? ? ?

The boy stands over the fallen form of his opponent, the chains that had once held them down finally falling freely and his grey hair at long last shining silver. And those chains were what had truly started all of this –

The game had been long and difficult.

Victory was always within his grasp but at the same time so far away – he was half human and that was his one true weakness.

But now every last shred of that humanity is gone. He is now one of them.

Finally discarding his white coat, he marvels at the effects that the chains have had on his body – his skin is scarred red from centuries and centuries of the metal digging into him. The scars seem rather permanent, but he wouldn't have it any other way –

After all, these scars were proof.

Proof that he had come all this way.

Proof that he had ascended the limits of his own people and all those that had once stood in his way.

A new path had been opened. A path that had been once closed to all indiscriminately had been pried open by worthy hands. And now a new age was beginning.

He gazes at his fallen opponent, the shell of a woman whose hair once shown as brilliantly as the sun now unruly and red and on top of that slowly falling out of her scalp, while her skin slowly but steadily breaks down into black tar. The pain clearly eats away at her as she squirms around on the floor, desperately trying to find the strength to stand. But as the boy's chains drape over her she finds herself bound to the faceless surface beneath her.

"It would seem that I have at last won, Amaterasu." He speaks. "Your defeat is final. This bout of ours is over."

The figure beneath him moans. "…Why… Why is it like this…? Why must you deny me so completely…?!"

"Because you are what is truly wrong with this world… 'Amaterasu is dead…' there was truth to such an idea after all. You are certainly dead. And all you are now is a warm body."

"Why…Why must you torture my children so…? Why… Manipulating such innocent people… Controlling my precious messengers… Why? Was it all to open the gates…?"

"Precisely… You may be a god, but you are anything but just… Your death will come, not at my hands, and provided you have an ounce of dignify left not from your hands either… But you will first contemplate the gravity of your sin for the next seven billion eons. Seven eternities will pass you before you are allowed to perish – that is the scope of your sin."

"But… But I… I don't understand… I only spread love… I even loved you…!"

"Indeed, all you spread was love. And that is why this was inevitable."

"But why… Why must you open the gates? Why must you bridge the…. The gap between reality and impossibility?"

"Because this is our new world order. And we will not be stopped – you and your kind are no longer privileged. It was because we gave you shape that creation grew out of our control. And now you will pay, as will your sons and daughters and all those that dwell beyond those gates."

"You… Will never achieve anything… You can't hope… To destroy something that you don't understand…!"

"Then shall I see to it personally?" He lifts her body off of the ground by her tattered hair. And into her ear he whispers the cruelest words imaginable. "None of them are safe. I will strangle the life out of all of your precious children one by one until not even the youngest remain. And everything that you are will all have been for nothing."

Her eyes widen with terror –

And he feeds off of that terror.

"Just look at you. You are no god – you are a human drunk with power that never should have been yours to begin with." He continues to mock her. And upon his face slowly creeps a small, lecherous smile. Small but at the same time chilling and deadly. "Your children could never have any respect for you. It's no wonder your beloved balance fell into disarray. You're just so worthless! Just like those pitiful creatures you created."

"They… They won't let you get away with this… They will return, they will put an end to your blind ambition…!"

He smiles rather sadistically – his expression did not suit that of a boy. But he was no man either. Then what could he have been, if not a monster?

"If you believe in such a baseless fairy tale, then you truly have no hope… Aren't you aware? In this new world despair is punishable by death."

"You… Who are… You? Who are you… really? You are not… Keiichi… Maebara… You are… No son of mine…!"

"You foolish creature…" He rams his fist into her stomach – the curdled cry she make is music to his ears – and he adored music, perhaps more than anything else. Perhaps he could get her to perform the song in his black heart, the Ode to Joy with her cries. The moment that thought entered his mind he was prepared to go through with it.

"Why…Why are you… Why is this… What did I…"

He rams his fist into her again. "Didn't I tell you before, wretch?" Momentarily he begins to attack repeatedly. "I'm Kaworu! Nagisa Kaworu!" His laugh turns into a cackle as his face twists into something that no human could ever make –

He was a monster. There was no way around it.

