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Polaris

Chapter Text

“He looks like Alit.”

“He looks like himself, that’s who he looks like.”

“… Tch. If he looks like himself, he’ll get killed.”

 


 

The subject of their discussion did admittedly bear the same reddish hues as Alit, Misael supposed nonetheless. A brilliant ‘rose’ almost, and against the natural surroundings of their home it was actually rather difficult to spot him as a result. The only thing that would tell you he was there, was his cries.

That was how they’d found him in the first place.

The stones of the Barian World always cracked. They always crumbled and collapsed, their world being on the verge of destruction as it was. For the stones to crack like this however, was different–it had not happened in a number of decades, and it was for that reason that Durbe had even wondered if he were hearing things.

He was not, as it turned out, and had it not been for his swift words, the first Barian 'birth’ in so long would have become the quickest to die.

“I refuse to look at it!” Vector had snarled, claws ready and eyes wide. “I’ve done away with him once before, I’ll do away with him again!”

“Think on what you’re saying,” he had calmly replied, eyes narrowed. “This is no longer your enemy–he’s a child! A child with no recollection of who you even are!”

“Which makes it all the better!”

“And what of the advantage then?”

Somehow that word had been the one to freeze Vector in place, and as Durbe spoke, Mizael had regarded him with narrowed eyes.

“If he is who he was, then what form do you think he would take in the human world?” he explained carefully. “And if that is the case, how do you think the new keybearer will react?”

“I don’t care about them!” the fellow Lord snarled, wings unfolding in rage. “LET ME KILL HIM!”

“You’re not interested in crushing the one who avenged him then?”

“Durbe!?” As Mizael turned, the Barian had given a look–and just in time as well. For while Vector regarded him with a low and suspicious glare, the words had met their mark.

“Hn. I’ll consider it,” he decided, turning to leave. “But only because I have better things to do!”

“Better things,” the gold one spat from behind, “As if you could care about our cause!”

“Mizael.” Again, Durbe’s words held one of their number in place, and when Vector had vanished, the Barian found himself turned on in rage.

“What was that about?!” he hissed, eyes wide. “I would have thought, that you of all people–”

“Did you see another way for him to live then?”

Mizael’s words were caught in his throat, and before he could force another curse forward, there was a short tug at the skirt he wore.

“Mm-mnn.. Miiii… Miiiiisaaaaaaa…”

It was difficult to hate him. The little one reached up with wide eyes, and as Mizael turned back, Durbe was the one to pick him up. “And what point does he have then?” the golden Barian finally asked. “This war will be over long before he’s ready for the field. And if he is him. If he IS,” Mizael demanded, “Then what reason would you have to keep him here?”

“So you would rather he die then?”

His expression said all Durbe needed to answer that question, and so, Mizael pushed on. “Answer me, Durbe.”

There was silence at that–and finally as Durbe looked to him, he felt that he knew the answer before his friend even spoke. “There are things that he has done for me–things that had no reason,” he explained softly. “Things that I can never fully understand–and if this is indeed him, then I intend to do all in my power to repay him for that.”

“Du… Bhe…”

The pair looked to the child, Mizael giving a light snort at his attempts to string together a name with his new 'mouth’.

“Durbe,” the silvery one corrected, looking the child in the eye. “Durbe.”

“Dorube!”

Another snort. “Close,” Mizael muttered.

“Durbe.”

“Dubhe!”

“That’s the same as last time!”

“MeeeeeEEHHH–!” The child cringed, and for a brief moment Mizael found himself fixed with a glare.

“Hahhhh…” The gold one held his head, groaning. “Honestly…” A child was a handful. Too much of a handful, a handful they could not afford right now. Getting attached to the handful would be–

“If it is him…” Durbe asked sometime after, the boy long since set back on the ground to play with some stones he’d found, “And he is indeed unable to remember…”

“I don’t want to think about that,” Misael replied with a clipped tone. “I am who I am–Mizael, Dragon Master and Barian Lord! I–”

“He needs a name.”

A pause. “Hn.”

Another pause, and Durbe continued-

“Perhaps one that starts with 'A’? Perhaps 'Arund’…”

“No.”

There was a light chuckle at that, Durbe looking back to the boy as he played. “Possessive are we?”

“Hardly.” Aha.

He had red all over him, that boy. 'Like Alit’, he would even say.

'Like himself,’ Durbe remarked in response.

Except he would die if he was 'himself’ in the end, bright new 'hope’ that he was–and what an ironic term, that–hope! Hope for one side, now hope for the other, or perhaps for none at all!

He had red all over him, rather like the last human moments he would have had, Misael supposed. It had hardly been 'pretty’, after all. The fact that the boy had been able to throw the key to its next bearer before meeting his end was a miracle, really.

The only thing that wasn’t red were the gems on his body, and the matching mask and belt on his body–if it could be called a 'belt’ at any rate. Even his eyes were still red, wide and ever staring as they were. It was too much, too much like 'himself’!

Too much, he thought, like 'Tsukumo Yuuma’.

“Mimisa–”

“Mn?” The boy was back, and tugging at his skirt again. After a brief staring contest of sorts with Durbe, he found himself relenting and picking him up, grimacing somewhat when the child insisted on staring up at his face. “Tch. Stop that.”

“Mimiiii–”

“Mizael,” he corrected, eyes narrowing. “Get it right.”

“Mizaehhhhhh… Misaaa…”

“Mizael! It’s Mizael dammit–!”

“Mizael–!”

The two stared as the boy’s shout met the air, both of them staring in shocked silence. “Ah. Y-you–”

“Mizael!”

“He’s gotten it,” Durbe commented almost blankly. “Impressive…”

“Dubhe!”

The gold one snorted at the second attempt, Durbe merely sighing from his seat. “I suppose it is to be expected,” he remarked. “He is young after all…”

“…” Silence reigned yet again after that, with the child staring at whatever caught his eye, but otherwise apparently becoming content to stay still. His eyes would drift toward anything with a shine–the stones, the sky–anything. “…Iildus.”

“Hmm?” Durbe blinked, looking to his friend a moment. “Iildus?”

“It’s a good name, wouldn’t you say?”

While Durbe prepared to think of an answer to that, the boy on Mizael’s lap blinked, tilting his head.

Mizael repeated it. “Iildus,” he told the child. “That’s what you’ll be called now.”

“Iililu…”

“Iildus!”

“Iiliduz!”

The gold one shook his head. “Again–Iildus!”

“IIIIIIILDUUUUUU–!”

“Mizael, I might recommend giving him time–”

“Iildus–!”

The glint in Mizael’s eyes was particularly smug with that sound, and as he looked to Durbe, the silver one seemed to regard the now named barian with rapt interest. “Oh… Another quick one?”

As he stared, the boy turned, and with wide eyes and waving hands, he laughed. “Dubhe!”

“Ahhh…”

“Hn! Give him time,” Mizael remarked, 'Iildus’ again becoming distracted by the passing lights above. “I’m sure he’ll get the name eventually.”

Chapter Text

Water was all he heard, right now, but water was nowhere around him. He wondered vaguely why the thought had come to mind, but soon after, the thought had passed.

YUUMA–!

Water made their voices fade, blurring together as they screamed over the field. ’What?’ he had asked, just moments before, Black Mist smiling deviously whilst Vector pulled a chain at the side. ’What do you mean?’ he’d asked, looking to Astral to share in their confusion, and as his friend’s face twisted from confused stoicism to a horrified shock, screams had sounded behind him.

“YUUMAAAA–!”

He’d turned in a matter of moments. He’d spotted silver and gold swinging toward him, and with just enough time had moved to skip back against the bars. “GK-GFF–”

And he thought, in that moment, something passed him.

Water flooded his ears but red flooded his eyes, bursting through his mouth and nostrils as it flooded the ground beneath him. All he knew was that he had been thrown back–that he needed to stand, needed to see what had just occurred, yet those thoughts alone drew nothing but choked gasps for air.

Ohhhhh, I forgot to mention that!’ he could hear dimly from across the arena, the screams merging into one great roar of misery from elsewhere. A thousand cries seemed to join them now, and a thousand more to snarl in rage. His eyes struggled to comprehend what was before him, and his attempts to sit failed so miserably that at last he forced himself to cling to one of the many bars behind him.

“Hhhhf… Hgghfff…” He could see his pants, white stained red as they were briefly obscured by passing silver. Akari was going to kill him for this, really, with how badly stained they would be. The screams echoed around almost in agreement, and as he trembled he could see Astral’s mouth, opening and closing to shout. “Hnnn… H-Hhhhihhhh… Nnnh… KEEP DUELING!” he finally cried, biting his tongue and forcing himself to choke back the blood and bile that now mixed in his throat.

Yuuma!?

The boy choked over himself yet again, but with a determined gaze managed to look down to Astral nonetheless. “He… He won’t let you go if you don’t win, r… Right?” he called, words flawed by strangled gasps.

“WHAT?!” From behind came shouts of protest, and from ahead, for the most part, laughter. “ARE YOU AN IDIOT?” Shark roared, tearing at the bars despite the futility of the act. “We have to get out of here! WE CAN’T STAY HERE, YOU’LL–” He bowed his head, unable to finish his words, as if realizing already that there would be no use.

From the minute the axe had passed, it would have been impossible. “Hihhh… Hh…nnnggg…” His vision seemed to double to him, with reds and pinks and blacks from stained metal and fabric swimming before his eyes. His arm shook as it clutched the pole, and the other trembled violently as it reached for the key around his neck. “Nnngh… Ghh…”

What are you doing?” he could hear dimly, eyes swimming as his vision deteriorated further. There was wet on his face, but he wasn’t sure what from–for all he knew it was all just red, brilliant and soaking, staining all there was to see. He could hear Black Mist laughing at the tormented state of his opponent, Astral rooted to the spot. He could hear Vector speak from his throne, words faded and indiscernible as the Barian relished in his sudden ‘victory’.

And he could hear his friends. “YUUMA!” they all cried, echoing  through the water in his ears. Yuuma, yuuma, YUUMA–!

“I’m… S… Sorry…”

“What do you mean?” one of the girls wailed from behind, “Stop that, this isn’t real! You’ll be okay!” Kotori screamed, holding herself close, “It’s not real! It’s not–!”

“Dammit…” Shark hissed, eyes forced shut from the sight. “YUUMA–!”

“Sh…” He could not speak. As he swallowed, his words merely caught in his throat, and with his jaw clenched, he summoned all he could to tear the cord from his neck. “K… KOTORI!” he shouted, ragged breathing piercing the air. The key was gripped in his bloodied palm like the trophy to a warrior at battle, gold and green coated with a slick red. With all he had, it was flung back between the bars, clattering on the steps, and with all he had, he forced himself to smile back at the girl, shocking her to silence.. “Hhhghh…”

What are you doing!?” Astral screamed, body fading in and out despite himself. Death was not a thing he knew, not a thing he could yet comprehend. He did not know of it in the same way as the others, did not know quite what it meant, as his friend struggled to look toward him.

Red. Everything was red and watery, with metal lazily blowing past to smear it across the air. He’d… Look after the cards, right, he wanted to say, struggling to share them through the fragile bond he held with his friend. With this fragile bond severed and cut by the same being to sever and cut away at his very body now–a bond that would now, by that action, become permanently eradicated  He was sorry… He wanted to say he was sorry, that was all–

Yuuma…

His eyes fluttered, with silvery blue clearing the red across his face, and as it did so he forced a grin upon it. “G… Hihhh… Nn…” He could not speak. ’As…t...’ He could not think.

He could only force himself to look forward, beyond the axe as it swooped between them, and to the eyes of the spirit that looked back in terror.

A terror that soon grew to become realization. “Yuuma… NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING–

….goodbye… Astral…’

YUUMAAAAAA–!

There was no response from the boy.

His eyes merely stared back, frozen and faded, to the last thing they had observed as he died.

Chapter Text

 

Astral didn’t understand things like they did.

What do you mean?" he asked, confused. "We need to collect the numbers before Vector! It’s integral to–

“We need to tell Yuuma’s family what happened.”

“We need to stop.”

He didn’t understand why a corpse meant a ‘break’, why they should dwell on such things as death.

Then again, perhaps he had interpreted it as moving on in his place. As pursuing the goals which Yuuma had, and as an action to force the memory from mind. After all, just as he failed to understand them, they failed to understand him. They could 'forget’. They could force a few details from their mind, leaving nothing but stained red and wailing cries.

However for Astral, such a thing was impossible–for Astral, he would forever remember the dulled stare of the corpse that they carried back on the ship.

At the very least however, he did not argue. At the very least, when Shark told him 'no’, and when Rio and Kotori told him why, he stopped. Kotori gripped in her hands the golden key, and in her arms, a lifeless corpse, her body trembling as she held it close. As though the embrace would somehow breathe life into the vessel, repairing the extensive damage and forcing a friendly spark into those eyes. Perhaps in fairy tales and stories of 'happily ever after’, that would happen.

Instead however, there were black clothes for them, and white for the boy. A box, sent into a crematorium after their final goodbyes, burned to ashes to be buried with those of his already lost family. There was no magic in this world, not when it mattered. 

Not when Astral still failed to understand.

Kotori,” he asked her, “We cannot wait any longer. If we do not act to find the remaining Numbers–

“STOP IT!” she finally screamed, holding her head as she stood in her room. Her mother was at work, as she typically was, and as was expected from parents living within the city. Already the girl had snapped at the spirit, her words moving from quiet displeasure to a sobbing rage regardless of who could be watching.

Her mother thought it was a 'coping mechanism’. A way of dealing with what had happened–and such a horrible thing, a freak accident, a fall and a blade–a way of accepting the events, and acknowledging them, releasing the emotions connected to them. Kotori would be seeing a doctor soon.

However Astral was no coping mechanism, and her shouts were more than a result of traumatized hallucination. “Kotori,” the spirit protested almost blankly, “I understand that as a human, you must 'mourn’, however–

“NO! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND,” she finally screamed, eyes welling with tears. “YOU CAN’T UNDERSTAND!”

Astral hovered, eyes wide in shock, and the girl continued.

“This should never have happened!” Kotori cried, clutching the key that had been crudely tied around her neck. “If we’d listened to Rio, it NEVER would have happened!” she wailed. “IF YOU HADN’T TOLD US TO GO IN–”

Kotori–

“JUST STOP!”

Ngh-!

The key was thrown, clattering on the ground where it had passed through his body, and with red eyes and puffy cheeks she finally ran from the room, wailing cries filling the air in her absence. He could not understand–he would not understand! 'Humans need to mourn’. That was all he’d said in response, and as she hid beside her mother’s bed in the darkness of the empty room, she held herself close, allowing the tears to fall. It was impossible–impossible!

In the other room, he reached for the key only for his fingers to pass through it. Despite the light in the room, it felt dark, somehow. Shrouded in the same black fog that had cloaked him that day.

Yuuma had been right. They could not leave until he won–and even then, it had been a tie. In some twisted show of 'mercy’, the building had remained in tact as they left.

They had to find a way to retrieve the body on their own though. Vector did not remove the bars that had led to Yuuma’s end.

'You don’t understand’

He told himself this, and part of him was not sure why. His chest hurt, however. His head, and his entire being hurt, and in the solitude of Kotori’s room, he looked to the key in silence. It hurt–it hurt too much.

It had already been a week. His mind told him they were running out of time–that they needed to move, to gather the numbers before it was too late. Yet as he held a hand to his chest, the pain was too much to bear, more so with such thoughts as that. It had been a week since Yuuma 'died’.

An Observation he failed to give a number to.

'Yuuma is not coming back’

Another observation.

'When humans die, they cannot come back’

'They burn their bodies, and bury them in the earth’

Speaking scientifically, he could say this would return them to it–the nutrients would spread, and life could continue.

Speaking scientifically made his head hurt now. It made his thoughts fill with the sound of his laughter, and with the image of his smile before it twisted into a face coated in red with two streaks cleared by salty tears.

He knew, in a sense, what it meant.

He understood, in a sense, the pain.

'Kattobingu’, neh? He couldn’t be held back by this. He wasn’t supposed to be held back by this. Yuuma, he told himself, would have wanted for him to–

He would have wanted them to be honest.

He would have wanted them to stay together.

He would have wanted so many things he was ignoring now, and as he looked to the key, he felt his own eyes water, the spirit’s form shaking in the air as all the observations, all the memories, and all the events of the past week at last converged into one fell blow to his heart.

It hurt. Death.

'goodbye’

It hurt.

In the darkness of the room Kotori hid within, the girl initially considered leaving when she saw the spirit float in. As he held out a hand to give her something however, she felt herself unable to move–and as she looked to what was being given, she looked to the spirit with pained and swollen eyes, unable to utter so much as a word.

…These cards,” he whispered, coming to his knees just above the floor before her, “Were Yuuma’s…

“I know,” she replied, shaking her head. “But I can’t–I won’t–”

I won’t ask you to duel any more,” the spirit told her. “I…” He swallowed, hand trembling as a few of his tears fell and faded from reality.

It hurt. In their hearts, in their minds, and all over, it hurt.

