Chapter 8:

The Hunt Begins

The Nexus of Yuki Osaki

Gabi, Eri, Reiko and I all stare at the newcomer to our secret base, our arms crossed and ready to take action. I feel the faint brush of wind on my hands; A sign that I’m finally starting to get the hang of a little wind magic.

“What are you doing here,” Eri interrogates, though it’s more of a statement than a question.

Shin Ryoka shuffles nervously in his RED uniform and haori. “I was told to come here by Miss Maki?”

“And what did she say about us?” Gabi asks, tapping a short blade against her arm.

“To follow your orders for the foreseeable future,” Ryoka grumbles, though I can tell his heart isn’t in it. “We’ll be working together from here on.”

Gabi nods, Eri harrumphs, and Reiko beams. I walk towards him and put my hand out. “Are we cool?” I ask him, hoping he doesn’t draw his sword on me. He looks at the hand and looks me in the eye. It feels like he’s trying to find something he can fault in me, but I stare him back with all the innocence I can muster. With a sigh, he shakes my hand and I smile triumphantly.

“We’re cool, I guess,” Ryoka says. “I’m sorry for trying to cut your head off.”

I shrug off his apology with a laugh. “Hey, you never succeeded, so it’s all good.” I then rub the back of my head as we both turn to a map Gabi was regarding with special interest. “I’m sorry for sparking another Realm War when I didn’t even know what Realms were in the first place.”

Ryoka chuckles, and I cheer in my head. “It can’t be helped, it seems.” He moves to take a closer look at the map. Seeming to like what he finds, he looks back at me and gestures to it. “And it looks like you’re taking the steps to rectify it.” He clears his throat and shrugs. “That clears it all up in my book.”

Gabi sighs, her lips twitching. “I’m also sorry for trying to blow you up.”

Ryoka shrugs. “I’m still alive, so again, it’s okay.”

“How did you find us?” Reiko asks out of the blue, causing Ryoka to choke on his own breath. “Did your master also tell you to stalk us? Are you a stalker? Do you like stalking unsuspecting parties of girls—“

“She had RED operatives watch you leave!” Ryoka cries, standing rigidly. “I promise I never was, am, or will be, a stalker, ever!”

Giggling, Reiko gives all of us a thumbs up. “Well, good! I would hate to see you go through the system because you’re dumb. And now you’re one of us!” She sucks Ryoka into a hug, and he loses his breath. I wince as I hear something creaking in his body. “Here’s your customary welcome-hug to the Gabi-Reiko-Eri-Yuki club, or GREY, for short!” She drops Ryoka, who collapses onto the ground like a fish out of water. “I came up with that on the spot. Do you like it?”

“It’s a neutral shade,” Eri says, “Which is quite fitting since we’re fighting for our own goals; Not for the demons, or the humans. There’s no black and white in this fight.”

Gabi shrugs with a smile, and snaps her fingers into a point at Reiko. “We didn’t need a name, but now we do. I like it.” She folds her arms again and looks toward the board behind her. “But now isn’t the time to mess with tails.”

“Mess with… what?” I ask.

Her face pinks lightly. “Oh, it’s a saying in the demon realm. We say it when there’s danger and—“

“Okay, okay,” I laugh. “Thanks, Gabi. We do need to focus. Ryoka, get off the ground, you need to be part of this.”

“I’ll… get up when I can…” he says, leaning against a desk. I catch Reiko giggling at him, and I shake my head with a smile.

“Well, Gabi,” Eri begins. “What do our high school fakes have to say?”

“None of them have seen anyone suspicious at their schools or in the diplomacy.” She points at a few spots of red on the tattered map pinned to the wall. “This resonite map shows where a few instances of magic were used to keep some peace. Here, here, and here—“ She points at three spots near the large purple dot at the center of the map, “—have the highest amounts of magic usage apart from us, which is here and here.” Gabi points to the school and the warehouse we’re in right now.”

“The reason why I couldn’t tell you all about it sooner was because we were mapping out the entire area in, what you would call, a ten klick radius around the shrine.” She taps the paper and it shimmers before it suddenly shows dozens of dots instead of the general highlights we had been seeing. “We were able to modify the Normal Illusion to give us information on magic users in the area. Notice how we’re all quite bright in this office building. There’s a lot of magic power concentrated here.”

“So all those moving dots at the edge of the map must be your people maintaining the perimeter, then?” I ask.

