Title: Inheritors of Flame
Last time: With Checkerface and Cervello sidelined by Byakuran's scheme, Wonomichi recruited Tsuna and his guild to warn the Arcobaleno about the Millefiore's goal of gaining control over their Pacifiers.
Epilogue: Credits roll
The first thing Reborn did, when he opened his eyes in the real world, was mutter, "Of course we did. I never lose." Despite his arrogant words, the smile that tentatively spread across his face was soft and bemused.
That expression quickly slipped away when a smirking face appeared in his line of sight — a familiar face. Belphegor had leaned over the edge of the pod Reborn had been locked in, grinning down at the hitman. "Wakey-wakey," he crowed. "Be grateful, peasant. We've come to rescue you!"
"Call me a peasant again, and you'll be down an arm," Reborn promised testily, sitting up and sending Belphegor a glare. It did little but make the prince snicker, but the sound of his own, deep voice distracted Reborn. Looking down at his hands, he could see that they were also those of an adult — the Cervello's plan had succeeded.
The rest of the former Varia officers — now the Vongola Decimo and his Guardians — were in the chamber with them. Glo Xinia, along with several other MIllefiore members, were tied up on the ground, Levi guarding them. Fran, Basil, and Squalo were poring over a computer terminal, with the help of a pair of Cervello who looked rather worse for wear but stubbornly kept each other upright. Lussuria was kneeling next to another open pod — Luce's, judging by the position — with another Cervello.
"What are you doing here?" Reborn asked, biting back a wave of concern for Luce and instead focusing on getting to his feet. He'd expected to feel weak, but his body seemed in good shape. Just… unfamiliar. His balance felt off. Even if he'd been using the same shape in IoF, the physics there were never precisely accurate.
Surprisingly, Belphegor didn't push his luck with another remark about rescues. "Just cleaning some upstart trash," he said, backing away and raising his arms to link them behind his head. "They moved against Vongola, you know. We can't let that sort of thing go. They just got what they deserved."
Across the room, Basil caught Reborn's gaze for a moment and beamed in relief. Reborn snorted. "Tsuna asked you to come, didn't he?"
"Tch," Belphegor clicked his tongue irritably, turning away. However, he didn't deny it. Neither did Xanxus, standing silently nearby, though he must have been able to hear them.
"Tis good to see you are well," Basil said, coming over to Reborn. "Tsuna-dono will be relieved to hear that. Millefiore, Byakuran's group, had taken control of this facility, and disrupted the Cervello's operations at other locations. Fortunately, we were able to subdue them and free the Cervello. The Pacifiers are also safe."
Reflexively, Reborn's hand reached up to his chest, where the Sun Pacifier had hung for a decade. Then, remembering that it was gone, he glanced toward the pillar in the center of the chamber, where they had placed their Pacifiers before entering IoF. The yellow box containing the Sun Pacifier looked completely innocuous, not even glowing to indicate the artifact inside.
"The Cervello have assured us that the transfer was successful," Basil said, following his thoughts, or perhaps thinking the same thing. "We will guard the containers until the Cervello are able to relocate them to a hidden location. We are also moving to route the other Millefiore forces, but they seem to be scattering now that their leadership has been vanquished. We are searching for their ring leaders now."
Reborn nodded slowly. "And Luce?" he asked, after a moment of deliberation. "The others?"
"The Cervello are investigating her condition now. Donna Giglionero is stable, but weak… For the others, tis now safe for them to return to their bodies. I have contacted Tsuna-dono, and he has confirmed that he and his guild will inform the other Arcobaleno," Basil said. "They should awaken shortly. The Cervello have also agreed that ending the transfer without delay would be the wisest course."
"Not going to play it up for the players?" Reborn remarked dryly. "Well, I suppose it's all a mess now anyway. They'll just have to find some way to spin their 'final event'... Or they might end IoF altogether."
Basil chuckled. "Ah, I do not believe even they could accomplish such a thing. IoF has become a world of its own. Not even its creators control it now."
"Yes…" Reborn said slowly. "It is… a world of its own."
"We are relieved to see you have recovered," a Cervello noted, somewhat tentatively. This was an unusually emotional statement, without the Cervello's usual passive voice. "We administered the counteragent as soon as it was retrieved…"
"However, there is no excuse for our negligence," her partner said, swallowing heavily.
