She was here, he knew it, even if he did not know that he did before, when he had given up. It was the place where Konoe Fumina had disappeared, her last memory, and Hecate's first memory of the city, when she had first met him.
Night was falling. He found the Priestess kneeling on the open ground, still deep in prayer. But her expression was troubled, her brows pushing against each other. He approached her carefully.
"Konoe-san," Yuji said softly. It was out of habit, but regretted it immediately. He recalled what Lamies had told him.
"Something that only you can say to her, after understanding her this much."
"Hecate," he said. And he noticed the Priestess stir. He continued. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I only looked at one part of you, and didn't accept everything about you. I can't forget what you did, nor will I ever will, but that's because I want to understand you. I'll accept everything that you are, even the side of you that is a Crimson Lord. What I'm trying to say is that I don't see you as a monster, and I never will."
"You're wrong," Hecate suddenly said. She stood up and looked him straight in the eyes. Her gaze was cold as ice stabbing into his soul.
But Yuji did not back down, not this time. He stood before her resolutely. She was still Konoe, he knew, but she was more than that, she was Hecate. And he was convinced that he meant something to her, and with that fact, he trusted her. He wanted to understand her.
But did she trust and understand herself?
The Priestess raised her staff against Yuji, her piercing eyes full of a chilling fury.
"I am a heartless, soulless entity. My only purpose of being is to be the Priestess of Bal Masque," she said. It was emotionless and cold as ice. But even if there was no hint of it there, Yuji could sense her sorrow, anguish and confusion as she spoke. "My master's will is all that matters to me. Everything else is meaningless."
Suddenly, a sharp pain plunged into the Mystes. As he coughed and gasped in pain, he felt something come out of him. An orb wrapped in a clear blue light emerged from his chest, and floated into Hecate's hand.
Yuji looked at her with disbelief. Then stood as he did a moment ago, unaccusing, unafraid, sure of himself and sure of what he believed in the girl before him. He smiled at Hecate, who felt her own gaze thaw under his warm expression.
Hecate gritted her teeth and clenched her staff tightly. Without so much as a goodbye, she turned around and floated into the air with the Treasure in her hand. She turned back, the Mystes was now a small figure below. She could not see his expression, but he continued to look at her.
Why? Why did she still feel so horrible inside? Her mission was completed, and she had a reason to leave the city and return to serving her master…
Yet why did she hesitate, even now, when it was over?
Decision, Action, Retribution
Friagne walked through a populated street, glancing from side to side.
"It appears that our undercover Rinne couldn't find our little meddler," Friagne said to himself. "Maybe the Tool of Hunting would have some idea of who it is. It shouldn't be too hard to wring the answers out of the barbarian, no matter how powerful it is, as long as it is just a Flame Haze. But first, we'll have to invite it for a chat."
He raised his hand and cast his spell. "Fuzetsu."
The sky was painted crimson red, and all time froze within the Seal.
"So, you live in this huge house all by yourself? Margery said, addressing Keisaku. A glass of quality alcohol was in her hand, and Eita was eagerly on his way to fetch another bottle.
"Yeah, what of it?" he said.
Margery smirked as she leaned back on the couch she sat on. "Doesn't it get lonely for you?"
"Not really," Keisaku said. "My parents don't really care about what I do or where I go, so I spend most of my time outside of the house with Tanaka."
Margery watched the other young male go through the shelf, selecting another good drink that the one he called Onee-san might enjoy.
"Hmmm, I kinda wonder how growing up was for you, silver spoon kid," she said.
"Hey, don't call me that," Keisaku said as he stuck his chin up in the air. "I can handle myself just fine."
Margery leaned closer. The young man could almost smell her booze breath. "Were you always getting in trouble like that?" she asked.
Keisaku averted his eyes. "It's none of your business," he told her.
As Margery settled in, she sensed the surge of power some distance away from Keisaku's home. She grinned.
"A pale white flame, huh?" she said. "So the other Crimson Lord here must be the Hunter Friagne."
"I'm rearing to go, my scorching blaze, Margery Daw!" Marcosias said. "Let's go and smash his face in!"
Margery Daw finished her drink and opened the window.
"And what do you expect us to do in the meantime?" Keisaku asked with arms crossed. By this time, Eita returned with a couple more bottles of alcohol.
Margery winked at him. "Just be a good boy until I get back," she said before riding out on the covers of the open grimoire.
Yuji looked up at the sky. There was no sign or trace of the Priestess. She was gone.
