Another migraine, another sack of bricks. Emil groaned again. The light from Richter's arte had left bright spots dancing against his eyelids... A sudden pain caught him a spasm and he stiffened against the cold floor, but it left as quickly as it came. It was considerably easier to recover from the overall pain this time, though a dull ache remained afterward- Emil was sure it would last weeks just from the way his body simply ached. Like a giant bruise. He didn't like to think that it was probably because of repeated experience, but it was a likely explanation.

He muttered something incomprehensible (his face was flat against the ground) but didn't try to get up. It seemed he had a rare and unique ability to wake up in strange places on his face. Alone again... What had Ratatosk meant when he said 'separating'? Why had he returned to physical control?

There was nothing interesting within the confines of the Gunnungagop's hellish prison. The way Richter had blasted off that field Arte on him so quickly didn't help to ease the uneasy knot in his stomach. Something was fishy about it all...

"Richter?" Emil attempted hopefully. And then, "Ratatosk...?"

No reply.

At length he managed to roll over and sit up. Immediately the blood rushed out of his head; with a pained groan he bent double, cradling his skull in his hands. His eyes narrowed against the light filtering through his bangs, alternating between squeezing shut and stealing narrow glances at his surroundings, carefully ignoring the bloodstains- both old and new- that puddled the ground. His stomach knotted further at the sight.

This was the Monster Graveyard. Now that he was fully cozignant of the place the hairs on his neck stood on end. The very air stank of death. The atmosphere was pressured; whether from the presence of the dead or the menacing remains of their bones, he didn't know. But why was he here? Surely Richter hadn't meant to send him to this area, of all places...

...or maybe he did. Emil had to admit Richter's sense of humor was more than a little strange. But then again, he wasn't the kind to pull pranks on people.

Had it not been for that faint trace of his signature odor, Emil might have missed him. Or mistaken him as another of the monsters. There, lying curled beside the remains of one and another monster, was Decus- or rather, Decus's body.

He shuddered at the sight.

Almost simultaneously, so did Decus.

Emil froze; a cold fist closed over his chest as the realization sank in.

Left alone, the man would die of blood loss. A slow and painful death. He deserves it, a part of him thought brusquely, wrapping frigid resent around the facts: the deaths this man was responsible for were innumerable. But the sound of another shuddering inhale-exhale brought that train of thought to a screeching halt. Guilt continued to stab at him, opening wounds that bled the memories of his journey.

People, and their actions, and the reasons behind them.

Revenge and forgiveness.

Revenge and...

Hands shaking, Emil quickly unbuckled himself from his sword and pack. After a moment of fumbling he thrust a hand into his gel pocket- and fished out three Lemon gels. He gawked a moment at how low his supplies were, but remembered with a grimace the battles that had depleted his stores not so long ago. With a flick of his finger, the cork popped off easily enough; Emil hesitated, bottle in hand and hand hovering unsurely over the man... But in the end, he upended the viscous fluid over Decus's chest.

The liquid dissolved quickly into the bloody mess of the wound, bright yellow gel growing fainter as the skin merged with a scathing hiss.

Breath hitching, Decus stiffened. His eyes flickered.

Emil froze, suddenly uneasy under the gaze of those red-rimmed eyes... "U- um..."

"...Stalker kid?" His breath was so raspy Emil could nearly hear the dryness of his tongue.

"M-my name's Emil," the blonde began to retort, but his voice threatened to falter and he shut up for the sake of his pride and embarrassment. Decus's eyes rolled closed soon after. The man was probably exhausted. Emil turned away, trying not to think too much about what he had just done.

Alice lay not too far from them.

Her body was sprawled against the ground, nearly as pale as her stained clothes had once been. He paused. Decus was unable to reach her (let alone move at all) so it seemed he'd have to do his part to make sure she was alright... or not. It was the least he could allow his conscience. Shakily, Emil abandoned his now empty pack beside Decus and closed the distance to Alice's side, then pressed two fingers over her pale neck.

After looking over her a moment, the blonde retrieved the second bottle.

