Arc 5: Arcobaleno Trial
Chapter 140 We pray
"Something's happening," Nono observed mildly, even as his hands clenched over the head of his cane and his eyes narrowed, his gaze fixed in the direction of Namimori.
He had been unable to look away — all of them had, too tense and concerned for what was occurring within the barrier, too helpless to do anything to affect the outcome. It had only been a short while since the ritual had begun, but it had felt like an eternity.
Now, the seven lights had flared within the barrier once more, shooting up to gather at the apex of the dome, which flickered and disappeared, then falling down again. As the seven pillars of light pierced through Namimori's landscape, into the seven ritual grounds that had been set up ahead of time, the earth shuddered and jerked.
There really was an earthquake, just as predicted. Nothing less could be expected, when disrupting the flow of the world itself.
Down in the evacuation tents, someone was screaming in fear. Even in front of the command center, everyone was forced to the ground, unable to remain on their feet. The earthquake went on, too long, seemingly without end.
Xanxus's stream of curses was barely audible in the chaos, but all the others were silent — Kusakabe pale but determined, Gamma crouched protectively over Aria, who looked to be on the verge of panic and desperation. Only Chrome appeared calm, her eyes closed and her breathing unnaturally even.
She had gone into a trance, using her powers as a medium to leave her body behind, Nono realized. That meant she was likely lending her support to Mukuro in whatever the children were attempting.
The old man looked toward the town again — the pillars of light had narrowed and dimmed, no longer pure white but rather the color of their respective elements. The orange, in the center, emerging from Namimori's tallest skyscraper, reached the highest.
Nono thought he could see the buildings swaying with the earth. Most likely, the structures would not be able to withstand much more.
With a heavy rumbling, the earth suddenly ruptured, fissures opening through streets and entire buildings. Something like faintly glowing threads seemed to curl through the dust above the widening cracks, as the leylines rose to the surface.
Under the pressure of the power passing through it, every window — every glassed surface — on the center skyscraper cracked, the burst outward. The shards of glass glittered as they rained down onto the upturned street below.
Instinctively, Nono made the sign of the cross and murmured a prayer. It felt almost like watching the end of the world.
Aria's eyes darted to him, but unlike Xanxus, who muttered another curse, she said nothing. Closing her eyes, she clasped her hands and prayed as well.
'Please let them live.'
'Please… let them succeed.'
Chapter 141 The final step
They had known from the start that they would have only the narrowest opening to change things. The moment when ownership of the Pacifiers was being passed on — it was also a moment of weakness, when everything was in the air, unsupported and unbalanced.
They had done their best to widen that single opening. By forcing their own ritual, instead of waiting for the Fated Day, they made the previous Arcobaleno still party to the system. By acting as each other's representatives, instead of matching up by element, they added an extra step to the transfer of the Pacifiers.
It wasn't just because they needed leeway to engrave their will and Flames upon the Pacifiers and link them to the leylines. It was also for the Arcobaleno. If they could do it before the connection to their previous owners was ruptured… It wouldn't guarantee their survival, but it would increase their chances.
For almost a year, they had trained and prepared, as much as they were able, to carry out Tsuna's plan. But in the end, it didn't really prepare them for the reality of the ritual's completion.
The sheer power surging all around him was almost paralyzing, but what shocked Tsuna the most was the feeling of the Flames still within the Sky Pacifier. They were weak, and almost extinguished, but they had once been amazingly strong and pure — the Flames that could only come from someone giving their very life.
The Flames of Luce's life, which she had given freely… They had continued to burn within the Pacifier even after she had passed on, her body giving out from the power it could not properly channel.
Tsuna wondered what the others felt — could they feel the lives of the Arcobaleno, still being drawn into the Pacifiers? Could Ryohei feel Reborn's Flames?
But he had no time for that. In the other half of his blood, Tsuna could sense the leylines rising across the city. The seven ritual grounds they had set up swelled with power, a direct link into the life force of the world itself. It was enough to make Tsuna lightheaded and giddy, drunk on the power flowing into him.
Now, it was time for the final step — creating the artifact of their will that would serve as the eternal bridge between the Pacifiers and the leylines.
Mukuro had explained what Daemon had done as best as he could.
'Leave behind an imprint, a silhouette, a copy of everything that is you in that moment. A monument to the wish that consumes your entire being,' he had said.
What was their wish? What had they done all this for? What was the shape of their resolve?
When the Vindice had approached Tsuna, they had spoken in terms of grand ideals. "So no one needs to be sacrificed again," they had said. "For the sake of the world."
Those were lies, really. What the Vindice truly wished for was revenge, or at least vindication. They wanted to ruin the system that had ruined them.
Tsuna had said those things as well. He had also lied.
What did he know about the world? What did he know about the people who might be sacrificed in the future? In the end, he was just a small animal that knew only its small town and its small pack.
In the end, all Tsuna wanted was to protect his family. And no matter what he said, Reborn was part of that.
No. Reborn was where it started.
Two days a year, Tsuna had told Xanxus a year before, to be able to smile with everyone. But he had gotten even more selfish since then. He didn't know how much he wanted, but he knew that just two years wasn't enough.