Silence fell as they waited under Checkerface's heavy gaze. But this time, the Cervello didn't show any sign of unease or nervousness. Instead, they were simply subdued. The degree to which they had been blindsided and the magnitude of the disaster they had almost caused had left their organization shaken.
"He certainly played you," Checkerface agreed finally. "What of the Pacifiers?"
"The transfer was completed successfully. We will leave the containers to your discretion," one of the Cervello said. "However… the Sky Pacifier has been linked with the Mare Ring. We have not been able to undo the connection so far, not without compromising the stability of the illusion."
Checkerface nodded slowly. "And the Mare Rings?"
The Cervello exchanged a look. "The Lightning ring was returned to us," one of the said. Gamma had returned it willingly, but he hadn't known where Byakuran or his subordinates had gone.
"The Sky ring was… left behind, when we followed Byakuran's trail," her partner added. "The Millefiore were already gone, but we recovered the ring. It must have no longer responded to Byakuran, since it had been claimed by a new owner."
It seemed like a strange decision, to leave the ring behind but flee himself — and to leave only the Sky ring, at that. But they hadn't been able to even begin to imagine Byakuran's state after his loss. Had he thrown it away in a rage? Had he considered the ring to have betrayed him? Had he shut down, needing his subordinates to drag him away? There was no frame of reference; Byakuran had never lost so completely before.
"Yes, the Tenth…" Checkerface said. "Do you intend to entrust it to him now?" A note of scorn had entered his voice. It felt like a loaded question.
"We… will leave the decision to you," the Cervello said, bowing their heads.
"Humans cannot be trusted with the power of the Trinisette," Checkerface stated. "A human nearly misused the Trinisette — there is no telling what the consequences would have been. Humans… can't be trusted."
He didn't add that he had also almost been killed by the machinations of that same human. The reminder of his own mortality was chilling.
"...But another human protected it," the Cervello said. "Humans protected the Trinisette, and they are necessary for it to function."
Checkerface sighed quietly. "Yes," he agreed after a moment. "That is what she said as well. We have no choice but to leave it to them… the new people of this planet."
Tsuna groaned in relief as the bell rang, signaling the end of the schoolday. Even with Gokudera's determined tutoring, schoolwork remained a slog at best, a confusing, frustrating struggle at worst. But he was trying his best, so at least that was something. And, Tsuna admitted to himself, it felt better — to struggle and occasionally triumph, than to just trudge through in a haze.
As the students began to file out, Gokudera and Chrome made their way to Tsuna's desk, so they could walk home together. That was nice too — having friends.
"Ah, Boss…" Gokudera began somewhat tentatively. "There's a convention downtown today, for new computer technologies. Irie invited me along…"
Tsuna blinked in surprise, but quickly put on a smile. "That sounds… nice," he said. Actually, it sounded like he'd find it boring, but Gokudera and Irie shared certain interests that were definitely beyond him. And Irie had been rather downcast, understandably, since the fiasco with Byakuran. "Have fun," Tsuna added, "and say hi to him for me, okay?"
Gokudera beamed and hurried away, leaving Tsuna and Chrome on their own. Hopefully, he'd stop acting like he needed to ask Tsuna's permission for everything soon. It was a work in progress, overall.
"Shall we go, Boss?" Chrome asked.
Tsuna nodded. "Yeah, Lambo's probably already getting bored, and that never leads to anything good," he said, half joking.
Rather than bored, Lambo was more lonely, ever since Ipin had left with her master. Of course, Lambo expressed it by being even more bratty and unruly than usual. While Nana handled it with her usual patience and easy going smile, Tsuna didn't want to just dump all the troubles on her, when he could help distract Lambo until he was out of his funk.
However, they only made it to the school gate. Someone was already waiting for them. "You! Sawada!" a messy-haired highschooler called out angrily, pointing at Tsuna. It took Tsuna a moment to recognize him — Mochida, his former upperclassman.
"Can I help you, Mochida-senpai?" Tsuna asked cautiously. He had been tripped and shoved around by Mochida a few too many times in years past to harbor any hope that this would be something simple and painless.
"Oh, it's kendo man," Chrome noted.
"You know him?"
