Scene XXV: Pride
Chiba, Japan. 2014, May
Muzai would never be able to describe how she felt after the Void of Chaos shattered around her. Only after Tsumi had pointed out the falling sky did everything turn black. Everyone within that battlefield had been sucked into the deepest, darkest parts of the Void below. Then nothing. For how long, she would never know.
When she woke, her lungs expanded and she inhaled, sitting up in Concordia Theatre’s stage. Part of her considered everything that she had just witnessed had been nothing but a dream – unable to pick apart reality from this world to the real Concordia. The flickering image of the Void’s sky and ground shattering to nothing was hard to push aside.
When Muzai stood, she bent forward and felt her stomach coil before she vomited over the edge of the stage. Her legs were shaking as she relived the earthquake and she groaned, wiping her mouth with the back of her arm before succumbing to her fatigue and buckling to the ground. She hit the floor with a hard thud and flopped on her side. She could see the empty dance floor and the towering chairs stretched above her before she slipped into unconsciousness; completely oblivious to everyone else returning from the Void around her and fainting just as she did.
Shinrai’s glazed eyes were focused on the ceiling’s dim, hanging lightbulb above. If someone had told her she would have given birth to her first child on the floor, locked in some cold storage room in a goddamn circus theatre; she would have knocked them out. The whole experience was beyond thrilling and worthwhile, but the moment she heard her baby’s first cry into this world, she could not help but feel relieved and overfilled with joy.
When her tired eyes looked up, she found Rida hovering over her with a new-born baby in her arms. Looking through the boxes and storage had not gone to waste since the infant was wrapped up in a soft comforter, breathing calmly.
“Say hello to your son, mama.” Rida cooed, kneeling to hand over the small child.
Shinrai sniffled, emotions hitting her like ocean waves. She took the pink baby into her weak arms and sighed, leaning back against Merodi to share the memorable moment together as newly made parents.
“What shall we name him?” Merodi whispered, flexing a finger to gently caress the soft skin of his new-born son.
“I’ve been thinking back and forth on names for a while,” Shinrai croaked. Her voice was weak, and she sniffled between sentences, unable to stop her tears of joy from falling down her cheeks. “But I think… Shorai would be pretty fitting.”
“Shorai, huh?” Merodi smirked, propping his chin atop Shinrai’s shoulder as he watched the motion his son’s little hands made. He could not help but smile. “I like it. Shorai it is.”
“Good, but I honestly didn’t need your permission.” Shinrai snorted. She pulled her eyes away from the tiny Shorai and over to Rida. “Thank you.”
“It was nothing.” Rida shook her head with all the modesty and humbleness she could muster. “All in all, it was kind fun.”
“Your skills never cease to amaze me, Komando.” Merodi chuckled whilst reaching for the nearest blanket to drape around Shinrai’s shoulders, protecting her flustered skin and undignified posture. “Thank you.”
Rida returned the smile before she pushed from the ground and turned away. Her attention went back to the locked door and she pressed her palms against it in hopes it would at least budge. Dameji was standing by and he sighed, slapping his own hand against the find wood.
“Pushing ain’t gonna help, sweetheart. No-one’s gonna get to us for a while.”
“Yeah?” Rida scoffed, pulling away to cross her arms across her chest. “What makes you so confident about that?”
“Lucky guess.” Dameji offered a half shrug and leant back against the shelved wall behind him. “Maybe I just know more about locked doors and small spaces then I let on.”
Their conversation was cut short by the thunderous noise of footsteps raiding the air behind the door. Bi had been the first to take action and had pushed herself up with unsteady arms to practically throw herself at the door and slam her fists against it – disregarding the possible stress she was putting on her new-born nephew.
“Hey! If someone’s out there, we need help. Hey!”
Migi and Hidari moved next, joining Bi’s side to create as much ruckus as possible, eventually causing Shorai to stir. His little lungs screamed the room down, adding noise to their location which pulled the attention of whoever was prowling outside.
A course of muffled words was followed by the door being kicked in until it blew off its hinges and a group of women and men herded the group out. Policemen.
