7. A shift in balance
Inori's fortress quickly vanished behind him as he dashed through the air like roadrunner would have on the ground. Ayase's void glowed because of the pressure Shu put on it for going full speed, yet he didn't even think about slowing down in the slightest…no, he even tried to go faster. It wasn't until he heard the first sounds of battle near him that he finally allowed it to slow down and thus granted it some rest while he decided to approach the battlefield with caution.
Slowly, he flew closer to the ground to avoid being an easy target, like he had been when he had first got shot by an enemy sniper. He wouldn't do the same mistake twice. Staying near the ground, he carefully hovered closer to the sounds that came from a valley in front of him. He could only imagine what horrors would lie in wait for him there from listening to the horrible cries that filled his ears and the stench of blood that crawled up his nose. Once he finally came close enough to actually see what was going on, he had wished he would have never looked. There simply were no words to describe the awfulness that lied before his eyes which had grown wide from shock and disbelief.
Down there in this valley, countless of people used their voids to kill each other. He happened to spot a twelve year old brat beheading someone with a scythe, bathing in the blood of his victim. In the distance, people used higher ground to shot long range projectiles down the valley at people he assumed to be their enemies. Energy rays carved their ways through three people in a row while projectiles, coming out from rocket launcher like voids, exploded near them and completely tore them to shreds. Those who were lucky enough to actually survive that, were unfortunate enough to be caught on the fire that got caused by the explosions and slowly burned to death. In the air, people with voids capable of flying shot each other down. One of them got hit and fell meters deep into his doom all while crying his lungs out in the process. Surely he would leave nothing behind but a gruesome puddle of red on the spot he would eventually land on. As if on cue, he saw Juan and Jimmy fly in together with a couple of other airborne people who probably were their allies. So they still managed to scrap together a few people to send as reinforcements…
"Alright, people! Let's show those Mananites who's boss! Rain death on them!" He could hear Juan yell while putting his fist up in the air in a cheering move. The rest of them roared their battle cries in approval and swarmed out to fight their battles, leaving Juan to himself.
The next thing Shu could see, was how something came out on the left and right sides of his hover board. He watched in utter shock as he realized that the things, that had appeared, were in fact carriers for missiles with five of them on each side.
"Eat it, suckers!" Juan yelled once again and released the barrage of explosives his void came with. In a matter of seconds he plastered the ground below him with a carpet of explosions that effectively killed everything in its reach. People cried and yelled in pain as they systematically got obliterated. After the youth with the hover board had seen his success, he cheered proudly and flew off to fight elsewhere.
"What…what the hell is this…?" Shu finally managed to say after the long time his mouth had just hung wide open, unable to express a single thought. His eyes frantically searched for a spot he could have looked at, that wouldn't have showed him pictures of a cruel slaughter, but no matter where his gaze fell on, the things he saw only grew worse and worse. Until the moment he finally couldn't bear the sight no more and had to turn away to protect his sanity. This was far worse than he ever could have imagined. This was madness! Simple as that. There was no other way to describe this massacre in front of him.
And what made things even worse, was the fact that somewhere in the middle of all this chaos, Inori was apparently fighting her enemies. How was he supposed to locate her in that endless mess of blood, pain and terror? This was like trying to find a needle in a goddamn haysack!
"Well, well, if it isn't Kurosu's brat…" He suddenly heard someone say behind him. He quickly drew Yahiro's void and pointed it towards the source of the disturbance, ready to counter any incoming danger.
He was surprised, though, to only see a lone man standing in front of him with his hands casually folded behind his back. The look in his eyes was serious, but not hostile. There was also no void to be seen. When Shu sent the man a glare filled with suspicion, the newcomer decided to briefly show him his hands to ensure him he wasn't armed before folding them behind his back again.
Sensing no direct danger coming from that man, Shu decided to lower Yahiro's shears, but wouldn't dismiss them, yet, to stay on the safe side. He then used the opportunity to take a closer look at the stranger who had shown up out of nowhere.
He had long, black hair, which looked like a mess, as well as a long beard in the matching color. It made putting a finger on the man's exact age quite difficult, because most of his face was covered in hair. However, Shu couldn't make out any signs of wrinkles or the sort, which kind of excluded the possibility of the man being much older than 40. That at least narrowed down the stranger's possible age on something between 30 and 45. He figured that was as closest as he would get at estimating the man's age.
Moving on with the stranger's clothes, he soon realized that they had to be pretty old. He wore a long and torn coat that must have originally have been white, but was now something between beige and brown from all the dirt on it. There were a lot of holes in it, too, but he had definitely seen worse in this world. If he would have to compare the state of the man's clothes with those of some of the soldiers he had seen previously, especially those on Mana's side, he would say that the man's clothes were looking pretty good, considering the circumstances. They also somehow struck some sort of familiarity in him, which he found odd. Had he seen those clothes before?
Now that he thought about it…didn't this coat somehow look like the one the leader of the antibodies used to wear…? And then there was the fact that this man apparently had known his father, seeing as he had just said his name to him only a second ago. That only left one possibility open about the stranger's identity.
"Shuichiro Keido, is that you?" Shu then asked as his eyes slightly widened for a second in realization.
The man in front of him only nodded approvingly with closed eyes. "So you are still able to recognize me, despite this appearance…"
"Barely…you look horrible…" Shu merely stated, still kind of shocked about the man's change. He still remembered how Keido had used to look in the past. Always so clean and somewhat elegant…he had been a man with much pride and an aura of authority surrounding him. But looking at him now Shu would have to admit that previous descriptions of Keido's looks being said to be close to one of a hobo had been awfully accurate. Keido was actually just missing a trolley with random shit in it and the whole picture would have been perfect.
"I suppose that can't be helped…five years are a long time, and I own no void capable to take care of my hair or clothes." He sighed, sounding slightly ashamed. He then decided to change the subject, probably not least because of the fact that he hadn't liked the current topic in the first place. "So you have come at last, Ouma Shu. That must mean the fake queen must have succeeded in contacting you. Perhaps I have underestimated her…"
The king narrowed his eyes on him and said with an annoyed tone: "Her name's Inori, you know? It's not that hard to learn. Would it hurt you so much to not be an asshole for once?"
Keido just gave off a small chuckle. "Fine, I will call her Inori, then. She has grown much from being merely a fake anyway. Who would have thought that someone, who was intended to be nothing but a vessel, would eventually come to develop their own personality and even a soul as well…?"
"That only shows that things not always go the way we planned them…"
"True words, little king, true words…I suppose things didn't go that well for both of us…" Keido agreed with a slow nod.
"They never have…" Shu just said while taking another look at the battlefield, appearing to be lost in thought. He also tried to scan the killing field before him for a certain pink haired queen…to no avail.
Keido walked up to him and stood at his side as he, too, started to look at the battlefield. "So you have come to see the endless struggle between Eve and her former vessel. A pointless battle caused by no one other than you." That earned him an evil glare from Shu.
"Me? If anyone is responsible for all this, it would be you. You and the rest of Da'ath!"
"While Da'ath can be hold responsible for sending most of these people into this realm, it was you who sent both Eve and Inori here without coming yourself, thus breaking the system and causing us to be stuck in limbo." Keido calmly explained, without averting his eyes from the battle in front of him. "What you see is what happens if you put two queens into this world with no king to stand at their side.
"I never intended to send Inori here. I was meant to go myself."
"Inori happened." Shu said with a weak smile. "I was willing to absorb the world's pain and die with it so she could have the chance to live her live to her heart's content. I was naïve enough to think she wouldn't come up with the same idea. The moment I had absorbed everything, she tricked me into taking back the very life I had given to her. I only realized when it was too late already. I don't blame her, though. She had known I would have never taken it if I had known what it was…"
"I see…things would have been easier if she wouldn't have done that, but what is done is done, I guess…"
"How come you aren't joining the fight, anyway?"
