Chapter 35: Origins
The interior of the room was completely bare aside from a single stone coffin placed directly in the center, the material smooth and seamless as Narvas revised his initial assumption. Not a room, a tomb.
The rest was just as strange, channels of light and shifting illumination lacing the walls in a pattern that reminded the man quite a bit of a neural network, something along the lines of a Human nervous system.
"Okay, what's up with this whole ensemble? Something like this shouldn't really exist since neuroscience isn't exactly a hot topic at this particular turning point in history."
Slowly advancing to the foot of the tombstone Narvas narrowed his eyes in contemplation, the only decoration being an inscription on the thing that caught him off guard with how unexpected it was.
"Oh, right. My name-"
Vertigo hit Narvas like a punch to the gut, the Claw hero latching onto the construct with a vice-like grip as he grit his teeth, skull pulsating with a foreign pressure that left him sucking down ragged gulps of breath.
"My name isn't Kiyoshi, it's Narvas. Narvas Taylan!"
"Fucking goddamit why do you always take dad's side, Darell?! I'm your brother, does that not count for shit or something?!"
"I haven't taken anyone's side, it's just that the two of you are ALWAYS dragging me into your battles when I'm just trying not to get caught up in it! I don't care about what either of you-"
"Oh well isn't this a familiar sight! The centrist little bitch too scared to stand up for anything he believes in, cutting and running anytime anyone forces him to make a decision!"
Zhua worriedly spoke to him - whoever he was - but the Vassal Claw's words were distant, muffled and sounding as if they came from a mile away, the male convulsing and retching up clear fluid as he doubled over, eyes squeezed shut as a migraine of killer intensity tore through his brain, mind feeling like it was trying to go three separate directions at once and leaving him feeling...less. As if he wasn't who he'd thought he'd once been.
"What...what the fuck is-"
Today is the day...today's the day that I finally get to prove to my goddess that I'm the one who will bring about our grandest ambition, who will bring about a true resurgence of the order that should have stayed...and death will hold no sway over me.
"You're always going on and on about how I'm the stain in the family, the one who keeps fucking up as if it's my fault that you were never there to provide the discipline you get off on jerking right into our faces!"
"You wouldn't know responsibility and discipline if it danced in front of your face! Why can't you be more like your brother, did growing up alongside him do nothing positive for you?!"
"That spineless little fuck?! He hasn't tried to argue, fight or struggle for anything his whole life!"
"Heroes, please! Save this world!"
...Huh? What the hell? No seriously, what just happened? I was reading that manga about those legendary heroes or whatever - the ones with the four weapons - and then the ground shook and I think the ceiling cracked a little bit…
"Lord Hero? Are you well?"
My gaze travels to my side, an unremarkable and simple shield with a glowing gem set in the middle innocently gazing back up at me as a slow, sick certainty sets within.
This is real.
He threw himself headfirst against the tombstone, hoping the impact would clear his mind and cursing as it did nothing, another round of dry heaving leaving him gasping wetly for air as past, future and present blurred together in an unidentifiable and convoluted mess, the timeline of things - all three things - causing Narvas/Darell/Kiyoshi to tremble uncontrollably, chills wracking his form even as a fever that felt as if it was going to immolate his body raged.
"I...I thought I was myself, not three of us?"
[Master, please! Focus on what-]
"You need to make something of yourself, Darell. Your brother is wasting his life and isn't going to amount to anything once all is said and done, nothing good ever happens to people like him."
[You realize this is a true death for you, yes? The mind of Narvas Taylan will be gone, everything you have done and experienced subsumed in its near entirety to make way for the new?]
A fierce smile pulls at my lips, words firm as I answer my goddess with, "I never expected anything less. As long as I may serve and honor you with my life and body then I will march to this end with my head held high."
This world isn't anything like what I came to expect from a fantasy setting. It's too brutal, too visceral...too real.
A reality that has me helplessly standing off to the side as a mother and son - both with racoon ears and tails adorning their malnourished bodies - are whipped and punished to the disgusting approval of those that stand right next to me, their only crime being 'stealing' bread that was to be tossed away, for attempting the audacity of self-sufficiency in a world that would rather see them dead.
