Though he had made it all the way to Izanami's burial chamber, Nakajima had no idea how to make contact with her. He was at a loss for what to do. A cold chill ran down his spine; he looked around and found himself staring at Loki. The demon was looking in through the entrance to the chamber. Unable to make a sound, Nakajima froze, rooted in place.
"It's nice to see you are doing well." Loki calmly folded his arms as he spoke, intimidating.
Shielding Yumiko's body, Nakajima carefully watched Loki to see what the demon would do. If he had half a mind to, Loki could easily demolish him in his current defenseless state. So why wasn't he trying to come inside the burial chamber?
Before long, Nakajima's eyes were drawn to the silver relief carved into the floor of the chamber’s entrance. The Hexagram was preventing Loki from entering. That was the only possible explanation. As if maybe he had realized what Nakajima had been thinking, Loki started talking to him in a coaxing tone.
"Nakajima, there is no reason to fear me. If you join forces with me again, you can rule the human world!"
"Hah! You think that will work after you tried to kill me? To start with, I didn't run away from you in the first place. I've got to bring Yumiko back to life, whatever it takes. Now go away and don't bother me."
"You want to revive the woman? Then why don't you ask me to? It would be only too simple for me to teach you the art of Soul-Returning."
The art of Soul-Returning was a spell to revive the dead. However, even if the spell could completely restore a person's body, it could not restore their soul as well.
"The art of Soul-Returning? Are you seriously asking me to replace Yumiko's pure soul with that of a demon?"
"Pure, you say?" Snickering, Loki opened his jet-black eyes wide. "That seems like an unlikely choice of words for a human who willfully joined forces with demons. Look at my eyes!"
Loki's voice was full of power difficult to defy. Nakajima reflexively looked into the demon's eyes and gulped at the horrific vision he saw deep within.
Countless people with heads wrenched off or severed by demon tentacles. Eyes rotting and oozing out of their sockets. Flowing rivers of fresh blood. Kondo Hiroyuki, Takamizawa Kyoko, and a host of women he had never seen before glared at Nakajima, hatred and curses in their eyes. He could almost hear their anguished cries.
"Take a good look, Nakajima. This is all what you wanted. It was none other than you that called me here to the Assiah World."
Loki's hearty laughter ripped deep into Nakajima's soul. But the faint smell of flowers kept Nakajima from breaking down completely.
"The very least I can do now is bring Yumiko back to life."
"Without using the art of Soul-Returning, what can a mere human do to revive the dead?"
"You're right that I can't do anything myself. But the spirit of Izanami, resting in this burial chamber, will grant my wish."
"Such foolishness!" Loki grinned and laughed, but his lips were twisted somewhat unnaturally. Even with the protection of his thick bronze skin, the crimson paint was starting to consume the demon's body little by little.
"Very well, then. If that corpse is so important to you, then proceed." Loki's laugh turned into a roar of anger. His pitch-black eyes, full of hatred, turned to Yumiko's corpse. White vapor suddenly began to rise out of her body; a horrible rotting smell assaulted Nakajima's nostrils.
Trying to shield her from Loki's gaze, Nakajima ran over to Yumiko. He put his hand to the nape of her neck, but it came back covered in rotten flesh and wet with meaty juices. Unable to control himself, Nakajima vomited into the blackened hand covered in fleshy liquids. Yumiko's neck seemed to droop into an unnatural position; her eyeballs rolled out of her head and onto the floor, trailing blood behind them. Where her nose had been, nothing but a hole with a few scraps of flesh remained. Her hair separated from her rotting scalp and fell to the floor. Yumiko's white teeth became visible where her lips rotted away and dropped off. Nakajima stared, dumbfounded, becoming more terrified by the moment. Yumiko's hand slowly began to move on its own. His whole body drenched in cold sweat, Nakajima stepped away from her.
"Why are you doing this to me? Please let me die!" Yumiko finally stood up on her own.
"Please, kill me..." Speaking indistinctively, Yumiko approached Nakajima. Each step she took, a pot shattered, and the pomade inside flowed out onto the floor. Her fingers, merely bone now that their flesh had rotted off, grasped at the air, trying to grab onto Nakajima's hand.
Having completely lost all capacity for reason, Nakajima shook his hand wildly, as if to keep Yumiko away, and retreated further into the burial chamber. Slowly and steadily, as if being pulled in on an invisible line, she came closer and closer to him. No matter how hideous she became, Nakajima could never harm Yumiko. As he was pressed further and further back into the burial chamber, he placed his hand down onto the granite dais, picked up a handful of ash, and threw it at Yumiko.
