Chapter 17:

Vol. 2 ☆ Interlude: Stage One ~ BLOOMING HOPE

Scarlet Finale! / スカーレットフィナーレ!


Mirage.

That was the name of this hero. A hero who shouldn't have existed anymore. A hero who despite the will of fate, stood here to this day.

If one was a radiant number one, if the other one was a prodigious number two; Mirage was an irregular zero. Someone who had left it all behind. Someone who at first glance had no value, and yet, infinite possibilities rested on the palms of her hands.

Her pristine-white vest, long as a coat, reached her feet and fluttered with the wind as she walked forward. The scenery that surrounded the short haired brunette was one of nature. A long mountain range extended in the distance. The fresh air carried the scent of flowers with it. And what stood before her was none other than a structure shaped like a holy castle.

This event took place in the outskirts of Glint City a mere two days ago.

Mirage walked towards the entrance of the castle. There wasn't a single ounce of nervousness in her heart. Her eyes, clear as the blue skies, brimmed with determination.

So what brought her to this place? A grudge against the organization? A desperate attempt to save the city? Usually, yes. As a well-trained enforcer of the law, Mirage was originally after the organization in order to investigate what was going on and shut them down. This time however, it was different.

It all began a few hours earlier. A young little girl had wandered into the police station. Her sudden, unstoppable, crying voice put Mirage into high alert. She immediately approached the girl, crouching down to look at her face properly.

"Is there something wrong? What happened?" Mirage spoke with a sincere and polite tone. Keeping calm was the key in these situations, otherwise it would only place a toll on the already agitated victim.

"Mommy... mo-mommy she-! We looked and looked for her and couldn't find her anymore! Mommy is gone!!"

This didn't sound good at all. Knowing the state the city was in, this was enough for her to guess what happened. On the other hand, it was still not enough information. Was her mother missing because she left for the organization? Or was she injured and terminated by the members of that holy brigade?

"Don't worry. It's going to be okay." Mirage embraced the girl. "It's going to be okay. I'm going to find your mother and bring her right back. But I need to you to answer some questions for me first. Is that okay?"

"W...Will big sis help?"

The young girl had trouble speaking through her sobs. Her breathing was still erratic but Mirage could tell her body had stopped shaking. This was a good sign.

"I'll help. I promise. I just need to get a few clues to find your mother. You know? Like a detective! Detectives always win, don't they?"

"Y-yeah. Yeah!"

Looks like the girl was finally starting to cheer up. Of course, Mirage didn't choose her words randomly. She was well aware that there was a famous show on Glint City about a super detective that most kids were into. She didn't know if this girl in particular was into it, but looks like it worked. Knowing how to deal with every person individually was a really strong forte for her.

"Okay. Tell me. When was the last time you saw your mother?"

"Last night."

"Was she acting strange before that? Did you notice her doing anything different?"

"Um. B-Big bro says I shouldn't talk about the family's problems with others but..."

"And where is that big bro now?" Mirage crossed her arms. If this girl had another guardian, what was she doing here alone?

"He's home. He didn't want to ask for help s-so I ran away because I wanted to do something to help!!"

Acting for the sake of changing something even when everyone was against you, huh? Somehow Mirage easily saw herself mirrored in this girl.

"If you ran away you already broke the rules, didn't you? It's okay though. We'll keep this our little secret~" Mirage gave her a wide and bright smile. "So how about it? You can tell big sis anything!"

"Um...um...well...so...last night, mommy was arguing with big bro."

"Hm?"

"I-It's because mommy wanted to leave the city. S-She tried to hurt me, saying it was for my own sake. That it was to..to purify me? So big bro stepped in and sent me to my room. I don't know what happened next... this morning big bro was injured and mommy was gone."

"Good morning, Mira." In that moment, a certain spiky haired boy entered the place while yawning.

"Perfect timing." Mirage glanced at Ryuusei. "I need your help right now. Can you please scout this girl back to her home? Take a first aid kit with you."

"Huh?" Ryuusei could barely understand the situation but he knew better than to question Mirage. "Sure thing."

"Don't worry." Mirage gave the little girl a gentle pat on her head. "Just listen to this guy for now. He'll take you somewhere safe and help your big bro. I'll be there with your mommy soon. So just wait for me, okay?"

In response, the girl frantically nodded multiple times.

"Once you are done, please come back and look after this place. Someone else who needs help might show up." Mirage reached for a small bag attached to her waist with a belt. She reached for three tiny translucent stones and placed them on Ryuusei's hand. "I'm giving these to you Ryuusei. Promise me you won't use them unless it's an emergency, okay? Right now we have no way to replace them after all."

