“You heard me,” she repeated. “Release her at once.” Her voice was unwavering, clear in her actions. Natoko wasn’t entirely sure what was going on here. All she knew was that Ms. Sakimoto was being threatened for some reason, and that she had every intention of striking the man down if he did not do as she asked. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem ready to comply.
“Well, Looks like the next act’s shown up early,” the man said with amusement, his grip kept tight on Ms. Sakimoto’s temple. “Looks like we’ll have to finish up quickly, little Yuya.” He looked at her with a kind smile, the type you would show to a child to make them feel better, and Natoko knew in that moment that he intended to kill her. Sliding in to intercept him, she pulled her Iziz out in but a second, flashing the blade to the man’s hand like it was nothing more than a light bamboo stick. The blade cracked at where his hand had been, cutting the air with such force that the demon’s blond hair waved slightly in the wind.
She stared at him confused, keeping her sword level at where she had intended to strike, the demon’s forearm mere inches away from Iziz’s tip. She observed her blade for a second, wondering if it had become shorter somehow. The man smiled and she saw the marks on his cheeks extending to his ears. Dismissing the thought, she raised it above her head and stepped forward for another strike at the man in front of her.
With a blood curdling scream, the two imp like demons launched themselves at her, their small, lithe bodies overcoming both her and her sword as each one went for a different target. Natoko was staggered by the surprise impact, their assault from both sides knocking her off balance. She hastily regained it, swinging her hips sharply, slamming them into the air and causing the creatures to spin off her as quickly as they had grabbed on. She turned to look at them, taking in their obscene appearance, before readjusting her back leg so that she had the man in her sight as well, not wanting any of them to fade into the shadows that filled this room. As she looked on, she caught the corner of her room in her eye, almost dropping her stance as she saw the occupants trapped behind the red barrier.
“Aki,” she muttered, as one of the imp like demons crawled up in front of her, the crimson fur on its head pointing at her as it paced back and forth restlessly, not daring to get closer. She kept her eyes on it as sharp as her sword, which pointed down at the demon threateningly. It kept its distance, constantly testing its boundaries. Natoko slowly sidestepped across so that she was standing directly in front of the two girls.
“Are you alright?” she asked, not taking her eyes off everything she could see in the room. These were demons, after all. There was nothing to trust.
“We’re fine,” Sarah said bitterly before Aki could do anything. “Get us out of here.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure nothing happens to you.” For some reason, it felt right to be saying those words at that time. In truth, she had no idea if she could protect them from harm, yet at that one moment, that was all she intended to do.
“Is she the samurai?” Her ears caught the first imp in front of her speaking, its tongue speeding through the words like it was a poorly paid actor reading them off a script.
“A samurai? Don’t be silly,” the other imp responded without a fraction of a second’s gap between the words. Her eyes barely had time to look at it before the first demon spoke again.
“She carries a sword.”
“She’s being heroic.”
“She must be.”
“A shiny sword.”
“She can’t be samurai.”
“Besides she’s not wearing armour.”
“Or a penis.”
“Retainers of a feudal land, they do nothing save stand by their masters.”
“The sword is kind of scary.”
“She carries a sword!” one of them shouted, she was no longer sure which. “What do you think Freud would say about that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s ask him later.”
The girl shuffled uneasily in her position, her brain threatening to overload with all that she was hearing. At her moment’s falter, the two imps jumped her again, the first slamming into her face as the other tried to take her legs away from underneath her. She reacted quickly, turning her blade to act as a shield as she deflected the first, kicking the second one away. They fell back, rolling back onto their feet as they hit ground, the sound of three ribs breaking cracking across her ears.
She heard a gasp of relief. The man had released Ms. Sakimoto from his grip. Just a little though, allowing her to stand on the ground once again, now wrapped round the business woman’s neck rather than her forehead. She seemed at a loss of what to do, staring at Natoko. The man looked upon her with interest and amusement in his eyes.
“Go on,” The man with the stretched smile said. “Don’t let me stop you.” Natoko’s eyes flickered back onto the imps in front of her. Watching them carefully, she found herself thinking that perhaps she had jumped in a little too hastily.
The two demons were prowling in front of her now, zigzagging over each other’s paths as they waited for a moment to strike, apparently reveling in the amount of control they had in this situation. Their faces were horrific, Natoko realised, her breath feeling raw just at the sight of them, their red eyeballs were literally on the verge of bursting out of the little slits that contained them, and their mouths constantly bleeding over a bush of unkempt facial hair.
“Do you know how to use that thing?”
“I’m sure we could show you a very special use for it.”
“Dear brother, how crude.”
“It’s okay. Besides, she probably already knows.”
“Now who’s being crude.”
“She is!” they shouted in unison.
Natoko found the insides of her cheeks sandwiching between her teeth and biting tightly. She had a pretty good idea of what they were trying to imply, but it didn’t bother her. What bothered her was to finally see how they were bleeding. Their teeth, three sharpened arrowheads were crisscrossing over each other, slashing their lips apart as they rasped on at her, the blood spilling onto the floor through incurable wounds every time they spoke. An act they didn’t intend to stop.
