Chapter 62: Shirogane

The whole world watched, unable to speak of the horrors that they saw before them. Smoke and ruin greeted the people of Japan as they looked onward to what their country has become. The land was painted in the color of their children's blood. Brothers and sisters lashing out at one another, killing what they believed was their enemy.

This land… has not changed… not one bit, just as Ikaruga said. Even before today, the samurai of the old Shogunate would spill the blood of their countrymen in the name of peace. Their time may have moved on but the old hatred and ideology that their forefathers taught remained with the people. It mattered not what weapon they used or what their justifications were. The truth still remained in front of them. Japan has not changed. It was stuck in the past just as that madman said, trapped in an endless cycle of its own destruction.

It was because of their ambition, their old hatred and their anger that they remained this way. They simply couldn't forget. They could not let go. And because of that, their children had to be the ones who paid the price.

The people of Japan could only stare… some in fright, some in disbelief and some with sheer terror gripping their hearts. They didn't want to believe it but all the proof was staring right in front of them.

The words of the Madman struck a heavy blow in their minds but no one could deny it. There was no telling where this country was heading with the path it has taken. Some didn't even realize they were on this path until today. To have it revealed before their very eyes only made them ashamed to be citizens of this nation.

It would take years for them to recover from such a devastating blow… and even longer to rebuild what they have lost today. The scars that had been left in this land by the madman… was deep and it will not be easy to heal.

But out of the many that mourned the losses of today, a few soldiers stood in stunned silence, waiting for some kind of call to reach out to them.

Over by the U.N. Headquarters, Radhabinod and his adjutants looked over at the ruined city, still processing the shock that came over through the explosion.

"Is it… over?" The old war commander asked as if he was looking for an answer.

Computerized noise and echoes filled the room, with everyone focused on the monitors in front of them.

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In another front, Marimo was yelling on her coms raising her voice up to a near pitched scream, praying for a response on the other line.

"1st Lt. Shirogane? Can you read me?" All she got in return was static noise. "1st Lt. Shirogane! This is Valhalla, please respond! (…) Damn it! Boost the signal!"

"We can't…" Yayoi insisted to her. "The explosion took out most of our satellites. We need to reset the system before we can get any reading"

"Tch!" Marimo yelled back in a rare sight of anger before returning to her coms. "This is 1st Lt. Jinguuji Marimo to 1st Lt. Shirogane, please respond! (…) I repeat: 1st Lt. Shirogane, please respond!" Again… the reply she got was static. The woman cursed, barked and even slammed her hands on the table until they were numb. But she kept trying. "Damn it! Takeru… please answer me…"

Marimo barely even noticed the tears dropping from her cheeks as she went on with her pleas for help.

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Back in the city, the members of the Valkyrie Squad lamented in their shock in the sudden explosion that nearly claimed all their lives.

"That idiotic bullheaded moron!" Hayase cursed out loud unconsciously through the radio. "What the hell was that? You went through all of that just to die in the end!-? You fucking pig-headed… idiotic… you… idiot!"

Munakata understood her anger and tried to sooth her tears… but there was little she could do at the time.

Even Isumi who rarely showed any kind of emotions was feeling a sudden loss of a skilled pilot. The boy was an exemplary human being. One of the best this world had to offer… but now… his existence felt like a dream.

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"S… sempai…" Hibiki too was gritting his teeth in frustration when he finally got his Fubuki to work. He slammed his fist against his cockpit, cursing out all the while. "Damn it all! I'm sorry… if only I… if only I could've helped you faster… Shirogane… san. If only I…"

"Tatsunami…" Asagi tried to get her friend together… but not all the comfort in the world could help ease that pain.

(Takeru's POV) (Somewhere…)

Ah… it's pitched black again. I can't feel my arms… or my legs. Did I die? I guess I did…

Heh… I guess that's not surprising. My body was spent already. It's a sick joke, really. Even with all that power, all the strength I had with me, I couldn't save one person. I tried everything; I gave it everything I had yet… I couldn't help her. (Flash) Yuuhi… she didn't deserve that. She didn't deserve to die. I… I could've saved her… but I was too weak. My resolve wasn't enough.

