“I still don’t trust her,” Melissa muttered under her breath, doing her best not to breathe in one of the many layers of dust within the cramped, spirit shafts that ran parallel to the endless corridors of the InBetween Realm. She never did understand why there was so much dust in these tunnels. Only spirits traveled through them. “How could she so easily escape from fifteen demons?”
“Erm, excuse me,” Sakura said timidly, raising her hand like one would to speak to a teacher. “I…I didn’t quite escape. They… let me go.”
“Let you go?” Melissa repeated, causing the group to stop as she looked back at the girl behind her in the shaft, an impossible task seeing as Sagara was between the two of them. “Why would they do that?”
“They…er they know you’re coming.”
“They what?” Melissa almost screeched, just stopping herself before she could do any major damage in the secrecy of their location.
“They…they said they wanted to take care of you now, and let one of us go so that I could lead you to them,” the young cook said, shivering as she did so. “T-they let me go because I was the older one. They said I w-was the most responsible one there, s-so I would c-come back.”
Melissa stared at the girl from behind Sagara’s vacant stare and notice she was trembling still. Every since they had ran into her, the girl had not stopped shaking. It was like she was covered in ice cubes, or a Skneeow was breathing down her neck . Melissa had guessed it was from being in contact with the demons, and the effect it would naturally have on an innocent. It was Sagara’s fault, she thought to herself, telling people about demons and the InBetween Realm like it was some trendy new nightclub. She would have to berate him about it later, up to the point where he might actually learn his lesson for a change.
The potential psychological trauma the young girl was suffering from had been one of the reasons Melissa had ran a profile check on each of those who had witnessed the fight with the water spirit back on the day Sagara had first met them. The results weren’t good. Despite her Japanese name and heritage Sakura was actually one half Italian on her father’s side. This in itself wasn’t an issue, but the girl had originally been born and raised in Italy and for all purposes considered herself a native of Florence rather being a citizen of Japan. Behind this had been a standard catholic upbringing. Sakura was a regular churchgoer all her life and saw Sundays as nothing but a day spent with her god. Her time was used volunteering by the looks of things. She helped out in kitchens and was an assistant leader for whatever counted as Sunday schools in Italy. The only thing god related the girl never kept up at the time was the choir, where she joined for three days before giving up her spot for another member.
Too much religion wasn’t entirely a problem in Melissa’s mind. Despite their upbringing the large majority of the faithful in life never had direct contact with anything outside the Human realms until after they died. Those who did encounter demons either became more vigilant or just went crazy. It was the second type the Balance had a duty to prevent and this was why the girl had required further evaluation.
Sakura’s father had died two years ago after falling prey to stomach cancer. Whatever their relationship had been, her mother had taken the man’s death as an opportunity to return back to Japan. Such a move alone would be rough on the child. From what Melissa had understood this classed her as a special type of minority that the Ministry of Welfare provided services for, something she was in desperate need of due to not knowing a single word of Japanese. She had been enrolled in special classes and was still taking them two years later due to slow progress. Everything was made worse by the accident.
Sakura’s mother had been hit by a bus a year prior and was killed instantly. The police reports suggested that she had been been pushed off a sidewalk by busy crowds and slipped into the oncoming vehicle. Sakura was at school at the time, but the accident left her with no relatives. This had led her straight to a meeting with the city’s Child Guidance Centre and subsequently accommodation was set up through a joint agreement between the Centre, Sakura’s local church and, out of the blue, Lord Mistress Futabatei Chiyo, the then current owner of the Heavenly Springs dormitory. Sakura had been housed at the dorm and had, on what was apparently her own insistence, been put to work with cooking at various agencies in the city of Fuugosuki, namely the local Catholic churches that had sponsored her, all for the purposes of paying rent.
Melissa had only gave the girl a quick cursory background check at the time and had left it on wait and see. But the incident yesterday and the girl’s actions now were causing Melissa to muse over it again. The various events over the past two years showed signs of affecting the girl psychologically. She seemed prone to pathological shyness and Melissa herself had witnessed isolated periods where the girl was just crying to herself for no obvious reason in whatever secluded part of the building she could hide herself in. Judging by her medical records on entry to the country, she had gained roughly fifteen pounds, but was otherwise physically healthy. Though she appeared sociable, it looked like she had no friends at school and only two people of any real companionship inside the dormitory. She regularly attended church still, even after the Pride demon and water spirit had attacked the dormitory, but Melissa had had yet to investigate her activities while she was there.
With the past few days giving her very clear reasons to cry, it was obvious Sakura had become high risk.
“Does that mean they have Sarah and Aki?” Sagara asked, as he poked Melissa’s leg to get her moving again.
“Y-yes, they had us trapped in this…strange thing, like a red… barrier? I don’t know, of some kind, I don’t know, but…”
“A candle trap. Never mind that,” Melissa interrupted harshly, not wanting to waste time. “Listen to me, Sakura. It is very important that you tell us everything you can about what’s going on in that room. What they are expecting us to do, the size of it, the amount of demons there are, and most importantly, who’s running them?” Melissa’s kept her voice stern. She wanted to sound caring, but she didn’t have time to learn how. There was a gap of silence between them, filled only by Sagara’s light breathing.
