, Nia?"

"Yes, but I don't think we can take another hit like that."

"Buuuyyuuuh!" agreed Boota

"Guess what time it is?" piped the voice of Tunzun, in the camel ganman. "Grenade Time!" With an overhand toss he lobbed a grenade at Gurren Solvernia.

"All right! Then come get your fill!" yelled back Kamina, picking up a large, flat rock. As the grenade came closer he swung, batting the explosive back at its sender. It went off in Tunzun's face, momentarily obscuring his vision; when he could see again, he was treated to the sight of Gurren Solvernia sprinting at him at top speed. Kamina devastated the mech with a brutal two-hit combo, using the rock as a large and effective bludgeon. When Tunzun had been rendered immobile, he grabbed the camel ganman by the feet, swung it four times in a circle, and finally threw it into the airspace over Gorodo. Yoko quickly reduced it to scrap metal.

"I can't believe!" Jigitalis snarled. "He's too powerful!"

"Attention Jigitalis!" Commander Cinoshisa called.

"Yes!"

"We're being attacked by the turrets." Leeron had been busy while Gurren Solvernia had drawn the enemy's attention. They had swarmed the stranded destroyer, besetting it with a harrowing volley of fire. They had already disabled the port missile bay, and were moving on to their next target. "Defend the Yamikaze; the others can deal with the enemy."

"The others are dead or unable to fight."

Cinoshisa was silent for a moment. He then stood from his command chair once more.

"I want all cannons firing at will!" he ordered. "Target the turrets and the red ganman! The turrets on the underside will fire into the ground! We will blast ourselves out of this trap!"

"Sir," replied the trout-beastman, "you do realize we'll probably just end up even more stuck?"

"Are you questioning me? My plan is fail proof! Prepare the CIWS system!"

"How…" Jigitalis held his head in his hands. Resistance of this magnitude was unprecedented. He felt a harsh hit at his leonine pride. It was his pride that told him to pick too few escorts. He never faced failure, not even when any of the humans fought back, but now it was incomprehensible how they resisted and were gaining on them.

"Hey, you." Jigitalis turned his head to see Gurren Solvernia walking towards him, nonchalantly twirling its blade-shades in one hand. "I've got some unfinished business with you!"

Daorek growled and launched itself at the red mecha. Kamina calmly elbowed it into the ground. It didn't get back up.

"Now that's taken care of, let's get the big boss!" Kamina said.

"Right!" Nia replied.

"Kamina." Leeron's voice crackled over the comms. "The closer you get to Yamikaze, the harder it will be for the enemy to aim its main cannons at you. Just watch out for the tinier cannons. Get up close and drill right into their control room!"

Kamina nodded and rushed away to do what he did best. Gurren Solvernia ran towards the enemy, ducking and dodging, evading the missiles and flat-out ignoring the hails of bullets. It drilled into the side of the dreadnought, hauled itself up, and approached the bridge. Kamina could see inside – the bridge crew panicked, while the masked commander just sat in his command chair unworriedly.

He didn't move. He didn't flinch. He just made his red eyes glow. A flurry of missiles shot out and crashed into Gurren Solvernia. However, the ganman was unscathed; its force field guaranteed the pilots' safety.

"That power…" Cinoshisa whispered in audible awe, as the force of the impact shattered the glass panes that surrounded the command bridge. Cinoshisa himself was unharmed, but the flying shards of glass impaled much of his bridge staff.

His eyes glowed again, and one of Yamikaze's damaged arms swung out and knocked Gurren Solvernia off the deck.

"Damn!" cursed Kamina. "We were so close!"

Unfortunately, they wouldn't get closer any time soon. With the booming retort of cannon fire, Yamikaze pushed and hauled itself out of the hole.

"They've freed themselves," said Leeron over the comms, confirming the obvious. "It's only a matter of time now."

"Dig another hole!" shouted Hanabi desperately.

"We don't have the time."

"Are you saying we're doomed?" asked Yoko, hefting her rifle.

"If we don't find a way to stop it," was Leeron's reply as the first few houses were destroyed by Yamikaze's cannons, "This can be a real possibility!"

"Bro, what will we do?" Nia asked, starting to become desperate.

Kamina's answer was to get Gurren Solvernia to its feet.

"I know there's a way!" he growled. "Maybe if we –"

He never got to finish his sentence, because Nekot had grabbed them again and was rising into the air.

"Let us go!" Nia said, with Boota raising a paw in defiance.

"I'm going to take you so far from here, the death of your friends will be like a firefly on the horizon!" snickered the flying ganman. "Then maybe I'll toss you into the sea! Be fish food!"

"I think I'll pass." Kamina summoned a drill and punched Nekot in the eye with it. Startled, it let go of Gurren Solvernia, and the crimson ganman went into freefall.

Yamikaze was dangerously close to Gorodo. Much of the town had already been destroyed. The few remaining turrets were powerless to stop the rain of artillery. Things were looking hopeless.

Kamina then did what he did best.

"Nia!" he called up to his sister. "I've got an idea! It's an idea worthy of the greatest of men, and it'll both rescue our friends and defeat the enemy!"

"How?"

"We're going to use your drill to bust right through that ship of theirs!"

Nia blinked.

"This was…already the plan…"

"No questions! I'm going to need all of your spirit, Nia!"

Nia didn't know how she was supposed to give more spirit, so she just clung tighter to the controls. Somehow the gauge increased anyways, so it was fine.

"Now! We're going to need a lot of drills for this one!"

Drills burst out of Solvernia's arms – miniature drills, small but obviously dangerous.

"And let's go!"

Solvernia hit the ground running, sprinting towards the Yamikaze.

Kamina dodged through the same rain of fire, still unfazed by it. He then reached the Yamikaze. However, instead of going for the bridge, he went underneath the ship. As he went he planted the drills into the Yamikaze's underside, and planted several in the legs.

"Now!" he yelled. "Nia, give me your best drill yet!"

Nia complied, closing her eyes tight.

The drill formed – bigger and more beautiful than any she had previously created.

"And the finale!" yelled Kamina. "TIME FOR YOU TO HIT THE GROUND!"

The drills activated.

The legs were instantly decimated. The other drills carved swathes of destruction through the interior of the ship. And, as the ship came down, Kamina jumped up, putting titanic amounts of force into Gurren Solvernia's legs. The result was that the ship was crippled, and Gurren Solvernia drilled up, through the deck, finally landing in front of the bridge again.

As the explosions blossomed all over the ship, the defenders watched in awe.

"They did Kimimaro!" Msyu leapt of joy, hugging him, "They did it!"

"Well done, Kamina." Yoko smiled, putting her hands on her hips, feeling her respect for him increasing a little more.

On the deck, Cinoshisa stepped forward, to the edge of the ruin that remained of his command center. He looked up at Gurren Solvernia.

"Congratulations," he said. "I am forced to yield."

"I don't know what that means, but I know what I want from you now!" Kamina answered. Gurren's cockpit opened, and he rose from his seat. Then he jumped across the gap towards the command center. As he did so he swung his fist, so that he landed while striking Cinoshisa a devastating blow, not even grunting because, after all, he punched through metal.

"Let's see what you look like behind that mask, you coward!" he yelled, grabbing the commander by the collar. Then, with one hand, he forcibly ripped the mask away.

He was shocked into silence at the sight of her face.

Indeed it was a her, and undeniably so. She was rather pretty, with well-defined features framed by short-cropped golden hair. Her eyes, however, were the most striking feature; they were the blood-red color of wine – a dead red.

"You're a…" breathed Kamina, stunned.

Her crew was also startled into shocked silence.

"Are you so surprised?" said the commander with a smirk, shoving him away with one hand, and signaling for her crew behind her to stand still. "I just let you touch me…"

"You…" Kamina sneered.

"Why do you think I wore that armor? The Spiral King wanted my talent, not my species."

"Hiding behind a mask. Just as I thought, you're the worst coward I've ever met."

"It is only a symbol of what I am," she frowned a little, "I have accepted it and embraced it… unlike you." She ended with a smirk.

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

"Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. Your boasts, your talk, your courage… all lies to cover up the little boy who's still scared of the dark."

In his anger Kamina attempted to deck Cinoshisa across the face, something he would never do to any other woman, but she just protected herself with the metallic arms.

"What about the village?" hissed Kamina. "You're using your own people!"

"Resources, nothing more. Whenever I come across an underground village I pull out the dress from my closet and approach them. If they have resources, I establish an agreement. If they have none, I lead them to the surface and kill them. Nothing but tools to be manipulated. Do you expect me to see them as anything more?"

"How dare you play with them like they're…toys!" fumed Nia.

"Toys? You think I enjoy this? They are nothing to me! I use them, and then I kill them. Your villagers there have more blood on their hands then mine! It is their gold that kills the human rebels in the north, in the south, in the west and the east! Their gold pays for every weapon on every soldier under the four generals!"

"Gold that wouldn't make its way out there if not for you," said Kamina angrily. "You're wrong. You're insane."

"Insane? Maybe… this world is insane, the Spiral King is insane, aren't you already insane, tough guy? But something that I am not is a dead woman! Everything dies eventually, even you and your brave little words. Myself, I'm just trying to live it out as long as possible, and live well until I die. If I have to kill a thousand humans to achieve that end, I will be satisfied."

"You…you MONSTER!" yelled Nia.

"Does the little girl want to say something?" Cinoshisa sneered. "Go on, say your piece. I'm sure your big brother has taught you well."

"You promise them a better life, then use them, then throw them away!" Nia's eyes burned with anger, and her spiral gauge filled. However, it was abnormal; some red lines skittered across the panel, threatening to overtake the green ones. "How dare you! How dare you give them the most precious thing in the world and take it away!"

"Empty words," spat the commander. "I suppose you really are just like this oaf here."

Cinoshisa then twisted in a fluid, graceful motion. When Kamina registered what had happened, he was on the floor and Cinoshisa was in her chair.

"To my crew: the Spiral King will honor your sacrifices." She then saluted. "I bid you all farewell."

She then turned to Kamina.

"As for you… men like you don't die so easily, we'll meet again!" and she put back her mask.

With that, the roof of the command center opened, and Cinoshisa's chair flew into the sky, propelled by rockets. In her wake, alarms began ringing out, and a countdown appeared across every screen. The remaining crew panicked.

"It's gonna blow!" Jigitalis yelled, watching everything from down there, with a massive bump at the head of his ganman.

"Run for your lives!" Chidori added, crying. The Nekot, which was missing an eye and expelled smoke, picked up Daorek, and flew off into the distance.

"Big brother!" yelled Nia.

Kamina scrambled to his feet and leapt back into Gurren's cockpit.

"What do we do?" asked the little digger anxiously. Yamikaze was starting to glow, on the verge of exploding.

"Kamina, what's going on?" Leeron called from the command center.

"I don't know!" shouted Kamina. "I don't… how do we stop this?"

Nia sat still for a moment. Then her jaw set, and her hands tightened on the controls.

"All right, then I'll stop it!" she declared.

Gurren Solvernia jumped back, off of the Yamikaze's deck. It landed approximately halfway between the village's outer boundary and the dreadnought's bow. Then, at Nia's command, several hundred drills sprouted out of Gurren Solvernia's arms. The spiraled out, interlocking, layering over each other, forming a massive shield almost three times as tall as Gurren Solvernia.

Yamikaze exploded.

There was a peculiar kind of soundlessness to it – as if the sheer impact of it deadened all of the senses save for sight, or perhaps it was so loud as to drown out the sense of sound entirely. All were blinded by that one burst of bright, white light. The last thing anyone saw was Gurren Solvernia, standing resolute against the waves of fire and destruction that washed over its shield.

******************************

"Hm…" In the shades in the highest tower of the beastman capital, the mighty city of Teppelin, the king sitting in the throne opened his eyes.

"Something wrong, my lord?" one of his companions asked, also cloaked by the shade made by the sun.

"Irenai… I felt again a great unleash of spiral power."

******************************

…And when sight returned, it was still there. The shield had been melted, the hundreds of thin drills burned together into one mass of metal. It was black and smoking, and warped in many places. But it had held.

The drills detached themselves from the mecha's arms, and the shield leaned before falling forward, tumbling down into the massive blast crater left in the Yamikaze's wake. The ganman itself sank to its knees, exhausted.

"Nia…are you alright?" Kamina asked his sister.

"…Is the village safe?" she asked back.

"…Yes." The majority of it had been saved. Some houses were a little the worse for wear, but most of the village was still standing. Nobody had died; even now the others were trying to hail them over the comms.

"…That's good…" said Nia softly, before her entire body went slack, her head falling forward until it was resting on the spiral gauge.

******************************

She dreams.

In the dream, she stands on a small blue and brown world. It is empty, however, and she fells unhappy with it.

So she waves her arm, and flowers cover the world. She is happy, then. That the world should be full of such beauty… it fills her with joy.

She turns, and there is someone else there, behind her. He is shorter than she is, and smiles up at her.

His eyes are such a piercing shade of red.

Slowly she floated up, out of the world of dreams. Her eyes opened, ever so slowly, gradually focusing on the ceiling overhead. It was an unfamiliar ceiling…and yet, not too unfamiliar.

She turned her head, and there was Boota, fast asleep. He opened his eyes, and even without his glasses he could recognize Nia. He licked her on the cheek.

"Welcome back, Nia."

She turned her head again, and was looking up into Kamina's purple eyes. They shone with pride… and, a bit of relief.

"Is everyone alright?"

"Of course! You saved all of them, Nia. They've all been worrying about you though. You've been asleep for two days."

"Gosh!" she yelped, sitting up. "Two days?"

Her stomach growled. She clutched her belly in embarrassment.

"Sounds like your warrior's appetite is growing!" joked Kamina, to which Nia giggled. He took her hand and helped her to get up. "Let's go get you some grub."

"Um…can you carry me?" she asked timidly. "I don't think I can walk there…, if it's not a hassle…"

"Oh, of course!" was Kamina's cheery reply, and he hefted her up on to his back. Nia blushed in embarrassment, but still enjoyed the feeling of clinging to him as he supported her with his strong yet comfortable arms.

Over the next several days the evacuees slowly returned, ready to rebuild. There was celebration aplenty, which quickly transitioned into long days of hard work. By the end of it Gurren Solvernia was completely refurbished, and over half of the destroyed houses had been rebuilt. The future looked brighter than ever.

"We all owe you our lives," said Ebara, on the day Team Gurren left. "Please accept a small token of our gratitude." He handed Kamina a golden paperweight.

"Thanks, man!" said Kamina, accepting the token. He had no idea what to do with it, but it was the thought that counted.

"Remember us," Kimimaro said. "Don't forget that you will always be welcome here. We will always remember your actions. The humongous crater on our doorstep doesn't give us much of a choice."

"And you don't forget that you're still a member of Team Gurren!" returned Kamina. "Kick logic out and do the impossible!"

"I don't know about the impossible, but I'm definitely going to kick logic out!" He turned. "Hanabi! I'd like to talk to you."

"Msyu…what will you do now?" asked Nia.

"I'm going to stay here," she said. "I don't have anywhere else to go, and I have no place I'd rather be. We used the mirror to listen in on the beastmen communications the other day. They believe that Gorodo was destroyed. We'll be safe here for now, and if they ever come, we'll be prepared. Leeron told us he converted the turrets to work as security sensors, false flags, jammers and stuff, so any enemy beastmen that tries to come here will avoid our village, while helping stranded humans to come here. And even if that is not enough, we can retreat underground for a few days."

She then noticed something, off in the distance. Kimimaro and Hanabi were talking together. He said something and then looked to the ground. She listened carefully, holding her hands together. Then he grabbed her hands and looked at her. Then, with no warning, Hanabi suddenly threw her arms around Kimimaro and pressed her mouth to his.

"What are they doing?" Msyu asked innocently.

"Um," said Yoko awkwardly. "They're kissing."

"Why?"

Yoko struggled to find the words. "It's because…she loves Kimimaro. A lot."

"But I love Kimimaro a lot too. Should I kiss him?"

Yoko chuckled. "Uh, no. You'd have to love him about thirty times more for that."

"But I think I love him forty times more…"

"Perhaps there are many types of love," the redhead replied, scratching her head, while Nia giggled and Msyu only looked confused.

Yoko put a hand on the beastgirl's shoulder.

"Thanks for teaching me an important lesson," said Yoko quietly. "Monsters aren't decided by species. The biggest monster here was a human, and I'll remember that. As long as the world has people like Cinoshisa and the Spiral King, we'll fight against them."

"I thank you too, for teaching me to have hope! Now the future isn't so dark."

Team Gurren left, leaving behind them a sea of smiling faces.

******************************

Out in the open sea swam a great, snakelike form. It gracefully cut through the ocean's waves, escorted by schools of fish and other maritime creatures. One would think it were a creature born out of the depths of the ocean. In point of fact, it wasn't. It was the crown jewel of the Eastern Army: the mobile fortress ganman Dai-Gankai.

In its command chair lounged the Supreme General of the East, Adiane the Elegant.

She was incredibly human in appearance, and had long raven-black hair that she wore loosely, framing her sharp features perfectly. She wore a purple kimono that fell loosely over her shoulders and gripped snugly around her waist, and which was adorned with hypnotizing eye-like patterns. Her one eye patch, however, belied her stunning beauty, hinting as to the unimaginable strength and cruelty that lay beneath her exquisite appearance. From behind her rose her scorpion tail, always moving, ready to strike at any moment.

She inspired either terror or adoration in those that saw her. There was no middle ground. Thymilph had chosen the latter, and Adiane had reciprocated the emotion.

"Ah, Thymilph-kun," she fawned over a photo of the Western General.

"Lady Adiane!" a shark radar operator called.

"What is it?" She scowled. "You'd better have a very good reason for interrupting me!"

The operator winced, but continued. "It's a message from the Yamikaze."

"What does that masked hobo want now?"

"Actually, it was a distress signal. It appeared for only a moment before disappearing."

"Bah," she sighed. "The tin can probably just wants more soldiers or something."

"Actually… we're receiving a proper transmission from the commander himself. Text only. It seems… Oh, for the love of Spiral! The Yamikaze was destroyed!"

"What?" she shouted. "This is ridiculous! Only one of the generals' flagships could have that kind of power!"

"What are your orders?"

"It can be a miscommunication, but if the human subspecies have that kind of firepower… we cannot leave this unchecked." Adiane pointed to the horizon. "Gather Cinoshisa's coordinates. We'll pick him up, and then we'll have a chat with these human rebels."

Chapter Text

"Ohhhhhh…it feels soooo good to relax." Yoko sighed, leaning against a rock with her entire body underwater, save her head; the warm water helped to clean her body and quiet her soul. "I really needed this."

"You're right, Miss Yoko." Nia said, sitting on a rock next to her, content with just kicking the water with her feet. She hadn't even taken off the towel wrapped around her body; other than that, she wore only her necklace with her core drill. Darry was in another pool next to them, shallower to account for the little girl's size. She sat rather demurely in the hot water, emulating her elders (because without Gimmy, she had nobody to play with).

Nobody had even bothered to question where the hot spring had come from or who was running it. The prospect of being truly clean for the first time in ages had completely swayed the entire team.

"Jump in, Nia," the redhead said, motioning with her arm.

"It is not too deep?" Nia dipped her foot a little farther into the water.

"Of course not; you're not that short."

"Have you ever been in a place like this before, Miss Yoko?"

"Why are you so formal?" demanded the redhead, splashing water at Nia, causing the girl to scuttle back in surprise. "Can't you just call me Yoko?" She shot a playful, grin, which Nia returned.

"Is it wrong to address you formally?" the little digger asked cautiously. She'd always sought to be formal because, in her experience, the women of the village who spoke respectfully had always gotten along well with everybody. Not that she needed any reason to be respectful towards Yoko.

"We're your friends," answered the sniper. "It's alright to be informal around us."

Nia considered, and finally accepted this logic.

"Alright, Mi-" She stopped midway through the formal appellation, and revised her words. "Yoko. Thank you."

"See, that's a good start," praised Yoko cheerfully. "And to answer your question, no, I've never seen a place like this before. In Littner if you wanted to take a bath, you had to heat it by hand. And let me tell you, it's really easy to get the temperature wrong. But here, it's just perfect, always."

"That is nice." Nia resumed kicking at the water with her feet.

"And to think this only cost us that one bit of gold!"

"I still can't understand what those beastmen saw in that thing."

The beastmen in question had been a pack of reptilians, and had ambushed them in the middle of the night while they were camped around their fire. However, once they'd noticed the piece of gold in Kamina's possession (imprinted with the Spiral insignia), they had graciously given them access to the hot spring and had let them go without a word. Something had been muttered about 'covert ops' and 'explaining why the in the name of the Spiral King a human would have a ganman'.

"Nia, does your village use gold?" asked Yoko, in an attempt to answer the question.

"No. Why?"

"See, gold was in my village an indication of how people were rich," Yoko said, trying to find the right words to explain how the rudimentary economy of her village worked. "It's not worth anything on its own, but if you worked hard you got gold, and with the gold you could pay other people to do work for you, or buy food, or any number of things."

"But why would you give away food for gold?"

"Because you could use the gold to buy more food later, or you could even buy something else. It's…kind of complicated, I know."

"But I think I understand." The girl smiled and nodded. "Gold is like…a representation of things like food."

"That's one way to look at it. Still, the really amazing thing is that the beastmen were so quick to let us go when they saw it. We lucked out there, because we wouldn't really get an opportunity to use it otherwise; am I right, Kiyal?"

"Kiyal?" Nia looked behind her and saw the purple-haired girl peeking on her shoulder, listening carefully; the youngest Bachika looked into her eyes and said "Boo!". Nia squeaked and lost her balance, tumbling into the water with a splash.

"Ngyaaaah!" she gasped as she reemerged. The Bachika sisters were standing behind Yoko, though where they'd come from she had no clue. All four women were laughing at the younger girl.

"Sorry, Nia," Yoko said, halfheartedly trying to cover her laughter with a hand. "It was just too good an opportunity to miss."

"Kiyal, what are you doing here?" Nia spluttered, her mouth tasting of hot spring.

"Oh, that's simple," her friend replied. "Kittan ditched us to go work on some seeecret project." She made quotation marks in the air, mocking her older brother. "We radioed him and he said to just scout around a bit and he'd be back in a couple of days, but then my sisters and I were ambushed by evil beastmen and they were going to kill us but they weren't that evil because instead of killing us they asked if we were together with the guests so I said yes and they brought us here." She inhaled, and upon exhaling tacked on a muttered comment about her brother's responsibility, or lack of it.

"So basically we've got nothing to do and a hot spring to ourselves." Kiyoh stretched. "Let's put the gossip in day!"

******************************

"Can you hear them, Forehead Boy?" commented Kamina on the other side of the log wall that separated the two baths. "Those Bachika chicks we met on Littner are here too!" He stood on a rock and stretched to try and see over the wall. Sure, he enjoyed soaking in the hot water, but he also enjoyed having somebody else to soak with (where somebody is female and preferably well-endowed). He wore nothing, but Boota, and the pig-mole didn't seem to be enjoying the fact he was Kamina's thong at that moment.

"Kamina, I'm not sure that's a good idea." Rossiu was piling up chairs for Kamina next to the wall. He was still fully clothed, but in his opinion modesty was far more important than comfort. He wouldn't even be in the baths if not for a fair bit of coercing and some painful mistakes he really rather preferred not to think about.

"Forehead Boy, can you see the moon over us?" Kamina said, pointing to the full moon hovering in the cloudless sky. The pale circle watched over the peaceful night with a faint glow, illuminating the land below in soft shadows.

Absolutely perfect for his plan.

"Yes, I can," muttered Rossiu abjectly. He then noticed Gimmy running around naked, and called out: "Gimmy, don't run in the baths. You might slip and hurt yourself."

"We will pierce the heavens and fly to the moon and beyond!" He pointed his finger skywards, then brought it back down and pointed at the wall. "But first, we must explore the valleys and mountains of our land!"

"Valleys and mountains?" Rossiu gave him a curious look.

"The valleys and mountains beyond this wall!"

"I don't understand," muttered Rossiu. "It's just the women's side…"

"And where else would we find valleys and mountains?"

"But there are no valleys or mountains over there. Just water. And the women."

Kamina sighed and tried to explain. "It is the duty of a man to discover the secrets hidden by women! The secrets they go to great pains to hide! Or not so great, in Yoko's case! These secrets may only be uncovered by the bravest!"

"You mean, what's under their clothes?" said Rossiu, finally comprehending, and taken aback by this comprehension.

"Exactly!"

"In my village," he said sternly, "it was strictly forbidden to expose our bodies in public. And Yoko already wears too little."

"It's never little enough…" Kamina rubbed his hands with glee.

"And Nia is also there. Do you wish to also see Nia without clothes?"

The badass' grin disappeared immediately. He stopped for a few seconds, thinking, then finally said: "No…no, I don't."

Then he turned back around and declared, "I will simply look away and focus my attention on all the other beautiful women!"

******************************

Some distance away, the beastman known as Jank was mopping the floor in front of the base to which Commander Cinoshisa had been assigned. Thanks to Gurren Solvernia he had been demoted, a worthless janitor, not even allowed to clean Yamikaze's deck. He hated it. Thank the Spiral King that Teppelin was so far away that getting replacements cost more than it was worth. Unless they killed him and turned him into fertilizer…which, he reflected, would probably be preferable. He mumbled and complained. Why does the commander force me to stay awake in the middle of the night? Dammit, I'm going to break out in bubbles if he makes me work any harder! "Bubbles" was the colloquial term for a peculiar condition that afflicted beastmen who worked harder than they should. Staying up too late (or early, if the beastman was nocturnal) would result in an outbreak of hives all over a beastman's body. Failing to regularly regenerate in the pods caused the same thing. No beastman had ever dared to find out what happened after the hives.

He then looked up and was startled to see the Commander walking towards him. He immediately stood at attention, blinking to make sure he wasn't seeing things.

It was the Commander all right; the armor was unmistakable at any distance. But he wasn't with the Yamikaze?

"Commander," said the former pilot respectfully.

"Jank," replied the commander in an even, robotic tone. "Remember how I promised that I would return you to active duty only if every single other available pilot died?"

"That's right, commander, you said that." Jank wanted to raise an eyebrow curiously, but was too scared to risk it.

"I decided that there is no reason to fault with my word. You are free to pick any of the remaining ganmen."

"Uh…what?" Jank wasn't sure whether to be ecstatic or suspicious. He was returning to piloting, which he loved, but every other pilot was dead. What in Teppelin's name had they been fighting?

"You will be briefed in the next sortie," responded the commander. "Now, go, before I change my mind. I need some time alone." With that, the armored figure marched off. Jank immediately made his way towards the hangars…then reconsidered when he noticed a little mark on his arm that hadn't been there before. He could wait until tomorrow.

The commander entered his quarters and immediately made his way towards the mini-bar that contained his personal beverage supply, a natural luxury of an officer. He passed by the massive map that covered one wall; on it was the extent of his territory, marked with a thick purple line. It extended through the mountains by north, the middle of the desert to the east, the beginnings of a peninsula to the south and the sea the west. Several pins were stuck into the map, signifying different things like active villages, destroyed villages, bases of supply, and there were even dots beyond his marked dominion; a golden one was stabbed into the map over a small circle labeled GORODO.

The commander came to her fridge, which was tightly locked with a small padlock. She was in a pretty terrible mood and didn't feel like dealing with the annoying precaution, and so she extended the guns hidden in her trunk and shot the padlock off without a moment's thought. The fridge's door creaked open. The commander tore off her helmet and leaned in; even just looking at her one could tell that she was thirsty beyond reason.

She pulled out a bottle and held it with unsteady hands. After a moment struggling with the cap she pulled out a knife and sliced the damn thing right off. Sweet, life-giving water found its way down her throat for the first time in days. She guzzled it at first, and then forced herself to slow down. She sat on her bed and sipped at the remaining water.

"What a weak body," she said, lamenting her own weakness. Even with her armor, even with the watering holes, she had come precariously close to dying out in the desert. She had felt weak and vulnerable, and she hated it.

Her musings were interrupted by a beeping at her personal terminal. She picked up the mask again and dropped it down over her head, becoming Cinoshisa, before opening the communications.

It was Adiane.

"General-" began the commander.

"Cut the crap, Cinoshisa!" barked the Eastern General. "I've been trying to find you for days now so you'd tell me what the hell happened! Your explanation better be worth it!"

"Lady Adiane, I can explain…"

"Damn right you'd better be able to explain! Guess what we found out in the desert?" A small image appeared; in it was a piece of metal bearing the Yamikaze's serial number. "You managed to lose a destroyer-class ship. What destroyed it?"

"Milady, I…"

"Do you even know how much I had to argue to get you clearance for that? And now you go and just… lose it! We're going to be a mockery of the entire empire! I'll be a mockery for letting you anywhere near a ganman! Let's hear how you think you can explain this!"

The beleaguered commander sighed, and decided to improvise.

"We were on a routine mission," he said, trying to think of a story that wouldn't give away too much. "Routine destruction of a village. But then they ambushed us, using weapons we didn't even know they had. Their mecha, Gurren Solvernia, slaughtered all of my crew. I wished to go down with the ship, but the crew insisted that I escape. Their sacrifice haunted me all the way here." He prayed that the general would buy his fable.

"You said Gurren Solvernia?" Adiane leaned closer to the screen, the name clearly piquing her interest.

"Yes, milady."

"Thymilph mentioned something about it," she grunted. "Tell me more."

"Gurren Solvernia is a powerful weapon. It fights with drills that it creates from nowhere, and managed to destroy the Yamikaze on its own. I have reason to believe that they could take on even larger ships, such as yours."

"What?"

"Their insolence knows no boundaries. Their very existence is a blasphemy against your authority. Lady Adiane, please, in the name of the Spiral King, bring them to justice."

"Do you presume to give me orders, Commander?" Adiane's scowl deepened.

"No, milady. I only meant to express a request from the depths of my soul."

"…You're one lucky bastard, Cinoshisa," said the general, flickering her tail, her scowl softening a little. "I wouldn't be buying your story if it weren't for your perfect streak and Thymilph's description of a similar mecha. Just don't fail me again, or I'll find you and take off that thrice-damned mask of yours so I can see the look on your face as you die painfully."

"Yes, Divine General." You're a real bitch, you know that? said the commander's face, which was thankfully concealed.

"However, you're right in thinking that it is our duty to handle this insolent whelp. I will be contacting General Thymilph, and together we will organize a joint mission to eliminate Gurren Solvernia. In all likelihood you'll be working with Commander Viral; I hear he's been similarly disgraced. Maybe together you'll be able to regain a scrap of honour. You'll receive full details in the morning. For the Spiral King!"

A silent moment passed in which Cinoshisa waited to ensure that he would not be called again. Then she took off her mask and threw it across the room.

"Worthless slut! I can't wait until the day I'll be sitting in your chair. And maybe that day is closer than you think." The commander stood and shed her armor, stepping out of it the way a butterfly might come out of its cocoon. She was clad in a light purple jumpsuit that covered her entire body. The figure the suit was molded around was well-maintained; not all of her armor was motorized. She reached up and snapped off two cables that plugged into the side of her neck, and stepped away from the steel shell.

Massaging the area around the neural connectors, she went over to her terminal and called up the first name on her contacts list. Soon that person replied. He was slender of frame and lean of figure; he was clad in a strange kind of green jumpsuit, adorned with large green feathers that made him look like something of a peacock. Around him swarmed several small avian beastwomen, fussing and grooming and plucking and massaging.

"Divine General Cytomander the Swift." Cinoshisa kneeled and bowed her head. "Your servant is here."

"I gather there is news?" The maids continued their treatments, but each one inserted small plastic earbuds into her ears.

"Cinoshisa is my name now."

"If it pleases you," he replied. "But onto the news. I do so hate to mix work and pleasure, and I'd like to get this over with as soon as possible."

"The Yamikaze has been destroyed by Gurren Solvernia."

"What?" He leapt up, furious. The maids twittered around him and eased him back into his chair. "A common ganman, destroy the Yamikaze? Impossible!"

"Unfortunately, as I found out, it is more than possible."

"For a commander who just lost her flagship, you don't sound awfully concerned." He raised an eyebrow. "I hope you don't expect me to send you another one."

"I do not. The threat will be dealt with, however; Adiane is moving to destroy the ganman as we speak."

"Mmm. So scorpion-lady wants to play..."

"If Gurren Solvernia is defeated, I will be closer to Adiane than ever and we will have removed one more potential threat. On the other hand, if Sayrune is defeated in combat," she allowed herself to smirk, "I am the highest ranking officer…"

Cytomander's eyes widened, and then he joined her smirk. "A win-win situation. Very well…"

******************************

"So, this little tyke and her brother come from a village named Adai," summed up Kiyoh as she tousled the little girl's hair. Yoko had just finished filling them in on Team Gurren's adventures since they had last seen the Black Siblings.

"Haha, that's funny!" chuckled Kiyal. "For a minute there I thought you'd had a baby since the last time we met!"

"Eh…" Yoko gave the purple-haired girl a weird look. Even disregarding the biological impossibilities of that statement, it still felt…weird, to think that she would ever have children.

"Nah; Yoko's too obsessed with work," commented Kiyoh. "She's got some powerful assets, but she's lacking in a couple more."

"What are you trying to say about my assets?" Yoko frowned. Kiyal and Kinon giggled. Nia just stared.

"See, this is what I'm talking about." Kiyoh shook her head. "No sense of fun."

"Yeah, Yoko, what kind of prince is going to marry the laundry maid?" Kiyal nudged the redhead playfully.

"We're in the middle of a war!" blustered Yoko uncomfortably. "We need to keep our priorities straight! We've got no time for…frivolous interaction."

"All work and no play…" said Kiyoh in a singsong tone.

Yoko grumbled, but knew that the Bachika girls, and by her own experience, were at least somewhat right. She sank below the water, bubbling in a sulky fashion as she muttered, "Relax, Yoko, relax…"

"Ooh, are we playing hide-and-seek?" Kiyal jumped in, splashing everyone with hot water, and tackled Yoko.

"Oh you little-!"

The two naked girls splashed and fought in the water for several minutes, Kiyal laughing and Yoko eventually laughing too.

"Like a bunch of immature boys," said Kiyoh with a sigh, looking at her nails in disdain. She got a splash of water to the face. "You'll pay for this!" and soon enough there were three naked women rolling around in the water.

Nia opted to leave them to their fun, and spoke with Kinon instead, since she had little opportunity to talk with her in the last time.

"Why do you wear those goggles all the time?" asked Nia, pointing to the twin circles of glass that rested on Kinon's nose. "They're all foggy. Can you see with them on?"

"Oh, my glasses?" Kinon took them off and wiped at them. "Actually, I can't see a thing without them. It's like…here, try them on."

"Wow, my head hurts," remarked Nia, blinking as she experimented the glasses. "Why is everything so fuzzy?"

"That's what I see without my glasses," explained Kinon. "Because my eyesight is fuzzy to begin with, the glasses make it better. For other people, they just cause headaches."

Their discussion was then interrupted by a loud crashing from the other side of the wall.

"No, Forehead Boy, you did it wrong!" Kamina yelled.

"Are you okay, Bro?" Nia yelled back.

"It's fine… we… we… Gimmy was piling some rocks up, you know how little kids are!"

"Okay…"

"I'll bet my rifle that he was trying to spy on us!" snapped Yoko, releasing her hold on the two Bachika sisters. They surfaced with a gasp of breath, coughing and looking at Yoko with newfound respect.

"But why would Bro do that?" Nia asked innocently, her eyes wide in an expression only the truly innocent can pull off

"Well, because…" Yoko stopped and considered her words carefully. "Curiosity."

"Really?"

"Uh, yeah. He probably wanted to know what all the commotion was." She looked away from Nia's painfully innocent expression, turning her gaze to the sky. "Oh, hey, look at that moon, I guess our time here is up." She tried to get up, but Kiyoh grabbed her wrist and made her sit down in the water again.

"Yoko, don't you realize that two can play at his game?" the blonde said with a cattish expression.

"What?" the redheaded blurted. "Stoop down to that dirty lecher's level? No way!"

"You seem to be really agitated about Kamina." Kiyoh grinned.

"Of course, because he knows how to be a jerk and tick me off!" She turned her head away and crossed her arms.

"Perhaps he ticks you off for another reason." Kiyoh's eyes narrowed and her grin widened.

Yoko's frown just deepened. "I don't like him, all right? Jeez!" and added in her thoughts, How can that airheaded have such a sharp tongue?

"She's in denial," the blonde joked, waving her hand dismissively.

"Kiyal, what does 'in denial' mean?" Nia turned her ever-so-pure gaze on her best friend.

"It means…not being honest with yourself." The purple-haired girl scratched her hair. "You know…denying something. Not accepting something."

"Not accepting what?" Nia said, tilting her head curiously.

"Erm…it could be a bunch of things," replied Kiyal. "Usually something you don't like. Like…if you lost somebody important." She laughed. "But Yoko's case isn't that serious. She just can't accept her own emotions. So she pretends to feel something she doesn't."

"But why would Yoko do that?" asked Nia, her head tilting to the right this time.

"Well, she doesn't want anybody to see what she's really feeling, so she hides her feelings with fake feelings." Kiyal's smile somehow took on a sad tone. "Lots of people do it. Pretending to be glad when they're mad, happy when they're sad, cheerful when things have gone bad… hiding their true self…" she added, in almost inaudible, her upbeat demeanor disappearing completely for some moments, "… and I…"

Nia tried to turn this around in her mind, to comprehend it…and failed. People were who they were, and who they were was based on what they said and did. How could anyone have a "true self" that was more real than their actions? Cinoshisa had mentioned something about masks. Could that be it?

"True self or not," said Nia finally, "I will always accept my friends no matter who or what they are."

"Isn't that a nice thought?" said Kiyal, but her smile had changed; where it had once carried a twinge of sadness, it now showed relief, as if a burden had been taken off of her back. "But tell me," she continued conversationally, "how are things going between you and Kamina?"

"Oh…Kamina…" The digger blushed and smiled in embarrassment.

"I figured that by now you'd be bearing his child!" laughed Kiyal. Nia's blush deepened.

"Ah…um…of course not! I, uh, haven't even said much to him…but I'm trying!" The little digger tapped her index fingers together in an expression of her inner torment.

Kiyal watched Nia curiously. To think that such an honest, innocent person could be the most feared enemy of the beastmen…

"Nia~" Kiyoh called, interrupting them both. "Would you happen to have your drill nearby?"

"Yes…"

"Good!" The blonde Bachika smirked and rubbed her hands.

And so the girls discussed such things as girls discuss.

******************************

Meanwhile, Kamina was plotting.

"Kamina, I think the administration is going to complain…" pointed out Rossiu. The aforementioned chairs were sitting in a big pile in the middle of the hotspring. Gimmy was using the mountain of chairs as a small playground.

"A small price to pay!" declared Kamina. He climbed on top of the pile, and grabbed at the top of the wall. "Wait, I forgot. Forehead, I need you to get Nia out of there."

"How, exactly, am I supposed to do that?" Rossiu was beginning to get fed up with Kamina's insanity, but he knew full well that there was little point in arguing.

"Just tell her that Leeron wants her for tests or something."

Rossiu sighed and exited the hotsprings. In his opinion, Kamina was just asking for trouble…which was completely normal, he realized upon reflection.

As he walked along the hallways he happened to hear the conversation of two beastmen. He stopped to listen; eavesdropping was dishonorable, sure, but if he found out something important…

"With this I will be rich, Enoa!" Rossiu peeked his head around the corner and saw the green lizard beastman from before waving around the small brick of gold. "A whole year's worth of salary, right here in my hand!"

"But what are you going to do with it?" His companion, a dark fox beastwoman apparently named Enoa, gave him a suspicious look.

"Take it to the capital, of course. Change it for coins." The lizard stuck his hand into a drawer, pulling out a bag of snacks.

"Get yourself a credit card while you're there. Much more practical."

"Really?" he said, crunching down on the unidentifiable snack food.

"Well, it's more efficient than lugging around a sack full of coins."

Before they could continue, there was a beeping, and a communications screen lit up. Rossiu had to hold in a gasp when he recognized the masked figure of Cinoshisa. The two beastmen gave a respective "Sir" to the commander, apparently unaware of his (her) true nature.

"Greetings, Glas outpost." Cinoshisa's robotic voice boomed from the speakers.

"Greetings, Commander," replied the lizardman.

"Lizon, I've received battle plans from the general. We will be embarking on a large-scale operation. You are to mobilize and-" The commander's sentence cut short as his eyes fell on the piece of gold. "What is that?"

"Nothing!" Lizon replied, anxiously trying to cover the piece of gold with his own body.

"Do not attempt to cover the truth!" thundered the commander, glowing red eyes. "Where did you get that gold?"

"Lizon thought some humans were undercover agents or something." The fox beastwoman pointed at her partner. "All his idea. I wasn't even there."

Cinoshisa resisted the urge to slam a palm into his mask. "They have two red ganmen, right?"

"Yup. No humans have ganmen, so-"

"Have you been living under a rock for the last month?" roared the commander in frustration. Then he calmed. "Stupidity aside, this will actually work in our favor."

"Why would we be attacking our own agents?" the lizard beastman asked in confusion.

"Because we don't have any undercover human agents," retorted his partner. "Like I told you. They're that group that's been terrorizing the Eastern Theatre until recently. When the commander says this'll work in our favor, he means we're going to kill them in their sleep."

"At least one of you is intelligent enough to be in charge of this outpost. Do not let them leave this outpost alive, or I will make sure you suffer the same fate in their stead. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

"Yes, commander."

The screen flicked off.

"No time like the present!" rumbled the lizard beastman. He picked up a communicator. "All troops mobilize! The humans are not to leave this place alive!"

Rossiu jumped back in horror. He had to find a hiding place. Thinking quickly, he threw himself into a nearby bin full of used towels.

"Idiot! Announcing it like that!" The fox beastwoman smacked the lizard upside the head. "We were supposed to wait until they were asleep!"

"As if they'll be able to make it out of here alive. We have enough troops!"

Rossiu could hear the thunder of paws as several rabbit-beastmen troops stomped by. They were doomed unless he could do something. He steeled his resolve, crept out of the bin. He had to take matters at his own hands.

******************************

He climbed.

With every inch he ascended, he could feel thrills running down his body. Every time his fingers found purchase in a small crack, every time his toes found support in a crevice, he knew that success was imminent.

He was not alone in his efforts. No, he was aided, supplemented, joined by the spirits of every man who had come before him, that great fraternal lineage of ancient warriors. Success was undeniable, nay, it was a certainty! He had been blessed by the great universal soul of mankind! His destiny was at hand!

"The secrets of the world!" Kamina said to himself, "Soon they will be mine!"

"Hells yeah!" Kamina looked to his right, and was surprised to see a miniature version of himself sporting a black cape and red horns. "You work hard, you fight hard; now you get to play hard!"

"You dumbass!" On his other side appeared another version of himself, this time clad in white with a golden halo. "Nia's on the other side! What'll you do if you traumatize her?"

Kamina's head fell, burdened by his conscience.

"Hey, what are you trying to pull?" retorted the demon-Kamina. "Remember Forehead? Nia isn't there anymore!"

"Really?" the angel-Kamina said in surprise. "Well, what the hell are you waiting for? Climb that sucker!"

Kamina's grin returned, and he ascended faster than before, as the two figures disappeared in a poof.

"THE BRAVE ARE REWARDED!" he bellowed as he clawed his way to the top. He stood on high, spreading his arms wide, and with an ear-to-ear grin he looked down on the girls' baths and saw…nothing?

"Huh?" he spluttered in a mix of anger and disappointment. He looked from end to end, searching but finding nothing. He raised his arms to the sky and screamed, as if he had been betrayed by the very gods themselves: "NOOOOOOO!"

What he didn't notice was that Nia had dug a hole in the wall, allowing the girls to pass to the boy's side.

"Payback time!" Yoko said, looking with a smirk at the naked Kamina at the top of the wall, "I take back everything I said about this not being a good idea."

Apparently the universe was on the girls' side this time.

"Wait, I need to clean my glasses!" Kinon rubbed at the lenses, trying to defog them. There was no way she was missing this.

"Isn't the view fabulous, Nia?" Kiyoh nudged the little digger and chuckled lewdly.

"I-I feel so guilty!" Nia stammered, blushing and refusing to lift her head.

"Hey, think of it this way: this is just a taste of what you'll get when you marry him!" Kiyal said as Nia sunk low into the water, trying in vain to hide from her own embarrassment.

Before anything further could happen, both parties were interrupted by a giant, frog-shaped ganman crashing through the wall on the girls' side. Kamina looked it in its glowing red eyes, unflinching, even as the mech growled "Puny humans!"

"Hey, what kind of bullshit is this?" growled back the badass, raising a fist. "Why would the beastmen attack their own hotsprings?"

"To kill humans!"

"But we're allowed to be here! We gave you that gold stuff!"

"It was… a trap! Yeah!"

"Pretty lame trap if you ask me!" Kamina pulled his sword from…somewhere, and brandished it at the intrusive ganman. "Nobody messes with the Great and Mighty Kamina, especially when he's looking to get an eyeful of busty beauty!"

"You're just an idiot is what you are!" The ganman laughed. "Anyway, we got your 'eyeful of busty beauty' right here!"

Kamina turned at the sound of another ganman. While he had been occupied with the first intruder, a second had snuck up behind (somehow) and was now holding aloft a cage filled with the nude girls (and Gimmy).

"Nia!" Kamina yelled, gritting his teeth and balling his fists.

"Of course Nia is the first thought on your mind…" grumbled Yoko.

"Bro, the beastmen arrested us," Nia said, holding the bars of the cage. "And they say they will kill us if we don't comply."

"Some help here?" Kiyal said, waving her arm to him.

"It's your fault, dammit!" yelled Yoko. And totally not because she was too distracted by his butt to notice the ganman sneaking up behind them.

"Look, Darry," Gimmy said, looking at the ground below. "We're on top of the world!"

"Uh-huh," she agreed. "But is this a good thing?" There was a certain amount of concern in her tone, but nothing too serious.

"Wait, I just realized!" noted Kamina. "The girls really are naked!"

He focused his attention on the girls…only to find his view blocked by a great pink haze that obscured the parts of their bodies that he wanted to see.

"What is this crap!" he yelled angrily. "That pink, fuzzy stuff! The hell is it?"

"What?" Yoko cried, a twisted expression of surprise formed at her face.

Kiyal rolled her eyes. "So much for princely charm…or intelligence."

"What are you going on about?" yelled Yoko angrily, rattling the bars of her cage. "First you're so busy trying to see us naked that you forget to save us, and now you're hallucinating! You just broke your own record for stupidity and that's saying something!"

"I just want to see some stuff, that's all!" Kamina tapped his sword impatiently against the wall beneath him. "Come on, get rid of that weird fuzzy stuff!"

"Kamina, have you lost track of reality?" the redheaded cried again.

"Bah, typical male ego," snorted Kiyoh. "They think that breasts are the answer to everything. Ask any girl, they're not that special. We don't even notice them, after a while."

"But, sister," Kinon said, "we spent a long time trying to figure out whether yours or Yoko's were bigger. And Yoko won."

"SHHHHHH!" Kiyoh silenced her sister.

Running out of options, Yoko decided to pull out the heavy artillery. "Nia! Nia's trapped too! Don't you want to save her?"

Kamina remained silent for a while. Finally, he replied: "Don't worry! I'll get what I want and save Nia!"

"And you said that Ezekiel guy was a sexist," muttered Kiyal to Kinon in reference to an earlier incident.

"Gah! You idiot!" Yoko was almost chewing on the bars in frustration. "Get us the hell out of here, and you can look at my breasts all you like!" Her eyes then widened as she realized just what she had just declared.

"And when you think it can't get any better…" Kiyal snickered, along with her sisters.

"I can show you my breasts too!" declared Nia, raising her hand. "Um, if you want, that is."

"…the universe always decides to top itself…"

Kamina looked like he was on the brink of a heart attack. "Uh…Nia…thanks, but that won't be necessary."

"Are you sure you don't want to see my breasts, Bro?"

Before things could get any more awkward, they were interrupted by a big red shape ramming into Lizon's ganman. The shape (which was Gurren, of course) sat down on top of the frog ganman, immobilizing it. Lizon ejected and sought shelter.

"Are you alright?" Rossiu's voice floated out over the speakers. The cockpit opened, revealing the ponytailed boy. In Gurren's right hand was Solvernia, in which Leeron took a ride.

"Rossiu!" cried out the captive maidens.

"But, Rossiu, how did you make it? How did you manage to pilot?" Nia asked.

"It's just as Kamina said," Rossiu explained. "I just used my spirit; let it flow through the ganman."

Kamina jumped down into Gurren's cockpit. "Make room, Forehead!" he yelled, squeezing himself into the command chair. Rossiu looked really uncomfortable at having a naked Kamina sitting on top of him.

Gurren reactivated and stood up, as Kamina yelled, "Oh yeah! Time to kick your ass in pure Team Gurren way!"

"It's about time…" Yoko sighed, because Kamina would finally free them from their cage.

"Wait!"

"Huh?"

"I can cut you a deal!" offered the female beastwoman. "Get out of your ganman, and I'll remove the blurriness!"

"Deal!" Kamina said without a moment's hesitation. Yoko slammed her head against the bars of her cage as she watched Kamina actually get out.

"Wait!" she interrupted desperately. "Uh…Rossiu's been trying to ogle Nia! If you remove the blurry stuff, he'll get to see her! Why do you think he's here?"

Silence fell.

"What does 'ogle' mean?" Nia asked in her innocence.

Kamina turned to the boy from Adai village. Then, raising his fists, he let out a great scream of rage.

"Rossiu! AAAAAAADAAAAAAIIIIIIII!"

******************************

"Catapult ready, we'll launch in thirty seconds," Tsuuma said. She yawned. "Why so early, anyway?"

"Kamina's there. I know it." Viral sat eagerly in his cockpit, looking up the barrel of the catapult.

"You're like an overexcited cub," commented Tsuuma dryly. "Why not just take him as your mate if you like being around him so much?" She thought for a moment. "Heh, actually, that's a pretty good idea…"

"…AAAAAAIIIIIIIII!"

The screens flickered, and Tsuuma covered her ears. "The hell was that?"

"And now I know for certain!" Viral smirked happily.

******************************

"…AAAAAAIIIIIIIII!"

"Wha happened?" Adiane sat upright in bed, waking up in the middle of night. "Did somebody say something?"

******************************

"…AAAAAAIIIIIIIII!"

"Hm…" grunted the Spiral King, shifting a bit on his throne.

******************************

"You have committed a grave offense against the Great Kamina!" Kamina yelled.

"But…I…you were going to do the same thing!" Rossiu quickly regretted his words.

"Ignorant fool! I was going to look at every other girl but Nia!" Kamina began walking towards Gurren, his sword dragging along the ground. "To gaze upon the Great Kamina's blood sister like that…unthinkable! The Mighty Kamina's rage will raze the very earth, and to even suggest such a thing is to invite that rage upon yourself! To do so…is a one-way ticket to THE GREAT KAMINA'S HELL!"

He began running at the giant red mecha…and to everyone's surprise, Rossiu screamed in a high-pitched, almost girly voice and ran away. Despite the fact that he was in a robot many times Kamina's size, and Kamina had only a sword. Still, given Kamina's anger, he might have actually been able to take down a giant robot using only a sword.

Still, the girls and their captor all collectively facepalmed at the sight of a giant red robot being chased around by a naked man with a sword. They watched as Rossiu ran away, doubled back…and completed a full circuit to crash into the ganman holding the cage.

At this Kamina stopped, because as the cage had fallen, its door popping open, the pixelly pinkness had dissipated…only to reveal that the girls were wearing towels around their bodies.

"Well, what were you expecting?" snapped Yoko, who had two towels over her body.

"My glasses!" cried out Kinon, feeling about the ground. "Where are my glasses?"

Meanwhile Gimmy ran about happily, clearly enjoying the breeze.

Kamina stood dumbstruck for a moment. Then he pointed with his sword at the strange ganman.

"You bastard!" cried out the naked badass. "You have toyed with a man's dreams! You have given him hope only to take it away! To twist the feelings of a true man like that…it is sickening! Rossiu! Give me Gurren! Nia! Get into Solvernia! We're going to punish this liar!"

Once again, everyone was interrupted. There was a mighty crash, and a cloud of dust rose to cover the area. When it had settled somewhat, everyone was able to recognize the ganman that had literally crashed their party.

"Viral!" Kamina shouted, recognizing his rival's mech. It had been repaired, and now had a Mohawk-knife-thing where its helmet had once rested.

"Dishonorable!" Viral sneered, and his ganman did likewise. "Taking hostages! You could have done better!"

