Chapter 18:

Snow over Zarconia

Crimson Core

Hours turned into days, and so the time of the new year has crept in. The snowflakes fluttered in an ice-cold weather of just one among many pale days. The city life moved slowly but surely as always.Bookmark here

„Here we are.“Bookmark here

Nana stopped the car in front of the garage of a Lotus Medical Institute. Beside her sat Omi dressed in a beige winter jacket with a magenta-colored scarf round his neck.Bookmark here

„They won't wake up today either, right?“ hot air that Omi was breathing out blurred out the car glass beside him.Bookmark here

„We don't know that, Omes, but I think you should visit them anyway,“ Nana touched Omi's hair that dropped over his shoulder.Bookmark here

„Now I know how Ren felt watching her sister every day,“ he clenched his fists.Bookmark here

„There there. Come on, off we go,“ Nana pushed Omi out of the car, „hey banana beard, park the car for me,“ she threw her keys at the guard that sneaked behind their car.Bookmark here

„Certainly, my lady, that is why I am here,“ guard bowed.Bookmark here

„On a second thought, I'm gonna park it myself,“ she ran towards the guard and snatched the keys from his hand.Bookmark here

„Wh..what?“ guard stared blankly at her.Bookmark here

„You go in there Omi, I'll be right there,“ said Nana and entered the car.Bookmark here

The quiet girl was the only one sitting at the reception desk. Omi approached her politely.Bookmark here

„Hello, Hana. I'm here to visit my friends,“ Omi had a hard time saying the same sentence over and over again, knowing that he will surely have to do it again.Bookmark here

The girl looked straight into his eyes and nodded slowly. There was a barely noticeable smile on her static face, but Omi overlooked it.Bookmark here

He walked slowly up the stairs and knocked on Dr. Chom's office.Bookmark here

„Come in!“ an enthusiastic voice came from within the room.Bookmark here

Omi opened the door and found Dr. Chom drinking tea in a corner of a room. He has lost some weight and his beard seemed progressively grayer with each passing day.Bookmark here

„So... any progress?“ Omi asked.Bookmark here

„Sorry, not really, Ren and Alp are still in a room across this one, which is actually a good thing, even though they are not any better at least their condition hasn't worsened,“ doctor said with a swallowed smile.Bookmark here

„And...Ume?“ Omi felt a large punch in a chest area just by uttering her name.Bookmark here

„She is still beside Kappa in an Isolation,“ complexity of doctor's face stiffened after saying the words.Bookmark here

„I think I'm ready to see her today,“ Omi surprised himself for saying that out loud.Bookmark here

„You're a brave little dude! Cyn is already there, I mean she hasn't left that room ever since we transported them there, can't blame her,“ doctor averted his gaze.Bookmark here

„Thanks, I'll see you later,“ Omi left the room.Bookmark here

He reached the elevator and located the basement button on a control panel. His finger shook frantically, preventing him from pressing the elevator button. At the last moment, the quiet girl from the reception appeared before him, handing him the special key card and pressing the button for him.Bookmark here

He didn't have time to react to her actions, she was that fast and precise. But without a complain he dropped to the basement floor, thanking Hana for the assistance.Bookmark here

When he reached the basement floor, he was greeted by a warning sign that special suit was needed to proceed further into the Isolation Floor.Bookmark here

I guess this is to prevent any form of contamination, he thought.Bookmark here

He opened the heavy vault door with a special key card that had Hana's name on it. Bookmark here

„Hana Nefer,“ he read it out loud.Bookmark here

What a strange name, it fits her perfectly though, he thought to himself as a form of a distraction.Bookmark here

When he entered the hallway behind the vault door, the long narrow path completely covered in plastic prostrated before him.Bookmark here

He noticed a tall woman in a suit that reminded him of a raincoat his mother used to own.Bookmark here

„Hey,“ Omi approached the woman.Bookmark here

„Oh, Omicron it's you. You actually decided to came, I'm glad,“ she tried to smile but couldn't. Bookmark here

Omi noticed a bunch of papers scattered around the sleeping bag on the floor and a laptop connected to a power outlet.Bookmark here

