Grazhir :: Crossover :: Hisui :: 15

15: 2015

When they got up to the roof he could see what resembled a hexagonal spiderweb of cables, with odd rods at each outer point, and one at the center. Lambo’s eyes went wide on seeing it, though Hisui could not tell if the boy was awed or scared.

“Tonight’s combat arena has been fitted with lightning rods for the match between the Lightning Guardians. The battleground is called the Elettrico Circuito.”

Lightning arced down and hit one of the rods; the electricity was drawn down and into the cabling, making a bright show of it.

“The Elettrico Circuito’s floor has been coated with a special conductor. The lightning that strikes the rods will be discharged onto the floor at several times its normal potency.”

“No way!” Tsuna said in disbelief. “You’d be burnt to death from just standing there!”

“They knew that a thunderstorm was coming tonight and set this up, huh?” Hayato remarked.

Lambo hopped out of his arms and pointed. “Lambo-san wants to do that!”

“Hey, wait! Lambo-kun! It’s dangerous!” Tsuna snaked out a hand to grab at Lambo, causing one of the child’s horns to pop free and hit the rooftop. “Ah, you dropped your horn again.” He crouched down to retrieve it, but Hayato snatched it out of his hand.

“Give me that,” Hayato muttered, then pulled a marker from his back pocket and wrote something on the horn. “Now everyone will know that this belongs to you,” he said smugly, and offered it to Lambo.

Lambo gasped as he took it. A quick look showed that Hayato had defaced it with an insult.

“Lightning Guardian Lambo, please go to the center of the battleground. Your opponent has been waiting for two hours.”

Lambo was grabbed for a group cheer—Hisui rolled his eyes, but if it helped, so be it—and pulled away slightly after by Tsuna. “Lambo-kun, listen to me! If you don’t want to go, you don’t have to. I don’t know why my dad picked you, but there’s something wrong in having such a young kid fight. You don’t want to die this young, right?”

Lambo adopted a blasé look. “My, my, my. Tsuna-kun doesn’t know? Lambo-san can’t die because he’s invincible. Bye.” He started to walk away, but Tsuna grabbed him again.

“Wait. You can’t shoot the Ten Year Bazooka, okay!? The older Lambo forbade it. But if you’re still going, take these.” He offered up a different set of horns.

“Ew! Lambo-san doesn’t want those!”

“Just take them!” Tsuna insisted, and shoved them into Lambo’s hands.

“I’m going!” Lambo scampered off to the battleground and stopped at the nearest Cervello. “Hey, hey, how do you play with this?”

“Lambo-kun,” Tsuna whispered.

Hisui sat down on the short retaining wall enclosing the roof and sighed. Renato joined him a moment later and slipped an arm around his shoulders.

“The battle for the Lightning Ring, Leviathan versus Lambo—begin!”

The little cow was electrified all of ten seconds later, while he was examining the cabling and muttering to himself. He hit the floor face first.

“Lambo-kun!” Tsuna yelled.

“…We have to check to see if he’s still alive.”

Levi scoffed. “There’s no need. He’s gone.”

Lambo sat up at that point and burst into tears. “It hurts!” The spare set of horns he had been given tumbled to the ground.

“He’s okay!” Tsuna cried. “He’s alive! Wait—” He looked around quickly, spotted them, and dashed over. “How is he alive?”

“It’s a trait his skin gained after being struck by lightning multiple times when he was younger.”

“Yeah, because it’s not as if someone was trying to kill him or anything,” he muttered.

“It’s called Elettrico Cuoio, a type of skin that’s an excellent conductor of electricity. Even if he’s hit by lightning, it’ll travel along his skin and discharge into the ground, and prevent damage to the brain or internal organs, or even surface burns, for the most part. He must not only take lightning, but also the damage to the famiglia, like a lightning rod. That’s the role of the Lightning Guardian.”

Levi got over his shock, Lambo stopped crying loudly, and Levi went on the offensive. When Lambo hit the floor again, his horns falling off from the blow to join the spare set already on the roof, the crying started anew, but that time he fetched out his bazooka and fired. When the smoke cleared they could see an older Lambo, wearing a bib napkin and holding a set of hashi with a dumpling between them.

“I didn’t think dumplings were going to be my last supper,” Lambo commented.

“Voi! What the hell? There’s an outsider in there!” Squalo complained.

“No, he’s the ring holder summoned from ten years into the future by the Ten Year Bazooka. Therefore, we recognize him as the candidate and the battle may continue.”

“Lambo, I’m sorry!” Tsuna shouted. “Your child form couldn’t handle it!”

“Please don’t apologize,” Lambo said, reaching down to pick up the younger Lambo’s dropped horns. As he set them in place he continued, “I had a feeling that it was going to happen. Anyway, young Vongola, when I absolutely have to do something, I can be a man.”

“Don’t stand out more than me,” Levi complained.

“You’re Varia? That’s an impossible request. I’m star material. Thunder set!” Lightning arced down and set his horns crackling. “Take this! Electric horns!” Lambo bent over and charged.

Hisui covered his eyes, expecting it to be no different than the time he had tried that on Renato.

“You stand out too much,” Levi said. “The one who’ll fulfill the role of Lightning Guardian and gain the most trust from the boss will be me!” Those hilts on his back all flew out and formed a circle in the air; they were umbrellas, and every last one of them was gathering a charge. They released it at Lambo, who jerked to a stop and cried out in pain, then collapsed.

Lambo cried; he sat up; he tried to stand.

Levi sent one of those umbrellas to pierce through Lambo’s shoulder. “I won’t let you run away. I will kill you thoroughly. I’ll cut you up and make steak out of you.”

“I feel like a damn sadist watching this,” he complained to his lover as Lambo picked up the fallen bazooka and shot himself with it. From out of the smoke came a twenty-five year old Lambo. “Wow, he grew up nice.”

Renato poked him in the side.

He smacked his lover’s hand. “Don’t be perverted.”

“Ah, this situation,” Lambo said. “If I’m not dreaming, I must be…” He glanced over at the audience and smiled slightly. “I didn’t think I’d get to see you guys again. All your faces… How nostalgic.”

‘What the hell does that mean?’

“It’s enough to move me to tears. But it seems like this is no time to be emotional. There’s a very rough-looking person staring at me.”

Levi looked very put out, in fact. “It doesn’t matter who you are. I’m going to kill you,” he asserted. His umbrellas went out again and started charging, then fired, just as lightning came down from the sky and hit the rods. Levi turned away from the sight and started walking, sure of his victory.

“Hey. Where do you think you’re going?” Lambo asked.

“What!?” Levi looked over his shoulder to see a perfectly fine Lambo.

“Watch.” Lambo crouched down and placed a hand on the floor. “Electric Reversal!” All the electricity stored in his horns drained into the building and shattered all the windows. “Electricity is like a kitten to me,” he said calmly. “Do you understand now?”

“I really took a gamble on his potential in becoming Lightning Guardian,” Iemitsu said. “It seems he’s even exceeded my expectations.”

‘If it wasn’t against the rules or my principles, I would hurt you so bad, you asshole,’ he thought as Lambo charged the spare set of horns, which had hit the floor again, and were, apparently, his. ‘Gods this is confusing,’ he complained. ‘If it wouldn’t devastate Nana-chan I would seriously consider causing an accident of heinous proportions to send Iemitsu-san off to a long-term care ward.’

