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Shakugan no Shana: The Noblest Experiment

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Guest Supreme Gamesmaster

You want formatting, go to FF.net.


[spoiler=Movie, Pt.I of IX]

A/N: Welcome, my comrades, to the prelude to my next series. Shakugan no Shana: Thought Experiments. The Thought Experiments will alter the series in infinitesimal ways and watch it play out to its conclusion, noting the changes along the way.



Ah, and let me make this clear: we won’t be introducing any new elements at all. We just change peoples’ roles. And the character most drastically altered is in this experiment; he badly needs altering, see.



Specifically, Sakai Yuji’s dead older twin.



Meet Sakai Ryo: Nearly dead of a brain lesion suffered during birth, he was ludicrously fortunate managed to come off with an unfortunate convention of schizotypy and Asperger’s that rendered him socially… inept, être gentil. You’ll see what I mean. I know the name sounds meaninglessly cool, but really, I did put some thought into choosing it (how much more ‘distant’ do you get than being a half-dead vegetable?).



Also, I infinitesimally altered the role of the original Flame-Haired Burning-Eyed Huntress… but this one is a lot less noticable, and it’s not like Shiro ever showed up outside those flashbacks. Basically, Alastor is a helluva lot happier.



Of course, introducing a new character throws the series in a completely different direction — in this case, one in which everyone is a helluva lot happier. Thus, I’ll rewrite the whole series with this one as well, hence the name, Noblest Experiment.



Ah, and a few warnings:



•The fic is quite controversial; the worst insult I can throw at it is “a pathetic, pro-incest, Gary Stu fic that insults the series by its relation.” Needless to say, I rather hope that insult or the like of it won’t be coming out of anyone here. Just don’t be surprised if I write Sorath and Tiriel as a valid couple, along with some rather controversial commentary from the emotionally impaired, painfully logical Sakai Ryo.



•Besides being arguably pro-incest, the fic is, by its nature, prone to becoming Gary Stu despite my best efforts to make Ryo inferior to the others in terms of effect on the story, general ability, et cetera. I can only make him so powerless if he’s in Shana’s entourage, and… er… he… gets along well with Alastor and the Burning-Eyed Huntress, but… proceed with caution, and don’t be afraid to offer sharp critiques with sharp tongues.



•Oh, and the fic is a tad more mature than the actual show. Be warned.



Now, then, behold the first nine Parts of the title film, Shakugan no Shana: The Noblest Experiment.





//Infinite time silenced eternity as souls burnt away forever.

//Not one person notices as the world departs, the sky bleeds, and Guze’s fire burns…

//To bathe this idyll in scarlet.

//March through time, into æther, with your own body.

//The people darting about you, and the treasures lost in the hustle, are memories fated to vanish.

//Violent, quaking power…

//And transient, wavering weakness…

//They’ll come to the same end, of course.

//Such a day melts the red mist…

//But as Sol rises, the world is stained in crimson.

//Divide a line as wind leads you;

//Hairlines, flowing like water, spear the enemy.






//Forsaken love? swelling dreams?

//All I must do is complete the mission… with these hands.






It was an exceptionally cold night on September 26, 2006, but other than that, nothing was terribly special about it to the untrained eye. The residents of Misaki still braved the cold, hurrying to their heated abodes to escape the chill air of the winter night. Those less welcome stalked more slowly, slinking about the streets collecting litter and perusing long-emptied bottles of alcohol, stalling the moment they might be called home with dread.




Hah! Dread. What dread they would face if they could watch the glowing cyan orbs, leaving trails like comets in a camera’s crude exposure, surging forth to bring arcane destruction to them all! To have their souls devoured, their quintessences expended for power, by a lone, immortal, fixated madman!



And, possibly worst of all, to be frozen and helpless, trapped in a queer pocket dimension in which they couldn’t do a damn thing about it.



Such is the nature of the energy field entitled by its discoverers ‘fuzetsu.’ Every human in the area simply stopped moving, as if some gorgon had swallowed a Super Mushroom and decided to lord its newfound size over the populace. Though the world was saturated in a bizarre, scarlet mist, not one person noticed.



Except, of course, for the floating man.



He was impeccably dressed, with starched white pants and an equally blank buttoned-down shirt. He had even folded a tie whose unsaturated indigo hue matched his hair, which was only very slightly frayed. One might question, however, if the bright white scarves slowly swirling around his airborne figure were part of his getup.



He had an opponent, too. A young man apparently in his late twenties or early thirties stared him down from the ground as he stalked deliberately towards him. He glared with bright green eyes, toned by the blood fog of fuzetsu into a dull, dead color, while his rough traveler’s cloak swirled around his feet.



