This is a fanfiction by Kogata. The main characters are Kogata, Yorokobi, Laurel May, Kurai, Nejireta, Rui, Shiro, Disco, Hinikuna, and Onsei.
It has been several weeks since the battle with Nejireta, and although she didn’t suffer any extreme injuries, the Goddess of Torture is still unconscious. Much to Kurai’s annoyance, they’ve decided to wait for Nejireta to wake up. Their plan is to interrogate her until she tells them everything, hopefully including the true identity of Onsei, and the whereabouts of Hinikuna. Until then, they will be staying at Disco’s house, which is fantastic for Yorokobi, because she has recently developed a taste for ice cream, and Disco seems to have an endless supply of the stuff.
“Hmm?” Kogata looked up from her book. “What is it, Yoro?”
“I’m hungry! So can we make pancakes? Please?” Yorokobi smiled hopefully.
“Yeah, sure... But you don’t need to ask me, you know,” Kogata added, closing the book. “Next time, you can make the pancakes straight away.”
“Yay!” Yorokobi pirouetted happily. “Oh, I can make some for Kurai, too! And Disco! And Laurel! And Nejireta, for when she wakes up!”
“I don’t think she’ll be waking up soon,” Kurai said, her face hidden by the newspaper she was reading. “We’ll probably need to wake her up with a potion, or an enchantment, or an electric shock.”
“I think an electric shock might be overkill,” Laurel said, shooting a glare at Kurai. “But I think we can safely assume that it isn’t a natural sleep.”
“Yeah, great. Can we make pancakes now?” Yoro added, apparently uninterested in the conversation.
“Alright, I’m coming,” Kogata sighed. “But I don’t think we should make pancakes for Nejireta just yet, okay?”
About three seconds later, the pancakes were finished.
“That was quick,” Laurel remarked. “How on earth did you make them so fast?”
“Hm?” Kogata set the plate (which was piled high with precariously balanced pikelets) down on the table. “Oh, well, when Yoro gets like this, there’s no stopping her. Plus, her enthusiasm is infectious.”
“I hope not.” Kurai shot her a suspicious glare, as if she were afraid that Yorokobi would somehow make her cheerful.
“Anyway, where’s Disco?” Laurel asked. “I don’t think I’ve seen him today.”
“I think he went out earlier,” Kogata guessed. “He was talking to this girl with black hair and a blue hoodie.”
“I like hoodies,” Yorokobi put in.
“Was it a Goddess?” Kurai asked sharply.
“Probably, but I can’t see auras like you can, so I can’t be sure,” Kogata said between mouthfuls. “Why?”
“She might be working for Hinikuna,” Kurai growled.
“Scary,” Yorokobi added.
“Yoro, you weren’t even conscious when he appeared!” Kogata objected. “And he is not scary!”
“He made you choke me,” she said quietly. “If war between siblings isn’t scary, I don’t know what is.”
It was unnerving to see Yorokobi acting so serious. It was as if the cheerful, innocent girl that Laurel knew so well had vanished, leaving behind a subdued shell.
“Can we not talk about that, please?” Kogata said uncomfortably. “And you know I wasn’t in control of what I was doing. I can barely remember being manipulated, even now.”
“Oh, I don’t blame you!” Yorokobi reassured her. “I blame Hinikuna. When I see him, I will poke him very hard.”
Kurai looked like she was trying not to laugh. “I’m sure you will.”
“Do my ears detect sarcasm?” Kogata asked, leaning sideways towards Kurai so that they were shoulder to shoulder. Her scarlet eyes were open wide in mocking anger.
“No, you must be going senile or something.” Kurai leant back and put her boots up on the table. “Did I mention that you guys are really, really old?”
“Oh, shut up,” Kogata muttered, giving the necromancer a shove. “Yoro and I are still quite young.”
“Nice to be appreciated.”
“Huh?” Yorokobi looked up from her newly-cleaned plate. “Oh, sorry, Laurel. You’re pretty young, too.”
“I feel much better now, thank you,” Laurel said, somehow managing to not sound sarcastic.
“Ice cream!” Yoro shouted suddenly.
“You are so addicted to that stuff,” Kogata tutted, sliding a box of chocolate-flavoured ice cream across the table. “It’s a little sad, actually.”
“Hey, it’s my job to point out that kind of thing!” Kurai objected. “Incidentally, does anyone have a taser? I want to see if I can shock that sadist maniac upstairs into waking up.”
“I wanted to do that!” Yoro complained.
“Now look at what you’ve done!” Kogata snapped at Kurai. “You’ve given her an idea! And one that might involve the destruction of the world, too!”
“I never said anything about destroying the world.”
“You don’t have to. You haven’t seen Yoro with a taser, and believe me, if she has it for any more than five minutes, you might as well shoot yourself. It’ll be less painful that way.”
“Eh...” Kurai coughed into the back of her hand. “Well, if you say so.”
Laurel laughed. It was nice to see everyone happy and getting along, even Kurai. Maybe it was because of the house—there was no chance that a manic five-year-old would suddenly appear and try to kill them all with a large whip, no chance of a dead fox falling from the sky (Kogata had explained about Shiro), and definitely no way that they would be manipulated by a sadistic God called Hinikuna.
“I wonder when Disco’s going to get back,” said Kogata curiously. “He’s been gone for quite a long time.”
“Give him a break,” Kurai snapped. “He’s been kind enough to let us stay at his house, not to mention the fact that he runs Party Central, and in case you haven’t noticed, he’s the only one who seems to be looking after Nejireta. I think he deserves a little time off.”
“Okay, calm down, I was only thinking.” Kogata stood up and began to clean the plates away. “Anyway, I’m going to check on Nejireta again.”
