Chapter 9:

Eye of the Storm

Crimson Core

Shards.Bookmark here

Every living being possess one type of shard. Shard itself can't disappear, but can change from one type to another, just like energy.Bookmark here

Shard type one can assume the role of all other shards, type two as well except the role of shard type one. Shard type three can be type four but can't be type one or two.Bookmark here

Shards can change both willingly and unwillingly. Therefore shard type one, The Stabilizer is also known as a static shard. It's a rare occurrence that it assumes any other role, while shard type two, The Fighter is known as a dynamic shard and it does so without a hitch. Bookmark here

It's ironic that The Stabilizer is so indulged in it's form that it would deny any type of external impact just to preserve it's stability. Bookmark here

In return, it refuses to grow, it refuses to breathe and in the end it crushes into it's own monotony.Bookmark here

Every living being possess one type of shard. Shard itself can't disappear, but can render themselves useless.Bookmark here

„...“Bookmark here

They continued through the stone temple hallway. The temperature dropped significantly as they made their way through the end.Bookmark here

„You cold?“ Shiki muttered words that lingered between the two of them.Bookmark here

Ume walked couple of steps in front of Shiki, armed with her bow and arrow. She turned around without saying a word and that was more than enough for him.Bookmark here

„How long can this go on? What's wrong with gals these days?“ Bookmark here

Ume complained like a grandpa in a nursing home, which reminded Shikiof his late grandfather. He passed away only couple of months ago but now it felt like years.Bookmark here

„Shh. Go back,“ Ume put her palm on Shiki's chest, pushing him away slowly.Bookmark here

They found themselves at the end of the long hallway that led them to a giant round chamber. Series of stone steps were placed around the chamber and they all led to the middle where curious device was sitting atop the strange altar.Bookmark here

„Is that a Spark?“ Shiki pointed at the altar.Bookmark here

„No, it's just a random thingy somebody dropped and told bunch of shades to guard it,“ Ume rolled her eyes.Bookmark here

Shiki leaned carefully into the chamber and saw a group of tall, buffed, human-like shadows that looked like wrestlers.Bookmark here

„gulp...“ Shiki moved back before they noticed him and dropped down on the floor.Bookmark here

„They remind ya of someone, aye?“ Ume kicked terrified Shiki that curled up like a lost kitten.
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„Alp? But that means..“ Ume finished his sentence,“both of them fell in love with Alp.“Bookmark here

„So that's why he wanted to take care of it with Ren,“ Shiki connected the dots out loud.Bookmark here

„Now we have to strike down bunch of Alpades!“ Ume pulled back her arrow, while aiming at one of the shadows.Bookmark here

„No, hold up!“Bookmark here

Shiki jumped on his legs and threw himself in front of Ume.Bookmark here

„What are ya doin' moron?“ Ume dodged his whimsical attempt to stop her and Shiki stumbled down the stairs all the way to the altar.Bookmark here

„Are ya kiddin' me!?“ Ume shouted from the top.Bookmark here

He managed to create few pieces of shell to soften his fall and with enough luck to stop his  body from falling any further, but still ended up near the muscular legs of the guardian shadows.Bookmark here

The shadows surrounded him and raised their feet in front of his eyes, preparing for a strike.Bookmark here

„Oh no ya won't!“ Ume launched couple of arrows that pierced their legs.Bookmark here

It was a thin porcelain arrow that had a glowing plum stuck at it's ending. The plums began to change color from dark blue to bright orange.Bookmark here

„Hide, quickly!“ Ume yelled at Shiki that hastily made a big shield out of turtle shell.Bookmark here

Plum juice exploded in front of him and pushed him back towards the stairs.Bookmark here

Couple of shadows evaporated into a thin air, which clearly angered the rest of them.Bookmark here

They started punching their chests like aggravated gorillas which created a deafening sound of drums.Bookmark here

The entire chamber shook like a ship in the middle of the storm so Ume couldn't aim at them properly.Bookmark here

She missed a couple of shots but was afraid to miss even more in case she accidentally hits Shiki that couldn't get up from all the quaking.Bookmark here

Stone boulders dropped from the ceiling and sealed their only way out.Bookmark here

Device on the top of the altar was their only hope.Bookmark here

„Don't just lie down in front of those monkeys, do something!“ Bookmark here

Ume launched few arrows towards them, but the arrows got deflected from the thunderous sound. There was nothing she could do.Bookmark here

Shiki was laying down, staring at the waves that shadows were producing with each blow from the chest.
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The sound waves spread around the chamber like ripples. They clashed on each stair, bouncing from one to another just like the waves on a raging sea.Bookmark here

„It's the sea!“ Shiki yelled while laughing.Bookmark here

„See? All I see is that we're bouncin' around like kegs,“ Ume was holding onto one of the stairs.Bookmark here

„Turtles are amazing swimmers!“ Shiki yelled and started pulling a large piece of shell from his hand.Bookmark here

