Chapter 20:

The pursuit of strength and purpose

Dive into the Night

Leon laid on the rooftop of one of the village houses as he watched the unmoving clouds. May was down in the village centre, playing with the fox spirit like before. After he stared at the clouds for several more minutes, Leon jumped off the rooftop and walked over to May.Bookmark here

“It’s already 11:25PM,” Leon said as he looked at his arm. “What time did you tell Touma to meet us at?”Bookmark here

“I said 11:30PM, but he was free to meet us earlier,” May replied without turning around.Bookmark here

“Wha- why’d you say 11 PM in your message then?”Bookmark here

“I wanted to play with Kitsu.”Bookmark here

“No, I mean why did you tell me to come here at eleven as well.”Bookmark here

May looked at Leon and shrugged.Bookmark here

“Shouldn’t the leader be the first one here?” she asked.Bookmark here

“Ugh,” Leon responded with a grunt.Bookmark here

Leon turned back around and looked towards the edge of the village, where he saw Touma walking towards them.Bookmark here

“Touma’s here.”Bookmark here

May said goodbye to the fox spirit as she walked over to join Leon and Touma. Leon could see that Touma still had a melancholic expression on his face.Bookmark here

“How’re you feeling Touma?” Leon asked as Touma reached their location.Bookmark here

“I think I’ll be fine, Leon. I just needed time to think yesterday."Bookmark here

“We only got two more anchors to break,” May added.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I know, May,” Touma said before he turned to Leon. “Let’s finish this and find Oire, I got some choice words for him.”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

The party made their way through the forest, passing a variety of Nightmare creatures along the way. Leon recognized the blade arm Nightmares and split-jaw beasts from his earlier trips to the forest. Once they entered the dark zone, the atmosphere of the forest changed completely. The orange lighting was replaced by an eerie green glow; a result of the moonlight being filtered through the tree leaves. The types of Nightmares also changed within the dark forest. The trio noticed that the Nightmares that roamed the dark zone acted like hunters. A multi-limbed creature with glowing red eyes that hung from the treetops. A strange humanoid floated around carrying an axe and an empty lantern, it’s open eyes piercing through the darkness like flashlights.Bookmark here

“You know,” Leon finally said. “I’m kind of glad we didn’t ever come here either. I would not want to fight those things here.”Bookmark here

“They definitely seem like they were intended for night combat,” Touma said in response.Bookmark here

Eventually the group made it to the back of the forest, where they found another forest clearing with a small pond at its centre. The anchor floated just in front of the pond, neither casting a shadow nor did it reflect on the water’s surface.Bookmark here

Reaching the anchor, Touma and May turned around and looked around the forest.Bookmark here

“Doesn’t seem like anything can really sneak up on us here. You should be good to go, Leon,” Touma said.Bookmark here

“Just don’t fall into the water when you wake up,” May added.Bookmark here

Leon reached out and touched the anchor with his left hand.Bookmark here

//////Bookmark here

When Leon opened his eyes, he was back at the cliff overlooking the ocean. He noticed that the view was now from the perspective of the humanoid.Bookmark here

“Regardless of how much time passes,” the voice began to say. “I still do not understand Oire’s actions. Why? Why was it impossible for me to understand his decision?”Bookmark here

The scenery suddenly changed, Leon now found himself floating several hundred metres above an ancient city. Its layout resembled the city area.Bookmark here

“Huh, was this what they were talking about when they mentioned the Dream being shaped by the advancements of humanity?” Leon wondered out loud.Bookmark here

He continued watching as the ancient city slowly and continually transformed until it resembled a city from the early twentieth century.Bookmark here

The scenery changed once more, Leon was now back at the village at the centre of the Dream.Bookmark here

“And so, I could only arrive at one conclusion. The only conceivable way that I could understand humanity was to become someone who already understood them.”Bookmark here

The humanoid completely surrounded himself in black mist.Bookmark here

“I was confident that my powers had increased well enough for this spell to succeed, but there was a single doubt that crossed my mind. Was this what Oire envisioned when he wished for me to understand humanity?”Bookmark here

The black mist dispersed, Leon noticed that the humanoid was now wearing a tattered brown cloak over his whole body. When he spoke, Leon recognized the voice instantly.Bookmark here

“Perhaps now, I will finally see what he saw in humanity,” the being now spoke with Oire’s voice.Bookmark here

//////Bookmark here

Leon continued standing as his consciousness returned to his body. The black band absorbed the forest anchor and sent out another shockwave, clearing the forest of hostiles. The light of the clear quickly changed from an eerie white and green to a vibrant orange.Bookmark here

“Hmm, I was kind of expecting you to fall forward into the water,” May said as Leon turned around.Bookmark here

