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Let them hear

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When all is done and over, Kouji punches a wall. Then another, and another, and another, and the ground, until he cannot feel his hands anymore, until his knuckles are purple and red and blood spills from in between his fingers and on his clothes and on the tattered remains of Chrono’s jacket. He can hear his own voice, thin and fading and far away, screaming with each hit he lands, with each finger that cracks under the pressure of his blows, with every millisecond he spends with his eyes closed and remembering his weakness, the uselessness and impotence of being a prisoner in his own body, pulled as if with strings to play a role he didn’t want, forced to watch as the one he had swore to protect twisted and changed and broke under his own words.

(What right does he have to scream, when Chrono’s voice goes unheard?)

His world is gone, just a black void of failure and memories, himself wrestling with the phantom touch of a long gone creature in his mind. Control slips from his hands, consciousness falling off him little at a time, and in desperation he bites at his tongue to keep himself awake. His desire to live is gone, taken away along with Chrono, but falling now would do little to help; he fell once, long ago, and now he fell again and ruined everything he had done to fix his previous failures.

A new voice joins his screams, the distance between his reality and theirs so great he can’t make sense of words. It is just a murmur, a familiar voice calling for him from the dark, but what right does he have to go to it? A familiar voice that could mean safety, could mean sarnity, but why should he be safe when Chrono is not? When once again his failures come to him in the shape of disaster and destruction and there is nothing he can do about it.

He hurts. His body hurts. His very soul hurts, as if someone had stabbed a sword into his healing wound and twisted and pulled, dragging out everything he had worked so hard to keep hidden, to keep inside and away from those he cares for the most.

He can’t hear the familiar voice anymore. He can’t feel himself anymore.

He has failed.


He wakes.

He didn’t think he would. He doesn’t know if he wants to wake at all.

His memories are blurry, confusing, stuck past a fog of pain and despair he wouldn’t put past his old self. He knows Chrono was taken, knows he failed, remembers with an awful clarity the moment when the mark on Chrono’s hand became complete and turned white. Yet, that’s all. He doesn’t know where he is, or what happened afterwards, only a dull ache in his body reminding him of his loss of sanity.

He opens his eyes.

White. He recognizes the ceiling as the hospital he spent a long time in, right after Chrono had come back from his brief time with Myoujin. It is the same room, even, the same crack right above his bed slightly bigger than it was, the same rhythm of the drip in the IV, the same window in one side.

He turns his head. The bedside table holds his phone and deck case, battered from when he- not-he threw it at Gastille. Taishi is on the chair at a corner of his sight, reading a book, and the door looks impossibly far away behind him.

He tries to get up. Tries to move his arms. Tries to flex his fingers past the sting of pain.

But he can’t.

“Wouldn’t do that if I were you, Kou- Ibuki.” Taishi is by his side in an instant, book falling to the floor. The image is oddly familiar, from a time long ago, and for a moment he thinks he might be back in his childhood. “You were thrashing around, so they had to restrain you. I’ll call the nurse- can you talk?”

“Miwa-”

“Yeaah, you better not.”

His voice sounds closer now, but his throat is raw, as if he hadn’t had to use it in months. That makes no sense, it hasn’t been months- has it? He has to know, needs to know how long has Chrono been away, how much time has he lost by being unconscious.

He can’t move.

“While we wait, I’ll fill you in, okay? You have been unconscious for three days- don’t look like that, you were recovering. You made quite a mess of yourself: a broken wrist, most of your fingers too, three missing nails, bruises just about everywhere and I think you got a concussion too? I don’t remember, Anjou probably knows more, or your aunt, she should be by soon… At least the doctor was discreet enough, but the cops might get involved by tomorrow, uh…”

"Chro-,” Kouji tries to say, only to start coughing as soon as he speaks. It hurts, even through whatever drugs are running through his bloodstream. It hurts.

“Sorry, we haven’t found him yet… He wasn’t carrying the tracker the creepy rich kid of Kai’s gave him, so we have no leads, but we are looking! We will find him soon, don’t worry yourself too much.”

Taishi tucks the blanket around him, making Kouji feel like a child. He feels so useless, for all that he is Messiah’s chosen, he couldn’t do anything to stop that- to stop it.

His gaze goes to his deck. He doesn’t want to know, but the anxiety is building up inside him, the need to see if Messiah’s blessing is still with him or if it was taken as well. He thinks he knows what he will see, if he looks, but he needs to make sure, to know that he didn’t mess up so bad as to lose their best hope of bringing Chrono back.

He tries to reach for it, but he can’t move.

“Don’t. We are already working on it, alright? Just, stay here and heal, you can join the search once the psy- once the nurse decides you can leave. You’re in no condition to move, so follow her words, okay? I should leave now, since Kai was calling, but I’ll be back soon, wait for us, yes?”

Taishi pats his shoulder, takes the deck from the bedside table, and turns to leave. The nurse comes in at that moment, scowling, and she waits until he is gone to come closer to look at his IV and start making questions and comments that make him so very tired.

He doesn’t want to be awake. He doesn’t want to sleep either, to go into the world where Messiah’s warm presence should be if he was still worthy, but he knows it won’t be around.

(He doesn't even want to live.)

He saw his deck, saw the disgusting black matter oozing from it, he heard that creature’s voice, he knows what happened even if he doesn’t want to accept it.

The hazy, vague glow around his deck, around his soul, that marks Messiah’s blessing, Messiah’s presence in his life, is gone. Each card shaped for him and him alone, soulless, voiceless, gone.

Gone, just like their hope.



...


He wakes.

He didn’t think it was possible.

In that world of nothingness where his identity slowly left him, where his being was eaten away and left only rot behind, he thought he would die. He thought it was all over.

But now, he wakes.

He wakes, and he would give up everything he has to never wake up again.

Gyze is gone. Gyze is silent. The void inside him, rotting his mind, is quiet and unmoving.

There is an emptiness in the depths of the world. Three glowing lights that should not be there, three awaiting to be lit.

Dust looks at him from above.

He can’t scream.

Chapter Text

He needs to wake up.

Maybe he already did. He sure doesn’t feel like it, floating in the haze of nightmares and dreams, of creation and destruction both. He stands on a bridge atop an endless void, looking down at the sky and up at the earth, stars and continents shaping stories he doesn’t know how to read.

He is in Cray. That much is clear, or maybe it is not and he is simply stuck in a never ending illusion, where everything feels real yet twists unnaturally to reshape his being. If he looks to one side, he can see the ancient ruins that make up Dran’s home, growing distant with each step he gives, Gastille’s curse or maybe his own unworthiness keeping him from them.

Dran had yelled at him. Told him to wake up, to stay above the miasma seeping from his hands, to run and not worry about them- but he couldn’t. He wouldn’t, even as that creature wrapped its limbs around him and pulled him closer, even as it devoured him and offered him on a silver plate to Gyze’s will.

Even now he sees it, like a parasite growing from Messiah’s carcass, slowly crawling out and sinking its claws on the land, reaching high and above for the distant planet that is Earth. He hears it, a shriek so high and loud it breaks his ears, makes him curl up deeper into Gyze’s presence to escape and hide and runaway, makes him fall lower into the dark void where he can’t hear Dran’s voice.

Oksizz, it called itself. Not even a fragment of Gyze, like the Zeroth, not even a keeper of balance like Messiah had been- is, but rather just an hungry mass of chaos that took everything in its path. Everything it sees, a target. Everything it touches, gone.

It is not natural, so disconnected from reality even Gastille keeps himself away from it. An abomination, he had said, pulling him away from Messiah’s fallen form, leaving him in this bridge where he can’t tell up from down or right from left.

This bridge, where even his sense of time is distorted.

He wonders how long has he been here. The constant ticking of the clock he has heard since youth, the ever present knowledge of when and where he is, is gone. He wonders if this is a dream, or reality, if he is really in Cray or in Earth or just somewhere else he doesn’t know.

He needs to wake up.

So he does.


As it turns out, being with the Apostles is not much different than being with normal people. They live, and sleep, and move and eat like any normal human. Of course, they have their quirks that puts them apart from humans, but they are… well, they just are.

He is captive by his own body, surrounded by the black and silver that is Gyze’s self. He is stuck in a gilded cage, treated like a king and a prisoner both, but he is still here. He is still alive, even if not completely himself, even if his sense of everything is distorted and giving him mixed signals.

He- or Gyze, since most of the time the control of his own body is gone, has been here for four days now; so Valeos had said when he woke from his nightmare/reality in that other side that was his mind. Dust had been out, then, a huge construct feeding on both himself and Gastille, but it had soon left after the Bishop had realized he was awake.

Now, he sits here. In this huge couch, holding a cup in hands that move against his will, with Gastille taking a nap right besides him. That is what he does most of the time: meditate, then nap, then wake up and go back to meditating. He had been told he was looking for someone, but Darkface had been vague enough in his wording that he doesn’t know who it could be.

Valeos serves him- not-him, them another cup of coffee, then carefully takes the tray from the table to throw away what is left of his dinner. Thirty hours have they been awake, he himself unwilling to go back to sleep while Gyze simply doesn’t see the need to sleep at all; thirty hours of Valeos’ fanaticism tending to their very need, thirty hours of Gastille napping and meditating, of Darkface watching video feeds and marathoning a Brazilian TV drama.

Chaos Breaker isn’t here. He should be worried about that, but his worries for his friends feel so far away, like a ringing in his ears so annoying he wants it to end; Gyze floods him with blankness every once in a while, making his worries fade into a pleasant hum and his consciousness lay back, not far enough he will go back to the bridge, yet not near enough he feels the need to struggle for control.

A deep part of himself tells him to fight. He doesn’t feel strong enough for it (or maybe he just doesn't want to).

An alarm sounds somewhere near, and Darkface is up and carrying heavy equipment to his side. He- no, Gyze looks at the man, impassive, watching without a care or question as he connects his their arm to the machine and attaches some electrodes to their head and neck (Gyze had gone through his mind looking for a reference as to what the black patches on his skin were, the first time. It had left him feeling odd, the panic raising inside vanishing quickly along with his questions and since then he had tried to guard his head against Gyze’s mental limbs. He is tired). There is a beep.

"Amazing, Gyze-sama!” Darkface motions wildly with his arms towards the screen, showing numbers and graphs (a query is thrown his way; he bounces it back with the equivalent of a shrug. He doesn’t understand either), and then raises Gyze’s- his other arm to put it on the machine. “Even if only three Dragons have awakened, you have almost full control of your new body and mental faculties- Can you speak yet? No? That’s alright, maybe the next one; I am just glad you are still awake, your body was starting to show signs of deterioration while you were resting- no, this one, not the Zeroth, they are fine. Think of it as aging, yes, but at a pace most human bodies would not be able to stand- this one is really strong so it might not show, but you might have some problems moving around later, especially in the thin atmosphere of this Queen-forsaken planet. That’s fine, too, Her Majesty had problems with it as well-”

Darkface goes on and on with his speech, occasionally pressing buttons and moving dials on his machine, but Gyze’s attention is already elsewhere. Gastille groans, eyes behind an arms and trying to drag a blanket to his side; he fails, human arms too short in comparison, and ends up rolling off the couch with a yelp.

Gyze smirks; inwardly, he laughs at the man, some feeling of pleasure at others’ suffering bubbling around him.

He tries to stop. This is not him not him not Chrono or is it us not.

He fails.

He fails and falls back, closer to the abomination, closer to Messiah’s dying self, and screams.

It goes unheard. Yet it also doesn't.


When he comes back to, there is a blond man staring at him. Red eyes, a huge hat, a clawed arm that is falling off him.

Luard doesn’t seem to care his arm is a mangled, bloody mess, dragging it behind him, leaving a trail of ripped scales and thick purplish goo on the ground. He just… looks at him at them and at the sky and at Messiah. He moves slowly, leaning on his staff for support, struggling to pull something behind him.

Kazuma.

Luard looks broken. Hopeless. His eyes dart from side to side, seemingly having a hard time focusing on a single thing. He keeps muttering something, too low to hear past the abomination’s screech; he doubts he would understand it, even if he did.

Luard looks at Kazuma’s battered body, pulling him closer to himself. Kazuma, who stirs ever so slightly as four bleeding gashes across his back close and heal with a glow.

(‘You are an idiot,’ Luard says. He has heard those words from Kazuma enough times he can tell it is the exact same words Luard tells his other half.)

He tries to reach for them. Tries to pull himself towards the Dragwizard, towards his friend, tries to rip himself from Gyze’s hold and walk past and away from his prison. Tries to get to them, to Luard and to the bruised limp body held in his bleeding claw.

But he can’t.

Luard makes the few steps to the bridge, to the border between worlds. Looks straight at him as in question, then above where he knows Gyze looms in the space between realities. Kazuma moves, reaches to grab Luard’s claw with his hand, speaks some words he still can’t hear.

He screams, yells at them to get away, to go back, to not get involved. He wants- he needs them to be free to leave to not awaken Ultima, this child will not he won't.

Yet Luard’s decision is made.

With a last look at Gyze, he steels himself. Touches Kazuma’s head, picks up the now unconscious body with his good arm, and after a glance back at his world, leaps into the void.

He watches, helpless, as the world shifts and warps under Luard’s feet, showing him the way. He watches, and then turns back to Cray to see if something changed with Luard’s disappearance, see if there is someone around he cannot warn about what happened.

Ok- stop saying its name- Oksizz swipes at him, and at the Sanctuary that would begin corroding under its touch. He makes Gyze, makes them swipe back at it, pushing it back to Messiah’s carcass (you are stronger than this is useful).

With a last longing look at Earth, he dives back into his- Gyze’s consciousness.


 He turns inwards and shoves the dimly-lit golden glow of Ultima away from Stark’s own silver.

Not on his watch.

Not yet.

Chapter Text

It is impossible to watch someone for years and not develop some sort of attachment towards them. That had become painfully obvious for Luard when his connection with Kazuma tensed and almost vanished, a few years back, even if he had always been telling himself that he didn t care about the human that had chosen him.

He can accept it, now.

At the beginning, when he had been reluctant to fully form the bond between Cray and Earth most people in the planet were so obsessed with, he had been angry that someone -a little kid, at that-, had dared call for him and begged him to respond. He hadn’t wanted to. Kazuma had not been even half worthy of his skills, no one had been, so he had tried too hard to block the odd need to offer a hand, to reach back and change the fate that was a simple card game.

Cardgame . His people had been reduced to a game .

Granted, most of Cray saw the game as an extension of themselves, their earthian avatars another piece of their own lives they were to be proud of. He had seen the outline of the so-called Vanguards at times, lingering close to their chosen ones as a thin and weak hand that moved worlds and altered destinies, like they had any right to.

The civil war had been bad. Luard had locked himself in the lab, ignoring the summons that called everyone to the battlefields, and continued his experiments behind the reinforced wall. Most of his companions had done the same, and many others of higher ranking had kept their Vanguards far away from the Earthian tournament that would decide the outcome. No need to get involved, even if some had to struggle more than others to keep themselves away.

The bond goes, after all, both ways. While Earthians could influence discussions and skirmishes, they could influence their Vanguards’ moves as well. Vague hinting to stay away from certain people, to not go into places or follow certain choices offered to them. And just like that, whole armies had stayed behind in the back lines of war, not seeing the need to answer for calls that didn’t really need them.

