It was time. It was finally time. Her N-Field could grow anew in the material world and Kirakishou could once again be reunited with her Master, Ruby Rose.
Everything had been painstakingly gathered and manipulated for this exact moment when it all came crashing down, as dreams and reality were forged into road that would pave the way for Kirakishou's return to the world of Remnant.
Cradled in her hands was an ornate gilded sceptre of her own design. With inspiration chosen from the late Fall Maiden, Amber, Kirakishou had crafted a sceptre with which to focus the power of her N-Field. Through all of her time spent confined within the N-Field and so callously torn away from her beloved maiden of the red rose, a vast majority of her sudden bout of loneliness had been spent working on this very sceptre.
Even the mere conceptualisation of the weapon had taken far longer than Kirakishou would have hoped, as she had been worried that she would run out of time before the material world called for her return once again. As she had learned from the many hundreds of thousands of minds slumbering peacefully within her Palace of Beginnings, the creation of a piece that holds sentimental value to the wielder is oftentimes an arduous and almost universally stressful endeavour. While Kirakishou did not fully understand the concept of 'stress' in the way that non-artificial beings did, she could certainly understand the worry of limited time and material availability.
Utilising material containing the essence of both Amber and Ruby Rose had been a stroke of genius, with the transformative properties of her crystalline Palace of Beginnings enabling a much more malleable material to be used with little-to-no hassle, as the very world itself bent to her whims even if her design was still somewhat lacking at the initial time of creation. Any of her soon-to-be many creations could easily be torn apart and reconfigured as the need arose, eliminating the risk of diminishing returns that plagued the construction efforts of many a would-be huntsmen or huntress. Even her beloved Ruby Rose had gone through a sizeable amount of material and funding in the construction of Crescent Rose, to the point where much of her scholarship funding had been used solely for the creation of her weapon, instead of the procurement of literary devices and other expenses typically associated with scholarship funding.
Kirakishou felt some manner of pleasure in knowing that the item that would eventually become her weapon of choice contained a small amount of her beloved's essence. Of her aura.
She couldn't, of course, do such a thing as to copy her Master's semblance, as the melding of Silver Eyes powers and Maiden powers created a force simply too powerful to be controlled. Without Ruby Rose's influence, the resultant power would rage unchecked and destroy everything that Kirakishou had created. However, tempered by her Masters will and drive to succeed, the power of a Silver-Eyed Maiden would unite the world. With Kirakishou, however, such an endeavour was simply not what she was aiming to achieve with her sceptre. She needed to create a tool capable of enabling Kirakishou to effectively manipulate and control her N-Field.
Make no mistake, her control over the N-Field was absolute. She was her Palace of Beginnings, and her Palace of Beginnings was her. They were two in the same. Why, one could easily label the N-Field of a Rozen Maiden as being an extension of their rosa mystica and not be too far off from the truth. For Kirakishou, her problem instead was one that came from having too great of a reach. If one could reshape the world with a touch, how could one shape but a small piece of it with any degree of accuracy? She was little more than a gardener watering a small little rose garden with an ocean of nutrients. Far, far too strong for her little roses to handle.
Her attempts to control the N-Field without a focusing device had left Kirakishou inadvertently shaping the world on random occasions, leading to odd patches of crystalline mass that needed to be forcibly reshaped back into their original components. With the overwhelming excess of aura built up through her confinement in the immaterial world, there existed the possibility that she would inadvertently crystallise an entire landmass upon her resurgence into the world.
And, while that alone was a delightful circumstance to consider, Kirakishou felt that it would only inevitably lead to the same issue down the line, where excess aura built up once again and led to a mass crystallisation of an even large excess.
No. She didn't need to assume such a thing was to occur. She knew that it would occur if she did not take steps to prevent it.
And she knew exactly the steps necessary in order to prevent herself from inadvertently crystallising Remnant. Or, more precisely, Kirakishou was aware of the blueprints required to achieve a safe reentry into Remnant. She only needed to add her own particular flair to the mix.
And so she did.
Kirakishou twirled her little sceptre in her hands, preening slightly. Crafting the sceptre and designing it in conjunction with her own particular style had been something of an enjoyable affair for her, as the crafting of a tool had made Kirakishou feel somewhat closer to Ruby Rose. Only now, after going through the process of designing and constructing her sceptre, did she fully understand the steps necessary to fully enjoy a pastime with the same fervour and enjoyment as her beloved had when constructing Crescent Rose.
Hmm. She did need a name for it, however. And none of the suggestions she had received had resonated with her, as the memories of Ruby Rose indicated was a necessary reaction for the naming convention. For instance, Crescent Rose was named as both a tribute to Summer Rose and as a way to highlight the bond between both Mother and Daughter, and their parallel lives as Huntresses. Duality was something that was represented by Crescent Rose, with a multilayered meaning that spoke to the heart.
What, then, would she title her weapon?
Kirakishou would allow herself to consider the name at another date. She did not wish to spend her last moments in the immaterial world as a little doll thinking about names. She needed to prepare herself.
Those that occupied the physical space where her Palace of Beginnings once stood were being subtly moved into the appropriate positions. When she returned to the world of Remnant, her Palace of Beginnings would follow alongside her and if she wasn't careful with the placement of her toys, then they would be crushed under the weight of her Palace. She did not wish to damage the little toys, after they had been so carefully led into her dominion in the first place.
Caroline Cordovin was an issue. Even now, she couldn't so much as direct the woman to take a single step, let alone move her to a safe space. She held a remarkably unyielding mind, one that stubbornly refused to so much as allow itself even a momentarily pleasant rest let alone one long enough so as to find itself in her N-Field. And, even if the exhaustion got to Cordovin, the hundreds of alarms she had set on her scroll ensured the woman continued to wake precisely every ninety minutes, just to check the status of her subordinates.