“Come on, we got one more target left,” Leon said in response.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

As the party walked through the tundra, they quickly noticed the complete lack of Nightmares in the area. Even as they approached the edge of the dark zone, there was no indication of anything else around.Bookmark here

“Hey, is this place always this empty?” May asked Leon.Bookmark here

“Pretty sure I only ever fought one Nightmare here, and it wasn’t even that big,” Leon replied. “Although I am a bit concerned about the absolute lack of Nightmares.”Bookmark here

“It almost seems like a trap,” said Touma.Bookmark here

The group entered the dark zone and continued further in, the night landscape was illuminated by the moon, stars, and the northern lights. After crossing another small hill, the party spotted the final anchor in a flat valley surrounded by small hills.Bookmark here

“If anything screams ‘trap’, it would be that,” May said as she looked down at the anchor location.Bookmark here

Reaching the anchor, Leon approached it as May and Touma stood guard.Bookmark here

“Alright, it’s time to end this,” Leon said as he walked up to the anchor.Bookmark here

Leon struck both of his spears into the ground beside him before he reached out to touch the anchor.Bookmark here

//////Bookmark here

When Leon opened his eyes, he was back in the first-person perspective of the Fake Oire as he sat on top of a skyscraper overlooking the city.Bookmark here

“Oh, so this has to be the most recent memory,” Leon guessed.Bookmark here

The first thing that Leon noticed was that a black haze clouded his vision. He then noticed the significant change in the Fake Oire’s behavior as he began to speak.Bookmark here

“I believe I finally understand what Oire saw in humanity. Why he continued to play his part until humanity no longer required him. He recognized them for how pathetic they were. A terrible species that only existed to bring harm to others. Perhaps he continued to train these heroes as he believed they might lead humanity to a better future. Yet, regardless of how many he trained, the end result is still the same. Even now, they continue to destroy their own world; as if they learned nothing throughout their entire history."Bookmark here

The Fake Oire stood up and teleported, Leon saw that he was now at the mountain peak where the first anchor was located. The Fake Oire summoned the pillar to the mountaintop, which began to slowly emit black mist.Bookmark here

“It is finally time for me to fulfil my role. After all, I ... am also Oire.”Bookmark here

He teleported again, this time arriving at the industrial docks.Bookmark here

“Even now, there are humans who have the potential to become heroes. As I gaze across the worlds, there are those who wish for a better future,” he said as he placed another anchor. “Bookmark here

The Fake Oire arrived at the skyscraper he was originally sitting on and placed his third anchor.Bookmark here

“I will train them, as the guide of the Dream should. I will offer them the power to change their world, and they will learn through conflict.”Bookmark here

He continued to teleport, dropping another anchor in the desert ruin and in the forest clearing.Bookmark here

“And if my prediction is correct, they will all be willing to turn their blades against the world for the sake of their future. The only future for humanity is destruction; it is only appropriate that it is done by their own hands. These pillars will create monsters from humanity’s vices, the perfect enemies for those who will one day turn against their own kind.”Bookmark here

The Fake Oire teleported to the final location, the tundra valley.Bookmark here

“With this final anchor, I shall seal the last of my past within it. Perhaps this is what it meant to be a friend? To take up everything that he had left behind. His name, his appearance, … his purpose. What… was my purpose before this? I suppose it does not matter anymore.”Bookmark here

He paused for a moment as he held out his hand to summon the final anchor.Bookmark here

“If … the Dream were to end, then perhaps we can finally speak again. That… would be ideal.”Bookmark here

Leon’s vision faded to black as the Fake Oire teleported away from the final anchor.Bookmark here

//////Bookmark here

As soon as Leon touched the anchor, someone else jumped into the valley. As the figure slowly walked towards Touma and May, they could see two swords hanging off of the figure’s side.Bookmark here

“You two mind stepping aside?” the figure called out. “I’m only here for him.”Bookmark here

As the figure stepped closer, May and Touma recognized that it was Hayate. May quickly deployed her arm blades, but Touma stepped up towards Hayate first.Bookmark here

“And if we refuse?” he asked Hayate.Bookmark here

“Look at Touma over here acting all tough,” Hayate said with a chuckle. “I don’t think you have a choice in the matter.”Bookmark here

Touma took up his combat stance as he faced Hayate.Bookmark here

“I’m not the same Touma you knew from before.”Bookmark here

Hayate drew both of his swords, a katana and a wakizashi, and held them in a combat stance towards Touma.Bookmark here