I just…

Slowly, and quietly, Kotori placed her hands over Astral’s own, taking the deck and forcing herself to speak through ragged sobs. “…We’ll build it for Yuuma… Won’t we, Astral?”

Aah,” he answered, joining her with quiet tears. “…We will.

Chapter Text

Gone.

He was gone, nowhere to be found, with his ‘toy’ rocks littering the ground in a scattered pile and little else to show he had ever been there to begin with. He was simply gone.

And it terrified him.

They could not remain in the chambers forever–moreover, when Alit and Gilag had awoken as they did, it became apparent that they could not even trust in them to help them with the task. Whatever Vector had done in their absence, they were driven to potentially kill him on sight.

They did not wish to risk testing this.

Yet they could not be there at all times, and occasionally there would be miscommunications. Mizael’s watch turned out to be Durbe’s, and vice-versa. Events in the Human World took longer than expected. The reasoning varied, and now it seemed the reasoning had caught up with them.

“Iildus?”

His chest tightened with the lack of response, and the silver-skinned Barian grew frantic.

“IILDUS?!” he called out, again with no response. There was no one behind the thrones, nor behind the spiraling towers of the room. “IILDUS,” he repeated, rushing through lower halls and caverns in his panicked state. “IIL–

“Dubhe!”

Never before had he been more relieved to hear his name pronounced wrong. “Hahhh… Iildus,” he started, turning as the boy’s voice met the air. “Next time, please–”

He froze, looking around the room in confusion.

“Illdus?” he started, stepping forward. There was nothing there, or so it seemed. Nothing but the solid stones of the tower, and the gems that naturally grew along the ruinous realm. Yet he had heard him clearly, he was certain of it. He had heard his voice merely moments before, and yet–

“Hi Dubhe!”

“MN-!” Quite suddenly, one of the rocks in particular seemed to move, and as Iildus looked up, Durbe himself merely attempted to regain his composure and balance both. “I… Iildus!” he started, trembling slightly. Right there. He had been right there the entire time, and yet he had been entirely unable to see him! He’d been right… “What are you doing down here?” he found himself almost demanding, the little one merely blinking up innocently.

Yet for all his innocence it seemed there was a sort of terror in his eyes, the Barian holding his legs close almost guiltily. “Ummmm… Beckta had a scary face,” he 'explained’, childish inflections throwing the sentence somewhat off. “With really big eyes! And it was really scary,” he partially repeated, “So I hid beside this rock, just like Mizael said, and I didn’t move!” Just like–

“Mizael told you?”

“Yea! He said as long as I did’t move, nothing could hurt me EVER!”

The Barian stared, silent for a number of moments. “I see…”

“Yea!” Iildus fell silent, looking away from Durbe for a moment. “…Did I do it wrong..?”

“No, of course not!” he corrected immediately, before looking to him with a softer gaze. “…You did wonderfully,” Durbe told him. “Make sure you do that whenever you get scared, alright?”

The boy nodded furiously, pulling himself up to reach for Durbe as the Barian moved to pick him up. “You and Mizael will find me whenever that happens, right?” he asked, snuggling somewhat against him.

“Of course.”

“You gotta promise though,” Iildus continued, “You and Mizael will definitely find me, no matter what!”

For some reason, he found himself pause in thought with that. Very quickly however, he nodded, carrying the boy back up to the open chambers of the throne room. “I promise, Iildus. Whenever you get scared, one of us will be right there.”

It was strange in a sense. Here they had noted his resemblance to Alit, the red hues of his skin and the darkened tones of his mask causing an all too recognizable effect. Yet the most obvious of the reasons had never occurred to them. Resemblance was one thing–however resemblance to Alit would have served little purpose at the time. 

Camouflage, however. That, in the end, did. And after all, Vector could only kill what he knew was there.

And if Vector could not see the boy, then he would never know, now would he.

Chapter Text

There was nothing.

Therapy was some sort of cruel joke, and holding the cards left a nauseating feeling in his throat, and there was nothing. Nothing but faint weeping in the back of his mind, and a dissonant cry of ‘kattobingu!’.

It was as though he had felt so much, he couldn’t feel any more, at this point. As though the tears expended over the course of two weeks had drained him completely, leaving a husk in its wake.

At one week, Rio had idly mentioned that Kotori calmed down. She’d gone from crying to her over the phone to simply ignoring her.

'She’s not okay.’ No shit she wasn’t–none of them were, not even the ones who hadn’t been there. Kotori though…

As it turned out, they were seeing the same therapist. The doctor herself didn’t say anything obviously, but when they both stood in the waiting room, that much had been clear. One week, that was when she started. Two weeks was when he did, and he only had perhaps two, maybe three sessions?

None of them were ever finished.

'Do you want to talk about it?’ No. 'Is there anything you want to talk about?’ No. And if there was, he couldn’t say it anyway! They had already lied about enough. Lied about Yuuma’s death, lied about the location of his cards. About the key that Kotori now wore around her neck on  a thin metal chain she’d used to replace bloodsoaked thread, the key hidden under her shirt, and about how they’d even come to witness the tragedy. There was too much lying, too much secrecy, and he couldn’t stand it!

A necessary lie was what it was, but the necessity it seemed, would drive them all insane.

Two weeks after he was gone, and Kotori’s only improvement had been in communicating with Astral. From what little he got from Rio, she otherwise seemed distant, cold–quiet, too quiet, even. It was obvious why that was, however, and it was clear that it was merely Kotori’s way of attempting to cope. Astral’s constant presence was something she’d come to accept, and had to accept, but even Astral did not speak often. The silence comforted her.

It gave the illusion that it was 'over’ for good.

It wasn’t though, not really.

Therapy was a joke. A twisted series of appointments where people tried to get into their heads to help, but tried in vain, for after all who in the entire world could possibly have understood?  Session number three–or four was it? That was when he made his decision, however.

'What do you know of depression?’ He ignored it. He didn’t care any more, he didn’t want to care, he just didn’t--

He ignored it, and for the first time sat through the entire thing because of that very reason.  Kotori would be going in next. 'I’ll see you another time, Sha–’ Kotori paused, and corrected herself, and as she passed, he couldn’t help but notice that she still didn’t carry around more than her usual before 'the incident’. 'I’ll see you next time… Kamishiro-kun.’

Kotori didn’t carry the cards with her.

Two weeks, coming on three, and she didn’t have the cards.

It hurt to hold them now, admittedly. Dueling was what Yuuma had lived for, and in a twisted sense, what he had died for. Avoiding cards was expected, if anything.

After the fourth session however, he realized…

That only meant he needed to duel now more than ever, then.

“Ryoga?”

As though possessed, he left his room with those thoughts, ignoring Rio’s questions as he headed for the door.

“Ah–Ryoga!” she shouted, “Where are you going–”

The door slammed shut before she could even finish her sentence, and the girl stood stunned just long enough for him to take his leave.

Kotori wouldn’t do anything.

She couldn’t do anything.

And that only meant that he needed to do something now more than ever.

The buttons on the D-Gazer he had were tapped, and as the phoneline rang he glared at it silently, as though the gaze would force the one on the other end to pick up. If he was going to continue what Yuuma had started, he’d need 'help’–but not the sort that Yuuma would have wanted.

Pick up… Pick up–!

Ah– Sh-Shark–!?

There.

“Ginji,” he started coolly, the boy on the other end gawking. “I need to call in a 'favor’.”

Chapter Text

To be honest, he wasn’t really any older than Shark was, for all his talk before the incident. Perhaps he’d just been agitated, or annoyed–all he’d seen back then was that Shark came and went and only stuck his nose in when it benefited him.

He knew better now, really. Besides that, Shark didn’t really come back after that. Whatever happened must have been good though; there was no news in the morning about theft, be it successful or failed, and despite bone-wracking terror he’d decided to chance going back to the hideaway himself because of that.

One could say he was lucky.

Rikuo and Kaio were ‘normal’ again.

Ginji didn’t hear from Shark after that however, not for a long time. When he did though, he could hardly say that the demand was expected.

“A–Transport!?”

Shark was serious. He might have spoken ill of him to the two leaders of the gang before, but that did not change that he would never have challenged him even then. Shark was dangerous, not only as a duelist, but as a fighter, whether people knew it or not.

You did not mess with Shark.

And now here he was, calling him. “S-Shark,” he’d protested nonetheless, “Of all the places… I, I mean, Italy is–”

No arguments. He needed a quiet trip out, one person, that was it. Yet…

“But then why are you calling me!?”

What was he supposed to know about this? What was he supposed to do, that no one else could?!

Talk.

That’s what he could–or rather, wouldn’t–do. Apparently, Shark just needed someone to get him the tickets without his sister knowing, a fact that went no further than Ginji’s own remark at the fact that he even had one. Shark didn’t talk after all.

Perhaps that was why.

Shark provided the funding–cash. All he had to do was buy the ticket, and hand it over. That was all. Except–

Ryoga.”

“Tch–”

“EH!?”

Except apparently Rio caught wind of it when Shark took a couple hundred yen out from their bank account, and evidently she’d decided to bring a friend. “Ryoga,” the girl demanded, “What are you doing?”

“Nothing that concerns you,” he replied immediately, only to be fixed with a glare.

“Is that so? So then, if I take this–”

“NGH- RIO–!”

The girl quickly tossed it to her friend, who looked remarkably torn between holding it away from Shark and wondering if he’d last long doing so. “You’re going to the next spot aren’t you?” she questioned, Ginji watching in nervous confusion. “Ryoga! Don’t just leave without saying anything, moron–!”

“Gh–I would have left a note–”

“You know what I mean!” While Shark growled, looking away from his sister’s accusations, Rio herself looked back to the friend she’d brought.

“Mnn–Sparta City?” the boy remarked, looking back to Shark with a frown. “So then, it really is–”

“Mou… You even made this guy buy them for you,” Rio grumbled, Ginji stiffening.

“Th-This guy!?”

At this point the larger boy in orange seemed to recognize him, staring. “Hey… You’re from back then!” he realized, eyes wide. “The gang–”

“A gang!?” Rio turned on her brother yet again, Tetsuo looking remarkably uneasy while Shark shot him a look. “Ryoga! Just what were you doing when I was in the hospital!”

“…Nothing,” he answered, still failing to look his sister in the eye. “I just needed a place to stay–”

“In a GANG?”

Ginji coughed, rubbing the back of his head. “Ehhh… Well, he didn’t do anything other than hang around, really, so–” He coughed again as the glare came his way, Rio herself turning her attentions to him.

“So then, you’re a friend of Ryoga’s?”

“Ehh–!?” F-Friend……

Shark was looking at him rather darkly now.

“W-Well, I wouldn’t say–”

“What’s your name then?” Rio asked pleasantly, as though realizing the further conversation would irk the one behind her. “If you’re a friend of Ryoga’s, I should know, shouldn’t I?”

“Eh-Ehehhhh…”

“His name’s 'Ginji’,” Shark muttered, hand on his hip. “And we’re not 'friends’.”

“Really?” his sister asked. “You trusted him enough with the money for your ticket…” Ginji swallowed, and Rio looked back. “Well, it worked out in the end, I suppose–now we just need to get our own tickets!”

“EH–M-ME!?”

Shark turned. “He’s not coming.”

“And besides that, I don’t exactly have a passport, or–”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” Rio commented idly. “We still have a bit of time, I’m sure we can get you one–”

“Rio–! He’s not–”

“I hear they sell tickets on sale if you buy three at once,” she continued on, smiling as she held her gaze away from Shark. “Too bad it would be a waste to return yours to take advantage of that…”

“It’s a waste to just bring another person!” Shark countered, Tetsuo rubbing his head as the chaos continued.

“Y-You know,” Ginji laughed, sweating somewhat, “It’s really fine if I don’t go…” Why Italy, of all the places, ITALY–

“Mmmn, you’d probably need some travel things too,” the girl added, her brother fuming as he fixed his 'friend’ with enraged eyes.

“AH-HAHHHHH–” A cough. “Really! It’s fine, it’s perfectly–”

“He has nothing to do with this!” Shark roared, at last cutting his sister’s words short as she frowned. “NOTHING! And you–”

“If you think you have more of a right to go than I,” came a low warning at the side, Tetsuo quite abruptly tossing away all unease to look darkly at Shark, “Then you shouldn’t be going at all!” he snapped, empty fist clenching.

Those words, at least, reached the boy. And in the silence that fell, Ginji found himself asking why. “O-Oi…” he began, the mood in the air suddenly growing stale. A chill seemed to come over the air, a cold wind that removed any emotion from around them. As though someone had died, he would even say, but that couldn’t be it, right? “Why ask me to go?” he laughed uneasily, looking from one to the other. “What about that other guy? The one you’re actually friends with!” he continued, bringing his hands up in defense. “Yuu–”

“Yuuma can’t come,” came the dark response, Ginji’s fragmented smile plummeting.

“Oiii… W-What do you mean–”

“Yuuma… Yuuma is…” Tetsuo grimaced, turning away–and while Rio did similar, Shark repeated himself.

“I mean he can’t come,” he snapped lowly, shaking on the spot, “Because he’s dead!”

“Ryoga–!”

“You don’t have anything to do with this,” Shark persisted, the boy before him growing white. “Not this, and not Yuuma! So don’t–!”

“What do you mean… Dead..?”

Why?

Why did it affect him this much? He didn’t know the kid. Hell he would have beaten the snot out of him if he could have during their initial meeting, and the 'meeting’ after that was a two minute talk on why Shark needed help. Shark was right. There wasn’t a reason for him to care. There wasn’t a reason for him to get involved at all, not at all! So then why–

“How…”

“He was looking for 'Numbers’,” Rio started clearly, both boys behind her stiffening at the words. However while it looked as though they were about to protest, they did not, for whatever reason.

And so, he was allowed to react. “Numbers–” Wait, those– “You mean the cards that aniki had–!?” Dark cards. Cards that changed how a person acted, that was what those cards had been, hadn’t it? “Why would he look for–”

Shark appeared to be ready to tell him to forget about it–however Rio continued, and again it appeared she had the floor. “Because he was supposed to,” she answered. “He was supposed to gather all of the Numbers; these seven especially,” the girl went on, Ginji regarding her with almost frightened confusion. “And that’s why we’re going to Italy. That’s where the next number is–where the next thing Yuuma died for is.” Died for..?

“Y-You mean… The reason he died, is–”

“Yes. That’s how he died,” Shark growled, finally cutting in. “Because we’re not the only ones looking for them! And the ones who are also looking decided it would be 'funny’ to lock everyone up and cut him in half!” he roared, his sister looking ill at the words while Tetsuo merely trembled further. “That’s the kind of risk we’re taking!” Shark persisted. “Do you still want to come!?”

“I…” He wanted to say…

He hadn’t wanted to come at all.

“I need…”

He hadn’t even considered it, and had just wanted to know what happened. He had merely asked a question. And then–

“OIII! Answer the question!” Testuo shouted after him as he ran, sandals slapping the ground while he vanished around the corner. “OII!”

“Tch. Leave it,” Shark grumbled, turning to move. “We don’t need that kind of guy with us.”

“Mm, so you’re fine with us coming now then?”

The boy froze, but nonetheless seemed to relent. “…As if I could stop you,” he finally remarked, taking his ticket back from Tetsuo.

“Good,” Rio remarked. “Because it would be a futile effort! Now…” She moved to look at the ticket in Shark’s hand. “What plane is this…”

 


 

“Hah-Aah, hah-AAAH, hah-AHH–”

Sandals slapped the ground and people stared in disgust the further he got into Heartland, but frankly, he could have cared less.

“Ha-AH, ha-AH–”

Getting ID was hell, getting a passport was hell, but then again it would have been much worse if he’d done it the 'proper’ way, and he was lucky that he’d been able to scrounge up the cash for it at all.

“Hah… Hah… Hahh…”

Now Boarding–Flight 4–

He could see blue, violet, and orange in the distance, and if he just ran a little further– “WAAAAAAAIT–!”

They stopped.

“Hahh… Hahh… Hahhhhhhhhh…”

“…Good thing we’re on flight '8’,” Tetsuo murmured, Rio and Shark turning as Ginji approached.

“You?” Shark questioned, narrowing his eyes. “Why are you here?” he asked. “I thought what we were doing was too rough for you,” he added, only to find himself with a more confused frown when Ginji failed to look at him. “…Oi,” he remarked, bringing his full attention to the boy. “Answer me!”

“…I had to get my deck,” he answered. As the others stared in silence, he held it forward, the cards slightly scuffed and tattered from aged origin. “If it’s for that guy, then–”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” the other growled. “'For that guy’? You don’t have anything–”

“He’s the one who helped when I asked him,” Ginji cut in, voice cracking slightly under the strain of emotion brought with interrupting Shark. “On that day… I asked him, and he listened! I don’t know what happened,” he continued, trembling, “But because of him, things worked out! The boss… Aniki… They went back to normal. I was able to go back, and you didn’t end up taking the fall for something big like that! And that was his doing,” he pushed,  gripping his cards. “So, for that…”

Silence.