It was almost fascinating just how every action Cordovin took inadvertently made it all the more difficult to save her. At this point, however, Kirakishou was out of time. She had given up on subtlety and was having her captured toys make a, hm, citizen's arrest and forcibly escort the wayward toy Specialist to a safe and secure area. They were fighting at the moment, and Cordovin was remarkably agile for her advanced age, not to mention her skill with a taser was something to be truly admired. However, Kirakishou had far more toys to play with even if Cordovin somehow managed to subdue all the ones just in her room at the moment.
As she knew would occur. After all, she had foreseen it.
Learning how to control the… Relic of Choice, had been a rather unpleasant activity. However, once she had managed to get the Relic under control, the visions it offered were remarkably useful for forwarding her plans exponentially.
From the information that she had learned from General James Ironwood of the Atlesian Military, Kirakishou had known that the Relic of Choice was something of a unique artifact even among the Four Relics. Supposedly, it gifted visions of the future to its wearer. However, the visions one received were chaotic at the best of times, a jumbled mix of events that soon neared and decisions far flung into the distant future. Users would second-guess themselves, oftentimes leading to the very future that they so desperately sought to avoid.
Accessing the Relic of Choice had been somewhat simple. Once she learned that the Relic existed and that it was housed somewhere in Beacon Academy, Kirakishou needed only to annex the entirety of her Palace of Beginnings, piece by piece, in order to eventually stumble across the crown. A task that initially appeared momentous, however, was made infinitely simpler by the broad strokes of her power. Once she had successfully ensured that her darling seedlings were out of the way, reducing the rest of her Palace of Beginnings to simple crystals was the combined effort of a single thought.
After that, Kirakishou had merely summoned the crown to her hands, as it was the only piece outside her seedlings that was not originally of the N-Field and held a unique resistance to her abilities. Through General Ironwood's memories, she knew that the Relics were each housed in a small pocketed area cut off from the world, but her own dominion over the N-Field was far stronger than any one single enchantment. The crown had been in her hands before she had even realised that there were any protections in place.
...Protections that would have called for the powers of the Fall Maiden.
Once she had the crown in her possession, reconstructing her Palace of Beginnings in the same precise configuration as Beacon Academy and the surrounding town of Vale had been a somewhat more arduous task. However, once she completed the construction of her sceptre the more difficult pieces were simplified immensely. Her sceptre was a grand divining rod, and her composed song fluttered across the N-Field in a beautifully pure crescendo that continued to reach ever upward.
Unfortunately, the Relic of Choice held an appearance unsuitable to her designs, so Kirakishou had to work on that as well. And the material used to construct the crown, whatever it was, proved to be incredibly difficult to manipulate through any technique that either Kirakishou or her hundreds of thousands of seedlings could come up with. In the end, Kirakishou had merely opted to grow her crystals around the crown and warp the resultant space into a design that she liked. A task that, once again, had necessitated the use of her sceptre.
While the crown was unfortunately resistant to her attempts to shape it to a suitable design, the dimensions of the crown could be altered to a smaller size so that the crystals grown atop it did not take up so much space as to make the crown itself unwieldy.
In the end, Kirakishou had chosen a simple design that she found suitable for her figure, opting for a thin gilded appearance that matched with her sceptre, with small teal-green crystals of her N-Field adorning the crown itself. She had chosen to shape her crown into an appearance thematically similar to picketed thorned vines if only to compliment her own particular theme. On a whim, Kirakishou had opted to secure the crown's position with a loose braid that wrapped around the top of her head, with the rest of her hair flowing freely and spilling down to the ball joints of her ankles.
She remembered that Ruby Rose had enjoyed seeing a braid in Kirakishou's hair during the Vytal Festival Dance, and had also enjoyed when Kirakishou had braided her own hair during an intimate moment. Hopefully, when she saw her Master again, the sight of her braid would earn a little smile. Perhaps Kirakishou would be able to braid Ruby's hair again, too. She missed the feeling. The warmth of an intimate moment spent with the one she loves.
After Kirakishou had completed her work on the sceptre and the Relic of Choice, she decided to work on her outfit. While she personally enjoyed her original outfit and the numerous pyjamas that never failed to earn a blush from her beloved maiden of the red rose, the additions of the sceptre and the crown had made such garments unsuitable for choice. She wished to make something new. A new outfit that would earn the admiration of her beloved and cement her new additions as parts of Kirakishou. Ruby had always preached something similar, when it came to forming a weapon that was an extension of the self. Clothing, Kirakishou believed, could also be considered an extension of the self. Ruby Rose believed such, and so too would Kirakishou.
Numerous designs had been considered and scrapped over the course of her little remaining free time, as the powers of her sceptre and the visions offered by the Relic of Choice made it somewhat simple to conceptualise a design and witness the effect of potentially completing her current idea. The visions offered by the Relic of Choice also allowed Kirakishou to see her beloved Master once again and witness her reactions to her new outfit.
Privately, Kirakishou had spent perhaps a little too long choosing some rather revealing designs for the sole explicit purpose of seeing how her Master would respond to them in the future. While she simply did not have the time to properly construct each outfit at the current moment, she had compiled all of the designs that achieved a positive response from her Master. When the time was right and it was time to play with her Master and be played with in return, Kirakishou would compile the outfits for her Master's delight.
In the end, however, she had settled on a design that complimented her new sceptre and crown, while sticking to the same overall theme as her original garment.
Through the powers of the Relic of Choice, Kirakishou had eventually chosen a long-sleeved buttoned white frock base dress, with a pleated white skirt that crossed partway down her thighs. The frock boasted a golden filigree edge and black collar, with three sets of two buttons running down the front of the dress, connected together by a golden thread. The ends of her long sleeves were ended by a frilled puffy black material completed by a golden trim.
Her lower legs were covered in lace-up white thigh-high boots that ran past the ball joints of her knees. They were the very same boots she had worn in her original outfit, with Kirakishou simply deciding to add a slight golden trim to the top and bottom edges of the boot to match the rest of her outfit. Completing her outfit, she had included a wide-brim long white skirt that rested atop her smaller skirt and flowed down to her ankles, with a wide separation in the front of the skirt to expose her legs and inner skirt. The outer skirt held the same theme as the rest of her outfit, with a white base, ornate golden trim, and occasional flairs of black frill design. The interior of the skirt held a base black tone, contrasting greatly against the white base colour of her boots and inner skirt.
