A/N: Welcome to the final chapter of At Fate's Hands.
…I'll explain at the end.
The waves of the Atlantic crashed on the shores of what was once an island nation. They carried with them oceanic detritus and the deathly plague of their seithr contamination, as always, but this set brought with them a man as well. Swimming was a chore; his leg may as well have been broken, although no bone was shattered. His joints stiff, he struggled to bring himself ashore, and once there, collapsed onto his back, wheezing for air, his chest partially caved in. It was a miracle this man still lived for all the abuse his body had taken; the toxins of seithr entering through his skin, the heavy blow that launched him off to sea in the first place, the melting of his own leg. But he had been designed as a weapon, and to succumb to this would be to fail in his role.
Hours after he washed ashore, the sun half-risen over the horizon to paint the world in cool red, Voivod at last found the strength within him to at least rise to his knees. He blinked in his surroundings, trying to make sense of where he had wound up. His eyes fell upon the gentle rise of mountains to the northwest, one peak sporting a deep, blackened crater at its summit. He stared at it, mouth agape. No way. There was no way in hell that circumstances conspired to drag him to this place, in plain sight of the aftermath of his greatest sin. After an imperceptible length of time, a low laugh sounded from him, rising in pitch by degrees. For what else was there to do in such a situation, other than laugh at the irony of it all? "Of course. Of bloody course. Of course I'd wash up by goddamn Torifune."
Joints stiff from the damaged they sustained at Ishana, he forced himself to his feet, shook his head, and trudged in the opposite direction of the mountains, not wishing to face the destruction he wrought any longer. He stopped after only a few steps; a figure in purple robes hovered before him, a sly smirk on her face. After taking a moment for recognition to register, Voivod snarled, a trio of bent claws extending from his hand. "…You little twat. What the hell do you want?"
"Do all of my former subordinates resort to such coarse language?" Izanami lowered herself until her feet touched moist ground. "I am here to ensure you remain aware of your actions, here in the aftermath of your mushroom cloud. You shall not walk away from your crimes, nor shall you remain oblivious to your contribution to the advent of my world of death."
"Yeah, well, I don't exactly need you to remind me of it, what with the smoking crater in plain sight. Your laser giant thing may have taken out half my body, but my eyes work just fine." With a growl, Voivod sparked electricity between his blades and lunged forward, allowing his hover Ars to bring him close in lieu of his wrecked limbs. "You've kinda destroyed everything the Librarium stands for, you know. So I think I'll just drag you to hell with me!"
A barrier of light formed before Izanami, and Voivod ricocheted off onto his back as his blades made contact with it. Izanami strode forward with a haunting giggle. "I am afraid you are incapable of harming a goddess. With but a touch, I could rot your flesh and leave but a pile of metal and bone where you once stood. You are a worthless creation, of no threat to one such as I. And to think Kokonoe created you in the hopes of defeating Terumi…"
"…So what are you waiting for?" This was it; there was nothing more Voivod could do. The shock from the shield left his already-damaged body unable to move. So the time had come at last for the retribution he deserved to have delivered upon him. "You came to kill me? So get on with it, already. I'm sure the great Imperator has more important tasks to be doing than dealing with me."
"For one who sought to end a revolution through death… no, to take your life would be to give you what you desire. Death shall not be your punishment. Rather, you shall live with your sins for all eternity. I bless you with protection from death. When Doomsday comes, you shall be left alone in the wasteland of this planet, unable to perish, unable to take your own life." Izanami's smirk widened and a laugh escaped her. "I believe that to be adequate punishment for your transgressions against this world. I shall enjoy watching your suffering for all eternity. Now, return to Torifune so that you may stare the weight of your destruction square in the face and face the souls you have reaped for me. I take my leave of you, pathetic creature."
The goddess vanished into thin air, leaving her blanch-faced victim lying in the dirt, unable to move. No words came from Voivod; the weight of Izanami's words quashed any reaction he had. All he could do was stare in the direction of Torifune.
