Ranagi Kaie was a simple man. Wake up, shower, get dressed, fix breakfast, and wait for his daughter to wake up and get cleaned up in preparation for school before coming down for breakfast.
Regular school. Not the Mystryal Academy. There was no way he was going to let her go to the same school he did. She just… she was not detective material. No. Wow. Just No. That was never a thing that he was ever going to let happen.
“Kendal!” Ranagi called upwards. “I hope you’re up! Otherwise all these pancakes are going to go to waste!”
There was a scramble and a crash, and then a cry of, “I’m up! I’m up! SAVE THE PANCAKES!!!“
Ranagi smiled to himself as he glanced at a photograph on the wall. Him, his wife, and Kendal, as a baby. All of them were in the hospital, and it had just been after Kendal had been born. He was so much younger then. That picture had been taken almost ten years ago.
‘Ten…’ Ranagi frowned. There was something off about that number. Something he was forgetting…
His ten year old daughter came barreling down the stairs, skipping steps, and grinning like ten year olds were meant to do…
“Daaaaaddy! That pancake’s going to burn if you don’t flip it!” she warned him, and he caught his attention back to the present quick enough to save the fried batter foodstuff. Damn, he rarely forgot to flip pancakes. He hadn’t done that in over five year….sz? “Daddy?” Kendal asked, looking up at him with her orange eyes that reminded him so much of her mother. “Is something wrong?”
Ranagi Kaie put his hands to his ears, and groaned as the world around him blurred and distorted as a fierce pressure built up in his skull.
“Daddy!? Dadgi!!?” There was someone else’s voice. Someone else was talking to him. “Radagiii??””
Who was it…?
“Something’s wrong,” Ranagi Kaie muttered as the last stable thing in his life- his daughter- flickered and wavered like a candle’s flame, and then caught on fire and exploded outwards, engulfing everything around him in flames and–
“RANAGI, WAKE UP, DAMN IT!”
A flame orange wing slapped him in the face, and Ranagi Kaie woke up.
“Ngrh… what? What happened?” Kaie asked as he sat up, or tried to, at least. His arms and legs were bound behind him to a tree…or a log post. He really couldn’t tell at this angle.
Mayoi was in a similar position nearby, with only her back in close proximity to his face- hence the wing slap. Ow.
“We got drugged, that’s what happened,” Mayoi growled. “Something in the forest was putting out a gas field and we got walked straight into it. I don’t think we even made it back to the damned Shrine.”
Kaie frowned, looking around at his surroundings. They were… They were inside some kind of underground cave, near the ocean. Water was lapping at the sand a few yards away from them. The sky was darkening already as if the sun were setting.
“How long were we out?” Kaie asked.
“Dunno,” Mayoi frowned. “Long enough for Cypher to start making his way to bed, though. The kids should be worried enough to come after us sooner or later.”
“Kendal,” Kaie muttered. “She’s probably worried sick. I haven’t called to check in.”
“She’ll be seventeen this year, Kaie,” Mayoi rolled her eyes, not that Kaie could see it from his position. “I’m sure she’ll piece it together and come looking for us post haste- even if the others find us first.”
“For their sake I hope none of them do,” Kaie muttered. “Let alone Kendal. She shouldn’t be anywhere near this forest. Not after her mother-“
“Ranagi, you sad excuse for a sack of bones,” Mayoi growled at him, “do you want her to risk her life saving you and succeeding at saving US? Or spend the rest of her life knowing that her dad’s dead because she didn’t do anything??“
“It’s the SAME DEMON, Kana,” Kaie growled at her. “The Same. Fucking. Demon.”
“Ranagi, I get it, you’re scared because some cultist dipshits are trying to summon the same fucking demon that ruined your marriage,” Mayoi huffed. “But I’m going to be brutally honest here: Grow the fuck up and try to get these ropes off of my wrists before the tide comes in and kills us both!”
“With what, my teeth?” Kaie asked, staring incredulously at her back because of that suggestion.
“Just pretend it’s pasta and you skipped dinner,” Mayoi laughed. “Should be easy, because I’m getting hungry!”
“Are… are you SURE it’s dead?” Lizzy asked as Mikari and Tyler laid the deep fried harpy onto the examination table in the kitchen.
