NPCs - Naoki "Searcher" Kashima

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Naoki "Searcher" Kashima
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Continuity Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and Daisychain RPG
Age 19
Sex Male
Type Demon - Fiend
Home Mu
Journal Demon Born Twice
FST The Heartbeat of Amala/Today and Tomorrow
Player Syd
History

Call it what you will - a revelation from God or a curse of the Demon King - the fact remains that our world came to an end.

A heretic called upon an unearthly light, and devastation ensued.
Chaos crawled out of the depths of the ocean, from the black abyss…

Death upon death…nothing but death in this barren land.
Who can we pray to? There are only demons and fiends here.

A voice in the dark beguiles me:

'Truth is a mystery, unraveled by the candles' flames.'

Excerpt from "The Journal of a Man Who Wandered into Another World"


Naoki Kashima was born in Tokyo, Japan, to a distant businessman father (Kozo) and a dutiful Punjabi mother (Nayana). His childhood was uneventful except for the pressure Kozo put on him to succeed him as a businessman. Naoki never particularly liked business, and grew to like it even less as he grew older, and so he and his father have not been on good terms. His mother, ever his father's wife, sided with Kozo and told Naoki to acquiesce out of familial obligation, but otherwise kept out of the debate. Much as Naoki did not appreciate his parents' thoughts about the direction of his life, he still loved them dearly.

Entering high school, Naoki quickly became famous among his peers for his indecisiveness, an outgrowth of him being constantly given a way of life to pursue and just as constantly rejecting it, but with little idea of what to pursue as a substitute. This earned him the somewhat-derisive nickname, "Searcher," among his peers, as he was never done figuring out what to do. What little solace he found came in puzzle and strategy games such as chess, go, and Rubik's Cubes. In fact, it was in a club dedicated to such games that he made his first friend, a game enthusiast named Isamu Nitta. The two became fast friends; Naoki enjoyed Isamu's energy, while Isamu considered Naoki to be a "big help" in his plans to curry favor with their civics teacher, a pretty young woman named Yuko Takao.

Yuko was a big influence on Naoki and the rest of her class. Her emphasis on logic and critical thinking over rote memorization earned her a lot of respect and admiration from the students, and her single status and good looks only added to it. It was, therefore, quite a shock for most of the other male students - Isamu in particular - when they noticed that Yuko seemed to be gravitating towards Naoki, working more closely with him.

Yuko's reasons for this were actually quite simple: Naoki's indecisiveness filled her with a sense of a teacher's duty as an educator, and so she helped him as much as she could so that he would become stronger and more decisive. He began to look up to her almost as an older sister, though he would have been lying if he denied a hint of attraction towards his teacher.

It was through their attendance of cram school to supplement their learning that he and Isamu would meet the third member of their circle: Chiaki Hayasaka, the wealthy, classy girl who was usually at the head of their class. Unlike them, Chiaki was required by her family - more specifically, her father - to attend cram school to boost her chances of passing the college entrance exams, enter a prestigious school, and thus preserve the Hayasaka family's dignity. She looked up to Yuko as a teacher of great skill, and relied on Yuko's input often.

Despite Chiaki's somewhat haughty attitude, she found herself charmed by Isamu's lightheartedness and what she interpreted as Naoki's stoicism. The three became close friends and remained that way all through senior year, an unlikely trio to any outside observer.

It was at this time that Yuko called in sick and was brought to Shinjuku General Hospital. Concerned for her, the three agreed to meet at the entrance to Yoyogi Park and visit her three days after her hospitalization. It was around that time that news of a riot that erupted in Yoyogi Park between anti-corporatist protesters and employees of the communications company, Cyverse, was broadcast across all the news channels, filling the streets with curious eyes and reporters. One reporter, a man who introduced himself to Naoki as Jyoji Hijiri, offered him a copy of his employer's magazine, Ayakashi Monthly, and revealed his suspicions that the so-called riot was actually the activity of an ancient cult that worshipped the gods of earth.

Skeptical of this news, Naoki headed for Shinjuku General Hospital, as Chiaki and Isamu had gone ahead since Naoki had arrived at Yoyogi Park Station late. When he arrived at the hospital, his two friends informed him that the place was completely deserted, both of patients and staff. Furthermore, the copy of Ayakashi Monthly that Naoki had brought with him contained an article suggesting that the hospital was under the influence of the mysterious Gaia cult, and that their activities were the truth behind the supposed "riot" in the park. Somewhat unnerved, the three decided to search the hospital to confirm that Yuko wasn't there, and then leave. True to her attitude, Chiaki allowed the two boys to do the work.

Naoki's investigation led him to the hospital's basement, where he found a strange man studying a glyph-inscribed pillar and analyzing it with computer equipment. Upon seeing the man's face, he knew who it was: Hikawa, the CEO of Cyverse and apparently one of the people missing due to the "riot." Hikawa, however, was no victim or prisoner. He was the instigator of that riot; more accurately, he purged disloyal elements of the Gaia Cult in Yoyogi Park and crushed the opposition that the Messian Church sent to stop him. With no other obstacles, he was free to fulfill the prophecy of the world's end that was written in the ancient Scripture of Miroku. The world, he believed, was a tragedy of errors, an abomination of human excess and fit for destruction to allow for something better in its place. He had been planning this for some time, and had made his move when everything was ready.

With the reasons and circumstances explained, Hikawa's attention turned towards the particulars of Naoki having seen him. No matter how minor Naoki was, he was a witness, and Hikawa, as a rule, allowed no exceptions. Revealing his power as a demon summoner, Hikawa prepared to command Naoki's death, but he was stopped by a startlingly familiar voice: that of Yuko Takao.

Yuko admonished Hikawa and threatened to stop cooperating with him if he killed her students. On the condition that they not disturb him, Hikawa agreed, and let Naoki go. Outside of the room, Yuko asked Naoki to join her on the hospital's roof, so that she would explain what was going on. Once there, she spoke in a voice Naoki had a hard time recognizing as that of his calm and comforting teacher. It was a voice and story choked with grief and disgust at the state of the world. She had grown to believe that humanity was stuck in a rut, grown weak and stagnant. Therefore, she would fulfill the prophecy written in the Scripture of Miroku and destroy the world, bringing forth a new world of freedom in its place. There was more to say, but the time of the destruction - The Conception - was at hand, and so Yuko assured Naoki that she would be his strength. She also instructed him to seek her out when he awoke in the new world, so that she could tell him everything.

It was then that the black lightning struck.

Everything was awash with roiling power, and a dark veil fell over Tokyo. Buildings crumbled as the land itself began to curve up and around itself, slowly tucking itself into a hollow sphere with a strange, transcendently blinding light appearing in the center. A quick, final flash of power, and the rest was blackness and silence.

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Naoki dreamed of being in front of a glowing star-like sphere, which looked into his soul and found nothing. Rebuking him for this, the sphere bade him go forth and discover himself, then rendered him unconscious once again.

This time, Naoki's dream was of a blue, misty void. There was a strange young boy there, dressed in a formal suit and accompanied by a veiled old woman. The boy whispered, and the old woman spoke for him, showing pity for Naoki and seeking to help him. This "help" quickly turned the eerie dream into a nightmare, as Naoki found himself motionless while the young boy held a wriggling grub-like creature over his eye and let it drop. There was no flash of power to render him unconscious this time, nothing except the gnawing agony of the small creature burrowing its way through his eye and further into him. Eventually the pain mercifully knocked him out.

This time, when Naoki awoke, he found himself in the Shinjuku Hospital basement, but with a notable change. His skin, now pale, was lined with black and eerily glowing turquoise, and he once again heard the voice of the old woman. Magatama, she said. What was given to him was a magatama, the essence of demonic power. In short, the "gift" that the boy had given him was the body of a demon. Finishing by asking him not to bore her master with something as mundane as dying, the old woman's voice then left him. Alone, confused, and dimly aware of a dark power within him, he got up out of the gurney and began to look for answers.

In lieu of answers, Naoki's first discovery was of the reporter from Yoyogi Park, Jyoji Hijiri, who was standing in the room where Hikawa had left the inscribed cylinder. Hijiri said that he'd made it inside the hospital before everything collapsed, and asked Naoki to investigate the world for him. In the meantime, he would study the cylinder, which was called an Amala Terminal, and see if he could find anything out about it that might help them. Naoki agreed and set off to see how to get out of the hospital.

Shortly after his meeting with Hijiri, another meeting crossed Naoki's path. This one was with a strange old man in a wheelchair and a young woman who seemed to be his nurse. Asking to "test his power," they trapped Naoki in a dank series of hallways, filled with demons intent upon eating something they called "Magatsuhi," attacking Naoki out of the belief that he had whatever it was they wanted. Having no choice, Naoki fought these demons off. Upon his success, they praised his potential and set him back in the Hospital, allowing him to continue his search, more confused than ever.

During his travels in the hospital, Naoki met a strange creature, a small winged maiden. She introduced herself as a Pixie, of the Fairy clan of demons. Needing passage to Yoyogi Park, she offered to join Naoki and aid him any way she could. Her powers and advice carried him through the hospital's demon-populated halls, and deft negotiation on his part landed him enough allies to bypass the guardian to the entrance of the hospital, the Fallen lord, Forneus. His efforts earned him another Magatama to enhance his power: a demon of ice, named Wadatsumi.

Emerging into the light outside for the first time since the Conception, he beheld a landscape shattered and bleak. Dust and devastation were everywhere. Not even rubble had survived the cataclysm - buildings stood next to great expanses of emptiness, and the only sky was the other side of the world. The boy and his caretaker appeared again, telling him of this new, embryonic Vortex World and of the light at its center: the Divine Light, Kagutsuchi. Again asking him not to bore them with a pointless death, the two vanished just as suddenly as they appeared.

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At Yoyogi Park, the Pixie reluctantly attempted to bid Naoki goodbye. He had a feeling she liked hanging around with him, and so he asked her to stay. Understanding that her hint was taken, she happily stayed by his side.

Remembering that souls within the hospital had spoken of the remains of Shibuya as a neutral zone, Naoki decided to head there next. True enough, the place was populated with more or less agreeable demons and souls, who spoke of many things, including Makka (the currency used by demons), the various shops around Shibuya, and the factions building in Ginza and Ikebukuro. One such demon was a Jack Frost shopkeeper named Heeho, who had dreams of becoming as powerful as "the great king," King Frost. Somehow, he had acquired Magatama to sell, and Naoki was quick to buy them all. Another, the Fallen lord Decarabia, was waiting around for his friend, Forneus. Naoki wisely said nothing. Another was a mysterious, almost clerical figure, who ran a strange place called the Cathedral of Shadows. This cathedral conducted forbidden rituals that fused demon souls together, allowing Naoki to gain stronger allies from the demons he had been attracting to his side.

One meeting in Shibuya, however, caught Naoki truly off-guard. In Shibuya's Disco Inferno, Naoki finally saw a familiar face: Chiaki, who unlike Naoki was completely human. Despite his changes, she recognized him immediately, and professed her desire to find the others - Yuko and Isamu - as well as the truth behind this strange new world. Despite Naoki's offer of assistance, she insisted that she had to do things on her own, and left him.

Receiving word from a Nekomata about the mysterious Assembly of Nihilo that was making its base in Ginza, Naoki decided to investigate. If a strong faction was present in the Vortex World, perhaps Hikawa was at its head…and Yuko with him. Seeing no way to travel to Ginza over land, Naoki's search of Shibuya found another Amala Terminal and, interestingly enough, Hijiri. The reporter had discovered the Terminals' ability to transport people between their locations, which was certainly usable to get Naoki to Ginza. However, the transportation hit a snag - something was not interested in letting Naoki pass. Having to search through the passages of the Network itself, Naoki came upon his detainer - a Spectre that refused to let Naoki have any of the Magatsuhi it had been stockpiling. Despite Naoki's insistence that he didn't want any - and indeed, that he didn't even know what "Magatsuhi" was - the Spectre attacked, forcing Naoki into a battle that ended with its retreat.

The exit to Ginza, however, emptied into another place instead, dank and full of foreboding. A strange pillar, almost alive, spiraled out in the center of the room, and by looking into this pillar, Naoki once again saw the old man in the wheelchair and his nurse, who praised his progress once more. This time, however, they also asked a favor of him. Apparently, a group of powerful demons - the Fiends - had stolen all but one of his candelabra, which controlled the flow of Magatsuhi through his home, the Labyrinth of Amala. If Naoki could use the final candelabrum to help track down the Fiends and get them back, the old man would repay him with information about the Vortex World as well as access to the Labyrinth. Granting him the Candealbrum of Sovreignty, the old man and his nurse wished Naoki well, then bade him use the nearby Amala Terminal to reach his original destination. Thus was the finish of Naoki's road to Ginza.

Ginza was large and relatively unspoiled, containing many shops and a relatively peaceful assembly of demons, all part of the Assembly of Nihilo. One place there, however, was considered a neutral zone: a bar run by the goddess of night, Nyx. She prided herself on her ability to find out information, and told Naoki that the Assembly of Nihilo's base was sealed. If he needed passage into their hideout, he would need the help of the Mantra, a group of demons based in Ikebukuro. Their leader, Gozu-Tennoh, respected strength, and so Nyx speculated that he might need to prove himself.

The road to Ikebukuro led through the Great Ginza Underpass, where he found a peculiar group of people, who called themselves Manikins. Despite their unsettling habit of twitching every few seconds and their suspicion of him, Naoki found these odd folk to be overall good people, with understandable fears and a desire to live free. They had come to the Underpass to hide from the Mantra, who were torturing them to force them to release Magatsuhi. A shopkeeper there had also found some Magatama, which Naoki quickly purchased for himself.

One Manikin in particular was rather strange even for a Manikin; he fancied himself a collector, and wandered around searching for oddments and relics of the old world. When Naoki helped him acquire such a relic (a 1000-Yen bill), it was enough to earn Naoki passage to the rest of the Underpass.

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It was then that the flames on his candelabrum began to flicker and dance wildly. This was a dangerous sign - it meant that another candelabrum was near, and one of the Fiends with it. Sure enough, Naoki found himself quickly pulled into a strange, rocky valley, the sky flashing with nets of lightning. A cold lump of dread settled in his stomach as he felt the presence of what had to be a horrifyingly powerful demon. On all counts, he was right: his opponent was Matador of the Fiends, who attacked Naoki with the intent of stealing his candelabrum. The fight was brutal and withering, but Naoki narrowly managed to emerge the victor, gaining the Candelabrum of Foundation.

It was then that a voice called out to him - that of the old man in the wheelchair's nurse. Congratulating him on his victory, she asked him on her master's behalf to return the candelabrum he had taken back from Matador to the Labyrinth of Amala. However, she said, there was no rush, and so he could come by whenever he wanted. With that, the voice went silent and Naoki tried to take stock of the situation. As it was, he was worn down from the fight with Matador, and there was no Amala Terminal nearby anyway. He decided to finish travelling through the Underpass first, then visit later, if at all. Compared to Matador, the rest of the Underpass was easy, but still wearing on his reserves. Eventually, however, he emerged in Zoshigaya Cemetary, nearby Ikebukuro.

