Chapter 23: To Challenge Destiny

"It seems that we're out of time," Izumo noted, looking up at the sky.

"Yes," the Headmistress replied. "Donar, Suomi, as of this moment, you two are no longer my subordinates, but the joint heads of the academy. The pilots have all been told their roles in the coming battle. You two will be in charge of leading them to victory."

"Yes, Headmistress," the two answered in unison.

Izumo nodded and turned to make his way to the Ahura Gnis. It was good that the two of them had accepted the responsibility without question; it showed their conviction. Crea fell in stride beside him, looking proud at the fact that her former subordinates had grown.

"It's now our turn to provide as much for the next generation as we can," Izumo stated.

"Shouldn't you arm yourself before going?" Crea asked. "You don't know whether we'll run into heavy opposition on Altair. Also, shouldn't you at least say farewell to your wife and sons?"

"I have no need to arm myself," Izumo replied. "I am a weapon. Anything more would be superfluous. As for saying farewell to my wife and sons, there will be no need for that. Goodbyes before setting off are meant for those who don't know their duty. Or for those who don't plan on returning."

Crea sighed. "Men," she muttered in a voice just loud enough for him to overhear. "No common sense even if they think things through."

Izumo ignored that and climbed up the ladder into the cockpit of the Ahura Gnis, lending a hand to Crea after he had entered. As he initiated the power-up sequence for his machine, he felt a charge of energy running through every fiber of his being. It was the sensation that he used to have back when he was given a mission as a new pilot; it had been a long time since this had happened and he felt…younger somehow.

"Are you ready?" Izumo asked as the final preparation cycle concluded.

"Let's get this over with," Crea replied. She had seemed a little put off ever since he had suggested this plan, citing a multitude of reasons as to why long distance teleportation would be draining. Izumo had admitted that it was probably going to be a burden on her, but the overall benefits if they succeeded would be immeasurable.

The Ahura Gnis, now missing the six flaps that made up its wings, rose into the air. Izumo concluded that the teleportation was disconcerting. One moment, they had been hovering above the academy, looking down at the tower, and the next, they were in Altair airspace, with twisted metal walkways and rundown buildings as far as the eye could see. True to her word, Crea had transported the two of them to a spot not too far from the Command Center. The imposing building loomed over them, adding to how dark and desolate the world of Altair had become.

"Mykage has a lot to answer for," Izumo said, gritting his teeth. In the distance, smoke rose into the air in several neighborhoods although the source of the fires could not be discerned. "It looks like the Command Center is locked down. Well, at least I can bypass security."

"Oh, are you sure your override codes are still going to work?" Crea asked. "It's been several months since you were la—"

Izumo knocked a hole in the side of the building by punching through it with the Ahura Gnis.

"Oh, that kind of bypass," Crea noted. "I should have guessed. You've been rather…direct lately. Don't let your emotions cloud your judgment. I'd hate to be the one that needs to break bad news to your wife."

"Stay with the Ahura Gnis in case we need to make a quick getaway," Izumo ordered before jumping out into the makeshift entrance to the building.

Crea just gave a quiet tsk as a reply.

"Alright, I'm totally pumped for this!" Andy shouted as he took off.

MIX shook her head, "Just stick to your job, Andy. Don't go on ahead of everyone and get blown out of the sky."

"You can't really blame him," Kagura replied with a grin as he took off. "I've been meaning to tear Mykage a new one for a while now."

"I agree," Amata said. "Legendary Aquarion or not, we can't fail. For the sake of our future."

"Yeah," Zessica agreed. "I'm not going to let the world end that easily. There's still so much that I want to do…"

"In order to keep the promises I made," Mikono continued. "I won't back down. I refuse to run and hide."

The six Vectors flew off into the night sky towards the red planet. Each pilot had a task and, although they did not know what had been assigned to the others, they trusted their friends to get the job done.

"You'd better make sure my sister gets back safe and sound," Cayenne growled over the communications channel from the command room. "Especially you, Kagura. I'm holding you personally responsible."

"Heh, quit it with your sister complex already," Kagura replied. "You don't need to tell me to protect her."

A lone machine joined them on their flight upwards.

"I hope you haven't forgotten about us," Jin said from the cockpit of the Radius Gnis. Sometime during the past week, he had tweaked the controls of the Akhtar System so that they were much more responsive. As a tradeoff, they now required the full attention of the pilot, meaning that he couldn't pilot the actual mech at the same time. The solution? Add a second set of controls to control the main body, which Yunoha was now in charge of.

