HetaOni: Time Marches On

Chapter 18: Magic

China opened the heavy metal door that led to the stairway/hallway of their safe room. His side still ached from the injury he sustained from fighting the creature. Walking did not help, it burned to stretch it so. He'd been walking at a pace even slower than usual.

The door swung open behind him, making him jump. His side screeched in rebellion. And it was all for nothing. Russia had just managed to catch up with China. China sighed with relief, "It's only you. ... did you find anything in the new room?"

"Hmm?" Russia answered before remembering that he told China he was planning to explore that room, "Nyet. But I didn't look very long."

China opened the door to the room where everyone was currently waiting. He walked into a surprising scene. When he had left, everyone was depressed. That was the kind of feel you would expect. Italy had just died, and they were left clueless as to where to turn next. What he had walked in on was oddly cheerful. Japan was cooking in the kitchen, the others were distracting England from trying to "help" Japan cook. Of course Germany still hasn't left Italy's side, but even his expression no longer looked like one of despair, but as one of hope. "What happened when I was gone aru?!" China demanded, lost by the sudden change of mood.

Japan looked up from his cooking, "Oh, China, Russia, you've returned."

"Ah, China. We have good news," France joined in.

"What's going on? You're celebrating as if you've found a way out. How much did I miss?"

"Italy is alive," Germany answered without so much as looking up. When Italy was dead he swallowed his grief and carried on, but knowing Italy was truly alive, and could at some point wake up, he felt a sadistic twist of hope.

China almost felt it looked creepy to see Germany doting so much over Italy's corpse. That's still all he could see. He wasn't sure he believed it at first. Maybe they had all finally gone insane. "What? But I thought..."

"We did too. But after Japan noticed Italy's breathing we all were able to verify it ourselves," Prussia answered, "We must have missed something the first time we checked."

England knew there was something more to it than that. Something had changed. But he couldn't explain it just yet. Not even to himself. And so for now, he kept quiet.

"Anyways. He's sleeping deeply now, we've all been waiting for him to wake up," Canada continued.

"But... even if he does wake up. What about Spain and Romano? And our escape? We aren't exactly in the clear yet," Russia reminded them, "Its a bit early to be celebrating, da?"

The group became a bit sullen. They had been so caught up in there one fortune, they had forgotten they still had their misfortunes to worry about. "Russia makes a good point. Alright then. What should our priority be?" China asked.

"'To find an escape? Or to find a way to bring back Spain and Romano?'" Japan repeated. It was not the first time this question had been asked.

"Obviously our first priority should be recovering Spain and Romano, since we can't leave without them,” France input.

"True, but we don't have any idea how to do that. And we're wasting time just trying to come up with a solution we can't find," Prussia argued.

"In that case. Maybe we should be looking to figure out how we can reverse time, instead of for an escape. We can't leave them behind. The world just wouldn't be the same," Canada added in quietly.

"Actually. I might be able to bring them back..." England explained, "I'm still pretty weak, but I can sense more of my magic scattered around this place... if I could just collect more of it, I might be able to pull it off."

"What do you mean when you say you 'sense your magic around here'? Like some sort of 6th sense?" France asked surprised by this news.

"Its like when you lose one of your senses. And another is heightened. Its about the only I can tell apart right now. I should probably be able find my way around using them," he explained.

"No way," America argued, "you've already lost your eyesight because you overused your abilities. That's enough. We'll find another way."

"Oh don't give me that. You know very well there isn't another way. I can handle this. And in any case it can't hurt to go and collect more of my magic. It should help restore some of my strength. Then I won't be so much of a burden on all of you."

"Well we'd just be a giant target if we all traveled together. Maybe in groups?...." Japan started to say before he noticed China's side, "China! You're bleeding!" Japan rushed across the room to get the first aid.

"Oh," China looked down at his side, a dull meaningless ache reminding him that he was still injured, "I almost forgot. While we were In the annexe we managed to find another room, and this!" China dug the glowing orb of magic out of his pocket. England had sensed it for a while now, but had assumed it must have been just outside, "Unfortunately we didn't really get a chance to check it out, because we were attacked by one of those creatures."

England managed to take it from china without too much effort, "Thank you China," with this england would already be able to make out his magic a little better. They became more defined.

"Really? A new room? That could definitely lead to some clue towards finding a way out," Canada commented.

"In that case... we should make three groups. One to go with England to find his magic, one to explore this new room, and one to stay here in case Italy wakes up," Japan proposed.

"I want to go back to that new room. We had to come back before I had a chance to take a look around," China stretched as if to show his injury didn't bother him anymore. They might be able to die here, but they were still nations after all, their injuries healed faster than a humans would.

America jumped at the opportunity to explore something new, "Hell yeah count me in for that group!"

"Hmm... I want to be explore some more too," Russia added.

"Oh... maybe I'll go too then," Canada added.

"I'll stay with Italy," Germany joined the conversation.

"Yes. I would like to do the same," Japan agreed.

"I think I'll stay with my brother. I'd prefer to avoid a fight since I don't have my sword..." Prussia explained in a depressed tone.

"Wait. Then that leaves only France to accompany England," America counted out.

"Just you and Moi?" France teased England.

"Bloody hell. I'd rather go alone!" England moaned.

"No the groups are too uneven. I'll go with England instead," America decided.

"Oh don't start that again. I don't need you worrying over me. I can take care of my bloody self!" England argued.

America replied seriously, "I'm not. I'm just taking this seriously. It would be stupid for anyone of us to go alone. And because of your eyes, your handicapped. If we're going to go about this then we have to be careful. For everyone's sake."

"In that case, should I go with you as well?" Canada asked torn between the two.

"We'll be perfectly alright with just the three of us," England muttered.

"You want to look around the new room, Oui?" France asked Canada, "We'll be fine."

"Aiyaa! So are we going or not?!" China complained, itching to get a look at the new place he fought to uncover.

"Right. Everyone be careful, and come back soon," Japan sent them off.

Russia, China Canada

"This is it," China said stepping into the large room that lay beyond the wall. The room had the same flooring and walls as the last one, but also contained a long table and fireplace. The fireplace was centered on the wall to the right of the door. The table: in the center of the room.

The table was long extending the room, but other than that there wasn't much to the room. "Well let's take a look around, see if we can't find something useful," Canada suggested as he started to walk around the rather empty room.

China and Russia looked as well, although it seemed pretty fruitless a search, as the room was so empty. "But there must be something," Canada thought, "A crack in the wallpaper? A hidden door? Something." He walked over to the empty fireplace. Its gold embossed frame looked old and worn. Although even so it still had no dust or signs antiquity that this place so lacked.

Among the ashes a glint of metal caught his eye. Of course it was strange that it caught his eye at all since the ashtray was metal as well. He dug out the small object, wiping off the ashes. A key found its way into his hands. "Ah!" Canada reacted with surprise.

"Did you find something?" China asked coming over to see for himself.

"Its a key," Canada answered holding it out for China, and now Russia to see. "....Do we have anywhere left we needed a key for?"

"...Just the front door," China answered.

"You think it could be-" Canada was interrupted as a phone began to ring loudly.

"Sorry," Russia responded, "Its my sister again. I'll be right back." He left out the door.

"Wai-" Canada tried to stop him but was too late, "nngh."

"What's wrong?" China asked Canada.

"Tell me I'm not the only one who's noticed," Canada said worriedly, "Its not his sister he talks to on the phone."

