Ichijorei must make a choice. Izuku's heroic spirit gets him in trouble.
Like everything about me right now, I do not know much about the Archivists.
I know they are ancient spirits with great prestige. I know they are part of the ancient and powerful guardian spirits called Furthers.
That is it.
I do not know what they guard. I do not know how many of them there are. I do not know why I am so sure the Archivists can restore all that I have forgotten. I do not even know why, without guidance or invitation, I am able to find their domain.
But I do. I do find it. The path through the In-between is clear to me.
Have I walked this path before?
A sense of finding the end or coming to the last step of a journey settles into my person.
I am here.
I slip out of the In-between and into what I know in my core is the Archivists domain. Immediately I find myself faced with a maze. Around me bookshelves hang from space, staggered and layered in a seeming unorganised mess. I cannot tell if I should go forward or backward, up or down. Are the spaces between shelves a path at all or merely empty slots between the clutter.
There are strings of light connecting each shelf, interlaced and interwoven into such a confusing tangle that my sight could not hope to follow the path of a single thread. Within each shelf I see tomes and books, pamphlets and letters. Each one I look upon fills me with a great burden of weight, giving credence to what I already know.
This library is not of human make. These books hold something of greater value than mere words.
While the sight of this library is surely impressive, I find myself unable to truly enjoy it. Not when its very presents only proves to impede my search for the Archivists. How am I going to find them in this mess?!
"Ooh!" A voice suddenly cheers at my side. I flinch back, recoiling as far as I may in this crowded space to put distance between me and whatever being snuck up upon me.
I look and find a human. A mini, black haired, dark skinned, olive eyed, chubby fingered, knobby kneed, female human.
How is there a human here? There certainly is no air for them to breath or gravity to hold them together. The domain, like many domains within the Realm Beyond, has not been built to sustain those of the World of the Living. Perhaps if this human were a ghost I might not be so confused. But no. They have a physical body and are in fact breathing right now despite there being nothing to breath.
I am so very confused.
Oh wait… That is not a human. They look it, but they do not feel it. I focus my senses further on the mini human.
Just as I suspected. The small form of the human is but the appearance. In reality I feel a being much older and much more powerful than I, wearing the guise of a child.
This. This must be the Archivist.
Finally, answers. I open my mouth to speak.
"You're here, you're here, you're finally here!" The little girl bombards me with noise before I can say a thing. She leaps about excitedly, her frizzy curls bouncing with every hop. Over all, I find she pulls off a remarkably accurate representation of the many hyperactive mini humans I have witnessed in my time.
"Lolly! Ledgey!" The girl continues to chatter, leaving no space for me to speak. "The Aegis is finally here! Finally! It's time! Ledgy! Leeeeedgyyyyy! Come on, come on, come on!"
A zap of light zips across the darkness, reminding me of electricity pulsing through a storm. It strikes the space before me in a whisper like shifting pages and hushed words. From the flash of light a spirit appears. Small are they, yet small do I feel before them. They seem both engraved to substance, and free to energy.
"It is such a pleasure to see you again." They say in greeting to me, their voice is the voice of many and none. "But the entry way is no place to conduct our business, come along."
They reach out their hand, a hand stained with ink.
I hesitate. "Are you the Archivist?"
"I am one of them, yes." The spirit nods to me, their hand still held out in invitation. "You seek knowledge, do you not?"
"Yes." I say, the want in my own voice catching me off guard. I am not used to hearing so much emotion from myself.
"Then you seek me." They say, their red glowing gaze boring into me.
I take a step forward. The ink upon their outstretched hand glistens. I slowly reach toward it.
"This is taking too long!" The whiney voice of the child interrupts the moment, followed by two chubby little hands shoving me in the back. Such a small person should not have so much strength or weight behind me. Not to mention that there is not even a floor in this place or earths constricting gravity.
And yet, as if the will of the child dictated the rules of this domain, gravity took hold of me and I fell right on top of the Archivist.
Shocked, I barely feel a foreign power envelop me before I am transported to a new place. It is a warm and cozy space hedged in by the now familiar sight of bookshelves. There is a quality to the space which brought to my mind the feel of sitting in front of a hearth watching flames dance on crackling logs while the world outside descends into a dark night of winter chill.
Funny I should think that so clearly considering I have not once sat in front of a fireplace nor took the time to enjoy the feeling of a cozy fire.
I take comfort in the feeling, however. I can tell I am within the very heart of this domain. That theArchivists would infuse such a feeling of peace and tranquility here reassures me that they are not apathetic beings like my own kind.
Emotions and the ability to feel is much more appealing to me now. My boy really has changed so much within me, and he is not even here anymore.
Something taps me, interrupting my thoughts.
"Mmph mr hm hemph memph ta gmh mph mm?" A muffled voice attempts to speak. I cannot tell what it says.
"Knowledge wants you to get off of them." A new voice speaks.
I startle, snapping my gaze toward the new speaker.
The being is a featureless silhouette. I have seen more individuality within my own kind then in this being. So void are they of detail that one could mistake their complete lack of colour for white.
"Are you an Archivist too?" I ask.
"Yes." They say, then say no more.
We are both left in awkward silence.
Something taps me again.
This time I look down, only to find a hand protruding out from under me, tapping at my side.
I get up. There where I had just been lying is the Archivist the little girl had pushed me into, now crumpled and twitching. Oops.
A flash of light cuts a line across my vision and the spirit with the ink stained hands appears next to the empty silhouette. They dust themselves off with a huff, their tall pointed ears quiver as as they shake their head as if to clear debris from it.
The silhouette does nothing to comfort their recently squashed companion.
"Sometimes her pranks are too much, even for me." The smaller spirit grouses in their voice of too many voices.
"I am sorry." I say, because that seems like the right thing to say in this situation. Humans typically said sorry whenever they bumped or hit into each other. Izuku said sorry a lot.
Funny, considering he never bumped into anyone.
The red glow of the spirit's gaze seemed to soften as they looked to me "No worry. Memory merely likes to have her fun. You and I just got caught up in her antics this time."
"Oopsy!" A high pitched voice sings out. I look up to find the curly head of the girl pop up from atop one of the bookshelves that encircles this space. "Looks like I may have pushed too hard! Sorry Ledgy!"
