At Midnight, right at the start of November 21, 2011, everyone in Tokyo turned their attention towards the Ikebukuro neighborhood, no matter if they were awake or asleep before hand.
Those that were dreaming woke up with a start, their spines itching from within, and faces full of steaming sweat.
Those awake were startled by a point of light the size of a 100 yen coin, piercing their field of vision, even when they shut their eyes. No matter what direction they turned, that light remained fixed on Ikebukuro; even if they turned in the opposite direction, they could still feel the sharp, glowing cord at the back of their head.
The Ikebukuro Train Station was fairly immense, over 6 stories tall at parts, surrounding multiple sets of tracks with a number of retail buildings and department stores, like Seibu. The tracks roughly traveled from North to South, with the Eastern side containing many popular retailers and attractions, including Bic Camera, Animate, and the Sunshine City complex. The Western side was a bit more subdued, and had a mix of hotels, office and retail buildings, including the Hotel Metropolitan, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space. Ikebukuro was Tokie’s home neighborhood, and somewhere Ariel and I happily lived for a few years.
Looming high above the Ikebukuro train station, her bare feet almost the size of city blocks, was a stone-faced young woman. She was immense, taller than any building for miles in any direction. A few moments ago she was naked and bald, feet bleeding from all of the structures she had kicked down. Now, her long, black hair grew yards per second down the back of white, flowing robes – fabric that oozed out of her skin like boiling milk.
Miranda the Chosen Light was taking the form of the goddess Izanami-no-Mikoto, the Japanese mistress of creation and death. In her hands was the Ame-no-nuboko, the hundred-yard-long heavenly spear. She was using it to pierce the solidified land, churning it like dirty laundry, until concentric waves of liquified matter rushed outwards, toppling the neighborhood in every direction at once.
The goddess had finally come back from Yomi, the land of dead. In mythical times, she threatened her husband Izanagi-no-Mikoto that if he left her in the underground kingdom of souls, she would kill one thousand living people per day. Now, she was free, and apparently on an accelerated schedule of killing one thousand people per second.
As Miranda mixed the Earth with her glowing spear, all of Tokyo shifted in weird and novel directions, with the buildings appearing more like inorganic carrot greens hundreds of feet high, like plum trees bowing under the weight of their car fruit.
With each twist, the Nameless instantaneously shucked more and more of the population of their souls, with the remaining flesh and bloody skeletons stretched out like grass, or spiderwebs, covering all broken surfaces around them with a fine scaffolding of death.
As the train station folded upon itself like cake batter, the Seibu department store that was only a few meters away from us collapsed on top of the train tracks, like a controlled demolition, only with an jelly-like ooze of congealed matter instead of billowing dust clouds. Ariel was enough of herself again that she disintegrated the flow of rubble before we were buried in it.
“There it is – right on schedule.” Ariel pointed upwards, as spherical balls of liquid metal rushed up from the train station and into the sky, with the intensity of an invisible magnet picking up basketball-sized ball bearings. Like reverse rain drops of mercury forming a shining cloud above us. Just like in Munich, the S.OS installation that exists in every major train and subway station was fleeing before Miranda dismantled the world.
Before we got a real look at it, the S.OS fragments spun up into a massive disk, like a cymbal from a drum set, or a stereotypical UFO, and the sweltering air filled with a screeching hum that shattered taxi windows, and shook the remaining leaves off of trees. The object then shot away Eastward, towards the Pacific ocean.
The air smelled foul, and Miranda’s every exhalation enveloped Ikebukuro in a sickly sweet haze that provoked weezing and coughing. Ariel constructed some fancy breathing apparatus for me and her, like gas masks without the goggles, and we ran down the wavy, uneven pavement, leaping over masses of half-visible bodies that were drowned by bucketfulls of liquified city. We were headed South towards Shinjuku, and the first rendezvous with the Japanese Collective.
The fallen Hotel Metropolitan obscured the most obvious route, with hundreds of tiny, Western beds littering the waves of rubble like lifeboats, and the corpses of tourists still hanging on to the petrified blankets for dear life. It was a 25 story mountain of fine woods, elevator shafts and broken bodies collapsed like a quiche into a 5 story melted Maple tree, with each leaf a guest room.