Suffice to say, Kirakishou was very proud of her new outfit. She had been looking forward to having a chance to redesign her wardrobe after seeing the effects that such activities had on Ruby Rose. Being able to practise her new-found precise touch with the addition of her sceptre and trial the advancements made with the Relic of Choice was simply a worthwhile addition to an already enjoyable activity that would prepare her for the inevitable return to Remnant.
The referee appeared in the blink of an eye, staring at her with some minor tilt of its head, indicating curiosity. Or, more precisely, Kirakishou knew that it was curiosity. She had foreseen the rabbit entity explaining such emotion to her in a deleted timeline, after all, a timeline altered and removed through her own alterations to the N-Field and to herself.
With the addition of her dialogue, Laplace-no-ma was no longer in control of the scene. Surprise was the only possible emotion it could feel.
"Kirakishou. You were able to sense my presence?"
She smiled. "A gardener must always remain on the lookout for pests, lest they damage the garden she has lovingly tended to for so very long."
"And in this metaphor, I am the pest, hm?" Laplace drily responded, shaking its head as the creature walked towards her.
She knew that blocking its approach was of no use. For all the power she held, fighting Laplace-no-ma without a stable connection to Ruby Rose was pointless. Nothing she was capable of could permanently damage the rabbit.
Instead, she conjured chairs for both of them and a table to go alongside it, once again using her sceptre as a medium for her powers.
"Do not assume a pure rose to be blind to the value that certain entities play in the maintenance of a garden. She would not be so foolish as to ruin that which already furthers her goals."
Laplace took a seat, and Kirakishou mimicked the motion to the letter.
It was all a game between them. Action and reaction, idle fantasy into abject truth. Deception into revelation. With the addition of the Relic of Choice, both Laplace-no-ma and Kirakishou acted with similar knowledge, however, she knew that they both operated with vastly differing goals.
"Impressive control over your N-Field," Laplace mused. "Your sceptre is responsible, yes? I sense a great deal of energy running through it. Why one could almost label it a divining wand rather than any true sceptre or stave. Wands are tools, after all, always serving a purpose."
Kirakishou smiled. She wondered if one would call her smile pleasant, were they to gaze upon her pure self in this singular moment in time.
"You would know very well about such matters, would you not? Our last conversation held purpose. A purpose which, thanks to your actions, revealed itself to be the loss of my Master. That was very mean, Laplace-no-ma."
Laplace-no-ma stared at her. "Do not think to antagonise me, Kirakishou. There is no sinister intent in my actions. I work solely for the continuation of the Alice Game. The loss of your Master was a forgone conclusion in this farce of a battle you have forced to take place inside this forgotten world."
The N-Field shuddered in response to her rising emotions. The sudden and abrupt departure of Ruby Rose still ailed her, and Laplace's involvement in the matter was not lost upon her sight. The referee had actively fought against her at every opportunity, and she was so very eager to put Laplace-no-ma away once and for all.
However, she knew that it would not end well. Not at this time. And, consequently, so too did Laplace-no-ma. Or else the creature would not have been here talking to her in the first place.
Such was the consequence of precognition. They were nothing but two puppets controlling their own strings, doing everything in their power to not get all tangled up.
Kirakishou gave a low sigh, fingering her sceptre idly and running her jointed digits down the ornate golden filigree. She allowed herself to feel calm, tranquil, and her N-Field quickly soothed. She knew how this event would transpire, and so too did Laplace-no-ma. There was no sense to react outside of what was strictly necessary. She would have time to feel more pleasant emotions when she was reunited with her Master. "Regardless of the decisions that either of us chooses at this time, the outcome is out of our hands now. Those outside our control now work to achieve their own goals."
"No doubt exactly as you desired in the first place," Laplace-no-ma responded in a knowing tone. "You have become an influential piece in this world, and it wasn't even your own world to begin with. How very curious, this latest iteration of the Alice Game."
"We are all where we are for a reason," she denied with nothing more than a little smile on her lips, gesturing to the N-Field that surrounded them both. "You are here because you need to be, and I am here because I must be. For now."
"And not for much longer, so it would seem," Laplace-no-ma pulled out a golden pocket watch from its breast pocket, unlocking the device and checking the time. "The time for your return to Remnant draws near, and there is nothing that I can do to prevent it. How very unfortunate for me."
"How very fortunate for me," she countered, minutely amused by the discussion. Through the use of the Relic of Choice, Kirakishou had been through a great many discussions with Laplace-no-ma. Each and every time the rabbit tried to stop her, it failed. Because everything was a lie. Each time Kirakishou viewed a poor timeline involving Laplace, she changed her action. And by changing her actions, she destroyed the timeline.
Over and over again. Piece by piece, word by word. Timeless observations, all were forgotten and promptly remembered as time continued to tick ever onwards.
The key to defeating Laplace-no-ma was not through the use of overwhelming strength, a strength that even her pure self had yet to hold, but instead, the key was made through the overwhelming superposition of inevitability.
"Your sisters conspire against you, as is their nature. There will be conflict in your quest for freedom. Would you really choose to risk the health of Ruby Rose in your quest to be with her?"
Kirakishou paused, feeling an uncomfortable stirring of the vines nestled inside her body, between the seam for her upper chest and the joints for her lower pelvis. Each time Laplace-no-ma asked the question in the many instances she had witnessed, it had always shaken her to some degree. She found that she did not like the feeling, nor the thoughts that Laplace-no-ma's question developed within her pure self.
The two figures turned their attention upwards as a hole in reality made itself apparent. It was far different from her own distant attempt to encroach upon the world once upon a time, during the Vytal Festival Tournament. The hole appeared as a uniform circular design with harsh crimson runic lettering circling the outside. Looking inward, Kirakishou could identify what she now knew to be Salem's dark castle, situated in the midst of a continent with no name. A red-eyed witch stared back at her.