Ancient magicians had used ash as a ward against evil spirits, and perhaps memories of this had lodged somewhere deep in Nakajima's subconscious. As the ash landed on the pomade spilling from the broken pots, it flew back up into the air despite there being no hint of a breeze; it began to assemble into an image highlighted like a hologram. The instant Yumiko's extended hand was about to grab onto Nakajima's throat, her body was enveloped in a flash of crimson.
The spell controlling her cadaver like a puppet was broken. The power flooded out of Yumiko's corpse, and it crumpled to the ground.
"I'm glad you made it, Akemi."
Nakajima returned to his senses as a gentle voice called to him. A woman that looked exactly like Yumiko was gazing at him with eyes full of kindness. No, only her silhouette matched Yumiko's. Her milky-white skin, concealing the divinity within, shone with a slight phosphorescent glow, and her chocolate-brown eyes glimmered with a light that suggested a wisdom clearly different than that of a human.
"Izanami..." Nakajima found himself kneeling all of a sudden. The goddess nodded before she turned toward Loki.
"Demon, return to your world!" Her voice was cold and harsh.
Loki smiled sarcastically, but his expression could not hide his uneasiness.
"You appear to be one of the Kunitsukami of Yamato--why do you go to such lengths to support these humans?"
"Because this girl is my reincarnation."
"Your reincarnation?" Loki spread his arms in an exaggerated motion. "Very well. You can have the girl. In exchange, I will take the boy. It surely will benefit him to join forces with me. I still wish to avoid any unnecessary confrontation."
Holding his breath, Nakajima watched the two talk. A shiver ran down his spine.
"You're simply afraid that some other demon will get a hold of Akemi and his knowledge." Izanami strained her eyes and glared at Loki's chest. Red light exploded on his breast, and Loki stumbled back from the blow. The spontaneous combustion power she used was many times more powerful than when she had possessed Yumiko.
"So that's your answer, eh?" Angry, Loki's hair stood on end, and he glared at Izanami from the entrance of the burial chamber. No matter what he did, he could not cross that silver relief. On the other hand, Izanami's power had not dealt him any serious damage either. As the two glared at each other, the goddess' expression clouded. Right at that moment, Nakajima noticed the form of a white silhouette in Loki's dark eyes.
I've seen that before...!
Loki's eyes reflected not the Izanami standing before him, but her form as a hideous cadaver, chasing after the man she loved.
"Take a good look, Izanami." Loki's low voice shook the goddess' resolve.
“Like a mirror, my eyes reflect whatever your deepest fears are. The more you look into them, the more your own fears will make you tremble. I must say that you're quite hideous--I have trouble believing this is your true form." As if to add fuel to the fire Loki was kindling, the image of a single person appeared, that of the young Izanagi, running in terror from the hideous Izanami chasing him.
"Your mate abandoned you because of your ugliness? How pathetic. Heh, heh, heh."
"You dirty..." Forgetting herself in her humiliation, Izanami started walking towards Loki, pulled in.
"No, Izanami! If you leave the burial chamber, you'll be at Loki's mercy!"
At Nakajima's words, Izanami painfully stopped in her tracks. Someone’s dark shadow darted behind her.
Loki's left hand was moving in a rhythmical motion. By the time Izanami realized it was a spell to control the dead, it was already too late. Yumiko's corpse had stood up and shoved Izanami from behind. Surprised, the goddess stumbled outside of the burial chamber.
Making sure to stay out of her deadly line of sight, Loki kicked out Izanami's legs out from under her, and twisted her arm behind her back, pinning her to the ground.
"That was all too easy! It was foolish for a mere woman like you to try to resist me." The parts of Loki's body making contact with Izanami started to change from bronze skin into pink protoplasm.
"Kunitsukami of Yamato, I will impregnate you with the child of a demon."
With a stench seemingly capable of polluting the purest of substances, the repulsive blob started to spread over Izanami's body. Izanami looked at Nakajima, asking for help. But what could the unarmed Nakajima do against a demon that was capable of effortlessly restraining even a goddess? In a last-ditch effort, Nakajima entered a command into his handheld computer. Though trying to summon the electronic beast failed in the crimson burial pathway, the powerful aura in the burial chamber might act as a catalyst to bring its power back. In answer to Nakajima's prayers, Kerberos appeared in the chamber and let out a roar that shook its very walls, then stood ready for any orders.
"Kerberos, rescue Izanami!"
The outcome of the battle was clear from the outset. Even if Kerberos was at peak health, Loki was on an entirely different level of power. Nakajima already knew what the result of such a match would be. Add to that the fact that the demon beast was already hurt and tired, and it became all the more obvious. Even so, Kerberos resolutely leapt at Loki. His beast's instinct had most likely already told it that this terrible enemy's one weak point was the protoplasmic area on his forehead. Dodging Loki's swipes, Kerberos clawed at Loki's forehead with his burly front paws, leapt away, and lunged at him again, repeating the attack pattern without let. Trying to fend off these attacks while using another hand to keep Izanami down, Loki was having more trouble fighting Kerberos than might have been expected.
