AN: Here we are, my entry for Resbang 2015! Not going to lie, I was (and still am) ridiculously nervous about this. Not only was this my first time participating in Resbang, it was also my first time in any fandom event. Ever. So gosh, this was really daunting.
Make sure to check out the absolutely amazing art for this story done by tilliquoi on tumblr! She's insanely talented, and I'm still completely over-the-moon that she wanted to work with my derp piece. Her art has really captured the mood of this fic; it's definitely worth checking out.
A huge shout-out to dollypopup - my wonderful beta. Honestly, without her this story wouldn't even exist. Thank you so much for helping me shape this fic, listening to all my ramblings and world-building ideas, as well as putting up with all my panicking and general writing angst. You're an absolute dream and I don't think I can ever thank you enough.
And finally, a huge thank you to the mods. Not only for organising this amazing event, but for being so accommodating and considerate. I was unable to finish the entire piece for today (life is a nightmare and I swear it hates me), however they have given me permission to post my final three chapters up until the 24th, which basically saved my life. So thank you again!
For everyone reading this: I hope you enjoy it, and keep an eye out for the last chapters in the next few days!
"I find it hard to tell you,
I find it hard to take,
When people run in circles it's a very, very...
– Tears for Fears, Mad World
Death City was always at its most beautiful at night. The burning heat of the day had long since passed with the setting sun, and the sky faded from soft azure to deep indigo. Golden stars glimmered above, shining brilliantly. Taking centre stage, however, was the black, globulous moon, surrounded by stars highlighting its chilling beauty. The sight of such a threatening object would usually strike fear into the hearts of whoever laid eyes upon it. However, this moon was a symbol of triumph for the people of Death City. A symbol of rebirth. It marked the end of the Demon God Asura's reign of terror and madness, and the start of their new Lord Death ascending to his role as ruler of their world. The age of the Black Moon would be one of peace and prosperity now that the Kishin had been sealed away.
On this particular night, when the rest of the city was tucked up in their beds and dreaming the hours away, an Angel of Death was standing on a rooftop and staring up at the moon. It cast no light, only a sombre gloom. That Angel couldn't help but wonder how dark it must have been up there, how void of light it was. It was probably so lonely up there as well. Her stomach knotted at the thought of a certain friend of hers, who sacrificed everything for them so this new age could begin.
"Hey, Maka," came a metallic voice from the scythe in her hand. Maka Albarn was quickly pulled out of her thoughts and glanced to the side. Her eyes met the blade, just in time to catch the shimmer across it before the face of Soul "Eater" Evans appeared like a ghost reflected in a mirror. He wore an expression of solemnity, the slightest frown. "Target in sight. Let's get this over with."
The jade-coloured gaze moved from the weapon, her thoughts drifting away from the moon, and the blonde meister turned her attention down to the street below them. The streets seemed empty, quiet. Too quiet. It was only the slightest movement of a shadow that hinted to any sign of life. Shadows shifted again, before a shape stepped out of the darkness, unaware that it was being watched. The silhouette now had a much clearer shape – a humanoid monstrosity which appeared to be a grotesque joker. Its wide, twisted grin remained permanently stuck on the sickly pale face, and the hollow black eyes showed no emotion. It - one of Asura's last few remaining Clowns - looked from side to side, clutching tightly onto something in his taloned hand, unaware he was still being watched.
Maka smirked and tightened her grip on her partner's handle. Their souls were linked to such a degree that she didn't even need to make a signal to show she was ready. Soul already could sense it.
Like a cat, her lithe muscles tightened, before she leapt down from her position above suddenly. The curved blade of the Death Scythe caught the faint light which glimmered from the stars, causing the weapon to flash in the dark. By the time the Clown had caught sight of the brief spark, it was already too late.
With one elegant, fluid motion, the teenaged girl had brought the weapon down upon the Clown with a ferocious cry of "Devil-Hunt Slash!". The blade suddenly grew, becoming more jagged and iridescent in colour. There was true beauty in the sight, and a satisfying triumph when the scythe successfully sliced through the Clown's torso. The creature released a repulsive shriek of agony before it crumpled to the cobbled ground below, dropping the object which it had been holding onto.
After dusting off her blue pleated skirt calmly, Maka straightened upright and beamed to herself. When she spoke, her words came out light and carefree.
