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  1. #391
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    A village was in sight. It nearly made her cry to see such a welcome sight. She did not think it would make her so emotional to see something that should be expected, but she could not help herself. Three days of being stuck in a virtual world without any sort of hope of life brought this on. After so long of being on the road, she had begun to doubt if there was actually anything to be found. To know that there was and she was not wrong for following it was a strange sort of emotion that she did not know.

    Yumi looked back at Yuki and his injuries. They were not healing very quickly. He was able to walk mostly on his own, but slowly. Which probably affected why it took them so long to find the village. But it was not really something that Yumi dwelled on. It bothered her more that he still needed time to recover. It was slow for being aided. ‘I hope nothing’s wrong with him and this digital world. If another demon attacks he won’t be able to help. I’m going to have to protect him still.’

    Other thoughts came to her as she looked back at the village. Where they came from. She did not want a repeat of what happened before. “We should try to keep a low profile. Neither of us should use our powers.”

    “That’s probably for the best.”

    “This might still be a fake world, but we have to deal with it until Phoibe frees us.” Internally, she kept telling herself that it was fake. So she should not care about what happens, but the reality was she had to care to some degree if they were going to have a smooth experience. There was no avoiding the world forced upon her. “I’m not planning on developing a reputation as a demon.”

    “Just have to be careful.”

    “I know. I’m just not used to games like you are.”

    “I don’t really play games, Yumi. I’m just used to be in a different world than others.”

    ‘Maybe that’s it then…ever since he’s been here he hasn’t really been bothered by any of it. And it’s not even because he enjoys stuff like this and this is like a dream come true for him. It goes beyond that, that sort of thing wears off after a while. But he’s relaxed and comfortable here like he has no worries despite having no better understanding of what’s happening or why than me. I don’t know how he can be so calm about it all. So maybe that’s it…’

    It was a thought anyway. Yumi still did not understand it. She thought when it came to Yuki she knew how he worked and thought, but there was still plenty as she was finding that she did not understand. There was always going to be more for her to learn about him. But that excited her.

    Yumi took a step forward to resume their trek. The village remained at least an hour away still, since it was only her that could see it and not Yuki. But they had a defined end point to their destination finally and she welcomed that. “We’re almost there. Let’s go and see if we can finally get somewhere nice to sleep for a night.”

    “There was a few nights in Atlantis we had to sleep out in the middle of nowhere.”

    “Doesn’t mean I want to do it if I can avoid it.”

    “I’m not sure we’re always going to have such luxury with the way our lives are going.”

    “You planning on fighting your whole life?”

    “No, but our current situation isn’t going away any time soon and Japan’s pretty screwed up. That’s not a simple fix. I doubt that our future is going to be easy.”

    “I guess you’re right about that…”

    Chapter 391 – Village of Silence

    Did it take an hour? Or was it two? Yumi had no idea. She did question her original assessment. She really had no good experience judging distance based off her new vision. So it was very likely that she got it wrong. Because it really did not feel like an hour. The lack of that watch consistently came back to hurt her. She could not really get a grasp of time without one. The sun did only so much to tell her in the passing of time. But she felt certain it was like half a day of walking before they arrived.

    At the village entrance, which was really hard to even call an entrance. It was merely a point that she made in her mind when she crossed a line that matched up with the first house. The village was wildly spread out over the area with no real sense of planning or organization done. It just sort of felt like everyone just built their homes where they wanted and if it took a little walking to get around then that was what it took. She had trouble seeing it as a community since there was barely even the notion of neighbors with such a layout.

    She looked around at people loosely spread around. Since it was already late in the day, it looked like they stopped farming for the day. ‘I don’t even know where to start. I can’t tell who might be the one in charge. What am I supposed to even say? I need them to help us, but we’ve got no money or skills to offer them.’

    Yumi started to curse to herself that she had no forethought to plan ahead for this inevitability. She knew it was going to happen. She took the two of them to the village with the intent to find help and rest. But that was as far as she took the thought. Now she was kicking herself for not having continued the thought. ‘I need a plan…’

    Their approach was met with some stares and silent judging. Though she did not know what they judged them on. They had nothing out of the ordinary about them apart from Yuki’s injured condition, which was less apparent now. It did not feel as bad as the last group of people that they faced. Given that they appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the farms, it only made sense that they would be treated harsher. Now though, Yumi struggled to understand their distrust.

    ‘Hesitating isn’t going to get us anywhere though. I’ve got to just start talking. They should be friendly, right? They’re just villagers.’ That was what she thought anyway. She took the first step and approached the next person that came near them.

    It was a middle aged woman that looked tired from a long day of work and with harsh lines around her face from a less than ideal life. Her face had rough scowl carved into it, which never really seemed to change. “Excuse me, I’m looking for some help.”

    The woman passed Yumi without even giving her a glance. Yumi tried calling out to the woman again, but it proved completely pointless. She no doubt her Yumi’s pleas, but did not care to even give her an acknowledgement that she even existed. ‘Why did she ignore me? What’s wrong? Was it something I did?’

    Yumi turned back to move forward to the next person. A younger man walking with someone older. She guessed it was a son and father. No doubt in this sort of life, the family stuck closely together. “Excuse me! Can you help us? I need…” They ignored her again. She did get a momentary bit of eye contact from the father, but that was lost the moment she opened her mouth.

    She stared as they walked away without even missing a beat. ‘It’s almost like I’m invisible to them. Though I know they can see me. I’m getting a reaction of them. But what’s going on? Why are they unwilling to talk to me?’ Nothing made sense about it. ‘Thought they would be friendly. They’re just villagers right? Aren’t they supposed to be welcoming and closely knit?’

    A few more failures left Yumi standing out in the village completely lost and dejected. ‘No one’s listened to me. I can’t even get them to reply to me. Why? No one is even willing to listen to me. Almost no one will even look at me. What’s wrong with these people?’

    None of it made any sense to Yumi. She saw them walking about helping out each other and talking between others, but completely ignoring them. There was not even a sign of them gossiping or being suspicious about their words because she tried to talk to them. They just completely wiped their presence from the village. It really was like they were invisible to everyone. ‘This is more than just strange. There is something going on here…’

    The longer that she stared around at the village the more she became convinced of it. ‘This isn’t right. They aren’t acting normal in anyway. If they just distrusted me, then they should be acting in a way that seemed like they were suspicious of me. They would be looking at me. Or running away something that would make it seem like they wanted me away. But it’s not even that. This isn’t distrust at all. This is just non-existence.’

    Finding a mystery in the first village that they run across after to arriving in this world was not what she expected. But she had completely different expectations for the whole thing. And the more she thought about it, if it was a game this sort of made sense. She did not like it. But there might be some strange point to the whole thing. ‘Yuki seems to believe there’s a reason for this. Maybe he’s right… But I’m not sure what’s the point of it.’

    She looked around the village again trying to get a read on the place. When she arrived she did not try to dig in too closely to what was happening. None of it was really that important to her. She expected to find help, not be ignored. Now she was having to dig for clues. Reasons of things happening and being the way they were.

    This meant she needed to watch and read people, something she was already admitted to being bad at. So she struggled in finding anything of note. All she could see was people going about their daily lives as they might in a village that was so far back in time that their lives were very simple. It was the short cycle of work, eat and sleep. There did not really seem to be room for much more in their lives from what she could observe. Though part of that was just an assumption on her part. She had only been watching them for a few minutes. That was hardly enough time to learn all of that. But they did very little that she could see.

    ‘There’s not a lot I’m going to learn from just watching them. I need to find something more useful…’ Yumi started wondering around the village looking for clues. It sort of felt like she was a detective investigating a murder. Though if she had been doing that she felt there would have been more clues to find. What hurt the most was her lack of knowing what she was looking for. There was something wrong in the village, but none of it stood out to her as being out of place.

    All the people ignored her, but they otherwise went about normal lives. Their homes and what they did seem to fit into that. There was really nothing out of place with the village. It was completely normal as far as she could tell. Though her knowledge of what might be normal for a village was skewed as this was not her sort of life. She grew up in a city and even villages in the modern era of Japan did not really fit to this sort of vision.

    Yumi parked herself out on a rock that rested near the edge of the village. Only two other houses were close by and by close, she guessed that they were at least a hundred meters apart from each other. It was also getting late and the villagers were starting to wrap up the last bits of whatever they doing to turn in for the night. She was running out of time for them to get a place to sleep that was not the ground once more.

    She rested her chin on her hand and looked over at Yuki, who sat on the ground trying to keep off his legs she imagined. “Got any ideas you’re willing to share?”

    “It’s just as confusing to me,” he replied with his current trend of being less than helpful for her. She expected so much more from him and he suddenly started completely lacking any sort of guesses or speculations. He had a wealth of experience from his reading that he always relied on for his theories. And they regularly paid off for him. She expected to be able to rely on his surprisingly useful set of knowledge to make things easier.

    ‘I’m really starting to wonder if he’s doing this intentionally. He has a theory, but he’s keeping it to himself because this is supposed to be about me. But I don’t care. I just want answers!’ She really did not want to be stuck going in circles because she did not understand anything and he held all of the answers.

    Unfortunately, she was running out of time as she already knew. She needed to make a move. Sitting on the rock doing anything but bemoaning her troubles got her nowhere. So Yumi jumped off the rock and rushed out to the first person she could find. ‘I’m done being passive…’

    She stepped directly in front of them, a middle aged man. In a village of so few people, she already started to recognize faces. They seemed to be alone from what she saw from the different interactions. The man kept to himself through the entire time she watched. He seemed to do very little other than eat his dinner and then walk out of the village. Since she did not follow him, she did not know what he did outside, but none of it really mattered. She planned to get something more than being ignored from him, from anyone.

    “Excuse me, sir! I wanted to talk to you for a moment!” Yumi took a wide stance so that she could react to whichever way he moved. Since they were all just ignoring her, she expected him to just walk around her. Which he did as she foresaw. He tried to go left, but she got in his way.

    A flicker of annoyance seemed to dig into the wrinkles of his face as she refused to make it easy for him. However, he kept pushing on by ignoring her completely. They fought over ground for a minute before he just pushed straight through giving up on trying to just be polite and go around, since she stopped being polite a while ago.

    ‘No you don’t! I’m not letting you go that easy!’ As he brushed past her, she grabbed his arm to keep him from leaving now that it had come to this. “I said I wanted to talk to you! Stop ignoring me!”

    She got a reaction of the man, just not the one that she expected. A deep hatred carved through ever wrinkle in his face creating a menacing aura for her to witness. “I want nothing to do with your kind.” He then snapped his arm free from her loosened grip taken back by the completely unfiltered hate directed at her.

    ‘Kind? What’s going on?!’ Unfortunately, Yumi did not have much time to ponder the new mystery as she heard something behind her hit the ground with an awkward thud. She turned back to see Yuki on the ground breathing heavily for some reason. “Yuki?!”

    Yumi ran to his side turning him over trying to understand what happened to him. “Yuki?! What happened? Are you hurt? Did something attack you? Yuki?!” He quickly became unresponsive as he passed out in her arms. “Someone help me!”

    To be continued…
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  2. #392
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    It was dark. Darker than she wished, but she could not pick her time. She had no choice in the matter now. This was the only time she could have. Yumi was just going to have to get used to the darkness. She was going to have to find a friend within it if she was to survive the night.

    Thankfully, she at least had the moonlight to give her something. With her enhanced vision, it actually worked out better than she imagined. What did not work with her was the forest. A thick canopy over head did everything it could to make it impossible for the moon to aid her. She would get little breaks through the trees for direct light. But it was still hard as hell to see anything.

    This was not the sort of situation she would have liked. She had to keep on the move, but still listen. They were close and she knew it. She just had not figured out how close. Her judgment slowly improved, but it was a far way from being something that she could rely on implicitly. But it was all she had to trust at the moment with her eyes nearly useless to her.

    Suddenly, a loud crack ripped through the forest to her left as a tree came falling down. She had enough time in her reflexes for it not to be an issue and it finally get her what she was searching around the forest blindly for.

    Her target, the enemy she had to slay. “I found you,” she spoke, “Or perhaps you found me. But regardless, this will be over soon.”

    Before her stood a giant humanoid shaped monster, a demon. Very different from the one that she saw before. The snake demon was certainly smaller for one, but Yumi had a feeling that this one was not as powerful. That was why she could be so confident. She would not have been so bold in her declaration otherwise.

    A giant demon with a single horn still the size of her body jutted of its forehead. It had a burned red char color for skin and wielded a massive axe that easily could cleave through every tree around it in a single swing without slowing down. Such a sight should easily put fear into Yumi’s entire body.

    Yet she charged forward brimming with confidence in her step. She manifested her barrier with three fold layers to intercept the axe, but that was only enough to slow it down. The first layer was smashed immediately followed by the second a moment later. Enough time to dodge before the third broke into white particles, left Yumi skating around the left side of the giant demon to get behind it.

    A slash from her arm unleashed an arc of energy that dug into the demon’s leg making it howl loudly through the forest shaking the leaves. But it was not enough to cleave through it. She managed to draw up a fountain of blood from the attack and otherwise only make it angry with her.

    She jumped back and into the trees to get a better view on her target. It had some trouble turning with the wound in its leg, but remained determined to find and kill her. Yumi kept barrier shards prepared for any off chance ability the demon had that was not physical. But so far she judged it not to have anything else, not like the snake demon.

    It swung the axe in hand wide aiming blindly for Yumi. It was not even close, but did open the canopy up of the forest grant her the first good look at the demon she was sent to slay. ‘So this is an oni… Looks almost exactly like what I’ve seen depicted in museums. It’s quite a bit different from the other demon. I’m not sure it even has intelligent thought…’

    Her moment of contemplation ended with the demon finally locating her. She remembered hearing that it had a good nose and her not showering for three days likely made her very noticeable, especially after her fight with the demon.

    Leaving a couple of quick arc slashes in her wake, she dodged before the axe had a chance to get close. Since there was not as much power put into the attack, she only managed to make shallow wounds in the demon’s enormous chest. Despite not having the same sort of threat as the snake demon, Yumi found that its size was making it harder for her to kill than the snake demon.

    She dodged again with ease leaving crunched earth behind where the axe missed her. ‘I’m only building up some bits of damage against it. I’m far stronger than it, but I can’t get a clean kill with how little power I’m using. I’m going to need something stronger that I can use quickly. It might be slow, but I’m not getting enough time to gather up enough power to bring it down in a single attack…’

    Yumi dodged and kept up her minor attacks against the demon. She was making slow progress against it, but it felt like it was going to take an hour the way she was going. It was built so large that it easily absorbed much of the damage.

    ‘I need to think up something better than the way I’m going about this now…’ Her mind drew back thinking about her brother. And remembered what he did with his power. ‘I think it’s similar to mine from what I’ve seen. So it should work for me too…’

    Drawing out her right hand, white particles gathered up in her hand and stretched out forming into a blade. A simple appearance was all she asked for as she needed to dodge once more. But this time she swung at the weapon arm of the oni in a counterattack. It did not go through the arm like she hoped, but it did draw up blood and a shallow wound.

    She jumped around evading grabs and the axe from a violently angry oni now. Her counters tacked on more wounds, but it was not making the progress she hoped for. ‘I need more power…’ While she dodged the sword grew brighter as more particles drew into the blade. Yumi could keep the effect going as she moved around.

    Each strike sank a little deeper into the oni as her power increased. ‘It’s working! This will do it…’ Once she knew that she had enough power gathered up in her sword she ceased to feel the need to dodge. She watched the axe roar as it sped towards her.

    A large dust cloud exploded from the impact completely obscuring Yumi from the demon. The oni roared into the cloud sounded a little confused by what happened. As it pulled its axe free all it found was the handle with the blade missing. Staring at the destroyed weapon, the oni roared again wanting answers.

    “I think you’re looking for this,” Yumi spoke out of the cloud as it started to clear. She held the huge chunk of metal that was the axe in her tiny hands by comparison. The oni charged at Yumi furious only for it to be flung back as Yumi threw the weapon back at it.

    Pinned to a larger tree by the axe blade, though the tree was not lasting from the impact, the oni could not immediately move free. It tore at the tree breaking it into splinters quickly. But Yumi had all the time she needed as she sailed through the air removing the head from its shoulders in a clean strike.

    “It’s finished…” Yumi stood up from the spot she landed to look back at the demon. “I thought with them being the weakest demon that I could get away with a lot less power against them, but even the weakest demon is no small effort. I’m going to have to take them more seriously or I’m going to get injured.”

    Leaping up to the top of the canopy, Yumi rested on the nearest branch and stared out into the forest. From above, she could get the moon to aid her efforts. “So I was right, this wasn’t the only one in the forest… Those other sounds are getting closer…” Yumi formed another blade in her left hand letting both start to glow brighter. “It’s going to be a long night…”

    Chapter 392 – Trust Issues

    Morning rose before Yumi managed to return. It was something that she welcomed greatly over the moon. While her directions in the region improved greatly over the night, she still preferred being able to see as much as she could to be certain. “It’s not too far away now…” she remarked on seeing the village.

    With all of the demons in the forest slain she only had to return to the village. ‘I’m looking forward to some rest. Never imagined fighting all night will exhaust me so…’ She adjusted the weight on her shoulders and kept marching on to the entrance.

    Without Yuki the time to the village was much faster. As she stepped inside, she started receiving many looks in her direction. She tried to avoid most of them and focus on her task. It was not too far to the village elder’s hut and she hoped that he was out waiting for her. The thought of having to hunt him down made her feel even more tired.

    Fortunately, he was waiting for her. “I’ve returned.”

    “I can see that, you certainly are more formidable than you appear, young woman.”

    Yumi gave the old man a bit of a grin and she hefted the massive oni horn that she carried over her shoulder. Dropping it to the earth give a small cloud of smoke and shook through their legs. “I’ve brought back proof as you requested, though you weren’t very clear on what proof I should bring with me.”

    The elder stared at the horn that was nearly twice his height with silent awe as he tried hard not to show weakness before Yumi. “You’re correct, I was rather…vague about the proof.” The size distracted him a little as he measured it, likely trying to figure out what they would do with such a thing. “It must have been a hard fight for you.”

    “This guy?” she questioned, looking at the horn a little and remembering it. “He gave me a little trouble at first.”

    “Bravo doesn’t suit someone so wounded and bruised from fighting all night a single oni.”

    “Single oni?” Yumi looked up to the sky for a moment before meeting the elder directly. “I finished your request very early, elder.”

    “What do you mean? If you finished it early why have you not returned until now?”

    “Because when I killed this one, all of his friends were alerted.” Suddenly, another horn came out of the sky dropping behind Yumi followed by another and another. The rain of trophies ended with a count of fifteen, leaving the elder completely unable to hold back his shock anymore.

    He started to look around at the pile of horns, which now started began to gather a small crowd from the village. Yumi’s efforts left everyone completely stunned. “You killed all of these oni?”

    “That’s right! Once I got their patterns down they weren’t too bad until they started to teaming up against me.” Yumi moved the horn she held onto back into the pile with the rest. “I don’t have fifteen hands, so I had to carry the rest up on the air with my power. Is this enough proof?”

    Silence gripped the man having difficulty with words at what he witnessed. It clearly exceeded any of his expectations. Yumi guessed that he had few hopes for her since he asked her to find just a single oni and kill it. Though she had no planned on appearing like an overachiever in killing so many, it was just the circumstances. But it seemed to be what she needed.

    Once he managed to find words, the elder started barking out orders to those standing around to find something drag the horns away. Much of the crowd dispersed at his words and he turned back to Yumi. “Yes, this is more than enough to prove your claim. I’m sorry for doubting you.”

    She waved her hand to dismiss that he had disrespected her. “I get it a lot as you can imagine from my frail appearance. But it helps as they underestimate me.”

    “Whatever you want as reward we will strive to give as recompense for our insults towards you.”

    “I’m not angry about it. I just want you to do as I asked of you.”

    “Yes, my home is your home for as long as you stay in our humble village, Master Yumi.”

    “Master?”

    “Is your ranking higher?”

    “N-no, I have no ranking.”

    “No ranking? Someone as powerful as you?”

    “Like I said, I’m underestimated a lot. So please if you must call me anything, just Yumi.”

    “I can’t show such disrespect to one of your kind. We are mere ants.”

    ‘He really changed his tune fast. Yesterday all I got was scoffs and passive aggressive insults, now he’s practically at my feet. This is a little uncomfortable…’ Yumi backed away towards the old man’s home. She had something else that she needed to do. “Please don’t lower yourself so much. We’re both just human.”

    “You’re very modest, Master Yumi.”

    Yumi winced hearing it again. She was not going to escape it, it really seemed burned into their habits. “How is he doing?” Redirecting the conversation seemed to be the only thing that she could really do now. Stopping the old man from repeating such awkward words came as her first priority.

    The elder rushed up ahead of Yumi pulling back the weaving of dried straw that acted as a door. “Your husband is looking a lot better once he laid down.”

    Fighting the embarrassment in her face, she pushed through the threshold. “He’s not. He’s just my traveling companion a very good friend.”

    “Selling me a little short aren’t you, Yumi?” Yuki teased appearing to be awake, though unmoved from the pile of leaves being used for a pillow.

    “So you are married!”

    “Yuki! Don’t create misunderstandings!”

    “No, she’s right, we’re not married. But she is a very dear friend to me.”

    Yumi turned away from Yuki hiding everything that she had thought she managed to bury in her after Atlantis. It came back so easily it made it seem like all of her efforts were pointless and empty. It made her sigh trying to get her heart under control.

    “I see, well I will leave you to see your friend, Master Yumi.” The elder pulled out of the single room home and stood in the threshold pausing. “As elder of the village, I thank you on behalf of everyone. You’ve given us peace once more. Thank you.”

