Jun huffed when Akane said they would save the world before noon. She had been hanging around with Arthur too much, clearly. It was all she could hope for that nobody started a fight. How could she raise her sword against herself? How could she not, to defend her friends? She couldn’t know how she would react right up until they actually got into a fight. She prayed that it did not happen. The teleporter took them instantly to the place of conflict, a bitter waste with only a single landmark. The tower. Owned by a god, guarded by time itself. The Shattered One was humming with appreciation. “If only you were immortal! I would love to explore this place.” He sang in her skull. “For a century? I could do without that trip.” Jun responded. And then their counterparts were there, her team the only thing standing between them and their goal. “I am not going to stand in your way. We simply want to negotiate.”
The group soon found themselves standing before the temple, protected by a barrier that is impassable to all but immortals...and people that can manipulate time. It wasn't long before the others joined them, taunting the group with how futile they felt this all may seem.
Haruko noticed that her counterpart didn't say anything though, simply looking away from everyone. "Hey, Haruko?" The seamstress began. "Have you given any thought to my request? It's like I said, I don't want you to choose between saving your own timeline and this one. I want us to save both. So...can you find it in your heart to work together with us, please? So we can save everyone?" Haruko offered, giving a friendly smile and stepping forward. If she could convince their Haruko to join their side, there was a good chance she could also convince the other three. There was still hope...right?
"Hey, I thought we got along just fine!" Arthur exclaimed, genuinely hurt by the insinuation. But he quickly went back to his usual lighthearted tone and added, "Now you really can't merge with the other Akane or I won't be able to duel you for my honor after that insult."
The group teleported over to the temple, luckily getting over there before the other group. He used the couple of minutes they had to explore what he could, just to familiarize himself with the area if they ended up in another fight. Not that knowing the field would be too useful with the sheer difference between them.
And soon, their alters came as well. As uncooperative as before. Suppressing every instinct telling him to say something, anything, most likely something stupid, Arthur stayed quiet and let Haruko do the talking. She's the one who created the opening they needed with the alternate Haruko, Arthur trusted her to persuade them all the way.
Hope began to swell within Haruko's body when her counterpart mentioned they should help out, a smile spreading across her face. Before she could interject though...the rain around them stopped, and a strange child with an aura she had never felt appeared before them. The seamstress took a step back in horror. "Who...are you?" Haruko asked, eyes wide.
Her eyes then saw the alternate Arthur throw his sword at their Arthur, the other Haruko addressing her once more.
"Whatever happens, I'm glad I was able to help if only a little, sheltered me"
"Edgy Haruko! You three better hold out, because we'll be back for you!" The seamstress bit her lips a little. Was that a promise she could keep? Letting out a sign, she just gave a weary smile. "Thank you, all of you."
She them grabbed Arthur's arm and shunted him toward the temple. "Ok Frosty, let's get through this place as fast as we can, they need help!" Haruko now had more determination to see this plan through.
It was already awkward speaking to their alternate counterparts, but Jun found that their counterparts arguing amongst themselves was much worse. She wanted to leave. Maybe bury herself in some sand. Would her sword function as a shovel? Probably not. She would actually have to confront this situation. “If negotiations break down, we’re stuck…” She muttered to the others. There was no retreat here. The barrier was to their back, the enemy to their front. She was ready to back Haruko up in conversation rather than battle, but before her voice could be heard, a new party entered. She didn’t know who this girl was, but she made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. “That can’t be…” Their reactions were enough to confirm it, and their counterparts intended to stand their ground. “Akane! Other Akane!” Jun tried to make it as clear possible who she was talking to. “This tiara allows you to strike spirits! I don’t know if it will help, but take it!” She pulled the circlet from her own head and threw it to the alternate Akane. “So… can you make it safe for all of us?” She asked Arthur.
The negotiations were seemingly turning into their favor, minus the voice of Arthur. Arty was starting to understand others' exasperation with himself. Staying busy being quiet, Arty's eyes lazily studied the room. Until he noticed the rain. Just. Floating.
He didn't know what it was right away, but it wasn't a good sign. Until he saw the child among them. But not one that triggered his protective instincts. No, she was far too ancient and far too dangerous for that, a divine being full of malice. And right away the negotiations were over. Arty caught the thrown Accel Edge. "If this thing listens to me, I'm coming back to save you guys in a bit!" He promised, not even sure if the sword would listen to him. But he still felt a spark of familiarity as he gripped the hilt. He pointed it toward the dome surrounding the temple and focused.
It took a second, but a part of the dome deformed, opening a passage for the crew. "I don't want to remove the whole barrier just in case, but I made a passage big enough for us! Quickly, we need to go before I have to test the limits of this Edge too!"
Musashi caught the circlet offered by Jun and set it over her head.
"See, unlike Arthurs, Jun-lis are always a pleasure to be around. Now, let us deal with this!"
