The situation was getting out of hands with every second passing by.
Jun and Mika had no mercy for each other, throwing magic all around the entire mansion without thinking. Mao grabbed my head and brought me to the floor as the missile pierced through the sofa we were hiding behind.
“Damn it, no way in hell I’m leaving you with them!” I clenched by teeth, gazing at the hell happening right next to us. “Look, I just need to get close only once. The more he’ll be confused, the better.”
Mao nodded his head and fixed his grip on the guns he had in his hands while I moved up just to get a better glimpse of the battle. Sazanami threw his blade at Kagehira and snapped his fingers. The Marionette tried to reflect it, but when the blades met, it caused an explosion right in front of him. Sazanami’s face twisted in a smirk, but it disappeared just as fast when his foot slipped, causing him to fall on his right knee.
A sharp scream escaped his mouth as something small and sharp hit his face. He covered his right eye with his hand, blood slowly dripping between his fingers. Hiyori jumped to his side, looking all around.
‘How the hell is that guy still walking, that shot should’ve hit him hard!' He cursed under his nose. ‘Jun-kun, please tell me you can still see-’
‘Damn it Tomoe, stop wasting time - just jump into that doll’s core and use the remaining Lirium to move it, cast a spell, whatever the hell you can!’
As much as his concern was real, I really wanted him to start acting rather than just cursing. Hiyori raised his eyebrow and gazed at us, so I pointed at the doll close to his right, slowly remembering how a soul could get into it.
‘Just go and use it, we’ll cover your partner!’
He looked at Jun once more, then jumped towards the doll, still sending me gazes how he had to do it. I brought one of the fragments out of my mind and allowed him to see it, so rather than explaining, I could actually do what I had to.
“Cover me,” I asked Isara. “I’ll get Kagehira out.”
Mao pressed his back to the sofa and nodded his head.
Kagehira learned from his past mistakes, he started hiding not only his physical, but also mental presence. But his fragments were somewhere in there… I just had to provoke him.
There’s one thing that could break his mind. It was risky, but should do the trick. I closed my eyes for a second, focusing on my own core.
‘…Come and get it, Kagehira.’
The shadows trembled as I smirked.
‘I know exactly what you want. He’s right in front of you, and you’re wasting time on those Northern agents. Really?’
I could tell I was staring into Death’s eyes as everything around me was losing its importance. But in this madness... Sometimes you just know it's a good time to die.
Or that it’s the best time to just stop worrying and embrace this realm, embrace the madness and spill some blood.
You two had no mercy. He tried to stop me.
So I'll use him against you.
Manipulate the core. Take that useless fear. Fill it with hate. But this time, you’re not the one pulling the strings.
‘...This core, Kagehira. This damned Observer’s core hides this man so dear to you. Come and get it, I dare you – but you’re not the only one who's heart is filled with hatred.’
I hate both of you.
A pair of mismatched eyes stared right into the core, filled with flaming will of revenge. His presence was opened – this little Observer was using his dear Master’s memories to twist his remains into obedience.
Come, Kagehira. I dare you.
After everything, I wouldn’t mind seeing you dead.
I jumped out from the hiding and charged towards them. Sazanami tried to point at me with his hand, but he stopped when I grabbed the sword with my two hands and swung it. My blade met with Kagehira’s as we tried to outpower each other.
"Time for ya."
He had to avoid the direct hit from the explosion as he was just dirty and cracked like before, dark blue liquid dripping out of his left arm. I almost managed to win this when he moved in such a way I lost a good grip on my sword and had to move back.
“Time to get out of the way~”
I moved to the left, so Kagehira was again in front of Jun. Right next to him was a magic circle which summoned a goddamn laser. The energy pierced through Kagehira's abdomen. A big pool of blood mixed with lirium spilled from the fresh wound as the Marionette moved back, dropping the weapon. Mao shot two times and ran towards us, helping Jun to stand up.
And he got all two shots, right into his legs. Serves you right.