Ginji swallowed, and the silence was deafening. This wasn’t going to work, part of him wanted to say. It would be better to run, to deal with what he knew he could work with. Forget this ever happened, forget about the numbers, the darkness–

“…I want to come,” he said with a swallow. “I… I can’t pay for a ticket,” he admitted, “Actually, I don’t have any money at all, so–”

“That’s alright.” He blinked, watching as Rio handed a small piece of card over.

“E-EHHH–!” Admittedly, he hadn’t expected them to agree–after all, while he had decided he’d do it, it wasn’t as though– “Y-You actually…”

“It’s cheaper in threes,” Rio remarked calmly, moving to grab her bag from the side as Tetsuo nodded toward one of the building’s clocks. “So, lets move, shall we?”

He shook, staring at the ticket in his hand with wide eyes. “A… A ticket…”

“Oi, Ginji!” Shark called back, snapping him from his stupor. “Get moving! We need to get through the security check!”

“Eh… R-Right!”

It was probably luck, that his passport held through that. As it were, fear aside, it somehow felt like he was about to do something 'big’ for once in his life.

And this time, he couldn’t have run away if he tried.

Chapter Text

They would have been such powerful words, such a heavy shield to cover his fear. To cover the terror of the axe, and the sensation of stinging pain across the back of his neck before it was replaced with the searing pain of 'absence’ in all his body. The perfect line to distract them from that thing, from anything, if they could just pay attention to anything but him–!

As soon as he’d said those words, all others living and standing before him grew white. Ryoga seemed to tremble with an intense rage, with only his sister holding him back as the two others with them looked to the teen in quiet fear. Kaito, the only one of his opponents and 'partners’ left standing now thanks to the events of the duel, stared at him with wide and disbelieving eyes, and yet out of some twisted responsibility as the victor, he nonetheless spoke.

Tsukumo Yuuma is dead,’ he spoke hoarsely, as though to partially blame himself for the act. ’And he has been for almost a month.

A lie.

…It was a lie, wasn’t it?

The fear returned to his face in that instant, visible for the split second it took him to open a portal to the space between the world of human and that of his own. It had to be a lie, a trick, didn’t it?

Perhaps it was curiosity, perhaps it was rage, but rather than head toward the Barian World to report his failure, he found himself reappearing in the streets of Heartland, cloaked in the shadows of an alleyway. It was a lie, he repeated to himself, throwing fear away to replace it with rage as his heart hardened against the words of his opponent. It was a lie–and if that were the case then the sights and sounds he’d experienced only moments ago were just as much so. A twisted and ruthless trick to bring him to submission, he told himself.

That was what it was.

So then where was Yuuma, he asked himself as he walked, the streets bustling in their usual pattern of activity around him. Where was Yuuma, he wondered as he slipped into the attic of the house, his eyes met with layers of dust on objects that had clearly not been touched as they so often were. The photo of his parents was clouded and grimy, with the hammock cold and untouched. Though he was tempted to go down to the boy’s actual bedroom, he found himself unable to bring himself to do it–and when his heart thought to tell him why, his mind forced the sensation away, just as it had with the feelings of the blade, and of the chain that once hung around his neck.

Alit gripped his throat without thinking, taking a gasp of air at the very thought before shaking his head. No. It was not real, he told himself. Not at all.

So then where was Yuuma?

As he wandered the streets he heard familiar muttering, and, deciding not to risk the associations that would have come thanks to prior events, he ducked into an alley to let the voice pass.

I thought despite everything, lilies would be nice, neh?

Kotori. It was Kotori he heard, he realized, watching as the girl passed. More curiously however was that she was not alone–as she moved past the alley, a small collection of flowers in her arms, an all too familiar spirit hovered alongside her, his arms limp at his side as he seemed to nod blankly in response to her words.

Astral. Astral was with her, and again his heart’s cries of protests ended with his mind squashing the thought where it bloomed, lest his neck sear in pain and his eyes again be filled with red.

She did not say much as she walked, Kotori. Despite this it was more than easy to follow after them, with the spirit giving him a clear visual of wherever she moved in Heartland’s crowds. Their path took them out of the city’s main streets, and beyond even the more quiet, suburban areas, with the sun sitting relatively high in the air as the distance between himself and Kotori grew further and further in his determination to avoid being seen. 

At last, it seemed, she had stopped however. The location they paused at was flat, and open above the steps, so rather than follow after again he chose to remain behind one of the trees that helped to frame it. He was not so far that he could not hear her of course–though he did not step up upon the stone platform she walked across, he at least followed her now clear voice from the bottom, stepping quietly about the platform’s walls and listening intently.

Hello, Yuuma.’ There. She was talking to him now, he told himself with a bitter scowl, unable to feel properly victorious about being 'right’. ’It’s a nice day today, isn’t it?

Their conversation could hardly be called normal.

Kotori’s voice was the only one he heard, with Yuuma remaining just as silent as Astral. She spoke constantly–as though she couldn’t be answered to, a small part of him remarked, the Barian forcing the thought quickly from mind. She spoke about the weather, and about how she’d gone shopping earlier that week with a friend. She spoke about seeing a doctor about something or other (a bird flew past as she was saying just what, and lest he give himself away he had found himself frozen against the wall and waiting for the panicked rustling to quiet)–and she spoke of practicing duel monsters, a thing that admittedly brought a softer smile to his face despite everything. She spoke on and on, yet not once did he hear Yuuma speak. It was unnerving. Even his mind failed to come up with a reason why, why she would meet with him so far out of the city, why Astral would be with her now, and why he would be so horribly, unbearably silent.

Or perhaps, more accurately, neither his heart nor his mind gave him options that would relieve him of the pain that again seared through his body. Stinging first the back of his neck as something warm and wet seemed to slide across it, and then quite abruptly over his entire body. It paralyzed him from his throat, downward, leaving his limbs unable to move and his lungs struggling to remind himself to breathe, dammit, this was a human body he was currently in!

A human body that seemed now more than ever to be familiar to him in all aspects that could be, however much he struggled to deny himself of that fact.

His heart pounded, and above him he heard Kotori tell her friend 'good bye’, before walking back toward the steps. Initially, he followed them once again, tracing his steps along the wall and pausing as the girl came down the stairs at the entrance, waiting for her to pass again so that he could move. Given a few minutes, and she was gone, Astral vanishing with her. He stepped out from the brush of the trees and looked back to the steps, and against his will found himself swallowing thickly under the pressure of his heart. A cemetery  That was what the sign said it was, yet he willed himself to force it from mind. He walked up the steps and as he did so his breath and heartbeat sounded through his ears, blood rushing to blot out any and all sounds that could be heard as his body trembled despite himself. A lit tunnel, that was what seemed to be before him, as he traced the steps Kotori would have taken according to his ears. A tunnel lined with untouched brick, a chain wrapped around his neck as the leash to an animal would have been, dragging him toward the open arena. Bare feet, scuffing the ground where his shoes should have touched it, hands tied behind his back when in reality they merely hung at his sides.

Tsukumo Yuuma!’ That was what he would say, when he saw him. He would sneer it with a dark and challenging tone, and face him in the rematch he so strongly desired, eyes filled with the sparks of a heated flame. He had decided this long ago, and yet as he tried to make himself call out the words now, if only to locate his target easier, they became stuck in his throat, trapped by the stale air he now breathed. ’Yuuma!’ he wanted to shout, to shout with a snarl and a curse at the insolence the boy displayed in hiding, the cowardice he displayed in not answering these calls he failed to make. ’Yuuma!’ he would roar, a touch of concern perhaps creeping into it, as his heart and mind finally came to a stop in all their attempts to move him one way or another.

“Yuu…”

'Tsukumo’

That was what was carved in the stone. It would have been an expensive purchase, however someone who had the funds and connections had clearly refused to let such a thing come between them and a proper grave.

'Tsukumo Yuuma’. A small incense burner stood at the front of it, a stick still smoking from perhaps a few moments before. 

Tsukumo Yuuma’. The kanji did not lie, and they were carved solidly into the rock, with two small vases sitting on either side of the burner to house the lilies Kotori had brought with her.

Tsukumo…

Yuuma…

There was no one there, in the graveyard. Neither human nor barian could see him now, and despite all he had experienced, despite all his mind told him, his heart could no longer care what he was.

He merely fell to his knees and wept, the silence of his spirit finally broken at last.

Chapter Text

“Durbe.”

It hadn’t been long since he’d returned, and in that time, Mizael had long since left. There were things to be done–ruins to comb, and though he had his own worries about what those ruins would contain, Durbe did not address them.

Alit was in no state to battle at the moment however, that was for sure. Perhaps it was a side effect of awakening early–or perhaps, a part of him decided, there was something else. Even so.

“What is it, Alit?”

“What sorts of things do youn… Do children like?”

The barian stared, almost alarmed. “You corrected yourself?” he murmured, narrowing his eyes. Younglings were younglings, and nothing less–the use of human terms, particularly after the ‘incident’ that was his meeting with the young one in question, was worrisome to say the least. “Alit,” he questioned, the warrior only barely able to meet his gaze. “What brought this question?”

Alit merely crossed his arms. “He’s upset,” he replied easily. “There’s not much to do here, for him, and the stories from a fly will only do so much.”

“HEEEEEEEEEEYYY–!” Rather quick to react to words out of earshot, the fly in question skirted past. “I heard that!”

“…”

“AAAAAHHH– Aaaaa-kaikaikaikaikaiiiiiii…” As a set of glares were sent his way, the fly buzzed off, scratching furiously at his face. “I got it, I got it–!” He grumbled under his breath, sighing. “I could do so many more useful things, but I suppose, I’ll just have to keep them to myself…”

Hn. Evidently neither of the Barians thought to agree with the insect, as they continued with their conversation. “I thought, if I could bring Iildus to–”

“He stays here,” Durbe cut in swiftly, leveling Alit with a commanding stare. “The human world is a battle field–nothing else.”

“–If I could bring things to Iildus,” Alit corrected then, the other staring confusedly.

“…'Things’.”

“I was asking you what you would think he’d find interesting, wasn’t I?” Ah.

He sighed, closing his eyes to go into thought on the matter. “There is quite a lot that catches Iildus’ eye,” he admitted, opening them after a few moments of silence. “Bright objects in particular are one, however he does seem to have a strange infatuation with the robes we wore before.”

The robes were an odd one, admittedly. The only reason he himself had been wearing them at all at the time was because of a few matters in the outer reaches of their world–strong as his skin was, it was not so strong that it did not need protection against the forces which ravaged their realm, and for that, the robes provided at least some resistance.

Those words evidently were all Alit needed however–and, much to his confusion, the Barian’s response was as curt as if Durbe himself had given it.

“Understood,” was all he said, a portal appearing before him. “I’ll be back soon.”

What it was he was doing, he would admittedly still be at a bit of a loss for.

However when Alit finally did return, Durbe would find that he was no more certain of his actions than he was before. Perhaps it was because of what had happened to Iildus. Perhaps instead, it was something tied to the ruins he’d visited.

Either way, it seemed to be a rather bizarre form of 'coping’, if it were that at all.

 


 

This was his 'territory’, so to speak. Finding the ruins outside of Heartland was proving far more difficult than he had expected however, and while he had not intended to stop until he succeeded, there were matters of other 'visitors’ that proved to be a distraction.

It was for that very reason that he was now in Downtown Heartland, rather than in its outlying areas, and why, with a set glare, he came behind Alit with crossed arms.

“What are you doing?”

Alit for his part, reacted almost too casually, as though worried less for himself, and more for someone else. “Gilag,” he 'greeted’, smirking. “I hardly expected you to be here…”

“Hn! This is where the set of ruins I’m searching for are,” the barian retorted, eyeing the bags in his partner’s arms. “The ones I plan on dealing with, remember?” Without waiting for an answer, he continued, pointing to his friend accusingly. “Or did you think it’d be funny to find them first?!”

Again, the reply was 'too casual’–though perhaps that was part of getting under his skin. “I’m not here about the numbers,” Alit answered, shrugging. “You can just go right back to hunting, for all I care.”

“What!?”

“…” Alit was not looking at him, he realized. There as a burning rage in his mind that said it didn’t matter of course, and that it would be better to simply continue on his way and wait for his opponent to arrive as expected, however somehow the reaction managed to quench it, if only slightly. “…The ruins,” Alit eventually murmured, before moving to continue on his way. “Watch yourself, Gilag.”

“Watch–” He choked, shaking his head and snarling a retort back. “What’s that supposed to mean!?”

Alit merely shouldered the bags and regarded his friend with clouded eyes, before vanishing into the crowd. Silence. That had been his answer. Silence.

It was almost enough to shatter the roaring in his heart that told him to fight, that. As it were, making his way back toward the outskirts, he found himself wondering if he couldn’t simply be done with his task so that he could head home.

Quite suddenly, he didn’t much look forward to finding these ruins.

 


 

“It’s… Very strange,” she admitted to her friend, “But he didn’t seem to be doing any harm –nya.”

If Cathy could see and hear Astral at that very moment Kotori lamented mentally, she would probably be rephrasing those words rather quickly. As it was, she merely looked to the spirit and nervously shot him a swift 'quiet down!’ before attempting to question the girl. “Erm… That’s… Nice,” she started, ignoring Astral’s immediate protest. “…But what was he doing?”

Cathy blinked. “I’m not really sure! I had all of my kitties keeping an eye on Alit the moment I spotted him,” she continued, stroking one such cat at that very moment, “But…”

“…But?”

“He was visiting toy stores –nya!”

What. “E-Eeeeh!? Toy stores?” Even Astral seemed rather taken aback by that one, the spirit clamming up and peering from above and behind his new partner to listen as Cathy continued.

“That’s right! In and out, getting bags of toys! He even got a teddy bear–it was as large as I was -nya!”

Th… That… “But… What would Alit want with…”

Cathy shook her head, and for the likes of them, they were completely stumped as to the reasoning behind his actions. “I don’t know; like I said, he didn’t seem to be doing anything dangerous!”

“Strange…”

Suspicious…” Astral murmured darkly, unknowingly ignored.

Perhaps it was for the best that this would be their only news on the Barian however.

If they had known what it was that Kaito and Shark’s own travelling parties experienced earlier, after all, it would be likely that they wound up more confused than ever before.

Chapter Text

But a day earlier, hours even, he would have answered ‘a disguise’. A human disguise, with only his eyes to give him away. However now, there were memories that could not be ignored. There were thoughts and sensations which he could no longer pass off as hallucinations and lies, and as he looked into the glass window now, he found himself distastefully admitting that the face of those memories was indeed the face he wore now.

How could he even speak to the others, with this face, he wondered. How could he say 'for the Barian World’ when it was evidently only partially his own, when, despite all his ties to it, all his love for it, it had never been his? When since he was even born

The same could be said for Yuuma–no, Iildus, he corrected–couldn’t it? The youngling couldn’t be more than a few weeks old. With his appearance as it was, Durbe himself had noted the likely possibilities, telling him to think of it what he would.

Durbe could not afford to question the origins of the Barians. He was the closest to a leader that they had now, and if he fell, so would everyone else. As for himself however–as for his own memories, well.

He swallowed his pride and reminded himself why he had taken this face again. If Iildus was Yuuma not long before, then so be it–he would make sure that the word 'Yuuma’ never meant anything to him but the name of some human he could never meet. He would make certain that if this war were to last any longer, it would not come to bring ill revelations to the youngling’s ears. To that end, he decided–

“Mn.”

Iildus was bored. There was nothing but stone around him, and given how long it had been since any of them had even seen a youngling, being able to properly care for one was a challenge. Most worry was on keeping him out of Vector’s way, rather than keeping him occupied. It was a good way to get him to fall off the edge of one of the rooms in his opinion–so he would find something to keep him from that. Something that would give him a target–

Such as what was visible behind him in the reflection of the window.

It was a human toy store. He wasn’t sure of the name, but given what was in the store front window, that much was clear, and as he entered it, a small bell rang to notify the young woman manning the cash register.

“Welcome!”

He nodded, partially because he was already walking toward her, and partially because it was a bit of a habit. The things in here were foreign to him. Boxes of puzzles and games lined the shelves, with things such as action figures and stuffed animals sitting among them. The only thing that was familiar, in a sense, were the small duel monster toys among them–cards and equipment were typically in their own store after all.

“Is there anything I can help you with?” the woman questioned, noticing his apparent distraction.

Alit turned, and in the end nodded. “Mn. I’m looking for toys a small boy would like,” he said after a brief pause, “My friend is–”

“Aaah, have a 'daddy’ for a friend then do you?” the store clerk chuckled, briefly catching Alit off guard.

“Mn? Well, that–” Before he could say anything further, the clerk moved to leave her station, gesturing about the store as she led him off. Quite unintentionally, he’d managed to save himself from a rather awkward situation; most teenaged and adult men were not friends with small little boys.

“So, can you tell me about this little boy?” the clerk questioned, showing Alit about the aisles. “What’s his name?”

Eh– “Iildus,” he answered quickly, feeling just a little uncomfortable within the store for reasons unknown.

“Iildus?” the woman repeated. “Ah… I suppose I shouldn’t question it,” she laughed, rubbing the back of her head. “So, what sorts of things does Iildus like?” What–

That was what he’d asked her wasn’t it?!

