The wrap up! Some events in earlier chapters are explained, and I use pseudo-logic to explain some of the in-game mechanics (aka why there is a difference between Sai the ghost and the killer ghosts that Seto meets).
Disclaimer: Namco, tri-Crescendo, Xseed Games, Rising Star Games, and Kentaro Kawashima all own a slice of Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon.
Cat and Mouse
Seto's optimistic mood rose with the sun. He felt that Crow and Sai had settled some of their differences last night with that talk. After extracting himself from Crow's entangled grasp—somehow, during the night, Crow had rolled over and ended up half on Seto—he and Sai went in search of water. He found a stream about ten minutes from camp. It was a trickle more than a stream, but Seto was simply happy to find running water. He splashed some on his face, enjoying the feeling of cool water on his skin.
As he splashed more water on himself, Sai said hesitantly, "Seto…what is Crow to you?"
Giving Sai a quizzical look, he asked, "What do you mean?"
"I mean...is he a friend? More?"
Seto laughed. "Of course he's a friend! What makes you ask that?"
Sai looked away, feeling awkward and unsure how to phrase her question. She was hardly older than a teenager when she had died, and was in no way ready for a conversation like this one. Because of that, she skirted around what she really wanted to say. "I'm just not used to seeing friends kiss each other on the forehead before they go to sleep."
"I think that's just Crow's way of saying you're a friend. The first time it happened was right after he called me his friend for the first time."
"The first time? How many other times have there been?" Sai felt a flare of alarm. Seto obviously had no clue about kissing and what it meant. Sai could hardly blame him, considering his isolated upbringing, but at the same time, she wondered if Crow was just as clueless or if he knew what he was doing.
"Only last night. Did I do something wrong?" Seto fidgeted, noticing Sai's alarm and not liking it. He splashed more water on his face as a distraction.
"No, of course not, Seto. Just, please promise me you'll tell me if you ever feel uncomfortable around Crow. Please be careful. When he attacked me, I remember seeing that wild look in his eyes. He was more beast than boy." Shivering at the memory, Sai felt her still sore side. The wound had healed, but a dull ache still radiated from the area. "I've never heard of an attack that lasted so long on a ghost, either. There's something dangerous about him."
Seto laughed dismissively. "Dangerous to birds, maybe. I know you two got off to a bad start, but please give him a chance, Sai. I don't want my only two friends to always be fighting."
"For you, Seto, I'll give him another chance."
Seto said gratefully, "Thank you, Sai. That means a great deal to me." And with those words, they resumed their former task. Seto filled a flask, drinking deeply, and then refilled it to bring back to Crow. By the time he returned to camp, Crow was already awake and looking twitchy. When he caught sight of Seto, though, the tension melted from his shoulders. He called out, "I was starting to get worried that a bear had carried you away to be its adopted cub."
The brunet chuckled. "The real story's nowhere near as interesting, but I did find water. Here." He tossed Crow the flask of water, which Crow guzzled.
With a content sigh, Crow wiped his mouth and said, "Thanks. But next time, wake me up first. There's no telling what's in these woods and I would feel better if you had company." When Sai gave an indiscreet and pointed cough, Crow corrected himself: "Living company."
So much for last night's truce holding in the morning. Before a real argument could break out, Seto hastily said, "Let's hurry up. I want to give Chiyo her moon and get into that room."
At that subtle reminder of what—or rather, who—drove Seto's determination, Crow frowned and kicked more dirt onto the dead fire. Sai gave the raven-haired boy a small frown of her own, and Seto remained oblivious and cheerful as he finished packing everything into his backpack.
As Sai had predicted, Chiyo wasn't any happier to receive her moon than her sun. With a precursory glance at the wooden moon, she said an obligatory "thank you" and then went on to demand that they bring her back her silver ring. It was silver and had a heart in its center—which was more than Sai could say about the girl herself, if she were so inclined to voice her opinion aloud. And she was not, thank you very much. She had already made her low opinion of Chiyo known to Seto, but the softhearted boy still wanted to believe the best in everyone. It was one of his best features, but also an increasingly worrisome trait as far as Sai was concerned. The more time she spent with Seto, the more she felt like a protective big sister trying to defend her gullible baby brother.
