"Here is that research you wanted."
Juudai glanced up from his desk as Ruka approached him and placed a file down on it.
"Ah! Thank you, Ruka! I--"
Juudai stopped mid-sentence as he noticed Ruka seemed to be gazing off into space. Her eyes were vacant and she looked incredibly tired. Slowly, he stood up and waved his hand in front of Ruka's face which seemed to bring the girl back to her senses.
"Are... you okay?"
"Oh, er, I've just been feeling a bit off and out of it recently, that's all."
"You're not staying up late doing this research, are you?" Juudai questioned. Ruka shook her head.
"No, I'm not. Maybe I'm just coming down with something..."
"Could be whatever Shinoko has..." Juudai suggested. "...if you need to take some time off to rest, you can."
Ruka shook her head again. "No. I'm fine, really."
Juudai didn't look convinced. "Just promise me you'll get some rest, alright?"
"I will. I promise."
With that, Ruka began walking away, but a sudden spell of dizziness came over her and she stumbled to the side. She then grunted in pain as she quickly grabbed hold of her right arm. Looking down, she could see the red glow of her signer mark under her hand. Removing it, the glow of her mark was unmistakeable as it shined through the sleeve of her blouse.
"W-why is it burning like this?"
Behind his desk Juudai watched on in shock. This was the first time Ruka's mark had lit up since Yuusei and the others had disappeared two-and-a-half years previously.
Suddenly, and intense red light also began shining through the window behind Juudai, making him turn around quickly. As he did, both Juudai and Ruka heard the familiar echoing call of a dragon sounding through the building.
"The Crimson Dragon!?" Juudai exclaimed. A pained whimper from Ruka made his attention turn back to her. She was grimacing from the pain and holding back onto her mark as it glowed even furiously than before, though through the grimace, he could see that she was terrified.
"W-what's happening...?" she cried out as her head snapped up to look in Juudai's direction. "Juudai, help...!"
Juudai wasted no time running over to her and as he reached out and grabbed hold of her, both of them were engulfed by the terrifyingly powerful red light.
Ruka opened her eyes and looked up from where she was laying. Juudai was by her side, calling her name and looked relieved when he saw she was waking up.
"Where...?" in her daze, Ruka couldn't seem to finish the question, but Juudai knew she was asking where they were. Carefully he helped the girl to sit up, then motioned over to something some feet away from them.
"I'm not sure where we are, but I know who, or more what, brought us here."
Ruka looked at where Juudai was gesturing to, only to see the Crimson Dragon before them. The rest of the area around them was nothing but a white private void.
At first, Ruka felt intimidated by it's presence, but slowly the feeling of intimidation began to disappear as she remembered that this was a meeting she had wanted for so long. There were so many questions she wanted it to answer.
Gradually, she got to her feet and once steady, she walked a few paces towards it and although nervous, she wore a determined expression. She wasn't going to let this chance for answers slip away from her, or the chance to be able to be reunited with her brother and the others.
Juudai stayed back in silence. This was something he couldn't interfere in.
Holding onto her arm slightly, which was still glowing and burning, she took a deep breath to begin.
"I've been wanting to ask you some questions for a while now.
Where is Rua, Yuusei and the others? Why did you leave me here on my own and not tell me anything?"
The Crimson Dragon remained silent. A little bit of anger swelling inside her, Ruka took another step forward.
"You were never left on your own." came a bellowing voice that echoed around the void. "You returned with the others. Or at least, a part of you did."
A look of confusion developed on Ruka's face. "...what do you mean 'a part of me did'? That doesn't make any sense."
"When it came time for you and the other signers to return to your original timeline, your feelings were strongly split between returning to your old life, or staying at your new one. Your split feelings were so strong, when it came to me transporting you all back, it influenced my power and you were split in two.
The signer who wished to go with them and the signer who wished to stay. It appears that your strong bond with Ancient Fairy Dragon also caused her to split in two.
Though it appears you have no recollection of this event occurring."
Ruka carefully listened to the Crimson Dragon's words, but she wasn't convinced it was telling the truth. An expression that the Crimson Dragon could see straight through.
"It appears you do not believe me. Then I will show you."
All of a sudden, Ruka could hear a very familiar voice to her calling out her name. "Rua...?"
A scene gradually appeared above the Crimson Dragon. It showed Rua, older in age, calling out to what it looked like to be Ruka herself, but this Ruka looked to be in severe pain and discomfort. Rua looked incredibly worried over her. Ruka would also see what seemed to be Yuusei and the others stood around this 'other' her as well.
"I can assure you, that this girl is you in every way, she's just the part of you who wished to be with the other's."
"That's... really me?" Ruka questioned. "But... what's wrong? Why does she... I... look in pain...?"