Kagehira took a sharp breath only to start coughing, grabbing his stomach with both hands, falling down on his knees. Fixing my grab on the sword, I moved towards him.
My lips twitched as I kicked his weapon out of the way before he could get it. Seeing it’s futile, he pressed his right hand on the deep wound, causing the lirium to turn into a healing energy. You could see the insides easily through the hole, even when the magic was slowly connecting all of it and getting into proper state.
I stopped right in front of him.
His mind was racing, so vulnerable and easy to read everything you wanted. Kagehira slowly tried to get up, only to be brutally pressed into the floor as I grabbed him by the collar, causing him to look at me again. He clenched his fingers on my own arm.
Without saying a word, I stared right into his core, looking for the fragments about false memories. He was doing his best to cover them, hide them as deep as he could, throwing all his wishes to get up and take off that smirk from my face, cut down and get the very core he needed.
I didn’t let him have the pleasure of breaking my focus.
Avoiding all useless fragments, I was slowly approaching his past that wasn’t yet eaten by the Curse.
You shall pay for this.
I ‘remembered’ most of them, unless we were talking about those things Mika hid from Shu.
C̸͕̋̈́u̴̥͓̯͕͑̕r̶͍͗s̶̯̙̮̑́͗e̶̹̐́͜ ̴̣͉̔b̶͈̪̏ő̷͕͠t̵̨͚̐̕͘h̶̛̜̑̕ ̴̖̿y̷̙̰̑ȏ̶ͅṵ̴̂̂̒͛ ̴̻̟̱̄͜a̸͍͔͑n̶̥̳̓d̴͍̋ ̴̜̋t̶̻̜̠̂̀̇ͅh̵̙̩̜̎́̔̅ẽ̸͚̑͘͝ ̸̢̮͌͂͐͠J̵̼̖̔̕ö̴̜̥́̄k̶̬̳͚̇͆e̴̼͚̰͖̍ȑ̴̞̬͐ͅ-̵̨͉̻̲̄
Ah, going around those rules of ‘show’ and ‘tell’ really wasn’t that easy, was it? If I could jus’ do it like Oshi-san on the dolls, I’d be able not t’ waste time after the resets and h e l p h i m. I tried t’ use magic as I watched him movin’ the fragments an’ connectin’ them to the cores, but there was a medium that allowed him to do it. What was it?
Dolls were movin’ tha nks t’ li ri um, so I tried it.
Didn’t work. The fragment broke in my hand…
This D A M N E D Joker. I have no idea what he did to Oshi-san, but he’ll pay. This strange spell was workin’ just like a fragment. Like a fragment?
Like a false memory?
Not exactly. It was causin’ all strange reactions within the core, as if Oshi-san’s nightmares were turnin’ into reality, messin’ up his mind. Maybe if I learned it, I’d be able to move memories not only mine, but his own… And others. And change them. Maybe it’d be possible t’ get Naru-chan on our side? She’d be a great weapon against the KinǦ̶̮͊̚ ̶̧͂e̴̛̼̝̬̠͐ ̷̰̂t̵̠͖̀̐͊̆ ̴̹̐̒̌ ̶̹͙̍Ọ̴̖̐͘̕ͅ ̴̞͚͙̾̏ú̸̟̜ͅ ̷̠̘̪́̍͛͝t̶͍̼̬́.̸͇̣̊̓͝ͅ MASHIRO.