“Yeah, okay.” Laurel got to her feet as well. “And maybe when Disco comes back, we can make some kind of plan for finding Hinikuna, and hopefully make a battle plan, too.”
(wait for music to end [if it hasn’t already], because it sounds nice and stuff ^-^)
“Excuse me, I’m right in front of you.”
“ICE CREAM~!! :D”
“And I’m here, too.” Kogata ticked off the last name on her list, then set it down importantly.
“This means that we can begin!” Laurel announced.
“About bloody time,” Kurai muttered.
“I DECLARE WAR ON IRONY!” Kogata announced, banging her fist on the table in a loud and unnecessary manner.
“You get all the good lines,” Disco complained.
“Oh, definitely.” Kogata winked. “I will be writing about this once we’re done, after all.”
Laurel sighed. “How about we get on with this meeting, now that we’re all here?”
Kogata nodded. “Okay, fair point. Hinikuna is the most pressing matter we have to discuss at the moment, so we’ll start with him.”
“May I ask who this Hinikuna person is?” Disco asked. “I’ve pretended not to notice, but you’ve been talking about this behind my back for a while now, haven’t you?”
Everyone glanced away guiltily, except Yorokobi, who as usual was completely oblivious.
“From what I’ve picked up, he did something unforgivable that involves you two.” Disco pointed at Kogata and Yorokobi. “And you want to get him back for it. I understand that much. But before I charge ahead into battle, I want to know what I’m fighting for.”
“Let me explain,” Kogata suggested.
So she did. In the time it took to explain the full story, Yorokobi had finished two more buckets of ice cream, and Kurai had started messing around with the shadows in the room out of boredom.
“Would you stop that?” Kogata snapped, whipping the edge of her dress away from her own shadow, which was mutating into a terrifying monster right before their eyes.
“Necromancers are so immature,” Laurel muttered, rolling her eyes. “Well, I think we covered everything important in the story anyway.”
“Yay,” Yorokobi put in, opening another tub of ice cream. Then she winced. “Ohhh. Ow. Brain freeze. Brain freeeeeeeeze. FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEZE. OWWWWWWWWWWWW.”
“Toughen up,” Kogata said shortly. “It’s colder than the average ice cream in Russia. Think about the people over there.”
Yorokobi frowned. “Russians are ice cream?”
“ANYWAY,” Disco interrupted. Kurai could tell from the way his aura was acting that he was trying very hard not to laugh. “It sounds like Hinikuna is a smart guy. And a really messed-up guy. And apparently a powerful one, too. And now that you killed off one of his clones, the other ones are going to be an even bigger problem, so I reckon that you’ll need a heck of a lot more than an arrow to the back to stop him.”
“Arrow to the knee?” Yorokobi suggested.
Kogata made a fist and knocked her off her chair and into the wall, making the room rattle ominously. “No,” she said. “Just… no.”
Kurai smirked. Now she kind of wished she was in Kogata’s place as Yoro’s sister. That would be so cool. Then maybe she could whack the little twit through the wall and everyone else would pass it off as ‘sisterly love’. Was there such a thing as sisterly love? Was sisterly even a word? Not like it mattered, anyway.
Suddenly a wave of nausea swept over her, and sweat broke out on her forehead. Something in the room had changed. There was much more energy in the room than there had been when she first entered. What was going on?
Laurel glanced at her, and said something in a muffled voice that sounded like it was coming through a badly-tuned radio. Kurai blinked, uncomprehending. Absently, she wiped the sweat off her brow. She needed a drink of water, badly. It was boiling in this room. Wasn’t there an air conditioner, or something?
“Hey, Kurai. Are you okay?”
She heard it that time for sure. But her mouth couldn’t form words to reply. What on earth was wrong with her? Only something extremely powerful could make her feel this bad. Hinikuna? No. She hadn’t even conscious when he had appeared. There was only one other powerful demon that she knew of.
Could it be? Had it followed her here, all the way through the forest? No. The other Gods must have sensed it coming. She would’ve heard it, at the very least. Those types of demon weren’t known for their stealth. But there was no way she was imagining this sense of dread. She was extremely sensitive to auras, and that would explain why no one else was feeling sick, like she was. So what on earth was it? She had to track it, somehow.
Kurai closed her eyes and tried to focus. If she could pinpoint the aura, then she could shut it off, easy as blinking. But the heat was too intense for her to concentrate. There was so much heat, she felt like she was surrounded by…
Kurai opened her eyes.
(Mild gore warning!)
She hadn’t been imagining the heat. Flames were licking up the walls, devouring the wallpaper, destroying everything in its path. Smoke curled around her ankles, choking off her breath. The way to the door was blocked up, and there were no windows in the attic. There was no escape from this smoky trap.
The Gods, she thought wildly. They can get us out of this.
Then she saw them. Kurai could only watch, transfixed with horror, as the fire devoured them, drawing screams from their mouths and melting their flesh. One by one, they collapsed into smoking piles of ash.
“Laurel!” she shrieked. “Kogata! Yorokobi! Disco! No! No, no, no, no! This isn’t happening!”
And then, through the smoke, she saw a pair of eyes. Haunted, insane red eyes. And they were watching her.
Kurai’s hand instinctively moved to her scythe, even though all that had given her hope was gone, burnt up by the flames. “You did this, didn’t you?” she said numbly. Her voice shook. “You killed them. You killed them all.”
There was a glint of white fangs beneath the eyes as whatever it was grinned. “A quick death was better than they deserved,” it snarled.
“You killed them,” she repeated. She lifted her scythe, hot fury coursing through her veins, lending her strength. “I’ll kill you!” she screamed, dashing towards the figure veiled with smoke.