The mini human looking spirit, then tips over the edge and tumbles right down to the floor, giggling the entire way down.
"You must be an Archivist, too. Are there any more Archivists?" I wonder, only realising a moment later I spoke aloud. It seems I have picked up quite a few habits from my boy.
"No-PEH! Just the three of us!" The small child chirps. The girl then rushes toward me, her journey more of a tumble then a walk in her hast to reach me on those short legs. I always wondered why human children chose to have such stubby feet. It really is impractical. I am thankful my boy had chosen to grow out of that phase before he died at least.
Although… the white haired girl- what was her name? Ah yes, Erichan. I suppose I see why she would choose to be so small and short. It is a cute look on her.
The human looking spirit hugs me. I freeze.
Thus far Only Izuku has been the one to hug me
How I have missed hugs.
Whatever emotion within me now seems the kind that does not like to be contained. It burns at my core and leaves me trembling.
This hug is not the same. But it is close enough to the memory of my boy's hugs that it hurt.
"You miss him." The spirit taking the form of a child whispers. Her typically childish voice takes on a serious tender tone. "I know the memory hurts, but cherish it. He's important to you. Too important to forget."
Yes. I agree.
"Perhaps it would behoove us to start introductions now." The spirit I had accidentally crushed a moment ago steps forward.
"Intros!" The girl looking spirit springs off of me and leaps toward the other spirits, giggling as she sails through the air. The green spirit is quick to catch her before she gets close to the ground.
I marvel at the two spirits. The way the girl is so expressive and the way the green spirit holds her with such obvious care and love. It reminds me of the first time I saw Izuku holding Erichan.
I never held my boy, not like that. Holding was just a means to keep him close and move quickly. But the way the two spirits do it and the way Izuku would hold Erichan… I wish I could do that now to my boy. I wish I had done that when I still had the chance.
A rising pressure that suffocates me and a stinging bitter heat that burns at me. It is a concoction of emotions I have become very familiar with; grief and regret.
No. Not now. I stuff the feeling back down.
"I am Knowledge," the one of ink and electricity, green and silver, glyph and code, steps forward. "Keeper of all knowledge known within the World of the Living and the Realm Beyond."
"And I'm Memory! Hi!" The girl looking spirit chirps from where she is snuggling close to Knowledge, both hands wrapped around the other spirits neck. "I'm the guardian and keeper of all memories, human and spirit! Call me her and she please! If you couldn't tell, I've been modeling human females recently. Just been craving a lot of their memories as of late, if you were wondering why."
The third spirit harrumphs at that. "I do not understand why you are so fickle," they complain in a voice as devoid of character as their appearance. "Can you not pick a form and keep it?"
"Aww!" Memory pouts. "But what if I get bored? I like switching things up!"
The blank silhouette clacks their teeth in disapproval. "I liked your raven form better."
"Having a raven in the library did create quite a gothic ambiance to the place. I certainly was not opposed to it." Knowledge remarks thoughtfully.
I feel very lost in this conversation.
"You… you guys really don't like my look?" Memory asks, there is a quality to her voice and a glimmer in her eyes that immediately sets me alert. She's going to cry. An instinct I didn't know I had compels me to comfort her before the waterworks begin.
"No, no." Knowledge is quick to console, hugging Memory closer to them. "That's not what I'm saying at all. I like all of the forms you take."
Magically, it works. The tears do not fall. I am amazed.
"Thanks Ledgy!" Memory smiles, hugging Knowledge back.
Hugging really seems to work. I should keep that in mind, and not delete it from my memory. In fact I have decided no matter how unimportant something may seem, no more deleting.
"Logic." Knowledge prompts, turning to the last spirit. "It is your turn to introduce yourself."
I look to them expectantly.
They say nothing.
"Loooollly!" Memory weedles. "You gotta introduce yourself!"
The spirit, who Knowledge named Logic but Memory named Lolly, harrumphs and folds their arms indignantly across their chest. "I do not see the point in introductions, therefore I will not do it."
Despite Logic/Lolly having no features, I get the distinct feeling they are glaring at me. It bothers me. I am not sure what to do.
If Izuku were here, he would know how to make this spirit open up. That is it! I shall just have to do what my boy would do. He would ask questions of the Archivists. Izuku's mind was always so curious.
"My name is Ichijorei," I say.
Drat. I have messed it up already. That was not a question at all.
"And isn't that a darling name!" Memory laughs in delight. "So thoughtful too! And all the more wonderful because Izuku gave it to you!"
A warm feeling inflates inside of me. It seems almost tangible the way I actually puff up with the rise of this emotion. If Izuku were here, I could ask him what this feeling was.
The warmth is gone. Replaced by more suffocating grief and bitter regret. I miss my boy so much. Yet I must never go near him again.
Never mind that. Not now. Not ever. I came here for a purpose, not to feel sad.
"Thank you for allowing me into your domain." I say, because no matter how these spirits act, they are part of the Furthers. Powerful, renowned, and far more ancient than myself. I may not know much, but I do know that higher and lower spirits do not often converse, speaking nothing of the high spirits such as them actually inviting an other into the very heart of their domain. "I am honoured. Might I be bold enough to ask of you a favour?"
"Ooooh," Memory sighed, her face dimpling into a pouty frown. "I don't like when Blankie gets all formal like that. Ichijorei! You don't have to be so nervous! We're good friends after all!"
Friends? I don't recall being friends with these spirits, or even meeting them before. Did I delete that memory too?! What was wrong with past me? Did I just go into a crazy knowledge deleting frenzy?
"Please!" I say, forgetting all decorum. I am desperate. "I have deleted so much of my past and knowledge. I just want it back. I am willing to make whatever deal I must. Keeper of Memory and Keeper of Knowledge, please help me."
The three spirits watch me in silence for a moment. Silhouette in that same judging stance that they have born this entire time, so that is not new. But Knowledge and Memory quiet gazes disconcerts me. Until now they have been open and friendly. But now I feel that Knowledge is pitying me. And Memory… there is a look I see on her face. A look I have seen on many human faces. A look I have become familiar with myself.
"Ichijorei." Knowledge finally speaks. They walk toward me in a careful manner, arms up in a gesture I have seen many heroes use when rescuing scared, injured humans. "Your memories, your knowledge... you did not delete it. It was taken from you."