“Correct,” Gabi says. “They’re also there to uphold the Normal Illusion so if a confrontation does come up, we can keep the peace. We don’t want people panicking and getting in our way.”

Reiko nods. “That would be bad.”

“So what does this mean for us?” I ask. “Do those two other places mean something?”

Gabi nods and points to the same places we had seen the concentrations of magic at. “Right now, the only ones there are my investigators.” She points to the few dots roaming around the places she pointed. “If we think about it, it makes sense that they would be right near the shrine trying to disrupt our movements here.” She switches views to magic use. “If what Reiko suggested is true, then it means we’re dealing with demons that are going to and from the Choral Gate.”

“Wouldn’t that be cause for alarm?” Eri asks. “Since it looks like you have a few demons watching the portal itself.”

“It would, but it would seem there is a way to travel realms without the gate, however crude it may be.”

“What do you mean?” Ryoka asks, finally joining in. “I thought the Gates were the only way you can go between Realms.”

“While that is normally true, my investigators found pikes drilled into the ground with poor imitations of the Choral Orb.” She turns to us and frowns. “From what my magi-scientists say; As long as the main gate is open, smaller gates piggybacking off its dimensional signal is possible, though they can only fit one person through at a time, and they use the mana of the ones casting the portal instead of the rift energy of the gate itself.

“Which explains why it looks like so much magic has been used,” Eri says. “Interesting.”

“Is there any way of tracking who comes and goes through these portals?” Ryoka asks. “If they’re as shoddy as you say they are, there’s bound to be some flaws.”

Gabi shakes her head. “Not at the moment. And since we’ve found mini-gates, we haven’t seen anyone who wasn’t one of my agents come close to them.” Ryoka begins to open his mouth, but Gabi beats him to it. “If you’re going to accuse my investigators; Don’t. They travel in pairs and keep each other accountable. If any of them were suspicious, I would know instantly.”

“So how are we going to figure out who our Rogues are?” I ask.

“That’s easy!” Reiko chirps up. “We have our answer right here.” She pulls Eri into a side hug, and I widen my eyes.

“Of course!” I exclaim, clicking my fingers.

“What?” Ryoka questions confusedly.

“Eri, here, has mage sight,” Gabi explains. Ryoka’s mouth drops and he turns to Eri.

“That’s impossible! That’s a once-in-a-generation ability!”

“Well, it’s the reason why I have no magical aptitude,” Eri grumbles. “It’s the side-effect of having mage sight.”

“But it also means you’re able to handle the very fabric of reality itself,” Ryoka whispers. “You can unravel any enchantment, modify any spell, trace any resonite aura.” He bows his head to her. “In exchange for magic, you can neutralize anything thrown at you. You’re the ultimate peacemaker.”

Eri blushes heavily, turning to the side. “I-I wouldn’t call myself that. That’s ludicrous.”

“It’s what RED aspires to be,” Ryoka says. “What I aspire to be. I hope you use your gift well, because this world depends on it.”

I didn’t know it was possible for Eri’s face to get this red, but she now resembles a raspberry. “Stupid! Now you’re just saying things!”

“I don’t know, Eri…” Reiko smiles. “It looks like Ryoka has a thing for you.”

It’s Ryoka’s turn to get embarrassed as he blinks and immediately flushes red. “Th-that’s not what I meant at all! I was just trying to be kind and truthful!”

“Don’t you know flattery is one way to a girl’s heart?” Reiko swoons in place. “Oh, Ryoka! I didn’t know you thought so highly of me!”

“Reiko, cut it out!” Eri growls, and she shoves her. Reiko laughs as she spins to a stop. Eri goes to grab her, and Reiko tries to escape but fails. She finds herself spluttering in choked giggles as Eri begins to strangle her—

“Enough!” Gabi cries, and we all turn to her in silence. Reiko gasps for air as she’s released, giving us a thumbs up, while Eri stands at attention with a pout. As for Ryoka staring off into space… he looks fine.

I cut the silence with a question. “What’s our next move, then, Gabi?”

“We move.” She motions to the circles of magic. “With Eri’s mage sight, we take a look at each of the mini-gates and untangle the resonite that lingers from their usage, and find our culprits in this world or the next.”

All of us who aren’t Gabi blink at the phrasing. Reiko then says what we all had on our minds. “Wow. That saying has a completely different feel when there are actual other worlds we can travel to.”

“What was that?” Gabi asks, genuinely confused.

Eri sighs. “It’s nothing, Gabi, just human idiom.”

“Anyways,” I interject, “Does that mean we’ll be travelling to the demon realm as well?”

