There was a blinding light, and then a shadow upon a throne, glistening gold in obsidian armour, and each time he dreamt such a dream, he would awake with a start, his eyes wide, sweat upon his brow. For the past week, his dreams had been muddled, and on such occasions, he thought that maybe he had somehow connected with a different king, a foreign king.
In the chill morning, his school bag between his feet, one hand above his head, fingers digging into the unyielding plastic of the handle above him, Astuta Juuru looked out lazily at the familiar scenery passing by, the quiet waters of the river running alongside the rail lines, separating him from the towering buildings on the other side of the bridge, the curve of the Chūō–Sōbu Line ever down from distant Chiba towards Mitaka. Again, he thought of that blinding light, the shadow on the throne.
Such dreams were not unusual for him. Since before he had inherited her role as a Kiramager, since before even he had made his connexion with Oradin, he had often dreamt of unfamiliar places with their unfamiliar inhabitants; as a child, he recalled, he once dreamt of a room with jagged tiles and red curtains, an unfamiliar man clicking his fingers constantly, a blonde woman whispering to him secrets. On other occasions, he had dreamt of a great hall, a terrible presence at the far end of a great table, blind in one eye, a raven upon each of his shoulders, the sound of clattering mugs and raised voices as numerous warriors called out in praise of their one-eyed benefactor.
There was no point in trying to interpret dreams, Shiguru had once told him. Not the dreams that you had with your eyes closed, at least. The only dreams that matter, the older boy had said with a smile, were the ones you honed your skills in pursuit of whilst you were awake.
Looking out at the reflection of the tall buildings in the water, Juuru wanted to believe that, yet he also could not help but think that there was a place for the kind of dreams that filled your mind when you slept.
In the reflection, he caught sight of a familiar face wearing an unfamiliar expression, Sena's usual smile now absent as she stood behind him. His heart skipped a beat, sudden panic motivating him as he turned abruptly, almost stumbling over the bag between his legs, and found himself confronted by the likeness of Hayami Sena—or, at the very least, a Hayami Sena.
Weakly, she tried to force a smile to her lips, and Juuru found his eyes drawn to the dull number five she wore upon the lapel of her dark jacket, her new uniform so very much like that of her mistress, Yodonna.
"Don't be startled," the other Sena said, her voice low and anxious, "I've not come here to fight you."
Since the division of Sena's self, she had become unusually brash, unusually excitable. Although betrayed by the part of her that had once represented her anxiety, her doubt, she had not seemed concerned at the time and effort it had taken to fashion anew her connexion with her partner, the mashin Mach, whose powers had all but been consumed by that other's theft of her Kiramai Changer.
"What do you want?" he demanded, his voice rife with suspicion.
He struggled to maintain a firm expression, to be stern as he imagined Shiguru or Tametomo might be in such a situation, but he was incapable of such coldness, especially to someone who still was, at heart, one of his friends.
"Ah, don't tell me, you've come to reunite with Sena!"
She shook her head sadly.
"No, that's not it."
Juuru's expression faltered. She was Sena though, he thought, his gaze meeting hers. Even though she was just a part of Sena, even though she had set herself apart of them, she was still Sena, she was still his friend.
He thought once more of the strange dreams, the king in dark armour upon the throne; he thought of his relationship with the men around him who had such demands placed upon them, of Oradin, of Garza even, and he resolved to not follow such an example, to be someone who, when called upon to lead, might still be within reach of others, might still be sensitive to their hopes and dreams.
"I have something to ask of you," the other Sena said softly, breaking eye contact, looking away from him.
He waited, that familiar anxiety stirring within him, the anticipation he felt in those dreams of brilliant light, of that other king on his foreign throne.
"When the time comes, I want you to help my mistress," she said softly.
Obvious surprise flooded his face.
She turned and looked at him, and nodded, a new sort of firmness clear upon her face.
"If she continues on as she is, I'm worried she'll place herself in such danger than there will be no turning back."
"Yodonna's our enemy, though," he said in confusion.
Upon her face, he saw her expression falter once more, the sense of sadness return as she turned hastily away again, and in that moment, he made up his mind. He nodded to himself, tightening his fist.
"But if she's in danger, I'll do what I can to help, friend or foe, so just leave it to me."
Tears welled in Sena's eyes, and she did not turn to look back at him.
"Thank you, Juuru," she said, ever so softly. "I knew that of all people, I would be able to turn to you."
The red room, emptiness, nothingness, and then abruptly, she staggered forward, the palm of her gloved hand pushed up against her right eye, her hand grasping the riding crop with uncommon firmness. Her left eye focused, and she saw the body on the floor before her, the creature she had followed to this warehouse, the one she had traced at last after weeks of searching.
She gasped, stumbling back, her hand falling away as she realised that the creature was dead, the breastplate of its armour blistered and burnt away, cold yellow eyes within its monstrous face now lifeless, flesh like hardened ivory now cold. Its right hand was broken, she noted, the sword it had held laying scattered and abandoned on the ground.
What had happened, she asked herself, suddenly full of panic. She recalled tracing the creature, this being responsible for the fashioning of that yeti monster, the one that she had seen in the blurry photos Sudo Mei had uploaded to the internet, and she remembered revealing her intentions to it, striking out with her crop—and then nothing, her memory of events shot through with the sudden sensation of loss, of dissociation, of another force filling her head and guiding her hand.
Something stirred in her heart, some feeling she thought she had forgotten. It wasn't remorse she felt, for she had intended to kill the dragon-creature from the moment she had first caught a glimpse of it, had first understood that it was a competitor for the dark energy which the Emperor so needed to manifest on Earth, but rather it was a sense of betrayal, a feeling of uncleanliness, as if a force had entered her body and drove her on in a berserker rage to exact violence upon the other when such heavy-handedness had never been needed before.
She swallowed hard, her lips twitching in displeasure. From the shadows, she heard the sound of feet, two new enemies approaching, she thought, the clatter of heels, and the stomp of boots. She looked up, eyes wide, to find herself confronted with a tall, older woman, a sneer upon her lips, a braid of thick, pink hair dangling over her right shoulder. At her side was a younger woman in ridiculously heavy looking boots, an insipid grin upon her lips, a pair of goggles pushing back a mass of chestnut coloured hair.
The first woman brought her hands together in a slow clap, sighing heavily, the sneer never once leaving her face.
"Well," she remarked, her voice rich and playful, "looks like someone needs a lesson on getting out from under the thumb."