Ikebukuro was also large and relatively unspoiled, but with a much rowdier group of tenants. The Mantra were notorious among the Manikins for their violent dispositions, as well as their methods for gaining power - the torture of Manikins to release Magatsuhi via their pain, fear, and despair. It was because of this glut of Magatsuhi, Naoki guessed, that the Mantra proved to be more physically powerful than their Nihilo counterparts, pushing Naoki even further in his battles against them. His perseverance rewarded him, however, as he grew ever stronger, finally feeling confident enough to go into the Mantra headquarters directly and seek the help of their leader, Gozu-Tennoh.

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The inner entrace greeted Naoki with a surprise - Isamu, who was in the middle of arguing with a giant demon - Thor, Norse god of thunder and Gozu-Tennoh's second-in-command. Thor was accusing Isamu of some wrongdoing, though Isamu had no idea what his crime - if any - was. Noticing Naoki, Isamu turned to him for help, but Thor knocked Isamu unconscious and in a horrifying display began to drain Magatsuhi from him, causing the human's body to shake uncontrollably. It was then that Thor turned his attention to Naoki, arresting him under suspicion of him being a Nihilo spy.

The eventual trial set for Naoki was one of combat, against several strong Mantra demons and then against Thor himself. Emerging badly injured but victorious, Naoki was declared innocent and awarded the lightning Magatama called Narukami. After escorting him outside, the Mantra bailiff also allowed him free passage into and out of Ikebukuro. Using this opportunity to rest and recuperate, he then moved to once again enter the Mantra headquarters, but was blocked by a man wielding a sword and two pistols. The ensuing battle was quick and fierce, and it was plain to see that this man was all throughout merely toying with Naoki. After what he might have considered a sufficient display of strength, the man broke off the fight. Introducing himself as Dante, he then said that he was hired to retrieve the candelabra by the old man in the wheelchair, though he did have his suspicions. Therefore, he was deciding to leave Naoki with just that greeting for the moment, until he could find out more. With that, Naoki found himself alone again.

After another stop to recuperate, Naoki began to hear rumors of a monk wandering around Ikebukuro. Curious, he began to look around for this monk, but soon realized what, in fact, he was searching for. His candelabrum's flames were flickering, the same sign that preceded Matador. True to form, he was interrupted by the monk, who called himself Daisoujou - or "High Priest." Haughty and accusing, he berated Naoki for going against the natural order of the world, then attacked him to "correct" his resistance. Thanks to canny strategy, however, Naoki actually had comparatively little trouble against him, though the Fiend's ability to drain large amounts of life and yoki from him and his allied demons proved a constant nuisance. The end of the battle saw Naoki in possession of the Candelabrum of Eternity.

With the battle over, Naoki made his way through the Mantra headquarters to the prisons, finding Isamu there. Since he was unable to do anything, Isamu urged Naoki to find Yuko for him. Seeing his friend's dire state, he quickly went to the top of the tower and entered Gozu-Tennoh's chamber. There, the sight of a massive living statue greeted him. Though immobile, Gozu-Tennoh radiated immense power, and congratulated Naoki's progress by enhancing his capability to form contracts with demons and offering him membership in the Mantra. Somewhat hesitant, Naoki asked for time to consider it, which Gozu-Tennoh accepted disappointedly, but well enough. Hoping that Naoki's interest in the Mantra would lead him back to their side, he let Naoki go.

As Naoki left the Mantra headquarters, he soon discovered that the Mantra had just left to stage an assault on the Nihilo headquarters. Seeing this as his chance to find Yuko and help Isamu, he traveled through Ikebukuro's terminal to Ginza, and from there to the Nihilo headquarters. Finding the entrance knocked open and several celebrating Mantra soldiers, he began to explore, hoping that they hadn't discovered Yuko and killed her. Much to his relief, the Mantra were unable to find either of the leaders of Nihilo, though they pointed out that, without their facility, that hardly mattered anyway. With a hint of hope that he could still find Yuko, Naoki pushed on, entering the central core.

In the core was a surprising sight: Hijiri, who had managed to, while fiddling with the passages in the Amala Network, find this place and snuck in during the distraction of the attack. After ascertaining that Naoki had not actually joined the Mantra, Hijiri said that the room they were in was a Magatsuhi collector, destroyed by the Mantra. However, the Mantra left too soon: in using the Network to reach the headquarters, Hijiri noticed something odd about the flow of Magatsuhi, which led him to conclude that the true core was elsewhere in the compound…and Hikawa with it. With a final effort, Hijiri unlocked the passageway to the depths of the Nihilo headquarters, then asked Naoki to give Hikawa a good punch in the face from him.

The lower levels of Nihilo fit Hikawa's personality perfectly - well-prepared, deceptive, and very dangerous. The demons, while not as overwhelmingly powerful as those among the Mantra, were much more savvy in terms of strategy and tactics. Naoki found himself pushed to the limit more than once, both physically and mentally. Eventually, however, he managed to break his way through to the true core of Nihilo, where Hikawa awaited him. Somewhat surprised at Naoki's arrival and the power he'd evidently managed to gain, Hikawa decides to tell Naoki the truth behind the world. The core, as Hijiri said, was indeed designed to collect Magatsuhi. He then asked Naoki if he knew what Magatsuhi truly was. Other than something produced by human desires and emotions, Naoki had no answer. Hikawa then clarified: that was, indeed, what Magatsuhi was, but its purpose was to act as an offering to God. It is a power source, and enough can call a god of creation from Amala and use it to recreate the world. This rebirth of the world had to be done according to a guiding principle, which Hikawa called a Reason. His particular Reason was Shijima, a world of silence. The Mantra opposed this world, and so he in turn opposed them.

However, his retaliation, he said, would be far greater in magnitude.

It was then that he revealed another function of the core: the Nightmare System, a weapon designed to control the flow of Magatsuhi on a massive scale. Activating it, he struck Ikebukuro, draining it of Magatsuhi. He then offhandedly mentioned that the channel through which the Magatsuhi gathered was Yuko. Shocked, Naoki demanded to know where she was, but Hikawa assured him that she was elsewhere. Considering it a mistake to have left Naoki alive, Hikawa then summoned his guardian, Ose, and commanded him to attack. The battle was vicious and wearing, especially since Naoki had not gotten a respite all throughout the Nihilo headquarters, but he managed to triumph and secured the Magatama named Anathema. Surprised at his defeat, Ose retreated, taunting Naoki with the Nihilo headquarters' shutdown, which would lock the path to the Maiden - to Yuko - forever.

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Managing to get out, Naoki rushed to Ikebukuro, where he found the Mantra demons in agony due to the Magatsuhi being drained from their bodies. Knowing that it would be drained from the Manikins and Isamu as well, Naoki ran to the headquarters, but was stopped at the entrance by Chiaki. She congratulated Naoki on his winning his trial, and professed to be glad that she came to Ikebukuro despite the difficulty in doing so. She then declared that she had decided to pursue the purpose of the Vortex World and try her hand at creation. The voice that spoke to them after the Conception told her to survive, she said. She did this as best she could, and in doing so found her Reason: Yosuga. Yosuga, she explained, represented the purging of useless things. Much existed in the old world, but so little of it was actually needed, and so much was absolutely frivolous. While sad at the old world's passing, she believed that by taking it and growing stronger from it, she could attain infinite possibility. From that would come a world where only truth and power could reign. She then asked for Naoki's opinion.

On his part, Naoki's famous indecisiveness flared up again. He didn't know what to say at all. She seemed to have a point, but she also seemed to be wrong. In the end, he couldn't answer. Chiaki, however, took this in stride and said that one day Naoki would see the light. Thanking Naoki for the talk and assuring him that they would meet again, she left, determined to build Yosuga with her own power.

Naoki quickly reached the prison, where many of the surviving Manikins were still trapped, and despite his strength, Naoki couldn't budge the immensely strong bars. The Manikins then asked him to save their leader, a seer named Futomimi who was being held in Kabukicho Prison. This was echoed by Isamu, who managed to escape when his cell door was knocked open in the chaos of the Mantra base. Though disappointed in Naoki's failure to save Yuko, Isamu decided to find Futomimi, as he was said to have predicted the fall of the Mantra and would likely be able to help out. Despite the dangers, Isamu figured that it was meaningless since there was danger wherever he went anyway, and so he left for Kabukicho. Naoki himself tried to follow, but was stopped by Mantra guards who doggedly insisted he get permission from Gozu-Tennoh. Seeing their devotion even in the face of their weakness, Naoki agreed and went back up to visit Gozu-Tennoh to get his permission. As it turned out, his permission was among his last words. Cursing Nihilo for their attack, he was unable to maintain his form and crumbled, dead to the Vortex World. Outside, Thor grieved and resolved to Naoki that he would leave to search for strength.

With permission gained, Naoki was let through to the highway beyond, but was warned by a soul about a strong demon roaming the highway. He didn't need the warning, however; his candelabrum was already flickering wildly, which indicated that another Fiend was there. This one, named Hell Biker, rode a motorcycle and attacked quickly, but Naoki's growing power was too much for him to overcome, and so the Candelabrum of Dignity passed to Naoki.

Upon reaching Kabukicho Prison, Naoki was baffled. There seemed to be no one there, even though he could hear voices at times. A little exploration, however, turned up a windfall: a guard carrying a stone that he used to shroud the prison in an illusion. By walking into the illusion, he was able to see the Manikins being held and tortured, and promised to defeat their jailer and get them out. The labyrinthine layout of the prison made this easier said than done, but eventually Naoki and his allied demons found themselves facing down the warden of the prison: a giant Mizuchi. Its size signified its far greater power, and it gave Naoki a hard fight before finally dying. From the battle, Naoki earned another Magatama of ice, named Miasma.

With Mizuchi gone, the room behind Mizuchi lay open, and there Naoki found Futomimi, the Manikin seer. Unlike the others, he seemed much more human, and moved with dignity and calm assurance. His gaze was steady, and his expression spoke of warmth and kindness. Thanking Naoki many times for his help and proclaiming him the legendary half-human, half-demon "Demi-Fiend," he left with the Manikins to find a home for themselves where they could live in peace. However, he did leave Naoki with one warning: a boy had come to Kabukicho Prison and was being held in the next room. What's more, Naoki apparently knew him. There was, in Futomimi's eyes, a strange sense around him.

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Naoki found Isamu, though he was a far cry from his usual cheerful self. Bitterly dismissing Naoki as having taken his sweet time, he even rejected his attempt to apologize as meaningless. In fact, he proclaimed reliance on anyone other than one's self meaningless, saying that he would do things by himself from now on. Like Naoki and Chiaki, he had heard the voice speak, and in his case, it told him to "seek the truth." While trapped in Kabukicho, he finally understood what that meant; truth can't be found by relying on others. It lay within the self. Using this as a guide, he had managed to open a derelict Amala Terminal in his cell and found a power there that he believed would lead him to the truth. Using the terminal to leave and shutting it behind him, Isamu left Naoki alone again, and more despondent than ever.

With his friends further away than ever from him, Naoki's thoughts turned to the old man in the wheelchair and his request. After resting, repairing his wounds, and reinforcing his allied demons, he steeled himself and used a nearby Terminal to dive into the Labyrinth of Amala, where he was greeted by that same chamber he saw when travelling to Ginza. Looking into the peephole again, he saw the old man and his nurse. The nurse congratulated Naoki on his victory and said that her master's faith in his abilities was justified. She then clarified that the candelabra were more specifically "flames of life" for each level - or Kalpa - of the Labyrinth, able to control the flow of Magatsuhi through them. In this way, they also functioned as keys to each Kalpa. By placing them on their rightful pedestals, he would gain access to the Kalpa and, by the old man's decree, was free to explore as he wished. To further sweeten the deal, the nurse mentioned that the old man had permitted her to tell Naoki bits of the truth behind the Conception the deeper he got. With a parting wellwishing, the old man and the nurse broke contact. Intrigued by the possibility of gaining answers to the many questions in his mind, Naoki placed the Candelabrum of Foundation on its pedestal, gaining access to the First Kalpa.

The first Kalpa did live up somewhat to the title of "Labyrinth," but to Naoki it was more appropriately titled a "Gauntlet." Powerful demons made their home there, and all flatly refused any attempts to negotiate for their allegiance, citing their unbreakable loyalty to some unnamed cause. The souls, however, did speak with Naoki, informing him that if he wanted to recreate the world (somehow), then he shouldn't stay in the Labyrinth for long. Taking their advice into account, he nevertheless felt enough curiosity that he decided to keep going, at least for the time being.

Among the residents of the First Kalpa, there was one odd soul - or demon, it was hard to tell - that was odder than the others. Calling herself Kamala, she greeted him with an inquiry about his identity; was he a demon, or a human? Something about the way she said 'human' struck Naoki as hostile (later, she confided in him that she believed humans to be more cruel than demons), and so he told her that he was a demon. She immediately brightened and professed a desire to keep him safe, as he was now a friend of hers. To accomplish this, she promised to tell him the locations of any particularly powerful demons she sensed in the Vortex World. In short, she would divulge the whereabouts of the remaining Fiends.

Naoki kept exploring, carefully navigating through its myriad traps and hordes of demons and eventually making his way through to the entrance to the Second Kalpa. In the room was yet another peephole, where the old man and his nurse greeted him with praise for making it as far as he had. In recognition of this, the nurse agreed to tell Naoki a part of the truth - specifically the truth behind the light at the center of the Vortex World: Kagutsuchi.

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As suspected, Kagutsuchi was the instrument of destruction that began the Conception, but its true purpose was to be an instrument of creation. From the old world must be born a new world, with new rules to govern it. To push forward this creation, Kagutsuchi chooses someone from the old world to decide on the parameters of the creation, eliminating everyone else. Often there are multiple "chosen ones," each vying for the right to recreate the world. On that note, the nurse also revealed that this Conception was hardly unique, not even at that moment in time; untold billions of worlds were rising and falling in the vastness of Amala, with Kagutsuchi at the center of each one. The ordainer of all this, the master of the cycle of decay and rebirth, was a being or force that the nurse called The Great Will. The old man, she said, had much time to ponder this cycle and its purpose. Countless worlds and lives have risen and been snuffed out, forcing them to start over from the beginnings again and again. An answer, however, was near, and Naoki's actions were seen as potentially contributing to that. Her final words to him at that time were a reminder not to waste his power.

