The laws of the heart cannot be broken.
Itoh's hands worked frantically on the dashboard of the helicopter, trying to get it heated up and into the air as fast as he could. The ground beneath him was humming madly as the core of the island was beginning to fall apart, the very land itself threatening to implode. The island was pretty much hollow, so there was not a lot of time. He kept imagining a chasm opening up beneath him and the helicopter, a great gaping mouth that was willing to swallow him whole. The mimiga gulped hard, trying to push away his fears and focus on the matter at hand. The propellers of the helicopter were beginning to spin, quite sluggishly at first, but if he attempted a liftoff without the engine properly warmed up he would risk it stalling on him.
He and Momorin had followed the path that the two robots had used before them. It had been incredibly hard-going, and there had been several heart-stopping moments in which Itoh was certain that he would just die from fear. All he could do was buckle down and follow the woman in front of him, who always seemed to know what to do. The flaxen-haired robot had passed through the caverns quite recently herself, so most of the local monsters and creatures had been taken care of already, leaving only the sheer footing, spikes and toxic waste as the danger zone.
Frankly, he was glad to be back in territory that he was familiar with, territory that he knew. It seemed like only yesterday that he and the Doctor, the Sakamoto family and Professor Booster had landed on this strange island in the sky and had started their work. The helicopter was going to be a little more difficult to fly than before, because his hands were of a particularly different shape, but Itoh thought that he should be able to manage it well. He had been such a failure ever since the Doctor had taken the demon crown, he hoped he could redeem himself by offering Momorin a chance to escape. She deserved to live. He didn't want to die, either. There was still so many things left unfinished, unsaid.
"It's running!" He shouted over the tremors of the island and ran from the cockpit to the empty holding area, where each side of the helicopter was open to allow any escapees inside. Itoh heard the first thuds of large blocks of masonry hitting the ground, and looking up a bit he could see the clouds and the sky rising upwards, drifting away from their heads. The core must have been destroyed. The island was beginning to fall. It would not have time to break apart in midair, it was going to literally smash upon the ground!
Itoh raised his hands to his mouth and yelled as loudly as he could, over the clamorous din. "Momorin!" He cried, knowing the woman was close by but just not seeing her anymore. She had wandered off to look for Sue, and the other two robots if she could, but she had promised Itoh that she would stay close to the helicopter and far far away from the throne room. She wouldn't break her word. Not now. "Momorin! Momo! Where are you! We have to go, right now!" The mimiga cringed as the only reply he got was from above, a huge block of marble tumbling down and nearly striking the helicopter, cracking in two.
He heard voices coming from ahead. Not a singular one as he had had hoped, the voice of his friend, but many, arguing and scared as they continued to move forwards. Itoh grasped the frame of the helicopter and leant forward, trying to see where all the voices were coming from. Scurrying and crying, a large crowd of mimigas of varying shapes and sizes were running towards Itoh's helicopter, dodging rocks as they came. Judging from their direction, they must have escaped from the area of the throne room. Had the Doctor really been defeated?
One little mimiga, a mere child from the looks of it, could not run as fast as the others and was beginning to slow down, weeping and squeaking and panting in fear. An adult paused, turned around and ran for the child, intent on scooping the infant up and carrying it to safety. It was useless. As soon as the idea had worked its way into the adult's head, its moment of utter stillness was long enough for a chunk of heavy debris to fall from the sky like a hailstone, striking the adult hard in the head and fracturing its skull, killing it instantly. The little child froze, its eyes wide, its hands balled up against its chest. It screamed, loud and terrified, and then fell to its knees.
Itoh had been watching this so intently, with such horror and fascination that he barely noticed a mimiga with goggles rushing up to him, guiding the pack. When he spoke it was bold and direct, leading only because no-one else could. "We're coming aboard!" He ordered, not asking permission, just stating the obvious. His people would die if he didn't. "Move aside!"
The engineer did as he was told, even though the helicopter technically belonged to him. The mimigas began to file inside, taking up a good half of the loading area. They clustered together instinctively, like frightened rabbits. That child was still out there though, now huddling under a fallen stone pillar. It would protect it a little, but not for long. Itoh turned to the mimiga wearing goggles, waiting impatiently to be the very last one to board. "Have you seen a human woman around here, anywhere? Green hair, a lab coat, in her late thirties? I have to find her, because this helicopter isn't going anywhere unless she is on it!" He had added the last part on purpose, as an incentive for the other mimiga to actually think hard and not blow him off just because they were in a dire situation.
The mimiga accepted Itoh's hand in helping him hop aboard and made a light humming noise, thinking for a second. "Back where we came, as we were getting out of that building I thought I heard somebody faintly shouting. If somebody really is still out there, they definitely would have been crushed by now, no question about it. Your friend is probably dead. Sorry."
But that couldn't have been the case. Momorin was not the sort of woman who would die so suddenly, so stupidly. She was smarter than that! Itoh's brow furrowed as he looked out at the balcony around him and the dropping stones that came from above. They were not falling so rapidly now, so…
God help me. I'm going to die.
Before he knew it, the timid engineer was out of the safety zone and sprinting across the grass and debris-laden ground, an ice-cold feeling in his gut and a long frightened shriek in his throat. He could die at any moment, just as that other mimiga had died. A rock would hit his skull, smash it straight open like an eggshell and then splatter his brains all over the floor just like the yolk. He was committing suicide! He was letting the island kill him! He was-
A large shadow swept over him and he caught a glimpse of it in his peripheral vision, his body interpreting it and acting way before Itoh's mind had even figured out what it was. He skidded and hopped backwards with a small shout, a large chunk of stone hitting the ground only a foot or two away from his face. If Itoh hadn't noticed that quick, fleeting shadow that had been in existence for only a moment, he would have surely been dead, just a sad little smear on the ground.
Even though he knew he had dodged the rock by only a hair's breadth of intuition, it still felt like that rock had come crashing down upon him, pressuring his already rapidly beating heart. He just couldn't believe what he was doing, even as he picked himself up off the ground and darted around the fallen stone to wherever he believed his lost comrade was. Everything seemed to grey out, becoming an impulsive blur.
When Itoh had been a young human boy back at school, his thin wiry body had not won him much respect or a higher rung on the social ladder of life, but it had made him one of the fastest sprinters that the school had ever known. It was years later now, and Itoh's body was much older and of a different shape, but that forgotten speed had come back to him easily, giving him an even greater chance of survival. But it felt like he was no longer in control of his body, like it was moving about all on its own. Was this the way that great heroes felt and acted while they were performing their acts of bravery?
