Alright, this is the end, plus the epilogue. I hope you've enjoyed the story so far and that you enjoy the ending. The epilogue itself leaves a bit of room for questions and for me to... well, just have room for if I ever want to return to this universe ever again. Covering my own butt, eheheh. Now that "Dusk" is finished, this gives me time to rewrite the EatD series, so if any of you are fans of that, feel free to PM suggestions. ALSO this means that all of the EatD stories are coming down soon once the rewrite is ready to be up on the site! But, please enjoy the final chapter of "Dusk". And YES, the doc manager is back to normal. Line breaks for everyone!
Joker skidded back a bit when Astraeus's sword clashed with hers. Even with her full powers and a time realm erected around them, Joker was having a hard time. Astraeus smiled, noting the woman's frazzled appearance and cuts from their fighting. "You're strong, but you can't win."
Joker stood straight up, allowing the parts of her watch to surround her right arm. She tried to implode the space all around Astraeus, but just the sheer aura of her power eliminated those attacks. "You're a nasty thing," Joker spat. "What are you?"
"The collective will of everything that has decayed in Dusk," she said. "All those lives lost... as perpetual motion machines, their power must go somewhere. I am a representation of that power, that need to have the world right again."
"And spreading Shane's sperm to every Lamia will do that? You have him rigged up to that machine, planning to use it to reach every single female," Joker scoffed, letting the dark realm around them grow more stifling. Clocks surrounded them as she concentrated on containing Astraeus's power. "You think you will make a truly great society?"
Astraeus looked around. "It's a shame that you use your power to fight me when you could become a wonderful mother. Once you're dead, I will feed your remains to Shane. It will strengthen him and bring him closer to being the perfect Adam." Astraeus raised up her sword and with one slash downwards, Joker's entire realm cracked and her watch began to go back to normal.
Joker shielded her eyes as everything she erected was turn into nothingness. Now, it was just her and Astraeus, once again standing on the platform facing each other. Astraeus took a step towards Joker, when something shook far below them. Astraeus frowned. "Did you really think I would kick Kore off of here for no reason?" Joker asked, regaining her posture and sticking one hand in her pocket, the other holding her watch. "The girl has her uses. By the time she gets up here, I will be done with you."
"You? So battered and beaten?" Astraeus asked. "Should I hit you once directly, you will be finished."
Joker widened her stance and held out her watch. Her other hand came out of her pocket with the engagement ring. "You can't stand to hurt me directly when I have the ring," she said. "Keres is still alive in there, somewhere."
"She no longer exists," Astraeus said. "This body... it will become just like her mother's. But instead of being left an empty shell, I will fuse with her completely." She brought a hand up to her face, gently stroking her own cheek. "This body will become even more beautiful and strong. Fitting for the ruler of the world."
"She will become beautiful and strong," Joker said, grinning. "But from my influence, not yours!"
Joker charged, but Astraeus was ready for her. This time, she aimed at Joker's left hand when she crushed her watch, making her three pronged gauntlet again. But Joker hissed in pain, dropping the ring to the ground. That's when Astraeus slashed right at her midsection. Joker blocked with her gauntlet, but still received a gash right across her abdomen when her gauntlet broke.
"This is the end," Astraeus said, plunging her sword down at Joker, who had fallen back. The woman rolled to the side, holding her bleeding stomach. Her guts weren't spilling out, but she certainly couldn't fight like this.
"I'm not done yet," Joker said, scrambling to her feet and stepping back. Astraeus was slightly weakened from the reactor breaking, but not enough. She couldn't win. "I was hoping... to be with Keres. To fight alongside her. I guess I will just have to settle for being a cheerleader."
"She is never coming back," Astraeus said, watching as the Roman numeral for 12 appeared in front of Joker before disappearing. "All your tricks won't work."
"You have time for a midnight special, yes?" Joker began to glow with an eerie white light, her watch shattering completely into white blade, composed of the hands, the glass, the gears... everything from her watch. The hilt was gold and so was the chain coming off the end of the handle. "Keres is a wildcard. My wildcard. If you thought I was unpredictable, just wait."
Joker stood up tall and rushed at Astraeus. She merely swung her sword to bat Joker's weapon away, but it went right through the time blade. Astraeus brought her sword back to stab it into Joker's side, but suddenly Joker's sword was buried right into Astraeus's heart. She could see Joker's blood dripping onto the floor from where she had stabbed her, but that maniacal, painted face was smiling as though she won.
"You're mine, Shana," Joker whispered as they stood in deadlock, their weapons buried into each other. "I told you that I would be the one to rescue you. Not Kore."
Joker's time realm erupted around them and Joker could feel herself slip almost out of her body, out of existence. She shut her eyes and when she opened them, she was standing in a cavern like place, the walls covered with black matter, white streaks going through it. This was... inside Keres's body. Joker smiled, looking down at herself. She was uninjured in this form, her suit impeccable. It looked nice on her, but she was sure it would look nicer on Keres. With a little spring in her step, Joker continued forward, ignoring the overwhelming aura of Astraeus's power.
"She really made a home for herself here," Joker said out loud, trying to find Keres. "Do you remember? I did this once to speak to you after Fury took your body. Except... Fury isn't here anymore, is she?"
Joker heard a slight sob. She turned in that direction. In the distance, she could see a body suspended upside down in the air, spikes of the black and white matter piercing through it. When she got closer, Joker could see that it was Shana struggling and letting out quiet sounds. Astraeus power seemed to spreading, to the point that the only human parts left of Shana were her forearms, calves and her head. The rest of her body was turning a dark black with white running through it - Astraeus's trademark.
"I knew she didn't absorb you completely," Joker said, staring down at her. Shana's face was about level with Joker's abdomen. Her dark hair almost brushed the ground. "You have your own will, your own personality. You're not Keres anymore, are you?"
Shana said nothing, but let out a choking gasp, like the life was being sucked out of her. She could hardly move anymore.
Joker still towered over her, talking. "I thought I could win or at least beat her out. It doesn't seem like that's the case. She made you to be her body. The way she's integrated herself... it's almost a lost cause."
A single tear fell from Shana's eye, rolling down her temple to disappear into her hair. She tried to say something, but couldn't. Her mouth was half open in a plea.
"But she didn't count on a Joker in the deck," the older woman laughed. "Excuse the pun. She didn't expect me to find you in that room." Joker went down on one knee, her face still slightly above Shana's. "A wildcard, something to switch up the game. She's not expecting this. Any of this."
"Cam...ryn," Shana gasped.
Joker smiled widely, the dark slits across her eyes and black lipstick looking more menacing that reassuring. "You understand, don't you? That you have to be mine now. That you can't win any other way. I thought I could take care of things for you, but you will have to forgive me. I will try again another day. But now, you need to show Astraeus how wrong she is."
Shana's lips trembled as Joker leaned in to kiss her. It was soft and she could almost feel the lipstick seeping into her, beneath her skin. Darkness fell over her eyes and the tick of the watch entered her head again. It was incessant, commanding that her body, her heart, fall in line with its rhythm. Joker's kiss became deeper, until it was like she was devouring Shana. The girl couldn't even think of Kore. Everything in that moment was Joker as the powers restraining her gave way and Joker's hands ran over her naked body. She was completely vulnerable under the older woman and when Shana opened her eyes, she wasn't sure if she was really looking at Joker anymore.
Maybe the dark haired girl on top of her with dark slits over her eyes and black lipstick... Maybe it was just her reflection looking back. That's when everything snapped and everything became Shana.
The time realm around them collapsed completely and Astraeus screamed as the darkness fell away. In confused swirl of energy, she left Shana's body, floating in space before trying to descend upon the dark haired girl again. Instead, a silver chain lashed out at her multiple times, cutting her to pieces and disintegrating parts of her. The massive cloud that was Astraeus quickly went to Angela's body, engulfing her and taking control. Astraeus, back in her old host, staggered to her feet, staring at what had assailed her.
Shana turned to face Astraeus, her chain disappearing back into her silver pocket watch. The second hand ticked confidently away beneath the flawless glass of the watch. She placed her hands in her pants pocket, the black pinstripe suit conforming nicely to her curves, the blue dress shirt standing out from beneath her black vest. Her hair was long and free, a slight smirk played at her black lips, the makeup on her eyes adding a mischievous look that she never had as Keres.
"What... what happened?" Astraeus asked, horrified. "Joker... you took my body!"
"Not quite," Shana said.
"That power... that power isn't right for you," Astraeus said, summoning her sword. She charged at Shana, but the girl merely raised up her pocket watch. A glass shield appeared in front of her and froze Astraeus mid-air.
"I'd say it's perfect," Shana drawled. "Looks like Joker finally did get me. Just not in the way either of us imagined." She flexed her hand and Astraeus was blasted away, crushing ungraciously into the chair in the center of the platform.
Astraeus struggled to her feet, gritting her teeth. "Keres's body is meant for me. Nothing can save her from that fate."
"I'm afraid that Joker has replaced you," Shana said, bringing a free hand to her heart. Its beat was the same as her watch. "In the same way that Aeon saved Joker and granted her power... Joker has bestowed that tradition on me. She recognized something greater than you ever could."
Astraeus lunged at Shana again and this time the girl summoned her twin blades, one long and one short, made from the minute and hour hands of her watch. She skillfully parried and met Astraeus blow for blow. "One woman can't stand against the will of Dusk," Astraeus said. "You can't possibly defeat me."
