Sunday, September 1, 2013

Insert Irrevocable Loss Here

Here is the paradise of betrayal at the end of a wandering heart
Searching for light, I wish my words of prayer reach you

The captured wings head for the far sky
I want to believe: we are not alone

-Paradise Lost (Ga-Rei -Zero- OP)

-

Aster spent the next week in a sort of "degenerate" form. Chrys had entered her room to find a week, animal-looking figure, looking like it was made of white smoke and with the appearance of being about to vanish anytime.

Now being reduced to being able to think nothing but simple, instinctual thoughts, Aster had regressed into a smaller form in order to heal herself, physically and mentally. Of course, it wasn't foolproof – had Runoa probed in any more, Aster could have died.

Aster, in that form, ended up being somewhat "clingy" (just listlessly hanging on) to Tash, Adrian, Chrys, and Akai. It made Adrian somewhat sad.

It eventually got worse when Aster finally returned to normal – the emphasis on normal. The strange part was how normal she was acting.

It wasn't a fa├žade. After her recovery, Aster was back to normal in a margin of two days. One would say she was putting up an emotional barrier, or was on her way to going insane again.

Wrong.

The truth (as diagnosed by Valerie) was that without Adrian's soul piece to leech off of (or drive her insane), Aster had easily put back the conditions of her personality shell. Not having a true personality herself, it was more along the lines of a computer suffering from a virus and restarting its normal processes again.

The only clue she'd been mind-raped at all was that whenever the subject was brought up, she asked not to talk about it.

Adrian was spending an unusually long time with Aster now. At least, longer than before he died. Perhaps it had to do with that other Aster; perhaps it was because she'd carried around a fifth of his freaking soul. Aster had meanwhile taken to parading a flag around stating "I KNEW IT" (about her knowing Adrian wasn't dead forever).

While carrying around Adrian's soul piece, however, Aster had at least shown a little affection towards Aramayis and Kuroneko. Unfortunately, now this had turned to absolute hatred (not even tsundere-hatred) and she wasn't taking nearly as well to them as she used to.

"Adrian-kun is back. The Counter Guardians are not needed here." She clubbed her meter stick on both of their heads, then turned to Saitou, Archer, and Vergil. "I'm only letting you stay because you're from games. Particularly Archer-kun." (Poor Archer was subjected to glomps by Aster.)

While things didn't quite look positive for Aster, at least they didn't look negative either, and the Society seemed content with finally getting her back to normal for once...

...until that day...

-

Aster was contentedly reading some of the manga she'd missed out on, when suddenly she screamed and doubled over in pain.

She was sprawled on the floor, and there were a ton of people hanging over...

"...they're...taking something out..." She indeed felt something was getting pulled out of her.

"Get back."

Someone was pushing the crowds away. It was Kuroneko, who immediately turned Aster's body over.

"What does it feel like?"

"...something... something's getting taken out..."

"Taken out in a large chunk, or in small quantities and gradually?"

"It's... slow..."

"All right. Do me a favor and bring up some of your power. Any kind."

Aster tried... and it finally came out, but...

"It's hard... please stop it..."

Kuroneko pulled back. "Everyone. Go to some other room or something. I want an audience with Aster only."

Tash stepped up. "This is one of my Agents, and I demand - "

"You will be informed of what happened, but right now more people around her could speed up the extraction process and make it worse. I need as few people as possible."

Tash stood there for a few seconds, and finally nodded and left, taking Adrian with her. Soon, the whole main room was empty except for the two.

"Listen very closely," said Kuroneko.

-

With a bit of makeshift magic, Kuroneko got the process to slow down so Aster could at least talk coherently, and put a tracer in Aster. Whoever was performing the magic on Aster was doing a very sloppy job of it, as the tracer immediately pinpointed the source of the siphoning.

Somebody was siphoning away Aster's powers - and in order to do that, that someone needed access to her soul. Which meant... that her soul was, indeed, in existence.

Having more people around (especially ones who could use magic) would add input into the siphoning effect, causing her power to be drained away faster. If her power drained away, she would lose not only magic but also the personality shell her magic supplied. She'd be nothing more than a breathing body. Obviously Kuroneko had no time to waste and immediately loaded Aster onto transportation.

