The ties between living beings. Animals, humans, spirits, gods. Between beings so different, what can be created? What are these bonds called?
On a very unspecific backalley, a young man rests by the trash bags. He's become used to this, it's better to just stay there and let himself recover than put up a front and continue his daily life pretending none of the bruises across his body sting. He's a first-year college student, and what most would count as a terrible day, is an average one for him. Putting it simply, he has an attitude problem, a temperament. He fails to show 'respect' to people he has an obligation to, such as his upperclassmen and teachers. He is unable to understand the prospect of having to show respect to them by default, only because he is new to the environment. His belief is that, once they show being worth of receiving such respect, he'll naturally give it.
Whenever someone sticks out from the crowd, it is society's job to hammer them back into place. But no matter how many times he gets beaten up on an alley, his demeanor refuses to change. At this point, instead of punishment for a rebel, it has become a sadistic pleasure to the perpetrators. The power given to them, the rightful obligation of making this freshman behave got over their heads, they don't even bother with leaving messages of 'if you don't fix your attitude, we won't stop.' They don't want to stop, every bit of stress they gather from their own lives is vented while they beat him up, it's pretty much an one-sided Fight Club.
After a while, when his body stopped tingling just from being in contact with air, the boy stood up, cleaning his clothes as much as possible with his hands alone. Some stains are too weird for him to risk touching with his bare hands, so he never bothered with these. By that point, everyone had realized what happened to him every day after class, but nobody intervened, some people had seen it happen before their eye, but they still didn't say anything. 'If I get in the way, I'll be the one getting that treatment,' they obviously treasured their peace more than of that random stranger.
As he was about to get out of the alley, he saw there was a small girl he never met before on the entrance, looking at him. Normally, he would wonder if she was lost or if she happened to witness that scene earlier and got worried. 'Adults don't care, but a child would worry.' But none of these thoughts crossed his mind, he was overwhelmed by the radiance that emanated from her, his brain didn't register her as an average child.
'What worth is there in being a wild dog if you're living on a cage?' she asked. Even if he weren't in such a daze, he wouldn't understand her metaphor. Seeing as he just kept staring at her with an agape mouth, she continued. 'Become my dog and only bare your fangs when I command you to. In exchange, I won't allow you to be hurt by anyone. You'll be my dog, and I'll be your owner,' she offered him her hand. Moved to tears for reasons he couldn't understand, he kneeled and took her hand.
The following day, as he walked past the gates of college, the usual gang waited for him. Even if he hadn't shown any disrespect recently, they still would come for him, as they long forgot the purpose of these beatings. He showed no signs of resistance, reminding himself that 'I must not bare my fangs out of my own will.' Quietly, he followed after his abusers, to that nearby alley, the place he was always taken to.
But before they had even properly left college grounds, a small girl blocked their way. Rotten people couldn't see her radiance, so as far as it concerned them, it was just a girl on the way. 'I'll have you release my dog,' she said, pointing to him. The group broke into laughter, mocking him for being protected by a ten-year-old girl and the girl for thinking she has any voice on this. 'Just go back to the playground and let adults solve their adult business,' said the one who acted as a leader.
The girl expected everything up to this, she just happened to be gentle enough to believe people wouldn't be rotten to the core for once. Seeing as they indeed were, she figured there was no point in holding back. A crimson refulgence flashes on her eyes. For a single moment, the world was enveloped by a red shade.
One by one, the adults fell to the ground, foaming and/or convulsing. The girl walked to the boy and reached her hand towards his head. She stayed in that position for a while, the boy kept waiting for her to say something, but she only grew flustered. 'I'm trying to pat your head, but I can't reach it,' she said.
Momentarily thrown out of balance by her cuteness, it took him a few seconds to get down on one knee so she could do it. Then, patting his head joyfully, she told him that she'd always come to protect her dog from anyone who tried to cage him down, so now he can live as freely as he wants.
In a matter of days, there was a rumor that whoever interacted with him came down with some sort of sudden disease, so the bullying problem finally ended. The boy would then proceed to join the Amaterasu, being perhaps the highest position on the entire group, as nobody had the closeness he shared with the leader. Their bond was that of a dog and its owner, but outside of Alice, nobody perceived it that way, they thought he was a personal bodyguard or a guardian.
The boy of that day has already turned into a man, as that is a story of years ago, and currently he stands on the path of a girl-turned-puppet. Alice was ordered to guard the facility, he was ordered to intercept this specific person. 'If Alice tries to fight her, she'll be instantly killed when trying to summon a spirit that can mirror her. You're the only one who can stop her, Bells,' was what Ammie said to both of them. She didn't explain why Alice can't gaze into her soul, but they were fine with it either way.
The moment he appeared on the way, the puppet's face contorted with such disgust that he almost could feel the negativity she emanated stabbing his back. But, to him, that means she has acknowledged him as a foe that will be troublesome. To Magna, it's just another bothersome ant that blocks the way and probably will take a good twenty minutes out of him.
