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The last thing Hoshiai remembers thinking before he dies is that fading to dust… doesn’t hurt. The explosion had, and the Horror had, but this dusting… is almost gentle.

 

And then he wakes up.

 

In an unfamiliar place.

 

“Shouri,” a voice says. “Are you alright?”

 

He stares at his hands. They don’t look quite right. He turns to the voice to find a man dressed in less-than-normal clothes. He thinks he’s wearing the same.

 

“Yes,” he says, and an unfamiliar voice leaves his mouth. The man shrugs and waves.

 

“Well, if you say so,” he says. “Come on! We have an assignment.”




He is now, apparently, a Makai Priest. They fight the monsters, like the ones in VR, like the one that had not quite consumed him.

 

He doesn’t quite know how he knows how to move so fluently, knows how to use his new brush of a weapon. But he does. And it’s something.

 

He doesn’t know if he’s in his world or reborn or in some strange afterlife, but he has a job to do. Horrors are terrifying, powerful, horrible creatures. He doesn’t mind fighting them.

 

He does mind lying to his new partner, Taisuke. But he doesn’t know how to explain, either.

 

All information he’s found on the subject says the competition for GARO was created years ago, by a splinter group. But even now, most of Makai society is made of splinter groups and only slowly reforming, after…

 

After something, with the last GARO.

 

He can’t find his name.

 

Or Kuon’s.

 

Maybe this is another reality.

 

(Or maybe the game hadn’t been the first try.)

 

(No. He can’t think too hard on that. He hates every answer that he comes upon.)




There’s a second fight for the title of GARO. No one knows who is doing it, just that the contestants are outsiders. Hoshiai and Taisuke are part of the force looking for its hosts. They think it might be a woman who isn’t quite a Horror, and the previous “victor”.

 

Hoshiai just wants to know why it took them so long to figure it out.

 

Because he knows.

 

This is the competition where he died.

 

“Hey, Shouri,” Taisuke says. “Is something wrong?”

 

“I…”

 

“Come on, we’ve been partners for years,” Taisuke says. Hoshiai forces a smile on his face.

 

“It’s nothing,” he says. “We’re meeting a Makai Knight?”

 

Taisuke nods.

 

“Two,” he says. “They want a force, for this. Supposedly, we might even be fighting someone using dark metal.”

 

Hoshiai shudders. He’s spent the past two months trying to find information on the fight for GARO, and this isn’t exactly what he’d hoped for.

 

He’s been trying to hide it, he thinks.

 

“Let’s meet them, then,” he says. “I have an idea.”

 

He doesn’t know if he wants to be right.




He realizes that he’s lucky to have been “asleep” when he was reborn, because Dai, the other Makai Priest in their group, drops to the ground with an anguished cry, then looks up and asks “where the hell am I?”

 

“How many are left?” Hoshiai replies. The other man looks at him, and then he says “Four.”

 

And Hoshiai has his answer.

 

“Shouri?” Taisuke questions. Hoshiai shakes his head.

 

“It’s nothing,” he says. “So do we have any leads or are we just playing a game of get the Priests their tools for a search.”

 

“Unless you have an idea,” one of the Knights, Takeshi, says suspiciously.

 

Hoshiai… shakes his head.




(After the meeting, he talks to Dai properly. Dai, formerly Kanata Dai, the man in the white track suit.

 

Dai’s Knight partner shares a given name with Kanata’s friend, Amou Ryousuke.

 

And Kuon is alive.)




“I don’t want any of this Makai Knight shit,” Kanata growls.

 

“You can’t just go back to your old life,” Hoshiai says.

 

“Watch me.”

 

“Don’t you want some answers?”

 

“…you sound like your friend.”

 

(He doesn’t leave.)




(“…Did you seriously make a baseball bat into a Madou weapon?”

 

“Yes.”)




It’s two weeks later that the others all awaken in quick succession. Kouzuki Takane awakens first, with the face of Takeshi, screaming, and then sobbing on the ground. Then Taisuke becomes Nagumo Taisuke, who simply goes limp and says “it’s over?”

 

Then Ryousuke collapses with a groan and Amou asks “what the hell happened.

 

Hoshiai and Kanata run through their understanding as best they can. They’ve been reborn into bodies of members of the society which had spawned Versus Road. GARO was the strongest Makai Knight, but all of those who had just been reborn were also such, now.

 

And, ironically, they were supposed to be finding Versus Road’s runners.

 

“We had just found the location,” Hoshiai says.

 

“Didn’t take too long,” Kanata adds. He turns to Amou. “Hope you know how to use that sword.”

 

That’s more than a jab, Hoshiai knows. It takes training to wield Soul Metal. But it’s also said in a lightly teasing voice.

 

Amou raises it.

 

“…I feel like I shouldn’t,” he says. “And yet.”

 

Takane… Takane drops their sword and runs.




“So GARO is an even bigger honor than I knew,” Nagusuke comments. As they entered Makai, they had covered what the now-Makai Knights knew. Almost entirely given by Nagusuke, however.

 

They locate the snowing plane that matched Amou’s description, and they see a figure in black on the horizon only moments later. And though they all tense in caution… it’s…

 

“Kuon!” Hoshiai cries, running to his friend and glad for his far fitter body.

 

Kuon, however, tenses when he gets near.

 

“Who are you?”

 

“Kuon…”

 

Right. He wouldn’t recognize this face, or this voice.

 

Hoshiai looks down, as the others join them.

 

“Tell him about that stupid charm of his,” Amou says. Hoshiai blinks.

 

“What?”

 

“You won it with on your last try, right?” Nagusuke asks.

 

…oh.

 

“Y-yeah,” Hoshiai says. “I was terrible at claw machines. But… I always remembered that day, Kuon.”

 

“No way…” Kuon says. “It’s not possible… Hoshiai?”

 

Hoshiai feels the smile slowly cross his face.

 

“Yeah,” he says. “Somehow.”

 

The others re-introduce themselves.

 

“This isn’t possible,” Kuon says.

 

“A lot of these past few months shouldn’t be possible,” Kanata replies.

 

“Kouzuki Takane is alive, too,” Nagusuke adds. “We’ve been sent here to find GARO.”

 

“He’s mankind’s hope,” Hoshiai adds. “The strongest Makai Knight, who protects this world from Horrors.”

 

Kuon blinks,

 

“…Oh,” he says. ‘You should follow me, then.”




(Takane curls into a ball on the ground, trying to remember how to breathe.

 

They don’t know what to do. They’d… they’d died thinking of her . And now they’re supposed to be some… some demon fighter?

 

They don’t know what to do.)