"But, our orders…" complained the ganman.

"I know our orders, thank you! But there's no order saying that we should discard our honor to accomplish our other orders!" He then turned to Kamina. "I have a score to settle with this one. Personally."

"You, general fuzzball!" Kamina said, shaking his fists like an ape. "You wanna fight? I'd be pleased to kick your ass from here until the end of the world!"

"We'll see about that! But first… PUT SOME DAMN CLOTHES ON, YOU DISGUSTING NAKED APES!"

A.N.: Hope you have liked, because I have some important announcements: there is now fanart of TTGS! There is a link on my profile, by which you may copy-paste, but you may search on deviantArt for "C: RandomNumbers5902672", by telephonehome, if you'd like, leave a comment or a favorite on her work, I'm sure she'll appreciate! I say this because fanfiction dot net has disabled all links to the outside (and even inside), so if you have something posted on "Homepage", better check out.

Chapter Text

The sun was up by the time Team Gurren retrieved their clothes. It took long enough that Viral began to have trouble restraining the lower-ranked soldiers, and he began to suspect the humans of running away. Then they appeared again, fully clothed (except for Gimmy, who was still enjoying the breeze).

Gurren Solvernia stepped out onto the battleground: a large valley encircled by rock formations and striated cliffs.

"Awright!" yelled Kamina. "Come on, Sis, let's crush this loser once and for all!"

"Right!" she replied, and Boota nodded in agreement.

"Is it just me, or is he happier than usual?" commented Leeron.

"Why don't you ask Yoko?" remarked Kiyoh, giving the redhead a sarcastic smile. In reply, Yoko huffed and crossed her arms angrily.

******************************

"Yoko~" called out Kamina in a sing-song voice. He was already dressed, which didn't take long given he only ever wore half an outfit. "Are you ready?"

"Ready for what?" she barked from behind a rock. "I'm dressing, okay? Come back later, you sick perv!"

"But you promised… Please?"

"…Ugh! Me and my big mouth…Will you leave me alone if I show you?"

"Sure I will! I just need this little bit of inspiration before I fight the bad guys. Pretty please?"

Yoko mumbled something unintelligible, but allowed Kamina to go around behind the rock. There were several seconds of stunned silence.

"…Happy?"

"May I touch them?"

"NO!"

Kamina was sent flying high into the sky. A moment later, Yoko stalked out, wrapped in a towel.

******************************

"Forget it! Forget it! Why can't I forget!" Yoko smacked herself over the head with her rifle, the only thing she managed to forget were the rules of firearm safety. Leeron, Kiyal and Kiyoh all giggled at her…until, that is, Kinon walked up with an expression that bordered on devastation.

"I still can't find my glasses!" she almost cried; this was a major problem due to the scarcity of opticians in the desert. "What am I going to do? I won't be able to see anything…"

"Calm down, sister," Kiyal said, patting her shoulder. "We'll find it." Kinon's face brightened, even though both of them knew that Kiyal didn't believe her own words.

Thankfully, before anything could get worse, Rossiu trotted up, waving a pair of glasses in his hand.

"Excuse me!" he called out. "But do these glasses belong to any of you?"

"My glasses!" Kinon cried out joyfully. She quickly grabbed them from his hands and hugged him. "Thank you, thank you!"

"You're welcome…" Rossiu replied, not sure how to react.

"My name is Kinon, and these are my sisters Kiyoh and Kiyal," she said, after she let him go. "You must be Rossiu, right?"

"Yes…"

"Nia told me about you!" she said conversationally. "You really do have a big forehead."

"Is it really all that big…?" he said sadly, looking down at the ground.

"No, no," affirmed Kinon, shaking her head. "I think it's kinda cute…" She gave it a quick pat, to make up for her earlier blunder, and blushing in the process.

"Thanks…" he said, looking downwards, unsure on how to react, but he blushed a little.

Out on the plain, Gurren Solvernia was facing down Enkidu again – and, as both sides hoped, for the final time.

"Pretty nice of you to give us a chance to get dressed," Kamina commented.

"Of course I would!" replied Viral. "Only a coward would run. And besides, what would be of my honor if I killed you while you were naked."

"Because of course they'll need clothes where they're going," Tsuuma commented over the communicator.

"Tsuuma, you just don't understand. Battle isn't just about fighting; it's about honor and decorum!"

"And you have just so much of both."

"Could I get in a question?" asked Kamina, causing the two beastmen to realize that they were bickering over the open channel. "How do you put up with her?"

"Who? Tsuuma?" Viral chuckled smugly. "Years of experience."

"Experience, eh? Dunno if I can stick it out that long with thunder-thighs here…"

"It gets better after the first year or so."

Both Yoko and Tsuuma raged wordlessly.

"We don't have to fight!" cut in Nia desperately, willing to avoid bloodshed. "See how we're talking, like friends? We could-"

"Don't compare us, little human cub!" Viral said, raising his voice. "Just being able to talk doesn't make you important, only more of an annoying plague!"

"You watch yourself when talking to my little sister!" Kamina fired a projectile drill at Enkidu. It was a warning shot and missed completely, but the threat had been made, and tensions rose again. Nia tightened her grip on the controls, a crestfallen look on her face. It still didn't make sense to her.

"How cute. So animals can care for their young as well." Viral drew both swords. "Too bad I'll have to separate you both to get my helmet back!"

"Still on about your damn helmet?" Kamina drew his bladeshades. "Are you ever gonna let that go?"

Viral charged, and they clashed. Kamina did his best to keep up, but the beastman's strikes were too fast and numerous to block all of them. Every time he blocked one sword, the other one slipped by his guard to crash against Gurren Solvernia's armor.

The hollow ringing of their battle echoed out across the plains.

"Ha! You're no matched for a truly skilled warrior!" Viral ended a particularly vicious combo with a fierce kick to the crimson mecha's chest. Kamina and Nia were sent flying.

"There's no training that can make up for fighting spirit!" countered Kamina, and as Gurren Solvernia landed, he sent his bladeshades boomeranging at Enkidu. Viral blocked easily, but was unprepared for the sheer power of the attack, and he was knocked off-guard. During this time Gurren Solvernia ran towards him, then launched itself high into the air.

"Gurren Solvernia Thunder Kick!" Kamina bellowed, and with a spin for good measure, he crashed down foot-first into Enkidu's chest. The silver ganman was sent sprawling.

"I'm sure you're on the ground because you like it there," commented Tsuuma dryly.

"A minor setback!" he growled back as he forced his ganman to its feet.

"Setbacks are good. You only need to keep them busy for…mmm…five more minutes. Then it'll be out of your hands."

"I can finish him before then!" He attacked again, but this time, Kamina was able to easily deflect both swords

"Why won't you die?" Viral cried. He stepped back and a hatch opened on his ganman's shoulder, revealing a machine gun that pelted the mecha with bullets.

"I don't know how to!" hollered back Kamina, manifesting a drill and running in Viral's direction, deflecting all the bullets in the process. Viral blocked the drill with his sword and managed to deflect the attack, but the sword was turned to scrap metal in the process.

"I'll teach you!" Viral said, gripping his remaining sword in both hands and charging. They engaged each other, and for a time their strikes were so fast that their observers could only see blurred figures clashing against each other.

"I've killed hundreds of humans! You're no different from any of them! Why can't I kill you?" Viral struck again, but this time his sword was caught by two drills that emerged from cavities on Gurren Solvernia's wrist.

"Because I AM different!" The drills spun in opposite directions, shredding the blade and leaving Viral with nothing but a stump. "And there will never be anyone like the Great Kamina!"

"You are nothing but an underground maggot with an ego!" Viral cried, and he drew the hand axe, shaped like a mohawk that had replaced his helmet. He struck three times with all the strength he could muster, managing to knock away the bladeshades on the third strike, forcing Gurren Solvernia to catch the fourth with its bare hands.

"I must compliment you, Kamina," he sneered. "During my life I've always searched for a worthy human opponent. The bare-hand block is an elite-level technique and it amuses me that you've managed to master it." He pressed down with all his strength, and the joints of both mechas creaked. "You shall meet a deserving death at my hands!"

"And people say that I am the big-mouthed," Kamina scoffed. "Do you really think this is my only trick?" With a twist of the controls Gurren Solvernia fell back, still holding the blade, and bringing up a foot into Enkidu's chest. Viral could only open his mouth in surprised as he was flung back across the plain.

"Okay, general fuzzball," Kamina called out as Gurren Solvernia got back to its feet. "I'll give you just one chance to run away, because there's more where that came from!" Team Gurren cheered upon seeing that Kamina was clearly in control. The Bachika sisters cheered the hardest, because of what Enki had done to their village. Yoko just smiled and thought, Perhaps he's an okay guy after all.

"Insolent human. Why do you think you have the upper hand?" Viral brought Enkidu to a standstill, grudgingly acknowledging his opponent's skill.

"Because he has the upper hand," interjected Tsuuma. "The computer's giving me a twenty-nine percent chance that you'll win. Personally, I give you a zero."

"Tsuuma, are you telling me I have no chance of winning?"

"Well, you might stalemate. I give that a zero-point-five percent chance, if you don't want to hear about zeroes. Shouldn't matter though, because in about thirty seconds our odds are going to jump to one hundred percent. Both the computer and I agree on this one."

"What are you talking about?" Kamina said, puzzled. "What's all this about odds and probabilities? Real men don't discuss their chances, they just fight!"

"Oh, you'll get your fight!" Viral smirked evilly. "You'll get the chance to fight the Dai-Gankai, the Sparkling Pearl of the Sea, the great fortress of General Adiane! And you will lose!"

"Bro! Sounds like this is their base or something!" said Nia.

"Base?" Viral said, crossing his arms and his ganman's arms. "It's not just a base! It's a symbol, no, and incarnation of the capital's power!"

As he said this, a wall of water rose up on the horizon, approaching swiftly and growing until it was taller than three Ganmen. Team Gurren's jaws collectively dropped as they looked upon more water than they had ever seen in their lives. The tsunami continued until it was just behind Viral, then it stopped, and it dissipated, revealing the impressive might of Dai-Gankai.

It was like a massive, segmented purple centipede, with a plethora of orange legs for walking on land. It extended for a good kilometer at least, whereupon it tapered off into a tail tipped with a very lethal-looking drill. Approximately in the middle of it was a kind of platform, reminiscent of a submarine and flanked by two claws. The claws were nothing compared to the jaws, however; a massive maw ringed with rows of razor-sharp fangs, set in the middle of a wide purple head with eight sinister eyes.

"What is this?" Rossiu cried out.

"How can it be so big?" Kinon said, adjusting her glasses.

"It's so… slim," Leeron said, shaking his hips in pleasure. Then he was drawn to his computer. "Hm? A signal…"

"What is it, Ron?" Yoko asked.

"This mecha…it's emitting a signal almost identical to the recall pattern I found in Gurren's data!"

"Are you having difficulty dealing with the inferior species, Viral?" The very female voice that rang out of the battleship's speakers dripped with malice; the kind of voice that brooks no nonsense and kills any kind of backtalk.

"The second thing to ever cast a shadow over the Great Kamina!" announced Kamina, as he was indeed standing in the shadow cast by the enormous fortress.

"The Great Kamina? Who's that?" asked the General, and Dai-Gankai's head bent down to scrutinize the red ganman before it.

"Oho! Let me tell yo-"

He noticed belatedly that the eight eyes were actually cannons. His banter died in his throat as Gurren Solvernia was blasted from point-blank by the full octet.

"Kamina!" Yoko cried.

"I can't believe you were actually scared of this fool!" said Adiane in a disappointed and yet amused tone. "Return to Dai-Gankai immediately!"

"Yes, milady!" Viral replied halfheartedly. "Tsuuma, meet with us at Dai-Gankai." The mechanic complied and she ended her transmissions, standing on stand-by until the battle ended. The hatch closed on him, and the fortress began to scuttle forward on its insect-like legs.

"Um…Milady…" began one of the bridge officers, a beastman who looked like a hammerhead shark." Mobility is greatly reduced without the water cloak…shouldn't we-"

"Silence!" she roared, smacking the offending officer over the head with her tail. "Look there! It's just one stinking mecha!" She hit him again, and he nearly toppled out of his chair. "One bite and he's dead! Bisected!" She hit him once more, and he was sent flying across the control room to impact with the far wall. She pointed at the red mecha. "Crush him! Slaughter him! Make him beg like the human he is!" The cannons in the eyes fired once more, blasting Gurren Solvernia and making Kamina, Nia and Boota bounce around like pinballs in their cockpits. When the barrage was finished, Gurren Solvernia lay on the ground, battered and smoking. The energy shield had repelled most of it, but if they continued to take such heavy fire, even the shield would do no good.

"Kamina, retreat!" Yoko yelled. "The enemy is way too powerful for us to deal with!"

"No way!" Kamina replied. "I didn't come this far to run away from the enemy!"

"Kamina, you idiot!" she nearly screamed, watching as Gurrren Solvernia was grabbed by the legs in Dai-Gankai's jaws.

"Aaaand SNAP IT!" Adiane ordered with a psychotic grin. The powerful jaws clamped down on the legs, crushing components and severing connections. Then the head shook like a dog with a toy, and tossed the crimson mecha across the plain. It landed heavily, and didn't get back up.

Team Gurren gasped seeing their champion suffering such a beating. Yoko tried to scream, but her preoccupation was so intense that a knot formed at her throat. However that wasn't their only concern.

"Time to die, humans!"

Five ganmen appeared on the horizon, led by a sixth, taller ganman. The main body was like an egg with eyes, and painted completely black, save for the mouth, which was red, and the yellow stripes running over the arms and mouth. On its right hand it carried a flamethrower. The eyes glowed with a sinister red light, and it bore a helmet with two straight horns pointed to the sky. Doubtlessly it was a commander's ganman. It was, in fact, Cinoshisa's Namtaru.

"Their little group grew even more," the commander noted. "Three more girls..."

Then his group began moving towards Yoko and the other noncombatants.

"Wait, I thought they wouldn't attack us!" Kiyal yelled angrily.

"Commander Cinoshisa overruled Viral's authority," the rabbit mecha replied. "Not that I needed orders…"

"And the orders are clear," Lizon added. "Kill all humans!" He turned to his fellow soldier and said, happily: "Can you believe it, Enoa! We just have to kill these humans, and the commander will forgive us!"

"Sure he will," Enoa grumbled. "Or maybe he'll just keep holding it over our heads for the rest of our lives…"

"Wait!" called out Rossiu desperately. "Your commander – she's a human! Are you going to take orders from a human?"

Lizon stopped. "What is he talking about?"

"Are you going to listen to humans?" Cinoshisa cut in. "Ignore him and follow your orders!"

"We need to go somewhere safe!" announced Leeron, packing up his equipment. He began moving towards a nearby ravine, where the enemy would not be able to follow them.

Yoko only stood there in a trance. She could only watch in growing horror as Gurren Solvernia was tossed about like a doll in Dai-Gankai's jaws. And there was nothing she could do to help.

Then she heard a chorus of "Miss Yoko, come with us!" and felt two pairs of small hands tugging at her. She looked down and saw Gimmy and Darry, pulling at her hands. Their expressions were worried, and they appeared on the verge of crying.

Yoko narrowed her eyes. I can protect these children! she thought. "Go with the others!" she ordered the two kids, pulling her hands out of their grasp and grabbing her rifle. "I'll slow them down!"

"Miss Yoko, we can't abandon you!" Gimmy replied.

"I said go!" she yelled.

"No, Miss Yoko!" His voice raised until he, too, was yelling. "We're Team Gurren, we don't abandon anyone!"

"You don't understand!" Yoko cried again, turning to them. They were surprised to see tears growing in her eyes. "Sometimes, you have to make sacrifices!" The steps of the enemy ganmen grew louder, until the very earth shook. She turned away from them to face the oncoming threat. "There's too much you can do with your lives for you to die here!"

After a moment they nodded, and left.

"Be safe," she murmured, and leveled her rifle at the oncoming ganmen.

Her first shot went straight into the cockpit, blowing a hole right through both the outer and inner jaws. The pilot was dead in an instant, and its ganman stopped in place, tumbling down due to inertia. The rest of them pressed forwards. She took aim again, and the next ganman was hit in the joint between the body and the leg. It fell forward, not destroyed but at least incapacitated. It wouldn't be a threat, at least for a precious few seconds. In that time she shot again, and this time she hit something important; the next ganman in line exploded in a conflagration of metal and fire.

"No matter, how much you kill," Enoa said, "there's always more!" Yoko seethed. They couldn't even respect the sacrifices of their own kin. She aimed at Lizon's frog ganman, ready to teach him a lesson.

But before she could pull the trigger, it exploded. Lizon didn't even have time to scream.

"Orders are orders," snickered Enoa. "I'm in command now, just as the Commander promised."

The explosion was close enough that Yoko was knocked back by it. She scrambled in the dirt, trying to get back up as her world tilted around her. When she regained her balance, she looked up only to find that the enemy was looming over her.

Was it the end?

A shot rang out, much bigger than any she had heard before. Then a large part of the nearest enemy's head suddenly disappeared, taken out by some kind of high-powered weapon.

"Huh?" she said, stepping back. The group of enemies turned around in surprise. There behind them was a blue ganman with a head shaped vaguely like a knight's helm, and a very large caliber cannon attached to the top of its head.

"Who is that?" roared Cinoshisa. "This is treason!"

"Commander," said Jank, his ganman was white dog-face one, that just arrived at the battlefield, "That's not one of ours."

Another ganman, a purple one, shot out of nowhere and slammed a large fist into the ganman Yoko had shot in the leg, which was just beginning to get back up. The enemy was sent flying, just as yet another ganman appeared, twirling a sword. Two more enemies exploded, sliced in half.

Enoa yelled and swung the hammer her ganman carried, hoping to smash at least one of the rebels. But a massive green reptilian ganman had snuck up behind her and grabbed the haft of the hammer, and with a twist it tore the weapon right out of Enoa's hands. Yet another ganman appeared: a rectangular beige one with mismatched eyes. From one eye erupted a burst of concentrated sound, which paralyzed Enoa's ganman.

"Commander, help!" yelled Enoa as a large monkey ganman approached, twin pistols clutched in its legs. It unleashed a volley, which hit a conductor, starting a fire that began to consume hers. "I can't die h-!"

She never finished, as she exploded into a mighty fireball that lit up the battlefield.

"Who are you?" demanded Cinoshisa, aiming his flamethrower at them and unleashing a torrent of flames. Through the fire, a symbol could be seen emblazoned on the ganmen, illuminated by the flames: a symbol that both sides knew very well. A symbol of hope.

"That emblem!" cried out Jank. "It can't be!"

"It is…" Yoko said, a huge smile formed at her face. The ganmen burst through the fire, untouched.

"Damn, we're outnumbered! Retreat, Jank!" Cinoshisa pointed his flamethrower down and threw up a barrier of flames that concealed their escape.

******************************

Things weren't looking good for Kamina and Nia. Dai-Gankai continued to treat them like a toy, and Adiane did not play nice with her toys; already Gurren Solvernia's left leg was nearly obliterated, and they were still getting tossed around like a rag doll. Gurren Solovernia tried to get up, pressing the knee of its good leg against the ground, only to get knocked back down by Dai-Gankai's tail.

"Bro, what are we going to do?" Nia asked worriedly. In front of her, a panel flashed insistently, depicting Gurren Solvernia with its leg shaded an urgent red.

"Relax, Nia! I know there's a way!"

"Little human scum!" Adiane snarled, striking once again with Dai-Gankai's tail. "You really thought you could beat us!" Another strike. "We are superior! We are the rightful owners of this world!" Another. "We have TRUE power!" Dai-Gankai's feet retracted, and it wrapped itself around Gurren Solvernia, constricting and crushing it. "What do you have?"

"Bro!" Nia could feel the mecha beginning to buckle under the tremendous power of Dai-Gankai.

"They might have power, but they don't have spirit! We won't surrender!"

Suddenly there came a sharply audible 'clang' from the top of Dai-Gankai. Then something broke the main window and threw in some black spheres. Adiane looked at them in surprise, and then they exploded violently. Dai-Gankai howled as fire and smoke erupted from the main deck, and it threw away Gurren Solvernia.

Gurren Solvernia tried to stand up, but had to settle for kneeling due to its lame leg. It looked up, and there on top of Dai-Gankai was another ganman. It was yellow and vaguely resembled a five-pointed star, with red eyes and an enormous, half-crazy grin.

"Who the hell does he think he is?" Kamina said, whipping off his glasses to get a better look.

"What happened?" Adiane coughed. The blast had destroyed a good chunk of the bridge and killed some operators. She herself had only narrowly avoided the worst of the explosion.

"Dai-Gankai needs at least thirty seconds to restart the damaged systems!" a squid beastman called from one of the few undamaged terminals. Another terminal flickered to life and displayed the Ganman standing on Dai-Gankai's head.

"How did he get there? Viral!" screamed Adiane. "Take care of that little bug!"

"Remember me, Kamina?" A window opened on Gurren's screen, and spiky yellow hair and a crazed grin greeted Kamina.

"…Who are you?" the bluenette asked.

"It's Kittan! Kittan of the Black Siblings! C'mon, give me a break! I saved your life!"

"Ah, I remember now," Kamina said, and one could almost see a light bulb popping up over his head. "How did you get your own ganman?"

"Stole it, of course! You're not the only one who can steal ganmen, you know! Meet the King Kittan!"

"Kamina!" Yoko's face appeared on his screen as well, beaming happily. "We have reinforcements!"

"What do you mean?"

"There were some rumors going around about an idiot who managed to steal his own ganman." Dayakka's face popped up, and Kamina could clearly see that he was in a cockpit much like his own. "And you know, we just couldn't let that rumor go untested."

"The Great Kamina's copies will follow their master to victory!" Kamina smirked in satisfaction.

"Hey, I'm not copying anyone!" Kittan screamed. Before he could say anything else, however, he was interrupted by a flash of grey.

"Now that we have allies, we can regroup and fight them on equal terms!" Yoko was ecstatic. "Kittan will cover your retreat, Kamina!"

"Bro, she's right!" agreed Nia. "Let's go!"

"Who said anything about retreat?"

"Huh?" Yoko's smile faltered and was replaced by a frown. "Kamina, Gurren Solvernia isn't fit for combat anymore! Tell him, Ron!"

"She's right, dearie," informed the flamboyant engineer. "She's taken a baaad beating, and I'm afraid she won't be able to keep up much longer if you keep fighting…"

"I don't run from anything, not even from a giant water hose!" Kamina cried.

Meanwhile, Kittan had engaged Viral, and was fighting fiercely.

"Not bad, for a human!" Viral complimented his enemy even as he delivered a vicious series of blows.

"It's you!" Kittan yelled, swinging a punch that Viral dodged nonchalantly. "You're the bastard who destroyed my village!"

"Oh, really?" replied the beastman, throwing a kick that the King Kittan dodged. "Which one was that again?"

"You beast-bastard! Don't remember?" he roared, charging Enkidu with one of his spikes extended. "You slaughtered everyone in Bachika! Everyone!"

"Bachika?" Viral grinned as he slapped away the spike. "The humans actually give names to their hovels now?" He punched the King Kittan in the face.

"What?" Kittan cried, launching himself at Enkidu. "How dare you treat it as if was nothing!"

"It's part of my job! And besides, you are nothing!" Viral drew his mohawk-ax and slashed, scoring the armor on the King Kittan's right cheek. Dominated by rage, Kittan tried to punch him, only for Viral block again and use the opportunity to turn around and kick King Kittan like a soccer ball. The golden mecha went flying.

"Enemy dispatched, general Adiane," Viral said smugly.

"Look who's not useless after all." Dai-Gankai slowly began moving again. "Now, our little fight has been simply delightful. However, even the most delightful of things must come to an end."

Gurren Solvernia stayed where it was, kneeling but not submitting. "I didn't come here to die!"

"Brother!" Nia said with concern. "Running seems like a good idea!"

"We can't retreat!"

"Kamina, don't risk your life for nothing!" Yoko said. "The others also need you!"

"Never retreats…" Kamina said, in low voice.

"Gurren Solvernia is too damaged," Rossiu informed coldly. "A withdrawal is the best strategic choice."

"Never regrets…"

"Go on, try to run away!" said Viral from his place atop Dai-Gankai's head. "See if we give you a choice.

"NEVER LOOKS BACK!" Kamina finally cried, clenching the controls. Solvernia's spiral gauge began to rise.

"What is that?" Adiane said, as surges of green light began to radiate from the mecha.

"Kamina, look!" called Nia. The panel in front of her that showed Gurren Solvernia's legs in red was slowly being encompassed by a spiral, and, surprisingly, the red began to turn green. "I think it's…fixed! But how?"

"FIGHTING SPIRIT!" Kamina yelled triumphantly. "WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM?" Gurren Solvernia stood and flexed, provoking the General.

"How is that possible?" Adiane said.

"My, my," Leeron said, caressing his cheek with a hand. "The mecha is as good as new."

"How did he do that?" Yoko asked.

"I don't know…I think he said something about fighting spirit~?"

"It's just a knee-jerk reaction, attack!" Adiane ordered. Dai-Gankai whipped its tail at the red mecha. Kamina screamed and jumped onto the appendage, and began racing along the fortress' serpentine body. Dai-Gankai tried to shrug it off, but the mecha managed to hold its ground. Its tail jabbed at the intruding Ganman, but Kamina dodged every time.

"Don't worry, Lady Adiane!" Viral said, and moved intercept Gurren Solvernia. "You will not pass!"

"I'll pass through whatever's in my way as if it's nothing!" Kamina cried. "Even if nothing itself gets in my way, the Great Kamina will punch through the nothing!"

"What?" uttered Viral dumbly. If Kamina's strategy was to paralyze his enemy with the dauntlessness of his words, it worked. Gurren Solvernia pushed right past Enkidu, sending the grey mecha tumbling off the edge.

"Lady Adiane," a prawn beastman said. "Do you wish for us to prepare the Sayrune?"

She replied with a tail-smack to the head. "Use the missiles!" Missile launchers emerged from both sides of Dai-Gankai's head, aimed towards the sky. Four missiles launched towards the sky, pulled a sharp turn, and rocketed back down towards Gurren Solvernia.

"Bro, look out!" Nia cried. "Behind us!"

"Do they really think those little things can hurt the Great Kamina?" he said. With a smirk, he jumped over the first, rolled to the left to avoid the second, crouched under the third and slapped away the last one.

"Use the claws!" Adiane cried, starting to get frustrated with Kamina's impunity. Dai-Gankai's massive claws moved to try and intercept the crimson mecha. Kamina tried to jump over them, but while he was in midair Viral threw his ax, hitting him in the legs and causing him to fall heavily.

"Damn!" Kamina cursed, as a claw picked him up by the right leg.

"He's all yours, Lady Adiane!" Viral said, bowing.

"Excellent! Time to rip this pathetic mecha apart!" The General cackled as the other claw picked grabbed onto the other leg and began pulling. Gurren Solvernia was left hanging upside down as the two claws threatened to tear it asunder.

"Kamina, I don't know how much more it can take!" Nia cried, clinging to the controls in order to avoid falling to Solvernia's roof. "I-I'm scared!"

"I…won't…" Kamina grunted through grit teeth. They were at Adiane's mercy and that wasn't good because Adiane wasn't known for her mercy. Rather, she seemed to get progressively more excited as sparks began flying from Gurren Solvernia's legs, signaling that the joints were about to give.

It seemed the torture would never end, but it did; the right claw exploded, promptly followed by the left claw exploding, and Gurren Solvernia was released.

"What?" Adiane said incredulously, leaning forwards in her seat.

Gurren Solvernia fell to the ground, rolled, and looked up to see the blue ganman from before, piloted by Dayakka, one hand on its main cannon.

"Hey, don't forget about us now!"

"Dayakka!" Nia said, surprised and relieved.

Adiane was shocked. To think that the humans could actually replicate Kamina's feat…it was almost blasphemous.

"Incoming message, from Commander Cinoshisa!" informed a technician, snapping her out of her trance.

The masked commander appeared on the screen. "Lady Adiane, I'll get straight to the point. The humans have assembled a team of hijacked ganmen."

"And why didn't you hold your ground against them?" Adiane snarled.

"They made a surprise attack and outnumbered my squadron. I had no choice but to retreat."

"What?" The general slammed a fist down on the armrest of her seat. "Enough playing around! Destroy this loudmouthed fool now, and the rest of these insolent humans after him!"

"Kamina, retreat! Gurren Solvernia is no match for such a big enemy!" ordered Yoko.

"Don't give orders to me!" Kamina yelled back. "We'll never achieve anything by running away!"

"Kamina, can you stop being an idiot for one second!" Yoko raised her voice. "There are lots of people here, and they need you to lead them! I need you!" Dai-Gankai smashed the red mecha with its tail again, sending it flying across the plain

"Bro!" Nia uttered as they flew through the air. "Yoko is right! We must go back!"

"Nia, running away is never the answer!" Kamina raised his voice authoritatively. "Where's your fighting spirit? Where's the sister I know and love?"

"But, Kamina!" Nia said, almost crying now. "I'm scared that we won't make it!"

Hearing her despair, something snapped inside Kamina. His voice grew cold and condescending, and he began explaining to her: "We can't."

They hit the ground hard then, bouncing several times before skidding to a rest. "If we go back to where our friends are, the giant ganman will go after them. If we don't stand a chance against this monster, then what about them?" Gurren Solvernia's armor was scratched and dented and scored, and even its bladeshades were cracked, but still he forced it to stand. "That's why we can't run away. We have to get control of it. That was why I was trying to get to its command center."

"Bro…"

"The time has come!" Adiane's voice boomed out of Dai-Gankai, and it seemed that her voice shook the very earth itself…until they realized that earth actually was shaking. "Witness the true power of Dai-Gankai!" Geysers erupted on both sides and behind it. Kamina grit his teeth, while Nia gasped.

"Now it's over, humans!" Viral said, crossing Enkidu's arms.

"What's happening?" Yoko asked.

"It seems that super ganman is summoning water again." Leeron was anxiously monitoring one of his portable terminals. "She's using seismic activity to bring veins of water up from below the ground!"

The other allied ganmen stood there, wanting to go and help but knowing that they lacked the firepower to make any significant difference. Gurren Solvernia was on its own.

"Dammit…" Kittan punched the ground with King Kittan's battered arm. "I couldn't do anything…"

"You did what you could, Kittan," Yoko said reassuringly. "But look at that thing…How are we supposed to defeat something that can control the environment itself…"

A massive wall of water formed around Dai-Gankai, covering the metallic centipede until it seemed to float above the ground, twisting in the wall of water like a dragon out of myth. It roared and advanced upon Gurren Solvernia, and the wall of water engulfed the crimson mecha completely.

"We are underwater!" Nia said, although they weren't truly underwater; they were trapped in a bubble of water created by the Dai-Gankai's aqua-seismic generators. Thankfully the water didn't penetrate Gurren Solvernia, which was unexpected, but it hardly made a difference. Floating as they were in the aquatic cocoon, they were unable to do much more than flail around, as neither Kamina nor Nia knew how to swim and this reflected in the mecha's movements.

Dai-Gankai loomed over them like a predatory shadow. Hatches opened on its underside, making way for a horde of black spheres, covered in spikes.

They were mines.

Both pilots knew that the black spheres couldn't be anything good, and they struggled not to touch them. But one misplaced foot set off one mine, leading to a chain reaction. To those outside, it seemed as if the bubble lit up with an orange light before Gurren Solvernia was flung out of it.

"Kamina!" Yoko cried as she saw the badly soaked and damage mech. The ground was completely soaked and covered with unexploded mines.

Yoko prayed hard that Kamina would come up with something.

"Unbelievable!" Adiane hollered excitedly. "You survived the first run?"

"Yeah," Kamina said, as Gurren Solvernia got up. "That's what we're going to do: we will survive until you lose!"

"This is why this is my favorite method of killing humans." Adiane smirked. "Let's see how many rounds you can survive!"

And, once more, the bubble advanced, with Enkidu riding the exposed head of Dai-Gankai like some kind of surfboard. Again Gurren Solvernia was swallowed by it, and again the mines dropped down, but this time they were also encircled by the unexploded mines from before. Being caged in pissed Kamina off, but he was careful and tried to maneuver through without getting hit.

"Don't lose your focus, Nia!" he said. Nia was scared and clung to the controls for dear life, but at the same time she believed in her brother. If he believed they would be all right, then she would believe too.

For several tense minutes they twisted in the water, narrowly avoiding the black explosives. Then the water subsided, and both the mecha and the mines were gently dropped onto the plain. Gurren Solvernia found itself kneeling less than an inch away from a particularly large mine. It stood carefully, trying not to set off the explosive.

Adiane laughed madly. "How exciting! You managed to avoid them all! But now let's see if you can do it AGAIN!"

"This sucks!" Kamina spat as he surveyed the field. "We need to do something. This entire field is turning into one giant deathtrap!"

"A deathtrap…" Nia said slowly, eyeing the massive amount of black explosive spheres laid on the ground. Then something glinted in her eyes.

"Bro, I've got an idea!"

"What?" Kamina said, looking surprised. Even a nauseous Boota expressed a squeak of surprise.

"Bro," Nia said, "If they're bringing all this water up from beneath the ground…then that means it's hollow below, right?"

Kamina was reluctant at first, unsure of whether or not he should trust Nia's instincts. Then he looked at her eyes, and noticed something new there: a shade of determination. He conceded and, letting go of the controls, crossed his arms. "I'm counting on you, sis!"

"I won't disappoint you!"

And so, Gurren Solvernia started to run to the bubble's direction, dodging and leaping to avoid mines.

"What's he doing now? Running towards it?" Yoko shook her head. "This is just crazy!"

"Perhaps, my dear," Leeron said, smirking, "whatever he's planning will be just crazy enough to work~!"

"General Adiane," the squid beastman operator said. "They're coming right to us."

"And this, my crew, is the mad human in its natural state," she said, her disdain like that of a scornful scientist. "Knowing that it is already defeated, it will run towards its death. Advance at full force!" The bubble advanced, whipping up water at full force.

Moments before being engulfed by the wall of water, Nia jointed both hands and morphed them into a drill. But this one was different; in fact, it was more like a corkscrew. Nia jumped right into the water, drills first.

"Lady Adiane, it's drilling through the water!" the operator informed. The battleship loosed another salvo of mines, but Gurren Solvernia had passed right out the other side of the bubble before they even got close.

"This is ridiculous!" Adiane cried. She lashed out at a nearby crustacean beastman to release some irritation.

Gurren Solvernia hit the ground rolling, and resumed its race up a giant rock. It climbed up it at top speed, and before long they could look down at the bubble, which had stopped momentarily

"It looks like the humans want to play a little more!" Adiane laughed at what she perceived as a futile attempt to avoid their imminent deaths.

"What are you idiots up to?" Viral said. "Getting to high ground won't make a difference. Lady Adiane could flood the entire plain if she wanted to! You can't run from us!"

"We are not trying to run away." Nia smirked confidently.

"What do you mean?"

And then Gurren Solvernia jumped from the rock. Nia screamed and summoned a drill from Gurren Solvernia's right hand and, when it hit the ground, it created a powerful shockwave. The mines around it exploded, which set off yet more mines, creating a chain reaction that spread out across the entire plain. Then, under the force of the blast, the ground itself caved in.

"What's happening?" Adiane said cried out as Dai-Gankai was sucked down into the newly-created drain. "Take control of it! Increase the power of the generator!"

"We can't! The generators aren't powerful enough to resist the flow! It's too sudden and powerful!"

"Idiot! Do it!"

"But…" The operator received a smack to the head, and dully complied. The generators went up in smoke almost instantly. Adiane watched in dull horror as her marvelous ship was incapacitated, and she realized that for the first time in decades she was going to lose. She could say nothing as Dai-Gankai was sucked down into the dirt and the mud.

"You did this, stinking human!" cried Viral as he floundered in the water.

"Don't look at me!" Kamina smirked.

"GRRR! You'll pay for this, humans! This is not over yet! Tomorrow we will return and kill you all!" There were more insults, but they were lost in the rush of water, and finally both fortress and ganman disappeared completely below the ground.

"We did it, Bro!" Nia said as she slumped back in her seat, visibly exhausted.

"That's my little sister!" he replied with a wink, and she blushed. "Now let's go back. The others are waiting for us."

******************************

Everyone waited for them. Everyone, even Rossiu who dropped his impassive expression, smiled in relief and hope, hope they could fight something that big. The new mechs also waited for them.

"I'm Zorthy, from Kanai," said a black-haired man, who wore a white shirt unbuttoned at the gullet and smoked a cigarette. Behind him stood the squarish ganman, the Sawzorthn.

"I'm Kid, from Coeega." A short brunette man wearing a green shirt emblazoned with a bird leaned on the purple leg of his monkey ganman, the Kiddknuckle.

"My name is Iraak, also from Coeega," said a tall man with long hair who wore a blue jumpsuit. His ganman, the dinosaur-like Ainzer, stood off to the side.

"J-j-jorgun!" said a tall man with black curled hair, wearing an overall over a black shirt. He also wore a collar around his neck and wore red shades.

"B-b-balinbow!" said his twin, who was the same only with blue shades.

"We're from Bakusa! We're from Bakusa!" they said, stomping the ground at the same time. Their mecha, the Twinboekkun, loomed over them with its massive purple fists.

"Makken. Jokin," the last pilot said, curtly; he was a short bald man, with small eyes and a cloak over his body. His ganman, the sword-wielding Moshogun, was kneeling next to him with a hand on its blade.

"An' I'm Leitte, and I take care of all the boys," said a tall woman with auburn hair who wore a lab coat over a short red shirt. "The ganmen, I mean." Her square glasses glinted with mirth, and she smiled jokingly.

"Ooooh~, really?" Leeron said, appearing behind her. "We should trade secrets!"

"You're a sinister pal, but I liked ya, let's do this!" She pulled out a transparent piece of glass. She somehow unfolded the glass and touched the screen, and it lit up, revealing that it was actually a computer. Leeron watched in amazement.

"Looks like your stupidity is contagious," said Yoko with a giggle. "The story of a madman and his sister, stealing a ganman…who knew so many would follow in your footsteps?"

"This is great, bro!" Nia cheered.

"You bet it!" Kamina grinned, "With our new friends, we'll win for sure!"

Chapter Text

Viral and Cinoshisa strode through the corridors of Dai-Gankai, both silent and weary, as the other members of the crew worked on repairing the ship. Adiane had summoned them and they knew she wasn't pleased with the day's events.

"Adiane is going to pluck out your eyeballs and eat them for breakfast!" an annoying starfish beastman said in a display of stupid defiance to his superiors. Viral glared and Cinoshisa's eyes glowed, and the grunt quickly hid in a nearby room.

The corridor ended, and they entered Adiane's personal quarters. The room was luxurious, more a hotel room than military bunking, with walls painted pink and a bed that could easily fit two people. Viral didn't understand why Adiane needed a bed so big and this showed on his face. Cinoshisa was impassive, as usual. The Divine General sat on the plush covers, legs crossed, hands gripping the edge, tail flicking. She was scowling deeply. However, much to their surprise, there was no blood in her eyes; only disappointment. So they wouldn't be suffering the "final punishment". However, they knew that the final punishment wasn't necessarily the worst punishment.

"The only field commanders present," Adiane began. "I begin to wonder how you attained those lofty ranks. The only commanders to ever be defeated by humans... To think that I joined this group is a shame. Shame, shame, shame..."

"General Adiane, we haven't lost yet," Viral said, clenching his fists.

"Silence, you useless kitten!" she interrupted him, decking him with her tail. He staggered and almost fell. "Don't you see that I'm trying to not kill both of you? As miserable as your miserable little lives are, I need them to face the humans again!"

"I comprehend, milady, and have a plan," Cinoshisa said, only to be hit by her tail. He barely budged.

"You're no fun..." Adiane muttered. "Fine. What do you have in mind?"

"General Adiane, the plan is very simple so simple that even a human could understand." In his mind the woman under the armor added, Or a beastman. "Knowing that by tomorrow morning Dai-Gankai will only be about 80 percent repaired, we expect them to come straight at us from above. I suggest we place concealed units over Dai-Gankai's upper armor."

"Excellent..." she muttered and added in her thoughts, And try to get killed too! Perhaps I can do it myself when the battle is over if you don't die!

"I have brought a detachment of nocturnal beastmen. They will work on Dai-Gankai overnight and will prepare the Sayrune for you, milady."

"Your concern is remarkable, but I will prepare Sayrune myself," she said, narrowing her purple eyes. She then directed her attention to Viral. "And you?"

"Milady I-" He was interrupted by Adiane's tail hitting his head.

"Continue," she said as he massaged his bruised head.

"I will-" it hit again, "follow your-" whack "orders and-" whack "place my units-" whack "in a perimeter-" whack "around the avine!" whack. Viral could barely stand, and held the wall for support.

"It is decided!" she proclaimed, getting up. "I want to see you up early in the morning. Tomorrow the humans will know what it means to mess with the capital and, with me!"

"Yes, milady!"

While they exited her room, Adiane hit Viral one last time. The abused commander only moaned. "Ouch..."

"What's the problem?" Cinoshisa said, his expression neutral, but the fact that he decided to talk first indicated that he was somehow amused by Viral's suffering. "Can't take a hit?"

"Of course! She is our general! It's her duty!"

"Submissive mongrel..."

"At least you have armor... And why does she have such a big bed? It doesn't make sense!"

"Viral, you and all beastmen are truly retarded. Haven't you realized? How she and Thymilph are so close?"

"You mean what?"

"You really are stupid, aren't you? The capital's stores of weapons are enough to obliterate this planet twenty times over! If an automatic rifle is a lot cheaper than a food synthesizer, I just wonder why we don't blow up every single human village in the world!"

"I don't follow your reasoning... What is a planet?"

Cinoshisa only replied with a static gibberish. Under the armor, she thought of aiming one of her concealed guns.

"What?" he replied, indignant, "It's not that I don't know, I just can't remember what exactly it is right now!"

"I will try to make things simple for you: why do some commanders take fifty years to eradicate a settlement? It doesn't make sense! The Spiral King is hiding something from us! Either he's insane, or something's going on beneath the surface."

"You're like Tsuuma. Speaking of her, I need to check on her. She was repairing the aqua-seismic reactor."

"Really? I think I will follow you."

Moments later, they were at the reactor room. Tsuuma had a large tool box open beside her and was welding, wrenching, doing everything she could to make it work again, without any avail.

"Adiane really screwed up this crap..." the mechanic mumbled as she removed and discarded a screw from a panel.

"Is it that bad?" Viral asked.

"The main core melted and damn near exploded. Thankfully the safety mechanisms worked like they were supposed to." She yawned. "This is so exhausting."

"Tsuuma, you need to rest."

"Go away." She poked her head inside the hole revealed by the panel, and grunted, irritation clear. "I won't go sleep until I finish this." They heard the sound of an electric circuit frying, followed by the harsh bump of her head on the top of the opening. Viral winced. Tsuuma removed her head from the gap and tried to massage it, gritting her teeth and holding down a yell.

"Why don't you press that button," he pointed to the button that turned off the auxiliary power of the reactor, "and see what happens?"

"WHY DON'T YOU EAT URANIUM PUDDING AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS?" she yelled, throwing her wrench on the ground and turning to glare up at Viral.

"See, now this is what happens when you don't get enough sleep. As your commanding officer I order you to rest."

"Shut up! I know what I'm doing!" She got up, glaring at him. "How about I order you to keep your nose the hell out of my business!"

"He thinks he commands but the woman is the one who holds the cards," Cinoshisa muttered. "She's like your wife."

"What is a wife?" they both asked.

"Never mind." He then changed the topic. "Tsuuma, you can rest. My crew will take over the repairs. I believe an aqua-seismic reactor should be child's play for them."

"You let those incompetents near this mess and they'll blow us all sky-high!" she tried to protest as Viral dragged her by the wrist to the resting quarters.

"You heard him, Tsuuma."

"Viral, you idiot, let me go! I didn't finish!" she protested, but there was nothing more she could do. The sun was setting and it was mandatory for diurnal beastmen give way to the nocturnal. Cinoshisa just stood there, musing.

******************************

"Wow, who would've thought that word would spread so fast!" Kiyal said, nudging Nia.

The little digger looked around at her new friends. They were gathered around a campfire, in the middle of a glade, surrounded by lots of trees. Nia stared at the trees: she would never have thought that the tallest trees belonged to the same class of living beings as the little flowers if Leeron hadn't told her. Kiyal had explained to her that was an oasis, where a big repository of water and fertile soil allowed the trees to grow up in the middle of the desert.

"Earth to Nia!" she nudged her again.

"Sorry, Kiyal," she replied. "It's just that those glowing flowers are so pretty that I can't stop staring at them."

"Yeah, the fireflowers are pretty. They're also good at providing a romantic climate." Kiyal leaned over to whisper the last part while giving pointed glances towards Kamina, who was inspecting Gurren with Leeron, Dayakka and Rossiu. Nia just blushed.

"It seems that fighting spirit repaired the Gurren," Leeron said as he began repairs on the ganman. "When Solvernia separates, the fighting spirit leaves, and, well…" Once Solvernia had detached, the injuries had suddenly reappeared. The mecha's legs had immediately buckled and it had fallen, face-first, into the ground. They'd needed the help of Sawzorthn and Moshogun just to get it back into a sitting position.

"That's what I'm talking about," the leader of Team Gurren said. "Fighting spirit solves everything!"

Nia walked up and gained Dayakka's attention. "Mr. Dayakka, there is something I'd like to ask."

"Yeah, Nia?"

"If you're here with us and brought some people from Littner, then who is taking care of the village?"

"Don't worry." He smiled. "They've got more than enough weapons to defend themselves with, and Jiha Village is giving a hand as well."

"Really? You mean our chief agreed?"

"He was pretty reluctant at first, but the people of Jiha convinced him to help out." He looked to Gurren. "I saw them. They were optimistic, perhaps for the first time in decades. Gurren Solvernia is a symbol of hope, more than we can measure."

"Such ideals are good, but we should still take care," Rossiu said impassively. "I think my village is the best example of ideals gone astray."

"There goes Forehead Boy," Kamina said, poking at his forehead in a friendly fashion. "Thinks he knows all."

"Smarty pants…" Leeron said.

"All right!" Kamina climbed on Dayakkaiser's shoulder. All new and previous members of Team Gurren directed their attention to the caped badass. "Listen up, everyone! I'm pretty impressed that all you managed to reach this far! You have proved yourselves good enough to join Team Gurren!"

In the middle of the crowd, they noticed that a case bouncing wildly. It bounced four or five times in succession before it finally opened, revealing a short man wearing a pink and purple stripped shirt and khaki pants, with a really big, rounded nose and rounded glasses. "Even me?" he asked.

"Yeah, even you!" the badass affirmed, pointing at him. The crowd cheered, but he continued. "But we ain't done yet!" He gestured with his arms, his hands clenched in fists. "That giant ganman from earlier? It'll be back for us again tomorrow, and I don't plan on waiting around for it."

The crowd started to murmur.

"Because we're going to go out and steal it!"

The murmurs increased.

"We've managed to get this far by stealing their ganmen, so I say we steal that big-ass ganman and make it our headquarters! Decent enough for Team Gurren, right?"

Their murmurs grew optimistic, and phrases like "Yeah" and "Alright" could be heard from the group. Some even raised their fists in support. Yoko just stood there, leaning against a tree, her skepticism visible on her face.

"But, Bro, how are we going to do this?" Nia asked, from the middle of the crowd.

"That's easy, Nia!" Kamina pointed to her, smiling. "You're gonna do it!"

"Me?" She pointed to herself, incredulous. "But, how?"

"Solvernia can do this without a problem, Nia," Leeron said, appearing from behind her. "I'll explain."

"I know you can do it!" Kamina said, "Just believe in me who believes in you! My sister Nia, who can take on all the beastmen!"

Nia looked down at the ground for a few seconds, thinking hard. Then she lifted her head and said determinedly, "If you say so, then I can do this!"

"That's the spirit, Nia!" Kamina smiled, proud of his sister. Nia smiled back and blushed.

Yoko just stared, still skeptical. Kamina was placing yet another weight on Nia's shoulders. When she first met her, it looked to her that she would be too frail to have that weight, but time and again she had borne her trials with stubborn strength. Even so, as the weights increased with the journey, she couldn't help but think that maybe Nia wasn't made to carry such weights.

After the crowd dispersed, Leeron took Nia aside to explain the plan. Dayakka, Rossiu and Tetsukyan tagged along to listen, as did Yoko.

"See, Nia, when Solvernia combines with Gurren it does so by taking over all Gurren's systems. I don't understand how exactly this happens, but in essence, it hijacks Gurren's systems and gives them an upgrade. This is the source of Gurren Solvernia's strength."

"Uh…" Nia said, nodding. In reality, she didn't understand much of what the flamboyant engineer said.

"And if the Dai-Gankai is nothing but a giant ganman, then that means Solvernia can combine with it as well…"

"Nia," Yoko asked from behind. "Are you sure you can do this?"

"Yes, Yoko. If Kamina says I can do it, I can do it," Nia said, drifting her attention away from Leeron.

Yoko sighed. "Tomorrow will be the most important battle that we have faced so far. Are you aware of this, Nia?"

"Hey," Leeron called, irritated. "No small-talk when I'm in the middle of an exposition." He gave them the deathglare that is common to teachers in rowdy classrooms everywhere.

"Sorry, Ron," Yoko said. "We'll talk later, Nia."

"Alright," Nia replied as Leeron quickly resumed his exposition, saying something about how Solvernia reacted to the pilot's emotional state.

******************************

"Hey you guys," Zorthy said, as he ate his steak. He looked around the campfire at Iraak and Kidd. "Tomorrow is the big day, yeah!"

"Ever since I managed to get Ainzer, I expected to use him in a great battle," Iraak replied, looking at his reflection in a mirror, before taking his own steak. "Until now, we've just used our ganmen for skirmishes defending our village."

"Yeah, yeah!" Kidd added.

"You two came from the same village, right?" the black-haired man asked.

"Yeah, we're brothers," the long-haired man replied. "The Hurricane Brothers!"

"Who would've thought? You're so different."

"Actually, Iraak is my half-brother," Kidd said. "My father divorced my mother and married another woman."

"Really? How'd that work out?"

"So so," he said, shaking his head. "At first, I didn't like her. I still don't like her. I left Coeega mostly to get away from her."

"Why?"

"Ah, never liked her face," Kidd said, taking a bite of his steak. "Or something. Whatever, I'm away from her now."

"Hey, that's my mother," Iraak protested, glancing at him.

"Like you care," he replied dismissively.

"Okay, Kiddovorovsky," he said, his gaze drifting away. Kidd grunted angrily but didn't reply. Iraak smiled mischievously.

"You name is…that?" Zorthy remarked incredulously.

"Of course," Iraak replied. "Why do you think we call him Kidd? Easier on the tongue."

"My whole family has this 'rovsky' suffix. Galnorovsky, Knatrovsky…They say it's because Coeega was neighbor to a village named Rorovsky and, by digging, they met up and their populations joined. This was way before we went to the surface, and found the beastmen waiting."

"Yeah, those bastards," Zorthy said, finishing his meal. "Can't wait to kick their asses tomorrow!"

Leite was performing a bit of maintenance on Moshogun. "Aaaaaaand almost finished," she said. "Gimme wrench number sixteen."

"Here it is," Makken said, handing over said wrench. Leite's tools were organized on a level that even Leeron had trouble comprehending: she had all her tools numbered and knew the function of each one.

"Alright," she said. "To think that when I requested wrench number twelve, you brought me the entire toolbox!" She smiled. "You're the same as ever, Makken. If I ask ya for a snack, ya bring me a meal, if I ask ya to get me a chair to rest, ya bring me a bench."

"It's because I do my best," Makken replied. "When someone requests a favor, I will do everything in my capacity to fulfill it, because otherwise I would not be capable of truly honoring the request."

"Heh," she smiled, and there was something else in her grin. "Doing your best is only worth it if the person yer working for knows how to thank ya properly."

"That's the reason why I joined Team Gurren," he said, changing the topic in a very subtle manner and amusing the woman in the process. "Their cause is fair and their leader is capable."

Their attention suddenly shifted as they heard a ganman moving about. The King Kittan was doing some sort of funny dance, and Kittan was running around it angrily.

"Kiyal, get out of there!" he yelled, raising both fists in the air like an angry monkey. "That's my ganman, and besides you're too young to pilot!"

"C'mon, big brother!" she said from inside the cockpit. "I want to pilot one too, to fight the beastmen with you, Kamina and Nia!"

"When this war is over, I'll get a ganman for you! But until then, stay the hell out of the cockpit!"

"Aww, you're no fun!"

