Uneven Odds

Le'letha

Summary: They set out to prevent Armageddon; they have failed. Ancient secrets emerge…the balance of the multiverse tips…desperate times call for judicious risktaking.

Warnings: Everyone is going to die and the world is going to end. If you can't handle that, I'm very sorry for disturbing you. Le'letha takes no responsibility for people who keep on anyway. You've been warned (that's why it's called a warning). Technically Alternate Universe, because I know this never happened in the canon YYH universe; currently rated T, but RMR—rating may rise. Readers will be informed if/when the rating goes up. My stories keep secrets, so I don't know for sure.

Author's Note: The usual rules apply: anonymous readers & reviewers (anonymice?) are welcome; in the words of the window washer, all will be made clear; feel free to constructively criticize; flame me and I'll get you with a fire hose. I will, too.

Disclaimer: Do I own Yu Yu Hakusho? Because I even like stupid cool quotes, I'll take that as a stupid question…

Legal Notice: No resemblance herewith is intended between any fictitious, original characters and persons living, dead, or wandering the night in ghostly torment, unless, of course, I say so, or if I find the allusion funny. This disclaimer extends to all characters, includes random Star Trek references, and will not be repeated on a regular basis.

ON WITH THE SHOW!

Overture: In the Next Eleven Seconds

It was the dawn of another day, but he couldn't tell from where he was. Not that it mattered, anyway. Dawn, dusk, mid-noon; all lit by the glow of a thousand detonated flashpoints, all shadowed by the constant haze of dust, smog, and much worse that seeded--nay, infested--the skies and streets of the almost unrecognizable city, in a once proud nation, once part of a once living world. No longer. This was where the current disaster--it was always the current disaster--had begun. And within a few days, even perhaps today, this was where it would end. If the flashpoints, already detonated but still dangerous, didn't kill whatever was left, the inevitable strike forces would, spurred on by the constant climate of mindless fear of that ever-terrifying other, and if they didn't, something else would. It no longer mattered how. It was only a matter of when.

The dust choked him as he breathed, a constant burn in his lungs, and he as he stepped toward the window in the vain hope of a cool breeze, a much crueler current blew in, a cloud of radioactive particles that made his skin sting all over, radiation unaffected by the rags that had once been decent, even somewhat nice, clothes. The sullen burn became a sudden fire as he inhaled involuntarily, and he struggled to hide the bout of painful coughs that racked his body.

He was reasonably sure that no one else was around to see his attack of weakness, but these days, he was never sure of anything. One day he'd been sure that the sun would rise tomorrow; he hadn't seen the sun in days. He thought it had been days, but the fluctuation of light and darkness was interrupted by the constant glow of the most radioactive spots. Ground zeroes, all of them.

His lair happened to be right in the center of the first one, the one that had been designed to end it all with one fell swoop. The second wave had been only to cut off any escape routes that might have been prepared or in the process of being opened, not that the passage would lead any fortunate enough to have time and power to complete such a process to a place any better. It would be a textbook case of 'out of the frying pan, into the fire', rephrased perhaps as 'out of the hellhole, straight into Hell'.

At least, he thought it had been. He certainly remembered the sound of the beautiful bay window, looking out over the ocean, smashing into shards. Beyond that, nothing. Before that, little.

The coughs made him inhale still more dust, fueling a vicious circle that led to him gasping fruitlessly for breath. Stumbling away from the shattered window, the remaining formerly crystal clear glass now shattered and sharp, he picked his way through the rubble and into a relatively safe corner, shielded from view on three sides by fallen debris. Curling his knees up to his chest, he expelled one last cloud of black dust and scrubbed at his mouth with one hand, none too clean, in disgust. He struggled to keep his hair, grown shaggily long, out of his mouth—it was just at that length that invited chewing on the ends, voluntarily or otherwise. He couldn't remember the last time things had slowed down enough to have it cut, and now it was matted into filthy black dreadlocks.

The fallen metal felt unusually sharp against his back, so he rose from the chance-made shelter and reached for the weapon he usually carried with him, a beam of metal, relatively thin and the length of his forearm, that he had spent a long period of time obsessively sharpening. The only really sharp edge was the point. The primitive blade was better for hitting things hard with than drawing blood. Evidently, he hadn't paid enough attention to how it was done or he didn't have the right tools. Once (he thought) he hadn't needed a physical weapon and could rely on his power to defend himself from whatever predators, two-legged, four-legged, or with any imaginable number of legs, dared to threaten him.