"What do you mean? Who else would it be?" China responded confused.

"I... don't know. But no one outside has apparently been able to reach him.... and I overheard a somewhat disturbing conversation earlier," Canada remarked, trying to think it through. The whole situation had him very concerned. Although he tried to hope it was really nothing. Perhaps he was just tired. They were all tired. And it was beginning to mess with their heads.

"What do you mean by 'disturbing'?" China asked, having noticed Russia's strange behavior earlier, he wanted to know how serious the matter was.

"I don't know... it was-" Canada stopped mid-sentence as Russia walked back into the room.

"Am I interrupting something?" Russia asked, with an "I-know-what-you're-up-to" expression glued to his face... directed of course at Canada who froze in terror.

"No, not at all. We were waiting for you to get back so we could check this key on the front door," China reminded them, "Can we go now?!"

"Mmmnn... Not just yet. I wanted to share what I found before my sister called da?" Russia informed them. He walked along the side of the table nearest the door until he was about halfway. Then his hand slid under the edge and pressed a button.

There was a heavy click as several floorboards on the other side of the table moved aside, revealing a hidden staircase. With excitement the others rushed over to the hole in the floor. It was dark, almost pitch black, and they couldn't see the end of the staircase. "Another passage?!" China exclaimed.

"Where do you think it leads?" Canada asked curiously.

"Hmm. No idea. But let's find out, da?" Russia persuaded.

"But we just found a key aru. Shouldn't we see if we've found an escape first? We might not even need to explore this new area," China reminded them.

"But even if it does work. We still have to wait for Spain and Romano, and England and the others. We might as well at least check it out while we're here," Canada suggested.

"Da... Does anyone have a light?" Russia asked peering into the dark hole before them.

They both shook their heads. "Nyet? Then I'll go first da?" Russia smiled, stepping into the opening and down the long narrow staircase. The shadows almost seemed to swallow him as he descended. The others followed close behind.

The darkness consumed them almost instantly. Slipping over their unaware heads. The air was suffocating, and the stench... hauntingly familiar. They could look up the way they came and see light, but all around them was nothing but an all consuming darkness. Russia was the first to reach the bottom. Soon followed by Canada, and then China. "Shouldn't there be a light switch somewhere around here?" Russia asked feeling along the wall for a switch. His hands brushing against something sticky on the wall, before finally landing on the switch. "Oh. Here it is," He said flipping on the light.

Lights flickered on, dimly lighting the room. A gigantic clock stood stark and ominous against the relatively small room. The room was maybe only 6 square feet wide, but at least ten feet high to accommodate the clocks massive size. More disturbing yet... blood was smeared all along the walls and clock, still sticky to the touch. As if, like everything else in this place, it had been frozen in time, never to dry. The clock ticked steadily on.

"Ah!" Canada exclaimed as he jumped from the sight.

"... This is," Russia began.

"The clock that Italy talked about," China confirmed with all certainty, "The one that has the power to reverse time." But why was it here? Where they had previously been unable to reach. And why now? When its user was in a coma like state.

"It is curious how it is here da?" Russia commented admiring the frightfully stunning grandfather clock.

"... Umm. I hate to interrupt. But it appears we have company," Canada announced, noticing the approaching shadows on the stairs. Within moments the monster came into sight.

"Right. Let's make this quick, and get back to the others," China said, bringing out his Wok.

England, America, France

Green light, and then the endless darkness. One leading towards hope, and the other towards destruction. Even now he was unsure which path would lead them to safety. But the light had a much warmer call.

England focused on the invisible space between him and his magic. He was shrouded in darkness. But magic was a part of him, and one so familiar, that upon approaching its presence his eyes recalled it by photo-memory, enabling him to see it. Even through the many walls of this mansion.

"... England? Are you alright?" A voice loomed over him, carrying the concerned voice of America.

"I said I was bloody fine. Would you cut it out already?" England snapped frustrated by the break in his concentration.

"Its just that we're heading towards a blank wall..." America's voice spoke to him. A hand landed on England's shoulder, sending shivers down his spine. He knew it belonged to America, but somehow without the image to match it up it felt like it could be anyone's. The voice continued to speak over him, "Are you sure you know where you're going?"

England looked up at the glowing green orb before him, registering his own head tilt. Damn! It was on the third floor then. His depth perception was completely thrown off because all he could really see was the rotation of his magic in different parts of the building. Closer and further away was about all he could differentiate. It was hard to tell what was where in this 3D atmosphere. England sighed in frustration. This was going to be long and difficult if these two were going to be like this the whole time. "I know where I'm going! Its just these damn floors are hard to figure out," England looked around himself. Only to see more darkness, and faded specs of magic in the distance, "I'm fairly certain everything on that floor... or higher... or lower."

"You've got to be kidding me," France said realizing that meant they could potentially pass right over it, and have to go back.

"Well sorry I can't see like the rest of you," England complained, making a 180 turn, or something close to it, and storming away.

He heard the footsteps of the other two running after him. "Wait! England. - You'll fall," He couldn't differentiate between who said what as they spoke at the same time.

"Fall? He was the bloody British Empire! He might be blind, but he wasn't that clums-" His train of thought was derailed as he slipped on the staircase he had unknowingly headed towards. He tumbled head first, his hands grabbing at the empty darkness. Luckily hands landing on the railing beside him. Even if the catch pulled his arm, stretching the tendons, it still kept him from falling further down the stairs.

"England!" France's voice called out as two sets of hands reached him, pulling him to his feet.

England moved disoriented and short of breath as they dragged him away from the stairs. He sat on the flat floor panting, "Sorry..." He let out. He was frustrated, confused and sore, but he didn't need to be taking it out on them.

America let out a sigh of relief, "Look. We're all tired and frustrated. Let's just try and work together on this."

"You said you could sense some of your magic upstairs. Right? Let's head there first," France suggested.

The two led England around to the other staircase which led upstairs. England meanwhile tried to get a grip on his sense of direction. Each step he made up, he could see the nearby magic float down. But it was hard to tell if it was still above him, or below him. And how much. One floor? Two? Or were they all on this floor. Perhaps he needed to rely on America and France after all... he hated that thought. It was in their nature to do as much as they could on their own. Asking for help, was a sign of weakness. Still its not as if they weren't willing, or that they'd think less of him for it. He needed eyes.

England tripped over the last step on the staircase, catching himself last minute. "Watch your step," America responded habitually, helping England find his balance.

England glared at him, although he wasn't sure exactly where America was to glare at him, so instead he just glared at what he thought might be his general direction. "Sorry," America apologized.

England rolled his eyes. He turned his head to look in both directions, recalling where things were from memory. They were at the top of the staircase on the third floor. That meant to his right was the third floor library, and to his left, the piano room. There were three orbs of magic to his right and two to his left. He assumed the library was a decent guess for finding magic. It was at least a good place to hide it.

England turned right, "This way is the Third Floor Library, right?" He asked his two companions.

"You think some of your magic might be in here? But we've been here before. Wouldn't we have found it by now?" America asked.

"When we brought you, Italy, and Germany back into this time, we opened a door. The one that led to the annexe. But it also opened a door between the two worlds. When it brought you back, it also brought some of my magic along with it," England explained, "Do you understand?"

"... all I got was a bunch of magic mumbo jumbo," America said, he would never understand how any of that worked.

"Nevermind it then. It wasn't here before, but it is now," England shook his head. It really wasn't that hard a concept to wrap one's head around, was it?