"Shirogane…"

Heh… death seems unreal right now. I wonder if things will be just like before… where I… wake up in my room, going back another two months and doing things all over. Ah… but it seems useless to think about it now.

It's funny… how my body can still react to the sense of death. Even after dying so many times you'd think I'd actually get used to it.

"Shirogane!"

Ah… I can hear a voice in my head. I don't recognize it. Is it a Shinigami?

Heh… strange how I can still picture a smile in my head. It makes me wonder what else I can do here. Aha… crap. Now I'm crying my tears out. Why am I feeling sad? Is it because of Yuuhi or… is it because I'm dying?

"Takeru chan…"

Sumika. Damn… even when I'm dead I can still hear her annoying voice. Heh… how I miss it—that girl and her annoying habits. I always hated her annoying racket in the morning and how it wakes me up every time. I put a chain-lock on the door to keep her out and still she breaks in. Don't you know that you'll have to pay for the damage? Damn it mom… why did you have to give her the keys to the house? I want to wake up in the afternoon where I'm ready to go. Don't you have any faith in me?

Heh… damn it… my memories of the old world is coming back. How I wish… how I truly wish to relive those days again with her… in my house, alone. I want to relive those days more than anyone. To see my classmates in my school, no military conflicts, no BETA, no weapons of mass destruction. Just me, Sumika, Meiya and the gang just hanging out like the good old days.

I want it back… I really want to go back more than ever. I just wish I could…

"Takeru chan!"

Ugh… ha… I want to go back. (sob…) I want to go home. (sob…) I want to sleep in my bed and laze around all day. I want to eat tsukiyaki without that stupid poison sauce that Sumika puts in her dish. I want to see my hometown Hiiragi not in ruin. I want to hear Class rep yelling at me when I complain about school. I want to see Tama firing bulls-eye shots at the archery range. I want to see another one of Meiya's outrageous acts. I want to play Valgernon with Mikoto in the arcade and I don't care if she's a girl or a boy! I want to see Marimo chan's love and caring smile. I want to see Yuuko who teases me on a daily basis. And I want to talk with Sumika again before I go to sleep every night. I want to hold her in my arms again… to feel her warmth in my hands, to smell that distinctive cologne that I told her to change, to see her face one more time in a world without war.

I want it back! Give it back to me! Give me back my life! The life that you stole from me! No! I can't die! Not like this! I can't! Not until I see it to the very end! I want to live… I have to live! I will live and nothing's gonna stop me! Not death, not the BETA, not a stinking G-Bomb! I'll beat it all! And I'll beat it again if I have to! I'll go through everything over and over even if it means I have to bear this pain! Come on… COME ON!

"SHIROGANE!"

Yuuhi!

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"Gaahh! Arghh!" Argh! Son of a… my body… hurts all over like crap. Where the hell am I? It's pitched black. Th… this is… a TSF cockpit. But how in the world…? (Flash) Ah! That's right… the bomb. It detonated and… I threw it. The blast must've sent me flying all the way down. I don't remember much after th—arghhh!

Ahh! What the hell!-? My stomach it… ah… crud. That's a pipeline. It's one of the hydraulics that moves the cockpit in and out. It must've torn itself from the ceiling and crashed onto me. The jagged end pierced through my suit and now… it's stuck all the way inside through my stomach. Argh! I'm bleeding. I'm seeing red all over and that's not only because of the red lights my seat is projecting.

There's a pool of blood on the floorboard and I'm pretty sure those stains on the wall came from me too. (Ruffle) Tch… the wound on my head and my arm have healed up but it looks like this one isn't doing so well. (Beep) My suit systems are still functional. Internal bleeding too?

Damn… it's stuck and I can't pull it out. I won't be able to pilot a TSF in this condition. (Ruffle) Hmm? Ah… Yuuhi's sword. (…) Heh… there's not a better time to use it now.

Clang!

Arghhh! Fu… damn! That hurt! The blade is really sharp. It cut through that pipe like it was made out of wood. Now I can pull the rest of the piece… off. (Ruffle) Arghh! Fuuu… that… hurts…!

