Crona felt a strange chill coming from behind her in the hallway, and it quickly rushed through past her. She held one of her arms with a hand and shivered.
"What was that, Ragnarok?"
Crona felt the muscles in her back vibrate as the demon inside her sprouted out. He loomed over her and looked at her upside-down.
"There's a presence of very powerful souls nearby, Crona. Could you do me a favor and let me swallow them up? It would make us even more powerful and we'll become totally unstoppable!"
Crona looked up at him with fright in her eyes, and she fidgeted nervously, finally turning to look around the corner of the hallway back toward the classroom.
"But whose souls are they?"
That ignorant question earned her a knuckle sandwich on the side of her head from Ragnarok.
"Who do you think, dummy? It's coming from the classroom! What do ya' say, Crona... just take my sword and cut 'em down for me so I can get stronger, so WE can get stronger... heh heh..."
A dark aura emanated from Ragnarok, and he slowly transformed himself into his sword form, black flames scattering around and reforming themselves into it. His body completely disappeared from inside her back and became the static object in her hand, purple and black energy pulsating around the devil object. Crona soon became enveloped in the energy as well, and she hung her head low, passively trying to resist the temptation of succumbing to his will and power.
"B-but Ragnarok... those people are my friends. I can't kill them..." she said softly, without confidence. She knew he would yell at her again.
And he did.
"Arrghh... Crona, move your legs. Greeeat. Now, just turn around and head back to the classroom... We can finally become a Kishin and be the strongest being there is...!"
Crona still attempted to resist the devil's whisper into her soul, but for some reason she couldn't. She couldn't force him back into her body and lock him away this time. And when he came out of her body a few moments ago, he seemed bigger than he used to be after he shrank down to Mini-Ragnarok size. It's like Madness was feeding him once again, making him stronger.
But the Madness wasn't coming from Crona.
So where was it coming from?
"Kid, you've done well."
Kid blinked and looked up. They were standing next to a lake, with sunlight around them so bright it seemed white, reflecting off the surface of the water into his eyes. He squinted as he tried to look at Stein.
Stein chuckled and kissed the top of Kid's head, wrapping his arms around Kid's waist and holding him close.
"I have enough for five shots now. But the problem is... I've become addicted to them."
Kid tried again to look at Stein's face, tilting his head somewhat. It was difficult to see his expression because of the golden ambient light shining down on their faces.
"There's side-effects? You told me there wasn't."
Stein held him closer, nuzzling his face against Kid's hair.
"Well, there wasn't. At first. But..."
Stein looked down out of the corner of his eyes at his soul's lake, which seemed clear at the moment. It took three whole days to clean and purify it again after the last time they synchronized when under the stress of Madness, and the shot he took afterward in his lab finally silenced that incessant static that was in the other part of his soul...
The bad part.
"Lately when I've been injecting myself..."
Suddenly, there was a clanging sound and everything around Kid dissolved to white.
Kid pulled away from Stein, his consciousness back in the classroom.
"What did you just do?"
Stein lowered his eyelids down at him and rose his eyebrows. It only took a few moments for Kid to notice he was turning the screw in his head. After a full, single rotation, it clicked more noticably than the other clicks and he stopped moving it.
"I kicked you out of my soul."
"But why-" Kid started to say, when he heard a knocking at the door and turned toward it, startled.
"That's why. Someone's been at the door waiting for me to answer it for the past ten seconds. I had to wall off my soul to you, while in the meantime I talk to them and see what they want."
What Stein didn't add to that, was immediately before Kid was expelled from his soul, something was happening in that lake. Something he didn't want Kid to see.
There was a few more knocks before Stein made his way to the door and opened it.
"Oh, Sid. The bird's on the table, like always."
Stein motioned a hand behind him. Sid nodded and walked into the room, carrying a box in his hand. He looked surprised to see a student in Stein's classroom at this hour. Sid looked at him curiously as he walked past him towards Stein's desk.
"Hi, Kid. Strange to see you of all people here. Usually it's Black Star. You better not be in trouble, or I'll start to lose faith in the student body."
Kid blinked and wasn't sure really what to say. Stein sensed his soul quivering and spoke up for him. While he did so, he put a hand in his pocket and took a pack of cigarettes out, fumbling with the contents until he managed to light one and put it in his mouth.
"Of course not. Sid, he's the one I was telling you about. Kid's been very helpful in my research."
Sid stood stock-still for a second, shocked by the fact that his devious co-worker uttered 'Kid' and 'research' in the same sentence. He tried not to look at either of them while he bent over the desk and started to package up the dead bird, wrapping it up in a newspaper that he took out from inside the box.
"Surely you're not trying to create some type of hybrid Reaper-Zombie; one Zombie in this school is enough as it is... Or whatever you were trying to accomplish with Spirit all those years ago... Basically, I have no idea what you're up to, Stein."
Sid finished wrapping up the bird and put it in the box, closing the lid over it afterward. Stein idly puffed smoke into the air while looking up at it, not really paying attention to anybody.
"It probably should stay that way. Thanks for taking the bird with you."
"Yeah, no problem." Sid looked at Kid again when he walked by him, this time as he headed toward the door. He patted the box with a hand. "A hearty meal for a Zombie. See you two later."
As he passed by Stein and out the door however, he muttered something lowly that he knew the doctor would be very irate to hear.
