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Kingdom Xathers

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Kingdom Xathers last won the day on March 23

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About Kingdom Xathers


  • User Group: Members


  • Member ID: 12


  • Title: Asgore is preparing to meet up, too.


  • Post Count: 40


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  • Joined: 01/07/2019


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  1. What sorta throws me off is that the three WATER Attributes here are members of the Wu Kingdom, which was (at least in the Dynasty Warriors games) represented by the color red, which is odd considering the WIND Attributes are members of the Shu Kingdom which were represented with the color green. So, I’m guessing that for this Archetype, the monsters that would represent members of the Wei Kingdom might be given the FIRE Attribute (tired as it is when pair with the Beast-Warrior Typing, but I digress), unless they’re given a different Attribute/color scheme to throw us for a loop.
  2. The plot our favorite yokai gal pal tale thickens with the arrival of the yandere Yuki-Onna. IGAS-JP063 Ōka Yōreitan – Mayakashigatari (Ghost Meets Girl – A Mayakashi’s Story) Quick-Play Spell You can only activate 1 of this card’s name per turn. (1) During the Main Phase: Target 1 Zombie Synchro Monster you control; Special Summon 1 of your Zombie monsters with the same Attribute as that target, that is banished or in your GY, but banish it during the End Phase. You cannot Special Summon monsters for the rest of this turn after this card resolves, except Zombie monsters. For those wondering, yes, it really is the same name as Ghost Meets Girl – A Shiranui’s Story with a swapped archetype. https://ygorganization.com/areyoureadyforthelovetriangle/
  3. At best, this is a Mirror Match tech. At worst, it’s free information on your opponent’s hand during (optimally) your opponent’s turn, at the expense of giving your own information away to your opponent. Not worth it, honestly.
  4. Considering how Search-Happy the game is, I could definitely see this getting plenty of use, especially since there's no limit to what you can grab. Sure, any hand traps one could grab would be useless for the turn, but it's still a great way to grab the one card you'd desperately need to turn the tide. inb4youropponentchainstheirownCatchCopytoyourCatchCopy
  5. Danger! Jersey’s Fiend! DARK/LINK - 2/Fiend/Link/Effect/1600 ATK Bottom-Left, Bottom-Right 2 “Danger!” monsters You can discard 1 random card from your hand, and if you do, add 1 “Danger!” Spell/Trap card from your Deck or GY to your hand, also, if you discarded a "Danger!" monster by this effect, you can draw 1 card. During the End Phase of a turn in which a “Danger!” monster was discarded from your hand: You can add 1 “Danger!” monster from your GY to your hand. You can only use each effect of “Danger! Jersey’s Fiend!” once per turn. Danger! Yeti! DARK/LINK - 3/Beast/Link/Effect/2000 ATK Up, Bottom-Left, Bottom-Right 2+ monsters, including 1 “Danger!” monster This card gains ATK equal to the combined Levels of all “Danger!” monsters this card points to x100. If this card would be destroyed by your opponent’s card or effect, you can discard 1 random card from your hand instead, also, if you discarded a "Danger!" monster by this effect, inflict damage to your opponent equal to that monster’s Level x200. If a “Danger!” monster is Special Summoned to a Zone this card points to: You can destroy 1 card your opponent controls. You can only use each effect of “Danger! Yeti!” once per turn.
  6. Arcana Force EX - The Elite Ruler LIGHT/Lv 10/Fairy/Ritual/Effect/4000 ATK/4000 DEF You can only control 1 “Arcana Force EX - The Elite Lord”. This card cannot be Tributed. You can Ritual Summon this card with “Academy Form”. Must be Ritual Summoned (from your hand) by using 3 “Arcana Force” monsters, or 1 “Arcana Force EX” monster, and cannot be Special Summoned by other ways. When this card is Special Summoned: Toss a coin and gain the appropriate effect. Heads: Once per turn: You can pay 1000 LP and target 1 Level 8 or lower “Arcana Force” monster in your GY; Special Summon it, and if you do, choose which of its effects to apply without tossing a coin. Tails: Once per turn, if your opponent activates a card or effect (Quick Effect): You can banish 1 “Arcana Force” monster from your hand or GY; negate the activation/effect of that card, and if you do, destroy it. NEXT: This "Academy Form" / "Elite" Ritual Monster thing was fun, but let's go with something new: a "Harpie" Ritual Monster.
  7. Alexander, Red, Ratchet and Clank Inside Alister’s Soul Room “I know you were just looking for a way to distract Gaius’ Troys, Ratchet,” Clank chimed in as he watched a small herd of Troys chase after him and Ratchet with spears in their minimalistic hands, “but did you honestly have to run by and slap all of them across the face like that?” “It worked at least, didn’t it?” Ratchet chuckled as he wove his way around the spears being thrown at the pair. “Say, doesn’t this remind you of anything, now that I think about it?” “Are you perhaps referring to the Patapon that invaded the lair of Hades?” Clank asked. “Now that you mention it, these Troy do have some similarities to them, their penchant for wanton spear-throwing being the most apparent.” “... I have surrounded myself with idiots,” Gaius grumbled wearily as he clashed tridents with Aligore. “That’s no way to speak of your “children”, Gaius,” Aligore taunted in an Alisteresque tone. “At least I can make “children”, Aligore,” Gaius hissed back. At this, Aligore was taken aback briefly, a baffled and somewhat wounded expression flashing across his face for a second before switching to anger. “Why I oughta...!” Parrying Gaius’ next swipe of his trident to the side, Aligore forwent using his own weapon in favor of slamming his fist into the Witch’s midsection, blasting Gaius away with a small explosion released from the impact. Meanwhile, the remaining Troys that didn’t get aggro’d by Ratchet were being dealt with by Alexander and Red, the former dashing from Familiar to Familar while striking each with either his rapier or Ice magic, while the latter was rapidly casting Shock spells for massive damage to the Troys, either destroying them with each hit or weakening them just enough for Alexander to finish them off. Though try as they might, they had to deal with more Troys which were conjured to replace their fallen brethren. “If you have any bright ideas, Alex,” Red called out to the lombax, his arms beginning to tire from all the rapid symbol-drawing he was doing, “you had better bring them out, NOW.” “And me without any of my cards,” Alexander grumbled, cursing himself for not having at least kept a Deck on himself before delving into Alister’ Soul--all of his cards were currently in Umbris and Gabriel’s possession. “... but maybe I don’t actually need them after all….” Pulling power from within himself, Alexander began to glow a vibrant red, along with the Mark of Burning Soul on his chest. The glow quickly changed to a pale white as Alexander cast his replicated Spell: ”Swords of Revealing Light!” A twinkle of light in the “sky” signalled the rapid cascading of numerous cross sword-shaped lights descending upon the Troys, each Familiar restrained with at least one sword that either harmlessly pierced right through them, or otherwise caged them in with numbers alone. “YES, IT WORKED!” Alexander cheered, satisfied and elated with the execution and result of his first Cardless Spellcasting. “Very much so, Alex, well done!” Red nodded in congratulation, before looking with intrigue at the Light Swords that now restricted the Troys, specifically taking note of their shape. “That… could be useful, huh?” Keeping his backup plan to himself for the time being, Red quickly got to work on another plan of attack; quickly scrawling multiple “=” signs in the air, Red focused on the disarmed Troy spears littering the floor around him. “Move!” At his command, the Troy spears were lifted off the ground by the Dragon Magic and hung in the air for a brief moment before flinging themselves in the direction of their target: Gaius. The Witch, seeing this rapidly approaching hazard, proceeded to conjure more Troys to block the spears with their bodies, as well as put some distance between himself and Aligore. “A clever tactic,” Gaius taunted the dragon, “yet one with a glaring flaw--” ♫♪”EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!!!”♪♫ Everyone froze in place as music suddenly started to play in the vicinity, glancing around in confusion as they tried to locate its source. As soon as the second yell of “EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!!!” echoed, things started to get… strange. It started with the Troys jerkily moving in sync with the music and each other--even the Troys bound by the Swords of Revealing Light and those with spears now pierced through their paper-thin bodies. “Are… are they dancing?!” Alexander stammered as he observed this bizarre development. “If those convulsions can even be considered “dancing”, Alexander, then yes,” Red snarked in response, oblivious to his own haunch and tail swinging back and forth in time with the music now blaring throughout the Soul Room. “Someone deployed a Groovitron…!” I.T. monotonally exclaimed as he and his fellow Altisters found themselves joining the Troys in dancing against their will--though, granted, their own dancing was much more refined and experienced than that of the Familiars. “Well, if it helps to keep the Troys from being a factor long enough, then I say, let the music play,” Aligore shrugged while tapping his foot in time with the music. “Thanks for being our DJ, by the way, Ratchet.” “But, uhh,” Ratchet stammered as he and Clank shimmied into view next to Alex, “that wasn’t me this time, Aligore.” “Wh--then, if that wasn’t you--?” Aligore stammered. ♫♪ Song Change → “Rhythm of the Night”/Corona♪♫ “That would be us, Aligore.” Further off, a few spotlights snapped on out of nowhere, focused on a rather peculiar posing pair: Kaden… and Kaden? “Sorry it took us a while to get here,” Kaden #1 apologized as he and his double proceeded to literally waltz over towards Ratchet and Alex. “We just had to make sure of something before we could make ourselves known,” Kaden #2 chimed in as he spun and dipped Kaden #1 with a flourish. “DAD… S?!” Ratchet gagged as he did a double-take. “Okay, I know Alister might be a bit obsessed with you--” “That is understating it, Ratchet,” Clank snarked. “--but how else are there TWO of you here?!” Ratchet finished his thought while ignoring Clank’s comment. “Also, your footwork could use some improvement,” Alexander suddenly quipped with a critique to the two Kadens, causing the two to pratfall in confusion and shame. “... why am I not surprised that that’s the thing you go and point out first, Alex?” Ratchet facepalmed while still shimmying in time with the Groovitron’s music. “Speaking of footwork,” Aligore smirked as he watched Gaius trembling violently, as if the Witch was desperately fighting the compulsive urge to break into a dance. “You look like you could loosen up a bit, Gaius.” “I… will not… surrender to… the Reebok or the Nike…!” Gaius grunted as he fought desperately to reclaim control of his body. “Aww. Too cool to dance, are we? That’s fine, Gaius,” Aligore purred as he firmly planted his Praetorian Trident into the ground before assuming a dance-like combat pose, as a pair of faint silhouettes appeared before him in a similar manner. “We wouldn’t mind showing you how to dance!” he declared as he rushed at Gaius, engaging the Witch in hand-to-hand combat, doling out dance-like strikes with much greater ease than his large frame should otherwise allow. All the while, Red seemed transfixed on Aligore’s display, watching the way the Amalgam King’s muscular form twisted, swayed and rippled with each movement he made in time with the music, almost as if Aligore were two individuals dancing as one unit. “Uh, Red, not to be rude, but uhh,” Alexander chimed in, causing Red to snap out of his trance and notice the small trail of drool running down his chin, “could you maybe, I-I dunno… how can I say this in as nice a way as possible… … ah, this’ll do, I guess: if you’d like to help Aligore, you can try and use my Swords of Revealing Light as Arena Hazards against Gaius. I’m sure you’ve already figured out one way to do so.” “Oh, guh--yes, yes, of course I do Alexander, I’m not a whelp,” Red snapped irritably, the scales on his cheeks somehow turning a brighter shade of red. “And yes, I would like to--and will--assist Aligore in fighting Gaius, thank you very much!” On that note, Red shuffled off, his tail swinging to-and-fro in time with the music. Kaden #1 couldn’t help but give a chuckle as he watched Red leave. “Well, with that said, I suppose you guys are wondering why there are two of me here--” “If I may, Kadens,” Alexander interrupted in a more serious, inquiring tone, “I’d like to give my own hypothesis as to how you came to be a resident of this Pocket Watch.” The Kadens glanced at each other briefly, mulling it over. “Okay, Alexander,” Kaden #2 complied, “we’ll let you make your guess.” “When Aligore perished in his timeline, his death didn’t give birth to an Altister and yet he was drawn into the Pocket Watch nonetheless before it returned to the past, because he wasn’t truly an Alister, correct?” Alexander hypothesized. “I’m… going to guess that this Watch is somehow able to draw in the souls of those who died around the same time as the Alister of any given timeline, acting like a sort of Time-Traversing Arc for those Souls… so… … is that what happened with you, Kaden? … and my father, too?” “... yes,” the Kadens replied in unison after a shared brief moment of startled hesitance, with Kaden #2 giving an odd glance to the side. Kaden #1 continued on his own: “The same with Galen, too, as well as... a few others….” “You mean…?” “Yes… even from that timeline.” “... … well, at least that now explains why Dad and Galen’s souls were around to help us,” Alexander spoke after his own brief, cold shudder. “If they’ve been in the Pocketwatch this whole time, that would explain how they were able to appear in my Soul Room, as well--when Alister entered my Soul Room to save me.” Upon hearing Alexander’s hypothesis, a thought crossed Ratchet’s mind: “Did the same happen with me?” he asked his father(s?). “Were one of you… travelling within my Soul, too?” “That’s correct, kiddo,” Kaden #1 chimed with a nod and a small smile. “One of us Kadens--myself, specifically--transferred out of the Pocketwatch and into your Soul Room, back when you and Alister briefly reunited after the battle against LERNA. And I’ve been with you ever since.” “... you really were watching over me,” Ratchet quietly uttered, subconsciously running his hand across the casing of his pocketwatch still hanging from his neck, specifically over the dent made by Bad Future!Ratchet’s rifle round. “... so, I’m gonna make another guess,” Alexander spoke again, “and say that since this Kaden is back because of Ratchet being in this Soul Room--” “--then Artorius and Galen have returned to the Pocketwatch, too, since you’re here,” Kaden #2 replied, finishing Alexander’s thought. “And they, too, were helping us with, uh, our prior endeavor.” “Which is…?” Alexander asked, with a tone of voice and facial expression that told the Kaden’s that he had no time for any run-arounds. Getting the hint, the Kadens nodded slightly as they replied in unison: “Finding Alister.” “And?!” Ratchet gasped anxiously. “He’s actually close by, even if we can’t see him as of current. However,” Kaden #2 continued, his tone now foreboding, “it seems that Gaius’ awakening will not be the only obstacle to getting Alister out of this.” “... ‘cuz of COURSE there’d be more complications!” Ratchet huffed bitterly-- Ratchet’s irritation was cut short, as a deafening crash erupted from the direction of the Gaius battle; Bayonetta and Umbris had arrived right on cue, the Umbra Witch having caught the Witch’s Familiar off-guard by spinning his helmet backwards, blinding Gaius long enough for Umbris to knock him down with a single, giant fist formed from his cape, the impact shattering some parts of Gaius’ armor. “We were wondering what was taking you boys so long,” Bayonetta scoffed as she landed next to Red and Aligore, “and here we find you playing beat-’em-up with a Sentai Villain-of-the-Week wannabe.” “Nice to see you too, Cereza,” Kaden #2 spoke up bluntly. “I’m afraid Gaius over there isn’t even the least of our concern, yet he’s still being quite troublesome--” “--do I… know you?” Bayonetta adjusted her glasses as she eyed Kaden #2 suspiciously. “I don’t recall telling you my real name, much less giving you permission to use it.” “Eh-heh… I, err, we’ve been in here for a long time,” Kaden #1 explained, observing a flicker of nervous light flash across his doppelganger’s eyes. “Naturally we’ve observed numerous iterations of the Origin War, and you were in quite of few of them, Bayonetta. We just happened to pick up on your real name during a handful of those times, is all.” “Still doesn’t give you permission to use it yet, even if you are Ratchet’s father… s,” Bayonetta admonished the Kadens, partly confused as to why there were two of them. “... if you say that Gaius isn’t the biggest issue at this time, I suggest you boys deal with the root of the problem; Umbris and I will help Red and… What’s-His-Name-Who-Looks-Somewhat-Like-Alister deal with that Sentai Villain Wannabe… … who looks suspiciously like Alister without his armor…,” Bayonetta slowly realized as she glanced back at Gaius, noticing that without his helmet, the Witch of Second Chances had some distinctly Alister-esque features despite appearing to be formed from various photo-realistic paper cutouts. “… … is every person within this Watch--aside from us--related to Alister in some way?!” Bayonetta surmised incredulously. “Almost everyone, but yes,” Kaden #2 replied. “Alright, enough Q-and-A, let’s get goi--!” The entire Soul Room began to tremble violently, interrupting the current battle. “Wh-What’s going on now?!” Kaden #2 snapped. “I’m picking up on energy readings. Very dark energy,” I.T. uttered apprehensively. “It’s gathering closeby….” Gaius darkly chuckled. “So… now it makes its appearance….” “What is making its appearance…?” Red questioned angrily. “Alex!” Artorius and Galen appeared once more as they rushed over to Alexander, followed by a small group of other distinguishable individuals, some of whom included the Cetra Flowergirl Aerith Gainsborough, a Magical Girl named Homura Akemi, a “Crystal Gem” known only as “Pearl”, a Furret Pokemorph who went by the name “Admiral Vivi”, and… “... I knew it,” Alexander uttered in a stunned yet not-surprised tone as he stood face-to-face with the soul of his alternate self, a bloodstained scarf wrapped around the other Alexander’s neck. “So, even that version of me ended up in this Watch.” He watched as his other self appeared to struggle with uttering a reply yet stopping just as blood began to spill out of his mouth instead of words, opting instead to simply nod solemnly. “This Alexander must be from when Alister was under an illusion of Sayer’s made to believe I was a darker version of him, and he….” Alexander paused as he remembered how it happened in this timeline, and what would have happened had Ratchet not somehow intervened. “... that… that’s how we have the “Trigger” Altister….” “Alex, this really isn’t the time to get analytical!” Ratchet warned. “You heard I.T. and Gaius--something’s coming--!” “--but I need to know something,” Alexander interjected in spite of the imminent danger, glancing at the group of Souls that had gathered with them, noticing a glaring detail in their numbers. Realizing that detail, he chose to direct his attention--and next question--towards his own father. “Dad, aside from me, this is the only Alexander here, correct?” “It is, yes,” Artorius answered without hesitation. “And is that the same for all the other Souls in this Pocket Watch? There is only one you? One Galen, Aerith, et cetera?” “Yes; as long as we’ve been in this Watch, we’ve not seen any other versions of ourselves or each other, either being drawn into this Watch or already being here when we were drawn in,” Galen confirmed before taking a glance at the two Kadens. “I suppose that helps establish the point you’re trying to form, huh Alex?” “Yeah, but we can deal with that detail later,” Alexander declared as he noticed a gurgling, shadowy mass beginning to form above the area, with various dark chains emerging from within and anchored to the outer edges of Alister’s Soul Room. “Anyone else picking up on that overwhelming feeling of dread, self-loathing and guilt coming from that shadow?” Umbris chimed in as the shadowy mass grew more dense. “Thought it was mine for a second,” Red snarked in spite of the situation. “Same,” Aligore shrugged, “although it does feel familiar… but it’s much stronger coming from the core of that mass.” “… there can only be one reason for that feeling,” Alexander uttered, just as the shadowy mass condensed into a defined form, shackled by the mass of the numerous chains: “ALISTER!!” Ratchet cried out in horror upon seeing the state the General was in; the chains weren’t so much binding Alister as they were crucifying him, with some ending in hooks that were embedded into his limbs and torso, despite the wounds being oddly devoid of any blood or viscera, and yet the General appeared to be unresponsive to any of this. Worryingly so. “Alister!” Ratchet called out again, immediately fearing the worst, “Al, wake up!” “He… he can’t be…,” Red uttered fearfully, glancing back and forth between the comatose Alister and Alexander. “If he were dead, this Soul Room would’ve collapsed,” Alexander explained as calmly as possible, in spite of his own dread. “Then again, this isn’t exactly a normal Soul Room right now--” “--so an Altister would’ve been created instead,” Kaden #2 cut in. “And we would know if that had happened, so given that neither scenario has occurred--” “--then something else must be amiss,” Bayonetta finished. “... why….” Team Lombax and the active Altisters all jumped at the sound of the voice calling out weakly. “... why… would you... come in here…?” The bound Alister feebly lifted his head, his eyes barely open as he spoke in between shallow breaths. “Why… couldn’t you all… just stay away…?” “WHY would we stay away?!” Red snapped at the General. “We’re here to pull you out of this mess--!” “--no one asked you to come here!!” Alister shouted back, this time in a single breath. He glared in Red’s direction, his now fully-open eyes almost lifeless yet burning with rage and self loathing. “No one ask you to drop what you were doing and come here to rescue me. You all should’ve just--!” “-- “left me here to die”?” Alexander cut in, filled with a horrible sense of deja vu. “Are you kidding me right now with this?! Al, you and I went through this--” “Er-hem.” “--ah, sorry, Umbris,” Alexander apologized before backspacing himself. “You, Umbris and I went through this same situation just a few hours ago, but now you’re the one in the spot I was in!” “And I have good reason for being in this spot now, Alexander,” Alister persisted. “Why? because you feel responsible for having a hand in the current state of the multiverse?” Ratchet snapped. “Alister, that only happened because Isamy screwed with you by making you a distortion! You couldn’t have known the consequences that would have, it’s not your fault!” “But my actions were still tearing the Multiverse apart!!” Alister howled remorsefully. “How are we supposed to fix any of it now?! How am I supposed to make up for this?!!” “Not by having a severe meltdown, for one thing!” Red suggested. “I must say, I thought what happened to ME was bad, but you’ve certain outdone yourself by one-upping me and Alex with whatever’s going on here! For the Ancestors’ sakes, Alister, you have chains hooked into your body!” “It’s all I could do… to keep myself from ruining anything else,” Alister explained, his earlier burst of energy starting to deflate. “I’m... no good to anyone, or anything… I’m--” “--if you call yourself “nothing but a failure and a jinx”, Alister, SO HELP ME!” Red spat furiously while Umbris held him back by the tail to keep from charging at Alister, despite having no means (i.e., a properly functional pair of wings) of reaching the General who was currently suspended in the air. “How deliciously ironic,” Gaius spoke up, witnessing the scene unfolding before him with a twisted, uncannily realistic smirk. “The one who helped the two of you overcome your trauma and despair can’t even overcome his own! Or rather, he simply doesn’t wish to--GAH!!” the Witch of Second Chances recoiled from taking a bullet non-lethally to the head. “You keep your photorealistic mouth shut, or I’ll shut it for you,” Bayonetta scoffed as she kept her red-gemmed Love is Blue pointed at Gaius. “Unless you would like a good reason to keep it open?” she added as she also aimed the grey-gemmed gun at Gaius’ crotch. “Tcheh! No internal organs to hurt, my dear,” Gaius pointed out helpfully yet tauntingly. ““Hurt”... wait, those chains hooked into Alister should be hurting him,” Clank pointed out, “but he is not even showing any signs of discomfort.” “A valid observation, Clank,” I.T. nodded. “What concerns me more, however, is the gradually growing