Twenty-five year old Lambo had learned how to extend electricity and flames outward from his horns, so he did not need to get so close as his younger versions did. He charged and nailed Levi, knocking him to the ground and bloodying him badly. Unfortunately, inevitably, the timer ran down and five year old Lambo reappeared, and promptly fell over. He looked to be unconscious.

“In the end, the one who is more suited to the role of Lightning Guardian is still me,” Levi said.

“You’ll be disqualified if you interfere,” Renato reminded Tsuna, who looked all of two seconds away from charging in to snatch Lambo away.

“That’s correct,” said a Cervello. “One step onto the battleground will cause your disqualification and confiscation of your ring.”

Levi’s foot raised up over Lambo’s head. It went down, then kicked. Lambo went flying. Hisui stared at Iemitsu with hatred, but he also felt it for himself, and for Levi, and even the Vongola in general at that moment.

Tsuna started forward.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Renato asked.

Tsuna stopped and looked back. “I have to protect Lambo-kun!”

“Do as you will, then.”

Levi raised an umbrella to the sky and smiled as lightning struck and charged it. “Final blow.”

Renato fired.

Tsuna destroyed the lightning rods, melting them, and the cables, as well. He was not in Dying Will Mode, but rather Hyper Dying Will Mode. “If I just sit back to watch my precious comrades die before my eyes, I wouldn’t be able to atone for it no matter how many times I died,” he said calmly.

“Tsu-na…”

“No matter how important they’re said to be … the Vongola rings … the position as the next boss … I can’t battle for such things. But my friends… I don’t want my friends to be hurt!” Tsuna said, the flames sputtering out.

“Stop that rubbish,” said a new voice, then Tsuna went flying.

The only reason Hisui wasn’t frothing was because the kitten had destroyed the battleground’s capacity, so Lambo should not be in any immediate danger from it. Levi was another story. But, given that Tsuna had already caused a forfeit, there should be nothing to stop him from bringing Lambo to him directly if the asshole should try to kill the child again.

Xanxus was standing atop the stairwell room. “What’s up with that expression?” he asked Tsuna. “Can it be that you were seriously thinking you could defeat me and become the successor?”

For a split second Tsuna had a look of condescension on his face, but it quickly morphed. “I wasn’t thinking about that at all! I just don’t want to lose any of my friends in these battles!”

Xanxus looked shocked for some reason. His hand came up, wreathed in dark flame. “I see… You!”

A Cervello jumped that way. “Xanxus-sama, please don’t! If you interfere here, the meaning of the scramble battles will be—please put away your fists!”

Xanxus flung a hand out and slammed the girl with those dark flames. “Shut up!” She hit the ground on level with the destroyed mechanisms. “I haven’t lost my temper,” Xanxus claimed. “Rather, I’m becoming quite excited.” He smiled fiercely. “Now I finally understand the reason the old geezer chose you as his successor, even if it was only temporary. Whether it’s this rotten talk, or that weak flame, you and the old fart are similar in many ways.”

“Eh?”

Xanxus started laughing. “We’ll have a tragedy—no, a comedy here! Hey, you women. Continue.”

“Yes,” the unharmed one said. “Leviathan is the winner of this battle. And, due to Sawada-san’s interference, the Sky Ring is also forfeit to the Varia.” She moved to retrieve the Lightning Ring from where it had dropped, then plucked the ring from around Tsuna’s neck.

Hisui reached out and brought Lambo to him, to cradle in his arms. No one even seemed to notice. A diagnostic spell—which he was admittedly not skilled at—showed him the cow was in something akin to a healing coma. Had he had just enough energy left to pull the trigger before lapsing into unconsciousness? Had something happened to him while he was ten years into the future to worsen his condition?

The Cervello approached Xanxus and offered them to him. “Xanxus-sama, here are the rings.”

Xanxus tucked the Lightning Ring in his pocket, but wore the complete Sky Ring. “It’s only natural that this ring is here. Who other than me can be the Vongola Decimo? The rest of the rings don’t matter. I can order you guys to be killed under the name of the Vongola any time now.”

“That can’t be!” Tsuna shrieked.

He shook his head slightly. ‘How many damn times does it have to be said before it sinks in?’

“Still, it wouldn’t be fun to just kill you, the one chosen by that old fart. There’ll be plenty of time to kill you later, after letting you taste real despair in the scramble battle for the rings. Just like that old fart.”

“Did he just say what I think he meant?” Renato whispered.

“I—”

“Xanxus, you bastard!” Iemitsu shouted. “What did you do to the ninth!?”

Xanxus laughed. “Isn’t investigating that matter your job, external advisor?”

“Y-you bastard,” Iemitsu hissed. “Don’t tell me—!?”

“Iemitsu, calm down,” Renato urged. “There’s no actual evidence.”

“What does this mean?” Tsuna asked quietly. “What did Xanxus-san do?”

“Rejoice, trash. I’m giving you guys another chance. We will continue the rest of the matches as scheduled. If by some slim chance you guys can win this battle by majority, I will give you the Vongola rings and the position of boss. But if you lose, everything you hold dear will be … eliminated. Be sure to show me the power that was chosen by that old fart.” Xanxus turned his attention to the Cervello. “You women, be ready.”

“…Yes. Tomorrow’s match up will be the battle between the Storm Guardians.”

“Iemitsu,” Renato said quietly. “You fly to Italy. I’m worried about Nono.”

“Yeah. Sorry, Sinclair. I’ll entrust Tsuna-kun and the others to you.”

“Oh, don’t worry about them. I know them better than you, after all,” Renato said, slipping in a slight dig.

“Lambo-kun!” Tsuna cried. “Where did he go!?”

Hisui had already dropped over the side of the building and was speeding off toward the hospital. He couldn’t count on the set-up Dino had used for Basil, so he went to the proper one. “Lightning strike, rolled down a hill after he got hit,” he told the emergency room personnel and, “His name is Vicario Lambo.” He blithely tossed compulsions around in order to get his charge to a doctor as quickly as possible, and settled in to wait on a diagnosis.

Renato joined him an hour later, taking the seat next to his. He reached into his jacket, pulled out a tri-folded set of papers, and handed them over. Hisui opened them and stared.

“I know, it’s a bit of a shock.”

“Yes.”

“It’s obvious to me you love the cow brat. I can learn to tolerate him for your sake.”

“Assuming he survives.”

Renato scoffed. “Please. You’d have said something already if you were worried about any lasting harm. There’s no way in hell your intuition would have reacted the way it did when Levi was after him otherwise, so if it hasn’t acted for this… If you were truly uneasy you’d have kidnapped the kid and not allowed him to participate, or arranged for some kind of accident to temporarily put him out of commission. The last thing in the world I’d want to do is discourage you from feeling something.”

He snorted softly. “Unless it’s anger toward you.”

“Yes, well, hopefully I learned my lesson properly the first time, tesoro.”

“How long have you had these?”

“Since right after Levi went for him. That’s when I was certain, so I went ahead and finished pulling the strings I started on a while back. It’s been over a year since you started teaching the cow. I’ve watched you become more and more invested in him. I made plans in case it ever got to the point where it was blatantly obvious.”

