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Sugar-Free

The Eternally Guilty Sun: Revival

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"Yes. I have." The voice in his head came tersely, obviously irritated at his observation, but it was as he said. Soren couldn't care less how that made them feel. Reshiram needed to understand that which had alluded Stormcatcher--they they were mortal, they were vulnerable, and they were in no position to argue otherwise. It seemed to affect the feathered dragon beyond indignation however, as he witnessed them bare their teeth, seemingly at Soren. He shifted in preparation to skin them alive, but the expression of threat seemed....repressed. Internal. Soren held back an incantation of Rexcalibur, watching them carefully. As he suspected, Reshiram's face fell back to neutrality, as if it had never happened.

 

 

Strange...if it wasn't aggression..was Reshiram somehow wounded by that admission? He quickly attributed it to pride, but he wasn't ready yet to dismiss this dragon. The voice, upon reflection, sounded more like exasperation at themselves, a form of regret. This was much different than everything related to Stormcatcher and his claim to godhood. Was there something deeper to this expression than just disdain at being depowered? Or was it something...else? Whatever it was, there was no opportunity to ask any further if he was truly interested--

 

"Wait--Stormcatcher!"

 

--as Stormcatcher barreled past in a fury, talon flinging up dirt and a roaring hiss trailing him as he passed. The bushes far beyond were torn from their roots as the hideous lizard charged through with abandon, claws slicing a path impossible not to follow. Ike moved up toward his position, face twisted in confused anger.

 

"Stormcatcher!....Gah! What has gotten into him?!"

 

"Something must have agitated him."

 

"Wow," he snorted, "imagine that."

 

"...should I do something about that?" Ike threw his hands up and let them fall back at his side. "Go after him, I guess. What else can we do?" He nodded back at the the group--"I'm heading on. Don't fall behind."--before heading after him without hesitation, a hand flying to Ragnell's hilt. Soren was about to follow when he felt an unsettling presence nearing him. He didn't have time to turn before a might weight knocked him sidelong, making him stumble until he nearly collapsed. His hands immediately found her shoulders, pushing her away from him. She was not deterred.

 

"No! We can't just leave!" She flailed her arms around him again, squeezing him so tightly there were sure to be bruises on his upper arms. He made a harsh noise in his throat and thrust up his hands, blowing her back with a harmless gust of Wind that sent her rolling. Soren planted himself firmly on the ground, letting a hand hold stiffly toward her should she try it again.

 

"I told you not to touch me. As Ike said and as I'm sure we're aware, tracking Stormcatcher has just become our priority. Not only is he a danger to us and others, his actions may hint toward an unseen enemy. Unless you have a reason why we shouldn't, we're heading on." He began to move.

 

 

"You can't! Aine is gone and I don't know where she is!"

 

 

He regarded her with level surprise. No wonder it had been so quiet. Now that she mentioned it, the black-haired girl was nowhere in sight, owing quite a bit to Alex's panic if their connection was as prevalent as he figured. There was the chance she'd died during the warp and thus had been left back in the tower was Kumatora and Marth presumably had, but she'd been perfectly lively just before their exit. Warps were not known for causing death in any form, though, detracting from the plausibility of that hypothesis.

 

"She might have warped in before us and went ahead. Th--"

 

"She wouldn't do that! Aine would have waited!"

 

Soren loomed over her a little, his face growing more pinched as seconds passed. Was she really this imbecilic?

 

"This is not a matter of 'woulds' and 'wouldn'ts'. You or I have no way of knowing either. The point is, she isn't here and we don't have time to go looking for her, so I suggest you get over it and get moving." Now that that was properly cleared up, he began jogging toward the ravaged path quickly, eager to catch up to Ike.

-----------------

 

Alex's words squeaked in her throat as he left her, completely dismissing her concern like she was nothing. Her brows tilted up as a torrent of emotion overcame her--sadness, anger, rejection--but she pushed it away and refused to let it manifest. She did, however, forget to limit her words, and they came tumbling out with such ire that she didn't even bother to contain it:

 

"Glad to know my feelings don't matter. I bet you anything if that was Ike who was missing, he'd be in fits. Tch," she walked over to Boris and lay a hand on his neck, "Absolute hypocrite."

 

Stuffing the orb into another unoccupied pocket, she took Boris's statement from before as a sign of their allegiance: she slung a leg over him and settled on his back, giving him the order to rise and looking to Reshiram.

 

 

"............I guess let's go."

 

Boris took a few steps back before darting forward, wings going into position and flapping in strong beats as they picked up speed. It wasn't long before they rose to the sky, and though there was a certain thrill about it, she couldn't help but feel the sickness of dread rise like bile through her stomach and throat.

 

Please be okay...because I put in the effort...you're not allowed to disappear...

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One of the humans acknowledged Reshiram's query with a "Go after him, I guess. What else can we do?" as he went for his sword. Ahead, the smaller dragon was still charging ahead.

 

Fly or run? Reshiram wasn't a super fast Pokémon, but they had okay speed on land... normally. Normally being the key word. If their depowerment affected speed, running probably wouldn't work all that well, and the other dragon was going at its full tilt, faster than them. Their tail-turbine sputtered to life, and they flapped their wings, rising into the air, before descending again to stay low. Well, as low as they could go without smashing into trees too often.

 

---

 

Xker wasn't all that impressed with the creature up ahead. Running off headlong into who-knows-what? Into unknown territory? Usually not a good idea. Who knew what lurked there? Yet here aer was, pursuing a grey dragon... who seemed bent on finding something. And whatever it was, he had no good intentions as it seemed.

 

The Volt took a long step to avoid tripping on a tree root. Xker couldn't afford to slow down with Stormcatcher's current speed. The lizard showed no signs of slowing, surely enough.

 

<"What are you so set on chasing?"> Aer muttered angrily.

 

---

 

Lightweaver's ears flattened as the Lightning magic grew steadily closer. She bared her teeth.

 

"Of course that cur would go after me, or the sensation of my magic. Stupid beast that he is, he probably wants to attack me and perhaps the rest of us..."

 

Her tongue flickered out as she sensed the magic coming ever closer, and a golden aura gathered around the dragon. She turned towards the scent of magic, claws working into the earth.

Edited by Dusky_Flareon

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CRAK!! Ssst-ssst sst sn--CRAK-AK!!

 

 

 

Limbs brushed aside, thwapping back against his leather belt and stinging where they met his shirt. A thousand twigs flung haphazard by the dragon that charged ahead. Ike had his work cut out for him, leaping over felled bushes and avoiding the occasional uprooted stump as he chased Stormcatcher, all too aware of the growing distance the raptorial beast was putting between them in the meantime. Ike was a mercenary through and through, raised in the countryside of his homeland where he’d spend his days amongst the unrelenting wild it presented--one who’d traversed many a mountainous path on an empty stomach, one who’d braved more than one desert under the burden of his armor, and he could outpace nearly all of his allies without breaking a sweat. But if there was one thing he lacked in, it was stamina, and though it’d be a while yet before he would start feeling it, there was no doubt he couldn’t keep this race up forever. Stormcatcher was a dragon, built like an animal the likes of which were the stuff of supposition and debatable discovery; he was but only human. Exceptional by many measures--maybe not his, but certainly others’--but still quite ordinary in comparison to something like the Thunder dragon. If he didn’t somehow leash Stormcatcher before he sought his mark, they’d be after him for days, and neither his legs nor his dedication would carry him that far alone.

 

But now, what was driving him forward nearly overrode that. Though only subconscious, the chase had put Ike in a particular mindset, and his mind and body was abuzz with a surge of adrenaline resulting from a secret thrill--the prospect of what lay in wait. Could it be an enemy? Or was it more benign? Was it a force invisible to his perceptions? An agitator? Potential...he knew there was only one thing that could get Stormcatcher this riled up. He’d never consciously acknowledged it, but it was so obvious from the start that it went without saying:

 

 

Whatever it was, it was powerful. Beyond what Stormcatcher could comfortably coexist with. His fingers flexed against the broadsword’s hilt, silently anticipating. Silently imagining. Though the situation was dire, a grin crept onto his face. He was ready for a match.

