"This can't be true… the data has to be flawed somehow!"

I assure you, it is not.

"No… no way. Kyubey, ya have to check it again! It's gotta be wrong!"

We have verified the data to be factually accurate to within a 0.00001% margin of error. Our results are sound, Kerberos. I apologize if this upsets you.

"But if it's true, then… then it's all for nothing. All their sacrifices, all their suffering, all this destruction…"

It would appear to be so.

"No... I won't accept this, I won't! There has to be some way. There has to be…"

While I am impressed by your optimism, Luna, I am afraid the facts are clear. Despite all of the power remaining on our side… we cannot win this war.

SHATTERED SKIES

By BHS

Cover Art: fav . me / d82sibt

Note: All characters are property of their respective creators and studios. I do not own them, and have made no profit from this work whatsoever.

WARNING: This story will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for ALL of the series involved. You have been warned.

ACT I: UNRAVELING

CHAPTER 1: Heart of Darkness

-VERTEX THREE: 8.333882^7-

Somewhere in Earth Orbit

It was all going wrong. It was not how it should have been.

Joker should have been dead.

More accurately, he should have ceased to exist as the individual called "Joker" at the moment he finished merging with Emperor Pierrot.

Yet he could see. He could hear. He could even feel what Pierrot was feeling… though the feelings were faint.

So if he was not alive, per se, at least he still existed in some fashion.

It was all going wrong. It was not how it should have been. Not at all.

Whatever limbo the harlequin was trapped in, he felt echoes of his Emperor's fear as the great shadowy being drew back, shrinking away from the light. That light, that blasted, burning light, threatening to melt Pierrot away like dew evaporating on morning leaves…

Before him (them?) was a great flower, blooming impossibly in the void of space. Its petals parted, and from within, there rose the immense figure of an angel, radiating that light from within, hands clasped as if in prayer, white wings unfurling to shield the wasted planet behind her from further harm…

From within Pierrot, Joker raged at the angel, wearing the face of the Precure leader. He spewed venom and hatred at her, cursing her name, mocking her, looking right into her shining eyes and refusing to blink.

But Emperor Pierrot was frightened. More than that, he was terrified. Fighting back should have been so easy, but Pierrot simply floated there and watched the angel approach…

It was all going wrong. It was not as it should have been.

The angel opened her arms, and now Joker screamed at Pierrot: Fight back! Damn you, fight back! You've almost won! You're almost there! Why won't you fight back?!

His words were lost to the cavernous darkness. Still he screamed…

You… you stupid creature! What good is being afraid going to do?! She's just a human, they all are! If you fight back, you can still win! Pierrot-sama, please…!

Pierrot wouldn't listen, wouldn't move.

COWARD! Joker howled into the blackness. COWARD! I can't believe I sacrificed myself for you…! If you won't fight back, you deserve to die!

The angel drew the swirling blackness of Pierrot's body into her arms, embracing him… both Pierrot and Joker wailed in agony… The massive form that should have swallowed the Earth whole dissolved in the power of that embrace, breaking down into smaller and smaller particles of darkness… and soon, even those disappeared.

All that remained was the light…

The Earth was saved. Pierrot was gone.

Elsewhere

Floating.

Joker hung there, broken. The absolute faith in his Emperor, his creator, the faith that had sustained him to the last, was no more.

How? How did this happen?

It was their fault. Precure… those damned human girls and their fairy pet… He and Pierrot had been so close, and now they had lost everything…

But it was also Pierrot's fault. Anger and hatred boiled inside Joker as he thought of his Emperor with nothing but disgust… The other times when he had been sealed away, Joker swore revenge on his behalf, thought of nothing but his master's revival…

Not this time.

It had all gone wrong. It was not how it should have been.

Joker hung there in silence, floating, consumed by hate… hate for the Precure, hate for Pierrot, hate for the light, hate for everything…

It didn't occur to him until sometime later how strange it was that he should feel anything at all.

He was dead, wasn't he? Truly dead. He clearly recalled the searing, unbearable pain as his body, Pierrot's body, disintegrated in the deadly glare of the light… It had killed them both, there was no doubt about that.