At some point he was on his knees, coaxing and reaching, his floppy ears raised slightly so that he could hear everything about him with greater clarity. Something moving entered his arms and he heard shouts coming from the direction of the helicopter, many of them all at once. What were they? Insults? Were they yelling at him the obvious, that he was going to die? Well, he had figured that out already, the very second that he had stepped away from the helicopter. They didn't have to state the obvious.
Tight little arms cinched around his middle, holding onto Itoh like he was a firm stone in the middle of a raging, uncertain ocean. Of course, the child! The engineer stood up and supported the little mimiga, a girl from the looks of it, with one arm and glanced back towards the helicopter and the people there who were shouting and calling out his name. Calling out his name? Nobody on the balcony knew his name, except for…
"Itoh! Please, for God's sake get out of that barrage!" She was a full head and shoulders above the rest. Momorin! The woman was standing beside the mimiga with goggles, her wise eyes now bright with fear. All the mimigas were shouting at him, but her voice was carrying over the others. She sounded afraid as well, afraid for him.
He immediately became aware of where he was, not by Momorin's face, he could have stared at that all day, but by a chunk of marble that fell at his side, breaking apart and sending a burst of shrapnel that grazed his arm and caused him pain. The child in his care had been saved from it, Itoh's body blocking the way. He yelped and started forwards again, heading towards the helicopter and the people within.
His whole body felt tingly and warm, sedated and at the same time electrified by the adrenaline flowing throughout his bloodstream. He was nearly crushed two more times on the way back, but some kind of god must have been watching over him, because he climbed the steps into the safe zone in a nearly hypnotized away and then fell to the floor, his legs giving way beneath him.
They gave him space to breathe. It looked like he had a lot of catching up to do. Momorin knelt beside him and helped to pry the mimiga child from his grip, the little one still shaking and scared. She expected her friend to be shaking in exactly the same manner, but he was remarkably still. "Are you alright, Itoh? What on Earth possessed you to go out there and rescue the child? You could have been killed!"
Itoh almost had a glassy look in his eyes. "I wasn't going to. I was searching for you, Momo." He answered distantly. "I thought the rocks were going to crush you to death. Tell me something, please. Did I really go out there while it was raining widow-makers? Really? Because I think somebody just told me that I did." He laughed nervously, trying to disbelieve.
"You did, and you saved somebody's life," she smiled, "even if it was not mine. You were very brave."
"I thought so." Itoh agreed, and then promptly passed out.
The blade of Curly's weapon was hovering only a centimeter away from Quote's throat. She was close to him, practically leaning on him for support, both her hands clasped around the hilt of the blade, held in a grip of steel. She wanted to wipe the tears from her face but her hands were far too busy at the moment, only a twitch away from cutting the cables that supplied electricity to the rest of his body. Trembling a little, she could feel the tip of the red crystal jutting from his chest, pressed slightly against her own breast. The crystal felt very warm, almost like it was on fire inside.
"You can't do it, can you?" Quote asked softly, condescendingly. He raised his gun and held it to her temple, Curly obligingly closed her eyes. She was trembling, and she didn't want to see the expression on his face when he killed her. She felt that it would be burned into her mind, from this life and into the next. Quote sighed and then touched her softly on the shoulder, sympathetically. This quieted down her shakes. "In the end, you can't fight the Three Laws."
Her head tilted up and she opened her eyes, looking at him intently, powerfully. She was smiling.
"You're wrong." She said.
The blade of her sword moved in a crescent of gleaming light. Her foot came up and she kicked him away, no longer focussing on his neck but on a different part of his body. Plastic cracked and circuitry was severed, Curly's body twisted and she finished her attack in a graceful crouch, on one knee with her sword pointed at the ground. Quote grunted with surprise and dropped the Vertigo, and also the hand that he had been carrying it with. The limb was severed at the wrist, as cleanly as if it had been done with a laser. Both objects clattered to the ground, the latter spurting out sparks of raw electricity.
Curly towered over him. The revelation pulsed in her body like a biological heart and it made her feel cool and still, like a tree, or an ancient stone. The robotic girl looked at him impassively as Quote cradled the ruined limb close to his body, bereft of his weapon and now receptive to her. He was still dangerous, but she wasn't afraid or anxious anymore. The truth was protecting her. He glared at her, eyes wide with hate. "You… cut…" He began, not quite believing it himself yet. He was used to delivering pain, not receiving it.
The vibrations were getting a lot worse. If they didn't evacuate soon they would be crushed under the weight of the temple. Curly spared a brief thought to Koron and the mimigas that she had been trapped with and hoped that they were already well on the way out of the danger zone. She couldn't do anything more for them now. "I just realised something about what you said, Date. You were right about one thing before, completely correct. You have taken over Quote. You've taken his name, his body, his memory and probably even some of his personality, but there's one thing you haven't taken, and you never will. His soul. All you can do is imprison it." She was starting to get angry again, so she paused for a second to calm herself down. "But the most important thing is that you've taken his body."
He was looking up at her murderously. He stood, then extended his left hand, the only one that he had left. A ball of red energy formed within it. It was weak compared to the power that the Vertigo had held, but at least it was something. It could still kill her, completely short out her electrical system. "Listen to yourself. You've broken." Quote reasoned deliriously. "You're talking nonsense. You will die, you useless hunk of scrap metal."
She caught his hand with her left one and raised the sword with her right, twisting his wrist back until there was no way he could damage her with the light. Curly heard his wrist joint splinter under her hand. He was weakening and she was getting stronger. She hoped that somewhere within him Quote was waging a war on his own, fighting on the inside while she worked on the outside. They had always worked best while working as a team, and they were gaining some ground now. The answer was apparent. Of course! It was so simple! Why hadn't she realised it before?
"Doctor." She whispered calmly to him, speaking her truth. "You're not a human being anymore. You're a robot. And I can kill robots just fine."
He understood. For a second he just stared at her, but then he pulled away and howled in anger and panic, turning his body and his precious heart away from her. Curly released him and grabbed her sword with both of her hands. The Laws were her life, the very basis of her existence. They rested in her mind like stone monoliths forged by the hands of the ancients, huge, reverent and powerful. To disobey them was death. But if a robot was intelligent enough to slip by them as they watched and calculated, then they would gain the powers to bend around their own programming with ease. If Curly was right, she would do it, if she was merely lying to herself she would drop dead at the foot of her former friend.
She had to take the chance. Everything rested on this one, meager little opportunity.
Forgive me, Quote!
