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WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization
Part Ten: Missing Link III
Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion
The group – what remained of it – was gathered together at a corner of the pristine hallway in one visibly furtive flock, clearly on edge.
“Erm . . . just what are we doing right now?” asked Shinohara Wakaba, likely feeling the urge to end the prolonged, nerve-pricking moment of wordlessness.
“We’re waiting for Saionji and Nanami to come back out of that washroom, so we’d know what’s going on at their end,” replied Arisugawa Juri, who stood with crossed arms while studying the many vases of lacquered flora lining the hallway. Beside her, Takatsuki Shiori had her anxious gaze fixed upon the washroom’s half-opened door.
“Saionji-sempai didn’t even bother to close the door . . . I think it’s okay if we go up and-” Juri merely glanced over at her, and already Shiori was crumbling like paper under fire. “Sorry.”
“No, don’t be,” Juri hurriedly (and deliberately) softened her expression. “We’re stuck in a magic zone in the midst of a war against the Ends of the World, where the leaders of our operation have both gone off presumably having breakdowns. We have every right to be suspicious and prying . . . but doing so will only make the situation worse.” Shiori nodded, pallid-faced.
“Nanami-sama is inside crying . . .” fidgeted Tsuwabuki Mitsuru, clearly wanting to go in and check, but is wary of being stopped by the others.
“I got a quick glimpse of the inside from before,” Kaoru Miki spoke up then. “The washroom looks all gross just like some run-down park toilet. That definitely does not look like it belong here.”
Juri chuckled dryly as she leaned softly against the wall. “Considering everything we’ve already seen, a second floor park toilet actually sound fairly normal . . .”
. . . creak . . .
Turning at the sound, they saw the star-adorned bedroom door – located right beside where Juri was leaning against– opening a crack, revealing to their bewilderment a seamless expanse of starry outer space existing impossibly beyond the doorway. Hovering upon this impossible space was a lushly ornamented bed, one adorned with red canopy curtains now rippling outwards as tongues of a violent flame, with the shadowy silhouettes of a small, gathered group faintly visible from between the gaps of the vast sheets of fluttering fabrics; Chida Tokiko’s voice, sounding from afar, seeped out into the hallway as tendrils of thin smoke:
“. . . of the World was behind the incident; knew, but could do nothing . . . because I was only human back then.”
Time: 20 + years pre-revolution
Place: Former Chida Residence
To even his own surprise, Chida Mamiya survived that infinitely surreal, eerie winter night.
Thinking back, he remembered having passed out in Nemuro’s office, in the man’s arms, right after his (in hindsight, overblown) proclamation of wanting eternity. By the time he was again conscious, he was already in his own bedroom back home; the sleeping robe was on its hanger, his slippers were dry and clean. For one sleep-blurred moment, he thought all that he saw and heard and said and felt were all just parts of a nonsensical nightmare.
Then he felt the cool, rotund object bumping against his side under the sheets, and pulled out, to his dread, an apple he knew to be the same one as that the dark girl gave him the night before – even though it now was completely unblemished, but for a penguin sticker marking its crimson skin.
Voices – his sister’s and the Professor’s – could be heard coming from the outside:
“Thank you for bringing him back safe.”
“It’s the least I could do. Are you sure it’s a good idea not to admit him to the hospital?”
“He’ll be fine. Our family doctor is a specialist who has his complete health file: I will call him over later in the afternoon to give my brother a thorough checkup.”
“You sound awfully sure that Mamiya-kun’s condition is going to be stable even after his bout with hypothermia, Tokiko-san.”
“Tokiko-san, I’m here to help.”
A tense, prolonged moment of silence, and then . . .
“ . . . you cannot help us, Nemuro-san.”
“The Castle, the Arena, the surreal items brought on by the neighboring section’s secret research . . . you with your godly genius, surely you must’ve realized that such mystical things have come under the Academy’s control not because of research, nor any human efforts?”
“Tokiko . . .”
“You are maybe the most highly-esteemed physicist on this side of Japan. But you cannot become our savior, because you’re only human.”
“The way before me has since been prepared. Where I’m treading, you cannot, must not follow. A man of your qualifications can work anywhere. So, terminate your contract with Ohtori, leave the Academy and forget everything.” His sister’s voice then softened deliberately, pleadingly. “Please . . . Chirikazu.” That was the first time Mamiya was to hear his sister calling the Professor by his given name.
“How . . . how the hell can I just do that?!” snapped Professor Nemuro Chirikazu, clearly baffled. Then came the sound of something the boy could never have expected to hear underneath this roof - something akin to a physical scuffle, “Tok-Tokiko-san!”
“Please leave!” shouted his sister in her now startlingly harsh voice.
There were the sounds of objects knocking against hard surfaces, of porcelain vases breaking, and of Nemuro’s shouting-
“I-I will grasp eternity for Mamiya-kun no matter what! Please believe me! Tokiko! Toki-”
The man’s voice got cut off by the sound of the heavy front door slamming shut; a moment of silence ensued, before his sister’s sobbing – ragged and largely suppressed, sounding much like how the boy remembered she had cried on the night before their parents’ funeral – hung faintly audible in the thick, suddenly-suffocating air of their home.