A frightened tone and tender hand quickly wraps around my own, a glance to the side revealing Fitoria obviously worried and distressed by my own, wide pink eyes quivering with unease.
I force myself to smile even as an agonized, blood curdling shriek leaves the mother shortly after the latest crack of the whip sounds out, voice tight as I respond,"It's fine, Fitoria. C'mon, let's get out of here."
...I need to do something. But what? The Bow hero already tried to free slaves a month back and that made it even worse, since people went right back out and recaptured them all over alongside even more innocents, since they followed the slaves home.
My mood plummets even further as I lament my relative powerlessness to stop these kinds of crimes.
Something...there has to be something!
"I...no, we...we were Fitoria's master...we were - no, I was - the...the…"
Rolling unsteadily to his feet the Claw hero stumbled to the tombstone, bloody tears leaking from his eyes as the veins atop his head pulsed in time with the excruciating headache he was undergoing as he collapsed against the structure.
"Kiyoshi Masami. That...that was the name of the soul that was here. The one that I am? But...but which are-"
Body finally collapsing the male slumped over, vision going dark-
-and found himself blinking away imaginary and forgotten pain, facing down a pair of individuals that faced him with composed expressions. One was the physical body he'd inhabited, the one he'd made use of as the Claw hero. The other was a Japanese young man with a humble but handsome appearance and small shield attached to his arm, smiling reassuringly.
"...What the hell is all of this? I get it, there's more to this whole deal than just 'me' but, well...Seriously, what the fuck?"
The physical body he'd resided in as Narvas Taylan crossed its arms, calmly speaking to him in 'his' own voice with, "It's simple. I offered up my physical body to serve as the host of true heroes that would bring about my goddess's fondest wish, a world where that usurper Medea holds no sway. The two of you are the result of that."
Kiyoshi nodded in agreement, stating, "You know who I am, Darell. You've been dealing with my memories for awhile now, Yugioh knowledge and sense of humor all. The Shield Hero-"
"That hatched and raised Fitoria, I know. But then why didn't she know about any of...whatever the fuck this all is?"
Sighing quietly the Shield hero explained, "During the final months of my life I couldn't help but wonder if I'd done everything I could to make the world a better place, laid the proper groundwork for it to remain as relatively peaceful and calm as I like to think it was...and what of Fitoria? Would she be able to withstand the loneliness of the following years, decades...even centuries? I had companions that would live long lives but they had their own responsibilities to attend to."
A nostalgic expression appeared on the man's features.
"It was then that one of Xephina's followers approached me with an offer that could hopefully answer every single one of my worries...especially after I learned the truth of Medea, that this world would never know true peace until she was dead and gone."
Certainty replaced reminiscence.
"I knew what had to be done. Offer up my soul to the order so that it could be preserved and protected until a time when it may inhabit the body of a true hero, not the aspirant that I ended up being. That's you."
Darell scoffed, bitterly responding, "Hero...what a word. I just brutally murdered countless people in the pursuit of godhood, might as well just slap a toga on me and slot me in next to all the Greek-"
"What's worse? To willingly and personally slaughter thousands with the best of intentions or to unwillingly and ignorantly lead to the deaths of millions despite the best of intentions? Possibly tens of millions, once the Guardian Beasts were finished."
The meeker man fell silent, one hand rubbing his skull while quietly mumbling, "I really should have known it was you, what with the meta-knowledge and everything. It explains why I felt so familiar with Fitoria, all the memories and habits that I never had in my old life...the courage."
Sirens, smoke, fire...a haze of flashing red and blue as people ran to and fro, warm liquid seeping through his fingers as he tried to keep the officer alive, fear and adrenaline racing through his system as a staccato roar of weapons fire pounded against his ears, something hitting and flattening him against the road as it all went dark.
The crushing weight of water and pressure was a soothing balm to Narvas, contentment flowing through his nerves as the last hours played out, a final cleansing of both body and mind in preparation for what was to come causing a satisfied smile to pull at his lips. Soon...soon he would pave the way for something great.