Dark angel wings spread on the alter Jun's back as black sclera covered her eyes, her voice turned deeper, as if manipulated by a larger being inside
"I will take that as a compliment, even though you are the first Akane I meet"- The morningstar extended her hand and a massive dual wield blade rose from the ground to her.
"Azrael's blade, the weapon the devil made to kill God. I wonder if she can take it?"
Arthur rushed forward and swung downwards, unleashing cold only a Demon God could match.
a million winters were unleashed, covering the entire country in snow and ice, encasing Izanami in null molecular motion, along with everything in that direction. Jun followed suit, thrusting her massive blade onto Izanami's chest as a pillar of hellfire rose past the clouds into space.
Haruko twisted and combined the magic energy of the gems, first, it took the colors of the rainbow, then it turned white, the small sphere began to darken until it finally went dark. Haruko let go of the orb onto Izanami's direction as it began to suck everything in its direction.
"You have this, right?!"- Haruko told Akane, barely being able to keep her own attack in place.
"Just hold it in place. We'll take care of this"
Akane looked within herself, 20 different versions of herself took stance in her mind as Akane drew her Kaneshige blade
"Let's do this, Girls! Shin Niten Ichi Ryu: Two Heavens Collapse!"
Musashi split the black hole that held Izanami inside and the contained area was vaporized, the results of their combined efforts yet to be seen.
Arthur would feel familiarity with the blade, for it did exactly as he wished. The Accel edge unlocked exactly the portion of the barrier he wanted and just like that, they went in.
"I can't believe I'm finally here...And it's all thanks to you guys"
Akane nervously smiled as she looked at the temple.
"We should make our way to the ceremonial room, the sacred treasures should be there"
Musashi ran towards the temple and went through the door. Her eyes widened at what she saw.
"This place, it's much larger than what it seems?!"
There was a small city within the temple. there was no way of knowing how deep it went as the walls covered the landscape all the way to the ceiling, but the width, if it was a square, indicated the maze was at least a few square miles in size.
"Our alter versions are gonna get killed if we don't find the sacred treasures quick, any ideas?!"
Haruko followed Arthur, Akane and Jun into the temple, trying to run as fast as she could due to their time crunch. When they discovered that the temple was much larger than they expected, Haruko paused, glancing around.
"Ok, this has to be a test...you are the most knowledgeable person we have here Akane, so maybe it wants to see if we're worthy of this treasure. Is there some sort of password you're aware of? Or like, a special layout you know Orochi or Tomoe would only give to trusted people like you? I want to make sure there's no special trick here before we decide to split up and potentially...get lost until it's too late." Haruko stated, hoping either Akane knew something. The sheer killing aura of that little girl was not something she'd seen before, and likely stronger than the others could handle.
Jun didn’t like leaving friends behind, even if they were once enemies. Perhaps especially so in that case. She had treated many people poorly who now called her friend. “What strategy can there be to a maze you have never seen? I do not know the god who owns this place.” She quickly consulted the demon within her, creator of his own treasure-filled palace. His tips were easy. “We need to leave a trail. Mark everywhere we have been.” Jun slashed her sword across the floor, seeing if it left a mark.
"Don't rush. We have a lot of time on our hands," Arthur winked, twirling Accel End. It really felt good having that part of him back, temporary though it might be. "I'm thinking we grab the treasures and I make it so we pop back out before anyone died, dies, or both."
That of course left them a more pressing issue. How do they get to the treasures before the goddess comes and kills them, too. Recalling the ancient myth of Ariadne and Theseus, he made a suggestion.
"Alright, Haruko, you have thread, right? Think you could use that to mark a path as you go through the labyrinth? I can use my ice to do the same. That way we can split up into two groups, cover more ground, and it's probably safer than everyone taking a different path." Unless the maze was bigger still than what they could see from here. Then they could be too slow. "Of course, I'm open to other suggestions."
"I wouldn't bother if I were you, if you split now, you won't see each other for 50 years"-A childish voice echoed as a small creature phased through the labyrinth walls.
"You must be very clever if you guys managed to get here...then again, maybe it is the case you guys are very stupid"
The child-like creature hopped on thin air as it played around, it finally landed on the ground right in front of the group. "Welcome to the eternal maze! I ammmm...Jurojin! Of the seven deities! You are the first group that has ever arrived since I was trapped in here, thus, you'll have to listen to my grievances, for ranting to yourself aint fun"
The Shinto of Time clapped his fingers and a large reclining seat appeared.