Without exchanging any words, the gates to Tartarus open and the puppet dives through the darkness, feeling nothing nor thinking about anything as her five senses momentarily disappear. She emerges from the empty darkness to enter a forest. Unlike the one she saw a long time ago, this one is a normal green forest, no mist, no fog. She is alone, but even if he can't manifest, he is still in control of the body. Her opponent is just a few meters away from her, together with a three-headed pitch-black dog.
“Hey, can I make a quick request?” She turns to him, expressionless. Her entire body moves mechanically, but at least her voice and speech continues the same.
“...Go on,” Bells can't deny it, that girl is eerie. There's something unnatural about her, it's almost the opposite of Ammie, he feels like he should be as distant from her as possible.
“Can't your mutt there burn down this forest? I'm sure it'll get in the way for both of us, so it's better that way, don't you think?” She requests for a deliberate destroyal of the otherworld, which only makes it clearer to him that there's something wrong with her.
However, he can't deny that having less obstacles is more convenient for him. He had thought she was gonna use the trees to hide from his flames, but if she'll actually ask for her possible hiding spots to be destroyed, he'll comply. He knows she uses red as well, but according to the information he got, she doesn't use flames, just raw fighting power.
It takes just a few minutes for the entire forest to become piles and piles of ashes, but those few minutes here are translated into many minutes outside. Magna decides to endure this lag and just give his all into ending the battle as quickly as possible. The fastest method would be by dirtying his hands, but as he is unable to do so, he decides to bet it on Maxi.
The dragon champion enters the battlefield, lazy as always, not very interested on actually fighting again, especially after the disappointing experience that was the previous battle. But he can't say no to Magna's commands, as he is the reason Maxi has become as powerful as he is. It's only a 'debt,' not any sort of friendship.
“...” Maxi has a complicated expression on his face, he seems very displeased.
“What is it?” Magna asks, using Sirin's body to voice himself.
“I... really like dogs, I don't know if I really want to fight that one...”
“...You are aware that you have no choice but listen to my commands, right? I don't care about your personal feelings.”
“Yeah, I guess,” he sighs, dragging his feet towards Cerberus, clearly still resisting to fight.
'Ah, couldn't it at least be an ugly dog...' Cerberus spews flames from all of its three heads in a focused tornado of flames, but despite hitting Maxi's chest, it does nothing to him, he doesn't even flinch upon being hit. He just continues his hesitant stride, thinking about all the dogs he has petted and how killing one is gonna affect his life. 'What if dogs become wary of me because I have dog blood on my hands? This might be the end of my dog-loving life...'
As the flames didn't work, Cerberus tackles him, but that also doesn't succeed quite like the dog expected. He hits his heads on a wall of muscle and ends up being the one getting dizzy. Despite the great opening being shown by the dog, Maxi doesn't strike it. The dog soon recovers, trying to bite into him, but his fangs don't manage to pierce through the scales.
Nothing works, it is overpowered. But that raises a question. If Cerberus is so much weaker, why hasn't the dragon defeated him yet? What is it waiting for? Is his objective just showing how powerless a dog is when facing a dragon? They're all the same being, but each head has a different approach to the situation.
Maxi draws his blade. Even if he is resisting, there's a limit to how long he can endure ignoring the commands. He closes his eyes, apologizing to all dogs of the world. As he raises his sword, he's certain he could hear the dogs whimper, which pretty much breaks his heart, but now it's too late, he can no longer go back. He swings downs his sword... but the blade meets with nothing.
Shocked, he opens his eyes again. The dog is gone, but not because of his strike, it was gone before he could take it down. Maxi doesn't understand very well, but he thinks it's a blessing from the heavens. Since he didn't want to kill the dog, the dog disappeared before he had to do it. That clearly isn't the reason, but, as anyone can figure out, Maxi is a fool.
If a spirit has spontaneously disappeared, it's because it was used for something, there's nothing so convenient as blessings from the heavens. Distracted by the peace of mind brought by Cerberus' dissappearance, Maxi loses sight of his surroundings. It shouldn't be possible to fail to see a being with the dimensions of the creature that bodyslams Maxi, but that's perhaps a sign of how much the idea of killing a dog affected him.
To properly describe the being comes as a challenge, but it can be said it is a dragon of some sort. It is composed of three parts, each on top of the other. The 'base' is an overly large dragon head, four long legs come out of its sides, similar to a spider. Almost half of that head is a gigantic mouth, its teeth as sharp as a shark's. The 'middle' is a pillar which bulges upwards from that head, something like a neck, except upside-down. It has no features, it resembles nothing dragon or human-like, save for four muscular arms, all of which wield a different golden weapon. One has an axe, another a hammer. A third arm holds a sword, the fourth a vajra. Connected to that large bulge by his waist, , the 'top' part, is a normally-sized dragon man, completely out of proportion. The dragon head is a roadroller, the bulge is wardrobe, the man is just a small man. Not even an entire man, just the upper half of one. There are grey and red tones, but the creature is mostly purple.
