While the Sectopod made its last stand, Sasha made a beeline for his partner. Given wings by his fear, he closed the distance in mere moments. One of the enemies that Milla had engaged, Roxas, was down for the count, but the other stood over her with something bright and pink in her hand. Milla herself was in dire straights, covered in electric burns and losing blood from horrendous claw marks on one shoulder. Sasha wasn’t one to give into his emotions, but in this instant all his panic and anger boiled straight to the surface. “You!” As Midna dumped something on her, the striped pattern in his hood blazed orange, alight with his ice-cold fury. “What have you done!?”
He unleashed a barrage of tracking psiblasts, but not to try and kill Midna just yet. Instead, these were meant to ward her off while he sprinted the final stretch. He could see that something had just happened to Milla, and her life was his number one priority. As he slid up to her on his knees and reached out to take hold of her, his anger turned to confusion. “What the…Milla! Are you okay?”
In his arms he held his partner just as she used to be. Milla’s skin, her hair, her clothes, and even her emerald green eyes were just as they were when they first found one another in this psychic dystopia. That included her health; somehow, she seemed to be in perfect physical condition. Next to her lay the spirits of Earthspirit and Bellina. “...Sasha?” she murmured, blinking blearily up at him as if she’d awoken from a bad dream. “What happened?”
“I wish I knew. You’ve been defused somehow.” He helped her into a sitting position, then gave Midna a guarded look. She’d gone from almost killing Milla to restoring her somehow, and she had yet to attack, so he hadn’t a clue what might happen next.
The princess for her part also looked guarded, but she had stepped back to give them space when Sasha had come running over, and she wasn’t priming to attack them either. She had also taken the liberty of poking the spirits that had popped out of the psychic with her stick in order to portal them away before doing so, thus ‘disarming’ her.
She’d also slid her mask down so they could see her face, and more specifically one of her eyes, so that Milla would be able to see the difference between her’s and Sasha’s ”I removed the glare Galeem put in your eyes, the one that prevented you from seeing that what it has created isn’t how things should be”
she explained loosely, adding ”you’ll find you can remember what used to be now, where you really come from”
and relying on the woman’s own memories to bring more context to her statements.
Nearby, Roxas had once again managed to push himself back up into a kneeling position, ”She’s telling the truth.”
he said, to add to Midna’s explanation. He struggled his way back onto his feet and slowly moved to stand beside the Twilight Princess. His steps looked a bit uneven and forced. He hadn’t been healed from all the damage and he was still exhausted. So naturally he would be looking a bit haggard right now.”I know it sounds unbelievable. But we swear it’s the truth. It’s the whole reason we came to this city in the first place.”
Roxas then took a few more uneven steps forward, so that Midna and the two Psychonauts were the same distance from him. Then he weakly held his arm straight up and summoned one of his Keyblades, ”Heal!”
his MP had come back and he used it to cast Curaga, which undid the remainder of the injuries he had sustained. But it didn’t affect just him. It also affected Midna… as well as Milla and Sasha. So whatever damage Sasha had taken would be mostly healed now. This was as good of a show of faith as Roxas could think of doing.
Sasha stayed quiet while the two spoke. He didn’t grasp every last thing they said, and he couldn’t, but he considered their words. How things should be…where you really come from.
Was there something that had been kept secret from him? He remembered where he came from, from his childhood in Germany as a shoemaker’s son through countless adventures up to the recent crisis of Maligula’s revival. Then…Midgar and the Ever Crisis. A new psychic organization to face a new threat. Serving, protecting, growing more powerful to combat ever more dangerous enemies. And growing still closer to Milla. Was there something even now that he wasn’t remembering? He knew how things should be, too. As well as how far short Midgar fell. Things were bad everywhere in this city, even on the plates. In order to keep moving forward toward a brighter future, one small step at a time, hard choices had to be made. Now, though, Sasha felt less certain.
Before he sorted out his thoughts, Roxas cast a healing spell. Milla was in perfect condition, but the damage Pit and the others worked so hard to inflict on Sasha vanished. He scarcely realized how much he’d been aching until it all disappeared. After a moment he stood, helping Milla to her feet. They’d been through so much already. Fighting together. Changing together. But now, she really was just as perfect as he remembered, while he remained rather different. Still, however they might find themselves, they still had one another. After having come so close losing her, Sasha realized there was nothing more important to him. He turned to face the Seekers.
