Floating through dimensions was like drifting along on a breeze. Each new world was like a cloud they would float through and immerse themself in its fluffy warmth before it fluttered on, leaving them searching for new amusement in another world.
Seeking enjoyment and spreading it was their greatest pleasure. Leaping into dimensions and observing all sorts of amusing rituals, homes, or people only extended their drooling lips into a deep smile. They really did love all creatures and their idiosyncrasies, each moving to the beat of their own drum as Ecolo observed. Whether it was Ringo's eccentricities or a friendly Puyo battle starting over something utterly foolish, Ecolo thrust themself into the midst of it all to watch, play, or at times, cause a well-needed dose of world-ending mischief.
Although, memories of themself would certainly be forgotten. Ecolo was not like Yu and Rei, ghosts who were able to exist in the living realm and be acknowledged by others. Instead, they were meant to fade from a person's mind when enough time passed. Space-time travelers never stuck around for long in one world out of eventual boredom, leaving themselves vulnerable to being forgotten. As time moved forward while they searched untraveled realms, the risk only increased.
It was a downtrodden thought that always stuck in the back of their mind, but they ignored it. Ringo and the others would certainly never forget about them. They had already caused too much trouble such as when they possessed Arle and almost drowned Ringo's world in Puyos. With Satan's help, they created a portal to allow people to visit the Keeper of Dimensions. They protected Ally's world from Rafisol with the help of so many others. They were acknowledged and remembered by a couple dozens of people in the mixed worlds.
Still, they were never entirely sure. Risking being forgotten by venturing out to new dimensions could cause them to forget them. With enough time, Ecolo wondered if they would all move on from them with new memories and friendships. If even Ringo would look at them with confusion etched on her face when they would eventually return to her world had turned their thoughts sour.
Who are you?
It was the worst question anyone could ask. The uncertain look in their eyes, the crease in their brow, the way their body language outright rejected them with crossed arms or raised fists used to stupefy Ecolo. In the beginning, Ecolo tried to reason with them explaining their memories, but they were always forgotten. Pretending and teasing became Ecolo's way of overcoming that trepidation to continue playing with those who forgot them. It was like a one-sided game of chess where they commandeered all of the pieces while their opponent sheepishly and idly moved one piece at a time.
"Who are you?"
The question seemed to come out of thin air. Ecolo straightened, their head flipping up in sudden acknowledgement of the question. They gazed around the rather dull white plane, realizing that in their idle travels they had stumbled into a cross-dimensional void. It was a plane in which no one except them should have been able to exist unless a fellow space-time traveler called out. Ecolo scratched their head, searching for the voice until their gaze dropped towards the floor.
Ecolo uttered a mollified hum. Scratching their head, Ecolo floated towards the person glaring up to them with a bright grin. They hovered around her, observing their red-hued armor and clenched fists. The young woman's glower would have made any other person freeze, but Ecolo was used to malice and continued grinning. Crossing their legs, Ecolo laughed and waved much to the woman's perplexment as she stepped backwards.
"Arle! I didn't expect you to be here! I didn't know you mastered enough magic to send you through dimensions," Ecolo jeered, noticing the young woman's eyes widening. "Though, maybe your magic sent you way off the map and made your mind a little weird! I mean, how could you forget about me so quickly? After all we've been through, I'm forgotten all lickety-split!"
As Ecolo pretended to cry, she asked, "You called me Arle?"
Ecolo chuckled, ending their crocodile tears. "'Course I did! That's your name, isn't it? Unless you changed it. If you did, what's it now?"
Arle squinted, gripping her elbows so tightly that Ecolo heard her knuckles faintly crack from the pressure. She pursed her lips and straightened her back, unsure of what to make of the creature before her. Ecolo continued levitating around her, sliding from side to side to truly take in her appearance.
"I like the updated outfit! Red is really your color. It kind of reminds me of Ringo!" Ecolo exclaimed, flying behind Arle and gripping her cape.
