In spite of its name, in no position does the Death card represent a literal death; rather, it is a card to represent change. In its upright position it can represent renewal and rebirth, new beginnings, and a metamorphosis.
The only one of them who’s been on an airplane before, it turns out, is Luna. She’s calm enough at every turn except customs; internal flights don’t require it, so that part is as new to her as it is to the rest of them.
None of them, on the other hand, have ever been on such a long flight; nonstop from Tokyo to London is more than twelve hours. They’re split, two and two, in rows next to the window; Akari and Luna, Seira and Ginka.
Akari watches as they lift off, and leave Japan behind them. Everything grows smaller and smaller, like when she flies in their battles—but quickly they surpass that height, and the ground keeps shrinking away.
The four of them chatter and watch movies and eat airplane food of dubious quality, and it’s almost like they’re ordinary children who’d have nothing to worry about except being bored and restless on an airplane.
“I’m going to miss my exercise time,” Seira mutters.
“Can’t you just do twice as many when we get there?” Ginka asks, a grin tugging at her mouth.
“That’s not how it works.” Seira leans back against her seat.
In the row in front of them, Luna leans against Akari’s shoulder.
“What are you watching?” she asks; Akari has the subtitles of whatever it is she’s watching turned on, but it’s the middle of the scene, and Luna doesn’t recognize any of the characters.
“Brave,” says Akari. “It’s set in Scotland, so I thought it would be fun to watch now.”
“We’re going to England, not Scotland,” says Seira from behind her.
“They’re on the same island,” says Akari.
They settle down, and Akari can get back to her movie.
It turns out, in the end, that maybe Brave wasn’t the best choice for Akari to watch—tension in the family, and a monstrous transformation that follows after, but—
Queen Elinor returns to her human form at the end of the movie, and she and Merida get a happy ending.
Akari is in a better place than she’s been for a while, but she hasn’t had a happy ending of her own—and maybe she never will, not like they happen in movies at least.
She and Fuyuna certainly can’t.
All of them are fairly exhausted by the time the plane lands in London, even Luna, who spent nearly half the flight asleep on Akari’s shoulder—something about airplanes just doesn’t seem to lead to restful sleep.
Akari looks around the airport, wide-eyed, trying to take it all in. There’s so much to see here, and conversations swell around her in a dozen different languages.
She hopes that Ginka’s English is as strong as the other girl claims; her own isn’t the best, though she shouldn’t be completely useless.
They’re waiting in the line to get through customs when, perhaps predictably, the air shifts around them. Ginka frowns, Seira curses quietly under her breath, and Luna pulls off her gloves, revealing the red crescents on her hands. Akari takes a breath and settles into herself.
This is, maybe, one of the worst places they could have a fight with a Daemonia. No one wants to draw attention—not the kind of attention they could get from this—in an airport, and while people don’t usually quite notice what’s happening with their fights there’s a first time for everything. Hopefully this won’t be like that. Hopefully it’ll be like any other fight.
They share a look between each other, and then they’re in the Astralux—Temperance, The Star, The Moon, and The Sun.
In the real world, Akari struggles with English—she can understand it, mostly, but it isn’t easy. In the Astralux, the voice of the Daemonia's host rings as clearly as they did in Japan.
“Why did this happen to you?” she asks, as she always does, and this one is receptive to her questions.
“All I wanted was to see my best friend again,” says the Daemonia, and Akari listens carefully even as her own friends shield themselves and the people outside of the Astralux from the attacks. “She went away, and no one will tell me where. I was angry but I didn’t want—I didn’t want to change like this.”
“I understand,” says Akari. “I’m sorry.”
She wishes that there was more she could do. Maybe, if they were elsewhere, she could stall long enough to try to learn something more. But they aren’t, and she can’t; they’re in the middle of a crowded airport, and Akari has a duty to the world beyond one unfortunate girl.
Her sword pierces the card powering the Daemonia—Strength, though almost certainly not the Strength card—and the monstrous creature fades, leaving behind a girl no older than Akari herself.
In two blinks she’s gone and the four of them are back in the real world, and they have to hurry back to their bags before they completely lose their place in the line.
They’re on the other side of the world, and, hopefully, Akari will be able to make good on her promise here and find a way to heal the Daemonia.