"And you… Amaterasu, mother to us all… Are a sack of rotten meat. Perhaps we should prepare you for our next banquet?" He spits in her face before slamming her head into the ground face first.

"You're… A monster…!" She speaks momentarily before coughing up an unhealthy amount of blood.

The moment she speaks those words he rams his foot into her face before bending over to peer at her with the most terrifying of glares. "A monster? You dare to speak of me with such disrespect?! There are no true monsters, my dear, there are only men and beasts. Monsters are the things of nightmares… Ah, but perhaps…" His terrifying face twists into a lopsided smile. "Perhaps I am the embodiment of all nightmares… But this fate of yours is beyond any nightmare you could ever have."

He grabs a hold of her hair and yanks, ripping out mostly everything he'd grabbed a hold of.

Agony – Amaterasu, the god who had given birth to mankind – was in agony beyond that which any mortal could understand.

These wounds were mortal by nature. But their pain was something far beyond. For it was this monster that was inflicting them. And it was by the whims of this monster that this pain would be eternal.

"I see you're still falling apart… Hm. Perhaps I was wrong in my estimation. Perhaps this degree of suffering is perhaps… Inadequate for someone in as poor shape as you are." He furrows his eyebrows and contemplates something.

In that moment Amaterasu has hope in her heart. She had seen a light in this monster's eyes that she believed could not have existed.

And in a matter of moments –

"It's been quite some time since I've eaten a woman as old and ripe as you. Perhaps you could 'live on' as a part of a greater being? I wonder… Just what does it feel like to be a mass of digested meat?" His maliciousness knows no bounds. His cynical behavior has no limit. His cruelty is unmatched by all.

And that hope is gone.

"Father… Mother… Please… Help me…!" She begs to entities even above her that most certainly could not hear her cries.

"Enough of that nonsense. You know that your beloved mother and father can't reach you where they are…" He lifts her by the head again –

"In the end I suppose you put too much faith in your twisted idea of 'mercy'. But I… I am truly merciful."

And with that –

With that everything fades to black –

But everything does not fade away –

For there is new meaning in eternity – concrete, substantial meaning.

And so, his meal having come to a satisfying conclusion and his task just as complete, he appears at the round table where he waits for the promised moment to arrive.

Above even the Sea of Fragments lies this place – this domain that neither angel nor demon could cross into. Only the gods among gods – the Kyojin – could walk upon these grounds. And only those of immeasurable power and dominion could become Kyojin.

This domain has no name. And it was nothing but a pure white void, with this round table, a platform as tall as a sky scraper and the several story tall chairs that surrounded it, each large enough to be considered a throne, being all that occupied the space.

It was here that everything had began. Everything.

The monster waits. He waits for the promised time, promise to him many eons ago, to at last arrive. S

And before too long they begin to appear – those that were like him.

At his side appears BATTLER, the Golden Sorcerer, his hair now stained silver.

"Oi, ICHI." The sorcerer greets him.

"I'm awfully surprised to see you joining us today." He replies with a smile. "I thought I was the only one who got a promotion. Looks like I was wrong."

"Heh, looks like Tohya finally gave me the ol' silver hair of approval. Not that I don't deserve it." BATTLER grins.

The monster does not resent him. In fact he owes him quite a bit. These were two shadows of men, both capable of terrible things. While BATTLER lacked the bloodlust and desire for carnage that the monster possessed, his strength was nearly unmatchable. While the monster was generally considered the most terrible of the Kyojin, BATTLER was for the most part considered the most gifted – he'd been allowed into this domain before he'd even attained his silver hair. And without him, the bout with Amaterasu would have very likely ended with his eternal imprisonment –

But that hadn't been the end result. Now he'd become a full blooded Kyojin and so had BATTLER.

"And just in time as well."

"Ah, right, you pulled a pretty crazy stunt, didn't you?"

"I couldn't have done it without your help. I hope you realize that."

"Ihihi, yeah, you'd be a little turd without me, huh?" The sorcerer clearly took the compliment well.

"I hope you at least got to have fun with her before she died."

"Eh… She wasn't really the sort that I'd go for."

