Hane Kuriboh's earliest memory was darkness. It was a nice, cozy kind of darkness, but not the darkness he was looking for, so Hane Kuriboh waited, impatiently, until someone came along and brought him to where he was supposed to be. Fortunately he didn't need to wait long. Only a few days later, light flooded the place he was in, and his card was taken out of its pack by a young man. Not the person he was looking for, though, so Hane Kuriboh prepared to go back to sleep.
"So here you are," the man said softly, and Hane Kuriboh blinked in confusion. "We meet again."
"Ah yes, you wouldn't know yet." The man's smile gained a wistful quality. "Your owner will have helped me save the world a few years ago."
That made little sense to Hane Kuriboh. He flapped his wings agitatedly and the man laughed.
"Time travel. Don't you worry about it now."
And so Hane Kuriboh stayed with the man, who was called Mutou Yuugi, for the better part of the year. Then, on a sunny day in October, Yuugi picked up his deck and put Hane Kuriboh on top of it. Where they were going, Hane Kuriboh didn't know, but he felt like something big was going to happen. He'd expected a long journey, maybe to a far-off place outside the city, but Yuugi merely walked to the park and sat down, checking the time as he did so.
"Not much longer now," he muttered, and Hane Kuriboh chirped a question mark.
"We'll have to say goodbye soon," said Yuugi, and Hane Kuriboh chirped sadly. Yuugi might not be the person he was looking for, but he was a good man and Hane Kuriboh liked being around him.
"Oh, don't worry. We'll meet again," Yuugi said. He checked the time once more and got up. He strolled through the park, looking completely relaxed, but Hane Kuriboh could feel a sense of purpose in his gait. Hane Kuriboh also knew he saw the boy who came barreling through the park and had all the time to move out of the way. He didn't. The resulting collision came as a surprise to no one except the boy.
The boy he'd been looking for, Hane Kuriboh realized with a shock. Even though Yuugi had told him, Hane Kuriboh still wasn't prepared to see the darkness he'd been looking for, apparently contained in the form of a fifteen-year-old who was picking up his deck.
"Do you duel?" Yuugi asked, even though they already knew the answer, and he took Hane Kuriboh out. He offered it to the boy, who seemed to have recognized Yuugi now, before walking off with a small wave. Hane Kuriboh chirped happily when the boy studied his card. He'd finally found his partner!
Hane Kuriboh spent the next two years with the boy called Juudai. Juudai was a good kid, as Hane Kuriboh had known all along, but he was completely unaware of his own powers and far more reckless than Hane Kuriboh liked. Still, he trusted Juudai to do the right thing, and Juudai always came through. The first time he saved the school, Hane Kuriboh knew he'd grow and become stronger, and eventually protect the world and all the other dimensions. And Hane Kuriboh would be there as his partner, along with the rest of his monsters, who were all devoted to Juudai and liked Hane Kuriboh a lot.
Even when the Light touched Juudai and he lost sight of them all, Hane Kuriboh didn't really worry. The Light couldn't control Juudai for long. In the end, it only led them to new allies. After Juudai defeated the Light, Hane Kuriboh believed they were safe. The Light of Ruin was Juudai's greatest enemy and he'd just defeated it. Hane Kuriboh was sure it wouldn't bother them for at least another decade.
He hadn't counted on the arrival of a boy named Johan and a blue squirrel called Ruby Carbuncle. Suddenly, faster than he could understand, Juudai was in trouble, and a past that Hane Kuriboh hadn't even known existed had shown up. And then Johan was gone, Ruby was nowhere to be found, and Juudai had locked himself away from them completely. Hane Kuriboh searched high and low for something -anything- that would help Juudai. Fortunately he was small and most people couldn't even see him, which made him an excellent spy.
There's another gap between dimensions.
Juudai looked at him, eyes wild and red from crying. He was out of his bed within seconds. "Take me there."
So Hane Kuriboh did.
He regretted it now.
This Juudai wasn't the Juudai he'd looked for when Yuugi had found him. It wasn't the Juudai who had defeated the Seven Stars or the Light of Ruin. This Juudai was a Juudai who killed people in cold blood and justified it with the flimsiest of excuses. This Juudai…
This Juudai was not the partner Hane Kuriboh wanted.
So Hane Kuriboh hid away at the bottom of Haou's deck. It would have been easy to just leave, but Hane Kuriboh was still loyal to the partner he'd once had, and with his card still in Haou's possession, he wouldn't be able to get far, even though Haou clearly didn't care about him. Hane Kuriboh watched as his former partner made his way through the Dark World, killing everyone he came across. He was glad that the Neospacians didn't often make an appearance when Haou dueled. The Elemental Heroes were a different story altogether.
Why do you support him?
It came out as a series of chirps, but Hane Kuriboh knew his friends understood him perfectly well.
"Juudai is our friend," Featherman said sadly. "We must protect him."
He uses you to kill people!
"It's not what we want either, you know," said Burst Lady, voice sharp. "But he's Juudai. What else can we do?"
Stop helping him kill people!
"Don't be stupid," Burst Lady said. Hane Kuriboh, taken aback, huffed angrily. "Of course we could abandon him, just like you did. We can make it so that he doesn't draw a single monster, no matter how he tries. And you know what would happen then?"