He knew there was a glass window behind him, but he was hesitant to look through it.Bookmark here

„Hey rebels, look who came to visit,“ Cyn said silently.Bookmark here

Unusual way of addressing someone took Omi by surprise so he reflexively turned his head around. He felt his own blood squeezing it's way through hardened veins.Bookmark here

There were two beds, one beside the other. On one of them laid Ume, connected to a strange device that showed the pulse of her still beating heart.Bookmark here

On the other laid Shiki connected to a similar-looking device. Around them grew crimson flowers that ejected pale pollen-like flakes onto the air that disappeared upon reaching the ceiling. Bookmark here

As one flower shuts himself down, another one emerged in it's place.Bookmark here

Both of them were in complete darkness, their unconscious bodies were faintly illuminated by a pale glow of the flakes.Bookmark here

„What is this?“ Omi was glued to the glass.Bookmark here

„Honestly? We have no clue. It seems that somehow Kappa brought the [World Within] to the outside world. All we know is that he ejects the [Loose Mana] in form of those flowers you see.“Bookmark here

Omi took a peek at Cyn's face beneath the mask. The dark circles beneath her eyes gave him an idea she hasn't slept ever since they found Ume collapsed in the club room.Bookmark here

„Is that even possible?“ Omi's vocal chord broke as if he was singing throughout the entire night.Bookmark here

„Anything is possible theoretically,“ she took a seat near the sleeping bag, „ so, are you having fun with Nana?“Bookmark here

Omi held Cyn in high regard.The entire school did, so much that often he would see school council itself seek advice at the door of the infirmary. Seeing her exhausted and above all, human, hurt him deeply.Bookmark here

Not because he treated her as a divinity, but he finally got the confirmation of the severity of situation. He got the permission to be torn.Bookmark here

Omi said nothing, he broke down in tears and Cyn could only watch him. There was nothing she could do to ease his pain.Bookmark here

„...“Bookmark here

Ren and Alp followed the jester that frivolously juggled with plums through the corridor. She ignored the rooms with the mannequins and focused her sight on the floor.Bookmark here

The hallway was especially long, but no matter where she looked at, there stood a beating sun-machinery that was connected to the other by few slim threads that seemed like a spider's web.Bookmark here

„You fancy our sparkling clean floor? Come with me and I will surely show you more!“ jester giggled happily as he juggled more and more plums with each new door they pass by.Bookmark here

„Are you all right, my Queen?“ the armor looked at Ren.Bookmark here

„I am not sure, do you think my sister is kept...somewhere in there?“ she put the palm over her mouth.Bookmark here

She was afraid of the sheer thought.Bookmark here

„Oooh I can assure your majesty, such manner would be travesty! We keep your sister in a place secluded enough, so she doesn't have it tough!“Bookmark here

The way jester spoke gave Ren an idea that he is making fun of her. She kept repeating to herself that the jester before her is just an imposter. She wouldn't forgive herself if she started to hate her friend just because that thing is wearing Shiki's face.Bookmark here

„What are we doing here anyway? Where is my sister? Where is Kappa? Obey me!“ Ren stopped walking and raised her voice.Bookmark here

Jester stopped juggling fruit and turned around. He frowned at Ren while dropping his shoulders.Bookmark here

„Now now, the path is long I fear, but fortunately for you there is a shortcut my dear! I surrender my frugal self to your eyes colored as a tundra, I welcome you to my [Cryptic Umbra]!“Bookmark here

Jester clapped twice and the floor beneath them has shattered in thousands of pieces. They were falling slowly through the void all the way down where millions of crimson suns beat with passion and serenity.Bookmark here

They had fluttered effortlessly like snowflakes and landed down near one of the suns. Ren's kimono grazed one of it's crimson rays but nothing of significance happened to her.Bookmark here

„Oh my..“ Ren knelt before one of the suns and three more surrounded her.Bookmark here

Her emotions intensified severely.Gigantic grains of sweat appeared over her face. Slight discomfort caused by fear of the unknown has evolved into a fright that kept her shackled on a single place.Bookmark here

