Karin more staggered than anything out of that weird device Roger built. It had a decent but striking similiarity to a large bean and was nothing else than a time machine. The trip hadn't taken longer than a few seconds at best and according to Roger, they now were in the year 1921 - and just in time for dinner.
When she moved to explore the place - much had changed since she'd been here last - the old sorcerer stopped her.
"Please stay put for a moment. Last time I brought visitors, he ran away for days. I shall prepare him."
As he left her standing and went outside - knowing where to find the young man in question - Karin had time to process the new information. Her heart ached. The Yuri she knew was bashful and had an ego beyond description. It seemed to her, Roger was describing a fully different person. Maybe it wasn't Yuri after all?
Just a weird coincidence, a similiar looking man who Roger with his failing eyes had mistaken?
".. you know I dislike strangers..", came a familiar voice crashing down on her hopes. They were smashed in an instant. But something was lacking. It was the same voice alright, but cold as stone. When the men came in, Karin felt a sob coming up. Instead of rushing at Yuri as she'd planned, she jumped back into the time capsule before he could see her. Closing the door behind her, she sank to her knees, one hand over her mouth to stop any sound from coming out.
He was dead.
Not on the outside maybe, but his eyes.. this wasn't Yuri at all! The fire was gone, leaving all but a burnt out shell. The way he held himself, the way he spoke. This young man looked like Yuri, had the same clothes on his body, was in every way like the man she loved. But his inner was empty.. his soul was gone.
She didn't know how much time she spent in there, when the door behind her opened and Roger's shuffling gear came close to her, stopped behind and his old, bony hand touched her shoulder.
"I know it's hard on you. But you have to endure this, for all of us", the old man said, his voice barely above a gentle whisper. "Please Karin"
With a last sob, a sigh and a nod Karin stood and followed Roger outside, resolute to take whatever was awaiting her.
When she then saw Yuri, or what was left of him, her resolution suffered a devastating blow. Maybe she'd expected him to recognise her, in some way. Not to stare at her like a total stranger. It felt to her as if she'd told him just yesterday that she loved him dearly.
He on the other hand didn't know any of it. Just stared at her, sceptically, almost untrustring of this weird, red-haired stranger who barged into his peaceful life. Who was she, anyway? His father always brought weirdos home, claiming they were "old friends" and such.. Should he know them? Was this girl an old acquaintance of his father? At least the looks she threw at the old man - and him, sometimes - told him so. When she looked at him, it seemed she was seeking something he wasn't. Someone he wasn't. It disturbed and scared him. He wanted to run, but father had forbidden it.
Which didn't mean he couldn't just choose to ignore her. Which he did. Just keep avoiding her eyes.. don't pay attention to her sad look.. the tears in the corners of her eyes. Her shivering form-..
To make matters worse, Roger decided to leave them alone, claiming he'd brew a tea or something. He'd have to talk to her now.
".. so how have you been doing..?", Karin asked, trying not to look too closely at the man who did everything in his powers not to notice her. At first, she thought he hadn't heard her and was about to change topics, when he actually spoke up.
".. not bad. Not good. Does it matter?"
He was cold. But he saw his sterile tone had hurt her - somehow. The way she turned her head away, the way her hands wrestled with each other in a desperate try to ease the stress he put her through. She didn't want to be here either, he recognised. Somehow, this made him relax a little. Usually, the people his father brought were desperate to talk and wouldn't let up. Some would even try to fight him. Not this one though.
Somehow, it seemed he could trust her with his life, if it came to that. Not bad for a woman he'd just met..
".. listen. I don't know what you're looking for here..", he tried again, this time with a less poisonous tone. ".. if it's my past you're after, forget about it. I've always lived here. There is nothing about me. Just a plain, boring guy, alright?"
Karin nodded. She didn't believe it, but wanted him to know she listened, despite her eyes still avoiding his face. Her son's face - so resembling this man's - came into her mind. How open and friendly the boy was. His eyes flared every now and then. He wasn't a shade of himself. The contrast, especially knowing they were the same person, was painful to say the least. When he spoke again, it sounded like grovel crunching.
