A somewhat first-person tense experiment written after 67 and the resounding epic feels which followed. Despite my ridiculous number of assessments. Also, it seems like the only thing I can write ever are AUs. Not that I'm complaining.
Amazing super special awesome credit goes to the dazzling Heather (kaito-sama at tumblr) for being such a wonderful writing aibou and spending so much of her time going through this with me. :)
Syzygy (astronomy) – the straight line configuration of three celestial bodies (as the sun and earth and moon) in a gravitational system.
Father went missing, four years ago. The only person to return safely from the expedition was Dr. Faker.
As such, I had allowed the man to take me under his wing when he asked me to join him. He needed my experience; the knowledge father divulged to me during my time as apprentice and son. I needed his equipment – if only to quench the hope that he may have still survived.
The old home was never used anymore. Complicated trust issues and complications with father's will meant ownership was in the pipeline. With no more feasible accommodation, my brothers were sent to live elsewhere. I didn't need to live in such a large mansion – I wouldn't have lived there, had it belonged to me. My small flat was enough for my purposes, and far closer to the Tower where Dr. Faker stayed.
I would visit, every once in a while. Every time Dr. Faker's son progressed a step forward in the training requested of me would be every time I took a step back to the world which used to be ours. The gardens were large, unmaintained; creepers spiralled halfway up the wrought iron gates, weeds bloomed far more prevalent than the grass that remained. The occasional rare wildflower which managed to prosper was naught but a speck of colour against a tangle of green. It was a world still alive, still very much alive, just overrun by the new world insistent on choking the old.
It was a world I returned to every time. They grew quicker than I could keep them pruned down.
But that week, it was that day that was the day I saw him. Nothing more than a small bundle of cloth and long flaxen hair, knotted with bristles and covered in stains. Dirt of every kind spread about that tiny form, but it was the head – buried within arms and hidden under a paper bag – which stood as most striking.
I had stopped before him, facing the heavy brick wall, blocking off any route of escape. I had opened my mouth to speak, to demand answers –
– then he lifted his head to reveal the most startling golden eye.
There was no spark beneath the gaze.
"This... is your home, is it?" said the young boy, in a voice light and lilting and lifeless and so, so wrong.
My breath hitched; I did not answer, still enraptured by the single eye. The most startling, golden, impossibly familiar eye.
"Sorry," said that voice again. "If you'd like... I should leave."
"Why did you come here?" I ask.
My voice was steadier than the heart skipping in my chest.
The eye glances away. "I don't know."
"You must have a reason," I press, "tell me!"
There was a flinch, the paper bag fell forward, then small hands pushed the flimsy material out of his face so he could see once more.
I dropped the long shears in my hand to the ground. They landed with a loud thunk, right beside the boy; I leant on the handle, there was another flinch again.
"This place is familiar," said that voice. "But I... don't remember."
"You don't remember?" I said. A nod, hesitant, but sure. "Do you remember anything?"
The paper bag shook side-to-side.
"Nothing at all."
"...How long have you been here?"
There was a shrug. "Don' know. The full moon is pretty with no lights around, though."
The last full moon had been two, nearly three weeks ago. I remembered; I had been watching from the Tower at the time.
A faint noise reminded me of the situation at hand; my attention was immediately drawn to the object responsible. The boy had shifted, the paper bag crumpled.
I reached out for the paper bag, the last mask standing between myself and the impossible conclusion I myself had drawn. As if anticipating my intentions, shoulders suddenly jerked back toward the wall. The paper bag brushed by the tips of my fingers just as my fist almost closed around it.
The golden eye was wide, wide with fear. "No!"
"Give it to me."
"N-no... you don't want it. You don't want it."
"You don't decide what I want and what I don't want," I said. "This is my property." Lie. "You're fortunate I haven't kicked you off already."
"You don't want it," the voice repeated. "I'm a – a freak. You don't..."
"Hand it over."
There was only a brief moment of pause. Then an arm clad in familiar teal reached up for the paper bag. In one swift movement the mask was gone. In its place, a void of nothingness remained. A neverending swirl of lights and plasma, matter and antimatter, dancing a dance of endless weaving fireflies as they circled one another without conceivable end.
Above it all, a face undeniably that of my father's – but ten times younger.
"Impossible..." I breathed.