So, we turned back to take the clearest path, along side the rubble of the Yamanote line. That central loop once passed through the heart of Tokyo, making a circuit in about an hour. Now, the train tracks were braided together like friendship bracelets, with metal and concrete stretched and intermixed like candle wax mixed with cooling glass. They sagged to the ground like downed power lines, only instead of sparks there was periodic twitching, pulsing in time to Miranda’s deafening heartbeat.
“I don’t think she can last much longer.” Ariel stopped, leaning against a huge metal flower, with each petal a former JR Line train car, silver with two lime green stripes on each side. They were flattened like aluminum cans, and oozing oil, metal and blood.
“What do you mean, dear?” I couldn’t stand that booming hearbeat. “Please, we have to keep moving.”
“I’m so sorry.” She wiped the sweet mist away from her eyes. “In Munich, when I was wrapped around her… I cleared Miranda’s chakras. It was way too spendy, but I had to do something.”
“You didn’t…” I couldn’t believe it, but once I focused on her spirit that loomed over us all, I knew it was true. “I can sense her drop from here – it’s stuck somewhere between Muladhara and Swadhisthana, near her pelvis.”
“She’s a dead girl walking.”
“But why hasn’t it already escaped? Sasha’s script should have forced her to immediately leave her body behind.”
“The Nameless latched onto her like a bear trap. The only way I could break it off was to take advantage of my connection to Miranda – we’re like siamese twin souls.” She put her palms together like in prayer, and then rubbed then vigorously. “It’s really hard to tell where she ends and I begin….”
“You’re not the same person at all!”
“To push her soul to freedom, I had to unseat mine first.”
I started to cry as soon as I studied Ariel’s energetic pathways – they were stressed, and almost broken. Her pure white drop was stretched thin, yearning to rejoin The White. “What the fuck did you do to yourself?”
“I don’t have much longer before I’m gone.”
“I’m not going to let you leave!”
“My soul wants to jump out of my head so badly, and it’s slowly dragging Miranda’s along with it.” She looked into the sky full of spikes of glass, like overlapping dandelions spun out of innumerable window fragments.
“Oh shit, I just can’t stand listening to her heart for one more second!” I ordered my ears to turn off a wide swath of frequencies, effectively cancelling out the sonic assault.
“Mom.” She hugged my back, our circuit clothes slightly sparking as our fields overlapped. “It’s going to be alright. Really.”
I couldn’t lose her. Would stopping Miranda take my baby away from me? “Promise me you have a plan.”
“A good one. It’s not going to be easy, though – we have to attack her chakras in the right order, at the right times, before she can finally escape the Nameless.”
Around us, the remaining store signs that hadn’t already shattered to pieces were coming back to life. However, instead of backlit descriptions of ramen shops or the Dotour café, the Japanese script had changed to English.
“There is a girl”, written horizontally over a convenience store, that was reconstructing itself from rubble as we watched.
“That never goes out”, on a sign stuck to the sliding doors of that store, which were broken off their hinges a few seconds ago.
“Well, not really.” The title of a newspaper displayed just inside the door. “It’s not like I don’t go to school every day” was the headline of the lead story.
Every single visible word in that store, and all around the neighborhood, suddenly told a narrative that I couldn’t help but recognize.
“It’s Miranda’s sucky blog.” Ariel carefully approached the convenience store, that looked like it used to be a Circle X. “She’s rewriting Ikebukuro with her random musings and tweets.”
As she approached the glass doors, covered with red and black stripes and informative decals, they slid open. Before she could step in, she glanced at the magazine rack and then immediately walked back outside into the buzzing electrical light. “It’s time to go. You don’t want to go in there.”
I couldn’t help but take a peek into Ariel’s short term memory, and then I understood her desire to flee. Miranda’s picture – Ariel’s picture – was on the cover of every single fashion, news, cooking and game magazine. She was even drawn in manga form on the front of the weekly digests stacked on the bottom shelf.
“Tokie was right, even though she didn’t know it.” Ariel waived at the wreckage of the Hotel Metropolitan, and the encapsulated rooms swayed on the steel and concrete branches, lifting up into the night, revealing a path for us. “Miranda’s ghost has been stalking us the whole time, ever since Slide Rule School.”
I followed her, past cars flattened and then shaped into canoes, floating on the waves of pavement. “Wasn’t Miranda’s ghost stolen?” I wasn’t as fixated on her as Ariel, a fact that I now regretted as she shifted the city into her own image.
“It’s hard to steal what you never even owned. All ghosts were the property of Agartha Labs. Of S.OS. Of the Trouble Twins, doing its bidding across space and time. So no, borrowed is the best I can give you. Wait… don’t move…” She gave me the shush finger and face as we approached the intersection at Gekijo street.