"Oh, those kids are so amusing," Leeron said as he analyzed Twinboekkun, syncing the data into his computer. "Oops, better not get distracted. I might just take all night to make this little one cooperate…" His brow furrowed in frustration as he tapped at his keys, attempting to patch Twinboekkun into the existing communication network. Obviously, the twin-cockpit ganman was not cooperating.

"Let's fix it!" Attenborough cried, slamming a screwdriver down on one of the panels.

"No, wait!" Leeron said, vainly rising his hand. Being a lover of all things technological, Leeron visibly cringed at the sight of Attenborough treating the precious equipment so brutally. However, he was surprised when the ganman answered positively to the beating and obediently patched into the network. Perhaps it knew better.

Kinon, who was passing by, was distracted by the ruckus and accidentally slammed into Rossiu. "Whoops, sorry Rossiu."

"It's alright," he said. It was a light bump, nothing more. "We need to continue the preparations for tomorrow."

"You're right, tomorrow's going to be a big day," she said. "Say, Rossiu." The forehead boy looked at her. "Do you have any idea of what you're going to do when everything is over?"

"What do you mean?"

"If we win tomorrow - which we will, I'm not saying we might lose - we'll be on the way to establish a new society, where everyone can live in peace on the surface."

"Ah, I guess…we will need to think a lot about this. It will demand a lot of resources and planning…we will have to build a new society from the scratch, we will have to deal with the problem of beastmen who won't accept we defeated their leader, we will have to deal with all the new people abandoning the underground, we must organize-"

"I know, Rossiu," Kinon interrupted him. "But we'll have a lot of time to think about this in the future. Let's focus on the short term for now."

"You're right," he said with a nod. "I was helping Leeron to configure the communication channel. Would you like to help me?"

"Of course!"

Nearby, Dayakka took a break. He saw Kiyoh playing with her yo-yo. She was very good with the toy, making swings overhead, backwards and upwards. He was going to praise her, when she prepared to finish: she spun herself, the yo-yo flying about her, and launched it at a nearby tree. There was a loud thunk, and a large slash was left in the trunk. Dayakka look surprised, then figured out that she wasn't playing around: she was practicing.

"You're pretty good," he said, clapping his hands.

"Thanks." She smiled back, "But it's no big deal."

"I beg to differ, and so does that tree."

"I suppose that not many people can do that. So I'll accept your praise, just this once." Her smile suddenly dropped, and her expression turned serious. "But the point is I need to practice, because we'll be guarding this outpost while you guys go to battle. If any beastmen try to sneak in here, we'll have to deal with them."

"So, you can really fight with just a yo-yo?"

"I've killed more than my fair share defending myself," she said, even more seriously. But she tried to lighten things up. "They say never to bring a knife to a gunfight; I say, don't bring a gun to a yo-yo fight."

None of this passed without Kamina noticing. He sat on Gurren's head, arms crossed, his cape and glasses sitting on his shoulders and face respectively. There was a smile on his face: at long last, his dream was becoming a reality.

"What a beautiful moon," Kamina noted to no one in particular. "It's things like these that make our journey worthwhile."

"Kamina…" said Yoko, who had climbed up Gurren's head to stand behind him. There was concern in her voice.

He felt it, and made an attempt to relieve it. "We can't afford to lose tomorrow. Scratch that – we can't lose, no matter how badly things go. We must win, and we will, and we'll keep winning and winning and winning until they give up and leave us in peace!"

The redhead just sighed.

"That's my goal! That's why I aim to pierce the heavens! To create a new tomorrow for Nia, Rossiu, Gimmy, Darry, all the children there are in the world, where they can play under the sun and the moon, enjoying themselves without a care in the world. Did I ever tell you how I met Nia?"

"No…"

"That poor girl had just lost her parents. With them gone, she was all alone. Me? I cried every night because my father didn't take me to the surface. Then I saw her, alone, way more miserable than I was, and I felt I had to help. So I drew up every word I could think of, and I just stood there and said all of them, until I had nothing left to say. Whadda you know, it worked, and even to today I do my best to keep her chin up. For her sake, I haven't cried since that day – well, except for that bit with my old man's skull."

Yoko twitched an eyebrow curiously. Nia had told her the same story, but hearing it from Kamina's point of view was… a surprise, to say the least. It was kind of ironic: the manliest of men, having such a soft side for such a sweet little girl.

She said as much to Kamina.

"Who cares if I show it or not? I know who I am, and that's the end of it!" He clenched his fist, remembering what Cinoshisa said. "Who cares what that coward bitch says? Sure I have my problems, my fears, my doubts, but I can't let them dictate my actions! I can't let them tell me who I am!"

Yoko was once again surprised by his display of maturity. She felt a warmth in her heart and a lump in her throat. She turned away so that, even if he turned around, he wouldn't see the red flush creeping into her cheeks.

"Kamina…" she said his name, and could say no more. Her mind was divided. One side kept coming up with compliments to give him: how those glasses made him taller and more handsome, how his abs were so well-defined and his purples eyes so vibrant and kind. Meanwhile, the other side was playing the events at the hot spring on infinite loop, emphasizing his idiocy and reminding her that she still had so much work to do.

There was one thing, though, that both sides agreed on: she was hopelessly, inescapably in love with Kamina.

"You're a lot smarter than you look," she managed to say, appeasing both sides for a while.

"Huh?" he said, surprised at the praise. Of all people, he had never expected to receive such compliments from Yoko. Then, with a proud smirk, he proclaimed, "Of course! Who the hell do you think I am?"

"You're the Great Kamina," Yoko sighed. "Team Gurren's badass leader!"

"You're wrong!" Yoko was startled for a second. Kamina stood and turned to give his explanation.

"We're not just Team Gurren anymore! We're now Team Dai-Gurren!"

Yoko smiled, but still gave him a warning. "Even so, Kamina, please, take care. I've seen you do some crazy things since the day we met. Your crazy plans always save us. But…"

"Hm?"

"Remember that first day, when you insisted that Nia not return to the village? It took me a while, but then I realized: you wanted to drive the enemies away from there. I guess that's what you were trying to do today, but you just went through with it without thinking. If it weren't for Nia, would you be here tonight? The thought…it frightens me…"

Kamina just remained silent, staring at his friend. Yoko's words weren't meant to be taken lightly, and he considered them carefully.

"B-because…" Yoko stuttered, and Kamina raised an eyebrow. However, before she could say anything more, they were interrupted by the explosion of a volcano erupting. The fiery blast illuminated the horizon.

"Is there smoke coming out of that mountain?" Kamina asked, agape. This reaction was shared by the other members of Team Dai-Gurren. Nia, for one, looked greatly concerned, until Gimmy tugged on her arm and whispered: "Don't worry, I know you can do it!"

"We believe in you too," Darry finished, grabbing her other hand. She was smiling brightly, something she didn't do often.

"Alright! I'll do this." Nia said, feeling more confident.

Kamina's awe quickly changed to confidence. "The mountains themselves are belching fire, setting the earth ablaze! The perfect setting for a once-in-lifetime fight! Oh yeah!"

Yoko just smiled and took advantage of the moment to leave without Kamina noticing.

******************************

Nia stood inside Solvernia on a cliff, watching the volcanoes erupting on the horizon. They had restarted before the sun had come up, and hadn't stopped since. The smoke and ashes covered the sky, casting everything in twilight. The effect was almost hypnotic. Nia mused on her journey as she stood there, reviewing every moment. They told her that today would be more important than any she had previously lived through. Somehow, she also knew that it wouldn't be the most important.

"Leeron explained to me about those volcanoes once." Nia yelped in surprise and almost fell out of Solvernia. She looked up at Yoko, who was grinning.

"Whoops, sorry." The redheaded giggled.

"You scared me, Yoko!" Nia replied, her breath still coming in short, frightened gasps.

"Perhaps I'm spending too much time with Leeron." She smiled, and Nia giggled back, and the tension eased its way out of her body.

"Anyway, as I was saying, those fire-spitting mountains are called volcanoes. Leeron once told me that they can spit fire because there's molten magma under the earth and when there's too much pressure..."

"... It keeps accumulating until it can't hold anymore and then explodes... Just like Kamina."

"Eh?" Yoko stared at her awkwardly. "You psychic or something?"

"Why do you say that?"

"Because that's exactly what he told me."

"Leeron?"

"No, Kamina. He said 'Those fire-breathing mountains are just like me!' while boasting." Yoko lounged for a while before continuing. "I guess it's part of being blood siblings…Nia, how do you do it?"

"Do what?"

"Be... I don't know...yourself. The way you talk, so certainly, so carefree..."

"I-I don't know. I just think that we have to be sincere with everyone, both ourselves and others."

Yoko let out a short chuckle. "Nia, every time I doubted you, you proved me wrong. And just now, I was about to do it again... Today you'll do it, Nia! Dai-Gankai will be ours!"

"No problem Yoko." Nia smiled. "After all, you're my friend, and friends don't let each other down!"

"No, Nia, you're more than a friend," she replied, to which Nia reacted with an uncomprehending expression. "You're my sister. My blood sister, as Kamina would say."

"That's nice!" Nia smiled in agreement, and Boota purred.

"Here, take this." Yoko handed her a cup of cocoa and a loaf of bread sprinkled with grated cheese. "You need to eat or else Solvernia won't work."

"Thanks, Yoko!" she said, blowing on the cocoa to cool it down.

"I won't deny my feelings anymore," Yoko said, as she went back through. "You're right: we have to be sincere with everyone. Even ourselves. Thanks for the talk, lil' sis!" She waved, and left.

"You're welcome!" replied Nia."I'm always there to help my big sister!" She then turned to Boota and said, "Now I have two big brothers, Boota. Er, siblings." The tiny pigmole clapped his hands in happiness. "And today I will finally tell Kamina what I feel for him." Boota gave her a concerned look and she, noticing his shift in humor, replied, "Boota, I know that this may not be the best time to do, but I can't keep postponing it forever. If there is a day, it must be today!"

Boota just stared at her with concern.

Yoko checked her rifle once more, test-aiming to make sure that the scope was okay, firing off a test shot to make sure the mechanism functioned properly, and nodding in satisfaction as Leeron's special anti-ganman shells punched a large hole through several thick trees. Everything seemed okay, but she couldn't afford to have any trouble with her rifle.

"Thanks Leeron," she said.

"It's rare for you let someone else do the maintenance for your rifle," he said, not looking to her. His attention was fixed on the screen of his computer, and his fingers slid across the keyboard. "You seem concerned about something."

"I want everything double-checked, triple-checked even," she said. "Failure is not an option today."

"Judging by the way Kamina tends to rush right into battle, you're going to have quite the time out there today. Gurren's defensive abilities alone aren't as powerful as Gurren Solvernia."

"I know," she said as she slung her rifle over her right shoulder. She snatched a cup of coffee and turned to leave. "That man can be such a pain in the butt…"

"You aren't that different, hon."

Without turning to him, she smirked inwardly. I guess you're right.

Yoko's heart raced as she made her way to the glade where Kamina was waiting, but she took a deep breath to steady herself and continued on. There was the badass, admiring the view below as the others made their last preparations. He was the leader; it was natural for him to be above the others, to watch them. However, she knew he saw them not as subordinates, but as family, as his brothers and sisters. He gulped down a loaf of bread in a single bite, and naturally began choking. As he coughed, Yoko patted his back and said, "Coffee?"

"Th-cough-nks…" he muttered, before sipping the drink and coughing again for having drunk too fast.

"Calm down, smartass." She giggled. "If you fight like you eat, you'll give me a lot of trouble today."

"Okay." He coughed one last time. "I'll remember that." He cleared his throat, and turned to the horizon. "Today's the big day! Yoko, watch my back! I'll crush anything that comes at me from the front, so you just have to take care of anything that comes from behind!"

"Kamina…"

"Uhn?" He turned to look at her, but before he could say anything more she leaned gracefully forward so that her lips met his. Kamina barely had time to acknowledge the movement as his lips met hers; for a moment everything else blanked out, and there was only her.

"Your back is one big blind spot, isn't it?" she said after disengaging. Her face was flushed and her hands were folded behind her back; for the first time she looked timid, almost.

"Yoko?" He still couldn't understand at first. Yoko, the fiery redhead who always beat him and berated him…loved him? But it was the man who had to declare to the woman, right? So he made up for it by embracing her and kissing her again, this time with more passion.

Yoko embraced him back, comfortable to forget everything in the warmth of his arms. They stayed like that for several moments that felt like an eternity.

"I'll pay that back!" he declared after they had separated. "When we return, I'll pay you back for that! Ten times over, mark my words!"

She looked deep into his eyes and giggled.

"Uhn? What's wrong?"

"Can't you make it a little more romantic?"

He just chuckled. "Words can barely express the true feelings of the Great Kamina! But don't worry, I have it all planned out!" He lifted his cape. "Let's pump up the spirit!"

"Kamina," Yoko called out as he left. "I'm looking forward to being repaid."

"Just who the hell do you think I am?" With that, he slid away down the hill to join the others. Yoko stood there with a big smile at her face, imagining what the Great Kamina would do to repay her. He would need some help to get it right, of course. But that didn't matter to her any more. The fact was, they were together, and for the first time in ages she was truly happy.

But she was being watched.

Nia watched from behind the trees. Her normally pale face was even paler than usual. She trembled as she covered her mouth with both hands, eyes widening and brimming with tears, and forced herself to face the awful truth: Kamina had chosen Yoko. She ran away, trying not to cry aloud. She wasn't worthy. If her love wasn't worthy of him, then her tears would be even more so.

******************************

"… and for that reason, you can't pilot my ganman anymore! Especially when I'm not awake!" Kittan finished. A thoroughly-scolded Kiyal sat in front of him, reflecting on how awesome it had been to ride around in King Kittan before daybreak.

"Oh, come on! You're not our father or mother!" the purple-haired girl said, frowning and crossing her arms.

"God forbid that I become like them," he replied bluntly. "Besides, if Leeron discovers what happened to that computer you accidentally smashed, he'll be really pissed. Do you want to be the one to tell him?" He was suddenly interrupted by Nia, running full-tilt past them. "What's up with her? Nerves?"

"Strange…" Kiyal scratched her head, "I'll talk to her."

Nia curled inside Solvernia, sobbing quietly. Boota was there as well, quietly sharing his master's pain. Between sobs, she murmured, "Kamina… Kamina…"

"Nia?" She felt someone poking her, and when she sat up, she was looking into Kamina's eyes. "Where've you been? The briefing's about to start, and everyone's waiting!"

"Yes, brother…" she replied, looking down in an effort to avoid his eyes.

Kamina paused. "Nia, is there something wrong? Are you nervous?"

Her reply was hesitant. "Bro, d-do you trust me?"

"Of course!" the tone of his reply made it clear that if Kamina had heard from someone else, he would be deeply offended. With Nia, he smiled. "What kind of blood brother would I be if I weren't able to trust my own sister?" He noticed the rag of his cape that was tied around Nia's arm had come loose. With a quick tug he tightened it. "Remember, Nia, we're going to be together forever! Our bond is so strong, it'll smash right through the stars themselves! It's not just possible that you can hijack that big ganman; it's more than possible!"

"Alright!" she said, trying to hide her uncertainty. I guess there are things more important than me… Come on, Nia!

"Hey, how are we?" Kiyal said, appearing out of nowhere and waving to them in her cheerful way.

"Kiyal, why aren't you with Leeron and the others?"

"I was talking with my brother." She pointed back in the direction she came from. "He's right there."

"I'll tell him too." He scratched his head and asked, "What's his name, again?"

"Kittan."

"That's the name! I'll see both of you later!"

He left, leaving the two girls around. Kiyal immediately turned to Nia.

"So, Nia, what's up? You were ran by like crazy a while ago, so I decided to check out what's up. After all, it's your day to shine!" Kiyal patted the back of her friend, but the little digger just flinched. The Bachika gave her a concerned look and asked, "Is everything alright?"

"Kiyal, I don't know how to say this…come here." She leaned forward and let Nia whisper in her ear. Her expression turned to shock, then sadness. When she finished, Kiyal could only say, "Oh, this is bad… real bad…"

Chapter Text

"So this is the plan, boys and gals."

Everyone was piled into Leeron's improvised briefing room. As they watched, the androgynous mechanic dimmed the lights, and pointed towards one wall that was painted completely white.

"My recon droids have photographed the area~," he said, shaking his hips in excitement. The team muttered amongst themselves, wondering why the lights had to be turned down, when suddenly one of the spider-drones flew in and projected the image of Dai-Gurren's emblem on the wall. They were impressed by the presentation, and quickly leaned forward to study the photographs that followed. They were aerial shots of the ravine, in which a damaged Dai-Gankai sat in the mud, with legions of mecha swarming over it.

"By my estimations, we're outnumbered at least four-to-one," he continued, adopting a slightly more serious tone of voice. Close-up images of various mecha types followed, along with text listing some of their attributes, as found in Leeron and Leitte's combined databases. Viral's Enkidu and Cinoshisa's Namtaru were among them; there was plenty of data on the former, but the latter was virtually unknown.

"So, every one of us will fight with fourfold power and more!" Kamina cut in, raising his fist, eliciting cheers from the crowd.

"We're going to fight up to four! Up to four!" the twins chanted, stomping on the floor.

The image switched to a tridimensional map of the terrain. Blue points appeared, representing allies, and red points appeared, representing enemies. Two orange points also appeared, representing the enemy commanders, and a large purple point representing Dai-Gankai blinked into existence inside the ravine. Other statistics scrolled down the right side of the screen, such as the temperature, which was going to be slightly warmer than normal, and the probability of rain, which was quite high.

As they watched, the blue point approached from the ravine's right side. The red points grouped together to counter them, leading to an impenetrable wall of red on the right flank, but leaving the left flank devoid of defense.

"You gentlemen will be providing a distraction," explained Leeron, "while Solvernia moves in on the opposite side."

A yellow triangle representing Solvernia appeared and approached from the left, unnoticed.

"And at that point," Kamina said, pointing to the yellow arrow, "Nia will use Solvernia to take over the giant ganman and we'll use it to crush the smaller ganmen." The yellow point combined with the big purple point, turning it yellow and eliminating the other red points. "Then victory will be ours!"

"Yeah!" The crowd erupted in cheers, raising their fists and clapping their hands.

"I will!" Nia said, lifting her head and clenching her fists. She tried to keep her head clear and focus on her duty.

"I also have built a communication channel for you pilots," Leeron said, holding up a communicator, "Of course, you're not the type that listen to each other, but if you want to live, I suggest you remain in contact~."

"Yeah?" everyone cheered, raising their fists and clapping their hands uncertainly.

"We keep contact! We keep contact while we smash!" chanted the twins, stomping their feet.

"That's the spirit!" The curtains opened and Kamina stood in the sudden light, looking like the paragon of manliness. "Alright, everyone, this is our cue! Team Dai-Gurren, move out!"

And so they marched for the first time as Team Dai-Gurren. Gurren led the way, with the others following suit, lifting up a cloud of dust that billowed into the sky. Dayakkaiser and King Kittan held flags that proudly displayed the burning skull that had become their emblem. The sky was thickly overcast, but the light of their morale shone like its own miniature sun.

"Thanks for the lift!" Yoko said, taking a seat on top of Ainzer.

"It's a pleasure to have a lady onboard!" Iraak replied, like a true gentleman.

"Good luck, brother!" Kiyoh waved from a nearby hilltop.

"Take care!" Kinon called, her hands folded in front of her. Kiyal also waved supportively, but her manner seemed strangely restrained. Her sisters noted her lack of energy, but decided to remain silent.

"You take care of the base!" called back Kittan. "We'll be back in no time!"

Nia looked concerned. Solvernia was working fine, and the spiral gauge seemed steady, but she knew that her heart was in turmoil. But she didn't want to burden anyone with her own troubles. If Kamina chose Yoko, then that was that, and she couldn't afford to be distracted. She had to prioritize, and so she held back all of her dreams, her emotions, in favor of cold determination.

…She tried, at least. But the sharp tug on her heart just wouldn't relent.

"Nia, good luck!" Gimmy yelled happily. She was snapped out of her dark thoughts, and turned to see the orange-haired boy jumping and waving excitedly next to Darry and Rossiu.

"Good luck, Nia!" Darry said demurely.

"Remember, Nia," Rossiu said, impassive. "We're counting on you." (Gimmy looked at them both and wondered, Maybe Darry spends too much time with Rossiu…) Nia smiled shyly down at them, but it felt forced. She couldn't help but feel the weight of their trust, and of everyone else's.

"Nia," Kamina's voice buzzed out of the speakers, his face appearing on the corner of her screen. "To think, Team Gurren started with just the two of us! And now we've got all these friends at our backs!"

"Buuu!" Boota chirped, narrowing his eyes and lifting his paws.

"Boota says he was there too," Nia said, translating the pigmole's angry protest.

"Yeah, one man, one girl and one pigmole." Kamina's shades gleamed. "Humble beginnings indeed!"

"You mean," Yoko cut in, "two girls, right?"

"What are you talking about, Yoko?" he asked, feigning surprise and giving her a totally innocent look.

"C'mon, I've been with you since the beginning." She adjusted her communicator irritably, and shifted in Ainzer's seat.

"Hmm…"Kamina mused, now pretending to be oblivious, "I don't recall ever naming you a member of Team Gurren."

"Oh, please, you even named Msyu a member of the team! What's so different about me?" Yoko's voice rose as her irritation did likewise. Laughter erupted over the communications channel.

"We're hearing everything, Yoko," Dayakka said. Yoko flushed in embarrassment.

"Yoko, didn't I explain that I patched everyone onto the same channel?" Leeron asked from his command center, his expression amused.

"You two make such a cute couple!" Dayakka added with a laugh. Another bout of chuckling ensued, and some voiced their agreement. Nia just flinched, her eyes snapping shut. Boota patter her on the shoulder and her senses returned. She gripped the controls tighter, and willed herself to focus.

******************************

The battlefield was silent in that deep way that precedes the onset of a mighty storm. All that could be heard was the thunder of the Dai-Gurren ganmen as they marched across the plain towards the fissure that Nia had created the day before. The sun glowed behind them, sending their shadows stretching out before them.

Kamina lifted Gurren's finger and yelled "CHAAAAARGE!"

The ganmen increased in speed until they were running. They came up to the lip of the ravine and looked down at the damaged hulk of Dai-Gankai. As they did so, several brown lumps lying on the deck of the fortress moved; a small battalion of ganmen threw off their brown cloaks, revealing themselves. Namtaru screamed "ATTACK!" and began firing with his revolver, as his comrades did likewise with an array of rifles and pistols.

"We meet again as promised, Kamina!" Cinoshisa called out, firing a bullet right at Gurren, which was blocked by its bladeshades, along with the shots of other enemies. "And you have brought your lackeys too!" He shot another bullet.

"If I were you," Kamina said, blocking the second bullet as well, "I would pay attention!" He signaled his teammates to step back out of the line of fire, so he could put his plan into motion.

"Your tactics are so predictable!" He motioned with Namtaru to continue firing. "This will end soon!"

"Ha-ha!" Kamina scoffed. He hoisted a large rock and heaved it down at the cluster of ganmen.

Cinoshisa recoiled as the defender next to him was crushed by the rather large boulder, exploding violently.

"Who's predictable now?" The rest of the Dai-Gurren mechs picked up Kamina's tactic, lobbing rocks down at the defending beastmen. Those who did not immediately scurry off the deck were crushed, and soon Dai-Gankai's deck was covered in debris. Only Namtaru remained, immobile and above all irritated.

"Impossible!" Cinoshisa uttered, his eyes glowing. One boulder sailed straight for him, but he lifted Namtaru's flamethrower and fired it at full power. The blast of heat and flame managed to push away the projectile.

"Four units at point Alpha are lost," Tsuuma said in a bored monotone, as if she were ordering her morning coffee. "No, five." She was at Glas Outpost, acting as the beastmen's mission control. Other beastmen sat at terminals similar to hers, monitoring the development of the battle. "Lady Adiane, they're going to need reinforcements."

"The naked apes are smarter than I thought," Adiane remarked, her eyes narrowed. She then slammed a fist down on her command chair. "Use the reactor, at minimum capacity! Even damaged as it is, we should be able to summon geysers at them. Then I want the units in Alpha to move out and join the others. They won't be able to get down to us any time soon."

The technicians did as she said, and the reactor began to power up. A tremor ran through the ground as the titanic piece of machinery began to do its work.

"What's happening?" Kidd asked nervously, his eyes flitting from side to side. They didn't seem to be being attacked, so…

"Attention, boys!" Leeron called from the communications center. "Seems they've managed to patch up their water-summoning-thingy! Jorgun, Balinbow, jump to the left! Now!"

The Twinboekkun threw itself to the left, and a small geyser erupted behind it. More eruptions followed, but Leeron was able to pinpoint them and steer Team Dai-Gurren to safety.

"Once more, and target the red mecha!" ordered the General.

"Lady Adiane, I think there's a problem," one of the technicians called from the reactor room.

"What do you mean?"

"The reactor won't take it-AAAHH" the scream was followed by an enormous explosion. The blast blew a great, smoking hole in Dai-Gankai's armor.

"What's that?" Zorthy asked, chewing on his cigarette. Smoke billowed out, partially concealing the great purple leviathan.

"I think their water-thingy is broken!" answered Leeron.

"That's it, Team Dai-Gurren!" Kamina yelled. "Charge with all your spirit!" Gurren lifted its arms as the others did the same, and charged with a warrior's yell.

"I was told, in no uncertain terms, that it could be used! I want the mechanic who did this, and I want him dead!" Adiane stood, her fists clenched in murderous rage. "Fetch me Sayrune! I will deal with the rebels personally!"

"Understood," Tsuuma said with a nod. "Alpha, merge with Beta and Theta and advance to give the General cover!"

A shadow fell over Kamina, and he looked around just in time to see the silver form of Enkidu falling towards him, ax raised. The badass instinctually grabbed his bladeshades and parried the attack, just in time.

"Welcome to your hell, Kamina!" Viral yelled. Enkidu turned and prepared to deliver another blow.

"Ah, it's you," the badass replied as he swept his shades around, blocking the strike. "I was wondering when you'd show up, fuzzball!"

"Ha! I was wondering whether or not you'd wise up and run! Looks like I'll just have to crush you and your idiot followers!" They engaged, and a flurry of blows was exchanged. Attack, block, attack, block; they were perfectly matched, ax versus shades.

"Crush us?" retorted Kamina during a momentary break. "I think my 'idiot followers' are giving you fuzzballs more than a bit of trouble!"

Twinboekkun, using its massive retractable fists, knocked four enemy units into the ravine like bowling pins. Moshogun easily sliced through one enemy ganman and quickly engaged another sword-wielding foe. Dayakkaiser stood a modest distance from the skirmish, using his cannon to hit enemies from medium range. Kidkknuckle used its pistols and high agility to attack with quick strikes, zipping around them to peg them in the back and hop away before they could register the blow. King Kittan just crushed the enemies with its spikes while Sawzorthn incapacitated large groups of enemies with its sonic cannon, allowing Ainzer to ram them while Yoko picked off stragglers with her rifle.

"It's like shooting cans!" she commented as she targeted the vital systems of paralyzed ganmen.

"Viral!" Tsuuma cut in over Enkidu's communications. "We're losing units at a rate above my estimations!"

"I have to deal with Kamina!" he replied, parrying a flurry of the badass' strikes. "Where is Cinoshisa?"

"He's none of your concern right now! Sayrune's about to launch!"

"'He?" Kamina uttered, nearly allowing Viral to score a hit in his surprise. He narrowly dodged and returned with an overhead slash, which Enkidu blocked. "So, you don't know yet?"

"Know what?" growled Viral, his patience wearing thin.

"That Cinoshisa is a human?" Kamina grinned triumphantly.

"You're just trying to distract me!" replied the beastman.

"If you live through this, you can check for yourself!" At that moment, Kamina managed to slide past Enkidu's guard. His bladeshades would have continued straight through the silver mech's cockpit, if a fireball hadn't suddenly exploded against Gurren's back.

"Viral, are you really going to listen to a human?" Cinoshisa said, bathing the red mecha in orange flame. "If you cannot deal with one human, then I shall do so for you!"

"Kamina's my enemy! I'll defeat him and take back my helmet!" Viral pushed at Namtaru.

"Oh for the love of spiral, all this fuss for a stupid hat!" he said, Namtaru raising a fist. "This oaf cost me a destroyer! If anyone has a bone to pick with him, it's me!"

As they argued over who would get to fight Kamina, the object of their discussion groaned and winced at the damage dealt to his mech. He himself wasn't harmed, of course; Gurren's cockpit was far too well insulated for that. But the flames had done a number on his ganman's other functions.

"Kamina, are you okay?" Rossiu asked worriedly. On his monitor, Gurren glowed a bright orange, which slowly faded away.

"That was nothing," Kamina said, grinning to assure them that everything was okay. "A tiny flame like that is nothing compared to the fire of my soul!"

"Kamina, let me help you!"

From her place on Ainzer's back, Yoko quickly aimed and took a shot at Namtaru's flamethrower arm. The bullet managed to puncture a rather important-looking tank attached to it, and a loud hissing erupted from it. Cinoshisa tore off the arm in question and, with a yell of "GET DOWN!" threw it away.

Moments later the arm exploded, showering both Namtaru and Enkidu with fire and shrapnel.

"Thanks, Yoko!" Kamina smiled. "Glad to have you watching my back!"

"No problem!" She smiled back.

"That was all your fault!" A charred and battered Enkidu rose unsteadily to its feet and began berating Cinoshisa. The Commander's mech was much worse off; the flamethrower side was almost completely ruined, most of it being a burned and blackened wreck.

"How could I have predicted this?" retorted Cinoshisa.

"You failed to-"

"I don't fail!" Cinoshisa replied harshly as he used Namtaru's remaining arm to throw a rock at Enkidu.

"Hey, are we gonna fight or not?" Kamina teased, taunting them by somehow sticking Gurren's finger up its nose. "Because we ain't got much time left, you know?"

"What do you mean?" Viral grunted.

"Come on, you're a smart beastman," remarked the badass, pointing to Gurren's head. "And I know the coward bitch next to you is, too."

"Huh? What are you…Wait." His eyes widened in shock. "Where's the annoying little cub?"

"Looks like somebody hasn't been practicing as hard as he should…"Tsuuma commented dryly.

"This can't be!" he fairly roared, twitching Enkidu's controls in a vain show of defiance. "You're just an inferior species that runs away from the light! How could you become so strong in such a short time?" If he was defeated by Gurren Solvernia alone, then he could at least have the excuse that his opponent was a special ganman. But with Gurren alone, it was reversed; Viral's Enkidu should have been at least three times faster than the slightly-above-average Gurren. And yet, he still lost.

"Kamina, the way is open for Nia~," Leeron said.

"That's our cue!" He directed his next words towards Viral. "Too bad we couldn't settle things today, but it was fun while it lasted."

"What do you mean by that?" Yellow eyes widened.

"See for yourself!" His smirk grew to twice its usual size. "Nia, go!"

From the ravine's left wall exploded bits of rock and earth, and from the center of it flew out a tiny red mecha, its drill still spinning from its passage through the earth.

"What?" Viral said in shock.

"Oh, damn it!" Tsuuma yelled, her voice ringing with alarm. "It's going to try to combine with Dai-Gankai!"

"Solvernia! Impact!" Nia cried, and with the shriek of rending metal she bored her drill right into Dai-Gankai's head. A thread of green energy spun out from the site of impact and gradually encircled the fortress, like a lasso encircling the body of a wild beast. The submarine battleship reflexively thrashed, rejecting Solvernia's control.

"I was told that the engines were completely broken!" The General scoffed from inside her ganman. "Well, no matter. Soon I'll be able to bring pain to the humans in person."

"Combining with the Dai-Gankai? Absurd!" The shark-cat commander was shocked by the sheer insanity of the ploy, coupled with the fact that it actually worked.

"That's the power of fighting spirit! With those two combined, that giant water hose is ours now! And we're gonna put it to good use!"

"Damn you, Kamina!" cried Viral, brandishing his mohawk-ax. "It was all a set up!" They clashed again, but this time Viral was consumed by rage and his strikes were easily blocked by Kamina. As they fought, Namtaru retreated, not calling their attention and a bull ganman tried to sneak behind them.

Yoko blasted the enemy with a couple of shots, before he could approach more the Dai-Gurren's leader's back. "Don't worry, Kamina," she said as she quickly took aim at another one. "I'm watching your back!"

"Alright!" Kittan leveled himself at a crippled enemy. "Time to finish you!" He didn't get a chance, though, because a torpedo suddenly fell from the sky and crushed it like an empty soda can. "Um… Nice shot?" The yellow mecha's hands went to its hips. Then the torpedo exploded violently, sending the King Kittan flying several hundred meters. When it recovered it waved an angry fist at Dai-Gankai and yelled, "Watch it, Nia?"

"It doesn't…seem to…work?" the little digger said worriedly as she tried to keep her spiral gauge stable. Meanwhile, the fortress below her moved its many legs and freed itself from the ravine. Liberated as it was, however, the beast still refused to be tamed. It roared and thrashed, its weapons firing erratically, showering friend and foe alike with a rain of torpedoes, missiles and mines.

"Something's gone very wrong!" declared Leeron, his hands drumming nervously on his monitor. It showed Solvernia and Dai-Gankai; the former had an image of Nia's heart, broken in two, and the latter had spirals fluctuating around it, as if they didn't have enough power to keep hold of it. "The combining process is not going smoothly!"

"Maybe there's something wrong with Nia," Rossiu suggested quickly. "If Solvernia's power is tied to Nia's mental state, as you said, then perhaps something is bothering her enough to disrupt the flow of energy."

Kiyal listened by the door. She knew exactly what was going on. But she didn't dare say yet.

"Apparently," Tsuuma said, returning to her normal tone, "The combining process is not going as they planned. Lady Adiane, if we send someone to remove the parasite, then we will regain complete control over Dai-Gankai!"

"Send someone? I'll do it myself!" declared the General.

A hatch opened on the fortress' head, and a ganman appeared. Unlike most ganmen, its shape was feminine; its red eyes functioned as a pair of breasts, and its v-shaped mouth rested at its crotch (making the more sensible Dai-Gurren members more than slightly nauseous). On top of it rested an angular helmet, which formed a second head, and attached to its back there were a pair of huge wings, painted to resemble a pair of intimidating eyes. This was Divine General Adiane's Sayrune.

At that moment it started to rain; not yet a downpour, but a strong drizzle.

"It looks like your plan has gone awry," Viral chuckled. He then ordered, "All surviving units, retreat to Dai-Gankai! General Adiane will take our ship back!" He'd barely finished the last word before Kamina threw his bladeshades, knocking the commander to the ground.

"Nia, what's going on?" Kamina said, his face appearing at the side of Solvernia's panel.

"I don't know, brother!" she said, desperately trying to move the controls in any direction. Nothing helped in the slightest.

"Are you alright, Nia?" Kamina asked again.

"Y-yes!" she lied. "I don't understand why I can't control it!" But she knew. The images flashed through her mind over and over no matter how hard she repressed them. She stopped and pressed the palms of her hands to her eyelids, trying to physically block them out.

When she removed her hands, she was looking up into a pair of menacing red eyes.

"So this is the mini-ganman that's causing all the ruckus?" Adiane was clearly unimpressed. "Well, I'm not one to leave problems unsolved, no matter how small!"

With that, Sayrune became a white blur and before Nia could realize it, she was staring down a humongous white scorpion. She gulped as the claws grabbed her, preventing escape, and she covered her ears as they began forcefully wrenching her from her position with a shriek of rending metal. Adiane laughed as she jabbed at the mecha's canopy with her stinger.

"Music to my ears!" She chuckled evilly as her strikes increased in intensity. "Come on out of that little cage! We're going to have so much fun!"

"What is happening to Nia?" Kamina asked, concern evident in his voice.

"Kamina." Kiyal's voice came to him, sounding weary. She was using Leeron's communicator which he had, at her request, reconfigured for a private conversation. "I know what's wrong with Nia."

"What? Quick!"

"It's…a matter of love."

"Love? You telling me somebody broke her heart? Tell me who the bastard is!"

"… It's you."

There was a moment of silence.

"What?"

"She's always loved you, Kamina." Kiyal's voice was starting to break. "She actually wanted to marry you. And then she saw you with Yoko and…"

"No, she understood…wrong… wait… Nia wanted to marry me?"

Gears started to click beneath his blue hair. Memories came together. With deliberate thought he recalled all of the times Nia had agreed with him, blindly, almost stupidly, never asking questions.

"What am I supposed to do?" she'd said before they built the pigmole stair in Jiha.

"Show me some spirit!" he'd said, before defeating the pair of ganmen harassing Littner.

"S-sorry…I didn't know what to do. I-I was afraid, afraid to die, afraid to lose you, sorry," she'd said, after he'd asked why she'd run from Enki.

"No questions! I'm going to need all of your spirit, Nia!" he'd said in Gorodo, before taking on Yamikaze.

"Brother! I don't think it would be a bad idea to run!" she'd said, before he'd said they wouldn't be retreating from the first encounter with Dai-Gankai and he'd refused to run.

"You're gonna do this, sis!" He'd pointed at her.

"She never…told me what she wanted, did she?" Kamina asked, staring blankly at the horizon, his grip loose on the controls. He realized that if he ordered her to jump off a cliff, she would do it, and probably smile all the way down. "If God gave me a heaven to pierce, why am I using others to do it for me?" He felt shame, a shame like he never felt, because every time Nia agreed to his crazy plans she'd only done so to be close to him, and he'd abused that relentlessly.

He looked at the battle's progress. The two forces had reached a stalemate, Dai-Gurren too stubborn to relent, but the enemy forces equally stubborn in their defense. He saw Moshogun clashing its blades with another ganman, and Makken let his guard down for a moment, leaving an opening to receive a sucker-punch. If it weren't for Kiddknuckle giving support, firing its pistols, it couldn't be guaranteed that he would be standing there anymore. He watched as both allies retreated. Twinboekkun's luck wasn't much better, tailed as it was by three knife-flinging monkey-ganmen. He looked to his left and saw Ainzer. Yoko was reloading when an explosion shook the green ganman. She screamed and fell over but managed to grab hold of the seat, taking care not to drop her rifle, and Ainzer retreated.

"They're doing…what I want…and if they die, it'll be my fault…Is this the right thing to do? Is this what Nia wants? Or…am I just being selfish?"

"…Like hell!" he cried, and punched himself in the jaw. "Who the hell do you think you are, Kamina?"

"Guys! Look after yourselves, and don't be afraid to retreat if things aren't goin' well!" he ordered as he darted off, Dayakkaiser providing cover fire. "I'm going to go see Nia!"

He climbed on Dai-Gankai by the tail, running down the entire thing as faster he could. When he saw Sayrune and Solvernia, he jumped from the submarine section and sent Gurren into an aerial spin. "GURREN! ULTIMATE FIREHEART! THUNDER! KIIIIICK!" he cried, and before the words were even out of his mouth a bolt of lightning jumped down and hit Gurren, propelling it downwards with the force of electric discharge and delivering the strongest kick ever delivered right into the face of Adiane's mech.

"What was that?" Adiana cried as her ganman skidded across the muddy battlefield like a hockey puck.

The impact was so strong that it actually damaged Gurren's leg, tearing off some scraps of metal from its knee, but Kamina got out without any problems and slammed into Solvernia's canopy. He pounded on it, yelling "Open the hatch, Nia!"

The canopy retracted, revealing one very scared and very confused little girl. Kamina leaned in close, flexing his arm, and yelled "Close your eyes, Nia!"

She could only do as he said and scream in fright. Then, suddenly, her mouth was otherwise occupied.

She barely reacted. Her body wouldn't move. She couldn't even breath. Every inch of her skin tingled in a way it never had before. She could feel everything, even the most minute sensation, and for a moment Kamina became a presence within her mind, filling every single corner of it.

It only ended when he retreated.

"What, Bro?" she managed to say around lips that were having trouble cooperating.

"You snapped out of it yet?" he asked, a sheepish grin stamped on his face. "It's like I said: you're my sister. You've got heavens to pierce, and they're not necessarily the same ones as mine." Her eyes gleamed and she slowly smiled. "Sorry for never having asked your opinion in my plans… Now, Nia, do you want to take over this behemoth for us?"

"Yes, brother!" she said, so happy she almost jumped out of her seat. "I would agree with anything you'd say!"

"No, Nia," she reprehended her, without any trace of anger. Her smile dropped. "You're you, Nia, not an extension of me. It's time for you to do what you want, because you want to do it."

"Uh…"

"Look, there's the Nia that is always doing whatever I say." He pointed at her heart. "But then there's the real Nia, inside of you. The Nia that's always got my back. The Nia that can face down any danger and come out on top. The Nia that I believe in." He smiled serenely as Nia began to nod understandingly. "Believe in the Nia that I believe in!"

"I will!" Nia said, her smile returning.

"Now, one more time: do you want to take over this big purple behemoth?"

"Yes, brother, because it's…" She looked down and searched, in her heart, for the right words; the words that she believed in.

"For Team Dai-Gurren, and all the humans on the surface!"

"That's the spirit, sis! Remember that even if we have different heavens to pierce, we can do it together! And besides, next time I'll have to punch you!"

"Alright! But, um…Kamina? You're missing a tooth?"

He just grinned at her wordlessly, a goofy toothless grin.

And so, the spiral gauge blazed with energy, overflowing from green to white. On Leeron's monitor, the heart repaired itself, the mecha glowed, and the green lines extended outwards, quickly and evenly overtaking the body of Dai-Gankai. Leeron, Rossiu and Kiyal cheered as a flaming skull popped up over it, signifying complete capture.

Kamina returned to Gurren's cockpit, a smile on his face. He'd put a smile on his sister's face, and that, he decided, was the best thing he'd ever done in his entire life.

"Human, you did manage to piss me off," Adiane hissed as Sayrune used a platform of water to elevate itself back up. "Attacking from behind, and even putting an atrocious dent in my majestic Sayrune!" The sleek mecha stepped back on to Dai-Gankai's head, wings spread and eyes glowing red. Her face appeared on Kamina's viewscreen, snarling menacingly. "Are you aware of who I am? I am Adiane the Elegant! The Western General, master of the seas, personally chosen by the Spiral King himself! One of the handful privileged enough to know his true name: Lordgenome!"

"Alright! Finally, somebody who can match the Great Kamina! I was starting to get sick of fuzzball and coward bitch!" He smirked, completely unfazed. "And the Spiral King is named Lordgenome? Are you sure you didn't hear wrong? He could be Lord Genome, Lord Lordgenome or just Da Big G! And if it's such a big secret, why're you telling me?"

"BECAUSE YOU WILL NOT LIVE TO TELL ANYONE ELSE!" she cried, and Sayrune advanced. Its fingers transformed into claws as it dove forwards. Gurren tilted to the side, just barely dodging, but Adiane swiped the claw sideways and managed to smack Kamina in the side. Gurren was thrown off-balance, and the General took that opportunity to spin around and jam the other claw right into its eye. Kamina grit his teeth, almost able to feel his own eye being gouged out. Adiane screamed and continued her onslaught, tearing away the corner above the destroyed eye. Gurren's panels started to blink red, indicating that a good chunk of the mecha damaged beyond functioning. Then Adiane grabbed the red mecha, twisted, and threw it to the ground. Kamina grunted, concern beginning to filter past his suicidal confidence. Still, he grabbed at the bladeshades and prepared to face the rest of the onslaught.

But they weren't there.

"Where are my-?" he began, but was cut off by Sayrune booting him high into the air. A projectile slammed into him from behind; it was his bladeshades.

"I figured you'd need these!" called Viral triumphantly.

Gurren fell back to the deck with a crash, its shades spinning down to stick into the metallic surface close-by. They were cracked in several places, but Dai-Gurren's leader still reached out for them. Sayrune advanced slowly, allowing him time to recompose himself.

"Kamina!" Nia screamed inside Solvernia, "Kamina needs help! Someone, do something!" She detached from the battleship and sprinted over to Kamina. Sayrune didn't even turn, but manifested a whip from one arm that crashed into Solvernia and sent the mini-mecha flying. Nia crashed into the deck and lay there for a moment, dazed.

"Nia!" Kamina screamed, lunged at Sayrune with the bladeshades. One of the wings folded out to block the attack, but Kamina just kept bashing at it, hoping it would give way. The General threw out a whip, ensnared his arm, and tossed him back to the ground.

"Kamina!" Yoko yelled, clearly upset. "Iraak, quick, move to the right!" She aimed at Sayrune, unaware that she herself was being targeted.

"You said you'd watch his back, but who's watching yours, sniper?" Cinoshisa muttered from her perch on a rock not too far away. He sighted down the revolver's barrel at Yoko. It was made for a shorter range of combat, but would be deadly from a big enough range with enough skill and luck.

"Uhn?" Kittan said, seeing Namtaru taking aim at Ainzer and he realized that even if Ainzer could survive the blast, Yoko would still be in serious danger. So he ran, crying, "Yoko! Watch out!" and threw himself in front of Ainzer, causing Yoko to miss. The shot glanced off of the purple armor by Adiane's feet.

"Viral!" Adiane ordered. "I don't want little mosquitoes taking bites at my expense!"

"As you wish, milady!" He kneeled and summoned his hand shield, lifting up to block any more ranged shots.

"I missed!" Yoko seethed. "Kittan, why did you do that?" However she gulped when she saw what happened afterwards.

Unfortunately, Kittan's move continued to cost his teammates, as Namtaru fired two shots: one that exploded against that star's tip, and one that pegged the ganman right between the eyes. King Kittan spit out the cockpit as more shots peppered its surface.

"We lost King Kittan!" Leeron cried. The icon for King Kittan was turned off, but Kittan's icon was still working.

"About time we got one," deadpanned Tsuuma.

"Big brother!" Kiyal cried, slamming her hands on the console.

"I'm alright," he said. "But, damn! I lost my ganman!"

"We can rebuild it! Thankfully the ejection system that I installed worked." Leeron sighed and gave a worried look to Gurren's status. "Kamina, you need to eject too!"

However, Kamina was a bit more focused on just getting up. The damage to Gurren's leg had progressed from bad to worse, and even with his bladeshades as a crutch he wasn't going anywhere fast. Adiane looked down on him.

"You fight well for a human." She sneered, and her eyes glowed red again; Kamina knew that this fight was about to get even tougher. "But your rebellion ends here! Vane Whip!" With that, eight whips of rose-red energy emerged from the sides of Sayrune. They grabbed the bladeshades from Gurren's hand and tossed them away, and then they perforated Gurren's armor as if were made of plastic. Two hit the legs, three punched through the head, and another three went straight into the cockpit.

Kamina struggled to not scream as the whips pierced him; two of them hit him, one in the left leg and the other at the right side of his belly, and the last one missed his head by a few inches. The pain was irresistible, like fire in his body, and after a few short milliseconds he blurted out a blood-curdling scream that echoed across all channels. Nia woke, startled, and sat there with eyes wide; Twinboekkun froze in the act of picking up Kittan's cockpit; Yoko and Dayakka froze in the middle of firing.

The scream slowly faded away into a gurgling moan.

Yoko and Dayakka redoubled their efforts to punch past Enkidu's shield, and were rewarded; the shield was reduced to smithereens and, with a last shot by Dayakka, Enkidu was knocked off of Dai-Gankai. Yoko quickly aimed at Sayrune and fired…but the bullet merely pinged off harmlessly, deflected by one of its wings. Then she saw a crack on Sayrune's armor, right below the helmet. She quickly took the shot, but was blocked by two enemy ganmen. The one which was hit immediately exploded, leaving only one, shaped like a mongoose. She snarled at it and depressed the trigger, aiming to blow it to smithereens.

She was met with a clicking sound.

"Out of ammo?" she asked, incredulous.

"I can't get a straight shot!" Dayakka yelled, while fighting a third enemy that jumped on his cannon.

"Lady Adiane," the pilot of the mongoose ganman said, realizing that he had a window of opportunity. He bowed and presented to her a dagger.

The General smirked and accepted his offering. For several short seconds, the battle stopped. All combatants froze, mid-combat, and turned to the scorpion lady. She lifted the dagger and looked to the back of Gurren, guessing the position of its pilot. Her psychotic smirk grew.

The dagger slid through the armor like it was made of butter, its tip entering right into Kamina's back.

This time, he screamed from the start. His shriek of agony rang out across the battlefield, piercing the years of all present, and all fell silent against the force of his anguish. Every member of Team Dai-Gurren froze, looking up at the source of the scream. Then, gradually, his cry faded away, until all was left was an echo.

Still smirking triumphantly, Adiane withdrew the dagger and lifted it high. The red glint of blood gleamed on its tip. Her remaining soldiers lifted their hands in support for her victory.

"Enemy defeated," proclaimed Tsuuma, as a red dot disappeared on her screen. "The loud one took long enough. Five left!"

"Kamina... is dead..." Leeron said, the words like acid on his tongue, as Gurren's icon turned black. Behind him, Kiyal and Rossiu stood uncomprehendingly, while the twins began to cry.

"No..." Yoko murmured disbelievingly.

"Kamina..." Nia gasped, her eyes wide and full of tears. Then she lifted her head and screamed something alien to the soldiers' ears, both humans and beastmen, a banshee's cry, full of rage and anguish and despair and grief. And with that scream, something changed. On Leeron's monitor, the courageous green flashed and transformed into a rapacious red that seemed to want to engulf everything, without control or restraint.

Outside, Dai-Gankai started to move, and all the ganmen on it began to slide off, including the lifeless Gurren. Adiane jumped off and turned to her warship, scrutinizing it intently. Where before it had appeared akin to an animal, now it had become a beast of fury, eyes glowing a raging red within its head. It looked to the sky, opened its maw, and howled, a bestial roar that could be heard for miles around; even Tsuuma and Leeron looked up in surprise from their monitors.

For some reason, Adiane felt sad. She then slapped herself to regain some composure. But the feeling, the disturbing, gnawing feeling, refused to go away; that was the power of Nia's howl. The battle's participants dropped their weapons, losing the will to fight. Ganmen fell to their knees in despair.

The rain began to fall harder, pounding down and turning the field into an ocean of mud.

Then, suddenly, every opening in Dai-Gankai's armor glowed red, and a great wave of energy burst out, carrying the beastman crew with it. It expanded until it engulfed the entire area; every ganman, every pilot, every hill, every corner of the ravine was submerged in the red energy. It skittered along cracks in the earth until it met fire equal to its fury.

A volcano exploded, lighting the bellies of the clouds with a grim red light.

The aquatic fortress howled again and began moving, firing randomly in all directions.

"What is happening?" Adiane narrowly dodged a shell that hurtled down next to her. Chunks of earth went up into the sky, but through it she could see the missile: it was shaped like a drill. "We don't have ammo like this!"

Another one impacted next to Namtaru. Cinoshisa looked at it with startled incomprehension; her shock was such that she actually removed her mask, just to confirm that what she was seeing was real.

Adiane had had enough, however. She gritted her teeth and yelled over the comms, "Tsuuma! Explain, now!"

"The mini-ganman's energy is going out of control!" she said hurriedly. On her monitor, scales and readouts flickered erratically. "There's no stopping it! Just stay out of the way!"

"Do you expect me to sit by while Dai-Gankai goes insane?"

"General Adiane, I-" Viral said, approaching her, but was cut off when the warship's tail swung around and smacked him. He was thrown really, really far away; so far that he actually disappeared out of sight.

"Viral?" Tsuuma blurted as the dot indicating Viral flew right off of her screen.

"Or perhaps I will wait and see…" Adiane reconsidered.

"According to its current trajectory," the mechanic said, "it will fall in the volcano. Such an anticlimactic end, but I'm okay with that."

"Leeron!" Yoko cried, "What's going on?"

"Dai-Gankai went berserk!" Leeron yelled back, his fear showing in his voice. All of his precious monitors were going crazy, overloaded by the fluctuations in Solvernia's energy. "It's out of control!"

"Nia, get a grip!" Dayakka called, followed by similar pleas from his teammates.

But Nia wasn't listening.

******************************

Lights flickered. Glass tinkled. The smell of blood and sweat was everywhere.

The rumble of Dai-Gankai's rampage just managed to penetrate. Overlaid on top of it was the cries of Dai-Gurren.

One eye cracked open, just a slit.

"Ugh... can't a man get some sleep…around here?"

Even without legs, hands were still an option. He took control once more.

******************************

"Nia, stop!" Kiyal yelled, desperately snatching the communicator from Leeron. "You're going to fall in the volcano! Don't die just yet!"

"It doesn't matter," she said, her voice almost inaudible. Dai-Gankai's rampage continued. Rivers of lava began to emerge as the eruptions continued to become more violent. The rain poured down without end, accompanied by the endless barrage of missile fire. Even Boota was incapable of calming down the heartbroken digger.

