Author's Note: Sorry for the late update. Got preoccupied with the Tourney (the link's on my profile log).
Chapter 11: Laughing Death
"A gate is meant to be a nexus for happenings." – Evan Grimm
"Magic came into this world three years ago?" Holly paled.
Holly's eyes were wide, her suspicion confirmed. "But I had been staying in the library for fourteen years."
Silence followed her words. Akemi was wiping away her tears, holding her glasses with one hand. Apparently she didn't hear.
"B-but… Holly, are you sure about that?"
"Dead sure," Holly confirmed.
Mimi thought for a few moments. "Did… did the library have a clock, or a calendar?"
"I remember my entire childhood in there," Holly replied. "There was a clock that showed the time and the date. Heck, I remembered seeing that the year was 2014, when I was small!"
"That just doesn't make sense!" Mimi shook her head. She paused before offering a suggestion, "Are you sure… that you didn't lose your memory or have false memories implanted in you?"
This caught Holly off guard. Her mouth opened, but she couldn't find a suitable answer. False memories? False… memories? "False… memories," she spoke almost mechanically.
"I hope not, though!" Mimi ended the sentence with a nervous chuckle. "But it's just possible, implanting fake memories into people's mind, making them imagine years that never happened."
The girl who never was.
Years that never happened… Flashes of Holly's past flitted through her mind, of Emi teaching her how to read, singing her a lullaby, cooking her dinner…
"No," Holly bit her lip. Her eyes steeled with resolve. "No way."
"Probably not," Mimi dismissed.
Emi's voice played in Holly's head. You're special, Holly! "I said no way!" Holly yelled, and seeing Mimi and Akemi's looks of shock, relaxed. "Sorry."
Evan appeared in the aisle, staring at her with accusing eyes. "No one shouts in Mimi's face and gets away with it."
"I'm sorry!" Holly pleaded, bowing quickly, a moment before she tottered and fell out of pain from the sudden movement. "Ow!" It sent tears into her eyes. "I'm sorry!"
"Evan, I made her upset, it's my fault," Mimi tried to calm the situation.
Evan sighed. "You can walk?" he asked Holly who had a hand on her chest, her eyes teary.
Evan left as quickly as he came. Akemi scratched her head.
Outside, the rain had abated, but the oppressive clouds were still overhanging. The wind was quite strong. Holy found it quite an awkward task to walk around in her new clothes. Being Mimi's, they were quite big for her. "Mimi, the waist part is kinda loose," she whispered, and Mimi quickly covered her reddening face.
"I know!" she yelled, exasperated, making heads turn in their direction.
Akemi was standing hand in hand with the boy she brought with her. He still had not said a word.
Evan had just finished making a circle on the asphalt using bits of old garbage he found behind the gas station. "All right, here! We gather here!"
In a few moments, all six individuals: Holly, Mimi, Evan, Tamaki, Akemi and the boy were standing inside the circle. Akemi's briefcase was in her hand, while the boy held her forearm. Holly had Mimi on one side and Tamaki on the other. She glanced to see that everyone was already holding hands.
"Don't let go, Holly," Mimi reminded earnestly.
In Holly's mind, a question came too late, but she asked anyway, "Why aren't we using the Rabbit Hole?"
"We have reasons," was all that Mimi answered. Before Holly could press on, there was a blinding flash, the unpleasant sensation of having her body being fragmented into atom-sized particles, and then she felt herself coming together again. Her feet hit solid ground, and she lost her balance. But the hands holding hers stopped her from falling. Her vision returning, the world appeared to spin. It felt like motion sickness.
That was when Akemi's briefcase appeared in front of Holly's face and fell on her toes. Holly yelped and hopped on one foot, tears streaming. "Ow!"
"Sorry, sorry!" Akemi hurried to check the damage. "Wha… Why does everything I let go hit you?"
It appeared that they were now on a mountain slope as gray as the sky.
"Here we are, the gate is just…" Mimi's sentence died as she saw what was waiting for them.
As large as a hellish train, the abomination was spewing sooty smoke from its mouth.
It looked like an armored caterpillar modified to fit into a horror film. Instead of wings, between every joint, humanlike arms with many elbows jutted out. It waddled forward with stubby legs that extended from every segment. Its head, meanwhile, looked human, just pitch black like its entire body and having needle-sharp teeth. Countless glowing red orbs were blinking at random, scattered on all the wrong places. Gobs of drool leaked out of its maw, as thick as vomit. It unhinged its jaw and gurgled.
A dreadful scream filled everyone's mind. Holly pressed her hands on her ears, trying to ward it off.
And there, sitting on something large and invisible was the girl, the Laughing Dead Holly met the night before. She recognized it, the childlike body, the blonde hair, even the bloody eye socket. She addressed them with a mocking drawl, "Weeeelcooooooome… I'll be your doorkeeper for todaaaaayyyy…" As she spoke, wisps of smoke escaped her mouth.
"She's sitting on the gate!" Mimi yelled.
Evan made an almost unperceivable nod. "You handle the Laughing Dead!"
Evan was quick to make his sword materialize. Mimi followed, the guns reappearing in her hands.
The Laughing Dead only swung her feet playfully as Mimi fired shot after shot at her. The bullets were blocked by an invisible barrier. Just as it broke with a crash, the blonde launched herself at Mimi, cackling, her tattered cloak flapping. Mimi continued to shoot relentlessly. And just as the Laughing Dead reached her, extending a hand that became knife-like claws, Mimi reacted with a speedy kick. Audible crack of bones followed. But the blonde's laugh did not falter.
