Hello, dearest readers! I hope you have loved all of the previous chapters so far as much as I did writing it. Now, last chapter had Nai's powers activating a secret way to Karoku. In this chapter, it all comes to a close on finding the poor man. Not the end of the story though, so never fear! I've got a lot in store still for our favorite characters. Anyway, enjoy!

Chapter 12: Long Lost Friend

I held onto Nai and flew up into the air, waiting for a few seconds for Jiki to fly up after us. He formed his whip and explained that he would cover me in case any Varugas or Possessors try to come after me. I nodded and flew off as fast as I could in the direction of the rainbow. As I flew along, I sensed the presence of Yogi and Gareki, along with a Varuga that was giving them trouble. I couldn't just let them be defeated, especially after promising Gareki that I would protect everyone I cared for, so I dived down after them.

I landed on a branch and saw a huge Varuga trying to squash them like bugs and all that served to do was make me angry. When it got close enough to me, I let out a Dragon's Breath and burned it to ashes. Nai made victorious noises as I jumped down from the tree, Jiki flying down after me, and we both went over to Yogi and Gareki. They looked all right and I looked them over once just to be sure. Gareki wouldn't let me touch him, grumbling about how he was just fine and didn't need to be looked after.

"Are you heading over towards the rainbow light?" Yogi asked me.

"Yes, that was the plan," I told him. "Nai created a gateway straight to Karoku and so we need to hurry. I just stopped to help out a friend in need after making someone a promise I can't break."

"Who asked you to promise that?" Yogi asked curiously.

"That's not important," I said with a knowing smile, making sure not to look over at Gareki or I would alert Yogi. "What is important is that you take Gareki back to the ship. He shouldn't be out here any longer than he needs to be."

"You're right," Yogi said with a sigh before turning to Gareki. "Ready to head back?"

"No," Gareki said vehemently. "I want to go with Nai and Cleo to help them get Karoku."

As Jiki was patrolling the clearing we were standing in just in case a Varuga tried to ambush us, Yogi said, "But Gareki, this might not be something you want to do. It might get really hard and—"

"You don't understand!" Gareki yelled and I was startled when I saw tears forming in his eyes. "I know that I'm weak and useless compared to all of you from Circus, but I want to do this one thing and help out! I can't just keep letting all of you fight my battles for me! Let me do something to protect people for once." He turned to face me and gave me the most determined stare he could muster. "So how about it? Can you please take me with you?"

"That depends," I told him with a mischievous smile as I pointed at the gun in his hand. "Think you have good enough aim to keep the Varugas and Possessors off my back?"

"I've got the best aim in all of Circus," he said arrogantly.

"Then consider yourself going," I said before flying over to him and wrapping my free arm around him, flying upwards a few feet. "Yogi, you can help Jiki in taking down any of our enemies that get too close. I have a feeling that we need to make it to that rainbow before it closes on us. I don't want Nai to miss his chance."

Yogi looked like he was going to protest the fact that I was taking Gareki along, but he only nodded as both he and Jiki took the air after us. As I began to fly as fast as I possibly could between the trees, I heard Gareki quietly say, "Thanks, Cleo."

"No problem," I said cheerily. "Just don't forget your job since I'm being so nice as to bring you along."

I saw Gareki smirk before twisting in my arms a little so that he could watch behind us. Before long, I could hear the sounds of Jiki and Yogi fighting and I looked back to see them lagging behind a little. That was when the gunshots went off as Possessors tried to catch us. Gareki was right about having the best aim because he took down the Possessors before they could even get close to us. But before long, there was a whole swarm of them and Gareki ran out of ammo. He growled something under his breath as he tried to reload and I shook my head before forming a weapon made from fire.

It was a gun that looked just like the one he was holding in his hand. The metal was made from rainbow titanium and the guard was crimson. It floated in front of him and he grabbed it without a second thought. "What is this thing?" he asked me, turning his head to look me in the eyes.

"Consider it a gift from me," I told him with a smile before turning my attention back to flying. "The bullets it fires will make anything burst into flames and they will be turned to ash. The ammo will last for about a month and I can replenish it will just one touch. Have fun!"

He shot it and there was a huge flash of light behind us. Thankfully, Yogi and Jiki were farther behind us or they could have been burned. Gareki kept shooting until there weren't any more Possessors chasing after us and I thought for sure that we were no longer being followed when I felt something whip into my back. I thought for sure that it had been Jiki's fault and was about to yell at him when I saw that it was in fact Uro, who was jumping from branch to branch as he followed us.