The thing’s childish eyes widened as she made contact, knocking it into the blackened wall. Kurai raised the scythe, ready to bring it smashing down on the twisted creature’s head.
(pause the music)
She blinked, and the flames disappeared. An illusion. Someone smashed into her side, pinning her against the opposite wall. It was Laurel! And she was alive!
“What do you think you’re doing?” she bellowed, roughly shaking Kurai’s shoulders. “You could’ve killed her!”
Kurai dropped the scythe to her side, not wanting to kill Laurel all over again. “Kill who?”
The girl on the bed groaned, rubbing her head where it had hit the wall. Her red hair had gone so frizzy that it reminded Kurai horribly of the fire, and her fists clenched and unclenched on the mattress, gouging into it deeply as though it had caused her no end of pain.
“You do seem to have woken her up, though,” Kogata remarked. She gently tapped the small girl’s forehead. “Hey, Nejireta. Are you feeling okay?”
Her scarlet eyes opened, the same red eyes that she had seen across the room in her vision. If that was the case, then it must have been Nejireta who caused the illusion of the fire.
That kid sure knows how to get into my head, she thought angrily. And I thought she wouldn’t be a great torturer because Laurel knocked her out without any problem. I guess she knows about my monophobia, then.
(For those of you who don’t know, monophobia is the fear of being alone :P)
“No, I’m not okay at all,” Nejireta snapped. “My head hurts, my leg feels like it’s broken, I’m not in the Pass of the Damned Souls, and I’m missing my whip.”
“Good thing I confiscated it, then,” Yorokobi remarked, twirling a whip-shaped sheath between her fingers. “It seems that you’ve done enough damage to Kurai without it.”
Kurai shot her a glare. Did she know about her vision? How much did she know, exactly?
Quickly, Kurai checked her aura. It’s usual shade of sky blue, with the same silver glow as always. She noticed that there wasn’t much aura around the hand where she was holding the whip. Nejireta had probably cursed the whip to leech the life force of anyone who touched her whip, excluding Nejireta herself, of course. Thankfully, Yorokobi was immortal, and immune to most curses.
Speaking of Goddesses, I wonder what she’s the Goddess of, anyway? Kurai wondered. Kogata hasn’t given herself an official title yet, either. Maybe the fact that she knows more than she should know has something to do with it.
“Give it back!” Nejireta was yelling. “You shouldn’t be touching it!”
Yorokobi looked confused. “But why? If I gave it back to you, you’d use the hard bit to hit Kogata on the head and knock her out, sweep Disco’s feet from underneath him with your opposite foot, burn everyone else with the firey bit, smash the window with Laurel’s head, and fly out the window.”
Nejireta gave no visible indication that this was correct, but Kurai could tell from the way her flame-coloured aura suddenly blazed with more intensity that she was irritated. Yorokobi must’ve had some way of looking into people’s minds. Or maybe she could read auras, like Kurai?
“Look, we need to get on with this meeting,” Laurel interrupted. “Hinikuna is a serious problem that we need to address. Yoro, could you get Nejireta something to eat? Maybe it’ll calm her down enough to stop her from trying to slaughter everyone in the room.”
Nejireta slowly sipped the ‘milk-shake’ that the grey-haired girl (Yorokobi, or something similar, she thought) had given her. The one who still has my favourite whip, she added bitterly. Although she was still angry at her for that particular crime, the girl seemed to be relatively sin-free, so she decided that if worst came to worst, she would probably try to keep the burning to a minimum with her. It was hard to read her deeper secrets, though. That wasn’t easy without Onsei, or the Hansha.
What do they want from me? Nejireta wondered. They’re not trying to include me in this discussion, but they aren’t about to attack me, either.
Although perhaps the black-haired necromancer at the far end of the room was considering that course of action. She was apparently still shaken up from the image that Nejireta had planted in her mind of all her friends dying, judging by all the angry glares she continued to shoot in her direction. Well, a small illusion like that would be punishment enough for now, and she certainly wasn’t about to construct another one. Most of the necromancer’s crimes were committed because she was manipulated by a more powerful being.
I know what that’s like, Nejireta though mutinously. Instinctively, she braced herself for the blinding pain that came with rebellious thoughts such as those, but it didn’t come. She blinked, confused, but then she remembered. Onsei had left. No more manipulation! She was free!
Still, most of her power came from Onsei, and now she wouldn’t get instant updates about someone’s past by just looking at them. She had to do it the old-fashioned way; by invading their mind when they were in a relaxed state, such as sleep, and collecting their deepest secrets before they knew what was happening. It was nice to be free, but freedom had its costs.
Nejireta put down her milkshake and pushed the blankets away from her knees. Her memories were still a bit fuzzy, but she remembered enough to know that she shouldn’t be here. She had been kidnapped, and she needed to get back to the Pass somehow. But something told her that these people would not let her go easily. She knew how she could escape, but she needed help.
She closed her eyes and focused on a spot that she couldn’t see, somewhere deep inside her own twisted, damaged soul. All she needed was to send out a command, and help would come to her.
I bet you’ve just woken up, too. Somewhere in the world, wherever that may be, you’re regaining consciousness, unsure of where you are or what happened to you. But I don’t care much about what’s on your mind. I need you over here, right now. The situation here is urgent, and even if you are a complete weakling, I still need your help. Oh, and Rui, you might want to bring a knife.
“I’m telling you, it’s more dangerous for us now that she’s awake!” Kurai snapped, rising from her seat.
Laurel sighed. “She’s not hurting anybody. I mean, look at her!” She glanced at the bed, where Nejireta was sitting rather comfortably, sipping her milkshake. “She’s completely harmless!”