 

 

He was momentarily shaken from his ruminations by the sound of fast-falling footsteps. Ike cast a brief look behind him, witnessing Xker in a full run come up on his left. The other steps he found belonging to Soren on his right, who gave him a look that required his attention. He fell rightward toward him, keeping with his slightly slower pace as he spoke.

 

"What's our status so far?"

 

He huffed lightly. “We’re never gonna catch him at this pace. The only option we have is to outlast him or try to somehow cut him off.”

 

Soren looked out into the path Stormcatcher had created, examining it for just a few seconds before turning back to Ike.

 

“Agreed. Though it’d be beneficial to have some air support. We need to know what we’re running into before we go impaling ourselves on it.”

 

The sound of leathery wingbeats overheard drew their attention upward. Upon the white Charizard’s back sat Alex, her face indistinguishable from this position, but he swore she looked more hateful than usual. It must have been a trick of the light, because her voice reflected no such tone.

 

“Did I hear ‘air support’?~ Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but who’s riding a dragon now?” She pulled a thumb back at herself, “THIS GIRL. Betchur jelly right about now, huh boys? He goes speeeeed~~” Ike glanced at Soren, who returned the look with a nod. Good. Soren was on the same page as him, albeit probably with some measure of reluctance. The two dodged through an entire half-tree--Soren splitting it in twixt with a width wide enough for them both to pass between.

 

“Can you manage it? Because that’d be a great help right about now.”

 

She waved a hand at him, sticking her lips out in a pout.

 

“Mang, I was a strategist way back in the day. Whatever you throw at me I can handle, Capitan.” Soren made a noise in his throat that read clearly as cynicism, but he said nothing to drive Alex’s ire. Ike readily trusted her confidence, but there was something he needed to make absolutely clear to her.

 

“Okay. But listen very carefully to me when I say this: whatever you do, do not engage. Come right back and report to us as soon as you find something. Alright?”

 

“Yeppy yeppers, yep yep yep,” she replied, enunciating each word with an exaggerated flip of the wrist. “Go, get the info, come back, say the thing. I gots it, Ikaroo.” With that, Alex leaned into Boris’s neck and flung a hand up, “I’ll be back in two shakes of a Star Rod. Toodleboos~”, and the two were gone in no time, making headway with greater speed than Ike could ever hope to. He then looked to Xker beside him, aer face completely unreadable to him. Would aer be willing to lend him aer support? He wouldn’t mind it so much if aer didn’t, but hopefully, he’d proved himself reliable and friendly enough to win aer’s alliance.

 

“Xker, if you could, would you mind doing the same as Alex? We could use someone with speed like yours to give us a better idea of what the ground has to offer.”

 

 

 

Judging by his expression, it appeared Soren had his own plans as well.

 

“I’ll attempt to flank him if I can. Given that wing of his, he has to stop eventually.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“Of course.” Ike nodded to him, trusting in his decision. If there was one thing he didn’t need to worry about, it was Soren’s competency. However, he couldn’t spare him a small expression of concern before he left.

 

“Don’t let Storm get the best of you.” He heard the mage chuckle under his breath, casting Ike a sardonic smile.

 

“That won’t be a problem. What kind of strategist would I be if I was overtaken by none so much as a simple singular dragon?”

 

“Not a very good one, from my experience.” He regarded Soren with a sharp glimmer in his eye. “Good thing I’ve got the best one around, huh?”

 

Soren made a point to completely obscure his face from Ike as he parted off from him without a word, appearing to search the underbrush for clearance before disappearing. Ike watched after him as far as his vision allowed before focusing back on the matter at hand, but the goofy smile plastered there from long before never faded.

============

 

With every thousand feet or so that Boris flew, Alex’s expression fell more and more neutral. Not because of anything really underlying--the moment for Soren’s comments to affect her had passed for now--but more due to the lulling blur of green underwing. She watched the trees go by, so fast her eyes couldn’t keep up, and slowly she drifted from attention to somewhere inside to a place much more familiar than here. The scent on the wind was strange and foreign, but sweet. Completely dissonant to the mood set by Stormcatcher’s rampage, a smell so unbefitting of a world silently locked in turmoil. One particular note met her sense and dragged as it passed, catching into her clothes and sending her head reeling toward the sky. But there was no fear of falling. This was no fetid stench coaxing forth a nightmare in waking, nor was it some sad tale so ready to pull her down into the coldness away from the sun. Instead, it was the sun, more like, and when her eyes edged at the tolerable viewpoint of the sun, with nothing but spirals of brown against a perfect blue sky to break her immersion, she lifted away into it, leaving the wrong, meaningless world of now behind as she fell upward--

 

--backward--

----------------

 

 

It could be so easy.

 

 

She pushed into the rail and tilted her herself backward. Eyes closed, too afraid to see what would come next. Palms behind the cool metal bannister. A fear of heights.

 

So easy.

 

 

 

 

 

The sound of presence.

 

“A--Alex?!”

 

A hand gripped at her wrist, shocking her from her attempt, and without registering who had saved--saved?--her, she knew what she’d done. A coward’s plight, caught between problem and solution, and she’d chosen inaction as she’d so often before. If her brain hadn’t worked the person’s features out by then, maybe should would have wailed. Screamed. Broken the rail just to give her body an excuse to take the fall.

 

But the face kept her steady, just like the hand holding her. A firm anchor to a dwindling, inconsequential reality. A reason to stay because she had no reasons left to go to. Impossibly beautiful eyes so filled with a her-centric sorrow gazed through her, and for a second, she could feel his pain. Her pain reflected in him, made his, and magnified beyond her tolerance. It was so unacceptable.

 

“What are you doing up here? I’ve looked everywhere for you!” And it did look that way. The priest was noticeably disheveled, from the tangles and unsmoothed ends of his hair down to the slight shimmer of sweat upon his forehead. Very unlike him. Libra gathered her hands together in his own. She was repulsed by such a forward motion, moreso because of him specifically than anyone else, but she didn’t pull away. Not yet. She was too fixated on the concern she deciphered through the lines in his face, clear statements written upon a straining brow and slightly dipped lips. Though he was obviously upset, she couldn’t help herself to bathe in their proximity. Perverse, but what could she do? He was unreasonably gorgeous in every manner, from the fae planes of his face to his silky, fair skin...such immersion wouldn’t let her draw away long enough to fight him guiding her from the rail and more toward the center of the balcony. Alex knew he required a reply, but what was she to say? She pursed her lips and retread the old...memory? Dream? What was….was it...real….?

 

A hollow chuckle. She didn’t care.

 

“You know I’m not one for parties,” she mimicked the line so faithfully it nearly sounded original. “You should go on without me.” She looked aside from him, avoiding his scrutiny. Honestly, she didn’t know what to expect next. Halfheartedly, she wondered if he’d parrot Chrom. Not that it fit the narrative, but this was just a duplicate scenario. Who was to say he wasn’t taking his place? Alex nearly scoffed out her disbelief at the thought of such a cliche. This halfhearted simulation...nothing ever changed. Same faces, same memories, same voices, same same same. Only generated in “unique” combinations and sequences. Libra was no different.

 

Nothing is, she mouthed. And you’ll ‘go’ too.

 

 

 

“I fear I must decline your request for solidarity.”

 

Alex looked up at him, expression going sharp against his willful denial. There was a blurble of a thousand responses--anger, hate, cynicism, worse--

 

“Why?” The word came, bearing none of those. Less was it a question of intent and more of a plea, she realized--Why won’t you just conform to my expectation of you?--and replacing her severity was a hopelessness she couldn’t really hide. But would it have mattered anyway? Libra always saw what was really there. She couldn’t fool him. But that didn’t mean she wouldn’t try. His hands never left hers, and she almost choked on the broken parallel between now and the recollection overlapping it.

 

“‘Why’? Why would you think I wouldn’t?” The concern honed to a more serious look, tightening the corners of his eyes. But Libra was not unkind with his following statement.

 

“Something is distressing you. Please, let me lend you my ear.”

 

The hollow void made by the memory of the past snapped together its jagged edges and sealed itself tight. She’d made herself vulnerable to the only person it mattered to. That was a mistake she thought, I won’t get you involved. Alex thrust her hands out of Libra’s grasp and folded her arms. She knew he took it as dismissal by the way he slumped a little. But she’d chosen not to care about him. She couldn’t. Instead, she wound up her realest snarky grin--not so much a lie as it was a separation, not a true representation of the person she was, but as close as it needed to be. It was harsh and it was selfish, standoffish and needlessly complex; the worst part of her. She cupped a hand under her right elbow and waved out her hand, chuffing at him in mock disgust.