"Cleo, your back is bleeding!" Nai told me, his eyes looking fearful for me.

"Don't worry, Nai," I told him as I winced. "I heal really fast. It will close up in a few seconds."

There was a bang as Gareki tried shooting Uro, but he kept dodging each shot he took. "I don't think I can hit him," Gareki said. "He moves way too fast, almost as fast as you do."

"Just do your best," I said. "I trust you. If he hits me, then so be it. I can still fly us to Karoku."

Gareki hit almost every tentacle that Uro slashed me with but a few managed to make their way through, slicing into my skin but never deep enough to cause massive amounts of damage. I flew lower to the ground when I began to see the pool of water that had the orb of rainbow light. It began to glow brighter and expand just enough for all of us to fly through. I began to hope for the best when Uro hit me with something hard enough that we were knocked out of the air. I knew that we would tumble to the ground and to protect Nai and Gareki, I turned at the last second so that I hit the ground instead to take the force of the impact. A large sharp rock sliced into my skin as I slid across the shallow pool and screamed in pain when I felt something in my back snap. Gareki and Nai were thrown from me and we all toppled into the rainbow light.

This is bad, I thought to myself. There is a fractured vertebra in my spine. It will heal, but it will take some time to do so, at least a solid minute or two. I can't protect them like this.

It looked like we were flying through a dark tunnel and I felt Gareki grab hold of me. He made sure to avoid my injuries and I looked over at Nai to see if he was all right, only to see that he had a blank expression on his face. I could only wonder if he was speaking with Karoku but didn't have much time to think about it when the tunnel exploded with light. I closed my eyes with a hiss for a few seconds until it died down and opened them again to see that we were in a grassy meadow. Gareki was holding me up, one arm around my waist and the other to keep one of my arms around his shoulders for balance. I couldn't move my legs yet or pain would shoot through me, so I just lay my head on Gareki and watched as Nai took a step forward towards a figure ahead of him. There was a man with blue hair and eyes, a white bandage around his head that looked bloodied.

"Karoku…" Nai whispered. I could see tears welling up in his eyes before he ran to him. "Karoku!" He hugged him tightly, burying his face in his chest before looking up at him. "You're… you're alive." Nai looked down a little and I saw his expressions go from happy to worried. "Oh no… You're hurt…"

I concentrated on forcing my body to heal faster when I felt Gareki shaking almost imperceptibly. I thought it was weird that he hadn't moved, almost as if he was frozen in place when I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to the left and noticed that there was a body lying on the ground next to where Nai was standing. When I squinted my eyes and observed it carefully, it almost looked like Karoku, but I knew that it couldn't be true if Karoku was standing in front of Nai. Something didn't sit right with me and I sniffed the air for Karoku's true position. Just as I had begun to suspect, Karoku's scent was coming from the body lying prone on the ground while the unfamiliar scent that I remembered back at the Smoky Mansion was coming from the imposter.

I turned my gaze back to Nai, who still hadn't noticed that there were two Karoku's, and he said, "So, I have a question. Can Gareki have your bracelet? I told him that he could! He helped me when I needed assistance."

I couldn't take it anymore and sent a jolt of magic through Gareki's body that finally allowed him to move. "Nai, snap out of it!" Gareki yelled and I pulled all of what strength I had left into healing me. I knew I wouldn't have enough time, so I did what I could with what meager amount I had left. "Look at the ground!"

"Huh?" Nai whispered, almost as if snapping out of a trance. He turned his head and looked down at the person lying here and made a noise of surprise before running to him, kneeling down next to him to help him. "Karoku! Oh no, he's covered in red…"

"I was trying to let the guy have one last look at you," the imposter said. "I'm afraid that it was me that you were hearing in your head these past few weeks. I was using his voice." I could see Nai shaking and I growled, but only Gareki heard me and he held onto me tighter so I wouldn't launch myself at the fake. "He was overjoyed to know that you were coming, believe me. The thing is, he was meant to end up in a place that was a lot emptier, a lot less… warm… than here. He spoke of his Nai all the time, even his Cleo… although she is more my creation than his. But Nai, I feel happy that I can finally put a face to all of his stories."

