"Haa....haaa!" Not understanding what just happened I gasped for air. The terrible pain that was in my head suddenly subsided as I confusingly rubbed my forehead.
"I won't be able to prevent it anymore, least you allow yourself again to such weakness Takatora Ryuuko. I pray that you shall not be fully consumed the next time." I heard Alma mumbled.
"Wha-what did you do to me?!"
But just as I asked, the ground began to shake. A loud sound of cracking caught my ears as I turned around and saw fissures in the far void, like strange cracks on hard glass.
"It seems our time here is nearly up. Aaah...those boys of yours, it seems they're causing more trouble than the Anti-bodies could handle and soon, the "Savior" shall descend upon this land.
When that happens, it will become complicated. How annoying..." Alma spoke in a tone of seriousness.
There was no emotion on their face, no smile, no smirk, as only their soul-less eyes remained, looking up towards the void.
"Huh?! Then that means, the President and Hideyoshi, they're okay?!"
"Unfortunately, it would seem they're much more of a nuisance than I had anticipated. Still, very impressive." Alma sighed.
Hearing Alma speak in such distress, I couldn't help but find myself laughing.
"Ha ha ha...that's what you get for underestimating the A.R.C.! Looks like not even you can see and control everything!" I sniggered.
"Oh, what's this now? Getting snarky, are we Takatora Ryuuko? This is a side of you I've never encountered before." Alma smirked.
"Shut up! You don't know anything about me." I angrily rebutted as I struggled to my feet. "I can see you looking down on all of us.
You're human, yet you act as if you're some sort of higher being...err..."
I quickly rethought my statement, as I remembered that this person in front of me is possibly responsible for the entirety of Artificial.
Such a thing to say, even if senpai had confirmed to me they were human,
might not be appropriate to this person in front of me who is something that might be beyond the bounds of a normal human being.
"Go on. What were you going to say?" Alma giggled as they noticed my stumble.
"N-never mind." I shook my head nervously as I took a quick step back away from them.
The exchange of conversation have unexpectedly dulled my wariness of this person,
but reevaluating the situation I am currently in brought reminders of how dangerous the one who is currently standing before me is.
"Back on your guard again, Takatora Ryuuko? How disappointing. I was actually enjoying our small time as actual friends."
"Why...why do you keep referring to me as your friend? Especially when you know I want nothing to do with you?" I asked warily.
"Because I like you, Takatora Ryuuko. I really do." They responded with a mischievous smile, making me not sure if they meant it or if it was a honeyed lie.
"How I do wish you were not so hostile towards me in our encounters. Even now you are cowering before me, despite your claim of me as just another "human"."
"Err...r-right." I wracked my brain as I tried to remember every time we met, I was indeed angry and bitter towards them.
Could it be possible that I was in the wrong this entire time? That this person was indeed trying to be friends?
After all, now that I think long and hard about it, it was I who asked for them to save me that time...
"No! No, no no! Don't fall for it!" I slapped my face as I tried to snap myself out of such thinking.
"Dangerous! Dangerous! This person is dangerous! That is a fact! It is because of them that I am in this situation in the first place!"
"Heh heh heh...it seems there are some ways to go before I am to be truly accepted as your friend. But I eagerly await that day, Takatora Ryuuko."
"E-enough joking around. What do you mean by it being more complicated if a "Savior" is to descend? What is this "Savior" you're talking about and how does it affect us? What about the A.R.C.?!"
"Now, now, Takatora Ryuuko. A question at a time. Being always so riled up, such emotions will do you no good." Alma responded coyly with a finger on their lips.
"Ugh...you're dodging my questions again. F-fine...would you kindly please explain to me?" I reluctantly backed down and asked nicely.
"The "Savior" that is to descend is the guardian of Eden's garden of mercy that spins the flow of emotions. They are the final defense of this "paradise", and a nuisance.
" Alma bitterly spat as they explained. "I had hoped to avoid them before finishing what is needed to be done, but that might not be a possibility anymore. What a shame.
And the Savior to come, it would be..."
Alma was then quiet, the look on their face turned blank. But as I stared at them I couldn't help but feel that there was a sense of sadness coming from them despite the lack of any emotions.
However the moment I blinked I saw that they were looking back at me with a smirk.