"What good would it do me to play a game in which the only winning move is not to play? Neither Eve nor Inori can ever win, yet Eve will never accept that. The only way out for them is together with the original Adam, but that has only become an option since the moment you came here. There was no reason to join either side until now, not to mention that joining a side was never an option for me or would have yielded me anything in the first place. I would have only been a slave on Eve's side and even if Inori had accepted me, I was always sure of the fact that you would still leave me behind in the end for the things I have done to you. I have come to terms with forever staying in this world long ago." Keido told him, still with the same calmness as before. Shu just sighed after he had heard him.
"That's too bad, because I will take you with me when I leave, you know…?"
"Hoh…?" Keido turned to Shu in what seemed to be surprise. "Why?"
"Various reasons. The most important one being that you know most about this world and how to escape it. I will have to rely on that information if I want to leave. Another reason would be my mother. Though you may have obviously been a huge asshole in the past, you still are her brother and thus family to me. She was deeply saddened by your loss, and I think she had lost enough in her life already by losing Dad. So you are coming back whether you like it or not, just to make her a bit happier again. I got a feeling that is what Dad would have liked me to do anyway. He never was someone to hold a grudge on someone, so he probably wouldn't have done so even for his killer."
"Damn you, Kurosu…" Shu heard the man next to him curse quietly while looking down, slightly saddened. "To be forgiven by your son even though I have killed you…has your strong heart been passed on to your offspring? He even became the mirror image of you…"
"I don't know about any of that, but I hope you will be making better use of the second chance I will be giving you."
Keido only closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. "I don't need you to tell me that I have wasted my life because of my envy…I know so myself. Luckily I have attained additional time by surviving the process of evolution. Should I really manage to follow you out of this realm, I will make sure to leave my past grudges behind and start living again…I have lost my interest in bringing the apocalypse anyway…"
"I am glad to hear that, though I do not understand what you mean by additional time…" Shu said while tilting his head in a confused manner.
Keido turned his head slightly into Shu's direction and looked at him through the corner of his eye. He appeared to think about telling Shu something that could have been important, but eventually decided against it, closing his eyes and shaking his head dismissively.
"Now is not the time for this. I am afraid you have different things to worry about now."
"That's true. I came to help Inori, but no matter how hard I look for her down there, I just can't seem to find her." Shu admitted in frustration. All he could really see were random people killing each other with voids. He couldn't even tell who fought for which side. It was pure chaos.
"Then perhaps she is not among them?"
"Where else could she be?" Shu wanted to know. Right at that moment, they both could see a huge crystal boulder appear in the distance. It looked like it had been thrown into the air with quite some force, flew a couple of meters through the air and ended up crashing on the ground somewhere behind the valley. Shu had only starred at it with a dumbstruck expression. Was the incredible Hulk playing football over there or something?
"I suppose you just got your answer…" Keido simply stated as if it hadn't been that much of a deal.
Shu looked at him like he had just heard him making a really bad joke. "You GOTTA be kidding me." There was no way in hell he would believe him only for a second that it could have possibly been Inori, who had just somehow managed to throw a car sized chunk of crystal a couple of meters through the air. There was no fucking way…or was there?
He gulped down heavily as he looked into the direction that incident had taken its place in. Well, there was only one way to find out.
"Urgh…what the hell…?"
"Waaah, the pain! Get that huge thing off me!"
"I can't feel my fucking legs!"
People cried in pain while being stuck under a massive crystal boulder. There were also some of them that didn't cry…or move for that matter. Those people started to slowly crystallize and broke apart into millions of little shards that vanished into thin air, leaving those behind that were unfortunate enough to survive.
Inori watched them struggle and lie in their own puddle of blood. Her red eyes reflected pity but no remorse for having injured and killed quite a handful of enemy soldiers for aiming their long range voids at her only moments prior. They had come at her with the intention to kill, so naturally she would only seek to do the same.
It was slightly regrettable, however, that the boulder, she had thrown at them with the power of her thoughts alone, had been unable to kill them all, resulting in the remaining ones to suffer and slowly bleed to death. There were also the ones who had managed to dodge her attack and were now trying to stand up again.
If only she had reason to believe that these people would surrender and leave peacefully…if that had been the case, she would have considered the possibility of sparing their lives. Unfortunately, she knew for a fact that they wouldn't stand down. They never did. And so she slowly lifted her right hand towards the chunk of crystal that kept tormenting those poor souls beneath it, and gave off a quick jolt.
The object she was pointing her hand at was quick to respond to her movement. The moment she had done that, it had simply burst into many razor sharp shards that flew off into every direction. A hail of deadly projectiles killed off every poor soul that had been unlucky enough to have stood near the now busted crystal. The highly accelerated shards simply pierced their bodies and made them look like pin cushions before they dissolved into crystals like all the corpses did in the world.
"Don't let her get the upper hand. Surround her!" She heard someone shout orders not far from her. Seconds later a new wave of enemies had rushed towards her and formed a circle around her. All while she had simply stood there and watched them do so, completely unimpressed.
"We've got you surrounded, queen! Surrender and die!" They yelled at her.
"I won't. Rather than that, I will give you one last chance to walk away unharmed…" She calmly answered.
"Don't fuck with us! Today is the day we will finally kill you!"
"You leave me no choice then…I am sorry." They decided to attack her with their melee voids, but only had time to see her slowly close her eyes in disappointment before they were all suddenly met with the sharp end of a crystal spike that had grown out of the ground in the blink of an eye. From one moment to the other, all her attackers around her were being impaled gruesomely. They had died so fast that they probably hadn't even been able to feel pain. Their bodies hung there for a moment, before they, too, crystallized and begun to disappear like the bodies of their fallen comrades had before them.
"Keep attacking! She can't possibly take all of us out!" It appeared like the next wave of attackers was already prepared for her. About twenty soldiers raised their voids and charged in from all sides, but Inori gave herself unfazed yet again. All she did was make another move with her right hand. A gentle one, that looked like she was slowly brushing something away in the air.
Again, the crystals, she had created around her, reacted to her call. The spikes that were still drenched in the blood of its victims began to shatter into countless little pieces which kept surrounding her. Like a little whirlwind, they danced around their master to form a moving shield of thousand little crystal fragments.
The soldiers that foolishly kept running towards her were met with a lot of pain, seeing as the harmful objects acted like little knives and proceeded to cover their victims in cuts and bruises. Some were able to back off in time to not get torn to shreds, only to be unlucky enough to stand between Inori and yet another wave of attackers. This time there was a total of 50 people lined up 15 meters in front of her in two rows. The first row kneeled in front of the second one and all of them pointed their long to mid range voids at her, ready to fire at any second.
"Open fire! Now!"
And so they did. With no regards for their allies from the previous wave that had managed to get out of the crystal storm somewhat unharmed, they shot everything they had at her. Bullets, laser beams, energy arrows, explosives,…everything came into the pink haired queens direction.
But while Inori was merely lifting her arms to raise a massive crystal wall in front of her for protection, the soldiers, who happened to be in the way, apparently were not so lucky. They served as an additional, though also unnecessary, meat shield, seeing as the wall was more than enough to let the queen come out unharmed from that encounter.
When the barrage of bullets and explosive finally died down because the gunmen had to eventually let their voids recharge, Inori razed the wall down again as quickly as she had made it grow. The men and women in front of her all got an unpleasant feeling once they had realized she had her right hand pointed at them. Though they had attempted to take cover by jumping out of her view, their actions proved to be futile as the tiny crystal shards that had surrounded her up until now, suddenly stopped midair, only to come rushing down into their direction. Like bullets out of a minigun, the rain of death she had brought upon them made sure to leave no survivors. No one of them had managed to escape in time.
"We are not done yet, damned queen! Prepare yourself!" The pink haired queen finally had the time to look for the source of the voice, now that she wasn't busy having to keep enemies at bay. A tall, bulky man in a void armor stood on the hillside that led to the valley the rest of her army was fighting in. Behind him, yet another division of Mananites stood strong to try and prevent her from regrouping with her own dear soldiers.
Apparently, the armor wielding man was some sort of general. At least that's what it looked like to her. He raised one arm high in the air, followed by bringing it down abruptly into her direction, signaling his men to storm into battle which they all did with a furious battle cry.