A building that must have been 10 stories tall had collapsed like a burned marshmallow. A shiny, metal, obelisk-like clock tower had its triangular base snapped, and it had fallen on top of the crumbling, dark sidewalk pavement. The 3 analog dials were cracked, and stopped at 10:38. On the downed pole was the legend “Ikebukuro Police Station” in Japanese kanji, which my OS dutifully translated. Two story tall trees that bordered the building were still burning, unnaturally, like flickering candles.
The front of the police station had a fancy metal awning that jumped off the support columns, blocking the sliding glass front doors. The 4 parking spots to either side of the destroyed entrance were filled with similarly deconstructed emergency vehicles; a black and white police minivan was opened like a can of tomato sauce, with the smeared remnants of occupants still inside.
The pink brick pedestrian walkway was blanketed by the dead, intermixed with orange caution cones striped by reflective tape. You could tell the police from the public by their blue hats – flat topped and more angular for the men – which hugged their decapitated heads. In the neighboring bike lane, on the sidewalk but paved like the street, were a flock of casual low-speed bikes with baskets, twisted around the legs and arms of their broken riders, and all pointed South. It looked like the mass exodus away from Miranda only prolonged their destruction for a few minutes.
Something was crawling out from under the metal awning, next to a super-deformed statue of a police girl that once welcomed the public. It was a woman, audibly crying, wearing a long sleeve, light blue shirt, covered by a dark blue bullet proof vest. She was dragging herself across the sidewalk, but her legs looked to be broken off at the knees, with her empty pants legs trailing blood. Before we even ran up to help her, I already knew what we were in for.
It was Izumi Koda, Number 2 of the Japanese Collective, and our Shinjuku contact. What happened to her, and why was she lying broken in Ikebukuro?
Izumi and I were always close. After everyone was etched via late night visits, Ariel and I shut down Agartha Labs and replaced it with the Japanese Collective. That was ideally Satomi’s job, but she had been missing with the rest of Die Database since Halloween of 1994. Izumi was the leader in her absence, and she accomplished in two months what took Sasha and the Runaway Girl Army two years.
She was slight in stature, with puffy cheeks and heavy eyeliner, but her super-girly voice and demeanor hid a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of pain, and strength. Izumi was always the first to take a punch, but the last one to throw one.
Ariel had already disintegrated her pants, revealing little more than torn muscles and shattered bones. She took a sample of her blood by licking her hands, which were already red from touching Izumi. Then, her arms split open at the wrist, and fleshy tendrils shot out and enveloped Izumi’s thighs.
“It’s going to be OK. We’re going to fix you right up, and get you out of here.”
“It’s never going to be OK ever again.” Izumi coughed a few drops of blood onto the sleeves of my datasuit, and I propped her up. Her jet black hair was short and uneven, almost as if it had been torn off in handfuls.
Everything started to shake, and the dark streets filled with a sonic boom. Ariel threw up a transparent shield to protect us from the flying glass and rubble.
“She’s moving again. We have to get Izumi out of here now!”
“Give me a fucking second, I’ve never even seen her bare legs before!” Ariel had already reconstructed her down to the knees, as she vomited a cloud of blood and flesh, sculpting it with elongated fingers.
“We got your alert from Munich.” Blood trickled down her chin. She screamed like a scared baby in response to Ariel’s surgery.
I projected in and massaged her spirit, taking away the pain. She smiled weakly, eyes caked with dust and tears, as she reached out for my chest.
“We got your alert…. so did she. You were unconscious for hours, as she roamed the streets of Ikebukuro, growing every second.” Upon contact, her fingers transmitted terabytes of data through my left breast, detailing what we missed.
“I was lucky, still undercover at the police department. Working with Chiaki on one of the backup plans.” Her left arm fell limply to the ground as Ariel grew her new feet.
Sweet Chiaki…. I now knew that she was the first out the door when Miranda arrived. She had been playing police woman for the past month, shifting the minds of all officers, and all existing records, so they would accept her as one of their own without question. This was standard Collective procedure, and the main reason why authority figures always seemed to look the other way from the more obvious Pure Land Antenna activity – the Man was on our psychic payroll.
Ai didn’t believe in wiping their minds and memories wholesale, making them puppets to our plans, but I’ve never had the same morality. I’d make a Homeland Security agent forget they were ever born if they touched me the wrong way.