Brittle heart thumping, Mamiya waited tensely in bed for his sister, who, mercifully, never did go into his room that morning.
Time: 10 years post-revolution
“ . . . and that was only days before ‘you-know-who’ was to make his move on the Professor, to make him start that fateful fire.” Exhaling, Childa Mamiya pressed the back of a hand against his weary eyes. “The Professor’s memories of me were not completely off the mark – I was indeed a sinful child.”
Even while making a pillow of his thin, bare arm, Ohtori Hoshimi remained facing away from the boy. “That, you were,” murmured the woman-child while idly playing with his numb, eternally smallish fingers, “as was I.”
Time: 20 + years pre-revolution
Place: Former Chida Residence
“Does Watase-kun decide to continue on his unrecognized collaboration with the student assistants even now?”
“Genius though he might be, he’s still only a fourth grader. Having his work realized by the Research’s funding is more than rewarding enough for him, however exploited he really is.”
Mamiya appeared pensive as he sat up from his bed. Handing her friend his tea, Hoshimi took in the frailty of the boy’s bony wrists with a light frown. Something had happened in the past couple of days, something that had the boy’s health again taking a downward plunge . . . something he would not tell her about; the girl was brooding as she daintily sipped on her tea.
“Father has been strangely favorable of Inoue lately.” Even as she probed deeper and deeper into the shadows of the Research for his sake, her Chida-kun now was keeping more and more things from her. “He’s been hinting that I should go out with him.” But why? “Father always deterred me from getting close to boys or men of common birth before.” Had they not always shared intimate secrets in the past, ever since back when they were only pen pals communicating long distance? “The Inoues are hardly of high society caliber.” So what was keeping them even further apart now that they were right beside each other? “I don’t understand why . . .”
“That Inoue is-” Mamiya, who was on the verge of blurting out something more, jolted as he accidentally spilled hot tea upon his fingers. Hurriedly taking the cup from him, Hoshimi handed him her handkerchief, watching as the boy cleaned up.
“Inoue is . . . ?”
“. . . Nevermind.”
By now, Hoshimi could no longer keep her suspicion under veil. “Is there something you’re not telling me, Chida-kun?”
Avoiding her gaze, Mamiya fidgeted with the now tea-stained handkerchief. “It will be okay, Ohtori-chan. As long as Inoue remains un-chosen, there’s no way he can lay his filthy hands on you.”
“Nevermind. As long as Professor Nemuro is to triumph over the other division, everything will be all right. ” Wincing, the boy studied his scalded fingertips. “I trust in him: the Professor will help each and every one of us; he’ll make everything all right.” There was a reverent glint in his doe-like eyes – a special, shining glint that the young girl once naively thought she alone could incite. “You’ll see, Ohtori-chan.”
“Chida-kun . . .” Like ink upon white paper, a pricking coldness started seeping into the folds of Hoshimi’s once unblemished young heart, marring it irreparably.
Treading the sterilely clean interior of the research building (and enduring the wolfish gazes of the student assistants passing by carrying boxes marked by penguin motifs), Hoshimi found Mamiya’s usually lady-like older sister smoking at an ill-lit, box-cluttered corner (while standing under a “NO SMOKING” sign, even) with much agitation to her body language.
“Hoshimi-chan!” Startled, Chida Tokiko then quickly stabbed out her cigarette upon one of the many penguin motif boxes piled around the corner. “I thought it’s still class time.”
“I skipped the final period,” admitted Hoshimi, readily. “Is that an engagement ring you got, Nee-san?” The woman tensed at her question; she smirked. “Kidding. I’ve found out what this is; all the student assistants have one - it’s the proof of a contract with the Acting Chairman.” Hoshimi’s voice was hushed and secretive by now. “Just what is he? That everyone, even Father, readily submits to him?”
Chida-san’s cast her speculative gaze upon the little girl for one unnervingly long moment; the girl, for her part, could only guess that the woman, like so many other adults, was taken aback by her precocious-ness.
“. . . it’s best that you don’t know,” she finally said, before turning away and was about to walk off.
“Chida Nee-san,” Hoshimi called after her. “I’m worried for Chida-kun.” The woman stopped in her tracks.
“Hoshimi-chan . . . you like Mamiya, right?”
Chida-san’s (hypothetical) question have Hoshimi hot in the face; nonetheless, she nodded.
“If there exist a way to help Mamiya-kun live on, but that it involves hurting other people . . . would you do it?”
“Of course!” Exclaimed Hoshimi without hesitation. Appearing somewhat awed by the frank reply, Chida-san turned to face the young girl properly.
“Hoshimi-chan . . .”
“Chida-kun sees me,” stated the girl, “he’s the the only one who does. He knows I’m more than the hothouse flower blooming upon my father’s palm, ready to be handed to whomever he choose as heir. I will keep him as my prince even if it cost me my everything . . . no,” her child’s voice turned husky with dark tones disproportional to her age, “even if it cost other people their everything!”
Watching her, Chida-san’s doe-like eyes started visibly clouding over. “Hey, now . . .”
