Author's Note:I will start focusing more on my other fic Itadaki no Hecate, than this one. This does not mean, however, that this project is canceled, nor will new chapters take too long to come out. I will update this as best as I can, however, I also have a job as an English teacher, so I will have my hands a little full.
Yukari looked out of the small window, watching the clouds pass below the horizon, as well as the dark of the night sky above it, and the recalled what Prime Minister Ike had told her about what he had seen in the war. True to their expectations, she saw history exactly as it was, as she was being narrated to.
She put a hand on her chest. The Reiji Maigo, no one had yet seen it inside her for themselves, for if it were true then it was a very closely guarded secret, to which only very few of the most trusted would be allowed to know. Even if no one saw it yet, however, Yukari could feel it inside her, pulsating with unlimited power and potential, and felt it more at midnight as the crimson flame of her Torch burned anew.
The girl glanced at Yumiko, asleep on a seat beside her. The two of them, as well as the Prime Minister, were on a private jet headed towards the Palace of Stars, Sereiden, which at this point in time was no longer anywhere near Misaki City.
"Still awake?" Ike said to the young girl as he returned to the small, lounge-like passenger's cabin.
Yukari nodded. "A lot of things are on my mind, and I can't figure out anything," she said.
Ike took a seat. "What we know is fragmented too, so we can't offer much," he said. "Sometime after the war, those of us who survived went our separate ways, toward different goals, although some stayed in touch, such as myself and Leanan-sidhe."
"I haven't seen her in a while."
Ike took off his glasses and polished them with a handkerchief. "Although I trust Orobas-san and Lerajie-san with my life, the only Crimson Denizen I could trust enough with the secret inside you is her. She's been pretty busy with conferences regarding the conflict in Russia, but I'm sure she can spare enough time to confirm that it really is the Reiji Maigo in you."
Unknown to any of those within the plane, a young man dressed in black crouched upside-down under the fuselage.
Retrace Chapter: A Beckoning of Curiosity
Sereiden, now the headquarters of the East International Crimson Senate, floated high above the China Sea. Not too long after the Human-Crimson war had ended and the True Trinity vanished, the Crimson Denizens and Flame Hazes made a pact with the humans, and established their own kind of government. The lands of the humans were still their own, however this government was more of an assurance that the Flame Hazes and Crimson Denizens would not instigate another major strife against the race of humans, and vice versa. Rather, it allowed both beings to live and work together. It also disciplined Flame Hazes and Crimson Denizens who had broken the laws of the new world, revised by both those of the Crimson Realm as well as by the humans.
The government also allowed Flame Hazes and Crimson Denizens to live freely in any country, as a citizen of that nation, while at the same time, still being tied to their own kind. Crimson Denizens and Flame Hazes who lived in North America, South America and Europe were watched over by the West International Crimson Senate, while the Middle East, Asia, Russia, Africa and Australia were under the East International Crimson Senate.
Both Senates were made up of an equal number of Flame Hazes and Crimson Denizens, each of which represented a country where a number of Flame Hazes and Denizens resided in. Taking the example of the humans, they exercised democracy when making major decisions, such as the allowance of teaching Unrestricted Methods to humans, for them to implement into their technology, in exchange for access to the produced technology. Another example was the time when both Senates reached an agreement with the UN and every nation to allow inter-marriage between Crimson Denizens and humans. It wasn't too long after that that the secret to breeding between the two kinds of people was revealed to the world.
In the West, the Chancellor of the Senate was, without any surprise, the Flame Haze known as the Braider of Trembling Might, Sophie Sawallisch, who for many ages had earned the fear and respect of both Flame Hazes as well as Crimson Denizens. She was also chosen for her long time of experience and the wisdom gained from that.
Meanwhile, in the East, the Chancellor was the Crimson Denizen called the Spiral Organ, Leanan-sidhe. For a long time, she had supported the protection of the balance, aiding both Crimson Denizen and Flame Haze alike, and always standing on neutral ground. Her best known creation, the Fuzetsu, was also a major contribution to the world, and no one complained when she had been elected.
When the private jet landed, the Chancellor of the East herself came out to the landing pad attached to the side of the Palace. No longer wearing the dress she had worn a decade and a half ago, she was garbed in an elegant dress, like a queen's, in the color of clear sky blue. She also wore her lavender hair back with a white headband. Next to her was the one closest and most trusted to her, the Mobilizer of Ceremonial Equipment, Khamsin N'bhw, who wore a light brown uniform meant for a the highest ranked general.