The boy—my father—the boy turned his head away, and cast uncharacteristic eyes toward the ground. "That's what... they all said."
He rose, presumably to leave. I knelt down, allowing the shears to fall, finally noticing the difference in height between the both of us. Then I rested a hand on his shoulder.
"Let me ask you one thing," I began.
The golden eye, uncertain, drifted to meet my own eyes in curiosity. "What is it?"
"Tell me," I said. "Does Byron Arklight sound familiar to you?"
The reaction was instantaneous; the golden eye widened sharply, and the shoulder slipped through my fingers as the boy stumbled back. Hands trailed slowly to his face, drifted gently over skin and through hair, ensuring everything was correct and nothing was out of place. Organising, cataloguing.
That was more than enough answer for me. "It does," I said.
"Yes..." Fingers, buried in hair, began to dig at scalp. Dirt and dust was left behind. "Why...? Why can't I...?"
"It's your name."
"My... name? Then – what's your name? It—does it..."
"You know it."
Muscles spasmed; the boy that was my father fell forward with a hand over his chest and a hand over his eye.
"...'C'," he said. "Arklight... it begins with C."
I wrapped my arms around shaking shoulders. If I was crying, neither of us knew.
"'Chris'," I whispered, into that dirty, muddy, form. "Christopher Arklight. Welcome home, father."
It was exactly one year since the day I found him when another development occurred. Since then, I had taken him to my apartment, had him settled down there. Food became a problem until he had revealed he did not need to eat, so long as he made sure to expose his missing eye to whatever it needed to ensure sustenance during the day.
Even so, the suspicious, rising costs in electricity prompted me to go to Dr. Faker. I didn't get paid, as my work was done upon agreement; rather than a wage I didn't need I was given meals and a place to stay. This, I had changed. The agreement was gone, I now received a wage under the pretence of wanting to save up for some trinkets; now I was formally employed.
I had never told Dr. Faker of my father's return. The man had never mentioned anything of the events surrounding the expedition. And the boy's anxiety over the other half of his face didn't lend him to appreciating company.
When I returned home that day, exactly one year later, to find my father bleeding from an arm and glaring balefully at the shattered photo frame at his feet, I learnt my decision had been chosen well.
"Dr. Faker," hissed the boy, in a voice broken thin between the expected baritone of my father and the higher pitches of his current form. "You traitor..."
I was not noticed when I grabbed the bleeding arm and set the first-aid kit beside me. Neither was I noticed when I set the arm down and popped open the plastic lid. But it was when I began to clean the area that the boy that was my father snatched his arm away with a hiss of disdain.
"Stop, Chris," he said, "you don't need to. I don't get infections, I can't die from bloodloss this small."
I nodded, reluctantly, then obediently returned the kit back to the drawer from which it came from. When I entered the room again, my father still stood where he was, though he was staring at a stretch of wall.
He did not notice when I leant down and gently prised the photo past broken glass and splintered wood. I looked; the younger faces of Dr. Faker and my father as they leant over a screen were certainly not what I expected to see. I saw the shadow of myself in one corner, unaware of the picture being taken, and the silhouette of a wide-brimmed hat belonging to the photographer. None but Kazuma Tsukumo, the other to go missing.
"Chris," said my father, unexpectedly.
"The photo. Burn it."
My father turned around, barely, just enough for the missing half of his face to be seen. "The expedition... I remember everything. Do you want to know?"
I said I wanted to.
And he told me.
"What are we going to do?" I asked.
"What else?" came the reply. "We're going to destroy him."
I did try to track the rest of my family down, when my father was just settling in to his new abode. I didn't tell him, though I didn't keep it secret; I presume he saw the clippings and printouts sprawled across tables and pinned on the wall as I traversed database after database in an attempt to find where they had gone. Countless times, I wondered why I never involved myself in Mr. Heartland's going-ons further.
But I couldn't find them. Neither of them.
There would be no more petulant pouts, fun chases, or tea parties with the four of us in the garden. There would be nothing. I'd left it too long; the paper trail had already become far too complicated and beyond convoluted. Any efforts only resulted in reports back saying that the information they'd had on the children was outdated, though there was no new information to supply.
Laziness. That's what it was, when dealing with two orphans in a city of so many people.
"No," said my voice. "Too predictable. Any strategy will be deduced by the opponent immediately."