"The ring's in the hotel restaurant? All I'm seeing is one very large tree…and is that thing moving?" Crow squinted to get a better look at the tree across the room, vertical pupils dilating to an alarming proportion to take in more light, just as the tree in question slapped a root against the ground. He gave the room a skeptical once-over, but made no move to enter. The wooden flooring was smashed in several places, and shattered remains of tables and chairs were piled by the walls as if thrown there by some great force. "Do we really have to do this?"
Brought together by a mutual dislike, Sai willingly agreed with Crow for once. Adding her two cents, she said, "You know, as a ghost, I can just float through the wall and see if there's anything important in that room Chiyo's guarding. We really don't need her at all. And I, for one, am tired of playing gopher."
Seto stubbornly shook his head and gave his companions a disapproving look. "We promised her we'd get her back her ring, and that's exactly what I intend to do."
It looked like Seto really was the only one who had any faith in Chiyo, and if anyone could guilt the world into becoming a better place, it would be Seto. Crow and Sai felt a little contrite due to that look…but not enough to start searching for what could very well be an imaginary ring in a room full of very real danger.
With a sigh, and still giving his friends a reproachful look, Seto stepped into the room. As soon as his worn sneaker hit the floor, three things happened all at once. Sai yelled, "Seto, look out!"; Crow tackled Seto to the ground with impossibly fast reflexes; and a spear-like tree root imbedded itself in the wall directly above Crow and Seto.
With a worried moan, Sai disappeared, leaving in her wake the words, "I can't bear to watch…"
Crow and Seto shared a wide-eyed look. With Crow directly on top of him, Seto could feel the raven-haired boy's heart pounding with adrenaline. His hands gripped Seto's arms so tightly that his nails felt more like claws, they were poking at him so sharply. Crow opened his mouth, but never got the chance to speak. The root pulled itself out the wall, tearing away chunks of plaster that rained down on the two boys. In a flash, Crow pushed Seto away and rolled to his feet.
"Hey ugly! Over here!" The tree must have had some intelligence because its leaves rustled angrily and its next volley of spear-like roots all snaked towards Crow. Seto forgot to breathe as he watched Crow's inhuman acrobatics. He flipped, contorted, and weaved with fluid grace, leaving roots stuck in the floor, in the walls, and even one in the ceiling. As the tree struggled to extract its roots, Crow took the chance to catch his breath. "Any bright ideas?" he called out between gulps of air.
Seto swallowed and tightened his grip on his metal pipe. "Not any you'd like." And with that, he let adrenaline and fearful determination propel him forward, lead pipe raised high over his head. The tree trunk had a bulbous protrusion that pulsed steadily, and Seto aimed at the conspicuous spot. The hit was solid but the wood was unyielding, and in the end Seto did nothing more than drive the tree to an even greater frenzy. The tree twisted violently, wood bending until it protested with shrilly creaks, and Seto felt himself thrown across the room by the broadside of a thick trunk. The unforgiving wall sent flares of pain up his spine and he felt the back of his head crack into the plaster.
A distressed noise escaped Crow, but Seto wheezed out, "Hit…it…" as he rolled his lead pipe towards Crow. He flopped onto his stomach, trying to push himself back onto his feet. A bout of vertigo brought him back to his knees.
With one last worried look at Seto, Crow tore himself away with a startlingly fierce growl. Seto gasped in pain—"the pipe"—as Crow charged the tree weaponless. The boy practically flew as his namesake suggested, dodging increasingly desperate attacks. Roots and branches slithered over the bulbous protrusion with increasing agitation at Crow's swift approach. Although Seto's vision pulsed in and out with the pounding of his headache, he could have sworn that the tree roots shuddered in agony whenever Crow ran his hands, fingertips spread, over the roots. And were the roots always covered with claw-like, thin gouges?
