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On the night before his first day as a student of Gekkoukan High, moments after stepping off the train, everything froze in place as the lights flickered off. Kazuya Minegishi would swear that he had no prior warning of this, though perhaps Naoya would insist that he had been sufficiently warned — though, at that, Kazuya would argue that a text reading, “prepare yourself” hardly counted as a warning for whatever this was.

The city of Port Island was supposed to be beautiful and bustling, according to his parents. In the dead of night — and he couldn’t see what time it was, because his cellphone had somehow, miraculously, run out of battery just as the power went out — all Kazuya could see were coffins. Technically, he was supposed to wait at the train station for his cousin to pick him up, but there was only so much of the unnerving silence that he could take. The moon hung ominously large and green in the sky, and a woman screamed from somewhere he couldn’t see. The sea was bright red, and the air whispered foreign words in a language he’d never heard.

(His parents had been particularly adamant about him transferring to the same school his cousin attended in a different city, even though Kazuya would have been perfectly content watching house in Tokyo for the entire year his parents would be working abroad. Despite his protests, his bags were still eventually packed and entrance exams were quickly taken, and the next thing he knew, he was on a train headed farther away than he would have liked, for longer than he could hope that his friends in he city, superficial as they may have been, would still care to associate with him upon his return.)

There was no need to stop and ask for directions to the dorm, and not entirely because there was no one to ask in the first place. Despite the darkness, the streets were clearly marked on his map, illuminated by the ominously large green moon. His dorm, the windows darkened and seemingly gaunt, conveyed nothing of the warmth in the brochures’ pictures.

Kazuya opened the door and stepped in. No lights were on, and there were no coffins in the lounge. “I’m home,” he said dryly, not expecting an answer, as he crouched down to the floor to remove his shoes and tried to regulate his breathing. It wouldn’t do to panic — Naoya would be disappointed in him if he did.

“Who’s there?” cried a girl’s voice within a matter of seconds.

The voice that called out sounded more afraid than threatening, but Kazuya took a step back anyway. A girl with reddish brown hair came bounding down the stairs. In her hand was a pink gaming device, raised like a weapon. She stopped in front of him, frowning, and her thumb hovered dangerously over one of the COMP’s buttons. “You’re…”

Then, light and warmth flooded the dormitory. With a sigh of relief, Kazuya stuffed his hands into his pockets and leaned tiredly against the door. The heavy, oppressive feeling of the blackout was gone, though his heart still hammered in his chest even when some semblance of normalcy returned. “I’m Kazuya,” he said. “I was supposed to move in today.”

The girl’s face pinched into something akin to confusion. “Wait… are you…?”

“You’re finally here.”

Naoya glided down the staircase gracefully, his black haori billowing behind him as he rested his hand on the banister. He didn’t look much different from when Kazuya saw him last — a little bit thinner, if anything.

“Hey!” the girl shouted. “Weren’t you supposed to pick him up at the station?”

Naoya smiled serenely. “He made it perfectly fine on his own, Yuzu. There was no need.”

The girl, Yuzu, puffed her cheeks. “Of course there was! What do you think would’ve happened if he ran into—“

Naoya held up his hand, effectively silencing Yuzu’s tirade. “Welcome, cousin,” he said. “Glad to see that you made it here in one piece.” He didn’t sound very glad at all. “To commemorate your arrival…” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cellphone strap — a stem of silky fake leaves, decorated with blue-green ribbon and an intricate swirl of shining beads. Personally, Kazuya found cellphone straps a waste of space on principle, awkwardly large and clunky as they unnecessarily weighed down what they were supposed to decorate, but a gift from Naoya was rare and he couldn’t bring himself to pass up the opportunity. Later, he would wonder if there was some significance to the cellphone strap, if it was supposed to do something special or if he was supposed to do something special with it, but there were enough questions swirling through his head for him to care too much at the moment.

Yuzu raised her eyebrows disbelievingly at Naoya. “You are the worst big brother ever.”

“Technically, cousin,” Naoya retorted. “Now, I have some unfinished business to attend to. Can you escort him to his room? Or would that be too much for you to handle?”