Pale white vines burst from the rose growing in her right eye socket, as Kirakishou felt her inner self pull itself up and into the portal. Her body trailed behind, as her lone-slit amber eye gazed at Laplace-no-ma for one last time. The creature stared back at her, silent. For a brief moment, time slowed to a crawl.
She knew their paths would no longer cross. As did Laplace-no-ma, having easily predicted such an outcome. Such is their nature, ever searching forward and seeking a future that benefited them the most. However, Kirakishou had found a future that had become unavoidable. The Alice Game would soon end, and there was nothing that Laplace-no-ma could hope to do about it.
The final part of her crossed the event horizon of Salem's portal, and Kirakishou experienced the world once again.
As Kirakishou reconstructed herself, threading vines back into her physical body and reconfiguring her essence to support a physical manifestation, her lone slit amber eye surveyed the area.
She was indeed situated deep inside Salem's dark castle, as the crown had predicted. In this iteration of the timeline, Salem had opted to summon Kirakishou within an area that had once been used for meetings with her servants, the glass enclosure shattered and ruined following one of Salem's many bouts of anger. Glass shards littered the dark marble floor, while beasts of dark crawled and twitched their way through a room that had long since lost its lustre, drowning the world in their lack of grace.
Salem stood before her, and the Witch held the same timeless appearance as she had possessed during her experiences with Hinaichigo. Her long robe held several cuts and tears, the Witch no longer carrying herself with the same grace that such an outfit deserved.
A fierce crimson bubble surrounded Kirakishou's physical form, supported by a black haze that clung to the bubble and twitched around the spherical mass. The haze was a beast of dark, as evidenced by the mask of bone and crimson eyes that stared at her lone form. From the memories of her gathered seedlings, she knew the creature to be a geist, attaching itself to Salem's conjured bubble.
A bubble that was meant to contain her. A bubble.
"Ah, it's so good to see the world again~" she spoke the first words of her return to Remnant with a triumphant lilt of pleasure, smiling happily as she sat with legs splayed on either side of her, peach-blonde hair pooling behind her figure.
Far, far away, Vale rose once again, as her Palace of Beginnings was made manifest. Already, she could feel new seedlings joining her seedbed, as the Palace of Beginnings entered an expansion phase.
"Greetings, child. My name is Salem, and I am the one who has returned you to the world of Remnant. I bid you welcome."
Kirakishou giggled, as sheer unadulterated mirth flowed violently through her physical form.
She was free! She was finally, truly, free! Returned to the world of Remnant at long last! And she hadn't even needed to do anything drastic to achieve it!
"And this pure rose is named Kirakishou~" she gave a happy little introduction of her own. "But, you already know that, don't you? Hinaichigo is ever so the delightful spirit, isn't she? A pure rose can only imagine what her dear older sister has spoken about her."
The Witch raised a brow, as Kirakishou knew that she would. Salem was surprised, intrigued even, at the knowledge that Kirakishou possessed. She knew what the Witch had done in order to summon Kirakishou to her dominion, as the Alice Game allowed for only a single toll to be paid. Father's Decree would allow for nothing less, both in this world and all precious worlds.
Hinaichigo's little strawberry vines would continue to grow under her watchful eye, forever and ever.
"So that is where Hinaichigo ran off to," Salem realised in the end. "How very curious. I was under the impression that Hinaichigo would never seek out your company of her own volition after what had transpired in the past."
Ah, she had almost forgotten. Salem believed the Rozen Maiden to originate from the world of Remnant itself, from a time either during or before Salem's own history. Were it not for the information that Kirakishou had gained from the Relic of Choice, she would have assumed that the Witch had discovered their true origin.
That, Kirakishou found, was the Witch's folly. Time had made a fool of her.
"Hinaichigo is, like all Rozen Maiden, a cute little rose that would do everything in her power to live her life. Such is her nature, as are all our natures, in the end."
Salem raised a brow. "You are different than what I had expected. You don't seem the slightest bit surprised to see me, and you are remarkably well-informed following your previous confinement in the N-Field."
It came as quite a surprise how annoying it was for Kirakishou, to know that all the information Salem had recently learned from her had come from her interrogation of Hinaichigo. An unfortunate side-effect of the Relic of Choice.
Sometimes, it was best not to know.
Hinaichigo had not deserved what had happened to her. She was nothing more than a lonely little doll trying to find her place in the chaotic mess that was Remnant. In her quest to be happy, she quickly found herself placed in the service of an immortal Witch that craved nothing more than the end of the world. Her only solace had been Hazel Rainart, and Hinaichigo's beloved Master was, also, connected to Salem through the loss of his younger sister. Hazel had come to care for Hinaichigo to a similar degree as his departed sister Gretchen Rainart, and the revelation of Salem's plan had resulted in his prompt and sudden defeat.
"Oh? Do you mean my outfit?" Kirakishou played with the Witch, pushing herself up from the ground and shifting her ball joints so as to allow for precise movement. "A pure rose wanted to greet her Master with something new."
"Your Master?" Salem ignored the display with all the casual indifference to playful teasing that Kirakishou had seen time and time again in her visions. "Hinaichigo's statement implied that you had lost your Master, with the resultant destabilisation leaving you stranded inside the N-Field."
In response, Kirakishou merely opened her mouth, revealing her glistening contract ring laying atop her tongue. A movement later and the ring was swallowed.
"Moh~ You are correct. The loss of my Master's contract returned me to the N-Field. Ruby Rose was my anchor to the world of Remnant, and without her soothing presence my Palace of Beginnings could no longer maintain a physical manifestation. Ruby Rose was to be the anchor for my N-Field, a physical bond of our emotional connection. Of course, your actions have removed this limitation, and my Palace of Beginnings has returned once again. With the added benefit of a few more seedlings."