"Everyone, do your best," Yunoha exclaimed before turning translucent when Jin gave her a broad smile.

As they approached the Legendary Aquarion, the pilots heard Mykage's voice, speaking not through a communication channel, but as if he were right next to them.

"Well then, humans. Have you come to throw yourselves at my mercy? To beg for forgiveness?" the man gloated as the Aquarion began to glow.

"Not a chance," Kagura replied angrily. He fired off a few shots, but from this distance, he didn't do any damage. In fact, the beams faded out of sight long before they even looked like they would reach the enemy.

"You foolish beings never cease to amuse me," Mykage laughed. "Very well, out of respect for your show of courage and what remains of my feelings for Apollonius, I shall allow you to live…just long enough to witness the destruction of your worlds and the birth of a new, more perfect world!"

The Aquarion spread its arms out and engaged its wings. "Bear witness to the birth of the new god of your world!" Mykage exclaimed with glee as streams of red energy poured from Altair into his machine. The golden glean of the Aquarion slowly darkened into a purplish-black. Gems on the body of the machine glowed like stars. The Legendary Aquarion also grew in size until it was the size of a small moon. "Bear witness to your inevitable demise!"

This blatant show of power rendered the pilots of the Vectors speechless. They had been determined to defeat Mykage; but then again, they had also thought it would be a fight between machine and machine, not machine versus titan-sized monstrosity.

In the end, it was Jin who broke the silence. "Sorry to disappoint you, Mykage," he retorted. "But I'm an atheist."

Andy burst out laughing. "Oh man, Jin…did you actually tell a joke? That was pretty good, hahaha. But yeah, I guess that if it's a choice between not believing in a god or that bastard up there, I'll choose the former."

"I don't know what your plans are, humans," Mykage stated. "But it does not matter if all of you are stopped here and now!"

"Here he comes," Kagura warned, "get ready."

The Vectors dodged, splitting up their formation as the hands of the Legendary Aquarion shot towards them, trying to grab them with a [Mugen Attack].

"Time for us to do our part, Yunoha," Jin said as he engaged the Akhtar System.

Just over a hundred hexagonal plates detached from his machine and flew off into the surrounding space. A moment later, the modifications Jin had made to the system kicked in and each unit projected a holographic image around itself. Suddenly, the area was filled with over a hundred Vectors, each flying in a pattern meant to confuse any observer. Yunoha added her personal touch to Jin's plan, using her power to the utmost limit in order to cause the Vectors, both real and fake, to continuously blink in and out of visibility. She wouldn't be able to keep it up for long, but according to what the two of them had been told by Headmistress Crea and Commander Izumo, their job was to buy as much time as possible for the Vectors to close the distance.

"Jin, you damn traitor," Mykage exclaimed. "I knew I should have gotten rid of you when you showed your true colors. I know just what to do with you and your treacherous lover."

The hands of the Aquarion changed their course, ignoring the Vectors and their holographic fakes and pursuing the undisguised Radius Zero instead. But between Yunoha's piloting and Jin angling his barriers so that the hands glanced off his shields before touching the mech, they managed to avoid being grasped for a considerable amount of time.

"You are FATED to bend to my will!" Mykage declared. The eyes of the Legendary Aquarion blazed to life, glowing malevolently.

Suddenly, two hands appeared right on top of the Radius Gnis, enveloping it instantly. It was only after they had been captured that the arms appeared, reconnecting the hands to the Aquarion. To create an effect before the cause was established, the violation of causality; Mykage had invoked a troublesome power.

"Now begone with you," Mykage stated. A bright light shone between the palms of the Aquarion and when it was all over, the Radius Zero had vanished.

"Jin-kun!" Amata yelled through the communication channel. All he got in response was static.

"Oh, don't worry," Mykage reassured them. "They're not dead, yet…I merely transported those pests somewhere that they can't interfere. I'll bring them back later so that you can all watch together as I remake your world."

The units of the Akhtar System, in the absence of their controller had stopped moving around randomly and floated off, carried away by their momentum. In no time at all, it became obvious which of the "Vectors" were the real ones. Still, Jin's strategy had bought them a considerable amount of time; they had covered roughly a third of the distance to their target.

But with that power that allowed him to reverse cause and effect, they wouldn't last long at all. Almost immediately, one of the Vectors had been captured.

"Andy!" MIX screamed.