Neither apparently seemed too bothered at this self mutilation, even as the blood was continuously soaked into their once albino fur. She bit a little harder on the insides of her cheeks, reaffirming her fighting stance, knowing there wouldn’t be enough time to sheath her sword. She cursed to herself, wishing she could use Iaijutsu, hating that she was being made to be weak.
“Oh, she plans to fight.”
“Didn’t she always plan to fight?”
“Isn’t she gonna bow?”
“Don’t they always bow?”
“Chop her head off if she does.”
“Or maybe take her from behind.”
“Oh brother, I’m sure that’s not the real reason these martial artists bend like that.”
She wasn’t sure how much of this she could take. They emitted a whooping laughter as she raised her arms up to strike, like hyenas who were the only ones to find their jokes amusing. She wanted to destroy them, wishing it more than anything, but the two girls behind her were preventing her from moving to attack. There was just no way she could risk leaving them open for any of these creatures to get at them. If she did, they would probably only require a second to rip them apart in any number of ways.
The two demons rushed her parallel to each other, each aiming at the same place they had before- one for her body, the other her legs. She was more than ready for them this time, especially seeing the same tactic. She went for the one at the top, catching him with his sword, and went to kick the one beneath as well, only to find herself hitting air with the second attack.
The lower imp had stopped a second early, grabbing onto her foot, and kneeling on it like a wall. She watched it in what felt like slow motion, as the demon scurried up the space of her leg in two steps, moving too fast for her to even notice its weight. When it reached her stomach, it was gone from her sight, yet she felt it spin round her body and land on the back of her knee, becoming immeasurably heavy all of a sudden, forcing her to the ground and knocking her over to one side. The other demon was on top of her head in a heartbeat, going heavy as it jolted its body into the back of her head.
A crack, and the world around her echoed, time even slower than a lifetime ago. She tried to look up and saw candles shaking around in their own haze, two worried faces looking down at her as the two powers began jumping and clawing on her, ripping cloth as they did so, touching flesh with slippery hoofs, before something hit her head again, making the world ricochet louder.
The entire universe span round four times, knocking her about as it did so. She felt something on the back of her legs and randomly remembered an incident from back at school when another girl had thrown a brick at her head for some reason. She felt warm, acidic air at the bottom of her back and for a second thought that she must be waking up from a bad dream. Sarah’s face appeared, and exploded with panic as she caught another glance at the two of them. She slammed herself against the wall of whatever was containing her and shouted loudly at Natoko.
Natoko wondered why she was angry at her. The little girl was always angry, except when Sagara was around. She would have to ask her about that. Fireworks span round her again, telling her of their loopholes, and suddenly she had a keen urge to go swimming. She never did it often enough, and it had been so long now that she wondered if perhaps she had forgotten. A swim would be good, she felt like she was covered in dirt.
She saw her grandfather, screaming his oath as the bullets rushed towards him, ripping him apart even as he continued to strike. He was so beautiful.
Her head burst out of the water, gasping for air as she struggled like a toddler wearing water wings. She wanted to reach for something, and all of a sudden felt aware of her surroundings again.
The room around her was an incredible bright white, shining down in every direction upon her. Natoko wanted to flinch away, to move her body out of the way of the intrusive light. She swung from side to side, gyrating the few parts of her body that could move to get away from it. But it was difficult, the light was everywhere, leering at her, taunting her. She felt herself wanting to cry, hating herself for her weakness at the same time. It was only light, why couldn’t she get away from it? She wanted to cry, she wanted to vomit, she wanted to expel as much of herself as possible to help her hide from the light, but it was impossible. She was too weak. Something was pressing up behind here, trying to get in.
A shadow cast over her.
She glanced up at it, not sure what to expect. She saw nothing, the light around the shadow was too bright, silhouetted the object before her. The object’s shadow was cooling just by being there. It felt relieving, like a large tree on a hot summer’s day. She reached for it, feeling something heavy on her head again, knocking her roughly. She didn’t notice. The light was fading, dissipating into darkness as she got closer to the object. A quarter of a meter, a tenth, just a few centimetres more…
She got it.
Her hand clutched round Iziz’s hilt, the blade knocking the world to a still hazy reality of darkness and red flame. The weight on her back quickly disappeared as she regained control, . She looked up, realizing that her nose was bleeding, and saw Sarah staring. Not at her, at something above her.
Turning, her shoulder slouching in pain as she did so, Natoko saw black jogging trousers standing over her, standing firm, their occupant bearing own menacingly over the two imp like demons, who had fallen back at the new, unexpected presence there.
“You leave Natoko alone,” Aki shouted. Natoko blinked. What was Aki doing there? She turned back to the mystic cage that was supposed to be holding the girl there. Sarah was still trapped in it, and was now banging on the strange magic that kept her there. Aki was clearly gone. Natoko’s brain buzzed at her, still cloudy from the impacts. Had Aki ever been behind the barrier?
She looked back to her friend, who hovered over her protectively, as she unzipped her jacket and let it drop over the samurai. Natoko looked at it for a second, then figured out why she had done it. She quickly stepped up, keeping firm hold of her sword, and wrapped the jacket around her waist quickly, before facing the demons alongside her friend.
“How did she?”
“What did she?”