"Memory" Knowledge addresses the human looking spirit, "Would you retrieve Ichijorei's memories? I think it has come time we tell the Aegis the truth."
Without a word, Memory scampers off into the maze of bookshelves that encircle this space. Knowledge gestures to the other Archivist still here. "Logic. If you would please?"
Logic nods. The matter within the domain shift and the space changes. Before us four structures form. They settle into a shape which I now see are chairs, or at least the bare outline of chairs. Each are positioned to create a circle, three are closer to each other while the fourth faces the other three.
Knowledge nods their thanks, then brushes their hand over the chairs. Ink stains into black, green code flashing before it is absorbed into the matter of the chair outlines. The chairs seem to momentarily glitch, before chairs shift once more. Detail sews itself as fabric becomes cushions, grain etches itself as wood becomes legs and backing of the chairs.
"You will want to sit during this." Knowledge says and they and Logic move to sit.
I follow suit, moving to sit across from them.
Something cold seeps into me, drowning me. It makes everything around me feel distant and out of reach. It makes me feel slow. Though the feeling is foreign inside of me, I recognise it. How could I not when it is the emotion I most often see in living humans during my job.
It is the feeling of dread.
Memory comes back, still uncharacteristically silent. In her hands she carries a large tome. Atop it there is a smaller book, though it is more akin to loose pages poorly bound together then an actual book. Familiarity greets me the moment I see the two books. They are mine. I know this in the center of my very being.
But what catches my attention more than the sight of what is mine, are the chains. About my tome I see thick interlocking links binding it closed. The sight of such cruel constraints causes me to shake. I feel myself being filled with rage.
"Who has done this?" I snarl, my hands reaching out unsummoned toward my tome.
"No" Memory cries, leaping away from me as she desperately hugs the tome to her. "Do not touch it! Please! Not until you have heard us out."
"It is mine! Mine which has been sealed! Mine which you keep from me! Are you not the keeper of memory? Have you not failed in letting mine be imprisoned so?! Give to me mine!"
"NO! Please Ichijorei don't!"
Green eyes stare up at me from under wild dark-green curls.
It is Izuku looking back at me. My boy.
He is afraid.
He is afraid of me.
Only now do I notice that I am no longer sitting, that I have moved across this space, that I am looming dangerously over my boy with claw-like hands outstretched to destroy and take, that I have called the shadows about me to wreath myself in darkness.
I stumble back, forcing myself away from my boy before I hurt him.
"Izuku," I choke on the name. "What are you-"
"I'm sorry." Izuku tells me, the fear in his green eyes morphs into guilt. "It was the only way calm you down."
That isn't Izuku's voice, not anymore. The features soon follow, freckled skin shifting back into dark complexion, green curls becoming black frizzy ringlets. Memory stares up at me with almond eyes once green.
I want to be angry again. Angry that Memory would use the memory of my Izuku against me.
But the image of Izuku looking at me with such fear haunts me. He has never been afraid of me. Never. And now I know that I never want him to be. Never.
"Sit back down." A warning is spoken to my left. I look to find Logic standing beside me. Their hand is curled over my shoulder, a strength I could not hope to contend against grips me tightly.
"Ichijorei," Knowledge calls to me and I realise that they too are up from their chair. The Keeper of Knowledge stands a little infront of Memory, arms outstretched protectively. It bothers me that in my rage I had not noticed anything other than the focus of my anger.
Had Memory not been able to calm me down I fear what the Archivists would have had to do to me.
"It is all right." Knowledge's voice of many speaks in a calming tone. "You may have your sealed memories and knowledge, but only once you have listened to us. That is the deal we will make with you."
"Yes. Alright." I tell them, struggling to pull myself back together. "I-I am sorry. That was out of line. I…. I would be willing to make this deal with you."
"Good." Knowledge smiles gently. I find it unfair how kind the spirit is being toward me. "I am glad."
We all move back to the seats, Logic watching me with a death glare I can feel more than see. Memory trails tentatively behind us all, still hugging my tome tightly to her chest.
"Why are my memories sealed?" I ask the moment we are seated. I may regret my near violence, but I do not regret the anger I still feel boiling inside of me. It is a just emotion, I am sure.
"W-we weren't the ones t-to seal your memories." Memory says, her voice small and meek. "B-but… it is my fault that they were sealed in the first place and f-for that I am s-sorry."
"Tt. It was not entirely your fault. OTHER tricked you." Logic sneers. Of course, Logic being a detailed silhouette, I do not actually see a sneer. But I do not need to, as Logic seems to communicate this facial expression perfectly just with their tone.
"OTHER?" There is that name again. Kowaikoarei said it. And now the Archivists say it too.
"We should really start from the beginning." Knowledge interjects.
"Start wherever you like." I snap. "But start soon."
Knowledge nods. "Long ago there were two factions of spirits who were different from all others. Unlike their kind, these spirits diverted from their original purpose. There were the Agis, spirits who chose to guard and protect humans, and the Nix, spirits who chose to harm and destroy humans."
An emotion sinks into me, dragging all other feelings down with it. "I know none of this." Why… why was this stolen from me?"
Instead of answering me Knowledge continued with their tale. "It came to pass, however, that the greatest and strongest Nix grew to hate the Aegis. This Nix believed the Aiges to be their natural enemies. Thus the strongest Nix, who named themselves OTHER, gathered to themselves near all of the Nix, swaying them to their belief. Lead by OTHER, the Nix set upon the Aegis in a great host, waging war against the guardian spirits."
A war. There had been a war within the Realm Beyond. Yet I knew nothing of this.
The sinking feeling turned to ice within me. I must have been involved in this war. Why else would this be locked from me? Why else would the Archivists be telling me this tale.
What if… what if my memories are locked as a punishment? What if I was a spirit who chose to hurt humans?
I think back to that rage, that instinct to hurt and utterly destroy Izuku the moment he crossed me.
Have I destroyed humans before?
"It was a terrible war," Knowledge continues. "At first fought only among Aegis and Nix, but soon other lower spirits were brought into the frey. The higher spirits were determined to stay out of the conflict, assuring themselves they would not choose sides…. All accept one."
A sniffle catches my attention and I immediately focus on the sound. Such early warning signs of oncoming tears were best noticed immediately in case I might be able to stave off the sadness from my boy.
But no. My boy is not here. Merely Memory.