From the data, it was clear that Miranda arrived on the other side of the train station, over by Bic Camera. She was 8 or 10 stories tall then, and growing quickly, just high enough to punch through the white walls adorned with consumer product logos, and throw toys and video games in heaping handfuls down to the streets below, filled with the screaming and already dead. To the immediate left, near Miranda’s big toe, the McDonalds had burst from within, invading the sidewalk with piles of bleeding diners still holding their treats.
There weren’t many calls to make, so Chiaki chose from a limited menu of bad decisions, and decided to attack Miranda head on. So she passionately kissed Izumi goodbye, and ran through the police station, ignoring the ringing of phones – landline and cellular – that filled the offices with eerie synchronization.
It was only two blocks to the Metropolitan entrance of Ikebukuro station, and she ran past frantic late night travelers, sprinting down the black escalator hand rails, to save what time she could. She was simulcasting her every move to the other 11 Collective members in Tokyo, and to the major cells around the world, with complete WOFA access. She had given me her annotated WOFA data for the past few hours, with unlocked access to her own OS.
Her OS was filled with weird port mappings and cubby holes leading to members of other Collective cells – she was wired into our world more than any other Pure Land Antenna I’ve ever come across. Her etching was also insanely detailed – I think she convinced Cassandra to give her extra circuits when she visited at night.
It felt weird at first to have such intimacy with her virtual self. Chiaki was gruff, holding almost everyone at arm’s length, while it was obvious she just wanted to be hugged. She was almost as tall as Satomi, but when the two of them stood beside each other, Chiaki always seemed to command the room with palpable presence. She could have been a rock star, and even with a complete lack of musical talent, Masae from Die Database was always after her to join the band in some visible capacity. Chiaki took that as a plea for her to become a groupie or cheerleader, so she stopped watching the band from the front row, just in case someone tried to pull her on stage.
Her mind was full of thoughts of Izumi, who she had been seeing soon after Agartha Labs folded. Chiaki was the webmaster, and always worked intensely with Izumi in her role as lead graphic designer. They would slave over code and textures during long hours together, which usually spilled over into nighttime adventures around Shibuya and the rest of the city. They both adored dining out, smoked the same brand, and liked to stalk Die Database, attending most every show. Chiaki convinced Izumi to be more adventurous – indoor rock climbing in Ebisu was the ice breaker – and they even took a few friendly vacations together, to London, New York, and Seoul.
Neither were attached, and they always seemed to avoid talk about potential paramours. They always had a crush on each other, but it only expressed itself with moderate drunken flirtation and long glances over dinner that were soon waved away. Chiaki never thought to risk showing her heart, until they were both etched. At that point, it all became completely obvious and futile to fight – they were paired up as partners in the Collective, and could no longer hide their true feelings. It was always love.
As she ran through the Ikebukuro station, pushing aside the crazed crowd with her mind, Izumi ran up beside her. Only it wasn’t her in flesh and blood – it was a PRS unit made out of Kirin beer cans, hosting her Ghost. Izumi’s hologram looked fierce, with full riot control gear only without a helmet.
She quickly was followed by a line of dozens – hundreds – of other PRS units. For the past few months, they had been riding the trains all day, every day, or stashed throughout the train stations and neighborhoods, using Satomi’s immense collection of holographic Tokyo citizens as camouflage. They were for emergency use only, and this most certainly applied.
The sprinting PRS units could barely keep up with them as they rushed up the final escalator to the street. They weren’t even cloaked, appearing as segmented dolls, since Chiaki didn’t expect any of the witnesses to survive the night.
So the public watched the plastic and metal figures gather in mass on Meiji street, a few dozen holding back for crowd control. Hundreds more gathered around Chiyaki, and started lifting her in the air, like she was a conquering hero. Izumi’s PRS was right below Chiaki, holding her with aluminum arms. Higher still, as the PRS units stood on each others’ shoulders and hands, so they could raise Chiaki above the first few floors of the nearby grey and white Parco building.
After a few moments of movement so fast that it blurred, Chiaki was consumed by a huge mass of over three thousand PRS units, each one a block that worked en mass to form a huge, lumbering leviathan, over 20 stories tall, like a starfish walking on the tips of its arms.
You could still make out the plastic and metal shine of each interlocked unit, the nighttime lights sparkling off their skin, at least until they used their internal holograms to piece together a huge image of Chiaki, bringing herself to her feet.
