The Forgotten Forest
D4 - Center of the Lake
Broken mask, decrepit soul, collapsing power. Her best efforts, even employing the ability of Void Inclusion to sway the tide of this battle, weren’t enough to push back the efforts of the cast. Two of her Heralds had ended up lost beyond her reach. Ravnica escaped her grasp. Even though reality had blessed Hollow Isamy for an instant with a brand new Herald of Order, with the cold power of Finite, it was undeniable that she was pushing her own existence to its very limits. And her hope to potentially model Koishi into yet another Herald, her hope to take advantage of that moment of weakness - lost, since the girl had fallen into a deep slumber. She knew for a fact that there weren’t going to be any further opportunities like this. From their point of view, she was an overwhelming force. Yet from her point of view, it was an uphill war against near-invincible soldiers.
Despite everything, Hollow Isamy still thought of herself as a hero. Even in the face of such impossible odds, she was refusing to give up. She would continue to fight. She would continue to advance. She would continue this story until it arrived at HER desired ending. She already died long ago. Her soul, refusing to give up, transformed into a Hollow the likes of which had never been seen before - and yet she was still being backed into a corner. Revy’s power hadn’t been enough. Elsa’s power hadn’t been enough. Even now, even after she was maximizing Ed’s capabilities to the height of their potential, it still wasn’t proving to be enough. The black flames that composed Gula Dracolich were gradually beginning to dissipate away. Void Inclusion could only be maintained for so long until the foreign existence started to reject her own. How much further could she push herself to endure their attacks? How much longer until her spirit broke apart?
“We're no knights…”
As the corrupted Herald continued to put up resistance, she sensed that Reimu had released the barrier holding her Gula Dracolich. Yet, before she could command her creature to do anything, at that exact instance, the God of Death and Butler-Ragnarok struck forth. Gula Dracolich was not only unprepared to take on a direct physical assault of their kind of magnitude, but with its massive size and current lack of momentum, had absolutely no method with which to evade. Its attempt to counterattack with a blast was too late.
“...but we'll have to slay this dragon.”
Both Rhadamanthys and Butlerok crossed their blades. As the two swords glowed, two distinct shades of purple the energies began to overlap. With that, they declared SCREECH OMEGA! and both members swung down, launching a mighty "X" shaped attack at the massive dragon. Their combined strikes cut through the black flames, wrecking Gula Dracolich’s very skeletal structure.
[ A H ]
Hollow Isamy let out a distorted gasp as the two-pronged attack connected with her Dracolich, sending it crashing down, its body tearing through the trees of the Forgotten Forest before smashing into the snow. The flames surrounded it started to wither away, revealing that the majority of its bones were now cracked.
Still, even though it had been severely weakened by this point, it wasn’t quite dead yet. It was indeed still moving. And as an undead, it didn’t feel any pain that might’ve otherwise slowed it down. Hollow Isamy understood there was still a possibility of everything working out. She just needed more people dead! All she needed was to kill someone else, and a new path to victory might be unlocked!
[ M U R D E R
H I M ! ]
With that, Gula Dracolich blasted off the ground one final time in a fury of black flames. Its eyes fixated on its previous attackers, Butlerok and Rhadamanthys at first…before bursting past them, enduring their assaults in a last-ditch, kamikaze attempt to fulfill its command. Its target was clear: Dorian von Schroeder. Opening its mouth, the zombie unleashed a concentrated black laser straight at him.
That man, Dorian, was supposed to be the one who was guaranteed to accept her invitation. However, he, this selfish man of all people, dared to defy her will. Just the idea of him caused extreme hatred to flood into her. She couldn’t even remotely understand it. In her corrupted state, it hurt her mind to try and understand it. Dorian was the ideal Divine, the ideal Herald of Order, yet he refused her. If that were to be the case, then such a hypocrite didn’t even deserve to live! If she absolutely must, then she would take his soul by force. Besides, not only was he one of the weaker targets, but his flame control could be especially useful in a Void Inclusion. And the Distortion within may even prove to be valuable to her-
That was when a searing beam of light was fired from one of the towers. Having been too preoccupied with taking on Bennu Dorian, the Gula Dracolich was pierced from the side by its greatest weakness. The beam of pure light had drilled through its half-hearted defense, eradicating every trace of darkness it touched.. In its final moments, the Gula Dracolich’s crimson eyes were locked onto the flying Dorian with a seething hatred, as if to convey Isamy’s inner feelings, as if to say ‘you are the monster’ - before being disintegrated into dust.
[ L Y D I A . . .