With a shared sleepy trudge, Ragna and Tsubaki entered the grand banquet hall of Rachel's castle—ahead of them waited Rachel, Noel, Makoto, Bullet, Bang and Litchi, all focused on their breakfasts. The unusual silence struck Tsubaki numb for a moment. Ragna mumbled something about this being far too grand for mere breakfast as Tsubaki pulled him by the hand over to the table, next to Makoto. The beastkin wore a mischievous smile at the sight of them, while Noel, at her side, looked down with a light blush. Across the table from them, Rachel's sharp eyes pierced and scrutinized them; the sleepless weight of their bodies, Tsubaki's tousled hair, the joy still written in her face. "And what, pray tell, were you doing last night, you vulgar depraved beast? Is it as I feared, and you have corrupted one as pure as Miss Yayoi? You revolt me."
Ragna's eyes hardened into a glare, and black mist rose from his right hand. "We talked. And nothing else. Got it?"
"Oh, sure." It was all Makoto could do to hold in a giggle. "You guys were sure 'talking' quite loudly. I had a hard time sleeping, you know~. Mind sharing what was so important, hm?"
"Tch. Why's it matter to you?" From a lone seat on the other end of the table, Bullet scowled. This was so completely pointless… "People fuck. What's the big deal about it?"
An uncomfortable silence fell upon the room, several awkward stares cast over it Bullet. She met them one by one, huffed, and tore a chunk out of her toast with a ferocious snap. "What?"
With a heavy sigh, Makoto shook her head. "Sure, suck all the fun out of teasing miss proper noble about it. And here I was planning all night what I would be doing… ah well."
Ragna cocked on eyebrow at her. "You have issues, squirrel."
"Indeed!" Straight across from the beastkin, Bang leapt to his feet with a dramatic point of his finger spearing straight at Makoto. "Miss Yayoi is a pure, upstanding noblewoman; to levy such accusations her way, even in jest, is to taint her grace! I understand you are her friend, Miss Nanaya, but please, refrain from suggesting such things about her, I implore you!"
By the time Bang finished, Makoto's cheeks puffed and incarnadined with the effort it took to not burst out into laughter. "Okay, okay, sheesh. I promise I will act totally proper and stuff around Tsubaki and pretend that she is above such things~"
Crossing his arms and giving a nod, Bang sat down and smiled at her. "You have my—and undoubtedly Miss Yayoi's—thanks. Although she appears quite embarrassed at the moment."
All eyes turned back to Tsubaki, who had her face buried in a clenched palm. "No, I'm quite fine, thank you. Ragna, could we wait half an hour to eat so that this clears up a bit?"
With a light chuckle, Ragna wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her in for a quick hug. "Yeah, sounds like a plan. Let's go, Tsu."
As they stood up to leave, Rachel shook her head. "No, I'm afraid I must request you remain for now. We have important matters to discuss once the rabble has cleared, and I would like to do so before the commemoration for Hakumen. Although it churns my gut to look at a beast as foul as Ragna, please stay."
Ragna opened his mouth to jab back at her, but caught Tsubaki's look of warning and stopped himself. Returning to his seat, he grumbled what he had on his mind under his breath and said, "Alright, fine. But next person to try and embarrass Tsubaki gets their ass kicked, got it?"
Before Tsubaki could reply with no, it wasn't that big a deal, he really didn't need to make such a threat, a tan blur leapt on top of the table and blazed toward Rachel. Taokaka skidded to a halt in front of her, face inches from her plate. "Bunny lady, you lied! Meow!"
"Oh? I did?" Rachel cocked her head in feigned ignorance. "Forgive me. I cannot think of an instance in which I would have had to lie to a feeble-minded creature such as you."
"Bunny lady said there was food in Isnyana! Tao looked; there was no food anywhere!" The almost-comical glare disappeared from Taokaka's eyes as she pouted. "Tao was hungry, meow."
"Oh, but I assure you there was." Rachel giggled to conceal her smirk. "Perhaps you did not look hard enough; after all, I'm certain that the luxurious beds in the city were enough that you spent at least some of the time napping. Such a lazy creature."
"Mew?! There were beds there, too?" Taokaka's jaw dropped. "…Meow, Tao must be slipping."
"Yes, you are. How do you intend to protect your village like this, hm?" Rachel's eyes hardened. "May I leave you with a suggestion, child? You are but a kitten, thrust into dangers far beyond your understanding. You possess the physical strength to defend yourself, but lack the maturity necessary for dealing with such matters. Return to your village for the time being, and learn from Torakaka. Jubei shall summon you when you're needed; I hope you will have grown some by the time that is needed."