    “You’re welcome, I’m glad to help.”

    Once the elder disappeared outside to give out more orders to the villages, Yuki leaned forward a little not lost on the things that happened. “Master? That was fast for a single night, Yumi.”

    “It’s not like that!”

    “What did you tell them?”

    “That I’m a Demon Hunter.”

    To be continued…
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  3. #393
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    “I see, well I will leave you see your friend, Master Yumi.” The elder pulled out of the single room home and stood in the threshold pausing. “As elder of the village, I thank you on behalf of everyone. You’ve given us peace once more. Thank you.”

    “You’re welcome, I’m glad to help.”

    Once the elder disappeared outside to give out more orders to the villages, Yuki leaned forward a little not lost on the things that happened. “Master? That was fast for a single night, Yumi.”

    “It’s not like that!”

    “What did you tell them?”

    “That I’m a Demon Hunter.”

    “A Demon Hunter?!” Yuki yelped in surprise as he rose quickly only to regret it from the pain that spiked through his chest. He quickly fell back to the thin thatching used as his bedding.

    Yumi leapt to his side worried over his injuries. “Yuki?! I thought you said you were feeling better!” She started to look for blood if he might have reopened a wound from the way he responded.

    Slowly pushing her hand back, Yuki denied her fears. He shook his head and the pain eased out of his face. Recovery came quickly for him as he looked normal again. “I am, it was just as a surprise and my body wasn’t ready for me to make such movements. You don’t need to worry.”

    “…but, Yuki…”

    “I’m fine. More importantly, I can’t believe that you went and said that.”

    “I couldn’t think of anything else to say and we needed their help. And it provides a good excuse for my abilities that wouldn’t make them think I’m a demon again.”

    “But we don’t know enough about this world and what the rules are here. We don’t know what sort of expectations they have.”

    Yumi stood up, relieved to see that Yuki no longer seemed to be in pain. The danger had passed. She felt more secure now. “What possible expectations could there be beyond killing demons? And so far there hasn’t been any demon that I can’t handle.”

    “So far… There’s always someone stronger Yumi.”

    She smiled back at him confidently. “It’ll be fine, Yuki. I can handle whatever comes. It’s not even real anyway.”

    Chapter 393 – Confidence Blooming

    Outside the elder’s hut, Yumi watched as the villagers in rather humorous effort tried to haul off the horns she brought back. ‘I wonder what they’ll do with them? Maybe they’re worth something?’ There had been no plan in what she did after killing the demons. It was merely the easiest thing she found as proof of her achievement, since they were not going to just take her word for it. It probably would have been easier for them if they did.

    She stepped forward unwilling to watch them keep flailing about in their awkwardness. It was not the sort of thing that any of them expected to be doing when they woke up. That much she could be certain about. Neither did she imagine that she would be pretending to be a Demon Hunter. It felt very out of character for her, but it was something that she could pull off thanks to what Yuki granted her. So while it was a lie that she spread to the villagers, she could at least look like a genuine lair. ‘Not sure if being genuine for a con-artist makes this any better or not… But it’s fake anyway, so I shouldn’t have to worry too much once Phoibe rescues us from this world.’

    The elder had every single young male in the village struggling to pull a single horn away. They had managed to tie it up to get a grip and shared several ropes coming off of it. With the power of twenty men they made it only about half of the way out of the village with it and carved quite the trough through the dirt road that ran through their village. ‘I know I’m a bad judge of normalcy, but I didn’t think a demon horn was that heavy.’

    Part of the problem was that the horn was larger than a human just in a length. And then the circumference around as the base made it impossible to get an arm around it. But that was not the only thing.

    Yumi used her powers to levitate the entire pile into the air. This naturally drew everyone’s attention away from the men. Until she acted, her presence remained completely unnoticed. Once they saw everything moving, they stopped what they were doing and turned to Yumi. She had not planned on making such a scene from just helping them. “Where are you taking them?”

    “Master Yumi?!” exclaimed the elder, rushing over to her side. “You need not dirty your hands helping us.”

    “I’m the one that troubled you by bringing something so unwieldy for you. I should help fix that.” There was definitely a part of her that enjoyed relishing in the payback that she got from all of the cold shoulders she got from everyone. But any of that had already been spent. She had no plans to dwell on it now.

    Yumi could see that men pulling their own horn stared at her with slightly different eyes than the rest. It seemed to be a matter of pride for them. They had some face to save, even if it is was already fairly meaningless, since they could not compare to her. This much they knew, but they still insisted. So she released the one they hauled to allow them to keep what little remained of their pride as men.

    She walked around the elder insisting still on helping them. “Please lead the way.”

    “Y-yes…” There was some hesitation still, but he could tell that she had no intention of stopping. He was just going to have to deal with her help.

    Stacked up just outside the village, a surprisingly far distance away, Yumi looked back at where they had come. “Are you sure you want them this far away? Someone might try to steal them.” She still did not know their value.

    “A single thief could not steal them. Nor could a band hope to take them away.”

    “Sure, it takes a lot of strength to haul these, but still…”

    “It’s the demon’s power as you already know.”

    It sounded confusing to Yumi. This world still had plenty of things that she did not understand. “I’m self taught. So I have no formalized training.”

    “But everyone knows.”

    Yumi rubbed the side of her cheek having to keep her lie going even further. It was starting to feel like she was digging herself a hole rather than finding a tunnel. “I had a very sheltered life up until demons killed everyone I knew. So I’m afraid I’m very new to this whole thing still.”

    “Amazing, you’re so powerful and yet…” The elder hesitated to say what he actually meant to say. Yumi picked up easily enough on that. He was fairly transparent with his actions, which made it easier for Yumi. “Simply put, a demon’s power still persists for days after it is slain within its body. What that means is that no normal human can even touch it without being overcome by the affects.”

    “Affects? A dead demon can still do things?”

    “Yes, a demon’s power is a negative force in our world. It warps and distorts the natural world acting like a disease.”

    “A disease?!” Yumi looked back at the village where she had brought so many demon horns just to rest.

    The elder nodded continuing his explanation. “Even the weakest of demons, the oni has the power to sap the strength and life from anything around it.”

    “And I brought all of them that I killed into your village! I’m so sorry, I never would have—“

    “Short exposure is not enough to cause permanent harm to us, but in such a large quantity we can’t keep it around the village.”

    “I can reduce their size and send them far away from here if that would be best.”

    “After three days the power will have fully been leeched and be completely inert. Then we will be able to break it down for sale. Though with such a large amount of material it will take away while to sell, but you’ve given us quite the fortune.”

    Yumi nodded starting to piece things together from everything that the elder said. What she saw started to make sense now. ‘For a fake world, this is surprisingly deeply crafted in terms of rules. I hadn’t even considered the dead could still have some negative impact on the living. That would make truly powerful demons extremely lethal even dead…’ The notion of such a thing left Yumi to ponder how that managed. She had no doubt that there were more powerful demons than the snake that she fought. ‘How powerful are the other demon hunters?’ Images of a much bigger world began to be conjured up in her mind.

    A bit of curiosity welled up in her chest. She wondered what else this world had to offer. Since it was a fantasy it had none of the same limits as the real world. So it could go on far beyond what she was used to experiencing. It was a compelling notion to her. She kind of wanted to see more. ‘I am stuck here in this world until Phoibe gets us out. Maybe after Yuki fully recovers we can see what this world has to offer.’

    “Master Yumi, may I ask a question?”

    “What is it?”

    “Do you possess healing abilities as well?”

    “Healing? No, why do you ask?” She gave them an honest look of confusion for such a random question. While she waited for an answer, her mind turned around thoughts. ‘Is that normal for demon hunters? Is that going to out me? Am I going to have to come up with another lie?’

    “It’s just that all of your injuries have healed themselves.”

    “All my injuries…” Yumi stared down at her arms and checked out her body. Any of the pain that she had before was gone. It was not life threatening even before, just dull spikes poking annoyingly at her in her sides. So she never noticed when it disappeared.

    She looked back at the village towards the elder’s hut putting it together quickly enough. ‘Yuki, it was his doing. He didn’t even tell me. I never noticed… Even though he disagrees with the way I’m handling things… Yuki…’

    While she stared off in the distance, the elder looked confused as he had been left out of something. “Master Yumi?”

    Shaking her head free from her thoughts, she looked back at the elder. “I’m fine. I just took some medicine I carry with me that I picked up on my journey.”

    “I see, I had no idea such medicine existed.”

    “The world is a vast and mysterious place.”

    “Yes, so it would seem.” The elder turned and motioned the villagers back to their normal work. He began slowly walking back. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you wish, Master Yumi.”

    She hurried up along aside the elder. “I really wish you would stop calling me Master. I’m not that important.”

    “It’s only right as a Demon Hunter, the least amount of respect we can show is such.”

    Yumi sighed finding their customs tiring and impossible to break. She was just going to have to live with them. “I’m not convincing you otherwise, am I?”

    “No.” The old man tilted his head back at Yumi with a smile. “You are truly not like any other Demon Hunter, Master Yumi.”

    “How many others have you met?”

    “Three.”

    “Were they all similar?”

    “More or less. Each was different, but not like you.”

    “What were they like?” The elder did not have a chance to reply when a loud roar pierced the air. Yumi came to an immediate halt as she turned towards the direction of the noise. ‘It came from the forest…’ It was far, but she could see slight movement from the trees. She already had a good idea what was coming.

    The elder turned pale as he seemed to have an idea of what it was behind the roar. All of the other villagers came to a stop rushing to him as though given orders. A heavy and dreadful atmosphere fell over the village instantly. It was as though the roar itself had sucked out any of the happiness that Yumi brought to them.

    Yumi could guess well enough to what it was, but as she looked over at the others they seemed to know even more. “Do you know that roar? What demon it is?”

    “Yes…it belongs to a powerful and well known demon. We’ve been haunted by its soldiers, the oni you fought. I’ve only heard its roar once before when I was a child, but it’s not something one could ever forget. That is the Demon Tokaromaru, leader of the demons of Kurohana Forest.”

    “Tokaromaru…” Yumi stepped forward not instilled with fear like the villagers. ‘I didn’t imagine that I would have another fight so soon and against something much more powerful…’

    “Master Yumi, no you mustn’t! You may be powerful, but you don’t stand a chance against Tokaromaru. Five demon hunters have lost their lives trying to slay the demon!”

    “It’s only here because of me killing the oni, so I can’t turn my back. I must go!” The elder talked up the demon, but Yumi still had her doubts about the strength of the demon. She knew that she could handle it without trouble like the previous ones. ‘I’ll prove my strength to them!’

    To be continued…
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  4. #394
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    Yumi could guess well enough to what it was, but as she looked over at the others they seemed to know even more. “Do you know that roar? What demon it is?”

    “Yes…it belongs to a powerful and well known demon. We’ve been haunted by its soldiers, the oni you fought. I’ve only heard its roar once before when I was a child, but it’s not something one could ever forget. That is the Demon Tokaromaru, leader of the demons of Kurohana Forest.”

    “Tokaromaru…” Yumi stepped forward not instilled with fear like the villagers. ‘I didn’t imagine that I would have another fight so soon and against something much more powerful…’

    “Master Yumi, no you mustn’t! You may be powerful, but you don’t stand a chance against Tokaromaru. Five demon hunters have lost their lives trying to slay the demon!”

    “It’s only here because of me killing the oni, so I can’t turn my back. I must go!” The elder talked up the demon, but Yumi still had her doubts about the strength of the demon. She knew that she could handle it without trouble like the previous ones. ‘I’ll prove my strength to them!’

    The elder became visibly shaken by Yumi’s insistence as fighting the demon. He grabbed out to taking her by the shoulders to stop her from going to her inevitable death. “You can’t! You don’t know the sort of demon he is! He doesn’t just kill humans, he rips them apart while they’re still alive and cruelly draws out as much pain and suffering from them before they die! He’s not a demon that can be killed!”

    ‘He’s really frightened…’ She knew how much a normal human would find demons scary and terrifying to face, but this was so much different than what she thought. It was more than just a simple fear. It was like a disease. Everyone around her, all of the villagers had become infected. And the more he spoke the worst they all became. Some already had ran away just completely abandoning their homes and lives for the selfish need to live on in cowering fear.

    If she had not already faced horrible acts by just humans, she might have become ill with the same cancer. But it could not turn her away. In fact, it actually gave her more strength. ‘These people are expecting to die. They already believe that nothing will stop the demon.’ Her mind drew up terrible memories at the thought. Unavoidable destinies that she had to face. ‘Their lives aren’t determined yet, not while I’m here. I can actually change things here! I’m in control.’

    Yumi pulled free from the elder’s hands and turned away towards the forest rising in the distance. “This is something I created and I will fix it. I know I’m not someone that you can easily trust, so if you run away I understand. But those that do stay, believe in me. That I will put a stop to this fear that has gripped you! I’m promise!”

    Chapter 394 – Demon of the Forest

    Pleas and cries called out to her back as she walked out of the village. There was nothing that they could do to stop her from marching out into the forest. She did not know how many would actually stay behind after what she said. They had no good reason to trust her in killing the demon. Though Yumi knew that everything would be fine, they had nothing to go on. She could understand that. They knew how powerful the demon was, but they could only make assumptions about her. A simple mistake that anyone would make.

    She would make sure that her mistake would not make others suffer. This was not something that she counted on happening. ‘I sort of thought that demons were individuals without any sort of structure or command. So I didn’t give it much thought to clearing out the forest of the oni. Maybe I should haven’t gotten greedy and only killed one of them. But even if that I might have still reached this point. There’s no telling really how things could have played out differently if I made some other choice.’

    Second guessing her actions was a pointless exercise she knew, despite doing it anyway. It was in her nature. She could not help it. Now she just had to face the makings of her choice. ‘It’s just the leader of the band of demons in this forest. The snake demon sounded more important than this one, so I should be able to kill it with little effort.’

    Leaping to the top of the trees at the edge of the forest, Yumi scanned the canopy. She heard the roar before, but it was only the once. Ever since it had been quiet. Since, she saw no movement in the forest and heard nothing, not even with her heightened senses. It was almost like the demon did not even exist. It was merely a phantom stirred up by the villagers. But she heard it, she knew it was real. She just needed a direction.

    Getting a direction proved difficult for her though. She could only remember that the sound came from the forest, but nothing more specific. “I need something, anything of a hint.” Unfortunately, nothing came to help her with that hint.

    Yumi leapt deeper into the forest jumping from tree to tree trying to conserve her strength. It had barely been even a few hours since she slew the last oni in the forest. She had not fully recovered her strength. ‘I’m looking forward to sleeping after this…’

    The deeper she went into the forest the less she felt like there was going to be anything. It had been too quiet for too long. ‘Where is this demon? I can’t find it anywhere!’ Yumi leapt up to the top of the forest to get another view of everything.

    She looked back at the village covered up by the trees from her sight. ‘It didn’t pass me unnoticed and attack the village?’ Nothing at the village seemed out of place from what she could see. There would have been something happening she felt if things were bad. ‘I can’t hear anything. They’re still safe… But where’s the demon?’

    Nothing came to answer her question.

    “What am I going to do? I can’t find the demon like this. I’ve got no clues…”

    “Slayer of my kin, I’ve found you.”

    Yumi’s eyes widened suddenly in surprise. A deep and coarse voice came from below her in the forest. ‘Is that the demon? How did he find me?’ So many questions ran through her mind as she stared down. The only certainty she felt was that it belonged to the same demon that roared.

    Focusing in her eyes, she could see through the leaves and branches to a shape of the demon, but not a very clear imagine. It clearly knew where she was and came searching for her. ‘I guess a surprise attack is out of the question now. But it’s intelligent like the snake demon. Definitely different from the oni.’

    Jumping down from the top of the tree, Yumi landed sharply and suddenly in front of the demon without so much as a flinch from the fall. She finally got her first good look at the demon that she was to fight. However, to her surprise, it was not really what she was expecting. ‘He doesn’t really look that demon like at all…’

    Before her stood what appeared to be the shape of a human, though she felt certain it was the demon. He looked like a normal human from everything that she saw though. It was strange. She expected to find something frightening or terror inducing and all she found was a really hot guy out in the forest. “You’re Tokaromaru?” The fact that what she saw before her was hardly anything like a demon she really had to check. Deep inside, she was already certain, but she felt like she had to be sure.

    The young man stared down at her with only a few red marks of paint, maybe, to really change him from being an average human. There appeared to be no real strength in his form. She could not judge too much, since her body hid a shocking amount of power for her frame. But viewing from his body only, she really questioned how powerful he could be. “And you’re the one killing my soldiers. A little girl…” The hatred in his voice ruined his otherwise handsome face. She knew without a doubt now that this was the demon that she sought.

    “And a little girl is going to kill you as well,” she boasted before she even saw what the demon could do. Yumi packed her confidence thick before him. ‘With his size, it’ll be much easier to fight than an oni. Being the leader, I was expecting him to be some massive demon that just his tooth was the size of me. But this is going to be better. I can manage this.’

    “The little girl has a bark,” he mocked, completely underestimating Yumi. He leaned in towards her to intimidate her, but it did nothing. Like Yumi, he bore a significant amount of confidence with him.

    Neither side felt that the fight was going to be much of a challenge. Someone was going to be rudely awakened.

    Yumi found his condescending tone annoying and saw no further need to drag out the conversation. She had a single job to do and it stood before her. It was quite easy. Spinning around, she launched her open palm into the stomach of the demon matching it with some of her telekinesis to extra force.

    The power behind the hit sent the demon backwards with his feet carving up the ground for a few meters before lifted off his feet. The full force of the power Yumi attacked with finally kicked in that moment. He went flying like a bullet through the forest tearing up trees and earth as he went.

    “Boss!” shouted all of the oni around him before he disappeared. Yumi had not even noticed them until they spoke up. She found herself completely surrounded by demons, oni, towering over her. Though for the moment they all had shock in their eyes rather than blood for her.

    Staring at the area carved up by Tokaromaru, Yumi felt a little disappointed by it all. ‘That was a bit anti-climatic to just end like that. He was weaker than I was even giving him credit for.’

    Recovered from their shock quickly, the oni all glared at Yumi with murderous intent. Despite the death of their boss, they did not seem fazed by the power that Yumi displayed. “You all want to die here?”

    “So you’re more than just a bark, little girl,” a familiar voice bellowed from the distance. Walking out of the carved earth Tokaromaru appeared completely unscathed by Yumi’s strike. “But you’re going to need a lot more than that to harm me.”

    The oni all spread out to give their leader and Yumi room for their fight. Yumi’s eyes narrowed realizing that things were far from over. ‘He survived and doesn’t even look like he’s hurt by it. I guess I misjudged him… He’s actually strong…’ She prepared herself for the real fight to come. This was not going to be like the other fights she had with the demons.

    Tokaromaru stood before Yumi with a pleased look on his face. He likely looked forward to having a real fight, a challenge. His underestimation of Yumi did not seem to worry him at all. No movement came from him, though it was clear that he took things seriously now. Before he had no guard up and let the hit take him. He was caught unaware, that no longer was the case. Yumi could tell that whatever she did now would be countered or dodged.

    ‘He’s completely different from before…’ She was not sure how she wanted to approach him. It was not going to be a simple fight anymore and she would have to deal with his minions as well. ‘Walked into the lion’s den it seems…this might tire me out…’

    “If you won’t attack.” The standoff came to an end as the demon struck out with a punch of his own to return the favor. Yumi saw the swing coming and stepped around it with little effort. He spun around and converted the swing into new energy and redirected. This time she could not just simply dodge as she was not expecting it so fast. It struck her square in the chest.

    Knocked back, Yumi jumped into the air to take control of her fall. Even with more control, she still crashed into a tree and knocked it over as she came to a rest on top of the trunk. A hand rubbed with a sting came up from the hit. “So you’re than just a pretty face, demon.”

    “You’d do well to learn to fear me.”

    “I’ve got no reason to fear something I’m going to be killing soon.”

    A smirk came across his lips as her boasting. “Still got that confidence. We’ll see how long it lasts! No demon hunter has ever been able to so much as make me break a sweat. A little girl like you will fair no better against me!”

    “I’m not the only with confidence to spare.” Yumi’s movements blurred to the demon for a moment as she appeared behind him striking him in the back of the neck only for the demon to grab her arm and throw her into the earth with a foot. She coughed as the air was kicked out of her. But it was not enough to stun her. While still holding on to her, she gripped his arm and through her telekinesis and strength threw him into the air.

    Broken branches and leaves fell down from where Tokaromaru crashed through the forest. The silence lasted only as long as the demon was away. He dropped back down in front of Yumi as she stood back up. “You’re amateur,” he spoke with some disappointment in his voice. “You’ve got no skill in combat whatsoever.”

    “And your point?”

    “You’re going to die to me before I even get warmed up!” The demon then punched Yumi in the face so quickly that it actually was a blur for her, a first for her. She could not react in time as she went flying backwards. Then the demon appeared above her and kicked her into the earth. A crater ripped through the forest digging Yumi into the dirt. Followed up quickly, a red glow of energy formed in his hand blasting out as a beam engulfing Yumi in red light.

    Once finished, he landed on the edge of the crater and stared down. “You have too many openings in your attacks and do nothing to follow up afterward. You are very straightforward making you easy to read.” He turned away from the crater and sighed. “You were very disappointing. I thought you might have been something interesting having killed so many of my soldiers. But you weren’t anything special.”

    “It’s true that I’m not special,” replied Yumi out of the smoke in the crater.