In one hand, he held a startlingly thin scimitar, barely wider than a sheet of paper for all its impressive size.



He nodded, almost imperceptibly, to some invisible compatriot as his gait broadened, becoming ever-so-slightly slower and more deliberate. Despite his subtlety, the flier noted all this with a bit of sadistic pleasure. He could try out his new toy.



Suddenly, the apparently landlocked scimitar-wielder leapt into the air, his blade glowing such a bright neon green it was barely filtered by the fuzetsu. Somehow, he managed to stay aloft. The blue-haired opponent, however, took the attack in stride, even widening his smirk. It was time.



He reached into his back pocket, removed a rusted silver revolver, and fired.



A great lime steam leapt from the target’s chest even as the similarly colored coat on his blade dissipated. He was sent sprawling to the ground… but the fount of steam was only getting stronger… It wasn’t long before a titanic green geyser had all but incinerated his body. His own power had been turned on him.



The Schatzjäger smiled demonically.



His plan could commence.






Those who are not human lurk beyond and beneath darkness.



Those who have come from the Staveworlds, yet cannot walk here, are known as Guze no Tomogara.



They infiltrate a being’s everyday life, completely unnoticed beyond the stillness of fuzetsu…



…and then devour that everyday life, unchallenged.



For the most part.




•The Noblest Experiment•



The cherry trees were in bloom again, Sakai Yuji noted as he strolled down one of Misaki’s surprisingly congested cobbled alleyways. Considering the relatively low population density of the city, the usage of these comparatively idyllic walkways was surprising.



Nearby, Sakai Ryo brushed a falling petal out of his path. He walked alongside his younger twin, though for different reasons. Where Yuji was impeded by his sightseeing and amiable pauses, Ryo was slowed only by his introspection. To think, he needed to be walking, but not quickly.



A third reason for their slow pace was, to a degree, gloating. They could arrive on time at Misaki Municipal High School without hurrying, and thus, they didn’t hurry. Ryo snapped out of his trance as the brass plaque glinted in the bright sunlight, and pointed out the sign to his brother. Yuji darted forward to join his friends, who had not taken such advantage of their leisure time and arrived early; Ryo, on the other hand, took his time. While he was certainly accepted by Ogata Matake, Hirai Yukari, and the friends they had amalgamated, he was just as certainly detached from them all.






Yuji was having serious trouble concentrating on the teacher’s didactic lecture. Honestly, he was by far the most boring teacher the school had been unfortunate enough to hire! Unflappably right-wing, and so old-fashioned…



Yuji browsed over his page, wondering where to begin taking notes. He was by no means an idle student; indeed, his grades in every other class were basically A’s across the board. Rather, it was a signal of how painfully boring and ineffectual his professor was. Trying to reassure himself, Yuji glanced around the classroom.



He was quickly proven to be far from idle. Yoshida Kazumi, easily the most ‘responsible’ student in class, was only penciling in a few phrases here and there; Yukari Hirai beside him was scratching a few tentative words in her notebook, only to return and erase them after a few sentences; Hayato Ike was spending more time cleaning his glasses than writing; behind him, his brother, ordinarily an addict to information, wasn’t even trying, instead simply reclining with his eyes closed and brow furrowed, concentrating on something that probably wasn’t the lecture.



He turned back to his notebook, trying to decide what to write down. As he turned, he knocked his eraser to the ground. It bounced before landing next to — fortunately for him — the ever-amiable and graceful Hirai. On his other side, Keisaku Sato, basically a vegetable during these classes, would barely move, forcing him to do something to attract the teacher’s attention.



Hirai swooped down and retrieved the eraser just in time for the teacher to suddenly select Yuji as the target of one of his rants. Behind her, Ryo cocked an eyebrow, watching the scene with vague interest, but soon returning to his aloof trance.









One had to distinguish Yuji from his absurdly logical brother very clearly, or ease of reference would be all but annihilated, and total confusion would abound at every opening.



The softer-lined brother turned to face the speaker. “Hey, Ike,” he greeted nonchalantly. Ryo beside him slipped out of his trance to nod and note the conversation. Beckoning, the older twin indicated the exodus from Misaki Municipal High.



“Didn’t you have cleaning duty today?” Ike observed as the trio fled the building. He pulled his glasses a notch lower on his nose as he did so.



“I got someone to replace me,” Yuji said dismissively. Both of his companions smirked.



“Yoshida-san, right?” the dark-haired boy suggested. “She’s got it really bad for you…”



“Maaaaybe,” Yuji admitted, embarrassed. “So, whatcha doing later?”



“I’ve got a mock exam scheduled at cram school,” Ike shrugged, pushing his glasses a bit higher on his nose.



