Yuma opens her eyes and sees blue. She sits up slowly. Is this Astral world? If so, he was right, it is very blue. She seems to be laying on a beach, as a blue ocean stretches out before her and she’s lying on what feels like sand, even though she’s never seen indigo sand before. She looks left and right. Giant blue crystals jut out of the sand at random. She inhales deeply, but she can’t smell the water. She stands, brushes off her pants, and turns around…and nearly falls over.
“Oh my god,” She gasps, taking in the city that lays behind her. The buildings are like nothing she’s ever seen on earth. Some are shaped like hourglasses, some are conical, and all are blue. They have wide bases and at their narrowest they look like they could be snapped in half by a strong wind. Lights shine through some windows, but Yuma can’t hear a sound.
“What is up with this place?” Yuma whispers to herself, but even a whisper sounds too loud. She takes a step forward and something crunches under her feet. She looks down—dead plants lie where the beach meets the city. Blackened vines cover crumbling structures, and dust swirls along the ground.
“This must have been beautiful, at one point,” Yuma whispers. She kneels and touches the vines at her feet, and suddenly they’re engulfed in a golden light. Yuma shuts her eyes until the glow fades, and when she opens them again, the vines are suddenly a brilliant green.
“Ooookay,” Yuma says. “That was really weird.”
Suddenly she feels like something is burning her leg. She fumbles in her pocket and touches something hot, barely managing to grab it and fling it onto the ground—it’s one of the King’s coins. A light shoots up from it, and in that light Yuma can see an image of her father.
“Yuma, if you see this, it means you made it to Astral world,” her dad’s image says to her.
Yuma’s heart is in her throat. She barely manages not to scream.
“Time is not linear, my dear,” dad says. “I was able to see many things when I first came to Astral world. You have to hurry now, Astral has been marked as Chaos. He will be killed.”
Yuma sways on her feet.
“Don’t panic,” dad says. “You can save him. Your love for him is as strong as any force in this universe. Let your instincts guide you. I can’t tell you much more than that, but I believe in you.”
The image fades. Shaking, Yuma bends and picks up the coin, slipping it back into her pocket. She begins walking. This world is so still, so silent…it’s creepy.
Let your instincts guide you, dad said. “Okay, instinct,” Yuma mutters. “Which way do we go?”
All the buildings look pretty much the same. Yuma turns in a circle, slowly, until she feels a tug in one direction.
“Come on, this way!”
Yuma jumps—Ponta is at her feet, tugging on her pants.
“How do you know? What are you doing here?” Yuma asks him.
Ponta grins at her. “Trust me.”
Does Ponta count as instinct? She chooses to believe so. She follows Ponta past streets and towering structures, all of which look no different than the one before. It’s like the final scene in the Labyrinth, when Sarah is climbing the stairs to nowhere. She bites back a giggle—she can just imagine David Bowie popping up in some entry way. She can almost hear the dramatic instrumental playing.
“How you turn my world, you precious thing,” she whispers. “You starve and near exhaust me.”
Ponta turns down a street. It gets darker. Yuma hugs herself, suddenly not finding any of this funny.
“Everything I’ve done,” she whispers, shivering, “I’ve done for you. I move the stars for no one.” She glances up—she can see stars, but none of the shapes they make look familiar. If she could, she would move the stars for Astral.
Ponta suddenly stops. “Here,” he says, pointing.
This building looks nothing like the rest. It’s smaller, closer to the ground. And the windows…they look like stained glass.
“The windows in every building are different colors, and the light that comes in through them makes everything seem like a rainbow,” Astral had told her.
Yuma runs to the building and flings open the doors. “Astral?!” She shouts.
Her voice echoes around the room. It’s empty, apart from a large, stone slab and a few dozen columns around the edge. Her heart sinks—Astral’s not here.
“So you’ve arrived,” a soft voice says.
“Ten days!” Yuma cries as she stumbles backward, clutching her chest.
A woman emerges from the shadows—at least, Yuma thinks the being is a woman. But maybe not…Astral said that he didn’t know his gender, and this being sure looks like it could be Astral’s fellow citizen of the world. Their skin is the same color as Astral’s, they have similar gems on their body, but their eyes are pure white and they wear a white dress.