"So.. you can go home. Here's nothing.."
That's it, Karin decided.
"Listen Yuri.. I know what the curse did to you. I know you don't mean what you say.. But.."
"What curse, girl? I've never been cursed my whole life!"
He was upset now and raised his voice a little more than he'd intended. The result was a harsh flinch on her side and regret on his. For a while, neither said anything. Only when Roger returned with three cups of steaming liquid which smelled like herbal tea, the silence broke.
"Hey there, children.. let's have some tea now, shall we?"
The sorcerer distributed the cups and took a sip from his. Yuri watched this with careful assessment of the old man's behavior, then too drank. Karin on the other hand hesitated. Only when Roger nudged her into the side, she woke from her stupor and put the cup to her lips, inhaling the sweet aroma before tasting it. The tea was delicious.
When he was done with his cup, Yuri suddenly stood and left without a word. To Karin's surprise, Roger didn't comment on it this time. Instead he quietly kept sipping his tea (how he'd managed to take this long would be forever his secret) and spent the better of ten minutes this way until he finally turned to follow the runaway young man and motioned Karin to come with him. Frowning she did. To her question, what that was about now he didn't reply.
The contrast between inside and outside couldn't have been harsher. Malicious winds attacked from all sides, the sky was dark with rain clouds and promised a hefty shower soon enough. Roger didn't seem to care. He just moved on, obviously knowing where to go, followed by Karin. It seemed to her they were walking towards some cliffs and was about to ask again, when she noticed the form lying motionlessly on the ground, the cup broken next to it.
"He's alright", her companion said and notioned to the cup in her hand. "Just a light sleeping drug. I have something in mind you know. Can't have him resist now that we're that far.."
The old man knelt next to his 'son' and put a hand on latter's forehead. He was out cold, time to act. Karin joined him and found it was just as Roger claimed; Yuri was sleeping. She'd rarely seen his face this peaceful. In the midst of a storm, nonetheless! Then again.. if it worked this fast, it had to be some literal chemical hammer. Which, again, made her doubt Roger's trustworthyness just for a bit. He grinned at her, as if having read her thoughts.
"We tried a lot. Hypnosis, backtracking, several drugs, music, smells. Nothing worked. You're our last hope."
"What can I do?"
"Just touch him.. yeah, that's right.. just there over the heart."
"Clench your teeth."
"Why in the wor-..."
A zapping sensation was the last thing Karin felt before her world became darker than the clouds above her.
When she sat up, nothing much had changed.
Except maybe for the fact her surroundings were now all but ruins. The cliffs, the grass, Roger - everything gone. She was all alone on a deserted, messed up field of broken stone everywhere.
No sound to be heard either.
Only a feeling as if she should know where she was here, but Karin couldn't put a finger on it.
She looked at her hand, as if expecting the answer sitting there. Matter of fact, it did. Her body wasn't a day beyond 20 years old. She even wore her old uniform - and her trusty sable, which she hadn't touched for years. Slowly pieces came together. Old memories - and she felt herself blanch.
"That damn little..", she grumbled and started to walk - more like climb - over rocks and pieces of what looked like tombstones, stumbling and almost falling every now and then. At one point, she encountered a seriously wilted looking tree, just standing in the middle of nowhere. The ground here wasn't as broken and Karin decided to take a rest, just for a little bit. Take a breather and some time to sort her thoughts.
If this was really that graveyard.. the same one she and Yuri - when he still was himself - had visited together to find and conquer Amon, it made sense why he was so.. not himself. This place was a mess. And it was, at the same time, his mind and heart. Whatever had happened to him had so throughoutly destroyed him he'd never recovered. Suddenly she felt the urge to murder Nicolai - then remembered the man was dead already and cursed, surprising herself in the process. She'd rarely been one to get angry easily, but knowing what they'd done to her son, something inside her just snapped, no matter if the culprids were dead or not.