"I would say it was love," Shana said, hardly breaking a sweat as their weapons clashed. "But Joker... Camryn... Camryn understood what it meant to be an outsider. To be discounted... Aeon gave her the potential to be more."
Shana kicked Astraeus in the stomach, away from her. Astraeus got up again, holding her abdomen. Angela's body could only take so much damage... "You can be the ruler of the world," Astraeus said. "You can be a part of something larger than yourself. The birth of a better age."
Shana ignored her. "That potential warped her into Joker. She chose to trick the game of Dusk and play by the rules. Until it was time to break the system." Power whirled around Shana as she began to manipulate the space around them. "Until she found a girl that would give her the same feeling she felt with Aeon."
Astraeus sighed. "So foolish." She looked up at where Shane was struggling. "Once I tear you apart, I will rebuild your body, Keres. Then we shall fuse together completely. No silly wildcards or rulebreakers this time. No women trying to pass as men."
Shana pointed her sword at the ceiling. "Let go of Mr. Austin. Then let go of my mother. If you want my body, fight me yourself. You have ten seconds. I'm not afraid to hurt either of them."
Astraeus stood still, allowing her monochromatic power to build up around her. She was obviously preparing to fight no matter what, but Shana listened to the tick of the watch, the beat of her heart, counting the seconds. As she counted eight, a fiery blaze came crashing out from a small vent at the end of the bridge, where the door was. Kore rocketed forward, sending fiery vines along with her burning petals right at Astraeus, flying right past Shana. Astraeus wildly swung her sword, destroying everything, until Kore practically tackled her, right hand sword ready to pierce her.
Astraeus fell back against the console, but blasted Kore away. She blocked with her sword in time, but it shattered, leaving her with only her left hand blade. The blonde smacked back into the railing around the platform, trying to make sure she didn't fall again like last time. Shana reached for her and pulled her safely to her feet. That was when Kore finally looked at who had once been her girlfriend. She stared wide eyed, thinking that she was looking right at Joker. Only Shana's blue eyes convinced her otherwise, but it sent a chill down her spine. Why did Keres look like this? Why did she have Joker's makeup? In the midst of their pause, staring at each other, Astraeus hit a button on the console.
The platform rumbled under their feet and they crouched down, watching as Astraeus went to the chair in the center of the platform and sat down. A small circular opening appeared beneath her, large enough for the center portion of the platform with the chair and the ceiling mechanics holding Shane to descend below. Shana darted at them, but when she got to the center, the opening closed. Shana stayed on her knees, looking at the circular center, trying to think of a way to pry it open.
Kore could only watch as Shana began to search carefully on the platform for something. She... was wearing the same clothes as Joker and the makeup. The blonde approached Shana when she stayed crouched in one area of the room. Kore held her one remaining sword in her left hand, having let go of her broken one. "Keres...?" she asked hesitantly.
Shana turned and looked at the concerned expression on the girl's face. "Don't worry." Kore cringed at the tone of her voice. It... reminded her of Joker. Shana remained kneeling when she moved to face Kore.
"What happened to you?" Kore asked, filled with doubt. They suddenly flew out of her when she noticed the familiar loving look Shana was giving her.
Shana flicked her eyes down to Kore's right hand and took it in her own, caressing it. She could see the blood and tears on Kore's sleeve, even if the wound was gone. "I hope you weren't hurt too badly," Shana whispered, bringing her lips to Kore's fingers.
"It healed," Kore said, blushing. Her eyes widened when she watched Shana slowly put the sapphire ring on her finger.
"Joker dropped it," Shana said. "Good thing I found it."
"Keres..." Kore murmured. "You... I..."
"Joker got me completely. Her power has overtaken me," Shana said. She kissed the ring on Kore's finger. "But I promised. I promised I wouldn't forget you."
Kore let out a long sigh of relief as Shana stood up to embrace her. The dark haired girl cupped Kore's cheeks, staring her right in the eyes. "I love you, Keres," Kore said.
"My mother named me Shana," she said. "Shana A... Abendroth." She hesitated with her last name. "Keres Alexander isn't my real name."
"You can't be Keres without me," came Fury's voice, her blue orb flying out from behind Kore.
Shana smiled at her. "You're still here."
"I haven't run out of energy yet," Fury said. "And I want to see that bitch dead before I go."
"We're going to try to rescue Angela," Kore said to the spirit.
"...I'll settle for Astraeus's death," Fury grumbled, disappearing again. "My work isn't finished yet."
Shana let her hands drop to Kore's shoulders. "Are you ready?"
Kore nodded, feeling lightheaded. The devilish look on Shana's face... she felt like she was being asked to get married.
"Two female lovers think they can stop me?" came the warbled voice of Astraeus, alarming both of them. Shana instinctively grabbed Kore's hand as the two of them looked around for the source of the noise. Suddenly, the room darkened. Tentacles and large, monstrous Voids began to morph out of the walls, heading right towards them. "Such worthless girls! Accept your fate."
Shana held up her watch and Kore gripped her sword tightly. They were ready to fight... until pink light zipped all throughout the room in whirlwinds of slashes, brightening it and destroying every tentacle and Void. The room lightened up immediately and there was a relieved sigh as a large pink, translucent sphere descended from the ceiling.
"Sorry I'm late!" the girl inside the sphere said as she landed on the bridge, her power dissipating. "I thought the process wouldn't be so long and I didn't get a chance to finish completely, but I think I made it in time to help out-"
"Emma?" Kore asked, staring at who was in front of them, standing awkwardly on the bridge. Shana was also staring wide eyed.
The girl who had once been a very human Emma suddenly looked embarrassed. "Yes," she said, smiling slightly, her tiny fangs showing. She was beautiful, carrying an innocent charm about her that she had once had as Emma - now it was augmented. She would someday grow up into a woman, but for now, she still had that naïve appearance. Her eyes were a bright, permanent pink, her hair a luscious brown, waves flowing everywhere. Gazelle-like horns poked out of her hair, looking elegant rather than grotesque.
"You look different," Shana noted.
"So do you," the demon said, laughing nervously. "I'm not done changing. The scary parts will go away when I've matured. That should only be a few more days incubating..." She touched her forearms nervously. Her porcelain skin right above her elbows gave way to dark, sinewy flesh and clawed hands. It was the same right above her knees, except the dark flesh led to talon like feet. "But I'm a full demon now."
Kore suddenly went forward and hugged her. "Emma! You seem so happy!"
The demon wrapped her arms around Kore, feeling the fire underneath her skin. "You've gotten stronger," she said. She looked over Kore's shoulder at where Shana stood confidently, her demeanor different that when she had been Keres. "Joker got you?"
"Yes. But my heart is with Kore."
The blonde blushed and pulled away from the demon. "Now I feel out of place. I don't have a great transformation right before the final battle."
"You bloomed early," Shana said.
"...you're not Keres anymore," the demon said. "So now..."
"Shana," the dark haired girl said, holding her hand out to her friend. "You?"
The demon took it, smiling shyly. "Asmodeus kept calling me Ishtar, telling me I was reborn," she said. "I'll still go by Emma for a while. It's hard to get used to."
"How is Asmodeus?" Kore asked. "You and her are lovers now, right?"
Ishtar let out an awkward sound. "Well, I... uh... I really needed to get here in time because we could feel the worlds merging. I broke out of incubation and when Asmodeus pulled me out, I sort of..." She trailed off.
Kore and Shana exchanged glances. "What happened?" Shana finally asked.
"I sort of... devoured a lot of her power to finish most of the transformation and tore her apart!" Ishtar said the last part rather quickly.
Kore stared wide eyed at her. "After she turned you into a super hot demon?"
Shana frowned. "Super hot?"
"Look at her," Kore said. "Even the demonic parts are attractive!"
Shana stared at Ishtar for a while, finally saying, "Yes. An undeniably cute monster girl."
Ishtar's face went pink and not because of her newfound demon powers. "But I tore her apart into Deus and Asmo, so it's okay! They're outside fighting to make sure nothing leaks into our world!"
"So you wanted two demons instead of one?" Shana asked.
"Yes. I... I mean, no! After I consumed Asmodeus's strength, she sort of naturally began to lose her cohesive form," Ishtar said frantically. "So I thought it was natural to return her to-"
"A threesome?" Kore asked. "Becky's going to have a field day when she finds out you have two girls."
Ishtar sighed. "I... I'm going to go back to school once I've achieved a complete humanoid form. I will be back in time for Thanksgiving dinner... can you tell Caleb for me?"
Shana nodded. "Of course. We will still be friends after this." She pulled up the sleeve her suit, revealing her bracelet. Ishtar smiled and held out her arm, where hers dangled on her dark skin. Kore giggled and held out her arm as well, the three of them displaying their bracelets.
"Astraeus doesn't know how awesome the Power Rangers are," Kore said. "In fact, I'm surprised she hasn't attacked us while we were catching up."
Ishtar looked around the room, where her pink light was fading. "Actually, I sort of made a barrier to block her power temporarily."
"Useful," Shana said. "But it's time to go-"
Suddenly, they could hear ominous moans coming from deep beneath them, below the bridge and the platform. They watched as darkness began to rise up, misshapen Voids crawling up the walls and then... half formed demonic monsters came snarling up towards the bridge.