“That was a blood powered Harpy Ward,” Miri explained as she gave the claw-marks on her brother’s arm proper stitching now that they were able to sit still for more than a minute at a time to sanitize and clean up the damage. “It just stuns them when it’s paint, but if you put blood on it: Poof! Deep Fried Harpy.” She said it so flatly it made Ayako briefly wonder if the girl wasn’t saying it just to keep herself distracted from everything that had happened since they’d left the crime scene.
“I’m never eating fried chicken again,” Tony lamented.
“Well, if it isn’t dead yet,” Tyler began as he drew out a long, thin, scalpel. “It’s going to be in a very short order.”
“Why did we even bring it inside for?” Lizzy asked. “It’s dead, we know how it died!”
“True, but we don’t know what made it attack,” Tyler huffed as he cut into the harpy’s chest. “Plus, it barely looked like a Harpy when Aya fried it. I’m curious to see if those changes are internal as well as external,” and once he finished the incisions, he pulled the Harpy’s rib cage open with far too much ease. That itself was a cause for concern. “…What in Mizar’s ever loving fun bag…?”
“Okay what do you mean by thaaa…?” Mikari trailed off as she leaned over to peer into the exposed rib cage. “That… that isn’t normal, is it?”
“No it’s not,” Tyler grimaced as he quickly grabbed a pair of insulated pliers and reached into the once already pried open rib cage to grab the anomalous object.
It was quite obvious, really, being the only thing inside the Harpy’s rib cage besides the lungs. No intestines, no heart, not even any sign of the diaphragm or the liver. Just the lungs and this strange little object.
“Now who here can tell me just what this little beauty is?” Tyler asked as he held up the small, round stone with several scorch marks burned onto its surface. “Because this is not a part of normal harpy anatomy.”
“That looks like one of the objects from Mister Bell’s possessions!” Miri recognized the object first. “Shirou said it was a… a…?”
“A Heart-stone,” Lizzy said instantly. “You use those things to power golems and supersized shipping boats. I didn’t think they ever came that small, though,” she stared at the tiny little rock.
“Not gonna be surprised if it’s from that guy’s collection,” Mikari worked her jaw.
“Yeah,” Lizzy shook her head. “I’m not going to be surprised either.”
“There, done,” Miri finished up her sewing job, then glanced outside into the hallway where Tsukia was eating her dinner, actually Mayoi’s uneaten dinner, blissfully unaware of the gore going on inside the hijacked kitchen-turned-morgue. “How is she, by the way?”
“Hungry for chicken of all things,” Mikari shook her head even as Tony fought back the urge to hurl at the mention of the meat type. “I gave her Mayoi’s dinner.”
“Speaking of dinner, I found the Harpy’s stomach,” Tyler said with a disgusted tone as he cut open one of the lungs. “Someone turned one of the lungs into it.”
“Ewww…” Ayako grimaced as she finished setting up the imaging gem into a projector array. “Do we have to go through that now??”
“Trust me, I’m just as grossed out by all of this as you are,” Tyler grimaced as he fished out a chunk of meat that was barely clinging to a bone fragment. “Urgh. This looks like… lizard? Lightning bug maybe…” His blue-hued face went green for a moment, “There’s a weird moment when you realize that the body on the table shared your dinner tastes, and you have to wonder what you’re doing with your life.”
“Solving a crime, hopefully,” Ayako replied as she got the projector ready. “All right, Miri, Tony, you can leave now if you want to. Keep Tsukia company I guess.”
“No way,” Tony shook his head, “if you’re going to do what I think you are, we’re going to help with this.”
“She may not have always been the best, but she was our mother,” Miri agreed with a nod.
“Okay, then,” Ayako nodded, and then activated the projector.
With a sudden lurch of disorientation, a much larger area of forest appeared in the smaller kitchen space, but slightly blurry as if it were a picture caught while being tossed into the air (which it had been).
“Gimme a second,” Mikari moved to the projector, “I’ll fiddle with the sharpness settings.”
“Brace yourself,” Miri warned Lizzy, and after a few moments of Mikari messing around, the blurry landscape shifted into a more stable image of the demonic shrine.
“We couldn’t bring you guys to the crime scene, so I brought it here instead,” Ayako smiled.