Curly thrust with all her might, leaning to the right and then jabbing forward, stabbing Quote straight through the chest. The crystal was as hard as a rock, it was like punching through solid stone, but Curly had grown. She was stronger than plastic and rubber. Stronger than stone. Stronger than steel. The strength of her conviction offered her a power that she would never conjure up again, but for now it was enough. It was just enough for her to pull through. After all, she wasn't fighting to protect her life, she was fighting to protect and honor everyone who had been trodden under the Doctor's boots, everybody who had suffered. Curly was a kind robot, so she slew Quote with all the mercy she could muster.
She felt something crack underneath her hands. The girl feared that it had been the blade of her sword, the only weapon that she had left, but it came from below that, travelling up the metal edge as a tiny little tremor. The crystal. Quote's head was tilted back and staring at the ceiling in an expression of ecstasy mixed with horrified pain, his eyes wide and disbelieving. The pain hadn't come to him yet but he was expecting it, braced for all the agony in the world. Curly's head was resting against the crook of his neck and his shoulder, her hands deeply within the hollow of his wrecked ribcage. "Actually…" She whispered, speaking into his audio sensor. "You're not really a human being or a robot. You never were. You're a monster."
He made a gurgling sound in his throat and his hands dropped to his sides, several inches of Curly's sword poking out of his back. The crystal hadn't managed to rip through him so thoroughly in the beginning, yet her sword had done the job nicely. Small chunks of plastic fell to the ground, followed by the unusual spark or burst of electricity. Quote twitched once, weakly trying to purge the foreign object, then halfheartedly gave up.
Something warm and wet oozed down Curly's hands. She heard the noise of thick breaking glass, then suddenly Quote's legs gave out beneath him and he fell forward and down, heavily leaning against her for unconscious support. The robotic girl recoiled and drew the sword out of his body, meeting an ample amount of resistance. His body seemed to have molded around it firmly, holding it in place. The metal edge squealed and grated against the surface of the crystal as it was pulled out, generating sparks. The blade was dripping with a warm, red liquid, the same variety as the fluid on her hands. It looked a lot like blood.
The crystal is hollow, like a capsule. That's why it broke so easily. Inside was the Doctor's… well, his life-force. Now it's turned to liquid. This is the stuff that was poisoning Quote.
As for Quote, it looked like he had a severe case of the hiccups in reverse, trapped in a series of small, convulsing little exhalations, like he was trying to empty every oxygen particle from his respiratory unit, breathing out but not breathing in. Curly had seen this involuntary reaction in organic creatures before. He was trying to stimulate a system that wasn't there. Quote was trying to throw up.
She dropped the sword and held Quote by his shoulders, utilizing her inhuman strength to hold him up. The crystal was heavily cracked and leaking, but it wasn't completely shattered just yet. A foggy outline was appearing around his body, wisps of a vapor that smelt like rotten red flowers and sulfur. It came off his skin in strands that looked like greedy, reaching claws. The red stripes of synthetic flesh were corroding before her very eyes and being released in the air. Curly stepped away and let go of him, holding a hand to her mouth. The vapor was like acid, even her air filter seemed to have trouble with it. When she breathed it in it felt like it was eating away at her insides.
Quote fell heavily to his knees, his head rolling forwards and drooping, much like the gigantic mimiga that had guarded the entrance to the temple, but the strange foul-looking outline still remained where he had stood. It was fuzzy and blurred, but Curly could see what it really was. The spirit of the Doctor. It had been balled up deeply inside of Quote and comfortably had injected him with numerous poisons, but now it had been set free. The crystal was only partially damaged so he was still anchored there by only a few weak little threads. She wished that she hadn't dropped her sword. It would be useless against something as immaterial as air, but at least she would have been armed.
Shame… shame… Curly Brace…
You've murdered your only friend…
How will you cope?
"Shut up!" She cried and kicked Quote hard in the chest, shattering what was left of the red crystal. The male robot's body reacted to this like clockwork and his body threw itself backward and he grabbed at his head, letting out a wounded, saddened cry. A torrent of fresh red liquid gushed from his body and Curly could hear two voices within his singular scream, Quote and Date screaming in unison, a two-person choir of pain and agony. It hurt so badly that Curly could see that Quote was crying, but his tears were deep red, the Doctor escaping from every ready outlet.
They had been wound so closely together that the separation was something neither of them had ever been prepared for, it was like being born and being created all over again. For a moment both the doctor and the robot didn't want to leave one another, they clung together in bewildered fear, as the singular entity they had become was comfortable, familiar. It was almost a form of twisted, misdirected love. Would they be able to function as individuals ever again? Without so much as an answer, they were ripped apart and neither saw the other's face again.
A large chunk of the ceiling broke away and shattered itself upon the floor, letting through a bright, warming ray of light. Quote pitched forward and threw up the Doctor's blood in one great gasp, while the spirit above him was freed and sped upwards, letting out a harpy's screech, molding itself into the shape of a fleeing skeletal demon. Hopefully the Doctor would find his ultimate destination well and true. Hell. That was the home he really deserved.
Curly knelt on the floor before Quote and the recently voided puddle of blood, leaning forward to hold him steady. That fluid must be wreaking havoc on his internal systems, she was honestly surprised herself that he hadn't shorted out from it by now, drowned in the blood of his enemy. She hadn't gotten any sign from him that he was conscious just yet, all he was doing was panting and coughing like a child just born, trying to shake off the chains of bondage that the Doctor had tied so firmly around him. They were loose now, but still so incredibly heavy. He had to remove them on his own.
As for herself, Curly's processor felt so hot that she feared the plastic around it would melt, silencing her forever. She had reasoned her way around the Three Laws using her own brand of stubborn, subjective logic, but she had cut it very close, way too close for comfort. The Doctor had given up his humanity long before he had seduced Quote with the demon crown and the power of the red crystal, it had happened the very moment he had stopped caring about everybody else.
But that was not true in a literal sense, only in a figurative or poetic sense. He may have been housed in the body of a machine, but that did not make his soul an artificial one. If Curly had been turned into a mimiga herself by the witch Misery, she still would have envisioned her unchangeable self as a robot. So what had she really done? She had killed a human being.
No, Date was a monster. A monster. There was nothing wrong with eliminating that kind of hatred from the world. If she hadn't done it Quote would still be a prisoner inside his own body, the plaything of the next king of the Earth, and she would be dead. Even if this continuing dilemma inside her head drove her to madness or ultimately killed her, she knew that she had done the right thing. By God, she had.
She originally was only touching him to hold him up, so that he wouldn't fall over and onto his face. His equalizers appeared to be badly damaged, even if he managed to stand up onto his feet at all there would be no way for him to maintain his balance. He'd topple over like a chair with only two legs. Now Curly found that she had her arms around him, hugging him against her chest just as she had consoled her mimiga children whenever they were sad, hurt or afraid. Quote seemed to be displaying all three of these emotions at once, but still, her unconscious action had startled her badly.