As much as Luard had tried to not let the bond fully manifest, it had done so in the end. Their emotions resonated with each other, without even trying: Kazuma’s own thoughts and resentment towards adults, Luard’s passive aggressive defiance of just about everything. They were a good match for each other, maybe not as much as the King’s knight with their ghostly general, but enough that attitudes began seeping through the cracks if they weren’t paying enough attention.

Kazuma became good at theory and evasion, in exchange of his love of sunlight and most social skills. Luard lost part of his single minded motivation, in exchange for an even finer eye for detail and insight than he had before. Maybe they weren’t a perfect match, when skills were concerned, pushing some to extremes and dimming others that might have been useful, but no one really cared enough to see their slow descent into madness.

So when his connection with Kazuma almost snapped, once again, before becoming so tight he was drawn to Earth in a painful way, soon after that giant monstrosity had manifested in the other continent, Luard had gone to see what had happened. Because he cared. A little.

(A lot).

So maybe that hadn’t been his best idea. But it had also been a really good idea.


Kazuma waits for Chaos Breaker to stop laughing. He could be waiting for ages, but surely Hoshizaki Noa’s body is still human enough it needs to breathe? But no, the dragon continues laughing, curled up on the floor and holding its stomach as it kicks at the ground, its voice so loud he wonders how no one comes to see what’s happening.

He really just wants this to be over with. His hand burns, his body can’t move, and the giant invisible scythe that may or may not be holding him down is heavy. He can now say he understands why Shindou always, always winced or stumbled after a fight -when it’s not just Imagination, fights hurt . A lot.

(He didn’t get to feel it until now.)

Unfortunately, Chaos Breaker doesn’t seem in any mood to move, right now.

Kazuma tries to look up. The scythe blade digs into his neck, blood dripping down to pool with that he already spilled. Pain . So much pain.

He wonders if anyone is coming. He didn’t tell anyone he had seen Chaos Breaker, didn’t have anyone to tell him not to engage the enemy. The Zeroth hadn’t manifested, either, so chance is no one will be able to do anything until Chaos Breaker decides his fate.

If he wants to survive, he’s on his own. And his own is not able to move, pain forcing him to stay in place unless he wants to die.

Finally, after what feels like hours, Chaos Breaker stops laughing. The sudden change of expressions is unnerving, going from one extreme to the other, and Kazuma is suddenly looking at Hoshizaki’s feet as the dragon comes to stand before him.

“Alright, let’s get this over with~”

He wonders if he will die. No one has died, yet, but it would be just like his luck to make him the first casualty of this war. He can just see it, the headlines. Cardfighter dies from too much cardgames , or something. His name won’t even make it to the news. Cardfighter crushed to death by imaginary fiend. Onimaru second child dies in accident.

He would have liked to say goodbye.

Different World Ride.



Well, he’s not dead. He doesn’t know if this is better or worse than being dead, though. Maybe it would have been better to die. He wonders if he can manage enough control to throw himself off the window.

Don’t be so dramatic, I won’t do anything , Luard says towards him. He has been poking the cast for a while now, trying to get his fingers under it to see how tight it is and how bad their leg is. Not too bad, if he remembers the x-ray correctly, but  Luard is definitely not listening to him. In anything.

Their back is worse than their leg. The thin wound in their neck got healed by Luard-magic, somehow, but their back is still ripped to shreds by the invisible claw-thing of both Chaos Breaker and… that ugly thing, in Cray (he thinks he saw Shindou. He must have been dreaming). It will probably leave scars, ugly and unsightly, and he doesn’t want anyone to look at it.

Look at the bright side. You now have war scars. Luard doesn’t even wince as he moves, even though he can feel the sharp pain stabbing through their body with each small twitch. The nurse had been amazed by his pain tolerance long ago, but now he doesn’t think so: it hurts . Like hell. He doesn’t know how Luard can ignore it. A pity we can’t move- ooh, what is that? Why is it doing that?

Kazuma can almost hear the ‘ooh, shiny!’ when Luard looks at the monitor. He can’t help it. The idea of Luard, his partner in crime for all these months and partner in his dreams for years, being amazed by human technology is…

He laughs. Even when Luard turns a curious word his way, he continues laughing. This is a mess . A disaster. And he laughs because, what else can he do? He can’t, he doesn’t feel like doing anything.

Luard hums to himself, probably deciding to ignore Kazuma's hysteria, and takes out a notebook to write down something in senseless squiggles. He thinks he can understand what it says if he pays enough attention, but catches sight of something else and his laugh turns even more hysteric and wild.

Their hand, that should be marked in gold, is unblemished.

No one will be able to tell.


Earth, day 2: Shiranui’s Kazumi came to visit. Kazuma’s brother, bound with that , I can’t believe my quest would be so easy. Maybe Gastille was right. Maybe they were all right, and I have just been wasting time. For now, I should watch and wait. Surely, Shiranui will appear if the Honored Elder Brother comes to be in danger?

Earth is… interesting. I do not know why the Diffride brand is missing -Chaos Breaker theorized we, Kazuma and myself, were so ‘in sync’ the body could not tell who is inhabiting it. I do not believe that to be it, but maybe there is a grade of truth to its words. But then, what if someone else came over and the same happened? Sir Ahmes has always been unusually close to his Vanguard, and the Emperor has also shown an unnatural respect for his own human since long ago.

I wonder, if Lord Chronojet came here before the Fall, would it have been the same? Shindou Chrono is, after all, not only his Vanguard but also a fragment of his soul. However, the matter of Shindou Chrono and Chrono Dran’s soul is better left aside for now.

I can only watch and make sure I understand this phenomenon. I have my own theory, but I can only hope it is wrong. However, it wouldn’t do for my presence here to be discovered before His Excellency comes to reveal his plans. Now, I will observe. Surely, Kazuma is trusted enough much information will come to my ears if I stay around. If he is not, then…

I will be very angry.

Cray glows bright today. I pray it is a good omen and everything turns out well, even if Ultima has been silent since I arrived this world. Why is it silent? Nothing is making sense lately, surely Lord Gyze's influence has settled on the time stream already, but the physical world too? I do not understand.

I need more information.

Chapter Text

Chrono doesn’t know how long it has been by now. How long since Gyze took residence in his body and his very being, how long since they last slept , how long since he last heard a familiar voice that wasn’t one of the Apostles. His internal clock is gone and his sense of time is heavily distorted, as Gyze doesn‘t bother with time at all.

It is disturbing. For him, who has always been able to tell the time, it is terrifying . Like someone took the sun from the sky and replaced it with Vangarou.

The Apostles don’t help, either. Darkface is constantly stuck to his monitors, taking sporadic short naps when he needs it. Gastille comes and goes and meditates and naps, all day and night long. Valeos experiments with cooking and plays with knives, but the times he does it are so random he can’t use that to tell the time either. And Chaos Breaker…

Well, Chaos Breaker came back a short while ago. All it does is laze around, watch TV and eat snacks. From sunrise to sundown to sunrise. That’s all it does, and offer snacks occasionally.

“Gyze-sama, do you want some of this? No? That’s okay!”

Gyze, being Gyze and unknowingly destroying their- his body, never accepts any food or drink that isn’t coffee or offer to sleep. Darkface’s scans continue showing no change in their health, so Chrono assumes Gyze’s presence has somehow stopped their body’s human needs.

It is weird, being suspended in time. His body doesn’t seem to feel the passage of hours as it used to, the people don’t follow Earth’s 24-hour day cycle, and his own mind is stuck in a timeframe he can’t quite understand anymore. Thinking back to the past will bring up scrambled memories from ages ago or the past few minutes, or even jump towards times he didn’t live: Kazuma as Gyze’s vessel, Ibuki fighting Messiah, or even an odd memory of himself facing something with Chronojet at his side.

He doesn’t understand anything anymore. He confuses this timeline and the others, confuses the past and the future, left and right, light and dark. He looks around himself and finds that everything blurs together, sounds looking so bright and colors tasting of dust.

Even Chrono and Gyze, Gyze and Chrono, he, it, they blur together, Gyze’s desires bleeding into Chrono’s own, Chrono’s emotions digging into Gyze’s core. They merge, and change, and the line that keeps them separate as two distinct beings slowly becomes thinner and thinner.

The only place where he can feel himself is at the bridge between worlds, looking up at the land and down at sky. He sees the miasma corroding Cray, reaching up and up to reach Earth, sees the rotting creature in the distance clawing at whatever life there is around it. He sees Gastille’s people, finally free to do what they desire, armies battling at borders and small groups spreading lies and truths, preaching the future that is to come. He sees the ruins, barrier still strong under the onslaught of attacks, and if he tries hard enough can see the outlines of his friends behind it.

All this -the defenses, the attacks, the disaster- both horrifies and pleases him. Gyze likes the destruction, but Chrono doesn’t want them to lose. Chrono likes determination, but Gyze doesn’t like that they aren’t giving up.

If he dives deeper yet, he will find the Zeroth- or well, the Zeroth’s essences. Four and a half, as Ultima glows dimly near the bottom, allegiance clear but intentions not. It gets harder with each time he tries, to push Dust and Stark away from it; some part of him needs Ultima to waken, another wants it to stay dormant. Fighting the conflict in his mind is a fulltime job, now, be it in keeping Ultima away, or even putting none or two spoons of sugar to their coffee.

If he dives even deeper in, he will find Gyze.

It is here where the distinction is the most clear, the ocean under his self still and unmoving, while winds howl wildly around him, taking pieces of him with it so far he will never be able to retrieve them. If he stays here, he will be ripped apart; if he goes down, he will drown in Gyze’s compelling and overpowering self. To be swallowed by the still water, pulled deep into the sea and lose himself to the power present, or to stay up here and slowly break apart by his own contradicting memories .

Between his sanity and his identity, he is not sure which one he wants to keep.

He is pretty sure the decision was already made. He is just waiting for him to make it.


Valeos watches impassive as Darkface runs his routine scans on the Lord Gyze, translating the results for everyone to hear. Gastille listens, asking questions when needed, and helping the Lord move when necessary.

Chaos Breaker finds all this infinitely boring.

It -he, its body is male, right-, he rolls off the couch, stretching his stiff limbs as he stands up. Maybe it is because he was originally metal, or because Hoshizaki Noa’s body is so young and inexperienced, but this body got tired more easily than Kai Toshiki’s ever did. Not that his interactions with his dear previous partner had been all that long: watching past the barrier between worlds, and only when the possessed Tatsunagi allowed it, didn’t leave much time for them to bond.

He prefers Noa, if he has to be honest. Noa had chosen him, almost willingly allowed Chaos Breaker to reshape his personality until he was unrecognizable by his own parents, and then completely given up his body so he could complete his mission. Even if he took it without asking, that is still enough for him to put Hoshizaki Noa way above Kai Toshiki in terms of Vanguards.

He is proud of himself. He raised Noa well for the short time he had to influence him. The cute façade -a remnant of his old self- had acted as lure enough times for Noa to utterly destroy the competition and had gotten him out of trouble enough times that even his teachers felt bad about catching him making trouble. Had he gotten more time, he might have convinced Noa that bringing the apocalypse was the right thing to do, but between the Messiah hovering close and all its followers and traitors…

Well, maybe now they can go back to their old ways. If, the Deletors leave anything for them, that is. He knows his other bodies are running amok, but he needs to complete his plans before thinking of going back.

Chaos Breaker watches as Gastille and Valeos help the Lord Gyze get dressed after the check up. Darkface’s scans get more and more invasive by each day, but the Lord doesn’t care, at all. He wonders how suppressed Shindou Chrono is, for the Lord Gyze to have no sense of shame or even the smallest instinct of self preservation.

Would it be the same, had he brought Luard back? Would such a thing as Shouji Kazuma make Shindou Chrono come back to the surface and struggle for control against Gyze?

Hah. Friendship . As if.

The coat, when buttoned up, makes Shindou’s body look very, very thin. Not even the custom tailoring (Gastille’s doing) can fix the lack of care Shindou had for himself for who knows how long, and the Lord Gyze insists on not taking any food to fix it. That doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, as Darkface’s scans reveal: after recovering from the atrophy of the first days, the body is completely healthy.

Well… Almost completely healthy.

Chaos Breaker catches the Lord’s eye (the eyebags look worse today), and points down. Shindou’s marked hand is shaking, a blue tint in his fingers, and it is hilarious to see the internal conflict in the vessel’s eyes when he sees it: to cover, not to cover, to hide or not, what to do? He ends up tugging the sleeve down to cover it and, for a split second, Chaos Breaker can recognize Shindou’s worried frown.

That far up, then. Not bringing Luard here was the better choice.

Not long, now.


(He can’t wait to see what comes out of the merge.)


“Kazuma-san? May I come in?”

Luard looks up from his writing and to the door, where Gurguit’s chosen, Taiyou, is shyly peeking in. He puts his journal away before motioning the boy in, looking at the clock above the door with a grimace.

1 PM. He had lost track of time again , and his afternoon visitors would surely be here soon. Not that he has many visitors, not counting the nurses: Gurguit’s Taiyou, Shiranui’s Kazumi and the Messiah’s priest are the only ones who ever cross the door. He hadn’t thought Kazuma was so alone in his own world, but he should have expected it.

I’m not so bad… Am I?

He ignores Kazuma tugging at his mind. He can’t say much, either: he is just as, if not more, asocial than Kazuma even in his best days, and then when he could have met people he decided to go criminal instead. Good old days…

“Kazuma-san?”

The small paladin is sitting next to him, on the chair that the Elder Brother would use when he came by. He doesn’t know why, but that irks him, like he needs to make the Goldy move elsewhere, but he doesn’t know if Kazuma would do that, so he can’t.

Definitely don’t.

Right. “Go- Asukawa. Hello. How are you?” He messed up already.

The kid frowns, looks like he wants to say something, then shakes his head. In a motion that is a mirror of Gurguit’s own, he tucks a lock of hair behind his ear (there is a tiny device there, he will prod Kazuma about it later) and takes out his multipurpose glass tablet.

So, you know clocks, but not phones .

Oh, is that what it is? A communicator, then. He is more of a magic man, he doesn’t look too much into the technology that he has come to take for granted.

“I’ve been listening to talks-” So, even the baby paladin gets to know what’s happening, but not Kazuma. “And, uh… Mamoru-san wants to know, if you will stay around.”

What.

“What.”

“He said that he will understand, if you want to leave and… forget, what happened.”

Luard just… doesn’t know what to say. He looks at the kid, not really seeing him, and pinches his hand. It hurts. This isn’t a dream.

He takes a deep breath.

“Why?”

Goldy shakes his head. He is playing with a dot connecting game on his phone ( anxiety ), fingers moving across the screen in random patterns. It is making Luard anxious.

“Okay, uh… It was kind of, a big fight? Miwa-san says that Ibuki-san said that, everyone who can see Cray will be needed-,” he looks at the window, and Luard looks too. Glowing . “But Mamoru-san says he shouldn’t involve children in wars not their own.”

The kid’s face is completely blank, but his eyes betray the disgust he feels. By children , they probably mean everyone under an age limit, or unrelated, and if what Kazuma says is true then Goldy doesn’t fall under either. Gurguit’s chosen or not, he is just a kid . Shindou’s friend or not, he has to go on with his life.

