"And just where are we going?" Kuro wondered as he crossed his arms, holding his bow loosely. He had half a mind to remind Viridi that he and Pit were doing her a favor, not becoming her personal servants.
"You're going after either Vis or Unda," Viridi replied.
"Or both," Pit suggested, and Kuro turned to him, confused. "I mean," the blue-eyed angel continued, "Why waste time? Kuro and I can handle ourselves. So I'll find Unda, and you can find Vis." Kuro nodded.
"That makes sense," he agreed. "Alright. So, where are we going?" Viridi closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"Unda took shelter in a cavern near one of the great springs. It's out in the middle of a forest. As for Vis… he's in the mountains." She opened her eyes and smiled teasingly. "Kuro, you'd better be glad you can fly. It's hard to get around up there on foot." He nodded again, smirking a bit. Viridi had a way of irking him, but what did it matter? The sooner they found the Oracles, the sooner he could head back to Skyworld and smack a few Centurions around. "Okay," Viridi went on. "Pit, I'll send you out first, then you, Kuro. Ready?"
"Of course," Pit smiled. "I bet I can find Unda faster than you can find Vis."
"You're on," Kuro accepted the challenge and shoved his twin playfully, and Pit laughed as he approached the gate. "See you when you get back."
"On it," Pit grinned as the gate opened, and he leapt out into the air just as it closed again.
"I'll… be honest," Viridi sighed, and Kuro groaned inwardly.
"What is it?" he inquired.
"I don't know exactly where he is. He's probably around the peaks, like I've told you before. But he doesn't really like company, so he hid himself really well. But, if you explain the situation, he'll probably understand."
"'Probably?'" he repeated.
"Yeah…" she admitted. "Sorry. But good luck." He sighed heavily and headed for the gate.
"Fine," he grumbled. "Let's just get this over with." She nodded and the gate opened again, and he wasted no time in heading out. He emerged a short distance away from the mountains themselves and set himself into a glide, scanning the area around him.
"That forest over there is where Unda is," Viridi's voice echoed in his head, and he turned to look south. As she'd said, a large, dense forest dotted the landscape a far cry away.
"So, that's where Pit is headed, huh?" he replied.
"Yep," Viridi confirmed.
"Huh," he turned his attention back to the approaching mountains. "So… explain to me something."
"The Oracles were Spirits, right? And you said they help maintain the Balance. So, they must be pretty close to you gods."
"Yes, what's your point?" Viridi sounded like she was quickly getting annoyed, but he was far from caring.
"They hid themselves as humans to avoid stuff like war and competition over their power," he continued.
"So, they knew since essentially when humans first showed up on the planet that wars between the gods would cause catastrophe. And it's not just one side: Lady Palutena has Levica, you have your three, and Medusa had Nemo. And yet, despite them taking such extreme measures to help avoid war, you still keep fighting over the stupidest things!"
"What do you mean 'stupidest things?'" Viridi demanded. "You know Palutena and I both have been fighting to keep Hades from his relentless harvesting. We're trying to protect the natural order of things!"
"Even though you're still ready to destroy the humans, even though you gods aren't any better. You're sick of them fighting? So you need to quit your idiotic conflicts!" the black-haired angel shot back. "Practice what you preach. Otherwise, you've got no room to criticize them or anyone else."
"Jeez. Just because your wings have changed doesn't mean your heart has, huh? You're still a rude little nothing! You don't get it!" the goddess argued.
"No, YOU don't get it!" Kuro growled. "You listen to me, Viridi. I swore loyalty to Lady Palutena, but only because she actually has the best interest of the world as her top priority. She doesn't overstep her boundaries unless absolutely necessary, nor does she slaughter hundreds of humans at once because she just doesn't like them! You know I lived by my own rules for several years- did what I wanted. That gave me the viewpoint even Pit could never get. I got to see everything from outside the combat without some biased loyalty. Hades was about to throw everything off. You won't give the humans a chance to learn- you just want them exterminated. Medusa toyed with her power and the humans, tormenting them. Lady Palutena is the only one keeping everything in line!"