“You were in that storage room for seven hours, Miss Aibori.” The chief of Kanagawa Police Department, Gin Dangan, spoke up. It was not the first time she had questioned Shinrai Aibori – the last time having been over a year ago when Hinansho Apartments were blown up. She narrowed her purple eyes on the baby in Shinrai’s arms and smiled. “I hate to be the one to disrupt the quality time of mother and son, but I need to know if you heard anything or saw anything unusual before getting locked up.”
“Unusual?” Shinrai repeated. She shifted, sitting back against the chair she had been given upon being pulled out of the storage room. They sat in the empty dancefloor of the theatre; an empty, eerie vibe swirling through the air now compared to how it had been only hours ago. “Nothing. We were told to stay in there, otherwise we’d be hurt? I can’t remember. Everything happened in a blur.”
A team of paramedics were huddled off to the side where the buffet table stood. They had busied themselves with lining up the injured people on the stage and had managed to pull the curtains to keep the sight away from public eye as Shinrai and the others were questioned. The policemen had turned slack after Gin gave them a break. They had even gone so far as to take a plate of food for themselves from the buffet as they questioned Merodi and the others.
Gin sighed aloud and stuffed her notepad into her trouser pocket before grabbing a nearby chair. She sat down and leant forward, motioning towards the bundle of joy in Shinrai’s arms. “What’s the little guy’s name?”
“Oh, he’s called Shorai…” Shinrai replied through an exaggerated breath. Her eyes felt heavy and she was barely focused on the policewoman enough to get a grip on what the hell was going on. She forced a laugh to keep up appearances. “I don’t know how I’ll be able to tell him he was born in a storage room.”
“It’ll be easy when the time comes, I’m sure.”
“Officer,” Shinrai spoke up. She noticed the way Gin’s eyes wandered and the way her jaw turned tense. To see a member of the law look this rattled made Shinrai’s stomach coil. “What exactly happened here tonight?”
Gin didn’t reply straight away. She was too busy surveying her squad as they questioned the witnesses. Her right-hand, Kettei, was tasked with managing Merodi while the junior apprentice, Esa, was busy reassuring Bi and Oda. The silence was enough to give Shinrai the impression there was far more to the evening than simply being locked up in a storage room.
“To put it bluntly? Magick.” Gin eventually replied, turning her eyes back to Shinrai’s pale face. “A rogue Sorcerer, we think. He’s involved with kidnap and mass murder; we’re looking through the names on the guest list now and so far half the audience is missing. Honestly, it’s just as well you were in that storage room.”
“Oh, God…” Shinrai breathed. Through the strain of giving birth and the general drama she had been placed in, the sudden reminder of Muzai hit her like a speeding train and she whipped her head around, eyes wide. “And Muzai? My niece? Where is she?!”
“She’s safe, don’t worry.” Gin replied, raising her hands in attempts to diffuse any panic. “She’s just being checked over. We think she was caught up in the struggle, but she managed to fight through it.”
“Yeah… Yeah, she’s a fighter.” Shinrai sniffled, rubbing her already-puffy eyes. She inhaled through her nose and bowed, gently kissing the top of Shorai’s head for a seek of self-comfort. “Thank you.”
Gin nodded, offering Shinrai a squeeze to her shoulder before motioning for Merodi to join his partner and baby. She left the couple alone thereafter, moving through the dancefloor and over to Toi Yujin. Gin nudged the officer questioning him and her eyes turned serious once they were left alone.
“What story did you come up with?” Yujin grunted, rubbing his hip.
“Case of kidnapping and mass murder. That kid, Narazumono? He was heavily involved and was working with The Enchantress at the time, so he’ll be going to jail for a while to make the story more believable. Obviously the theatre will have to be closed indefinitely.” Sighing, Gin looked back to the crowd of pale faces and groaning victims. Her jaw clicked from tension. “What really happened, Yujin?”