Yuzu puffed her cheeks again, flushing. “It’s not too much! You’re so annoying!” With a dramatic groan, she grabbed Kazuya’s wrist and began to pull him toward the stairs before he could get a single word in. Naoya smirked after them, but there was no real malice in it — there hardly ever was.

Kazuya’s room was on the second floor, all the way at the end of the hall. “Here we are,” Yuzu sighed. “Pretty easy to remember, right?”

“Thanks,” Kazuya muttered. It only felt right to say so, despite the strangeness of the entire evening.

Yuzu’s face broke into a wide grin. “Don’t mention it! Good night! Oh, and… can you… not mention what happened tonight?”

Kazuya thought to the strange blackout, the coffins littering the streets, and sighed. There was no way to explain any of that, and still appear mentally stable. “Mention what?” he asked rhetorically.

Yuzu grinned at him again. “Great. You’re catching on! See you in the morning!” She turned on her heels, positively skipping down the hallway.


 

The boy who sat in front of Kazuya in class introduced himself as Atsuro. “Hey, so you’re the new transfer student!” he said cheerfully the second the teacher dismissed the class. “You’re from the city? That’s pretty cool. I’ve lived here my whole life, and my parents travel a lot for work, so I’ve never left Port Island!”

“Wow,” Yuzu said dryly from the seat next to Kazuya. “You just keep talking and talking, and don’t let anyone get a word in ever, huh?”

“I don’t mind,” Kazuya quipped.

“Oh, that’s right!” Atsuro gasped, his eyes going wide. “You and Yoohoo live in the same dorm together, huh?”

“D-Don’t put it like that!” Yuzu said. “You make it sound all creepy and weird! And I’ve already told you a million times, don’t call me Yoohoo!”

“Wow,” Atsuro continued as if Yuzu hadn’t said a single word. “So you’ve probably met Naoya, right? He’s a year ahead of us, and actually I’m kind of his apprentice and he’s teaching me programming and stuff!”

“We’ve met,” said Kazuya with a small smile. It was hard not to be just as enthused in Atsuro’s presence, though he could do without the rose-tinted glasses in regards to his cousin.

“Anyway,” Yuzu said sharply as she grabbed Kazuya’s sleeve, “we really need to get going. See you later!”

They arrived back at the dorm together, to a girl Kazuya didn’t recognize sitting on the couch with her legs crossed. Her short purple hair was neatly combed and held in place with a white hairband, and there wasn’t a single speck of makeup on her face, though her complexion remained clear and unmarred. Her nails were cut at a short, even length and her thin fingers curled delicately around a small white teacup decorated with blue flowers.

“Oh, you’re already back, Amane?” Yuzu asked as the front door shut behind them.

The girl set the teacup down on the table and stood up, smoothing out her skirt. “Student council meetings don’t start until tomorrow, I’m afraid,” she said. Her voice was soft, but there was some sort of power behind it that Kazuya couldn’t place. She stared up at him with piercing, yet pale eyes, hands clasped demurely before her, and then she bowed politely. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kazuya. Naoya has told us much about you. I am Amane Kuzuryu. I, too, am a student living at this dorm.”

Kazuya wasn’t sure he wanted to know what exactly Naoya had said about him. “Pleased to meet you,” he said in what he hoped was an equally polite tone, with as gentle a smile as he could muster.

“Did you know?” Yuzu asked cheerfully. “Amane’s the student council president!”

Amane gave a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “A title I can only hope to live up to, I’m afraid,” she said. “You must be tired, Kazuya. Why don’t you retire early, for the time being?”

“Oh…” Yuzu said slowly, her smile fading. “That’s… a good idea, I think.”

Logically, he should have known that there was something odd about the situation — but Naoya was also there, living in the same building, and there was a part of Kazuya that insisted that, with his cousin there, everything would work out somehow. He collapsed into bed, just as Amane had suggested (instructed), and pulled out his cellphone. The strap that Naoya had given him before seemed to stare up at him, suggestively, and he tried not to think too hard about what everything could possibly mean.