Her lips tremble, her eyes have gone wet just like my boy. Her mess of locks shake along with the rest of her quivering body.
"It wasn't fair." Memory spoke, her small arms curling around to hug herself. "The Nix were spirits with intent and drive to hurt and end. But the Aegis were protectors, not destroyers. Most of them could not bring themselves to fight to end another spirit, which meant they were the ones being destroyed."
A hiccuping sob halts her voice a moment, but Memory merely seems to try and swallow it down and continue going. "The Aegis were losing. So many were gone. I… I didn't want to lose any more of their memories. They made such wonderful memories. B-but once someone is erased- I can't see their memories anymore. And the Nix weren't just ending Aegis. They were erasing them."
Tears are sliding down her cheeks now. "So… so I made a mistake."
The human looking spirit nodded, her whole body the picture of misery. Memory's voice was but a whisper. "I… I interfered in a battle. I tried to stop OTHER erasing y-…"
Memory's voice stumbles to a halt, as if she were choking on a word that refused to come out.
Knowledge reaches over, touching a hand to her quaking shoulders. Ink soaks into her shirt, but she leans into the touch all the same. Logic keeps silent at her other side. Arms crossed, still as stone. That too seems to give Memory comfort.
"I tried to show OTHER memories of the one they were killing." Memory went on. "I wanted to change their mind. I th-thought if they just… just saw they'd realise they were making a mistake. Th-that it wasn't right."
Memory rubs at her eyes. It does no good. The tears still roll down her chubby cheeks. "It worked… sort of. OTHER offered to make a deal with me. And… and…. I took it."
Almond brown eyes look me straight on, unflinching. "I traded memories for life."
I look to my sealed memories; still chained, still locked. I look back to Memory. "Whose life?"
Memory says nothing.
"They are mine, are they not? The memories you traded were mine. Th-that is why you are telling me this to me."
Memory says nothing.
"These were the terms of the deal." Logic speaks up. "OTHER would no longer hunt or destroy the spirit they had been attacking. In exchange Memory would give up all guardianship of that spirit's memories to OTHER."
"I th-thought they'd be s-safe." Memory said. "I m-made su-s-sure they c-couldn't be dest-t-troyed before I handed th-them over. B-b-bu-but OTHER… th-they…."
"OTHER locked away the memories." Logic finishes for the small crying spirit. The detailess spirit places a white hand close to my tome, hand close almost as if to point at it, yet not quiet. "Because of that Memory cannot touch them, look at them, speak of them, or even remember them. They are completely blocked from her, and thus from us."
Memory is loudly crying now. Knowledge reaches over to try and hug the child looking spirit, but she pushes them harshly away. Her curls become an even more tangled mess as she vigorously shakes her head.
"I'm s-sorry, I'm so-o-sorry." She tried to speak, but her words are cut up by her sobs. "I-it h-hurt-ts, it-t-t hurts. I-I'm s-s-sor-ry."
That is when I see them. Burns are scorched into her little arms where once there were none. The inflamed puckered marks take on the shape of chains. I realise they match where she had been clutching my tome against her.
But… I still want to be angry. Is Memory not supposed to be a guardian of memories? Are not Archivists supposed to be higher spirits? Powerful spirits?! How could Memory let this happen?! This was her responsibility. Her job.
"You must understand." Knowledge speaks up. I feel the weight of the stare, demanding I hold off my judgement and listen. "Memory did not think it would affect y- the spirit."
But I am too angry to just listen. "How could this not affect me?!"
"Because Memory thought yo-" Knowledge chokes on their words before trying again. "Memory thought the spirit would still have their knowledge."
"But I do not!" I shout.
"Knowledge is built from memory." Logic says. "When OTHER chose to lock away the memories, they locked away the knowledge as well. Both of my companions are unable to help."
"But… I need my memories." My anger is giving away to a different kind of burning. Less blinding, more urgent, same consuming need. "If they cannot help me, who can?"
Logic smiles. An actual smile. It is not a feeling I get from their tone of voice. I actually see a line split their blank face, forming into a curved display of a mouth full of carnivorous teeth. "You can."
"Memory and I are guardians, not owners." Knowledge explains. They gesture to the library that surrounds us. "All of these memories and every strand of knowledge is not ours. We are merely keepers, not the originators. We have no authority to give away that which is not ours in the first place."
"Y-your still the owner." Memory speaks up, dragging a hand under her nose with a large sniff. Though her eyes are still wet, water has stopped leaking from them. "These memories are still yours, despite who may guard them."
"What are you saying?"
Logic has not stopped smiling. I think I prefer when the spirit was expressionless. "Loophole."
"I can free my own memories."
Memory laughs. Her tears are completely gone, replaced by a sunny smile and bright eyes. "Yup! We might not be allowed to directly help y- er… the spirit who got their memories sealed. But who's to say they can't help themselves?"
Knowledge is smiling too. "It was always silly of the Nix to think we wouldn't have a few tricks up our sleeves. Especially when they tried to take advantage of one of our own."
"And Lolly is suuuuuper smart." Memory chips in, bouncing up and down in her chair. "They figured out how to get around OTHER's stupid deal right away! They're the master mind of this whoooooole thing!"
I am not angry anymore. I feel something else. It is light, as if a great burden has been taken off of my shoulders.
Eagerly I reach toward my tome set on the table between me and the three Archivists. The chains glow in response as I draw near. It will break when I touch it, when I wish it too. I know this within my core, without question. The seal cannot deny me.
"Wait." The voice of many speaks up. It is a strong and powerful command. Everything is momentarily cast in a steady red glow.
I cannot help but heed the command.
"What?" I ask, looking up to Knowledge. No longer are they sitting like the rest of us. Their eye bares down on me. I do not feel hostility from the Archivist. But there is something which has all three Archivists tensed.
"I must warn you." Knowledge's voice. "Memories affect who we are. Without these memories you are Ichijorei. You are a spirit who is learning to feel emotions. You are a spirit who cares for a ghost and a human. You are a spirit who hungers to experience more of the Realm of the Living and the Realm Beyond, to appreciate both worlds' beauty and marvels. With these memories… you will become someone else."
"I need my memories." I say. "I need what was taken from me. It is not right. I will not let it continue."
I continue reaching for my sealed memories.
"There is one more thing." Knowledge speaks up again.