"Leanan-sidhe-san!" Yukari said as she excitedly ran over to the Chancellor, who took her in an embrace. The Denizen was roughly the same height as her, but the latter still maintained an air of a mature woman.
"Have you been doing well, Yukari?" she said with a gentle smile. The girl nodded.
"I have so much to ask you!" she told the Chancellor.
"Perhaps we should discuss it inside," Khamsin said, retaining his deadpan yet companionable expression he always had.
As Khamsin led the way to the Chancellor's private manor in the Palace, followed by Ike, Yumiko, and Leanan-sidhe hand-in-hand with Yukari, an unseen shadow tailed them.
"The Reiji Maigo?" Leanan-sidhe repeated after sipping the tea Khamsin had just brewed.
Ike nodded. "You're the only Denizen I can trust with this secret," he glanced towards Khamsin. "And you're the only Flame Haze besides Sawallisch-san whom I can trust."
Leanan-sidhe studied Yukari, whose eyes had been going back and forth through the conversation. "It's true, only a Denizen can find out for sure what Hougu is inside of a Mystes, at least without harming them too badly or using a special Unrestricted Method," she said.
"So, do you need to prepare something, ma'am?" Yumiko asked.
Leanan-sidhe shook her head. "It's not too hard," she said. "All I have to do is reach my hand in her chest and I'll know what is inside of her, if she really is a Mystes."
"Which they've proven," Khamsin said as he looked through the monocle again to see the Torch of crimson fire. "I'm surprised you still have this Hougu," he said, turning to Ike.
The Prime Minister shrugged. "No reason we'd want it destroyed," he said.
"True," said Khamsin. As he fingered the small tool, Ike looked at it roll in the Flame Haze's hands. For that one moment, they remembered a certain girl who had once used it to find out the truth about another Sakai.
"It will hurt a little, however, even if I'll do my best to be gentle," Leanan-sidhe told Yukari. "Are you fine with that?"
The girl nodded. "Yes, I want to know the truth," she said.
"Alright," Leanan-sidhe said as she stood up from her couch and knelt before the sitting Yukari. She stretched her hand out to her and it easily sank into the girl's chest. Yukari winced in pain, but for some reason, Leanan-sidhe seemed to be in agony. Her expression was taut, and the three others around them stood up, but the Spiral Organ persevered and kept moving her hand forward as gently as possible.
Finally, she pulled her hand out. It was scorched, as if it had been burned by a very hot flame. Yukari gasped.
"I'm sorry!" she exclaimed. "Are you alright?"
"What happened?" Khamsin said with rare alarm.
To their surprise, Leanan-sidhe smiled. "It turns out that crimson flame, even if it's just in Torch form, is very strong and protective of its heart," she said. "It's not very discriminative either."
Khamsin quickly came to her side and treated her burns. "It might have damaged you less then, if you had been quicker," he said.
"If I were any more forceful, the crimson flames would have maimed me," Leanan-sidhe explained. "It seems to possess the instinct to protect the interior of the Torch from anyone reaching in with hostile intent."
"Were you able to find anything from her, in any case?" said the deep voice from Khamsin's bracelet, his Crimson Lord contractor Behemoth. He added, "It would be a bad thing if you had to do that again."
The Denizen nodded once. "There's no doubt about it, what's inside her truly is the Reiji Maigo."
"And also our first real lead regarding the True Trinity's disappearance," Behemoth said. "Assuming what you have told us about her seeing its memories is correct, Prime Minister of Japan, Hayato Ike."
Ike adjusted his glasses. "I already told you, Behemoth-san, you just have to call me Ike like your contractor does," he said. "Titles and everything make conversations too long among friends."
"Indeed," Khamsin agreed.
"So, what now?" Yumiko asked.
"Yeah, we came here because there are still too many unanswered questions," Yukari said. "Like, why do I have this in the first place? Why am I a Torch? What was so bad it made the True Trinity have to go? How did the Human-Crimson War really end? And what happened after the siege of Misaki City?"
Khamsin and Leanan-sidhe exchanged glances.
"Well, we don't know the answers to all your questions," Leanan-sidhe said.