“I…erm…I-I don’t remember?” Sakura said meekly, instantly fearing a rebuttal and closing her eyes.
“You don’t…” Melissa winced as she banged her head on the low roof below here. She bit her lip to prevent herself screaming out. “How can you not remember? You were surrounded by demons. Surely you must have some idea.”
“We know there are at least around fifteen demons when we checked in with the Ley spirit. That was twenty minutes ago. Was there more or less than that when you were there?” Sakura didn’t answer, but she sounded more scared than before. Melissa thought she could even hear the vents vibrating from the girl’s silent terror.
“Leave her for now,” Sagara said. “We’ll work it out when we get there.”
“And what if they’re waiting for us with pitchforks the second we pop our heads out the vents?” Melissa replied indignantly, her teeth now gritting one another as she tried to hit him with a glance. “We need to change the plan if we know they’re expecting us. Better yet, you need to change the plan. That’s the whole point of this, after all.”
The three of them spent the next few seconds in silence, as they waited for each other to say something. Melissa had to hold back the extremely tense urge to smash her feet back into Sagara’s waiting face. She knew at that moment, that he had no intention of trying to come up with a plan, for whatever stupid reasons were going through his head.
“Fine,” she said dismissively. “Then we’re going home.” Not hesitating for even a second Melissa began inching back down the small tunnel, as if to expect the others to do the same. Sagara of course didn’t follow suit. As his body blocked her foot, she turned back to him and stared him down, her eyebrows attempting to cross over each other as she did so. The boy just looked back at her.
“What?’ she said, whispering as loud as she could. “You think we can just crawl into there to die? If you’re not going to take this as seriously, Sagara, as the elders want you to, then there’s no point anymore. We might as well just go home, and get the hell beaten out of us by your mother.” Her eyes shifted to the side quickly, before darting back to him. “At least I’ll only get killed.” She started to force herself backwards again. “It’ll be a relief to no longer have to see your annoying face after all this, or having to live with this stupid curse that hangs round you all the time.” She went to move again, but found she couldn’t; Sagara’s hand was pushing against her foot.
“We can’t go back,” he said simply. “Sarah and Aki are there. If that’s the case, then Natoko and Otsune will also be heading there.” Melissa’s teeth gritted, the rest of her head save her eyebrow following as she stared at him in disbelief.
From twenty feet in front of them, a clatter broke them off. Something was in there with them, and Melissa couldn’t tell what. Being at the front of the line, she took point and raised her hand, prepping herself for an illusion if need be. She couldn’t see anything, the vents appearing barren, but it was definitely there. She could hear its hissing breath, taking their stale air around them into itself and breathing it out fresh.
“Waiting to die, are we?” something in front of her whispered. Melissa said nothing. She knew responding to demons only drew you in. If this was the first they were facing. She’d have to be quick about it.
“I waited to die once. Still hasn’t happened, it’s like waiting for milkshake to melt.”
A visage flashed before her like the flash of a camera. A humanoid, wrapped completely in bandages, leather binding his face. It hesitated for a moment, like it had just been caught by the person it was trying to sneak up upon, before dispersing.
“What the…” she said with alarm. “What was that?” The creature had disappeared near the left turn in front of them, but it didn’t look like it had gone down that way. It didn’t look like it had done anything, save cease to exist.
“Sakura,” Melissa heard the girl jump at the sound of her own name and almost did so herself as she remembered she was in front of two other people. “How did they plan on capturing us?”
“I…erm… They,” she stuttered, Sagara looking unconcerned as she did so. “They wanted me to lead you through the door.” Speaking within the space of a heartbeat, the girl closed her eyes and looked away, almost as if expecting some kind of punishment for this admission. Melissa tried to look back at them, the task proving difficult with her own body in the way. Had they not seen it? If they wanted them to come through the door, would they still guard the vents as an extra precaution. Something wasn’t right.
“Okay,” the boy behind her replied. “Then we can stick with the air vents. They won’t be expecting us, and we can work out how to rescue the others from there.” She was barely paying attention, her mind distracted a distance in front of them.
“That’s… that’s good enough for now,” Melissa said as she continued to crawl forwards once again. The metal plating of the vent felt hotter for some reason.
The rest of the excursion through the vents was without event, except at one point where Sakura’s shivering was starting to vibrate some of the thinner pieces of metal, and Sagara had to give her his jacket in order to help her keep warm. This had resulted in five minutes of amazingly acrobatic fumbling in a small, confined space that was clearly not designed for intruding ninja to take their jackets off in. Three minutes and more noise than a ninja should be allowed to make later, and they were on their way again, Melissa idly wondering why they were bringing the young trauma patient with them as they did so.
She felt like she had to made a point of telling them to keep quiet about three minutes before they reached their destination: a large, metallic vent cover that only just showed up in the middle of a three way junction. After some more ever so careful fumbling, they were able to reposition themselves to see the room below them that they had been heading for all this time.
“And what, in Norton’s name, do you propose we do?” a voice snarled from beneath. The room below was pitch black, save for a glowing red candle just outside of their view that flickered on occasion.
