The night was covered in a light rain. The light grey clouds above were so thin that the moon was visible behind them. The streets were nearly empty despite this. It was as if the rain had wiped away the usual crowds. In this empty street was a flickering sign with nonsense words. Even if the lights worked properly, only the curious would ever see what’s through the doors. The old wooden doors lead to a simple bar. The air was filled with a quiet jazz rather than the usual chatter one would expect. There were only a few patrons sitting almost exclusively by themselves. At the bar itself was the bartender, an elder gentleman who watched over his customers with a warm eye, and Mrs. Kagami, who was swirling her drink around without drinking. “It seems you are troubled Kagami. Need someone to talk to?”
“If talking about it solved my problem, I’d have done it before the first drink. But since you asked, I have to know. Is one of your children behind these cases?”
“Ah, you are talking about the recent events around the world. I’m just an old man, my children are well out of my control at this point.” His speech was calm yet calculated to make sure no trained ear could pick up on the meaning. “What makes you think it’s one of my children?” Kagami sighed, taking out a small notebook from her pocket. She flipped through the paper, stopping it with her thumb. With a single motion, she opened to the stopped page and began reading off of it.
“ Three children, aged thirteen, nine, and ten are found trapped in a closed system, police had to use a saw to get them out. No suspects, children have no memory of how they got there. Conclusion unclear. Case dropped after one day.” She flipped the page, swirling the drink with her off hand. “Man aged thirty six, found stranded on the top of a building with no way to get down. No memory of how he got there, suffered three days without food or water. No suspect, case dropped.” Again she flipped the page. “Couple aged twenty five and twenty eight. Found dead in their apartment. No sign of forced entry, no history of fighting, no history of mental disorders. Suspected double suicide. No evidence found for or against it. Cased closed without further inspection. Family of three, disappeared for three days only to reappear in their house with no memory of their disappearance. Police couldn’t find anything but my daughter happened to know the victims.”
“Oh? A smart child like that would be more helpful than the police.”
“Indeed she was. The details are… interesting.” Kagami was forced to cut the details but she finally got to the point. “They obtained a stuffed animal from a store with a name that wasn’t in the native tongue, or any recognizable language.” The bartender laughed. His voice filled the room yet no one so much as looked in his direction.
“That does sound like one of my children. To think, your daughter with no training found better evidence than you after three cases.”
“Tell me about it. Things have been weird. I’m called over to investigate but as soon as I get set up the case is closed. I haven’t had a chance to look at the crime scenes since these cases started.” Kagami placed the notebook back into the bag that was hanging on her seat. “As you can see, I’m not very happy about it.” Kagami downed the drink in her hand. She placed the glass down at the bar and tapped the rim. The bartender filled it back to the amount she had before. She took the glass back and began to swirl it again. “Well? Care to tell me anything more?”
“Sorry, there isn’t anything to tell. I can give you my best guess.” The bartender took out a large brown wallet. He slowly shifted through it’s compact content. “Ah yes.” He placed a faded picture on the bar, pushing it over to Kagami. “Mammon was always quite the active one. They always were lacking in creativity, so copying my style seems like something they’d do.” Kagami looked down at the photo to see something completely incomprehensible.
“You never were one to give good information.” Kagami passed the photo back. “Let me guess, anything else I’ll have to find out on my own?”
“Good guess. How’s the liquor tonight?”
“Your selection was better in Europe. It’s not bad.” She downed the drink once more and passed the glass over to the bartender. “What’s on the menu next time?”
“Coffee. Think you can manage?”
“Sure. See you then.” Kagami took her bad and threw it over her shoulder. Hanging at the entrance was a black umbrella that she took as she left. The sound of the jazz seemed to stop as soon as she exited the door. All that was left was the soft pattering of rain.
It took some time for things to return to normal. Hitomi could feel something off in the air ever since the incident with the fox doll. It was as if the very air around them was beginning to attack her. “Boy it sure is hot today. It’s still summer right?” Hitomi could tell that Rose noticed something was wrong, but just like her she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. In fact, all the girl had on her mind was how terrible the heat was.