Blinking away her confusion, she nods. “Of course. How else are we supposed to get at the root of the problem?”

“Wait,” Ryoka interrupts. “What do you mean we’re going to the demon realm?”

“Exactly that,” Gabi states. “We’ll might end up having to resolve this on the other side.”

“That’s not possible.”

I frown at him. “What do you mean it’s not possible?”

He drops his gaze. “I mean I won’t be able to come with you.”

“Why not?” Reiko asks. “Are you afraid of something?”

“No.” Ryoka shakes his head. “It’s not that I don’t want to. I can’t.”

Eri looks at him incredulously. “What?”

Holding a hand up, Gabi stops any other questions. She turns to Eri and gestures to Ryoka. “Eri, take a good look at Ryoka.”

I watch as Eri does so, peering intently at him. Ryoka squirms under her gaze, but doesn’t complain. He seems resigned to something. She looks him up and down, and looks back to Gabi, before widening her eyes. Eri whips her gaze back to Ryoka and walks up to him, placing a hand on his chest.

“Your… your resonite, it’s all over the place—“

“It’s fractured,” Gabi says calmly. “He won’t survive too many jumps through the Gates.”

His gaze snaps to Gabi. “Eri, I can understand.” His gaze sharpens and his hand moves to his blade. “How do you know?”

“Is your answer to every problem a sharp blade?” Gabi asks, deadpanning. ”That isn’t very nice.”

“Sometimes the flash of death is kinder than hollow words.”

Gabi shook her head. “I knew because of the way you use your magic.” Her eyes glance down to his blade, which is sparking with magic. “You channel your mana almost exclusively through your blade. It’s enchanted to your resonite. It’s well known that magic is more stable when used through a medium, and that blade there almost never leaves your side. And the last time you used something else…”

“It burned through his bokken,” I murmur in realization. “It wasn’t your fire that charred it.”

“So it lessens the mana tax on his resonite, while increasing the burden on the medium!” Reiko says. “Fascinating!”

“Exactly,” Gabi says. “And now you can throw away that silly notion that I was the one behind your resonite fracture. I didn’t even know you existed, much less cared for you.” She gives him a thumbs up. “But I’ll definitely help you find the demons that did that to you when this is all over.”

Seeming to appreciate the gesture, Ryoka relaxes and gives a small sigh. “I’m… sorry,” he says. “I know Miss Maki told me to trust you girls, but it’s hard. I’m the top student, sure, but that’s because I throw my efforts into being the best at everything I do. That doesn’t give me much room to socialize, so…”

“So you’re in the same boat as us,” Eri finishes. “Nice to know our school’s golden boy isn’t as shiny as he seems.”

A grin fights it’s way onto Ryoka’s face. “Who are you, again?” Ryoka asks her. “Oh, I’m sorry. You must be new.”

Eri puffs her cheeks and stomps her feet. “Why, you!”

“Hey, hey!” I yell. “Break it up! Don’t you think it’s time to get this show on the road?”

“Yeah,” Reiko says, already appearing beside the door with a short sword strapped to her. “I’m ready as spaghetti!”

“What are we waiting for?” Gabi asks, putting her crown on her head. I watch as she taps it and armour appears all over her. “Well?”

Ryoka nods. “If we’re going, then let’s go.”

Eri looks at me with worry, but I shake my head. “Are you ready, Eri?” I ask.

“Of course,” she says. She then points to the shield and bracers she has. “Will you be alright, Yuki? You don’t have anything.”

I grimace at her true observation. Honestly, I hadn’t been given anything that would help me in a fight, but I wasn’t planning on getting involved anyway. Hopefully, whatever little wind magic I had been able to learn from Gabi would be enough. “I… I should be fine!” I exclaim, putting on my best face. “I’ve got you guys to protect me… right?”

I look around as everyone shares a look. I sigh at that. “Well, I’m putting my trust in my luck, okay? I’ve made it this far in life. I’m sure I can keep going.”

“I hope you’re right about that,” says Gabi. “I’ll try and teach you some more on the way to the first mini-gate.”

“Thanks, Gabi,” I say in relief. “That really eases my mind.”

Nodding, she turns to us all and raises her blade. “Alright, everyone! Let’s move!”

“Yes!” We all cry. One by one, we left the room, until it was just me left. I take one last look at the wall map, and look at all the red dots starting to move.

“I hope we make it out alright,” I whisper, and follow my friends’  voices out of the room alone.