The Top of Tartarus
They came to the top, finding their way into the night that created the Dark Hour. It was magnificent, the pillars that reached up to support the heavens and the moon large in the sky. Black and white stones inlaid into everything in a mesmerizing pattern.
But they had no eyes for that. The Team spread around, looking at the heights to which they had ascended.
"Done higher" Midori said as she peeked over the side, looking down at the world below. "Hey Aigis. 15 feet per floor on average. 264 floors below us. How high is that?"
"1.207012 kilometers." The response was instant.
"Well, I can tell you that we're a lot higher than that. Look." She pointed down.
They gathered around, and Akihiko let out a low whistle. "That's... amazing. We knew Tartarus defied physics, but this is something else."
"Based on parallax and trigonometry, I would place our altitude at closer to 50 kilometres." Aigis stated. "Don't fall."
"Hello." Ryoji Mochizuki's voice came from behind them. "Thank you for coming."
They turned as one, and saw the Avatar of Nyx, and Minato spoke. "Thank you for the invitation, Ryoji."
"Is that really you?" Yukari asked, her fingers tightening around her bow.
What stood before them was tall, higher than any shadow before them. A black masculine figure draped in the darkness of night and slumber, feathered wings which let through the moonlight like stars. There was something fundamentally wrong with it, an indescribable sense of inhumanity. It spoke with a voice that came from no human throat. "That was my name, for a time. A pleasant time. I didn't mind it. I do not mind if you address this existence by that name, instead of my title."
"What's going on?" Mitsuru demanded of the harbinger of the Fall.
"I am, as you see me. A herald of Nyx's arrival, her avatar on this world. Nyx and Ryoji are one and the same. My presence is her presence."
"Is that so?" Akihiko smiled, pounding one hand into the other. "They I don't regret my decision at all. I'll fight you to the end!"
"I thank you. You know what your choice entails? What the measure of that you fight is?"
"I see. You must already know? I am that which people fear the most, what they try to ignore above all else. That is the truth of my, or our existence."
"Death." Aigis said.
"We know that. We knew who you were." Ken said as he leaned on his pike, the image in his head of the last moment of Shinji's life.
"Yea, we all do." Akihiko admitted.
"You are that which awaits all life." Mitsuru. "From the moment they are born into the world."
"You are not a hunter unbeknownst to his prey." Chidori quoted.
"And yet you resist. Even though you are aware of the futility of your actions." Ryoji paused. "There must be fear in our hearts."
"Completely." Yukari said quietly. "I'm afraid. So much so. But I'm still here. I can't run."
"Living means fighting." Midori said. "Not fighting for such petty things like food or shelter or power, but fighting the impossible to make it real." Her thoughts turned back to the last time she had saved the world. "You're nothing special. Nothing new. Anyone who has overcome themselves in times of trial has already beaten you."
"I will stop you!" Fuuka yelled out. "I have nothing to fight with, but I will fight none the less."
"I see." Ryoji sounded almost pleased by this. "Then let your strength be your guide!" He pulled back his massive sword, a mockery of the one in Minato's hand.
Chidori snapped around. "The Shadows! They're almost here."
Mitsuru snapped out some quick orders. "Fuuka! Hold the middle! Everyone not fighting Ryoji keep the Shadows at bay! We can't afford to lose!"
Midori found herself on anti-Shadow watch while Minato, Akihiko, Aigis, Chidori and Mitsuru went after Nyx directly.
"The moment man devoured the fruit of knowledge, he sealed his fate...entrusting his future to the cards, man clings to a dim hope. Yes, the Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. Attaining one's dream requires a stern will and unfailing determination." The Avatar intoned as the battle began.
"Our will and determination are all that stands between us and the false fate of the likes of you! We'll have nothing we haven't earned by our hands alone!" Minato argued with the force that he harboured for most of his life.
Behind them, Midori had somehow taken charge of the defence thorough no fault of her own. She was in the middle of it, one hand wrapped around Black Frost's card, and the other gripping her club with all the force she cold muster. "Blitzkrieg! Bufudyne! Agidyne!" She cared not for any conservation of her strength. She recognized a final battle when she saw one, and knew that as much as she wanted to beat up Nyx, this wasn't her victory to be had. She'd get one eventually.
"The silent voice within one's heart whispers the most profound wisdom." "But wisdom is only wise when it is shared! No one lives or exists alone."
And she was having fun. More fun than anything else. Here was purity of action and conflict that she lived for. She knew what the evil was and how to fight it. It was a simple world, one that she could live in the rest of her days.
"Celebrate life's grandeur...its brilliance...its magnificence!" "Then why are you here?!"
"Midori! Fall back!" Fuuka's voice was completely ignored. "These next shadows are immune to Agi and Bufu!"
"Only courage in the face of doubt can lead one to the answer." "We know. That's why we're here. To face our doubts head on."
She felt a rough hand grab her by the shoulder and yank her back, Yukari pulling her to safety before she could realize the danger she was in. She fell back where Fuuka helped drag her back away from the oncoming Shadows that she could do little against. "Rest up, I'll let you know when you can go back in."