Hane Kuriboh didn't reply.
"He would die," said Featherman. "We can't let it happen. Juudai, no matter how he acts, is still our friend and our important person. We can't abandon him."
"Not to mention that it would end the world," Aqua Dolphin said. Hane Kuriboh huffed. If even the Neospacians were turning against him, what chance did he have?
"Do you want him to die?" Aqua Dolphin prompted softly. Hane Kuriboh didn't have an answer, so instead he looked at the person who'd once been his partner. Juudai was fast asleep. His first nights as the Supreme King had been plagued by nightmares, but they were gone now. Had he really forgotten about his friends?
Why did this happen?
"Would it help you to know?" Aqua Dolphin asked.
Hane Kuriboh faltered. Maybe it was his fault, for showing Juudai how to get to this dimension. Or maybe it was really Johan's fault, for disappearing the way he did. But Johan had only been trying to save them all, so really, the only person to blame…
Who is Yubel?
"We don't know," Featherman said.
You've known him for longer than I have!
It sounded like an accusation. There was so much he didn't know about his partner, and Yubel was at the core of all of it. Why had Juudai lost his memories? If Juudai'd cared for her so much, then why hadn't Yubel been with him all this time? Unless she'd been lying. Hane Kuriboh thought that was very plausible.
"We've only known Juudai for a few years ourselves. When we met him, he was a very cheerful child," said Burst Lady.
"Still, he seemed empty somehow," Featherman said. He shook his head. "That's easy to say in hindsight, isn't it?"
"There has to be a way to get Juudai back, even without beating him a duel," Burst Lady thought out loud. "I know he's still in there somewhere."
They all nodded. The real Juudai was still in there. Hane Kuriboh just wasn't sure if he wasn't too far gone already. What if he'd never get better?
"So this is what you do while Haou-sama is asleep," an icy voice came. Burst Lady made a sound somewhere between a hiss and a growl as Evil Hero Inferno Wing appeared. She drew herself to her full height. "You proclaim loyalty to him, yet you plan to betray him."
"Don't talk about things you don't understand," Burst Lady said. Inferno Wing laughed shrilly.
"Oh, my dear little fusion fodder, I fear you are the one who doesn't understand. You're so caught up in your ideal of sweet innocent Yuuki Juudai that you fail to see the truth. But the fluffball understands, doesn't he?"
Hane Kuriboh flexed his claws. Inferno Wing merely smiled.
"Haou-sama is the rightful ruler of this world and the wielder of the forces of the dark. Your Juudai is merely an illusion."
"You're not wrong," Aqua Dolphin said calmly, and everyone, even Inferno Wing, stared. "Juudai is the wielder of darkness, as well as the rightful king."
You agree with her?
"I wasn't done. You're not right either, Inferno Wing. The powers of darkness aren't supposed to be wielded this way, but Juudai's own grief warped his mind. This isn't how it should be, and you know that, don't you?"
Aqua Dolphin disappeared just as Inferno Wing took an angry swipe at him. "How dare you insult Haou-sama!"
"Oh, shut up," Burst Lady said.
"Please go away," Featherman added.
But Inferno Wing had regained her composure. "My dear… better halves, by sending me away, aren't you denying part of yourselves? By denying the evil in your precious Juudai's soul, aren't you denying who he really is?"
"No," said Featherman, uncharacteristically blunt. "You are a corruption of the Elemental Heroes, just like Haou is a corruption of the righteous darkness."
"You're no hero," added Burst Lady.
"Heroes can't be evil?"
"Oh?" Inferno Wing bent closer to Hane Kuriboh until they were face-to-face." So fluffball, that means that your precious Juudai, your cherished partner, is no hero either, am I right?"
If Hane Kuriboh had never found the gap between dimensions… If Ruby and Johan had never disappeared, then his partner would never have become this awful version of himself. This Juudai was a Juudai Hane Kuriboh could no longer believe in.
He's not a hero I can trust.
"Hane Kuriboh!" Featherman said. Inferno Wing laughed shrilly.
"See? Even the fluffball agrees with me!"
But Hane Kuriboh flew up until she had to crane her neck to look him in the eyes.
I don't trust this Juudai, but he's still my partner. I know for sure that one day, he will become the hero he's meant to be, and he won't need your help to do it.
"Right!" Burst Lady smiled. Inferno Wing looked at the sleeping Juudai.
"Fools, all of you. I sincerely hope Haou-sama will be rid of you soon!"
She disappeared in a huff. Featherman looked at the place she'd been with something akin to pity.
"Is she so single-mindedly devoted to her Haou that she'll give up her own existence just to please him?"
Hane Kuriboh looked at Juudai. Asleep, he didn't look too different from the partner he'd known for over two years, but everything was different now. He hadn't lied when he'd said that he believed Juudai would become a hero, but he just wished he knew how long he'd have to wait for that.
"Hane Kuriboh," Featherman said softly. "I truly wish we could stop him, but we can't without killing Juudai himself."
"What are you going to do?"
Hane Kuriboh couldn't help this Juudai kill innocent people, but even if he weren't bound to his card, he still wouldn't leave. Haou might be a murderer, but Haou was also Juudai, and even though this wasn't how he wanted his partner to be...
Juudai's still my partner. I'll always stay with him.