Even if they were taken to Relics, they are set aside. Overlooked.

He continues:

“The argument is that you would be safe away from it, nevermind that Chaos Breaker came after you-,” which wasn’t actually true, as Kazuma had gone after Chaos Breaker, “and that the less targets we give them, the better. Rin-san, Hayao-san, Kazuma-san; all four of us were taken to Relics, all four of us are in ‘danger’ and should stay away. Chaos Breaker’s attack only made it worse.”

Yet TRY3 are allowed in, hilarious.

“Wait, that doesn’t make sense.” Kazuma is right, but also, what about this danger? “If we are in danger, doesn’t this make it easier , for them to get to us?”

“Uh, there is this theory,” now, and only now, does the kid stop his dot connecting game. He goes through menus, looking for something, and when he finds it his eyes turn even darker. “They said that the Apostles wouldn’t attack anyone who doesn’t have a connection to Cray. So, they won’t attack fighters.”

He waits.

Kazuma waits, as well.

Baby paladin sighs in defeat.

“They want us to quit.”

“That’s bullshit !”

Chapter Text

Earth, day 6: There is still no news from any front. It is getting worrisome. Whatever happened seems to have been really bad, as there is absolute radio silence from the Messiah’s priest and His Excellency. They refuse to let me look at the television too, as it would upset me, Shiranui’s Kazumi’s words, not mine. So, there is silence.

Not the nurses, though. I have been hearing rumours. There was a really localized blackout or power outage in an odd-name hospital not far from here which almost took two lives, so they have been stocking up on supplies in case something happens here as well. I don’t think it will. Call it intuition, or just Kazuma thinking for hours about how Dumjid’s and Gredora’s previous Vanguards had been taken there.

I can guess what happened. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, for them. Or for me, us either, if what I believe happened did happen.

I put my life and future on the line.


 A flash of red. A hint of silver.

Wide eyes look at him. A quiet voice asks why .

His hands squeeze the thread between one fate and another. Tears it, cuts it, leaves it oozing and rotting in the space around them.

You don’t deserve it , his voice whispers, echoing his own thoughts back at his most treasured person. You can’t have it.

Stop .

But he doesn’t.

Please .

He reaches in. Grabs the gear, stops its work. Time comes to a halt, slowly. Hands hold on to his arm, squeezing. Pull him away.

He steps back with the gear in hand.

Tick .

Tock .


Kouji looks at his hand. In front of him, covering the lights, it looks just like any other hand. A human hand, not a claw. Human .

He lets it fall.

“Did you need anything?” Taishi appears in his sight, a candy stuck in his mouth. He wants candy, too. He points at it. “Yeah, sure. Orange, right?”

He goes back to looking at the ceiling while Taishi rummages in his bag. In this cage he is in, there isn’t much to do besides look at things and try to not think too hard about everything. He has a messy diagram in his head of what is currently happening, but if he thinks too much about it, he will go insane.

(Fuchidaka Saori. Gaily Kurt.)

He tries to not think about it.

He takes the remote and raises the upper half of his bed. While he can go out in a wheelchair, he still hasn’t been cleared for discharge. It makes him feel… useless. He likes to look at Cray to forget about thinking, to forget how worthless he is, even if Cray is the cause of all his problems.

He can feel the Messiah there.

Only barely, but it is there. Slowly dying, slowly corrupting, but still fighting, still surviving. It is stronger than him, that’s for sure.

He can barely stay awake.

“Here.” Taishi throws the candy at him. Kouji catches it, almost falls off the bed too. “Oops, sorry.”

“‘s fine.”

His voice is still not back. He doesn’t want to speak, because it hurts , and also because why would anyone want to listen to him? He is useless . He lost everything that mattered to him, and more, and then he went and let Chaos Breaker wander in like it owned the place.

(Shinonome Shouma. Kanzaki Yuichirou. Shouji Kazuma.)

He will not think about it.

It is better if Anjou continues coordinating everything. Maybe then, things will move as they should .

“I called Kai.” Taishi sits back at his side. He leans in to fluff the pillow, and then drops his head on Kouji’s covered legs with a sigh. “They are upping the defenses on Drachma. Chris pestered the university for help, too, and Gaillard thinks he knows where the Apostles’ main base is.”

The candy is sweet. It clears the fog in his mind a little, enough to pay attention to his friend. Maybe the only friend he has, now, especially when news go out that he failed not just one, but six people.

(Shindou Chrono.)

“Chro-”

“No news.” Taishi twists his head to look up at him and pats his knee. “No leads, either. Kanzaki is not speaking to anyone but Asukawa, and he is not asking. Shouji refuses to share and Shinonome… well, he is… better.”

Kouji shakes his head. Slowly. He doesn’t want to know, doesn’t want to think about it. He doesn’t think anyone wants to think about it, either, no matter how much it affects them.

He failed.

He is tired.

“Aichi wants to know what to do with Onimaru.” Taishi straightens himself, reaching for the candy in his pocket. One for Kouji, one for Taishi. The fog doesn't leave this time. “He is at risk too, he knows too much. Anjou wants him to hide, but Onimaru threw a book at his head and that was it, it was cool, but then Misaki wanted the book back-”

Kouji drifts off, Taishi’s voice a quiet murmur fading into the distance. He tries to stay up, to go back , but the sluggishness pulls him deeper, and deeper, and…


...in the Hiroo Metropolitan Hospital few days ago. So far, the staff has been unable to discern the cause for the explosion, but it is believed to have been a-

Goldy turns off the TV with the remote. He is here again, looking more tired than he did the last time Luard saw him yesterday. He keeps playing with his phone, or with the remote, or with just about anything in his reach, and looking at Cray out the window.

It is a little unnerving, how quiet he is.

Maybe he has bad news.

No, he doesn’t think that is it. The bad news were delivered the first time he came, and if he means more bad news, then he doesn’t know if they can be worse than those. Pulling out of this war would be devastating for both Kazuma and Luard himself, after all.

But baby paladin isn’t talking, and Luard isn’t about to ask him to. If he wants to talk, then he has to start.

He goes back to his writing.


It is hours before Goldy finally leaves. He didn’t say one word in his whole visit.

Luard looks at the light jacket on the chair in thought. He nudges Kazuma for questions, tries to bring him up, but Kazuma just sinks deeper without a word. Asleep.

Well, that’s fine. It’s late. Kazuma sleeps early most of the time.

He shrugs and goes back to his writing.


2227 SBY>JY18

Choose your fighter, o’ Pawn of Messiah.

 

(Gastille hums happily in the back of his mind. Arte huffs, smoothing down his jacket with both his unmarked hands, and waits for the doors to open with apparent calm.

He was never good at meeting new people.)

Chapter Text

Taiyou takes the train from Shibuya towards Harajuku at 22:26:54. The doors close the moment he is inside, slamming shut with a screech without warning, making the hundred commuters left outside angrily yelling at the guards.

Taiyou can’t say he cares.

The train starts moving, and he looks around. There is no face that catches his attention, but then again, he doesn’t know if the apostles he has met are the only ones that exist, or if they are just the visible faces. For all he knows, Gyze has followers everywhere; it wouldn’t be the first time an icon of destruction earns its own cult.

Ibuki’s phone feels heavy in his hand as he pulls it out. The message only specifies the direction and time, so he assumes he is in the right train, but the question is, which carriage? Should he just wander around and hope someone recognizes him? Or should he wait until he is contacted?

This wasn’t the best of his ideas. First Chrono, then Kazuma, and now himself; it would seem Striders is just a team made from terrible ideas and abyssmal luck at everything not-Vanguard related. Not that he minds, he wouldn’t abandon his team no matter how big a magnet of terrible circumstances they are together, which is the main reason he is here now instead of letting Ibuki ignore the message.

Ding! A new message comes through.

How cute. Taiyou, is it?

At least he has already been seen. Which means he isn’t meeting anyone he can recognize.

“How cute. Don’t turn, Taiyou-kun.” A distinctly feminine voice speaks directly behind him, and an uncovered, unmarked hand comes to rest above his own on the handrail. A woman; he doesn’t remember if they met more women apostles besides Gredora. This one isn’t Diffriden, though. “I was expecting someone else, but you are a good enough catch.”

“Sorry for ruining your plans,” he responds after putting the phone away. He tries to look casual, even if his heart is beating frantically at the fear he feels. First Chrono, them Kazuma, now him. One missing, the other injured; what will become of him?

The woman breaths out a small laugh. “Worry not, I am not offended. So long as you can follow orders, I will not hurt you.” She speaks awkwardly formal, with a light accent Taiyou can’t recognize. A foreigner, maybe? “Send my regards to His Excellency.”

The doors open, and she pushes him towards them. Taiyou stumbles, but catches himself before he can fall, and walks out of the train. As the doors close without warning once again, he turns to look at the apostle, wondering what all that was about.

She is pretty, in an average way, hair falling over her shoulders and winter coat wrapped tightly around her form. She waves at him, smiling, eyes bright and almost sparkling in how happy she looks, and then the train starts moving and he can’t see her anymore.

She was normal. A normal person, even if her words were not; a completely average citizen of Japan.

Nothing on her revealed she was an apostle. Nothing on her revealed anything at all.

Taiyou shudders. Up until now, the enemy had been made exclusively of Driffriders: Shiranui and his team, then Gastille and his team. The Stride Gate incident had been against people from Earth, yes, but now they had been told they would fight exclusively against Diffriders.

He doesn’t know how to feel, about normal, average humans wanting the world to end.

He walks out of the station, taking out the note the woman slipped into his hand back at the train. The directions point him to a short walk towards the Ota Museum of Art, where he should find whoever he is supposed to be meeting.

Somehow, he feels like he is missing a joke.


 

Hibino Arte coughs. It is dark, cold, and Gastille didn’t pack his warmer clothes as he felt they were unnecessary. Something about how he is a demon, so he doesn’t feel the cold, which doesn’t change the fact that Arte has low blood pressure and his body has probably been suffering from it for weeks now.

This wouldn’t happen if you weren’t so weak.

Yes. Sure. This wouldn’t happen if Gastille wasn’t a jerk. Does his partner have any consideration for his poor, frail human body? No, of course not. Between all the travels they have done these past days (just yesterday they were in Italy and he doesn’t want to know. Do they travel through Relics? Wasn’t that destroyed?), shouldering the greater part of Dust’s power and trying to make Gastille not destroy their shared body, he is so exhausted.

He checks the time. Whoever is coming, should already have arrived, so maybe they aren’t coming at all. He honestly feels a little sad about that: here he is, all hyped up, and the person he is supposed to meet isn’t coming? Disappointing. He even planned with the other devoted followers in the city to make everything as smooth as possible.

He is just getting up to leave, when he hears a voice calling his name. Or, well:

“Gastille!”

How unfair it is, that he has been reduced to merely a host for his other half. He twirls around for the drama, which is a bad idea as it makes him dizzy enough to have to sit back down.

“Ow… That was stupid…”

He hears Gastille making a derogatory comment to him, but ignores him so he can smile up at whatever member of Messiah’s court came to see him. He… He has seen him before, he was brought to Relics, but apart from that he doesn’t know much. Gastille never shares the information he gets when Arte is sleeping.

“I’m not Gastille.” He raises his unmarked hands, both of them, so the kid will believe him. This makes him relax, just a little, and Arte is amused that ‘not a Diffrider’ is synonym for ‘not dangerous’. He puts a hand to his chest and bows (all the Drama Club knowledge had to be used somewhere). “Hibino Arte, Vicar of the Bishop on Earth. All is the Lord Gyze, let those worthy hear the silence of the world.”

Show some respect. Arte has no will to tell Gastille this is as respectful as he will ever be to someone, above or below his rank. I can hear you. Oh, too bad.

There is silence after his introduction, so he raises his eyes, confused. Rude, you are supposed to give your name when someone introduces themselves, but the kid is just… standing there, wide-eyed and in apparent shock. Arte approaches him and looks into his eyes, wondering if maybe he fainted, but… No, the kid jerks back and takes a deep breath.

“...Asukawa Taiyou. Uh…” He goes quiet, looking around awkwardly, and focuses on Arte’s hand. “You are… free?”

“No, Gastille just likes putting me in situations.” He grabs the kid’s arm and pulls him to the front steps of the Museum. Standing for too long is dangerous. “He had to check on the Void, make sure the pathways were in place. Too much traffic.”

Well, that’s a lie. Gastille does check on Void Relics every once in a while, staying just long enough he doesn’t get stuck, but mostly he spends his meditation time fixing the great scale that is Dust’s and the other Zeroth’s power across the apostles. It takes lots of will to maintain the Zeroth awake, after all, and while there is lots of apostles, most of them are human enough their power is not fit to hold them up. All Apostles are supposed to do it, but the task usually ends up on Gastille.

“The Void…?” Asukawa looks confused. He wonders how much information the Priest and the Generals are hiding from them -from Asukawa, Shouji and the others. “You are okay with this?”

“But of course.” Arte nods, smiling. He likes preaching, even if the one he preaches to will probably only focus on the dark side; he should fight, but he doesn’t see the point of it. He looks up at Cray, at the emptiness absorbing the pole. “Lord Gyze will bring us back to our roots and deliver true peace. Gastille is but a messenger, and if I can act as the messenger’s voice, then I am fine.”

“It won’t give us peace, it is trying to destroy everything!” Asukawa yells back, voice choked in unexpected emotions. Arte looks as the kid rubs his eyes, looking away, probably trying to hide his tears from the enemy. That, is one of the reasons Arte is doing this: shouldn’t they be allowed to cry, freely? Shouldn’t they be allowed to speak their thoughts without fear?

He looks back up at the spreading void.

“When Lord Gyze saw Cray, they cried.” He can hear Gastille protesting in the back, something about how Lord Gyze is all powerful and you shouldn’t be revealing this to them, but Arte doesn’t care. He knows Asukawa is listening. “They had been trapped for so long, unable to see their own land, that they… well, they jumped off a moving car, for one-”

“Wh- Why!?”

“Light pollution had it hidden before, and the sight was really beautiful. Cray and Earth, two planets that share their fates across dimensions, a shared moon that stands in between them… And the shared deities that govern them.” He raises his hands, holding one a little higher than the other. “Messiah, of creation, fortune -what you know as chaos, I guess-, and individuality.” He raises the other, then presses them together. “And Gyze, of destruction, order, and unity. Of course, those last two were lost through the tales, but it doesn’t erase the fact that they are beings that cannot exist without the other. It also doesn’t erase that they were meant to rule together.”

He knows, because he has seen it before, that even if Asukawa is also looking up at the planet governing the night sky, he is listening. And maybe, if he is listening, he can pull the other to their side, even if just barely.

“I know it seems farfetched, for a deity meant to destroy to be able to love something to the point it brings them to tears, but Lord Gyze and Shindou Chrono-,” that gets him a reaction. It is small, but there, a small tension in the kid’s neck and back. He must really care for Shindou. “They were fated to become one. Not only because Shindou Chrono is the only vessel able to support the Lord-,” a sharp breath, he can see the kids’ hands tremble, “but also because they simply meld well together. They both love Cray and Earth, they both desire for conflict to be done with. That Lord Gyze is protecting Cray, protecting Earth, even now is proof of that.”