    The demon froze and tilted his head over his shoulder at Yumi floating out of the crater. His eyes narrowed slightly with some peeked curiosity. “You lived…”

    “However, that’s what I get for trying something different.” A thin line of blood dripped down the side of her face as the only mark of damage from everything he did. “That’s on me trying to conserve myself. But I see that’s not going to work on you.” Barrier shards materialized in the air around her as she began to summon up her true power.

    To be continued…
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  5. #395
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    Once finished, he landed on the edge of the crater and stared down. “You have too many openings in your attacks and do nothing to follow up afterward. You are very straightforward making you easy to read.” He turned away from the crater and sighed. “You were very disappointing. I thought you might have been something interesting having killed so many of my soldiers. But you weren’t anything special.”

    “It’s true that I’m not special,” replied Yumi out of the smoke in the crater.

    The demon froze and tilted his head over his shoulder at Yumi floating out of the crater. His eyes narrowed slightly with some peeked curiosity. “You lived…”

    “However, that’s what I get for trying something different.” A thin line of blood dripped down the side of her face as the only mark of damage from everything he did. “That’s on me trying to conserve myself. But I see that’s not going to work on you.” Barrier shards materialized in the air around her as she began to summon up her true power.

    An annoyed thin line drew through his lips at Yumi’s remark. Thinning his eyes to a piercing stare, he looked insulted by her action. “You would hold back thinking you could beat me without your full power?” The ground suddenly began to shake and cracks ran out from under his feet tearing apart from the release of his demonic energy. “The arrogance, to think you could stand anywhere as my equal with such half hearted attempts!”

    ‘Seems I’ve angered him…’ she remarked feeling the air changing. It became heavy and poisonous. Like the elder had described to her before, the demonic energy killed life. Just the exertion of his power was enough to bring the forest to its knees. Leaves turned black and rained like a dark ash around them. Soon the trunks would twist and dry out if it went on for much longer.

    Yumi watched the demon powering himself up in anger for being underestimated. ‘This isn’t going to be like the other fights I’ve had. If I don’t actually pay attention and fight for real, I could actually die here…’ She understood this feeling very well. The real feeling of death in the air and not from the demon energy. No, she could feel the demon wanting to her kill. Though that had not really changed from the moment they met. But she felt it finally that he could actually do it. He was no pushover for her to walk over. He was a real threat to her.

    This was familiar to her. She knew that feeling better than she would have liked. It not something she could know so well. Her life before meeting Yuki would have found it all scary and terrifying. She would have run away from it all. It would have left her completely consumed in fear that she would not even be able to move.

    Yet not anymore. She actually looked forward to it a little what the demon could offer. Fighting was not something she enjoyed, but she felt a little secure within the digital world to be more free. It made her wonder what he did have to challenge her.

    “I will tear you apart and split your body in two! And the last things from your lips will be cries of agony begging for your life!”

    Yumi grinned a little finding herself oddly amused. “It’s like those shows on TV. Yuki probably feels like this, doesn’t he?” It felt like such a terribly classic villain line that she could not help but have trouble taking it very seriously. Though terrible threats aside, his power was no threat. ‘I can’t sense power, wish I could. I might have an idea how we compare…’

    Her question would not go unanswered for long.

    Chapter 395 – Black Ash Demon

    The demon disappeared completely from her sight. For a moment before he disappeared, she could see a blur in his movement. She turned around trying to figure out where he was coming from. ‘He’s really fast… As fast as Saki?’ The few times she had watched Saki move, she never could see her when she put effort into it. She had no idea how fast Saki could be never being able to follow her movements.

    Caught in her own thoughts, she could not see Tokaromaru coming when he did strike. All she felt was pain across her face as she went flying backwards unprepared. Her head broke through trees clearing the forest of its well protected canopy.

    “Where is this power you claim to be holding in reserve?” taunted the demon. He then disappeared again appearing above Yumi as she still flew. A spin kick to her ribs sent her into the forest bed carving out another crater deeper than the last one. Blasts of red energy flew out of his hands engulfing the entire crater in a glow. The light stained his skin in a soft red highlight as he watched.

    A distortion in the space around him appeared suddenly. He felt it increase quickly, but had enough time to escape before it claimed his arm. He adjusted his arm trying to figure out what happened. “It felt thick and heavy… what strange power does this little girl possess?”

    “So you escaped. You’re the first that was not caught up in that attack.” Yumi stood up through the waves of clouds left behind from the attacks. She stared up at the demon. “I’m still getting the hang of it, but I’ve managed to make it lethal compared to where it was only a month ago.”

    “Taking this seriously now.”

    Yumi wiped away the blood from her face left by the last attacks. They left her head ringing something awful. She thought she might have a headache with her head splitting trees. But she could not give it much attention, not with the demon before her. “It wouldn’t do you well to underestimate me either, demon.”

    “Prove to me that I shouldn’t, then perhaps I won’t.”

    “Who’s arrogant now?” Yumi jumped up into the air as she began to charge white particles to her hands. However, the demon did not wait to let her charge up for her attack. He dove straight in striking her in the stomach with his foot. As she bent over his foot, he grabbed her head and spun her around. He returned her back to the crater.

    “That’s not going to be enough against me!”

    Coughing through the clouds, Yumi rose once more. “We’ll see about that…” She began to gather up her energy again, but Tokaromaru disappeared from her sight again. Before she could even react, he was behind her with his hand stuck through her stomach.

    It surprised her how little it actually hurt. She could not even feel it. It did not even feel real to her. Had she actually be struck? Then she coughed up blood and she knew it was real. The pain spiked through her body sharply as it all rushed forward at once.

    Her legs felt weak as she could have collapsed if it were not for the hand inside her still holding her up. Tokaromaru kicked her off his hand and blasted her with a red orb where she laid. “You’re no threat to me. Your boasts are empty.” He stepped forward with his hand soaked in her blood. Lifting his bloody hand, he tasted her blood. “Surprisingly sweet for such a pathetic human.”

    Standing over her, he pressed his feet against her arm while staring at her. “Left or right, first?” he grinned sadistically.

    Gritting her teeth together, Yumi fought with the pain and blood lost that started to make her feel lightheaded. ‘He’s too fast for me to see…’

    A distortion appeared in the air once more, but it was not fast enough to capture him. She failed to get anything more than him off her. Struggling to keep her body moving, she leaned forward needing to be on her feet. ‘I’m not losing here… I can win… I must or else I can’t follow him…’

    Blasts of energy flew at Yumi suddenly through the haze of the forest. “You can’t catch me with such slow attacks.” She had enough time to get her barrier in place, but it shattered immediately only deflecting the attacks away from her. He appeared in front of her launching Yumi into the air with a blinding kick. Following her ascent, he punched her through the forest carving out another line of destruction.

    He slowly marched after her at the end of the line. “Seems you still had some energy left in you. Resisting will do you no good. Just accept your death.”

    Yumi coughed up blood again with her vision becoming blurred. She could only trust her ears to hear him coming. “You sound like a cliché villain…”

    “You’re going to die, what does that matter?”

    “I’m not dead yet…” She tried to stand up to face him once again, but her legs were failing her. And to make things worse, he was already in front of her. Yumi could hardly see him, but swing out at the air with her right hand.

    It completely missed, but the demon grabbed her arm. “Right it is then.” He pinned her down to the ground with his feet as he gripped on her arm tightly. “I prefer taking my time slowly cutting through the bone and severing tendons from flesh. But I’m not going to grant you such pleasure for your insults.”

    As he began to pull on her arm, Yumi screamed in pain becoming overwhelmed. ‘He’s really going to rip off my arm! How am I supposed to kill something I can’t see?!’ Panic started to build in her mind. That fear she dismissed before crept forward. ‘This is supposed to be just a game. Why is it so real?!’

    Yumi struggled trying to get her arm free, but the demon kept her pinned. She could not even form her energy. Her mind was too erratic for anything to focus. Nothing was going to save her. Then she heard the pop of her joint as he dislocated her arm from her shoulder. It sounded even worse than she imagined and felt like someone had sliced through her chest. The pain spiked as tears poured down her face. Nothing but her muscle and skin held her arm in place now and that was not lasting for long.

    Her muscles tore and ripped apart under the strain. Her skin stretched and snapped. Blood gushed out of her as she could no longer feel her right arm. The demon lifted her up as she hung there unable to do anything. “I’ve got three left to go. Most will pass out after one and the strong can only make it to two. You have to be just right about it keep someone alive for all four. I’ve no interested in seeing that with you anymore.”

    He slapped her with her own arm and kicked her into the earth prepping for the next arm. ‘He’s going to kill me if I do nothing! I have to do anything! I’m not dying in my own mind!’ The earth suddenly shattered around Yumi as a storm of debris shot up away from her at the demon.

    It was enough to get it off her and him to take some distance. She rolled over clutching her shoulder as blood poured out. Forming up a barrier, she broke it into shards and buried one of the hexagon shards into her shoulder cutting off the blood. “Gah!” she screamed in pain, “Damnit, that hurts…”

    Tokaromaru smiled actually impressed by the boldness of Yumi’s action. “Such pain. You’re surprisingly stubborn for a weakling.”

    Yumi struggled to keep her breathing under control, but still panted heavily as sweat covered her entire body. Part of her felt unusually cold, but she focused on the demon. “I might be weak…but I’ll still kill you…”

    “There’s that arrogance again.”

    ‘How do I do it?’ Yumi stared at the demon gaining back some of her sight. It was still hard for her to see him, but it was enough for her to work with. She just had to accept it. Her body was completely trashed from the beating. She was fortunate that she could still strike back. ‘He’s too fast for me to actually get an attack off, even when I was healthy. I need a way to know where he is going to be. If I knew that I could kill him with my gravity power…’ Unfortunately, she knew that she was not going to be fast enough to catch him for something like that.

    Distortions in the air appeared forcing Tokaromaru to dodge. They were smaller than before, making them even easier for him to dodge. He moved closer to Yumi with each step. Nothing that she did was slowing him down or even reaching him. “Still struggling with futility. You’ll die soon enough. Just accept it.”

    ‘I need to hold him down somehow. So he can’t use his speed…’ Then it came to Yumi. She found a solution to the fight that had been evading her the entire time. She fought with her body to get her back up, but she fell over again. Collapsed in the dirt, Tokaromaru approached to take her next arm as promised. She stopped moving.

    “Looks like you finally are accepting things.”

    Fierce determination exploded in her eyes as she focused on him. Suddenly her white barrier came up around the two of them. Another and another barrier rolled up, sealing them inside under a fivefold field. “I finally got you.”

    He looked around at the barrier as it shrank in around them restricting his ability to his speed. “You can’t beat me. I can just kill you before you make any action.” A distortion appeared around his hand with him no longer able to evade it. “You think that is enough? Pathetic!” He squeezed his hand down as a red glow exploded out tearing apart the gravity sphere.

    A wet sound appeared from nowhere to his surprise. “What?!” He looked down to see a white blade pierced through his heart. It pushed through exploding out his back as the energy blew out his chest ripping a hole through him. He staggered back against the barrier, shocked at the reversal.

    Bloodied and unable to move, Yumi smirked weakly at him. “You toyed with me, because you underestimated me. But you showed me something important. I have to be swift and strike without regard for fairness. A fight to the death is never fair or honorable. And now you’re dead.” Yumi shot out an arc of energy beheading the demon swiftly.

    As the barrier fell, she saw oni gathering around with bloodlust in their eyes. A dark expression covered her face as she hovered into the air to save her body. “No more toying around. Taste my full power!” Large white spheres rapidly appeared around her in the forest tearing apart the demons under the pressure of the gravity. Leaving nothing standing around her. “No mercy,” she spoke menacingly as she turned away from the massacre.

    To be continued…
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  6. #396
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    A long morning slowly gave way to a painful afternoon as Yumi walked back to the village. Most of it was just automatic as she marched. Little of the forest or the plains registered to her as she passed them. Only the goal of the village in the distance remained clear in her sight. And even that had started to shrink smaller for her in her vision.

    By the time she made it back to the village most of her vision was completely gone. She could not see the villagers running up to her. None of their voices reached her. Everything was in silence. Nothing but the void of emptiness awaited her.

    It was uncomfortably familiar.

    Chapter 396 – The Empty Forest

    Gasping for air, Yumi threw herself up from her spot. She did not immediately recognize where she was. ‘This is…’ Looking to her side, she saw Yuki lying down. “…Yuki…” Rubbing her face with her right hand, she wiped away the sweat that stuck to her forehead. Then paused, to see that her arm was restored.

    She looked down at him realizing that happened. ‘He’s healing me despite his own injuries…’ Everything in her body felt better. The pain and heaviness disappeared. It felt normal, the way it should be. Yet, in her mind, she could still feel the pain and remember what happened against the demon. ‘I can’t keep relying on Yuki to patch me up. If we’re going to be stuck into this land of demons for days until Phoibe rescues us, I’m going to have to improve myself. I’m the only one of us that can fight right now. I can’t always be leaning on Yuki.’

    Standing up, Yumi stepped out of the elder’s hut to leave Yuki to keep resting. ‘I hope he’ll be fully recovered soon. Though I don’t know what we’re going to do afterward. Just wait, I guess…and survive.’ Outside in the village, she caught the sun in her eyes. It felt like more time passed than she believed. But the village was saved, there appeared to be no further demon attacks while she was asleep.

    “Master Yumi!” called the elder, noticing her walking down to the center of the village. The old man hurried along to reach other as several other villagers joined him. “Are you healed?”

    A bit of weakness in her leg made her buckle briefly, but she caught herself from it. ‘I feel a little off balance…I must still be a little low on blood from the fight…’ She kept herself together in front of the elder. “Yes, I’m fine.”

    Yumi looked out at the village trying to see what life looked like after she defeated the leader of the demons. Everything continued as normal, which should not really be much of a surprise to her, but it still gave her pause. ‘They were panicked and fleeing before, now they’re acting like nothing happened…’

    The elder stared at Yumi for a while as she ran through her thoughts. When she snapped back, she noticed him. “What’s wrong?” There was a strange look on his face when he looked at her.

    “Your arm is fully healed, Master Yumi. When you returned to the village yesterday you were covered in blood and nearly dead. Yet you stand now completely unaffected.”

    ‘Unaffected might be overstating it right now, but Yuki’s ability is certainly going to surprise people.’ She grabbed onto her right arm a little self-conscious with the staring. “My friend’s special in his own way.”

    “He can heal fatal injuries?”

    “He can’t resurrect the dead, but he does have powerful healing powers.”

    “So the two of you are Hunters?”

    “Not quite, he’s a little different.” She looked around at the villagers. It was something that she had avoided calling out before, but saying she had medicine was not really going to be a valid answer anymore. They would not have believed her. An arm does not come back just with medicine. “After he recovers, he would be willing help. It does exhaust him and he needs his rest right now.”

    “Yes, of course. We didn’t mean…”


    She lifted up her hand to stop him. “It’s fine. I understand, being this far away it’s hard on everyone.”

    There was some relief in the faces of the people. She could only imagine how challenging it was living in this village or even this world. A place where demons could attack at any moment and being isolated out in the middle of nowhere. She did not know how they managed to do it.

    She turned the attention a more pressing matter. “Has the forest calmed down?”

    “Yes, there’s been no sign of activity that anyone has seen. Thank you, Master Yumi for driving off all the demons!” The elder bowed deeply before her as did everyone else in turn. They hung their heads low before her. “We’re sorry for doubting you. Our fears overcame any reason we possessed. Forgive our insults toward you.”

    Yumi tried to get them to rise back up, but there were stubborn in seeking forgiveness from her. “It’s fine. I’m just happy that the village was spared any harm because of a mistake I made.” She kept trying to get them to rise until she relented to them.

    Off in the distance, she saw the forest rising up. The massive holes that marked up the previously pristine nature reminded her of what happened. It was going to be a while before it recovered from her fight. “I’m sorry for destroying so much of the forest.”

    The old man shook his head, apparently not bothered by it. Though Yumi imagined that he probably was holding himself back on her account. “It was unavoidable and you did end the terror of the Great Demon. So we can’t be anything more than grateful to you.”

    It was difficult for her to accept that as a fact. ‘If I had been more direct at the start I might have been able to prevent the damage. I need to be able to control my powers better and learn more about them. I’ve been going off instinct this whole time and I managed to get this far, but it’s not going to keep working. I was almost killed because of that…’

    Once they were finished with apologies, the villagers started to disperse. Yumi took it as her opportunity as well. She had things she needed to do.

    She walked out of the village and returned to the forest where it had all happened. There were a couple of things she wanted to see for herself. She walked through the craters and fallen trees. All around her was destruction left behind. Though there was less debris than she remembered their being. Shattered around was hunks of trees and earth making the terrain even more rough.

    Yumi stopped before a tree that was cleanly cut at a curve. As she ran her hand over the perfectly smooth surface, she started to remember the rest of the events. The rest of the picture came back to her as she recalled what happened to the oni left behind after she killed Tokaromaru. ‘All of these holes in the forest were from me. I let my power run out of control without concern for limiting it. It was pure destructive power.’

    It made her sit down for a moment to take it all in. ‘I normally can keep things under control. The last time I lost control…’ Yumi thought back to the attack on the Capital of Atlantis and her charging in after Ayumi after learning what she planned. ‘I promised myself I’d keep myself in check. It was fortunate here that it was only demons and in the middle of the forest. But that’s no excuse. I need to get better…’

    The other reason that she traveled out into the forest, training. Yumi summoned up her barrier and created a triple thick field with it as practice. ‘Ever since I unlocked these powers, I never really bothered to give them much focus. I practiced lightly so that I could summon them, but that was it. Which hurt me while following Yuki to Atlantis. My other personalities took control of me because of my failures. And now I’m relying on Yuki for my failures. I can’t do that if I plan to follow him.’

    She manipulated the thickness of the barrier and added another field. ‘This is my only real defense that I possess, but it gets shattered so easily. I don’t have enough control over it to make it successful. I need to learn this inside and out. Unless I understand this I won’t prevent further harm from coming to me…’

    For hours of sweating and shortness of breath, Yumi practiced her barrier. The summoning of it became just as important to her as the strength. She tested out different methods and power fueling it. None of it was under real combat. So she did not know how it would do then, but if she understood it better she could use it correctly. She also wanted it to be stronger for less effort. The demons she fought were powerful and in ways that her basic knowledge would not be enough.

    Lying on her back and staring up through the hole in the forest, she could see the clouds moving quickly through the sky. Not much had changed. It was hard to expect a lot to change. But she knew more about her powers limitations. And that was victory enough for now. ‘I’m going to be facing more and more powerful demons from here on out. Tokaromaru wasn’t the most powerful demon, that much I feel certain about. And if he showed up when I killed his soldiers, there’s no doubt more will come after me for killing Tokaromaru. I just need to be ready for the next time…’

    Drained of power from summoning her barriers so much, Yumi considered going back to the village to rest. “I can’t do much as I am now. And I can’t be staying drained of power for the next attack…”

    Yumi lifted herself up feeling lightheaded still. She pressed her hand to the ground for support. “I’m still not fully recovered…”

    However, before she could start walking back, she heard a noise in the forest behind her. She immediately turned sharply in the direction and armed herself quickly with a blade of white. “Who’s there?” Yumi worried what sort of fight she could put up with her powers being drained from use. ‘If it’s only an oni, I can manage…’

    Yet, to her surprise, it was just a child that came nervously out of the side of the tree. It was a young boy no more older than Yuki’s brothers. ‘What’s a child doing out in the forest? They get lost?’ They had a scared look in the eyes looking at her. She realized that it was because of her weapon that she bore at them.

    Dropping the energy, it faded into particles, as she dropped her guard. “Are you lost, little boy?”

    “I was…out picking fruit…” He hovered around the tree still hesitating around Yumi.

    She sat down at her spot to try not to look that intimidating. However, they still had reservations about her. “You don’t have to worry. I won’t harm you.” Yumi tried to get the boy to come to her, but he refused. “You can stay there until you feel safe. Why don’t you sit at less? We can talk.”

    He was not entirely sure what to make of Yumi, but he hopped up on a broken trunk as a chair. She thought it might have made him feel like he was safer behind higher up than her. “What were you doing?” he asked.

    Yumi looked around at the forest. ‘Does he think I did this? He wouldn’t be wrong…but I can’t really tell him that. He already looks scared enough.’ But she needed an answer for him. For now it was going to be easier to start with little bits of the truth. “I was training.”

    “Why?”

    “Because I want to be stronger.”

    “Are you weak?”

    She had to think about it. The demon called her weak and ordinary, which she easily admitted to him being right. Though given what she could do, it seemed a little weird to say she was weak. It was a difficult question to answer. “I guess that depends on your point of view.”

    “Point of…view?”

    “That’s right. There’s always those around you that are stronger or weaker compared to you. So it’s not simply one side.” She stopped herself becoming pensive over what she was telling him. It just sort of had come out. She did not give it much thought until she said it. ‘I guess that really is true…but I still needed to be stronger or else the next demon could kill me. I need to keep training myself…’

    “Com…pared?”

    Watching the boy tilt his head, he did not really seem to understand everything that she told him. Though she could not really blame him. She was talking in very broad and vague terms now. It might have been big for him to follow with straightforward logic. “Let’s just say for simplicities sake, I am weak.”

    “And you want to be strong?”

    “That’s the goal. But it’s still far away. I need to keep training.” Yumi looked back up at the sky noticing the sun was further down than she thought. ‘Not quite night, but it’s going to be a long walk back with the boy.’

    She stood up and extended out a hand for the boy to take. “Let’s go back. If we don’t start now, it’s going to be night before long and your parents will be worried.” The boy still hesitated, but at least jumped off the tree to approach her a little. He kept a wide distance of five meters between, but if he felt safe that way. “Just follow me.”

    It ended up being nearly night before she did return to the village with the boy in tow. “We’re finally back. Which one is your house?” She asked pointing out to the village.