Miranda was still naked, and as she slowly turned to face the rival giant, Chiaki rushed forward, pushing Miranda’s hips into the tall and skinny Adores Game! center building. It was 7 stories tall, but only the two floors of amusements near the street were still occupied. Everything quickly collapsed down and out into the street – broken glass from UFO Catcher machines intermingled with networked fighting games. A green, yellow and white CNG Non-Step Bus tried to steer around the avalanche, but as she stumbled backwards Miranda’s left foot kicked the bus into the ZARA clothiers store, with smartly dressed mannequins breaking into bits under the wheels.
By the time ZARA caught on fire, a few seconds after the crash, Chiaki and the swarm of PRS units had already wrapped around Miranda like a pro wrestler. It looked like a 26 story tall police woman subduing a giant, bald, nudist girl, thrashing about on the red and black pavement on top of demolished cars and corpses. Miranda had a completely disinterested and distracted look on her face, like she was mentally making a shopping list, and Chiaki seemed to take that as an invitation to go for a killing strike.
Chiaki took one of her arms made of PRS units and shoved it right in Miranda’s face. Hundreds of figures rushed into her nostrils, mouth and ears, forcing their way past soft tissue and bone, swimming up into her massive brain, and down into her pounding heart. After a few seconds, as Chiaki pinned Miranda to the ground, she turned on the replication engines of all the PRS units, so they started to suck Miranda’s flesh into their plastic and metal bodies.
Miranda then started to stare at Chiaki, and smiled.
Small holes started to appear all along Miranda’s torso and face, growing quickly to resemble someone afflicted by a flesh eating bacteria, with jagged gaps in skin and muscle, revealing decaying organs underneath. Chiaki released her grip and crawled off of Miranda, who was now almost zombified and in full seizure, her wild arms tearing into the Softbank store in the LABI building.
Chiaki then shaped her right arm of PRS units into a long samurai sword, taller than the remaining 7 and 8 story buildings. She rose to her feet, holding the sword at a slight angle in front of her, and then lunged at Miranda’s chest, thrusting it firmly into her exposed heart.
Miranda looked terribly amused, rolling her eyes back as she stuck out what remained of her tongue in a child’s feigned death. Then she grabbed the sword with both hands, and a blinding blue light traveled up the holographic blade, exposing raw PRS units in its wake. It continued on up Chiaki’s arms, and rushed to the center of her chest, as 1235 PRS units formed into tentacled hands, digging for the real Chiaki. Her tiny figure was quickly found, plastic and metal tendrils jutting away from her body like a sea anemone’s spikes, holding onto Izumi’s Ghost in a lover’s embrace.
As Miranda crawled to her feet, as much of an articulated skeleton as a flesh and blood figure, she used her arm-length gloves made out of PRS units to cherry pick Chiaki from the crumbling, giant star fish, its constituent parts falling to the ground like sea salt.
Chiaki was terrified, frozen and trapped, her etching probed and controlled by Miranda, who brought her up to her leering, dissolving face.
Miranda tried to speak, but it came out as a guttural rumble that pulverized windows. The invading PRS units had almost completely devoured her body, but she was still standing due to something far more than the sheer force of will. Her missing flesh had been replaced by an undulating, black aura.
“I was worried there for a moment.” Miranda’s inner voice intruded into the Collective network, using the trembling Chiaki as a microphone jack. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find you all in time.”
It was horrible. Miranda was using Chiaki’s simulcast against her, quickly mapping out the location of every last Collective member worldwide. Only a few were able to log out in time, before they were discovered.
“Do you know what lies at the heart of Cassandra’s precious bottle babies?” She lifted up the spiky bundle of Chiaki and Izumi, like it was a fly with broken wings, and brought it to her gaunt face, her exposed gums and teeth chattering with every breath. “A tiny pin prick of The White, to allow spirits to control them, and an infinitesimal bit of The Black, to facilitate the transmutation of matter. Just enough of the elemental darkness that I can control them completely.”
Chiaki couldn’t look away from Miranda’s crumbling nostrils, which afforded a clear view of her brain stem. PRS units could be seen crawling about like ants, only now they were spewing out nerve tissue and blood vessels.
“These are bodies of the Sixth World, and their flesh is my flesh, their blood my blood.”
