Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Insert Implausible Search Pattern Here

It dangles on a string 
Like slow-spinning redemption 
Winding in and winding out; 
The shine of it has caught my eye 
And roped me in. So 
Mesmerizing, so 
Hypnotizing. I am 
Captivated. I am...
—Dasnboard Confessional, "Vindicated"


Valerie nearly jumped out of her seat when Danielle thumped a fist on her desk.

"I," the redhead began, "have had just about enough of this."

The healer blinked. "Enough of what?"

"Enough of you shutting yourself in the monitor room and ignoring the rest of the world." Valerie turned to see Stacey, along with the rest of her team, standing by the door. The shorter blonde continued, "You can be borderline antisocial as it is, and though I don't really blame you for that, enough is enough."


"No buts!" Danielle interrupted her team leader fiercely. "You're going and that's that!"

Valerie frowned. "Going where?"

Terrie stepped forward, brandishing a manilla envelope. "On a mission to the Heroes fandom. The sensors picked up a Level 1 Sue somewhere in the post-bomb timeline from season 1, and you are going to bring her in."

"What for? If she's just Level 1, then—"

"Because you need to get out of this room," Danielle said firmly. "You need to get out of the Library, get some fresh air in your lungs, and screw your head on straight."

"Danielle I'm f—"

"Do not start with me, Val!" the redhead barked. "Fine people do not sequester themselves in a little corner for months at a time! I know you've got an important job to do, but if he's waited this long, he can wait a little longer for the sake of your own health!"

Valerie frowned, starting to get annoyed. "Look, just because you guys gang up on me, doesn't mean—"

"We don't have to gang up on you," Terrie smirked, "because we all know it only takes one person to convince you." The shorter brunette glanced behind her at Monika, who had not yet said a word, but who was walking over towards them at Terrie's cue.

The healer's eyes widened. "H-Hey, c'mon guys, that's not fair..."

Danielle folded her arms. "Just take it as an indication of how serious we are about this."

Monika stood before her best friend, settled into a relaxed, casual stance, and donned a crooked sort of half-smile. "You really should go," she said gently. "Get some action, a little exercise, and come back with a clearer head."

Valerie shifted uncomfortably and tried not to meet her tall friend's eyes, even though she knew eye contact had nothing to with what was happening. "Monika..."

"Just go," she said in that same gentle voice. "Everything will be waiting when you get back, I promise."

It only took a few more seconds of Monika's unavoidable gaze for Valerie's will to cave in. She snatched the envelope roughly out of Terrie's hands and strode out the door. "I'm gonna get you guys for this," she growled.

Monika simply grinned. "No you won't."

Valerie tried to ignore her friends congradulating each other as she went off to her room to collect supplies.


The Sue's name, according to the file, was Princess Angelina Contessa Louisa Francesca Banana Fanna Bo Besca the Third, and Valerie wondered vaguely if "Princess" was actually her first name. She shrugged the question aside as she shoved various tools of the trade into the pockets of her cargo pants—she wasn't likely to need them for such a routine outting, but staying prepared was an old habbit of hers.

She paused when she reached the pale blue bracer sitting next to her laptop. Seiryu had gotten more use in the past week and a half than all the time she'd had it—which, admittedly, wasn't very long (and the thought of exactly how long it had been since her weapon was first given to her sent another pang through her chest, which she did her best to ignore). Their encounter with the Sovereign Death had been one of the most devestating battles the Society had ever fought, and the recovery was still underway. In between maintaining the suddenly crowded Med Ward and her regular duties, she had taken up practicing archery again, more determined than ever to master her bow. Those shots against Death were pure luck. Next time she wouldn't get an opening like that.

Naturally, in the midst of all this, her fandom scans and searches had come to a grinding halt. Probably why Terrie and them took their chance to halt that in its tracks while they had an opening, she thought, halfway between annoyed and amused. Speaking of which...

Valerie turned her attention inward, to a special place in her mind and heart that was very rarely occupied.  How are you doing, Ari?

Her only reply was a mental image of someone rolling over in a large squashy bed and pulling the covers all the way up. Valerie smiled, though her internal concern for her guardian kept it from reaching her eyes. She had known Ari was powerful, yes, but she'd never seen the tiny dragon attack with even half that ferocity, nor use her considerable abilities to such an extent. Likely her berserker state was induced by the enormity of the threat Death posed, but as a result, she was now completely exhausted. She had rendered herself unable to maintain even a single ethereal presence, let alone a physical one, and had retreated to the depths of Valerie's heart for a long rest.