II. The Hermit
Upright, The Hermit represents a kind of contemplative solitude and the search for truth. This solitude is not one of loneliness, but of peace.
Moscow, Akari learns quickly, is never hot. Sometimes it’s decently warm in the summer months, but nothing she would call hot, and in the autumn that changes to colder than she’s known before faster than she would like. The tarot users there are nice enough, though all older than Akari and her friends; they have The Empress, The High Priestess, and The Devil, and they’re still unsettled from the loss of The Lovers.
“How did you come back, exactly?” Akari asks Ginka finally. She knows what happened in the broadest of strokes, but she doesn’t really understand, and if she doesn’t understand then how can she replicate it?
“I don’t really know how to explain it,” says Ginka, apologetic. “And I don’t think I saw half of what you want to know, if it’s The Lovers you’re thinking of.”
“Yeah.” Akari sighs a little. “You said that I was what let you come back; but I don’t know if that had to do with the deal I made with Cerebrum or something else, and if it was something else I probably could find The Lovers, if only I knew where to look.”
“Don’t go making another deal with a devil on their account,” says Ginka, unusually serious. “We need you here.”
“I’m not planning on it,” Akari says. “Don’t worry.”
Of course, she was hardly planning on the deal she made with Cerebrum either, but this probably isn’t the best time to point that out.
It’s far too cold in the Moscow winter for Akari to want to venture outside, besides which she doesn’t speak Russian, nor does she know anyone in the city aside from Sefiro Fiore. So between her lessons and the thankfully much rarer fights against the Daemonia, she finds herself with plenty of time to sit and think on the problem of bringing back the Daemonia’s hosts.
Here’s the thing: Cerebrum shoved a card into Luna, and he pulled it back out just as easily, and Luna was… fine, basically. So there is a way. Akari just hasn’t found it yet.
She keeps thinking.
When the spring comes and the snow melts, the four of them start exploring the city more. It really is nothing like the cities they left behind, even divorced from its climate.
Sometimes Akari goes out alone. No one pays her much mind, and she finds that sometimes it’s easier for her to think if she’s on her feet and moving, rather than sitting at a desk or lying on her bed to simply ponder for hours on end.
One such day, she finds herself alone in a small plaza, and she sees the Daemonia among the people. It hasn’t done any damage here—yet—so Akari doesn’t attack. She does step into the Astralux, though, and draw her sword; no matter how much she really just wants to talk, the Daemonia don’t ever let it stay a verbal conversation.
“If you’re here to kill me,” the Daemonia’s host snaps, “then do it, girl. Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for me.”
Akari blinks, surprised. The hosts take wildly differing tones with her, true, but something like that is hardly common.
“Why are you so eager to die?” she asks instead; even the ones that have begged her for death have only wanted their suffering and destruction to end.
A hoarse laugh. “We both know that’s what you’re here for. Why wait until there’s been some great destruction, when you can head it off?”
That’s not wrong, exactly, but the Daemonia still hasn’t attacked and that’s more than strange; it’s weird enough to spook Akari. Still, she rushes forward, and hopes that this won’t lead to anyone else being hurt, at least.
The Daemonia doesn’t so much as twitch, even as its host keeps goading her on; Akari reaches the being, and sees its card, suspended in a sphere like any other, but it isn’t dark—nor is it colored like hers—instead it’s bleached a pale, washed-out almost-white, and—
Akari reels back.
“I don’t understand,” she says aloud. She doesn’t understand. How can there be a Daemonia here, with The Lovers as its card, when the two from the Aeon Tarot annihilated? Annihilation doesn’t have to mean death, they’ve known that since Ginka came back, but this is something else entirely.
“Go on, then,” says the host roughly. “Stab me, why don’t you? I can’t get rid of this card myself, you know.”
“You aren’t hurting anyone,” Akari snaps back. “I don’t think you can hurt anyone—at least I don’t think the Daemonia can work through you to hurt people, maybe you could if you wanted to but that’s different—and I’m not stabbing anyone who isn’t a danger.”
“Stupid child,” the host hisses at her. “You think I want this half-life? Do what you will, but don’t leave me here like this.”
“I won’t,” says Akari, focusing in on the card. Cutting it would kill the host; she won’t do that. No one’s ever gotten close enough, as far as she knows, to try to pull a card out by hand before—but this situation is all kinds of strange, and if Cerebrum could do it, then maybe she—she with her Daemonia blood—can too.