 

“Hmmmm....I don’t remember hiring a counsellor.” Alex tugged a finger at her bottom lip. “How much am I paying you again?”

 

“I’m only asking that you be forward with me. Your well-being is as much my concern as it is yours.”

 

“You must not be too terribly concerned, then.” She rotated her palms out and tucked them into her belt, leaning in a way reminiscent of a bent old farmhand. “You really should drop the act, Padre. Isn’t that what Gaius calls you? ‘Padre’?” She rolled her eyes and shrugged. “That’s sufficiently demeaning by way of supposed sarcasm.”

 

Was she always this harsh on people? Or was this a ‘him-centric’ sort of treatment? It was probably the latter, given her reactive grimace upon reflecting on her borderline saccharine upkeep to the rest of the Shepherds. But why was it like that? Alex had an answer, the same one given before--he deserved this treatment because of who he was: an outlier without explanation. One who had twisted up her guts more than once with his disturbingly acceptant personality; one that maddened her thoughts with the way he spoke and moved and held himself; the very one she knew deserved the true-fake self-projection she was giving him now. The one who had changed everything. The one who had found her when she was determined to be lost again. The one who had somehow looked past the shiny veneer of a woman who had tipped the scales of the war with her deus ex machina appearance and left an irreparable legacy sure to grace the books she’d burn at night in her stove, finding someone so utterly horrible and disillusioned and, instead of dropping her in the nearest nuthouse and being so done with her entire lack of perfect normalcy...trying to interact with her. Here he was: Libra. The one who’d never come before. The one who may never come again. Alex hoped he began talking in her place. If not, the ache of that constricting possibility would strangle the snotty, demeaning composure right off her face.

 

“I’m concerned by your recent behavior. You’ve become distant, so much so that we rarely see you even in the evenings anymore.” She watched him go sullen, and her heart twinged in realization of what she was doing. “You are distant even to me. If I have somehow failed you as your confidant--”

 

“No!” Her outburst belied her feelings, causing her to shake her head and curse herself inwardly. Wasn’t the point to keep these things inside? Her arms folded back over her chest, pressing down the angular flaps that threatened to spring open again, struggling against the weakness that wanted to be known.

 

“It’s just….” Alex released a shaky breath, “...it’s a ‘me’ thing. It’s not like I think you’re incapable of understanding me like I’m just some completely alien being who somehow manages to feel things no other human has felt before. It’s just that,” she diverted her eyes and shrugged again.

 

“I’m just not going to tell you.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Alex tuned to the side. A gentle breeze came up the balcony, swifting her hair aside. She barely noticed the occlusion for the image of the fires lit along the channel below. Somewhere, mortars were being prepared--a task she usually enjoyed taking part in. Well...one of her probably enjoyed it. Now, the fun was gone. Joy reduced down to chores. She swallowed the lump growing in her throat.

 

“Because it’s none of your business.” And feeling how blunt her answer came, she clarified, “It’s not your responsibility. You aren’t my babysitter or my counsellor. And as far as I’m aware, you’re not my boyfriend either. There’s no relationship mishap you have to tiptoe around. Unless you’re doing this for the Naga Points, I don’t really see a purpose.”

 

“Perhaps you’re right,” he said, and though she’d expected compliance, it didn’t make it hurt any less. She wondered when she’d become a glutton for punishment.

 

“But perhaps consider that I may not do these things out of a sense of duty or a need for reparation.”

 

She was only somewhat shocked by this. Deep down, she knew it was true, but she shook off what it meant with sarcasm. “How very dutiful of you.”

 

 

The warmth of a hand on her shoulder made her heart crawl into her mouth. She found herself rooted by the light pressure of his fingers on her, and she went stiff as a result. There was no room to escape him, but in reality, she really didn’t want to. Even if she should.

 

“I beg of you. Please tell me what troubles you. If nothing else, I can offer you confidentiality and a means to vent your worries.”

 

 

Silence. Alex didn’t know what she wanted now.

 

 

“...I can understand if you wish to remain alone. But I know in my heart that this is not what you truly desire.”

 

 

But of course, Libra did.

 

 

She slowly faced him again, trying to will his hand to stay in place. Somehow, he must have known it, for the hand did not move but only to conform to her position. For a long time, the two of them stood there together, neither saying a word, her not confirming or denying his assertion. Just staying here in the pallid light of a drowned moon, imprinting every moment of Libra’s existence into her mind in case he should fade with coming morning was enough. When the wind came again, she smelled a note of wildflowers mixed with heat. Honeysuckle, not native to this country.

 

 

“Please. Allow me this one selfish request.”

 

 

 

Him.

 

 

 

“Let me care about you.”

 

 

A flurry of whistles from down on in the city as the crowds started flooding in. Though no words she could make out, the roar of a thousand-more bodies whooping and chattering was enough to cause her to completely block them out. More chill breezes found their way onto the balcony as they stood, and with nothing more than her breeches and undershirt to protect her she shivered.

 

“...can we at least sit for awhile? Looks like the show's about to start soon anyway, and my legs are still tired from the climb.” Libra only smiled in response, his face so bright and pure it was aching to realize she’d caused it so much pain. He took a seat at the far side of the balcony, propping his back against the bars and patting for her to take a place beside him. She did with no objection, settling down to the soft brush of his black turtleneck against her sleeve, and while she adjusted her clothes so they wouldn’t be poking her the entire time she managed to finally notice the folded blanket over his forearm. she lifted an eyebrow at him.

 

“I thought you’d be cold.”

 

“I’m always cold.”

 

She helped him drape the cover over the two of them, accounting for Libra’s long legs and her chilly shoulders to the best of her ability. The rust-red and green was mute, but still quite beautiful even for the material it was made of. Something told her it’d been a gift from someone--a priest, a suitor, something along those lines--given the patchwork consistency of the seams. That was fine though, as it was comfortable and soft, and as she leaned into Libra’s side and waited for the call for mortars, any imperfection was quickly forgiven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They never did talk about what had almost happened. The mortars were fired in subsequent volleys, casting colored shadows over them, and together they watched as the night faded into stars and smoke and sound. All her thoughts were buzzing nothings buried under a deluge of pure ecstasy, with that buzzing radiating out through her every limb and vessel and making her quite different. As it turned out, Alex realized something important, though. Something words might have skewed into a further delving darkness. For that, she was grateful: that the two had not spoken a word, but that she had learned what Libra already knew without the need for dissertation.

 

 

She wasn’t always cold. On the contrary, she was warm. So warm. And though she feared the heat for the burn it would certainly impart, she understood the draw.

 

Man’s search for fire...how pretentious.

 

As the fireworks continued long into the dark, she pondered the nature of the search. For a thing that could save as well as destroy you. Maybe we’re all lead by something. Alex snuck in a glance at Libra while he was taken by the sight. Here was a man given to his beliefs and dedicated to them, a proud, but still so humble patron of the god Naga. Her eyelids lowered a hair when she considered that claim, and she couldn’t help but match it to the previous.

 

I suppose you’ve found yours. But...I can be happy for that.

 

And so she stayed silently, letting the moment of peaceful respite return her to thoughtlessness. She’d already dedicated herself to chastity and singlehood. Just like the flame, she could be happy for this platonic interaction between them, really and truly without remorse. So long had she remained completely alone; just the image of them together, enjoying the one thing she might still find some happiness in under this old handmade throw, had been all but a fantasy for her. For her dream to become real...she shifted just to feel the pressure of his arm against hers and smiled.

 

 

 

This is enough.

 

-------------------

 

Sluggishly, blurrily, her eyes focused back on the ground below. This wasn’t of significance until she realized that the treeline had broken without her realizing it. Now, she could see a large glimmering lake interspersed with figures all along its far bank. She squinted and blinked, wiping away the residue left there.

 

“Wait...wait, Boris! I think those are people!

 

People and a big yellow dragon, she noticed. But weirdly enough, it neither resembled Vulpes or any other dragon she’d currently documented. She commanded Boris to fly downward toward the group until she finally saw some familiar faces.

