The group got into the armory just in time for the world outside to freeze over, with the darkness bending across the night sky like an organic mass. The movement reminded Haruko of Huntsman...which made the situation more horrific. Turning her attention to Akane, Haruko nodded her head and opened the suitcase Leone had given them, transforming back into her normal self.
"I indeed have brought transportation! While I'm no expert, I am competent enough to ride..." Heaving the vehicle out of the briefcase, Haruko put the large orange and black motorcycle down and kicked out the stand.
"The Harvester! One of Leone's motorcycles she particularly likes to ride in Fall. She's shown me how to ride these a few times." Haruko smiles in anticipation.
Seeing Akane turn her attention to Jun, she turned her attention to Arty. "And more importantly...who were they? Did you find out anything that could help us in a battle?" The seamstress asked, stepping onto the seat and readying herself to ride off.
“Oh come on…” Jun sighed and grabbed, but when she saw what was happening to the sky she decided not to complain. The Shattered One admired the artistry of whatever being had reshaped the world, but she had no such appreciation as she was dragged back to the vault. They were trapped now, a single pool of warmth in the middle of a frozen world. “What? You expect us to go back out? I have been to the North Pole and I doubt that even that compares to this cold.” She countered Akane’s idea with some irritation in her voice. She only frowned further when Akane gave her an odd look. “Not my first choice… but I will not say no, if you can solve the problem of the cold.” Jun situated herself on the seat, awkwardly trying to make room. It really was too small for two people, and Jun found the edges digging into her rear. What a nuisance.
Akane was understandably pissed at the situation, and Arthur didn't even get to explain what was going on yet. "Yeah, I caught up to them. They seem to be drifters like us, possibly from failing universes similar to this one, going to places at the verge of destruction to collect tools to save their own universes. If this universe is doomed, then it won't need powerful weapons and artifacts, right? Better those be used to save one that isn't basically already dead. Or at least, that's their logic." Arthur paused for everyone to take the information in.
"Well, I can't say that's faulty logic. I know I'd go along with such a plan if our universe was in trouble. But they will obstruct us unless we can convince them this universe can still draw breath. Akane, do you have any ideas how we can do that? Why's that compass so important for us?"
At the same time, everyone got ready to chase after them, despite the conditions outside. Akane found a bike of hers and Haruko brought one of Leone's along.
"Aww, now I feel bad for not bringing my own bike... We totally could've been a badass biker gang rolling through the hellscape." Arthur half-joked. "Well, if you want to chase them down, let's hurry. But, uh, let's not fight them without a plan. Especially that Arthur. He's got a full set of time powers. If he freezes time, I'll be able to move sluggishly at best. If he uses overaccel to fight us seriously, we'll all die.
"No, this universe isn't done for yet...the people from this world have a right to a brighter future...As for the compass, It points towards the sacred treasures! If we don't gather all four, we won't be able to take Izanami down..."-Akane began to think as Arthur mentioned the time powers of his alter ego.
"Wouldn't we be already dead in that case? He could have at least knocked us all out back when we met him, yet he chose to flee. Maybe there's a limit to his powers... If you know how his ability works, the only idea i have is that you do everything in your power to prevent him from activating it"
"Our best bet is to take them by surprise. Maybe take the compass away from them without them noticing...first things first, we need to catch up to them!"
Akane stopped to think about Jun's dilema.
"Well, what do you think, Ruko? is there a chance you could help us with some lining for the cold?"
"Wait, that was another Arthur?" Haruko asked in confusion. They weren't the only ones coming in from other universes to take these treasures back to their own timelines? Could it be possible that the other 3 were...their same counterparts? She chuckled at the biker gang joke.
Turning her attention to Jun, Haruko nodded her head. "I'll see what I can do..." Haruko took her coat and disappeared into her Kaspa. After roughly 2 minutes, she returned wearing a large pink coat and black pants with pink stripes along the right side. Her face was covered in a black ski mask that gave a hole for her eyes.
"Here we are! I sewed in some yeti fibers into these coats and pants to make them extra cold resistant. Don't worry, the guild has a contract to buy yeti fur whenever it naturally falls off them in summer. Here, I made some for everyone!"