“Is that even possible with me?”

Renato slipped an arm around his shoulders and snickered. “To ninety-nine percent of the population? Hell no.”

Hisui folded the papers and tucked them away. “I feel so disgusted with myself.”

Renato nodded. “But more so with Iemitsu.”

“Yes. I’m a little angry with Lambo-kun, too, if you want total honesty. He shouldn’t have fucked around like that. All this damn posturing drives me up the wall.” He was pulled closer for a moment.

“So, when he’s better, and you can train him again, impress firmly into that fuzzy little head that if you’re in a fight, you don’t stop to chatter or explain shit. You just get on with it. Because, if you do it right, the target will be too dead to care about the fact that you took the time to whip out some charts and explain the theory behind some aspect of molecular chemistry or whatever. Every person who gets switched back by that bazooka is different depending on what the hell happened recently. Or hell, they might be from alternate versions of Earth, coming from a background of different events. All you can do is train this Lambo, and beat the stupidity out of his head.”

He sighed and nodded. “I was having this pleasant little daydream before you got here.”

“Oh?”

“I was imagining that Iemitsu-san had been the one tapped for Sky Arcobaleno.”

Renato laughed. “Mio Dio, that would have been hilarious with how we feel now. He’s too old now, though, I expect. Still—”

“Yo.”

He looked over to see Shamal approaching.

“Any word yet?”

He shook his head.

“Well, I’ll wait with you, shall I? I can be your interpreter!” Shamal took a seat on the arm of the cheap sofa, on Renato’s side.

A doctor finally came in search of Hisui and started explaining Lambo’s condition. He only understood about half of it, but Shamal was nodding away and asking questions. Before the doctor could wander away another compulsion was tossed out, just in case.

“Right,” Shamal said. “Kid’s in minor critical, but I expect he’ll pull through just fine. How about we sneak on into his room and look personally? Maybe do some meddling?”

Hisui got up and headed for the room the doctor had specified. All three of them were good at sneaking around, but he was prepared to cheat. Lambo was set up in a room of his own in the critical care ward and hooked up to innumerable monitors. He snorted softly when he saw a mesh bag off to the side with Lambo’s horns and cow onesie in it. Heaven only knew if one of them had tried to divest Lambo’s hair of all the items he usually kept in it.

Renato reached out and laid a hand on the boy’s cheek and focused. “Interesting. I’m fairly certain the cow was healed by someone at the other end to a degree, and maybe some kind of preventative measures put in place. That kick of Levi’s should have done far worse damage than what I’m feeling. There should be broken bones.” He pulled back and examined Lambo with Leon in magnifying glass form. “He’ll pull through, tesoro,” he said, Leon returning to his usual form and being placed on Renato’s hat. “He’ll be in that coma for a while, but he’ll be fine.”

He exhaled and nodded, and took the bag. If nothing else he could see to the tiny outfit’s cleaning, and repair if necessary.

“All right,” Shamal said, “I’m heading out. See you around.” He gave a lazy wave and sauntered away.

“You going to lurk here, or come home?” Renato asked.

“I’ll come home. I’m sure if I need to be here in a hurry I’ll get woken up. I can always teleport invisibly. For now, it’s time to get some sleep. I can return in the morning.” He eyed the boy, and his hair, and cast a mild aversion charm on it. He did not want some helpful nurse to come along and try to mess with it for any reason. “Okay, let’s go.” The second they were in a blind, safe spot, he teleported them home. The bag went onto the kitchen counter for the time being.

The next morning he was awake and grumpy; his sleep had been restless and unsatisfying. Renato gave him a lingering kiss before heading out to shadow Tsuna for the day. Hisui cleaned and repaired the onesie with a few twitches of his hand, restored the missing tail, and also cleaned the horns. They went back into the bag and he brought it along when he returned to the hospital.

He had not been there long, slouched in a chair and reading, when Nana walked in briskly, then darted over to the bed, her eyes wide and teary. “Hisui-kun? What happened? He was fine when I went to bed. I came over the second Ren-kun said something.”

“Apparently he decided that a stroll in the rain was a good idea,” he said with a shrug. “His umbrella was hit by lightning and he tumbled down a hill. I happened to be out on a walk because I was having trouble sleeping and found him, brought him straight here. He will be fine, Nana-chan. He was in critical care earlier, but as you can see, he’s just in a private room, now.”

“But shouldn’t we contact his guardian? I know, he’s been staying with me, but—”

He shook his head. “Ren-kun gave me a present last night: custody papers. He did some checking and found out that Lambo-kun didn’t really have one. Now he does. You and Ren-kun are listed as secondary contacts here at the hospital, so if for some reason I get unavoidably called out of town, you can still get answers regarding his condition.”

“Oh my!” she exclaimed, a hand flying to her mouth. “I never actually realized—”

The door opened again and Kyoko and Haru ran in; they were both breathing heavily from exertion. “Sawada-san,” Kyoko gasped out.

“How’s Lambo-chan!?” Haru cried in distress.

“How did Lambo-kun get like this?”

“What happened?”

He let Nana field the questions instead of butting in. The last thing he wanted to deal with was emotional and panicky girls.

Renato arrived home at an hour past midnight and joined him on the sofa. “So, to recap, it was limited to fifteen minutes. We learned that Bel uses wires to guide his knives, he goes batshit insane when he sees his own blood, and Hayato almost pulled a win. However, they were down to the last minute before the whole place got blown sky high, and Tsuna flipped out. Hayato decided that doing what his boss wanted was more important than potentially dying in a common brawl to get the other half of the ring, so he retreated. Though, Tsuna’s rather sappy and impassioned speech about what they were fighting for—being able to go out and do things as friends—made me roll my eyes a bit.”

He nodded. “Still, it sounds like Hayato is starting to get being both the eye and the fury. And the school?”

“They had exploding wind turbines in there. It’s a mess, but I noticed additional Cervello in the area, so I assume they’re responsible for fixing things up, or at least hiding the damage, until all of this is over. I’m pretty proud of Hayato, actually. He got a bad start, but he figured out what tricks Bel was using and used his head. Then he dithered a little too much on getting the half ring and ended up in that brawl, but… Still, he did well. The next battle is Rain.”

“I dread to think what they’ll come up with for that one. Maybe they’ll make it rain inside?

“Flood the place?”

“Make them fight while swimming?”

“An introductory battle with giant octopi?”

“Giant sharks? It would be both a play on Squalo’s name and something of an insult.”

“Ooo, that would be super cool. Though how they’d transport something like that… You coming to this one?”

He sighed. “I should have gone to tonight’s.”

“It’s fine that you didn’t, so long as one of us is there. If you want to skip this one it’s fine. Though I think watching the Mist Battle would be something. Illusionist fights are usually pretty spectacular.”

He hummed thoughtfully. “All right. I’ll come again for the Mist Battle. By then I should feel… And you’re right, illusion fights are something else to witness, so long as you can keep your mind. Nana-chan spent a bit of time at the hospital with me. She seems to be more than a little annoyed with Iemitsu-san at the moment, which I find hilarious.”