Faces. Faces of companions and loved ones both, all of them staring down at him with features running a full range of expression and emotion. Tenderness, regret, sadness, satisfaction, comradery, reverence...Sylviana - pointed ears drooped in what they knew was a goodbye long in coming - holding onto one of his hands as Fitoria desperately clutched the other, trying valiantly and failing to conceal her tears and heartbroken expression.
...He always knew how she'd felt, had always danced around the issue since it brought so many conflicting emotions into what had once been a simple relationship. She had grown from the simple-minded and innocent soul just freshly hatched from an egg, grown into a woman with her own mind, drive and - even though it was hard to sometimes tell - maturity.
How he wished he could tell her that he wasn't going away forever, that he would one day be back...but what was crueler? To give her a hope that might not be fulfilled for countless years - perhaps even beyond her lifetime - or to offer a depressing but certain closure, with the chance of a welcome surprise later?
...He only prayed that she could forgive him.
He stumbled, wincing at yet another muddled flash of memory offered up another swelling migraine, the shift in both perspective, point-of-view and individual making everything seem unreal and feverish.
"Relax, the process should be over soon."
Darell forced himself to focus, Narvas cool and composed as he looked down at him while Kiyoshi approached with a relaxed and amicable smile.
"And we'll be with you for the rest of the way, just like we always have."
"What, but...why me?"
A humorless bleat of dark amusement left Darell.
"My dad and brother were right. I just run and hide from the difficult stuff, never wanting to confront it and always ending up terrified by it. One of you should be the one running this show, not me-"
A hand suddenly set itself on his shoulder, Kiyoshi wryly grinning in understanding as he mused, "I thought the same thing many times when I was summoned as the Shield hero. But rather than any one of us being in control…"
Narvas shrugged, bluntly stating, "Haven't things worked out for the best with all three of us working together?"
Only an instinctive roll to the side kept the Claw hero from puking all over the soft, nice-smelling lap he'd been placed onto, sense slowly returning to the world as he rasped through a dry and cracked throat, "Lotta puking lately. I'm gonna have to watch my weight."
It was a sign of how serious things were that he saw both Zhua and Xephina enter his blurry field of view, worriedly gazing into his eyes.
"...Guess I'll ask the million dollar question. What the fuck did you do to us?"
Regret welled up in the goddess's eyes as he gingerly hauled himself upright, throat and stomach burning as Julietta also appeared before him, offering a mug of water that he greedily accepted, swallowing most of it in three large gulps before using the last bit to swirl around and swallow with a grimace.
"More to the point...who, exactly, am I?"
A slow, labored breath left Xephina as she met his gaze without flinching or breaking contact.
"Two souls, combined in the body and last vestiges of sentience that once belonged to my most zealous and loyal acolyte. Darell Esperanza, Kiyoshi Masami and Narvas Taylan. A man from another world that held knowledge of this one, a similar soul but who had served in another capacity and a true denizen that longed for its freedom. That is who you are-"
"I fucking know that part. I'm asking how. How did you make...whatever we now are?"
Zhua hesitantly approached his side, slender hand laying itself over his as the Vassal hero briefly responded with a squeeze of his own, trying to convey that his distress and frustration wasn't directed at her.
A tremendous sigh escaped Xephina, tone distant as she explained, "In the closing months of Kiyoshi's life we held a great deal of apprehension that with his demise the peace and understanding he'd wrought would fade away and be subsumed by old violence and grudges. For all his incredible and unprecedented success he'd never learned the truth of Medea, that his efforts would only be temporary and brief under the best of circumstances."
Eyes drifting closed she continued with, "And for all his brilliance and innovation Kiyoshi wasn't without flaws. The very nature of his quest to unite people-"
"Was because we never had the stomach or desire to use force and violence when it could otherwise be avoided. Sometimes to the detriment of the overall plan."
A violent wince crossed the Vassal hero's face, hand instinctively massaging his temples as Xephina added, "Quite so. More to the point the initial hero summonings that occurred under Xephina's rule had us...worried, to say the least. While there was always one or two Cardinal and Vassal heroes that were true and just in their actions or decisions most were of poor quality or disposition, reflections of the mad bitch's personality."
She pointed to the room he'd been dragged from, now vacant and unassuming.