“You’re preparing for college already?” the hard-lined brother inquired, a bit sardonic in his disbelief.



“Meh,” Ike shrugged, nonchalant. “Gotta keep my parents happy. Or it affects my allowance,” he added, now deliberately insulting.



“So,” he continued, changing the subject. “What about you two? Any plans for later?”



“Not really,” Yuji shrugged. “I guess I’m heading into the station, checking out CDs.”



“I’m just going home,” Ryo supposed, his voice fading a bit as his trance seeped back into his reality. “Thinking… reading… watching TV.”



“New Slayers episode?” Ike guessed. At the darker twin’s assent, he kicked a pebble in front of him. “Lucky,” he complained. “Tape it for me, ‘k?”



Ryo nodded again, now completely aloof.



“…Hm,” the dark-haired student puzzled, pushing his glasses up further. He had yet to solve the mysteries of Ryo’s mysterious lapses. “Well, see ya.”



“See ya,” Yuji sighed. His own searches had been equally futile.






“Hey, Kazumi,” Hirai opened, now a good deal more serious than she had been a few moments ago. The lighter-haired girl turned, curious.



“Yuji-kun’s the one you like, right?”



Now Kazumi was blushing. “Er… w-why?” she stammered.



The long-haired girl beamed. “I’ve known you for a loooong time,” she winked, jubilant. “I can tell easily.” As Kazumi began to mutter unintelligible excuses, she cut her target off.



“Don’t hide it,” she encouraged, giggling. She soon returned to her businesslike expression, however. “If you’re after Yuji-kun,” she offered conspiratorially, “I think we can help each other.”



The short-haired girl was intrigued. “Eh?” she inquired, skeptical. “’Help?’”



The young Sakai twin chose this convenient moment to enter the very CD store the girls were browsing.



“Go on,” Hirai whispered, nudging her compatriot. She didn’t, however, get a positive response: Kazumi blushed furiously and darted out of the store, albeit through the back entrance.



Hirai sighed, disappointed. I don’t think I can expect much help from her, she thought wryly, her inner drama queen guiding her mental tongue. I guess I’ll have to work on my own.



The conspiratorial nature of her operations had her almost as excited as the end result. She let off her energy in a quiet victory yelp…



…only to turn around and find Sakai Yuji staring at her as if she were his older brother.



She blushed, not wavering from her energetic pose. “…hi,” she offered, a bit sheepishly.



Slowly reverting to a normal browsing position, Hirai decided to wait for a while before initiating her operation. There were some pretty good CDs here, too; KOTOKO’s new album was immediately in front of her…



Focus, Hirai. Focus.



“So, weren’t you with Ike-kun?” she asked, attempting to project apathy.



Yuji, delightfully oblivious as ever, took the question in stride. “No; he’s at cram school today,” he replied, frowning a bit. “Why?”



“Eh, nothing,” the girl shrugged, returning to KOTOKO’s list of tracks. “It’s just, I see you two together all the time.”



“Well, not necessarily all the time, but…” At least Yuji was intelligent outside the realm of emotions directed at him and his inner circle.



To be honest, Hirai couldn’t wait. “And I was wondering if he had a girlfriend or not…” she added, trailing her voice a bit in an attempt to contain her jubilant suspense.



It wasn’t working; even the oblivious Sakai was beginning to pick her up. “Well, he doesn’t…” he answered directly, his own voice trailing.






“Really, now.”






“I observed your social interaction,” Ryo said bluntly.



“Well, yeah,” his brother ceded. “Apparently, Hirai-san is crushing on Ike.”



“How long do you give them?” This question was typical of the otherwise dignified, mature, always-one-step-ahead being that was Ryo; he wasn’t afraid to admit that matters of the hear all but mystified him.



“Eh… a good while, really,” Yuji mused, “if not forever.”



“Hirai-san is nothing if not earnest…” Ryo guessed.



Yuji smiled. “You’re catching on,” he said happily.



And that’s about when the giant baby decided to make its entrance.



“What… are… those?” were the first words out of Sakai Yuji’s mouth. He indicated the cyan bands of energy.



“The characters resemble typical arcane texts, if read vertically,” Ryo mused ever-so-slowly, even as the strips encircled his area. “It’s the same characters over and over again…


“I suppose it’s really stylized katakana for the word ‘fuzetsu’…” he mused as the mystic tape marked off the area around him. As the word escaped him, the sky bled…






“Stop running!”



The order was wasted on the energetic little boy. He’d just consumed a can of soda and acquired a new plaything: this was a call for celebration, regardless of the rules.