“Nothing gets past the red curtain.”
“But she already had.”
“Which must mean she never had.”
“Didn’t even get chance to put…”
“Brother, don’t be so rude.”
“I’m not your brother, I’m your sister.”
“What? That makes no sense.”
“Shut up,” Aki shouted, like a child having a temper tantrum. Before she had even finished her sentence, she bounced at them, intending to kick one of them again. It jumped out the way easily, cackling madly as it did so.
“Missed me, missed me, now I’ve got to f-” It never had time to finish its sentence, Natoko had followed Aki in, bouncing off in the same direction the demon had, cutting Iziz down in its direction, through its furry hide and straight out the other end. The demon tried to scream, its vocal cords vibrating like elastic bands plucked as Natoko’s blade cut right through them, its high-pitch, fast paced voice echoing constantly as they continued on their own for a few seconds longer, before dying completely.
Natoko hadn’t paid them the slightest bit of attention. Turning on the other demon, now ceasing to move in front of its brother, she raised her sword and leveled it for the creatures head. It turned at the last second and bolted out of the way, causing her to cut into the bloody corpse that was still laying there. She had never cut that far into a creature before. Bone was a little harder than she thought. Panic rolled in its beady eyes, its body pouncing out of the way, the imp waved its hands wildly as to silently plead for her to stop.
The samurai did not care. There was nothing to care for. She felt nothing but hate for them. What these two creatures had done…what they tried to do to her… She couldn’t hate them enough. In that second, she ploughed her sword down and straight through the creature, ripping it apart in perfect symmetry.
The imp failed to make a sound in its last stuttering moments, whether it had gone silent or her own ears had just stopped listening she couldn’t tell.
She looked at the two halves of the body, as they continued to wander about, a headless chicken of a demon unsure of what to do next, moving closer to the other dead demon, before finally figuring it out and dropping dead, both halves on one side of its partner.
The audio returned to the room and she became aware of everyone breathing around her. She looked to them all, unaware of how she had missed so many demons a second ago. The man that had been holding Ms. Sakimoto was staring just as concerned as all those around him. Even Ms. Sakimoto herself had a perplexed look on her face. But none of them were staring at her, they were all staring at the two demons.
She glanced over to them, catching a slight smell of burnt cinder in her bleeding nose. The bodies of the two demons seemed to have caught on fire somehow, now slowly incinerating themselves. She watched as the ash that was soon left slowly faded out of sight in the darkness, as the heads of the two creatures slowly ebbed away at the same time. She could feel her own face crunching up in confusion, yet for some reason, didn’t feel a part of it.
An instant later, as the two heads disappeared into embers, the room was filled with an intense high pitched wail of agony that pierced through the room for a full minute. Covering her ears, having looked up to try and locate the noise, she ended up looking back down again when she realized it was coming from where the bodies had been. Listening carefully, she understood that it was the scream of the two dead demons, now filling the air with guttural cries, which she could only figure to be a plea for mercy come much too late.
The howling stopped, cut off in its crescendo all too suddenly. Natoko became aware of reality again as she saw Aki wander over to where the bodies had been. She seemed to have calmed down a lot now that the creatures were gone and looked almost like a child detective as she tried to ponder over what just happened.
“She killed them,” a voice rang out from the shadows. It echoed upon itself.
“Ssssshe actually killed them. Their existence are… are gone.” She recognised this voice as the one belonging to the demon they had fought back at the tournament area.
“But humans can’t kill…”
“She could destroy the bodies, but not the spirits,” one voice, which she could only really describe as spurgley said as it appeared to analyze the situation.
“The assumptions are incorrect,” said a croaky old voice still in the darkness. “For the body of a demon must be considered its spirit, so if its body could be destroyed then it stands to reason that so could its spirit. What has not happened here is that though. The demon is gone when it had nowhere to go. The impossible made current events.”
Natoko looked around carefully, kneeling down lightly to pick up the sheath of her sword and replace Iziz into it. She took a half step back, as the demons refocused on her, trying to keep Sarah behind her again.
“Aki,” she whispered, although there was really no point. “Stay behind me.”
Aki looked at her for a second, the look on her face clearly finding the plan stupid, before moving to stay at the side of her, but taking no form of fighting stance. Understanding her friend’s wish, Natoko looked back at the demons, all of which seemed to have no intention of fighting her, the ones that had slowly come into view during the fight were now slowly slithering back into the darkness.
All, that is, except the man holding Ms. Sakimoto.
“I can see why you found her interesting, little Yuya,” he said lightly, now releasing the woman from his grip as he turned to face Natoko. Natoko watched as Ms. Sakimoto dropped to the floor, her hands instinctively clutching her throat for a few seconds and checking her forehead to see that it was still the right shape. Natoko eyes switched from Ms. Sakimoto’s to the man’s, his gaze boring through her as he smiled politely. Natoko almost felt like introducing herself to the man and had to remind herself that this was the one who she had caught strangling a defenseless woman. Her hand lay back on her sword, waiting for him to make the next move.
Unexpectedly, he bowed to Natoko, making every effort to go as low as he could without kneeling before rising up again. He smiled at her, the slit where his mouth was now going longer than should be humanly possible. Natoko froze up a little on the inside, realising for sure that this man must be another demon.