"Magic carpet is best for this kind of chase scene," she said. "It's fast, you don't spend much time driving, it flies, and it's easy to change direction. Plus, you can sit."

"Magic carpet?"

Kuroneko pulled it out and Aster saw exactly what Kuroneko meant by "magic carpet". It had two sink-in seats to establish comfort (and drink holders!), along with 3-D GPS that popped out.

"Yeah. Get in."

The two got in and Kuroneko started it. "This carpet's actually Adrian's, but I don't think he'd mind. Although he does complain that I use up the mileage..."

-

It was a long trip. Their target was constantly on the move, changing universes and running around, so Kuroneko ended up exasperatingly putting the carpet on autopilot to track the target (also because Kuroneko's driving abilities left a lot to be desired). Unfortunately, the autopilot tended to freak out every time the target moved significantly, making head-crunchingly sharp turns.

"You haven't said anything," said Kuroneko. "Do you hate me that much?"

"I..." said Aster.

"Well, I just want you to know, Aramayis and I are just here to help."

Aster nodded. Kuroneko could sense Aster losing her sense of self.

-

"Come on."

Kuroneko pulled on Aster's hand. Aster continued walking; she still had motor functions and a response to speech. She had stopped talking.

They continued following the trail. They were in a village of some sort; there were people walking around, talking about worshipping their new god. Kuroneko had a feeling about what this "new god" was.

Sure enough, when they reached the tracker signal, they saw a girl on a large throne, holding a glass orb filled with mist in one hand and wearing a four-clamp bracelet on her other wrist.

She was of medium stature, very young, with long light brown hair. She wore a plain white dress. Her face was halfway between kind and tsundere, a sort of pastiche of Makino Ruki from Digimon Tamers.

"So," she said. "You found me."

"It didn't take too long," said Kuroneko. "Your magic is very sloppy."

"I should have known. I'm not meant for magic." She looked at Aster. "Well, Miss Aster. I haven't seen you in three years. Last time I did, you were still in development."

"Let me guess," said Kuroneko. "You're a trashed failure of her Author."

"Not trashed, not a failure," said the girl with a wave of her hand. "I wasn't quite that bad, so she still found the virtue to complete the fic. I found a happy ending. I found love. Then she deleted the fic. My lover no longer remembered me. She tried to redeem me, but I was incorrigible... so I accepted my nature. I ran away with Jaya, the other Sue, but the poor girl died. I've been in pursuit for years, and she can't have done anything until now because until now, she's been too afraid to even touch me."

She smirked. "I need to regain my position of glory. Don't you think it's unfair that I've done all that work and it's all come to naught? So even if I get glory with no work now, it's hardly injustice."

"For a Sue, it may be a lot of work, but I'll bet you did nothing."

"After all I've gone through, you have no right to down-talk me," said the girl. "Once I gain glory, I can return to my lover, and he will remember me and the surname I have given him. The name Nina DeRicha means nothing to you now, but it will once I'm done with this job."

She laughed.

"Look. See this orb? This contains that girl's soul. And with it I am using it as an anchor to drag in her powers, which will enter these four bracelets here, also acting as anchors for them to enter my body. I'll be a goddess to this village that has never heard of some fae named Aster or a Greek goddess named Selene."

"A very intricate plan," said Kuroneko. "But you know what I'm here for. To get back what doesn't belong to you."

"And of course, I'm here to stop you." She projected a wall of ice, rushing at Kuroneko...

Kuroneko jumped up and avoided it, coming down and staring Nina straight in the eye. "I don't see your envisioned future going well."

But in her head, she was thinking fast: Nina is utilizing Aster's power; the only person who might match that would be...

And with a heavy heart, she said, "Aster, go fight her."

Aster no longer was able to make her own judgment; she was now reduced to a minion taking orders. Kuroneko was not above using Aster as a weapon when it was desperate, but she did feel pretty darned bad about it, and she at least felt better that Aster at least had personal loyalty (so she wouldn't go running around following anyone's orders at this point).

-

Kuroneko knew she didn't have much time before Nina's increasing power hit the halfway point and her power would be greater than Aster's remaining. She had to try the logic gambit -

She used her power to plow the three into the ground. Aster was not moving anymore; she was breathing, but only barely. In a manner of minutes, she would no longer have her power to live on as a crutch and her body systems would stop functioning - she'd be dead. And with her soul in someone else's possession, she'd never get a chance like Adrian did.