"Now be gone with you," Mykage exclaimed gleefully at his captured target. A moment later, his expression changed to one of disbelief. "What!?"

Because Andy's Vector had reappeared outside of his prison.

"Hey, man-with-the-god-complex!" Andy said mockingly. "Having trouble capturing a single mere human? Some deity you turned out to be!"

"Andy, I'm not sure you want to be making him angry at you," MIX warned.

But Andy just replied, "It's not my fault he overestimated his own abilities."

His insulting tone and utter disregard for Mykage made him the Aquarion's primary target. Of course, every time he was "captured" he reappeared again outside, slipping out of Mykage's grasp. The reason for this was that Andy was using his power to create a "hole" in the fabric of space, similar to what Mykage was doing in an effort to capture him. Whenever it appeared that he was caught, he would just "jump" to a new location.

But this wasn't a game he could keep up forever. Eventually he would tire and be caught. However, Andy knew his task; to buy time for the others. He would see to that job. His friends were depending on him. MIX was counting on him.

"Having trouble? Your failing is that you've always underestimated the determination and dreams of humans, Toma. Or would you prefer that I call you Mykage?"

Fudo Zen's voice sounded in the cockpit of the Aquarion. Of course, he wasn't actually inside the chamber, but as a part of the Aquarion itself, he could project his thoughts wherever he wanted them heard.

"Silence Apollonius! The time you have bought for these wretched humans has come to an end. The 'Wings of the Sun' answer to my will now," Mykage retorted angrily.

"Say what you will, but when a god can't deal with a single boy whose power is to dig holes, I have doubts as to the veracity of your claim to godhood."

Mykage tried to shut out the voice as he focused on capturing the annoying insect fluttering about the battlefield. They should not be causing him this much trouble! They should be powerless before his splendor! They should have given up when that difference was made clear to them. But yet they persisted. Annoying…

Zen Fudo spoke up again. "By the way, your past incarnation wants to have a talk with you. He says something about wanting to reconcile with his poor, deluded half. Do you want me to leave a message for him since you're busy?"

Mykage gritted his teeth together. He was beginning to think it was a mistake to have captured the commander of Neo-DEAVA; the man was proving to be just as much of a nuisance as the pilots themselves, as well as an extremely effective distraction.

But despite Apollonius' taunting, Mykage finally managed to catch the pilot of the Vector who had kept eluding him. It wasn't due to his skill in piloting the "Wings of the Sun"; the boy had simply grown too exhausted to continue using his power any further.

"So…you like holes, boy?" Mykage sneered. "How about I place you right next to a nice one?"

Without hesitation, Mykage transported the Vector to a far region of space, near a black hole. He made sure to put the machine just far enough away that full acceleration would be just enough to avoid being dragged any closer. After all, he wanted the pilot to feel terror and despair as the Vector slowly ran out of fuel and then slowly drifted into the crushing abyss.

"Andy, answer me!" MIX shouted as his Vector disappeared from view. It was no use, she didn't get any response from him.

"Damn it," she muttered. "Why'd you have to go and push yourself so hard? You'd better still be alive…I won't forgive you if you aren't!"

A soft glow enveloped her as she cried out in anguish. Her power, which rarely had any uses in battle aside from making quick repairs, overflowed. [Spatial Augmentation], which usually meant filling holes and reinforcing structures, now stabilized the very fabric of space and time.

Mykage, was not pleased to find that he could no longer reverse causality by altering how the flow of time worked. But that wasn't the only trick that the girl had up her sleeve. Her Vector transformed itself, becoming the head of the Aquarion Gepard.

"Take this!" she screamed as she unloaded everything she had at the Legendary Aquarion.

"Know your place, human!"

Mykage blocked the barrage with the palm of the Aquarion before sending it hurtling towards MIX's vector. She tried to fly out of its path, but the hand was just too large to avoid and she was caught between the thumb and forefinger.

"Quit struggling," Mykage demanded as he hurled the Vector into a nearby asteroid. "This is as difficult as stepping on ants without crushing them. I said I'd leave you all alive to witness the end so that you will truly know despair."

After declaring his intentions, he turned his attention to the four remaining Vectors

Izumo left the two guards he had knocked unconscious outside the command room, stepping into the room stealthily. He didn't have much time until reinforcements arrived and he had a lot ahead of him to do. Accessing the command program from his chair, he impatiently typed in his password and then allowed the machine to run a fingerprint and retina scan. The whole process took longer than he would have liked.