“Who are you?” Yuma asks.
“My name is Ena,” the being responds. “This is a Holy place for us.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to barge in,” Yuma says.
“It’s alright,” Ena says with a smile. “I’ve been waiting for you. Please, come in.”
Yuma steps further into the room. Small balls of light begin floating around her, and Yuma swears she can hear whispering. “What’s happening here?” She asks Ena. “Why is it so quiet? You seemed like you were expecting me, were you expecting me?”
“I was,” Ena confirms. “We all were.”
One of the balls of light suddenly expands and a small person stands beside Ena. Yuma’s jaw drops. All around the room, the lights begin to expand into person after person, but Yuma can tell that something is wrong with these beings. Black lines are etched into their faces, and they look wilted, somehow.
“Yuma, I wonder if you can heal these people,” Ena says.
“Heal them?” Yuma repeats.
Ena nods. “A simple touch of your hand should do the trick.”
The smallest being in the room steps forward and holds out their hand. Yuma kneels and takes hold of it. A golden glow envelopes the person’s body, and when it fades so too have the black lines. Their face looks fuller, their skin luminescent. They smile.
“Wow,” Yuma whispers. “Just like the vines.”
“You have the gift of Chaos,” Ena says.
Yuma manages to laugh. “I wouldn’t call it a gift, but yeah I’ve got lots of Chaos.”
“I need you to share it with them,” Ena says, gesturing to the room at large. “You see, this world is a place for those who have achieved a Rank-up within their soul, and ascended to a higher plane.”
“Nirvana?” Yuma asks. “Enlightenment?”
“Not exactly,” Ena says. “There is no such thing as hatred or evil in Astral world, but not because people chose to give them up. We did have such things, once, but they were expelled, and thus Barian world was created, the opposite of Astral world in every way.”
People continue to approach Yuma. She holds their hands and heals them, but she’s focused on Ena. Ponta fades back into her deck.
“Chaos is the power of desire created for oneself,” Ena continues. “But the God of Astral World believed we could exist without it. Thus, all chaos, all desire, was expelled from this world. But that was a mistake.”
“You’re talking about passion,” Yuma blurts. “How can anyone live without passion? That’s…that’s something that you feel deep in your heart, something that makes you strive to keep going, to push forward despite all odds…!”
“I know,” Ena says. “Without that passion, Astral world became weaker. Even the attempt to Rank-Up is born of desire. Now we are without Chaos, and we are what you see.”
“And you think I can help?” Yuma asks.
“What you are doing now, healing the people, will only do so much,” Ena says. “What you must do is reunite Astral world with Chaos by using the Numeron Code. You and Astral are looking for it, yes?”
“We were,” Yuma says, feeling her heart twist at Astral’s name.
“Then you must revive Astral and continue that search,” Ena tells her. “Now that you have healed everyone, I will send you to Astral. But you will encounter Eliphas, and he wants to destroy Astral as punishment for denying his mission to destroy Barian world.”
“No problem there, then,” Yuma mutters.
Ena holds out her hands. “Come, take my hands.”
Yuma does, and after yet another flash of light, she finds herself standing somewhere completely different. It seems to be a platform, pretty high up, and there’s a towering outcropping of blue crystal soaring towards the sky, with smaller, purple crystals at the front, surrounding a golden alter. And on the alter, floating in a cylinder of light, is Astral.
Yuma gasps. She sobs. She takes a step forward before she stops, horrified. There’s a gaping, black hole on the left side of Astral’s chest, where 96 struck.
“Oh no,” She whimpers. “Astral, you haven’t healed at all…!”
A giant version of the Emperor’s Key floats over Astral, as if waiting to crush him. His face is still, but he doesn’t look peaceful. Yuma wonders if he’s in pain.
Yuma hears a sound from behind her and she turns. A huge person, clothed in gold, stands by the edge of the platform. He looks stern, and even without moving he exudes a grace and power that makes Yuma feel like she should be on her knees before him. She fights that instinct—she bows to no one, especially not this man.
“You must be Eliphas,” she says.
“And you must be Tsukumo Yuma,” Eliphas responds, his voice booming and deep.
Yuma straightens her back and squares her shoulders. “I’ve come to take Astral back to Earth and continue our mission to find the Numeron code.”