"Hm… That's a tad disappointing." The monster shrugs his shoulders before reclining in his seat – he was tired after the several eons his bout had taken him and it wouldn't be all that long before he'd be back on his feet in the middle of another mess.

"I've got one question though." The Golden Sorcerer suddenly speaks up.

"What is it?"

"What was with that whole 'Nagisa Kaworu' business?"

"Hm… I suppose I just liked the name."

"Really…? Well, if it suits you it suits you, I guess."

"What, did you not like Evangelion?"

BATTLER flashes him a look. "Dude, Evangelion was in '95. We were both dead by then, idiot."

"Ah, right. My mistake."

BATTLER sighs before falling silent, adjusting himself in his chair as the wait continues.

In a few years the arrivals continue.

Across from the man sits MARI, the Endless Witch of Tears, whose silver hair shone more brightly than that of any other Kyojin, and her servant, Lady Higanbana, the Hospital Yokai, both dressed in identical black kimonos. BATTLER's sudden wolf whistle elicits a light blush from MARI while Higanbana sighs with disgust.

"Are you two going to do this the whole time? Because I could just leave if I have to deal with this again." The arguably shorter of the two girls begins to whine.

"Now, now, Higanbana-sama…" MARI attempts to coax her companion. "I assure you, you're just imagining things." While MARI showed Higanbana a tremendous amount of respect and generally bended to her will, Higabana was in fact ranked lower – she was not a Kyojin, and so did not possess the shade of Clairvoyant Silver in her hair in any way, but was the sort of person who felt entitled to having a personal servant and MARI was benevolent enough to entertain her. Higanbana would never dare cross MARI in any serious way – she'd learned the hard way quite some time ago that to cross her master was the same as electing to eat a man's organs – involuntarily, of course, although it was rather commonplace for Kyojin and those associated with them to feast on human flesh.

MARI on the other hand was not the most fierce of the Kyojin, but at the very least the most celestially powerful. Rumor has it that she and BATTLER had fought several ages ago and the ensuing battle had barely ended in a draw while having obliterated several galaxies in the process. These days, however, MARI's interaction with BATTLER was far less serious, although not all that less intense.

For the next seven hundred years they mostly talk about what they'd all been up to. At this point BATTLER and the monster were the talk of the meeting and likely would be once everyone had convened – after all, they had no small part in the opening of the gates –

Eventually the last of the Kyojin makes their appearance, although he was there for a full year before anyone really noticed that he'd arrived – he was too stealthy for his own good.

He wore a tacky looking green business suit with a massive, practically cartoonish tie. His face, which under normal circumstances was fairly human, had been replaced with the that of an African lion's head –

The moment he makes his presence known Higanbana is the first to act –

With a loud squeal she practically – or in this case quite literally – flies out of her seat and collides with the man, wrapping her arms around him as tightly as possible. "LEO-sama~!" She once again squeals.

"How's it going?" He responds awfully calmly.

"LEO-sama… BWATORA made fun of me again today…"

"Did he?" the man sends BATTLER a look that spoke his words for him 'the usual thing?'

BATTLER responds with a nod.

"Well, even if he did, you're a big girl now, right? You should just learn to ignore him."

"Hm… But he's just such an assss about everything!"

Higanbana continues her sensless babbling for several more minutes.

This man was LEO, the Duke of Roses. He was about as much of a womanizer as BATTLER was, and to a large degree they'd somehow managed to bond over that. Like BATTLER, LEO did not feast on human flesh – however, anyone who denied him pasta was usually found dead in a dumpster – if there was a ghost story surrounding an Italian restaurant that involved a chef going missing, he was likely the one responsible.

"So how's the missus been these days?" BATTLER asks.

"Which one?" Despite not having an even remotely human face he manages to pull of the facial expression perfectly – both men erupt in laughter while the monster just sighs.

"Really, the two of you should have your own sitcom." He speaks, giving off another friendly smile as he shakes his head. "Your humor's wasted on us."

"And how have you been, ICHIMARU?" LEO asks, letting the insult fly by undeterred.