"I'm useless!" she cried out with a sob. "Useless! Useless! I deserve to die…and at least I'll join him there in death…"

Ganmen scurried away in all directions before Dai-Gankai's wrath. The titan's fury continued unabated and unchallenged.

Then a single battered, wrecked ganman dragged itself in front of the purple behemoth. Its crimson face looked up at the rampaging beast, looked right at the tiny red shape of Solvernia, and yelled out one word.

"Nia!"

Nia looked up with a gasp as the familiar voice pierced right through her despair. Then something unidentifiable and red crashed against Solvernia's canopy, causing her to shriek.

And Dai-Gankai miraculously stopped.

"Kamina?" Yoko gasped.

"I told ya that next time I'd have to punch you!"

Gurren stood proud in front of Dai-Gankai. It was wrecked beyond comprehension: perforated with holes, its arms practically ruined, half of one leg missing. But it stayed upright, challenging the heavens themselves with its very presence.

"Brother!" Nia smiled, her mouth opening in pure joy. "You're alive!"

"A true man doesn't die, even if he's killed!" Kamina said, smiling. "Just who the hell do you think are, Nia?" He then pointed to the sky, along with Gurren. "Never forget that your drill, Nia, your drill is the one that will pierce the heavens! And beyond! That giant water hose is yours now, you won this Nia! You don't have anything to worry about!"

Nia shed tears, but they were tears of joy, tears of unstoppable happiness.

"Kamina is alive!" The twins from Bakusa high-fived each other, accidentally smashing Kittan's cockpit between Twinboekkun's hands. It only barely managed to retain its shape, but it didn't matter because Kittan was too busy laughing to care, though he managed to yell "I'm okay!" when he realized. Everyone cheered.

"Kamina is alive, Leeron!" Rossiu cheered and slapped Leeron on the back. Behind him Kiyal did a dance with Gimmy and Darry.

"Leeron?" the boy asked. The engineer didn't reply. He just stared at Gurren's status screen. It hadn't changed.

"Why is he not dead?" Adiane cried, slamming both fists on the panel of her mecha.

"He is dead!" Tsuuma said. "That's what my computer says!"

"I hate computers!" snarled the general. "All troops! Attack the humans! Do not let them get away!"

The beastmen charged. Adiane switched to an exclusive channel and yelled, "Cinoshisa!

He wasn't there. She snarled and switched to an exterior view of Namtaru. The commander was outside his ganman, standing next to the drill. His hand was on its glowing surface, and he appeared to be analyzing it. The part that shocked Adiane, though, was that he was actually a she. She realized that Sayrune was staring, and turned to stare back with a smile, her mask held next to her exposed face.

"Ah, you wanted to see my face?" she replied in a smug and defiant tone.

Adiane growled at the sheer insolence of all of it, nearly snapping her controls in her rage. Noticing her bloodlust, Cinoshisa waved a finger.

"Go after me, and you just might lose Dai-Gankai. Choose wisely."

"Traitor! I'll get you later!" Adiane gave her one last growl, then turned and sprinted towards Gurren.

Cinoshisa suddenly began giggling, and just couldn't stop. She was still giggling when she re-entered her cockpit, and didn't stop until she had picked up the drill with Namtaru's remaining arm. She was able to get out one sentence before the giggling began again.

"I just love when a plan comes together!"

Then with one last look back at the battlefield, she dashed off in the opposite direction, laughing all the way.

Yoko picked off ganmen one by one. Every shot connected, and every shot took out an enemy. "Kamina! I knew you couldn't be dead! You still owe me one, you thick-headed idiot!" Her joyous smile only grew wider as the battle began shifting in their favor.

"We won!" Nia cried happily. "Dai-Gankai is ours!" She moved the controls and the fully-tamed Dai-Gankai moved under her. "Everyone! Get on board!"

The beast roared again, but this time triumphantly, and Team Dai-Gurren roared with it.

Unfortunately, the beastmen still hadn't given up. More gunfire fell upon the rebels, scattering them.

"I will not tolerate anyone who's trying to steal my Dai-Gankai!" Adiane yelled, ordering to her troops to fire at will. "I won't accept the victory of a bunch of thieves and harlots!"

"Looks like she's too arrogant to learn when she's done…" muttered Kamina with some difficulty. "Nia!"

"Yes!"

"Let's wrap things up here!" He smiled. "Let's combine! One last time!"

"We will!" she happily replied as Solvernia detached from Dai-Gankai's head, leaving a trail of green energy. It picked Gurren's leg and the shades on its way, tossing them to Kamina.

"Now, let's do it!" Kamina's smile increased as Solvernia swapped its legs for a drill, smashing through the top of Gurren's head. Green light engulfed them both, wrapping around them like a drill.

"Kicking away the logic to do the impossible!" Kamina cried. "We will get through, by the fire of our willpower, even if it's crazy! Especially if it's crazy!"

All the damage done to Gurren was being repaired: the joints reconstructed themselves, the holes were closed as if nothing happened, the dirt in the red paint disappeared, even a waxy sheen appeared on its armor, as if it had been built only yesterday.

"If there's a wall in our way, we will smash it!" Nia agreed, as Gurren's eyes returned. "If there's no way, we will carve one by ourselves!"

Then Gurren's shades landed in its hands, and it placed them in front of its newly-repaired eyes. The shades themselves regenerated, the cracks and dents disappearing as if they'd never been there.

"THE SOULS OF THE DARING SIBLINGS BURN TOGETHER!" they cried at the same time. "SUPER-ULTRA COMBINING! GURREN SOLVERNIA!"

"Who…" Nia started.

"In the hell…" Kamina continued.

"DO YOU THINK WE ARE?" they yelled simultaneously.

Behind them, the volcano erupted.

"There's no one else like them…" Yoko said, smiling.

"Viral, you lucky bastard," Tsuuma said darkly as she saw the truly massive amounts of energy being produced. It was so insane that it was affecting the environment itself. It was so much that she rolled right past impressed and back around to deadpan. She looked to the fish-beastman next to her.

"You're going to need a new boss. Ciao." With that, she picked up her purse and strolled right out of there as fast as her legs could carry her.

"Everyone, attack at once!" Adiane ordered, figuring that she could at least overwhelm them through sheer numbers. Several grunts jumped at Gurren Solvernia.

"Is that so?" With a single snap, a dozen drills speared out from Gurren Solvernia, one for each enemy. The perforated ganmen exploded before they could reach the ground.

"Damn you! You're just a human! I won't tolerate this!" Adiane hollered. "Vane Whip!" The whips, hotter than magma, swept out towards Gurren Solvernia. They were quickly caught and tamed by the crimson mecha's hands.

"You have to do better than that!" Kamina yelled back.

"Human bastard!"

"…Nia…" he suddenly said to his sister. "I have to tell you… something important."

"Brother?" she asked, surprised.

"Believe in yourself… not in the Kamina who believes in you… not in the Nia that I believe in… Believe in the Nia…who believes in you…"

"Bro…"

Glowing with green energy, the bladeshades suddenly popped off and spun into the air. Kamina reached up and snatched them out of the air, and with a whirl he threw them at Sayrune.

"FINISHING MOVE!"

The shades, somehow, split in two. The two whirling projectiles slammed into Sayrune, battering the elegant mecha with a flurry of blows before pinning both arms and legs.

"GIGA!"

"What is this?" yelled Adiane, struggling to break free.

Kamina raised his hand, and his mecha did likewise. And as Dai-Gurren looked on in awe, all of the smaller drills retracted and formed into one massive drill on top of his raised fist, which grew larger and large until it was bigger than Gurren Solvernia. "DRIIILLLLLL!"

He leveled it at Sayrune, and with a crazed grin he yelled, "BREAAAKEEER!"

Riding on a trail of green light, Gurren Solvernia shot towards Sayrune like a rocket. Its drill didn't so much hit the silver mecha as phased through it, leaving behind a massive, smoking hole in its wake.

"Argh! Thy…milph!" uttered Adiane before she was reduced to dust.

Gurren Solvernia landed on the ground behind Sayrune. The drill retracted back into its fist, and it posed heroically.

Behind it, the floating form of Sayrune finally exploded, signifying their victory.

"Heaven... Pierced..." Kamina muttered, the triumph in his voice dulled by a crushing exhaustion. "That's all then…"

"We won, for real this time, brother!" Nia's eyes glowed happily in the light of the explosion. "Brother, look! We won! It's over!"

"I know…Later, Sis…"

Nia frowned, and looked down at her brother.

"Brother? Bro…"

******************************

Rain fell, mirroring the tears of Dai-Gurren, both at the battleground and at the control center. They tried to keep Nia away, but there was no stopping her. She clutched tightly at the body of Kamina, which still hung on to the controls, smiling eerily. It didn't even look like he had a traumatic death, he smiled as someone who had just completed an important task. Her clothes were soaked in his blood, but she didn't care. She just wanted to hold on to him forever.

Nearby, Yoko cried as well. She cried silent tears that rolled down her face, partially concealed by the raindrops that fell from above. Something inside her didn't want to believe it: it would be too cruel to think that the world would take away love just as she found it.

Some distance away, a black, winged shape hovered, watching them. Even from that distance its pilot could feel Dai-Gurren's sorrow. It could feel that something had been lost forever.

Something that never could be replaced.

Chapter Text

Death. A fact of life. No living thing was immune to it. People died. They'd been dying since the beginning of time. How else would they make room for the next generation? It was a natural cycle. Natural. Beginning, middle and end, and everyone hit the end eventually. You just had to live life to its fullest at every moment.

So why did it feel so wrong?

The rain was still falling, its pounding cadence acting as white noise on the backdrop of her thoughts.

"Nia!" called Kittan's voice, sharply interrupting her trance. "Stay focused!"

She shook her head, gripped the controls, and stared down the enemy before her.

"I will avenge General Adiane!" screamed the grunt, launching itself at her.

They'd expected Adiane's death to leave them with a lull in the fighting. Instead, the attacks had increased: surprise assaults and ambushes by grunts, looking to avenge their lady of war. They were amateurs, though, rushing blindly into battle, filled with bloodlust and rage. When confronted with Gurren Solvernia, they either fled or died.

This latest attack was no different. Gurren Solvernia pointed a drill at the assailant and fired. It penetrated the mouth with almost no effort at all, and the limp remains of the ganman fell to the ground without a sound.

Nia cringed as she realized that she'd just coldly reaped yet another life. A living, breathing, thinking being had just died at her hand. It didn't matter that it was the enemy. Any death, any at all, reminded her of her brother.

Thunder crashed on the horizon, and she cringed again. Was it judging her?

She shook her head. They were beastmen. They were evil. They were the ones responsible for Kamina's death. They'd cheered on Adiane. They'd taken Kamina's life.

They deserved it, whispered the Voice. It's your duty to avenge your brother. Fair's fair, after all.

She tried to ignore it. The Voice had appeared just after Kamina's death, and with each passing day it got harder to shut out.

You have power. Now you just have to use it.

The worst part was a small part of her wanted to hear the Voice's seductive words.

She let it in. Accepting her vengeful wrath, she gripped the controls tighter. The spiral gauge in front of her flickered, then turned an angry red.

She'd only experienced it twice, before Kamina's death, but now its temptation was almost constantly there. The green energy flowed like a calm river, guiding her through the flow of the battle to create a path for her and her friends. The red energy, on the other hand, was unstoppable, destructive and above all powerful; the only path it could create was one of destruction, obliterating all before it. At the same time, it was euphoric, like a rapture of the senses: when possessed by the red energy, Nia's anger or despair was intensified and focused so she could direct it at the enemy. It was like a forbidden pleasure.

She accepted the red flow, ignoring the pain in her stomach, like a weak punch to the gut, and the sudden weight on her mind.

Glowing red drills shot out of Gurren Solvernia's body, one for each of the twenty enemies, and homed in on them with unerring accuracy. Each one found its target, spearing ganmen like shish kabobs. Nia smirked darkly. Unlike the normal drills, these were fluid and flexible, like long tentacles, and like tentacles they acted, whipping about and smashing the enemy ganmen into the floor and walls of the ravine.

"Please, stop!" one of them begged as its ganman slammed against the ground repeatedly, deteriorating more with each hit. "I surrender! I surrender!"

Similar, desperate, pleas came from others.

"Nia..." Kittan muttered, mouth agape at her sudden ruthlesseness "That's enough, Nia! They've already been defeated!"

She snapped back to her senses at the Bachika's words, and with horror she regarded the destruction around her. Some of the wreckage was almost impossible to recognize as former ganmen. And of the intact ones, several had blood pouring out of their mouths.

"What…what did I do?" She trembled as the spiral gauge re-stabilized.

You did what you had to do, said the Voice.

She felt nauseous as she thought about blood. She hated to see blood. It reminded her of her brother's dead body. How would he react if he could see what she'd done?

Her nose felt strange, almost runny. She went to wipe it, and her hand came away with a thin trail of red. Filling her nostrils was the ferrous smell of blood.

She put her hands to her face and cried, Gurren Solvernia mimicking her.

******************************

"Viral, wake up!"

The commander's yellow eyes opened slowly. The first thing he saw was the sky; it was a fair day, the round dome of the heavens clear as glass save for a few scattered clouds. Then the face of his mechanic and direct subordinate swam into view.

"Tsuuma?" he said as he rubbed his eyes. He appeared to be leaning against some kind of rock.

"Sleepyhead," she joked. "Now get up and let's go back to the base!" She giggled cheerfully, and smiled.

"All right," he said. He smiled back. "It's good to see you smiling."

Then he frowned. "Wait...you're smiling?"

The world tilted and shifted, reasserting itself as the back of Enkidu's cockpit. At the same time all his other senses returned, including his sense of pain, which immediately hit him like a ton of bricks, evidenced by a moaning and he rubbing his back.

"Finally woke up, you lazy bum!"

Now that sounded more like Tsuuma.

"Tsuuma, what are you doing in the controls?" he groaned.

"What do you think? Piloting this bathtub." she replied sharply, not even bothering to look at him.

"Why?" he asked, stretching a little and getting another jolt of pain in the process.

"Because you can't pilot a ganman while your eyes aren't open, that's why!" Viral opened his mouth to ask a question, but Tsuuma cut him off. "Before you start asking any more stupid questions, Dai-Gankai threw you miles away from the battlefield. By the time I found you, you were covered in grape-hippo crap."

That explained the weird smell.

"Enkidu was in even worse shape. It's a miracle that this thing's even moving at all – thank you, I am a genius. Now we're en route back to the transport to the capital; all commanders were recalled to discuss the threat of Gurren Solvernia. What with Adiane's death, Upstairs is beginning to take matters a little more seriously."

"Adiane is dead?" he asked, shocked. "Why? How?"

"Because people die when they are killed." she replied, bluntly.

Viral wasn't ready for the shock. He'd failed. His fists clenched, and his blood boiled. "That bastard Kamina wins again…"

"It was a pricey victory, if it makes you feel any better. The loud one died too."

Viral was shocked for the second time in under a minute.

"No! He can't be dead!" He slammed his fist on the floor of the cockpit. "I wasn't done with him yet! That cheating bastard!"

"Personally, I wouldn't waste my energy on the dead. Thymilph's probably in conference with the Spiral King, the knights and the other two generals, right at this moment."

Viral grunted. He knew that Thymilph would likely demand explanations for their failure. But somehow that didn't seem so important.

******************************

Tsuuma's observation proved to be correct. On the other side of the world, the moon sat high in the sky, illuminating the Royal Capital Audience Chamber with its soft light.

It was a perfectly circular chamber, constructed of some green substance unlike any mineral known to man. In fact, 'constructed' is a bit inaccurate; rather, the chamber appeared as if it had been hewn straight out of the rock, and every surface was perfectly smooth, polished to a gleaming finish. Floating columns of the same green substance cast a faint green glow over the entire chamber, adding to the moonlight.

And in the center stood a spiral-shaped dais, upon which stood a similarly-shaped throne, upon which sat the Spiral King.

He was a bulky man, at least eight feet or two meters and a half in height, and his white cloak did little to obscure his impressive musculature. He was bald and had a thick black beard, perfectly maintained. And his eyes…they were like black pits etched with spirals. He practically breathed power. Surrounding him were some of the most beautiful women in the world, like perfect sculptures. Their eyes, on the other hand, were at times empty and at others filled with fear and subservience. Their smiles were plastic, like those of dolls.

Thymilph the Raging Wave had learned at great pain to never look them in the eyes. It was disconcerting at best. So, to distract himself, he focused on the burning feeling that rested in his heart. True to his name, rage was beginning to consume him, turning him into a destructive flood that would subsume his enemies. Adiane's death had greatly affected him: he'd killed the messenger on the spot, and he intended to do a lot more killing before he was done.

Gurren Solvernia. If he'd ever doubted its threat, recent events had persuaded him otherwise. It was just as dangerous as Viral had reported, perhaps even more so. Thymilph didn't care, though. He just wanted vengeance. And the slower and crueler, the better.

But he kept his composure in the Spiral King's presence. He turned his head to regard Cytomander the Swift, who stood nearby. He'd been the first to offer his condolences to the Fire General, although Thymilph was suspicious of how fast he'd found out. It is said that news flies; in that case, the Wind General had clearly learned to intercept it.

On his other side, General Guame the Immovable waited patiently. The little armadillo beastman was the oldest one alive, although some said he was something more…he smoked on his pipe idly, watching and waiting.

"Where is the Sixth Prince?" Cytomander whispered to Guame.

"His short life has passed into history," replied the armadillo, taking a drag on his pipe.

Cytomander nodded. So the Sixth Prince had failed the tests.

On the other side of the room stood the other Princes: the Spiral Knights, offspring of the Spiral King and his consorts. They were royalty, and it showed: they wore ceremonial garments of highest quality white silk, banded in places with different colors, unique to each prince. Each one also bore a cloak, embroidered with the emblem of their king: a stylized drill, as seen from the side. At the side of each one sat an ornate sword, the symbol of their knighthood. Their final distinguishing trait was their eyes: to a man, their pupils were in the shape of crosses.

In many respects they were similar to their father, but the one trait they had failed to acquire was his immortality. It was plain to them all that they were transient, while the King sat eternally on his throne of stone. None knew this better than Irenai, the First and eldest Prince, who was in much worse condition than his progenitor. He bore his white hair and beard with a certain amount of pride, and his brown eyes likewise were beginning to fade to white. His colors were white, red and black, and the other princes looked to him with a certain amount of respect.

With some difficulty he stepped forward.

"My lord," he began in a raspy, aged voice, "as you can see, the humans have slain Adiane and stolen the Dai-Gankai. I saw this all through the eyes of my Kuratori, and by its recordings, you may all do the same." Images were transmitted onto the floor, of Gurren Solvernia battling with several ganmen and winning. "They are valorous soldiers, and not to be underestimated. Even when at a disadvantage of both numbers and resources, they are capable achieving victory."

"I tend to agree with Sir Irenai," Guame remarked. "Even rats will fight back when cornered, and these humans are a good deal larger than your average rat."

"Your Majesty." Thymilph stepped forward. "I had a pact of cooperation with Adiane. Please, allow your humble servant to avenge her death."

"Heh," grunted the Spiral King, amused. "Pact of cooperation… is that what they are calling it these days?"

"Your Majesty, you saw how she died," he said, taking care to avoid telling the king what to do.

"Woo-hoo! These humans have got a real talent for bloodshed!" exclaimed one of the knights as the Giga Drill Break played out beneath his feet. He was of middling height and had wine-red eyes. His hair, though black, was painted with yellow streaks and combed up to resemble a flame. His ceremonial garment bore shades of orange and red. And his smile was…different. It was more of a smirk, really, of the kind that one would normally expect to find on a psychopath. General Thymilph groaned inwardly, but restrained himself. Experience had taught him that if you ignored Arshun, Fifth Prince, he was more likely to shut up.

"THE ENEMIES OF THE KING MUST BE PUNISHED FOR THEIR INSULT!" proclaimed the tallest knight. While not as tall as his father, he still had an impressive seven feet or two meters and ten of height. He was muscular, with dark blue hair and similarly-shaded eyes, and his clothes were banded with blue and purple. Zerael, Fourth Prince, wore a serious expression, and was as loud as he was loyal to Lordgenome, which is to say that his voice never dropped below a dull roar. "LET US CRUSH THEM, SMITE THEM, AND EXECUTE THEM TO SERVE AS TESTIMONY TO THE GLORIOUS RULE OF THE SPIRAL KING!" He slammed a fist into his palm. "MY LORD!" He lifted his sword to the ceiling, "YOU HAVE MY SWORD TO USE AS YOU PLEASE!"

His enthusiasm was not shared by the knight at his side, who rubbed at his ear uncomfortably. His most distinctive feature was that he had long hair of a dark green shade, which curled at the ends. His eyes were also green and he wore an impassive expression, indicating that he really had no desire to be there and didn't belong anyway. He was shorter than the others, relatively speaking, and his frame wasn't as bulky as the others; he was leaner, having perhaps inherited more traits from his mother than his father, but this didn't mean that he wasn't in shape. His ceremonial garments had shades of green, blue and yellow. The Third Prince, Stratos, decided to stay silent as always.

"Your loyalty is admirable, Zerael," the last knight said. Zerael smiled proudly, unaware of his brother's sarcasm. Dmitri, the Second Prince, was grey in hair and eye, but was still young enough to radiate an aura of reserved power. His ceremonial garments bore shades of gray, red and white. "Your highness, the Spiral Knights exist to protect the capital, but at your command we will range the distant corners of the planet. What is your will?"

"It will not be necessary," the Spiral King announced. "I will allow General Thymilph to embark on his desired mission. He will either retrieve Dai-Gankai intact, or destroy it."

"I thank you, Your Majesty." The General in question bowed. "Trust in your humble servant. The humans will meet a swift death."

Then a light green gleam enveloped him, and he disappeared.

"He was in a hurry..." Cytomander commented with a snort.

"Do you wish to say something, General Cytomander?" Lordgenome's voice boomed.

"Your Majesty, there is one thing that doesn't leave my mind, so I must ask: who will be the successor of Adiane?"

Guame smirked knowingly while the King answered: "It is a question that will be dealt with when the time is proper. Do not concern yourself."

"I accept His Majesty's decision." Cytomander bowed. "Then, I shall leave."

He disappeared in a rush of wind.

"You, my knights, are all dismissed. Except for you, Irenai."

"I LIVE TO SERVE THE KING!" Zerael proudly proclaimed, slamming his hand into his chest before leaving.

"Your Majesty." Dmitri bowed smoothly and left.

Stratos just held his hand to his chest in respect. He left as silently as he appeared.

"Good, it's finally over. I had some business to deal with," said Arshun dismissively.

"Do you mean to say that you have not yet discarded the Sixth Prince?" the King's voice boomed, indicating a subtle tone of surprise.

"I was going to do it, but then you called me!" he huffed indignantly.

"Watch your tone, Arshun!"

"Oh, come on, you need me! I do all your dirty work."

"I ordered you to dispose of him on my terms, not yours! Are you aware of how powerful I am to enforce my will?"

"Of course, dad!"

"Do not use that word to refer to me!" Lordgenome's tone of voice suddenly took on a threatening edge.

"Yes, Your Majesty," he said, rolling his eyes. He then strutted out of the chamber.

"Why is he like this?" Lordgenome sighed.

"I did my best to train him, my lord," Irenai said. "But he seems incapable of curbing his…unfortunate tendencies."

"I suppose you do not have to teach someone how to be evil," said the king pessimistically. "That is something the one can learn without a teacher."

Irenai cleared his throat and changed the topic. "By the way, your Majesty, Princess Ameli has taken her first steps yesterday."

"Irenai, am I a bad father?"

"Not in any way, my lord…but if I may speak frankly, my lord, I think you could be a better father if you participated a bit more in their development. You have been even losing the interest on your daughters. Princess Laci was only ten years old when she was discarded."

"They have tutors and caretakers and you," he said, indicating that this would be the last exchange on the topic. "I will only care for a son if I see in him the potential to succeed the burden I have borne for all these years. As for daughters, females are no use for ruling. I will let them live until they become self-aware. Princess Straea was the exception, not the rule, and you would do well to understand this."

"I understand, my lord," he said, sighing inwardly. In the two centuries during which he had served under the Spiral King, Irenai had seen only precious few of his half-brothers ascend to knighthood; of his half-sisters, none survived.

When he was fifty, he had come to be aware of the powerful despair that underlined his father's unchanging expression. Perhaps amused by his son's revelation, the king had offered him a deal: he could choose to know the secrets of the world, the secret of the Spiral King's burden, or he could become surrogate father to his half-brothers in exchange for an extended lifespan. Irenai had chosen the latter.

For two hundred years he had labored to groom his half-brothers into warriors, teaching them about honor, loyalty and chivalry along with the various arts of combat. More children passed the tests than before. But all he was doing was prolonging their life. Despite his own greatly prolonged life, he was starting to get old, and soon would not be around to act as mentor. And the Spiral King was still unwilling to name a successor.

"Good," intoned the King. "Now tell me the details you kept hidden from your brothers."

"Their spiral potential is massive, of course, but as of yet it's still in the development stage." He cleared his throat. "None have attained true potential. However…one manifested the red energy, even if for just a moment. It was terrifying."

"Red, hmm…this matches with the bursts of spiral energy I have been sensing recently. If it is red, though, I may have to take action myself…but if they are still in the developmental stage, Thymilph may yet have a chance. Are there any potential consorts among them?"

"There were three women with high potential, but I will have to gather more data."

"Excellent. I will change my orders regarding Dai-Gankai. You are dismissed."

"Yes, Your Majesty."

Irenai left.

There was a moment of silence.

"Are you still there, Guame?" said the Spiral King aloud.

"I was observing…" The armadillo took another drag on his pipe. "What will happen if they manage to transform potential into reality? Things could become very interesting and very complicated, very quickly."

"Observant as ever, Guame." The king smirked. "The humans seek the light, but they will learn that it is better to be blinded by darkness than to be blinded by light."

******************************

For seven days it had rained. It wasn't a vicious rain, but more of a steady drizzle, sometimes relenting for a precious hour or two, but always returning. It seemed as though the world itself mourned Kamina's death. The submarine warship trudged through the mud-covered landscape, its many legs barely providing even minimal speed. Nobody cared, though; the entire crew was struck by the same sense of despondency. They knew they had to keep moving forward, but they had nowhere to go forward to.

Whistling a bit in an attempt to relieve the dreary atmosphere, Leeron happily fixed a malfunctioning terminal. Dai-Gankai had changed a lot in the hands of its new owners. The ambient red lights had been replaced with standard fluorescents, while the repaired armor had been repainted a bright shade of crimson, with the team's emblem emblazoned upon its side. In fact, it wasn't really the Dai-Gankai anymore: it was the Dai-Gurren, the rebels' new mobile fortress.

"How's the ship, Leeron?" Dayakka asked. "Got all the kinks worked out yet?"

"I think I've got most of the problems," he replied as he finalized the repairs. They walked down the corridor together. "But I still think we're using it wrong. All evidence suggests that Dai-Gankai's built to be underwater."

"Dai-Gurren."

"Oh, yes, silly me~." He giggled. "Yoko insisted we rename it Dai-Gurren. I guess that's what Kamina would want."

"Yeah." Dayakka sighed. "I never expected that we would lose him..."

"None of us did. And I'm not sure that Nia's in the right condition for piloting." The mechanic wore a concerned look, which doubly concerned Dayakka. "Unfortunately, that's not the end of it either. Aside from its limited mobility on land, this ship has a limited carrying capacity. Our ganmen are just few enough to squeeze in, and even then we had to discard the claws for weight reasons. On the other hand, it's still undermanned, but if our little group grows any more, we might have a problem."

"You mean that we would have to abandon this ship?"

"I prefer to think we're going to acquire a bigger ship~" he said, trying to sound optimistic. "If worse comes to worst we can always discard the torpedoes, since they're useless on land anyway. And this ship still has a lot of features."

It was as high-tech as you could get for a submarine. There were quarters for everyone, even if they were a little small; two bunks per room, and small cupboards for personal belongings. There was a mess hall with a fully-functioning kitchen, and the pantries were stocked full with tasteless-but-nutritious military rations. A compact factory took up much of the lower levels, where ammo and spare parts could be produced and sent directly to the hangars, from which ganmen could be launched both up or to the sides. At the rear was the engine, a behemoth of a thing, which labored with difficulty to propel the sea fortress over land. Just in front of it had once rested the aqua-seismic generator, the scraps of which had been dumped; its chamber was now a supplies depot.

The bathrooms were a little small, though. Jorgun had tried to use one just off the engine room, and got stuck in the door. They had to free him with a high-powered cutter. He'd cried like a small child.

"Anyway, the engineers who built this place were really efficient. No waste at all! This thing could maintain a crew for months without returning to base. The only thing missing is a proper training facility."

"I'm just glad that we were able to repair King Kittan and Gurren," said Dayakka as they passed into the hangar. The two ganmen were lying out on the floor, while a repair team led by Leitte scurried over them. "You can't even tell that they were practically destroyed!"

"Nia, you need to get a grip!"

The yell was Kittan's, emanating from a nearby side corridor.

"Mm," grunted Leeron. "But it seems we still can't repair the most important thing: the heart."

They strode over to see what all the commotion was.

Kittan was angry with Nia. He didn't want to be angry with Nia. He didn't want to look into those once innocent blue eyes and tell her to suck it up. But he had to, because somebody had to fill the vacuum that Kamina left, and as leader of the Black Siblings he was the best candidate. Nominally Nia was leader, but he was sure she wasn't acting like one, so he'd had to step in.

"Listen up, Nia," he said carefully, trying to rein in his anger. "We're Team Gurren, and we kick logic to the curb, sure, but the way you fight is seriously worrying me!"

She looked at her toes and muttered, "I'm sorry..."

"Sorry ain't gonna cut it, Nia! What if you died out there? You have to start focusing, 'cuz believe me, the enemy ain't gonna wait for you to wander back from la-la land! I know you're still down about Kamina, but crying ain't gonna bring him back! In fact, the reason he's dead 'cause you…weren't…"

The words died in his mouth as he realized, too late, that he was going too far. Nia's eyes widened and filled with tears, and she ran away sobbing. The eldest Bachika kicked the wall in frustration, muttering "Damn!"

"Nice job, bro," said Kiyal quietly from behind Leeron and Dayakka.

Nia ran by Yoko, who just scoffed and muttered, "Weakling." The sniper didn't even want to look at Nia. She just continued walking, saying "I knew this would happen…" Nia wasn't a soldier. She was too idealistic, and her ideals had no place in the real world. It was all Kamina's fault, for forcing her to be something she wasn't. And now he was dead.

Kiyal thought it was tragic. She saw in Yoko the same thing she saw in Nia: the same deadness, the same lack of life. They were united and separated by the same man. It was clear that something had to be done.

A plan started to form.

******************************

Arriving at her room, which was Adiane's former chambers, Nia stuffed her face into her pillow, trying to at least muffle the sound of her sobs. Boota scurried over and tried to comfort her, to little success.

"It doesn't matter, Boota," she said between hiccups. "Nothing will change the fact that I killed Kamina..."

******************************

In the mess hall, Zorthy, Iraak and Kidd were seated around a table, eating their meal. Across from them, the Bakusa twins were also eating their midday meal, but "eating" was really a bit of a stretch: it would be more fair to say that they assaulted their food, attacking it with a viciousness that was normally reserved for enemy ganmen. It was a terrifying sight, and so the others had wordlessly decided to hold off on eating until the twins had finished obliterating their food.

And so they discussed.

"It's got to be Kittan," asserted Iraak. "He pulled his together. I mean, what other options do we have?"

"Well, there's Dayakka," Zorthy noted. "He was chief of a surface village for a damn long time."

Kidd snorted. "I dunno. He doesn't seem like the type to succeed Kamina. Y'know?"

"So who else? I dunno, Gabal maybe?" Zorthy poked idly at his food. "He's got experience, but no real leadership skills. Can anyone really succeed Kamina, though? I mean, I'd volunteer myself, but I dunno if you guys would all approve."

"Real subtle, there," said Kidd with another snort. He then turned to his own food. The twins had finished and left, so they were free to eat in peace.

"Either way, one thing's for certain," said Zorthy, chewing on his cigarette. "That weird-haired girl can't lead Team Gurren." And they agreed.

"Dai-Gurren!" admonished a feminine voice. Yoko slammed her tray of food on the table and took a seat. "It's Team Dai-Gurren!"

No matter how hot she was, the men could all recognize her expression and knew to stay well away. They picked up their trays and left.

Yoko bit into a piece of meat vengefully. She didn't mind being alone. She preferred to be alone. She didn't want to talk, and she sure as hell didn't need to listen to anyone else's stupidity. She tore into her meal with methodical anger. Had to maintain the body. Wouldn't do to be undernourished.

Dayakka approached. Her scowl tried to deepen, but it was Dayakka. She knew him. He was different. They'd fought together, and nearly died together, and at times he'd even comforted her. So she let him sit across from her.

"What is it, Dayakka?"

"Just wanted to know how you were feeling," he said carefully. It was pretty subtle, as questions go, but all the same it was pretty obvious what he was getting at.

"We did it, Dayakka," she said after a moment of grim silence. "Less than two months ago I wouldn't have believed it. We have our own mobile base, and our own team of ganmen. And all it took was one idiot with an idea."

Dayakka stared at her silently.

"You know, a lot of people died to protect Littner," she continued, unbidden. "I can name them, you know. Keda…Kaia…Mycee…Nashika…Mom and Dad, but they are alive, at least… I wish they were here…"

"Yoko..."

"But I'm a grownup. I move on. You can't hold on to anything, you just have to be ready to say good-bye when the time comes." She smiled sadly at her vegetables. "So why can't I say good-bye…?" She blinked and seemed to come back to herself. "What am I saying? I'm a big girl, I'll be fine!" She stuffed a mouthful of food into her mouth. "Got to eat, keep myself in fighting shape! And after this, it's off to the deck for target practice!"

Dayakka sighed. There was really nothing he could say to her. So he settled for listening.

"Yoko!" called a cheerful voice from just behind Yoko.

"What is it, Kiyal?" she said, barely sparing her a glance. "No need to yell."

"Well, I need to make sure you listen," said the purple-headed girl cheerfully. "You're my friend, Yoko, and so is Nia. And I think you should have a talk with her."

"Why would I do that?"

"We~ll, Nia's been kind of out of it since…you know. And I think talking to you would do her good."

Yoko considered this for a couple of seconds.

"…Okay," she said finally. "I guess I'll give it a try."

******************************

Nia sat on her bed. Yoko sat on a chair. Kiyal sat on the floor, completely oblivious to the tension between the two. There was no doubt in her mind that this was a terrific idea.

"So…Nia," mumbled Yoko. "How are you?"

"I'm…better…" returned the digger, although her expression indicated otherwise.

"It's not easy…losing someone…I lost a lot of friends in Littner, what with the beastman attacks…but what am I talking about, you know about all this, I mean your parents-"

"I barely remember them..." The little digger shrunk. "Kamina helped me move on without them. Now he's gone, and I've got nothing left…"

"Nia, you don't..." began Yoko, but was interrupted by Nia.

"You just knew Kamina for seven weeks." She lifted her head, and her blue eyes met Yoko's yellow ones. "I knew him for seven years. Why would he love you and not me?"

"Do I look like I know? God, half the time I couldn't tell if anything at all was happening between his ears!"

"That's right! What did you know about him?" Nia rose to her feet, her depression suddenly flaring into anger. "I knew him better than anyone else! And then you just dropped in and stole him!"

"Steal?" The redhead scowled and rose to loom over the diminutive digger. "It's your fault for waiting so damn long! I can't steal what wasn't yours to begin with!"

"We're sisters! I helped you, so you were supposed to help me!"

"You told me to be myself! So that's what I did!"

"You were supposed to be yourself with another person! Not Kamina!"

"Why did you think you had any chance? He was your brother, not your potential boyfriend!"

"Why shouldn't I have a chance? Is it because I don't dress like a…" She struggled with the effort of finding an insulting word. Her vocabulary in that respect was not very large. "Like a…" She rooted through her memories, and finally pounced upon the word her brother had used to describe Cinoshisa. "Bitch!"

"At least I'm a real woman, not some immature little girl!" Yoko bit her lip. Something in her rebelled against the idea of trying to hurt Nia, but if the girl was willing to throw the first stone, then she had to learn that they got thrown back. "You're not a soldier. You're a child. A civilian. You don't even know how to use a gun! I shouldn't have believed in you, and you know what, Kamina shouldn't have either! Maybe then he'd still be alive!"

Nia had no reply. She just had a look that hovered somewhere between wounded and enraged. She was torn between screaming and crying, and in the end swallowed both. She turned on her heel and crossed her arms.

"Get out of my room!" she ordered.

"Fine!"

"Fine!"

"Fine!"

"Fine!"

"Fine!"

"Fine!"

Yoko stormed out.

Kiyal moaned and held her head in her hands. It was trying to put out a fire with gasoline. "What have I done?" she muttered helplessly. Now they weren't just giving each other the cold shoulder; they were actively trying to hurt each other. If they were men they would have just duked it out with fists, but they were women and their methods were so much crueler, and far more painful.

She opened her mouth to apologize, but Nia cut her off.

"Please leave, Kiyal."

The Bachika's mouth opened and closed multiple times, but in the end she had no words. So she honored her friend's request, and left, downtrodden.

The door snapped closed, and finally Nia cried.

******************************

"Kamina, you jerk!"

Yoko punched the wall of the shower, bloodying her knuckles for the effort. The blood ran down her hand, mingling with the warm water of the shower.

"You said you'd repay that kiss ten times over, but you just left a hole in my heart ten times as big!"

She leaned her head against the wall and breathed slowly. When she continued, it was in a whisper.

"Not just my heart, but your sister's as well…and I just made it bigger…"

******************************

"Incompetents!"

Thymilph's bellow lingered in the meeting chamber for several extra seconds, just ensure that every single commander understood how much of a failure he was.

"Idiots!" he continued, unleashing all of the pent-up fury he'd been forced to hold back. "How could you let your general die, and save your own lives?"

Six beastman commanders flinched. Viral and Cinoshisa were the only two to remain impassive. Thymilph gestured angrily.

"Disgusting cowards! Running to save your own mongrel hides!"

A purple cat beastman raised his hand. "But, sir, I wasn't participati-"

"Imbecile!" The General stared him down. "I ordered to all commanders to give support to Adiane!"

"But sir, I serve under Cytomander," a white pigeon beastman tried to explain.

"I said all commanders!" he roared, grabbing him by the beak. "Filthy trash like you let her die!" He tossed aside the offending commander, and rounded on Viral and Cinoshisa. "And you two! The most distinguished commanders in the army? You're completely worthless!"

"Sir, I failed you!" Viral bowed. "Please, give me a chance to avenge Adiane as well!"

The General's response was to slam a hammy fist down on the commander's head and kick him while he was on the floor. "You were once my best student, but now you're just scum like the rest of them!" He grabbed his hammer. "I should smash all of you right now!"

"You will not do this." Cinoshisa's voice was frigid. Thymilph gave him a glare so full of hate that it physically pushed the other commanders back.

"I'll start with you then!" screamed the General. He lifted his hammer to strike. Cinoshisa didn't move, but his armor did; a piece of it shot out and intercepted the oncoming mass. It was deflected and crashed into a warthog beastman to the side. Both commander and General were splashed with blood, while the piece of armor returned to its place, pulled by some sort of cable.

They were silent for a while, Thymilph breathing heavily and glaring death, Cinoshisa wordlessly resistant. Finally, the armor's eyes glowed.

"Your element is fire," he said in a robotic voice. "Fire is hard to control. One small mistake, and you will burn down the entire base. But direct it, and it is a force to be reckoned with."

Thymilph glared whole armories full of daggers.

"Adiane knew that death was a possibility," continued Cinoshisa, "and fought regardless. If you wish to honor her memory, you would do well to use your fire as fuel for your plans. Now if you'll excuse me, as her direct successor, I have certain responsibilities, like relaying the message to find a new commander for the Southeastern Theater."

The robotic commander turned abruptly and left through the sliding door, leaving six dumbfounded beastmen, one dead boar, and one angry ape in her wake.

Thymilph gripped his hammer tighter, but as much as he hated to admit it, the tin can was right. He was killing subordinates that he could be sending to the front lines. And if that wasn't an appropriate punishment, then what was?

He breathed slowly, and then turned to Viral. "Take me to your subordinate."

******************************

Tsuuma swung gently over an abyss, held only by Thymilph's massive fist around her ankle.

"I don't want to listen to your stupid remarks, and I don't care if the capital's machinery has to wait three hundred years to be repaired!" growled the General. "I ask, and you answer!"

Viral looked on in dazed shock as his own subordinate was threatened with certain death. In any other circumstances he'd try to save Tsuuma, but he was at Thymilph's mercy. He stared on blankly

Tsuuma, on the other hand, managed to keep enough presence of mind to nod affirmatively.

"Can Dai-Gunzan match Dai-Gankai?"

"O-of course!" gasped Tsuuma between panicked breaths. "They don't know how to use Dai-Gankai, they probably don't even know it's a submarine, so Dai-Gankai should be able to take it on without having to destroy it! I have a plan, too! Disguise your ship as a mountain, wait for them to come to us, and then take them out before they know what hit 'em!"

"Excellent!" purred the ape, tossing her against a nearby wall, thankfully inside the building. "We will be departing soon to Dai-Ganzan, and we will execute this plan of yours. I hope you're prepared for some human hunting!"

He turned and left.

"Tsuuma," said Viral, kneeling down and offering his partner a hand. "Are you okay?"

"What's wrong with General Tinkywinky?" she moaned, ignoring the proffered aid and getting up on her own.

"He's just angry because Adiane's dead…anything broken?"

"Why do you care?" she snapped. "You didn't care while he was threatening to kill me! Why should you care now?" She slapped him and stomped off, only turning to yell "Asskisser!" back at him.

"Asskisser…" he muttered, rubbing his cheek. It had been like getting hit with a piece of paper, but it hurt so much more.

Chapter Text

"Ow…"

Nia woke up in the dark, and rubbed her head. Clearly sleep was not equivalent to rest, and if anything her head felt heavier than before. She groped to her side until she found a lamp; it flickered to life, and dim light suffused the room.

With her sight returned, she slowly sat up and slid her legs off the bed. Boota was nowhere to be seen. Not that she cared; she didn't need his incessant patting and trying to comfort her. She didn't feel she deserved it. She wasn't even crying any more. It had to end sometime, and so it had; the tears had dried, and now she was just left feeling empty.

She stuck her feet into her leather boots and stood. For a moment she pretended that he was there, right beside her: she would lead him out on a tour of their new headquarters, take him up on the deck, sit with him under the endless night sky, tell him how awesome he was, tell him how much she loved him, hold him close and never let go…

She looked at the ceiling and waited for the tears. They never came. She'd run out.

She pushed the pommel and the door opened. She expected to find herself in Dai-Gurren's main corridor. Instead, she was treated to the sweeping vista of a barren, deserted valley. Craters and scorch marks pocked the plains, and metal skeletons lay rusting in the dust. Disturbingly red clouds rolled ominously across the sky, pressing down on the earth below. The only noise was the howl of the wind screeching across the empty valley.

She looked around. Her room was in a severed piece of Dai-Gurren. Half of the leviathan was hung over a giant rock, its jaws hanging open like some kind of humongous dead snake. Other bits and pieces were strewn over the valley, torn and mangled and rarely if ever recognizable.

Nia shivered instinctively and hugged herself. She stepped out into the deadlands.

Walking among the ruins, she recognized them as pieces of ganmen. They lay eerily in the silence, the wind howling monstrously through their metal frames. They bore the telltale marks of being severed, burned, crushed, drilled, destroyed; and she recognized the carnage as her own. Rubbing her arms, Nia started as she recognized some parts: dark Namtaru's smashed remains peeked out from under a boulder, while the bright Enkidu hung from a tall, thin drill. A thin sheen of crimson was visible at the drill's tip. Nia was hit with a sudden wave of nausea. She shook her head, and continued walking.

She saw the giant ganman Yamikaze, severed and smashed. Oddly, not all of the parts looked to be from the same unit; so there were others? One loose piece, dislodged by the wind, fell to the ground with an echoing clang, disturbing the fragile silence.

Then the wind brought with it an unbearable stench. Nia covered her nose with both hands as her legs collapsed, her knees sinking into the ground. It was a dark, rotten stink, like food gone bad only ten times worse. Despite it, she forced herself to her feet, and there in front of her was the body of a beastman.

She threw up almost immediately. The body had been pierced by a thousand tiny drills, and blood soaked the ground beneath it. When she lifted her head again, she was surrounded on all sides by more bodies, dead in the exact same way. The field of dead stretched out to the horizon on all sides, walling her in with the stench and the horror. She ran anyways, tripping and stumbling across bodies of all shapes and sizes. Finally she fell, sprawling on her hands and her knees in the midst of the corpses.

Beneath her was yet another cadaver. But this one rang a bell in her memory. It reminded her of Leeron. And on closer inspection, it was.

She tried to vomit again, and failed. Her legs went into autopilot, running blindly, sprinting, trying to take her anywhere but there, away from the stench and the bodies and the blood and the carnage. She ran for what seemed like hours, and stopped only when she reached the valley's end.

There, at the centre of a ravine, was a black ganman. Surrounding it were several smaller ganmen, which roared and attacked it. Her mind churned slowly, and she recognized Dayakka leading his men on foot with rifles. The black ganman ignored the other mecha and turned instead on the infantry, spitting tiny black drills from its palm. Nia didn't see them hit, but she could hear the screams.

Reality blurred, and she realized that the ganmen were the Team Dai-Gurren mecha: Twinboekkun, Moshogun, King Kittan, and all the others, charging at the dark ganman. She gasped in shock as it drilled through them without any apparent effort, and when the drills retracted they glistened red. Ainzer was the last to fall, and on top of it Yoko screamed before firing at the evil mecha. Nia's eyes widened as the bullet was caught in its black fingers, and widened further when it was flicked back straight through Yoko's heart, killing her instantly.

Without holding back, Nia screamed.

The ganman noticed her, and began marching in her direction, strolling as if it were on a leisurely walk through the park. Nia panicked and tried to move, but it was no good; her legs had frozen. When she looked down at the paralyzed limbs, she saw that her shadow was stretched out towards the black ganman, and was in fact the ganman's source. Or the contrary. She could only watch in terrified despair as the black ganman drew closer, shrinking with each step. Her despair only deepened as it stepped close enough and turned into a woman, taller than her and with long hair that moved like the locks of a medusa.

She breathed heavy, panicked breaths as the sentient shadow drew nearly nose-to-nose with her. Then it opened its eyes, no, its eyes surfaced from the darkness, and the two red orbs leered at her, accompanied by an awful smirk. Nia trembled with fear, and her shudders only increased as she came to the realization that there was something terrifyingly, disturbingly familiar about it.

"Hello, Nia," hissed the shadow in the tones of a grown woman. "It's so good to finally talk to you."

"W-w-what do you want?" The digger could hear her own voice squeaking on the last syllable. Her heart pounded in her chest, pummeling the surrounding organs.

"I just want to guide you." The shadow spread her arms out, encompassing the wide range of death and destruction. "This is your future."

Nia tried to force the word 'no' out of her throat, but it died halfway there. She worked her throat and jaw, trying and failing to make any audible sound.

"Come now. Don't be silly." The grin widened into a psychopathic smirk. "And don't try to lie to me either. You're not stupid, because I'm not stupid, and by now I think you've realized that I am you, and you are me."

The words hit Nia like a physical blow. She stumbled back, holding her head in her hands. The shadow advanced after her.

"Go on, try to repress me. You've done this for fifteen years, but now the right time has come." She reached out a hand and grabbed Nia's chin, forcing her to look up. Where the black fingers touched, the digger felt the sting of small burns. "Look at it! Look at what you are capable of! Look at how you killed them: the beastmen who dared to oppose you, your so-called friends who held you back, all of them dead at your hand."

The grotesque mouth came close, until its rancid breath brushed against her ear.

"And you enjoyed every second of it."

A twitch of the wrist, and Nia was thrown bodily to the ground. The shadow stepped forward and placed a black foot on her throat, crushing down with weight that it shouldn't have had.

"You can feel it, can't you? To take a life is such a sweet feeling; far sweeter than saving the same. Why don't you embrace it? Embrace me?" The weight increased, choking her. "Admit it. You'd love to bathe yourself in their blood, and wrap yourself in a blanket of their screams."

Nia choked and gagged, clutching at the black appendage, her fingers singing at the touch. The shadow sighed and reached down to grab her neck. It hauled her up off the ground, its sharp digits like steel bands around her throat. It brought her up to eye level and glared at her.

"Brother dear used to go on and on about how strong you are," it drawled sarcastically. "I don't know what he saw in you. For a digger, you're awfully reluctant to get yourself dirty." The jaw widened, baring rows of sharp teeth like polished flint. "Why not take pride in your filthiness? I'm not that bad when you get used to me. What's that? A no? The filthy little digger thinks she's above me? Well that's too bad."

The neck elongated, and the mouth parted further and further until it was an abyss of darkness.

"Then this is your fate!"

Nia finally managed to push out a terrified shriek, but it was too little, too late. The maw dropped down on her, encasing her in darkness, and she screamed again. She could feel the jagged teeth cutting at her as she was swallowed whole and then chewed, every inch of her shredded by invisible blades in the dark.

******************************

Nia woke in a cold sweat, surrounded by darkness. Her head lifted up off her pillow for a second before flopping back on to the pillow. The heaviness in her heart had somehow seeped into her head, and sleep hadn't helped.

She moved her arm, and accidentally knocked Boota off of the bed. He grumbled at her, but she didn't hear him. Memories of the dream infested her mind, blocking out all thought with visions of blood and torture and destruction…

She jumped out of bed, clutching her stomach, and dashed to the bathroom.

******************************

Four days passed, and nothing changed. The rain came and went. On the second day there was no rain, but heavy clouds built overhead; on the third day Mother Nature made up for it by pummeling the earth with a relentless torrent that threatened to wash the ground away. Dai-Gurren almost swam at that day. Despite the horrid weather, the beastmen attacked repeatedly, somehow incapable of comprehending that victory was impossible. Through the rain and the mud and the slush, they continued their pointless assault.

"Enemy approaching," said Kinon tiredly. The lights from the scanner blinked up at her, intermittently lighting up her face with red pinpoints.

"This isn't bravery; this is stupidity!" Gabal gripped the wheel tightly, his white moustache bristling with irritation. Given the average lifespan of a surface-living human, his ivory bristles acted as a kind of testament to his skill and experience. For the moment, he contented himself with the position of navigator; he'd left the fighting for his village at the hands of his eldest son, and didn't plan on entering combat again anytime soon. "Can't we just shoot them with the cannons?"

"We don't have a clear line of sight," replied Kinon. As per usual, Attenborough completely ignored her and started smashing buttons with his usual vigor. Also as per usual, he was completely ineffective and only succeeded in smashing some rocks.

"Nothing for it then. Send the ganmen." He took one hand off the wheel and mashed it down on a large red button. An alarm klaxon sounded, alerting all crew members. He then leaned over to a nearby microphone and announced, "The following ganmen will scramble! King Kittan…"

"On my way!" In the hangars, Kittan grinned. His mecha had just been repaired, and was shiny and new like the day it was made. He frowned briefly when he realized that the waxing would quickly be undone by the rain and mud, but then he rationalized that he was going into combat anyway, and he decided he'd just have to wax it again once he got back.

"…Ainzer…"

Iraak passed a hand through his hair, while Yoko checked her rifle and donned her raincoat.

Then the voice changed from Gabal to Leeron. "…and Gurren Solvernia. All others will remain on standby~."

Nobody looked at Nia. She remained staring at the floor.

On the bridge, Rossiu turned to Leeron, who was just letting go of the mic. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" he inquired. "It's been four days, but still…"

"I know that," said Leeron, turning his gaze on him. "But Nia is the only one capable of piloting our most powerful ganman. And she needs to move on." He looked out to the horizon, tension on his face. "Sending her out might not be the best idea, but we need her."

"That's true, but she's still not ready. That's why I have to be Nia's co-pilot."

"Alright." The mechanic closed his eyes and sighed. "Go for it, hon~"

"Thank you." The boy from Adai ran off.

"He's just like the rest of them in his own special way." Leeron winked at the bespectacled Bachika. "Isn't that right, Kinon?" She blushed a little in response.

******************************

Nia stared at Gurren Solvernia. She knew she had to get in, but there was no motivation. Where her courage had once been, there was now an empty space in her heart. With her brother gone, getting in and smashing some evildoer seemed…tasteless. Pointless. She lowered her head and prepared to leave.