“Yoku happened,” Yujin grunted. “Whatever went on in there was all her doing and whatever happens next, happens. If we were ever trying to win this thing, we’ve already lost before we could even begin to try. Concordia is falling apart and soon this Dabbler world will be-”
“We’ll work something out.” Gin urged, dropping a hand upon his shoulder. “No matter how long it takes. But first, we gotta work out this deal with the Void. All the people that went missing in there, we need to get them back.”
“I don’t know if we can.” Yujin replied, dragging his fingers through his hair. “Gin, The God of Chaos’ heart was destroyed. I don’t think we can even cross the barrier for duals or summon spells anytime soon, let alone visit it just for the sake of retrieving the ones we lost.”
“What a drag,” Gin grunted. She dipped her hand into her pocket and pulled out her notepad with reluctance. “Can you give me the names of those lost?”
“…Hikari Hoshi, Hahen Memori, Heishi Memori, Miryoku Fumetsu, Hokori Goman, Hari and Kumo – members of Hokori’s Coven. Yoku, if you wanna consider her missing or just hiding away.” Pausing, Yujin turned his head to the floor. “Chini Niku.”
“I’ll keep you updated on what comes next, Toi.” Gin muttered, closing her notepad with reluctance before she pivoted on her heel to make her way over to the paramedics. “I’ll need to talk to the Aibori girl, then we’ll be done here.”
Muzai winced at the hand poking her bumped forehead. She forced herself to stay still while she was checked over until the paramedic was done and gave her the all-clear. Her eyes wandered when she was freed of her check-up, looking to where Katsubo lay on a stretcher. He had lost a lot of blood, but he would live.
Along with Katsubo and herself, everyone in the Void who had been close enough to the heart-sun had made it back. Crossing the barrier had caused everyone to either black out or pass out due to the extent of their injuries. Muzai had only awoken when she was being picked up by a paramedic; to whom she had clipped in the temple with her foot after panicking. Now the tension and epic rush had all but died, leaving only the aftermath to pick up the pieces one by one.
Kin sat in a chair beside Katsubo with his arms crossed against his chest. He had not spoken since the Void fell and his usual bright eyes were dull. There was no judging. He had every right to feel the way he did; after losing his Conductor – his Sorcerer – two members of his Coven and nearly losing Katsubo for good was enough justice for him to fall into himself and fight the urge to scream.
Aisu and her Coven had healed and fled long before the police and paramedics arrived. Where they went was a mystery and if they would ever show up again was even more of mystery for Muzai. At this point in time, she couldn’t care less. What really mattered was the oncoming plans and plots The Enchantress left behind.
Blinking, Muzai turned her head from her friends to find the chief of Kanagawa Police strolling over. She tensed, hands rubbing against her lap. “…Yes?”
“My name is Gin Dangan. We met before, regarding your apartment being blown up by an amateur Sorcerer. I just wanna go over a few things with you –“ Pausing, Gin glanced around the room before leaning in, voice turning to a whisper. “ – about The Enchantress and the Void.”
“…You’re from Yuugen?” Muzai blurted. She shook her head quickly, knowing her cheeks were burning. “I’m sorry… I don’t know a lot. I wasn’t around Yoku at the time. I was with Katsubo and, the, ugh… Void just collapsed.”
“Just Katsubo, huh?” Gin raised a brow. She was tapping a pen upon the surface of her notepad, refusing to take notes just yet. “No-one else was around? Or any other company at all?”
“No.” Muzai lied. Her thoughts travelled to Tsumi and Aisu. Both had disappeared before the others woke up, which meant the police had no idea they were even here. “Just me and Katsubo.”
“You don’t have to be afraid, Aibori. You’re surrounded by allies here, and whatever happened in the Void, we can make sense of it together-”
“I don’t really remember.” Muzai cut in. She dropped her head into her hands and sighed through a choked sound. She was crying, defeated. “Everything happened too fast. I almost died today, I just… I just wanna go home. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologise.” Gin flinched at the girl’s sobbing and was quick to tuck her notepad away. “I’m just trying to help, kid. I think the world’s about to get a whole lot bigger, so if something comes up, Yujin knows where to find me. You can go home.”