"Though she has the powers of one, Aster is not a goddess," said Kuroneko, "and neither will you ever be."

"Nonsense. One with the powers of the goddess is one."

"You can't violate casuality," said Kuroneko. "There is one thing a true goddess can do that no other thing can, and that is to delete existence. To permanently remove something from ever having been. It's one thing to destroy something and modify everyone's memories; it's another to remove it from the universe."

Nina frowned.

"What an insolent person. Well, I will prove it to you what I can do. Perhaps you should relish your last memories of even being a self."

And she raised her arms. White milky energy started to swarm around her hands...

And then the odd part started.

Nina was visibly struggling to keep the energy with her, and it was becoming obvious she was trying to extract more power from Aster. Such a feat would require most, if not all, of that power. But something was very wrong...

A large flash of light.

Nina's eyes were wide and her upper body was slightly bent back. She was shaking and breathing heavily. She looked like she was going to explode; the shaking was increasing. A deep, navy blue thread, slightly shining, started to form, between the bracelets on Nina's arm and Aster's body.

Kuroneko got it. For some reason, there was something going wrong with the extraction - probably a malfunction in her bracelets - and there were now two options for her: try to forcibly extract all of it, which could cost her dearly, or release it back to Aster, which would cause her to lose her newly-gained immunity to her own power, making her a victim. And at this point, it wasn't feasible if Nina could even choose.

So Kuroneko decided to choose for her.

She stepped up to the blue thread and grabbed it with both her hands, and pulled it towards Aster.

The impact began.

The flash of light increased. Nina screamed a loud, unearthly scream - something no human or Sue could ever normally make. Kuroneko grabbed Aster in both her arms and took cover.

And after about ten minutes of unending light, it finally died down.

As Kuroneko had predicted, Nina had lost immunity to her own power. And now Kuroneko knew what was the major component of Aster's "lunar" power: time.

Nina was standing in front of her throne, her eyes open, her mouth open, staring into space - no, not staring.

Her time had been frozen.

She was living, but she was forever trapped in that one moment of her life, and would never move from it - something Aramayis would term "a living statue".

Aster was breathing normally again and was able to blink now. She slowly got up; her power was back and now she could feed off it again.

"You okay?" said Kuroneko.

Aster coughed a little. "Yeah... let's get out of here."

"Wait."

Kuroneko walked over to the throne Nina had been sitting on and looked next to it. There was a glass orb. It looked like there was a small blue light in it - not a bright one - it wasn't even a light, but the whole orb gave off a deep blue glow. No, not a glow - just a sense.

She remembered what Nina had said - that she was using the orb, with Aster's soul in it, as an anchor. Could this mean...

Kuroneko brought the orb over to Aster.

"Is this yours?"

Aster looked at the orb and took it without asking what it was. She nodded.

"How long have you gone without it?"

"I don't ever remember having it."

How many years she had lived without feeling, only reacting... this was a whole different kind of being.

"Well, then," said Kuroneko, "it's yours."

She took the orb from Aster and shattered it on the ground.

The blue light seemed to vanish, but it was actually crawling, very slowly, up Aster's arm. Aster shivered.

Kuroneko picked up Aster's hand and felt it.

Aster's body had no longer been recognizable. It had no shape or form; she had lived as an elemental being, a shapeless clump of power taking a temporary shape of a humanlike body. It had been a body with a brain, with thoughts and tactile feelings, but it had been something that had taken on the appearance and feel. Her body, her true shape, was supplied by her soul - which she hadn't had.

And now she did.

For a second, Kuroneko could see that body, that real person Aster had meant to be - much older, much more human. That was how she would look had she grown up normally - and Kuroneko knew how old she really was.

Aster had gone without a soul for nineteen years - with a loss of identity and knowledge of how to age, she had believed herself to be physically and mentally younger.

And now, she was a living, true person.

A moment later and it was over - and Kuroneko could see the young girl thqat had been there before. Even as a person, Aster still had power, and Kuroneko knew she would probably want to look and feel to others (and, of course, think) like the young teenager she had thought herself to be. But she still had a growing self - one that still existed.