“…Soft things,” he eventually tried, recalling Durbe’s comment on the boy’s penchant for cloth. “Things that shine as well… Mostly soft things however,” Alit added quickly. There were plenty of crystals that 'shone’ in the Barian World. What they needed was something soft, something for Iildus to perhaps sit on, or cuddle with.

He did not find anything that seemed satisfactory however, at least on the matter of 'soft things’. What he did find was some sort of crystal 'puzzle ball’ however–which, after a quick gleam of fuchsia in his eyes, was carried out within a bag.

That was when he had run into Gilag.

He supposed it explained his unease, but for Gilag to be the source unnerved him even more than that. He was accusing, driven… While there were many shades of the Gilag he knew, he found a pit stones forming in his chest the more he listened to his friend’s words, until finally despite his attempts to ease the situation down, he moved to leave.

…The ruins…

He had to warn him of that, at the very least.

Whether or not Gilag would listen in the end, he did not know.

Searching for a place with 'soft things’ without drawing unwanted attention was rather difficult nonetheless however, and after an hour or so of walking he eventually came to rest on a nearby bench. What would it mean, he found himself wondering, if Gilag found his ruins? He himself had not remembered 'those things’ until the duel. Until he had been blown against the ground by the force of a dragon, the roar of the beast replaced by the triumphant roars of the colosseum crowd.

The very thought brought stinging pain to his neck again, jolting him from his nightmares. If Gilag reached the number, he could only hope then that he went unmatched–that was all. Until then, he was out of his reach.

And he had his own purpose.

“Oh?” With those words in his mind he turned, a shadow having appeared in the corner of his eye. It was nothing bad–just a small cat, sunning itself on the bench. The cat itself seemed to have noticed the attention he was getting, and in response gave a small 'miau’, stretching itself and moving closer to the seeming human.

Prrrrrraou. Maou…” It batted his head against the Barian’s arm, Alit slowly moving to bring his hand over the cat’s fur.

“…Soft,” he noted almost blankly, listening as the cat purred under the contact. For some reason something faded was coming in the back of his mind, as though triggered merely by the sound and touch–

rrREEEEAAAAAAAOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUU–

A caterwaul split the air and Alit jumped, the cat doing the same.

“Mrr–!” Without warning it tore off down the street, Alit standing to stare after it in shock.

“Ah–Wait!” he protested, running a few steps only for the cat to vanish between an all too slim alleyway. “OI!”

Hahhhhh…

He supposed, at least, that there was an advantage to all that. Turning from where he’d chased the cat, another store came into view, and from there, he continued on with his 'mission’. Soft things, he reminded himself, thinking of the cat. Something with a feeling like that, Alit decided, would be perfect. Looking only into the window of this new store in fact, and he could see that he had his answer now. Looking to the reflection however, and at the sign labeled with an enormous needle and thread…

That brought an even better idea.

Transporting solid objects through the Barian portals of course was no easy feat–he might have had the 'path’ between Heartland’s streets and the old hideaway memorized, yes, but that didn’t make it simple to carry his 'purchases’.

The bear landed with a soft 'thud’ on the ground, and as he looked about the room he found himself struck with nostalgia. Unlike the moments he’d experienced throughout the day thus far however, it was different. Though the sensation brought pain, it was pain of a different sort, his eyes lingering over somewhat rotted oden sticks, and the thickly dusted ruins of a smashed television set. Even the mats which he and Gilag had once used to sleep on, were still there.

It was as though the entire room had been forgotten, not only by them, but by the ones who owned it in the first place.

His purchases lay in bags alongside the enormous bear, and as he pulled them out, he found himself cracking a number of knuckles in preparation. This would be battle of a differing sort, he told himself, taking out the fabrics he’d chosen. He pulled out scissors and measuring tape, along with pencils and paper and pins, pulling the bear down to its side to make things somewhat easier. It would be a battle not of fists, but rather the fingers, and the thumbs. A delicate dance of needle and thread, to make what was of 'earth’ something entirely new.

Something Iildus wouldn’t have recognized even from the deepest recesses of his mind. Something born of patterns, drawn from memories not of earth but of red and crystal, cut with ancient songs and tunes humming through his mind, and coloured red with the light of their sky. He would create a creature of familiarity, in more ways than one. He would–

Mrrraaaaouuuu…

“Mn-!?” As the last stitch was made, Alit jumped, looking to the window in panic. There was no one there, or so it seemed. However, unwilling to trust in the idea of hallucinations any more, he rushed for the door to look outside. “Oi!” he shouted, looking around with a frown. “Who’s there! Show yourself!”

MRraaaaaAAAAI–!

His response was a hissed meow, a cat darting out from a nearby bush to run off. For a moment, he wondered if the steps he heard were louder than that–if perhaps, the cat was not alone…

With the sun setting in the sky however, he turned back.

Scraps of paper and fabric were left behind, with notes in an unknown language scattered over the sheets. The bulk of what had gone in however, left with him–and it was to the great excitement of Iildus, along with the immense confusion of Durbe himself, that he revealed those things.

“H-HwwwaaaaAAAAAAAAAH!” The crystal puzzle was hardly solved of course, but he hadn’t expected the boy to make much of it just yet. Perhaps in time he’d get it, but for now he could play around with the switches and colours for as long as he so desired. “It’s so cool!” the little one cheered, objects pulled from bags while Durbe eyed the larger one that had barely been hidden below the halls. “Where’d this stuff come from!”

“Someplace special,” Alit answered evasively, deciding it to be for the better if he did not mention 'Earth’ to the little one.  "It’s all yours though, and it’s better than earth,“ he added, Durbe’s bewildered attentions now moving to the red-toned Barian himself.

"Really!?” Frankly, the pile was not so large as the boy likely thought. Aside from the crystal puzzle, Alit had managed to find a few beanbags of sorts, which could be stacked or moved around however Iildus liked. Anything else he’d spotted that made him think of the boy had seemed 'too much’, however. Too much of earth, too much of 'him’.

It was simply too much, and with a gleam in his eye, he moved back for the last thing. “There’s one more,” he started, hauling out the large stuffed animal as Iildus turned. “Tadah–! This is–”

“WOAH–!”

It was huge that’s what it was. The youngling quickly stopped what he was doing and ran over to more or less tackle the enormous patched bear, looking up to the others with shock.

“IT’S LIKE TEN… No, A HUNDRED CLOAKS–!”

“Heh!” Alit merely snorted at that, while Durbe’s gaze shifted between the 'bear’ and his colleague.

“You’re going to spoil him rotten,” the Barian murmured, Alit merely crossing his arms.

“…It’ll be better than waiting for him to get bored,” he replied, Iildus looking back to them with wide eyes.

“What’s his name, what is he?”

“I believe it is some form of Earthen Bear,” Durbe started, Alit shaking his head.

“No–it’s a Barian bear,” he countered, gesturing to the mask it had. “See, it has the same kind of face we do!”

While Durbe fixed the warrior with a 'look’, Iildus turned back to the 'bear’. “Bearian…”

“That’s right–it’s 'Barian’–”

“He’s a 'BEARIAN–!”

Durbe was the first to realize what the child was getting at. “…No. Iildus, 'barian’ and 'bear’ are two different–”

“BEARIAN! YEAAAAAAA–!”

“Mn…” In the end, Durbe sighed, turning to leave. “I need to check a few things,” he told Alit, moving down the steps. “Watch him carefully.”

“Of course!”

The silver skinned Barian vanished, and in the silence Alit moved to join Iildus, the boy half buried under 'bearian’s arm. “He’s so big, is he gonna fit in the crystal with me? I don’t think I’ve EVER seen a crystal as big as Bearian!”

He had to laugh at that. “Hn! That’s because 'bearian’ doesn’t need to sleep–he’s a guardian,” he told him. “Always watching!”

“WoaaaaaAAAAAAH… Always?”

“That’s right!” There was a small round of 'so cool!’s after that, and while the boy crawled around and over the bear, the cheer in Alit’s eyes began to fade.

He…

“I’m sorry,” he found himself saying. “For scaring you, before.”

“Huh?” Iildus blinked, looking to the Barian in confusion. “What’re you talking about, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you get scary! Only Beckta gets scary!”

“Hn. But I still scared you, didn’t I?” While the boy fell silent, Alit regarded Iildus with a guilty stare, the shape of the child’s eyes and head blurring with memories from not so long ago until at last he looked away. Iildus had yet to answer. Perhaps that was best.

If he thought about the state of mind he had been in not long before, he was certain it would have been something Iildus would deem 'scary’. Moreover, if he thought about the state of mind he had been in–his determination to chase after where 'Yuuma’ would likely appear next, driven by the idea of crushing him in defeat–

If he thought about that state of mind, he felt his chest tighten, and a fear grow in the back of his mind. If he thought about that state, he could see how it would have ended if Yuuma had been alive. And if he had known about Iildus then–if he had chosen to stay rather than rush out in his blinding rage…

He didn’t want to think, then, of what he would have done instead of bringing him a 'bearian’ guardian. And while the back of his neck seared in pain at the thought, he decided in the end that it would be better to endure that, than it would to think of what could have been.

Chapter Text

Boring! It was so boring here! Everything was the same color and everything was breaking and broken and boring!

It wasn’t fair. Dubhe and Mizael got to leave whenever they wanted, just cause their Over-Hundred Number was fully matured or something like that, and they got to go to Earth and search for Numbers and things. Barian World was Iildus’ world too, right? He could totally do something to help, if he wanted, even if he wasn’t allowed to use his Over-Hundred Number yet!

As it was, Iildus could only listen to whatever stories about Earth he could wheedle out of Dubhe and Mizael and try to imagine what it was like. Definitely less boring than here, anyway! Neither Dubhe nor Mizael seemed to really like having to have to fight there…or well, as long as Mizael didn’t see that Kaito guy he kept talking about, anyway. And while there wasn’t much in the Barian World that looked like Earth (except maybe rocks…and water that wasn’t going to burn him if he stepped in it…), he could pretend they did, some of his favorite things were a myriad of crystals and rocks he had found that he thought looked like the things that had been described to him (look, Dubhe! A Pegasus!). Even so, playing with them got tiresome after a while, and Iildus found himself being more and more curious about places outside the Barian World as time went on.

So when a bright colorful portal opened up near him, much like the ones that Dubhe and everyone else used to get to different places, Iildus didn’t question it, didn’t even stop to think, he just wanted to see what it was like going in one of those and where it would take him, and so he toddled in.

Perhaps if he had stopped to listen, had heard that all-familiar laughter as the portal opened up near him, he would have hesitated. After all, Vector and the other two Barians that were always with him were really creepy, and Vector himself seemed to really, really hate him, so…maybe, Iildius wouldn’t have taken that portal, and the ensuing shenanigans afterwards wouldn’t have happened.

 


 

“Waaah! So big…!”

The buildings on Earth were so huge! And there were so many of them! And there were so many other things too, Iildius didn’t even know where to look!

And he looked so different too! Looked like all those other things that lived on Earth-what did Mizael call them-humans! He had spent five minutes looking in the nearest reflective surface and poking his own new face, and all these new holes in it and putting his fingers in what Dubhe had called a mouth and a nose and wow humans were weird. And they were all the same color like Barians too, only they had no gems on their bodies (where did his gems go, weren’t they important or something, oh nooo), and they had this tuft of stuff on their head that was different colors too and wouldn’t come off, and they had tufts of other things on top of their bodies too except apparently they weren’t allowed to take them off? And this thing on his nose too, it was sticky and it hurt if he tried to pull it off so he left it alone-it was almost the same color as his skin but actually wasn’t, so he could pretend it was a gem, right? There were more important things to worry about anyway, like how many new things there were to look at!

“Soooo cooool!” He didn’t notice the strange looks he was getting from the adults as he kept running about the streets, exclaiming about everything he saw and all the colors and the smells and the things. And everyone else was so big, too! Everything on Earth was big! He didn’t even get to see any humans his own size until he came to a big place with a lot of plants and metal things, and lots of small humans were playing on them.

“Heeeeeey! Whatcha doin’?”

“We’re playin’ tag! Do you wanna play?”

“What’s a tag?”

It was really easy to play tag, actually, and really fun! And king-of-the-mountain, and climbing, and swinging, and duck-duck-goose, and ring-around-the-rosy, and everything! The only hard part was watching them getting to duel against each other. He had the D…thingies that everyone else had in his pocket (how, though, this was his first time here), and he could see it all…but he wanted to duel too, but he didn’t have a deck, and his Over-Hundred Number wasn’t finished yet! Explaining it to the others was hard too…

“Um, Dubhe and Mizael say I’m not old enough to have a deck of my own yet, I just practice with them. I have a card though! I just can’t duel until it’s done! When my special card is done, I can totally duel!”

“Aw, that sucks.”

“Wait, not done?”

“Can we see?”

“I wanna see too!”

“Yeah!” But where was he supposed to get the card from? It was inside him…but when he looked in the same place he found his D-thingy, he found the card too, and it was a really faded picture. Something…something goldish, something really hard to see, and the words were all blurry too, except for one. A really weird looking word, too.. “A…Ah…Ane…si…dora! Anesidora! That sounds so cool!” But he still couldn’t see what number his card was…that sucked…

“What a weird looking card, though…”

“Well he said it wasn’t done yet!”

“Ne, ne, do those guys you said gave you the card design cards? That’s so cool!”

“U-um, they didn’t…” But before Iildus could explain that Dubhe and Mizael didn’t even make cards or give him Anesidora, that it was a special card for him and that it grew up inside him, some of the bigger humans called the other ones away. Something about…ice cream?

“You should come too, um…what’s your name?” one of the kids asked, grabbing his hand.

“Oh, I’m Iildus!” And he giggled as he let himself be dragged along, he wanted to find out what this “ice cream” was!

It was a good thing that the bigger humans thought to bring extra, because Iildus was curious and wanted to try everything.

“I’ve never seen ice cream before!”

“You’ve never eaten ice cream before, ever?”

“Nope!”

“Weird…but you should totally try it!” And Iildius was handed something that they called a popsicle. So he was supposed to put this in one of the new holes on his face? Could it be any of them? But no, when he tried putting it in one of the two small ones in the middle of his face, everyone started laughing. It felt so weird, too! And then the other kids tried doing it too and laughing and all the bigger humans started scolding them, so they all had to stop and wash the popsicles. No one seemed to be mad at him, though, and the kids just thought it was really funny.

“You’re funny, Iildus! But you gotta puts it in your mouth!”

“Aha, right!” And-wow! Was this how humans got energy? It was so great! Why couldn’t Barians get energy like this? It would be less boring! “Woooow! So good!”

“It is, isn’t it?”

 


 

It was too bad, though, that everyone couldn’t stay and play forever. Everyone had to go home…and he was left alone in the park. He kept swinging for a while, it was one of the only things left that he could do by himself, but it was boring! There was nobody to watch or try to swing higher than everyone else, or to try to jump off the swings and land on your feet and land on your butt instead…it was boring again. And the bright thing in the sky (a sun, right?) was going down, and everything was starting to be the same colors as the Barian world. Everything was reddish and orangey and he was alone and bored…and he wanted to go home. He wanted to tell Dubhe and Mizael about everything he saw, about how he could totally go down to Earth with them if he wanted to-see, he was fine, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he?

He got off the swing set, looking around. They…they would find him, right? They knew how to get him, right? Even if they didn’t know that he was here on Earth instead of Barian World? They could get to Earth so they could find him…even if Earth was lots bigger than the Barian World…right? Maybe if he walked around more, they could find him…

“Duuuubheee…! Mizzzaaaaeeeel!” He kept walking, and calling, and he couldn’t find them. And it was getting darker now, and everything looked even more like Barian World, with the dark, boring colors, and small bright floating lights on poles that were starting to turn on, and even leaving the place with the swings and the plants and the toys didn’t help. “Duubhee-“

“Hey, watch out!”

Immediately he was snatched back, someone grabbing his hand and pulling him away. There was hard ground now, he didn’t notice, and he had almost been hit by one of those big rolly thingies that people rode in (a car? No, Mizael had described cars as smaller, that one was really big! A really big car!). The older lady who had grabbed his hand was now looking at him with concern. “You…you were at the park, right? Aren’t your parents with you?”

“What’re parents?”

“Oh…oh dear. You’re not alone, are you?”

“Um, I am…but Dubhe and Mizael are gonna come get me!”

“They should have gotten you by now, it’s getting late! Do they know where you are?”

“Uh…I don’t think so…they don’t even know that I’m here…but they’re gonna find me, they will!”

“I’m thinking you need to go to the police station, child, it’ll be easier for you to find them there…”

“Really! Dubhe and Mizael can find me there?”

Before the woman could answer, there was a small gasp from behind her that interrupted her words, and they turned around.  There was another lady human there behind her, bigger than him, but smaller than the lady, with greenish hair and why was she looking at him so weirdly?

“Um…” She spoke, and her voice seemed to shake. Why was it doing that? Was there something wrong with her voice? “By…Dubhe…do you possibly mean…Durbe? I know a…Mizael, but…”

“Yeah, Dubhe always wants me to call him that! You know him?”

“I…I do…”

“Oh, thank goodness. You can help him get home then, right?” The girl paused, but then nodded, seeming to hesitate on her answer.