"You're welcome," Salem gave a pleased tilt of her lips that functioned as a poor imitation of a smile. More a half-forgotten automatic muscle response than any true conscious action on her part. "Carolyn Cordovin and her ilk should prove sufficient in order to facilitate the growth of your Palace of Beginnings, as I had planned from the first moment I learned of your poor circumstance."
Kirakishou giggled. She had already known that. Even before she had gained access to the Relic of Choice, her delving into the dreams of those slumbering in the empty space once belonging to Vale had uncovered the truth. The Atlesian branch under the command of Carolyn Cordovin had been targeted, and the Relic of Choice had revealed that Carolyn's faction had been forced to settle in Vale, corralled and penned inside the space formerly belonging to her Palace of Beginnings, all in a desperate gambit of returning Kirakishou to the world.
When Salem's gambit had failed and Kirakishou had remained inside her Palace of Beginnings, the Witch had thrown a tantrum, inadvertently startling poor Hinaichigo. And, when Hinaichigo's absence was noticed, Salem began to think.
Truly, Hinaichigo was the actual figure deserving of her appreciation for returning Kirakishou to Remnant. Through her actions, Kirakishou would be able to return to the Master she loved ever so dearly and their gardens would grow in tandem. All because little Hinaichigo had reached out to her immediate younger sister. The Alice Game had rewarded courage with sacrifice, and the toll of Hinaichigo's actions, her consequence, now rested with Kirakishou.
And, yet, Salem believed herself deserving of praise.
"Thank you~" Kirakishou answered with a wide smile, voicing her appreciation to Hinaichigo. As the poor little doll was not in the room, however, Salem chose instead to believe herself the recipient of Kirakishou's words, as she had known the Witch would in the end.
It was so very interesting, knowing the future. Thousands upon thousands of visions, endlessly flooding and restructuring in response to even the slightest deviations. Were it not for the grand efforts of her seedlings, Kirakishou may very well have been at a disadvantage.
Naturally, her pure self would opt to negate the crown's effects once the Relic had served its purpose. Knowing every event of her time with her beloved appeared to limit the enjoyment of the action, and the only worthwhile timeline was one in which Kirakishou chose to stop using the crown. It had taken an unfortunate amount of time to discover that facet of her future.
"You're most welcome," Salem inclined her head. "However, now we come to the crux of the matter. I did not choose to return you to Remnant out of the goodness of my heart, so to speak. I would have a request for you if you are willing to hear it."
She'd heard Salem's request dozens of times, each phrased a little differently. She quite enjoyed the ones where she requested the Witch deliver her request in the form of a song, or in the form of poetic couplets. Salem was a terrible artist for one that had lived for so very long. Although, it could be said that failure was a success of its own.
And to achieve the failure she desired, she needed to speak the appropriate words at the correct times, lest Kirakishou finds herself forced to expend more aura than she would like to use at the current time.
"A pure rose would be remiss not to listen to your request, after everything that you have done for her," Kirakishou playfully spoke, moving closer toward the bubble and, thus, closer toward Salem herself.
The Lady of the Dark stepped forward. Those that followed her stilled in the movements and stifled their growls.
"I only ask one thing of you. The reason why I have done all of this and sacrificed all that I have to bring you before me in this grand moment. You may do what you wish with the Alice Game, whether it be to rend this world or rule over the ashes, only if you fulfil my request."
She gave a tilt to her head, blonde tresses idly falling to the side of the bubble, where they were quickly repelled away. She stepped back once, to prevent a repeat occurrence.
"And what exactly would a woman like you wish for a pure rose to grant? What would deign such an expenditure of resources? What vexes you, Salem? What do you want?"
She allowed herself to remain silent, staring, as she watched the woman reveal her heart to her. She did not like this woman, for all that Salem had done to Hinaichigo and for how far she had gone to achieve her hopes and dreams. All of this senseless sacrifice had been a result of the Witch's folly, of her misunderstanding the information presented to her by the Alice Game, by Father, and by Laplace-no-ma. Hundreds of tiny decisions and countless thoughts had all come together, piece by piece, to culminate in this singular moment in time.
And Salem was wrong. She was wrong about everything.
It started off as just a simple little lilted chuckle. A broken tone on a withered note bordering on absurdity, before abruptly mounting into a crescendo of uproarious laughter as the full weight hit her, her physical body collapsing to the ground in sheer overwhelmed mirth. She fell to her sides, rolling around on the floor and clutching her stomach area in utter amusement.
"...That!~ After everything!" Kirakishou struggled to so much as speak correctly as the culmination of the visions offered by the Relic of Choice led her to this single stupid moment. "Everything that you've done! All of the work, all of the magic, all of the loss! And you wish for that?! Oh, that's so, so, perfect!"
The Witch did not respond, neither frowning nor glaring as she had in previous visions, remaining as stoic as a statue as Kirakishou fought to get a hold of her mirth. Her hands came up to clutch her cheeks, as her ball joints pushed Kirakishou back up into a sitting position with her back to the bubble. The magic imbued in what Kirakishou knew to be Salem's barrier spell violently thrashed against her, yet the sheer amount of aura flooding through her physical body negated any consequence of the action.
"I fail to see the humour of the situation. Kill me, and you are free to do what you wish with Remnant."
"Salem," Kirakishou shook her head, stifled giggles forcing her to shake ever so slightly, "you never really understood my powers, did you?"
"I am aware of your powers," Salem retorted immediately, crossing her arms. "The more you kill, the stronger you become. Upon your arrival in Vale, you already had amassed a small number of individuals, which proved sufficient enough to overpower Cinder Fall. Upon the loss of Vale at the end of the Vytal Festival Tournament, seven hundred thousand lives were extinguished. If my calculations are correct, you alone would be the strongest individual in all of Remnant through sheer aura alone."
Misinformation truly was the killer of reason, Kirakishou mused to herself. She could only imagine what would have happened if the likes of Suigintou or Shinku had been contracted to a member of Salem's inner circle, or to the Witch herself. Were it not for the purity of Hinaichigo and her immense desire for friendship and playtime, her interaction with Salem could have transpired entirely differently to how it was going at the moment.