“How should we know?” two voices replied at once, one with a deep boom to it, the other high pitched yet monotonous, like its owner was about to fall asleep. Despite this, something told Melissa they were the same voice. “But after all that has been planned, all our efforts and losses, we want what’s ours!”
“Knew I shouldn’t have done this,” another voice, much calmer than the others, said off to the side, to whom apparently no one was listening. “Just can’t trust the common ones to accept their losses when they sign in for something big.”
“All your effort, ha!” the first voice replied. “All you had to do was pick out a contender for yourselves. The deals I had to make just to get to this area of the Realm. I’m in debt to a Tengu now. A damn Tengu!.”
“Ooh, he said damn.”
“A demon said damn.”
“Can a demon say damn?”
“I don’t think he can.”
“It just ruins the whole point, doesn’t it?”
“It something for the holes ‘n blood to say, ain’t it.”
“It’s fun hearing them say it as they cry.”
“Same as cry.”
“Are you sure?”
“Think so. I don’t know. Shall we ask somebody?”
From the vent, the trio heard a large crash followed by the whole room shaking, like someone had thrown their fist into one of the walls. The two voices, who had been speaking very quickly as they spoke to one another, fell silent before they could ask their question. Whatever had happened appeared to have gone unknown by the three that were arguing, although two of the voices had moved to the far side of the room where the two fast voices once were.
“You think we care about your measly debts to native spirits? It is not our fault that you are incapable of travel when trapped in a physical body.”
“That doesn’t…” The voice was muffled by something, cutting it out with a grumble.
“Our daughter has been injured by a mere human,” the two voices said at once- male and female, both of them very angry. “Can you imagine the humiliation we will have to suffer, as we are forced to eat the Princess to our own kingdom? The shame, the dishonour, the degradation. All for a stupid bet!” A loud cracking sound was made, and one of the fast speaking voices screamed out, as if it had realized its own heart had just ripped out and wanted it back.
“Niisama!” the other one called out.
“What on earth is going on down there?” Melissa mouthed to herself. She couldn’t see anything. There was only darkness, which was understandable with demons, but it meant she could only guess what was going on.
“They didn’t have to do that.” This time, Melissa noticed, one of the fast speaking, squeaky voices was a little slower than usual, something thick gurgling in its mouth.
“Yes they did.”
“Why did they?”
“I shall tell you why.”
“Go on then.”
“Because I called you Niisama.”
“And what’s wrong with that.”
“You’re younger than me.”
“So am I.”
“So you are.”
“My mistake. How foolish of me.”
“You are indeed a fool.”
“So he was in the right to murder me.” Before it could say anymore, it groaned incoherently, and a loud, repetitive stomping noise was heard all throughout the room. It carried on for a clear ten seconds, the groan and screams of pain dying down to an ebb. Then silence completely.
“You could have just asked,” the voice said, before the stomping continued, this time heavier than before, like the one doing it was trying to destroy the whole world with their foot.
“I like them. They’re funny,” a new voice said from the corner. In the darkness in front of her, Melissa could just see the two figures by her shuffling. The voice was muffled , but it was clearly a young child.
Both Sagara and Melissa at once tried to get a better view through the air vent. The girl’s voice had come from the direction where the red candle was flickering, and if they both looked from one of the corners of the vent they could just see Aki’s face, coming in and out of view as the candle’s haze continued to move. As she saw him go to move, Melissa’s hand shot out in front of Sagara.
“Just wait,” she mouthed to him, only guessing he was about to try and rescue them. Rescuing people wasn’t like Sagara at all.
“You do realize you’re going to die here, moron. How can you be so calm?” another voice said, who Melissa instantly recognised as Sarah King. The ten year old also appeared to be speaking somewhere within the vicinity of Aki. Were they both within the Red Candle Barrier that Sakura had mentioned?
“You two,” a calm voice said, who Melissa realized was probably the closest to the two girls. “Please be quiet. Hostages aren’t supposed to have casual conversation.”
“Ah sorry,” Aki said chirpily, as Sarah just mumbled profanities to herself.
“You seem awfully calm yourself, Mr. Jupiter,” a deep, spurgley voice commented, only a few feet away from the calm voice. Melissa kept count. That was at least seven demons in the room. Were there more? She knew some demons wouldn’t speak, since they probably didn’t have any tongues. However, there were some demons about that had twenty tongues, so there was no real telling which demons were in there in the first place.
“I haven’t been called that in a long time, Mr. Mercury,” the calm voice replied, with what she guessed was a smile.
“It is the name I called you for two whole decades,” the spurgley voice pointed out. “Besides, your real name would take too long to say, and I have forgotten the second half of it. So? Why so calm? I understood that you had the most to lose in this?” The calm voice sounded like it was smiling.
“It’s true. I have lost more than anyone here with my part of the bet, including my precious muse,” the male voice stated nonchalantly with nothing sounding wrong with it compared to the unique voice it was speaking to. “But such material things aren’t too much to worry about. I just wish these common demons would hurry up and get over it instead of arguing amongst themselves.”
