The events of that day... were not fondly remembered by us.
"Need a drink?"
I shook my head, turning down Tsukuyomi's offer as we sat in a hospital waiting room together. Keston was discussing something with Shot, while Giselle would be out of the operating room in a few hours. Saori and Kerrigan though... it was touch and go.
"... It's... hard, finding out a woman hated you and wanted to use you for her own gains not only in spite of practically being siblings," Tsukuyomi continued, "But doing that all because of your relation." The god leaned back in his chair and sighed. "Such a petty, selfish reason stemming only from her delusions of grandeur and desire to become the leader for all of humanity."
"She built her entire religion on lies and murders. My parents, Midori's family, they all had to swept away. I've got little left, but I want to keep what I do have," I told the Lunar Emperor. "I've still got my brother Keston and, well... Saori's still alive... if only for now."
Tsukuyomi smiled to try to reassure me. "She's an invincible Tower of the Devil alright, clad in gray and capable of defeating anyone if it means you'll be safe. She'll be fine. She's come a long distance over the course of these battles. I think all of them have. So does that mean you'll stay with her?"
"Of course," I turned to Tsukuyomi and tried to laugh. "She's well, I feel as close to her as I did my real mother. Besides, she was so enthusiastic when she talked about me going to school and things are going to be quiet now. No more Hallowed Prisms, no more Midori."
"Can't wait to walk out of here with Saori?"
"How's the hand?"
In spite of my discomfort and the bandages, I stood straight and at attention when I finally heard his voice again for the first time in so very, very long.
To be fair, Johan Stroheim was not related to me by blood. But he was the only parent I had left, and I could see him in disheveled clothes, leaning against a wall in the hallway. My stepfather was balding, with brownish hair and a surprisingly weary face. Then again, after everything that had happened between us...
I ran up to meet him, overjoyed as I practically overwhelmed him with a hug. "It's wonderful to see you again, Dad."
He chuckled almost in amusement, but also with great sadness as he looked down at me. "That's all you have to say to the man that left your mother at the alter and drove her to suicide?"
Looking back up at him, I shook my head. "Pinning blame on you would be like hating anyone who made a mistake when it came to Midori Ai and the turned back. The same applies to Ikki, after all."
"But Giselle, I... did horrible things..."
"And so did Ikki, right?" I countered as I looked up at him before laughing. "This is terrible. We're finally reunited, and we start fighting about what drove you away in the first place." I slowly pulled away while holding my eyes closed. I didn't want to start getting all bleary-eyed now and lose speaking skills. "I... I got everything I needed from all of this, Dad. Don't beat yourself up over something you were just a... small part of."
"So you never answered my question."
"How's your hand?"
We were walking to the cafeteria. I hadn't eaten since the attack on Midori's fortress and whatever was available seemed inviting no matter how offensive to my sense of taste. The subject of Dad's questions, my left hand, was tightly wrapped in bandages, as was my upper abdomen. They were reminders of my duel against Yuriko Bandom, a fight that had Kerrigan's life on the line.
"Still hurts," I told him. "My back's even worse though. Two scars from where she slashed me before, plus a whole bunch of stitches from when she drove that dagger into me. But it's peanuts compared to Saori and Kerrigan's injuries and I'll be out of here soon enough."
"Good to know."
We paid for our meals. Dad was more than surprised that I had more than enough money to cover my bill, and mentioned it as we sat down to have our first family dinner in so very, very long.
"You've grown strong," Johan said, surprising me just as I had put the first bit of salad in my mouth. "I've heard a little about what you've done these past few months. You saved lives, destroyed Hallowed Prisms, helped people see a future where Midori Ai wouldn't be the center of their existence. You've made me a proud parent, Giselle."
"Thanks, Dad," I gave a noticeable nod before continuing to eat. "I've made friends along the way, and I didn't go want for a father figure either."
"Mr. Higashi? He's a good man, isn't he?"
"I know. He said a proud young man who understood what true justice meant woke him up to the reality of the Prisms. The guy's name was Soma Elpiz."
"Elpiz?" My father repeated. "So one Greek living in Japan started the events involving a famous Tokyo prosecutor teaming up with a young Brazilian woman fighting alongside Japanese Interpol assassins led by an American woman with a ghost for a sister as they all fought to defend an incubus? What a world we live in." Realizing that I was looking at him funny, Johan cleared his throat and continued. "Sorry. That man claiming to be a god, Tsuku-whatever-"
"Yes, him. He cleared up some events for me. Thought I should know what my daughter was doing for the good of humanity. Well, he had some help."