Suddenly, on top of the anger, there was embarrassment. This Yuri wasn't exactly her son, was he? She'd raised another him. But at the same time, this Yuri wasn't the same she'd left back at the plains of time. She couldn't tell who he was and somewhat doubted he knew either. The redhaired soldier leaned back against the tree behind her, gnawing on her lower lip.
Last time she'd been here, Yuri was right at her side. Where was he now? Had the curse really fully eredicated him? She felt tempted to call out to him, decided against it though. If he was gone - and it looked like he was - this didn't mean the monsters were too. Without a master to control them, calling attention to herself could prove extremely dangerous.
Back then, Yuri always seemed on the edge to going berserk. Once or twice he actually lost it in midbattle and they'd have to knock him out - otherwise he, being fused with just about any monster, might've wiped their whole party without blinking. She wasn't keen on fighting either of these monsters all on her own, especially not here where they may be more powerful. Better to keep a low profile then - but what was she supposed to do here?
"Find the door, little red rabbit", sneered a voice to her left and she more fell than sprang to the other side, staring wide-eyed at the newcomer who didn't haste in for the kill. He looked every way like Yuri, except maybe for the snow-white hair, the almost violet-tinged skin, claws that looked like he could rip through metal with ease. Yuri rarely used this fusion though, claiming he had much stronger ones and didn't care much for it - but in truth he feared the sheer willpower of this monster. So he'd told Karin in a quiet moment. This monster had a quick, fear-inducing intelligence, not unlike a predator, and it moved as such. Gracefully, but deadly. Karin wondered if Yuri'd be mad at her if she made the first attack and killed it.
But that monster only grinned before rushing right at her. Karin only barely avoided his claws and panted heavily while her enemy didn't even snort.
"You're slow, little red rabbit. You won't defeat her like this", the monster declared and again came for her, this time actually nicking her cheek, leaving a small red line that burned so intensely Karin gasped and put one hand on the scratch. Poison then.. Damn. If he hit her properly, she might as well die - but could she even? Wasn't this barely a dream, just an illusion? The monster's teeth bared in a malicious smirk and shook his head, slowly, then snickered before going for her again. Karin threw herself to her right, rolled for a bit, then stood again, her sword pointing at that dangerous foe who hadn't turned around after missing his strike.
"Maybe I should just kill you.. Spare yourself the shame of defeat by her hands and submit. Maybe we'll have some fun before you die", his grating voice seemed to creep straight into her bone marrow, making Karin shiver. Then something clicked.
"You keep saying her, who is that? A friend of yours?", she dared and feinted a side attack before going straight at the demonic creature which avoided with ease.
"Ohh, you'd like to know, huh.." Again his poisonous claws but this time, Karin anticipated his moves and landed a strike which left the monster's right side bloody. He snarled, holding his bleeding wound, disbelief shimmering in his crimson eyes. "Huh.. seems there is something to you after all.."
With that, he sank to his knees, gasping in obvious pain. Karin watched this for a moment, waiting if it was some kind of trap, but when the other finally collapsed to the ground, she joined his side, putting healing herbs from her pouch on his wounds. The demon barely registered her moves, but started laughing so suddenly Karin flinched.
"What!?", she demanded, but noticed her hands were getting blood-soaked, despite her attempts. The herbs didn't work.
"Nox", the monster said, making her frown. "tell that fool.. you defeated.. Nox.."
With that, his head slumped and from one second to the next, he was gone. Just like that, no fancy special effects, no last flash, just gone. Karin looked at her hands, finding they were perfectly clean; no blood. Was that how fusion monsters died? Without a trace, never to be remembered? A pang of guilt washed over her. He'd been a part of Yuri whom she tried to save. If this kept going like this.. Shaking her head she rose, straightening her uniform and looking around again. That little fight didn't solve her problem, she still didn't know where to go.
Find the door, Nox's voice whispered and she looked up, then straight ahead, face to face with just that; a large, heavy looking door. And noise coming from it .. a clattering, rattering sound.
And Karin went for it.