Haruko tossed over a royal purple coat for Jun that had a butterfly design etched into the right shoulder, a blue coat for Arthur that had a wolf symbol sewn into the back, and a white coat for Akane with a hawk design sewn into the left side. Her own coat had an axolotl head design on the right sleeve. She also tossed them each a ski mask and set of black pants to put on as well.
"Put them on, and we'll be ready to go!" Haruko called out.
"Well, we'd be dead if he wanted us dead and that's not what he's here for. But sure, it's possible he has some limits." Arthur rubbed the back of his neck. He wasn't sure how he could counter his time powers now, but... "I'll... See what I can do. If I need to. I think reasoning with them would be for the best though, especially if we're not grouping up on a single one at a time."
Arthur looked around the armory for a bit while Haruko disappeared into her kaspa. When she came back, he took the coat with a smile. He didn't really need one, both because he still had his own and because he was just resistant to the cold. But he stowed away the coat he had and put it on. "Alright, team uniforms on! Let's get moving. Keep your guard up though, who knows what we'll run into in the darkness!"
“It matches my pants.” Jun took the coat with a tiny smile. “Arthur, stare at the wall.” She commanded. Her blood-soaked shirt was quickly changed out for the clean coat, with a brief touchup from a Haruko-lended towel in between. With that and two layers of pants, she felt stuffy and stiff. Hopefully it would stay that way going out into the icy world that surrounded them. “I am ready. Let the things of the night cower. I certainly would not want to fight us.”
Akane looked at her new outfit and slightly bowed to Haruko.
"I made the right choice asking for your help. Alright, let's move!"
As soon as Arthur undid the ice barrier, the whole group would immediately rush outside. No normal human would have been able to survive this cold without proper protection. The icy winds roared as they traveled through the frozen plains.
Akane narrowed her eyes and saw something rather weird in the distance.
"Can you see that?! There's...a castle?"
A massive ice structure stood tall above the trees of the blue forest. from the top part, beams of different light colors rained down, clearly repelling some sort of assault.
"Looks like they got their hands full, a structure like that might be strong, but it also attracts way too much attention, let's get em while they are distracted!"
Shinto shaped like wolves began to come out of the woods as soon as they got close enough. Despite their size they were quite clearly fast enough to attack them.
"Here they come! Jun, I leave the defense to you! Arthur, you take care of Haruko!"
The first set of Shinto attacked Harukos' bike, one of them jumped, attempting to tackle Haruko off the bike.
The next set went after Akane and Jun, aiming at the tires, despite how difficult it was to maneuver through the woods, Akane kept the bike steady.
The team sped off toward the other Drifters, soon spotting the gigantic ice castle that, presumably, their Arthur had created. Haruko whistled at the crystalline display. "Looks like a kingdom of isolation. And it looks like you're the king, Frosty." Haruko winked at the ice mage, and frowned when she turned her attention to the wolves coming after them.
Swerving to the right, the seamstress barely dodged the swipe at her motorcycle and followed Akane through the woods. While she did learn how to drive a motorcycle from Leone herself, she was hardly a pro.
"You keeping up back there, Frosty?!" Haruko yelled out, tossing two explosive knives toward the wolves to try and throw them off balance in their pursuit toward her.
“They cannot be so bad if they stopped to create beauty in this land.” The Shattered One mused. “It seems they were not particularly worried about standing out either…” Jun mumbled. She watched the lightshow for a moment, giving her devil his due before her eyes were drawn downwards to the wolves exiting the woods. She wouldn’t be able to use her sword to its fullest ability. It couldn’t swing across her body, where Akane sat. Fine. She didn’t need it at all for them. She stretched her hands out as the wolves approached, and her fingers shot out and in, fast as lightning. She continued spearing until the wolves struck the motorcycle or until all in range were dead. It was terrible for the gloves, but hopefully they would get in and out before her fingers froze off.
