Sunday, August 11, 2013

Insert Jaw-Dropping Reveal Here (part 4 of 5)

"It gains the more it gives,
And then it rises with the fall.
So hand me that remote.

Can't you see that all that stuff's a sideshow?

Such boundless pleasure
We've no time for later. Now you

Can't await your own arrival. You've

Twenty seconds to comply...

—Frou Frou, "Let Go"


Valerie awoke from her trance with a shuddering gasp, head reeling, as though someone had thrown cold water over her face. It took her a brief moment to remember where she was, but as soon as she re-oriented herself, Ari appeared before her, existing as a completely solid presence for the first time in months.

"It can't be..." the healer whispered, almost to herself. "It was me all along?"

The obvious you were missing, Ari said softly, refusing to meet her eyes. Everyone had symptoms from playing host to a piece of Adrian's soul—Aster lost her mind. Michael lost his Darkness. Tash thought about him constantly, dreamed about him, even started acting like him. You had visions. She paused. You could empathicly feel Adrian no matter where you went, and so you simply weren't capable of believing he was dead when all your senses told you otherwise. The visions were generated so that your conscious mind could access what you instinctually already knew.

"And the empathy itself," Valerie muttered. "Aster drew a piece to herself because she had no soul of her own. Michael and Tash drew theirs because they were so close to him. But I'm an empath—tailor-made to support the extra weight on my mind!" She drew her knees up, fighting tears. "How could I have missed this? How could I have been so stupid?" She punctuated the statement with a sharp punch to the bedding beneath her.

Ari sidled up next to her, accompanying the gesture with a mental hug. Not stupid, Chosen. Merely possessed of an overdeveloped sense of humility. The little dragon vanished and reappeared atop Valerie's knees, looking her right in the face. But the puzzle is nearly solved now.

The healer looked at the clock. It was already the following morning. She eyed her feet in annoyance. "I slept in my shoes..."

Ari chuckled. That you did.

Valerie rolled her eyes and sighed. Screw this, I'm wearing flip-flops today, and kicked off the chafing sneakers. Aloud, she asked. "You wouldn't happen to know where Danielle is, would you?"

I can go get her if you want.

"Thanks. Actually," she amended, "tell her to find Kuroneko and meet me here in an hour."

Why the hour?

Valerie chuckled. In case you hadn't noticed, my clothes are all rumpled, and I could do with a shower. Besides, I need to think of how I'm gonna make this work.

Ari hesitated a split-second, then nodded. Of course.

And the empath was left alone with her thoughts.


Fifty minutes later, Valerie answered a knock on the door to her quarters, still chewing the last mouthful of pancake (courtesy of the brilliant Society chef). It was Danielle and Kuroneko. Valerie glanced at the clock on the nightstand. "I said an hour."

"Don't look at me," Danielle protested. "Miss Know-It-All over here wanted to find out what you were on about."

"Oh, and I'm sure you didn't," Valerie said with a smirk. "But since you're here already, you might as well come in. I'm just cleaning up breakfast."

The two followed the healer in and sat on the bed; Valerie sat on the armchair facing them. "So what's this about?" Kuroneko asked.

Valerie placed her hands in front of her as if she were holding an invisible ball and closed her eyes in concentration. For a moment, nothing happened. Then Danielle's eyes widened as she saw the violet soul energy forming in her friend's hands.

Kuroneko, of course, saw nothing, but she could guess what Danielle was looking at. In fact, she mentally kicked herself for not guessing it in the first place, but there would be time for that later. "Is it enough?" she asked Danielle quietly, so as not to break Valerie's concentration.

The redhead was already forming a mental picture in her mind of what she remembered Adrian's aura to look like, though picturing what it would look like without a body inside it took some stretching of the imagination. She bit her lip. "I'm... not sure..."

Kuroneko glared at her. "'Not sure'?"

"Hey," Danielle protested, throwing her hands up in defense, "it's a lot more complicated than I make it seem! That could fit in with the rest of it or it could not. The only way I'd know for sure is if I saw them all together. Actually," she amended, "the only way I'd know for sure is if they were all in Adrian, but as it is—"

"Guys," Valerie interrupted, eyes still shut but her voice sounding strained, "if that's the case, can we just get everyone together in the white room?"

