The fate of this fic has been decided. This fic will end here, and there'll be a sequel of some sort available (Black Joker, Red Joker) by the time I repost this. Cheers.
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Reaching a Conclusion
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Back and forth, back and forth, pacing.
Pacing, waiting for seconds, minutes and hours to come and go.
If his perception of time had not become completely screwed up, three days had passed since their quite random infiltration of and consecutive escape from the Vatican with a new foe hot at their heels. Time itself appeared to pass more slowly within the Ark, and after a while it became really difficult to tell how much or how little time had passed since the aforementioned events had taken place. There were no days or nights within it, not at the moment at least, and in their place was a kind of eternal twilight, although there was no sun shining in the artificial sky.
After he had once again grown tired of pacing, Allen headed back to the area he had come to consider his general base of operations: the secret room of the Ark. Upon entering, he was able to confirm that his otherworldly counterpart still had not moved from the sofa onto which Allen had placed him after he had collapsed. Three days and not even a twitch as far as Allen could tell; had he not felt the ghostly whisper of the other's breathing against his bare skin then he would have felt the need to check to see whether or not rigor mortis had begun to set in.
Having little else to do but wait until the other showed at least some signs of coming to, Allen had taken to exploring the Ark, but eventually he grew tired of that, returning to the hidden room every now and then to check on the condition of his companion. Even so, while waiting, Allen could very much tell that he would have to take action within the near future; they were running low on rations, and even though they were likely wanted and hunted by both the Order and the Earl, Allen wanted to reconnect with the real world, to find out what had taken place in his absence.
He sighed before yawning and stretching, trying to think about what to do next. Before he was able to think about anything on the other hand, a sudden sound alerted him and he looked up just in time to see as one of Malak's fingers gave a noticeable twitch. Amber eyes fluttered open, staring up at a white ceiling. "About that question from earlier…" the other said, his voice barely rising above a dry whisper.
"What about it?" Allen asked, unbelievably patient despite having waited since forever to finish their conversation.
"I told you… didn't I?" Malak said after a brief pause, speaking breathlessly, as though the oxygen in his lungs wasn't enough to sustain him through an entire sentence. "That Apocryphos' purpose… is to protect the Heart…"
"You did," Allen affirmed, vaguely recalling having heard something of the sort. "What about it?" he asked, silently wondering whether or not the other's seeming shortness of breath was a direct result of the injury the other had suffered at the hand of that creep they'd been attacked by.
Malak paused again, slowly bringing one of his hands up to rest on his chest, clutching the fabric of his shirt, right above his heart. "As you already know… I am not from around here… but even so, the Heart I have… is just as real… as the one which exists… in this world… Apocryphos' purpose… is to protect the Heart…not to destroy it… and for whatever reason…the Heart which dwells within me… still wants… to keep me alive…"
Allen's eyes widened slightly, but he remained silent, waiting for the other to continue.
"I knew something he didn't… and I… took advantage of it," Malak said, continuing to pause every other word to regain his breath. "Taking me for a Noah… he obviously tried to kill me… but he wasn't thorough enough… since he wanted… to go after you… as soon as possible… If he had tried absorbing me… the situation would have… turned out quite differently…"
"Absorbing?" Allen repeated, sickened. He recalled the situation he had been in – trapped – and he realised just how close he had been to becoming absorbed; it had been too close, way too close.
"I lied earlier," Malak continued. "Your master… wasn't assassinated; he was absorbed."
Allen found himself idly studying the white ceiling. "Yeah, I kind of figured," he then said, his face remaining impassive. No really, he hadn't, but he still supposed it was an end which befitted his old master in a way, seeing that the man in question was not really one who would die by conventional means. "So," he asked after a while, switching the subject. "Who taught you magic?"
The other laughed dryly in response. "Take a guess," he then said, sitting up with some effort.
Allen ventured a guess that it had been either the Earl or Cross, receiving a mild shrug in return. "Technically speaking," the other said, tilting his head slightly to the side. "I taught myself… by means of observation. The Earl and Cross in my world were both magicians… but so was the Fourteenth, and although… I am by no means skilled at it… I figured it would work to my benefit… to know at least the basics… of wielding it."
Allen stared thoughtfully at him for a while, contemplating what had been said. "Teach me," he then said, and the other looked up, staring at him with something akin to surprise. Then Malak shrugged, winced and finally smiled. "Sure, why not? You need every skill you can get… if you're going to make it."
Getting up with much effort, the amber-eyed teen rose to his feet, swaying a bit unsteadily before steadying himself and straightening himself up. "By the way," he said, turning his head slightly to look at him out of the corner of his eye. "Malak isn't working too well with me for the moment, so I need a new name."
Allen's eyebrow gave a noticeable twitch. "Why?"
The other shrugged mildly once more, having reclaimed the staff Allen had leaned against one of the walls earlier, leaning heavily onto it while giving him a thoughtful look. "Why not?"