"Well, that was easy!"
Ever since Asura's defeat, dealing with the last few remaining Clowns on the Earth had become simpler. If anything, it felt like more of a chore now than an actual mission for most meisters. The longer Asura was locked away on the moon, the weaker his madness wavelength became, thus the Clowns themselves also weakened. Even if they continued to make various failed attempts at defying the DWMA, it never got them very far. Just like on this particular night.
A bright flash of light engulfed the scythe Maka had been holding, so that a teenaged boy replaced it a moment later. Soul stretched lazily, casting a bored glance at the disintegrating creature crumpled before them.
"So this is the Clown that stole the thing, eh?" he all but yawned, observing his meister with a raised eyebrow when she skipped over the body of the Clown and picked up the object which had been discarded beside it. When she held up the object, studying it with interest, it caught the dim light and glimmered like the stars above them. "And I'm guessing that's the thing in question."
Hanging from her hands was nothing more than a simple silver chain with a large locket. It was not a particularly special piece of jewellery, containing no ornamental designs on decorations, aside from the word "DIJINN" engraved on its back. After scrutinising it with her piercing emerald gaze, Maka gave a firm nod and put the chain over her head for safe keeping. It dangled from her neck, a perfect fit, with the locket falling just below her bust.
"It's definitely the magic tool that went missing from the archives," she confirmed, tapping the locket to reinforce her message. "Who knows what it does, though."
"Well it must do something, otherwise the Clown wouldn't have stolen it."
With an eye-roll and a light smirk, Maka muttered something about "Captain Obvious" before sauntering off back in the direction of the DWMA. Her partner followed along behind her, his posture slouched over as he stepped in time with his meister. The girl in question was examining the necklace she wore once again, frowning slightly at the word engraved into the silver.
"DIJINN…" she mumbled to herself as she mulled over the word in her mind. It was definitely familiar. "It sounds a lot like genie. You know, those things which are supposed to grant wishes?" Maka piped up again as she shot her partner a goofy grin, dangling the locket in front of his red eyes. "Maybe that's what this thing does as well!"
"What, like BREW?"
"It's just an idea."
The two fell into a contented silence as they continued walking, Maka gazing up at the moon distantly. Her scythe picked up on the way her eyes seemed to glaze over, the way her line of vision never faltered away from the black orb suspended in the sky. Soul knitted his brows together at the sight of his meister and cleared his throat pointedly.
"You're thinking about Crona again?" His face wore an expression of sympathy, which caused Maka to sigh.
"It's hard not to think about them at night," she replied bluntly. Sometimes she would sit and contemplate how different life could be had Crona not trapped themselves on the moon. It had been just over a year since they had defeated Asura, and Maka still felt a continual guilt tugging at her heart strings whenever she looked up at the night sky. She still had yet to fulfil her promise and get Crona back home, and that ate her up inside.
Unfortunately, life had prevented any action being made in retrieving her friend from their prison. The tentative treaty with the Witch Coven meant the Kid had been reluctant to send out an official rescue party, in fear of angering Mabaa and her associates with the act of saving someone who the witches considered to be a traitor. It was bad enough that Death City was housing both Free and Eruka, who were also rather disliked (to put it gently) by the Coven, due to their former ties to Medusa. Even attempting to go one step further and bring back Crona would have most likely broken the fragile bond which had been formed between witches and the DWMA. Besides that, everyone had just ended up being far too busy. Soul and Maka themselves were always being sent off on missions now, it seemed. Cleaning up after Clowns seemed to be the most common of those.
Soul frowned to himself, feeling a similar guilt that he knew his meister was experiencing. Maybe if that DIJINN thing could grant wishes, he'd bring Crona back from the moon. It would certainly bring a smile back to Maka's face.
In an attempt to bring back the shine to her eyes, Soul cracked a toothy grin at his partner.
"Cheer up, Tiny Tits. Your moping is cramping my cool style," he teased, knowing full-well that the former insult was nothing more than a joking nickname now. "As the 'Last Death Scythe', I've got a reputation to uphold. Got to continue showing off all my greatness. So I can't have my own meister sulking. That just drags my reputation down."
Maka snorted in response to him, a playful smile pulling at her features. "Honestly, you should listen to yourself. Ever since you became a Death Scythe, you've been sounding more and more like Black*Star. I can't deal with that!" she snickered.