That bizarre spirit is what replaced Cerberus and tackled Maxi while his mind was busy with issues which weren't related to the battle. This blow certainly hurt more than anything done by the dog, but still didn't manage to be quite enough to take him down. While Cerberus attack were like being punched by a baby, this one felt like being punched by a child.
The bulge's arms swing around, hitting him with the hammer and sword, but after a pair of hits he wakes up from his daydreaming and starts fighting back. While some of the blows hit hard, it's nothing he can't handle, and since the enemy is no longer a dog, he can actually show his might. The few hits he takes are just to measure the enemy's ability, he plans on telling such a lie if he's ever asked.
Looking at that monstrous creature, the puppet laughs along with Magna. He knows that creature, and at the same time, he's seeing it for the first time. Many centuries ago, there was one devil with unparalleled power. Not in the raw meaning of it, like Maxi, but rather that such devil could use a power to become able to surpass anything. The devil was feared and sealed within a rock, as that power could consume the entire world if it was allowed to roam freely. Grandparents told parents of that devil, parents somewhat told children of that story, children made the story into a fairytale, a lullaby to make grandchildren sleep.
The image of the devil had become stained, to some it was a terrible world eater, to others it was the imaginary monster hiding under their bed. Such collective imagery, fears without real form, gave birth to a phantasm. It isn't the real devil which was sealed seasons past, but the image created by those who only heard of it.
Magna feels that nothing better than the real deal to destroy a fake. The phantasm has been named Asura, the Star Dragon. The true being is simply called Ashura, a dragon which drowned into the path of violence while in search of power, becoming thus a devil. One would believe only the lands of purple could birth one of these, but the true devils are those who develop the traits of one, not those born with them.
The land parts in two, a dragonic serpent emerges from the crevice. After that, an arm reaches out, grabbing the surface and dragging itself up. A red dragon with golden horns, wearing only a purple robe which covers it from torso to legs. It has four arms which are actual arms, and below them a pair of drago-serpents. Its eye sockets brim with light, neither dragon or serpents have any eyeballs.
“Good morning, Ashura,” the puppet bows before the dragon. While Magna himself wouldn't, when acting through a human there are courtesies he must follow.
“How long has it been since I saw the light of day... Makes me want to go wild for all the time lost,” she laughs. When she smiles, so do the serpents, their expression always mimic hers.
“There will be a chance to let loose right now. You see that horrid creature?” The puppet points to Asura, faking disgust. “Can you believe that is the image created of you by people of today?”
“...While indeed hideous, what actually bothers me is how frail it looks. Unless that is what you meant?” She tilts her head.
“I meant both, it's a disgrace to your tale to be represented by such a creature. I've called you here to personally destroy it.”
“But you know, I've been sealed up on that rock for so long, I wonder if I truly am up for the challenge...” She coyly smiles. Magna knows what she means by that, he expected as much.
“Well, that brat over there disrespected me earlier. Go ahead.”
Without offering him any more words, Ashura runs straight to the two spirits engaging each other. Maxi still looked for the ideal opportunity to strike down Asura, which despite not being that tough, could put up quite a fight, having all those arms, legs and teeth. Ashura ignores Asura for now, instead jumping straight on Maxi.
He feels confused, he doesn't know where she came from, but she doesn't seem to be an opponent spirit, she has the same aura of someone contracted to Magna, he can tell. Yet, despite of them being on the same side, she digs her fangs into his neck. The serpents coil around his arm and crunch onto his shoulders. Bells ordered Asura to not stop attacking, but it can't approach despite being ordered to do so, there's an invisible and extremely hot barrier surrounding them.
The power which made her into a devil is the power to devour. She eats other living beings and absorbs their strength, adding it to her own. Being sealed for so long certainly made her become weaker but as her first meal in centuries is the strongest dragon to ever exist, she has gone beyond what she was before. Asura has the same skill, it absorbs the life of others to convert it into strength for himself. The only difference is that Asura has a limit, even if he eats half the planet, he'll have reached his potential's cap way before that. As for Ashura, as long as she eats, she's increasing in power.
After she is done devouring Maxi, she lets out a small burp, which comes in the form of a fireball. That fireball can destroy small villages and some spirits, but while she thought it would be enough, it didn't destroy Asura. Bells orders it to stop fooling around and attack already. And it tries. It receives the order, prepares to attack, but doesn't deliver any blows.
It raises the hammer of judgement, and all four arms are devoured by the serpents. A single kick knocks out all the teeth from the dragon head. She grabs the bulging pillar and detaches it from the dragon head, she wants to take a close look at the body on top of it. Obviously, it doesn't simple 'detach' like a lego, the scene of it being removed is worth of a splatter movie.