"Kore, what did you see when you were down there?" Keres asked, looking over the railing as the strange creatures multiplied, hundreds of them crawling out of the abyss.
"I didn't go all the way down," Kore said. "I stopped on a platform leading to the reactor. There must be a deeper section below."
"You two go," Ishtar said. "I will keep these things under control. Astraeus is trying to distract you."
"All three of us-" Shana started, but then she felt a power surrounding both herself and Kore from their bracelets.
Ishtar smiled at them. "Are you really going to have me fight so hard after my birth? If these creatures are allowed to roam inside, they might break out or generate more power for Astraeus. Everything we kill will weaken her." She paused and spread her arms wide, slashes of pink energy flying from her body and shredding all the monsters nearby. "And I don't want to be third wheeling."
Kore let out a laugh. "Emma... you're ridiculous."
Shana grabbed Kore's hand tightly. "We will see you during Fall Break. Thanksgiving."
Shana jumped over the railing, taking Kore with her. The power through Ishtar's bracelets allowed them to sail through the darkness, untouched. Ishtar waved at them as they fell, looking very much like the strong Emma they remembered.
As they sailed down into the abyss, monsters and Voids continued to crawl up the sides and fly past them. Most were repelled by Ishtar's protection around them, but Shana summoned a large sword composed from her watch and held it in her left hand, destroying those that dared come too close. The power of each of Shana's slashes even killed the nearby Voids that were out of the way of her weapon. Kore held her hand tightly, looking down at where her sword in her left hand was cradled between hers and Shana's left hand. She had so many questions for her... was she still Keres? But she had said her real name was Shana and gave her the ring... Where had Joker gone? Kore looked at Shana's face. She had the makeup, but there was still an intense focus that she associated with Keres.
"Here we go," Shana said, letting her sword disassemble and she held out one hand as they neared the bottom where Kore had fallen to stop the reactor. Her hand pulsed with energy and time seemed to freeze around them. Shana clenched her fist and the ground opened up in a swirling mass of darkness. Kore clung to her as they fell through. It was like passing through a fog and then... then Shana had landed on her feet, with Kore in her arms.
Kore blushed. "Where are we?" She made no move to get out of Shana's arms. She tried to cuddle closer to her.
"Near the heart of Dusk," Shana said. "Very close... but not quite there."
She walked forward, still holding Kore. "Um..."
Shana chuckled. "It's kind of like taking a bride through the threshold. But I wouldn't want this to be our home."
"Two delinquent girls like you need to be taught a lesson," came the voice of Astraeus. Shana stopped and waited. The area all around them was shrouded with darkness and the floors were a dark metal. The center of the platform Astraeus took down to the lower area slowly lit up, revealing her and Shane still suspended in agony in the machine.
Shana set down Kore. "You can't beat us," Kore said. "Just give back both of them!"
Astraeus stood up and shook her head. "Together, Shane and I will fix this world. Dusk and your world... They should be one! All the souls lost to Dusk have created me and I will grant their wish to be alive once again."
"A collective hive mind like you doesn't stand a chance," Shana said, her voice having a edge more akin to Joker's. "Kore and I... our partnership is stronger than anything you and Shane have."
Astraeus smiled as a muffled yell came from Shane. "I suppose he will have to teach the both of you a lesson."
Shana and Kore ran forward, but the machine activated, the wires disengaging from Shane's body. A shockwave emanated from him and darkness whirled around the machine as he broke loose from his bonds. It sent Shana and Kore flying, but they were able to land on their feet, skidding back as he landed on the ground. He stood to his full height, next to Astraeus.
"This is the perfect man," she said, laying her head on his shoulder. Shane was only wearing the pants and boots from his groom outfit, but his entire body was covered in sinewy, muscular black flesh. It went all the way up to his face, making a dark face guard that left him uncovered from the eyes up. Those were his only recognizable features, along with his auburn hair wild and messy on his head. His eyes were wide and filled with intense agony, but also blankness. "Shane. Please fetch my body for me?"
He trembled slightly, taking in shuddering breaths. Shana and Kore faced him cautiously, waiting for him to strike.
"You want to have the perfect family, don't you?" Astraeus said, holding his arm tightly. Her power began to tremble throughout him. "You want Angela to be free and for Keres to be safe. I'll keep her safe from herself. Kore is a nuisance - she's going to corrupt and consume Keres. You don't want that at all."
Shane twitched and it became obvious that he was trying to fight Astraeus's control. "Don't listen to her!" Shana shouted.
"Mr. Austin!" Kore yelled. "She's using you!"
"Look at them. Such improper girls," Astraeus muttered. "Kore stole the Bride's power - power that should belong to Angela. And look at Keres. She's wearing the gaudy outfit of that crossdresser. If you don't save Keres from herself, who will?"
Shane took a painful step forward, lurching towards the girls. His steps became more confident and Astraeus pulled away from him. When he looked at Shana and Kore, his eyes were blank. He dashed forward with such in human speed that Shana fumbled with her watch. She erected a shield in time, but he punched right through it. He grabbed her face with one dark hand and slammed her against the ground. Kore ran to Shana's aid, sending her vines and petals at the man.
He glanced at Kore and raised up his free hand, shooting a blast of energy at her. She blocked with a whorl of petals, but it still sent her careening across the room. Taking advantage of his distraction, Shana summoned her two swords and used one to sever Shane's arm at the elbow. His hand let go of her face and she scampered back away from him, taking deep breaths. His arm simply reattached itself.
"Kore, take care of Astraeus," Shana said, looking over at where the blonde girl was getting up.
"But..." Kore was staring at Shane who was slowly walking towards the dark haired girl.
"She's controlling him," Shana said.
Kore turned to Astraeus, who was smugly standing by the chair. She raised an eyebrow at Kore, almost daring her to fight. "Two couples against each other?" Astraeus mused. "Two girls can't hope to even think of themselves on the same level as a man and woman."
Kore pursed her lips and began to walk over to Astraeus. "Just because we're both girls doesn't make it any worse. After all, I didn't have to put anyone in a machine!" She charged at Astraeus, holding her sword in both hands, Ace's fire raging on the blade. Kore sent her petals ahead of her, making a slicing whirlwind around Astraeus.
The woman cut down the petals with her sword, meeting Kore's blade straight on. They broke apart and Kore swung on her heel, bring her sword across in a wild horizontal slash. Astraeus ducked under it before thrusting up with her sword. Kore reached out with her right hand to catch it instinctively when the ring on her finger flashed and silver encased her hand completely in a gauntlet. She caught Astraeus's sword and held it tightly.
"You're even emulating Keres," Fury chuckled, from where she was hiding out of sight. Her voice reverberated in Kore's head. "But this power... this will is all yours. This ring has a different meaning now."
"What?" Astraeus gasped. "How can you...?"
Kore dug her metal fingers into the sword. "Because this ring was given to me by the girl I love. You bet I'm going to turn it into the strongest weapon that I can!" She wrenched her hand and snapped Astraeus's sword. The woman jumped back when Kore tried to stab her with her sword.
"No matter," Astraeus said, trying to take in steady breaths. Angela's body could only do so much... She summoned another sword and charged at Kore, the two of them engaging in close combat.
On the other side of the room, Shana was desperately fighting against Shane. She had yet to get fully accustomed to the new powers Joker had bestowed on her, but now she was using her twin swords to parry his blasts. He had no gun - just powerful attacks from his hands. He charged a large sphere of energy between both of hands. Suddenly, blasts of light began to shoot out of it right at her. With a mumbled curse, Shana summoned her chain and began to deflect every blast. When the assault stopped, Shane was running right at her, almost in her face. Shana jumped back and held up the pocket watch, shooting a blast from it.
It hit Shane square in the chest, but he simply jumped back, reestablishing a good amount of distance between them. She didn't want to hurt him, but... she squeezed the pocket watch until it broke and reformed itself into a large, two handed sword with a black blade. It had a silver hilt and gold chain at the end, an almost opposite of what had been Joker's midnight form... but Shana still hadn't even gotten to the sixth form buried deep in her new powers. That was something that she didn't have time to mess with - she needed to win now.
"I'm sorry," she whispered and lunged forward, swinging her sword at him. Every stroke released her power - a break in time that not even Shane in his corrupted form could avoid completely. Yet with every slash that nicked him, he healed immediately. Shana swung down, but he caught her blade with one hand and began to charge a blast in his other. When he went to fire it at her, Shana summoned a dark orb of empty space in her hand, nullifying his own attack when they clashed. They stood there struggling, staring at each other.
"Please," Shana said, struggling against him. "I know you don't want this-"
He overpowered her and shoved her back before going on the offensive throwing blast after blast. Shana deflected each one with her blade, but then he was right in front of her again. She pushed her free hand against his stomach, feeling the muscle almost contract beneath her touch. For a moment, time froze around them as she targeted his insides and clenched her fist, imploding the space. Shane let out a muffled cry before falling back, a gaping hole where his stomach had been. He paused ever so slightly, looking at her with tortured eyes. Like he wanted to die.
Shana's sword disassembled into all the pocket watch parts around her as energy whirled around her. She held up one hand making time stop all around them. Even Kore and Astraeus ceased their fighting, frozen. "I wish we didn't have to fight," Shana said. "I wish I had been able to stop this from happening."
She began to clench her fist, watching as the small orbs formed all over Shane's body. She closed her eyes and activated her power, imploding all his joints. Time unfroze and his body practically fell to pieces from her attack.