The monster replies. "I've been hanging in there… But really though, let's make something clear. For all of us right now." BATTLER and MARI stop exchanging glances and pay attention to what he's saying. "The next time one of Izanagi's kids makes a bet, expect them not to want to ante up when they lose."

The small congregation erupts in laughter. Save for Higanbana, of course.

"Hah, like any of them could've held on for so long – they were really obnoxious, those runts… Although I've gotta admit…" LEO eventually speaks once the laughter dies down. "You two really handled this one nicely."

"Ihihi, come on, only MARI-chan's supposed to make me blush." BATTLER says while scratching the back of his head.

"All in all it was certainly something… I never expected human potential to get so out of hand." The monster continues. "It's a good thing we put a stop to it before they figured out how to reach this place. Bernkastel did come awfully close this time, however."

"Hm… Good point. The more Berns the universe keeps throwing up the worse our chances get." BATTLER agrees. "Although even not taking her into consideration the more people we pick up the worse it gets on top of that."

"I know you have your reserves, but I assure you this one isn't going to be a disappointing investment." The monster reassures him.

"Oh?" LEO is intrigued. "Are we getting some fresh blood today?"

"You bastards aren't going to pick me again?!" Higanbana shouts. "Do you all hate me that much?!"

"Now, now, Higanbana-sama. No one here hates you." And under her breath MARI mutters something unspeakable in Higanbana's presence. "It would be nice if you weren't so damn snooty, you overrated half-eaten piece of jail-bait…"

"What was that now?"

"N-Nothing, Higanbana-sama." MARI says with a typical smile.

Midway through their exchange, well before even a full thousand years had expired, the last of the Kyojin arrives.

"Ah, I was wondering when we would get to see you in person…" The monster gazes upon the newest arrival –

Clad in a kimono as the other women present had been was a somewhat shorter woman, although slightly taller than Higanbana, whose silver hair was long and wild and whose skin was fair – any description beyond that was uncertain, as she donned a Keaton mask that concealed her face.

"Ah, so we do have a new guest. Welcome." MARI beams at the woman whose expression continues to remain a complete mystery.

"Likewise." She speaks a single word. At this point she was still in the process of being converted to Kyojin status. For those completely unfamiliar with this domain the process could take anywhere from ten to fifteen thousand years, but all things considered the fact that she could speak at all must have been a miracle all on its own.

"So how does it feel?" BATTLER keeps the conversation going. "Being at the helm for once in your life? Quite literally having no one above you."


Higanbana laughs. "I think I'm going to get along with this one juust fiiine…" She trails off before realizing that no one had paid her any mind and attempting with limited success to poke MARI in the eye.

"Well, with any luck…" The monster speaks again. "…I hope you could at least be attentive enough to know your place… Agreed, Lady SHICKSAL?"

The tension is clearly there between the two of them, but the woman named SHICKSAL, the Endless Witch of Hope, eventually speaks. "Understood."

"Well then with that out of the way…" BATTLER looks for a way to move the conversation away from the new arrival. "…MARI-chan, did you by any chance get bustier since the last time I saw you?"

Her eyes widen momentarily before another blush creeps up onto her face. Holding her face steady with one hand she smiles embarrassedly. "O-Oh my, BATTLER-sama, I doubt this is an appropriate talk…"

"Ah, right. Hey, Lilies." He narrows his eyes ever so slightly at Higanbana who returns his look with a rather expressive death glare. "You mind playing in traffic or something? Maybe crash another bus or whatever it is you're good at doing? The adults need to talk."

"Gaki." Higanbana insults BATTLER, but not to any significant end. All she gets in response is a sigh, to which she starts fuming.

"Now, now, Higanbana-sama… You needn't waste your breath on the likes of him." MARI's words manage to quell her temper. But Higanbana would only ever be tolerant of BATTLER for so long. The more he made it apparent that he was sleeping with her servant the more she wanted to crash a bus that his whole family had been riding. Although at this point not even something like that could phase him – arguably BATTLER was the most intimidating Kyojin as well as being the most gifted.

"I have to ask, though, if you don't mind…" MARI suddenly perks up. "…Exactly what implored you to make your final decision?"

Shicksal is silent for several moments before choosing to respond. "Keiichi."

