The sky was ablaze. Black clouds of smoke filled the sky, parted only by the thunderous gale emanating from the unholy steel monolith reaching far to the heavens. Above the imposing structure arcs of blue light slithered across the immense serpent coiled amongst the clouds, protecting the world egg, the treasure of the demons of the Crimson Realm. Soon the egg would become the gateway to a new world, a world where the Denizens would be free; however the dreams of these beastly creatures could not proceed. The balance of worlds hung in the balance. The new world would only bring suffering.
It had to be stopped!
The ritual was too far under way. The battle could not go on.
The flame haze had fought bravely and died with honour. The casualties would not be forgotten and with renewed vigour the remaining warriors struggled on. Armies of loyal soldiers had crumbled in the face of the monstrous enemies which, like inhuman floods raced down the wide valleys to meet the foe. Steel, tooth and claw met in a bloody conflict. The dead were left to rot and the living were herded into tight clusters to hack away like crazed animals.
Blood. Fire. Death.
And as the war escalated below another battle raged above. Standing tall atop the altar the figures shined like beacons for the forces below. The tides of victory rested on their shoulders.
The Flame-haired, Burning-eyed Hunter grasped her katana, Nietono-no-Shana tight between her small hands. Her gaze was settled upon her opponent, the one person in this world and the next that she had never wanted to fight...
Corrupted by the God of Creation – or so she had hoped – Yuji had become the unlikely commander for the vile Denizens of the Crimson Realm. He fought to make their dreams a reality, regardless of the consequence, fighting with the same vigour he had shown when he was once by Shana's side. It made little sense to her. Why would he betray her like this? Why did he not listen? What was he trying to gain?
The two stood off against one another, the harsh winds whipping across their faces, yet neither one seemed to notice. They were staring at each other with rage burning fiercer than the sun. One fought for Reality, another for dreams and yet they each fought for the sake of the one they loved. So how then were they crossing swords?
Yuji grasped Blutsauger with both hands and charged. Shana rushed to meet him and as their weapons collided sparks rained down upon them. Shana grit her teeth and forced Yuji back, rushing into a furious counter-attack. The anger and pain she had felt by Yuji's betrayal only fuelled her strength and convinced her that defeat was not an option. And so she swung her sword in a wide arc, unleashing a ball of fire which shot off from the edge of her blade to crash into her foe.
Yuji stood motionless as the ring about his neck, Azure, surrounded him in protective light. He chuckled softly to himself and hacked away at the wall of flames until it had parted. When Shana was once again in his sight he lunged forward, bringing his sword crashing down upon the small girl. Shana resisted however the weight of the great sword was wearing her down. She dropped to one knee and wrenched her weapon to one side, casting Blutsauger aside. With an opening in clear sight Shana clenched a fist and buried it under Yuji's ribs sending him staggering backwards into one of the grand pillars surrounding them.
"Yuji! Why are you doing this?" She asked, desperation in her voice.
As he rose to his feet, dusting himself off, Yuji smiled and said, "Because I have to."
Shana cursed under her breath and moved in for another strike. As their swords crossed the two met each other's gaze. Yuji was still smiling as he spoke, "This world is one of cruelty. Tomogara devour humans, Flame Haze slaughter Tomogara and even lives that were once meaningful to us are cast aside and forgotten. You all fight and kill for your own needs, for balance, for survival, for your own good...But that cannot be. I'm going to create a world for Tomogara to live free from the persecution of the Flame Haze, a world where they can be free."
"Free to kill without restraint!" Shana snapped, "Think of the humans in your new world! They will suffer all for the sake of this dream! As a Flame Haze I cannot let you do this!"
Yuji finally snapped. He pushed Shana to the ground and roared with the might of thunder, "You will not get in my way!"
The flaming eyed hunter recoiled, terrified of this anger.
"I disagree with your position as a Flame Haze. I cannot be by your side as you are!"
Those words, like blades sank through Shana and crushed the raging spirit she had channelled before. She stared at her trembling hands and then to her own face, her tears reflected in the gleaming blade in Yuji's hands.
Why...Why is this happening?
Shana remembered all the times Yuji had stood by her, had fought alongside her. She remembered all the times he had been so kind to her, cared for her and protected her even without the power to do so. He had supported her all those times. He had fuelled her strength and saved her from her own doubts.