"It is indeed a precious gift to understand the forces that guide oneself." "Are you talking about Fate? What fate brought you here? None!"
Gulping down the drink to restore her energy, Midori climbed back to her feet, ready to leap back into the fray. Fuuka held her back. "Go get Chidori out of there and back to me!" She pointed back to where the ones tasked with fighting the avatar of Nyx were protecting a kneeling and injured Chidori. Midori nodded, and ran into the fight, grabbed her and pulled her out into safety, paying forward the earlier rescue. Fuuka went to helping her as Midori jumped into the fight again.
"There is both joy and wonder in coming to understand another." "Then have the joy of understanding us, and our desires!"
She didn't have an appreciation for just how big Ryoji had become in his form of the Avatar of Nyx. Her only measure of comparison was against some of the bigger Bel's she had fought, and they were nearly tiny compared to what she faced now. How were they supposed to stop it?
"One of life's greatest blessings is the freedom to pursue one's goals." "Our goal is to live! Why would you deny us this?"
How long had she been fighting? Her arms were getting sore, and she could feel the ache in her heart that came with over exerting ones magical attacks. But the enemy was in front of her, and she wouldn't give up. Heroes never gave up!
"To find the one true path, one must seek guidance amidst uncertainty." "Of what use is guidance in a world of sleep and death?"
If Ryoji seemed to tire, he did not show it. But she had faced down the Babel itself, and that thing was even more alien and incomprehensible than Ryoji. She ducked under a stately swing of his sword, then smacked her wand against his hand, hoping to cause him to drop it. He didn't.
"It requires great courage to look at oneself honestly, and forge one's own path." "We are brave!"
Akihiko fell back to be replaced by Ken. Midori noted this as a simple fact, focused as she was on the fight in front of her. Nothing more, nothing less.
"Alongside time exists fate, the bearer of cruelty." "And with time comes new joys, new experiences, new feelings!"
Midori braced herself as a wave of wind came rushing, smashing into everyone. She lost consciousness.
"Only with strength can one endure suffering and torment." "This is our strength!"
Minato was the only one whose strength remained unflagging. He saw those who were down, those who were still up, and knew this battle was reaching its end point, one way or the other.
"In the face of disaster lies opportunity for renewal." "WE'RE STILL HERE!"
Midori opened her eyes, roaring her life back into her bones. A clatter of plastic as her COMP fell out of her pocket and opened on the ground.
12:00... it blinked once, twice, then changed.
"The moment man devoured the fruit of knowledge, he sealed his fate...entrusting his future to the cards, man clings to a dim hope. Yet, the Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. Beyond the beaten path lies the absolute end. It matters not who you are. Death awaits you."
Out of time.
Top Floor, The Hills
He established his connection to the Babel Server, exercising his power for a goal that would not violate the dictates of Metatron or his council.
The World would end with the end of the Dark Hour, this much Naoya had told him, and he knew this to be true. With inhuman senses, he felt the pressure being put forth by Nyx and he smiled, knowing that this little bit would be all he could do. He couldn't do it perfectly, but every little bit helped, right?
The King of Bel flipped closed his own COMP, the message sent. He wondered if Midori would see it in time.
Top Floor, Tartarus
Tatsumi Port Island
The world shifted and lurched for a moment, and Midori watched as her COMP stopped measuring the passage of time again. Something was different.
beep New Message.
Ignoring the pitched battle around her, Midori picked up her COMP and opened the e-mail.
You like? You need the time to fight, and the Dark Hour is limited. So... I made it unlimited. Until the battle is over, I will keep the Dark Hour going for you. There may be some... hiccups, but I'll work to smooth them over.
I believe in you!
Midori smiled, tears of joy streaming down her face. Then she laughed. A joyful tone that contrasted with everything that had happened this evening. Standing, she left her COMP behind. Pointing her weapon at Nyx, she proclaimed in her best voice. "Confused? The Dark Hour won't end until we say so! Bring your death! Bring your Fall! Bring your sleep! Nothing happens without our permission! Without our desire nothing changes! We are alive! That's all that matters!"
She rejoined the battle, bringing all the power she and Frosty could bear against Nyx.
The final stage of the battle was one of grandiose endurance. Human and Avatar pushing each other to the limits of their existence. Spell and Sword, Persona and Tarot brought to bear against each side, nothing left to hold back later for.
It was Nyx that collapsed first.
Heaving breath, Mitsuru gasped out her desire. "Did we...? Were we victorious?"
"No..." Yukari whispered as Ryoji/Nyx pulled itself up.
"Such a pity." His voice gained a more distinct female reverberation. "Fate. You understand it. Yet you still fight with all your strength." The Avatar of Nyx pulled itself higher. "If only more humans were like you, then perhaps the impossible would occur, and the Fall would have been prevented." He paused, as though regretting what words came next. "I will miss you."
The world began to die.
Pure power rolled off Nyx, pushing them back with implacable motion.