Arthur flew a bit behind the bikers, not wanting to take the lead and accidentally leave them behind. He smirked when he saw the giant castle of ice guarding. "I have to give them credit for presentation! I couldn't have done a better job!"
The monsters of darkness also appreciated their style it seemed, why else would they siege it in these numbers? Well as long as a vast majority kept the alternatives busy, he wasn't about to complain about having to fight some evil wolves.
"Keeping up? More like wondering why slowpokes are even given driving licenses!" Arthur retorted. If any wolves got past Haruko's knives, he'd dive in and drop kick them away or pelt them with ice shards to knock them down.
The wolves were stabbed, kicked and ultimately driven away by the group, the castle had taken over a portion of the forest, creating free space between it and the rest of the woods.
Hundreds of Shinto were trying to claw or smash their way into the castle without much success, the few that were able to fly were being taken down by the castle's automated defenses.
Akane saw the Shinto army outside and then examined the castle.
"Let's get through the gate! Jun, keep the bike steady! Keep this speed and try to move as little as possible!"-Akane told her as she jumped on top of the handle of the motorcycle, her Blades disappeared and her first flame spear showed once again
With one swift throw, Akane launched the first flame at the gate, the spear destroyed everything in its path, skewering shinto by the dozen until it reached the gate. For a second, there was some resistance, but eventually the sacred fire pierced through.
"Quickly, let's move inside!"-Akane jumped out of the bike into the inner part of the castle, as soon as everyone made it inside, the gate would seal itself again.
The massive Ice structure was surprisingly fully furnished on the inside. there was a magic glamour decorating the inner walls and floors, making it look just like a regular castle. A slow clap could be heard echoing on the inner walls of the castle.
"Well color me surprised, looks like you did it guys! I told Arthur they still would get here regardless"-The Musashi drifter said as she walked down the stairs into the main hall. She looked at Akane and smirked.
The drifter version of Jun took off her hood and walked next to Musashi.
"Everyone is out for their own selfish desires after all..."-She added as she looked at her fingernails, not paying much attention to the intruders.
"Hm? I see... so that's why I couldn't find the Akane of this world...isn't it funny though? it looks like they have the same lineup"
"Well, that just makes us the worst possible opponents for them"-Adult Arthur said as he landed next to Jun.
The drifter version of Haruko flew down as well, she was glowing in pink energy, but her body and clothes still remained the same.
"Arthur, did you really tell them why they can't have the treasure?"-she said as she looked at Arthur in a stern way.
"Hey, I did! you cant blame this on me"
Haruko looked at her counterpart with a semblance of sadness.
"I see...then there's no other way around it"
"Steel yourselves, we came to do this one way or another!"
Akane vs Akane
Drifter Musashi took out her Kaneshige blade and swung at Akane, who blocked with both blades. It was an extremely heavy swing, she seemed to have Mai-like strenght. Akane trembled and her eyes widened as she felt the drifter sink her boot onto her stomach, sending her flying into another room.
"For 400 years I've been fighting other versions of me, do you know how many of you I have beaten?"
Arthur vs Arthur
"I thought you spoke with your team?"-He said as he began to swing at Arthur with his ice saber. The Adult version of the mage made spell circles around him that began to shoot ice spikes aimed at his younger counterpart.
"At the very least you can't say I wasn't nice to you"
Jun vs Jun
The drifter version of Jun drew her blade and covered her hand in crystals, making a gauntlet as she took a fencing stance.
"You want the compass, you need to earn it. Shall we?"
Jun guided her counterpart to a courtyard outside. The Shinto outside had ceased to attack, apparently deterred by the Castle's defenses.
With swift footwork, Jun closed the distance began thrusting with her weapon, aiming first at the shoulder, then with a feint shifted to the inner thigh of her counterpart.
Haruko vs Haruko
"I need to save my family, surely you understand as much so, please let me knock you out?"
The drifter version of Haruko tossed knives with threads attached to them, looking to trap Ruko in them. In that same move, she dashed and threw a dropkick aimed right at her opponent's chest.