“I can't believe it,” she says looking at it. She walks back to the puppet, and drops the pillar in front of her. “Are you seeing what I'm seeing?”
“...It died too quickly?”
“No, that much is expected, what do you think I am? Look at that body, what do you see?”
“A man without any distinguishing features?”
“Exactly! I can't believe my phantasm not only is ugly and weak, they also figured I was a man!”
“...That's pretty unforgivable, you should punish the man who summoned that creature.”
Almost like if a lamp lights above her head, Ashura smiles. 'You're right, I should punish the summoner for this crime,' she nods, turning to Bells. His legs are shivering, but he hasn't given up yet. He believes that Ammie will protect him from anything, so he's safe. Ammie entrusted him as the one who should take down Sirin, so he can't give up. But he has nothing left. Cerberus is already a very destructive spirit, Asura is his trump card for the rare occasion of Cerberus not being enough. And yet, despite how they're his aces, both were easily defeated.
“Damn you, Hercules!” He screams, seconds before one of the serpents closes its huge mouth on him, taking Bells and a wide radius of dirt into that bite.
Lui's Sealing. Sirin's Hercules. Ares' Greedy. Erika's Affectionate. Solon's Harvest. Isaac's Impregnable. All of these are the names the Amaterasu knows each god by. They come from before they had an identity, when they were only the systems working to make sure each country of the spirit world would properly function. As the goddess is ancient, she's not aware that they obtained new names, nor that they now have their own thoughts and feelings. In a way, she doesn't know them at all, and yet plans to destroy them, based on her outdated information.
“You mean everyone used to be just machines?” Sirin asks, surprised that one of the boy's explanations finally made some sense.
“Nobody is born as a filled vessel, it took many years of interacting with their subjects and servants for them to truly develop into who they are now. It was their companies on the time they were 'empty' which made them who they are now.”
“...Do you know, like, a lot about who they grew up with?” Sirin has a very serious question to ask.
“Depending on your question, I might be able to answer.”
“Who did Rafil grow up with?”
“...Angels,” the boy blushes, he is aware what he said is a non-answer, but if that is enough to satisfy Sirin, he won't need to say anything that will embarass Rafil.
“What sort of angels?” 'It failed, I'm sorry,' he makes a mental note to apologize to her eventually.
“Ah,” both the silver-haired girl and Sirin say it. Sirin is surprised the girl didn't know, but maybe she is younger than the boy, she gets that feeling from her. From Sirin's standing, the boy is an old man who likes to sound confusing around young people and the girl is an adult woman who is responsible and a little motherly.
“Galvados grew up alone, but I know he used to sneak out and invade the human world, so I believe he might have had human friends, somehow,” she didn't ask, but now that he has shamed Rafil, he'll talk about all of them. “Stromhyde was a pariah to both ocean emperors and the giants, but he found a home along with the fusion beasts, which are... failed genetical experiments, perhaps.”
“By ocean emperors, he means hydra-kin creatures, in case you don't know,” the girl complements his monologue.
“Zearth was raised by plant spirits, but his entire body was home to parasites, insects, birds, it's likely that he had everyone around himself, even if at different periods of time. Rizelfar... refused to mingle for his entire life. The reason he barely knows how to talk and how to interact with others is because of that. But I know there was at least one person on his life. There was one being who gave him those delusions about 'the king is always alone,' someone who taught him some basic words,” the boy pauses. Or rather, he stops at that point. Since he isn't sure she wants to hear it, he won't say it.
“And what about Magna?” She asks, wondering why he suddenly stopped. Her question makes him somewhat happy, he feels positive that she is a good-hearted person now.
“He traveled all six lands constantly, exchanging fists with the strongest of each domain. At first he certainly was pure, merely looking for thrilling opponents. He even called them friends, can you believe it? 'Anyone who I fight with is a friend of mine,' he said. Hydras, insects, machines, dragons, angels, devils, giants... Whatever crossed his path was a friend as soon as they knocked each other out.”
“...It's upsetting to you, isn't it? To see it turn out like this,” he's not facing her, but she could tell by a single quake on his voice that he shed at least one tear.
“He was a nice kid...” The boy's hands shake, he stops rowing and takes deep breaths to recompose himself.
“Sirin, if I told there's only three more left standing on the real world, how would you feel? Would you ask about your friends or be relieved it's almost over?”
“I'd obviously want to know about my friends.”
“You'll get to see them again. We soon will set you free from Magna.”
The many employees of the Leondall mansion are divided between maids, butlers, bodyguards, security guards, cooks, janitors and on the list goes. This particular story has one of the guards as its protagonist. Not any guard at that, the chief guard, a woman who was vital to the organization of both the bodyguard and security squads. Any event Edmont would go to, any event Edmont hosted required her to devise and make sure everything would be safe for him and every guest.
