Part 25: A trail of bloodI turn my back to Hikawa, doing my best to wipe all these Amala Drums from my sight. I can still feel the heat of the Mantra brasiers burning nearby.
: Nue. Come.
: Me eat?
The mountain of muscle and teeth and claws climbs up to reach me. Cautious. Ready.
: Nah, not right now. Sit with me.
I sit down, and Nue curls up next to my leg. I pet the flawless fur of its shoulders. I've seen how that thing fights. How does it stay so clean?
: I had a stepfather. We... didn't have a lot in common. He didn't try too hard to get along with me, but I mostly liked it that way. He made mom happy. It would have been rude to ask for more.
Nue purrs. Why am I surprised it sounds like a cat? It has tiger legs.
: We used to fight some, every once in a while, when he wasn't too tired from work. Honda main. I'm more of a Ken guy myself, but there's no accounting for taste, right? We were pretty evenly matched, I like to think. It was pleasant enough.
I scratch the beast on top of its head, where I imagine its ears would have been. I can feel its tail snake coiling lazily around my leg.
: The man had a daughter. Different mother. She had her circles and I had mine. But I could tell she was smart. And bold. And... kind. We argued, a lot, but I liked her. We were family, you know? Despite everything?
: Mom... My mother... That's one memory I'm keeping for myself.
I lean back a little. Nue climbs a step and nuzzles up to my side. I put my arm around its back. So warm.
: Hikawa. Do you know the best way to kill an Oni with your bare hands?
He does not answer.
: You'd think to go for a sharp blow to the back of the neck, but their spines are crazy thick, you'd need an axe or a saw or something. No, the best way, it's to grab their big horn with one hand, and their jaw with the other... I know what you're thinking, they've got teeth and all, but they never see it coming, and they're pretty slow to begin with, so you usually have a couple seconds before they think to bite down. So you just stick your fingers in there and put your thumb under their chin, and you pull. I'm not gonna tell you it's easy, but it's easier than you think. You give that jaw a real good tug, with their horn as leverage, and it pops right off its sockets. Then you can just tear it off, and it usually comes away with most of their throat. Quirk of anatomy, I guess. At that point you can just wait them out. It takes them a couple minutes to realize they're choking on their own blood. I didn't say it was the quickest way. They're tough sons of bitches, and maybe they're too dumb to know when they've lost. But it's over.
I stand up and face Hikawa again. He's still there; hasn't moved a finger. Nue gets off the ground, stands on its hind legs, and growls.
: You did this. This is your fault. All of it. This... this sun. You put it there. I don't lose my shit when it shines, like everybody else, but there's something in my brain that feels like burning, and it's like... It's like I lose a name or a face. Or a voice. I don't like to think about it, but by now the worst thing about it is that it hurts a little less every time it happens. Still, I can't let it get in the way, you know? I could be worrying about getting in a good university, but instead I gotta deal with every asshole who comes along, trying to turn this fucking nightmare into an even worse one. And it's all on you.
He remains silent. Of course he would.
: And for what? For silence? You want silence? You've got plenty of money, buy yourself some earplugs and leave the rest of us alone, you miserable twit!
I put a hand on Nue's back for an instant, and it settles down again.
: You spared me once. I'll do you the same courtesy. We're even now. But I'm afraid I must decline your request. I haven't met anyone I want to see win yet. But you, I want to see you lose.
: Says the mass murderer.
: I was wrong to think that you would understand my ideal.
: You're the only one who makes sense, and everyone who disagrees is just too stupid to understand, right?
: ...It is now time for us to part. I will not feel at ease until all this is over. Do you not sense something wicked in the air?
: I sure do.
: Someone is scheming to ignite the ember that still glows within the remains of Gozu-Tennoh.
: It is I who will create the new world!
*: When the light fades, Hikawa is gone.
: I... I'm sorry. I had no idea.
: Eh? You don't have to apologize for not knowing something I didn't tell you.
: Do you wish you could bring them back?
: What a useless question.