She reaches out with her left hand, her sword still in her right, and shudders as her hand enters the sphere; it’s a strange sticky feeling, one she doesn’t like at all. She reaches in, intent on grabbing the card and pulling it free, but the moment her fingertips brush against it something blazes in her and the card dissolves into a fine ash.
“No!” she cries, but it’s over already. The card is gone, and with it go both Daemonia and host.
Akari lets go of her transformation, and the Astralux as well. She hardly needs it anymore.
She turns, and starts the long walk back to the Moscow branch of Sefiro Fiore.
III. The Hierophant, reversed
In its upright position, The Hierophant represents structure and tradition, and learning through said tradition. However, when reversed it represents rebellion, nonconformity, and a rejection of tradition.
Akari arrives in America with her friends only a few days later, though she knows that the original plan would have kept them in Moscow through May. No one’s given any of them an explanation for the sudden change in schedule, but Akari would bet money she doesn’t really have on it being connected to her not-fight against the bleached Lovers card.
The members permanently stationed there seemed spooked when she came back, and she doesn’t blame them; she’s spooked herself. Ginka coming back from the other side was weird, but it wasn’t spooky like this—it was the real thing, not something that halfway seems to be an echo.
Before she left, the leaders in Moscow sat her down and explained that she’s not to tell the Americans what happened with The Lovers. Akari didn’t protest that; she could tell it was an order from the Leguzario, not something they came up with on their own, and for all that they were nice to her and her friends, they aren’t Etia and Ariel. They aren’t the ones who disobeyed a direct order because they thought she should have a choice in her own life.
“Are you going to tell them?” Luna asks her, and Akari shrugs.
“They should know,” she says, “that annihilation isn’t really what we thought it was. And I’m not sure how to tell them that much without explaining how I know, and convince them that it isn’t some odd theory of mine.”
“It makes sense, though,” says Ginka, “since I came back—or at least it’s hardly the strangest thing here.”
“If we’re calling it annihilation, in the sense of physics, it isn’t surprising either,” Seira adds. “Since, strictly speaking, nothing is destroyed when that happens either.”
“I thought there was an explosion, though?” Ginka asks, tilting her head a little.
“There is, but it’s the matter becoming the energy—it doesn’t just vanish, like you seemed to.”
Their ride—a car driven, fittingly, by the holder of The Chariot—arrives then, and they cut off their discussion. Even if all of them agree that the Americans should know about The Lovers, which Akari thinks they do, no one’s going to say anything if she doesn’t. Not at first.
The weight of their trust settles heavily over her, and she stares out the window of the car at the strange new countryside speeding by.
It takes her three days to decide to tell them, no matter that the Leguzario told her not to. They’re in this fight as much as she is; they need to know.
So she sits down with the holders of The Chariot, The Emperor, and The Hierophant, and tells them about the bleached Lovers card and how it crumbled at her touch, and how it was there even though The Lovers annihilated last year.
“Interesting,” says Reina Queen, holder of The Emperor. “Why wait to tell us, though? Surely such important information should have been divulged when you arrived, or Moscow would have contacted us themselves.”
Akari winces. “I wasn’t sure if I should say anything,” she admits. “I wasn’t exactly supposed to.”
“Then why tell us at all?”
“It’s your fight,” she says, looking curiously at the three Tarot users arrayed before her. “If you know that this is a possibility, then you’ll know to look out for it. How can you fight it fully without the information?”
“Thank you, Akari,” says Reina Queen. Her voice is flat and steady and Akari can’t read anything from it. “You can go now.”
Akari nods, and leaves them.
A few hours later, she learns that the San Francisco branch of Sefiro Fiore is nothing like the one back home, nor even the Moscow branch, when they come to tell her over dinner that she’s not to be involved in Daemonia fights if at all possible for the foreseeable future.
“Why not?” she asks.
“You’re unreliable,” says Reina Queen. “If you can’t follow a simple instruction—not informing others of classified information, for instance—then I can’t trust you in the field.”
“With all due respect,” says Seira, frowning as she sets down her utensils, chicken salad forgotten momentarily, “whether or not Akari can keep a secret doesn’t have anything to do with her ability to fight the Daemonia. As someone who’s been on her team for about a year now, I have complete confidence in her abilities.”