 

 

One in particular nearly dragged her back to that despairing relief from before.

 

 

Boris’s landed was coupled with a slipshod dismount from Alex, who completely bypassed the dragon, Valerie, and some dude dressed in cosplay gear. She didn’t give Ascension or the kids any bother either as she made a beeline to the long-haired girl in the mostly-white garb. Alex did manage to stay her enthusiasm before tackling her in her haste.

 

Alex’s eyes were wild, but happy, and her straining breaths did nothing to change that.

 

“Aine! Ohmaigads, you’re not dead! She laughed and laughed until her throat seized, and she erupted in a coughing fit that stole any remaining comments from her mouth.

 

Hahahahaha! Suck it, Soren! I knew you were just getting under my skin! Ahahahahaha….

Edited by Sugar-Free

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Aine had barely finished assessing the situation before an Eeeve walked up to her, bowing to her in a manner that seemed entirely too formal.

 

"Who are you, if I may ask? My name is Ascension, the Stars' envoy. I imagine you must not have any idea of what's happened to you, have you?"

 

She quickly mustered a smile, but it seemed oddly empty for a second until it finally spread to her eyes. A half-hearted wave of her hand later, she cast her eyes away, sheepishly focusing on a faraway cloud.

 

"Ah - well, it's a long story. The important thing is that I know why I'm here, but not why I'm here."

 

With a generally flustered startle, she suddenly turned her attention back to Ascension, realization dawning in her eyes. Were they all here? Lightweaver was still there, albeit glaring in the direction of the trees. Ascension, obviously, was right in front of her. Then, the others... yes, they were definitely here. This had to be the other group Alex told her about. What else could it be? But... that still didn't explain why she had ended up here. She frowned for a second, but quickly brushed it off in favor of properly introducing herself.

 

"Weird teleportations aside, I'm Aine, a summoner from Askr! You must be the other group that's going on a quest to defeat Eos and Nix, right?"

 

She brightened up considerably as she finished her sentence, looking a great deal less flustered. If they were indeed the other group, she wouldn't have to worry about adjusting to yet another new world. That was definitely a good thing, right? They'd probably know how to get her back to her group too! At least, if her group was still together and not strangely displaced like she was. A slight frown crept back onto her face as she thought about the possibility of never finding her group again, but it wasn't like she could do anything about it. Might as well get a better idea of where she actually was.

 

Trees? Check. Grass? Check. Clear skies? Check. No monster hiding-places from what she could see. There was that one really weird cloud she'd seen earlier though... wait! That wasn't a cloud, that was a Charizard! With growing alarm, she noticed it was heading towards her, until she realized it was Boris. She relaxed before suddenly going tense again, scrambling wildly in an attempt to find shelter. Boris hadn't been aggressive the last time she'd seen him, but who knew what could have happened in the time since she'd been teleported away? Better safe than medium-rare.

 

When she'd successfully found a boulder to dive behind, she chanced a peek at the approaching Charizard. Was that... someone on his back? No, not just any someone - Alex! She abandoned her boulder just as quickly as she'd found it and began to wave wildly at the sky. Over here! As Alex sloppily dismounted, she dashed towards her, nearly tripping over herself in her haste. She barely managed avoid a head-on collision before she got tackled by an exhausted Alex exclaiming a rather odd greeting.

 

“Aine! Ohmaigads, you’re not dead!

 

She held Alex at arm's length with growing concern as she dissolved into a coughing fit, looking her over to make sure she hadn't suffered any injuries, especially to the head.

 

"Eh??? Why would I be dead?!?"

 

There had been something about death along the way... but she wasn't remembering it. Still, the notion of her being dead was quite odd, unless... everyone else was dead?!? Her eyes grew wide as she shook Alex with mild panic in order to get her attention.

 

"Is everyone else dead? Is that why you're asking?"

 

--------

 

"It is also a pleasure to meet you ... Lady Cyil."

 

Reshiram seemed to hesitate before settling on the title of Lady for her, a choice she simultaneously felt proud and irritated about. If her noble stature shone through so clearly, perhaps someone would be able to use it against her... yet she couldn't help but feel a twinge of pride about it.

 

"Your status of 'legend' remains to be seen, and is entirely disposable given the circumstances. You aren't the first dragon we've met, and I have a feeling you won't be the last."

 

Soren's response was fittingly skeptical and perhaps she would have done well to consider his reasoning, but all the same she recalled his earlier confrontation with Stormcatcher and resolved not to let it color her opinion.

 

"Anyhow, you've had the majority of your power stolen away, haven't you? So in all respects, you're essentially on the same ground as us."

 

"Yes. I have."

 

She frowned a bit at the - in her opinion - unnecessary jab, but didn't fault Soren for it. His earlier jabs had gotten them into trouble, but they weren't exactly untrue... Reshiram didn't seem altogether too pleased about this loss of power, if their momentary snarl was anything to go by. Or perhaps it was something deeper? The dissatisfaction in their eyes seemed to point to something more significant than just a lack of strength. The sudden crack of splintering wood drew her attention just as the expression passed, revealing its source as Stormcatcher steamrolling into the forest.

 

"...should I do something about that?"

 

She sighed, giving chase to the retreating tail of Stormcatcher with a frighteningly featureless expression. He was too far for her to attempt to bind him, and she briefly wondered if she should just blast him with Ragnarok to save everyone the trouble of neutralizing him. But that would be far too aggressive of an reaction and would likely hamper them with burning brush more than it would injure the frenzied dragon. Besides, his intent was still unclear, and though she held no high stock in his aggressive judgment, it would be foolish to dismiss him so easily.

Edited by Silverphoenix

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A newcomer? Severa and Owain gave each other a glance. No, she wasn't new.

Alex was back? How'd she get back with the group? And to be honest - Severa wasn't entirely pleased. The girl was almost as much of a nutcase as Owain was.

"What the hell have you guys been doing anyway? And why are you talking about death?" Severa put a hand on her hip, yelling to Alex. "Do you know what we've been through? While you were gallivanting off with that weird, purple girl, we fought an abomination and went through hell and back gathering some damn glowing gem things! You better apologize!"

Owain held up a hand.

"What if they were going through similar pains, my love?"

"NOTHING as bad as ours."

"Are you sure?"

"POSITIVE!"

 

---

He learned when he was younger that the killing itself was easy. Finding purpose in it was difficult. He had no reason of his own to kill those he did, he did it for the money, and then left. That was his lifestyle.

King of the Assassins. It had a nice ring to it. A powerful ring. His blades and bullets met little resistance. When he learned how to maneuver and use his tricks, he had no more problems with them fighting back.

 

But that's before he had met her. Before he had saved her, and she had saved him. His reasons for killing were no longer selfish or personal. No longer for gold or fame.

He would kill for her, if she asked for him to do so.

And she for him.

 

Ciel stood away from the group as Lu yawned in his arms, slightly tired. But that was before the girl had flown down from the sky. They both looked around, concerned.

"Are there going to be more? She looks like the group knows her. Must have been before we appeared." Ciel stated matter-of-factly. "She does not seem a threat."

"No. She doesn't. Unless she's a master at hiding emotions like Ignia was." Lu put a finger to her chin. "We have been betrayed once, Ciel. Take care we do not get betrayed again."

"Would it matter? At this point, none who faced us would survive regardless." Ciel adjusted her weight in his arms to make her more comfortable. "For you, they would die, if you so wished it."

"Aww... Ciel you say the sweetest things." Lu kissed him slightly, hanging an arm around his neck. "I will hold you to that then, as I always have."

"You may, my Queen."

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As Xker ran, the Volt was gaining on Ike, until aer was coming up alongside him. Soren was also coming up on Ike, judging by the footsteps and aer vision. Above, wings flapped and Ike initiated a swift exchange about aerial support with whomever was above... Alex, on that white winged reptile with blue wing membrane. After it ended, Ike's attention turned to the Volt.

 

“Xker, if you could, would you mind doing the same as Alex? We could use someone with speed like yours to give us a better idea of what the ground has to offer.”

 

Xker's ears pricked. The offer soubded good enough, seeing as there were others, though elower, around, and it was a scouting mission. Not an engagement.