: There is no need to torment him with the impossible.
: ...my apologies again.
: No, no, don't...
: Are you going to be alright?
: ...yeah. Yeah, I am. Nothing has changed. We don't have any new problems.
: Other than whoever is messing around with Gozu-Tennoh's corpse.
: If that's not Chiaki, I'll eat Isamu's hat.
What's my next move?
*: The doors to the Mantra HQ are locked. I do a quick check around Ikebukuro, just to see if there's anything new.
: Heheheh... I'm glad I stayed here.
: You... probably don't want to get too comfortable.
: There's a rumor going around that Gozu-Tennoh's regaining strength.
Gozu-Tennoh was affable enough when we met, but if he's coming back and Chiaki can talk him into supporting Yosuga, which sure isn't gonna be hard, that can't mean anything good.
*: We've done all we had to do here. Let's check on Hijiri for now.
: You could say that.
: I heard you can't get inside Mantra's headquarters right now. ...The Manikins are worried.
: All true. Some real sketchy stuff's going on in there by now, I bet.
: Former members of Mantra could be involved, but most likely, they wouldn't try anything without a leader.
: Maybe those Manikins are up to something themselves...
: Well, I'm sure they think they can't be the world's butt-monkeys forever. No offense.
: I'm more offended that you thought I'd be offended.
: Aight then, I'll be on my way. Good hunting!
Maybe Futomimi's ready to speak.
*: We warp directly to Mifunashiro.
: Yoyogi Park, eh? Isn't that where the fairies set up shop?
: Don't look at me! I haven't been there in so long!
: Nah, I understand, don't worry. Is just... evil power? The fairies? Really?
: IT WOULD NOT BE OBERON AND TITANIA'S FIRST CRUEL JEST.
: There may be something or someone else there by now.
: Can't discard any theory, I suppose. But either way, we'll find out when we get there, I'm sure.
: The doors were locked, if I recall.
: There's more than one entrance to Yoyogi Park. Maybe there's some way to go around, or maybe someone unlocked the door since we've been there, who knows. Besides, if the Manikins can find a way, we ought to be able to follow them. It's not like they don't owe us a solid.
: He was pretty insistent on it, too.
: There must be something important there.
: I need to restore the city! I need to rush back!
*: Maybe Hijiri can hook us up for transportation. Let's go back to Asakusa.
: I've got no updates on Isamu. Is he playing dead or what...? Oh well, he'll give himself away eventually. ...In the meantime, why don't you go find out about Futomimi?
: Oh I already... eh, never mind, just focus on tracking him down.
: Oooh, glad to hear it, thanks for the heads-up.
: He's got a lot of things, from weird drinks to insect-like things.
: It's up ahead on your left. ...But sometimes I feel a strange presence around there. It's kinda scary.
: Hmm, alright then, I'll be careful.
: Now, it's out turn to enslave the demons!
: ...That's the mindset we need to be at.
: Use it if you're going to Ueno or the Asakusa Tunnel!
The Asakusa Tunnel... I suppose that doesn't mean the one going to Ikebukuro. Maybe that's how the Manikins are going to Yoyogi.
: ...good question.
: ...No, we have Futomimi! It must be possible! We'll make it... A world without humans or demons -- just Manikins.
Ouch. I guess I might have to decide if I'd be okay with that, too.
: I wish that were the case.
: Hope nothin' bad happens.
*: We're done checking out the Nakamise-Douri area again, so it's time to head down to where the Collector was working.
> The flames of the Candelabrum of Sovereignty are flickering wildly.
So that's what that Manikin was going on about. Must be the Pale Rider. Welp, gotta collect the set!
: But, we worked together to build this city. We'll beat down that evil power!
*: A bit further down the hallway, Zed levels up and masters Muspell, learning Xeros-Beat, a group-targeting physical attack that may inflict the Bind ailment. I discard Chaos Blade, since Xeros-Beat doesn't scale with HP and is therefore benefitting more from our high Strength.