“I’m sure you do,” says Reina. “However, that doesn’t change my concerns. Unless it is unavoidable, Akari is not to fight any Daemonia while with the San Francisco branch of Sefiro Fiore. Is that clear?”
“Crystal,” says Akari, after a few seconds of painfully tense silence. “I understand.” She does, too. She understands that Reina isn’t interested in anything new; that the Leguzario don’t care for her thoughts either. She understands that if she’s going to move forward on her project to free the Daemonia’s hosts instead of killing them, she cannot count on Sefiro Fiore for support.
She understands. That doesn’t mean she has to like it.
Two weeks later, she wakes to learn that Reina slew another bleached Lovers Daemonia in the night; she bows her head in silent frustration that she couldn’t have been there, couldn’t do anything to help—couldn’t even bear witness to the scene.
A hand settles on her shoulder, another body next to her on her other side; she looks up to see Seira standing before her, hands on her hips.
“So,” says Seira. “What now?”
Akari sits there for a moment, kicking one leg back and forth as she ponders the question. The problem is this: they may be four in number, but they’re young and inexperienced and have no seniority whatsoever. They can’t just go ahead and ignore the Leguzario; she’s already tasted the consequences for that.
“For now,” she says slowly, and she hates to say it even as she knows it’s true, “I think we need to wait.”
IV. The Hanged Man
When upright, The Hanged Man can represent martyrdom. However, it also represents a more general kind of sacrifice, as well as a period of necessary waiting and the acceptance of such.
Spring turns to summer, and Akari plays her part, as do the others. She doesn’t argue. She goes to her lessons, and explores the city, and doesn’t take up her sword even once. In some ways it’s almost a relief—she doesn’t have to kill anyone, as long as she’s banned from fighting—but mostly it’s an ache in her; she doesn’t know enough. She doesn’t know enough, and she can’t learn more without being in the fights.
But Reina Queen does not like her at all, and Akari knows that her options right now are limited to what Reina allows her. So she plays nice—and it’s not too hard, really. She likes being nice. Not pushing at boundaries, to know more, to understand—that’s harder, but she can do it.
In the middle of July, Reina calls her into her office.
“I’d like to trust you, Akari,” she says. “You’ve done well, these past few months. I know this must have been difficult for you, but I do appreciate your restraint.”
“Thank you,” says Akari. There’s something else coming, she knows—Reina wouldn’t have called her in here just to compliment her self-control.
“As I said—I’d like to trust you,” says Reina. “But I’m sure you understand my reservations. I’d like to invite you back into the field on a trial basis.”
“Of course. However, I’d like you to join my team and myself in our battles.”
“All right,” says Akari.
“You can’t talk back on these missions,” says Seira, frowning. The four of them are clustered in Akari’s room to discuss this newest development. “And I don’t just mean to Reina, though obviously don’t talk back to her. You can’t talk to the Daemonia, either—she’s like I was two years ago, in how she fights, and she’s got authority over you like I never did. She wouldn’t like you talking to them.”
“I know,” Akari says. She flops back on her bed, and stares up at the ceiling. “She could at least admit that she doesn’t like me, though. I’m thirteen, not three.”
“She doesn’t dislike you, exactly,” Ginka throws in from her seat by the door. “I don’t think she cares much one way or the other about any of us. All she cares about is you following her instructions.”
Akari sighs. “I can do this,” she says. “I can do this.”
“Of course you can do it.” That’s Luna, a quiet steadfast presence at her side.
She next goes out three days later, and when she draws her sword it’s like she never stopped fighting; something about the card and her transformed self has always given her a fighter’s instincts even when she has no training in anything even remotely related.
As The Empress, Reina has a scepter that fires soft-looking white beams at the Daemonia; it gives a terrible screech when they hit, and Akari knows they can’t be half so harmless as they look.
“Please!” the host cries out, and Akari closes her eyes briefly. “Please, help me—”
She wishes she could shut it out, just this once, but—she can’t. She can’t not-hear it, she can’t answer it, she can only listen and bear witness.
The Daemonia begs for aid, and Akari cannot ask for more specifics. Eventually—without her aid—Reina pins it.