"No!" Astraeus yelled, looking to where Shane was lying on the floor, the dark power around him desperately trying to reconnect his joints. Kore took advantage of her surprise to unleash a firestorm that spread her vines everywhere and then she plunged her gauntlet deep into Angela's body.
"It's over!" Kore said, watching as Astraeus was forced out of Angela's body, becoming nothing more than a cloud of black and white energy. Red roses began to bloom in the area as Kore's power over took it. "Everything here is going to be purified."
"It's not over yet," Astraeus said, flying right at Shana. "Give me my body!"
"Not a chance!" Shana activated her watch, summoning dozens of chains and sickles that she sent right at the mass that was Astraeus. As she began to destroy the cloud, she didn't notice the black tentacles that sprouted from the ground to trap her. She struggled against them as Kore tried to make her way over to her.
"You're tired from fighting, aren't you?"Astraeus said, flying in a whirlwind around Shana. "Give yourself over to me and drop Joker's silly guise."
As Shana tried to think of a way to escape, Kore came pummeling right through with her fiery wings, dissipating Astraeus's power and the tentacles temporarily. Astraeus flew back and regrouped herself, absorbing the surrounding energy that hadn't been purified by Kore's roses. "Her power is weakening," Kore said. "We got this."
"Yes," Shana nodded, keeping her eyes on where Angela's body was. Suddenly, a dark mass formed at the base of the chair Astraeus had been sitting at and it began to widen, sucking everything in the nearby area down deeper into Dusk. That... that must lead to the heart of it all, Shana thought. To the computer system.
Dark energy came pouring up from the gaping hole, encasing Astraeus and turning her into a giant dragon creature. She had two heads - one white and one black - and she roared angrily. "My power is limitless! Anything that has ever died or become lost in Dusk... that power is mine!"
Kore and Shana exchanged worried looks, but then, Shane was running at them, surprising both girls. He blasted Kore away, but she was able to block with her gauntlet and then Astraeus shot two blasts from both heads right at Shana. She had no choice but to run closer to the dragon, ducking under the attacks. That was when she noticed Angela's body getting sucked into the black hole behind Astraeus. Shana ran to get her, ignoring the fact that she was running right towards Astraeus.
"Wait!" Kore shouted, trying to run after her. That was when Astraeus charged two powerful beams with both heads, one fired at Shana and the other at Kore. They hit right on target, sending Kore skidding across the room and convulsing as Astraeus's power began to corrupt her, slowly trying to turn the red rose on her chest and in her hair into a deadly black color. Shana went rolling across the ground, but recovered quickly to her feet, her mother's body lost to the deeper dimension of Dusk. She tried to shake off the shocks running through her body from Astraeus's attack when something grabbed her from behind.
Shana let out a painful sound as Shane grabbed her underneath both her arms and forced her to stand upright against him. She tried to struggle, but could hardly activate her watch powers. The energy emanating off of him practically numbed her body, making her unable to do much more than fidget. He held her up to Astraeus like an offering. "You thought you could beat me?" Astraues asked as both heads began to charge one large blast together. "Even Kore can't resist my power. She will become the first Bride to our new Adam and you will be my body!"
Shana could only stare in the face of Astraeus, unsure if she could really resist her. She could hear Kore's screams of pain from Astraeus's power and Shana tried harder to escape. The muscled arms against her and numbing shocks wouldn't let her. The dragon Astraeus was just about finished charging its attack, ready to blow away any resistance she had to the being taking over her body. Shana shut her eyes and barely choked out, "Shane...!"
He trembled against her. Then it became full blown tremors. Astraeus's heads fired the blast, but suddenly Shana was dropped to the ground and the blast was destroyed by Shane's attack, his entire body shaking in resistance. "What are you doing?" Astraeus growled. "Restrain her!"
Shane struggled, but brought his hands to his face, ripping off the dark flesh that had covered his mouth. "No!" He held out both of his hands, generating a powerful sphere between them. "You... you lied to me! You said we could be a family if Keres came here... I didn't want any of this!"
He fired a large blast at the dragon, splitting it in half. Astraeus tried to attack Shana from where she was sitting up on the ground, but Shane immediately moved to protect her, taking the brunt of the attack. "Mr. Austin...!" Shana said, grabbing him. He struggled to get on his hands and knees.
"I'm sorry..." he whispered. She realized that he was crying, his tears disappearing against the floor. "I thought I could fix everything! That Angela could come back... that I could apologize to her."
Shana stood up, turning to face the dragon as it fused together. "You can do that later. When the battle is over."
"Keres," he murmured and buried his head in his hands. "I just wanted to make it right! After everything I had done...!"
Shana stepped away from him, summoning her own powers to try and negate the effect Astraeus had on her. Just as the dragon was about to finish reforming itself, fiery thorns ensnared it completely, Kore walking up to meet Shana. She was breathing heavily. "She's a lot harder than I thought," she said, giving Shane a sympathetic glance. "At least Mr. Austin is..."
"Better," Shana said. "But he's hurt, so we'd best hurry. And my mother is down there, somewhere." She looked to the swirling black hole, where energy was flowing up in particles to be absorbed by Astraeus.
"Ready?" Kore asked. "One shot."
"Yes," Shana said, her watch exploding into a million parts and forming her sword. Energy swirled around her wildly, her sword ready to implode all the space around Astraeus. Kore summoned her fiery wings and charged immediately at Astraeus. Shana ran after her and watched Kore barreled right through the center of the dragon with her faunlet before swooping up and slashing downward with her sword. Shana jumped up and slashes the dragon three times, watching as each stroke cut through it completely. Her sword imploded into her pocket watch and Shana held it confidently in front of her, stopping time. She watched the large, dark orb from right at the center of Astraeus. Shana concentrated and used all her power to implode that pocket of energy.
When time resumed, Astraeus let out a scream as her body began to fade away. Kore flew right past her again, setting the remains of the dragon on fire, vines engulfing and devouring it completely. Shana landed confidently on her feet, with Kore landing right beside her. They watched the dragon completely disintegrate and the cloudy mass that was Astraeus rose up with a scream. It prepared to strike at them again, but both girls were ready. They didn't even have to react because Shane blasted her to pieces and Astraeus dissipated into nothingness, particles of her energy sinking through the dark hole, into the heart of Dusk.
"It's over," Kore said.
"Mr. Austin," Shana said, running over to the man. "Are you alright?"
Shane turned away from the girls, ashamed. "I... This is all my fault."
Kore shook her head. "I don't like everything that you did, but-"
"If I hadn't of left Angela, none of this would have happened," he said, running his dark hands through his hair. "It's all my fault."
Shana said nothing, looking at the ground. "Mr. Austin-"
Suddenly, the whole place began to shake and the dark hole grew larger, slowly engulfing the room. "Do you think you can escape? I am the will of Dusk... I am Dusk! There's nowhere to run!"
Kore grimaced. "Astraeus never gives up, does she?"
Shana stared at the abyss. "Let's go. My mother is-"
"Leave." Shane stepped forward, looking at the growing negative space. "I'll get your mother."
"Mr. Austin, we're not leaving," Shana said. "We need to defeat Astraeus-"
Shane turned and smiled at them. "I got this. Please. I created this mess and I owe to Angela. I'm not leaving her behind, not this time. If you two stay here, you'll get trapped. Astraeus is going to consume this entire area."
"Do you think you can beat her?" Kore asked, stepping up to him. "If she is the collective will of Dusk, then-!"
"She will keep coming back," Shane said. "I don't know how to stop the computer system, but I can stop her. Trust me."
"We can help you," Shana argued, but then the walls began to warp around them, turning into monstrous, hungry heads made of dark energy. They lunged at the three of them, but Shane blasted them away.
"This place is unstable," he said. "You have to leave now."
Kore tugged on Shana's sleeve. "Let's go... Shana."
Shane paused, shocked. "Keres?"
"That's not my real name," she said.
Shane gave her an awkward smile. "Shana... Angela sure had a strange sense of irony."
Shana turned away, the area becoming more and more unstable. "That's..."
"I'm sorry for everything I put you through. I'm going to go get Angela," Shane said, stepping back towards the black hole. "And Kore! Take care of that ring. It cost me quite a bit back when I was a teenager!"
"This ring...?" Kore asked, looking at her gauntlet. "Wait! Mr. Austin!" But then parts of the ceiling were falling down between them, separating the girls from him. "Wait a second!"
Shana tried to approach the debris. "Mr. Austin!" She summoned her sword to crush through the barrier, but Kore caught her arm.
"We do have to go," Kore said. "As much as I don't want to...!"
Shana nodded curtly and let herself get pulled along. Kore's gauntlet disappeared back into the ring and she held Keres's hand tightly as they ran to one side of the dark area, trying to find an exit. There was nothing but dark walls morphing into creatures - extensions of Astraeus. Shana turned around to see that Shane had jumped down into the dark hole and her heart ached. In that moment, there was a blue flash, illuminately a faint, but plausible hole in the ceiling. An exit.
"It's time for me to disappear," came Fury's voice. The blue spirit began to form in front of the two girls. "You didn't manage to get Astraeus or kill Angela, but you came close."
"Fury..." Kore whispered. "Thank you." She looked up to the exit.
"This is goodbye," Shana said. "But... you never told me who you were."