He put a hand on his chest. With the Treasure gone, he suddenly felt a little emptier. Could it have been from the feeling of having something so violently yanked out of him, or was it the knowledge that Hecate had no real reason to come back.
He bowed his head. Although he had put up such a bold and confident front earlier, he now felt doubtful that she would return. Then he remembered another thing Lamies had told him.
"What it means is that you mean something to her. And it's not just because of what you carry, but something else."
Was he really to be believed? He and Friagne had both told him that she was one that was isolated from others, even her own kind. True to her name which had meant "far-off". If such was the case, then the fact that she talked to him was proof that he meant something to her. Yet why, he wondered, would she find him important to begin with?
Could it be that Konoe Fumina was still active within herself? Or could it be the memories from her fragment?
In either case, there was a chance she would be back, even if it was a small one. But she needed to return soon, before Friagne could devour the city before he would even have a chance to understand her. But she had no reason to fight him either.
He sensed the Seal as it came up. It was not too far off from where he was at the moment. If what Lamies said was true, then there was one way to get Hecate to face Friagne.
"Even if I fail and she doesn't come, it's better than waiting around for the city to be wiped out," Yuji told himself. Gathering his resolve once more, he hurried in the direction of Friagne's Seal.
Hecate flew high above the clouds, carrying the Treasure she had just taken within her being. The moon shone brightly, and the stars glittered in the dark night sky, but she paid them no mind. Her thoughts remained on the Torch she had so easily abandoned.
Why? Why won't this feeling of emptiness go away? She asked herself. She felt the void in her deepening, as if to swallow her up into its nothingness. Just stop. It hurts.
But the emptiness still remained.
Perhaps, come midnight, the void will be filled with endless Power of Existence from the Treasure? It was a hopeful thought of encouragement that the Strategist of Bal Masque had told her not too long before she had deployed her Faux Vessel into the city.
Her Faux Vessel, now her thoughts strayed to that for the first time. How was it that a mere fragment of herself, who had lived for no more than a week, had so much more prominent memories than everything else she had accumulated through the centuries after her master had been sealed away. Never before had she felt such feelings of warmth, joy, and sorrow.
As she remembered them, she realized that the void in her had been forgotten for a moment. But now that she was conscious of her loneliness once more, she felt it. Just how did these memories affect her in such a way? Then she realized who was at the center of all those memories.
Whoever this boy was, she realized, he was the only one who could end the pain, to relieve her of the emptiness within her. For some reason, when he had come back for her, and told her that he was willing to accept her whole self, she felt a sense of… happiness, happiness and relief, especially when he had called her by her real name, and not just the name of her fragment.
She halted and turned back to the city of Misaki. Maybe, just maybe, if she returned, the pain would stop. If he was to be believed, then maybe she could face him this time. She would finally mend the deep emptiness within her. He had come for her not too long ago, perhaps it was time for her to do the same for him.
Margery hopped off the covers of Marcosias before stylishly landing on top of a street light.
"Ah, the Chanter of Elegies Margery Daw, and the Claws and Fangs of Violation Marcosias," Friagne said as he stood on another street light opposite from her. "Just the people I wanted to see. I doubt it would be you two who were messing up my plans."
"I don't know about any plans," Margery said with a smirk before entering her bestial purple werewolf form. "But it wouldn't matter anyway, since I'll beat you to a pulp right here, right now!"
"Let's break him in half, my berserker of bloodlust, Margery Daw!" Marcosias yelled as the purple beast charged forward with a growl.
"My, how savage," Friagne said as he pulled out a tiny glass bell and chimed it. Out of nowhere, a doll appeared and rammed itself into Margery's chest before exploding. Despite its size, the shock was enough to push Margery back.
"You sneaky doll pervert," Margery said as she quickly recovered before reciting her Poem of Slaughter.
"Shining rain, burning pain,
Starlight, star bright, burn as the stars tonight!"
From her maw, she fired a massive purple fireball in the direction of the Crimson Lord. That one shot had enough firepower to level a whole building to the ground in a glorious blaze.
Yet it did nothing.
As soon as the blazing fireball had come in contact with Friagne, it dissipated into confetti-like embers.
"What?" Margery gasped. Friagne raised his left hand, a metal band shone on his finger.
"Behold the Anti-Flame Ring Azure," he said. "As long as I wear this, no flame of any kind can hurt me."
"That's not fair!" Marcosias protested.
"Hmph! Who says we need to hit you with our fire to beat you," Margery said. "A well placed smash to the face should still be enough to total you!"
She charged at him again, gliding through the air between them.
"We'll see about that," Friagne said as he chimed his bell once more in response.