A set of steady, evenly paced footsteps – one unexplainably distinct from those of the regular staff milling about the pace – could be heard fast approaching. Pale face frosting over, Chida-san quickly pushed the startled girl behind a high stack of boxes while signaling for her to be quiet, before stepping out of the corner to meet the approaching person.
“Akio-san,” the woman’s voice now was a notch higher than usual. “I thought it would be you.”
“Ah, Tokiko-kun,” the deep, masculine drawl of the Acting Chairman came filled with mirth. “I’m just looking for you. On what we were talking about before . . .” the rest of his sentence was no longer audible to Hoshimi, being that the two had since moved further away, while this mechanical, droning sound was starting to fill the air with its steadily increasing volume (like there was some kind of factory machinery within the research building).
Stepping out from behind the stacked boxes, the willful young girl peeked out into the hallway just in time to see the adults going into the waiting hall. She hurried after them.
“ . . . are you talking about?” Chida-san’s voice, again audible through that strange, mechanical droning sound, came taut with tension.
“This is your first step towards your goal,” replied the Acting Chairman, sounding darkly impish somehow, “without this, the eternity you seek will not be yours.”
“I don’t-” And, just like that, Chida-san’s sentence got cut off, presumably by whatever that had happened inside the hall.
Heart thumping in her chest as she got up to the hall entrance, Hoshimi carefully pressed her eye against the narrow gap between the closed doors . . .
And then she saw.
They were seated together upon one of those cushioned seats arrayed in the waiting hall; or rather, the Acting Chairman was seated upon the seat, while Chida-san was sitting on his lap.
Their lips were locked against each other’s.
The shrill sound of what appeared to be an air horn, coming atop the now unmistakable sound of a passing train, blasted deafeningly within this indoor space; winds, strong enough to undo the ribbons tying up her hair, almost blew the petite young girl off her feet as it tore at her winter coat and dress; but Hoshimi simply could not look away from what was currently revealed to her from within the amber-still atmosphere of the waiting hall, not with the strikingly handsome Chairman now pinning her still with his penetrating gaze (he still was kissing Chida-san, even then) . . .
An eye-stinging glint of light at a corner of her vision broke the girl out of the trance she had since fallen into; it drew her gaze towards the hall exit to the side, where Professor Nemuro could be seen standing outside the half-closed doors watching the kissing duo with his glassing glinting and his posture cardboard-stiff. Something alerted the man into turning his head, before he was to quickly slip off view; there was a flash of a short, stubby something dashing past, before the half-opened exit was to again reveal nothing; sharp-eyed as ever, Hoshimi easily recognized the “stubby something” to be Mamiya bundled-up under the heavy winter coat she bought him for Christmas.
Her pen pal turned intimate friend Chida Mamiya, now sick to the point of being bedridden, had ventured out into this harsh winter chasing after Professor Nemuro of all people.
Young heart hurting as if stabbed, Hoshimi stumbled backwards and away from the closed doors she had been peeking through . . . and fell hard after tripping upon something bumpy. Vision blurring with tears, the girl found herself sprawled gracelessly across an extremely narrow gauge railroad – one that had seemingly appeared from out of nowhere; eyes following its tracks, she found herself glancing down the ill-lit hallway into an ominously dark area upfront, where a slight, bespectacled figure could be seen holding the handle of a flatback trolley, upon which rested a dark coffin revealing a black rose motif from underneath its white curtain coating . . .
It was only after Mamiya fell (while tripping upon a railroad that had spontaneously appeared upon the hallway’s smooth floorboards) that Nemuro was to stop fleeing, as he then ran back up towards the boy, helping him up.
“Professor . . . ” gasped the sickly boy in pain and exertion, his small hands clenching at the man’s violet jacket.
“ . . . shouldn’t you be asleep right now?” asked the man, his face a stoic mask looking about to crack.
“I-I wanted to come see you, Professor.” Mamiya struggled to get his words out without stuttering. “About-”
“There’s no need to call me professor – I’m not worthy of the title.”
“What . . . ?”
“Mamiya-kun, I’ve already handed in my resignation letter to the Academy, and will be leaving for my next contract soon.” Nemuro’s husky tenor lowered a notch. “I suppose you’ve come right in time for us to say goodbye.”
“But . . .” Mamiya felt the air knocked out of his chest, “ . . . what about Nee-san?”
Nemuro’s fingertips – so delicate for those of a man - felt warm against his forehead, as the man swept the long bangs away from his eyes in an almost cherishing gesture. “Your sister has . . . hurt and surprised me.” His eyes, watching Mamiya through rose-colored lens, were possibly bloodshot and definitely teary. “I . . . I need to leave, get away from this.” Pulling back, the man crawled at his tousled hair with an intuitive hand that betrayed the inner turmoil underneath his wooden-seeming façade. “Meeting you and your sister has been the best thing that had ever happened to me. I don’t want this to turn bitter, I don’t . . .” Even as the man struggle for words to express what he meant, Mamiya could see how his features were starting to “erode” off around the edges, turning him increasingly transparent right underneath the boy’s horrified gaze.