We've gained a Dark alignment point, and while it's not enough to make us switch from Neutral, it bumps us up to the next tier of titles. We are now Master Francois Hawke.
Alright then, time to find that Rider.
Boss battle: Fiend Pale Rider
*: Okay, that's rough chuckles. We should be able to do better right away though. Let's try ingesting Miasma so we don't get ravaged by Mabufudyne.
...nope, Zed gets petrified and shattered. Another try. Maybe with Muspell on, to resist ailments, and we can count on Nue to void ice damage.
Boss battle: Fiend Pale Rider Redux
Fiend Pale Rider
"And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." --Revelations 6:7-8
He sure managed to kill us with death a couple times.
*: The biggest problem in this fight is the Loas spamming Debilitate, which applies one stack each of Tarunda, Rakunda and Sukunda. Of course it doesn't have to be such a problem if you have Dekunda available, but... yeah. They also know Mamudo, Mamudoon, Dormina, Tetraja, Venom Bite, Stone Gaze and Last Resort, but Debilitate's 48 MP cost can run them out of juice before too long. Of course they're immune to Death, Curse and Nerve, but they only resist Mind, so it might be worth it to use any Charm or Panic effects available to you. Charm is an iffy proposition though, because if one Loa kills the other, the Rider will summon a replacement, and the replacement will have its full complement of MP. A Loa brought to low health will gladly use its Last Resort, which the Rider is set to actually absorb, and can lead to the other Loa following suit and putting you at real risk of instant party wipe.
The Rider himself is more into direct offense, but with a couple nasty twists. Mabufudyne is straightforward enough, and Blight is a multi-hit attack with a chance to inflict Poison. However, he also knows Eternal Rest as well as Pestilence, which inflicts Almighty damage and instantly kills all poisoned foes. That's why you saw me take a turn to use a Dis-Poison on Kushinada back there. Of course, on top of the poison from Pestilence, you've got the Loa throwing Dormina and Venom Bite around.
I brought White Rider and Nigi Mitama along primarily for their outright immunity to all ailments. Fortunately, they were able to contribute plenty more than that, since White Rider packs quite a punch for a dude with no special physical attack skills, and Nigi's Rakunda casts did much to offset our Debilitated offense power. Neither the Pale Rider nor the Loa know Dekunda either, so Fog Breath and Nue's War Cry also did a lot of heavy lifting to keep us alive. And we could hardly fail to benefit from Nue nullifying ice and death effects.
Anyway, that was that for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We heal up and save before we go any further.
: It's him. Definitely him.
If they know who it is, maybe they're talking about Sakahagi.
: There's a giant hole there. We call it the Asakusa Tunnel.
: Wow, you're sick of it already?
: Well I sure didn't expect this.
: Hahahahaha! I'm sorry, I always wanted to say that.
: Ha... haha... good one.
: You remember me? I'm the Manikin that collects all sorts of junk.
: Of course I remember you, nobody else is wearing that mask.
: I finally opened my own shop! Take your time and look around. Since you helped me out before, I'll sell to you at wholesale.
: Mighty kind of you.
: I don't just collect junk. For example, I sell Magatama as well.
: Not for long!
: I thought they would be useful to you... It took me awhile to find them.
: I appreciate it.
: I have no clue how to use these things, but...
: Trust me, you don't want to know.
: It's super gross.
: Feel free to buy them, if you'd like.
*: The Collector Manikin sells mostly stuff we've seen before. Wagtail Plumes attempt to Charm all enemies and are sold nowhere else yet, but we got a bunch of them from Succubus drops back in the Obelisk. Of course, we're really here for those three Magatama. It's fortunate that we still have most of the money, because they're crazy expensive. And imagine, in Hard mode, all store prices are tripled; Sophia alone would cost 360000 Macca, which is more than what the Efreet who lost a bet gave us.
We buy all of them right away, but it still only earns us three tickets. We came in with 464547 Macca, and we leave with 224547.
: It's great having my own shop, but... I want to go search for something that nobody's seen before... I wonder if I should join your party...