Kuroneko frowned. "What, you mean do it now?" she asked. "We still don't know if we have all the pieces yet, much less how this whole thing's going to work."

"Or if we'll get more than one shot at it," Danielle added.

"This thing in my hands has been leading me on this search from the very beginning," Valerie said softly. "I think it's telling me now that it's time to go for it. Besides, I don't know if I can pull it out like this more than once."


Souls, though incredibly delicate things, are also quite stable in their composition. Because eternal change is integral to its makeup, it tends to regard attacks from external sources as more of that change, and thus adapts and evolves. Much like a person's subconscious mind will include a bell sound in a dream in order to avoid waking up to an alarm clock, a person's soul is often known to take hostile external forces and internalize them in order to maintain balance.

Thus, from the point of view of a soul, there are no external sources. All change comes from within.

Valerie entered the white room feeling as though she had life and death in her hands... and, in a sense, she did. As an empath, her soul took that internalization mechanism to its extreme, to the point where, were she not trained, she would be unable to tell the difference between her own soul and the piece of Adrian's soul in her hands. As a healer, she had the ability to sense the energy fluctuations and ripples within the body, which are, in fact, a perfect mirror of the energy fluctuations within the soul. She could find the places where currents sought to continue but could not, and connect all of the pieces together into a seamless whole.

Kuroneko was right. Silri was right. She was uniquely suited to this task and had been destined for it from the beginning.

It wasn't long before Danielle arrived as well, Tash, Michael, Aster, and Phoenixia in tow. Michael and Tash shifted nervously under the room's brilliant glow, though the fae simply looked bewildered, in complete awe of her surroundings.

"The Pillar of Knowledge..." Tash whispered. "So this is where—" She cut off with a gasp as she caught sight of the central crystal structure and the achingly familiar silhouette contained inside. Unconsciously, she took a step towards it.

Michael touched his sister's shoulder. "Leave it, Aneki," he said gently.

Tash visibly shuddered with more pent-up emotion than Valerie would care to put names to, but nodded and stepped back.

Highly aware of everyone's eyes on her, Valerie swallowed, started towards the nearest pillar... and stopped. Furrowing her brow in confusion, she looked around the room, particularly at the five seemingly identical pillars—waist-high, about a foot in diameter, and composed entirely out of what looked like clear crystal, almost as though they had been grown out of the floor. Apart from natural variations, there was really nothing to distinguish one from the other.

Instinct, the empath thought to herself. It's all instinct from here.

So without really paying attention to where she was going, she walked. And then, without any prompting, she stopped, and looked up again. She was on the other side of the room, with the door (though it was difficult to remember where it was when it was closed) completely blocked from her vision by the crystal structure in the center.

You knew this was coming, right?

You already know what you're looking for.

How much of your identity is wrapped up in your purpose?

You're a smart girl. Think on it.

What's the answer, Valerie? Tell me!

"This," she said in the barest of whispers, more to herself than anything. "This is the answer."

Really? Are you a hundred percent on that?

Valerie squeezed her eyes shut, lifted her hands, and released the energy.

A soft, clear sound, like the hum of running electricity, rose in the air, and she opened her eyes. The piece of Adrian's soul she had held in her hands was gone, but the pillar she had chosen had begun to glow a pure, bright white.

"This... This is it!" she said, suddenly excited. She looked around at the others. "These pillars are here for a reason; they must be to channel the energy back into his body and put all the pieces back together!"

The others glanced around at each other. "But how..." Michael began.

"Tash," Valerie said, striding over to the tall Leader and taking her arm. "Which of the remaining pillars draws you to it? Which is the one that catches your attention most?"

Confused but compliant, Tash glanced between the two nearest pillars, and eventually chose the one on the left, which was nearest to Valerie's white one. Michael, quick on the uptake, immediately started walking towards the pillar opposite her, and Aster shrugged and took the one between the two Leaders.