Unfortunately, the rules were in place for a reason. He tripped as he darted forward…



And that’s about when Sakai Ryo called a fuzetsu, freezing him in time — completely unbeknownst to him, of course.



The real him would never make it out.






The Sakai twins were too stunned to speak, or even move. This was probably good for them; that would have intrigued the giant baby behind them far too early.



“Preparations complete,” the enormous child boomed gloatingly. It dribbled a sort of basketball made entirely of mannequin heads.



“What’s… going… on?!” Yuji hissed to Ryo.



“Gimme some time,” the latter snapped. “This is completely ridiculous…”



“W-why is your voice echoing?!” the former stammered, now utterly stupefied. “And how are you saying that without moving?”



“…I haven’t the foggiest idea,” Ryo marveled, equally mystified at his own prowess. Indeed, his body was just as petrified as the beings around him, still apparently deciphering the queer bands of energy. However, his mind was obviously active.



The baby appraised the victims of the fuzetsu. “There aren’t that many people,” he declared, with all the stupid naïvété of a real child and none of the cuteness, “but it’ll do.”



It bellowed to its mannequin-head ball: “Chow-time! Chow-time!”



The baby then opened a completely demonic mouth full of razor-sharp fangs. Its head looked more like a pudgy demon alligator than a real baby now. Blue-white fires began to consume the frozen people around the Sakai twins. The smoke from these flames gorged the mannequin-heads and the baby’s gaping maw. The people stayed in freeze-frame, even as their bodies melted like wax statues over a stove.



“Okay, I’ve got it,” Ryo muttered, though this echoed as if he were a disembodied deity. “A giant baby is eating people’s souls, while freezing them in time so they won’t notice.”



“That’s completely ridiculous!” Yuji managed to gasp, dumbfounded by his brother’s best explanation. “That’s — huh?”



Poor Yukari Hirai hadn’t been moving nearly as quickly as Ryo had guessed. Her body was melting, as well.



“H-Hirai-san!” Yuji yelped, rushing to help his friend. “Hirai-san, can’t you escape? Do anything?!”



She melted soundlessly. Nothing so much as a telepathic message suggested a mental presence like Ryo’s.



“Hirai-saaaan!” the mobile boy screamed, terrified. That got the baby’s attention.



“…Huh?” It now seemed as bemused as Yuji himself. “What is this guy…?” he marveled. How, indeed, could anyone move within a fuzetsu? His fuzetsu?



“I don’t know,” an eerie voice emanated from the mannequin-head ball. “But he’s not a Tomogara. But he’s moving inside the fuzetsu.



“But he must be a Mystes.” Its eyes widened demonically.



“…come again?” Ryo muttered, still echoing. The baby took no notice.



“You mean a Torch with a treasure in it?” The baby clapped its hands, excited. This noise echoed as much as Ryo’s disembodied voice, if not more.



“That’s right,” the mannequins assured the baby, “but it’s a real special one. Our master will be happy. We haven’t had a souvenir like this one in a long time.”



“…Torch…?” Yuji puzzled. “And… what treasure… could be… inside… me?” A new thought occurred to him. “Is it even talking about me…?”



The baby moved very suddenly. It jumped up as if to crush Yuji; the student darted forward to escape. However, he was immediately confronted with the mannequin-head ball, which knocked him backwards into the toddler’s enormous hand.



“I caught you,” it noted.



“Time to eat.”



Yuji gaped as the baby did. Preparing for his extremely humiliating doom… well, he never guessed that instead of biting him, the demon baby would wind up gnawing on a large nugget of ordinary air. Puzzled, it moved its arm to the side, avoiding the queer dimensional shield.



Biiiig mistake. Its hand was flopping around like a fish on the floor in moments — until, of course, it was wrapped in blue-white fire.



“Who is it?” the mannequins snapped, desperate. Their disturbing amalgamation was converted to a hilariously warped soccer ball in the next instant.



Then red met blue for the first time.



Stunned beyond words, Yuji gaped and stared. Before him was a painfully flat-chested girl in a black trench coat whose hair invoked a lazy swirld of embers. The girl held a startlingly large single-edged longsword in one hand with ease; her other was free, poised in a makeshift claw above the dull edge of her blade. A dark pendant on her neck burned with a sort of inner fire.



W… wh… what… i-is… this… girl…? Yuji could barely form coherent thoughts at this point.



The girl spoke, in a surprisingly cold tone. “What d’you reckon, Alastor?” she half-demanded, speaking down into her pendant.



A booming voice with an echo akin to Ryo’s responded, pragmatic: “They’re not Tomogara,” it reassured, “just Rinne.”



“The pendant talked,” Ryo noted quietly. He was inaudible to anyone but Yuji as the baby began to stomp, thrash, and throw an all-but-disturbing tantrum.