There was a long period of silence while Aster adjusted to being able to feel.

"Let's go home," she said.

-

Technically, it was possible for Kuroneko to create a portal to the Library and be there in a second, but Kuroneko wanted to give Aster time to adjust, so they went with the magic carpet again. The way back was also marked with silence. Occasionally Kuroneko asked Aster how she was doing and she said she was fine, but she needed to think - probably trying to figure out her emotions to how she'd felt to everything. She did, however, complain a lot that she was dizzy.

Can't blame her, thought Kuroneko; she's just gotten a soul, which she probably hasn't had since infancy.

Kuroneko finally decided the trip had been long enough after flying around aimlessly for a while, so she opened the portal and put the carpet away. Then, she went to go talk directly to Tash and Adrian.

-

"You did what to my little sister?"

Adrian was completely shocked after Kuroneko explained what had gone on. He was thankful that Aster was back safe, but she'd gone and gotten her soul out there without him...

"Little sister?" said Tash.

"Yes," said Adrian stubbornly. "Michael and Miri get to be your siblings, so Aster's mine. But back to the point, you did what?"

"I found it only fair," said Kuroneko.

Adrian sighed. "Well, I guess this is good for her. And it's another tyrannical Sue out of the way..."

"Definitely," said Kuroneko. "And her magic was flimsy. She caused her own undoing - the bracelets," she pointed to the bracelets on the side, which she had brought, "had something faulty. She couldn't handle Aster's power and it backfired on her - if not for that, she might have finished off completely."

"Couldn't handle?" Adrian thought about it. "Maybe she forgot to think about the fact her body can't handle it if - "

Then he got up and slammed his hand on the table. He looked very tense all of a sudden.

"Kuroneko, did you just give Aster her soul? Did you put it in her body, when she had all of her power in it?"

"Yes, I did, I certainly didn't want her to - "

"You can't do that! If you do..."

And he shook his head and ran out the door. Kuroneko and Tash took pursuit.

And right outside the door was - that.

It was the kind of beauty that could not be used to charm men. A beauty that could be considered beauty, but never invoked any positive emotions. It was pale, vacant, and flat. Emotionless. Cruel.

She stood there, staring directly at them. Her hair was white and straight and went down to past her feet, making it clear that she was meant as a person who was not supposed to be moving. She would sit in one place, say one word, and do at her whim without moving a finger.

Everything about her was white - but not a pure, strong white. Her skin, lips, hair, even the dress that she was wearing was white, as if she'd vanish at any moment. Her eyes were completely white, as she had no iris or pupil at all. And she had no need for them, she could see without them - she had the vibe of not being in that form to be functional, but to make others able to understand her.

Her face had no expression, and Adrian knew what had happened. It was stupid. Of course power of that level would not fit neatly with a soul in one body. It had ejected, leaving behind an excessive discharge of power, which had broken the personality shell. And he could see that soul, flying above her, threatening to escape.

She had lost her humanity-illusion to the explosion of power, and was facing them now with cold and cruel rationality.

It was Aster, and it wasn't the Aster they knew and associated with.

"I wanted to stay out here and wait for you," she said, in the voice of a mature adult, "because I felt it would be more polite."

Adrian felt a sudden need to use respectful language to this being.

"Just - just sit down," said Adrian, "and I'll get the soul, and I - "

"There will be no need for that."

Adrian started back as if struck in the face.

"Aster," said Tash, "this isn't you; just let Adrian - "

"This is me," the goddess-hybrid said, "the me that I was destined to forever be. A soul is a binding. It restricts decision, sways emotion. One with the job of deciding fate and creating order should not be bound by such a thing."

"Please - "

"I have wasted my time, philandering around wasting whatever ability I had by becoming attached to things, by letting the wave of emotion take me where I would want it. Irrational judgments, wasting everyone's time, when my counsel would be better served in the place I was given my job. After years of succumbing to a foolish notion, I will return where I am best served."

Her soul was still flying over her head.