“Protecting?” Asukawa looks at him in confusion. He watches as Arte pulls out the tea thermos he brought, speaking once more as he pours the tea in the little cups. It is cold. “But… Gyze wants to destroy them. Both of them.”

“Not quite, but yes.” Arte passes the cup to Asukawa and, while he looks weary, he still takes it and blows the steam away. “What you see up there, the great void in the sky, is the work of an entity that has no relation to us. It traveled a line through the universe, leaving nothing behind, like a massive black hole. It devours, in order to become bigger, and its true objective is to become one with the universe- or rather, for the universe to become one in its vast nothingness.

“Lord Gyze means to destroy everything, to make it go back to its origins and recreate the worlds we walk as a better land. For that purpose, they created its messengers, who would work to weaken the worlds so they could, eventually, be brought together and created anew. And for that to happen, they need both worlds, whole.”

Asukawa keeps silent. He sips at the tea while his leg bounces up and down, a common nervous tic Arte has seen in many people. While the boy thinks, he looks down at his deck -Gastille’s card looks back at him, like telling him to get it on with.

And you really should, the demon says, a dark whisper in the back of Arte’s mind that has been there ever since he was born. The only one who has had to deal with it since birth. He is special, and because he is, he will not just blindly follow the commands his other half gives. Tch, suit yourself. Don’t cry if you get captured.

“Why-” Asukawa starts, then shakes his head as if to start a thought anew. Arte watches. “Why did you call us- me, here? It can’t be just to… to preach, to talk. Your people haven’t…”

He thinks about it. At this rate, his tea will go cold. “Gastille was expecting…  negotiations, I believe. He- That thing, up there, Brandt’s child, it is…” How to say this? How to explain that Lord Gyze’s awakening came to be, because of someone they trust so much? Not so much, now, after Shindou Chrono’s disappearance, the attack on the Sanctuary’s Vanguards, and the attempted attack on the banished Apostles; but Ibuki Kouji was still there, and they still needed him.

However, first of all… “You didn’t come here on the Priest’s word, did you?”

Asukawa shakes his head. He has been fiddling with the phone’s strap, with the six joined rings that make up Link Joker’s sigil. This child plays Gold Paladin, right?

“They weren’t… telling us anything, how Chrono-san disappeared, how Kazuma-san was attacked- They wanted us to quit and forget, and I…” He looks down at the phone, at the locked screen he can’t seem to get past. Definitely not his. “I want to know. I need to know, if only so I can… not relax, but maybe find peace with this war.”

Messiah’s Priest is cruel.

Arte agrees. He has agreed for a while, but this only confirms what Gastille has been saying since they first met Ibuki Kouji. That child with dead eyes, who looked scared of his own shadow, that child who broke and was pulled back together wrong.

He has made a decision. And just in time, too, as Ibuki Kouji’s phone starts ringing, much to Asukawa’s dismay.

“Mamoru-san…” He looks at the phone and, with eyes narrowed, silences it. He drains his tea and gives the cup back, acting like he is being chased. “I should go. They are-”

“Lord Gyze came to possess Shindou Chrono because of Ibuki Kouji.”

Asukawa freezes. His eyes are wide, his pupils simple dots as he looks at Arte. His hand trembles, the phone falls to the ground. He takes a few breaths, seems like he will fall, and Arte is there holding him up before it can happen.

“W-What? Why- How…?”

The phone rings again. Asukawa looks down at it like he can’t believe it is there, and it continues ringing until Arte has had enough. He shoves his things into his pockets, grabs the kid’s shoulder and starts pulling him along.

“I will explain on the way. Come on, we wouldn’t want to be found.”

And Asukawa actually agrees, giving a minuscule, almost unseeable nod.

The phone continues ringing on the ground, forgotten.


Mamoru doesn’t know when things became unfixable. Maybe, this whole situation began wrong and has just been getting worse since they closed the Stride Gate.

Maybe it was almost two weeks ago, when both Ibuki and Shindou disappeared from Earth, for only Ibuki to return, shaken, mad, making himself bleed every way he could just to stay awake. Mamoru can still remember how he would scream and try to attack the nurses, try to beat himself to death before he was restrained in isolation and 24-hour watch. It hadn’t been pretty- it still isn’t, as Ibuki acts everyday more desperate, and someone has to be the sane voice, right?

It could have been when Chaos Breaker and Darkface appeared in the city, crippled Kanzaki for life, collapsed a building on Shouji, and then made a whole hospital stop working until Shinonome found them and was beaten almost to death for his interference. Maybe, that so many lives could have been lost had been a sign that they were in over their heads and that they should turn their data to someone else, someone fit to fix this, instead of attempting it themselves out of rightly placed responsibility.

Maybe, it was this morning, when they lost contact with Jaime, Kiba and Tokoha, only for Kiba to call them hours later, furious and claiming he would kill that man no matter what it takes. Tokoha had also contacted them, said not to worry, but Mamoru is her brother and could easily tell that was the angriest he has heard her in his life.

They didn’t know where Jaime went. For hours, they looked for him, are still looking for him, but it is clear now Jaime’s disappearance might have been a distraction for something else. If that something else is related to Myoujin or Taiyou, Mamoru doesn’t know yet.

Shouji Kazuma, the room’s door reads. According to Shion’s trackers (which he, apparently, keeps on all his friends), Asukawa Taiyou is in there.

Mamoru really, really hopes he is.

He knocks. A few seconds later, a voice grumbles for him to enter, and he goes in to find Shouji covering his head with the pillow. The lights are off, but the glow of Cray from outside the window is enough to make the room look clear, maybe not as if with daytime, but enough Mamoru doesn’t have trouble making his way to the bed.

He still clicks on the light, frowning at Shouji who furrows lower under his blankets with a groan.

“Evil.”

“Sorry.” He isn’t really sorry.

The room is about as barren as Onimaru said it had been since Shouji was hospitalized. There’s a small wardrobe next to the door to the bathroom shared with the neighboring room, a screen attached to the wall, a chair by the bed and a bedside table. A box of muffins (Okazaki’s doing, or maybe Taiyou’s) is on the table, next to a thin notebook, a pen and Shouji’s dead phone.

“Shouji-kun, good evening,” he says, distracted. His focus is on the jacket thrown on the chair, black and gold cloth making it obvious to who it belongs. “Was Taiyou-kun here?”

“Hm, a while ago, yes.” The boy (for that is what he is and, Messiah help them, so is everyone else) raises the pillow from his head to look at Mamoru, squinting. “He forgot his things.”

Mamoru lifts the jacket, weighing it for anything inside it. He feels the small bug inside the lining, one of maybe a dozen Shion has scattered around his friends’ usual wear (Chrono had one, too. It had been delivered, along with his phone and deck, to Mikuru a few days ago, with a note: farewell, Mikuru-san), and then searches the pockets for anything else. While he does that, he asks:

“Did he say anything to you?”

“Nnno, he just left. Didn’t say much while he was here, looked a bit nervous.” Finally, Shouji sits up, using his arms to hold himself up as his leg is still in its case. “Did something happen?”

“...” Mamoru keeps his silence. He pulls out a pile of candy wrappers, a piece of paper with a phone number (it is Miwa’s), and Taiyou’s phone. It is off, and the little charm that is Gold Paladin’s sigil (part of a set that Tokoha had gotten them all, after the Stride Gate incident) is missing, just like Ibuki’s phone, just like Chrono and Jaime.

(He knows they are all in the same place.)

He tries not to curse.

Shouji watches him as he puts everything back in place, but the phone goes in his pocket. Maybe Taiyou just forgot it, though he doubts it; maybe there is a hint somewhere in there, but he isn’t technologically savvy enough to get into a code-protected phone. He gives a quick bow and leaves, leaving the light on.


(In the room, Luard laughs. Gurguit’s chosen is more interesting than he had expected.

Kazuma, while a little worried, just curls up in their mind and goes back to sleep.)


“Hibino-san… What is this place?”

“Moon Palace. An apostle gave us the key for it a while ago, so we have been using it to travel.”

“Moon… We are in the moon?”

“So it seems. I'm being told the moon is inside of the spatial distortion that connects Earth with Cray. It is easier to move through it, or so Gastille says.”

“You didn't know any of this before, uh... Where are we going, then?”

“Italy.”


Chrono wakes up. Or rather, he brings his consciousness back up to a place where he can look and think on his own, instead of his mind being held up by the raging hurricanes of his soul.

It is getting worse. He can barely hear himself think, down there, which has become unnaturally relaxing, like being lulled to sleep by the sound of waves and thunder in a storm. Sure, Gyze’s overwhelming presence is still down there, quiet and dark, calling for him, but the call lately is… subdued.

Maybe it is because he has lost most of his identity already; his soul is torn too far apart for it to be put together now. Or maybe it is because he can’t be bothered to care.

He goes up. The Zeroth are silent and bright as always, the four awake hovering at each ‘corner’ of his reality, Ultima and Drachma half dormant near the bottom. He goes closer (Luard whispers to him), checks that they are still the same as last night, and then puts them back where he found them, far from the others.

He goes farther up again, and settles himself on their- on Gyze’s self. As always, Earth is in one side, Cray in the other. He focuses on their body, on Chaos Breaker filing their nails while commenting on whatever nonsensical TV series has caught its- their- his fancy this time. He can taste something sweet, too sweet, and he realizes Gyze is having candy.

Sweets? Those are good, for human creations. Chaos Breaker brought them for us, how nice of him, let me have some. Apple is good.

He feels Gyze shrug next to him, and then takes control of their body so he can grab a handful of the small, round confections and put them on his leg. There is far too many colors, and it confuses him that he can see more than he should be able to (Noa hovering behind Chaos Breaker looking to the window, a myriad of rays coming from the TV, smaller-than-ants creatures moving in the opposite wall).

There is a quiet whisper, and Chaos Breaker takes one of the strawberry candies for himself. The shade of Noa looks pleased.

“Hello, Shindou Chrono.” Chaos Breaker greets him while he is dividing the candy by color. He takes a green one, but it’s not quite apple, not quite lemon, and the flavor is too strong. “Gastille kidnapped his host for a trip in Japan, and Valeos is still scouting for Drachma. I have no idea what Darkface is doing, but it’s probably not important.”

He nods his thanks while Gyze not-really-laughs in the back at his reaction to the sweets. In his defense, he didn’t know he now had enhanced everything. What’s up with that? He looks at the shade of Noa, who still looks oddly pleased for being possessed by an evil entity of chaos, and wonders if he, too, has too suffer from this.

Chaos Breaker raises an eyebrow. “What.” He looks up at the shade, but he doesn’t seem to see anything. Chrono wonders if he is the only one who can see him, even when it is Chaos Breaker that stole Noa’s body.

He shakes his head. Speaking still hurts; doing anything without Gyze’s support hurts.

He goes back, and watches Chaos Breaker greet Gyze the same way -uncaring, amused, with a tone of mockery. He resumes his nail filing. Gyze, of course, doesn’t reply, and goes back to eating the candy one by one in complete silence.

He doesn’t know what’s up with those two.

Well, at least the taste isn’t as strong back here. His body has already changed so much, with Gyze staying awake almost ten days straight (they had to ask Chaos Breaker) and sustaining themselves with coffee and coffee alone, their sight so good they can’t look out into the day, and their nerves able to feel only the strongest of pains. That, along with Darkface’s constant, invasive check ups, should really worry him if he plans to get out.

He doesn’t really care.

He hears yells past the wall. It sounds familiar.

Head back. Something is happening, yes, I can hear it.

Chrono sinks back to his bridge, and focuses on Cray. He can see the whole planet from where he stands, from the great mass of nothingness that is Star Gate as of now, to the northern cliffs of Dragon Empire where those not strong enough to join the frontlines have retreated to. The creature is still there, encroaching on the life of the planet, painfully slowly eating at the land.

He wastes a minute to try and find his friends. He can see Dran, Harri, Nightrose and some others defending the ruins (when did Nightrose get there?). He sees Fenrir and Ahsha, fending off what he believes are apostles, guarding Altmile who is watching over a heavily injured Shinonome (he knows it is the same as Kazuma, not really there physically, but it is still vaguely upsetting to see the outcome of Chaos Breaker’s actions). He sees the temple where Gastille’s and Luard’s bodies rest, or rather, the gate to the temple -strangely enough, there is nothing guarding it, but it is still not getting attacked by the scattered Deletors running wild.

He reaches further. The frontlines of Dragon Empire hold strong, but the internal conflicts might just ruin them later. He sees Dumjid in hiding, protecting the anxious and brittle soul of Fuchidaka even with his wounds; he sees Shiranui and his clan, far from the main troops but still fighting their own way… and heading towards the temple. He should probably mention that later, or he could not tell… No, he doesn’t care enough either way. The last Diffrider Apostle is Gredora, who he senses deep in slumber in her nest with Gaily Curt’s soul held in her arms, while her children shout orders around.

He looks for Thavas, who had somehow, sometime, joined forces with the Link Joker children to watch over the Star Gate’s refugees, but he can’t sense him. He doesn’t think Jaime has fallen, and even if he was at risk, Thavas wouldn’t let him; likewise if Thavas is in danger, Jaime would do something illogical to help him. He can sense his fleet around, so he doesn’t think anything has happened, but, but for now... who else is he missing…

Gurguit.

He is missing Thavas and Gurguit.

Did you see anything out of norm, yeah, Earthian souls where there shouldn’t be any? How curious, what about the abomination? It is there, no progress on that front. I still  think that was a terrible idea, yes, We agree with that, but We know why they did it, I still don’t think We can turn back on the consequences.

He throws a few words upwards, of how much of a terrible idea that had been, and can hear Chaos Breaker laughing behind the thick walls that is Gyze. The unexpected consequences of releasing the Deletors had cost the Apostles far more than they received back.

We are worth the destruction of a nation. We will fix this.

Below, he can feel Ultima stirring, reaching up and up and to Cray, looking for something.

He can’t sense Thavas, but something tells him Jaime is still around. He can’t sense him in Cray, at the very least, so it couldn’t have been the Zeroth.

He can’t see Gurguit. He can’t sense Gurguit. Taiyou is so young, Gurguit is so young, they can’t be gone, right?

Right?


They warp to their destination, and Taiyou stumbles. He looks around them; it seems to be a shrine of sorts, just a small statue of an angel with the carving of a circle underneath. There is a thick forest around them, with a clear stone path leading out, and Hibino is walking before Taiyou can come back to himself, his mind stuck in the moon while his body is down here.

He follows. What else can he do?

He can hear waves, probably a lake or even the sea; a dog barks, some birds fly off, and in the distance he can hear cars zooming around. He looks up, at the bright afternoon sky, Cray dominating opposite of the sun. He wonders what time it is.

The house they head towards is simple enough: a single storey, white brick, wide windows (none open, all curtains drawn). The roof has a light inclination and is covered in grass, colorful flowers and what seem to be small towers of stone. One of them, the one directly above the main door (all glass and heavy wood), goes higher than the others, Gyze’s six-pointed sigil standing proudly atop it.

“This house was also lent to us by an apostle, as you can see.” Hibino knocks on the door. Without waiting for a response, he pulls out a giant ring of keys and starts looking for the one he needs. “It has acted as a gathering place for our people for years now, and when word came out Lord Gyze had awakened they gladly stepped aside for Them.”

“Your people?”

“The Cult of Gyze, of course.”