"That is why I have contacted you." the Crimson Dragon replied. "I am sure you have noticed yourself feeling distant and disconnected with reality recently. I am sure you have also noticed that the signer of this timeline has been feeling unwell too."
"You mean Shinoko...? What's happening to her?"
"You and your friends were never meant to stay in this timeline and having you continuing to be present there has been causing a growing imbalance between you, your other self and the signer of this timeline. If this imbalance is allowed to continue and nothing is done to prevent it, the universe will try and correct it and this could cause all three of you to no longer exist."
Ruka gasped in shock at this revelation. All three of them would just... stop existing?
"This is why I have appeared to you, since you are the major cause of this imbalance.
I have come to give you two choices.
You can merge back with your other self in your original timeline, but this part of you would no longer exist and you will not remember the last few years. Or you can remain in this timeline, but you would have to give up your signer powers in order to stabilize the imbalance. Your Ancient Fairy Dragon would also be given a new form."
"And there's no way she could join with me, so Rua and the others could come back here...?"
"No." the Crimson Dragon replied. "To do so, you would all have to give up your powers as signers to live in this timeline and I am currently still in need of their power."
Ruka frowned at that reply as a nervous look appeared on her face, before she looked around at Juudai who was displaying a similar expression.
"The choice is yours and your alone, signer." the Crimson Dragon reminded her.
Ruka grimaced. She knew it was.
"Whatever you choose, it'll be the right choice, Ruka." Juudai reassured her.
The Crimson Dragon was right. He couldn't help her. All he could do was support her.
Ruka didn't know what choice to make. If she re-joined back with Rua and the others, she'd lose everything she'd worked towards the last few years. She'd worked so hard to graduate Duel Academy, despite everything that had happened to her. She worked hard to begin building a career around duel spirits, in a world where they existed to everyone. She'd grown up here, she'd become more confidant and was even living on her own.
Then there were the friends she'd made here; Juudai, Asuka, Isabel, Shinji... she'd no longer be able to see them, she wouldn't even retain the memories of meeting Shinji, who she met after the disappearance of her brother and friends.
But if she stayed, she would be severing the only remaining connection she had to Rua and the others and she faced the possibility of never seeing them again.
Ruka turned to look back at the screen. Her other self was looking increasingly uncomfortable, with Rua's calls to her becoming more and more frantic.
"Signer. If a decision is not made soon, then the imbalance will right itself and make the three of you cease to exist."
Then there was Shinoko. This imbalance was affecting her too. Although they've had their differences in the past, Shinoko was her friend and she couldn't allow this to backlash onto her. This situation was not Shinoko's fault, she didn't deserve this fate at all.
Glancing back to the screen, she reminded herself that the Ruka there was her. She had always been with Rua and she felt comforted to know that he and her friends hadn't spent the last few years worried and wondering where she was.
Because she was there. She was right there with them. All the time.
That was the Ruka that stayed with them.
And she was the Ruka who unknowingly chose to build a life where she was.
Knowing she was running out of time, Ruka closed her eyes tightly shut, tears falling from them, before she suddenly raised her right arm upwards. Opening her eyes, she looked straight at the Crimson Dragon.
"For the sake of the part of me that's with Rua and for Shinoko... take it! Take the mark! I choose to stay!"
In response, the Crimson Dragon began to move around above Ruka in a circular motion. As it did the mark burned intensely for a moment, before it lifted off her arm and vanished. Afterwards an intense white light emitted from the deck holder Ruka had on her belt. Ruka quickly took out Ancient Fairy Dragon's card which continued glowing as the details on the card changed. Ancient Fairy Dragon's name dissolved and were replaced with the name 'Queen Fae Dragon'.
Looking back up at the screen, she could see that her other self was now struggling a lot less and although Rua still looked concerned, he seemed relieved that Ruka was waking up.
"Look after him for me."
Suddenly, a bright red light once again engulfed her and Juudai and when it cleared, they were back in Juudai's office at SAI once again.
Juudai glanced out of the window, but everything outside was normal, as if nothing had even happened. Juudai then quickly turned back around as he saw Ruka fall to her knees onto the floor. She was staring down at Queen Fae Dragon's card that she was clutching in her shaking hands. Gradually, tears began streaming from her eyes and falling to the floor, before she clutched a hand over her face and simply let out a pained and sorrowful cry.
Saddened, knowing how difficult the decision she had to make was and how much she just lost, Juudai quietly approached her and dropped to his own knees, before pulling her into a tight hug. Ruka wrapped his arms around him and buried her face into his shoulder, crying loudly into it.
It pained Juudai to see her like this. He wished that this would of had better closure for her, but all he could do now was offer her the support she needed to move on.