❯ Mystic Visions – Shirahime ( Chapter 9 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

AN: (spirally eyes) Ah, technicalities. I knew, I knew this was going to be a problem once I finally got to the fight chapters – perhaps that’s why I put them off ’til the end? Eh heh heh. FYI, this is the second-to-last chapter. Things are starting to wrap up… (cowers) Back to the subject! Technicalities! Eh heh… Well, I don’t know if I’ve explained this before, but the problem is that the only version of this story I’m familiar with is the manga one. I own all the mangas, but I don’t own the anime and I’ve only seen it once, a like a year ago T.T So if anything about the fights seems off in any way and you’ve only seen the anime, chances are that it comes from the manga version (they’re too different; why must Clamp do this to me?). I vaguely remember something about the Deuses having little anime-cliché sayings that they’d shout before entering their Angels into the layer, but I couldn’t remember any of them verbatim to save my soul… Oh well – enough of my pointless whinging and dithering! On with the chapter!
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Chapter Eight: Shirahime
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Though it was now after sunset, the room was illuminated by a single desk lamp. The faint glow from the layer helped to alleviate the gloom a bit as well, of course.

“Angel is detected in the layer. Please locate power switch beneath rim on your right,” suggested a cool, feminine voice. There was a polite pause, and then: “Angel is detected in the layer. Please locate power switch beneath rim on your right.”

Tonk. Though she would’ve been well within her rights, the speaker’s tone carried no hint of disgruntlement when she said: “Angel is detected in the layer. Please locate power switch beneath rim on your right.”

Wizard, Oujiro reflected, looked almost surreal, lit from below as he was. The doll stood obediently just where he’d set him, eyes closed, cold and unbreathing, and yet he had the distinct impression that there was some sort of strange power there, hidden just out of sight. He lobbed another pencil at the control box across the layer as the impassive female voice reiterated her message once again, and missed.

Tonight, after weeks of waiting and frenzied preparation, was the final night before the Tokyo-Yokohama tournament. What’s more, it was sure to be one of the most memorable events of Angelic Layer history, as player interaction was taken to a whole new level. He should be excited beyond all hope of sleeping, really. He should also be practicing like a madman.

“Angel is detected-” thunk! “-in the layer…”

X………………………………………………………. ………………………………………………………………..X

Somehow, Oujiro mused, as he meandered his way thru the labyrinth of corridors and human bodies to the designated waiting area for competing Deuses – somehow, he seemed to have slipped into a state of wonderfully comfortable but terribly deceptive denial, these past few days. Somehow, even though he had surely been thinking about it, the tournament seemed to have snuck up on him.

Wizard was a dead weight in his bag – and he wished it would drag him so far down that he disappeared, as he had already been accosted by several packs of reporters rabid for `insider information’ on the latest innovation in Angelic Layer technology. He could not recall another occasion when attention had been less welcome, and so of course he was getting more than he ever had before. Conversations changed pitch as he passed, and curious sideways glances were now thrown his way by even the most rigidly mature members of the crowd; he kept his head down, and felt that he could not reach the door to the waiting room soon enough.

The sight that greeted him on the other side, however, didn’t do much to sooth his nerves. “The gang’s all here,” he observed wryly, and indeed they were; Hatoko, Ringo, Arisu, and Madoka sat in one row of chairs, and in the facing row on the other side of the small room sat Kaede and Sai. “Haven’t some of you come rather far for a humble inter-city tournament?” he inquired as he took a seat next to Sai; she graced him with an ironic eyebrow. “And where is Misaki-chan?”

“She’s already been called out – the opening match,” Kaede offered. “Did you get held up?”

“Yes,” he said darkly. “There are more reporters here than there were at the nationals.”

This statement seemed to have a rather sobering effect; no one else made a stab at conversation, each retreating into their own thoughts – or perhaps, Oujiro thought with a gut-wrenching combination of bitterness and worry, their own more private conversations…

It would be, he reflected dismally, only as he sat here surrounded by all the other best Deuses of Japan, perhaps mere minutes from being called to the layer, that the full seriousness of his situation truly impressed itself upon him. He had already felt for himself, after all, the difference that the MYSTIC package made in a battle, and that had been before the AI issue had progressed very far too. He supposed he might still have some form of connection to his Angel’s physical body, even if the mind wanted nothing to do with him, but…

He couldn’t quite seem to look away from Suzuka, cradled innocently in Hatoko’s arms across the aisle. There was simply nothing for it; even if they paired him with a noob, it wouldn’t matter, he was going to be slaughtered in the first match. He wondered what would happen if he snuck off under the pretense of locating the gent’s and never came back.