“I must present my apologies and deepest dissatisfactions, my dear Yamanaka-dono, I had intended to ask of you to become my Muse,” he said lightly, with an almost pleasing to hear voice. “But I have the feeling you are not in the mood to hear about job offers at the present.” He waited for a second, and Natoko threw an angry scowl right at his face. His smile grew wider at this, way past human limits as his lips curled past his cheeks. “I predicted as much.” He sighed as he stood back up. “My apologies again. I shall speak to you another time perhaps. When more convenient- if you survive of course.” Without waiting for a response, he wandered off in the direction of the door.
“Oh, and Yuya,” he said, smiling at the executive with a sweet smile. “Congratulations. You get to live for today. You owe your life to her by the way. Have fun with that.” Yuya seemed to ice up like a glacier, her pupils wide. Natoko only noticed this for a second, before turning her gaze back onto the demon. His comment had only inflamed her. She had had enough of hearing these demons treat her like something to be used. Without thinking even remotely straight, she rushed forward, tightening her grip on Iziz, having every intention of striking the demon in the back as he wandered out of the door.
This seemed to be the spark that granted permission for pandemonium to break loose and entice everyone in the room. The BlNiock demon, not wanting to take any chances, immediately went for Aki, striking at her arm with its claws and knocking her down. Other demons threw themselves at Yuya, having been granted permission to attack her now that all plans had literally gone to hell. Natoko herself had reached the demon, and pulled her sword out, only to watch him turn to face her with that same smile. She closed her eyes, having no intention of doing so, fearing that the worst was about to happen.
Her sword swung out without her seeing it, failing to hit her target, the man not even moving in the slightest to avoid the critical strike, that smile still plastered on his cheeks.
Natoko heard a scream, and turned quickly to see Aki being slammed into the wall by the BlNiock demon’s shoulder, an elbow bending where it shouldn’t, just as Yuya ran out of the room to avoid the demons, stopping as she caught sight of a newcomer.
“Sanguine,” she said, sounding incredibly relieved.
Natoko spun around, staring at the man standing there and feeling a weight press on her soul. So tall as to have to look down upon them, what was so impressive about the man was not his handsome face or Adonis muscles but the pair of wings that sprouted from his back. Natoko gaped at him for a few seconds, not entirely expecting a perfect being to be that close to her. An angel. While she had figured that, with demons existing, other things might had existed as well, angels hadn’t been one of them. She gulped, stepping back, her body still tingling with adrenaline that was angry at the cut off of the fight, a random thought asking what Sakura would say if she ever saw this, before her eyes almost burst out of their sockets, as she saw what he was holding.
Iziz. Natoko’s eyes gaped at she looked at her own weapon, now in the hands of another. Her mind raced as it tried to tell her to look in her hand, the information contradicting itself as it told her that the blade must still be there. She looked down and saw only a hilt. She gazed to the blade being held by the angel, its once splendid hamon now distorted as it lay in two. She felt her stomach trying to heave itself up to her neck, insisting that she stop and let it off. There was a cry inside of the room. Aki was being pummeled by the BlNiock demon. For some reason, it didn’t seem to matter. A moment ago, Aki’s protection was the only thing that mattered, but now all she could do was stare at the broken corpse of her sword.
Before she could do anymore else, she saw the angel rush into the room, his speed a blur before her sharp eyes. Her head followed to watch, her thoughts motionless, watching the heavenly being throw himself at the BlNiock demon, stopping the monster just before it struck Aki again, for what looked to be the final time. The angel’s two hands darted to its side, pulling out twin swords as it let Iziz fall to the ground softly. It struck at the BlNiock demon’s claw, the monster falling back at the sudden presence of the angel, severing the bony protrusions at the finger tips, dropping to the floor like apples from a tree, clanging loudly as they did so, the angel striking them off the demon in a second swipe. By the third, the demon’s teeth were gone, which the creature had futilely tried to bite at the angel with. A few more, swift blows later, and everyone watched as the BlNiock demon was rendered completely impotent, no other choice left but to fall to the floor, perfectly unharmed.
The largest of the demons, a tall, bulky, human like demon, with a woman that was slowly merging with the man’s shoulder, came forward without waiting, pulling back its fist to strike at the angel. Other demons quickly followed, apparently figuring out that now was the time to strike. They all went for the intruder, their intentions to dogpile the angel clear, but failing to even touch him.
She watched, although her eyes saw nothing, as the angel began to strike at every demon, one by one, weaving between them like it was trying to get through a crowd at a club. None of them touched him, yet with every movement a blade tore through a demon’s weapon, dancing around them, twisting and pirouetting around his opponents like they were standing still. And, as he did so, the demons began to fall apart; horns, spikes, weapons, turds, strangely spurgley shapes that floated in mid air as they came off. The demons’ greatest weapons broke and shattered at the mere touch of the angel’s blade.
It felt like a few minutes, yet it was seconds before it was all over. All the demons collapsed, as if the rug had been swept from under their feet in one brisk move. Now the only ones left standing in the room were the angel and Sarah, who was still trapped behind the red barrier. Sanguine, who all this time, didn’t even look like he was aware of what he was doing, turned his double sided swords around and put them back in their up turned sheaths, his hands barely letting go.