I snap my gaze to them, impatient. I just want my memories. Nothing they say will change my mind. I am sure.
That is when I notice how grey and faded Memory looks. And how much more vicious Logic's smile has become.
I decide to wait and hold my tongue.
"We have been here before." Knowledge says. "We have had this conversation with you many, many times."
"Wha- Excuse me? If I have been here before then why are my memories still sealed? Why don't I remem- … oh."
I look to the tome, an emotion I still do not know sinking down into me once again. "How many… how many times have I regained my memories only for this OTHER to seal them away again?"
They do not answer me. I realise that they probably cannot.
"How…" I swallow. "How can I keep my memories? Is there… is there a way to make you the keepers of my memories again?"
Please. Let there be a way. I feel sick. I feel undone. Again and again this has been done to me. I have been helpless to stop it.
A thought strikes me. I cannot imagine a leader of spirits that hurts and destroys humans would look favourably on my memories of Izuku. If I am defeated by this OTHER again, they will erase Izuku from my mind.
I thought before that I could lose no more of my boy then I already had. But that was not true. I can lose the very memory of him.
The only thing I have left.
I do not like this feeling. This sinking within me keeps getting worse and worse.
"Everytime you regain your memories, you become angry." Knowledge tells me. "And you go immediately to OTHER to confront them. But OTHER is a powerful Nix. They are even now close to becoming a higher spirit. Always they win, and always they come back here and reseal the memories, blocking the knowledge all of those memories hold, of spirit they made the deal on, and hides the tome from us."
"Of course I always find it." Memory pipes in , breaking the heavy tension of the moment. She sticks her chest and chin out, placing little dimpled fists on her hips. "This is my library. There's no where the bimbo can hide it where I won't find it!"
"Memory, dear. Not now." Knowledge pats her on the shoulder.
"Fiiine." The human girl looking spirit slumps down into her chair, arms crossed and lower lip jutting out.
Logic, whose smile has disappeared (oh thank heavens) grumbles something under their breath which, judging by the twitch of their long pointed ears, Knowledge hears.
Nevertheless, Knowledge focuses back on me. "What I am trying to say is that once you open these memories, you will be doomed to lose them again."
"But if I fight OTHER, does that not break the deal?" I ask.
"OTHER does not need to hurt you to win." Logic states simply.
"Then I will just make sure not to fight OTHER at all." I decide. "I will keep away from whoever they do not realise I have my memories back."
"Then I will just not fight OTHER." My own voice echoes back at me.
I startle, looking over to see where the voice came from.
It comes from where Memory sits, or at least, where I remember the little girl sitting.
A little girl sits there no longer.
Instead there is a middle aged human male with long tangled brown hair. a goatee. This new form is wearing a tie-dye shirt, fringed leather vest, mirrored glasses, ripped jeans, and flip flops. The scenery around Memory has changed too. No longer is she sitting on a wooden chair at a table. Instead the keeper of memories is slouched lazily in a plastic lawn chair. So too do I see different versions of Knowledge, Logic, and… myself sitting in lawn chairs. Logic looks exactly the same. Knowledge is mostly the same, but with far more ink and printed words across their skin then running code and metal inlays. I too have only changed slightly. There are far less shadows clinging to the other me then cling to present me.
My tome is different as well. Smaller. Newer. Fewer scratches. Fewer scuffs. It sits between us just like now, on a small plastic end table.
"I will stay away from this Nix leader." the brighter, lighter me says. "That way they will not know I unsealed my memories."
The vision fades away. Memory molds back into the little girl she has been through most of my visit. Her eyes, which glow white, flicker back into almond irises and black pupils with long dark lashes. She blinks a few times, then smiles at me. "I knew I had heard that before."
It is a sad smile.
The sinking emotion in me freezes over. I am cold.
Knowledge sighs. "I'm sorry, Ichijorei. It doesn't matter what you decide. Once you gain your memories back, you always rush off to fight OTHER."
I tremble. "No, not this time. I… this time it will be different. This time I will not fight OTHER. I will not."
They do not believe me. I see it in the slope of Knowledges shoulders, in crinkle between Memories brow, in the tightening of Logic's fists.
But I will. I must. I… I have to. I cannot lose Izuku like this. I cannot. "I swear I will not change my mind. I will keep away from OTHER and break this cycle."
Logic huffs, pushing away from the table with a screech of their chair. They turn away from me, from Knowledge, from Memory and begin to walk away.
"I will!" I shout at their retreating form. "I will do this! I swear!"
A heavy sigh. Then Logic speaks through gritted teeth, "Even now you are just repeating what has already been done. This will not break the cycle."
They walk away, disappearing into the labyrinth.
The cold seeps into my very core. I cannot stop from trembling. "I just want my memories back."
"And risk losing your memories of Izuku?" The little girl speaks up.
My gaze snaps to her. She is not looking at me, but instead at the small pamphlet of pages of unsealed memories. Little hands flip through the pages, fingers trailing slowly across words I cannot see from where I sit. There is such a soft look on her face, as if some rays of sunlight have found their way into this realm and are lighting her in their gentle glow.
"They're really sweet and fluffy, ya know. So much fluff. With some sour, but it's a good kind of sour. Such a nice mix of textures."
She turns a page, then places her hand, palm down into the booklet. A pulsing beauty gathers in her palm which she lifts up for all of us to see. Tendrils dance out from her hand, connecting and interconnecting before wisping away into an intricate and inviting weave.
Even as I watch her, I see in my mind snippets of moments with Izuku. The first time he hugged me. His bright smile. When he gave me his name. When something I did managed to sooth his sadness. The first time I suggested to him we visit Eri and the joy that lit up his face because of it. That one time I let him convince me to stay and watch a few more moments of a hero fight.
"These memories you made," Memory continues to speak, "You're so bright because of them. Brighter then you have been in a long time."
She closes her hand letting the pulsing ribbons fade away and disappear, my memories sinking back into my mind with them.
I hesitate, conflicted on what to do. I want my memories. I want to be free from this terrible existence I have been unknowingly trapped in. I want my boy.
I make my decision and pick up my tome of memories. I can feel it, things suppressed, things kept hidden from me. It is so heavy in my hands. I cannot tell if the shaking is from the energy trapped within the book, or the energy coursing through my own body.