    There was no reply from the boy, who still must have not trusted her despite following her back the whole way. Though, while the boy said nothing, one of the villagers stopped in front of them. It was a young man, one that she remembered helping in hauling away the oni horns she brought back. He paused and then quickly approached Yumi. “Master Yumi, what are you doing leading a demon back to the village?!”

    “Demon? Where?” she turned around immediately summoning her white blade ready for an attack. She could not believe that she missed it the whole time. ‘I didn’t hear anything! Where is it?’

    The young man tapped on her and pointed down. “The child’s a demon, Master Yumi! Send it away immediately!”

    “The boy? But he’s just a child…right?” She stared down at the boy trying to figure out what was happening. She wondered if the villager was so paranoid that they were seeing demons everywhere. The boy pulled back looking scared. And the shouting from the villager at the boy only got more people coming out. “You’re mistaken, it’s just…”

    “Demon! We’re protected by Master Yumi the Demon Hunter, your boldness will no longer by tolerated!” The villagers started to get violent as they approached the boy with confidence that Yumi would protect them. Her head continued to spin trying to figure it all out.

    “What’s going on here?!”

    To be continued…
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  7. #397
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    There was no reply from the boy, who still must have not trusted her despite following her back the whole way. Though, while the boy said nothing, one of the villagers stopped in front of them. It was a young man, one that she remembered helping in hauling away the oni horns she brought back. He paused and then quickly approached Yumi. “Master Yumi, what are you doing leading a demon back to the village?!”

    “Demon? Where?” she turned around immediately summoning her white blade ready for an attack. She could not believe that she missed it the whole time. ‘I didn’t hear anything! Where is it?’

    The young man tapped on her and pointed down. “The child’s a demon, Master Yumi! Send it away immediately!”

    “The boy? But he’s just a child…right?” She stared down at the boy trying to figure out what was happening. She wondered if the villager was so paranoid that they were seeing demons everywhere. The boy pulled back looking scared. And the shouting from the villager at the boy only got more people coming out. “You’re mistaken, it’s just…”

    “Demon! We’re protected by Master Yumi the Demon Hunter, your boldness will no longer by tolerated!” The villagers started to get violent as they approached the boy with confidence that Yumi would protect them. Her head continued to spin trying to figure it all out.

    “What’s going on here?!”

    The situation developing fortunately did not begin to escalate as badly as Yumi feared it might with the way that the villagers were looking. She recognized the look in their eyes well enough. They had boldness and bravery that came lacking before. Though she knew it was empty. Any of the confidence and assurance came born from their certainty that Yumi would act in their interest.

    She still did not understand what was going on. Yumi stepped between the villagers and the boy wanting some answers. Everyone was keeping secrets from her and she did not have an explanation yet.

    “Master Yumi? You’re protecting the demon?” one of them said in shock.

    “I want some answers! I found this boy lost in the forest.”

    The young man threw out a hand to point at the boy. “He’s a demon! You found him in the forest is proof enough!”

    ‘Are they paranoid? Do they believe everything in the forest is a demon? Is this what’s become of them living in this state?’ Yumi tried to get a read on the villagers in a futile attempt to sense their emotions. She wanted to know what they believed, but all she got was surface level feelings from their faces. It all seemed straightforward to her. They were scared. But she knew she could not trust her eyes. It was not her strength, she knew. ‘What am I supposed to do? He’s just a boy. I can’t kill him because they’re paranoid. Though I fear if I do nothing, the villagers might do it instead…’

    A voice from the back of the small crowd broke through. It began to divide the villagers as they knew the voice well. Yumi did too. “What’s going on here?” barked the elder.

    Turning around, the young man faced him speaking for everyone. “It’s a demon, elder! They’re using their usual tricks!”

    “You know what I’ve said about what to do, Osamu.” He turned to look around at all of the gathered villagers, which amounted to about half of the populace from what Yumi had estimated. “I’ve given all of you orders. Just because Master Yumi is present shouldn’t change my orders.”

    Yumi watched as the fight started to disappear from some of the villagers. She was still left in the dark on what was happening. But she tilted her head back at the boy. ‘He is a human, right?’ The way the elder acted made her doubt her eyes. ‘The leader I killed looked more human than demon, maybe this is the same?’

    She approached the elder, who had a better head on his shoulders than the rest. A few answers would hopefully clear things up. “You seem to understand what’s happening. I found this boy lost and everyone’s treating him like a demon.”

    “That’s because he likely is one.”

    “But you’re not certain? Why do you believe him to be a demon?”

    “A child that age lost? He’s not from our village and there is no other village nearby us for more than a three day walk. It’s unlikely that he is who he claims.”

    Glancing back at the boy, there was no change. He continued to look scared and frightened from all of the accusations. ‘I’m going to need more answers. They seem to have a history with demons that I’m not aware of yet. The elder has orders on how to deal with them. I wonder what they are…’ She looked back at the elder still trying to sort things out in her mind. ‘How do I know for certain? I’m not killing the boy on the likelihood he’s a demon, while there’s still a chance he could be a human.’

    “And what would you have me do?” She already guessed what the elder was going to say. It only made sense. But she still did not know if she could follow through.

    “Kill the demon!” shouted Osamu, finding his voice once more, but not before the elder glared at him for speaking out of turn.

    A strange voice that Yumi did not recognize came from behind her. “So you’re the Demon Hunter that killed Tomaromaru.”

    It sent a cold chill down her back that a demon was so close to her. She had not felt anything like with the other demons. This boy was not like the others. “So they’re right. You’re a demon.” The boy laughed in agreement that her foolishness allowed him so close.

    Yumi whipped around with her hand moving swiftly generating a white arc of energy that beheaded the child without a second thought. ‘There’s still much I need to learn about these demons…’

    The laughing continued even with the head lifted from its shoulders. Yumi stared down in surprise at the boy’s face carrying a wicked expression. “You’ve been marked, Demon Hunter. Never shall you know peace while you still draw breath.” The demon continued to laugh maniacally at Yumi until it finally expired.

    Chapter 397 – Mark of the Demon

    Casting the body back towards the forest with her powers, Yumi turned back to face the villagers. Who were probably pleased that she did end up killing the demon for them. “You’re safe—“

    “What did you do?!” yelled the elder, to her surprise.

    As he leaned in, she backed a step away not certain why he was so angry with her for killing a demon. “I killed a demon. Why’s that an issue? I’ve killed plenty for you already, what’s one more?” She could not understand why he was getting even more angered about it.

    Behind him the villagers murmured and whispered the praise of Yumi for slaying the demon. Unlike the elder, they were on her side. But he quickly turned around and faced those that remained. “Leave. Return to your homes,” he commanded with a sudden presence of authority that could not be questioned.

    None of the villagers questioned the elder further. They backed away slowly beginning to disperse. Yumi got the feeling that it was a rare sight for the old man to get so angry. Many seemed shocked to see the reaction. They did not fully know how to deal with it other than just leaving as ordered.

    Yumi stayed because she wanted answers. Though it seemed that the elder was not finished with her either. Once the entrance of the village emptied out, he took a deep breath to calm his nerves. It took a few to get him back to normal levels, but he started to look like his usual self soon.

    Ready to confront her, he faced her direction still empowered by the presence that fueled his anger. “Forgive my outburst. That was uncalled for before your self.”

    “I’m not worried about that. I want answers.”

    He nodded to her in agreement. “Right, I forget as you have said, that you’re less knowledgeable about demons than you are killing them.”

    “So you’re going to finally explain what all this was about?”

    “Yes,” he spoke with his calm fully restored. Even the presence had faded away. He started walked back up to his hut. “Our village is unique compared to others in that we have a close proximity to demons. Once they moved into the forest, we had to find a way to live without inciting their wrath.”

    “But you’ve had me kill one for proof of my skill.”

    “That’s right. Our lives aren’t always peaceful, despite the relationship we have with them. When the forest grows thick with demons we’re subject to their terror and violence. That moment had been building recently. Thanks to your efforts, the more violent blood thirsty demons have been culled.”

    She took an extra step forward to get a little ahead of his pace. “Are you saying there are peaceful demons?”

    “Peaceful might be a little hopeful. But there are many that have no interest in us.”

    Yumi had a little trouble believing that from those that she had already faced. They all had a superiority about them and looked upon humans as inferior. She had yet to find one that did not wish to kill her. ‘Aren’t demons supposed to be evil and hate humans? Isn’t that the way they are?’

    He paused as they rounded the road that led up to his hut. Looking back at the forest above the village, he started to fall away from reality. “There are many different sorts of demons. It’s something we’ve learned living so close. And they enjoy testing themselves against us.”

    “Testing? You’re not talking about fighting.”

    “No.”

    The world that surrounded her continued to become more complex. It was something that she already noted. Yet it still surprised her every time that she learned something new. There was always something else for her to learn. And yet, she wondered the purpose of all of it. ‘I’m inside my mind right now. What does any of this have to do with what’s happening? Am I just dreaming to pass the time? This can’t be what I’m actually like subconsciously…’

    It was a confusing world with strange rules. Demons that she could kill and ones that she apparently should not. How was she supposed to keep track of it all. She was not even going to be staying in the world for long. It was all going to be left behind. ‘Should I even care really? Why am I bothering so much for a false world?’ She kept coming back to the open debate that she never fully closed. If this was something that she actually wished to follow. She only went along with any of it because it was easier for their survival. Though she questioned if it was even worth it, if she was to survive with all of the unnecessary complexity.

    Despite any of that though, she still lacked the answers still. He had not gotten to them. And she needed to understand what was going on. “So what is it?”

    “Demons have powers, not unlike those that hunt them. And they like to flaunt that power before others. They can be surprisingly childish about it.”

    ‘He’s still not getting to the point.’ Yumi did not like how indirect that he suddenly got with his explanation. She wanted answers and not a history lesson on demons. If she was just supposed to kill them, it was unnecessary. “So?”

    “Demons don’t view us humans very highly. Even those that don’t care about us, still view us as nothing more than animals.”

    “Where is this going?”

    “As humans, we like to play games and tricks on animals for sport. We find amusement in it. And we think that the animals like it as well. Though because animals are different from us, we never really know.”

    “Are you saying that demons treat you like pets in fetching a stick?”

    “Something like that. In particular for us, they like to practice their illusion powers on us pretending to be human. They win when they get one of us to believe that they are human and try to help them. And then they leave. It’s just a game to them.”

    “That was a game? That boy was a demon playing a game?”

    The elder turned to face Yumi. His face turned severe as he spoke. “No, in your case I think that was a messenger and warning.”

    “Then why did you not want me to kill the demon?”

    “I mostly am trying to keep my people sane. While I welcome your presence and am grateful for your achievements. It’s also embolden my people to confront demons, despite being no hunter. To keep my village safe, it’s our law not to acknowledge any demon that steps into our village. Pretend that don’t exist and we can keep our peace.”

    “You lost that the moment you asked for my help.”

    To be continued…
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  8. #398
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    “That was a game? That boy was a demon playing a game?”

    The elder turned to face Yumi. His face turned severe as he spoke. “No, in your case I think that was a messenger and warning.”

    “Then why did you not want me to kill the demon?”

    “I mostly am trying to keep my people sane. While I welcome your presence and am grateful for your achievements. It’s also emboldened my people to confront demons, despite being no hunter. To keep my village safe, it’s our law not to acknowledge any demon that steps into our village. Pretend that don’t exist and we can keep our peace.”

    “You lost that the moment you asked for my help,” Yumi delivered with surprisingly cold tone. It was the truth, though. She could not see it any other way. Fighting for them had brought the wrath of demons closer to their village. They were after her because she was asked to kill them. ‘They’re just picking and choosing things. Kill the violent ones and ignore the others. I’m surprised that sort life lasted even this long…’

    “Do you intend to leave or refuse to help?” Even with her poor sense for subtext, she could read the tone of his voice very clearly. It probably helped that he made no attempt to mask his intent. While he did not say it yet, his tone implied heavily that he planned to leverage the shelter and good will against Yumi if she threatened him.

    Such a sight turned her churned her stomach a little. It actually surprised her to see that surface. ‘He’s really going to try to strong arm me with Yuki?’ The elder turned out to be far more complex of a character than she expected. Being just a game essentially made underestimate what she expected to see from this fake world. But it was just a game and that was why she could move forward. “Hypocrites, you might be. I’m already too involved now. Even if I left they’d still follow me. So it makes no difference where I go.”

    Yumi looked back at the hut with Yuki resting inside. He had not had very long to rest, but he should be getting better quickly. At least, that was what she thought. ‘The elder might be a bit two-faced, but it doesn’t really make things any different than before. I just know now that he’s can be shrewd when he wants to be.’

    “I’m pleased to hear that, Master Yumi.” The sound of voice felt a little hollow compared to before, which he had reverence in his voice saying her name. He seemed to feel like he had the upper hand on her.

    ‘If I had some actually purpose or objective, I’d probably have left at this point. But it’s just survival. And I’d rather do that in civilization rather than in the wild. It’s easier to protect Yuki like this and keep him out of harm’s way.’

    Chapter 398 – Calling of the Mark

    Swinging her energy blade down, demon blood sprayed in an arc over the ground. At her feet, a head of wolf like demon rolled up to her. Yumi leapt out into the forest in search of any more that had come for her. She could hear the sounds of one, but still was getting used to being able to use her hearing to seek out a target. In the forest, where sounds got missed up and misdirected easily, she had trouble figuring it out.

    A crashing of a new demon came off her flake. She picked up on it quickly once it became impossible to ignore. Yumi disappeared before the spear touched her. The tree behind her took the full force of the strength from the demon. It split in two before exploding outward into splinters.

    “Where’d she go?!” yelled the demon.

    ‘It can talk,’ she thought, starting to notice the differences. She could tell the difference between the oni, the foot soldier type and others. Though with so many different types of demons, she doubted that she would ever remember the names of any of their species. Not that there was anyone around that could tell her the names.

    With claws as thick as her fingers and hands that could wrap around her waist with ease, this demon looked more suited to a savage fight, despite its use of a weapon. It looked more animal than humanoid, something that the oni differed with, yet lacked the meaningful ability to speak intelligently.

    White light pierced through the demon’s head and out its jaw. An instant later, the light split the head, similarly to the tree. Yumi landed on its shoulders riding it down as it fell to the earth. “Behind you.” She jumped off as the body hit with a thud against the earth.

    She tilted her head back to look at the dead demon. “Fifth today already.” Checking her hearing once more, the forest finally felt empty again. It was a little unnerving not hearing even animals, but the demons had long since scattered them.

    An empty forest was safe for now. She turned back to the village without having to jump to the canopy. “They trying to wear me out like this?” Darting between trees she quickly made it back to the village. With life a little more stable thanks to her protection, the late mornings found the village empty again. Only a few people stayed behind. One was the elder, who hovered around most days, like due to the occupancy.

    He spotted her quick return. “Less demons today, Master Yumi?” Part of his formality disappeared that day with her. His words still outwardly carried respect for her, though there was an undercurrent to his words. She only noticed it because of talking to him so many times.

    “No, there was more and they came in a group today. I think they’re realizing that sending just one at a time was a waste.”

    “Your lethality is advancing.”

    “I’ve no choice, but to kill them quickly.” She continued past the elder without breaking her stride. The old man was merely a checkpoint, not her stop. And she had no meaningful words for him. She had no questions for him.

    However, he turned partly around looking at her back. “Certain the forest is cleared?”

    “You can go double check my work, if you’re feeling uneasy.” Yumi stepped inside the hut and dropped down next to Yuki with a sigh. ‘He’s getting on my nerves…

    Opening his eyes, Yuki looked up at Yumi from his straw bed. “That was a heavy sigh.”

    “Long morning…”

    “Tell me.”

    Yumi knocked her head against the wall of the hut pondering it. “You’re still recovering. I don’t want to bother you.”

    He shifted around pulling himself up to meet her at eye level. “I’m stuck inside this hut with nothing more than my imagination to entertain me. Anything you have to say will make my day better.”

    “You’ve got a pretty active imagination though, can’t imagine you getting bored easily.”

    “Do my ears deceive me, is Yumi teasing me?”

    Her face immediately lit up red with embarrassment and forced her to look away. A few sounds staggered out of her lips with great difficulty as she locked up. It took her a full minute to loosen up her muscles to even limit the shaking. And still longer to get out a full word. “I-I’m so sorry, Yuki! I didn’t mean—It’s been a… I-I…”

    Laughing with some relief to see that Yumi was still there, Yuki sighed himself. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not a bad thing. Between friends a little teasing is natural.”

    Yumi looked back at Yuki slowly. ‘…friends…just friends?’ She shook her head to lose the thoughts that started to gather.

    “Yumi?”

    “It’s nothing!”

    “Alright…” He straightened up waiting for Yumi to turn back to him. Once she could look at him straight in the eye again, he resumed his questioning. “So what’s going on?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “I might be stuck in here, but I’m not blind Yumi. I know what you’re doing. I’m not telling you to stop, just keep me in the loop.”

    Hesitation still gripped her words tightly. ‘I took this path for you. Because it was necessary. I don’t want to drag you any further into things.’ Her mind replayed what happened with the snake demon again. It always ran in the back of her mind while she saw Yuki. Pushing it out as far as possible only did so much for her. And struggling only kept it returning.

    “Yumi, you come back injured and I can only guess what has happened. You aren’t alone here.”

    She looked back at him closely. The worry was clear on his face. ‘It’s hard to remember that this is not reality sometimes. I don’t even know what happens if we die here. Despite things being fake, everything feels real. Pain is real and everything hurts.’ Yuki knew this as well she assumed, but with pain being real that was more than enough. She knew that much.

    “At the very least, I’ll listen to any thing you want to rant about.”

    “Th-thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.” She stood up and walked back towards the entrance. “But I’m fine. If I do have something I’ll be sure to tell you.” Yumi poked her hand through the threshold pushing out before Yuki stopped her.

    “Yumi. Remember, I’m here for you. You don’t have to take everything on by yourself.”

    “I know.” She pushed through back into the village and stared out at the forest. Her hearing had picked up another demon in the distance. ‘But I must. This is the way things are, Yuki…’

    A few more days passed as their lives in the virtual world started to be more routine. Yumi found an awkward pattern dealing with the demons. Though surprised that nothing more than grunts seemed to be coming after her. She expected someone bigger to reveal themselves with how many she had already killed. Though with so many dead, she wondered how long the forest would survive.

    Walking back from the forest, she took a little bit of a detour. She had walked past it so many times, but never really took time to actually appreciate it. The mountains rose in the distance partially hugged by the green fields of grass. Wind painted waves into the grass. “The wilderness actually looks pretty. I’ve been so focused on either surviving or ignoring it, that I hadn’t really looked to see that this is actually a beautiful place.”

    She stared at it for a while letting the wind wash over her. Just staring out at it, she forgot where she was. It felt like she was home in a way. This was supposed to be Japan as best as they guessed. If she ignored the demons that roamed around, it looked almost normal. More so than the world that she lived in now.

    Then Yumi turned away and faced the village. “It’s all fake. What am I thinking…” She began the walk back to the village. ‘Hope Yuki’s doing better. He’s been stuck healing for more than a week now. It shouldn’t be that long to be back on his feet, right?’ Yumi had no clue about the time it would take. She knew his injuries were bad, but she just assumed that he had fixed up a lot of it thanks to his powers. Yet he remained bedridden still. ‘It’s not something worse is it? Or the virtual world is preventing him from getting better…’

    It was not the first time she had such thoughts. She tried to keep them away from the front of her mind, but in the solitude it was hard not to think about it. Yumi wanted to see him back on his feet.

    As she entered the village, she saw familiar faces and waved politely to them. She would have bowed, but they had dropped formalities a while ago now. ‘I wonder what will happen to them when we leave?’ Though she had no clue when that would be. She still had not seen a map of the area or even a clue of another village. That seemed almost intentional, knowing the old man.

    However, said individual did not seem to be hovering in his usual spot today. She did not see him anywhere while she walked in. It left her wondering where he had gone, but not enough to give her pause. She made her way back to the hut as was her pattern now. Though she had no injuries for Yuki to heal. She really had nothing to do if she was not killing demons.

    “I’m back, Yuki,” she sounded off as she entered. Despite him often appearing like he was sleeping, he tended to be awake most times she entered. It was something she picked up on after a while. He really had to be bored.

    But there was no reply. She looked down to see the straw bed empty and the fur blanket tossed aside. “Yuki?!” Yumi jumped out of the hut quickly to look around on the off chance he finally found his legs. But he was nowhere in sight. “Yuki?! Where are you?”

    To be continued…
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  9. #399
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    As she entered the village, she saw familiar faces and waved politely to them. She would have bowed, but they had dropped formalities a while ago now. ‘I wonder what will happen to them when we leave?’ Though she had no clue when that would be. She still had not seen a map of the area or even a clue of another village. That seemed almost intentional, knowing the old man.

    However, said individual did not seem to be hovering in his usual spot today. She did not see him anywhere while she walked in. It left her wondering where he had gone, but not enough to give her pause. She made her way back to the hut as was her pattern now. Though she had no injuries for Yuki to heal. She really had nothing to do if she was not killing demons.

    “I’m back, Yuki,” she sounded off as she entered. Despite him often appearing like he was sleeping, he tended to be awake most times she entered. It was something she picked up on after a while. He really had to be bored.

    But there was no reply. She looked down to see the straw bed empty and the fur blanket tossed aside. “Yuki?!” Yumi jumped out of the hut quickly to look around on the off chance he finally found his legs. But he was nowhere in sight. “Yuki?! Where are you?”

    Yumi rushed down the dirt path to find the first villager that she could. A middle-aged woman that stayed back to rise her five-year old. She was just out repairing a hole in the hut with their child hovering around them. “Excuse me, Mrs. Nakae!”