She loved him. She wished for nothing more than to forever be by his side. Had he not felt the same? Why now would he forsake her? None of this was adding up. None of it made sense to her. Only one thing was certain...
"Yuji...Is that the only thing stopping you...From being by my side?" She choked back tears and forced herself to rise. Her knees were trembling but she battled on and clenched her sword between her pale fingers. Her grip tightened until her knuckles were cracking from the strain. "You jerk..." Shana was quivering uncontrollably now, tears streaming from her eyes beyond her restraint. She channelled every tear, every shattered memory, every broken dream into the blade of Nietono no Shana and cried with all her might, "YOU JERK!"
The sky lit up and the troops down below came to a grinding halt, the fierce battled coming to a complete stand-still as all eyes were affixed on the burning tempest amid the heavens. The world became blanketed in an orange haze as flames devoured the sky, turning the tower into a monstrous candle.
The world egg shielded itself from the worst but even it could not withstand the blast entirely. Wisps of smoke encircled the burning ball of light and the snake encircling it hissed and spat at the opponent down below.
"YUJI!" Shana screamed to the point her voice cracked into a pitiful squeal. As she prepared another blast a great, overpowering darkness hit her. The black flames of the Snake of the Festival enveloped her and brought her to her knees, but even as searing pain dug deep within her she refused to give in. With a great battle cry her body became a blazing silhouette lost behind a sheet of burning desire which billowed out to consume the opposing darkness. As light and shadow fought for their dominion over the world Shana and Yuji once again crossed swords in a climactic explosion of light.
"Shana! Why do you stand in my way? I am doing this for the sake of your entire world! Can you not see my dreams laid out before you? Peace for all living things. No more battles, no more bloodshed, no more pain. This is not just the dream of the Tomogara. It is the dream of all living things! Your resistance is borne from misunderstanding. If only you could see the world through my eyes...Then maybe we could walk with each other once again..."
Nerves severed under the weight of his words and Shana let out a piercing cry of unrelenting fury. A violent dance of swords ensued, the thunderous sound of weapons and hearts colliding causing the very earth to tremble. Firelight danced amidst the eternal night and cast flickering shadows over the world. The war down below resumed in full force, shedding blood and tears all across Misaki city.
Pain, blood, anger, loss.
The same agony felt by both sides.
War, the only reality they knew, the only reason for their existence. War was their way of life, a never-ending battle for their own existence.
Shana and Yuji fought on trapped inside the cage of red, black, orange and grey. As the swirling masses of flame congealed into an oppressive, looming shadow the two star-crossed foes conversed with sharpened steel.
"I love you Yuji! Don't you love me as well?"
"Of course. I love you, Shana." He spoke with the same irritating air of calm as before, "Everything I have done has been for you Shana. My only wish is be with you."
This threw her off course. She faltered for just a moment but with her confidence shattered only anger and bitter resentment remained. Driven by passion Shana fought back. She summoned a great ball of fire and broke through Yuji's defences and knocked him back against a wall of stone. As she closed in on him she choked out with a mournful sense of longing in her voice, "Yuji...You can be with me right now..."
He frowned and shook his head, "No. I must atone for my sins. I have killed many in my quest. I have taken many lives for my own selfish desires. I killed flame haze and humans all for the sake of love. I have to serve my punishment for all I have done, only then can I earn the right to be by your side, without regret or guilt."
"But I will always love you! I don't care if you are selfish! I don't care if you've caused me pain...I would never refuse you...I love you Yuji!"
Yuji sighed. "You don't understand. I don't deserve-"
"Shut up, Shut up, Shut up!"
Yuji was struck by a great blast which sent him hurtling across the altar. He landed in a heap but quickly regained his composure and prepared himself.
"It's you who don't understand...You don't...You..." Shana struggled to find the words. They escaped her and left her tongue stumbling. "You don't understand...What about me?" She wiped tears from her eyes but in an instant another steady flow coursed down her pale face, "You're just going to leave me? I don't want to be without you!"
Yuji's eyes narrowed and his stance broke under the strain on his consciousness.
"Your new world...It only serves to make you suffer, to make me suffer...Why are you doing this? Why can't we just be together?"
"I won't let you...I won't let you do this!"