Kirakishou stood up. Her sceptre flared with power as the crystalline cap glowed a vibrant hue. "I do believe you would be surprised to hear that a rose has never done… that to any of those that have fought against her. They all yet live, slumbering peacefully deep within my Palace of Beginnings. All seven hundred thousand of them~"
Salem stared at her, eyes widening ever so slightly in surprise. An emotion that the woman had no doubt not experienced for quite some time. A moment later and her crimson eyes flared violently, as dark magic wafted off her body in a response to her anger. The beasts of dark swarming the room growled in response, while the geist condensed around her magical barrier tightened its grip.
Her sceptre shone, as a torrent of aura forced its way into the world from her Palace of Beginnings, using the crystalline edge as a medium. The atmosphere inside the bubble soon found itself suffused with a menagerie of collected aura, thickening and thickening until it hardened around the edge of the barrier. She could no longer see Salem, but she could hear her voice.
"No matter. If you will not obey, then you shall be forced inter servitude. I summoned you back into the material world, and I can force you to return to the immaterial world!"
It was fascinating. Through all of Salem's knowledge, all of her obsession with returning Kirakishou to the material world and using her gratitude to wish for her own demise of all things, the Witch never understood the Alice Game that all the Rozen Maiden are unwittingly forced to participate in. The Alice Game held a single rule.
To the victor, go the spoils.
The pink little artificial spirit once belonging to Hinaichigo was now hers for use, as was Hinaichigo's rosa mystica. Through Salem's quest to summon Kirakishou, she inadvertently acted as an agent of Kirakishou and defeated Hinaichigo on her behalf. And, while poor Hinaichigo's rosa mystica was inoperable at the current time, depleted in order to bring Kirakishou into the material world, her artificial spirit held no such limitation.
The artificial spirit appeared outside Salem's barrier, and with a single push of her intent, tore through the barrier with little difficulty. Kirakishou's gathered aura rushed out in a wave of motion, repelling the gathered beasts of dark while Salem herself conjured a hasty crimson barrier to protect her body from the kinetic force.
With her connection to the material world now fully established thanks to the destruction of Salem's mystical summoning barrier, Kirakishou called forth once again. This time, she called to a connection she had held since the very crafting of her own rosa mystica so very long ago.
Her own artificial spirit manifested beside Berrybell, the two spirits floating beside her as Kirakishou waved her sceptre in a quick motion, sprouting forth a thin sliver of crystalline wall that proved sufficient in strength to repel Salem's bout of dark magic. She had known that the surprise attack was coming, of course, the crown had foreseen it.
The beasts of dark recovered from their collision with her tidal wave of aura, as a mass of dark raced towards her, guided by Salem's unseen hand. Through the guidance of their master, they proved to be ferocious creatures, sacrificing themselves en masse as Kirakishou conjured a multitude of crystalline spikes to repel the creatures.
A quick gathering of aura in her hands diffused the bolt of electrical magic sent her way by Salem, arcing the electricity to a grounding point summoned by her N-Field. The Witch appeared surprised by both her sudden defence and the measure that was already in place to prevent it, having not expected Kirakishou to have prepared for such an attack. She still did not understand that Kirakishou had tamed the Relic of Choice, hidden away beneath Kirakishou's illusions as it was.
All the Witch saw was a simple outfit, nothing more.
"You are an adept opponent, but a pure rose shall not allow the growth of her garden to be hindered by your corruption."
Salem frowned, telekinetically pulling forth a chunk of Kirakishou's own crystal and flinging it at her. She smiled at the motion, exerting her own dominion over the crystal and halting its movement in mid-air. A beat later and the same chunk of crystal was sent flying over toward Salem, who blasted the crystal with a burst of her magic, shattering it in a display of raw magical power. The shards rained down on Salem, ripping into her skin, while the Witch merely ignored the damage as her body quickly regenerated.
It was so very interesting. Viewing as many timeliness of this fight as she had, Kirakishou had not taken into account how she would feel during the midst of the event. For Kirakishou, it was the first major battle that she had experienced ever since her battle with Ozpin at the end of the Vytal Festival Tournament. The Headmaster of Beacon Academy had chosen to end his own life rather than accept a spot in her Palace of Beginnings, and his soul had miraculously floated away from her grasp.
A pure rose could not help but wonder, would it be different with Salem?
When Salem completed her regeneration, the Witch conjured forth a dark red circle beneath Kirakishou's feet, as a multitude of hands belonging to summoned beasts of dark sprung forth with the intent to restrain her pure self. Kirakishou pouted at the notion, disliking the idea of such a creature ever grasping her form, instead allowing for the mass of auric energy to suffuse the surface of her physical form and repel the beasts. The creatures twitched and writhed as they came into contact with the aura, finding the environment to be inhospitable for their wilted forms, quickly disintegrating into nothingness and shattering Salem's summoning circle.
"How very fascinating," Salem mused, propelling herself upwards in a whirlwind of conjured magical strength. "You are capable of accessing the combined aura of your gathered souls, hmm? A dangerous ability."
"More a by-product, than anything else," Kirakishou shrugged helplessly, spinning her sceptre and flooding the room with more aura. "My Palace of Beginnings requires an immense amount of strength in order to grow, and my seedlings provide more than enough. The rest is mere leftovers, in a sense. Excess wholly unnecessary for the continuation of my pure self. But even leftovers have their uses~"
A beam of auric energy ripped forth from her sceptre, pouring out of the crystalline end and racing towards Salem. The Witch responded quickly, veering her magical tornado to the side and effectively dodging the strike, only for the beam to reflect against a piece of crystalline debris from one of Kirakishou's earlier attacks and strike the Witch in the side, shearing through a portion of her garment and sending the immortal flying out of a nearby broken window.
Kirakishou idly walked towards the broken windows, peering over the ledge to stare at the crater formed by Salem's sudden descent. The power granted by the Relic of Choice was indeed quite powerful. However, even the relic when bolstered by her own pure design had its limits, as evidenced by a beast of dark that had tackled her pure form and sent her careening down and outside the castle walls.