Soul turned around, his devilish grin just challenging her to continue. "Oh yeah?" The humour was thick in his tone, matching the glint in Maka's eyes. The two of them frequently had their "spats"; light-hearted moments of teasing which never really meant anything at all. A light bit of banter to brighten the dark nights was harmless. Maka always considered it harmless at least, hence why she continued with her own retort laced with a giggle.
"Yeah! The way you continue, sometimes I wish you had never become a Death Scythe!"
For a fleeting moment, time held its breath.
Then, the world fell into chaos.
A bright, blinding light seemed to engulf Maka, smothering her senses. The world seemed to blur around her, the colours leaking into each other like watercolour paints spreading across a blank canvas. Those vivid shades overwhelmed her vision, almost blinding her. A gasp was caught in her throat as she tried to call out to Soul and catch a glimpse of him through the lights. But she was unable to make him out at all.
Her body felt numb, as though her soul was disconnected from her mortal flesh. It felt as though she was spinning, everything whizzing by in a blur of colour so quickly that Maka was unable to process the overload on her senses. Like being caught in the middle of a wild storm. The wind began to pick up, tearing at her body and whipping up her hair and clothes. Her shouts were drowned out by the monstrous roar of the gale. It was drowning her, suffocating her, crushing her.
For the briefest second, Maka Albarn thought she was dying.
Suddenly, it stopped. The wind simply dropped with no prior warning, and the world ceased its frantic spinning. Maka breathed in deeply in an attempt to steady her nerves and collect herself once more. Slowly, she opened her eyes.
She instantly regretted doing so. The moment her vision returned, her knees almost gave out under her.
It appeared as though Maka had not moved from the exact same spot she had been standing in before. However, her surroundings certainly were not familiar. If anything, she was in a nightmarish version of Death City. The homes which had once surrounded the street and loomed above were falling to ruin, crumbling away as though each and every one had been caught in a dreadful fire. There were scorch marks streaking what remained of the walls and the air felt heavy with ash. Every window was smashed and broken, showing no signs of life beyond their frames. A rotten stench of decay slammed into Maka, making her want to heave with disgust.
Her first thought was that she'd been dragged into hell.
These overwhelming distractions meant that it took a moment for Maka to realise that a certain someone was missing. When it finally did dawn on her, she released a strangled gasp and began frantically looking down the street.
He was gone, nowhere in sight. Somehow, Maka Albarn had ended up completely alone. Her thoughts became frantic as she tried to go over exactly what had just happened. Had she been attacked? Had someone separated Soul from her? Was this all just some sort of spell or hallucination?
"Soul?!" Maka cried out again, her voice raising an octave as panic began to set in. Still, there was no sign of him. The panic made her blood run hot with adrenalin, fight or flight instincts kicking in. So she ran, out of the empty street into a just-as-uninhabited main square. Death City was a ghost town. When she called out for her weapon again, her voice rang and echoed around her, seeming to swell and fill the entire city with her desperate cry.
The only reaction she received was the distant sound of birds flying away in panic from the sound, the beat of their wings like distant thunder in the night. Maka shuddered and instinctively turned in the direction the noise had come from, gazing up into the sky.
Emerald eyes widened in terror at the sight she saw.
High above the ruined Death City, the moon hung in the sky. Its yellow face grinned down at the world, sniggering at the carcass of the city and the lone girl standing, confused, amongst the rubble. Any trace of the black blood shell which had surrounded the moon was gone. The stars had seemingly been swallowed up and vanished. But what was most significant was that the grimacing moon sat suspended on a backdrop of vermilion.
The sky was red.
When Maka breathed in, she could feel the madness swirl through her lungs like fumes. She could make out the distinctive scent of insanity hanging in her nose, the light brushes and shudders as the wavelength danced across her flesh. The hairs on her arms pricked upwards in response. The air was thick, viscous like blood. It felt heavy when she breathed, causing her mind to swirl as the world became a blur before her.
The red sky was thick with the madness wavelength of the Kishin.
An unbidden gasp fell out of her throat as the meister staggered back, her wide eyes never once leaving the sight of the scarlet heavens above her. This was all wrong. Her brain was unable to compute the images her eyes sent to it. It was something she just could not seem to process; the Kishin and Crona should have both been trapped up on the moon, encased in the black blood. How was the moon back to that leering, disgusting face? Where was Asura? Where was Crona? Why was the sky so full of insanity?