 

<"...I'll do it.">

 

The Volt set off again, changing path so as to not be directly behind the sprinting dragon being pursued as aer darted through the forest, before starting scanning. Being quadrupedal had uis own advantages, after all...

 

---

 

Reshiram's wings flapped, tail turbine humming with power. A trail of flame streamed out from behind. The white Dragon's canine muzzle was closed, blue eyes tracking what they could see of the others. In the distance, Alex had landed - or so it looked. They barely noticed the wind as they flew on beneath the brilliant, warm sun.

 

---

 

Stormcatcher could taste it. Her magic. He was running at full raptor pelt, branches stinging his hide as the dragon tore them from the plants they'd been attached to. Closer... closer...

 

Crack! A branch snapped aside, giving Stormcatcher a good view of the clearing. There were various creatures there, some he recognized like Alex, Aine, and the white dragon, while others gave him a sense of deja vu and two were completely foreign to him. He barely gave them more than a cursory glance though - his focus was the Goddess of Light.

 

A deep, rumbling snarl.

 

"Lightweaver."

 

---

 

Lightweaver glanced back when she heard noises, noting Ascension, two unfamilar Beastclanners, and a bulky white dragon. Her attention was swiftly torn away by the Lightning magic strengthening, and noises from that direction. Claw thuddong against ground. Branches snapping.

 

And then a branch went flying in front of her eyes. A familiar dark dragon entered the clearing.

 

Lightweaver went still, her ears flat back. Barely a muscle moved.

 

A hiss, a soft hiss.

 

"Of course you were here... I see you recognize me as you should."

Edited by Dusky_Flareon

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Her hands slid up her sides and she took a step back, giving Aine space and freeing herself from her hands. It took a bit to process just what exactly the expression on Aine’s face was indicative of, because as far as she knew, this this was cause for celebration! Not for some little shocky face like what she saw right now! But she’d humor Aine’s questions, as dumb and obvious as they were to her. Maybe she wouldn’t be so upset at her if she did. She swallowed to coat her throat and began her ramble.

 

“Hey, I didn’t say you had to be dead! As a matter a’ fact, I don’t believe I said you were! Not that that’s stopping anything...shoulds and woulds and whatnot. That could easy change in like...two seconds or so but,” she flung her hands about in the air some, “ANYWAY WHO CARES.” She shook her head at her second inquiry, flipping her wrist around as she’d done to Ike. Severa had not so much asked a thing at her as she’d just screamed it through her, but oh well. Those kids had issues. Reciting the whole story made her head hurt just thinking about it, so more expedition inbound!

 

“Hargleblargle blargle…...well, we ain’t had it so easy ourselves. We’re talking zambonis, doogles, skelts...weird purple-light magic, dead people…” She slipped the orb out of her pocket and tossed it in the air. “But lookie the orb we got! And it sparkles, so beat that, children!” Alex tossed and tossed it again, watching the weird green arcs as they crackled with each impact to her palm. Was there a chance this’d kill her if she wasn’t magically inclined? Maybe if she had a resistance off-switch, maybe she’d like to try...but that exceptionally dark thought was erased as soon as she met Aine’s gaze again. I uh...I should prolly clarify.

 

“Nah, most everyone’s alive. I mean, the alive-bunch we had before, but the dead folks are………” Huh. Wait. Where were Kuma and Marf? Wasn’t Ike holding her just before they’d teleported? She tapped a finger at her lip before lightly tugging it to her gums.

 

“....I don’t know, to be honest? But eh. Small loss. Cuz we got you still!” Wiggles of excitement went through her arms, possessing them into likenesses of snakes before Aine’s eyes. In a deaf thought, she wondered what snake arms would be like. Lizard skin, flicky finger tongues...

 

 

 

They’d prolly be like snake arms, I’d imagine. But could she?

 

 

 

Alex please. Focus! You’re going crosseyed with stupidity! Her arms snapped back into rigidity again, finding a place to rest bent at her sides again. She could be happier later! This was a task put upon her with the utmost care and responsibility, after all!

 

“Anyhoo, somehow you got magicked over here and don’t even both asking me how. You and me gotta get up on the Boris’s back and blow this popsicle stand before Stormboli catches up to us! You would not believe just how an--”

 

 

The ground tremored in syncopated hits.

 

 

 

The very grass beneath her trembled.

 

 

 

Her hairs raised on end, the air thick with static.

 

 

 

--Branches flying, hitting her coat--

 

 

 

"Lightweaver."

 

 

 

 

--she covered Aine as best she could--

 

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---

 

Lightweaver snarled as the unwelcome dark dragon made for her, leaping back a bit.

 

"Hello, Stormcatcher. Now what's got your tail in a twist, something little again?"

 

There was a vicious growl from the other dragon. "You're almost worse than Shadowbinder."

 

Lightweaver bristled at the comparison. Her counterpart was a trickster, and she was the Goddess of Knowledge. They were far more different than day or night. She didn't appreciate being called similar to the queen of tricksters, and she narrowed glowing yellow eyes, fixing them on Stormcatcher's eyes. "You're not much better. We are aeons old, but I sometimes wonder if you really did join us in the Pillar of the World aeons ago... child of water and wind."

 

---

 

Stormcatcher remembered the aeons past all too well. Lightweaver was rather poisonous with her words when she wished to be, and it was getting to him. She had been an enemy for aeons. Her eyes had also locked with his... and there was only one thing that could mean from her. A challenge. His voice took on a vicious tone. "Do not call me that." Lightweaver's expression of contempt and scorn in response infuriated the dark dragon, angry as he already was getting. He lashed out with a claw, shutting the golden dragon up as it slashed across her muzzle.

 

---

 

Lightweaver bared her teeth and hissed at the cur who'd clearly had an issue with the truth in her words. Perhaps with the jabs too.. he had never liked them. And now he'd slashed her snout. He was the physically stronger one here - staying on the ground would be a mistake. Her wings flapped, and she leapt into the air, disregarding the blood trickling from her muzzle. She flapped as hard as she could, pulling higher. Beneath her, the dark dragon hissed lightning at her, missing.

 

But he hadn't followed her, and she realized her opporturnity when she saw his wing. If she could just goad him into flying after her, she could cripple him as he deserved....

 

"Hmph. Why aren't you following me up here, Stormcatcher? Are you really too scared to? I must say, I didn't expect that."

 

She wheeled about in the sky as a bolt of lightning came dangerously near, a light welling up from within her.

 

---

 

Anger rose in Stormcatcher. Coward? Who was the coward here, really? The one that flew off the moment he'd landed a hit! And that was when he realized she had likely been looking for that reaction. He snarled at his aeons-old enemy, the one thing keeping him from attempting to fly up there the fact that she likely wanted him to - but his restraint was swiftly shattered.

 

"How pitiful." A voice came from above. "Frightened of my light too, alongside -" Stormcatcher cut the golden dragon off with another bolt of lightning that barely missed her muzzle, his tail swinging wildly and a snarl building from his chest. She wouldn't tell them, he would make sure of that. The golden creature had no right to.

 

The dark dragon hurled himself off the ground, but his broken wing was still there. In his fury, he breathed lightning, barely noticing the effect of his crippled eing in those first few seconds. And then he could barely stay in the air, as the earth was coming closer -

 

---

 

Yes. Perfect. He had just tried to fly up. Lightweaver wasn't physically strong, in terms of dragons. But dhe was fairly magically strong. A bolt of lightning seared her side, but she took no notice as she lunged towards the faltering- no, falling dragon. She opened her mouth, and it glowed with the light gathering within. The golden dragon would fell her aeons old enemy....

 

A ball of light. Sent down, in a blazing glory. It slammed into the dragon beneath her, and there was a cry of pain and anger.

 

---

 

The light magic caught him as he was falling, and slammed into him. All Stormcatcher could taste for a moment was light, dawn. And then he realized as he cried out that the magic had sent him into a high speed tumble towards the earth.

 

His eyes closed in anticipation. When he hit earth, there was a sickening thud, and pain blossomed across his good wing. The dragon's eyes snapped open, fury shining within, and he roared before unleashing Lightning attacks, two of them. His reward was a stabbing, throbbing pain through his body, and he twitched before focusing his eyes on Lightweaver.

