The night sky suddenly clouded over and lightning shot down into the woman who had just stabbed herself- attracted both to the spell and the metal blade sticking through her chest.
The summoning circle roared with energy and began sending a pulse of crimson flames upwards into the heavens.
From the perspective of Tsukia Tsubaki- this in and of itself was horrifying. Better left unsaid was the fact that her entire body felt like it had been set on fire.
Whatever her mother… no, that woman had been planning, it obviously had fallen apart at the last possible moment with both Kaie and Mikari’s interventions.
The ritual was cast in a hasty, unfocused manner, and even Tsukia, who had never even known her mother’s… that woman’s true motives until now, could tell that the Flame Princess would arrive in a way that suited her best, and not the whims of those who foolishly worshiped her.
Above her, Tsukia could see a hole open in the sky. It was a burning realm of churning, ice-blue flames. It was the Prison Void- a subset of the Multiverse landscape that all Demons, Gods, and Denizens oh so commonly inhabited- a Realm designed to contain those deemed too dangerous to be let roam free. It was a hole in reality from which nothing could escape.
In that flickering vortex of green and white light was a single speck of orange, descending towards the ground with an extra-dimensional roar.
Tsukia couldn’t see who it was, or what it was. Her body hurt too much. Her mind felt like a blade made out of solid ice had been shoved through her skull through and through, and then a hand-drill was shoved on top of it and began twisting and spinning and PUSHING—
And then Ranagi Kaie broke through the spell circle’s outer barrier, running like a madman on fire. Because he wasn’t, except for his left hand.
In a vortex full of fire and flames, that man had dove in, igniting a power that left him temporarily immune to its effects. He dove in and he was running for her.
“I- WON’T- BE- LATE!” His voice echoed through the flames as he ducked into a roll, grabbed Tsukia up off the ground and took off at a run.
There was a primordial roar- Tsukia heard it perfectly as a woman yelling “NO!” Her heart suddenly felt like it had been set on fire even more so than it had already felt.
And then she was no longer inside the vortex of the summoning circle and she was fine. Her skin wasn’t burned and her head hurt only because it no longer hurt and she had gotten used to the pain and the absence was shocking.
It was shocking how calm her body felt having left the flames.
It was shocking how calm her mind was as she looked up at the pillar of fire behind Kaie as he carried her away from the rapidly destabilizing summoning circle.
And then Tyler and Lizzy stepped out of hiding, with Lizzy riding on Tyler’ shoulders, aiming some ceremonial shrine staff up at the raging vortex in the sky, chanting a spell that her ears heard, and processed, but simply refused to acknowledge as possible.
The staff glowed, and then the entire Vortex of fire suddenly began to twist into itself and then a moment later–
It just simply was not there. There wasn’t even a burned corpse lying on the ground, just a melted puddle of metal on either side of a charred, body shaped outline, and other than the ruined sword, there was no trace of the ritual that had just happened- not even the summoning circle still existed on the ground.
Everything was still.
The quiet was deafening. Tsukia wasn’t sure if she had just gone deaf or if everything was simply just that quiet.
And then she closed her eyes, and Tsukia Tsubaki knew no more.
Mayoi just stared at the girl in Kaie’s arms as she fainted from the exertion of being caught up inside a Demon summoning ritual. “Well,” she spoke quietly, voice hoarse and croaking from no real reason. “That was…” she trailed off, too tired to even formulate the right words.
“Fucked up?” Tyler offered.
“Yeah,” Mayoi nodded, “Let’s go with that.”
“How much do you wanna bet she got out?” Kaie asked.
“Oh something definitely got out,” Mikari pointed up at the sky, specifically a burning trail of orange against the black. “The only question is whether it’s Kyiahlnah, or something even worse.”
“Fluhhh,” Kaie wanted to run a hand through his hair, but restrained due to the unconscious girl in his arms. “Llewellyn is NOT going to like this.”
“At least we got Miss Muiri in custody,” Lizzy offered. At that line, Ayako whimpered something as she sniffed at the air sadly.