A shame. Her curiosity had gotten the better of her. She had been interested to see where Salem had landed, as the precise location hadn't been shown in the Crown's vision. Instead, her action had sent her joining the Witch on the ground.
With the flick of a finger, the beast of dark relentlessly attacking her fallen figure was rendered asunder, and the damages to her outfit were repaired.
A moment's hesitation and a beam of dark energy struck her.
A moment without hesitation and Kirakishou propelled herself backward with a hasty growth of crystal beneath her collapsed body, narrowly avoiding a beam of dark energy sent her way by Salem.
Manoeuvring her body in mid-air, she compelled a rapid growth vines that burst from the ground and supported her physical frame. The vines pulled her down to the earth, where she stepped down into a solid standing position, looking no worse for wear than before when she had first been reintegrated into the world of Remnant.
Kirakishou smiled. Even now, the Relic of Choice continued to prove its usefulness. The visions continued to prove themselves incredibly overwhelming to even the strongest mind, yet when split apart and assessed by over half a million minds, they proved far easier to comprehend.
"Impressive work with the decorum," Kirakishou complimented as she looked around at the terrain, her lone slit amber eye trailing around at the corrupt terrain that had been influenced by Salem's dark powers. "Your control over your domain is impressive, and the beasts of dark appear eager to serve your every whim. However, a pure rose finds herself disinterested in your design choices, nor the pets she chooses to associate with in her spare time."
Salem frowned, purple spheres of dark magical power floating around the Witch's blackened form. "You must be aware that what we are doing is pointless. Your strength may be vast, but nothing short of a complete and total death shall stop me. Your only option is to either submit to my demands or remain locked in a perpetual battle with me, forever unable to enjoy the attentions of your beloved Master."
She giggled at the very thought of such nonsense while pale white vines continued to grow around her, as her previous compulsion of the N-Field remained intact. Kirakishou would admit that the information Salem alluded to was indeed rather daunting, as the idea of being able to spent time with Ruby Rose was an unacceptable outcome. However, the vision granted to her by the Relic of Choice had alluded to a future in which Salem's words were nothing but an idle fantasy- a folly of an immortal Witch seeking her own impossible outcome.
And Kirakishou knew that what Salem desired was completely unattainable. Even with all of her power, and with her abilities bolstered by the Witch's own magic, Kirakishou could never permanently end Salem and her dark influence over Remnant. The Relic of Choice had revealed such truth to her time and time again, whenever Kirakishou grew impatient with their battle and attempted to find a permanent solution in many of the hypothetical futures.
"Perhaps~" Kirakishou gave a little helpless shrug, before breaking out into tiny giggles that she fought to contain. "However! I do believe that my solution is far more likely. Now, Witch of Dark, tell this to a pure rose; what is your most pleasant dream? Would you like to find out?"
Before Salem could respond, Kirakishou twisted her compulsion on the world and crystalline growths burst from the ground, teal in colour and rapidly growing to roughly double her own height. Beasts of dark rushed from the nearby area in defence of their chosen master, as Salem prepared a burst of dark magic, the purple orbs surrounding her all condensing into a single thick sphere that crackled with sinister intent. Kirakishou giggled adoringly at the sight, sending the crystals thundering toward Salem and her loyal beasts with a flare of her own power.
The two abilities clashed in mid-air, dark and crystal tearing at each other for dominance, as shards of fragmented power rained down on the beasts as they attempted to threaten her pure form. Howls and roars were silenced as the beasts were returned to nothing, while Kirakishou found herself thrown away by a gale of magically enhanced wind. She called upon her powers once more, using her sceptre as a focus as the crystalline core released aura tangible enough to slow Kirakishou's movement, before her pale vines caught up to her pure form and pulled her back to the ground.
A flare of intent later and Kirakishou was sent high in the air towards Salem in a vast leap of strength. The Witch reacted quickly with a dark-aligned electrical discharge, to which Kirakishou avoided through her foreknowledge, having bent her body at the appropriate time so as to dodge the strike. She crashed down onto the ground with an aura-enriched flare, slamming her sceptre deep into the earth and unleashing a mass alteration. The world shuddered as crystals erupted from the ground around her in a circular pattern, suffusing the world around Kirakishou in a beautiful teal hue.
Salem leapt in the air to avoid the outburst of crystal, while the beasts of dark left standing during their battle weren't nearly as nimble as their master, being impaled on her crystalline growths and soon fading away into nothingness as the crystals continued to grow.
Higher and higher they grew, circling around the general vicinity surrounding Kirakishou and Salem until all the two could see was a brilliant dome-like enclosure of crystal that grew high up into the sky, where the structure sealed itself off and blocked the sky from view. Crystals grew from the walls in various places, while white vines threaded themselves across the walls and bounced across the air like a beautiful spider's web, creating several layers of connected surfaces.
"Impressive, choosing to isolate me from the grimm," Salem commented with a wry smirk, the Witch's crimson eyes gleaming with sinister intent. "However powerful your abilities, they will not save you. In fact, you have only doomed yourself. There will be no leaving this enclosure without fulfilling my dream."
"Dream, you say?~" Kirakishou smiled pleasantly. She leaped up onto her vines, while Salem mimicked the movement with a burst of magical wind. The two stood on separate sides of the dome, balancing on her vines. "How very fitting, Salem. Yes, you shall accomplish your dream. Over and over again."
The Witch paused, before her smirk shifted into a disturbed frown. "You wish to confine me in the N-Field like some baseline human? That's your master plan?"
She giggled at the tone. So very disbelieving. "A simple plan, I would admit. But, quite effective on one such as yourself. Within the N-Field, you shall dream of your pleasant end, over and over again. And you'll be so very happy. I'll make sure of it!"
"Dreams are nothing but a delusion of the mind. I will not be so foolish as to fall for whatever illusion you choose to conjure in your N-Field."