“How dare you cut my hand!” it shrieked, incensed. The girl stepped into a combat position, inadvertently placing the tip of her sword all too close to Yuji’s eye. “Crush down!”



The baby pulled back its remaining hand and prepared to pulverize the girl. However, it seemed she was far more skilled than her opponent. She lunged into the attack at the last moment, bisecting the hand vertically and leaving the pieces to writhe on either side of the ‘Mystes’ as they burned.



The demon was now off-balance, and it seemed the girl was going to press her offensive. It was a limbless, quivering ball of flesh in moments.



“No…” the thing whimpered, finally succeeding in looking pathetic and innocent. “D-don’t…!”



It was now that the mannequin-head decided to attempt a save of the baby serving it. Rising up from the ground, it hurtled toward the valkyrie like a meteor… only to be deflected again by a well-timed whirling kick. She used the same movement to decapitate the baby, whose body now caught in the cyan fire, melting away like so many people nearby.



So many people nearby… No one was recognizable to Yuji. They were simply silvery-blue puddles of thick, mercurial liquid.



The girl was unfazed by the carnage. Inspecting her kill, she muttered something to her pendant. “Looks like a shell.”



“So the main body left at the last moment,” the pendant appraised, displeased.



“It could still be around,” the knight pointed out. Now, she directed her attention to Yuji.



“Is this a Mystes?” she asked her pendant offhandedly.



“Aye,” the pendant’s voice boomed, “and it seems to be a unique one.”



“Er… wha…?” Yuji murmured, confused. The girl raised her sword and swung at the boy… only to meet a dimensional pocket as the baby had.



“Wait,” Ryo’s voice commanded suddenly. “Why…?”



There was a brief silence.



“Ah.” The protective bubble shrank into nothingness, leaving the entire world bleeding. Then the sword went home.



A/N: Next, the expository Part.



[spoiler=Movie, Pt.II of IX]

A/N: Je suis revenu, mes amis. Part II of IX is here. Women fall out of hollow arm sockets, Friagne’s might is anticipated, Yuji and Ryo learn of the frailty of their reality, and we meet Sakai Chigusa (and, technically, Wilhelmina).




Well, that was odd.


Yuji’s arm was cleanly bisected from his body — much too cleanly. The boy might well have been papier-mâché for all the good the attack did.


At this point, Yuji could no longer form coherent thoughts. His brother could, but refused to voice them. The girl was all but unfazed.


A flesh-colored dust erupted like steam from a kettle from within Yuji’s body. The particles accumulated on a single spot on the pavement, slowly forming the shape of a rather pale woman. Far older than her attacker by looks, the woman seemed wounded, clutching her shoulder in pain exactly where Yuji had been cut. She stared up at the younger girl, scowling furiously through cinnamon locks of long, wavy hair.


“Flame hair…” she murmured, apparently a bit fearful through her rage. “…burning eyes…”


“Little else would fit the Flame-Haired Burning-Eyed Huntress,” the girl pointed out rather sharply through a demonic smirk.


“Wh-why?” Yuji gasped quietly into the air as the banter continued.


“You’re unharmed, aren’t you?” his brother echoed back to him.


“My master won’t take this quietly,” the unarmed lady was snarling.


“You’re right.” The swordswoman’s smirk widened. “He’ll be spouting his last words soon.”


“But now,” she added evilly, “let me hear yours first.”


She raised her katana and bisected the apparently unarmed woman before her. The reaction to the cut was yet again different — the woman exploded in a flash of blue light. Yuji considered asking the girl what was going on; she seemed unfazed enough. However, she was still in a combative position.


It was soon obvious why. From the blue-white flames surrounding the area of the explosion emerged a flying doll of a little girl, adopting a similarly poised stance to its attacker. However, this doll simply rocketed past the flame-haired girl’s shoulder. The subject of this trick whirled around, slicing a few threads with her sword even as the doll hurtled away, recovering at the last moment to gaze on its aggressor.


“So that’s the main part,” the girl mused quietly. The peace was once again disturbed as Ryo’s talking pendant boomed out a warning.


“Behind you!”


The orb of mannequin heads had recovered for a new assault. Evidently, the girl had tired of it; even as the ‘main part’ fled, she charged the giant cannonball and sliced it in half at the last moment. The ball began to bounce about the place, each of its heads screaming horrendously as they leaked blue light from their mouths. Eventually, it exploded.


By the time the girl was finished, the doll had vanished. She opened her coat a bit and turned the sword towards her own stomach. If Yuji hadn’t witnessed the abnormality of the katana, he would have thought she was about to commit seppuku.