T H A T B I T C H ]
The beam had come from her. That insane lady, why couldn’t she have just been consumed? Or stayed corrupted? Now that Sorceress Supreme had regained her power, there were very few available powers to counter her. Hollow Isamy watched in horror. That was it, wasn’t it? Her lesser wyverns were being exterminated too. Even as she wielded multiple copies of Ed Garith’s Zanpakuto, Kiotso Kurokoriwa, the metal that composed them was starting to crack. These were not naturally-occurring Zanpakuto, but forced through the Inclusion of Ed Garith’s soul. Of course they would only last so long. She was running out of options.
Then, left exposed, one more challenger was charging across the lake’s surface to seize this opportunity flying forth across the surface of the lake. They just kept coming, didn’t they? "Here I am. I am the nameless girl that somehow ended up in the midst of all of this." The blue-haired Nanashi spoke with a bizarre smile, as if she did not fear death, before performing a curtsy. "Happy to meet you."
There was no way left to occupy her elsewhere. That girl and her weapon, more than many of the others, were one of the most dangerous things against a Hollow. To think that she was drawing so close… Did she need to call back Finite for support?! But then again, perhaps this was the perfect opportunity!
[ Y O U R S O U L
M I N E ! ! ! ]
Desperately attempting to prolong herself even a little longer, Hollow Isamy swung all four of her Kiotso Kurokoriwas, blazing towards her target in trails of dark fire. At the same time, light started to gather on the nameless girl’s left arm, no doubt planning to conduct some sort of point blank attack. As the last of her words left her lips and disappeared into nothing, the nameless girl leapt forward, with the hand holding the light cocked to her back. Yet it was futile. There was no way she was going to survive with such a reckless charge! If anything, this must be reality blessing her with an opportunity. This foolish being was underestimating how much stronger she still was, and her decision to go for an all-out attack would backfire. Indeed, her powers would be perfect to turn the situation around! Victory remained within reach.
"Take this! My love, my anger, and all my feelings!"
However, before the four giant Zanpakutos could even slice through the reckless warrior… they shattered. Zanpakuto shards showered the nameless girl, inflicting damage no more significant than paper cuts. And on that note, Hollow Isamy experienced horror as Ed Garith’s existence vanished from her own. The Void Inclusion, her final available Void Inclusion, had been pushed too far beyond its limits. No! No! NO!
Then, the nameless girl started to actually laugh. Why? Why would she possibly be laughing at a time like this? Did she take the grand superiority of Isamy Maximus as a joke?! Yet, with the Hollow’s assault having failed, she’d drawn far too close to be pushed back now. There had to be another way! There had to be another method with with the tables could be turned! Another lost existence that could fill her Void! There was no time to think. Even if it was beyond the boundaries of the realm of the Door of Origin, even if there was a high chance it would fail, Hollow Isamy decided something had to be done!
[ V O I D I N C L U S I O N :
A R T U-]
Too late. With a wide smile, the nameless girl’s palm met the surface of the hollow giant.
"Nameless Sign: Shining Rupture!"
Just like that, foreign energy tore through Hollow Isamy’s form. There wasn't even an opportunity to see if the Void Inclusion succeeded. If it were a laser or other kind of magical force, then there would have been a possibility to defend against Nanashi's attempt, but somehow, in some inexplicable way, this felt far more like a virus that had just been injected within. This virus ate through her Inclusion and her whole essence in general, stealing away her own energy to break apart her compositional nature from the inside, overpowering her spirit, somehow knowing of every structural weakness that existed within. How? How long had that nameless girl been analyzing her?!
The virus was coalescing within, building up, preparing to burst from within the titanic Hollow. She was being forced to dedicate every inch of her power to resisting this overwhelming pressure, this alien force. Summoning the strength to move, she lunged forth at her own ribcage, where Nanashi continued to drive her palm deeper and deeper with infused energy. The process couldn’t be stopped now, but at the very least, she could take this one with her! Hence, without mercy, Hollow Isamy balled her two most titanic skeletal hands into fists and them smashed into herself, hoping to take Nanashi with her!!!
On that self-destructive note, Hollow Isamy let out a piercing shriek, echoing across the Forgotten Forest. It didn’t sound human. Regardless or whether or not she’d succeeded in ending the nameless girl, uncontrollable light started to erupt from every corner of her bones, of her black flesh, and especially from her exposed faced.
She was losing control.
Her very composition was losing shape.
Her face was burning, and to the warriors, it looked as though the heavily-damaged monster was actually melting into the Lake beneath…
Was this it? Was this how the great Herald of Chaos and Entropy going to meet her end?! Finite couldn’t possibly do it on his own, not with that many enemies surrounding him! She couldn’t accept this! SHE ABSOLUTELY COULD NOT ACCEPT THIS RESULT!