Jun was glad to get off of the motorcycle. It really pinched. Maybe she needed to lose some weight. It was an absurd thing to think of right now, but it really was on her mind. She kept it there. It was a hint of a future. Something to hold onto like she definitely would make it through. She watched her counterpart first and foremost. They did not seem so dissimilar. It was a shame they had to fight, but at least they were making it a proper duel. “Do you speak Korean? I prefer it.” She asked in her native tongue as she followed. Before they fought, she took a moment to admire their surroundings and motioned for a moment’s respite.
Her coat and outer layer of pants she shed, exposing herself to the cold air. She needed to shed all the heat she could this time. “That weapon is more befitting of us than my own I must say. In grace, at least.” Jun was immediately put on the back foot. She armored her shoulder but took too long to realize it was a feint. She was forced to scramble backwards out of range instead of parrying or shielding herself. She threw a few weak retreating slashes, but that was no way to win. She thrust her off-hand forth, thrusting out every finger as a piercing spear.
The group crashed into the ice castle, Haruko quickly getting off her motorcycle and making it fold back into a briefcase that disappeared back into her Kaspa. Haruko stopped and took in the four opponents before her. The seamstress's eyes widened when it was confirmed; all four of them were alternate versions of themselves.
Her eyes fell upon Arthur first, holding a blade that their Arthur had lost years ago; Accel Edge. She hoped Arthur found some techniques around its power before it broke. Her eyes then turned to her own counterpart. Same sleek build as herself, but having a style far different to her own. Black leather jacket over a maroon shirt, and black leather pants. The rips in the fabric made Haruko think her counterpart wanted them there, for even an alternate Haruko would be able to sew up any tears that may occur. She took special note of the strangely buzzed hair that alternate Haruko had.
She watched as the alternate Haruko tossed knives to try and wrap her up, and run up for a kick. Haruko gripped a gem on her necklace and shook her head.
"Opal Song, Release!" Haruko said, her body enveloped into a bright light that the wires passed through. Haruko's transformation makes her briefly intangible. Her body began to morph.
Her body grew tall and slender, magic light growing a pair of golden boots that went up her ankles. Flicking her hand out toward her side, a long black skirt with gold trim flared out and fluttered in the wind. On her chest, a similarly colored black shirt appeared, accentuated by a rose gold ribbon. Finally, Haruko undid her hair and let it flow, the hair flowing out with the stardust around her, now to her midsection. A headset popped onto Haruko's head as the transformation stopped, and she gave a smile to her counterpart.
"I'm sorry Haruko, but our family is suffering in this timeline too. I wish we could work together as a team, so we can save all our worlds." Flicking some residual sparkling dust from her hand, Haruko smirked at her counterpart.
"I hope you don't mind me transforming out the gate like this. If your Arthur can make something as impressive as this..." Haruko motioned around herself. "...then you must be incredibly strong too. So...can we stop this and work together, please?" Haruko asked, offering her hand with a smile.
The break in went just as smoothly as Arthur wanted, but the alternate versions clearly expected they were at least competent enough to do that. "Hey, thanks for the vote of confidence, Akane, uh, Alter. Though I wish you underestimated us at least a little bit more."
The fight started with the alters on the offensive. His opponent came at Arty with an ice sword to start it off, an easy parry, though he jumped back when he saw spell circles forming around Arthur.
"I talked to them and they think this world can still be saved." Arthur spoke while summoning a thick wall of ice to block the spikes. He could feel them striking the wall with such force though, he doubted the wall would last long. "So I have a proposal! Let's use the treasures to save this world, then you can take them to your world once this one doesn't need them anymore! Though you need sense beaten into you...!"
Arthur hopped above his crumbling wall and tossed two white balls to Alter Arthur's sides with a toothier grin than usual. The two balls exploded into a steam curtain covering the area where they were fighting, obscuring both of them. Arty however had Wolf's Soul to enhance his senses and keep track of Arthur. He rushed him with a liver blow into uppercut combo, only using frost wraps at the milisecond before impact to make sure Arthur couldn't magically follow the movement of ice in the obscuring fog. "I sure hope you didn't pick up all the tricks I did in Hellscraper!"
