Category: Uncategorised

Act Four – Chapter Two

“This is freaky, Natoko. Even when I was sitting down in the arena, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.”

“What do you mean?”

“What do you mean what do I mean? Natoko, we’re in another world. Another ‘realm’ as they call it. Doesn’t it seem freaky to you?”

“I…suppose so. Now that you bring it up…”

“You mean you didn’t think it strange before? The animals, the spirits. Even the humans didn’t seem quite right. You got beat by a kid wearing sand, or are you just repressing that?” Otsune carefully monitored her friend’s response to see if it corresponded with  how Fujiko was earlier shrugging off eagles buying and eating their own popcorn.

“Yes…yes, I see your point, it just felt like it didn’t matter at the time though. It’s Sagara I think, he’s used to it, so you almost feel like this is what is normal.”

“We have to be careful about things like that. If we’re not, we’ll just start to accept everything without queston. That can get dangerous.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, for example…” She suddenly stamped her foot, loud enough to grab the attention of those ahead of her. “Where the hell are we going? And that better not be taken literally.” They were striding down yet another corridor. She couldn’t help but feel they were all the exact same, poorly maintained, hallway of plasterboard.

“To see the Ley Spirit,” Sagara stated, looking completely aware of where he was going, even as he turned another corner to a corridor that looked so similar Otsune felt they had just turned around.

“Uh huh, I see,” the student muttered, looking around to see how Sagara was getting his bearings with the many twists and turns. “And this helps how?”

“The Ley Spirit is one of those who understands the InBetween Realm perfectly, who knows where all the paths go, and who has been through them,” Melissa explained, as she shuffled her shoulders restlessly. “If anyone knows where the demon went, it’ll be it.”

“It?”

“It doesn’t have a gender. It just comes into being because it feels like it.”

“What?” Otsune cried out, as if Melissa had done something wrong. “That’s impossible. Something can’t just will itself into existence, at least not at a level of sentience you’re describing.”

“Try telling it that,” Sagara said, making another quick turn to the left, coming into a corridor that they had probably passed through three times already.

“Look, even if I were to believe most of what’s happening and unfortunately I think I’m starting to. To be itself into existence would be a god like feat.” She paused, feeling the weight of her own words. “Don’t tell me they exist too.”

“Don’t worry, it’s not a god. It’s just that the InBetween realm needed spirits to manage it.” He came to a fork in the road, twisted his head to the side and chose the left direction. Everybody followed.

“They haven’t done a very good job,” Natoko muttered, resisting the urge to touch the wall besides her with her bare hand, the way a person resists the urge to keep looking at a dead body.

“So it didn’t create itself,” Otsune said trying to piece what she could together. “The realm did.”

“I guess that’s one way of looking at it,” Sagara relented, smashing his gauntlet-covered fist into the wall and walking through with the same amount of effort one would turn a doorknob. “We’re here.”

Here appeared exactly the same as everywhere else they had been so far, just another corridor that had fired its cleaner years ago and never got around to hiring another one. The only difference was a simple door frame, which looked just as dilapidated and ready to fall apart the second someone touched it as the rest of the corridor did. It had a door handle sign on it, currently turned to ‘Do not disturb’ on it. Sagara disobeyed it completely and opened the door, the others following him through.

This room was different from the corridors- to an extent. It still had the same, cracked paintwork that covered the long passageways, but the floor did not have the same, dank greasy feel to it that made you want to amputate your arm with a Gatling gun when you touched it. However, the other side of the room housed a large piece of rusted machinery that covered the entire far end wall, beeping away as lights flashed around in random patterns. It reminded Otsune of an old subway station, and the maps with light bulbs that showed you where the trams were.

However, this map had magnified it to a grand scale, and Otsune could not even begin to count how many different lines and light bulbs they were. It did not help that they were constantly flashing an assortment of different colours, or that her brain was trying to search for a pattern to the flashing lights where, for all she knew, it could have been totally random. Other than that, there was little else. A desk, a chair, some books and a mop and bucket sitting in the corner with flies hovering around it.

She had been so busy staring at the giant machine and all its lights that she had missed the creature sitting in the room. As soon as she focused on it, she had no idea how she could have overlooked such a colossal being. It looked like an ordinary man at first, as it stood facing away from her. The back of its head looked to have black, greasy hair that had been scattered in all directions, and it wore a beige trench coat that was thick and looked ready to explode with bulk. From here, the only thing that looked wrong was its size. It was clearly as big as the man they had left behind in Sagara’s ward to sleep off his injuries, and its muscles were just as bulky.