“I…I can.”

The woman let the boy’s hand go, and immediately he ran up to take one of the girl’s hands. Even with everything so dark, she wore a pendant that seemed to catch all the light-it was gold and sparkly and somehow it drew his eyes away for a brief second before he looked up and happily tugged on her hand. For some reason, her grip on his kept loosening, and she was still looking at him strangely. By this point, the other woman had long crossed over to the other side of the street, so he didn’t have anyone else now. But it was good that he found somebody that could help!

“Yay! I’m glad you know them, because you can help them find me! My name’s Iildus, it’s good to meet you!”

Chapter Text

‘Thanks for helping me lady!’

It was impossible, wasn’t it?

'My name’s Iildus, what’s yours!’

It had to be a trick, didn’t it?

'Dubhe and Mizael never said they knew a nice lady, I gots to ask them why they didn’t say anything now!’

It had to be a lie, right?

Astral floated far above and behind her, but that did not mean he was gone, per-say. While Yuuma had always preferred to speak aloud, necessity and fear brought her to speak in silence, using the mental link that had come to exist through the key. It was frightening, and invasive, at the start–she would feel his presence in the back of her mind, and jump in surprise as others stared, confused.

Now however, she was used to it. Now, however, there was something of further importance.

What is this?’ Astral was silent, floating at a distance with wide eyes, and a sensation almost akin to fear was now searing through her spine. ’What is this, Astral!?

“Hey lady! You didn’t answer my question!”

“K… Kotori!” she told him, forcing a smile on her face and reminding herself to hold his hand. “I’m Kotori…”

“Okay!” The boy beamed, and as they crossed the next street, she swallowed. Astral was yet silent–

Why is there a boy, with connections to the Barians, walking around with his face!?

Again, Astral did not answer, merely floating far and back, and as Kotori prepared to fix the spirit with a glare, 'Iildus’, as he called himself, looked up. “Hey where'r we goin’ Kotori?”

“Aah–We’re…" 

Left.

It was the first thing Astral had said since they spotted the child and heard his voice, and she almost turned to face him as a result.

Turn left,’ he repeated, his voice sounding distant, pained, and even sorrowful. ’There is a place we can go for now.

"Ah… Th–this way,” Kotori thus answered, leading the boy down the street. “We’re going to a place where… Where 'Durbe’ will find you, neh?” she continued, a broken smile on her face as the boy grinned.

“YAYYYY–! Thanks Kotori!” It hurt.

Those words hurt somehow. They were kind and innocent and childish but it hurt, and brought back so many memories of the past that she was forced to look away as she walked, smile be damned. Astral said nothing, except to tell her to turn occasionally–and 'Iildus’ babbled on and on about how pretty earth’s sky was compared to the Barian one, how the water here didn’t 'hurt’, and how he hoped that Durbe wouldn’t be mad with him.

“How… How old are you, Iildus?”

“Um ummmm… I dunno,” he answered, giving a childish shrug. “I was born before Alit woke up, but not too long!” Before Alit 'woke up’.

That was not long ago at all then, was it, she thought to herself. ’Astral,’ she pleaded quietly, the girl continuing to lead her charge forward. ’Astral, answer me, please!

Instead of answering, the spirit merely looked forward, saying nothing. Kotori herself did similar, pausing a moment as she realized where they were.

An old storage shed, it seemed, the door opening quite easily. It was one of the school’s in fact, though quite clearly out of use for some time.

“Woaaaah! Cool!” Iildus shouted, releasing Kotori’s hand and running in without pause.

“Ah-! Wait!”

Her words cut short as the little one started poking about the room, and as the door clicked behind her, Astral floated in himself, the pair of them taking in their surroundings in silence. It was clear to them, that the room had been in use by someone other than the school. Perhaps Astral had merely remembered a room that was no longer in use, or perhaps it was a feeling, but regardless, the signs pointed to an almost painful fact.

There was a destroyed and poorly repaired television on the side, and food wrappers and oden sticks littered the ground near it. Dusted mats with deep impressions in them were on the floor, and among them were scraps of fabric and cotton, along with sections of thread and paper.

“Woah!” The boy, naturally, was intrigued by everything, whether or not Kotori was. “This stuff looks like Bearian’s face!” he cheered, a slight frown coming to the girl’s own. 'Bearian’, he said? It was just fabric. Fabric that had been cut for some reason or another, reasons she did not know. What use it had, she couldn’t have possibly guessed–and it as hardly as though 'bear’ didn’t sound like the 'bar’ in 'barian’.

It was just…

Astral floated near her, and before she could question him again, Iildus turned, eyes widening just as Astral’s own did. “WOAAAAAAH!” The boy dropped what he was holding, wobbling over with outstretched arms. “You’re so blue! Where’d you come from mister!”

Mnn–” Astral stiffened, and Kotori moved to put an arm between the two, swallowing.

“Ah… Iildus, this is Astral,” she started, the spirit briefly looking to her in shock. “Astral doesn’t like to be touched though, okay?” she continued, “So please leave him alone, alright?”

To Astral’s likely surprise, the boy did just that. “Okay!” he answered, grinning. “Mizael doesn’t like me touching his robes, so it’s like that right?” Mizael…

While Astral frowned, Kotori swallowed, nodding. “Y.. Yes! Exactly like that! It’s…”

Thank you,” Astral stated curtly, crossing his arms as his partner jumped.

The grin persisted, and Iildus nodded. “No problem, 'Astral’!” Returning to the fabric scraps, he seemed to busy himself rather easily with poking and prodding the pieces littered about him, ignorant to the flinch that had run through Astral’s being. The distraction it seemed, was there. It was enough, at least, that he wouldn’t be talking to them.

Which meant she could continue questioning the one beside her.

Astral…

The spirit was again silent, and if she looked to him now, his expression seemed conflicted–torn between the hate he reserved for the Barians, and a sense of longing that brought with it a sense of 'wrong’. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This wasn’t supposed to be, and yet.

Astral,’ she pleaded, barely keeping the words within their minds. ’He looks just like him,’ she wept, ’He looks exactly like him, exactly like how I remember him when we were that old!’ Still, the spirit was silent, however as his expression twisted further, Kotori persisted. ’Astral…’ She swallowed, looking back to Iildus as he turned their way, and giving a reassuring smile that had him back to playing with the fabrics. ’What aren’t you telling me?

For his part, he looked broken.

He clung to his arms tightly, an action likely made subconsciously. ’After he was buried,’ he started, his words sounding forced, ’I chose to assimilate Number 44.

Chose? Wasn’t that automatic?

Kotori did not question it, merely looking to Astral again as he continued, his eyes almost glazed with tears. ’The memories Sky Pegasus brought… Were not my own,’ he admitted. ’They were that of the hero from the legend, the story which Durbe revealed in the ruins.’ There was a pained silence there, with Durbe’s name. Another Barian that Yuuma had felt to trust, only to be 'wrong’. While the consequences then had seemingly been minor, it had not helped with the patches growing in their relationship. And now, as he looked to that memory…

The spirit closed his eyes, and explained further.

Moreover,’ he told Kotori, ’The hero bore Durbe’s human face.

“His f-” As she started to speak, Iildus turned, and she caught herself. Another smile, and the boy was back on her way, and with trembling eyes she looked to Astral yet again. ’What are you saying?’ she squeaked, the voice of her mind cracking. ’That Durbe was human? That the Barians, they were all–

I don’t want to be right.

The words felt like a dagger, cold and sharp, stabbing into the joint of her shoulder. To Astral, 'right’ was everything. Logic, thinking–to be wrong meant dreadful things, terrible consequences and circumstances that they could not afford. To be wrong was to die.

Yet to be wrong was all that he wanted now. ’With the beliefs of humans, however illogical, I could tell myself that Yuuma was 'happy’ now,’ he continued. ’That he was 'at peace’, or, 'at rest’,’ the spirit explained. ’I had thought, perhaps, if human belief was true, he would realize that I was no longer upset with him, from the 'better place’ he was supposed to go to. I thought…’ He turned, the remaining innocence of his thoughts seeming to fade before her eyes. ’That if human belief was true, there could be a place where he could duel whenever he liked, and sleep whenever he liked, without worry for such things as the Numbers.

A…’ “Astral…”

Iildus did not turn back this time, and for that, she was thankful. Though her eyes felt heavy, and swollen, she forced herself to hold back the tears, shaking her head. Why… Why, of all the things–

Why didn’t you tell me this?’ she demanded, biting her tongue. ’Why wouldn’t you tell me something like that, Astral?!

…Would you have listened?

As though another blade had appeared, only to stop above her heart, the words echoed.

You were angry with me. I understand, now, why this was–however if I had told you of this then, and of the memories we would likely discover in the other Numbers, what would you have said?

I… Of course I would have listened!’ she protested, her hands gripping the mat on the stack she sat upon. ’Of course–!

You would not.’ Her eyes shot open to look at him in betrayal, however Astral continued on. ’You were upset. I would hardly expect you to listen then, if you did not listen about the need to duel.’ That…

…Moron,’ she murmured, bowing her head as she shook. ’…You’re a moron, Astral.

Mn?

…I haven’t stopped being 'upset’ since that day,’ she continued quietly through the link, looking to Iildus. ’…I might not have wanted to listen–but even then… Even then, even though it was the last number he got–!’ The last 'victory’ before the 'fall’, the last success before the greatest failure.

Even as the last of all things, she would have been forced to accept and listen in the end.

Quite abruptly in their silent conversation, Astral stiffened. His eyes widened, and with a single 'Kotori’ over their link, he and his partner both looked to the door as Iildus did the same. The door, however did not open.

Not the one they expected at least.

A portal swirled into existence, and as shoes clacked upon the ground, Iidus turned to follow the gazes of the others. “A… Ali–”

Kotori’s words were cut short by Iildus’ own realization, the boy grinning and charging for Alit with a laugh. “ALIIIIIT! You found me!”

Alit, for his part, stared in shock, his eyes wide and frozen upon the boy. “I–”

“Did I scare you?” the boy laughed innocently, arms wrapped around his legs. “I look really different here! I even got these weird face holes, and a sticky gem!” he continued, poking at the bandage over his nose while saying as much.

Quite fortunately, the Barian Lord recovered from his shock remarkably, or at least enough to fool a child. “Hahaha–of course not!” he laughed, shaking his head. “You just surprised me, that’s all! Don’t be silly.”

“Okay,” Iildus replied, grinning. And in response, Alit’s smile seemed to grow quite pained, his eyes moving from the boy, to Kotori herself.

“…K… Kotori,” he started, staring. An angel–even now, that was what he saw. The sun’s dying rays stained the window at the side and cast over her a 'halo’, which was mixed in with the blue of the spirit at her side. An angel… Standing beside the devil himself, he could almost say.

Except the devil was more content with closer company, and as far as recent times had shown, the devil, in fact, wore black and silver.

He looked to Kotori.

Kotori looked back as well, almost torn.

“Do you know the nice lady too, Alit?” Iildus’ words brought his gaze downward for a moment again, and with a swallow, he forced himself to grin.

“Haha! Of course! Kotori is…” Another swallow, and he looked back to her. “…Kotori is one of the angels I saw,” he said somewhat quietly.

“WOAAAAAH!” The boy looked back, his far more honest grin widening in amazement. “…What’s an angel?”

It was expected, the girl’s reaction to that. Silent, confused–looking from Iildus to Alit in confused shock, as though she’d expected an attack, or cruelty. But an 'angel’?

“I’ll explain later,” he managed to say. “But they’re very nice, alright? You can always trust an angel.”

“Really?” Iildus’ eyes seemed to shine, and his cheer boosted further. “No wonder she knows Dubhe!”

“She knows Durbe?” Alit questioned, looking back down. Funny, he didn’t recall–

“Yea! She said if we came here, Mizael or Dubhe would find me!” Ah.

“Ohhhh… I see.” He looked back, his smile a little more honest despite the cracks in his expression. Astral was here. And so was the key, he noticed, the smile becoming more and more pained. A shining golden key that seemed to take the light of the 'halo’ around her for itself, hanging over her heart as if it were a sort of target. It hung on a fine silver chain, and matched with her outfit almost disgustingly well, he found himself admitting. What a terrible thing, to burden an angel with. 

What a terrible thing, to bring angels to their graves.

“That was nice of her,” he started, not looking down. “But you know, Durbe is pretty worried now…”

“UMMM…” The boy became almost comically worried, hands over his mouth as he sputtered. “UM UM UM… …Does that mean I’m in trouble?”

Kotori finally spoke, clearing her throat and taking a small step forward before hesitating. “Al–,” she started, eyes wide. She looked from him to Iildus, from Iildus to him, and from behind her Astral’s golden eye seemed to bore through his skin. “Alit…”

“I have to take this little one home now,” he started, cutting the girl short as he moved to pick up the boy. He paused before pulling open another portal however, looking back. “You understand, right?”

Silence. For a moment, Astral seemed ready to say something–however at some mental request, he did not. Instead, they continued to stare the other down, gauging pain and honesty, taking in the likely realities of both sides that neither had before considered.

And then, with a swallow, she asked one last thing.

“…You’ll come back, right?” To explain. Just to explain, explain the boy, explain what had happened, just to please explain, explain everything, she wanted to say, eyes wavering as Astral stared.

Alit did nothing more than nod, bringing the portal up behind him with closed eyes.

And when they were gone, it was only then that she allowed herself to collapse to her knees in tears, the water coating her key in shimmering salts, whilst the spirit beside her stared.

Merely stared, at the empty space where the Barians had stood seconds before.

Chapter Text

“Heh. Almost lost you there.”

“Quiet, Shark.”

“Hohhh, it’s 'Shark’ now?”

The look on Kaito’s face was about what was expected after such an arduous climb–they’d had nothing but their hands and feet, and with a number of close calls, even the slightest bit of humor was welcome. If they wondered, either of them, how it would have gone with a third, they said nothing–

No one wanted to mention it after all.

“Looks like we found the 'ruins’,” Shark noted, the tone in his voice showing clearly how ruinous he found the palace before them. Enormous, ornate red doors swung open before them, and as they walked forward through the fog they were soon met with an immaculately kept courtyard, pillars topped with spiraling dragons, and bricks arranged in symmetrical patterns. 

“So we have,” Kaito replied curtly, eyes turning to take in what was around them. So they had…

So then what now?

And, depending on how long they were, what of the others?


 

“Maaaaaan…”

Perhaps an hour or so prior, the number of those facing the mountain had greatly surpassed the number that would soon climb it. Ginji, still getting a feel for the shoes that had been thrown at him while in Italy, gawked at the pillars of stone which surrounded their makeshift landing area. Taking the offer from Kaito for a flight back had been the original plan, after all.

For Shark to convince them to fly to China had been an entirely unexpected development however, and now that they were  grounded, it’d be some time before they got back up. The plane ride itself had been quiet, and awkwardly so. The death of a friend had been dredged up from their hearts, and the matters of Barians had made this all too serious a journey.

“Here,” Shark had grunted, tossing a few things to him mid-flight.

“HEH–Ah, what–”

From beside him, Tetsuo had stared, frowning. “Card packs?”

“Update your deck, before you get your ass kicked.”

“WHAT!?” The teen balked, looking to his 'friend’ with a snarl. “My cards aren’t that–” Quite immediately as Shark fixed him with a glare, he had paled, turning back to look to the packs. “Mmn, I’ll just see what I can do…”

“Good.”

“Hihhhh…”

Tetsuo had rubbed his head at that, Rio merely regarding them in sympathy. Once Shark was out of earshot however, he’d turned back, staring. “If even Shark is taking pity on you…”

“It’s not pity!”

“Hey, what kind of deck do you have anyway?”

“Ehhh…” He coughed. “I wouldn’t really say it has a theme…”

The silence was deafening, and spoke volumes on just why he had card packs thrown at him–however in the same manner, it brought volume to his voice.

“I can’t just go buying cards all the time!” he bit out, eyes on the packs in his hands. “I need food first, you know!”

The silence was again deafening.

This time however, it was the sort that followed when no one could truly think on what to say, and it was not long afterward that their plane trip had come to a grinding halt, bringing them to the cliffs he looked at now.

“What is it?” Shark had asked, looking back as Ginji stared. “It’s not so high.” No so high, he said, ah…

“Height or no,” Rio remarked, stripping her brother’s tone of any chill it had held. “You can’t expect me to climb that in this! Even if I was wearing shorts,” she added, crossing her arms, “You two have protection for your legs! What do we have?”

Tetsuo blinked, looking himself over–indeed, he was wearing his usual shorts and tee, with Ginji himself staring blankly at the worn shorts he’d been wearing for a number of days over. “I’ll stay with Rio,” Tetsuo decided, looking to Kaito and Shark. “We shouldn’t split up,” he added, the words carrying a certain volume of warning to them that had the others nod.

“Ginji will stay too, right?” Rio added, the teen jumping.

“EH!?”

“He can’t speak for himself?”

“That’s not it at all!” Ginji snapped, spared from Shark’s glare only by the mild staring contest now taking place between the twins.