Delving deeper, Naoki reached the Second Kalpa only to hear a noble-sounding voice that warned him away from the Labyrinth, claiming that he had already fallen into the depths of sin and darkness by aiding "the fallen angel." Naoki stood for a time, trying to contemplate what to do. He didn't feel much different, but even so he knew that these warnings were not made lightly. In the end, however, his burning need to know the truth of things won out, and he declared his intention to continue his journey. The voice cursed him as a fool who would lose the rest of his humanity and warned him again to never return to the Labyrinth, lest he be struck by divine wrath. Then, the voice was silent.

Journeying further inward, Naoki found a group of souls, three from the Gaia Cult and three from the Messian Church. The Gaians were protesting that they only wanted to live in harmony with nature and the gods of Earth, but that the Messians were brainwashed into oppressing them and blindly following their sadistic and unworthy deity's whims. They also decried a traitor in their midst who took advantage of their conflict with the Messians. The Messians responded that God's teachings were absolute, and that all transpired as according to His will. They were ordered to halt the destruction of the world, and so attacked the Gaia Cult, but all parties involved were wiped out by a third: the demon summoner, Hikawa.

Thirsty for more answers, Naoki kept moving through the Kalpa, though its more convoluted structure made it very much a maze. His persistence was rewarded, however, by another peephole, through which the old man and his nurse thanked him for his efforts in retrieving the candelabra. Noting Naoki's interaction with the souls dotting the Vortex World and even the Labyrinth, the nurse explained that they were shards of human memories born from death. Most of them, she noted, were connected to Hikawa, and so she began to explain the truth behind the Conception that he had wrought.

The Gaia Cult was a religion that attempted to fuse all non-exclusionary religions, ideals, and beliefs - even diametrically-opposed ones - into one entity, and seek truth in the chaos that resulted. Hikawa was a member of the cult, but his views and beliefs were considered heretical even in this inclusive group. His ambition was not to find a paradise on Earth, but rather to make one. It was in his search to further this ambition that he found the Scripture of Miroku, and from it learned how to create and manipulate Amala Terminals, as well as the rules behind the vastness of Amala. His power and ability to summon demons grew greater, and he saw that in order to make a paradise, he would have to bring about the world's end, though it would have eventually died and been reborn anyway. His preparations were the truth behind the incident in Yoyogi Park; members of the Gaia Cult and the Messian Church came to stop him, but ended up attacking each other instead. While preoccupied, they found themselves quickly at the mercy of Hikawa and his demons. With all opposition gone, Hikawa laid plans to begin the Conception at Shinjuku General Hospital. The rest was history. However, the nurse said, the future was not yet decided. The cycle of death and rebirth may yet be stopped. With that, they bid Naoki farewell until the next time.

Having set the Candelabra of Eternity and Dignity into their rightful places at the entrance to the Second Kalpa, Naoki lacked the means to open the third. However, he was met by four riders, who questioned his resolve. They said that the wheels of fate have kept turning for untold eons, but they wished to transcend them. They asked Naoki if he had the strength to pass the trials of Death that he had been given and aid them. Like the voice from before, however, they warned him that it would cost him the last vestiges of his humanity. Hearing the resolve in their voices and feeling a thrill of - perhaps - finding his true purpose, he rashly agreed, much to the joy of the four. Promising to test him in the Vortex World, they left him.

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Returning to Ginza in order to consult with Nyx, Naoki also ran into Hijiri, who was busy trying to determine the location of the Nightmare System. This was verging upon a fool's errand, however, as Nihilo was keeping a close watch and tight control over most of the active Terminals around. The only option, he guessed, was Asakusa, where the Manikins were building their new home. To get there, he had to first go through the Ikebukuro Tunnel, an old subway tunnel that, according to ex-Mantra demons, was the hideout of four super-powerful oni that Gozu-Tennoh exiled to consolidate his control over the Mantra. Naoki was soon to realize that these stories were correct, as the four challenged him for the right to pass through the tunnel. The first was the iron-skinned Kin-Ki, who shrugged off the most vicious attacks like dry leaves. The second was the ice-wielding Sui-Ki, who was so well attuned to cold that he could heal from even the fiercest ice attacks. The third was the wind-wielding Fuu-Ki, who drank the winds for sustenance. Their leader, however, was easily stronger than the other three together - Ongyo-Ki, whose control over the shadows allowed him to create duplicates of himself, indistinguishable from his true body, but able to attack Naoki and his allies with devastating force. The battle was brutal and almost completely lost when Naoki noticed the tell that allowed him to discern the true Ongyo-Ki and dispell the duplicates: Kagutsuchi's light, which revealed the true Ongyo-Ki's shadow. With this knowledge in hand, Naoki was able to triumph and earn both the Magatama, named Murakumo, and passage to Asakusa.

However, rest was not to be had so easily. Naoki found his candelabrum flickering once more, and sure enough the first of the four riders, the White Rider, attacked him on Asakusa's main street, nearby the Amala Terminal. He greeted Naoki cordially, however, and hoped that he would prove even to the challenge he was about to face. Wielding a bow of conquest and summoning demon allies of his own, White Rider attacked relentlessly, but could not prevail against Naoki's quick thinking, which neutralized White Rider's allies early on and left him to fight alone. The battle ended with Naoki in possession of the Candelabrum of Compassion.

Just to be safe, Naoki visited the First Kalpa again to consult with Kamala. His concern proved to be justified, as she sensed a Fiend in a long tunnel. After some thought, Naoki decided to, after resting, search the Great Ginza Underpass. His hunch proved right, and he found himself facing Red Rider, second of the four. His sword and demon allies made Red Rider another grave threat, and he proved just as able as White Rider, even after his allies were neutralized. In the end, however, he couldn't overcome Naoki's power or strategy, yielding the Candelabrum of Insight. With a second visit to Kamala revealing no other Fiends around, Naoki felt free to rest at Asakusa.

Upon emerging from Asakusa's Amala Terminal, Naoki found Hijiri waiting there. He apologized for putting Naoki through the trouble, but after some more fiddling with the Terminal in Ginza, he had managed to get there on his own after all. He then gave Naoki another tidbit of information; Asakusa - more specifically, the nearby river - was the birthplace of the Manikins. They were apparently made from the mud at the riverbank, and so considered Asakusa their true home. As for the Terminal, Hijiri's guess that Nihilo wasn't monitoring it was right, and so he was free to investigate as he was wont. In the meantime, Naoki decided to sate his curiosity with some exploration.

Compared to Ginza and Ikebukuro, Asakusa was dilapidated and barren, with scattered papers and rubble that may have lent it a haunted feel. However, the bustle of Manikins clearing debris and setting up houses and shops made it perhaps the warmest of all the places he had been up to that point, and everyone hailed him as their friend and savior along with Futomimi. Never had Naoki felt so welcome in the Vortex World, and he breathed deeply, savoring every conversation the Manikins had with him. Exploration yielded immediate profits in the form of more Magatama, mostly in the Manikins' new shop. Another, however, was held by a Manikin child, who bet Naoki that he couldn't finish a certain arcade puzzle game that was still working. A hint of his gamer's pride showing, Naoki confidently took the child's challenge and managed to win, gaining the Magatama named Geis.

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The final stop was fairly removed from the rest of Asakusa: Mifunashiro, where the river - and thus the Manikins' birthplace - resided. Other Manikins had said that Futomimi was here, meditating, and indeed he was. However, he politely refused Naoki passage into Mifunashiro, as it was their holy land of sorts. However, he did impart what he had learned thus far: he had seen Naoki in his visions, and said that they would meet many times in the near future, but apart from that, everything was indistinct. He was sure, however, of his great joy and pride in the Manikins' hard work in rebuilding Asakusa, as it was the first place they could truly call their own. There was, however, one Manikin that he regarded with contempt: a violent Manikin named Sakahagi, who was causing much trouble for other Manikins, and would likely be dangerous. Apologizing for his rudeness, he then departed again to meditate, hoping to find a way to create a world where Manikins could live in peace and happiness.

It was in Naoki's further explorations of Asakusa that he finally did meet the proclaimed menace to Manikin society, and Sakahagi certainly lived up to his reputation. Clad in a robe made from the blood-soaked skin he had cut away from dozens of Manikin faces and wielding a red-stained knife, Sakahagi's wild gaze spoke of danger and madness. Naoki had discovered him in the middle of adding another skin to his coat, admonishing his dead victim that if he had not tried to deny his weakness and simply given up his Magatsuhi, the skinning would not have been necessary. It was then that Sakahagi noticed Naoki, relaxing when he recognized him as someone other than "that powerful troublemaker" - Naoki guessed that he was referring to Futomimi - who had been trying to stop him. He explained that he was trying to gain enough Magatsuhi to become master of all demons, and guessed that Naoki understood him. Disgusted and angered, Naoki disavowed any sense of understanding or even desire to partake of the Magatsuhi emanating from the skins in Sakahagi's coat, which amused the Manikin and prompted him to declare that the next time they met, he would be Naoki's master. With that, he ran, leaving Naoki to mourn the victims of his rampage.

After doing his best to dignify the Manikins' passings, Naoki returned to Hijiri, who had pinpointed the location of the Nightmare System - it was a massive building in Chiyoda, called the Obelisk. The journey there was long, passing through a highway in Ginza, into a rear entrance to the now-silent Nihilo headquarters, then into a long passageway that finally led to a great black tower. Looking around the tower's periphery, Naoki spotted a familiar site: the grave of Taira Masakado, the deified rebel who had envisioned an ideal Tokyo and rose up against the emperor to try and attain it. To Naoki's great disappointment, it was almost as ruined as the rest of the Vortex World, bereaving Tokyo of even its symbolic comfort. However, Naoki pushed his melancholy aside, focusing on seeing Yuko again. Swallowing all else, he began the long trek up the Obelisk.

The inside of the Obelisk was a vast network of stairs, catwalks, and floors, all spiraling up and up into the sky. A soul at the bottom said that the tip of the Obelisk was the closest spot to Kagutsuchi in the entire Vortex World, and the trek up was long and grueling enough that Naoki believed it. Distance wasn't his only enemy either. Hikawa's meticulous plans included several traps, dead ends, and deceptively powerful demons, chief among them the three Moirae Sisters: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Taunting Naoki throughout his trek up the Obelisk, they finally faced him near the summit, where he managed to defeat them and earn the Magatama named Djed.

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At the summit of the Obelisk, Naoki at last found Yuko, who was unconscious in the center of a Magatsuhi-gathering device. Deactivating the device, he let her loose and caught her as she drifted to the floor. Her eyes fluttered open as she came to, and tears welled up as she thanked Naoki for his help. She'd had a premonition that Naoki would have been the one to save her, and she felt it ironic that he ended up being her strength instead of the other way around. Looking around the room, she lamented her foolishness in trusting Hikawa and in believing she had the strength to change the world or even herself. The Conception, she said, was supposed to have led to a world of freedom, where the stagnation she saw in the old world would not have come to pass. In the end, her despair made her easy for Hikawa to use as a tool for gathering Magatsuhi. However, she professed her hope that things could still change. The recreation of the world was still open, and so she could still make a difference. She revealed that, in her prayers, a goddess had come, called by the Magatsuhi of the Vortex World. This goddess, she believed, would surely give her a Reason to create the world of freedom she so desired.

Rising to her feet and gazing at the sky, Naoki flinched as he saw Yuko begin to violently shake as her body was possessed by her goddess. Turning to show a multi-colored mask, the goddess Aradia declared her presence. Her speech was cryptic, verging on the ravings of a lunatic, but in her babble Naoki could sense hope. Proclaiming herself as the bringer of freedom and breaker of chains, Aradia stated that with freedom, light and darkness would return to the world, and spoke arrogantly to Naoki. Yet, she reassured him that hope was the key to the way and bestowed more power upon him, increasing once more his ability to form contracts with demons. Her thoughts then turned towards Yuko; who she said had lost power, but would regain it. When that happened, they would then walk down the path of creation, with Aradia guiding her. Then, just as suddenly as she appeared, Aradia vanished, taking Yuko with her.

His mind perturbed, Naoki decided to return to Asakusa, where Hijiri was waiting. Hijiri noted that Nihilo was dead in the water with the Maiden gone, and Naoki confirmed that he freed her. Professing his nagging guilt for sending Naoki on errand after errand, Hijiri offered to tell Naoki the sum total of what he knew, a proposal to which Naoki agreed. Hijiri confirmed that the Reasons were indeed "blueprints" by which one could recreate the world, and that the collection of Magatsuhi served to summon a creator god that would champion that Reason from the vastness of Amala.

There was, however, something new. In his searching of the Amala Network, he had found a human living in the Network - Isamu. This carried with it a danger of being swallowed by the Network, and so Hijiri offered to send Naoki into the Network to try and save his friend. Naoki, his mind still reeling from Yuko and Aradia, promised to consider it and left for the Labyrinth of Amala.

Finding out from Kamala that the third rider was lurking in Shinjuku Hospital, Naoki hunted down and faced Black Rider, though he was beginning to doubt his earlier eagerness. Carrying scales that measured the fate of all life and summoning powerful demons as allies, Black Rider was more capable than his two predecessors. Regardless, Naoki was resolved to win, and managed to triumph over Black Rider's more tenacious minions and his powerful magic, gaining the Candelabrum of Wisdom.

In Shibuya, Naoki began to pick up rumors of rituals being performed somewhere other than the Cathedral of Shadows, and decided to investigate. His exploration turned up a pair of Manikins who wanted a demon summoned to "pay back everyone who made fun of them." In their haste, however, the demon in charge of the ritual botched it, summoning the Demon of Temptation, Mara, in an incomplete form. Out of rage, he attacked the nearest target, which happened to be Naoki. Even in his half-formed state, Mara was immensely powerful, and dealt several heavy blows, but Naoki's quick thinking allowed him to lead Mara into falling to ruin by his own strength, gaining the Magatama named Muspell as a reward of sorts.

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A visit to Ikebukuro and the ruins of the Mantra yielded an interesting meeting with Hikawa. Unlike their previous meetings, Hikawa greeted Naoki cordially, calling him the Demi-Fiend and saying that his time in the Obelisk was meant as a test to confirm the extent of his power. On all counts: fighting his way up the Obelisk, controlling his increasingly-powerful demon allies, defeating the Moirae Sisters, and most of all, freeing the Maiden of the Vortex World with his own power and loosing the Magatsuhi he had gathered, he succeeded beyond Hikawa's expectations. Now of the opinion that sparing Naoki was the right thing to do after all, Hikawa offered to tell him more about his Reason, Shijima. He explained it by using the image of a candle. When desire is small, like a candle's flame, it's warm and comforting. It offers light and solace in the darkness. However, if that candle were to keep burning, the fire can touch something and become a conflagration, destroying everything in its path. Humanity, he felt, was constantly lured by the warmth of desire, but ignored its destructive nature and the dangers it brought. In the end, they brought ruin to everything they touched because of this ignorance. Because of this, Hikawa concluded that what was needed was for humans to be candles to illuminate the earth, not raging infernos blasting it to cinders. Human society would be just another cog in an orderly, peaceful universe. Like Chiaki before him, he asked Naoki if he agreed.