reading of dark energy… coming from the General’s direction.” “What…?” Wishing to observe this himself, Alexander focused his attention squarely on Alister, concentrating so intently as if he were trying to peer into the General’s soul. “... that’s not right…,” Alexander uttered aloud in confusion and horror. “I can sense that Alister is there, but… I also feel a second presence, almost overlaid on him… or is it the other way around…?” “What’d’ya mean, “other way around”?” Ratchet asked. “I can’t…,” Alexander slowly stammered, shaking his head, “... I can’t tell which is which…!” “... oh no,” Umbris blurted out in realization. “Oh, I hope this isn’t what I think we’re dealing with.” “That being…?” Bayonetta pressed. Alexander gasps upon realizing what Umbris meant. “We’re dealing with one of those? Here?! Oh, but that would make perfect sense--!” “--would the two of you ever so kindly explain what this THING we’re dealing with IS so we’re not all in the dark about it?!” Red snapped again. “What we are dealing with,” Umbris ever so kindly explained, “could very well be Alister’s Shadow.” “... well, that doesn’t sound very threatening,” Ratchet shrugged. “I mean, it’s not like this place has a strong enough light source to even produce one that’s solid enough.” The awkward silence that followed for the next ten seconds was almost mortifying, broken only when Aligore, Aerith, Homura, Pearl and Vivi all blurted in unison, “Uhhh… no. I don’t think that’s right.” “I--I…,” Umbris stammered, his twitching right eye being the only feature of his blank face that betrayed his inner thoughts as he stared dead center at Ratchet’s face. “I… honestly can’t believe you could be. That. Stupid. At a time like this.” The facepalm Umbris gave himself shortly after make a loud enough SMACK that reverberated throughout the Soul Room. “I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT HIS ACTUAL SHADOW YOU FUCKIN’ BOLTHEAD!!!” Umbris hollered at Ratchet with such force that the young lombax was blown off his feet and flew right into Red’s gut. “OOOPH-UGH...! Ow, not again...,” Red whimpered meekly as he rubbed his midsection, which was once more spasming slightly. “A Shadow, or in this context, a Shadow Self,” Alexander explained as calmly as possible, knowing full well the sort of situation they were about to be in, “is a representation of an individual’s repressed negative emotions and qualities, the side of oneself that they feel must remain hidden. And unlike the Mirror Selves we dealt with back on Truth Path, Shadow Selves are generally much more malevolent and hostile by default, especially towards their real selves.” “Are you saying Alister’s Shadow did that to him?!” Ratchet fretted, once more pointing out the chains hooked into the General’s body. “No, not… not quite…,” Alexander replied slowly, the horrible realization dawning on him. “It’s said that sometimes, a Shadow and their original self may become indistinguishable from each other, even to the point of… …” “... of becoming one with each other…?!” Red finished Alexander’s sentence, having arrived at the same conclusion. “... well… it certainly took you all long enough to come to that conclusion… but, better late than never, I suppose….” The voice that addressed them echoed with a sinister reverb, just as a sickly purple aura began to radiate off the General’s body. “You know, I’ve always wondered why any of us felt the need to give these drawn out expositions and explanations. Such an enormous waste of time, really,” the echoing voice pondered aloud as Alister opened his eyes, revealing piercing, glowing irises: red on the left, yellow on the right. “Getting straight to the point would be much nicer, wouldn’t you agree?” ♫♪ (Borderline of Madness (Persona 4: Dancing All Night vers.) ) ♪♫ “So we were right,” Red uttered as he and Alexander shared a fearful glance, “but what now?” “We get that Shadow out of Alister, that’s what!” Ratchet hissed while preparing his GunWrench. At the young lombax’s declaration, Alister’s Shadow snickered cruelly. “Get me out of Alister? My dear boy, surely you could not have forgotten what Alexander had just gotten finished explaining. I am as much a part of Alister as these many failures we know as “Altisters” are a part of this Soul Room. Much more so, rather.” “What, so you’re saying you and Alister are one and the same?!” Ratchet snapped back furiously. “That is a load of Blargshi--UGH!?” Before the young lombax could finish his thought, he was tackled to the ground by Umbris. “Umbris, what dafu--MMMPH?!?!” he tried to protest before the Neo-Spacian clapped a cape-turned-hand over his mouth. “Uh, yeah, one more thing we forgot to mention,” Umbris explained as he tried to restrain the struggling Ratchet. “A Shadow Self will go berserk if anyone--especially the Shadow’s real self--makes any attempt to deny it. And by “go berserk”, I mean “transform into a giant monstrosity to try and kill everyone in the vicinity”!” “MMPH?!?! (WHAT?!?!)” Ratchet exclaimed before forcibly removed Umbris’ cape from his mouth. “Dude, you should’ve included that with Alex’s explanation!!” “Yeah, way to drop the ball there, you two,” Aerith casually agreed, much to Umbris and Alexander’s joint embarrassment. The laugh that Alister’s Shadow let out this time was much louder and more cruel than the last. “Oh-ho, is THAT what you think? That you can keep me contained by refusing to deny me?” he asked rhetorically with a toothy, evil grin. “Well, I’m afraid I’ve got news for you all…!” ♫♪ (Dark Awakening / “Awakening” - Persona 5 OST)♪♫ The purple aura surrounding Shadow Alister suddenly erupted, growing in size and density before rapidly forming a new, grotesque appearance; first emerged a giant head, with the left half resembling Alister’s with a glowing yellow iris, whilst the other half was the upside-down left half of a lombax skull with a red glow nestled within its eye socket. This head was itself secured within a gear by the four spokes piercing through it from the four cardinal directions, whilst a much larger gear rested atop the first, covered in numerous, featureless corpses tied to it by barbed wire. The twelve spokes of this gear closely resembled Alister’s OmniWrench, and from the intersection of these spokes in the gear’s center emerged a mechanical left hand which gave off a foreboding yellow glow from its joints and fingertips. Two more gears were attached to either side of this large gear, each with a left wing made of scrap metal affixed to it. “... well, Umbris, you certainly weren’t exaggerating about the “giant monstrosity” part,” Bayonetta quipped to break the stunned silence that fell over the area after Shadow Alister’s transformation. “Does this mean that Alister already tried to deny his Shadow…?!” Alexander fretted. “Or the Shadow merely chose to go berserk on its own,” Umbris hypothesized. “Given how badly Alister must be feeling, his Shadow may have had enough “fuel” to transform without being denied….” “Clearly we are seeing the wonders of despair at its finest!” Gaius cackled gleefully, much to every else’s annoyance. “So great is the despair of Alister Azimuth that it will consume all that he is with little-to-no stimuli! Soon he and I will destroy everything within this Soul Room, and then we can proceed to reunite with my Mistress L E R N A--” “--and WHAT, dare I ask,” Shadow Alister chimed in an annoyed tone, speaking through the fleshed side of its head, “made you come to the conclusion that I would even consider requesting a collaboration with a mistake like you?” The Face Gear turned counterclockwise so that the skull half was now upright, which then added, “You are of absolutely no use to me in any sort of endeavor; you are just as much of a nuisance to me as anything else in this Watch, and will be dealt with like all the rest.” “Wh--WHAT?!” Gaius barked indignantly. “You would DARE to get in the way of my reunion with Mistress L E R N A?! Of my chance to spread despair throughout the Multiverse--?!” “Oh, SHUT! UP!! ALREADY!!!” “Oh my God, will you CAN IT?!” Gaius quickly found two Swords of Revealing Light impaled into his torso, courtesy of Red and Alexander MOVE-ing them into the Witch. “Seriously, is there ANYTHING else you can talk about without involving despair or L E R N A?!” Alexander growled irritably at Gaius, his patience drawing thin at this point. “For crap’s sake this isn’t DanganRonpa!” “Honestly, we should have done this sooner,” Red shook his head as he snapped his fingers in Gaius’ direction: “BANISH!” Gaius howled in agony as the Revealing Swords within his body erupted in a dazzling display of light, leaving Gaius on the floor with large holes in his torso. “Th-That should have done it…,” Red mused, curious as to why Gaius hadn’t been completely pulverized by the Banish Spell. “Don’t tell me there’s something more to this…,” Alexander sighed wearily, noting that Gaius was feebly struggling to lift himself from the floor. “I mean, shouldn’t “killing” Gaius put him in Recovery Mode?” “He would need to “die” for that to happen,” I.T. pointed out. “However, it would seem Gaius is staving off his Recovery Mode to continue fighting.” “He can do that?” Alexander questioned. “We all can,” I.T. nodded. “Be it to employ the full extent of our power, or to keep ourselves “alive” for a moment longer, we Altisters can resort to “Overclocking” ourselves to give ourselves a boost. However, doing so risks a heavy price for us….” “That “price” being the complete cessation of the Altister in question,” Shadow Alister spoke again from its Skull half. “Completely erased from the Watch, never to be recovered again.” “So, it’s like DETERMINATION…,” Aligore mused, the Asgore side of him knowing full well what that means for monsterkind. “... none of us ever told Alister that…,” Moony uttered slowly. “His Shadow shouldn’t possess that knowledge… should it...?” Alexander blinked at this new bit of information, then glanced over at the two Kadens, noticing that one of them had a guilty glimmer in his averted gaze. “I… I can’t… fall here… not… not now…!” Gaius gurgled through blood-like ink as he staggered to his feet once more. “Not… when I’m so close… so close… to my vision, I… keh… keh-heh-heh-heh-heh…! This feeling… of despair… it’s almost… enticing… keh-keh-keh-keh…!” “Oh great, he’s getting turned on from being cucked,” Umbris facepalmed. “The fact of the matter, Gaius,” Shadow Alister rolled his eye as he turned the Face Gear counterclockwise again, the fleshed half once more upright, “is that your continued existence is a major thorn in my side, as I am sure the rest here would agree. Now, do yourself and the rest of us a favor…,” the Shadow concluded as the mechanical arm’s energy turned bright blue, some of that energy being drawn into its palm, “... and vanish!” With a flick of the wrist, the negative ion energy was launched in Gaius’ direction, threatening to disintegrate the Witch once and for all. To the Shadow’s irritation, Gaius managed to swat the energy blast out of the way with his trident. “... seems I underestimated your resiliency,” Shadow Alister sighed as he watched his attack sail uselessly through the air and out of sight. “No matter; you will simply--” ♫♪(Stasis / “AZ” - Pokemon X & Y OST)♪♫ “This… this isn’t how I should be…,” Gaius uttered, his facial expression--or rather, facial features--suddenly changed due to the cut-outs falling off his face, revealing it to once again look like Too-Dee’s face. “I… I was about to give up… because it somehow felt... better... than accomplishing my goal…? And yet, I was willing to tear myself apart to see it come true…? No…,” he whispered as his body started to glitch, “... there… should’ve been a better way… to do this… I can’t… destroy myself, I can’t give up… no, he can’t….” “... Too-Dee…?” Alexander croaked, realizing what was happening to the Altister. As if hearing Alexander quietly calling his name, Gaius--or rather, Too-Dee--lifted his head towards the lombax and gave a sad smile, even as his body continued to rapidly deteriorate into sand and ash. “P-Pwease… you have to save Awistah… help him weawise… that he can’t give up… that he doesn’t have to destwoy himsewf… for evewyone to be happy… … be good, evewyone… … … … bye-bye… … ….” Too-Dee managed one last smile and a teardrop before all he ever was vanished from the Watch. “Finally, I am rid of that mistake,” Shadow Alister breathed out. “Soon the rest shall follow, and that will include the lot of you,” he added while turning his attention to the Rescue Group, “unless you turn back now, leave this Watch and leave me to my work. This shall be your last chance to walk away from all of this.” “... you know we can’t do that,” Alexander solemnly declared as the Rescue Group and the Arc Souls prepared for the confrontation, “not until we bring Alister back!” “A shame that your choice will result in your needless destruction,” Shadow Alister concluded emotionlessly, “but that… is something I can work with.” ♫♪(“Chaos Cycle” (“Boss Battle”/Persona 2 Innocent Sin OST (Extended)))♪♫ “I am a Shadow... The true self. These near-infinite cycles have resulted in failure upon failure, and even what were initially perceived as triumphs were in fact even MORE failures. “Weighed down by this cursed cycle of failures and sins, I see no other course of action for me to take… “... but to erase EVERYTHING, and begin completely anew. And yes, that now includes you all, as well…!” “... these can’t be Al’s true thoughts, can they?!” Red shivered. “... call me crazy,” Ratchet uttered oddly, “but I feel like there’s more to this than what we’re being led to believe here….” “No, it’s actually perfectly fine to be skeptical, Ratchet,” Alexander assured the younger lombax. “I, too, feel like there’s a much deeper meaning--and connection--to this Shadow’s words.” “What hope have you all to accomplish what I could not?” Shadow Alister boomed again as the surrounding area quickly turned pitch-dark, save for the immediate area where the group stood. “You are all trapped in this cycle, too, with me. The least I can do for you now… is to have you all join me in cessation…!” “... anyone hear that?” Umbris blurted as his ears twitched at the sound of something rolling around in the darkness. Something large, and metallic. “It’s… all around us,” Admiral Vivi confirmed, the rest of the group prepared to act against whatever “it” was. “Multiples, even. We may be surrounded.” “... it’s… GEARS!!” Ratchet shouted, recognizing the sound. “The Shadow’s attacking us with gears!” To show how correct Ratchet was, a large gear--roughly as tall as Aligore and adorned with the same featureless corpse as those that decorated Shadow Alister’s largest gear--emerged from the shadows and sped its way toward the group, threatening to crush any who failed to get out of its path. “Look out!!” gasped Pearl as the group dispersed to avoid the gear’s trajectory. It was only the beginning, of course, as more gears began to make their assault, some moving in groups of two or three, other from opposite angles, all in an effort to run them down. “This is… mortifyingly nostalgic,” Homura Akemi calmly mused as she nimbly sidestepped the gears with the grace of a ballerina, alongside Pearl. “Attacking from the darkness… it’s not like Alister to fight like this,” Ratchet mused, narrowly avoiding two gears that came for him from either side. “The Shadow must be spawning these gears itself, so it must still be close enough to do so,” Aligore guessed, he and Red resorting to deflecting the gears with either their polearms or magic due to their larger frames. “Good thing this trick helped us back on Death Path,” Umbris chimed in, his ears now morphed into those of a bat. “Though with all the commotion around us, it’s kinda hard to pinpoint it based on sound alone--huh?” The Neo-Spacian cut himself off as Fiendish Chains suddenly swarmed the area, weaving through the gears and locking them in place. “Yea-hea! Nice one, Alex!” “Thank the Other Me,” Alexander quipped as he pointed over at his alternate self, who had his Duel Disk deployed and a “Fiendish Chain” card active in it. “What of the Shadow?” Artorius fretted. “Still in the dark, but not for much longer. Swords of Revealing Light!” Once more, a rain of radiant swords descended upon the area, dispelling the shroud of darkness to reveal Shadow Alister’s Face Gear, looking quite annoyed at being restrained by both chains and swords. “Your persistence is… aggravating,” Shadow Alister sneered through its Skull half just before the Rescue Team and Arc Souls joined forces for an All-Out Attack, pummeling the Face Gear for a third of the Shadow’s total HP. “Why couldn’t you just leave me behind?” it asked once the All-Out Attack concluded, this time speaking through its Flesh half while covered in various wounds. “I already told you all; you’re just wasting time helping me! You need to help bring Isamy down!” “We’re not doing that without you, Alister!” Ratchet insisted. “We’re all gonna reach the end together!” “You’re such a fool… what could I possibly do besides make things worse for everyone else?!” As the Shadow spoke, the Winged Gears lit ablaze as they spun rapidly in place, showering the Shadow in burning scrap embers which somehow mended the wounds covering the Shadow’s face. “The Shadow restored itself…?!” I.T. remarked in shock. “Those wings… they must be responsible for restoring him. They’ll need to be dealt with if we have any chance of taking this Shadow down.” “Feh, so much for “getting straight to the point”, huh?” Admiral Vivi scoffed in the Shadow’s direction. “YOU are the ones wasting your own time with this endeavor,” Shadow Alister retorted as it conjured numerous spheres within its palm. “Your struggle only serves to delay the inevitable conclusion!” The Shadow began to make a motion, as if to throw the spheres at its enemies, but held itself back from following through, as if an idea came to it at that moment. The Flesh Half smirked as it put this idea into motion; the glow of its eyes intensified as its Face Gear began to rapidly spin counterclockwise, creating an eerie vortex of light aimed at the Rescue Team and Arc Souls. “Don’t look at it!!” Kaden #2 shouted as he averted his gaze, as did everyone else… except for Alexander, Ratchet, and Red, who failed to do so in time, their bodies feeling numb after having their eyes assailed by the rapidly alternating red and yellow lights. “Now THIS should teach you to be more concerned with yourselves…,” Shadow Alister declared cryptically. “Boys, are you alright?” Bayonetta called out. “I can’t feel my body for some reason,” Ratchet replied as his body seemed to have some difficulty keeping balance, “but otherwise I’m... fine?” “Something’s not right here,” Alexander worriedly uttered. “Gee, what was your first clue, Alex?” Red snarked impulsively with a roll of his eyes. Before Alexander could give a retort in response, he, Ratchet and Red suddenly spun around with an unnatural motion towards the rest of the group. “Wh-What--?!” Ratchet stammered as he found himself aiming his GunWrench at the group, and, try as he could, was unable to lower his weapon. Or move any other part of his body, for that matter. “What the hell’s going on?!” “Nothing good, that’s for sure…!” Red grunted as he seemed to struggle with his scrawling of a Shock rune. Or rather, struggling to keep himself from doing so. “Ratchet,” Clank yelped as he hopped off the lombax’s back and grabbed hold of his arm, trying to aim the firearm elsewhere, “please you have to regain control of yourse--EEYAAH!!” Clank’s endeavor was ultimately a failure as Ratchet flung the robot off his arm and into Umbris’ catch. “Sorry, pal!” Ratchet apologized, all while he could feel his finger slowly squeeze the trigger. “This is just like when Red cast that Command Spell on me,” Alexander summarized as his hand was raised against his will, with various Spell and Trap Cards materialized between its fingers. “A feeling of not being in control of my own actions, yet completely aware of it all… and the fact that this Shadow seems aware of our abilities and tactics enough to know what to make us use… guys--!” “--we got it, Alex!” Umbris nodded. “We’ll do what we can! Bayonetta, you and Madama Butterfly can deal with the Shadow… Bayonetta?!” the Neo-Spacian gasped as he saw the Umbra Witch trapped on a glowing, clockwork-like sigil, which was apparently doing something to her as she was now currently wearing an antique Umbra Witch Uniform… and was gradually shrinking before everyone’s eyes. “Get her out of that sigil!” Kaden #2 nearly shrieked in urgent horror. “She’s being Regressed!!” “I-I got her!” Pearl yelped as she dashed at a breakneck pace toward the slowly de-aging Bayonetta, made a flying leap, and pulled the Umbra Witch out of the clockwork sigil’s area-of-effect, cradling her as they both rolled along the floor. “I… I got her,” Pearl repeated in a more relieved tone, yet still worried as she was now holding a 7-year-old girl in her arms as opposed to a grown woman. “... any chance she knows how to age herself up again?” “Bayonet--erh, Cereza!” Umbris called out. “Are you all right?!” “You’re kidding, right?” Cereza scoffed, her voice still exuding haughty indignation despite sounding like a kindergartener otherwise. “You just saw what happened to me. I can’t use my weapons--KYA!” she explained while dropping one of her handguns, which discharged as it hit the ground, narrowly missing both herself and Pearl, “AND I’ve not the strength to summon any Infernal Demons--not even Madama Butterfly!” “Long story short: she’s in no condition to fight, AND we’re stuck on babysitting duty,” Admiral Vivi groaned. “Not to mention three of our allies are currently being used against us,” Homura Akemi added. “We-We can still do this!” Aligore stammered determinedly. “We’ll just have to help free our friends while also returning Bayonetta to her normal state, on top of dealing with the Shadow!” “Look alive--they’re about to attack!” Artorius yelled just as Red was forced to launch his Shock Spell at the group. Having anticipated this, Umbris sprung his “Anti-Raigeki” Trap Card to absorb the Shock Spell-- “I counter your Trap with “Trap Jammer”,” Shadow Alister declared just as one of the cards in Alexander’s hand emitted a purple flash, causing a Magic Circle to form around the skeletal lightning rod. “Ah, DAMMIT!” Umbris cursed as the lightning rod began to short-circuit, threatening to self destruct against the group-- “”Counter Counter”!” The Anti-Raigeki suddenly stopped short-circuiting as a Counter Trap symbol appeared, overlaid on the Trap Jamming Circle, before both symbols shattered, leaving Anti-Raigeki to absorb the Shock Spell unimpeded. “Phew, that was a close one, wasn’t it?” Moony breathed with chipper relief, the “Counter Counter” Counter Trap Card vanishing from his hand. “W-Wait. Moony, you know how to play Duel Monsters?!” Umbris gasped. “Somewhat,” Moony replied with cheerful bluntness. “But I can Act like I’m an expert at it. That’s my Talent, after all, as an Altister. Oh, I.T., you may want to block Ratchet--” “--I know,” I.T. uttered as he erected a digital barrier just as Ratchet was made to fire his GunWrench at the group. “All of us Altisters,” Moony explained to the rest of the Group, “are assigned a Talent related to whatever we experienced around the time of our respective Alister’s death; for Moony, it is the ability to Act--a result of the skills his Alister developed during the time spent with the Red of that timeline.” “Yep! My timeline’s Red taught me all his secrets to acting like a villain. Certainly helped us to blend in with the more villainous members of that timeline’s Divine,” Moony reminisced. “Even our Sayer was fooled, at least initially.” “Acting…?” Clank mused, a realization dawning on him. “Does that mean… that you were also Acting as a Villain back in the Pathway of Death…?!” At this, Moony’s expression became remorseful. “I… We will explain everything later,” Moony promised as he glanced over at I.T., who solemnly nodded in agreement, while Zayon glanced aside with a saddened expression. (♫”Nothing is Promised” / Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth OST♫) “Artorius and I will take care of Alexander,” Moony continued as he materialized a deck of cards, “Zayon, you and Umbris do your best to counter Red, and I.T.