"Oh yes," she said, smiling a little. "He… helped me with some… troublesome fellows"
It took Tsuna a moment of blank confusion to figure out what she meant — by "help," she meant that he'd given her an excuse not to get too rough on some "troublesome" idiots who tried to accost a pretty girl walking alone.
"Y-yes," Mochida coughed into his fist, blushing alarmingly. "That's right! I've been worried about Nagi-chan," hearing that name made Chrome sigh, "so I've been keeping an eye on her. And I won't let you keep harassing her, Sawada!"
"Keeping an eye…?" Tsuna muttered. "Harass?!"
"Boss isn't harassing me," Chrome said.
Mochida ignored them both, gaining steam — and volume. "There's no way Nagi-chan would want to hang out with a loser like you, Dame-Tsuna! You're bother her! So get lost!"
"Boss isn't bothering me," Chrome repeated, beginning to frown.
"And if you don't," Mochida went on, "then I'll make you! I challenge you to a duel, Sawada!" With that, he pointed a shinai at Tsuna threateningly.
Tsuna could only stare at him in disbelief. It felt… well, it felt like being challenged by a low-level scrub. Tsuna received hundreds of challenges like that every day in IoF, and he ignored them all. Though, this case was probably more like an ambush… by a low-level scrub.
"Mochida-senpai," Tsuna said finally, "I'm not going to duel you. It's against the rules, and Hibari-senpai will bite us both to death."
That reminder managed to make even Mochida falter. "Y-you're just a coward!" Mochida insisted all the same. "He's not even here!"
"Yes, he is," Tsuna said.
"Yes, I am," Hibari agreed.
Mochida whimpered, spinning around to stare in shock and horror at Hibari — who had walked up to them unnoticed. Tsuna knew Hibari was there every day after school, watching the students file out of Namimori Middle. Although Hibari's expression was disinterested, Tsuna was certain he was enjoying this.
"You cut class, herbivore," Hibari noted — not that he hadn't done the same. It was the only way to get from the high school to Nami-Middle in time for the final bell."
Squeaking a little, Mochida shook his head frantically. When Hibari narrowed and reached into his coat, Mochida instinctively fled with a terrified yelp. Hibari only snorted in disgust, letting his arms drop.
"I'm sorry, Boss, Cloud-man," Chrome said, bowing a little. "I'll talk to him and… clear things up."
"Okay," Tsuna agreed. "I'll head home first. ...Go easy on him."
Chrome smiled, somehow conveying that, no, she wouldn't be going easy on Mochida at all. Hibari watched her stalk away for a moment, then turned back to Tsuna. "They came to see you," he said, and nodded toward the corner. It took Tsuna a moment, following his gaze, to notice the two figures waiting there. "Are they going to disrupt the peace?"
"...No, I don't think so," Tsuna said. "I'll talk to them."
The Cervello pair waited politely as Tsuna approached them, and the three of them regarded each other for a long moment. Despite what he had told Hibari, Tsuna couldn't help but feel some trepidation, wondering what could have brought them to Namimori, and more specifically to wait at the gates of his school.
"Hello," Tsuna ventured finally. "Is… there something you need? From me?"
To his surprise, the Cervello ducked their heads as if bowing. "That is… not entirely inaccurate," one of them said.
"Though it is not our intent to trouble you further," her partner added.
"We have come regarding the Mare Ring," the Cervello went on. "You claimed it in the virtual world… It is rightfully yours, if you wish to claim it in the real world as well."
Her partner held up a small, plain white box and, opening it, revealed the familiar form of Byakuran's winged ring. The orange gem in the center glimmered faintly in the sunlight. Tsuna stared at it, his brow furrowing a little and his lips thinning.
"Will you accept it?" the Cervello prompted. "The choice is yours."
And what a choice it was. Tsuna understood that even if he never actually used the ring, it wasn't something to accept lightly. It was tempting to just reject it — he didn't want that kind of responsibility. What would he even do with it? What kind of trouble might it bring in the future?
After all, Byakuran was still out there somewhere, and he was certainly not the only one to covet such power.
Tsuna smiled suddenly. As if it was even a question.
His hand closed over the box and the ring. "I'll protect it, I promise. I won't let anyone misuse it," he said. The Cervello began to nod, accepting his decision, but Tsuna went on. "And I'll be counting on you, to make sure I don't misuse it either."