“He left a note with Tsuna before he left for Italy, that the kitten gave to his mother. She didn’t look too thrilled when she read it. It basically just told her to help Tsuna and not ask any questions.”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s just as well he’s head of CEDEF. I’d hate to think of him as the tenth. Let’s go to bed, shall we? There’s plenty enough to do tomorrow. Maybe after this is all over and we’re all preferably still alive, we can take a short vacation or something.”

“Let’s, but allow me to tell you the last of it. When the next match was announced we were interrupted by Levi, who announced that his unit was being decimated. Hibari had returned and was ‘cleaning up’. He’s kind of pissed about the damage to the school. Levi went to attack, but Hibari calmly tripped him. It was embarrassing, really. Anyway, Hibari was convinced to back off for the time being. Dino and Romario hauled Hayato away for healing, so he’s being taken care of, but before that he gave some pointers to Takeshi.”

He nodded and got up, drawing Renato up with him, and headed to their bedroom. Renato tucked away a set of portkeys to take with him the next day, just in case, of the sort he could put on people’s wrists, like slap bracelets. If Takeshi lost, it was all lost, and Tsuna and his friends were in danger of being wiped out.

Lambo was still unconscious the next morning, but he seemed to be improving if Hisui’s discreet diagnostic checks meant anything. Nana visited again, as well as Kyoko and Haru. It was just as well he was staying away for a few days; listening to Tsuna whine and bemoan his fate would be enough to make him want to punt the kid halfway across Japan.

Renato was amused when he got home. “They sealed off one of the buildings and fashioned an elaborate set of waterfalls, of a sort. The whole time the water level kept rising. And hey, guess what?”

“If we got one right—a shark?”

“Yep!” Renato smirked. “And they’re still using that cow tail I retrieved in their little ritual at the start.”

“Wait, what?” He eyed his lover in confusion. “I knew that outfit lost its tail, but…”

“I retrieved it that night, the piece that got burnt off. Before the Storm Battle I handed it over and they used it as a stand-in for Lambo. They did the same tonight. Even Basil is joining in on the huddle.”

“So, they might be driven up the wall by Lambo-kun, but they still see him as part of the team,” he said thoughtfully. “Good. So what happened?”

“Everyone but Takeshi and Squalo were hustled out and set to watching the match on an image they projected onto one of the school walls. Takeshi got to show off what he learned from his father, the Shigure Sōen. I swear, the kid’s a natural born assassin. He fights mostly without fear.”

“I’m sure that’ll come in handy down the road if he’s sent out to handle Vongola interests, assuming he doesn’t bugger off at some point to be a full-time baseball player.”

“Mm. Well, Squalo has already defeated someone using that style, but there was something about it in which he lacked understanding. Takeshi is a stubborn brat, I’ll give him that much. Something Squalo said sparked a thought or idea or realization in the kid’s head. He got back up, bleeding like mad, and asserted once again that the Shigure Sōen style was ‘flawless and invincible’. He then proceeded to create his own version of the eighth form, and then a brand new one as ninth.

“We also saw Squalo’s artificial hand in action when the damn thing bent back at the wrist and skewered Takeshi, or what he thought was Takeshi, allowing the boy to come at him behind and above. He got the half ring and combined them. And then, of course, when Xanxus said Squalo’s time was up, the Cervello intervened and announced that the shark was on the move.”

“Release the sharks,” he muttered, thinking back to Mafia Land.

Renato grinned, obviously making the connection. “Squalo went missing after that. The Cervello announced the next match as Mist. We’re getting way too close to the end and the kitten still hasn’t unlocked that technique. He is doing a lot better at regulating his flame output so he can stay in Dying Will Mode beyond the initial five minute limit, so it’s not like he’s outright failing.”

“If they win Mist and Cloud, it shouldn’t matter, but—” He sighed.

“Yeah. Xanxus is too tricky. He’s got something up his sleeve, something terrible. True, maybe his words about Nono were just to throw people off their game and to get Iemitsu out of the country, but I’m having trouble believing that.”

“If Tsuna-kun’s still not making the required progress, we can consider springing the information about that last assassination attempt on him. Whatever it takes to shock it out of him.”

Renato nodded. “I agree. I assume the cow is still out of it?”

“Yes, but continuing to improve. Makes me want to spend time pouring over medical texts and learning magical healing. What little I can do is … weak. Maybe I’ll stop by one of the districts in the morning. I might be hampered when it comes to fine control because I refuse to use a wand, but… We’ll see, I guess.”

“If you want to sneak in for the others and magic some healing potions into them…”

“I could, but it’d take time for them to work. I’d have to infuse them with magic the entire time. It’d also look a bit strange if they showed up for the next battle perfectly healthy, rather than patched up more quickly with Sun Flames.”

“Maybe after, then.”

The next morning he stopped by the hospital to check in on Lambo, then left shortly after Nana arrived for a visit. He scoured the shelves at the bookstore and purchased a good dozen, then inscribed them with runes to make them unappealing to others. That way he could read them in public if he wanted and not have to worry about people getting curious.

They assembled that night at the gymnasium. Tsuna seemed dazed for some reason, not to mention surprised. He had been brought in on Basil’s back. “He passed out when he saw Kakimoto and Jōshima at that little market at the bus stop, down the mountain,” Renato whispered to him, then said normally, “It’s time for our Mist Guardian to come forward.”

The doors to the gym opened again to reveal Kakimoto and Jōshima. Team Tsuna freaked out, and Renato quickly said, “Calm down. They’re escorting the Mist Guardian.”

Behind the two was someone in the shadows, and the hairstyle was the same as Mukuro’s. What the team did not notice in their panic was that the figure was much shorter and shaped wrong. In response to Tsuna squeaking Mukuro’s name, the figure spoke—in Italian for some reason. “Negative. I am named Chrome Dokuro.”

She stepped forward, out of shadow. She wore a modified Kokuyo uniform, held Mukuro’s trident, or a duplicate of it, and her right eye was covered with a patch.

“Don’t be fooled,” Hayato snarled. “Just look at her. She’s been possessed by Rokudo. He’ll do anything to get what he wants! That’s the kind of guy he is!”

Chrome’s expression changed from a tentative smile to one of vague unhappiness. “It looks like you don’t believe me.”

“Of course not!” Hayato said. “Just look at that weapon! Besides, that patch has to be hiding that shady eye!”

“But she’s not … Rokudo Mukuro,” Tsuna said quietly.

“No? You really think so?” Hayato asked.

“You spoke for me,” Chrome said. “Thank you.” She leaned in and planted a soft kiss on Tsuna’s cheek. “Boss.”

He rolled his eyes as another round of freaking out ensued. It was bad enough that Tsuna did it so often; they didn’t need the rest of the team picking up the habit.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” Hayato demanded.

“…Greeting.”

“Well, what should we do,” Ryohei asked. “Let her join us?”

“Why should we?” Hayato replied. “Besides, we don’t even know where the hell she popped up from!”

Kakimoto and Jōshima shifted positions, going for their weapons at the perceived insult.

“Ken, Chikusa, calm down,” Chrome said evenly. “This isn’t something for you to decide. Boss,” she said to Tsuna. “Is it that I’m not worthy of the position of Mist Guardian? I wish to battle as the Mist Guardian, but… But if Boss won’t allow it no matter what, then I’ll abide by his decision.”

“You don’t have any other options,” Renato pointed out. “Chrome is it.”