"It all began a couple decades ago. "Bring me the sacred treasures! Izanami said" I...I would have never imagined Orochi was not informed about it! He...he trapped me in here with the treasures! Can you believe that?! Izanami came by a couple years later. But did she help poor ol' Jurojin?! NO! "Protect the treasures until I can get to them" -she said. And so i did! What else am I supposed to do with all the time in the world ahead of me anyway, right?! So I built the perfect contraption. The Eternal Maze! designed to entertain myself should any intruder ever arrive, except I did one major miscalculation. I built it so large mere mortals can't even begin to explore it! My whole work was put to waste! You can walk in all the right ways to the main room, and it would still take you 2000 years! you mere mortals and half immortals can't take it! you go senile or die before ever coming close to a thousand years of age!"
Jurojin took a deep breath as he calmed himself, with another clap, the chair poofed out of existence.
"So, instead of having you wander around my endless maze, I'll have you answer trivia! But not any trivia, this is all about yourselves! You think you know each other so well? I, Father time will be the judge of that! Let's play: who wants to be alive?"
Akane drew her sword but before she could even move Jurojin froze them all in place with a snap of his fingers.
"I'll be taking this here, boy. Can't have any time shenanigans at play here"-Jurojin said as he took the Accel Edge off Arthur's hands.
"four questions, one each. answer correctly, and I'll give you one of the sacred treasures. answer incorrectly, and I'll throw you right in the middle of the maze"-The creature said as he giggled.
"So, Let's start with the first question: You are up, Pink haired girl! Oh, and they can't help you. if they help you, I'll throw you all into the maze!"
"First question: Everyone likes chocolate, but who in this group likes chocolate the most?"
When Jun heard the child’s voice ringing out, her first thought was that Izanami had followed them. Ridges of impossibly sharp crystal rose on her arms, sparkling with a rainbow of murderous intent. She ended up frozen with her hand on her hilt. She was cold with fear, more than she thought possible without sweating. Even that wasn’t capable of flowing with her body held in stasis. The description of the situation they were in made her even colder. If she died wandering these halls, the best she could hope for was the Shattered One to take over her body, puppeting her as a crystalline body. It would work well for the future of this universe, as he would never get bored or distracted, but it was an unpleasant prospect for her. Instead, they faced a quiz. Knowledge of one another. That didn’t help. She was a recluse, she knew that. She had no excuse. She had driven Akane away with her selfish behavior. At least it was Haruko's turn first. A better woman for this task than her, that was certain.
Everyone was coming up with good suggestions, but their plans were dashed when this strange child-like figure appeared before them, introducing themselves as Jurojin. How did this person know anything about them, let alone themselves from another dimension? Should she tailor her answer to what she thinks this universe's versions of themselves would think?
Thinking it foolish to ask, Haruko looked between everyone, knowing instantly who the candidate was.
"I believe it to be Arthur. I've been friends with him a long time, and well...the guy likes his chocolate alright." Haruko joked, smirking at Arthur. She just hoped Akane or Jun weren't secret chocoholics.
They never got to split up. They were interrupted by a different interloper. The only seven deities of Japanese myth Arthur was aware of were the seven lucky gods. And of them, the only name he knew was Bishamonten. Well, if he was the creator of this maze, there was no reason to doubt he was in fact a time god. And once her simply snatched Accel Edge out of Arthur's hands, the ice mage was aware he couldn't exactly do much here other than play by his rules. That he did have a question.
"That is an awfully generous offer from a god meant to protect these treasures. Especially for one dedicated enough to make a maze as elaborate as you claim. Am I right in assuming there's some catch here?"
At least the first question he asked Haruko was an easy one, Arthur was sure. After all, nobody else was crazy enough to jump into an actual river of chocolate.
Jurojin's mischievous eyes gleamed with amusement. He clapped his hands together, and the frozen state that held the group captive was released. "Well done, Pink haired girl! You have answered correctly," he exclaimed, his voice filled with an odd combination of cheerfulness and ancient wisdom.
With a flourish, Jurojin summoned a small, ornate box. Its intricate carvings glistened under an ethereal light, hinting at the sacred treasure it concealed. He handed it to Haruko, a satisfied smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
"As promised, here is your reward, a sacred treasure befitting your astuteness. Keep it safe, for it holds the power of the ages," Jurojin said, his tone tinged with a hint of respect.
Jurojin's mischievous eyes scanned the group. He leaned forward, a playful smirk dancing on his lips.
"There are no catches! So long as you are being truthful! Prepare yourselves for the next question." He paused, relishing the suspense hanging in the air. "Tell me, which member of this group possesses the most remarkable ability? feel free to discuss this together!"
"...Arthur again?"-Akane replied to the group somewhat unsure. what can be considered remarkable or unremarkable when all of them had different skillsets anyway?
What kind of vague question was this? The most remarkable ability? Jun’s first thought was to name the Shattered One. He was ancient beyond words, once a great demon lord of the primordial world with a palace the size of a country. Surely that counted for something. But somebody else came to mind, somebody who did something Jun could never see herself doing. “Haruko. Akane may lead us here, but nobody holds people together like her. Her ability is in her heart.”