“Then, what about me?” The frantic question (or rather, demand) tore itself out of Mamiya’s dry throat before the boy could force it down. “So what if Nee-san made her stupid choice to turn away? I choose YOU!” The boy knew, even then, that he was sounding desperate, unbecoming, selfish, and ugly; knew, but could not stop the hideous words from spewing forth, so strong was his despair, his desire, his fresh-revealed want. “I told you, didn’t I? I want eternity! You’re the only one who can give it to me, Nemuro-san! Don’t I matter?! Am I not important enough to you to make you stay?” Hands grabbing onto Nemuro’s shoulders, the boy shouted right into Nemuro’s now crystalline-seeming face. “If it’s for me, won’t you stand on that Arena and duel for Eternity? If it’s for me, won’t you -” His sentence got cut off as Nemuro abruptly engulfed him in a crushing embrace that pained him to the bone.
“Ah,” gasped the man, sounding much like a suffocating man who had just been pulled out from under water. “With this . . . I can go on living.”
“Professor . . . ?” whimpered the boy, smothered under this painful, fiery human contact.
“I’ve always been alone before; I never needed anyone before I met you. Since when did that change? How did you, a child, manage to change even me? Why did you have to change me?”
“Prof . . .”
“It’s fine now.” Glasses since having slipped down his nose, Nemuro glanced down upon Mamiya with reverence akin to madness. “Even if we are to part, we’ll still be together; I’ll keep you here,” taking the boy’s cold hand in his, he placed it over his own chest, where his heart was, “where there is no space or time; I’ll keep you where the world cannot tarnish my image of you, where you can live on forever in me. Never again shall I be alone, even though alone I shall be forevermore.
“Farewell, Mamiya-kun . . . my eternity.”
Thinking back, Mamiya realized he must have gone into shock during Nemuro’s (in hindsight, scandalously revealing) confession. Between the naked words, the blurring of his vision from tears, the pressure of the man’s fingers digging into his shoulders, the chaste kiss on his forehead that felt more intimate than anything the boy had ever experienced before . . . there was no coherent recollection of when and how they were to part. By the time his mind was again coherent, the boy was already left standing cold and alone in the railway-occupied hallway, with the wooden tracks rigid beneath his feet.
“Nemuro-san . . .”
Jolting at the voice, the boy turned to see Hoshimi standing to the side; with her hair disheveled, her clothing rumpled, and her pallid complexion uneven, the little lady now looked a far cry from her usually immaculate self.
“Ohtori-chan . . . what happened?” he asked.
“The coat I gave you for Christmas.” Eyes on his, Hoshimi pointed at the side of his coat, which the boy only now noticed to have been ripped open, likely from back when he fell on the railway and his coat impacted some nail or the sort. “It ripped.”
“Er . . .”
“Remember what you said back then?”
At the girl’s quietly spoken question, Mamiya opened his mouth, shut it, and opted for silence; at the boy’s reaction, what little sparkle of girlish hopefulness faded completely off the girl’s blue eyes, where only glassy frostiness now remained.
“I thought so.”
And, just like that, Ohtori Hoshimi turned to walk away and – as the boy knew even then – out of Childa Mamiya’s life; the sight of the girl’s forcedly straight back and clenched fists disappearing into the shadows of the unlit hallway stung the youngster’s eyes like pins, bringing him to tears and forcing him to look away. For him to mar the very youth of his one and only friend - the very rose he had once thought he would cherish with his entirety - all because of his deceitful, revolting change of heart and nature-
Two sets of footsteps – one leisured-ly paced, the other frantic – could be heard fast approaching, along with the familiar voice of his nemesis Inoue; without thinking, Mamiya moved behind a high stack of penguin motif boxes conveniently located at a nearby corner.
“Wait! Please wait!” cried Inoue, coming into view chasing after a tall, dark-featured man whom Mamiya recognized as Acting Chairman Himemiya Akio, who was said to be deeply involved in the Research.
“You wear my ring, you’ve read the contract,” said the man, stance powerfully assured as he stepped languidly up along the wooden rail tracks “you know the price you and your young friends are to pay should your division lose the race.”
“W-We haven’t lost!” Inoue yelped as he almost stumbled upon the tracks. “The Fate Train Theorem was progressing on schedule and yielding definite results up until the theft! Once we are to recover the Diary-”
“The Diary has changed ownership,” said the Acting Chairman, cutting him off dismissively as he walked onwards. “I sense that another had since attuned it to their will; it is now forever lost to us because of your carelessness. Your work now lies at a dead end – no longer are you able to materialize the Fate Train as per your contract to me. As it is, I have every right to enact what’s in the fine print.”
“NO!” Snarled the Student Assistant as he reached up to grab onto the Acting Chairman’s big shoulder. Stopping, Akio turned his head to glance coolly down upon the youth, who quickly pulled back his hand as if scalded. “No . . . there is still a way to advance the Research.”
“Long as we have a hundred desperate souls eager to change fate, even without using the Diary, the Train still can be summoned.”