His… creation? The thought passed through my mind faster than I could accept it and I shivered before I could stop it, letting out another growl that was ignored.

"I know, it's difficult to accept me as anyone but him," the imposter said. He lifted his hand up so that he was looking at the palm of his hand before saying, "He is a part of me now though. In a way, I'm more him than he is. I just had to find a way to bring you here and this was the only way to do it. Not only that, but you brought along my creation as well, so I really had to thank you for that."

"Shut up!" I screamed, leaping from Gareki's grip and running at the imposter faster than ever before, my back protesting and shooting pain signals through my nerves. "You are not my creator! I refuse to believe it!"

Just before I got to him, he grabbed me by the throat and hoisted me into the air. I thrashed in his hold but his grip was firm, never once attempting to squeeze the breath from my lungs but instead letting me know that he could if he so chose. "I am your creator, Cleiona. Karoku might have been the one to design you, but I twisted that design while no one was paying attention to fit my needs and so my destroyer was born. Karoku thought for sure that you were a failed experiment and was going to get rid of you as such, but the scientists working for him convinced him to keep you alive and under constant supervision. I tried my best to get the Varugas to bring you to me once you had matured to a certain age, but my little destroyer was cunning and powerful. You would kill them before they could take you and after a while you disappeared off the face of the earth, only for me to discover that you had joined Circus." I felt his magic enter my mind and push aside mental barriers that were blocking memories I didn't know existed, ones that proved that he was speaking the truth.

"No…" I whispered to myself in disbelief. "No, this can't be…"

"Oh, but it is," he said before throwing me to the ground a few feet in front of him and then turning back to Nai, who had tears in his eyes once more and was shivering in fear. "I'm so proud of you, Nai, for making it this far. Take my hand, for this is the side you really belong to." When Nai wouldn't say a word in response or even move, he continued on. "It's time to say goodbye to Gareki and Cleo. It's a shame that we can't keep them forever, isn't it."

"No," Nai said softly as he shook his head, his eyes burning in terror, and I wanted nothing more than to move to him but my back was keeping me frozen in place. "It's wrong…"

"Come on, don't be so stubborn," the imposter said, his tone of voice changing to dark and threatening as he lifted his hand to point it at us both. "If it will help you let go, I can always shatter them."

"No, don't!" Nai screamed before running in front of him to protect us, throwing his arms out wide.

"Hey, psycho!" Gareki yelled before there was a gunshot. I saw the imposter fall just as Gareki moved over to me and pulled me up to my feet. I looked down at his hand and saw his regular gun. It must have had one last bullet in the barrel. Nai looked on in horror as the imposter fell to the ground.

"I'm fine," I whispered to Gareki. "Go check on the real Karoku."

Gareki nodded and ran over to him, feeling for a pulse. "It's weak but it's definitely there," he said softly.

Nai walked over to Gareki to help him when the voice of the imposter startled us all. "You leave me with no choice," he said as he stood up again, holding a hand to his cheek where blood began to flow heavily. The bullet must have just grazed him and cut into his cheek. I felt proud of Gareki and his shooting skills while the imposter glared at him. "If you're not quite done having fun, I can always wait. Patience is one of my virtues. Be seeing you." With that, the whole grassy plain began to shudder like water before we were all thrust into darkness and I thought I could hear the voice of the imposter say, "Play as long as you like, Nai. I'll be here."

When I blinked, I could see the pool of water that we had been in previously before going through the rainbow orb and saw everyone who had joined the raid with us. After all of the blood loss, pain, and extreme use of magic, I began to wobble on my feet and my vision began to get spotty just before my legs gave out. I felt myself falling just before I heard running feet and arms wrap around me tightly. I could hear voices talking to each other as I went limp and passed out. The last thing I remembered was the Dragon saying that she was proud of me.

Waking up was extremely difficult for me this time and it was unlike any other. It almost felt as if I was being kept unconscious and I fought it with everything I had. I clawed through the darkness until I finally opened my eyes blearily, my head turned towards a window that had a huge cherry blossom tree growing outside. Judging from the smell of chemicals, I could safely assume that I was in the Research Tower. My whole body ached and my mind felt sluggish, but there was a gaping hole in my memories that I could now access that I hadn't been able to previously. I decided not to mess with it just yet and forced my body to sit up.