    She turned towards Yumi, hearing her voice as she approached. “Master Yumi, what it is? You look out of breath.”

    “Have you seen Yuki?” She only get a confused look out of the woman. Yumi forgot that no one even knew Yuki, by name anyway. He kept inside the hut recovering. So people only knew he was there, but nothing more. “My friend! Have you seen him outside?”

    “Outside?” The question apparently seemed strange to the woman. Yumi did not understand it. But she did not want to try either. She just wanted an answer.

    “Yes, have you seen him?”

    As the woman thought more on the question, something seemed to come to her. “Oh, that’s right! I saw some stranger with the elder. Maybe that was him?”

    Yumi quickly turned and started running off again. “Thanks!” she shouted remembering her manners a little late. ‘Yuki and the elder together? Why was Yuki out walking? Is he feeling better now? And why was he with the elder?’ More questions just seemed to be popping up for her. And she wanted answers now.

    Chapter 399 – Red Direction

    Seated atop one of the huts, Yumi sat with pensive expression as she went over her information. She hoped keeping the high ground might let her see Yuki when he arrived. And everything was just a mistake of her overreacting. She would take that over anything.

    ‘No one’s seen him in the village. But several did see him walking on his own. And Yuki was spotted with the elder as well. But no one’s seen the elder either lately. What happened to the two of them?’ She still had pieces missing to the puzzle. The worst being the most obvious one, their location. No one knew where they had gone just had seen them walking. Having no clues to work from meant she could only search aimlessly.

    Though something about the whole thing bothered her. ‘Why was Yuki with the elder? The old man’s only talked to me and requested things from me. Why change now? Unless…’ It was something in the back of her mind for a while. Something that she really did not want to entertain. Yet she already admitted to herself it was a possibility. And given things, it almost seemed more possible. ‘That two-faced old man isn’t trying to get more leverage on me, is he? Making sure I stick around to keep their village safe by holding Yuki hostage. Would he do that?’

    She did not want to really take such a negative thought. Yet with the old man, he was so driven to protect his people, she wondered if it might make him do anything dirty to keep that certainty. ‘He’s expecting me not to be willing to do anything against him, because I wouldn’t do anything wrong.’ Such dark thoughts did make her hesitate in her resolve, if it turned out to be true. ‘This is still just a fake world. I’m only going along with the rules to make things easier on myself. So I shouldn’t need to worry about feeling bad about anything I do here. None of them are real and it’ll all disappear once Phoibe rescues us.’

    Yumi stood up on the roof looking out at the horizon. The unknown before her that might hold Yuki. “I just need to stop hesitating and do what must be done.”

    Resolved or not, she still lacked any information to act on. Without any sort of clue to go by, she was hunting around in the dark. “Should I just start searching?” Yumi was out of options in her mind. It seemed like the only thing that she could do. “Maybe I’ll stumble across him by accident…” An empty hope to pin things on, that much she knew.

    But she out of ideas and she could not stand out and do nothing waiting for bad news. It was the only thing to do. Which quickly settled it for Yumi. She leapt off the roof and jumped over the fields to dash into the forest. Given that the forest was the most dangerous place for Yuki to be she felt it was best to rule that out before anywhere else. Even if she had been keeping the demon population in the forest low, she could have missed one. She could not sense energy only listen. ‘There might have been one I missed. It would have been easy if they didn’t move.’

    Even placing some hope on a demon capturing Yuki felt a little bit of a stretch to her. They were after her and not him for one. She had been doing all of the killing. ‘Even injured as he is, Yuki can still use his powers to defend himself. He wouldn’t be that easy to take. Unless they surprised him…’ Every point and a counter and she hated that she was getting nowhere with any of it.

    It was useless.

    An hour in the forest, Yumi finished slaying a random oni she found roaming the forest. It had nothing to do with Yuki or her. It just seemed to have picked up on her going through the forest and insisted on a fight that it lost immediately.

    But it was about how she felt about the forest when she left it before. ‘It’s empty. I’m not going to find anything in here. Yuki could be anywhere…’ Anywhere, and the land vast enough to leave her searching for days.

    Yumi jumped to a new direction breaking free of the forest to begin her search anew with more unfamiliar areas. She moved with more caution and took care to watch her orientation. Unlike with the forest, she did not know any of the directions as well from just looking at the land. Even keeping the village at her back could not be kept for long.

    She turned and stopped for a moment. Leaping high into the air and pushing herself up to float, she could still see the village. Though it was getting to be just a dot in the region. “I can’t let it out of my sight. For now, I’ll keep my search radius to this. I don’t know how far Yuki could have gone.” Even with a defined limit, it still left her with too much ground to cover.

    Returning to the ground, she hovered over the rolling hills with the openness proving easier travel for her. “I need to find him quickly. The more time I waste searching, the further away he could be getting…”

    Despite her speed and the need, nothing ever came from the searching. Day changed to night and day once more. And despite that she still had not finished searching the entire area. More remained that she could search. That much she knew, though if she did not find him in that, there was still plenty more beyond. “Am I going to have to search all of Japan to find him?”

    That potential reality worried her, since she did not know what was going on. And for all she knew, he was in an area that she had already searched. So many unknowns existed that she could not control or understand. ‘Give me even one piece to base my search on… Anything!’

    A crunch from underfoot of the earth spiked through her ear. It was not the sort of clue that she sought. Yumi turned around finding that she was being approached by five demons, none of which were oni. She only recognized one of them as a wolf sort of demon she killed previously. The rest all looked unlike any other demon that she had fought yet, which surprised her giving the amount she had already. But she was reminded of the vast nature of the Japanese lore with demons and spirits. ‘I don’t have time for this…’

    Yumi leapt forward disappearing from the sight of the demons. In their confusion, they did not see her slice the head off the lead demon while the two adjacent ones met deaths by crushing pressure left with smoothly curved cross sections of their lower bodies falling to the ground.

    The two demons that escaped immediate death only managed by reflex as wounds sprayed up from their chests. They leapt back going to heightened attention against Yumi’s ruthless assault. Staring at each other for signs of Yumi, they slipped out of sight as well. However, one was found by Yumi’s blade as demon blood sprayed everywhere.

    Last of his group, the final demon caught sight of Yumi’s movements from the blood spray painting her path. It unleashed flames from its mouth over the area that Yumi ran into. However, Yumi sliced through splitting it with her blade. Appearing directly in front of the demon, she came to a stop before the demon.

    Looking down at Yumi, it did not notice the blade sticking through its chest until death already swept down to claim its life as the last in the set. It grabbed out for Yumi’s head only for her to slice off its hand before it came anywhere close to touching her. “Don’t touch me.” She spun around slicing off the head as she walked away.

    “Nothing still…” She began walked towards the village left with her thoughts. “I doubted they would have any clues on them, but it’s still disappointing to be right.” Yumi leapt into the air once more hovering in flight. A day without any signs left her feeling dejected and empty. She hoped, expected something to pop up. Yet she was still in the same place as before.

    Lost. Completely lost.

    “Maybe Yuki’s returned and I was overreacting…” she muttered with a thin hope to tie it all together. It was the only thing she could pin something to now. The village might have answers. ‘If this is all the elder’s doing, maybe he’s back and I can wring some information out of him…’

    The village still remained more than a hour away from her at her normal speed. Which left her with other concerns. The demons she just killed had not been the only ones out of the forest that she killed. Which left her with some worries. ‘I’m moving around so much how are they still finding me so easily? It’s like they can track my every movement…’ It was something that she never understood. In the forest, there was something that always felt off about it that she assumed it was a territory of the demons. But outside of it they could still track her with ease.

    ‘Could they also be tracking Yuki?’ she wondered, ‘Or is it only me? Is it this mark that they warned me about? Is it more than just having a bounty on my head?’ For all her questions, none were new ones for her. She never really figured it out and it always bothered her. Though it made it easier killing them sense they came to her instead. But she did not need another interruption at the moment.

    Which fortunately panned out for Yumi by the time she reached the village. No further demons harassed her and the village seemed to be safe as well, not that was on her mind in priorities at the moment. But since she left the village, it did not surprise her. They wanted her right now rather than the village.

    Yumi landed in front of the entrance and ran the rest of the way into the village keeping her eyes open for any signs. ‘Yuki be here, please! Just let this be an overreaction. I don’t know where to look for you if it isn’t…’

    Her hope disappeared at the sight of the unchanged bed that she found the day before where Yuki had been resting. No one had been back since she left. ‘Damn…what’s going on?’ She poked her head back out looking for her next target. ‘There he is!’ The elder was back now. “You’ve got some answers to give up, old man…”

    Turning away from the hut sharply, she hastened her step. There was no chance that she was going to allow him to get away from her now. She needed him to give up what he knew. “Old man!” she shouted, dropping any sort of formalities, as he had done to her.

    “Master Yumi?” he questioned, as he came to face her on her approach. Some confusion found their way into his voice at her change in tone with him.

    “Where’s my friend?” she demanded standing very close to him, building up her presence.

    “What do you mean?”

    Yumi leaned in a little not taking his ignorance at face value. “I know you were with him. Where is he?”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    Her blood started to boil as she was losing her patience with him. It made her legs shake with anger that she barely kept in check. “Don’t play dumb with me, old man. You were the last person to see him. I know you know something!”

    “I’m not sure what you’re trying to imply, but your friend left on his own yesterday. He only told me that he was leaving and nothing more.”

    Yumi had enough of his lying and grabbed him up by his tunic. “Enough with the lies! I know you’re involved! Tell me what you know!”

    “Master Yumi?! What are you doing? You—“

    “Don’t think I won’t level your entire village if you’ve done anything to him! I care nothing for the consequences of a fake world! Answer me now before you regret it!”

    To be continued…
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  10. #400
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    A cold room devoid of any warmth, it was contrary to the rest of the labs. Sure other offices were serious and uninviting in their presence. Those in them were no-nonsense and focused strictly on a single goal. They were cold too, but they lacked something that could be found within this room. This room had a purity to it that was unmatched and ruthless. It was truly cold.

    Isamu did not know why that he had been called to the CEO’s office. It was the first time that he had ever been asked to stand before the man. He might have run the company, but there was a detached sort of presence the man had with his employees. Most people he would eventually see just through the halls, even if he never spoke to them or even knew their names. Yet, this man was never around, at least in the sense of being a visible head of the company. He was a busy man for sure and still made all of the decisions on any projects that they carried out. For being so distant, he was more involved than even the managers and upper management types that were supposed to be running things for him.

    An odd contradiction for sure, Isamu did not know what to make of him entirely. And he still had not seen the man. A tall executive chair blocked the view of the man offering a strangely ominous presence. But that quickly changed as it turned to reveal a surprisingly young man buried within the leather. Isamu had to be honest, he knew about the man, but never actually looked too much into him. It was not something that really bothered him. Knowing or not, the one in charge did not really change his work. So he had a different image in mind before meeting the man.

    “Mr. Hayashi,” the young man spoke in soft words that made him seem even younger. It made him question which of the two of them were the oldest. “I’ve heard nothing, but remarkable things about you.”

    “Overstated I’d imagine, sir.”

    The CEO stepped out of his chair and walked around his desk offering Isamu a seat. “Modest too. But it’s not overstating how much you’ve advanced our work since you’ve joined us.” Once Isamu sat down, he walked over to the window letting the sun wash over his face. “In fact, you’ve become a bit of an annoyance to my daily routine.”

    Now he was lost, not sure where the man was going. ‘Is he firing me for being too good at my job?’ Isamu was not blind to the numbers that were jealous of his achievements. He had a target on his back at all times that he was careful to keep to a wall, though not always successful. This might have been his time. “Sir?”

    Smiling back at Isamu, he dismissed the possible fears. “Most of the teams want you on their project. It’s gotten to the point that I have a separate folder for all of the requests for you.”

    ‘I haven’t heard anything about requests. In fact, I’ve probably have the least amount of transfers. Why would he keep me on a specific project?’

    Clapping his hands together, he interrupted Isamu’s thoughts. “Enough about my personnel issues, you’re no doubt wondering why I’ve called you here.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    He retrieved a sealed folder from behind his desk and slid it over to Isamu. “You’ve impressed me and I’m rarely impressed.”

    The folder itself was completely normal and non-descript. In fact, Isamu had no clue what it contained as there was no text on it at all. Even the seal was completely clean. “What is this, sir?”

    “My hand.”

    “Hand, sir?”

    “In simple terms, it’s a promotion, but it’s much more than that.” Tilting his head back to the window, he looked out at the city stretched out before them. “Mr. Hayashi, why did you pick neurological research as your field?”

    It was not something that he had thought about since he entered college really. Even joining Toyama Labs was just something that happened because professors recommended him, he did not start because it was his goal. “Part of it was me not thinking. I wanted to be able to help people. The other part of me saw the mind as something we still know so little about. If I could use what I had been fortunate to be born with to advance our understanding maybe it could save people or improve their lives.”

    “A typical answer. Do you still feel that way now?”

    “Some days I do, some days the challenge is reward enough.”

    “Then my offer to you is this. The ultimate challenge with the greatest reward. The success of this project will completely alter the field as you know it. Medical science will advance by decades or centuries and you’ll be able to save every life in our country.”

    Isamu stared down at the folder suddenly feeling a strange weight from something so light. A lot of it did not make much sense, but there was a sincerity in the words that could not be mistaken. He believed it whole-heartedly and was completely set to the path. This must have been what made him such a focused and driven man to be a CEO already. It was strange. “Sounds like a dream.”

    “A worthwhile dream. Think about it, the offer. If you wish to seek a higher challenge and truly test that which you were born with this is your path. Think it over with your wife, this concerns her too.”

    “Tomiko?”

    “You aren’t the only one making a name for themselves in my company. This is an offer to the both of you.”

    “Then shouldn’t she be here too?”

    “Your wife declined our meeting.”

    ‘She did? Why? Without even knowing what it was about.’

    “Your wife’s a strong and proud woman. But she’s also talented as well. Tell her I don’t make such an offer lightly or without merit. I want both of you.”

    Chapter 400 – Rewind 4

    “How come you didn’t want to meet Mazawa?” Isamu asked Tomiko when he entered the car. He waited until they were out of the building and alone. It was not something that he wanted to discuss publicly knowing how the others were about him.

    “He wasn’t firing me, so I didn’t have an interest in what he had to say.”

    He had doubts about that. Not even because of what the CEO said, he was not blind to how she felt. There were times he wondered if she purposely requested a different team from him just to prove herself. She was the more positive and upbeat half to him, but Mazawa was not wrong in saying that she was prideful as well. “He wants both of us, not because you’re my wife. Haven’t you spent long enough in self isolation?”

    “You don’t understand how hard I work to just prove I’m not getting special treatment. Any offer I take from him will undo everything I’ve built and worked on up until now!”

    Isamu paused having to take it all in for a moment. He knew she had been holding it in for a while. It just was not something that could be approached. He could only let her continue on the path that she set determined to show everyone how wrong they were about her. “But everything you’ve done has bore fruit. This offer is proof of that! You earned this, it’s not just given to you.”

    “That’s not how the others will see it.”

    “When have you ever cared about how others see you or what they say behind your back? You’re stronger than that.”

    “I’m not always as strong as you think.”

    He reached out over the gap to hold onto her. “Of course you are. It’s one of the many reasons I love you so much. Don’t hold yourself back on the account of others. Take this if you want it.”

    “We don’t even know what the project is.”

    Suddenly, Isamu felt like there was something more about her refusing to see the boss. ‘Is she worried about the work? Even I don’t know what it is, he never explained it. He only talked in flowery words about dreams.’ Isamu looked over at the sealed folder that he carried with him tempted to open it, but feeling opening it would commit him to an unknown path. “Do you know something about this secret project?”

    She shook her head being as blind about things as him. “Nothing more than the tiniest of rumors. Most know there is work going on in secret, but even that has never been confirmed until now. The most elite in the company work on it, people that no one ever sees anymore.”

    “Hey now, you make it sound nefarious. Sure it’s extremely well hidden, but it’s not uncommon to protect research. And the way Mazawa spoke sounded earnest.”

    “Dear, everyone sounds earnest to you. You’re terrible at reading people.”

    “That’s why I have you to tell me when I’m wrong,” he teased. He pulled the folder out from the back of the car and showed it to Tomiko. “If you think this is a bad idea I’ll tear it up right here and refuse him. I’ll trust your decision.”

    “But you want to do this. You’re regret it if I tell you not to.”

    “I’d rather regret not taking a chance, if it meant ignoring you.”

    “You’re not being fair.”

    “I’m serious. Don’t worry about me and let that cloud your judgment. I said before you’re here to tell me when I’m going wrong. If this is the wrong path I won’t take it.”

    “But we don’t even know what it is. It’s just a feeling I have that something’s not right about it.” Isamu immediately ripped the folder in half before she could even stop him. “What are you doing?!”

    “I already said I’d listen to what you decide. You’re not feeling right about it, we won’t do it. It’s simple.”

    “But I could be wrong…”

    “Do you believe you are?”

    “I don’t know…” Tomiko fell silent with no more words for her husband. She remained withdrawn during the entire car ride back to their house. Even though he acted as he said he would, she still found it shocking, even if it was normal for what he would do. She did not think he would close off a career path so quickly.

    The night left her pensive and unable to function. Even though he made the decision based off her gut, she still thought about it. The whole thing felt off to her, but she did not know why. It confused her and worried her. She wanted to know what it was that left her feeling so ill at ease about the secret in the company. It always lingered in the shadows as the dark part of the company. Any company had secrets, so this should not have been any different, but she never felt right about it. But it was never something that she could put a finger on. So she never acted on it.

    She wanted to know. That much she felt certain about.

    In the next morning, Isamu walked through the waiting room of the CEO’s office. He already had his words prepared for him, but they all flew out of his mouth when he opened the door to find Tomiko in there. “Tomiko?! What are you doing here?”

    “Mr. Hayashi. I was just talking to your wife about some of the details of the assignment.”

    He quickly closed the gap trying to get over and understand what was happening. “Details? Assignment?” Isamu looked down at Tomiko in the chair wanting to know what she was doing.

    “That’s right. I was pleasantly surprised when she asked to speak with me in accepting my offer.”

    “Accepting?” His eyes widened looking down at Tomiko in confusion. Something about things did not feel right to him. He could not understand what she would change her mind in just a night.

    “She said that you talked it over and agreed to accept the offer. So I’ve been filling her in a little on the project goals until you arrived. But now that you’ve come, there’s someone that I want you to meet.”

    Things moved faster than he was expecting. ‘Someone to meet? The project lead?’ Isamu could not find his curiosity as he worried over what a rash and out of character decision Tomiko made for the both of them. He could only stare at her wanting answers.

    “Isamu, you should be looking forward. We’re about to meet the man that’s been aiding their research.”

    “What is their research?”

    “Mapping and recreating neural pathways.”

    “That’s a fairly mundane subject for a top secret project.”

    “I assure you, nothing about it is mundane,” a new voice spoke coming out from a side door into the office. It was not a voice that either of them knew, but it spoke with a deep respect and command as though used to leading.

    The CEO opened the door letting the stranger into the room. “Good timing, Mr. Atlas. These are the two I was telling you about.”

    Pointed at the couple, the foreigner tilted his head to look over at the Hayashi’s. He smiled warmly to them extending them both a hand of greeting. “Welcome, you can call me Atlas. I’m going to show you to a new world that you’ve never seen before.”

    “What world is that?”

    “The world of the impossible. The place I call home.”

    Both of them found the foreigner’s words confusing and strange. For being a scientific pursuit, this man before him seemed the least scientific. He almost did not seem to belong in the group. They both wondered what was going on and if the CEO might be getting conned here by the foreigner.

    “I can see you’re both suspicious. It’s not the sort of thing you can understand without seeing. Behold what it is that you will be trying find the answer to that has eluded my people for millennia. What is the source of our power, the power of the Altanteans.” Suddenly the entire world warped and shifted taking them to a vast open plain of green. “Welcome to Atlantis. I look forward to working with you in finding all of the secrets lost to us.

    To be continued…
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  11. #401
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    Her blood started to boil as she was losing her patience with him. It made her legs shake with anger that she barely kept in check. “Don’t play dumb with me, old man. You were the last person to see him. I know you know something!”

    “I’m not sure what you’re trying to imply, but your friend left on his own yesterday. He only told me that he was leaving and nothing more.”

    Yumi had enough of his lying and grabbed him up by his tunic. “Enough with the lies! I know you’re involved! Tell me what you know!”

    “Master Yumi?! What are you doing? You—“

    “Don’t think I won’t level your entire village if you’ve done anything to him! I care nothing for the consequences of a fake world! Answer me now before you regret it!”

    The elder stuttered beginning to actually feel fear from Yumi for the first time. He saw the grave words she spoke were not merely empty threats. “Fake world?” As confused as he was about what she was talking about in part, he knew that she was serious now. No doubt for him existed anymore that she would do as she stated.

    “Stop stalling and just answer me!” She shook him roughly trying to get him to focus on her rather than the confusion. While not wholly successful in the attempt, it did get some attention directed back on her. “Why were you with Yuki and what did you do to him?”

    “I-it’s as I said! I don’t know anything!”

    Baring her anger through her teeth, Yumi fought against her uncontrollable rage. “Still insisting you did nothing. Then you won’t mind while I wipe out your village just to be sure you’re telling the truth!”

    “You can’t be serious, Master Yumi! We’ve done nothing!”

    “You’ve done plenty you manipulative old man!”

    Fear firmly rooted into the old man’s body as he shook for what Yumi would do. Any sort of control that he thought he might have had on the situation with her burned up before his eyes. He had pushed things too far. “You can’t do this! You promised to protect us!”