The healer sighed. It was not the first time that Ari had been reduced to this state, but it was the first time that Valerie had wittnessed the enormous effort that brought it about. She knew precious little about what Ari did when she was off on her own, but the thought of her guardian fighting like that on a regular basis made the empath tremble.

She bit her lip for a moment, then strapped the bracer onto her left wrist, holstered a fully-charged portal gun, and headed out toward the Med Ward to give Miriku instructions in her absence—mainly that, despite any and all protests to the contrary, Kyle and Ben were not to be allowed out of their beds without adult supervision.


Footsteps sounded in the dark room. "Milady, she is gone..."

"I know she is. Let her go."

A beat. "Are you sure that is wise, milady? She may have survived the Immaculation process physically, but her mind... ah... decidely less so. She is confused, disoriented. Her thoughts are..." He ground out the word like it was posion. "...chaotic..."

A chuckle from the woman on the throne. "She is nothing more than a failed experiment. After all, I myself investigated her claims when she started making them and I did not find anything that validated them."

"Then she should be eliminated. Those like her are to be discarded when their purpose is fulfilled, refuse that is useless save for the fact it can jam the works of our plans and disrupt their order." His eyes flashed briefly in the gloom. "That cannot be allowed."

"Calm yourself, Order. Even just the act of discarding something can be twisted to a useful purpose. She will mostly engage our adversaries and distract them further. Or even kill one of them." Runoa smirked, her eyes amused. "And I like to discard my things in manners that amuse me..."


"Do not worry, Order. You, I have no intention of discarding. At least, so long as you remain useful to me..."


Valerie exited the plothole and took a look around. In this timeline, it was ten years after the nuclear bomb from season 1 had gone off. New York City was left in absolute ruin, and its economic, political, and environmental effects on the globe were devestating. Even after so many years, no one had yet bothered to try and clean up the area, and only a handful of refugees even went anywhere near city limits.

The healer frowned. What would a Mary Sue want with this place? There was nothing of use whatsoever, nothing but rubble and desolation for miles around. Further, this timeline had effectively been averted with the beginning of season 2, so any fanfiction taking place here was set firmly in Alternate Universe territory, which Sues usually avoided, since it made their powers unpredictable, not to mention increased Author powers.

"Hmm... so they sent you, did they?"

Valerie whipped arond.

Standing at the precipice a large, triangular piece of shrapnel was a woman in her mid-twenties. Her black and white hair was tusseled by the faint breeze and her lean face was devoid of emotion as sharp blue eyes studied the healer. She was dressed in dark-colored catsuit that hugged her form well and the leather of her gloves creaked as she folded her arms across her chest. "You're not the one I was hoping for, but you were my second pick, so it's not that big of a loss..."

The empath quickly brough her bow arm up, Seiryu forming with a soft shwfmmm of blue energy, and drew back the weapon's string, causing an energy arrow to appear. Valerie was still wearing her obsidian pendant, so the woman's emotions were blocked from her, but she got the feeling she wouldn't have been able to read her even if her shields were wide open. Regardless, her stance alone told Valerie that she defininately meant bussiness. This is not the Sue I was sent after, that's for sure... "Who are you?" she demanded.

"My name is Silri. And you, healer-girl, are going to help me get the person I want out here." The woman flicked a bit of hair over her shoulder. "Tell me where the Librarian is."

"Adrian?" Val frowned, but kept her weapon trained on Silri. "He's dead. And you should know that. A Sue killed him."

"Quit your lying." Silri sneered back. "Regardless of the rumors that have been spreading around, I know for a fact the Librarian is not dead. But he's been hiding or is recuperating or planing something in the shadows and I know you know where he is. So tell me!"

"I already did! He's dead. And no matter how much I wish it otherwise, denying that won't bring him back!" A small choak escaped the healer. She'd been trying to avoid saying that out loud, but there was no taking it back now.

"I told you to quit lying!" Silri snapped. "You're going to help find the Librarian. One way..." She thrust out her fist and something shot towards the healer incredibly fast, the air around disorting as it shredded the concrete along it's course, "or another!"

