Somewhere the world was ending, and Nasch was running out of time. He flew and ran in turns across the myriad miniature spaces between the Parallel Worlds, heading towards the site of the distortion. Don Thousand and Yuuma and Astral and Vector were fighting somewhere, and at any moment the battle would end and the victor would possess the Numeron Code.
It was possible, then, that it would be his victory. It was possible that at that moment he would cease to have ever existed. It was even possible nothing would happen.
Nasch did not care about the fallout, so long as he made it to Yuuma’s side. It was better to see him, just once more, with his true eyes and his true face, then to win the war and not.
The force of the battle, which sent out beams of light and bursts of thunder and twisted the universe the closer he got, was dying down. And now he could see rubble, and craters, and burn marks. They had fought here.
And then it went silent and still, and Nasch burst through into a ruined wasteland that looked like giants had brawled all over it, and there was a smashed boulder that he could just imagine Yuuma slamming into as his life points went to zero and his soul was snuffed out.
“Yuuma!” His voice echoed off the mountains. He screamed. “YUUMA!”
He ran through a pile of tubes and twisted metal and pink gems, and only realized that it was Vector’s corpse when it was behind him. He didn’t turn back, though. He followed the trail of destruction, howling out Yuuma’s name, looking for a flash of bright blue or a glimpse of colored armor or some sign that Yuuma had won the right to rewrite the universe.
What if he was dead?
A glint of gold. Nasch glanced down and saw the Emperor’s Key, dirty and embedded in the ground, at his feet.
Only a few feet away, Yuuma had fallen.
“Yuuma!” Nasch yanked the key out of the rock and collapsed onto his knees at Yuuma’s side. He was lying on his back in the dust, dried blood at the corner of his mouth, eyes half-lidded. His duel disk had shattered, and there were cards spilled out beside him. There was something blue and white and glowing laying a little ways away, but Nasch paid it no mind.
His voice was much too soft, and when he spoke Nasch saw his teeth were stained pink, one of them missing. Yuuma tried to smile, and his drawing hand, the one laying on his stomach and holding his vest closed, twitched a little. Nasch cried out. He carefully hung the Key he’d rescued around Yuuma’s neck again.
So this was victory. Nasch would have preferred not to exist, to spare Yuuma this pain. He grabbed Yuuma’s hand in his own carefully, covered it with his enormous fingers and long, sharp talons. His orange vest fell open to reveal his shirtfront, which was soaked in wet, fresh blood.
“No,” he breathed, reaching out to lift his shirt up off of the wound – it was stuck to the skin beneath and he had to cut it aside – to reveal a chunk of his torso was just missing. Whether it was a death wound or not, Nasch couldn’t even fathom; the sight of Yuuma so injured made him sick and anxious and horrified. Why hadn’t he come earlier?
“You came back,” Yuuma murmured, and Nasch snatched him up in his arms and cradled him, so that his face was close, so that he could hear his fading, thin voice properly. “I knew you would.”
“Yuuma, don’t go,” he begged. Yuuma’s lashes were fluttering. At any moment his eyes might fall shut for the final time. He could die, right here, in Nasch’s arms. “I…I love…”
“I’m gonna make a wish,” Yuuma whispered over his pitiful attempt at a last, desperate confession. “An’ then you won’t have to fight anymore.”
“A wish…? You mean the Code? Yuuma—”
In all his frantic babbling, he almost missed Yuuma’s soft exhalation. “Me too.”
He stilled in Nasch’s embrace, his head falling against his stony shoulder. Nasch clutched at him and could still feel a pulse, but it wasn’t much. And it was slowing. Yuuma was dying, and there was no one else here, and he was powerless – he was powerless – oh god, what would happen to him if he died? Would he rank up, at this age? Become a Barian and be cursed as he was? Disappear?
In the depths of his despair, Nasch had an idea.
If it were possible for Barians to transfer each other strength, and to improve each other’s healings, transmitting from gem to gem – would it work on a human? Did he even have the power to heal someone else left, when he had used up so much to reach Yuuma’s side? It had taken four of them at minimum, before, when they wanted to heal one another. And he was alone.
But there was no option but to try, not with Yuuma’s heartbeat petering out under his hands.
He pressed them together, so that the central gems, the three staggered across his chest, all stuck obscenely into Yuuma’s battered torso. He could feel the sticky blood and the warmth between them. He braced Yuuma carefully, so that his claws wouldn’t dig into his shoulders or back.
And then he opened himself, letting power bubbled into the gems, letting the last of his magic flow out, and tried to shove it into Yuuma. There were no receiving gems in a human, but…
“Please,” Nasch whimpered, and he tilted his head back, torturing himself with his last expression. The cracked lip, the scraped cheek, the bruises…the bruises were gone. Nasch traced the clean, tanned skin under Yuuma’s eye, where there had been black and purple and blue marks before.
The wound was still open and bleeding, Yuuma’s life pouring out while he thought, and he was out of magic to transfer.
Well, there was one more thing he had in him.
His heart crystal. There was enough stored energy there to stop the bleeding and reverse some of the internal damage. It might keep Yuuma alive.
And it would definitely kill him.