"Nia!"

"What is it, Rossiu?" Her voice was faint, and lacked almost any emotion whatsoever.

"Thank goodness. You haven't left yet." He took a moment to catch his breath. The sound of the first two ganmen echoed through the bay. They were launched by a vertical pod, like ballistic missiles and they could execute long-range attacks with ease.

"I wasn't leaving anyway. What do you want?"

"I want to pilot with you."

She didn't reply immediately. Instead she just stared at him blankly. Then she turned her head and gazed out of the launching pod.

"Rossiu, you believe in gods," she said finally. "Tell me. Do they have an answer for why all this happened?"

"The gods of my village were a tool created out of misunderstanding and deceit," he replied. "I don't believe in them anymore."

"So how do you explain this?"

"I don't know, Nia." He sighed. "Come on, let's focus on the mission."

"But things have to happen for a greater reason." The words tasted like ash on her tongue. Even if she said it, she couldn't comprehend it. Eventually she just gave in with a sigh. "Fine. I'll try." Her shoulders sagged with resignation, and she climbed up to the cockpit.

Gurren Solvernia flashed to life, and they headed out.

******************************

Ainzer and King Kittan easily dealt with the first wave of attackers. But, today, the beastmen had actually gathered enough sense to lure them into a trap. While the grunt mecha lured them out, a long-range artillery ganmen pounded them from afar. Kittan decided to solve this problem by ramming straight through the enemy ranks as fast as possible. Meanwhile, Yoko sniped down enemies from long range.

With them spread out, the artillery piece was forced to divide its fire. Its pilot chose the mecha with the human on top, because it was remaining mostly stationary. The shot was made; Ainzer was able to jump out of the way, but the shockwave caused it to trip. Ainzer was immobilized just long enough for the pilot to take a second, sure-fire shot.

That shot never came. The last thing the pilot saw was a blur of red before two drills tore through its face. It exploded, illuminating the crimson outline of Gurren Solvernia.

"Our artillery is gone!"

"It's Gurren Solvernia!"

"That demon killed Lady Adiane!"

"Demon?" muttered Nia, irritation edging into her voice.

"Whoever slays it will have his name written down in history!" All units disengaged from King Kittan and Ainzer and rushed at the red mech. "Kill it!"

"They're going after Nia!" yelled Kittan, turning to pursue.

"Let them," said Yoko sharply, halting him in his tracks. "Let her deal with them."

The wave of hostiles advanced towards Gurren Solvernia. Inside the cockpit, Nia shuddered, her eyes closed and her fingers twitching on the controls.

"I! Am not! A DEMON!" she shrieked, her eyes snapping wide. Her spiral gauge flooded with red. Gurren Solvernia raised its fists and howled at the clouds above, a dark red aura enveloping it.

Numerous drills shot out, twisting insidiously towards their prey. They passed the first four mecha entirely, causing them to explode merely by their passage. The five behind were impaled on the drills, punctured in dozens of places. Gurren Solvernia then rushed forwards, still screaming, and slammed its fist into one of the remaining ganmen.

"DIE! DIE! DIE!" cried the digger, punctuating each repetition with a drill-empowered punch. "DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE!" She didn't stop until the mecha was reduced to a shapeless wreck. She then turned to one of the remaining enemies and pierced it with several drills. "ALL OF YOU, DIE!" She drew the offending ganman towards her and drove a drill through its stomach, then whipped it around and slammed it into the ground. "JUST DIIIIIE!"

She drove two drills into the ground, spinning them in opposite directions, and around them a great red vortex burst into existence.

When the dust had settled, Gurren Solvernia stood at the center of an enormous crater, and only a tiny fraction of the enemy forces still stood outside of it.

"It's too powerful!" screamed one of the ganmen in sheer terror, turning and running. Another of its mates followed it, yelling "It's really a demon! A demon sent straight from hell!" Only one ganman remained: a horse-type, which stood completely immobile. Its pilot had simple frozen in his seat.

Nia snapped back to reality, surrounded by death and destruction. She covered her mouth with both hands, tears flooding down her cheeks.

"Nia! Nia!" called Rossiu, his voice finally filtering through to her. "Listen to me! Nia!"

For the longest time she sat completely silent save for a constant, low whimper. Then she suddenly began sobbing, and curled up in a ball on her seat.

"I didn't want this!" she burbled through her tears. "I didn't want this! I didn't want this!" Her spiral gauge fluctuated between green and red uncontrollably. Gurren Solvernia itself grabbed its head in its hands and fell to its knees.

"Nia! Nia, calm down!" yelled Rossiu. He looked at his monitor, where a diagram showed Solvernia's energy levels. "You've got to calm down! Solvernia's energy is getting unstable! If we keep this up we're going to get negative feedback!"

She couldn't hear him. While the digger wailed, her mecha suffered, and eventually the entire system simply gave in. Green and red energy exploded from cracks in the armor like colorful fountains. Solvernia's mouth opened and spewed energy of both types. Hands burst out of the mini ganman and clawed at where it joined Gurren, and eventually it popped off like a cork. Solvernia stumbled about wildly before jolting off in a random direction.

The horse-ganman snapped out of its trance, sensing an opportunity. Quietly, it slipped off after the mini-mecha.

Ainzer and King Kittan ran up, and were shocked to find only Gurren, immobile and surrounded by pools of green and red. "What the hell happened?" asked Kittan immediately.

"I don't know," said Rossiu numbly. "I just don't know."

Yoko bit her lip. Her expression said everything.

******************************

See? I was right.

"No!"

Still on with that? No, no, no, no, no. That's all you can say. At least, when you're not saying DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE.

"I'm not a monster! I'm not like you!"

You're one heck of a one-track mind, aren't you? Just admit it. You loved it.

"I didn't! I didn't enjoy it! How could anyone enjoy that?"

I did. And so did you.

Nia clutched her hands to her head and screamed wordlessly.

JUST GIVE IN ALREADY! LET ME IN! I COULD GIVE YOU SO MUCH POWER! WEAK, STUPID, PATHETIC GIRL! LET ME IN! YOU CAN'T SAVE ANYONE, SO YOU MIGHT AS WELL KILL 'EM ALL!

A fist slammed against Solvernia's canopy. The digger flailed violently in her panic, trying to escape the voices in her head by escaping the dome that surrounded her. She slammed against it several more times before Solvernia relented and released her. She scrambled out of the cockpit and fell into the mud.

Dirt. Muck. Filth. She gasped and jumped up, trying desperately to scrape the brown muck off of her clothes. It was hopeless. She sat despondently on the damp ground and stared at her mud-covered hands. So very dirty. She'd never be clean again.

She hugged her knees to her chest and leaned against Solvernia, only managing to get herself even filthier. Her eyes were dead and lifeless, and she stared blankly at the other end of the canyon while her mind slowly shut down.

Images of Kamina flashed before her eyes. She hugged herself tighter. Raindrops pattered on her head, and she failed to notice.

She sat like that for several long minutes. Time seeped away from her, sinking into the mud.

Then, noise.

Above the rain came the sound of something approaching at high speed. Her neck moved stiffly, and her head craned upwards. Something black and roughly v-shaped emerged from the thick black clouds, bigger than a ganman and far more sinister. It dropped something, causing a small wave of muddy water to splash up. Then it left as quickly as it came.

[=Why not?=]

She stood. Riding in Solvernia was out of the question, but she still leaned in and grabbed the little golden drill. She wasn't sure why, but it felt important. With the drill in hand, she trudged across the swampy ground. The mud sucked at her boots and the rain soaked her to the bone, but she ploughed on. She wasn't even sure why.

Then the canyon opened up on to a wide glade. Square white boxes lay everywhere, sunk into the mud. She moved her head slowly, her lifeless eyes taking in the scene. It made no sense, but then, nothing made sense anymore. She ignored those feelings and stared at the box that had fallen to the sky.

She could tell it had dropped from the sky because it was the newest. The paint was still fresh, the white as pure as sunlight. Red and golden lines crisscrossed over it, adding a splash of color to it. She imagined that all the other boxes had once looked like it, but time had worn them away.

Also unique to the box were the letters splashed over the top in black paint.

"I-diot?" she read with difficulty, trying to recall her infrequent lessons.

A light blinked at her. She looked down, and saw a roughly circular whole. Upon closer inspection, she realized that it was shaped like a drill. It flashed green at her. She made the connection.

[=Why not?=]

She stuck her core drill into the slot.

The reaction was immediate. Hidden seams on the box flashed with light and widened. The top reared back, opening its maw to reveal its contents.

A boy. There was a boy, sleeping peacefully on top of a velvety red sheet. He had blue-black hair and wore a white silk shirt adorned with concentric rings of gold at the collar and cuffs. This shirt was tucked neatly into a pair of carefully cut white pants, which were decorated similarly to the shirt. In turn, the pants were tucked into a pair of well-made black boots. Next to him lay a long white shape, studded with green emeralds.

"What?" she said, unable to say anything else.

His eyes opened. Nia stared at him. He stared back. With care he sat up and looked about at his surroundings, seeming confused. Then he returned his gaze to her. His cross-shaped pupils were a pure, vibrant red, but oddly this didn't bother Nia. On the contrary, looking into them soothed her soul.

He gave her a small smile and spoke.

"Greetings, commoner." His voice was sweet, but had a level of contempt in it. For the first time in a long time, Nia's mind kicked back into full gear.

"Excuse me?" she asked uncertainly.

"You are a commoner, yes?" He looked her up and down. "Your eyes tell me that you mean no harm, however. How strange."

"Huh?"

"Rain…" He looked to the sky, and drops of water splattered on his cheeks. "This is not good. I have not yet had the opportunity to train in these conditions."

"Huh?"

He picked up what Nia now realized to be a sword, and hung the sheath from his belt. He stood, and a blue cloak that she had not yet noticed billowed out behind him. He jumped from the box and landed on the ground before her. She was only slightly taller.

"You are…strange." He touched his hand to her cheek. She flinched slightly, but relaxed under the gentleness of his touch. "You have no mane, no scales, no feathers, so you are not a beastman. Yet, you are different from my brothers. Your hair, for one." He looked down at her chest. "And you have a form similar to the honorable maids. Why is that?"

She shied away from his stare, unconsciously covering herself even though she was fully clothed. "W-well, it's…because I'm a girl."

"A girl?" His look turned pensive. "And…what exactly is a girl?"

"You don't know what a girl is?" Her face betrayed her shock at the idea. The boy just shook his head slowly. "Well, you must at least know what a boy is." He shook his head again.

"These terms are not familiar to me," he said. "Would you explain them to me?"

"Um." Nia's mind reeled. "A girl is…a boy is not…Are you human?"

"Human?" He pondered on the question, touching his lower lip with a finger in a way that for some reason was incredibly cute. "I am not sure. Maybe I should ask my father."

And at that moment, the skies finally parted, and sun shone down on the boy. Raindrops gleamed gently on his hair and skin, the reflection of the sunlight created a sparkling effect, and Nia had to admit that he was cute.

And some of the darkness lifted off of her heart.

"Ah, the sun. This is a good omen." He turned to her. "Oh, my apologies. I don't believe I have properly introduced myself."

"Huh?"

"A good knight introduces himself upon encountering someone new, whether on the battlefield or off it," he recited. He flourished with his cape and bowed. "I am Prince Simon. And who would you be, commoner?"

"I'm Nia." She flushed, flustered by his elegance but uncertain of how to react to the term 'commoner'.

"Nia? It is a pleasure to meet you. Now, it is a knight's duty to escort a lone subject to safety. Allow me to shelter you until we reach your friends. Ah, our transportation has arrived."

"Transportation?"

"Yes." He pointed behind her. "That ganman over there."

Nia turned and screamed. The enemy ganman raised its arms and roared back at her.

"Well met, soldier," greeted Simon pleasantly, waving a hand. The ganman's response was to bring down its arm upon him. He would've been crushed if Nia hadn't thrown him out of the way. The digger pulled her new companion to his feet and began dragging him away.

"Why did he attack us?" he asked incredulously.

"They're beastmen!" she cried back. "They're evil! They want to kill us all!"

"Beastmen? Evil?"

"Yes!" Nia growled as memories returned, and her eyes glinted red. "If we don't kill them, they kill us!"

"Preposterous! Why would I kill a beastman, or vice versa?" He let go of her and turned. "Beastmen are loyal servants of the Spiral King! Allow me to talk to him."

Nia stared at him in disbelief, the red fading from her eyes, as he calmly walked back toward the enemy. Something buried deep in her heart replied to the image; some hidden part of her resonated with the idea.

And then it was suppressed again. She turned back around and began searching.

The boy stopped in front of the ganmen, cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled "You! Are you aware of who exactly I am?"

The ganman's arm came crashing back down. Simon would have died if Nia hadn't suddenly appeared in Solvernia's cockpit.

"Do you see now?" she said softly while Solvernia's arms held up the crushing weight of the mecha's fist. Her voice was weighted down with sorrow "They just want to kill us, just like they killed my father, my mother and my brother. Please, I don't want to see them kill you too."

For the first time, the boy was unsure of how to react. So he complied with her implicit invitation and climbed into the cockpit with her.

Her precious cargo now in tow, Nia released the arm and bounced to the side to avoid its blow. She then summoned a drill from Solvernia's right hand and jumped, screaming, at the enemy. It raised a fist to block her. In ordinary circumstances it should have been shredded; instead, Solvernia was knocked back, landing wetly in the mud. The canopy opened and both passengers were tossed out. Nia landed in a puddle, and mud coated her face.

"Are you alright?" asked Simon, scrambling over to her side.

"It's useless." Her voice was flat as she wiped the mud off her face. "I can't do anything." She sobbed, and the tears came back again. "I'm nothing without Bro! I can't protect you, I can't protect myself, I can't protect anyone." Her shoulders shuddered under the force of her emotions. "I just wanted to live in peace! Is that so wrong?"

And then the boy's arm was around her shoulder, holding her tight, and for a moment her breath stopped. He squeezed her once and stood, unsheathing his sword with a determined look on his face.

"Such despair," he muttered. "What is this I feel? Compassion? And also…anger." His face set, and he brandished his blade. "Commoner Nia!" She looked up at him, tears still staining her face. "I hereby make this oath! By my sword, my knighthood, and my name, I will protect you and yours until you find your peace! This I swear!"

Nia stared at him. "Why?" she said simply.

"Because I am a knight." He held his sword at the ready in front of him. "And that is what a knight does. If I did not protect you, I would not be worthy of the title."

"This is so sad it's funny," chuckled the enemy ganman. "You know what? Out of respect for your honour and all that, I'm gonna give you a special death!" Its mouth opened, revealing an ominous-looking cylinder.

Flashbacks to Jiha Village. The stance, the enemy…it was all the same. She grabbed the boy's arm and desperately pleaded: "We must run away!"

"You must run," said Simon stiffly. "I cannot. How else will I protect you?"

"But you'll die!" Tears welled up in her eyes again. "I don't want you to die! I don't want anyone else to die!" A rocket appeared inside the cylinder, and she clung tighter to the boy's arm, trying in vain to drag him away. "Please run! Nobody else has to die today!"

Three shots punctured the rocket and it exploded. The couple was blown back by the force of the blast, skidding through the mud. Nia sat up and looked towards the edge of the ravine, taking a moment or two to figure out what had happened.

"You're right," said Yoko from atop Ainzer, carefully reloading her rifle. "Nobody else has to die today. Because I refuse to let anyone die!"

The enemy spat out the remains of its launcher and looked up to them. It opened its mouth to roar a challenge, but suddenly found itself choking on a banana-coloured spike. "KIIITAN! STINGER!" yelled Kittan as he plunged his mecha into the enemy. Then the King Kittan twisted and opened, snapping the enemy right in two. It exploded violently.

"Always wanted to do that," he said with a grin as his ganman was lit from above.

Yoko stared at Nia. The digger was crying again. Contempt and concern fought for dominance in the sniper's gaze. She buried the conflicting emotions for later, and directed a very suspicious frown at Simon.

The knight waved back, oblivious.

******************************

"So she runs away," said Zorthy. "That's fairly normal. But then she comes back with a boy."

Dai-Gurren's crew was assembled in the mess hall, crowded around the newcomer. They whispered and murmured among themselves at the sight of his strange clothes and even stranger eyes.

"Not only that, he's healthy," Iraak commented, "Most people wandering the wasteland are wasted and depressed at best, if they're even alive at all."

Simon stared back at the crowd, his mouth slightly agape. He wasn't used to so many people being around him at once, and neither was he accustomed to so much attention.

"Hey! Quit it with the staring!" barked Kittan, demonstrating his usual phenomenal powers of patience.

"But you humans are so interesting," said Simon calmly. "You come in all shapes and sizes. But you all have a common template. Tell me, are you new?"

"What?"

"How can one boy be so impossibly cute?" mused Kinon with a blush.

"It's like his freaky eyes just make him cuter!" added Kiyoh.

"I've never seen so much cuteness before!" commented Kiyal with a squee. "He makes me feel like puking rainbows!" She directed a question at the newcomer: "Please, please say you have brothers."

"This…cute. I understand it is a good thing? Thank you." He gave them a smile that could have melted glaciers. The girls fawned. "And yes, I have several brothers."

"So what was a boy like you doing out in the wastelands?" asked Dayakka, crossing his arms and leaning forwards. "Aren't your parents worried?"

"My father has always said that, when I was ready, I would be able to leave home and visit the outside whenever required. I would estimate that this has come to pass."

"I don't know if your father told you, but the outside world is very dangerous."

"He has mentioned the fact multiple times." He looked at the ground. "He never mentioned any details, however. Perhaps he would have, but ever since I failed a test, his heart has become closed to me. It has been some time since we have spoken."

"That's too bad. But…how did you get trapped in that box?"

"I don't remember," he admitted sadly. "The last thing I remember is my brother Arshun, and the training centre…I think he was handing me some water?" He coughed once. "Water. I could use a cup of water."

An old woman appeared out of nowhere with a cup. He took it gratefully, murmuring "Thank you, Benta-chan."

"Who's she?" whispered Dayakka to Iraak.

"We picked her up while looking for Nia. She showed us the way, actually." His forehead wrinkled. "I dunno, though. It all smells pretty fishy, you know? I wouldn't trust these guys if I were you."

"Where do you come from?" asked Leeron. "Where is your village?"

******************************

"Village?" said the knight quizzically. "What is that? Something that commoners have to worry about?"

Nia stood in front of Solvernia in an obscure corner of the ganman bay. A broken light gave her only intermittent flashes of luminescence; otherwise, both girl and ganman were shrouded in shadow.

"Solvernia," she muttered. "You've abandoned me too, haven't you." It wasn't a question. She dragged her tough digger's fingers over its cold red armor. It was rough; the touch hurt her, and she withdrew her hand quickly. "So it's true." She fell to her knees and stared blankly into the lifeless eyes of the mech. "You won't let me pilot you anymore, will you? Because if I do, I will turn into a demon…" Her eyes shimmered dully. "I wanted a journey full of laughter, but all I got was tears."

Rossiu watched from afar. A mess of emotions passed behind his eyes. Eventually one won out, and he took a step forwards.

A hand landed on his shoulder.

"It's no use," said Yoko quietly. "You'll only make things worse."

"Are you sure?" he replied just as quietly.

"Trust me." She let go of the boy's shoulder. "I know exactly what you're thinking, because I've been thinking the same thing. But I know from personal experience that it'll just go wrong." Her red ponytail shook back and forth tiredly. "She has to get through this on her own."

******************************

"Rain's stopped," noted Tetsukyan from his seat on the bridge. "The sun is shining, the skies are clear, and the only shadow for miles is that mountain over there. Nice change of pace, don't you think Attenborough?"

"Yep! With the sun shining, it'll be a lot easier to blow stuff up!"

"I could've saved five seconds of my life. Nope, had to try and make conversation." The bandanna'd technician glanced at the radar. "Hey. What's this?"

"What?" Attenborough leaned over. "What are you talking about?"

"Blinking lights. I'm pretty sure that's supposed to mean something important. See, there they are, right next to that center dot."

"Beats me." The gonk picked his nose idly. "You're the techie here."

"Give me a break! Up until a couple days ago the most I knew was which end of the gun shoots things."

"So call the chick who takes care of the radar."

"Kinon's on break, moron. She works a heck of a lot harder than you, after all." Tetsukyan scratched his head. "Now give me a sec, I'm trying to remember what she told me. That center dot is us, right? And the blinking lights are to the left…so that means that whatever I'm supposed to look at is to the left…" He obediently glanced to his left. "But the only thing over there is that mountain." He kicked the console. "Huh, must be defective."

And then the mountain moved.

Rocks burst out of the side and slid down the slope. Great cracks appeared in the earth. A giant metal hand reached out from the mountain's depths, followed by two feet like small hills. Before anyone could react, one of these mammoth treads came down hard on Dai-Gurren's tail.

The bridge staff panicked. Gabal fretted at the controls, trying to liberate the submarine from the mountain's crushing weight, while Attenborough mashed at the button controls. Dai-Gurren's front cannons fired at the monster and failed to even scratch its hide. It replied in kind with a salvo of its own. Its cannons had a much higher caliber than Dai-Gurren's a fact made evident by the impact easily incapacitating the centipede's main battery. Then it kicked the writhing purple leviathan, tossing it over, and fired a second barrage.

The entire ship shook. Anything that was fragile and unsecured smashed readily against the floor and walls. Anyone who failed to secure themselves to something fixed was similarly tossed, slamming into walls or floors. Everyone in the meeting hall was sent tumbling…except for Simon, who sat still in his seat, face rapt with thought.

"This feels…familiar…"

"What the hell!" exclaimed Kittan irritably. "How the hell can he keep his balance like that?"

******************************

Nia clutched to Solvernia while Yoko and Rossiu desperately braced themselves against a nearby wall. Confusion and panic shocked across their thoughts.

"Attention, inferior human scum!" The declaration boomed from somewhere outside the ship, the voice deep and threatening. The three rebels stared at the hangar doors.

Yoko was the first to recover. She carefully made her way over to the door controls, and slammed the open switch.

The left side doors slid open and the pass way slid outside, and what they saw shocked them into silence.

The enemy warship was big, although big was just a bit of an understatement. Mountainous would have been a far more appropriate term to use, especially in light of the situation. It was long and blue-black and stood proudly atop two stout legs, and every inch of it was covered in batteries of guns ranging from tiny mosquito shooter to long-barreled monsters. From the stern rose what was essentially a skyscraper, with the windows arranged in a crude imitation of a face.

"That can't be…it looks like…" Tetsukyan moved over to another console – one he actually knew how to use – and accessed the enemy unit database. The only match on record was Yamikaze, confirming his suspicions. "But it's at least three times bigger!"

"Your crimes are threefold!" continued the voice. "You are guilty first of having breached the surface and tainting the soil with your filthy feet. And for that, you might have been spared. But then you have the audacity not only to kill a Divine General, but also to commandeer one of the Spiral King's prized warships! And for these crimes, you will be given no quarter!"

The mountain drew closer, and a lone silver ganman came into focus. It was sharp and lean, with two faces, and held a long silver spear as its weapon. It jumped from the deck and landed on Dai-Gurren's head with a loud clang. A missile pod emerged from the side, but before it could fire the ganman pointed its spear and destroyed it with a burst of azure energy.

"This voice…" muttered Simon. Suddenly he jumped out of his chair and darted off.

"What's going on?" Leeron called desperately into his communicator.

"Um…there's an enemy! On top of us!" Attenborough mashed some more buttons. Unfortunately, the majority of the weapons they were connected to were either destroyed or in the process of becoming so.

In the hangars, Yoko was having the exact same problem. She slammed the palm of her hand into the wall communicator and yelled at Leeron. The mechanic babbled something at her, but Yoko didn't hear it because she was distracted by the sight of Simon running towards the top deck hatch. He leapt up the steps in a couple jumps and began climbing the ladder to the hatch.

"Hm?" The enemy ganman stopped in surprise at the sight of a tiny human emerging from the deck.

"Divine General Thymilph!" cried out the boy in an authoritative tone. He unsheathed his sword. "I, Prince Simon Teppelin, command you! Cease this at once!"

The Brigade held their collective breath, fully expecting the boy to be vaporized on the spot; then they gasped in shock when the silver ganman knelt before him.

"You…" Thymilph's ganman shook its head. "What are you doing here?"

"I have given my oath to protect these commoners!" Simon brandished his sword. "And I intend to follow through! Am I clear?"

Chapter Text

"Am I clear?" repeated the Prince when no answer appeared to be forthcoming.

"What?" Thymilph finally spluttered. "What is the Sixth Prince doing here? Someone contact the capital at once!"

"I am here to protect these people!" the boy announced. "Lay down your arms and deactivate the Byakkou at once. They have done nothing wrong!"

"How strange. I can't seem to get a signal," said Tsuuma, lazily poking at her keyboard with one hand while her cheek rested on the other. "Well that's just unfortunate, because that means that our little half-baked knight there is the highest ranking officer around." She cocked her head. "Though he does sparkle rather exceptionally, even without the armor."

"Get us a signal now, Tsuuma," growled Thymilph. "I won't be pushed around by this little nuisance any longer than I have to."

"I'm trying, I'm trying," she said half-heartedly, pulling up a couple of programs. "I keep getting distracted by the amazing piece of technology in front of me. I mean, a land-based submarine? Absolutely genius. How do these humans come up with such ideas?"

There was an awkward silence.

"It was a joke."

******************************

"So this is what a prince looks like?" mused Viral. He was on standby in the hangars, but he watched the entire thing through a live feed to the Dai-Ganzan's numerous video streams. Tsuuma hadn't been entirely happy when he'd asked her to install it, but he secretly suspected that she'd enjoyed the little hacking job.

The Princes had always fascinated Viral. He'd grown up on the stories: of how, when things got bad, they would appear from nowhere, wreak havoc on the battlefield, and disappear just as quickly. Little else was known of them, save for their code of honor, which was supposedly stronger than anything other than a direct order from the King himself.

But seeing one on the opposing side…that was a bit of a shock.

"There's no point wondering about it now," he told himself, trying to clear his head. He failed, and ended up thinking about Tsuuma. She seemed to have returned to her old self; hopefully she'd gotten over the little incident with Thymilph. In retrospect, Viral supposed that he could have respectfully questioned his superior's methods. After all, the General of Fire wasn't actually all that bad of a boss – demanding, but not overly cruel.

"Maybe I should talk to her," he thought aloud, deciding that since nothing else appeared to be happening he might as well take the opportunity. But not on the open channel, of course. With a couple flicks of his fingers he skimmed through his ganman's interface and found the option to open a private channel. Browsing through the names available on the network, he selected her from the list.

A shrill, piercing sound greeted his ears as soon as the channel opened. It vibrated up his jaw and stabbed right into his sensitive ears like a thin needle coated in tiny barbs. He grunted and covered his ears with his hands, while his ganman did the same. A jab at the interface and the horrible sound cut off.

His squadmates gave him strange looks, but said nothing. He lowered his hands and grimaced with hot embarrassment.

Yes, she was definitely still angry with him.

******************************

Nia climbed up on to the deck. Simon was still standing resolutely, not a single muscle twitching, while in front of him the Byakkou loomed menacingly. Thymilph was apparently busy discussing something with his crew. She sat on the lip of the hatch and decided she might as well watch. She shrunk into the background, the way she had learned to all those years ago.

Why? she thought. The one question nagged at corners of her brain that she had thought dead. Why is he doing this?

Finally, something happened. Byakkou pointed a finger at the prince.

"This is a waste of my time!" growled Thymilph. "I don't care if you're the king's son, I'm going to beat some sense into you!" One giant silver hand reached out and snatched up the slender boy.

Involuntarily, Nia gasped.

"General Thymilph, I order you to let me go!" shouted the boy.

Byakkou's hatch opened, and the great armored gorilla peered out. "These humans have committed a grave offense against the capital!" he roared. "They are rebels against your father's rule! They have killed and destroyed their way across half the wastes! If you ally yourself with them, you will be betraying your father and the entire Kingdom! Do you want them as your enemies?"

"No…" Simon's struggles stopped, and his head fell. "But my honor…"

"So this is a matter of honor, is it?" Thymilph spat. "Don't you realize that your first duty is to protect the honor of the Spiral King? These humans have disgraced him by killing General Adiane and stealing her flagship!"

"What?"

"Your training was almost complete last I heard," continued the General in a wheedling tone. "Obviously this is a test. Do you want your father's approval? Do you want honor? Then punish these humans for their crimes! Start by killing that human with your sword, and prove that you are a true Spiral Knight!"

Byakkou pointed to Nia. She looked up at the giant metal finger aimed straight at her, and knew that she should care. But oddly enough, she couldn't muster the energy. All her attention was focused on the boy, who turned to her.

Those weird red eyes looked into hers, and something shifted. A small gleam moved behind them, and as she tried to understand it, he turned away.

"I'm sorry, General," he said, his face set. Nia blinked in confusion. "I made an oath to protect Nia, and I see no reason to break it. I will not go back on my word."

Nia blinked in confusion. "I made an oath to protect Nia, and I see no reason to break it. I will not go back on my word."

Why?

He sheathed his sword.

Why?

"You fool! Your only oath is to our King!" hollered the scorned General.

"Do not dare to talk to me in this manner!" snapped Simon, his eyes narrowing. "I am a prince, and you shall treat me as such!"

"Then behave yourself as such!" Thymilph slammed a meaty fist into his console. "Can't you see? These inferior scum killed Adiane!"

"Why did they have to fight in the first place?" Simon crossed his arms. "As far as I can see, these people have done nothing wrong! Every fight has been provoked by beastman soldiers, and they were only protecting themselves!"

"Because that is our duty! Did your tutors fail to teach you this?"

"Are you questioning my brother's education?" Suddenly realization hit him like a rock, and he stumbled backwards. "Wait…we kill them?"

"It's not that complicated, so I'll explain it for you." Thymilph ground his teeth. "Humans are a plague that must remain underground. The Army's whole purpose is to eradicate the renegades who come to the surface! That is the King's orders, and thus the mission of his Knights as well! Soldiers and Knights are not meant to ask questions: we are meant to take orders!"

"So…that is how our world works, is it?" Simon's head dropped and his shoulders shook.

"Of course! That is the way it has always worked!"

"Then I cannot accept our world!" He gesticulated wildly. "This is not justice! This is not honor! These people merely want to live in peace! Why should we risk our lives to kill those who mean us no harm?"

"Do I look like having all the answers?"

"Then you will take me to one who does!" Simon pointed authoritatively. "I order you, General, to transport me to the capital! I will discuss these matters with my father; until then, you will do these people no harm!"

"You would defy your father's authority?"

"I would never dream of it!" The young boy's voice rang like a bell. "The holy duty of our King, and thus his Knights, is to keep peace and order on our planet! I am acting fully within my responsibilities as a Knight!"

"Damn you! I've had just about enough of this!" Byakkou flexed its powerful legs and leaped, landing back on the Dai-Gunzan's deck. "I don't care what you say; I'm taking this thing back to the capital! Fire on the legs!"

"I do not understand!" hollered Simon in confusion. "Why is General Thymilph acting so strangely?"

A small, callused hand suddenly grabbed his. "We need to go back inside!" Nia pleaded. The confusion in her own eyes mirrored his.

Why do I care so much?

She tugged the boy along, and he followed hesitantly. They retreated back into the top-deck hatch, closing it behind them.

******************************

"This can't be good!" Leeron stabbed at the keys of his computer, trying to aim at the enemy. The torpedo hatches opened and attempted to hurl their payloads at the enemy ganman. Most missed, and some failed to explode entirely, but a select few managed to hit it. One impacted the right knee, blowing off a large chunk of armor.

"That was a pretty good shot!" quipped Tsuuma. "Got to give them credit for managing that with torpedoes, above water." The battleship faltered, and a big red splash appeared on her monitor. "Also, quick heads-up, right leg took some pretty heavy damage, i.e. main servos are down and walking kind of isn't an option anymore."

"That's our chance!" Gabal said, turning the navigation wheel hard to port. "We're getting out of here!"

"Don't push it, Moustache!" growled Leitte from the engine room. "I'm giving 'er all she's got, but if we haven't skedaddled in fifteen then she'll overheat!"

"Give us twenty!"

"Fine!" Leitte turned to her maintenance crew. "You heard the man! Twenty minutes! Get your asses in gear!"

The small force of engineers chorused a quick "Aye-aye!" before returning to their task of keeping the engines from exploding in their faces.

"We won't get anywhere if we're blown to bits!" said Leeron. "Empty the torpedo silos!"

Attenborough complied, mashing buttons like the madman he was. Torpedoes launched from the ship and arced randomly over the battlefield.

"Don't let them escape!" ordered Thymilph. Dai-Ganzan's remaining cannons unleashed a volley in the sub's direction. Some missed, some hit, but none managed to cause crippling damage. One shell swerved erratically and pounded in the ground, opening up a crack in the earth.

"The geo-sensors are picking up an abnormality!" informed Kiyal. "Looks like…an underground river! It's right below us!"

"We might be able to use that…" Leeron tapped his chin. "Can you tell me anything else about it?"

"No, I…" She paused in the middle of the sentence. "Wait, what's that?"

The enemy fire stopped abruptly, surprising everyone on both sides, at the same time that a large red dot appeared on Kinon's radar. It moved swiftly across the screen towards the triangle in the center.

"An unidentified craft!" Kinon adjusted her glasses, unable to believe what she was seeing. "It's approaching at…Mach 6.2!"

"And what the hell does that mean?" yelled Kittan.

"It means that it's travelling faster than should be possible," said Leeron in a hushed voice. "No land-ganman could possibly move that fast, and even a theoretical flying type would be burned up! It's impossible!"

"Well that's what the radar says! It's coming into visual range!"

A window blipped on to the main screen, showcasing a view from one of the external cameras. A dark blur whizzed by, almost too fast to see, and was followed a little bit after by a tremendous booming sound and a cone of rapidly-equalizing air. The camera couldn't keep up with it; they only saw it again because it had started banking back around, gradually slowing down. When it had slowed enough to be effectively tracked, the image zoomed in and revealed its true form.

It was a huge, pale silver airplane, with a single pair of huge white wings attached somewhat to the rear of its fuselage. The cockpit was located towards the front, just behind a pointed nose. It was an odd and unfamiliar shape, but graceful as it flew, like a swan gliding serenely across the sky.

"I am Sir Dmitri!" it announced in a deep, confident voice. "Second Prince of Teppelin and Spiral Knight!"

"Brother?" said Simon, hearing the voice from deep inside Dai-Gurren. He turned to Nia. "Forgive me, Commoner Nia. I must head for the bridge immediately."

Nia barely noticed, absorbed as she was in her thoughts. With a whisk of his cape he was gone.

"A knight? Here?" Thymilph growled.

The aged but still vigorous face of Prince Dmitri appeared on his screen.

"General," he said by way of greeting, his expression serious. "I assume you are aware of the punishment for threatening a Prince of the Kingdom?"

Thymilph flinched, just briefly.

"Brother!" called another voice, interrupting the conversation before Dmitri could press his threat any further. It came from Dai-Gurren's bridge, over the common channel. "It is I, Simon."

Dmitri flicked a finger and opened up the channel on his end. "Yes, I can see that," he replied dully.

"I demand to know what is happening. Why are we at war with the humans? And since when?"

"I am not required to answer your questions," replied Dmitri frostily. "You have been disowned."

"Disowned?" The word came out of his mouth like poison, and his eyes went wide.

"Yes. You are of no concern to me." He flicked off the open channel and switched to his ganman's built-in PA. "I am here only to punish those who defy the Spiral King! Beliebed! Transform!"

The wings on the odd machine climbed up, moving towards the back, while the nose cone split in two. Arms and legs unfolded from the fuselage; twin faces appeared, one in the belly, one on top, and it revealed itself as a great white humanoid ganman. It put its hands to its waist and drew two shining rapiers.

"You may want to cover your eyes, General," said the prince with a smirk.

"Drop the primary and secondary blast shields!" yelled Thymilph, retreating back into the hangar as the heavy metal walls slammed down.

"Amazing," marveled Leeron. "A transforming mecha? Ooh, how I'd love to get my hands on that bad boy's chassis~!"

"Not the time to be fawning over some lump of metal!" growled Gabal crossly. "Something big's coming, and we're gonna need a way out!"

"We could escape into the underground river," noted Kinon. "But…there's a village in there! If we go in, we'll destroy it!"

"Hey hey hey!" protested Kittan. "What are we talking about, running away? Think about what Kamina would've done! We have to stay and fight!"

"Picking up a massive heat signature…" said Tetsukyan worriedly.

"We have to pick our fights!" declared Gabal, swinging the wheel and ending the argument. "And this fight isn't looking like it's going to go our way! Brace for impact!"

Dai-Gurren's head slammed into the ground, opening a rather large crack. It wasn't quite big enough for them to fit through, but it was big enough to see what lay underneath.

It was a village, but it was empty. Nobody came out to see what all the fuss was about, because in fact there was nobody left to see. Hundreds of human skeletons littered the ground, picked clean by scavengers.

"It's a dead village!" gasped Kinon in horror.

"Keep at it!" ordered Leeron. "I don't like it either, but that's our only chance! Our smarmy little friend is going to shoot at us in a second!"

"Hey, bozos! I'm the leader here!" yelled Kittan, jabbing a thumb into his chest. "And I say we stay and fight!"

He was ignored. Leeron was too busy with Tetsukyan, Kinon was engrossed in the radar, and Gabal was preoccupied with aiming the ship for another ramming attempt. Simon did not listen either, but rocked back and forth on his feet, a blank expression on his face. Then, suddenly, his chin snapped up proudly. He flipped his cape and stalked out, an intent look in his eyes.

"Leader! Lea-der!" said Kittan emphatically, trying once again to assert his authority. "Don't you bozos know? That means I give the orders here!"

"Brother, we can't fight that thing!" said Kinon timidly.

"Can't fight it? Can't fight it?" Kittan slammed a fist into a nearby railing. "We're Team Gurren, dammit! Screw logic and do the undoable, or something like that!"

"Kittan! Shut! Up!" Suddenly Yoko stormed into the control room. She tossed a glare Kittan's way. "You! Are not in charge here! Understand?" He cowered and nodded. "Good! Now what's our status?"

"Minimal damage," informed Kinon. "But there's an unknown and powerful enemy readying itself to attack us! We're trying to escape via an underground river."

"Trying? Why haven't we gotten away yet?" Yoko snorted irritably. "Let's go! We don't want to stick around long enough for them to try anything!"

The Beliebed chose that moment to try something.

Something long and silver emerged from its back and shot upwards. It was a missile, but it was clear to everyone that it wasn't an ordinary one. Dai-Gunzan curled its massive arms about the control tower, while thick metal blast shields dropped over the windows. After rising to a certain height, the missile flipped around and boosted back down, straight for Dai-Gurren.

Gabal hit the forwards controls, and Dai-Gurren smacked forwards, blasting through the surface and dropping into the deserted village below.

Eerie barely began to describe it. The familiar caves and tunnels of a village, but they radiated an aura of hollowness. A subterranean wind blew through the ruins, whistling emptily. In the few brief moments that they could see it, several members of the crew reflected on how it could have possibly come to be in such a state. Dwindling resources? Internal conflict? Disease?

Then the submarine dove straight into the underground river, for the first time being used according to its intended purpose.

Then the missile struck.

The explosion was beyond words. It started as a bright blossom of light, right in the centre of the ruined village, and then spread out to engulf the entire cavern. The entire ceiling was ripped right off, and a great pillar of flame erupted upwards.

Even from a distance it was blinding. Thymilph watched the inferno through screens so opaque that they were almost black, and still it hurt his eyes. Then the shockwave hit, like a wall made of compressed air, and even within the Dai-Ganzan it sounded like all the wrathful thunder of the gods. Even at such a distance, the battleship tilted from the force of the blast.

All of this took place in a matter of seconds. When it was over, all that was left was a slowly dissipating cloud of dirty grey smoke. Above it hovered the Beliebed, unscratched by the attack.

A hail of pulverized rock began to rain from the skies.

"I'm not picking up a signal from Dai-Gankai," said Tsuuma once her hearing returned. "Not that that's a guarantee or anything. It's probably blown to hell, but it could be buried under a pile of rocks or just really damn deep underground.

"Somehow I don't think that quite managed to kill them," said the prince. "I have a feeling that Sir Irenai's suspicions should be given more credit. We are no longer dealing with your ordinary roach. General Thymilph?"

Thymilph shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Yes, sir."

"You should consider yourself very lucky indeed. If not for Simon's disownment, you would be in a very uncomfortable situation right now."

"I did what I had to," grunted Thymilph, his voice low with caution.

"What you had to do?" The prince's eyebrow quirked. "I highly doubt that, seeing as you have still failed to retrieve the Dai-Gankai. Nevertheless, I am not here to discipline you. Lordgenome sends this message: you are to recapture the Dai-Gankai at any cost – capture, not destroy –and take the humans as prisoners. The first is more important than the second, however: do not feel the need to spare any who refuse to surrender."

"I won't fail!" pledged the General. "This is for General Adiane!"

"Very well. I wish you the best of luck. For the Spiral King!"

The Beliebed twisted again and returned to jet form. It blasted off back the way it came, leaving a sonic boom in its wake.

There was a moment of silence. Then:

"We can't afford to waste any time!" barked the General. "I want all maintenance crews on active repair duty, and I want Dai-Ganzan at full capacity before sunset! Prisoners or no, we're going to hunt these humans down and serve them the justice they deserve!"

"Yes, sir!"

Incoming Message

The alert flashed insistently on his ganman's viewscreen. Thymilph grunted irritable, but decided to accept the message.

An unmistakeable metal mask popped into view.

"What the hell do you want?" groaned Thymilph. "And how did you get on this channel?" He mentally made a note to have his technicians check the handshake protocols on the comms system.

"Greetings, Divine General Thymilph," said Cinoshisa impassive. "You're quite the news item here in the capital."

"And?" Thymilph's meaty finger hovered over the Close Channel button.

"And I will be sending a detachment of my best nocturnal troops to help you. I understand your crew is rather lacking in that department? Consider it a peace offering."

Thymilph hesitated before replying. He stroked his massive chaw. "I will accept your 'peace offering'," he conceded finally. "But I will be keeping them under close watch."

"As you wish, General. My troops will be arriving before sunset." A gauntleted fist thumped into an armoured chest. "For the Spiral King!"

The transmission ended. Thymilph rested his chin on one hammy fist thoughtfully.

"Why do I have a feeling that whatever's in that tin can is fishy?" he mused, unaware that Adiane had at one time shared the same sentiment.

******************************

Cinoshisa sat still for a moment after the transmission's end. Then he reached up, grabbed his mask, and gently removed it.

"Adiane and Thymilph made such a wonderful couple," she commented sarcastically. "Together, they were easier to manipulate…and now that one is dead, the other is making the same mistakes. This will make our plans much easier to facilitate."

"Excellent!" crowed General Cytomander, his face appearing on the screen to replace Thymilph's. "Soon I will be the undisputed leader of all branches of the military. Then I will be second only to the Spiral King!"

"It will be exactly as you say, General."

"Good girl." One eyebrow quirked curiously. "By the by, have you decided what you're going to do with your share?"

"All I want is a healthy retirement. A humble request."

"Humble indeed." The avian beastman's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "I doubt that's why you're really going along with all this. What's your real motive?"

Cinoshisa's face fell like a rock. "Revenge," she said, and the word snapped like frostbite.

"Really?" Cytomander rubbed his elbows, and made a note to have a word with Engineering about climate control. "Not against the Spiral King, I hope."

"No," she assured him. "Not against him."

"Well, whatever then." The General waved a hand dismissively. Cytomander liked being comfortable, and his subordinate was beginning to make him profoundly uneasy. It was time to end the transmission. "In that case I really don't care, as long as I'm not the target. We'll speak again later."

The screen blipped off.

"Hmph," scoffed Cinoshisa. "They're like little kids, aren't they?" She leaned back and waved a hand in the air emphatically. "They think they're cunning, they think they know how to plot and scheme, they think they know malice, when they might as well be throwing sand at each other."

She stood and donned her mask.

"What can they know about life?" he intoned gravely. "How could they know about the true, ultimate enemy?"

******************************

The sun was setting again, and with it leaked away the light of day. On a distant, rocky shore, where sea birds nested among rocks like demons' teeth, something emerged from the water.

Dai-Gurren appeared from beneath the waves like a small purple island drifting up from the ocean's bottom. It was badly beaten, with several holes in the outer armour, saved only by the secondary armour plating underneath. The cannons were completely incapacitated, and the legs were in shambles, many broken and others missing entirely. It was bruised and battered and dented, but by some miracle it had managed to weather the ocean's pressures with only minimal leaking.

"Nightmare's over," sighed Leeron. "We can all open our eyes now."

"I forgot how scary being underground was," said Yoko with a shiver. "Dark and cramped, like having walls pressing down around you…"

"It was scary," agreed Kinon. She checked the instrument panel, watching as the more visually-oriented sensors came back online.

"We're safe now!" announced Dayakka over the PA, his voice echoing throughout the ship. A sensation of relief washed over the vessel. Leitte slumped back in a chair, and her crew carefully began shutting down the engine for repairs.

In the quartes, the reactions were mixed. During all the trip, the amount of talk was kept at minimum. Some like Jorgun and Balinbow remained hid under their bunks in fear, others like Kidd and Iraak decided to stay cool, trying to small-talk or do anything to pass the time. But Nia remained at the launching bay, beside Solvernia, sitting hugging her legs, with a cold expression, as cold as everything surrounding her.

"We can all rest now…" said Leeron with another sigh. The bridge crew slumped back into chairs and against consoles. No one had rested once during the long journey; their speed had been relatively slow, but navigating the tight walls of the underground river had been an exercise in patience and focus.

"Everyone go ahead and take a break," announced Kittan. His jaw set grimly. "But don't get too comfortable. We'll be interrogating the little prince before sunset. He owes us a couple of explanations!"

******************************

On one side of the table sat Prince Simon, his chair turned inwards so that his back was to the curved wall of the sub's mess hall. In front of him stood roughly twenty crewmembers, all gathered to assist in the interrogation. Tetsukyan had even set up an old camera to record the interrogation.

"All right, you little punk!" said Kittan, slapping the table with his hand. "You're going to be nice and cooperative and tell us everything you know about the Spiral King."

"I would advise you to watch your tone," said Simon icily, his eyes narrowing. "I am a prince, and I demand to be treated like one."

"Izzat so?" Kittan grimaced. "Last I checked you're in our territory now, you spoiled brat! Spill the beans or take a swim!"

"How dare you, Commoner Kittan!" The prince stood and placed a hand on the hilt of his sword. "I am not required to tolerate this insolence! One more tasteless remark, and I shall be forced to unsheathe my blade!"

"What the hell?" Kittan actually laughed, unaware that the sword wasn't just for show. "You actually threatening me with that toy?"

"Eh, brother," whispered Kiyoh. "I'm not sure taunting him is really a good idea…"

"Why not? He's just a little kid! Shorter than Kiyal, even!" His grin actually grew into a goofy leer, and he leaned forward. "Looks like the widdle boy wants to pway wif Uncle Kittan!"

"Kittan…" said Leeron warningly.

"Yeah, um, I don't think this is a good idea," said Kinon quietly.

Kittan did what he did best and ignored all of the sound advice being thrown at him. "Simon wants to pla-ay! Simon wants to pla-ay!"

"That's it!" cried the prince, whipping out his sword. "I won't stand for this any longer! You have been given fair warning – now be punished!"

"Kittan, bro," said Kidd worriedly, backing away with everyone else. "That sword seems kind of sharp."

"Look, I got nothing to fear!" He cackled again, taking refuge in his blissful ignorance. "A little kid with a plastic sword could never hurt me! Come on, kid! I'll be a good sport and let you take the first shot!"

******************************

Yoko leaned against the wall just outside the mess hall. She didn't really expect that the so-called prince would be able to help them, but it really couldn't hurt to take a listen.

On the other hand, she fully expected Kittan to do something stupid, and so she was the least surprised when she heard the vicious thump and felt the reverberations through the wall. She sighed and gave in to her curiosity, pushing her way through the mass of observers.

Kittan was lying against the wall, completely and totally out of it. There was a lump on his head, taller than even his insanely spiky hair.

Simon calmly sheathed his sword. "You would be dead by now, but for my promise to Commoner Nia," he warned. You could practically hear the scratching of everyone's mental notepad as they jotted down the words never mess with Simon. Yoko raised an eyebrow. Maybe he'd be useful after all.

"Cute and dangerous…" whispered Kinon.

"Just like us!" joked Kiyoh in an attempt to lighten the mood. Her sisters snorted and cackled at the mental image. Everyone stared at them, and they grinned sheepishly before making a swift exit.

Others followed, glancing back worriedly at Simon. Once the room had become a little less crowded, Yoko turned to Simon. "You like Nia, don't you?"

"What do you mean, Miss Yoko?" he asked innocently.

Yoko groaned inwardly, irritated by his formality and naïveté. Nevertheless, she pressed on. "You might not be willing to tell us about your father, but would you at least talk to her?"

"Why the sudden interest?"

"Just…follow me, okay?" said Yoko impatiently. She strode away, out of the mess hall. Seeing no other option, and with nothing really better to do, Simon followed her.

******************************

"This is the ocean, Nia."

Kiyal had her arms resting over Dai-Gurren's guard rail. Her gaze was fixed on a single point on the horizon, and she made great pains to appear relaxed. The cool night breeze washed over her, and up in the sky little puffs of cloud scudded across the pale half-circle of the moon.

"It's pretty, isn't it? We used to take little vacations on the beach, back when we were just the Black Siblings. 'Course, the beastmen had this annoying habit of crashing the party." She chuckled half-heartedly.

"Yes, it's really nice," said Nia emptily. As usual, her eyes were empty in that way that indicated she was looking at the world without actually seeing it. Kiyal pouted sadly and rested her chin on the rail, saddened by the knowledge that, once again, she was failing.

Time to try a new tactic.

"Nia, Kamina's not coming back," she said bluntly. "But he left us a lot that we should be thankful for. Like this ship! We shouldn't waste her, don't you think?"

"I know…" said Nia morosely.

They were interrupted by the opening of the hatch, from which emerged Yoko and Simon. The redhead approached them, an expression of concentration on her face. Simon tagged along behind her like a confused puppy.

"Yoko," said Kiyal warily. "And Simon."

"Hi, Kiyal. We're just here to talk." Yoko cocked her head in a manner that said get lost, this is none of your business.

"Oh, sorry, I've got to go help Kiyoh with…laundry," she said lamely. It wasn't as if Nia would notice anyway, so she shrugged mentally and continued on. "I guess I'll see you all later."

Nia mumbled something that might have been a goodbye. Kiyal left, but not without one last concerned glance over her shoulder.

"Right. Talking." Yoko cleared her throat. "Specifically, Simon's here to talk to you, Nia. He trusts you, so it's your job to find out what he can tell us about the Spiral King. Er…good luck, I guess."

Nia showed no signs of having even heard the redhead's statement. She continued staring through the waves as they crashed against Dai-Gurren's armor. Clouds drifted across the moon, and for a moment the night was a little bit darker.

"…Well, I tried," said Yoko wearily. She was just about ready to give up, and probably would have dragged Simon back downstairs for a more traditional interrogation…except, at that moment, Simon stepped forwards to stand at Nia's side.

"Nia," he asked softly. "Is something wrong?"

She made a noise halfway between a grunt and a sigh.

"You have this…dark feeling about you," noted Simon gently. "Is it your family?"

"I have no family anymore…" she said morosely. "Without Bro…I don't know why I should keep living."

Yes you do! screeched the Voice in her ear, causing her to wince and flinch. You live now to avenge brother…and you're going to do it MY WAY!

She clenched her fists and tried her best to ignore it. For the moment she succeeded, but every time it got harder.

She turned to Simon, her dull eyes pleading for answers. "Simon, why should I get to live while Kamina is dead?"

"That is…" He thought for a moment. "I cannot answer your question, Commoner Nia." He stepped forward and took Kiyal's former place, his hands resting lightly on the railing. "I have…never experienced the death of someone important to me. In truth, you are the one with all the answers." He paused. "Tell me, Commoner Nia. How does this loss make you feel?"

At this point Yoko decided to leave. This was between Nia and Simon, and she had no right to eavesdrop. The boy had no sense of tact, no idea of how others' emotions worked…but maybe, just maybe, he would achieve something that no one else had.

Her head disappeared down the hatch just as Nia gave her answer.

"Empty," she said quietly. "I loved Bro more than anything in the world. I could never do anything without him; he was a, a part of me that I just couldn't work without."

"I don't understand," admitted Simon. "Can you explain further?"