It was a normal reaction to familiar stimuli, that was what Curly told herself as Quote tremulously tried to wrap his own arms around her waist, both his intact left hand and the useless sparking stump that had once been his right. It was oozing blood as well, but nowhere near as heavily as his chest. Curly could feel the damp wetness of the blood seeping into her clothing, but she ignored it. It was only blood, and it couldn't harm her at all. His damaged respirators gave a hitching quality to his already weakened voice. Despite this, Curly had never been happier to hear Quote speak.
"He's… gone…" The wounded robot rasped, tightening his hold on Curly just as little. He almost didn't believe it was happening. His mind was empty again, he didn't have to share it with anybody anymore. It had been defiled and contaminated to the point of disgust and minor self-hate, and yet it was his. Nobody else's. Quote made a small gasping noise that was actually an elated, disbelieving laugh. "He's really… gone…"
This was the right Quote, the one from her memories and the one who was her friend. He was speaking and still alive. Curly squealed happily and yanked him forward all of a sudden, cradling his head against the hollow of her neck. The male robot cried out weakly at this sort of rough treatment but was unable to resist her, so badly broken that he was. "Quote! You're really you!" She announced, smiling with honest pleasure for the first time in what felt like an age. "I can't believe it! We won!"
He didn't answer her. It was not impossible to talk, but it was still very painful and difficult, and he would only be mumbling into her chest. The increasing vibrations of the collapsing island would drown out his tired voice, anyway. As if telepathically reminded of this through Quote, Curly looked up towards the ceiling and noticed the large series of holes in the roof, becoming wider and wider as more chunks of masonry fell from their secure places. It seemed that through some kind of miracle they hadn't been hit yet, but soon enough they would be. They had to evacuate.
Carefully Curly pushed Quote away and searched his belt, looking for an item that she prayed he still had. The Doctor might have thrown it away earlier, and if he had then all hope for them had been lost. Quote looked down upon himself, at the gaping hole in his chest and his ripped clothing, his severed hand and everything else that was soaked with clotting blood. He knew what she was looking for, he had always kept it looped carefully close to his empty gun holster in case it was ever needed again. It always helped to be safe rather than sorry. Slowly Quote fumbled around for it himself, unraveling it and showing it to his friend at nearly a retarded pace.
She accepted the tow rope gratefully. Many times Quote had used this blessed length of wire and nylon to save her life. He had never once given up and left her for dead. Now it was her turn to do the same for him. She had watched Quote perform the same procedure many times before. The first loop of wire went underneath his body to properly support his legs, then she crossed them upwards against his front and wrapped the two ends against one another at the back of his neck, creating a sturdy-looking harness. Quote allowed this to be done to him without any complaint.
There was enough spare cable of the tow rope left to complete the coupling. Curly laced each respective end around Quote's shoulder blades and towards his front again, then, kneeling, she turned away from him. "Okay now," she murmured, "climb on my back and hold on tight, we're gonna escape this temple before it collapses on us. You don't have to worry, I'm strong enough to carry you."
The robotic girl waited for him but nothing happened. He was still kneeling dazed on the ground, staring at the puddle of blood and plastic fragments that were splattered on the floor. He knew that they had come from his body, but it didn't make much sense to him. Only minutes earlier he had been lost and buried in the dark. Now he was surrounded by bright dazzling light and he had a body again. He was trying to adjust to it as quickly as he could, but his reflexes had slowed to a pitiful crawl. The unwelcome flash of a memory came into his mind. "Sue…" Quote said meekly. "I killed Sue…"
Curly didn't know who Sue was, but by the sound of his voice she must have been somebody deeply important to him. He was beginning to grieve at the most inopportune time. "Not now, Quote." She scolded gently. "We can discuss this later. Hold onto me or I'll leave you behind."
That seemed to get through to him. She heard the male robot shift behind her and there was the unmistakable crunch and crackle of breaking plastic as he tried to move. Soon enough she felt his weight pressing against her back and her hands went backwards to search for the two ends of the tow rope, pulling them forwards and belting them against her stomach. Using the iron clasp she clamped the two ends of the cable together. Nothing short of a waterfall would be able to rip them apart.
His arms came up around her neck. Curly froze for a horrified second, all at once thinking that he was going to try and strangle her again, and this time from behind. But no, he was only trying to hold onto her more firmly, both his arms draped across her front like a shawl. It was a ludicrous thought, but she couldn't have helped thinking about it, if only for a moment. Curly stood and tested her body with its newfound weight, hoping that she was strong and stable enough to move. It appeared to be alright and Quote was not complaining. He never complained.
It was a lot easier to climb down from the sky staircase than it had been to climb up, even though she weighed twice as much now. For one thing, gravity always leant a helping hand and she was not being chased by an out-of-control demonic robot, so she had enough time to go slow and concentrate. Curly hoped that Quote had enough sense not to look down because it was a long way to the bottom. She measured out her journey by the leverages of her arms, counting each stair within her mind. Holding onto her tightly, Quote whispered; "Please don't drop me…"
She felt reassured, hearing that Quote's voice seemed to be getting a little stronger. "Don't worry, I won't. She promised.
The second floor was empty. All the cages were open and vacant, even the ones hung precariously from the ceiling. Red flower stalks had been ripped out of the cracks split within the floor and were tied firmly together to make several lengths of green rope, weak but resistant enough to hold the weight of a mimiga. They had used these stalks as ladders to reach the higher cages. Perhaps it had been Koron who had thought of the idea, but whoever it was they should be very proud of themselves. Curly hoped that they were very far away by now. As for the Doctor's abandoned corpse, it had been trampled under the feet of several dozen escapees. It served him right.
They couldn't stay and admire the truly ironical scene. The robotic girl got back onto the staircase again after a moment of amused silence and was climbing again, able to look down at the floor because it was closer and didn't make her feel dizzy. She could see the clouds rising from the open arches in the temple, floating upward in a speed that was way too fast to be natural. Actually, they weren't rising at all. The island was falling. With them on it.
How close were they to ground zero? Five minutes? Ten minutes? She didn't know. Curly skipped the last three stairs and just fell the rest of the way, relying on her balance and equalizers to offer her a safe landing. The stone floor cracked a little as she hit the ground, her knees threatening to buckle a little but behaving. For a moment she forgot about Quote and the sharp impact caused him to bump his chin against the back of her neck, eliciting a tiny "Ow!" from her passenger.