"Aster, we need - "

"You have no need of me. Those ones you hunt will eventually fall to their own vices; your efforts are laudable, but you only speed up the inevitable. There is no way they can continue to hold their power with the ego they hold either way. As for Runoa, the Powers That Be will never let her win; even without me, there will always be something that will stop her. And what use would a bumbling idiot do for you? If I stayed with you and reverted to the mind of an idiot, you would only lose, not gain. My purposes are better served with the fae, where they would make full use of my counsel."

And she turned around and walked away, leaving her soul behind. Adrian, Tash, and Kuroneko could only watch. There was no stopping her - and there was certainly no stopping her from simply vanishing away now and leaving them forever. She just wanted them to see her back as she walked off; she was going to leave, and she would never see them again.

Her arguments were valid. This was not logic, in putting hypotheses together and making a conclusion. This was cold, clear rationality, and they could no longer argue; she was right, and it was lost.

She wanted no more of them - forever, and now she had willingly turned her back on them.

It was over.

When...

"Hey!" The objection rang clearly through the room. It was not desperate or pleading in any form; it was firm, almost a command. "Hey!"

All of the people in the room turned around. Adrian gaped.

"...Valerie..."

Valerie walked towards them with a clarity in her eyes that said she was absolutely not going to take no for an answer.

"Valerie, this isn't Aster, you can't - "

"Exactly, which is why I want to pick a bone with her."

"You can't just blindly appeal, you - "

"I can do what I damn-well please!" The healer's voice grew progressively in volume. "I did not just spend hours and days trying to heal that fae; I did not spend weeks and months bringing Adrian back and restoring Aster to sanity; I did not spend my entire life looking for friends like these... I did not go through all that just to be walked out on, so you will listen to me!" That last was directed at Selene herself.

"I," said Valerie, as she walked closer to the goddess-hybrid, "I,"she said as she looked into her eyes, if you could call them eyes, "I am going to tell you exactly why you're wrong."

"Surely you jest, child..." Selene began.

"Don't," Valerie said sharply, "Don't interrupt me."

Those watching had the sense to take a precautionary step backward, though whether it was the goddess' wrath, or the healer's, none could be sure.

"First of all," Valerie began, "Sues are not going to be falling to their own vices simply because there'd be nowhere to fall to. Due to their meddling in the minds of other characters, said other characters won't let them fall, even if they deserve it. In addition to ruling the fandom, Sues subconsciously create for themselves an elaborate safety net out of the fabricated adoration of the canon characters. In other words: by the time a Sue has conquered a fandom, even if she falls to vices, the canon characters will love her so much that they will either catch her or won't see her actions as 'fallen'."

"Even if this is true," Selene replied, "Runoa has no such recourse, as she rules by fear, not love. She has lost favor with the  Powers That Be -"

"Which is exactly why we need to stop her!" Valerie scowled. "For a goddess, you don't seem to know much about divinity. The Powers That Be don't go in and directly interfere with the Plot of the worlds unless there really is no other recourse... and sometimes not even then. It's all about the story, and just because Runoa doesn't have support from an author doesn't mean she's not incredibly dangerous in her own right. Isn't that what being a Sue is: being powerful enough to escape an author's control? Exactly what we've been dedicated to stopping from the beginning. So why, pray tell, would any Power get off their ass when we're tailor-made to do the job?"

The half-goddess almost seemed to smirk. "Hm. If you are so confident, then the last thing you need is an idiot like Aster - the old Aster - ruining your courageous efforts. She has bungled nearly every mission she has been sent on, surviving only by the grace of my power within her. You never had a use for her, and my skills can be put to more productive use elsewhere."

Valerie's opinion of the goddess-hybrid was growing lower by the minute. "Are you kidding me?" she said. "Are. You. Kidding me??"  

She doesn't know about gods and she doesn't know about humans. And she dares to call our Aster an idiot.

"How dare you," the healer said quietly. "How dare you imply that Aster's only use to us is as a fighter. As flighty as she is, grounds everyone else with her presence. Everything about her reminds the other agents of what it's like to have such single-minded passion for something, be it manga or their cause." Valerie gazed up at the hovering deity. "You keep us focused, Aster. You keep us alive."

Selene leveled a glare at the agent. "Give me one reason why I should turn my back on the fae council. One reason why I should sacrifice my own intelligent mind for the sake of a worthless cause and an even more worthless, useless, soulless, brainless little girl!"