"That same trick again?" Margery said as she handily evaded another doll that had come her way. As soon as she did, however, a golden chain wrapped around her paw.
"And with my Bubble Root, you can't escape me," Friagne said.
With abnormal strength, the chain went taut and pulled her to the ground. As she crashed into the pavement, the doll she had just avoided divided its body parts before homing in on her, bursting into flame on impact.
"Guh!" Margery groaned as she stood up again. Her bestial shell was still intact, but even then, the battle was not going well for her.
"So, I wanted to know," Friagne said, in a very casual tone. "Do you have any idea who the other Crimson Denizen in the city is?"
"You mean the Supreme Throne?" Margery said. "Well, it doesn't matter, I'll kill all three of you anyway!"
"Itsy bitsy spider, climbing the water spout,
Itsy bitsy spider the rain washed out!"
Although it was futile, she unleashed another blaze of flame at Friagne from below. It arced upwards in a streak of fire before expanding and entrapping the Crimson Lord in a raging inferno.
"Tut, tut, little dog, I expected much more from you," Friagne said with a shake of his head. In a pale white flash, the glass bell in one hand was replaced by a single card, the ace of spades.
As he dispelled the fire around him with his ring, Margery appeared right in front of him. The massive purple beast raised her arms together.'
"Got you now!" Margery yelled as she brought down her paws.
"Hmph," Friagne scoffed as the card in his hand instantly multiplied and stabbed into the Chanter of Elegies like a shotgun blast at point blank. The force was enough to knock the beast back. As she stumbled in midair, the cards that had flung themselves into her returned to Friagne, converged as they multiplied even more, and became a spinning wheel.
When Margery recovered, she saw energy build up in the core of the wheel of cards, aimed right at her. Without any chance to cast a spell, she attempted to dodge, but Friagne's Bubble Root caught her by the leg.
"And here's my personal favorite, the Regular Sharp," Friagne said as he opened fire.
A barrage of energy bolts peppered the Chanter of Elegies. It was nowhere near as powerful as Hecate's Aster, but it was still enough to inflict some major damage, even when hammering against the bestial shell.
Before Margery could recover, Friagne yanked on the chain and hurled his foe into the side of a building, embedding her into the cement wall. Quickly following through, he exchanged the Regular Sharp with the glass bell and chimed it. A number of dolls appeared out of the air, split apart, and plunged straight at the Chanter of Elegies with extreme prejudice. The force from the volley of explosions was enough to make the structure collapse on its side, crushing the Chanter of Elegies in debris.
Friagne's chain was still attached to her leg. With it, he traced where his opponent had been buried and blew apart the rubble with a pale white flame. When all was clear, he slowly pulled the bleeding and battered figure of Margery Daw, now back in her human form, from the heap.
She was barely conscious, but now on her knees. Friagne let go of her leg, only to bind her neck with the chain. She coughed and gasped for breath as the links choked her.
"I'll ask again, who is the other Denizen in this city, the one who is not the Supreme Throne?" Friagne interrogated as he slowly pulled against the chain. Margery felt the cold metal digging into her neck, cutting through her skin, drawing a little blood. One small tug would be all it would take to crush her neck.
In Friagne's other hand, he switched the bell for an intricate and elegant revolver and aimed it between his foe's eyes. Margery looked down the barrel of the gun, recognized as the Trigger Happy. If the rumors were true about it, then it would also only take one pull of the trigger. Still, Margery was defiant.
"Like I'll tell you so you can catch him yourself, asshole?" Margery said with a weak, strained voice.
"I guessed not," Friagne said. "No matter, he can't do anything if I advance my plans tonight. As for you, it is always better to kick away a stone before I end up tripping."
Margery scowled at Friagne angrily. As the Crimson Lord with the pale white flame began to squeeze the trigger, a young male voice called out to him.
Surprised, Friagne pointed his pistol skyward as he looked towards the source of the voice. Standing out in the open, with his knees shaking but also with an expression of courage, was Yuji Sakai.
Without hesitation, Friagne tossed aside the defeated Chanter of Elegies and wrapped his chain around Yuji's form. With a tug, he pulled his catch toward him and held him up with one hand.
"Ah, the Supreme Throne's pet Mystes," Friagne said, studying him closely. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you wanted me to take the Treasure from you."
Yuji just glared at him. Friagne shrugged and turned to Margery Daw.
"Well, I'm feeling pretty satisfied right now, so I'll spare you," he said to her as he rose upwards before vanishing into the air.