"But, seeing as Ike here has already told you about what had happened in Misaki City, I suppose we can tell you about our experience."
It was midnight once again by the time Leanan-sidhe and Khamsin were done narrating to her. She lay down on the bed in the guestroom meant for her, still in the Chancellor's manor, and felt the flame in her re-ignite.
She stared at the ceiling as she recalled what Leanan-sidhe had told her.
"It seems that even if Yuji, Shana or Hecate were not present in what we had just told you, you can still see those memories as if you were there. I don't understand why the Reiji Maigo would have the ability for such a thing. I doubt even the son of the Engaged Link would have the answer. But if you want to know more, we'll need details from Sophie Sawallisch and Keisaku Satou, since Khamsin and I were not everywhere during the whole war."
Yukari turned over. As much as she enjoyed listening to stories that few completely knew about, she felt restless, wanting to know more.
"My sensei probably knows a lot as well," Yumiko had told her niece.
"Getting a hold of any them will take a while, however. The Braider of Trembling Might is busy delegating in Greenwich, while the latter just moves around too much, never staying in one place for too long, the same could be said of Yumiko's sensei," Khamsin had said. "In the meantime, we want you to stay here, where you will be safe."
Yukari rolled over to her other side. "I love this Palace, but I don't think I could stay here for a long time," she said to herself. "And it's not like anyone else knows that I have the Reiji Maigo."
She finally closed her eyes, but not for long, as she heard a familiar male voice coming from within the same room.
"Bal knew there was something special about you."
Startled, Yukari sat up and saw Kotaro, who she had met in Misaki City not too long ago. The young Flame Haze crouched on her window sill, his silhouette shadowed by the light of the stars behind him.
Yukari chucked her pillow at his face. The Flame Haze flailed his arms forward to regain balance and not fall off. The girl giggled.
"I'm flattered sir!" she said, giving him a charming yet innocent smile. "But how long have you been stalking me, my secret admirer?"
Kotaro's face turned red, and he flustered. To the rescue of his helpless contractor, Balthazar spoke.
"We've heard everything, since the Prime Minister visited you in that office," he said. "We mean no ill-intent, however, we simply want to know the answers to hundreds of questions, just like you do."
"Well, if you wanted the Reiji Maigo, you could have easily kidnapped me," she pondered. "Considering how you got past all the security here without being noticed, even by Leanan-sidhe-san and Khamsin-san. So what did you come here for?"
"Well, we figured that you really wanted to find out the answers soon," Kotaro said, "and waiting would be too long and boring."
Yukari sighed. "You got that right," she said. Her bright eyes were now completely fixated on him. "Keep talking."
"Keisaku Satou is one of those you need to meet, am I right? It is true that he is constantly on the move, however, there is one place he periodically returns to," Balthazar explained. "It's in America, almost all the way on the other side of the world. But, I know how to get there in less than a day."
"We don't have to wait until they can spare some time for you," Kotaro said. "We can go meet them ourselves."
Yukari grinned and hopped out of bed, tied her pigtails, and came to the window. "What are we waiting for then? Let's get going!" she said.
Balthazar chuckled. "You're so young and full of energy," he said.
Kotaro stretched his hand out to her, and the girl took it. The young Flame Haze pulled her close and picked her up in his arms. "Hold on tight," he said, before hopping away from the window.
Avoiding the sentries both high and low, Kotaro ran along walls, kicked off them, hopped from rooftop to rooftop, dashed up pillars, and slid around corners. All the while, Yukari enjoyed the cool wind blowing against her face.
"Aunt Yumiko is going to be so pissed when she finds me gone," she said when Kotaro finally set her down. They were now on top of the main hall of the Palace. "I didn't even leave her a note," she said.
"It's too late to turn back now," Balthazar told her as Kotaro cautiously peered through an opening in the roof.
"I suppose so," Yukari said, following after Kotaro as he entered the building.
As stealthily as they could, avoiding the occasional sentry, the girl and the Flame Haze made their way deeper in the building. On the way, they passed by the Senate chamber. In the days of the Snake of the Festival, it had been a throne room, and in the time of the Eternal Alliance, it had been a meeting room as well as a control center. Right now, it housed a setup very similar to the senate chambers of humans, particularly the Romans, with ascending rows in half circles before a tall pulpit where the Chancellor normally sat.