"Are you two coming, or are we going to sit and talk?" France called to them waiting assumedly by the door. "We are after all, under attack. That thing could come at any moment," He worried.

Their faces grew serious. They knew exactly how dangerous that could be. The last fight had cost England his eyesight. They shut up and began searching in silence.

England put his hands in front of him upon entering the room. Waiting to bump into something. His foot made contact with the bookshelf first. Luckily he'd been moving slow enough it didn't stub his toes. He followed along the frame of the bookshelf, using it as a guide towards the glowing emerald orb ahead of him. It seemed too low to him, and made him feel like he was walking on glass. Or that there was no ground at all. Because wisps of magic traveled through the floor and in the air, giving it the impression of floating. As he got closer he reached out for it. But it was like reaching for something in a 3D movie. Only worse. He couldn't see his own arm. He could see the magic ahead of him, but not himself, which made him feel almost like he wasn't there, by illusion. Maybe he wasn't close enough yet. He inched along the bookshelf grabbing at nothing. But it was right there! Maybe a little lower? He got to his knees, now it seemed suddenly closer. He inched along the floor. If he couldn't reach it he would keep going until he passed it. Then he'd at least know when he was close

...It was a lot farther away than he thought. The orb went from looking about the size of a blueberry, to a bit larger than the size of a softball. How had America and France not seen this? He looked to his right. Two more lumps his magic waited in the distance. He also heard two sets of soft footprints on the floor. They were still looking.

England put his hands in front of his knees and stretched out. It couldn't be much further. It looked like he was practically on top of it. His fingertips nudged at something in the corner of the bookshelf. He inched it closer until he could wrap his fingers around it. It felt like a powdery rock... and not unfamiliar. It was almost the size of a baseball. This wasn't it was it? But it had just looked so much bigger. He brought it close to him, suddenly blinded by the green light of his magic. The orb was about the size of a softball. The magic swelled as he held it. Becoming bigger, and brighter. Wisps of green swirled about him, almost giving him a sense of sight, because the fuzzy shadow that moved across it would be his arm. England crushed the stone in his hand, absorbing the magic back into his body. There was a sudden rush of adrenaline that coursed through him, as he welcomed the magic back. Power growing and calming him.

He opened his eyes to the same darkness. It still wasn't enough. Even this much magic only brought him up to maybe ten percent. He would need at least fifty percent to fix his eyes. And that would drain him. They couldn't afford that. There was too much he needed this power for than to selfishly fix a mistake he made. Bringing Spain and Romano back would take about the same amount, although it wouldn't leave him quite as drained.

England scanned the room. America and France should be in here somewhere. He used the bookshelf to pull himself the rest of the way up, and to get a bearing on his surroundings. There were still two glimmering lights in the room, and two more that seemed off from the others. As well as one more that might be in this room? He wasn't sure. It seemed a bit more set apart from the others. Perhaps it was out in the hall? But then they should have passed it. He also didn't see it coming in. Maybe it was on the next floor then. He felt like he was getting a better grasp on his surroundings. It was easier to tell distance now.

England caught a change in the pattern of motion by one of the remaining lumps of magic in the room. A fuzzy shadow moved across it. Then it suddenly jerked upward. "Got it!" America's voice came from that direction, "Alright. I finally found one."

England followed along the bookshelf until it ended and headed then in a relatively straight line, moving closer to the flickering light, "Let me see that," He asked reaching for it.

America placed the stone in England's hand. England crushed it, taking back his power. Twenty percent. That should be twenty percent now. Not too bad. He was feeling a little stronger now. It still wasn't enough for him to stand on his own, but he was becoming more confident. With the four remaining stones he may be strong enough actually be of some use! He opened his eyes to see faint shadows by the last emerald light in the room. Was it the energy bouncing off the bookshelf?

"How many are left?" France's voice boomed right behind him, causing England to jump.

England looked around, checking again. He kept expecting something to disappear. As if they were allowed to get close, but not quite reach what they're reaching for. That's usually how this went. Strange how calm things had started to seem.... as if some huge storm were about to hit... he was probably just being paranoid.

"Let's see. There's one more in this room. Then two more in the piano room, then perhaps the hallway?... No it must be on the next floor," England confirmed, already walking around to the next light, back towards the center. He counted bookshelves. This one? No, not unless it was inside a book. One more row. Same problem. Again. It was always just a bit farther than it seemed. He passed yet another bookcase. The light began to move passed him. This one. Towards the far left? He could see the cranny of the shelf's overhang. So that must mean it was underneath. Or it wouldn't show up? Something like that. England kept moving forward until his hand connected with wall. He seemed to be right on top of it. He stooped down, and followed the fuzzy shadow of his hand passing over it. Right under the nook. The magic lump felt solid in his hand as he squeezed it, releasing his magic into dust. Raising his power a little more. It wouldn't be long now, he told himself. 30%.

"Did you find it already?" America asked. His voice didn't seem to come from nowhere now. A shadow moved. It was a fuzzy outline at best. And he could only see it if America moved. Standing still, was the same as ever. Darkness.

"Yeah. Its getting a little easier to find my way around now that I have a little magic back," England explained.

"Does that mean if you can recover more, you might get your eyesight back?" France asked coming in from the side.

"No," England answered almost immediately. This was somewhat a lie, but even if he could. He couldn't... he needed to use that power to bring back Spain and Romano. And after that he had to use it to protect the others. His magic would eventually recover on its own with rest, but that meant a week or two after they escape this place. And by then, it would have already left a permanent scar. Disabling his vision forever. "I can just see the magic moving a bit more easily now," England told them.

"I'm, gonna go get a head start on that piano room..." America responded dashing out of the room.

"Bloody hell," England muttered.

"Are you really going to be ok?" France worried.

"Oh don't you start that too. I might be blind, but I'm not weak. I can hold my own," England complained. Their constant worrying was like a constant reminder that he'd messed up. He was getting sick of it.

France laughed, "Oh I believe you. ... I meant after this is all over. And things have gone back to normal. You'll still be blind. How are you going to deal with everyday normalcy, and this? Have you thought of how it might reflect on the country you carry on your shoulders?" France ended solemnly.

England had never thought that far into it. He didn't want to. It didn't change anything. He still had to use this magic to bring back Spain and Romano. It seemed all he was doing now was fixing his mistakes, and living with their consequences. But they were his mistakes. They were no one else's burden to bare. He couldn't even think about the hell he'd be in after they escape. He was still using everything he had to try and get them out of there! England glared in the direction he last saw France's fuzzy shadow, "... Just... Shut up. I'm fine," He complained running out of the room as well.

France followed after a minute to himself. America was still concerned about England because of his eyes. And England was in turn pretending he could do everything himself. Their problems didn't end there. He'd just talked with Canada about feeling unimportant. Germany was too distracted by Italy to be any help. And he wondered how many others had noticed how particularly mysterious Russia had been lately. They may look like a united front, but in reality they were far from it. He wondered how long they could keep pretending everything was fine between them.

England followed the pattern of his magic in order to navigate the hallway. He wasn't going to think about it. Or rather, he couldn't. He had to focus right now. He couldn't be worrying about things he couldn't control. He focused on the glimmering and movements of the two green lights. America must have already found them both. Well it was less of a maze in there. England fumbled for the door.

"Dude check out how awesome I am! I already found them both!" America cheered rushing to England with a wild energy.

