A/N: Wow, I bet you never expected this, huh? Truthfully, I didn't either. It's been a long time. I feel terrible in some ways because I know this story needs a lot of work, but I'm not sure I have the energy for it anyway. Too much has changed. So has my writing. However, I found this on my flash drive and decided to finish this chapter. I was depressed, and it was comforting, in a sense, to return to the past. Anyway, if anyone who used to read this is still reading it – which would surprise me greatly – I truly apologize. I got depressed and just stopped writing for a long time. When I picked it up again, I'd moved on to another fandom. But that fandom is fairly dead right now, so I thought I might as well revisit this. When shall the next update be? I have no godly clue. I'd have to re-read the whole story and, quite frankly, that's a feat I don't see how you guys even managed the first time. Anyway, this chapter is about three years old, except for the end, which I did now. Tried to fix it up as best I could because I'll be fucked if I rewrite it. I'm so sorry it's not done as well as I can write now, but at least I've learned how to edit out some unnecessary lines.
Disclaimer: I do not own GX and I don't make any money.
Chapter 16: Confrontations
It was one thing to talk about returning to the castle where Haou had spent countless years in solemn isolation. And yet it was an entirely different story to see the dark, massive silhouette of the fortress looming high over the land, façade deteriorated and crumbling. It was at that moment that Haou realized just how many years had passed by and just how much he'd let things go. Funny, he mused to himself, that it had taken weeks outside his world and an outsider's point of view for him to realize just how depressed and miserable he had been, reclusive and trapped within those cold stone walls. Seeing his prison again caused his stomach to churn uncomfortably. Part of him felt an overwhelming sense of dread at the sight, and yet another part of him was overcome with relief. It felt safe, in a sense, to come home. However, he shouldn't be fooled.
Time seemed to have slowed down to a near standstill as they approached, treading upon dusty, dead ground. It was as though time itself had fallen into a deep coma, a slumber that it would never awaken from. The air was thick, musty, pungent with the scent of death.
The two stopped before the crumbling wall of the castle, staring upwards as tower upon tower rose high above their heads. It seemed so much darker in person—even more so than he'd remembered. All that time in Juudai's bright, lively world had caused him to forget the eerie comforts of darkness, though this could hardly be called comfortable at all. Smothering was more like it. He heard Juudai swallow and glanced over to watch as he frowned up at the castle, fists clenching and unclenching. The many souls that had lost their lives while combating against what they considered "evil" cried out to him through the dried, cracked earth. Shuddering, he stepped closer to Juudai.
Slowly, Juudai stepped towards the bridge that connected the grandiose castle to dry ground. Haou stiffened, fearing that it might be unstable. Juudai, on the other hand, didn't seem to care. He tested his weight on a plank before finally crossing fully onto it. Seeing that it didn't give way, Haou relaxed, and followed suit.
Carefully, the two navigated the bridge, practically tip-toeing so as not to plunge through to their death into the bubbling hot lava below. Haou stepped over a hole and peeked through. The first waves of dizziness surprised him, and he grew a little unsteady. Thankfully, he managed to catch himself before he fell, and forced his eyes to glance away from the liquid death below him. Something had to be messing with his head; he never allowed himself to fall prey to such feelings.
It was not too horribly long before they were safely on the other side, and two simultaneous sighs of relief were breathed. He hadn't realized how tense Juudai had been until that moment. Upon further inspection, he could not help but notice Juudai's hand was trembling ever so slightly. Looking to offer encouragement and strength, he reached out and grasped the hand firmly, although he, as well, was just as shaken. Dark brown eyes gazed up at him in silent gratitude, and the two plunged into the shadows of the foyer together, gripping each others' hands tightly so as not to be separated or torn apart by a surprise attack.
As soon as they had crossed over the dusty threshold, the stark cold of the interior hit them like a brick wall, seeping deeply into their clothes, penetrating to the bone. What had become of this place that he had so cherished? How dare some foreign entity take over, displacing the very atmosphere he'd worked so long and hard to build. No longer was he the person or being that was the most feared in the land. Instead, he was the one fearing.
Juudai gave his hand a little tug, pulling him quickly from his trance. They moved slowly down the long corridor, towards the dining hall and back rooms. As they walked, Haou peered in each room they passed, finding them strangely dusty and littered with cobwebs, as though no one had occupied them for years and years. It was strange to him to find his castle in such a state; after all, he had lived in it not that very long ago. Unless…the time that had elapsed here was somehow longer than what he had spent in Juudai's world. It was either that or he had no idea just how long he'd spent alone in his private quarters. Or perhaps he was already dead.