--” “--Clank and I shall deal with Ratchet,” I.T. declared as he picked Clank up with a Cable Tail. “Aerith, you and Galen keep watch of the child Bayonetta while the rest take on the Shadow.” “We’ll do better than look after her,” Aerith nodded confidently as Pearl handed Cereza over to her before she and Galen hurried off away from the action. Kaden #2 seemed indecisive of what to do next before running off to join Aerith and Galen. “Try as you may,” Shadow Alister spoke through its Skull Half, “your endeavors WILL be in vain; I WILL be the one left to decide MY fate!” The Shadow once more launched a volley of gears--smaller yet more saw-like this time around--at the team of Aligore, Vivi, Homura, Pearl, Phantom!Alex, and Kaden #1. Aligore countered this barrage by erecting a rotating barrier of burning tridents around the group, deflecting the saw-gears away. The gears, however, corrected themselves in midair and sought out their targets once more, this time aiming for weak spots in Aligore’s defenses. “Rift Ripper!” Kaden #1 called out unnecessarily as he pulled out a hand cannon-like weapon and fired a shadowy mass from its barrel into the horde of saw-gears. The mass--in reality a black hole--began to draw in the saw-gears into it, where there was no escaping. “Why would you carry around something so dangerous?!” Pearl fretted, astounding and horrified that such a weapon could exist. “Aren’t you worried that something like that could backfire?!” “Aw, c’mon, it’s only potentially dangerous,” Kaden #1 shrugged before rushing off to fight the Shadow. “Th-That doesn’t answer my question…!” a miffed Pearl muttered as she followed after Kaden #1, sidestepping yet another saw-gear along the way. With one swing of his cutlass, Admiral Vivi deflected 3 other saw-gears, which fell out of the air this time and imbedded themselves into the floor. “Got anything else to throw at us?” the Admiral taunted the Shadow. “Kinda boring just dealing with the same attack ad infinitum, y’know.” “Seems you are blind, Furret,” Shadow Alister retorted, “otherwise you would have noticed the difference in those gears you deflected.” “... come again…?” Vivi blurted as he looked down at the gears he had deflected earlier, taking note of the glowing yellow sphere in the center of each of them. These spheres were emitting a steadily rising humming sound as they transitioned gradually from yellow… to red. Realizing what this meant only a few seconds too late, the Admiral could only roll his eyes with an “Oh, come ON--” before getting blasted several yards away by the exploding gears. “Your Skill is Acting?” Alexander asked in a conversational tone, even as his body moved on its own to fight Moony and Artorius with a rapier in hand. “So, you can replicate other people’s abilities just from a glance?” “Yeah, but it takes a bit of practice to get it right,” Moony replied as he deflected Alexander’s rapier strikes with his deck of cards. “‘Course, having the Soul of your other self here did help--he may not be much for conversation anymore, but he’s still a great teacher.” “That’s great!” Alexander smiled even as he went for a slashing attack against Moony, only for it to be blocked by Artorius’ OmniWrench. “Alex, you really need to focus,” Artorius advised his son as his Wrench was locked against Alex’s rapier. “Try and free yourself from the Shadow’s control!” “I know, Dad, I’m trying,” Alexander replied while backstepping and throwing a Blizzard Spell in Artorius’ general direction (it ended up missing, much to his own relief), “but I have so many questions I want to ask!” “Break free first, then we can explain everything,” Moony proposed as he attempted to bind Alexander within a Fiendish Chain. “And trust me, I want to tell you everything SO badly.” “I appreciate that, Moony, thank you,” Alexander replied sincerely even as he was made to activate “Twin Twister”, causing a cyclone to form and shatter the Chains surrounding him, whilst a second Twister would appear… elsewhere. “Aurrrrgh, I seriously didn’t like when this happened the FIRST time…!” Alex growled as 3 “Tremendous Fire” appeared in his hand. “Shit. If he activates those,” Moony gasped as he remembered what kind of card “Tremendous Fire” was, “it’ll not only cause trouble for us, it’ll hurt HIM, too!” “No…! Alex, don’t let him make you do it!!” Artorius frantically plead with his son. ““Don’t… let him”… … That’s it!” Alexander exclaimed. “He may have control over my body, but not my Will--OUR Will!” The Mark of Burning Soul flashed on Alexander’s chest briefly, during which time he regained control of his body long enough to rip the “Tremendous Fire” cards in his hand to shreds before they could activate. “Whatever this Shadow’s deal is, he won’t be the one calling the shots around here. He won’t stop us from saving Alister from his own despair--he’s done the same for me and Red, and we’ve all become closer because of him! Our worlds have become one, become greater, because he never gave up on us, and I’ll be damned if we lose him to the voice in his head that tells him that all hope is lost!!” Alexander’s body began to blaze with a brilliant red aura, the feeling of the Shadow’s control over it waning as his Will asserted itself as the stronger force. “So help me, I will move both heaven and earth, and shake the foundations of Creation itself to see to it that we ALL make it through!! DO YOU HEAR ME?!” he now furiously directed at Shadow Alister, his aura now intensified, the highest point reaching up to the middle of Shadow Alister’s face. “We WILL pull Alister out of this, and we’ll do it through YOU whether you OR Alister LIKE it or NOT!! And I won’t even hesitate to beat some sense into BOTH of you to make it happen!! Neo-Spacian Red Dragon Archfiend!!” The Signer Dragon-turned-Neo-Spacian erupted from Alexander’s blazing aura with a mighty roar. “Strike now! ABSOLUTE NEO FORCE!!!” A crimson inferno engulfed Crim’s arms as the Neo-Spacian Signer Dragon lunged right at the Shadow’s face, the impact forcing the Boss several yards back while partially cracking the Skull Half of its face. Noticing that his attack dazed the Shadow, even for a moment, Alexander took a calming breath before turning his attention toward Moony. “Explanation Time, please!” he chimed with a cheeky grin. “Alex, really,” Artorius shook his head, amazed at the possible implication that Alexander had powered through the Shadow’s puppeteering just for the sake of getting Moony to talk. “No no, it’s fine, Artie,” Moony insisted. “A promise is a promise, after all, and right now I have to honor that deal. So, Alex,” he added, “what do you wish to know?” “I feel like we’ve got enough time for one question,” Alexander figured, “but I’ll make it a two-parter.” Giving Moony the sternest look he could muster, Alexander asked his question: “Were you truly the one responsible for the time loops continuing after Zayon’s ending, and for everything that happened to Zayon after that, like his memory being suppressed?” “Ah, good, the question(s) I was hoping to answer,” Moony sighed. “I’ll get straight to the point, then: no, I am not the one responsible for the time loops continuing, nor for Zayon losing his memory. I only assumed the role I played as a diversion.” “... what?!” Alexander blurted incredulously. “If not you,” Artorius stepped in for his son, “then who was it? Who is the one responsible for all of that?” “Someone who’s not too bad at acting, himself,” Moony answered as calmly as possible. “In fact, he’s been playing such a role since first entering this Watch. Alex, I believe you were quite accurate as to who it was that this individual was masquerading as.” “... so, it was one of the Kadens after all,” Alexander calmed down enough to reply. “But then… WHO is it?!” “The one with all the answers you seek,” Moony answered, “for he was, and still is, the first Soul to have entered this Watch, the first… well, of just about everything to do with this War. And his name is….” “... you’re not going to… y-you know…,” Clank asked I.T. while the latter had Ratchet bound and suspended in the air by several cables, one wrapped around each of the young lombax’s limbs as another pair got to work on disarming Ratchet of his weaponry, all in an (admittedly straightforward and surprisingly effective) effort to keep him from doing any harm to his friends and himself. “Are you?” “Clank,” I.T. huffed irritably, “if you could cease with the stammering and “spit out” whatever is the point you are trying to make, I can answer your enquiry far more easily.” Making a rather uncharacteristic whimper, Clank steeled himself into asking his dreaded question: “Are you going to… put Ratchet through a “Hen-Tie” routine?” A shocked expression on Ratchet’s face made way for an uncontrolled, awkward giggling fit. I.T., likewise, slowly turned his head towards Clank, revealing a dropped jaw and squinted eyes. “... what… sort of… are you KIDDING me, Clank?!” I.T. hissed in utter disbelief, his monotone dropped completely. “Did whatever happened to you on Death Path really scar you THAT badly that you had to ask me such a thing?!” “Yes.” I.T. couldn’t help but to drag a palm down his own face in response. “... trust me, Clank, I believe we’d ALL wish to forget that series of events,” he replied as soon has he calmed down, the monotone returning to his voice. “For one reason or another. Besides, I’d never do that to Ratchet, now really--” I.T. and Clank’s little chat was quickly interrupted when they realized that Ratchet’s giggle fit abruptly turned into a coughing fit. A familiar cough, in fact, that hadn’t been heard since the latter half of Act 3. “Ratchet!!” Clank gasped in worry as he saw his friend convulse in I.T.’s cables with every cough. To his uneasy relief, however, Ratchet’s coughing began to die down almost as abruptly, to be replaced by a raspy breathing. “Are you alright, Ratchet?” “I would release him from the cables,” I.T. explained, “but his body could still be puppeteered by the Shadow.” “It’s… fine,” Ratchet uttered in a hoarse whisper, his breathing steady yet still raspy. “It just… popped up again… when he woke up….” “... “he”?” I.T. repeated. “Who is this “he” you speak of, Ratchet?” “Seems like… there’s more than just… one me right now,” Ratchet explained. “Or is it… that I’m more than just me… right now… you’ve figured that, too… didn’t ya, pal…?” he asked Clank. Clank quietly gasped as he recalled such a theory that he had brought up in a conversation with Alexander near the very beginning: "I have theorized, that when time had crashed in our world, the parallel timelines had somehow converged into one, and with it, everyone in our universe was combined with their parallel selves. That must be how Ratchet acquired his condition." “So, it’s true?,” Clank asked, now realizing what was happening. “That the time crash in our world did cause us to be merged with our alternate selves? Even… that Ratchet…?” “Yeah,” Ratchet nodded, his breathing now not as labored or raspy as before. “I don’t quite understand it either, but… well, that Ratchet apologized to me for giving me his condition. Somehow.” “But why is that Ratchet resurfacing now?” I.T. puzzled. “What reason would he have to reawaken within your own Soul?” “Call me crazy, but… he told me that… he knows the real nature of Alister’s Shadow,” Ratchet answered, just as confused as the others were. I.T. blinked, a realization dawning upon him. “So… that Ratchet is reacting to a presence from his own timeline. That must be it.” “A presence…? What do you mean?” Clank questioned. “What that Ratchet--the Ratchet who died at the hands of his Alister--is reacting to… it is here, within this Soul Room. Rather,” I.T. ominously corrected himself, “he is here.” “”He”...?!” Ratchet gasped, the pieces of the puzzle starting to fall in place in his mind. “He,” I.T. answered firmly, “the one responsible for all of this--the Watch’s power, the Time Loops, us Altisters… and more. The one who calls himself….” “You are NOT turning me into a FROG!!” Cereza protested vehemently in Aerith’s face. “I don’t see how it’s supposed to help return me back to my normal age, anyway!” “I mean, given her current age, wouldn’t she end up a polliwog at best?” Galen surmised. “That’s still a tadpole, Galen,” Aerith corrected. “What? I thought “polliwog” was the stage between a tadpole and frog--” “It doesn’t matter WHAT stage of a frog’s life cycle you’re talking about--you are NOT turning me into one!!” “Aww, c’mon, Cereza, I’m only trying to cast Frog on you to see if my Esuna will clear up all of your ailments. Besides,” Aerith playfully added, “haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like to be a cute little animal for a day?” Not about to take this patronizing sitting down, Cereza countered, “I can be a “cute little animal” anytime I want when I’m my real age. Although, I’m sure being a frog would beat taking a sword through the torso, wouldn’t it?” “Try asking Dante,” Aerith cheerily taunted back. “Beg your pardon…?” “Hate to break up this passive-aggressive verbal catfight, girls,” Galen cut in, “but we’re not gonna get anywhere by just bickering over how to handle this dilemma.” “He’s right. We’ve all wasted enough time as it is.” Kaden #2 approached the Babysitting Group with a steady, urgent gait. “We need Bayonetta and her Infernal Demons to help end this Shadow quickly. And for the record, having one’s age regressed is something far more complicated than a mere “Status Ailment”. “So, no Froggonetta?” Aerith just about relented. “Not at all. Now, this Regression could actually wear off on its own, but it’ll take too long waiting for it to do so. So I… …,” Kaden #2 trailed off, considering his next words with the utmost care. He continued, in an almost confessional tone, “... I will have to revert her back myself, with my own power.” “What? You have a similar power to the Shadow’s?” Galen gasped. “... actually, it would be more accurate to say that the Shadow has a similar power to mine.” With a snap of his fingers, Kaden #2 materialized an ornate, platinum-colored staff in his hand to the muted sound of several clock alarms going off. “Not how I wanted this facade of mine to start to unravel, but time is truly of the essence now….” Tapping the end of his scepter-like staff on the floor, Kaden #2 created a Clockwork Glyph beneath Cereza’s feet. “This’ll be over quick.” And indeed, within seconds Bayonetta found herself aged back up to her normal self after a brilliant display of light. “Wow, it worked!” Aerith gleefully clapped. “Bayonetta, quickly,” Kaden #2 urged, “the Shadow’s winged gears--those need to be destroyed.” “Alright, but you owe me at least one answer afterwards,” Bayonetta demanded. “AFFA TADAAG NAPTA!” Still dazed from Neo-Spacian Red Dragon Archfiend’s attack, Shadow Alister found himself getting pinned down by 3 pairs of giant arms. Actually, four of these arms were pinning him down to the floor, whilst the remaining two arms began vigorously pummeling him all over his geared form, ending with both fists each slamming down on the Shadow’s two winged gears, shattering them to pieces. “No! How is this happening?!” Shadow Alister roared in disbelief. “That should do it, then,” Bayonetta nodded. “Now, for my question to you, Kaden,” she said while turning to face Kaden #2. “You say that the Shadow has power similar to yours, and you possess power that not even Alister has been shown to use through this Pocket Watch. Would that make you the Pocket Watch’s source, Kaden? IF that is even your real identity, of course,” she added. “I do recall Alexander expressing his own concerns on the matter--” “--and he is correct,” Kaden #2 interjected. “Unsurprising, of course--I’ve observed from the very beginning how analytical he can be. It’s true, that there should only be one Kaden within this Watch, and it is the one fighting alongside Aligore and the other Souls.” “Then, who are you?” Galen questioned. “You mean the lot of you don’t know?” Bayonetta asked in shock as she glanced between Galen and Aerith, the two Souls shrugging in reply. “Only the real Kaden and the Altisters currently active--Moony, I.T., and now Zayon--are in on the knowledge of who I truly am; the rest of the Souls and Altisters simply know me as a “second Kaden”. In truth, I am the reason that this whole mess even exists in the first place--the Origin War, this Pocket Watch… even the Pathways to Origin, by extension.” “!!!!” Bayonetta exclaimed. “The reason for all your problems never started with Isamy, of course,” the figure pretending to be Kaden confessed while slowing making a motion with his free arm as if to pull a mask off over his head. “In fact, alongside Protheus, the true culprit of it all was, and is, me. For you see, my name is….” “Honey--I mean, Red!” Zayon blurted as he protected himself from an incoming Shock Spell with his giant Scrapbook. “C’mon, man, you need to break free!” “Can’t you tell I’m trying?!” Red protested as he was made to scrawl several more Shock symbols in a row. “Unlike what happened with Adrastos, puppetry isn’t always as easy to deal with compared to mind control! I at least have autonomy with the latter.” “Gotta keep him from casting…!” Umbris uttered aloud as a rattling noise could be heard coming from his cape. “Fiendish Chain!” the Neo-Spacian commanded as several ebon chains erupted from within his cape, and proceeded to ensnare Red with the intention of preventing both Skill and Action from the Dragon Elder. “Sorry Red, I know you don’t exactly like being bound and all, but this should keep you from fighting us against your will.” “No no, it’s fine,” Red drawled semi-sarcastically, “it’s not like this won’t drudge up any nasty memories that I’d really wish to forg--YAAHH!!” the Dragon Elder yelped as he was suddenly assailed by a miniature tempest erupted around him, the winds somehow causing the Fiendish Chain to become brittle while Red was relatively unharmed by them. “What in the Ancestors’ name--?!” “Shit, I forgot Alex!” Umbris cursed, realizing what had happened while he watched the Fiendish Chains fall off of Red. “Shadow Alister must’ve forced Alex to play Mystical Space Typhoon, or even Twin Twister!” “Y’know, as a Duel Monster, one would think you’d prevent getting outplayed,” Red cursed their own luck as his body continued from where it left off, attempting to trigger the Shock Spells once more-- “Sorry, Red!!” BONK!!! “OUCH!” Red yelped as the thick Scrapbook was brought down upon his head, followed by a sea of stars dancing before his eyes. The sudden assault caused Red’s Shock Glyphs to vanish, unused. “Sonnuva… HONEY!! I’d appreciate it if you didn’t beat me over the head with our precious memories!” “I’m sorry, Red, I’m really sorry,” Zayon blathered, tears running down his face. “I’m sorry, but I… I just couldn’t stand seeing you like this--being made to act against your will, forced to fight your friends. Knowing that you’ve been through this before, I… Red, you have to fight it… I know you have the strength of willpower to break free of the Shadow’s control!” “I’m trying! Figuring out a method of puppetry isn’t easy! Perhaps he’s using something to do it? On his gears?” Red guessed. “I dunno…!” Umbris said as he glanced at the Shadow, trying to pinpoint its method of control. “If there is anything on the gears that’s making it possible, it’s not being made obvious (You’d think that would be the case, in this sorta situation--such telltale signs would act as a weak point). That being said… the Shadow itself is only using variations of its basic attack,” he added as he watched the group of Souls combating the projectile gears, “so whatever it’s doing to control the three of you in addition to fending off the Souls is dividing his attention and/or his power--he can’t put all of his focus on just one action without dropping another.” “... could it be… neural control?” Zayon sniffed. “Call me crazy, but I think I heard something about that before, somewhere….” “Could explain why it’s the body that’s being controlled as opposed to the mind being influenced,” Umbris mused before returning his attention to the Shadow. “Guess the best course of action is to give the Shadow more to worry about. Got that, Admiral?” he added just as Admiral Vivi literally slid into view on his back, having been flung across the room by some other attack. The Admiral silently replied with a thumbs-up, partly out of his own embarrassment, before quickly getting back to his feet and dashing back into the fray. “I hope that works,” Zayon sighed. “If the Shadow’s control can be lessened even a bit, I’m sure Red can break free… he has a lot of strength in him… more so than me…,” he trailed off with a sad whisper. “What’s with the sudden pessimism, hun--I-I mean, Zai?” Red questioned as he struggled against his body scrawling yet another Shock Glyph. Zayon gave Red a weak, teary smile. “It’s nothing, dear. Nothing that can be helped, really. I’m just… not sure what I’m even supposed to contribute to any of this--” “I know for a fact your contribution isn’t the issue, Zayon,” Red retorted, his scrawling hand actually freezing in place. “I know you--or rather, your Red knows you, and I can tell--through the memories you gave me--that there’s more going on with you right now than you’re willing to admit. Now, tell me what’s the matter,” he asked tenderly. “I… it’s not important right now,” Zayon shook his head insistently. “... I’m sorry, dearie, you must be confused,” Red cooed somewhat darkly. “When I said “tell me what’s the matter”... that wasn’t a request!” A second later, Zayon found himself narrowly dodging Red’s Shock Spell, which had seemingly been aimed at him by Red of his own volition as opposed to through Shadow Alister’s control. “R-Red…!” “Now then, given the situation and our group’s natural habit when inside someone’s mind, I think it’s time we had a frank discussion about what you’re not saying to me” the dragon sternly stated. “And you’d better get straight to the point, ”Adonis”, or I may just let the next Shock Spell HIT its mark!” “... honestly, I wouldn’t mind if it did,” Zayon uttered miserably. “Dude, what the HELL is your issue?!” Umbris snapped at Zayon. “You were pretty gung-ho about saving Alister earlier, and now you’re choosing quite a moment to have a fuckin’ existential crisis and shit!” “That’s why I’m questioning why I’m even doing this; the more I remember, the more I question why I’m even HERE! What good can I contribute to Alister’s rescue when I… when I’m the LEAST-qualified out of ALL of us?!” “What do you mean, “least-qualified”?” Red retorted, while suddenly aware that he could actually move on his own again--the Shadow must’ve had more problems on its plate now. “What is it about you that makes you the least-qualified? Is it because of Rex? What he said to you? Zayon, you need to move on from that--” “--I don’t know if I CAN anymore!!” Zayon wailed as he dropped to his knees, doubling over as he howled in anguish. “Zayon, I KNOW you can, you just have to… … what do you mean “anymore”?” “I mean, it makes sense,” Umbris pondered. “Aren’t the Altisters even here because their respective Alister kicked the bucket?” “But by my understanding, Zayon is the only exception here,” Red explained. “Zayon was formed here through a loophole in the Watch’s system, and his Alister… is still… … ….” A cold chill ran through Red’s body as his mind drew closer to the horrible conclusion. “... … Zayon… no… ….” “... it’s… as I said,” Zayon uttered silently, tears falling from his expressionless eyes, “I just… didn’t have the strength… … my last memory before coming here… was of me looking through all the memories I had made… enjoying a nice glass of red wine… … with my anti-depressant….” It was Red’s turn to howl in horror and anguish. Umbris, too, was left shaken and horror-stricken by this confession. Yet he held it together enough to question Zayon some more: “... your depression didn’t stop after your Altister was formed, did it? You must’ve tried to… even here… … is that why your memory was suppressed? Is that why Moony suppressed your memory?! So you could stop trying to KILL YOURSELF?!!” “... … … it wasn’t Moony who did it…,” Zayon replied emotionlessly, lifting his tear-streaked face to look into Umbris’ eyes. He looked almost lifeless now. “Moony… doesn’t have that sort of power. Nor did he know of any “loophole”--there never was one to begin with. No… it was someone else who--” An ear-splitting roar and a split second later, Zayon found himself slammed against the floor, pinned down by a furious Red and his burning glare. “WHY?!?!” the dragon shrieked, dangerously close to spewing fire right into Zayon’s face. “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING??! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT, YOU BASTARD?!!-BASTARD?!! Why-Why did-did you-you take-take away-away our-our happy-happy ending?-ending?" Red’s face was utterly demented, more so as it appeared to be stretching itself out, his body fading in and out of flux as a second projection, a much cleaner version, stretched itself next to the dragon, with both of them pinning the Lombax to the ground. “Why-Why did-did you-you break-break what-what was-was already-already fine!-fine!” both Red and Reid demanded. “Red?!” Umbris yelped in disbelief at what he was witnessing. “We-We could-could have-have talked-talked it-it out.-out. But-But instead-instead you-you hid-hid it?!?!-it?!?!” both dragons seethed. “Was-Was putting-putting on-on a-a brave-brave face-face more-more important-important to-to you-you than-than coming-coming to-to us-us for-for help?!!-help?!! I-I could’ve-could’ve helped-helped you!!-you!! Alex-Alex could-could have-have helped-helped you!!!-you!!! ANYONE!!!-ANYONE!!! So-So WHY-WHY didn’t-didn’t you?!?!-you?!?!” “I… I didn’t know what to do…,” Zayon croaked emotionlessly, seemingly unphased by there now being two dragons before him. “I just… couldn’t put that burden on you all, I… I don’t know what I was thinking… that things would’ve been better had I not… ….” Umbris had his hands clamped over his muzzle, the scene playing out before his eyes becoming too much for him. “... and we thought Alister was having it bad. That damned beast, depression….” He had to tear his eyes away from this nightmare… and so he glanced down at the scrapbook Zayon had left on the floor and, after a moment of consideration, dared himself to open it and browse through its contents…. The twin dragons gripped Zayon by his jacket, hauling him up to their yellow eyes. Their dual-forms fluctuating almost painfully as they were trying to tear each other apart so they could tear him apart. “You-You thought?!-thought?! Do-Do you-you even-even understand-understand what-what you-you even-even did?!-did?!” they bellowed, tears streaming down their faces. “You-You made-made us-us lose-lose EVERYTHING!!