“It’s the hottest summer on record. At least, that’s what the radio said.”
“But don’t you think it’s too hot? Not even standing in the shade helps that much.” The two of them had taken shelter under some trees at the Edith Shrine. Since it was a weekend Hitomi had decided to visit Rose but even the heat doesn’t stop the work she has to do daily. It would only take a few minutes in direct sunlight to drain a person of all their energy. No amount of water in the world seemed to help against the heat. “Do you think maybe this weird heat is caused by the same person? You know, the one that trapped Natsu in that weird space?”
“You don’t need to clarify.” Hitomi quickly reminded Rose that she could read her mind for the details. “I don’t know to be honest. No one seems to be panicking about it, and it’s been steadily rising for a while now.”
“I guess you're right. Maybe I should just ask my mom to make it colder.”
“I doubt she could make that happen without someone getting mad. But now that you mention it…” Hitomi looked around, trying her best to sense anything that could be hiding around them. “Where is Gratia?”
“I wish I knew the answer to that. I haven’t seen her in a while. I’m guessing something up there is taking up a bunch of her time.”
“The last time you saw her… was before the thing with Natsu. No, something isn’t right here.”
“I mean it’s not that strange. Mom doesn’t seem too worried about it either.”
“That’s true but- Sorry, I’ve been a little worried since things started to get weird.” Before they were the only two with the ability and knowledge of the world of spirits. Due to the practically impossible to cross barrier it was little more than a neat phenomenon that they shared. Even if the two saw a spirit it’s not like it could do anything to them or the people around them. If it was a problem, Rose or Morgan would take care of it using the power of the gods. It was almost a paradise. “A paradise huh?”
“Did you say something?”
“Not really.” Hitomi shook her head. She was thinking too much about it. Yet the more she thought about the word paradise the more she grew worried. “Rose, how much do you know about history?”
“Not much. I have trouble remembering dates and names.”
“Sorry, I should have been more specific. The history of the original paradise?” Rose tilted her head in confusion. “In a lot of mythologies there is some kind of paradise, whether on earth or in heaven. I was wondering if you knew if there was anything that fits the bill.”
“Let me think about it.” Rose closed her eyes and remained motionless for a minute. Then another. By the time she opened her eyes nothing knew appeared in her head. “You already know that I don’t, but I think I know why. A true paradise can’t exist because people like different things. If something like that exists, it would only contain maybe a few people at most.”
“That’s pretty philosophical for you Rose.”
“Hey! Even I can do that? What am I trying to say?”
“It’s fine, I’m not really sure how to word that either.”
“Well you got what I meant. Alright, time to get back to work!”
“Wait Rose you still-” Hitomi couldn’t finish her sentence as Rose grabbed the broom from the ground and ran back into the heat. She worked as quickly as she could, but even her brazen nature couldn’t protect her from the heat. Watching the energy get sapped was almost magical. “You did good.” Rose had returned completely out of breath. She placed the broom back on the ground and sat down before drinking the rest of the water she had left herself.
“It’s too hot!”
“Honestly, I don’t know what you expected. You might just want to wait until night to finish your chores. I don’t even want to leave the shade.”
“Well nothing will get done if we don’t do something about it.”
“Rose, we can’t stop the weather.”
“That won’t stop me from trying! Us from trying!” Rose stood back up, seemingly revitalized. “Let’s come up with a game plan.”
“Alright, sure. You start.” Hitomi put all the pressure on Rose to get started. “I’m all ears.”
“You can just read my mind and think of something better.”
“No cheating this time.”
“Um.. ok let’s see. Something is causing this heat, and it’s been happening for a while. That means whatever it is was supposed to be slow. It’ll be hard to find something like that, but it has to be out in the open. We should look to see where the center is! Then we can look to see if anything was added there recently!”