Taiyou wonders how did no one know that was a thing until now. He didn’t, at least, and he didn’t think anyone else he knows knew, either. Religion, or at least beliefs, had never been a topic of discussion within his friends, and if he has to be honest, he never thought about Messiah as a real deity until… now, maybe. Weren’t they originally from Cray? How did this cult make it all the way to Earth? The Stride Gate opened a relatively short while ago, it couldn’t have been that way.

Then again, what exactly was Vanguard?

Hibino opens the door; inside, it is dark, the drawn curtains keeping all sunlight from coming in and making the room look like a vampire’s home in bad movies. Furniture and decorations are sparse, or at least in this room they are, covered in cloth and plastic to keep the dirt away. The only thing not covered, the only thing illuminated by the small bulb by the wall, is a huge framed painting of a dragon coming out from the sea.

Taiyou follows Hibino. From the next room comes a murmur of voices and light, dim as both are, and it reminds him of his house past midnight, when everyone sleeps and his father and the dog watch TV with the volume low enough it doesn’t wake anyone else. The eerie, still feeling of the air doesn’t agree with Taiyou, though: it is far too quiet, too slow, like the house runs on another frame of time where not even light can move fast enough to reach him on time.

He sees Noa -Chaos Breaker, first. The dragon-as-human is laying on a pile of blankets before a small television set, rolling left and right like a child. Next to him (it?), there is a low table covered in snacks, canned drinks, packets of sugar and just about everything sweet and unhealthy Taiyou has ever seen in his life, and more. Scattered on the floor are multiple board games in various states of playthrough, a tower of toothpicks that defies logic, and a plush cat.

The room is lit by small, low brightness lamps, most facing the walls for some weird reason. He can see a pile of beeping somethings near one corner, as well as a pile of not-beeping somethings near another. There are clothes thrown messily around (he can recognize Chrono’s usual attire), like someone took them off and just left them there until whenever they would wear it again. Another painting of a dragon, this one flying the night sky, is stuck on the wall opposite of the door Taiyou and Hibino came in from.

And below it, sitting quiet as stone on the couch, is Chrono.

“Gyze-sama. We have returned.”

Chrono looks at them, eyes empty and gold and green at once, and he looks for a few seconds before something flashes through his face. Something between surprise and horror and glee, and it is not an expression Taiyou has ever seen on Chrono.

He is scared. This isn’t Chrono.

“Taiyou…”

But at the same time, he is.


(In another world, a Knight falls to his knees, surrounded by the lifeless bodies of his troops. His sword, gone; his hand, gone; his will, gone, taken along with everyone else’s lives, gone somewhere no one can follow.

He looks up at the looming monster -the distortion, the abomination, the other side of his God- and laughs. Weak. Defeated. Empty.

Do your worst.)



 

Extra

Gastille turns off the phone’s radio with a click. He has the passenger’s seat, Valeos at the wheel, while Chaos Breaker sits next to the Lord Gyze in the back. Darkface has the final row, protecting the multiple boxes of stuff he uses to manage both Relics’ remains and the Lord’s health.

“Do you two know subtlety?” The bishop asks, looking back at Chaos Breaker. He doesn’t look angry, more like resigned, so he gives a thumbs up.

I wasn’t seen-”

“You collapsed a building on Luard,” he deadpans before looking at Darkface. “And you?”

“Tch, no one besides the Messiah’s court would make the connection.” Chaos Breaker can feel the handwave the giant bug makes. “We are fine.”

“We-”

“We would have had to move anyways.” Valeos takes a left and, even if there isn’t anyone on the road, makes sure to stay in lane. How boring. “If we are to recover Drachma, we need a more central place to stay.”

“How do we know we won’t be found because of this?”

Chaos Breaker tunes out the conversation (it has been the same thing for the past days). He looks at the Lord Gyze, calmly looking out at what can be seen of the mediterranean countryside at this hour, ignoring everything else around him. Must be nice, to not have to worry about anything, to not have to worry about anything besides breathing.

Well, for now. Lord Gyze is going to be the one doing all the heavy lifting later, after all.

He goes for another chip. They are good. He has never bothered with food before, mainly because there was no need, but now… He has gotten to try so many things, Earthians really have good taste when it comes to cooking.

He hears a click.

Wrongly, he ignores it.

Gyze-sama!

Valeos brakes the car so fast Chaos Breaker almost hits the front seat. With a curse, and on pure instinct, he reaches to the side to hold the Lord Gyze in place so the vessel won’t get hurt, but his hand meets air.

Air. He looks up.

The Lord isn’t anywhere in the car, but the door is wide open. It is only then that he notices Gastille has run out as well, following after the moving figure that somehow is already far enough for Darkface’s active sensors to start screeching.

Chaos Breaker sighs. Valeos is already parking the car, while Darkface tries to silence the machines while yelling long, long, really long lines in whatever ancient language of Zoo he speaks. Since the situation here is fine, he waits until the car stops completely to hop out the door and follow the Lord up the cliff.

It is a really small cliff. Even so, Gastille is still gasping for breath when he gets there, Arte’s terrible physical condition getting in the way once again. The Lord Gyze, though, looks perfectly fine -his hands are shaking a little, but that’s normal enough for Chaos Breaker that he only grabs it and shoves it in the coat’s pocket.

Why would you do that?” He is the only one who ever questions the Lord. Gastille won’t ask, so he does in his place.

Of course, the Lord Gyze doesn’t reply, instead raising his not-trembling hand towards Cray like he means to crush it in his fist. The sky is dark, stars glowing in the night finally showing to their eyes after days of light pollution hiding them, the new moon just barely eclipsing their planet into complete darkness in the pole that should be Star Gate. It is a beautiful sight, or maybe that’s what someone else would say, but there is something… something he can’t quite place, like he is misunderstanding something…

Wait. That’s not the moon.

It is a small patch of black in the sky, with the stars close to it vanishing one by one as it spreads, faster towards the night, much, much slower towards the planet. If he focuses enough, he thinks he can make out small lines of white crossing it and clashing against each other before disappearing completely.

“It is being eaten.” Valeos speaks behind them, and Chaos Breaker looks at him over his shoulder. Darkface is also there, helping Gastille straighten himself while still muttering darkly to himself. Of course, Gastille brightens at that, looking up at the sky even when he’s still coughing.

“Yes.”

The voice is soft. Too soft. It still makes everyone look to the Lord Gyze, next to Chaos Breaker, still reaching for the sky. His face is impassive, but his eyes are tearing up for some or other reason, and for a second he can see Shindou Chrono surfacing to grasp at the air like he can actually get a hold of Cray and bring it closer.

“We wanted to see it.” Still soft, yet it is, unmistakable, Shindou Chrono’s voice coming out of Shindou Chrono’s body, the Lord Gyze speaking for the first time since his resurrection. Speaking for the first time in eleven days. “We want to know how to fix it.”

The Lord turns. He looks at his Apostles with a small, almost gentle smile, and immediately Gastille, Darkface and Valeos drop down to their knees. Chaos Breaker takes a step back, taking his position right behind the Lord, holding back his glee at everything being almost complete.

“Let us begin.”  

Chapter Text

When a child is born, the parents rejoice. They will name the child what they consider is the best, what the child means to them, or what they want the child to grow up to be. Names are important, after all, as they stick with you forever.

Sun. His name is sun. He is the bright light in his parents’ life, the one who gives them the warmth they crave, the one that keeps them together and gives them hope.

He never liked his name. He doesn’t feel like the sun at all. At times he will look at himself and wonder, what part of me is sunny? At times, he will look at himself and feel like he isn’t looking at himself at all.

He wonders if this is what other people feel all the time.


It was a single second, yet that single second had been enough.

It had been in battle. A disgusting creature had been before them, long limbs and claws slicing at them like a scythe, and Gurguit had tried to cover the others so they could escape. He had brought forth his will, given a prayer to the Messiah now long gone, and pulled on Taiyou’s reassuring presence in the back of his mind for strength. And it was then, in that single second, when his grasp on Taiyou faltered, closing over nothing and his broken soul, that he froze in the middle of the battlefield.

Not here. Where is he.

That second had cost him. It had cost him too much, and he will never recover any of that which he has lost now. He had looked on, frozen, as the claw sliced through his arm, as blood surged freely from the wound, as the monster loomed over his distraught form with all the intent to kill-

And then, he was pushed away, and the monster’s jaw closed on his comrade as a lance pierced its skull, but it was too late.

Gurguit fears. His troops lay defeated around him, his hand still holds his sword a few corpses away, and he has been left alone before the creature that devours worlds whole. Here and now, not even Taiyou can protect him, and he can’t protect Taiyou either, because Taiyou isn’t here . Taiyou, his companion since long ago for Gurguit, since just a while for Taiyou, isn’t here or there or anywhere.

The abomination released from the depths of Messiah is here, though, and even as Gurguit faces it it moves to pin him down with its claws. Reaches for him, and he watches in slow motion as it comes down with the speed and weight to rival the strongest and greatest of the ancient dragons.

It is over.

And yet, it isn’t.

“Gurguit.”

Time is frozen. He can’t move. Nothing can move. He hears voices but he can’t respond. Something calls to him but he can’t go close.

He feels trapped.

“Do you-“

A red and black and white shape appears before his eyes, denying logic as it moves through the frozen time like that is where it belongs. He can hear the sound of turbines and wheels, overlapping over each other on a sole moment of time, becoming a deafening note in reality that breaks time and space.

A melody of minutes crammed into a nanosecond. A whole life lived in a heartbeat. A heartbeat that pulses with time, a second, a beat.

He knows this presence.

“Lord… Chrono…?”

But it isn’t. No, this one is a mistake, an anomaly in time that bears the sign of their enemy on its hand. This one feels twisted and wrong, like the Messiah did when it fell from the skies, rotten flesh breaking off and reshaping into monsters that eat everything in sight. This one that lives a life in the span it takes one to blink, this one is wrong.

“-wish to exist?”

And the world shatters around him.


Chrono’s name had always been curious to him. Who names a child after time, of all things? Isn’t it a little prideful? That is a God’s name.

But it fits.

He has had the chance to know that it fits. That one day when he saw Chrono by the river, facing the sky with dull eyes; that day when he fell asleep on Chrono’s shoulder to the quiet humming of an outworldly melody; that day when he asked, and Chrono told him and trusted him with all his secrets, insecurities and all that Chrono cannot tell anyone else.

Sun. Time.

He who appears only at the day, and he who is always there. He who is meant to be bright, and he who is meant to be omnipresent.

He doesn’t understand how anyone can put such a heavy weight on their children’s shoulders. He can’t understand it.

What he does understand is that when Chrono looks at him, he sees Taiyou.


Chrono doesn’t go back up.

He gathers Gurguit in his arms -his own, Gyze’s- and pulls him away before Oksizz can realize time is being altered. The timezone breaks when he steps away, bodies turning to dust instantly in a makeshift funeral with no honor or words, and the huge claw crushes the knight and breaks the land he was standing on a nanosecond ago, turning it black and white and gone in a single touch.

He goes up, but not as high as before. Back closer to his bridge between realities, where he can still feel Gurguit’s pulsing soul in his hands, but not the rotten stillness of Oksizz’ destruction. He monitors the situation for a few minutes, seconds to the world, and when he finds no way out, no way to save them, places Gurguit in the gentle glow of Ultima’s.

He can’t lose anyone else.

He stays there, watching with a vague, distant sense of fear as Ultima layers itself on Gurguit’s soul, rusted gold and sunshine gold melding together almost seamlessly. They clash for a bit before one gives up and overtakes the other, and Chrono cannot be bothered to know which one came out to be stronger.

Ultima, surely. But Gurguit’s will was strong enough to be able to speak inside the timezone, so maybe… Who knows.

He looks up again. Earth looks so far away yet so close, as if he can reach it with his hand. Gyze’s hand comes up and, in an uncharacteristic moment of self-consciousness, Chrono recognizes the gear wrapped around their wrist.

Gear…?

He feels the subtle prod of Gyze wanting to dig into his memories, and with a shrug, allows it. It is still different, but it doesn’t feel unlike remembering something with effort, like the answers to a Biology exam when he studied for Chemistry. There, yet not there, and if he remembers too he can go as far back as to watch the world flourish under their hands.

The world. The world that Oksizz is destroying, Oksizz drawing on the Priest’s despair and the Messiah’s remaining bit of hope, turning their powers unrecognizable even by their closest ally.

Ally. Tool. Weapon. Which had he been?

Oksizz twists and looks at them. Chrono shudders and, before he can be found, dives back into their shared consciousness, past the Zeroth and to his hurricane, and then lower to rest on Gyze’s consciousness.

He doesn’t want to go up.

Going up would be foolish, especially with Taiyou so close and instinct calling for him to gather Ultima’s glow and lay it on Taiyou like a mantle, as he had done with Dust and Arte and himself. To let the other side of him lean on his friends, to share the truth and the whole of the world with them, to simply let go.

He doesn’t.

Instead, he had reached down and took Gurguit’s fate in his hands, tying and twisting lines to keep him alive, and then offered Gurguit’s soul for Ultima to latch on. Much like Luard and Kazuma, or Shinonome and Fenrir; just a defense mechanism to keep one half from having to go on alone, giving the chance for the other to recover.

Now, Ultima supports Gurguit, who shares a fate with Taiyou. Ultima will lean on Taiyou, not enough as to take his future, but enough so he will not slip and fall into anguish from not having his other half around.

He doesn’t know which is the worst option, he can’t see either of them as bad options, but he already made a choice. The threads spread under their feet, and Chrono pulls at one, letting the others fall to the abyss: lost chances, past desires, now all gone.

Just as Chrono and Gyze are one, so will Gurguit and Ultima be. It might take years, but for now, both of them are safe, as is Luard who will now be able to heal properly.

He sighs. He is tired. Going up, going to Cray takes a lot of energy from them, even if it’s going back to where they belong. Earth is much the same, and maybe it is because they divide their attention between two planes of reality, but they don’t want to move anymore.

The ocean is vast and quiet and dark, but it feels safer than the hurricane that slices bits of himself away in a constant attack from their own mind. Here, just above Gyze and below Chrono, he feels like they should, feels right in a way they never did before. They know he shouldn’t relax so much, or they will lose himself, and yet for now it feels like this is where they belong.

They wonder if this is what drowning feels like.


In the end, it starts one day of Christmas. The first time he celebrated Christmas had been with them, so maybe it was just destiny that his last Christmas would also be with them.

He had been anxious about it. His parents hadn’t felt comfortable with him celebrating an outsider festivity, but they were also happy about him making more friends. So they had let him go, they had ignored their traditions and let him go.

He had been anxious. He had been happy as well.

It just so happened that day would be the end. That day when Chris called them and said there had been a huge phenomenon somewhere close. That day when Chrono had suddenly ran out to never be seen again. That day when all he heard was Ibuki’s screams and curses to the world.

But of course, that was the last he knew. Kazuma had been attacked soon after, and even then he hadn’t learned much.

No one had told them anything of use.

The adults had only said, Chrono is missing; Kazuma was attacked; you should go into hiding. Nothing more, nothing else. Taiyou had had to dig into records, to threaten some people, to look and search for any small clue that would tell him what had happened, from Chrono’s disappearance to TRY3 going away to the other side of the world.