As much care as they took in being silent, their footsteps still resounded uncomfortably loud in the empty hall, echoing into the distance until it was unbearable. He was sure he was going to go insane. There was some sort of external pressure, small at first but undeniably there, and he felt almost as though his vision were blurring, swirling around. Even though he wanted to sit down, he pressed on, the tight ball in his stomach growing heavier and heavier, as though he had swallowed lead. Something was creeping into his mind, hoping to go unnoticed. And the farther they ventured into the dark depths of the palace, the worse the darkness that shrouded his mind became.
This was not the pleasant kind of darkness. This was not the type of darkness that manifested itself in his very form. It was unlike anything he had ever experienced before, and he couldn't help but wonder what sort of demon possessed this power. Nor could he help but wonder if the stranger had anything to do with this. He had seemed to want to warn him of the dangers. He had given him a means of escape. But in doing so, he had also given the monsters a portal to enter.
As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Juudai attempted to pull Haou past them, to go farther down the hallway. But Haou dug his feet into the cobbled floor, bringing him to an abrupt halt. He gazed up the stairway, his eyes scanning the darkness above for danger. There was something up there, around the bedrooms. Gesturing for Juudai to follow him and to be quiet, he started the ascent, carefully placing a foot on the step, one at a time, taking care to be silent. It felt like if any noise were to erupt, then it would shatter the very fabric of time – or even the atmosphere itself. The air grew thicker the farther up they went, but fear tactics wouldn't stop them. The very thought of someone trying to better him brought anger boiling up from deep within. It was hot and potent enough to displace anything else. An extra amount of drive carried his willpower on, giving him the strength to do what even Juudai hesitated over. He gave an extra-hard tug on his hand, a sharp, golden glare following. Seeing those eyes flashing, the look directed at him, Juudai did as he was silently commanded. A stern look crossed over his features as well—quite unsuited for him, Haou thought. Satisfied with this, Haou led him up to the landing.
Haou waved his free hand in front of his face, brushing away cobwebs. He heard Juudai's breathing grow shallower, and he glanced over his shoulder to check on him. Juudai managed a weak smile, though his face was pale and ashen; he looked exhausted all of the sudden. Not only was the air heavier up here, but the presence of whatever entity resided within the recesses of his castle was pressing down on them.
The muddled sound of a creature stirring in a suite nearby brought the two to an abrupt halt. The decision was agreed upon internally, cutting out the need for clumsy words to be hastily arranged and plans half-explained. All it took was one quick exchange of facial expression and a momentary locking of gazes before they made their next move. This was it. This was the moment that he felt had been building itself slowly from the very beginning.
With every step they took towards the room, the tension increased tenfold. He felt his blood pumping loudly in his ears, drowning out any other sound that could have been heard. His grip around Juudai's hand tightened, his teeth gritted together to the point of being painful. Determination and dread mixed together thickly.
Being sharply snapped from his mind by another muffled noise, he noticed how close they'd come to the heavy, ornately carved door that served as a barrier between their two frail physical beings and whatever evil lay within the chamber. His dry mouth attempted to work up enough saliva to swallow, his scowl deepening as Juudai reached out slowly to press against the rough grain of the wood. He frowned deeply at the sight of Juudai, his undoubtedly weaker half, easing the cumbersome door ajar. Lips parted to admonish him, but nimble fingers fell upon them to silence his words before they even had a chance to fall from his tongue. Juudai's darkened eyes told him not to speak.
Since the door was cracked a bit, he could more clearly hear the soft scratches that came from within. He gingerly pushed his body between Juudai's and the door. Licking his lips to wet them, he carefully nudged the door open with his foot, his fists tightly clenched and his body tensed.
The only sound that could be heard was the dull thud of the door bumping against the stone wall. The room—his quarters—was revealed to him in a state of disarray. Garments lay scattered about, torn in shreds and draped over the massive furniture. His bedclothes were mussed and twisted about, as though whatever had previously occupied them had writhed in agony. The large, glass doors separating the room from the balcony were flung open carelessly, the lifeless, musty breeze toying half-heartedly with ripped drapes. Papers that had lain upon his desk untouched and waiting to be signed and stamped with his seal had been blown all around the room.
And then, in the right corner, opposite the door, his eye caught the familiar glint of a light which had no explainable source, reflecting off the liquid silver surface of his mirror. He began to set foot over the threshold, only to stop again, his breath catching in a harsh gasp deep in his throat. He felt his hands began to tremble and his resolve beginning to disappear just from the new sign which he beheld.
That dark figure had not been there before.
He stared for a good few seconds. Although it was only a few seconds, he could have sworn that those seconds turned into hours. The figure never moved from its spot in front of the mirror, its long, elegant arms folded neatly behind its back. The head was lowered so the facial features could not be discerned, the identity concealed. It was arrayed in a cloak that was the darkest black of night, which swayed softly in the wind. The bony, grayed hands trembled in anxiety as they gripped each other, long, sharp nails digging painfully into the skin.