France closed the door behind them. "Great. This should be enough to make an actual impact. With this I won't be so much of a burden," England smiled holding out his hand for them.

"... England," America tried to think of what to say. He was reminded again of how England had sacrificed himself for them all those times ago. In this very room.

"What is it now? Just hand them over," England complained reaching for them but only grabbing at air.

"You keep saying you're a burden. But thats not right," France joined in. He was trying to do it all on his own again. And so far, that had always been their biggest mistake. This was too big to take on all by one person.

"You've done more than most of us put together have been able to do. Now its our turn. Promise me you won't do anything reckless," America demanded worriedly.

"Oh for crying out loud! I did that ONE time. And it was really just to get YOU to stop acting recklessly America. Alright? I've learned my lesson. So would you both just drop it?" England complained. It was frustrating enough dealing the consequences of his mistake without the two of them constantly reminding him of it.

"But it wasn't just the one time," America thought. England had been acting recklessly with those strange powers of his, trying to solve all their problems that way, that now he didn't even realize he was doing it anymore.

"Now if we're going to make any progress at all, would you please give me my magic?" England tried to be civil. He was frustrated, and fed up with the lot of them, but he was a gentleman after all.

America placed the stones in England's outstretched hand. A part of him wanted this entire time to hide these lumps of magic. To keep England away from this power he sought. Because so far every time he used it, it only caused England to become weaker and weaker, and to seek more and more power. The good it caused paled in comparison when he considered the outcome. But certain things were expected now. With Italy alive there was once again hope for their timeline. That meant they had to get everything ready for when he awoke. Because they were so very close. And preparation required getting Spain and Romano back, and the only one who could do that was England. If America kept him away from this magic now, it would mean those two could not be brought back, and this time and all their struggles, would have been for nothing.

England relaxed once he felt the essence of his magic touch the palm of his hand, releasing a tingling sensation. His hand clenched almost instinctually around it. The magic from both chunks of stone releasing into his system all at once. When it had settled, a new ability revealed itself. England looked at his two companions. Looked at them. Their aura's surrounded them, outlining them. Blue energy like lightning outlined America's basic shape. And a soft red, like velvet did the same for France. England smiled. If this was what he was left with. After all this was over, and his magic recovered on its own. If this is what he had left, he could live with it. It was almost like he could see again. With the exception of inanimate objects. He could at least see the refraction of energy off of them so he wouldn't bump into anything. However abstract things like fashion, and sunsets would be long forgotten. But what did they matter now?

"There's just the one upstairs now. Oui?" France asked, breaking England from his train of thought.

"Yeah. That's right. Then I should have enough to re-open that gate," England confirmed. Although that was a partial lie. He had enough magic now to do a bit more that that. But if he could collect ALL the pieces of his magic, he might be able to help fight too. Or at least do SOMETHING. He hated feeling useless.

The group followed England as he led them upstairs. Able to use his own emerald aura to see the waves of energy bouncing off the door enough to to find the doorknob without difficulty. He led them confidently around to the right, where the staircase leading up was located. It wasn't to hard finding the railing of the first step either; using his own aura like a dim flashlight.

The last piece lay dead ahead, growing in size as he came closer. Or perhaps, not growing but it only appeared to grow as he got closer. It was larger than he originally thought. Although it had appeared at the time the same size as the lumps of magic on the last floor. Now it seemed nearly four times that size, and it moved peculiarly. Resting just ahead of him in the center of the hall in tight coils spinning round and round as if binding something. Something which was not to be seen. Something secret. The magic also dulled as he grew nearer. Brilliant beacons of emerald died back into dark leaf-like vines as if smoldering a flame to nothing more than dying embers. Emerald embers. When he was finally close enough to touch it, his magic had died back enough that he could barely sense it. In fact... if he had never had to rely on this sense instead of his eyes... he probably would have never noticed.

"Dude! Is that what I think it is?" America rushed over noticing England had stooped down to inspect this new object. He seemed to know what it was for some reason.

England picked it up, to feel the heavy weight of a book in his hands. His hand brushed past the worn pages of the closed book, the encircling magic cooling at his touch, hiding its presence, and secret, from him.

"Italy's Journal? But I thought, Spain and Romano had it with them," France commented confused, "do you think they could have found their way back?"

"No," England answered slowly, still thumbing over the surface of the book. "If they did manage to get back. They wouldn't have dropped this. That its here now..." England wasn't sure how to word it, but the thought continued in his head, "That it’s here now... It almost implies they were able to find the gate, but that they were unable to cross." It was all on him then. Those two had no way to return, so it depended completely on whether he could open this passageway or not.

"I still think they might be here. It couldn't hurt to take a look around right?" America suggested hopefully. If there was even a small chance it would save them all a lot of trouble. And possibly keep england from overexerting himself.

England ignored America for the moment. Caught up in exploring the magical components surrounding the journal. He opened it with ease, but when he tried to recall his magic, it was like trying to recall something that wasn't there. He received no reaction. It was too bad really, the seal was very powerful, and could restore a great amount of his magic... even more intriguing, what it was guarding. Because whatever it was must be more precious than anything else.

"That sounds like a good plan. If they made it back they would either be around here, or they would have made it back to the room. It couldn't hurt just to check this floor," France agreed with America.

England finally joined them, clutching the journal close to him. "Well if they were back. Why would the go anywhere other than our room on the second floor? Why would they be in any of these rooms?" England poked holes in their optimism.

While America was thinking of someway to argue with England there was a large bang from down the hall which caused them all to jump. America instead went to inspect. He walked the short ways down the hallway to the door which led to the room with the lever. He called out to see if it was them, "Spai-"

The door was smashed open and thrown to the far wall, taking America with it.

America's head bounced off the wall with a dull thud, lying in a daze among the rubble that used to be the door. A large creature slowly emerged from the entrance. A giant grey monster. The same one that had taken their lives countless times in forgotten worlds. And the same creature that threatened them now.

"America!" France shouted rushing to his side to help him. Being the only one who could actually see what happened.

England froze. He could tell america was alright. But beyond that... He was still trying to piece together what happened. It looked like he'd just jumped backward into the wall. And then there was the new aura that had entered the room. He was sorry he hasn't noticed it before. He was too caught up on the journal to notice. Silver and blood melted together and tore apart violently, to create violent flames that carried the monsters rage. Moving irregularly, almost as if he were seeing an echo. The monster reared its head back before charging. The sound of a an earsplitting screech reached England's ears, right as the creatures tilted back head reached the end of the echo.

England caught on just in time, "France! America! Look out!" He called to them, right as the monster began to charge.

The monster crashed into the wall they were just a moment ago snarling threats, "diE!"

France breathed a momentary sigh of relief standing just out of harms way, holding a groggy and just awaking America. "Thank god for filia. Without my fast feet it might have us." The creature turned around, ready to attack again. France smiled forlornly, "But I'm afraid its gonna take a lot more than that to exterminate us."

"France would you quit being dramatic while we're under attack?!" England complained trying to remain calculating, while so much happened around him he couldn't see nor explain. "To your right!" He called out warning him of a blow that would collide with him, if he did not move quickly. Using premonition, he could see a few seconds ahead into the monster's movements. This ability didn't put a strain on his magic, but did put a slight strain on him physically. Although minimal, if he did this for too long he might get ill.

France dodged the attack, using the opening to stab the creature in the gut with his dagger. America finally rose in a dazed scramble. Unholstering his gun.