"To that end we hijacked the ritual as best we could, using Kiyoshi and Narvas' as the template for a hero of our very own making. The Shield hero's compassion and character with my disciple's peak form and the vestiges of his drive and ferocity. Distilled into one mind and body that lacked only one final ingredient."
The man slowly nodded, hesitantly asking, "What...what about Darell? What was so special about him compared to those two?"
Soft, sympathetic hands cupped his cheeks as a sad smile adorned the woman's flawless features.
"Knowledge. Humbleness. A personality and mind that knew just how small it was but persevered regardless, a soul that could accept the other two and not rage against the inevitable in a desperate bid to remain itself."
A warm, proud smile pulled at her lips.
"You were always the perfect hero the moment you were summoned to this world...you just needed time to realize it."
The Claw closed his eyes, sighing out in exhaustion.
...It made sense, in hindsight. Narvas was the drive, the courage that kept him chasing after monsters and villains that Darell would have fled from without ever trying. It was Kiyoshi that allowed him to reach out to others and form meaningful connections with them when Darell would have balked and been content to go at it alone.
They were the reason that he was as strong as he was, driven as he was and had companions that were willing to lay down their lives for him.
And it was thanks to Darell being as accepting and meek as he was that he'd allowed the true heroes to make use of his knowledge of the events of Shield Hero, to actually do something about it.
"Heh. Never thought our nature as a meek and scared bitch would be the reason we became an actual hero…"
[Someone as cowardly as you say you are would not have died trying to save another's life, master.]
Startled by Zhua's sudden words he met the gaze of the Vassal manifestation as she stared back with unwavering certainty, a sigh leaving the man as he realized she must have seen all of the memories he'd witnessed as well.
She was pretty understanding of a guy who was more homunculus frankenstein monster than he was an individual.
"Do you hold enmity for us, my hero? That we made of you a creation suited merely for our own purposes?"
Turning his attention Xephina's way he noted that Julietta had mirrored her goddess's actions, both with their heads bowed and posture subservient, as if fully expecting some kind of punishment or retribution.
...He really wasn't sure how to feel about any of this.
Was he actually angry? Did he actually care what they had done? Did it even matter that it was him? Across all of the multiverse there was without a doubt people that had the same qualifications as Darell...if it hadn't been him it would just be someone else. Because when it came to weighing the lives of an entire reality versus one person it was easy math. A decision he would have made in a heartbeat had he been in Xephina's position.
A decision that he might very well have to make himself, if he became a god himself in the future.
The certainty in his voice surprised even himself alongside everyone else in attendance aside from Zhua. Because of course she knew what he was thinking.
"Had I been in your shoes, gone through everything your order has done and suffered under Medea's invasion...shit, I might have done worse."
"You seem quite certain in your answer."
Xephina's cautious words accompanied the Claw hero slowly regaining his feet, grimacing at how sore his muscles were and empty his stomach was...but for the first time in days he felt assured. Like he knew things were going to be okay.
He extended a hand towards Xephina.
"Weirdly enough, I am. When you weigh the importance and difficulty of what we're trying to accomplish, of what we've done…"
He furrowed his brow.
"I'm still regretful over what I had to do to stop the war. Of all those people I had to kill, but…"
He thought back to Kiyoshi's words. Of his words.
"I can either wallow and waver and make those sacrifices pointless, or I can advance and maybe make the future a better place. Permanently, this time."
The goddess slowly smiled, taking his offered appendage as he pulled her upright, Julietta following suit as she asked, "Regarding your newfound knowledge and certainty regarding who you are, do you wish to-"
The blindfolded woman paused as the Claw hero nodded again in unfaltering certainty.
"I was always Narvas Taylan and that's who I'm going to stay as. I was never really anyone else, I just know about it now. And if he gave up most of who he was for this chance...then he deserves to have his name carried on."
He took a deep, fortifying breath as he met his companion's gazes.
"I think I'm ready to get back to work. First we need to get you back to your former level of strength-"
His stomach chose that moment to growl ferociously, bringing a rather anticlimactic end to the seriousness of the moment as the goddess giggled at him.
"...And apparently I need to eat something first. Your order has a kitchen, right?"