Valerie twisted to the side, flinching as the attack shredded it's way past her and open up a series of small cuts on her side and arm. What..? What did she shoot at me? Not wasting time to figure it out, she quickly unleashed a trio of arrows, one after another at the perched Sue.

"Don't even bother." Silri swept her hand in front of her and the three arrows veered off course, shooting past her by a wide margin and harmlessly shattering against a piece of rubble in the distance. "Your attacks are weak and useless against anyone with a modicum of power."

"We'll just see-" Val gasped as the Sue vanished and was suddenly right front of her, their faces barely a foot apart as Silri grabbed her bow arm, the energy of Seiryu actually crumbling in the Sue's grasp and Valerie cried out as Silri clamped down hard on her wrist and twisted it.

"Now that feeble attempt at resistance is out of the way..." The older woman brought her face close to Val's, eyes narrowed dangerously. "Where. Is. Adrian?"

"I told you, he's dead!" Val managed with a pained gasp. "He died fighting Willowe and her army!"

"Liar!" Silri casually flung the healer away through the air, her flight halted as she crashed roughly against a piece of rubble and hit the ground with a moan of pain. "I know he's alive! I can still sense his energies!"

She walked towards the downed Valerie, clenching her fist as the air distorted around it. "I'll prove it to Runoa and those lackey Sovereigns she has. I didn't go crazy from the Immaculation! I know he's alive! Now where is he!"

"Y-you're...a Sovereign...?" Val coughed and managed to push herself upright, desperately trying to materialzie Seiryu, but the bracer only glowed slightly. She also tasted blood, and each breath was painful to draw.

"Not a Sovereign, the Sovereign!" Silri snapped and her eyes narrowed hard. "The very first to survive the Imaculation process, the Sovereign prototype! Out of all of them, I am the only one who is capable of killing the Librarian! Not Willowe or Order or Runoa! Me! Now tell me where he is!"

"He's dead!" Valerie snapped. "I don't know why you think otherwise, but you must be crazy, because he... is... dead!"

The Sue let out a snarl of frustration and flung the ball of distorted air at the downed Agent. "Then maybe your screams of agony will draw him out of his hiding!"

Something silver flashed and sliced through the sphere and disperesed the energy Silri had gathered instantly. The Sue whirled just in time to see the silver blur arc back to it's user hand, and then she was on the defensive, the air distorting around her forearms as she blocked the endless strikes of the twin silver blurs.

Valerie dragged herself to her feet, one hand clutching the side where she was sure she felt something crack. Her rescuer was simply clad in a worn traveling cloak that flapped behind her as the battle raged on, the silver battle fan in her hand twirling and spinning faster than the eye could follow. A long tail peeked out from beneath the cloak's hem, and twitching underneath the hood were a pair of fluffy...

...kitty ears?

For a moment Valerie's heart nearly stopped, but then she noticed something: said ears and tail were furred in black, not white. And, upon closer examination, her rescuer's traveling cloak was not loose enough to hide a distinctly feminine form. With a start, she realized that it was Kuroneko, the cat-girl Counter Guardian, who had saved her.

Silri swept her arm down in front of her and the ground shredded, pelting Kuroneku with clods of earth and shrapnel, and the Sue siezed upon the brief interruption to slam a kick into her foe's gut and send her tumbling away. "A Counter Guardian? What the hell are you doing here!

Kuroneko straightened and removed her hood, her black cat ears twitching as she smirked. "I was just passing through and happened to stumble across a very poorly hidden Suergy generator. One would think you guys are above such obvious traps, y'know." She tossed a strange, spherical device at Silri's feet. "Though I will admit that was pretty intresting trick you pulled just now. You're manipluating the air around you, aren't you?"

"Hmph." Silri lifted her arms in a boxing stance, and Valerie noticed small currents of air twisting around the young woman's arms, something she had missed earlier. "As long as there is air," Silri smirked, "my power is unlimited!" Then she lunged.

Val watched the two woman battle and realized that she could barely see them moving, they were so fast. Only the occasion glints of light off Kuroneko's weapon and gouges of air marked where they were. I can't even keep up... she thought dismally. I thought I was could fight alongside the others after Adrian died, but... am I really that weak?