“Harmless?” Kurai practically screamed. “Are you insane? She’s the Goddess of Torture, for goodness sakes! If we give her the chance, she’ll kill us all in our sleep!”
“She’d kill you,” Kogata corrected. “I’m pretty sure you and Nejireta are the only ones here that can actually die. Is that correct, Yoro?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
Laurel wondered exactly how Yorokobi knew that. Maybe Kogata already knew, but they just didn’t trust anyone else in the room enough to give out that information. At that thought, she felt a prickle of irritation. Hadn’t they been through enough together to know that they could trust each other? Why did there have to be so many secrets? But it was their decision, after all. And maybe Yorokobi didn’t actually have a special power; she was probably just imagining things.
“She’s quite small, isn’t she?” Disco remarked. “Are you sure she’d be up to killing someone? To me, she just looks like a little kid.”
“Does it really matter what she looks like?” Kogata asked, not impolitely. “We know what she’s capable of. But we’re not focusing on what’s important.”
“That’s right.” Yorokobi stood. “We need to question her. This ‘Onsei’ must be powerful if it can manipulate a strong Goddess like Nejireta; Hinikuna might even be working for Onsei. We need to find that out, before we do anything else.”
Laurel nodded. That sounded like a good idea. “Okay. We’ll do that, then. Nejireta?”
The girl looked up, her crimson eyes wide and startled. Then her eyes narrowed. “What do you want?” she asked suspiciously.
Disco stepped forward. “Can you tell us who Onsei is?”
Nejireta sighed. “I guess I have no other option…”
“That’s right,” Kurai snarled. “All you can do now is tell us everything you know.”
(pause the music)
Nejireta’s bare feet rose off the mattress as she gracefully leapt down from the bed. She smiled, which was enough to make Laurel shudder. Just seeing that smile with complete emptiness in her eyes was more terrifying than anything else she had encountered before.
“I have only one option left.” Nejireta closed her eyes, cocking her head to one side, with that creepy smile still on her face. “Cut them to ribbons, Rui.”
Laurel leapt up from her chair, instantly alert. Behind her, she heard the sounds of the others reacting similarly. She shot a glance to her side. Yorokobi had left her staff downstairs, and Kogata no longer had a bow. Disco didn’t appear to be armed, either.
A flicker of movement in the corner caught Laurel’s eye, and she caught a glimpse of a small girl, maybe Nejireta’s age, walking so carefully that she was almost invisible. In her hand was a long, dangerous knife. Laurel knew immediately that this girl was Rui. She could sense it.
Laurel closed her hand around the air and made a throwing motion in the direction of the girl. A pot plant at the other side of the room followed the movement of her hand and smashed directly into the girl’s head. And in the moment that the pot shattered into tiny clay pieces, all hell broke loose.
Thousands of knives exploded from the wall, shooting forward like bullets in volley after deadly volley.
“GET DOWN!” Kurai yelled, diving behind the nearest couch.
Coward, she thought, summoning a tree branch from deep beneath the house’s foundations up into the attic. Laurel swung the branch in a deadly arc, absorbing the knives until it began to look like a pin cushion.
Kogata leapt forward with such speed that she became a blur, and stabbed her knife into where Rui’s head should be. There was an explosion of light, and suddenly Rui was at the opposite end of the room. She let out a scream of rage, and a fresh wave of knives erupted from the wall.
“Get your staff, Yoro!” Kogata screamed, leaping forward for another attack.
Yorokobi vanished behind the door, leaving them to fight off Rui.
Kurai had recovered enough to emerge from behind the couch and raise her wooden staff. “Cover me!” she shouted to Laurel. “I’m going to use my Ring!”
“You’ll kill her!” Laurel yelled back, shocked that even Kurai would do such a horrible thing. “Don’t use it!”
“I’m going to use shadows, not death, you idiot!” she screamed, swiping her scythe through the air to fend off another wave of knives. “Shadows aren’t as lethal. JUST. FREAKING. COVER. ME.”
Laurel rolled underneath a couple of knives and leapt into a standing position in front of the necromancer. She raised her hand, and vines curled into the room, crawling along the floor as if they had a mind of their own. Laurel jabbed her hand at Rui, and the vines swiftly obeyed, snaking around Rui’s legs and binding them, so slowly that she didn’t notice. She smiled. It was the oldest combat trick in the book, and the most obvious, but still Rui hadn’t thought to look down.
Hopefully Kogata and Disco would know what she was trying to do. Maybe they could distract Rui while she wound the vines more securely.
Disco glanced at the vines and immediately understood the situation. He charged at the wall of knives, which instantly locked onto him and shot forward. He slowed for a second, raised his hands and fired what appeared to be lightning from his hands. Most of the knives vaporized, while the remaining ones were knocked harmlessly against the walls by the shockwave. He snatched one of the stray knives with incredible accuracy and tossed it back in the direction of Rui. There was a shriek of pain and another explosion of light as the knife came into contact with Rui’s shoulder.
Perfect shot, Laurel thought in admiration. If it went even slightly to one side, it would’ve pierced her neck and she would certainly die. As it is, a dagger in the shoulder won’t kill her, but it should be enough to slow her down a bit.
At that moment, the door burst open, and Yorokobi charged into the room, her crescent-shaped staff raised above her head. Her usually snowy-blue eyes were now intense scarlet flames. She swiped it at Nejireta, who had started sneaking towards Kurai’s back. “I’LL CURSE YOU!” she screamed, looking and sounding pretty insane.
“You wouldn’t,” Nejireta sneered, dodging out of the way of the staff. “You’re far too weak.”