Fury chuckled as her blue form began to take on a distinct shape, the blue hue almost diminishing. Her voice began to change from Fury's cynical tone into something soft and shy. "I always hope that you would kill me," the woman said as she continued to take shape. "I hated myself. Some days I hated you, Shana. I wanted... I wanted you to end me."
Shana took in a sharp breath when Fury turned into an ephemeral version of her mother. Kore gripped Shana's hand tightly as she recognized Angela. "I left all that was left me... my hate... in the room with you," Angela said. "I guess I fused with your memories and your leftover self over the years to make Fury. A reflection of both of our hatreds for myself... but now, this is all I have left of Angela."
Shana reached out to touch her, but her fingers passed right through the spirit. "Please don't go," Shana said. "Stay with me! Don't leave too!"
Angela turned slightly. "I'm going to Shane. He's going to need my help. I need to go back to my body."
"Please don't let him die and don't you die either," Kore said. "I want... I want to see him and my mother-in-law sometime soon!"
Angela let out a sad laugh and began to walk over to where the dark hole was expanding. "He's fighting so hard. I loved him so much, but he doesn't feel the same. Go, Shana. Take care of her, Kore."
Shana tried to follow the spirit as she turned back into a blue orb and went sailing down into the dark hole to find Shane, but Kore grabbed her tightly, her fiery wings forming. Shana buried her face against Kore's chest as they flew up through the opening, bursting through the deep area beneath the research facility. As they careened up higher and higher, black and white energy raced after them. "Come back!" Astraeus yelled, her energy flowing desperately at them.
"Doesn't she ever give up?" Kore shouted, trying to fly as fast as she could. Shana clung to her tightly, staring down at Astraeus as she consumed the entire facility. She realized that Astraeus was in everything around them - once the building collapsed on itself, they would be trapped and consumed. Kore could feel the wetness of Shana's tears against her chest. She... was crying? In her moment of distraction, she didn't notice everything collapsed in on them and Astraeus swallowed them.
Kore could feel her flames get muffled and she summoned her rose petals, her vines... anything to try to keep Astraeus from them. The darkness encroached deeper onto them and Kore held Shana tighter. "Do you trust me?" Shana asked, looking at Kore with tear stained eyes.
"Yes," Kore whispered, feeling Astraeus's power paw at them.
Shana grabbed Kore's sword and plunged it into her chest, startling the girl.
"What are you-?" But then Shana pulled her into a sweet kiss, as Astraeus consumed them completely. Kore could feel her vines wrap all around Shana and then... there was an unimaginable power swelling over her. Like she could control anything. Kore could feel the swelling energy creating a spatial orb around the two of them and she burst through Astraeus's cocoon, holding Shana's limp body against her. Her sword had long disappeared deep into Shana's chest, now covered by a single red rose. Kore could hear Astraeus screaming at them, but she let Shana's power inside of her carry them closer and closer to the surface.
Then, there was something pink in the distance. A small light, but Kore knew exactly what it was. She went bursting through it, a pink tunnel of light carrying the two of them through the surface and straight into the air.
"It worked!" Ishtar exclaimed from where she was floating in the sky, watching her two friends exit what was now becoming a dark pit on the ground. Suddenly, Astraeus's power came swirling out of the abyss and smacked Kore and Shana apart.
Ishtar let out a surprised yell and went to intercept Astraeus's attack on all three of them. As Kore felt herself fall back in the air, she looked to see Shana falling as well. Yet... she no longer seemed dead. Instead, the vines and the rose were dying on her chest and Shana's eyes were wide open. She winked at Kore and then summoned her sword, cutting Astraeus's attack to pieces. The being groaned and disappeared back into the abyss to regroup.
Ishtar held out both hands and used her power to stop her friends from falling, suspending them midair. "I was so worried that you wouldn't get out," she said. "Thank goodness you're safe!"
Kore struggled against the power, yelling, "I thought you were dead! Why in the world would you trick me like that?"
Shana smiled at her. "I died for a second so you could devour my power. I don't have complete control of it, so I thought-"
"I was scared!" Kore shouted. "Please... please never think that I should purify your corpse."
"It's hard to kill a wildcard," Shana said.
Kore waved her arms frantically. "If Emma weren't keeping me in the air, I would go over there and smack you for doing that! Wildcard my ass!"
Ishtar began to slowly lower them all to the ground. "Where's Mr. Austin?" she asked.
Kore and Shana went quiet, the dark haired girl tearing up. "He... he decided to stay with my mother."
Ishtar looked down at the ground as they landed. "I'm sure he's okay."
"Wait, Mr. Austin..." Kore said. "He said he bought this ring." She looked down at it. "I thought..."
Before she could finish speaking, tendrils of darkness were coming out of the abyss and heading right towards them. Ishtar raised her hands to shred them, saying, "Leave this to me. You guys can take a break." Just as her power activated, black flames engulfed Astraeus's power.
"God damn it!" Deus shouted, running towards the scene and looking up angrily at Asmo.
"Your melee attacks can't do any good if you're too far away," the other demon teased from where she was floating on her staff.
Deus let out an annoyed sound and leapt at Asmo, right as she was landed on the ground. "Stop it!" Ishtar pleaded, going over to both of them. As Deus bitterly talked to Asmo, who just looked smug, and Ishtar tried to calm them down, Shana and Kore exchanged glances.
"She really did tear them apart," Kore murmured.
"Two demons for the price of one," Shana said, a smile on her face, even though she was still teary eyed. Suddenly, the ground began to shake as the sky lit up with terrible energy. Astraeus's power rose up out of the dark pit, as did various monstrous Voids.
All five girls prepared to fight the massive attack and Ishtar said, "Everyone else is on the other side fighting, but..."
Deus and Asmo stepped in front of her. "We'll keep it under control," Asmo said. "Ishtar, you and your friend might have to venture back in to destroy Astraeus.
"I think Emma," Deus paused on the name for emphasis, "should stay out here. She's still fragile."
"She is a full fledged, wonderful young demon," Asmo said. "I think Ishtar is capable of making her own decisions."
"And I think Emma needs to be protected," Deus growled. "I'm her servant, not you, so back off!"
"You're not my servant," Ishtar groaned. "And Asmo, be nice!"
That was when all the power in front of them formed into a giant rose Thorn, but it was all black and white, it's one mouth drooling viscous slime. "Keres," Astraeus's voice came through the mouth, "Come back to me now!"
Astraeus's swung her vines wildly about and when Ishtar shredded most of them, Astraeus sent her flying with a blast from her mouth. Deus and Asmo frantically went after her, for she was blown off to the side. Ishtar got up, unfazed, but her and the two other demons were isolated from where Astraeus was now advancing on Kore and Shana. Just as Kore was about to step up, Shana ran past her, sword out and ready to go.
Astraeus spewed toxic, disgusting liquid at them, but Kore dodged and Shana slashed right through it, planning to bisect Astraeus with her sword. The giant Thorn caught her with a vine and the smell from Astraeus was making Shana dizzy. "There's no way..." Shana said. "No way!"
She went to cut Astraeus's vine, but suddenly, there was the sound of a single gunshot. Then everything in Dusk seemed to freeze before Astraeus let out a terrible wail. As the giant Thorn dissipated, Shana dropped to the ground, unharmed and Kore ran up to her to make sure she was alright. They watched as the Thorn disappeared into the dark pit as did the other monstrosities. All of Astraeus's power trembled around them before fading away and the dark hole where the facility was collapsed in on itself, leaving nothing but rubble and a deep crater.
As Ishtar walked over to her friends, she took a deep breath. Dusk... seemed almost purer now. "We did it!" Ishtar said, Deus and Asmo flanking her. Her enthusiasm wilted a bit when she noticed how down Shana was.
"Mr. Austin... and my mother," Shana said. "Looks like they did it." The gunshot... Shane had pulled it off.
"Shana," Kore said, looking down at the ring on her finger. "If Mr. Austin bought this ring for your mother..."
"Her last boyfriend in high school got her pregnant," Shana sighed. "He promised to marry her, but he ran off to college instead. I guess she decided to name me after my father." Now she was crying, but she was standing up straight, a sad smile on her face. "I always thought that he was somebody special, but..."
Kore hugged her fiercely and Ishtar stood off to the side, sympathetic. "You'll find him," the brunette said. "Him and your mother. They must be safe somewhere down there."
"Thank you," Shana said. "Ishtar... you'll be back for Thanksgiving?"
"Yes," she said, nodding. "I don't want Caleb to see me like this, so..."
"He might be overwhelmed by how cute of a demon you are," Asmo cooed, wrapping Emma in a hug. "Your cute little horns and your cute little fangs-"
Deus punched her in the face and Asmo let go of Ishtar with a surprised sound. "Stop touching her and saying things like that! Let's get going before Caleb gets stupid ideas."
"Don't hurt her," Ishtar moaned, grabbing Deus's arm. "You both promised after I split you apart that you'd get along."
"She's the problem," Asmo said, her voice muffled as she held her nose.
Deus blushed from where Ishtar was touching her. "Maybe if you weren't so into how much of a demon she was, I wouldn't have to."
"...do you not like that I'm a demon?" Ishtar asked, looking up at Deus.
The demon turned red, pulling on her collar reflexively. "I just..."
"You love it," Asmo laughed, walking ahead. "Shana, Kore. We will see you two later. We need to finish Ishtar's transformation so she can go back to school when break is over."