The light scent, which bloomed from contact with her pale skin, was a welcome relief from the roils of his gut. A faint glow accompanied the healing; truth be told the scene was a little comforting, if only because it was such a stark contrast to their immediate surroundings. The one gel wasn't enough to cure everything afflicting her; Emil considered her injuries again, knowing that most of the grievious wounds were closed but probably not fully mended.

The instant Alice stirred, Decus attempted to move.

Emil, who was still in the process of checking her over, exclaimed for him to stop. Decus pointedly ignored him and continued his efforts; Emil, panicking slightly, raised his voice.

This time, he did stop. But not for him.

"De... cus?" Platinum-white lashes parted, and they all froze.

A second passed.

And then another.

"Uh... Alice, I- "

Thump. WHUD.

"Decus- Decus...! LET GO OF ME!"

"Agh, don't- stop it!" WHAP. "OW!"


Emil finally managed to distance himself, and Alice rushed past him to her partner's side.

"Decus! Are you alright?" Her eyes took one look at his state of disrepair and immediately whirled around to Emil again. Literally seething killer intent, Alice pinned him with her glare, her fists trembling uncontrollably at her sides. "What are you still doing here?" she snapped.

He physically recoiled. "I- I just tried to help..." he managed, but Alice would have none of it.

"Help?" Her irises glinted gold. "You've got some nerve, coming back here. Why don't you just die, huh? Or got locked in the Gate like all those other worthless demons! Leave us alone!"

Those who would grovel and beg, or run away at the first sight of another's anger are dogs. Or even worse.

"I..." Resent bubbled up from the recesses of his mind, foreign, unused; it rose up, crackling, into his chest. How could she continue to blame him like this? Hadn't he just helped her? Granted, she probably didn't remember, but... still. To the point of refusing help? Her excessive distaste of him was infuriating-

Infuriating. It felt new. It frothed violently in his chest and emboldened his tongue. Emil swallowed thickly and met her gaze, his green sparring with her scathing gold. "Just give me a chance!"

Though taken aback by his sudden audacity, she wasn't fazed. "Shut up! Don't talk to me, you monster!"

Are you a dog? Or are you really a man?

But Emil's will was steeled enough. His face adopted a look that expressed only the slightest of resentment and not just a little bit of determination; on a face like his, however, one that was still unused to showing such emotion, it was more than enough. "I'm not a monster," he deadpanned.

I'm not a dog.

"I'm a human being."

The glower that Alice leveled at him would have been enough to sear metal- but it was diverted easily enough toward Decus's hacking coughs. "Decus!" She dropped to his side. Alarmed, Emil stepped forward, but Alice's voice cut shrilly through the air. "Stay away!"

Again, his face hardened. "No. I'm trying to help." And he succeeded his first step with another and continued toward them. Alice was beside herself with rage, but at the sight of the bottle he procured- he'd been holding it the whole time- her expression faltered.

"Emil." To Emil's surprise, Decus addressed him first. Emil knelt down with the bottle in his hand, and Decus's face split into a smile.

"Didn't think I'd be seeing you around." Implied: You got balls, kid.

Alice balked.

Emil nearly laughed out loud. Me neither. And thanks. Carefully, he tipped the bottle onto Decus's lips, watching as his adam's apple bobbed. The process was shorter, but in effect it did the same for Decus as it had for Alice. The skin closed over newly restored muscle, broken bones reforming and recreating blood to make up for what had been lost.

Decus exhaled shakily. Alice dove for his hand and held it tightly in both of her own, torn between tending to him and guarding him from Emil. Fortunately, the subject of the latter could take a hint.

"I should be going," Emil mumbled. He set the empty glass beside him and stood to leave. Alice looked like she wanted to say something, but she stiffened when he looked at her, expectantly. Emil decided to let it go. "Um..." He hated goodbyes. "I'll see you later, then."

As he secured his sword and reclaimed his bag, as he walked out of the Graveyard- the whole way, he could feel their eyes on him. Nobody said a word, but just as he turned the bend to disappear out of sight,

"Thank you," a voice floated to him. At that distance he couldn't tell who had said it, but in the end he supposed it didn't really matter.

Up or down? He considered the road ahead of him.


There was no other way but up.