That power hadn't saved him. It hadn't saved anyone for very long. Oh, he'd managed to buy a few people a few more days, maybe a couple of weeks or as long as a month, but he didn't think it had been to much avail.

Who had they been? Were any of them still alive? Was anyone still alive?

He got his answer almost immediately as he peeked cautiously around the heavy door, now uselessly ajar, and saw a scruffy demon, crouched on all fours, scuffling at the double doors down the hall, which stood cracked apart by about a hand-span, guarding a ten-story drop. Why the creature wanted to go in there, he didn't know at first glance, but as it moved aside to get a better angle on its objective, he saw the better part of a hand and arm, bloated and shredded by death. The sickly sweet odor of rot emanated from it in waves. The demon resumed its attack on the arm, as if trying to drag it out and onto the hallway floor. Whether there was a body attached, he wasn't about to speculate.

Keeping a wary eye on the creature, he headed the other way, where his faulty memory told him there were stairs.

The stairs were there. As a general term, this was accurate; however, the stairs were not all there. Some were outright gone, collapsed, or broken, or scavenged. He was not surprised. His own weapon had been, he recalled dimly, a stair rail at one point in its life.

Traversing the stairs was an adventure all its own, suffused with a constant feeling of balancing on a knife's edge, in the wind, on top of a ten-story building, assuming that said knife was made out of aluminum foil. He did not find this at all odd. It made perfect sense to the current situation.

The ground floor and ground were no better, although they did have the merit of not shaking incessantly, and one's foot almost never punched a hole in an apparently solid surface. It was, however, much more heavily populated.

By an ingenious combination of stealth, observation, intimidation, and not looking edible, he avoided a pack of scrounging survivors, rooting through gutters and smashing anything that resembled a shelter in their search for food and water.

He noticed, with biting irony, that the pack was made up of an eclectic mixture of humans and demons, both races equally grubby and starving, their feet, hands, and bodies caked with the filth of the streets. They reeked almost as strongly as the earth itself, suffused with the awful odors of blood, rotting flesh, decaying trash, unwashed masses, and bodily wastes.

"So this is the price of species unity," he muttered to himself. "We have to be reduced to animals before we find a common bond."

The sound of his own voice startled him. He vaguely remembered the last time he'd spoken, to warn off an intruder whose face he'd never seen. It had fled his lair too quickly for him to get a fix on. Since then, who had there been to talk to, and what had there been to say?

It also reminded him how dry his throat was. His words had emerged as a horrid rasp barely intelligible even to him. But water was dear in this shattered world of broken buildings and the dead who hadn't stopped breathing yet; clean water, far more valuable than gold. Most people lived off chance-caught rain; polluted though it was, it was far better than the vile fluid that seeped from the sewers after they overflowed, which they did from time to time.

Taking the opposite direction, again, from the desperate pack, he journeyed further away from the city in search of water. It was always risky, leaving; the balance of power between one gang and another could change in a heartbeat, and having left a place for fifteen minutes almost guaranteed a change. In the space of a few minutes, wars almost as ferocious as the one that had ruined them all could and did kill dozens, both fighters and bystanders, as aimless rage and mutual desperation turned once civilized people of either race into mindless killers.

Street wars were bad, really bad. Anyone, anything was fair game, and they were started over the most meaningless of provocations. The last time he'd emerged from his lair on the tenth floor, he'd seen a pebble, kicked up by a stray foot, strike a man on the ear. Roaring in excessive rage, he'd leapt to his feet and tried to snap the neck of the woman, no more than a girl, who'd knocked it by accident. Some things, like protecting females, were at the core of both human and demon souls, and the entire street and the inhabitants of several surrounding buildings had been pulled in, wielding fists, rocks, rubble, or the rare honed weapon in futile rage. Despite the alleged protective instinct, women and children alike were struck down, simply because they were in the person's way or a potential threat.

Leaving his lair was an open invitation for someone to come in and steal it, but he rather thought that wouldn't happen. During the days after the bomb wave, he'd established something of a reputation for himself. He was allied with no gang, demonic or human; he offered them no threat; and they left him alone. A peculiar standoff, for one who'd once been at the very head of the teen gangs of the city, but one, he felt, appropriate. He'd grown up a lot since then.