“Nice job, Aya,” Mikari appraised as she looked over the spell circle that the Lycan body was posed over. “Hey, Bones, what do you make of these stab wounds?”
“Just a second,” Tyler said as he finished up fishing everything out of the first lung, and then turned to look at the dead Lycan. “Good grief, is that what I think it is?”
“Our mom,” Miri said immediately. “That’s her wolf form.” Tyler nodded at that, but didn’t say anything else as he inspected the holographic image of the corpse.
“The lubricant and sulfur smell was at the scene too,” Ayako added. “I think it might be part of the ritual, if it’s not part of the sword blade.”
“The lubricant makes sense,” Lizzy said, pointing at the smaller, circular runes painted in the larger blood-made circle, “these are some overtly sexual glyphs. Usually you see these in arousal enchantments.” She flinched as Ayako sent her an odd glance, and then amended, “My mom uses them, alright? I got curious when I was six and disenchanted everything in her toy box for fun. It was one of the first things I learned about enchanting. I didn’t know what they did at the time, sooo…”
“She’s right,” Tony agreed with the Spriggain to spare her the awkwardness of the situation. “You also use some of those symbols on the alchemy table when mixing potions to increase their potency. I thought it was weird that we were learning some enchantment stuff in alchemy class but wow that’s actually coming in handy right now.” He blinked as he finished saying that.
“Some parts of schooling teach you stuff you’d be surprised comes in handy,” Tyler said with a distracted tone as he looked at the cut wounds. “Yeah, these are definitely the same Rapier wounds on Shirou. I’d say… about the same time of death as Shirou, but I’d need to see the actual body to get an exact… time. Hrm…”
He then got up and selected the holographic scan of the Lycan’s mouth on a hunch, then brought it over to the corner of the room that held the covered body of Shirou Tsubaki. Miri’s face paled slightly as Tyler drew the cloth back, and angled the mouth scan at different angles over the body.
Then, Tyler turned around and said, “There’s a familial match to the teeth marks, but your mom definitely wasn’t the one who mauled Shirou after he was killed.”
Tony sighed in relief, “Thank Alcor…”
“That’s… Dad’s body?” The room went silent as everyone looked over to the door, Tsukia was standing there, looking into the room.
Ayako answered when nobody else would, “Yeah, that’s him.”
“Can I…?” Tsukia asked, motioning at the door frame she’d yet to cross.
“Sure,” Mikari nodded. Tsukia entered the room and walked over towards the mostly cleansed skeleton in the corner of the room, ignoring all of the holographic crime scene just to stand there for almost a minute before taking a deep breath, and then exhaling.
“Dad,” She began after another moment’s pause. “Just what the hell were you doing!?” Her shoulders shook and her breathing grew ragged, “I just…. I want to know why? And now I can’t even talk to you about any of this and WHY DID YOU HAVE TO DIE!?” and so she fell to her knees, sobbing as the tears finally flowed, uncorked.
Miri got up then, and walked over to kneel next to Tsukia, rubbing the crying Drow’s shoulders and trying to calm Tsukia down, “Dad,” Tsukia whispered after a few moments, “I hope you had a good reason for all of this…”
And so the two friends who had steadfastly ignored each other all day held each other and cried over their mutually lost loved one in relative seclusion.
“O…kay, moving on,” Lizzy tried to change subjects now, and went to examine the rest of the giant rune on the ground. “I recognize some of these glyphs. This one-” It was a sun-like glyph, enclosed in a Spirograph of sorts, and in the center were a set of strange lines making up a compressed name- “typically represents the sun, Cypher, in most enchanting. But the center of the glyph is written differently- it’s too large of a name for Cypher. That means this is for a certain demon also associated with the sun, and in combination with the more overtly sexual glyphs, I know exactly who it is.”
“What demon’s that?” Mikari asked.
“Cypher’s Daughter,” Lizzy began to recite the full name.
“FLAME PRINCESS KYIAHLNAH!” The voices echoed in Kaie’s memories as he chewed at the ropes binding Mayoi’s hands together. “WE SUMMON YOU! SOUL FOR SOUL! WE BIND YOU TO THIS WORLD! BLOOD FOR BLOOD!“
Familiar and unfamiliar tones called out as he remembered breaking down the door to his basement, finding it full of robed cultists surrounding a woman standing in the center of a summoning circle, wreathed in burning flames and wearing a metal bikini that seemed immune to the intense heat that was causing everything metal in the room to melt and bend. And there, at the foot of the summoning circle, was a baby girl, orange eyes locked firmly on the Mother of all Pyromanders- the Fire Elementals.