Instead, she slowly inserted the blade into the space between the coat and her hip as if sheathing the weapon. It glowed white as it dissipated into the apparently empty space. As the sword would have been completely sheathed, in a last flash of white light, the blade vanished. The hilt disintegrated shortly afterwards.


She turned to the empty space where the doll once hovered. “It got away,” she supposed, disappointed. “But from the way it was talking, there’s someone strong behind it.”


“We should be able to hunt him soon,” the pendant’s voice boomed.


The two were silent for a while. The girl then turned to Yuji, who was still in shock.


“Putting that aside…” she murmured. She directed her gaze to the zenith.


“This has been a very strange battle,” she said to no one in particular. “There’s something very, very wrong with this fuzetsu.”


“A sentient being is controlling it,” the pendant explained. “We can guess that you are allied to the Mystes?”


“I suppose so,” Ryo replied, “though I really have no idea what’s going on, or why I can manipulate this crimson reality as I can.”


“We’re as clueless as you,” the girl assured him darkly. “I assume you’re the human the baby couldn’t get at?”


“I shielded myself, yes,” the new god agreed.


“Its brother, then,” the pendant mused. There was a long silence. Then —


“What if I told you your brother had been eaten by one of these Rinne long ago?”


His response was, as usual, surprisingly prompt. “I would ask why he isn’t a smoldering puddle of mercury.”


Yuji, meanwhile, finally made some sound — the sort of gasp one might associate with Darth Vader’s victims.


The girl smiled in earnest. “If he takes this in stride, explaining‘ll be easy later.” Her expression turned serious as she frowned at Yuji. “He’s normal, though. That’ll be the hard part.” She turned to her pendant. “Just what is he, Alastor?”


The pendant Alastor was silent for a few seconds before it replied. “There are no signs to indicate that he is anything other than a normal human,” it said slowly. “I’ll determine his abilities while you repair the Torches here.”


“Should I fix the Mystes?” the girl asked, innocently callous. She removed the pendant and placed it around Ryo’s motionless neck.


“…go ahead,” Alastor agreed. “But don’t use up much of his existence. Every Mystes is vital to the scheme of the world.”


“Understood.” The girl approached the fallen Mystes.


Yuji shrank back as the girl fell on him, mere centimeters away from his face. Regardless of her abnormality, having her this close to him was… ah… shall we say, awkward? His heart rate must have tripled from resting at this point…


After inspecting him briefly, the girl pressed his severed arm against his shoulder. There wasn’t even a flash; it was his again. She rose, mildly pleased to be away from him, and then pointed at the sky with her index and middle fingers.


Her nails suddenly burned, horrifyingly luminescent. The puddles that were once humans suddenly rose up, apparently melting in reverse as bright blue fire burned around their bodies.


“Hirai-san!” Yuji acknowledged as he darted over to his repaired friend. She was unaware of his presence, just as all the other immobilized beings about him were. Still, she was there. “…she’s back,” he breathed, sinking to his knees.


Back to the burning-eyed valkyrie’s ever-bemusing dialogue. “That’ll do for the torches,” she assured herself. “I’ll use a few of them to fix up the place.”


“They certainly ate a lot,” Alastor the pendant pointed out.


The girl nodded. “Their master must be a real big eater.”


“Any idea as to what he might be?” she inquired.


“He’s still revealing himself to be an ordinary human,” the pendant said, confused. “Albeit one with quite a bit of brain damage. I’ll surrender the case for now, though.”


“Should we keep an eye on him?” she asked blandly.


“I’d say so,” Alastor adjudicated. “Repair this place.”


“Right,” the girl agreed tersely. She raised her fingers again; this time, they glowed prismatically. Yuji hadn’t noticed the damage caused by the fight, but now the signs were obvious. A telephone pole’s remnants picked themselves up off the ground and reassembled itself while the wires melded together. Some cardboard display signs outside a store combined from their previous state of paper scraps. Concrete debris scattered across the street merged back into that street.


“Finished,” she informed the pendant as her nails dimmed. She turned to the traumatized boy. “What’s your brother’s name?” she demanded.


“Er… Ryo,” Yuji offered. “Sakai Ryo.”


“Ryo-san,” Alastor boomed. “Expand normal space to fill this fuzetsu.”


The sky stopped bleeding.




The little boy fell to the ground, his soda can clattering and rolling ahead of him. Nervous, his caretaker knelt beside him. As he rose, unharmed, he continued on.


Both were almost as disturbingly impassive as an entranced Ryo. Both twins stared as the formerly energetic child walked quietly and apathetically onward, leaving his soda to spill over the road.


“Those weren’t very good Torches,” the pendant Alastor’s voice resounded. He was much more quiet this time, however.