This made no sense.
Suddenly, Maka picked up the sense of another soul behind her. The pigtailed girl whipped round in a flash, but before she had a chance to react, a figure barrelled into her. It pounced with such speed, Maka saw no more than a blur. The next thing she knew, her head was being slammed into a brick wall behind her, eliciting a pained yelp with the force of the blow. Stars and spots of vivid colour flooded her vision, temporarily blinding her. The shrill ringing in her ears made it just as hard to keep a sense of balance.
Maka probably would have stumbled, had it not been for her attacker shoving her against the wall again and pinning her in place with an arm to her throat. It crushed against her windpipe painfully, leaving the stunned meister gasping and wheezing.
"What the fuck?" came out a voice through the muzzy-blur of Maka's hearing. Feminine. Relatively high-pitched. Brooklyn accent. Maka knew that voice well. She cracked open one green eye, barely managing to choke out the name getting smothered down physically by the force on her neck.
There was no question about it; the person who had attacked was most certainly Patricia Thompson. Maka would recognise her anywhere. Yet there was something off about the young girl standing before her. Her cerulean eyes were hard as steel, her teeth bared in a ferocious snarl. The fire burning in her blood was virtually impossible to miss. A silver gun, Maka instantly identified as Liz's weapon form, was held firmly in the girl's hand and was being jabbed unforgivingly under Maka's chin. A large scar ran down the left side of the American girl's face, starting at her temple and ending parallel with her nose. It was a sign of some sort of conflict Patty had clearly been struggling through. The thirst for blood in her brilliant blue irises made that conflict just as apparent.
"Shut up," hissed Patty as she thrust the barrel of the gun into Maka's flesh harder. It was a cold kiss of metal. "What kind of fucked up joke is this?"
"That bastard's messing with us again. Making Clowns to look like our friends is twisted even for him. Or did the witch send you?"
Confusion flooded over Maka, adding more to the overwhelming lack of clarity she had experienced ever since she had opened her eyes to the red skies above them. Patty was her friend; she couldn't comprehend why the shorter girl was threatening her in such a way. Acting so violent towards her.
She sucked in a breath, trying to turn her face away from the weapon being shoved at her.
"Patty, what are you-?" her question was cut off by the Thompson sister releasing the tiniest of giggles. The laughter was far from jovial, however. A shiver ran down Maka's spine at the sound.
"Heh. Gotta give them credit, though. They did a good job," Patricia's eyes were trailing up and down Maka's form, soaking in every minute detail. The entire scene playing out felt predatory, causing the ash-blonde to squirm with discomfort in a small attempt to loosen the pressure on her throat. "Fucking psychos; they really love screwing with us. Got my hopes up and everything when I saw you."
Why was her own friend being so hostile towards her? Patricia Thompson clearly seemed to think that Maka wasn't really Maka. Which the pigtailed meister in question couldn't understand at all.
"Patty, it's me! Maka!" she managed to rasp out, her words sounding jumbled with panic to her own ears. "I-I don't know what you're talking about! What's going on?" Again, she was cut-off when Patty all but shrieked at her:
"SHUT UP!" Her soul had spiked with anger, and the gun was removed from under Maka's chin and instead placed right at the side of her head, just above the ear. Maka's nerves went into paralysis at the contact. "You can't be Maka. I'll blow your pretty little brains out right here and now if you say that again, bitch!"
Out of the corner of her eye, Maka just about caught a flash of light. It wasn't blinding; just a faint glimmer. Liz had appeared, reflected in the cold metal of the gun. Her voice was soothing when she spoke, yet still firm. Still Liz. "Patty, calm down. You're letting the madness get to you again."
Both Maka and Patricia silently bristled, steadying their breathing with a few gentle exhales at the calm radiating from Elizabeth. The elder Thompson just seemed to know exactly what she was talking about. The thing was, Maka had felt it too. She could easily gauge the crushing severity of the madness wavelength which polluted the air like a toxin. It came as no surprise, when she thought it through, that it would affect people and cloud their judgement, if that was what had happened to Patty. The tension had released slightly from Patty's shoulders and arms, giving Maka an opportunity to blurt out.