-EVERYTHING!! We-We lost-lost Rex-Rex because of you!” Slowly, Reid was overlaying himself back over Red, their scars melting away as a different dragon reared over Zayon. “DO YOU HEAR ME?! WE LOST REX! As well as everyone else! We lost our lives! And after I was dragged along for the ride, AND YET YOU NEVER TOLD ME?! Not once when your memory came back did! You! Ever! Tell! ME!!!! YOU KEPT IT A SECRET THE FIRST TIME! AND YOU KEPT IT A SECRET THE SECOND TIME?!?! ANSWER ME DAMN YOU!” “What if Zayon wasn’t the only one keeping a secret from us?” Umbris chimed in as he looked up from the current page in the scrapbook. “What if the other Altisters--?” “Umbris, be QUIET!!” Reid snapped at the Neo-Spacian. “He’s right… Umbris,” Zayon weakly agreed. “About everything… this is the mess I made… the cycles continued because of me… and I’ve doomed so, so many Alisters to a terrible fate… all because I wasn’t strong enough….” “Can you at least explain this, though?” Umbris pressed on despite Reid’s demand, pulling out one of the photos from the scrapbook: Within its white border was a single figure against a black void, their form distorted save for what looked like a chained robe that the figure was wearing. “Call me crazy, but something seems strangely familiar about this one.” “Well?!” Reid barked, shaking Zayon into responding while holding him up to the photograph for a better look. “... that… I could’ve sworn I saw that in a dream,” Zayon recounted wearily. “Could’ve been my dying dream, for all I know… still, I think I remember… talking with that figure….” “About what?” Reid pressured. “Red--er, Reid, please, let him speak,” Umbris pleaded in a rather Alexander-like tone. “Can you recall that conversation, Zayon?” “I… I’m not sure if I… wait… Umbris, hand it to me,” Zayon requested with an open hand. Umbris obliged, motioning for Reid to lower Zayon again so that the photo could be given to him. “If I hold this photograph,” Zayon hypothesized, “maybe I can get the memory in it to play--ah!” His eyes suddenly snapped open wide as a beam of light shone from them, forming a screen before them. And on that screen, a scene began to play out: a robed figure bound in chains, standing within a black void. The robe obstructed all of the figure’s features from view--even within its hood was a void as black as its surroundings. A distorted voice spoke from within the figure’s robe: “I sense that you are nearing your end… a real pity it is, for it to be as such. This story you’ve built, your supposed “Happy Ending”, was in the end anything but. Yet I sense within you the desire to make things right, to forge a greater outcome for you and yours. It need not end here, you know. You can start over anew, shuffle the deck, roll the dice, whatever analogy you prefer, and find your Happily Ever After once more... within the Door of Origin. And I can help you achieve the ending that you and yours oh so rightfully deserve… but, you must be willing to let me help you. Give your all unto me, and I will make your desires manifest: a new beginning from which a grander tomorrow shall rise. And so, I ask this of you, Alister “Zayon” Azimuth: Do you accept…?” “Noooooo!” Reid wailed. “Please, no, Zayon, don’t accept it!” he begged, as if this were presently happening. “We have too much to lose! We can still be happy. Please, don’t do it!” “Reid, easy!” Umbris warned. “We don’t know what will happen if we interfere with--” ”... so, you refuse. “… is it because you wish to simply cease to be? Have you truly given up on life that badly? Do you not care how your actions will affect those who know you? Those who love you? “… how pathetic. “You merely wish for an end to your suffering? Think again. Speaking of, now that I’ve given this further consideration, I have deemed you to be of no use to me anyway. So, this is how things shall go--as punishment for your refusal, you will not be granted the embrace of death you so desire; rather, you shall continue to suffer, in a world torn asunder by your selfishness. There will be no backing out from this point onward for you Your punishment, is LIFE. “Now, begone.” “GAH!!” Zayon yelped as he clutched his head, still wide-eyed. “What’s… happening…?!” he struggled as he literally went cross-eyed, with the screen likewise splitting in two, now both showing static. “I--I’m… okay…?” Zayon uttered, confused as to why he didn’t have a splitting headache at this point. “... wait, shh! I hear something…,” Umbris shushed the two as he got closer to the two screens, pinpointing the sounds coming from the one on the right. “Is this one audio only…?” he puzzled as he tried to find the volume switch. Zayon, as if on cue, grabbed the tip of his own right ear and pulled it upwards, which had the effect of turning up that screen’s volume. Convenient. “Guys~ Dinner’s ready!” a voice that Umbris recognized as Alexander’s called out. It still sounded muffled even with the volume turned up, so it may have been coming from the other room. Umbris could also barely make out the faint sound of a very slow heartbeat…. “I’ll be down in a moment, Alex~!” a Red-sounding voice replied, again muffled. “Oh, but do check on Al, please? He did say he might lay down for a nap.” “No,” Reid uttered, horrified. “No, no no nooooo.” “Sure thing, I’m right by his door anyway,” Alex’s voice chimed before the sound of knocking could be heard. “Al, you up?” A brief pause as nothing but silence replied back to Alex. A bit more knocking was heard, a bit louder this time. “Al? Everything okay?” Again, more silence. A sigh could be heard from Alex. “Okay, just hope you’re decent, ‘cuz I’m coming in,” he warned as a doorknob could be heard turning, followed by the squeaking of door hinges. “Alister, I just wanted to know if… you… … REEEEED!! RATCHEEEET!!! Someone, HEEELP!!!” Alexander’s cries for help were answered by a chorus of rapid, heavy footfall. The next voice to be heard sounded somewhat like Ratchet’s, yet a bit deeper and gravelly: “Alex, what’s going on… ALISTER!!” “What the hell--SHIT!!” Umbris recognized his own voice as the one cursing. “Ah, SHIT! Al, man, c’mon, you can’t--can SOMEONE call a doctor, please?! Raphael, Joy, whoever, just--HURRY!!” “Please…, nooo,” Reid uttered, reaching out for Zayon. More thunderous footfall, followed by a yelp from Umbris before--”Alist-AAAAAAAAAHHH!!!” Unmistakenly, it was Red’s voice. “N-No, I can’t, I can’t--!” Reid sputtered hysterically. “I don’t remember this!” “Reid, shush, we don’t know for certain yet!” Umbris shushed the dragon. “Alister, why?!” Red’s voice shrieked through the white noise. “Al, please, don’t do this, please, PLEASE, don’t--I-I don’t want to be alone, Al, please…!” “Paramedics are on their way,” a Talwyn-esque voice urgently called over the commotion. “What if there’s no time?!” Ratchet’s voice fretted. “... we’re just gonna have to MAKE time,” Alexander’s voice said determinedly. “Hurry, we need to get him onto his side... Oh god, I can feel a pulse, but just barely.” “You know what you’re doing, Alex?!” “God, I hope so….” “It sounds like they’re trying to resuscitate you,” Umbris said to Zayon. “I just… wonder if it worked at all….” “So, it’s about to happen again….” Umbris’ ears picked up on a sound coming from the other screen: a concerned voice, which sounded like… Kaden’s? “This is about as bad as when Trigger, uhm… y’know,” another voice chimed in, this time sounding like Alister’s, although it spoke in a more casual tone. “YES, WE KNOW, MOONY: WHEN TRIGGER’S ALISTER “BLEW HIS BRAINS OUT”,” the unmistakable monotone of I.T. sassed harshly. “HONESTLY, THIS IS JUST MISERABLE.” “Y’know, it’s okay to actually look like you’re upset, I.T.,” Moony sassed back. “THAT’S NOT WHAT I NEED TO BE WASTING MY ENERGY ON.” “Suit yourself.” “Hang on, is that…,” Umbris uttered as he glanced between the two screens, “... did these two scenes happen at the same time?” “Gentlemen, please, we need to be prepared for the worst,” Kaden’s voice implored from Screen #2. “This Alister’s Altister is already starting to form; if he dies, we’ll end up back at the beginning of Isamy’s Origin War. Again.” “Hey, thirty-fifth time’s the charm,” Moony’s voice verbally shrugged. A heavy slap sound quickly followed. “Ow~!” “THIS IS NO TIME TO BE JOKING, MOONY!!!’ I.T.’s voice seethed, his All-Caps being used more for his sudden, angry shouting instead of his usual android-like tone. “A MAN IS LOSING HIS GODDAMNED LIFE AND ALL YOU SEE FIT TO DO IS MAKE LIGHT OF IT!!! NOT TO MENTION THAT THERE HAS ALREADY BEEN THIRTY-FOUR ITERATIONS OF THE ORIGIN WAR, AND WE STILL HAVE NO CONCRETE EVIDENCE THAT THERE WON’T BE ANY CONSEQUENCES TO THERE BEING SO MANY; ALL OF THOSE TIMELINES STILL EXIST FOR ALL WE KNOW!!” “W-Wait a second,” Reid blurted out. “The time loops don’t cause a timeline to cease to exist…? That means… our timeline could still be…. And Rex… h-he’s still….” “Dammit, Al, breathe already…!” Screen #1 continued to play out the sounds of Zayon’s final moments, with Alexander’s voice pleading for Zayon to regain consciousness, all while the faint heartbeat grew ever slower, drawing closer to a certain stop. “Please… don’t leave me alone. After my friends and family in my world…, I-I-I can’t lose you too,” Reid’s voice pleaded from the screen. “Dammit… I wish there was something we could do,” Moony’s voice uttered somberly from Screen #2. “Can’t we, [[BZZZT]]?” he asked of someone, the name of the recipient mysteriously omitted by static. “At this point… we have no power over the physical world, no way to influence Alister’s fate,” Kaden’s voice quietly replied. “All we can do… is wait and see… ….” … … … … … … … … … [DING!] [“Orvus-Apparatus Rewind Initiating. Beginning return route to previous starting point.”] “... dammit….” “... so, it begins again,” I.T’s voice uttered hoarsely. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” It was two voices screaming in unison, two dragons crying out in anguish. “He’s… he’s gone,” Umbris’s voice quietly uttered from Screen #1. “I… dammit, Al… we’re sorry….” “This… this can’t be it… Al,” Alexander’s voice whimpered. “My god… please, this can’t be how it ends… please….” … … … … … … … … … [KAFF--KAFF--AURGFF!!] “AAAH!!!” “Alister!!” “Wait, what?!” Umbris shouted--both in-screen and out--in disbelief, as he heard the sound of someone regurgitating their stomach contents onto the floor. “What’s going on?!” “What’s going on?!” Moony’s voice on Screen #2 blurted out. “Did he… did that Alister just come back to life?!” “But… but his Altister just finished forming,” I.T. puzzled. “And the Apparatus is still sending us back…!” “Well, that’s new,” Kaden’s voice mused. “Seems being legally dead still qualifies as an ignition. We’re still being sent back to the starting point… and that Alister might still live to see another day.” “Well, that’s good, right? At least for them?” Moony asked, referring to the events on Screen #1. “Uuugh… what’s… what’s going on…?” a new voice spoke up, this time with Zayon’s tone--the Altister had just “awoken”. Upon his awakening, the white noise on Screen #2 cleared, now showing someone’s blurred Point-of-View from inside the Pocket Watch’s chamber. “Well, this is going to be a LONG story,” Moony sighed with a slight, mirthless chuckle. “Oh, Ancestors…!” Red’s voice sighed from Screen #1. “Al, baby, just hang on, okay? You’re gonna make it!” “Red…?” Zayon on Screen #2 said feebly as he heard his beloved’s voice. “Red, is that… where are you--?” “--oh no,” Kaden’s voice suddenly uttered in fear. “Nonononono--Red’s got his hand on the Pocket Watch! It’s going to--!” [“Orvus-Apparatus Rewind Beginning In 3… 2… 1.”] “NO!” Screen #1 emitted a loud static before seemingly cutting off suddenly. Yet that didn’t stop the events that played on that Screen from being seen through another screen within Screen #2: Red’s body bolting upright with a sharp, sudden jerk, eyes wide as he let out a croaked moan before crashing to the floor in the middle of the room. “... R-Red?” Alexander’s voice stuttered in worry. “He must’ve just passed out from the stress,” Ratchet’s voice pondered. “I know I’d feel just about ready to--” “--if he’s passed out, then why are his eyes wide open?” Umbris’s voice cut in. “And--wh-what’s going on with Alister’s watch?!” “Red…?! Red?!!” Zayon gasped on Screen #2, now more frantic and concerned for whatever he was seeing of the other side, even as the screen he was watching began to be obscured by a bright blue light… before abruptly shutting off. “... … aaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!” A loud CRASH directed the POV’s attention towards a familiar dragon, having suddenly fell into the Pocket Watch’s chamber from above. “GOD-FUCKING-YIKES!!!” Moony’s voice yelped. “RED!!” Zayon shrieked as he got up--at this point it was clear that the POV was his--rushing over to Red’s side. “Ugh… Alister…?” Red sputtered as he quickly came to, finding himself in a new surrounding. “Wh-What is this place…?!” “[[BZZZT!]] what just HAPPENED?!” Moony’s voice questioned, his addressee’s name once again omitted. “This is bad,” Kaden’s voice fretted. “Red was making contact with the Watch when the Rewind went into gear. It… It pulled his Soul and consciousness inside…!” “But what does that mean?” I.T. puzzled. “It means... Red’s body will be left behind,” Kaden’s voice explained, “and will be stuck in a vegetative state while his Soul is brought along with us….” “What...? WHAT?!” Moony shrieked furiously at “Kaden”. “[[BZZZT!!]], are you telling us that we’ve basically KILLED him?! What the everloving FUCK, [[BZZZT!!!]]?!” “... so, it wasn’t you that left us,” Reid quietly uttered to Zayon, “... it was I that left you behind, all this time… wait-wait, so-so you’re-you’re--!!” Reid echoed as he body fluctuated once again before splitting into two separate dragons once more. “So you’re… not just Zayon’s memory of his Red,” Red panted in complete shock as he looked his alternate self in the eye. “You… really ARE Zayon’s Red…!” Before Reid could reply, they were interrupted by the horrified howling coming from the screen; Zayon, in the recording, was evidently experiencing a mental breakdown caused by the revelation that his Red was effectively killed… and that he was responsible for it. The screen obscured at certain points, only showing brief flashes of Zayon’s P.O.V. during that time, but it was clear that the Altister was writhing in anguish. “We need to restrain him--he’s having a--NO!!” Kaden’s voice screamed in horror as Zayon’s P.O.V. was becoming stained in red--Zayon was viciously harming himself, tearing parts of his flesh from his face as his screams were now made in pain as well as anguish. “ZAYON, STOP! STOP!! I SAID STOP!!!!” The last thing Zayon’s P.O.V. revealed--before he could gouge out his own eyes--was “Kaden” reaching out to shield Zayon’s face-- … … … After a suspenseful minute of silence, the Screen’s image flickered back on, with “Kaden” seemingly adjusting the angle as if it were a camera. “There we go,” “Kaden” sighed wearily as he took a few steps back, showing that I.T. was standing directly behind him, while Moony could be seen further back trying his best to console a(n understandably) traumatized Reid. “... so, you’ve done more than just immobilize him,” I.T. mused quietly. “You… had also wiped his memories….” “Sealed them, actually,” “Kaden” corrected. “I… didn’t wish to erase his individuality, and yet… I had to do something about his suicidal tendency; it wouldn’t’ve been good to leave that unchecked. You saw the reason for yourself. I merely sealed away any memories that would trigger him--memories of his son, his home life… even his wedding....” “And what of his…?” I.T. asked, glancing back at the pair in the background. “We’ll need to accommodate him, of course, like the rest of the Souls here,” “Kaden” explained. “However… there is the risk of Zayon being triggered if he sees his Red here, so we’ll have to stow him away somewhere. The Talent Zayon gained may also prove to be a problem if he figures out how it is used… … I.T.?” “Kaden” gasped, taken aback at the sight of I.T.’s face contorted in sorrow beneath his hood, tears streaming down his face. Before “Kaden” could say anything else to the Altister, I.T. hurriedly stumbled away, either to hide his shameful display, or to simply be as far away from “Kaden” as possible. Meanwhile, Moony was fastly approaching “Kaden”--Red having gone off someplace else to cry himself to sleep--and all “Kaden” could get out was “Moony, I--” before getting struck across the face by the furious Altister. “When the hell is this supposed to stop…?” Moony seethed through clenched teeth. “When the hell are we supposed to help rectify the mistake YOU made? The wrongs that YOU caused because you couldn’t let go?! Because you got sick and tired of FAILING?!!” HUH?!” Moony now had “Kaden” held tightly by the front of his shirt. “Look what just happened. Not only do we have to go through that DAMNED war again with another Alister, but now we’re going back with the Soul of someone who DIDN’T die!” “I--” “No-no, you’re right, I got that mixed up,” Moony sarcastically corrected himself. “Someone who didn’t die up until we STOLE HIS FUCKING SOUL!!” He threw “Kaden” onto the ground. “And if we thought that Alister was suicidal before, then BOY HOWDY is he gonna wanna take another Prescription Cocktail knowing his husband’s a fucking VEGETABLE!! But hey, what do you care, huh?” Moony shrugged with a softer, hissed tone. “It’s not like you really gave a damn about the 34 Alister Azimuths whose lives have either ended or been ruined by this whole debacle. NOR about us Afterimages who’ve been created as a result of those Alisters dying, or the Souls that are getting dragged along for the fucking ride. Do you? We are all just reminders of your continued failure; you won’t even look us in the damned EYE unless you wanted something out of us, wanted US to do something for you. You could care less about any of us, so long as you can atone for your sins at the end of the day. So I am begging you, please... DON’T start acting like you give a shit now! Don’t act like you’re “sorry” for THIS one’s life being ruined,” Moony spat in “Kaden”’s face as he pointed straight at the “camera”, “when you barely ever bat an eye for the 33 Alisters who died before him, or their respective Afterimages that were born from those deaths. Why this one now, huh? Is it because unlike OUR Alisters, this one’s managed to survive long enough to get married? Build a family? Bring a CHILD into the world?--nevermind the fact said child hates his GUTS!!! If there is anyone here who should be giving a damn about this one, it should be ME! I WANTED TO HELP HIM!!” Moony hollered, furious tears running down his face. “I wanted to see him be happy--he DESERVED it after all the bullshit he’d gone through!! I wanted to see him pull through, and grow past his depression after Rex left! I wanted to see him LIVE, DAMMIT!!! “But no...,” he quietly continued while shaking his head, “you said “No” to trying to influence his actions at all. Not even when he depression became more and more apparent. We had a chance to put him on the right path, yet you just had us all sit back and watch him spiral ever downward. Why? Were you afraid of screwing something up? Of making him screw something up? … or did you want him to die?” Moony accused, his tone having a chilling edge. “You wanted him to die, just so you could start all over again--!!” “NOOO!!!” “Kaden” shrieked, his horrified voice cracking, sounding strangely… mortifyingly familiar. “I… No… No, I could never… I….” “... … oh, right. I get it,” Moony scoffed. “It was your “other half” that would’ve wanted him dead, yeah? Would’ve wanted someone broken, lost and confused to manipulate into helping him carry out his goal… your old goal. But as long as he doesn’t get what he wants, you don’t really care what happens--to Alister, or anyone else involved in the Origin War--now do you?” “Kaden” remained silent, leaving Moony’s question unanswered. “You’ve gone silent. Not surprised,” Moony scoffed again. “Well, whatever. Just so long as it doesn’t take us, like, a hundred or so tries to get it right, I suppose I’ll promise to behave myself from now on. You’ll need help keeping up this facade, after all, and for that, I’m your tool. Whatever role you need me to play, I will perform it the best way that my Talent will allow… no matter how much I’d loathe it… so, when you’re done being a sad mess, we’ll still need to do something about Red’s Soul, so don’t take too long… Alpha.” With that, Moony calmly stormed off. Now seemingly alone, “Kaden”’s body began to tremble, the beginning of his own imminent breakdown. And yet he held it together long enough to gingerly pick himself up off the floor and, as calmly as possible, shuffle his feet towards the “camera”, his head hung in shame all the while. “Zayon… … I’m sorry…,” his voice quavered as he reached a hand to the “camera’s” face--Zayon’s face--before lifting his own head to look straight forward, his eyes now brown with yellow sclera. “... I’m so sorry….” He dropped his head again, resting it in his free palm as he proceeded to sob, the fur on his body glitching and warping from yellow… to a pale beige. At that point, the Screen vanished, and Zayon stumbled backwards into Reid, dazed from having projected the last of his locked memories. “That was… how did that memory…?” Zayon stammered groggily. “Umbris,” Red shivered, “that wasn’t a trick… was it? That last bit….” “I can’t believe…,” Umbris croaked, utterly horrified by the implications. “... was that really--?!” “I’m surprised he even allowed that memory to remain.” Moony approached Zayon’s group, followed closely by Alexander and Artorius. “Then again, I bet he wanted to leave behind a confession of some sort, for all the good it would do,” he added bitterly. “”He”, of course, referring to “Alpha”,” I.T. joined in as he now approached, accompanied by Clank and a still-cable-bound Ratchet. “I’m certain that the bits of his real form that you saw brings up a lot more questions you want answered. We’ll… try our best to answer as much as we can.” “For the record, Alpha was also an Alister Azimuth,” Moony explained, “from a different timeline.” “A timeline from which… from which Ratchet was killed by his hands,” I.T. stumbled, “and Clank was also disposed of.” “But… I do not remember that,” Clank uttered in confusion. “Or… do I…?” he added in realized horror. “That timeline was an extra branch, formed shortly after Clank’s own use of the Great Clock in an attempt to prevent Ratchet’s death,” I.T. continued. “To clarify, there are three timelines we shall focus on that relate to the incident at the Great Clock: the timeline in which Clank sealed off the Orvus Chamber before returning to the past, the timeline where Clank prevented Ratchet’s death and stopped Alister--which is also the “Origin Point” and “Restart Point” of the Alister Azimuths that have been involved in the Origin War… and then, Alpha’s timeline.” “In that timeline, Alpha--who was still known as “Alister Azimuth” at the time--succeeded in not only killing both Ratchet and neutralizing Clank, but activating the Great Clock, as well,” Moony stepped in. “And, without anyone to stop him, the Clock went haywire and… your universe crashed. And Alpha himself was stuck in the epicenter of the destruction, trapped within time itself. The Time Crash would’ve immediately affected the other timelines of your universe, too, if not for the Zoni working diligently in those other timelines to keep the fabric of Space/Time from unravelling.” “... but they couldn’t keep up, eventually, could they?” Ratchet asked, horrified by this revelation. “Correct. The Time Crash you had experienced before being rescued by Emiya was indeed the result of the Zoni failing to keep up with the unravelling of Space/Time,” I.T. responded. “But then, how did Alis--er, “Alpha” end up escaping?” “As fate would have it… Protheus.” “WHAT?!?” the non-Altister members of the conversation collectively gasped. “Seems the cat is finally starting to come out of the bag,” Kaden spoke up as he and the rest of the Souls (minus Aerith and Galen) approached the group. “No need to worry about the Shadow for now,” he added reassuringly; “we went ahead and threw on as many bindings to keep it down for a while.” “... I hate you all... so... much…,” Shadow Alister grumbled seethingly to himself as he found himself bound to the floor by as many Fiendish Chains, Swords of Revealing Light, Nightmare Steel Cages, spears, Clara Dolls, Lottes, talismans (for some odd reason)--basically anything to keep the Shadow from moving even a nanometer. “But it seems now you all know that there really was only one Kaden in this Watch,” Kaden continued, “that one being me.” “He is telling the truth,” Clank confirmed. “I detect no lie in his voice.” “But if the other “Kaden” was really “Alpha”,” Aligore mused aloud, “then why did he take on Kaden’s appearance?” “Perhaps I should be the one to explain the whole story.” The whole group’s attention was now drawn to the final handful to approach: Bayonetta, the Souls of Aerith and Galen, and the one who had spoken, still adorned in the replication of Kaden’s outfit but also carrying a platinum-colored Chronoscepter. “It all started with me, after all. It’s only right that you hear the whole thing… from someone who’s been through it all from the beginning.” This figure, with regret and remorse etched in every crease of his weary face, resembled Alister greatly. “It’s… the least