At that, the Acting Chairman’s lips quirked in an ironic smirk. “How certain you sound. Is that why both you and Kaoru-kun have since handed in the forms to exchange yourselves out of the Research?” Inuoe’s expression now was one of bug-eyed, tongue-tied-ness. “But, whether you’re officially on the Research Team is irrelevant.” Grabbing the teen by his wrist, the powerfully built man pulled it up to emphasize the ring on the latter’s finger. “You and your friend’s contract with me stands regardless of what documents you’ve signed with the Academy.” Inuoe’s lower-lip quivered pitifully as the Acting Chairman finally was to release his grip. “That being said, there still was the unfortunate event of the ‘couple’ getting expelled from school once their relationship became known – even including you and your mate, the group still remains two short of a hundred.”
“I-I’ve since secured Ohtori Hoshimi’s gossipy henchwomen as research subjects – the guys are prepping them down at the lab as we speak; there is no reason that Kaoru or I need to get sacrificed too – we’re useful!”
“You and Kaoru are no more ‘useful’ to me than the rest of the hundred if not for your bringing the brilliant Watase Sanetoshi-kun into the Research.”
“But I . . . I’m going to marry Ohtori Hoshimi and become the next Chairman!” Proclaimed the self-important, self-preserving teenager. “And Kaoru-kun . . . he’s dating your sister! We’re not one of those disposable ‘nothings’ who’re only meant to be fuel - we can help you for the long run!”
“Interesting.” Eyes hooded, the Acting Chairman produced a compact hand calculator, which he then toyed with in a mocking, showy manner. “So there now remains only one vacant slot that needs filling.” “Will it be you? Or will it be Kaoru?”
“You . . . ” Voice cracking in cold dread, Inoue then quickly rambled on with the desperation of one gasping at straws. “Ah, anyone who has a direct contract with you can be used as sacrifice to advance the Research, right? Then . . . you’ve still got so many other people you can use, including that Inspector woman-”
“And why would you know about Tokiko-kun’s dealings with me?” asked the Acting Chairman as he arched a pale brow. “Do you now finally admit that some of those bugs around the place are actually yours?”
A careless bump against the stack he was hiding behind sent it tumbling down, leaving Mamiya now exposed to the two.
“Chida . . .” Foaming at mouth like a rabid dog, Inoue hurried up towards the boy, and dragged him painfully up towards the Acting Chairman. “Him! Here is someone who’d NEED to exchange fate! Use him!” He saw how the dark, towering man now was glancing down upon him with speculative eyes.
“Exchange . . . fate . . . ?” asked Mamiya, his own voice trembling. “What kind of ‘dealings’ do you have with my sister?”
Sensuous lips parting in a tooth-baring grin, the Acting Chairman clasped a broad hand upon Mamiya’s thin shoulder, and started glided him down another turn of the railway-lined hallway. “Come.” A trail of footsteps could be heard from behind them. Turning his head, the youngster saw Inuoe fleeing frantically away in the opposite direction.
“ . . . where are you taking me?” asked the boy, moving upon feet that he could not feel.
“To catch a train,” replied the man, as though that explained everything.
They stopped in front of a lab door, underneath the gap of which the irrationally present railway could be seen passing right through. Producing a key, the man stabbed it into the keyhole, and turned . . .
“I’ll ask again,” Mamiya spoke up again, forcing himself to sound strong despite the tremor to his voice, “what kind of dealings do you have with my sister?”
“For the sake of giving you eternity, your sister had made a contract with me,” replied the Acting Chairman, still opening the door, “the results of which you’ve already witnessed in your home basement.”
“How do you-” gasped the boy in shock, before his frantic mind was to put things together. “The dark girl who drew me into the night . . . she’s with you, isn’t she? What are you people . . . are you even people?”
Instead of answering the boy’s question, the Acting Chairman went on a different tangent as he started pulling the lab door open. “Those contracted to me gets to use my power; and I, in turn, gets to use their lives.” Smiling down upon him, the man then gestured inside the lab in a grand, almost theatrical gesture. “Like this.”
Looking into the lab – at the vast hall it turned out to be – the first thing the boy could make out was a dramatic impression of a familiar silhouette against a blazing white background; long limbs hanging, narrow waist arched back, twin pigtails flaring . . .
“ . . . and all the world shall become my stage . . .” murmured what appeared to be Byako, now suspended aerial in a pose suggesting either rapture or agony, as a crimson globe started pushing itself out of her chest like an egg being laid; once detached, the globe remained afloat upon air, while the girl then plummeted downwards like an abandoned puppet onto a moving conveyor belt . . .
. . . a puppet that morphed, as the stick-figured girl then rapidly broadened out into what looked like a female gender symbol – looking just like the ones commonly used in public washrooms – before the belt was to send “her” into a dump tray where a large number of similarly-shaped figures could be seen piled atop one another (the boy spotted a very familiar-looking hair ribbon on one of their head). The red globe started drifting over towards what looked like a large, uprooted tree with apples hanging on its branches, along with three red colored numbers similarly positioned upon the plant; drifting over towards the number “98”, Byako’s red globe merged itself over the number, where it then transformed into an apple identical-looking to those others already on the tree.
“Apple . . . ” Mamiya now was lost, baffled, and chilled to the core, as memories of his recent enigmatic encounters with this particular fruit assailed his mind.