Inori merely watched the horde approach her with slight annoyance. From underneath the sleeves of her old, white Funeral Parlor uniform she had been captured with all this time ago, a long, sharp crystal blade suddenly emerged. Armed with one on each hand, she decided to swing them once before engaging the enemy without the slightest indication of fear. A bystander would have thought her to be crazy to willingly face an entire squad of at least 50 enemies all by herself. It was foolish and suicidal…at least it would have been for any normal person…which Inori was not, fortunately.
In fact, she was quick to show them that it had actually been them who had been foolish enough for choosing to pick a fight with her. As soon as both forces clashed, Inori commenced to effortlessly cut herself a path through the enemy's ranks. Gracefully she danced around her opponents, all while swinging her deadly weapons at their vitals. No void they directed at her could touch her, for she was too fast for their eyes and her crystals too hard for them to break. She was like an artist, elegantly swinging her blades around like brushes to paint the battlefield red with the color of her opponent's blood. An unstoppable angel, bringing justice over the forces of hell.
However…once the last foe finally fell dead to her feet and she was standing in the middle of a field of vanishing corpses, she couldn't help but look at her blood soaked hands and remember the ugly moments of her past. The time when she had still shared her body with Mana's twisted soul…a time she had used to black out every once in a while for no reason, only to awake to the very same picture she saw before her now. A place full of murder, filled with blood and her right at the center of it. She had not understood it at first…what it had been that had happened to her. She had felt helpless and had been terrified of herself. Only later, when she had learned that it had been Mana all along, who had controlled her from within, was it that she finally had understood.
And when Mana's soul had finally departed, defeated by Shu, Inori had thought to be the happiest girl in the world…for she had been free from that moment onward. No longer would the thoughts of someone else haunt her, ever. She was her own person now.
But looking down at herself and also witnessing the gruesome sight that surrounded her, she just felt like nothing had changed after all. She may have at long last been freed from Mana's grasp, but in a way she could still be regarded as a…
"…monster…" Inori immediately turned around to the source of the unfamiliar voice with her blades ready to strike, only to see a cowering man lying in front of her. He trembled like a leaf and had his eyes wide open and filled with tears from fear. In his hand, he had held a void in form of a simple spoon. It could by no means be called a weapon, let alone a useful tool, yet it was all the man had to protect himself with. He had probably been completely aware of the fact that it was utterly pointless to even think it could help him in any way, but chose to at least try it anyway. What else could he have done in his situation?
The hostility that had faintly been visible in the queen's eyes was quick to vanish and be replaced by pity as she realized that it was yet another civilian that was lying at her feet. The very reason why Mana's army was three times bigger than hers, was that Mana forced everyone to fight, figuring that even people with weak non-combat voids were still more useful as cannon food rather than remaining at her base, doing nothing.
Inori knew that there was no danger coming off of the civilian, so she lowered her weapons, which crumbled apart right after that. She then turned around and walked away without a word, leaving the man shocked, yet relieved.
His relief was rather short lived, though, as his body got impaled by yet another crystal. The queen turned around in surprise when she realized that, only to see the body of the man already perishing under the crystal curse of this world. Inori couldn't understand how this could have happened…she hadn't called forth another crystal, so why did he…
Her expression turned somewhat grim as soon as realization struck her. "Mana…"
Indeed, out of a nearby crystal structure, Mana came, looking proud as ever with her beautiful violet-red dress adorned with crystal ornaments. On her head, purple crystals were representing a crown. It pretty much was the same look she had had when she had last attempted to end the world to recreate it anew. Slowly, she walked up to Inori and came to a halt a few meters in front of her, all while smirking at her in utter ridicule.
"So we meet again, usurper queen, if you can even be called one in the first place. Just look at you, being covered in all this gory stuff. It would be more befitting to call you the monster you truly are, no?"
Inori narrowed her eyes in a defiant way. "It doesn't matter what people think I am. I know who I am. I am me. And you are nothing to me anymore."
"Cocky words from a mere puppet. But in the end, you will have to see that you are nothing without me. You were created to be my vessel. And now that we are both stuck in this realm, you have no purpose anymore. There is no meaning to your existence, which is why you so desperately try to mimic mine."
"I am nothing like you…"
"Oh, aren't you? You were created after my image, have the same abilities as me, illegitimately crowned yourself queen and in the end, you also got rejected by Shu for the mere copy you are. Say, won't you just realize it already and put an end to your tragic self? It would make everything so much easier for both of us…" Mana said, sounding as if she was only trying to give Inori advice, while it was obvious she was just trying to get under her skin.
But Inori didn't let her get to her. She just kept her cool and shook her head slowly. "You are wrong. I was not rejected, I chose to go."
"You keep telling yourself that, girl. You can't deny the facts, though. How long have we been here already? Years must have already come to pass…yet Shu never came for you. Face it, he has already forgotten all about you and lives a happy life without you. No one needs you. Just die already." Mana said with a sinister sounding giggle. "Come on, it's easy to end your own life. I can help you with that, what do you say?"
"I pity you, Mana. You keep wishing for my death because you think it would give you the thing you always longed for, yet would never attain. Shu will never choose you to be his queen, so you will never be able to receive his love. In the end, it is you whose existence is void. After all, there is no need for Eve if there is no Adam to bear the guilty crown for her."
That seemed like it had gotten Mana rather angry. With an evil glare she said: "What do you know about love…? You are manmade…everything about you is FAKE!"
"Fake or not…these feelings are mine. And I am happy to have received them from Shu. Nothing you do will be able to take them away from me."
"Well, let's see how much fun you will have with those stolen feelings once I am done with you!" Mana suddenly yelled angrily while releasing her void in a bright flash. "You destroyed everything! Shu was meant to be my precious, little king! How could you dare taking him away from his big sister who has loved him since the moment he was born? You of all people, who was meant to be nothing but an empty shell!"
Inori watched Mana taking hold of the gigantic broadsword that emerged from her chest, swinging it furiously once it had fully materialized in her hand. Inori herself let her twin blades grow back and prepared herself for the worst. She saw Mana come at her directly from the front, bringing her big sword up and planning to swing it down on Inori from over her head, but Inori managed to block the attack by forming an X with her crystal blades and thus catching the blade in between hers.
"Why?" Mana continued her rant. Her voice was full of rage and hatred, yet Inori could also hear a bit of sadness in them. "Why would he choose a fake like you over me? I had always been good to him. I loved him! I did everything for him…why did he reject me? Why?"
Inori tried very hard to push Mana back, but her void was extremely powerful. Even more so due to Mana being totally mad from anger and thus giving off a very strong killing intend. However, her blind rage made her full of openings, and so Inori used her chance to catch her opponent off-guard by kicking her in the stomach which immediately caused Mana to stumble backwards.
While Mana was busy regaining her balance, Inori decided to go over into the offence. With both her blades ready to strike, she tried to make a move, but was forced to retreat when she saw Mana point her left hand at her.
The kind queen's instincts proved to be right, as she barely managed to dodge a small amount of fist sized crystals in time, which shot out of the ground towards her. But her safe escape had come with a price, for Mana had used the additional time to regain her stance and close all the openings Inori could have used previously to get herself an advantage.
It wasn't all too bad, though, because the 7 meters worth of distance she had gained from her last dodging maneuver now allowed her to get a look at their surroundings instead of having to strictly focus on Mana all the time. A huge crystal with the height of at least 20 meters directly behind Mana caught her attention and while the evil queen was busy preparing her next attack, Inori merely pointed her hand towards the big crystal behind her enemy, followed by a movement that looked like she was grabbing and pulling something invisible towards her.
The response of the crystal structure wasn't one she had to wait long for. Almost immediately the tall tower-like formation started to bend in her direction. Only slowly at first, but gaining more and more momentum the more it tilted itself horizontally and got pulled down by the forces of gravity. Mana remained totally oblivious to that until the moment she happened to see its shadow growing on the ground around her.