The creature raked its claws at the air in front of them, England warning them just in time again. America shot off several rounds, all making contact with the creature in what appeared to be vital points. Two to the head, one right between the eyes, and four to the chest. And still the creature continued to attack as if were nothing.

"YoU WOn't eScApE!" It cried reaching for them. Trying to grab at them. To twist them, to break them, whatever it took to kill them. It moves fast. Almost too fast for England to warn them.

"Too your left!" He shouted predicting its movements seconds before it made contact.

America didn't dodge. Instead he lined the barrel of his gun up exactly with massive incoming hand. Waiting for a perfect shot. With a Bang! The creature reared back screeching in agony, flailing its twisted and broken hand. Even shot at point blank it seemed to do little damage. The bullet stuck out of the center of the hand. Impact scars surrounding it on all sides. Blowing it apart. The long dagger like fingers twisted against it, then lay at odd angles. The crippled hand lay against the monsters side, useless.

Although they'd be stupid to think that'd be the end of it. The monster reared its ugly head once more, making eye contact with the one who can't see. It had figured out why all its attacks were failing now. England saw its change in direction just a moment before it screeched, "yOu woN'T eSCApE!"

England froze. Unsure of what to do. It was too fast for him to run away from. As he was now, he'd trip, and that'd be it. Also, there really wasn't anywhere he could run to. He could attack it using what little magic he had left, but even that wouldn't stop it now. And then he wouldn't have enough to return Spain and Romano. It was an impossible decision.

"Shit!" America cursed. And started firing off bullets rapidly. Six to the head and the creature screeched, jerking wildly, its good hand holding its head, the crippled one hanging uselessly at its side twitching instinctually to help hold its head. America fired again this time hitting it in its bad hand. The cascade of inflamed nerves causing it to shriek in agony. Meanwhile France tried to distract it by running around, catching its eye, and leading it back away from England.

The monster they faced was a creature of fury. It was intelligent enough to where their weaknesses were, and to make detailed and calculated attacks. But it was distracted easily. They managed to get it to turn around and face them without too much incident.

America shot at its legs. If kill zones had little effect. Then maybe he could at least paralyze it. If it couldn't move, it wasn't as much of a threat. America was an excellent shot, but the creature was also quite fast. Several bullets whizzed by stabbing the floorboards, before a few actually managed to make contact with the creatures legs. There were almost twenty bullets fired, before the creature finally slowed down. Six bullets jutted out of its right leg, and eight in its left. The creature stopped fighting then. Realizing it was on the losing side. It stared them down leaving one final warning before fading away, "YoU...WOn't...ESc...aPe."

Italy

Italy froze. No. This wasn't happening. He shook his head in denial. He remembered this now. It was the first time still. They fought hard for a long time in this world. But Italy had no idea he could bring them back in time then.

Prussia and Holy Rome lay slumped against the wall in the basement. Mortal wounds covered their bodies. Prussia suffered massive head trauma, was bleeding from large gash in his stomach. Holy Rome had similar injuries. Particularly he had a broken arm that twisted the wrong way, a large gash sliced down his chest, likely breaking several ribs. And yet they both smiled genuinely when they saw Italy.

"We got the key," Prussia laughed half-heartedly holding it out for Italy. Although he didn't even have the strength to sit up. Slumping against the wall.

"Hey, stop crying. We risked our lives and went through so much to get it back. You should be happier." Holy Rome frowned seeing Italy's face.

"Why did you lie...? You said you were only going to take a look around..." Italy cried, unable to hold back.

"Ah, yes. Well...it's probably for the same reason you didn't tell us that everyone else is dead," Holy Rome reminded him.

"You knew-?!" Italy reacted with shock. After saying it he remembered again. They had known for quite a while. Probably since the attack that killed China, Russia, and France. The fight that the monster stole back the key in.

Prussia laughed, feeling death reach a hold for him. If he was going to go down. It would be laughing with a smile on his face, "Hahah!...Well...now, West, why don't we take a little rest? I'm really tired."

"You're right, Prussia. You can go ahead; I'll catch up with you."

"Why?! No! I can't do this anymore! I'm staying with you!!" Italy cried. He couldn't lose them too. Not after everyone else. He began to panic, knowing there was nothing he could do... watching the light begin to drain from Prussia's eyes.

"Anyone who...disobeys...will run...ten laps..." Holy Rome repeated, too tired to say it with fewer than four breaths.

Prussia encouraged Italy to get going. Wanting more than anything for at least him to get out, "...Look...if you don't...hurry up...he'll keep adding even more."

Italy was breaking down now. He couldn't take it. He knew how this one ended. He couldn't do it. He knew that they would try again. But even in all those times. Even after all those years of fighting. He still was never able to find a happy ending. He shook with fear and grief, "Fine! I'll run ten laps! I'll run as many laps as you want! But I'll run away! And then...you... will have to run...to catch me..." He cried out, knowing exactly where that brought them to.

The light faded from Prussia's eyes and he breathed his last, a sly grin still planted on his face.

"Prussi-" Italy thought he'd cried all the tears he had. But he was wrong. They spilled out of him like turning on a faucet. He couldn't stop them. His voice choked on them. And just when he thought they might stop...

"...---" Holy Rome released a final sigh. Unable to say the words he longed to tell him. The light fading from his eyes. The last thing he saw was Italy turning to see his dying moments.

"Ho...ly...Rome..." Italy couldn't stop crying. His heart dropped and his entire body shook. He was a little kid when Holy Rome had disappeared. And he knew after several years that he must have died. But he had never seen him. It was strange. He had seen all his friends die now... hundreds of times. But this was something he never thought he'd see. Something he was unprepared for. Although Holy Rome was older now. And these were likely not the same injuries he sustained. It made everything that much worse. Italy's world fell apart, and he fell to the ground in despair. His heart was unable to hold this much grief.

A bright light flashed. The basement disappeared. And everything was gone. No more pain. No more death. But Italy was not alone in the blank space. Before him stood Holy Rome. With an outstretched hand, ready to lead him from despair. Italy swallowed his pain, taking the hand which raised him to his feet.

"Are you alright?" Holy Rome asked.

Italy shook his head. He hadn't been alright, since the first time he saw one of them die. But he had a strong will, "but I can keep going. ... this time... we'll get out for sure, right?"

Holy Rome forced a smile, "of course." He hoped Italy would remember soon. Something important. Something he had forgotten. Something he couldn't just tell him.

Safe Room

The door slammed shut behind the returning group. "You think it followed us?" Canada breathed a sigh of relief.

"No. It seemed to have given up after we left the annexe," Russia answered with relief. The lot of them were covered with minor bruises and scratches from their fight. China had reopened the wound in his side, blood bleeding through the cloth that held him together. They would heal soon enough. With rest.

"What happened?! You look terrible," Prussia commented as the the group that stayed with Italy came to see what this group had discovered.

"We were attacked! Ambushed by that monster. Its gotten stronger too. The three of us weren't able to take it down. All we could do was run," China explained in frustration, holding his side.

The door opened behind them, causing them to jump. "Your group too huh?" England bridged off of China's statement. "Our group was attacked too. It seems to be attacking more often now."

"What you think so? Aiyaa! How annoying," China complained, tired and sore.

"You're all injured... I'll get the first aid," Japan commented hurrying off to apply their dwindling supply of first aid to the injured nations.