On his part, Naoki already had an answer. As much as Hikawa's ideas made sense, he couldn't accept taking them as far as Hikawa did, and he said as much. Disappointed, Hikawa concluded that Naoki was "a mere demon after all," then told Naoki that he wouldn't slack off against the others scheming to create the world. Vowing to create the world of silence, he walked away.

Having had time to ponder his situation, Naoki returned to Asakusa and asked Hijiri to send him in. If nothing else, he wanted to make sure that Isamu was at least alright. Soon, Naoki found himself in the Network once again, but this time he was warned by the souls that the residents of Amala would be far more hostile to any intruders this time. One such resident was the old Spectre that had challenged Naoki the first time he came into the Network. It attacked with new magic techniques, but was no match for Naoki and found itself having to retreat again. However, the Spectre's hostility was hardly unique in that section of the Network. Many souls as well insulted Naoki and told him to go away, but out of concern for Isamu, he pressed on, avoiding confrontations wherever possible.

Finally, Naoki reached a round chamber in the Network where he saw Isamu in the middle of a conflagration of energy. Unsure of what to do, Naoki waited for Isamu to stand and greet him. Greet him he did, but Naoki was mildly shocked at the change wrought in his friend. Writhing faces strained to escape his skin, howling soundless screams, and Isamu's face held little warmth. Isamu spoke, asking if Naoki had come to save him. Such an act, however, was deemed meaningless, as the old Isamu that Naoki knew, wandering aimlessly, was dead. In his place was the "almighty Isamu, master of Amala's power."

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The truth, in Isamu's mind, was that the self was supreme. Anyone else was a temporary presence that didn't matter in the great scheme of things. He said that none truly cared for him, and likewise he didn't particularly care about anyone else. However, he didn't see it as wrong or sad. It was, instead, the truth of things; the self is always at the center of the world, as one's experience is always subjective. Therefore, the solution was to have each person create their own, individual world, each one a perfect paradise of solitude. No one would be able to interfere with each other, and everyone would have what they wanted. This was the Reason of Musubi, and Isamu asked Naoki if he understood what he meant.

Naoki was torn. Part of what Isamu said made sense, and with only demons for company over who knew how long, Naoki certainly felt very much alone. At the same time, it was only with the help of his demon allies that he'd been able to succeed as he had.

To save Yuko.

To defeat the Fiends.

To survive in the merciless Vortex World.

Shaking his head, Naoki replied that he didn't understand. Isamu scoffed, speculating that Naoki's refusal was a product of his no longer being human. He decided that, when he created the world of Musubi, that would be proof enough, and so he left Naoki to contemplate his words in solitude.

Returning to Asakusa, Naoki found the Manikins in the middle of gathering at Mifunashiro. He made to follow them, but suddenly felt the now-familiar lump of dread that accompanied his candelabrum's flickering flames. This time his challenger was Pale Rider, the fourth of the horsemen. Musing about the possibility of a mere human - even one with demonic powers - surpassing all others to become the fated one who would transcend death, he began his attack. Like the other Riders, Pale Rider had demon allies, but his were much tougher to fight. Not only were they potent tactical support, but they had no compunctions about sacrificing themselves in devastating suicide techniques. Their sacrifices dealt heavy blows to Naoki and his allies, but their heaviest toll came from the sustenance they gave their master in their death throes. They also proved impossible to neutralize, and so Naoki found himself fighting harder than he ever had just to stay alive. It was seemingly an eternity before Pale Rider finally yielded, awarding Naoki with the Candelabrum of Majesty.

Finally making it to Mifunashiro after a short rest, Naoki found Futomimi addressing the Manikins about a threat that he had sensed coming from Yoyogi Park. Urging his fellow Manikins to stay strong and work to beat back this encroaching evil, he rallied them towards striving for a world where Manikins were no longer slaves, free from suffering. With that, he returned to his meditation.

Seeking to help them, Naoki made his way to Yoyogi Park, stopping by a new shop that had opened in Asakusa. Much to his delight, the Junk Collector Manikin was there, having decided to finally open his own shop to sell the many items that he had managed to collect. Among these were several powerful Magatama, which Naoki eagerly purchased. However, with a sense of urgency in the air, Naoki decided to hurry to Yoyogi Park, heading for Asakusa Tunnel. On his way there, he encountered a soul that recognized him as a demon, suggesting he visit the nearby North Temple once he had found something called a "Kimon," promising him that he wouldn't regret it. Naoki made a mental note to check up on that, then resumed his journey to Asakusa Tunnel.

Yushima Station, which led to the tunnel, was filled with Manikin corpses. It took much of Naoki's fortitude not to retch - it was quite clearly Sakahagi's handiwork. The tunnel seemed to go on for far too long, and Naoki's sense of urgency continued to build. Emerging at Gaien station, he heard from a passing soul that a wild Manikin had passed through, followed some time after by a human woman. Fearing the worst, Naoki kept on towards Yoyogi Park.

Unlike his first visit to the park after escaping the hospital, it was desolate and quiet. The demons whispered of the fairies going crazy and sealing the park to everyone, attacking all trespassers. With the door to the park locked and reinforced by powerful defensive spells, Naoki began a search to find a way in. This search eventually led him to a room on the outskirts of the park, wherein he saw Yuko. Yuko apologized to him for disappearing, saying that Aradia had forced her. Moreover, while she had indeed lost much of her power during her time in the Obelisk, she was feeling a lot better, and was more ready to participate in the creation of the world. Her voice trembled with anger and disgust as she berated the idea of a world based on Shijima; to her, Shijima wouldn't even lead to anything that could be called a world, just a wasted space with no power and no progress. Despite her feelings, however, she couldn't do anything material, as Aradia had not yet given her a Reason.

That brought her to the reason why she came to Yoyogi Park. The core of the conflict in the park was an artifact called the Yahiro no Himorogi. It was a stone that had soaked up a vast quantity of Magatsuhi, and held the power to bind deities to the owner's will. With the Yahiro no Himorogi in her possession, Yuko felt that she would be able to force Aradia to grant her a Reason. However, there were others who had come to fight for possession of the artifact, and it seemed that one such party had succeeded. This owner of the stone was, she felt, incredibly malevolent and powerful, someone she would surely have no chance against. With that in mind, she presented Naoki the key to Yoyogi Park and implored him to get the Yahiro no Himorogi for her. She even offered him the Magatsuhi within the stone, as she didn't care about it. Once again, Naoki was being asked to be Yuko's strength. He saw no other real option aside from agreeing. Gratefully, Yuko presented him with the key and wished him good luck. Leaving her to wait in the room, Naoki left to brave the wrath of the demons in Yoyogi Park.

While the fairies were not as overtly powerful as many of the other demons, their magic was potent, and the members of their clan who were strong fighters often had excellent allies casting support magic. Furthermore, guardian pixies played havoc with Naoki's sense of direction, moving him this way and that and refusing to leave him alone. His own Pixie, though now powerful enough to have gained the status of High Pixie, was clearly crestfallen at her siblings' horrid behavior. Still, Naoki knew he had to persevere, and so he kept on, his mind racing to counteract the mad fairies' machinations. Eventually, he managed to defeat their illusions and trickery, facing down the one controlling them: Sakahagi.

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The violent Manikin complained at Naoki's intrusion, saying that he seemed quite popular as a target for disturbances. He offhandedly mentioned a human girl who had come just a while earlier, seeking Magatsuhi. Cackling, he said that he taught her a lesson and kicked her out of the park. Much as Naoki was concerned about her state of mind, Chiaki was still his friend, and his anger at Sakahagi's treatment of innocent lives was brought to a boil. Before he could attack, however, Sakahagi reiterated his desire to not be used by demons, claiming that the Yahiro no Himorogi's Magatsuhi had allowed him to use them instead. With that, he summoned a servant to kill Naoki for him, the vile demon mount of Mara, Girimehkala.

The elephant demon was fierce and sturdy, but Naoki's allies fought just as ferociously as he did, managing to subdue Girimehkala and banish him. In a fury over his "strong servant" being defeated, Sakahagi then entered the fight himself, but found himself badly outmatched. Naoki found it difficult not to enjoy crushing his adversary so quickly, but left sadism out of his conduct. Yahiro no Himorogi in hand, he made his way out of Sakahagi's chamber and was greeted by the remorseful fairies, led by Titania and Oberon. Apologizing for their behavior while under Sakahagi's control, they agreed to let Naoki have the Yahiro no Himorogi as a token of their gratitude. Oberon then told Naoki about Chiaki's arrival and wounding at the hands of Sakahagi. He confided his fear of her, as he had felt a growing darkness inside her. Troubled by the news, Naoki quickly made his way back to Yuko.

Gratefully accepting the Yahiro no Himorogi, Yuko said that her ideal world was finally within her grasp. Calling Aradia to her, she began to shake once again as her goddess possessed her. Aradia spoke to Naoki once more. Calling him a "fool with the name of Freedom," she said that he would endure great hardship in his quest. She then asked if he feared despair or humiliation.

Naoki thought it over, his face not betraying any of his inner turmoil. Danger…despair…humiliation…he'd experienced all three. Hikawa's triumphs and Yuko's sadness ignited his resolve, not his fear. His answer was a no.

Aradia seemingly ignored his response, calling him a fool once more, then warning him that he would be betrayed by his friends and defeated. She then asked if he feared deception or disaster.

At this, Naoki had to think more. He had a feeling that Chiaki and Isamu were steadily slipping away from him…this was one question he wasn't entirely sure on. Failure to hold onto his friends…failure to see how far his friends would go…he opened his mouth, but much to his surprise he once again said no.

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Apparently satisfied with this, Aradia bade Naoki go and scour the world, as the champions of Reason were striving even as they spoke. Without understanding them, he would be unable to follow the path of creation. Whether in cooperation or opposition, his path lay with them. One of them, she said - the greatest of them - was just then rising in Ikebukuro. However, she left with the reassurance that she too was a force of creation. Yuko was left behind this time, fuming at Aradia's resistance to granting her a Reason. Hoping that understanding was all she needed, she prepared to leave in order to see who was building what kind of world. Thanking Naoki but refusing his help as unnecessary, she left.

Naoki made to follow Yuko's path out, but suddenly the flames of his candelabrum once more began to flicker. The Fiend this time was a woman, who laughed at the meaninglessness of Naoki's gift of the Yahiro no Himorogi to Yuko. Naoki bristled at this, but the woman soothingly said that it didn't matter anyway, summoning a great seven-headed beast. The beast, regarding Naoki, proclaimed that he was on the path to becoming a true demon, and asked him if he was still prepared to make the sacrifice required - the last vestiges of his humanity. His mind having turned away from his earlier stance, he shook his head. The woman laughed, claiming that his refusal was a sign of him allowing himself to be pushed along like flotsam. This was just fine, however - either way, she would crush him. Now astride the beast, she revealed her identity as the Mother Harlot, and attacked.

Mother Harlot, unlike the Four Horsemen, did not summon any servants to her side, fighting only as one with the beast. However, she and her beast were more than strong enough to deal blow after devastating blow against Naoki and his allies, backing him into a corner. Moreover, her voice was laced with potent magic designed to turn his allies against each other. It was, in Naoki's estimation, more luck than skill that allowed him to win the fight, but win he did, earning the Candelabrum of Beauty.

Returning to Asakusa, Hijiri congratulated Naoki on ending the disturbance at the park. However, on his end, he failed to pull Isamu out of the Network: he seemingly disappeared. What's more, rumors were flying of Gozu-Tennoh resurrecting and leading a new Mantra in Ikebukuro, but that was doubtful…and meaningless. Somewhat cryptically, Hijiri mumbling something about being able to "end it all anyway" as Naoki left for Ikebukuro to see for himself.

Gozu-Tennoh's chamber was dark and littered with rubble, but Naoki could feel an almost oppressive power thrumming through the entire building. There was something very powerful there, but he couldn't tell what. In the center of the room was one new figure: Chiaki, bleeding and crying out of fury. A disembodied voice then boomed out, startling Naoki both with its suddenness and familiarity. It asked Chiaki why she was there, and why she was so angry. She spoke in a strained voice, wondering if the power emanating from the building was coming from the voice…who she identified as Gozu-Tennoh. The voice confirmed this, saying that his spirit wandered the Network after the Nightmare System destroyed his body. The only thing keeping his spirit in the Vortex World was rage. Chiaki replied that she had sought power, but regardless of how hard she tried, she never managed to get enough strength to change anything. Yet, her Reason refused to change, and so was in danger of dying out. Gozu-Tennoh, seeing a chance for the ideals of the Mantra to be reborn, offered Chiaki his power; as a demon, he was unable to be given a Reason. His resistance against Nihilo and the advocates of silence was, by that measure, useless. However, if he were to infuse his spirit with that of a human, perhaps his vision of a nation built on strength would come to fruition. Chiaki, only somewhat hesitantly, asked if it would give her power. Gozu-Tennoh replied that it would, and praised her Reason of Yosuga, saying it was very similar to the world he wanted to create. With those words, he fused himself with Chiaki, granting her the last of his power.

Chiaki's body shook with demonic energy, her arm expanding outward into a writhing claw, crushing Gozu-Tennoh's statue's head. Her words were drunk with the realization that she now had the power to change things. "I'm beautiful, don't you agree? Strength and beauty are one and the same," was her declaration. The flames in Gozu-Tennoh's chamber now blue, Chiaki laughed as she summoned the followers of Yosuga to her side, ignoring Naoki as he knelt, blood taking the place of tears and streaming down his face he saw his friend steadily vanish before his very eyes.

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Wandering through the headquarters, he found himself in the holding cells of the Mantra base, facing a door that refused to open, even though it seemed to be unlocked. Looking beyond, he noticed a Magatama in the center of the room. Making a mental note to visit again, he began walking toward the exit.

Leaving the headquarters, Naoki heard rumors in passing of another new power rising in Kabukicho Prison, a demon calling itself king. Seeking something - anything - to distract him from the knowledge that Chiaki and Isamu had changed so drastically, he immediately set out for the prison. Making his way through its now-chilly corridors, he fought his way through to Mizuchi's old lair, finding - much to his surprise - Heeho, who had spent all of his time in the Vortex World traveling and training, growing in power until he was able to attain his new form: Black Frost, a dark counterpart to the king of Jack Frosts. Exulting in his power, he attacked Naoki to prove himself. True to his word, Heeho proved an incredibly powerful and resilient demon, taking a surprising amount of effort to subdue. With his defeat, he dropped the Magatama named Satan and lamenting the defeat of someone "as cute and as scary as King Frost."

It was not enough. Naoki took little comfort from fighting. What he needed was rest. Rest at Asakusa.

Rest which would continue to elude him.