It didn’t notice them at first, and seemed mesmerised at the giant machine in front of them all. It wasn’t until Melissa let out a little cough that it spun around. Otsune nearly shrieked.

“Oh, my apologies,” it said with a polite and respectable tone. “I failed to observe you there.”

“Hi Keys,” Sagara said, waving his hand up and taking it straight back down. Keys, which she couldn’t tell if it was a name or a nickname, peered at the body in front of it for a full three seconds, readjusting the glasses on its trumpet like nozzle to get a better look at him.

“Sagara?” it said. “Is it Sagara? I don’t believe it… and Melissa as well. Well, this is a surprise.”

“Greetings…exalted spirit,” the ninja called Melissa said, fidgeting with her mask piece as she greeted the…thing.

“And I do believe I see others,” the spirit said, again adjusting its glasses so that its giant red, fly-like eyes could peer at her and Natoko. It walked over to get a better look her, while she responded with stutters and gasps as well as a visible urge to leave the room in a panicky and flailing manner. “May I ask upon your name, dear child?”

“I…I…I,” Otsune repeated incomprehensibly, before fading out.

“Oh, you are Japanese,” the spirit exclaimed. “I do apologise for not introducing myself first. I am the Ley Spirit for this section of the charted InBetween Realm, and it is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Tsu-Tsunade O-Otsune…” the student stuttered, gulping as she tried to finish the sentence all at once. “Pleasetomeetyou!”

“Ha, ha, ha, do not worry,” the spirit said, attempting to be reassuring. “I understand my appearance is grotesque and disturbing for all that look upon it, but I assure you I am quite harmless.” Otsune was about to reply with more visible apprehension and perhaps also some projectile vomiting when Sagara cut in.

“You’re not disturbing, Keys,” he said calmly. “You’re interesting.”

“Oh, my dear Sagara, I am not worthy of your compliments. I have long since learned to adapt to this body, and I know that the appearance of the head of a giant bluebottle on the body of a Qui’let Lion Goddess is more than another to make the most focused of minds stare in disdain and horror at my vapid ugliness.” Otsune quietly agreed with this comment and began staring at all the lights the machine was making to prevent her stomach from showing what she had eaten at the tournament. “Anyway, enough of my physical abnormalities, despicable as they are. What is it that…” he stopped. “Oh, I forgot, there is a fourth one with you. You must forgive me, but my eyesight is terrible, despite how many sensory glands I have for it. You are…”

Natoko had been staring this whole time, using the upper and lower canines on the right side of her jaw to bite down as hard as they could on her lower lip, the pain preventing her from doing what Otsune was doing. To her, the creature was an abomination, much worse than the Dark Scourge and other demons she had met so far. It hadn’t helped that it had been excreting…something from between its legs since they had entered the room, and it smelt like rotten manure and pigs.

However, despite its appearance, Natoko’s focused mind could not help but feel that it was reasonably intelligent and well mannered, if merely by the sound of its voice. She would be the abomination if she didn’t treat it with the respect she treated most people. She stopped breathing, and bowed.

“Pleased to meet you, I am Yamanaka Natoko,” her eyes peered up, and the spirit shifted its legs together and, out of respect for her customs, bowed as well.

“No!” Melissa shouted, causing the samurai to glance over at her and observe the look of shock on the American girl’s face. She didn’t even have time to wonder what was wrong, when some liquid splashed onto her, grabbing her attention. She turned to see the spirit, falling towards her like some giant redwood that had just been chopped down. She reacted as fast as she could, jumping off to the right and out of the way, only to watch the Ley spirit crash down onto the floor, apparently quite dead.

“What! I…What?” Natoko blurted, blown out at what had just happened. She stood there, looking around like a witness to an unexpected crime. Melissa rushed down to the small puddle that was forming in front of the giant spirit’s insect like head.

“Like we have time for this,” she said, a mild annoyance tracing over her voice, as she started trying to contain the liquid that was split over the floor from flowing elsewhere.

“Is it dead?” Otsune asked, her panic having dissipating as the creature slammed to the ground. Melissa answered with a groan.