Eventually, he’d snorted, turning back to the cliff. “Fine–we’ll be back soon enough,” he continued, moving to start the ascent with Kaito.

“Good luck, Kaito-sama!” Ah. That was right, they had that robot thing with them, didn’t they…

“Hn.” Evidently Kaito didn’t believe in luck however, as his response was merely a light snort before making his way up the rocks. In the silence that followed, the majority of them made themselves busy finding a comfortable place to sit in the rubble–Rio searched through her bags for snacks, Orbital panicked about at the bottom, and Tetsuo–

“Alright.”

“Mn?!”

As the cards were snatched out of his hand and fanned out, Ginji gawked, silenced by his own alarm. “Lets see what you have to work with.”

“I already told you what I have,” he retorted, reaching for the cards back. “Nothing–!”

“I wouldn’t say that.” The teen stared, Rio coming over and swallowing a bite of food whilst peering at the cards herself. “Help is help–and even 'cheap cards’ can be useful right?”

Tetsuo nodded in agreement, handing the deck back. “Aah. Though, some of the cards here…” He grimaced, Ginji snatching them back.

“You– You stuff it! It’s not like I’m going to fight these 'barian’ things anyway!” They looked human but had power like he’d never even seen, caused enough damage through dueling that he’d felt nauseated watching the match in Italy, and if not for the fact that they’d flown straight here instead of back to Japan–

“It’s better to be prepared though, right?”

He didn’t answer that, falling back on his rear to sit instead. Why the need to be prepared was there, should likely have been obvious. Who knew how the challenge was sent, who knew who would be targeted–to him, however, it was clear wasn’t it? He wouldn’t be a target. He wouldn’t even be a threat. Looking at the cards, and thinking over the reactions of the others, had him narrowing his eyes and wondering why he’d even bothered to come as a result. 'To help’?

Hah.

What help was he? After a moment he realized that the shadows of the others had yet to leave though, and that they had in fact taken a seat themselves. “Mng?”

A pale hand picked up one of the unopened backs, Rio smiling reassuringly. “So–what kinds of cards did my brother give you?” she asked, Ginji staring almost blankly as she continued. “…And what kind of deck do you think you’ll make with them in there?”

The hours spent climbing by the others would be spent on something entirely different at the bottom of the cliffs, that day; and as the duel started and finished, they themselves would only barely complete what they had started. By the time the rocks began to fall however, the packs had each been opened, and a stack of cards kept and cards refused had been made–

And if he felt perhaps, even slightly more confident, it was likely that even he was not aware of it…

Though that at least did not change the slight boost in confidence he had on the trip back once the plane took to the skies again.

Chapter Text

Lies.

It had to be.

I was never human! I REFUSE TO BELIEVE I WAS SOMETHING SO PATHETIC!

It all had to be lies.

We’ll duel later…

Lies, lies LIES!

 


 

“Mizael!”

As he returned to his realm he was greeted by a tiny youngling with wide eyes, arms open and soon latched around one leg as he looked up. And for a moment, it was with the same rage he had arrived in that he turned toward the child, eyes wide and body tense. However–

“You’re back!”

…In the end, he couldn’t remain as such. “Of course I am,” he remarked somewhat clippedly, looking around. “Do you know where Durbe is?”

The little one released his hold, shaking his head. “Umm… I saw him go that way, but I dunno where he went after, cause I’ve been up here the entire time!” Ohh?

He looked back to the youngling. “You have, have you?”

“YEA!” Iildus nodded furiously, eyes brimming with determination. “I didn’t even go down one stair, I stayed here with Bearian!” Bear–

His eyes moved toward the stuffed toy in question, and Mizael scoffed under his breath. Of course. Of course it was named something like that, just…

“Huh… Where'r you going?!”

“I need to speak with Durbe,” Mizael called back, skirt flapping against the air as he moved. “Stay there, and if you hear anything, stay hidden,” he warned, the boy stopping at the steps to watch.

“B-But…”

“No buts,” he warned.

“Awwwwww…” The ‘aw’ was enough, really–Iildus turned back, returning to the bear, and Mizael himself continued downward, looking for the room where Durbe likely would be in this moment.

They couldn’t be human. He’d said it once before, he would say it again. They were never human! Never!

And yet…

“Aaaaah!”

Mizael turned as a small crystal of such–cheap in appearance, likely from the human world–tumbled down the steps, moving to pick it up in his hands and turn up to where Iildus had returned.

“Umm…”

Hahhh. Moving back up the steps he handed it back, frowning. “Don’t play so close to the edges,” he warned, turning to leave yet again. “You could fall.”

“Um um, okay!”

They couldn’t have been human. If they were human, what purpose did they have? If they were human, what did that mean for them?!

If they were human

What did that mean for the youngest of them?

Half-way down the hall in his search for Durbe, and he found he couldn’t move any further. Instead, with one closed fist against the wall, he struggled against his own internal thoughts and beliefs in what seemed to be a constant battle triggered by small younglings and the deceased humans they resembled all too well.

Chapter Text

No one in the Barian World ever liked it when it rained.

At first the rain had merely been warm-a mild inconvenience, and to some even soothing, like a shower or a warm bath. But then it became scalding hot, and eventually became acidic enough to bore through even their rock-hard skin, and so Barians had been forced to seek shelter whenever the deadly rain came. These days, the rain had become so strong that not even the thick robes of the remaining Barian Lords could stand up to it for long.

It was an absolute nightmare to imagine what would happen the first time the ever curious Iildus saw it. Then those nightmares were proven to be insignificant to the real thing, since they hadn’t learned about his first experience with rain until long after it happened.

From Vector.

“Mah, mah, it’s fine, isn’t it? He’s a smart boy, learned pretty quickly, didn’t he~? He’s back in one piece, after all.”

“Vector.” While Durbe didn’t say anything else, his disapproval was clear, especially when he started glaring straight at the slightly shorter Barian.

“What the hell did you do to him?!” demanded Mizael, free from any restraints on language due to the fact that Alit had taken the youngling away to amuse him while Durbe and Mizael “confronted” Vector.

“Now come on, I didn’t do anything. He followed me of his own accord, you know…”




“Becktaaaaaaa! Why’re you standing outside like that?”

Vector found the little brat a puzzle. Iildus was clearly frightened of him, that was for sure. But if Vector wasn’t actively tormenting the youngling (something he was admittedly finding less opportunity to do as of late, between Don Thousand’s demands and the other Barians becoming steadily more protective of the red menace), Iildus was as ready to question him as he was the other Barians. He was just that curious, Vector supposed, too much like that human wretch who died too quickly, too much to get any satisfaction out of it the same way crushing him in a duel would have been. Just as easily gullible and trusting as…

“I’m enjoying the rain, brat.” Not quite a lie. He was really just listening to more orders from Don Thousand in a place that he was guaranteed to not be spotted by the other Barians (other than Iildus, apparently, the persistent little-); but it had to be said that he enjoyed the immunity to the acid-like quantities of the rain that being infused with Don Thousand’s power gave him. His life was the Barian God’s, in a sense, and while he resented being pulled under every whim of the powerful deity, he wasn’t one to throw away the little favors that the power granted him. Especially now that Tsukomo Yuuma was “defeated,” one half of the wish that he had asked for (and the more important, grating, yearning part, really more than the half that it was allotted) being fulfilled…he had little else to do than follow Don’s orders to the end of his life.

As it was, the immunity was not perfect, he still felt a slight burning sensation every time he was struck by the water, but compared to the searing agony of being eroded bit by bit as he dove deep into the Sea of Evil, this pain was nothing.

“What’s rain?”

Ugh. Wretched youngling.

“Water that falls from the sky, brat. It comes up from the Sea of Ill Will and falls back down on us.”

“That doesn’t sound like something fun…”

“Ohhh? The little brat that thinks everything is fun doesn’t think rain is fun~?

“Dubhe and Mizael and Alit don’t go outside a lot unless they go to Earth, so I bet they don’t think the rain outside is fun either!”

“Cheeky, aren’t you? Or are you just scared of a little rain?”

“’M not scared!” Iildus protested indignantly, before immediately stepping outside to follow Vector.

“Owwwww!”

Or attempting to, at least. Vector laughed derisively as Iildus fled back to the safety of the caverns, clutching his head where a few droplets of rain had fallen on him.

“You didn’t say that rain hurts!”

“Oh, didn’t I~? But it doesn’t hurt for me!”

“Liar!”

“Who’s the one standing outside, brat? Guess this just means you’re weak! Weaaaak! Just like the rest of them, pah!”

“D…Dubhe and Mizael and Alit aren’t weak!” Iildus shrilly screamed. “They are definitely stronger than you!”

“Eeeeh? You think so? What does a little brat like you know?” Vector snarled, some of Iildus’ words actually getting under his skin.

“C…cause…Dubhe’s the leader! So he’s definitely stronger than you!”

“Pah! And a useless leader at that, can’t even come up with decent plans without me showing up and spicing things up a little! I’m the one who got rid of the Original’s duelist, not your precious ‘Dubhe,’ now-“

He felt his life force being squeezed, his main crystal coming close to cracking under its grip, and his chest became wracked with pain. Don Thousand was getting impatient…

“T…tch…! I don’t have time for this! A weakling like you and the other Barians, you can just go swim in the waters of Earth for all I care!”

“Eh? Earth? There’s rain on Earth too?”

“Oh yeah,” Vector growled sarcastically, hissing through the grating discomfort that was starting to blur his vision. “And humans are all weak things, you know, so of course the rain there doesn’t hurt a thing! All nice and safe for all you weakling Barians! Weak as humans, all of you!”

And yet, he remembered. Even knowing how safe Earth’s waters were, he remembered that thrill of fear the first time Yuuma had dragged him to the high board.

“W-wait a moment, please!”

“Yoink! Let’s kattobing, Shingetsu!

At the time, there had still been a part of him that was instinctively afraid of the water. There still was. But being confronted with that pool, being dragged into it against his own will, it had reawakened that childish, helpless fear that made him worse than nothing. And while at the time he had embraced it fully, in order to better deceive Yuuma and the others around him, at his very core he despised and hated Yuuma for bringing out that weakness in him yet again, as he constantly did with his duels and his innocent trust and his ridiculous, ridiculous kattobing.

Vector hissed softly as he disappeared. He didn’t feel like “enjoying the rain” anymore.




“It was mean!” Iildus whined to Alit as the two combed out Bearian’s fur. “He didn’t even tell me that rain hurts!”

“Well, that’s Vector for ya, Iildus. You know he’s one for dirty tricks,” Alit growled as he looked out to the rain that was still softly falling.

“Why did it hurt anyway?”

“Oh? Well-hang on, are you using this one?” Alit asked as he picked off a random crystal off the ground. The other Barians had learned quickly not to be careless with any crystal around the caverns, as any one of them could be one of Iildus’ “toys” or would be claimed by him as one.

When Iildus shook his head no in response, Alit threw the crystal outside. “Look at that.” Both watched as it was slowly worn down to nothing, the rain burning it away as it continued to beat at the hard surface.

“Waaah! It’s gone! The rain made it go away! Why did that happen?”

“That’s ‘cause the rain has acid in it. Acid burns things because it’s really strong. So the acid kept burning away the rock until it was all gone. And it can do the same thing to us, too.”

“But, but, Beckta was standing outside! And he wasn’t burning up or getting smaller or disappearing or anything! I didn’t even see his wings broked off like Mizael told me they did once! He said it was ‘cause we was all weak!”

“What?” While Alit outwardly seethed at the insult, inside he was wondering. Since when was Vector immune to the properties of the Sea of Ill Will? “That can’t be right. The acid burns everyone…it even burns Vector! He shouldn’t be able to stand out there at all…that wasn’t another clone of his, was it…?”

“I dunno!” Iildus chirped, and Alit could only sigh. A strange case…perhaps he should inform Durbe of this later. Vector had been acting odder and odder, especially after Tsukomo Yuuma’s death, and while he was no social creature before, he was definitely avoiding the rest of them more and setting off on his own tasks without warning.

“Hey, Alit…is what Beckta said a lie then? About Earth’s rain? He said it doesn’t hurt ‘cause humans are weak!”

Did he? Damn the winged fiend…of course he’d both get in a parting shot at the opponents that were so honorably fighting them and instill images of Earth into Iildus at the same time…

“No…I mean, rain doesn’t hurt on Earth, but that’s because humans need the rain. They drink the water and swim in it and everything…”

“And they don’t get hurt at all? So they’re strong?”

“In a way yes, but not because they resist the water…the water is very gentle there, Iildus. Doesn’t burn a thing.”

“Oh…it sounds nicer than our rain…”

“I guess it is…I admit I was surprised the first time I felt the rain and didn’t get hurt.”

“Alit, can we visit Earth and see the rain? I want to see rain that doesn’t hurt anyone!”

Ahaha. Dammit.

“Sorry, kiddo. No Earth until your Over-Hundred Number is done. Durbe says.”

“Aww…meanies!”

“Hey, now. When you’re able to go, I’ll take you to a place where you can even swim in the water, okay?”

“Really? I can swim in water?”

“Yeah. And to get ready for that, I’ll teach you the counter one-two punch!”

“You don’t need a counter to swim! You’re silly, Alit!” Iildus giggled, and Alit acted offended.

“Of course you do! Those two angels I met, I used the counter blow to get one of their hearts, and the other angel countered that! You need to do a proper counter to combat anything you meet on Earth, you know, or no swimming!”

“That’s silly!”

“No, I’m not kidding! Come on, one-two punch, and counter blow!” Alit was up on his feet, going through punching motions that were all too familiar to him, and for the briefest of moments he felt the sensation of déjà vu, of doing this before a grand audience and against a close friend and rival…

The thoughts were cut off by Iildus laughing and getting to his feet, before clumsily trying to mimic Alit and ending up falling backwards into Bearian doing so.

“Come on, you can do it! Like this! One-two-“

“And counter blow!” Iildus yelled, jumping at Alit from off of the giant stuffed bear, catching him around the waist and managing to knock the larger Barian to the floor. They both lay there, laughing until they wore themselves out.

“That’s the spirit!”

Chapter Text

It was inevitable, he supposed. Especially after that incident with the stray portal (there was no way Iildus could have made one stable enough to take him all the way down to Earth, not at his age, but who had been careless enough to leave one lying about near him?), and his never ending curiosity…

…of course Iildus would want to go back to Earth, to keep asking questions about what it was like, about why the Barians couldn’t live there instead of in Barian World where everything was falling apart. Being told that he had to wait until his Over Hundred Number was finished only frustrated him now, he had already gone once and was fine, wasn’t he? Besides, Barian World was boring, no one ever actually let him out to explore much because it was always raining these days and he still couldn’t make a cloak of his own yet.

In the end, it was Durbe who ended up taking responsibility for the whole mess (as leader of the Barians, he must ensure the survival of any hope their world had, including this youngling), taking time away from looking for the numbers to steadily coach Iildus into forming a cloak out of energy in order to protect himself.

How to make it thick, durable, without expending excessive energy.

How to make out of his own energy, and yet not part of himself, something that could be injured.

How to make it last, to stay with him even when he didn’t think about it, a thing without a need for constant maintenance.

And lastly, to make it expendable-to be able to form one with so little time and effort that it was almost instinctive, something to be discarded as soon as it wore down to an unsafe point.

Such tasks were able to absorb all of the young Iildus’ attention…for a time. It was surprising how quickly he could learn something once he was intent on it. The exercises Durbe had eventually decided to teach him were meant for older Barians, ones that had the control to at least be able to portal to locations on their own planet. And here Iildus was, barely old enough to even form a portal, slowly mastering the basics of energy manipulation that would have been beyond most his age. With focus, with determination, with a purpose and drive, he moved himself far…

…Very much like him. Very much so.

Regardless, underestimating Iildus put Durbe into actually having to fulfill the promise he had halfheartedly made so long ago: to take the youngling sight-seeing around the decaying Barian World.

Thank Don he had never actually promised Iildus to let him go down to Earth again.

As it was, Iildus’s cloak was a little too large, but the exercises had been designed for older Barians, and it would be sturdy enough for its purposes-and having more material protecting the youngling was honestly something Durbe saw as a plus.

In the end, Durbe took the little cloth-covered hand (the sleeve was far too long, ending up as clumsy extra protection against the damaging natural conditions) into his own, and led Iildus into the outside Barian World.

 


 

Iildus was a curious child, and he asked Durbe about everything he could see. The burning waters of the Sea of Ill Will, the red sky, the crystals floating in midair, the towering spires, the dying sun. The lack of creatures other than themselves, the crumbling rocks, the earthquakes that led them to fleeing for shelter every other hour. Over time, the questions came less and less frequently, and the pace became slower and slower, until…

“Dubheeee, ‘m tired…”

“Ah?” The only response was a tired sort of tug on his hand, and Durbe looked down to see Iildus holding said hand with two of his own, leaning against it tiredly like it was some sort of pole. He could barely see the little one’s head, what with Iildus bending over, but he could feel his weight swaying back and forth, all but toppling over and settling instead for stumbling against Durbe’s body instead. “Come here…”

Since when had Iildus gotten so heavy? He had barely grown, but…his body was denser, the energy within him tighter and more controlled, more compact and with more vitality than ever. If Durbe knew how to describe it in human terms, it would have been akin to the body exchanging baby fat for muscle tissue, but to feel it occurring in one so young…he had grown, so much and so quickly…

How much longer…

He balanced the little one in one arm, carefully tucking Iildus’ head under his chin, taking part of his own cloak into his free hand to use as a makeshift blanket (completely unnecessary, what with Iildus’ own cloak effectively swaddling him in cloth and gems, but who knew what could happen, right?), placing said hand on Ildus’s back as extra support.