Arle side-stepped and nudged Ecolo in their cheek, shoving them away. Ecolo grimaced, immediately frowning and holding their face. Arle checked her cape, finding a few blueish spittle marks dripping off it and scowled.
"Okay, okay, sorry for getting your little cape dirty, but there's no need to hit me!" Ecolo shot their tongue out, blowing out a few globs of drool.
"Answer me. Who are you, and how did you get here?" Arle demanded, raising her right hand and flexing her fingers.
"It's me! Your old buddy, Ecolo! Come on, Arle, we already made so many memories together," Ecolo said, shaking their head, "like that time I possessed you and almost drowned Ringo's world in Puyos! It was a swell time! Loads of fun and tricks and capers!"
Searching her face for any recognition, Ecolo sighed when they found none. The woman claiming to be Arle only looked at them with dinner plate eyes. They uttered a groan, levitating on their back and wrapping their stubby hands behind their head.
"Aw, I guess you really don't remember me. That's a darn shame," Ecolo mumbled, "since if you can't remember, I guess Ringo and the others don't either and-"
"I've never met you. You've only know that fake Arle."
Ecolo clamped their lips shut, and their words died on their tongue. They raised their head, flipping forward and staring at Arle in sudden interest. Tilting their head, they sneered, "Really now? Are you saying you're some kind of doppelganger of the Arle I know or is the Arle I know the doppelganger?"
Arle dug her fingernails into her left palm, slowly retracting her other raised hand. A curt nod was all Ecolo needed. They observed the deep flash of anger that burned brightly in her eyes as if remembering something particularly painful. How her lips pursed together and the way the corners of her eyes crinkled showed them all the disdain they needed to see.
"You know, I have a lot of time to spare," Ecolo said, regaining her interest. They suddenly dropped to the floor, sitting with their legs out and leaning forward like an excited kid waiting for a story. "I'm a space-time traveler, so I don't get to see many people in these areas in-between dimensions. I wonder what you've got to say, Arle."
They patted the floor, giggling and welcoming her. Arle could only balk at the sight of the strange creature. She had known many mysterious, murderous monsters in her heyday, but Ecolo's cheerfulness and strange composure jarred her. Every atom about them screamed eerie while their coaxing grin put on her edge. She was tempted to fire them away when Ecolo suddenly rolled on their side, lifted their leg, and patted the ground in front of them with their foot.
"I don't bite just so you know. I mean, you don't know if I have teeth or not," they said, and Arle's brow furrowed.
She pinched the bridge of her nose. It was not like she had anything else to do besides wasting away in an eternal white space while detesting her other half. Arle sat in front of Ecolo, keeping her hands visible in order to cast any quick spell. Arle watched Ecolo sit upright and bring their knees to their chest.
"Let me ask you some things first," Arle said.
"Sure! Fire away!" Ecolo gasped. "Oh, but before you do, I have to give you a nickname. I do it for all my friends."
"A nickname, huh?" Arle murmured, lifting her head.
Ecolo hummed, tapping their temple and then announced, "Okay! You'll be Stingy Armor because you're not very personable, and you're wearing cool armor."
The temptation to blast Ecolo away crossed her mind, but their company gave her more entertainment than the last hundred years of her life ever did. Arle rolled her eyes, acquiescing to the nickname with a dry smirk.
"Okay, Then, you'll be..." She glanced at Ecolo's face. "...Saliva Mouth. Where did you come from?"
"I'm from all over. I don't have a particular home. I told you that I'm a space-time voyager, which means I can really 'voyage' through 'space-time.' It's a pretty tell-all title."
"So, you can just jump to any world you want?" Arle asked, leaning forward, and Ecolo nodded.
"That's right! I'm glad you're fast on the update. I had to explain that to Jumpy Sideburns at least five times," Ecolo said, shrugging.
Arle lowered her head, closing her eyes in apparent deep thought only for Ecolo to lightly tap her knee. Catching their displeased stare, she asked, "Uh, what's your name again?"