His ribs hurt enormously while tap dancing on a brink of passing out, but didn't let go, he continued to pull the shell out.Bookmark here

He created what seemed to be a small barque, but big enough to fit both of them. When it was finished, he jumped into it and the waves carried him all the way to the top, near Ume.Bookmark here

She couldn't believe her eyes and had no clue about his thought process but regardless of that decided to follow his lead. Bookmark here

She jumped into a barque that was stuck on the stone wall.Bookmark here

„What ya need, sailor?“ Ume wanted to cheer up pale Shiki that lay half-awake at the edge of the barque.Bookmark here

„We...need... a sail“ he muttered.Bookmark here

„Aye, aye Kapptain!“ Ume grabbed a light purple napkin from her pocket and attached it on the top of a tall upright post in the middle of a barque.Bookmark here

„That..napkin,“ Shiki stared at the mysterious napkin that once again found it's way before his eyes.
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The improvised mast stabilized their barque on the raging waves and they slowly floated down the stairs while waves crashed around them.Bookmark here

„If you didn't look like a zombie, this would be kinda romantic,“ said Ume while aiming at one of the shadows.Bookmark here

Shiki lay in silence. He observed Ume's professional-looking posture and her pretty black dress that reached just a tiny bit over her slender knees.Bookmark here

Color of her blonde hair was even more pronounced on her dark dress. He wondered why she preferred twintails and drills when she seemed so much more astonishing this way.Bookmark here

One arrow launched, it produced a splashing sound.Bookmark here

Second arrow launched, the waves have calmed down.Bookmark here

Third arrow launched, their barque dropped down onto the stairs and descended to the altar.Bookmark here

Only a single shadow remained, and it looked at them without making a move. It stood for a couple of seconds motionlessly and then disappeared on it's own.Bookmark here

„Yea, ya better run,“ said Ume and dropped down beside Shiki, who was still laying in the corner.Bookmark here

„Rest for a bit, I've seen the remains of shades being absorbed by your boat.“Bookmark here

Ume touched the carefully constructed barque and admired the work Shiki put into it even though they were in the middle of a fight.Bookmark here

She felt on the tips of her fingers few strange lines, carved letters on the bottom of the barque.Bookmark here

„S x U“ Bookmark here

Umeko blushed frivolously. She hasn't completely recovered from the awkward situations that temple halls put them through. Bookmark here

She reminded herself what happened when both of them said „I love you“.Bookmark here

Her smile faded as fast as it had appeared.Bookmark here

„If he thinks of me this way... that means it was me who lied,“ she lay down next to Shiki who was already sleeping and looked at his face.Bookmark here

„Sorry,“ single word escaped her lips.Bookmark here

„...“Bookmark here

Rain tapped gently onto the rooftops of an ambulanceBookmark here

car.Bookmark here

Under the heavy clouds, a half-burnt tree fought for
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life.Bookmark here

Nothingness filled the unconsolable woman and theBookmark here

man.Bookmark here

River under the bridge overflowed with Bookmark here

sadness.Bookmark here

Under the heavy clouds, a thunderstruck maple tree gave up onBookmark here

life.Bookmark here

Near the post, a panting boy afraid to approach the Bookmark here

girl.Bookmark here

„...“Bookmark here

Shiki opened his eyes and found Ume laying beside him. She was staring at him without saying a thing.Bookmark here

„Uhmm..“ he slowly got up from the barque while acting as normal as possible.Bookmark here

„Ya really like to sleep at strange places, huh?“ Ume stretched her arms and legs.Bookmark here

„Sorry, that took too much energy,“ he jumped off the barque and looked at the strange device on the top of the altar.Bookmark here

„I waited for you to wake up, now do somethin' with that thing.“ Bookmark here

Ume refused to leave the barque, she turned to the other side and ran her fingers slowly over the carved letters one more time.Bookmark here

The object on the altar was a big bowl with several lotus flowers engraved on the inner side, while the external side was really smooth.Bookmark here

„It seems like someone turned it inside out,“ Shiki said while observing all sides of the bowl.Bookmark here

„Just say the magic words or somethin'. If the snake lady jumps out, I'll take care of her,“ Ume commented while rolling around inside the barque.Bookmark here

Shiki dismissed her words and focused on solving the puzzle. He noticed that he can press the engraved lotus flowers inside the bowl so he did exactly that.Bookmark here

He did that with all the flowers within the bowl and then he realized that surface within the bowl became smooth just like the surface on the external side of the bowl.Bookmark here

„I need to decorate the external side of the bowl with flowers,“ Shiki said while glancing towards the barque.Bookmark here

Ume got up and leaned on the edge of the barque.Bookmark here

„Can ya make'em with your shell hand?“ Ume fixed her left hand beneath the chin and exhaled.Bookmark here