Around Ikebukuro, tens of thousands of people swooned where they stood, their freed spirits fueling the engine that was quickly putting Miranda back together again. As her muscles knitted back into recognizable shape, the PRS units stayed affixed in place, like a new circulatory system made of plastic and metal cells, joined by copper wire. They followed the same paths etched into a Pure Land Antenna, only internal.
The pile of PRS units that had once made up Chiaki’s extended body ran down the street, swarming around Miranda’s ankles, mending her legs as they rose like shiny stockings. Only a few minutes had passed, but Miranda was nearly whole again.
“For some reason, conquering heroes love to eat the hearts of the subdued. Let’s find out why.”
With that, Chiaki trembled in horror as Miranda raised her to her lips, and swallowed.
Chiaki held onto Izumi’s Ghost as they rushed down her throat, as wide as a JR Line car. They tried to get handholds in the mucus, to no avail
Once they hit the gastric acid feet first, Chiaki didn’t scream. She was too wrapped up with guilt about what she had unleashed, to even try to fight back.
Instead, she caressed the metal sides of Izumi’s cheeks, and begged her for freedom.
Sobbing on the floor of the lobby of the Ikebukuro Police Station, Izumi whispered her undying love as she used the right arm of her PRS to unlatch Chiaki’s chakras.
Chiaki’s last words were little more than a smiled sigh, as the two of them sunk into nothingness. Izumi held on as long as she could, until her metal arms fused into place, and the Police Station shook as from an earthquake.
“One down, 168 to go.” The booming voice of Miranda blew the sliding glass windows off of their hinges. Before Izumi could rush past them, the heavy metal awning that protected the front of the Police Station fell down on top of her.
As she marshaled her strength, trying to release her legs from the rubble as crowds of people rushed by, there was a bright burst of flesh and bone, followed by the normal sized figure of Miranda walking up the small parking area. She ripped apart a police van like paper, tossing the broken bodies it contained over her shoulder. Kicked aside piles of corpses like fallen leaves, and crouched down in front of Izumi. She was wearing frilly cosplay from Massive Cloud Burst, the same mixture of character costumes that Ariel had on right before she died, only hers was completely dyed red from the blood of her victims.
“I’m going to give you a choice.” She grabbed Izumi by the hair, only with plastic hands. It was just a PRS unit she had borrowed for the visit; Miranda’s heavy heartbeat still echoed through the canyons of buildings. “You can join your precious Chiaki now, or you can try to have your revenge later.”
Miranda tore at Izumi’s head, giving her a haircut like she was breaking hard pasta.
“Demon, you will die by my hands.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” She threw a handful of arm-length hair to the ground, and then grabbed Izumi by the shoulders. “Here. Let’s get you back to your feet.”
With that, she yanked Izumi forward, severing her legs with a snap and spurt of arterial blood. Izumi bit her lips, and turned off all feeling below her chest. She would only be able to slow down her heart for a few hours, before she bled out.
“Alright then. Choose your weapon well, and I’ll see you in a few hours. This is going to be awesome.” Miranda smiled, flashing peace signs with both hands before she jumped like a flea in the air, over the remains of the Police and train stations, towards Sunshine 60 street.
Izumi’s data dump was a bit too much to take in all at once, especially considering her severe torment due to what happened to Chiaki. I was suddenly concerned about a great number of things, including the current location of the other members of the Tokyo Collective. Did Miranda already get to them in the past hour?
“Get off of me. Please.” Izumi suddenly snapped to attention, proving the worth of Ariel’s surgery by kicking weakly at her face.
“Fucking gratitude, etc. Stand yourself up then.” Ariel got up from her crouch, making a few exaggerated stretching movements with her arms before walking over to me.
Another earthquake, enough to fell a church a block down the street. Ariel’s shield was still holding, but her patience was not.
“She’s coming! We have to prepare to fight, or run. Mom, you know what my decision is.”
Ariel was a strong believer in fighting first, and if anything running were involved, it would be backwards with fists still raised at the enemy. I was too concerned for her health to think about anything but a temporary retreat to get reinforcements, but our momentary delay during deliberations was enough for Miranda to pinpoint our location.
The sky darkened, and the sickly sweet smell pervaded our pores, even after Ariel manifested more breathing masks for us. Izumi had staggered to her feet just as a palm the size of a segmented city bus fell from the sky, scooping us up, along with many cubic yards of rubble, dirt, and dead bodies, into a sweaty fist.
I could sense Miranda very clearly – she was just a little speck of light, surrounded by stolen matter and harvested spirits, all controlled by the taskmaster without a name.