I look back at the two remaining Archivists. Memory and Knowledge watch me carefully in return.
"Is there no other way?" I plead with Knowledge. "Is there no other way I can get my memories back and still escape this loop?"
The keeper of knowledge sits back into their chair, arms folded across their chest. Their eyes glow a comforting shade of red. "Do you know of the legend of the οὐροβόρος? It is a serpent that eternally consumes its own tail. The more the serpent eats, the more it grows. The more it grows, the more it needs to eat. The serpent is trapped forever to eternally eat itself. The cycle never ends, but it never really goes anywhere either."
"So I am just supposed to give up what is mine?" Frustration bubbles up in me, clogging my throat.
"Hey, hey." A sweet voice coos. Memory crawls across the table and snuggles into my lap, a small hand reaching up to pat my cheek. "It's okay. There's no right or wrong decision here, I promise. It's not wrong to want your memories back, just as it's not right either. Memories are there to affect your present and guide your future. Whatever choice you make, make it based on what knowledge and memories you have now. That's all I want and all I ask of you."
I sigh and nod. Her words have comforted me.
I know the decision I shall make.
Izuku had not planned to throw an air conditioning unit at a living person. He just wanted to be safe, to find somewhere to hide. The alleyway had seemed perfect.
But then the little ghost heard voices echoing off the grungy walls. There were people here. Izuku could not put people in danger. As much as the green ghost would like to think that he had finally escaped Kowaikoarei, Izuku knew the truth.
It would only be a matter of time before he was found again.
There may be little hope for Izuku's own situation, but he would do his best to make sure no one else was hurt because of him. Thus when Izuku heard human voices, his immediate reaction was to leave.
And he almost did.
A wave of killing intent not washed over him from the alleyway.
Izuku froze, immediately overcome with panic at the thought that Kowaikoarei had already found him again.
No, no, no! He thought he had more time. Kowaikoarei had never found him this quickly before. Was the reaping spirit getting faster? If only Izuku knew how the spirit kept tracking him down. Maybe he could figure out how to trick or circumvent the Kowaikoarei tracking method. Then he'd actually have a chance at surviving- oh the people! There were people here and they were now in danger because Izuku hadn't been fast enough. He'll just run right now. He has to anyway. Why is he just hovering here? He should already be….
Wait…. why had the spirit not attacked him yet?
Thoughts of danger and sense of panic slipped from Izuku's mind without his notice as he immediately latched onto the thought. Something was not right here. And it was not just the fact that he was still hovering here right at the entrance of the alleyway unharmed. The killing intent felt different too.
This killing intent felt almost lighter. No. Bright? Less intense? No, not that either…... It was… younger. Yes. Both desires to kill were intense (how could they not be), but Kowaikoarei's was far thicker with millenia of hate. This commitment to end a life was novice in comparison to the dark spirit.
Now that Izuku was focusing in on his maybe-a-quirk ability to sense emotions, he realised there were several intense emotions and all were coming from the alleyway.
There was fury. Burning, wrenching, desperate fury that made Izuku's eyes water just as much as it made his spirit boil. And fear. Thick fear quivering and choking where it writhed out from the shadows, desperate for escape.
Someone was in trouble. Something terrible was happening in that alleyway. Izuku was sure of it.
And he was right.
Deep in the shadows Izuku moved, the high walls of the buildings seemed to swallow him whole as he headed toward the people. There, caged in by trash bins and building walls were three people, and blood.
Red splattered in arcs and puddles, suggesting a fight had taken place. Red staining the wall behind where one person lay like a puppets strings had been cut. Red was quickly pooling out from under a figure laying on the ground. Red was slowly dripping down the edge of a blade's edge.
Izuku took in the scene immediately, hyper aware of every detail.
First, the most dangerous. A man decorated in knives. Red mask slashed across his face. A chipped katana held aloft like a sacred gift. Ribbons of blood pooling down its length. This… this man was where the killer's intent was coming from. His aura cascaded off of him like the heat of a forge and cut deep into those around him like the edge of a blade. It burned at Izuku's senses, clogging them with the reek of blood and poisoning the air with sick satisfaction.
This was the first figure Izuku noticed. The most dangerous.
The next person Izuku noticed was lying below the blood marked villain. At first Izuku thought they were Ingenium. But immediately the assumption was discarded. The style of armour was certainly Ingenium esque, but there were several discrepancies that suggested otherwise such as the exhaust engines coming out of the figures calves or their smaller stature. No, they were not just small, they were a teen.
The emotion broiling off of the teen confirmed their identity. It was an ocean of loyalty that had been turned into tsunami rage. The emotion bashed and raged against the villains duty bound killing intent. While the villain was unflinching against the teens righteous fury Izuku was not unaffected. The undercurrent of familial love entwined with utmost respect for a role model which gave the storm of emotions power connected personally to Izuku. The little ghost understood that need and desperation to protect and honour one's family.
My brother, the emotions audibly screamed out, you hurt my brother.
A child of the Iida family. The very Iida Izuku had seen briefly at the sports festival.
Last was a person lying farthest back in the alleyway. The little ghost immediately recognised their costume as belonging to the hero Native. The man's head was awkwardly propped up half on their slumped shoulder and half against the wall. His limbs were splayed out around him. His suit was slowly soaking up dark red. For a terrible moment Izuku thought the hero was dead already. But no, his chest still moved with inhale and exhale, lifting to a rhythm fast enough to speak of adrenaline and panic. And his eyes were open. Wide open. Glinting with fear. Anchored on the other two figures in the alleyway.
It was clear what was happening. Sickeningly so. This was a villain attack, and both heroes seemed incapacitated. Their emotions screamed in panic (Native) and rage (Iida) to move, yet their bodies did not respond.
The heroes were losing.
Izuku did not think. He moved.
And in that moment it did not matter that he was a ghost, that touching physical objects from the world of the living was difficult, that saving a life might mean calling down the wrath of other reapers.
None of that mattered, because Izuku thought of none of it. He just reacted. Grabbed the closest object he could and threw it at the villain.
And that is how Izuku ended up nailing a human with an air conditioning unit.
For a moment all were still. The villain stalled in slight shock under the metal boxed weight. The injured heroes staring wide eyed and mouth agape at the spectacle. The little ghost sharing a similar look of shock on his own face.