How much longer can I really keep him out of this war?

“Dubhe…Barian World is scary…”

“Is it?”

“Mmhm…why’dya wanna stay here so bad, Dubhe?”

“…It’s our home, Iildus. It’s all we know.” All he wanted to think that he knew…

“Yeah…but…Earth is bigger and more colorful and has more things too…”

“Iildus.”

“Wueh…?”

“I want you to imagine something for me, hm?”

“…Okay…”

“Look out over there. What does that look like?”

They had been at an outcropping of a particularly old rock spire, overlooking a large amount of empty land.

“It’s empty…and boring…and all the same everywhere…it looks really sad, Dubhe…”

“Mn. Close your eyes.”

“Kay…” As Iildus did so, Durbe paused, struggling to find words for an image that was long forgotten. Even if the years of suffering were relatively short compared to the years of happiness in this world, sadness and agony are always something that only needs a little portion to taint everything for the worst, and it was hard to reach back through those stained memories, to find something that even resembled the image of what he and his comrades were fighting for. But he had to do this. For the little one who had no memory of better times, who only knew how to wish for something better instead of imagining it…he had to try.

“Now, can you imagine if our sky was still red, but not in a bad way?”

“Not a bad red?”

“Like you, and Alit. It doesn’t bleed into everything else and make everything else look red, it’s just red by itself. The sun, too.”

“Uh-huh…”

“And the land is different colors too. Not like Earth, darker.”

“Darker?”

“Mhm. Colors, like…” What colors could Iildus know? What colors were there in this world, everything stained red by the dying sun?

“…Yellow…”

“Yellow? Like…Like Mizael?”

“…Yes, like him. The land has yellow things, like Mizael. Red ones, like you and Alit. Dark blacks and greens like Gilag. Purples like Vector. And blues like me. Can you imagine the land being like that?”

“…Wow…”

“And you have others to play with, not just Bearian. Other younglings like you. Maybe some are older than you, and they show you how to make a portal. Or they’re younger than you, and you can show them how to make their own cloaks. Like that.”

“…But no one’s there, Dubhe…”

“They used to be.”

“…Dubhe…”

He didn’t respond, only turned around. Kept Iildus nestled under his chin, ignored the growing pain in his arms for carrying such a dense youngling. Walking away from that faded memory, that attempt at painting a bright picture for the little one.

“Do you understand now? What I want to bring back here?”

“Um…un.” Iildus nodded sleepily, burrowing his face in Durbe’s cloak. “That’s why you want to stay here so bad…’cause everyone can come back then, right?”

“Ah. That’s why fighting down there is so important for us.”

“So then why can’t I go?” whined Iildus.

“Like I told you, your Over-Hundred Number isn’t finished. You can’t duel your best without your own special card, can you?”

“…No…I guess not. It wouldn’t be fun if I can’t do everything…”

“Mm. If anything, I hope the battle is finished before you grow up. War…war isn’t where you want to have your best duels. It’s hard to explain to someone your age, but war is something you never want to see your loved ones in at all.”

“…Why?”

“…I wish I could tell you. But at the same time, I don’t want it to be something you understand. You’d have to go through it to understand.”

“…”

It was silent for a few moments, but Durbe found himself feeling uneasy. Iildus almost never went silent like that, nor did he ever stay so still, always fidgeting and moving and running.

“…Did I make you mad?”

“No…but…I think I get it. ‘Cause you don’t understand it either!”

“Uh?” Durbe found himself nearly dropping Iildus in surprise as the little one’s head popped up, tears starting to form in the red, red eyes.

“’Cause…’cause…you never hafta be alone, like I do! You and everybody always go to Earth together, or you all go do different things that everyone else knows about, and I’m the only one who never knows or goes or anything! And I get left alone and bored and sometimes I’m scared too, because I don’t know if you gonna come back. And you always come back sad or tired and I don’t know why and it’s because of this stupid war thing, right? I don’t want to be alone and away from you guys no more!”

Iildus began crying into his oversized sleeves, and Durbe found himself marveling at how much the little one could comprehend, how much he already understood about war without even knowing completely what it was. How much he already knew about sadness and being alone even though to the rest of them he was always acting happy and excited and maybe a little bored, but not sad. It was jarring, and Durbe found himself wondering yet again how long he really had left before Iildus was fully grown.

“…I’m sorry. I wish I could tell you that you could come with us, but we don’t want to put you in danger.”

“An’ I don’t want you being in danger without me, neither!” Even with the wailing tone that came with those words, Durbe couldn’t help but chuckle.

“I know. But in the end, we have to wait for your Over Hundred Number. Understand?”

“…O…Okay…” Iildus sniffed, and Durbe adjusted his hold on Iildus, bringing the little one up closer to eye level.

“Don’t worry. We won’t leave you alone. I’ll work with you and teach you things to help you grow up faster, too, and I’ll try to be more open with you now about how I’m feeling about this fight, okay? I’ll tell the others too. We can all still be together. You just need to be patient, ah?”

“…M…mkay…” The sniffling was dying down, and Iildus was wiping his face on his overlarge cloak sleeve.

“That’s all you need to be with us. Be patient. Wait to grow up, and if we don’t’ tell you things right away, give us a little time before you bother us. And we can take you down to Earth to fight with us in time. But you have to promise me one thing.”

“Mm?” Iildus was laying his head on Durbe’s shoulder now, looking up with a sleepy stare.

“Grow up happy.”

“Uh?”

“There will be sad things, I know. I don’t expect you to be happy all the time…but…I want you, when you’re older, to be able to look back on your memories and think that you had a good life. Even with the war that’s happening, I want you to grow up happy. That’s all I want for you.”

“…Mkay…I think I get it…but you gotta promise me something too!”

“Oh? And what’s that?”

“You…you can’t ever go away. Ever. You gotta keep coming back, ‘cause…’cause otherwise, you can’t see Barian be happy again, and you can’t be sad always. So you can’t never leave me alone ever, or I can’t keep my promise either!”

“Not ever?”

“Not ever. You and Alit and Misael and Gilag and Beckta…”

“Vector too?”

“YEAH! Beckta too! He doesn’t get to be sad either, even if he’s a meanie and scary…nobody can be sad ever!” Durbe began to laugh softly. A forever trusting heart, one open and wanting everyone’s happiness. A lucky blessing, but in these times, could it really be a curse that would bring his end, like…

No. Durbe wouldn’t allow such a thing. He wouldn’t.

“I see. Well, you can’t make me promise for them, that wouldn’t be fair. You have to go tell them yourself and make them promise you too. Do you understand?”

“Okay!” Iildus snuggled happily into Durbe’s shoulder, again showing signs of tiredness now that the conversation was over. The silence that fell between them now was warm, comforting, a sort of easy quiet that soothed them even with the rain beating down; and so Durbe was surprised when Iildus spoke yet again after a few minutes of such silence, having assumed the youngling had fallen asleep.

“Dubhe?” It sounded like sleepy mumbling, and at first, Durbe wasn’t sure if he should respond.

“Mn?”

“You really do promise that you’re not ever gonna leave me alone, right?”

Ah…

“…Yes. I do promise. I won’t leave you alone.”

“Not ever?”

Durbe pulled the youngling closer, pressed their foreheads together, making Iildus giggle softly with the brief nuzzle.

“Not ever.”

Chapter Text

Not so when he returned to his hide-away after a few days wandering about. “You..!?”

He could have pursued her.

That girl with green hair, rushing out the door and not even taking a moment to turn back and wait for questioning. Mizuki Kotori would have been easy for him to catch, so easy, yet it was the state of the room itself which caught his eye, among other questionable things. The flicker of blue that had been with her, despite the fact that she’d had to open and shut the door in her flight–a clear sign that Yuuma was nowhere to be seen, if the key hadn’t been enough. But as well, the fabric scattered over the floor. The pins and papers, scraps of thread tossed this way and that, among a few old snacks. This wasn’t his.

This wasn’t his at all, which meant, he realized through the fog, that someone else had been here.

Given the few who knew however, that led him not to leave the building through the door, but rather through a swirling portal–

–Exiting in the familiar crystal halls of the Barian world.

“Alit!” he called out, taking a few steps forward. The barian looked around, a part of him confused, but another part coated by the curious red haze of annoyance and anger still, the fog of emotions preventing him from questioning the presence of thoughts he would have otherwise not been experiencing in these moments. “Alit!” he called again, turning to walk toward the next room. For after all, who else would have been back there? And if Kotori knew where they had made their ‘base’ in the human world, then the only one it could have been to tell her, in the end, was him. “A–”

Gilag froze.

The light of the Barian World was dim. It coated everything in a rosy, reddish hue, and compared to the intense light of the human’s sun it was comparatively faded in its brightness.

That didn’t mean it couldn’t cast a shadow however, and the shadow that he saw now was unmistakable.

“Tsukumo… Yuuma…” Impossible. This was the Barian World, it would have been impossible for a human like him to be here without trouble and yet there he was, right there–! “YUU– GOH-K!”

He didn’t finish his cry as he charged around the corner, fist already aimed toward where the source of the shadow should have been standing. Instead he was tackled from the side, a portal taking both him and his attacker to the Human realm as his target jolted awake in alarm.

“Hah–!?”

From inside his crystal, Iildus blinked, looking under 'Bearian’s arms about the empty room before giving a quiet yawn and closing his eyes again. Weird, he thought blearily, curling back up to sleep.

For a moment he’d thought he’d seen…

 


 

ALIT–!

Gilag pulled himself up from the rubble with a snapping cough, his friend merely fixing him with a look of pure rage while he shook his fists.

“What are you doing?!” he accused his friend, cracking his shoulder back into place as he faced the smaller duelist. Alit had hit him from the side, he knew that much. He’d hit him and knocked him down and he hadn’t held back, and that did not come without reason. Alit had to have known he was about to attack someone–but then why?! “That was Yuuma there!” he roared, eyes wide. “Our enemy!”

“No it wasn’t!” Alit steadied himself for a fight, fists raised and eyes narrowed. “And if it was, then you’d have dueled him,” he continued, his friend wiping a bit of blood from his mouth.

Duel–his mind said yes, yes that was exactly what he should have done, but the fog came and the fog hung thick, and it stained his eyes a pinkish red as he clenched his fists. “You defended our enemy–!”

“It wasn’t Tsukumo Yuuma–!”

“IT WAS!” he snarled, charging forward with his fists only to have them matched with his friend’s own.

“NO,” Alit roared, pulling his hand back, “IT WASN’T!” His fist slammed beneath his opponent’s fists and against Gilag’s middle to send him back through the walls of the lodge they’d appeared near, his shouts filling the air with it. “HE WASN’T EVEN HUMAN!”

“NRGH–!” His back scraped against wood and stone, splinters digging into the fabric of his shirt while he pulled himself to his feet. “Alit… …Nn–”

For the second time, Gilag froze.

Alit was not yet there. He had a few seconds to turn toward something else instead, something he’d narrowly missed in getting knocked through the wall like some sort of human ragdoll. What he’d missed however, was a statue. A statue which stood almost at his height, eyes closed and rigidly posed–and appearing for all intents and purposes to bear his exact likeness.

“It’s… Me?”

The eyes opened.

KIRAKU. LONG HAVE I AWAITED THIS MOMENT, PON.”

And from outside, Alit’s pursuit was interrupted by an earsplitting scream, the Barian turning as the yet intact doors of the Duel Lodge flung open for both Gilag and a large statue to come tumbling out. “G… Gilag!?”

“HRAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH-!

“O-OI, GILAG!” His own shouts as he charged after were cut off, Alit’s eyes moving to look ahead of the tumbling 'pair’ and widening at what they found.

Shit.

“KOTORI–!”

“H-HEHH!?”

It was an interesting streak of fate, one might say. As Alit reached forward, Kotori jumped to the side with scarcely enough time to spare, the two of them joined by Astral as they watched the tumbling 'others’ come to a stop. The statue lay at the side–while Gilag, pulling himself to his feet, paid them no mind.

Looking back later, there would be a number of questions on the plausibility of what occurred. If Kotori hadn’t finally decided, having seen the statue on the news, to take up the mantle her deceased friend had left behind. If Alit had tackled Gilag into an entirely separate area, avoiding the lodge entirely. There were countless 'what ifs’ floating in the air, and they all ended with this.

“Why…” The statue, quite clearly kept in check by Alit himself, would probably have shed tears if it were possible. “Why are we leaving this up to her!?”

The answer was obvious–Alit shot a glare to the stone, and despite clear distaste, responded. “Because you still won’t listen–!”

“Then, why does she have his cards? And the key–!”

Alit did not answer.

Her dueling had improved. Even with an obvious disadvantage caused by a tanuki’s possessive 'body swap’, it appeared Kotori would gain the upper-hand. A tanuki though, Kotori had questioned. And Alit had frowned, and Gilag had grown silent–

Well… He does say 'pon’,’ Kotori supposed with an uneasy laugh. 'Also, the whiskers…’

Well.

A tanuki.

Alit had lied, of course. 'Not listening’ was hardly a reason for him to turn down the duel himself, but as he looked to the statue and watched the duel progress, there was a pain in his heart and a pain in his neck–a pain that refused to abate, and a pain which he sorely struggled to banish from his thoughts, eyes shadowed as the opponent snarled his reasons to fight.

Because he was a shadow–nothing but a shadow to his 'friend’, nothing but a copy whose skill became so great that he was cast aside through jealousy. Because he was a shadow.

“I… I’m not…”

Because he’d lost.

“I’m…”

Because 'Kiraku’ didn’t remem…

Alit jumped as the statue beside him moved, hopping slowly toward his own fallen body. “Heh–Gilag?”

Because he remembered.

Ponta.”

From where he’d crashed into the steps, the tanuki looked up, eyes wide with a mixture of confusion and miserable recognition both. “Ki… Kiraku–!”

“Th-Then, he really is 'Souhachi Kiraku’?!” Kotori exclaimed, looking to Astral with wide eyes.

Astral himself seemed to gain a distant expression, the spirit holding himself close as he narrowed his eyes. At the side, Alit himself seemed to react similarly–he looked to his friend with glazed eyes, as if caught between happiness, despair…

We wouldn’t have won that battle, Ponta.’

'No… No, that’s not true! If I was fighting–!’

'Our enemies were on our own side, this time.’

A bitter sound caught itself in the back of Alit’s throat with those words-the betrayal of a friend, of a country, a sting that he felt he could resonate with all too well, and a sting he wanted to forget entirely. What hurt most however, was not the reunion of 'shadow’ and 'general’ that had waited for so many years–

“Then… …Alit…”

It was their eyes. The eyes that turned toward him, with realization, turned to him with questioning stares as he himself responded with the same dead stare he’d had since Gilag had addressed the spirit inhabiting his own body.

The silence was deafening–

It was broken only by the sniffs and coughs of the tanuki himself, now stepping forward to face Kotori and Astral with determined and shadowed eyes.

“I’ll give you my numbers, pon. It’s the least I can do,” he decided, closing his eyes and swallowing. “So, take my power, pon.”

If the statue’s cracking could be heard, it was likely passed as an illusion, the others watching as Kotori turned from Astral to Ponta, and back again. “Are… Are you sure?” she asked, worry coming over her face. “If that happens, doesn’t that mean you…”

“I’m already dead, pon! And this body isn’t meant for me–so go on, pon!”

There was a nod. And with an outstretched hand Astral took his prize, the body falling to its knees as the spirit of the tanuki floated upward into the sky.

“Ponta…”

If it were possible for a tanuki to smile, then, it seemed that perhaps it was doing just that. It turned toward them one last time, looking to the statue below, and–“Kiraku-sama…

-crk-

The cracking was not their imagination.

-CRACK-

And as Gilag’s spirit was released from the stone, the fog of red-rose returned. “HAAAAAHHH!LIKE HELL ANY OF THAT WAS TRUE!

“W-WHAT!?”

He could forgive Kotori for not moving, for such a sight was something one could only respond to with shock. He could forgive Astral for not moving, for what could he have done even if he did, energy being that he was on this plane.

Yet as the spirit of the tanuki was grasped tightly in Gilag’s hand and crammed back into the ghosts’ throat, Alit could somehow not find it possible to forgive himself. “You…”

'Untrue’, he’d said, as he left the statue. The story he’d shared, the reaction he’d given through the duel–a lie!? 

His neck burned, and burned, and if he wasn’t careful he’d lose all the feeling in his body again because after all he was 'only’ a head for those few seconds wasn’t he–

“Huh! 'Human’ in another life… I am Barian!” Gilag announced, standing up from the ground and cracking his neck as the fuchsia-red glow came into his eyes. “And next time, when Tsukumo Yuuma shows his face–

They never did find out what he’d do, next time, and in fact, it didn’t seem there would ever be a 'next time’.  Instead, a roaring cry broke the air, and with all the strength he could muster, Alit struck, with Kotori taking the chance to flee lest she be caught in the catastrophic match.