Loki was not paying any attention to Nakajima at all.
If he was able to seize this chance and hit him in the wound in his forehead, he might be able to rescue Izanami. If only he had some sort of weapon...Nakajima desperately looked around the chamber, praying to find something he could use.
Izanami cried out. Turning around in surprise, Nakajima saw her writhing in agony, still under Loki's restraint. But her eyes were not displaying any pain. It almost seemed as if she was secretly trying to communicate something to him.
What is it you want to say?
Instinctively Nakajima started to step outside of the chamber. As if to warn him, the goddess glared at him, and cried out, "Hurry! The fire!"
For an instant, Loki was distracted by Izanami's words and looked in Nakajima's direction; Kerberos seized the opportunity and slashed Loki’s forehead, once again drawing the demon’s attention.
Fire? What do you mean by fire?
In a moment of epiphany, Nakajima remembered the two spheres that Yomotsu-Shikome had given him. Praying that they would do something, he knocked them together. Twice, three times, pale fireworks shot out, but other than that, nothing happened.
"Is this really what Izanami wants...?" Nakajima's palms started sweating with worry.
His last-ditch attempt at doing anything by knocking the spheres together produced fireworks that lit the pomade in the room. With a large roar, the flames leapt up and formed a circle in the air. In the center of the pale orange flames, the shape of a human's face formed, and flickered with purpose.
It was the god of fire, Hi-no-Kagutsuchi, whom Izanami gave birth to right before she first died. Even though he had not been taught that name by anyone, Nakajima somehow knew it. Instinctively, Nakajima extended his right hand into the flames hovering into the air. Air swirling like a whirlwind, Hi-no-Kagutsuchi's flames painted a spiral shape in the air as they coiled around Nakajima's outstretched hand.
Nakajima bit down on his lip and tried to withstand the heat. His skin did not feel like it was being scorched by flames. Instead, it felt as if the flesh and bone making contact with the flame was somehow boiling, giving off heat from within. His flame-enveloped arm gave off a great flash of light so blinding that even the battling Loki and Kerberos stopped for a moment.
Rubbing his dazzled eyes, Nakajima realized that his hand, stretched upward toward the ceiling, gripped a sword that emitted a phosphorescent, crimson glow. An overwhelming power the likes of which he had never experienced flowed throughout his body.
Without hesitation, Nakajima leapt out of the burial chamber. As his sword emanated its unimaginable aura, Loki's movements faltered for a moment. Not missing a beat, Kerberos bared his fangs and attacked; the instant Loki tried to brush him aside with his hand, he left his face wide open.
Nakajima thrust the blade forward with all his might. Reflexively, Loki let go of Izanami and tried to cover his forehead with his right hand, but Nakajima's sword clove it in two. With a feeling of heavy resistance, Nakajima’s sword sank deep into Loki's forehead.
Loki's cry shook the very walls of the burial pathway. Clutching his wound with his left hand, Loki staggered to his feet, the sword still embedded in his forehead. Starting from the protoplasmic mass of his lower body, the demon's bronze torso underwent a rapid transformation. With an unpleasant slimy sound, his bronze skin crumbled away. The impaled sword clattered to the ground. Loki's entire body transformed into an undefined, undulating lump.
Astonished at his own unexpected power, Nakajima watched as one section of the unstable mass of flesh before him started throbbing. Suddenly, as if it was a separate life of its own, a green heart broke through the protoplasmic mass and tumbled onto the floor. It started to draw a strange figure on the floor with the stream of green blood flowing behind it. As it did so, the air seemed to slightly twist in on itself, centered on the figure the heart was drawing.
"That is Loki! Nakajima, do not let the demon escape!"
Pulled back to his senses by Izanami's voice, Nakajima swiftly picked the Hi-no-Kagutsuchi sword off the floor and thrust it into the heart of Loki as it tried to escape into the warped space.
After an instant of silence, the heart burst like a popped balloon. The undefined mass of flesh stopped writhing.
Within a heartbeat, the silence was broken as Nakajima was assaulted by a rumbling roar from deep under the floor of the underground valley. Crimson stones started falling from the high, darkness-blanketed ceiling.
Still holding the sword, Nakajima tumbled into the burial chamber. He crawled through the rumbling underground space. The pots shattered one after another, spilling their pomade on the floor. Out of place amongst the chaos, the gentle smell of flowers wafted throughout the room.
"Yumiko..." As Nakajima tried to make out the glowing white form by the entrance of the burial chamber, his consciousness drifted far away.