Taokaka's ears and tails drooped, but she nodded. "Tao doesn't really get it, but Tao thinks it sounds like a good idea, mew. Okay! Tao will go! But… how will I get back to the village…?"
With a snap of her fingers, Rachel summoned a portal. "Step through, young one. And please explain all you remember of what I told you to Torakaka."
"Okay! But first…" Taokaka's claws lashed out and speared Rachel's omelet on them. After snapping up the breakfast in a single bite, Taokaka bounded off the table towards the portal. "Thanks, bunny lady! Nya haha!"
The portal closed, taking the cat with it, and Rachel just stared after her, jaw clenched in restrained rage. "You insufferable…"
"Give her a break, eh Rachel?" The sound of Jubei's gruff voice brought a jump to all seated there, none having noticed his arrival. Bullet's eyes narrowed in disdain as the beastkin walked over to seat himself beside Rachel. "N' when'd you get to be so accomodatin'? Reckon I've never seen ya do somethin' for someone with no boon for ya. But hell, what do I know?"
"Master Jubei. A pleasure. My apologies for having no breakfast prepared for you; not that it would have mattered, as that miscreant would have claimed it for herself anyways." Rachel sighed away her lamentations and greeted Jubei with a light nod. "I presume you have a report from Ishana?"
"Yeah. N' it ain't good." After swallowing down his disappointment, Jubei said, "The Lynchpin's gone from the Cauldron. Someone already took it somehow, looks like. Reckon we waited too long for the seithr to dissipate."
Silence fell across the room for several long breaths. Rachel closed her eyes and sipped at the cup of tea in her hand, grateful that Taokaka hadn't stolen that away as well. "And the Lynchpin was forged, was it not? So am I to assume that Izanami likely has the Lynchpin in her grasp now?"
Jubei grimaced. "'Fraid so. N' I shudder to think what she's plannin' to do with it."
"We'll deal it when the time comes." A light sigh escaped Rachel's lips. "Our greatest victory to date… and it is in equal measure a loss. An unfortunate blow, to be sure. We must, however, persevere. This battle is approaching its climax. We cannot afford to be disheartened by setbacks."
"You there." Bullet glared across the table at Jubei, finally finding her voice. At the other corner of the table, Tsubaki bristled at the harshness in the girl's voice. "Rachel called you 'Jubei'. You're of the Six Heroes?"
"Me?" Jubei chuckled, trying to break the sudden tension in the room. "Reckon I was, but that was a long time ago now. Ain't much of a hero if ya can't protect what's important, right?"
"…I see." Holding her glare, Bullet struggled to keep her snarl from growing. One of the Six Heroes, the same as Kokonoe? A beastkin? "I'll take my leave."
Confused whispers sounded as Bullet rose and left the hall. Simmering in silence, she made a beeline for the room Kokonoe lay in. She entered and glowered at the scientist. And to her surprise, Kokonoe turned her head and glared right back at her. "What? You the nurse or something?"
"Tch. Hardly." Bullet lifted her Armagus, letting heat build up within its bronze walls. "I'd kill you right now for what you've done if you weren't important. But once that Izanami's dead, you're next."
Kokonoe barked out a laugh, before wincing from the pain of her burns. "Oh? And what, exactly, did I do? Sorry, I've committed so many sins I can't really keep track of them all… hm? That badge…" Blinking, Kokonoe looked away, trying to recall where she had seen that before. After a moment, she grunted out another laugh. "Heh. One of those mercenaries that Azrael destroyed?"
"Yes. On your command." Bullet pressed the pointed end of the Armagus on Kokonoe's throat. "I could kill you right here and avenge their deaths right now."
"Nah, you couldn't." With a light incantation under her breath, Kokonoe stifled the build of heat within the weapon. "Hate doing that so much, but it's better than getting my head blown off by a crazy. So, the hell are you here for? Do you get off on stopping just short of killing me or something?"
Before Bullet could respond, the door opened, and Bang and Litchi entered. The doctor silenced herself in mid-word and came to halt, while Bullet pulled her weapon away from Kokonoe. Kokonoe destroyed all tension between the two with a cat-like growl. "Well, well, well. Look who's dragged her ass back to our side with her tail between her legs. You responsible for treating me?"
"…Yes. Yes, I am, even though I knew you would hate it." Litchi stepped past Bullet and lowered her head. "And yes, I know how foolish I was. My desperation gave rise to a new weapon for your enemies, and I have no one to blame but myself."