“Sort of. She caused it to spill its soul when she bowed. Should have warned her.”

“Spill its soul?” Otsune said loudly, and they both stared at the liquid. It looked remarkably like water.

“Help me sit it up, and I’ll explain,” Melissa stated, wrapping her arms round one of the creatures shoulders. Otsune obeyed, but reeled back as she grabbed the other shoulder. “Watch out under the trench coat. It’s covered in thorns.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Otsune muttered, as she covered her hands with her thin jumper, hoping it would be enough. Natoko also went to help, but Melissa called her off.

“Get the mop and bucket from over there,” she said, indicating with a nod the kitchen utensil that was sitting in the corner. “Clean up the soul from off the floor. Make sure you get all of it. It’ll turn purple where you have.”

“You mean the water?”

“What else would I be talking about?”

“Uum, right, understood,” Natoko said, pacing to the bucket and getting on with it as quickly as possible. She noticed Sagara didn’t seem concerned about any of this, and had gone onto looking at all the lights the giant machine was displaying.

“You see, the Ley spirit” Melissa began to explain between grunts, “is made out of the liquid of the InBetween Realm. The liquid gains sentience after some event we don’t understand happens. And after that, it can possess a body.”

“Possess,” Otsune called out. “You mean like that girl did with Natoko?”

“Similar,” Melissa said, showing annoyance at the interruption. “But it can only do it to a body with an empty soul. So it finds one, in this case, the Qui’let Lion Goddess, which had died in the InBetween Realm after its tribe was destroyed due to deforesting in the Amazonian Rainforests.” Otsune and Natoko quickly glanced at each other, with the smallest agreed upon feeling that this was all being made up as Melissa went along. They let her continue. “But the Ley spirit can only possess a body when its soul has 100% contact with the dead body, and before the dead body has started to decompose. As you can probably smell, this one was a little slow.”

Otsune, being reminded that she was holding her breath, exhaled, faced as far away as she could from the spirit, inhaled as much as she could, and turned back round.

“So it’s like that Kotodama ritual thing Sagara was talking about?” Otsune added.

Natoko had forgotten about that. It made sense in that context, though she might have been wrong. There was so much to take in. She had only really just realised that this new girl must have been the first servant her lord had been talking about. And she could understand her now.

“It’s a different situation for the Ley spirit,” Melissa continued without stopping. “It’s soul is liquid, at least inside the InBetween realm, so it can’t hold itself inside the corpse, or else it’ll get diluted when the body comes back to life, so it keeps itself on the outside, in this,” she indicated, still keeping hold of the giant paperweight, pointing to a small, cup like hole on the top of the giant insect head. “As long as it stays in here, it can control the body without problems. But if even a little bit falls out, say if it kneels or, I don’t know, bows,” she said this last bit very loudly, and Natoko’s own head bowed down to face the ground, “then it can’t control the body and…well, you’ve seen the rest.”

“Well, I get the logic,” Otsune confirmed casually enough. “I’m still going to request a comprehensive scientific paper on the situation when this is over.”

“Good luck with that.”

“Excuse me,” Natoko said politely, Melissa swinging round sharply to glare her. “I don’t think I can get it all,” she whimpered, feeling her shame at hurting a stranger as such.

“Make sure you wring out the mop fully,” Melissa commanded. “It’s designed to specifically soak up its soul, and don’t forget there’s some sticking on your face.” Natoko’s hand shot up at check, finding it to be true. “Use the mop on your face if you have to.” Natoko did so, and started wringing the mop out as hard as she could. Within a few moments, it finally shimmered to a violet colour.

“Good, now pour it, carefully, back into the cup. Sagara,” she shouted over to the boy, grabbing his attention. “Help her out.” Sagara walked over, helping her pick up the bucket so they could angle it correctly over the spirit’s bluebottle head. Slowly, they tipped the amethyst liquor into Keys’s head, until the last drop landed with a ripple.

“Hold on to it tight, everyone,” Melissa called out, bracing herself against its shoulder. The two that weren’t holding on did the same, Sagara latching himself to the creature’s head. A few seconds later, the four teenagers felt the creature shift slightly, before lurching violently, gasping loudly and bolting upright, taking everybody else five feet into the air with it.