Kaito automatically reached for the card set down moments ago, though I wasn't paying complete attention. It was difficult, knowing I was training the son of the man responsible for destroying our lives.
It was a job I needed. It was a job in which my father requested me to remain.
The ringing of the buzzer resonated throughout the room then, from each surround speaker within the empty auditorium. Kaito sagged by mere centimetres, though didn't leave. He was waiting for my dismissal.
I nodded. He stripped down in quick, efficient succession, and equipment was put away just as quickly. He ran from the room.
Two minutes later, in the section of the building that overlooked the courtyard, I learnt the reason for his hurry.
There, sitting in a wheelchair and admiring the scenery, sat Haruto. Once of few times the younger Tenjo was allowed to leave the medical wing. Kaito leant over him, one arm outstretched and a delicate butterfly perched atop the tip of his index finger, bringing the creature closer to Haruto's form.
Two frailties in a world where ruthless ambition proclaimed its domain.
"Haruto," said Kaito, and the words were audible through the microphone hidden in his clothes and the earpiece beneath my hair. "Everything's going to be fine."
Haruto's words were muffled, difficult to discern.
"I'll definitely cure you," said Kaito, again. "They've finally detected the disturbance in the dimensional distribution. Tomorrow I start hunting the Numbers. Soon, we'll go back to being a normal family again."
I did not listen further; I switched the transceiver off and continued waiting. Leaving would have been an option, certainly, but I had a task to complete. It was a task I would perform.
The sound of footsteps broke me out of my reverie.
"Chris," said Kaito's voice, close and untouched by electronic sampling. "You're still here."
I checked the time – a few minutes had passed without noticing.
"I am," I replied. "Actually, I'd like a word."
Kaito tensed, apprehensive. "What is it?"
"Lets go for a walk."
Kaito's eyes were doubtful, though he still held himself stiff, but he was left with no choice as I turned to leave. He followed, dutifully, as I took a few circles around the building before turning out into the street and down the footpath.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"Nowhere in particular." It was true; I just wanted to leave, the walls had ears. So long as we kept walking the chance of being overheard was slim. "I'll be seeing you less, from tomorrow."
"I know. I'm ready."
"To hunt the Numbers."
I felt, rather than saw, the sharp gaze pointed in my direction. "Yes. He told you?"
"Mr. Heartland informed me I no longer need to work as many hours."
"Of course. Is that all you wanted to say?"
"No," I said. "Your father; you don't—"
"Don't call that man my fucking father."
"You don't like him."
There was no reply.
"Some day," I said, slowly. "I am going to kill him."
My fingers twitched; I felt for the Duel Anchor affixed there, my eyes trained on Kaito's form for any sign of dissent. But Kaito only smiled, the dark smile of cruelty and pain.
"I won't let you," he said. "Once he cures Haruto, I'm going to kill him first."
When I returned home one day, of many days that were all the same, a single, black card sat perched atop the main table. I approached, drawn by the lure of curiosity, though I had to stop metres away under a sudden shockwave of pure, raw, unadulterated energy. My knees buckled; I almost hit the floor had I not caught onto the edge with my right hand—
—and then the back of my hand began to glow a rich aquamarine.
"It works," said the voice that belonged to my father. A shadow fell over me; I turned to meet that golden eye.
"Calm down, Chris," he said, simply. "You said you wanted to help me, didn't you?"
I tried to nod. There was only a wince from spine-splitting pain.
"Look at your hand." I did; the glowing subsided barely enough to make out a curved, sweeping form. A clear emblem bordered by sharp edges and pointed corners, no accident but a deliberate result of design. "That is the crest of our revenge."
"Dr. Faker is after the Numbers. Numbers may only be conquered by other Numbers cards. Take the card, Chris."
I looked up through the long fringe before my eyes to the tabletop – sure enough, the black card sat there. There was no image, only a rippling black void where the art should have been atop a moving starfield of white pinpricks in the frame. I reached for it, as instructed, despite the blooming sensations of shadow creeping across my back like cold water seeping through my clothes.
My heart stopped. My mind came to a staggering halt.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting on a chair. My father stood with his back to me, though nearby. The card was still in my hand – I looked again. Staring back at me was a vast being, the pinnacle of development and time; an ultimate feat in engineering.