Natoko fell to her knees. There was nothing else for her to do. There was nothing else she could do. Iziz was broken. It was empty. She had put the past ten years of her life into that sword and they had been taken away in a moment. There was no way that was ever going to be replaced. In the back of her mind, she heard more demons snarling. Some were staying in the shadows it seemed. She didn’t care. There was nothing left to care about. She was on her own again.
First, there was a large room, filled with all sorts of demons, the demons they had been told to track down and deal with ‘as Sagara saw fit’, which was apparently far too vague for him to understand beyond thrusting motions with Draynor to their faces or, if they didn’t have faces, whatever looked most entertaining to hit.
Then, there was the demon that looked most like a man who showed up. It was extremely rare for a demon to reach a level in their possession so that the object they possessed could be mutated to make such a realistic looking human. If it wasn’t for the fact that the demon’s smile could reach all the way to his ears, she would have been convinced for a while that it was human. If the demon had reached that level in its possession, then pummeling it with Draynor would be very entertaining for Sagara.
Then, the swordgirl showed up, and was able to actually kill two demons. An impossible act, even for Sagara or herself. Destroying an object possessed by a demon was fine. It would just throw the demon’s spirit back into the Inbetween realm or, if the demon was already in the InBetween realm, shunt it into the spirit vents and thrust it all the way back to its original realm, the fate the Riddleklutz had suffered just minutes before.
Removing the very existence of a demon was something she had never heard possible. No wonder the demons all went into rage mode. She was certainly a lot stronger than Melissa had imagined. Maybe Sagara had done right in recruiting her.
And now, the angel had appeared. She’d heard rumours from Sagara’s parents as to the pacifistic way in which angels fought, and it was truly breathtaking. It was more like watching a dancer than a fighter, especially since, after taking on so many demons, the angel was completely unhurt and had not taken a single blow from any of the beasts.
Sagara wanted to get down there, but Melissa was insisting they hold back.
“Just because half the demons have been neutralized,” she started, keeping her voice a whisper between clenched teeth, “doesn’t mean it’s still safe to go down there. That angel will attack you too, you know.”
Sagara didn’t answer, he was almost beginning to shake with frustration, not that that was possible. He wasn’t used to not getting his own way. She could see he wanted to jump down there and play with them all. The demon, the angel, even Natoko if the opportunity presented itself.
Her mind stopped for a second, as she saw the angel peer around the room slowly, waiting to see if any of the other demons wanted to try and fight him, maintaining a defensive stance the way angels do.
Then it spoke; quiet, almost timidly, but with a determination that grabbed everyone around him.
“The fighting will stop now,” the angel said simply. “For the trouble we have caused her, we will now find a way to defend Sakimoto Yuya from the trouble we have caused her.”
The demons fell into silence at this, looking at each other in the darkness, Melissa could see what they were about to do. With a roar like a thunderclap, the demons burst into loud, bullying laughter, filling the room. Some of the demons seemed to have a strange definition of laughter and she saw Sakura out of the corner of his eye, holding her hands over her ears to block out the painfully high tones some of the demons were emitting, Melissa’s ears only just able to withstand it.
One demon, which was nothing more than a popular soft drink, scoffed at the angel. “And how do you suggest we do that?” it jeered with a snarl. “Better yet, why do you suggest we do that?” The other demons turned their volume down, waiting for an answer, some still sniggering in the darkness.
“You will do it out of respect for all the energy Yuya-san has put into making this event happen for us, and for the respect due all that energy,” the angel answered, standing firm amongst the demon’s constant mirth. “You will have the honour to help her through the problems that have been caused here, through no fault of anyone here save one.” For some reason, he looked out to the door where Mr. Jupiter was now standing.
“I havvve no honour,” another demon said, this one nothing more than spurgley shadows even within the shadows. “And thusss, no reassson to follow your ordersss.”
A few of the other demons seemed to grunt or cheer in accordance with this, with others following as they used it as an excuse as well. The angel said nothing, and waited for them to calm down.
“The orders are simple, and the method does not require you to do much, as the orders are simple,” the angel said. “All we have to do is convince the one who will be after her to stand down. That is all that has to be done.” Melissa’s hand gripped Sagara’s shoulder. He turned to her and saw her shake her head decisively at him. He hadn’t even tried to move this time, she just assumed he would.
“You want us to kill the Futabatei boy?” the man and woman demons said sneering in unison, as the angel gave them a serene look that somehow conveyed the message that that was the last thing he wanted them to do. “Because if we come across him, that’s what I plan to do anyway.”
“You would not be able to,” the angel said to this demon in particular. “He is stronger than you.” The large demon visibly shuddered at this comment, and Melissa figured that if they were anywhere else than in the InBetween Realm, this mere movement probably would have broken the floor. Before it could reply though, Mr. Jupiter stepped back into the room.
“And how long would we have to wait, my dear Sanguine,” he said, almost teasingly. “I have wasted a lot of time here already, and I have other projects to work on.” Sanguine didn’t even blink as he looked at the demon.