“What!” it shouted. “What happened? Where am I?” By the sheerest of luck, no water came back out, though only because Sagara had been holding its head as steady as was possible.

“Keys, calm down,” said Sagara, completely calm himself. Keys reacted badly to this, and spun round.

“Sagara?” With lightning reflexes, Sagara’s other hand shot out and covered the top of the spirit’s head completely, latching onto the giant’s body with his legs.

“Calm down, exalted spirit,” Melissa said with gritted teeth, looking relived when it seemed to finally focus on her voice and relaxed again.

“Oh, I must apologise,” it said, as well mannered as it had been before it had spilt its soul. “It seems I am as clumsy as I am forgetful.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Sagara, though Natoko figured this probably wasn’t the best of ideas. “Anyway, we need your help.”

“Ah, but of course. I am honoured that you would require the aid of one as mediocre as myself,” the spirit said, its chest expanding with pride as it approached the large board. “All one as pathetic as I is good at is finding anything and everything within the InBetween Realm with pinpoint accuracy, I shall put all my effort into the task that will befall me and, even if I should perish during it, it shall be a death well earned in the services of one such as…”

“We need you to find a BlNiock demon.”

“A what?” the spirit replied, its speech ending, the paw that it had raised into the air now hanging there obscurely.

“A BlNiock demon,” Melissa repeated, clearly not likely the creature’s reaction.

“BleeNeyoke?” Keys said, each syllable hanging off its tongue and asking whether it was really supposed to come out of its mouth. “I have never heard of a demon named like that.”

“Neither had we,” Melissa said, joining the spirit at the wall of lights. “Purple skinned, like leather. Horned. Fangs that hide its lower jaw bone. Has both male and female genitalia. Can split itself into at least three separate bodies- completely independent forms that do not show up as demon to the eyes of the Futabatei. Errrmmm… usual demonic superiority complex.”

“You mean it evaded the Eye of Futabatei?” it said startled.

“It appears so,” Melissa confirmed. Keys looked at her for a moment with a look of horror that struck Natoko as bizarre.

“Are you sure he didn’t just not notice?”

“I had to use them to beat one of its forms, so I should have noticed,” Sagara said, now sitting against the wall, waiting for Melissa to finish up. “All I noticed was that it wasn’t human.”

“I…I see,” the spirit turned back round to the machine.

“Is something wrong?” Melissa asked, hiding her frustration at the fact that Sagara seem to have no intention of doing anything.

“No, no, it’s nothing. It is just…rare,” the spirit said, before clearly changing the subject. “If I do not know the demon’s name, it will be difficult to track it.”

“But you can do it, right?”

“Yes, simply by inverting the search,” it waved its giant right arm, and over half of the lights turned off in a second, leaving red ones. “These are all the demons in this area of the realm. Now, we can continue simply by trial and error. First off, we can get rid of any Thyaux demons.”

“Thyauk demons?” Otsune inquired.

“Yes,” Keys replied. “Thyaux demon. A tiny, insect-like creature. It’s basically a cockroach, but more likely to possess your grandmother and sell the family heirlooms for a cheap laugh. They’re not really a threat, unless your grandmother was around obviously, but they scurry through the InBetween realm like consumer whores at a shopping mall.”

It waved its arm again, and almost all the lights flickered off, leaving a mere twenty. “Ah, this shall make it easy. Although it will take a long time, to go through each type of demon, one by one, eliminating them as we go.”

“It’s these guys,” said Sagara, from the side of them all of a sudden. He was pointing to a grouped bunch of lights, where seventeen lights were flicking constantly.

“It is a large concentration,” mused Keys. “But what makes you think you are correct?”

“I’m not really,” Sagara said honestly, but with a hint of dismissal in his voice. “It just feels right. We’ll go with it.” He turned to leave.

“I’m not sure you should be just leaving it at a guess, Sagara,” the spirit complained. To the side of her, Natoko heard Melissa sigh to herself, before walking to catch Sagara up.

“Keep an eye on the other three for us. If we’re wrong, we’ll probably come back before they’re out of your sector,” she said with her back turned to the large spirit creature. “Oh, and these two want your help on something else. They’re new to the Realm, so be polite to them.”