Hijiri was still in the Terminal room at Asakusa as Naoki emerged, embracing the Terminal and laughing. He whispered that he knew everything, that the Terminal had told him everything that happened in the Vortex World. He saw a lost temple that housed an immense quantity of Magatsuhi, Hikawa entering the Tokyo Diet Building, Chiaki gaining Gozu-Tennoh's power, and the Manikins stockpiling Magatsuhi in Mifunashiro. However, he decried them all as unfit. He knew everything, and he declared that therefore he should rule instead. Not Hikawa, not Yuko, and certainly not Naoki. Hijiri moved as if to attack, but found himself interrupted by the Terminal activating and beginning to pull him in. Realizing what was happening and cursing Isamu for faking his death, Hijiri vanished.

Swallowing his despair, Naoki raced after him, his thoughts awhirl. Isamu was alive…and Hijiri was insane. As he ran forward, Isamu's voice called out to him, asking him why he went into the Network. Naoki replied that he needed to know what happened to Hijiri. Chastising Naoki for being far too trusting, Isamu revealed that in attacking Hijiri, he had saved Naoki's life. He promised to tell him more when Naoki reached his destination: the lost Amala Temple.

Pressing onward, Naoki almost howled in frustration as the Spectre attacked yet again, seeking to destroy him once and for all, even at the cost of its life. With his patience at its limit, Naoki and his allies attacked with their full power, crushing the Spectre completely. With the threat gone, Naoki made his way to the Amala Temple.

Isamu's voice sarcastically welcomed Naoki to the temple, then instructed him to look outside. Naoki did so, and saw three pyramids, each pusling with Magatsuhi. Isamu explained that the three temples were the homes of three demons, who had discovered the abandoned Magatsuhi and had descended to gorge themselves. If he wanted to see Hijiri again, his task was to kill each of the three demons, then come to the heart of the temple when they were dead. Looking at all three, Naoki strode into the Black Temple first.

The Black Temple was built around darkness, with the barest light to illuminate the way. Fighting his way through, Naoki eventually came upon the lord of the temple, the demon king, Aciel. Aciel resisted fiercely, but Naoki struck him down, his rage at the madness of the Vortex World continuing to burn. The Red Temple brimmed with shadows, different from the darkness in that they struck at Naoki, draining his life. Gritting his teeth, he pushed on, confronting the goddess, Skadi. Unlike her lair, she herself had no tricks, only crushing power. It was strength against strength, and Naoki emerged the victor. The last was the White Temple, which did little to assuage Naoki's rising anger. Its misleading corridors and magical portals frustrated him at every turn, and the resident demons put up a stiff resistance. By the time he met the primordial, Albion, he was aching for a fight to let off some steam. Albion quickly summoned four allies - Tharmus, Luvah, Urthona, and Urizen - to aid him, but against Naoki's power and strategy, stood no chance. Gaining the Magatama named Adama from the battle, Naoki returned to the central temple, and was welcomed into the heart.

The sight that welcomed him was dismaying; Hijiri was strung up in the middle of a flowing web of Magatsuhi, with Isamu standing at the base and mocking him. Hijiri was alive and awake, but seemed more lucid. Noticing Naoki's presence, Isamu turned and thanked him for his help, as the Magatsuhi gathered was more than enough to summon the god of Musubi. Naoki's voice was quiet as he pleaded with Isamu to stop. Isamu responded with disbelief that Naoki could be so naive. The plan he was following was Hijiri's idea, only using one of them as the core to gather the Magatsuhi in one place. Hijiri protested, but Isamu was convinced he had the will to go through with it, and so turned the tables before Hijiri could put it into action. With a final farewell, Isamu released Hijiri into the pool of Magatsuhi, watching with satisfaction as he slowly disintegrated. For a few seconds, nothing happened, but Isamu could feel his guardian coming from the far reaches of Amala. It was set apart from time, almost formless and nameless. Isamu thought a little, and decided to call it Noah, the god of absolute solitude. Fusing with his guardian god and exulting in the coming of Musubi, he and Noah disappeared.

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"Ha ha ha…try your best, kid…"
- Hijiri, last words

His spirit exhausted, Naoki dragged his feet as he left the Amala Temple, barely taking notice of two angels passing by, one lamenting that Isamu had summoned his god first. The second reassured the first, saying that Chiaki would bring forth the god of Yosuga in Asakusa soon enough. His psyche reeling, Naoki rushed to Mifunashiro, desperate to save his friends.

Naoki found Mifunashiro the site of a massacre. Manikin corpses littered the sacred banks of the river, the mud marked with dragged footprints and stained with blood. Naoki's brows furrowed in disbelief and despair. Isamu's callous sacrifice was bad enough, but seeing the results of wholesale slaughter of utter innocents almost brought him to his knees with the impact. However, he refused to rest until he found Chiaki and convinced her to stop.

He did find Chiaki, but one look at her convinced him that stopping was the furthest thing from her mind. Laughing as she crushed a Manikin's face with her demonic hand and flung it away, the Manikin's spine crunching sickeningly against the wall, Chiaki berated the Manikins for their ambition and called it a crime for them to dream of becoming strong. Futomimi stood guard over the remaining Manikins, trembling with exhaustion as he fought off demon after demon. Seeing Naoki arrive, Futomimi turned and pleaded for his help, asserting his belief that Naoki had a kind heart unlike other demons. Chiaki agreed, snorting that Naoki was too weak to understand the glory of Yosuga. However, to ensure his noninterference as she began combat with Futomimi, she sent her three strongest servants: three of the great Seraphs, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel. The three fought with the full fury of the heavenly host, but Naoki's intense grief was tempered by his focus on saving Futomimi and the other Manikins. With his allies to aid him, he proved too much for the seraphs to hold for long, but even that time was enough: Naoki cut them down only to find Futomimi lying dead at Chiaki's feet.

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"At least he didn't die like a mud doll."
- Chiaki, about Futomimi's last stand

His howl drowned out by the thrum of Magatsuhi, his attempted charge stopped by the arriving god's power, Naoki could do nothing but watch as Chiaki summoned her god: a fragment of power from the Sumerian fertility god, Hadad. Fusing with it and calling the result Baal Avatar, Chiaki departed to create the world of Yosuga, leaving Naoki to grieve over his failure and her chilling betrayal.

There was only one more link left to the way things were: Yuko.

With things developing as they were, Naoki realized that Yuko would have gone to the Tokyo Diet Building to stop Hikawa. Gathering himself up yet again, he departed for Yurakucho Tunnel…and almost punched the ground out of frustration when he found his candelabrum flickering. Striding forward, he found himself accompanied by Trumpeter, who called himself last of the Fiends. It was his task to blow the trumpet at the end of days, and he hoped that Naoki's triumphs over the other Fiends meant that it was close at hand. Seeing Naoki's confusion, Trumpeter confided his hope that Naoki would actually be able to defeat him, then attacked. It was a battle easily as difficult as the previous ones put together. For all his power, Naoki couldn't tear Trumpeter apart fast enough without Trumpeter healing himself, and his trumpet sounded doom for many of Naoki's strongest allied demons. It was some time before Naoki noticed a pattern: Trumpeter's healing and death spells only affected those who were most badly hurt. By playing on this weakness, Naoki managed to triumph and win the Candelabrum of Godliness.

The Yurakucho Tunnel was also host to a curious soul: a treasure hunter by trade, the soul offered to split any treasure he found with Naoki if he lent him one of his demons to help him dig. Shrugging, Naoki offered one and went on his way, hurrying towards the Diet Building.

Much like the rest of his hideouts, Hikawa's control of the Diet Building was composed of several cunning traps and deceptive demons, supported with a good dose of brute force for when subterfuge had disoriented. Naoki found himself pushed to his limits trying to unravel the webs of deception and fight past the enemies he encountered: the fire giant, Surt, the demon of drunkenness, Mada, and the Sumerian god of death, Mot. None stood up to Naoki's almost-frenzied assault, his mind totally fixed on saving Yuko…or at least stopping Hikawa.

Eventually, he found himself in the Diet Building's Senate Hall. Making his way through, he was suddenly stopped by a voice welcoming him to the "Room of Judgment." Revealing himself as Mithra, the Persian god of truth, he said that he was the judge that oversaw the fulfillment of the Scripture of Miroku. Expressing displeasure that a demon was attempting to create the world, he said that it was foretold in the Scripture of Miroku that that was a sign of one who would try to impede the creation. He then questioned Naoki, asking him if he had the body of a demon. Naoki answered truthfully, saying yes. The next question was if he had the mind of a demon. At this, Naoki shook his head, saying no. Mithra thundered that Naoki's lack of acknowledgement meant that he was the one foretold, and thus must die.

The battle with Mithra was brief - his tactics were abysmally short-sighted, and Naoki walked away the clear victor. Pushing his way through to the central tower of the building, he saw Hikawa talking with Yuko, chiding her for her lack of clear vision. The freedom she sought had already existed in the old world, according to Hikawa, and indeed had brought ruin to it. Her insistence on letting her students live also troubled him, and he asked what she expected out of them, whether she thought they could accomplish what was impossible for her, or if she just wanted others to share in her misery. Yuko could only tremble, silent and sorrowing. Hikawa continued, saying that she couldn't find a Reason because she wasn't running towards anything - only running away. At this, Yuko slumped to the ground, more despondent than ever. Aradia then arose, pointing out that Hikawa's wish for Shijima was an expression of freedom as well. Ignoring her words, Hikawa told her that she was powerless inside the barrier he had created, that all she could do was watch as he summoned his god. As he began draw upon the Magatsuhi stored within the Diet Building, Aradia asked Yuko to leave with her, as the Vortex World was soon to be finished. Refusing, Yuko stood up, resolute in stopping Hikawa any way she could. With a hint of sadness, Aradia replied that she would be waiting for Yuko outside the Vortex World, and that hope would lead her there. With that, Aradia vanished from the world.

Seeing Naoki, Hikawa admitted that he didn't feel like fighting him and instructed him to just stay back and watch. Whatever Hikawa's thoughts, Naoki's mind was made up, and he moved to stop him. To rid himself of any interference once and for all, Hikawa summoned his most powerful minion: the Angel of Poison, Samael, who seeded discord and doubt in Naoki and his allies' minds to weaken them. Despite this, Samael proved only to be a method of buying time, as he quickly fell in the face of Naoki's resolve. As was typical for Hikawa, though, buying time was enough, as it had allowed him to summon his god. Splitting the chamber open to reveal a great emptiness, Hikawa called forth Ahriman, god of the void. The newly-arrived god disintegrated the entire chamber as Hikawa fused with him and departed, vowing to create the world of silence.

Naoki blinked and found himself in an empty expanse of light. Yuko was there as well, and whispered to him that the seeds of possibility had been crushed in this Vortex World, but had to have a place somewhere. Giving him the Yahiro no Himorogi, she implored him to hurry to the Amala Temple and open the way to Kagutsuchi. That way, he could try to make a world of his own choosing…hopefully the one she failed so miserably to create. With that, she vanished into dust.

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"Naoki…all possibility has dried up in this world, but…there must be a world out there where freedom prevails. I wasn't strong enough, but it seems your will is greater. Use this (the Yahiro no Himorogi) and create the world that you want. Hurry to Amala Temple…this will show you the way to Kagutsuchi. The pilgrimmage to creation ends there. If you so desire…you may create a world of freedom…however you see fit…"
- Yuko, last words

Kneeling limp outside the Diet Building, Naoki wept and screamed. The Vortex World had taken everything from him: his life, his humanity, his friends, and now his mentor. All he had left was despair and rage…and his demonic power.

Power…

Stalking to the nearest Terminal, Naoki entered the Labyrinth, seeking to repay the world's cruelty with destruction. Restoring the Candelabra of Compassion, Insight, and Wisdom to their rightful places, he gained access to the Third Kalpa. Within were several doorways that measured his power, and their layout sent him all over the Kalpa, disorienting him. Eventually, he managed to find a way further down, entering a chamber where a soul warned him of an extraordinarily powerful demon rampaging below. Heedlessly, Naoki descended further, and was surprised to see his candelabrum flickering once more. Trumpeter had said he was the last of the Fiends…had he lied?

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It was then that Naoki remembered - there was one Fiend who hadn't been killed in his fight with Naoki. The realization struck just as Dante appeared behind Naoki, his pistols at the ready. Saying that he'd found out that the old man wanted the Fiends to fight each other, Dante asked Naoki to leave the Labyrinth, as the old man was just using him. Naoki angrily refused to back down, his mind still lost to his despair. He vowed to gain power from the Labyrinth, regardless of what Dante said. Only a little reluctantly, Dante replied that if Naoki truly wanted that, Dante would kill him first. His annoyance getting the better of him, Naoki attacked, but Dante was too quick. With a lightning-fast lunge, Dante killed one of Naoki's allies and knocked him into the ladder up, stalking away and lying in wait for Naoki to try again. Again and again Naoki threw himself against the troublesome fighter, only to be repulsed just as effortlessly each time. Eventually, Naoki understood that his only chance was to play Dante's game and try to avoid him, and began to run.

As he ran, Naoki vaguely noted that the lower levels of the Kalpa were empty; Dante had driven all the demons away by himself. This only reinforced his understanding that his situation was most definitely not in his favor. He kept running and doging as Dante leisurely ambled after him, peppering him with gunfire to remind him of the danger. On top of it all, that section of the Kalpa was locked by several switches that Naoki had to activate before being able to proceed, forcing him into several close calls. Finally, Naoki found a ladder down and ran for the tunnel that would take him to the Fourth Kalpa, but all to no avail: Dante had beaten him to the tunnel, and stood guard. Seeing no other option, Naoki attacked, engaging Dante in a tense running battle. Fighting alone, Dante still proved a formidable adversary, and dealt several heavy blows in the ensuing slugfest. Eventually, however, Dante drew back, praising Naoki's fighting skill and spirit. He said that despite his desire to continue, he suspected that Naoki's death was something the old man could have used to his advantage, and so Naoki was free to go. Handing him the Candelabrum of Knowledge, he left to once again try to find the whole truth about the battles between the Fiends, wishing Naoki well.

From there, it was a very short trip to the end of the Third Kalpa, and the peephole that awaited him. Seeing the old man and his nurse again, Naoki listened as the nurse praised his resolve and began to tell him about the mysterious goddess, Aradia. Apparently, the reason Aradia didn't grant a Reason to Yuko was because she couldn't; she was the product of a "shadow world," a fictional Vortex World that existed in the space between actual Vortex Worlds. These shadow worlds were the product of the hopes, beliefs, and desires of those inhabiting the worlds nearby, thoughts given an approximation of form. The deities made in these shadow worlds, however, had a chance to become real; if they could grant a Reason to a chosen one and participate in a Vortex World's rebirth, they would attain truth and reality. This was why Aradia, a pitiful false goddess born from the prayers of persecuted witches, came to the world. Her power, however, was too little, and in the end, she was incapable of saving anyone, even those witches who had prayed to her.