Seto managed to drag himself to his knees and started to crawl towards his pipe, determined to rejoin the fight. No matter how good an acrobat Crow was, Crow didn't stand a chance without a weapon. Seto had barely dented that solid wood with a swing carrying his full weight and force. He was still working on coordinating his spasming fingers to curl into a fist over the pipe's smooth contours when he heard such a horrendous cacophony of noise that he flinched and dropped the pipe all over again. He looked up, which caused the pain to flare in his head, and watched with increasing confusion as the tree writhed in pain and Crow, somehow, someway, managed to hack off limbs with his bare hands. Crow fought his way to the center of the trunk, and with a bone-rattling roar more suiting for a lion or tiger than a boy, plunged his hands into the wood knot. He pulled with all his force, sweat rolling down his face and neck, until he had created a small opening in the wood. Seto got a glimpse of a ruby red, pulsing heart, before Crow plunged his hands once again into the opening and the tree gave one final death knell, its shaking leaves like the whispers of a thousand dead souls. When Crow removed his hands from the tree, they were coated red and dripping.
Seto gave up trying to rise to his feet, his messed up equilibrium making the world spin madly at every attempt, and rolled onto his back. Fighting his pounding headache, he pushed words through clenched teeth, "How…did you…do that?"
Crow, who had been facing the tree and absolutely still as if in a trance, jumped at the sound of Seto's pained voice. He burst into a flurry of action, running to his fallen companion's side. His knees cracked harshly with his hasty drop. Although his eyes didn't meet Seto's, instead choosing to scan Seto's body for injuries, his gruff voice held worry and affection: "Worry about yourself. Where does it hurt the most?"
The raven-haired boy ran a shaking, gentle hand over Seto's cheek, fingertips smooth and slick with blood. He jerked his hand back, hissing in surprise at the bloody marks he left, as if he had forgotten all about the blood. Feverously wiping his stained hands on his black cloak, the gruff persona he had been trying to enact shattered and he said in a thin, wavering voice, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Are you okay?"
"I d-don't know," Seto stuttered, his tongue growing clumsy in fear.
For all his swagger and death-defying feats, Crow was still a boy not much older than Seto. He didn't have the slightest clue what to do and panic was setting in. In his storybooks, the hero never got hurt.
Sensing the room's killing intent fade, Sai reappeared, shamefaced. She hated how she always abandoned Seto during a fight, but when the fear set in she always found herself wishing to be somewhere else; as a supernatural being powered by thought, her thoughts of elsewhere always turned into reality. Her question of "what happened" turned into a shocked gasp when she saw Seto, limbs askew, laying on the floor.
Crow whirled toward her and nearly shouted, "What do we do?"
Feeling overwhelmed, Sai stuttered, "Uh, okay. We need to stop the bleeding. Uh, use strips of your cloak and bind any wounds. We can, uh, sterilize them later."
Even as Crow began to tear strips off his cloak, using his sharp canines to rip the fabric, he said tightly, "The bleeding's not bad, but he's not focusing. He hit his head pretty badly. Is it, is it internal?"
"Quiet please? My head is pounding." The young boy grimaced, eyes attempting to focus on his fretting companions. Who continued to fret, but did lower their voices to a panicked whisper.
Sai closed her eyes and took an imaginary deep breath. She could do this. As a sickly child all her life, she had been in and out of hospitals all her life. She could do this. She had the knowledge; she just had to remember. Drawing on her memories of a fourteenth birthday party gone horrendously wrong when she smacked her head against the side of a table, she snapped back into the present and said with more confidence, "Then he probably has a concussion. Use the rest of your cloak as a pillow to keep his head elevated. Honey"— this she said directly to Seto, speaking in a soothing voice—"I need you to stay still, but don't fall asleep. We're going to need to see if you feel better in twenty minutes. Do you remember blacking out at any point?"
Seto obligingly rested his head on the impromptu pillow Crow made. He tried bravely to give a smile that turned into a grimace, and joked, "Wouldn't it be hard to—ah—remember blacking out?" Seeing as neither Crow nor Sai appreciated his effort at humor, he added, "No. My vision just jumps in and out. Need to rest my eyes…"
Seto's eyes started to flutter close, but Sai's sharp voice made him jolt into alertness again. "Oh no you don't, Seto! Stay awake, please. Crow, see if you can find some Tylenol to help the headache. Do not give him anything with aspirin or ibuprofen. That could worsen the bruising."
"Got it." In a flash Crow was gone, chanting under his breath 'Tylenol, no aspirin or ibuprofen, Tylenol' as if it were a prayer.