“They are already here,” he said halfheartedly, raising his hand to the air vents where the group were looking from. “Sakura, please brace yourself.”
Melissa’s heart seemed to stop for a pump and spat at Sakura with venom as she saw the young girl simply nod in approval to the angel’s request, stiffening her body up to wait for the oncoming shock. Not in the mood for waiting and with a quick hiss at Sagara Melissa began to etch out backwards through the vents, intending to get away as soon as possible. Sagara stayed frozen for half a second longer, before taking Melissa’s plan and crawling out backwards as well.
With what could only see at the time as extremely bad luck, the air vents chose this moment to inconsiderately fall apart- every metal screw and binding coming undone as if they had always been half-loose and just waiting for that extra shove. Gravity took hold of the three of them immediately and insisted they get down from where they were. The two ninja did their best to keep hold of the vents now above them, but the entire air passage was coming apart from under their hands and they fell hard onto the ground in front of the large assortment of horrific and diabolical demons that, just moments ago, had been scheduling the deaths of the duo.
Melissa immediately cast herself invisible to all eyes who hadn’t seen her before. Full invisibility would be worthless. The angel would see her regardless, but it would give her an advantage against the minor demons.
Allowing the sheets of metal to hit him like they were annoying flies, the angel waited patiently and caught Sakura softly, allowing her to cradle herself in his arms. He smiled at her serenely, and Melissa saw all the panic that had built up within her disappear in his embrace.
She now understood why the little Catholic girl had been shivering so much. She had felt the warmth of an angel and let the creature’s holy resonance touch her soul. To someone like Sagara (and possibly herself) it would have only had a peaceful, tranquil effect that would have perhaps caused him to have an extra bowl of cereal the next morning, but to someone like Sakura, who was now snuggling up into the cloth of the angel’s robe, it would be the reward they had been placing their faith in all these years finally coming to them.
It was the angel who had asked her to bring them Melissa realised. And she had done so happily.
The angel smiled sweetly at the girl in his arms, as if he was an amused parent, whispering something to her. Melissa watched as the girl quickly shook herself like she had just been awoken, apologised politely, and slipped down from his hands, her cheeks flushed red with happy embarrassment.
The girl stayed by him, looking at the angel almost longingly, a small smile on her face that stayed there until she caught sight of Sagara. She looked at him while he stared back, both their faces appearing unsure as to what to show the other.
“I…er…ano…” she looked slightly downcast. “Sorry, Sagara,” she mumbled. “I led you here willingly. Lord Sanguine said he wanted to stop you from doing what you were going to do.”
“I knew we couldn’t trust her,” Melissa said cheerfully, keeping behind Sagara. Sakura seemed to explode with worry at this response.
“No, no,” she said, with panicky insistence. “He doesn’t want to hurt you. He just wants to talk to you.” Melissa went quiet at this. The whole room did. For a moment, all that could be heard was the swordgirl’s sobbing.
“Futabatei,” the angel began, stepping forward with arms raised, like he was about to greet Sagara. “May I ask that you forgive everyone here- let them all go, both human and demon alike, and forgive everyone here?”
Sagara responded by summoning Draynor to his fist and leveling a punch at the angel’s expressionless face. It hit nothing save the thin air where Sanguine’s face once was.
“Sagara!” Sarah shouted from within the barrier. Sagara ignored her for now and turned around, now summoning Greynock from under his sleeve and firing the roped dagger at the angel’s back. With but the smallest of movements, the angel caught the dagger and tugged on it lightly, causing Sagara to fly like a rocket in his direction. Sagara tried to take this opportunity to throw another punch at the angel, knowing that any other attack wouldn’t work against the heavenly body. If he could just turn his punch at the last second, he may be able to feint out the angel and score a blow.
Draynor fell off his hand.
It wasn’t like the demon weapon had been pulled off. Melissa knew only Sagara and his mother had ever been able to do that and she knew it shouldn’t have been possible to anyone else, even an angel. It just fell off, scattering into many metallic pieces on the floor and rolling around, like someone had dropped a bag of coins.
Sagara followed, finding himself among the scattered pieces, looking confused as to why he was there. The angel hadn’t even appeared to move, yet the gauntlet was broken beyond repair none the less. For some reason he couldn’t stand either, and then a ripping sound tore through the room, as Greynock was also pulled away from him, the last of its rope coming out of his body.
“There is no reason for you to continue, is there not?” the angel asked, as if the fight had never happened. “The demons were defeated without causing any damage to humans or the tournament overall, and I myself have failed to inspire the honour among the children of the demons that were participating in the tournament as I intended. If this is the case, then no crime has been committed under the rulings of your Balance and so, there is no reason to continue.” Sagara looked up at the angel, not quite sure how to answer.
“Inspire honour among the children of the demons?” Melissa said, bewilderment filling her voice as she repeated what the angel had said. The angel, for a second, almost appeared to blush at this comment.
“It was foolish of me,” he said honestly. “I became aware of this tournament, and the conspiracies transpiring around it, and saw an opportunity to inspire such notions of honour and fairness among those who would be sneaked in. I had hoped that, at the very least, I would cause some spark in those entering about equality and principle, and treating your opponents with respect. I may have actually done so, but I doubt the results will be shown in any major way.” He paused slightly, as if considering something, Sagara took this opportunity to speak up.