Shiki dropped his head out of embarrassment for the solution was simple and literally beneath his nose.Bookmark here

He was grabbing tiny pieces of shell out of his hand and constructed flowers out of them.Bookmark here

„What an artistry! I'm impressed,“ Ume sat onto the altar and admired Shiki's work.
Bookmark here

He took her words as sarcasm since she said them in a strange accent, and decided to ignore her remark.Bookmark here

„I'm done, now what?“ Bookmark here

As soon as he asked the question, barque started to vibrate intensely and tiny blue droplets with pale orange glow emerged from it, and where heading towards the bowl.Bookmark here

It filled the blow to the brim and began glowing in bright red color.Bookmark here

Ume quickly put her hands over Shiki's eyes.Bookmark here

The temple trembled strongly.Bookmark here

The floor beneath them moved up and down like tides on the sea.Bookmark here

Couple of times he felt as the floor beneath him has disappeared just to reappear the moment later.Bookmark here

„Is this Cr...“Bookmark here

„Shhh, don't say a word.“Bookmark here

After a while, tremors have seized.Bookmark here

Ume moved her hands from Shiki's face and a school greenhouse revealed itself in front of his eyes.Bookmark here

He stood in the same place where he first met Alp.Bookmark here

There was a giant Shadow, similar to those from the temple. It moved big bags filled with strange material from one side to another. Bookmark here

There were labels on the bags, but the words written on them were unreadable.Bookmark here

These remind me of pamphlets that I saw when I entered the school for the first time, Shiki thought.Bookmark here

There were two strange looking female statues made of clay-like material next to the Shadow.Bookmark here

Shadow placed the material from the bag onto one of the statues to fix the portion of her body, but at the same time the other statue would tear the part of her body, waited for Shadow to turn it's head towards the bags, and then throw it onto the other statue, ruining the portion that was just fixed.Bookmark here

„What are they doing?“ Shiki asked with disgusted face.Bookmark here

„It's a never-ending cycle, ya know,“ Ume answered.Bookmark here

Shiki stole a glance towards Ume to check if she changed her appearance like the last time they entered a [Crimson Core] within the train. She looked especially sad, but completely normal.Bookmark here

„Okay Mr.Stabilizer, go do your job,“ Ume turned her head around and observed their surrounding.
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The scenery outside of the greenhouse was completely barren. Just plain fields of white underneath the pale cloudless sky as far as the eye could see.
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Shiki wanted to ask what must be done but he already knew that the answer for that question lied within himself and no one else.Bookmark here

He slowly walked towards the merry party.Bookmark here

„Umm, excuse me?“ he waved with his hands around them, but realized they ignored him completely.Bookmark here

He pondered a bit but figured he should assist the Shadow in it's pointless exercise.Bookmark here

When the Shadow turned towards one of the statues to fix it, Shiki grabbed some material from the bag and put it onto another one.Bookmark here

The material felt really slimy and cold. It was pearly-white in color and completely odorless.Bookmark here

When he was done, the Shadow vanished.Bookmark here

„Kap! Look out!“ Shiki flinched from the sound of her scream as giant pale tail punched him in a stomach.Bookmark here

„I told you to ssstay away!“ Hissing sound was coming from statues that grew pearly-white lizard tail on their backs.Bookmark here

„I knew that snake lady would come back!“ Ume said while running towards Shiki that was on the floor.Bookmark here

„But, I thought there are no enemies in [Crimson Core],“ Shiki complained as he slowly moved away from the statues.Bookmark here

„After everything you' ve seen, ya still think there are rules in this place?“ shouted Ume and hid Shiki behind her legs.Bookmark here

„But we have no powers here!“ cold sweat bathed nervous Shiki that announced goodbyes in his mind.Bookmark here

„Oh we have all the powers right here,“ Ume pointed towards the bags filled with strange material.Bookmark here

„What?“ Shiki's nerves broke down and he blanked out.Bookmark here

„We're gonna feed that snake garbage with more garbage!“ Ume said happily.Bookmark here

Shiki was sitting there in utter shock and disbelief, but putting his faith in Umeko was the only option he had.Bookmark here

He moved his head in confirmation and watched Ume run towards the statues.Bookmark here

„You'll regret thisss!“ Loud scream vibrated through the statues and escaped through small crevices where their mouths were supposed to be.Bookmark here

Ume jumped towards the bag, grabbed a handful of pearly stuff and shoved into into statue's face. At the same time, the tail punched Ume and bounced her all the way to the other side of the greenhouse.Bookmark here

Snake within the statue screamed in agony.Bookmark here

It's happening again.Bookmark here

Girl is lying over there and he is still panting in a place, afraid to make a move.Bookmark here

It reminded him of a worst day of his life.Bookmark here

He could almost hear the siren from ambulance and cries of her parents.Bookmark here

The smell of a maple tree that was struck by lightning.Bookmark here

It was all too real.
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