Ugh… the wound. It's… slowly healing. It's strange how the skin tries to stitch itself back together. This amazing power… did it keep me till now?

My stims have all been used up. Of course it is. I used it all up during the fight. I wonder if I'll grow addicted to it by the end of the day.

Come on… let's see if this unit can still operate. (Beep!) Yes… it's still in running… just… barely. Most of the transmissions are dead. I barely have enough energy supply to keep it up for a few minutes. I can see the city around me. The whole place was thrashed like an earthquake rolled over with a tsunami and typhoon following afterwards. Most of the ward is barely even visible at this point. Only the royal palace seems to be standing.

The palace…

Yuuhi…

I had a vision earlier before I woke up. I heard her… I heard Yuuhi calling my name just now. That was definitely her voice. But… it couldn't be her. The blast from that gun blew the whole roof of the castle. A part of it was still on fire. But still… why do I feel like…? Is it a sign… or is it just my subconscious granting hopeful thinking?

In either case… I can only go. I can't forgive myself if I don't at least try. Please… hold out just a little bit longer, partner.

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And from the ruins of the burnt city, Shirogane raised his mighty weapon up for one last run. The Takemikazuchi he piloted was riddled with countless scars and its armor charcoaled to onyx. Slowly… but surely the robot took its final steps as if it was using the last bit of energy it had left to get its passenger to his final destination.

Pieces of it fell off from the body, littering the floor like it was leaving its mark. Crackles of electricity sparked from its broken parts. But despite its horrid and weakened state, the machine wasn't any less frightening than before.

Step after step, it made its way forward, towards leaving a trail of its corpse for all to see.

But despite the setbacks, it did not slow down. If there was such a thing as a soul in a machine then this one showed its tenacity to the very end. The bond of two sisters and the one who cares for them both were the only things holding the machine together.

Everyone was there to see it. And as it arrived at the gates of the royal palace, its right leg broke off forcing it to kneel a few feet away from the castle terrace. It was a good run… and perhaps its last.

(Takeru's POV) (Edo Castle)

Cough… cough!

I got out of the Takemikazuchi the moment it landed near the balcony. Everything was spent, oxygen and energy supply. I'm actually surprised I was able to get it this far.

The smoke here is thick and the support is weak. It looks as if this place could come down at any second. (Coughing) Luckily the stairway was still in serviceable condition and the floors were sturdy enough to hold me. The architects really built this place to last.

There's no one here. The guards must've abandoned it a long while ago. There wasn't a single soul in sight.

Ugh…! Damn… even if the wound is gone… I can still feel the pain. My bones are all messed up.

There! That must be the door leading to Yuuhi's room. I can see smoke coming from the other side.

As I drew closer to the door, I've suddenly got a bad feeling creeping up my stomach. What will I find when I open it? Am I just doing this because of wishful thinking or… is it because I know? I can't really tell what my mind is trying to say to me anymore. But even so… will I find Yuuhi there alive or…

I guess there's only one way to find out.

"Teeeeeeh!"

WHAM!

I kicked the door open, breaking it down from its hinges.

"Yuuhi! Gahh!" Ah crud. That's a lot of smoke. I can barely see. "Yuuhi! (Coughing) Yuuhi! Damn it! Reply if you can hear me!" Damn… I can't see anything beyond my own hands. How am I supposed to find anything in here? "Yuuhi! (Cough) Yuuhi! Answer me!" Keh! There… this is the balcony where I saw her.

Hmm? What's that? Something glowing on the floor… (Ruffle) It's… her head ornament. Yuuhi was wearing this. This must be the place where she got blown away. I recall this ornament during her last public speech. It's made out of pure solid gold with a gem as its centerpiece. It acted both as a crown and a ribbon to hold her hair back. The whole thing is melted down to a near crisp and the whole balcony is in cinders.

Keh! DAMN IT!

WHAM!

What the hell was I thinking!-? What was I hoping to find here!-? I have to accept that hard fact… I failed. I'm just dreaming. In the end I'm just one man. There's a limit to what I can do here! I haven't changed that much. I'm still the naïve kid who came from the future, wishing that the world will just go my way. I keep trying to change the past and yet no matter how hard I tried it just kept blowing in my face. Is this it? Is this my punishment? The consequences from changing so many things in the timeline!-?