„My Queen, I am not good enough for you, I am just not good enough, I need to disappear!“ Armor ran frantically like a disoriented lunatic away from her.Bookmark here

She found no strength to stop him. She was unable to comprehend reality to the point in which she questioned her own existence.Bookmark here

Headaches worsened with each second. There was no distinguishable sounds around her. Just an engulfing beat of silence that intoxicated every pore of her tangible being.Bookmark here

„Is this what hell feels like?“ a question lingered in the air.Bookmark here

„No, hell is right there on earth, sis,“ a girl that looked like her twin self appeared beside her.Bookmark here

„Miyako?“Bookmark here

„Yes, or whatever remains of her at least,“ forced smile filled with pain adorned her face.Bookmark here

„You were here all along? Alone?“ Ren's tears were so heavy, they scarred her face on their way down and then dropped on a ground followed by a sound of evaporating acid.Bookmark here

„Gentle kisses that I had received from you each day kept me company,“ girl shifted from one spot to another like a specter, but Ren completely diminished that.Bookmark here

„No, oh my God, no, I am so so sorry,“ Ren did her best to endure the pain that her own tears caused her. She knew far too well that it is nothing compared to what her sister felt.Bookmark here

„No, I am. I was supposed to be a Prime Shard carrier, but I couldn't meet dad's expectations. I let you down as well,“ words were finding their way out of girl's mouth even though her lips didn't move.Bookmark here

„What are you saying? You dumb woman! That is the stupidest reason in a whole wide world to end up in a hellhole like this!“ Ren twitched around and shouted from the top of her lungs.Bookmark here

„Easy for you to say. A prodigy. Daddy's little princess,“ words cut Ren's ears like knives.Bookmark here

She succumbed to the floor and held her chest tightly. A giant lotus leaves emerged on her back. In the middle of them sprouted a purple lotus flower that ejected severe amounts of [Loose Mana]. Small bubbles with pale glow traveled from the flower's center to the ground, transforming into [Voidpools]. Bookmark here

The pools surrounded her, ejecting tiny particles like snowflakes that fluttered amok in the vacuum. With each particle of [Loose Mana] it ejected, the color of the flower would change from purple to a more reddish nuances.Bookmark here

„You want to be consumed by Umbra as well?“girl approached Ren's pale face.Bookmark here

„I came here to save Kappa, I came here to save you!“ Ren punched and kicked around the spaceless ground like a spoiled brat.Bookmark here

„You're on a wrong address, silly girl.“Bookmark here

„What do you mean?“Bookmark here

„You need to get out of here. You, Umeko and Alp.“Bookmark here

„But what about you?“Bookmark here

„I will wait for you, I won't give up until he consumes the last molecule of my being.“Bookmark here

„He consumes?“Bookmark here

„Yes, Kappa, The Devourer.“Bookmark here

„What are you saying, Miyako?“Bookmark here

Girl grabbed Ren beneath her arm and pulled her high above the beating cores. The lotus flower on Ren's back still ejected some [Loose Mana] but far less than before.Bookmark here

„Do you see it?“ girl whispered.Bookmark here

„Is that...Kappa?“Bookmark here

Living cocoon made out of crimson threads spread it's tentacles onto the ground, grabbing the nearest [Crimson Core] and swallowing it whole. Using it's threaded tentacles it walked around and devoured any core that it would fancy.Bookmark here

„He is eating them?“ Ren felt sickly.Bookmark here

„Yes, he feeds on the [Crimson Cores] of people that are stuck within [Cryptic Umbra].“Bookmark here

„What about your core?“Bookmark here

„Oh I hid my core very well. Nagisa's too. He won't hear our Spark that easily.“Bookmark here

„I...can't do anything to save him?“Bookmark here

Sudden realization wounded her spirit. She was barely holding onto a thought that there was a way to fix this mess. That hope faded away.Bookmark here

„Your former friend is far gone. He is now but a weapon.“Bookmark here

„Shiki...“Bookmark here

„No! Don't use his name he will hear us!“Bookmark here

Giant cocoon turned towards them. Humongous threads traveled with an extreme speed towards them while hitting some of the cores in it's path.Bookmark here