When Curly ran towards the exit of the temple with the end in her sights, she didn't quite feel Quote wriggle out of the loops of his harness until it was too late and he was slipping away from her. Not once did she believe that he had done this intentionally until she whirled around and saw him lying upon his side on the floor, looking up at her with knowing, almost apologetic eyes. He would go no further because he didn't want to. "I can't leave the temple," Quote said softly, working under a line of logic that Curly didn't understand, "only you can. You should run while you still have the chance."
"What are you talking about?" Curly demanded sternly, walking back towards him with an intent to re-harness him into the tow rope if it was necessary. She had already brought him this far, she wasn't about to give him up so easily. Yet as she got closer to him she noticed something, something that she should have seen much earlier but hadn't. It had completely missed her attention because she assumed that all was well. If it were possible, Curly would have paled visibly. Quote's chest was an empty hollow, scooped out of the machinery that had once been there. Vital machinery. "…Where is your regulator?" She asked softly, in gentle horror.
His regulator had been like a self-replenishing battery, constantly supplying a robot, any robot with a seemingly endless supply of electricity. It usually had to be replaced every fifty years or so, of course, but it was the perfect way to keep a robot alive. Quote had survived for ten years in hibernation thanks to the constant work of such a remarkable engine. And yet, as he lay on the floor of the temple as broken as a mauled toy but still so unmistakably alive, Curly could see that Quote's regulator was no longer there. It gave her the same shock as if she had seen a human being walking around with a heart that didn't beat. A zombie. He was the equivalent of the robotic undead.
"The crystal destroyed it when it entered me." He explained taxingly, dully listening to the rumble of the falling stones outside. "I lost my main power source. If I go too far away from the only one I have left, I will die. But I am dead anyway. I died yesterday, the moment Date took me in and broke my regulator." He had to stop talking for a second to allow himself a breather in the figurative sense, watching Curly walking over to him and helping him to sit up. He was right. Not a fragment of his old power source remained.
Then what on earth could his new power source be? Curly asked this of herself in a confused manner but was already vaguely aware of the answer, as gruesome as it was. She felt that she couldn't accept it, not after everything they had already been through. "The demon crown." She said gravely. "That's what you're talking about, isn't it Quote? You don't have to worry about that anymore. All the lords of the Crown are dead now, Date is gone, and it's powerless without a master."
"You don't understand…" Quote replied weakly, the effort taken to talk wearing him out. It was a huge struggle just to remain conscious and alert. "The line hasn't ended yet, there's still one left. It's me. Now that Date is gone… gone forever… it has been passed down to me."
Quote trembled, he could feel the crown close by but it still felt too far away from him, far enough to make him feel frail. His body couldn't contain the power anymore now that he had been torn open, and without Date's help he didn't know how to control or even understand it. It was like being powered through remote control, a signal hundreds and hundreds of miles away. "So you see…" He gasped, digging the fingers of his one remaining hand hard into the cobbled marble floor, "The crown has to be destroyed when the island falls, and when the crown is destroyed I will die with it. I'm going to stay here and make sure the job is done properly. Then my mission will finally be complete and I can rest."
Curly felt anger welling up inside her like a fresh wound. She was sitting beside Quote in a casual manner, like they had taken a seat for a few moments to have a quiet chat, but what she really wanted to do was to grab him by the neck and shake him violently until he started to make sense again. How could he think of his mission at a time like this? He was dying! She curled both of her hands tightly, trying to suppress the rage. "You promised me that you would function again once I broke the crystal. I did that, I did everything that you told me to. Why are you talking about death now when we worked so hard to live?"
He bowed his head a little, staring at his lap. Quote felt ashamed, he could feel the embarrassment and the guilt inside of him even if it was not perfectly evident without. "Yes, well…" He murmured into his chest, unable to look Curly in the eye. The male robot knew that she cared deeply for him, perhaps a little too deeply for it to be appropriate, but he also cared for her as well, just as badly. She was the only real link into his past. She had known him when he had been complete. "The fact is, when Date tried to be gentle with you in the beginning, it was because of me. He interpreted some of my thoughts in the wrong way, in a human way. But, like him… I've gained some of his traits unconsciously."
She narrowed her eyes a little. Curly wanted to be sympathetic with him, but anger was still the dominant emotion residing within her neural matrix. "So the things that he said about freedom, about human masters and about our orders, they weren't originally his thoughts, he was unconsciously leeching them from you? Is that the way you really think, Quote?" His head jerked up quickly and he looked at Curly with a hurt, remorseful expression, silently remarking to her that her words had hit him a very low blow. Curly sighed and shook her head. "Forget it, I know it isn't. I'm just trying not to lose it with you right now. What are you really talking about?"
The damaged robot shot an anxious glance towards the demon crown, still in its place upon the king's throne. He was technically supposed to be its master now, but he felt more like its servant. No. Slave was a far more fitting term. He wished that he could touch it again, if he did he was sure that he'd gain the courage and power to admit the truth. "You wouldn't fight him. You would never have hurt him if you knew you were going to kill me as well. I knew you had to work around that, bend the rules just like you bent the law that was keeping you from killing him. What else could I do?"
As a huge fragment of the ceiling fell from the roof and knocked down one of the large stone pillars, the buttresses keeping the temple erect, Quote blurted out the truth like a scolded child and awaited his punishment solemnly.
"I lied to you, Curly. With Date dead, soon I'm going to have to follow him. I'm sorry."
When Itoh came to again he was lying flat on his back with an emergency blanket rolled out beneath his body, tucked away in one of the corners of the helicopter's storage bay. His vision was drastically cut short by something tight around his face and his left arm was a stiff, throbbing stick by his side. He could barely move it at all and bending it was out of the question. He could hear the roaring choppers of the helicopter blades outside, cutting through the clouds with a cold determined efficiency. Itoh had to turn his head in order to see anything more than sky, because he was completely and totally blind in his left eye.
He could barely remember what had happened to him. He sat up to get a better look at his surroundings, then went red under his fur and squeaked when he realised that somebody had taken his lab jacket away from him, the only article of clothing that he had been wearing. He was sitting there completely naked. Embarrassed, Itoh tried to ignore the dizziness in his head and searched around for his clothing, finding it folded up neatly right next to his blanket. He picked it up eagerly with an intent to put it back on again.
Except that it was stained with blood.
Suddenly Itoh felt very faint. That blood couldn't have come from anything else except for himself. Indeed one of his arms was bound in a splint, and he guessed that the reason he couldn't see very well was because there were bandages around his face. He couldn't allow himself to faint again though, not when he had already done it once before. Deciding to ignore his nakedness, he figured it wasn't so bad because he was covered in fur, Itoh fought to stand up on his own two feet and walked over to the cockpit. He wanted to see who was flying the helicopter. That was meant to be his job.