[ A A A A A A A A A A A A AA A A A A A A A A A A A a a a a a a a a a . . . ]
The shriek slowly decreased in power,
until there was no longer a giant shadow cast upon the Forgotten Forest.
For the first time, a sense of calm, was all there was in the land. Dazed and exhausted, many of the warriors started to head over towards the Lake’s shore, staring at where the final boss just melted. Even her one remaining Herald, Finite, found himself stopping in shock at what just happened.
Each of them wondering one thing.
Was it over?
...from within the body of water, tiny ripples started to rise at a certain point in the Lake’s shore. Those ripples were soon joined by air bubbles, and just like that, a certain, all-too-familiar body emerged. She crawled, shivering, breathing harshly, surfacing out of the cold waters of the Lake. And onto the colder land of snow. Her form seemed ephemeral. Yet tarnished. A spirit barely clinging onto this plane of existence at all. In the end, the thorough disintegration of the corrupted beast had let its Hollow soul revert to a Plus soul, revert to its original form, or at least what was left of it. She could hardly be called ‘alive’ at all, a thin, black robe being all there was to cover her exposed body. With her pearl-white skin and teal hair, there was no mistaking who it could be.
And with a desperate look, she collapsed directly at his feet. Right before the Keyblade Warrior… Nero.
What a sorry sight she was. Isamy weakly held her head up, to meet his eyes with her own grey eyes. Her expression was strained, sad. Cracks covered her face. It was almost sad, until he considered the fact that this fragile girl was the very monster who started this all due to her twisted, misguided beliefs, who CAUSED this Origin War, who DESTROYED his world, who KILLED far too many of his friends. Yet there she lay, vulnerable and powerless.
And she whispered to him, of all things,
Nero looked down at Isamy. He felt a rush of emotions surge through him. Fear… hate… anger… She was indeed responsible for this war. She was responsible for everything that occurred. And what was more, it was because of her that he lost his heart to darkness that was Xansvita and Ivero.
Within a split second, the Keyblade Master thought about ending this woman’s life once and for all. He could do it and stop it from ever happening again. He had the key to just end it...with the X-Blade, he could just very well do it.
However, something stopped his initial thoughts. What was strong enough to stop the master from striking her down? His heart. For all his worth, he couldn’t deny what he was initially feeling. Though she was the one to cause this cursed war, she was the one who ended up forcing him to return to the place he truly needed to be. Since he fell into oblivion the day of the Keyblade War, he was haunted by the fact that he couldn’t stop what occurred. That he had failed everyone… But it was oddly enough, through this war that Nero found his path again. And what was more, he reclaimed the X-Blade and had it at his side.
So there he stared down at Isamy, hearing her whispers. Nero spoke not a word, until he let out a loud sigh. “You want help…?” he simply asked, before closing his eyes. “Isamy, out of everything you’ve done, you simply think that anyone will help you? That in the current state you find yourself in, that no one would think twice about ending you?” Nero slowly looked upwards, seeing the standing still snow around him. “...why after all this would you want help? And from those who you’ve scorned and hurt.”
It might’ve been his imagination, but had the snow paused in midair all of a sudden?
”...” The destroyer’s look faltered somewhat, but did not avert from his stare. ” Thi̷s ̕e̡x̴i̧sténc͡e.͡.̛.̷is uns͢tab̧l̶e̷.́ I have put it through too much. If I pass now, I’ll simply...pḩase ̀ou͞t̷ of e̸xiśt́e͡n͏ce͢. To be frank… That’s a little scary. If nothing else, I want to die properly.” Her hands slowly clawed through the snow, clenching together. ”I was a hero once. But obviously I fell. Hurting any of you, that...that was never my intention. All I wanted was your salvation. Your happy endings. Your smiles. In time, evil rooted itself into my thoughts. Darkness rooted itself into my heart. But now?” She coughed, struggling to continue speaking. ”Watching you all vanquish the Hollow taught me a valuable lesson about what I believe in... Now, I no longer feel any of that. Your determination has shown me great things. I will give up on the Door of Origin. I just want this to end. I want to end, peacefully. And only you can do t́hat̀..”
Her eyes moved, slowly, to Nero’s hands. To the legendary weapon they could summon. ”I absorbed the Key of Origin right into my heart. There’s nothing I can do to remove it. I beg you, please, use your X-Blade...release my heart from this unstable form of darkness. Take what’s yours. Free me from this pain.”
Was that a smile on her face?