    “Maybe in your next life you’ll think about not trampling on good will!” Yumi threw him back to the ground behind her as she stepped forward.

    The elder hurried to his feet grabbing at Yumi’s arm to stop her from attacking his village. “It doesn’t make any sense!”

    “You’ve pissed me off and someone I love is missing. You’ll have to forgive me for not thinking right now!” White particles began to gather up quickly into a series of orbs around Yumi.

    Horror filled his eyes seeing that she showed no signs of stopping. He jumped out in front of her trying to keep her from firing. But nothing that he could do would be enough to stop her. Even that much he knew. All efforts were futile, Yumi’s powers could not be stopped by him. “You’re going to kill them!”

    Yumi glared down at the old man as he shrank before her towering rage. “They aren’t even real.”

    Chapter 401 – Reality Lies

    Back on the road, Yumi left the village behind keeping it out of her sight. “He knew nothing,” she cursed the man’s uselessness to her. She had almost nothing to go on now other than a direction. And nothing more to release her anger upon other than the land itself. “I will find Yuki. I swear it!”

    But even making that promise was an empty one. She had no clues and no tips. It was as though he had simply vanished from the world. “It’s not because Phoibe pulled him out is it? But I’m still stuck in here.” Accepted as a possibility, she dismissed it quickly as unlikely. If Phoibe been able to rescue them, she would have been pulled out as well or at least notified. She was still trapped within a virtual world of her mind’s creation.

    Hours of searching turned into days quickly. To her surprise, the entire search had been quiet. Not even a demon appeared before her wanting her head. She actually would have welcomed it if only as a change from finding nothing. She was not even sure she was on the right path. Finding a demon would have felt like something was right. But she still did not know where the elder had put Yuki and he was too stubborn or afraid to reveal that detail despite what happened.

    Despite not finding any signs, she could not stop moving. It felt like if she did Yuki would be lost. He would be out of her hands. Believing that he would be found if she did not stop was the only thing keeping her going despite fatigue that set into her body. ‘I’ll be able to find you. It’ll be just like before. I’ll find you and stop whatever is happening!’

    However, that determination started to wear on her body. She refused to stop and allow herself even a moment of a break. Yet it caught up to her. There was nothing that could be done about it. All of the emotions would not get her to move forward another step.

    She needed a break.

    Yumi was naturally against the thought of pausing even for a second. Not that her body listened to her anymore. She collapsed into the dirt tasting grass in her mouth as she panted heavily unable to stop breathing hard. Even trying to spit it out was too much effort for her, rolling over as well. “Damnit! I can’t…”

    Struggling to get back to her feet, Yumi could not make any sort of movement. Resting did not seem to be recovering anything for her. She was stuck until she gave her body rest.

    And for an hour that seemed to be the case.

    While her body refused her commands, her hearing had not worsened by any means. She heard familiar sounds in the distance. Though they were closer than they should have been. ‘How come I didn’t notice them before…’ It was too heavy in sound to be humans, that much she knew. ‘Demons…and I can’t move…’

    It almost felt like they waited for the moment for when she could not move to strike. They had to be out for her blood all of them were of course. She killed too many of them for them not to want to kill her. ‘I wonder what happens if I die in my mind? Is that like real death?’ It was something not even Yuki really knew the answer to. They just tried to avoid it. In this world pain still felt real like everything else and death would be no different at the very least.

    Yumi had enough strength to drag herself up towards a rock, not that it gave much in the way of protection for her. Out in the middle of a field, there was not going to be any meaningful cover for her. She could only watch as the demons approached her.

    They came in a pair with one not looking like the other. In blue skin and white wings with a twisted horn, the demon stood well over her with a halberd in hand. While the other had pale green skin and a large belly and heavily defined muscles covered its upper body. They appeared strong, though she knew if she was at her peak, they would be no match for her.

    She summoned up her power into an orb of white energy as all she could muster in defense. “Step any closer and I’ll take your head where you stand!” she bluffed knowing that she barely had enough to even snuff out a candle.

    “Demon Hunter Yumi?” the blue one asked.

    This was not what she expected. Neither actually appeared interested in attacking her. If she did not know any better they were only here to talk. ‘What’s going on? Did my bluff work?’ Not likely that her bluff worked, but the demons did act strangely before her. She could only really answer them and hope to understand the meaning behind their presence. “Yes.”

    “We bare a message for you then,” replied the green demon.

    ‘Message? What’s this all about? Demons trying to be civil now?’ Confused settled into her body now that she felt at a complete loss to what was happening. She wanted answers and it seemed that she might be getting one from them. “What message?”

    “Our Lord has requested your presence.”

    “Requested?” Things only got stranger for her. She hoped things would start making sense soon. ‘Why does a demon want to see me? This is a very strange way to get a fight out of me.’ But since it was a demon she had no interest in obeying anything that they asked of her. “Tell your Lord that I decline. I’m not interested and I have more important matters right now.”

    “The request is not negotiable, Hunter.”

    “You think you can threaten me?”

    The blue demon spoke up in turn now taking over. “You will see our Lord. You will want to come.”

    “And why is that?”

    “Because we hold the only human that you care about.”

    Suddenly energy flew back into Yuki’s body and she leapt to her feet and beheaded the green demon instantly without pause. The blue demon leveled its spear at her, but it twisted into metal before her telekinetic powers. Yumi pinned the demon to the grass with a white blade in her hand threatening him. “You have Yuki?!”

    She finally had the clue that she needed. Yuki was somewhere. She just needed to drag out the information from the demon. “Tell me where he is! Before you’re no longer able to walk!”

    “You’re as violent and merciless as the rumors say, Hunter.”

    “I don’t care about rumors. Answer my question or suffer until you do!”

    “Killing me won’t get you the answers you want.”

    “I don’t plan on killing you, not until you answer me. But that doesn’t mean I won’t make your life hell until you do!” She dug in her sword into the demon’s leg without any hesitation. It quickly made her point to the demon.

    Though to her surprise, the demon handed over a scroll to her. “Had you not been so violent you would have already had your answer. It was always our intent on telling you where you can find him.”

    Yumi backed off as she did not really know what to make of it. The scroll before her seemed to have what she sought, yet it should not be so easy. ‘What sort of catch is it? Is this just a lie? They got a trap in waiting for me where this scroll leads me?’

    She snatched the scroll away from the demon with her power to read what information it held. If nothing else, it would give her a way to search for Yuki unlike before. Even if it was a trap, she could go in knowing that and get more answers.

    “Believe me?” the demon asked watching her read.

    Glancing up from the scroll, Yumi coldly killed the demon with her gravity power without a second thought. “No, I don’t, but I’ll still check to see what is at this location.” Upon the scroll was a map, one that she assumed was where the trap set for her was supposed to be. She hoped for something a little more useful than what she got though. It could hardly be considered a map. But perhaps her modern sensibilities skewed her expectations. All that the paper held was a few lines and rough landmarks that really did not give her enough to go on.

    She rolled up the scroll and put it under her arm while she looked out at the horizon. There was at least one landmark on it that she recognized. The strangely shaped mountain in the distance with what appeared to be a crack down the middle splitting it in two. It was something that could be seen from all around, even from the Forest of Demons. She never had a reason to go to the mountain since it was too far away for her to travel.

    A reason surfaced for her now though. Yuki might be there, it was a long shot for her. That much she knew all too well. It was most definitely a trap that they set out for her. All the demons in the area wanted her dead for what she had been doing. She trusted none of them. But if they invoked his name, then she might get some answers on his true location. That was her only hope at this point.

    Recharged with determination suddenly, Yumi found that she could move again. The fatigue was gone. A clue to the whereabouts of Yuki finally came. She could find him at last. “I’m coming Yuki!”

    To be continued…
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  12. #402
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    She snatched the scroll away from the demon with her power to read what information it held. If nothing else, it would give her a way to search for Yuki unlike before. Even if it was a trap, she could go in knowing that and get more answers.

    “Believe me?” the demon asked watching her read.

    Glancing up from the scroll, Yumi coldly killed the demon with her gravity power without a second thought. “No, I don’t, but I’ll still check to see what is at this location.” Upon the scroll as a map, one that she assumed was where the trap set for her was supposed to be. She hoped for something a little more useful than what she got though. It could hardly be considered a map. But perhaps her modern sensibilities skewed her expectations. All that the paper held was a few lines and rough landmarks that really did not give her enough to go on.

    She rolled up the scroll and put it under her arm while she looked out at the horizon. There was at least one landmark on it that she recognized. The strangely shaped mountain in the distance with what appeared to be a crack down the middle splitting it in two. It was something that could be seen from all around, even from the Forest of Demons. She never had a reason to go to the mountain since it was too far away for her to travel.

    A reason surfaced for her now though. Yuki might be there, it was a long shot for her. That much she knew all too well. It was most definitely a trap that they set out for her. All the demons in the area wanted her dead for what she had been doing. She trusted none of them. But if they invoked his name, then she might get some answers on his true location. That was her only hope at this point.

    Recharged with determination suddenly, Yumi found that she could move again. The fatigue was gone. A clue to the whereabouts of Yuki finally came. She could find him at last. “I’m coming Yuki!”

    Travel to the split mountain turned out to be surprisingly far. It was something that Yumi already sort of knew, but now that she had a clue to find Yuki, potentially, she expected to get there immediately. Yet that turned out to be further from the truth than she wished to admit. She had always seen the strange mountain, but had no real sense of the distance about it. In fact, it never really was something other than a landmark for her. It served no other interest for her.

    Yumi flew over the plains and forests toward it and ran when she could not fly. Walked when she could not run, she refused to stop for a break. Even time failed to have any real sense of meaning to her. So focused on the mountain, none of the other things around her did anything.

    But eventually, the mountain had to give into the chase and allow her to reach the foothills. She did not know when it finally gave up the game, but it was the closest to her that she had even known. However, they came with its own problems for her.

    “Demons…” she muttered, staring for the first time in a while at something that was not the landscape. They had her completely surrounded and well armed for a fight. “Trap it is then…”

    Chapter 402 – Foots of the Cleaved Mountain

    Slightly bruised and cut, Yumi managed to come out of the ambush with all of the demons dead around her. Though it left her a little short of breath. ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this tired from just fighting a bunch of nameless demons…’ She began resuming her march towards the mountain. Though it looked like it was going to turn into a gauntlet for her as she found another band of demons only minutes from the last.

    “You’re dead, Hunter!” roared a demon before an axe split it down the middle. The other demons turned away from Yumi in a little surprise not knowing her reputation for even using an axe let alone a weapon as big as the one that she threw.

    Two more were dead before they split up to try to attack her individually. From her flanks two tried to catch her unable to defend against the well timed attack. But one was pinned to a tree that was nearly split in two by the four meter long spear and the other dropped its head at her feet as a massive bastard sword swept through the air.

    It took three more before the smarter ones still alive figured it out. All of the chaos of the fighting left them unfocused and unable to evaluate the situation. “She’s using our weapons against us!”

    One wolf demon looked up in the air to see the array of weapons floating still unused and waiting. “She’s holding them all at the same time!”

    “I’ve no energy to waste on you weaklings,” she boasted as several more demons dropped to their own weapons. Every weapon wielded by the past band and those she had killed now became her weapons.

    Cutting a lethal arc of swings through the remaining demons, they all fell to pieces without being able to do anything to prove themselves or show off their strength. Yumi continued her hike towards the mountain and the gauntlet of demons trying to stop her.

    The fourth set that she slaughtered, she looked back the way that she came. ‘What’s the point of all of this? They can’t beat me. Given the reputation I hold among the demons in the area, I would think that they all know this. So why die?’ Yumi paused in the questions trying to figure out what was happening. ‘I still don’t even know if Yuki’s actually here or not…’

    Little of it mattered at the moment, since her fight was not over. Something she had to snap out of quickly as a fireball nearly scorched her face. She turned to find what demon that she somehow forgot to kill, but they were not present. “Fire doesn’t come out of nowhere…” Yet another did come from nowhere.

    She dodged away from the attack and jumped again from the follow up. Wherever the attacks came from, it was not letting her have a moment to breath. They kept her moving around unable to pause or be struck.

    Yumi tried to figure out the direction that the demon shot at her from, but they came from different directions. “Damn, they’re able to snipe me from out of my sight. And I can’t even tell the direction. It’s like they’ve got me surrounded…”

    The attacks continued with her doing everything to try get any sort of clue to the location of the demon. “Even the origins of the attacks are different. Could there really be different demons?” She leapt into the air trying to get the better vantage on the land, but caught a massive storm of fireballs coming down at her.

    They forced her back down to the ground without a moment’s thought. She deflected away some of the attacks with her barrier, but out it oddly lacked in strength. Yumi took cover in a part of the cratered ground left over from her previous fight. It gave her a focused point to throw up her barrier with a thicker wall. It was enough, for now.

    “What the hell is going on here? This is completely different from all of the other groups that they sent after me. They were just dumb and blindly charging me. Yet now, there is actual tactics.” She tried to get her breathing under control, but still found herself worked up.

    Blasts of red light flashed over her barrier as she stared out into the falling sun. It was going to be night soon and the fight would only get worse for her. “I’m not going to be able to find the demons if they’re keeping still. I need to make a move before I lose my light. But how?” Yumi tried to go over everything that she knew about the attacks. But she still kept hitting walls.

    As the ground shook from the attacks, her mind was not getting anywhere with her information. “I don’t know if it is one or many. They attack from all sides, so it’s more likely to be a group. But if it was group I feel like they would have attacked me already. But if it was only one they’d have to be able to use their power over a wide area to make it look like there were multiple demons. But which is it? I don’t even know where they are. If it’s one they could be anywhere and if it’s multiples I have so many to kill. Any sort of advantage I try to take they see through and stop me.”

    Yumi continued to question herself on the situation. Her mind had trouble trying to piece everything together. Nothing was coming together for her clearly. There were just too many unknowns for her. “I don’t know what to do. They’ve always been so upfront that I just charge through and kill them as they come for me. But now they’re hiding. I can’t find them and they can easily hit me… What should I do in this situation? What would Yuki do?”

    She hoped taking it from a different perspective would help. “He’s always got a plan and knows what to do in every situation.” Not even that helped her. She could not put herself in his spot. He would have already finished the job.

    Dropping the barrier and running out of the cover, she took the next best thing that she could think to do. Which was possibly the worst thing to do. She was not entirely certain yet if it was smart. But she charged forward at the first orb of fire that she saw. “I’ll just find one of the sources! That’s all I can do!”

    However, the attacks became stronger and increased in number as she moved. They tried to push through, but they forced her to evade away from the way that she wanted. She stubbornly tried to go further than she should have and ended up with a new cut across her forehead for the effort. Yumi fell on her back in the forced dodge she made.

    She stared up at the sky seeing suddenly even more fireballs coming at her. “Damn it!” Throwing a blast into the ground, she shot herself away from the incoming attacks just in time. It did mean that she slid roughly through the earth from the poor dodge. Dirt rubbed over her face from the fall. Yumi ripped her head out of the earth jumping immediately needing to stay ahead of the attacks.

    It continued to only get worse for her as she could only dodge. “The closer I try to get the more they press the attack. They’re really afraid of me getting close. If I can find them, I can end this immediately! They can’t be very strong if they’re attacking so cowardly like this.”

    Yet that still meant finding a way to get close enough, something that she still lacked. “I tried charging forward and that failed…” She leapt through the air evading attacks and watching for the next. Even cornered, she could at least keep up with the attacks. It was not the end. “When I try to think it through I fail as well… What am I left with? Thinking doesn’t work and not thinking doesn’t work…”

    Yumi cursed her situation that she was in. The endless running about did nothing to improve her dilemma. She was completely out of her element. Though none of it really felt like something that she belong in. She merely adapted to the way things were.

    “They’ve got me playing exactly to their own beat. I need to do something to change the pace!” As she tried to think of something, she got struck in the back by another attack. Blasted to the earth, Yumi groaned in annoyance and jumped into the air, flying up. “I’ve had it with these attacks!” As the quick counterattack came to her ascent, she formed her swords splitting the fire in half and letting it detonate now unstable behind her.

    She left her barrier to deflect the rest as they shattered under the attacked. But it gave her enough time to charged towards the location of one of the attacks. As she expected another one of the counters came up, but she threw out of her barrier ahead of her to dampen the damage as she charged through raining particles and embers.

    Straight through the fires Yumi broke the line that the demons had created. “Now where the hell are you hiding?!” she screamed launching arcs of energy through the entire area in front of her. She tried to listen for any signs of a demon scrambling, but none came. “Is it dead?” A bit of disappointment came in her voice.

    However, that did not last for long as more attacks continued to come from all around her. “They’re still out there!” As she charged for the next location, the attacked continued unabated from her pressure. Whoever it was that attacked her from the shadows tried to keep up the line around her. But she brute forced her way through the attacks no longer caring anymore.

    More wounds came out of the careless charge as Yumi sought the enemy. She could not find them no matter how many times she searched. “They’re nowhere! Come out, coward!”

    Panting a little, Yumi blindly charged forward with no regard for the field anymore. She just followed the red glow wherever she went. It continued to follow her leaving burns and wounds appearing on her skin the longer that she went. Yet she still continued despite the injuries.

    “Stop hiding!”

    Nothing was helping her.

    Yumi stopped for a moment trying to catch her breath as all of the running around started to catch up to her. “Damnit! Wherever I go it’s never close enough.” She split another fireball coming with ease, exploding on the ground to her left side. “I’ve got the timing down, but I’m not finding the demon. It’s got to be only one.” The more she ran around she became convinced of it. What she found or did not find, made it more likely that it was only one and not a group. “I would have seen something or someone by now. I just need to find that one damn demon!”

    Unfortunately, that was harder than she thought. Running around blindly gave her nothing but less energy and more injuries. Her annoyance continued to rise. “It’s like they’re following me! Always behind me!” The ranting of her frustrations suddenly made her pause in thought. “Can’t be…always tracking me with ease…”

    A white glow covered Yumi’s body suddenly as the pressure in the air rapidly spiked. Distortions appeared around her as the energy build up grew towards critical mass. An explosion of energy ripped through the earth and all the surrounding area destroying everything it touched.

    Her head turned sharply at the sound of something different in the noise of destruction. She disappeared and appeared at the sound swinging down her sword at the air hitting something. Out of the shadows popped the demon hunting her. “This game is over.”

    To be continued…
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  13. #403
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    A white glow covered Yumi’s body suddenly as the pressure in the air rapidly spiked. Distortions appeared around her as the energy build up grew towards critical mass. An explosion of energy ripped through the earth and all the surrounding area destroying everything it touched.

    Her head turned sharply at the sound of something different in the noise of destruction. She disappeared and appeared at the sound swinging down her sword at the air hitting something. Out of the shadows popped the demon hunting her. “This game is over.”

    It was different from the others she normally saw and killed. This demon had more in common with Tokaromaru. They had a more human like appearance, though there were definitely aspects that were inhuman. A bit heavy on the eye liner that drew out their more feline features and pointed nose. She wondered which sort of cat like demon he might be. Not that it was going to matter for long.

    Yumi swung again to bring an end to the demon finally close out the long battle. A white flash was all she saw, because the demon had somehow escaped her attack. She flipped her head around tracking the demon’s movements now that she could hear him. ‘I never heard him before because he was disguising his movements under mine… This one’s smart…and dangerous…’

    Dangerous was the key word as Yumi found a fist in her face only moments after she started to hear him dancing about. Lifted up, Yumi shot backwards over the ground, but not before leaving a counter buried in the demon’s chest with her foot.

    Flying backwards, Yumi focused her vision at her direction finding a tree coming up to her quickly. She grabbed out her hand letting her spin around the tree a few times to get her control back only to see the demon appear in front of her kicking her in the stomach. Rocks poked into her back as she laid in the earth from the hit. ‘Damn, he’s fast…’

    The sniping had left her feeling a little dulled by her senses. It was repetitive and she had gotten the rhythm of it to a degree. However, the pace of the fight had completely changed, especially to one that she was a little more used to dealing with against demons. She could thank the two hits for restarting her focus and attention.

    As the demon tried to connect his combo together, she flipped back out of the way with her power. His fist dug into the earth letting her spin around and grab his ankle to throw him into the ground. Even on his back, he countered with a knee to her arm fully negating the force. She exchanged repeated blows with him trying to crack his defense.

    Nothing could breach his wall.

    Flipping forward out of the small crater they battled in, the feline-like demon struck back with a grab hitting between strikes by Yumi when her offense had the most openings. Grasping her wrist, he flung her into the tree, breaking it half.

    Yumi pushed back on the air with her telekinesis getting enough control back from the throw to grab his arm with her free hand. She pulled back holding onto the air to fling him into the earth, but he stopped landing on this feet. They landed together grappling and repositioning their stances trying to get the needed leverage for a throw. What Yumi lacked in finesse, that the demon clearly had over her, she made up for with her superior physical abilities.

    They hit a stalemate unable to finish anything that they wanted to achieve. Each repositioning was fought tightly with their free arms. Heavy blows clashed together blocking their movements. Yumi played counter to his actions, watching closely.

    Unable to break the deadlock, the demon kicked off Yumi’s leg and separated them. He landed from a flip on his feet gracefully as she stepped back one foot.

    The demon grinned with excitement. “You’re definitely not like the rest of the Hunters that foolishly stepped into our territory.”

    ‘Not like the rest…’ Yumi grimaced as she had to settle into the idea that this was not going to be a quickly won fight like the rest. “It was you that invited me here.”

    “Indeed your quickly acquired reputation has made quite the impression on our ranks.”

    “I’m not sure if I should be pleased by that or not.”

    “My Lord is very pleased. We do enjoy a challenge when killing humans.”