I can do….” The Truth of Alpha Somewhere, in the emptiness of a destroyed universe long forgotten to time, a strange, black asteroid randomly entered - or more specifically, a Hollow Asteroid. Within sat a dark sorcerer, his attention focused as he had several monitors in front of him, each displaying statistics and estimations regarding the exterior environment. It was a bit crude, but there was no telling what this place would do - he didn’t exactly want to risk himself, or his actual spaceship for that matter, so the Hollow Asteroid would serve that purpose just fine. Protheus Maximus’s asteroid continued to dive, deeper and deeper, into the center of the Time Crash. Now this was a mysterious phenomenon, recently discovered somewhere amongst the vastness of the multiverse. There was no telling what happened… Who knew? Who cared? Perhaps some scientists went too far, or perhaps a god of time died or something. It wasn’t like there’d be anyone left to tell the story - no, there was only one reason he was here. “This… Whatever this is, it’s ripped a rather large hole in the fabric of reality, hm. I wonder… Would it be significant enough to reach that?” He muttered to himself. That is to say, the ‘Origin’. A theoretical point that, if reached, may grant one the ability to rewrite the multiverse. If he could reach that, then maybe, just maybe- “Master!” Ophelia, surrounded by several floating feeds of her own, called for his attention. “I’m detecting a lifeform. It’s positioned at the center of the temporal collapse.” “A lifeform?” Protheus raised his eyebrow. He left the control seat, proceeding to walk over towards his servant. “Hah! An excellent joke. However, that isn’t possible. It isn’t like you to be mistaken, my Reyvateil. We’re generating our own timestream in order to counterbalance the distortions outside. If I stepped outside, even I might be eradicated. I really don’t think anyone could survive out there…” Then he stopped, glancing at the screen. “The hell?” Okay. That was unusual. “...Ophelia. Take me to it.” “Yes, Master Protheus.” Well, time to find out what it was. The Hollow Asteroid started to change its direction, turning in the vastness of unstable time to head straight for the source. The centerpoint. As they approached, tremors spread across the asteroid. The closer and closer they got, the more the asteroid shook, cracks beginning to form all around the center area, perhaps reaching its limits as to just how far it could go. When they were finally within a mile of the core (give or take fifty feet), the dark sorcerer raised his hand and Ophelia stopped the asteroid in place. Any further, and it would shatter into pieces. Some people prepared to have a comfortable ride home. “What strange readings. Is there seriously a lifeform here?” Standing next to his servant, Protheus briefly glanced at the screen one last time. Now that they were sufficiently close, he used two fingers to zoom in - seemed there was no doubt about it. Although blinded by bright light, he could just about discern the silhouette of a semi-humanoid figure floating out there. If the Asteroid couldn’t hold, then there was only one option remaining. To head out, and investigate for himself. Letting out an annoyed sigh, Protheus walked towards the very edge of the Asteroid. He waved his hand. The walls receded, revealing a rainbow abyss beyond. Pure instability of time. One after another he muttered Ancient Egyptian words, casting spells of defense, and protection, and spatial isolation, on himself. It would be enough to maintain his form for about five minutes, hopefully. Enough to check and pop back, at least. With that - the Herald of Darkness proceeded to launch an intense beam into the ground behind him, instantly rocketing himself across the Time Crash. A translucent orb of dark energy surrounded him at all times, maintaining his form, desperately resisting the outside destructive forces. Whether they were attempting to rewrite him, or attempting to outright destroy him, was anyone’s guess. This thing has a heartbeat, so it’s not some god. But what else could survive here? This is truly curious. Protheus reached closer and closer to his target, passing through the intense, rainbow light, until at last he breached that light... and arrived at the core. “Oh?” Protheus asked, stopping just short of it. Floating at the very center of the Time Crash, he had to keep this short. But, his curiosity was only rising and rising. He’d been expecting some sort of majestic beast, or maybe an eldritch abomination or some kind. Not-a lombax? Before Protheus was, indeed, a pale-furred lombax, a wide-eyed expression of shock, horror and confusion frozen on his face… it was a “he”, right? It did look to be male, given the form of its body. Did it have a preferred pronoun in spite of--nevermind, perish that thought. In any case, the lombax’s body was also frozen in a position that suggested that whatever had happened--perhaps the exact moment of the Time Crash--caught the lombax off-guard, his oddly wrench-like weapon still gripped in his right hand. And he appeared to be radiating an aura around him--perhaps a consequence of the aforementioned cataclysmic event. Whatever this energy was, it may be what was currently preserving the lombax from his surroundings. The Herald floated there for a moment. The thing that captured his attention first was the strange energy surrounding this frozen being. In the two thousand years that he had existed, he’d never sensed anything like it before. In a way, it might’ve been like a more advanced version of his own Omni Principle - something that could indefinitely resist the flow of time. How bizarre. Everything about this was out of the ordinary. Clearly, some event took place here, and all of spacetime had collapsed around this one lombax. But why? There was no use wondering. He inched closer to the frozen lombax. He came here with a purpose, and he was going to fulfill that purpose. “No hard feelings, yes? I have decided I’ll take you back with me.” Protheus stated, expanding his protective orb until it enveloped the entity as well. Poor soul was probably going to be in that state for all eternity. “Whatever you did, you blew a hole in the fabric of time. If I’m gonna rewrite all of reality, you, my friend, might just be the first step.” Then, he took out a device from his pocket. Who knew what would happen if this being at the core was removed? Would it simply increase in its scale of destruction? Would it collapse in on itself and disappear? Would the Time Crash worsen, and ultimately reveal Origin? Or perhaps, the lombax was entirely unrelated. Either way, Protheus was sure the answers to his questions were going to be interesting. “Ophelia, beam me back.” And so, another laser fired directly from the Hollow Asteroid - tracking Protheus, it connected directly with him and his mysterious new companion. This was a moment he would look back on countless times throughout his long lifetime; and each time, he would have one singular thought: ‘I should have left him there.’ However, he did not, and hence, the beginnings of DATEA had been set in motion. Within seconds, Protheus and the frozen lombax rematerialized inside the Hollow Asteroid. In many ways, the interior was like a gigantic cavern, only with technological machines and mystical arcane runes scattered all over the place. Like a lazy, makeshift spaceship made by someone who couldn’t be concerned about style. There were several mechanical chairs scattered around the place as well, of which, only one was currently occupied. Ophelia had frozen in her seat as she stared at his acquisition with much confusion. Levitating the entity with magic, Protheus walked over to his servant, simply shrugging as if to say ‘I haven’t the faintest idea either’ before lazily leaning the still-frozen lombax against one of the empty seats. In any case, now that this mysterious thing had been removed from the center of the Time Crash, he wasn’t planning on sticking around. He briefly glanced at the lombax, and said, “Ophelia. Plot a course to Universe Code R.O.T.2009. I believe we’ve obtained what we need.” The Reyvateil only nodded, raising levels on a screen in front of her. The Hollow Asteroid - driven by some form of magitech - started to fire off in the opposite direction. Interdimensional engines were beginning to run, lightspeed accelerators were active, and within minutes they would be out of this system. “Now.” Protheus crouched in front of the frozen lombax. “Ophelia, do you have access to the database of prominent figures in this cluster of universes?” He asked, turning his head briefly. Ophelia shook her head - “Unfortunately not. I shall bring it up once we leave the system, but while we’re in the temporal collapse, we have no access to the network. We can neither send nor receive any form of data. Right now, we’re isolated.” “Hm. So I suppose you’re going to be a mystery for a little while...” The immortal muttered. Then frowned. “Screw it. Don’t have that patience. If I must, I’ll wake you up and ask myself--” At that exact moment, the lombax’s frozen gaze snapped to stare straight at Protheus. A fraction of a second later, Protheus found himself with his back against the floor, the lombax’s wrench-like polearm pinning him there by the throat. “... okay, I’m beginning to regret retrieving you,” Protheus sighed irritably as he locked eyes with the crazed glare of the lombax. “What is… going on, who-who are y-y-y-you?!” the lombax uttered almost incoherently while maintaining his grip on his weapon, almost like his words were a corrupted recording. “This place, what is…? Time--Did I--my people--Great Clock--undo-undo-un-un--mistake--so-close--what-happened-to--happening-to-me--wrong--went--what--den-de-de-en-Kay-K--en?” “Hm.” The Herald stared up at the lombax in displeasure. Whatever this sad creature went through, it must’ve been quite intense - his very form seemed unstable. He didn’t exactly enjoy the prospect of being touched by something like that. Was it possible to communicate with him? “You appear confused. I suppose if you have questions, I can answer to the best of my ability. However, in return, I would like some information of my own. Of course… Before anything, I would prefer that you let go, you inferior insect.” “In-Insec-c-c-c-c-t?! The-did-kc-c-c-c-c-u-u-u-u-u-u-f--you call-m-m-m-me-e-e-e-e-e-e-e--Freshman Emo Goth Wannabe Otaku’s Wet Dream?!--I--!!” Seems that last statement struck a nerve with the lombax. Still, even he seemed shocked about shouting that last bit as coherently as possible. Protheus’s eyes narrowed. “Oh? Such bold, yet very bizarre words. By chance, are you looking to oppose me--” “Master,” Ophelia spoke up, clearly put off by this event playing out before her, “perhaps it might be best to find a way to fix our, err, “guest” so that he may be able to answer us coherently?” The sorcerer glanced at his servant, then back at the lombax on top of him. His demeanor calmed. “Hm. Very well.” Then, without hesitation, he poured energy into his legs and SLAMMED them into the crazed lombax to end the ridiculous display. Surprisingly, he encountered a surprising amount of resistance - the being’s body was a lot tougher than he originally anticipated. Still, they were thrown off, sent flying about several feet into the air. “Ophelia, pass me my blade.” Ophelia raised an eyebrow, even as she opened a long, nearby box, in which a sheathed, European-style blade lay. “Master, it may be better to keep him alive-” “No, no! Not for that. Not yet, anyway. Impure Future will serve as a sufficient channel, that’s all.” Protheus grabbed the tossed sword with precision, quickly throwing the sheath away to reveal an adorned black blade. As he held it with his left hand, he reached into his pocket with his other hand to take out a card. Time Wizard. Always a convenient tool to have. Not far away, the lombax had hit the ground hard. There was no telling what he’d do if he would attempt to engage in combat in his current state, or, if that state was corrosive in any way. It wasn’t worth bothering with any of those things. Whatever the issue was, Protheus intended to stabilize it right here and now. “You better not resist, lombax.” Protheus Maximus approached the fallen warrior, with Impure Future sword in his left hand, and Time Wizard in his right hand. Both items were beginning to glow with dark energy. Wearing his edgy, faded regalia, it might’ve looked like a personification of death coming closer and closer. Then, he raised his sword and spoke, “Akh.” Although a simple word, it was loaded with mystical energy. The instant it was said out loud, the lombax was floored. He could feel his soul, no, whole body tremble, as a violent, foreign force washed over him. Like magic was possessing his very atoms, commanding them, forcing them to grind and compress into one another. ”Akh.” He spoke again, and again, the same feeling washed over the lombax. “Akh. Akh. Akh. Akh. Akh.” With each word, each chant, it only got worse. A sickly, invasive feeling enveloped its target. In turn, Protheus was essentially probing him, pouring mana over his existence in order to investigate the source of this corruption. “Akh. Akh. What is with this instability? Akh. I really do wonder, what did you do to yourself? Akh. What exactly did you do to your universe? So bizarre.” The Herald kneeled down, closer, showing no concern for the wellbeing of his ‘patient’. “Hm. I believe I identified the issue… Very well, let’s test it out,” and proceeded to casually slap the Time Wizard card on the lombax’s face. “Anch-RESTORE.” Within the card, the clock started to spin, faster and faster, Time Wizard performing its magic, until at last a bright light enveloped him. Through the Time Wizard, a temporary connection was established between the lombax and the sorcerer. The instability within the lombax’s timestream had been identified, and was thus being forcibly corrected by Protheus; after the initial seething pain, it was followed by a sense of refreshment. Rebirth. And clarity. The connection was cut off, and the light faded. Protheus took a step back. His expression showed some visible exhaustion - this clearly wasn’t something he could simply do anytime, nor was it something he was used to doing. “Alright, you. Operation’s over.” He announced, crossing his arms. “You better make this worth my while. Can you speak?” The lombax blinked hard, trying to comprehend what had happened with his now cleared and restored mind. “... y-yes,” he replied hoarsely as he shifted his body to sit upright, the Time Wizard card falling off his forehead. Looking down at the card’s face curiously, the lombax’s dazed expression gradually turned to one of severe anxiety. “The Great Clock!!” He bolted to his feet. “I-I thought it could--but then it just--I didn’t know what was happening…! What did the Clock do?! Did I get sent back?! Did my species return?! Is Kaden--?! Who the hell are YOU?!!” the lombax trembled furiously. “Where am I? What did you do to me?! What the hell is going on here?! And… WHY the hell are you dressed up like some Freshman’s Emo Goth Anime Edgelord character?!!!” “... … he’s not exactly wrong to question that last one, Master,” Ophelia blurted out before she could stop herself, stifling a snorted giggle. Protheus frowned, shooting a glare in his servant’s direction. “Nobody asked you! And rather than blame me, blame the one who granted me these powers - and this sense of fashion!” Crossing his arms, he turned to the lombax and added, “Besides, there is pride to be found in it! You are looking at the regalia of the Conqueror of Maxima. Ridiculous as it may appear now, in the right context, it serves as a good method to increase the terror of my enemies. Hmph!” “Well, color me unimpressed,” the lombax scoffed, “and the only thing “terrifying” about it right now is how gawdy it is. And you still haven’t answered my damned question… s!” “Hm. Questions. Yes, I did say I would answer them, didn’t I?” The Herald responded, calming down. “As we are from different universes, I will not question your complete absence of aesthetics. For now, take a seat. I have some questions of my own, so let us figure this out together, shall we?” He clicked his fingers, and two of the surrounding mechanical chairs started to drive their way over to the duo. “First, introductions. Call me… Ah, Omega. Now I do have a different name I go by, but let’s just go with this for now.” He spoke aloud, making himself comfortable. “What, is that your Edgelord Username or something?” the lombax scoffed, opting not to take a seat just yet. “Do you want your questions answered, or would you prefer being flung into outer space?” ‘Omega’ asked casually. Although, he couldn’t help but admit the defiant attitude of this stranger was a bit amusing. It had been some time since he last encountered someone so spirited. The lombax rolled his eyes at “Omega”’s threat. “Jeez, you really are a bit of a child, aren’t you? Can’t even come up with an original threat? Whatever. I suppose one of us will have to be the actual adult around here if we want this thing to go anywhere. General Alister Azimuth is my name. Four-Bolt Magistrate of the Lombax Praetorian Guard and Elder Councilman for the Center for Advanced Lombax Research. Or, at least I was before… bah, that’s not important right now,” Alister verbally backspaced. Omega raised his eyebrows, and grinned somewhat as he sensed the lombax’s hesitance. “Oh? Well, it is a pleasure to meet you, Alister. As it happens, I myself am a warrior and a scientist with a command of my own - perhaps we might get along after all. Or perhaps not.” “That depends on what you’re after,” Alister crossed his arms while casting a suspicious look at Omega. “And why it is you brought me here; snatching me away from where I was isn’t exactly earning you any Brownie Points as it is.” “All in due time, Alister. There is something I seek, so I’m hoping that you may have some useful information for me. Now, I’m getting a bigger picture of what’s going on here, but I must warn you that I have a feeling you won’t be fond of the answers.” Omega smiled. “Now, you were wondering about the Great Clock. If I’m not mistaken, isn’t that something your people constructed long ago to keep the flow of time stable, to combat against local distortions in spacetime? It’s a remarkable design that many of us outside this universe are aware of.” “I’m afraid you’re grossly mistaken; my people had nothing to do with the Great Clock’s existence--in fact its existence wasn’t known to us until Kad--” Alister halted himself, a memory flashing in his mind. A few, in fact. Most of them painful. “... until over 20 spans ago,” Alister finished his sentence, swallowing back a painful emotion. “Hm. A different race, a different time, then? Well, if it’s all in the same universe, it’s all the same as far as I’m concerned.” Omega tilted his head, and then... shrugged. “Regardless, it doesn’t matter. No point thinking about it. After all, it’s all gone anyway.” Alister’s breath got caught in his throat, his chest feeling as if it had tightened. “Wh-What do you mean… “gone”...?” “So you truly did not know.” Omega stated coldly. He raised his hands, and thirteen floating holographic screens formed in front of him. Each of them appeared to be displaying visual feeds of the outside, with the occasional static. “In that case, I believe this will answer most of your questions in one go. Take a look, general. Right now, we’re in your universe. Here’s what lies outside.” The thirteen screens flew towards Alister, surrounding him. There were labels for each screen. The familiar names of planets; Veldin, Kerwan, Rilgar, Zanifar, Lumos, Fastoon, Torren IV, among others. However. On those screens, instead of showing those very planets, all it showed were shattered chunks of earth. Each one floating in a rainbow abyss. Omega flicked his fingers, and all the names changed to other locations. Other familiar planets that ought to be there, that ought to be in one piece, that ought to have bustling populations and worldwide infrastructures. Yet, it was exactly the same. He did this a few more times, just to emphasize the fact that...yeah. It was all gone. “The Great Clock was a remarkable design. In order to hold the timestream of an entire universe together, I imagine it must have had quite the power.” Omega remarked, turning back to his lombax companion, observing the look of utter devastation on his face, in the entirety of his body language. “I came here to investigate why a UNIVERSE collapsed right out of the blue - why the time continuum here had been shattered, leaving nothing behind. What you’re looking at is the result of the Time Crash, and it’s only expanding more and more. So what a coincidence that I find you, the only remaining lifeform in this Universe, at the center where the Great Clock ought to be… give or take fifty feet. I wonder if you have an answer for this strange, bizarre event… General Azimuth?” Omega continued to observe Alister, watching as whatever remained of the lombax’s composure crumbled apart, his world shattered--and not just figuratively, either. It was hard for the General to breathe, as he was trying his hardest not to break down and howl in anguish. He had come to the conclusion, as his knees gave out and stopped supporting him, that the immense destruction, the utter erasure of all life in his universe… was all his fault. He had failed, once again, and the universe paid dearly for-- “Why… … why didn’t it work… …?” “Come again?” Protheus blinked, one eyebrow curiously raised. “Why… didn’t it work…?” Alister repeated, though not necessarily in response to Omega’s enquiry. “It was… it was supposed to take me back, to before I could make that mistake. So I could stop myself, stop Tachyon… if I could’ve done that, then Kaden… my people… they wouldn’t have to go, I… I… killed… Kaden’s son… because he tried to stop me from… … I killed him… his son… my best friend’s son… I thought I could just save him, too… … but it… didn’t work… the Clock didn’t work… how I thought… it would… … ke… keh-heh… … heh-heh-heh… heh-heh, a-ha… ah-hah-ha… a-ha-ha-ha-ha, ah-ha-ha, A-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA, GYA-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH!!!” It was very apparent to Protheus--oh, and Ophelia, too. Can’t forget her--that the lombax had quickly fallen off the deep-end, going mad from the revelation of his universe’s destruction. “It failed! Ha-hah! It failed, it fucking failed, that’s it!! HA-HA-HA-HA!!! THAT was what failed--the Great Clock!! Not me!! It wasn’t me!! KYA-HA-HA-HA!!! The fucking CLOCK failed, that’s all there is to it!!! GYA-HA-HAAAA--” “Mind if you wrap up the damned psychotic breakdown? It’s starting to get quite irritating,” Omega scoffed, almost sounding bored of the spectacle the General was making. While it was originally amusing, he’d seen far too many of these by this point to care now. Just another survivor gone mad. He only brought this creature here to get some answers, so he wasn’t exactly interested in wasting time like this. “So, Alister… I’m guessing you tampered with the Great Clock. You attempted to use it to rewrite time. Instead, like a program whose code got scrambled, you wrecked it in its entirely. Am I correct?” The Herald cut to the point, waving the many holographic screens away. Not far away, Ophelia had drawn out a spear, prepared to jump in should the lombax have tried anything. Omega started to walk towards Alister - who had gone slightly limp and oddly quiet at this point - and then started walking in a circle around him. “Now, I enjoy madness as much as the next person. But I can’t have you breaking just yet. I brought you here for one main question. I’d like you to answer it.” “I… have to… get them back…,” Alister mumbled softly, a slight, remorseful smile on his lips as he stared at the floor with almost lifeless eyes. “I must... get everyone back… I… can’t fail….” Omega inched closer to the lombax, staring at his pathetic form. “You wanted to rewrite reality. There’s nothing wrong with that. Why, I’m aiming for the exact same thing… it was simply your mistake that you tried to use an imperfect machine for it. After all the damage you inflicted, I believe it would take something much, much greater to go back now.” “I can’t fail… I don’t wanna fail… so tired… so tired of fucking up… just… wanna do something right… something right, just for once….” “Perhaps we can help one another. But you must answer me.” Then, he said, emotion welling in his own voice, “This is important. You were at the center. You were at the center of it all when this reality ruptured, when time gave way… This is only a theory, but if I am correct, then… There may be an unknown period in your memory. Snap out of this senseless madness. And remember. Remember.” His hands reached out, and grabbed the lombax’s shoulders with unusual passion, unusual intensity. “However, between that ultimate failure of yours and being frozen in time… Did you see it? Did you see the heart of creation? Did you see the Origin, General Alister?!” … … … … “... Origin…? How… would I know… what that looked like…?” Alister questioned weakly as he slowly lifted his head. “Do you know…? Could… you tell me… what it looks like…? I… don’t know… but I think I… saw something….” Omega’s expression darkened. “That’s! It… I cannot say for sure, it has been too long for me since I last saw it! My memories faded long before I cared to find it, but… It, it!” He closed his eyes, straining