As we raised high in the air, Miranda’s heartbeat became as deafening as dubstep drop amplified to hurricane levels.
“We have to end this now!” Ariel had split her protective field into three separate shields, one for the each of us. She rubbed up against mine, letting herself in while she pressed my trembling hand just below her belly button. “You have to unlock me. You have to let me go.”
Except for Sarah, I was the only one with power enough to end Miranda’s rampage. If it wasn’t for the Nameless, I could have forced her spirit to jump out of her body with a finger twitch. Now, I had to use my only daughter as a voodoo doll, showing Miranda how to leave her giant tomb of growing flesh.
I didn’t want to do it. I couldn’t do it.
I felt my hand burning black, as the Golden Sphere forced me to act despite myself.
Many things happened in just under 5 seconds.
I was blinded by a orange and then yellow light, as I moved Ariel’s pure white drop up past Swadhisthana and Manipura. I could feel Ariel’s power, her will to consume and to grow, leap out in all directions, enough to stagger Miranda.
She opened her closed fist, which was just in front of her Mt. Rushmore of a face, and dropped us from over 1100 feet up.
Ariel was besides herself with confidence. She grabbed me by my left wrist, and Izumi by her right foot, and teleported us safely to a plaza in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, by a circular fountain.
Miranda was clearly disoriented, and her glamor into the goddess Izanami-no-Mikoto quickly shifted, her flowing white robes collapsing into an angry flock of tens of thousands of albino crows. Part of the murder rushed past a few feet above our heads, and I noticed that they were the Japanese kind, with huge beaks and hungry eyes.
Without missing a beat, Ariel jumped into the fountain, surrounding herself in a bubble of water the size of a boulder. She then mentally borrowed thousands of paving stones from the wavy ground beneath our feet, and rose in the air on a tentacle of bricks. She stabbed Miranda’s abdomen while she was newly naked, riding an ice-covered stone spear the length of the Tokyo Skytree tower.
Miranda was impaled by the Tokyo streets. Instead of blood, thousands of red PRS units spurted out and fell to the ground like tossed wedding rice.
Ariel, still her normal size, fought past the stream of fleshy figures and into Miranda’s stomach – she moved so quickly that from the plaza I could only track where she was a few moments ago.
My right fist was still burning black, and whisper-yelled at me, begging me to unleash its power again.
Before I could comply, Miranda literally came apart at the seams, with her upper torso teleporting away first, followed by her lower body.
Ariel then flew back down to the plaza, followed by a minutes-long stream of paving bricks. Each one was expertly placed into the spot it usually occupied, and then the fountain started to flow again, as if nothing had ever happened.
Ariel had changed. She was no longer grounded, and her pure white drop was pushing against Anahata, the heart chakra, itching for the rest of its final journey.
I still didn’t want to let her go. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.
“Izumi. Most of your cell is dead. No bodies remain.” Ariel had shifted away from the bodysuit, and was wearing a weirdly beautiful dress made out of various subway maps from around the world. “Let me take you to the survivors.”
With that, Ariel grabbed Izumi’s hand, and they folded away with a slight rumble of air.
I had a few minutes to gather myself, and to process what had happened.
I took running leaps to get over to Sunshine 60 street. All that was left was a smoking crater, after Miranda had dug up the neighborhood with bare hands, searching for a hole into Yomi – one corner of the Structure. She wasn’t powerful enough yet – all that came out was the vengeful echo of Izanami-no-Mikoto.
In those two hours, Miranda had killed tens of millions of people. With her powers focused by Ame-no-nuboko, the heavenly spear, she turned the land into a malleable liquid, shifting the very fabric of Eastern Japan. She created mountains out of buildings, trees out of highways, and strange sculptures from the proud works of the people.
I couldn’t help myself. By the time Ariel came back with the survivors, I was already on my knees in a heaving sob.
Harumi Kaku placed her warm left hand on the back of my neck. As always, she looked perfectly made up, like she had just stepped out of a fashion magazine spread.
Behind her were Izumi, and Rin Kawamura – the former Head Accountant from Agartha Labs.
Rin was muscular and butch, but with a certain softness that opened doors she didn’t feel like busting down. She reminded me a lot of A-Bell, only a bit shorter and more likely to giggle at stupid jokes. Right then she was wearing an Orix Buffaloes jersey, white with large buttons, and number 222 below her left breast. She tried to smile at me for a moment, but I think the look on my face prevented it from taking.