"Ah, that's actually kind of sweet." LEO chimes in. "The girl's in love… How about it, ICHI? Wanna give this one a shot?"

"Enough." The monster raises his voice as he speaks. "Unlike you I've not interest in courting women."

"Ah, right. ICHI's got as sweet a tooth for girls as you've got for pasta." BATTLER feels the need to step in. "You know, that's actually kinda fucked up. I mean, we're cannibals and all, but come on, do you have to single out all the pretty girls?"

"BATTLER's got a point, ICHI." LEO counters. "You've got something against eating guys?"

The monster sighs. "Women are easier to deal with. I guess. I don't know, can we just drop this already?!" He was beginning to get agitated – this was essentially his gimmick. He was the calmest and the most collected of the Kyojin, but once BATTLER or LEO – or in this instance a mix of the two – started to screw around with him he was very likely to lose his temper.

"Well, this aside…" BATTLER trails off, stifling his laughter before continuing. "This is about everyone. So where the hell's the cat?"

"Is he a cat now?" LEO sighs. "Come on, that's my shtick."

"Unfortunately for you I'm free to do what I wish with my physical appearance." A voice echoes throughout the empty space –

And upon the table suddenly appears a small, black cat.

"Took your sweet time, did you?" BATTLER sighs. "You know –"

"I'd hold your tongue if I were you. I'm not in the mood today." The cat speaks.

"You cough up a hairball or something, boss?" LEO grins. "I know the feeling, believe me."

"That aside, we might as well get down to business." The cat sighs. "As it stands we've made quite a push towards our goal, and quite honestly I'm surprised those of us who got directly involved are who they are."

"The hell's that supposed to mean?" BATTLER scoffs, knowing that insult was directed entirely to him.

"That aside, it's very apparent that thanks to their exploits, and almost solely thanks to their exploits that we are now ready to move to the next stage."

"Almost solely?" The monster raises an eyebrow. "Did one of you tamper with my game without my permission?"

"None of us tampered with your exploits, so to speak…" The cat pauses briefly to phrase his words the best way. "But for all intents and purposes, you were only half Kyojin when you entered that realm. In the event that you were to fail… Well, it's needless to say that we weren't going to allow that, so we prevented Amaterasu from entering the World of Closed Time, allowing you to move about there uninhibited by her actions."

"Hm… You didn't trust me to get the job done?"

"It's nothing like that." LEO tries to reassure him. "We didn't want to take any chances. The End of Time is the only dimension that mortals and gods could make use of to find their way here. When you fought Amaterasu she came dangerously close to breaking the barrier several times. It was a risk we can't take. You know that."

The monster doesn't really reply, so MARI takes the opportunity to throw her argument into the ring as well. "The Astaroth was certainly a key part in that – if Bernkastel ever truly lost, if she ever gave in even once, there's no question that Astaroth would've torn a hole in Akarana and made it here. If that happened all of this would've been for naught. Luckily enough BATTLER-sama manipulated her and the other Sonozaki sibling well enough that such an end would never have come, but in the event that he had failed, we couldn't risk losing this place to her."

The cat then speaks again. "Before we take this argument any further, I'd like to remind you all that we're on a rather tight schedule right now. So I would like to summarize the events so far in the event considering that they're quite convoluted. Perhaps this alone should clear things up."

The chatter dies down as the cat begins his debriefing.

"The purpose of this exercise was to kill the last of Izanagi's children, Amaterasu, and at the same time undermine the absurd amount of power that she had granted to her own children. While ICHIMARU would directly challenge Amaterasu in order to attain his full Kyojin blood rite, BATTLER would take to the Sea of Fragments and quietly manipulate the conditions of exactly three fragments in our favor while slowly guiding Bernkastel to the World of Closed Time where we could make our final modifications to her. Upon ascending Bernkastel to godhood the plan was to have her arrive at the end of time as Amaterasu had planned and in a massive upset defeat the last of the Yatagarasu, effectively cutting off Amaterasu's genes from the mortal gene pool. Fortunately BATTLER was able to effectively lock Bernkastel into her path of choice and ICHIMARU was able to exploit Amaterasu's weaknesses through the Sonozaki and Maebara children expertly."