“The ‘apple’ is a ‘penguindrum’,” came a familiar child’s voice – one that spoke in worldly, condescending tones, “a person’s universe in its entirety.”
Turning his head (and feeling a creak in his stiff neck), Mamiya saw that the speaker was indeed Watase Sanetoshi, now seated high up atop some sizable high-tech machinery – one equipped with multiple robotic arms waving about; wielding a remote, the child prodigy operated the arms such that they started stamping penguin stickers onto the fruit’s crimson surfaces.
“These penguindrums are the tickets to boarding those Fate Trains running along the routes between this world and the Destination of Fate,” Sanetoshi spoke on. “The Fate Train will not stop by without at least a hundred tickets gathered.” Sweeping aside his longish pink fringe, he then glanced down upon the older, weaker boy with hooded eyes. “I suppose you’ve come just in time to witness its arrival.”
Up front, a blank-faced, high-tailed girl now was slowly rising up into the air as if suspended upon invisible threads.
“Cyako!” Mamiya cried out to the older girl, who remained oblivious to his presence. “Hey, snap out of it!”
“ . . . and all people shall watch me dance~” squealed Cyako in her high, tripped-out voice.
“And I was so hoping you’d have brought in either Inuoe or Kaoru instead,” Sanetoshi whined mock-childishly at the Acting Chairman, who merely smirked darkly back at the devilish child; the boy pouted. “I know, I knoooow . . . no questioning the Ends of the World’s decisions, right?”
“The Ends . . . of the World?” comprehension dawned upon Mamiya, as he now eyed the Acting Chairman in growing horror and outrage. “You, you are the one behind everything!” In reply, the Ends of the World offered the boy a rakish smile – one that any human being would have found dazzling, so long as they were to remain blind to the ugly truth behind the glamour.
“Are you scared?” Sanetoshi leered down upon Mamiya from where he sat above. “Don’t worry, the extraction of a valuable penguindrum do require a degree of willingness on the part of the donor.” Leaping agilely down, the child prodigy skipped up to the huge dump tray filled with “gender symbols”, and pulled up a random “hand” to reveal a rose-motif ring merged into where the ring finger was supposed to be. “You see? All those we’ve sacrificed thus far have willingly entered contracts with the Ends of the World.” A boyish chuckle escaped his throat. “I suppose when I put it like this, this all sounds like it has very little to do with you . . . but look,” pressing the remote, he turned on the multiple screens on a wall to the side, “the last designated passenger of the Fate Train now has arrived.” The screens now showed surveillance videos of the research building, with a number of which now showing a shorthaired, slender gamine carrying a stack of folders in a hand.
“Nee-san!” Mamiya cried out.
“Chida Tokiko, Project Inspector of the Research, bearer of the last of the hundred rose signets.” Obviously enjoying Mamiya’s alarm, Sanetoshi had one of the screens zoomed in on the ring on the latter’s sister’s left hand. “Putting her life on the line for the sake of changing her ailing brother’s tragic fate, how very noble; but her decision to violate her contract’s terms and steal away the Fate Diary shall cost her dearly. Does the woman really think she can stand up to the Ends of the World’s might wielding only that?”
“What are you planning to do to Nee-san?” asked Mamiya from between his clenched, trembling teeth. Sanetoshi merely tilted his head at Cyako, who dropped down in a stack of limp limbs as her penguindrum drifted over toward the number “99” hanging on the uprooted tree; the red globe then it too became apple-shaped like its many predecessors, prior to getting stickered right as its host got dropped into the dump tray of inhuman gender symbols.
Eyes on the traumatic visuals, Mamiya could not keep from jolting at the Ends of the World’s large, dark hand clamping down upon his thin shoulder.
“A contract with me, while unbreakable, is transferable,” said the striking, monstrous entity in a voice like velvet. “So, suppose someone is to willingly board that train in place of your sister . . .”
“. . . I understand,” Mamiya managed in a voice that did not quiver; and he did understand. He was but an ailing boy powerless to brave a winter night, powerless to live beyond the season, powerless to make him stay through these short, remaining days . . . he was nothing in face of a force powerful enough to distort time and reality.
Yet, there remained one thing that even a nothing like him could, must do.
“I, I’ve made my choice,” proclaimed the boy, as a rose motif ring materialized on his finger. On the surveillance screens, his sister was seen studying her now ring-free left hand in puzzlement.
Jaws set in determination, Mamiya started walking up along the laid tracks, towards the elevated platform before the conveyor belt. Vaguely, he noticed some flippant whistling coming from Sanetoshi; he paid it no heed, so immersed was the boy within one particularly precious, particularly painful memory:
“With this, you can come outside into the winter, and I can show you around the Academy, Chida-kun.”
“Then, isn’t this just like a magic cape you’re giving me . . . to make me your prince?”
“Chida-kun . . . !”
“Cape accepted, Ohtori-chan.”
“Even that, could pass,” muttered Mamiya, feeling his senses numbing away as gravity started losing hold upon his form, which now floated slowly, steadily upwards. “Nee-san, Nemuro-san, there’s no need to look anymore,” he closed his eyes in weariness, “eternity doesn’t exist in this world.”
“Then, could you not look beyond this here and now?”