Another tray clacked down next to us. My heart skipped a beat as I saw the blue-haired man sit down next to me. Granted, I had seen and talked to him such a short time ago, but it still meant so much to see him again as well.
"... Ikki Higashi."
"Nice, uh... weather we're having." Never in my entire life had I felt so intimidated and ashamed of myself as I stayed sprawled out on the rooftop. Shot stood above me, avoiding my gaze due to her equally profound shame.
Of the Four Mundane Knights, Shot was the one with the fewest injuries. She chalked it up to the power that had been lent to her by her dear friend; the late Kei Kimatura. The name stuck out due to my recollection of the name and the mysteries it held. Shot was, aside from one brief meeting with her prior to Kimatura's suicide, as in the dark as I was about her.
"... I betrayed someone yesterday, Keston," she said before she turned to me. Her red hair dye was gone and her naturally dark blonde hue was finally present again. She looked defeated before she all but fell onto her back and looked up at the sky with me. "I betrayed someone who had never wronged me and trusted me with all her life."
"Shot, if you're talking about Saori then-"
"To an extent, I am." She turned to me and sighed. "But I can get over my mistakes at that time because we were all under the power of the Hallowed Prisms. Midori had us in her clutches, after all.
"But I betrayed Kei. Of my own volition, I turned my back on the power she left me. Do you know how that feels, Keston? To be in a situation where nobody is forcing you to renounce something that's been a core facet of your existence and made you the person you are here and now, and you do it just because you're a little depressed?"
"No, Keston!" she snapped. "Don't go pointing the finger at yourself for all of this! Saori and Midori went a healthy number of rounds, and she didn't walk away unscathed, so don't act like if she and I would have been uninterrupted everything would've been just fine!"
Standing up, she walked over to the edge of the hospital and looked down.
"... I had a bit of a chat earlier with Mr. Higashi. He was surprised that I was familiar with Kei."
"What's that mean?"
"Higashi was provided advice when he first started going after Prism Users due to e-mails sen to him automatically by Kei's computer. The nature of the jewels and how to stop them, for instance. As far as I know, he was getting messages as late as one day prior to meeting Saori.
"So I'm going to Japan. I'm going to try to find out about Kei, understand where she fits into this and carry on what she had for all of us."
"W-what?!?" My spoon clattered to the ground as I tried to grasp the implications of Dad's words. "You... you..."
"Giselle, the Hallowed Prisms aren't gone, only their creator," Ikki stated. "Midori's cult was stretched far and wide and we have little to no idea how many other innocent people out there are using a power they do not grasp. In reality, nothing has really changed about what we're doing, except that no more of those jewels can come into existence."
"Then why does Dad have to-"
Johan's hand clamped down on my shoulder and I immediately shut up. Looking at him let me know I was making a scene and embarrassing us all and he wasn't going to have any of it.
"Giselle," he very sternly told me, "You are talking to two men who were pawns of Midori Ai. Your mother, my wife, has been avenged. You have no reason to continue on, especially when you have friends and loved ones here too."
Ikki shrugged. "Giselle, first of all, you need time to recover from your injuries."
"Then I'll come after you and-"
"Second, it's not like you don't have other responsibilities," Dad continued. I suspected they had discussed all of this before. "Such as school."
"Giselle, you've fought the good fight, but now's an opportunity for you to get an honest education in a location where people can pull a few strings for you," Johan continued. "L++ has an exemplary post-secondary program and it wouldn't be too hard for you to get in it."
"And what about you two then?" I asked, hating myself for beginning to agree with them.
Ikki just let out a laugh and smirked. "Oh, come on. Two men on a journey to redeem themselves for past crimes and lay their guilty consciouses to rest? We'll be fine, Giselle!"
To an extent, that was not true. But I'd have to wait another nine months to see the resolution of all of that.
"She awake yet?" Kerrigan asked as she came out of lengthy period of rest. With her injuries bandaged and treated, all that she needed now was lots and lots of rest. As did the other patient in her room.
The other occupant raised a weary hand into the air, its speaker croaking out only two words. "I'm up."
I smiled happily. "Welcome back... Saori."
"What day is it? Is Magi-"
"Magi School will be ready for you when it's ready for you," I calmly told her. "Until then, just recoup from your injuries."
"Speaking of which..." my big sister groaned as she sat up, "How're you feeling?"
"Like a complete wreck, thank you," Saori responded. "Being completely blind doesn't help either."