There was no true boundary for the city limits of one of the former greatest cities in the world. He counted himself out of the city proper only when the buildings were reduced to less than three stories on the average. There were, of course, few plants left; what few he could see were dying as they stood. Many did not, lying helter-skelter upon the filthy ground. The parks of the world were dead.

In the suburbs of the city, he listened carefully for any sign of life. He closed his ears to the cry of an unfed child in the distance. It seemed that he had heard that cry a thousand times. There was nothing he, or anyone, could do.

Besides the infant, he heard nothing. It was still peculiar to hear total silence, without the hum of power and activity that he'd taken for granted not too long ago. Although his memories of specific events before the bombs had fallen were hazy, he remembered impressions well. The smell of a fire hotter than anything, the sensation of water engulfing him, the sound of a scream; all these he remembered well, although they had no place in his patchwork mind.

The suburbs were as dry as a bone, and reflexively he looked at the sky in hope of rain, foiled by the constant cover of dust and ash. Looking away in disgust and regret, he shimmied under the remains of an office building, propped at a ridiculous angle by the wreckage that had accumulated under it and the surrounding buildings, not quite as tall but in slightly better structural repair, not that they were by any means intact.

It was the very smell, the very feel of the air that led him to it. The air, so stuffy and compressed beneath the destroyed concrete and metal, even tasted different in the presence of water. With his body blocking the light from the narrow gap, he could not see where it was coming from, but he could follow his instincts, and they led him deeper into the cavern.

Groping in the darkness, his fingers found a pool of liquid. They sank in up to the second knuckle, and he let out a harsh bark of triumph, withdrawing the hand. He promptly stuck it in his mouth to lick off the droplets, loath to waste any. It tasted salty and warm, but he swallowed greedily. With his other hand, he reached for the bottle that he'd tied to the back of his belt, which was actually a length of cord, as an afterthought a few seconds before leaving his lair.

With an exultant chuckle, he carefully lowered the neck of the bottle into the pool, listening with helpless joy to the sound of liquid running into it.

Over his laugh, he heard the sound of slow dripping. Curious, hoping against hope that he'd found a spring or other source, he probed with his feet to either side, trying to get out of the light so that he could see what he'd found.

After a bit of uncomfortable searching, during the course of which the sole of his foot snagged on a sharp edge and ripped a gash, reaching toward his heel, in the makeshift sandal, he found a void to his right and slightly behind him. Taking care not to spill the precious liquid, he inched backwards and maneuvered himself into the small space, lowering his feet carefully until he found a reasonably solid foothold. The light, no longer impeded by his body, flooded in.

He blinked, eyes adjusting to the new illumination, and squinted at the remnants of the puddle.

The first thing he saw was that another drop had just descended, and the ripples were expanding over the surface slowly. The second thing he noticed was that the pool was a dark reddish-brown, and there was a stained trail down the wall.

He moved his eyes upward, seeking the source, and found it. His heart almost stopped with horror and revulsion.

A familiar face, long since dead, dead elsewhere and buried far from home, met his eyes, formerly verdant eyes now lifeless, clouded, and staring. Some fluid dripped grimly from the three-inch gash in his deceased friend's wrist, more from the knife he'd embedded to the simple hilt in his own heart. The trail down the wall was that of dried blood.

His scream was completely involuntary and cut off abruptly as his stomach caught up with his mind and tried to eject by force the liquid he'd just so covetously swallowed. Trying desperately to convince his body that he was hallucinating, he retched, body rejecting the idea but retaining the fluids he so urgently needed. He gagged, looking away compulsively as the smell of fresh death that he'd smelled at that time caught up with him to plague him again.

"You're dead," he whispered, although it hurt him to say it. "You were never here, oh, god, I'm seeing things, no…"

Refusing to look back at the cinderblock with its morbid burden, he backed furiously out of the narrow tunnel, clinging to the hard-won bottle despite the fact that it might be full of blood. Although some of the liquid within slopped over the sides due to his haste, he dared not stop to lick the precious drops off. His elbows collided with the walls, scraping them bloody and raw, but he did not notice or care as he fled the scene.

Shivering helplessly as his feet hit solid earth again, he slumped to the floor and placed his head between his knees, feeling as if he were about to lose everything he'd eaten in the last few days, which admittedly wasn't much.

When he recovered, he looked up, loosening his death grip on the bottle he still held and checking it with trepidation.

It was three-quarters' full of slightly dirty water.

After a moment's relieved silence, he took a deep breath and released it in the form of words.