Tsuna looked down and was silent for some time, then nodded to himself. “Then… We’ll leave it to you,” he told her.

Chrome exhaled … in relief? “Thank you,” she said quietly.

Colonnello arrived, flown in by his animal companion. There was some question in his mind as to whether or not Mammon was an Arcobaleno. Hisui did not understand where the uncertainty was. How many people could possibly be running around at that size and apparent age, as a member of the Varia, even, and not be an Arcobaleno? Just because Colonnello couldn’t feel any resonance from his pacifier simply meant that Mammon must have figured out a way to conceal his.

“This time, the battlefield will be the entirety of the gymnasium,” said the Cervello as Chrome walked away from their grouping. “The objects in the building can be used in any way you desire. Furthermore, this field hasn’t been outfitted with any special installations. There is no need for perplexity.”

Before Tsuna could display his continuing ignorance Hisui said, “Illusionists don’t need extras. Creating something from nothing, and nothing from something. They bewilder the enemy, rendering the famiglia’s true form intangible with visions of deceit. That is the role of the Mist Guardian.”

“The audience area has been set up in designated spaces within this building. As with the Storm Battle, infrared-triggered lasers have been installed. Please be careful. Then, the Mist Battle: Mammon versus Dokuro Chrome—begin!”

Tsuna got caught up in Chrome’s opening illusion move, necessitating a slap to the back of his head. “You already know this technique,” Renato said sharply.

Mammon counterattacked, ensnaring Chrome with tentacles and lifting her off the floor, choking her. Chrome’s illusion abruptly broke, rendering the room sane again.

“What is it with people and tentacle fetishes?” he muttered.

“Much too weak,” Mammon said disparagingly. “You won’t even make a good side show.”

“Who are you talking to?” Chrome appeared behind Mammon, revealing that what was being held up was actually a wheeled cart full of basketballs. “Over here.”

Team Tsuna broke out in a babble of questions. Renato sighed. “Again, this is an illusion battle. Both are creating and using illusions. This kind of battle is impressive, even spectacular, and something you won’t often see.”

The tentacles retracted and vanished. “Oh good,” Mammon said. “You’re more or less a worthy opponent. Then, I can use that to my heart’s content.” The chain around the chibi’s neck loosened and started to slide to the floor. “Let’s go, Phantasma.” The frog on Mammon’s head morphed into something like a snake-lizard hybrid. It was mostly snake-like in nature, but it did have tiny front and back legs. As the chain dropped entirely a pacifier was revealed; it began to glow, as did Colonnello’s.

“So, Viper,” he remarked.

That “snake” allowed Mammon to levitate; perhaps it was some special ability that came out when the animal was in ouroboros shape.

“I had heard that he was missing in action,” Colonnello commented. “I didn’t think he was still alive. Why didn’t my pacifier light up until now?”

Renato shrugged. “I assume it has to do with that chain.”

“A foolish chibi like you wouldn’t understand,” Mammon said scornfully. “It’s a byproduct of research. Unlike you, I’m never negligent in efforts to lift the curse.”

“This isn’t good,” Colonnello said. “The average illusionist can’t stand up against that stupid chibi.”

“Don’t be so quick to make that judgment, Colonnello. Dokuro is no ordinary illusionist.”

“No matter who you are,” Chrome promised, “I won’t lose.” She attacked, spinning her trident and seemingly missing Mammon, but when she finished the Arcobaleno was wrapped up in dozens of snakes.

Mammon seemed surprised that they were real and not illusions. Naturally, this freaked out members of Team Tsuna again, with accusations of the girl being possessed. How else could she use one of Mukuro’s techniques otherwise?

Mammon broke free. “It’s about time I unleashed my own powers, too. Thereafter, your true identity can be exposed at leisure.”

Chrome attacked again, spinning the trident and slamming the butt against the floor. Jets of red-hot magma shot upward, and Mammon’s companion shot off to the side.

“Your illusions are indeed first class,” Mammon commented. “If one believes even for an instant in the reality of those columns of fire, one would be roasted alive. Therefore… Your weakness is also illusion!” The columns froze solid a second later.

Unfortunately, Chrome was caught in it, her breath coming out as puffs of vapor. Most of the team was caught. Hisui only allowed enough of a loosening of control over his own mind to be able to see what was being attempted, but not even close enough to become ensnared.

“The art of illusion seizes control of a person’s perception—that is to say, it infiltrates the brain that governs the five senses. The stronger the illusionist’s abilities, the more complete the infiltration.”

“I swear, way too many people like to give lectures when they should be fighting. I suppose in this case we should be grateful the other side likes to boast,” he muttered.

“Their illusion’s rate of success is also heightened, and its hold over reality stronger. Thus, in the illusionist’s case, if their illusion is successfully countered with illusion, it means that control of their own perception will be completely snatched away.”

Ice started to creep up from the floor to encase Chrome’s legs.

“How is it? The abominable power of the Arcobaleno… Well then, how about you reveal your true identity now?”

Chrome made a defiant face at the chibi.

“No matter what you have in mind, it’s already too late. Because you are already a denizen of my world of illusions.”

Chrome used her trident to flip her body and bring her legs down to smash the ice against the floor.

“Hm. It seems as though that weapon is fairly important to you,” Mammon remarked.

Even as Chrome cried out in fear, the trident shattered in her hand. Her hand went up to cover the blood suddenly trickling from her mouth. She started coughing up more, then collapsed backward, part of her stomach sinking inward. “Mukuro-sama,” she forced out, yet more blood dribbling out the side of her mouth.

“It’s hard to believe,” Mammon said. “It seems as though this girl’s life was being sustained with illusionary organs.”

“Mukuro-sama, I wanted to help you…”

Tsuna jerked in place and stared hard at the girl, somehow managing to have both wide eyes and a furrowed brow. Fog or mist began to appear around Chrome, slowly obscuring her from view.

“Ah, marshaling the last of one’s strength to conceal their own unsightly corpse,” Mammon said disdainfully. “It’s a common behavioral pattern of female illusionists.”

Tsuna clutched at his head. “He’s coming. It’s him… He’s coming!”

The trident began to reform in the hand not covered with mist, along with a black glove. And then, that creepy laughter sounded.

“Eh? A man’s voice?” Mammon mused. He was heartily surprised when debris started flying straight at him, causing him to shift around quickly to avoid any of it. And yet, he was not fast enough, and hit the floor, despite his snake’s attempts to keep him afloat.

Out of the mist came Mukuro. “You Varia are awfully flashy for mafiosi. It’s been a while. I’ve come back—” He glanced over his shoulder at Tsuna. “—from the other side of the cycle.”

“Is that the true form of the Mist Guardian?” Colonnello asked quietly.

Renato ignored him.

Mammon slowly sat up. “Rokudo Mukuro… I was wondering where I’d heard that name before. Now I remember. About a month ago someone attempted to escape Vindicare. That person’s name was Rokudo Mukuro.”

“He broke out again!?” Tsuna cried.

“But, it should have been over when the escape attempt failed. I heard that he was thrown back into a prison even more difficult to escape from.”

Mukuro laughed that creepy laugh. “The information gathering capabilities of the Vongola’s elite special assassination squad, Varia, isn’t that well informed after all. I’m right here, aren’t I?”