He still doesn’t know where they are. He just knows they took Jaime with them, and disappeared from Japan, as Kai Toshiki and Noa’s teammates had done too, as Team Q4 had done too, as the others had wanted Onimaru to do too. He didn’t know where they went, so the moment Ibuki and Mamoru had been distraught, he had taken Ibuki’s phone with the meeting address and time, and gone off to find out on his own.

Maybe he shouldn’t have.

Maybe he should have stayed ignorant.

But he is the light to Chrono’s time to Kazuma’s harmony. But he is the Knight to the Lord and the Shield to the Wizard.

He can’t be ignorant anymore, not with Chrono -not with Gyze looking at him from Chrono’s body, speaking with Chrono’s voice, moving Chrono’s limbs to wrap around him and pull him closer.

He is meant to be the sun, but he is so cold . He shivers and cries on Chrono’s shoulder, feeling like a child once again looking at himself and thinking, who is this? Now he wonders who this fake Chrono is, even if he knows he isn’t fake at all and just-

Wrong.

This Chrono is wrong.

But he is also Chrono, and he knows it is Chrono because he can feel it . He feels like anytime now, Chrono will look at him and smile and tell him I know, I understand, let me help you, and Taiyou would do anything possible to make sure that smile stayed there.

Because Chrono was the first person who saw Taiyou instead of the shadow of what his parents wanted, because Chrono was the first person he had aimed to beat and claim for his own, because he loves Chrono more than he will ever love himself.

And so he trembles and cries, and asks questions he doesn’t need answers for, and for the first time in ages he can act like the child he is.


Chrono -Gyze looks terrible.

Taiyou sits back on the couch, stirring his tea in a daze. Gyze is before him, adding his fifth spoonful of sugar to his coffee, while Chaos Breaker picks the candy on the plate on Gyze’s lap and eats them one by one. Gyze looks terrible, and even the dragon-in-human-body shoots discreet looks at him, like it is worried about Chrono, Gyze, whoever.

He hadn’t seen Chrono so bad since Tokoha left. That week of no sleep, next to no food and mechanic motions back and forth. His eyes were dull and dark and got lost in the distance far too often, bags darkening under them until they looked like a constant bruise. His face looked sunken, like a corpse, and his limbs trembled at times with violent shakes that Chrono couldn’t control.

Now it is the same. His clothes, perfect, can disguise many things, but Taiyou knows Chrono well and he knows he is not fine. Not just Chrono’s body, but Gyze, who looks at him with an impassive face and sad eyes, and Chrono, who looks through those eyes and then away and then back and away.

He feels something, too. Something wrong, something that shouldn’t be, a heavy weight and tug on his soul that isn’t quite Gurguit yet is Gurguit as well. He knows if he follows it, he will find Gurguit, but he doesn’t know what else he will find. It disturbs him, his mind, makes his thoughts jump left and back and down somewhere they hadn’t been in a long while.

Who are you, Taiyou? What do you want? What do you need?

Not Gurguit, yet not quite not Gurguit too.

“I- We apologize,” Gyze finally says, after what feels like hours. He -it? He? Them? They bow their head, just a little, looking like they are disappointed with themselves. “We could not get to Gurguit in time.”

Just like that.

Taiyou feels something collapse under him, like the ground is breaking and pulling him under and then burying him under tons of dirt and bones and loose skin. He can feel himself falling, the world distorted, foggy, an odd taste of blood in his mouth, and his thoughts jump forwards and up and tug back at the pull on his soul to try and understand.

Who are you? What do you want?

He should stop it. He shouldn’t let whatever it is that is Not Gurguit Yet Also Gurguit dig itself so deep in himself, he shouldn’t let whatever it is to change him at all. He should stop it, cut the connection and look somewhere else, quit and hide, but he cannot do that.

Just like that.

He sees Chrono through the fog, kneeling before him and holding his hand, green eyes deep in despair and regret. He hears some words past the thundering in his ears, but he can’t make any sense of it. He reaches for himself, tries to put himself back together, but he gets pulled down and dispersed once again by Gurguit Yet Not.

The six-point sigil of Gyze is on his hand, glowing and searing past his physical being and branding his very core. White hot and blinding pain, but he can’t feel his body enough to give anything more than a twitch at the sensation of metal moving under his skin and through his veins.

The feathers are so bright, and light, and they fall and fall around Taiyou, each moment that makes him what he is pooling at his feet like snow in a storm. The Dragon roars in his head. It calls his name. It calls him home.

What do you need?


“That was… enlightening.”

Chaos Breaker has never cared for humans, but he still throws the one blanket they have on the kid passed out on their floor. He is small and strong, in an unyielding way that of course meant he wouldn’t just accept Ultima encroaching into his soul like it belonged there. No matter how much imagination a person has, they are still human, and not made to have their whole selves split into pieces just so a much greater being will fit inside them, and especially not unwillingly.

“Aren’t you glad for Gastille?” He looks back at Arte, who is just lingering near the painting of Dust like the shade he has always been, a riddle of a man who could take the spotlight in a second and vanish from all sights the next. Arte is, has always been connected to Gastille, so he wouldn’t understand what Asukawa just had to go through.

At times, Chaos Breaker is grateful for perfect matches: those rare people here and there whose souls were heavily fragmented since birth and, upon building a connection with Cray or Earth, just filled the hole with whatever they found. Luard and Valeos hadn’t needed to dig into their partners before they came here, and Chaos Breaker and Gastille did it through years of molding their partners to their liking, but out of the Apostles, the others’ bodies had reacted much the same as Asukawa when the Diffride happened, and then also when they accepted to support the Zeroth. Even the vessel had shut down for whole days.

Asukawa had been the worst. Then again, if he understands correctly, the Lord Gyze had linked the kid directly to Ultima with no inbetween right after Gurguit had fallen, so there weren’t two souls (plus the network of Earthian apostles) supporting the Zeroth as with everyone else, but rather just one. One young and small human being to be the main source for the Zeroth to feed on.

It makes him laugh. Ultima isn’t the strongest, or the biggest, and if it had been any other Dragon the kid would probably had died. He was just fortunate, or unfortunate enough he was a good match and survived the trial.

Chaos Breaker looks at the Lord -or rather, the vessel, who intently stares at Asukawa. He takes sips of his coffee at timed intervals, moving like a robot, or maybe a string puppet for a play.

A play. This is all just a great stage they are actors in, and soon they will start the new act.

“Gyze-sama, what should we do about Luard?” Arte bows to the vessel. He looks eager to please, as always, almost vibrating in his happiness.

“Luard…” The vessel looks to the window. His eyes are glazed, looking at someplace far away, not even part of this world. “...Bring him... here. Home.”


Kazuma wakes up. His movements are sluggish, his mind fogged, but he is awake, and so far that had been rare. His mind felt to heavy, his everything felt like he was fading away, painful, dizzy and warm.

Now, he wakes. He is wide awake for the first time in days, and he pretends to stretch as he organizes his thoughts. He is Kazuma, the other is Luard. It is morning. They are in a hospital. Luard nibbles on his breakfast while writing more scribbles on his ever present notebook. The cast is still there.

There is a wide gaping abyss where before there had been a light golden glow.

Ultima is gone.

‘Yes, it went back to the Lord Gyze last night,’ says Luard, yawning with their physical body. Something shifts and Kazuma feels a little more aware, a little less in pain, and way more connected to reality than before. ‘I can focus on healing you now, welcome back.’

I’m back, he replies. He is glad to be awake, glad that he isn’t in that dark and fuzzy and too warm place anymore, glad that he can look out his eyes and see the world still whole. He is glad to be back.

Luard chews on his food, and Kazuma can taste the slight plastic flavor of the previously covered rice, can feel his teeth biting down on the chopsticks, can hear the rhythmic thud of his hands tapping his pen against the notebook. The sensations are not new, but also not familiar, as if he had been asleep for far too long and forgot how his own body worked, forgot how to process the information delivered by his senses.

It is overwhelming.

‘Sorry,’ Luard says, cringing. He puts the tray away and leans back, into a soft feather pillow Kazuma knows isn’t standard for the hospital, and it feels oddly rough in the back of his neck as his body sinks on it. ‘It might take a while for everything to go back to normal. Please deal with it for now.’

Kazuma accepts the apology. He hasn’t been so aware of the world in days, but he believes he shouldn’t be reacting so bad to it. Maybe his sense of time moves different, while stuck in his head sleeping. Maybe it hasn’t really been as little time as he thinks. Maybe the change is so big because he doesn’t quite feel like Kazuma anymore.

He looks back at the abyss that should be Ultima, and farther back at the glowing space that should be Luard’s draconic self. It feels unreachable, now, when before he had been stuck between red and gold and blue, floating in his mind in pain as his-not-his body tried to fix itself.

Had that been what made Ultima leave? Had Gyze found them too weak to sustain the vast power that was the Zeroth Dragon?

Are we not worthy?

Luard’s claw lashes from the depths of his mind, and he goes lower for his own safety. He tugs at human Luard’s consciousness, seeking an answer. It comes to him as vague reassuring ideas, red and blue and musical. He takes a few seconds to translate it to words.

‘We are. Don’t ever think we aren’t.’ In reality, Luard shakes his head and adds a few words to his notes. Kazuma feels his companion prod at his health first, and at his consciousness of his body, and he allows it with a hiss. That hurts. ‘This is good for us, as now I can focus on keeping you aware. You still feel injured, don’t you?’

My back hurts, but, hey, we aren’t talking about that?

‘Lord Gyze probably saw fit to pass Ultima on to someone who could focus more on it.’ Luard sighs, and Kazuma can feel something wrap around him like bandages. It is weird, like a thread of thoughts trying to bury themselves in his skin. He shouldn’t even know what that feels like. ‘I don’t mind, it gives me more space to see what is wrong with you.’

He frowns, ready to ask what he means , but then the dragon lunges once more and he has to hop up. Luard quickly steps back to hold it in place, and Kazuma finds himself suddenly shoved back in his body with a cry and fire.

Kazuma tries. He really tries to ignore the sharp sharpwhitebright pain that starts at his back and spreads everywhere else. He tries to put the pain away, to not focus on it, to stop his body from convulsing as his nerves and bones and skin burn and twist and break , but it is impossible —everything is ten, a hundred, a thousand times stronger and it feels like torture.

He wants to cry. He wants to scream. He wants to cut off his head so he can’t feel the pain any longer he wants his brother he wants to go home—

And then he is back, and Luard is in their body, curling up with a groan and muttered curses under his breath, and Kazuma can only watch as their body tries to mend itself and recover from whatever on Earth that was.

‘Kazuma? You’re alright?’ The words are weak, even mental as they are, and Kazuma has a hard time processing them. He has an even harder time trying to answer: his everything hurts, and even leaning on Luard doesn’t help.

Yeah- What was that?

‘I don’t know yet, but I’m trying to find out.’


Kazumi closes the door, leaning on it with a sigh. He lets himself slide to the floor so he can hug his legs to himself, trying to make himself as small as possible, and makes a failed attempt to not remember what he just saw.

He can’t.

He reaches for Shiranui on the other side, seeking a comforting hand to make him forget , but can’t make it far before he is pulled back to consciousness, to his memories and guilt. He can hear Shiranui, a faint voice coming from too far away, but it isn’t enough.

Lonely.

He feels lonely.

He feels weak.

...He should probably get a nurse.

Chapter Text

Fides casts an eerie glow in his hand. Like a dim light in a shaded room, or like a bright spot in a foggy street: something that calls to some, but at the same times says, no, this is wrong, don’t follow. It is a pale blue glow, tinting his skin in an unhealthy purple that lets his veins be seen through. If he looks closely, he can even watch each pump of blood running through them, in far-too-quick rushes, back and forth, from his heart to his hands to Fides and back again for a new cycle.

He has had enough.

He grabs the cloth from Tokoha’s hands and wraps the sword carefully. With each layer, the glow fades, but then comes back stronger when he touches the hilt to continue his job. Glow, fade, glow brighter and fade again, as if the sword itself had a heart to match its light to.

In the dark of their tent, the glow is blinding. Painful. His eyes burn with the remnants of old tears, with the heaviness of fatigue, and the huge purple bruise just below his right eye throbs. Thrum, thrum in his head. Thrum, thrum in his heart.

“Let me tend to that,” Tokoha says, breaking the silence of the tent. They have been quiet for a long time, now. He can distantly hear Shindou Rive doing something outside, but the noise is so far away and unwelcome he would rather not hear it.

“Thanks.”

He closes his eyes so Tokoha can see to his bandages. Her hands aren’t soft, they never have been, but the days in the desert have left them dry and cracked. They are still nice, a physical reminder that she is next to him, just as he is next to her, and both of them are here for Chrono. She is a comforting presence while their world collapses around them, as expectations get destroyed and words are made into lies, and as they watch their friend fall into an abyss there is no turning back from.

They still haven’t found Jaime. They still don’t know where Taiyou is. They still can’t find a way to restore Chrono to himself.

Rive’s words come to his mind once again, and he would do anything to be able to stab the holy sword into that man’s chest.

“He doesn’t deserve him.”

It is just like Tokoha to know exactly what he is talking about, and to not say a word about it. She continues her makeshift first-aid job on his face, with the stinging cream she brought from home, because she just knew something like this would happen, Shion, honestly you two are so reckless.

He doesn’t deserve her, either. No one does.

He takes her hand to press it against his cheek. She is cold. She is comforting. She is home. In a perfect world, Chrono would be the one tending to him, while Tokoha would be wrapped around him and yelling about his impulsiveness. In a perfect world, the three of them would be home, and none of this would ever have happened. In a perfect world, their lives would continue as they were (not) meant to.

She pulls him close.

“You are an idiot.” She sounds like she has given up. “I agree, so we are all idiots.”


Religion had never been a topic for them. Shion remembers a talk with Tokoha and Chrono, one day they had followed Tokoha to a festival to watch some or other God parade around town. It had been a loud and colorful affair, the sort that the Kiba avoided no matter how traditionalist they are, and too crowded for Chrono to feel comfortable going to alone or even with Mikuru; in the end, it had been a new experience for all of them.

None of them were particularly close to religions, or even interested in them: they were young, there was time to go explore existentialist themes later. What they did know was that Tokoha liked festivals, Shion liked reading legends, and Chrono liked picking at old stories and looking for inconsistencies.

That changed. It had to change, once they learned that Cray was a real place of real people. Maybe that wasn’t the best reason for someone to make a change in lifestyle, but it had been enough for them. Truth is, it is impossible for a half of a being to deny something the other half believes so strongly in, and even more when there is proof of said something existing.

Altmile, like most of Cray, revers the Messiah. Fides, the sword Altmile had been granted, and the sword the Kiba had protected for generations, is a gift from the Messiah. Kiba Shion, like most people who develop a bond with someone, anyone in Cray, believes in the Messiah, believes in Fides, believes in the many legends of the Kiba family that tell the origin of their duty.

He had gotten to research quite a lot since the Stride Gate opened. Religion, history, his family. He had dug into his ancestors notes while Altmile hunted for information in the Sanctuary, in the Dark Zone, from the Messiah’s children. They seeked an explanation for fate itself, and of course they didn’t find anything.