Alone with a boy wavering in and out of consciousness, Sai settled down by his side and ghosted a hand over his forehead. For once, she hoped that she emitted an unnatural cold like ghost stories always claimed. She couldn't touch or feel him, but his flushed skin meant he was probably overheating. She half muttered to herself, "I wish we had ice—hospitals—one-one-nine—adults to take care of this. Dammit!"
Seto shifted to bring his forehead close to Sai's delicate, transparent hand, seeking that wonderful coolness. His eyes were better able to focus on Sai, relief evident in them. Pain and curiosity warred against each other, with curiosity finally winning. Seto asked in a tightly controlled, slightly pained voice, "What's a…one-one-nine?"
Sai shushed him fondly, and answered, "It's Japan's emergency number for fires and medical emergencies."
Sai took longer to answer that question, and Seto wondered if the question was either too complicated or too stupid to answer. His grandfather never spoke of the past, saying Seto was better off unfettered by regret for a life that would never be. Seto had respected and loved his grandfather too much to push the topic, knowing the pain it brought him. Finally, Sai said in a soft voice, "It's a place I used to live, before the apocalypse. It was a country, a culture, a people, a home. We're in Japan right now, but not really. This world is a shadow of a shadow. In Japan, cities are full of life and light every hour of every day. Instead of burning your feet walking on those long asphalt roads, you'd zip along them in fast-moving cars. The only dangerous animals you find are in zoos behind glass and bars, and people pay to see them sleep or eat or play. You can buy anything you want, eat anything you want, go anywhere you want."
"Sounds magical," Seto said wistfully, eyes unfocused as he imagined a world of such unlimited possibilities.
Sai's smile was bittersweet, and she was glad that ghosts couldn't cry. "It was. We took it for granted, but it really was like magic."
Sai told Seto more about Japan as it was before the apocalypse, and as she dusted off memories she had almost forgotten, the bittersweet feeling became less bitter and more sweet. She remembered pop idols and crushes; ridiculous fads and proud parents; the struggle to fight an unknown illness, with the ups at every proclaimed 'medical miracle' and the downs at every relapse. But above all, she remembered the feeling of gratefulness for every extra day she lived.
The words spilt from her mouth like water, gushing out at times then stuttering, before picking up the pace again. She didn't stop when Crow came back with the Tylenol—expired but hopefully still good—and after he gave Seto two, Crow settled down by Seto's side and listened just as raptly to her. At some point his hand found Seto's, wanting to share this moment with someone, and Seto's gentle squeeze back expressed a twin desire.
Eventually, like a tide pulled back out to sea, Sai's words dwindled to nothing. Spent, she closed her eyes and hugged herself, an involuntary shudder going through her before she relaxed completely, as if finally letting go of an enormous weight. An awed silence fell over them all.
Sai half expected to fade into nothing, she felt so light. When she opened her eyes to see transparent arms covered in gauze and black markings, she didn't know if she was disappointed or relieved. To cover up her indecisiveness, she asked, "Seto, how are you feeling?"
"Much better. A mild headache and my body's sore all over, but I think that's expected when a tree throws you across a room."
"That's good. It means your concussion was a mild one. You should take it easy for the next couple of days, but I think you're out of the woods. And you remember everything that happened?"
"Yes, although a lot of it doesn't make sense. Crow, just what did you do back there?"
Now it was Crow's turn to fall into a pensive silence. The magic created by Sai's voice must have lingered, because Crow found the courage to stand up and face his two friends—and he did view Sai as a friend now, although it was a tenuous bond. "I'm not what you think I am. What I discovered at the lab—the truth—I was angry, and afraid, and worried you would hate me. I didn't lie to you earlier, the lab was smashed to pieces and the man in the photo was like a father to me, but—" And here his voice failed him, choked off by his fears and doubts. His shoulders hunched up defensively, and he felt himself winding tighter and tighter into a spring ready to escape or explode.
Seto knocked the fight or flight response right out of him by saying gently, "Crow, you're our friend. Nothing in your past can change how I feel for you now."
"Are you sure?" Crow muttered bitterly, although he pushed on as if wanting to prove Seto wrong, "I'm a freak. My so-called father is the bioengineer who created me to 'pave the way to a new utopia,' as his megalomaniac journal put it. I'm nothing but a tool he engineered to suit his purposes, subject twenty-two, the first to survive the embryonic infusion and reach self-supporting life levels. He viewed me as—" Crow cut himself off, unable to find the words to express his anger. Instead, he paced cagily back and forth.
