Before the Gates of Babylon

The story is coming to an end.

He had always known it was going to happen.

It was as inevitable as the world's destruction. Death came to everyone. If someone like Shinonome could be killed, then what hope did anyone else have? But in his heart he had still hoped beyond hope for immortality – not for himself but for his friends. His grandfather had always been so resentful, so bitter, so vicious, that Yuuhi could not imagine why Death would want him. As long as his grandfather hated the world so much, Yuuhi had always believed, he would never leave it simply out of spite. Was it simple chance, then, as the policemen and undertakers kept repeating, or had his grandfather finally learned – learned in the way that an old lion suddenly learns it can hunt no longer – that the world could be forgiven?

Far off in the distance, he could see the Biscuit Hammer floating poised over the Earth, framed by a sea of black. He closed his eyes. A picture flashed across his mind of the first time he had been here. The landscape had been the same; the barren desert had been no less inviting then than it was now, the sky no less dark. The difference was that now he was walking free. A phantom constriction snaked across his limbs, forever a memento of his grandfather. A year ago, he would've been toasting to his grandfather's death; now, now he was still surprised that the death of that old geezer could stir so much sadness.

Gently, he touched his hand to his face to wipe away the last of his tears. His grandfather was gone, and, for better or for worse, Yuuhi's hatred had died with him. All that existed was the here and now – that was definitely what the Princess was too shy to say. A life without sadness was a life without joy. He would not trade his tears for the world.

To his right stood Anima. To his left hovered the princess. Before him stretched the door to everything.

A small uncertainty rose. This would, after all, decide the fate of the world. He had a right to feel a bit unprepared.

"Why...? Why me?"

Anima smiled at him. There was some unfathomable understanding in her gaze, kaleidoscope galaxies swirling behind sea-green eyes. But she had not answered his question. Something like annoyance tickled the recesses of his mind. Leave it up to her to know everything and answer nothing. Why had he, out of the other eleven just-as-capable knights, been chosen for this ceremony? Why had he, out of the billions of the other just-as-capable humans, been chosen for knighthood?

(But perhaps she had not answered because it was a silly question. He had already known the answer)

He turned his head. The Princess was smiling. Her eyes were bright with fervor.

"Come on, it's time to go. You know where, right?"

He looked straight ahead. "Yes."

The answer lay right in front of him. Sure, the door was ridiculously large and the caricatures imprinted on it were less impressive than he would've liked (and he had imagined the location of the secret of the universe to be more…exciting), but behind it all lay the end to everything. Behind that tarnished door lay the final act to close this drama of the world's destruction. For Shinonome, for Tarou, for the Swordfish Knight, for his grandfather – for all those and for all those other billions of lives that death had made lonely, he would move forward.

The Princess was smirking. Perhaps she, in the infinite wisdom of her sixteen year-old life, had already known the outcome.

"Live up to my expectations, my knight."

"That I will, my demon lord."

He placed two hands on the door – the metal was jagged and rusted under his fingers – and gave a push. The voices of the deceased bid him farewell. With a groan, the two massive panels split apart to reveal a blinding white light that dazzled his vision. Heedlessly, he took a step forward – into Babylon.