His words made them pause. Then, they bowed, almost as deeply as Gokudera was prone to. "Yes," the Cervello vowed, "we will not fail again."
The Mare Ring glimmered in the sunlight as Tsuna held it up, pulling a little at the chain it hung from around his neck. It had taken a bit of fiddling to get the ring on the chain in the first place, since, as an item in the game that was simply equipped, not actually put on, the chain didn't have a clasp or anything similar.
Of course, Tsuna could pass through walls, in IoF, so in the end he managed it. It felt better than trying to wear it on his hand — it wouldn't have fit with his gloves anyway, though that was more of an excuse. In truth, he just didn't feel like the ring truly belonged to him. It was just something he was guarding.
"I don't see why you bothered keeping it," Reborn grumbled. "You would've been better off turning them down. You don't owe them anything, that's for sure."
Tsuna chuckled. "Come on, you know why I agreed," he said. "I promised I would…"
"Watch over the Trinisette," Reborn sighed irritably. "That's a stupid promise to make."
Smiling, Tsuna just shrugged. "I'm not taking it back, or backing out," he said. He added, surprising even himself, "I can handle it. Probably."
Reborn snorted, but he sounded more amused than disparaging. They stood in companionable silence for several long moments. Finally, Tsuna added, more tentatively, "How is your friend? Luce?"
"She's recovering well," Reborn said. He didn't bother protesting that Luce wasn't his friend; Tsuna wouldn't understand the distinction anyway. "The Cervello managed to find some… antidote. Her Flames are stabilizing again, and she's almost back to normal. Her daughter, too."
"That's good," Tsuna said, smiling honestly. "So I guess everything worked out in the end. I'm really glad…"
This time, Reborn managed to hold back his scoff. Things had hardly wrapped up cleanly — Byakuran was still out there, and Tsuna had ended up burdened with part of the Trinisette, which was bound to draw unwelcome attention sooner or later.
But… all things considered, it had worked out better than Reborn had ever dared hope. Absently, he flexed one hand, knowing it would be the same in the real world too.
"I've been thinking of changing the guild name," Tsuna said suddenly, making Reborn turn to stare at him in surprise.
"What? Why?" he demanded. "...What's wrong with name you've got?"
"Well," Tsuna started, his eyes dancing a little as he tried to curb his smile, "it's kind of pretentious, isn't it? I mean… 'Reborn,' that's really ridiculous."
He carefully didn't look at Reborn, despite the strangled sound that came from his direction. It was very appropriate payback, Tsuna thought.
In a more serious tone, he went on, "I've been thinking about how the real world and IoF are connected. They're mirrors of each other… it's like you said back then. In the end, even an illusion comes from something real. I named the guild that because that's what I wanted back then — the chance to be someone else. But now I think that Ieyasu is just a part of me. Maybe I can be that person — maybe I already am, a bit. And maybe that's true for all of us."
In a way, every member of their guild wanted to become someone else, in IoF — someone who wasn't bound by rules, someone who didn't have to hold back, someone who didn't have to pretend, someone who didn't have to be alone, someone who didn't have to be afraid. They had all been able to show the best parts of themselves to each other, and to themselves.
"I think... the parts of ourselves we found here aren't some other person we could only dream of becoming. They were hidden inside us all along," Tsuna said, smiling. "Like a pearl inside a clam! What do you think? Maybe I'll call our guild Shinju."
"Clam…" Reborn muttered. "Really?"
"It seemed appropriate," Tsuna said, completely failing to keep a straight face. "Or do you think I should use Italian to make it really obvious?"
"...You're messing with me," Reborn said, tonelessly. "You're actually trying to mess with me. That's a dumb move. You're that angry that I didn't tell you my real name?"
"Well… among other things, yes," Tsuna admitted.
Reborn almost felt guilty. He'd hidden a lot from Tsuna, and after berating him about not telling Reborn enough. It had been hypocritical of him, and had probably caused more problems than it could have solved. Reborn might have always relied only on himself, but in the end it had been Tsuna that had come through.
He sighed, annoyed. "...next time, I'll tell you…" he muttered under his breath.
"Huh? What?" Tsuna wondered, missing his words.