Nia thought for a moment, feeling somehow compelled to honor the prince's request. She came upon an answer.

"Okay. Once, Kamina had the idea that we could drill our way out of the village, starting in one of the side tunnels. Only, before we actually managed to get anywhere, there was an earthquake. We could've been crushed, but instead we were trapped in this tiny pocket of air, trapped on all sides by rock." She shuddered at the memory. "In some ways it was worse than being crushed."

"I see. I would feel…perturbed, were I trapped like that."

"Yes. I started to cry, thinking I was going to die just like my parents…but then Kamina started yelling at us to keep going. He wasn't scared at all, just laughing. To him it wasn't about if we'd make it through, it was when. I stopped crying, and suddenly I could dig like I'd never dug before. And I dug us out." Her slender frame suddenly sagged. "He told me later that it was my smile lighting our way…"

"I do not understand. How does this prove that you cannot live without him?"

"Don't you see?" she sobbed. "We made it because he was there. He trusted me, I trusted him, and that's why we made it. I can't do anything without him!" Somehow, she managed to crumple in on herself even further. "Without Bro, I'm useless."

There was another pause. Then:

"I do not think I can agree with you, Commoner Nia."

She looked up at him questioningly, cynicism easily evident in her glare.

"Kamina is a true warrior," said Simon. "One of the greatest, from what you have told me. However, he is not great because he fought for others; he is great because he taught others to fight."

Her glare turned to confusion.

"Remember when I met you? You wanted to run away, even though I wished to stay and fight." He sighed. "Sir Irenai would doubtlessly have my hide for such a maneuver. One should never stay to fight a battle that one is sure to lose. You did the right thing by running, and you did it on your own."

"But, that doesn't make sense…Bro wouldn't do that. He would have fought that ganman regardless of the odds. See? I never learned anything from him. I'll never be like him."

"That is the point," said Simon patiently. "You will never be like him. His lessons are only a guide; in the end, who you are up to you alone."

"Be myself? You think I haven't thought about that?" She laughed bitterly. "He told me the same thing, right before he…" She exhaled painfully. "But I'm weak. Nia is weak. Nobody needs Nia; they need Kamina."

"Perhaps I should rephrase a bit. Nia, the important thing is not who you are. It's who you will become."

"I am trained to be a prince," he said. A gust of wind lifted his cape up slightly. "But despite receiving the same training, my brothers and I have very little in common. Each one of us has unique values and a special kind of nobility, and that is what makes us strong on our own. I see no reason why it should not be the same with you. You can be just as strong with or without Kamina!"

Nia clutched at her heart and stumbled away from the shocking words. She came up against the hatch and, seeking to flee the doubt in her heart, she threw it open and dropped inside.

Seconds later, Yoko came storming up the ladder.

"What did you do?" she growled, grabbing the collar of his shirt and yanking it up. "What did you say that somehow, despite all possibility, made things worse?"

"I-I just told her to be herself," he stammered. "That she could move on and be strong on her own without Kamina."

"You idiot!" She drove him up against the railing. "Stupid, arrogant jerk! How dare you?"

"How dare I?" said Simon sharply. "I am a prince and I will not be treated-"

"I don't care who you are!" She pushed him until he was leaning back over the railing. "You never even knew him! You can't just go blabbing on about someone you don't even know!"

Simon's face softened. "You are crying, Miss Yoko."

She blinked and backed off. She wiped at her eyes angrily. "What the hell do you know about it?" she said through grit teeth. "Kamina was…he was a jerk! He was a complete and utter jerk! And he won't be forgotten easily, not by anyone! Not me, not Nia, nobody!"

"You are right. I do not," admitted Simon in honest puzzlement. "You clearly like him very much, and yet you call him a jerk."

Yoko raised her hand instinctively. But there was no malice in Simon's stare, and in the end she just couldn't muster the energy. Her hand dropped and she turned away.

"I guess I can't blame you," she said quietly. "He's gone now. And nothing we do will bring him back."

She jumped back down the hatch, slamming it closed behind her. Simon shook his head.

"These commoners are so confusing," he remarked. "I must learn more about them."

******************************

Viral walked through Dai-Ganzan's corridors, deeply shadowed by the noonday sun. He was freshly showered after training and was finally, he estimated, mentally prepared for the challenge that lay ahead. He steeled himself for the ordeal he was about to face, and turned the last corner.

There sat Tsuuma, tapping away at a holographic terminal. Only a couple rooms away, the ship's mighty engine thrummed powerfully; Tsuuma claimed it helped her concentrate (while Viral suspected she just liked the isolation). Suspended in the air above the terminal was a three-dimensional model of what looked like Dai-Gurren's right knee, surrounded by numbers and figures and streams of data that were incomprehensible to the soldier.

Tec-tec-tec went her fingers against the keyboard.

He grunted and massaged his cheek, remembering the smarting feeling of her palm across his cheek. He hadn't been able to talk to her, mostly because she claimed to be busy with repairs. But now the bulk of the damage had been repaired and Dai-Ganzan was rolling as usual across the wastelands, headed for an outpost where they could be air-taxied to another location.

He cleared his throat in preparation for the plunge.

"Tsuuma," he began, and he felt that maybe his voice was just a little too weak but it was too late to go back now. He waited for a response, and none came. He had no doubt that she heard; despite being constantly surrounded by the noise of machinery her hearing was fine enough to determine the size and location of a loose bolt in a machine twice her size just by listening to the thing.

So he gathered his courage and tried again.

"I know that you're still angry with me," he continued. He cleared his throat again, fervently wishing that doing this somehow involved piloting a ganman.

"I've been thinking. Maybe I really did do something stupid back there. But it's just…"

He paused.

"When Kamina and his gang showed up, it made me realize something. I'm not the perfect soldier I thought I was." He chuckled bitterly. "Even dead, that loudmouth still manages to taunt me…"

He went paused again before resuming.

"I just want to talk to you again, Tsuuma. Not being able to talk to you feels…wrong. I don't feel comfortable if I can't talk to you. I know it sounds weird, but..." He considered what he was saying for a moment. "I mean, anyway, the point is I'm sorry and I was wrong. Okay?"

Tec-tec-tec. Tsuuma's typing remained unchanged. The lack of even the slightest sarcastic comment made Viral suspicious. He was actually admitting that he was wrong; on any other day she'd have seized on the opportunity to mock him mercilessly.

He spun the chair around, and the sleeping mechanic snored in his face. He rolled his eyes and looked at her screen; yes, buried in the corner was a tiny program playing a loop of her typing. He rolled his eyes a second time for emphasis; it wasn't the first time she'd pulled something of the sort.

Then he noticed the lumps on her hand. Driven by worried curiosity, he grabbed her purse and searched it. Several syringes gleamed up at him emptily. He dug until he found an unused one and immediately recognized it as a booster for beastman systems comprised of something similar to the solution used in the rejuvenation pods. He shook his head; the stuff was usually only available to soldiers who couldn't make it to the pods before a battle.

"Oh no. Oh, no," he whispered. "Just how long did you work, Tsuuma?"

He dropped the syringe in the purse and slung it over his shoulder before reaching over the mechanic's shoulder and shutting down the terminal. He then reached down and picked her up, noticing for the first time how slender and frail she seemed. It worried him further; had she even eaten in the last few days?

"For that matter, why am I doing this?" he wondered aloud. No answers came.

He headed towards the quarters.

******************************

Three days they spent on the ocean. Three days they spent destroying enemy boats and submarines, their torpedoes turning the enemy into so much floating debris. Three days warding off enemy attacks until Leeron finally found the transponder broadcasting their location and destroyed it, giving them some breathing room. For the moment they were hidden, but that would not last – even the ocean is only so large…

Half a day of peaceful sailing. And then the storm hit.

The winds hissed and howled, thunder crackled and roared, rain fell in icy cold sheets. Huge waves curled and crashed, massive undulations big enough to threaten even the largest seafaring vessel.

But all this was on the surface. All this was no concern of Dai-Gurren's, submerged as they were at such a depth that the waves became a gentle rolling. It was cramped, and the entire crew longed for fresh air, but they were safe.

Simon took the opportunity to muse over three and a half days' worth of gathered experience.

He had done his best to learn about Dai-Gurren. He had talked with everyone – every pilot, every engineer, even the strange demi-human who operated the guns – and had not been denied answers. He had absorbed strife, loss, fear, despair, uncertainty…but also courage and faith and, above all, hope.

Hope. The one element that every crewmember had in common. Hope for a victorious end to their fighting. Hope for a better life on the surface. Hope that fueled their will to fight.

"And yet, I still do not understand why Miss Yoko is so volatile," he mused aloud.

He was sitting in a vacant chair on the bridge. The vessel's captain noticed this and decided to involve himself with the strange prince.

"Volatile? What do you mean?" he asked.

"Miss Yoko is…touchy at times," answered Simon, struggling to find the right words in his formal vocabulary to express the feelings he felt from Yoko. "She is strong and seeks to protect others, and yet she is reluctant to allow others to help her in turn. She does not...bond with others well."

"Aha. So that's what you mean." Dayakka thought for a moment, piecing together his own knowledge into a communicable form. "Well, Simon-"

"Please. As a matter of formality, I must request that you address me as 'Your Highness'."

"Yes, Your Highness," Dayakka continued, and to his credit not a single drop of sarcasm leaked into his tone. "You have to understand that Yoko's gone through a lot of loss. She's seen most of her childhood friends either injured or killed. In fact, most of the friends she makes get hurt. It's not easy to get attached to someone and then lose them soon after. That's one of the reasons she pushes herself so hard – she doesn't give herself enough time to get attached, so even if she fails, then it won't be so hard."

"I am…starting to see." Simon cocked his head to one side. "Despite her efforts, she must have been quite attached to this man named Kamina. Judging by her actions, of course."

Dayakka's expression hardened. "Yeah, she tried," he said. "She was always pushing him away, and trying to push herself past…whenever she was around him she got really volatile, and on the surface it looked like she didn't care for him at all, but if you looked past it then it was clear as day." He sighed, and it was a sad, mournful sound. "She was afraid more than anything of losing him, Your Highness. And, in the end…she did."

"I understand more and more," said Simon simply, "and yet, other mysteries become less and less clear. You are honest people, and I cannot see why Father would issue such orders as he has. I wish I could speak with him. I am sure that he would understand."

"Doesn't seem very understanding to me."

"Everything Father does," explained Simon confidently, "he does with a reason. The foremost concern in his mind is the greater good."

"Then why would he go to such lengths to oppress us?" asked Kinon, joining the conversation. "No offense, your highness."

Her radar beeped. She glanced at it. "Great, another cluster of mines. Attenborough!"

The strange demi-man bolted in with a great big grin and mashed the button to launch the anti-mine torpedo. It weaved in to the center of the cluster and emitted an ultrasonic wave that triggered the entire field. The way was once again clear. Attenborough dashed out again upon realizing that there was nothing else for him to blow up.

"It is all right, Commoner Kinon," said Simon, picking up from where they'd left off. "I do not understand myself. Thus, my desire to speak at length with him. I am positive that he will be reasonable."

"Tell me the moon's falling. I'll believe it more." Kittan emerged from just outside, chewing a toothpick. "Didn't you hear, kid? He ditched you. End of story. You're no better than us, now."

"You again." Simon's expression quickly became serious. "I have no intention of conversing with one so uncouth."

"Bells still haven't gone yet? Reality hasn't seeped through to your brain yet?" Kittan sneered. "Let me fill you in, kid. You ain't a prince anymore. You're just some kid with a crazy eyes and a sword too big for a boy your age. You've spent your whole like depending on someone else, and now he doesn't give a damn."

"That is not true!" said Simon hotly. "My father cares deeply about my brothers and me! It is not his fault that he is often very busy!"

"Izzat so?" Kittan raised an eyebrow. "You were a tool, kid! And now he's tossed you aside! Look at what your so-called brother did the other day! He was perfectly fine with blowing you up along with the rest of us."

"You…" A slim hand went to the hilt of the sword.

"Oi, cool it," said Dayakka, placing himself between them. "No fighting on my ship, let alone the bridge."

"Pah." Kittan spat out his toothpick. "Grow up, kid!"

He tucked his hands in his pockets and slunk away.

"What a disrespectful man," said Simon indignantly. "Who does he think that he is?"

"Worry not, Your Highness," said Kinon levelly. "He's like this with everyone." She then smoothly changed the topic: "Your Highness, have you undergone a medical examination yet?"

"No, not yet. I will proceed to the medical ward henceforth."

"I'll just give Leeron a shout to let him know you're coming.

"Thank you." He stood and nodded to both of them. "Commoner Kinon, Captain Dayakka. Thank you. I look forward to talking more with both of you."

He exited.

"Isn't he adorable?" said Kinon, clasping her hands together and smiling.

"Bit arrogant, but he seems to be a good kid." Dayakka frowned. "But why did he call me 'Captain'?"

"Well…you did tell Kittan it was your ship."

"But I-"

"And Dai-Gurren is a ship, so it's logical that she'd have a captain."

"We'll talk about this later," said Dayakka hurriedly.

"Okay then…I wish Rossiu could be more confident like Simon, though."

"Really? He seems pretty confident already."

"That's just it. He seems confident, but when you look at it, he doesn't say much, and he doesn't get involved often." The radar blipped at her. "More mines? I wonder why they're so common around here…Attenborough!"

The gonk rushed in. "Destroy!"

******************************

"Healthy across the board," declared Leeron, scanning from a screen. A drop of blood sat on a scanner nearby. "Your vitamin D levels are a little low, though, but that's nothing a few supplements won't solve."

"Leeron! 'Sup?" Leitte waltzed in, oblivious to the fact that Leeron was with a patient. She made a beeline straight for the medicine cabinet.

"What are you looking for there, hon?"

"Those calmin' gums," she said morosely. "They won't let me smoke while this tub's underwater, so I've been forced to improvise."

"Mm, go ahead, dear. Toss me the D-supplements while you're there?"

"Sure thing." She tossed him one of the white screw-top bottles.

"One after lunch every day, 'mmkay?" The boy nodded. "Now, I've got to do some things the old-fashioned way. Strip off that top, please~"

"Hi everyone!" said Kiyal cheerfully, peeking in.

"Oh you naughty girl," chastised Leeron. "You've been waiting outside that door this whole time, weren't you?"

She grinned sheepishly at him.

"Miss Kiyal!" exclaimed Simon. "I must talk with you. How is Nia?"

"Um. She's still kind of upset." Her smile faded. "She…didn't take what you said too well."

"Every time I think I understand, I find that I am wrong," said the prince with frustration. "I told her only the truth as I saw it, and yet I seem to have done something wrong."

"Simon, you see-"

"Your Highness."

She pouted adorably. "Your Highness. Telling the truth can actually be worse than lying, if you're not careful. It's like…eating steak, see? Nobody likes their steak raw."

"I don't understand…"

"What, have you been eating raw food all your life?" Suddenly she grinned mischievously. "Now come on, Leeron said strip. I'll hold your shirt for you."

"Okay." He started unbuttoning his shirt.

Leeron muttered something about silly girls, but he let her go through with it.

Her look was not one of pleasure, but of shock.

"Simon, why do you have so many scars?" she gasped, letting the soft silk garment slip through her fingers.

"Hm?" He looked down at himself, oblivious to their shock. Criss-crossing over the well-toned body was a network of pale white lines, concentrated mainly on his back, chest and gut.

"Oh here they are. Hopefully they'll help with the anxiety…" Leitte emerged from the medicine cabinet holding a smaller screw-cap bottle, but dropped it upon laying eyes on Simon. "-! He's got more scars than Uncle Borkins! And that's sayin' sumthin'!"

"Who did this?" asked Kiyal carefully.

"I do not understand," muttered Simon. "This is not normal?"

"Honey, this is so far from normal that it's disturbing for me," said Leeron quietly. "Please tell us how you got them."

"These are a natural consequence of my training," he said, his voice absolutely, frighteningly normal. "It is the way my brother punishes unsatisfactory grades. The lesson, he says, should be reinforced in the most effective manner possible." He felt his back. "Ah, yes. There are the twelve from Test 23-5. It was a reflexes exercise," he explained, wrongly assuming the reason for the looks on their faces. "Drones shot blanks at me while I stood in the center of the training field. Twelve times I was whipped, before I passed." He shrugged. "But pass I did."

"That's just…freaking evil, Simon…" said Kiyal, covering her eyes.

"He is not evil!" exclaimed Simon, upset. "My brother did this special training because he knows there is nothing I want more than to be a knight like him!" He quickly reined himself in and added, "And please, call me Your Highness."

"…Yes, Your Highness." Kiyal picked his shirt back up and hid behind it. There was something very wrong with his train of thought, but they tacitly agreed not to force the issue."

"…So, weren't you disowned?" noted Leitte. "How're you supposed to become a knight now, if ya don't mind me askin'."

"I will ask my father for his reasons behind my…release. And then I will correct my mistakes."

"And what if he demands that you kill us?" asked Kiyal cautiously.

Simon was silent for a moment. Then: "My father is a fair ruler. I believe in him."

His smile communicated his total belief in this statement. The others, however, were not convinced.

******************************

The storm thrashed over the sea like a beast of divine wrath. It sprawled out over the ocean like a shadowy giant, whipping the waves to froth and viciously beating the air with thunder and hurricane gales.

It was so massive, that even from the continent, many kilometers away, it could be seen provided sufficient elevation. From such a place – say, the bottom of a waterfall at the head of a river valley – it would be seen as a grey smudge on the horizon.

Such a waterfall would have a view out across the sea, unobstructed by the green river valley that sprawled beneath it. A beautiful view that crammed kilometers into the eyes of the beholder.

The waterfall itself was a beautiful enough sight in its own right, thundering over the drop and crashing down several meters below; nothing could stop the water's search for the sea. Only the bravest would dare venture into this waterfall, braving the sweeping current and the crushing might of hundreds of gallons of freezing water. In fact, very few of these brave ones returned alive.

But a single woman accepted its invitation, as she did regularly.

She sat calmly beneath the falls, the ice-cold water crashing and coursing over and around her naked body. Her eyes were closed and her legs were crossed in such a way as to indicate that she was meditating, but the slight twitch at the ends of her dark green lips suggested that she was enjoying the feeling. Similarly green hair curled wetly about her, making emerald lines over lightly tanned skin.

Presently her eyes opened, and she peered out at the horizon. Because of the valley's inclination, she just barely high enough to make out the storm's outer edge. Part of it was due to her superb eyesight; the cross-shapes of her pupils evidently did nothing to impair her vision.

"A tempest," she observed in a low monotone. "Never a good sign."

Over the waterfall's roar she heard two approaching, and she glanced to her side. Two women, garbed in white robes with black decorations at the chest and shoulders, stopped at the pool's edge and bowed. Some kind of character in an ancient language was emblazoned on their chests. They were roughly the same height, but one was dark-skinned with a mane of frizzy black hair, and the other was light-skinned with short-cut dark bangs.

"Ojou-sama," intoned the dark-skinned servant. "General Guame wishes to speak to you. We have brought your attire and towels."

"The capital brings with it only trouble," observed the woman with a sigh. "And the higher the rank, the greater the trouble. Let us pray that my father never takes it into his mind to pay a visit."

Moments later, she was fully dressed. She was garbed in a graceful dress of mournful black that covered down to her ankles, and below that she more a pair of heeled black leather boots. On her bare arms she wore bright silver bracelets over elbow-length black silk gloves. Over all this she bore a dark green cloak, clasped at the neck with a delicately crafted silver brooch. The overall effect was one of grim and imposing majesty; even without the heels she was almost two metres or six feet tall.

A small rabbit beastwoman hopped forwards and prostrated herself before the woman. She was entirely pink and wore a green military tunic that was slowly fading to yellow. She also wore a military helmet with an opening for her long ears. It seemed to cover her eyes, but from the way she moved it looked like it wasn't a problem.

She saluted. "The perimeter is safe, Ojou-sama," she reported. "My troops will ensure that your meeting is untroubled."

"Commander Filli, who would bother us?" asked the woman rhetorically.

"We must always be cautious," informed Filli with another almost-professional salute. "The enemy is cunning and treacherous, so we must always stay one step ahead, but not only one, we must stay ahead through steps one, two, and three, but not four, because four is dangerous, so I pass through number four and skip to number five!"

"Okay, Filli. Go do your job."

The bunny bounced off, and the woman shook her head. She could not always comprehend Filli's eccentric mode of speaking, nor could she comprehend why such a person had been chosen to command her guard, but she came in handy when it came to dealing with uninvited guests.

She gathered about herself an imperious air, and strode off to meet her visitor.

Guame waited for her in the cool shade of a glade in the sanctuary. He was lounging in a comfortable white deck chair, next to a white-painted cast iron table. A maid entered and left him a glass of strawberry lemonade before bowing and exiting.

Straea emerged from the trees and greeted him. "General Guame. I am honored to entertain your company. What is the purpose of your visit? Is the King looking for new consorts?"

The armadillo took a drag on his pipe. "Princess Straea, beautiful as ever. Why so businesslike? We have ample time to enjoy each other's company." He motioned to a chair opposite his own.

"I am no Princess, General," she said, but took the proffered seat. Another maid emerged and handed her an ornate pipe. "I'm just a bureaucrat, now."

"Light?" asked Guame, offering his lighter. She accepted.

"Smoking this shit will kill us some day, you know," she said, easing up as she dragged on the pipe.

"Crude words for a princess."

"I'm no princess and I don't intend on going back to being one." She blew smoke defiantly in the general's face; Guame didn't even grunt. "It's your fault, you jerk. You're the one responsible for what I am now."

"Would you rather have gone to the box?"

"Maybe. It was a comfortable-looking box…Anyway, back to the point. What are you up to?"

"Hrm. You have lost all your joy, Straea…If you really must know, we've been having a little trouble with the humans of late."

"Having issues coming up with new ways of slaughtering them?"

"As a matter of fact, we're having problems slaughtering them at all." He regarded her thoughtfully over the bowl of his pipe. "There is a group that resists the rule of the Spiral King."

"Really?" She raised a green eyebrow. "Did they actually figure out how to fight back?"

"They call themselves Team Dai-Gurren," answered Guame, sipping on his lemonade. "Their strategy revolves around stealing our own ganmen and using them against us. We assumed they'd be easy to squash, even so…but then, Adiane fell against them."

"Humans fighting back and actually managing to be a threat. I'm disappointed in you, Guame. I'd have thought you'd have crushed them with sheer numbers already."

"They are special," grunted Guame. "The more of us that fall against them, the stronger they get." He smirked at her. "That is why I intend to fight them indirectly. I propose giving them some toys to play with, and striking while their guard is down."

"And I suppose you need someone to be their 'toys'." Straea's voice turned serious, and all pretense of frivolity dropped from her tone.

"Yes, well, 'toys' is perhaps a poor choice of words. They are not toys, at least not until our King takes a liking to one." Straea almost frowned. "But, I can guarantee that our King won't be looking for a new consort for a while."

"Hm. And if I do this for you, can you keep the Fifth Prince away from here?" Her expression returned to normal. "He's not welcome here, but he doesn't seem to get it."

"I guarantee it," assured Guame. "A few words whispered in the King's ear, and the Fifth will give you no trouble."

"Fine," said Straea with finality. "What's your plan?"

Guame grinned mercilessly. "One of the oldest tricks ever devised."

Chapter Text

Tiny wavelets lapped against the grassy shore. The storm had subsided during the night, and now the ocean was calm, its surface tinted orange by the first light of morning. It would still be a few hours before the land would be fully bathed in the sun's rays; but for now, that small bit of light was enough.

Enough to reveal the sudden bubbling out on the still surface of the water; enough to illuminate the massive purple form of Dai-Gurren as it emerged from the waves. It swam for shore, guiding itself with a million minute movements of its hundred legs, and finally used those same legs to crawl onto the beach and inland, leaving footprints in the sand larger than several grown men.

Then the beast sagged, more than ready for a rest. Orange light glinted off its armored hide, revealing the lines and patches of hasty repairs made at sea. Now that landfall had been made, proper repairs could begin.

"According to the map," said Kinon, "this point is, was," she yawned briefly, "was the best spot for us to land back on the continent.

"New land to explore! New foes to defeat!" Leeron hopped happily, perhaps the only member of the crew who was fully awake. "From Kampan to Dachia…who knew we came from a dead end island? Who knew the world was so big?"

"So yeah," continued Kinon, rubbing her eyes. "According to the maps, the continent is really, really huge. And at the center is…uh…Teppelin."

"But we can discuss the details later~" said Leeron. "Maybe once everyone else is awake. You go sleep, dearie. You've been up all night!"

"Thanks," said Kinon with a yawn. And then she stood and left.

Dayakka and Attenborough snored in their seats, and Leeron gave them a tsk before returning to his monitors. Of the crew, only the mechanic remained standing, though even he was beginning to show the strain of his vigil through his makeup. Truth to be told, however, he was the only one needed: a ship of Dai-Gurren's size and firepower was more than capable of withstanding any run-in with common ganman patrols.

On the other hand, if a larger unit – say, Dai-Ganzan, or even Yamikaze – appeared, then their life would become quite a bit more complicated: the submarine was at a significant disadvantage on land. Thus the reason for their carefully-picked landing point. They were, for lack of a better description, in the middle of nowhere, and so long as they remained near the beach they had an easy escape route back into the ocean.

Leeron looked at the dashboard clock: one hour until Tetsukyan's shift started. Then he would get some beauty sleep, because even the Beauty Queen needed to maintain his looks. He sipped his coffee, draining the mug, and felt fairly confident that it would be able to tide him over for the rest of the shift. Feeling a bit bored, he started idly mapping out various routes towards Teppelin. As far as he could tell, even the shortest route would take several months, not counting the various obstacles they would encounter along the way. Dai-Gurren really was just too slow on land.

His daydreaming was cut short by the sound of his name.

"Leeron! Leeron!" It was Kinon, hoarse and tired, but clearly on the verge of panicking. Leeron immediately rushed towards it. At an intersection, not too far from the command room, Kinon was crouched on the floor next to someone.

"Who is it?" asked Leeron calmly, trying to soothe the panicked girl. When there was no response, he crept closer to answer his own question.

"Nia. What's happening, hon?" was his next question, directed towards the prone digger. There was no question that she was awake, on account of her incessant shuddering.

"The demon…" she moaned incoherently. "The demon…"

"Should we get her to the infirmary?" asked Kinon worriedly.

Leeron took her by the arms. "Nia, you need to get some sleep," he said soothingly. Kinon reached out to help. "If you don't sleep, you'll get sick."

"If I sleep…"she muttered. "If I sleep, the demon will wake…" Her eyes rolled towards him for a moment, and he saw that they were bloodshot. "If I sleep, the demon will wake…"

Then her head dropped, and she fell to the deep slumber of the exhausted.

"I'm really worried," confessed Kinon on the way back to Nia's cabin.

"She probably had a nightmare," answered the mechanic. "Nothing a good night's sleep won't fix!"

They arrived at her cabin, dumped her in the bed, and left, closing the door behind them. They honestly thought that that was that.

As soon as they were gone, the digger curled into a ball on her bed and started shivering. The shadows twisted and shuddered; and the Shadow emerged from the shadows, the black tendrils of her hair drifting in an intangible wind. She leaned forwards and caressed Nia's head, and the digger recoiled at the touch, but she dug her sharp fingers into her scalp, preventing retreat.

Blood-red eyes quirked in amusement, as did the tooth-lined mouth, and she spoke in a distorted, layered, sonorous voice that scratched upon the blackboards of the mind.

"Just a little more, and I will be free," she mused, stroking Nia's cheek with her other hand. "Better, just a little more and you will be free. And you will thank me."

The day wore on without event. Under Leitte's supervision, the repair crews went to work patching up the damage to the legs. Meanwhile, the pilots and foot soldiers took advantage of the brief respite to do a bit of training.

******************************

"Agh!" yelled a female voice from Dayakkaiser. The blue tank-mech crashed into the ground.

"Kiyoh!" Gurren's cockpit opened, revealing Rossiu. "Are you all right?"

"Of course!" Dayakkaiser's mouth yawned, and Kiyoh stepped out. "I was just a bit careless. Nice throw! Come on, let's go again."

"Again? Haven't we done this enough?"

"Dayakkaiser's not built for close combat, so if I'm caught off-guard I'll need to know exactly what to do."

"But that shouldn't happen."

"Always prepare for the unexpected! Now get your butt in that seat and hit me!"

"Blech," moaned Kiyal, who was sitting on the grass nearby. "Kiyoh's so lucky. Dayakka should've given his ganman to me…I'm gonna be stuck in the back lines all my life, aren't I?"

"Look, Kiyal!" said Darry cheerfully, sticking a small white flower at her.

"Oh it's so pretty," she said with barely a glance in his direction.

"I found something too!" yelled Gimmy in her ear.

"Oh? What did you find-AGH!"

Kiyal flailed wildly to dislodge the gecko that Gimmy had just placed down the back of her top. The little boy guffawed wildly, while his sister giggled.

"Oh you are soooo dead, Gimm- Oh, hi Simon." She didn't start her intended run to catch the boy when she noticed the prince was beside her.

"Commoner Kiyal," said the prince in greeting. "Have you seen Nia anywhere?"

"She's probably in her room." Kiyal crossed her arms, and her tone turned serious. "She hasn't been out in days."

"Yoko told me to apologize to her, and by the tone of her voice, she meant she wanted it soon," he said, awkwardly, "I guess this is the best thing to do, that is why I am looking for her." He looked at his feet. "But I am not sure what that entails."

"You and her both."

"Hm?"

"Nothing you need to know." Kiyal sighed, and turned back around to watch over the kids. "Remember, Simon. You gotta prep your words the way you prep food, right? Or it'll taste awful."

She walked away then, striding across the grass, and left behind her one thoughtful prince.

******************************

The door slid open with a hiss. Inside was gloom.

"Commoner Nia?"

The light from the corridor streamed into the room, allowing him to see the hunched form sitting on the ground. She was surrounded by rocks; some were just plain rocks, but others were sculpted into a curiously familiar shape. He picked one up, and realized that it was a bust of a man. He picked up another one; it was the same man, this time with his eyes covered by an odd triangular shape. He held them in his hands, and they seemed heavier than they already were; he had never seen this likeness, but it was not hard to guess the subject.

A drill turned in the depths of the room, its flanges scraping against stone. It continued for a while, and then suddenly stopped. Metal crashed against metal as it dropped to the floor.

"It's no use…" The words were empty, mumbled in despair more out of habit than anything else.

"What is no use?" asked Simon.

"I can't remember him." This time it was a whimper, frightened and confused. "Why can't I remember how he looked? It gets harder and harder to remember his beautiful smile…his fierce but tender eyes…why can't I remember?"

"Who?"

"Kamina."

"Ah." Simon shuffled nervously. "You should know, Nia…I am sorry."

The words sounded empty to his ears, in spite of his attempt to sympathize. They were supposed to help, but he could not see how. Nia evidently agreed with him, because she ignored them completely.

"He won't come back," she stated simply. She pushed her goggled up, out of her eyes, and looked blankly at him. "No matter what."

"Yes." It was all he could think of saying.

"I'm afraid," she said then, hugging her knees to her chest. "I'm so afraid, Simon." She shuddered on the floor, a frightened ball of dirty clothes and messy hair.

The temperature in the room dropped, and Simon felt his heart clench. He could feel her pain; in fact, he could almost see it. It lingered above her like a shadow, pressing down on her soul.

The actions came to him almost instinctually. Before he had time to think, he had his cape draped over her shoulders. And then he declared, in a strong voice: "I gave my word to protect you, and I intend to keep it."

"You're wasting your time, Simon," said Nia numbly, but still she fingered the hem of the soft blue cloak. "I don't deserve to be protected. I don't deserve to be looked after. I don't deserve you." She tightened up again. "Why do you even care?"

"Because you do deserve it," said Simon honestly. "And even if you didn't, I gave my word, and that is worth more than my own life." He laid a hand on her shoulder. "Your brother cared for you more than anything else in the world. I know that now. And if he did, then you must be worth something, right?"

Nia stopped shivering.

"You don't understand. I am a monster. And when I'm not a monster, I'm weak…Kamina was wrong."

"Are you sure, Nia? I know you are not weak, and you are only a monster if you choose to be. What do you choose to be? Do you really choose to be a monster, Nia?"

There was a moment of silence; of stretched tension. Even the Voice was quiet for a second. And then Nia exhaled a soft, whispery sigh.

"No," she whispered quietly. "I don't." She looked down at herself.

Liar. You want to be a monster. You ENJOY being a monster. You are and always will be-

"No. I don't."

And for the first time, the Voice shut up.

******************************

The call came out of nowhere, right when everybody had finally settled down for a nice bit of relaxation.

A young woman with turquoise hair and a light lavender tunic clasped her hands together plaintively. Behind her, a rough stone wall shook violently, and she was barely audible above the rumbling. She was covered in dirt, and her eyes were wide with terror.

"Please, Team Gurren, we need your help!" she pleaded. "Our village is under attack by beastmen! We are only helpless women here, and we are in dire need of brave, manly souls to save us from the invaders!" White smoke billowed out, engulfing her, and there was a brief scream before the transmission turned to static.

As brief as it had been, the message had been received in full.

"What do you guys think?" asked Gabal, stroking his mustache.

"Think? Think?" Kittan slammed his fist into his palm. "There's no time for thinking! Those cute chicks are in danger! Let's go!"

"I'm not so sure," said Leeron warily. "Much as I feel for those poor dears, I can't help being suspicious…"

"How did they know about us?" asked Kinon pointedly. "We just came off an island, so there's no way they heard it from other humans…and if other villages have this kind of technology, why haven't we heard from them before?"

"Or maybe it was a beastwoman!" suggested Attenborough in a kind of sideways fashion. "I hear they look just like regular chicks."

"I don't like to be pessimistic, but if it's true what they say," said Gabal, grimly scratching the back of his head, "We might be too late to help them."

"That is, if it isn't a trap," added Dayakka.

"It sure sounds like a trap," agreed Leeron.

"It probably is," said Kinon.

"Yup, definitely a trap," said Attenborough with certainty.

"Oh come on!" fumed Kittan. "Who cares if it's a trap or not? Either way, we have to save them! Where's your fighting spirit? Besides, we've got Dai-Gurren on our side. What are they going to do to us?"

"Um," said Kinon tentatively. "I've pulled up the maps. There's a canyon and a waterfall, and all around is dense jungle. Besides the ambush potential of the jungles, there are plenty of ways they could use the geography against us."

"I say we move on. A village full of only pretty young women? Who would want to live there?" The other guys gave him some weird looks, and he quickly cleared his throat. "I mean, of course that it's super suspicious~. Demographics are usually split fifty-fifty between genders, for a couple reasons." He winked at nobody in particular.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" demanded Kittan, drawing all attention to himself. "Think a minute: what would Kamina do? Abandon a village full of cute girls? Hell no!" Seeing the looks he was getting, he quickly clarified himself: "And not just for the girls, of course! Kamina wanted to protect all humans on the surface! Whether it was cute girls or old geezers, he'd still march out there to save them!"

Silence descended.

"Dear Kittan is right for once," sighed Leeron. "Kamina was more than just a good-looking fellow with a big sword, you know."

"So we have to march right in and let them surprise us," muttered Gabal unhappily.

"Not necessarily," interjected Kinon, tapping at her keyboard. "We can go right over whatever trap they've got set by using Dai-Gurren to launch them in. Then we'll have the element of surprise."

"Very nice…and if things go sour, we can march in with Dai-Gurren and smash them from behind. Nice planning, Kinon."

"We can't lose!" decided Kittan.

"If we go now, by tomorrow morning we'll be able to put this plan in motion." Kinon said.

"So it's decided," said Dayakka.

He moved to the communications console and started it up. Within minutes, his face and voice were being projected to every allied screen and speaker in range. Sparring ganmen stopped mid-blow; lunching crewmembers paused mid-meal; even Leitte's engineer corps ceased their constant activity for a second.

"Time to pack up, Team Dai-Gurren!" he announced. "We've got a mission!"

******************************

The smoke cleared away, the dust settled, and out of it emerged a young woman with turquoise hair who displayed absolutely no fear whatsoever. She uncovered her mouth and stepped away across a rock-steady floor.

An amateur anteater beastman lowered his camera, which was linked to a terminal where two more sat, managing the video's transmission and taking judicious advantage of the fact that Team Dai-Gurren had never bothered to check whether or not the call had actually disconnected.

"General!" one called out. "They took the bait!"

"Loud and clear," confirmed the general. "We've got plenty of time before they show up, so if you'll excuse me, I have to make some calls."

He sauntered towards the exit, but not before giving the girl a leering look. "You would make a very good consort for the King," he told her in a slightly dirty tone. She shivered.

"Don't worry, Pallas," said a dark-skinned maid reassuringly, after the general was out of earshot. "General Guame has promised Ojou-sama that the Spiral King will not be demanding any new consorts for a long while. And even if he does…well, there is little we can do about it."

"But mistress Evelynne." The girl named Pallas looked at her feet. "I…I don't want to be a consort…"

"I know. But if you are chosen as a consort, you will be given a life of luxury beyond what you could possibly imagine. It would be an honor."

"Do you believe that?"

"No. I don't," said the maid immediately, completely unable to lie to the poor young girl.

"All right, enough chitchat you two." The commander, an anteater with a white mohawk, gestured impatiently with his submachine gun. "Ya ain't needed no more. Buzz off, human scum! Hey, you listenin'?" He popped off a couple of rounds at their feet. Pallas shrieked, while Evelynne held on her, trying to protect both of them.

The commander's idle chuckling cut off abruptly when he perceived the rocket launcher staring him in the face.

"Cower, mongrel, for I am of Ojou-sama's personal bodyguard! My orders are to keep all the villagers safe, and that means all of them, not some, not all except one, all of them!"

A short, anthropomorphic pink rabbit is usually only intimidating to a select few people. However, circumstances will quickly reverse with the involvement of a rocket launcher longer than she is tall.

"Like I care, little punk!" snapped the commander, being one of the select few that would fail to be intimidated by an explosive weapon aimed at his face. "They aren't any of the Spiral King's bets. Why can't we play with them a bit?"

Evelynne raised her voice. "Enough! You will upset Lady Straea if you continue, and she has close connections with the General. Go away!"

"Piss off!" snapped back the commander. "Sure the King spared you, but that doesn't change the fact that you're a filthy human!" Still, he turned and walked away.

"Hey! I'm not done with you!" yelled Filli. The commander made a rude gesture without even turning around. She made to sprint off after him, but by then he had already gone around the corner.

She turned to the maid, repentant.

"I'm very sorry, Mistress Evelynne," she said with a salute. "I let him get away."

"No need to apologize, captain." The maid crossed her arms irritably. "I hate visitors as much as Ojou-sama, but we must keep up appearances."

"Guame's soldiers have no respect for my soldiers. They treat them like they were humans!" She cocked her head and realized the weight of her words, "I'm sorry, mistress, I didn't intend to offend you."

"You didn't intend," she sighed, "Respect is hard to find outside the village. The Spiral King sees us nothing but as dolls, at least it's better than Arshun…"

"Don't mention him," she said, indignation rising in her voice, "He has to pay for his sins!"

"He will! But we will discuss those things later." they bowed to each other and went away, Evelynne trying to help the poor Pallas to recover from her scare.

******************************

The term "Beauty Village" does not usually conjure up images of a fortress built to withstand months of siege.

Nevertheless, that is what it was. The entire thing was built in a square of land in the middle of a river, floating between two arms of water. The island had no shore; where the water met the land, there immediately begin a tall stone wall, completely encircling the piece of land. It was broken in only four places, where great gates linked the inside to the land without via four ancient stone bridges.

The majority of the village was inside, and at its center stood another structure: a square stone keep, with four towers set in the four cardinal directions, and at its center the tallest tower of all. Despite their obvious age they stood firm, bolstered by the patches of new materials that laced in and between the old.

Scattered in the valley around the village were several squads of yellow ganmen, outfitted for various roles from infantry to artillery. They were concentrated around the entrances for obvious reasons, but when you got down to it, none of them actually expected anything to happen. Guame had opted not to inform his forces as to his plan.

Evidently, something was going to happen, and happen it did.

Up in the sky, beyond the clouds, seven miniature stars sparkled briefly. The beastman pilots had little to no time to wonder at this phenomenon, because shortly afterwards those stars whistled down to earth and crashed down around the village, punching small craters into the earth and sending a great cloud of dust pluming into the air.

Orders were shouted; confusion spread across the comms. Then, units started going silent. Explosions rang out in the dust, and the sounds of scattered fighting.

When the dust had settled, there stood seven ganmen, clustered together facing out. They were as diverse as could be, and heavily modified so that they resembled no known model. Each one sported the same insignia: a flaming skull wearing a pair of impossibly cool black shades.

Team Dai-Gurren had made their entrance.

"Hailing the farthest island of the planet! The protectors of humanity!" proclaimed Kittan, resting his mecha's hands on its hips feeling like a superhero. "In this crazy world, we are the only ones who can bring justice! Behold the power of Team Dai-Gurren, suckers!"

The infantry wasted no time bringing their guns to bear, hoping to neutralize their enemies quickly and efficiently. The King Kittan briefly disappeared behind a screen of smoke. The two grunts turned to high-five each other.

"KITAAAN! SPIIIRAL! STINGERRR!"

They turned again with their mouths open in big O's of surprise, just in time to see the spinning yellow shape approaching them at the approximate speed of an express train. Seconds later they were both suffering from having yellow spikes impaled through their abdomens.

"Booyeah!" cackled Kittan as the explosions coated him in orange flame. "Team Dai-Gurren! CHARGE!"

A small brown mech strafed around behind him, intending to get in a quick backstab with its short sword, but found its attack quickly parried by a blue ganman with a katana. They passed at each other three times, before Moshogun sliced the enemy's arm off and plunged its blade deep into its midsection. Another quick swipe sliced the entire thing in half top to bottom, just for good measure.

"One down," grunted Makken.

Twinboekkun lumbered forth with fists swinging, crushing smaller models with its bare hands. Two that the twins missed were quickly picked off by heavy-duty artillery shells.

"All right!" exclaimed Kiyoh happily. "Two for me! This is easy!"

More of the enemy ganmen began circling around from the other gates to help out. The Kiddknuckle met them in the jungle, swinging through the trees faster than they could aim. Entire squads simply went silent as they were picked off by his lightning-fast attacks.

"The Red Demon!" screamed one beastman suddenly. "The Red Demon is here!"

"Get it! Kill it first!"

A squad of six surged forwards towards Gurren, which stood in the center of the melee with its bladeshades raised. Rossiu grit his teeth and moved to meet them. A diagonal cut took down one, and a horizontal slash sent another flying. The third, however, got him with a jab from its club, sending it off-balance, and the fourth followed up with a head-butt. Luckily, Kiddknuckle darted over to help, landing several blows, while Ainzer moved in and tackled another. While they were dazed, a small cockpit opened up on the green ganman's head. Yoko got off four shots, knocking over one mecha and crippling another.

"Rossiu! You okay?" asked the sniper. "Keep it together!"

"I'm fine," he answered with difficulty. "And I'm trying!"

He wrestled with a ganman that carried a gunblade, and took many cheap shots at his expense. Very quickly, Gurren became the most heavily damaged of all the Dai-Gurren mechs.

Yoko aimed carefully and pegged the irritating unit. The distraction was enough to allow Rossiu to gain the upper hand, beating his assailant down with repeated shade-strikes. Ainzer and Gurren then parted, wading into different parts of the fray, Team Dai-Gurren quickly gained ground.

Pressed to breaking, the enemy retreated up the hill. Artillery and rockets caught up, and fired down the slope, forcing Team Dai-Gurren to dodge out of the way. They escaped narrowly, and explosions rained down around them.

"Sis!" yelled Kittan. "Help us out with these bastards!"

"I got it!" Kiyoh strafed to the left, firing at the enemy. All four shots missed, but one managed to hit the ground just at their feet. One of the rocket units tripped and ended up unleashing its payload at its allies.

"Dai-Gurren is unstoppable!" yelled Zorthy, charging uphill in his Sawzorthn. The rest of the team roared and followed.

The enemy commander waved his hands in the air in panic.

"Ohgodohgodwe'rescrewed!"

******************************

"General Guame, our forces say they're screwed!" announced a beastman. "And…they're right!"

"Tell them to quit whining and buckle down," ordered Guame idly. "Reinforcements will be along shortly."

The East Tower made for the perfect base of operations, providing elevation for both observation and communications purposes. In the great round room at the center were gathered dozens of beastmen, working off of portable terminals that processed data from the battle and threw charts, graphs and maps all over the walls. General Guame was seated in the center in a comfortable armchair, and beside him stood Captain Filli.

"General!" The projections shifted, and a mole-beastman's face winked into place. "My forces are being decimated by some kind of giant mechanical snake! We can't hold!"

"All right. Retreat and-"

"AAAAAHHH!" The mole's screen was replaced by static.

"-regroup?" Guame shrugged. "Oh well."

"Our diversion is working smoothly," Filli remarked. "They walked right into our trap. Now our troops will pretend to break, and Dai-Gurren will be at our mercy."

"Ah," said the armadillo calmly. "Unfortunately, they will not be pretending."

FIlli pushed her helmet out of her eyes and stared at him with wide eyes. "Sir? You mean…they actually think they're fighting to the death? But they're only supposed to be a distraction!"

"Precisely." He turned his chair to face her. "One must not underestimate the humans' intelligence, as we learned from Adiane's failure. It is entirely possible, even likely, that they would notice any acting on our troops' part. Thus, we must ensure that their actions are entirely real. To catch a big fish, one must sometimes use a smaller fish as bait."

"But sir! They are your soldiers, sir!"

"Replaceable, all of them."

On the map, the little blue dots disappeared one by one. Filli's face was stony with military detachment, but inside, she wondered whether they were doing the right thing.

******************************

The pig-commander had two grunts, two artillery-types, and two heavy-weapons types with him, and that was it. The rocketeer tried to line up a shot, but suddenly found its weapon explosively tampered with by one of Yoko's bullets. An artillery cannon aimed and fired, but it missed badly. They tried to retreat then, but then Team Dai-Gurren was upon them and they could only stand and fight.

The earth rumbled, a flock of birds exploded from the trees, and the Dai-Gurren surfaced from the sea of trees. Along with it came a flurry of missiles that pounded into the remaining enemy units. The artillery panicked and fired blindly at the warship, and panicked even more when the armor shrugged off their shots like insect bites.

Moshogun darted in a sliced the rocket launcher in half, silencing it for good, and giving time for Ainzer and King Kittan to catch up. The infantry brought their guns to bear, and the three were forced to dive into a crater. However, following right behind them was Twinboekkun, who absorbed the gunfire and proceeded to demonstrate to the poor grunts why, exactly, you do not bring a gun to a fistfight, especially when the one who uses fists has better armor than you.

An artillery unit panicked a little more and fell back on the ancient technique of ramming. Kiddknuckle and Gurren were not amused, and dealt with the foolish cannon explosively before repeating the lesson for its partner.

"I surrender!" yelled the commander, raising his hands in the air. Dai-Gurren surrounded him, and he appeared to be defeated…until, that is, he had a clear shot at Gurren. Then, with a cry of "For Adiane!" he raised a wrist-mounted shotgun and made to fire.

Rossiu was too startled to react, but luckily for him, Yoko wasn't. One shot later and the enemy commander was dead in the dust.

"That was the last one," said Yoko wearily.

Dayakka hailed them from Dai-Gurren. "Jungle's cleared out too."

"The remaining enemy forces are retreating," Kinon added.

"Smile, bozos!" said Kittan proudly. "We won!"

The team raised their arms in the air, howling their victory.

******************************

The village was empty at first, but gradually, figures began creeping out of the shadows to greet their saviours; they were, of course, the women of the village. Some of the braver ones waved a bit and yelled congratulations and thanks.

All were clad in the same light purple tunic, although there were some variations, such as bare midriffs, shorter sleeves, and in some cases black markings at the chest and shoulders. But one thing was absolutely, completely consistent among all of them: they were all, to a woman, beautiful.

"What a lousy village," grumped Leeron. He and Dayakka also exited Dai-Gurren to check the place.

They surrounded the ganmen on the bridge, some of the younger ones pushing forwards to get a better look. Then the crowd parted to allow a dark-skinned maid to pass through. She bowed and greeted them.

"Welcome, Team Gurren. My name is Evelynne, and I am a servant of the lady of this village." She bowed again. "Ojou-sama waits."

"Hey, I never keep a lady waiting!" said Kittan with a smug grin.

The village's architecture was just as strange on the inside as the outside. The houses were square and drab, fused together in large blocks between which the streets ambled. There were many open spaces sprinkled between the buildings; parks, full of bright flowers and majestically soaring trees. Some even grew right out of the sides of the houses, making it difficult to tell where the tree ended and the house began.

The road they traveled was lined on each side by long pools of clear water dotted with lotus flowers. In alcoves along the walls were placed statues of beasts and gods, and sprawling around them was a complex weave of carvings telling tales of ages past.

Of course, most of this architectural beauty was disregarded in favour of the much more natural beauty that surrounded them, i.e. the women of the village. About the only ones unhappy with the situation were Rossiu, who was too shy, Leeron, who had his own reasons, and Yoko and Kiyoh, who remained suspicious.

"Big brother!" Kiyoh grabbed Kittan's arm and whispered in his ear, "Don't you find this just a bit suspicious?"

"Jeez, Kiyoh, didn't take you for the jealous type," he replied with a teasing grin.

"Jealous?" She huffed indignantly and caught Yoko's gaze. The sniper just rolled her eyes in silent support.

Everything was suspicious, she decided. The village girls wouldn't even look her in the eye, and for some reason she couldn't put it down to mere timidity. No, there was something else going on. She clutched tight to the strap of her rifle for security.

But still…she had to admit it seemed like a nice place. There was a kind of ambient serenity about the place that made her want to sit underneath one of the trees and take a good, long nap. A pale green butterfly flitted by in front of her nose, and she half-smiled.

******************************

"Commoner Nia, we have arrived," said Simon immediately upon entering her room. "Kinon says we must go with the others."

"But I'm busy." The digger paused for a moment in her work, turned, and looked up at him. In the light from the lamp overhead, her eyes seemed to be less dull than before and the light reflected something else in her spirit.

"On what, may I ask?"

"I finally found my inspiration," said Nia enigmatically. She went back to work with her drill.

"Would it be all right if I watched?"

"Sure." And he sat down at her bed.

******************************

"Argh! What was with those stairs?" complained Kittan, knuckling his back.

"The village's founders believed that the path to ascension was not an easy one," explained Evelynne, cresting the top of the stairway. "That is why they constructed the steps so steeply."

Now they were within the central tower, illuminated from above by a single, powerful lamp. At the other end was a gracefully carved seat that delicately straddled the border between chair and throne. Standing to one side was a maid with long, red hair and green eyes.

They stood around in tense silence for a while. And then she entered.

She was simply the most beautiful woman any of them had ever seen, eliciting slack-jawed stares from the men and irritated pouts from the women. Clad in her dark dress, green cape and heels, she stalked across the room from the left, nodded to her guests, and folded elegantly into the throne.

"Team Gurren," she greeted them. She looked them over, her gaze slowly panning across their faces, performing the double duties of judge and jury on their souls.

"But she's fully dressed!" Kiyoh muttered, jealousy clear.

"Those eyes…" whispered Yoko as the hard stare swung her way. With a start, she realized they were identical to Simon's.

"I must commend your bravery," said the woman then, "and I thank you for your selfless efforts in protecting my people. You are truly good and altruistic people, all of you.

"Unfortunately your abilities of foresight are drearily lacking."

"Oh, no, that can't-" began Yoko, but was cut short by a series of mechanically insidious clickings. She turned around; the girls following them had dispersed to the sides of the chambers, and in their place stood a battalion of aardvark, anteater and armadillo beastmen. Predictably, they were also carrying a lot of guns.

"You are all under arrest," she proclaimed. "The charges are rebellion against the Spiral King and attempted regicide. Now be nice and surrender."

Team Dai-Gurren obliged and lifted their arms in the air…all save Kittan, who was far too pissed to cooperate with anyone.

"What the hell!" he roared, lunging for the green-cloaked woman. "You're a traitor for the beastmen? What kind of bullshit is that?"

The woman did not move; she did not need to. Something heavy and metallic arced out of nowhere and slammed into his gut. Kittan fell to his knees, wheezing, and looked up.

The last things he saw were a pink rabbit and a rocket launcher whizzing towards his head.

******************************

At the same time, a surprise invasion hit the warship. Squads of beastmen stormed through the halls, accosting and capturing all personnel and confiscating any weapons. There was little resistance, and those who tried were quickly and painfully neutralized.