The information Mirage had obtained was more than enough to lead her to her target. Before this, she had been after clues to find more information about the organization. Something not everyone knew is that the Organization of Hope had already spread worldwide. The difference was that they were only working in the shadows in most places. They had become something akin to an unpopular urban legend that no one took seriously or would joke about. Of course, anyone living in Glint City had grown to fear for their lives thanks to this group.

The only reason the truth about this organization hadn't spread out through the internet or media was simple. The organization had used these very affected citizens in order to grow. For the ones that remained, they were living under great pressure thanks to most of the city shutting down. Even if they were to post about this to the internet others would hardly take them seriously. Moreover, this organization was no joke. They had control over all data from any device connected to the net from the city. The moment you tried posting evidence it would get deleted immediately and you would lose service. Moreover, while the shutdown of Glint City had recently made it to some news reports, it was simply attributed to recent natural disasters and no one bothered to come here and check properly.

Why was a worldwide organization centering themselves around this city though? In fact, that's something Mirage wouldn't have ever imagined. At first, she was tracking down some of their bases located on nearby towns and cities. But it seemed like she would always be too late and someone would forcefully shut down these bases, shutting down all evidence alongside. Just who was this person that kept causing her so much trouble?!

At the very end, her investigation had led her to Glint City. The holy castle was their only apparent remaining headquarter in the area. According to her investigation, all the citizens of Glint City who had joined the organization were stationed here.

In other words, if the mother of that little girl was so intent on "purifying" her, then she would be inside this castle for sure.

Standing before the tall doors to the castle, the brunette cracked her knuckles and forced the door open.

Of course the door would be easy to open. The people who had joined this organization were far beyond proper human logic. It's as though they were slowly becoming mindless beasts ready to attack anyone on sight. For the time being, this was her first time stepping into one of their bases as they were still active. She could easily run in and fight everyone but gathering proper intel was a much better first step.

As expected, the moment she stepped in, the image before her was already bizarre. The entrance was a wide large hall with cloudy white walls. The royal blue carpet that spread all across the floor almost matched with the color of Mirage's shirt. Strange gold and silver decorations depicting an angered roaring lion and a large holy bird were spread across the walls. The bizarre nature of the place however, came from the five organization members that walked around.

At least three men and two women moved across the room. They all wore the same clear white uniform put together by a long sleeved shirt with belts on their arms and long pants. The strong smell of chlorine would make anyone think they had stepped into a hospital.

The organization members weren't simply walking. They moved back and forth following the same pattern. It looked less like people patrolling the place and more like generic enemies in a video game.

Mirage slowly approached the person closest to her. It was the only one who didn't walk around and instead, stood right by the entrance. Her presence went completely unnoticed, almost like she was a ghost. Just to double check before moving onward, she waved her hand in front of their face. No reaction.

This wasn't because of the organization members simply ignoring Mirage. This is because this was Mirage's very own Velvet Burst.

If you were to ask what Velvet itself was, a simplified answer would be this: it was a fabric with the threads that compose it spread evenly. On the other hand, it was safe to say that this was true for the world itself. The reason the world existed is because the different threads and parameters that composed it were evenly distributed to let it exist.

In other words, Velvet Burst was none other than a way to break and modify the parameters of the world.

Now, where did the mother of this girl go? Before leaving on her mission, Mirage managed to obtain a photo of the person she was after in question. It was a beautiful older woman with glamorous long hair. A mole on her neck was an easy way to identify her, a trait that her daughter shared as well.

That being said, this place was quite complex. There were way too many doors spread all around. Mirage checked at least three of them but she found nothing other than bedrooms. Some organization members seemed to be sleeping while other rooms were simply empty. Checking on the sleeping people was no use, the person she was after was nowhere to be found and there were no traces of Ryuusei’s brother either.

Maybe it was time to check the upper floor. The wide and fancy stairway would make it quite easy to reach the next floor but-

"YOU PIECES OF TRASH I'M HERE TO TAKE YOU ALL DOWN!!"

(What?!)

Mirage jumped up to her feet the moment a voice yelled through a megaphone. That sudden yell instantly alerted all the organization members inside, making them run towards the entrance like a stampede.

(That damn voice!! It had to be Faith of all people!! I could deal with this easily if it was Wish but Faith is the last person I want to face right now!!)

She had to act fast. Going up the stairs was a bad idea, she would be easy to notice if she was up there. There was a reason why her Velvet Burst: Phantasmagoria, wouldn't be effective on Faith at all. And that was Faith's insane analysis abilities. He would likely be able to see through her easily if she got too close, a risk that she wasn't willing to take.

As she ran for it, the sound of the front door being forced open reached her. It didn't take long till the bodies of the organization members who stood by the entrance were sent flying away. For the time being, all she had to do was to be really wary of the place where the sounds came from and stay as far away as possible.