Off to her left, a pile of rubble suddenly disentigrated as a tornado of shredded debris kicked up, and the two women were briefly visible in the center of the crater their power left before vanishing from view once again. Valerie shielded her face as the wall of rubble she was using as support while she attempted to heal herself suddenly vanished, and the ground shook as the battling pair entered a nearby building.

Thunder sounded as blasts of energy or compressed air punched giant holes through it's sides, floor after floor in rapid succession before a giant slice of air slashed through the top corner and it groaned, falling away as the black blur of Kuroneko leapt impossible high and away through the widening gap, shreds of her cloak and energy trailing.

Silri leapt after her, small tornados of air around her fists. "That was a bad move!" she shouted, "because friction among the air is was what creates lightning!" She clasped her hands behind her and slammed them down. The air roared and boiled as a great bolt of electricity lanced down from the sky and crashed into Counter Guardian, a howl of agony escaping her.

Valerie watched as the cat-girl cratered into the ground while Silri landed easily atop the ruined wreck of a nearby building. "Kuroneko!"

"I'm... I'm okay..." She coughed hard, blood trickling out of the corner of her mouth, her cloak nothing but shreds and scraps. Debris crunched under her feet as she stood and glared at Silri. "It takes more than a Sue to take down a Counter Guardian!"

"You haven't figured out it yet..." Silri sneered and held out her arm, air twisting and snaking it's way around it and lengthening out past her hand to form a long thing blade. "I was designed specifically to defeat Adrian the Librarian. Meaning that I'm a match for more than any one of you! For all the air in my atmosphere is my weapon!"

"I know... but what do you think happened to mine?" Kuroneko smirked and held out her hands, revealing them empty.

Blue eyes widened and Silri gasped as the two fans ripped their way out of the ground, crackling with bloody energy. Even as Silri started to leap clear, the fans tore across her chest in an X pattern and she dropped to the ground, blood pouring from the open wound. "You... you bitch..."

The Sue staggered to her feet, one hand clutching at her bloody chest. "You may have beaten me... but I know Adrain is alive! My whole body burns with it! I will find him! And I will kill him!" Then a plothole opened behind her and she back through.

Kuroneko caught her fans as the flew back to her, stood up... and stopped. "My legs feel funny..." she muttered in surprise... and then crumpled to the ground.

Valerie's eyes widened, then squeezed shut in concentration as she assessed the damage in her own body, confirming that at least one rib was definitely broken. Don't move! she sent a firm command to the affected area, and felt the muscles in her side obligingly stiffen, protecting the damaged area from unnecessary movement. She knew she would pay for that later, with resulting muscle cramps being the least of her problems, but her own body could wait.

Hesitantly, then with more confidence as the pain in her side was only mild, Valerie made her way over to the wounded Counter Guardian. Kuroneko's breathing seemed normal—a bit fast, but that was to be expected after fighting someone like Silri. "Tell me everything you can feel," she said firmly, placing a hand at the cat-girl's temple.

"Something hurts at the small of my back," she began, "and... some kind of irregular, shooting numbness down the backs of my legs."

"Is there pain shooting down your legs too?"

"I... can't really tell."

Valerie nodded and closed her eyes. That kick Silri had delivered to Kuroneko's back might have cracked one or more of her vertebre. "You're going to feel a strong pulling sensation, but don't fight it. And whatever you do, don't move your spine at all."

Kuroneko started to nod, then stopped and said "Yes" instead.

The healer settled into a light trance, casting her awareness at her patient's body like a fishing line. As Valerie's physical body ran a hand over the cat-girl's torso, her mind trailed down her spine, searching for something out of place.

There! Two vertebre in the lumbaric section were indeed cracked, one of which had a chunk almost broken off and pressing against the spinal cord. Gently, ever-so-slowly, she formed her hands into two C-shapes right over the area, imaginging herself pressing the bone pieces back together. Inside Kuroneko's body, Valerie's power mimicked the position of her hands and caused the bones to move. The Counter Guardian grimaced as she felt something griding, the vibrations carrying all the way to the base of her skull, but the numbness subsided.

Valerie let out a slow breath and began the much less delicate work of prompting the bones to begin their natural healing process. Kuroneko's spine was safe for now, though she did a rudimentary check of the primary nerve connections to make sure... and frowned. She was having a difficult time establishing enough of a... Of course!