The door closed behind America and France, and Japan began to apply first aid. "Did your exploration of this new room lead you to find anything?" England asked, wondering how they made out on the other side of things. It was obvious from here Italy had made no change since they left.

"Yeah. Actually Russia found a switch under the table that led down to another room..." China trailed off remembering the sight that greeted them there.

"We found the clock room Italy talked about," Russia explained.

"But I thought it only showed up once someone died... Or did I miss hear that," America asked confused.

"Well no one has died yet, thank god. And its here," China assured him.

"Peculiar that it would show up now though," England muttered to himself.

"Ah!" Canada remembered reaching into his pocket to pull out a key, "We were so busy running away, we didn't even have time to check the door."

"Is that a key?!" France asked reaching out to touch it. They'd run out of rooms that were locked. The only place left was the front door.

"That's right it was in the fireplace buried under the ashes," China mentioned.

"The creature should be gone now. We should regroup and head down to see if it works," Russia suggested.

"How many people do you think need to go?" America asked.

"Its gotten stronger, and we're almost certain to run into it. A larger group is probably best," France agreed.

"In that case, everyone who's still fit to fight," Canada looked around the room.

"Then it should be me, France, Canada, Russia, Japan, Prussia, and Germany," America counted them up.

"America. You got hit on the head pretty hard. You're still bleeding. You should sit this one out... I'll go instead," England argued.

"But-"

"I'm serious. I'm still in one piece. Besides I can predict the enemy's movements thanks to that magic we collected. I'd like to get some use out of it before I use it up bringing Spain and Romano back," England made a sound argument.

"So you found enough to reopen that portal?" Japan asked.

"Just barely, but it should be enough," England confirmed.

"Then our new group is me, my brother, England, Japan, Canada, France, and Russia," Prussia recounted.

Russia looked at the group that was going. "Hmm... Me and China were both in the last two fights. I'm a bit tired. I'll sit out this time too," He concocted his excuse.

"If everyone able is leaving. Then I need to stay here and finish applying first aid," Japan mentioned.

"In that case. I'd prefer to stay here, in case Italy wakes up," Germany looked back at Italy, not liking to be pulled away.

"Nien! You've been stuck in this room for too long west. You need the fresh air," Prussia argued.

"Its not not like the air out there is actually fresh. Its the same air," Germany argued.

"Even so. Sitting in this room staring at him all this time isn't good for your health," Prussia insisted.

"Fine then," Germany conceded. Although in his head he continued to argue, "Because getting into fights with undefeatable monsters, was much better for his health."

"Then its just me, France, England, Prussia, and Germany?" Canada checked.

There were no audible objections.

"Then let's get going," France led the small army, followed closely by Canada who had the key.

They made their way in a tight huddle. Each one of them watching the surrounding area. Watching carefully for signs of the creature. Even traveling together like this, they realized, they were still in danger. That creature had gotten stronger every time they saw it... and now they knew there was an uncountable number.

They reached the front door without incident. However that didn't mean they were clear. They stared in awe from the key that rested in Canada's hand to the door that had kept them trapped for in this hell, for days. Although with all the returning memories it felt more like years. Somewhere close to a century for those who could remember most of the past. It was going to be hard to return to the room after knowing they had an escape. But they still had to get Spain and Romano back... Italy they would carry if it came to it.

Canada put the key to the lock and pushed. Wiggled it a bit. And pushed some more.

"You've gotta be kidding me!" Prussia exclaimed.

"What? What's going on?" England asked, unable to see any of this.

"The key. It doesn't fit," France stated in shock.

"Well then where else does it go too?" Germany asked.

"We were so sure this was the only place it could go to... We never thought-" Canada started to say.

"Sorry to interrupt. But we have company," England forewarned them, just as the massive creature entered the room. It was larger than they had seen it yet. It would likely break the doorways and smash the ceiling, anywhere else in the house. Almost as if it had been designed for this room.

The creature roared a single warning, "YoU...WOn't...ESc...aPe!" Its voice was cracked and brittle, as if being crushed by its own weight.

"Thanks for the heads up. I've been waiting to lay my hands on this thing for breaking my sword," Prussia grinned ready for battle.

"Be careful not to break Japan's sword," Germany warned him pulling out his whip.

"Ugh. Don't remind me," Prussia complained remembering Japan saying how pissed he'd be. It was scary to think about.

And they once again began to fight for their lives.
Spain and Romano

"There. It should be back in your precious world," England said feeling a bit worn down.

Spain and Romano both took a sigh of relief. That should at least give them a chance. Now they could worry about themselves. They were trapped in a world that had failed. Only now they had changed the past by being here. They had no idea yet, everything that they had changed.

"Did any of you manage to find anything?" England asked Italy, Japan, and Germany.

Italy put on a brave smile, "No. We really couldn't find anything. I'm sorry."

"No. Its fine I didn't expect we would yet. But perhaps the others have found something," England concentrated. There were many things he'd learned from the last time. Now he had to apply them and get them out of here. It was his turn to protect everyone.

"What were you looking for?" Spain asked, not following the conversation.

"The key, a way out, a clue, anything that could help us escape from here," England summed up.

"Didn't ... Wasn't it supposed to have always been found in the attic?" Romano chose his words carefully, eyeing his brother.

"What attic?" Japan asked, thinking they had searched every room in this house by now.

"There are these... metal pieces that make a key that opens the staircase. The lock for it is next to the bookshelf, behind the... mochi creature," Spain tried to explain.

"What mochi?!" They all said in confusion.

"You don't.... on the fourth floor. The room across from the one with the lever. There's a bookshelf with a little creature stuck between it and the wall... You were the one who found it Japan," Spain got really confused by the different time loops. He never wanted to know which one they were in so badly.

"I think you are mistaken. I've been to that room several times now. And there was no such creature," Japan informed him.

"I think I know this lock though. It needed two piece to operate. Am I right?" Germany confirmed.

Still puzzled by the fact they hadn't seen the mochi, Romano spoke in Spain's stead, "That's right. The only problem is, they're in different places all the time."

"In that case we'll get everyone organized and send a search party for them," England decided. Hearing from these two wankers, that their world would definitely fail was a bit of a set back. But now they actually seemed to be making progress. It wouldn't take much more now. Soon he could get them out of here.

The group that belonged to this timeline already started moving towards the stairs, causing Spain to ask a question, "Where are you all regrouping? In this world I mean. Where's your safe room?"

"Safe room? I don't know what you mean by that. We're constantly in danger. And that room is no exception. As for where we're meeting though, its the fireplace room on the second floor," England informed them, leading them down the stairs.

Romano fell behind to the back of the group, where he noticed Italy cautiously keeping his distance. He waited until they were far enough back from the group that if they talked quietly no one would hear them. Especially not with Spain blabbering on about something or other. "You haven't told them yet have you," Romano popped the question. He'd noticed for a while now, that this Veneziano, and the one he knew in his own time loop, were different. There were so many things he still hadn't learned. He didn't realize it would be this incredibly frustrating knowing that these little details are what kept his brother trapped here in agony for so many years.

Italy jumped in surprise at the unexpected question. "I ... Umm... What are you talking about?" Italy fidgeted nervously looking around for an excuse to change the topic while still trying to play it cool.

"Don't try and avoid the question," Romano said forcefully, "I know everything... more than you do now."

Italy thought for a minute, "... Then. Did the me in the future, ever tell anyone?" Italy asked.