As the Crimson Lord left, Margery, still too hurt in the neck to speak, flashed her middle finger in the general direction of his departure.
"Heh, losing twice in a row and being saved by some random kid," Marcosias said as the Chanter of Elegies slumped back weakly. "We must be losing our touch."
"Nah, we'll get them," Margery assured her partner, despite her condition. "We'll hunt them down again and kill them all."
At a not too special house, Chigusa Sakai opened her sliding glass door and stepped out into her little yard.
"It's already very late, I'm worried about Yu-chan," she said to herself. "I hope he hasn't gotten into any trouble."
She sat down on the porch and looked up at the sky. For a moment, she thought she saw a white speck fly across the vast dark of the night.
"Hm, could that have been a shooting star?" Chigusa said. Her eyes already closed, she made a wish. "Please bring Yu-chan back safe and sound."
Atop a large department store, Yuji, still bound by the golden chain, looked over the city. The sky was a deep crimson red, but he could still see the many lights near and far. Soon, the lights would go out as the whole city he knew went up in flames to be devoured by the monstrous Friagne. The Crimson Lord still held the other end of the chain behind him.
"Beautiful, isn't it," he said, holding Marianne under his other arm.
"Why are you doing this?" Yuji said. "Why consume a whole city? Are you that greedy?"
"All Denizens are greedy in their own ways, my naïve Mystes," Friagne told him. He caressed Marianne. "But all I want is for Marianne to become an eternal existence."
"Oh master, you're too good for me," Marianne said. "I couldn't be happier than I am right now with you."
Friagne nuzzled the doll softly. "Ah Marianne, no matter what pains I have to go through, it is all worth it if you are happy," he said.
"Oh master, I can never thank you enough for letting me be with you always."
The Crimson Lord continued to caress his dearest Rinne for many moments. Then he faced the city again and, switching the chain to his other hand where Marianne was cradled, summoned a glass bell.
"So, why are you keeping me alive?" Yuji said, noticing the display of affection had finished.
"Better to have dinner before dessert," Friagne said. "I want you to watch as everything you know is wiped away in a sea of fire and consumed by us. When all is done, I will take the Treasure inside of you to add to my collection."
Apparently, he still had no idea that Hecate had already taken whatever was inside of him. For a moment, Yuji once again doubted if she would return for him. But he had to hope, it was all he had left. It was either that, or resign himself to defeat and the destruction of his city.
"Let us begin the ceremony," Friagne said as he raised his bell. "No one can stop us from gaining eternity."
"You're wrong," Yuji said, almost growling. "You're wrong there Friagne."
Friagne paused to humor the Torch. "Oh? How so?" he said mockingly. "And who exactly could challenge me? The Chanter of Elegies was so brutally defeated she would have no chance against me now. And that other Denizen is too cowardly to face me himself."
"Hecate," Yuji said, intentionally and consciously using her true name. "Hecate will stop you."
Yes, it was a small hope, but if he did not have that hope, he would not have been so bold as to challenge Friagne. She would return, if what he believed was right, she would come back for him, even if there was no reason to.
"The Supreme Throne?" Friagne scoffed. "She doesn't care about this city, she doesn't care about you, she cares for nothing but a god long dead. She has no freedom of her own either, always her duty to pray to a god who cannot answer, who cannot satisfy her existence. Frankly, she's no better off than the Flame Hazes. Fearsome as she is, she's rather pitiful really."
That word again, Yuji had heard the word Flame Haze before, from Lamies, but who were they? Could it have been that blonde woman from earlier?
Suddenly, there was the sound of chimes ringing together. The echoing sound filled the air, and for those who heard it, all time stopped. As they turned their heads skyward, they found the source of the sound, just as a rain of light fell upon them.
Just in time, Friagne leaped back, still clutching Marianne and dragging Yuji with him by the chain. They barely avoided the hail of energy when the beams had struck the ground right where Friagne had been floating above.
The three looked up towards the Supreme Throne, a cold, menacing figure in white, as she descended from the crimson sky.
"She really came!" Yuji said aloud, relief washing over him. His hopes had not been unfounded nor betrayed.
"Marianne, take the Mystes and hide," Friagne told the doll. His eyebrows pressed together as his eyes made a determined glare.
"But master-," Marianne was about to protest but Friagne interrupted her.
"Please Marianne, I cannot risk you getting into harm's way against this monster," he said. "Our only hope is to complete the city devouring and overwhelm her with the newly acquired power." He smiled at the Rinne. "Don't worry about me, I've prepared for even something like this."