“I didn’t have much to work with,” the girl shrugged. Strangely, her hair and eyes were now black, though the former was still as long as ever.


Yuji stared, incredulous, as the passerby stoically continued on their myriad ways. No one noticed what happened?! he thought, furious.


The sound of footstepts awakened the younger twin from his brooding. “Hirai-san!” he yelped. Indeed, his friend, who should have been absolutely delighted and overflowing with energy, was simply strolling away, apparently impassive.


And on her back burned a blue-white flame.


What? he asked himself, more confused than ever. What’s that?


“Hirai-san?” he asked one more time. She ignored him, pressing on as if robotically.


Yuji was starting to become as unnerved as he was confused. What had gotten into Hirai? Those weren’t very good Torches, he recalled.


He turned to observe some of the other victims of the giant baby. They too carried fires on their backs, apparently oblivious.


And then, the worst part.


He glimpsed the boy who spilled the soda can quietly walking away, his mother nervously tailing him. The boy... the best word Yuji could think of to describe the process was evaporated.


His mother walked on, unfazed.


“How… what was all that about?!” he demanded of no one in particular, horrified and numb with shock. He darted over to his brother as soon as he could move. He was desperate for an explanation.


Apparently, so was he. It would seem he was interrogating their saviors, who were still present.


“What do we tell him?” the girl in the trench coat asked of her pendant.


“Just tell him the truth,” the pendant sighed. Alastor, if Yuji remembered correctly.


“Alright,” the girl sighed. “The Mystes, too?”


“There is no reason to abstain from doing so.” Yuji could almost see some heavily armored knight of fire shrugging his shoulders in indifference.


“Where do I start, then?” she challenged.


“The fiends that attacked us,” Ryo proposed. “They struck for a reason, no? There’s always a chance they’ll return.”


“With you and a Mystes in the same place?” The girl half-laughed. “It’s very, very likely. Those were Rinne, slaves of sort to a Guze no Tomogara.


“They appear throughout this world and eat the existence of sentient beings. Those eaten are treated as if they never existed,” she added.


That’d explain why the mother just kept walking… Yuji was beginning to understand a bit already. But obviously, she fended off the Rinne…


“But if an existence disappears all of a sudden,” the girl continued, “the world’s balance gets distorted. That’s why we place Torches.”


Torches…? Fires burning in their backs… Everyone except Ryo-kun became a Torch…


“They’re remainders of humans that have disappeared,” she explained; Ryo had questioned the term.


“That’s you,” she added, addressing Yuji. “The real you’s existence was eaten long ago, so basically, you’re long dead.”


I’m dead. But I’m still here…! And those other torches were nothing like the originals…! Wait. What was it he said? “Those weren’t very good torches.”


So I’m just... a well-made copy of Sakai Yuji…!


“That’s… ridiculous…” he murmured as these thoughts passed through his head.


“You can see your flame, right?” the girl snapped. Yuji looked down.


And there it was, burning in his heart much more brightly than any of the other flames he’d seen. It was still the same blue-white substance as ever.


“You’re not the only one,” the swordswoman added as the student gaped at his own nonexistence. “All of those with light in them are the same. They’re replacements for humans whose power of existence got eaten. They’re Torches.”


She then added the most horrible news of all. “They’re only shock absorbers, though, so they’ll just disappear in the end.”


“Disappear…?” Yuji muttered.


“Yep,” the girl sighed. “End of explanation.”




“How long are you two gonna follow me for?”


For some reason, the arcane swordswoman had elected to dart away in the same direction as the Sakai family home. As a result, Ryo had been able to quickly track her down and pursue her onto a large bridge.


“Our home is on this side,” the living twin pointed out.


“Really.” The girl took a bite of something.


“But while we’re here,” he added, “I might point out your explanation was woefully incomplete.”


“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” she snapped. “You still have more questions?!”


Yuji decided to take advantage of his brother’s sudden interrogation. “What are you?” he demanded.


“I’m a Flame Haze,” she explained, bored. “One who finds and hunts the Guze no Tomogara who eat power of existence.” She held up her pendant, Alastor.


“Even if you place a Torch,” he boomed, “it is only a temporary measure. The fact remains that the world’s crisis, caused by the indiscriminate elimination of power of existence, does not change.”


The girl nodded in agreement.


“I’m really leaving now,” she said darkly. “No more questions!”


Ryo nodded. “It’s fine,” he said blandly.


“What do you mean, it’s fine?” Yuji snapped as the girl walked away.


“I have some understanding of the crisis now,” his brother said simply, far less aware of the plane. “Torches reduce the impact of Guze no Tomogara’s damages to the world, but Flame Hazes still need to destroy them, or the world will fall out of balance and, presumably, into a black hole or the like.