The nurse remarked that so many had given their opinions to Naoki - the Fiends, the noble voice, the residents of the Vortex World, and the old man - and urged him to make his own decision about who to believe and who to reject. Her master, however, had waited for an eternity for someone like Naoki to come, and so she hoped that he would continue onward, promising to tell him everything the next time they met. Undaunted, Naoki pushed onwards, placing the Candelabra of Knowledge, Majesty, Beauty, and Godliness on their pedestals and opening the way to the Fourth Kalpa.

If the Third Kalpa measured Naoki's power, the Fourth Kalpa measured his endurance. Much of it was suffused with a powerful curse, sapping his strength with each step. If that weren't enough, there was a strange portal that constantly shifted, sending Naoki to different parts of the Kalpa depending on Kagutsuchi's light. One such place was Hell's Maze, a realm of punishment where souls were trapped, forced to wander for eternity. Two souls in particular, however, stayed still, instead telling their stories to whoever passed by. One was a young, unrepentant serial killer, who privately confided to Naoki that he had always wondered what it would be like to possess real warmth and kindness. The other was an old hardworking businessman, who revealed that some incident had caused him grief and made him want revenge on the world.

Troubled by the man's words, Naoki left, hearing a soul talking in passing about a mysterious "Afterlife Bell" that could raise the dead, which was stolen from Hell's Maze by a Manikin who was "probably in his grave" by that time. Taking the hint, Naoki took a rest in Zoshigaya Cemetary, finding the Bell easily. After taking some more time to heal his wounds and reinforce his allied demons, he went back to the peephole at the entrance to the Fourth Kalpa, hoping that the nurse could tell him more about the strange artifact, since it came from the Labyrinth to begin with. Looking into the peephole, he saw the nurse, who confirmed that the bell had the power to reincarnate lost souls. It was hidden within the Labyrinth to keep it safe, but a Manikin managed to steal it and died upon using it, as the Vortex World was incapable of sustaining human life under normal circumstances.

Seeing the look of curiosity on Naoki's face, the nurse went on to explain what the Manikins were. Born from the remains of humans, Manikins were fragments of desires and feelings that took physical shape. All the former residents of Asakusa were, like everyone else, wiped out during the Conception. Any weak emotions among them died out, but stronger ones remained, and the soul fragments that housed them found a place in the muddy banks of Mifunashiro. Absorbing the souls' energy, the mud formed bodies and gave rise to what Naoki knew as Manikins. They were reflections of what people desired to be in life, or what they feared they could be. These new residents of the Vortex World were, no matter how tenaciously they clung to life, fundamentally cursed, unable to participate in creation and doomed to die with the Vortex World's rebirth. There were some Manikins, however, who had power and strong will. The bell had the ability to reincarnate such souls.

Returning to Hell's Maze, Naoki freed the two souls that spoke to him, and each said one more thing before passing on. The serial killer admitted that in one of his later moments, he vehemently insisted for some reason he couldn't fathom to one of his dying, despairing victims that there had to be true kindness in the world. The businessman confessed that while he worked hard to be respectable, in his later years his family suffered a tragedy that caused him to curse the world and seek to defy its rules. Both wished Naoki well and hoped to see him again, and as they faded away, Naoki saw the truth: the killer's face belonged to Futomimi, the Manikin who wished desperately for warmth and kindness, while the businessman's face belonged to Sakahagi, the Manikin who wished desperately for revenge and destruction. Doubt beginning to grow in his heart, Naoki nevertheless resumed his journey to the bottom of the Labyrinth, thinking it the only path left to him.

The lowest part of the Fourth Kalpa was Hell's Hall, a vast expanse of cursed land that forced Naoki to proceed very carefully. At its center was the Wicked King's Hall, the lair of the Fourth Kalpa's ruler: Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies. Greeting Naoki cordially, he congratulated him on his resolve to become the New Demon of Chaos. Seeing Naoki's confusion, he laughed, understanding that the old man had kept him almost completely in the dark. He then explained that the New Demon of Chaos was to be the catalyst for the armies of Chaos to rise up, and that returning the candelabra to the labyrinth was the key to do it. Somewhat more reluctantly, Naoki said that he understood, and prepared himself for Beelzebub's test of combat.Beelzebub was by far the most daunting foe Naoki had faced, possessed of sheer brute force that overwhelmed every defense he could think of. If he had fought at full power, Naoki knew that Beelzebub could have killed him easily. However, as it was a test, Naoki was given enough respite to recover and attack with renewed determination, wearing Beelzebub down enough to defeat him. Impressed, Beelzebub granted Naoki free passage to all of the Fourth Kalpa, removing all the curses from the land as he vanished. With anxiety in his heart, Naoki stepped past into the Fifth Kalpa.

At the entrance, the final peephole stood, and Naoki immediately looked in, seeing the old man and his nurse once more. The nurse, after congratulating Naoki on returning the candelabra to their rightful places, agreed to tell him everything, sparing no detail.

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First confirming that the candelabra were not stolen at all, the nurse said that her master gave them to those he deemed worthy. There was, however, a reason: an eternal war between the light and the darkness. Demons and humans alike were merely pawns in this cosmos-spanning chess game, and the war continued even as they spoke. One individual - her master - wanted to end the war by creating a new demon of Chaos, one that would inherit his will and act as his general against the forces of light. Many of the Fiends - forms of Death - knew of this plan and hoped that by overcoming them, the demon would bear the fruit of destruction and fulfill the hopes of those cursed by the light. The Fiends and the Labyrinth were tests, meant to measure this demon's strength, and this demon - Naoki - had performed marvelously.

The nurse went on to reassure Naoki that neither she nor the old man could force him to join them. She had said before that the choice was his, and that was the unerring truth. If Naoki wanted to continue on as a human, there was no longer any need for him to return to the Labyrinth. However, if he had any doubts about the laws of the universe, about fate, or about the right of the "Absolute One" to rule, he should visit the very heart of the Labyrinth and see the old man.

As a parting bit of information, she spoke of a human that Naoki apparently knew, one kept alive only by fate. Conjuring an image of this person, Naoki recognized him immediately: Hijiri. As it turned out, he had died during the Conception, but was kept alive out of atonement for his mortal sin. This sin was such that the Absolute One cursed him to eternal existence, forced to view and record all events through the ages, a task as endless as scooping water out of the ocean with a drinking glass. Even lowly humans are allowed to change the course of their next life, but even that was taken from Hijiri. His body perishes each time his life ends, but his soul continues, unsaved, unenlightened. His life is eternal and cursed, just like that of a demon, for what the Absolute One deemed an unforgivable sin. Thus, he appeared in the Vortex World despite having died, with no memory of the truth and a false image of survival. His path intertwined with Naoki's only because Naoki was an important part of the Vortex World, and so as part of his task, Hijiri had to observe him, an unknowing puppet on celestial strings.

Hijiri possessed no memory of his sin, punishment, or death. In the body of a Manikin, he challenged those who would create the world, and suffered accordingly. Even as they spoke, he was being sent to another world to observe, suffer, and die, bereft of any hope of ever attaining salvation. If Naoki wished to avoid that fate, the nurse invited him to visit them.

Naoki, after a moment's thought, agreed. Relieved, the nurse bade him open the door with his candelabrum, the Candelabrum of Sovreignty. With that, the nurse and the old man left Naoki to his thoughts. Doing as they instructed, Naoki entered the Fifth Kalpa.

The entrance held a small surprise for Naoki: Dante, who greeted him by saying that it would be a lot more dangerous from then on. Offering his services as a demon slayer, Dante proposed a coin toss: if Naoki guessed right, he would accept a fee of 1 Makka. If wrong, Dante warned that his fee would be much more exorbitant. Thinking a little, Naoki guessed heads, and won Dante's cheaper cost. Like the Third Kalpa, several doors existed within, though instead of his own strength, they measured the power and nature of his demons. Apart from them, the Kalpa held few surprises, and with Dante's help, Naoki found the fights to be manageable, making it through the Kalpa in reasonable safety. As he reached the end, however, he heard the noble voice once more,noting that his soul was dark due to disregarding the voice's warning. Judging him beyond redemption for listening to the fallen angel and returning the candelabra to the Labyrinth, he revealed himself as Metatron, the Voice of God, and attacked.

The King of Angels lived up to his reputation as a being of immense power, taking the worst Naoki and his allies could deliver and replying in kind. No tricks, no deceptions; Metatron's attacks were all raw power, and left Naoki reeling with each blow. Moreover, he was not inclined to hold back as Beelzebub was. With Dante's help, however, Naoki managed to eke out a victory, destroying Metatron and gaining passage to the tunnel that led to the old man's sanctum.

It was then that Naoki stopped.

The fate of the Vortex World - rather, the fate of all Vortex Worlds - hinged on his decision. If he went down, the cycle would be broken, and destruction would spread all throughout the entirety of Amala. No worlds would die any more, as none would exist. All that would be in his future was a battle that promised to shake the firmament of Amala, against the God that saw fit to curse Hijiri to an eternity of suffering and torment, that turned Naoki's friends into self-righteous beasts, and made the Manikins and cursed them to impotence.

And yet, it occurred to Naoki that there was still more to lose.

His friends and his mentor were gone, and his humanity was diminished, but it was still there. His soul grappled with the decision - a decision he would be unable to make again. His human soul gave him free will; would freely and willingly giving it up do it justice? Would it make Amala a better place? Would it make him a monster like Sakahagi? Would it bring Chiaki and Isamu back to their senses?

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Would it be what Yuko wanted?

Sighing, Naoki knew what to do. Getting up, he turned around and began the trek back up to the mouth of the Labyrinth.

As he passed back through the Third Kalpa, he met a familiar sight: Heeho, who had managed to resurrect himself. Seeing Naoki as a worthy ally, Heeho promised him his aid, and joined his forces.

Once more stepping out into the Vortex World, Naoki was still lost in thought. If he couldn't get power from the old man to overcome the gods of creation, where could he go? He wandered somewhat aimlessly, fighting demons and trying to build his strength, but he had little hope of ever gaining enough power. By chance, he stumbled back into the Yurakucho tunnel, where the treasure hunter had finished his tunnel and struck treasure. One of the treasures was a strange stone, that he identified as a "Kimon stone," of little material value. Handing it to Naoki as well as the treasures Naoki selected, he went on his way.

The Kimon Stone…

It was then that Naoki remembered the soul who spoke of the North Temple, which could be unlocked by a "Kimon." Pinning his hopes on this gamble, he traveled to the North Temple and invoked the Kimon Stone's power, undoing the seal on the entrance and allowing him access. In the center of the temple awaited a demon of great power: Bishamonten, King of the Devas. Recognizing Naoki from rumors, Bishamonten noted that he was likely not a typical demon in terms of power and courage. When Naoki shrugged and said that he was normal enough, Bishamonten laughed good-naturedly and noted his humility. Regardless, he was interested in a match to test Naoki's strength.

Bishamonten proved powerful, but didn't last against the same strength that brought Metatron to his knees. Impressed beyond measure, Bishamonten rewarded Naoki with the Magatama named Gundari and told him to collect as many Magatama as he could. If he could get all of them and show them to the master of the Cathedral of Shadows, he could gain access to Bishamonten's home, and there gain an audience with Bishamonten's master. With that, he vanished.

Remembering the Magatama he saw in the Mantra Headquarters, Naoki returned to Ikebukuro. Now strong enough to force the door open, he attained the Magatama named Gaia.

With his ongoing search for Magatama proving fruitless after gaining Gaia, Naoki decided that there were none left in the Vortex World as it was and made his way to the Amala Temple, placing the Yahiro no Himorogi into the core. There, he witnessed the descent of a great tower, striking the tip of the Obelisk and driving it into the earth. The young boy and his nanny then appeared once more, marveling at the thought of a demon opening the way to Kagutsuchi. Wishing him good luck in creating the world, they vanished, leaving him to enter Kagutsuchi Tower.

If the Obelisk was vast, Kagutsuchi Tower was vaster still. Fighting his way up, Naoki had to pause often to rest and recuperate, both for himself and his allies. However, not once did he think of giving up: there was too much at stake. Up and up he went, following the trails of Magatsuhi, his mind focused on his goal.

Take control of the creation of the world.

Make sure Yuko's death was not in vain.

It was on the 223rd floor that Naoki finally found himself facing the first of the gods of creation - the one who took Yuko from him, the god of Shijima, Ahriman. Greeting Naoki with scorn, Hikawa cursed him for standing in the way of Shijima, proclaiming that he would destroy Naoki and erase his despicable greed.

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The battle scorched the floors and walls as Naoki and his allies fought on. Ahriman was a devastating and strategic fighter, using special magic seals to forbid actions while attacking, striking dead any enemy that violated his rules. However, Naoki's adaptation and persistence were enough to survive and deal Ahriman several powerful blows, shocking Ahriman enough to end the "game" and face Naoki with his full power focused on offense. Here, Ahriman's bestial nature became far more apparent - no longer a silent arbiter of order, he was a wild beast of divine retribution. Despite the withering barrage of magic and claw, Naoki held firm and triumphed, earning the Earthstone.

AhrimanEdit.jpg

"…It's so quiet…too quiet…I see. The stillness has come for me…Wielder of strength…Champion of want…mold the world to your liking. It is no longer of my concern…"
- Hikawa, last words

The floors above assaulted Naoki with darkness, pitfalls, and poison, but none would sway him. It was just past the 322nd floor that he faced Noah, and Isamu with it. Isamu laughed at what he saw as Naoki's stupidity, as he came all that way "just to get killed for nothing." He saw the world of Musubi as having a place even for Naoki, but now that he had set himself up against it, he was no longer welcome. Even if Naoki was an old friend, Isamu no longer had any tolerance for opposition.

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The battle, while not as overwhelming as Ahriman, lasted a lot longer due to Noah's ability to resist various forms of magic, even the powerful Almighty spells that Naoki and his allies would have relied on in that situation. However, while fighting, Naoki suddenly grasped the pattern of Noah's resistance spell, and with that its weakness. By fitting his own attack patterns to Isamu's, he managed to weather the onslaught. Reeling from the pounding, Isamu brought to bear all of Noah's power, reshaping its head to his own likeness. With renewed fury, he redoubled his efforts, beginning to drain Naoki and his allies' life to extend his own. However, it proved all in vain, and soon Naoki was perfectly positioned to deal the final blow. With a heavy but certain heart, staring into his friend's hateful gaze, Naoki summoned his power and finished the battle, taking the Netherstone.

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"You win…do as you…please…"
- Isamu, last words

While willing to continue, Naoki found a welcome respite in a makeshift town made by Manikins, where he at last found the Magatama necessary to complete Bishamonten's request:

Marogareh, the gift of the demon's body.
Wadatsumi and Miasma, commanders of ice.
Ankh, Geis, Nirvana, and Sophia, divine Magatama of healing and judgment.
Iyomante and Djed, Magatama that controlled strength.
Shiranui and Gehenna, commanders of fire.
Hifumi and Gundari, commanders of the winds.
Kamudo, Kamurogi, Vimana, and Gaea, excelling in sheer brute force.
Narukami and Adama, commanders of lightning.
Anathema, the unholy Magatama that controlled death.
Murakumo and Muspell, commanders of mind and magic.
Satan, the balance between charm and power.
Kailash, commander of Almighty magic.