The mad queen only turned around in shock and commenced to swing her sword at the falling object that was now in front of her. The shockwaves her blade created every time she swung it, effortlessly cut through the crystal structure and thus created many small chunks that fell towards her, instead of one massive one. The moment she had achieved that, she used her queen powers to let crystals grow extremely fast beneath her feet. The momentum she gained from these crystal rocks which shot out from the earth, made her launch herself high into the air, allowing her to perform high and fast jumps from one falling boulder to the next by endlessly repeating that tactic. That way she was successfully avoiding the danger of being crushed underneath of tons of crystals.
A frown showed up on Inori's face once she realized that Mana was about to escape the fate of getting smitten by a hair's length. She couldn't let that happen, so she tried to assume direct control of the falling pieces by pointing her hands at them and concentrating really hard. Some of the parts of the broken crystal started to change the direction they were falling into according to Inori's will. Some were moving away from Mana, causing her to miss her jumps, while others were directly flying towards her, apparently trying to smash into her.
It was unfortunate, however, that Mana was very agile and managed to either dodge the controlled chunks, or cut them with her void, effectively changing their course and thus putting herself out of harm's way. She eventually managed to dodge enough crystals, to safely land on the ground again, where she immediately started to run towards Inori. And not without sending some shockwaves from her sword along the way, too.
The kind queen dodged the first few waves by ducking, followed by a well executed dodge roll. When she noticed Mana coming nearer, she launched herself in the air with the same method her opponent had used earlier. Like an eagle she looked down on her prey with her blades ready for the kill. Mana had only time to look up in puzzlement, before realizing Inori dashed down on her from above, faster than she could have sent another shockwave into her direction.
But Inori's quick execution move that had been meant to behead her enemy, had ended in failure, since Mana had hid herself behind a crystal wall in the last second, resulting in the kind queen's twin blades to cut through hard crystal material, instead of her enemies throat. The protective wall perished and behind it was Mana, grinning at Inori menacingly. And since both queens were in melee range yet again, they both resumed their deadly dance of blades with none of them really getting close at harming the other. It seemed like their skills were even matched.
The battle could have possibly gone on for all eternity if it hadn't been for both of them suddenly noticing a new presence directly above them. Upon looking up, they were able to spot a certain brown haired king closing in on them in high speed with Ayase's void shining brightly on his feet, as well as Yahiro's shears readily lying in his right hand. Mana managed to jump back just in time to avoid getting hit by the razor sharp shears which buried themselves deep into the ground instead. Both queens just stared at the man in front of them in utter disbelief and shock. All while he just pulled out the shears again, cursing silently.
"Damn, I missed."
"Shu!" Both girls shouted in unison. The one apparently not less shocked to see him than the other was.
However, the initial shock eventually left. Mana was quicker to come back to her senses and visibly cheered up at the sight of him. Her mad expression filled with killer intend was suddenly replaced by a kind and caring smile from one second to the next.
"Shu, you finally came! You came for your big sister! I am so happy!" She said with teary eyes, smiling brighter than the sun on a wonderful spring morning.
Shu's expression, however, remained cold and distant. When he saw her coming closer with her arms spread to readily embrace her long lost, missing brother, he just warningly pointed his shears at her.
"Stay where you are or else I will have to use this on you. Don't make the mistake of thinking I would show only a second of hesitation…"
To his relief, Mana really did stop. With her eyes wide from surprise for hearing such harsh words directed at her from out of his mouth.
While Mana was busy gulping down her disappointment in Shu's reaction, Inori used the chance to let her crystal blades disappear once again and quickly put her arms around Shu from behind, as if she would fear he would go again if she wouldn't hold onto him hard enough.
"Shu…Shu…Shu!" She called his name over and over again, burying her face deep into the thick cloth of his coat. She sounded awfully relieved, like she had just woken up from a nightmare to find herself inside one of her best dreams. Well, it wasn't like Shu couldn't relate to that. He felt very much the same. Just hearing her saying his name in that sweet, melodious voice of hers was enough to fill his heavy heart with happiness again. This was just like one of his happy dreams…only that this time it was real. It had to be real, right? He was sure he wouldn't be able to stay sane if, by some sick and twisted joke by fate, he would wake up in his room right now. Blind, crippled and most of all: without Inori. It would kill him.
He could see Mana getting angry at the sight of him and Inori…but only for a second before she vanished behind a crystal wall that grew out of the ground all of a sudden. Inori had created a dome around her and Shu, just to not have her evil counterpart ruin their reunion. Outside, they could still hear Mana yell at them, but it was pretty muffled, so it was easy for them to block her out for now and completely focus on each other.
The king was quick to use the opportunity to slowly turn around and return the hug Inori was giving him. A nostalgic feeling befell him once he held her in his arms again for the first time in five years. He was still able to recognize her old, wonderful scent even under the heavy smell of blood and sweat that clung to her. She was covered in all sorts of dirt from her battle and still he thought that there was nothing more beautiful in the world than her. To him she was simply perfect, no matter the circumstances.
"You know…I have been wishing for this moment ever since I lost you. I had this scenario played out in my head countless times, but now that it actually happens right in front of me…I don't even know what to say…" He said with a soft and embarrassed chuckle. How utterly lame of him. He had rehearsed their reunion in his dreams over a dozen times, but all the things he had previously thought he would say felt like they had been blown away by the overwhelming happiness he felt right now. He couldn't think of anything but how glad he was for this very moment.
"You don't have to say anything." Inori replied softly while leaning against his chest, smiling. "I am just glad you came for me."
"I will always come for you, no matter where you are…no matter the cost." He answered her honestly, before giving her an apologizing look. "I am just so sorry that I came this late…"
She slowly shook her head at that. "My hope for your return gave me the strength to carry on. I would have kept waiting forever if I had to."
"You won't have to wait any more. I am here and I am not going to leave you again. Just promise me that you will do the same, alright?" Was all he asked of her with a kind and somewhat pleading smile. Inori didn't even hesitate for a second to give him a cute nod.
"I will stay by your side. Forever."
That was enough to make him the happiest man in the world. Those simple words had probably been more than he could have ever asked for. And for the love of god, he would make sure to treasure them. He wouldn't allow anyone to stand between them anymore, no matter who it was. Which reminded him…
"I guess that leaves us with only one thing to do then, which is dealing with Mana." He thought out aloud while sending an evil glare into the direction he had last seen his sister in. Inori's expression darkened, too.
"She's very strong, Shu. And dangerous." She said, looking at him with eyes full of worry, but Shu just gave her a reassuring smile.
"I know, but so are you. And this time, you won't have to fight alone anymore. She doesn't stand a chance against both of us. I will need more than Yahiro's shears, though." He realized with a frown before looking back at her again. Raising his right hand slowly, he asked politely: "May I?"
"It has always been yours to take, Shu." She told him with a smile while taking his hand with both of hers and guiding it towards her chest. "Please use it."
"With pleasure." He grinned and activated the power of kings that rested in his hands. When the all-too-familiar glowing hole in Inori's chest appeared again in front of his now red eyes, he simply couldn't wait any longer to let his right hand reach into it to get a hold on her beautiful soul. An unbelievable surge of power shot up his arm when he finally wrapped his fingers around it. His void allowed him to see into her heart, yet he didn't even need to take a look to understand the person in front of him. He already knew her strengths and weaknesses, her light and darkness. And he loved everything about them. Her burden was one he would always willingly take from her to carry it around on his shoulders, as she would with his. That he was sure of.
What he eventually pulled out from her seemed like a long crystal rock, but as soon as he held it up into the air, it immediately got shrouded in a bright and beautiful light that formed the rock in his hands into the powerful long sword he was so familiar with. The enormous level of genomic resonance it released upon taking form was enough to let the crystal dome around them start to fall apart. And no one other than Mana was there to greet them with a look mixed with anger and disbelief. Especially once she saw how Shu held Inori in his left arm while holding her void in his right, both of them glaring at her with determined eyes. The brown haired king directed the tip of the sword at Mana in a threatening way.