So they could see the fireworks again next year, so they could play in the snow again, so they could celebrate their birthdays together. So he could show Reborn the kind of boss he would become.
With the focus of that wish, Tsuna poured all his Flames into the Sky Pacifier.
In it, too, he would engrave his time.
The Sky Pacifier was much deeper, darker, colder than the Vongola ring had been. No matter how much he put in, it wasn't enough.
Tears of frustration gathered in Tsuna's eyes. He couldn't see anything past the chaos of orange Flames — only the glimmering form of the Sky Pacifier. It slipped out of his hand, drifting away as they both floated in the midst of the powerful forces brought together.
Tsuna reached for it, futilely, but it was just of his grasp.
He refused. He refused to fail!
A warm hand pressed against his back, pushing him up and lending him a wave of gentle Flame.
His hand closing around the Sky Pacifier, Tsuna didn't have a chance to glance back — who was it? — before everything was swept away.
It was strange. For a moment, Tsuna thought he was in two places at once, both rising and falling. He thought he could see himself, hands clasped tightly around the Sky Pacifier, praying and fighting desperately for his family.
Then, a feeling of separation. And, emptiness.
Chapter 142 Ever after
Reborn hadn't stopped calling, even as the skyscraper under them was utterly gutted by the power of the Sky Pacifier, descending from above, and the power of three leylines, rising from below. The entire center had been melted, leaving only the outer walls, their glass shattered, the metal skeleton groaning and screeching under the pressure.
Through it all, Reborn had somehow kept himself from being swept away by the buffering waves of pure power, only peripherally aware of Checkerface and the Vindice doggedly doing the same.
He didn't care about them. He didn't care about the nauseating jerk deep in the very core of his own Flames, leading to the Sun Pacifier.
Then, suddenly, it all cut off. The conflagration of Flames, the lashing energy if the leylines, everything coalesced and spiraled down, down the shaft in the center of the skyscraper and into the earth.
The silence was almost more defeaning than the chaos before, the stillness impossibly heavy.
Tsuna's figure had reappeared, released from the pillar of light and Flame. However, the rooftop beneath his feet was long gone. His body tipped, boneless, and began to fall.
"Tsuna!" Reborn yelled, already running.
The shape of the teenager vanished, leaving behind something much smaller. But it wasn't the cursed form of an Arcobaleno — just a small brown fox.
Without thought, Reborn found himself at the torn edge of the shaft. His legs bent, and he was leaping out into empty air. He could see the trajectory of his jump, the vector of Tsuna's fall. They were just short of intersecting. It was just barely not enough.
Through it all, he had kept a hand on his fedora. Now, sweeping it off his head, Reborn swung the hat like a net — neatly scooping up the tiny fox inside.
Then, they were both plummeting. Reborn grimaced, knowing he would only be able reach a ledge several stories down, the hole simply too wide. Grabbing hold like that would likely tear a few tendons or even dislocate his arm, but it was better than falling down into the deep pit beneath them.
It proved unnecessary. A black chain shot out, wrapping around the hitman and stopping his fall. Heaving with the strength far beyond a human, the Vindice that had appeared at the ledge easily swung Reborn and his precious cargo back onto the remains of the rooftop.
Reborn ignore the black cloaked enforcer as he landed heavily, his attention only on the tiny bundle of fur curled up motionlessly in his fedora.
"Tsuna. Tsuna!" Reborn called out. His own voice was strange to his ears, too deep, too frantic.
There was no response, no sign of movement.
"The amount of Flames it would take to do what he proposed is immense," Checkerface said quietly, approaching with soundless footsteps. He sounded almost saddened, and somehow that just made it so much worse. "Especially for the Sky Pacifier, which has always fed upon the Flames of a life. A human could not have…"
"A human couldn't," came Tsuna's quiet voice, barely a whisper. The fox's eyes slitted open, his ears flicking weakly before drooping again. "But I'm not a human."
Checkerface flinched in surprise, but Tsuna seemed too exhausted to do anything but close his eyes and curl up a little tighter.
"I can't feel my Flames at all," he admitted, his voice growing even softer. "I'm gonna… sleep now… 'k, Reborn…?"
"Yeah," Reborn sighed, his entire body sagging in relief. "Okay. You rest, Dame-Tsuna. But you know, when you wake up, you're in for one hell of a punishment."
He thought the tiny fox smiled. He was smiling too.
In a rare show of consideration, the Vindice gathered the Guardians and the last Arcobaleno and transported them to the evacuation area. Perhaps even they felt something like gratitude, for all that this was a mutually beneficial end, where no one was owed any favors. The Vindice were silent as always, but their silence held a different tone now — something like stunned awe, or even disbelief.
When they had revealed the Arcobaleno secret to Tsuna, they had not expected him to go this far or to actually succeed.
It was for the best that they had helped. Making their way through Namimori would have been difficult. The entire town had suffered damage from the earthquake, but the land over the leylines had been completely overturned, though the fissures had closed themselves, thankfully, and the seven locations where Tsuna and his Guardians had tapped into the leylines were only marked by small hills, almost as if some strange massive seeds had been planted there.