“I don’t know what to make of all this. Or what to believe. But Milla is alive, and we have you to thank. If you were really our enemies you could have struck her down, and my heart along with it, but you did not. Whatever the truth of your case may be, we owe you. If not our lives, then at least…an apology.” Sasha looked down at the ground. “Go. Don’t make us regret it.”
Milla flashed an apologetic smile at Midna. “I’m sorry, dear. I did see you take my spirits, though. It may not mean much to you, but I don’t have the power to fight Others on my own. I hate to ask more kindness of someone I fought in bad faith, but I’d appreciate them back…”
She was, Midna thought, well within her right to demand them as payment for damages caused to her minions, but ultimately she decided against that selfishness. She dropped her weapon into a portal, before crouching down and retrieving the spirits from another, before stepping forwards and offering them back to the women in an outstretched hand.”Here, use them well”
The Septentrion took them with a grateful nod. It wasn’t clear whether or not she actually expected Midna to oblige her. “Thanks.”
Midna nodded as well in reply, before stepped back, and then actually had a moment to check the status of the others, asking ”We good to keep moving?”
before portaling in some bottles of water. Fighting was, after all thirsty work.
By now, the rest of the team had arrived from the other side of the street, where the burning wreckage of the Sectopod lay in the fresh crater of asphalt caused by its climactic self-destruction. All were banged up, with Luka, Yuito, and Hanabi faring the worst thanks to their multiple downs at Sasha’s hands. Pit and Sakura seemed a little better, but not by much. Everyone was beat, but alive. Luka accepted water from Midna, which thankfully didn’t bear any traces of matter from the Twilight Realm, and the others did likewise. “We should hurry,” the diminutive captain told the others, despite the team’s collective condition. “Raz still hasn’t responded to me. Anything could have happened at the Otherlobe.”
“The Otherlobe?” Sasha’s brows furrowed. “It was under heavy attack, but the Others were pushed back. By now all the noncombat personnel should be fully evacuated.”
Luka nodded wearily. “Then it’s up to us to make sure. Let’s go.”
While the Septentrions went to regroup with their squads, the Seekers went the opposite way, headed for the towering crimson citadel at the far end of Main Street. Scarcely had they parted ways, however, than two more Psych-OSF soldiers appeared. Roxas and Yuito both recognized Lily and Norma immediately, the former having met them a couple days ago and the latter being part of their squad. “You’re safe!” he exclaimed as they ran up, a relieved look on his face. Of course, the presence of just the two of them left him with a pressing concern. “But where’s Raz? Kyoka said you all went together.”
“We got split up by a pack of Others!” Lili vented, her intense frustration writ plain on her face. Though she and Hanabi both specialized in Pyrokinesis, Lili was the actual fiery one in contrast to Hanabi’s energetic sweetness. “He turned invisible and ran off toward HQ to find Zanotto. We finished dealing with them a minute ago. Then we saw you fighting Milla and Sasha.”
Norma seemed to be in disbelief. “How the heck did you guys do it? I mean, you look terrible, but you took on two Septentrions and actually won! You guys are monsters!””What gave it away?”
the even more heavily fused than their opponents had been princess asked rhetorically, though her tone made it clear she was making light of the situation.
So they stood back and watched rather than try and lend a hand? Luka couldn’t exactly blame them. This had been a battle even he didn’t want to fight, and he hadn’t been confident in winning, either. “There’s no time to waste. Let’s hurry and find them, then.”
The group of nine hurried the rest of the way as fast as their heavy fatigue would let them. Along the way they did little preparations for what may come. Pit swapped back to the trust Palutena Bow, Roxas used Curaga to patch up anyone still injured from the previous fight once his MP had recharged, and those that could stomach it ate and drank while on the move. It was a moment Midna finally used to check in with Hanabi about their shared armament, starting with a question as to why it was only fiery in her hands and then, after a brief compare and contrast, swapping the weapons over so the specialist had the upgraded variant and Midna had the one that worked better as a big heavy metal stick.