 

---

 

Lightweaver dodged the first bolt with ease, inwardly disdaining Stormcatcher's aiming skills - but the second bolt had shot up right where she dodged into. Pride went before a fall, and so it was with the golden dragon as the lightning she hadn't anticipated struck her left wing, causing the muscles to go rigid and the wing to snap closed. And she too was falling from the sky. Her open wing flapped wildly - but to no avail, and she hit the ground, snapping the curled wing which she had landed atop.

 

The gold screeched in pain, before pushing herself off the ground. She was somewhat disoriented as well as in pain, making her wobbly. Her neck was low, and her mouth still glowed faintly as her jaw opened just far enough for teeth to be perfectly visible. The other dragon was also getting up, a spectral cyan glow enveloping him as he absorbed magic, and tottering to face Lightweaver (tottering likely due to the impact of hitting the ground) with his teeth bared in a vicious display.

Edited by Dusky_Flareon

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Xker continued forth, avoiding the snapped branches jutting out when needed to. Up ahead Xker's ears could pick out... a fight? The Volt chirped and slowed somewhat.

 

When aer got closer, the sight that greeted the Volt was blasts of energy. Lightning and light. Xker cursed and made for a tree. Not ****ing risking it. Aer senses confirmed that yes, it sounded like a fight. Xker didn't want to risk peeking from behind the tree and getting electrocuted if Stormcatcher was involved. And the noises made Xker think so.

 

---

 

Reshiram followed in Alex's direction, wings flapping and tail-turbine blazing. A wuick glance down showed they were still on the trail. As they flew further, they caught sight of Xker hunkered down behinda tree. Continuing forwards revealed a xkearing multiple humans, among them Alex, as well as three Pokémon and two fighting dravons. A sudden blast of cyan magic from the fight had Reshiram reeling back. The white wyvern turned as fast as they could, but while manuevering ended up clipped on the leg by another magic blast.

 

That hurt.

 

They flew back somewhat, wincing as the wound throbbed a bit.

Edited by DuskOfTheStars

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((Eclipse Day. Not part of main storyline.))

 

The Moon slid over the Sun. The sky went dark as night, and the Lunar magic grew stronger as its Solar counterpart weakened...

 

 

Cold light bathed the area around Solar. She looked around, searching. Suddenly, a long hall of mirrors took form. No one else was there.

 

Where... where are they? She looked around wildly. Where's everyone gone?!

 

She cried out. Silence. Taking a few unsteady steps forwards, the Torracat noticed the glass had a lunar sheen to it. The air felt cold. Solar was tense, searching. Looking.

 

"...i-is anyone... there?" A few breaths. Slowly at first, but they speed up. She feels like she is staring into the abyss. Like she has to move. Her mind screams silently as her heart pounds. Where is everyone? Where? The floor looks hard, but as she runs there's no clicking of claws. Solar's too frenzied to notice, searching wildly in the lonely hall. She keeps going, but eventually she tires.

 

Her breaths come as nigh-pants. She's not running full speed anymore. The hall is still cold. Still empty. She realizes she turned somewhere, but when she looks back, it still looks straight. The Torracat's fur is fluffed in fear. "Where..." Suddenly she jumped. Stilled. And, the moment passed, she cautiously slunk forward. She only saw her own reflection - the shadow is gone. Her ears pricked. Footsteps. They faded as quickly as they came, and she's all alone again.

 

Her breaths were hard now as she looked around. A great chill lifted. She raced forwards again.

 

 

Beyond the mirrors, the sky brightens. The mirrors start to fade. The othere... yes... she sees them... Sees them...

 

She slowed, stopped, and stood there, breathing hard. She watched. The sky continued to lighten, and now the mirrors were gone. Tentatively, she took a step towards the others.

Edited by DuskOfTheStars

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((Disclaimer: None of this is canon, it's simply an Eclipse Day special. Kio's color may be subject to change without warning.))

 

“Ah… if I remember right, an eclipse should be happening soon…”

 

With a small, tired smile, she leaned against the window and closed her eyes. She would have to leave soon, but she would make the best of the time she had left. Even if the future scared her, she couldn’t show it. If she acted sad, they would be sad too, and she didn’t want that.

 

“Aine?”

 

A familiar voice brought her out of her thoughts again, and moments later she heard the bed creak beside her. She let her eyes stay closed for a while longer before letting out a sigh and facing the teal ones in front of her. Alex. He made things more difficult, but she couldn’t deny that she appreciated his presence nonetheless. Besides, it had been her choice to do all this. If anyone was to blame for the complications, it was herself.

 

Hm? What is it?”

 

She watched as his face twisted up, hesitating before finally putting his thoughts into words.

 

“Are you really - yanno, well-”

 

The sound of rapid footsteps followed by a thud cut him off short as a small figure tripped into the room, beginning to bawl immediately. With a single quick movement, she was off the bed and by his side, helping the three year old to his feet again. Why in the world had Kio run into her room? While he was usually a bit clingy, he wasn’t the type to seek her out directly when there was a multitude of activities for him to do in the castle.

 

Also, where were Anna and the siblings? They usually watched over Kio when he was out and about, but as of now there were no telltale footsteps heading towards her room. Maybe he’d just slipped away from them, but she’d better make sure.

 

Hey Kio, what’s the matter? Weren’t you playing with Anna and the siblings?”

 

She waited patiently for his sniffles to die down enough for him to answer, and sure enough he was soon smiling brightly up at her again.

 

“I want you!”

 

“Eh!? What do you mean?”

 

“Anna said that the eck - ecklips is going to happen! Where the sun goes away!”

 

“Huh? Oh, you mean the eclipse. Yeah, that’s gonna happen. What about it?”

 

“I don’t want the sun to go away! Make it stay!”

 

“Hehe, don’t be silly, it’s not going away forever. Even if it was, I can’t really make it stay. One celestial-defying adventure is enough for me...”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Oh, sorry, I was just talking to myself. Anyways, is that all you wanted?”

 

“Yeah… wait! What do eclipses mean?”

 

What an odd question. Well, I have to give him an answer, don’t I?

 

“Hm…”

 

She tapped a hand on her chin as she thought, catching Alex’s gaze out of the corner of her eye. Something... that’ll inspire them... Aha! I’ve got it!

 

“Well, an eclipse can mean an end, but also a new beginning! That’s what I read, at least.”

 

“Wow! Mom knows everything!”

 

“Ehehe, not really, I’m just older than you.”

 

“So when I’m old, I’ll be smart?”

 

“Uh, not exactly… but sure.”

 

She gave him a smile, then looked out the window at the rapidly fading light. It was getting late, so she’d better tuck Kio into bed. She gave Alex a quick wave, then shepherded Kio out of the room and towards his own bed. All was going well, when she felt a distinctive feeling spread over her limbs. Quickly, she released Kio, then took a step back.

It had only lasted a second this time, but she must have made some sort of noise because when she next blinked, it was to see a worried Kio tugging on her jacket.

 

“Mom?”

 

“Oh, I’m fine, don’t worry about it.”

 

“Okay!”

 

She gave him a little pat on the head for extra reassurance, then helped him get settled in bed. Normally, she’d sit with him a while longer, but she didn’t feel up to it today. It was getting worse all the time, and she didn’t think she could sit through a story without having to worry about another episode. Distractedly, she turned off the lights and stepped through the doorway, only to stop at Kio’s voice.

 

“Mom! Watch the eclipse with me!”

 

“...Kio, remember that vacation I told you about?”

 

“Huh? The long one?”

 

“Yeah, that one. I’m going to be leaving on the day of the eclipse.”

 

“Oh… can’t you stay longer?”

 

“I can’t, sorry. I’ll watch the beginning with you, but you can watch the rest with your dad.”

 

“Aww… I want to watch it together!”

 

“Kio, I can’t. I have to leave.”

 

“I don’t want you to leave!”

 

“Don’t be silly, it’s just a really long vacation. Just… have fun with your dad, okay? For me?”

 

“Okay… can you make candy before you go?”

 

“Sure. I’ll make it tomorrow, and I’ll teach you the recipe too, so you can make it whenever you want!”

 

“Wow! Really?”

 

“Yeah! But you have to be a good boy and go to sleep now, okay?”

 

“Okay!”

 

--------

 

“Kio! Watch out!”

 

“Huh - wha?”