The healer nearly smacked herself. She was still wearing her obsidian, which kept her from fully connecting with her patient. Impatiently, she tore it from it's string around her neck, and her mind sailed up through the cat-girl's spinal cord effortlessly, taking note of all the necessary connections. And when she reached the brain...

"Ahh!" The healer gasped as memories that were not her own poured through her open shields like a torrential rain.

-...walking down a darkened hallway in the Library and watching as a door appeared on the wall in front of her, looking to be made out of white ivory unlike the wooden doors around her and with a silver handle. It seemed to be calling to her and she reached out and grasped the handle...-

-...a large white room, almost blindingly so, but offset by the gilded golden runes inscribed in circular patterens around the room's center, each one several feet in size. And in the center of the room was a tall crystalline cylinder with five smaller crystals arrayed around it...-

-...her hand reaching up and wiping a circle clear on the crsytal cylinder and her gasp and stagger of suprise at the face she saw...-

-...hurriedly flipping the pages of a book and tossing it onto the floor with all the other discarded ones, grabbing yet another off the Librarian's private shelves. Paging through it and stoping as the words catch her eye. "Resseruction of immortal beings is possible through reunion of body and soul..."-

-...staring at the rippling water in the rune-encrusted crystal basin, the diamond pendant hovering too-still just above it's surface. "His soul... isn't in heaven? Or hell? Then... is it still here on this plane...? But where... where can it be...?"-

Valerie wrenched herself from Kuroneko's mind with a cry, physically stumbling away from the Counter Guardian. For a moment she was utterly speechless.

The cat-girl refused to meet her eyes. "You weren't supposed to see that..."

"Why not?" Val nearly shrieked in a strained whisper-shout. "How long have you known that Adrian's alive?"

"Adrian is dead, Valerie."

"He was right there, I saw him! Inside the crystal pillar!"

"Valerie." Something about the Counter Guardian's voice made Valerie stop. She realized she was shaking. "I found his body," Kuroneko said firmly. "That doesn't mean he's alive."

"It's a start!" the healer snapped back. "Where is he? Take me to him!"

Kuroneko looked her over and raised an eyebrow. "Not in the condition you're in."

Valerie looked down, and realized that hand covering her side was covered in blood. The broken rib had popped out through her skin. "Oh my..."

The empath's knees suddenly buckled, and Kuroneko caught her easily in one arm. "Let's get you fixed up," she said softly, "and then we'll talk."

"You're damn right we will..." Valerie muttered as she felt the cat-girl pull her portal gun from her belt. As she saw the plothole open up, she started to protest that she could walk on her own, but thought better of it. Sleep was starting to sound very, very nice.


"Not a soul, Adrian, the soul. The soul is the one thing that's everywhere and connects everything."

"Only if you follow the idea that it's outside the body as opposed to inside, a theory that's vague at—ow!"

Valerie gave her kitty-eared patient a look as she momentarily halted her bandaging. "Stop complaining, Mister Tough-As-Nails Badass Librarian. You don't like my nursing, you can work harder to not get yourself killed on every mission."

Adrian rolled his eyes, but it was a token gesture at best. "I'm just saying that you can't completely re-write all the known laws of physics based on one single idea."

The empath smiled as she taped the gauze in place. "A leap of faith is how great discoveries are made, Emuishere. Every good scientist knows that the only way to get anywhere is to admit that nothing is for certain—that there's always something we might be wrong about, something we don't know. How's that feel?"

The Librarian flexed his injured arm, stretching it in different ways to test its mobility. He smiled. "Like new, mi'hala. Thanks."

Valerie smiled back. "Anytime."


Valerie opened her eyes slowly, wondering vaguely why the ceiling above her was white instead of lilac, like she had painted her quarters in the Library. Then she remembered that, due to her injuries in the Heroes fandom, Kuroneko had probably brought her to the Library's hospital wing instead of her room. And then she would take her to Adrian.


Oh. Right. I guess I should wake up then.

She opened her eyes once more, this time adding a deep breath and a stretch in order to wake herself up. That is, she tried, until a spasm of pain in her side brought her fully back to wakeful cognition. She bit back a cry and attempted to look around for her glasses.