"No funny business with Kid. I got my eye on you; if anything happens to him, Lord Death will know."
Sid closed the door behind him as he left.
Stein lowered his head and couldn't help a low chuckle from rumbling through his throat.
"Trying to keep me from being able to experiment...? You should know all too well what happened to you when you did that the last time, Sid."
"Oh! H-hi, Professor Sid."
Sid looked strangely at her when they passed by each other in the hall. "It sounds weird to call me Professor. Just call me Sid. In the past I may have been called one, when I was human..."
Crona fidgeted nervously, one of her arms hiding behind her back. Secretly Ragnarok was flowing back inside her body, unnoticed by Sid. Her free hand was held up to her mouth to emphasize her uneasiness.
"Okay... Sid. Wh-what's in that box?"
Sid laughed. "You really wanna know?" Crona's eyes widened and she had a scared expression on her face. Sid shook his head good-humoredly, chuckling again.
"Relax. It's just that bird I'm sure Professor Stein made a good show about dissecting in class earlier. Speaking of which, how come so many of his students are still sticking around today? First Kid, and now I find you roaming around in the halls... it's so unusual, if I may say so."
Crona's expression became surprised, and then slowly brightened up. She smiled meekly, less fidgety than before.
"K-Kid's here still?" Crona's hidden arm returned to her side, the sword finally diminished from sight.
"Yeah, he is. You can talk to him if you want, but you probably have to go through Stein first."
Sid laughed darkly as he walked around Crona, leaving her alone in the hall. When he finally disappeared around the corner and was out of earshot, Ragnarok popped out of her back again, angrily pinching and pulling Crona's cheeks when she tried to speak out in protest.
Finally, he stopped tugging and looked at her when he became bored of her whining and fussing. She rubbed her reddened cheeks and looked at him in annoyance.
"...See, Ragnarok? They're my friends! It's... it's Professor Stein and Kid in the classroom! And you know I can't beat either of them... r-remember how much it hurt last time? And they're together, so it will be even harder to defeat them..."
"Yeaaah, Crona. But I feel different this time. I feel so powerful now, look at me!"
Crona took a step back as Ragnarok suddenly grew in size again, this time right before her eyes. He almost came up to the ceiling now and a bloodthirsty haze emanated from his body, black and morbid.
"B-but how?! You haven't grown this big since..."
Ragnarok chortled cruelly. If he could grin now it would certainly look demonic.
"That's riiiight, dear Crona... I feel Madness flowing into me, continuously making me stronger, even though I haven't consumed any souls! It feels wonderful, and it makes my thirst for blood so much stronger... Come on Crona, you know you can feel it too..."
"I..." Crona seemed in a daze, her neck and body bending backward as Ragnarok transformed himself into his sword form again. He almost fell out of her hand, as she barely held onto the hilt. She was caught in a trance and soon enveloped by a rush of foreign red energy crushing against her body and soul. Soon, she would be his puppet again, just like old times.
"Professor, what exactly did you tell Sid?" Kid asked, sounding half-accusatory and half worried. He watched Stein wipe down his desk with a disinfectant cloth, cigarette haphazardly dangling out of his mouth.
"About what?" Stein replied simply, with barely any emotion. He really knew what Kid was getting at, but didn't feel like indulging him at the moment. He didn't have the energy. Kid suddenly felt anger boiling up in his stomach.
"You know what I mean! Don't play dumb." He felt even more agitated when Stein sat on a corner of the desk and dropped the cloth into the trash can, almost ignoring Kid entirely. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and blew out a long, slow puff of smoke before he ever bothered to reply.
"Well, unlike my other experiments on people around the school, this time it affects a wider scope of people than just me and the test subject."
Kid gave the doctor a weird look, and wasn't sure of what to say to that. Sure, he could accept this explanation, but why was Stein acting so weird all of a sudden...? He didn't understand why he was acting so hot-headed himself, either. They were feeding off each other's agitation when it wasn't there a second ago...
Stein closed his eyes and held the cigarette between two fingers, removing it from his mouth again. He rested his palm against the edge of the desk and leaned forward slightly.
"Kid, I'm not the only one easily affected by Madness. There are students in this school who also easily fall under its influence. Lately... it's been harder to have total control over my soul chemistry. And it's because of you."
Kid's eyes widened. Stein started to rotate his screw again, and seemed like he was concentrating on something, tilting his head to the side while his eyes were still closed. Is this why Kid felt this unexplainable wave of anger rush through him? It had something to do with him?
"Kid, I told Sid... that if something bad happens, it's my fault. Not just to me or you. I mean everybody, and anybody. Suddenly other students can become infected, if what I'm fearing is truly happening. I've been feeling students' emotions the past few days, in a weird, unwanted way. If they're angry, I'm angry. If they're scared, I feel still more agitated. I'm absorbing their emotions when I don't need to, then unwittingly syncronizing with all the others around me, passing all their emotions around like the plague. I'm starting to lose myself again... that lake I showed you..."
Stein trailed off and his voice became strained and raspy, the final click in his second rotation ringing out. Now he had a full three rotations to his record since he rotated it in class earlier. Now...
He stood still with his back to Kid, looking straight down at a mass of purple and black, that used to be the lake.
Now, it was just sludge, unmoving and poisonous.
Just like old times.