“What a troublesome guy,” Mammon said, back to hovering a distance off the floor. “All right, let’s clear things up. You are merely an illusion created by that girl, right?”

“Oh?” Mukuro replied as ice started crawling up his legs and a blizzard began to rage in the gym.

“I’m not so good-natured that I would let myself lose to an illusion,” Mammon stated. As the ice finished encasing Mukuro he continued, “Well now, looks like you’ve been unmasked. The one who’ll be smashed into pieces should be the body of that girl, right?” He sped forward.

But then Mukuro’s right eye changed symbols and a series of vines erupted from the floor just in front of him, in a blur fast enough to capture Mammon, wrapping around him and blossoming lotus flowers. “Kufufufu. Who is just an illusion?” he asked as the ice melted away as vapor.

“What’s this … power!? The … pain!”

Colonnello huffed. “Even Mammon is overwhelmed?”

“He’s the real thing, after all,” Hayato said. “But if that’s the case, what happened to the girl?”

“You can’t consider Chrome and Mukuro as separate beings,” Renato explained. “Because there is Chrome, Mukuro can exist. Because there is Mukuro, Chrome can live.”

“…I don’t get it.”

“That’s all I’m going to explain at this time,” Renato said firmly.

“Come on, what’s the matter, Arcobaleno?” Mukuro taunted. “If you keep taking your time, I’m going to wrap things up…”

Mammon finally broke free and … exploded … into multiple clones of himself. “Don’t get cocky!”

“So weak,” Mukuro said, his eye shifting and flame appearing over it. He lashed out with his trident.

“An illusionist who resorts to hand-to-hand combat is heresy!” Mammon declared. “I denounce you and your reincarnation cycle rubbish!”

“Oh?”

“Humans will repeat the same life many times in infinite cycles. That’s why I must keep hoarding my money!”

‘Kami-sama,’ he thought as he could just barely see the room warping into a cylindrical shape.

“Kufufufu! A greedy Arcobaleno! How interesting. But… When it comes to greed, I won’t lose, either.” Lotus flowers and vines erupted everywhere, in all directions. Team Tsuna started clutching at their heads and complaining of nausea.

“Such strong powers of illusions,” Mammon said with unwilling admiration. “Where did you—”

“Hell.”

“Stop talking rubbish!” Mammon cloned himself again and sent all of them at Mukuro. One slipped by and switched direction mid-air, throwing out a cloak of darkness over his opponent. “Die!” The snake increased in size again and developed sharp spikes, then squeezed the cloaked figure, to no avail, as it all exploded into vines and lotus once more.

“Descent into hell… Then, return again.” He held up both halves of the Mist Ring. “I just have to rejoin these rings, correct?”

“Y-yes,” stuttered a Cervello.

“Not so fast!” Mammon seemingly reformed from dark motes and laughed. “I was just playing with you. Don’t get so cocky! I have yet to show you the full extent of my powers!”

The room started to warp again. “You know this very well, don’t you?” Mukuro said conversationally. “What it means when your illusions are countered by another’s? It means you have completely lost control over your own perceptions.”

Phantasma dropped down over Mammon’s head and started to strangle him.

“Come, shall I show you what this thing we call power truly is?”

The room warped again and fell apart. He and Renato were the only two not completely caught up in it; and if Renato did fall into it he would snap him free.

“How does it feel, Arcobaleno!? This is my world!”

A dark mist formed and darted toward Mammon, arrowing into his mouth, shoving its way inside, bloating him up like Lambo’s hair, still with Phantasma around his throat. “Stop it!” Mammon choked out. “I’m going to die! I’m going to diiiieee!”

“The reason you lost was because you had me as your opponent.”

Mammon exploded. The room went back to normal.

Mukuro held up the completed ring. “Is this … acceptable?”

“The Mist Ring now belongs to Chrome Dokuro, the winner.”

“How could you—you didn’t have to go so far!” Tsuna objected.

“Even now, you’re still showing sympathy for the enemy,” Mukuro said over his shoulder. “Just how naïve can you get, Sawada Tsunayoshi? But there’s no need to worry. That baby managed to escape. From the start he had every intention of reserving enough energy for that. He’s a shrewd one, that Arcobaleno.”

“…Gola Mosca,” Xanxus said. “After the contest battles are over, eliminate Mammon.”

The construct shot out some steam as a response.

“My my, you really are the dark side of the mafia, aren’t you, Xanxus?” Mukuro said. “Even I would feel awed at this terrifying scheme you’ve thought up. But I have no intention of poking my nose into your business. Because I am not such a nice human being. Just one thing, though… The other candidate for successor, though smaller and weaker than you, is not really someone you should trifle with, for your own good.”

“Mukuro-sama!” Kakimoto said.

“Incredible! You sure kicked ass!” Jōshima added gleefully.

“It’s good to be vigilant,” Mukuro said in response to Tsuna’s guardians getting up in arms. “But I have no intention of colluding with the mafia. The only reason I have become your Mist Guardian,” he said to Tsuna, “is to set myself in a better position to possess your body.”

The guardians bristled again, but Tsuna waved his hands around to shut them up. “In any case… Thank you,” he said to Mukuro.

“A little … tired now… This girl…” Mukuro’s eyes closed and he toppled sideways, morphing back into Chrome as the body hit the floor.

Tsuna swallowed hard, his expression a bit lost.

“Don’t forget what Mukuro’s done to you,” Renato said quietly. “Don’t sympathize with him too much.”

“Since the battles are tied at three each, we will continue with the next battle, the Cloud Battle.”

“Xanxus,” Renato called, “do you plan to honor your agreement? If Hibari wins tomorrow, even though you have the Sky Ring… When the time comes, you will abdicate all rights to be the successor.”

“Of course,” Xanxus said smoothly. “I have always respected the Vongola spirit. I will honor the promise of the battle. If Gola Mosca really loses the Cloud Battle, I will let you people have everything.”

Colonnello interrupted the comments from Team Tsuna with, “You guys are so naïve.”

“That Xanxus dared to say something like that…” Renato frowned faintly.

“Fishy as usual, his phrasing,” he said, then, “What are we going to do with Dokuro-chan? Those two boys have already left.”

“We could always stick her in with I-Pin for the night. Tsuna did accept her, after all. Or we check to see if it’s anything more than exhaustion, and then tuck her into a hotel room for the night. Honestly, how would you feel about waking up in some stranger’s home?”

“So we ask the kitten his opinion,” he replied, and reached out to yank Tsuna over. “Hey, your Mist Guardian is out cold. Are you comfortable with her spending the night at your house, or shall we drop her off in a hotel room?”

Tsuna stuttered for a few seconds, then looked at her. “She can stay at the house.”

“Right,” he replied, then went over to heft her up, being careful to keep her skirt from flipping around too much. ‘Honestly, who fights in such a short skirt?’ Renato opened the gymnasium door for him and he sped off into the night.

Tsuna made it to school the next day, mainly because he woke up so early. He was gone before they even got there; so was Chrome. They caught up with him in one of the lounges, talking to Dino. Hayato, Ryohei, and Takeshi were snoozing on sofas, and Tsuna looked ready to fall asleep himself.