“Am I not always, though I would not blame them if my visage gave them cause to slaughter me like the foul beast I am?” Keys said, beginning to bow as the lady took her leave, before deciding it wasn’t a very good idea to leave two newcomers with a corpse on their hands again. Before they could say anything more, the two ninja had left, leaving Otsune with yet a new urge to belt it out of there she had not felt yet. She looked to the door as Melissa slammed it shut, before turning back to the demon thing, who looked like it was thinking about something.

“That boy…” she heard it mutter. “No change…No change at all.”

“Erm…excuse me,” Natoko was now standing before the creature, what towered over her by at least twice her height.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Natoko-dono,” the creature replied apologetically, as her voice snapped it out of its thoughts. “I was just thinking of…Never mind, let me help you anyway I can.”

Natoko was frozen for a second. No one had called her Natoko–dono before. She hoped she wouldn’t blush.

“We…we need to find some friends of ours. They disappeared while in some toilets at the tournament and…” It waved its hand in front of her, silencing her.

“Say no more,” it said. “I shall get on with it, post haste.” It turned back to the machine and waved its giant hand once more, the red lights disappeared, and was replaced with several thousand blue lights that were almost impossible to distinguish, due to how packed together they were. Otsune wondered if that’s how they looked like in the tournament.

“Now…what are their names?”

“Names?” Otsune replied, confused.

“I will be requiring their names in order to locate their presences. The machine locates everybody by their very sense of identity. If they have any other aliases like monikers or nicknames, then tell me them as well.”

“Okay…well,” Otsune took a quick glance at the machine again, wondering if they could trust the machine. “I guess the first is Aki Sarusarudo. She doesn’t have any nicknames… does she?”

“I do not think so,” Natoko replied, also looking at the machine, waiting to see where her friend would be located on the giant map. She assumed it to be a map anyway, she wasn’t entirely sure if a lot of lines and dots could be a map of anything.

“Very well,” the creature said, waving its hand across the entire screen with what looked to be an attempt at splendour that it hadn’t bothered with in front of Sagara and Melissa. Immediately, all the lights turned out, leaving them with just a lot of lines.

“She’s not here?” Natoko said, assuming the worst as she watched the dark screen.

“Aki…Sarusarudo, right?” the spirit repeated, making sure it had got it right.

“Yes, that’s correct,” Natoko replied, feeling like she was talking a receptionist checking personal records.

“Are you sure it is not Sarusarudo Aki? Cultural naming structure is a factor I’m afraid.”

“No, she’s from Africa.” The Ley spirit looked at her gone out for a moment.

“Then why does she have a Japanese name?” Natoko went to answer, but then found she couldn’t. Why did Aki have a Japanese name? Before she could think about it any more, she heard Otsune’s growl of annoyance.

“Just try ‘Sarah King’,” she said impatiently. “And if you can’t find her, then we’ll go look for her on our own. This machine doesn’t exactly look reliable.” Natoko saw the spirit’s insect like eyes widen, if that was anymore possible. She braced herself, hoping it would not cast its head down in shame again. It didn’t. Instead it waved its hands again. This time, two lights flashed up on the screen, separated far from each other. “Oh…forget this,” Otsune muttered, slamming her feet as she left for the door.

“Wait…madam,” the spirit said loudly, hoping its voice would stop her. “Sarah King is a common name, and there are several thousand humans in the realm this day. I’m sure one of these is your friend.” Otsune stopped, her hand resting on the door handle.

“She’s not my friend. She’s my responsibility,” she said, clenching the ordinary brass handle as hard as she could. She didn’t know it, but the handle actually had a soul, and it was assuming that Otsune couldn’t open the door because of its incompetence. The pain of regret at this that the handle was feeling was as incalculable as it was invisible. Otsune swung round, approaching the remaining two again. “Fine, which one is it?”

“To be perfectly honest with you, madam,” the spirit started. “It could be either one of them.” Its eyes glanced to meet Otsune, and realized it was giving the wrong answer. “But, it should not be a problem to divide the search. My spirit guide shall lead you to the one that resides at the tournament, and I shall send an emissary to check the other one myself.” As if it were picking up a pen, the spirit lifted its hand, and a small, blue flame appeared in the air in front of them, causing Otsune to gasp. Despite her initial shock, she couldn’t help but feel how comfortably warm the flame was, and brought her hand closer to it. As she did so, she heard it giggled lightly, darting out of her reach.

“My dear companion shall take you back to the tournament. It may simply be a regrettable case of losing track of your friend. Meanwhile, I will look for the other Sarah King.”