"Relax about that. Tsukuyomi's making you up plenty of sets of sunglasses. He advised you keep them somewhere safe. Until then, you've got us to keep you company."
There are some great things about being a Remnant Psyche, especially one with access to a Great Sea of Evil.
One of them was the fact that I could save people. People like my big sister and company when Midori used those damn Crystals on them... and also when it comes to keeping a crippled body from giving out. Granted, getting to Saori required me to possess Kerrigan again, but that was nothing new. After getting within range, it all just came down to doing what the Dai Makai did best and wait until Tsukuyomi got us all out of there.
With everyone clinging to life and me trying to keep Saori's body from giving out on her... it gave me some time to think.
The Dai Makai, the Profound Shine, Hallowed Prisms, and whatever the darkness was that Shot had wielded were all connected. But the power Mizuki, the Demon Empress, Soma Elpiz, and I shared was different from Midori's on a fundamental level.
The Hallowed Prisms were a means of people getting what they wanted, protecting them so they didn't have to change or grow. And the Dai Makai was the opposite. It protected people so they could learn and become better people.
Well, even if they were dead... like in my case...
"Iris, I was speaking to you," Kerrigan said as she looked over at me with the playfully disappointed look big sisters could always pull off.
"The possibility of Midori becoming a Remnant Psyche like yourself. What's the possibility?" I asked again as Iris shook her head.
"Very, very unlikely. And even if she was... she'd be no threat to us. A harmless ghost, like most of them out there."
"How so?" Saori asked with another groan as she tried to sit up straight. "I mean, you can accomplish a lot, can't you?"
"Because I saw what you did that woman, Saori," I told her. "Let me just say you'd be the Grand Queen of Meatgrinding if you ever got the idea to jump careers. And that look on her face... it was one of defeat and dread. I don't know what happened between you two, but that's the kind of look a chessplayer gets when he has this perfect plan that'll let him win in five turns... and then his opponent beats him in four.
"This means that if Midori does return as a ghost, she's going to have to linger on experiencing those feelings of dread all the time. And even if that wasn't the case, she's without a Soul. Which means no plans or ambitions for the future at all. It's one of the worst fates someone could be experience.
"What about you when... Mizuki Rajoshin killed you?" I asked. Saying her name was rather hard as I recalled going to Japan to see the murder scene, and although I no doubt had her to thank for many of our lucky breaks, I was only human and rife with plenty of petty emotions like unjustified hatred.
Iris sighed, seeing that I was not being very chipper about all of this. "I'd rather not talk about this, sis."
"Then what would we-"
There was a knock at the door, and the three of us turned to it. The sent of salty chicken-flavored instant noodles was quite apparent that a hot meal had arrived for Saori.
"... You picked the brand I like."
Wait just a minute. Saori can... she can identify them by the smell?!?
"Well... yeah," the purple-haired boy said as he set them on a tray next to Saori's bed and then fished a new pair of light-blue sunglasses out of his pocket. "And Tsukuyomi made these for you too."
"I'll gladly take them," Saori said as she held out her hand for a minute and claimed the lenses before slipping them on again.
And with that, Saori caught sight of the little incubus and gave him the warm smile of a mother.
"Hey there... Anser."
"Got your lunch?"
"And your costume?"
"... I thought you were over Usagi, Mom."
I smirked as I leaned down at the scowling Anser before patting him on the head. "One, if was your idea. Don't forget that. And second of all, you're just upset because you're the one dressing up as the house with the chicken legs."
"But I don't wanna be the house with the chicken legs!" he pleaded before I went back to skimming through my emails for any classes I'd be needed for before getting everything set up to drive my son to school. It was Halloween, which meant costume parties. And against my better judgment, Anser had convinced me to maybe do one last send up to my tragic friend Usagi Sekishiki. Kerrigan had been a little worried, but eventually decided it would be okay. I mean, therapy for nearly six whole months hadn't gone that badly and supposedly one little instance wasn't going to cause a horrible relapse in sanity.
Well, provided I continued visiting him.
Well, my name is Saori Ichimonji. I am soon going to be twenty nine years old, have an eight year old demon son who is finally going to school, and my life is pretty crazy. I used to kill people for a living and I technically still do.
My phone rang and I fumbled to get it out of my pockets, seeing it was from Kerrigan. Huh.
"Yeah. Yuri and her sisters in Japan put down a killer and have covered their tracks. Makes life easier for the rest of us."