"Ecolo!" they said, flashing another goopy grin. "So, I answered your questions. Let's get to the good part. Tell me what's up with you. I mean, it's not totally rare for doppelgangers to exist. I mean, alternate realities-"
"I'm not the doppelganger," Arle hissed, silencing Ecolo. She glared at the ground, imagining what she used to belong to her when Ecolo cleared their throat.
"I think I get what's going on," they said, looking at the sky of the endless void, "but I wanna hear it from you. I don't have a full picture of it yet, but there's definitely a reason why I was able to meet you here, right? Normal humans don't just gain the power to jump through dimensions, but this is a place in-between worlds, you know? How are you here?"
Her grim smile sparked a small pang in Ecolo's chest. Arle followed Ecolo's gaze to the ceiling of her personal cage. The colorless, endless white space stretched infinitely as far as her eyes could see. Arle remembered trekking for miles until her feet started to bleed and clawing at the ground until she cracked her fingernails, but even then, she refused to stop until the futility of it all sank in when she was torn in two.
"It's a-" Arle took a breath. "-confusing story. Just stop me if you're unsure about anything, okay?"
"Sure! I love stories," Ecolo said, bobbing their head, and Arle took a deep breath, beginning her long, arduous tale.
They listened without interrupting. Usually, they would have gladly interjected their own opinion, but the heaviness of Arle's words silenced them. Ecolo watched her expression writhe as she explained the destruction of her world at the hands of the "Creator" and how Satan only succeeded in retrieving half of her soul. Ecolo never would have imagined the Arle they knew was only a fraction of a person, but they wondered if their Arle suspected anything was wrong in the first place.
They were drawn into her story, imagining the hundred-year war and the terrible loss Arle suffered. Losing everyone she had known in a dramatically despairing battle, being forgotten to waste away in-between dimensions without any hope of being remembered by the people she once knew was a torture worse than death. She continued enduring an ageless existence in solemn silence, and they wondered how she had not lost her mind.
Ecolo wondered if her condition was even worse than their own. Ecolo would be forgotten if they strayed away for too long, but Arle had absolutely no chance of being reunited with the people she remembered. Her friends' memories of the old world were completely gone, gathered in Satan's fist and crushed like sand drifting through his fingers and vanishing into the ocean. Ecolo had the opportunity to create new memories with those who had forgotten them. Banished to nothingness, Arle never had that chance. She remembered while the new world engulfed itself in Satan's twisted truth.
Yet, it was how she spoke and gestured that told an even sadder story. The way her eyes burned with fury as she recalled the war and Satan's mistake glowered for vengeance. How she coated each word about trying to escape the void with malice dripping off her tongue sent shivers down their spine. The apparent wetness in her eyes and the solemn smile spreading into her cheeks as she recalled a sillier time at magic school with Rulue or calling Schezo a pervert for his poor vernacular longed for the past.
Ageless, without any means of returning to what she once knew, trapped with memories no one else could remember, Arle suffered beyond anything Ecolo had ever seen or endured during their travels. She was malicious, vengeful, and the sorriest person they knew.
"...and that's everything I've got to say about that," Arle said. She dipped her head and swallowed. Rubbing her throat, she lightly coughed. "Sorry. My throat's a little dry. It's been way too long since I've spoken for more than a few minutes."
"If I had any water, I'd give it to you," Ecolo said, managing a hesitant grin. They watched her arch her back and use her thumb to wipe her eyes. "I didn't expect Satan to have that much power. I mean, I knew the guy could travel through dimensions like me, but creating an entirely new universe and story to boot? Wow! What a freak! No guy should have that much power even if they are like a deity! That's just unfair to the rest of us!"
Arle's gaze snapped to them, and she gawked. "Wait! You know Satan?"
"Know him? That skeevy jerk and I opened the doors to some dimensions together! Twice! Once so everybody could visit the Keeper of Dimensions and the second time to leave Ally's world," Ecolo replied, shaking their head. "I knew he was powerful, but keeping you here while the Arle I know gets to play with Ringo and the others? That's not fair at all.