“I’ll go with you,” Natoko stated. “It would be best if Sarah didn’t have a complete stranger asking her to follow him.”

“Ah, but of course,” the creature said, looking delighted at what she had called it. “A monster such as myself would probably terrify any human being that had not met with one before. I shall be delighted to have your company.” They started to walk over, only stopping again with Otsune’s voice.

“Wait,” she shouted, her eyes scrunching up with worry. “You’re leaving me alone in a demon realm with this thing?” The flame danced around her hand happily despite the insult, before shooting out like a comet into the oak door. The large piece of wood immediately vanished as it was incinerated, the grief stricken handle more than happy to be reduce to a small puddle of slag after its previous unforgivable incompetence. Otsune just gawked, her mouth moving down a few times, before speaking again. “Never mind.”

***

“Excuse me.”

A few minutes later, and Natoko was alone with the Ley Spirit, both walking quietly down yet another of the seemingly endless corridors, in her hands long sheet of fax paper, listed with simple directions of the rough location of where Sarah was supposed to be. She briefly wondered if these were what the machine were displaying as all those lines, and then decided they must have been,. But what these corridors were themselves was another thing altogether.

She decided she needed to ask, although she figured Sagara would probably tell her if she asked later, but felt that that this spirit would be more considerate and actually elaborate, instead of the half nonsense that came out of Sagara’s mouth when he explained stuff that he knew perfectly and expected everyone else to as well.

“What is it, Natoko-dono?” the creature responded, causing her to blush again. She couldn’t help but feel happy that someone was calling her with such a title of respect. She wondered if he referred to all Japanese people that way, or if it was because he could tell if she was a samurai.

“Could…could you tell me about this place, the InBetween Realm?” she asked politely. She couldn’t tell what expression appeared on the creature’s bluebottle face after this, but she guessed it to be mild confusion from the way its nozzle lifted slightly. “It’s just… well I still don’t know much about it.”

“If…you wish it, Natoko-dono,” the creature replied after a moment’s silence, then taking a further moment to compose its thoughts as they continued walking down the corridor. Pacing behind it, she noticed it touched the small hole where its soul lay, like it was scratching it. “Where should one such as myself begin? Ah, I know. Have you ever heard of Ley Lines?”

“No,” Natoko answered simply, again causing the giant spirit to start thinking to itself again.

“Well… Ley Lines are lines said to be found on earth that link places to one another. On earth, I believe they are argued to link sites of mystical power, or for finding water, or are just prehistoric trade routes. Anyways, their real existence is the manifestation of this Realm on Earth.”

“That doesn’t really explain anything,” Natoko said slowly, thinking that maybe she was wrong when she thought this spirit would be helpful.

“It doesn’t?” it exclaimed. “Well, let me think of a better way to phrase my anecdote.” It stopped to muse for a few seconds, as they took a turn in the corridor without even realising it. “Imagine, if you would indulge me for just one moment, a row of corridors, as infinite as the universe itself, going in all sorts of directions that one couldn’t even begin to comprehend.”

“Like the corridor we’re in now,” said Natoko, like she was talking to a teacher who was teaching a child something it already knew.

“Exactly,” the spirit said with applause. “The corridors lead off in all directions, across the entire universe, yet separate from it, hidden within everything, between everything.”

“You mean…like an InBetween Realm.”

“Yes. You understand perfectly,” the creature said with glee, as she considered tripping it over. “The Realm occurs in between all that exists over, connecting one place to another. From here, oceans become meaningless. Borders fade away. Why, find the right door and you can be in America in a couple of hours. Even the wrong door will take you someplace new.”

“Wow,” she replied, speechless at the possibilities. She could travel the world in days. Visit places she had always dreamed of going all over during the summer holidays. No wonder people keep this place a secret, it would destroy the travel industry.

***

Melissa stalked down the corridor, her footsteps muffled by unseen powers, keeping an eye out for anything in front of her. It was disgustingly difficult to move in this place without being detected, the lack of cleaning over the centuries having made the floor sticky with grime, and she was having to compensate for everything her feet were touching. Although she was making many mistakes, she believed it to be suitable enough to hide her general presence from anyone that might be expecting her.