    “And what about dying to a human?”

    “Never happens.”

    “Shouldn’t say never, it has a habit of proving itself falsely used.”

    “A superstitious one, oh?”

    “Just a fact that I’ll be proving soon.”

    Baring sharp teeth, the demon deepened their grin. They looked excited, almost happy about Yumi’s boasting. “A woman with guts. This will be fun!”

    Chapter 403 – A Demon’s Smile

    The fight resumed with the same intensity as the demon jumped in with a flying kick. Digging through the earth a little with his attack, Yumi was able to side step the attack and counter. Her counter stopped short with a block by his hand. He flipped Yumi on her back as his foot rose up out of the earth to strike her spine. Rapidly summoning part of her barrier, she saved her back and slid off with her hand braced against it.

    Tossing a white blast of energy at her feet into the earth, she increased her speed in her spin forcing her leg through his defenses and kicking off his feet. He shot into the air still barely feeling the damage from the strike, while Yumi blasted towards him with her telekinesis. She quickly caught up to him in the air hoping to have the advantage against him.

    That advantage she should have had never revealed itself to her as he could counter her attacks just as well as on the ground. Blocks and deflects sparked off in rapid succession as she tried to get in as many blows as possible before he recovered. Yet, it became quickly clear to her that he had already recovered long before she even made the first strike.

    Worse still, they were still flying through the air long after the momentum that she gave him ran out. He was flying under his own power. Yumi blasted him with her telekinesis away from her to get a moment to breath.

    She hovered in the air a few meters away from him as he landed safely on his pocket. ‘He’s easily matching me with everything that I’m throwing at him. I thought him being a sniper that he couldn’t handle himself in a melee fight. But he’s just as good, why did he even start sniping me from a distance if he was this skilled? It seems pointless…’

    “It’s rare to find a Hunter with flight. But don’t stop surprising me now! I want to see more of what you can do!” He charged in after Yumi resuming the battle in the sky. His attacks came in faster than before as though he had been holding back on her. She struggled to keep up with each blow. Previously, Yumi managed to keep on more on the defensive with her leading the attack. Now with the tables turned, she started to see how different in ability he was from her.

    Knocked back, her body flew down towards the earth. ‘Damn, he’s getting better the longer the fight drags out… He’s even tougher than Tokaromaru!’ The ground came up rapidly on her back. Her head tilted back from the hit could see it coming. She still had enough control to stop it from happening. Though she had to fly back up to direct her speed away, unable to stop. ‘I can’t make a swift kill, he’s too fast for that…’

    While she cursed the battle she was forced to fight, the demon flew over to her. The distance closed in an instant as he disappeared from her sight. She turned around expecting a rear attack only to get flanked. A partial deflection protected her and knocked her back as he appeared below grabbing her leg and throwing her down to the earth.

    A crater carved out her landing spot followed by him charging down at her. It was fortunately not enough to slow her down, leaving her only momentarily stunned. Yumi rolled out of the way of the flying punch as the demon dug through the hard stone beneath the earth. She grabbed the demon’s leg and threw him across the crater. Her follow up failed to connect as he already recovered from the throw.

    Floating upside down in the air, the demon stared back at Yumi still grinning with excitement. Annoyed, she threw a punch at his face which he blocked. He returned a punch that she dodged and countered. Their stalemate began to approach again with him fighting her upside down with the same level of skill as before.

    The stalemate did not last for long though as the demon had the advantage over Yumi. He pushed her back in the exchange step by step with her losing ground. She could not keep up her defenses as she lost her offense. Blocking with her arms was not fast enough.

    A powerful punch smashed through her crumbling defenses throwing across the crater into the earth. Clouds of debris coughed up around her impact.

    It was not working. Everything she tried could only barely keep up with him. Yet he showed no signs of weakening. ‘Just how strong is this demon? I thought that Tokaromaru was one of the most powerful, but I’m really starting to question what that even means anymore.’ She pulled herself out of the impressed her body created. ‘He’s not even using his fire attacks anymore, it’s purely a melee. Something that I have clearly less experience at than him. After this is all over, I need Yuki to train me.’

    Yumi stepped out of the smoke and disappeared into the air with trails of smoke following her for as long as it could before she fully lost her wake. She smashed into the crater next to the demon blasting out smoke in all directions.

    Listening out for his movements, she immediately moved to counter the demon. She struck hard against him. He could only partially disperse the force of her punch. Waves of force rang out from her blows as she jumped around in the gray veil that hung over them. ‘Glad I’ve gotten used to listening for the demons in the dark. I’m so used to them getting the jump on me with them knowing where I am, that my hearing’s gotten better… Still this won’t last…’

    The screen already began to fade away. Wind played only a small role in it. Yumi’s fierce attacks swept it away faster than the wind. And she was getting back to the same spot where she began. Unable to land a fully decisive blow to end things. He managed to stand up to her blows and began to even out the fight with the penalty for him gone.

    He pinched her forearm between his elbow and knee halting her assault. Unable to pull out, she twisted her body around throwing up her leg, which blocked with his forearm. It was not enough though to stop her telekinesis shooting the demon back into the crater.

    Catching her breath, she found her body feeling the fatigue, something that she had not noticed from before. ‘I didn’t realize how tired I am… I need to find a way to end this now!’

    The demon laughed, amused by the situation. Yumi brought him continued entertainment in the fight. “So you’re someone used to fighting in the dark. Is that a talent honed while hunting?”

    “You’re enjoying this.”

    “It’s a good fight, why shouldn’t I enjoy it! A worthy foe is the ultimate reward for a warrior.”

    “I’ve no interest in providing you with any reward. I’m just trying to kill you and move on!”

    “A fight to the death brings out the best. Nothing is more fun than seeing everything put on the line and pushed to the edge. Knowing how far those limits can be pushed.”

    Yumi did not understand such things. She could not find that sort of joy in fighting. Not like Seiji, who enjoyed the fair fight on equal grounds to see who was the best. All of her fights had death on the line. There was nothing fun to find in a battle to live. It was meaningless to her. She just hoped that she could win before she completely ran out of energy. This was not even the last demon she had to face.

    “Judging by the smile on your face, you know what I’m talking about.”

    She recoiled back. “What are you talking about? I’m not!”

    “You’ve been grinning ear to ear for the last few minutes.”

    “I haven’t!” yelled Yumi, trying to deny it. Yet she sadly felt it in her face. There was something about what the demon said was right. She was smiling, but she did not know why. ‘I can’t be… Why? How? When…’

    Screaming to the sky, a white glow surrounded Yumi as she regained her composure of her face. She could not let it go on any longer. That much was certain now. Particles in the air began to gather around her hands. “I’m ending this now!” As her anger increase, the strength of her attack rapidly grew with the light completely whiting out her form. A beam of energy shot out from her position casting a thick white light over the demon as he was not left with much time to react.

    To be continued…
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  14. #404
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    Yumi did not understand such things. She could not find that sort of joy in fighting. Not like Seiji, who enjoyed the fair fight on equal grounds to see who was the best. All of her fights had death on the line. There was nothing fun to find in a battle to live. It was meaningless to her. She just hoped that she could win before she completely ran out of energy. This was not even the last demon she had to face.

    “Judging by the smile on your face, you know what I’m talking about.”

    She recoiled back. “What are you talking about? I’m not!”

    “You’ve been grinning ear to ear for the last few minutes.”

    “I haven’t!” yelled Yumi, trying to deny it. Yet she saddened could feel it in her face. There was something about what the demon said was right. She was smiling, but she did not know why. ‘I can’t be… Why? How? When…’

    Screaming to the sky, a white glow surrounded Yumi as she regained her composure of her face. She could not let it go on any longer. That much was certain now. Particles in the air began to gather around her hands. “I’m ending this now!” As her anger increase, the strength of her attack rapidly grew with the light completely whiting out her form. A beam of energy shot out from her position casting a thick white light over the demon as he was not left with much time to react.

    A pillar of dirt and debris shot into the air as her blast exploded upon impact. The explosion ripped through the foothills of the mountain shooting out shockwaves. Gusts blew out from the center throwing debris and rock everywhere.

    Yumi stared at the destruction pleased to finally have it over. ‘Now I can move on… I wasted too much time already on this!’ She turned away from the wall of broiling inferno created by her attack.

    Fire shot over her catching her shoulder and back nearly burning out her left eye from the heat. Yumi’s entire left side of her body boiled from the flames turning red and raw. She ground her teeth together as she tilted back her head in the direction.

    The feline demon stood naked in the crater next the hellfire’s of her attack. Swiping his arm through the blast, a force cut the white flames in half and instantly snuffed them out. “You should never have turned your back. This is not over by a long shot!”

    “…damn…” She clinched her hands together seeing how much power the demon still held back. ‘He’s really is a monster… Can I even compete with that?’ Doubt started to grow inside Yumi as she watched things go even worse for her.

    Apparently, the demon had enough of holding his power back and began to physically grow in size. “Now that you’re getting serious, I can show my true form! I hope you remain a long enough challenge to make this worth my time.” Black fur grew out over his skin as he continued to increase in height. Soon, he bent over taking on more feline qualities. In moments, any of his human appearances disappeared completely.

    Before Yumi stood a giant easily surpassing twenty meters. Even with the feline attributes, it did not look like any sort of animal that she knew. Though it sounded redundant, it really did look like a demonic cat. He had three thick tails covered in black fur ending in white tips matching white paws and belly. Though there were glowing patterns all over the demons’ fur that looked similar to what Fumiko did with her magic, not that Yumi recognized any of the forms created.

    All she knew from staring at the behemoth of a demon, it radiated power like nothing she had seen before. She never felt power before, not like what was a common cliché in anime, but she believed that this was almost like that. It had such a presence in aura that it convinced her senses that she could actually feel it. ‘How can I beat something like this? This is a true demon?!’

    Chapter 404 – Reality of True Power

    “Now show me your true power, Hunter!” spoke the demon through the very air as though his words came through his power.

    Bruised, bloodied and burned, Yumi already felt her body’s poor shape and now was being demanded to fight at her peak. ‘Can I even bring enough against such a foe?’ Despite the doubt that she harbored within herself, the demon gave her no mercy to such weakness. Immediately, a flame breath unleashed upon her that she tried to block with her barrier.

    Shattered.

    Effortlessly.

    Yumi fell down smoking to the earth in a crash. Her body scrapped against the torn up stone ripping into her tunic. The demon leapt into the air swiftly and landed with a paw on her to pin her down. “Don’t waste my time, Hunter! I know you have more to offer me than this weak resistance!”

    Groaning in pain, her body tightened and twisted from the weight of the demon on her. It was not enough to crush her, though he did push her into the earth as her body held up. Yumi struggled trying to get free from the demon. ‘I can’t be stopped here… I still haven’t found Yuki… I don’t want to die in some stupid game!’

    Summoning up her weapons, white blades stabbed into the paw of the demon. Blood sprayed up from the wounds coating the black fur thickly and painting Yumi even darker shades of crimson. The wounds were enough to be released. Blasting herself out of the vice, Yumi spun over the ground before throwing herself into the air to recover.

    Panting heavily from the pain and exhaustion, Yumi tried to get her focus back together. ‘I don’t have any choice. I’ve been holding back knowing that this isn’t the last fight I have, but I can’t anymore!’ White blades appeared around her body floating prepared to strike. Layers of barriers unfolded out for defense. Yumi reached out and grabbed a hold of two of the blades from her arsenal. “You want my true power, fine! Don’t go regretting it when you’re dying!”

    The demon laughed amused by her puffed up bravado. Bravado or no, he welcomed the better effort that Yumi put into the fight. Unleashing another fire breath, this time hitting a re-enforced barrier followed by Yumi’s white blades to divert the blast as she charged through cutting through the flames to unleash a large white arc of energy.

    Covering the front with its three tails, the energy exploded harmlessly away from the demon. It jumped forward spinning around to whack her with its tail. Yumi flew through the air away from the demon as it leapt towards her quickly building up speed.

    Yumi stabbed her swords into the air breaking with her power, while concentrating forward on the charged beast. Summoning gravity orbs around the demon’s feet, she managed to slow it down, though not deal any damage. It was too fast and powerful to be truly harmed by such simple attacks. But it did give her enough time to press forward disappearing from the demon’s sight. Appearing over head of the demon, she unleashed multiple arcs of energy at the demon.

    Unfortunately, her sneak attack did nothing. The demon blocked them with its tail again and whipped around quickly to strike her down. Crashed into a hole away from the demon, Yumi coughed up blood. The heightened battle grew worse for her body. “Damn…how long can I survive like this? I’m already so worn out from fighting this monster, not to mention all of the previous fights and running for days… If only I had been fully rested…”

    Several orbs of flame appeared around the spot that Yumi laid. She looked wide-eyed at the attacks just staring at her. They had manifested from nowhere. Across the field, the demon still walked towards her. But his attack was already started and she could not dodge it.

    Explosions of flame went off all around Yumi burying her screams of pain. Multiple large craters grew out from the blast. Debris rained down from the area pelting the ground. No signs of Yumi revealed themselves in the thinning destruction.

    The demon walked around the crater watching the site for any sort of moment. He could tell that she was still in the crater, but it was hard to pinpoint anything more than that for him. He had to wait for her, if she was still alive.

    Then he heard movement, rocks tumbling. His eyes immediately focused on the location in the rubble. Light exploded out from the pile vaporizing the rocks as they revealed Yumi. “You’re a tough one,” he remarked pleased with her survival.

    Covered in blood, any wound on Yumi became nearly invisible. The injuries could not be picked out from all of the blood, even the burns over the left half of her body disappeared. She breathed shallowly trying to keep herself together. ‘Even more than I thought…’ thought Yumi, even assuming that she was dead at that point. Though her body still seemed to be in one piece, somehow. ‘Have I been underestimating my limits?’

    Such thoughts made her question if she had more power to give than she currently wielded. Though figuring that out was not really something that she could afford in the middle of a battle for her life. She stared up at the demon. “I’ve got enough to still put you down!”

    “Please show me!”

    Gravity orbs appeared around Yumi as she floated up into the air. She doubted that her body had much left to give itself. The rest would have be done with her powers alone. Aiming with her hand, she pointed out the points of attack for her orbs. The demon leapt out of the dodging each of the attacks as her gravity orbs carved out hunks of the earth as they touched anything.

    Following the movements of the demon, Yumi tracked them with her orbs. She kept spawning more after she used them. The land quickly became dotted with craters until it was completely unrecognizable as even the fields of grass hugging the mountain. “Stop dodging!” she yelled in frustration as she rapidly charged up a larger sphere of gravity.

    Summoning up her swords again in twofold count, she sent them out first attacking from different angles knowing that the demon was going to dodge them. She kept up throwing out more swords trying to pin down the demon into a spot for her attack.

    While it was focused on the swords, she materialized several smaller gravity orbs at the feet of the demon destroying the ground on it. It jumped out of the crumbling ground as Yumi disappeared carrying her attack with her. “DIE!!” screamed Yumi hitting the monster directly above it unleashing the enhanced gravity energy.

    In an instant, the orb converted from an explosion outward to a micro gravity well that began pulling in everything including even Yumi herself. “Damn!” Surprised, Yumi did not expect to be caught by her own attack. She fought against the increasingly growing strength of the gravity. The longer it survived the more it seemed to grow taking on a life of its own eating everything that I could drag into its void.

    The demon struggled just as much against the power of the gravity that Yumi unleashed. It latched onto the earth with its claws shattering the earth as it dug in. Gusts of wind sucked around the gravity churning up the clouds sparking a violent reaction as lightning strikes jumped about and micro tornadoes spun around the epicenter.

    She managed to pull away from the immediate vicinity, but it still dragged on her body tugging her in if she did not keep fully concentrated on her power. However, her power seemed to have taken on a life of its own now. She no longer controlled the growth rate of it. It rapidly expanded with the gravity becoming more than she could keep a safe distance.

    Yumi realized it too late and it jumped in size and began to drag both of them in. Nothing the demon did to dig into the earth could hold it back anymore. It fought with its own flight to stay out of the gravity sphere. Yumi struggled just as hard finding her power lacking. “It’s too strong…”

    Watching the demon, it was further out than she was from the sphere. And she had no idea what sort of effort her powers would have on her. Knowing what they did to physical matter, she really did not believe the way it was dragging in everything that she would be any more immune than the rocks and trees it sucked up. “I can’t…” Yumi had to make a decision quickly. ‘It’s going to have me before the demon…damn it. I can’t keep this up much longer…’

    Quickly gathering up another gravity orb, Yumi shot it into the massive white and black distortion. The orb she shot in disappeared quickly and nothing happened. Yumi groaned in annoyance as she tried to keep her balance it grew. A flash of light jumped out of the void suddenly followed by a shockwave that ripped through the earth.

    “I’m free!” she commented, noticing the gravity had disappeared. However, it was no over. The distortion destabilized, as she had planned, though it was rapidly expanding not that it was not being held back by the gravity. Everything it touched was vaporized instantly.

    Yumi flew out of the range as it chased her. Before she could even get to a safe distance the whole thing exploded no longer able to keep its mass together. Everything it absorbed converted into violent energy blasting the entire region up to the mountain still far in the distance. Blasts of smoke rose up in columns signaling the impacts. Though the ground beneath faired far worse. A massive crater blasted through the earth until the only thing left was a roasted sheet of glass from the heat.

    The fates of Yumi and the demon remained unknown clouded in a vast thick cloud of ominous black. Nothing survived it seemed.

    To be continued…
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  15. #405
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    Smoke plumes grew into the sky gathering together into a gray mass of clouds. Countless craters left behind from the unstable blast altered the terrain far more than anything Yumi had done before with her attacks. Any hints of nature were ripped away. Only the smoldering craters remained dotting the foothills.

    Silence otherwise reigned through the field. No hints of the demons that made the mountain their home or the fighting of Yumi and the demon. All seemed dead. And anything that might have survived waited to know if it was finally safe again.

    Safety however had stopped being part of either of their concern. The destruction saw to that. Out of the smoke at the epicenter of the blast a large shadow appeared. It was the demon, however it came out of the explosion far worse. Two of its tails were merely bloody stumps now with dark red thickly coating the fur. Along its back large sections of its black fur were stuck together from bleeding. Even its head was scarred with part of its ear missing and completely burned away fur on the left side.

    A roar of pain unleashed from its maw dripping blood. Pain clung desperately to the demon refusing to release it. It staggered forward to Yumi. “You can’t hide from me! Drenched as you are in our blood, I can easily find, Hunter!”

    Yumi surfaced from the smoke standing before the demon. “I’ve no intention of hiding from you, demon,” she mustered through all of the pain. She did not know how much pain the demon was in, the sight only gave her a sense. ‘I can’t believe he’s still standing… What does it take to kill him?!’ Questions about the demon did nothing to stop her own pain, which she was certain was worse than what ever he might have been suffering.

    “You’ve used up all your power.”

    “Is that what you think?” She slowly walked a few steps closer to the demon to prove him wrong. ‘I have something else, but I don’t know if it’s enough to finish this… He looks like he still has plenty left in him…’

    Laughter filled the air from the demon. “All you have left is an act.”

    “We’ll see how much of it is an act when you’re dead!”

    She kept pushing her front, which amused the demon. But Yumi gave a good enough performance that there was some hesitation. He stared down at her continuing to read her face. “Your bluff won’t work on me. A ruthless killer like you wouldn’t hesitate for the kill if you could take it.”

    A smirk appeared through the blood on her face. “You’re right. I can just kill you on the spot. But I’m growing tired of this gauntlet you’ve laid out for me. The only reason I’m here is to confirm that you’re lying, on the remotest chance you aren’t.”

    “Oh we weren’t lying.”

    “You’d like me to believe that. I’ve no reason to trust anything a demon says.”

    “Yet you’re still here hanging onto your last breath before I kill you.”

    “You’re talking pretty big for someone not acting. I already said I’m only here because I can’t afford to assume.”

    “Then you’ve come to die.”

    White blades appeared around Yumi displaying her power for the demon. “I’m ready to kill you at any time!”

    “Empty threats!” The fur along the back of the demon glistened with a red hue. It seemed to be backing its threats for Yumi as well. They stared across at each other with barely more than a meter between them.

    Chapter 405 – Stalemate’s End

    One minute passed. Two minutes, three and silence broke.

    “This isn’t going to work,” Yumi remarked. Neither of them had moved. The longer that they stayed still the more it became clear. They had become like statues, unwilling, not wanting to move. If it continued anymore they could turn to stone.

    The tension completely shattered. He nodded to her with the red glow disappearing along with her weapons. “Neither of us have enough power left.”

    Dropping to the ground, finally able to have peace, Yumi’s legs could rest. A small chuckle came out of her as she found their situation strange. “I’ve been killing your kind since I got here. It feels a little odd not to want to do it.”

    “Yes, I agree. It’s rare to find a human as powerful as you, even among Hunters.”

    She looked up at the still intimidating presence of the demon. “So you going to transform back into a human?”

    “I’ve spent too much energy to do that. This is my real form, my human form is merely a disguise and requires a lot of energy and focus to maintain.” He looked about at the destruction wrought by their fighting. Given his height, he had a better view of it than her. “I haven’t seen our land so ravaged before.”

    Yumi could only focus on the crater that she sat in, which easily fit the demon with plenty of room to spare. “Yeah, sorry about that. Though you were trying to kill me.” She gave a slightly sheepish grin to the demon. ‘Why am I apologizing to a demon?!’

    “It’s the sign of a good fight. Nothing wrong with that.”

    ‘He’s got a way of looking at things like Seiji. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand it…’

    “It’s the same for you, is it not?”