 

He barely had the chance to turn around before a pot went flying past his head, causing him to quickly duck for cover. A second later, he saw a rather frazzled Anna walk out of the kitchen with Felicia in tow, shooting him an apologetic look. Giving her what he hoped was a reassuring smile and a thumbs up, he stood up and resumed making his way to his destination - which, unsurprisingly, was the kitchen Felicia had just been dragged out of.

 

He’d heard from Anna that there was going to be an eclipse today, and there was no better way to celebrate than by holding a huge feast for all the heroes out in the open, where they’d have a perfect view of the events. Naturally, he was going to be the main chef, but a few of the more cooking-inclined heroes were going to be helping him. Not that he really understood why everyone liked his food so much, but if it made them happy, he’d do it.

 

First things first - he was going to make more ginger candy for everyone to share. It was a simple recipe, quick and easy enough for him to make the candies himself without help. While he worked on the candies, the other heroes could prepare the main course and set up the dining area.

 

It didn’t take long before all the preparations were complete, and with a few final touches, he began to round up all the heroes. Even the more stubborn ones were easily persuaded with the promise of food and before long everyone in the barracks was sitting outside. He let Anna make a quick speech to explain why there were all sitting there, then quickly rolled out the food. Heaps of meat upon beds of lettuce, carrots fanned around a roast duck, tomato soup so fresh you could still smell the earth… all this, and more.

 

He watched happily as everyone dug in, making sure to give his assistants proper thanks. Already, the edge of the sun was getting obscured, and several heroes pointed up with a mix of alarm and wonder. He himself sat on the edge of the steps leading up to the castle, kicking his legs back and forth while the light grew dimmer. An old memory lingered beneath the surface, and he could have sworn he’d sat in the same position before, but he couldn’t remember when or why.

 

As he contemplated the sky and ate a ginger candy, he caught sight of his dad and waved to him. It didn’t seem like he’d been seen though, so he hopped off the ledge and tried to make his way over - except the world went dark. For a few seconds, he flailed about in confusion, tripping over himself in his haste, but then a piercing pain shot through him and knocked him out.

 

--------

 

“Helloooooo?”

 

“Ugh… waugh!?”

 

When he next awoke, it was to an unfamiliar girl leaning uncomfortably close to his face. He immediately panicked and tried to roll over, only to almost fall off a ledge. What was this place? It certainly didn’t look like Askr… and why was that girl staring at him?! He quickly scrambled up and away from the ledge and the girl, reaching for his…

 

...dagger, which was apparently in the girl’s hand.

 

Immediately, he lunged for it, only to have her dance away tauntingly. She gave him a smug smirk then twirled the dagger around her fingers with surprising ease, easily dodging his clumsy attempts at snatching it back.

 

“Hey! What’re you doing with that? Give it back!”

 

“Not unless you tell me who you are and what you were doing laying down on the sidewalk.”

 

“I - what?”

 

“You were asleep. On the sidewalk.”

 

No I wasn’t. I was in Askr, having a feast with the heroes.”

 

“Yeah right you were. Now tell me the truth. You don’t look old enough to walk around by yourself.”

 

“W-well, neither do you! And I am telling the truth!”

 

At his sincere proclamation, she finally stopped twirling the dagger long enough for him to catch his breath and look up at her pleadingly. She gave him a skeptical glance at first, leaning in aggressively close again, before suddenly whirling around and striding purposefully towards a house in the distance.

 

“I believe you. Now, follow me.”

 

“Eh?! It was that easy? Wait, hang on a second, where even am I?”

 

“You can keep asking questions in my backyard.”

 

“Um… okay.”

 

He figured it was best not to get on her bad side, and so he dutifully followed in her footsteps, only pausing to look up at her when she stopped next to a long stretch of hard gray road. Was it dangerous or something? He watched her look both ways before crossing, something he imitated but was unable to comprehend. What in the world was she looking for? Racing carriages?

 

“What are you doing? Hurry up and cross the road while there aren’t any cars.”

 

“Cars? What are those?”

 

“Are you serious? Well, okay, cars are… these things that move around. Really fast.”

 

“Uh… okay?”

 

“You know what, it’d be easier to show you one than to explain it to you. Come here.”

 

He nodded, then trotted across the road to where she was standing. She gestured for him to wait there, then pressed a few buttons on the wall of her house. Suddenly, a portion of the wall began to rise up, causing him to jump in alarm at the rather loud noise. Behind the folding wall, there was something that looked a little like a carriage, but a lot flatter and without horses.

 

“That’s a car. Now you know.”

 

“...Is your wall magic? How does it fold up? Why do you keep your car behind it?”

 

“Slow down! It’s not magic, it’s just a garage door. Have you really never seen any of this? Where do you come from? The Middle Ages?”

 

“Well, no, I haven’t. Some of this stuff I feel like I might have read about… or heard it from someone… but I can’t really remember. I already told you I’m from Askr, the realm of the heroes! Like, where Alfonse and Sharena live!”

 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but you seem like a nice person, so I’m not gonna send you to the insane asylum. It doesn’t seem like you’re lying either… you look like the clueless type of person.”

 

“Eh?! What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“Nothing. Now, tell me more about Askr.”

 

“Okay… First things first, Anna’s in charge around the castle, where I live. She’s the commander, and I’m the tactician, cause I’m the summoner! Then we have the royal siblings, Alfonse and Sharena. They can open these portals to other worlds-”

 

“Is that how you got here?”

 

“Uh - no? I don’t really know how I got here, wherever here is. Anyways, the royal siblings can open portals, except they don’t do it cause Embla, the bad guys, don’t want to close the portals and just want to make people their slaves.”

 

“Wow.”

 

“I know! They’re so mean! But I hear that my mom did a bunch of stuff to make it better, except I don’t really know what. She’s on vacation now, so I can’t ask her.”

 

“She just left you to do whatever?”

 

“No! She had to leave! She said it was important! Besides, that was a long time ago. I can manage things fine by myself now.”

 

“...Are you sure she didn’t just leave you?”

 

“Yeah! She wouldn’t do that! But Askr still needs a summoner while she’s on vacation, so I’m the summoner now! I put these orbs in this gun, then I shoot it and heroes from other places come out! Sometimes they’re really strong too, but all of them help us fight against Embla!”

 

He picked up the Breidablik and waved it around, gesturing to its front and making a firing motion to complement his words. The girl didn’t really seem to get it, but she’d asked him to explain, and that was as good of an explanation as he could manage.

 

“So you’re like… the center of a multiverse? And you shoot a bunch of people from different places into your world by using this gun?”

 

“Um, yeah.”

 

“Cool.”

 

“So… where are we right now?”

 

“We’re in the United States of America, home of liberty and and freedom. Above us is Canada, then below us is Mexico, and we’re in the continent of North America.”

 

“...Oh.”

 

“You don’t know what any of that means, do you?”

 

“Not really.”

 

“I guess there’ll be time for you to learn later. Do you even have a place to stay here? Wait, stupid question, of course you don’t, you just fell out of the sky or something. Come with me, I’ll see if I can persuade my parents to let you stay with us for a while.”

 

“Okay.”

 

--------

 

“Alright, your homework is to do pages 228-240, problems 1-40 and the open ended questions. Any questions?”

 

“No.”

 

“Okay, that’s it for class today. You can head to lunch early if you’d like.”

 

The sound of several chairs scraping at once filled the room, and a torrent of students rushed out the door, Kio included. A few elbows jostled him, but other than that he managed to make it out unscathed. Now, to look for Concordia - or, as he liked to call her, Cordi. After she’d convinced her parents to let him stay in their house, she’d introduced herself to him, and promptly earned herself the nickname of Cordi. Not that she understood why he couldn’t just call her Connie or some other more normal nickname, but he saw her as a hero of sorts, like Cordelia, and her name just happened to fit.

 

“Hey, Kio, what’re you smiling at?”

 

With a surprised jolt, he turned around to see Cordi standing beside him, wearing a rather unusual combination of clothes and sporting a high ponytail.

 

“Oh, I was just thinking about you!”

 

“You what?

 

“Like, how you’re always being so nice to me, and telling me about things I don’t know without laughing at me! Sorta like my mom!”

 

“Oh, thank goodness. I was getting worried there for a second.”