If I can't even save one person… then what the hell gives me the right to save this world?

"Ta… keru…"

…!

Th… that voice… could it be? "Yuuhi?"

"Over… here…"

"Yuuhi!" I can see her. "Yuuhi! You're alive! You're… ah!" She's trapped under that support beam. Half of her body is buried under a ton of rubble.

"Takeru… you… came back…" She stretched out her hand and I grabbed it with all my might. I didn't want to let go. I feared that if I did, she would disappear. Darn it… this isn't the time to be crying but I can't stop my tears. "I knew… that you would…"

"Shhh… don't talk. I'll get you help right away"

"I… I heard… your voice. It called out… to me…" She weak but at the very least she's still conscious.

"Hold on. Let me get this off you"

"No… (…?) Oba san… she… tried to protect me. Please save her first…" Oba san? Ah… that old lady over there.

The caretaker must've been trying to lift the debris up herself, but fell under another ton of rubble. (…) Her pulse is fine. She's just unconscious and the smoke must've knocked her cold. But at the very least she'll recover after a few days rest.

"She's fine" I reassured Yuuhi, relieving her mind off the old lady. "She'll make it through. Let's get this off you for now. Hmph! Grrrr! Arghh!" Crap… my stomach! The pain from the cockpit. It's still there along with a few others. I can't move this log in this condition.

"Takeru… it's alright. Please… don't stress yourself over me. (…?) Forgive me for making you use your talents on such useless things"

"Don't say that. It's not your fault. Just focus on keeping your strength"

"I… I am unworthy of your attention. I was tasked with protecting the people of Japan… yet I was powerless to do anything. I do not deserve this title"

"Shut up! Don't talk like that now! You have to live long enough to meet with Meiya! I promised that I would protect you, didn't I? So just be still…"

"But I have caused you nothing… but grief and trouble. Why would you…?"

"Because I chose to, alright!-? Stop it with your silly questions and just wait while I lift this off! Grrrrr!" Crap. I'm moving it little by little. But at this rate the whole building might collapse on us.

"Please… you have done more than enough. You no longer need to aid someone like…"

"I SAID SHUT UP! You might think that you deserve to die but a lot of people here don't! You need to live! Now more than ever! You have to live not just this country, but for me! (…!) If you die here and now…I'll never be able to face Meiya again. And… I'll never be able to forgive myself. (But…) Arghhh! Just shut the hell up and let me do my job! GAAAARGHHHH!"

Bang…!

I threw away the support beam a few meters from us with a loud thud noise. Ugh… I'm definitely going to feel that. I'm not in my best condition right now.

Yuuhi doesn't look any better either. Her robes are worn down and I can see blood spatter on her arms and legs. I… I can't carry her like this or I risk damaging her even more. My strength is already beyond the point of exhaustion. My mouth taste like iron and saltwater and my legs can barely even support me.

"Takeru…" Yuuhi spoke up. "Please… come closer… and let me see you" I crawled myself to her side trying my best to force a smile. "Listen to me. (…?) You have done more good for this country this day than what I have done in my lifetime. I am… eternally… grateful so please… leave me. (…!) You… must survive. (…) I cannot allow myself to be selfish in these times. (Yuuhi…) Having you here… with me… has granted me such happiness that I did not know existed. But that alone is a crime. (…) As Shogun… I must put my duty above all else. I cannot allow myself to favor one person over another. This life of mine is no longer worth saving. So please… do not force me… to bear this sin. Please, do not let me be the reason for taking away humanity's only hope"

How can you possibly expect me to do that when your face is saying the complete opposite? Why would you even force yourself to say that when your tears are crying out? Why are you trying to push me away when your hands are holding onto mine as if they did not want to let go?

"How can I be humanity's only hope… if I can't even save you? (…) Don't be stupid and for once in your life… listen to what I have to say"

…!

My mind went blank in that moment as I brought her lips to mine. The taste of rust, blood and spit mixed together created an uneasy sensation but there was something else. There was a sweetening ingredient added to it but I couldn't figure out what it was. I was too lost in the flavor to even care.