"Okay," Valerie said to the blonde, "This is going to be the hard part, because I only know how I can do it, not how you can do it... but you need to separate Adrian's soul from your own."

"How the hell do I—right..." she caught herself. "Umm..."

"Just go through meditation exercises until you find something that feels right for it," Danielle suggested from the sidelines. "I'll try and let you know when you're getting it right."

Tash turned nervously towards the pillar and started to imitate Valerie's prior position—with her hands held in front of her as though she was holding an invisible ball—but that felt somehow redundant to her, so instead she aimed herself at the pillar, positioned her hands as though she was warming them near a fire, and bowed her head. Through the strands of long blonde hair that fell into her face, she took one last look at the silhouette encased inside the crystal structure, and closed her eyes.

Tash thought of Adrian and every waking moment they had spent together, from the day they met to that last horrible moment when she should have kissed him and oh gods, why didn't I give him one last kiss? The sex, the discovery, the haunting nightmares, the little thrill that lanced through her every time he told her she was beautiful—and meant it. It all ran through her mind, faster and faster: every moment that was, and every moment that could have been, should have been, could still be if I can just get this right

A tendril of violet energy curled out from somewhere inside her hands like a tiny flame.

"That's it!" Danielle said excitedly. "Whatever you're doing, keep doing it!"

So she did. With renewed energy and determination, Natasha Marquand brought her love to life in her mind and colored him lovingly with everything she knew: his traits, his quirks, his likes, his dislikes, his habits, his personality, everything she loved to pieces about him and even his flaws but she loved them too. And if Adrian the Librarian thought she was going to just lay back and let him die, then boy did he have another thing coming—

Another sound rose, different from the first one. She opened her eyes.

There was nothing in her hands, though she felt curiously lightheaded... but the pillar before her was pulsing a brilliant crimson, like a heartbeat.

"It's red," Tash said worriedly. She glanced at Valerie. "Is that bad?"

"No..." the healer whispered, eyes wide with wonder. "No, it's you!" Her face split open in an ecstatic grin. "It's the part of Adrian that's comprised of nothing but you!"

The blonde looked at the pillar, then back to Valerie. "You can tell what it's thinking?"

"Of course not. Souls don't think, they feel."

Across the room, Michael had his hands against either side of his own pillar, already more than halfway there. When a third hum of a different tone than the others could be heard, he opened his eyes to see his pillar nearly vibrating with a swirling, dark green color. "God-damn, that's one hell of a rush!" He was breathing a little heavily, but grinning.

Valerie's grin grew even wider, and she turned toward Aster. "Ready for your turn?"

"Actually, Valerie-chan," said Aster, raising her hand in the air as if this were a classroom, "I have a question."

Everyone looked at the fae.

"If we're supposed to give Adrian-kun the pieces of his soul back," Aster said, "and these pillars are here to help us do that, then why are there five pillars when there are only four of us?" This was possibly the most lucid statement anyone had ever heard the girl make.

A long silence passed, during which everyone looked at everyone else, but especially Valerie.

Valerie looked at Kuroneko.

Kuroneko looked around at the five pillars—three glowing, two still clear—and then back at Valerie, who was standing near Aster. "If this is a puzzle," she said slowly, almost to herself, "then that doesn't necessarily mean we have to complete it all at once."

Michael frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Just look at Valerie," she said, gesturing to the ashen-faced healer. "She put her piece in and left it alone a good twenty minutes ago while she helped you and Tash put in yours, but her pillar is shining just as brightly as when she left it. If these things don't require constant attention or ritual mumbo-jumbo to keep them in place, then that gives us time to find what ought to be the last piece."

The collective sigh of relief that was released could have uprooted a forest.

"But you searched the entire Library," Phoenixia said, speaking for the first time. "We're a completely isolated area. Trying to search through anywhere else in the multiverse would be worse than a needle in a haystack. It'd be like... like looking for a specific grain of sand at a beach. At all the beaches in the world!"

"I did start my search engine up again..." Valerie said, running a hand through her hair fitfully. "Just when I think I'm close to the answer..."