Momorin had always been a remarkably fast learner. The rocket scientist had had a very brief flip through the owner's manual of the helicopter she was piloting, and then only a short time later she had managed to get the large hunk of metal up and into the air. She was doing quite well for the level of experience she had in these matters, namely zero, but she still had absolutely no idea about what half of the buttons and dials scattered all over the dashboard in front of her face did.
She turned her head towards the entrance of the cockpit as Itoh slipped inside. The engineer wasn't made for things like this, or what had just happened to him, so she could see that he was suffering from a mild case of the shakes. Better now than earlier. "There you are." She greeted fondly, smiling from the pilot's seat. "I thought that if you didn't wake up soon I'd have to go and wake you up myself. I really don't have any idea on what I'm doing. All I've accomplished is to keep this helicopter stable in the air, yet further and further the island drops away from us."
His answer was weak. "What's happened?"
The green-haired woman turned back to the control panel that was blinking anxiously. "The island is going to smash upon the ground. Whatever mysterious forces that were keeping it in the air must have been nullified. I pray it means that the Doctor has been defeated and the mimigas are free, but we still haven't heard from the two robots that left to stop him, or from Kazuma… or Sue. I'm fearing the worst now, Itoh. I think they might have been killed. As for us up here, all we've been doing is waiting. It's tedious and nerve wracking, but it must be done."
Momorin wasn't the sort of woman who would cry freely, or in the presence of others. She was hurting deeply inside, Itoh could plainly see that, but for now she was acting as calm and collected as a surgeon. Maybe she would feel the full brunt of the grief later on, when they were all safe. Itoh stepped from the threshold of the cockpit and to Momorin's side. "We've got a good number of mimigas in the holding bay, so I don't think the species will go completely extinct. It's a shame we can't save their habitat, but we have to cut our losses at this point and move on." He winced a little from the pain in his arm. "What the heck happened to me? I don't remember getting hurt…"
"You got hit by shrapnel while you were in the falling zone. It probably only felt like a sting to you back then, but the shards of rock fractured your arm in two places and cut up the side of your face quite badly. You were pouring blood when you climbed back up into the helicopter. Head wounds bleed a lot, but you looked a lot worse than you really were. You really don't remember that?" She asked, mildly surprised.
Itoh felt his stomach turn over uncomfortably. He remembered running from the rocks, the sting and the small flight of steps that seemed ten times longer than they really were, but he didn't remember the blood. He must have been too deep into his fear and his terror even to notice it. Perhaps it was just as well. "I'm not gonna die, am I?" He whispered meekly, touching his head bandages with his free hand.
Once more Momorin felt the great fondness for him that she had first experienced back in their campsite the night before. She herself was exhausted and more than halfway towards passing out, but was still moved by Itoh's unnecessary fear. "You're going to be fine." She reassured him as she checked their fuel meter for the umpteenth time in an hour. "We've obviously lost our medical doctor in the shenanigans of the past few weeks, but Koron and some of the other mimigas took a look at you. Koron bandaged you up herself."
He could see from where he was standing that the helicopter had enough fuel to last them for another six hours at the most, but then they'd have to land and recharge the energy crystals it was being powered on. Momorin had no reason to be so anxious about it. "Koron?" Itoh repeated dumbly, feeling stupid because all he was doing was asking questions.
The female scientist turned away from the dashboard again, but this time it was not towards him. She turned to the co-pilot's chair and tapped it gently, the chair swiveling around to reveal another mimiga sitting there, the flight manual resting in his lap. It was the same mimiga that had led the group to safety, their leader, the one who had been wearing protective goggles. Itoh hadn't even known he was there, he hadn't made a sound. "Can you take care of this for a little while, Jack? I won't be long."
Jack nodded and gave her a solid thumbs-up. "Will do. It's not a problem."
She got out of her chair and her co-pilot hopped into it, grasping at the steering wheel with his little hands. Itoh didn't know how much flight experience this mimiga had, but Momorin seemed to trust him, so that was probably good enough for him. If anything happened he'd be able to fly one-armed anyway, no sweat about it. The green haired woman removed her jacket and gave it to him, draping it over the confused mimiga's thin shoulders. "Here, put this on and follow me. You don't look right without a coat, Itoh."
Itoh accepted the garment only because he didn't know what else to do. It was far too big for him and he felt a little like a hunchback, but the fact that it came from Momorin made it seem all the more comfortable. He kept his splinted arm out of the sleeve, it would have been too painful to tackle with otherwise. Sighing, he followed his friend out of the cockpit and back into the holding bay, into the areas where the mimigas were sharing out their carefully preserved water and emergency rations with one another, half-starved and dehydrated that they were. Soon there would be nothing left, but if this wasn't an emergency, then nothing was.
Koron turned out to be the little girl that had screamed and cried underneath the fallen pillar while the rocks and crumbling foundation had fallen all around her. She was the one who had witnessed one of her own kind dying right before her eyes. She had seen many unnamable horrors before then, but Itoh wouldn't have known about them. The little girl was curled up at the edge of the helicopter's walls, incredibly close to where there was nothing but a sheer drop and the ground below them. She had a slice of bread in her hands, but it was only slightly nibbled upon. She was looking outside, upon the stone temple of the island.
The two scientists sat down beside her, as close to the edge as they dared. Ordinarily Itoh would have been half scared to death to be so close to such a ledge, but these were new times, new situations. This war that had been waged against the Doctor had changed everybody, nobody was exempt, and Itoh too. He had saved this child's life completely by mistake, because he was concerned for somebody else, but nobody would be able to help Koron now except for herself.
"Momma's still down there. We can't go back and get her, can we." She wasn't asking a question. She was only saying out loud what she knew to be true.
This was a child of whom Itoh knew nothing about, but it was still the child that he had saved. He felt responsible for her now, responsible for her life. After all, it was he who had forced her to live. Secretly he thought that maybe he had committed upon her the greater cruelty. All the same, he put his uninjured arm around the little mimiga girl, who crawled into his side gratefully. Whoever or whatever was down there, it was lost to them now. "I'm sorry, we can't." He replied solemnly. "It's too dangerous now."
Koron already knew this. She was far from agreeing with it, but she was tired and was forced to accept it. "I know." She said softly, nodding once.
That was all that could be done. As the helicopter fought ruthlessly to stay safely within the air, carrying its precious load, the three people sitting upon the edge looked down, at the temple housing the secret that had ruined all of their lives.