After a brief silence, Marianne complied. "I pray for your safety master," she said as she lifted herself from his arms. In a swirl of pale white flame, she transformed into a beautiful woman with blonde hair in a violet evening gown. It was the same guise she had once taken, when Konoe Fumina had revealed herself.
Friagne released Yuji from his chain, and the boy attempted to run, but Marianne quickly placed her hand on his mouth and dragged him away. In response, Hecate opened fire with a volley of energy beams.
At the same time, Friagne switched out his Bubble Root for the Regular Sharp. With a wave of his hand, he multiplied the card into dozens and sent them to intercept the Priestess's volley. A cluster of explosions filled the air, and even as it happened, Friagne strafed sideways, hovering above ground, and sent more cards in his opponent's direction.
Hecate easily dodged the cards by flying lower, and fired on Friagne again. This time, the one with the pale white flame chimed his little glass bell, summoning a number of dolls to divide themselves and intercept the incoming barrage.
Meanwhile, at the staircase that led below, Yuji struggled with Marianne. She was strong, even if it was her outer shell – or maybe because it was her outer shell – he could not break free. Her hand was still on his mouth, digging into his cheeks.
"Stop squirming Mystes!" Marianne said as she also struggled with her hostage. "I'm not going to let you or anyone ruin master's plan!"
But Yuji continued to resist her, until a figure his eyes could not believe passed by him; it was a creature with the exact same face, body, and clothes as him, casually walking up the steps with dead eyes. In his astonishment, Yuji had momentarily lost his concentration, and Marianne pulled him down a few more steps.
Above, Friagne and Hecate still fought on equal footing. Both were in the air above the structure, dodging and intercepting each other's ranged attacks. The Priestess barrel rolled to evade another spray of cards from Friagne, who had more cards with him form a wheel, with energy building in its center.
Hecate used her spell Aster once more, this time sending out more energy beams than she had been prior. Most of these headed directly for her target, while the rest arced around to outflank the Hunter. In response, Friagne chimed his bell again, sending more dolls to intercept the beams flanking him, while firing bolts of energy to meet with the beams headed straight at him.
As the fought, Friagne made an observation. "Your powers are less destructive than I remember," he said. "You're either still recovering from your battle with the Chanter of Elegies, or still haven't consumed enough Power of Existence. Am I right?"
Hecate did not answer; instead, she fired on her enemy. Like the rest of her attacks, it was evaded by the Hunter.
Below them, the marionette with the appearance of Yuji Sakai came to view. He yelled towards the Priestess, waving his arms. His expression was no longer that of one with no life, but faked an expression of fright and relief.
"Hecate! I'm over here! Pick me up and let's get out of here!"
Hecate noticed him, and dodged two more attacks from Friagne as she descended. Little did she know that behind her Friagne, who had been fighting with a serious expression until now, was grinning sinisterly.
Hecate extended her hand to pick up the marionette, and just before their fingers touched, she suddenly stopped. From her open palm, she unleashed a stream of flame in the color of clear blue water. The flames scorched the marionette, which screamed and writhed in agony before wasting away.
Spinning around, Hecate knocked away several cards that had been sent after her with a flourish of her staff. Above, Friagne spoke with a disappointed tone.
"You really are a monster, aren't you?" he said, "killing the one who you came here to rescue."
Hecate gave him an icy glare. "Do not take me for a fool," she said coldly. "He is not him."
It was true. When she had come closer, she realized that it was not the same expression that Yuji Sakai would use. When he looked at her, they were the eyes of one who was forcing themselves to look on a fearsome monster. The Rinne was terrified of the one reaching out to him, it was the same as everyone else who the Priestess had ever looked eye-to-eye with. Everyone, that is, except for two certain people who took care of her.
And Yuji Sakai, the real Yuji Sakai. She remembered his words to her earlier, and she believed them. Even if there was no basis for it, she wanted to trust him. He was the one person who had made her feel that she was not an empty, cold, heartless monster. She did not want to lose him, even though she did not understand the how's or why's yet.
Below, the real Yuji Sakai continued to wrestle with Marianne, now more fiercely than before. He knew that whatever had gone up would be trouble for Hecate, so he had to fight harder.
"Stop resisting!" Marianne said. "Don't make me deny master's pleasure and kill you instead."
Yuji continued to struggle. Noticing that the Rinne's grip on his mouth had loosened somewhat, he opened his mouth and dug his teeth into her slender finger. Marianne winced, but did not let go, although it was still enough for Yuji to use all of his strength to break her hold. As fast as he could, the boy raced up the steps to the roof.