"You could just ask him, kyaa~"

They turned to see the blue-haired fae pointing at the crystal structure in the center of the room. Valerie and Michael tried not to wince at the sheer insensitivity of her statement, though Tash bore no such inhibitions.

"Asuta-chan..." Danielle began in Japanese, though she wasn't entirely sure what to say...

"Ie!" Aster said, stomping her foot in impatience. "Valerie-chan talked to him before! In my head! That's how she found the pieces inside Michael-kun and Tash-san! So why can't she do it again?"

The fae stared at Valerie, as though daring her to come up with an answer. And, surprisingly enough... she didn't have one.

Valerie, her face curiously expressionless, approached the giant central crystal and laid a hand on its side. Was it her imagination, or was it warmer than it was the last time she was here? "I thought you didn't remember what happened inside your head that day," she said sardonically, turning towards the fae.

Aster smiled. "You asked what happened to me, kyaa, not what happened to you."

The healer cracked a small smile, though whether that was from humor or a wince, even she didn't know. She removed her hand from the crystal—the touch of it left her hand tingling—and walked over toward her own still-glowing pillar. It was as white as white could be, but shone in such a gentle, unassuming way that it didn't hurt to watch it.

If the red one is everything about Adrian that is Tash, she thought, and the green one is everything about him that's Michael, then this one is everything about him that's... me. At first the thought was so ludicrous that she almost dismissed it as impossible, except... except that was that kind of overactive modesty that almost caused her to miss a critical piece of this puzzle.

And she would not, could not, screw up again.

She touched the pillar—it was warm too, just like the crystal—and closed her eyes.

Dreamland awaited.


Valerie stopped moving. It almost looked like she wasn't breathing, but Kuroneko got as close as she could without disturbing the healer, and noted the incredibly slow swell and fall of her stomach—another interesting thing about her, the catgirl noted. The girl was clearly no athlete, and yet she breathed as though she were, from the stomach instead of the chest to maximize lung capacity.

"She's breathing," Kuroneko informed the others. "I think she's in another trance."

"She fell down when she did it to me," Michael muttered, watching the healer closely.

"Maybe she's getting the hang of it better," said Danielle.

Kuroneko shrugged. "Whatever it is, it seriously doesn't look like these soul pieces or whatever need to be attended, so we might as well finish collecting what we have." She turned to Aster, who simply looked blank. Kuroneko realized that the fae might not know how to remove her piece from her body, since she had no experience with a soul of her own. "Do you need help, or..."

"No, kyaa~" Aster said softly. "I can do it."

She held one hand over the crystal, frowned, and then switched over to fae form and held both hands before her as though she was casting a spell. A fourth hum rose in the air, and her chosen pillar began to glow a deep, brilliant blue...


"So... all of these things have been a dream, then?"

"They're whatever you want them to be," the Librarian replied. "Though, for the sake of semantics, 'dream' would probably be one of the more accurate terms to use. Do you want them to be dreams?"

"Not really. That would mean it's not real, that you're not real."

He smiled at her. "You of all people should know better than to make judgment calls on what's real and what's not. Look at Ari, for example. She's only real to you, but through you she becomes real to everyone else."

She followed him with her eyes as he began circling around her. "Ari's my muse. That's how the partnership works."

Adrian smiled, once again seeming unlike his real self. "You and I both know she's not really a muse."

The healer remained expressionless. "Actually, Adrian doesn't know that."

"Indeed. So who am I? You never really answered that last time..." The circling continued and as she followed him, she realized that unlike the other 'dreams', they weren't in the Library. They were in nothing but an expanse of black.

She was growing tired of questions like these, but since the obvious was what she was missing, the obvious was what she stated. "You're not Adrian."

"Correct," he said lightly. "Who else am I not?"

Valerie blinked. "Excuse me?"

"There is another person whom I could be, but am not." At her baffled expression, he chuckled in a rather familiar way. "Come now, don't tell me you've forgetten already? It's only been four days..."

If asked, she wouldn't have been able to tell whether the change happened suddenly or if she had just noticed that he'd been different all along. But the man before her had light brown hair instead of white, pale pink eyes instead of violet, and no cat features whatsoever.

"You..." she whispered, astonished. "But... why?"