"Crow, I don't know the whole picture, but none of what you've told me has anything to do with a choice made by you. You've only ever helped me out—"
"Oh yeah? What about when I attacked Sai?" Crow interrupted, "That's what I was developed for, to kill, to eradicate the supernatural—"
"Or," Seto said with more force to cut Crow off. "Or, you did what you thought was right, even if it wasn't."
"I've forgiven you, Crow, at least most of the way," Sai added with a wry smile. "And a freak, really? Considering the impossibility of everything that has happened so far, I don't think that excuse flies anymore."
The fight went out of Crow. "Fine, fine. Let's see if you feel that way afterward. I'm going to show you something first, since it makes explaining easier. But don't freak, okay?" With that warning, Crow closed his eyes in concentration. His eyebrows furrowed, creating a vertical line between them. At first, the two onlookers wondered what was different, but slowly Crow's nails lengthened and thickened, tapering to deadly ends. The ten claws were a wicked black, and flakes of blood still clung to them from the recent fight. When Crow opened his eyes, the predatory gaze of a deadly feline met their shocked expressions.
"Wow, it's a lot harder to flex them slowly. Usually I just see a ghost, and bam—reflex." The lightness of Crow's statement made Seto and Sai realize this was still their friend, and they were able to see the boy behind the feral eyes. Crow held his hands up high and flexed his claw-like digits. "This is me, cat boy extraordinaire. They spliced human and panther DNA to get a creature that could think like a human and blend in with humans, yet be able to see and cut up supernatural monsters. 'Fight fire with fire,' as they say. As soon as I found out the truth, so many things about myself made more sense, and I was finally able to tap into my true potential."
Crow plowed on ahead, his voice becoming defensive, "So I would say that I was sorry for attacking you, Sai, but it was instinctive. I saw a ghost by Seto, saw that he was injured, and snapped. If Seto hadn't stopped me, you'd be dead—or deader—like all the other supernatural creatures in the park. No questions asked, no guilt, no remorse."
If Sai weren't already dead, she'd probably go paler. As is, she tried to school her features into a neutral expression. "Is it because you're…like you are that I was able to hit you? I've never been able to interact with the world before."
Crow's eyes softened. "It's better that you don't. From what I found out at the lab, ghosts can only affect the physical world or be affected by it when they're driven by anger. That's why Seto can strike the ghosts that attack him, but you're insubstantial. Well, insubstantial most of the time. I can't blame you for slapping me for what I did to you. I deserved it. And more."
"Wounds heal with time. In a strange way, it's almost refreshing to feel something so human as pain. And I can live with my non-life as it is. While it felt good to have contact with the real world, I didn't like the feelings coursing through me. I wasn't a person anymore, just a feeling of hate with the sole intent to hurt. I want to be able to forgive and move on, instead of becoming a slave to that anger." To break up the dreary mood, she joked, "And don't worry, unless you do something stupid in the future, I won't be slapping you again."
Seto got up from his resting position, dusting off the tattered remains of Crow's cloak before slipping it over his own shoulders. "Well, we should probably find that ring Chiyo was talking about, now that we've taken care of the tree."
"Actually, I found it in a cupboard in the backroom while you two were fighting the tree. I guess that's where I ended up when I popped back into existence," Sai said sheepishly, glad for once that her cowardice had a use. Although honestly, now that she knew the truth, she'd rather run than let herself tap into the dangerous anger needed to fight. Her skittish reaction was probably the only reason she had clung to humanity long enough to meet Seto in the first place.
Crow let his claws retract, and said in an incredulous voice, "That's it? You guys seriously accept me just like that? No twenty questions, no test trial, no nothing?"
"Look at us. Do we really have room to judge? I'm a boy crazy enough to swing lead pipes at ghosts," Seto said with light self-debasing humor.
"And I'm a ghost too scared to haunt anyone," Sai added, smiling widely.
Crow gave them both evaluating looks, before nodding in agreement. He drew Seto into a crushing hug and sent Sai a toothy grin. Speaking over Seto's quiet complaints of crushed ribs, he said, "When you put it that way, a cat boy genetically engineered to kill ghosts doesn't seem so strange at all."