Mikari guessed it was along the lines of “But what about Tony and Miri?” So, she patted the Lycan girl on the head and rubbed between the ears. “We’ll figure things out once we’re back to the import shop…”
“That… sounds like a good idea,” Mayoi said after a moment. “Please tell me you guys got dinner. Because I’m feeling pretty hungry right now.”
“We got it, but whether there’s any left or not…” Tyler chuckled dryly. “Well, we’ll have to wait and see.”
“Oh, Aunt Muiri,” Miri sighed at the sight of her aunt as she was brought through the glass door in cuffs. “Why did you do this?”
Muiri snarled at her niece, “Unfratmul Cup.”
“Same to you, lady,” Tony growled in defense of his sister, throwing his injured arm out in front of Miri as he glared daggers at his aunt.
The Import Shop owner reluctantly allowed Muiri to be locked up inside his office for the time being, and that left the detectives and their case witnesses’ time to talk things out alone. Ayako crawled up and laid her head down on Tony’s lap and it was only then that she felt safe enough shifting back into her more human-like form. It was adorable how she seemed to soften and relax on his legs, and then even more so when he began scratching the back of her head between her ears.
“So, Miri, Tony, all things considered,” Mayoi began her recap between mouthfuls of a cold burger, “you’re screwed.” Tsukia was still unconscious, but Lizzy was writing everything down for her to read when she woke up. “As far as we can figure, all of your known legal guardians are either dead or soon to be in jail. Tsukia’s in the former category for sure. As for you two…?”
“Mom mentioned that she had other sisters and brothers,” Miri began, “and that the only reason we were with aunt Muiri was because she couldn’t get a hold of them.”
“I’ll run an inquiry into that,” Mayoi sighed. “But worst case? Your Aunt was killing her siblings whenever she had a chance. In which case we’ve got serial murder charges to file in addition to all of today’s mess.”
“Ungrateful little…” Ayako muttered even as Tony moved to massage her shoulders with that absent minded muscle memory. “Who does something like that?”
“It’ll be fine,” Tony smiled faintly. “We’ll make due, somehow.”
“The Moons Shrine is definitely going to be closed for a full investigation,” Kaie noted. “You two are going to have to find somewhere new to stay in the meantime, if child services don’t get their claws on you first, I mean.”
“They can stay with me!” Ayako sat up a bit, ears flaring in delight. “I have an extra room in my apartment that I haven’t been using. Miri can have that and Tony can sleep with me! They’re both HUUUUGE beds too!” She winked conspiratorially with Mikari, who winked back with a small giggle.
Mayoi raised an inquisitive eyebrow at that, but Mikari just clapped her hands and said, “That’s a great idea. I’ve got just the same free space. I can take Tsukia in if she needs a place to crash too!”
“I don’t mind,” Miri smiled. “Actually, it sounds like a pretty great idea.”
“I’m game for it,” Tony smiled as Ayako laid back down.
“Sweeeet,” Ayako purred as Tony began massaging her head between the ears once more.
“We’ll have to take it up with the chief,” Kaie said after a moment. “But I think Nahgi will approve.”
“So… um…” Lizzy coughed then. “As wild as today was… most people would say I’m done and quit here, but. Um…” She glanced at Tyler, “Tyler suggested maybe I could apply to join the academy? You guys looked like you could use a dedicated enchanter to me.” She then straightened up a bit and said, “Not that I’m trying to force myself in but-“
“Hahaha!” Mayoi laughed, “Lizzy, lemme let you in on a little secret.”
“What’s that?” Lizzy asked.
“I was going to ask you if you wanted to join if you could figure out the glasses enchantments!” Mayoi smirked. “You went well above and beyond that! Where’d you learn how to cancel out a Demon Summoning like that?”
“I… didn’t?” Lizzy shrugged. “I just sort of knew what I needed.”
“Great,” Kaie face palmed, muttering to himself, “More Reincarnation knowledge.”
“Is that a bad thing?” Lizzy asked, head tilting to the side in confusion.
“Nope,” Mikari smiled. “Actually, I’ve got a bit of a running theory if anyone’s willing to hear me out.”