"Didn't anyone ever tell you that a responsible healer always heals herself first?"

Valerie's searching fingers finally contacted the arm of her glasses, but she didn't really need them, as she'd recognize that voice anywhere. Placing the lenses on her nose, she lifted her head to see Kuroneko sitting on the edge of the bed next to her's. "Not that it wasn't an impressive healing, of course," the cat-girl continued. "Spinal damage and nerve endings are tricky enough as it is, without having to tune out your own injuries."

The empath rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and tested the range of movement her torso had under the tight bandages she had just discovered were there. "There was nothing wrong with your nervous system, I just shoved the bone fragments back in place. And don't try to distract me; you're going to—"

"Take you to Adrian, I know," Kuroneko interrupted. "Not one for small talk, I see. And I will. But only if you keep your mouth shut about it. And not until you've healed up at least a little. It's a fairly long walk to where we're going."

Valerie's eyes widened. "You mean he's somewhere in the Library?"

Kuroneko glared at her. "When. You're. Healed."

The empath rolled her eyes, though it was a token gesture at best. Instead of retorting though, she examined the bandages around her torso—she'd recognize Miri's handiwork anywhere, and made a mental note to thank her—and mentally assessed how quickly her ribs were healing. She suppressed a grin; the bones were perfectly aligned and healing fast. By now they probably knew better than to try and heal crookedly.

A glance at the bed across from her told Valerie that Kuroneko wasn't going anywhere. She's probably being kept for observation, she thought. Until that vertebre heals completely, she needs some enforced relaxation. "So how did you find me?" Valerie asked, mostly for lack of anything better to do. "In the Heroes fandom, I mean."

The cat-girl yawned and fell back against her pillows, tail swishing idly. "Didn't I mention? There was some kind of pulse generator planted in the fandom. I grabbed it on our way out so your techies could have a look at it, but apparently it generates concentrated low-level Suergy, indistinguishable from the real thing."

"If it's indistinguishable, how did you spot it?" Valerie asked. "Counter Guardians don't hunt Sues."

Kuroneko chuckled. "I just said the energy generated is indistinguishable from Suergy, but the way it's generated is quite different if you know what you're looking for. For one thing, it's completely continuous—"

"—while real Suergy fluctuates with the Sue's emotions," the empath finished, grinning.

"Hehe. You're sharp for a kid."

"When I want to be."

"Clearly." Kuroneko flashed Valerie a toothy—or fangy, Valerie realized—grin. "Because if you had been this sharp for the mission instead of just wanting to get it over with and get back to your monitor, you probably would have remembered that Princess Angelina Contessa Louisa Francesca Banana Fanna Bo Besca the Third is actually the canon name of a character in the old cartoon Animaniacs." She smirked. "The whole thing was set up specifically to lure in the gullible and easily distracted... and it looks like you qualify, healer-girl."

Valerie flushed angrily, but there was really nothing she could say.


"You weren't kidding when you said it was a long way..."

"Do I look like a kidder to you?"

"I shall wisely refrain from answering that."

Kuroneko was leading Valerie through a winding maze of some of the dustiest shelves either of them had ever seen. The tomes held there had long since been forgotten by the rest of the world, though they remained in preservation here in the Library Arcanium. In fact, upon closer examination, everything there looked to be in stasis—no dust moved in the wake of their passing, and they left no footprints on the dusty floorboards.

"It'd be impossible to find this place once, let alone twice," Valerie muttered. "How on earth did you find it by accident?"

One corner of Kuroneko's mouth twitched upward in a half-smirk. "I followed my nose."

They continued walking through the maze, making twists and turns that even Valerie's sharp memory couldn't hope to recall. Each hallway seemed to get darker as they went on, and though Valerie had the foresight to bring a flashlight, the cat-girl refused to let her turn it on, claiming that it made scenting the correct way more difficult.

Finally, they arrived at a large set of double-doors at the end of a pitch-black hallway. Valerie couldn't see a thing, but somehow it didn't bother her. She felt completely calm and at ease in this darkness, as though she could sit and sleep in its embrace for as long as she needed to.