Yorokobi dropped the staff to her side, breathing hard. She smiled, which was scary, because everyone in the room had become accustomed to seeing her smile happily. There was no trace of humour in this smile. She levelled her staff directly at Nejireta’s head. “PERFECT SILVER MOON!” Yorokobi screamed.
Another explosion of blue light filled the room as the curse burst from the staff. Silver tendrils of smoke curled around Nejireta’s arms and legs, binding her securely to the wall. Another beam of light came from above and shone directly into Nejireta’s eyes, and she stopped struggling. She just stared blankly at the light as if there was nothing else in the world.
“Okay, I’m ready,” Kurai said quietly, snapping Laurel back to the battle with Rui. “You might want to move.”
“Get out of the way!” Laurel bellowed, and Kogata, who was going in hand-to-hand with Rui, nodded and hastily backed up. Rui looked confused, but when she saw the green glow on Kurai’s ring finger, her eyes widened with terror as she realised what danger she was in.
Rui started to glow white, and Laurel guessed that she was about to explode into light and move out of the way. “Hold her still!” she ordered.
Kogata leapt forward and twisted Rui’s hands behind her back, holding her fast. Rui’s eyes burned, and she lashed out with her feet, but she ended up tripping and falling, because the vines were now firmly secured around her legs.
While Rui squirmed furiously on the ground, Kogata dashed out of the way, just in time to avoid the green glow of Kurai’s Necromancy Ring. Green light and shadows emerged from the Ring on Kurai’s finger, which quickly enclosed Rui inside a transparent sphere.
(pause the music) “There.” Kurai lowered her hand, looking satisfied. “She can’t escape from that.”
“Nice job, Kurai,” said Kogata. “Is anyone hurt?”
“Everyone’s okay,” Yorokobi said, calmly brushing the dust off her sleeves. Laurel noticed that her eyes had gone back to blue, although they did look a shade paler than usual. “I just checked. And Nejireta will be immobilised for a few minutes, so we don’t have to worry about her, either.”
“Let me go!” Rui screamed from inside the sphere.
“Unfortunately this Ring doesn’t have the same effect on Rui,” Kurai commented, squatting down in front of the girl. “Might I ask who you are?”
“No, you may not!” Rui snarled. Five throwing knives materialised above her shoulder. “This barrier won’t hold me! I can get out of here easily!”
The knives shot forward, and Laurel winced, half-expecting it to crack. Instead the knives just bounced harmlessly against the sides of the barrier, rebounded, and struck her in the shoulder. Rui let out a shriek of pain and curled up on the floor, crying.
Even Kurai looked sympathetic. “What’s wrong with her? She was fine just a second ago.”
“Before she got knifed, you fool,” Laurel muttered. “Although it is unusual for a Goddess like her to feel pain in this way.”
Rui sniffled and wrenched the knives from her shoulder with a hideous sucking sound. “I’m not a Goddess,” she panted. “I’m just Nejireta’s hansha.”
“‘Reflection’? Do you know what that means, Kurai?” Yorokobi asked.
She nodded. “I think so. If I remember correctly, a hansha is what happens to an immortal with an extreme split personality. The two personalities are so drastically different that they cannot exist in the same body, so they separate into two different beings. This means that certain personality traits only go to one of them, while the other is completely free of such characteristics.”
“Such as sadism,” Kogata remarked, shooting a glance back at Nejireta.
“Both spirits can become one soul again, but it will be difficult, and extremely painful,” Kurai continued. “If they decided to become a single soul once again, then their immortality would return to them also. I can tell by looking at their auras that none of them are fully immortal, they just live for longer than most humans. But if their spirits became a single soul, then the result would be impossible to kill. I would assume Nejireta split her soul to avoid feelings of compassion while torturing, while Rui can feel nothing but compassion in such situations.”
Rui nodded. “I can’t stand to watch torture. No one deserves to go through pain like that, even the bad people. I’ve seen Nejireta torture before, and it was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen. They just wouldn’t stop screaming…” She trailed off, lost in ghastly memories.
Laurel exchanged a glance with Disco. She knew that they were both thinking the exact same thing. He gave her a slight nod.
“Kurai, let her out,” Laurel ordered. “Yorokobi, get her some bandages.”
“Are you insane?” Kurai shouted. “She just tried to knife us! If we let her out, who knows what she’ll do?”
“Just let her out,” she repeated. “If she tries anything, I’ll throttle her with these vines. However, I don’t think she will. I believe that Rui is not like Nejireta. We should at least give her a second chance to prove that.”
Kurai glared back at her for a moment. Then she sighed and gave her finger a slight flick. In an instant, the barrier had vanished, leaving Rui lying, exhausted, on the floor.
For the first time in many years, Rui felt safe. She was surrounded by people who were taking care of her, and offering her food and medication. The house was warm and quiet. And best of all, neither Onsei nor Nejireta were ordering her to do horrific things. It was wonderful.
“Thank you,” she whispered to the girl with grey hair, who was bandaging her shoulder. “I’m sorry for trying to kill you earlier. I really didn’t mean to make this your first impression of me.”
The girl glanced up, her eyes an angry yellow. “What are you talking about?” she demanded.
“I-I’m sorry!” she gasped. “I d-didn’t mean to—”
“There’s nothing to be sorry for!” she said forcefully. “I know it’s not your fault. Nejireta ordered you to do this, didn’t she? Why are you apologising for something she did?”
Rui stared. “What do you mean?”
“If Nejireta made you do it, then you can’t blame yourself,” she said, her eyes shining. “Although you and Nejireta share the same soul, you don’t share the same spirit. You’re a real person, with your own thoughts and personality, and you need to realise that. That’s the only way you can be happy.”