“I cannot allow that,” Eliphas says. “Astral world is a place of peace. Astral must be purified of all influence of you. You have tainted him.”
“Tainted him?” Yuma shouts. “How dare you accuse me of such a thing!”
“You introduced him to Chaos,” Eliphas says. “You made him doubt his mission to destroy Barian world. His focus is solely on you.”
“That’s not true,” Yuma contradicts. “Astral’s loyalty is to himself, his focus in on his happiness. I didn’t taint him, I showed him what it is to be alive.”
“He was alive before he met you,” Eliphas says.
“Alive with no free will,” Yuma spits. “You made him to do one thing, destroy Barian world. What kind of a life is that, where one exists only to bring an end to something? For that matter it goes against everything that you say Astral world stands for.”
“Don’t you talk to me about what my world stands for!” Eliphas shouts. The floor shakes.
Yuma stands her ground. “You want peace, but you aim to destroy a world. You, yourself, promote violence. What are you going to do, purify yourself? You have desires. You want things, yet you say your people must want nothing if they want to remain a part of your world.”
“You are a child,” Eliphas accuses.
“Child?” She echoes. “You misunderstand me. I have battled Barians, I have freed people from the influence of Numbers. I have crossed dimensions, I have seen the past, and I have promised people their futures. Does that sound like the actions of a child? Barian world shouldn’t have existed at all, it only does because you made it. And you were, what, surprised when the people you expelled fought back? When they got angry? You call yourself a god, but you’re the one who seems like the child here.”
“I will destroy you,” Eliphas says.
“There you go, threatening violence again,” Yuma says, shaking her head. “You’re such a hypocrite. Don’t you know that there can be no light without darkness? If people don’t know what sadness is, how will they be grateful for happiness? If they’ve never felt alone, how will they learn to cherish those who love them? What you’re giving people is a hollow peace.”
“And you think you can make things better?” Eliphas asks. “How? You think Barian world can ever reunite with Astral world, after all my people have suffered at their hands?”
“Because you created the world that attacked them,” Yuma reminds Eliphas. “I can’t promise perfection, but I can at least give everyone a chance to try and understand each other.”
“Not without Astral you can’t,” Eliphas says. “And as I have said, you’re not taking him with you.”
Yuma flounders briefly, but the words come to her just as she needs them.
“Give me the child,” She says. “Give Astral to me. Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to this place beyond the city.” She takes a step forward. “For my will is as strong as yours, and my Kingdom is as great…”
Those words; Yuma has said them countless times, but she’s never really stopped to think about what they meant.
“My Kingdom is as great,” she repeats.
“You have no Kingdom,” Eliphas says. “You are a human girl.”
“No,” Yuma says. She holds her hands over her heart. “My Kingdom is great.”
“Then where is this Kingdom?” Eliphas asks her.
“It’s here, within me.” She laughs. “It’s in my heart, in my laugh, it’s in every breath I take. All those things, they’re mine because I have passion, both my own passion, and that of others.” She holds out her hands. “Here it is!” She says, delighted. “Here’s my Kingdom. It’s small now, but it will grow. Already it’s growing. Myself, Astral, Kotori, Rio, Ryoga, Cathy, Tetsuo, Tokunosuke, Takashi, Michael, Droite and Gauche and their baby, Kite and Hart, they’re all part of my Kingdom because I love them and I would go to the ends of the earth for them. And I will build them a world where they are free to love, and laugh, and live without fear. All will be welcome in my Kingdom, be they human, or Astral, or Barian. We will have Chaos, but we will also have peace, because we will make efforts to understand each other.” Yuma closes her eyes and imagines it. “More than anything, we will have Hope. Hope for ourselves, but also for each other. We will have Hope for each day we live and each day to come. We will have hope that someday, we will all understand each other.”
Yuma reaches into her deck and pulls out Hope, the card that started it all. “It won’t be my Kingdom alone. It will be the Kingdom of all who live in it,” Yuma says. “We will Rank-Up in our own ways, at our own paces.” A great wind rushes at Yuma, just as it once did in Sargasso, but this wind is warm and welcoming. It encircles Yuma and twines through her fingers, her hair, and her clothes.