In the very depths of the Palace, Yukari and Kotaro stopped at a dead end.
"The only people who knew of this secret were Hecate, Yuji Sakai, Shana, Mathilde Saint-Omer, Merihim, Wilhelmina Carmel, and the builder of Sereiden and Tendokyu himself," Balthazar said. "Walk through it, Kotaro."
"Walk through it?" Kotaro said, confused. Nevertheless, he did as his contractor said and walked straight forward. To his own and to Yukari's surprised, he seemed to go right through it like it was not even there. Yukari hurried after him.
Past the wall that did not exist, they found themselves in a long stone corridor. On either side was a long line of faintly glittering eldritch symbols, signs of an Unrestricted Method, which stretched all the way to the other side, which was too far to see.
"It took a long time for me to learn about this," Balthazar explained. "Hearing the rumors about it took even longer, however. This secret tunnel is linked directly to Tendokyu, the Palace of Heaven's Road, which is now the headquarters of the West International Crimson Senate, over the Atlantic Ocean."
"It's going to be a long walk," Kotaro said, beginning the long march with Yukari. "We can't answer everything, but there's probably a few things you might want to ask Bal. He knows quite a lot."
Yukari nodded. "He does seem more scholarly than anything else," she said. "Well, I am curious about two things I just found out recently. First, what exactly is Negative Power of Existence? They never taught us that in Principles of Unrestricted Methods, or History and Sciences of the Crimson Realm."
"Because it is taboo," Balthazar said.
Kotaro smiled. "There's no better person to ask about that than Bal," he said. "He's one of the few practitioners of it, and one of the even fewer masters."
"You already know what Power of Existence is, right?" Balthazar asked.
Yukari nodded. "When something that has once been established in this world is deprived of their existence, they become an unstable energy that allows beings from the Crimson Realm to exist in this world," she answered. "It's also used to power Unrestricted Methods."
"That is correct," Balthazar said. "In essence, Power of Existence is what it is, the power to exist, it is energy of life. Take note that when established beings of this world, especially humans, are consumed, distortions are left behind. As the science of humans has taught you, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Over time, the Power of Existence within Crimson Denizens burns away, and the spent energy, like dead battery cells or depleted uranium, is expelled in the form of ash, which very few can see. These ashes will flow towards the distortions from whence the life-giving Power of Existence had been taken from, as if to bring the nonexistent back into existence."
Yukari nodded as she listened. "So, it's like dead energy going back to where its source had originally died?"
"Indeed," said Balthazar. "But dead energy cannot bring the dead back to life, and when the ashes have gathered at their respective distortions, they stay there, waiting in vain to be recycled into life energy, at least until now."
For a second, Yukari felt the Reiji Maigo pulse within her, as if it were her heart.
"Some powerful Crimson Lords, however, have learned about the dead energy, and used it in place of Power of Existence to wield their Unrestricted Methods," Balthazar continued. "They draw the energy into themselves, control it in a similar way to how they use the Power of Existence they already possess, and unleash it in different ways."
"The most common is dark flames, which do not burn enemies at all, but the force of direct impacts and blasts can still do some damage. As soon as a dark fireball dissolves, the Negative Power of Existence disperses into the air again, immediately reusable. Some use it as a substitute in normal Unrestricted Methods, although on a different polarity with different effects, like what Neftier had done. There are three forms, however, that make it extremely dangerous."
"The mildest of these is to halt the continuity of an existence, to literally freeze it. This is mild because it is usually temporary, and one can still recover from being frozen, especially if only a part was affected. However, when something is frozen from the inside out and then shattered, and all the pieces melt away before they can be put back together, then the existence whose time had been halted ends altogether. Another form is a void or black hole that draws in and completely crushes an existence into nothingness. Finally, there is the power to deny something, or someone, from existing. Everything about the existence unravels and fades away, forgotten by even the Crimson Denizens and Flame Hazes. It is a rare case that when something is denied its existence that one remembers it was even there."
"Finally, what makes using Negative Power of Existence so dangerous is that when it is used to annihilate an existence completely, nothing is left of it. Both the Negative Power of Existence used, as well as what is destroyed, is gone without a trace. The distortions will remain, however, but with no more hope of being repaired, other than temporarily by Tuning."
"Then the dead power to live, becomes the power of death," Yukari said. "No wonder it's taboo."