his own distant memories. It was something he saw long, long ago, when his own reality shattered around him. Something that he couldn’t be sure existed, that might’ve been a part of his imagination. “It was an entrance of some kind… A portal? A gateway? No, damn it, there’s a word for it-” “--uh-durr….” “This is NOT the time to be making fun, Azimuth! I’m serious, I will fire you out of this Asteroid like a--!” “I said… “a door”,” Alister articulated carefully. “That’s… that’s it. I saw something in what I thought was a dying dream. It… resembled a door….” Door. Door. Door. Yes. That was it, wasn’t it? That one word alone made Omega’s eyes widen with extreme passion; an emotion unlike any he’d ever displayed before started to set in, twisting his facial features into a grin. That was indeed what the Omni saw many millennia ago! Then… This man, Alister Azimuth had seen it too! The immortal’s grip on his shoulders tightened only more and more, regardless of Alister’s wellbeing. “A Door… Yes… That’s right. That’s right! That’s what you saw?! I KNEW IT. At last, at last, at last, after centuries, I FINALLY stumble upon a piece of this puzzle!” Omega declared happily, letting out an eternity of frustration. For all his annoyance regarding Alister’s madness just a little while ago, the desperation and madness on this own man’s face were unmistakable. Omega let go, taking a step back to explain, although his mind were filled with countless thoughts on where to proceed from here. “Listen closely, Alister Azimuth! There exists many universes, many universes beyond simply yours and mine, all of them different, diverse, unique! However! They are all connected, and theoretically, they must all share one singular beginning. We call this ‘Origin’. What you saw there… What we saw there… was most likely the barrier between our shared reality and this so-called Origin.” He stood up from his chair and let his arms raised up into the arm, uncaring of what the other two would think. Gloriously. With the mannerisms of an emperor who had already attained total victory. “A door. Yes, yes yes yes… If you saw it too, then its existence must be definitive. The heart of all creation. The source of a power that can change anything. Rewrite EVERYTHING. A door to the Origin... The ‘Door of Origin’.” It took rendering a whole reality asunder just to give one person the faintest, briefest glimpse of its existence - it clearly wasn’t something people were supposed to discover, let alone make their way towards. However. Considering what would await them at the end, surely that would be worth it. “Dear Alister Azimuth. Forget about fixing your mistakes, for they are insignificant in the eyes of existence. If we can do this AGAIN, if we can amass our forces and replicate our results on a far greater scale… Then we wouldn’t just need to fix things, would we? Why, we may very well be able to make everything the way we want it to be. We aren’t talking about some useless MacGuffin from some isolated universe anymore. Not an ancient artifact, not an unreliable genie, and certainly not a flawed machine. We’re talking about something natural. Something perfect.” “”Perfect”...? Could such a thing… truly be…?” Alister uttered, his energy--and hope--starting to return to him. Instead of answering, Omega turned his back momentarily, as though thinking to himself. Ophelia interjected suddenly, approaching them with a screen floating besides her. “Master P- I mean, Omega, we have exited the Time Crash and have regained access to Neighborhood Watch’s compiled database. Would you like to take a look?” Without responding, Omega typed a certain name onto the screen - Alister Azimuth - and a single entry came up. It came up with a picture matching the lombax he’d just been speaking to, complete with achievements and prior history. Wordlessly, in front of the lombax himself, he flicked through the long list of displayed accomplishments. “How interesting, Azimuth. It sounds like you have gone to extreme lengths to get to where you are now. Appears the titles your people gave you were not for show. Crude comments about me aside, I can respect that tenacity. You certainly have... potential.” He proceeded to turn back around, facing the lombax directly. This may very well be an individual whose experiences and leadership skills he could take advantage of, especially in his current, fragile state. Why, this was a perfect turn of events! “The answer to that question is yes.” Omega said with a smirk. “Perhaps I can use you. Or rather, perhaps we can help one another out. If you’ve seen it, if you BELIEVE in it, then, like me, you’ll do WHATEVER it takes to get there.” But of course, Alister Azimuth was a good man once. Perhaps morality will hold him back. “Therefore... I must ask: How far exactly are you willing to go for this?” Alister looked Omega squarely in the face, the “Edgelord”’s words spending some time bouncing around in the lombax’s head. How far was he willing to go? Compared to what he did to reach the Great Clock? Was that a joke? A rhetorical question? All things considered, the answer formed rather quickly for Alister. “I think the better question to ask me,” he said as he extended a welcome hand, “is “What more do you have to lose?” And I think we both know the answer to that one already.” “Why of course. It was silly of me to even ask.” Omega let out a chuckle, more than pleased with this response. Delighted that he had obtained a pawn so conveniently. Unaware that as a result of this one lombax, this, all of this, would soon expand far beyond his own control. “Then, comrade... Here’s to our dreams.” And with that, the duo shook hands. “... by the way, seeing as you’re going by such a “cute” little nickname, maybe I should do the same, eh? Perhaps I’ll call myself… “Alpha”. After all, what we’re doing could lead to us becoming as gods, right?” “Heh. You are indeed correct-Alpha.” *Flashback END* “... it was shortly thereafter that Omega and I formed the group DATEA,” Alpha continued, “short for the ‘Dreams of Action-Truth Evangelist Association’. Over time, we expanded. We recruited others just like us, other Dreamers who’d also seen the Origin, to help in the cause. We researched intensely, in an effort to unravel the secrets of reality. And we piled all our resources together, establishing a force in the multiverse like no other. It was a loose alliance, but none of us really cared what the others wanted. We were all just so desperate to reach the Door of Origin... with me, Alpha, at the head of it all.” “Wait, hang on a second!” Ratchet spoke up. “This really isn’t a joke, right? You really ARE Alister?!” “Yes and no,” Alpha replied. “Alister and I may have once started out the same--our respective actions leading up to entering the Orvus Chamber aside--but our respective paths since have grown vastly different from each other. I myself eventually discarded the name “Alister Azimuth” long ago; I had considered the name, that life, and the failures it carried with it dead to me… of course, that was sometime after I had created the Orvus-Apparatus.” “By modifying the Pocket Watch?” Alexander guessed. “Correct. I modified my own pocket watch by infusing it with chronal energies--much of which was still in my own body at the time--as well as... ,” Alpha trailed off with a sigh. “... Clank, I’m sure you’re going to want to hate me for this… Orvus, if you’d please....” “I am here, Alpha,” chimed a new voice coming from a nearby glowing spot on the floor, from which emerged a small, fuschia-skinned alien figure roughly Clank’s size, his large, weary blue eyes scanning the faces of those surrounding him. “And here I thought I’d never make a proper appearance in this show,” the alien figure chuckled. “Fa… Father…?!” Clank stammered in shock. “Oh, that’s right,” Ratchet remembered, “you were that Zoni that Nefarious tried to--WAIT A SEC, YOU TRAPPED HIM IN HERE DIDN’T YOU?!!” he suddenly shouted in Alpha’s face. “Let’s say, uhm… “commandeered” to help operate his device,” Orvus replied tactfully. “THAT’S STILL SUGARCOATING IT!!” Ratchet snapped, the force of his outburst tossing Orvus a few yards back. “Ratchet…!” Clank scoffed as he ran off to retrieve his father. “In any case,” Alpha continued, amazed that no-one had up and smacked him yet, “With Orvus sealed in the Watch and regulating its functions, I was capable of bending time to my whim: pausing time, fast-forwarding, rewinding… that last one was, of course, what I became most interested in--” “--because causing a time crash wasn’t enough, obviously,” Ratchet fumed. “The rest of the Dreamers were busy with their own experiments and projects, just as I would be. I decided to test the limits of the Pocket Watch’s abilities, with Orvus’ help, of course. Long story short, I had discovered a method of time travel which involved sending my consciousness back in time, to an alternate, past self. With that method, I attempted to--” “--OBVIOUSLY!” Ratchet, Clank, Alexander and Umbris scoffed in unison just as Clank returned with his father. An irritated growl rumbled in Alpha’s throat. “At least let me finish speaking. I used the Pocket Watch’s power to attempt to find any timelines in which my home dimension wasn’t torn asunder. And by “find”, I mean “implant myself into that timeline’s Alister”. At first I had no control over the Alisters that I shadowed--I was merely an observer seeing through their eyes, and could egress at any time. That changed during my twentieth attempt; not only was I unable to “disconnect” from that Alister as I normally could, but I found I had complete autonomy over him. Not that I had the opportunity to test it that time before getting apprehended and knocked unconscious--I would later find out that I had ended up in a timeline where Tachyon was preemptively apprehended before he could make use of the technology that I had handed to him. While I never learned of Tachyon’s fate, I did learn of what was to become of me: to be executed for my crime.” Although taken aback by this information, Ratchet regained himself quickly to ask, “But, wait, who was the one that tipped off the authorities?” “It was me…. As much as our friendship meant to me… my intuition was just too strong around that time… I just knew something horrible would happen had Tachyon proceeded with the Lombaxian technology… ….” Kaden’s head was bowed in sadness and regret. “What’s more, I… … I was the one who knocked my Alister out… I felt I had to be the one to do it--otherwise, I was afraid of what the authorities would’ve done to him….” “... you speak as if you really were there…?” Red realized, while Ratchet and Alexander glanced back and forth between each other and Kaden in utter shock. “I was,” Kaden confirmed, “because I am that Kaden. Sometime after Alister’s execution, I was commandeered into joining the Origin War--or one of its cycles, rather… but we'll discuss that more in a bit,” he added with a wave of the hand. “As dismayed as I was at Kaden’s apparent--yet admittedly justified--betrayed,” Alpha continued, “it was after the initial shock wore off that I… found myself oddly at peace; Tachyon was stopped before he could advance his plans further, the lombaxes avoided being banished from our dimension, and Kaden… was still alive. It mattered not that my life was to be taken--at that moment I was satisfied with the outcome of that timeline. And I was more than happy to depart to the hereafter with the hope that things would be okay from that point on. “... and yet, it may as well have been a mere dream. As soon as I was executed, I found myself back in my Study at DATEA’s base, collapsed on the floor in a cold sweat. I was still alive, and back at the exact time that I had left--give or take a few seconds. Everything was exactly as I had left it… except for one thing--within the Pocket Watch’s Orvus Apparatus--” “--I picked that name out myself,” Orvus chimed in, sounding almost proud of himself. “--which I would later discover to be interconnected with my own Soul,” Alpha continued after a quick roll of his eyes at Orvus’ comment, “I discovered another “me” stumbling about; he was wearing the same prison garb that I had found myself wearing to the execution--even the shackles I was bound with were still attached to his wrists and ankles--and on the back of his neck was the entry wound from the laser used to execute me.” “Alpha and I were most puzzled by the sudden appearance of this “Alister”,” Orvus explained. “Though he didn’t seem to be a danger to anyone in his catatonic--almost “zombie-like”--state, so we left him be for the time being, although Alpha did order me to “babysit” him,” the Zoni added with a huff. “The fact that this “Alister” appeared shortly after I was executed and returned to my “last Save Point”, as I’ll call it, did intrigue me. I was curious to see if the result could be replicated under similar conditions, so I quickly “dove” again into another timeline--and another Alister,” Alpha explained. “As that next Alister, I--through no fault of my own, I swear--ended up getting killed, which again brought me back to my Study, and lo and behold I find yet another Alister inside the Apparatus. After returning from a third “Dive” which spawned yet another Alister--I didn’t start calling them “Altisters” yet, Alexander, I know” Alpha blurted out to stop Alex from correcting him. “Anyways, after the third “Afterimage” appeared I decided to study them, hoping to find out just WHAT they were and how they were spawning within the Apparatus. Here is what I would eventually uncover: “Each of these “Afterimages” was in fact a highly advanced and sophisticated A.I., each possessing their own thought processes, personalities, memories, even emotions, all retained from the Alister they were based on. “Each of these A.I.s develops a “Talent” related to either how their original self was killed, what was involved in their death, or otherwise to how they lived their lives up to the moment of their death. “And as for how they were being spawned, well… Orvus confessed to me that the spawning of the “Afterimages” was his doing, so we can thank him for that one,” Alpha added with a side glance at the Zoni. “In my own defense, the program I created was supposed to merely record data on the timeline of the Alister we were inspiriting at the time,” Orvus explained. “I still have no clue as to why it creates an A.I. version of the Alister of that timeline, and yet,” he paused to give a short chuckle, “it seemed much too interesting to patch out. As they say, “It’s not a bug--it’s a feature!”” “Wait, so,” Umbris questioned, “does THAT mean that all the Altisters are technically related to Clank?” In response, Clank gawked at Umbris with a look of utter shock and disbelief, while Moony had a bemused expression, I.T. gave a look that screamed “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” and Zayon could only facepalm exasperatedly. “ANYways,” Alpha forcibly grunted to signal for the conversation to return to the original topic and NOT segue into the possibility of a very awkward family reunion for Clank, “at the time I thought nothing of it, aside from having those three Afterimages make themselves useful--Orvus and I made this possible by creating another program that could materialize the A.I.s into the physical world.” “That program is currently disabled, Bee-Tee-Double-U,” Orvus cut in, but offered no reason or explanation as to why before Alpha continued. “With the Afterimages materialized, I was able to conduct other experiments and objectives with greater ease, that is when they weren’t suddenly reliving their own traumas. It did make it easy for me to skip group meetings by having one of the Afterimages stand in for me while I continued working… before the other members caught on and Omega forcibly dragged me out of my study.” “Guess the A.I. having a PTSD moment was what outed you, huh?” Umbris guessed. “You DO realize who we’re talking about here, right?” Ratchet scoffed. The others muttered in agreement. “Er, yes, well, PTSD moments are to be expected from Alister Azimuth--persons formerly named such included,” Alpha coughed with slight embarrassment. “However, what DID out me was when one of the A.I.s got murdered during one of the DATEA meetings--Upsilon was in a particularly foul mood that day, wasn't exactly known for her sanity. Still, that incident also led to the discovery of the A.I.s’ Recovery Mode.” “Which has them deactivated for roughly an hour,” Alexander recited, remembering the last instance that he was aware of. “And what other discoveries did you make concerning the Apparatus?” “The fact that I didn’t need to be inspiriting another Alister Azimuth for an A.I. to be formed upon my death.” “I take it there were more instances of people using you to vent their frustrations?” Red guessed. “Indeed. Aside from the first three, every other A.I. that was created used me as the basis--due to me either dying during a mission, or being the target of someone else’s frustrations… or both. The good news was that I would be sent back to the last Save Point and attempt to prevent what caused the last death from happening. The bad news was that, with an A.I. being formed after every death, things were getting… crowded. The more A.I.s there were, the harder it was for me to concentrate, what with them trying to suggest THIS, correct me on THAT, make FUN of me for DYING a certain way! They’d CHIME in with things like, “I could’ve easily dodged that bullet,” or “You wouldn’t have tripped down that pitfall if you were paying a bit more ATTENTION,” or even “BET YOU WISHED YOU HAD WORN YOUR LONGJOHNS TO SURVIVE THE COLD”--!” “--You’re foaming out the mouth, Alpha,” Pearl helpfully pointed out. As calmly as he could, Alpha used a trembling hand to wipe away the frothy saliva from his mouth before sighing. “... suffice to say, between the A.I.s and the other members of DATEA, there was no shortage of stress. With the A.I.s, though, it was more than them being a pain in the ass. Each one of them--almost every one of them--represented a failure. To have them around, to be constantly reminded of my failures, to… see myself as a failure… … well, zero guesses as to how I handled those thoughts given my mental state at the time.” “Terribly, I’d imagine,” Bayonetta commented. “Worse than that, perhaps,” Alpha replied. “I became more and more obsessed with trying to prove myself as someone competent and successful, worthy of leading, of LIVING… I began to look down on anything I perceived as a failure, or not worthy of my time. I even saw myself--the name of “Alister Azimuth”--as a curse, one that brought any who bore it to ruination …. “... as the construction of the Pathway of Origin--led by Lambda--drew to a close,” Alpha continued, “I had the idea to leave behind something within the Pathways, a way of leaving another mark of my own in a way. Three marks, in fact. And you’ve already come across them all, I might add.” “Your Altisters,” Alexander realized. “One of them placed on each Pathway… but why else did you place them there? To give yourself a form of advantage, perhaps?” “I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t one of the reasons I did it,” Alpha admitted. “One of the other reasons was… well, something in me took pity on the three I chose to install into the Pathways, especially considering what I planned to do with the rest at the time: to destroy them, permanently,” he confirmed darkly. “Why…?” Moony snarled. “As I’ve already told you all, the Afterimages were all reminders of my numerous failures--failures I wanted nothing to do with--” “--and you see us the same way… don’t you…?” I.T. sadly asked. A pained, remorseful look flashed across Alpha’s face. “... I… used to…,” was all he could manage to say in reply. “... in order to destroy my Afterimages permanently, I made use of a “Sacred Artifact” that was salvaged from a region infested with Portals--a sword that was capable of severing bonds, be they physical, metaphorical, or otherwise--in order to sever the Afterimages’ connection to the Apparatus, thus preventing their Recovery and subsequent resurrection. And yet, even as I was cutting them all down, something… in the back of my head… tried to get me to stop. Yet I didn’t--couldn’t--not until every last A.I. had been reduced to dust before me. It was only after the last A.I. was destroyed, and the ground of Prologuous was covered in their remains did that “something” in the back of my head--a voice--suddenly become loud enough for me not to ignore; it was so loud that it brought me to my knees in… pain? I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was overpowering, to say the least. “Anyway, this Voice in my head, it was warning me--pleading with me--not to proceed any further with my goal--a goal that could destroy the entire Multiverse as we knew it. Alpha couldn’t believe--wished not to believe--refused to believe what this voice was telling him,” Alpha continued, not caring that his narration had suddenly switched perspective. Perhaps it was intended? Admiral Vivi clapped a hand over Pearl’s mouth to prevent her from correcting Alpha as the narration continued: “He and this Voice struggled for what seemed like minutes, maybe even an hour or so, over who was right--over WHAT was the RIGHT thing to do; Alpha had come so far, gone through so much, only for this VOICE to come and attempt to talk him out of it. Which was odd as he was certain to have had already destroyed all the remaining A.I.s, and he had also taken the precaution of restraining Orvus as well so that the Zoni would not be able to interfere--” “--he put me on Time Out,” Orvus blurted nonchalantly. “If I had to hazard a guess,” Bayonetta said as she gently shoved Orvus out of frame, “I would say that this “Voice” was your conscience trying to get you back on the right path, or at least a path that wouldn’t jeopardize the entire Multiverse.” “And you are correct, Cereza,” Alpha confirmed solemnly. “My goal at that time was far different from the one I had before I formed DATEA… I had felt--realized--that simply restoring my Universe and its people wouldn’t’ve been enough. Alpha--Alister--would still be seen as a failure--a traitor--by the people he would have saved… and thus, my goal was to rewrite the entire Multiverse, so that no failure would ever exist again….” “... but, a world without failure,” Alexander spoke up, he and the others visibly mortified by the reveal of Alpha’s “dream”, “... how could such a world ever function? How can anyone ever hope to learn anything? Learn from anything? Many lessons to be learned are only possible--only exist--because mistakes were made; it’s why “trial and error” is a thing to begin with. Without mistakes being made--without people failing, or losing--” “--or even being allowed to fail,” Umbris cut in. “Sounds to me like such a world would have a Zero-Tolerance policy for failure, wouldn’t you say?” “Such a world, in an attempt to be flawless, would only be marred with all sorts of flaws,” Red chimed in. “It would be no Utopia, that’s for certain,” Reid added, completing Red’s thought, his words carrying a hint of realization. “That…,” Alpha continued with a shaky sigh, “that’s what the Voice was telling Alpha… what my inner voice was trying to tell me… to turn back before it was too late… but Alpha… would no longer listen to reason, not when he was so close to bringing his vision to fruition, so close to proving himself… I still remember the words he uttered as he prepared to plunge the Sacred Artifact through his own heart: “Role of the “Wanderer”. Rule of “Rending”. I herein “inscribe” my name of Alpha upon thee. Do my bidding, “Boundless Tail”!” “... the act split Alpha in two beings: his physical self, now void of much of his emotions and inhibitions and driven by his ambition... and his inner conscience, given a momentary physical form and bearing Alpha’s discarded emotions and morals. Alpha’s physical self prepared to strike down his conscience, to obliterate it for good… and yet, something caused him to hesitate. That “something”... was the form that the conscience unknowingly--subconsciously--assumed…. “... for you see, even with much of his humanity removed, seeing a vision of Kaden will always give Alpha pause.” “... oh my god…!” Alexander quietly uttered. “I know~” Aerith chimed in. “All that exposition just to explain why Alpha looked like Kaden!” Cue the rest of the party instantly pratfalling before returning to their feet in record timing. “So wait,” Ratchet spoke up as he addressed Alpha, “you’re actually Alpha’s conscience, and the reason you looked like Dad was because, I-I dunno, you must’ve thought “What Would Kaden Do?” or something?” “Either that,” Umbris suggested, “or maybe Alpha wanted to eliminate as much of his humanity as possible, his memories and feelings for Kaden being part of that, so the conscience taking on Kaden’s appearance was a side effect of that. But then Alpha couldn’t do it because, well, it’s Kaden.” “That’s assuming that this Alpha isn’t also the Shadow of the real Alpha,” Alexander pondered. “There are cases--few as they are--in which a Shadow is formed from an individual’s repressed positive aspects.” “Whatever the case may be,” Alpha continued, “the original Alpha faltered, however briefly. That gave me just enough time to gather myself and tackle him to the ground, disarming him of a number of weapons and items in the process. He and I quickly scrambled to retrieve any discarded items before the other could--I myself grabbed the Pocket Watch first, to keep Alpha from making