Joker was not one to believe in human stories of an afterlife. Utter nonsense. All that there was after death was nothingness and silence. That would be a pleasant thought, had Joker not devoted himself to the cause of eternal suffering.

Pierrot's cause.

That cause was no more, his faith in Pierrot was shattered… there was nothing left for him to do. Nothingness and silence were preferable now. The end of his existence. Death.

Yet he still existed, somehow.

Was this his punishment? Was the universe forcing his continued existence on him as punishment for all he had done?

Joker floated there and pondered that.

I exist, he thought after a while. I am.

So what happens now?

He felt the voice before he heard it. He felt it in whatever remained of his twisted, blackened soul. The voice was all around him, speaking from everywhere at once, speaking from within him and without…

Joker.

The voice called him by name. Somehow, he found himself able to answer… "Who's there?" His voice, normally bold and smug, sounded very small. Fragile.

You have returned at last, said the voice… booming, awesome, terrifying. Pierrot and the Bad End Kingdom are no more. It is time.

"Time?" Joker tried to move, and found himself paralyzed. He couldn't even open his eyes. "Time for what?"

For you to rejoin the whole.

"I don't understand…"

You have no need to understand. Your existence is at an end. Now the cycle must continue.

"Cycle? What cycle? Who are you, anyway?"

Joker found he could open his eyes again. He did so, and found that he couldn't tell whether they were open or closed. It was too dark, pitch-black…

And deep within that blackness, something even darker stirred.

The harlequin reeled, assaulted at once by the presence of something he had no words to describe. No, that was wrong… there were no words to describe it. He felt something utterly beyond his comprehension; even being aware of it battered him, tossed him like a scrap of paper in a storm. It was impossibly huge, vaster than the universe, far older than the stars and darker than the space between them. Not a living thing, not a creature with a beginning and an end… an abyss, an antithesis of being. Immortal, eternal, forever unchanging, alien…

… and yet, somehow familiar. For Joker felt something buried within himself resonate with this thing, something that reached out to the void and longed to return there.

The voice spoke as if slowly drawing itself out of the pits of Hell… or perhaps the voice was Hell… and what it said was this:

I am CHAOS.

"Chaos…" whispered Joker. He wasn't certain where to look to face it… it seemed to be all around him, as if he were submerged in the depths of an ocean… "What are you?"

I am the dark. The void. The nothingness. All that never was, is, or will be.

And Joker laughed. "You're not the first I've heard claiming something like that. You're a big fellow, I'll grant you... But why should I believe you?"

Silence.

Joker waited. "Hello?"

It matters not if you believe me, small one, said the voice. I am. I exist in every moment, every manifestation of darkness and despair. My names are many, some of which you know: Dark King. Gooyan. Desparaiah. Director. Moebius. Dune. Noise. Pierrot… I am you, and I am all the countless numbers that have come before you, and those that will follow when you are gone. I am all that have fallen and cursed the light.

That got Joker's attention. "Interesting… Pardonez-moi, but what does this have to do with me?"

You, like all the others, were created from me, sent out to spread darkness… and now, your time is over. The Chaos Seed inside you has come to rejoin the whole, so that the cycle may continue.

"Cycle? What cycle is that?"

The only one there ever is. Light and dark. Creation and destruction. Life and death. It is the nature of existence. The dark rebels against the light, the light pushes back against the dark… and the light always wins.

The harlequin frowned and crossed his arms. "Sounds like it must get old after a while."

You do not comprehend the meaning of "old", small one.

Joker heard something within that ancient voice… weariness. Unfathomable weariness. If what it claimed was true, then long before and long after time itself, this being would exist… always at war with the light, never to win. An endless cycle.

Surprisingly, Joker found that he understood. He even sympathized… just a little. "So why continue? If you speak true, and you are all my predecessors and successors… why keep fighting, if you know you'll lose? Why do you simply follow the cycle?"

The cycle is. There is no beginning, no ending. It is the way of all things.