“NGH–ALIT!?" 

"WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!” Alit snarled, fists cracking against fists, and against his friend’s face, and against his friend’s chest. As though the fog couldn’t help but cloud the way they’d typically fight, and as though its use for the taller of them had now vanished. “WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PROUD GILAG I KNEW?” he cried, craters of earth forming with each impact as they clashed, causing trees to fall in their wake, and birds to swarm the skies in terror. “THE STRONG, HONORABLE WARRIOR OF THE BARIANS?!” he cursed, spitting at the ground

“What are you talking about,” he hissed, the fog clinging persistently as he fought. “I’M ME, AREN’T I?!”

Alit responded without hesitation. “ARE YOU?”

Something about those words…

Something strange about them seemed to click, freezing him in place for only a moment before he moved to bring up a fist in another attack. Of course he was–of course he was, who else would he be, but then where had the story come from, why was Alit reacting so strongly to his actions, WHY–!

“You want to know why you saw that shadow? Why Kotori has his key, and his cards?” Alit roared, kicking down from the trees above to meet with Gilag’s fist.

“NghHH-!” The winds howled with the force of their blows, cutting cloth and skin alike in the pressure, yet somehow the words still carried.

BECAUSE TSUKUMO YUUMA IS DEAD!”

-CRACK-

Down, and to the side. The counterblow he’d been waiting for connected, but with gravity and rage on one end, and a hazy fog of confusion on the other, Gilag found himself flung back to the ground and bouncing against the earth for a few skips until he finally came to rest. “N… Ngh…”

And before him, Alit fell to the ground, gasping for air as he reigned himself in. “Hah… Hah…” Dead, dead and reborn, because what else could it mean with timing like that, what else could it mean when he could see the axe so clearly as he was walked into the arena for the last time, the sun beating on his face even while over Heartland, the skies clouded. Dead, bleeding, and…

As he stood, he looked to where Gilag had fallen, his friend’s body yet motionless. “…Gilag?” he started, voice hoarse and quiet. There was no response, and with a little more urgency he began to walk, stumbling as the injuries sustained in battle began to take their toll, left arm in particular hanging limply at his side as he breathed. “…Gilag!?”

There he was.

A sigh of relief as he realized the man was breathing, staring up to the clouding skies as the fog in his mind passed. Still, however, he said nothing. He said nothing, and did nothing, arms limply supported by the stone around him as his thoughts cascaded where they had once been blocked back.

As the shadow of Tsukumo Yuuma shrank, gaining different features, sharpening in some points while simply rounding at others. As a figure in red revealed itself in the split second memory he had, before he’d been forced through a portal to another realm. As Alit’s words registered, as the words he himself spouted became clearer, as a sharp pain entered the back of his neck, cold steel breaking his thoughts and sending them back to the shadow which he’d spotted to start it all. “I…”

Alit walked forward, and still Gilag stared, a sleeping child coming into his thoughts, curled into a ball, and protectively enclosed within a crystal’s embrace, unaware of the fist that had nearly shattered it with ease.

“What did I…”

There was no answer for him, at least not in the audible sense.

And after a few moments of silent staring, of rage dissolving into sympathy, Alit moved to sit with his friend in that continued silence as the skies at last chose to answer to their thoughts with a deluge of water in the place of absent tears.

Chapter Text

It was a twisted calm, the span of time that followed their trek in China. Kaito took whatever 'Numbers’ had been at both locations, and having dropped them off back home, vanished. Research, Shark had said. Research.

So then now what?

He didn’t keep the clothes from the trip, not really. Things like that, things that were worth something, something more than what he’d started in–those sorts of things could get you killed. Shark had enough of a reputation of staying alive to keep that sort of thing away, true.

But he was normal. He was 'weak’. He couldn’t afford that sort of risk, yet even so he could not bring himself to find a way to sell the clothes to someone, if at least to secure a few more meals.

He could keep them in a pillow case though–they were certainly comfortable enough, and hell, maybe even better quality than the pillow he had. What now though? What now?

There was one thing he’d tried to sell, but had quickly been hushed away from, and that had been the 'coin’. It wasn’t much–a small piece of gold, which he’d recovered from the stones of that Colosseum they’d been to while in Italy–but gold was gold after all, right? Had to be worth something!

Yet apparently not.

Apparently, offering to sell it was some sort of hidden crime, something that could somehow cost his head. He’d tried to sell it once–and he’d been shushed and made to leave, and so he’d turned back home with the coin in his pocket. Soon after, he’d wondered if he might try again. It was gold, gold, he couldn’t just keep something like that around!

Yet he did not.

In fact, he had it on his person at all times, despite what great a risk it was. It was like the cards he now had in his deck–he couldn’t get rid of them, no matter what, even when he had no idea what to do.

This was one of a few things that had changed, he found. Getting better cards in his deck, a better pair of shoes he could wear without getting mugged even, thanks to Rio’s insistence–things were changing, and while it seemed to be for the better, he couldn’t help but question it all. Not that these things were positive, but more…

Whether these things outweighed the fear of the past few days. The sights and sounds, the extraordinary and terrifying sights of dragons and alien beings from separate realms. Whether the sights of spirits in blue, things that no one else could see, were–

Ginji turned moments after he spotted it, his mind snapping as he realized the gravity of what he had just now seen. “You’re–” His eyes wide, he chased after the spirit in blue, and the girl in green who accompanied him. “You’re Yuuma’s friend, aren’t you?” he started, the girl pausing in shock just long enough for him to fumble over his next words. “Ka… Ki…” He sputtered, closing his eyes in an attempt to remember. “Koko, Koto…Kotori,” Ginji finally managed, Kotori herself already starting to walk away. “Kotori! AH-!! W-Wait, hey! Wait up!”

Kotori did not at all 'wait’, however, and it was only by an impressive streak of luck that he managed to catch up, the girl’s inattentive speed-walking unfortunately landing her at a dead-end crosswalk with the light stuck in the red.

“W-Wait, Kotori–! I need to ask–!”

“…What do you want?”

She was curiously blunt, that Kotori–perhaps not to those who knew her, but Ginji’s only experience with the girl were those few moments when he’d gone to get help for Shark so long ago. About as much experience as with Yuuma, in fact, and he took a moment to more carefully choose his words as he kept that in mind. “You…that’s Astral, right?” he started, the both of them swiftly finding themselves with locked jaws and wide eyes while he continued. “Y-Yea, you’re Astral, right?” Ginji repeated, Astral nodding slowly as he stared at the boy.

I am,” he answered slowly, not even slightly shifting his gaze. “But how can you–

“It’s… It’s a mess,” Ginji admitted, coughing a bit, “There were these ruins with aniki and his sister, and–”

“Ruin–you mean the numbers ruins?” Kotori gasped, the boy nodding as he gave further explanation to what indirectly answered Astral's question.

“Right, exactly! Those ruins–but there’s two missing,” he went on, “And aniki didn’t know how to get there…” At this, Kotori was already starting to turn away, and so his words grew flustered. “W-Wait, wait, I’m not finished!” he protested, the girl ahead of him not bothering to turn back as she granted him an answer.

“I don’t want to hear it,” she forced out, her fists clenching as Astral looked back. “Ruins and numbers…I’m not ready for that, alright?”

“Not… What?”

Kotori turned. “That’s what you wanted right? Astral’s keyship…it has the location of those numbers, and it could take us there,” she explained, swallowing. “But I…I’m not ready for another ruin!”

The panic increased as Ginji shook his head, shaking. “That–that’s not what I was asking at all!” he protested. “I just saw you and that guy, and…” Ginji swallowed. “…That thing really gets you there?”

A nod. “But I told you,” she persisted. “I’m not going anywhere! Maybe Shark and Rio can handle it…maybe after what happened, it’s the step that makes sense, but…” As Kotori held her arm close, Astral seemed to hover closer, the girl beside him screwing her face with frustration and anxiety before the emotion was turned onto Ginji. “But today, or tomorrow…I’m sorry. But I’m not ready to try again,” she told him, clutching the key at her neck. “Not yet…”

“Not…” His eyes were drawn to the pendant, and Ginji stared. That little pendant? That tiny gold thing? For some reason his thoughts went back to the coin in his pocket, and as they led there, he found his hand moving into it, ignorant to the slight flinch from Kotori. As he pulled the coin out, she relaxed however, if enough to respond more properly.

“Where…” Relaxed enough to turn to something closer to rage, at least. “Where did you get that?”

“Ah, this!?” He hurriedly hid the coin in his palm, ducking back as Astral seemed to move closer to inspect it. The spirit’s gaze was almost angered, despite apparent calm, a disturbingly serene level of rage seeming to shine within his eyes.

Correct–that coin is the same as the one which Yuuma had,” he started sternly, frowning to the boy before him. “Where did you find this?

“Ah… It was just at the ruins,” Ginji stammered, swallowing. His eyes moved to Kotori, if only to avoid the stare of the spirit in front of him. “H-honest! I just found it there, sitting in a pile of rocks!”

“Another coin in a ruin…” As Kotori murmured this, she stiffened, turning away and swallowing back any further questions. Astral himself even floated back after a moment of irritated pause, and once he had, she continued. “…I’m sorry. But with all that happened recently, I don’t want to think about those things, alright?” she asked, the boy before her frowning.

He hadn’t even tried to enforce it, had he? Most of the conversation in fact had resulted of miscommunication, so then why did she need to insist anything further? What was the need? “I never said…” He cut himself short, fist tightening around the coin as he straightened himself. “If not now,” he managed to start, watching as the girl before him stood in place, “Then when? They have to be visited for a reason right?” he continued, Kotori continuing to stiffen as Astral looked back down to the girl. “Whatever’s going on there, and with that key, it’s important, right?”

“…I…”

Ginji was silent, and as Astral closed his eyes, Kotori managed to speak up.

“I don’t know when,” she decided in the end, fighting back tears as she moved to walk away. “…So tell them I’m sorry, okay? But for now…” Tell…

“W-Why can’t you tell them yourself?!” he protested, a shout that was perhaps some sort of attempt to cling to mere days old habits and some state of normalcy. “They’re your friends, aren’t they?!”

There was no answer, save the crumbling form Kotori took as she walked away, the spirit in blue ever close to her as he hovered.

And as he looked to the coin in his hand again, he wondered just how much longer this strange twisted calm could possibly last in this hazardous state of being, a chilled wind blowing against his shoulders as he forced himself to head 'home’.

Chapter Text

They did not go immediately to Barian after the fight, but staying in the rain had just as little incentive. All it did was soak them in the waters of the world that did not hurt the body but seemed to hurt the soul, as if another one's tears were coming from the skies itself.

Some shelter was needed, in other words.

And where could any better shelter be, than BARian?

BARian was the sort of bar that wasn't entirely dedicated to the drink. The first time they had found it, those weeks prior on their first join mission, it had been unintentional. They saw the word 'Barian' and. Well, they'd assumed it was a place for them. They'd even asked where the name came from-apparently the owner had a silly idea of calling bar hoppers and bar residents 'BARians', and they were absolutely not at all pronouncing it properly in their head.

They had become regulars after that. After a pair of rumbling stomachs caused the barkeep to laugh and insist they take a seat-'no one is here at this hour!' he laughed, 'you boys won't deal with any trouble...just keep your eyes on the dining room menu!' So they'd ordered some food, ordered some juice, and the rest was...history.

"Well now," the barkeep hummed, watching his two rainsoaked patrons come in. "It's been some time- careful with the water on those seats," he added, rooting around behind the counter for a moment. "Here-towels ought help...is it the usual for you both then?"

The boys had looked to each other and with few other options, shrugged. Sure. It wasn't as if they could bring themselves to pour over the menu for more options right now. Towels taken, they loosely dried themselves as best they could before setting the fabric to the side and taking a seat. The usual meant the barman would be heading to the back- ready to cook up some curry and rice for Gilag, and perhaps for Alit himself given the chill from the rain. It left the two quite alone in the dusty room.

Which in turn left them in silence.

"...A youngling, huh?" Gilag eventually managed, and Alit's reply was equally distant, dragged down by the rain itself.

"...Yeah," the other half grunted. "...'Iildus'."

There was a pause, and...

"...Yuuma... ...he's really..?"

There was a sniff, and Alit managed a nod this time. "..Yeah," he croaked, his breathing half a shudder. "...Yeah he's gone."

"Then who?" the larger of them hissed, fists clenched tight. "Who did it-!"

He regretted his words the minute they passed his lips, and yet somehow they met the air anyway. "You were going to do the same, not that long ago."

To that, Gilag fell silent again. Alit swallowed-it was a cold blow, a sharp one, and one that had no place there. After all-

"...It's alright," he lied, but then again the lie was not just for Gilag. "...I was set to do the same, before I found out." Before he finally broke under the pressure of memories long passed, and the reality of a stone in front of his eyes. Alit continued to remain silent, at least long enough to continue on. "...It was Vector, anyway. ...I don't think he expected it."

Gilag's snort was far from one of amusement, and it was very likely their existing fatigue that kept him there. "Khh..! If it were anyone, it would have to be him..!" he snarled, once again shaking with tight fists. "That wretch...! I would bet that if I hadn't been so distracted, I would have known in an instant, too!" the man added.

And this time, Alit paused. "...I wonder..."

"What?"

It took a moment to go on with what he was thinking, and Alit's eyes remained glued upon the end of the bar table, the sight of it somewhat out of focus. "...I wonder who among us could have done that to us in the first place?"

It took only a few seconds, and suddenly Gilag found the strength not only to choke, but to hiss, and to slam his fists upon the table-a weak motion that even still caused glasses to vibrate. "NHH-! Who else could it be!?" he snapped, eyes watering despite himself. "To do any of these things at all, who else!?"

Who else but the devil with black wings, garbed in silver and black. And yet... "...Naturally, we can't ask," Alit snorted bitterly, and Gilag continued to seethe. And yet not only did they lack any proof toward what most absolutely occurred, they had no means to chase after as well. There was nothing they could do.

Nothing at all.

The food arrived, and the barman nodded, saying nothing of the sounds he'd heard. Instead- "Here you are boys-both of you," he added, giving them a short smile. "It's mm... It's on the house. You just get warm," he encouraged, moving some distance away to handle some dishes. The pair looked from him, back to the food, and found themselves quiet for another while-before Alit managed to bring himself to start digging in.

Gilag did not move so much as an inch.

"....Lost your appetite?" Alit asked, empathizing with the feeling. Gilag however shook his head, rubbing his middle.

"...I feel sick," he muttered, and for once the sound from Alit carried a fraction of amusement.

Even if it fell just as fast. "...You did just eat a number's spirit," he pointed out, his friend grimacing in turn. Once again, Alit found he regretted his words and sighed. "...Why don't you just spit him back out? It's not like he's 'gone', right?"

...This time the silence that resulted didn't really have a mood. It simply settled over the air the way it would if someone's stomach rumbled, or if someone farted. Neither of these things had occurred, but Gilag certainly had the expression of one who did, and Alit was staring at the other's middle as if he expected it. "Mnh....A-Actually..." Gilag coughed, blinking rather slowly. ".......I don't actually know how that would work..."

Alit's jaw dropped.

"...I don't even know why I did it in the first place...or how I was able to do that..."

The stare, as well, persisted. It persisted long enough in fact, that Gilag could do little more than sputter in upset from there. "NMH-!! D-Don't look at me like that..!! You know I wasn't acting like myself!! Even now, it's still..." The man turned back to his food, looking quite ashamed. "To think I was overtaken so easily is one thing, Alit... ...but everything that happened, from when Vector dueled me in the first place, it's just a mess..."

The jaw quickly closed from there, and Alit found himself unable to answer. After all-he was no better. His memories a haze of confusion and anger, dropped off from the last thing he COULD clearly remember. ...Namely Vector, attacking him when he was at his weakest.

So he changes the subject. He scarfs down his curry as Gilag stares at his own plate, lets the silverware clatter onto the porcelain, and turns. "...You're meeting Iildus."

"MHN!?" Gilag jumped, almost literally at the words. "M-Meeting him!?! After all of this?!" he wheezed while Alit grinned. "O-Oii, Alit-!"

"There's no 'oiis' for it!" the smaller of them laughed. "You have to meet him eventually...and sooner is better than later, right? I'll even supervise," he added, a slight edge to the tone implying he'd rather supervise with or without the other's permission.

They couldn't be entirely sure that red haze was GONE, after all...

Gilag, for his part, seemed all too aware of that. He stared at his friend, blinking once, twice... "...You would be there, in the room then?" he starts, before choking. "Th-That is... ...If I could, maybe I should stay out of sight. ...Just for the start..."

Out of sight, huh? It wasn't the perfect sort of first meeting but...it was better than nothing. Alit nodded, and smiled, leaning back somewhat in his seat. "Then it's settled. ...Eat your food," he added, grinning. "I'd bet he'll be awake before we get there, otherwise!"