"Liz, Patty, listen. I promise you it's me! Maka Albarn," she babbled, her voice edged with an inch of antagonism. The girl was hardly fond of getting shoved around and held at gunpoint by a friend. The panic and confusion of the entire situation certainly didn't help her current mood. "Honestly, I have no idea what's going on, but you have to believe me. It's… me. And if you don't believe me I'll…" A pause. A nervous smile crept onto her face in an attempt to lighten the situation to at least a degree. "I'll give you the worst "Maka Chop" of your lives."
For a moment, both Thompson sisters went quiet. Patty was looking her over again, frowning slightly. Maka could feel her heart pounding in her ears, her eyes silently begging the girl to trust her. Then, a metallic sounding sigh echoed into the night, and Liz spoke up once more.
"Patty, what if she is Maka?"
The younger sister turned to glare at the weapon she held, frowning at the face of Liz yet still refusing to relinquish her grip on their meister friend.
"You know it can't be her. It's not possible," Patricia hissed in response, ignoring the girl in question when she huffed indignantly. Elizabeth sighed again, exasperated.
"And it's also virtually impossible for him to construct a Clown which looks exactly like her when he never actually met her." There was logic and reason behind that response which Patty seemed to pick up on, for her frown dropped slightly and she glanced once more at the pigtailed teen out of the corner of her eye. "Look, I don't exactly know what's going on here either. But we could take her to the prof. He should be able to tell if she's really Maka."
Patty straightened her back and released her arm from Maka's neck. The meister wobbled and made a few gasps for air, ignoring how Patty continued to scrutinise over her. When the blonde girl spoke up again, her tone sounded rather sulky and immature. Frustrated. That was more like the Patty Thompson Maka knew.
"Fine. But I'm not taking any chances."
The gun in her hand was raised, then sent crashing down onto the scythe meister's head with brute force before she had a chance to react. Maka's world was plunged into darkness.
Death, her head was throbbing like the pounding after-thought of a severe migraine. It hurt. She was disorientated. The lighting was blindingly artificial. Burning white. The space around felt hollow and empty because of it. Where the hell was she?
Maka groaned and sat up slowly, her surroundings swaying into place as her sight settled and her environment became clearer. White walls, bright lights, a cold stone floor. The acoustics of the room seemed to echo even her breathing. It was all so claustrophobic, suffocating.
The pigtailed girl tried to blink away the light, inhaling deeply in an attempt to cease the pounding in her head. After finally being able to be rid of the hammering in the back of her skull, Maka was able to take in her surroundings properly. She was sitting on what appeared to be an examination table in a doctor's examination room. Ahead of her was Patty, who was doodling in a large notebook and humming to herself. When the weapon noticed the other girl was sitting upright, her eyes seemed to light up. All the ferocity from before was gone now that they were away from the madness wavelength, it seemed.
"Ah, you're up!" she chirped, waving excitedly. "Sorry if I hit you too hard. Got a little carried away there. He'll be here real soon, then we can get this all sorted out." There was a momentary pause as her eyes seemed to darken, the faintest hint of a frown taking hold. Even her voice dropped an octave when she opened her mouth again. "But, don't forget. If it turns out I was right, I will kill you."
A glare was shot back in response, Maka's features set and defiant. Patty, on the other hand, instantly reverted to her bubbly self, and went back to humming cheerfully to herself whilst scribbling away with her brightly coloured crayons. An awkward quiet fell between the two girls. Maka twiddled her thumbs, waiting for something to happen. A brief attempt at idle small-talk was made, yet it didn't last long.
"Ehhhh… dunno. Probably screwing Kilik in the showers again."
Before that conversation went any further, the door to the room was suddenly thrown open with a tremendous crash. Patty jumped to her feet at the sound, grinning like an idiot as she gave a cheeky salute to the figure who had just entered. He rolled in on a desk chair with his lab coat flapping out behind him, his glasses gleaming in the horribly artificial lights.
Professor Franken Stein stopped his chair only a few inches in front of Maka, staring at her intently. His stitched face was set in a frown as he chewed on the unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Maka instantly opened her mouth to speak, the questions in her mind about to tumble free, but she was quickly silenced by a single finger being raised in the air. His other hand reached up and twisted the screw jutting out of his head once. Twice. Three times. He was examining every inch of her. Maka could feel his soul perception poking and prodding at her, cutting her open with his eyes as though she was simply a lab experiment for observation.