There, he found Hecate still engaged in combat with Friagne. The Priestess evaded a volley of cards and unleashed a wave of blue fire to incinerate another. She followed through by pouring more Power of Existence into her blaze, letting the wave extend towards Friagne. The Hunter was completely unharmed, however, as the blue flames passed harmlessly around him.
Yuji could not escape Marianne for long, and she managed to take Yuji in an arm lock from behind. Friagne glanced towards them.
"You know, that marionette was originally intended to lead you away while I went after the real Mystes," Friagne boasted. "Even now, he would have been useful as a suicide bomb at point-blank, but it seems that you would not even allow that purpose for his existence." He chimed his bell again, sending more explosive dolls her way.
They exploded in midair, just as Hecate dodged each of them, but she did not care for the pain. Right now, she had a different target in her sights. Raising one of her fingers, she aimed at Marianne. Yuji noticed the gesture and recognized it instantly. He forced himself sideways, leaving Marianne as a more open target, even if it was by a slight margin.
Hecate fired a bolt of energy in the color of clear blue water. It struck Marianne right in the eye. The Rinne screamed as she let go of Yuji and stepped back. As Yuji broke free of once more, he dived to the floor as Hecate followed through with a barrage of energy beams, blowing apart the Rinne's shell.
"Marianne!" Friagne yelled, then turned on the Priestess in anger. He chimed his bell and more dolls appeared and surrounded Hecate. They swirled around as they closed in on her. The Priestess managed to stop most of them with a swirling blue flame, but the rest managed to hit her directly and explode on impact.
Meanwhile, as Yuji ran to a safer distance, Friagne rushed to the remains of Marianne's shell, calling for her as he searched. Finally, he came upon the bruised and burned doll.
"Marianne, you're still alive," he said as he embraced her closely and nuzzled her head.
"I'm sorry master," she apologized to him.
"Don't be Marianne, you did your best," Friagne said as he cradled her in the arm where his hand held the glass bell. He glared towards the Supreme Throne. "You will not stop us from gaining eternity," he challenged her.
Once again, Hecate reacted not with words, but with another shower of light. Friagne leapt back, ascending to the air as he narrowly evaded the bombardment. Out of the attack's range, Yuji watched as much of the wide rooftop was ravaged.
"At this rate, she's going to end up using too much of her Power of Existence," Yuji noted. He had no idea how much she had in her, but he knew that she would just keep wasting energy as long as Friagne intercepted and evaded her attacks. "She's always been alone they said, and because everyone fears her, probably no one watches her back."
"I want to help her," he decided. "But what can I do to help? I feel so helpless, just hiding like this."
As Friagne chimed his bell to summon more dolls, to flank the Priestess, who blew an arc of blue flame against them, the Hunter followed through with a continuous spray of cards, which Hecate was forced to avoid. When she was out of the cards' range, Friagne rang the small bell once more, and a doll came from beneath her, changing its form into that of a rope of pale white light.
As the cards gathered together before Friagne and began to form a spinning wheel, Yuji noticed something. No matter how many cards were thrown and destroyed, they would be replenished. But when they prepared for its most destructive state, the wheel of cards, they were all converged into one tool; on top of that, if the energy building up within the wheel were to explode, it would wipe out every card around it.
"Hecate! Shoot the cards!" Yuji called out to the Supreme Throne.
Normally, Hecate would have blown away the doll coming at her first, but Yuji's call reached her ears and caught her attention. Instead of doing otherwise, she let the doll snag her legs. At the same, she aimed her staff towards the Regular Sharp and cast her spell.
The beams of light quickly came upon the Hunter Friagne, who dodged aside, although it was too late. To his carelessness, one of Hecate's well placed shots struck the core of the Regular Sharp, blowing it up in a burst of blue fire and smoke. In the meantime, Hecate was brought to the ground by the string of pale white light, but it was a very small and necessary sacrifice to eliminate one of Friagne's weapons.
Yuji noticed that Friagne could have easily chimed his bell again to use more dolls to intercept the beams, but he didn't. It was as if he was regulating his use of it, to keep in pace with something. He registered that as knowledge he could use later in the battle.
Friagne, although surprised, brought out his next weapon. He flicked a gold coin into the air, and its trail, a faint pale white curve in the air, became a golden chain, the Bubble Root. Whipping the chain, it snaked around a large piece of debris towards the left before latching onto the Priestess's staff, preventing the Supreme Throne from freeing herself or utilizing it against him.
"Shoot right now!" Yuji yelled to the girl.