"However…" BATTLER cuts in. "What we didn't think would happen was that Bern would get strong enough that the Murakumo would select her as its master."

"But why exactly was the case?" MARI questions.

"We don't know." The cat continues. "And therein lies the problem. And therein lies the reason why we had to hope that things would end up in our favor once everything was said and done. And when they did, I had BATTLER assess the damages and bring us back our trophy." His eyes shift to SHICKSAL, who was relatively emotionless. "The fact that we managed to bring her here completely unaltered was nothing short of miraculous, even for us. As it stands now she's going to be in this recessive state for quite some time – she can only remain fully conscious for periods of thirty seconds at a time and generally comes out of her state of suspended sleep at random. Her ability to communicate will be impaired until she can fully adapt to her new body, although so far she's shown remarkable progress."

"So what are we going to get out of her?" LEO asks. "Is there some way we could take the Murakumo from her?"

"Impossible. Not even beings at our level can interact with the Murakumo and be certain that we would not be wiped away. Lady SHICKSAL is both a tremendous asset and at the same time is probably going to be a great threat to us. In all honesty, it was nothing short of an impossibility for the Astaroth to have been slain by the Murakumo and still have remained a tangible part of existence. But that impossibility was made into reality due to nothing other than the fact that it was Lady SHICKSAL herself that had used it. Murakumo is likely all the more potent now than it had ever been before."

"Well…" BATTLER sighs. "There was a reason we had to go after Amaterasu last, after all… A real pain she was. Glad you nailed her, ICHI."

"There's one thing about all of this that concerns me." The monster speaks. "Even upon devouring her Amaterasu's blood did not offer me any benefit."

"Simple answer to that one." BATTLER replies. "She left all of her strength with her kids – the human race received only a small portion of it – the rest her bastard children inherited."

"So we're going to have five demigods in our way, huh?" LEO sighs. "Sounds like a real pain in the ass."

"There's a bit more to this than just that alone, I'm afraid." The cat continues. "Naturally, if you have five deities mashed together the result generally isn't pretty. But at the same time, alone they're extremely insignificant. That's why Amaterasu had them take shelter in her domain – but now that she has died, the gates to Takama-ga-hara have been opened and they are vulnerable."

"And let's not forget…" The monster speaks again, "…that the three children of Izanagi are by no means the only entities that dwell in Takama-ga-hara."

BATTLER sighs. "Right… If we put any thought into it it's almost certain how this battle's going to go. They already know we're coming since the gates are open. The five brats have enough dominion over the Sagiri to be able to command them at will if they've got Amaterasu's power now. The Yatagarasus alone stirred up enough shit on Earth – I'd hate to see what'll happen if they mobilize everyone at once to fight us."

"Even the Riders? Y-You don't think they'd send in the Riders, do you?" MARI seems to feel a lot smaller all of a sudden.

"It goes without saying." The monster speaks. "But I see what he's getting at. There would be no way those five man-children would be able to wage war against us and hope to win despite how strong their legions are… Someone is going to be leading them. Likely someone who doesn't want us to reach the Final Kalpa."

"Uzume, you mean." LEO sighs. "Hoping I wouldn't have to run into her again. Oh well, I guess we can't have everything."

"For the sake of reaching the Seven Hundred and Seventy Seventh Kalpa, we are going to meet their forces head on… And with Lady SHICKSAL, we will have an element of surprise beyond anything they could have imagined."

"Right… The human race is a rather productive source of raw power, after all." MARI muses. "…Maybe we could have them build us statues?"

"Great idea, MARI-chan. We'll have them build monuments to your cuteness. And we'll make that old hag clean them with a wet rag. That'll show 'em." BATTLER grins while MARI blushes again.

"With the Murakumo on our side," The cat continues, "our chances of success are that much higher. The Murakumo is the blade that created the new world that humanity now depends on – that alone makes us the true master of mankind."

"So the plan is to storm Takama-ga-hara and use the Murakumo to cut up all the Sagiri in our path. And for them to fight back is to fight against all of mankind as well… Not sure if it's fool-proof, but it sounds like it could definitely work if we have enough luck. They won't see this coming, that's for damn sure." BATTLER agrees with the established plan.