The master of the Cathedral rewarded him with the Lord's Blade and then told him to visit Masakado's grave. Wondering if the grave's destruction was only skin-deep, Naoki did as he was told, gaining access to the mystical Bando Shrine. Following the instructions of souls loyal to Masakado, Naoki set about collapsing the pillars that held the shrine out of his reach. The first pillar led him to the first of the Devas: the lord of the thunder and guardian of the south, Zouchouten. The battle was fierce - truly, Zouchouten had earned his status as one of the Devas, also known as the Heavenly Kings. Naoki's determination and strategy, however, earned him Zouchouten's praise and victory in the fight. The next pillar brought forth Komokuten, the lord of the winds and guardian of the west. Somewhat deceptively, his true strength was not his skill in wind magic, but in physical power. Forcing Naoki into a test of strength, Komokuten quickly drove Naoki to his limits. Those limits, however, were far enough that Naoki was able to recover, winning the fight and earning Komokuten's praise. The next pillar led to Jikokuten, the lord of ice and guardian of the east. While powerful, his over-reliance on ice magic allowed Naoki to outwit him easily, claiming the battle as his. The final pillar led Naoki to Bishamonten, lord of fire, guardian of the north, and king of the Devas. Praising Naoki for getting as far as he had, he then engaged Naoki in his final test to determine if he was worthy of Masakado's help.

It immediately struck Naoki just how much Bishamonten was holding back during the fight at the North Temple. His power and tactical skills were of a very high caliber - perhaps more powerful even than Dante - and Naoki was roundly trounced. Time and again Naoki regrouped and tried to strike back, but each time was rebuffed by a weakness in his plan or simply by Bishamonten's sheer power. Burned, bleeding, and staggering, Naoki dragged himself to his feet each time, his mind racing to figure out a weakness he could exploit. Eventually, after continually analyzing Bishamonten's reactions, he finally had it: play "fair." By using spells designed to reduce or raise its targets to their natural levels of strength and blasting Bishamonten with the few weakening spells he couldn't counteract, Naoki earned a bloody victory and access to the center of the Bando Shrine.

Inside the shrine, Naoki finally laid eyes upon the guardian of Tokyo, Taira Masakado. Masakado had been watching the events of the Vortex World, and so knew Naoki immediately, identifying him as "the one with demonic power in human form." Knowing that Naoki had come for a reason, he asked what purpose Naoki had in seeing him. Naoki immediately asked for his aid in the final battles. His voice full of regret, Masakado admitted that he was powerless in the Vortex World, and couldn't help outside the Bando Shrine. He could, however, grant Naoki his power and status, and thus help him that way. With that, Naoki gained the Magatama named Masakados, the strongest of all, and Masakado's blessing. Urging him to protect Tokyo, Masakado then dimissed him.

With this power in hand, Naoki returned to Kagutsuchi Tower and prepared for the battle with Chiaki and Baal Avatar. As he left the Manikins' town, however, he was interrupted by a familiar face: Thor, who had become Chiaki's general. Despite his increased power, Masakados made Naoki far stronger still, and it was only a short time before Thor fell. Navigating the maze that lay past the location of Thor's last stand, Naoki fought his way to the 462nd floor, where Chiaki and Baal Avatar awaited him.

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As the god of Yosuga, Baal Avatar got right to the point: while his efforts were praiseworthy, Naoki was now Chiaki's enemy, each fighting for their own Reasons and their own aims. With no reason not to fight, Baal Avatar attacked. While not as obviously powerful as the other two gods of creation, Baal Avatar quickly proved her unsurpassed ability with a special skill of hers, reducing several of Naoki's allies to mere shadows of their true forms and rendering them unable to continue the fight. Furthermore, just when Naoki had recovered and was about to deliver the killing blow, Baal Avatar retaliated and summoned two divine allies, who worked to heal her and supplement her attacks. Faced with a group battle, Naoki switched tactics, pinpointing the weakness in the group and methodically taking them apart. Weathering all the intense attacks that they threw at him and his allies, Naoki finally made it through their defenses, his eyes shut as he cut Baal Avatar to pieces. Weeping at her weakness and sighing in confusion over his refusal of Yosuga, Chiaki finally surrendered the Heavenstone.

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"Your strength…was superior to mine…Why…? Why won't you accept Yosuga…when you possess such…strength…?"
- Chiaki, last words

The only obstacle left to overcome was Kagutsuchi. Fighting his way to the 666th floor, Naoki and his allies arose, called by Kagutsuchi's might. The god of light examined Naoki, aghast that he was the one who prevailed in the battle to create the world. By refusing to bend to destiny, by refusing to choose a Reason, Naoki had, according to Kagutsuchi, learned nothing from the old world. Rumbling with displeasure, Kagutsuchi said that the Great Will had given freedom to the old world, praying that it would lead humans to greatness, but instead freedom gave birth to evil and destruction. In Kagutsuchi's mind, freedom was nothing but the seed of disaster, leading only to ruin, exactly the same as what is championed by "the fallen angel." With that, Kagutsuchi vowed to erase Naoki from all of existence, beginning a terrible battle that shook the entire Vortex World. Even with Masakados' power, Kagutsuchi dealt Naoki several crippling blows, blasting him with divine light that seared his flesh at its slightest touch. There was, however, nothing that Kagutsuchi could do to deter Naoki's determination. This moment belonged to his allies, to his departed friends, and to him. Summoning all the power he could bring to bear, he unleashed a final strike on Kagutsuchi so devastating that Kagutsuchi was forced to yield. Cursing him for his folly, Kagutsuchi nevertheless, with his death throes, unraveled the Vortex World, throwing Naoki into a bright shining void.

"How absurd…you wish for me to unleash my power when all Reasons have been forsaken? The kingdom you would create promises nothing but suffering…Demon…Human…"
- Kagutsuchi, last words

"You have chosen to follow your will and tread the path of thorns…like myself. In time, your true adversary will appear before you. Until that day, stay strong…"
- The Old Man in the Wheelchair

Coming to, Naoki found himself in a mildly familiar yet alien place…Manhattan.

Naoki's arrival left him at death's door due to his battle with Kagutsuchi, but he was saved by Usagi Tsukino and was taken to convalesce at the Mansfield Hotel. After recovering sufficiently, he left on a "training journey," attempting to improve his skills with English and combat so as to be better-able to survive in the city.

Shortly before the New Year's Eve Masquerade, he found an apartment whose owners had died, and used it to clean himself up properly for the masquerade…and Zero's declaration the next day.

After aiding the escape from the chaos of Clover's crashing of Zero's speech, Naoki finally found a semi-permanent shelter in the form of the Amsterdam Court Hotel. Shortly after, he had a meeting with Tatsuki Arisawa to heal her. Much to his surprise, he found himself able to confide in her, and she became the first person to whom he'd ever told even part of his experience in the Vortex World. The experience was cathartic, and it brought them close enough for Naoki to call her a friend. She also agreed to be his combat instructor.

Shortly after, Mia Fey made a speech urging her fellow survivors to band together and face down whatever myterious jailers were keeping them on the island. While inspired, Naoki believed that part of the message carried by the populace - the unmasking and incarceration of Zero - was counterproductive, and that Zero was necessary to formulate a comprehensive and less predictable response to whatever countermeasures their jailers would concoct. To carry this out, he took it upon himself to verbally lambast Zero as worthless and in doing so cut off those who wanted to declare their intent to unmask him.

Afterwards, he met with Lelouch Lamperouge and, in the course of a game of go, confirmed his identity as Zero. However, Lelouch was losing faith himself, obviously shaken by Cloverfield's interruption of his speech. Naoki urged him to reawaken and act in secret, to help the survivors of Manhattan from the shadows by ridding them of their captors, and moved Lelouch to do so with his fervor.

Offering to be Zero's ally and accepting a part as his doppelganger, Naoki firmly cast his lot, but his mind was heavy with sorrow. In choosing to better the futures of the survivors, he believed that he would have to cast away his friendship with Tatsuki, who opposed Zero and wanted him arrested.

After Greed's disappearance, he left his temporary home in the Amsterdam Court Hotel to take care of Sakuri Kunikai, who was left alone. Her despair was almost endless, and he was unsure of whether or not he would be able to save her.

While with Sakuri, Naoki took some time while she was sleeping to fulfill other duties and replenish supplies. In the middle of these, he made an important confession to Tatsuki - of his allegiance to Zero. Thankfully, she (and Riza Wildman) took it fairly well, and against all odds, they grew even closer. In Tatsuki's case, there was even the potential for romance in the future. He also made a new friend in Poniko, mostly out of their shared knowledge of mythology and verbal sparring.

Another major event was his feud with Sephiroth, who had been nurturing negative thoughts in Flandre Scarlet. Enraged beyond belief, he challenged Sephiroth to a battle, resolved to kill or otherwise subdue him. The result was Sephiroth's first ever loss in a fair fight, and his first ever arrest, courtesy of Aya Brea.

More importantly to him, a misstep on his part when speaking with Sakuri caused her to break down and try to escape him, heading straight into a subway tunnel and injuring herself grievously in her rush. Naoki followed, and his stand defending her gave her the will to go on living, even as she disappeared. It came at a steep cost, namely Naoki himself hovering on the edge of death for a week. His waking, however, revealed a comforting sight: Tatsuki, who had found him and taken him to her room in the Latham Hotel. Their talk revealed to Naoki and Tatsuki both that they were saviors unknowing, having acted unconsciously as supports to each other ever since they first met. It also resulted in Naoki's first - and second - kisses in his life.

After a full recovery from the battle in the subway, Naoki knew that part of the problem was his over-reliance on his demonic powers. If he were a better fighter normally, he could reduce the need to overstress his body. With this in mind, he sought teachers to train him, eventually settling on Boriane Daermon. Her tutelage in the art of H'Ruru-zat proved to be a great help to him, though her status as an extension of her god's will led him to keep her continually at arm's length.

During the disappearance of the leader figures of Manhattan, Naoki stepped in for Zero, donning the disguise and leading a coalition allied with the Neo Black Knights into Central Park in an attempt to find their vanished leaders and bring them back. While the search did not turn their intended targets up, they did manage to find a black box that was later confirmed to be a sort of remote control for the giant creatures. This act earned much goodwill for the Neo Black Knights, and more than a few joiners.

It was soon after that the crabs momentarily disappeared, then returned with new, tougher bodies and sharper minds. With the "upgrade" that the parasite crabs had apparently gotten, Naoki's enhanced fighting skills were put to the test, and thankfully, Boriane had taught him well. He didn't worry unduly about the crabs as a result, but there was something that did give him some pause. The upwelling of ill will towards the people who were pulled into Manhattan - himself included - had the stench of trouble to him, proved when their actions caused Hamel to fall prey to his demonic side. The resulting battle injured him greatly, but it didn't shake his resolve to continue helping the residents of Manhattan - whether they would welcome him or not.

The final stages of his stay there were fraught with trouble and manipulation. The Tagruato Corporation, which had been using highly advanced technology to keep Naoki and many other beings captive on the island, revealed their intention to exploit all the captives as candidates to create bioweapons - other Cloverfields. Their subsequent imprisonment on three ships - the Threshold, Pinnacle, and Ultimatum - hardened Naoki's resolve to save everyone, and he fought hard to do so. With the rest of the citizens of Manhattan, whether foreign or home-grown, he stood against the private navy arrayed against them, dashing them to pieces and securing their freedom…and the right to return home. He lay back and closed his eyes, content that, no matter what the outcome of his battle with Kagutsuchi those months ago had turned out to be, he would go with the knowledge that he had a part in saving the city of Manhattan.

When Naoki's eyes next opened, he was home. His friends were there as well, their minds free of the horrible memories of the Vortex World. He would have discounted the experience as a nightmare, if not for the heartfelt thanks that Yuko sent him…and the ominous warning he heard on the wind. Fearing this "true enemy" of which Lucifer spoke, he began his summer vacation by getting a job as Hijiri's assistant at Ayakashi Monthly, using it as an opportunity to research his foe. Apart from its identity as the Great Will, he knew nothing else, and learned little. Snatches of rumors, a jumble of allegations pointing towards the Great Will being exceedingly powerful and having defeated all other gods. Whether this was propaganda or not was unclear and discomforting. Whenever the battle would come, Naoki knew that it would be the fight of his life.

He did not have to wait long.

A few months after Naoki returned to his world, YHVH himself descended upon it, declaring his judgment on those who dared defy his plan. In response, Naoki mustered all the help he could get - his demons that had stood by his side against Kagutsuchi, and the full force of his own demonic powers, bolstered by Taira no Masakado's aid. There was no room for terrain or strategy, only a brutal contest of attrition that shook the ground and the sky almost to pieces with its fury. Holy light burned unholy flesh, and Death struck out at Creation with all its might. The end of the battle, however, saw Naoki lying dead, his demons scattered, many of his magatama destroyed, and - most importantly - his world devastated.

Naoki soon found himself caged and scattered, his soul kept from the flow of Amala and his body torn to pieces. He knew that YHVH intended for him to stay thus forever, as an example to any would-be revolutionaries. Day in and day out, he waited, his failure heavy on his mind, his cage secure and stifling. The end, however, came soon enough, and he saw Yuko standing over him, her face sad, but relieved. Through the Cathedral of Shadows, Naoki's body was reassembled and his soul was reattached, but he still wept, for his failure was not erased. Yuko informed him that his actions had managed to protect their high school and other parts of the world, and so there were a significant number of refugees who owed their lives to him. There was a reason for him to press on…and upon producing the copy of the Scripture of Miroku that she gained from Hikawa, she explained that there was also a direction for them to go.

The Scripture, apart from foretelling the Conception, was an account of the past. Shrouded in nebulous allusions and cryptic verse, there was yet hope that shone clear. Part of what she'd managed to decode spoke of a human Messiah who had once brought Lucifer and YHVH to their knees in defeat. Whether or not he still existed, there had to be a way to duplicate his feat. To this end, Yuko implored Naoki to guard the remains of his world and lead them to find signs of this Messiah…or the Messiah himself. Naoki wearily agreed.

After gathering more refugees, Naoki made a detour to the Bando Shrine, returning Masakados to its original owner as penance for failing to deliver on his promise. While Masakado refused to blame Naoki for what he couldn't help, he still accepted Masakados back and agreed to watch over the world while Naoki searched for a way to fulfill his vow.

To exit the world required knowledge of where to go, and there was only one place he could think of that might have the answer: Madam's bar. Finding the entrance in its usual place in Ginza, he confided his plans to Madam, who agreed to help him. Her bar was something of a nexus, in that it had many entrances in many worlds, among them one that had known the presence of the Messiah first-hand. Naoki opened the door to this place, and so his group entered the Sea of Binah.