: Sorry broseph, you gotta be able to hold your own in a fight.
*: Kamurogi is a fighter-type Magatama with decent stat bonuses, but weakness to magic is a horrifying drawback. It would teach us Blight.
Vimana is another warrior Magatama, with a slightly more balanced stat spread. Immunity to Nerve ailments is pretty rad, so it's a lot better to keep equipped at any random time than Kamurogi. Its first skill is Endure, which brings you back to life (with 1 HP) once per battle, regardless of what it is that kills you. It's tempting!
Sophia is a healing Magatama, with decent bonuses to non-damage stats. It's also the only one we have that nulls Expel effects with no accompanying weaknesses; the first skill it would teach us is Thunderclap.
Aight, time to go.
: But, you can't get in, so there's nothing to see.
: He went down the hall.
*: There's a small Terminal next to the exit, so I quickly drop a save.
Oooh, right, that's another part of Asakusa we couldn't reach before.
: But... What's a 'Kimon'?
: Oh, that's an old superstition. Or, well, maybe not such a superstition, in the end. "Kimon" means "demon gate", and it refers to the northeast direction, from where demons and other evil spirits come. If this place was still flat, the Imperial Palace would be southwest from here, and they must have built this temple to block the bad northeastern vibes and protect the Emperor from evil influence.
: Hmm! You sure know a lot about that stuff.
: I... learned from a good teacher.
*: I assume this temple is based on a real place, but there are tons of temples in Ueno and I couldn't quite say which one we'd be talking about.
> The temple is sealed with a powerful spell.
*: We can't go any further; the screen turns white and we're forced back to the overworld. Raja Naga levels up after the following battle; he learns Shock, replacing Lucky Find, and I let him change a skill, turning Counter into Retaliate, which is a counterattack with increased damage.
We find Yushima Station at the very southwestern end of the area.
Yeah, that's definitely Sakahagi.
That one's dead too.
Great, in the dark with a skin-taking psychopath on the loose.
*: We no longer have a Lightoma caster, but we did stock up on Light Balls a while back.
*: Raja Naga are tough customers, they can come in groups of three, and they all know Retaliate (making it near suicidal to just punch 'em), so I'm extra glad we got one on our side. We also run into Shikome and Ikusa, but Xeros-Beat is performing admirably here, and with Life Refill we don't even need to bother Kushinada for heals every other battle.
: Th-Th-Thank goodness it was dark...
*: There's another dead Manikin and more blood in the southwestern tunnel, so we go to the northwestern one first.
Lots of damage floors in here. One hallway leads to a dead end, another to 8000 Macca, and the last one to... two Medicines. Yay. Back to the southwest we go.
Three ladders down, huzzah. The western one leads to a short dead-end, so I have to assume there's a hidden pitfall right above.
A small room underneath the middle ladder contains a Mute-trapped Cube, a Soma Droplet, and a fixed encounter with three Titans.
It's not too tough a battle.
A bit further in, we find a ladder up to B2. We're getting pretty far for the initial set of three ladders, so I resolve to just go wherever this tunnel takes me, then come back some other time to clean the place out.
In fact it's not too long before the path we're following breaks into another train tunnel.
Though it turns out to be a continuation of the initial northwestern dead end we encounterered.
We reach another station, just barely in time for the Balls to run out.
: After that, a female human passed by. It's usually quiet here, but...
A female human...? Chiaki's busy in Ikeburo, and even if she had any business in Yoyogi Park, there's no way she would have passed me. So either it's Ms. Takao, or another woman survived.
Either way, I hope she's safe.
*: This tunnel is a lot shorter than I expected. I suppose that other ladder back there led to a dead end with some treasure. It still means I'll go back to make sure before long, but I'm okay with that.
Gaien-Mae Station is just a bit east of Yoyogi Park, so we're almost there.
: That vicious Manikin won't be able to do anything just by himself.