The Demon however broke eye contact to look Kaie in the eyes. What should have been yellow were instead bright white like a brilliant star. The smile was familiar, and yet foreign.
“Blood for blood,” she’d spoken, familiar yet wrong. “You are too late, Ranagi Kaie.”
‘I was too late then,’ Kaie bit down on the first rope, ‘Never Again,’ and it snapped.
“Suddenly,” Ayako sat down, “Kaie being in Angry Dad mode makes sense.”
“Damn,” Tyler shook his head. “I should have seen it. Especially after we heard about the aura enchantment.”
“Why’s that?” Lizzy asked, ignorant of the references flying over her head and trying to rectify that ignorance as soon as possible.
“About fifteen years ago,” Tyler answered, “Kaie’s wife and daughter were used in the focus of a demonic summoning ritual for the Flame Princess Kyiahlnah.”
“A Cult broke into their house, set up a summoning circle in the basement so they could summon Kyiahlnah,” Mikari explained, “Kaie’s wife was stabbed with some ritualistic implement by the cult leader, and the demon was summoned into her, saving her life, but binding the demon to her body.”
“Kaie got home just before they finished the ritual by killing his daughter,” Tyler continued. “He interrupted the ritual, and the cult leader…” He scowled. “It’s the same weapon.”
“What was?” Ayako asked. “Mayoi never told me any of this before, what happened to Kaie?! How do you even know this?”
“Haven’t you ever wondered why his left arm is paler than the rest of him?” Mikari asked.
“No,” Ayako shook her head.
“The cult leader cut Kaie’s arm off for interrupting the ritual,” Tyler answered. “It was a cane sword. Specifically-”
“A Rapier,” Lizzy guessed.
“Exactly,” Mikari nodded. “With a Rainbow aura shock enchantment on it.”
“But that’s just a bit after I was born. We didn’t even come to the island until a couple years after that!” Tsukia insisted, “My dad couldn’t have done it!”
“Yeah! The last teacher, Mister Bell, only died ten years ago,” Miri reminded them. “If it’s the same weapon, then-!”
“Then Rodney Gage Bell was the leader of the cult that tried to summon Kyiahlnah the first time,” Mikari concluded, “and that explains the notes in the journal Shirou had…”
“Hold up,” Lizzy interrupted. “None of this makes sense.” She held her hands up and recounted, “The ritual circumstances don’t match now compared to then. We don’t have a mother daughter pair that-” And then she stopped. “Oh.”
“He was going to use me, wasn’t he?” Miri asked, completely afraid of the answer.
“No! That doesn’t match the notes we found,” Mikari groaned. “This doesn’t make any sense!”
“Let’s just look at the original text then,” Tyler was already shuffling around in the evidence bags until he found the notebooks in question. “So, who here knows how to read Pre-Cataclysm writing?”
“I can give it a try,” Lizzy raised her hand and reached for the book.
“Here,” Tyler handed it over.
“Okay… Okay…” Lizzy read over the pages. “Well the first translation isn’t Mister Tsubaki’s handwriting, it’s RGB’s. Same cursive from the Enchanting runes. It reads… ‘A Soul’s bond with its Spawn must be split in twain to bind the demon to the Soul.’ Which fits the first ritual, but doesn’t match beyond words used. The grammar is all wrong.”
“Which was interrupted and didn’t work regardless,” Mikari said.
“Second translation:” Lizzy began. “Different handwriting from either RGB or Mister Tsubaki, reads, ‘A soul’s spawn twice over must be slain to bind the demon on the next cycle of birth,’ and it’s circled.” Lizzy continued to read, “But the text ink doesn’t match the words used or the order of the words; and the circle’s ink looks to be the same as the one that wrote out the first translation, but a bit fresher than the first translation. Weird- why would someone do that?”
“So Shirou didn’t choose that one,” Miri breathed out in relief.