“You have training to get to,” Renato said, causing Tsuna and Dino to jump in surprise and whip around. “You need to perfect the Zero Point Breakthrough technique by today.”

“Wait, what? But the battle today will decide things,” Tsuna said. “There’s no reason for me to train anymore, is there?”

‘I swear, he keeps backsliding.’

“It’s precisely because it’s the final battle,” Renato replied. “What will you do if something happens?”

“Kitten, use your damn brain,” he said. “If by some chance Hibari-kun loses, Xanxus-san is set to have all of you killed. Do you really intend to let that happen?”

“Oh, uh…”

Renato sighed and herded Tsuna toward the door. Hisui sent a text to Basil to meet up with them, and shortly thereafter they were all in a car driving to the Mountain of Death. By the time noon rolled around and they took a break for lunch, Hisui was feeling more than a little annoyed. Tsuna was getting better and better at extending the length of time he could stay in Dying Will Mode, but he had yet to drop into the opposing state.

Unfortunately, given that Basil was there, telling Tsuna about that last assassination attempt would cause strife. Basil would be highly offended by the idea that his master had screwed up and carelessly placed both wife and son in danger, and Basil was currently necessary to Tsuna’s training. He exchanged a look of frustration with his lover before resuming his meal. On top of that, Tsuna had slept badly, so he was sleepy and bit sluggish.

Over the course of the afternoon Tsuna became prone to clumsiness, even in Dying Will Mode. Dinner was silent, and they went straight back to work afterward. When ten-thirty rolled around Tsuna suddenly realized what time it must be and said, “If we don’t go soon we’re going to miss Hibari-san’s battle!”

“Leave that to Hayato and Takeshi,” Renato said with a kick to Tsuna’s shin. “The only thing you have to do is concentrate on perfecting this technique.”

“Ow, that hurt! No way! Are you serious!?”

“I’m deadly serious. Again—if he loses that battle…”

Tsuna looked down.

Hisui got his earpiece into place and tapped it. “I’m going. I’m sure if Tsuna-kun wants to see the battle so damn badly he’ll stop letting his thoughts fly all over the place and get on with it.”

Renato nodded and wore his earpiece, as well, giving it a tap to activate it. “Later.”

He departed on foot; as soon as he was out of sight and hearing he apparated to Namimori and walked the remainder of the way. He arrived at about the same time as Hayato, Takeshi, and Ryohei. All three of them were sporting various bandages and sticking plasters, but they seemed well enough.

Hibari strolled on up casually, but stopped when he saw them. “Why have you all gathered here?”

“We’re here to support you!” Ryohei said brightly.

Hibari hummed. “You’re an eyesore. If you’re not gone in the next second, I’ll kill you.” He was distracted from the babble of the three in response by something hitting the ground behind him. “All I have to do is bite you to death,” he said with a faint smile, staring over his shoulder at the then standing Gola Mosca.

The Cervello appeared and directed them to the field used for the P.E. classes and sports. It had been transformed into an arena enclosed by a barbed wire fence. It looked like something out of a war movie prisoner camp. “This is the field for the Cloud Battle. The mission of the Cloud Guardian is to be the aloof, drifting cloud, who protects the famiglia from an independent standpoint, and whom nothing can ever bind. Therefore, we have prepared the most extreme field for them.

“The field is surrounded on all sides by barbed wire, as well as eight turrets which will shoot at any mobile object it detects within a thirty meter radius. Furthermore, there are countless pressure-sensitive mines buried under the ground. Once activated, an alarm will sound followed by an explosion.”

He tuned out the posturing between sides and eyed the field. Dino had probably run himself ragged keeping one step ahead of Hibari, and he was well aware of Dino’s proficiency. It was probably much better already having had to deal with the prefect. They had only been able to push Dino so far in training; Hibari did not have their restrictions when it came to sparring.

In his earpiece he could hear Renato say, “You’ve got it, Tsuna.”

“Oh?” he murmured. An explosion followed. “Eh?”

“Sawada-dono!” Basil cried. “Hang in there, please!”

“You’ve done very well,” Renato said; he even sounded pleased.

“He can’t take much more of this! If we continue like this, Sawada-dono’s body will break!”

“Just then…” Tsuna was heard to say. “The flame… Some-somehow, just a little bit… I had a feeling like I know … what the first did with this technique.”

“Sawada-dono…”

“I see. And?”

“If Hibari-san should lose… Let’s keep going. I almost had it.”

Hisui smiled slightly.

“All right. Let’s keep going.”

Approximately a half hour went by when he heard through the earpiece, “Oh. You did it, Tsuna. That was the Dying Will Zero Point Breakthrough.”

“You did it! That was brilliant, Sawada-dono!”

“That was it… It’s quite an unexpected technique, though. It would have been absolutely impossible to do it alone. This is all thanks to Basil-kun, too. Thank you!”

“All right, Tsuna, let’s go,” Renato said.

A half hour after that the Cervello came out of their almost mannequin-like states. “Then, we shall begin. The Cloud Guardians must now enter the arena… The Cloud Battle: Gola Mosca versus Hibari Kyoya—begin!”

The battle was over in all of five seconds. Gola Mosca had started by flying toward Hibari, one gun hand extended forward and shooting. Hibari nimbly dodged everything and attacked as they crossed paths, caving in part of the head and severing an arm from the construct. A clicking sound was heard as Hibari snapped together the two halves of the ring; he then tossed it at the Cervello. “I don’t need this thing.”

One of the girls fumbled for a moment, then caught it, looking confused.

“Now you, the one sitting over there,” Hibari said, eyeing Xanxus. “Come over here. I can’t go home until I bite you to death, monkey boss of the mountain of monkeys.”

While Team Xanxus members were muttering amongst themselves, Xanxus just smirked and stood up.

“In case you didn’t get that,” he murmured, “Hibari-kun just won. And now he’s determined to fight and defeat Xanxus-san.”

“Great,” he heard.

Xanxus jumped up and into the arena, landed on Hibari’s upraised tonfa, then springboarded off it to land a short distance away. “My foot slipped.”

“Right.”

“No, really,” he said mockingly, then jumped again to avoid the mine he had landed on. “I came down only to retrieve that piece of junk. We have lost, after all.”

“Hn. Your face tells a different story,” Hibari said with indifferent disbelief, then he ran forward on the attack.

“What is he doing!?” Ryohei cried. “He already beat that mechanical monster!”

Hibari attacked, Xanxus dodged, and their pattern triggered any number of mines and gatling guns.

“Don’t worry, I won’t reciprocate,” Xanxus said.

“As you wish. I’m going to bite you to death.”

“Shit,” he muttered. “I hope to hell you guys are nearby.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I think the shit’s about to hit the fan. I don’t think Gola Mosca is entirely broken. I see dim lights flashing in the face area and I would swear the remaining arm’s fingers just twitched.”

“We’re almost there.”

Just then a missile passed between Hibari and Xanxus, slicing a gash in Hibari’s thigh.

“Oh yeah, it’s gone all to hell.”

More missiles fired and things started blowing up. Mosca’s leg jets fired up.

“I only came to retrieve my junk,” Xanxus said, “but I’ve been obstructed by the Cloud Guardian all this time. Now Mosca’s restraining system has overheated and broken.” He sounded and looked entirely too happy about that.