Although the voice was acting like it was speaking off to the side of everyone else, everyone else had apparently been listening in. A great double roar echoed throughout the darkness, and the room shook with a bang as something slammed on the side of the room where the calm voice and spurgley voice were speaking.
“Common?” the two voices shouted in unison. “You dare insult royalty such as us? Once there was a time you were lower than all of us! We shall suck your spirit right out of that pretty boy body you so like sleeping in!” And with another, mighty battle cry, the owners of the voice seemed to cause the room to shudder again, before screaming out unexpectedly in anguished pain.
“Ah, sorry, sorry,” Mr. Jupiter said, appearing not to notice the torture the two creatures were going through. “It’s just that, well, I’m so much more powerful than you, you see? It’s much too hard for me to notice the difference between an ant and a queen ant.” The two voices started to scream louder, although Melissa couldn’t tell what was actually happening to them. “Wait, do ants even have queens…well I guess that just furthers my point.” Whatever it was, it wasn’t taking a lot of effort from this Mr. Jupiter to overpower them both at the same time.
“That is enough,” a harsh voice called out, a door on the far side of the room swinging open and bathing the middle of the room in a light that silhouetted the human shaped newcomer. “I leave you gentlemen alone for five minutes and you’re already running about like infants in a schoolyard.” The screaming stopped from both voices, silencing filling the room in the same second. Most of the demons were still staying in the unnatural darkness that remained at the edges of the room. One however chose to jump in the newcomer’s direction.
“Infants couldn’t run around a…”
“Shut up!” the female voice shouted, silencing one of the fast speaking demons, who was now revealed to Melissa to be a little, imp like demon, covered in brown hair, which was much longer on its arms than any other part of its body. Another demon was on top of it that looked just like it, except it was almost broken in half as it lay over the other’s shoulder, its skull shattered in the centre with bits hanging out disturbingly loose and dripping something onto the body of the one carrying it. Despite this, neither seemed to have no problem in giggling in response to the newcomer’s cry. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to arrange a hiding place for you this close to the tournament? It doesn’t help with your constant bickering alerting any major force in the area to your presence.”
“That voice,” Melissa muttered, as she finally recognised it. “That’s…The one helping the demons…it’s…”
“Yeah,” said Sagara. “Sakimoto Yuya. Who else would it be?”
“But what’s she doing with demons? She’s supposed to be…” But she was drowned out as those below kept speaking.
“What does that matter now?” the two voices growled out, the high pitched one, now feeling less so, as its anger kept increasing. “Where is our prize, woman?” Yuya scoffed.
“Your prize?” she repeated disdainfully. “What makes you think you get one at all? Your daughter was eliminated in her first Battle Royale. You get nothing.”
“Don’t push us, woman. We were willing to take your nonsense human ways when it suited us. But with this humiliation, this agony, we demand compensation, and we are entitled to it by the law of the Ka’tuk.”
“They’re like the insurance guys,” Aki commented, but was shushed immediately by Sarah.
“There was nothing unfair about my tournament. Your law does not apply here,” Yuya stated, glaring at the demon .
“Now that’s not entirely true,” Mr. Jupiter said, now standing up and walking into the light, revealing, Melissa noticed, quite a handsome young man, with blond hair,a long white coat and an arcane staff in one hand. The only clear off putting thing about him was how his smile reached all the way up to his ears, the flesh of his cheeks having been torn apart to allow this. “Although I’m not complaining myself, perish the thought, it did seem rather peculiar that almost all of our candidates got put into the same Battle Royale match. Now out of the twenty five bets that got placed, only eight of our candidates were in other matches. And then, only four of them actually got any further, and the other sixteen were, quite remarkably I might add, eliminated by that young female.”
“To us,” the high and low pitched voices said at once, “this makes it clear that the match was fixed. Thus, we demand compensation.”
“Y-you think,” Yuya stuttered, her voice tripping over her anger, “that I would risk the one chance I have to clear my debt to you all, just to eliminate sixteen of the candidates at once? Do you think I care who actually won the tournament? What mattered to me was that you were all satisfied. That was the whole point of my participation in this betting ring.”
“There were twenty five demons in the Battle Royale matches?” Melissa whispered in disbelief, looking at Sagara with annoyance for a moment.
“I waited until after the elimination before checking,” he quietly explained, not all that bothered with the revelation, nor apparently with keeping quiet. Melissa’s hand shot out again to silence him, but luckily, the two loud voices had been speaking again.
“We are aware of what you are, Ms. Sakimoto,” a young girl said, stepping out of the shadows along with a bumbling old man. “If you were a demon like all here, you would be more powerful than any of us. To fix the matches up like this, you must have had a reason.”
“All matches involving your candidates were chosen at random,” Yuya defended. “By the Neuts for that matter. All the matches were. Unless Fate is directly intervening, there’s no way I could have caused this to happen. And I wouldn’t even want to for that matter. Do you know the amount of effort I put into making this work right? The amount of security I had to covertly change? The amount of demon hunters I had to redirect and eliminate?”