The U20 happened. Altmile felt more present then, as if he was in the next room instead of in the house two streets away. He watched quietly from just behind Shion, told him to keep an eye out, that things might get bad. And bad they got, Valeos appearing in their lives and attacking him for Fides.

The sword had broken, both in Earth and in Cray, and he and Altmile and all of the world had seen the seal break, both in Earth and Cray, and the Zeroth reform for the first time in Earth.

From there, it had only gone worse. Each fight had become for life, each loss resulting in more and more injured. They feared each person they met, and walked everywhere in company. In Cray, war exploded in each nation, from small skirmishes to full blown battles, not getting time to rest before the new assault came.

Yet, it seemed like they were at the lead. It seemed like they could win.

And then, Ibuki and Chrono had vanished, and only Ibuki’s corpse came back.


At the very least, they told both of them what happened. Had they kept the secret around them, like they did with Taiyou, Shouji, Kumi and Shion’s own teammates, Tokoha would have swept Japan looking for Chrono, and Shion would have swept the world.

TRY3 is all three of them, and everyone knows they would do anything for each other. They already had, and they would continue. Maybe that’s why, after almost two weeks of house arrest and constant surveillance, they had been the ones who took the plane towards Shindou Rive, with Jaime as their unsubtle guard.

They had left in the middle of the disaster that was the hospital attack. Maybe it was for the best, but Shion can’t help but think he is running away. He was the one who asked Shinonome to keep watch on the hospital. He was the one who put him there, even if Shinonome said he would do it for himself.

It should have been him.

He got to see Shinonome before they left. He looked small, so small on the hospital bed, breathing through a tube (throat crushed, they said, spine broken; he will never move again, if he wakes at all), unmoving and silent as Shinonome had never been. His smirk was gone, his eyes wouldn’t open. He would never speak cryptically again, would never appear behind him to tease him again.

He was just… gone.

It was oddly reminiscent of the aftermath of the Stride Gate, but back then their roles had been reversed. Shion has a really vague memory of it before his mind went blank, off to where he shouldn’t be able to come back from. He had met Altmile, then, for maybe a second; Altmile who had held him and kept him away from whatever end souls have. Telling him to wait, that it would be fixed soon, because the Stride Gate was time’s realm.

There will be no fixing now.

Even if Chrono was here, there would be no fixing for them. They wouldn’t get lucky two times in a row.

Everything was just… a terrible failure. Chrono, Ibuki, Shinonome and Kanzaki, Shion doesn’t know if they will ever go back to being how they were before. There is no power in the world strong enough to restore a broken mind, nor a broken body. There is no power in this world strong enough to turn back to how it was before.

But there was one, not in this world. In Cray, there was the Messiah, and Chronojet, and Shion was terrified of what would happen, what they could do if both were gone, but he had to know.

Maybe he was running away. Maybe, him coming to this land was just his way of telling the others he wouldn’t support this madness. Maybe, it would have been better to stay in the dark, like the adults had made the others do by not saying anything.

Even so. Even so, he has to try.


He doesn’t know what he had expected from Shindou Rive, but it was definitely not what he met. Maybe he had expected an older Chrono, but no matter what happened Chrono would never throw away a child for anything.

Chrono had always been a bundle of tightly coiled nerves, ready to lash out at any moment but unwilling to do so. Like the dragon that protects its hoard by sleeping on it, trusting that people will be smart enough to not interrupt its rest. Chrono had built his reputation on the idea that people were too scared to approach him, but when they did he would pull them close and be unable to let go.

Shindou Rive wasn’t anything like that. At least, he wasn’t once one dug in deep enough. And maybe that’s why it had been so weird to meet him, him and his caring facade, he who had abandoned a child to his own fate for something Rive had initiated, he who willingly pulled his own son into a world that meant being constantly watched, he who even at the end would not meet the only people he had remaining in his life.

Shion had been confused. The man had been all smiles, to all three of them, but even Shion had noticed something was wrong. Like a mask put on wrongly, like a monkey trying to act human, and Jaime had pulled them back and told them to be careful.

Jaime should have been careful as well. Tokoha had asked, Shion had almost dragged him, but Jaime had refused to go into the cave, claiming he didn’t want to interfere in their meeting with the spirits. Shindou Rive had also refused, staying outside as an oddly painted guard, making Tokoha throw a few stones at him before she went in.

(“Doesn’t this involve your son? Shouldn’t you try, as well?”

“It concerns you more than me.”)

TRY3 is a three-person team, and then became three teams of three people. Always three. In that moment, trying to see past this world and into another, they were only two, and it shouldn’t have been. The spot where Chrono would stand was empty, and they still found themselves reaching for his hand even when knowing he wasn’t there.

Something did grab them then. And as they looked at Dran’s grim face, tried to decipher what he was telling them, the ground gave up under them.


Altmile asks. It is a small comfort that, at least, his partner will not forcibly take control of his life as others had done, even if he has made parts of Shion’s life his own. Unlike when at practice, when Altmile will offer cheerful and unwanted commentary, or at the shrine, where Shion has found himself going through the unfamiliar motions of the worship of the Messiah, this one time Altmile asks.

Shion thinks. How much can he give up, how far is running away? Can he claim to have done anything, if he hands the hardest parts over to Altmile? But then, can he actually do anything, without Altmile’s help?

He doesn’t know, how long he spends there, thinking. He watches the ongoing war through Altmile’s eyes, watches blood be spilled and unnatural bodies dissolve in the air. Watches as he and Tokoha and Altmile and Ahsha hide from the great construct in the sky, as it takes down countless of alien creatures and Cray soldiers alike. Hears a voice call Altmile back, hears Ahsha cursing as she slices through a soldier on their path.

He feels that rotten thing in the distance, feels the Messiah’s blessing on the land vanishing bit by bit. He sees Chronojet, or what is left of him, hovering near the great construct battling against the world. He sees a light in the distance, surrounded by enemies.

He sees Earth in the sky, bright as the moon never was.

And then Dran tugged him forward and told him to draw the sword.

So he did.


(“You will not be able to bring him back.”

“What are you-“

“When you have the chance, whenever you get close to him…

“Just kill him with Fides.”)


Shion doesn’t remember much of the conversation with Shindou Rive. He had gone out with the sword held in hand, dragging Tokoha who looked like she really didn’t want to leave. He had gone out with a smile, maybe a cheerful greeting for the other two, but that’s what all he remembers.

He has a vague idea of what happened. Tokoha tells him, later, that Shindou Rive pulled him away to tell him something, and it only took a few minutes for Shion to try and kill the man with the holy sword.

(“Maybe you are the one who deserves to die!”)

It doesn’t really matter anymore. He had hit the man, and Shindou Rive had hit him back, and then he had apparently blanked out. How confusing, to be missing memories, even if it is just a short few minutes. He knows he woke up in the tent, Tokoha holding an iced bag to his face, and Jaime nowhere to be seen.

Jaime had already been gone by the time they came out of the cave, and Shindou Rive doesn’t tell them where he went. Shion doesn’t know if he is keeping a secret, or if he doesn’t know at all, but Shion also knows that Shindou Rive cannot be trusted at all.

Unlike Chrono.

They need to get to Chrono.

And he is definitely not going to kill his best friend, even if it is the only way that Earth will be saved.


Fides is a warm anchor to the world. Warm, bright, singing a nostalgic tune in his head at all times. The weight of Fides in his hand keeps him grounded on his mission, and only his mission. He walks into a labyrinth of many choices, many paths, only one the right one, and he has no guide.

He feels so lost. Lost and wandering in a dark world, with the sword in one hand and Tokoha's own held in the other. Lost.

Find Jaime. Find Taiyou. Find Chrono.

It is all he sees. It is all he knows.


 


 

“Shindou Rive?”

“That’s me. Is she-”

“We are very sorry. She is fine, exhausted, but-... Um, well, the boy didn’t make it.”

The nurse gives him the small, small body, clothed and wrapped in blankets. It is a boy, a baby boy with soft red curls, a placid expression on its deathly pale face. It is still, quiet, silent; it is still and cold like ice, tiny arms wrapped around it.

It is a boy. It is dead.

The nurse talks to him in calming whispers, her hand resting on his shoulders, but he can’t- he doesn’t hear her (he took a breath, but didn’t cry, and then- then he stopped, just like that). The soft blankets in his hands hold a corpse, a block of ice that slowly freezes him from the arms and up, and up, and up-

He runs. He doesn’t know if he dropped the baby or not, but he runs. He runs and doesn’t return, he needs to cry, to scream, to mourn for what could and could not be, to mourn for the lost life that would have been a son and is instead a corpse.

Yet, he needs to see Tokimi; he has lost a son, he doesn’t want to lose his wife too. He needs to go back, and from the missed calls in his phone he should have been back already.

What is he supposed to say?

Mikuru waits for him outside the hospital, and she grabs him and drags him inside- he resists, he can’t- he doesn’t want to go in there, doesn’t want to see Tokimi so soon, doesn’t know what to say what to do. And Mikuru is talking to him, excited, happy, and no why is she happy-

“Come see, Rive, come on, even if you are excited this isn’t the time to go for a walk! You need to see him, he is so cute, Chrono is! Tokimi is furious you weren’t there, where were you, you need to see your son.”

But he has no son, the baby is dead, it didn’t last a minute, why-

But there it is. Small, wrapped in blankets, soft red curls poking out from under Tokimi’s hand. Small and quiet, but not still as ice- the baby waves its tiny hands in its sleep, a content gurgle making it to Rive’s ears.

But he remembers it died.

But it is alive.

But he held its frozen, stiff body.

But it is alive, its name is Chrono.

Somehow, he feels like maybe it would have been better if his dream was the reality.

Chapter Text

Jaime doesn’t really know where he is.

Well, no, that’s not quite right. He is in a car, driving away from where he is supposed to be, away from those he was supposed to be guarding, away from what he knows. But he is also not in a car, just in an empty world that he can’t understand, looking through his eyes at his own hands moving against his will. No, that’s not quite right either: he can control his body, but he isn’t quite as attuned to it as he should be, had he been conscious.

It is confusing.

He is confused. He is also really angry, and a little disappointed, and really depressed.

“You can talk, you know,” the creature at the wheel says. Jaime knows this man, but he doesn’t know the one wearing his face: Darkface’s speech is rougher than Wakamizu’s, yet he somehow sounds more cheerful than Jaime himself. “Keeping secrets is the worst.”

“Thank you, but I don’t think I will.” His voice sounds muffled and distant, not quite like himself. As if his head was covered with a transparent bubble trying to keep enough air around himself to survive.

“Suit yourself.”

And like that, the conversation is over, and Darkface tunes the radio to a local station speaking foreign gibberish. A song comes on and he hums along, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel to the rhythm, smiling even through his mask. Like that, sunglasses hiding the unnatural black eyeballs, clothes covering the sickly tint of his skin, he looks human.

No one would think this man is actually a giant insect from another world.

Then again, isn’t that exactly why this whole situation is so hard to deal with? That they can’t tell enemies from allies, humans from anything else, that the only sign they have of dealing with something out of this world is the mark on their hands?

No one thought anything different of Chrono at first. No one, except his father.

And isn’t that just terrible, that someone’s own father would abandon them at the first hint that something could be wrong. That Shindou Rive chose to leave years ago, and now is once again choosing the easy way out.

Maybe, he is also choosing the easy way out. He could fight. He should fight, should return to Shion and Tokoha, head back to Japan and rejoin the efforts to stop the Apocalypse. He should be running to tell the others what the Apostles are planning, or at least fight to get rid of one of their enemies. He should.

Instead, he sits here, in this car going who-knows-where. He sits here, looking out the window in a vague northern direction, telling himself to go there and answer to the Admiral’s summons as he is the only one who can. Barely conscious, stuck in an odd middle ground between being aware of the world and not, between being physical and just a puddle of water on the ground.

He looks at Cray. It is close, brightly glowing in the sky, one pole a mass of shadows where nothing will ever leave, where he will stay until time goes back or everything ends.

Jaime wants nothing to do with this. Not ever, not anymore.

 

He is hungry.

Satoru rubs at his chest with his fist, a motion he has gotten used to in the past few days. The pain eases just a bit, from a frequent sharp stabbing at his heart, to a constant dull ache just below it. The blood begins flowing like normal again, slower than average and just above life-threatening, and he sighs as the warmth returns to his limbs.

Anjou looks back at him, a frown on his lips. The door is still closed before him and there is no hint of Miwa anywhere in the hall. “Enishi?”

“It’s nothing.” He is so hungry.

He doubts either Ibuki or Miwa are awake, not at this hour. It is far too early, and he has long accepted that Vanguard players are usually nocturnal. Not that they can’t function in the day, but a suspicious number of those Satoru has met need constant coffee to survive. He doubts their sudden turn for the supernatural will change that.

Anjou shrugs, already opening the door. The room inside is dark, lights off and curtains drawn, the beeping of the machines the only sound they can hear. It is a sight they have all grown used to in the early mornings of this particular hospital room.

Ibuki is sleeping soundly, still connected to the tubes that feed him whatever it is he needs to survive (Satoru is pretty sure there are some sleeping pills in there). It has been two weeks already, two weeks of Cray in the sky and Shindou missing, but unlike Shouji, Ibuki shows no sign of recovering in any sense. At times, the nurses still have to restrain him so he will not harm himself, and it isn’t rare to see him knocked out after trying to attack Anjou.

Then again, everyone wants to hit Anjoy nowadays, except possibly his sister. With every hour that passes, he grows more and more dismissive of others’ words, more of an ‘ends justifies means’ kind of person. He is the opposite now of what he was before, in some things, and while he clashed with Ibuki enough before, now it feels like they have completely different goals.

Satoru looks down at the report from Christopher Lo. There isn’t much more information than most of them didn’t know before, and maybe he is lucky in that he already knew most of it from when he worked with Myoujin. The Gate, the link between Earth, Cray and the moon and the existence of Messiah and an unknown opposite entity; they had known this, because Myoujin knew of it.

And then, there were unknowns. There had been discussions on what could happen if they tore down the walls keeping them away from each other, but they had never come to a conclusion. They (meaning Wakamizu, Myoujin and Shinonome) had tried to figure out the side effects of their weird bonds with even weirder beings, but again, they hadn’t gotten anything.

Or, well, they did. It wasn’t easily noticeable, since most ‘Vanguards’, as the people of Cray called them, had been with their respective bonds for long enough, that their melding personalities hadn’t been questioned. Some things had, because they were just so weird to see in the real world (Moriyama’s superhero strength, for instance), and, well...

Once, Okazaki had asked him to help her find Anjou. It had been sunny and warm out, the kind of day that, according to Okazaki, Anjou liked to spend ‘photosynthesizing’. He hadn’t thought much of it, of Anjou napping under the sunlight, camouflaged by her clothes and the bushes around her. That she woke up much more energetic than she had been in days was just because she was well rested.

And that had been before Cray came close enough to see with the naked eye.

He is very hungry.

Ibuki is waking up while Miwa is in an ongoing annoyed rant at Anjou, who looks just as impassive as he often has been for the past days. Satoru doesn’t pay attention, focusing instead in the pile of papers he has read time and time again. Papers of information mostly known by them, of charts and graphs that show the Messiah’s signature spiking up before falling in a dive in their sensors, again and again and again. Rise and fall, and rise and fall, and rise...

Again, and again, and again.