Muzai exhaled loudly, clasping her hands together. She sniffled, raising her watery eyes. “Thank you.”
When Gin moved away, Muzai forced herself to stand. Of all the people scattered around her, she moved to Yujin first. Her heart sank to see him sitting on the stairs to the stage by himself and she joined him, gingerly tucking the ends of her torn dress between her legs as she sat beside him. They shared a moment of silence, taking time to think over everything that had happened up until now.
“I only came to wish you a happy birthday.” Yujin eventually spoke.
Muzai was thankful Yujin broke the silence first. She tried to smile but her lips refused to curve, and she bowed her head, tucking back her messy strands of vermillion hair behind her ears. “Thank you.”
Yujin grunted, reaching into his trouser pocket to pull out a box. He handed it to Muzai and turned, staring at her blotchy face and bruised head. “A gift. The traditional thing to do with these kinds of occasions.”
Muzai chewed on the inside of her cheek and accepted the gift with a small thanks. Her numb fingers untied the particularly neat ribbon keeping the box closed and she hooked her nails under the lids’ lip to pop it off. Her lips parted in awe and she set the box down beside her feet after taking out the gift inside.
A photo was encased in a gold and silver frame. The details were very professional, giving her the impression that the frame alone would have cost a hefty amount. The photo it framed was the real gift. Muzai felt her heart swell as she looked over the faces in the picture, recalling the Christmas last year when they took it.
“Thank you so much. I love it…” Muzai whispered, feeling her eyes water the longer she stared. The quality was grainy, but the fact the picture contained Hahen and Hikari with Shinrai and Merodi was heart-warming. Even Yujin was in the photo with Chini beside him; having been invited on behalf of Shinrai that day. “I’ll treasure it.”
“Good. Good, I’m glad you like it.” Yujin said, shifting unsteadily before reaching for the new cane Gin had gotten him. “Well, goodbye, Muzai Aibori.”
“You’re leaving?” Muzai asked, looking up from the framed photo in her lap.
“Yeah, I have places to be.”
Yujin limped his way out of the theatre without looking back and did well to avoid the looks of concern and suspicion plastered upon the policemen and paramedics alike. No-one stepped out of line to block him from reaching the exit. The end of his cane tapped sharply against the patterned tiles beneath his feet and a pinch of guilt struck, causing the hairs on his arms to rise when he moved through the reception room where he had stood with Hikari and Kumo not long ago. Now they were both lost to the Void and he was free.
Stepping out of the theatre was beyond relieving. Rain was hammering down, and he trailed down the street, nearing his car with anticipation. He pulled his keys out of his pocket and reached for the door – but his wrist was snagged by a firm fist and Yujin turned, meeting the wide eyes of Tsumi Kokutan.
“I wondered where you went.” Yujin mumbled, moving his hand away.
Tsumi was stoic as ever. Any trace of regret for what she had done in the Void was invisible to Yujin, especially since they were shrouded in only the dim light of the streetlamps overhead. It was better that way – to be hiding in the darkness when either of their hatred could be boiling over the edge. It made their mutual pain easier to manage so long as they were not furious with each other; or had to bear witness to the pain in their eyes.
“I didn’t want to be caught up with the police,” Tsumi replied. Her hand moved from Yujin’s wrist and she slumped, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her coat. “Everyone was busy getting Rida and the others out of the storage room. It was the only time I could move without being noticed. But you… I know that face. You’re leaving.”
Yujin leant against the sturdiness of his cane with a long sigh to follow the silence. The rain battered his clothes and hair, and when he breathed, it evaporated into a cloud, signifying the cold. He could not feel it. Could not begin to feel it. Whether it was cold or hot, wet or dry, he made no obvious reaction. He was simply numb and tired. A feeling he had succumbed to many times before.
“Yeah, I am.” Yujin nodded slowly. “And I won’t be here to look out for you anymore.”