“I know I have no right to ask it. I have done too much that cannot be forgiven, taken away so much. But please… grant me this one wish. He̕lp̶ ̛me,̛ ̨Ne̷r̵o̡..”
Nero looked at Isamy before glancing down at his hands. She wants me to...release her heart with the X-Blade? he thought. Lowering his hands he glanced down at Isamy. ”Why me though? Out of anyone else, you came to me. If a Keyblade was what you sought, then Sora would’ve been suitable for this. Is it just because I possess the X-Blade?”
”No. No, not at all.” The dying Herald choked out. ”I... know you’re kind. You’re really kind, and you have a good heart. I understand you must hate me with every fiber of your being, but in the end… You’ll do the right thing, Nero. I guess I didn’t know as much about you as I thought, somehow, I just know… That you possess the X-Blade is proof of your strength of heart.” As Isamy let out a breath, she began to watch the vast sky above her. As though awaiting the end to come. Looked like she was genuinely close to it. “I̷ can͠ be̡l̀i͡e̕v͢e i͏n yo͏u̴. To͢ ḑǫ ͡t̡he͠ ŗi̕g̴h̡t̕ ́t̴hin͞g.͟ To̧ ͏g̷ra͝n͟t ͜me t̛h҉i̸s ̶las̸t, f̨in̸al,̷ f͝oo͏lish wi͢sh͟ ҉o͠f ͝m̴in͠e...”
Another sigh escaped Nero’s lips, his fists clenching tightly. Releasing a captive heart from Heartless was one thing...but releasing a heart from someone was something he wasn’t used to at all. His fist was trembling lightly, until he slowly began lift his right hand into the air and summoned forth the X-Blade. As Isamy laid on her back, she watched him from the corner of her eye.
In her current state, she was nothing but the severely-damaged spirit of an incomplete Omni strung together through will alone, forcing the Key of Origin to stay within her incompatible body. One way or another, she certainly wasn’t going to last another minute like this. She had no other options. This was the last remaining path available to her.
”Isamy...” Nero began to speak, doing his best to calm his breathing. ”What you’ve done to everyone...it is unforgivable. No one will be able to forgive you for what you’ve done to them.” He slightly moved the X-Blade from his side to straight in front of him. ”...I pray that...your heart and soul can find rest.” Nero exhaled slowly, before beginning to bring down the X-Blade towards Isamy’s chest, right about where her heart was. Isamy’s eyes closed in anticipation, silently welcoming what would come.
Around the duo, all of reality had come to a standstill.
Nero took the X-Blade and let its tipped edge touch Isamy’s chest, initiating the release of her heart and the Key of Origin. An intense light radiated from her chest as soon as contact was established, the X-Blade reaching within, the mightiest of keys entering into her...
”...find solace and rest, Isamy.” he sighed.
And then, as if to unlock that lock deep within,
he turned it.
”I knew it.” Isamy whispered sweetly, opening her eyes again. ”I knew I understood you... Nero.”
And thus, at that very moment,
Nero understood that he’d just fucked up. Horribly.
Y̸̢͉̘̘̻̼͇̓̌̾̾̐Ȏ̴̡̞͖͙͇̯̓̊͊͡ͅÙ̶̮̠͇͓͓̍͋̏̓̚͢ F̸̡̲̰̦͖͇̹͍̰͊͊̋̄͌͝Ȏ̷͕̜̗̺͚̳͐͗̉̾͗͑̂͝O̗̖̗̩̬̐̋͋͆̒̏̒̇͐̀L̵̛̝̟̠̤̭̬͊̓̈́͌́͜͢ͅÏ̧̳̻̘̣̰͔̀͐̀̉͛͢͠Ş̨̢̲̹͉̯̰̖̄̑͛͗͑̍̉͗͐̕H̶͎̝̪͕̟̺̫̗̙̀̈́̍̐͋̊̊̃͘͡ Ï̷̧̞̝̫̫̮̳̏̿̔̓͠͞D̸̨̨͓͙̞͈̖̀͑̃͘͢͟͝ͅI̴̛̺̟̘͂́̌̓̈́̋̅̽͜͢͝Ō̶̢͈̬͕̦̿̄̓̒͐̑͢T̴̨̨̗̮͓̱̭̭͂̃̇̔̓̒̍̀̚͠
What emerged out of Isamy’s chest first was darkness. Pure DARKNESS. Was this manifestation of evil truly her Heart? It couldn’t be. This Heart was empty, its contents destroyed five years ago for the sake of power, its remnants drained by the mindless rampage of a Hollow. In unlocking her Heart, the X-Blade had unlocked something else in the process, someplace deeper, darker, beyond the confines of her existence. In the midst of the spreading destruction, one might glimpse her body convulsing, forcing a different power to stay within, refusing to let the Key of Origin leave her soul. None could have possibly retrieved it as the darkness surged outwards. Enveloping Nero in an instant, it consumed the Lake, then the rest of the realm, dragging EVERYONE and EVERYTHING with it as the reality of the Forgotten Forest collapsed in on itself, and as the surviving warriors all knew that the battle was not yet, in fact, OVER.
within that darkness, Heart and Soul can be seen dancing together
113 years ago
Once, there was a little girl.