use of it again, whilst he re-armed himself with the Sacred Artifact. It was clear to me at this point, despite his diminished emotions, that Alpha was reaching his own breaking point, spouting off that he “has no further need” for the Orvus Apparatus and that I was on borrowed time anyway--the Watch was “of no use” to me, and that he didn’t care what I did at that point, not with him being so close to the Door. Well, let’s just say I made him care; despite Orvus being sealed off further inside the Watch, he was still able to grant me an assist, in the form of a facsimile of the Chronoscepter, and with it, I not only stopped Alpha in his tracks, but then proceeded to send him off and seal him away in a hidden location, one that was close to the Door of Origin, yet with no way for him to ever reach it. “... he was right about me being on borrowed time, however; with Alpha no longer in the area, I could feel my temporary physical form gradually losing cohesion. I would’ve disappeared completely if something wasn’t done, and I still felt the desire to atone for what I had done as Alpha. And thus, I made a heavy gamble; knowing that there were still timelines out there--timelines that an Alister Azimuth still existed and lived--I opened a time rift to one of these timelines, then flung myself and the Pocket Watch through it, hoping that that timeline’s Alister would retrieve it, and synchronize with it, making him the primary operator, in the hope that he could resolve my mistakes… in my desperation, however, I failed to consider that the Alister in question might not still be alive by the time the Watch would reach him, or that I might doom him to an endless cycle of repeated death.” “I, however, did consider the latter point,” Orvus spoke up. “I had realized with Alpha that constant use of the Apparatus’s power coupled with the memories retained from each of his deaths was what caused his gradual mental breakdown, so I took the time to rewrite the script in the program, making it so that the next Alister that would acquire the Pocket Watch needn’t suffer the same burden--each “loop” was, with as little intervention from those of us inside the Watch as possible, all done by them without any “Official Player’s Guide”, so to speak, hee-hee-hee~! Oh, and yet,” Orvus added in an admitting tone, “none of us could have ever considered that the Alister we ended up with--your Alister--would be so close to losing his life. So close, in fact, that it would’ve taken outside intervention to save his life--that being Isamy turning him into a Distortion.” “... so you all see now,” Alpha spoke once again, his head once again hung with shame and remorse, “this… whole mess is my fault, my doing… … the Multiverse will never be the same again no matter what happens now, and Alister may likewise be doomed to a terrible fate… I’ve doomed him… I’ve doomed us all…!” “That… you have….” The Rescue Team and Souls had only enough time to face the one who made the comment--a now-freed Shadow Alister hovering over the ground surrounded by numerous gleaming spears--and watch as those very spears hurtled their way towards them. Alpha and Orvus watched in horror as each spear pierced bloodlessly through everyone else around them, pinning them down against the floor, restraining them and their abilities. Though the spears made no wound, fatal or otherwise, their victims still felt immense pain where they were impaled--Ratchet’s chest, two of Bayonetta’s limbs, Red’s hands and tail, Alexander’s throat, Umbris’ head, to name a few--and try as they might, they couldn’t remove the spears embedded in their bodies. “I did warn you all,” Shadow Alister’s upright Skull Half clicked his tongue at the struggling group, “going through all those drawn-out expositions has always been a waste of time. And yet you, fools that you are, did exactly that, affording me the chance to free myself, and the chance to do away with you all.” The Shadow's large left hand began to glow once more as energy gathered in its palm. “No need to waste time and energy Regressing you all--I’ll simply obliterate you all here… and now.” “Alpha, we must do something,” Orvus urged desperately, unable to pull out the spear pinning Clank to the ground. “If that blast hits, everything and everyone in this Watch will be decimated! Alpha, did you hear me?” the Zoni called out to Alpha, who stood slack and silent. “Alpha, PLEASE, this is the worst possible time to have a mental shutdown!” “Alpha, snap out of it!” Aligore cried out as he struggled to free his own hands. “You’re capable of stopping the Shadow’s attack, are you not?! Help us!!” “What’s the use?” Moony scoffed, he and the other Altisters all skewered by the same spear. “Even if Alpha gets his shit together and no-sells this attack, the Shadow will just proceed to Plan B and wipe us out another way.” “He, too, has fallen to despair,” Homura uttered miserable, her shield-bearing arm pinned down. “Like Alister, Alpha feels there is nothing more he can do, not without making things worse. The weight of his failures… they’ve all but crushed him completely.” “No, there’s…,” Kaden struggled to speak even with the spear in his own chest, “there’s gotta be… something we can… no, something HE can… … Al… “ALISTER!!!!” With nothing to stop it, Shadow Alister proceeded to lob the energy blast at the Rescue Team… or it would have had it not suddenly short-circuited at the last possible moment. “WHAT?!” the Shadow’s skull half roared in disbelief as its attack fizzled out, the left arm’s circuitry crackling as it began to backfire. Wait, “backfire”? No, it was more like the arm was being possessed by an outside force. Or rather, an inside force. “Don’t… you… dare… HURT THEM…!” The words being uttered came from the Shadow once more, but this time from its upside-down fleshed half. “I… may not care… what happens to me now…,” the Fleshed Half grunted as the Face Gear proceeded to turn clockwise amidst the ear-grating grinding of the surrounding gears, “... but I’ll be DAMNED... if I let you hurt them… for even another MOMENT…!” “What’s happening?!” Reid gasped. Alexander attempted to speak, yet found it next to impossible with the spear lodged in his neck. Not to be deterred, Alexander shifted his eyes until they locked onto Galen’s, the irises flashing briefly as he telepathically relayed a message to the Aide’s mind. “I… Alexander believes,” Galen spoke up as soon as he got the gist of it, “that it may be Alister attempting to fight back against the Shadow from the inside.” “Good to know he’s got some fire left in him,” Bayonetta breathed out. “But that metaphorical flame needs to burn harder,” Red interjected, “and I mean really be reignited.” “Seeing us in danger must’ve been just the spark he needed though, huh?” Aerith suggested, seemingly unphased by the spear piercing through her abdomen. (‘Cuz, hey, it’s been done before.) “How… are you still fighting…?!” the Skull Half of the Shadow’s face hissed as it struggled to turn itself counterclockwise once again. “A FAILURE such as yourse--!!” “FUCK. YOU!” the Flesh Half furiously spat back. “If ANYONE has the right to call me a “Failure”, it should only be ME!!” “It would seem not even fighting against his own inner demons is enough to distract Alister from putting himself down, in a way,” Admiral Vivi couldn’t help but shake his head. “I don’t care if I end up destroying myself here,” Shadow Alister’s Fleshed Half continued, “but destroying my friends in the process is OUT OF THE FUCKING QUESTION!!!” The Shadow swung its arm again, only this time it was to slam its own fist into its face, the impact cracking the bone of the Skull Half while causing blood to spill out of the Fleshed Half’s nostril and mouth. The impact also caused the two halves of the Shadow’s face to split away from each other momentarily, revealing Alister, still bound to the center axle of the gear but now with his left arm freed, albeit with its flesh partly torn from freeing it. “So long as they’re safe, I don’t care about dying!” “Alister, please!” Kaden cried out in spite of his pain, even as the Shadow’s face sealed itself again. “You can’t keep thinking like that! The desire for self-termination, I mean, not the beating up of your Shadow--THAT you can keep on doing.” “Is--ugh!… Should Alister really be beating up his own Shadow while he’s still inside it, though?” Ratchet uttered. “I mean--nng!--wouldn’t that still be hurting himself?” “Even so, Alister’s influence is causing the spears to vanish!” Aligore exclaimed, watching as the spears crumpled into dust. “No, that was me,” Alpha spoke up, now out of his apparent existential moment. “My “despair moment” was just me working to undo the Shadow’s Fixed Point Spears. I had intended to have I.T. Overclock himself to shield you all to give you enough time to escape, but Alister’s intervention managed to save us all. I must say though, Moony,” he added to the argyle-wearing Altister, “I find your occasional lack of faith in me disturbing.” “It is true. You can be even worse than Alpha’s original self at times,” I.T. snarked in his usual monotone. “I--I… shit, I hate it when you’re right,” Moony humbly relented, causing I.T. to smirk (and not even attempt to hide it at that). “Enough casual banter,” Alpha said urgently. “We have to get Alister out of his Shadow before he destroys himself in the process. And given that he still feels that getting rid of himself would do a service to the Multiverse--” “--he--*cough-cough*--” Alexander began before forcibly coughing out whatever dust was left in his throat from the disintegrated spear, “--*cough*--s-sorry.” Quickly clearing his throat as best he could, he continued his with his thought, “we need to get Alister to understand that it’s not too late for him! He is not you, and he’s not Isamy’s puppet, or Protheus’s. He’s--” “--you can’t talk me out of this, Alex!” Alister barked through his Shadow’s Flesh Half. “This isn’t just about me being someone’s tool; it’s about me being a danger to the Multiverse, a danger to all of you--HEY!! You are NOT putting me upside-down again!” he snapped at the Skull Half of the Shadow as he fought to remain upright. “The only thing that’s in danger of you is yourself, Alister!” Ratchet called out. “We need you to cut the Emo crap for a moment and listen!” “What’s the point, Ratchet?! What point is there in me having a future if it causes others to suffer?!” Alister snapped back once again. “As long as I exist as a distortion, the Multiverse is in danger--Time itself is in danger--and I don’t want to be the one to tear all of existence apart! Like YOU did to our dimension in your timeline!!” he added with extra fury towards Alpha. “I… you heard all of that…?” Alpha blinked in surprise. “Suffering through an existential crisis doesn’t suddenly make one hard-of-hearing, I’ll have you know,” Alister confirmed as he continued to use the Shadow’s arm to keep the Flesh Half upright. “I could hear everything you all were saying, even whilst I remain bound inside the Shadow’s head--” (♫“Claire de Lune”♫ / Claude Debussy) “--Listen, Alister, we can see what direction you’re heading towards with your incoming tirade, but we need you to head for a different route,” Bayonetta chimed in. “Getting mad at Alpha--no matter how justified any of us would be to do so--is not going to help you, which is what we are all here for. Especially Red and Alexander.” “And we’re not here to repay a debt to you, either!” Red joined in. “Alister, what you did for Alexander and I gave us hope, the strength to forgive ourselves and to keep moving forward. And right now we want the same for you!” “We know you’re scared, Al,” Ratchet followed, “scared that you’ll cause more harm than good just from existing, but--” “--you haven’t failed yet!!” Zayon suddenly jumped in, tears streaming down his face. “You still have time to make things right, Al! You can turn this all around, prove to everyone that you’re not a jinx, or a scourge to the Multiverse and all within it! It doesn’t matter what Isamy did to you--you’re still you, and YOU can get through this! You can, you… you can….” His emotions overwhelming him, Zayon collapsed against Reid, attempting to stifle his sobs as his beloved comforted him. “Al, you’ve become a part of our lives,” Alexander spoke up as calmly as possible, even as his own eyes became misty, “a part of our hearts. Something that won’t ever fade… I’m sure we’ve all become a part of yours, too, over the course of this journey… remember everything we’ve all been through, both the good and the bad, all the times we’ve been at each other’s throats as well as the times we’ve had each other’s backs…. “You and I went from that argument on the roof of Castle Necrophades… … to sharing a hot tub as we both recovered from being encased in ice…. “You and Red went from a pained parting at the Inner Periphery… … to being in a cuddle pile with the rest of us…. “You and Ratchet… it all started with your meeting on Torren IV… … yet through all the ups and downs, you two have grown so close, almost like… family…. “... you’ve done so much for us, with the hope that we would be able to live our lives--truly live… and we… we know that you, too--” “Alex, stop,” Alister tearfully plead, the Shadow’s Fleshed Half crying tears from its eye, “just… just stop… I know… I know I mean a lot to you all… you all mean so much to me, too. I really… desperately wish to be with you all for the rest of my days, but… but what I want… and what the Multiverse needs--” “--the Multiverse can wait, Alister,” Kaden calmly cut in. “Right now, it’s what you want--and need--that’s most important.” “... What… I… need… …?” It was odd, how the words never really crossed his mind before. What he needed? What he needed… he thought he had always known the “right” answer to that question: he “needed” to fight, tooth-and-nail if necessary, for the good of his home, his people, his loved ones… yet, it felt more like his duty--an obligation--that he had to uphold even in the years of his exile, to the point of obsession. Everything he had ever done, it was for the needs of others… but himself? Had he… ever truly thought of himself? Of what he needed…? “I… need….” But why would his own needs ever be important? So long as his home--wait, scratch that, Fastoon is a ghost town now… so long as his people--no no, hold on, most of the lombaxes were elsewhere… yeah, so long as his loved ones were safe, that’s all he ever… needed…? As he continued to consider those words further, all while subconsciously moving his damaged left arm over towards one of the chains binding his right--which also, somehow, directed the Shadow’s arm to reach for its own face, he couldn’t help but to think of what Alexander and Red had gone through, what they felt they needed to do for those close to their hearts--Red’s desire to save his world drove him to sacrifice his own well-being and attempt to keep others at arm’s length. Alexander did what he felt was best for those he cared for most, even if it meant erasing himself from their memories--even for a moment--to let them live on without knowing who he was. They were willing to isolate themselves from others, just… … just like… him…. “... I… I need….” … and yet, he continued to realize as he proceeded to rip the chain, hook and all, away from his right arm, while the Shadow’s arm began to pull at the Fleshed Half of its face, much to the Skull Half’s ire... it was partly because of him--because he didn’t want them to suffer like he had suffered--that Alexander and Red no longer had to feel the need to deny themselves what made them whole. And now they, Ratchet, Clank, Umbris, Bayonetta, the Souls, the Altisters…. “... I need….” … it had been in front of him this whole time. What he was missing--what he had been denying himself for so long--it was there all along. “I need…,” Alister breathlessly gasped, trembling as he continued to rip off the chains binding him, fighting off the pain that came from tearing up his body in the process. “I need…!” “STOP!! What do you think you’re doing?!” the Shadow’s Skull Half angrily shrieked, its red iris shrinking to almost a pinprick as it watched its own arm--all but completely under Alister’s control now--continue to pull at the Flesh Half of its face, threatening to rip it off. “You think freeing yourself will solve anything?! You’ve already doomed the Multiverse! You’ve already--!!” “--I’ve already told you--YOU have no right to call me a “failure”!” Alister snapped back, his body now covered in numerous gashes but also mostly free of the chains that he had torn out of himself. “Zayon’s right; I haven’t failed yet, and I don’t intend to--AAARGH!!” Alister had almost freed himself completely of his bonds, yet the Shadow had made one desperate attempt to keep him contained: flinging one of the loosened chains against Alister’s face, causing the barbs to dig into the flesh of the left side. And yet, this only served to distract him momentarily. “I… I still have a chance to help save the Multiverse,” he continued as he reached for the last chain binding him, prepared to rip it off his face, “and I’ll do it with my comrades--my friends--by my side. But right now… I… NEED… AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!” Powering through the pain, Alister tore the barbed chain off his face, along with a fair bit of the left side of his face, just as the Shadow’s arm tore off the Flesh Half of its face clean off. No longer bound to the Shadow’s inside, Alister went limp as he began to free-fall toward the floor. “... I need… to be with them….” (♫ “Finally At Peace With Myself” (“Film”/Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth OST) ♫) Time seemed to slow down for Alister as he descended, a feeling of weightlessness washing over him as memories flashed through his mind: the moments he had throughout this journey that brought light to his life--moments where he felt emotions he had thought would never be felt again, where the sides of him he had thought long forgotten had resurfaced. Moments with Ratchet, Clank, Alexander, Red, Bayonetta, Umbris, Mr. Zurkon, Kaden… even memories from his Altisters flooded his mind, though not as rapidly or aggressively as the previous time, showing him moments with Asgore, Pearl, Admiral Vivi, Homura, Aerith, Artorius, and countless others that his alternate selves had managed to befriend and connect with over the countless, brief cycles. There was always at least one person by his side, wasn’t there…? He was… never truly alone, no matter the timeline. That put his mind at even greater ease, and it grew more at ease still as, even through the blood blinding his left eye, he could see his friends rushing over towards him, ready to catch him before he could hit the ground. His friends… the ones who fought tooth-and-nail to pull him back from the brink of his despair, so that he could have a chance to live to see another day, to see the future that could be made… no, more than that, even. To be a part of that future. “Guys, I…,” he started to once he was finally in the embrace of his friends, letting his tears fall once more, “I--I’m so… so sorry, I--” “Don’t apologize,” Ratchet sobbed, relieved to have Alister back again. “You’ve nothing to apologize for, Al. You’re alive and safe now, that’s all that matters…!” “Doesn’t mean where out of the woods just yet,” Admiral Vivi warned just as what remained of the Shadow let out an ear-splitting roar. “Seems our “friend” here still has some fight left in it.” With Alister no longer bound to it, and the Flesh Half of its face torn off and laying uselessly on the floor, the Shadow proceeded to shift into a new form; with the gears of its body now lying flat on the floor, a mechanical endoskeleton emerged from the middle of the central gear, consisting solely of a ribcage, featureless head and left arm, the Skull Half of its previous form’s face being worn like a mask. “Well, that’s mortifyingly familiar,” Umbris scoffed in spite of the mood, reminded of his Void-Spacian doppelganger from Death Path. Though its body language was as monstrous as its appearance, the voice it spoke with was calm and emotionless: “You… shall not… succeed… … You… are destined… to fail… for all eternity….” “And who are those words for, exactly?” Alister questioned the monstrosity before them with a stern glare… before turning his gaze over to Alpha. “I get the feeling you would know.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” Red blurted out. “It means what we’re seeing now,” Alpha explained, staring up towards the monster’s face, “is connected to me. And always was.” “So that ISN’T Alister’s Shadow Self?!” Ratchet gasped. “No,” Alpha replied before pointing over towards the Half-Face still lying on the floor closeby with a humbled expression. “That… is Alister’s Shadow.” “That’s…,” Alister uttered as he gingerly straightened himself, moving as if to step towards the Shadow on the floor. “Al, wait!” Alexander yelped while grabbing hold of Alister’s arm, just as the “Shadow” fired a number of lasers from its fingertips at the group, which I.T. blocked with his Digital Barrier. (♫ “Maze of Life”/Persona Q OST ♫) “You behave!” Aerith chastised the “Shadow” aloud as an orange aura erupted in a perimeter around her, followed shortly by a violet energy converging on the “Shadow”, rendering the monstrosity from moving any part of itself, if only momentarily. “That won’t hold it for long,” Aerith warned the others, “so get ready.” “The Enemy is weakened, but it is still a threat,” I.T. observed. “We will need to take it down quickly.” “I need… to get to my Shadow,” Alister told Alexander, in an almost pleading tone. “I know,” Alex nodded as he supported the General on his shoulder. “I’ll get you to it, don’t worry.” “Alpha, what do you mean by that thing being connected to you?” Ratchet questioned the DATEA Founder as he prepared his weapons. “Is it like Alister’s Shadow, too?” “In a way,” Alpha replied. “Hard to say whether it is my Shadow, or a Cognition--both can have their appearances warped by the perception of others, including that of the person that the Shadow or Cognition was born from. Suffice to say,” he added with a faint, mirthless smile, “I don’t exactly have a positive opinion about myself, especially considering what I’ve done….” “I’m gonna guess “Cognition”, then,” Umbris joined in, “since I get the feeling that it represents how you feel about yourself--both the You in here, and your physical Self--and, well, given your apparent mental state, it ended up spiralling out to disastrous proportions.” “Yep, sounds about right,” Alpha agreed with bemused resignation. “It’s gotten so far beyond my control that I cannot make it cease by my own power….” Glancing up at the Cognition, Alpha blinked hard a few times, remembering something. “We need to protect Alister and his Shadow, at least until once they’ve reconciled.” “Got it,” Umbris nodded. “Wait, why protect the Shadow too?” Ratchet blurted. “If his Shadow gets destroyed,” Umbris warned as Aligore, Pearl and Admiral Vivi rushed over to guard Alister and/or his Shadow, “Alister could slip into a coma, or worse: experience a mental shutdown and die.” Now it was Ratchet’s turn to blink hard. “ARGH! Again with the information that should’ve been brought up earlier!” he growled before rushing off alongside Umbris to guard Alister. “... failure is… your only option…,” Cognition Alpha uttered as soon as it could move and speak again, launching numerous giant gears once again at the Rescue Team. [[“Mirror Force…!”]] Soul!Alexander telepathically declared as a shimmering barrier formed between the Rescue Team and the Cognition, blocking the gears and sending them… wait, the gears aren’t being bounced back? They’re still grinding against the Mirror Force barrier, threatening to shatter the barrier and break through! How?! “M-M-Ma-M-Ma-Mabufudyne!!” To Soul!Alexander’s shock and relief, the gear were all frozen in pillars of solid ice, their threat neutralized. But who was the one who had cast the spell? The Soul turned around to find an Altister approaching, draped in an oversized comforter. “S-S-Sorry that we all f-f-f-froze up on you guys earlier…,” Sniffles shivered apologetically. “What…?!” Cognition Alpha gasped, its stoic facade slipping at the sight of the now-active Altister. “But… you’re supposed to be… ggggrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRR--!!” It attempted another laser attack, yet its charge was interrupted by a sniper bullet being fired into its wrist, short-circuiting the attack once more. “How…?! You Failures shouldn’t be…!!!” “Afraid you thought wrong, Demon,” uttered Trigger as he shouldered his sniper rifle. “Seriously, sorry that it took us so long to get out of such a sorry state,” Left-Eye apologized as he, too, appeared, alongside Vortex Al. At the sight of the frozen Altisters finally becoming unstuck, Alister couldn’t help but smile. “I… I’m glad you guys are okay.” “And we, you,” Alizure nodded. “Now that we’re ALL back in action, our chances of getting you out of here are sure to drastically improve,” he added as he spun a blue, star-shaped charm around his finger. “Now, time to overwhelm that Cognition!” With an almost deafening battle cry, over fourty-thousand Altisters proceeded to pile onto Cognition Alpha, confounding it with their sheer numbers alone. “... I really wish I could do more for them,” Alister sighed ruefully. “I’m sure you’ll find a way, Al,” Alexander nodded as he saw Ratchet and Umbris shove Alister’s Shadow closer to them, the giant half-face looking mildly uncomfortable being handled