The young hunter let out her fierce roar as the wrathful flames of Hell engulfed her tiny frame and danced along the edge of her sword. The great inferno grew until it was too much to contain and in one large swing, Shana slashed her sword in a wide arc towards her opponent. Yuji could only stare at the rushing wall of flames, hopelessly summoning Azure to fend off the searing heat, but it did little and the ring soon melted to a silver sludge which oozed down the front of his armour. Yuji cursed and braced himself for the pain but there was none. He blinked slowly and took in his surroundings, encased behind a shield of diamonds. He was as surprised as his foe.
"An unrestricted spell?" Alastor gasped. Shana barely heard him over the blood boiling within her, the furious outburst welling up within her about to explode.
Yuji's unrestricted spell...I'll just break through it! I'll break through and put an end to this!
The blaze grew in size and intensity. The stones began to blacken and smoulder. The clouds turned to ash and Shana's final battle cry broke through the thunderous crackling around her. Her lungs protested as she let out the greatest roar she could muster. It made her entire body shudder, made blood run to her head, made her feel stronger than ever before.
The sound of shattering glass was soon followed by a scream. The powerful blast erupted in an earth-shattering explosion and the upper portion of the tower was blown apart, scattering debris all over the wide battlefield below.
Yuji fell, plummeting towards a grim fate. He tried to catch himself in mid-air but he was falling far too fast. The momentum was too strong. He fought to catch a hold on the empty air around him but it was not until halfway through his free fall down the side of the tower that he managed to get a grip and hold his ground, hovering in the air as if it were solid ground. He let out a ragged breath, his body badly burnt. The Festival of the Snake within him was enraged, wanting nothing more than to destroy the Flaming-Haired hunter no matter what Yuji thought of her. The World Egg was in serious danger; Xanadu was on the brink of destruction, a reality quickly falling out of reach.
Something had to be done!
The time to end the battle had finally arrived.
"YUJI!" Shana's piercing cry broke through the heavens and sent a shiver down Yuji's spine. He grasped his sword and prepared himself for one last fight.
I won't let my dream go unrealised! I have waited far too long for this1 I will not let them beat me again! I will not let the Flame Haze win this battle! I must win! I will win!
I must kill Shana!
Yuji's eyes narrowed, stricken by the thoughts of the God of Creation. They broke his concentration, disrupted his thoughts, distracted him...
Shana appeared right before his eyes, her sword crashing down.
Yuji remembered his days of training with Shana, the long mornings and afternoons spent hopelessly trying to dodge her attacks, only to return to his room with bruises and sores.
Shana's movements were so fast, barely perceptible. She moved as a blur and yet so clear. She was moving so fast and yet time seemed to slow down. Yuji stood stock still and watched on helplessly. He observed all he could before he felt the pain, the biting pain of flesh digging through flesh. The Festival of the Snake roared in defiance and blinding light erupted out from his heart. It took some time before he could see again.
Shana was close now. She exuded a warmth he had so longed to feel. Her eyes burned with passion and her blazing red hair flowed about her with hypnotic grace. Her expression changed, her gaze softening, her lips quivering in a silent whisper. She too felt hot blood splash against her, oozing out and soaking her hands until she could no longer hold her sword.
In the next instant Yuji was falling, watching as glistening red beads were left in his path, his body moving faster than his own blood. Dazzling and horrifying all at once, it mesmerised the young man
until Shana once again filled his vision. She was crying his name now, weeping. She held him up and placed him down on the lip of a crater.
"Yuji! Yuji! I'm so sorry, I...I..."
"Shh," he cooed, "It's alright Shana."
The young hunter squeezed his hand, whimpering, "Yuji..."
"Shana...All I wanted...Was to be by your side..."
Shana wiped tears from her eyes and buried her head in the crook of his neck. As she embraced him she could feel the warm blood pumping out of the gaping wound. So much blood, too much. The monsters she fought had no blood in their veins, only flames. This was all too much for her. This only reminded her that Yuji was human.
"I guess...There won't be a new world..." Yuji croaked.
"Shut up...Shut up, shut up, shut up..." Shana held him close, her voice muffled as she pressed her face against his softly beating heart. "Why...Why did you lower your sword? Why didn't you block it?"
A trembling hand ran through her hair, caressed her cheek, and cradled her chin. Yuji gazed into her eyes and forced her to meet eye to eye. He smiled, a thin trail of blood trickling down from the corner of his mouth. He was struggling to breathe, but he forced out the words regardless
"Because I love you."
And with that, the dying embers of Yuji's flame flickered out and all was dark.