She felt confused. No one had ever talked to her this way. She had always been treated like an inanimate object; something to be ignored, and regarded as useless. But now there was someone who acknowledged that she wanted to be treated like everyone else. A strange feeling welled up inside her, unlike one that she had ever felt before. Until today, all that she ever felt was fear and sadness. But now, she felt a new emotion.
This new emotion coursed through her, giving her new energy. She knew that everything would be fine, as long as she stayed with these people. She was never going back to Nejireta, as long as she lived. Although Nejireta was strong and gave her protection, she was also violent, and Rui couldn’t count the amount of times that she had been whipped for not obeying Nejireta’s orders. If she stayed with Nejireta, all that would happen to her would be more pain and suffering. She wouldn’t be able to go through something like that again. Staying with the other part of her soul would only drive her over the edge, and finally make her insane. Rui wasn’t going to let that happen. She was going to stay with these people, and gradually recover the carefree life she’d had before Onsei.
“I d-don’t think I introduced myself properly,” Rui said, trying to keep the joy out of her voice. “I’m Rui. I guess you could say that I’m the less dominant section of mine and Nejireta’s soul.”
“I’m Yorokobi.” She smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you!”
Her heart leapt. That was something she had never heard of before. She had only ever been greeted with disappointed glares, but the fact that she was being talked to in this way made her realise that kindness was something that existed in people today. She had always believed that immortality made people bitter, and full of hate, but now she was seeing the world from a new perspective. Now she knew that kindness was not something that faded away through time; it would last forever.
“So you forgive me?” Rui asked nervously.
“Of course I do!” Yorokobi exclaimed. She smiled. “That’s what friends are for, isn’t it?”
Rui was suddenly swamped by a flood of memories from that time so many years ago. The time before she had been a hansha, when she had been a real, living person.
Now she heard his voice again. Since she had become a hansha, she no longer had dreams. She no longer saw him in his last moments alive, but the memory of the incident was still fresh in her mind. Rui now had the scene replaying in her head, and the image was as sharp as reality.
“My name is Kikkawa Kazuki, but you can just call me Kazuki. My family’s name doesn’t matter now, not when I’m about to die.”
His familiar blue eyes were sad as he looked back at her. A gust of wind blew past, gently ruffling his brown hair. He gave her a light smile, but it was clearly forced. Kazuki was terrified of the fate that awaited him, but he had no choice but to accept it. If he didn’t, both of them would die.
“Listen to me,” he said urgently. “Run out of here, and don’t stop running until you reach the village. It won’t be safe in the forest anymore. I’ll hold them off for as long as I can.”
“I can’t just leave you here,” Rui objected. “I want to stay with you.”
He drew a sky-coloured stone out of his pocket and smashed it on the ground. A cloud of smoke in the same colour rose from the fragments and began to curl around Rui’s legs. In just a few seconds, the mist had completely obscured her view of Kazuki.
“That mist will be enough to get you halfway there,” he said, his voice slightly muffled. “I can do no more than this.”
“No…” she whispered. Her voice rose to a shriek. “Kazuki, no! You can’t do this! I won’t leave you here!”
“It’s the only way you can be saved,” he said sadly. “It doesn’t feel right for me to throw my life away like this, but I’d never let you die because of my selfishness. After all…” For a moment, she saw his smiling face through a gap in the mist. “That’s what friends are for, right?”
Already, the ground beneath her feet was slipping away as the mist carried her towards the village. Rui screamed in frustration. Why had he gone to so much trouble to save her? Why hadn’t he used the stone on himself? She wanted desperately to go back, but it was no use. She was already too far away.
Rui knew that she was travelling very, very fast. But although she had gone so far in such a short space of time, no amount of distance could prevent her from hearing Kazuki’s last, desperate scream. What was even worse, in that one, horrible sound, Rui could feel Kazuki’s pain, sadness, fear, and aching loneliness. And suddenly, without warning the scream rattled to a halt, and the forest fell into complete silence.
“No way…” she whispered. “This can’t be happening…”
And suddenly the full realisation of what had just happen crashed down upon her. Her only friend in the world had just died a horrible, painful death, and it was all her fault.
“NO!” she screamed. “He can’t be dead! He can’t be! This is… just…”
The last of the mist disappeared, and Rui sank down into the grass, sobbing. It was her fault that Kazuki was dead. If she had been stronger, she could’ve saved him. If only she hadn’t thought of coming to a place like this… If only things had been different…
“Looks like they’re both out,” Laurel remarked. “Maybe Rui will wake up once Yoro’s curse wears off Nejireta.”
“Do you have any idea what happened, Yorokobi?” Disco asked.
Yorokobi believed that she did. Rui passed out after Yoro had said that she had forgiven her, which, if her theory was correct, could have triggered an incredibly traumatic flashback, so painful that Rui might pass out. From what she had guessed of the girl’s behaviour (small signs that most people didn’t pick up on), she’d once been an optimistic and determined character, but she had been heavily subdued by something horrible that had happened to her long ago. Possibly one of the times she watched Nejireta’s torture, although it was hard to be sure.
“I couldn’t say,” she lied easily. “If I were to guess, I would say tiredness. All this fighting must have worn her out.”
Yorokobi laid a hand on Rui’s forehead, pretending to check her temperature, while in reality trying to see the images in her mind. For a second, the image of a boy standing in front of Rui (who looked years younger than she did now) flashed in Yorokobi’s head. His blue eyes shone happily as he extended a hand to Rui. The small blond girl reached her hand out to take it, but she hesitated just before they could make contact. And in that moment’s hesitation, the boy was seized from behind by a skeleton’s hands and pulled into the dark void behind him. Rui let out a cry that was shock mixed with sadness and desperation. She leapt forward to grab his hand but he was already too far for her to reach. For a second, he lingered on and smiled at her.