“That’s not a bad plan, but how are we going to find the center? Actually, don’t they have weather maps in the newspaper?” Hitomi was surprised how simple things seemed to be this time around. If there was an obvious shape of increased heat then their hypothesis was right. If not, perhaps they were both paranoid. “Do you have any newspapers from the last week?”
“No, but I think there is one of those weird machines that give you one a little down the street.” The two of them looked towards the entrance to the shrine, only to see the air between them and it rising to the sky. “Maybe there is one inside?”
“I’ll check I’m faster and have been cooling off for longer.” Rose nodded her head as she returned to drowning herself to recover from her last exertion. Even the short time between the shade and Rose’s house was enough to drain Hitomi of much of her strength. She quickly closed the door behind her to prevent the heat from entering the house anymore than it needed to. As she recovered her breath, she looked up to see Morgan laying on the table in the kitchen with a towel over her head. “Um, Morgan? Are you ok?”
“This heat sucks.” That’s all she said as she slid the towel off her head and sat up straight to address her normally. “I thought I could last a little longer myself, but it’s really something today.”
“We think it might be the work of the person that caused problems with Natsu. Do you happen to have a newspaper here?” Hitomi got to the point as quickly as she could. Morgan looked around the immediate area before the information clicked in her head.
“I’m sure you already know where it is, but it is a week old.”
“That should be fine, thank you.” Hitomi opened a drawer in the kitchen to find a newspaper rolled up among sets of silverware she had never seen used before. Just like Morgan had said, it was released nine days ago. Morgan flipped through each page, only to realize it’s in english. While she was able to pull off being able to read fluently around Rose, the truth was she only knew some of the words and filled in the rest with context. She looked over each article looking for any instance of a word related to the weather, but despite how strange it was there wasn’t a single article on it. The only thing she found was a small box that showed the weather for the week. “Um, you wouldn’t happen to have something about the regional weather would you?”
“I wish I could answer that question but I honestly don’t know. You need to check it now right? I think I have an idea. Can you fetch the umbrella in the closet by the entrance?” Hitomi nodded her head in agreement. She first returned the newspaper just in case they would need it for something else. After securing the umbrella, Hitomi waited for Morgan to grab a couple of coins to get something more useful. “This should be enough. Try to see if you can find some regional paper.”
“Thank you.” Morgan dropped the coins into Hitomi’s hand. After a bow, Hitomi left back into the heat. She opened the umbrella and raised it over her. While it didn’t negate the heat, the shade it provided was more than enough to make things manageable. Rose was still laying down under the tree recovering, but given by how tired she looked she tried to work some more. “Still alive?”
“Maybe. My limbs feel like jello.”
“Don’t worry I can still read your mind, you aren’t dead yet.” Hitomi held out a hand for Rose to take. After helping her get up, Hitomi began to explain what happened. Rose quickly caught up and began regaining her energy.
“Shame that we have to go out there but with this we are invincible!”
“You are always invincible. Let’s try to get this done before we both, well I don’t really know what will happen.”
“Good enough reason for me to go fast.” The two set out only to see a nearly empty street before them. Even the stalls usually loaded for the sale of a variety of items were barren. “I guess everyone is holed up inside. It was so busy this morning too.”
“The sun wasn’t directly overhead. Better for me. Let’s take this chance to do things without distraction.”
“You are holding the umbrella, so please don’t go too fast. I don’t want to be back under the sun.” Hitomi nodded as she moved around the speed Rose usually walked at. If she were to speed up Rose would tire out from the effort.
“Those are the boxes right? Which one has it?”
“I think those are them. I’ve never used them before so we’ll have to guess.”
“Would be pretty easy otherwise.” Hitomi said to herself as they closed the distance. There were three boxes that lined the road. Each one was a different color with a different name across the side. From the front they looked almost identical; a stack of papers closed off by glass with a handle to which to get in. A slot to enter the payment stood at the top.
“Yeah these are them. Have you ever read any of these?”
“Do you know the name of every newspaper you’ve read?”