"I'm going mad," Yusuke said quite calmly, and then repeated, "I'm going mad."

With this fact solidly established, he felt a little better. After all, he'd remembered the name—his name—he'd nearly forgotten. And with that core identity firmly in place, jolted there by the shock of his past coming back to haunt him, more memories returned, and almost all of them were bad.

A woman leans against an RV, covered in reddish dust, scowling defensively with her arms crossed over her chest

Why are you telling me these stories when there are real discoveries to be made here?

With each impression, a little more of the past returned to him.

Don't lie. What's really going on?

That's salt water. It's wet.

As much as he would not have liked to remember…

If you think for one moment that I will have any part of this, then you are a bigger fool than I thought!

A blaze the like of which he's never imagined erupts before him, drying his skin and causing it to stretch over his skull

Goodbye, then…

Faces and voices of all stripes…

The shouts of a thousand people, all voices blurring into one, filled with mutual hatred

Hope glowing in a man's eyes as he listened

The sounds and smells—God, the smells—of too many fearful bodies crowded into one space in the hope of escaping the terror that ran the streets—

One shot

Damn you! Damn you! and thrice damn you!

One more

The sound of the world shattering once and for all.

He looked up at the dust-filled sky, and tried to think of something deep to say. What came out was, "This sucks." Not very meaningful, certainly no famous last words, although with the number of deaths in the last few months, it would not be surprising if those very two words had been the final sentiments of other people.

Although he felt, for a moment, like crying, he could not afford to waste the precious water, and time was pressing. Every minute he spent not defending what little he had was another minute in which to lose everything. Many would consider his scant possessions not worth the fight, but for Yusuke Urameshi in the Days After the War, something had to be worth the fight.

Man must have something to live for, or else he would die.

Favoring his scratched right foot, he turned his back on the fallen skyscraper and limped back towards his lair through the smaller buildings that huddled around the tower like mice around a fallen giant. He didn't look back. There was nothing to see.

As he retraced his steps, taking sparse sips from his water bottle, the newly awakened memories sparking through his mind awoke more, continuing the chain reaction, and from time to time, he stumbled as he walked, with emotion and regret overcoming him.

"I wonder who is left," he murmured to himself, more to hear himself speak and recall the sound of his own voice than to vocalize any useful information. "Probably no one…how did I end up the last of us still alive?"

Just at the corner of his eye, forms all too familiar flickered. Though he could not see them clearly, he knew they were staring at him, accusing him without words.

"It's not my fault," he told them. "I tried my best."

He was not particularly surprised that they did not reply, nor that they continued to follow him. "Go away," he told them. "You're all dead."

Female faces, dearer to him than his own soul, flickered in front of him, weeping and pointing at him in fury. Out of long-learned habit, he recoiled. "Stop it!" They lowered their hands and gave him mournful stares.

"There was nothing I could do!"

They, too, did nothing.

"It's not my fault!" he howled, flinging the glass bottle at them. It revolved through the air, spraying brackish water, and shattered against a brick wall. Shards of none-too-clean glass peppered his face and torso.

It was the sound of the breaking glass that brought him back to his senses. He could have sworn it was the same sound he'd thought he'd heard god knows how many days ago, as a door had slammed with final fury and the greatest peace conference the world had ever known turned into the greatest massacre of leaders in history. It was the sound of every hope, every dream, dying with the world.

Covering his eyes and face against the shards, he screwed his eyelids as shut tight as he could and fought to envision an empty street free of reproachful ghosts.

"Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five four three two one," he chanted like a little child, and only then did he dare to open one eye.

The street was empty of all but a corpse, covered in scruffy fabric that might well have been the underside of a couch in a former life. However, the corpse was no one he knew, as evidenced by a quick check by a justly-paranoid Yusuke, so he went on, nudging the broken bottle regretfully with his left foot as he passed it.

After a few paces, he turned back and picked up the two largest pieces, handling them carefully so as to not cut his fingers on the newly-broken edges. Tearing two strips from the makeshift shroud, he wrapped the rough fabric around the thicker ends, creating two rudimentary daggers, before continuing on his way.

Heartless? Perhaps; but in the Days After the War, it was everyone for him- or herself, and death take the hindmost. There was, truly, no alternative for those who wished to live.

Any stragglers from the roving packs that had been sweeping the street when he left had vanished to parts unknown by the time he got back. The only inhabitants of the street were spiders and—wouldn't you know it?—cockroaches, which scuttled in and around the garbage choking the streets.