“You’re leaving the country?” Tsumi asked slowly. She allowed the thoughts to settle, preparing to accept it should it be true. “I’m thinking of doing the same. Once Rida comes home, I’m leaving with her. I destroyed the Void for a reason. Magick should die and we should be able to live.”
“No.” Yujin cut in. He could not help his hard stare at the mention of the Void; knowing he should hate Tsumi for killing The God of Chaos. Knowing he should hate her for destroying the world. It was selfish and stupid. The numbness spread to his heart when he looked away. “I’m going back to Yuugen.”
Tsumi made no expression. Her eyes simply widened for a second before she turned cold, stoic. Wearing that emotionless mask she put on every day of her life. “To work for The Enchantress?”
The words were painful to Yujin’s ears, especially coming from Tsumi of all people. He shook his head, moving in to combat those foreign feelings of emotion as he closed the gap to lace his arms around the girl with silver hair and pull her in for a warm embrace. He knew she hadn’t meant it; she was merely trying to make him feel guilty for going back. He knew her too well.
Tsumi found herself turning speechless. She stiffened at first before returning the hug. Her arms were limp against his damp back until Yujin squeezed her and she did the same, burying her face against the man’s neck. She inhaled, curling her fingers against the fabrics of Yujin’s shirt with desperation as the short, unexpected sentence left her lips.
“I know. Me too.” Yujin sighed heavily, departing from the hug with all the reluctance in the world. “But this life. No-one can ever escape it. We can try, we can run and we can move abroad but no matter what, Magick will always bring us back to this place. Tsumi, one day someone you care about is going to be taken from you, too. Then you’ll be going back, just like I am.”
Tsumi turned silent when Yujin moved away for good. She followed him with wide eyes, watching as he unlocked his car and climbed into the driver’s seat. She made no attempts to stop him and allowed him to leave without another word.
Tokyo, Japan. 2014, May
The idea of returning home made Muzai sick. She was thankful when Merodi offered Shinrai, herself, Bi and Oda to stay at his house for the night. It was big enough to accommodate them all and stepping into the warm, decorative living room should have felt welcoming; but no-one could lift the feeling of dread weighing on their chests.
Merodi was the most detached. There had been no sign of Hahen or Heishi after the show had ended and Gin had named them missing. He was lost on what to do or say – unable to pull himself out of his oncoming depression, despite the baby Shinrai carried into the lounge.
He moved to the antique bar in the corner of the lounge after everyone had sat down and poured himself a big drink. He offered one to Oda and they shared the bottle of vintage whiskey between them before Merodi spoke, mentioning the plans for a funeral for Hahen and Heishi.
Muzai felt hollow when Merodi said those words. She had to pull herself away before she started crying again and quietly dragged herself upstairs to take a shower. She had stayed for sleepovers a few times with Hahen and knew where to find some clothes – when she stepped into Hahen’s room, she did cry.
Hahen was a scared, shy young man who often jumped at his own shadow, but he was talented. The electric piano beneath his window was decorated in band stickers and his floor was tidy with a black, shaggy carpet. He was very goth in his sense of fashion and taste, Muzai bit the inside of her cheek when she looked at his bed – a small, single frame and a high mattress with skeletons all over the duvet. He had a desk to the right of the room with an open laptop covered in stickers and paper scattered across the surface. He liked drawing and had begun streaming his music online over the last few months. Muzai had always imagined him joining a punk band at the end of school – now she supposed it would never happen.
Quietly, she moved to the cupboard nestled beside the bed and pulled the drawers open to find the clothes she had left behind last time she stayed. She pulled out a fluffy jumper and leggings, then hurriedly moved across the hall and into the bathroom before she could torture herself any longer.
She locked the door and peeled herself out of her bloody, charred, ripped dress. She ached all over and had to perch herself on the edge of the bath while she waited for the water to heat up. The running showerhead masked the sounds of her sobbing and she cried into the empty room, holding her hands over her eyes.