Romano took that as a "no", which was about what he had suspected to begin with. He thought carefully on what to tell his brother next, "Yes. The Italy in my world eventually told everyone... And like you probably fear now. They were angry. But not for the reasons your think. They were mad because you didn't trust them enough to tell them sooner... Even now, somewhere in the future everyone is working together to escape."

Italy shook with a feeling of hope. Something he was in constant need of. Just the thought that one day, after struggling so hard to get them that far. That they could all come together... He wanted to go there. "It sounds like you're very close," Italy smiled forlornly.

Romano wasn't sure what to say next. He wanted more than anything to help them escape too. But only one time would surely escape. If he did. Wouldn't time be thrown into chaos? Because without their help, they wouldn't make it. But if this world did manage to escape, Romano's would disappear... "It didn't matter," He told himself. Even that would be better than the hell they were in now. "Then why don't you tell the others. Change your future!" Romano encouraged him.

Italy looked up at him in surprise. He couldn't figure out why Romano was being so endearing. "I- I can't. Not yet... I tried when we first got here and no one believed me. I think they've forgotten now," Italy explained.

Romano was furious. How dare they ignore his little brother when he was trying to tell them something so important, "Those bastards. Well they'll believe you now. I'll shove enough proof at them it'll make their heads spin!" He started to rush ahead and cause a fuss.

Italy grabbed him by the arm, "Romano wait... Its not their fault I couldn't explain myself... Besides everyone looks so happy and are getting along so well... Can't we wait?" Italy asked, hiding the fact that he was scared.

Romano cooled his anger seeing Italy's worried face, "Alright... We'll wait... But you will tell them right?"

Italy nodded, trying to imagine how he was going to keep this promise.
Italy

The bright light flashed once more. Resetting this world for the eighteenth time. Italy was a mess of tears. This time was especially brutal. They had finally seemed to be making some progress... and then the secrets came out. Everyone only grew more suspicious of one another, dying one by one separated.

Italy thought after the first few times that he could do this. That he could keep going, even knowing it would mean losing everyone hundreds of times. All over again. But with each death, he felt as if he were losing a piece of himself.

He broke down in tears, into the empty white, “Why do you bringing me back here? Why can’t I change anything?” He demanded to know. He was trying with all his might to get them to escape, but no matter what choice he made, even those involving asking others for advice. No matter how he tried escape, it was always the same. Even in his dreams they couldn't escape together... Was it really an impossible dream?

“There’s something you have forgotten... Something important," Holy Rome spoke solemnly, trying to keep up Italy's spirits without giving him false hope.

"Why can't I remember?" Italy cried out, not necessarily to Holy Rome, but to the universe as a whole. He was a nation, who decided his memory would fail him at these crucial moments?!

Holy Rome smiled tenderly. He had absolute faith that Italy would remember in his own time. He pushed this confidence onto Italy hoping to encourage him, "You will. When you are ready. Remember, this is a dream, everything will go the way you want."

Italy nodded quietly. He was done crying now. But the grief clung closely to him, weighing on his chest.

Holy Rome brushed away one of Italy's lingering tears, "I promise. I'll get you out of here."

Safe Room

"It was bad this time," Canada retold the story, "If we hadn't received that heads up from England we might not have gotten away in time."

"As it is we had to run for our lives... Even the five of us had a hard time bringing it down," France remembered vividly, in shell shock.

"What about the key?" America asked, "Did it work on the door or what? If it did we just need to have england bring Spain and Romano back and we can carry Italy if we have to. Then we can forget about these monsters and go home."

Germany shook his head, "It didn't fit. It must go to someplace we haven't seen yet."

"You've gotta be kidding me! Where else could it go?" China complained. He was so sure that they had found it. How could it be anything else.

"More importantly. Where do we go from here," Canada mentioned.

"What do you mean? Wouldn't the plan be the same as always? England brings back Spain and Romano, and then..." Prussia trailed off.

"And then we're still stuck in the same place. Maybe Spain and Romano learned something while they were trapped there. But we've only got one chance then. Isn't that right England?" Canada asked.

England was shocked by how observant Canada was. He confirmed Canada's thoughts, "I have just enough magic that it should be enough to reopen the portal between our world and the one Spain and Romano are in... but nothing more."

Canada continued. He'd been thinking about this for a long while now, and had reached the conclusion that this path had the best possible outcomes, "In that case. Wouldn't it be safer to reverse time and try again?"

"What are you talking about! We can't go back now," America exclaimed in shock.

"But we can. We found the clock room Italy used to reverse time, and we discovered England was able to reverse time before," Canada explained.

"That's not what I meant! - It's... After everything we've been through to work together and get out. After Everything we've been gone through. We would give up these precious memories to start from scratch?!" America argued in fear and frustration.

"But... in this time loop... so many things have put us farther behind. Even if we do manage to find a way out now. How long will it take? The monster is only getting stronger. How long until someone falls behind? And then we will have gone through so many times, only to fail in the end," Canada reminded them.

The room fell to silence. No one wanted to think about that. It couldn't even come to mind, because the minute it did, all hope died. "That's a little pessimistic don't you think?" France insisted, "We have to keep thinking we'll find a way out. Because when it seems like we have nothing. That's where we'll find it."

"But we can't be careless either. I just think we need to think carefully about our options before we make a decision on this," Canada insisted.

"If everyone is serious about this I should mention I have no idea how to reverse time. I might be able to figure it out. But I don't even know if the magic I have right now would be enough for that," England mentioned, putting a monkey wrench in the new idea. He actually wasn't opposed to the idea. He just wasn't sure the logistics would line up quite the way they wanted.

"But then how did you manage it before?" China asked.

"The situation was different then. Italy had died, and we were desperate. I don't remember it well. Its not enough to remember how I did it.... but I might be able to figure it out again," England added, trying not to toss out the idea entirely. Despite the fact that it caused him more work, and that it would throw all their current efforts up in the air, it offered more hope than he could see in their current path. He would take any course of action he needed to get them out of here.

"So it is possible... in that case should we put it to a vote?" France asked.

"The fate of everyone's lives. To go back in time and try again... Or to continue on this path," Canada stated simply.

"In that case I'm voting to keep working through this time," Germany started them out, "We've put too much work into this to go back now... Besides, I can't put him through that again," Germany looked over his shoulder at the sleeping Italy, "Not after he finally gained enough courage to tell us."

The room was quiet for a minute before Prussia spoke up, "Sorry I'm going to have to go the other way on this brother. If we don't turn back time now... and someone dies, its over. Everything we've ALL worked so hard for would really have been for nothing then."

"I agree. That's why I have to vote that we reverse time as well," France agreed.

"I don't like thinking that our efforts are in vain. But even I can't predict what will happen next. So I'm going to keep relying on everyone, that we can make it out together this time," Japan countered evening out the vote.

"Aiyaa! Why must everything always be so difficult. Neither outcome seems very good to me. We either risk everything, or abandon everything we've worked for," China complained in exasperation. He weighed the outcomes, "If they really are our only options though... I'll choose the one that gives us a chance to make a mistake."

"Hnnn... I don't want to go back though," Russia casted his vote quietly.

"For once I agree with you," America said, "Its risking a lot on this 'magical force' we don't understand. And even if we do start over... I don't want to forget again."

"Then its fifty fifty," Canada said counting them up. He looked around the room, "Who else needs to vote?"

One by one sets of eyes fell on England. It was oddly fitting that the one who needed to do these things was the one who would cast the deciding vote. "Well England? It all comes down to you. What will you decide?" Canada asked.