Allen thought about it for a moment before shrugging it off. "Suit yourself."
He was rewarded with a smile. "Good," the other said. "From now on, call me Robin."
Allen knew better than to argue, though he did idly take note of that the other seemed to breathe easier then, as though the mere shedding of a name also included shedding all the injuries and burdens which had come with it. Switching names, identities, lives… it sounded strangely familiar, but why?
Silver-grey eyes eyed the other in silence, thoughtfully.
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"Truthfully, switching names has become somewhat of a habit of mine," the newly named Robin noted once they had relocated to a beach somewhere. "Though if anything, I should probably be blaming the Fourteenth for it…"
"How so?" Allen responded without missing a beat, watching as the other poked his staff into the sand.
Robin shrugged mildly before gripping his staff more tightly, using it to write in the sand. "To my knowledge, he was an Apprentice to the title of Bookman," he then said, writing Neah Walker in the sand. "The same role this world's Lavi now inhabits."
Allen kicked an eyebrow up in question, but retained his silence, waiting for the other to continue.
"I'm not entirely sure about your Lavi, but the one in my world was conflicted," Robin then said, drawing a few lines in the sand all while he continued speaking. "As a human, it's only natural to want to stick your nose into things; to get involved and all, yet the philosophy that Bookman teaches is one of strict non-involvement. Bookmen are not meant to get emotionally invested in what they are supposed to record; the Fourteenth failed spectacularly in that aspect and got himself killed for his meddling and truthfully, I believe the current apprentice isn't that far away from it either…"
He paused, writing a list of other names in the sand. "To switch names is a way to switch identities," he then said, sounding rather thoughtful. "With taking on a new name and discarding another, you can take on new view and new traits all while discarding you old ones, along with any loyalties you may have developed along with it… It comes in handy."
Allen gave him a somewhat impassive look. "Is that what you're doing?" he then questioned. "Discarding your former loyalties and traits for new ones?"
Robin shook his head in response. "Though I could technically do that, I normally switch for other reasons," he then said, making the final strokes in the sand. "To me, it's a way to keep track of time… I guess. And to prevent myself from getting bored, but that one's secondary to my knowledge…"
"How?" Allen questioned, seeking insight into the workings of the other's mind.
Amber eyes looked at him, glimmering with something akin to amusement. "The part about keeping track of time or the one about preventing boredom?"
"Both," Allen shot back without missing a beat, receiving a mild shrug in return.
"Simply put, I switch names each and every time I feel that I am close enough to death to feel it breathing down my neck," Robin then explained, taking a seat on higher ground. "I started out as Red, nearly died, emerged as Allen, nearly died, emerged as Neah, nearly died, emerged as Mana, nearly died, emerged as Malak… and lived, at least up until the Apocreep turned up. And now, I'm Robin, but there's really no telling how long I'll remain as such…"
"Is that so?" Allen responded, rising to his feet just before the raised tide came rolling in, erasing the lines the other had drawn up until that point. A single wave, capable of erasing everything...
The water continued to come flooding into the bay, but he remained where he was, even as the water rose to cover him up to his ankles. He was barefoot anyhow, so the prospect of him getting his feet wet had never been much of an issue. For a while, he just stood there as the water gradually withdrew once more, standing there with his eyes closed, hearing the ever-present call of seagulls in the distance, echoing over the waters. It was a strange feeling – so alarmingly real, yet strangely otherworldly at the same time. It was foreign, yet strangely familiar at the same time, as though he had visited such a place at some point in his life or even just in a dream. The salty breeze blew past him, going far beyond him, and he opened his eyes, only then really taken note of that Robin was standing right next to him with his staff in hand, looking out at the same scenery Allen had found himself admiring just minutes before.
"I have one more story to tell," the other announced, his eyes still trained on something in the distance. "Will you hear it?"
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Out in the bay, a seagull swooped down into the water, emerging from it moments later with a fresh catch in its beak. Allen took note of it with idle interest before refocusing his attention on the new lines that had been drawn into the sand to replace some of the old ones. For the longest time, his companion remained silent, drawing instead of speaking, but eventually, he opened his mouth. "In this world – in any world, I'd say – there are certain rules… rules which are to be followed…" Robin began, sounding thoughtful.
"The existence you call God created the rules, hence that person is also the one who knows all the loopholes," he soon continued, drawing new lines in the sand to illustrate what he was saying. "One of these loopholes are as follows…"
He paused briefly, drawing a few new lines in the sand. "If you have the power to do something, you have also been bestowed with the reverse power – the power to undo that something," he then said, writing down the word 'Power' in the sand right in the centre of a whole array of lines. "Hence, somewhat crudely explained, creators and destroyers are essentially two sides of the same coin…" he went on, writing a few key words down, right next to the word. He circled them, drawing a couple of arrows between them. "Creation is needed for destruction," he then said. "And destruction is needed for creation… and you, as the Destroyer of Time, are also slotted as the re-creator of Time… in a manner of speaking."