Finally, he spoke.
"Hm. I can see why this caused some problems above ground. You were right to bring her here, Patty," Stein drawled out, eyes glancing vaguely in her direction. The man eventually rolled backwards, before sticking his head out of the threshold to the room and calling out, "Okay. You can all come in now."
Again, before Maka had a chance to speak, a group of people stepped into the now quite crowded room. Marie Mjölnir and Blair were both gawking at the girl sitting before them, their eyes wide and watery. Spirit Albarn in comparison looked like he was struggling to keep a neutral expression, and that he was having to force himself from bolting forward towards the teen. The silence which hung was thick and heavy, smothering them all.
Marie was the first to speak, her voice soft and trembling. "Is that…?"
Stein gave a curt nod in the group's direction, the faintest smirk playing on his lips. Behind his large glasses, Maka could see the corners of his olive green eyes crinkling slightly. Almost out of happiness.
"I have no idea how this has happened, but Patty, you were wrong. This isn't a Clown sent by Asura," the sardonic voice sounded flat, betraying any small hint that Maka had previously noticed of cheer. "This is the real Maka Albarn."
Throughout the entire exchange, Maka had been staring at them all with confusion evident on her face. Her confusion only increased when Patty's jaw dropped and Marie made a sharp gasp, her hands covering her mouth as tears began to cascade down her face from her one good caramel eye. Whatever had been holding Spirit back was gone, for he shot forward and took his daughter up in his arms, hugging her so tightly Maka felt as though her ribs were about to be crushed. She almost snapped, ready to yell at him, but was stopped by a heart-wrenching sob being released from the man.
"Oh my Death, Maka. Don't ever leave me again," Spirit's words were muffled as he buried his face into his daughter's shoulder, his entire body trembling. Maka's eyes widened as she felt the hot tears dampening the fabric of her uniform whilst her father continued to cling onto her tightly, as though he was afraid she would disappear if he dared loosen his grip. "Don't ever leave me again. Papa loves you so much, Maka. So, so much."
Another pair of arms were wrapping around the girl from behind and Maka found herself effectively sandwiched between two weeping adults. Blair was lightly kissing the top of her ash-blonde hair, muttering about how much she missed her precious little kitten. Even through the tears, Maka could hear the shadow of a smile when Blair spoke. The cat seemed more joyous and relieved than Spirit, who in comparison was overwhelmed and still sobbing.
Meanwhile, Patty watched the entire scene in shock, eyes large and mouth still gaping. When she turned to Stein, who had stood up to put an arm around the shoulders of a crying Marie, the American girl was unable to hide the squeak in her voice.
"Are you sure it's her?"
Stein raised an eyebrow and glanced at his student, then gave her a small nod. He was smiling more warmly now, his face matching the happiness in Marie's eye. "My soul perception never lies," was all he needed to say.
Patty's shock morphed into a wide grin. A moment later, she hurled herself at the group of three to join in on the hugs, throwing her arms around Maka's neck and squeezing tightly. Her laughter was loud in the meister's ear, yet Maka much preferred to hear the childish, delighted cry of "Yay!" over the anger she had experienced earlier.
Yet still, whilst everyone was crying and clinging on to her, Maka found herself with more questions than what she had started off with. She was overawed by everything that was playing out around her, barely able to respond to all the affection being shoved down on her. Her mind remained unable to process it all. The red sky, the madness wavelength, Patty's earlier ferocity, the adult's overpowering joy at seeing her. All questions and no answers.
"I don't understand," Maka eventually managed to ask over the sobbing and giggles which filled her ears. "What's going on?"
"There's no way you can be here."
Everyone instantly looked round to follow where the voice had come from. A teenaged boy stood in the doorway, staring straight at Maka with a piercing scarlet pair of eyes. The circles under his eyes were darker than she had ever seen them, and his ivory white hair was dishevelled and unkempt. Soul "Eater" Evans frowned severely in her direction, causing Maka's heart to skip a beat.
"There's no way you can be here," he repeated, his voice monotone and just as lifeless as his eyes. "Because Maka Albarn has been dead for over two years."