"Tch. At least you aren't pinning your bullshit on anyone else. That's an improvement." Kokonoe rolled her eyes. "Alright, let's hear it. What went wrong at Ishana? I'm guessing we at least took out Take-Mikazuchi, seeing as I'm still alive."
"Yes, through the heroic sacrifice of Lord Hakumen, that fell weapon was destroyed." Coming to stand at Litchi's side, Bang closed his eyes and crossed his arms. "However, they succeeded in forging the Lynchpin, and have it in their possession. We managed to save Miss Litchi, and brought the creature known as Arakune back…"
"What?!" Kokonoe sat up, and instantly hissed in pain from the burns covering her body. "Litchi, you dumbshit! You still haven't given up on that little shit, even after all that's happened because him? Let him go already, you idiot! He can't be saved, and you're just fucking us over further by trying to do so."
While Litchi bit her lower lip, trying to come up with a counterargument, Bang unstrapped the massive nail on his back and planted it against the ground. "Phoenix: Rettenjou. I can't honestly say I understand much of this weapon, but it seems to sever connections to the Boundary. It prevented the dire Phantom's spells after I struck her with it, was instrumental to Litchi's salvation—although her own determination was just as important—and brought rationality to Arakune, even if it was in small doses. I believe this weapon could prove to be the key to salvaging the man known as Lotte Carmine."
"…Rettenjou, huh? And someone that can actually use it…" Kokonoe closed her eyes and relaxed, pondering. "…Can't say for sure if it would actually work, but hell, it's worth a try. Litchi, listen. If this fails, give it up. You're too valuable to this world to lose you again. Capisce? If not, I'll be the one to deal with you."
"I understand." Litchi nodded, but knew that even if this failed, she would not give up on Lotte. She couldn't, not after how long she spent seeking a cure for him. Her eyes turned to Bullet and she scowled. "And I'm sorry, but I can't allow you to be aggressive to Kokonoe. Please leave."
With a snort, Bullet turned on her heel to leave. "Wasn't gonna actually kill her…"
"Eh, she can stay. Not like such a weak Armagus is any actual threat to me." Kokonoe shrugged. "Although, really, if you're looking for anyone's head to blow off, it should be Azrael's. Not my fault that bastard went berserk. Hell, I wasn't even the one that made the choice of bringing him on that operation. I'd say go yell at Sector Seven high command, but they're kinda disbanded."
With a deep growl, Bullet wheeled around and snarled at Kokonoe. "You think you can just talk me out of this and blame others? I will never forgive you or Relius for my squad's deaths."
"Oh, well, yeah, if you get a chance to blow off Relius's head, by all means do so. Guy's a total piece of shit." Kokonoe rolled her eyes again. "And sorry for trying to be rational about this; I guess you're only capable of emotional reasoning. Let me know how that works out when you ask a guy out."
A prolonged growl from Bullet answered Kokonoe, but no verbal arrows flew. The door creaked open again, and this time, Jubei stepped through. "Hope I ain't interruptin' nothin' too important here."
"You!" This time, Kokonoe actually did leap to her feet. And even as the pain of her burns rankled her, her fury at the mere sight of the beastkin kept her standing. She managed to take a step forward before Litchi caught her in a gentle grip on the shoulders to try and lay her back down. She didn't struggle, acquiescing as Litchi placed her back on the bed, but her fiery eyes never left Jubei. "What the hell do you want?"
Holding a folder of files, Jubei pulled up a chair and sat down by her. "Can't an old man check on his daughter every once in a while?"
Silence answered him. With an awkward step back, Bang placed a hand on Litchi's shoulder. "Perhaps we should leave them in peace?"
Kokonoe nodded, eyes still fixed on Jubei's. "Yeah. Do that. This could get ugly." Once Bang, Litchi and Bullet had all left without another word, she growled. "So, what? You actually give a shit about me now?"
"Never haven't, n' ya know that." Jubei stretched out a paw to lay it on her shoulder. "Look Kokonoe, I'm sorr-"
"Don't even apologize, goddammit, that's all you've done for the past ever." Kokonoe huffed and brushed away his hand. "So you just wanted to check on me. Is that it? Well, here I am. Body lobster-red, unable to move, swearing at everyone that's tried to help me, and being a general bitch. Aren't you so goddamn proud of what an amazing person I turned out to be?"