The staff for events, the shopkeepers from some store, the pizza delivery person, anybody could come as a foe, and she had to make sure it would be safe. The richest man on the country and his family had endless opponents trying to bring him down. Was he paranoid or was he wary? That's not the point of this story, so it doesn't matter. What's relevant is that the chief got pregnant. That was a very happy discovery at first, everyone celebrated. Her husband was a mechanic, he didn't worked for the Leondall, but he'd show up from time to time to visit her.
Their celebrating was ruined by... a complicated twist. She was pregnant of twins. Their home was humble, while they managed room for one child, raising two in there could be troublesome, for parent and child alike. Next, their income could turn out to not be enough for two children. Similar to the spatial problem, while they thought they'd manage with one, two was already covered with question marks and uncertainty. Last, the worst of the problems, was how they would take care of two kids? Both worked full-time periods. She could get around bringing one kid with her to work, but bringing two would be asking for too much. As for him, he couldn't bring even one to his factory.
Time passed, no answers were found, but he never stopped comforting her with empty words, 'we'll find a way, it'll be fine.' She knew it wouldn't work like that, but she chose to believe in him, she wanted to let these children come to the world. And she did, two healthy babies were born. Their paleness was thought to be some sort of peculiar condition, perhaps caused by the mother, but as soon as the boy opened his eyes, they knew it was albinism.
She was aware there were cases of it on her family, but her husband never mentioned anything about it on his family until they were born, they'd never guess such a thing could happen. 'Does that require some special care? Will it turn out to be even harder than we thought?' as she recovered on the medical room, her mind was assailed by even more doubts.
And that was when Edmont walked in and quietly sat by her side. He didn't say anything, she didn't ask anything. Just like most servants, she didn't have much closure with him, regardless of all her years working under him. He spent a long time thinking of how to say it, but when he saw her, it became even harder to phrase.
'I heard it would be hard for you two to raise two children,' he started. By the way he was using words, she began to turn emotional, believing she'd get some sort of raise or that he would donate something to them out of goodness of his heart. But then he changed topics suddenly. 'And my children all turned out to be very spoiled, haughty... they believe their last name will carry them for their entire life. I made mistakes when raising them.'
His wife no longer was interested in more children, the ones they have already were lot of work, her body wouldn't handle it, she said. By which she meant she didn't want another surgery to make herself look beautiful once more. But Edmont, no matter what, wanted to have another child, to try and raise this one correctly. 'And you see where this is going, right? You have a child you can't afford to have, I want another one...'
'...I need to discuss this with my husband first,' she answered. Edmont left and called for him, he wanted to solve that issue as fast as possible. For the mother and father, that was the first event that marked the end of their tie. She wanted to accept the offer, there was no guarantee they'd manage to give the two children a decent life, and if one of them entered the Leondall family, it was pretty much a guarantee of life quality. As for him, he wanted to give it a shot at raising the two. That was all, he had no plan or anything, just faith that it would work out somehow.
In the end, she won the argument. Safety would reign over betting on luck at any time. And as she would continue working for him, she'd always be close to their child. Edmont returned and she told him they were accepting the proposal, since that's what would be best for both children. 'Which one came out first?' Edmont asked, not very interested on listening to her reasons to giving one of her children away.
'The boy,' she answered, not sure what he meant by the question. 'Then I'll take the girl. The firstborn is more precious to a family.' After that, they signed a contract to never disclose any of this, Leondall would tell the media that the reason he hid that pregnancy was because of her condition and there was no guarantee she'd live to see the light of day. It was clearly a lie, but with enough money invested on it, anything can treated as truth.
The couple raised the boy together for a while, but the father had become cold to the mother, and she couldn't help but feel guilty whenever playing with the boy. One day, she'd just stop returning to that home. They treated each other as husband and wife, but were never legally married, meaning that there was no need to file a divorce. She'd still share her money with him, because she was aware his paycheck alone could happen to not suffice, but she'd never directly meet with the two again.
The girl would be drawn towards that woman during her early childhood, which is why Edmont figured saying she was an aunt would make it less suspicious to any rumor-mongering eyes. The woman would become much more serious on her job, not to say she wasn't before, one could say she started giving 150% of herself from that point, because she wasn't just protecting the Leondall anymore, her own daughter was there as well.
Her 'siblings' weren't ever around, they were much older and spent all their partying and spending their father's money. Her 'mother' would rarely show up as well, she felt no connection to the girl, she'd rather spend her days with her fellow rich friends. From time to time, the girl's 'aunt' would visit her and play with her, since no else would. Her 'father' tried giving her gifts all the time, but the man himself rarely ever appeared. Whenever he did, it was to scold her for bad grades or misbehaving.