A sense of awe crossed Juudai's features; a flash of bitter rage overtook Haou. How dare anyone treat his castle as his own. Perhaps his anger had led him to be a bit more careless than he had originally planned. Juudai glanced at him, recognition clouding his eyes, and he reached out a hand to restrain him. He was one second too late, and Haou marched forward to seize this person.
This was treason of the highest degree. Haou lunged to grab the sword that lay propped against the wall, only to be met at the hilt by a thin, yet surprisingly strong, hand gripping his. The person lifted his shaggy head finally, sharp teeth slowly revealed from betwixt smirking lips. Haou's golden eyes widened as equally fierce amber eyes met his own. The nails dug painfully into his once healthy flesh, ripping and tearing bloody trails into it and leaving jagged skin in their wake.
He stared at the apparition before him in sheer horror at this turn of events. Grayed skin, fiery, sunken in eyes, tall, bony frame…He couldn't be sure if it was mocking him or if—
"Are you surprised?" A low, growling voice asked. Although it was quiet, he could still pick out something almost maniacal about it. And something far too familiar for comfort.
He opened his mouth to reply only to find he could not. Unable to contain himself, he shot a desperate look over at Juudai, who stood dumbfounded in the door. Quickly, Juudai shook himself into action and hurried over. His dark eyes moved hesitantly up to meet this being's gaze as he tried to assert himself. The look was returned sternly, and with one brief flick of the wrist, Haou found himself pinned against the wall.
"I think I will delight myself in slowly killing you," the person murmured in suppressed amusement, licking his lips in anticipation, "I've waited for this for so long…"
"Wait!" Juudai snapped, stepping forward to intervene, "What's going on here? You can't just do that!" His eyes narrowed into dangerous slits, a look that Haou had hardly witnessed him bear before.
Haou's captor did not seem surprised. His eyes half-lidded in partial annoyance. "I don't think I need to tell you anything. All you need to know is that you shouldn't hurt others…" He paused before he could finish the thought, instead opting to produce a long knife.
"What do you—?" Juudai stepped forward again. Except he got no farther than two steps before a harsh wind came from the figure and slammed him against the wall. He struggled against it all to no avail. "What do you mean?" he yelled, squirming as much as he was able, "Explain yourself!"
The man let out a small, dry laugh, his dull, pale golden eyes never leaving Juudai's, his hand tightly clenched around the knife. Slowly, he brought it higher and higher, until the cool metal brushed his lips. His long tongue snaked out and slid along the blade, and yet he did not wince. A small droplet of crimson fell from his mouth, soon followed by a trickle. The fluid dribbled onto the back of Haou's neck, sliding slowly down his spine. Haou flinched at the contact. It was surprisingly…cold.
"Imbecile…" it hissed, its eyes narrowing and its hand shaking in exertion. "You don't understand, do you?" When Juudai shook his head, he gestured towards Haou and paused a long moment, his grin widening.
"Huh?" Juudai's brow furrowed.
"This," he murmured, gently stroking Haou's hair. "Is me."
There elapsed a few moments of tense silence. And then he continued. "I suppose I can't possibly expect you to comprehend this situation." He gazed down at Haou through lazily half-lidded eyes, the smirk dropping from his features. "He corrupted himself for so long, I was born inside him. I guess you can say I'm not exactly…what you would call natural." A brief pause. Another manic smirk, and those golden eyes glowed with an unearthly light, the voice growing stronger and resonating with the sound of a thousand winds. "I am the indifference and the inhumanity he is and always will be. He can never rid of me. Even if he tries to change, he will go to his final grave, to purgatory, without ever knowing any other way."
Juudai mulled over this rather large chunk of information before speaking again. Haou watched him from across the room, the entity's energy beating the insides of his earthly being with such might that he thought he would break. So he had finally pushed it too far, it seemed. This must be what happened to anyone who behaved in such an inhumane manner as he had. He shifted, which resulted in being pressed sharply against the stones in rebuke.
"So…I get it." Juudai finally said, heaving a great sigh, "You're…a demon or something. You've attached to Haou and taken a part of him, right?"
A low growl erupted from the spirit, a look of resentment shot in Juudai's direction. "Catch on quickly, don't you? But having that information is not going to save him. It's too late for that." He pondered this for a moment in silent mirth.
"You are not Haou!" Juudai shouted, straining against the increasing pressure of the air around his body. "Because…because…if you were Haou then…you'd be me too! And you're not."
"You poor thing," it spat, condescending. "So far in denial you can't even discern who you are anymore. Well, let me tell you something I don't expect a child to understand—when one makes an agreement with a demon, whether consciously or not, then we become that person. And, therefore, anyone who is connected to that person is affected as well. Do you understand?"