But no, he thought, feeling a little panicky and ill as Arisu was called out; no, he couldn’t run away, everyone would notice, and even if he didn’t play in this tournament, he’d have to play eventually… he couldn’t run forever… But what was the point of playing at all, when he already knew the outcome?

He immediately felt a shock of guilt; that sounded horrible… After all, before this he had pretty much assumed that he would always win, except perhaps against the handful of other Deuses in this room; wasn’t that the same thing? Did winning really make that much of a difference to him?

“Having some doubts?”

His head jerked up in surprise, but it was only Hatoko, smiling softly at him across the walkway. Funny, he thought with a touch of hysteria; he’d almost forgotten there was anyone else here…

“Me, doubts?” he murmured.

She chuckled at him. “You and Wizard still aren’t talking, are you?” Sai gazed at him with interest; he squirmed in discomfort, and only shrugged. Hatoko gave a knowing smile.

“You shouldn’t let it worry you. I know you’ll win,” she said, with such confidence that it left him wide-eyed. “From what Suzuka tells me, he cares a lot about you, even if he’s angry with you right now. He wouldn’t let you down when it matters this much. Have some faith in him – and have some faith in Angelic Layer. After all, this game is all about making miracles happen, isn’t it?”

From Sai’s derisive snort, Oujiro gathered that she thought it was about something slightly different, but he gaped at Hatoko, who to his bemusement pointed up at the ceiling. “That’s you, isn’t it?” she added sweetly. He followed her finger to the speaker in the corner, and realized with a nervous jolt that the announcer had just said something which had gone right over his head.

When Sai stood up next to him, however, he thought he got a basic gist of it.

He stared up at her, but could only meet her cool gaze for a moment before he had to look away under the excuse of locating his bag’s shoulder strap. His fingers fumbled to get a decent grip on it; his heart seemed to have lodged itself in his throat, and his mind was spilling out a petrified mantra: no, I’m not ready for this, not her, I’m sure she just said something really helpful and wonderful but I need time to think about it, more time, oh, Kami-

Oh, suck it up already!

The shoulder strap slipped through his fingers once more, his mouth fell for a second time, and Sai was already walking out the door, but somehow he couldn’t be bothered to care. `Wizard?-!’

Innocent silence greeted him. As he waited for his heartbeat to slow back down to a reasonable rate, he sat back and stared unblinkingly into the middle distance, trying to order his thoughts. It had to have been him, it had been far too vivid to have been his imagination…

To his mild surprise, a sly little smile stole over his face. Suck it up, eh? When you put it like that, he supposed his behavior actually had been rather unbecoming. In fact, the more that he thought about it, the more he wondered what he’d been so worried about in the first place – because obviously he had someone watching over him…

“Are you going?” Ringo asked, sounding a bit concerned. Oujiro didn’t quite trust himself to speak just then, but he gave her a reassuring grin as he stood.

Somehow he found his way to the proper room, jostling against the crowd to keep Sai’s back in sight since he hadn’t heard the announcement. The mob of watchers in the arena, half of whom were already screaming for Sai, grew even louder as he stepped out into the inner circle, and he had to shield his eyes against the sudden light.

This, he told himself, was it – the moment he’d been waiting for, agonizing over. A thrill ran up his spine, and because he had been expecting it this time, he recognized that the emotion was not entirely his own; his fingers worried at his bag’s zipper as he strode forward and took his seat, but his slight smile persisted.

As he withdrew Wizard from his bag he kept careful control of his expression, partly because he knew that there would be cameras on him right now – not to mention a thousand pairs of eyes in this room alone – but also because he didn’t know what he was feeling just now anyway. All he knew for certain was that hearing Wizard’s voice for the first time in several days had been an immense relief…

The chairs rose up to bring the two Deuses level with the playing field, and Sai granted him a polite smile as she slipped her headset on. He returned the gesture in kind, as the layer for this match revealed itself: A sparkling tundra that half-blinded him all over again. Ah, a picturesque snowscape for Shirahime – did they really expect him to believe that this had been randomly selected? Or perhaps it was just fate mocking him as per usual… Before he had a chance to angst over this properly, however, Sai entered her Angel into the layer, and he hurried to follow suit; the noise from the crowd reached a whole new level of deafening.