"But you know Satan? Well, you know my other half, so I guess that's to be expected," Arle said, and she set her knuckles to her chin.
Ecolo leaped to their feet, levitating in front of her. "Now, now, let's not look so down! I hate seeing my friends look upset."
"I just met you. We're not friends," Arle deadpanned, and Ecolo tutted.
"Aw, come on! I learned friends give each other presents even if Hime Cut didn't want anything from me that one time," Ecolo said, and Arle stood up, folding her arms and cocking her hip out. Sensing her growing irritation, Ecolo added, "So, why don't I take you outta this place as a gift? Us dimensional wanderers gotta stick together!"
Arle's mouth dropped open an inch, and Ecolo shot their hand out in front of her nose. Arle flicked her wide-eyed gaze between Ecolo's round palm to the various glowing balls of goop surrounding them. As they reached for her hand, Arle snatched their wrist, forcing them forward.
"Don't think you can win me over so easily. You haven't earned my trust at all, you-!"
Ecolo laughed, cutting her off. "Not to worry! All you needed to do was grab on anyway!"
Arle paled and squeaked, "What?"
Ecolo spun Arle around and pivoted around her. They continued laughing, shooting their hand out and as if out of thin air, a door appeared. The entrance appeared wooden in structure but had golden arches supporting it. Arle blinked, baffled by the door and recalled her own struggles of trying to enter Satan's reality for so long that the sudden appearance of the door made her cough with laughter.
"A-are you serious? You can just make a dimensional door appear? Do you even know how long I tried doing that?" Arle cried, and Ecolo chuckled.
"Sure! I told you, Arle, that I'm a space-time traveler! I can go anywhere I want through all dimensions. Not even Satan can reign me in if he doesn't know where I am," Ecolo remarked, tapping their temple. Floating forward, they pulled Arle behind them and grasped the silver doorknob. Thrusting the door open, they shouted, "Hold on tight! We're going to Suzuran City!"
"Wait, where is-?"
Arle had no time to react, and another rush of irritation flared through her from being interrupted once again. Ecolo leaped through the vibrantly spinning portal with her in tow. Her scream died in her throat as her senses were rocked with a splash of blue, swirling hues. Stars and comets streaked by in her blinding white, pink, and yellow lights. Galaxies swam overhead and curled around them as Ecolo weaved through the portal, his laughter mixing and echoing in the stars.
Arle was almost blinded by the sudden flash of white light. She grunted, covering her eyes only for her feet to touch something wet. She gasped, feeling Ecolo release her and stared at the ground.
Wet mud coated her boots. She blinked and then uttered a sharp hiss as she inspected the soil on slipping off her footwear, but then she felt another sensation. Liquid drizzled down her cheeks. When she looked up, her vision was obscured with gray clouds sprinkling down cool rain. Arle closed her eyes, her body chilling from a gentle gust and inhaled the rich scent of the world.
"Ah, it's Suzuran City! It's been too long," Ecolo exclaimed, gripping their hips. "So, Stingy Armor, what do you think about the shopping district?"
Arle followed Ecolo's gaze, and she straightened, her pique swiftly enticed. Before her were several buildings with all manners of banners and sign posts. Food markets, quant clothing stores, and shops for toys, books, and trinkets were lined up as far as her eyes could see. Even with the drizzle, people were bustling around with bags filled with goods. Arle listened to their buzzing voices, feeling almost drained from the sudden clamoring of other people.
Ecolo snickered, hovering next to her and stepped on the sidewalk. "Well, how does it feel? Being around new people who are totally different from you must be a shock, right?"
"This place is...definitely strange," Arle said, dipping her chin to her chest and furrowing her brow. "It's nothing like the world I tried to save."
"Oh, what? Come on, Arle! It's modern! Not everything is run on magic these days," Ecolo said, shrugging off her concerns. "Besides, I have some friends here who would love to meet you like Ringo and even Pretty Boy! They'll be like 'Bwaaah! Another Arle! Amazing if super weird!' Ringo will probably even make a song up for you on the spot!"