“I haven’t read any newspapers.” Hitomi wanted to comment on her own stupidity for not seeing that answer coming. Since blind guessing was a problem, they had to deduce which choice would be best. “Rose pick one.”
“Huh? Just pick one? What if it does have what we need?” Hitomi shrugged. They were at a stalemate and leaving things to Rose’s luck was probably more constructive than spending time trying to guess based on the name. “Alright, let’s go with this one!” Rose pointed to the one in the middle. Given her lack of justification in her own mind this really was as good as random. Hitomi entered the coins and opened the glass door. She took the top paper and looked over the cover. There was a small preview of a story about the heat and the page number where the full article was. Hitomi tried to open up to the exact page with a dramatic motion but failed by a few pages. She hid her embarrassment by moving closer to the paper as she flipped one at a time to the correct one. It wasn’t the largest of articles but it did show a pretty large heat map of the area.
“Look, over here. That seems to be where it’s the highest.” Hitomi pressed her finger right below where she wanted Rose to look.
“How close is that?”
“Um, let’s see we are right here. The city is there so it can’t be too far away. If we take a bus we can get there and back in a few hours.”
“Ok! How much does the bus cost?”
“More than we have. Do you think Morgan will drive us there? I know she doesn’t want to get too involved.”
“Of course she will. We will still be the ones doing everything. Once I save enough for a bike we won’t even need to ask anyone for help!” Hitomi couldn’t help but softly laugh at Rose’s interest in the bike.
“Sure sure, let’s not waste any time. Although I’m not excited for the car.”
“Huh? Why not?”
“You’ll see soon enough.” The protective shade of the umbrella would not last forever. As quickly as Rose could walk, the two returned to the shrine. Hitomi handed the umbrella over to Rose as they reached the tree that was used as cover. “I’ll clean up everything here.”
“Thanks. I’ll make sure to go as fast as I can!”
“That’s not.. Oh whatever.” Hitomi began to call out to her but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. As she cleaned she couldn’t help but doubt their conclusions. It was basically a shot in the dark. However the other hand also scared her. “If someone or something is doing all of this, what is their reasoning?” Hitomi shook her head. “I can’t worry about these things. Let’s just see if we are right first.” Hitomi finished putting everything away well before Rose returned with Morgan. Both had changed into something a little more breezy to help with the heat.
“Just to be clear, I’m just here to get you to where you need to go.”
“We have to have our own adventures! I brought a lot of water just in case it’s like a fire or something. And my sword in case I have to slice something.” Hitomi looked over at Morgan, who showed the sword on her back. Rose then showed off a notebook in her hand. “Since we are going somewhere new, we should probably write it down.” Hitomi nodded her head, but since she didn’t bring it with her she’d have to complete her entry later.
“It’ll take some time to get there, so let’s get on the road.” Morgan spun her keys around her index finger as she put on sunglasses. Hitomi joined Rose under the umbrella once more as they raced off to their target.
The feeling hit them like a wave. Since they didn’t have any specific location they were looking for they ended up just driving around the area looking for something out of place. This feeling was exactly like the one they felt at Natsu’s house. “That’s definitely something huh? Let me find a place to park.” Morgan took the car around the small town they found themselves in. It wasn’t too dissimilar to the one they lived in. Finding a parking spot took no time at all. It gave Rose and Hitomi little time to take in their surroundings.
“I don’t see anything super out of place.”
“Last time it was fairly well hidden. I doubt we’d just be able to see it just by looking around.” Hitomi opened the door of the car only to be hit with an incredible brush of heat. “Oh no.”
“I’m not sure what you expected. If you were right, it was bound to be hotter here.” Despite the increase in heat, Morgan seemed almost entirely unaffected by the increase in heat, heading out into the sun to look around.
“Mom, weren’t you complaining earlier how hot it was?”
“When things need to get done, a little heat isn’t gonna stop me. Shouldn’t stop you either.”