As far as the girl herself was concerned, there wasn’t anything special about her. She was just one of a great many people in the world, to live, to die, and to be forgotten.
Her mother had abandoned her at an orphanage when she was just a baby, and as she grow up, having never set foot outside the orphanage, she believed that it was all there was to the world, not once stopping to question what was beyond its walls, or even who her parents were.
Rather, the main thought that occupied her mind was ‘how can I help everyone?’
Growing up, she was surrounded by dozens of other unfortunate children, and seeing them, even feeling their sadness came to be all she knew. Everywhere in the orphanage was a place filled with dark emotions, and their suffering constantly pained her as if it were her own. If someone was crying, she would want to cry too, and if someone was screaming, she would want to scream too. Even if she’d never experienced the sensation of being taken away from her family, even if she didn’t know what it was like to be loved no more, it was as though she could understand those feelings. And it tore away at her every hour of every day.
At first, she thought it was only normal, but every now and then there would be moments of bliss – such as when new toys and clothes were donated to them, such as when they got to try delicious food, like freshly-made cake, and such as when a good family came to visit, perhaps even adopting one of them – that made her want to cry out of sheer joy, and question whether this perpetual gloom truly lasts forever.
I want everyone to be happy.
With a motive as pure as that, she decided to fight against the suffering. Soon, she found herself able to understand the feelings of those around her much better, and it became her goal to bring as much happiness to them as possible, to prolong each and every one of those moments. She tried her best to cheer up those who were depressed, interfered whenever anyone was being singled out and picked on, and came up with her own little plans to brighten the atmosphere whenever something bad had happened.
To the orphanage, she came to be like a superhero, a symbol of hope maintaining peace and order. And for a time, she was under the belief that she could defeat suffering, that she could make every last person in the world happy. An ignorant belief.
As the years went by, the girl matured. At the age of ten, her field of vision had expanded further, and she was already beginning to realize just how childish she’d been. How long and impossible the road she was walking on was. Her definition of ‘everyone’ changed from every child in the orphanage, to every citizen on the streets, to every person in town, to every single living being in the world… By then a part of her had already become aware that there may not be any end to her journey, that she had doomed herself to walk on a path filled with the despair of others.
And yet, she still walked on, helping as many people as she could within the scope of her power, hoping to make as big a difference as she could. Instead of lamenting that it was impossible, there was only one thing on her mind.
I’m just…not strong enough yet.
Though she was able to sense the emotions of others, making her aware if anyone was feeling down, she did not possess the power to instantly make them happy. It took real effort from her, as a frail, short human being, and the older she got, the more complex the solutions became. Each day was like that, dedicating her life for the sake of others, not leaving any time for herself in the process. One could even call it a meaningless life.
Even then, she knew that the only people she was helping were those in her own sight, those she could understand. What could she possibly do for the ones far beyond her reach.
One day, on an impulse, the girl snuck out from the orphanage and ran off into the streets.
Although it was spring, snow was beginning to fall from the skies. That night was particularly cold. An ominously dark night sky hanging above. If anything, she seemed to be the only soul outside for miles, and as she wandered through the streets on her own, she was shivering immensely. Every now and then, she would stumble, sometimes hitting the ground face-first as she got further away from the safety of her familiar home. There was a bit of fear in her eyes, but mostly, she seemed to be determined about something. Having made up her mind. It wasn’t that she was escaping her home or anything, but that she had a duty to attend to. As a self-proclaimed hero, she couldn’t possibly ignore it.
Not too long ago, a massive swirl of negative emotions, more intense than she’d ever experienced in her life, had materialized out of nowhere. Even without understanding what it was, even though she wasn’t sure if it was even possible for a human, she knew that she was doing what she’d always done – going to help someone in need. She’d never left the orphanage on her own before, but this… This had to be some sort of emergency. She couldn’t ignore that titanic surge. Her footsteps rhythmically moved through the unending darkness, with nothing but streetlamps lighting her way as she headed towards the source. It might’ve been her imagination, but as she got closer, the lights seemed to appear dimmer and dimmer…
Then, seeing an alleyway, she took a deep breath and held the plastic bag that she’d brought along tightly, before walking in.