“Go on, Akari,” she says, not even out of breath, and Akari nods.
She knows what she must do.
It would burn deeper in her, if she did know a way to split apart the Daemonia from its human host, but she doesn’t. And really it would be this way no matter whether she could answer or not—they know not how to stop a Daemonia without killing its host.
Akari cuts the card in two, and steps back. There’s nothing more she can do right here, right now.
A week later, she’s back with her own team, away from Reina’s watchful eye, and she can relax a little, but not too much—never in a way that would be noticeable, once the fight is over. She keeps learning, keeps paying attention, and does not manage to separate a card. Doesn’t even get any closer, but she can try again, which is an unexpected relief.
In early September, the four of them are sent off—on schedule this time—to the Middle East.
V. The Tower
The Tower in any orientation represents fundamental change. Upright, it is a sudden, tumultuous change, one that resonates all the way down to one’s foundations; this is often difficult, but it is also necessary in order for one’s life to move forward.
In Jerusalem, Akari meets her other half. Or rather, she meets her card’s other half—the real other half, this time, not a duplicate. Herself in the negative, just like Ginka before.
When they realize what card this is, the others tell her to go, but Akari can’t do that. After all, from everything she’s learned so far, she’s fairly certain that she’s the only one who can really defeat this card—and then there won’t be a Sun card anymore, on either side. Only pale imitations that can’t do any real harm.
She doesn’t want to annihilate, of course. Doesn’t want to spend eternity locked in a battle that neither side can win. But she doesn’t have much of a choice, either.
“I’m staying,” she says, and Ginka gives her a long, appraising look before nodding.
“All right,” she says, and Seira and Luna don’t argue again, though they don’t look happy about it either.
Seira’s arrows score across her double’s arm, and Akari grits her teeth against the sudden pain on her own arm, tries not to notice the blood soaking into her sleeve. Phantom claws rake over her shoulders, and she can’t hold back a hiss this time. At least Ginka isn’t really attacking, not like Akari knows she can; instead she’s playing defense.
Akari gets to her feet, and rises into the air. There’s only one way to end this, and it has to be her that does it. For all that she usually fights better beside her friends, in this moment she must be alone.
She strikes at her double, and winces against the pain of the new wound in her own leg. Her double slashes with a deep blue sword at her ribs, then darts back, pale, ghostly blood spreading across her own ghostly shirt.
They trade a few more glancing blows, but it’s pointless and they both know it; the only thing that can truly change anything here is a retreat or an annihilation, and neither of them will retreat. They may be opposites, but that much, Akari knows, will be the same between them.
Her breath is coming quick now, short sharp gasps, and she’s bleeding from scattered wounds all across her body, from every time something struck her double.
She zips forward in the air.
Her double zips forward.
They meet, both of them with their swords held out in front of them.
For a moment they hang there in the air, each impaled on the other’s blade, and everything is still. Akari stares into her double’s wide eyes, and it occurs to her that this being-impaled thing doesn’t hurt nearly as much as she expected it to.
Then the world convulses, and Akari and her double blink out of existence in the Astralux.
VI./+I. The World
The World, when upright, symbolizes completion and fulfillment, as well as a kind of apotheosis; it is the acceptance of oneself in the entirety. It can also be taken as the ending of one chapter—in this context, it is a positive ending, one of understanding and self-actualization.
The battle continues, on the other side. Akari doesn’t really know where they are, exactly—they’re not in the Astralux anymore, nor are they in the ordinary world. They’re just Elsewhere, as far as she can tell.
Here, in this nowhere of an Elsewhere, the rules seem to be different than they are in other planes; Akari feels the pain of her injuries, but they flare up only briefly before fading back, and damage done to her doesn’t compound. She doesn’t grow hungry, or thirsty. She doesn’t tire, nor does she feel a need to sleep.
It lasts forever. It lasts only a moment. She cannot tell.
As it goes on, though, she begins to realize some things. Foremost among them is that her double is strangely, uncomfortably human, in a way that she’s pretty sure Ginka’s never was.
Maybe that makes sense. After all, she’s half Daemonia herself.
She grits her teeth, and fights on. As long as they battle, as long as the balance is maintained, neither can triumph, and neither can escape.