Valerie's voice was soft, gentle. "Just having her in the room makes everyone feel lighter," she said quietly, "like maybe their mission isn't quite as hopeless as it looks. Her craziness - not the literal kind, just her weirdness - makes everyone else feel sane, and that is probably the most important job anyone could have. And... honestly, I couldn't think of a better person to have that job, because it's the ones who don't realize how special they are that are truly precious."

There was a long silence as Valerie's words sunk in. The goddess-hybrid stared blankly, unsure what to make of the stubborn healer-girl who had placed herself in the path of a deity.

"My - my reasoning is flawless."

Selene actually stuttered.

"Your reasoning is bullshit," Valerie said gently. Then her eyes hardened. "Now let - her - go."

This girl, who dared to place her will before the will of a goddess, who spoke to such an entity as though she were an equal... who placed herself in the path of divine retribution for such tenacity without batting an eye, all to protect one simple-minded fae?

And then Selene saw it - it wasn't just for the fae. It was never just for one person.

"You heard Adrian before," the healer said, "That's not his soldier you're taking, that's his sister. We're a family. And Aster's part of it."

 A pregnant silence followed.

And finally there was a reply.

"I see. Very well. However, if your decision turns out to be badly-made... then you will not be the only one paying the price."

A milky white light enveloped the figure in the middle of the Library and swirled around her until the figure could no longer be seen. The light became brighter until it was nearly impossible to see anything -
- and then it died down in the matter of seconds, and lying there was Aster, blue-haired, earnest-eyed.

Adrian approached her.

"A-Adrian...-kun..." Tears were welling up in her eyes. "Don't let me go back, don't..." And she started to cry.

Adrian instructed Kuroneko to take care of her soul flying up there and picked up Aster, holding her in an embrace as if she were a small child. Valerie followed suit, as did Tash, and the lonely moment continued...

-

In the end, it all went back to Nina's bracelets.

While power could be stored in a vessel, it could not be simply anchored somewhere, and had to exist inside something. A soul was the opposite; it could not be stored in a vessel other than a human and was forced to float around, but could be weakly anchored to something.

Adrian took advantage of these facts and devised a solution: He had Aster keep her powers, but had her draw on her soul through four anchors, which he set as the four bracelets. However, the anchors obstructed the flow of her powers for use, so she could remove each anchor when she needed to access more power. But removing each anchor increased the chances of the soul snapping fron the anchors and thus Aster losing her soul again by 25%.

Unknown to Aster, Adrian had cursed the fourth bracelet - it was impossible to take off, and would clamp itself eternally to Aster no matter what form she took. This meant Aster would never be able to unlock her full power, but more importantly, her chances of losing her soul would never hit 100%. The highest she could hit was 75%, or as Adrian put it, she would always have at least a 25% chance of keeping her soul. "Sometimes, that's all you need," said Adrian to Kuroneko.

Having a soul was definitely very impactful for Aster - she felt things now, definitely more than that small piece Adrian had left her for that short amount of time. Sure, she had reacted as if she still had it when she didn't have it, but she had to react differently when she could, at least, sense something different.

In addition, her personality shell had only coveered the emotions needed to survive. The soul covered everything - so now she felt extraneous things, like wanting-to-but-not-quite-wanting-to, guilt-and-relief-at-the-exact-same time - minor, rare emotions, but emotions nevertheless. And her tsundereness was real now - she could still be a jerkish moron, but at least there was a loving side underneath for once.

"You doing okay?" asked Kuroneko, bending over Aster as she was reading a copy of Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu. Aster looked at her and blinked. In regards to interactions with the Society, everyone had adjusted easily. More or less, she was still the manga-reading bullheaded genki girl.

Aster nodded.

"Good," said Kuroneko. "Let me know if anything goes wrong."

She started to walk away when Aster said, "Wait... Kuroneko-chan?"

Kuroneko turned around, startled. Had Aster used an honorific on her?

Aster looked at her for a second and looked down, looking a litle nervous or downcast (or maybe dere).

"...Thank you."

-

Even in a world that disappears,
There is a place for me,
Even for the me who doesn't know that.
Until I remember…
-Tender Oblivion (The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi ED)

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