“And a fine job you did there,” the snarling voice that spoke first said, still remaining in the darkness. “That Futabatei boy didn’t exactly hide his presence at the match. Showboating the whole way, he was.”
“The boy from the family of hypocrites and faithless. We would not be surprised if you hadn’t guided him there yourself. Whatever scheme you are up to, woman…”
“Now let’s calm down, shall we not?” Mr. Jupiter said, stepping up and waving his arms up and down as if trying to control the volume of everybody’s voices. All the demons in the light took a step back into the darkness at this gesture, and everyone fell silent. “The matches have ceased now, so there’s nothing to worry about. Why don’t we all just get back to our respective kingdoms and dungeons and secluded Spanish villas, and just accept that which have been delivered to us.”
“You’re saying we should just go back and eat our daughter?” the two demons shouted again. “Unacceptable!”
“Really now,” Mr. Jupiter said with a sheepish smile. “Do you have something else you need to do before returning?”
“Well…we…well.” The large demon and his small companion faltered, taking a step back as Mr. Jupiter simply stood there and waited for an answer.
“None of us… are going anywhere… until that girl returns ….with that Futabatei boy,” a new voice said. This one seemed to have trouble speaking, and was having to breathe heavily every few words.
“Sagara is on his way here?” Yuya said, shock now etched on her face. “How does he even know?”
“Why, these girls informed me. As a matter of fact, they-” Mr. Jupiter began to say, but was cut off when Yuya caught sight of them.
“Where is Sakura Tamburo?” she asked alarmed.
“Well, as I was about to say,” the man continued slowly. “They revealed themselves to be acquaintances of the ninja. I even believe the little one might be his cousin. It would certainly explain how she was able to reopen the Spinner we used to take the first girl. Anyway, we decided it would be an excellent idea if we used one of them to bring the others here, and take care of them that way. Well, I say we- it wasn’t my idea.”
“It was ours,” the man and woman said at once, causing Yuya to look at them perplexed.
“Actually, it was his,” Mr. Jupiter said, but indicated no one. “Well, it was him that convinced the girl anyway.”
“Why would you care?” Yuya said, ignoring the blond haired demon as she faced the very bulky man, completely ignoring the woman on his shoulder.
“Because that boy showed acquaintance with the one who defeated our daughter. With luck, they shall all comes to us, and we can remove several problems at once.”
“Look… whatever,” Yuya said, shaking her head over all that had been going on without her. “If killing them will make you happy and end all this, I’ll let you, and I’ll even cover it up for you. This barrier remains secure right?”
“It will disappear in about four hours. Until then, the captives exist outside of the InBetween Realm. Not even the Ley Spirit could find them.”
“Right, so we can blame Timothy McKay for the disappearance. Revenge or something. I’m assuming he’s gone now.”
“You assssume correctly, human” a voice hissed, the BlNiock demon revealing itself from the shadows. “I am full again.” Melissa was about to stop Sagara from jumping out again, in case he tried to attack the demon like he had before, when she had to look again at the creature that had just shown up. On its head was another demon, although one could almost mistake it for a dog turd. It seemed to scream and complain for a few seconds. “Oh. Sssssorry, master,” the BlNiock demon said sheepishly, and stepped back out of the light.
“A Gomitine,” Melissa whispered, just in case Sagara had missed it. He nodded slightly. Gomitine were disturbing demons who, for indeterminable reasons, could only perform the ritual of the Kotodama on dog excrement. A sin of wrath. They were known for being some of the most diabolical demons in all the realms, mainly because they were extremely immoral, highly intelligent and some of the most purely evil creatures around, known for creating plans of such subtlety that they could cause entire cultures to wipe themselves out just by releasing a strange odour during a highly important meeting between two tribal chieftains. However, despite this, they were immobile, incoherent and quite impotent in terms of the danger they realistically possessed, what with their natural demonic form looking exactly the same as the piece of dog faeces they could possess. If it wasn’t for the fact that some demons could read minds, no one would know they even existed.
“Yes,” said the spurgley voice. “After the boy shows up and brings the samurai girl, then we shall all have our revenge.”
“You intend to kill the girl as well?” Yuya asked, looking disheartened at the plan.
“Oh yesssss,” the snarling voice said. “She who eliminated all of our bids save four. How could we do anything less?”
“Hhhhmmm, that is a shame,” said Yuya, who was mulling it over. “I was hoping to recruit her.”
“Oh yes. She was strong, wasn’t she?” Mr. Jupiter said with an unperturbed laugh. “I wouldn’t have minded having her myself. Maybe I will.” Silence filled the room quickly at this comment, as if the demons weren’t sure what to do. Melissa felt that most were staring at the handsome demon, waiting for his decision. “Ah, I could do with a break. I won’t bother.”
If demons were prone to have outbursts of relief, Melissa felt the entire room would be doing it at this moment. There was an almost palpable sense of fear in this room when it came to this Mr. Jupiter. Whatever he had done to the two demons had certainly shown his strength to all of them.
“Soooo,” the BlNiock demon said. “We just wait?”
“That thing should be back soon,” another demon pointed out. “Shouldn’t we handle that first?”