Deus wrapped an arm around Ishtar's waist. "Be safe," she said. "And thanks for taking care of things so Emma didn't have to go in. The girl wanted to do all the fighting herself."
Ishtar chuckled nervously. "Bye. See you next week!"
Shana and Kore waved as the three demons took off with Ishtar's power forming a pink sphere around them, allowing them to fly off into the sky. Kore blushed when Shana took her hand. "I can't believe I was jealous of him," Kore said. "This whole time..."
"It makes a lot of sense now," Shana said, as they walked across the wasteland of Dusk. It was slowly fading, now that the worlds had stopped merging, but it wasn't completely over yet. "He tried to do everything he could to be a good father and to make up for leaving."
"Did you always know?" Kore asked.
Shana paused. "I think I knew somehow. But it didn't click until... until Joker entered my body. She knew."
"Then is she dead but inside you?" Kore asked. "Like what Aeon did for Camryn?"
"I... don't know," Shana said, stopping to look at Kore. "I don't have her watch." She pulled hers out. It was silver and working normally, nothing like Joker's broken golden watch. "I think she's still out there. Maybe she can't die."
"Well she better not come back for you," Kore pouted. She leaned forward and kissed Shana on the lips. "Because you're all mine."
"I know," Shana said with a smile that reminded Kore all too much of Joker. But Shana's eyes were too beautiful and loving to be anything like that woman. "I love you."
"I love you too."
The moment was broken by a shout of "Hey!"
Both girls turned to see Jack waving at them and running ahead of the rest of the group. Caleb came sauntering up behind him, looking around.
"You guys are safe!" Jack said, pleased. He stared at Shana. "Joker got you? Where's he... or she... at?"
Shana shrugged. "I don't know. She will turn up someday, I'm sure of it."
Caleb was looking off in the direction where Ishtar had gone with her demons. "Where's Emma?"
"She said she will be back for Thanksgiving," Kore said. "She's doing pretty well."
Caleb nodded slowly, his eyes sad. "That's great. Her family won't have to worry so much."
Cybele and Reina came up behind the boys. The demon eyed Shana. "Joker seems to have taken you over. Though I imagine the power she gave you has manifested differently than hers."
"...Cybele?" Shana guessed. "And yes, Joker did finally get me."
Cybele nodded. "It seems I have regained my demon form thanks to this one." She laid her hand on the small of Reina's back who had been looking angrily off to the side. Now, the red head jerked away, pointing her weapon childishly at Cybele.
"Don't you dare touch me!" she seethed.
"And Reina has regained her own mind," Cybele said. "I've decided not to control her."
"Now that the battle is done with, I'm going," Reina said, her eyes darting wildly between everyone.
"Don't you need to rest?" Cybele asked.
"You can take your victory party and celebration and just shove up your crazy wooden doll ass," Reina spat back. "I'm not taking one more instant by your side!"
She stormed off and Jack held out a hand. "Reina! Wait!" He trotted after her, but she swung her weapon at him and he fell back.
"Stay away from me!" she screeched. She was crying now. "Just stay away!"
"But, we're the only ones-"
"I don't care!" She ran off, sobbing and Jack scrambled to his feet. Caleb clapped a hand on his shoulder to stop him.
"Let her go," Caleb said.
Jack sighed. "I guess..." He turned back to everyone. "I'm... sorry for all the trouble the Players ever caused. I'm going to go now. Probably do some more traveling and go back home."
He left in the opposite direction than Reina, giving some emphatic goodbyes to them all. Caleb shoved his hands in his pockets and sprouted his wings. "I need to deliver the news back home. Good job," he said with a rare smile. Then, he was flying away.
Cybele sighed. "I'll head home first and prepare a bit of a victory celebration, as Reina put it. What a shame. Now that I have a real body, I'm far better than a little doll." With a laugh, she went in the direction of the apartment, leaving Shana and Kore alone.
The two of them looked toward the ruins of the facility and then grasped each other's hands. It was a long time that they stood there silently. "Do you think it's really over?" Kore asked.
"Dusk will still be here, always, unless someone can reverse the computer system," Shana whispered. "But maybe Astraeus is gone."
As they walked back to Shana's apartment, Dusk began to fall all around them, giving way to the real world. And then they were just two 16 year old girls, walking hand in hand on the sidewalk.
"A computer science major, eh?" Mr. Rhodion asked, his hand in his pocket. "You never struck me as the programming type."
Shana just gave him a mysterious smile. "I think it's an important skill to have and hopefully I will learn a lot next fall." She continued to talk to Kore's father about her future plans, while Mrs. Rhodion watched them. They were in the Beaumont's living room, decorations everywhere declaring congratulations for graduating. It was May 2012 now - the small party was for Emma, Shana, and Kore having finished high school.
Keres... no, Shana (she had changed her name sometime last year, revealing herself to be one of the many people that went missing during a fire), was different from when Mrs. Rhodion had first seen her, in that dress on the night of homecoming. Shana was no longer the strange girl that always wore a proper uniform. Mrs. Rhodion had remembered how Kore introduced her as Shana, her girlfriend, and how different she seemed since she the last time they had met. Shana was wearing blue, button up blouse and black pants, her long hair going halfway down her back.
Mrs. Rhodion turned away from her husband and Shana when Kore approached them, holding a plate of cake in her hands and wearing a pretty white dress. She smiled at her daughter and stepped off to the side to speak with her quietly. "I'm proud of you," she said to Kore, not sure how many times she had said that already.
"Thanks," Kore said, beaming, especially when she noticed how engaged Shana and her father were in conversation. Last year had been rough, getting her parents to not be so uppity against Shana. Maybe it just took them a while to see in her what Kore had seen all along.
Mrs. Rhodion looked at her watch. "We have to get going on your dad's business trip now, so remember that I left you some money for food. We will be back in two weeks."
Kore nodded. "Yeah, I'll keep an eye on everything. No parties."
"Shana is welcome in our home, too," Mrs. Rhodion said, trying to be as smooth as possible. She and her husband had talked it over, but they knew that Kore would be intimate with each other no matter what so why bother beating around the bush?
Kore blushed. "Mom...!" She looked over to Shana and then back at her mother.
"Think of it as an early graduation gift before your new laptop arrives," Mrs. Rhodion said, giving Kore's shoulder a squeeze. "Now let me get your dad away from your poor girlfriend."
"...Kore's going to major in Communication, but she's thinking of changing it," Mr. Rhodion was saying to Shana, but then his wife tapped him on the shoulder. "Oh shoot, we need to head to the airport. Congrats, Shana."
"Thank you," Shana said to both of them as Kore came to her side. "I hope you have a nice trip."
They exchanged a few more pleasantries before Mr. and Mrs. Rhodion left for the airport. Kore turned to Shana and held out a piece of cake for her on the fork. The dark haired girl took it in her mouth, smiling. "I'm glad I've been able to win over your parents," she said.
"So much so that my mom said you're welcome in our home, even when they're gone," Kore laughed. "If only she knew how many times we've snuck into each other's rooms during Dusk."
Shana laughed and wrapped an arm around Kore's shoulder, leading her back into the main dining room area, where most everyone was. Cybele and Catherine were talking quietly, exchanging tips about cooking, while Becky's parents, Christina and Jessie, were talking with their daughter and Jake. Sam and Chad were there, talking with some other classmates that had been invited to the graduation party. Kore had to stifle a laugh when she noticed Deus and Asmo in opposite corners of the room, glaring at Caleb as he talked to Ishtar. The brunette still went by Emma at school, but her newfound demonic beauty elevated her above the friend that they had once known. Her eyes were a warm pink, but not enough for it to be noticeable or concerning.
Even Ishtar's family was there - her father, her stepmother, her brother. They had been so relieved when Ishtar returned, even though Teddy had noticed something off about her. Kore and Shana had spent that Thanksgiving with the Beaumonts and the tension from the Lescardes wanting to know where Ishtar had been was practically unbearable. At least now they seemed happy for Ishtar's graduation, the problems of last year seeming so far away.
"Do you think college will work out okay?" Kore asked.
"If we can survive Astraeus and coming out to everyone at school, I think we'll be fine," Shana said. "We're going to share a dorm room, after all."
"Hey, no lovey dovey action in front of the crowd," Becky yelled from where she was sitting with her parents. "All you guys have to pay if you want to see it."
Everyone laughed and Shana and Kore went over to finish celebrating graduation with all their friends.
"Do you need help cleaning up the decorations?" Ishtar asked, throwing away some of the paper plates. She was looking up at Caleb, who was standing on a chair, unpinning the banner and streamers. Catherine was in the kitchen packing up leftovers while Deus and Asmo were off cleaning another room. Two separate rooms, in fact. Ishtar could hardly let the two be in contact with one another.
"No, I got it," he said, coming down with all the paper. He handed it to her to throw away and their fingers brushed. "You're really leaving this summer?"
Ishtar nodded as she began to throw away the streamers and roll up the banner. "Deus and Asmo and I are going to travel around to make sure Dusk isn't getting out of control. I'm going to live a full demon life."
"I'm glad you stayed for a while," he admitted. "I think you guys will have a lot of fun."
"So will you," Ishtar said with a smile. "You're going down to Central and then South America, right?"
Caleb shrugged. "They want some Beaumont assistance down there. It will give me a chance to finally get away from the house."