I don't know how much time passed. It felt like an hour or so…

"Ta…keru…"

"If your life is no longer worth living… then I'll claim that life for myself. So now… more than ever… please… you must live!"

"…"

"Everything will be alright…" I found the most comforting words my head could think of and let it out. She needed all the comfort she could get. "Just leave everything to me. I'll get all of us out of this. Believe in me just a little while longer"

She returned to me a rare smile and nodded back in return. Alright… I can do this. Hmph! Gah! Damn… she's not heavy but I just don't have to strength to move on.

Crack…

Huh? Oh no. The roof! It's breaking up! The support beam I threw down must've shifted the place! It's coming down!

Crackle… crack!

"Yuuhi!" I pulled her body over to my side shielding her from the falling debris. The wooden frames crushed against my back and forced me down. I won't give in to this. I won't give up now that I've come this far.

Whirrr…

Huh? What's that noise? (Whirrrr…) It sounds like… TSFs

The roof… it's… gone? (Whirr…) What's… happening? (Whirr…) Are those… Takemikazuchis? Did they remove the roof by hand before it came down on us? Th… they saved us. But who…?

Tap tap tap tap tap tap…

I can hear footsteps coming from the stairway.

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Colonel Tekoro was the first to come up to the room of Shogun with his bodyguards following in tow. But when they arrived they were surprised to the sight of the young hero boy holding onto Her Highness in a tight embrace.

Shirogane turned around only to find his enemies taking up the space. Takemikazuchis and Zuikakus of every color and every rank lined up before him like a rainbow amidst the ruins of Tokyo. He was surrounded and it was obvious that help wasn't going to be coming any time soon. There was no path for him to escape.

But his undying will wasn't about to give up now. He has gone too far to be stopped here, lost too much to be barred from his mission. So with the last bit of strength, he carried the wounded body of the Shogun in his arms, preparing to fight it out if he had to.

The Guards saw the determination in his eyes and froze in their tracks. The boy was like a cornered animal, wounded and weary. But the spark of defeat was not yet there. With teeth and claw, the beast would stand its ground ready to fight to the last bitter end. The ferocity he radiated can be felt even outside of the castle. It seeped into the hearts of men making them understand what kind of opponent they were facing. The boy had molded his strength, his courage and willpower into one and through the fires of battle he forged those feelings into a power that was sharper than any blade, sturdier than any shield.

They all understood that the boy was prepared to die. The mere gaze was enough to make the Guards take a step back, and after the fight with Ikaruga and the destruction of the XG weapon, their fears outweigh his.

But the Colonel would not raze a weapon against this boy. Doing so was pointless after what he has achieved. He lay to waste entire armies with one unit, defeated the floating fortress alone and saved the lives of countless soldiers and civilians at the near cost of his own. Those feats alone… demanded respect from any warrior of his caliber. Shirogane was clearly on a level that neither he nor any soldier in the army has ever caught a glimpse of.

A gentle breeze blew across their faces, as if sending a message from the divine wind itself.

Two of the guards moved in to apprehend the boy but they were put to a stop at the wave of the Colonel's hands. He noted the glittering sword hanging by the boy's hip with the string fastened around his waist.

"Stop you fools. (…?) You are in the presence of Her Highness's Chosen. Stand down…" The Guards gladly stepped back, not wanting to challenge the pilot. "Show the proper respect to one befitting his status" And with a move that surprised all that were present, the Colonel kneeled down on the floor, his weapon lowered on the ground.

"…?" Shirogane was stunned for a moment, not expecting that kind of a gesture, especially from the Honor Guards, and what shocked him even more was the sight of the other soldiers following his actions.

He ears perked up at the sound of heavy machineries moving. Takeru looked around and saw the faces of the TSFs slowly slipping down to the ground in a gesture of a bow. Soldiers, Eishis and officers alike laid their weapons down, not wanting to incite the boy's wrath.

The greatest fighting force in all of the Empire was on its knees at Shirogane's behalf.

"What are your orders…Your Excellency?"