“Right! Come on Hitomi! Let’s look around.” Rose leapt outside, only to find an eerily silent air. She was quickly covered by the umbrella with Hitomi holding it.
“Let’s not be rash. There is a reason no one is outside.” The longer days usually meant people were out for hours but not a single person other than the three of them was in sight. Even birds and dogs seemed to be absent from the area. However unlike at Natsu’s house there was nothing within the spirit world either.
“How will we be able to tell what’s causing this? Maybe it gets hotter the closer we get?” Rose looked everywhere she could. Hitomi tried to follow her sight but gave up. If the solution was easy someone would probably have solved it by now.
“It’s probably either somewhere someone can’t get to easily or incredibly in place? Is that the right way to say that?”
“It’s good enough.” Morgan answered. She was hanging back, letting them handle this just as she said she would.
“This feeling is the same. Do you think it’s another doll?” Hitomi shook her head. Rose was asking good questions. They should start with what they know and move from there. Even if she’s wrong that helps get them closer.
“The field wouldn’t be this strong outside if it was a doll like last time. If someone wanted to make the air hotter they’d put something outside. Probably.” While her logic seemed fine, it was nothing more than a guess. She wasn’t a master of how magic worked, or even if it was possible to do any of this without the power of a god. However she had to be confident or Rose would lose confidence in herself.
“Hmmm. Hitomi, I got nothing. What else can we do?”
“Natsu said she got the fox from some strange shop right? If this is the same person, perhaps we are looking for an animal again? Or perhaps some nicknacks?”
“Oh! Good point! Alright, with our combined eyesight we shouldn’t miss anything. Ok I got it!” Rose’s energy was coming back as her mind began to put together threads of logic. “If it’s outside, the field will have to be a sphere right? Even if it’s huge we can get a good guess just by seeing where we can exit. Oh but we are pretty far from where we first entered.”
“Not far enough that it’ll be much of a problem. I’ll take some water for us to drink while we do this.”
“Right! Ok let’s do this!” The two headed back up the road until they no longer felt the field anymore. The too just stood there for a bit before they realised they hadn’t thought past this. “Hitomi?”
“So um, we have to figure out which direction is to the center right? So we gotta… find how the field is shaped. Yeah that sounds right.”
“Ok how do we do that?”
“That’s a good question.” Hitomi looked around for something to use as a marker. If it wasn’t for leaving the umbrella’s shade being a non option she’d have Rose stand in the center while she figured out its shape. “Rose, anything stick out to you?”
“I mean it is easy to keep track off.” Rose took a look around, but they were on the sidewalk of a road surrounded by trees. It was as uninteresting as an area could get. Instead of trying to make something of the area, she took it in her own hands. Hitomi took a step back as Rose took the sword from her back so she could unsheath it safely. She took a second to make sure she slashed the ground exactly where the field ended. The sword bounced off the sidewalk with a clang, creating a small gash.
“Good enough yeah? Yeah. Let’s do this a few times and that should work right?”
“I think so.” Hitomi returned to Rose’s side to cover her with the umbrella. “How was the sun?”
“Terrible. But we gotta do what we gotta do! A little sun never hurt anyone. Especially with this much water.” They repeated this four times at the edge of the field. The resulting path wasn’t exactly straight, but was not extreme enough to make things easy. “Ok, so if I’m right, we gotta go in this direction right?” Rose pointed back towards the park. “Haha I guess we were in the right area.”
“At least we have a direction to walk in this time.”
“I hope mom is alright, that took a bit of time.” The two returned to the park using the line they created, which forced them to abandon the sidewalk for a trip through the forest. It was a short trip as it soon opened up to the wide fields of the park. “Mom! Over here!” Rose yelled once the car was back in sight. Morgan ran over to them, clearly distressed by the heat now.
“Ok I can’t handle this. Here, I’ll hold the umbrella.” Hitomi handed it over without issue. “So much better. I’ll just follow where you walk, don’t mind me.”