Akane stood up and panted. That was an extremely heavy blow.
"400? so you are a granny now, huh?"-She told her other self. Musashi in return narrowed her eyes.
"You are going to regret calling me that"
Musashi dashed yet again towards Akane, but she kept moving back with short hops. Akane turned her right Kaneshige blade into a machinegun and fired away. For a second, Musashi was taken by surprise, but quickly began to laugh as she dogded the bullets.
"So that's your gimmick, huh? Interesting! However..."
Musashi finally stood in one place and raised her hand, the ki bullets stopped mid air and with a snap of her fingers dissolved into nothing.
"My turn"-Musashi said as she drew her bladeless sword.
Arthur vs Arthur
"You think we haven't thought about that?"-Adult Arthur replied, he covered his eyes as the mist exploded, both blows landing on his body.
Arthur spat some blood and cleaned his mouth.
"Akane told us, the Sacred Treasures from this world can only be used once. You would rather save this barren, forgotten world instead of 3 different worlds?"
With a wave of his hand, the ice mage flash froze the entire room, the mist condensed into snow, restoring the visibility.
The ice mage then formed walls around them making a semi sphere with only minimal gaps, he began jumping from tile to tile, speeding up each time, as he gained speed, magic circles began shooting frost balls at the young mage, aiming to keep him in place. In a split second, the adult version of Arthur dashed right towards his younger self, looking to deck him right in the stomach.
"Hellscraper wasn't even the beginning of my nightmare, perhaps one day you too will have to make the hard choices I did"
Jun vs Jun
"You are being unsightly"- She told her counterpart as she lightly backstepped in response to Jun's retreat slashes. When Jun's hand speared out, she countered by blocking with her forearm, also covered in a similar crystal material.
"Shattered one, I need you to go to sleep for a while"-The drifter said as she hopped back and the crystals disappeared on her forearm.
Jun's hand which was previously coated with crystals turned black, with glowing white patterns shaped much like tribal tattoos. She gripped her blade and swung at her rival.
If Jun blocked with her scales, she would quickly notice any area she struck would lose crystals, as they began to appear on her rival as armor.
"Dont worry, I won't steal more than needed"
Haruko vs Haruko
The drifter version hopped back as she saw Ruko transform.
"Opal? well, I am not as strong as you would think...maybe we can talk things through"
Haruko said as she shook Ruko's hand. If Haruko was paying attention, she had already shook it for a rather uncomfortable ammount of time. A blue glow shone on her other hand as she pulled Ruko into a headbutt of extraordinary strenght.
"So? how do you like my Sapphire Sea?"
Haruko dashed and aimed to strike at her conterpart with inhuman power, freezing anything she made contact with. She panted heavily and was visibly sweating bullets.
“Unsightly? Perhaps standards are different where you come from.” Jun’s eyes widened when her scales were stolen. "Oh, she knows me. I will not sleep, but I am afraid I cannot do much to avoid this. Valefar's power to take is far greater than my power to keep, as you likely recall. I hope she does not take any of your limbs, I rather like those." The Shattered One complained within her. Jun grit her teeth. She was already at the disadvantage in a drawn-out battle, and this would only make things worse. She had no choice. Her legs enscaled themselves and she lunged close. She kicked out, striking with her shin to carve into her enemy as well as swinging her cursed blade from above.
There was a glimmer in Haruko's eyes when her alternate self shook her hand. But the strangely uncomfortable amount of time she shook her hand tipped Haruko off that something was wrong. She managed to get a thin construct between the two that shattered upon impact, sending Opal tumbling across the room. She quickly got back onto her feet, baffled that herself from another world would do such a cheap tactic. The world was a haze until Haruko managed to correct her vision.
"I guess we are more different than I thought..." Opal muttered to herself. She had Sapphire Sea? How many gems did this Haruko have? What happened to Ariana?
Opal had more time to respond now, so she created a construct directly in front of Haruko's feet to try and trip her, or at least throw off her charge. Opal then gracefully dashed to the side like a figure skater, drifting around the icy floors.