 

On the screen in the fourth floor of the dorm, technically inaccessible by students, was a boy sleeping peacefully, blind and deaf to the darkness and whispers around him. “I don’t like this,” Yuzu said, not for the first time. “This is creepy.”

“I believe the term you’re looking for is stalkerish,” Naoya said without any of his usual bite. His red eyes remained fixed on the screen as his fingers drummed absentmindedly on the armrest of his chair. Kazuya didn’t even stir, aside from the steady rise and fall of his chest — it should have been pointless to continue watching him, for the entire hour, and yet there was no telling what could happen.

“We need to be prepared,” Amane said, as if voicing his thoughts. “This is a dangerous time, and it wouldn’t do to sit by, ignorant, while demons attack him.” They tended to agree on most matters, but there was a time limit to it — Naoya mentally counted down to the day when he would eventually have to cross her, and he expected her to do the same with him. It was hard to be sure, though — as mature as Amane tried to be, she could be sentimental about the most pointless things. It would probably be a painful struggle for her, but it was hard for Naoya to feel any preemptive remorse because he was not a sentimental man.

Amane turned, abruptly, to the dark-haired man sitting in the corner of the room. “What do you think, Azuma?”

The man sighed, running his hand down his chin. “It’s hard to say,” he said. Technically, Azuma was supposed to be the dorm and club supervisor, a high-ranking member of the Shomonkai in his own right; but, as Amane was the head’s daughter, she outranked him in everything but age. There wasn't much he could add to the conversation — not with Amane there, with more answers than he could even hope to provide.

“Then we continue watching,” said Amane. Her voice was as soft as ever, but there was a sense of finality to it, effectively ending the conversation.

“I don’t like this,” Yuzu said again, uselessly.


 

The week passed by without incident, as smoothly as the first week at a new school can be. Kazuya spent time with Atsuro after school some days, and Yuzu the others. He hadn’t seen Naoya once since the first night, except in passing when there wasn’t even enough time to properly greet him, and Amane, busy with student council work as Yuzu claimed she was, seemed to have vanished entirely. It was normal enough — as normal as the first week at a new school could get.

But, come Friday night, Kazuya couldn’t fall asleep. Even when he closed his eyes after shutting off the light, his mind continued to wander, wonder why Naoya had been so insistent that he transfer to Gekkoukan High School, why his parents’ sudden decision to work abroad came at such a convenient time. He thought back to that first night, of the oppressive heaviness blanketing everything, of the moon appearing so ominously green and large, of the whispers in the wind.

And then, suddenly, there was a loud crash. Kazuya bolted upright, throwing the covers off, and scrambled to his feet as quickly as he could. He reached for his cellphone reflexively, yanking it out of the charger, and tiptoed toward the door. Someone had just dropped something heavy, he tried to rationalize — nothing was wrong. And yet, his heart still raced like it had that first night, making it difficult to breathe and impossible to think straight.

And then, there was another crash. Kazuya jumped, and yelped for a moment before covering his mouth with one hand to belatedly stifle his cry. There were three loud knocks at his door. “Wake up!” Yuzu shouted from the other side, high-pitched and panicked. Kazuya’s grip tightened around his cellphone as the door flew open and Yuzu rushed inside. She grabbed his wrist and began dragging him out of the room. “We have to go, now!”

“Wh-What?” Kazuya stammered in response. “What’s going on?”

They ran to the hallway, to the stairs. “Yuzu!” Amane’s voice shouted from somewhere close by, hazy and covered with a sort of artificial film. All of her delicate poise and quiet strength was gone — what Kazuya heard now was something raw, almost panicked. “There’s more than one enemy! The one here isn’t the one that Naoya saw!”

“What enemy?” Kazuya asked.

“Look out!” Yuzu shouted instead of answering. Without warning, she tackled him to the floor as the window next to them shattered. Something inhuman, an unnaturally dark face with unnaturally white hair, snarled at them. “Are you okay?” Kazuya couldn’t answer; all he could do was stare at the profusely bleeding cut on Yuzu’s leg.