“Third translation is Mister Tsubaki’s handwriting,” Lizzy said, “it’s the freshest ink too, since it still smells fresh, so less than a month old. It’s also the closest to the original Pre-Cataclysm text in words chosen and how they’re used.” She coughed once, and read, “Two souls who have spawned only once must split their souls in twain to bind the demon to their spawn.”
The room went cold.
“They were going to use the wrong ritual both times,” Ayako deduced. “Shirou must have figured out the right translation at some point.”
“Can… can I see the second translation?” Tsukia asked.
“Un,” Lizzy handed the journal over to the girl. And after a few moments, she sobbed.
“That’s my mom’s handwriting,” Tsukia said after a moment before she reaffirmed: “She did the second translation.” If possible, the kitchen seemed to get even colder than before.
Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the kitchen had been re-purposed into a morgue? ‘Someone should get that checked out,’ Tyler thought to himself.
“That’s kinda surprising but I kinda expected this,” Mikari ran a hand through her hair. “Nobody’s seen her since this morning’s questioning. I think it’s safe to say that whatever ritual they were going to perform, Shirou thoroughly screwed it up beyond recovery.”
“Really?” Ayako asked. “Why?”
“Why else kill him?” Mikari asked, then answered her own question. “It explains his erratic behavior. Maybe not the grade meddling… but at least him sleeping with Miri.”
“What?” Miri asked. “How does it explain that?? We had a-“
“Think about it for a moment,” Mikari interrupted. “He enchanted your glasses with a susceptibility enchant. If it’s anything like the coffee maker enchant-“
“It’s copied rune for rune for the most part,” Lizzy quickly informed Mikari.
“-Then it’ll act in the same way of making the teachers believe everything he said without question,” The Imp continued. “He probably was going to figure out which students were going to be used in the ritual, figured that if he enchanted something personal, then when the day came, he could just tell them to hide and run away.” She smiled at Miri and said, “The soul bond thing probably just gave him more motivation to do it.”
“Soul bond?” That surprised question was echoed across the room from Lizzy and Tony, but most importantly, Tony. Because he was now staring at his sister as if she’d grown a second set of ears.
Miri’s face went red, “I’ll explain later, alright?”
“So Shirou messes with the ritual, declares that he’s not going to let anyone go through with it,” Mikari began pacing the room, “so someone, let’s say either Matoi or Muiri, takes the cane sword from him,” she mimed grabbing a sword from someone, “and then they tussle with Shirou,” she grabbed Tyler by the arm and spun him around so she’s facing his back, and then she mimed stabbing him with the imaginary sword, “and it ends with stabbing him with the sword cane, the tip breaks off in his shoulder-” then she threw Tyler down onto the floor, ironically right into the middle of the holographic summoning circle where the holographic Lycan body already lay front and center.
Mikari paused to catch her breath, and Tyler just groaned from the floor, muttering variations of “Ow” over and over. “Then they cut him up, not ritualistically, but they know all the right spots to get him to bleed and he does! He bleeds out on the ground,” She picked up where she left off, “and once he does, they realize they have a problem, so our mystery Lycan tears into him to disguise the damage, then they move the body during last night’s storm- which even could be a result of the failed ritual!”
And so everyone stood there for a few moments as they processed this information.
“But what about our mom?” Tony asked. “What happened to her?”
“Hmmf…” Mikari thinks for a moment. “Bones, the wounds are probably fresher on the second body, right?”
Tyler groaned from the floor, “Don’t flip me so hard next time…” He slowly got up, “Uh. From appearances, that’s what it looks like, I’d have to see the body up close and personal to get an accurate time, if it’s even still possible to even tell how old the wounds are by this point.”
“Okay so let’s say your mom sees all this happening, say she hears Shirou say he’s not going to let anything happen to you two,” Mikari said with a nod at Miri, and then at Tony. “She charges in, goes full wolf, and starts to fight with whoever had the rapier. It ends badly, and so the ritual gets screwed up even more by her getting killed on the ritual circle.”
“So it’s my fault that she was there,” Tony sighed, head hanging low in defeat. “I shouldn’t have–“
“We don’t know why mom was there,” Miri cut him off.
“Yeah,” Ayako nodded, “we’ll figure that out once we arrest everyone who did this!”
“And speaking of arresting time,” Tyler glanced at the clock. “Mayoi and Kaie should have definitely been back by now.”