He chuckled again, that infuriating snicker that never quite seemed sincere. "I repeat: why not?"


Tash looked around—at the shining white walls of the domed room, at the golden designs adorning them, at the glowing red waist-high pillar in front of her, at the confused and slightly anxious faces of her friends in their positions around her—anywhere and everywhere but the mammoth crystal structure at the center of the room. Michael had looked into it once, and immediately reaffirmed Valerie's order that Tash do anything but. Of course, the first thing she wanted to do after he said that was look inside—just seeing the vague, person-shaped silhouette was maddening—but she restrained herself, and continued to restrain herself.

It had been nearly an hour since Valerie had woken from her trance and left the room, but she had ordered them all to wait here for her, and wait they would.


He heard her coming long before he saw her—she wasn't exactly silent as she clamored up the steep knoll to his little patch of scenery. Silly girl. There was a small game trail of roots and rocks on the other side of the hill that was much easier to climb if she took the time to look around for it, but whatever.

When she finally arrived within view, he grinned at her and gestured to the spot next to him where his coat was laid out like a picnic blanket. "Sit down, Valerie" he said cheerfully. "You're so tired, you looked like a slinkey bouncing uphill back there!"

The healer simply glared at him. "I need to look inside your mind."

His grin widened. "Now why should I allow that?"

"Because doing so might help me to resurrect someone I care very deeply for? Because it would heal the scars Willowe and Runoa have left on my closest friends? Because said resurrectee would likely go on to save billions of lives in his lifetime?"


She had remained in her trance for a surprisingly short time, and when she woke, her eyes were wide and her mind was racing. Tash recalled that it looked like she was about to say something, when she got that peculiar look on her face that the Leader recognized as a sign of Ari talking to her in her mind. The healer closed her mouth, thought a moment, then opened it again.

"Tash," she had asked slowly, "Can I borrow that pendant?"

She was pointing to the broken Hoshikuzu charm, which Tash kept strung around her neck, right next to her own Nephthys.

The Librarian didn't hesitate. She removed the ribbon from around her neck, picked the knot loose, and slid the crystal pendant off the string. In her hand, she gave it a final squeeze before handing it to the healer. Valerie took it with a nod, opened a plothole right then and there, and left, promising to return soon.

Where on earth is she? Tash thought impatiently. Unconsciously, she rubbed her neck. She had worn Hoshikuzu for her entire career as Librarian, and felt strange having it off. Ra, I wish people would tell me things instead of just running off! It wasn't that she didn't trust the healer; in fact, the opposite was true. But her patience was running thin, and it was getting harder and harder not to look at that damned crystal...

Just then, the doors opened, and Valerie stepped through.


"Everyone dies, Valerie."

"Except you know full-well that he didn't really die, don't you? You knew all along what happened to him."

He put on a childish grin, just to annoy her. "Ooh, I love this game! I know that you know that I know that you know—"

"Will you knock it off!" she shouted.

He waved a hand at her dismissively. "Fine, spoil my fun. As it happens, I'm perfectly willing to give you what you want, so there's no need to be hostile."

"Why shouldn't I be hostile," she snarled—or at least, he would have called it snarling, were her face even capable of such an expression, "when you knew all along what I was looking for and didn't tell me?"

"Oh, come now. You really think I knew from the very beginning? I'm flattered, but you give me too much credit." He leaned back and gazed at the cloudless sky thoughtfully. "Sure, I had dreams, but that's just because of my position. It wasn't until after you found me that I started wondering: how? How did you find me? Because that search engine wasn't just for Adrian's biological signature, wasn't it? You're too smart to leave that out."

Valerie looked at him for a moment, then nodded. "It was for his soul-resonance too. The exact combination of physical and spiritual that would lead to him and only him."

"And yet I'm not him."

"No. You're not."


"I have the last piece," Valerie said softly.