The Hachi Satsu was technically disbanded. Public protest and pressure from the international committee finally proved too much and Interpol had to give up on the program. Naturally there was a lot of bad blood, especially inside the organization between the people that knew about it and the people that didn't.
But with political assassinations still going on, something had to be done. So pretty much the dynamics of the program were changed, we had to get approval for our operations, and Kerrigan was taking charge of it all. Not too bad, in my opinion, and I went out on jobs every so often when I got an opening between grad school and being a full-time mother.
The drive was short as usual, and I promised Anser I'd show up in costume when it was time for him to explain why he was dressed up like a piece of real estate. It was kinda fun, but I couldn't help but sit and think for a moment as I watched Anser walk away. That little boy was finally getting to live a normal life. His brother... not so much.
Keston left one day after Shot went missing. We knew where he was going; he was going back home with Tsukuyomi, but he was still going into danger. Anser was heartbroken and thought Keston would've changed his mind, but I understood his reasons. During this whole battle, he had been on the sidelines and was nothing more than a means for Shot to summon her golden spear. And in the end... Midori used him as a means to get to Shot and defeat her.
The boy wanted to redeem himself. He wanted to fight so that Anser wouldn't have to worry about things any more. And as stupid as that seemed, and how much Anser had cried for long weeks after that, Keston wanted to go. And it wasn't my place, so to speak, to decide anything of that caliber for him. He was still alive, we knew that to be true. The same went for Johan Stroheim and Ikki Higashi.
I got my car moving again to return to L++, where so much happened. It was a quieter place, though. And that wasn't a bad thing at all. Giselle was almost always hanging out with Erika, Leona, and Bridget and kept in touch with her father as much as she could. It was a little less weird at L++ though, without Kerrigan or the ghosts to liven up the library.
As for Shot, though...
"I... want to thank you for seeing me on such a short notice," I said as I sipped some tea with the young woman opposite to me. She smiled and offered me some sugar but I kindly turned her down.
"I assume you are familiar with what I am?" she asked as she began to sip her own. We were in a quiet kitchen, simply spending time together. It reminded me of the time I had spent with Kei, no matter how short that time was.
But the nature of my host did not bother me and I returned her grin. "I understand. I've had plenty of crazy stuff in my life and its nice when you can go a few months getting more answers than questions. It wasn't like that too long ago with Midori Ai, after all." I started to laugh, but the woman cut me off.
"Please, do not make mention to that woman, Shot," I was taken aback when she looked at me. That look in her eyes... it was so different than how Kei had looked at me. And yet it... it was something I could see poor Miss Kimatura doing. I wasn't surprised. After all, she-
"I'm sorry though, for making you jump through so many hoops to meet with me," she continued. "I can never be too safe, and I needed to know that you weren't associated with... her."
"If you mean Minako Yuki, no. I can plainly state I have never met or interacted with her," I answered tersely.
"Again, one can never be too safe." She poured another cup of tea for herself before leaning close to me. "In these previous two battles, separated by eighteen months where demons and gods have warred against their own kin over ideals of destiny, there have been connections between the two groups. Considering the nature of Minako Yuki's existence, we are lucky all life in existence was not snuffed out that fateful day in 2012.
"By all rights, Loretta Brauner should have known something was up with that girl. Especially after that day."
"You sound like you know her. Are you sure you haven't associated with her?" I asked. I was surprised when the woman laughed.
"In a way, yes, yes I have. In another way, no. Honestly, it doesn't matter. For the time being, we are safe and she's in the dark. We can't keep it that way forever, but it's nice for the time we do have available to us."
"And where am I going to fit into all of this?" This was, well, very, very important to hear. It would determine what I'd have to do in the next few weeks to get ready. If I was lucky, well...
"Shot. I need you to-"
"Argh. Stupid school." I balled up another piece of paper and threw it into a waste bin as I walked along with my friends. Halloween afternoon was pretty boring, especially when there
"Upset about stuff, Giselle?" Bridget asked with an almost smug look on her face. "Come on, can't be that bad, can it?"
"Oh, it's just Dad and all," I responded before fishing a postcard out of my pocket. "There were in Stockholm again. Supposedly they had fun on this run through the city."
"Again?" Before I could stop her, Erika had snatched the postcard away from me and read through it before letting out a laugh. "Incidentally... Giselle."
"Oh, God. Not this again. Be quiet if you know what's good for you."
"But I mean, it's two men, off on their own, seeing lots of fun sights and everything-"
"Hey, Bridget?" Leona suddenly spoke up, "You think we should be getting out of here?" I was quite happy at least one of my friends had the smarts to recognize where this was going to go.