*: We have returned to the "back" section of the Vortex World, where the hospital was; in fact I think we can see it in this picture, all the way north. The only area we haven't been to yet is the bottom one.
Yup, this is the other side of Yoyogi Park alright. It's where we first met Hijiri, forever ago. And of course Hikawa's eyesore of a tower is still there, though it doesn't look like the fairies were too keen on picking up the construction work where it left off.
Whoops, there's a minor goof here. If we look up into the distance, we can see the distinctive descending circular terraces of Asakusa, with Mifunashiro in the center. However, we see them to the west, not to the east where they should be. This exact skybox would be accurate for the western entrance of Yoyogi Park (with Asakusa still being across from the entrance), so I guess they re-used it without minding the orientation.
Atmosphere: Yoyogi Park
For the home of the fairies, this place sure feels eerie.
: Everyone went crazy!
: He locked the door, so the fairies that were outside are in a panic.
: Oh no!
: That Sakahagi messed everyone up and slipped right inside...
Huh. I guess he's not just strong for a Manikin, but also strong in general. I'll have to be on my guard.
*: The nearby door is locked, just like its equivalent was on the western side. We'll have to find another way in. There are still northern and southern paths here, so we go south first because why not.
Music: Reunion with Master
: Uh-oh, I think I stumbled on the teachers' lounge by accident.
: Well, hello. ...I knew you'd come.
: There are so few of us left who haven't completely lost their minds... I figured we'd run into each other again sooner or later.
: You heard about what's happening here, right?
: Yeah, I heard the Manikin leader talk about it.
: The existence of a power that can change the world...
: Never mind that. How are you? I... was worried.
: ...I'm sorry that I disappeared after you saved me. It was my god who did that; I couldn't do anything about it...
: I'm not going to tell you what to do, but I don't feel super great about that.
: But, my god has been protecting me since then, and I'm doing much better now.
: That's good to hear, at least.
: Hikawa won't be able to take control of me again.
: What he envisions is a world where the thread of time is spun unerringly, without change... You can't call that a world. It's just wasted space, totally devoid of power.
: I'm not gonna pretend all the peace is completely... unattractive. But, yeah, what good would a place like that really be?
: To restrain the reborn world like that would be unforgivable.
: Not to mention all the blood on the man's hands, too.
: The world cannot remain in a state of chaos, nor can it fall prey to Hikawa's ambitions.
: I know where that line of thought is going.
: My god has spoken to me, but she has yet to reveal the Reason.
: I don't know how this stuff works, but... I don't think that's how it works.
: The mess with that Manikin serial killer?
: Well, it's all because of the Yahirono Himorogi.
: Let's pretend I don't know what that is.
: The Yahirono Himorogi is a stone that contains an enormous amount of Magatsuhi. It grants tremendous power to its possessor.
: Again with the Magatsuhi, huh?
: Word spread that the stone is somewhere in Yoyogi Park, and now everybody is trying to claim it for their own.
: Ah, now I get it.
: Once I have that power... I'll be worthy of receiving the Reason from my god.
: Okay, you've lost me again.
: I'm not sure who, but I can sense a strong, evil power. Their power is so strong that I wouldn't stand a chance against it... But I think you would.
: If anyone can, right?
: If I promise to give you the Magatsuhi contained inside it...
*: This is one of those sorts of semi-minor decisions where in normal circumstances I'd be thinking "no need to cut the update short for something like this, I'll just go with whatever feels most in character", but here, well, we're coming up to a natural break point and I figure I might as well get a feel for what The People are thinking. Yuko's certainly much kinder to us than anyone else has been, but despite how Hikawa lied to her about her role in the Vortex World, she still willingly participated in the Conception with full knowledge of what it would entail.
If the Lady in Black has been honest with us, we probably know more about Aradia than Yuko does. Odds are we're going after the Yahirono Himorogi either way, or after Sakahagi at least, but do we trust that our teacher knows what she's doing? And even if we don't, would we deprive her of our support?
Here as always, the Devil's in the details, and Kagutsuchi is watching.