“Okay! We are heading that way!” Rose pointed forward before continuing in that direction. Both Hitomi and Morgan kept up without a problem, keeping them shielded. The park was mainly just empty fields with sport markings for various games. In the distance there were playgrounds and small buildings.
“The lack of people makes it feel like this goes on forever.” She had run through parks like this for practice many times, but this was the first time it dawned on her just how large they were.
“There has to be something at the center. Something over there has to be what we are looking for.” While she wasn’t elegant, her positivity helped Hitomi calm down a bit. Rose was right. In the distance there was clearly something there. It wasn’t directly ahead, but they weren’t exact in their guesswork either. The closer they got, the less clear what they were heading to was.
“What even is that?”
“Looks like a graveyard.” Morgan chimed in. “Our town has one near the park as well. Feel like going over the fence to keep the line or?”
“We don’t need to keep the line, right Rose?” Hitomi had to say this first, as Rose was going to suggest going over the fence.
“This is probably the place right? We should go in the right way. Yeah it’d be bad to climb a fence into a graveyard.” Rose nodded to her own conclusions. “Let’s be on the lookout for an animal.”
“An animal? Wait I’m not supposed to help.”
“Leave it to us. I’ve done plenty of those find it books, this will be easy!” Rose hyped herself up as the group diverted to the entrance they could see. While Rose was completely unphased by the eerie atmosphere, Hitomi couldn’t help but feel unsettled. The grass was completely forgotten, left to brown in the cruel heat. The air seemed even more still as the lack of sound was amplified by the nearness to death. Hitomi took a deep breath, focusing on Rose’s thoughts rather than her surroundings. Her eyes glazed over the area, but without concentrating on it too hard there was no way she could make out what they were looking for. “Oh oh! What about that?!” Rose started pointing enthusiastically at a flagpole near a separate group of graves. Hitomi returned to reality to see for herself what she saw Rose seeing. It was an eagle at the top of an american flag which was mostly folded in on itself.
“Is there a military base near here?”
“Yeah. This must be some people that moved here with them.” Morgan answered in a hushed tone. The group approached the flagpole cautiously.
“I don’t feel anything weird. Maybe I need to get closer?”
“Can you climb a pole like this? It’s slick.” Rose tried to climb up by wrapping her body around the pole, but she slid down as soon as she lacked a foothold.”Maybe it’s not it.” Hitomi had been ignoring Morgan’s thoughts for most of the trip, but something caught her interest as Rose continued to try to climb up. She was tense. She felt something wrong that they could feel.
“Okay I tried. Maybe if I trap it in a barrier I can check if it’s what we are looking for.”
“Rose, you can’t feel that?” Morgan asked with a much more serious tone than before.
“Um… no I don’t feel anything other than the field.”
“This is a problem. I know I said I’d leave this to you, but I didn’t expect something like this.” As Morgan began to feel more confident in what she felt was wrong, Hitomi obtained the answers as well. The answer was in the form of a question that she should have asked from the very beginning; Why wasn’t Rose using any of the magic she had? There were no thoughts about it from Rose since the very beginning. She was simple, so it wasn’t like she would hide the fact. She must have known that she couldn’t use them before today. These were the conclusions that Morgan had reached as well. “Incinerate.” She placed a talisman on the flag pole, and within seconds the eagle at the top of the pole was torn into hundreds of pieces. Each piece was burned away on its own, and the field around them went away.
“Wait you can still do that?!” Rose yelled out in surprise.
“My power isn’t tied to Gratia. This is more of a problem than I thought.” Morgan ripped the talisman off the pole and tore it in half. “I’ll see what I can do, but we should get back home for now. Who knows what other things could be lurking out there.”
“What’s going on?” Rose asked, completely in the dark about the connections between her lack of power and Gratia being gone.
“We should leave it to Morgan. We managed to do what we wanted. We were right.”
“Of course we were! I never doubted it for a second.” With Rose no longer on the topic, the group returned back to the car to await the cooling of the weather but with a noticeable worry on Hitomi and Morgan.