YOU DECIDE:

> return Spain and Romano

> reverse time


Return Spain and Romano

England thought about everything they'd been through. All the hardships they'd shared. Everything they'd learned. If they went back, all of it would be lost. And for what? A chance to make it to the same place? The enemy was getting stronger all the time. Pretty soon, if they kept going back, it would eventually catch up with them. To top it off, he wasn't even sure how to reverse time. Or if in his current state, he could. Attempting to do so could cost him valuable magic and in the end leave them even more stranded. It just wasn't worth the risk. "In that case. I think I'll try and bring Spain and Romano back. I still have faith that we can escape together," England announced.

The group was divided by a mix of relief and worry. "Clear the area," England instructed them preparing to reopen the portal. When the shuffling quieted he looked around the room one last time. It might be the last time he'd be able to make them out. This spell would take everything he had left.

England smiled holding the mental image close to his heart as he summoned up the required magic. It spread out from his fingertips. A circle faded in and out of his vision on the floor of the room. The portal was half open now. He just had to find Spain and Romano. The search exhausting him. Until he finally connected. The portal remained open for precisely two minutes and forty three seconds. Spain and Romano stumbled into the room. The portal closing just after them. Leaving England a panting heap on the floor.

"Veneziano!" Romano shouted out rushing to his brother's bedside.

It was too bad he had to find out like this. That his brother had died...

.

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Dead End


Reverse Time

England weighed his options. It felt like the weight of the world had fallen on him... Well in a sense it had. All their fates were in his hands. If he messed up, even a little, just once, it could cost them all. Because of this, he felt he really only had one option. They had to go back. There was too much risk involved. They didn't know where they were going, and they could barely keep afloat.

England sighed. It was going to be difficult. Losing all of this to start over. There was no telling if the next time Italy would be able to find the courage to tell them again. Or if they would be able to learn from the mistakes they made this time... but it was their best shot. "Considering our options... Its probably best that we try again," England answered solemnly.

America cursed before going to sit down at the table, frustrated by the outcome. No one was really thrilled by the decision either. They all would have preferred to have kept trying in this time loop. However the risk in this one had become too great.

France looked at the several frustrated faces in the room: such as America, and Germany. He offered to let them stay behind, "Seeing as some of you were so opposed to this, those who voted to return time will go down to the clock, and the rest can wait here with Italy... If Italy should wake up before we've reversed time, call us," He added as an ultimatum. They had been relying on Italy a lot lately. But if he was to wake up now, they might still have a chance to make it through in one piece. Without having to reverse time.

Germany nodded solemnly, looking over at Italy as he slept heavily... The chances that he would wake up in that short time, were slim to none.

The groups divided. The ones leaving to reset time, left in silence. The walk to the clock room was one made in mourning. This might be the first time they had tried to reverse time before someone had died. Although Italy had come quite close... and they had no idea what was happening to Spain or Romano. It was hard to deal with the fact that this was now their best option. Because where they were at now. Nothing seemed to be going the way they planned. Every time they made a step forward, they were thrown backward. Perhaps they needed to go sideways for a while then.

England watched as they passed doorframe after doorframe. Colors lighting up certain sections, as the group's auras illuminated their immediate surroundings. They were in the annexe now. The room was darker here, but it was all the same to England. All he really saw was the reflection of auras. The darkness was the same.

They moved to the left, crossing under another door frame. A moment later, England saw the red and pale gold aura of China's grab hold of an object on the wall. There was a screech of mechanics meshing. Then the group descended past another doorway. "This must be the new room," England thought absent mindedly, "They said the clock was just beyond it right?"

As he crossed under the arch the other four were already circled around a spot on the floor. There was something in the middle of the room obstructing his view, so he was careful to move around it. As he got closer he was able to tell it was just a long table. China crouched over a hole in the floor. A dark space that didn't reflect auras. Almost swallowing them if they got too close.

"So this is the new room you found," France commented looking around the relatively empty room. There weren't even shelves or drawers left to inspect.

"And then down here, is the clock room. I have to warn you, its a little..." China trailed off trying to think of the right words to describe it.

"Gruesome," Canada offered, remembering the blood smeared walls and the ominous ticking of the massive clock.

They descended down the dark stairway. No one could see a thing once they were down over their heads. Making England, for once, the one with the best vision. But even though all he saw was auras they seemed almost consumed by the darkness around them. It wasn't long before he realized it was the presence of a dark magic. The one that could bring them back, and the one that kept them trapped here.

Canada and China fumbled for the light switch, tripping over one another. The lights turned on suddenly, revealing the graphic blood smeared walls of the room to those who hadn't been there yet.

France whistled. "Holy shit, that's a lot of blood," Prussia exclaimed in surprise. He was standing rather close to one of the walls, so it was an even greater shock to him. The room put the attic to shame.

The clock ticked on, the swinging gears of the grandfather clock booming ominously, as if it knew what they were about to do. The steady rhythm it kept was the scariest part of the room for England. He was aware by their reactions that the room was covered in blood, but he couldn't see it. The ominous "tick tock" of the massive clock however, haunted him. Counting down the seconds before they sacrificed everything.

England approached the clock. Which he found by listening to the ticking sound it made, and by following the auras of the others as they all gathered around it. He reached out to touch it, wanting to see it. He still wasn't exactly sure how he was supposed to do this, but he had a few theories.

As he touched the face of the clock he felt a lightning like effect shoot through him, and he watched a small portion of his magic shoot from his fingertips to dance across the face of the clock, illuminating it. It glowed ominously in the middle of nowhere. Black numbers placed around it in a circular pattern, the hands bent from constant use. And blood glowed a pale blue across the surface.

England pulled back in surprise. He hadn't meant to use his magic. Where had it come from? The face of the clock remained glowing. England then noticed the journal he clutched at his side. His magic glowing, almost bursting at the seams of the spell that bound it. What was this about? Why the hell was it acting up now? He palmed it open in his hands. Magic glowed flowering out of it in wisps of emerald, before being sucked back in by the weakening spell on the book. Italy's name glowed on the surface. The only thing he was able to read. Something about it...

"Does anyone have a pen?" England asked holding out his other hand.

"Do you remember how to reverse time now?" Canada asked.

One of them placed a pen in his hand. "I don't know that I can call it 'remembering', but I think I know how this works," England said taking the the pen to the page, right below Italy's signature. He signed his own. His handwriting sloppy because he could barely see.

"If I take ownership of the book, I should just have to turn back the hands," England stated numbly. Staring at the mysterious journal. The light surrounding the book swelled, the spell binding it, holding on by threads. Just how much magic did he use on this book?! In any case he took the weakening spell as a good sign. The book seemed to be begging him to follow . A thread of magic followed his hand to the face of the clock. As he placed his fingers on the hour hand. Feeling the warmth of the magic that swelled around it. Both the dark magic that reverses time, and his own which was trapped within the journal. As he began to pull it backwards, he felt the darker magic latch on. There was no stopping this now. If he pulled away he could feel something terrible would happen.

The hands moved slowly, stubbornly along the face of the clock. Turning back several hours. With each passing one the journal glowed more brightly, until finally...

The threads snapped, unlocking the magic. Light erupted all around him. And suddenly he wasn't touching the clock anymore. His body convulsed, but not in pain, as he felt himself become undone, and resembled.

...Continued in Chapter 19: Reversing Time...
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