So what now? Running around aimlessly wouldn't help. It would be best to try and get a layout of the place, it was classic for these locations to have one available. Most of the time, there's a map for the people who live here, similar to those maps you see when entering a mall. Even if there wasn't one out in plain sight, there was still a clue she could follow: one of the rooms she visited earlier had a computer in them.

(Calm down, Mirage. Calm down and figure out what to do.)

The loud gunshots in the distance were unnerving. Of course, she wasn't scared that Faith would end the life of anyone inside here but she knew he could go a little overboard sometimes.

After reaching the room again and starting up the computer, an image with the map of the castle loaded up on the screen. This was way too suspicious. Why would something like this be prompted up just like that? Hm. Let's see. Why was Faith inside here to begin with? Even seeing him in the city would have been a shock so him coming to this place was unexpected. Is the enemy aware of who they are up against? If so, it wouldn't be rare for them to try and bait Faith with fake information.

At that moment, like pieces of the puzzle coming together, the window next to Mirage shut down as a steel shutter descended.

(Are they trying to trap him here?!)

Let's see. Part of the map started flashing red, it was the part the covered the entire first floor. But there was something different. On a corner of the room on the back side of the stairs, a part of the map blinked with a light blue color. A safe room? This was definitely something to bait Faith into going there.

In other words, there was absolutely no way Faith would take that bait. That would be her safe zone.

This was good. If they tried to lure Faith into a trap a lot of organization members would be there. That meant that Mirage could deal with them first. As much as she wanted to protect their lives, she was well aware that they are the ones who got themselves into this mess to begin with. Keeping casualties to a minimum even if it meant beating them up herself was her best option here.

As expected, once she reached the room that had been labeled as a "safe" area. There were many organization members all with fire weapons at hand, ready to release a barrage of explosives against their enemy. Thankfully, Mirage was able to approach them without anything to worry about thanks to her Phantasmagoria.

Less than a minute later, Mirage dusted off her hands as all the members laid on the floor all passed out and disarmed. Yet, she was again reminded of bigger problems she had to deal with. The ground trembled as the sound of a massive blast resounded. There was no doubt that Faith had been the one behind this, likely in an attempt to force his way into the upper floor.

It was time to get moving. She should go to the second floor as well and keep an eye on everything. But how could she proceed? The stairway had been sealed up and taking the exact route where Faith was didn't sound good. Looks like there was only one option, the elevator in the safe room. Of course, this elevator had been all shut down as well, but that didn't stop Mirage.

She looked around at the weapons spread across the floor. Not all of them were shotguns and rifles, looks like some attackers were ready to attack with blunt objects as well. Taking advantage of her surroundings, Mirage pulled a crowbar and forced the doors to the elevator wide open. The box to carry her to the next floor was noticeably missing. A quick glance into the dark depths before her told her it was stuck on the floor below, underground. It would take some time to climb up to the next floor but this was fine.

Mirage took hold of the elevator's lifeline with her hands and began to climb up slowly and steadily. Even without the crowbar she was confident enough that she could force the door open on the other side with her bare hands if it came down to it. If you looked at her arms closely, she had muscles that were nothing to laugh at.

The elevator only seemed to reach as far as the second floor but that was okay. She didn’t need to force the door open as she found her way into an air duct and followed it until she emerged in another room. Once she was there... what a disaster. Was this a security control room? Looking at the layout of the room was difficult because of all the unconscious bodies spread around. No, there was something more than that. There was a massive hole in the floor. So this is how Faith forced his way in, huh? Walking forward here would be really difficult, was the black haired boy still around?

A small peek outside of the room was enough sign that he had moved on to the final floor already. That being said, there was something curious about this location. It would be difficult to notice unless you looked at the map, but why was the layout so similar to a pyramid?

(A pyramid. There has to be something to this. Why would they use that kind of symbol? Why in Glint City?)

Mirage felt like she was getting close to an answer, but the closer she got the more blurry it was.

Now, let's take a look at the passed out people here. Was the mother of that girl here then? She wasn't with the attackers in the floor below after all.

And yet, something startled Mirage once again before she could focus on this.

"?!"

It was a really loud alarm that spread across the castle. A robotic voice continued to yell: "Warning! Warning!! Evacuate the premises! Explosion incoming! Warning! Warning!!"

(An explosion?! Don't tell me, is this place going to self-destruct?!)

Of course, Mirage couldn't accept that. Not because of her own safety but because that meant all the people here would die. Because that meant she would fail that girl. She couldn't allow that. She couldn't break her promise just like that. Be it Faith or anyone else in her way, she wouldn't falter.

But what could she do? This was a security control room. There surely had to be a measure against that. There were some machines and screens here but... most had been damaged by Faith's blast. Relying on them was no use. What now?