"Very well, then." The cat speaks. "Let's get this out of the way, shall we? We're about to ascend to the next level… If I'm being completely honest this is the most excited I've been to make a jump since we blew up Andromeda, but at any rate it's time for the usual… State your name, title and reason."

The banter comes to a complete halt. And one by one they do as they were asked.

"ICHIMARU, Baron of Shadow, Jiyu."

"BATTLER, Golden Sorcerer, Ai."

"MARI, Endless Witch of Tears, Fukushu."

"LEO, Duke of Roses, Yoku."

And the newest breaks her silence. "SHICKSAL… Witch of Hope. Kibo."

The cat speaks again. "And I, SCHRODINGER, Master of Ceremonies, acknowledge these gods among gods –"

With that a pillar of light shoots upward from the round table before engulfing all that was around it –

And when the light fades the chairs are empty. This domain is once more void of all life.

The time had come. The time had come for action.

For now the world of man and demon had been turned on its side.

The balance of light and darkness simply no longer existed.

Now would be the most pivotal time for mankind and those that presided above them.

For the path to Takama-ga-hara had been opened. And now, the true battle between man and beast would begin.

Hinamizawa, January 1st, 1995

And so where it all began it comes to an end –

At the top of the hill, overlooking the village, where the spider lilies grow. And here everything would finally reach the conclusion that was suitable. The conclusion that was just. The conclusion that had been sought after for what had felt like centuries.

And here she is, the one who has overcome everything and laid the foundations for a new world order – here to pay her respects.

Atop this hill is erected a grave – a grave with a blank tombstone. No name, no date of birth, no time of death –

But here –

Here in this very spot, lies despair –

Despair that should truly be respected above all else. Despair that should never be forgotten.

And that is why, every single day for the last twelve years she has come here to pay her respects. To honor the despair that had shaped the world around her and the life it had taken to hell with it.

In the end no one will ever understand it the way she does. She was the only one who could understand this despair – while those around her had comfortably fallen into the lie she'd created, only few of them knew the truth.

But none of them knew the truth like she did. None of them could understand the truth like she did. None of them could love and cherish the truth like she did.

And so –

And so every day, for twelve years –

She remembers what the rest of the world cannot.

Tonight the village is quiet. Not a soul moves about. It is as though this place is for her and her alone.

Her hands come to rest on the growing bulge in her stomach and as she kneels in front of the grave she begins to speak freely, disregarding everything around her – in this moment all that mattered to her was that what she was about to say would reach the one her words were meant for.

"It's been awhile since I've had the chance to speak to you like this… Someone's always had some reason to pull me away from here, but I won't be bothered today. Only the two of us matter… It took more time than I'd have liked, but I'm finally with child. I'm not sure whose fault it was exactly but for the time being I'm going to say it was his fault and not mine… Every passing day I think about it. How after everything we went through that I've finally pushed past it – every morning I have to look at a calendar just to make sure things haven't gone back to the way they were… But it's over now." She pauses briefly, staring up at the sky.

"Every night I can't help but wonder – how different would things have been if I made a different choice? What would've happened if I'd gone with my original desire? It doesn't matter much now, does it?" She sighs, smiling softly. "I really messed up, didn't I? I just made the same world over again. And I'm the only one who realizes there's any difference at all – because there is a difference. Because you're no longer here. And I'm the only one who can remember now…" She closes here eyes. "It's a terrible feeling. Speaking your name and watching Rena, Mion, and all the others look all confused… But without you it was all possible. Without you there was a way to make only five people happy. But it didn't stop there – it's been so long since that time, and since then we've achieved something that I never thought was possible. The way things are now, no one can be hurt by your despair. Not even yourself. People have hope for the future now. And our village can finally move on. Our village can finally breath again… For the rest of my life I'll feel that the cost is too great, but…"

She rests her hands on her stomach again.