"What is the feeling...?" she asked in a whisper. It seemed like the sort of place where you should whisper. "It's not urgent, it's the opposite of urgent... but still powerful..." She looked up, suddenly realizing. "It's—"

"It's the same feeling you've been getting all along," Kuroneko confirmed. "The feeling of being watched, of something waiting for you to respond—it's this." She waved her arms. "The whole purpose of this entire area is to preserve what is gone until someone comes along to bring it back." Kuroneko's reflective eyes, all that Valerie could see of her in this darkness, locked onto her own. "Which is why I decided to bring you here today: Silri was right about one thing."

"What do you mean?"

"She was programmed to hunt down Adrian, but she didn't have the ability to do it herself, so she set a trap to lure someone who could help her. You heard her: you were one of her top choices in that regard. And if you've been sensing the aura of this place ever since Adrian died, then she was right to target you. She knew, that by leading her to the spot or through torturing you, she would get to Adrian."

"I still don't understand," Valerie said.

Kuroneko rolled her eyes. "Yes you do, Valerie. You're smarter than that, however naive you are. You just don't want to admit it." Before Valerie could say anything else, the Counter Guardian cut her off. "Here—let me show you." She reached for what Valerie presumed was the handle of the door and looked at the healer sidelong. "You might want to shield your eyes."

Valerie could suddenly see the door as though it were outlined in blinding white fire, and turned her head. The hallway was suddenly illuminated as brightly as high noon—brighter, it seemed after the blanket of darkness they had just come from. When she felt she could look at the lightened hallway without pain, the healer cautiously turned around to see the source of the light.

What she saw was astounding, terrifying, and beautiful all at once.

The room was circular and quite large. The blinding illumination had no discernable source, but seemed to emanate from every surface, banishing every shadow. Gold filigree was inlaid to the walls and ceiling in patterns and languages from every era in history, adding their sparkle to the overall brilliance of the room. In the center of the room was an odd array of crystals, also with gold decorating their bases. Five of them that were about a foot in diameter and came up to waist-height surrounded a much larger crystal in perfectly even spacing. The larger crystal was jagged and translucent as opposed to smooth and clear like the others. It was also easily five feet wide and nearly touched the domed ceiling at its point.

Though she knew what was coming beforehand, Valerie still froze in place when she approached the largest crystal and peered inside.

Though the outside of the crystal was frosted and translucent, the inside looked like nothing at all, and it looked as if Adrian were merely resting upright on a cushion of light. There were no wounds or even visible scars adorning his body, and he wore a trenchcoat Valerie had never seen before—purest white with gold lining, just like the room—that gave him an almost angelic glow.

He was not breathing. His ears and tail were perfectly still, embedded in the airless crystal with the rest of him. His eyes were closed.

Valerie tore herself away from the image, suddenly realizing that there were tears running down her cheeks. It was a moment before she realized that Kuroneko was talking.

"...directly under the Pillar of Knowledge, which is probably how he wound up here. When the Library rebuilt itself after the fight, it probably moved Adrian's body here to protect it while it healed."

"But he's dead," Valerie whispered. There was no possible doubt of it, not anymore. "How can he heal if he's dead?"

Kuroneko paused. "That's what I've been trying to find out," she said quietly. "Adrian was an immortal, but it's possible to kill him if he got injured enough.. He may have an accelerated healing rate, but none of that applies after death. And yet, here he is."

The empath glanced back at the stasis crystal, then looked away again. Beautiful as it was, she had no desire to look upon the preserved body of her close friend. "Then how did this happen?" she asked shakily. "No one could find even a trace of him when we got back to the Library."

"I think it's because of his status as Librarian. Adrian wasn't like the other Counter Guardians—the Librarian is responsible for all of the infiinte knowledge in the Library Arcanium and are bonded to the Library in ways I don't think anyone else could understand." Kuroneko flicked her eyes back to the crystal that held Adrian's body. "The Library rebuilt itself after that battle with Willowe... and no matter how small, pieces of Adrian's body must have remained in it. So when the Libray started restoring things, I think it knew Adrian was still there, and moved him to this room to hide him."

"But it's still only his body, Kuroneko. There's no life whatsoever inside that pillar."

"I know..." the Counter Guardian said quietly. "That's why I need your help. You and I are going to find Adrian's soul and reunite it with his body."

Valerie's eyes widened. "His... soul?"

Kuroneko simply nodded, staring intently at the crystal pillar.