And for good reason. No sooner had he emerged into the street proper than a trio of figures, one large and bulky, one skinny and tall, the third the scrawniest boy he'd ever seen, surrounded him, body language clearly telegraphing that they weren't there for a civil conversation.

One hand conspicuously drawing his makeshift blade, Yusuke met their eyes each in turn to let them know that they were dealing with a formidable foe. He recognized none of them, although the beanpole looked vaguely familiar. However, he neither could nor needed to place a name to any of them.

"All right, guys, back off," he said firmly, letting no trace of fear show in his voice or manner. This was an easy task, for he wasn't really afraid of them, now that he could remember taking down beings that made the biggest look like a rather underfed mouse.

"Hand over the knives," the skinny one whined, an accent unmistakable in his voice identifying him as a former resident of the demon plane. "Then get out of here."

Yusuke squinted up at him. "Why should I?"

It was a good thing he was on guard, for a sixth sense rather than any actual indication cued him into the attack from behind. Spinning on one foot, shoving the other behind him to brace himself, he caught the little swordsman's attack on the flat, blunt edge of his blade, flipping him over his head and into the midst of his buddies. His joints ached with the effort.

Thank god for training sessions, Yusuke huffed to himself. That little punk could have—

His train of thought cut off abruptly, for the man—no, boy—who'd attacked him suddenly looked a lot more familiar than before. He froze in shock: a distinct disadvantage in the skirmish that had just erupted around him. Apparently the other two had taken his lofting their gang mate through the air and straight into the bulky one's stomach the wrong way. He'd learned that trick at the hands of someone who was a lot better at it, but his own accuracy surprised him.

Hallucination! he denied as he mechanically batted aside thugs, making all the while for the building in which he currently resided, cursing all the while at the pain in his joints that was making thrashing the desperate lowlifes a bigger pain that it really should have been. Impossible! Trick of the light, faulty memory…anything!

The boy he'd sent flying through the air circled around his bigger mates, hissing through his teeth and looking for an opening to try another sneak attack through. His impossible resemblance to the man who'd taught Yusuke the same trick he'd just used so successfully (proof positive it wasn't him) was unnerving Yusuke, seeing as he knew the man was dead, but he couldn't take part of his vision off him lest the kid try to stab him in the back again. Pure luck had saved him the first time, and his current track record with luck wasn't good enough to let him trust the Fates, who were as probably as dead as the rest of the world, for anything.

Gaining the far side of the little pack, Yusuke pulled one of his new knives out of his belt and sent the freshly-broken glass spinning in their direction, aiming for the biggest one because he was the easiest target. He was a horrible shot, the blade wobbling crazily as it flew, but the trio didn't know that, and they shifted their attention to dodge it.

Yusuke took advantage of their momentary distraction to make a break for the half-open doors. Better the stairs, death trap though they were, than chance his luck with a street brawl for any longer.

He didn't have any time to close the double doors behind him, especially as the double doors had been fried in the middle of an automatic cycle and were wedged half open (or half closed). There hadn't been any guarantee that they'd be able to be pulled open again if he tried to shut them, and he'd had neither strength nor motivation to do so. There would be no point in cutting off a perfectly good escape route.

The trio's bellows of rage as the glass projectile smashed at their feet followed him into the trashed lobby. Dodging rubble and debris, he made for the stairs, hurling imaginative invective at the designer who'd decided that a freestanding spiral sculpture would be just the right centerpiece for the lobby. It was cold comfort that his peculiar masterpiece was now lying in ruins on the carpet, once beautifully patterned and textured, now mucky beyond the nightmares of interior decorators.

Ballroom staircase filling the entire fourth wall, a whole two stories of the embassy by itself? Sure, why not? And while they were at it, why don't they cut corners and make it a hollow staircase, so that when an MAM-18 special assignment missile blasted through the conference room window, most of the stair treads would fall through?

Such was the staircase Yusuke made tracks up at three times the speed which he'd come down. Behind him came three furious thugs, who barely even paused to double-take at the slope ahead.

"Aw, come on!" Yusuke groaned to himself as he looked back, temporarily on a sturdy spot, and saw them heading after him. "There's got to be easier marks somewhere around here, why me?"

He took another step and promptly put his foot through a brand-new hole. "Oh, yeah, that's why," he muttered. "The Fates hate me."