"Yeah," Vilant concurred. "It's going to get ugly."
"... Think we should sell tickets?"
Okay. That was it. I'd just kill them and use that as grounds for going professional. That was like... the only acceptable thing for me to do in situations like this.
School was... school. I was learning to get me own group of friends and it was a genuinely good experience. No worrying about anyone trying to hurt me, nothing truly scary like the fate of all life in existence hanging in the balance, and I got a certain amount of popularity since Mom could always get kids nearly any TV Show they wanted to get their hands on for a modest fee. Through and through, I was Saori Ichimonji's adoptive son.
Of course... then there was the fact I was dressing up as a Baba Yaga's house for Halloween. I should have never offered to see if I could get the costumes for Mom. Because I mean... seriously. A house with chicken's legs. That was just so... crazy. Even for an incubus going to elementary school.
There were some times I didn't see much of Mom. She had work after all. But she always returned before long and let me know how the counter-assassination went. Usually it was by the books and justice was meted out without fanfare, but she did have a way of making some of the fights sound like exciting battles between strategists.
Finding some room to work with, I managed to take out my costume and started to unfold it before putting on the stupid bird leg boots.
Why did I decide this was going to be a smart idea as a send-up to Usagi? It wasn't like she had died a few weeks ago or something.
But with a sigh I finally got on the entire dorky outfit, stumbling out into the hallway where a bunch of people just looked at me and predictably laughed. And they kept on laughing for a good long while. But the thing was... I eventually found myself laughing with them. And as we did our proud little mark outside the playground, I could understand why Mom had decided to entertain this crazy and stupid idea of mine.
Because I was growing up. I was growing up and I was bound to make really stupid mistakes all the time when it came to minor issues. And I had to be able to laugh and get over them, no matter what. Mom didn't hold any animosity against me and nor did anybody here at school. They just found my outfit to be ridiculous and-
"Wait a second. Is that your mom?" someone asked me. Looking around, I noticed Mom waving happily in the of parents. Some where dressed up too, many going along with some theme with what their child was wearing. Saori was wearing a fancy gray dress complete with a witch's hat.
"Yeah. You've met her before though, right?"
"Well, yeah. But were she trying to be a Baba Yaga?"
"Uh-huh. It was sorta my idea, although it makes no sense really right now... especially with what she had me-"
"OH! So you're supposed to be her house, right! That's so cool!"
You know what? Forget all that crazy navel gazing. Mom had enough insanity in her head as it was. She didn't need more in mine.
"Fun day at school?" Mom asked as we drove home.
"Yeah! Well... except that you made me have to do some internal philosophical thinkings for a while and I probably over thought it all. And that was not a fun realization."
Mom giggled like a schoolgirl. She could be quite the sadist when it came to humor.
"Oh, what's a little bit of fun now and then?" she said before giving me a thumbs-up before turning back to the road and continuing to drive. Her childish happiness slowly evolved into something much more mature as we continued on home.
"... What is it?" I asked, confused as to what Mom had in mind. It couldn't be Keston coming back or anything like that, could it?
She kept her mouth shut for the entire length of the drive. When we finally reached home, she helped me get everything out of the car and we headed up to our apartment. It was then that Mom spoke up.
"It has been exactly six months to the day that we could finally live in peace, Anser." She pulled me into a hug before kissing the top of my head. "I just wanted to do something for you that was, well, special."
On the table was a small package. It was too small to be anything of much use really, and when I cautiously reached over to pick it up, I was surprised that it was so light too. Couldn't be any heavier than playing cards.
"Open it up, Anser. Just... be careful. It's fragile, and also something I think you would really cherish."
With those words in mind, I began undoing the wrapping paper bit by bit. Finally it was all on the floor, and I was left holding a set of twenty-two playing cards. Tarot cards, in fact.
"I... remember these..."
"You should," Mom said as I noticed the top two cards had been deliberately arranged to be the Tower and the Devil. Not really all that subtle, but I wasn't complaining. "Remember when we went to that art exhibition with Keston? I remember you really liked all the various pieces of art there and I decided to get you something."
"It was the first time I ever took you out on the town to something fun and exciting," my mother said. "I wanted to get something from there... so no matter what, we'll always have a reminder."
"It's..." I was surprised at how moved I was before I put the cards back on the table. "It's wonderful. And thanks, Mom... thanks for... everything. Just... everything."