Allen looked up at him shortly before looking down again, staring at the drawings in silence.
"The Earl's objective is to bring everything back to the beginning, meaning that he intends to break this world and use the pieces of it to create another," the other continued, shrugging mildly. "And as the Destroyer of Time and as the New Fourteenth, your objective is – has been, at least – to kill the Millennium Earl…"
Allen looked up again, opening his mouth to protest, but the other continued speaking before he was able to. "The Earl is your enemy, so it's only natural for you to want to cut him down," Robin said, tilting his head to the side. "But… what about the others?"
He drew rough caricatures of the faces of the members of the Noah clan in the sand. Then he looked up again, staring Allen straight in the eye. "Listen to me, and listen to me well…" he began, his voice nearly devoid of all and any emotion. "If there is a creator, there must also be a destroyer."
Allen said nothing, waiting for him to continue.
"The Earl is the Creator of Akuma," Robin moved on to state. "And you – as an exorcist – are a Destroyer of Akuma."
He paused momentarily before continuing once more. "Yet, at the same time," he went on. "The Earl is the Earl of the Millennium – of Time – all while you are the one prophesised to be the Destroyer of Time…"
He paused again, smiling. "Now," he said, drawing another line in the sand. "Let's pretend you did the same thing I did the first few times around and killed the Earl – what happens?"
Allen shrugged mildly in response.
"Well, it should be bloody damn obvious, shouldn't it?" Robin said, drawing an X over the Earl's face. "The world, regardless of who created it, strives to remain in balance… and what happens when the Earl is killed?" he went on, giving Allen a look.
"It crumbles," the aforementioned responded, looking up to meet the amber eyes he had already known to be resting on him.
"And what happens next?" Robin shot back, drawing a question mark in the sand to emphasise his question.
"The world… strives to regain its balance?" Allen guessed, looking back at the drawings.
"How?" the other persisted, neither affirming nor rejecting his answer.
Allen looked up again, meeting an eerily focused pair of eyes. "…Someone must take the Earl's place?"
The other smiled, tilting his head to the side, looking mildly satisfied with his progress. "Who?" Robin persisted.
Allen thought about it for a moment before responding. "…The Destroyer of Time?"
"Yes," the other affirmed, crossing out the question mark. "Now… what happens to the balance?" he went on.
Allen watched him in silence for a few moments before responding. "It… crumbles?" he responded somewhat hesitantly, looking at him for some sort of confirmation.
"Yes," Robin confirmed, eyeing him with keen interest. "And how will it be restored?"
Allen stared back in silence for several minutes, seeing the answer quite obvious where it was reflected in the other's eyes. It was his own reflection, looking quite different from how he remembered it.
"Another Destroyer… must appear," he then said, feeling his heart sink like a stone as the implications hit him.
Robin's smile broadened, but his eyes held no visible amusement as far as Allen could see. "Yes."
Allen sagged noticeably in his posture. "Then… what do we do now?"
The other just shrugged mildly in response, leaning heavily against his staff. "That's for you to decide," he then said, staring thoughtfully into the distance. "Though I can certainly provide you with a tip or two…"
Allen said nothing, giving the other a tired look. "Say it," he then said. "Get over with; what must I do?"
Amber eyes withdrew their gaze from the distance, giving him a contemplating look, seemingly assessing him before deciding he was ready to hear the other's statement. "Okay then," Robin said, his voice surprisingly light, bordering on cheerful. "Let's face it: Whether you like it or not, you'll need allies if you wish to take on both the Order and the Earl. In the end, I tried to do everything by myself, and look where I ended up."
He made a vague gesture.
Allen remained unimpressed by the other's reasoning. "Thanks to you, I am a traitor to both sides," he returned, shooting the other a slightly heated glance. "What kind of people do I still have left to ally myself with?"
His ire did not pass his companion by unnoticed, earning a smile in return as Robin turned his back to him and started heading towards a nearby peak, using the staff as a support while walking. "Allen," he said, turning his head slightly so that he could look at him through the corner of his eye. "As you should already be aware, this body of mine won't last forever. Sooner or later, I'll disappear from this world, and when I do, I want to make sure you're not alone in all of this like I was…"
Robin paused briefly, his smile conveying something akin to reassurance as he turned around fully to face him. "Believe it or not, but your allies are still out there," he said knowingly. "Still… they won't just turn up at your doorstep just like that; they need to know where you stand before they can consider joining you…"
He paused once more. "Trust me," he then said. "Loyalty needs to be earned, and the same thing applies to trust; they go both ways and you can't have one without the other… so trust me, and let me help you to the extent that I can, because while I can only do so much, I won't betray you. The rest is up to you – and your present and future allies – to take care of."
He held out his hand towards him, and for the longest time, Allen just found himself staring at it, his mind full of conflicting emotions. Then, he finally reached out to take it. "Yes."
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