"And Mrs. Beamount..." Ishtar said.
"She's going to live with some relatives on her side of the family," Caleb said. "Help take care of her niece. The house will be kept clean by a maid service, so no worries. We can come back anytime."
"Great," Ishtar said. "I'm going to go make sure Deus and Asmo are doing okay."
Caleb watched her retreating back, sighing quietly. "You chose to let her go," Remiel said to him.
"I know. There's something... refreshing about it," he said. "She's happy."
Catherine came out of the kitchen, smiling at him. "Looks like we only have a few more weeks until we separate."
"Both of us are going to visit often," Caleb promised. "Emma will be closer by, so you will see her a lot."
"I know," Catherine said. "And you better go find yourself a nice girl while you're traveling. Can't have you moping about her forever!"
Caleb shrugged, but they both laughed as Ishtar continued to look for her two demons. Somewhere, deep in a hidden corridor, Deus was standing in a secret room, her arms crossed. Asmo was sitting on a couch, smiling up at her. "What are you talking about?" Deus asked.
"I said that I think we weren't always split evenly," Asmo said.
"Emma split us back into how we were," Deus said. "Are you weaker than before?"
Asmo shook her head. "What would you say... if I told you that you could have Ishtar all to yourself?"
Deus's heart leapt, but she tried not to show it. "There's a catch, isn't there?"
Asmo stood up. "If you can beat me... you can consume me completely. You won't have to be Asmodeus if you don't want. You can still call yourself Deus."
"Wait... You want to..." Deus trailed off before shaking her head. "No way! I'm not fighting you to the death."
"I think you'll win," Asmo admitted. "But you can't be happy like this, can you? Sharing Ishtar. If you win... you can have all my power and you can have her. She wants to live life as a demon with us, so it's only fitting that there's one of us left to be with her."
Deus stared down at the ground. "I won't win. I would have ripped you to shreds long ago-"
"But it's different now," Asmo said. "I... know why she split us apart. She did it for you."
Deus looked up at Asmo. "That's..."
"I wanted us to be Asmodeus. But she chose to split us apart," Asmo said. "She sided with you."
Deus clenched her fist. "Are you pitying yourself? I can put you out of your misery if you really want."
Asmo smiled. "Let's go. Outside, into Dusk, before she finds us. A one draw fight - we'll use our strongest attack and whoever lives... wins Ishtar."
Cybele hummed to herself as she went up the stairs on the side of the apartment complex, a plastic bag of groceries in her hand. Shana and Kore were at Kore's house, deciding to have some alone time. The demon smiled to herself at the thought, a slight bit jealous of their young love. She had been like that once, with Attis. Sneaking into each other's rooms. Cybele didn't mind the two girls sleeping in Shana's room, but she knew that they wanted the privacy every once in a while. She looked down at the mail she had in her other hand as she entered the building.
There was a postcard from Jack, signed Timothy Lee. It was of a city in Belarus, the latest destination of his world trip. He had been sending postcards to them ever since he left after the final battle, leaving little notes about Dusk in other countries, along with how he was doing. He always stayed a few weeks in each spot, giving her enough time to respond. Assistant to Dietrich's murder or not, it felt like he was shaping up into an adult rather than a carbon copy of Ace or King. Besides, Cybele was in no place to judge after she had been so intimate with Dietrich's murderer herself.
Cybele walked down the hallway, keys in hand, surprised when she saw someone standing in front of her apartment door. She was surprised to see that it was Reina, but almost didn't recognize her because of the way she had her hair pulled back into a tight bun. She was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, looking nothing like the regal Queen she had once been... or the one that Cybele assumed she was resume being after inheriting King's estate. Reina stood there, staring at the door in obvious indecision. She was wearing a backpack.
"Paying a visit?" Cybele asked, startling the young woman. Reina had hardly aged a day since they last met, but she looked positively frazzled.
"I... I just..." Reina trailed off as Cybele stepped over to unlock the door. She went inside the apartment begrudgingly.
"Go ahead and make yourself comfortable," Cybele said, delighted at the random visit. She set down the bag and the mail on the kitchen counter, watching Reina go to sit on the couch.
"I just had nowhere to go," Reina finally spat out.
Cybele raised a brow at that. "But King must have left everything to you."
Reina sat up straighter. "I... that's..."
"You can stay," Cybele said, watching her.
Reina fidgeted under her gaze. "Don't get any ideas! I don't know anyone else in the area and... and... you made me not normal, so you have to take responsibility and fix me!"
"Not normal?" Cybele asked, going over to her. She reached out to Reina and the young woman flinched. Cybele took out the hair tie and let Reina's hair loose. She combed her fingers through the reddish orange locks and Reina shuddered. "Don't be so cruel to your scalp. The hair style the I gave you was much cuter and younger looking."
Reina slapped her hands away. "I want you to fix me!"
Cybele looked her over. Reina looked to be in good health, like she had been living off of what she and King had when they were a couple. There were no scratches, no signs of sickness... nothing. "You're perfect," the blonde said. "Nothing's wrong."
"Bullshit," Reina shouted, her eyes tearing up. "I want you to undo all the puppet stuff now!"
"It's all gone," Cybele said, standing up. "I kept my promise and didn't manipulate you after the battle. If I had controlled you, we wouldn't have spent over a year apart." She walked over to her room to grab a brush from her dresser. She paused in the darkness, looking at how lonely it was. A small smile curled on her face. Shana and Kore would be going to the state college soon. Then Cybele would have to find a way to occupy herself.
When Cybele came back with the hair brush, Reina was sitting on the couch, distraught and conflicted. "You can tell me what's wrong," Cybele said, sitting down next to her.
"I have... nothing now," Reina said. "You must have took everything away. My drive... where is it? I feel like I have all my will back, but you must have done something to me! You're still secretly manipulating me, aren't you?"
Cybele chuckled and turned Reina so that her back was to her. She began to brush Reina's hair and received surprisingly little resistance. "No, I didn't do anything to you. I turned you into a puppet, but that's it."
"Then why... why have I spent all this time thinking about you?" Reina screeched, even as she let herself be groomed like a pet. "I... don't want to be your toy, but... why is this happening?"
Eventually, Cybele placed the brush on the coffee table and pulled Reina into a hug. "I understand... you have nothing else, do you?"
Reina shook her head. "No, it's not like that. I just want to find the cure for what you did to me! You did something to make me come back!"
"You can stay as long as you want," Cybele chuckled. "At least when we share a bed next time, I can cuddle you."
Reina broke out of her grasp. "Don't get any wild ideas!"
Cybele smiled. "I won't." Reina's face was red with anger, but the demon could also see relief in those eyes. "You don't have to be alone anymore, Reina."
The red head stood up, turning away, hugging herself. "Who said anything about being lonely?" she snarled. Cybele chuckled. She was starting to think she much preferred a free willed Reina. She would be much more enjoyable to slowly... Cybele thought the word she was looking for was 'domesticate', but as she stood up and went to wrap her arms around Reina, she decided it wasn't right. As she gently kissed Reina's exposed neck, Cybele decided that 'seduce' was a far better word.
Ishtar walked across Dusk, a bit sad. She knew Shana and Kore had to be making love and enjoying themselves, but she... she was stuck searching for her demons. Usually, when Dusk fell, Ishtar could hardly keep Deus and Asmo off of her, but now... She was getting concerned. She made her way closer to where she thought she could sense them, but no luck. Just when Ishtar was about to give up, she felt a strange presence and heard some shuffling around. She turned in the direction of the sound to see that it was Deus, limping towards her.
"Oh," she said awkwardly, noticing Ishtar. "...hey...?"
"What happened?" Ishtar asked, running to her. Deus had many cuts and was holding her right arm that was bleeding profusely. Deus practically collapsed into Ishtar's arms. The pink haired girl tensed up when she felt... she could feel Asmo's presence. She held Deus tight and their demonic powers resonated. A pink aura settled around Deus, slowly healing her wounds. "...what happened to Asmo?"
Deus relaxed her arms, the tingling warmth spreading all over. It felt nice. "We made a bet."
"Where is she?" Ishtar asked, but she already knew that... that Deus must have absorbed her. "I thought you wanted to be apart!"
"I did," Deus said. "But I think Asmo... I think she realized that you liked me better."
Ishtar stared at her, wide eyed and embarrassed. "That's..."
"I hope it's true," Deus said. "It would kind of suck if I just absorbed her for no reason."
Ishtar looked at her features - those feral green eyes and that devilish, charming face. "But you're not Asmodeus..."
"No. Just Deus with Asmo lurking inside," she said, moving closer to Ishtar. "I always... I always wanted just one of us to be close to you. I never wanted to share."
"Why would Asmo think that... I like you more?" Ishtar said. "I was happy with both of you with me."
Deus sat up a bit, running one of her hands through Ishtar's hair. "You chose to tear us apart... which was my wish," she said. "The fact that you didn't like Asmo trying to kiss you when I wasn't around because you felt like it was cheating. Maybe because you haven't really made love to either of us."
Ishtar blushed. "I just wanted to be fair!"
Deus pressed her forehead against Ishtar's. "Emma... do you not love me?"
Ishtar went brighter red and then looked down. "I feel like... ever since I became a demon, you've been acting differently. That you don't like me anymore."
Deus stared at her wide eyed. "Why would you think that?"