Before anyone had a chance to ask how or when, she walked around to the back of the crystal structure and planted herself directly before the remaining pillar between the white one and Micheal's green one, the only one that was left darkened. In the silence that no one dared to break, Valerie removed the broken Hoshikuzu pendant from her pocket and held it tightly to her chest, eyes closed. After a moment, a bright violet escaped her closed fingers, and she placed the glowing pendant almost reverently on the top of the remaining pillar. The light spread to engulf the pillar, and was quickly absorbed by it; the once-dark column of clear crystal was now glowing a gentle rosey yellow.

On some unspoken command, Tash, Aster, Michael, and Valerie all moved in unison to their respective pillars, while Kuroneko ushered the remaining agents back out into the shadowy hallway. She knew instinctively that operations such as this had to be precise, and spectators would just be unnecessary variables in a scientific miracle.


"Listen," he said hesitantly. It was the first and possibly the only time she'd seen him act with anything less than total confidence. "Would you... sit here with me a while? Just... sit here?" He looked about to say something else, but decided against it.

Valerie shook her head. "There are people depending on me to find that piece and get back. I can't just take a—"

"The person depending on you is dead," Zero interrupted, back to his sardonic self, "I think he can wait half an hour for you to recharge your batteries. Wouldn't want you to screw up at some crucial moment or something." He smirked at her.

She smirked back at him. "Thanks so much for skyrocketing my confidence." But she sat down anyway; she was tired, like he thought, and his spread trenchcoat was big enough for two.

After a moment, he spoke again. "So... what do you feel?"

She sat up. "Excuse me?"

"About me," he clarified. "I gotta admit: I'm curious."

Is he hitting on me? she thought incredulously. Then she realized with a start that he was talking about empathy. "Oh! Well, nothing, really. I didn't know you wanted me to—"

"You wanna know what I get from you, just from instinct alone?" he asked her. Without waiting for an answer, he continued. "It's not that hard to figure out, really. Empathy means you avoid place with a high concentration of emotion in order to avoid getting overwhelmed, and when treating patients, you drain off their negative emotions and take them into yourself to be grounded out later. About the only thing you don't do is naturally recharge yourself on happiness. I don't think you've ever let yourself get a little giddy off positive emotions, have you?

"You treat your empathy as a job, a necessity," he said softly. "But it's not. It's a part of you."


The door clicked shut and the lights immediately dimmed, save for the five colored pillars surrounding the crystal structure in the center. Following an impulse from somewhere deep within her, Valerie raised her right hand and held it directly over the top of her pillar. Her eyes widened as she felt a small surge of what felt like lightning travel down her arm and into the crystal, and the white light within it began to glow many times brighter, lighting up the room like a brilliantly glowing star. A small, barely audible noise, like the hum of electricity, rose in the air.

One by one, Michael, Aster, and finally Tash followed her lead. Red, blue, and green glows grew brighter and brighter, until their colors blended and mixed until color and light were all there was—and yet none of them were blinded. Each of stared into the storm of brilliance in awe; none of them could see the others in the room, or even their own hands which seemed lock in place above the five pillars, but they could feel each others' minds, blending and overlapping and finally centralizing over the crystal along with the colors.

Then, without any prompting at all, the remaining pillar, the one with the broken Hoshikuzu pendant on top, began to shine like the rest, adding its rose-tinted yellow to the storm like sunshine to a rainbow.

Valerie smiled.


Valerie was stunned to silence.

"You're trapping yourself in this bizarre cycle, Valerie," Zero continued. "I've seen it—watching it right now, in fact! It's a beautiful day and I'm perfectly content right now, but you won't let yourself unwind with me. You keep trying to be this big guardian and protector, like you have to be larger than life in order to protect everyone you love. But that's not you at all. You're not a fighter, you're a healer, someone who is right there with the people... but you can't do that if you don't put yourself completely on their level, and feel what they feel in its fullness, the downs and the ups.

"You're not embracing your gifts like you should."

The empath scowled nervously. "Y-you don't know anything... And how the hell have you been watching me?"

He tapped his temple knowingly. "Memories, partially. The rest I could just infer. Not that hard when you're programmed to read people instantaneously and exploit their weaknesses." He leaned back down, folding his arms behind his head and looking back up at the sky. "For example, do you let your self open up when you feel others having sex? Or partying? Or are happy and excited, in ways beyond things like getting a gift or a hug? You probably don't."