Meanwhile, on Evan's side, the Agony picked up speed fast, like a train. Evan used his sword like a pole vaulter, right as the monster ran into it face first. The blade exploded in a white flash, just as the monstrosity got sliced into roughly symmetrical halves, but the cut stopped somewhere in the middle, so the monster ended up being a grotesque letter 'Y'. Despite that, one of the flailing arms caught Evan in its grip. He yelled in pain. It tried to crush him.
Only able to watch the battle, Holly trembled. Even Tamaki's usual poker face was replaced by wide-eyed trepidation.
"Don't worry, we'll protect you," Akemi said. "Ren!"
The boy that had been following Akemi silently all these time muttered something. Barrier after barrier appeared and surrounded them, looking like panes of glass.
"Uh, Ren, I doubt these barriers can withstand an impact from that thing," Akemi pointed at the train-like behemoth.
"Trust me," Ren commanded, his voice surprisingly resolute. Holly realized it was the first time she heard him speak.
Mimi landed on the sloping ground with a crash, the momentum sending her rolling a few yards down. Dust surrounded her. She coughed. "My foot," she whimpered. Her boot was torn, and she hoped to high heaven that nothing was broken.
Her crazed enemy appeared to receive the worst of the impact. The blonde landed head first, tumbling in a tangle of limbs bent at all the wrong angles and sending a cloud of dust into the air, reminding Mimi of a dead spider.
"Owwww! It huuuuurrrrrtssssss!" the Laughing Dead screamed. But then it laughed, standing up. "Naaaah," it stuck out a tongue. Her posture didn't even remotely look human. Instead, she looked like a marionette with the joints put at all the wrong places trying to stand on its wobbling legs. Giving up on trying to stand up, she fell flat on her belly, limbs in the posture of a spider. Then she scuttled forward in an eerie cockroach-like manner.
"Kyaa!" Mimi couldn't help but to feel creeped out by the creature. She fired shot upon shot, shattering her enemy's bones and flesh, spilling blood into the air, but it didn't stop.
Points of red light manifested over her enemy's shoulder.
Egad, she's casting a spell!
The points exploded into destructive beams, just as Mimi summoned a magical barrier, hastily skipping the incantation. Both the spell and her barrier exploded, sending her flying and landing on her arms.
"Did I say I was a Peon? Fooled you! I'm a Legionnaaaaire!" screamed the bloody monstrosity just as it leaped, pouncing on her.
That was when a huge shadow fell upon both combatants, followed by a deafening crash, sickening cracks and clouds of flying dust. Shrieks mixed with a girl's scream followed.
The caterpillar-monster tumbled down the mountainside, its master nowhere to be seen amidst the rising dust. Overhead, a pair of dark wings hovered. It faded before plummeting towards the ground.
Mimi, realizing who it was, rushed towards the scene. She leapt, catching Evan before he hit the ground. In her hands, Evan looked sickly, his eyes closed. His sword landed some distance away, embedding itself on the ground with a clink.
"Evan?" Mimi asked.
"I got your hat," he said weakly, holding out said hat to her.
"Wh-wha-how?" In the excitement of battle, Mimi didn't even realize it was gone.
Evan made a deep frown before putting the hat on her head and getting off.
Fixing her hat again, Mimi half-smiled.
Sorry for the princess carry, Evan.
Evan picked up his sword and used it like a staff, staggering. He surveyed the remains of the enemy. The monster's carcass looked like the remains of a bloated whale, but messier. A lake of ichor surrounded it, its corpselike stench rising in the air. But Evan was not content. Each step squelching as he approached it, he found what he was looking for: a pale arm that looked like a girl's. Shadowy tendrils shot out of Evan's back and twined itself around the arm, pulling it out.
True to her name, she was finally dead, but her face was frozen with the ghost of crazed laughter. Evan touched the enemy with his sword. The blade glowed white, and after a few moments, he retracted it.
"They did it!" Tamaki exclaimed, her head popping off.
Ren dismissed the barriers with a relieved sigh.
"Holy balls of pepperoni," Akemi exhaled, "what are they?"
"This is it Holly," Mimi told her, "the gate to New Yokohama. Akemi?"
Akemi nodded. She pressed her palm against something invisible midair.
Thin glowing lines started to appear, merging and crisscrossing until finally forming a grey staircase leading up to four stone pillars upholding nothing. Ornate metal plants twined around it, giving it an aesthetic look. It looked just like an independent standing structure leading to nowhere.
Akemi was the first to leap through. The moment she passed underneath it, she disappeared. After Ren and Tamaki, it was Holly's turn. She hesitated for a moment.
"So, Holly," Mimi stated with a smile of encouragement, "are you ready to see the world?"
Holly held unto the frame, taking in the scenery behind her. The grey mountainside was dotted with stunted bushes, but beyond, she could see a sea of green, a forest of mysteries, ending in a roughly straight line separating the earth from the distant mountains and sky. Holly even fancied she could see the line curve from this high. She saw what she was looking for, a faint snaking line, the road of asphalt they had passed on the journey up. The wind blowing against her cheek and hair, she smiled, turned and leapt through the portal.
She did not know that Evan and Mimi would not enter through the gate after her.