"Take it easy, will you?" the sarcastic voice of Gareki was heard and I turned my head to the left to see both him and Nai. Nai had fallen asleep with his head on Gareki's shoulder and I felt a small smile forming on my face as my heart warmed at the sight. "Your wounds weren't healing properly after you forced your body to move faster than it should have to go after that… imposter. They had to inject you with a sedative to keep you under until your body could fix the damage."

"I made a promise to you," I said softly. "I told you that I would protect everyone and so I fulfilled that promise with every bit of my soul."

"You're crazy, you know that?" he said with a gentle smile that never reached his eyes.

"So I've been told," I said with a smirk that turned into a grimace when I tried to sit up again. "How's Karoku? Is he at least alive?"

"Yeah, he's fine," Gareki said before he pulled the curtain back that was behind him. On the bed in the same room was an unconscious Karoku, who had an oxygen mask on over his face to help him breathe. "He's just in a coma right now. The doctors aren't sure when he'll wake up but they know it will happen soon."

"That's good," I said with a sigh of relief.

"What did the Karoku imposter do to you?" he asked softly, making me turn to look at him in surprise. "Before he threw you to the ground, he paused and it was as if your eyes went lifeless for a few seconds. What did he do?"

"He… unlocked some memories that I didn't know existed in my mind," I whispered. "Memories of my past…"

We fell into silence and I looked down at my hands for some reason. With a gasp, I saw that they were covered in blood and I was about to bolt off of the bed when I blinked, the bloody scene disappearing without a trace. I could only guess that it was a part of the repressed memories that had been locked away in my mind. I felt cold all of a sudden and wrapped my arms around me with a frown, staring down at my feet beneath the blankets.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Gareki asked as he looked out the window. "I've heard that it's sometimes best to get it out of your system now before it has a chance to fester."

"I will, but not just yet," I told him. "I don't want to know what memories are hidden in my mind right now, especially not so soon after they were unlocked. Deep down, I know that my so called 'happy existence' is actually drenched in blood."

Pulling off all the sensors and wires that were hooked to me, I pulled out the IV and got out of bed. I noticed that I was wearing a simple white long sleeved shirt and white pants before hopping up onto the window sill. Gareki was about to get up and grab me when I opened the window, jumping out of it to land on one of the branches in the cherry blossom tree. I settled myself down on the branches and saw Gareki standing in the window.

"You're going to get in trouble, you know!" he called to me, shaking his head a little.

"I'll deal with it when the time comes," I told him, still feeling exhausted.

Unfortunately, he was quite correct in what he said. About an hour had passed when I heard footsteps in the hospital room I had been in and two of the voices belonged to Dr. Akari and Hirato. They asked Gareki where I was now and I only heard silence, so I guessed when they appeared in the window that he had simply pointed them in the right direction. Hirato looked rather smug as he flew over to me after jumping out of the window, standing on a branch next to mine that was a bit higher than the one I was on. We didn't say a word for the longest time until he finally spoke up a few minutes later.

"I don't quite understand what you are doing out here alone after waking from a medically induced coma," Hirato said simply, "but I know you have a good reason for it. You never do something unless there is an explanation behind it. I'm sure you don't want to talk about it just yet—"

"And you'd be correct," I interrupted before he carried on with what he had been saying previously.

"And therefore I won't ask you about it just yet," he told me with a gentle smile, one that almost looked foreign on him. "Sometimes, people just need to think things over before they can actually tell people what happened to them after something traumatic. You must be feeling anxious or you wouldn't have decided to come out here alone to get some fresh air."

"Again, you are correct," I said.

"I still think you ought to go inside right now," he said. "Nai is awake and he's rather worried about you. Come inside and alleviate some of his distress if you would be so kind."

The thought of Nai sent my mind into a flashback for a split second, making me shake violently for a bit until I got it under control. I saw Nai when he was very young and even more innocent than he was before. He had a bright smile on his face even though I could sense somewhere deep down that he should have been terrified. I shook my head to clear my thoughts and flew with Hirato back to the room. Nai gave me a smile similar to the one I had seen in the flashback and rushed over to me to hug me tightly. I hesitated for a couple seconds before embracing him in turn.

"I'm so glad that you're awake," he said hoarsely. "I wouldn't be able to take it if you didn't wake up. I'm also glad that you didn't shatter."

"Little Nai, I already told you," I said kindly. "I'm not the type to just shatter like a piece of glass. It will take a lot before that can ever happen to me."