The group wrapped in darkness mumbled to each other at the mention of this, and Melissa wondered what this thing could be with mild interest. Before anything was said further, they were interrupted by Yuya.
“I would prefer if you didn’t refer to Sanguine as if he were something to be ‘handled.’ Besides, only one of you is strong enough to have any sort of chance against him. Even if you were to team up, he is too powerful for you.”
“I wouldn’t dream of hurting dear Sanguine,” Mr. Jupiter said. “I have made another bet, you see. I wish to make him laugh at least once before I move on. He’s always too serious. It can be a little depressing.”
“Well you…better be quick…then….” the slow breathing demon said. “I doubt…he intends to….stay with us… much longer.”
“Whyyyy we let one of them with ussss, I sssshall never understand,” the snarling demon said.
“It was because some of us needed mediators because they were scared.” A childish voice again. Not the little girl.
“And can you blame usss,” the BlNiock said. “Already others have been killed. I would be among them if I hadn’t asked for protection.”
“And in doing so, you ended up dragging us all into the light,” the young girl said. “Or did you just assume they wouldn’t try things on their own if you brought them close?”
“True and false.”
“They attract and repel.”
“Oh they just won’t stop.”
“It’s an addiction.”
“He should be back soon,” Yuya stated calmly, ignoring the two blabbering imps as they continued to themselves. “I have to explain something to the one he’s bringing or else I’ll be creating another loose end.”
“The Riddleklutz?” a demon with a surprisingly normal voice said. “Just kill the damn thing.”
“There it is again.”
“The word damn.”
“It just ruins its overall effectiveness when used constantly by demons.”
“I can’t!” Yuya said loudly, her voice overruling the two imp-like demons. “Not only is it difficult to kill a Riddleklutz, it causes problems to handle Balance demons like that.”
“I guess we should have expected that,” Melissa muttered up in the vents. “Still, I didn’t think it would be this quick in regenerating.”
“False Balance Demon,” Sagara corrected under his breath. He had gone strangely silent while all this had been going on, Melissa noted. He was watching the events below with intense interest, like it was all a television show. Sakura was as well, although she was still shivering.
“We should leave, Sagara,” Melissa said lightly, hoping that he wouldn’t jolt. He turned to her without saying anything, waiting for an explanation.
“There are too many of them, as I feared,” she explained, her voice quick and quiet. “Even if we did something special to try and get an advantage, some of them are just too strong. This ‘Mr. Jupiter’ alone could probably kill us both without thinking.”
Sagara said nothing, now looking back down at the events transpiring below. Melissa wasn’t even sure if he was even listening to her.
“It’s not as if it’s been a total waste,” she explained. “It seems like we accidentally completed our mission. This betting ring plan they were having has been totally messed up, and I’m sure the elders would take priority on Yuya’s betrayal to the Balance anyway. It we leave now, it’ll be fine.”
“No,” Sagara said simply.
“But there’s no reason to stay, we’d just put the hostages in danger if we do stay. At least if we go, there’s a chance they’ll spare them as bait. We can regroup in the meantime and…”
She looked at him, as he continued to stare down the vent. His eyes had turned green. What was he seeing that she couldn’t?
“We’re staying, aren’t we?” she asked him rhetorically.
“Sorry,” he replied, a small smile visible through the darkness.
“Don’t be,” she said back. “You’re the boss.”
“It’s here,” the snarling voice said, catching her attention again. Melissa looked instinctively to the open door, where Yuya was still standing, apparently not daring to approach the darkness by a single step. Melissa couldn’t see anything, though she could hear faint footsteps, and the sound of a voice.
“…still don’t know why one has to come here. She is welcome to visit our chambers whenever she wishes. Although, we guess we do need to rebuild at the moment, after that infernal boy.”
“Ah, speak of the devil,” Yuya said, turning round as she caught wind the voice as well, her hand swinging back, telling everyone in the room to hide. Those that were in the light did so, and to Melissa it appeared that Yuya was the only one there. Even the girls were hidden by a shadow.
“Please do not use that term around me, Ms. Sakimoto,” the man said, stepping in the light of the door frame. Her eyes nearly popping out, Melissa stared with unintended admiration at the newcomer. Gracefully tall, the handsome warrior stood with his four foot long, straight white hair only just reaching halfway down his body. Remaining proud as he surveyed the scum in the room, acknowledging everyone within it, the figure was dressed in a white robe with gold trim all of which had to be made of fine velvet that met up with a large crucifix emblazoned on his chest piece, reflecting all light that touched it with blinding intensity. Some of the demons were heard taking another shuffled step back, as the newcomer’s presence lit up the room just a fraction more with his natural light.
She understood their fear, their insecure caution. On the man’s back, currently bunched up- but still betraying their wondrous splendour, were wings that epitomized magnificence, ivory feathers shining with their own light, shining brightly in Melissa’s eyes.
“An Angel?” She pulled away with a jerk of her neck, feeling her throat empty of air, all of it taken by the newcomer. “It is, isn’t it?” she asked, turning to Sagara, nearly forgetting her own vows of silence and secrecy.
“It’s not one from the False Balance,” he said, looking meekly curious.