It was then that she met him.
There was nothing flashy about it, for it was only a meeting between two people. A single moment in the sea of time, to come and pass, remaining only in memory.
Before the girl, an old, homeless person lay against a wall, his figure obscured by the shadows the alley cast, which appeared to warp around him. By what little she could make of his face, he seemed to be staring out into space with a vacant expression, ignoring his surroundings as though they were irrelevant.
More importantly were the feelings within him. A terrifyingly dense nexus of negative emotions was swirling around him, and just by standing where she was, she felt like she was being suffocated, like it was trying to wring the air out of her lungs and crush them into dust. An impossibly large amount of hatred and regret was being channeled from him into her, the intensity of which was unlike anything else she’d ever encountered before, and clearly, it was destroying her. She could not comprehend it, these feelings were too alien, too far beyond the scope of what she was used to, she did not even know what she was feeling, what were these emotions, what was this, this, this emptiness that was eating away at her body, beginning from her toes and fingertips and spreading further on, he couldn’t turn back even if he wanted to, and on through her arms and legs until they reached into her chest, he wanted to die but refused to die at the same time, and seeped into her skin, living eternally for no purpose, turning all of her organs to dust dust dust, caring too much about things that only disappear, her nerves were being consumed as his was and her bones were being consumed as his was and her heart was being consumed as his was—
However, she didn’t care. The pain was all only in her head. It was overwhelming for sure, but as long as she could move, as long as she could talk, it wouldn’t stop her from doing what she always did. Shaking her head and clenching her hands to endure the incomprehensible torrent, she took a step closer towards the mysterious stranger.
“Um, hello?” The girl greeted, shyly waving at him with her free hand.
At first, he didn’t react.
“Hello? Hello, sir? Or are you a madam? I’m sorry, it’s a bit dark so I can’t, uh, really tell.”
“…” A minute passed in absolute silence as the girl waited for a response.
Then, at last, his gaze turned to meet hers, acknowledging her existence for the first time.
“What?” he asked, in a deep, rough voice that was unnaturally devoid of emotion. Even though the tone implied bitterness or annoyance, she sensed that there was little beyond those words. Only void. Frankly, it wasn't like anything she'd ever experienced before. But she stayed silent, and carried on.
“Oh, you are a sir after all! Sorry, so sorry.”
“Really sorry. But, but, if it helps, your hair is really pretty, you know! I thought it was covered in snow, but it’s actually silver, isn’t it?”
His expression was confused, and with those narrow, sharp eyes, he stared at her as if questioning his own grasp of reality. “...who the hell are you?”
“Right. I, um, live at the nearby orphanage.” The girl responded. “You probably know it, it’s the one with that colorful sign down a few...dozens blocks? Or maybe not? I’m sorry I said anything...”
Normally, the emotions of the people she spoke to would fluctuate during the course of a conversation. Children or adults, they always felt different things even if they were attempting to hide it. But this man was completely unaffected by her appeals. Even his gaze showed that he saw her as nothing but a strange curiousity, rather than a person worthy of actual conversation.
Whenever she attempted to look into his mind, all she could sense was a maelstrom of emotions. Pain, regret, frustration, hatred. The shivering cold she was feeling felt insignificant in comparison. Just what had he gone through? Just why was he experiencing something so horrible? It terrified her, to the core.
“Here, I brought some bread. Ale had a stomachache so she couldn’t eat it! Since we’re always so low on food, I thought it was good to keep for a day or two in case something came up, and well, looks like it’s your lucky day!” Forcing a positive attitude, the girl opened the plastic bag that she’d brought, taking out a loaf of bread before holding it out towards the stranger.
He stared down at the loaf in her hands as if it were a foreign object.
“Come on, it’s just bread! You should take it before the snow makes it all soggy, or um, whatever snow does to food.”
“Okay, so I’ll admit it’s wholegrain, which means it has a lot of carbs, and I think stuff like that can make some people pretty fat, but trust me, it’s okay every once in a while! It’s not like you’ll suddenly inflate and become a massive balloon, so you don’t need to be scared about that! Wait, that’s probably not your concern, is it? I’m really sorry, right, um, it’s definitely not infected or anything. It’s not food out of a trash can or anything, so you won’t get sick from eating it!”
He proceeded to stare at her as if she were a foreign object. “...why?”
“Well.” The girl laughed nervously. “That’s hard to say.”
“You seemed like you were in trouble, so I came to help you.” She added awkwardly.
His confusion only deepened. “Trouble?”