A woman’s voice, nectar-sweet and richly hypnotic, prompted the boy into opening his eyes anew. He found, to his awe, what appeared to be an earth goddess – completely naked but for the surreally lush long locks rippling about her sleekly curvy figure – hovering in space right in front of him, stunning him with her ethereal aura.
“If the heart has not given up, even you should be able to see it,” said the entity, now extending a palm over his chest, “the wish in your heart igniting the ends of your world.”
“You . . .” Mamiya’s eyes widened in recognition at that dark, delicately shaped hand – the very one that handed him the apple. “You are-”
The gut-wrenching cry shocked the boy into turning his head. To the side, standing behind a set of railway crossing and gate blocking off the railroad (which now looked significantly broader than it did just moments ago) was Nemuro, watching the scene with wide eyes and open mouth. The Ends of the World – now carrying a burning candelabra – could be seen looming behind the petite, frantic man in all his ominous, towering presence. A rising, droning sound – not unlike that of a distant but speedily approaching train – started filling the air, as winds started picking up within the large lab hall.
“Nemuro-san . . . Nemuro-san!” Mamiya cried out at Nemuro, who appeared blind to his presence despite his having cried out the boy’s name.
“Why. . . ?” The man’s eyes were bloodshot with rage and trauma as he glared at the contents of the dump tray. “He’s just a kid . . . he’s not part of our competition!”
“Nemuro-san! I’m right here!” Mamiya shouted with all his rapidly depleting strength . . . all to no effect; Nemuro’s gaze remained upon the “gender symbols” piled lifelessly about, as he spoke on as if they still are live humans capable of interacting with him.
“Just because the boy is fragile . . . what makes you people think you can just break him like this?” Long white locks now flowing unbound, with his shirt opened to reveal his dark, sharply defined torso, the Ends of the World moved the candelabra closer towards the wild-eyed man, who took the item without a second thought or look. “You . . . I’ll enact all your contracts right here and now!” The railway gate blocking him went up then, and the man stepped up and towards the filled dump tray.
“Nemuro-san, what’re you saying?” asked the boy, prior to gasping in shock as he saw the Professor started moving the burning item towards the eerie, dead-seeming gender symbols amidst the sound of a shrill train air horn. “Stop! Don’t do this! I’m here! I’m fine-”
The dark female entity’s question drew Mamiya’s attention up front, where he saw his own red globe since detached from his person, and now was firmly held in her upturned palm.
“Have no fear,” she soothed, “for your fate differs from those down below. From now on, you will make a sanctuary of my heart; and I, in turn, shall become you.”
“Become . . . me?” asked Mamiya. Smiling her benignly serene smile, the dark female kept her penetrating green eyes on his, and shoved his glowing penguindrum right into her chest.
Immediately, reality started to crumble from the boy’s perspective, as he found himself falling down and flying up and shattering into pieces and coming together all at once; even his very vision – his very point of view – had changed. No longer was he looking at the dark female; rather, he now saw himself facing the other side of the lab wall, now basking under fiery lights as a pool of flames boiled from down below. There hovered in front of him a pale-haired boy with dark, exotic complexion . . . it took him a moment before he was to realize that it was his own image as reflected upon a high glass window.
“What . . .”
‘You are now me, and I am now you,’ the female entity’s voice sounded from within his own head. ‘Just follow my lead now; together, we shall help him go on living.’
“Him . . . living . . .” managed the boy, and that was all he could voice. He now found his entire body attuned to the will of another, and his many senses compounding into vast multitudes of what he could originally perceive as an ailing child dying by the day. He saw a train now running ablaze, its air horn sounding a combined cry of a million desperate mouths screeching with need; he saw, within the train’s confines, ninety-six ambitious passengers who all possessed the single-minded-ness of youth; he saw an earthbound god now reaching for that train, trying to seize it, only to have it slipping right past his mighty dark fingers; he saw a trio of girlish shapes giggling over said god’s failure from where they gathered as shadows upon a wall, in front of which laid a closed coffin imprisoning a dark-hearted child. Somewhere far away, he thought he heard the sound of a young princess’s heart cracking, with the venom within flowing out to degenerate her into a malevolent siren . . .
There was a madman standing outside the burning building; wielding fire in his hand, he cruelly explained his reason for committing mass murder to a woman he once loved – a woman who failed in loving him enough to stop him from going mad. Beauty dimmed by guilt and despair, the woman slapped the madman (it was a slap hard enough to sent his glasses flying off), prior to running off into a starless night that enveloped her as a witch’s cloak. The madman spoke on, as though the woman had never left; repeating a wordy speech about the need to sacrifice others for one’s own gains with an impersonal, mechanical precision, he now appeared more clockwork machine than man:
“. . . sort of sacrifice is what is always demanded. This is the first step in the job you are advancing. Soon, the road leading to eternity from this Academy will be opened . . .”
Walking up towards the madman from behind, the boy (he still was a boy, wasn’t he?) clasped a hand over his, and smoothly took the candelabra from him. Speech interrupted, the madman turned towards him, and his now unmasked blue eyes widen with something between wonder and bafflement.