“So that was his plan?” he muttered, moving over to protect as many of Tsuna’s friends as he could.

Xanxus cackled madly. “This is a terrible disaster!”

Chrome jumped up from her vantage and ran for it, but ended up in the arena due to the enclosure “walls” being blown to bits. Mosca targeted her, but she was knocked to the ground by Kakimoto and Jōshima. And then Tsuna arrived, saving the three of them from re-aimed fire.

“So you’re here,” Xanxus said, “but…”

Renato and Basil sprinted in and quickly located the main bulk of their allies. Mosca fired again, aiming missiles directly at Tsuna.

“Eliminate everything,” Xanxus said coldly, “starting with the scum. That has not changed.”

Tsuna calmly deflected all the missiles, launched himself upward and flew around so he could rip the other arm off the construct.

“Cool,” he remarked. “I see he figured that part out, too.”

Renato came to his side and nodded. “Well, yeah. I told him to open the damn door and fly the rest of the way.”

“Hey, blockhead,” Tsuna said, eyeing Mosca. “I’m your opponent now.” He evaded another barrage of missiles and flew over to punch the construct. It went flying—not under its own power—and crashed into the ground so hard it left a wide gouge in the earth.

“Something just doesn’t feel right,” Renato said.

“Xanxus, what is this all about?” Tsuna asked, but was distracted by Mosca getting up again and coming after him. Tsuna pivoted and sliced with his hand, from the thing’s head down its chest, exposing the innards.

Xanxus looked transcendent with glee, but Tsuna’s expression betrayed his confusion as a body slowly slithered out, multiple monitors and cords attached to it. It was … an older man. It was the ninth. He hit the ground with a dull thud.

Tsuna’s flames sputtered out. “What… What’s going on?”

Renato dashed forward to check Nono’s health. Hisui followed.

“Eh? Why was he inside Mosca?” Tsuna asked.

“Hang in there,” Renato hissed, laying a hand on Nono’s face to exert his power. “Tch. I’ve seen schematics on Mosca’s construction just the once. It looks like Nono was forced to be its power source.”

“I think I understand now,” he muttered, glancing back at Xanxus, then returned his focus to Nono and cast a quiet diagnostic.

“Why!?” Tsuna cried.

“It’s not ‘why’, is it!” Xanxus crowed. “You’ve gone and killed the ninth! Well? Who was it who struck down the old man with no mercy whatsoever!? Who was it who split Mosca in half with the old man inside?”

“Me, it was me,” Tsuna whispered. “I killed the ninth.”

Hisui was about to cuff his student when Nono spoke.

“No,” he said weakly. “The one at fault was me. We finally get to meet, young Tsunayoshi. I’m sorry… All this happened because of my own weakness, my weakness that allowed Xanxus to awaken from his long sleep.” He coughed, a harsh hacking sound.

“Are you all right!? Please hang in there!”

“Tsunayoshi, I’ve always been hearing about you… About the girl you like, and your school, and your friends… You are a child with a heart that … is really mismatched to be a mafia boss. I also know that up until now, you have never once fought in a battle willingly. You always have these lines between your eyebrows… Clenched your fists as if praying… And that is why I chose you to be the Vongola Decimo,” Nono said with a weak, fond smile. He reached out his hand shakily and touched a flame-lit finger to Tsuna’s forehead.

Whatever the effect, it caused Tsuna to start crying and babbling.

“How dare you kill the ninth boss!?” Xanxus demanded.

Renato still had a hand touching Nono’s skin, and Hisui knew he was trying to help the man regenerate from his wounds. They should haul him away for immediate medical care, but Xanxus was not going to allow that.

“The despicable way you struck him down is a challenge against his own son, as well as the noble Vongola spirit! No need for investigation! The burns on his chest are undeniable evidence! Now that the boss has been murdered, these ring battles are meaningless! For the boss, my father, and for the future of the Vongola, I will kill you, as vengeance!”

Renato sighed. “I see it now. If his men had won the battles, those who knew of the Cradle Affair would object to his succession and would continue to oppose him. But if he trapped Tsuna into the role of villain, and attacked him in a battle of revenge, that’s a different matter. He would gain absolute trust from the majority of the famiglia. Besides, if he could prove himself stronger than Tsuna, who was actually chosen to be the successor, it would be further proof that he was deserving of heirship. In that case, he could easily eliminate anyone who opposed him.”

“Then Xanxus is planning to become the boss and establish a dictatorship at the same time?” Basil asked.

“Yes. It was a well laid out trap. I expect Mosca was supposed to kill all of Tsuna’s guardians in an ‘accident’. When that happened, he knew that sooner or later Tsuna would come to take it out.”

“Please refrain from speaking such wild conjectures out loud. We are officially recording everything that is spoken,” said a Cervello.

“Record whatever you want,” Renato said coldly. “My patience has run thin. But I will honor my promise to Nono and not interfere—with my student’s battles, that is. Having said that, I don’t know what my student, who hates fighting, will do.”

“…Xanxus,” Tsuna said tonelessly. “I will take that ring back. You will not follow in the ninth’s footsteps.”

“Well said, Tsuna,” Renato murmured.

“I’ll carve your name into Vongola’s history books as the foolish runt who dared to defy Xanxus all by his little self,” Xanxus promised darkly.

“He’s not alone!” Hayato shouted. “The boss’s will—”

“—is our will!” Takeshi finished.

Hibari said, “My will is my own.”

“You want some of this, you brats!” Levi shouted.

“Exterminate the traitors,” Xanxus commanded.

“Hold it right there, please,” a Cervello said firmly. “We will be in charge of the battle for the ninth’s revenge. We have a duty to oversee the whereabouts of the Vongola rings.”

“What the hell are you talking about!?” Hayato said. “You’re all Xanxus’s bitches!”

“Please watch your mouth,” she replied, unruffled, and held up a Sky Flame-sealed parchment. “We have an official decree from the ninth himself. Any changing-of-hands of the rings will not be approved without our ratification. The winner of this battle will be the Vongola Decimo, so, we declare that there will be a Sky Ring Battle. It will be the last. How does that sound, Xanxus-sama?”

“Not a bad idea,” Xanxus replied.

“Then, tomorrow night, everyone will please assemble at Nami Middle.”

“Tomorrow will be the final chapter in this happy comedy. Make sure you’re up for it,” Xanxus said, then removed the ring, divided it, and flicked half at Tsuna. A bright light erupted and when it died down, the Varia and the Cervello were gone.

“Help the Vongola Nono and the injured,” Dino’s voice shouted.

He looked over to see the blond and at least a dozen of his men. They quickly scattered to start helping people, loading them onto gurneys. Dino jogged over to them and said, “I received word from the CEDEF team. I never thought it would come to this. Are you all right?”

Renato looked over at Tsuna, who was just standing there staring unseeingly at the ground. He frowned and aimed a kick at the boy’s calf, knocking him forward several steps. “We’re going home. You better get yourself properly recharged for tomorrow’s fight.”

“Why did you have to kick me!?”

‘At least he’s not wibbly anymore.’

“Because I’m really vexed right now. Don’t ask stupid questions. Now let’s go!”

“We can always dose him,” he murmured, knowing his lover would hear it. “It’s one way to ensure he actually sleeps.”

Renato hummed.