“Don’t be sad,” he whispered. “Live on."
Yorokobi withdrew her hand sharply as though it had been scorched. And in a sense, it had. Something about that boy felt strangely familiar, but she couldn’t figure out what it was. And on top of that, Yorokobi was on the verge of tears. Even though she had no idea who that boy was, she felt like crying at the loss of such a good friend. For Rui, it must have been infinitely more painful, to see and remember that if she hadn’t hesitated, she could have saved him. And to live with that guilt, for all these years… She couldn’t imagine what this girl must have been through.
“Are you okay, Yoro?” Kogata asked quietly, and she jumped slightly. She hadn’t noticed that her twin had come so close in those few seconds.
“I-I’m fine,” she lied. She didn’t like keeping secrets from her sister, but this was one thing that she didn’t want to share. Yorokobi herself knew that seeing Rui’s memories was an intrusion of privacy, and Yoro wasn’t about to share a secret that she herself shouldn’t have known. She would leave it up to Rui to decide if she would tell them who that boy was, and what had happened to her in the past. Until she made that decision, Yorokobi wouldn’t think about what she had seen. She needed to erase it from her memory as quickly as possible.
“I’m just… thinking about Shiro,” she added. This was, in fact, the truth. When she was trying to forget the memory, she had turned her mind to other matters, and Shiro had been the first thing she thought about. “I miss him.”
“Ah. Yes.” Kurai stood. “Now that we’re at the village, I can visit the mage market and gather what I need to revive Shiro.”
“But… we buried him,” Kogata said, sounding uncertain. “Do we need to go back and dig up his body?”
Kurai shook her head. “No. If we already had his body with us, I could revive him without the extra materials. I carry all I need for raising the dead inside this bag here.” She patted a small drawstring pouch hanging at her waist. “But I guessed that he had been buried, so I need to buy a few things so I can make a new body for him.”
“Will he be the same as before?” Yorokobi asked, growing alarmed. What if the new Shiro was so different that he didn’t want to help them anymore? “Will it still be Shiro?”
She snorted. “You worry too much. Of course he’ll be the same. It will be his soul in the new body, after all, and the lesser demon that killed him wouldn’t be able to damage his soul. He’ll be exactly the same as before. Unfortunately,” she added bitterly. “He was extremely annoying before. I can’t say I’ll be pleased to see him again.”
Disco looked mildly confused, and Yorokobi remembered that they still hadn’t told him about Shiro. Well, he was a smart God. He could figure it out himself. Right now, she had something that she had to do.
Yorokobi stood. “Kurai. We need to revive Shiro as soon as possible. When will you be able to go into the mage market?”
She blinked. “Right now, if you’re desperate.”
“We need Shiro back with us, like she said,” Kogata agreed. “He’s very intelligent; he may be able to help us to make battle plans for when we find out where Hinikuna is.”
“Sounds good. Oh, another thing.” Kurai tapped the end of her scythe against the ground to attract their attention. “And it’s very important. Shiro’s memories may be a little confused when he comes to. It’s not certain, but with everything else that I’ve revived, it’s happened. It’s because their time in the Netherworld has made them forget how to tell what is real and what is not. He may start to hallucinate. He will remember the two of you,” she added, indicating Yorokobi and Kogata, “but he won’t be able to tell his time in the Netherworld apart from the time when he was alive. He might try to do things that only spirits can do, and become frustrated when he cannot do the same things. Sometimes all of these things occur. Sometimes none of them will. I just want you to be aware of this. Please wait here while I gather the necessary materials.”
Kurai slung her scythe over her back and disappeared behind the attic door. Moments later, she could be seen through the window, running across the grass with a determined look on her face.
“I need to go as well,” Yorokobi announced. “There’s something I want to check on downstairs. I’ll let you know when Kurai comes back.”
Ignoring the stares she was getting, Yorokobi pushed the door open and slipped downstairs. She glanced behind her to make sure no one had followed her, and then sighed. It had been a long time since she had been this paranoid. But she had no choice. If there were others around, they were sure to find out. Kogata already knew, of course, but she didn’t know exactly how much her power had grown since they had last talked.
Yorokobi let out a long, slow breath and opened her eyes.
But what she saw wasn’t the lounge room, like it had been before. She saw the forest off to the side of the village, and the cliffs on the other side. She saw Kurai running through the streets, expertly navigating the labyrinth of identical houses. She saw the youkai at the heart of the forest, tracking their prey. They opened their jaws and roared, but the sound didn’t reach her until some seconds later. Further off, she saw the birds flying over the forest, trying to get away from the sounds of the youkai. She focused on the room above her, and she saw the confused faces of Laurel and Disco, the blank faces of Nejireta and Rui, and the concerned face of her sister, Kogata.
Yorokobi turned her attention to the world outside of the village, and discovered that she could see more than the surrounding area. Her eyes looked over the open ocean, and kept going further and further until she saw land. But this looked entirely different. Yorokobi instantly knew from the different animals and plants that she was looking at a different country.
With a huge effort, she closed off her enhanced sight and focused on the room that she was in. Yorokobi let out a breath that she didn’t realise that she had been holding and collapsed, exhausted, on the floor. She clenched and unclenched her hands. Why did she have this power? How was she supposed to use it? And more importantly, how could she control it? It already took her a lot of mental strain to focus on things that were too far away, and blocking off her enhanced sight was even harder. Sooner or later, this pressure was going to make her crack. It would too much for her to take. And then what would she do?
The answer was that nothing could be done. Yorokobi had the power to see everything and anything. She hated it.