"What do you care!"

This time he actually sat up and looked at her in a rare moment of sincerity. "What do I care? Geez, Valerie, it's those little moments of emotional fulfillment that keep us sane! The fact that you can go without all of that while still taking on whatever negativity you find makes me both respect and fear you. And, in all honesty, kind of fear for you. I mean, I really have to wonder why you deny such a basic part of yourself. Is it ethics? Or just some deep-set form of self-deprecation?"

Her silence was all the answer he needed.


There were five hums now, all different tones that should have been discordant, but instead blended together in a harmony that made the colors and swirling lights pulse and resonate wildly. It was a sound like distant thunder, continually rolling in but never quite reaching, and they knew it was time.

As one, each of the four (or was it five?) people present rebuilt Adrian in their minds. Together they remembered a man who had learned the hard way that being a hero means that your life is not your own; who, despite all the evil he's fought and seen and committed, remained convinced that life is worth living and that innocence should be protected. He's been called a god by some and a demon by more, but at the end of the day he was just a person—just a boy, with dreams and regrets like anyone else, who happened to have existed for a hundred lifetimes but had only just begun to actually live.

And goddammit, he deserved more than this.

Fueled by the magic, their minds and memories collided and met, and along the way something fused.

Bad day, Jen...

I thought I'd feel lighter, but I can't shake this feeling...

Adrian-kun will be mad at me...

You don't feel a thing, do you?

It's like he's still there, closer than ever...

Say something, damn you! Why won't you say anything?

I can pretend for a while longer, can't I?

So that's how a hero fights...

In a few ticking seconds that lasted eons, everything was laid bare and exposed for anyone who cared to look. All the pain, sadness, and fear, all the joy and all the love. All the accomplishments and regrets, all the beliefs and dreams. All the heroic efforts, and all the moments of cowardice, all mixed in a jumble of memories.

And then, like a miracle from the past...

Huh... Didn't think my soul was so fragile...


"I'm not going to the Library," he said softly, "but there's a way you can take my piece back with you. Lemme see that pendant." He pointed to the broken Hoshikuzu pendant poking out of Valerie's front pocket.

Valerie tugged the crystal out and laid it in her hand. Back in the white room, when she realized who she needed to find, she knew immediately that he would refuse to return to the Library with her, so Ari had suggested a clever alternative: Hoshikuzu. Having been with Adrian for so many years, it was close enough to him to actually recognize his soul and facilitate a transfer—particularly if the recipient of that transfer was an empath.

Tailor-made to support the extra weight, Valerie thought to herself as she handed the pendant over. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" she asked.

He felt around the crystal part of the pendant until he found a sharp edge, then used it to make a shallow slash in each of his palms. "Trust me," he said, "I know a few things about souls." With a deep breath in, he closed his eyes and enclosed the pendant entirely in his cupped hands.

When he breathed out, a brilliant violet light, so familiar to Valerie now, could be seen escaping his fingers. It lasted only a moment before the glow died down. When he uncupped his hands and handed the pendant back, the crystal seemed clearer, and a jolt ran up the healer's arm when she took it.

"Thank you," she said.

He simply laid back down and waved a hand dismissively. The cut on his palm was already closing. "Let me know how it goes!" he said cheerily.

Valerie smiled, shook her head, and turned for home.


As though led by a conductor, everything began to spiral around one central point in an insane, chaotic dance, faster and faster. Time sped up again, and it and noise and light all melded into one focal point of blinding symphonic light. The agents were forced to shield their eyes as everything came to a head in a crescendo of color and a blaze of sound.

The sudden silence that abruptly followed was, if possible, even more deafening.

The crystal in the center, previously ablaze with color and light, suddenly became clear as air. Like a sped-up film of melting ice, the giant structure melted into the floor as though it simply ceased to exist. Inch by inch, The preserved body trapped inside was released, held upright as though resting on a cushion of light. When the crystal was gone, the light slowly dissipated, gently depositing the young man on his feet.

His trenchcoat fluttered.

One of his ears twitched.

Adrian the Librarian opened his eyes.

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