"Prepare yourself for we won't hold back on you."
"But…but, Shu! Don't you recognize me? It's me! Your dear sister!" She desperately tried to reach him, only to see his glare becoming even colder.
"You are NOT my sister!" He yelled at her, causing her to back off. He then looked down in sadness, sounding calm again. "In fact, I don't even know anymore if you ever were. I would like to think that you had been my sister until the moment you first died on lost Christmas, but recently I started to get doubts about that, too. I started to ask myself: When was it that Mana stopped being herself and became the crazy being known as Eve?' Was it once GHQ resurrected you? Was it when you first awakened on Lost Christmas? Was it once you had touched that cursed meteorite that fell on Japan so long ago? Or even straight from the moment you were born? Did I ever get to know my sister before she got turned into Eve, or did I never have a sister to begin with? I just don't know…" He said, shaking his head in what seemed to be a mixture of disappointment and unhappiness.
"What are you talking about? I have always been myself! Well, aside from the time I was stuck in that failure's body…" Mana said while sending off a glare that reeked of disgust towards Inori when she mentioned a failure. Inori merely returned the glare.
"Which is exactly the reason why I have come to love Inori and not you." Shu only replied harshly, not caring if he hurt her feelings since she obviously didn't care at all for his and Inori's. "She is the exact opposite of you."
The mad queen in front of them tried to wave his words off with a nervous laugh. "Come on…this isn't funny, Shu. I know you aren't really choosing that fake over me, right?"
"I am afraid I just did." Her face became twisted with anger once again when she heard that.
"Why? Why would you choose someone who was made in my image over me, who is the original? I have always loved you, even before that puppet came to life and was able to understand what those fake feelings of hers meant! Don't get yourself blinded by her pretty eyes and those false words she says to you. Nothing of it is true…how could it be when everything about her is artificial?"
"Funny for you to say that, because I heard you chose me to be Adam even before I was born. Did your love for me start then? If so, wouldn't it be you who got yourself blinded by false feelings caused by Eve? After all, you fell for someone you didn't even know just because of the madness you inherited from that cursed meteorite you found. This sure gets me thinking. Isn't it merely Eve's doing that makes you love me? Wouldn't you call that fake feelings, since they aren't even yours to begin with?" he asked and looked at her completely emotionless like he was simply stating facts, nothing more.
Mana for her part looked completely taken aback by that claim. She backed off slightly all while shaking her head in denial. "No…you are wrong…I may be Eve, but that's just a title. There is no other consciousness inside me. I am me! Mana!"
"Maybe, but even if that theory of mine is wrong, you never really showed me much of that love of yours. All you kept doing was hurting me. Forcing me into the role of Adam, trying to destroy the world, hurting Inori, making all the people in this realm fight each other for no reason at all…do you think I wanted all that? To see the person who I once considered my sister do all these horrible things? Do you think I enjoy having to kill you over and over again like it isn't a big deal for me, just to stop your madness? Admit it…deep down you actually hate me, don't you? Because only someone who utterly hates me would continuously try to break my heart like that."
"No, Shu…you got it all wrong…I…" Mana tried to justify her actions but obviously found herself at a loss of words. Shu didn't even give her time to think as he continued to talk.
"On the other side, there is Inori, who always stood by my side. She believed in me, supported me, cried for me, gave her life for me. There is no one else in the world who would have gone as far for me as she did, and you honestly have the nerve to call her feelings fake? You and Da'ath never understood a single thing about her. Yes, she may have been created to be your vessel, but she has grown to be far more than that. And no matter what she may have started as, she is human now. That's more than I can say for most of the people I know…including you. You want to call other people monsters? Then you better start with yourself."
Shu's harsh words paired up with the cold look he directed at Mana, visibly broke the girl in front of him. Her eyes became hollow and got hidden by the light pink hair which started to cover her face once she looked down in what seemed to be disappointment and hurt. Her shoulders also sunk slowly, letting the broadsword in her hands touch the ground carelessly. The words which eventually escaped her lips were quiet and sounded weak…barely audible.
"You are mean, Shu. It may be true that I haven't always made the right decisions, but that doesn't mean I loved you any less than that fake next to you claims to do. I always cared about you…yet you say such harsh things to your big sister. You are the worst, Shu. Maybe I spoiled you too much in the past. It may be time to teach you a lesson. Bad boys need to be punished, right? As your older sister it is my responsibility to make sure my little brother behaves well. Especially if he wants to be my king someday…"
"I will NEVER be your king, Mana. Nothing you will ever do will make me change my mind. It's over for you. Just give up and accept reality." The king demanded of her, only to make her snap at him.
"Accept it? How am I supposed to do that? I lived all my life for the moment we would climb the throne together. It is our fate! I chose you to be king and made you who you are today! Do you think it was mere coincidence for you to get the guilty crown? I MADE her give it to you." She pointed at Inori furiously. "I ensured that nothing would go wrong…but you…you don't understand anything!"
Shu noticed how there was something else starting to appear in those hollow eyes of hers. At first he thought it was anger and hatred, but it felt far worse than that. It was pure cold bloodedness, paired with a very unfitting smile on her face. It was an unnerving sight and, to be honest, the king felt scared by her. It was a side his sister had never shown him before. He felt like looking into the face of a crazed serial killer. Was that it? Had Mana finally lost it completely?
"This is bad…" Inori seemed to share the same thought as Shu did.
"Sorry, I suppose I got carried away and said too much." The king said nervously with a gulp while taking a look over his shoulder back at Inori.. "Well, there is no backing off now. You ready?"
His pink haired queen let her crystal blades grow back in the blink of an eye and nodded determinedly. Once he had seen that, he turned around to Mana again and readied Inori's void in his hands with a grim expression.
"Let's do this, then."
The evil queen in front of them also lifted her weapon and sent them a menacing grin.
"You think you can choose a different queen from me? Very well, all I have to do then is teach you a lesson by completely destroying her. I will put her into so much pain that she will be BEGGING me to kill her…and you will watch me do it. Maybe then will you understand that going against your big sis was the wrong decision. If I can't be your queen, NO ONE else will ever be!" She yelled the last part at him and then started to run into their direction with her weapon drawn and ready in her hands.
"Here she comes!" Shu and Inori prepared themselves for the attack to counter it, only to realize that said attack would not happen.
"Please wait, Mana."
When the voice of another old acquaintance reached their ears, they all stopped their actions and looked over to the direction they had heard the disturbance come from. What they saw was an all-too familiar man in Shu's age, holding a rifle-like void that was directed at the king and his queen. All while slowly closing in on them with big, yet careful, steps.
"Don't interfere, Triton. You said I could get my revenge today if we followed your plan. You promised me I could kill the fake that stole my brother from me!" Mana spat angrily at him, obviously not happy about his suggestion of backing down.
Gai gave her a patient nod with closed eyes. "Yes, I did. But that was before I knew that Shu would be here as well. I am afraid that the risk of you dying in this battle is too high under these circumstances." He said with his usual calm and collected voice as he stood in front of them with his familiar blond hair and blue eyes, apparently having lost his albino traits during the process of evolution. The only thing that actually reminded them of his Da'ath appearance instead of his old Funeral Parlor look, was the lack of his dark uniform. He still wore the white Antibodies/Da'ath coat from back then. It was like old-Gai had merged with new-Gai, making him radiate both, a friendly, as well as a hostile aura. Quite a bizarre sight…
Mana only smirked once she had heard him state his worries. "Then why don't you join me as my loyal knight? Let us play together again, like we once used to. Maybe we will succeed in bringing Shu back to his senses?"
"I would rather see you retreat to safety now, but you are the queen. If you insist, I will fight alongside you." They heard Gai sigh slightly, followed by looking at Shu and Inori coldly. "Since I vowed to free Mana and my last attempt at doing so obviously ended in failure, I think it is clear on which side I am standing right now, no?"
"I wasn't expecting you to switch sides in the first place. Nor would I have felt comfortable with it, to be honest." Shu answered him with a serious look.