"Takatora Ryuuko, why did you hesitated to shoot?" They suddenly asked.
"Huh?" I struggled to find words to explain. "Because...because if I had fired, I would have killed you. And...and..."
"Was it an act of selfish mercy? Or did you actually have such unfaltering kindness in your heart, despite saying you'll never forgive me?"
"I...I don't know." I looked away cowardly. "It was nothing of the sort, as I did not know myself why I couldn't pull the trigger either.
Of course I can't find myself forgiving you for all you have done but...the thought of killing another human being. I'm not sure...I'm not sure if I'm able to."
"Yet you pulled a blade on me just moments earlier. How strange you are." Alma sneered.
"I-I lost control of myself! It was your fault for provoking me like that! But...I won't let such a thing happen again.
" I quickly rebuked as I looked at my hand, feeling shame, and closing it tightly into a fist.
"I said that I won't allow others to have their ways with me anymore, especially you! Yet to lose myself like that is also...ugh..."
"Yes, I heard you. That was when you found your determination with those boys to come meet me, was it not? Heh heh, foolish girl." Alma snickered in response.
"You-! How long have you been watching me?! You said you would await me in this terrible place, but you've been spying on me the entire time, haven't you!? Then what was the point of all of this?
Alma suddenly got close to me, their face appearing right in front of mine causing me to nearly fall over.
"What are you even-?!"
"Takatora Ryuuko..., Eve...; that sense of determination to not be controlled, I hope you will not allow it to falter. Because the moment you allow yourself to waver, you will be devoured.
Not just by others but yourself." Alma warned their voice in utmost seriousness before switching back to a more condescending tone. "And that would be troublesome for me.
As I said, I rather like you very much and it would be a shame to lose you to something so disappointingly menial."
"Umm...okay?" I replied meekly as I slowly backed away from them.
The way they spoke was different from our usual conversations, lacking any feel of hostility or trickery yet I did not understand what they meant.
Rubbing my forehead again, I tried to make sure the headache that was tearing my head apart earlier was really gone before hearing a sigh from Alma as they turned from me and floated away.
"Where are you going?!"
"We are leaving. The path to Kardea is opened to us now and we can come back at any time thanks to you, but I will not stay to face the coming Savior."
"But what of the A.R.C.?!"
"They will die. Sacrifices for the greater good, you could say." Alma replied coldly without even looking back.
"No! You can't just let them die! All of this is your fault!"
"On the contrary, you were the one who brought them along. After all, I have no use for worms."
"Ugh...but...but..." I struggled to find a way to argue but it seems that no matter how hard I try to convince them it would be pointless.
Guilt filled me as I thought about how it is true that it was I who made them come with me and that now, if something isn't to be done, everyone will really die.
"You said, that you are my friend. Well, if you really are my friend then you will listen to my request!"
Alma stopped moving and turned back to me. "Go on..."
"Err...umm...you're calling yourself my friend. But if that is really true, then that means that the members of the A.R.C.
are also your friends! I mean, isn't the friends of a friend also your friends as well?"
"Hmm...a sound argument.
However, isn't friends of a friend who one never met before just acquaintances? Frankly, I could care less about fools who has latched on to you for their own selfish gains.
You do not know this, but they only got close to you to get to me. You were nothing more than a tool or bait to them for catching me." Alma chuckled as they explained.
"Huh?! No, that's-that's not true at all!" I hastily denied.
"Is it? Takatora Ryuuko, even if you don't trust me, you should know that I know everything about you and that little club of yours.
They could try to hide in their little room and try to cover themselves in darkness to avoid me, but I can still hear it all. Idiots, through and through.
Although, it seems there were feelings of concern for you coming from some of them, but I wonder how much of it are genuine? Hmm hmm." They mused.
"Even so, you just can't leave them to die like this! If not for them, then as my f-f-friend...
" The words struggled to come out of my mouth, leaving such a sour taste I nearly choked myself saying it. "Please, help them. I beg of you!"
"And what do you expect from me? I have neither the power nor tolerance to face the coming Savior."
As I was about to rebuke I saw a strange sight. Coming from Alma's eyes were sparkles of...
tears? It was impossible to tell if my eyes were playing tricks on me as they vanished as soon as they appeared, leaving no traces.