"I said," Reborn snapped, "you're still going to regret it. You're getting too arrogant. It sounds like it's time for another lesson!"
Suddenly, there was a gun in his hand — Tsuna facefalted. This was horribly familiar.
"Punishment time," Reborn confirmed, smirking with far too many teeth. "What shall we play this time?"
Thank you for playing!
Notes: My long nightmare is over! This turned out a lot more open-ended than I intended, but I couldn't think of a logical way of getting rid of Byakuran in the real world. So there's some hooks for a theoretical sequel (please no, never).
Now, here is the Q&A section, which I may or may not update as questions come up.
Q: Will Tsuna be linked to his alternate dimension counterparts, now that he has the Mare Ring?
A: No. That was Byakuran's specific power, which was strengthened to an unhealthy degree by the ring. (Btw, seeing the future is a special power Luce/Aria/Uni have, not a function of the Sky Pacifier.) Tsuna doesn't have it.
Q: Why did Tsuna get all the exp and loot from killing Byakuran, if Reborn was the one to do it?
A: Because Reborn was out of range for the battle. Being in battle is considered a special status — with battle theme music, the UI working a little differently, stuff like that — and who goes into battle status is determined by proximity, barring other factors. Reborn, being in another area, was out of range for Tsuna and Byakuran's duel. This is also one of the drawbacks of the sniping mechanic, since it prevents players from getting credit for kills by sniping (probably intentionally).
Q: What was going on with Kawahira?
A: Kawahira isn't a human being, so his Flames are different from a human's. When he went into IoF to talk to Tsuna, he actually caused a lot of bugs in the system just because it was made for humans only. Using the information they gathered about him, Byakuran had Irie create a kind of virus that would interfere with Kawahira's Flames (Irie didn't realize this was a person's natural Flames; he thought it was some kind of device causing this). This virus also affected Luce and Uni, making them fall ill.
Once Irie realized that something was seriously wrong, thanks to Tsuna's tipoff, he willingly gave the antidote to the Cervello, who administered it to Kawahira, Luce and Uni.
Q: So what exactly is the VR technology?
A: The short answer is that there isn't any. All the "VR" stuff is actually a massive Mist Flame illusion. The supposed VR gear is just a fancy hypnotism device that lowers players' mental defenses and allows them to join in the illusion (using their own Flames).
However, there are some actual technological components used to store the data, since this illusionary world was originally upheld by a rotating team of many illusionists, who needed to be able to coordinate their projections. The setup was originally designed by Verde to better study the nature and properties of Flames. The Cervello originally provided him with some backing because they wanted to use the illusionary world created as a "safe" testing ground for various Flame-related things.
IoF, as a public thing, came about when an intruder stumbled into the prototype virtual world, and the Cervello realized that the level of a person's Flames determined how well they interacted with that world and that those with a high enough level could shape it to their will. The original goal of IoF was to find people with strong Flames, but that evolved into training people with Flames in general, in hopes of raising the average Flame capacity of humans.
It's a bit complicated because IoF's nature changed as it went on and everyone involved realized its potential applications.
Q: Do people in Tsuna's daily life notice the difference in him?
A: A little, but not particularly. I mean, Tsuna tries now, but it's not like he magically became a genius overnight. Also, he's just one kid in a sea of kids, so while he may personally improve, that's not something the people around him have reason to be concerned about, you know? They don't care about him, whether he's a failure or average or anything else.
Q: How will Tsuna's relationships be, years down the line? With Reborn? With Basil?
A: Haha, I don't know. I think Tsuna and Reborn will remain friends, who can talk to each other about problems precisely because they don't see each other every day. Basil and Tsuna, on the other hand, are more similar, in that they have been slowly finding more confidence in themselves and growing into their own potential. I think that Basil sees Tsuna almost like a distant cousin — family.
The Varia have a somewhat more grim mentality, which Reborn shares to a certain extent — that Tsuna is a civilian and better off kept a certain distance from the darkness of the mafia. Although Xanxus would never admit it, he does want to protect Tsuna from the repercussions that would follow if the mafia world learned about Primo having a descendant.
Overall, Tsuna was never actually involved in the mafia, only the Trinisette, which happens to be connected to the mafia by circumstances in the past. So, in that aspect, he remains somewhat distant from certain members of the cast.