Apparently, Shu's answer amused the blond man. A soft chuckle was to be heard. "Hm, and here I thought you would try to reason with me."
"What is there to reason with you? You were willing to sacrifice the world for Mana. What could I possibly offer you to change your mind? I think we are way beyond that."
"So you understand. I must admit, you have grown in many ways since our last meeting, Shu." Gai said with an approving smile.
But the king just shook his head to that. "No, I've just grown up. I am no longer that naïve high school boy you could use however you liked. I make my own decisions now, as do you. And I think it has been clear for a while now that we both have decided to be enemies. For one reason or the other."
"Indeed, so it seems. But if your reason for opposing us, is to save the world, then you have made a huge mistake to come here. After all, you have just brought us the key to leave this place. If I were to take the void genome from you, I could lead Mana out of here once again. Do you understand that?"
"Of course, but I would sooner see the world burn than letting Inori stay here with you. I am more than willing to take this risk. Besides, as far as I can see, WE are the ones having an advantage here. After all, all you have to fight us with is your void. It can do nothing but forcing voids to reveal themselves, so how could it possibly aid you in this fight?" Shu stated a legitimate point. He had his void genome, Inori and Mana their queen powers…next to those, Gai's power seemed to be quite insignificant.
"I can't deny that you have a point there." Gai agreed. "My void isn't nearly as powerful as the void genome, but getting shot by it still hurts. Trust me, you don't want to be hit by this thing."
Shu felt Inori tensing up next to him when Gai had mentioned that. She must have been hit a couple of times during those 5 years of his absence. So Gai must have been telling the truth, then.
"Fair enough. I will have to take you out first, then." Shu decided, but couldn't do anything to make this words come true, since Mana had already leapt forward to swing her void at him.
"I won't let you ignore me any longer!" She said angrily while letting her void come down at him from above. Shu was quick to parry the attack with Inori's void and started to push Mana back since he clearly had more strength.
"Geez, you always were the one who always wanted to come first…at least that never changed." The king grunted while driving her back.
"Then you surely also remember that I won't stop before I get what I want." She added with an evil smirk, followed by a quick upward move with her left hand.
"Shu, watch out!" Inori suddenly yelled and countered Mana's movements with one of her own. The king cursed mentally when he saw spiky crystals rapidly growing out of the ground right next to him, threatening to stab him with their pointy ends. Luckily, though, their growth stopped halfway and reversed itself, thus shrinking the crystals again in order to neutralize their threat to Shu. The king immediately understood what the cause for that may have been, when he saw Inori looking like she was busy pushing something invisible back into the ground with both her hands. And since he also saw her struggling with keeping the crystals small, he quickly decided to retreat by jumping out of the way, allowing his queen to finally rest. Mana's crystals grew to their intended sizes once Inori had stopped interfering, but, of course, caused no harm anymore, since Shu was long gone.
Meanwhile, Gai had pointed his rifle at Inori, who had been wide open, but found himself unable to shoot. The reason for that was the uncomfortable feeling of the tip of Yahiro's shears being pressed against his back. When he dared to take a look over his shoulder at his attacker, he wasn't really surprised to see a second Shu standing there, looking coldly at him.
"I told you I would aim for you first." He said.
"I see, so you used Tsugumi's void beforehand to create a copy of yourself. Quite clever of you." Gai combined while smiling approvingly. "You came here prepared."
"I won't take chances when fighting strong foes, so of course I would. I wanted to use this clone to sneak up on Mana and kill her from behind, but I guess I will have to use it on you now." Clone Shu explained calmly while preparing to end Gai's life with the shears. Strangely, the blond man didn't seem to mind at all. He just smirked cockily and slowly shook his head.
"I won't say that this was a bad plan. On the contrary…it was pretty good, but you are disregarding a crucial weakness in it which will lead to its inevitable failure." Gai then suddenly turned around and elbowed the clone right in the face before it even had a chance to react. The second Shu just stared at Gai wide eyed when he realized the blond man had already pointed his rifle at him during the time he had needed to regain his own balance.
"Which is the simple fact that you will have to control the clones mentally. They may be good in providing additional manpower, but they will never be able to react as fast as the original would, because there is always a little bit of delay with every command you give to it." And with that, he pulled the trigger, causing the clone to stumble over and fall on his back. Dead. It vanished soon after that in a bunch of silver threads.
"Shit, so much for my assassination attempt…" The real Shu cursed once he realized that his clone didn't respond anymore. He was busy dodging crystals that kept getting shot out of the ground beneath him, while Mana herself was busy trying to slash at Inori with her sword. And then there was also Gai, who had his rifle pointed at Inori again now that the clone was killed. He had to react quickly, so he summoned Ayase's void to him and used it to dash into the blond haired man's direction as fast as he could.
"Oh no, you don't!" Were his words before smashing his broadsword at him. It only caused a small crater to appear on the ground, exactly where Gai used to stand. The ex-king had jumped away in the last second and was now aiming his rifle at Shu. However, he missed every shot at the true king, because Shu had merely taken off into the air again and performed one barrel roll after the other in order to make him a harder target.
When Gai's rifle stopped working because it needed a moment to recharge, Shu decided that this short period of time was all he needed. Switching from the defense to the offense, he stopped in midair and sent a couple of shockwaves at Gai's direction by swinging Inori's void. The blond haired man on the ground had no other choice but to dodge roll behind a field of crystals to seek cover from them.
Meanwhile, things were looking grim for Inori. She was exchanging blows with Mana, but had obvious difficulties in keeping up with her. The mad queen was in a frenzy and wanted to desperately see blood, Inori's blood to be precise. She appeared to be stronger and faster than before for some reason and the kind queen wasn't sure how long she would be able to stand her ground. Especially since she had kept using her powers far too much already and was starting to grow tired.
"You are mine!" Mana laughed evilly the moment she managed to break one of Inori's blades with her own sword. Inori tried to parry the next attack with only one of her blades, but knew that it wouldn't be enough to withstand the powerful void of her enemy.
"Inori!" She suddenly heard Shu call for her. A quick glance into his direction, allowed her to see that he was closing in on them in high speed with his sword ready for the kill. Mana, of course, saw him as well, but when she tried to dodge the attack, she found herself restrained by crystal vines which had tangled themselves around her feet. She immediately shot a knowing and hateful look at Inori.
"You little…" Her last attempt at slashing at her was interrupted by a shockwave sent by Shu's sword, followed by the real hit with the actual sword as soon as he had come into melee range. Mercilessly he leapt at her with all his might, causing her to get knocked into the air harshly and landing again on the hard ground after a few seconds of flying through the air. She kept lying there for a moment, bleeding slightly from her left abdomen where she had been hit by the sword. When she tried to stand up again, she found the tip of Inori's void at her throat with Shu glaring down at her with cold, yet also somewhat sad eyes.
Inori saw Shu standing over his sister in triumph and was about to sigh in relief, when she heard someone behind them. Turning around, she happened to catch a glimpse of Gai, who was aiming his rifle at Shu from behind some crystals. Just when he was about to shoot, Inori let the crystals, he was hiding behind of, fall on him and thus buried him alive under tons of heavy chunks.
When she had come closer to make sure she really got him, she was surprised to see that he was still alive. Trapped under the crystals, she had made collapse on him, and his void out of reach. He lied there in his own blood, breathing heavily.
"…Inori…" She heard him say, despite all the pain he obviously had to go through at the moment. He didn't even attempt to get his void for he already knew it was lying too far away from him. And even if it hadn't, he probably wouldn't be able to still use it anyway.
"You left me no choice, Gai…" She quietly said to him with a sorrowful expression. "You tried to hurt Shu…"
He gave of a sound that could have been an attempt at chuckling. She wasn't exactly sure about that. "…Shu…? What about you...? I had Mana…torment you…over all these years. I thought it would keep…her thoughts away from the apocalypse…and Shu. I wanted to…give her some peace…of mind. Don't you hate me…for that…?" He said weakly. Inori only shook her head.