“My will is as strong as yours,” Yuma repeats. She opens her eyes and stares at Eliphas. “And this is my Kingdom.” She holds out the card that lead her to Astral. “I build the Overlay network with Aspiring Emperor, Hope!”
A great light bursts from the card.
“I plant the seeds of my Kingdom,” Yuma says. “I summon Aspiring Emperor, Hope Roots!”
A new kind of monster is summoned to the platform. Sleek, powerful, futuristic, it stands between Yuma and Astral. Thousands of white lights converge on the platform. They come from below, and they streak towards Hope Roots. Yuma knows instantly what those lights are—it’s the people of Astral world. Somehow they’ve heard her, and they’ve given her their strength to make her mission happen.
Yuma turns to Astral, her arms outstretched. “Go, Hope Roots! Break 96’s hold on Astral!”
Hope Roots slashes its’ sword through the cylinder of light surrounding Astral, and it shatters. There’s silence, light, and the smell of water.
The silence is drowned by the sound of crystal hitting the ground. The light narrows to a single point, surrounding Astral. Yuma blinks to clear her vision, and she steps towards Astral. The light fades until Astral’s features come into focus. He opens his eyes.
“Astral,” Yuma breathes.
He holds out his hand, and Yuma takes it. He squeezes her hand.
“I knew you would come for me,” he says. “I’m sorry if I scared you.”
Yuma sobs and launches herself at Astral. “You big jerk!” She weeps, hugging him tightly. “I’ll never let you go again as long as I live! Never again in my entire life! Please don’t ever leave me again!”
Astral hugs her back. He bends his head and whispers into her ear, “I’m so proud of you. I love you, so much.”
Yuma leans back just enough so that she can kiss Astral. She smiles into the kiss, her heart beating fit to burst.
Astral laughs against her mouth. “I can feel your heart pounding, still. What are you thinking about?”
Yuma decides to tease him. She leans back. “About how I kissed Kite before I came here.”
Astral’s jaw drops. “You did?! Well, it’s about time!”
“What time?!” Yuma shrieks, feeling her face heat up.
A sudden crack of lightning makes her jump. “TEN DAYS!” She screams, hands over her chest.
“It seems the time for your reunion is over,” Eliphas says.
Yuma turns to him, suspicious, but he holds out his hands. “Peace, Yuma. Astral World has made a decision and accepted your words. Now I wish to help you achieve your goal.” He hands a card to Astral, and to Yuma, he hands the Emperor’s key, back on the same leather cord she always wore it on. “I will send you back to Earth. Retrieve the Numbers, retrieve the Numeron code. It is even more important now, because Don Thousand has been released.”
“Who?” Yuma asks as she puts the Key back around her neck.
“My brother,” Eliphas says, “And the source of Chaos in Astral World, I banished him and he became the God of Barian world. I sealed him under a poison sea, but it seems someone broke him free.”
“Riiiiiiiiight,” Yuma says. “Okay then, another thing to fight.”
“We can do it,” Astral says.
Yuma grins at him. “I mean, of course,” she says.
“Then go,” Eliphas tells them.
Yuma and Astral join hands. They’re enveloped by red and blue light respectively, and then off they go, soaring through the sky.
“KATTOBINGU!” They shout.
Yuma emerges in the center of the dimensional transporter, Astral’s hand in hers. “We’re back!” Yuma shouts happily.
But something’s wrong—Kotori is crying, and she’s being attended to by Kite and Chris…Rio and Ryoga seem to be missing.
“What happened?” Yuma demands.
Kotori runs to her, pushing Kite and Chris aside, and hugs her. “Yuma, Astral thank god! You found each other, you came back, I knew it!” She’s sobbing, clinging to Yuma. “But Yuma, Durbe came here! He grabbed me, he said he would let me go if Ryoga and Rio went with him, and they agreed!”
Yuma looks at Astral and sighs. “I can’t leave that boyfriend of mine alone at all, can I?” She tries to keep her voice light, but she feels sick to her stomach.
Astral touches her cheek. “I am with you every step of the way, Yuma.”
So Yuma turns to Kite, who looks torn between pride and worry. “Get your helicopter, we’ve gotta go,” she says. “We’ll start the search in Heartland, there are some people waiting for Astral there.”