It was too much.
Everyone else was dead, torn apart by the hand of Miranda’s little PRS lieutenants.
“We don’t have time.” Ariel floated me to my feet with a wave of her hand. “She’s in Portland now. Put back together and tearing everything apart. Prepare yourself.”
There was a sharp, wrenching sensation, and then we appeared on a field of carefully cut grass, in the Waterfront Park. Ariel was standing over by the water’s edge, leaning against a stone fence. When she looked back over at us, her face was steaming and covered with blood, which she wiped away with the backs of her hands.
When we left Tokyo it was just before 1AM, so the Sun had just risen in Portland on the day before. As soon as we arrived I felt a pulsing wave of terror and death – the whole city was screaming itself awake, and I couldn’t shut out the psychic pain.
Looking up the Willamette river, we could see Miranda. She must have been over 1500 feet tall now, and growing quickly. She was naked, with black eyes and immense bruises the size of billboards, and covered with patches of torn flesh that were quickly being replaced by new skin.
She coughed a few times, and all of the windows downtown immediately blew inwards. Metal and plastic newspaper machines rushed down one way streets like dice, decapitating morning joggers. Bricks that once lined Pioneer Square felled city buses.
She took a few seconds to tear apart the Steel Bridge, throwing metal girders down to the river like cigarette butts. A full Max train car that was crossing it at the wrong time was tossed over her back and into the Southeast, demolishing the I-5 freeway overpass a mile away. Commuters that couldn’t stop in time rode their SUVs into the churning river, landing on top of the train as 67 people drowned to death. Every single one was full of choking prayers that no one would heed.
She then moved on to the Burnside bridge, and tore the flashing, green and red, Portland Oregon Old Town neon sign off of a wall, and threw it a few thousand feet over to the Trailblazers stadium across the river – the Rose Garden Arena that was already aflame.
There were car alarms and sirens everywhere. Every time a pocket of sound flared up, like a long fire truck racing towards the Western stub of the Steel Bridge, Miranda looked in that direction and replaced it with bloody silence.
Through the Golden Sphere, which was still extinguished, I could feel her probing the area, looking for weaknesses in the veil that separated stuff from spirit.
The Nameless was taking her childhood frustration – of years effectively held captive by her mother Cathy – and letting it loose like Godzilla. Destroying everything so it could poke through into the Structure.
The waterfront path was almost empty, if you didn’t count the ever-increasing pile of corpses, and I was drawn to a bicyclist that was still up and pedaling, weaving between the dead at they approached. As she approached – the rider had long, blond hair that flipped about from under her band-stickered helmet. I started to freak out, because I couldn’t feel a thing where their soul was supposed to be.
“What the fuck have you two done!” She jumped off of her bike before it stopped moving, and let it crash to the stone retaining wall in a pile of twisted metal. She was taller than you’d expect, and had on a what could only be called a hippie dress, with contrasting fabrics and patterns every few inches. She waived at Harumi, Rin and Izumi as she approached us.
“Hey, Rora. I was expecting you in Munich.” Ariel perked up a bit as she gave the cold plastic of Aurora’s PRS a warm hug.
“Munich is gone. Fuck, Germany is gone. Western Europe is burning, not to mention Japan. We lost hundreds of thousands of PRSes. Hundreds of millions of people overall.” Aurora stared at me as she took off her holographic bicycle helmet. “This has to end here.”
Miranda just punched a hole in the Rose Garden Arena, and pulled out a flaming fist of many rows of plastic seats.
“What do you expect us to do? Please, tell us what the fuck to do!” I couldn’t help but start to freak out, which only seemed to make Aurora more angry.
“Understand this. The Chosen Light has to burn this world to pieces. If it didn’t happen now, it would have soon enough. The Fourth World has to end, but it doesn’t have to end like this.” She looked up river as Miranda tore the Arena off of its foundations, and threw it Southeast, in the direction of her old neighborhood. Molten chucks of metal and plastic rained down on Burnside and Hawthorne, destroying a wide swath of houses and stores four miles long.
Aurora gave me a frowny smile, and then looked up into the blue sky that was somehow filling up with the Northern Lights.
Reinforcements from Variant 1 had arrived.
Aurora, the 7 year old destroyer of galaxies, had come back to finish what she started.
After I catch my breath, I’ll continue our journey on the road to unavoidable ruin.