Two soldiers burst into Nia's room, firing at the ceiling to terrify the occupants. It worked; Nia immediately screamed and cowered behind Simon. In her fright she dropped the bust she had been working on, the first one to actually get his likeness down properly.

Simon did not fail to notice.

"What are you thinking you have right to this aggression?" he growled, baring his blade. "I demand to know the meaning of this unnecessary aggression!"

"Oh look, it's the disgraced prince," one of them said with a sneer. "Pipe down and drop the toy. You're coming with us."

"Not before I know why!" he countered.

"I dunno, because the General says so?" One of them aimed at Nia. "He also says we're supposed to kill any humans who start resisting. I don't know if you qualify, but hey, this little girl is looking pretty convenient right now!"

Simon did not deign to respond, but his glare deepened.

"Oh no, he's angry!" said the other with a snicker. "Watcha gonna do, cub? You're a foot too short to tussle with us!"

Something should be noted here in the soldiers' defence.

Guame's forces were well-known to be the most efficient branch of the Imperial Army, thanks in no small part to their commander's recognized tactical brilliance. In terms of kills to deaths, they far outstripped their counterparts in the rest of the military.

Unfortunately, this recognition led to arrogance, which itself led very quickly to stupidity.

The prince's arm blurred, and his sword swept in front of him faster than their brains could compute. A second later, their guns were falling apart in their hands, various mechanical bits and pieces clattering to the floor.

They smartened up real quick, and dropped to their knees in penance.

"Forgive us, your Highness!" they begged, kissing the ground at his feet. "We will never harm another human again! Just please forgive us!"

"First, you will tell me the purpose of your presence aboard this ship!" he demanded, his voice ringing with authority. Nia squeaked and had to stop herself from blurting out a nervous "Yes, sir!"

"We were told to capture all the humans and yourself and bring them before the General!" babbled the beastmen.

"Which General?"

"Guame, your Highness!"

"Why?"

"We weren't told!" They paused for a moment to think. "Actually, we really have no idea. Usually we just kill them right out, but Guame told us to capture and spare them for the time being."

Simon grimaced at that. Once again, Thymilph's words were confirmed. He had to find out why, though…

"You! Take me to Guame!" he ordered, brandishing his sword in their faces. "And you! Escort Commoner Nia to a safe location." He knelt and placed the blade underneath the beastman's chin. "And don't you even think of betraying her as soon as my back is turned. You will protect her like a knight, that is, with your very life. Or I will take it as payment. Am I clear?"

They scrambled to their feet. "Yessircrystalsir!"

Then Simon turned to Nia, flashing one of his oh-so-confident smiles. "You will be you safe," he said assuredly. "Do not worry. I am sure this is all a misunderstanding. And if it isn't…" He left the sentence hanging.

"Your Highness…" began the digger.

"Please," the prince interrupted her. "You may call me Simon."

He swirled his cape and walked towards the door. The one he had designated as his escort quickly followed suit, somehow appearing more dignified even though he had just been blackmailed into disobeying his orders.

Simon suddenly stopped at the door, as if something had just occurred to him. He turned back around to face Nia.

You've got to prepare your words first.

"Listen, Nia. You will never be like Kamina. And that's okay. You are not living his story; you are living yours. And only Nia can write her own story."

Then he left, leaving Nia to stare blankly after him.

Chapter Text

"Let us out!" hollered Kittan, slamming at the prison bars. "Damn you backstabbing cowards!"

"Shut up, Kittan!" snapped Yoko harshly. "You're just giving us all a headache!"

Tempers were short, moods were bad, and conditions were worse. The underground cell was damp, cramped, and dim; the few lights that the digging team had left were only just enough to make the space feel even smaller than it already did. Here and there, tree roots poked through the jumble of rocks and packed earth, making the cramped space even smaller with their presence.

"So what are we supposed to do? Sit around and mope?" persisted Kittan, raising his voice. "Didn't we all come from underground villages? Rocks and dirt shouldn't hold us back!"

Some of the more enthusiastic members yelled in support and started trying to dig their way through the rocky walls of their prison with their bare hands. Several bloody fingertips later, they gave up. Kittan was the last to give up. He punched the wall angrily; blood seeped between his fingers from where he had torn them.

"Why!" he growled, clenching his fist tighter in pain. "What would Kamina do in this situation? Damn! Something like this wouldn't stop him!"

"Big brother!" Kiyoh smacked him over the back of the head. "You. Are. Not. Kamina! So stop trying!"

He stood and rounded on her. "So? He'd want us to keep going and never-"

He was cut short when Yoko elbowed him.

"It's over!" she yelled, to nowhere in particular. "We were stupid, all right? Kamina was brave, but he was stupid, and now he's dead! We were brave, and we were stupid, and now we're as good as dead!" She took a step back and lowered her head, trying to hide her tears. "It's over. That's how it works. You make one stupid mistake and it's all over…"

Gimmy stepped forward and hugged her. "Please don't cry, Miss Yoko. You said we've got lights in our heads of the future."

"Bright futures," corrected Darry quietly, joining in on the hug.

Yoko didn't reply. She didn't have the heart to tell them how short their future was looking to be. She pressed the palms of her hands to her eyeballs and breathed deeply. So there was nobody to save them this time. That didn't mean she could stop being strong. The kids deserved to have hope, at least.

"And we're together!" noted Darry after a bit. "It's kind of small here but we've got each other."

"Good girl," said Kiyal softly, patting her pink hair. She forced herself to smile. "We're trapped, but we're not alone."

There was a murmur from the assembled humans…and, oddly, it was somewhat positive.

"We're all together," said Dayakka firmly. "If we can keep calm and keep our heads up, we can find a way out of this. Together."

"Eh, actually," interjected Tetsukyan, "while you were talking I did a quick headcount, and we're still missing Rossiu and-"

"Nia!" exclaimed Kiyal. Everyone turned to look at her as she flopped to the ground. "Dammit! What kind of friend am I, if I can't even notice when she's gone…"

"Kiyal, this is a good thing," said Kinon with barely-restrained joy. "Nia's on the outside. She can still get to Solvernia."

A new wave of optimism rippled through the crowd.

It was quickly followed by a wave of despair when the doors were opened and Nia walked in.

They stared at her. She stared at the floor. The floor remained impassive. Finding no solace at her feet, the little digger walked slowly over to a corner and curled up on the ground. The rest of the team went back to moping, scheming, or staring at the bars. Yoko made a 'tch' sound and turned her back to the digger, perhaps in contempt or shame.

"Hi, Nia," said Kiyal wearily, sitting down next to the digger. "…What do you think they're going to do with us?"

"I don't know," she replied quietly. "Simon will talk to them."

"Did you see Rossiu?"

"No, why?"

"They took him when he said he was Gurren's pilot. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing." She chuckled heartlessly. "He'll be all right. And I'm sure Simon will get us out of us. That's what a prince does, you know. Rescues damsels. You're such a lucky girl to have him as a friend." She tried chuckling again, but it got choked off halfway and ended on a kind of pathetic wheeze. Kiyal sagged against the wall. "…This isn't working, is it? I give up; I'm just a terrible friend."

"Why?"

"I didn't remember you just now. I can't get you to cheer up. Nothing I say works. Like when I tried to get you and Yoko to talk…" She banged her head against the wall. "I just made everything worse, didn't I? I guess I just want to say I'm sorry, everything was my fault. Seeing as this is probably the end and all."

Nia didn't reply immediately. She looked at the ceiling and thought a bit about her friend. It was curious, really; the way Kiyal put on such a show of being happy-go-lucky and perpetually cheerful, when deep down she was just as insecure and frightened as everyone else. Something clicked.

"There's nothing to be sorry for," said Nia then. She lifted her pinky. "You're my friend, remember?"

Kiyal stared at her, her mouth agape. "Nia," she finally said. "Are you…smiling?"

Others noticed, who were next to them in the cramped place, and turned to look at the pair. Jorgun and Balinbow looked shocked. Kidd raised an eyebrow. Makken grunted.

"Friends until the end, right?" continued Nia in a low voice, as if the words were struggling to get out. "You can always be sure of that, Kiyal. You don't need to be anyone else to be my friend. You are you, and just you, and you are my friend. So you should believe in yourself."

Kiyal opened and closed her mouth, unsure of how to react. She was shocked and touched and embarrassed and confused and happy, all at the same time. Above all, she felt silly; silly because Nia had to remind her of her own words. Her eyes watered.

She settled on a hug, squeezing Nia tightly.

"Thank you, Nia," she said in a choked voice. "Here I am, drowning in worry, and I go forgetting the one most important thing…my best friend." She disengaged and sat back. "I forgot who you really are, Nia."

"That's okay," said Nia softly, "because so did I."

The men cried rivers of manly tears, and didn't even care.

At that moment a shower of dirt burst up from the ground, and there was Boota. In his mouth was something small and pointed and golden; something that had been forgotten for a good time. He presented it to Nia with a flourish.

It glowed, soft and green, once more.

"Is that…" began Kiyal.

Nia took it in her hands. It was warm, though whether from something else or just because it had been in Boota's mouth she wasn't sure. It was just enough to take the chill out of her fingers.

She thought about her brother.

It's time! exclaimed the Voice happily. Finally! It took you long enough. Now that you're over that stupid ham, you're going to kill soooo many– wait! Listen to me! Pay attention!

Nia ignored it and headed for the prison wall.

"Nia, what are you doing?" asked Kiyal curiously, following her.

The digger stared intently at the rocky wall before placing her hand on it. She rubbed the spot, almost massaging it. Then she moved to another spot. This ritual was repeated several times, and on the last time, her small smile widened a bit. She took the little drill in hand and began scratching at the wall with it.

"Nia, what are you doing?" repeated Kiyal, confused.

"Digging a way out," she replied.

"With that little thing?"

"Yes," she said simply. A small rock fell out of the wall, leaving a small, earthy hole. "That's exactly what I'm doing."

She stuck her hand in the hole, feeling at the sides. Finding what she was looking for, she stuck the drill in and began working at the sides of it. Slowly but surely, it grew. When it was big enough, Boota jumped in, adding his claws to the digging efforts. Kiyal made herself useful by moving rocks and clods of earth out of the way when possible.

When it was about the size of Nia's head, the others began to notice. Even Yoko found herself overcome by curiosity. Soon, everyone was gathered around the busy little digger.

******************************

Flanked by the beastmen he had 'persuaded' to act professionally, Prince Simon Teppelin marched purposefully through the village. Thus far, he had not been stopped. Either the beastmen did not know he had been disowned or they thought he was another prisoner; the bows suggested the former.

Military presence aside, the village and its outskirts really were a beautiful place. The path he was traveling was wide enough to fit two and a half transport ganmen side by side, and lined on both sides with broad-leaved trees that arched overhead to create a natural canopy. Birds and insects flitted through the branches…as did several monkey beastmen, well-camouflaged but perfectly visible to Simon's trained eye. Obviously they were part of the village guard.

Simon was not certain why the village had been assigned such a guard, but undoubtedly it had special significance to his father. Perhaps that would be a good thing.

He heard the waterfall before it came into sight. Thundering over the ridge, its roar was a constant drone just below speech level. The path opened up into a clearing not too far from it, where a table and two chairs had been set up next to a small pond. Guame was seated on one side, engaged in conversation with an unfamiliar woman who sat across from him.

One of his escorts stepped forwards and cleared his throat politely. "General Guame," he said with a salute. "Prince Simon Teppelin wishes to speak with you."

Simon stepped forward. The woman turned her head just slightly to give him an impassive look, and her mouth twitched just slightly. Guame gave him a more obvious and rather arrogant grin.

"Greetings, Prince," said the General with mocking formality. "You grace me with your presence."

"Who are you?" asked Simon, addressing his question to the woman and ignoring Guame entirely. "Why do you bear the same mark as I?"

"Straea Teppelin," said the woman curtly. "And it's probably because I'm your half-sister. Father's side."

"I find this difficult to believe," said Simon. "I have never seen you in my life. You are nothing like me! Surely Father-"

"Your eyes," interrupted Straea. "They are like Arshun's." She turned her head away. "You're right on one angle, though. I am nothing like you, or your psychopath brother. If you are anything like him then I have no business with you."

"How dare you talk ill of my brother!" he exclaimed in righteous fury. His hand went to the hilt of his weapon.

In a millisecond the barrels of at least five weapons were pointed right at him. Beauty Village's guard was well-trained.

"Pathetic," she scoffed, turning her head back. "You can't even see him for what he is, can you? I want nothing to do with you, child."

"You-!"

"Calm down, your Highness…es," interjected Guame, cool as ever. "Let's not make enemies out of allies, eh? And let's not bring up old grudges either."

"What is her conflict with Arshun?" asked Simon curiously.

"Just a couple of bad run-ins," said Guame with a dismissive wave of his hand. "They never quite made up."

Straea made a small sound of derision and turned her head away once more.

"But what could Arshun have possibly done to her?" asked Simon, still confused. "I've never known Brother to do anything harmful…"

"Why don't you ask him yourself?" said Guame with an amused grin. He pointed up to the sky.

At first it was just a black blot, circling overhead; then, as it lowered, it resolved itself into an aircraft. It was almost entirely one large wing, with a bulge in the center to serve as a cockpit; it was silent as a whisper and black as night, and its levisphere gave off no exhaust. It could have been a phantom, or some other dark, winged creature of the night. Something squarish hung from its bottom.

"It's the Yaotel!" exclaimed Simon happily. "Arshun is here."

Straea's face remained, as always, professionally unperturbed. Beneath the table, however, her fists clenched.

The ganman disappeared for several seconds as it came closer. When it reappeared, it dropped its cargo and twisted, transforming. The center opened, revealing the traditional ganman face and limbs, while the cabin retracted, revealing the secondary face of an elite unit. The wings folded, becoming a kind of cape; and, fully transformed, the slender unit dropped with a thud to the ground.

"And another!" added Simon after a moment, pointing at the sky. "The Adamastor is here."

It, too, was a plane; it had a silver nose and blue highlights, and its wings were oddly disproportionate to its body. Two levispheres trailed green from the back of each wing, and spikes poked out of the rear.

"Sir Zerael, then?" Guame slid off his chair and hobbled towards the landing site. "Shall we greet them?"

"Of course!" agreed Simon.

Straea remained seated for several moments; but eventually she, too, got up and left.

******************************

"Look who's back!" bellowed Arshun, swirling his cape out dramatically. "Where are all the ladies?" When such ladies as he was seeking failed to appear, he yawned expansively and dramatically. "Boooooring!"

"WE ARE HERE TO ENFORCE HIS MAJESTY'S WILL!" proclaimed Zerael. "NOT TO ENGAGE IN CARNAL PLEASURES!"

"Too much work and no lay leads to tension," retorted Arshun with a leer. "If you insist, though. Not that I don't like my job. I love my job! I just can't wait to have fun with my beloved little brother!" He dropped the word with an almost murderous contempt. "Then, the ladies!"

Zerael shook his head with concern, remembering from his half-brother's words.

******************************

"Sir Zerael," said Stratos quietly. "I need a favour, brother knight."

"I WILL HEAR YOUR WORDS, THAT ARE MORE THAN WORTHY OF MY ATTENTION! AS MY BELOVED BROTHER, I SHALL AID YOU IN WHATEVER WAY IS POSSIBLE, TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITY, SUCH AS WILL FURTHER BOTH OUR INTERESTS AND THE KING'S!"

"I…appreciate it." The green-haired knight cleared his throat. "Arshun's asked Father for an audience." He gave his brother a pointed look. "It's about Simon."

"BUT HIS MAJESTY DECLARED OUR BROTHER TO BE UNWORTHY AND HE WAS TO BE DISOWNED AND EXILED TO THE FINAL RESTING PLACE!" He slammed a fist into his chest. "THE KING'S WORD IS ABSOLUTE!"

"He's returned, somehow. He's with a rebel group."

"UNACCEPTABLE!" The burly knight was so outraged that he grabbed a nearby chair and hurled it across the room and out a window without a second thought.

"Yeah it is. Pardon me if I do not share your enthusiasm, though. Anyway, they are heading to Beauty Village, and Arshun wants to go see them. Thing is…well, you know what I mean."

"NO I DO NOT!"

"Well, you know he was banned from there once or twice by sir Irenai, right?"

"YES! IRENAI WARNED HIM TO DON'T GO TO BEAUTY VILLAGE FOR CLASSIFIED REASONS!"

"Straea told me why."

"AH! I AM SENSING SOME ISSUES!"

"Good instincts. So you see what I'm getting at, right?"

"SIR ARSHUN IS A SPIRAL KNIGHT! HE SHOULD BE MORE RESPECTFUL TO SUCH A VALUABLE LADY AS THE LADY STRAEA!

"Right. But Father refuses to even acknowledge what he did, let alone punish him." Stratos lowered his head and raised his hand in supplication. "Thankfully, Irenai's arranged so everyone will be present at his audience. I need you to volunteer to go with him. I don't care how you do it, just convince Father to send both of you. You're the only one who could probably keep him in check, Zerael…or, at least, the only one I can ask."

"A HUMBLE REQUEST, BROTHER! I SHALL HONOR IT! ARSHUN SHALL DO NO HARM UNDER MY CARE, THAT IS TO SAY NO HARM THAT IS NOT DIRECTED TOWARDS THE ENEMIES OF THE KINGDOM! AND IF SIMON IS TRULY SIDING WITH THE REBELS THEN I SHALL RELISH THE OPPORTUNITY TO PUNISH HIM DULY AS BEFITS A TRAITOR!"

"You don't want to…you know, go easy on him? He was a pretty nice guy, so far as I remember."

"SIMON HAS COMMITTED A GRAVE TRANSGRESSION AGAINST THE HONOUR OF OUR LORD AND AS SUCH I AM REQUIRED TO TAKE ACTION AGAINST HIM! AS PUNISHMENT FOR HIS CRIMES I SHALL MEET HIM ON THE FIELD OF BATTLE IN GLORIOUS COMBAT AND-"

"Yes! I get it." Stratos shook his head. "Just…thanks for the favour, Zerael. Now let's stop talking about it before I get an even worse headache…"

"AS YOU WISH!" Zerael raised a fist in the air. "THE DOMAIN OF THE SPIRAL KING LAAAAASTS FOREEEEEVEEEER!"

******************************

"All right, big guy," said Arshun with a sneer. "You just keep your loud mouth shut and let me do the talking. And if you do get it into your thick head to say something, just make sure it's not about the reunion." He spread his arms wide. "I want it to be a surprise!"

"BUT-"

"No buts! He's my full-brother, so I'll deal with him as I please!"

Zerael had never seen Arshun so eager to do anything. Perhaps it was for the better, however; if Arshun was occupied with Simon, perhaps he'd leave Straea and her people alone. Sometimes the best way to act is through inaction, he reminded himself. Hopefully things would work themselves out without his intervention.

"You with the nose!" called Arshun to a pair of anteater beastmen. "Yeah, with the big, ugly one! Who's this loser?"

They moved aside to give Arshun a clear view of their escort – a young man with a ponytail, wearing some kind of dirty white cloak. "He's the Gurren's pilot," one explained. "You know, the one that killed Adiane."

"Huh, really?" Arshun sauntered forward and gave Rossiu a condescending look. "Kind of disappointing. He's skin and bones, for goodness' sake!" He grabbed the ponytail and pulled up on it until the boy was forced to stand on tiptoe. "How did a shrimp like this manage to off the old hag of the seas? It's beyond me. The bitch must have been losing her touch, is what I say."

"It wasn't me…" said Rossiu from between grit teeth.

"Whatever. Thymilph's going to have some fun with you, young man! I just hope I get to watch." He opened his fist, and Rossiu fell to the ground, crumpling to his knees. He turned to walk away.

"You…" said Rossiu suddenly, stopping him. "You have the same eyes as Prince Simon. Are you…related?"

"Huh. Well, you're puny but you're not stupid." Arshun turned back around and leaned down until his strange eyes were staring right into Rossiu's own, like a basilisk and its helpless prey. "If you really must know, the blue-haired twerp is…my…brother." He grinned malevolently. "For the next few hours, anyway. After that, I'll be an only child!"

Rossiu sagged, because he could see in those eyes that he meant every word of it.

"Your highness," interrupted a blue mole-beastman, approaching the prince. "General Guame and his guests have arrived."

"About time!" The red-haired prince snapped his fingers impatiently. "Hey, Zee! Come on! Hey, I'm talking to you!"

Zerael uncurled from his sitting position and followed.

At the other end of the clearing stood Simon, Straea and Guame. Arshun made a beeline straight for his sister.

"Hello-o, sis!" he greeted her emphatically. She frowned and took a step back.

Zerael stepped forwards and took her hand. "I AM HERE AS WELL, DEAR SISTER!" He then leaned in close to her ear and failed miserably to whisper, "I WILL SEE THAT HE DOES NO HARM!"

"I see…" she replied in a much, much quieter voice. She tried to discreetly rub her ear.

"Brother!" exclaimed Simon happily, moving towards Arshun. "It is so good to see you again."

Arshun sniffed, but kept his composure. "I see you're not dead yet."

"No. Why would I be?"

"No particular reason." The flame-headed prince waved his hand dismissively.

"Oh, okay. Well, it is quite the pleasure to see you! We will share such stories…I have had the most interesting experiences with these commoners. Why are you here, may I ask?"

"Business," said Arshun emphatically, batting an eye on Zerael, who seemed to understand the message. "Just some business. And you?"

"I have been travelling with some humans," Simon told them. "I met them in the desert and they have been most kind to me. I have been seeking my father in order to discuss my…" his voice faltered for a moment "…disownment. Would you know anything about it, brother?"

"Maybe," said Arshun cryptically. "First things first, though. You do realize those commoners are rebels, right?"

"Yes, but I find them to be such wonderful people. I believe we could-"

"We're going to kill them now," interrupted Arshun. "Oh don't give me that pathetic little look. What do you have to do with them, anyway?"

"I swore to protect them," said Simon proudly.

Zerael opened his mouth with a thunderous look in his eyes, but before he could say anything, Arshun had drawn his sword and smacked the flat of it across Simon's face. The younger prince went sprawling to the ground, blood flowing from a shallow cut on his cheek.

"Idiot!" snarled Arshun, taking his scabbard off his belt and putting it on his sword. "Your oath belongs to Lordgenome only! Can you even understand that, you failure?" He continued waling on his brother, using the sheathed sword as a bludgeon.

"I'm sorry!" apologized Simon, curling up into a ball. "It seemed the right and honourable thing to do in the situation!"

Arshun rewarded him with another blow. "Don't give me that crap! Your excuses are just as worthless as you are!"

"Please, stop!"

"Well who the hell else is going to knock some sense into you?"

Two more blows and he stopped, breathing heavily. Then he stood, cool as ice.

Zerael looked appalled. Straea looked disgusted; she'd expected something of the sort, but it was still disturbing. Clearly Arshun had just been waiting for an excuse to beat up Simon. Even Guame had dropped his usual all-knowing smirk.

"But I can be magnanimous," said Arshun, almost to himself. While Simon got slowly to his feet he said, "Remember how excited you were the first time you got to ride a ganman?"

"Yes…" said Simon cautiously, rubbing his neck were a large bruise was just beginning to form.

"Well, I brought you this."

The Yaotel lifted the box it had carried in and opened it. Inside was a small ganman, square and boxy and very lightly armored, to the point where it almost seemed to be a skeleton. A small sword dangled from its waist.

"A template ganman!" gasped Simon. He turned to his brother and pointed at his chest. "Is it for me?"

"Yeah, sure," replied Arshun monotonously.

"Thank you so very much!" Simon moved in to give his brother a hug, but backed off when he saw the deathglare he was getting.

"Prince Simon," interjected Guame. "You may pilot it once the rest of our guests arrive. Only then may the party truly begin in earnest."

"What do you mean, General?"

From the general vicinity of the village game a deep, rumbling sound, growing in intensity. Whole flocks of birds took to the skies in terror; and then, from deep in the jungle, Dai-Ganzan emerged. Swaths of trees were left broken and splintered in its wake.

"There goes respect for nature," deadpanned Straea. Her face remained impassive, save for a twitch of the lips that belied her true discontent.

Dai-Ganzan stopped then, and an angular silver figure leapt from its deck. Byakkou landed not too far from the royals, sending up a cloud of dust that washed over them. The cockpit opened, and Thymilph stepped out; judging by the shape of the scowl on his face, he was in no mood for a party of any sort.

"Good afternoon, my fellow General," Guame greeted him. The others bowed in respect, even Arshun, though the flame-haired prince managed to make the gesture of respect into a sarcastic insult.

"Good General Thymilph, I-" began Simon, but stopped when he saw Guame shake his head from the edge of his vision. It would be best if he left the hulking General alone for the moment; he hadn't even spared the prince the tiniest of glances.

"Where is he?" bellowed Thymilph suddenly, loud enough to make even Guame's troops jump. There was no question as to who 'he' was. Two soldier pushed Rossiu forwards.

Thymilph grabbed the poor boy in a fist that was bigger than his head, and hoisted him up.

"Are you the pilot of the red mech?" he roared in his face. Rossiu began to sweat when faced with such intense rage. He forced himself to look the ape-General in the eyes, and for a moment felt that he was gazing into Hell itself.

"Y-yes!" he stuttered, incapable of lying.

"Are you the one who killed Adiance?" Thymilph's grip tightened about Rossiu's ribcage.

"Augh…! N-no…"

"If you're not the one, then who was it?" Thymilph shook him like a doll. "Where is he?"

"Dead," answered Rossiu quickly. "He died the same day." Thinking quickly, he added, "So I guess you don't have any quarrel with us then right? Killing me won't mean anything."

Thymilph glared at him. "You think you can weasel out of this?" He tossed the boy to the ground. "All of you humans are at fault here! I only wanted to make sure to kill Adiane's murderer here. You will all be dead by the day's end!"

"Do calm down, Thymilph," said Guame smoothly. "Remember that Lordgenome has prerogative when it comes to dealing with prisoners."

"I WILL KILL THEM!"

"Some of them," corrected Guame with all the calm of one who has everything under control. "Lordgenome only wants some of them. The women, some of the pilots…you are free to the rest, of course."

Thymilph grunted as if he were appeased, though his scowl indicated otherwise.

"All is ready, sir!" reported one of Guame's soldiers.

"General Guame, everything is ready!" one his soldiers reported. "Projector teams have reported their readiness, and camera teams are also in place."

"General Guame? What's going on?" asked Simon.

"A show, dear Simon," replied Guame smugly. "And you will be a part of it."

"Really?" said the prince eagerly.

"You bet." Arshun smirked and cracked his knuckles.

Straea bit her lip and said nothing.

******************************

"Ten minutes until showtime, as he calls it," said Evelynne, running the brush through the former princess' hair. "General Guame seems eager for you to watch the 'fireworks' or whatever it is."

Straea was silent.

"Ojou-sama?"

She sighed long and deeply. "What are we, Evi? My father never cared about us. We were just…dolls." She sighed again, with a tinge of scorn. "Even I, my father just gave me the illusion of control, in the end I'm just the biggest of his dolls…"

"But Ojou-sama, you are our governor, and a fair ruler at that."

"Then I am a murderer."

Evelynne gasped and dropped the brush. "Ojou-sama…"

"The boy, Simon." Straea made a little voice of frustration. "He is as good as dead. If it is not my fault, then it is because I have no control over anything. And if I have control, then I shunned him just as my father shunned me. I sold his soul to a devil in exchange for safety, without a guarantee that the devil will keep his end of the bargain." She grimaced. "Disgusting, isn't it?"

"Ojou-sama." Evelynne paused to find the right words. "Our lives are lies, that is the truth. However…"

"Get to the point, Evi."

"Look at this Team Dai-Gurren," said Evelynne. "In the underground villages, their very existence was a lie. They didn't like it, so they found another lie, that they think they can defeat your father, and now they fight to turn that lie into truth." She picked up the brush again and made some final passes with it. "That is the power of faith, my lady."

Straea looked up at the ceiling, thoughtful. Then she stood.

"Guame is waiting for us."

******************************

"Everyone to their positions!" ordered the executive officer, a corpulent sloth beastman. "We will be transmitting shortly!"

Personnel scrambled to their positions. Confirmations and status reports and checkouts flew back and forth across the bridge. Tsuuma sat in front of her monitor, a glazed look in her eyes.

"Comms officer Tsuuma!" barked the commanding officer. "Heads up! What's your status report?"

"Nothing wrong!" she snapped out, her ears almost jumping off her head. When she was sure that the officer wasn't paying attention, she added a quick "Dumbass…"

She went back to work, which in theory consisted of checking and rechecking the complicated web of connections between the various locations but in reality meant playing solitaire while running the program she'd whipped up to do it for her in the background.

Having become bored with virtual card games, she took another look at the poorly-written note.

'Sorry, I brout yore brekfast.'

She sighed. The atrocious lettering and cramped writing could only belong to Viral. It had been accompanied that morning with a simple cheese sandwich, an orange and a cup of strawberry milk.

Tsuuma didn't normally care about what she ate. She hardly tasted it anymore, and given what rations usually tasted like, this was an advantage. However, she made one exception, and that was for strawberry milk. It was her favourite, and it was expensive.

His ganman was one of the many listed in her program. It would be child's play to open up a private, secure channel. She thought about talking to him…but, for some reason, felt it wouldn't be appropriate.

She resumed her business of pretending to work.

******************************

"How does it work?" asked Simon, poking the controls.

"Just put your hands in and the rest should follow," replied Arshun with a roll of his eyes.

"Thank you, brother!" said the young prince, oblivious as always.

The console of the ganman lit up, and the viewscreens popped into life, giving Simon a wraparound view of the surrounding jungle. Beauty Village was just visible in the distance, at least twenty kilometers away, a square lump amidst the trees. Nearby stood the Yaotel, its arms crossed.

"This is incredible!" laughed Simon, testing his ganman's limbs one by one. He drew the mech's short sword and sliced at the air, batting aside invisible enemies.

"Brother." Arshun's voice caught his attention. He turned back, and the Yaotel had its weapons in hand: a pair of curved scimitars, silver-bladed with black hilts. "How about a practice match? Like the good old days?"

Simon dropped his mech into a fighting stance. "Sure! I have always wanted to fight in a ganman."

"Try not to drop your sword this time…it shouldn't be necessary." Yaotel crossed its scimitars in a defensive stance. "Come at me, brother!"

"Here I go!"

******************************

Rossiu wiped a bead of sweat off of his brow.

Below him was Gurren's seat. Below Gurren's feet was the Dai-Ganzan's deck. Above him hovered the blazing sun. And before him yawned the massive barrels of Dai-Ganzan's main guns.

He wiped his palms on his cloak and returned them to the controls, fingers twitching occasionally, tired of waiting.

Something big was about to happen. He knew it. They wouldn't have allowed him back into Gurren otherwise. What it was, however….he had no idea.

He was about to find out.

High up in the sky, a green shape flickered into life. It fuzzed and blurred ambiguously before finally resolving itself into the shape of the Spiral insignia. He stared up at it, remembering the projection at Glas Outpost.

"Greetings to all the subjects of our mighty kingdom!" boomed an unfamiliar voice. "And to all the human pests who infest it."

Rossiu recognized it then. It was Guame.

******************************

"No, Kimimaro," chided Hanabi. "If you pour that much spice in, nobody will be able to eat it."

"Sorry, sorry," he replied, scratching his head and backing away from the soup. "I'm just no good with this stuff…"

"You'll have to learn to cook for when we get married, in case I'm not available," said Hanabi smoothly. She pinched his cheek. "What if I get sick or something? It's best if you know a few tricks."

"I know." He smiled at her, watched her brush a stray strand of hair out of her eyes, marveled at the small stone ring that marked their engagement. It wasn't much, but what it represented was massive; without Team Gurren he would never have had the courage to ask her, and now his life felt far more worthwhile than it ever had. They'd have been married in a second, but they were waiting until they could see Team Gurren and invite them to the wedding.

As chance would have it, they would see Team Gurren…but not in the way they wanted to.

"Kimimaro!" Msyu slammed open the door and stood there panting.

"What's up?" asked Kimimaro, drying his hands.

"Outside!" she huffed, "Now!"

She dragged him out, and Hanabi followed, and there they joined the rest of their neighbours who stood outside watching the sky.

******************************

"Today is a day split in two! It is a day of glory for the beastmen of the empire…and a day of despair for the pathetic lower life forms that taint it!"

"The dangers of the surface…" Hagatama said, looking wearily to the sign in the sky. The citizens of Jiha learned how dangerous the surface was. Not only were they open to beastmen attacks, they were also positioned smack in the middle of a desert, making them easy targets, their only defense was the help they had from their neighbors from Littner. Over time they had grown comfortable with their lot…but as they watched the insignia floating in the sky, some of the old fears crept into the hearts of the townsfolk.

******************************

"Rejoice, subjects of the Spiral King!"

"What a load of crap," scoffed Cinoshisa. Beside him was a humanoid beastman with the features of a horned mole; behind him, Namtaru's wounds were patched and bolstered by scurrying teams of mechanics. A drill, his spoil from the Battle of Glas, was on a trolley next to it, half-covered by a tarp.

"Why do you say that?" asked the beastman.

"Meaningless propaganda," said Cinoshisa derisively. "This ought to be interesting, though. The Spiral King is hiding something. If this is being broadcast all over the world then everyone will be able to see what happens, including the humans…" The other beastman stared blankly at him. "What are you looking at? Do your job! I'm paying you to find out why that mecha is so powerful. You don't have time to be listening to this crap." Swirling his cape around and heading towards the exit, he added, "And for that matter, neither do I."

******************************

"Today, our enemies will learn their place!"

The projection reflected off of the waters of the central pool, invading Adai from both above and below. The sun's rays were blocked off by the insignia, its mere presence snatching what little freedom they had.

Father Magin watched. Around him, the villagers began to panic.

"Father Magin, what's going on?"

"Are the gods angry?"

"It's the end!"

"Have faith," he told them. "I am certain that Rossiu and the others are still fighting, somewhere…"

******************************

"The villainous Team Gurren is now in our hands! Stripped of their stolen weapons, they will now be punished for daring to disrupt the glorious order of the Spiral King!"

"No, no, no…" Ysoko fell to her knees, her motherly instincts telling her exactly where her beloved daughter was.

"Let's not jump to conclusions, neng," said Yezike gruffly.

"I shouldn't have let her go! They're going to kill her!" She pulled at her hair, on the verge of tears. "They will kill her, Yezike, and they're going to make a spectacle out of it!"

"Calm down, woman!" snapped Yezike, grabbing her by the shoulders. "Our Yoko would never give up, and neither should we! We must remain calm."

Sniffling a little, Ysoko nodded obediently. She placed her hands over her chest and stared up at the sky.

******************************

"Now! Let the judgement begin!"

The Spiral King watched.

So did General Cytomander and the knights Irenai, Dmitri and Stratos. His consorts watched the transmission out of the corners of their dead eyes, their arms and legs draped around their master.

Nothing was said, but much was thought.

Irenai watched with apprehension, knowing full well the verdict that was to come. Only he, the King, and Arshun were fully informed on the matter. He wished he could have done more to save the young prince…but the decision was final. He only hoped it would be swift.

Stratos watched and hoped that his sister would be all right.

"Humans, behold your champion!"

The insignia flicked out, replaced by an image of Gurren. The red mecha was looking up, watching itself in the skies.

"Look at it! The traitorous red mecha that murdered the Lady Adiane! Even its armour is stained red with the blood of treason! As punishment for its offences, the brave Thymilph, the Raging Wave, will reduce it to rubble!"

Gurren's image was replaced by Dai-Ganzan's hangar. The door slowly and ominously retracted upwards, and the Byakkou exited, its spear clutched tightly in its fist.

Rossiu braced himself and took Gurren's bladeshades in hand. He hoped desperately that a shred of Kamina's illogical strength remained in Gurren's limbs.

The Byakkou lifted its lance in the air, and the beastmen cheered.

And then it charged.

Rossiu brought the bladeshades up in a defensive form and braced for impact.

It was vicious! Thymilph brought the spear down in an overhead blow, aiming to hammer the red mecha into the ground. One of Gurren's legs went back involuntarily to catch itself. Not one to stop at the first strike, the Raging Wave continued with a horizontal slash. Rossiu's reflexes were just sharp enough to avoid being disemboweled, but the strike was so brutal that it knocked the bladeshades clean out of his hand. They skidded across the deck and fell over the edge.

Rossiu didn't have time to think, let alone panic. He jumped back to avoid the next blow, a stabbing attack. He made a second, then a third jump, trying to get enough distance to think.

When he stopped, he looked behind himself and saw empty air. If he fell, he would be completely at Byakkou's mercy.

He gulped. He had mentally predicted the worst scenario, the worst outcome. Reality was so much worse.

******************************

"Argh!" Simon cried out as his ganman was tossed about by the Yaotel. This time, it bounced twice and rolled before coming to a stop.

"Useless and weak!" yelled Arshun. Yaotel clashed its blades together, sending sparks flying.

"I'm sorry, brother." Simon's ganman struggled to its feet. "Once more. I will not disappoint you this time."

"Enough of this crap!" Arshun scoffed. "'I'm sorry! I'm sorry!' Is that all you know how to say? Is that the best you can do?"

"All I want to do is make you and Father proud…"

"And now," said Guame, "To show how relentless the Spiral King's justice is, behold the Former Prince Simon Teppelin! He allied with the humans, defying the authority of his own Father! Now his punishment will be meted out at the hands of his own brother, Sir Arshun Teppelin!"

"What is it that Guame is saying?" asked Simon, a desperate edge to his voice.

"It means I'm going to kill you," said Arshun coldly.

"Bu-bu-but, brother…!"

"You were disowned like the failure you are!" snapped Arshun. "Don't pretend like you have the right to even call me that! Think back, Simon, if you can even manage that."

Simon cast his mind back desperately, trying to find the links that Arshun said were there. A practice bout…a glass of water…waking up in a box…

When he made the connection, his eyes widened in shock. "It was you!"

"Very good! Yes, I drugged you and threw your pathetic body in that box. If it was up to me it would have been a lot faster, but Father decided to be nice. Unfortunately, you couldn't even manage to die properly; and worse yet, you allied yourself with a bunch of rebel scum!"

"I did it out of honor! The way our teachers taught us!"

"Honor?" The transmission cut out, but Arshun continued. "I don't give a damn about honor! It's just a stupid fairy tale designed to keep people in line! Look the others! They're so obsessed with honor that they have no ambitions! They have no malice! Look at that bumbling idiot Zerael! You're all slaves to your honor! I, on the other hand…I am free!"

He paused for a moment, breathing heavily. Then:

"And you. You are the most pathetic of all. You don't even know what you are: nothing but a toy for our dear dad."

"Toy?"

"Less than it!" He kicked Simon's ganman. "You're an obstacle, you know that? All this could have been easier if you'd died during one of the training levels, like you were supposed to! But no, no matter how impossible I designed them, you somehow managed to scrape through!"

"But…I thought you did it for my own good!"

"You're just blind, aren't you? I hate you! I'm going to draw this out as long as possible before I stick my blades into you!"

"This is fear…" Simon's heart raced. His hands trembled on the controls, and drops of cold sweat glistened on his fingers. "My honor meant nothing? I meant nothing?"

"Let's hear you scream in fear!" The scimitar swung again.

And Simon did scream.

******************************

Unaware of the battle raging on the surface, the imprisoned Team Dai-Gurren had all of their attention focused on something else: using only a drill smaller than her hand, Nia had opened a tunnel. She dug with impressive speed, considering the circumstances.

What is wrong with you? asked the Voice, frustrated. Where is you rage? Your despair?

I've decided that they're not worth my time, answered Nia. I won't waste my time or anyone else's by being negative. There are too many people counting on me.

Lying bitch! Don't play games with me. I am you and-

I am not you, cut in Nia. You may be me but what matters is that I am not you. I will not be you, no matter how hard you try, no matter how dire the situation gets. That is my choice.

You're just a dirty little bitch! Dirty!

And what is wrong with being dirty? asked Nia rhetorically. You just clean up afterwards. You won't use my hands to build your selfish future!

I'll show you!

The shadow emerged and made a move for Nia; but something else grabbed it by the wrist. When Nia looked back, she saw behind her a beautiful woman made of light: statuesque, with long hair and beautiful blue eyes that burned brighter than the rest of her. She was like a vision of an angel. Burning with righteous dignity, she heaved, and tossed the shadow back into the darkness.

I WILL be back! screamed the dark apparition, her voice echoing through everywhere. You can't escape me! I will come back again, and again, and again, EVERY single day of your MISERABLE life if need be!

The woman of light crossed her arms against the shadows, and glanced at Nia, smiling a little and Nia smiled back.

"And I will throw you back," she said quietly, resuming her work. "Every single day of my life, if need be."

All Yoko could see was the smile, but that was enough. Unconsciously, she grinned herself.

"It's exactly as he said," she mused aloud. Kittan and Kiyal looked at her curiously.

"Are you scared, Kamina?"

"Scared? As if! Tomorrow will be a day of victory!"

A light breeze wafted the lingering aromas of dinner around them, billowing his cape out in the process. She sighed in frustration.

"You're not taking this seriously enough!" she said. "Are you sure you can leave Nia alone on the battlefield?"

"I trust her."

"Why?" She shook her head. "I know you've explained this before, but it was a pretty lousy explanation. Why are you so confident in her? I need concrete examples!"

"Silly little Yoko!" He playfully pinched her cheek. "What's got you so worked up?"

"Kamina, I'm dead serious!" She grabbed his hand. Kamina's face grew serious at her tone. He put his hands in his pockets and turned to the night sky.

"Did I ever tell you the story of the time we got stuck underground?" he began. "We were trying to dig to the surface – seems simple, right? Well, there was a minor earthquake, and the tunnel behind us collapsed. I got scared. For the first time in my life I had no idea what to do. It felt like I had lost all control."

Yoko looked at him, surprised. Then he turned around and gave her a look more sincere than any she had ever seen from him.

"All I could do was talk big. But then, there was Nia. She didn't even seem to realize I was panicking; she just kept digging, and digging, and digging. It seemed she would never stop. And at that moment, I realized that her drill was going to save us." He smiled nostalgically. "So I told myself that as long as she kept drilling I'd keep smiling. And I've kept smiling to this day." He ended on a chuckle. "I believe in her, Yoko. That's how I can believe in myself."

She looked surprised, but he continued, "You can also believe in yourself, Yoko."

"So that's what he meant. Believe in the Nia…"

"…Who believes in you!"

Her tone was clear, confident, and cheerful; just like the Nia she had always been, only purer, as if up until now she'd been a reflection in a mirror.

Suddenly the earth caved in, and another drill met her own; she looked up and saw Solvernia, glowing green at her. The tiny ganman had returned to her.

She smiled and, without thinking, jumped into the familiar seat, sticking her drill-necklace into the slot. Her hands slipped comfortably over the joysticks, and for once, she had no fears about piloting it. The future, it seemed, was too bright and full of hope.

She looked back at those still sitting in her tunnel, at her fellow prisoners, and thought that they had never really been prisoners at all.

"Everyone!" she told them. "I'll be back!"

And with that, she looked up towards the light and pushed the thrusters to maximum. The sunlight was as beautiful as how she saw it, in her first day in the surface, perhaps even more.

Chapter Text

"She's out!" Kiyal laughed for joy. "Nia opened a way out, guys! She dug her way through!"

"Where's she headed?" asked Dayakka.

"Who cares?" The youngest Bachika looked up at the light above and smiled. "She's Nia. She'll make everything work out."

"But we're still trapped," pointed out Yoko. "We can't climb that."

They heard keys jangling and bars clanging. They quickly backed out of the tunnel, tumbling out and scrambling to their feet to face what they were certain was the guards.

Outside, the guards were bound and gagged. Standing around them with guns in hand were the women of Beauty Village, the very same that had earlier helped capture them.

"Don't worry!" said Evelynne, entering the cell. She carried a semi-automatic rifle in her hands, and her dress had been torn open to facilitate movement. "Lady Straea has decided to give you her support. Come! We will lead you to your ganmen."

There was honesty in her talk. Yoko smiled and strode out confidently; the rest of Dai-Gurren soon followed suit.

Out on the surface, another squad of women was waiting for them. They quickly distributed weapons and ammunition among the liberated prisoners, including some favorite weapons that they had somehow grabbed hold of. Yoko worked the action on her rifle, while Kittan popped cartridges into his shotgun.

"We cannot delay for long," said Evelynne curtly. "We will split into two groups. Pilots, with me to the ganmen. The crew will join with Jacintha." She pointed.

"It's Yacintha!" corrected the maid in question, who bore long, rebellious red hair, and equally-fierce emerald eyes. She wielded a twin-barreled shotgun and a grin that promised pain. "Into the jungle, boys! And assorted girls! Quickly now, Ojou-sama won't be able to keep Guame distracted forever!"

"Hold on a sec, I'm losing track of all the backstabbing going on here," interjected Kittan, pumping the action on his shotgun. "What's up with you guys suddenly deciding to be on our side? Not that I'm complaining or anything."

"And are you sure you know how to use those?" asked Iraak, glancing pointedly at the numerous and varied firearms they held.

"What, you kidding?" A brunette with a ponytail said, whirling her rifle. "Filli's trained all of us personally. We're probably better with these than you are!"

"We may discourse later at our leisure," interrupted Evelynne, motioning for them to get a move on. "Move out! Your friends are in need of assistance!"

She led the way into the jungle, followed closely by Dai-Gurren's pilots. Kiyal moved to follow, but Kittan grabbed her by the arm.

"Stay," he said sternly.

"But Brother-"

"No buts!" He crossed his arms, authoritative. "It's too dangerous! You'll stay here."

"Come oooooon, Brother!" said Kiyoh, bouncing nervously. "We can't waste time!"

"Sorry, sis." Kinon gave her an apologetic look as she headed off with Yacintha's group, a pistol gripped in her hands. They disappeared among the foliage.

"Try to follow us and you're grounded!" said Kittan with finality. He jogged off to join Evelynne, but suddenly turned around halfway there. "And I mean it!" he added.

"Totally unfair!" she complained, throwing her arms in the air. She cursed her horrible luck and even more horrible younger-sibling syndrome.

"Hey, you," called a girl with turquoise hair, one of the few that had been left behind to look after the non-combatants, like the Adai twins. She beckoned Kiyal closer. The youngest Bachika obeyed, curious.

"Nyeh?"

"Just a tip. There's a hidden ganman hangar beyond those trees." She pointed. "It's only for emergencies, but…I don't think Filli would mind if you borrowed it for a bit."

"Oh really?" Kiyal's grin grew wider than should have been physically possible.

******************************

"Come on!" roared Thymilph, stomping down in Dai-Gurren's deck. A massive dent was left in the metal. "Stand still so I can kill you properly!"

Rossiu grunted; he was too busy with the impossible feat of surviving. He wasn't sure how he was still alive, or how long he'd been dodging – time had lost all meaning for him. All he knew was that if he stopped he died, and he couldn't let that happen. The deck was big enough, giving him plenty of room to maneuver and stay out of range of the Byakkou's spear. Hopefully, and this was a slim chance, hopefully he could somehow manage to tire out the General.

Unfortunately, Thymilph wasn't the patient type. He pointed his spear at the red mecha, and it glowed blue. Gurren ducked just in time to avoid the terrible beam of azure energy that shot forth; it scorched the back of the cockpit and continued on until it impacted with a tree. Flaming bits of foliage flew into the air.

******************************

"Gah, finally. General Tinkywinky's taking too long!" Tsuuma leaned back in her chair, her eyes on the broadcast – and away from her own monitor, where her program was blinking at her that they'd lost contact with one of the beastman squads. "What a loser. It's just a kid! Finish him off already!"

"The General won't like hearing that," warned the monkey beastman seated next to her.

"Who the hell cares?" There was a beep, and her eyes flicked over to her secondary monitor, which was given over to radar. With a yelp she jumped of her chair and launched herself to the ground, yelling "Holy crap!"

Something round and vaguely red shot right through the wall with a metallic grinding sound. The rest of the bridge crew followed Tsuuma's example; a second too late, in a few cases.

******************************

Out on the deck, Byakkou had finally caught Gurren. It had one foot on the red mecha's chest, and its spear poised right over the mouth. Gurren, on the other hand, had its hands wrapped around the haft of the spear and was pushing back for dear life. One slip, and Rossiu would be so much red mist.

"You. Are. DEEEAAAAADDD!" Thymilph roared, a horrific bestial strength in his voice. "ALKAAAAAIIDDD! GLLLAAAAAIVEEE!"

The spear's tip glowed.

Rossiu's pupils contracted as adrenaline pumped uselessly into his brain.

The one who watched the transmission around the world looked on in horror.

Blue light filled the cockpit.

"SPRING JUMP KICK!"

Something exploded out of Dai-Ganzan's command tower, impossibly fast, and impacted with Byakkou. He was tossed backwards, his spear flailing out wildly; the beam lashed out and sliced a turret in half.

Gurren stood. Rossiu was dizzy, and half-blind, but he had no trouble recognizing the shape of the small, round mecha.

"Nia?"

"I'm sorry I took so long, Rossiu," she said, apologetic. "You don't have to fight alone anymore."

"You're back," was all he could say; and it was true in more ways than one.

******************************

"I hate being pinned!" growled Kittan, hunching behind the protection of the crate. Bullets whizzed by overhead and to the sides, a deadly hail without end.

"I miscalculated! This resistance is more than I anticipated!" Evelynne had her back against a tree. She tried to move out and fire, but had to pull back before the onslaught.

Dai-Gurren's pilots were quickly being reminded how much foot warfare sucked.

The enemy was literally entrenched, and abused Dai-Gurrens mecha for cover. Heavy weapons would clear them out in an instant, but they couldn't risk damaging the ganmen. Though they had the trees as cover and slightly higher ground, the other side had all the weapons. The gatling gun, for one, was being very annoying; between the tree line and the enemy trench was literally thirty meters of certain death.

"If we stay here any longer they'll get smart and circle around us!" warned Iraak. "We've got to move!"

"We don't have cover!" retorted Kidd. "And I ain't goin' out there!"

"ALL RIGHT!" roared Jorgun and Balinbow. "WE GET COVER!"

Without warning, a massive boulder crashed down the hill through the trees. Behind it pushed the twins, roaring as they forced the gigantic object across the ground. Sensing their plan, Kittan dove out from cover, rolled, and ended up behind the boulder. Several others followed suit, using the huge rock as cover to advance.

Slowly, they gained ground; and then they were in the trench.

"Still complaining, pretty-boy?" said the brunette, her voice dripping with sarcasm, as she put a bullet through a beastman's head.

"Still doesn't feel right sending a woman like you onto a battlefield," muttered Iraak. An anteater beastman yelled and charged around a corner, pistol in hand. The brunette noticed and, in a flash, knocked Iraak to the side, slammed the beastman with the butt of her rifle, and put three bullets in the chest and head while the attacker was on the ground.

"You're losing your touch, brother!" jeered Kidd. The brunette almost smirked.

"How are we doing?" asked Yoko, who was back in the trees providing suppressing fire.

"Well enough," grunted Makken. He tore a strip off his bandanna and used it to try and staunch a shoulder wound on one of the women. It wasn't nearly enough; she signaled him to move on.

"We're almost there!" Iraak charged a machine gun pod from behind, his own rifle blazing. The operator slumped out of his seat, and the gun fell silent.

"Yes! I can see them!" yelled the brunette triumphantly. She jumped out of cover…only to be cut down by a gatling gun. Two seconds too late, Yoko silenced its wielder forever. Iraak cursed and pulled the felled warrior behind cover.

"Oh, no!" Iraak cried, "Calm down, you're going to live!"

"Ack!" she whimpered, struggling to breathe. He saw her looking down to her bloodstained clothes and she said, "I'm done…I failed Straea…"

"No, no, no you're not! You're not!" he said, "I don't even know your name!"

"Stephie…Farewell, Ayosha…" she emitted her last breath, her eyes glazing over. Iraak opened her mouth to tell her to hold on, but it was too late. Crying quietly, he closed her eyes, making his comrades who were closer to him to cry quietly as well.

There was no time to grieve, though. The dull, mechanical trudge of enemy ganmen began to make itself heard above the gunfire. Light artillery models crested the nearby ridge; they settled themselves into position, support beams thudding into the ground, and aimed their mortars down.

"Anyone else getting a little worried about those?" said Kiyoh, lobbing a grenade over a sandbag barrier.

"No! This is what we were waiting for!" Evelynne lifted a device over her head and pressed a button. It flashed green.

"What does that do?" asked Yoko, dropping out of her tree and running for better cover.

"It calls reinforcements."