With a light gasp, Hecate immediately responded and fired her spell. The barrage destroyed the debris that anchored the chain, letting it go slack. As soon as she could move her weapon again, she fired again at Friagne, who had just chimed his bell again to send dolls her way. The resulting explosion caused a smokescreen between them.
Taking advantage of the short pause in action, Hecate smashed the string of light binding her legs with the butt of her staff. She was equally surprised as her opponent at this new turn of events. The Supreme Throne, due to her unrivaled power, was accustomed to wiping out any and every foe she encountered. She had little need for elaborate strategies, and when it was needed, it was left up to someone else she knew to direct her actions. But other than her, she would follow no one else. But just then, twice she listened and followed the words of Yuji Sakai. She turned to the boy, who gave her a thumbs up along with a satisfied, open-mouthed grin.
She found herself once again wondering just who this person was.
Not risking being pulled by the tremendous strength hidden in Hecate's body, Friagne had withdrawn the Bubble Root and flew up to higher ground.
"Master, I think we should stop," Marianne pleaded. "She's too strong for us."
"I know Marianne," Friagne said, ringing his bell once more, but no longer summoning dolls. "But we cannot give up now, not while we are so close to gaining our eternity."
All around the building, around the area, throughout the entire city, specks of light began to flow upwards. Yuji looked around as they rose. The City Devouring was close to hand!
"We have to stop him!" he said to Hecate, coming up to her. "Please, or he'll consume this whole city."
The Supreme Throne turned to him, a blank expression on her face, but Yuji could tell what she was thinking. "Why should I?"
Knowing the question even though she did not open her mouth to speak, Yuji answered her. "Because this city is everything to me," he said simply.
The Priestess continued to stare into his eyes. He looked back at her, unyielding, full of conviction, full of determination. In a way, they reminded her of someone she knew a very, very long time ago.
She gave a single nod, but it was enough. Yuji smiled at her and nodded back in thanks. She extended her hand and the boy took it. Together, they rose to meet Friagne.
By the time they had reached the platform from where Friagne continued to chime his bell, the rising particles of light had multiplied. Even so, the two did not panic, not even Yuji. They could – they will stop Friagne. Yuji was determined, and he could ask for no better person to fight with him than the Supreme Throne, Hecate. Friagne faced them.
"You would still get in the way of our eternity?" he said to the Priestess. "You have already recovered your pet Mystes. Why would you do such a thing, when it does not concern you?"
He chimed the bell again. As he did, more particles rose from the city. Yuji noticed this, and realized what the true purpose of the bell was for, why the Hunter could not ring it again so soon after another chime. Also, it seemed Friagne seemed to have a predictable pattern to his ringing. The boy glanced at Hecate. The chimes on her staff were most likely not simply for decoration. Now, he just had to wait for the right time.
Hecate only stared silently at the Hunter in response. With the boy, who could help her forget about the emptiness within her, standing beside her, she was regaining her confidence and focus in battle, and with that, her ability to command the fear of others. She continued to stare at the Hunter, as if she now acknowledged him as a worthless existence.
No, as an insect that needed to be crushed.
Friagne stepped back, trembling. As he continued to look at her gaze, her stare seemed to grow larger than him, larger than his presence, larger than the city, to the point that it felt that he would get crushed by it. Chuckling nervously, he raised the bell, switched to his other hand now, and chimed it again.
"It doesn't matter!" he said loudly. "Just once more and this city will become our eternity!"
"Ring your staff!" Yuji said suddenly.
At the same time that Friagne tinkled his bell, Hecate rang the chimes on her staff. As the final pulse of sound from the bell rippled through the air, a similar wave from the staff met it, forcing it to bounce and return to where it came from. The glass bell shattered as it suffered the feedback of its own spell.
Friagne's eyes widened and his jaw dropped. They were so close, so close! He glared at the one who had given the signal, Yuji Sakai, and brought out the Bubble Root once more.
"It's not yet over," he mumbled.
"Master?" Marianne said, looking upon his face with concern.
"It's not yet over," Friagne said again. He snared Yuji with the chain and dragged him between himself and the Supreme Throne in an attempt to use him as a shield. "It's not yet over!"
"Hecate!" Yuji called to his partner. His eyes showed confidence and trust in her, that she would not hurt him, that she would end this with the final move.
Hecate aimed her staff once more.
The final volley of light passed around Yuji, headed straight towards Friagne. The Hunter, even in his descent into madness, remembered Marianne and tossed her away as the light struck him.
A direct hit. In a series of blasts, the Crimson Lord was finally torn apart. Yuji fell forward from the shock behind him, and a disembodied hand landed before his face before fading away in a pale white flame, leaving behind a ring, the Anti-Flame Ring Azure.