"I'm not done yet," he interrupted. "Lady Palutena has dealt with you, Hades, Medusa, the Chaos Kin, the Aurum… Pit and I have fought them all. We can't ever get a break because none of the rest of you can control yourselves! Someone has to police everything, because if you all did whatever you wanted, everything would fall apart almost instantly."
"Why you…" Kuro wasn't quite sure if she couldn't come up with a response or if she was just too irritated to reply. "Calling you an insect would be putting them down. Mind your own business!"
"It IS my business when your petty conflicts keep getting me and my brother roped into this fighting," he pointed out harshly as he came across the mountains. "It's our business when we have to go play retrieval because you gods can't just stay in your own territories and do what you're supposed to!"
"This is because of Hades!" Viridi replied defensively.
"Yes, but you're guilty of the same thing." He sighed heavily. "Look, you're hopeless. I'm done trying to convince you if you won't listen to me." He landed on a cliff-side, fuming, and waited there for a moment for a remark from the goddess of Nature, but it never came. After a few more moments, he sighed again. "Guess I ticked her off enough that she's giving me the silent treatment. Whatever…" he shook his head. "I can find Vis myself." He stretched his arms and wings before he traced around the edge of the cliff and emerged on the other side of the mountain.
What he found there was far from anything he expected.
"Who are you?" he demanded of the silver-haired, pale-red-eyed boy standing near the cliff's edge. "How… how did a human manage to get up here?" he wondered, more to himself than the boy.
"That's the thing," The boy pointed to the insignia clasped to the strap running over his shoulder. Kuro didn't recognize the symbol, but quickly processed that… "I'm not human, as you may be guessing. Now, judging from your face, your eyes, your hair… you're Dark Pit, aren't you?" At once, Kuro pulled his bow apart as hostility burned to life in him.
"Where do you get off calling me that?" he growled. "My name is Kuro, understand?"
"My apologies," the boy dipped his head. "I wasn't aware you'd gained a true name- Other than 'Pittoo,' but I know you hate being called that," he added before Kuro had a chance to stab him. "'Kuro' suits you much better. Originating from an eastern language and meaning 'dark' or 'black,' right?" Kuro nodded slowly. "'Dark,' for your original self, and 'black' simply because of your hair." The boy chuckled a bit.
"Okay," Kuro pieced his bow back together and massaged his forehead with his free hand. "Do you want something, or are you just going to lecture me about a bunch of pointless things I already know about my name?"
"Again, my apologies," the boy continued. "Allow me to introduce myself: I am Nemo, the Oracle of Darkness." Any sarcastic or snappy comeback the angel may have had drowned in his shock and confusion. "Listen… I know Pit wouldn't even give me a chance to explain, but he thinks with his heart. You think with your head, right?"
"Right…" Kuro replied cautiously.
"I have a proposition for you- please, hear me out before you decide anything." Kuro nodded, though he was intensely reserved about whatever this Oracle had to say. "I'll tell you this: As you may or may not know, I am serving under Lord Hades." Distrust immediately shot through the angel.
"Why the heck would you just tell me that outright?" Kuro inquired.
"Because there really is no way for me to avoid it," Nemo answered. "I have no desire to deceive you. Is there a point in beating around the bush, so to speak?" For that, the angel had no answer. "Listen to me, Kuro. You serve Lady Palutena- I'm not asking. I already know that. But if you continue to do so, you're securing your own demise, along with hers and Pit's. I'm not trying to scare you- everything I'm saying to you now is true. Lord Hades is planning something that even your goddess can't defend herself from." Kuro scanned Nemo's eyes, his body language, his tone, but could find nothing suggesting he was lying or exaggerating. Either this Oracle was a superb player, or…
"I know Pit would never believe me or consider my offer: but again, he thinks with his heart. You think with your head," Nemo continued. "So, if you want to survive, then I'm offering you the chance to do what you believe is in your best interests. If you stay with Lady Palutena, then you have no hope and you can bid your life, and Pit's, farewell." Kuro figured he was implying something, but couldn't figure out what. "But, if you come with me back to the Underworld and join Lord Hades, then you'll live."