On the other end of the deal, a boy was raised by a lone father. The father found a friend who also had a small child and left him with that friend, who worked at home. The boy would spend most of his childhood crying, begging to see his father and the mother he only saw a few times before she disappeared. The father's friend was a gentle man, so he never got angry at the boy and would aways to try to make him calm down.
After a few years, the boy wouldn't complain anymore. He still wouldn't play with anyone, he'd sit down on a corner and stay there, quiet and unmoving. When called for food, he'd eat. When his father came, the two would hold hands and walk back home. The older he grew, colder he became, he slowly became aware of that which was lost by him.
One day he would ask his father about it, and the man 'told him no lie.' He'd say his mother sold his younger sister to a rich man because that would be better for her. After a while, she got tired of seeing the boy and decide to focus her attention on the girl, even if the girl didn't know of their blood tie. While the two struggled day after day, the mother and sister would be living together with the richest man there is, having not to face any hardship for a single minute. 'Doesn't that make you sick?' the man forced his frustrations on the boy.
However, the boy rejected it. The seed refused to bud, not even his own father could enter the barrier he raised around himself. The boy still loved his mother, even if he only saw her on fragments of his memory. She was very gentle and always played with him, regardless of how tired or sad she seemed. He had always asked himself why she always looked so sad, after hearing what happened to her, he finally started to understand. The one person he couldn't forgive on this story was his sister. For being happier than everyone else in that family, for not even knowing that's her real family. 'One day, if I meet her, I will...'
After learning of it against Bat, he decided he should try to use it once more. As soon as he set feet on the otherworld, he summoned Fenrir. Wherever they were, it got covered in ice in instants, the mechanical wolf freezes any landscape just by existing. Erika realizes he really meant it when he said he hates her, that chrome tower and the silver wolf truly give an idea of mercilessness.
'Rafil, any tips?' she feels quite troubled by those two. 'Focus on destroying the wolf first. If Isaac is in danger, Rizel will create a barrier you'll never get through,' Rafil is troubled as well, her ultimate spell doesn't work on Rizelfar, she isn't sure she will manage to be of much help on this battle. But with the wolf standing on the way first, she feels it's to rash to be thinking about Rizelfar already.
Erika decides to start with a diversion, she casts Illusion Mirror, creating a clone of the machine wolf to engage with him. It only lasts for a while, but right now she's just buying time until a good idea comes to her. The wolf falls for the illusion and attacks it, much to Isaac's disappointment. But as it seems she isn't coming with anything, he doesn't need to worry. 'If she gets close, then I'll act.'
“Ah, how about you face it head-on?” It finally comes to Rafil that there are alternatives which aren't penguins or magic.
“What do you mean?” Erika asks, sure that there is nothing beyond magic and penguins.
“Well, you just need to...” Rafil transmits some files with strong yellow creatures to Erika.
Many images pop up on her mind, lots of interesting creatures, but all of them fundamentally have a single problem. 'Rafil, none of these are cute,' she pouts. Rafil stares at her with eyes filled with disbelief so potent that Erika just picks one of them and summons it.
The earth quakes, a mountain emerges from the ground, breaking the world of ice created by Fenrir. The mountain continues growing higher, soon another one appearing before it. It's only when a face appears beneath those mountains that it becomes clear to Erika that the spirit isn't coming out from within them, they are part of the spirit. Its horns, more exactly. A rhino which has a pair of mountains for horns. In case that doesn't sound humongous, let it be made evident that is enormous. It has a yellow mane around its neck, it's entire body seems to be made of stone. And to top it all of, it makes Fenrir look like a small puppy.
There were a few others with different traits, but this one is a Land Behemoth, one of the few yellow spirits which possesses raw power. And also a different power, a specialty of yellow. Its intimidating presence reduces the will and strength of opposing spirits, they are reduced to their weakest potential when subjected to its presence. Of course, that isn't raw fear, it's a type of magical hypnosis, the fact it is a colossal rhinoceros only helps it work.
“You know, I quite like when they come out cooly like this, instead of just breaking out of a core,” Erika points to the Behemoth and throws a small comment at Rafil.
“It's evidence of their power, a core simply isn't enough to pave their way into the world. And yeah, it's pretty cool,” Rafil smiles.
Fenrir shoots at the Behemoth with its cannon, but the shells bounce off like rubber balls on a wall. The behemoth roars, the sight of the abyss that is its mouth almost overruns Fenrir's system with nothing but terror, but it knows it can still fight. Isaac will do something to let it win, the wolf believes.
“I'll give you heavier weaponry, size doesn't equal firepower,” Isaac opens his hand, chanting the enchantment to summon some equipment to put on Fenrir.