She hadn’t made herself invisible, though she was tempted just as a precaution. She had however, maintained the illusion of the stink of the corridor around her body. A lot of demons tended to rely on their other senses most of the time, their eyes being limited to that which was directly in front of them If there was something nearby, it would more likely smell them before seeing them and with the way these corridors worked, she could turn invisible before anything could spot her.

She reached the next corner, which only forked off to the left. There was nothing to hear, the entire passageway being as quiet as the awkward silence that occurred at student parties whenever someone found their aunt lying dead next to a small Pekinese spaniel that didn’t belong to anyone. She approached the edge of the wall and leaned across it without touching the greasy marks that had settled there. Slowly, she leaned her head around the wall, eying as much of the next corridor as she could. There was nothing there, she spun round to enter it sharply, quickly checking every possible spot there was to see if there was anything hiding. The place was empty.

“I still say we should move a bit faster,” Sagara said behind her, causing her foot to nearly turn round and kick him. “These corridors are almost always empty. We could get lost down here for a very long time if it wasn’t for Keys.” Melissa took a quick, deep breath, before continuing to stalk the corridor slowly.

“We shouldn’t take the risk,” she whispered, moving down the corridor slowly like a secret agent with their gun pointed down, ready to spring round at any wandering sentries. “You saw what the machine displayed. We’re going in the direction of around fifteen demons. We can’t just walk in on them. We’ll be slaughtered.”

“But if we carry on at this rate, they’ll probably just leave,” the other ninja said, his hands now in his pockets, as he caught up and eventually overtook her. Melissa mumbled her concern for a few seconds, before finally giving up and walking along side him.

“Fine,” she sighed, irritated at his lack of caution. “At least think of a plan for when we get there though.”

“A plan?” Sagara asked. “What for?

“Well, we should still be trying to collect information, right? It’s going to be hard listening in without any equipment.”

“But why do we need any information?” Sagara asked inquisitively. “We’ve found the demons. All that’s left is slaughtercide.”

“These might not be the demons we’re looking for. They might only be lackeys, or something else we haven’t taken into consideration. We can’t just go gung ho and charge in there.”

“So what do you suggest we do?” Sagara asked plainly, but Melissa didn’t miss it.

“Not me,” she said, getting stressed out enough to walk a little faster. “You.”

“Me?”

“This is still part of your initiation, Sagara,” she said, getting even more serious than she had been. “You have to learn to look at all the events logically and determine the best course of action for the situation. You can’t just rely on others to do all the complicated stuff for you, just because you’re too lazy to do anything than get in fights.”

“But I can still ask for advice, right?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding. “There’s nothing wrong with a little advice, but you should formulate the plan yourself.” They turned another corner. The corridors had been one way for a while now, and they had no fear of getting lost.

“Well, what do you advise would be the best course of action?”

“Well, I would suggest the spirit vents above us,” she said, glancing up at the small gratings above them. “We should be able to gain access to the room they’re in without any difficulty, and spy on them adequately until we get enough information to know what to do next.”

“Right, let’s do that then,” Melissa turned sharply to him as she realized what he had done, doing her best to not shout at him.

“Sagara!” she failed miserably.

“What?’ he said, almost too innocently, his face looking like he hadn’t just ate the last cookie in the jar. “It is the best course of action, like you said. If we barge in, they’re gonna stop talking. Since they’re demons, interrogation’s probably going to be too hard, and we might miss stuff or get spotted if we just listen by the door. If we had some kind of listening device, we could just sit by a clear wall, but since we don’t, the air vents are our best option…right?”

She stared at him, tight jawed, as he continued to go through all the possible options, treating them like they were written out in front of him. Was this his way of playing a joke, or was it a sudden flash of smarts that even he wasn’t fully aware of? Even so, she couldn’t help but feel that he had just pulled out the guide to a video game they were playing and read out the answer.

Why was he asking for advice and making her dictate the pace when he already knew what to do? She was so shocked she almost failed to notice the presence of a small girl wearing a blue hoodie, standing lost in the middle of the corridor. She swung into action instantly, not even looking for who it was before rushing them, turning invisible before the child had even turned around, tripping her to the floor, with a gentle strike to the back of her knee. The girl would have screamed, regardless of Melissa’s hand pressed lightly across her throat, but an armoured fist covered her mouth up before she could utter a syllable.

“Hey Sakura,” Sagara said casually.

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