In short order, they reached the gate in the stone wall that encapsulated the Otherlobe’s courtyard, but even before they entered they could see something amiss. Only when they got closer did the gruesome details become clearer. They could see Raz, his back facing them, looking down at something in his hand. At his feet lay the body of a middle-aged man with yellow skin and a bushy brown beard, clad in a dark suit with red accents, stained even more red by blood from a vicious wound. Though partially dissolved, the body was instantly recognizable as that of Truman Zanotto
. Hanabi covered her mouth in shock, and Luka came to a stop, his eyes wide. “Raz?”
When Raz turned around, a horrified look on his face, everyone could see the bloodstained dagger
in his hand.
The scene in front of them put Pit on alert, despite the seeming lack of enemies around. That wasn't the expression of someone victorious, or even one of someone who'd had to defend themselves. Something was wrong here.
Shocked by the sight, Sakura put her hand over her mouth. The sight of such a brutal death of an innocent made her hesitate, but she stepped forward to close the gap between her and her friend, Raz. ”Raz-kun, are you…c’mere, it’s okay.”
She said, gently as she could with a tremor in her voice.
As she walked forward she extended her hand to make her intent apparent that she was going to take the knife. What was Raz doing with a knife? It didn’t fit in his hands. ”We’re here, now.”
Midna meanwhile was stuck between a bout of paranoia that someone or thing like Braindrain had gotten to Raz, and not wanting to do something drastic to break Sakura’s approach. So rather than speak up and shatter the moment, she clamped her lips shut with her teeth, and moved to circle round slightly to the side of Raz, trusting Sakura go first, but ensuring she had an angle to intervene should things go south.
“H-hey, wait, it’s not what it looks like!” Raz yelped, throwing the knife on the ground like it burned his hands. “I didn’t- it’s not even my- that blonde guy, he-”
His voice faltered as his gaze landed on one of the new arrivals in particular. Lili stood stock-still, her eyes wide and her mouth ajar as she stared at the dissolving body of her father. While the others fretted about Raz, she slowly turned her focus his way. She put her hands on her head, her teeth clenching as her lips twisted. “...Dad?” Lili began to tremble, the orange cords across her outfit glowing more brightly. “How could you!” She shot forward, conjuring a giant psychic fist wreathed in flame.
“Waitwaitwait!” Raz conjured two of his own to catch the fist before it could smash him down, trying to hold her off. “If you’ll just gimme a sec, I-!”
Lili was having none of it. “You killed my dad!” Two more hands appeared to either side of her to perform a massive clap and crush Raz in the middle. “Get out of my way!”
“Just…hold on!” Mustering all his strength, Raz heaved Lili’s fist (as well as the rest of her) over his head, tossing her above and behind him. She flipped in the air and landed in about the middle of the courtyard, skidding for a couple feet in a trail of flame. In her rage, she grabbed the cord on her jacket and yanked it
But not to activate Brain Drive.
Instead she doubled over, groaning in pain. Three sets of triple-layered holographic ports appeared over her upper back and head, and behind her, Visions began to take shape. Red cables flickering like TV static appeared, over a foot in diameter, tipped with points the size of rapier blades. They lunged like vipers and stabbed into Lili, not just her ports but her brain and nervous system. Lili arched her back and screamed, her world turned white and her mind pushed to the point of snapping.
Then her face disappeared into shadow, and the cables pulsed, turning a brilliant scarlet. BWAOM!
A dark digital landscape swallowed the area, encompassing everyone and everything. When Lili drifted down to the ground, the pattern on her mask blazed. With lingering cables activated
and protruding from her back, the girl faced the boy who’d betrayed her, ready to take revenge.
Pit twisted around, watching the area around them be enveloped right before their eyes. He knew the psychics had all kinds of tricks, including the hooded power-up, but this one was intense. Was it even normal? "What is she doing?!"
“It’s Lili’s Brain Field!” Yuito yelled, readying himself. “In her mindscape, she’s all-powerful! Brace yourselves, everyone!”
Then the dark dimension blazed with flame, a hellish inferno poised to swallow all enemies whole.
Sakura had no idea the man on the ground was Lili’s father. This was a worst case scenario, and Lili’s rage had driven her beyond reason and reasonable power. Enveloped in her psychic power, Sakura had no idea what to do. But she knew Raz would never murder the father of his friend! Interposing herself between them, arm in front of Raz, she spoke. ”Lili-kun I- I’m so sorry! Please don’t do this!”