But nothing comes. No core appears on his hands, nothing at all. On Erika's end, she has ordered Behemoth to stomp Fenrir, but it doesn't move. The two keep repeating their commands, but the world has come to stillness. For a moment, it seems both spirits disappear. Almost as if static covered them. The two don't believe their eyes, they'd rather tell themselves they had blinked and didn't realize their eyes were closed for a moment. But it keeps happening, some sort of interference covers the spirits, until they disappear. Not into stardust, not into particles of light, they vanish like a system failure.
“Ra...fil?” Erika feels her head ache.
“...You are losing your powers. He wasn't wrong about the revival of the goddess, but it seems... She's having an effect on you before having one on us...” Rafil didn't expect this. What will happen if their powers vanish while they're still on the otherworld? Will they be returned to the real world or be trapped in here?
Rafil panics, thinking of how to end this battle quickly, before it's too late. 'Without anything to fight with, we can't make him acknowledge a loss, and the same applies for him. I can't destroy Rizel, and Rizel can't move... If we try to attack Isaac, the barrier will protect him... Isn't this a total stalemate?!'
“I assume Rafil warned you of what is going on?” Isaac doesn't come close to her, but he walks to a distance where they can listen to each other without needing to scream.
“...Yeah. Do you have a plan?”
“Not really. Since this sounds like a draw to me, it's partially your win. So I can tell you part of it.”
“...Part of why you hate me, you mean?” She realized that she isn't that interested, she likes it better when she's just hated, the reasons only exist to upset her.
“Yeah. You're my li... This is embarassing to say, I never thought about how it would sound when I finally said it,” he blushes, unable to finish the words. She stares at him with little curiosity, waiting for him to continue. “You're my little sister, Erika.”
“...We're both 17, aren't we?”
“A minute older is still older,” he grins. She bites her thumb, turning to Rafil. Having shared a mind with that perverted angel, she's aware the silliest excuses would be enough for her to see people as a couple. Yet, despite both being albinos, despite sometimes saying she wanted to know more about Isaac, Rafil never turned rotten. She thought it was because Rafil favored the Erika and Sirin coupling, but now she sees another possible answer to explain that.
“I knew all along, yes,” Rafil doesn't even wait for Erika to end the sentence. She's sure all six gods were aware of it, just from seeing the two within the same room. But just as they could see the truth between them, they could also tell there were 'special conditions' around it, so none of them made any commet.
“Thats... quite... you know... Both Solon and Sirin asked if we were...” Erika is visibly distraught, she starts countless sentences, but doesn't get halfway through any of them.
“I wanted to see that face for so long. How does it feel to know the family you lived and loved wasn't a real one?” Isaac voices the thoughts he has nurtured since he was young, a 'revenge' he had planned for a decade.
“It's... a relief,” Erika's trembling face opens into a weak smile.
“...Come again?” 'This is not how it should go.'
“My father only appeared to pester me and give me stuff I never asked for... My mother and siblings never even said a word to me... So... If they really aren't connected to me... It's a relief... Everything makes sense,” Erika starts bawling her eyes out, she tries wiping the tears away on her arms, but there are too many coming out. “But... it's sad to know you hate me...”
“...Don't be like that,” Isaac bites his lips.
“W-What?” She's started hiccuping as well.
“If you act like that... I won't be able to hate you anymore. I'll start considering what the other side of me said... I'll start to wonder if, all this time, I didn't just want to love you. To get to act as family with you. So start crying about not being a Leondall, before I start getting really angry here!” Isaac cries as well, but he's still acting like he's strong, cold and distant from everyone.
“But... But...” She doesn't know what she wants to say, she just keeps rolling down tears.
“Loving is beautiful, Isaac. If you want to love someone, don't force yourself into denying it. It'll only hurt yourself,” Rafil smiles, trying to say what Erika would be unable to.
“Shut up! Of course you'll say what's better for her, but think about... Think about all I had to endure...” His knees shiver, but he doesn't give him. He won't let her deceive his heart.
“Instead of making us imagine it, why don't you tell us about it. Well, tell her about it. She also has shouldered hardships, even if you won't believe it right now. How about deciding if you'll love or hate her after talking to her, after you two open your hearts to each other? Isn't that a better choice?” Rafil opens her arms, her appeals comes from the bottom of her heart.
An earthquake, the twins are knocked down, a cloud of dust and ice fragments raises around Rizelfar's feet. He has purged some of his armor, now he can move. He takes a step forward, leaning towards Erika and Rafil and reaching for them with his gigantic hand. His intention is certainly not to pick them up, he's gonna smash them flat into the ground.
“Rizel, what are you doing?!” Rafil helps Erika stand up, she can tell he's acting on his own, Isaac would never know the armor can be removed.
“King, always, alone. Don't, invade my territory,” what can be sensed from his voice is both fear and anger. He doesn't want his host to accept anyone other than himself, he's afraid of what might happen even if a small cracks opens on the perfect barrier around Isaac.