Quote could have predicted her reaction with ease, indeed he had been counting on it, that was why he was afraid of her. He felt that he knew Curly well enough to dread this moment. She jumped him, grabbing him by the shoulders and shoving him hard into the ground. The back of his head struck the floor painfully enough for him to wince, but he did not fight back. His fighting days were over for him now, he didn't even have a proper gun arm in which to shoot with. Curly had the right to be mad and Quote knew that he deserved this pain. He had turned out to be such a convincing liar, maybe he and the Doctor had not been so different after all.
Curly was leaning over him with her hands clenched into the few remaining tatters of his black shirt. She looked furious, and yet on the verge of bursting into tears. He could hear her growling just a little, like an angry animal. "How could you!" She cried, shoving him hard again. "How could you lie to me like that! We went through so much and I trusted you, damn it! Tell me why!"
She wanted explanations and she wanted them now. She was well aware that Quote was seriously damaged but it didn't seem to matter to her anymore, she'd wring the answers out of his throat if she had to. Her creator had always remarked to her that she had a noticeably short fuse to go along with her stubborn nature, but that had always been one of the charms of her personality. It made her unique. A small part of her mind wished to trade it for something else, for patience or for a greater sense of empathy, but that would not be possible. She was who she was for a reason, an opposing force to contrast against the personality of her counterpart, Quote. Her partner.
He wanted to wait out her fit of rage until she was calm again, yet he didn't have enough time for that, or for the island either. Quote looked up at her calmly, thinking that Curly looked more beautiful when she was happy. He wanted to see her happy again. Carefully he raised his hand and placed it on one of her wrists, trying to make her let go of his clothing. She was going to rip it if she wasn't careful. "I did it because it was the only way. If I had told the truth Date would have killed you and you wouldn't have fought back. You can hate me for it as much as you want to, but I did it because I wanted you to survive."
Bowing her head a little so that he couldn't see her expression of anger turn to hurt, Curly still wanted to knock a fistful of sense into his empty head. He really didn't understand. If he had his old memories back he would, but he didn't. Quote was trying to make blind gestures under a veil of ignorance. "There's one thing I hate about you, Quote." She admitted in a low, neutral voice. "You can't think from any other point of view but your own, so you think that your point of view is the only one that really exists or matters. You're so aggravatingly selfish."
This actually surprised him. "I'm not-" He began.
"Shut up!" Curly yelled, and this time she was actually beginning to cry. "I would have given my life to save yours. I've done that once before, you remember? It's because you're special to me, because I care about you. The last thing I want you to give me is your life, I'd sooner die myself than put up with something like that. You might think that you're worthless just because you don't remember any of your past, but I remember your past. I remember just how great of a robot you really used to be. You were a wonderful person, a leader, and I don't want you to die."
"I'm not that person anymore." Quote answered softly, looking away from her, choosing to study a patch of ceiling above their heads that was laced with stressful cracks. No matter what he did, he always ended up putting Curly in danger. From the labyrinth, the waterway, and now here. He thought that it would end finally after his body was gone and his mind was silenced forever, but he hadn't stopped to think about how this would affect Curly mentally and emotionally. He knew very personally how horrible those kind of hurts could be. He was such a fool. "I don't want you to die either. You deserve to live. I deserve… I mean…" How could he say this without shocking her? "I want to die."
It was just as he predicted. Curly froze with shock and let go of him, the other robot thumping heavily to the floor. She hadn't meant to drop him, she was just too surprised. The words that he had spoken to her just didn't compute with her processor, it clashed violently with the Third Law. A robot must survive, must always work to stay alive. Wishing for death was completely against the nature of a robot. Even in this dire situation Quote was still managing to surprise her. "You want to die?" She murmured quietly. "Why?"
It wasn't because of Curly. Quote at least wanted her to know that. The reason seemed so simple to him but he couldn't quite put it into words. There were no words for how he felt. When he had been bodiless and buried beneath the evil of the Doctor, words and physical objects ceased to have meaning. All that had been left were feelings, emotions. How could he convey that sense of deep sadness and guilt to his friend without hurting her even more?
Using a great deal of his energy Quote sat up, draping his hand and his ruined arm in his lap. He looked at them despondently. "There were things that he did to me that I never want to remember again. It was like torture but it was very different, the kind that hurts you and forces you to be drawn closer to somebody that you hate, until you lose track of where you end and the other begins. I don't want to remember it, but my mind has been altered so that I have to remember it. I… uh, I don't know how to say this, but…" He looked up at her and Curly could read the utter misery emanating from beyond. "Curly… I just can't live with the memories that he gave me."
Suddenly she understood what he was talking about. The girl opened her mouth a little to speak but then closed it again, not sure on what she should say. Quote was too innocent to understand what had happened to him, his database wasn't extensive enough to offer a proper explanation, but Curly was both a robot of the female persuasion and was filled with her recovered information to boot. The Doctor hadn't just tortured him, he had…
Curly wished that the Doctor was still alive, just so she could kill him again.
She guessed that it all boiled down to one simple line of logical information. They were overcomplicating things by bringing in all sorts of outside reasoning. The fact of the matter was this; Quote couldn't leave the temple. He had become a golem of the demon crown, powered by magic rather than electricity, so when the crown was smashed, when the temple fell, when the whole island fell, he would die with it. Even if Curly dragged Quote kicking and screaming out of the temple while it still stood erect his consciousness would starve to death for lack of magical energy and fade away. No matter what, he was bound to this place for the rest of his life. An idea struck her. The crown! They could just bring the crown with them as they escaped. As long as Quote kept the crown close to his body he wouldn't die.
No, that would be Third Law reasoning clashing against the Second Law. They had been ordered to destroy the crown. On that order they could not balk, it had to be done sooner or later. He was intent on finishing it off as soon as possible, not because of the laws, but because of his simple sense of responsibility. She had a responsibility as well. Curly would not leave Quote. She would never leave Quote. They had already been forced to live apart for ten years of darkness, she was damned if she was going to face eternity alone. After all, they had been born together and had awoken holding each other's hand, she had wished that they could die together as well in the same fashion, scarcely an hour ago.
It looked like she was going to be granted of her wish.
"I'm going to stay with you." She said, leaning forward and taking Quote's hand, squeezing it lightly just as she had, long, long ago.
"Then you will die with me." He replied, watching her move with guarded distress and feeling it when she squeezed his hand. It seemed like there was some kind of strange significance to this action but he could not remember what. His mind was divided into two deep troubling thoughts. He hated the idea that Curly was going to sacrifice herself for no good reason when she could easily go back into the world and live a happy life, but he was also grateful that she would stay with him until it was all over. He didn't want to die alone.