“You’ll get cut down all the same!”Bookmark here

Hayate dashed forward and swung at Touma, who attempted to parry the sword swings with his gauntlets. However, Hayate followed his katana slashes with his wakizashi, ensuring that one of his attacks always hit Touma in a blind spot. Hayate went on the offensive, slashing at Touma with both of his swords. Touma kept his guard up but was unable to counterattack Hayate.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong, looks to me like yer still the same coward as before!” taunted Hayate.Bookmark here

Seeing that Hayate let up for a moment due to his cockiness, Touma parried his next swing and threw a punch into Hayate’s stomach. Although Hayate managed to get another slash in as he flew back, damaging Touma’s shield in return.Bookmark here

“Alright, ya got one good hit on me!”Bookmark here

Hayate quickly dashed back in and slashed at Touma, who managed to block in time with his gauntlets.Bookmark here

“Unfortunately for you, not good enough.”Bookmark here

Touma pushed Hayate back and assumed another guard stance, but Hayate did not charge back in immediately.Bookmark here

“So, you’re working with Oire too? What’s in it for you to work with him?” Touma asked Hayate.Bookmark here

Hayate looked at Touma with a slightly confused expression before he started laughing.Bookmark here

“Ha! Ya really think I’d help him with whatever stupid plans he’s got goin’ on? Nah, I’m in this for my own reasons. I can leave whenever I want.”Bookmark here

Hayate sheathed his wakizashi. Black mist flowed in front of him as he materialized an odachi in his left hand. He tightly gripped the odachi as he leapt towards Touma, swinging both swords down from above. Touma caught the swords with his gauntlets, but Hayate released his grips on his swords and dropped down in front of Touma. He summoned two more wakizashi at his sides and crossed them in front of Touma’s chest, damaging his shield even further. Touma and Hayate both leapt back, creating distance from each other.Bookmark here

“Haha! This is great! This is the strength that I wanted all this time!” Hayate happily declared.Bookmark here

“That’s it? That’s all he had to offer you for you to fight for him?” Touma asked.Bookmark here

“Like you’ll ever understand. Do you realize how hard it is to be the weakest link? I studied the Shien blade form for all of my life, and where does that get me?! Consistently outperformed by some girl with knives strapped to her arms and some guy with a pointy stick?! I came here to get stronger, to prove that I am worthy of the Shien name!”Bookmark here

Hayate summoned a black mist katana into his sheath as he laughed.Bookmark here

“Now I don’t need any of that anymore. This power far surpasses anything the Shien blade form can teach me. I used to think that I would have learned more if I followed Kaz, I looked up to his strength. But no, he was not fit to be a leader. With this power, I don’t need anything but my own strength. I am not a Shien, I am just Hayate.”Bookmark here

Hayate dashed forward as he prepared to perform an attack straight from the sheath. Touma prepared to guard the attack, but Hayate was already looking to slash in between Touma’s guard. Right as he reached Touma’s location, May dashed in front of Touma and intercepted the strike.Bookmark here

“Get back Touma, you’re useless here.”Bookmark here

May pushed Hayate’s sword back with her arm blades as she charged forward to begin an offensive. Hayate summoned his wakizashi to keep up with May’s speed as they clashed.Bookmark here

“How sad that Touma needs the ice queen to bail him out!”Bookmark here

May used the length of her arm blades to keep distance as she poked and stabbed at Hayate, who used his two swords to redirect most of her attacks. Hayate purposefully blocked the next attack so he could stall May.Bookmark here

“So you think you’re any better than Touma? Neither of you are a match for me,” Hayate said as he clashed swords with May.Bookmark here

“Just cause you picked up some cool new party tricks doesn’t mean you can use them in a fight,” May replied.Bookmark here

“Oh? You want to test that?!”Bookmark here

//////Bookmark here

Leon looked around the void, the Fake Oire had disappeared but Leon did not return to his body.Bookmark here

“What happened? Why haven’t I returned? I saw both Oire and the memory fade away.”Bookmark here

Leon heard a voice from behind him, he turned around and saw a younger version of himself facing someone. It was the person he could not remember from his childhood.Bookmark here

“I’ll talk to you about it again when we play tomorrow, bye Leon!” the nameless child said to a young Leon.Bookmark here

“Oh, ok. See you tomorrow [---],” young Leon said as he waved goodbye.Bookmark here

The scene faded and was replaced by a different scene. Young Leon was sitting in class as the teacher called for him. He walked outside where the teacher was waiting with another adult.Bookmark here

“Leon,” the teacher began to say. “[---] would like to see you before they go.”Bookmark here

“Go?” Young Leon asked in a confused tone. “I thought [---] was sick because they missed the last week of school? Where are they going? On a trip?”Bookmark here

“It might be good if you went to see them first, [---]’s uncle will drive you there.”Bookmark here

The scene faded again.Bookmark here

“What the hell is all this? I don’t remember any of this,” Leon said with a mix of anger and confusion.Bookmark here