“I thought we were done with the wild theories since the case was over,” Kaie jokingly huffed and crossed his arms.
“Yeah, but I figured you’ve had long enough of a day, so I’d–” Mikari was interrupted by a loud scream from the office room that heralded an equally loud POP.
Mayoi and Kaie were on their feet in an instant- nearly breaking down the door- then stopped cold in their tracks.
There, standing over the freshly mutilated body of Muiri Nori, stomach burst open like someone had boiled it to the point of explosion, was the apparently reanimated, charred to a crisp corpse of Matoi Tsubaki, surrounded by a faint, violet glowing fire aura.
And then the body’s head turned an impossible angle and the charred mouth broke into a feral grin before the aura faded away, and the mouth opened wide.
And then a massive expulsion of magical flames shot out of the corpse’s mouth, shooting upwards into the roof and vanishing instantly as soon as it hit. Once the body was empty of the spirit that had possessed it, the whole thing collapsed to the ground as a pile of ash once more.
Mayoi and Kaie shared a concerned glance, before Mayoi spoke, “I guess somebody doesn’t like loose ends.”
“Not after today, at least,” Kaie answered.
Tyler performed a pair of quick autopsies on the two bodies.
First up was Matoi Tsubaki’s remains.
“It was burnt to a crisp from the inside out,” Tyler said with finality. “Quite literally, spontaneous combustion,” he shook his head. “There’s barely anything left to examine that hasn’t already fallen apart into tiny ashen pieces.” Next was Muiri’s body, which took a bit longer. “Her stomach was exploded,” He concluded dismally. “Whatever happened, it started reacting to the stomach acid and made it eat away at every thing inside her body cavity when the lining ruptured. The end result was… this,” he motioned at the ruptured belly of the older woman with the mutilated face. “I just don’t understand how this happened. There’s no sign of chemical reaction, or even super heating, which we’d expect if fire magic was involved like with Matoi. Muiri’s gut just… exploded. Magic probably. I wouldn’t know what spell would cause this though.”
“Demonic, probably.” Mayoi observed, “But you look grossed out by something else.”
“I found the rest of Shirou Tsubaki in her stomach, as little as it is after digestion and… well…” Tyler shook his head. “I only figured it out after finding a piece of his face plastered to the wall.”
“Ew,” Mayoi shook her head. “So our Mystery Lycan is a mystery no more.”
“Yeah, not that it was a mystery that needed solving,” Tyler sighed again and looked across the kitchen tables to the dead body of Carter Nori, and the skeleton of Shirou Tsubaki. “Three bodies, countless harpy corpses littering the forests… I never thought one of these cases could go so wrong.” Tyler then frowned the frown of a thousand sad frowns, “Usually we end up with somebody going to jail but today…? All we’ve got are corpses and a Demon on the loose.”
“None of us expected it to go this way,” Mayoi put her hand on her fellow dragon’s shoulder. “This case was a mess… We still don’t know why Shirou even was messing with the faculty staff.”
“Who cares,” Tyler turned to pack up everything for shipping back to Mystryal, “it was probably just to screw people over for no real reason.”
“Tsubasa who?” The Principal had asked in confusion the next day on the routine follow up questioning. “We haven’t had an enchanting teacher in over Sixty-five years. The class has been self-taught the whole time.”
Mikari and Kaie shared a concerned glance as they left the school that was now resuming normal operations.
“Shirou’s ultimate revenge, I suppose,” Mikari muttered. “Wipe out the memories in everyone else in town about the whole cult in the event that everyone died.”
“I asked the town guard,” Kaie shook his head. “Nobody remembers Tsukia or Matoi either. The apprentice is running the blacksmith shop now and is claiming she’s done it for as long as Matoi ran it.”
“How did he do that?” Mikari frowned, “It’s not like he…” She paused, and then said one word: “Rust.”
“What?” Kaie asked.
“The rust smell Aya was picking up on all the guard armor… I’ll bet you it’s a side-effect of an enchantment being put into the raw metal,” Mikari face palmed. “I’ll also bet you that every weapon Matoi made it had a similar memory erasing enchantment as the coffee maker on it.”