"Master!" Marianne grieved, then turned to Yuji and Hecate. Although a doll, tears flowed from her button eyes.
"He was everything to me," she said as she began to twirl in the air. "Prepare to die!"
Becoming a fireball of pale white, she flew straight at the closest enemy, Yuji Sakai, helpless on the floor. Yuji shut his eyes, accepting his fate. There was a blast.
But he felt nothing. Completely unscathed, Yuji opened his eyes and saw Hecate standing before him, her arms spread wide. Behind her was an indentation in the floor where the blast from Marianne's suicidal bombing had been. Their eyes met.
Her expression was as emotionless as always, but there was no coldness. Meanwhile, in the boy's eyes, the girl found an expression of satisfaction and relief.
"Looks like that doll loving bastard is done," Margery said as she looked towards the window. She sat on the couch at Keisaku's home, wrapped in bandages.
She glanced to the seat next to her slept Keisaku with a first aid kit on his lap. Eita rested a little further in the room.
"A little pissed that a Denizen did the job of a Flame Haze, my fallen avenger, Margery Daw?" Marcosias said.
Margery clenched her fist. "Next time we find them, they won't be so lucky."
Closing her eyes and giving in to her need for rest, she thought about the boy who had suddenly run in. Who was it? Friagne called him a Mystes, and apparently one who knew the Supreme Throne. As an idea formed in her head, her blood red lips curled into a grin.
Yuji, dead tired from the day's events, sat on the floor with his back against a large piece of debris. Hecate knelt beside him.
"Hecate, thanks for coming back for me," the boy said. "And thanks for saving this city."
"I know how it is to lose everything," Hecate said, looking up at the black sky. "It leaves you empty."
They rested there in silence, a companionable silence. In those quiet moments they spent together on that rooftop, they celebrated their victory in their own way. Finally, Hecate spoke.
"You called me Hecate," she said "Why?"
Yuji smiled with his eyes closed. "Well," he began, "I want to understand you, all of you. Calling you by your real name is a good place to start I guess." As he faced her, he saw the one thing he had wanted so much to see again.
She was smiling. Hecate was smiling. Replacing her usual icy stare was a gaze of warmth and a small smile on her lips. The boy was speechless.
Finding his awed silence unusual, Hecate blinked and went back to her old emotionless self. "What?" she asked.
Yuji, realizing he had been staring at her, flustered.
"Well, why did you come back for me?" he asked, although he had a slight inkling of the answer.
"Because I do not understand," Hecate told him. "But I want to understand."
As vague an answer as always, but it was an answer nonetheless, Yuji was happy enough with it. Apparently, both had a mutual desire to understand one another; a Crimson Lord wanted to understand the human, and the human wanted to understand the Crimson Lord.
"Too bad we won't have too much time for that though," he said, his mood darkening slightly. "I'll disappear like any other Torch someday soon."
"You're wrong," Hecate said as she summoned an orb of blue light. He could not see it clearly, but Yuji could have sworn its contents appeared to be a sphere of bright light orbited by clock gears.
The Priestess gently pressed it into Yuji's chest, returning it to where it had been stored. It would be fine like this. She did not need it anytime soon. And no one would dare oppose her decision.
Yuji just sat there, confused. "Hecate?" he was about to ask, when suddenly, a nearby clock rang, signaling that midnight had come.
As the first hour of a new day came, Yuji felt a warmth wash throughout his whole body, his existence. Tired though he was, he felt physically revitalized. His eyes widened in surprise.
"The Reiji Maigo," Hecate told him. "It replenishes your existence at midnight."
Yuji put a hand on his chest. "My existence returns with this at midnight?" he said. "So, does that mean that I won't disappear?"
Hecate nodded, smiling a little bit again. Apparently, she was also glad for the Mystes to stick around longer in this world.
Smiling, Yuji relaxed and looked up at the dark night sky. More silence followed. They did not need to rush anything now. They had all the time in the world to understand each other.
"Hey, Hecate, do you think that maybe humans and Denizens can live together someday?"
Not hearing a reply, Yuji turned to the Priestess. Her eyes were closed, and she was at peace.
Author's Note: I think this is the longest fight scene since the climax of Eternity. Hope you all enjoyed the first arc!
More will come soon. PM me if you have any good ideas for what to do with later Episodes, because although I have most things planned out, there are still a few things that can be improved on.
And I'd still love to know your favorite scenes in each arc. Thanks for the continued support.