While Luka was busy ignoring the fact that the Pocket Castle was already thoroughly populated by a large panel of monsters, humans and angels, Reaper was busy in Hades trying to clean the strange crystal tree that was made from Luka's condensed memories of one of his partners. She focused on removing any corrupted fragment, but the cleaning operation required extreme care and a lot of time. Well, it's not like she had anything better to do for now...
After clearing yet another small fragment, Reaper took a look at her work as the latter transformed into a wolf girl. Her left hand was still shimmering periodically before she transformed back into a crystal tree. After slightly more trimming, the tree turned into a wolf girl again, and Reaper took a look at her work to confirm her task was complete.
"Seven down." Reaper checked behind her, looking at the large mineral forest behind her. "Only three-hundred and sixty more to go…"
"Yep!" A ringing noise escaped from one of Rabbit's numerous pockets. She proceeded to pull up an oversized watch and yelped. "He's almost in Iliasburg! I'm late! See ya!"
The white-furred monster jumped from the platform and disappeared while Reaperresumed her work.
After what felt like an eternity, she felt a slight change in her environment. At first, it was only an unpleasant shift that somehow reminded her of the White Rabbit's antics, but the latter was currently guiding Luka and his companions through the ruins of Ilias Temple.
After a while, the anomaly became clearer and more concrete. Several other unrelated dimensions were trying to connect to this one. Reaper checked around the world and saw an anomaly in the ruins of Lima involving the White Rabbit and a strange succubus. Somehow, the latter teleported the both of them in a strange land, completely ignored the attack of the White Rabbit, and knocked her out with a single wave of raw pleasure. Then the strange succubus summoned more of her kin from other dimensions.
Reaper shook her head and sighed in frustration. That event hadn't happened before... did her own powers grow weak after so many time resetting the adventures of the hero? Or was it because the White Rabbit spent too much time playing around?
She examined the monsters summoned by that succubus named Est. That hedonist was apparently unaware of the danger her presence and her plan to bring everyone pleasure caused. The power of her partners would also make them valid threats to the hero. Then just as Reaper thought that this unexpected development couldn't get worse, one of the monsters transformed into the White Rabbit and disappeared. For the first time since long, Reaper was impressed and uncertain of the outcome of the crisis. As if to reassure her, she felt a narrative echo as heroes from other worlds were teleported in to fight against their nemesis. She felt their soul connect to the network of this world.
Reaper nodded. As long as she fulfilled her own task, they would be successful.
"...Listen, child of the holy bird who has yet to hatch in this world. One whose wings are free to soar over the sky... Now wake, Garuda!"
The next instant, a large bird-like creature with the upper torso of a woman appeared at the center of the Holy Wings Shrine, happily flapping her wings.
Luka looked at the monster extremely impressed. She was absolutely massive and gave out a reassuring, solid aura that made it clear she wouldn't disappear or toss him out on a whim.
"Well, we can finally go to Hellgondo and end this war once and for all…"
"Huuuh, sorry to remind you, but we will have to make a few other stops first. Our new partners did ask for our help, after all."
"Hurgh, damn kitsunes…"
"Then again, if they help us getting in Hellgondo and inside the Monster Lord's Castle more smoothly…"
The moment Luka touched the monster to climb on her back, he suddenly felt his head spinning as elation and confusion mixed in his brain. He felt more free of a burden than ever. Was it because he now had a flying monster to allow him to reach places that used to be hidden beyond his grasp? His moment of weakness didn't go unnoticed by his companions.
"What? Don't tell us you're afraid to go to Hellgondo? Some hero you are…"
"That's not quite it…" Luka shook his head to clear his thoughts as he climbed the monster. "Nevermind, let's go."
When the monster took off, the hero felt like a large numbers of problems were left behind. His brain wandered on what had happened then, when strange images of suffering filled his mind. The altar broken, the world dying… Was it an echo from a different world like back in Iliasburg?
The hero shrugged. He had no reason to focus on the past for now.
Luka's legs were swaying over the void as he was sitting on the stone floor of Hades. He periodically grabbed a pebble to throw it into the nothingness below him. The strange rite lasted for several minutes before the White Rabbit arrived behind him.
"A hard loss to accept, isn't it?"
Luka shrugged. "I knew it before I joined them. My world wouldn't be saved by those idiots. I did my mourning a long time ago."
"Wait, you mean you-"
"Yes, I now remember everything I did in the past. All my adventures, the numerous failures, all the deaths on the road…" He threw yet another small pebble into the void. "Not exactly for nothing I suppose. But I'm still disappointed by the behavior of my new allies. I had still hoped for better from them..." Luka shook his head negatively. "Wish upon a star..."
A heavy silence fell between both of them.
"So what are you going to do now then?"