“In other words,” he said, just as calmly as the angel had done. “You went about trying to directly influence other creatures to your alignment?”
The angel paused for a moment, then said, “Yes. Sakimoto Yuya agreed to this and helped integrate me into the group, insisting that she owed me a favour. And although no one was harmed as a result of our machinations within the tournament, something strange has happened. The girl over there….” He indicated to where Natoko was sitting with a pained expression on his face suddenly appearing. “Excuse me.” He glided over to her huddled form as her tears forming a puddle beneath her, Sakura following him as he did so. Melissa had noticed this type of reaction in Natoko previously when she had forgotten her sword after coming into the city. She looked absolutely dreadful, and the angel seemed to think this as well. He crouched down next to her and spoke softly into her ear.
“It will be okay.” Natoko looked up to him, looking out of it, not sure who to expect to be comforting her. She clearly wasn’t expecting the one who had broken the sword in the first place, and with a wail of anxiety she began hitting him, much weaker than she usually could. As the samurai hammered her fists on the angel’s body, the others watched as the angel did nothing in response, letting her get it out of her system as she silently continued to beat him.
“Your sword is special. It will heal itself,” he stated. “Please accept my apologies, I did not know how important it was to you.” Natoko stopped beating to look at him. Sagara could tell she was confused, her eyes wobbling as silent tears continued to flow past her blocked nose.
“You will have to pray for forgiveness later, however,” the angel said, with his back to Sagara. “You have killed two demons. And even if they were demons, forgiveness must still be asked for. Remember this. I am sure that He will forgive you without any quandary, considering the harsh circumstances that you were placed in, but it is still necessary that you ask.” Natoko seemed to have been rendered speechless now. The tears had stopped, and her mouth was beginning to open slightly, hanging in the air.
“Forgive me once more, I have probably angered you,” the angel said to her one last time. “But I have other matters to handle now. Aki will be fine as well. Make sure you keep all the pieces of Iziz safe. I am sure Sakura will be willing to help you leave.” Sakura indicated her willingness with a fast, enthusiastic nod.
“As I was saying,” the angel said, now rising and moving back into the room, his robes flailing dramatically as he did so. “The girl was not supposed to be part of the tournament. Although she had interested Sakimoto Yuya enough to allow her to take part when she shouldn’t have, she was not part of the original plan. Someone has manipulated the events that occurred here by getting her involved in all this.
“Oh that,” Sagara said lightly. “That was me, I invited her. She’s strong.”
“No,” the angel replied, as if to deny the events of the past. “Not just that. Sakimoto Yuya, as well as myself, have ways of looking into the futures that we can anticipate. Prophesiers. You Futabatei may have denied we of His way direct influence, but we can still predict. And even taking you into account, there was no way that that girl should have gained access to the tournament. Someone, someone that is not you, is responsible for her presence.”
“Okay,” Sagara said, with the air of someone that was not okay and instead wishing to have the tape rewound so that he could listen to it again.
“That is why you must forgive us and end your mission so that we may get on with discovering this. If someone can affect this many beings of power with such ease as to remain hidden all this time, then it is drastic that we discover what it is.” He stopped, noticing that his voice had sped up and started again. “Overall you must know that our presence at the tournament resulted in no major damage. Those of the Neutral Realm were able to heal everybody, and there was no direct influence throughout the event.”
“Really?” Melissa said, through gritted teeth, apparently dismissing the ramblings of the angel as nothing more than paranoia. “I see two dead demons, a severely injured girl, a psychologically damaged girl and one currently grabbing the hem of your robes.” Sakura jumped slightly at this, yet still held on tight.
“I said,” the angel commented, lifting his finger up, “that no one has been harmed as a result of the tournament. I am asking that you forgive everyone here so that we may move onto these matters and deal with them. There is a more important issue that I have to discuss with you anyway, but we cannot get onto it until the decision has been made.”
The room went quiet and, Melissa noticed, that as the angel had finished speaking, everyone had turned to face Sagara. Even the demons along with Yuya and Sarah were, and she couldn’t help but emit a grin at how it had turned out. As she looked around, she noticed out of the corner of her eye, that the almost completely human demon was no longer there, and had apparently escaped everything that was going on.
‘What was he going to do?’ she found himself thinking. Forgive them all? It went against the previous plan, but half of that now lay on the floor in pieces. The angel was right about what it had said, his only concern was meant to be the tournament, and everything that happened there. Yet even though rules had been broken, nothing major had happened. The angel somehow knew all this and it was easy to guess that Ms. Sakimtoo had been the one to spill.
What should he do? It was difficult for even her to decide. He had let the water spirit go free on its own even though it had tried to break many of the rules, yet he had killed the Dark Scourge with no hesitation whatsoever. He had also destroyed the body of the Riddleklutz, but that wasn’t too important, since it didn’t mean the demon’s death.
Did it really matter if he forgave them for the tournament? Should he forgive them for now and just dispose of the ones who were involved in attacking Natoko and Aki? There was also the problem with the angel. Melissa doubted that the angel had done anything to Sakura on purpose, since she guessed it was one of the demons who was responsible for her kidnapping, but his mere presence would have severely affected the girl.