After listening to Naoki's plea, Ishtar agreed to help him to a certain extent. The refugees were more than welcome to stay in Binah, but Naoki himself was another matter. While she had no love for YHVH or the Messian Church that supported him, she couldn't harbor a fugitive as dangerous as Naoki without risking the destruction of her home and her people. However, she owed the Messiah her life and soul, and in his memory, she offered Naoki the gifts of supplies and information. Apparently, there was a nearby Shadow World that seemed to have the scent of the Messiah around it; if Naoki sought him, that was as good a place as any to start. Thanking her for her help, Naoki left with those who wanted to go with him: Yuko, Chiaki, Isamu, Hee-ho, Futomimi, Pixie, and some other demon and human followers.

The search for the Shadow World was over quickly, and the strange sense of familiarity he felt upon entering the world was soon confirmed, for this was the home of Aradia. Apologizing for her inability to protect Yuko, she confessed that she was an echo of the previous world, a whisper of the outcry of hope cut short by YHVH's search for Eden. The Messiah, she revealed, was long dead, destroyed by YHVH's vengeance. The world he protected was the original world, torn apart, the shards hung up and made over into worlds themselves. In destroying the Messiah's dreams, YHVH created Amala, a vast test-bed to create the perfect society he so craved. As for the Messiah himself, he was cursed to eternal existence, forced to record the events that transpired in the universe spawned by his failure. This revelation filled Naoki with despair; he knew, then, that the Messiah that he had searched for was Hijiri, the one condemned for his "unforgivable sin." If so great a champion could be brought so low, what hope did he himself have?

It was then that Aradia continued. Regardless of whether Naoki's efforts would bear real fruit or not, she was resolved to help him. Firstly, he needed a home. With YHVH and Lucifer sure to track him, he and his allies needed a place to hide, plan, and grow in strength. If he was able to help her attain substance by participating in an act of creation, she promised that her home would be Naoki's as well. Encouraged by this show of support, Naoki agreed to her terms, and the search for a suitable world began.

A year passed, and the search was proving difficult. Countless battles had honed the group's strength and skill, but at the cost of certainty. Chiaki and Isamu's proximity to Naoki had reawakened demonic powers and shards of memories long-buried, flashes of the dark exultation they had felt from their time as champions of their Reasons…as well as hints of the all-consuming rage from when Naoki destroyed their dreams of paradise. Naoki watched his friends carefully then, his heart sinking as he hoped against all hope that he would not have to kill them once more after all. They, meanwhile, watched him with growing fear, knowing just enough to understand that they should be wary of him, but not understanding exactly why.

This continued for a time, until the two of them approached Naoki and haltingly asked him to give them answers. As it turned out, there were many times in their journey where they had to actively restrain themselves from attacking him out of reflex, and that terrified and confused them. They knew him as a friend, but their memories had cast him as an enemy, and the twist of the two, they said, were tearing them apart. His face unreadable, Naoki told them his story, leaving no detail out. The pain of the Vortex World, his fears of another betrayal…everything. Chiaki and Isamu sank to their knees, the memories returning fresh, and they lowered their heads to their hands and wept.

The search was slow for a time, with Chiaki and Isamu dragging their feet. The enormity of their deeds weighed on them like stone, and Naoki himself was unsure of how to proceed. Eventually, the question was temporarily put aside, as they had found the solution to Aradia's problem; a world that was attempting to call down a god using the power of a mystical Gate. The sheer volume of Magatsuhi that was pouring from the world - pain, lust, hope, and sadness - was drawing countless demons towards the world to feed and fulfill the contract that the cultists were presenting them. Against this tide, Naoki and his group stood, fighting with everything they had to give Aradia time to descend and seal the contract. Three days and three nights were spent in combat, and none could fault the defenders for their fervor and bravery. Finally, their persistence paid off; Aradia arose to welcome them, the new actualized goddess of their new home, the hidden land of Mu.

Ever since then, Naoki has thrown himself into creating a group capable of acting as a major force in Amala. The road ahead is long and fraught with suffering, but he is resolved to face it head-on.


Appearance
DemiFiendDualityWhitea.jpg When still a human, Naoki was fairly unremarkable. Somewhat skinny, his most distinctive feature was his hair, which was styled with three tufts sticking out, one on each side and the third on the top. He keeps this hairstyle even after becoming a demon.

As a demon, his most distinguishing marks are the striking "tattoos" that cover his now-deathly-pale skin, black with eerily glowing turquoise borders. These "tattoos," however, are nothing of the sort: they are part of his demonic body's skin and grow beyond their normal boundaries when he brings a large amount of power to bear. His eyes, formerly grey, are now gold, and a solitary black spike protrudes from the back of his neck. Apart from those features, he looks exactly as he did before.

His expression is often neutral, but it takes very little motion for him to express emotion. His face is a mixture of Japanese and Indian features, as his mother is Punjabi.

Ever since turning into a demon, he's carried himself with a simple confidence. Despite his skinny frame and average height, he can seem very imposing if he chooses, often by emphasizing his eyes. By allowing his "tattoos" to grow and cover all of his body, presenting a shadow of black between glowing turquoise and gold, he has proven capable of scaring much bigger demons into parley, though his combat ability and tactical advantage provide the lion's share of intimidation.

His wardrobe consists of black shorts and sneakers, as the Vortex World's uniform light didn't require any warmer clothing. Before his transformation, he favored either a grey sweatshirt with white trim and blue tracks down the sleeves over a green hooded shirt or a zipped up blue, black, and white leather jacket.

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Personality

Before his time in the Vortex World, Naoki was famously indecisive and had little to no clue what he truly wanted of his life. The only things he really knew he liked were puzzle and strategy games such as chess or go, but not enough to make a career out of them. However, the experiences he had while in the Vortex World made him much more decisive, and his affinity for puzzle and strategy games is both a reinforcement and sign of his innate talent for grasping rules systems and exploiting them to the utmost.

In combat, Naoki is efficient and close to ruthless, hesitating little at killing anyone so long as it proved absolutely necessary. However, he tends to give his opponents every opportunity to surrender, and will spare most if they ask for mercy. These opportunities, in turn, are usually offered when he has tactical advantage and will not lose it in the process; he's merciful, not stupid.

Partly because of his analytical mind and partly because of the trauma and isolation he experienced in the Vortex World, Naoki has some trust issues, and will tend to keep people at arm's length for a longer time than would be usual for making friendships. He is particularly wary when dealing with people around his own age. He also will have a habit of analyzing his peers, carefully searching for any sign that they could have some sort of ulterior motive or could fall prey to the same temptations that devoured his two best friends. Once he claims someone as his friend, however, it takes a lot for him to relinquish that claim.

Paradoxically, however, Naoki craves the companionship of humans, having had only demons for company during most of his time in the Vortex World. As time passed, thankfully, he became easier to befriend again as he put his friends' betrayal behind him.

The betrayal also marks Naoki with a large store of guilt. Even though he logically understands the necessity of killing his friends, he still feels incredibly guilty for having been in that situation. Part of his suspicion of his peers stems from his fear of having to end up killing more people for whom he deeply cares.

Because of his experience with the mythological figures that populated the Vortex World, Naoki is very suspicious of any devoutly religious person. It also has, however, given him a deep knowledge of mythology that he now habitually works into his musings and conversations. Likewise, his experience with those attempting to create a utopian society makes Naoki very suspicious of overly idealistic or overly cynical people. This wariness also brings with it an intensely philosophical interest in the nature of human society, and engaging him in philosophical discussion will almost guarantee that he will respond.

Naoki's experiences in Manhattan have pushed him further into a different aspiration - that of a hero. As the Demi-Fiend, he feels some responsibility for the well-being of the universe and thus pushes himself to do his best for those around him. His strong sense of justice and self-sacrificing nature, hidden by indecision during his childhood and by guilt and sorrow in the Vortex World, was brought to the fore in Manhattan, and Naoki refuses to let it hide again. His power, he has firmly decided, belongs to Amala and the people within it.

His mother's cooking has been a big influence on Naoki's culinary choices; for one, he has a preference for spicy food. Even though it would do him no good as a demon, Naoki would likely not turn down a spicy meal if offered despite his initial refusal and justification.


Abilities/Weaknesses
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Naoki's demonic body, far from being as frail as it appears, makes him a formidable physical enemy, and pairing it with his analytical mind makes him exponentially more dangerous. His heightened strength, reflexes, agility, and his body's enhanced regenerative capabilities all combine with his intelligence and skill in group tactics to make him, especially when accompanied by ally demons, nearly impossible to defeat except through sheer power.

Demons like Naoki do not require food or drink. Instead, they feed on Magatsuhi, the energy created by the intense desires and emotions of living creatures, particularly human beings. Most malevolent demons enjoy torturing and brutalizing humans, gorging themselves on the Magatsuhi created by their pain and fear. Other demons, such as the great Seraphs, live on the Magatsuhi created by the adulation and reverence of the devoted. As his soul is human, however, Naoki relies on neither. His human soul and the emotions it feels provide enough Magatsuhi for his demonic body to grow in power all on its own.

Magatsuhi sustains demons and increases their power. Upon consuming Magatsuhi, they can use it to release yoki, demonic energy. This release of yoki can be used to cast spells, or to temporarily enhance the demon's physical parameters. In Naoki's case, he favors the latter, primarily relying on brutally forceful Attacks to crush opponents before they have enough time to mount a credible defense. This has the added benefit of not using much yoki, allowing him to reserve the bulk of it for healing spells to replenish his ability to regenerate the horrible injuries the techniques inflict upon his body. In addition to his fists and feet, he is able to manifest a yoki sword, which he uses when mass destruction is inappropriate or impractical.

One trick he picked up while searching for a new home with Aradia was suppressing his magatama's external influence on his body. By focusing on concealing himself, he can render his external appearance to be that of a normal human, though he is unable to mask his demonic aura. This allows him to blend into crowds on a mundane world and, in combination with certain skills like Isamu's Grand Labyrinth, hide even in plain sight.

Naoki's status as a candidate for Lucifer's New Demon of Chaos marks him as a possessor of magatama. As the first such candidate, he was able to collect twenty-five of them, though he managed to hold on only to seven of them when YHVH descended upon his world. The seventh, Masakados, was then returned to its rightful bearer, Masakado, as his penance for not being able to defend the world as he promised. This leaves him with six magatama, and whichever one is at the fore determines his resistances and affinities:

Kailash
Immune: Expel, Death
Affinity: Almighty

Vimana
Immune: Nerve
Affinity: Physical

Kamudo
Resist: Physical
Weak: Ailments
Affinity: Physical

Djed
Immune: Curse
Affinity: Support

Geis
Immune: Expel
Affinity: Healing

Marogareh
Affinity: All

His favored techniques are as follows, though he can only bring a limited number to bear, depending on his active magatama:

Analyze - Naoki attunes his ability to sense demonic power onto one opponent, attempting to comprehend their resistances and likely preferred attacks.

Fog Breath - A more subtle Spell than normal for Naoki, he channels yoki and gently exhales a cloud of thick disorienting fog, rendering enemies far more unsure of their locations and making them easy prey.

Rakunda - Naoki blasts his enemies' psyches, interfering with their ability to properly defend themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously, against attacks.

Mediarahan - By releasing yoki to shore up his allies' natural regenerative capabilities, this Spell accelerates it enough to completely mend their bodies and eliminate fatigue.

Samarecarm - With a whispered command and burst of yoki, Naoki is able to forbid death.

Endure - Charged by his intense will to live, Naoki can briefly withstand even the strongest attacks.

Focus - Using this Spell to channel yoki through his body, Naoki more than doubles his power for a short time. However, his attention is inward while performing this Spell, requiring assistance to protect him while casting.

Magma Axis - As befits one of the most powerful manifestations of fire magic, the intensity and size of the flame this Attack summons burns Naoki's arms to cinders as it roars out through his palms, requiring a sizable amount of his regenerative capabilities to heal. It's much more painful for his opponents, who suffer grievous burns that stubbornly refuse to mend.

Berserk - Using yoki to temporarily suppress all else in his personality, Naoki gives in to rage and bloodthirst, attacking wildly with only the barest regard for friend or foe. While he loses his lucidity in this state, he is less predictable, and the strain on his body is comparatively small. Any damage is more a product of him overstraining his body's natural strength in the process of the attack.

Heat Wave - Concentrating yoki into the form of a sword, Naoki swings hard, releasing a large wave of concussive force that can flay a group of weak demons all at once.

Divine Shot - Focusing yoki into his palm, Naoki releases a burst of energy at a single opponent. This burst strikes with stunning force and delivers a lot of damage, offset by the trauma it inflicts upon his arm.

Deadly Fury - Inspired by Isamu's liking for samurai movies, Naoki concentrates yoki into the form of a sword then performs an iaijutsu slash with it, unleashing a razor-sharp wave of yoki that can cleave a building in half. The strength required for this is immense, and so the yoki he uses causes his muscles to tear themselves to pieces and his bones to snap under the strain, requiring extensive regeneration.

Deathbound - Another devastating sword technique, Naoki also channels yoki into his legs, allowing him to jump high, rebound off a platform of yoki at the peak of his jump, then attack with momentum and gravity on his side. The force sustained by his body travelling at supersonic speed and the sheer amount of yoki required to even perform the attack are capable of smashing his insides into jelly were it not for his regenerative capabilities.

Gaea Rage - With a roar, Naoki releases yoki into the ground, letting it burst forth in a massive shockwave. The wide coverage of this technique guarantees a hit on any target, and it is also more than capable of disintegrating entire waves of enemies, no matter their defenses. However, the amount of damage that Naoki is required to regenerate in order to succesfully perform this attack and live to do it again is immense.

Freikugel - His final Attack, the name of which means "Freeing Globe." To perform it, Naoki rears back, then lunges forward and spits a globe of swirling yoki. It is his control over this yoki that makes it stable and potent enough to smash through almost any defense.

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Story

Story in The Seekers here.


Demons
Pixie.jpg
Name: Pixie
Type: Pixie
Clan: Fairy
Tier: Exalted
Resist: Lightning
Skills:
Bolt Storm
Prayer
Dekaja
Dekunda
Lemegeton
Mana Drain
Succubus.jpg
Name: Grace
Type: Succubus
Clan: Nocturnus
Tier: Exalted
Immune: Death
Resist: Ailments
Weak: Expel, Force
Skills:
Dormina
Eternal Slumber
Prayer
Seduce
Woo
Life Drain
Yurlungur.png
Name: Yurlungur
Type: Yurlungur
Clan: Snake
Tier: Exalted
Immune: Magic
Weak: Ailments
Skills:
Prominence
Absolute Zero
Tornado
Bolt Storm
Prayer
Samarecarm
npc
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