The healer furrowed her brow in thought. The actual nature of a soul differed from universe to universe, and that wasn't even to say that the inhabitants of those universes were even correct in their assumptions; the people of her own world certainly weren't. Of course, Adrian had never professed a belief in any of the thousands of versions of heaven or hell, so that was moot point as well.

"How?" she finally asked.

The Counter Guardian smiled softly. I was right about her... "I just told you: you have the ability to find him."

Valerie rolled her eyes. "People call me an angel, but that doesn't mean literally. I can't just stroll up to whatever afterlife he's thought up for himself and ask for his soul back."

Kuroneko smirked again, like she knew a secret. "Counter Guardians can traverse places like that, but as it happens, it's not necessary—Adrian's soul is still on this plane of existence."

There was a long pause as the empath processed that one. "...What?"

"All Counter Guardians have a ultimate move," Kuroneko explained, folding her arms across her chest. "It may be a Reality Marble or something else, but this ultimate move always requires use of their soul in some manner. A Reality Marble, like the one Adrian had, means the soul literally becomes the Reality surrounding the Marble's occupants." She looked at Valerie sidelong. "Meaning he was technically 'soulless' while fighting in it."

"So if his body was destroyed before the Reality Marble..." Valerie mused aloud, "then his soul would have no place to reattach to." She looked up. "But if that's the case, wouldn't he have just died completely?"

Kuroneko hook her head. "No, because even without a soul, the body is still continues to live and breathe, even if most people are just puppets in that state. So Adrian's body died, but if his soul was detached at the time, then it's probably still wandering this plane of existence. Thus, it would be possible to find it and put it back where it belongs."

"But how do we even know if that's really what happened?" Valerie asked.

"It's the only explanation I can think of for the Library to have protected his body like this," the cat-girl replied.

There was another long silence. "And if we're wrong..." Valerie began hesitantly.

Kuroneko sighed. "And you've finally stumbled upon my reason for keeping all of this quiet," she said softly. She fixed the healer with a look. "Adrian's death sent the Society and the entire Library reeling. We can't give them false hope, Valerie. We can't."

"And Tash," the empath whispered. "She's only just recovered from his loss. Losing him again would destroy her."

The Counter Guardian nodded. "So are you in?"

Valerie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. This right here was exactly what she had been sensing, what she had been searching for all along. Kuroneko was right—her abilities as an empath aside, if she had been sensing Adrian's soulless body from so far away, then it was almost definite that she would be able to find his soul... if his soul could be found.

False hope, huh? she thought to herself. Probably worse for me, because not only do I now know, but I'm the one actually looking for it.

Deep in her mind, she felt a presence uncurl itself to offer her reassurance and support. Ari, of course, had been listening all along... but then again, Ari believed in every venture that Valerie put her mind to, and supported her no matter what. What Ari was to Valerie, Adrian was to the Society—the sword-arm and protector of something he truly believed in, and quickly came to love. And she knew, from the very beginning, that if there was any possible way to fix this, any possible way she could help... she would do it without a moment's hesitation.

She looked at the Counter Guardian. "I'm in."


Hours later, Valerie stood in front of the monitor that was running the search pattern she had programmed into it so many months ago. It was currently scanning the Final Fantasy fandoms in sequence, and then it beeped, the words 'NO MATCHES FOUND' flashing across the screen like they had hundreds, if not thousands of times before. Before she realized what she was doing, she let out a sigh and started to reset the search...

Then she caught herself and chuckled, because now she knew better: the reason she had never been able to find Adrian, no matter where she searched, was because he was not in a fandom at all. All along he had been right under her nose, in a part of the library that defied all known search engines and mapping tools. She could have searched her entire life and never found him.

But now I am going to find him, she thought to herself. And she believed it—deep in her core, she knew it with a hundred-precent certainty. Even if I don't know how or when or where, it will happen.

With a small smile, the healer reached to the controls to shut down the search engine... only to jerk her hand back as it beeped again suddenly—a different beep than the so many she had heard before. Her hazel eyes rose up to the screen and widened at the words she saw there...



I am selfish. I am wrong. 
I am right! I swear I'm right! 
I swear, I knew it all along. 
And I am flawed, 
But I am cleaning up so well. 
I am seeing in me now 
The things you swore you saw yourself."
—Dasnboard Confessional, "Vindicated"

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