Are they crying? But that's not possible, is it?
Shaking my head I looked back at them again to confirm what I saw, but Alma’s face was already back to the usual look of emotionless.
“What can I even hope to do...? I cannot help them even if I want to.” The words coming from their mouth, I could almost hear a crack in their voice.
Just seeing them like this, I felt a tightness in my chest. For the first time in all our conversation, what they were saying did not sound like a lie.
“Then...if you can’t help them, then send me back. You can do that at least, can’t you?” I finally said, my heart pounding wildly from my abrupt decision.
“Why? I do not understand why you are willing to go so far for them. What purpose does it serve for you to risk your life for such worthless people?
It would be better if they are to return their sins back to the earth from where they arise.”
I was left speechless. By all accounts, hearing such a thing should have infuriated me, filled me with such anger and made me lose control.
How could anyone say something like this? For there to be such a coldhearted human being!
But shockingly, I was not angry. No, not one bit.
As I looked at Alma floating in the air, a being of indistinguishable gender with their hair glowing an unearthly silver that ties itself to a single braid drooping from their left side,
their face with empty eyes that lack any sense of color or life and an unsettling smile that spread across their cheeks yet does not show a hint of empathy, what I felt was not anger. Instead,
“I pity you.” The words slid from my mouth as I felt my eyes becoming hazy. The tightness in my chest got even tighter as the emotions flooded my mind; a mix of sadness and disgust I’ve never felt before towards another living being.
When I first met you, I was indeed terrified but not because of your appearance. Instead it was because I laid dying, that I thought my last moment was a hallucination and I was going to die dreaming of being in the presence of another.
But when it turned out you were real, honestly, I was overjoyed. Your hands were so cold yet when you held me in your arm, I was happy. When I think back to it, you did save me not just from the brink of death but also from my own fears.”
“Then you should have good manners and thank me.” They smirked.
“The second time I met you on the roof, while you had scared me, what you brought out in me was a side that I’ve never even seen before in myself.
Anger and hatred towards another, enough that I lost control and even hoped to inflict violence on you when you threatened the people of Artificial and my best friend. For that, I will never, ever forgive you.”
I continued, ignoring their jeers. “Even today, the only reason I came to this place, to give into your demands to come back to this nightmare world, was to stop you at all cost! But now, I finally understand everything.”
“Oh? And what might that be, Takatora Ryuuko?”
“You are nothing, Alma. You are not a monster, but you are not a human. You threaten the lives of people, yet you are powerless to help. You speak in jeers and riddles, acting smug and confident, but you hide behind a mask.
You look down on others, but you are nothing more than a coward. Do you know what is the difference between the A.R.C. and you are, Alma?
While both of you saved my life, it was them who truly stayed by my side in my time of need.”
“You belittle them, saying that they are only using me for their selfish needs, but what of you? I also will not deny that I dragged them into all of this because of my own weakness and selfish fears,
but President Nobunaga, Mitsuhide-senpai, and Hideyoshi, were all still willing to put their lives on the line for others.
They knew of the dangers, of how all of this might be in over their heads, yet they did not hesitate, not one bit, while you here are turning tail and trying to run despite whatever supernatural powers you possess.”
“I too, now feel the same way. Hearing you call me a “friend” disgust me to no end, because you speak of it with empty meaning. You are not my friend, and you never will be.
My friends are the A.R.C., who are now in trouble and I refuse to leave them to their fates by themselves.”
“...I will not be able to protect you if you are to go.” Alma said quietly.
“I do not need protection. Not from you, not from anyone else anymore. All I want is to be with my clubmates; my friends. I do not care for any of this, not about you nor what you hope to accomplish. I will wish you the best of luck, but I do not care.
Call me Eve, call me a scourge, call me a virus, call me whatever you want. But all I am now is Takatora Ryuuko; a member of the Artificial Research Club and I want to be by their side. Please...let me be with them at the end.” I smiled weakly.
Alma only stared at me. There was no smile, no jeering smirk, no mocking grin. I watched as their soul-less eyes were fixated on me as I felt the tears rolling down my cheeks.
“Foolish girl...” I finally heard a sigh as I looked to see Alma preparing to snap their fingers.