so roughly. “Right now, though….” “I know. Right now, I have to face my darkness on my own,” Alister replied, echoing a statement told to him some time ago, as he was brought closer to his Shadow, Alexander gently lowering him so that he could kneel before it. “I’m sorry,” he said to his Shadow, “that it took me so long to realize what I should’ve known all along, yet denied myself this whole time. You… wanted me to realize this, didn’t you?” he asked his Shadow, which had now morphed into a mirror image of him, minus the flayed flesh. “I could tell, somehow, that you were protecting me from that Cognition--even your fusion with it was an attempt to protect me from its influence. More important than that… you protected me from myself… … or perhaps, you… were the part of me that still wished to live, even when I had given up hope….” At that last point, Alister couldn’t help but chuckle a bit. “What am I saying? Of course you’re a part of me--you are me. The Me that I never fully accepted… until now. My Shadow… that helped me to see the light.” The smile that crossed the face of Alister’s Shadow was brimming with elation and relief. Even a tear could be seen falling from its eye before the Shadow emitted a brilliant, blue glow. The glow slowly transferred over to Alister, whose wounds began to heal as the Shadow slowly faded from sight; only a small scar over Alister’s left eye remained when the glow eventually died down. That, and a card that suddenly appeared in his right hand. “This is…,” Alister quietly gasped as he looked down at this card, unsure of what it truly was or how it got there, yet somehow knowing what it was at the same time. “... … oh, great,” Alister blurted suddenly with a roll of his eyes before looking toward Alexander, “this means I’m gonna end up like you, isn’t it?” Taken aback by this comment, Alexander could help but to scoff incredulously. “W-Why’re you saying that like it’s a bad thing--?!” His shock turned into relief almost instantly as Alister started to laugh lightheartedly, both at his own joke and Alex’s reaction to it. “... you’re really back,” Alex uttered quietly, his eyes tearing up. “He’s going to be okay,” Red sighed in relief, his own eyes tearing up as he smiled. “Thank the Ancestors, we saved him….” “It’s more like he ultimately saved himself,” Umbris replied, also relieved that Alister was brought back from the brink of his insanity and depression. “... this is the Alister that’s always been there…,” Ratchet uttered quietly, not even bothering to stop himself from crying tears of joy. “He’s… gonna be okay….” The Soul Room shook as Cognition!Alpha let loose a blood-curdling shriek, signalling that the fight was still far from over. “I MUST BE THE ONE TO SUCCEED!! ME!!!!” the Cognition bellowed, flinging several Altisters off of him in the process. “I MUST BE THE ONE TO USHER IN THE NEW MULTIVERSE!! THAT IS MY RIGHT, NO ONE ELSE’S!!!!” Alister breathed a short sigh. “Whatever could have happened to make you believe that so fiercely…?” he calmly asked, directed not only at the Cognition, but Alpha as well. “I guess it was my habit of always trying to be THE one to solve an issue.” “Perhaps you’re right…,” Alpha dejectedly replied. “It became twisted into an obsession, to the point where I clashed with everyone in DATEA, even Omega. Especially Omega, considering we were both the founders. I strongly felt that the right to use the Door of Origin’s power was mine alone, especially seeing as I was the one who caught a glimpse of it in the first place, from my own dimension at that… Gods, that was just selfish of me to think so….” “It wasn’t the only thing that motivated you, though, at least initially,” Alister continued. “You just… lost sight of what was truly important.” “You’re right. I was blinded… by my desperation… my despair….” “And in the midst of your thrashing, feeling your way around without that sight, you lost your course, your sense of direction….” “... my… self, too… eventually, all that mattered to me was reaching the End--any end. Yet none was in sight, within reach… … but you,” Alpha added, “you’ve managed to get the closest to the true End....” “... it’s… because I managed to learn,” Alister replied. “It all started with Ratchet, at the Great Clock, after all. He got me to listen… ‘course he did so after beating the tar out of me, but I guess that was what I needed,” he added with a slight chuckle. “... what you… needed…,” Alpha uttered slowly, his gaze gradually shifting towards Ratchet. The younger lombax caught Alpha’s gaze and held it for a couple of seconds before going into a minor coughing fit. “... of course… Ratchet got through to you, to get you to realize your mistake, just in time. If I hadn’t… … I… … … … thank you, Clank.” “I beg your pardon?” Clank blurted, taken aback. Ratchet blinked hard, equally surprised. Alpha gave a half-hearted chuckle. “If not for you going back six minutes into the past to save Ratchet, our universe would have surely been doomed completely. But because you did, Ratchet was able to get through to Alister, and Alister was able to see the light. And continue to see. If only I… had seen my own errors in time, too…. ♫ (“Prelude to a New Beginning” (“Our Beginning” / Persona 5 OST) ♫ “You see them now, though, don’t you?” Alister asked rhetorically. “Even if it’s too late for your timeline’s universe, you still have a chance to make things right, now that you’re fully aware of what went wrong. Even if your physical self still wishes to re-write the Multiverse, maybe you could… I dunno,” he paused to shrug, “try something to stop him.” “... You’re right,” Alpha replied slowly, “you’ve shown me that there is still a chance for me to stop my physical self. Or, at least, to give you a chance to stop him. I mean, it’s a bit rich of me to ask you to solve my problem for me, but--” “--I get it~ shut up~” Alister snarked back with a smirk. “Heh, very well then,” Alpha agreed as he raised his right arm. “Let’s get you home, Alister.” “No,” Alister corrected as he, too, raised his left arm. “Let’s get us all home.” In the hand of each raised arm, a glowing plasma gun appeared--brilliant gold for Alister, pale silver for Alpha--which were now aimed at Cognitive Alpha, giving off a slowly rising hum as they charged their shot. “I want to get us all home, even the Altisters, if possible,” Alister explained. “They, too, deserve at least one more chance. Them and the Souls that came in here with them.” “A rather tall order,” Alpha commented dryly. “But not an impossible one, I’d imagine.” Alpha made a sound between a scoff and a chuckle. “I suppose that’s true. We’ll see just how you manage to accomplish that.” “Of course. When you’re ready.” “... alright.” “CHECKMATE.” Pulling the trigger, Alister and Alpha fired their charged shot at the Cognition, who was unable to evade it due to the Altisters’ interference as well as its own lack of limbs. The plasma blasts punched right through the monstrosity, leaving a gaping hole in both its torso and its head. The Altisters surrounding it began a hasty retreat as the Cognition began to crackle and overload, knowing what happens next in situations like this. As did everyone else as they all huddled behind I.T.’s barrier, reinforced by several other Altisters linking their arms together with I.T. and each other; their combined energies were more than enough to withstand the Cognition’s massive explosion without I.T. or any of the other linked Altisters needing to Overclock themselves. “See? You could do it,” Alister said calmly to Alpha as the smoke cleared, revealing that the Cognition was, indeed, destroyed. “You just needed some help, that’s all.” “... I always did,” Alpha admitted in a silent breath. “We… both did. But you knew better than I did… and that is why you are better suited to attain the Aeon.” “The what now?” Alister blinked in confusion, completely oblivious to the celebrating happening around him. “Omega and I opposed each other, despite effectively being equals as co-founders of DATEA. Or so I initially thought, before discovering he was an Omni, bestower of Judgment for the Multiverse. It’s a “Maximus” thing, apparently. Isamy became an Omni when Protheus vanished, then when Protheus returned, she was the one who vanished, since there can only be one Omni at any given time. But now, though,” he added as he looked past Alister to see four figures approaching them, “I have it on good authority that Protheus has been disposed of, and thus Isamy is once more an Omni.” Alister turned to face the figures Alpha was watching: four Altisters, including two that Alister recognized from the Pathways of Death and Truth, as well as a restored Too-Dee being cradled and hugged by the last Altister he didn’t quite recognize. “Alister,” Alpha spoke again, “Let me introduce you to my first three After Images. I’m sure you recognize Alpha-Delta and Alpha-Tango,” he stated as the respective After Images nodded in acknowledgement. “Oh, and I see Too-Dee’s back as well. Must’ve been from a Back-Up like the others… anyways, the one holding onto him is Alpha-Romeo. He was the one I had stationed on Remembrance Path… but you never properly met each other ‘cuz he was sleeping on the job!” “Oh, so that was what that copy of my corpse was,” Alister realized. “What can I say--the snow blanket was comfy,” Alpha-Romeo shrugged. “Shame I tend to sleep like a log, though.” Alpha could only groan as he facepalmed himself. “Yes, well, thanks to the information he had sent over before he was disintegrated along with Remembrance Path, I was made aware that Protheus bit the dust, thanks to the efforts of Arthur, Eria and their companions. Thus, as stated earlier, Isamy is now an Omni once more--” “Hi,” Kaden jumped in suddenly. “You don’t mind if I have a moment with Alpha-Tango here, do you Alpha?” “Gah!” Alpha lightly gasped upon Kaden’s intrusion, but his expression quickly turned soft upon hearing the request. “Oh, no, by all means Kaden. Go on ahead.” “Thank you,” Kaden nodded appreciatively as he approached Alpha-Tango. “... hey,” Alpha-Tango smiled calmly. “... been a while, hasn’t it…?” Kaden uttered softly. Without another word, Kaden calmly took Alpha-Tango by the hand and led him away from the crowd, someplace quiet and private. “... … … now I get it,” Alister uttered in realization. “Kaden said he was from the same timeline as the Alister that was executed by the Lombaxian Court. “My Alister”, he said. And that mention of “exploring limits”... … now it makes sense,” he concluded as he stared off in the direction Kaden and Alpha-Tango had gone to. “... huh. Okay then. So, you were saying, Alpha?” “Right… anyways, I quickly realized that Protheus having his Omni Principle meant that he was WAY out of my league… until he discovered something within me. Something that entered me when the Great Clock was destroyed. Something that was related to the Omni Principle despite being comparatively weaker. Something called… the “Philosopher’s Observation”.” “That sounds glamorous,” Alister snarked bluntly, feeling the reveal to be a tad anticlimactic. “Basically, it allows whoever possesses it to see what others cannot--and even should not. It also allows them to see potentially infinite possibilities--future and past, events yet to come and no longer possible--” “Sounds like something greater than Garnet is capable of,” Pearl chimed in as she attempted to join the conversation, only to recoil from Alpha’s glance and growl. “Sorry, just thought I’d put my two cents in,” she relented as she backed out. “I guess that power was what ultimately drove your complete self to insanity,” Alister hypothesized. “Indeed. I focused on the possibilities that I wanted to come true--it didn’t matter to me whether they were possible to attain or not.” Alpha took a short pause to sigh. “It’s like trying to follow a map with no clear path, no guarantee that the destination would even match the journey. Like we’ve said, I became blinded, merely thrashing about to find my way, to find a way out--any way.” “... so, wait,” Alister realized, “are you saying… you passed the Observation on to me?” “Not even close!” Alpha replied in an almost chipper tone. “The Observation stayed with me this whole time!” “Wh--Which you?!” “This me!!” Alpha answered, practically beaming at this point. “I managed to retain the Observation when my Physical Self split himself in twain!” “Well, shit, talk about the biggest fucking gamble!” Alister gasped, realizing what might’ve happened had the Physical Alpha been the one to retain the Observation instead of his Conscience Self. Another realization came to him at that moment. “Wait, was your Physical Self… trying to get you back? Is that why he tried to reach out to Zayon’s Alister when he…?” Alpha merely nodded. “He wishes to gain the Observation back, for the power it bestows aside from Sight Beyond Time--” “--and to get it back, he wishes to reunite with his “Better Half”. Sounds familiar,” Bayonetta surmised as she slid into the conversation this time. To Alpha’s shock, she was joined by the other members of the Rescue Team and the Souls, all listening in on Alister and Alpha’s conversation. “DAFU--?!” “Yeah, try growling all of us away this time, Alpha,” Pearl taunted rather haughtily. “If any conversation deserves to be private, it’s the one Kaden’s having with that chained Altister,” Reid added. “Oh, alright, fair enough,” Alpha relented. “But you all understand where I’m going with this, right? If my Physical Self gets a hold of me while I have the Observation, he could become too much for anyone short of an Omni to take on.” “I think you’re underestimating us again, Alpha,” Alister pointed out. “Or did you already forget that an Omni was taken out by people who didn’t possess a similar Attribute? Besides, all we have to do is keep your Physical Self from reclaiming the Observation for himself, right?” Alpha let out a sound between a scoff and a chuckle. “Yes, you’re right on both points. Which is why… ….” Alpha trailed off as he moved closer to Alister, grabbing the General by the shoulders. “This could take a moment--don’t wanna have you overwhelmed too badly.” Before Alister could utter a sound of protest, Alpha’s mouth was already right next to his ear, a soundless scripture issued from his lips. Alister couldn’t move his body while Alpha whispered his incantation, yet his eyes began to spasm on their own as something began to enter him, seeping into his very soul. Whatever it was, it felt like it was trying to tear him apart from the inside, yet was ultimately being restrained, perhaps by Alpha’s own intervention. It felt almost like an eternity had passed before the intrusion finally settled, even though in reality it lasted for two minutes at most. “That should do it,” Alpha declared as he finished, holding on to Alister as they both briefly stumbled, both somewhat drained from what transpired between them. “W-What did you…?” Alister huffed breathlessly. “Even if he and I end up reuniting,” Alpha explained as he straightened both himself and Alister upright, “my other half won’t ever get what he wishes to claim. A portion of my Observation, and of the Aeon… now rests in you. You may be familiar with it,” he added with a slight, knowing smile. Somehow, Alister felt that he knew what Alpha meant. “Okay,” Alpha nodded as he stepped away, “I believe now would be the best time for you to get back out there--you lot have missed quite a lot, after all.” “We’re definitely gonna get such an earful from the others,” Alexander laughed nervously. “On top of whatever Jeanne has cooked up for us,” Bayonetta added with a shrug. “And I’m sure Mr. Zurkon would like to let us have it, too,” Umbris sighed. “We’ll just have to take our licks when we wake up,” Alister shrugged, feeling quite optimistic despite the threat of a dressing down. “See you all on the other side, everyone.” “It’ll be good to have you back, Al,” Alexander nodded happily as he and the rest of the Rescue Team began to vanish from Alister’s Soul Room one by one, until only Ratchet was left with Alister. “Ratchet…?” Alister uttered with a tilt of his head. “Something still troubling you?” The young lombax look into Alister’s face with teary eyes for a few seconds, then turned his gaze toward Alpha. The man formerly-known as “Alister Azimuth” instinctively attempted to avoid eye contact at first, but Alpha reconsidered after a second or so, swallowing hard before willing himself to face the young lombax. “... I… I know it’s too late to ask forgiveness of you at this point,” Alpha quavered, speaking to Ratchet, or rather, someone else within Ratchet. “I honestly rather you didn’t, not after what I… what I did to you….” Alister glanced at Alpha, knowing full well what his alternative self was referring to. Turning to look back at Ratchet, he almost jumped in shock upon seeing that the young lombax was now cradling a body that had suddenly appeared in his arms--a body exactly like his, yet dressed differently. Ratchet approached Alpha with this body double, a raspy breathing coming from it being the hint that it wasn’t a corpse. Alpha was trembling all over as Ratchet drew closer, until they were a few inches apart. Ratchet’s Double weakly turned his head to look at Alpha, his half-open eyelids showing dull, almost lifeless eyes. Alpha’s teary eyes moved between Ratchet and his Double, a trembling hand reaching out to touch the top of the Double’s head. “... I… I want to... take it all back… all of it,” Alpha sobbed, his shaking knees threatening to buckle beneath him. “Kaden’s son or not… I should never have… done what I did… to you… … I never should have… … all this suffering because of me, because I… killed you… … I wish… oh, how I wish… that I could have been stopped… I wish you had stopped me… I wish anyone had stopped me… before it was too late… ….” Alpha was now cradling Ratchet’s Double--his timeline’s Ratchet--while the main Ratchet stepped back to stand next to Alister. “My dear boy… I… I’m so sorry… … I’m so sorry….” Collapsing to his knees, Alpha could only repeat those last words as he held his Ratchet close to him, crying into his shoulder. “... get going,” Alister and Ratchet tore their eyes away from the somber scene before them to find Zayon closeby, addressing them. “Everyone else is waiting.” “I… okay,” Alister uttered, motioning for Ratchet to get going. The young lombax complied without a word, vanishing from the Soul Room. “... Zayon--” “--good luck out there,” Zayon blurted in a timid tone, the whole ordeal clearly having exhausted him. “No matter what happens from here on out… just do your best, Al. We’ll be fine.” “... … …” Alister wanted to say something more, wanted to reassure Zayon, and the other Altisters, that he would do whatever he could to get them a happy ending, too… yet, he felt Zayon already knew what he had wanted to say. Sighing, Alister settled on giving Zayon a faint smile, before vanishing from his Soul Room. “YOU HAVE A FUCKING LOT OF GODDAMNED NERVE, AZIMUTH!!!” “MR. ZURKON HAS HALF A MIND TO PUMP YOU FULL OF PLASMA, STUPID FUZZY BITCH-ASS!!” “SO HELP ME, ALISTER, IF IT WASN’T FOR MOM--!!!!” “I know you’ve got a lot of baggage to deal with, Alister, but next time do us all a favor and TRY AND RESOLVE THEM FASTER!!!” Sure enough, as soon as Alister reawoke, he found himself verbally bombarded by the rest of Team Lombax who had to stay behind and defend him and their friends while they were going through that Vision Quest that seemed to have lasted for a year. Ignoring the tirade for a moment, Alister took a moment to quickly glance at his surroundings, realizing they were all floating about in some brightly colored, starry nebula. Bizarre, and yet rather delightful. The sight of this, coupled with his newfound spark for life, made Alister’s mouth curl into a happy smile. “--and wipe that smile off your face, Azimuth, we’re not done ripping you a new one yet!” a fuming Jeanne barked. “I swear, we ought to put you in another coma just for that crap you pulled--” “Come now, Jeanne, he’s been through a lot,” Red implored. “We’re just glad he didn’t terminate himself in his Soul Room, like I almost did.” “That’s not it! It wasn’t just Alister who was in danger--Cereza and the rest of you could’ve also gotten erased in there!” Jeanne angrily explained. “But we didn’t, so I don’t see the issue here,” Bayonetta shrugged. “Cereza--!!” “Shh~” Bayonetta interrupted with a finger pressed to Jeanne’s lips. “Please, Jeanne, you really should be happier.” “But… ugh, I hate when you’re right,” Jeanne relented, glomping Bayonetta before she could stop herself. “... I’m just glad you’re alright,” she sighed into her friend’s shoulder. “And what are we, a bunch of Fake Traps?!” Umbris protested. “I’m sure Jeanne’s really happy to see the rest of our friends are all safe and sound, too,” Gabriel suggested optimistically. “Speak for yourself,” Jeanne bluntly remarked. “GIRL, LISTEN--!” "No, YOU listen--!!" As Gabriel and Jeanne began their verbal combat, Ratchet and Red sidled up next the Alister. “Well, we’re certainly glad you are safe, Al,” Red beamed as he pulled both lombaxes in for a hug. “Honestly, though, Alister, if any of us have another one of those Vision Quests again, it’ll be too soon.” “I agree,” Alister chuckled lightheartedly as he gently ruffled Ratchet’s head fur, “I feel like I’ve had more than plenty this adventure.” His smile slowly drooped as a realization came over him. “... where’s Isamy? … I still owe her an answer.”
  8. Bashing Shield Equip Spell Equip only to a Normal Summoned/Set monster you control. It gains 800 ATK/DEF, it can attack while in Defense Position, also, if it battles your opponent’s monster, apply whichever is highest between its ATK and DEF (your choice if tied) for damage calculation only. Once per turn, if the equipped monster would be destroyed (by battle or card effect), it is not destroyed. Changelog: Increases both ATK and DEF in exchange for lowering the ATK gain, Gives the monster the option to attack while defending (thus rendering the Battle Damage negation of the original (mostly) moot), Lets the monster use its best stat for battling, Prevents your opponent from taking advantage of the previous point in case they take control of the equipped monster. Gives it some limited longevity. Next card: [url=https://yugioh.fandom.com/wiki/Maiden_of_the_Aqua]Maiden of the Aqua[/url]
  9. Bumping as I've given this card a complete overhaul.
  10. Dragon Ogre Deity of Tenyi's design is horny AF and I know I'm not the only one who thinks so.

  11. (Made this one mostly 'cuz the idea of Wildheart as a pirate captain intrigues me =3) Elemental HERO Wildtide WATER/Lv 7/Warrior/Fusion/Effect/2500 ATK/1900 DEF “Elemental HERO Wildheart” + 1 WATER monster Must be Fusion Summoned, and cannot be Special Summoned by other ways. Once per turn, if your opponent activates a Spell/Trap Card or effect: You can return 1 of your “HERO” monsters that is either banished or in the GY to the bottom of your Deck; negate the activation/effect of that Spell/Trap, and if you do, destroy it. Once per turn, if a “HERO” monster you control destroys a monster by battle, or inflicts battle damage to your opponent: You can add 1 card from your opponent’s GY to your hand.
  12. So, if "Wicked-Breaking Flamberge - Baou" is the TRUE Baou's body--with "Guardian Baou" being Baou's host--and "Warrior Dai Grepher" became possessed by Baou after taking “Wicked-Breaking Flamberge - Baou” as seen in “Morale Boost” and then "Falling Down"... wouldn't that technically make Baou an "Archfiend" monster given "Falling Down's" maintanance condition?

  13. Dark Lucius EARTH/Lv 4/Fiend/Effect/1000 ATK/1000 DEF This card is also always treated as a Warrior monster. Cannot be Normal Summoned/Set. Must be Special Summoned (from your hand) by Tributing 1 monster on either side of the field that is equipped with a card, and cannot be Special Summoned by other ways. When an attack is declared involving this card: It gains 500 ATK. Negate the effects of monsters destroyed by battle with this card. If this card’s ATK is 2500 or more, banish any monster destroyed by battle with this card. If this card in its owner’s possession leaves the field because of your opponent’s card or effect: You can Special Summon 1 "Dark Lucius" monster from your hand or Deck, as if it were Special Summoned by the effect of the “Dark Lucius” monster listed in its first line of text, if any.
  14. I decided to try making support for Allure Queens, and almost immediately came to the realized conclusion that (untouched) they're basically worse Relinquisheds/Eyes Restricts

  15. Bending Destiny Counter Trap When a monster(s) would be Summoned, OR a Spell/Trap Card or monster effect is activated, while you control a "Fortune Lady" monster(s); negate the Summon or activation, and if you do, banish that card, but return it to its owner's hand at the end of this turn, also, while that card is banished by this effect, neither player can activate cards or effects with the same name as that card. Errata Notes: Now works on all kinds of (inherent) Summons and also monster effects, as well as lessening the Xenophobic requirements by needing at least 1 "Fortune Lady" regardless of what other monsters you control (in case you wanted to also play "Fortune Fairies", maybe, idk). Also keeps the banished card from being a factor for the rest of the current turn and prevents your opponent from using the effects of that card's name (you, too, but it's whatever). ----- Next prompt: Darklord Marie
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