"Besides that, there is also another reason," Kotaro said. "If a Crimson Lord draws in more Negative Power of Existence than the Power of Existence within themselves, their bodies and flame will be corrupted, and the energy of life will rapidly deplete. When that happens, the Crimson Lord's own existence will be denied, and he will fade away, forgotten by even his own peers."
"Kotaro said you were a master of Negative Power of Existence," Yukari recalled. "What exactly do you do with it?"
"Well, to be more precise, rather than manipulating Negative Power of Existence, I let it manipulate my form, and by extension, my contracted Flame Haze," Balthazar answered. "Truth be told, in terms of energy, I have a much smaller capacity than most Crimson Lords, so I devised the solution of using Negative Power of Existence as my weapon. Since I do not have so great a capacity for Power of Existence to balance against it, however, I cannot draw too much of it into me to use the more fatal techniques."
"Now," Kotaro started, "what he meant when he said that he lets Negative Power of Existence manipulate his form is that he can temporarily not exist for a very brief moment, and he can control it well enough so that his flame and existence does not become corrupted. He can also deliberately create an imbalance in one part of his – or my – body, and allow that body part to temporarily warp or even vanish."
"So, he allows you to either become a ghost, or make you have a hole in your body for a short while?" Yukari asked.
"It's really gruesome when you put it that way, but yeah," said Kotaro. "As a bonus, he can also shape my own shadow, transforming it into claws."
"They may seem like little techniques compared to the destructive power of the Claws and Fangs of Violation, or even to the skill of another master of Negative Power of Existence, the late Jack Frost, who Yuji Sakai easily defeated," Balthazar put in. "But what I do is unique to myself alone, and it is more difficult than you think."
Yukari giggled. Every person has his pride, she thought.
"Is it possible to combine the two energies?" she asked.
"It has been attempted," answered Balthazar. "The result is always lightning, a result of the violent friction between light and dark. That friction creates rapid yet flowing explosive energy. The more power poured in, the fiercer and more dangerous the electricity becomes. It also requires a lot of focus, for you have to balance the energy of death with the energy of life. If either were to be greater than the other, then the lightning would feed back on its user. The lighting, due to its extremely unstable state, can never be used for Unrestricted Methods, although it can be used to power machines. Also, the color of lighting will match the color of your flame. The Crimson Lord Takemikazuchi is the best with this, his natural mastery of it had been used for so many ages that his own flame had transcended into a flame of lightning."
"That's incredible," Yukari said.
With that topic concluded, she looked ahead. They were still about a third of the way through the tunnel, so she decided to ask another question.
"What about Scripts of Existence?" Yukari asked. "I've seen it in the memories of the Reiji Maigo, and I think I get what it's for, but I don't fully understand it."
"Scripts of Existence are very much like DNA in human science," Balthazar began. "In fact, it gives far more information and diversity than DNA does. It is as it is called, it outlines every major and minor detail about an existence, from its nature, to its purpose. It normally takes the form of a tiny ball of compacted strings of letters. If it were not so compressed, and if the strings of letters were stretched out and connected from end to end, even the Scripts of Existence for a brick could span the length of a city. For a human, it would wind around the planet more than four hundred times. And don't even get me started when it comes to Crimson Denizens or Flame Hazes."
"It was discovered by Yuji Sakai," he continued. "Using the power of Synchronization from Hecate, the understanding of the world's nature from the Snake of the Festival, the reading of presences he learned from Johan, the knowledge of Unrestricted Methods he had learned from Leanan-sidhe, and finally, from studying his own personal spell, which transformed ideas into structured Unrestricted Methods, Grammatica, he found a way to reveal the nature of an existence, convert that into a language, and absorb it as information."
"Where did you learn about all this stuff?" Yukari said, finally bewildered by how much knowledge the Crimson Lord possessed.
"Many years of research," Balthazar answered. "There is nothing I want more than to understand and learn. You could say that I am greedy for knowledge."
Kotaro peered further ahead. He estimated that they should be at least halfway there by now.
That morning, Yumiko Sakai entered her niece's guestroom. She had knocked a few times, and when she received no response, she assumed that Yukari was simply oversleeping. She was surprised to find that Yukari was gone. The bed was wrinkled, but there were no signs of a struggle.
She gripped her naginata tightly. "Yukari, where did you go?"