"Damn," he muttered. "Looks like I need to reset the Ianthe to default settings before I can reroute the power."

Every additional process he had to run through would mean more time for soldiers to reach his room. Izumo shut the door to the chamber remotely and locked it; that would buy him a few additional minutes as the Ianthe shut down and restarted. In less than a minute, but seeming far longer than that, the progress bar filled up. All around him, the lights of the city shut off as the Ianthe powered down. The Command Center itself remained operational on backup power.

As Izumo started up the power sequence, he heard the sound of pounding at the door. He would have to work fast. Taking a small data stick out of his pocket, he connected it to the terminal and then activated the override protocol. Another progress bar started filling slowly.

It sounded like the troops outside were trying to blast open the doors with their firearms. Too bad for them that the building plans for the Command Center had called for heavily armored doors on all rooms leading to essential locations. However, Izumo noted that there seemed to be several Gnis units launching from the nearby base; it would be foolish to think that they were heading anywhere other than here.

"Come on," Izumo muttered as the progress bar finally completed. From a list of options, he ran the final program meant to route all available power from the Ianthe to the Vectors. Red beams of energy shooting up into the dark sky told him that it had worked. Glancing at the door to where the sound of gunfire was still coming through, he decided that it would be better to escape through the window. Not that he thought he couldn't handle the troops outside, but he would rather not have to; it was difficult to avoid using lethal force when someone was shooting at you.

"Headmistress, I've accomplished my mission. Requesting a pick up at the window of the central command room," Izumo said through his communicator.

"Which room would that be?" came the reply. "There's enemy machines closing in and I'm not sure where your location is."

"Just look for the shattering glass."

"The what?"

Izumo used his power to shove through the glass panes. He did not intend to get as badly cut up as his son had jumping through a window. With a running start, he leapt through into the air—and landed on the shoulder of the Ahura Gnis.

Climbing into the cockpit, he remarked, "Nice timing."

The Headmistress shook her head, "Reckless. I can see where Kagura-kun gets it from."

The sudden acceleration of her Vector took Zessica by surprise. They had already closed in two-thirds of the distance to the Aquarion. The boost in speed meant that the final distance would not take long to cover. Of course, her part in the plan was to protect Mikono. That much had been made clear to her by both Commander Izumo and Headmistress Crea.

"Is it just me, or are we drawing on the power of Altair like Mykage did earlier?" Amata asked over the communications channel.

"It doesn't matter, just focus on your task, weakling," Kagura replied. Zessica was about to retort in Amata's defense, but after hearing Amata chuckle, she realized that it was banter to help alleviate their battle nerves.

"You dare turn the power of the planet against its god?" Mykage raged. For some reason, the man had been sounding more and more unhinged as time went on. It couldn't just be because they were getting closer to their goal…could it?

"Get over yourself," Amata replied coldly. "Any god that resorts to threats and force to subjugate others does not deserve that title. For the sake of all who have suffered under you and those that you intend to cause suffering to…your ambitions end here!"

"Filthy mutt, I see you still don't recognize when you're in the presence of your superiors. Very well, you shall be next."

The Aquarion reached out for Amata's Vector. At this range, not even the boosted capabilities of their Vectors would allow them to evade. Amata seemed to understand this, because he transformed his Vector into the head of the Aquarion Evol and pushed back against one of the hands, trying to keep it away.

"Amata!" Zessica yelled as the second hand closed in to him.

Without waiting for a response, she flew towards him. And as she did, she shouted the words, "Final Duet Union. Go Aquarion!"

The familiar sensation of becoming one with Amata, that feeling of bliss beyond imagining, filled her as the Vector rearranged itself into the torso of the Aquarion Evol and joined up with the head. She wanted to lose herself in that pleasure, but their immediate situation made that impossible. Perhaps afterwards they could repeat the experience…

"Zessica?" Amata asked in surprise. "You're supposed to be protecting Mikono-san!"

Zessica smiled brazenly at him. "Still talking about other girls in front of me? I might get jealous, you know."

Her Vector rearranged itself some more, extending its own arms to grasp onto the hand of the Legendary Aquarion that was approaching from Amata's blind spot.

"If the two of us can prevent him from using his hands," Zessica continued, "then it's better than anything else we can expect to do alone. And besides—"

She stopped before wording the rest of her feelings, looking down between her feet to avoid eye contact.