"Sounds to me like you're not exploring all your options, monsieur…"

The voice rumbled in annoyance, and reality trembled… You speak of matters of which you know nothing, it said. Do you think that I have never once thought as you have? Through your eyes and a million others, I have watched myself try and fail, over and over and over again. It shall be as it is. It continues, in every universe, for eternity beyond eternity. There is nothing else.

Joker sat up… on what, he wasn't entirely sure. The nothing around him was as… well, nothing as it was a second ago. "Surely you must have come close, at least once…?" he prodded.

Another silence.

Then…

I remember. One world, one time, I came closer than I ever have, before or since. It was all within my grasp… Everything was to return to nothing, at last… but then…

"The light," said Joker. He knew only too well. "The light stole your victory from you."

The voice of the void spoke with sorrow and regret. The light's champion. She faced me, such a small being… but she shone so brightly… and…

"We have a few of that kind in my world as well, monsieur. They're quite the nuisance."

They exist in every world, as do my children, the bearers of the Chaos Seeds.

"Wait." Joker held up a hand… a useless gesture, but still. "You mean to say… there are others? Other human girls who fight you, in other worlds?"

Indeed.

The first faint stirrings of an idea began to churn in Joker's mind. "Well, then. Why not do something about that?"

Again you prattle about what you cannot comprehend. Your time is over, Joker. Return to me, and be silent.

Out of the void, something reached for him… a single finger, visibly indistinguishable from the rest of the nothingness around it, but its power… it warped and twisted even the void of which it was part, bent existence around it. It drew close to Joker…

"No," said Joker, attempting to move away. "Wait…"

Silence once more.

"You have to listen. We can win, we can snuff out the light, believe me!"

Nothing. Nothing but the cold and dark. The finger brushed against Joker…

… and agony, infinitely worse than dissolving at the angel's touch. Whatever fragment there was inside Joker tore through him, straining to reach the void, to become part of the whole… Was this how it happened to all of them? To Pierrot, to Noise, to all their followers? Was this unthinkable pain the end? Did he somehow survive Pierrot's destruction, only for it to end like this, screaming like a pitiful human child?

No.

No.

Joker grasped the Chaos Seed, the piece of nothingness emerging from within his soul… and held on.

And he laughed, he laughed at the void, at the ageless presence that claimed to be the darkness behind every light in every world… He cackled a challenge to it, even as he felt himself being unmade… "Coward! I call you a coward! You're no better than Pierrot, do you hear me? You simply give up, you follow your precious cycle… when you could keep fighting to have it all! You call yourself 'Chaos'…" He spat the word, with as much scorn as he could muster. "… I am more chaos than you'll ever be! I am Joker!" His voice became high, crazed, though there was little left of him to speak with… "I am madness, I am despair, I am chaos itself… and I defy you! Go ahead and take me… and fail again!"

The pull, the horrible force that was tearing his Chaos Seed out of him, unmaking him… stopped.

When Chaos spoke again, there was something foreign in its words, something as alien to it as it was to Joker. Amusement.

You are a strange creature, Joker, mad and wild… Perhaps it is foolish to listen to your words.

Silence.

But I will listen a while longer. Speak.

Falling free of the being's grip, Joker panted as his body reconstituted itself… speech was beyond him for the moment. Soon, though, the old smile returned to his face, warped and sharklike, without a trace of mirth… "Thank you, monsieur," he said. "It's a simple idea. If you're so tired of the cycle, why not end it? And if you can't win against the champions of the light… why not use them against the light?"

The void pondered that.

"Think of it," said Joker, his grin stretching wider. "What better way to finally win… than by turning your enemy to your side? The irony would be magnificent…"

And you say the cycle could end. It could finally be over.

"Yes…" The word hissed from between Joker's teeth. "No more rebelling. No more fighting. An end to it all. It's appealing, no?"

Chaos pondered… and then it laughed. The sound shook the nothingness, shook the borders of reality, echoed through all souls aware enough to hear it and chilled them to the core…

And Joker laughed along with it. Finally, finally, it was all going right...

END OF CHAPTER 1