Until it won’t anymore.

 

Kazuma is doing some exercises in the hallway when Kazumi gets to his room. The nurse had very kindly told him to wait inside, before taking Kazuma’s arm and leading him for another walk with a crutch around the floor.

That is good, right? Kazuma is supposed to be discharged today, but he still can’t walk properly. He had gotten much better, his random pain episodes almost completely gone, and he didn’t draw into himself as often as before. The first few days, any mention of the accident would make him shut down, looking out the window towards the planet no one but them could see, eyes reflecting nothing but the memories of sheer terror.

Kazumi doesn’t want to see that again.

He can’t make a choice for Kazuma, though, especially now that Taiyou’s disappearance became public knowledge. Or, as public as they can be within their particular circle of people. This whole situation is just disaster after disaster, but if he can make Kazuma feel just a little bit better, for just a little while, he will do what he can.

The bag of Kazuma’s possessions is not even halfway full. A change of clothes, some pain medicine the doctor had prescribed, a book of folktales Taiyou had brought in, a bundle of pens and pencils tied messily together, his deck and a get well card Okazaki had gotten everyone to sign. Some nature magazines had found their way in from the reception, so Kazumi would have to return them later, but asides from that there was nothing else.

He is reaching for Kazuma’s phone under the bed when he finds the journal. It must have fallen when he got up, caught on the mattress’ wiring, and he has to lift the back rest to take it out. It is an unusual place for a journal, but Kazuma had taken to sleeping with it under his pillow while in the hospital, for some odd reason. Kazumi can’t claim to understand his brother after so many years.

Something falls off the notebook when he picks it up. Not wanting to leave anything behind, he grabs the small rectangular card and goes to put it back inside the journal’s backcover’s pocket when he feels it tug at him. Like a claw, reaching deep inside himself and pulling at his soul, like Shiranui that day they met and he knew no more.

He recoils, letting the journal and card fall off his fingers and on the ground. The card is warm, pulsing with energy that feels sick to Kazumi’s senses, singing a high tune that echoes in the room. He reaches for Shiranui’s power, far and distant and dull yet still close to himself, and wraps it around his identity just in time to fend back the sudden pressure on his mind.

The presence retreats. It coils on itself, dangerous and overwhelming, heavy and sharp jaws waiting for the moment they can snap back at any unsuspecting minds. The card looks unassuming on the floor, like just another playing card like the thousands Kazumi has seen in his life, yet he can feel the dragon- the hatred stirring right beneath this plane of reality.

The runes are just writhing squiggles, and it is only thanks to Shiranui’s memories that he can read its name: Dragfall, Luard.

Not Luard. That is not Luard, not the avatar he helped his brother choose and bond with. Not Luard, not with those eyes glaring at him, not with the barely contained malice attempting to pull him down and down and down until he crashes and breaks and dies.

Not Kazuma. Not Luard.

The journal is still at his feet, open in a page covered in more squiggling runes, lines and lines of notes in a language not even Shiranui understands. Every inch is written on, every page; he had seen Kazuma writing in it with an unmarked hand, had seen him switch dominant hands when one got tired, like he was used to it, like he had spent years and years writing about everything when he never did when younger.

He had seen it, but had never gotten to ask what Kazuma was so excited about, when he would watch television, or read the magazines or the books the others brought. When he would nod to himself, eyes bright with scientific curiosity when something would come clear, and-

How had he not noticed before?

How did his understanding of Kazuma become so gone, that he could not tell his own brother from an otherworldly wizard?

The journal is completely filled, some Japanese, some Draconesse and traditional Sanctuary writing; pages in forgotten tongues and ancient runes Shiranui once saw in ruins of a forsaken cult. Diagrams and drawings of everyday things broken apart with each part neatly labelled amd color coded.

Kazumi feels sick.

He feels sick as he flips the pages, Shiranui’s whispered knowledge helping him read what they can. He feels dizzy, lost, as he finds each entry labelled with a number, all the way back to the first day after Chaos Breaker’s attack. He reads and reads and with each line he reads it becomes more and more clear that Kazuma- Luard is not on their side, not on anyone’s side, just his own.

He becomes distracted. So distracted that he does not notice the other person besides him until Shiranui screams at him to move, his body instinctively crouching and rolling away from the hands that would have gripped his neck and squeezed until he could no longer breath.

Not Kazuma.

He doesn’t know how he didn’t see it before, but maybe it is because he hasn’t spent half as much time with Kazuma after the U20 as he would have wanted. Between the nagging adults trying to control his life, the other nagging adults that just meant well, trying to rebuild his team while reminding himself his best friend (online, doesn’t make him less of a friend) is dead and then everything that happened with Gyze, he just… hasn’t been able to do much for his brother.

His only brother. His favorite person. His brother.

And he hadn’t noticed.

Luard looks like Kazuma, but everything else is… plain wrong. Gone is the usual slouching and tired limbs, the projection that Kazuma uses to try to make himself as average as possible. Gone are the shifty eyes constantly looking for a way out and away from people. Gone is the smile that Kazuma gives only two people in this world, that soft and almost unnoticeable curve of his lips, together with the comfortable closeness that was just far enough to not make either of them want to run away.

Luard is all stiff limbs, back straight and proud like he could look down at someone taller and greater than him even when he leans on a crutch to keep himself upright. Luard is narrowed purple eyes and an ugly smirk that reveals too-sharp teeth, loathing and amusement all in one expression that Kazumi never wants to see on Kazuma again. Luard is long fingers reaching for his notebook, dusting it with the practiced grace of one pretending to be what he is not, and gently setting it aside before looking back at Kazumi.

He looks at Kazumi with Kazuma’s smile.

“I’d rather you didn’t snoop around my things, nii-sama.

And this is Luard, but also not Luard.

Don’t trust him, the voice of Shiranui rings in his head, muted but there, and right now he doesn’t want to listen to him. Doesn’t want to accept that his brother, or his brother’s partner might be a danger to himself, that someone who was meant to be Kazuma’s other half could be even vaguely on the Apostles’ side.

Doesn’t want to think that his brother might be stuck in the same hell he had been not long ago.

(Why did he push his brother into playing Vanguard?)

“You-“ He feels sick, disgusted, guilty (he tries to ignore Shiranui’s comments that it is not his fault). He doesn't like this feeling at all, and even though all he wants is to just run and run and leave everything behind, he pulls at Shiranui’s memories, at Shiranui’s warm presence behind the wall, and practically hisses with unrestrained anger. “Where is Kazuma.”

“Eh?” Kazuma -his brother, Luard, looks confused, head tilted to a side and stepping forwards. He cannot be bothered to act like Kazuma at all, too proud, too curious, too much of leaning on a limb that isn’t there at all. The hand not holding the crutch goes up to his head, and Kazumi knows just enough about Luard to know he is reaching for a hat that isn’t there at all. “What are you talking about, nii-sama? I am here.”

Although the body tries to hold itself as unthreatening as possible, there is the way it stands before the door (locked, Kazumi’s mind tells him), how it leans in with predatory eyes that puts Kazumi on guard. Don’t trust him, comes the repeated warning and he steps back, towards the open window. Even in this state and leaning on Shiranui, he is aware that they are too high for it to be a viable escape route.

What is left?

The door to the shared bathroom is locked as well, the key in sight right before his very eyes, but even if he could reach it, it would take too long to open it.  He eyes the other wall, the cabinet full of medical equipment and other necessities next to the bed, but asides from the IV stand and cords there isn’t anything he can see of use. He can’t turn his back to Luard either, he doesn’t know what the wizard will do, if he is unarmed, if he is even planning on attacking him.

The window it is.

In a second and as last resort, he breaks open the barrier keeping the most annoying leftovers of Shiranui’s Diffride at bay. The expected, yet sudden onslaught of external stimuli on his senses feels familiar and comforting: there is a quiet electric humming he can hear from above him, the far too bright glow of life around Luard and past the wall, the subtle and sweet smell of dragon from a room down the hall… He wastes a millisecond trying to guess who it is, but then discards the thought. There is no time.

He takes another step back. Luard follows, that small, confused smile still in place, eyes narrowed and dull, hazy, empty purple. Through Shiranui’s better senses, Kazumi can see past the elven glamours that cloak his brother’s body: the blooming yellow bruises on Kazuma’s arms, the thin scratches on his neck, skin cracking at some spots and thickening in others. The smell of wrong coming from Luard is almost strong enough to make him retch.

This time, Kazumi growls.

Luard. What did you do.”

If he had been thinking better, or even thinking at all, maybe if he cares a little more about himself, he would have used the short gap of hesitation after his words to escape. To turn and jump through the window and hope he doesn’t kill himself before he can tell the others, or maybe use the borrowed strength of Shiranui’s to knock out his unwelcome guest. He could have followed along Shiranui’s suggestions and done something.

As it is, he isn’t thinking better, he doesn’t care about himself at all, and if he has to choose between his own safety and his brother’s then Kazuma will take priority at every chance. Gods, he loves his brother so much, he doesn’t know where he gets the extra bravery to stay where he is when Luard lunges at him, or how he manages to react in time to block the crutch stab at his head and take it for himself.

Unfortunately, as much as his better half is a ninja dragon, and no matter how much muscle memory Shiranui trained into his body those months ago, he is still Onimaru Kazumi. He is still that boy who tripped on nothing, still the one who prefers to stay at his computer instead of go outside, still very much human. And while Kazuma is similar enough in that he refuses to move if he doesn’t have to, this isn’t Kazuma.

The blow to the chest takes the air out of his lungs, pushes him closer to the window and the four storey fall behind it. Kazumi finally listens to Shiranui’s frantic, distracting yelling and swipes at Luard with the crutch. He doesn’t get to see if his attempt of an attack did anything, already trying to turn so he can run, but the moment he grabs the sill his everything stops.

The undiluted malice gathering right behind him, the heavy weight of something dark and searing crushing the room, makes his body weak. His legs give up under him, eyes tearing up from smoke and the smell of sulfur and charred meat; he feels heavy and hot and in pain, small needles piercing his nerves from inside and dragging them out with slow, excruciating pain.

He gasps at the icy cold hands on his skin, pulling him back by his forehead until his head touches Luard’s shoulder, throat exposed in a terrible, horrible display of defeat. The hold is unusually gentle, fingers running through his hair and stroking his neck, almost calming in its repetitive motions.

It reminds him of the Diffride, of those few times when he was aware enough to feel his soul cradled in Shiranui’s claws, weak and unable to move. It reminds him of the constant warmth, the soft glow of Shiranui, a smell of charcoal and poppies lulling him into compliance with no question. Shiranui had been comforting, like his childhood bed and Kazuma’s blankets, or the taste of the chocolates Miguel and Verno got him when he was too tired.

He could give in. He could surrender to his memories, trick himself into believing this is Shiranui, that he is safe.

He can’t.

Kazumi shivers in the hold, in the cold, cold limbs of his brother’s body. Luard is like ice even while surrounded by that heavy and unbearable malice, even with the loathing he is projecting. His everything is cold, his hands, his breath, even the heartbeat Kazumi feels at his back is slow enough he doubts Luard is alive.

“Poor, poor nii-sama.” Even his voice sounds like the cinkling of ice cubes, along with something sharp and dangerous. Each touch of his fingers in Kazumi’s skin sends a new wave of pain and needles down his nerves, and his voice does worse, makes him cry out and bring up something from deep under them, something that digs into his veins and crawls up them. “So tired, so stressed, so, so ready to give up…”

Kazumi tries to speak, but even the smallest movement makes the pain stronger. It is blinding and makes him want to pass out, to disappear and stop existing. The nails feel like blades on him, dragging bloody lines side to side on his neck, fingers resting on his larynx on a threatening manner, but it is the pulses of lava in his veins that he worries about the most.

-umi, can you-...

His link with Shiranui is fading, pulling the remaining of his energy with him. The heat burning him from inside out is spreading, reaching up to his forehead and chasing Shiranui’s remnants away and back to Cray. It hurts, and Luard’s frozen presence behind him is the only comfort, and it makes him sick.

He hates this.

“Why do you keep fighting, nii-sama?” And Luard keeps calling him that with Kazuma’s voice, pretending everything is fine. But his brother wouldn’t be the one to to make him bleed, wouldn’t be the one to keep the air from him. His brother isn’t here. “Why do you wish for this world to stay on its course? Do you not think it deserves what is coming for it?” His voice rings in a particular cadence that seems to be in tune with Kazumi’s whole being: a soft, soft melody that is the humming from Dragfall, the slow beat of a frozen heart and the rhythm of Cray all in one. He tries to resist the hold, the hypnotic effect of a devil’s words, but it is hard , so very hard. “Do you not believe everything could be better? Are people not the ones who ruined it?

“Didn’t you want Kazuma’s life to be better?”

Luard’s monologue continues, a thread of desires and promises wrapping around Kazumi’s heart and soul, but he can’t make sense of it. Everything blurs together after the mention of his brother. He struggles to get out of the trance his body is falling under and bites on his tongue, the focused pain somehow more real than the bright white scalding inside himself. The needles return, but he would prefer them to the forced acceptance of whatever was burrowing itself under his skin.

Sluggish, without Shiranui, he can’t do much. He can delay, though, and that’s what he will do. He grabs at Luard’s wrists, but isn’t fast enough to get both in time, and screams, those shrill screams from the movies that he never thought possible, all the energy and air he has left going into his call for help. Hopefully, someone will hear. Hopefully, someone will get here in time.

He hears footsteps in the distance.

Then, Luard squeezes. It is sudden and rough and painful, the palm of his hand pressing into Kazumi’s Adam’s apple hard enough he thinks he might swallow it. His nails, claws, daggers dig in the side of his throat until he can feel warm blood trickling down, iron and charcoal and something like raw terror flooding his nostrils until he can’t tell what is coming from where.

“What-” He coughs, or tries to, quick and short gasps coming out instead. Luard loosens his hold for enough time for him to speak. “What is the- Destroying the world is- is not an answer-”

“Oh, nii-sama, you are so precious.” The vicious hold returns, and Luard pulls him back until he can see his face. There is a manic smile in place, all teeth and fangs, red eyes shining with glee with something dark under it. “I don’t care about the world.”

Luard kisses his forehead, like Kazumi used to do with Kazuma all those years ago, a wordless message of care and support. That’s the only gentle thing about him as he stops acting, squeezes tighter, digs his nail in deeper, leans down with a crazed giggle and licks the wounds (it is wet and warm and repulsive and if Kazumi could he would vomit).

His eyes are wide open, yet his sight blurs and darkens from asphyxiation. He can still see life, warm glows moving past the wall and all around except in this room, heat trails coming closer with each second that passes. He tries to reach for them, to try and draw some of that life for himself, the well hidden draconic instinct creeping on him in his last moments, but Luard twists his hold.

There is a crack, deafening and painful, and Luard’s breathless laughter rings in his ear with his own soundless yell. He can feel Luard twine his fingers with his own broken ones and tug at his dislocated wrist, but the pain barely makes it to his foggy brain.

“All I care about-,” comes Kazuma's voice, gentle and quiet as it was long, long ago. The hatred is gone, a momentary respite in this crazy world, and for a moment he thinks this is all a nightmare and he will soon wake up.

But no. He has no hope left.

“-is to watch you suffer.”

Kazumi knows no more.