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"Gale?" Mizu called quietly to Gale, who stood by his bed, tying her hair back into a ponytail (she had changed her hairstyle since leaving for Sukai). She found it hard to believe that for them, that had only been two months ago.

"Yeah?" Gale said, kneeling down by the bed, clutching her boyfriend's hand. Traces of blackened flesh had begun to appear. Shinkaiyami's Stigma was spreading.

"What about the kids? We need to find them..." he said. He had been worrying about thier two boys ever since the group had come back here two weeks ago. Hiro had been in and out of the house throughout this time, collecting information on the outside world (since they were confined to the house) and Herbs, Potions and whatnot to cure the Stigma.

"Stop worrying. We will find them. But we have to stop this thing first," Gale replied softly, gesturing to the blackened skin on his arm with her eyes. As Mizu drifted back to sleep (despite it being almost midday), her mind began to wander. She kept a brave face, but beneath her courageous facade, she wanted to scream. She was both eager and afraid to find out what had become of them. Would they embrace their estranged parents with open arms? She doubted it. They'd be expecting a couple of forty-year-olds, not two teenagers on the cusp of adulthood.

It would take a lot of explaining to do.

Her train of dismal thought suddenly derailed when she realized something was amiss. The portal that they had stepped through to get back to reality was meant to deposit the group at Hikari, and yet here they were, in Kasai. As she thought to herself, Nina's eloquent, well-spoken young voice echoed in her head.

"Yes, I do apologize for that," she said.

"For what?"

"For not delivering you to Hikari as I told you. Though I would be remiss to not inform you of the circumstances surrounding this error."

"Okay...."

"The darkness from within the tower, in the Hidden Realm. It interfered with the exit point. It had sabotaged the portal, and you were going to be sent to nowhere, but I managed to salvage the co-ordinates and redirect you to Kasai."

"Why not to Hikari?"

"Please, Gale. I am not a god. My skills with dimensional shifting are... rudimentary, at best. You're lucky I got you all there in one piece. Besides, you have met Hiro, who is as aware of the true situation at hand here as I am. Until my plan unfolds, I cannot guide you, save in your heads."

"Nina...what is that darkness?"

As if in response to her question, the shadowy voice from the tower spoke to her, clearly distinguishable despite its layer of at least five different voices and pitches and slow speaking pace.

"I... am everything that you most despise..."

"What does that mean? Speak plainly, damn you!? What the hell do you want!?"

"I am...one with the shadows, which many use as a guise..."

"And the light will banish you," Nina interrupted.

"Foolish girl of the light! The darkness you face...will snuff out your plight..."

"I'll ask again. What are you!?"

"There is no light that can banish me! I am no mere ancient apparition, no resonance of fate... I am darkness, the kind which no man can abate! I am every dark thought, every foul notion, every avaricious desire that courses through your head! But when I manifest, those thoughts will soon be dead..."

"Okay, let me try it another way. Who are you?"

"Who am I? Surely you must know... I am the Abyssal Sovereign...the eternal damnation...a monument to hate...spawn of humanity's sins...avatar of the fires below..."

"Answer me!"

"An answer is not what you need... But an absolution, yes... For your sins, you will bleed..."

And with the voice's final, chilling rhyme, Gale's head was once again her own.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Gale, Shinji, Jinsoku, Skylar, Altair, Gigas and Makoto sat around the wooden table in the living area of Hiro's rather expanisve house. Hiro took his smoking pipe out of his mouth (chewing it was one of his idiosynchrasies) before speaking.

"I'm aware that you have barely left this house in two weeks. It must be growing tedious for you. Luckily for you, I have a task for you," he rasped. "There is a young lady somewhere in this city. I want you to find her, and bring her here."

"It'd be helpful if we had a name," Shinji said.

"She goes by the "Angel of Kasai". Have her tell you, when you find her," Hiro replied.

"If I might interject," Altair began, stroking his chin with his hand, "would it not be in our interest to limit the size of the party in this endeavour? I'm pretty sure that a crowd of seven or eight walking through the streets of a seemingly deserted metropolis is a surefire way to attract imperials."

"He's right," Makoto agreed, "Maybe only two or three of us should go." Then, Makoto stepped forward. "I haven't really had the chance to do anything yet, so I'm going. Full stop."

"I wanna go too!" Skylar yelped.

Gale stepped forward. "I'm going too," she said tonelessly.

"Are you sure? Shouldn't you stay with Mizu?" Shinji said.

"Why? Staying with him isn't going to make him any better," Gale retorted.

"Then it is settled," Hiro beamed. "Now would be a good time. It is easier to be discrete at night. Even so, I feel obliged to warn you to be very, very careful. She will be a great help in your plight, but not so great as to die needlessly to find her."

Makoto, Gale and Skylar headed toward the front door. "We'll be fine," Makoto said, a warm smile spreading across her face as the trio slipped out of sight into the moonlit darkness.


To Be Continued in: Fate and Freedom- Interlude: Memoirs of a Lost Soul

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