She watched them with a dulled look as they tried to mimic one of Ringo's songs in an uneven pitch. A heavy sigh slipped from her lips, but Suzuran City was better than another century of suffering in-between dimensions. Gazing at the people weaving through the shopping district, Arle took in a deep breath and lightly nodded.
"Well, it's better than nothing," she said, offering a wary smirk.
"Perfect-o! Let's get moving to Ringo's place! You'll love her apples!"
Arle walked after Ecolo as they floated towards the shopping district. Passing through, she was reminded of the quant curry shops from her old world when she glanced at bakeries and restaurants. She peered at the casually dressed people, listening to their laughter and gossip about neighbors and classmates. The sounds were music to her ears after an eternity of silence, and Arle sighed, faintly agitated. Arle even found herself returning a few polite grins from strangers.
It was not her world, but it was better than nothingness. It was eons better than being stranded with her morbid memories even if uncertainty crept along her back like an eerie spider climbing up a brick wall.
"Ando Family Fresh Produce!" Ecolo announced, dragging Arle out of her thoughts, and they stood in front of the announced produce shop. They snatched an apple off the wooden stand and offered it to Arle. "Try it! Best in this world!"
"Pretty sure I have to pay for this," Arle said, accepting it anyway and taking a bite. The crisp apple left her taste buds on fire with tanginess, a sensation she had not known in so long, and she withheld a delighted cry. She gnawed on the apple, taking in large bites and felt her stomach pang like someone suddenly slapped her midsection. She had even forgotten hunger in her endless dimension.
"Don't worry! Ringo will understand. She's a smart girl," Ecolo said, and they waved. "Anyway, I'm leaving."
Arle sputtered, pieces of apple spitting out from her lips. "H-hold on! You can't-!"
"Hey, hey, I brought you here," Ecolo said, floating above her, "because I think we can be friends, but I also wanna go back to exploring. I already heard your story once, so I don't wanna stick around again for it. That'd be kind of boring, and I have other places to be. After all, space-time voyagers are fickle."
"You can't just fly off when I don't even have shelter or food!" Arle snarled, her nose wrinkling, and she went to fire off a spell when an odd voice hit her.
"Oh, hey, Arle! I love your new clothes!"
Arle's eyes shot over to the produce shop's entrance and found a teenage girl beaming at her. She held a mathematics textbook and gasped, quickly setting it over Arle's head to block the light rain.
"Hey, you could get sick, you know? Your legs are exposed to the cold," Ringo said, waving her finger like a scolding mother. Spotting the apple, she groaned. "Arle, if you wanted some food, you could've just come inside. My dad's been having a problem with some pickpockets lately, so please don't take apples off the stand and make it look like you didn't pay."
"Well, no one was out here, so I-" Arle shook her head. "-nevermind. Hi, um, you're Ringo, right?"
Ringo's eyebrows raised. "Yeah, that's me. Are you feeling okay? Did the magic that sent you here make your memories kind of messed up?"
Arle glanced over her shoulder, scowling when she could not find Ecolo. She looked around for another moment only to sigh. It seemed Ecolo had scurried away when Ringo arrived.
"It's a long story," Arle said, shrugging with a tired smile, and she followed the befuddled Ringo inside the shop.
As Arle entered the store, Ecolo snickered from their position on the building's roof. They knew things were going to get a little bit messy with the new Arle's presence. Learning what Satan had done intrigued them. For the devious prince to really have such godly powers made Ecolo set their sight a bit higher than before.
Two immortal Arles in one place, huh? I'll come play around after I do some snooping. Maybe I'll even find that destroyed dimension and play around there myself, Ecolo thought, snickering to themself as a portal appeared before them. Play nice with her, Ringo. I think she's gonna cause a big stirrup when things really go kooky, and boy, that'll be fun to see!