“By Mizar, that’s devious, that’s for sure,” Kaie shook his head. “Let’s just hope it wasn’t put into the food like the coffee maker.”
“Somehow even if it was,” Mikari hummed, “I bet we’re all immune somehow.”
“Why do you say that?” Kaie asked.
“My weird theory… I talked with Mayoi about it last night while Bones did the autopsy,” Mikari opened her mouth as if debating whether to share it. “She thinks it’s possible, but I think there’s a bit more evidence that needs to be gathered before I’ll say it aloud without me coming off as a nut job.”
“I’ll have to ask Mayoi myself for it then,” Kaie remarked. “it’s rare for you to not share with the class.”
“You’re not going to like what you hear,” Mikari warned him.
“I’ll have to take that risk,” Kaie glared up at the sun. “Kyiahlnah’s out there somewhere. Whatever helps us put her back in her cage, I’ll take it.”
“Fine,” Mikari huffed, shoving her hands into her skirt pockets. “It’ll be your reincarnation, then.”
“Is everyone ready to go?” Kana Mayoi asked as they stood outside the Way-gate, already powering up to take them to another place in time and space.
“Yup!” Their rag-tag group were all gathered together.
Ranagi Kaie thought it weird that they would be leaving with more than they’d arrived with.
Mikari Yuki, the Imp who had stepped up and taken a leading position when it came to instigating that final confrontation. Ayako Mayoi, a Lycan who had fought tooth and claw against a demon-empowered necromancer. Tyler Obonz, the Dragon who had cut into the corpses and discovered vital information for solving the case.
Then there was Elizabeth Smith, the Spriggain who had decided to join the Mystryal Academy in order to refine her Enchanting training, not that she really needed the extra skill.
Tony and Miri Nori — the Lycan twins who had lost all of their immediate family and now were being taken in under the metaphorical ‘wing’ of Ayako’s care, and the more literal wings of Kana Mayoi herself, who was still legally Ayako’s mother, and therefore anyone living with Ayako would fall under that guardianship’s overview for the time being. There was some small talk of getting them enrolled into Mystryal as well, mostly from Tony asking about how the process worked.
And finally… Tsukia Tsubaki. The lone Drow girl whose parents had been on opposite sides of a dangerous coin. She hadn’t said much after waking up, not even in response to Mikari’s offer of a room to sleep in. Kaie saw an echo of himself from fifteen years ago in that girl. Whether she would pull herself out of that same dangerous spiral remained to be seen… but Kaie had done it with less people to help him. Now there was a whole team looking out for her. Even so, he was sure she and Kendal would hit it off and become friends. Well, that was his hope, at least.
“All right, that’s everyone and everything,” Mayoi nodded once she’d gotten her confirmations. “Everyone said their goodbyes?”
Lizzy, Miri, and Tony nodded at that and said their various ‘yes’es and ‘yeah’s. What friends the twins had, had been told goodbye, same for Lizzy, plus her family, who were excited that their daughter was going to be working at Mystryal in some capacity.
Tsukia said nothing, but nodded.
“Alright then,” Mayoi turned to the gate, and held out her hand to spell out the final chant. “Set Destination: Mystryal Redirect Shrine! TRANSPORT ACTIVATE!”
And then with a flash of light, their little group disappeared from the town of Egg Roost, on the island group of Aura’s Dawn, located within the Sunrise Islands, which had long, long ago all been part of a single continent. Such was life, however. Destruction happens, but life moved on.
The Islands of Aura’s Dawn, curiously, had been named such for the beautiful sunrises seen. It was at the furthest edge of the Archipelagos that was the Sunrise Islands, clear on the opposite side of the international date line.
And that was how it had been, even in Pre-Cataclysm times. History’s ancient text written in that long lost language referred to the region as the “Edge of the World.”
And yet there are those who claim it a mistranslated phrase. They say it features prominently in the immediate Post Cataclysm era’s literature, calling it by a vastly different name:
“Island of the Final Sunrise.”
TO BE CONTINUED IN
The Case of:
The Traitor’s Whim