She didn’t wait for him to answer. As quickly as they had fallen, she pulled him to his feet once more and they ran up the stairs, past the fourth floor and onto the roof. “We should be safe up here,” she panted. She thrust the door open to the rooftop, and the cold air hit Kazuya like a punch in the stomach. Yuzu put her hands on her knees to catch her breath. The cut on her leg continued to bleed, though it went ignored.

There were too many questions running through Kazuya’s mind for him to think clearly. “Wh-Where’s Naoya?” he stammered, backing up toward the door. “What did she mean by enemy? What’s happening?”

But Yuzu never got to answer. A large black hand gripped the edge of the rooftop. The monster that pulled itself up to their level was massive, its unnaturally dark face breaking into a sneer. Its eyes, pale as its hair, focused on Kazuya. “Found you,” it said in a voice that sent a chill down his spine. It sounded like the whispers he could hear that first night, though, this time, it was somehow in a language that he could understand. He looked, blankly, to the large, green, full moon above him, and suddenly, the whispers that he could somehow ignore before now sounded so much louder.

“Get back!” Yuzu shouted as she threw herself in front of him. From the holster on her leg, she pulled out the same gaming device that had been in her hands that first night. As she pressed a button, a feminine-looking creature with wings materialized in front of them. Kazuya wondered, distantly, just what Naoya had done to the COMP. With a wave of the winged creature’s arm, a small bolt of what looked like electricity rained down on the larger monster. The monster didn’t even flinch; it grabbed the winged creature with one enormous hand, and, within seconds, it dissolved into a swirl of bluish code that Kazuya couldn’t read.

“N-No way!” Yuzu gasped as she stepped backward, hesitantly. Chains rattled as the monster raised its arm. Then, it swept at them both, smacking them painfully to a distant corner of the rooftop. Kazuya’s cellphone flew out of his hands, and he gripped the strap Naoya had given him like it was a lifeline.

This time, Kazuya didn’t even bother to hide his cry of alarm. The cellphone strap felt oddly delicate in his tightly clenched fist — and why wouldn’t it be? It likely wasn’t even built to last that long. He turned, slowly, to Yuzu, who lay with her eyes closed just a little ways away from him. Every inch of his body seemed to be screaming in pain, and his chest felt oddly tight as he tried to regulate his breathing. Had the monster broken something?

There was no time to think, as the monster continued its advance. “I feel it…” it growled, its smirk slowly widening. “Yes… the blood of a Bel!” It stopped just before Kazuya and Yuzu, towering over them as its chains rattled and fell to a standstill. “I, Beldr, shall feast upon your soul!”

It raised its arm as it did before, and Kazuya knew, somehow, that he wouldn’t be able to survive another blow. Squeezing his eyes shut, his grip on the cellphone strap tightened, and he let his fist fly at the monster. He didn’t expect it to do much good, but then the monster howled in pain, staggering backward. Slowly, Kazuya looked down at his hands, and his fingers uncurled around the seemingly innocuous cellphone strap that Naoya had given him. Gifts from Naoya were rare to begin with, especially if they didn’t fulfill some kind of purpose…

Kazuya struggled to his feet and tried to stand as tall as he could. Beldr glowered at him, and he glared back — there wasn’t much other choice. Then, Beldr grabbed him by the shirt and stormed over to the nearest wall, thrusting him up against it. Kazuya cried out as he collided painfully with it, and tried not to bite down too hard on his tongue. He swung his fist at the monster once more, and it promptly dropped him as it howled in pain like it did before.

“N-No…” Beldr growled weakly. “This… cannot be… How could a weakling like you… have…?” There was a magnificent surge of light, and, in an instant, Beldr was gone.

Even with the whispers in the air, everything went oddly quiet. Kazuya tipped sideways, and darkness overtook him too quickly for him to fight it. His fingers remained tightly coiled around the cellphone strap that Naoya had given him.


 

Kazuya woke slowly, painfully, in a bed that wasn’t his. His whole body felt sore and oddly heavy, and his chest ached dully with every breath he took, but his head felt very, very light. Everything was too bright and too loud, and the air smelled too strongly of antiseptic. “You’re finally awake,” said a familiar voice. “You were sleeping for so long, I wasn’t sure you were ever going to wake up.”