Nasch laughed bitterly. It wasn’t even a choice. He held Yuuma against him again, and closed his eyes, and focused.
It came slowly. The power trapped within him didn’t want to leave. The gems lit slowly, dully, as the purest essence of Nasch’s self, the light that was his literal life, began to leave his body. It was hard, and Nasch pushed himself, ignoring the pain, desperately imagining Yuuma’s eyes opening once more.
The dam in him broke, and the first of the three gems cracked, then shattered, power rushing into Yuuma like a waterfall. He pitched backwards in agony, and Yuuma’s weight atop him was suddenly unbearable, the pressure on the gems that were now overflowing with the last of him so painful he saw stars.
Nasch bore it, and tried again. He could feel the blood between them cooling, and he prayed, and –
– the last thing he heard was the sound of Yuuma drawing breath –
He was lying on top of something pointy and uncomfortable, and for a moment Yuuma thought that he had fallen asleep with the Key underneath him again. He opened his mouth to yawn, and tell Astral that he was a real pain, and –
— he was lying on top of a Barian’s body. Yuuma screamed and rolled to the side, stomach heaving at the sight of him. The Barian’s torso had crumbled away, leaving grey and purple and shiny pink dust where his chest should have been, and his limbs and head were still intact though there wasn’t much left for them to attach to.
Yuuma made himself look again, feeling pity for the fallen Barian, and realized that there was something familiar about the shape of the pikes on the head. His eyes were still open, and they were painfully blue.
“No,” he said. He clutched at his throat in the gesture of comfort he had held since his father died, and felt the Key there, even though he remembered losing it.
That was right. He’d been dueling, he and Astral, in their final Zexal form, and they had won the duel. From the light a card had appeared, the fabled Numeron Code, and they had separated. Astral had cried out to him when he saw him, even as he faded away, and Yuuma had wanted to say something, maybe say goodbye this time, but his body had been so heavy, so sore, and the light had faded, and…
Now his best friend was a Barian Lord, and he was dead.
“Shark…” He touched Shark’s smooth, mouthless face. Had he been in pain? Had Yuuma somehow made him suffer? “Was this my fault?”
He couldn’t remember. He looked down at himself, hoping for some answers, and discovered that his shirt was stained with dried brown blood. He had a dim memory of pain, there, in the center of the stain where the color was darkest, but when he lifted his shirt hem with bated breath, he found the skin underneath to be unmarked. He felt fine.
So he had been wounded, and alone, and now he was healed and Shark was…Yuuma couldn’t bring himself to give the words life again, not even his in thoughts. It was too cruel.
When Astral had told him that Shark was a Barian, he hadn’t believed him. Even so, he’d vowed he’d make it so that it wouldn’t matter what he was.
He’d vowed…the Numeron Code! Yuuma jumped up from where he’d knelt down, scanning the landscape for some sign for the proof of his victory. At first there was nothing but the aftermath of their duel, and Yuuma despaired, and then he saw it.
It was blue and white and it shone. It was shaped like a card, but when he picked it up it made his ears ring, and his skin buzz, and his eyes water.
“The Numeron Code can rewrite the universe,” he murmured. “But…how do I use it?”
It looked like a card. Yuuma glanced down at his arm, where the remains of his duel disk were still strapped on. One of the monster zone slots was still mostly attached.
He slotted the Code in underneath it, and the world changed.
Suddenly Yuuma’s memories were clear, and he recalled immediately that Astral had return to his home world, that he had been carried back to his kin, who greeted him warmly. He recalled every blow where the damage had been delayed, held off by the miraculous power of Zexal. He saw the instant their merge was underdone, and his body took its share of the battle’s force, all at once, slicing out a chunk of his flesh.
He saw Shark kneel down beside him, and lift him into his arms, and lay the key around his neck, and whisper into his ear, a soft unfinished sentence that broke Yuuma’s heart.
“How do I fix it?” He asked. The world stopped spinning, the all-encompassing awareness went away, and a voice that was a thousand voices all at once rang out.
What kind of world do you desire?
“I want to make a world where Shark and I won’t have to fight, and he’s still…still alive!”
The sound of his voice tapered off into nothing. The Code remained as it was. Yuuma closed his eyes; had he done it wrong? Or could the Code not restore Shark to life?
It is done.
“Hey, Yuuma, that was a great combo Astral came up with!” Tetsuo said.
Yuuma made a face. “That was my combo!”
“Right.” Kotori laughed and winked at Astral, who was floating behind him, expression peaceful. “Who are you going to duel next?”
“I’m going to find someone really strong!”
“And then lose?”
“No way! Against a strong opponent, my kattobingu will really shine! You’ll see – oomph!”
Yuuma grunted as he rammed into someone going in the opposite direction. A purple-haired boy in a uniform he didn’t recognize – a private school – glanced at him, and then shouldered his bag again and walked off. Yuuma watched him walk away, annoyed; he hadn’t even apologized.
“Do you know him, Yuuma?” Astral asked.
“Never seen him before,” Yuuma replied cheerfully. He forgot all about the rude boy when he saw some kids dueling up ahead. “Come on! Let’s go!”