“Well, you’re feeling sad, aren’t you? I know it’s not much, like, probably nothing at all, but um. I came to help however I can…”
It was clear to her that he was simply going through the motions. Acting out his ego, behaving in a cold manner to shut himself off. He seemed like the type who was projecting an attitude that didn’t care about anything, yet this huge amount of emotion radiating from him was unmistakable. Even though she was struggling just to be near him, just to maintain her sanity, she forced herself to.
“Feeling sad?” He asked after a few minutes.
“Yeah!” He hadn’t taken the bag in her hands yet, but finally, he’d spoken more than one word! “I mean, I don’t really know how to explain it, but looking at things logically, it must be hard, right? Being homeless and all, unable to fend for yourself-”
“Homeless.” The mysterious, cloaked hobo frowned. “Homeless. Insulting… How insulting. Do you have any idea who you’re even talking to?”
The girl gasped. “Whoa, you can speak in full sentences after all!”
“Well, homeless or not, you’re here. It’s freezing cold, it’s in the dark, and you’re out here in the middle of nowhere.” The girl started to relax. Even with his hostility, he was beginning to communicate with her. If anything, it was progress. Maybe this could actually work out. “If you ask me, that doesn’t sound like something a normal, rational person would do.”
Without being invited, the girl sat down next to him. He didn’t stop her.
“Are you not cold, with that frail body of yours?” The man glanced to his left where the girl was, as if trying to work out what she was. In any other situation, she would’ve found it creepy - but she could read his every emotion as plain as day. He didn’t care about her. Yet, at the same time, he was trying not to care about a lot of things.
“Nope!” A bold-faced lie, considering how her whole being was shivering in the cold of spring. Her thickest coat could only do so much.
"Hmm. Neither am I then. Go away.”
“No.” The girl shook her head. “You’re in pain.”
“You’re a bother.”
“Maybe a bit.”
“You’re an actual bother.”
“I’m known to be.”
“Not til you tell me what’s wrong, yo.”
“My patience has limits... insect.”
“Too bad, I’m here. Deal with it.”
“A zygote such as yourself could not even comprehend it.”
“You’re seriously pissing me off, you know that?”
“And you’re trying to scare me off. Cut it out already, I see through you.” The girl remained resolute. Being so close brought on an intense feeling of nausea - but still, she fought the urge to vomit and carry on. She was trying to help this man. It wouldn’t do good if she showed any weakness here!
He eyed her from the corner of his eye.
“...what do you even have to offer, young human?”
“Well,” she smiled. “what do you have to lose, old man?”
The man didn’t respond for a while,
instead opting to stare outwards, at the stars.
For a moment, it looked like he was asking the many stars, ‘was this okay?’.
“Reflection.” The dark sorcerer spoke, his tone softening. “That’s why I came to this backwater universe you call home.”
And in that same moment, words slipped from his mouth.
“It’s not something I normally do, mind you. I move on, and on, and on, and yet…with every passing century, I feel myself disconnecting from the multiverse that much more.” He paused. Perhaps wondering why he was speaking to this insect. But somehow, it didn’t matter anymore. “When you live forever, it becomes impossible to fill up all your time. You can build empires up and tear empires down with that amount of time, and it won’t feel longer than a second. You can seek out power and riches, and attain them, and stack them up to become greater and greater still, but in the end it’ll all just be pointless. Eventually, you find yourself with nothing to do. There’s only so much you can do. You can spend lifetimes removing your every shackle, dreaming of a beautiful freedom, but for me, even freeing myself from my own Master did naught but take away any purpose I might’ve had. Life simply gets boring, you understand? Thoughts catch up to you, memories and fears return to you. You’re reminded of crimes you committed, things you never stopped to think about before. All these troublesome feelings... attempting to be acknowledged. How should I describe it? ‘Soberness’? Periods of ‘soberness like’ this that could last anywhere between days and centuries. I can’t operate as a Herald, as Protheus Maximus, with such nuisances in the way. So here I am… To think.”
“Uh…” The girl couldn't help but be silent for a while.
His words were not only alien, but nonsensical, as he talked about things beyond her world. She couldn’t help but question his sanity then. But still, she stayed. Whether what he was saying was metaphorical in some manner, or literal, or he was delusional, or whatever the case was, it was undeniable that he was in a lot of pain right now. As a human being, and as a future hero of justice… she couldn’t ignore that.
“I don’t really understand. Living forever, Masters, soberness, all that... But um, it sounds like you've gone through a lot, huh, Mr. Maximus?”
“Hmph.” He’d opened up to her the tiniest bit. “It matters not.”