And, if I live, then even if something happens to Pit, I can bring him back, Kuro realized, praying Nemo couldn't somehow read his mind and recalling when he'd temporarily lost his own soul and Pit had retrieved it, reviving him before they challenged Hades. The only thing out there that matches me in combat is Pit himself, and I can fly. Whatever Hades throws at me, I can handle it… he swallowed. As long as this guy doesn't immediately figure it out…
"No traps," Kuro replied. "Did Hades put you up to this? Does he know?"
"He has some odd fascination with your soul," Nemo told him, but he already knew that- Frankly, it made him feel somewhat violated. "But he also knows how strong you and Pit are. As I said- I know Pit wouldn't even consider this. But with you, I thought I may at least have a chance."
A thought suddenly occurred to the angel, and he glanced up at the sky.
"Wait… Viridi was watching me for a while there. She may have just heard everything you just-"
"I'm an Oracle, remember?" Nemo cut him off. "I have the ability to hide myself from all beings other than the goddess of Darkness- not that that matters any longer," his face darkened, "since Lady Medusa was destroyed." Kuro blinked, unsure of how to respond to that. "I can also grant that ability to others- on a small scale, anyway. As soon as you approached me, I cut you off from Mistress Viridi, Lady Palutena, even Lord Hades. It's just you and me- and Vis, if he's somewhere around here listening in to our conversation."
"You have this all figured out, don't you?" Kuro wondered flatly.
"Aye," Nemo agreed. "I… find it necessary to have all corners covered. As you're thinking about your best interests, I have to consider mine. This is also why no one noticed that Lord Hades had escaped."
"Wait, wait, wait," Kuro held up his hand. "YOU helped him escape?"
"Yes," Nemo nodded, but there was no sense of triumph or hostility in his voice.
"Why?" Unfortunately, the Oracle remained silent at the question, and Kuro quickly realized he wasn't going to budge on that subject. The angel let out a slow breath and shut his eyes for a moment. "You're serious that this is the only way I'll survive."
"Then…" He grit his teeth for a moment, pondering his options. "Fine. I'll come with you."
"Still have a sense of that independence you had when you first came into existence, eh?" the Oracle noted, and Kuro opened his eyes. "That will serve you well, Kuro. Don't ever lose it." The angel had no response for that. "Anyway, then let's be headed back to the Underworld. I'm sure Lord Hades will be quite pleased that you've chosen a path of life."
Pit is never going to forgive me for this, Kuro mumbled silently as Nemo lifted his hand, a dark flame-like aura enveloping it, and moments later darkness engulfed Kuro's vision.
When it cleared, he found himself in a place he'd only physically been once before, and he quickly recognized the bare white trees, pale blue, glowing architecture, and flitting soft lights of the City of Souls situated somewhere in the Underworld.
"So, Hades set up his base here?" Kuro wondered as he quickly followed Nemo into a large shrine. "Why?"
"It… suits him the best for his plans of action," Nemo replied as they went down a corridor lit by dark torches. "He wants to be up front for the harvest, if you will."
"So, since souls come here when they pass from life to death…"
"Exactly," Nemo confirmed. "Well done, Kuro. You really are quite sharp." Again, Kuro wasn't sure how to respond. A few moments of awkward silence later, they came to a set of large double doors. Without a word, Nemo opened one and gestured for the angel to enter, and Kuro hesitantly complied with his bow gripped tight in his hand.
"Welcome back, Nemo!" a voice he recognized all too well greeted. "And… could it be? Is that actually Ptooey?" Kuro groaned.
"Apparently, he would rather be referred to by his new name," Nemo replied. "But he's agreed to join us."
"Really!" Hades sounded genuinely surprised- not that it was easy to tell among his exaggeration and sarcasm. "Kuro, is that true?" Kuro swallowed and took a deep breath.
"Yes, it's true."