The villain was the one to break the stillness. With a hiss of rage (Izuku would not kid himself into thinking it was of fear or pain), they thought the weight off of them and leaped back to their feet. Their blade whipped out in front of them and their sharp blood red eyes scanned the alleyway for threat.
Izuku swallowed down his shock, elation beginning to bubble up from his core. It worked. He had saved the Iida child. He was dead, but he had helped! And he could continue to help, continue to throw objects at the villain, to maybe grab at their blades or try to trip them up. Just keep attacking until either backup comes or the villain gives up and flees.
Plan set, Izuku throws himself against a dumpster, willing his ghostly form tangible enough to heave the heavy bin of metal and trash in the villains direction to force him farther from the prone heroes. It worked! With a scratch of metal on asphalt and a shower of sparks, the dumpster hurdled toward the villain.
This time the villain dodged. This time those blood red eyes locked onto Izuku.
Izuku froze, his soul losing the ability to move. Even the natural flux of his glow stilled.
"What a small little ghost you are." The villain said to Izuku. There was no mistaking it. Izuku could feel the man's intent pinned on him just as he felt the eyes staring at him. All of this man's rotting and toxic emotions were now focused on him, their intensity choking him and threatening overwhelming his senses.
"You should run along now." The villain chuckled. "Run before the reaper shows up."
Izuku gasped for air, tears spilling down his face as the villain's despising nature stung at his eyes. It was too much. Too much! The killing intent and willingness to murder was too much- too familiar.
The dark of night alleyway flickered out of view, replaced by an underpass cast in a daytime shadow. The burning heat turned to choking sludge. The tang of blood turned into the stench of sewage. It was coating his throat, pushing inside of him.
"Have you ever seen a reaper?" A voice spoke.
It was meant to be cruel, meant to elicit fear and drive a person away. But for Izuku, it was a life guard he could use to pull himself out of this vision of the past.
Reapers. Reapers were not death. They were not choking and crushing, blocking out the air and stuffing down into him until his body could not take it anymore. Reapers were dark wisp that came after pain and suffering of death to carry the hurt and the weary to peace.
But Ichijorei was more than that. Ichijorei was soft songs that comforted Izuku and gentle touch that soothed his soul.
Gasping, Izuku blinked back into full awareness. Gritting his teeth, Izuku pushed the villains suffocating aura back, forcing his senses to ignore it and focus instead on his own will and determination.
"Reaper is a shadow of the void that consumes the souls of the dead." The villain continued speaking to him. "The look on your face tells me you have."
Izuku bit his lip and clenched his fists. He wanted to argue, to refute this man's words. There was not one reaper. Not all reapers were like that. Ichijorei was not like that!
But explaining the intricacies of what others were and were not wasn't important. Not right now. No. Saving these people was important. Distracting this villain was important. Getting information from this murky souled man was important.
"How do you know about them?" Izuku prodded, allowing his natural curiosity to help bolster his defence against the villain's aura. Even the people who had seen Izuku as a ghost did not seem to be familiar with reapers. Only Maes had known something about them, but even then the dad ghost was a ghost. Dead and able to see the things that lived beyond the physical world. But this villain was alive. Yet he knew something of reapers. How? Were there other humans who could see spirits? There were of course people who claimed to be psychics who can communicate with the dead and spirits. But how many of those psychics were real and how many fake? Was this a skill one could learn, or one you were born with? Surprisingly Izuku had never heard of a quirk that let someone see spirits. Actually, now that Izuku was thinking about it, there were many quirks out there which could theoretically be connected to spirits. What if there were more quirks out there which allowed them to interact with spirits, but the people passed it off as something else knowing that people wouldn't believe them? Could Izuku's quirk have potentially let him see spirits too? He knew it was something like an empath quirk, but the more Izuku explored this ability to sense and feel others emotions, the more he believed he was actually seeing bits of their soul. The difference was important as it would explain how he could touch ghosts and souls. Not to mention it would have meant-
A burning sensation cut through to Izuku's senses, matched with a bubbling suffocating spike of fear and desperation. Izuku's focus snapped back to the villain, not having realised he had fallen into distracted mumbling. Stupid, stupid! He couldn't let himself get distracted! He was supposed to help-
Izuku's eyes widened in terror to see the villain diving toward Ingenium's brother, katana outstretched and sweeping down in an arc that would cut cleanly through the brother's unprotected neck. Native cried out. Ingenium's brother screamed, tears burning red trails down his cheeks.
"̷͖̕͝N̷̺͚͂̾͠O̡͜!" Izuku shrieked, the noise inhuman and unearthly.
The whole alleyway seemed to freeze under the force of Izuku's emotions. But it was too late, the blade was already in motion.
Izuku moved, hands outstretched. He is a ghost. Ghosts cannot touch people. Ghosts cannot touch souls.
But Izuku can.
He's never been able to control it before, to choose who he can touch and who he can phase through. But right now he doesn't need to be able to choose. Because the villain could see him, just like Eri, just like Uraraka, just like Fearless, just like Asui. They could see him, and when they could see him, he could touch him.
So Izuku moved. He rushed forward, believing that he could stop the villain. Trusting that his hypothesis was right.
The little ghost's fingers made contact. They did not phase through. Relief washed over Izuku, quickly bolstering his determination which he used to push himself forward with even more force.
The child crashed into the villain, both tumbling in a heap of limbs further down the alleyway. The sword went flying off course and out of the villains hands, clattering several feet away from both villain and the Ingenium sibling.
There was a pained cry below them and a crack of bone hitting cement. Izuku felt as someone's emotions collapsed into blissful quiet. Izuku trembled, breathing in a gasp of relief. The hit must have knocked the villain unconscious. The little ghost had done it. He'd saved another life.
Trembling with shock of so many different and strong emotions coursing through him in such a short time, Izuku moved to extricate himself from the villain.
A grip of iron locked around him and suddenly the world spun.
Izuku choked on a cry of surprise as he found himself slammed face first into the blood slicked ground, one large hand encircling the back of his throat like a collar while the other twisted his arm painfully behind his back, effectively pinning him. A rage like coal burned above him, its close proximity making it hard for Izuku to focus or breath.
As Izuku blinked away tears, he saw the slumped over form of Native. His eyes were closed, the cloying fear that once twisted about him like serpent chains now settled into quiet submission. Something glinted in the wane light behind his head. It trickled down the wall and soaked into the already blood matted hair of the hero.