"You only did what you thought was right. Like when you woke me all those years ago and allowed me to become the person I am today. I could never hate you, because everything started with you. I am grateful."
The blood soaked man in front of her started to laugh, but ended up mostly coughing.
"You are a good person, unlike me…If I were you, I could have never…forgiven someone like me. You deserve…to be saved. Go and be happy with Shu…and make sure…you never show up here…again…"
Inori gave him a nod. "I will. This is good-bye, Gai." With a swift motion, she cut his void in half and thus sentenced the man in front of her to death. Not that he would have lived for long in that state in the first place.
"This is…for the best." Gai said with a heavy sigh while his body was about to perish. "Do you mind…singing one last song...for me?" He saw her nod and kneeling next to him to be with him in his last moments with her.
"The blooming wildflower
Ah, please tell me"
She sang gently while comfortingly stroking his long, blond and blood soaked hair. The man allowed himself to close his eyes and enjoy the song as he slowly crystallized and broke apart. Inori only watched as he turned into lots of small pieces that vanished into thin air, still singing.
"Why do people fight
And hurt each other?"
She sadly looked at the sport Gai has just disappeared from her very eyes and stopped singing, since no one was there to hear the rest of the song anymore. This should be, and hopefully had been, the last time she would ever see that man, who had given her the opportunity to have her own life. In a way, he had been sort of like a father to her. Or at least the closest thing to a father she would have ever had. She really hoped he will somehow find happiness here with Mana, once she finally left this place together with Shu. There really wasn't anything else she could have done for him.
Shaking her head, she decided to leave that depressing thought behind her and turned around to head back to Shu. Only once she was gone, did a small, beautiful crystal flower grow on the place Gai had died. Inori wasn't sure if he would ever find it, nor if he would care, but if he did, then he would know that she at least had cared, too.
Back at Shu, things looked similar to the scene with Inori and Gai. He still held his sword at Mana's throat, who for her part was lying down in defeat. There was nothing she could have done in time to fight Shu off, before he would have been able to end her life. She was completely at his mercy.
"It's over, Mana. You lost." He calmly said while looking down at her with seriousness, but also pity.
"It's never over, Shu…" Mana replied with a bitter smile. "Not until you accept me as your queen. Don't you understand?"
"You are the one who doesn't understand. I have already chosen. You are not and will never be my queen. I am sorry, but that's just how it is."
Mana sighed with closed eyes. Shu found it to be quite unbelievable how fast her mood was able to change in the shortest periods of time. Maybe she calmed down because she knew she had no way to escape…? Or maybe it was just because Inori was nowhere to be seen…
"You are right, Shu. I don't understand. You could be and do everything you ever wished for if only you would stop rejecting me. You would become the king of our children. The children we would lead through evolution. They need us, Shu. Or else they will never find their way to happiness. We were meant to lead them, protect them, and reign over them. It is our destiny."
"If I accepted destiny, I would still sit in my dark room and weep in self-pity. No, I choose my own destiny. You are wrong to believe that becoming your king would grant me everything I could ever wish for. If anything, it only shows how little you know me. I don't want to lead or reign over anyone. I never did. I just want to have a happy future with Inori and everyone else. Tell me, does becoming your king give me that?"
Mana gave him a frown. "You just had to mention the only thing in the world I couldn't possibly ever give you. Why does it always have to be 'Inori this' and 'Inori that'…? Getting rejected was bad enough, but getting rejected because of someone who was meant to be my vessel is just the icing on the cake. Do you hate your big sister so much, that you would continuously hurt her like that? Throw her away for a simple toy?"
"Stop calling her that already." He told her with narrowed eyes and a sharp voice. His anger faded, though, and pity returned on its stead once again. "If it means anything to you…there is a part of you I could never hate. It is the part that I remembered as the one that was my sister. The caring, sweet, older sister you were to me before all this. Remember the good times we had back when we were still kids? I do, and if I am really honest with you…then I have to say that I really loved you then. As much as a kid could love anyone, anyway."
He saw tears in his sister's eyes. If they were tears of happiness or sadness…he wasn't exactly sure. "Then why don't we just return to that time and forget everything else…? We could be happy again, like we were during the last summer we had spent together." She hopefully looked up at him with a kind smile, only to let it all shatter when she saw the king slowly shake his head in disagreement.
"I am afraid that isn't possible, Mana. We aren't kids anymore. All the things you have done until now…I just can't ignore them. You have changed too much from being the sister I once loved. Even too much for me to still recognize you as my sister. I look down at you and see the face of someone who looks like you, yet is a total stranger to me. Even calling you Mana needs quite some overcoming from my side. Which leaves me with no other choice but to do this…" He saw the evil queen's eyes grow wide once she realized he was lifting his sword for the killing strike.
"No, Shu! Don't do this to me! Big sis still loves you!" She begged for her life, which only made killing her harder for Shu. Why does it always have to be so hard? Then again, it probably was better that way. He feared the day when he would finally get used to kill people and prayed for it to never come, for it would only mark the day of his humanity's downfall.
He took another look at her pleading eyes, then brought the sword down at her. However, before it could hit her, he showed hesitation, letting hope appear in the mad girl's eyes once more.
"I…I knew it! You still care for me, despite all your harsh words! I am so happy, Shu! Let's just stop this act and get together. We can still make this work somehow, I just know it." She said to him with an excited sounding voice and a bright, yet nervous smile. Well, her nervousness was understandable, considering she still had the tip of a huge blade only millimeters in front of her face.
Shu for his part just looked down at her with a troubled expression. His hands were shaking slightly as he tried to overcome the kindness in his heart that held him back. With a heavy sigh, he looked up to the empty sky as if he could find some help there. From god, perhaps, if there really ever was one in the first place. But, as ever, nothing happened. He was on his own.
Or maybe not.
"Shu…" He suddenly felt a hand softly being placed on his right shoulder. Inori had returned to his side and shared an understanding look with him. "Let me do it." She offered him, knowing that he was struggling with the deed. But Shu only shook his head at her.
"No…you have gotten your hands dirty enough already…I won't stand by to watch you do it again when I can prevent it. I came to shoulder part of your burden, not pass mine up to you. This is something I will have to do myself." He told her while still looking up to the sky. His queen only gave him a sad, yet understanding nod and stepped back to let him finish what he had started.
And so he lifted his sword again with a deep sigh. Never had it felt so heavy during the whole time he had used it before. Once he held it up high enough again, he couldn't help but take another look down at his sister, whose newfound hope had turned into fear once again.
"No, wait! Don't do it, Shu! Please stop!"
The king heard her beg, but wouldn't listen to it no more. With a loud yell, that could have been meant to express his inner struggle or was maybe just intended to drown out Mana's begging, he brought the blade down to end his sister's life. The evil queen instinctively tried to escape, but found her limbs to be restrained by yet another bunch of crystal roots, which had started growing around her as soon as Shu had made his move. Inori only closed her eyes slowly when the tip of the blade eventually pierced the mad girl's heart, and thus finally ended an everlasting struggle she had had to go through in all those years.
"Shu….don't….." were the last words they could hear Mana rattle at Shu, before her gaze became empty and her limbs motionless. The king felt tears coming out of his eyes and quickly attempted to wipe them away. He simply wasn't made for killing, especially if it meant killing someone he had once cared for…still, it had to be done. He had no regrets. Just sadness.
He and Inori watched Mana's corpse slowly crystallize, followed by breaking apart. What was different from all the times they had both witnessed that process already, was the fact that as soon as her corpse broke into pieces, it suddenly started shining brightly. The light was actually intense enough for them having to shield their eyes and turn away to not get blinded by it. Even the soldiers still fighting in the valley next to them happened to witness that bizarre sight of a pillar of light simply coming in existence from out of nowhere. It was enough to make them stop their meaningless struggle for a bit to look up and stare at it in confusion.
However, they couldn't see what Shu and Inori saw. In the middle of the light pillar, a small, glowing orb had magically appeared from the pieces of Mana's crystallized corpse. It floated there peacefully, before it suddenly started attracting countless crystal parts from its surroundings. They started whirling around the shining orb at first and then, once enough parts happened to have been collected, started to grow together around the orb to create a human sized cocoon. The light eventually died down, once the construction of the object had finally ended.