“I’ve never actually seen one properly before,” Melissa commented. “Be careful touching it.”
“Lord Sanguine,” Yuya said, addressing the man. “Thank you for retrieving him.” Sanguine bowed slightly, bringing his hand up to his chest while doing so and never taking his eyes off her. Further conversation was interrupted, the second visitor swooping over the angel and into the room. There, hovering in the room between the angel and Yuya, was the Riddleklutz.
“Hello, my dear lady,” it said, apparently being much more courteous to her than it had been to Sagara and the group the other day. Its physical appearance had changed just as significantly as its manners. It was still traveling on a piece of balsa wood that had the bleached boney arms of a human skeleton hanging down from it. It was still defying gravity like she would her alarm clock in the morning. But this time the strange green head with frizzed hair and a cheap Halloween mask had been replaced by a statue of a cat holding an old Japanese coin “It is good to see you again. We have much to talk about it seems.” Before Yuya could say anything, the Angel seemed to will the two of them to look at him.
“Excuse me, I shall return in a moment.” Sanguine bowed lightly again, walking away without waiting for a response. Yuya stared at him as he moved out of sight from beyond the door, but was soon distracted by the presence of the Balance Demon.
“He is indeed a strange one. Although we haven’t actually met an actual Angel before. The closest was a Lightbearer. He works as my assistant you see and,” Yuya looked at him, a look of seriousness behind her spectacles. He stopped talking at once.
“Forgive me, Judge, but we do not exactly have time for small talk. I am in quite a hurry and would wish to conclude our business as soon as possible.” The Riddleklutz seemed to stare at her, although Melissa wasn’t exactly sure where from or how. As she looked down at the creature, who was now nothing more than a ceramic ornament, only identified from the toy mask it was wearing yesterday, she noticed that all the other demons had stayed sunken back in the shadows.
“Very well,” the Riddleklutz replied, sounding a little annoyed but not offended.
“Now, I had given you the location of the Futabatei boy, as you insisted as your price for services rendered, after I heard he had broken some of your rulings. I had expected him to be dealt with, yet I find him at my tournament. Could you explain to me exactly what it was that happened?” The Riddleklutz floated up and down for a few seconds, Melissa could swear it was shuffling nervously at Yuya’s brisk tone. “Well?”
“It appears we underestimated the boy’s sense of honour,” the Riddleklutz explained. “We suppose we should have expected it from a ninja…”
“Don’t give me that nonsense,” Yuya shouted, now visibly annoyed. “That boy’s no more a ninja than you two or I. It’s nothing more than a fad his family keeps up because they live in a small village and want to sound cool. And you should have had been as cautious as you were with any defendant, even more so with a Futabatei.” The Riddleklutz was silent at this, like a schoolchild being shouted at by a teacher. Melissa found herself wanting to laugh. This shouldn’t be the way one treated a Balance judge, even a false one.
“Why are you so concerned anyway?” the Riddleklutz said, its tone changing to one of intense curiosity. Yuya seemed undaunted by this, but the demon continued probing. “You have provided us with anonymous tips before, yet haven’t been concerned when we end up releasing the defendants. What is so important with this one, to you that is?”
“I’m just upset at your incompetence,” Yuya replied, stressing the words as she eyed the little brown cat ornament on top of the piece of balsa wood. “This is the Futabatei we’re talking about. The Enforcers of the Balance, or so they claim. You have to be careful with them, not just accept that they’ll be willing to take the punishment you give them. You know how they feel about your faction.”
“You’re lying,” the Riddleklutz said, its own voice now becoming as stern as Yuya’s. “You wanted the heir removed temporarily. You are pursuing another agenda, one which explains why despite fourteen other demons hunters registered at the tournament only the Futabatei was to be removed from the game. You wanted to keep him safe from something, something that wanted him for very obvious reasons.” Yuya’s face flickered in the light, but she remained defiant to the inanimate gaze of the demon in front of her.
“My my,” said Mr. Jupiter, as he stepped back into the light. “It looks like the Riddleklutz is the smartest in all the land after all, and to think we thought we could, how was it put, take you for a ride.” The Riddleklutz visibly lurched back as, for the first time, it registered the presence of the normal looking demon.
“You? What are you doing here?” it asked, hovering back another few feet. “Sakimoto, what is the meaning of this? Conspiring with demons of this madness? It is against the rules.”
“Oh, I’m sure you could bend the rulings just for me, my dear Riddleklutz,” Mr. Jupiter said, now trailing his gloved fingers across painted statue sitting on top of the balsa wood. “It would really have all our interests at heart.” Some of the other demons laughed or sniggered loudly, and the Riddleklutz lurched back as it began to realize just how many were in the room with it.
“I would never…” The Riddleklutz began to say, but cut itself off. “This breaks the very basis of the contract of the Balance. Even if I am more a figure head, I could never allow such diabolical conspiracy to go, for the good of demons at large at the very least.”
“Good of demons.”
“That sounds strange.”
“Good of his job more like.”
“Imagine, a demon more concerned with job security than with doing evil.”
“Maybe he’s the most evil of us all.”