"Matter of fact, yeah. Ya've done the world a lot o' good, Kokonoe, n' even if ya hadn't…"
"Oh, shut the fuck up, of course you're gonna give me that bullshit." Looking away with a scowl, Kokonoe gave him a dismissive wave. "Well, I'm here, I'll be fine, so you can piss off now and go back to pretending me and mom never happened."
"…Ya know I've never done that for a moment, Kokonoe. Ain't a day that's gone by I haven't wished I could'a done more to protect yer mother." Jubei placed the stack of files on the bed. "Give this a looksee, will ya? Might o' found somethin' that could help bring her back."
"Huh? The hell are you…?" Working through pain, Kokonoe reached out and took the files to look through them. She froze up at the first page. "…You're shitting me. This is… mother?" She turned to him, mouth agape. "You think that…?"
"Ya can save her, Kokonoe. Yer the only one with the power to undo what Terumi did to her… to erase the Phantom and bring Konoe back into this world."
"…You don't know if that's possible. But hell, I'm gonna try with everything I've got. Uh, thanks and shit." Placing the files at her side for the time being, Kokonoe turned back to Jubei, gaze replete of its hatred for her father. "So, is there anything else? Rachel got any tasks for me?"
"Yeah, she does. She needs ya to excavate Nu-13 from Take-Mikazuchi's corpse. N' I reckon you'll wanna fix up Tager when ya get the chance."
"…Tager got lasered, too? Sheesh. Ah well, can't say I wasn't expecting it." Kokonoe closed her eyes and waved Jubei off again. "Okay, got it. You can leave now."
Chuckling at her brusqueness, Jubei rose and headed back out. "Take care, Koko."
It was long after the door had closed behind Jubei, but eventually, Kokonoe nodded. "…You too, Jubei."
"You wanted to see me?" With that cold question, Jin stepped into the innermost chamber of Rachel's sprawling mansion. Five seats waited in a circle, all but one of them occupied. Tsubaki and Noel perked up as soon as he entered; Ragna scowled at him. Face a calm mask, Jin sat down in the empty seat between Noel and Tsubaki. "Make it quick."
"I assure you, this shall only take as long as it must to cover all I have to say, Mr. Hero." Rachel gave him a brief nod. "Now that we have all convened, let us begin. You four are, perhaps besides myself, the most instrumental to any hopes we may have of defeating Izanami, Relius and Terumi. The Azure Grimoire, the Izayoi, the Eye of the Azure, and the Power of Order… truly, we have some formidable power on our side. However, it is not enough for the time being. For all the strength we possess, the defeat of Izanami remains out of our reach."
Tsubaki lifted a hand. "Miss Rachel? If I may?" After receiving a nod of approval, she rose to her feet. "As you aware, I have recently attained access to the full power of Izayoi, including all techniques it possesses. One such technique I have at my disposal is Immortal Breaker, an attack for killing immortal beings with. Perhaps this could be used against her? Assuming Ragna is fine with this, of course; she is his sister, after all."
Ragna shook his head. "Not anymore, she's not. That masked asshole said that was just a shell for Izanami; Saya's as good as gone. And I'm going to see this bitch killed for daring to wear her face."
"I am afraid that Immortal Breaker will not suffice for this task, Miss Yayoi." Rachel closed her eyes and scowled. "Izanami is not mortal, nor is she immortal; she transcends the very concept of mortality. That is what it means to be a true deity. To never age, to remain impervious to all that may take her life… with one exception. A force designed to slay gods. I am sure you know of what I speak."
Tsubaki blinked twice, took a seat again, and snarled. "Kusanagi. Of course we know of it. But that's an impossibility."
With a snort, Ragna shook his head. "Yeah, seriously, you're a bitch for even suggesting it. Trying to traumatize Noel or something?"
"U… um…" Noel looked up, eyes wide with nervousness. "I suggested it."
While Ragna and Tsubaki could only stare in disbelief, Jin scoffed. "Foolish. What are trying to do with this, Noel?"
"…I just want to be able to protect the people that are precious to me. No matter what." When Noel looked up, a flame burned in her eyes, a look more intense than any Tsubaki had ever seen from her friend before. "I'm tired of being weak and unable to do anything. Everything I've accomplished, I've had my friends with me. But I want to be able to rely on my own strength, so that I don't always need to be protected by others. I want to be as amazing as you three are. So I'll become Kusanagi again, and do everything in my power to protect this world I love so much."