Far below, Takaya smiled. He had held on long enough, and now Nyx was upon them. He died happy.
At the top of the world, the universe blinked under the pressure, and the Team were forced to their knees. They tried to fight, but the power of Nyx itself was too much. "I will never give up!" Aigis proclaimed as Minato fell. Her Orgia Mode exploded into action, but instantly shorted. This was not a battle she could win through force.
"No! I! Will! STAND!" Chidori yelled as Junpei's hat was dragged from her head.
"You've made your mind up!" Yukari reminded herself of her promise to her father, the drive that carried her through these past couple months.
Midori grinned like a maniac. This was their darkest hour! This was the moment of their truth! All she had to do was re-gain her feet and victory would open itself up to them!
Nyx cared nothing for these things.
The Velvet Room
Igor waited, as he always did, flanked by his two assistants. Behind him, the motion of the Velvet Room's current configuration shone bands of light and dark on his guest.
"Have we failed?" Minato asked, the heartbreak physical.
"No. There's no need to worry. This is not the afterlife."
The Velvet Room stopped.
"Even now, there is still time."
An impossible world confronted the people. Green hues and a monstrous tower rose above them.
They gathered at the Shrine, and prayed for their salvation, their hearts connected by the fickle bonds of humanity, the thin strings that play across all mankind. Hope lifted them up.
The Velvet Room
"Do you remember? What I told you when you first came here?" Minato shook his head.
"I told you that the Social Links you crafted, the people you met, they will determine your potential." Igor leaned forward. "Tell me. Do you hear them? Their voices?"
"Each of them, their power is limited. Yet they all reach out to you. Even the ones you cannot hear. The feelings they give will be the source of your victory."
Minato nodded, and opened himself up to the voices of The Universe.
"Our contract is fulfilled. My role is completed. You were a most wonderful guest." Igor bid Minato farewell for the first and final time.
Minato stood, unaffected by Nyx. Just as she was beyond them, he was now beyond her. He understood.
Lifted up by humanity's will, he ascended to seal Nyx away.
Midori opened her eyes. A sky full of beautiful stars surrounded her, all around, above and below. A blue and golden butterfly flitted below her and she waved a bit in greeting.
"Where are we?" Fuuka asked, "I can't sense... anything."
Rolling over, Midori made her announcement. "We're safe." She looked around and accounted for everyone except Minato, standing as they were on a floor of white marble which was itself circles with white pillars in a style she couldn't quite put a name too. "I think I know whose place this is."
"How do you know that!?" Akihiko demanded of the prone girl.
She stood up, and pointed at the butterfly. "Because he's on our side." As if in response the butterfly landed on her outstretched finger, then vanished.
"This doesn't look like a Velvet Room..." Ken trailed off as he took in the universe around them.
"Wait! Where is he? Where's Minato?" Yukari cried out as she looked around for their missing member.
Fukka closed her eyes and focused. "Everything was taken in by the light... I don't sense him."
"Neither do I" Mitsuru refused to admit defeat, but she didn't know how to move forward.
"No! I refuse to believe that!" Ken said, Koromaru adding an encouraging bark.
"It's... It's a possibility." Mitsuru ignored the apparently oblivious Midori as she tried to come to grips with her own statement. "We came here expecting the possibility."
"Oh, he's not dead." Midori said as she checked her uniform for damage, finding that there were too many new blemishes and damaged sections for her to properly patch up. She would need to get a new one for tomorrow, assuming of course that she couldn't talk people into just taking a personal day.
"Explain, Komaki!" Mitsuru let some of her frustrations out on the slightly cryptic girl.
"He's the Hero, right? Well, we're all heroes, but he's the leader. So naturally he has to make the last battle by himself." She rolled her shoulders, back turned to the rest. "The only thing we can do now is cheer him on."
"YOU HEAR ME MINATO! LOVE AND JUSTICE! LIFE IS NOTHING WITHOUT THEM!" Her scream raised to the heavens and was soon followed by the others.
Following her lead, the others began to cheer into the night. With nothing else to do, their voices and will were the only things left to give.
And their voices were answered. Ryoji spoke with a voice not his own, more human than force. "Do not worry. I will sleep once again. He has spoken his worth, and Nyx... Normal days will return, for you, and for him. He has found his answer to life's questions. It just happened for him sooner than for the rest of you."
"What is Life's Greatest Question?" Aigis demanded, unsure of what was meant. "Tell me, Ryoji!"
"Oh, Aigis. Yours is a long journey. But you too will find the answer in time. You too are a living thing, you just need to realize your own nature."
"So, we win?"
"Yes. The Dark Hour will soon vanish properly. All that was taken will be relinquished. The Miracle of Life will continue."
And The Dark Hour ended.
Life went on.
So ends Seven Days Survivor: The Journey.
Thank you all for reading.
The next 'act' in the 7DS story will begin next week with Chapter 1 of "Seven Days Survivor: The Answer". It will be a new story, so please be prepared to flag it appropriately.