SPOILER WARNING FOR THE GOOD ENDING.
Otherwise, enjoy. -Transi
"I'll always love you too, Marta."
And then the gate shut. The echo reverberated through the chamber. Abruptly, silence fell over the two remaining trapped inside.
Richter peered at the boy through his glasses, viridian eyes focused and calculating as always. "Is the ritual complete?"
The boy returned his gaze to the redhead, Ratatosk once more. "Yes… it's complete," he replied, voice soft but not weak, underlined with authority that belied his mortal vessel. "As of this moment, none of us will be able to leave this room." He fell silent, seemingly thinking over the prospective eternity that loomed over both their futures.
"An eternal hell," Richter stated dryly, glancing for a moment at the dismal, dark surroundings. Streaks of red and black danced meaninglessly across the abstract void. Returning to lock eyes with equally crimson-hued pupils, Richter smirked. "I suppose it's only fitting for a man who sold his soul to demons and who tried to destroy the world." He examined the figure before him acutely, mind brewing in a mix of his old hatred for the spirit and a new, rawer trust in the boy within the spirit, Emil. Frankly, he didn't quite know what to think of this… entity… anymore. To the point where he couldn't decide what to call him. He decided to avoid proper nouns for the time being.
Ratatosk said nothing.
He turned away. "Well, it's time for me to make my sacrifice." The door to the demonic realm loomed before him. Not particularly a welcoming sight, Richter thought to himself wryly. The Sacred Stone felt heavy in his pocket, as if it carried the weight of the act he was about to commit. "I'm not sure how long my body will last without the Chosen's Cruxis Crystal—"
"A thousand years."
Stopped before he could begin to approach the gate, Richter paused to back over his shoulder inquiringly. Ratatosk met his gaze, with a hint of what Richter— to his utter surprise— identified as concern, carrying an apologetic edge. "It will take one thousand years to draw out the mana from all living brings." Breaking eye contact, the blonde inclined his head to gaze at the ground, Richter looking on in astonishment at seeing such a display of uncertainty from the spirit. "After that, it will no longer be necessary to support the world with mana." A pause. "Then I will use what's left to make a new seal for the door." He looked up again, and Richter couldn't help but note the …similarities.
It's as if he were Emil.
Something wrenched in his gut suddenly, a feeling of premonition rising. Don't tell me…
"And at that time… I will set you free from here as well."
Shocked into silence. Those were the words, Richter confirmed, that described himself perfectly as his mind returned to him, slowly. After gazing at Ratatosk's— Emil's? Aster's?— face searchingly for a moment, he closed his eyes.
Is this your apology, Ratatosk?
Nothing could ever undo Aster's death. Even Ratatosk knew that. Richter himself had known it throughout his journey to avenge it. A stubborn denial had taken root in his lust for revenge, likely, blinding him from the obvious fact. There was no such thing as true resurrection, and Richter would be damned before he let Aster suffer the curse of becoming the victim of an attempt.
Goddess, what had he been doing all this time? Aster was dead. He'd been running from that reality all these past months. Now it faced him like death, staring him down like a hawk, daring him to deny it again. He didn't. He couldn't, anymore. Richter would live with that tragedy for the entirety of his half-elven life, but he would learn to live with no more rage to handicap his actions toward Emil, or anyone else… if he survived the Sacred Stone. On the other hand, he couldn't simply forget what Ratatosk had done, either. No; his death would remain in his perception of Emil forever he existed, like it or not. But…
His head bowed in acknowledgement and acceptance. Not forgiveness… not quite yet. In the meantime, this would do, he supposed.
Ratatosk, unseen to Richter in that short moment, smiled… the first time in an eternity.
The chamber fell into quietness once again.
Returning his attention to the matter at hand, Richter began to walk toward the Gate to Niflheim. Halfway across the platform, at the edge of the narrow path, an idea presented itself under the cover of the silence to Richter as he approached the Gate. He stopped, brow knotted in thought; then, turning to face Ratatosk, he called again to him.
"Then there's something I want to ask you."
The spirit looked up at him, taken off guard.
"Since you're capable of dividing into both a core and a physical body…" Richter paused to think over what he was about to suggest, then continued, "perhaps you could separate into two forms: Emil and Ratatosk, and live that way. If necessary," he added quickly, before the boy could protest, "you could live off my body." It was the least he could do— his mana would be converted to flame anyway, and he himself would bear no greater burden by supporting Emil.
But still Ratatosk refused. "Impossible," he objected, shaking his head. "I have the task of separating the mana from the world."
…that was true. Richter fell silent, unable to come up with a retaliating argument.
A core flashed from the lock. "We Centurions and monsters would be happy to carry out that task— under your orders, of course," Tenebrae's voice issued from everywhere and nowhere at once. Emil's still red eyes lifted to the void above them. Richter decided not to waste the effort. "As long as you stay in contact, there's no issue with you dividing yourself in two forms."
Ah, so the spiteful Centurion was on Richter's side today. The redhead smiled despite himself. Emil, not noticing, only furrowed his brow, but Aqua began where Tenebrae left off.
"Lord Ratatosk," she addressed her master by his full title, "to us the lifespan of a human being is nothing more than the blink of an eye."
They waited in unison for his reply, half-elf and Centurions together.
To their disappointment Emil's expression did not change. "The fact still remains that I actually took a human life. That single act has led to all of this… and is affecting the lives of countless others." His eyes met Richter's for an instant, then closed under a burdened conscience. "I caused all this tragedy." When they opened again, they were downcast. "I can't just simply ignore it."
"But Emil, the other 'you', regretted Aster's death." Richter's resolute gaze accosted Ratatosk with this assertion. "And even though the crime was not committed by his will, he tried to atone for it."
With his own death.
Many emotions flickered across Ratatosk's face, one of them shock, but the end countenance was one of turmoil. He recovered fairly quickly, protesting weakly against the presented suggestion and eyes bearing guilt. "But… Richter…" His voice trailed. It was obvious that he dearly wished he could live out Emil's life, but at the same time, his own conscience halted at the point of harming Richter any further than he had done already. Wasn't killing Aster enough of a crime? Living off Richter's body to fulfill another selfish desire… surely that was too much to ask.
Said half-elf watched the boy keenly, the inner conflict almost visible from the outside. As unsettling as it was to see the spirit so unsure of himself, it was at the same time highly interesting to see him suffer under guilt— this same being that had been so indifferent to death only a little time ago.
All of a sudden, another voice added its presence to theirs. "Ratatosk," Veritus' voice echoed like bells in the void, "your heart has spoken. It wishes you to live the life that Aster, who died at your hands, could not.
"I am prepared to carry out that wish for you."
It was the final push. Ratatosk looked torn, looking from his surroundings and Veritus' disembodied voice to Richter, eyes contorted in a silent, anxious but hesitant question:
"I'm sure Aster would've wanted it this way," Richter replied, not unkindly. The corners of his mouth lifted in the tiniest amused smile. "He was such an idealist."
Courage is the magic that turns dreams into reality.
A light issued from his left forehead, filtering through his bangs before solidifying into an oblique crystal scar. The glasslike faces gleamed crimson, reflecting the dim light of the chamber; the light grew, overtaking the shadows cast into the shapeless walls. through this Richter did not flinch, viridian eyes remaining on the figure that faced him even as the core continued to emit rays of stronger intensity.
Ratatosk watched as the core attached itself to its new host, his pupils reflecting the color of the crystal— and underneath them, his gratitude was incalculable. He could only smile his gratefulness.
The world cascaded into white.