"If that's what it takes." Curly whispered, and nothing could shake her mind. Without thinking she leant forward and untied the thick red scarf around Quote's neck, carefully pulling it free. This was the small article of clothing that had stopped her from breaking his neck earlier in the day. It smelt of water and cool mildewy cave air, laser cylinder acid and dust. It was their entire life, wrapped up in one little insignificant scent. She wrapped it around her own neck and flipped the end over her shoulder. "But I'm taking this."
"Hey…" Quote objected slowly. "That belongs to me…"
She smiled at him. "A long time ago you stole my hat because you lost yours in a training session. What? Haven't you ever wondered why your hat had 'Curly Brace' written on it?" Curly looked him up and down. "You've lost that hat as well. You're so forgetful. Honestly."
He sighed, his respirator groaning softly from the motion. He was beginning to lose feeling in certain parts of his body. That was alright, he didn't need them anymore. "Keep it then. You know, I really wish I could remember those days. I wish I knew what I was missing." Quote looked down at her hand clasped tightly within his. They didn't need an iron bond to keep themselves together. Bashfully he added; "Thank you for staying with me, at the end of all things. I was really afraid."
"It's because I love you, Quote." Curly said, and then spoke no more.
But that was enough. It was more than enough. Quote scooted over to her and lay down, resting his head in her lap like he was getting ready to go to sleep.
"I love you too, Curly." He answered, closing his eyes.
Together the two robots waited for the end to come.
They were still holding hands when that end came.
In the activation chamber there had been two long metal tables, two towers of extensively sophisticated machinery behind it, connected to two high-powered specialized computers. Two robots were lying on the two tables, close enough together to be holding hands. Their positronic brains had been carefully tailored and installed, their bodies clothed and prepared. All that needed to be done was to download the computer's information through the towers and into their brains. Smiling kindly from his control panel, the dark-haired roboticist activated the installation program.
The two robots flinched as they were injected with the miracle of life. Together they opened their eyes gradually and looked at each other in a blank, quietly interested fashion that was usually reserved for small human infants. The girl robot squeezed the boy robot's hand. He interpreted the first physical stimuli he ever received and answered by squeezing back.
"Hel-lo," the girl robot said, "my name is Curly Brace. What's yours?"
"Hel-lo," the boy robot echoed faithfully, "my name is Quote Marks. What's yours?"
Jin Sakamoto was pleased. A success.
It looked like the beginning of a beautiful new friendship.
The temple collapsed in a thunderous roar that could be clearly heard even from the sky. The pillars buckled under the tremendous weight and the degrading vibrations below it, snapping like a bundle of twigs under extreme duress. Like a house of cards falling over the inner platforms collapsed on themselves and the walls around it folded into the center, containing the area of the destruction. It was not an amazing memorable explosion, it was an exhausted implosion, the temple dying just like an old flower withering away. Great clouds of dust rose from the debris, and far below the helicopter and the adventurers within, it became a mausoleum, a tomb for those trapped within. Sue Sakamoto. Misery. The Doctor. Curly Brace. Quote Marks.
They were all gone.
Green hair and long mimiga ears flapped in the high winds as Momorin, Itoh and Koron leant out of the helicopter in order to watch the spectacle, a sight that they would never see again in their entire lives. Truthfully they knew that they should be whooping and cheering with glee as that evil place was destroyed for ever and ever, but clinging around them like a thick shroud was an immense feeling of sadness. To silence that evil for good it had taken a lot of innocent lives, both organic and artificial. Lives that should have been led to their fullest and happiest.
Momorin raised a hand to her face and found with utter surprise that she was weeping. Deep down, in her heart of hearts she knew that one of those lives had been Sue. Her baby was gone forever.
Before she knew it Itoh had his arms around her waist and he was hugging her tightly, because of grief, relief and a deep sense that he didn't want to fall off the helicopter. It was an awkward hug, his arm was still splinted and stiff, but the affection was still there. Koron was between them, she was hugging her leg, crying audibly for her momma that was long gone. They were weak and tired cries, the insistent bleating of a little lost lamb.
"It's alright, Momo, Koron, it'll all be alright. I promise." Itoh said in a steady tone, although he was also weeping himself. He didn't really know what for, but he also had the vague idea that something innately precious to all of them had been lost. He was only a small fluffy little mimiga now, but he wanted to have the power to protect somebody, them, if possible. It was sad that it took such a terrible disaster for him to realise this, but he was grateful that it was true. He wouldn't let anything bad happen to Momorin or Koron ever again. In that sense he had finally found his bravery. It had been waiting inside of him all along.
"Hey! Get your hands off my mother!"
A rival air current carried the massive weight of the sky dragon parallel against the flying helicopter. It was bright green and ecstatic, thrilled that it was being allowed to play in the open air for the first time in its life. Kazuma Sakamoto was riding between its shoulder blades and in front of its rapidly beating wings, his pristine white lab jacket fluttering in the breeze. His arms were around the dragon's neck, trying to guide it as best as he could. Clinging firmly to the dragon's rump was Professor Booster, holding on so tightly that his knuckles were bone-white and his eyes were squeezed shut. Itoh stared at the new additions to their entourage dumbly.
Smiling, Momorin wiped the tears away from her face. She hadn't cried in public since Jin had died. How uncharacteristic of her. "It's okay, Kazuma. It's only Itoh. Are you two alright? Have you been eating well?"
It had gotten to the point that Kazuma couldn't even remember what he had been eating, let alone if it had been frequent or not. He hadn't starved to death, so that was a plus. Squinting hard at the mimiga beside his mother, the young biologist was about to draw his sky dragon closer towards the helicopter for a better look, but noticed that Jack was waving his arms wildly at him from the cockpit, telling him not to even dare. Fine. "Itoh? He's gone all… fluffy. Anyway, the island is going to completely fall in the next ten minutes. We don't want to be around when that happens. Apparently there's civilization to the north, we can make our way home from there."
"I don't wanna go…" Koron sobbed. "I wanna find Momma…"
Itoh let go of Momorin and picked up Koron. For now all his fears were gone. No matter how terrified he got, it paled in the fear that Koron would be feeling. He would never be able to truly empathize with her, but he hoped he was close to understanding how she felt. Because he loved this child. He loved her with all of his heart. "There's nothing left for us here." He said.
Swearing from the cockpit, Jack eventually found the right controls and altered the helicopter's direction to the north, putting his foot on the gas. Kazuma followed them on Puff. An unfamiliar country lay ahead of them.
These were new times. Frightening times. Their hardships were over.
Perhaps they had only just begun.