Ragna looked down at his left arm. "…If you're sure, Noel."
"I see. And I understand, Noel." Tsubaki smiled at her friend. "If that's what you want, then very well. We'll be sure to support you however we can."
Noel beamed and reached to surprise Tsubaki with a strong hug. "Mm. Thanks, Tsubaki!"
"Hmph. So be it." Jin glared over at Rachel. "I assume you don't want me to kill Ragna. I will try to refrain. However, just to be clear: after this is over, I will kill Ragna and ease his suffering forever."
"His… suffering?" Tsubaki shook her head and frowned. "I'm afraid you're off on that count, Jin. He is no purgatory in the least. And even if he were, I would see to easing it."
"No matter how close you are to him, you could never understand the darkness inside of him. You can suppress it, but never vanquish it. Only I can do that. But this is irrelevant to the matters at hand." Jin closed his eyes with an annoyed huff. "Is there any reason you needed me to be here?"
Rachel nodded. "Yes. I would like you to be rid of your cursed weapon, Yukianesa. It is not a weapon one that wields the Power of Order should possess; it drives you in the worst possible directions."
"Tch. Give up Yukianesa? Like hell I will." Jin rose and turned to leave, wincing inside at the hurt look on Noel's face. "If that's it…"
"I shall bequeath to you Hakumen's weapon, Interfectum Malus: Ookami, should you so choose. It will take some time to learn to wield properly, given its size, but it is far more suitable for you."
Jin stalled, hand on the doorknob. "…I'll consider it. Assuming we would have time for me to learn how to use it." With that, he left.
After releasing a deep sigh and shaking her head, Rachel turned to Ragna. "My apologies. I hoped to secure your safety, but it seems Jin is not to be easily convinced. You may leave the manor for the time being if you have any concerns."
"Concerns? About Jin? Ha. Good one, rabbit." With a casual stretch, Ragna smirked at her. "That little idiot couldn't beat me even if I didn't have Blood-Scythe."
Tsubaki groaned. "Ragna, now is not the time for senseless bravado…"
"Meh." Ragna leaned forward. "Alright. Was there any real reason for the two of us to be here, or are you just yanking our chains as usual?"
Still keeping a look of warning on Ragna, Rachel nodded. "Oh, but of course. However, your matter has already been settled. I was planning on convincing you of the necessity of Izanami's death, but you have already come to terms with it. For this, I am quite grateful. Conversing with you is to dull one's thinking down to your level, to say nothing of convincing you. Your rare moment of rationality has spared me a headache."
"And your squeaky voice has given me one, you rancid bitch."
Rachel turned to Tsubaki next, letting Ragna's comment go unacknowledged. "Miss Yayoi, I have a couple of matters to address with you."
As quickly as she could, Tsubaki pulled her face back out of her palm and tried to compose herself. "Ah! Yes?"
"First, I would request that you, as one most influenced by Hakumen's actions as one of the Six Heroes, give a speech at his commemoration this afternoon. I realize this is on short notice, but it need not be long, and I know of your eloquence and ability to think up such things quickly, as evidenced by your… lengthy speeches on justice. Jubei, as one who knew Hakumen best, shall do so as well."
Casting her eyes to the side in embarrassment, Tsubaki nodded. "Very well. I shall do so."
"The second matter is of far greater consequence." Rachel sighed. "It would seem your estimation of Belioz Mutsuki was the more accurate. Izanami has stepped down from her role as Imperator, and has elevated Belioz to her former position."
Tsubaki froze up, paling. No. No, that couldn't be right. Ragna's arm came around her shoulders, and she found her voice again. "…You're certain?"
"Unfortunately, I am quite certain. Valkenhayn has confirmed it."
"…And what of my family? Has he made any moves against Naobi?"
"None yet, but I have already taken measures against such a possibility. Valkenhayn has been stationed at the house of Yayoi, and will see to your family's safety. I hope that is acceptable."
Color returning to her cheeks, Tsubaki nodded. "Yes, thank you very much. If Noel is going to be learning to utilize the power of Kusanagi, and Jin is learning to wield Ookami, what will Ragna and I be doing?"