"Because you never try anything," Ishtar said. "Asmo is always holding me and you're always reluctant. And you never call me by my name-"
"Because I wouldn't be able to control myself," Deus blurted out. "Not with Asmo hovering all around you... but now that she's gone..."
"Is it okay that I'm a demon now?" Ishtar asked. Deus's hands were on her shoulders. "That I'm not Emma anymore?"
"You're just Emma under a different name," Deus said. "I kind of... feel for you even more, now. Whenever we touch, I just..."
Ishtar closed her eyes expectantly, looking so patient. Deus took a deep breath, feeling all of Asmo's feelings and power inside of her. She was sure if her other half were physically here, she would be shouting at Deus to go for it. She leaned in and kissed Ishtar on the lips, softly. Ishtar let out a happy sound as they continued to kiss.
"You're a good kisser," Ishtar mumbled when Deus pulled away.
"So are you," Deus said, moving in again, "Ishtar."
She went bright red at the sound of her name and Deus pushed her down to the ground to caress and kiss her. After a few minutes of Ishtar mewling beneath her touch, she suddenly let out a squeal, pushing Deus away.
"What?" Deus asked, concerned.
Ishtar sat up, her hands on her head and her fangs showing. Her spiraling horns were there now and her eyes glowing a bright pink. "You got me excited," she whined. "I'm losing control of my human form!"
Deus grinned. "You're too cute, Ishtar."
Ishtar looked embarrassed. "We need to get back home, but I can't go looking like this! And we're in the middle of Dusk-"
Deus crawled over her again. "What? You think some Voids might come intrude?"
Ishtar shook her head. "We can't do it here!"
Deus sighed, but stood up, patting her previously injured arm. Ishtar stood up, holding herself and trying to keep from trembling. Deus wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close. They began to walk back home.
"It's weird," Ishtar said, leaning against Deus. "When you were Asmodeus, I couldn't feel either of you, but now... I can tell Asmo is there."
Deus shrugged. "She's permanently a part of me now and she can't steal you away, so I'm happy. And I get you all to myself."
Ishtar reached up for Deus's collar. "You really don't need to wear that anymore."
"I want to be your servant," Deus said, touching her hand. "You may be stronger than me, but that's just even more reason for me to take care of you."
Ishtar turned to her. "Deus... why did Asmo chose to lose?"
Deus stopped. "I think she wanted you to be happy. She wanted you to start your demon life with one lover and if you didn't like Asmodeus..."
Ishtar looked down at her shoes, embarrassed. "Then I guess it's you and me now."
Deus lifted her up suddenly, her wounds stinging a bit as she did so. "Exactly! Even before Asmo tried to turn you into a demon, I was going to whisk you away!"
Ishtar giggled as she settled into Deus's arms. "Where are you going to take me?"
Deus trudged forward. "A nice dark place so I can have my way with you for a while."
Ishtar looked at her nervously. "Really?"
Ishtar trembled as her claws started to form. "Deus, you're making me lose my entire human form...!"
Deus laughed as she carried her through Dusk, all the way back to the Beaumonts. She had a few ideas of where they would travel, but she knew... she knew what kind of nice house she wanted to live in with Emma... no, with Ishtar, for the rest of their immortal lives together.
Shana closed her eyes as Kore traced the black makeup on her face, the two vertical lines. "Does it still bother you?"
"Not as much," Kore said. "It's kind of sexy now."
Shana smiled and opened her eyes, reaching for the red rose on Kore's chest. "I'm glad."
The blonde sidled closer to her. They had decided to wait until the night to sleep together in her bed, but when Dusk came and their transformations happened naturally... well, they ended up in Kore's room rather quickly. They lied naked next to each other now, Shana raising her hand to cup Kore's cheek.
"I can't wait for school," Kore said. "Then we can really start our lives together."
"This can be a test run," Shana said. "It's generous of your parents to leave us here for two weeks."
"They have an anniversary coming up too," Kore whispered, leaning closer to Shana. "They might leave then, also."
Kore moved so that she was lying on top of Shana and playing with her hair. The red light of Dusk shined into the room. "Do you really think you can reverse the computer program?"
Shana ran her hands up Kore's sides. "If I study hard enough, I might be able to do it."
"...what will happen to our powers if you're able to stop Dusk?"
Shana smiled. "Maybe they will go away forever."
Kore giggled and kissed her lightly on the lips. "No more sneaking to see each other during Dusk, yeah?"
"Not that we will need to when we're living together," Shana teased. Even now, Dusk in their area had long quieted down with the destruction of Astraeus. There were few Voids in the area and even fewer Lamias. It was like everything had quieted down.
They stayed quiet for a while, until Kore sighed. "Do you really think Joker is alive?"
"She's not inside of me," Shana said, looking to where she had left her watch on the night stand. "I think... if we haven't seen her so far, she must be looking for something else."
Joker had control over space and time, a power she had passed on to Shana, but Kore wasn't sure if Joker could truly still be in existence. If she sacrificed everything she had to save Shana... then it wouldn't make sense for her to be alive. Kore was more concerned about Shane and Angela, but she didn't voice it.
Shana looked so happy now, staring up into her face. Even if the dark makeup reminded Kore of Joker, it was still her Shana. The dark haired girl turned them over so that she was on top. Outside, Dusk started to disappear, giving way to the evening. Shana ran her hands over Kore's body, looking at her. Kore smiled and they kissed again.
"And this house does have a handicap ramp in the back," Celia said, waving a hand at the nice, one story house. "It should be close to your workplace, as well."
The man was quiet, looking over the house carefully. He was handsome and Celia thought she might be a bit young for him, but... She let her eyes drop to where he was holding the wheelchair handles for his... wife? Girlfriend? Relative? The woman looked absolutely vacant of any thought and if it wasn't for the slight spark of life in her light blue eyes, Celia would have thought her dead.
"It looks interesting," the man said, smiling. "I'm sure Angela will appreciate it."
Neither of them weren't wearing rings and as Celia led them out back to show them around the house, she thought it strange how he often addressed the woman he was caring for, like she wasn't there. Yet, Celia had seen weirder things during her time as a real estate agent.
Milly looked up from the book she was reading as she sat on the stool when the bell by the door rang. She tried to look towards the front of the dark antique store, but the beaded curtain obscured the visitor. "Miss Fabula," the 12 year old called to the back where the owner of the shop was doing who knows what, "There's a customer."
The person came through the curtain and passed by Bella (Miss Fabula's creepy, real life looking mannequin that Milly could have sworn was really alive) before looking around. Milly held the book closer to her, not sure if it was a man or a woman. Milly decided to settle on man for now because he had short hair and a handsome face, but there was something lithe about his movements.
"What is it?" Miss Fabula asked, coming through the door at the back of the counter. She was a young woman with dark hair, dark eyes, and even darker gothic clothing. Milly wasn't sure how she got to be so tan when she hardly went outside of her antique shop. Miss Fabula looked at Milly and then to the visitor. "Is there anything I can help you with?"
"Yes," the young man said, but now Milly thought it was a girl. The person had a nice, soft voice. The young woman (Milly changed her mind again) approached the counter, walking right past the young girl who remained perched on the stool, near the cash register. She placed a gold pocket watch on the counter, its face cracked and the hands not moving.
Miss Fabula stared at it and then at the young woman. "This is quite up my alley."
The young woman leaned closer. "I think you might be surprised."
Miss Fabula gave her a slight smile before saying, "Milly, you should go home now."
Milly looked at her plastic cat digital watch and said, "But it's not 9:00 yet!"
"You can come by to read the books again tomorrow," Miss Fabula said, looking to the young girl. "School's almost out for the summer and you can be here everyday."
Milly pouted and looked at the stranger, who was smirking at her. The young woman reached out and ruffled Milly's hair. "You should listen to her. You're a bit young for this."
Milly sighed and set down the adventure tale before getting her backpack. She gave a quiet goodbye to the mannequin Bella before leading through the beaded curtain out the door.
Miss Fabula licked her lips. "What's your name?"
Miss Fabula picked up the golden watch, examining it. "I really can't fix this."
Joker sighed. "Why not?"
"I'm already taken," Miss Fabula said, handing her back the watch. "It's a shame Milly's too young. She might be who you're looking for."
Joker took the watch back. "She's too young. I already tried the younger girl thing and that didn't work out."
"Good luck," Miss Fabula said, crossing her arms. "It's rare to have someone like you stop by."
Joker grinned and then exited the store, hopping down the front steps, back to the sidewalk. She shoved her hands in her pockets, looking up at the night sky. To her left, she could see Milly's retreating back, obviously walking home to her brother. Joker thought about following her. Instead, she turned right, walking toward wherever the pavement would take her.
Maybe if she was lucky, she might find another girl trapped in a basement.
And that is the end of "Dusk"! Thank you everyone for reading and as a reminder, this means that the EatD series (all those other little stories on my page) will be rewritten now that I have the time. So expect for those stories to be taken down momentarily, once I've got a first chapter ready for the new "The Exorcist and the Demon" story. If you're fans of that, please put my on Alert so you can see when a new story appears. I hope you enjoyed reading "Dusk" as much as I enjoyed writing it. The epilogue leaves quite a few things open, but for now, there's no plans for a sequel. Perhaps a spin off if I'm bored (or get enough requests)? We'll see. EatD comes first for now. Thanks again!