“A shame,” Mr. Jupiter said lightly, unconcerned for the Riddleklutz’s response of clear frantic backwards lunging that suggested it wanted nothing more to do than hover away. “Why, would you have cared before that I was here, or Mr. Mercury. Two of the Allignment of nine that spell doom for you all. It seems that associating with the Lightbearers in that ‘True’ Balance of yours has cursed you with a sense of honour.”
“Cursed with honour?”
“Shouldn’t it be blessed?”
“Blessed go up. Cursed go down.”
“A demon can never go up anywhere.”
“Especially not in the direction he wants to go.”
“Regardless, Yuya wanted to deal with you quietly, but this hiding is beginning to bore me, and I believe it is boring the others as well.” Without waiting for any form of response, except in a few rapid mutterings coming from the Riddleklutz, Mr. Jupiter’s hand shot out, and closed his palm around the head of the cat statue. The Riddleklutz screamed out, the cry quickly changing to be like a soldier charging blindly at the enemy. Blue flame shot out from in front of it, although Melissa could not tell where from, engulfing the demon in front of it in a white hot inferno that looked a thousand times stronger than the one it had hit Sagara with.
The flames covered the man in front of the Riddleklutz blanketing him in a pallid inferno. Fires burned the floor, the unclean tiles around Mr. Jupiter bleaching instantly, before igniting as if the place were covered in petrol. The blaze lit the room up, and for the first time, Melissa could see some of the demons, their warped features staring as they tried to stay in the darkness, leering at the event going on in front of them with fixed grins.
The fire subsided just as quickly as it had started, with only the tiles on the floor burning bright. The first sound that Melissa heard as the area was pitched into darkness again was the gasp of the Riddleklutz, who, as she looked upon it once again, was visibly shaking in the still gripped tight hand of the demon in front of it. Not even his white, silk clothes had been scorched.
“Maybe you’re not as clever as I first thought after all,” Mr. Jupiter said, with what Melissa thought was a smile. Without changing his expression, the demon tightened his hand, causing the small cat ornament to shatter, exploding into flames instantly, the Riddleklutz’s scream cut short like someone had pulled out the speaker by mistake.
“Well, well,” the demon said lightly. “I guess that wraps that up.” Yuya stepped back slightly and gulped visibly, before reaffirming herself and standing forward.
“That wraps nothing up, you fool!” she shouted, as she leaned forwards to get in his face. “If anything that makes it worse. I could have handled the situation if you hadn’t of butted in. Now the next time he possesses something, he’ll blab out my working with you to the entire planet. I’ll be ruined.” For the first time, Mr. Jupiter’s expression clearly changed, from one of an almost innocent amusement, to an appearance of dreary annoyance. His smile disappeared, his face turning away, yet his eyes still looking at the woman in front of him with derision.
“And to think I liked you,” he said calmly, his hand now wrapped round her forehead. From just behind his loose palm, Melissa could see Yuya’s eyes open wide in terror. The illusionist’s eyes were also wide open, and she could bet Sagara’s were as well. The demon’s speed was incalculable. It’s wasn’t even like there had been a blur, or a small flash, nor even a rush of wind. It was just there. Not even the Eye of Futabatei would have been able to register that.
Around them, the demons grinned their approval, sneering loudly. One of them sounded like it had vomited. Only the two imp like demons said anything.
“Oh don’t kill her just yet.”
“Can’t we have some fun?”
“Some fun is always nice.”
“Goes well with a bit of spice.”
The other demon paused for a second, before saying, with a complete change in tone. “Dude. Don’t just say it because it rhymes.”
“Sorry,” the other demon said, sounding crestfallen.
“Stop, stop,” Yuya said, her words now sounding just as frantic as the Riddleklutz had been. “There’s-there’s no need to kill me, really. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. Nothing I can’t fix. I just overreacted, that all.” As she continued blabbering, Mr. Jupiter smiled again, appearing cheery, yet decided.
“Don’t ruin your last moment for yourself, Yuya dear,” he said with finality, his hand closing in to get a better grip. As her glasses cracked against his strong hands, Yuya shuddered, her neck curling up as Melissa saw her eyes closed, not letting herself watch the final moment behind Mr. Jupiter’s gloved hand.
“Get your hands off her,” a voice shouted from outside. All the demons quickly fell silent, fading into the darkness as Mr. Jupiter turned to look at the empty door frame. Even Melissa was jolted by its presence, and she immediately looked to her right to see if she had somehow missed Sagara jumping down to join the fight. He was still laying by her though, watching the new arrival with a smile on his face.
It was Natoko standing there in the doorway, both her hands held tightly on her sword, her right on the sheath, her left on the hilt. She looked ready to strike down the demon in front of her, although Melissa knew that she had no way of knowing that the man in front of her was a demon, nor that the room was filled with many other such denizens.
She was almost tempted to warn her, give some kind of signal that would tip her off without revealing their presence, but there was nothing she would be willing to risk. She stared over to Sagara, who seemed too wrapped up in watching to do anything, then over to Sakura, who was also watching nervously, shivering all the more as she did so.
Mr. Jupiter did nothing.