The spell is done. But I don’ like Oshi-san’s idea that it works jus’ like the Curse. But know I get why I couldn’t create a false fragmeĘ̷̛̟̩͔̇̉̊͛̎͂̀̃͊̅̈́͜E̶̤̖̣̣̥͖̼̥͊̏̀̄͒̓̈́͝É̷̦͇̔Ȩ̸̧͖͎̠͔̠̭̝͔̞͓̿͒̈̆̋͑̕͘ę̵̡̧̨̥̮̩̬͚͙͑͛̑̒͊́̎̄͘̚͝I̶̧͓̪͗̑͛̉͋͛͛̉͘̚͝͝͝͝͝ ̸̡͚̫͈̩͕̯̜͐̓͊̃́͜T̷̢̟̳̥̺̦̰̤̝̞̲̗̐͗͜Ǫ̵͚̼̳̲̈ͅL̴̨̢̧̙͔̼̗̩̜̱̳̘̊̈̍͆̍̀Ḑ̸̛̖̱̘͚̾̃̀̏̈́́̿̈̑̆Y̵̲̋̐͐̒͌̕͝Ó̸̡̧̗̹͔̹̣͔̳̘̣̳̩̜̒͑̓̈́͑̿̄̔̇͜͠U̶̧̝̣̦̖͚͇͍̱̎̓̓̀̆̀̀̏̅́͗͑͌̕T̷̛̋́̋͑͋̓̍̈́̈͛͐͜͝͝͠Ǫ̴̦̝̹̰̘̋̇̈̿ ̴̫̥̦̣̓̀̊̍́̀̔̐͐̿̕͠͠͠G̷̢̜͈͇͍͖͈̗̮̤̙͈̺͎̣͑̎̊̅̆̓̑́̍͌͝ ̶͆̄͋̈́̾̓͜Ě̶̡̛͚͈̜̫̱̪͈͊̇͗̚͘͜Ť̸̡̡͖̤͓̬̳͚̣̱̘̻̜͎̣̑͑͒́̿͝ ̵̦̺̗͔̪̆̓̎̃͂̊̚̚N̷̝̞̰͉͋̈́̃͌̎̚͜Ť̴̹͍͆̈́̓̂͌̅̕͝͝͠͝ͅS̶̪̬̞͉̭̟͔̏̎̊.̵̛̥͉̥̽͐̄̔̅̋̿̄̈́̊̈͒̈̈́
...Oshi-san’s usin’ his own life energy as the medium Not lirium
Joker in order to use this spell uses lir iu m It’s even better than jus’ movin’ memories
T h i n k ‘b o u t i t . He can bring Curse upon someone and before it’ll kill them, he can jus’ use the spell and manipulate their core. Turn them into any lie he wants t’.
Or wait for someone t’ become an Observer with an empty core.
The spell. Lirium.
Yes, now I get how to use it. It’ll work. I get it I get it I get it-
A strong hand pulled me back to Jun as some different energy came from behind him. Isara was right next to me. When all of us were close to each other, someone created a barrier around us. I tilted my head and noticed Aoba standing with his hand reaching out, with one of the smaller books floating above.
Kagehira got up, finishing the spell which healed his wound from Hiyori’s attack. His mind was spacing somewhere else as he stared at the floor. Tsumugi made one step towards him, but he wasn’t attacking. Mika moved towards his weapon which was still on the floor. He wasn’t paying attention, as if nobody was even here. He gazed at Aoba only once after grabbing his weapon, then disappeared.
“Can you tell where he is?” Isara asked.
“What?" I blinked, but rather than look at him, I stared at the sword which was still in my hand. "Ah, you mean Kagehira…?”
“Yeah, he’s lurking somewhere again.”
Oh, right… The mansion, yes. I focused on fragments around looking for Mika, but he was somewhat distant.
“I think he’s left,” I said, putting two fingers on my temple. “Yes, he’s left. Why are you staring at me like that?”
Not only him, but also Sazanami and Aoba were just looking at me with their eyes wide open. Isara even started waving his hand in front of my face.
“You sure?” He asked with a muffled voice. “Are you okay?”
I tilted my head. It was heavy for some reason.
“Yes, I’m fine.”
Good joke, me.
I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do here. Just give me a second...
“I have so many questions, but first things first, now I see why the connection got so distorted…” Aoba took a deep breath. “Northern agents are known to have those strange crystals. Too bad it broke, I wished I could check it.”