(No. Calm down. When in doubt, calm down.) She took a deep breath. Time was running out, but this wasn't over yet.

According to the layout there were no other control rooms. There had to be an answer in this room. The first step was to remove the obstacles and take all the passed out people in the way to safety. She carried at least four people at once with her arms; taking them away from the room so they wouldn't fall down to the floor below. In three trips, she had cleared out the place.

What now? Most of the machines were destroyed and the screen that had been attached to the wall was barely hanging on. Wait. There was something unnatural about that screen. It was bent backwards. Usually, it would have hit the wall in that position. But it went through?

She quickly moved closer only to notice what looked like a hole. The screen was huge; almost the size the one of a movie theater and it covered the entire wall. Taking another deep breath, Mirage placed her hand on the corner of the screen and forcefully pulled it out with ease, throwing it behind her with a lot of force. As expected, there was a hidden passage there. Is this why the second floor looked so empty from the outside? Because most of it was hidden away?

Moving past the passage way wasn't easy. The area was tight and she had to force her way through but it was worth it. There was a lever on the other side with a lot of wires connected to it and a machine on the wall. She didn't want to touch the machine just yet, there was no telling if she would make things worse.

Was this lever connected to the security system of this place? There was no other reason it would be here. But it wasn't the time to think about it. It was do or die. Would this stop the destruction of the castle? Would this trigger the explosion faster? There was only one way to find out.

And so, the short haired brunette pulled on the lever with all her might.

And so.

The castle exploded into a million pieces with a tremendous roar.

In order to understand what happened next, one would need to understand what Mirage's Phantasmagoria was.

There were theories that said the world was a simulation. While of course, there is no way to prove that this is true; there are still different hypothesis and ways to get close to this result. There was a reason why these theories were born in the first place. It's because the world isn't that different to a computer. It's because it wasn't all that different to a game.

Think of a classic adventure game. Even though you could follow the radiant and prodigious protagonists, they would only be able to move under the parameters of the game. They would only be able to go into the places where the code would let them go. They would only be able to follow a predetermined story.

That predetermined story wasn't all that different from fate itself. That restricted world wasn't too different from our world. You could touch the wall next to you but you wouldn’t be able to go through it.

After all, the world in a game was made of different codes and engines that let it work. While it's true that a character in that world wouldn't be able to see them, it didn't change the fact that the base framework still existed. But what if one of those characters was well aware of this? What if they became aware of the restrictions of their own world? Was it possible for them to change its very foundation?

This is when the Velvet Burst comes in. The Velvet Burst was a method to manipulate the threads of the world. But how could one do that? How could one change the parameters of this very world?

As complex as everything looked like, it was simple.

The world is full of living creatures, and every single one of them experiences a different world. From a dog to a bird to a human, they all had different filters that let them see different sides of the world.

Yes, you may be aware that you exist here at this very moment. But how can you truly prove it? The same way a dog would bark at the empty air, how can you truly prove there is nothing there? After all, everything, from the walls around you to your own body are things that can only be perceived through your senses. Your senses which work under the filter of a human.

What may be the simple action of picking up a cup of water, for the world, it might be different moving energies coming together and flowing to let it happen.

So what if someone had access to modifying these filters? What if someone was able to use the mechanisms of the world to their very advantage?

That is what Mirage's Phantasmagoria was all about. An ability that let her modify the filters of her targets, letting them temporally perceive the world differently. The same way a human couldn't see a ghost, she would simply need to modify someone's filters so they could read her presence like that of a ghost.

Of course, such thing wasn't perfect. There were still tiny little flaws. For example, if someone was aware that she was there and stared intently for too long, they would be able to see her even if they were under the effects of her Phantasmagoria.

So what was the end result of it all put together?

An hour later, Mirage stepped into a hill by the outskirts of the city. She could get a clear view of the destroyed castle in the distance. Nothing but the somber remains of a misguided group remained. A destructive scene that reeked with the smell of death.

At that moment, her long fingertips touched a metallic surface. Mirage's fingers reached for the pendant around her neck. A pendant shaped like half like a crescent moon and half like a radiant sun.

And so, the scene before her shattered apart.

The illusion came to an end.

The effect of her Phantasmagoria faded away, returning the modified filters to their original state.

The truth that only Mirage could see became visible for the entire world.

And so, that radiant castle stood proudly once again. Hope that had once ended bloomed in full force. With this, the one behind it would be under the impression that the castle had been destroyed. Everyone inside could remain safe for a little longer. It had all worked out according to a last second plan.

What would be the next step from here? To deal with the problem from its roots.

At that moment, Mirage steeled herself. She would go after the mastermind that had attempted to end all these human lives and take care of them accordingly.  

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