Pulling his foot from the hole, he continued upward, taking no little pleasure from the fact that the trio seemed to have even less luck with the stairway than he did. The largest one had been forced to stand at the bottom, and was collecting shards of the shattered statue to use as missiles. Yusuke ducked as one zipped by, a hair too close to his face for comfort. Several more followed, and the man's aim was improving with every shot.

He reached the second landing with a growl and turned around, fed up with the whole situation. Scanning the area below, he took in the layout: the big human at the bottom, forced to hold his fire for fear of hitting his comrades; the skinny demon, clinging to the steps with both hands and toes; the little boy, presumably human, still bearing that eerie resemblance, and, being lighter, making far quicker headway up the flight of steps than Yusuke had hoped.

"All right, this has ceased to be funny," Yusuke muttered, rubbing his shoulder where a marble missile had exacerbated the constant pain in his joints. "Time for some retaliation." His eyes fell on the kid. "And you, my little backstabbing friend, are first."

Taking the second glass knife from his belt, he fingered the cloth-wrapped hilt tentatively. He'd only have one shot, and he was walking a fine line between killing the kid and missing him completely. He only wanted to scare him off.

Narrowing his eyes and taking a deep breath, simultaneously praying for a lack of black dust and spitting greasy, dirty locks out of his mouth, he pinched the blade between his thumb and index finger and sighted along the line he wanted to throw.

The more he looked at the savage child, the more the resemblance to his dead friend increased, not physically as much, but something indefinable, and, rather than encouraging his sympathy, this only incited his anger more and more.

Focus! a voice he couldn't spare the brain cells to identify right now whispered in his mind's ear, and he obeyed reflexively.

A far cry from his previous clumsy cast, this knife flew straight and true, scything past the child, who was in the lead, and scored a glowing line through his thigh before continuing on to strike the skinny demon in the shoulder, leaving a bright blue-white light in its wake.

Shrieking in sudden fear, the two climbers remembered that discretion was the better part of valor, and made sudden haste for the stable floor and outside, taking their bulky human buddy with them.

Above, Yusuke stared in surprise at the dagger, which the demon had pulled from his shoulder only to cast away in agony as the light infusing the glass made its reappearance, dropping it with a shriek. It lay on the first landing, still sparking, even throwing out the odd bolt of energy every few seconds. As he watched in amazement, it faded and died, and only a lump of glass, tip painted red and purple with human blood and demonic ichor, remained.

"Whoa," Yusuke said finally. It did not truly express his amazement, but he was only rediscovering most of his vocabulary today. "That was me." The moment he said it, it felt right.

"I did that! I did that!" Grinning with sudden pride, he even laughed. "Right! I can do that!" Struck by a sudden, strong memory, he regarded his right hand with triumph. "Bang!" he cried happily, forming the shape of a gun with his thumb and forefinger in the fashion of any child at play.

Dismissing specters, doppelgangers, and the horrors of the day so far in favor of his newly reawakened power, which was sending a slow buzz through all his limbs, relieving some of the pain, he continued upstairs with a chuckle and fewer adventures with the staircase, leaving the glass knife to lie.

His good humor lasted all the way to the door of his lair, when the downside of regaining his memories struck him again in the form of all the bodies in the room.

The smile fell from his face like a rock.

There were no words, and he didn't try. Bundles that he'd stepped over and stumbled around while his mind had still been blurred by shock and the radiation that suffused the city now appeared more clearly to his eyes, his brain finally acknowledging their true identity while simultaneously trying to reject the death scattered around the chamber.

Now he recognized the mangled conference table, as covered in black dust, cracks, and embedded metal, glass, and stone as the rest of the room. His makeshift shelter of fallen metal resolved itself into a conglomeration of roof beams, chairs, the remains of recording equipment, and window struts. Even the walls and ceiling sagged, not only from lack of support but from the blast. The bodies on the floor had faces; names, most of which he vaguely remembered; and histories, some of which he could recall. When compared to his memories of how this room had looked before, it was enough to instill the hopelessness of the future, if it ever came, permanently.

Although humans had outnumbered demons and spirits two to one, there was still only a limited handful of either. At a loss for any better gesture, Yusuke clasped his fists, crossed at the wrists, to his solar plexus in a distinctly demonic gesture and bowed to the room of corpses at large, as if to appease the restless souls of the so violently departed.