At this point, though, Lili was obviously gone. “Aahaahahahaha!” she cackled, lifting her hand above her head. A palm of flame the size of a truck appeared above her head, and it began to descend onto her enemies. “Raz, Raz, RAAZ!””No no no!”
Sakura ran and dove out of the way. Kneeling, she put her hands on her head, distressed. ”This is terrible!”
In the meantime a second massive hand went sweeping towards Raz, this one belonging to Midna who grabbed and pulled the shell shocked boy out of the way of what may or may not have been justified vengeance. She didn’t know him well enough to make a judgment like Sakura, but she knew enough that there were plenty of ways this situation could be not what it seemed.
Roxas had to dive out of the way of the fire. After that he slowly pushed himself to his feet. After all the running and fighting that seemed to be nonstop that day, his arms and legs were starting to feel like jelly. At this point his body wanted to crawl into a bed somewhere and pass out. But this wasn’t over just yet. He remembered Lili being a pyrokinetic and just had to hope that meant she could be stopped with ice.
The Nobody weakly held out a Keyblade and leveled it in Lili’s direction, ”Freeze!”
he weakly chanted, and began shooting Blizzaga spells at the berserk Lili. He didn’t really wanna hurt her, but maybe the ice could immobilize her or slow her down a bit. Try as he might, though, his ice was of no use. In her Brain Field, Lili’s pyrokinesis was exponentially stronger than before, and it overpowered his ice effortlessly.
Pit's wings were tucked as tightly against his back as he could make them as he did his best to avoid the blasts of flame. The appendages were feeling a lot better now thanks to Roxas' healing magic, but he couldn't risk his feathers catching in the blaze. Seeing Roxas' sluggishness due to fatigue, Pit leapt to protect him from another huge blast of fire. He intercepted the flames, spinning the bow and making a vortex that dispersed them in a small area around the two boys. The fire and heat was definitely burning his hands, but right now it was all he could do short of focusing just on himself and dodging the plumes. The orbitars were too small, or didn't last long enough while projecting the larger shield, to do anything against this inferno.”We just have to wait her out like the other power up, right?”
Minda called out as she set down and then pushed Raz away from her.
In between teleports to avoid the massive spurts of flame, Luka shouted out a reply. “Brain Field places a huge stress on the user’s brain!” He interrupted himself with another teleport to not get squashed like a fly beneath a giant fiery hand. “If she doesn’t end it, it’ll kill her in less than a minute!”
That information, delivered so suddenly, shocked Pit enough that he jerked his head around to look at Luka and failed to stop a blast of flame. He backed up quickly and coughed, beating away any licks of fire that clung to him. Then he looked to the girl in the middle of the courtyard who was already on her way to dying according to Luka. Though Lili was a stranger to Pit, and he to her, she was the friend of a friend - which made her Pit's friend, too."What- so we have to stop her! Calm her down or-!"
Would it even be possible to convince her to stop? Apparently the stabbed man was her dad, and seeing him caused her to snap. Maybe they could knock her out?”Alright then”
Midna replied, before summoning Roadblock and getting him to beat on his shield while she called out ”Over here. I stopped your revenge, so come and fight me!”
and pulled out her sun on a stick from a portal, not to do harm with, but to use its fire eating ability to defend herself.
Lili didn’t really need to give her any special attention, though. Waves of flame rolled across the floor of the Brain Field, and burning meteors descended from its ‘sky’. At the ten second mark, however, Lili staggered on her own, stumbling as she held her own head. Her flames raged on and she went back to normal after two seconds, but that was all the evidence the Seekers needed to see that Luka’s warning was very real.
“This is dangerous!” Yuito yelled at Lili. “You have to shut it off!”
“Lili, please! Don’t do this to yourself!” Hanabi added.
Whether or not Lili even heard them was anyone’s guess, though. “Aahahahaaa! This feels amazing!” Holding out her hands, she sent forth a gigantic flamethrower as long as a bus. “Die already!”
Sakura’s eyes were wide as she avoided the flamethrower only to get struck by a meteor. Grunting, she got to her feet. Lili was about to kill herself! She couldn’t just stand there and watch! ”W-we have to stop her!”