Juudai's mouth opened and closed. He finally chose to keep it shut and turned his attention back to Haou, who was still pinned against the wall. Something had to be done before either of them got hurt. Although he was struggling with all his might, he couldn't seem to overpower this entity. It was becoming clear that if they wanted free of this situation, they would have to combine their power.
Their eyes met and another plan fell together wordlessly. New determination sparked in them. Juudai closed his eyes, a look of concentration on his brow. His whole body was shaking from the strain. And Haou could feel something tapping into his spirit, like a vacuum ready to suck him dry. At first, he resisted it – until he realized what it was. It wasn't the entity that claimed to be them. It was Juudai's strength, calling to him, conjuring him.
There was a stark flash of light that passed before his eyes. It tunneled and then faded, purple and black dots dancing before his closed eyelids. When he opened his eyes again, he found he was looking at himself, slumped over against the wall as though dead. This creature obviously wasn't him after all; he seemed confused. And Haou and Juudai both took advantage of that confusion, using it to overpower the invisible thing tacking their shared body to the wall.
A burst of dark energy came from him, pushing it back, sending the entity sliding. There was a grunt as he hit the castle wall, a spat of 'how dare you.' It didn't matter. Juudai was on his feet again, his teeth clenched and his eyes glowing yellow-orange. He flipped his deck holder open, reaching inside and whipping out a card. He didn't need to say anything for the spirit to understand, for his eyes to widen.
"Neos, come out!"
The hero materialized in front of them, muscular arms crossed over his chest. His outline glowed more brightly than usual, and he lunged forth towards the spirit. A cackling howl split through the air, and Neos shoved back. Juudai watched on, fists clenched and sweat trickling down his brow; Neos and the spirit were struggling against each other, their hands locked together. Every so often, Neos would gain ground, managing to push the entity back. But it wasn't going to be enough.
"Damn," Juudai seethed through his teeth, fists clenched tighter and trembling. Haou's energy stirred within, pulsing stronger, urging him to use it. So he reached out a hand, letting another burst of dark energy surge through the air, push at the entity.
The strain lasted for several terrible minutes; one of them had to give first. It was getting hard to push back, to give Neos the strength he needed. They were bonded together, and Haou was bonded with them, and when he felt their spirits fall together in harmony, relax, a surge of energy so powerful it knocked him back escaped, filling the room with a dark aura. During the blinding dark flash that followed, there was no sound, no air, as though they'd been sucked into a vacuum of time and space. Juudai grunted as he was thrown against the wall, even Haou could feel it, but he couldn't hear it and he couldn't feel air sucked in as Juudai tried to gasp.
For a split second, the world went black, and then there was nothing.
When Haou woke up again, he was still in Juudai's mind, somewhere near the forefront of it. Juudai's consciousness had been pushed to the back, into that dark place with all the mirrors. Haou wasn't there, but he could see it through Juudai's eyes, much like a secondary shadow placed over a picture as an overlay. He felt a splitting headache coming on and he sat up, rubbing his head. When he brought his hand away, he found it covered with sticky crimson – blood. He must've hit it pretty hard when he'd been thrown back.
Blinking hard, he picked himself off the floor, surveying the damage. The doors to the balcony had been blown clean off, and the stones around the doorway were crumbled, warped. In the corner, the mirror was swaying on its hinge, a dark shadow rippling over the surface – the surface which was crushed, the hairline cracks emanating from the center like something round had impacted it. A wave of disgruntlement passed through him; Juudai might not be able to go back to his world. But, then again, did he have to? Haou didn't have to return him. They'd combined their powers. They were one. Always had been, always would be.
Something scraped against the toe of his boot, and when he looked down, he saw it was a card. Bending down, he picked it up – Neos. Somehow, he looked less vibrant than before, but maybe that was just him. Without a second thought, he put it back in Juudai's deck holder, keeping his hand over it for just a moment, the warmth and energy of Juudai's monsters radiating into the palm of his hand. He gazed around the room, at the shell of his supposed body which didn't look much like him anymore, at the knocked over furniture, at the cracked mirror. Then he huffed and turned around to leave. There was work to be done. He doubted victory was that simple; it never was.
A/N: Shorter than my old chapters, but I've learned shorter is easier to manage. Ugh, it makes me so nervous to update this again. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed, though I honestly...have forgotten my original plan. I'll figure something out. So...I will finish this story one day. I hope. Please let me know what you thought! In the meantime, if you want more selfshipping, check out my friend's blog on Tumblr: fuckyeahselfshipping-dot-tumblr-dot-com. Doujins updates daily. I swear she has every selfshipping picture known to man, haha.