Slowly, things begin to shift. Attacks that Akari couldn’t have predicted in the beginning she can block now. Her double slips past her guard in ways she couldn’t have before; Akari can likewise slip past hers.
“You can’t win,” her double says, eyes narrowed at her. “Surely you know that.”
“I know that’s not all there is to it,” Akari replies. “Ginka made it out.”
“A fluke.” Her double shrugs. “You can’t win in here all by yourself.”
Akari doesn’t answer that, and they return to their fight.
The balance changes. It happens suddenly, even in the timeless Elsewhere—something clicks together in Akari’s head. She couldn’t articulate it if she tried, but even though this might seem a good thing, it also distracts her, and this is dangerous, for—
Her double sees her distraction, and doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of it. She swoops forwards, and stabs her sword through Akari’s chest. Through her heart, she thinks. Akari chokes, suddenly dizzy and very cold; this is not like her other injuries in Elsewhere, she can tell. It could well be the end of her if she lets it.
Still dizzy over the sharp, cold pain in her chest, Akari reaches out her right arm—that one’s farther away from the deep blue sword—and cups her double’s cheek in her hand.
“I know you,” she mumbles through bloody lips. And she does, for her double is her, and she is her double. They were split from one, back in the Aeon Tarot days, after all.
She swallows, with some difficulty, and brings her left hand to grasp her double’s right. Their fight ends here, she knows.
“I know you,” she says again. She takes that knowledge—of what she is, of what her double is—and makes it a part of her.
Akari is human. She is Daemonia. She is The Sun; she is its inverse.
Around her, the Elsewhere dissolves.
There is a void, gentle and soft. Akari floats there, out of time, her wounds knitting back together.
There is light, and distant, muffled sounds. Voices.
She knows those voices. The knowledge is distant but it is present.
Akari reaches out, and lets the light be her guide. Lets it carry her towards the voices.
She emerges in the Astralux. Where, exactly, she isn’t certain—the Astralux doesn’t perfectly line up with the real world, when it lines up with it at all. But it’s the middle of a battle, and she realizes now that the voices she heard were those of her friends—Seira, Ginka, and Luna are fighting a towering Daemonia.
Akari flies down to them, and uses her sword to deflect a blow that was heading Luna’s way.
“Akari!” Luna gasps. Akari smiles at her.
“I’m back,” she says. She can try to explain later; now, there’s no time.
She turns back to the Daemonia—this one seems something like a towering, somehow-coherent waterfall—and blinks.
In its chest the card practically glows. Akari swallows down her memory of what happened in Moscow, and narrows her eyes at it—this is different. This isn’t a bleached Lovers card.
“There is nothing,” the Daemonia moans. “There is nothing left here.”
“I can hear you,” Akari says. “What happened?”
“I wanted another chance,” says the Daemonia. “It’s all gone wrong, though. Can you set me free?”
“One way or another,” she says. All her instincts are telling her that this is different, that everything has changed; that she can do this now. She turns to her friends.
“What do you need?” Luna asks.
“Take my hand,” Akari says. “And whatever you do—whatever happens—don’t let go. Seira, Ginka—don’t go for the card, but cover me?”
The two of them nod, and Luna lets her red claws dissolve before grasping Akari’s hand in her own.
“Go,” says Seira, and they do.
Up in the air, towards the card that glows so brightly Akari nearly has to look away. Ginka’s shields shelter them; Seira’s arrows take out everything else.
They reach the Daemonia, and Akari reaches out and rests her hand against the sphere. She closes her eyes, and remembers all that Cerebrum did.
It’s possible. All she has to do is let go.
She presses her hand into the sphere, and grabs the card, and surrenders herself to the static in her ears as she pulls.
Akari opens her eyes to find herself lying on the ground, still in the Astralux. Luna’s kneeling next to her, still clasping her hand; when she turns her head, she sees that not too far away Seira and Ginka are talking quietly to a dark-haired teenage boy. He looks exhausted, but he’s alive. He’s alive and he’s here, and the Daemonia is gone from him.
She turns back to Luna.
“You did it,” Luna says, wonder in her voice.
“No,” says Akari. “No, we did it.”
She couldn’t save Fuyuna. She isn’t naïve enough to think that she’ll be able to save everyone going forwards. But they saved this boy, and even that—for now, that much is enough.