Hibari's clan continued to fly over the town for a good while, guiding the energies of the world back into calm, and Aria insisted on going to the sites as well, to check on the Pacifiers.
But aside from a few aftershocks, everything was quiet. People didn't suddenly begin to die as their Flames were snuffed out. The earth didn't reject its new treasures. Even the Arcobaleno were healthy, if unbalanced, not counting the damage they had taken in their trials.
Tsuna's friends were a little worse off. The Arcobaleno only noted a little nausea and lightheadedness as their bodies adjusted back to normal, but Vongola's tenth generation spend between a few days and a few weeks recovering from the drain on their Flames. Ironically, Ryohei, the most human one, was the first back on his feet. He credited the strong Flames that had already been within the Sun Pacifier. Reborn looked smug.
Tsuna spent almost a month as a fox, most of it quite miserably. Being tiny and cute didn't save him from getting chewed out by Xanxus, though at least Nono seemed happy to just pet him and mutter something about not waiting until October. Reborn's promised punishment was pending. Every once in a while, he would smirk sadistically, as a new torture occurred to him.
Everyone else adjusted. Iemitsu arrived from Italy not a week after, with a slightly sickly looking young woman in tow. She introduced herself as Lal Mirch, who had also been affected by the Arcobaleno curse, though the backlash of having it broken was a little harder on her. Colonnello had swept her up in tight hug and spun her around, laughing and crying at once.
After hearing the full story, Lal punched him in the head for losing to a teenager and declared they would need to do remedial training — which apparently included the two of them disappearing together into the woods.
Reborn and Mammon exchanged knowing looks.
Overall, Mammon spent most of his time sulking miserably. How were you supposed to repay that kind of debt? Even having a shopping arcade exploded on top of him barely put a dint in it, as far as he could see. He and Verde regularly commiserated over their annoying situation.
Fon, it turned out, looked scarily like Hibari. Except their expressions were like night and day. Hibari refused to comment, though at least now they knew why he had insisted on going against Fon specifically.
All of that paled in comparison to Ipin appearing one morning as a teenager. Apparently, she wanted to be like her master — short when he was short, taller when he was taller. Lambo didn't take it well, even if she was perfectly willing to change back into a child to play with him.
Waiting for Tsuna to recover, Reborn amused himself by kicking Skull around instead, while trying to avoid Bianchi and Dino's fawning. He wasn't sure what to do with the sheer, overflowing relief both of them directed toward him. He hadn't realized how worried and scared they had been for him.
Even with all of Vongola's resources working on the reconstruction, it took until barely a week before Tsuna's sixteenth birthday for his family to be allowed to move back into their home.
The entire neighborhood still looked worse for wear, though Tsuna was amused to note that Namimori Middle School had been restored to perfection.
However, that wasn't where he was headed.
Instead, Tsuna braved the half-destroyed stairs up to the shrine, which had also seen better days. Miraculously, the torii gate was still standing, but one of the lion dogs had been destroyed and several structures had collapsed, though it was impossible to tell what was due to the earthquake and what was caused by Hibari and Fon's battle.
Already, several offerings and woven ropes had been placed around the large heap of soil that marked the place where the Cloud Pacifier had been submerged into the leyline. It really did look a bit like a giant seed had been planted there. Would it become a new holy site?
Tsuna studied it thoughtfully, until someone stepped up beside him silently, almost as if appearing out of thin air.
"How is it?" Tsuna asked. He smiled wryly. "I hope we didn't mess up. That would… really suck."
"I've been monitoring them, but there have been no aberrations so far," his companion commented. "The Flames within the Pacifiers are shining steadily, as are the Flames left behind by you and your friends. There's no telling how long it will last, of course."
"You're really pessimistic, aren't you?" Tsuna said. "If it was going to give out, there would be some sign by now. With these things, it lasts an hour, or it keeps going after a century. I don't think there's much in between. As long as the leylines continue to feed into the remnants of our will that we engraved into the Pacifiers, they will in turn convert that power into Flames. I really believe it will work."
"…And what if the leylines themselves run dry? Even the spiritual energy of the world itself has been waning," the other said, almost reluctantly. "The old gods and spirits have been disappearing, same with your kind."
"They haven't disappeared. They're sleeping," Tsuna corrected. "And if the leylines end up the same, then I suppose the Pacifiers will also fall into a deep slumber. …So will all the Flames on this planet."
He had been thinking about the story he had been told at that same shrine, less than two months before.
"Maybe," Tsuna said slowly, "that's for the best. It's true I only survived because I'm not human. But I was able to do that in the first place because I'm human. It's humans that are the middle ground between ayakashi and Dying Will Flames. It's humans that shape and guide this world now. I don't think humans are as weak as we used to be. Maybe we won't need those Flames much longer.
"Don't you think so, Kawahira-ojisan?"
The man next to him chuckled. "You saw right through me," he said. "But perhaps you're right. This world… belongs to humans now."