While they had been waiting, Kogata had been explaining to Disco, Nejireta and Rui about the current situation. It was a boring job, but Yorokobi looked far too sick to talk, and Laurel didn’t know the story as well as Kogata did. Fortunately the story was short, so it didn’t take too long to tell. Unfortunately, they quickly ran out of things to do after that, so Nejireta decided to entertain herself by setting things on fire with the end of her whip and laughing when Rui frantically attempted to douse the flames.
“Would you stop that?” Disco exploded, after witnessing Nejireta set an armchair alight for the fifth time. “This is my stuff you’re burning, you know!”
Nejireta sniffed haughtily. “Does it matter? Rui’s already restoring it to the way it was before.”
The poor girl looked exhausted. She brushed a stray lock of blond hair away from her eyes and glared at Nejireta. “Haven’t you satisfied your thirst for revenge? He hasn’t done anything wrong!”
“I’m not getting revenge on him,” Nejireta corrected. “I’m punishing you for not keeping them occupied long enough for me to escape. For disobeying my orders.”
“I’m n-not your s-servant!” Rui stammered. “Why d-didn’t you just g-go lunatic and escape?”
“Because,” she began angrily, “lunatic can only be used once a month. Idiot. Why didn’t you already know that?”
“Hey, back off!” Laurel snapped, stepping between the two. “You two need to learn to get along.”
Rui made a choking sound and Nejireta looked ready to pass out. “Don’t stand between us, please,” Rui managed between coughing fits. “It’s dangerous enough… for us to be so far apart as it is.” She collapsed again, coughing painfully.
She hastily stepped out of the way, and in the next second, Nejireta was holding Rui against the wall by her neck. “Idiot! Why did you let her do that?”
“You let her, too,” she gasped, struggling to prise the girl’s fingers away from her neck. “Let go of me, or you’ll just end up hurting yourself, too.” Rui grinned and in the next second, Nejireta was hurled across the room by an invisible shockwave. Cursing, she struggled to her feet.
“Damned hansha!” Nejireta spat. “I never should have created you!”
“What are you talking about?” Rui asked quietly, and the room instantly went dark. Although Kogata couldn’t see auras like Kurai could, Rui was letting them see the power radiating from her. Rui’s aura was an eerie purple, and as she took a step closer to Nejireta, the Goddess of Torture backed away uncertainly. “I was the one who came first,” she continued, her voice barely a whisper. “You are the one who is merely a reflection of my soul. You are the one who is always messing up my plans. If I felt the need to, everyone in this room would already be dead. I could have tricked them into thinking that I was on their side, and then kill them one by one when their backs are turned. It was your plan that failed, not mine. You don’t deserve to be here.”
“R-Rui,” Nejireta stammered, looking uncharacteristically afraid. “Think about what you’re saying. I’ve helped you to get this far. I was the one who Onsei—”
“LIAR!” Rui screamed, and her aura exploded into roaring, purple flames. “You’ve kept me imprisoned up until now, thinking that it will stop me from coming after you and banishing you deep into the depths of my own soul. You’re wrong. Being imprisoned hasn’t subdued me.” She grinned, which was the most terrifying thing that Kogata had ever seen. “It’s only made my condition worse. If you had waited any longer to let me out, I would have snapped. As it is, I am in a dangerous position. The tiniest little thing can push me over the edge, into the dark abyss of insanity…” Rui stepped back.
(pause the music)
“Just bear that in mind, Ne-chan!” Rui smiled, looking as innocent as she always did. “Is there anything here that I can drink?”
“Here,” said Disco, who had apparently recovered from his shock. He passed her a soda.
“Is it alcoholic?” she asked, turning over the can. “Nej says I’m not allowed to drink that kind of stuff.”
Disco raised one eyebrow. “Are you kidding me? It’s just soda.”
Kogata wasn’t sure what to think anymore. At first she had thought of Rui as a kind, timid child, but now she wasn’t sure that she knew her at all. Was it possible that Rui was more dangerous than Nejireta? Certainly, the battle they’d had with Rui had been difficult to win, but she was sure that the one with Nejireta had been a lot worse. But then, Nejireta had Onsei on her side that time. And as Rui said before, if she followed the plans she came up with herself, then they might be dead already.
“Yoro,” she whispered, so that the others wouldn't hear. “Which spirit is dominant?”
Thankfully, Yorokobi understood the question. “I can’t read auras like Kurai can, so my judgement won’t be as accurate. But I can tell you what I’ve guessed from watching these two. Nejireta is the more dominant spirit, in the way that she can order Rui around, and is the actual host of Onsei. But from what we’ve just seen, although Nejireta does appear to have the most influence, Rui is actually more insane than Nejireta, and the one who is really in charge. Since Rui was the one who created Nejireta, she has to power to banish her any time she wants to. But I get the impression she doesn’t want to, because she doesn’t want to host Onsei herself, and Nejireta provides her with protection and someone to talk to. Overall…” Yorokobi shrugged. “I don’t think either one is dominant. That’s my guess.”
“Thank you,” Kogata said quietly, just as the door was thrown open by Kurai.
“I hate you all!” she announced. “I hate you for making me do stuff like this!”
“Whoa.” Disco raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Where is this coming from all of a sudden?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just had to get that out. Anyway, Shiro’s back. I thought you’d like to see him.” She stepped aside, and Kogata watched in amazement as a white fox with pale blue eyes padded into the room. In his new body, she almost didn’t recognise him, but he was unmistakably the same as before. His build was stronger, and his fur was not as thick, and a fresh scar stretched across his left eye. It was, without a doubt, her guardian.
Shiro was alive.
To be continued…