“You . . . ”
“Shall we, ‘Sempai’?” asked Mamiya, only half-understanding his own current actions and words (while fully aware that he was in control of neither), as he turned and started walking towards the shadows existing impossibly at the heart of the fire-engulfed building.
Looking years younger in his current wide-eyed state, he who was known as genius Professor Nemuro Chirikazu now followed Mamiya with the meekness of a schoolboy, and the loyalty of a fierce guard; together, the two journeyed into the darkness at the ends of their world, within which they stayed together for what could had been, yet never was, an eternity . . .
Time: 10 years post-revolution
“Thinking back, you never once came by the rebuilt building through all that time I was there, Ohtori-chan,” said Mamiya, doe like eyes hazy as he stared off in to space.
“What good would it do either of us if we were to play out some showy reunion under the eyes and ears of the Ends of the World?” muttered Hoshimi distractedly as she fiddled with her cell phone. “It was with stealthiness that I managed to recover your soul, and it shall be with this same stealthiness that I am to secure your new vessel for you.” Closing the phone, she got up and started quicklygetting dressed. “This is all for you.”
“Leaving already?” he asked.
“You-know-who texted me saying that Kanae got shot down and is currently in repair, so I’ll have to stand-in for her in the coming days. It won’t be at least another week before I can drop by again; so, until then . . .” sweeping back the blue curls from her exquisite face, Hoshimi leaned down towards Mamiya, such that the tips of their noses touched, “ . . . do grace my dreams once in a while, Chida-kun.” Pulling back before the boy could land a kiss on her full lips, she turned on her heel and started walking off.
“Ohtori Hoshimi,” Mamiya called after her. “When will you finally stop hiding behind this old image I had of you, and show to me your true, current self?”
Without turning around to face him, Hoshimi opened the door to the greenhouse, such that the winter air outside rushed in to chilly effects. “I don’t want you seeing me as some ugly grown-up.”
With that, she stepped outside and away, disappearing off Mamiya’s view as the door closed itself behind her; the greenhouse’s glassy exterior had since fogged over to encase the boy in the blinding whiteness of obliviation - one that he knew would last until she was to come for him again.
Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion
Underneath the starry skies existing impossibly indoor, the words flowed on . . .
“What awaited me at home was, of course, Mamiya’s dead body,” Tokiko’s voice, weighty with pain throughout much of her recollection of the Nemuro Research, now was lead-heavy. “To me, who had since dabbled in the power of the Ends of the World, the body I saw was one that’s . . . abstract.”
“Like a gender symbol,” S-taro spoke up with a quiver, “that’s how people without their penguindrums really look like.”
Tokiko lowered her lushly-lashed eyes in remembered pain. “Just like that, the brother I wanted to save, to cherish, to preserve against time . . . killed, by people to whom he meant nothing.” Behind her, the bed upon which Nemuro was getting operated upon now had become a set of car repair cage and tools , with those same overflowing red canopy curtains obscuring much of the repair process now taking place inside. “I was promptly fired off Ohtori’s Board of Directors; they even went so far as to deny me entry into the Acadamy. It would be a long time before I was to be strong enough to again face off against the Ends of the World – still posing as the Acting Chairman there.”
“Strong . . . enough?” asked Kozue, puzzled.
“Among the files I had access to from the neighboring divisions of the Research are the ‘scientific’ methods for human beings to bypass the known laws of math and physics; one could say these are the spells to enact what people call magic.”
“Then . . .”
“Even with the methods involved clearly laid out, it took me over two decades to strengthen my spirit enough such that I could wield the heavier spells in a stable manner. Also, certain spells require artifacts for proper projections, and those also took years for the novice I was to successfully create.”
“You made Masako’s laser slingshot,” stated K-taro, with his voice now too grown up to match the childlike features revealed. “And Sanetoshi was the one who made those . . .” he glanced at the repair cage, where the four penguins now were busily rebuilding the damaged parts on Mikagemobile. “ . . . Kiga. Of course.”
Tokiko continued on. “It wasn’t until ten years ago when I was finally ready to again venture into Ohtori, hoping to settle the score with the Acting Chairman. The Adversary had not aged a day even after more than twenty years had gone by in the outside world, nor his sister . . . nor did Nemuro-kun, caught in the illusion through all that time. Nor did I; me, with my static physical state preventing me from having children . . . just one of my many failings that eventually ended my marriage.” She took a deep breath. “The meeting with Akio Ohtori did not result in my defeating him, but it clued me in on many things I was previously unaware of, allowing for me to get a more complete version of the story I’ve just revealed.” Back straightening, she met the many gazes of each and every rapt listener she had – including the five who slipped in during her talking.
“I don’t understand,” Tsuwabuki, the youngest of the Ohtori Duelists, voiced his confusion. “From what you said, Himemiya-sempai is every bit as responsible as her brother in killing your brother, as well as having bewitched Mikage-sempai for all this time. How can you ally yourself with her now?”
Biting down upon her lower-lip, Tokiko turned to glance back at the Mikagemobile still in repair.
“Ten years ago, Himemiya-san reunited me with someone of utmost importance to me,” she said, her voice barely above a murmur. “I’m now counting on a repeat performance from her.”
End Part Ten