“We never saw them on our way back,” Ayako frowned. “They’re probably still up in the forest.”
“We’ve got to find them,” Mikari decided.
And so began a rapid-fire planning session that concluded with:
“Screw it,” Ayako shrugged off the remaining half of her top and let her uniform slide down her hips to the floor. “I’m going full out on this.”
At various points in their internship, Mikari and Tyler had both seen Ayako transform. Miri and Tony both being Lycans themselves knew how it went and typically saw other shifts happen at the shrine at other times (Although Tony couldn’t help but to watch anyways).
Tsukia and Lizzy, on the other hand, had rarely seen any Lycans shifting forms before at all, and their attention was held firm. Ayako rolled her shoulders and her neck for a few moments before taking deep breaths. Her tail swished quickly side to side and then…
All things considered, Lizzy thought, it was a lot less violent than she had been lead to believe. Maybe it was the difference between a natural born Lycan versus one who had been turned?
Ayako started pacing her way through the transformation- walking back and forth as her muscles began to grow bigger and her skeletal structure seemed to shift into a different, but still familiar, form.
The fur simply just started to grow upwards from where the hairline normally rested on the arms and legs, and also the back as well. From the base of her tail at the end of her spine, fur shot upwards along the entire spine at a rapid pace before spreading out in all directions and merging at the areas where fur was growing from the legs and arms.
The most violent part of the transformation was the face- bones creaking and growing outwards at the maw, shifting from human to more lupine. Human teeth receded into the gums as more lupine teeth dropped down. The hair on her head simply seemed to grow slightly longer as fur filled in the rest of the flesh on her face.
Finally, almost anticlimactically after everything else, her nose shifted into something definitely more lupine, already shimmering with the typical wetness people associated with dogs, wolves, and their kind.
Ayako fell to all fours for a moment before sneezing and shaking her body out from shoulders to hips to finish out the transformation.
“Woaah…” Lizzy stared on, totally awestruck. “That was awesome!”
“Nicely controlled!” Miri clapped.
Tony said nothing, but did flash a smile at Ayako when she looked his way. She simply let loose a happy ‘yip!’ and then bounded over to lick his face repeatedly.
“Am I missing something?” Tsukia asked flatly.
“Aya’s always a bit affectionate in wolf form after just shifting,” Mikari answered with a smile. “Usually she just gives everyone a few licks like an excited puppy, buuut I think she’s pretty focused on Tony right now.”
“I don’t mind,” Tony muttered in a daze as Ayako moved on from licking his face to nuzzling his neck.
Tyler, to his credit, managed to hold back any sarcastic quips and instead focused on making sure he had the right magic patterns memorized for what he was going to do as part of their plan.
“Grrrhh…” Mayoi growled as she rubbed at her now free wrists before working to untie her legs. “I hate rope. It’s the dumbest thing to tie someone up with. Rope can be broken, but damn if it doesn’t chafe and burn.”
“And it tastes horrid too,” Kaie agreed, spitting out a stray fiber.
“Haaah! Leftover pasta doesn’t taste good then?” Mayoi laughed as she finished untying her feet and she went over to start untying Kaie’s ropes.
“Not without tomato sauce,” Kaie chuckled flatly. “So where do you figure we are?”
“Maps have the corner of the island we were on turn into a beach a little bit away from the forest edge,” Mayoi replied as she finished with Kaie’s hands. “So we’re probably just a bit further north than we were before. Maybe a bit more north-western? We might be closer to the dateline than before.”
“Think we can swim it?” Kaie asked as he sat up and started massaging at his wrists.
“Probably,” Mayoi nodded, and started work on the leg bindings.
“So who do you think it was?” Kaie asked. “Muiri or Matoi?”
“Probably both,” Mayoi answered. “I can’t imagine even in full Wolf mode that Muiri could carry us both down here at the same time.”
“Fair enough,” Kaie smirked. “How much do you wanna bet they’ll be surprised to see us up and about again?”
“You’re on, Ranagi,” Mayoi smirked in return as she finished with his leg bindings. “Fifty coin, plus dinner.”
“You drive a hard bargain, Kana.” Kaie grinned as he grabbed her hand and let her pull him up to his feet.
“Don’t I always?” Mayoi grinned at him.