Sazanami chuckled, only to hiss in pain and fall on the floor. Tsumugi grabbed him at the last second, talking to him in the Northern language.
“Ah, right, I used Sakasaki’s poison on him,” Mao clicked his tongue. “Hell if I knew so many people would be here and besides, he attacked first!”
“I’d say the same,” Jun hissed again, looking at me. “But other than that, I guess I was lucky… That dude could’ve killed me for good.”
“Wait, don’t talk for a second, I have the antidote,” Tsumugi quickly grabbed a small bottle from his pocket. “Just… Let’s just say there’s no reason for us to fight, both sides will leave in peace, okay?”
Jun nodded his head.
But something was odd… Hiyori wasn’t here.
No, wait, I was forgetting about something way more important. Work, fragments. Aoba came out of nowhere and-
Something clicked in my head as if I woke up from a bad dream, jumping with such a speed even Mao lost his balance.
“Aoba, what’s the situation?” I asked. “Please, tell me it’s not too late!”
“N-No, not yet! But Natsume got injured while trying to calm that warrior, they had to pull him by force out of Inn and, and-!”
As much as I wanted to know what the hell happened and why those Northern agents were here, we had no time! I knew what to do. I just needed enough lirium so I could try - and pray it’ll work.
“Look, before you’ll leave, let me say one thing, ‘kay?”
Sazanami’s voice got stronger soon after getting the antidote from Aoba.
“First, give it back,” He gazed at Isara with his hand reaching out to him, waiting. “I’d get in trouble if I lost it, and no, I won’t try to attack you. No way in hell considerin’ I’m outnumbered and stupid Ohii-san went somewhere. Not like he’d be that much helpful anyway.”
Mao hid his own gun and stared at Jun, not entirely sure what to do, but after a bit, he gave it back.
“Appreciated. And you. Name’s Mashiro, right?”
“If I were you, I’d stay fa~ar away from the Northern scholars, take it as a good warning~” His lips twisted into a crooked smile. “Since you’re a Marionette, that is. And not only because of that, but anyways.”
Thanks, sir. That’s pretty reassuring.
“And I’ll pay my debt back, that’s for sure. Just take it and have good day or whatever you’re tryin’ to do~”
As he was saying this, his hand reached out to his pocket, from which he pulled out a small emblem with a green crescent moon on black background.
I stared at it for a good second, but then I just nodded my head.
“Okay, yes, thank you very much, I’ll remember that – come on, can we go back?” I stared at Tsumugi, jumping from one foot to the other. “Let’s go back, please, I know what to do, I just need some lirium!”
“All right, but why-”
“I’ll tell you later!”
Seeing all of this, Sazanami slowly moved back towards the exit with his hands in the air. Aoba gave him one last stare and created a portal, allowing us to get back. He was the last one to go through it.
Before the portal closed up, however, I noticed Hiyori approaching Jun with a very familiar notebook in his hands.
As soon as Aoba gave me two bigger pieces of lirium, I rushed towards the Inn, hoping at least someone could tell me where Akehoshi and Hidaka were.
Inside the building, Natsume was sitting next to one of the tables, accompanied by Sora, Hinata, and – much to my surprise – Lord Rei, who had an entirely standard look. At first glance, you wouldn’t say he’s an actual Demon Lord, but ‘just’ a human.
Mao, who was just behind, bumped at me when their gazes met.
“Ah, there you are!”
Right before I could ask what happened, Hinata jumped at me and grabbed my hand.
“You really should do something with your luck, but hell, great to see you!” He started pulling me out of the building. “Sakasaki told us everything, you have some idea what to do, right? Right?”
“Yeah, I do!”
“Great, let’s go while sir Hidaka is still with us!”
I appreciated his haste and the fact nobody was willing to ask about anything. Only Rei and Mao had a strange aura around them, but the mages were there if needed, so we could leave.