Intricate golden lettering proclaimed its name. No. 09: Canopy Star – Dyson Sphere.
My eyes widened. "This is..."
"Numbers," said my father. "I'm... I didn't think the reshaping would be so violent."
"Don't worry, father. I'm fine now."
It was the truth – no trace of pain remained, nor was there a twinge of anything to serve as a reminder. The pain was only a distant memory, offset by concern for the future of our family.
My father finally turned around. "Very well. The crest will protect you from the Numbers' influence. How many does Kaito possess now?"
"That should be enough. When he obtains his twentieth, we will go—and Dr. Faker will learn why he should not mess with what he does not deserve."
I nodded, and tucked the Numbers away. "Understood."
I had been there when Kaito obtained his twentieth Numbers. I had requested it – the crest may have protected me from the Numbers' influence, and hidden it from Orbital-7's prying sensors, but it did not prevent me losing consciousness within the robot's field of warped time.
Somehow, my presence had been allowed. Thus, I had watched as the Numbers Holder was systematically decimated under Kaito's heavy play. But it was when Kaito claimed the Numbers with Photon Hand that I found exactly why my father had been waiting.
For that moment; that exact moment.
Kaito collapsed – I rushed to help without thinking, and a glare kept Orbital-7 hovering away.
Photon Mode was imperfect. Those imperfections would be targeted by the Numbers, and once there was enough power to overwhelm...
...Kaito would fall.
"Are you alright?" I asked. My concern was not entirely falsified.
His eyes fluttered. They slipped closed. He cringed.
"Haruto will be alright," I said. Then I turned to Orbital-7. "Go watch over Haruto."
"I will make sure Kaito is okay," I lied. "You're fastest. Go to Haruto. Now."
Orbital-7 hesitated. "M-Master Kaito...?"
"Go," said Kaito.
There was a salute. Then the robot was gone. I looked around; the alleyway was dim. Devoid of light and life, of radiance and sustenance. No greenery, nothing of nature. Only concrete and paint chipping away at walls. Synthetic, manufactured material.
"Kaito," I said.
He cracked open his eyes. "W... what?"
I did not reply immediately; I merely activated the Anchor attached to my hand. The red thread did not have far to travel, and Kaito did not have the space to avoid it – even though his eyes widened sharply at the light and he tried to jerk to the side.
"Duel me," I said.
"Orbital is gone. You will not be able to leave until you do so."
Kaito narrowed his eyes. "You planned this."
"Yes," I lied. "I did."
I reached into my pocket. When my hand escaped my jacket's folds, it was submerged within a sea of aquamarine. The card between my fingers emitted a burst of power.
"This time," I said, "we will duel for the Numbers."
My shadow stood over him. Nothing of proud Kaito remained, sprawled beneath my feet, a tangle of limbs atop the dirty, filthy floor. Unconscious; Numbers duels were not limited to AR, after all.
Of course, I had won.
I disengaged my Duel Disk. Then, keenly aware of the weight against my ankle, carefully knelt to the ground. I flicked through his Extra Deck systematically, then his Side Deck, taking all the Numbers and pocketing them as my own.
They were not complete, however. Without their core they were only flimsy paper.
Numbers were tied to the soul.
"I haven't perfected it," my father had said, before I had gone. "I don't remember how. There is no other way. Shame—I would have liked for him to be destroyed by the son he cares for the most."
For us, there would be only one way to obtain the core.
I reached for my ankle. My other hand moved the chest so that it lay flat. Then I smoothed out the fabric before unzipping the coat.
I pulled out the knife.
I had a duty to perform.
I opened my eyes.
A familiar golden eye stared back – though this time, it was nestled amidst ornately curved steel. There was no void; there was no other eye. Only a glistening red orb, glowing, sinister—below it, a permanent, sadistic grin.
What had happened? I sought to remember. Nothing rose to my mind but a faint recollection of storming the Tower alone, with only the Numbers to protect me. My father's will.
Small hands were lifted to my face. They rested atop my eyes. I tried to move, to see where I was, but only received a searing blast of pain from my right torso. A memory flickered – red, red, rivers of red; was I bleeding?
Then my father spoke in that voice that was soft, sweet, and entwined with lost kindness and pain.
"Thank you, Chris," he said. "I will use your memories well."
[ Thanks for reading! ]