"Not wasting any time with starting her resurrection, I see." Shu figured once he touched the surface of the newly created cocoon. There was no heartbeat, yet, but the crystal was glowing brightly, indicating that it was very well active. He attempted to break the crystal, but found himself unable to cut it, even with Inori's void. "It's unbreakable, too."
"It should still take a while for her to revive, though." Inori tried to see the bright side to it.
"How long will she be out? What do you think?" Shu found himself asking her with folded arms, still inspecting the cocoon in front of them. Inori only shook her head.
"I don't know. It varies from person to person and we can't measure time in here either."
"She's pretty strong, too, and we saw how fast she got a new cocoon. Her rebirth is probably this realm's number one priority right now…" Shu figured and bit his bottom lip with a worried expression, before turning to Inori again, offering her his hand and summoning Ayase's void back to him. "Let's hurry, then. I don't want to kill her again."
He saw her nod approvingly, followed by walking up and taking his hand. He then picked her up with both his arms and lifted off immediately to not waste another second of their valuable time.
"You saw that light? Bet that was Mana finally killing Inori! I told you guys she would win!"
"And how the hell would an idiot like you know that? It could have as well been the other way round with Inori being victorious!"
"Who the hell said it had to mean either one's death in the first place?"
"And what else COULD it have been, smart ass?"
"The fuck did you just call me, asshole?"
The people back at the valley seemed to be confused. Many had stopped fighting for various reasons. May it have been their fatigue or their confusion over the light's appearance and its meaning. The ones, who were still fighting, did so because they disagreed on the other one's opinions about the light, their queens, or because they simply hated each other and thus didn't even need a reason to crack each other's skull open.
However, everything came to a halt when Shu landed in the center of the battlefield like a meteorite falling from the sky. Everyone just looked at him and Inori in amazement, once the dust had settled and revealed the royal couple as such. Inori's followers sighed in relief upon seeing her unharmed, while the Mananites grew restless as the suspicion about their queen's defeat started to become more and more legit with every second she didn't show up as well.
"Thank goodness…Queen Inori is safe!"
"What the hell? Wasn't Mana going to lure her away to kill her?"
"All hail Queen Inori!"
"Where the fuck is Mana!?"
They all yelled and cheered at the same time. Inori merely made a gentle upward movement with her right hand to let a giant, flat crystal ascend from the ground. It served her and Shu as some sort of stage, so everybody could see them and pay attention to them. When she thought it had grown high enough, she stopped the growth of the crystal and looked down at her audience.
"Quiet!" She suddenly said in a serious tone. Her voice was carried around through the whole valley by the crystals that surrounded it. Shu figured they worked like some kind of speakers. Like the ones you would use on concerts, bringing the voice of the singer to the huge amount of people who came to hear them sing. It would have seriously impressed him, if it weren't for the fact that he had pretty much already witnessed Inori controlling the growth of crystals at will. Nothing could really top that. Not even voice transmission through crystals.
What DID surprise him, though, was how everyone around them fell silent the instant Inori had spoken. Wow, that's what Shu would call respect. Not a single one dared to go against her. May it have been out of admiration for their queen or the fear of making an enemy queen angry and thus having to suffer her wrath. Apparently, some Mananites had experienced bad times with their queen and believed the same could happen with Inori. Unbeknownst to them, that Inori was nothing like Mana and would never treat people the same way the mad queen would have.
Once Inori had everyone's attention, she cleared her throat cutely and folded her hands in front of her in a royal manner to at least look like a queen when she was already addressed as such. Shu couldn't help but suppress a chuckle all while scratching his cheek awkwardly.
"It doesn't matter how you present yourself if you are covered in so much blood in the first place, Inori." He thought somewhat amused, but let it go once his queen started to address the people.
"Clearly all of you must have witnessed the light that had been visible moments ago. As some of you may have already figured, it really did mark the death of a queen. And since I am still standing in front of you, I am sure you all understand who it was, that fell in battle." She calmly said. Her audience grew restless all of a sudden.
"Mana is dead? We won? Seriously?"
"What the hell is that girl talking about? She was supposed to be lured into a trap by Mana. How the hell could Mana have died if she was supposed to have the upper hand?"
"I can't believe this! Are you for real?"
"She is lying! Don't believe a word she says!"
Inori continued to speak. "Believe it, or don't. The truth remains unchanged. Mana lost the war, so here are my peace conditions to her remaining soldiers: I won't take Mana's territory over, so everyone who chooses to lay their weapons down and leave peacefully, will be allowed to do so, as long as they head back into Mana's territory and remain there. I do not care what you do there, as long as you do it there only. Entering my territory is strictly prohibited. You may accept these conditions and go, or you may refuse them and die. The choice is yours to make. I will kindly ask of my soldiers to assist me with the task of escorting the surrendering Mananites. Please avoid unnecessary blood spill if it can be avoided. That is all."
Shu had looked at her during this speech and was more than just taken a back. Seeing Inori suddenly handling the situation on her own and in such a professional way, was way more than he could have expected from her. He had known her for hardly ever speaking more than five sentences in a row in the past and now there she was, talking in front of countless people with the voice of authority.
But although this had been so unlike her, it was also clear that she didn't like her role at all, despite her being so good in it. He could see how she merely forced herself to look like a leader for her people's sake, who had asked her to be one. She, like him, had never chosen to be a leader herself, and merely did it to help out. Maybe she had even learned that off of him, when he tried to fit in the role of a leader. Good thing for her that she had also learned from his mistakes and didn't repeat them. He was very glad for that.
Suddenly, one of the Mana soldiers jumped up on the stage and turned to the people with a raised fist. His voice, however, wasn't transmitted via crystals, so only the people near him could actually hear him.
"Do not listen to that crap! She couldn't possibly have killed Mana! It must be a trick to make us retreat, but look at us! We still have the higher amount of soldiers! We can still win, if we only we stand up and fight! Come on, brothers! Raise your weapons! The battle isn't over!"
Inori simply stood there patiently, waiting for him to come to the point. When he finally did, he grabbed his whip-like void and swung it at the queen.
That was the moment Shu summoned Inori's void back into his hand and quickly swung it to cut the whip, before it could touch the pink haired woman. Both he and his queen watched in silence as the man who foolishly had attempted to attack Inori face on, died the crystal death in the blink of an eye.
"Who the hell is that guy? Did he just use multiple voids?"
"First he had this flying stuff, now that sword. And is that arm of his a void, too? How can he have so many voids?"
"I have never seen him, too. He can't possibly be a newcomer, right? We haven't had those in ages…"
Shu could hear the crowd mumble in confusion and shock. He figured that he might as well stand up and tell them, now that they all seemed so eager to know. Taking a few steps forward, he said:
"My name is Ouma Shu and I have come to put an end to this pointless war. Is there someone else out there, aside from the guy just now, who isn't happy with the queen's proposal? If that is the case, please come forth and let me hear your opinion on the matter. I am sure we can work something out. One way or the other. " He calmly said and looked around, rhetorically searching for people who might have wanted to disagree with them. "No? No one? All right, then I would ask the Mananites to commence dropping their weapons and try forming a line. Please make this work peacefully, since we surely can all agree on the fact that we have lost enough people today."
The people just looked at each other in bewilderment for a second, unable to fully comprehend the situation.
"Did he just say Ouma Shu?"
"The one the queen told us about?"
"That's him? He really came?"
"No way…Mana must have died because of him helping Inori…so it really is true…"
The royal couple watched as more and more Mananites dropped their voids and surrendered. With their morale completely lost, they raised their arms behind their heads in defeat and followed the orders of Inori's soldiers who drove them into big groups to escort them back into their territory like their queen had asked them to do. Occasionally, a couple of Mananites would still try to fight back, but eventually either got restrained or killed due to the lack of support from their comrades.
With this, the war was over.