Seconds later, something small and shiny landed in the middle of the beastman encampment. Then it exploded, throwing light everywhere. The enemy was dazed for a moment; and in that time, a hail of rockets rained down, both on the mortar ganman and the foot troops. Supremely accurate, they missed Dai-Gurren's ganmen completely but decimated the opposition.

Shortly thereafter Filli loped out of the trees, a rocket launched in each hand. Behind her came the beastmen of Straea's personal guard.

"Go! Go! Go!" she yelled.

"The village guard?!" yelled a mole beastman.

"I knew we couldn't trust those softies!" roared their commander. He picked up a gatling gun. "The pink one's head is mine!"

Filli lifted her launchers and fired. The rockets hit the commander before he could even fire, then, somehow, deflected upwards. They carried on high into the sky and exploded, like deadly fireworks.

"About time he got what was coming," she said, propping up her helmet a bit.

"Excellent timing!" Evelynne ran in, waving frantically for the others to follow, while Yoko covered her. The remaining troops put up a surprising amount of resistance for a unit lacking a leader…but once the pilots reached their ganmen, there was no choice but to surrender. They regrouped within the circle of mecha.

"Come on, Yoko!" called Kiyoh, waving to Yoko, who was just catching up. "Get in the Dayakkaiser!"

"But Dayakka left it to you."

"You're the better sniper." She trotted over to where Evelynne was organizing the capture of the remaining enemy troops. "I'll help with cleanup. Someone's got to look after the wounded!"

******************************

"Man it's good to be back!" whooped Kittan, powering up his yellow ganman. He opened the comms channel. "Kinon! Hey, sis! How're things on your end?"

"Not well!" she replied. She was difficult to hear over the crack of gunfire and the roar of explosions. "They've got ganmen on all sides, we can't even get near! That madwowan Yacintha says she has a plan, but I don't –oh…! Oh my!"

"Sis? What's wrong?"

"Holy crow, what is she-! Oh my god it worked! Call you later, brother; we can't waste this opportunity!"

The transmission clicked off, leaving Kittan very confused. But he dismissed his confusion and turned his attention to his fellow pilots.

"How many of you bozos are good to go?" he yelled.

"Sawzorth, good to go!"

"Kiddknuckle is ready to kick ass!"

"Moshogun ready!"

"TWINBOEKKUN WILL CRUSH THEM!"

"Ainzer is up and running!"

"Dayakkaiser's working fine…huh. This is easier than I thought!"

"And King Kittan is ready and roaring for a fight!" Kittan raised his fist in the air. "Time to go on the attack!"

A shadow suddenly flitted over him.

It wasn't a cloud. The remaining troops immediately turned their weapons skyward, pumping lead up at the lone flying ganman overhead. Even Yoko and Kidd participated, unloading a full clip at it. Every single shot connected; smoke blasted out from the impacts.

A moment later, and the ganman emerged again, hardly even scratched. The foot troops reloaded and continued their assault, Filli even adding her rockets to the mix. Continuing to shrug off this hail of gunfire, the ganman transformed.

It had a blue and silver color and burly, covered over every surface in armored plates. It looked so heavy it shouldn't be able to move, but it did, and with surprising agility. It landed heavily but gracefully, just as six spikes emerged from its back.

"I AM SIR ZERAEL! FOURTH PRINCE OF TEPPELIN! I COME TO CHALLENGE YOUR CHAMPION!"

Amplified by the Adamastor's speakers, Zerael's voice was enough to literally make the ground quake. The heavily-armored mecha reached behind its back and pulled out a massive halberd. Merely swinging it swept up a cloud of dust that washed over the assorted combatants.

It wasn't an enemy to be taken on alone.

"I'll fight you!" yelled Kittan, stepping forward. "I am the leader, after all! Come and try me, ya big loudmouth!"

"COURAGE FROM THE HUMANS! I AM IMPRESSED!" roared Zerael. "VERY WELL! I SHALL COUNT YOU A WORTHY OPPONENT! I WILL HONOR YOUR MEMORY, KITTAN OF HUMANITY! SHOULD THERE BE ANYTHING LEFT TO BURY, I WILL DO SO!"

"You sure you don't want help, Kittan?" asked Iraak uncertainly.

"I don't gotta beat him! I just gotta stall until you bozos get Dai-Gurren going!" he said, far more confidently than he felt. "Get going before we lose our advantage!"

Grudgingly, the others left. At a gesture from Zerael, the enemy troops did likewise. Soon, all that was left were the Adamastor and the King Kittan, facing each other across the clearing.

"FIGHT WELL!" boomed Zerael, leaping forwards.

******************************

"I do not wish to fight," said Nia calmly. "I would ask you to please drop your weapon and exit your ganman. Nobody else has to die today."

"Who are you to tell me what to do?" snarled Thymilph. "I am a General! You are on my ship! And you murdered Adiane! I'll avenge her at the cost of my life!"

"She was important to you," said Nia sympathetically. "I can understand that. However, though I can understand how much it hurts, I do not think-"

"Pity? Are you PITYING me?" roared Thymilph, beyond all reason. "You are a mere human! You barely have the intelligence to pity me!"

"Do not let your anger control you," said Nia, this time warningly. "It will lead to your destruction. I do not wish to be the rock on which you break yourself."

"I DON'T CARE IF I'M DESTROYED, AS LONG AS I TAKE YOU WITH ME!" With the fury of a beast, he lifted his spear and roared "ALKAIDE! GLAAIIIIIIIVE!"

"Don't do this…" whispered Nia, in the split second before the beam impacted.

Suddenly, the stream of blue light was split, scattering in a dozen different directions. Fragment beams shot into the sky, blitzed off to the sides, and plunged into the deck of the warship.

When it was over, Gurren Solvernia still stood, the tiny drill in its forehead slowly spinning down. Nia hopped back then, into the air.

"I did not want to fight you! But if you insist!" She smiled, a small, apologetic smile. "I am sorry. Rossiu! Are you ready?"

"Of course!" he replied without hesitation.

"RESTORATION COMBINING!" she yelled, as Solvernia's legs turned into a drill. "GURREN SOLVERNIA!"

And then she fell, plunging right down on top of Gurren.

The drill crunched into Gurren's cockpit, and immediately, green flames of energy suffused the two mecha. The spiral gauge increased until it hit the limit, burning greenish-white; Solvernia affixed itself firmly to Gurren's head, while the crimson mecha's arms and legs shot out, growing longer and thicker. All of the damage, all of the scratches and nicks and dents of battle, were washed away, leaving a fresh, gleaming sheen, as if the mecha had been remade.

At the end of it, something hollow and red popped out from Gurren's back. A freshly-polished hand reached up and grabbed it in midair, then placed it firmly on Solvernia.

"I SEE NOW!" raged Thymilph. "TWO IN ONE! THAT IS HOW YOU DEFEATED HER! CHEAP TRICKERY! BUT I WON'T FALL FOR IT!" He leveled his spear and fired off another attack.

"NO!"

Gurren Solvernia's arm shot out, metamorphosing in an instant into a drill. It parried the beam, sending it skittering out into the jungle.

Then, the top of Solvernia's helmet slid back, with astounding finality, and the canopy unfurled. Rising from her seat, Nia stood, and her hair was like a flame burning in the wind. She did not stand like the meek digger she had always been; that Nia belonged to an older era, an era that had passed without the world even realizing it. Instead she stood high and strong and proud, fiercely determined, reluctant to fight but prepared to do so in defense of those who could not.

This new Nia, this revitalization of a faded spirit, crossed her arms and set her jaw while her skirt and hair billowed about her in the wind's grasp.

"My brother loved me!"

Four words; four powerful words. At their utterance, a multitude of skirmishes ceased on the spot, as both human and beastman stopped to listen. Both listened with curiosity…and, for the former, hope.

"But now he's dead! He's gone!"

She closed her eyes.

"But…"

She opened them again, and cried freely, her face still locked in that look of sheer determination.

"But his love is still with me!" Her words rang out loud and true. She put her hands over her heart. "In my heart, and in my memories…that is where he continues to live! And even without him…as long as our spirits remain unbroken, he will always live! And we will be able to fight back all the worst nightmares of the world!"

She raised one arm to the air, and pointed at the sky, a single gesture of defiance.

"Dawn IS coming!" she yelled. "I AM NIA THE DIGGER, WE ARE TEAM DAI-GURREN, AND WE KNOW THAT THE DAWN IS COMING!"

******************************

"Nia! She's returned!" yelled Dayakka.

"Our little flower has finally blossomed!" crowed Leeron.

And with one last push they took back the control room.

******************************

"She's here, Kimimaro!" said Msyu, jumping for joy. "Nia's here and she's going to fight for us!"

"You can do it, Nia!" yelled Kimimaro.

******************************

"It's Nia!" cried out Ysoko. "If Nia's okay…Yoko must be okay too!"

"Damn right. I didn't raise that girl to give up so easily." He raised a fist. "Make us proud, all of you!"

******************************

"It can't be!" gasped Viral, completely in shock. "No! Everything was perfect! We had them!" He pointed at the Dai-Gurren ganmen emerging from the trees. "Attack! Take them down!"

The beastman ganmen flooded forwards in a wave of destruction…but were met by an equal torrent of righteous determination. In a whirlwind of fury, the brave mecha of the flaming skull cut a path through the sea of their enemies.

"WE'LL SMASH!" roared the twins, tearing an enemy ganman apart.

"This is our payback!" said Iraak, tearing into enemies with Ainzer's impressive jaws.

Sawzorthn and Kiddknuckle crushed enemies with equal fervor, while Moshogun might as well have been mowing the lawn. To the rear, Dayakkaiser provided supporting fire, blasting away two or more with each shot.

"Six…only six…" stuttered Viral. Then he screamed: "THEY ONLY HAVE SIX GANMEN!"

He drew his ax and charged.

******************************

"What in the name of the King is happening?" growled Guame, looking down on the valley from his vantage point at the top of the tower. All he could see was a path of fire and destruction being cut through his and Thymilph's combined forces.

He'd been around long enough to recognize when things had gone horribly wrong. More importantly, he was able to tell why. He whirled around in his chair, outrage written on his face.

"You!" he snarled, pointing an accusatory claw at Straea. "Traitor! I should have known better than to trust you! You've betrayed me, you've betrayed your brothers, you've betrayed your father!"

He drew a pistol and pointed it at her. "You're nothing but a doll, and if you won't play nice, I'll dispose of you! Now order your forces to support mine, and I might just let you live!"

Straea's expression hadn't changed the entire time. She failed to even flinch at the threat. Her face remained exactly as impassive as always…save for a barely-perceptible glint in her eyes, which said 'Try it.'

Guame tried it.

The bullet flashed across the intervening distance…but in the nanosecond before it hit, faster than an eye blink, the brooch on her neck glinted. The bullet deflected off, smashing into a nearby monitor.

Guame practically fumed as he pulled the trigger again and again. Each time the bullet was deflected away, putting holes in the walls and irreparably damaging several pieces of equipment.

Straea stood, as if the bullets flying around her did not even exist. With perfect ladylike grace, she walked over to the general, grabbed the pistol in his claw, and wrenched it out of his grasp. Then she pulled a lethally sharp needle out of her glove, and put it under his chin.

"I am no one's doll," she said evenly. Guame looked into her eyes and almost laughed when he saw the fire that had always been missing.

"Evidently," he said, regaining his composure in the stress of the moment. "I may have underestimated you." He reached for his pipe, lit it, and stuck it in his mouth. "But doll or no, do you have the guts to kill me?"

"Yes." She pressed the needle's point into his throat, drawing a bead of blood. "But I have reasons for keeping you alive." She withdrew and re-sheathed it. "Killing you will draw unwanted attention. Go back to Teppelin and tell Father that there will be no more consorts. He can sate his appetites somewhere else."

"He'll come after you," said Guame warningly. "Regardless of whether I live or not."

"And here I thought the famed Northern General valued his life a little more highly." She motioned for him to go. "Leave, before I change my mind."

"So the doll thinks to be the puppeteer now? Fine, fine." Guame hopped off his chair and waddled to the door. "But you're too soft. A smarter woman would have ended me." He turned at the door, and gave her a dark look. "After all, it's wise to finish off enemies after you've made them."

"Leave!" snapped Straea. She drew another concealed dagger and flung it. It buried itself point-first in the doorframe, right beside Guame's head. The old armadillo jumped and curled into a ball.

"All is not lost!" he cackled as he tumbled down the stairs. "They will be no match for Gember! I will still win this!"

"No you won't," said Straea calmly, taking her seat once more. "You have already lost."

******************************

"Agh! Damn you, woman!" Yaotel jerked back, reeling from the flashbangs. Simon's ganman lay prone nearby, completely helpless; the only reason it hadn't been destroyed entirely was due to Benta-chan's intervention. The old woman had appeared out of nowhere, lobbing a fistful of harmless flash grenades that had bought the prince a precious few seconds to get himself back up.

He was wasting them. His face was to the ground, despair was written on his face; Arshun's revelations and accusations rang through his head like the relentless tolling of a death knell.

Then, he heard her. He heard her as he had never heard her before. It was the same voice, coming out of the same mouth, and he knew it, but the person uttering the words was completely different.

"Nia…is that you?" His oddly-shaped eyes twinkled. "You do not require my protection any longer, do you?

With Arshun's curses and the exploding light grenades in the background, he was silent and during his period of silence, all his feelings changed and he finally said, "You can fight for yourself…and so should I."

With a grunt of effort, Simon pushed his ganman back to its feet, picked its sword up off the ground, and settled into a fighting stance. Meanwhile, Arshun's optical sensors fizzed back to life. First he banged his ganman's front to make sure they were operating normally, then he opened the cockpit to make sure what he was seeing was real.

"You still want to fight?" He laughed. "You're almost impressive. It takes real talent to be this stupid!"

"Nia believed in her brother," he said calmly. "Now she believes in herself. Then, I will believe in Nia the same way, until I can believe in myself."

"Big talk, lost cause. You can't hope to defeat me."

"Maybe I can't. But I can defend against you long enough, until Nia comes to save me!"

"Nobody's going to save you! You can't rely on anyone but yourself!" Arshun fell back into his seat, and the cockpit slammed closed. "You'll die here, alone and worthless!"

"Maybe so!" retorted Simon, his eyes shining with hope. "But I believe in Nia!"

With a clash of steel and a fly of sparks, they reengaged.

******************************

"I'll kill all humans on the surface!" proclaimed Thymilph, swinging his spear in a wide arc. "And when I'm done with the surface, I'll tear through the underground! I'll track down every single human in existence, and murder them!"

Solvernia ducked away and punched with its drill; the spear knocked it away. Nia made an hmph of surprise.

"DIE!" yelled Thymilph, jabbing into the opening. Solvernia blocked just in time; but before it could parry, the spear shot off another beam of energy, right into the red mech's face. Solvernia staggered and fell. Thymilph jumped in for the kill; Nia rolled away only just in time.

"This isn't going to get you anywhere!" persisted Nia, still trying to talk him down. "Stop! Listen to your heart!" She blocked the next stab with Solvernia's legs, catching the spear in the crook of the knee. She pushed on the deck with the hands, knocking Thymilph back and nearly dislodging his spear.

"My heart says FIRE THE MAIN GUNS!" yelled the general.

"You're too close! We'll damage Dai-Ganzan!" complained the firing technician.

"I don't care! FIRE ALREADY!"

The main guns couldn't turn around and target the red mecha, but the anti-air guns and automatic turrets could. They sprayed bullets at it, dinging the armour.

"Gah! This isn't going to work!" said Rossiu, as Solvernia withstood the incessant pelting hail.

"Yes it will!" Nia replied. "Bro…I have to do this!"

She twisted the drill-key, and the gauge turned a deep emerald. Drills emerged from all about the torso, spearing the turrets; they exploded, leaving smoking holes in the deck.

Thymilph cried out, beyond words, and threw the Byakkou at Gurren Solvernia. With a roar, Nia responded with an uppercut, and followed up with a spinning kick, flinging the silver mech high into the air.

"FINISHING MOVE!" she yelled, grabbing the bladeshades.

With a mighty toss she flung them up at the Byakkou; midair they somehow, impossibly, split into two. Thymilph was caught, battered from all sides, and finally impaled upon the shades' points. He hung in the air, unable to move; in his efforts to do so he broke the controls nearly completely.

"GIGA!" continued Nia, raising Gurren Solvernia's arm to the sky. A drill appeared on it, which grew longer, then bigger.

"DRILL!" the drill was twice the size of the mecha itself.

Then she pointed it at Thymilph. And she flew at him, leaving a trail of green energy.

Thymilph watched his death coming at him, eyes wide…

And then…

BLINK!

Gurren Solvernia was past, and the Byakkou was undamaged. The bladeshades released him, and he fell. The crimson mech landed heavily on the ground, skidding, just as its silver opponent hit the ground and fell to its knees.

"Don't you see yet?" said Nia, catching the bladeshades and returning them to Gurren. "You cannot defeat us. This is my last warning. Stop now, and nobody else has to die."

"Mercy…from a human…" He laughed bitterly. "You are truly irrational. Killing me would have been the greater mercy!" He laughed again, defeated; but there was a strange, hard edge to it. "Viral…you are in command now."

"General Thymilph!" screamed Viral. He made to sprint towards the Dai-Ganzan, but was headbutted by Ainzer and punched in the face by Sawzorthn.

The Byakkou placed its spear in its mouth. It glowed blue, one last time.

"I won't stop you," said Nia, though inside her heart ached. She knew it was impossible. Thymilph had chosen his end.

"Good. So you are merciful after all." He was quiet for a moment; then: "My only wish was that I could have loved her better…"

Thus was the last whisper of Thymilph, the Raging Wave, the Eastern General of the Imperial Army.

A moment later the spear overloaded, bathing everything in fire.

When it subsided, there was nothing left to mark the Byakkou's existence, save for the massive hole in Dai-Ganzan. Nia bowed her head, in pity and remorse. She hadn't wanted to kill him, but he had wanted to die.

Her moment of quiet was short-lived.

"Nia! Look!" yelled Rossiu, pointing up. Above them, Dai-Ganzan's giant arm was coming down, obviously intending to crush them. It was too late to dodge; with a yelp of surprise, Nia lifted Gurren Solvernia's arms, managing to hold the massive hand above them. However, the pressure only increased; eventually they would be crushed, or punched right through the deck below.

Then, suddenly, it stopped. They rolled away in the second of relief they were given, and looked up. There, above them, was Dai-Gurren, its fanged maw biting down on Dai-Ganzan's command center. Like a true snake, its body was wrapped around the warship; systems failed under the pressure, exploding spectacularly. The arms went limp as their servos burned out.

"We've got this, Nia!" said Dayakka, his face appearing on her monitor. "You can take a break now!"

"Thank you, Dayakka!" she replied, beaming in relief.

"What a huge battle!" said Leeron excitedly. "Monster versus monster! Who will win?"

"You've got to hear what they're saying," said Kinon, struggling not to chuckle.

"Holy crap! They're trying to eat us!" shrilled a distinctly feminine voice.

"It does not m-matter what they try! W-w-we will fight until the end," said a masculine voice, trembling a lot more than it probably intended to.

"Screw that! We're done for! I don't know about the rest of you but I'm getting off of this sinking tub!"

Dai-Ganzan fired its remaining cannons, attempting to dislodge Dai-Gurren; but its attempts were weak and futile. After a moment's struggle, Dai-Gurren brought its tail around to bear, gutting the command tower from top to bottom. Gurren Solvernia jumped away as the enormous ganman crumpled to the ground.

"We're done here," Kinon told her. A battlefield map popped up on her screen, showing the positions of every single ganman. "Go help the others!"

"Right!" Nia nodded, quickly scanning the map. Red were enemies, blue were allies; the blue dots were surrounded by red ones. They skittered about, looking for a better position, but their choices were limited; and for every one they destroyed, another two took their place.

"They need my help, Rossiu," said Nia firmly. The boy from Adai nodded in agreement.

Solvernia detached from Gurren. Rossiu took Nia in hand, wound back, and hurled her into the sky. Mid-arc, the booster on Solvernia's back flared to life; and under its power, Solvernia went to the aid of its allies.

******************************

"Human bastards! You killed General Thymilph!" Viral lunged at Sawzorthn, raking its ax across its arms. "Are you happy now? Are you?!"

"That's a very good question," replied Zorthy, all calm and collected. He charged his sonic cannon, guiding his mecha one-handed, while he rested his chin on his other hand. "You've killed a lot of humans. Does that make you happy?"

The cannon fired a pulse of concentrated sound. Enkidu dodged, jumping, but was hit in midair by a punch from Twinboekkun. It bounced and rolled across the ground, scraping a trail through the dirt and leaves. Snapping back to his feet, the newly-promoted commander pointed an accusatory finger at the Dai-Gurren mecha. "Attack! Attack! Attack! Give them everything you've got!"

The beastmen pushed forwards, jumping over the scrap piles that remained of their comrades.

From her position on a nearby hill, Yoko watched the battle's ebb and flow. She gritted her teeth; things weren't going well. The silver mecha had returned, and was proving to be competent as both a fighter and a leader. At the moment, it was taking on Twinboekkun and Moshogun at once like it was barely a challenge; Moshogun had been disarmed, and Twinboekkun had lost one of its retractable fists.

The sniper fired. With superhuman speed, Enkidu managed to dodge Dayakkaiser's shot. At the very least, it gave Moshogun an opening to pick up its sword and return to battle.

Not that it was going to matter for much longer: the team was being slowly overwhelmed by sheer numbers. They were tiring, failing to dodge attacks, leaving openings in their guard, and on top of that the broken remains of their enemies were starting to become a major hindrance. Fourteen to one hadn't seemed so bad when they'd started; now those numbers were starting to pile up, literally.

She kept up her fire, trying to disable or destroy as many ganmen as possible with each shot. But for every two she took down, three emerged from the rubble. She swore as an artillery shell exploded next to her, and retreated back over the hill's crest.

She resisted the urge to say anything more. No matter what she said, she would be tempting fate.

But sometimes, fate didn't need to be tempted.

From behind the enemy lines, a new foe emerged, easily towering over the grunts beneath it. It was a dull orange-brown, with silver accents, and arms long enough to scrape the ground beneath it. Two long, thin yellow horns emerged from its head, just above a pair of thin, yellow eyes. Enkidu retreated to salute the new mecha, and it just shoved the silver ganman aside with its arm.

Ainzer and Kiddknuckle charged at it, roaring; but the massive mecha simply swept them aside with a wave of its arm, leaving them to the grunts. The others moved to support them, but the massive mecha ignored their attacks completely. It waded across the battlefield, towards Yoko's position.

Yoko fired everything she had at it, but her shots exploded harmlessly against its armored arms. Then, it transformed, turning into some kind of insect with a mouth on the top of this shell. It flew at her, spinning; then the mouth opened and chomped down on her, its many teeth cutting into Dayakkaiser's armor.

"You are lucky," said the pilot. "I happen to like you, so Gember will go easy on you. When I execute that traitor, Straea, and rebuild this village, I will give you the honor of being its first resident."

"Go to hell!" grunted Yoko, struggling against his grip. "What makes you think I'd ever go along with that? I'd kill myself first!"

The pilot chuckled as Dayakkaiser's shots pinged off its armor. "Does the name 'Littner' ring a bell?"

"Damn you!" Yoko fired again, this time managing to hit a weak point in Gember's right eye. Its grip loosened a bit. "What have you done to them?!" Yoko fired again and again, pushing it back, and managing to free itself. But the damage was already done; its face was torn, and its legs were useless.

"Nothing yet, of course!" Gember cackled. "If we wanted to kill you all, we would have done it already a thousand times over! Sir Stratos could do it himself, and you'd never even know what hit you."

Below, Team Dai-Gurren had reached its breaking point. Yoko watched in horror as, one by one, her teammates collapsed from exhaustion. Guame's troops moved in to capture them. Gember leaned forwards.

"Surrender now and we might just spare them."

Yoko was achy, tired as hell, and above all offended. If this idiot thought she would buy his lies then he had another thing coming. Each member of Team Dai-Gurren would take at least fifty troops with them. If they were going to lose, they would do so spectacularly.

"This is for you, Kamina," she said resolutely, moving the controls. But before she could make her last move, a voice called out to her:

"Yoko!"

"Huh…?"

Something clanged on top of Dayakkaiser, sending it rocking back and forth. Even Gember looked astonished; Yoko looked into his eyes and saw real fear.

"What…what are you doing here?!" Guame shrilled.

"Who…is…"began Yoko, but then a familiar, disheveled face appeared in her monitor. She grinned then, suddenly filled with hope.

"Nia, it's you!"

"I am glad to know that you are all right," said Nia, smiling back. She lowered her head. "Please forgive me for being late, as well as for all of the awful things I have said to you before."

"You dummy…I'm the one who needs to be forgiven." Yoko rubbed at her eyes. "I made you cry."

"You cried too."

"We both cried." Yoko sniffed, and when she lowered her arm, her eyes were clear and full of purpose. "But we're sisters, so we don't have to cry alone."

"Sisters…" Nia nodded. "Yes! Let us show them what sisters can do together!"

"Go for it!"

Solvernia's legs turned into a drill, and it attached itself to Dayakkaiser.

"With the memories of the man we loved!" said Yoko, as her monitors filled with green. Outside, the damage to the Dayakkaiser slowly repaired itself.

"We move together towards a new future!" said Nia, as Dayakkaiser's limbs expanded, turning it into something akin to Gurren Solvernia, only more feminine.

"The prayer of a maiden is heard!" The helmet opened, revealing Dayakkaiser's true face – a gracefully sculpted, feminine face, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Yoko. The pieces flew off and reattached elsewhere, as armor.

"The tide of battle is turned upside down!" The cannon flipped around, expanding and growing handles, finally becoming a massive handheld cannon for the new mecha, which attached itself to the back.

"SISTERLY COMBINING! DAYAKKAISER SOLVERNIA!"

"Who…" began Nia.

"In the hell…" continued Yoko.

"DO YOU THINK WE ARE?" they yelled together.

"A new ganman out of nowhere?" Guame growled. "This changes nothing! Whether it exists or not, Gember will destroy it anyway!"

He rushed them in Gember's insect form, looking to crush them in its jaws, but Dayakkaiser Solvernia simply grabbed it by the jaws, heaved, and forced them wide open. Something cracked, deep within the ganman; flinching in pain, Gember was tossed back. It tried again, this time with a spinning attack, but was met with a series of lightning-fast punches ending in a devastating roundhouse kick.

"I will not be defeated!" Guame snarled, and Gember transformed back into ganman-mode. "I'll crush you!" Its horns glowed and then lashed out, as tentacles, wrapping around the blue-red mecha and drawing it in. Spikes emerged from Gember's arms, and it wrapped Dayakkaiser Solvernia in a deadly embrace.

"I got this!" said Yoko. Dayakkaiser Solvernia kicked Gember in the face, freeing itself, and then kicked it again. Then Yoko grabbed the cannon off Dayakkaiser Solvernia's back and swung it around like a tonfa, tossing Gember back several hundred meters.

"This is beyond all reasonable limits of patience!" roared Guame. "This will end! NOW!"

"Agreed!" Nia pulled down her goggles. "Yoko, are you ready?"

"Always, sister!"

"FINISHING MOVE!"

Dayakkaiser took its cannon in both hands, like a massive rifle, and leveled it at Gember. At that range, aiming was hardly an issue; in a nanosecond Yoko had the sights lined up. The weapon hummed as energy accumulated inside it, manifesting as a bright green glow deep within the barrel.

"GIGAAAA! DRIIIIILL!" yelled Yoko.

"BUUUUSTEEEER!" they screamed together.

A drill shot out of the cannon, at over nine times the speed of sound, leaving a white and green trail in its wake. From afar, it was as if a laser had been fired, melting right into Gember's armor.

"FOOLS! GEMBER'S ARMOR IS TOUGHER THAN-" began Guame, but was interrupted when the auto-ejection device activated and tossed him right out of the cockpit. From high in the air he watched, his mouth open in shock, as the bullet tore right through his ganman as if it were made of paper. He followed the trail of green and white as it continued, carving a flaming path through the jungle before finally impacting with a nearby ridge. There was a small explosion, and several thousand tons of rock peeled away from the façade, crashing to the ground with a dull roar.

"One down!" called out Yoko, working the mechanism on Dayakkaiser Solvernia's cannon. A spray of green particles ejected, wreathing the mecha in an emerald halo.

She then whirled around and set her sights on the rest of Guame's troops.

The soldiers were hit by a frenzy of shots that were far less powerful but no less deadly. Each bullet took a ganman with it, often two, sometimes even three. One by one, the enemy forces were brushed right off the map.

******************************

At the end, the only one left was Viral. Yoko had deliberately left him alive, shooting out first his arms, then his kneecaps, leaving Enkidu kneeling helplessly in the middle of the field. Then, and only then, did she line up the final shot.

Viral stared down his death with a catatonic expression. His entire mind was consumed with thoughts of failure.

So immersed was he in his own inadequacy that he failed to notice his ganman being hacked.

The instant before the bullet connected, Enkidu leaned back and spat its cockpit into the air. Viral was shocked back into functionality. For a moment he sat there, looking down from above like a god; watching that one mecha wipe out the combined forces of the North and East.

Then something caught the cabin. The jolt sent him slamming into the side. As he nursed his bruised shoulder, a voice called to him.

"Give the order."

He knew that voice. He looked around, and found himself in the bay of the hovercraft that Cinoshisa's reinforcements had arrived in. The docking claw dropped him on the ground; he looked about and saw several other beastmen, most wounded, few in working order, but all from the Dai-Ganzan. His heart sank as his suspicions were confirmed.

"What the hell are you waiting for?" snapped Tsuuma, jolting him out of his reverie. "Guame's forces are already on the retreat! Do you want to see the last of your men die?"

Viral opened his mouth to retort that they weren't his men. Then the full reality of everything that had happened over the past hour crashed down upon him. He sagged in his seat, defeated in both body and spirit

He exhaled a crushed sigh. Without his bidding, his fingers played across his cockpit's interface, opening a channel to all of Thymilph's forces.

"This is a message to all of the Eastern Extermination Forces," he said. "This is your…commander, Viral, speaking.

"By the authority given to me by the fallen General Thymilph…I hereby order a full retreat.

"That is all."

He closed the comms and let his arms fall to his sides. He looked up blankly at the dark ceiling of the cockpit.

"Good to know you've still got a head on those shoulders," said Tsuuma.

Viral didn't respond.

"I know you that all you want right now is to charge right back in there and avenge General Thymilph," she continued, and for once she sounded almost respectful of the Eastern General. "But we'd be losing a lot of lives for nothing, you know that."

Viral remained silent. For a while there was nothing but the noise of the ship cutting through the air and the moans of the injured.

"Viral…" said Tsuuma after a while. "The strawberry milk was nice."

"Glad you liked it," said Viral finally, with a smile. He looked at his partner, he was sure that she had crafted a small smile, but then:

"Now get off your fuzzy butt and get down to the bridge!" she snapped at him. "You're not doing anyone any good down there, and you're kind of the commanding officer right now."

"All right, all right." Still smiling wanly, Viral opened up his cockpit.

"And think long and hard about what you're going to say to Da Big G," she continued after him. "Specifically, try to find a way of explaining how you lost that won't get you executed. That'd be a real hassle."

Viral's smile widened a bit from sheer relief. He may have lost almost everything, that was true…but at least he had gotten Tsuuma back.

******************************

"The enemy is retreating!" announced Kinon, looking at the radar. At the uncertain looks from her allies, she added: "For real this time!"

"And if they can't, they're surrendering!" Filli said, as her forces handcuffed said surrendering beastmen. "To kill only when necessary, that is the way of a great warrior like me!"

"Did we win? Did we win?" asked Jorgun and Balinbow.

"There are only two enemies remaining," informed Kinon. "So I guess that's it for now…"

"It is not." Straea's face blinked onto the screen. "Those two are far more dangerous than the others."

"Wait, what do you-"

"There is no time. Patch me through to Nia."

"Who are you?" asked the digger as the lady's face appeared before her.

"She's Lady Straea," explained Yoko. "She-"

"Introductions can wait," interrupted Straea. "Prince Simon is in danger. He is fighting an enemy he cannot hope to defeat."

"Tell me where he is!"

In response, a series of coordinates scrolled down her screen. They were incomprehensible to her, but Yoko had it handled.

"I'll get you there faster than a bullet!" she said. Dayakkaiser pulled Solvernia off its head, returning to normal; but before it had completely changed back, it stuffed the little mech into its cannon. With a yell, Yoko fired, launching Nia across the battlefield and ruining Dayakkaiser's cannon in the process.

"Good luck, sister!" she yelled after.

******************************

Simon crashed back to the ground for the umpteenth time. Arshun stood over him, his ganman as clean and untouched as the day it was made. Benta had run out of flash grenades minutes ago.

"Come on, brother," sneered Arshun. "Let's see you get back up again."

Simon tried to get back up. The joints in his ganman's knees creaked, and then gave out completely. Arshun swung his scimitars down, almost lazily. Simon managed to block, but only by a hair's breadth, and that hair was quickly thinning away.

"It's almost sad, you know?" Arshun had moved beyond raw hate, and into the realm of cold loathing. "Depressing, even. To think that someone with the same blood as me could be this weak. I hate you so much. Did you know that?"

He put his heel on the cockpit and pointed both blades downwards.

"On the count of three, I will finally be able to kill you," he said coldly. "I've tried to keep it off as long as possible, savor the moment…but now I just can't control myself." He lifted his blades. "One…two…"

"Simon!"

Arshun whirled and parried the oncoming attack. The projectile bounced off his blades and rolled across the ground before skidding to a halt. It leveled its drills at him threateningly.

"Is this the Solvernia?" he said, frowning. "Smaller than I expected. Still!" He raised his blades. "You can't interfere now, brat!"

"Yes, I can," retorted Nia. "And I won't let you hurt Simon anymore!"

"A girl?" spat Arshun in shock. "A tiny girl?"

"Nia!" Simon's expression filled with hope. "You came. Just as I believed you would."

"Don't get excited! She's just another target!" yelled Arshun. He lunged at Solvernia, but met only air. When he looked back, the tiny red mecha was crouched over his brother's prone ganman.

"Simon, are you hurt?" she asked sweetly.

"No, I'm not," he said. Then: "Oh, you're smiling."

"Why do you say such a thing, Simon?"

"It's because," for once his hesitance was evident for a while, "You are far more beautiful when you are smiling."

"Oh, thank you." She blushed, placing her hands over her cheeks. "But is this the time to be doing that?"

"God, I'm going to be sick." Arshun retched theatrically. "Can't you just go somewhere else for a while so I can kill my brother? I'm a man. I shouldn't be expected to have to fight some skinny little girl."

"I see," said Nia, her tone completely normal. "So I see you are afraid that you will lose?"

"Shut up! I'd never lose to a kid like you!" He pointed at Simon, who, despite all the damage, was still somehow managing to get his ganman on its feet. "And you! Why can't you just stay down already? You should be crying and begging for your life right now!"

"Should I? Why should I be weeping?" Simon's ganman managed to stagger upright. "Brother, you do not understand. Nia has been through worse than I. She cried. And yet…in the end, she has decided to stand up anyway. Can't you see?" He chuckled. "I believe in Nia, and I know that she believes in me. If she can stand, then so can I."

"That doesn't even make any sense!" Arshun slammed his console with his hands. "Besides, it's two against one now! That's unfair!"

"How hypocritical," said Nia dryly. "But if you truly wish to even the odds…then Simon and I will become one!"

"More nonsense!"

"It's not nonsense," said Simon, and there was a gleeful edge to his tone. "Nia, do you mean what I believe you mean?"

"Yes!" Nia pointed to the sky. "We're going to combine!"

Solvernia leapt high in the air; and then she came down, drill-first, on top of Simon's mecha. Simon jumped as the drill emerged from the ceiling, right over his head.

"This is combining?" asked Simon as his monitors filled with green.

"Relax, Simon," advised Nia. "I'll take care of everything!"

The two mecha began to glow with a blinding green light. Arshun shielded his eyes, yelling "What the hell are you two trying?"

"Emerging from the shadows of despair!" yelled Nia as Simon's ganman was repaired. Burnt-out joints and cracked armor became whole again in a whirl of green energy.

"The sword of our souls cleaves through the darkness!" added Simon. Around him, his ganman grew and restructured itself.

"Armored by our courage…"

"...and our trust in our friends!"

The tornado of energy blew itself apart, sending emerald tendrils fluttering across the landscape and revealing a new ganman.

It had grown from a boy to a man, its arms and legs longer and bulkier. Its armor had been improved, made thicker but also sleeker, perfectly molding itself to the mecha's body but also effectively protecting every single point. The sword had also grown, going from a novice's training blade to a knight's broadsword, which the mecha carried easily in one hand. Its head was covered in a gleaming silver helm, with a visor from which two eyes glowed baleful green.

Reaching out, it grabbed some of the fleeing tendrils and wrapped them around itself; they blinked, and transformed into a magnificent red cape, upon which was instantly sewn the blazing skull of Team Dai-Gurren.

"The Great Protector! The Knight of Dai-Gurren!" they yelled together. The new champion lifted its sword and whirled it gracefully before planting it point-first into the ground.

"Insane! This is impossible!" yelled Arshun. He lunged with Yaotel, swinging both scimitars overhead. The Knight blocked with a gauntleted fist, pulled its sword out of the ground, and slashed horizontally. Yaotel would have been bisected if it hadn't flipped one scimitar around to block, but it was still knocked sideways. Snarling, Arshun rolled, recovered, and lunged into the opening. The Knight sidestepped elegantly and brought its broadsword down vertically. Arshun was pressed back by a succession of attacks, only barely managing to block and parry.

"You're just kids!" cried Arshun, as his monitors blinked damage warnings at him. "Kids! Two stupid little kids! I can't be losing to you, damn it!"

"You are strong with your sword but you are weak at heart," said Nia calmly. "Your brother had only trust and respect for you, but you took advantage of him." The Knight continued its assault, pounding Yaotel with blows so terrible that they cracked its scimitars. "I had a true brother once, who loved me and cared for me. It saddens me to see you treat yours like this." The Knight paused for a moment, its blade pointed at the Yaotel's core. "Why do you continue to do these awful things?"

"This is none of your damn business!" screamed Arshun, jumping at the Knight. He was beaten back by a single blow.

"Apologize," said Nia, and this time she was almost ordering him. "I do not want to fight you. If you can apologize now, perhaps you will be able to avoid your own downfall."

They glared at each other for a moment, the Yaotel on its knees, the Knight standing over it with its broadsword at its side. Then the Yaotel bowed its head.

"All right, fine!" Arshun spat. He brought his mecha to its feet.

"Simon, I…I…"

Simon leaned forward expectantly.

"I CAN'T BELIEVE HOW STUPID YOU ARE!"

And with that, Yaotel vanished into thin air right before their eyes.

"Simon?" said Nia questioningly.

"The Yaotel carries a stealth drive," answered Simon. "He's still here, he's just-"

Simon was cut off by the blow of an invisible blade. Several more strikes followed, biting into the Knight's armor; they swung the broadsword blindly, to no avail.

"Can't fight what you can't see!" jeered Arshun, and his voice seemed to come from all sides at once. Nia and Simon could only cling to the controls for dear life and try not to hit their heads as they were tossed about their cabins.

Then, something grabbed the Knight from behind. The Yaotel reappeared, with its sword pressed to the link between Nia and Simon.

"EXECUTION TIME!" yelled Arshun, pressing in with his blade. "OFF WITH YOUR HEAD!"

Then, unexpectedly, Solvernia opened its mouth and bit down on the scimitar, hard enough to shatter it. Thinking quickly, Simon twisted, freeing the Knight, and knocked the Yaotel back with a horizontal slash.

"Good thinking, Nia!" Simon praised her.

"But that wasn't me…" said Nia, surprised. "So…"

"There's no time to talk about it! He's going to disappear again!"

Arshun tossed aside his broken blade, reached to his shoulder, and pulled out a concealed dagger. "You snotty, uppity little BRAT! I'LL KILL YOU!" Yaotel vanished again into the air.

"So you've said," said Simon. He raised the sword horizontally with both hands. "But I do not wish to die!"

The sword glowed green, building with power. The mech glowed with a green aura, and the sky seemed to darken. The ground itself quaked; small stones lifted into the air, borne upwards by the sheer power radiating from the Knight.

"FINISHING MOVE!" he yelled.

"GREAT!" continued Nia.

"SPIRAL!" he added.

"OF HOPE!" they yelled together.

The Knight spun, and from the tip of its sword it unleashed a vortex of green energy that expanded outwards. Yaotel was hidden but had nowhere to run; it was hit hard, blown away and bounced across the ground. Its cloak fizzed, flickered, and gave out as the generator burned out. Desperate, Arshun crawled towards its fallen scimitar.

Just before he grabbed it, it was crushed under an armored boot. He looked up in dumbfounded anger as the Knight proceeded to cripple both its arms and sheathe its sword as if nothing ever happened.

"It's over," said Simon calmly as his sword clicked back into its sheathe.

"You're not going to kill me now?" asked Arshun angrily.

"I don't have to," replied Simon coolly.

"Your mistake!" Yaotel transformed into jet mode, unhindered by its damaged arms. "I won't be so easy on you next time! Count on it!"

Yaotel's engines roared, and it disappeared into the distant sky. Simon traced it as it flew, and his strange eyes glinted.

"We won, Simon," said Nia to him.

"I know." Simon sighed and relaxed, just a bit. When he next spoke, his tone was tinged with sadness. "But, Nia…I did not want to fight him."

"I know. I didn't either."

"Yes, but Arshun was my brother. I loved him. And he told me some awful, awful things, about both him and myself…" He bowed his head.

"I see." Nia bowed her head sympathetically. "But, everything will be all right."

"Yes. Because you are here."

"No. Because we are here." She lifted her arm and pointed; and there were the ganmen of Team Dai-Gurren, trudging towards them through the dirt and the mud, beaten and battered but not broken.

They waved at them, yelling their congratulations and support.

"We're your brothers and sisters now," said Nia, giving him a wide, supportive smile. "Being siblings isn't about blood; it's about the soul. Welcome to Team Dai-Gurren, your highness."

"Simon," replied Simon without thinking. "Just Simon will be fine. And thank you, Nia."

"As you wish," said Nia with a giggle. "Now let's all go together, now that we're all-" She stopped mid-sentence, frowning. "Wait. Someone's missing. Where's…"

******************************

"YOUR INSOLENCE SHALL BE PUNISHED! THOUGH A VALIANT WARRIOR YOU ARE BUT A MERE HUMAN AND THEREFORE NO MATCH FOR A SPIRAL KNIGT, WHO HAS BEEN TAILORED TO BECOME THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR AND TRAINED IN THE MOST DISTINGUISHED ARTS OF WAR! YOU CANNOT HOPE TO DEFEAT THE SPIRAL KING'S MOST VALIANT PROTECTOR, A WARRIOR ABOVE ALL OTHERS SAVE THE KING HIMSELF!"

"Wow, that's amazing!" said Kittan. Damn he's strong! On the other hand, it seems he can't brag and battle at the same time. That's when I'll find an opening…wait, shit, he stopped! Kittan just barely managed to duck under the Adamastor's swing. The halberd just grazed the top spike, chipping away a yellow shard.

"COMMENDABLE EVASION! BUT YOUR EFFORTS ARE IN VAIN; IT IS POINTLESS TO RESIST OUR MIGHT!" Once again Zerael paused in his onslaught to strike a pose and announce the splendor of the Empire.

"Oh no, how can I continue fighting…" replied Kittan halfheartedly, his mind elsewhere. Okay, as long as I don't provoke him I can probably keep dodging…make him think he's awesome and he'll stop to brag…need to find a weak point then. Dammit, where's Leeron where you need him? Hmm…

And for once, Kittan realized that it would be better to use his head for a purpose other than 'improvised battering ram'.

He studied the Adamastor closely, paying special attention to the joints, where he knew (from personal experience) that the armor would be weakest. Unfortunately, the towering mecha was impressively designed, and even if he got a hit in he'd be smashed to bits by the counterattack. The first hit had to count.

He dodged a diagonal halberd strike and counted himself lucky that Zerael was so predictable. But then, so was he…

And in a rare moment of brilliance, Kittan had an idea.

Adamastor charged, spinning and lashing out with its halberd, rending the ground in passing. Kittan skipped backwards, always staying just out of range. Finally Zerael roared with impatience.

"I WILL END THIS FARCE NOW!" he bellowed. He jumped up and forward, swinging his halberd above his head.

All right! Now! Kittan stepped to the side as the weapon's head crashed down. A great cloud of dust was thrown upwards; for a moment, both mecha were obscured.

When it had settled, Zerael was surprised to see the King Kittan clutching his halberd with both hands just above the head.

"WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THIS TOMFOOLERY?" he raged, shaking his halberd in an attempt to dislodge the yellow mecha. "LET GO, CONFOUND IT!"

"I'll let go, all right!" said Kittan with a triumphant grin. "KING KITTAN! DRIIILL STINGEEERRR!" He launched himself off of the halberd's pole, sending the King Kittan's central spike upwards at the joint between the Adamastor's head and neck.

Unfortunately, despite being a very good plan, he missed. He managed to knock the Adamastor over, but the total damage done was essentially zero. He groaned as the bulky mecha got up off the ground, shaking off the attack as if it had never happened.

"YOUR EFFORTS ARE LAUDABLE! I APPLAUD YOUR BRAVERY!" praised Zerael. "BUT THEY ARE INEVITABLY WORTHLESS! LET THIS BE AN ETERNAL REMINDER OF THE FUTILITY OF RESISTING THE PERENNIAL RULE OF THE SPIRAL KING!"

"The only thing thicker than your armor is your head," grunted Kittan, a tad hypocritically. Still, he was out of options. If he didn't get help soon, then…

"Hey, you!"

Help had arrived.

It was a bright pink ganman with a triangular body, happy yellow eyes, and a cute little smile painted on its face. Oddly, its limbs weren't fully attached to its body, rather floating invisibly next to it.

"What the hell…" said Kittan. Then its pilot contacted him, her face appearing on his view screen, and he was forced to repeat himself. "What the hell! Kiyal, what are you doing here?"

"I'm helping!" she said, miffed. "I thought that should be obvious."

"But where did you get a ganman?"

"I stole it!" she said brightly. "It's called the Kiyalunga. Isn't it lovely?"

"As if."

"What was that?"

"As if you stole that thing!"

"You stole yours!"

"Yeah, but that's different! I bet someone just left that thing lying around somewhere because nobody wanted it."

"How rude!" Kiyal reddened with anger and embarrassment, and turned up her nose. "I'm wondering whether or not I should help you now. And it was given to me, okay?"

"Yeah, I can see why you'd want to give it away."

"SIBLING ARGUMENTS! I AM FAMILIAR WITH THIS CONCEPT! HOWEVER!" The Adamastor pointed a fist at the Kiyalunga. "THERE IS A FIGHT TO BE RESOLVED HERE!"

Four micro-missiles emerged from the hulking ganman's gauntlet and launched themselves at Kiyal. She shrieked as the projectiles exploded against her armor; then blinked when the smoke cleared and she realized that they had done zero damage. Kittan blinked with her, just as surprised.

"AHA!" exclaimed Zerael. "MY EYES DO NOT DECEIVE MY PERCEPTION!"

He walked up to the pink mecha, grabbed it – to the sound of Kiyal's squeals – and tossed it at Kittan. The King Kittan caught the Kiyalunga in his arms; both gave their opponent a weird look.

"THIS GANMAN IS CLEARLY TAILORED TO FILL A SUPPORTIVE ROLE!" explained Zerael. "ITS ARMOR CONTAINS THE SAME BLESSED METALS USED BY THE ANCIENT SERVANTS OF THE SPIRAL KING! IT IS CLEARLY MEANT TO BE AN ARMOR FOR ITS ALLIES!"

"Not sure I understand," replied Kittan, rubbing at his ears. "The ringing in my ears is starting to interfere…"

"Oh hey, what's this?" said Kiyal, noticing a big red button blinking on her dash.

Of course she pushed it.

She squealed as her ganman twisted and changed, tossing her upside down and all around. The next thing they knew, the Kiyalunga had transformed, forming a lance and a shield that were automatically grabbed by the King Kittan.

"Huh. Now that's something I never expected." Kittan grinned. "All right, now it's a fair fight! King Kittan DELUXE!"

"That was awfully nice of him," said Kiyal, a tad suspiciously.

"IT IS AS YOUR SIBLING HAS SAID! A FAIR FIGHT!" explained Zerael as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "AS A KNIGHT OF THE SPIRAL KING I AM HONORABLE IN ALL THINGS, ESPECIALLY THE FIELD OF BATTLE! BESIDES, THERE IS LITTLE GLORY IN FIGHTING A MEEK AND FRAIL OPPONENT!"

"Frail? That does it!" roared Kittan. "Nobody calls me frail! And what does meek mean?"

"Cool it, brother," said Kiyal, a glint of amusement growing in her eyes. "I want to hear him talk more. Hey, you!" She addressed the knight. "Why do you always talk like that, anyway? Like, yelling and stuff?"

"I ALWAYS ANNOUNCE THE GLORY OF THE EMPIRE WITH ALL OF MY HEART!" answered the knight, slamming a gauntlet into his chest.

"Doesn't seem all that glorious to me," said Kiyal with a hint of sarcasm. "It's just a stupid empire. What's so great about that?"

"HERESY!" roared the knight. "YOU LOWLY HUMANS COULD NEVER UNDERSTAND! THE MIGHT, THE INEXHAUSTIBLE POWER THAT FLOWS FROM THE SPIRAL THRONE OUT TO THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE WORLD AND EVEN INTO THE DEPTHS OF SPACE! HOW COULD YOU APPRECIATE ITS ABSOLUTE GLORY? HOW COULD YOU COMPREHEND THE MARVELLOUS FEATS OF THE SPIRAL KING, SOVEREIGN OVER ALL THE EARTH? YOU CANNOT!" He raised his arms at his side and screamed to the sky. "YOU DARE TO DOUBT HIS INFINITE SPLENDOUR? BLASPHEMY! HERESY! SHEER SHORTSIGHTED ARROGANCE! ALL SHALL PERISH BEFORE THE ENDLESS MIGHT OF THE SPIRAL EMPIRE! ALL SHALL FALL BEFORE HIS MIGHT, AS IS RIGHT! NONE WILL BE ABLE TO WITHSTAND OUR COSMIC STRENGTH, OUR DIVINE HONOR! AND WHEN AAAALL HAS FALLEN THERE WILL BE NOUGHT BUT OUUUUUR EVERLAAAAAAAAAASTING VEEEEEEEHCTOOOOOOOORRRYYYYYY !"

There was a moment of silence in which a pin might have dropped and been embarrassed for causing such a racket.

Then Kiyal broke down in laughter.

"YOU DARE TO MOCK MY PROCLAMATION OF THE KING'S GLORY?"

"Are you actually for real?" laughed Kiyal, wiping tears from her eyes. "No, there's no way I'm imagining this, it's just too crazy. What's your name, big guy?"

"I AM ZERAEL TEPPELIN!" proclaimed the knight. "SPIRAL KNIGHT AND HONOR GUARD TO THE SPIRAL KING!"

"Cool, so I'm going to call you Zee," said Kiyal, twirling a lock of her hair, "Look, Zee, how about we don't fight, and just go off somewhere so I can listen to you ramble for a while?"

"Wait, Kiyal, are you hitting on him?" asked Kittan, shocked.

"Noooo…"

"YOU MAY HIT ON ME ALL YOU PLEASE!" bellowed Zerael. "I WILL BEAR THE BURDEN OF ANY AND ALL HITTINGS, FROM DAWN TO DUSK IF NEED BE! MY FAITH IN THE EMPIRE WILL KEEP ME STANDING!"

"Oh god my sides…" Kittan rubbed his ears again.

"ENOUGH BANTER! LET US FIGHT!" roared the knight, advancing slowly. It raised its halberd and brought it down in a crushing blow. This time, however, the King Kittan had no need to dodge. The pink shield deflected the blow with a shower of sparks, turning it aside and sending the halberd crunching into the ground. For a brief moment, Zerael was left open to attack…but unfortunately, Kittan was only half-focused on the fight.

"You were totally hitting on him!" he said furiously. He jabbed with his lance, but by this time the Adamastor had gotten its halberd back up into a defensive position. "Stop it! He's trying to kill us, for crying out loud!"

"Kittan, I am a grown woman," replied Kiyal, doing her best to sound ladylike. "I can make my own decisions. Oh hey, look out!" King Kittan batted aside another blow with its shield. "Besides, Mom got married when she was fifteen. Heck, she had kids by the time she was sixteen."

"Yeah, but…that's not…she wouldn't want you to, all right?"