„I will launch you to the upper level. Find Alp and get out!“Bookmark here

„OK, but I will return here and search for you!“ Ren shouted.Bookmark here

„And I will wait.“Bookmark here

With these words girl threw Ren with a formidable force upwards, aiming the broken floor that she fell from. Ren looked down at the specter of her sister disappearing the second before threaded tentacles got to her.Bookmark here

She didn't weep. She didn't dread.Bookmark here

She was certain that they will meet again and that thought served as a fuel for her fatally wounded hope.Bookmark here

She emerged on the broken corridor. The leaves on her back vanished by themselves. She felt much lighter than before.Bookmark here

She walked as fast as she could through the corridor in order to find Alp. Suddenly she remembered about the napkin in her right pocket.Bookmark here

The only thing written on the napkin was „See you on the other side.“Bookmark here

Luckily, there was no sight of jester, just an armor that slept on the door of one of the rooms. It was a room „39“.Bookmark here

„Heh, that's Ume's apartment number,“ Ren sighed as she shook Alp a bit.Bookmark here

„Knight? Are you awake?“ she asked with a worried face.Bookmark here

„Majesty! I mean Ren, sorry, I got so scared I couldn't see anything in front of me. Something carried me here. Carried ME, imagine that!“ Alp waved his arms around.Bookmark here

„Honestly, I can barely imagine. Come on, we should leave,“ Ren helped him get up on his feet.Bookmark here

„What about Kappa, Umeko, your sister?“ Alp's armor creaked whenever he moved his body.Bookmark here

„Umeko is safe and saving my sister is a quest for another day,“ Ren answered simply.Bookmark here

„Kappa?“ Alp wondered.Bookmark here

„We should hurry, come on,“ Ren avoided the question and hurried with Alp through the corridor.Bookmark here

„...“Bookmark here

You think I will let them leave just like that?Bookmark here

Yes, You will.Bookmark here

And why is that?Bookmark here

Because I'm all the company you need.Bookmark here

Is that so?! Okay Shiki, let's wait for the break of dawn like we used to.Bookmark here

You got it Uta, I even snatched your favorite snacks.Bookmark here

Yay! Cornflakes!Bookmark here

I still can't believe you eat those without milk.Bookmark here

Milk is so overrated, come on, I want to sit in your lap.Bookmark here

Yes ma'am.Bookmark here

You will stay with me, right?Bookmark here

Always.Bookmark here

„...“Bookmark here

Ren and Alp have opened their eyes at the exact same time. Dr.Chom spilled his tea from the excitement. He burst out of the doors to tell Cyn, but when he went with the elevator down, he found her hugging Ume tightly while Institute staff tried to separate them.Bookmark here

Her eyes were fixated onto unconscious Shiki, crimson from the tears she wept.Bookmark here

He was reminded of his former love and knew far too well of the feelings that ran through her inconsolable frame.Bookmark here

There was nothing he could do or say.Bookmark here

All the flowers that bloomed around Shiki had disappeared. Just the remaining pollen fluttered around the room here and there.Bookmark here

On the other side of town, Omi was sitting at diner's while Nana played with Sunbar. He answered the phone and nothing but a honest smile painted itself on his face.Bookmark here

He didn't tell anything to Nana, just gazed through the window and enjoyed the company of a single reddish cloud that moved inconspicuously into the sunset. Bookmark here

Extra; EndingBookmark here

Thunder humsBookmark here

High in the cloudsBookmark here

Amidst the fieldsBookmark here

Never-ending sparksBookmark here

Knock on the doorBookmark here

Yearn for the pastBookmark here

Over the presentBookmark here

Under the wings of futureBookmark here

Find the oneBookmark here

Or lose the otherBookmark here

Rest assuredBookmark here

Rain quenches the thirstBookmark here

Eulogy of those who still hurtBookmark here

As above, so belowBookmark here

Die again and live once moreBookmark here

In this minute called lifeBookmark here

Never surrender, never give inBookmark here

Good things always come from within.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.