“Sleep on it. You just need time to adjust to the fact that Sakai Yuji’s dead. You’re still you, no?”


Ryo’s explanation was delectable, but his delightful lack of empathy was not nearly so helpful. Worse, he fell into a trance immediately afterwards.


He’s even less aware than those Torches, Yuji realized sadly as his brother strolled towards home. I wonder what a Torch of him would be like…? But he’s not a Torch right now, he added to himself, noting the conspicuous lack of blue-white fire.




A childish, feminine voice rang throughout the dim, bluish room, echoing so clearly the original phrase was almost exactly repeated.


“My apologies, Master. I made you lose one of your favorite Rinne.”


“You haven’t done anything wrong, Marianne.” The man comforted the former speaker with a voice like velvet. “It just happened to be a stronger Flame Haze.


“In fact,” he added, “I want to praise you for finding a Mystes.”


“But I let it get away…” the girl Marianne whimpered. “Please, let me hunt that Mystes down — “


“I’m grateful for your thoughts, Marianne.” The man stroked a doll’s fabricated hair as he spoke. “But there’s no need to rush. Think and act carefully. We are facing the Flame of Heaven’s Flame Haze.”


“Yes…” The man kissed the doll’s forehead after Marianne’s assent. “Look at the Haridan, Marianne.”


The doll turned to face a large, hexagonal device. A cyan glow emanated from it, much deeper than the blue-white fire from within the fuzetsu. Nevertheless, that cyan was punctuated with tiny fires of the fuzetsu flames… the hallmarks of the Torch.


The flames slowly wandered holographic city streets. Many were even dormant within translucent buildings.


“It’s so beautiful…” the doll Marianne whispered as she stared at the device.


“Let us savor this moment,” the man smiled. “Forget about the Flame Haze for now.”




Ryo ate a piece of melon-bread, denying trancedom a stake in his mind as he pondered the previous day’s events and the little world he’d constructed around them.


“Where’s Yuji-kun?” he muttered to himself. “I need to talk to him…”


“Yu-chan!” Sakai Chigusa called out at that moment. Ryo smirked; his mother was as good at innocuously eavesdropping as he. “Breakfast is ready!”


“I’ll be down in a sec — !” he assured his family. He was indeed.


Chigusa offered her younger son a pair of fried eggs. He accepted these gratefully and seated himself.


“It’s rare for you to oversleep,” she noted as he ate. “Yesterday, you went to sleep right after you came home, too. Is something wrong?” she inquired.


“No,” he reassured his mother. “It’s just today.”


A message from the television set nearby caught the trio’s attention. “A close-up of the Gobi Desert in the middle of a sandstorm!” a pleasant, buxom reporter informed her viewers.


“Wow.” Yuji blinked. “The Gobi Desert…”


“It’s where your father is now,” his mother said cheerfully. “Maybe he’ll show up.”


Instead, a lilac-haired woman in a maid’s clothing strolled calmly past the camera. She cast a dubious glance at the operator, as if to ask, What are you doing here?


“Eh?!” Yuji and Chigusa sweatdropped. Ryo simply blinked before returning to his melon bread.


Yuji wasn’t so shocked that he couldn’t take the opportunity to check his mother for a rather important condition. There was no blue-white fire.


“She’s fine,” he mouthed to his brother. “Mom’s not a torch.” The addressee nodded mid-bite.


How would Mom and Dad feel if they knew I was already dead…? he wondered to himself as his family carried out their morning affairs. Wait — “those eaten are treated as if they never existed.” So to them…


…it would be as if they only had one child…


Maybe it’s better to be treated like I never existed, he realized. It’s better than making them sad… Oh, right. I already don’t exist — the real Sakai Yuji, that is.


“Yu-chan,” Chigusa interrupted his nihilistic thoughts. “Is something wrong?”


“No,” he tried to assure her. Apparently, it failed.


His brother saved him, though. “We have to leave now, okaa-san,” he sighed unhappily. “Homeroom teacher-sensei deducts points if we’re late; Yuji-kun’ll drop to a B.”


“Alright,” his mother smiled. “I understand. Have a safe trip!”




“What are all the things I’m worrying about now?” Yuji asked his brother shortly after he left the house. “I mean, it’d be natural for the real Sakai Yuji to fall into despair, or feel anxious, but I…”


Ryo had both stopped in his tracks and stopped listening. “What are you doing here?” he demanded. Though he was forceful, he was obviously not displeased.


Yesterday’s valkyrie was before them.




A/N: Next, Yukari Hirai disappears, and Shana earns her name.



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