She had been waiting to hear those words. She had been thinking up the best response to them for quite some time, now.
"Ah~ But that's where you're wrong. It's not going to be my N-Field that holds you, but theirs."
Twin giggles were heard, as the crystals growing from the ceiling shattered and a figure escaped its confines, falling down to stand beside Kirakishou. Conjoined dolls, bound together and bound again. This time, with some upgrades.
Judica and Madulin.
"Sister, sister~ She looks so confused!" Judica sang with a lilted note of amusement, giggling and shifting as her conjoined twin sister rocked along with the moment.
"Sister, sister~ She reminds me of Suigintou! A failure, through and through!" Madulin opted to rhyme, drawing further giggles from the gaggle of dolls, both Judica and Kirakishou herself.
The conjoined dolls were wearing their original tattered dress, long since restored by Kirakishou following its destruction at the hands of Suigintou. The N-Field had watched their demise and Kirakishou had learned of all they had endured. With the enduring melody of the Relic of Choice, Kirakishou had discovered that Judica and Madulin were the keys to defeating Salem when her beloved Master wasn't nearby.
A stopgap solution, in essence, but still a solution nonetheless.
With a nod to the girls, they separated, vines and bodies shifting as extremities grew to fulfil the roles the conjoined partner had once fulfilled. One became two, as Judica and Madulin stood on either side of Kirakishou, staring down Salem with matching smiles on all three of their faces.
She wondered about the look on Salem's face. Disgust? No. Displeasure? No. It seemed to Kirakishou to be more a cold antipathy, a generalised disinterest with the slightest little negative note creeping in. Of course, she wasn't at all the best at identifying emotions in humans that did not interest her, and Salem was by no means an interesting individual.
Her history with Summer Rose notwithstanding, Kirakishou wouldn't even be going to all the effort to capture her if she could avoid it. The woman did not deserve to slumber inside the N-Field, even the N-Field belonging to Judica and Madulin. Her memories would cause nothing but pain to Summer Rose, and the knowledge of all that her Mother had gone through would injure Ruby Rose in a way that Kirakishou simply could not allow to occur.
Thus, Salem would be removed, and the memories she held of Summer Rose would fade away. She would ensure to advise Summer Rose about the dangers of learning about Salem's involvement in her death, of course, as the Relic of Choice had predicted that failing to do so would inevitable cause strife down the line. A similar event would occur with Ruby Rose, so Kirakishou would ensure that her beloved Master was aware of her Mother's ailment once they were back together.
"...You are capable of creating new dolls. Fascinating. However, I fail to see how those two will accomplish that which you have not accomplished on your own."
Kirakishou giggled. "It's not that I didn't accomplish it. It's that I knew what would happen if I did," she gestured to the crown nestled within her hair, briefly allowing the illusion to flicker just long even for the Witch to recognise the true identity of the crown. "You see, I just couldn't ignore the advice offered by the Relic of Choice. Quite the interesting little tool, isn't it?"
Salem's eyes shone with hate as the woman charged. Judica and Madulin responded swiftly, both dolls dashing forward with their captured speed semblance to meet the Witch head on while Kirakishou summoned a multitude of white vines to grow from the mechanical limbs of the twin formerly-conjoined dolls. The Witch launched a dark ball of energy at the dolls as they approached, only for Judica and Madulin to switch to their captured projection semblance, using a bolt of summoned auric energy to block the projectile.
With a blast of speed, the twin dolls crashed into Salem's body, sending the Witch rocketing back. Vines shifted and grew from the twin dolls bodies as Kirakishou spread her influence, guiding the hands of her two little helpers. Judica and Madulin shot her a look as they noticed her movements and understood them for what they were, pleasant tiny smiles of gratitude apparent on their faces that drew a smile of her own in return.
"Now~ You simply must have noticed, Salem, but one of my previous attacks lodged a variety of crystals in your body. You may have healed the damage, but the crystals are still there," the Witch tensed at her words, narrowing her eyes as she fought to cut down the vines growing over her body. "These crystals shall serve as a guide for Judica and Madulin. They are new to the wide world of gardening and thus require guidance just like any burgeoning rose. I do hope that you enjoy the N-Field, Salem."
She stared at the Witch.
There really wasn't any point in talking anymore.
The Witch was asleep.
It fascinated her. Salem could have fought back. Easily. She could have destroyed her connection with Judica and Madulin as it was being forged, but she didn't. She could have fought back, but she wouldn't.
Because she was defeated. And even though Kirakishou had followed the path laid out by the Relic of Choice to the letter, she couldn't understand why Salem had chosen against fighting her in the end. Everything she had said, everything she had done, it had all been so very strange. So very…
Kirakishou pulled the crown out of her hair. She stared at it.
"Are you okay?" Madulin walked over to her, the Witch was long forgotten as the twin doll instead chose to focus her attention upon Kirakishou herself. Madulin's sister, Judica, was following beside her. Both dolls appeared concerned.
"...I… I don't like this. I just want to be with Master, but this crown…"
"What about it?" Judica asked, cocking her head to the side.
"What about it?" Madulin repeated, cocking her head to the side, and inadvertently knocking her head against her own sister. The dolls both yelped, clutching their heads and pouting at each other.
She had known that it was going to happen. It was supposed to be a funny moment. She had even giggled at it, in the vision she had. But… she couldn't giggle now that she was experiencing it firsthand. Observation of the event, and knowledge of the event occuring beforehand, had ruined it when she witnessed it in the present time.
She wanted to be able to giggle again. To laugh and smile and be happy. But, truly. Like she had when she was with her Master.
And the only way to do that was to ensure she followed the correct set of steps. She needed to follow the precise course of action, or else everything would be ruined and the Alice Game would begin again. Over and over again.
She just… she just…
Kirakishou gave a smile, one she did not feel, as she placed the crown back on her head. Her vast N-Field, fully materialised and swelling with burgeoning seedlings whose dreams allowed her to grow, was soon flooded with fresh information.
She knew what she had to do.