Howling Picture

Theme: www.youtube.com/watch?v=2A_TXk…

Another city, another mission.

The neon lights flicker and flash with life, lighting the night with their glow. From the corner of my eyes, I can see the gleam as they flicker across my shoulders, reflecting dully from my helmet.

Paris? London? New York?

If it were not for the navigational system provided by Deathwave, even I would not know that.

It has been a week since I failed to capture that courier. My temper took control, and I blundered, leaving the coward to escape into the crowds before we could pursue him.

As a result, we were left with nothing, the local supplier of DTB immediately withdrawing into whatever hiding place they had, the trail going cold.

Or so it would have...if not for a remarkable bout of coincidence.

We lost the trail...but someone else stumbled onto it again. A local private investigator, working out of her office in Osaka, had been pursuing a case of her own and through some freak chance of nature, nailed the courier as a suspect. Of course, he was innocent, as at the time he was in the middle of almost being blown apart by me, but in his desperation to prove his innocence (probably helped in no small part by his near death experience at my hands), he said one thing too many.

I had personally had dealings with this detective before, our paths crossing many times once I began operating as Heimkreuz, and even I am forced to admit that despite her young age, that human is far tougher than she appears. Considering she was able to bring even that mighty Unnatural Phenomenon and bridge princess under her wing, it is no wonder she was able to successfully establish her agency, even within the lawless confines of New Osaka.

With the swirling thunderclouds and raging seas of Gensokyo's former border visible just off the coastline, the center of Shikoku completely swallowed up by the warped space, it is here that most of the survivors have settled. A refugee town of sorts, it is a poor, if safe, haven for them, having fled across the ruined border and the span of ocean between to get here. There are smaller settlements to the North and South, with some of them having split off in the hopes of finding more hospitable sites beyond the control of humans, but those are little more than camps at best. It is a harsh situation, the youkai blamed and discriminated against for causing the disaster of A-Day...but it is still far better than a life within those ruined borders.

Regardless, I was able to pick up the trail again, via some statements which quite disturbed my master.

As we discovered shortly after beginning our operations in the outside, Shikoku is not the only site of this disaster.

Gensokyo was, after all, originally designed to be a wonderland open to ALL fantasy, threads spread across the world to be followed by any such creature that sought sanctuary within.

That, my master surmises, is why the events of Armageddon Day affected the laws of the world so badly. Such an integral part of the natural world, and then shattered by the wrath of Destruction...it is no surprise it would damage the world as such.

The problem, however, is far deeper than that. There are multiple areas like the now ruined Gensokyo, warped holes in space and time caused by the merging of the fantastic and the mundane. Nexuses, of a sort, they mark the site of what was once the nexus of any major center of mythology.

Shinkoku, gone, the epicenter of A-Day, and the site of Gensokyo.

Ayers Rock in Austrailia, a core part of the Aboriginal mythos.

The pyramids at Giza, a testament to the old Egyptian gods.

All places irrevocably connected to the fantastic and mythological, and therefore in some way, connected to Gensokyo.

So when that Day finally came, the shockwaves from that calamity tore down the Great Hakurei Barrier, and raced along those threads, erupting into the real world once more to create the places humans now call Dead Zones. Surrounded by armed fortifications at their perimeter, and patrolled with military fleets, these Zones are the tombstones of the Wonderland, with the youkai refugees inevitably settling down just beyond the human barricades. Close enough that they still benefit from the relatively higher magic levels...but far enough away that they are safe from the monsters and corruption that lurk within.

It was my master, however, that found one of the secrets of these so called Dead Zones.

Within these Zones...is Gensokyo.

What from the outside seems to be a series of several distinct, separate Dead Zones is in reality, a single connected world in its own right.

These places are now, for better or for worse, a part of the ruined wonderland, and as such, can be travelled to from within any of the Zones, on foot even. It is simply a matter of knowing where your desired exit point is within the Wonderland. The difficulty, of course, lies in traversing the spatial disturbance between the exit point and the Outside World, but that is another story entirely.

As a result, simply by travelling across the Wonderland, I can emerge from any of the Zones across the world, so long as I use the right exit point. Truly a helpful discovery, it allows me to move from one continent to another with ease in pursuit of my master's orders in the Outside.

The problem, however, is that with that courier's statements, we discovered that DTB was not only surfacing within the settlement within New Osaka, on the borders of Shinkoku...but it was also appearing within every other settlement as well. Given the wide distances between Zones, and how widespread the settlements around each are, the only possible conclusion is that Sei Rei had discovered this particular ability of the Zones even before us, and was using them as a network herself.

Once again, she is one step ahead of us. Even Deathwave, who recently turned her attention to the Zone that opened within the Bermuda Triangle and has since begun pulling down every vessel that ventures near it in search of resources and further study, is at a loss to fully understand the effects o the Dead Zones.

This woman...who is she, that is capable of matching wits with even my master?

What is this scheming creature, that can play people so easily, and is willing to master things that have made even the obsessive Deathwave hesitate?

I do not know, but after a week of pursuing the trail across the settlements of multiple Zones, I may be closing in on my answer.

The Dead Zone in Central America, a region where the Day of the Dead has, over these five years since that Day, become almost a permanent part of everyday life.

The lights of the city blur as I leap across a street, racing across the building roof as I land.

I barely spare a glance at the full moon in the distance, wondering if perhaps a Dead Zone has struck there too, at my former home.

Then I am moving again, and I focus once more on the path ahead of me.


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A/N: GUESS WHO DISCOVERED LIGHTING LAYERSSSSSSSSSSSSS

8D

I CAN DO NEON STUFF NOW

YAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

Seriously, I LOVE how this one came out. The glow on Heimkreuz's helmet, the blurred gleam of all the lights...

It took an HOUR in Google Image to find a good cityscape, and then another half an hour to figure out how to make it neon. After that, it was just experiment after experiment, and god damned if I am not unbelievably happy with the result.

Granted, it's far from perfect.

But hey, with every new piece I do, I always seem to level up some new part of it a bit, and that's good enough for me!

Also I think every artist secretly dreams of doing a neon city scene like this at least once.

No?

Just me?

...okay.

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