"Thanks Zessica," Amata replied softly. "I didn't mean for what I said to have sounded like that. It's just that—this isn't exactly the safest spot in the universe right now. But since you're here, I might as well say this. I'm glad you're here with me at the end."

Zessica's heart pounded in her chest. The power readings on her HUD shot upwards; with the added boost from absorbing energy from Altair, they were now literally off the charts. The hands of the Legendary Aquarion, which had been threatening to surround and crush the two of them, were now pushed backwards slightly.

Mykage was forced to deal with the remaining two Vectors without the use of his hands. The only armaments he had left were the weak guns built into the head of his Aquarion. Guns that now tried desperately to track Kagura and Mikono's movements.

Mikono looked back at where Amata and Zessica were holding back the Aquarion's [Mugen Attack.] She thanked her friends in her mind for the effort they were putting forth to allow her to finish her mission before turning back towards the front. 50 kilometers left. At the speed they were going, it would take less than a minute to reach her target.

"So that's your plan," Mykage remarked, laughing madly. "Trying to use that harlot's power to force me to merge with my past self. Well then, I shall crush your hopes and dreams of a future! You cannot stop me Apollonius, not this time. Your gambit has failed and with it, the fate of your worlds will be mine to alter!"

All the firepower from the Aquarion focused on Mikono's Vector. And although Kagura tried to alter the trajectory of as many beams as he could with the power of [Reversal], there were just too many to counter. Mikono herself had no defensive Element power. She was forced to dodge to the best of her ability. But she still took hits.

The power boost from the Ianthe meant her machine could absorb quite a bit of extra punishment, but at a distance of only 10 kilometers away, her engine shorted out. Her machine spiraled off-course, unable to maintain its trajectory towards the Legendary Aquarion.

"Mikono-san!" Amata yelled through the communication channel.

"Do you see that Apollonius! I have won. All your plans, your deceits, your betrayals, were for naught!" Mykage laughed out triumphantly.

Mikono's mouth twisted upwards into a smile.

"Element power [Doppelganger], deactivate."

Her figure blurred and was replaced by her true form. Alicia Sora. An actress with few roles to her name due not to lack of skill, but her disappearance. Almost fittingly, her power was to perfectly copy the physical appearance of anyone she wished. Of course, she couldn't copy their personality or their abilities, but her considerable acting skills made up for it. For the past few weeks, she had been talking with and observing Mikono so that she could play this role in the final battle. To disguise herself as the girl so thoroughly that even her closest friends would be fooled. A role that was now complete.

"What! Where is that deceitful harlot!" Mykage cried out indignantly as the head of the Aquarion turned to and fro in search of his enemy.

From her seat in the cockpit of her now immobile Vector, Alicia Sora watched her son Kagura grinned predatorily as he closed the final distance and reached the chest of the Legendary Aquarion. And just as the two machines touched, Mikono, who had been turned invisible by Yunoha at the start of the battle at Alicia's request appeared, sitting on Kagura's lap.

"Game over," Kagura declared as a blinding light exploded outwards from the center of the Legendary Aquarion.

*notes: I apologize for the delay in putting out this chapter (I can barely believe it was a week's worth of delays.) I had to format my hard drive on my laptop last week, which ended up deleting a good portion of writing. After that, well, I must have subconsciously wanted not to end everything just yet and slowed my pace of writing or something. This will be the second to last chapter, not counting at least one omake I plan on writing after the final chapter.

As for the chapter itself, it consists of two separate events: Getting Mikono into the "Wings of the Sun" and a short aside with Izumo where he proves that not even stoic commanders are unaffected by the excitement that comes with a final, winner-take-all confrontation. Oh, and also proves that yes, Kagura's hot-bloodedness was in fact hereditary. Izumo just manages to suppress it better due to age and experience.

As for why Mykage was acting off-character the entire chapter, take the section written in his perspective. Now imagine Fudo Zen doing that the entire time from the point of being fused with the Aquarion up until now. Add in additional commentary throughout the fight when the Vector pilots prove that they deserve their reputation as the academy's best. Yep, the Supreme Commander, in the absence of a physical body, has weaponized trolling to great effect.

As you might expect, the next chapter will wrap everything up. Sorry to Cayenne/Shrade fans for their lack of participation in the final battle, but on the bright side, at least I'm not butchering their characterization by attempting to write them in (that and they already had a good scene in Aquarion Evol canon.) The last chapter of the (main) story will be:

Chapter 24: Beyond the Test of Time