Somewhat deliriously, Kazuya smiled while keeping his eyes closed. It was almost like he was back at home, or perhaps in some warm space removed comfortably from reality. “Naoya…” he said quietly, contentedly.

Naoya let out a small huff that might have been a laugh. “Congratulations on surviving your first battle,” he said, his voice uncharacteristically warm. “You did well.”

Kazuya blinked slowly, and struggled around the IV in his arm so that he could sit up. Naoya didn’t budge from his seat to the side of the hospital cot. “That cellphone strap…”

“Ah,” Naoya said. “You noticed.” He smiled cryptically, in a way that suggested that, as always, he knew far more than he was letting on. “Beldr can only be damaged by the Devil’s Fuge, you know. It was lucky that you had it.”

No, Kazuya wanted to say. It wasn’t lucky. Naoya had been the one to give him the cellphone strap, which could only mean… “You knew he was coming.”

His cousin raised his eyebrows. “Are you really so surprised?”

Realistically, Kazuya should have been — but this was Naoya. Naoya knew everything. Naoya always had all the answers. And yet, there was still that vague feeling of disappointment, that Naoya couldn’t trust him enough to just tell him. Kazuya couldn’t confront him about it; it never did any good, and he would always wind up exhausted and mentally drained by the end.

Slowly, Naoya’s smile disappeared, contorting into something that almost looked like a frown. “There’s going to be a war, Kazuya. Beldr was just the beginning.” Kazuya frowned, and opened his mouth to retort. “Don’t look so surprised,” Naoya cut him off. “You’ve already seen evidence of this. That special pocket hour, caught in the gaps between the days?” Kazuya thought of ominously large green moons and whispers he didn’t understand. “The demon world is already encroaching closer onto ours, and they seek a king to rule them all — a king to sit upon the Throne of Bel.”

Kazuya frowned, and looked down at his bandaged hands. “Beldr said… that I had the blood of a Bel.”

With a smirk, Naoya leaned back in his chair, crossing one leg over the other. “And? Do you feel any different?”

Kazuya rested his hand against his chest, and inhaled deeply. If he ignored the pain, he could see that there was something else there — something that made everything in his vision just a little more clear, every sound just a little more audible. There was power there — power that wasn’t there before.

“Only a being with the essence of Bel can sit upon the demon throne,” Naoya continued. “It’s not a requirement, of course — but with every demon of Bel you defeat, you will absorb that Bel’s power. It comes with… well, to put it in Beldr’s words, having the blood of a Bel.”

Kazuya looked up at his cousin and narrowed his eyes. “So that’s why you wanted me to come here so badly.” He pouted petulantly. "Not because you missed me or anything."

Naoya glared at him for a brief moment, but then his smirk was back as quickly as it had gone. “Well, if you want to look at it that way.” But there was no malice in his tone, and his quip lacked the usual bite to everything he said. Kazuya found himself laughing, despite the way his chest throbbed the entire while.

Naoya reached into his school bag, which was propped up against his chair, and pulled out a COMP similar to the one Yuzu had been carrying before — though it was white, instead of pink. “I meant to give this to you along with the Devil’s Fuge, but I was delayed in properly setting it up. Kuzuryu can be annoyingly persistent when she wants you to do something…” Kazuya slid his fingers over the COMP’s smooth surface, his eyes widening. “You saw how Yuzu summoned a Pixie the night Beldr attacked — with this, you will be able to do the same. You’ll have to forge a contract with a demon, of course, but that should come pretty easily, now that you’ve successfully triumphed over Beldr.” Naoya looked directly into his eyes. “Will you fight in this war?”

There were countless reasons he could have said “no.” There were countless reasons he should have said “no.” But in that moment, all Kazuya could think of was Beldr, and the potential for another demon like him, a stronger demon, to attack once more. He took the COMP from Naoya and flipped it open. One of the first applications read: “Demon Summoning Program.”

Kazuya opened the app, and Naoya smiled.