Oh kami. Izuku had knocked himself and the villain right into Native! He'd killed Native! He-
No. No, Native wasn't dead. The visual access of his emotions weren't rising up to converge with his forming soul, which must still rest securely within his body. No soul. No white strings. No reaper.
The man was still alive.
"Did you not hear me?" The villain growled above Izuku, reminding the small boy of the predicament he was in. "These two are destined to die tonight. Are you truly so eager to meet your own demise? I've seen what the reaper does to those who get in the way of their kill."
Izuku struggled fiercely, not caring about the pain it caused his aching shoulder. He had to focus, to phase through the floor and out of this villain's hands. But he couldn't. Why wasn't he phasing? It was normally so easy to phase. It was his default. But he couldn't. It was like the man's touch was anchoring him in the physical world. And the toxic emotions of such disregard for human life was distracting Izuku, making it hard for him to breathe and think.
"You are a strange little ghost." The villain commented, a hedge of curiosity twisting itself around the sickening sense of wicked duty like the roots of a small plant around the cracks and gaps of a great rock face. "I've seen ghosts before, made many of my own. But none were as physical as you… or so eager to die twice."
"R-reapers aren't like that." Izuku growled, his fear and desperation turning to anger the longer the villain held him down. "N-not all of them."
"Are you willing to bet your life on that?" The villain asked, his curiosity flourishing like a plant under the gaze of the sun.
"I-it won't c-come to th-that." Izuku hissed, still struggling, still trying to find leverage. "C-cause no one is g-going to die ton-night."
The man was silent for a moment, his previous calloused killing intent cooled slightly as he focused his thoughts on the little ghost below him rather than his other two previous marks.
"Are you really so determined to save these worthless lives?" The villain removed his hand from around Izuku's neck, instead threading his hands through the boy's hair and yanking his head up to see more clearly the fallen form of Native. "They are fake heroes, disgraces to the once honorable lineage. This one only cares for fame and riches, while the child behind us only came to stop me for his selfish want of revenge. It is because of fakes like them that the word hero has lost its true meaning. I am set to purge the world of liars and selfish scum like them, until society comes to its senses and sees what true heroes are."
"It doesn't matter!" Izuku snarled, glaring at the villain. His eyes, which normally were gentle forest or rich emerald green, were now vibrant as poison. "No one deserves to die. Everyone deserves a chance to live, to become better! That's why I'm going to save them! I'm going to stop you!"
To Izuku's horror, the stench of killing intent increased again but with it he also felt a seed of respect. "A shame that you are dead, little ghost. You have the heart of a true hero. A pity."
The weight atop him shifted minutely, the hand that was in his hair moved. There was a soft hiss of metal being unsheathed.
"NO!" Izuku mentally pushed upward. He was a ghost! He did not need leverage or hands or feet to move. If there was a will, there was a way that was never more true for him now then in death.
With his sheer power of will Izuku flung himself and the villain atop him into the air. The blade the villain had been throwing went arigh, clattering against the wall mere inches away from the still unconscious Native's throat. The villain rolled off of Izuku, hand clamping around his ankle. Using his own downward motion, the villain flipped Izuku over his shoulder and tossed the boy against the far alley wall.
The hands that had been holding him still (holding him bound to laws of the living) lost contact as the villain released Izuku. Instead of slamming hard against the wall, Izuku phased right through it.
Wasting no time, the villain ducked toward his previously discarded katana. But Izuku had predicted the villains first move would be to recover his weapon. The boy surprised the man by shooting right out of the ground, bashing their heads together.
The move stunned the villain momentarily, just long enough for Izuku to take the katana himself and fling into the sky.
The blade twisted end over end as it sailed high above their heads until it winked out of sight.
One blade down. Five daggers, two spiked shoes, and probably several hidden blades to go. Izuku could do this!
The villain leapt away from Izuku, causing the boy to falter.
Something cold and terribly familiar grabbed Izuku from behind and yanked him back. The very touch burned Izuku, raking into him and ripping him apart with finely focused animosity.
Izuku screamed, writhing to try and escape. Claws and shadows raked across his form before settling to squeeze him around his already abused neck. They turned him around, bringing him close and forcing him to look into the deadly gaze of his attacker.
Kowaikoarei had found him.
Izuku redoubled his efforts, kicking out with his legs and mentally pushing out with whatever abilities his ghostly form or strange quirk gave him. He had done this before, fought back until he could slip out of Kowaikoarei's grasp and flee. But this time was different.
He was exhausted.
It was not just the now normal exhaustion that came from being hunted non stop and always having to keep on the move and be vigilant. It was an exhaustion that made him feel almost like paper, thin and easy to rip. Horror sunk into his core at the thought that fighting the villain might have drained his energy stores.
There was no way he was going to make it out of this. Not with that cruel and knowing grin slashed across the dark reaper's face. Not with the way his limbs uselessly shook at his sides. Not with how tears blurred his vision and scorched down his cheeks. Not with how hollow he felt inside
In despair, Izuku's soul called out for help.
First off Happy New Year everyone!
I pray this next year is better then the last, as I am sure many of you are also wishing and hoping for too.
This chapter was beta's by a friend on AO3 named CinnomonRaisenBagel. I commend her for tackling this behemoth. Truly, her spirit knows no fear!
Inkdagger created her own impression of Ichijorei. It honestly is so cool! I can't share a link but you can find her and her work in deviantart under the name Inkdagger.
Lastly, an explanation on what Οὐροβόρος is.
It's greek for Ouroboros, which is a symbol of a serpent or dragon that constantly devours its own tail. First depicted in Egyptian Glyphic, the symbol was adopted by Ancient Greek and has spread into other cultures from there. The symbol has many meanings, most of which center around the idea of a cycle of renewal (example: seasons- each season leads to the next, only to be repeated each year. ) or eternity (example: alchemy- eternal unity of all things).
For me the symbol is a warning against a stagnant life. The snake is doomed to literally do nothing else in its never ending life but to constantly eat itself. In that way its life is meaningless. It does nothing else, experiences nothing else. One moment from the next is exactly the same.
In times of quarantine I think we understand how being trapped doing one task over and over and over again is a curse. Change is good.