Hinata ran towards the glade nearby the Inn, a place so well-known to me I almost laughed out of sheer nervousness. Not that long ago I saw Kagehira and now we were going to the same place where he woke up? Oh the irony, coming out again.
Hokuto and Subaru were fighting. Subaru was avoiding strong, heavy strikes of his old leader with a grace and parring some of the weaker ones. Yuuta was standing close to them in a battle stance, ready to support Subaru at any given moment.
“Sir Akehoshi, they’re back!”
Hokuto noticed us first and stopped for a brief second. Subaru used the chance and followed up with a stronger attack, causing Hokuto not only to lose his balance, but also his weapon. Then he grabbed his hand and brought his leader to the ground, pressing him with his knee as a support so he couldn’t escape.
Hokuto was trying to get out of his grasp, at least until we stopped right in front of him. Our eyes met. He stopped fighting. I could hear a weak chuckle coming from his mouth.
‘Good to see you.’
My fingers clenched on crystals.
Just a quick gaze on his core was enough to see how serious it was. I was staring at the man in his last moments as the Curse of the Fallen Ones almost entirely devoured the person Hidaka Hokuto once was, leaving only a few shards floating around.
I stared at it with my mouth wide open, focusing on him.
Soon, the glade was nowhere to be seen.
Hokuto was nowhere to be seen.
I’ve been standing in an unknown town in between the alleys.
Three kids ran through my body, laughing and talking to each other. Two of them looked almost like Subaru and Natsume. They stopped right in front of the shop. The third one was standing in front of me.
‘I’m so sorry it took so long!’ I said, recognising him. I know what to do now. You won’t end like this, I promise!’
He averted his gaze.
Please, Hokuto. Your story won’t end like this. You helped when I needed it, now I want to pay you back. There’s still more-
‘I think this is it.’
He said after a pause and tilted his head, now looking at Subaru and Natsume as they got into a fight.
‘I don’t know if I really deserve it after everything. Ironic, don’t you think?’
After one blink, the alley was gone, the town was gone. We were in a castle I’ve already seen in someone else’s memories. Hokuto, now older, was standing right next to Tsukinaga Leo. He bowed his head. The King was standing still as if he was a statue, his face bland.
‘I don’t understand what’s so ironic.’
‘I betrayed them,’ Hokuto closed his eyes for a second. ‘I betrayed Trickstar.'
The floor cracked.
'Then I betrayed Sakasaki.'
The walls cracked.
And when I got the chance to make things right, I also betrayed Tsukinaga. He gave me a chance, even though he could just leave me dying.’
When he opened his eyes, the entire castle started cracking like a mirror, soon breaking down completely and dissolving into shards of glass, floating.
We were standing in a darkness, fragments of his memories around us. When my hand reached one of them, it broke into smaller pieces, then dissolved into indigo energy. The same fragments were cutting through Hokuto. Yet there was no blood coming out of the wounds. It was… Nothing. Just pure black. Pure nothingness.
I couldn’t get a word out of my throat. I wanted to thank him. Reassure him everything was fine. But at this point, I wasn’t sure who was in front of me. He looked like Hokuto. His voice was the same.
His golden eyes were also his, just as he succumbed to the Curse.
‘Our time was short, but I really enjoyed it,’ Hokuto lips formed a smile as the fragment went through his face dozens of times, erasing it. ‘I should’ve listened to my heart and haunt the Empire for destroying Trickstar’s future. If I only had one last chance…’
His right hand rested on his chest.
‘If I can ask you for something-’
‘Please, kill me while I’m still myself.’
It was impossible to say if it was real Hokuto’s wish. If that was his last will, or his mind being so deep in curse he couldn’t see anything else but death embracing him.
‘…Your atonement is still on earth, if you’d ever wished to go for it.’
Even when the fragments were taking him away, his eyes stayed unaffected.
‘Trickstar is still here. They pray for your safety. If you wish for a last chance, I will gladly guide you.’
He closed his eyes.
- Kill Hokuto.
- Save Hokuto from death by using false memories.