“Erika... If I put it in simple terms, Rizel's armor protects against each color. Red, Yellow, Blue, Green, Purple, White, all these colors are what he fears,” she embraces Erika from behind, her arms around her shoulders. “I'll give you a technique which doesn't really belong to me, Galvados is the one who mastered it.”
“Rafil...? You feel really... warm, you know?”
“Love is warm. Since you were raised in those conditions, I'm not surprised you don't know, but... from now on, try to learn of it. With your brother and your friends,” Rafil's voice is also very lukewarm. To Erika, that's probably what a mother should sound like. “Rizel is very weak, Angel Strike is enough to handle him. Prepare to cast it, okay?”
Erika nods. The robot's king draws ever closer, she's glad he's that tall and doesn't move as fast as Magna, otherwise it would have been easy to smash them. A current of lightning appears on Erika's hand. 'Wait, didn't my powers-' 'Don't think about it,' her thought is interjected by Rafil's voice.
'Just shoot,' she hadn't realized before, but her voice was gradually becoming weaker. She seemed to be just relaxed at first, but on her final sentence, it truly was just a small whisper. Because she used Illusion Mirror earlier, Erika's hair had turned yellow. When she created lightning, it was still yellow. But when she shoots it, which is to say, when the magic truly activates, her eyes and hair turn black.
The lightning strikes Rizelfar's hand and spread across through his entire body, which rusts and cracks, then collapses. As he falls down, the air resistance alone has his body become rusty dust. The king was always frail, being hit by a yellow spell which steals strength away makes it weaker than Magna when struck by Rafil's supreme spell.
If it mantained its course, the machine king would fall over Erika and Isaac, it wouldn't lose all of its mass while falling, there probably would be enough for them to be damaged. But before it hits them, the otherworld vanishes. However, when they open their eyes again, they still haven't returned back to the real world, they find themselves within a white void.
“Rafil, what is going on?!” Erika asks. But Rafil is nowhere around her. Nor within her. Erika realizes that she stopped feeling her for a while, ever since she was told to shoot Angel Strike. “Where... did you go?”
“...What is this place?” Isaac feels bothered. This place has no wind, no sky or ground, no up or down. They could be floating as well as falling and they would be unable to perceive it.
“You two have stopped on the exit to the boundary. It might as well be correct to say you stand on the gate right now,” a slightly familar voice. They hadn't heard it in adult form, but child or grown up, there's no mistaking Stromhyde's voice.
“You! Why are you here?” Erika can't understand why a spirit that wasn't in their battle has appeared suddenly.
“I was left here. I don't know how he predicted it, but he said there was no need to tag-along with him, there would be someone more in need...” Stromhyde looks away, but there's nothing exactly for him to look at, it's a meaningless act.
“By 'him' you mean Lui, right?! I saw him before, he was... all blue and looked like he was in pain.”
“He paid the price for burning his soul, but... if he allowed me to return with him, using my divine powers I certainly could have healed him. And yet...”
Stromhyde truly couldn't understand it. What could possibly have allowed the boy to see into the future? Did his loss of past memories unlock memories of the future somehow? Was it the power of the Soul Drive? Was it the legendary star sword? Nothing explained it to him, nothing made sense. The most logical explanation would be that he didn't know at all, he just had a feeling and gambled on it.
“But if he left me here for that end, I'll complete his final request. Climb on my back, I'll take you back to your world.”
“By your back you mean... the turtle?” Erika isn't sure of which of his backs he could be talking about. Stromhyde nods and the two hesitantly climb on it, it's pretty weird to climb on a god like this. While Isaac never touched Rizelfar, Erika only briefly touched Rafil on most of their contacts... that hug was their longest physical interaction.
“One last warning. Normally this happens in instant and you register nothing, but as you two will be awake as you traverse it... the damage might be severe. Imagine it as a mutual punishment game and try to resist, okay?” The two have no choice but to accept, they grab tight onto the turtle, close their eyes and pray.
The dark clouds converge and twist on the sky, the eye of the storm is that building, the Amaterasu facility. The puppet walks in, having little time to waste. The lights are off, but she can identify six bodies spread across the entrance hall. She tries to activate the elevator, but it seems the entire power has been shut down. She has no choice but to climb the stairs.
That body normally would get tired after going up three floors, but as its limits are being ignored by the one pulling the strings, it climbs all eight without stopping to pant once. She gets to the final staircase, climbs it and opens the door at its end, which leads to the rooftop.
The atmosphere is completely different here, it feels disconnected from the rest of the world. The real world, at least, the feeling of this place is identical to that of the boundary, the otherworld. The one waiting for her is no one other than the green-haired young girl. A puppet meets another puppet.
“Nice to meet you,” says the younger puppet.
“Let's get straight to the point, you know I have no time to waste,” says the older puppet.
“Oh, how mean. But I understand your anxiety. Then, without further ado... Yomi Open! Rebirth!”