He was impressed before Wizard even touched the ground; he had been right in thinking that there would still be some amount of a link between them. It was even more powerful than when he’d last tested it against Ichiro, he felt – but once again he had no time to fully take this in, because Shirahime was already on the offensive. She got in only one hit before his shield came up and blasted her away, and he’d been able to block it partially, but even so it had lowered his points by a ridiculous amount; Oujiro grimaced, and noted with no small amount of irritation that Sai was smiling.

`I know you’re there, Wizard. Now would be a good time…’

The distressing thing was that Shirahime was heavy; her heavyweight status had practically become famous when Hikaru had defeated her by taking advantage of it. Whereas Wizard was lighter – he was practically as small as Hikaru – and while that meant that he couldn’t hit as hard, in the hands of a Deus as experienced as Oujiro his speed-focused build should’ve meant that he would at least be able to hit her. As long as he kept his shield up he was safe – Shirahime was still too slow to pass through it as Hikaru had – but when he tried to attack her, she was the one who landed a blow every time. Her coordination had increased exponentially since the last time he’d seen her play… Before long he was trapped in a cycle of fighting wholly on the defensive and hiding behind his shield whenever the other Angel began to really pick up speed, and the commentator was wondering what had happened to `his usual flare’…

`You’re really not going to help me, are you…?’ He scowled in fierce concentration and frustration as Shirahime chased him all around the layer, picking off handfuls of points left and right. `Fine, then! I could always win without you before – if you care this little, I’m probably better off without your help anyway-‘

It happened literally in the blink of an eye. With one well-placed kick to the shin, Shirahime sent Wizard sprawling spread-eagle on his back – and then she disappeared. For a moment Oujiro was left staring dumbly at the empty space she’d occupied an instant before, horror-struck and confused… then there was a moment of frantic motion, in which Oujiro willed Wizard to roll away with all his might, but that apparently wasn’t enough, as Shirahime dropped feet-first onto his outstretched arm.

There was an audible crack, and then Shirahime jumped back. A soft murmur wafted through the crowd… snowballing gradually into a roar as Wizard picked himself up. Sai was a pinnacle of composure.

Oujiro stared at the broken arm, and felt as thoroughly ill as if it had been on a human body. There was no hope for it now, he knew; there was perhaps a centimeter left on his health point bar, and there was no way he would be able to fight with one arm in any case. Shirahime was still, eternally patience, waiting…

You idiot! a voice fairly shrieked. How could you let her do that to me? It’ll take hours to fix – idiot!

The sound of the crowd faded into the background, which was terribly corny, but Oujiro really didn’t mind. For the second time in less than a week, he found himself dangerously close to crying.

`A little late, aren’t you?’

Wizard just scoffed. You’re worthless without me, you know.

`I suppose I am, aren’t I?’ Oujiro thought with only a small touch of regret. `It’s a good thing you care so much, isn’t it?’

“Are you too scared to move?” Sai called, though she didn’t sound too terribly cruel – and then there was a moment of clarity like a spiritual epiphany, as he finally experienced the full capabilities of MYSTIC for the first time.

“Are you?” Oujiro countered pleasantly. “Ladies first…”

He was wickedly delighted to see a small frown crease Sai’s brow, as Shirahime lunged forward without preamble.

“Maybe we’ll eventually share this body, as two halves of the same soul…” While they were on the layer, at least, Wizard’s prediction certainly held true. It was all ridiculously easy, really. Wait, Wizard whispered in his ear. Wait… okay!

The Angel never had to move a muscle. He waited until she was inches away before throwing up his shield, which blasted Shirahime to the very edge of the layer – where the slippery ice-encrusted snow carried her the rest of the way out. The arena, predictably, blew itself to kingdom come; even Sai beamed at him.

X………………………………………………………. ………………………………………………………………..X

Oujiro fled the stadium as soon as he could. He sought out the nearest secluded area he could find and claimed it as his, sitting with his back against the wall and extracting a basic repair kit from his bag.

`Hours indeed; I hope we’ll be ready for the next match,’ he commented, faintly amused.

Wizard gave no reply for so long that Oujiro was half afraid that, crisis averted, he had gone back to giving him the silent treatment. Finally, however, he grumbled: This doesn’t make things right, you know.

Oujiro smiled sadly. `I know. I do love you, though.’

Not as much as her.

Oujiro indulged in a moment of exhaustion and allowed his eyes to flutter shut, as he found himself wishing the next match wouldn’t come all over again. `No, I suppose not…’

TBC

Mystic Visions – Integration
Mystic Visions – Winner