Sakura sprinted forward, jumped, and teleported into the air above Lili, to try and bring her hammer fist down hard on Lili. ”Ok guess this is the plan”
Midna, who had weathered the aoe fairly well thanks to her summon’s shield and 50% fire resistance, agreed as she moved to follow up the street fighter. Not able to run in as fast as Sakura however, she instead launched skywave ahead to hit both woman with a blinding/healing flash, before she tried to shove the fire starter with the palm of her shadow hand.
Despite the danger, Sakura landed her hammerfist on Lili’s large head, doubling her over somewhat. She seemed to be drunk on power, so much so that her defenses weren’t on point. At the same time, she didn’t have to be, and that one blow wasn’t anywhere near enough to down her. Lili clenched her fist and struck the ground beneath her, giving rise to a huge plume of flame that consumed her and her attacker. Skywave’s Optics Jammer rolled in the next moment to take the edge off for Sakura, but while it did blind Lili, it hardly mattered. With a terrific yell, Lili unleashed a clusterbomb of fiery explosions around her, blowing up everything in her vicinity that didn’t get away–including Midna’s shadow hand, tearing the magic apart.
With firepower like that, Luka couldn’t get in on her. There were no constructs in this Brain Field for Yuito to throw, and Hanabi’s flames didn’t hold a candle to Lili’s now. Of course, their main concern wasn’t beating Lili in the first place; it was that any second now, she could experience sudden brain death.
Lili wasn’t completely lost, though. At the five second mark, she became stricken with pain once more. This time her vision was completely blurred, and she couldn’t even see let alone fight. In that instant she realized that she was about to die. There was only one thing she could really do, and with all the strength she had left, she switched her Brain Field off.
The dark mindscape receded, replaced by the Otherlobe’s courtyard. Lili fell to her knees, groaning and clutching her head as tears ran down her face. Raz, who hadn’t even been trying to fight her, ran over tentatively and knelt down beside her. “Lili…”
“I don’t understand,” she murmured. “Even if you…even if you didn’t, why…dad…”
When she looked over at what little remained of Truman Zanotto’s corpse, however, she found something odd. A spirit lay in the ashes, but it wasn’t her fathers. Instead it belonged to a portly, balding man with violet skin, with a green button-up and orange tie. His was the face of a stranger
, contained within a body it did not match.
Sakura propped her upper body up on her elbows, laying a short distance away. She saw Raz and Lili reunited, and followed Lili’s eyes to the ashes of her father. Or perhaps, someone else? That would be lucky. But that was a problem for future Sakura to ponder. Letting out a sigh of relief and exhaustion, the soot-speckled street fighter dropped flat onto her back.
Minda entirely agreed with the general sentiment expressed by that sigh, and promptly took a seat on the ground next to the street fighter, though simply doing that was not a way to rest befitting royalty, and so she promptly summoned her wolfos to act as a fluffy backrest.
At some point Pit had squeezed his eyes shut, as they'd been hurting from the heat, fire, smoke, and explosions inside the Brain Field. Even the inside of his throat hurt. But he could feel the inferno disappear and opened them back up again, blinking the spots in his vision away."Is it over?"
He asked, though when he spotted Lili he changed his question to "Is she okay?"
, taking a few tentative steps closer to her and Raz.”I hope so.”
said Roxas wearily, ”I don’t know how much more of this I can take in one day.”
Lili’s misery had given way to a mixture of confusion and anger the moment she beheld the spirit laying in the ashes of her father’s body. “Wait…” She jumped up and ran over, snatching it up. “This isn’t dad’s!” She stared down on the ashes as if the answer might also be found among the soot. “But then, how…?”
“I think she’s okay,” Raz ventured. “But it looks like we have yet another mystery on our hands.””Mind control, full body disguises and conspiracies all the way down. Is anything not a mystery in this town?”
Midna asked with a mix of humor and resignation, before adding thoughtful ”Although didn’t the consul do something like that? Wear a different face for the debate? Maybe that wasn’t something he could do, but something he stole from the regime?””I dunno, it’s all just flying right over my head at this point.”
Roxas said with a shrug. His shoulders sagged with fatigue and exhaustion, but he hadn’t passed out. Yet. ”And that’s not even mentioning our own troubles on top of all that: Galeem, the Guardians, all of that. How does anyone manage to keep track of it all?”