The shrapnel had devastated many of them beyond hope of recognition, and the initial radiation shock from the MAM-18 missile had further warped bodies and even the structure of the room. Ripples like those seen in the finest steel of sword blades were mirrored in the walls, with the wooden veneer having been burned away in a heartbeat and the metal beyond affected out of proportion. The ceiling bellied downward in the center, ashes dusting it in a heavy layer which lessened, if only slightly, as the soot got further away from the center of the room.

That table, a work of art all on its own, had been of great symbolic significance, and now it was only a wreck. Even though, next to the loss of life and the destruction of their last hope for peaceful coexistence, the destruction of the conference table was negligible, it was this that Yusuke focused on, it and the delta-shaped missile embedded in its center, directly below the thickest concentration of particles. Had the designers of the MAM-18 known how ironic that particular configuration was?

For if he allowed his mind and eyes to drift from the table, he would have to think about the recently-deceased delegates to the chamber, and it was not long before he had absorbed everything he cared to see about the counter, and several things he didn't, and his eyes were drawn helplessly elsewhere.

He could still recognize, from their positions or the dress or physical attributes that remained, who they had been. Delegates from the Western world shared death with those from the far South; diplomats from Central Europe and the Middle East joined demons from the greatest kingdoms of the Makai. Even the governor of the fledgling colony of the Moon had made the journey from Tranquility City, only to be slaughtered with the rest. The leaders of the remaining peoples of Earth and the Planes had come together to create a peace, and had instead set themselves up as the perfect target.

Not only the ambassadors had been present, as was custom for any great global, and now pan-dimensional, affair. An assorted crew of reporters had been thick on the ground, now quite literally, as well as the requisite governmental bodyguards, whose appointed job had, of course, to protect their leader. It had all been to no avail, for the threat had not come from within, but from without, and all their security precautions had been bypassed, not by one man, but by many.

Perhaps the treaty had been emotionally premature. But had it not taken place when it had, however abortive, there would have been no civilizations of any stripe left to treat with.

That had been how Yusuke had been a part of this. Not as a delegate, for as much as he'd matured, no one would have been quite as free-thinking as to put him in front of a ground-breaking precedent-setting peace conference, but as one of two guards. A token gesture, they'd thought. After all, a peace treaty is supposed to be just that.

The other guard was dead. And it was that which Yusuke didn't want to even see, for it would mean admitting that he was the last of his gang left.

But to deny it and try to forget would be to dishonor the dead, and having been dead before, Yusuke had no desire to do such a thing.

Steeling himself, he sank to his knees, then to a more comfortable sitting position. The buzz in his nerves from his newly-reawakened power fizzled and died, as if in shame.

"I don't know if I should thank you," he said finally. His words fell, most accurately, on dead air. "You should have saved yourself."

The silence grated on him, and he hugged his knees to his chest, shivering. "Goddammit," he swore, to nothing, to no one, to no earthly use.

There was nothing else left to say.

There was nothing left to do.

He could die now.

But he couldn't even do that, could he? Not when his closest friend—however often they'd both fervently denied it—had sacrificed himself so that he could live.

"Look, it's all over. We're all dead." He knew he was now quite mad, talking to a corpse, but the fact that he could acknowledge that gave him some reassurance. "What am I supposed to do now?" he asked, less a question than a protest.

The dead did not reply, and they sat in silence for a long time.

It is possible that Yusuke would have sat there forever, life and hope and drive all draining from him until death took him too, were it not for interference, and not in the form of rescue, for there was no one to rescue, and no one to do the rescuing.

A growl in the air finally got his attention, and he looked up, tearing his eyes away from the floor as some light returned to slowly dulling eyes.

Rising stiffly, he left his friend's corpse behind and stumbled over to the pulverized window, skirting carcasses left and right. He was sure it must smell, but his senses were giving out, exhausted, one by one.

So it came as a shock as with heart-stopping vividness, he looked out over a restless and polluted ocean under a choked and lifeless sky and saw, in the distance but getting closer by the second, three dots that were clearly manmade, and just as clearly hostile.

Yusuke knew what they were. He also knew that the second wave was about to fall, and there was no one to save his ultimately useless life for a second time.

Surprisingly enough, all he could think was, "About time."

In the next eleven seconds, the sky will fall, the war will end, and all will come to nothing.

Eleven seconds to regret.

Ten seconds to hate.

Nine seconds to forgive.

Eight seconds to remember.

Seven.

Six.

Five.

Four.

To Be Continued.