"I have to ask...is Yamiko in there? She is an absolute monster, so I hope she isn't. The mental suffering that woman caused me was terrible." Haruko called over, forming an array of semicircle constructs that she tossed at Haruko, trying to catch her body in them and get embedded in the ice to incapacitate the gem girl.
"If it's saved, it will be neither barren nor forgotten. No, it's already not forgotten. That's why Akane brought us here. I sympathize with you, I would do the same in your position, but there must be another solution."
Arty created ice swords to deal with the ice balls before they hit him, causing their explosions to add more ice to his swords. He tried keeping track of Arthur's movements at the same time, but he was fast and the balls distracting. With the swords being covered in more and more ice too, Arty's swings also grew slower and Arthur used that opportunity to go in, smashing him in the stomach. Arty felt the air being blown out of him and his body being lifted up by the force, but that was actually all according to plan. The moment when he struck was the moment he was sure to be in one location.
The snow Arthur had covered the area in now worked against him, shooting up and solidifying into ice spikes aimed at his legs to stop him moving around. If it worked, Arty would use the momentum of being knocked up in the air to do a flip kick aimed at Arthur's chin before landing a bit further away.
Akane went down on her knees, she had been cut? no, there was no blood?
"Your reaction is exactly the one I had"-Musashi told her counterpart as she sheathed her bladeless sword.
"Now, if you understand the situation, give it up"
Akane swung her sword much to Musashi's surprise, still, the drifter managed to dodge.
"You think getting cut once or twice would stop me?"
"No, I think you simply don't understand"
Akane swung her kaneshige blade once more at her counterpart, this time, she did not move. Kaneshige stopped right before making contact, Akane's own hand slightly injured.
"You think Kaneshige would hurt me? I have saved dozens of worlds. You want the compass? let's strike a deal"
Arthur vs Arthur
Right as the spikes shot for Arthur's feet the battle changed. In the blink of an eye, he was gone.
"I suppose we can't come to an agreement then, even if someone remembers this place, it cannot be compared to all the people who need saving in my world"
Arthur said as he walked out of the fight's range, it was almost as if he had teleported, but what he did would be obvious to his counterpart.
"Let's skip the games. You want to be selfish, I'll be selfish too. Bring it out...your accel edge"
Jun Vs Jun
Jun parried away the cursed blade and managed to dodge just in time, albeit at a cost. The lower half of her dress had been torn to shreds by her alter's kick.
"This was one of my better outfits, how are you going to make up for that?!"
another flurry of sword attacks followed, but this time they were only a setup as the crystals she had stolen with Valefar's powers gathered around her fist. Jun threw a straight right at her counterpart's face.
"Nothing personal, but I have to save Jen's soul"
Haruko vs Haruko
"You must be unbelievably sheltered if you thought I would agree to that. Go back to your world of vanilla, live a happy life, and let others do the same"- Haruko replied.
When her alter made a comment about Yamiko, she smiled nervously
"Yeah? Did she took something away from you? because I have been losing all my life, and i am done with that. I will use her against you if I need to"
Ruko shot pink constructs at her counterpart, but they were swiftly dodged or met by ice constructs, Haruko then took out from her pocket the set of stones and a rather long silk glove
"If this doesn't work...well, she will probably kill you. Sorry for that"
Haruko's gems floated around her and set themselves on the glove as the world around switched in colors. Haruko's hair turned white and her eyes flared red for a moment, but ultimately went back to her normal tone. The entire castle shifted to black and white tones as her final form was revealed.
"Well it worked. Still, your situation has only gotten worse. What are you going to do, sheltered me?"
a rainbow colored mist began to spread across the room, slowly but surely encompassing every bit of it.
Akane, Arthur and Jun stopped for a second as they noticed Haruko had transformed.
"So she used it...Miranda's glove?"
Arthur shook his head and sighed.
"I thought we agreed not to go all out on them?"
Jun frowned when the palette color reached them all the way into the courtyard. Haruko's powers were clearly expanding past the castle and into the forest, swapping the natural tones for black and white.
"It would seem our fights must end soon. We are attracting too much attention like this"