"But you were so hurt!" he told me, tears forming in his eyes. "I saw how bloody you were in that meadow. Gareki had to hold you up or you wouldn't have been able to even stand!"

"But I heal fast and I'm fine now," I told him lightly. "You won't have to see that again now that I'm ok."

I let the doctors check on my health again and Akari finally said that I was fit to leave. I was relieved about this and we all headed to Airship Two, leaving Karoku behind until he woke from his coma. I didn't say a word for the longest time until we made it onto the ship. I told everyone that I needed to be alone for now and went off on my own. I knew that people would eventually look for me sooner or later so I decided to head to one of my secret hiding places. The top of the ship was out because Yogi or Tsukumo could drag me back inside. The observation deck was also out because Nai or Gareki could find me, along with my room on the ship. Instead, I headed for the one place that would provide me with the perfect hiding place, the crawl space near the front end of the ship that was completely dark. It was the panic room I would stay in back when I first arrived here and it always gave me the solitude I needed whenever my nerves were at its end.

Once inside, I sat down and pulled my knees up to my chest, wrapping my arms around my legs and letting out a sigh. It reminded me of a sensory deprivation tank, one that flashed before my eyes in another memory that had been blocked before and I began to shiver. It was about time that I just let the memories in and accepted them, so I took a deep breath before giving in to what those memories wanted to show me.

With a gasp, I watched as every terrible thing that happened back then played in my mind, making wonder deep down how I had my memories locked away in the first place. Towards the end of the replay, I saw something that connected the blank spots and I soon understood everything that I had once questioned. I felt tears dripping down my cheeks and I absentmindedly brushed them aside when I saw that my hands were covered in blood again. Double blinking, the image was gone again and my hands were just as pale as before. I leaned my head back against the wall with a sigh as I closed my eyes. I didn't hear the footsteps approaching the panic room until the door was slowly opened, forcing me to close my eyes from the brightness outside. After a minute, I opened my eyes to slits to see Gareki staring down at me.

"You're crying," he said emotionlessly. "I don't understand why."

"You don't need to understand," I told him with a sniff, wiping my eyes the best I could even though the tears refused to stop flowing. I idly noticed that the Dragon side of me was eerily silent but I filed that away for now as I forced my body to stand. "It's not something that needs to be discussed."

I tried to sneak past him so I could go hide somewhere else but Gareki blocked my path, seeming as if he was quite calm but I could see the anger in his eyes. "I can see that you are drowning in this," he said. "I refuse to leave this ship knowing that you're only going to close yourself off to the world. It will only get worse if you don't talk about it. Trust me, I know. That's why I finally opened up to you about my past."

"Wait a minute," I said, narrowing my eyes as I concentrated on thinking back about his words. "You're leaving Airship Two?"

"Yeah, I leave tomorrow morning," he said as he waved off my question. "That's not important right now. What is important is you telling me what you now remember. I can just tell by how pale you are and by how lifeless your eyes look that your hidden memories are back."

"I can't," I said hoarsely, looking down at my feet. "I just… I just can't."

"I know what's going on here," he said gently, comprehending some hint that I didn't realize I had given him. He placed his index finger under my chin and lifted my face up so I was forced to look him in the eyes. I didn't notice it but my body had begun to shake almost indiscernibly as my eyes met his. There was a warm light to his eyes as it seemed like he was staring down to my soul. "You're scared. You think that if you tell someone what happened to you all those years ago that they will eventually betray your trust. Well, I can swear to you on my life that I will protect that trust with everything I've got. Just like how I let you in, it's finally time that you let someone in also. So please, Cleo, trust me."

I opened my mouth to speak, but I snapped my jaw shut just as fast. I was rendered speechless from his words and the tears began to overflow again as I let out a sob before I could stop it. Gareki pulled me close and wrapped his arms around me, stroking my back comfortingly as I cried on his shoulder. The shaking increased as my sobs wracked my body, only making Gareki hold me tighter as he leaned his chin on the top of my head. A part of me noted that he probably would have grumbled something under his breath sarcastically if I was anyone else, but I let that thought go away as I forced myself to slowly calm down. When I was just hiccupping lightly after the tears stopped, he continued to keep me in his embrace until I was completely calm.

"I'll tell you," I whispered before looking up at him, feeling emotionally exhausted. "I'll tell you everything about my past."