The next scene faded in. Young Leon was walking through a hospital with the adult from earlier. They arrived at a hospital room where Leon’s group of friends were waiting outside.Bookmark here

“Ah, Leon’s here!” Kelvin called out.Bookmark here

“Why is everyone here?” Young Leon asked.Bookmark here

“The adults all said [---] wanted to see us.” Daniel replied.Bookmark here

As the children talked, the adult spoke with a doctor who was nearby.Bookmark here

“Doctor, these are all our visitors.”Bookmark here

“Alright, please let them know that we will need to keep the visit short.”Bookmark here

The adult turned to the children.Bookmark here

“Mister, why are we at a hospital, did something happen to [---]?” Kelvin asked.Bookmark here

“[---] is very sick, but they specifically wanted to see all of you because you were their best friends.”Bookmark here

As the group entered the hospital room, they saw [---] lying on the bed with a respirator and hooked up to an IV. [---] turned and looked at the group, they smiled under the respirator.Bookmark here

“Oh, everyone. You came to visit.”Bookmark here

Leon noticed that all of his friends were in shock over [---]’s condition, but the person affected the most was the young Leon.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry for making you guys worry; I don’t know if we’ll be able to have that adventure now,” [---] said weakly.Bookmark here

Young Leon was still in shock, he slowly backed away and ran off past the hospital corridor and into the void.Bookmark here

“Was that … what really happened?” Leon asked in shock.Bookmark here

One final scene faded in, where a slightly older Leon was talking with his group of friends.Bookmark here

“So I think we should have our future group trip in Europe! What do you guys think?” Kelvin asked.Bookmark here

“Europe sounds like fun,” young Leon replied.Bookmark here

“It’s a good way of remembering [---] too!” Jin added.Bookmark here

As everyone nodded in agreement, young Leon just stared at them with a confused face.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong Leon?” Kelvin asked.Bookmark here

“Who’s [---]?” he asked in return.Bookmark here

“C’mon Leon, you know, [---],” Daniel tried to explain. “The person who suggested we take a trip together someday?”Bookmark here

“Uh, no. I thought I made that suggestion. I told you guys that we should go on an adventure someday. Don’t you remember?”Bookmark here

Leon watched as his friends whispered to each other for a moment.Bookmark here

“Hey what are you guys whispering about over there?” young Leon asked.Bookmark here

“Oh nothing, Leon. Yeah you’re right, I guess we just got some names confused,” Kelvin responded.Bookmark here

“Hmm, okay. So about the places we can go in Europe…”Bookmark here

As the scene faded away, Leon just stared in disbelief.Bookmark here

//////Bookmark here

May and Hayate dashed towards each other, with May bringing her right arm blade down in a slashing motion. Hayate smiled as he summoned his odachi from behind his right side and swung it upward as they collided, before immediately swinging it down. The first strike instantly broke May’s right arm blade, while the second knocked her to the ground.Bookmark here

“Would ya look at that, seems like this new power really is helpin out.” Hayate said with a smug expression.Bookmark here

He raised his odachi for a follow up attack. Before Hayate could swing down, he felt a shockwave before he was struck in the head with a spear thrown from behind May. The spear sent Hayate flying back over ten metres. As Hayate got up, he looked to see Leon standing in front of May. Leon held his spear in his right hand as he offered his left hand to May, she grabbed his hand as he helped her up.Bookmark here

“Well well well, you certainly got lucky didn’t ya.” Hayate said to May before he looked at Leon. “Who the hell do you think you are, some sort of hero?” Bookmark here

“I’m no hero,” Leon replied. “I’m just the team leader, so it’s my job to protect my teammates.”Bookmark here

With the final anchor gone, the black mist quickly faded and the area became saturated with Mana. May and Touma repaired their Mana shields as they summoned back new weapons. As the three of them stood side-by-side, Hayate began to back up.Bookmark here

“Heh, just cause you got the numbers advantage; don’t go thinking you won. If you want to finish this, you’ll know where to find us. We’ll be waiting."Bookmark here

Hayate jumped out of the valley and ran off into the tundra. Leon looked at Touma and May.Bookmark here

“Are you guys okay?”Bookmark here

“Might have been bad if you didn’t come back when you did,” Touma said with a sigh. “I’m glad you’re our leader.”Bookmark here

“Thanks for the save,” May quietly said to Leon.Bookmark here

Leon took a deep breath and looked at the black band on his left wrist. All six anchors had been absorbed into the band, causing it to glow slightly. Leon also looked at the time on his left arm.Bookmark here

“Let’s go back and get some rest,” he said to Touma and May. “We’ll end all of this tomorrow.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.