This was her breaking point, the moment the drama and drastic events were finally breaking her. This was not a game anymore. Sure, it started out as this new, possibly fun adventure in a brand-new world filled with Magick. But tonight, she saw the ugliness. It was the same kind of ugliness she had experienced when she first went to Concordia and saw Namakemono’s creations. There were people in this world who were sick and twisted and tonight was just a horrible reminder of that fact.
“I don’t want this anymore…” Muzai breathed, turning to her reflection in the mirror of Merodi’s bathroom.
Crying was weak. That was what her parents used to tell her. Hakai had told her she was stronger if she shed a tear – so growing up with those two options was hard for her. She could never cry in front of anyone as easily as others could. Even when the pain was at the brink and all she could think about was crying. But neither Hakai’s words nor her parents’ entered her mind now. Who was there to even talk to about this stuff anymore? She and Tsumi were practically strangers. There was no way she could tell Shinrai. Certainly not her parents. And now Hahen and Hikari were gone, too.
Sighing softly, Muzai wiped her tears away after a good fifteen minutes had passed and she faced her reflection with clear eyes. It was plain as day that Yoku would have dangerous plans ahead, and as selfish as it sounded, Muzai was done. She would be of no use in whatever was going to happen, she was only ever good at being a target. She needed to change; needed to remake herself and escape this life of Magick.
Reaching up, Muzai pulled open the small cabinet on the wall and rummaged through the assorted bottles of medicine and hair products until she found a pair of scissors. She lifted the blades out from their small box and her eyes turned back to the mirror. She counted to ten before taking the scissors to her long hair and began chopping the strands down.
Red hair fell on her shoulders and around her feet. She was no professional in cutting hair, in fact she had never even tried until now – but it was the ideal way of starting things anew. The world would be okay without her. She could finally go and lead a normal life and put this all behind her. She would go back to America with her parents, engage with her musical career. It would be tough at first; but she was quite accustomed to tough by now.
All she could ask for was that Yoku stayed lost to the shattering Void and would never show herself again. Not just for Muzai’s sake – but for the world’s sake.
Okinawa, Japan. 20XX, Unknown
Upon the edges of Okinawa beaches, a storm was brewing. Fierce waves crashed upon the rigged edges of the cliffs below. Strong winds and gales tipped over any abandoned boats that had been left in the sea – their owners having assumed the night would remain easy.
A low grumble filled the dark air. Rolling clouds of disastrous terror fell upon the edge of a high-ledged cliff where a sharp light flashed, striking the earth. In moments, the fabric of the very spot began to tear apart; spewing rays of pure white light through the cracks and a shrill sound scratched its way to the surface as a man was thrown out of the abnormality into the atmosphere.
He flew through the air, hitting the ground on his shoulder. He rolled on impact, hissing against the searing pain. He fought against the speed, struggling against the ferocity he had been thrown at and only came to a stop when he toppled over the edge of the cliff. He gasped, hand shooting out to grab the edge and his fingers curled, hanging on to the rigged stone above.
The wind and rain whipping against him made it difficult to hold on and his eyes squeezed shut when a powerful gust of wind blew, destroying the little balance he had left when their hand betrayed him. He slipped, accepting his fate. The brief moment of peace lasted for a short second before his hand was snatched up and he was saved from plummeting to the rocks and waves below.
Slowly, his eyes reopened to see none other than The Enchantress staring down at him. Her hair was loose and stuck to her flawless face; rain soaked through her clothes. She smiled, loosening the grip on the man’s wrist with a teasing hum.
“Come now, Miryoku.” Yoku cooed. “How can we take it all now if you are going to be throwing yourself off of cliffs all the time, hm?”
Miryoku kicked his legs through the air, not entirely convinced he was safe from falling. He had been with The Enchantress far too long to know just how insanely sadistic she could get for dire amusement.
“How…-” Miryoku paused to clear his throat so his voice could be heard over the storm. “How long have we been in the Void?!”
Yoku smiled and pulled the man up onto the cliff with a swift tug. She cupped his face once he was standing, delicately brushing her fingers against his burnt cheeks below his golden eyes. A light sound left her lips and she raised her head to the stormy sky.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Aayjay MerakiWrite a Review