Yes, she decided. For now, he should forgive.
Everyone was still staring at him; even the demons seemed to be patiently waiting for his answer. Yuya as well, who was looking around carefully with her hands behind her back as she stood in front of Sarah, who seemed to be viewing the events in front of her as if they were a prime time drama. Without warning, Sagara cleared his throat.
“By the rules of the Balance,” he stated, keeping a firm eye on the angel, making a point not to move his body in the slightest, “I can forgive and negate the events that transpired leading up to the tournament.” Melissa was amazed at how formal he sounded at the moment. She had heard his mother speak like this when she was addressing the elders or some demon she was about to dispose of. Around him, he heard a few sighs of relief. Something vomited. “But,” he said loudly, causing everyone to inhale again. “For directly influencing an important member of the Balance.” He glanced back at Yuya. “I cannot forgive any of you, demon or angel.”
Sanguine’s eyelids widened, only a little, before closing completely, falling into thought. Some of the demons began murmuring again. “You do realize that she has forsaken the Balance, do you not?” Sanguine said, with patient irritation. “She may claim to be your Negotiator, but her interests lie elsewhere.”
“And would that have happened if there weren’t any demons or angels around?”
“Of course not.”
“Then you have broken the Balance.”
“An act she chose to do.”
“A choice that was directly influenced by everyone in this room above the age of twenty. If you guys weren’t here, she wouldn’t have had any debts with you. She wouldn’t have to hold the betting ring and there would have been no mess in the first place.”
“This is why you guys can’t be around us humans! You change us! Without even intending to, you ruin our lives! It’s your fault people can’t choose for themselves!”
The silence returned to the room. The angel stopped speaking and closed its eyes, folding up its arms as it did so. Melissa wasn’t sure if they had stopped because he made a valid point, or because he had pointlessly mentioned people’s ages. Regardless, she couldn’t help but grin. “Well said,” she whispered, figuring he deserved at least that, before fading away in preparation for combat, now completely invisible. The angel’s eyes opened again.
“I can see why you Futabatei have managed to get such a foothold on us now,” he said calmly. “You do realize… that if you are to stay alive, you will have to allow me to incapacitate your party and remove you from the battlefield?”
Sagara was about to say something, something amazingly cocky and with a complete disrespect for the angel’s authority, but the angel’s hand was already grabbing the hem of his shirt, pushing him against the wall by Aki so fast that any inspiration for the best cocky reaction ever was lost in the transition from floor to wall.
“I shall leave you in the eternity backdrop of this realm for a short while. You should be able to last a few days without food and water there.” The angel held him there for a second, before beginning to mumble something. Melissa stepped up to help get him out, before realising there was no way in the world she could have done that. The angel was chanting, praying. She understood it at once as a spell that asked the wall to move.
Sagara’s arms started to flail helplessly, his shoulders already sinking into the plasterboard behind him, which was bubbling like wet cement all of a sudden. She saw him about to try and kick away when something distracted her. Footsteps entering the room; and then there was a new intruder, just standing there.
The newcomer’s face was dark for a moment, but as the light of the candle hit them, Melissa realized that it was… someone whose name she had completely forgot. It was Otsune’s friend, the one that wasn’t Japanese. She couldn’t remember the name at all. She wasn’t even sure if she had learnt it in the first place. The angel’s chanting voice echoed around them, lightening the load on her brain, allowing her not to think as she watched this entity enter and walk past her. The angel hadn’t seen the girl. Hadn’t seen her enter. Melissa felt dizzy, like she needed a long nap while wanting to finished a book. Her hand raised to say something, but her eyelids were getting heavy. It was if the entire Realm had been frozen in time, and only the newcomer was left to prowl round.
“You?” said Sarah unhelpfully from behind the red curtain, the only one unaffected by what Melissa realised was a powerful mood spell to make others relax. Knowing didn’t do squat all though as the angel continued, and all Melissa could do was yawn and act fascinated. “What are you…” but the young girl’s answer was cut short as the newcomer wandered up to the candle by her, placing her hand over it and letting the flame catch her finger, traveling along her body on a path that appeared covered in gasoline, perfume sizzling in the air, smothering her with in phoenix fire.
Still everyone seemed unaware of her. Not even the girl appeared conscious of the fact she was on fire. Now, as she walked up to Sagara and the angel, who was still pushing Sagara through the plasterboard and into the infinity of the InBetween Realm. Sagara’s eyes fixated on the girl as her white skin, usually plastered with many layers of make up, slowly turned a charred black.
Standing behind the angel, she looked at Sagara with a face that might have been a grin, bleached teeth showing underneath as her lips fell away. Otsune’s friend tore her fist straight through the angel’s back and right out his solar plexus. The angel stopped, repelled in his spell, his robes exploding around him as a hand pulled out. The girl grabbed the gold cross and began melting it in its palm, before the fist spread open and rested against Sagara’s chest. The angel immediately screamed at the intrusion, its face crinkling in random directions as the flames quickly overtook it.
The angel burned.
Melissa recognised the girl.
Tina! That was it.