"In the past we've sworn on the flowers. But the flowers are only flowers… I'm going to have a daughter. And I'm going to name her Higanbana… So I will swear not by the spider lilies, but by my daughter named after them, by my own flesh and blood, that everyone who's suffered will be able to find the light in their hearts. That I'll protect this small world I've created in your name…"

The wind picks up – the chill causes her to shiver, but she embraces the feeling.

"Our world of Kibo – our world of hope, where people can come together to overcome despair… I will protect this world with my life…"

And so she whispers his name to the wind –

And –

All is quiet.

The cicadas cry no more.

The past and present have at long last been set aside.

Only the future remains.

And the future belongs to man.

The price has been paid, the blood has been spilt.

And peace has been restored.

Freedom has overcome Despair.

And Hope reigns freely.

But justice has not prevailed.

For Rika Furude is the One True Culprit.

And she shall go free.

But all is well –

And all is quiet.

Cicadas, Volume II ~END~

Author's Note

And here we are at the end of the story. And I'm pretty much going to talk freely here about this whole project of mine (vols 1 and 2 collectively). And not about the stunt that I just pulled a few lines ago because it wouldn't be as huge a twist if you didn't think it through and see where all the hints were.

...But now that I've brought attention to it - yes, Rika is capable of all of the killings and I won't say why. But all of the hints are there, even if one of them is not exactly 'presented' as much as it's a matter of how familiar you are with the characters as portrayed in series canon. The way the story is constructed there is exactly one flaw in Keiichi's narrative in his reveal chapter that is the only real foreshadowing to his 'not the culprit' status and I won't be pointing it out. But if somehow you saw this coming I applaud you. So I don't think I'll be clapping for anyone :P

And does this final scene have a particularly grim hidden meaning? Of course it does. I'm not sure why it wouldn't.

Moving on, I'm going to get this out of the way right now –

This is probably extremely apparent given how I left the whole fantasy aspect of this story on a massive cliffhanger, but yes, there was in fact going to be a Volume III. Actually, it sort of exists on my hard drive as a prototype for a completely different kind of story that wasn't going to be tied to this at all.

However, the reason why Volume II happened was because I figured I was addressing the other half of the interpretive aspect of Higurashi's ending (which by the way despite how much it seems like it definitely isn't, a solution to a 'more perfect Matsuribayashi' is here, in fact it's been here since the very first arc) that I should tie the two together because it seemed more methodical that way.

And no, I didn't mix up my tenses or mistype or anything. There was in fact going to be a Volume III. In other words, it's no longer happening.

The reasons for this are somewhat obvious, but I'll point them out anyway.

Over half a million words have gone into this whole thing collectively, and for the work and time that I've put into it are most certainly not justified by the return. That being said, the fact that I managed to hold on to readers at all is more than I could've ever asked for in the first place, so for all three of you I thank you, like, repeatedly.

The point being here is that When they Cry is pretty much dead from both perspectives. The only official support it's really getting now comes from the composers and Ryukishi apparently has some idea in his head about how he wants to eventually get back to it. The fanbase has pretty much dried up because of Ryukishi's 'poorly received' ending to Umineko and with the travesty that was Kira the Higurashi half has pretty much degenerated into a typical fan service crowd that I want nothing to do with.

Simply put, unless Ryukishi decides he wants to start making serious money again and proceeds to When They Cry 5 & 6 after Rose Guns concludes this winter and there becomes an even remotely larger number of fans willing to read something as convoluted as this has become, Volume III will never happen.

So as it stands right now, if I ever decide to write anything for this series again it will most certainly be nothing more than a one-shot that I'll let sit and collect dust like that one really random Umineko one I wrote midway through Volume I.

On another extremely important note, sometime in the very near future I am going to be dropping the 'Azure' from my penname and will henceforth be 'The Messenger Crow' or something to that effect. My avatar won't change (yet) so you'll be able to figure it out on your own. Because lolcomplications that I'm not going to get into.

So where to go from here…? Well, once Persona is finished, provided I haven't gotten sick of writing by then, I will either do something for Code Geass or something Type Moon related (probably starring Nanaya). But past that hell if I know.

So with that this is finally over. At least for now. So go ahead and read something else. Namely Return to Hinamizawa if you need an extended Higurashi fix. And preferably review that a bunch of times. Or something.