"As two of our strongest members, you shall be enforcers, always available in the event we glean an opportunity to defeat one of our primary foes. You may stay in the manor, so long as no… trouble arises." The weight of Rachel's subtle threat intensified under the power of her warning glare.
Holding in a nervous laugh, Tsubaki nodded. "Very well. Is this all?"
"Indeed, for now. You are free to go." As Rachel rose, she closed her eyes. "Izanami believes herself to be invincible, that this war has already been won. She believes this world is destined to be leveled by the goddess of death's hand. We shall not lose to her. We are not mere pawns at fate's hands, left at the mercy of such a deity. Rather, we are the ones who will dictate the fate of the world, as she shall soon learn. Rest for now, and relax tonight. After tonight, there will be no time for frivolity."
Glasses toasted together, music blared, and laughter echoed in the garden of Rachel's manor. Almost all present at the manor partook in the festivities, even Rachel in her own calm way, and, after much convincing from Makoto through the wonders of alcohol, Bullet. The lone exceptions were Kokonoe and Tager, the former at work repairing him despite her burns. All was well.
As Bang called for yet another toast of celebration—those that had tried to keep count had long given up—one member of the gathered crowd left, making their way through the hallways of the mansion. They would be back shortly, they said. It was no major matter, just a quick trip inside.
And without warning, far away from anyone that could lend help, paralysis struck them. A laugh sounded, sending a chill down their spine at the wicked familiarity of it. Terumi, a green spirit sporting a mockery of a smile, appeared before them, Phantom at his side. "Well, well, well. What do we have here? A perfect host, perhaps? Sounds good to me!"
The response came; there was no way they could provide the host body for such a maleficent creature, that they would fight with every fiber of their being until he was exorcised from their body. But Terumi only laughed some more. "Oh, I know all about that kinda shit. Host has to have an agreeable personality and all that, which you certainly do not have. But hey! It's okay, because I have a way around that. Will my lovely assistant please step right up?"
As his laughter howled, Phantom hovered forward. A mental assault struck through the victim, taking control of their very thoughts and twisting them to support Terumi. But, just as promised, the victim struggled, and not even Mind Eater proved fully successful.
But it was enough. Cackling, Terumi drifted into their body and constricted their mind with his will. And where one attempt to control their mind failed, adding a second succeeded. Not even their great power was enough to overcome that of Terumi and Phantom in synchronization, and after several minutes of struggle, Terumi rose in his new body. All memories and emotions that his victim possessed were his to browse; none would ever suspect something was awry.
The first step proved the hardest. Unaccustomed to the body, and still fighting against his victim's struggles, it took all the strength of mind Terumi possessed to lift a foot and bring it forward. But each successive step proved easier, and by the time he returned to the party, all movements were natural. He explained away the victim's absence with ease, and so the festivities continued, none aware of the snake in their midst.
Dawn cracked red over the horizon, drenching the ruins of Ibukido with light. Standing over two slumbering children, Amane smirked and crossed his arms. "Well, now. Looks like the final dance is about to begin."
A/N: Back when I first planned out At Fate's Hands, I expected it to be finished in about 40 chapters or so. Maybe 45 at the most. It's now on chapter 35, with several plotlines that still need to be wrapped up, a new character introduced very recently, and a grandiose conclusion needed; my plans call for 16 more chapters at the moment. Therefore, I have decided to end At Fate's Hands here, on the heels of a long, climactic battle, and continue the story in a new fic, turning this whole shebang into a trilogy.
Now, why wouldn't I just continue AFH here, rather than crafting a third story here? There are two primary reasons; two shifts that will be occurring to differentiate it from its predecessor. The first is a focal shift; much as the focus of characters broadened between On Strange Wings and At Fate's Hands, so it will change again. This is not to say that Ragna, Tsubaki and co will be thrust out of the spotlight; the main characters will remain the same, but the prominence of side characters and plot will be shuffled. The second reason is a bit of a structural change. I won't say much beyond that for now; it involves a plot occurrence that, honestly, will probably prove rather divisive. And, finally, to be honest, this one has dragged on long enough.
So, yeah. Thanks to everyone who read and gave feedback and whatnot, and I'll (hopefully) see you guys again for the next story.
(This is provided that this site actually allows me to upload new stories one of these days; still sitting on an Azrael-related one-shot I've had ready for over a week now.)