"I'll continue my adventure, why? I mean, sure, they suck, but they're powerful, and they're also the best hope I'll ever have to take down Black Alice right now. All the others already failed, but I guess I'll just push forward with them. It's just an intermediate step before I reach my own goals."
The White Rabbit fell back on the ground as she exhaled, relieved. "You scared me for a minute. I thought you were going to give up on everything once again..."
"I just needed a break from my new allies. No matter what they tell me, I feel that I need to be constantly on guard around them."
"I can't blame you on that one."
After a few more minutes of contemplation, Luka carefully got up and dusted himself. "But I'm glad you're here, I wanted to do one last thing before continuing, and I needed you for that one."
The White Rabbit's ears perked up in curiosity.
"I wanted to thank you. You guided me and supported me unconditionally no matter how counter-productive my choices were. You accompanied me in my darkest hours, and I don't think I'd have been able to go so far if it wasn't for you."
"D'aaaawww. You're so touching! We just want the same thing after all! But still, you should also go thank Reaper. I mean, she keep bringing your ass back every time you screw up after all."
"You're right." Luka tapped his chin with a finger. "I'm probably going to ask my newest partner for some company. I have the feeling I'll meet Reaper just afterward."
Luka chuckled. "What? I do remember a few lessons on appreciating those moments of tranquility. I would lie if I said I wasn't interested in that when I recruit more companions. I mean, have you seen them?" He moved his hands up on down in front of his head."
The hero started making his way to the magic circle, but stopped himself midway. "And you? You don't want to join me once and for all? I'd appreciate your support now more than ever."
The White Rabbit pondrered his words for a moment before answering. "…Later. I will join you eventually, but the time isn't right yet."
Luka felt disappointed, but relented. His memories of the past disasters were still too recent to ignore them.
"Fine by me. See you then."
The hero stepped away with his mind at ease. He was clearly a pawn in the hands of a bunch of egomaniacs right now, but this didn't prevent him to keep his plans for his own agenda in motion. Nor did it prevent him to appreciate the pleasures they offered. Ultimately, everyone would be under his banner to save the world from Black Alice, no matter how long he had to keep pushing for it. He owed it to every good person that had fought and offered their lives, who helped him while asking for nothing in return but for him to continue being a hero. He would fight everyone standing in his way, and help all those that asked him because he could and because he wanted to.
And then he would save all the worlds.
And on that note the end of the NG+ story. As a whole, I enjoyed this trip, although I didn't initially expect it would be quite as long. I didn't initially consider developing the collab (mostly because I started and planned my whole story long before anybody knew about it), and I won't delve into this, simply because I'm waiting for the full translation to come out to experience it on my own. I also did initially consider developing part 3 more, but it would just be another "golden ending theory", so I prefer to keep both as a footnote rather than go on a slog that would go on as an attempt at establishing THAT.
I want to thank everyone who supported me, in particular Fish on Land for the advices. This was quite a ride, and I'm pretty sure a few of you are disappointed that Promestein/Granberia/Your favorite character didn't get more screen time, but I wanted the focus to remain on Luka and I already felt that I was trying to squeeze a little too many characters in and a little too hard while trying to balance humor, drama and action... And that's not even getting started into sheer INSANITY that is MGQ Paradox (I hope I managed to highlight it enough and correctly). There was a lot of stuff that I barely grazed from the tip of the finger, all simply because I was afraid cramming more intrigues would have resulted in the fic becoming a colossal mess. And also because the focus was on Luka's relations with denizens related directly or indirectly to the "Angel World" or "Monster World".
I'll probably have more interactions between characters in the Pocket Castle side stories, including some for the collab.
What now? Well, I will get started on my next story VERY soon. And by that I mean the prologue is coming out next Saturday. It's already written. Both parts (because yes, it's a monstrosity). After my small poll from a few months back, I decided to get started on the "Succubus Fantasy" anime aftermath with a full blown arrival of the Six Ancestors in the original world, since it's the only one that garnered more than one person's interest. (Sorry to all the others, I'll probably make another poll for my following story when the next one will be over).
The update rhythm will also be a bit slower (Once every week instead of twice), because I want to make sure to take the time to re-read everything several times instead of correcting everything a few months down the road like I just did. Spending hours re-reading yourself while repeating "oh FFS how did I let that mistake slip through" is a bit of a frustrating experience.
A few minor spoilers on the next fanfic. While the Ancestors will throw their weight around, they won't be quite the cruel "Monster World" blog posts version since they'll have some form of respect for humanity as the latter mostly abandoned its faith in Ilias. Still doesn't mean they will be nice, though, but not quite "kicking puppies for lulz." Not all of them anyway.
Last, if you've got any questions, advice and/or criticism beyond "BAAAD", I'll gladly welcome it and answer to the best of my abilities.
Have a nice week!