However, the maelstrom within his heart hadn’t been affected one bit, burning out of control. It was nothing like she’d ever sensed or experienced before. It was driving her mad. It was almost even making her feel angry, at him, for whatever reason. Still she stayed steadfast.
Time passed without either of them saying anything. The time was filled up by the passing of the wind, and the gradual falling of the snow. Somehow, her body was beginning to get used to this unnatural cold.
Once half an hour passed, the girl broke the silence. Moonlight started to pierce through the thick array of clouds above, through the sky of darkness. Amidst this white wasteland, she held out her arms to him with a determined look. Offering the loaf of bread once more.
“You gonna continue your story or what? Don’t keep me waiting, old man.”
Protheus, the Herald of Darkness, remained silent as his eyes moved to meet hers once more. This time, he was neither scoffing nor frowning. He simply stared at her, as if he were, only now, noticing that she was an actual, living being. Although his face was youthful, he seemed to have the mannerisms of an old, wistful man, like some sort of bitter grandfather. To him, just the fact that a young stranger offering to help him, and trust him, and stay by him, was so bizarre that he had no idea how to react.
His entire way of life, the path of annihilation and death he paved in his wake, the attitude with which he assumed treating all other forms of life. He reasoned that she could act this way because she was unaware of his true nature - but the suspicion he had about her psychic Empathy contradicted that. If she indeed had such a skill… Then she could surely see through his destructive nature. And still she stayed. His very understanding of humans was being contradicted in this one instant. Even the past five millennia’s worth of lifetimes couldn’t have possibly prepared him for the girl. For she, who was fated to one day become his successor.
Ultimately, he reached out and snatched the loaf of bread away from her for a bite,
at which point her smile grew bigger.
“How awfully persistent...”
In that alleyway, surrounded by darkness snow, the fact that she brought a smile to a man like this - ESPECIALLY a man like this - made her feel like anything was possible.
Just as it seems like you have achieved victory against the ultimate enemy, you are unexpectedly picked up by an invisible force and shoved through a tunnel of continuous, swirling golden energy, which appears to go on for ever and ever. Within, you realize that your mind is being bathed in a soothing sense of clarity…
…and then, you sense two locations. One high above, another far below.
Beyond your own control, separating you from various allies, a violent force pulls you into either:
The "Illusive Sky." A dreamlike, seemingly infinite sky, with a sea of clouds blocking all from the view below. Were it not for the rainbow nimbus clouds floating about, standable and controllable for convenience, one would plummet towards the ground a thousand feet below.
The "Shadow Cavern." A nightmarish, barely-lit, enormous cavern, with crimson earth enclosing all from the outside. Were it not for the glowing fog, covering the ground, nothing would be visible.
Both battlefields are empty at first. There are no mooks, no enemies, only your allies...and a number of them seemed to be missing. Being in this realm that resembles Truth, you may begin to feel an uncertainty upon you. Random glitches at the corner of your senses are making you question reality, causing you to hesitate, and only through sheer conviction can you keep yourself together.
This, however, is rendered negligible by what happens right after your arrival. If there was any remaining hope that the battle had ended, they were crushed as vortexes materialize at the center of each realm…
And in each one, she arrives.
In the Illusive Sky, a humanoid of the Soul emerges, glitching as it stumbles onto a nimbus cloud not far away. Its blank left eye stare into the distance, as though she is a philosopher mesmerized by the fake world’s beauty. The KEY OF ORIGIN is radiating from within her chest, and energies of chaos make up her body. Anyone looking at her would be met with a strange sense of guilt, as if interrupting her would cause her to jump off.
In the Shadow Cavern, a dracolich of the Heart emerges, clawing its way out of a vortex in the ceiling. Its golden left eye moves around the floor in caution, and in silence, as though she is a queen paranoid of her every subject. An ALMIGHTY DARKNESS is seeping from her every fiber, and energies of entropy make up her body. Anyone looking at her would be met with an overwhelming sense of terror, as if attracting her attention would cause her to viciously attack.
Everything that made up the Pathway to Truth has been absorbed by them, and the power they possess chills you to your core. The monster you are facing, be it the Humanoid or the Dracolich, seems statistically weaker than Hollow Isamy. And yet, there’s an undeniable dread that’s gripping you even stronger this time. As if something is going to be different this time. Uncertainty grips your mind. Where did half your comrades go? Why could you sense an equally terrible power not far away? And how much longer could you keep up the fight?
The atmosphere remains heavy, and the possibility of victory dwindles evermore. All that you have gained, as well as all that you have lost, suddenly seems worthless in the face of this genuine dread.
And yet, you know you must continue to fight.
Everything you have worked for lies just beyond.
FINAL BOSS BATTLE
S T A G E D E U X