 

She laughed, but it sounded slightly strained, prompting him to take a closer look at her face. Her eccentric ensemble of clothing was a huge contrast from her usually stylish outfits, but maybe she was trying something new? Or maybe she’d just gotten back from the gym and hadn’t changed yet?

 

“Is something wrong? Why are you wearing those clothes?”

 

Again, she put on a strained smile and waved him off, choosing to dig through her backpack rather than face him.

 

“It’s nothing. I just couldn’t find my change of clothes, so I had to ask the office.”

 

He frowned, but didn’t push her further. She’d received quite a few glances from passersby as she continued to rummage through her bag, and although he didn’t really get it, he knew that some people were mean to her because they didn’t like him. She was friends with him, and so she suffered by association.

 

It’s all my fault.

 

Cordi, don’t talk to me!”

 

“Huh? Where’s this coming from?”

 

“People are mean to you because they think I’m weird and that you’re weird for talking to me! So don’t talk to me!”

 

“What? That’s silly, of course I’m not going to stop talking to you because some other people don’t like you!”

 

“But I don’t want you to suffer because of me! If you won’t stop talking to me, I’ll stop talking to you so they won’t be mean to you anymore!”

 

“Kio, listen to me. I don’t care about the other people. You’re worth a thousand of them. So as long as I have you, they can do whatever they want. Just… don’t leave me, okay?”

 

“Okay, if that’s what you want... I won’t! We’re friends after all, and friends are always there for each other!”

 

“Yeah…”

 

--------

 

“Concordia, we can’t keep Kio in our house forever. You said it would just be until he found a home somewhere, but it’s been a lot longer than ‘just a few months’. If he’s an orphan, we’re not going to adopt him, and we know how you’re suffering at school because of him. We only want the best for you, and I think it’s time we… sent Kio away.”

 

“No! You don’t understand! He’s important to me, and I choose to talk to him! I don’t care if people are mean to me, just as long as I can be with him! You can’t send him away!”

 

“Dear, we have to. We just can’t afford to keep him here.”

 

“If you send him away, I’m going too!”

 

“Don’t be irrational. He’s only some boy you found lying on the street. Who knows if he’s even safe to be around?”

 

“How can you say that?! After everything, you’re just going to throw him out?!?”

 

“It’s already been decided. We just want to make the best decision for everyone.”

 

“...fine.”

 

--------

 

“Hey Kio.”

 

Hm? What’s up, Lucas?”

 

Though most people didn’t really talk to him or Cordi, Lucas had only moved to the school recently, and by the time he knew why people avoided them, he was already friends with them and didn’t care anyway. It was hard to say whether his presence made them stand out more or less, but he knew he could always count on Lucas’s bold attitude to bring excitement to the group. Case in point, Lucas was currently leaning against the wall and giving him a smirk, which he’d seen enough times to know it meant trouble.

 

“So, I was thinking Concordia’s a pretty nice girl, right?”

 

He pointed towards Cordi, who just so happened to be retrieving items from her locker just opposite the wall.

 

“Yeah, what about it?”

 

“How long have you known her?”

 

“Uh… since I got here?”

 

“Do you like her?”

 

“Well yeah, of course I like her, she’s my friend! What kind of question is that?”

 

“...You really are hopeless, aren’t you? What I mean is, do you like like her?”

 

“Huh? What does that mean? She’s my friend, so I like her. What other kind of like is there?”

 

“I see. Well, ignore my question then.”

 

He could have sworn he saw Cordi frowning, but before he could go over to her, a piercing pain shot through him. It was exactly the same as the feeling he’d first felt when he woke up in America, except it lasted a lot longer this time. Just when he thought he couldn’t take it anymore, it went away, leaving him trembling in a mixture of fear and confusion.

 

“Kio, are you okay?”

 

He managed to register Lucas leaning over him and picking him up, Cordi following close behind him. He was shaking too much to answer, but he somehow managed a nod before closing his eyes and sniffling into Lucas’s side.

 

“I’ll bring you to the nurse’s office. I think you should go home early today.”

 

He nodded mutely again, wiping the tears from his eyes and attempting to take deep breaths.

 

I don’t know what’s happening, but I need to be strong.

 

--------

 

“Kio. What’s going on?”

 

“W-well, your dad told me to go out, and - and I didn’t want to, but h-he - he tried to grab me, and - and - and-”

 

He dropped the bloody dagger from his hands, as if in shock, then knelt down and began to cry.

 

“I-I-I… I stabbed him!”

 

After choking out the words, he began to hyperventilate, backing away from the two bloodied corpses.

 

“I was just s-so scared! After - after what happened at school - and I don’t kn-know - your mom - she just - just - just died!

 

“I…”

 

“No! Stop don’t come closer, I-”

 

He scrambled backwards, only to slip on a puddle of blood, causing him to cry out in fear. Somehow, he managed to get a shaky grip on his dagger before wobbling to his feet again. With a loud cry, he suddenly rushed past Cordi and towards the door, desperately fumbling with the lock. The blood on his hands kept making him lose his grip, which only seemed to panic him further.

 

“Kio, wait!”

 

“No! Get away from me!”

 

With one last fearful glance, he flung the door open and ran out, making for the forest near the house.

 

--------

 

“The war… it should be here soon… I should leave…”

 

He mumbled to himself as he haphazardly threw things into his bag, discarding anything he deemed unnecessary. It was fortunate he was not a heavy packer, because within minutes the sound of gunfire could be heard in the distance.

 

“Oh no, it’s here already… c’mon, I gotta move!”

 

With one final tug, he zipped his bag closed and tossed it over his shoulder, before rushing out the door without locking it behind him. There wasn’t time - they might drop bombs, and then he’d be a goner no matter what. Even with his… ability, he couldn’t outrun explosions of that size. I hope I remembered everything, because I’m definitely not going to be able to go back.

 

A movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention, and within moments his dagger was in his hand. If he snuck up on her, he might be able to kill her before she got her gun…

 

“Kio? Is that you?”

 

The dagger clattered to the ground as the woman turned around, revealing herself to be none other than Concordia. Cordi. What was she doing here? She couldn’t have known where he’d gone, and so it had to be coincidence, but this was a war zone. He was only here because he could outrun bullets with his ability, and even then it was risky. There was no way she was safe here.

 

“Cordi. You have to get out of here. Quickly.”

 

“Kio, wait, where have you-”

 

“There’s no time. Ask questions later, you have to get out of here now, or it’ll be too late.”

 

“Okay. I’ll listen to you, but I need to tell you something first. I-”

 

A gunshot obscured the rest of her sentence, staining the middle of her shirt red. For a moment, she gasped, not quite comprehending what just happened, before another gunshot made her collapse. Red… so much red… it stained everything… no, no no no she couldn’t it wasn’t-

 

CORDI!”

 

With a scream, he shook her body, hoping it would somehow come back to life even when he could feel the limpness of her arms, the wetness of the blood that meant she was never coming back that she had left him forever and he was alone and whoever killed her was going to die and…

 

...the soldier took off his helmet...

 

...it was Lucas.

 

“WHY?!?”

 

“Kio, I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was Cordi, I just - hnngh.”

 

Almost inhumanly fast, Kio lunged towards Lucas and stabbed him, then stabbed him again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and he had to make him pay for what he’d done and oh god was he really doing this why it had been so easy and now he didn’t even know and Lucas was dead and Cordi was dead and everyone was dead and he couldn’t even go back and he didn’t know

 

he didn’t know

 

he just killed

 

--------

 

Somewhere, alone at a misty graveyard, a man kneels. He is clean, but bloodstained. He will never be free.

 

He kneels at a graveyard, because he knows he will never be free.

 

There are two roses, both red, to decorate two graves. He brought a third one.

 

For himself.

 

“Cordi… Lucas… I’m sorry. I know an apology won’t bring you back - it won’t make you forgive me, but I’m still sorry. I know what I’ve done. I know every single thing, every drop of blood that’s been spilled by my hand, every person I’ve harmed irrevocably, every family I’ve destroyed… and that’s why I’m going to let the officers surrounding this graveyard kill me.”

 

click

 

“I know now that my mom won’t ever come back. And I know that I won’t either.”

 

zing

 

“I accept it. It’s an end… but also a new beginning.”

 

thud

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