    Standing back on her feet, she pushed herself forward to look out over the crater. “What happens now? Neither of us are in any shape for a fight, but nothing’s resolved.”

    The demon walked out of the crater, having a better view of the land than Yumi. He looked down to Yumi after seemingly confirming something. “You’ve proven your worth in my eyes.”

    “And what does that mean to me?” All any of this matter for her was finding out if Yuki was actually here or not. If she could get some real truth out of the demon, she could leave now and resume her search without being forced down the distraction.

    “It means that I’ll take you to my Lord.”

    “I’m not interested in meeting your Lord. Only—“

    “Yes, finding your friend. You’re quite focused. Don’t worry, he’s there as well. My Lord did send out the invitation for this meeting.”

    Staring at the demon, it was even harder to get any sort of read on him. It might have been worth something if he was in human form, though Yumi knew even that would have been mostly fruitless for her effort. As a real demon in beast form, she had no hope of knowing anything about his intent behind those words. She could not even tell if there were facial muscles with enough fine control to craft any sort of subtly or deception.

    Which simply left her in the same position as before. “I’ll see this to the end to find the truth.”

    “Still untrusting.”

    “Do I have a reason to be anything else?”

    “For what reason would I have to lie? If I just wanted you dead, I could have done that at any point while you were fighting your way up here.”

    “If you were only interested in a fight and not killing me, you wouldn’t have sent your pawns at me first.”

    “Make no mistake, I want to kill you, but I don’t just fight anyone. Reputation is just words until I see proof.”

    “You sent demons you knew were going to die just to see if I was worth killing?”

    “Low level demons like that are like grass, bountiful and thick, but ultimately only fill up space.”

    Yumi stared in silence for a moment absorbing his reply. It took her a bit to fully take it in. For some reason, she thought that he might have been different than the rest. Yet it just proved he was the same as the others that she already killed. It felt like a contradiction.

    He looked down at her, finding her lack of reply a bit curious. Unlike her, he figured her out quickly. “Horrified that I would sacrifice demons for an empty reason?”

    None of it really came out in his face, but she got the feeling he was mocking her. It was enough to snap her out of her internal nest of knots. “Just re-enforcing what I already knew.” Yumi pushed herself up with what little power she still held onto hover. Though it strained her mind tapping into the thin threads of her power, the relief it gave her legs and body made it a suitable trade off in pain. “Let’s get going.”

    He followed with ease in his long strides over the warped wastelands of the hills. “For a ruthless Hunter, you’ve got a strange bit of optimism in you. Almost like didn’t you grow up in this world.”

    Keeping the direction that the demon pointed out, she did not try to look over to her traveling partner. Even knowing that they were both drained of power and will to fight, she still felt like at any moment he would jump to kill her off. Unlike her, even with powers to wield with ease, he still had a massive body that would tear her apart. She did not know why he would just stop in such an advantage. This demon made less sense the more she thought about it.

    “Unwilling to make conversation?”

    “Tch…I’m not in the habit of sharing words with someone trying to kill me.”

    “That seems untrue, giving our conversation already.” Yumi gave him a cold shoulder for his troubles of poking holes in her words. “Is there a subject that you would prefer to discuss?”

    The demon handed the conversation over to her. Having it in her court was not something that she was prepared for considering the company. If she could, she would have already ended it. But with the usual option gone, she was left having to listen to him.

    Given how much they had been out to kill her and they never really gave her a good reason at the start. A demon just attacked her as though it was the most natural thing for them to do. Any sort of time in the village with the people forced to live in such close proximity to them made it clear the human perspective.

    Any sort of media that she knew it was largely common place as well. Just something that she easily accepted. So it came off jarring and awkward when one just wanted to have a conversation. Everything within her just wanted to kill it and move on. It was only going to kill her eventually. He even said as much. He just has not right now on a whim, because of some convoluted sense of personal honor or code or something that she did not understand, or wish.

    Yumi found herself thinking more about the other topics than whatever the demon asked her about. ‘I’m not sure why I’m even acting like I’m supposed to be questioning this. It’s all just fake anyway. I shouldn’t be thinking about this like it actually matters. We’re just stuck here until Phoibe rescues us.’

    “I didn’t mean to stump you with such an intellectually challenging question.”

    “Can’t kill me, so you’re tossing insults now?”

    “Just checking if you were even listening. You seemed distracted.”

    “Why does it even matter to you?”

    “Still hostile toward me I see.”


    “You want to kill me.”

    “Doesn’t mean we can’t be cordial.”

    “Yes, yes it does!” Yumi shouted stopping for the first time and touching ground. She glared up at the demon unable to see anything that might be humanity, despite his previous form he could hold.

    “Just because of that? Sure it’s not something else?”

    “What are you trying to imply?”

    “It’s because I’m not like you.”

    “Are you getting hurt over being empty feelings because you think you’re being discriminated against?”

    “And you haven’t killed just because of what you saw?”

    “Never!”

    “The two demons we sent to you, were only messengers. Some of the weakest we had with express orders not to attack, yet you killed them without even a second to see what they wanted. Are you really so noble?”

    “What?!” She took a step back trying to figure out how he even knew that happened. ‘Has he been following me this whole time? Watching what I do?’ Though she still found it insulting to be lectured by a demon. “They were demons!”

    “And that’s justification enough? We’re demons so we must die, no questions asked? We’re living, intelligent beings like humans, yet you unquestionably have determined all of us worth killing. And you wonder why we demons kill humans to begin with.”

    To be continued…
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  16. #406
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    “The two demons we sent to you, were only messengers. Some of the weakest we had with express orders not to attack, yet you killed them without even a second to see what they wanted. Are you really so noble?”

    “What?!” She took a step back trying to figure out how he even knew that happened. ‘Has he been following me this whole time? Watching what I do?’ Though she still found it insulting to be lectured by a demon. “They were demons!”

    “And that’s justification enough? We’re demons so we must die, no questions asked? We’re living, intelligent beings like humans, yet you unquestionably have determined all of us worth killing. And you wonder why we demons kill humans to begin with.”

    This was not the sort of argument that Yumi expected to be having with a demon. It left her far more defensive than she expected, unable to remind herself of the reality of her fake world. “You kill humans, your very blood is lethal to humans! You’ve given no reason to see you as anything more than the enemy.”

    “A singularly focused as a Hunter would be.”

    “I’m still alive because I can’t be anything else. It was you demons that taught me to be ruthless, as ruthless as you.”

    “As a warrior should be. Doubt is a waste.”

    “Then what’s the point you’re trying to make?”

    “That things are never perfectly binary like you seem to believe, but also that you can’t let that distract you when you fight.”

    Now it seemed that he was giving her advice. One moment he sounded like he was trying to slap her for not even thinking about what she was going and now telling her to do it. She really wished any of this would make sense. “Where is any of this going? You’re not making a lot of sense anymore.”

    “I don’t want you distracted the next time we fight.”

    “Saying I’m killing innocent demons isn’t really making that point.”

    “You seemed to have the assumption we’re all evil and want only to kill humans.”

    “Is that an inaccurate assessment?”

    “If it was true, we could have easily wiped out the entire island of humans centuries ago and the Hunters would not have been able to do anything about it.”

    “That’s a bold claim.”

    “It’s the truth. It’s not arrogance. The weakest demon is stronger than any human. A small band of demons can easily wipe out a village and there are too few Hunters to stop it.”

    Yumi was reminded suddenly of the demon’s pretending to be human to play games on the villagers. They just ignored them. They did not always just go around killing. Most did seem to stick to their own business. “So what is this then?”

    “It’s war.”

    “War? That seems a little too simple of an answer.”


    “It’s an accurate one. Most demons don’t fight humans. Those that do are just as unique as humans. The ones that humans are more familiar with are the bloodthirsty ones. The rest however are merely fighting a very old war.”

    Chapter 406 – On the Side of Darkness

    The conversation started to draw in Yumi as she lost herself to her curiosity. She felt like she was seeing a side that ran in contrast with that of what she felt from the villagers. While they were not blood craved for the death of the demons, that much was clear from how they reacted to her actions, but she still could feel the fear and resentment in them. Even if they did not say it, they wanted all of the demons dead as well. The elder might not have wanted a war with the demons at the risk of the cost of his people, but he was no less pleased with Yumi’s killings. She felt certain of that, though she had no more proof than she did of what the demon told her now.

    But even if she did not plan on believing the demon, knowing what story they told on their side might give her some insight in how to deal with them in the future. If nothing else, the demon would not attack her for now. He seemed too engrossed within the explanation that he told. “There’s a war between the humans and demons?”

    “Most of this is common knowledge, why do you act like you are ignorant of history?”

    “I tended to fall asleep in history class,” she joked, tired of trying to explain why she did not understand the way the world worked. Yumi also worried how the demon would take advantage of her lack of basic information. She could not lie her way through it. ‘I’ll just have to be ready to fight with what little strength I have.’

    “I’ll humor you and explain. Most humans have forgotten the origins anyway and don’t tell it like it happened.”

    “And I can trust a story that can’t be backed up?”

    “You going to listen or fall asleep?” Yumi turned away and started walking again, though did nothing to tell him to stop. He resumed the march to his Lord. “What you do with the knowledge is up to you. I’m not telling you to trust anything.”

    “Fine, get on with it before I do fall asleep.”

    “Humans only remember demons killing them and that’s how it has always been. Ask any of them and you’ll get the same story. But the reality is more complicated than they wish to accept. It was not always the same killing each other as it is now.”

    “How was it different? Did you actually get along at one point?”

    “Not so cliché as that. There’s never been peace between our two races, that much was clear from the start.”

    “So who started it then?”

    “It’s not quite what you’re thinking either. We demons don’t come from this land or world. The world of the demons is our old homeland.”

    “So it’s that sort of story,” she muttered to herself.

    “What’s that?” Yumi shook her head dismissing anything that he might have heard her say. She said nothing more to stop him from continuing. “We are explorers. There is a multitude of worlds to travel and we’ve finished learning everything about our world.”

    “Then you’re invaders?”

    “That’s how the humans saw us. Our original intent was to figure out how this world functioned. As we learned from our travels, each world has vastly different rules. So understanding those is important. But we didn’t have the chance before we were discovered.”

    Fighting her wounds, she crossed her arms left to think on what he was relaying to her. ‘This isn’t quite the story I was expecting. Demons that are explorers? Who’s ever heard of that in any story? Did Yuki figure that out? No, this is too unlikely for even him to have seen it in one of his stories. Though can I even believe such a wild story? It seems more likely that they were just coming to conquer, not explore. Demon explorers…’

    The demon paused in his story noticing the change in Yumi. “You doubt what I’m telling you.”

    “Of course, it seems too farfetched to actually be real.”

    “Given our history in this world, that is no surprise. But I’ve no point to lie to you about this.”

    “As a Demon Hunter, I kill demons. You want me to stop.”

    “I want to fight you again, making you lose your desire to fight me because of guilt would not serve me.”

    “Even though such a story could do just that.”

    “I can make a story up that makes it easier for you to hate us.”

    She sighed, still holding doubt about the whole thing. “Just continue. I’ll decide at the end of the story.”

    “Very well. When we arrived in this world, it was already well populated with humans. So it didn’t take us long to run across them. But they found our real forms far more frightening than we expected. They tried to scare us off thinking we were animals. We left to figure out more about the world before our next interaction.”

    “I’m guessing that didn’t go well.”

    “They sought us out. Giant animals running about on their land, they wanted to kill us. They couldn’t really do that much to us, but that didn’t stop those among us from taking advantage of it. In the end, the humans were wiped out and the first blood was spilled. We thought that they were weak and nothing to worry about, but that turned out to be our mistake.”

    Now the story went to where she expected finally and just as she expected he placed the blame on the humans rather than the demons. ‘If he’s trying to claim them to be something more than beasts they wouldn’t have killed anyone. They couldn’t harm them anyway, they could just ignored the humans and went about their business.’

    “The humans had more power than we imagined and they slaughtered our entire group.”

    This caught Yumi by surprise. She did not see that coming. “If they were so powerful to do that, why is there even any sort of conflict now?”

    “A couple of reasons. One, the explorers were not warriors. They would have been as powerful as any of those demons you slew today. But more than that, the humans of that period were more powerful than those today.”

    “They got weaker?”

    “No, we killed the powerful humans, leaving weaker bloodlines to continue. Meaning overall, humans would get weaker.”

    “You’re skipping ahead of things.”

    “Yes. After the explorers were killed, it sparked trouble in our world. Many wanted to avenge their deaths, while others said that it was our fault for going to their world. The resulting conflict splintered us and a group angry over their death invaded this world.”

    “Which is when the war began?”

    “That’s right. Those that invaded this time were warriors and it became a battle of attrition. Despite what you might be thinking. The humans back there were very powerful, even for us. The heaviest fighting ended centuries ago when they sealed off their world from ours. After that it became difficult to send more to this world, it takes a vast amount of energy to open portals between the worlds now. As a result, we’ve become stranded in this world.”

    “And which are you?”

    “I was just following my Lord in the battle on the promise of a good fight. And I found plenty while I was here, though with the peak of the war over, it’s been boring.”

    “Boring…”

    “Once the campaigns ended, most of us just settled down into the territories that we took from the humans. We can’t get back and we’ve lost our interest in continuing the war as well. Not that the humans see it the same way.”

    “So it’s a war that will never end.”

    “Not necessarily, you just have to kill all of us and then the war is over.”

    “You make it sound like I’m the villain here.”

    “We don’t really have much desire anymore to fight. Any sort of revenge we might have been seeking is lost or fulfilled, depending on who you ask. But we also can’t leave either, so you’re just going to have to share or kill us.”

    Yumi shrank a bit in thought. It was a stranger tale than she was expecting from the demon. He had been quite chatty about the whole thing. She found herself more willing to accept it than just dismiss it. Though he had trouble trusting a demon, she did not feel like that was lying to her. Which certainly left her in a troublesome position. He might no longer have what he wanted from her.

    “But enough talking, we’ve arrived,” the demon spoke, revealing a large structure that had a vaguely Japanese design to it. If she had to guess it was what passed for demon architecture, as it looked like a home or in this case a mansion. The Lord likely had it built to fit his ego. But it still remained impressive, detailed out of stone and wood in something that likely took craftsman years to complete. It felt like a status symbol to show off more than anything.

    Worse though, Yumi was not prepared for meeting the one that was behind all of this just yet. She did not know where all the time went in their walk. But now she had to face the last threat and find out if Yuki truly was being held by them.

    To be continued…
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  17. #407
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    “But enough talking, we’ve arrived,” the demon spoke, revealing a large structure that had a vaguely Japanese design to it. If she had to guess it was what passed for demon architecture, as it looked like a home or in this case a mansion. The Lord likely had it built to fit his ego. But it still remained impressive, detailed out of stone and wood in something that likely took craftsmen years to complete. It felt like a status symbol to show off more than anything.

    Worse though, Yumi was not prepared for meeting the one that was behind all of this just yet. She did not know where all the time went in their walk. But now she had to face the last threat and find out if Yuki truly was being held by them.

    The demon transformed himself back into a human, as the mansion itself was clearly not designed with massive cat-like demon monsters in mind. Which given that it was made by them specifically, seemed like a strange oversight to have. But it was not something that worried Yumi at the moment. That was elsewhere.

    If someone asked her to tell them how to get to the main chamber of the Demon Lord, she would not have been able to answer. She knew that she followed the demon, but that was about it. Most of her attention was not on the way out.

    And before she really had time to figure out what was going to happen next, she was before the Lord. Before her was a large man seated on a very ornate bench, given his air she expected it to be a throne. The chamber itself had to take up a significant part of the mansion as she could not easily see the walls through the countless columns. She thought it might have made up the entire floor, but her memory of the walk did not match that.

    Unlike the demon she fought to a stalemate, this demon did not look anything like one. He had a fully human appearance with no extra characteristics about him. If she had to pick anything, he seemed oddly muscular, like out of one Yuki’s manga, but that was about it. The man even looked young, younger than the cat-like human form demon.

    No good way to start the conversation appeared. She knew that she had no real power on hand to actually fight the demon with and worse it seemed the one she fought had regained much of his if he could hold human form once again. ‘Is this the part where I die? I still don’t know what death in this weird virtual world will mean to me. Is it just a game and I come back or do I return to the real world or do I die…’

    Those questions had to be put on hold, for Yumi had a new one the moment that the demon spoke.

    “Yo!” he said.

    “Yo.”

    Chapter 407 – A Demon’s Wish

    “Eh?!” she yelled after she caught herself casually replying to the demon. So many new questions flew through her mind trying to figure things out. This was not the way she imagined it playing out. Not even for an opening greeting. ‘Why is a demon using modern Japanese slang to greet me? Is it because my mind created this? But no one else has done anything like that. This doesn’t make any sense! What’s going on here?!’

    “It would seem that you were correct about her reaction,” the Lord spoke to someone unseen, “This certainly is more interesting.”

    “More interesting?! What’s going on here?!” she shouted somehow running a little short on breath. Her lungs pounded against her chest as she tried to recover for the exploded stress that had built up. “I want some answers, damnit!”

    “Minus the swearing, it’s on mark. You’re surprisingly good at your predictions.”

    Yumi did not like the way things felt. There was no seriousness in the room when there should be. The demon was talking to someone off screen that seemed to have foreseen everything. And they were all getting a good laugh out of her expense. “Stop laughing at me!” In her shouting, she released her power shaking the mansion, but it suddenly cut out dropping her to the floor as she felt helpless.

    The demon rested his head on his hand with a bit of a smirk on his lips. “Still had plenty of power left in you, despite claims to the contrary.” He looked over at the one that guided her to him. “With you as well, too.”

    “What?!” Yumi yelped is shock that the demon lied about being out of power. She pulled herself back up to her feet despite the blood now streaming down her body, no longer held together because of her power. Everything felt weak to her as she slipped on her own blood.

    He shrugged to her with a grin. “You weren’t being honest either.”

    “But I didn’t…” Things started to get dark in her vision. She could no longer see the Lord on his seat.

    “You should tend to her before she fades.”

    “Already handling it,” said a familiar voice. It made Yumi pull her head up trying to confirm who it was that she was hearing. But she could not see them. They were nowhere in sight, though that was not helpful for her at the moment. “Yuki…?”

    “You are a very calculating man.”

    “It’s a learned skill.”

    “Indeed…”

    ‘That’s Yuki’s voice! I know it is. So he actually was here, they were telling the truth.’ Suddenly, the pain and fog started to fade away for Yumi. Her body no longer screamed at her to stop moving. Though it did still want her to take it easy, not that she was about to listen as she pushed herself to stand. Yumi fought with her eyes to get them back to clarity. Those in the chamber started to come into focus when she found Yuki seated on the left of the Demon Lord. ‘What’s Yuki doing here looking like he’s belonged there?’

    The Demon Lord crossed his arms impressed with Yumi’s recovery and determination. “Still bleeding out and forcing yourself back to your feet. You certainly earn your title.”

    “I want some answers!” she demanded, which would have felt more impressive in her mind if her powers were working. She had tried to use them to emphasize her demands, but nothing came to her. Not that it stopped her from having a serviceable presence all the same.

    Such a sight made the demon smile. “A look that could kill better than any sword.”

    “That one’s new for me as well,” remarked Yuki suddenly looking a little blue in the face at the sight of Yumi.

    She glanced over at Yuki still not understanding what was going on, but she had enough figured out. “Why did you seal my power?”

    “You were making the house shake and considering what I’m seeing right now, I think I made the right call.”

    “I thought you were captured by these demons, so why does it look like they’re your new best friends?”

    Yuki recoiled seeing the anger in Yumi face. Though it was not him that give her an answer. “Your lover is my prisoner.”

    A tick when through Yumi’s eyebrow as she narrowed her focus on Yuki, who shook his head knowing keenly what she was staring at him for. Then she looked back at the demon. “That’s not the way it looks from my position.”

    “He’s proved amusing enough that I’ve kept him at my side while I waited for you to arrive.”

    Why did nothing make any normal sense she asked herself. It seemed everything was in concert together to just screw with her the whole way. Perhaps it was the stupid personalities doing, since this was all their fault to begin with trapping her inside her mind for no reason. But at least it was consistent at this point, but unpredictable for her. She sighed to herself as she began to put things together. “Of course…you’re bored too aren’t you.”

    “Loose lips.”

    The cat demon gave another shrug, even to his Lord. “I had time to pass.”

    “And all the fun too.”

    “She is very remarkable,” he praised, while looking over at Yumi.

    “That’s what I hoped for. The Hunters lately have been disappointing.”

    “That’s because my Lord keeps his presence away from the humans. Their attention is on the flasher clans.”

    “Such a disappointing vulgar display for those of our kin.”

    “Not everyone handles peace as well as you do, my Lord.”

    “That’s certainly the truth.”

    And now they seemed to have completely forgotten or ignored her. Yumi did not really have that much interest in whatever unclear demon politics that they were complaining about. Her eyes focused on Yuki and thanks to his efforts, she noticed that his healing of her body seemed to be almost completed. Her body could move with ease finally, though fatigue was still apparently a thing. It felt tired even though it was fine, a very unsettling feeling to have. But she could not let it bother her.

    Yumi slid her feet over the well polished wood planks of the chamber to get over to Yuki’s side. ‘Just keep arguing or debating or chatting, whatever it is that you call that. Don’t look at me. I wish Yuki made me invisible with his power so we could easily escape. Or even just give me back my power… Why is he being so stubborn? We need to escape…’ Tension returned to her body as she hoped that they did not notice her. And so far as she slowly scooted over she remained undetected. She would not have a better chance than now.

    As each second passed she prayed that they did not see her move further. She felt it was almost too easy. They were so blasé about her and the real threat she could present to them if she had her powers. It was like they knew that she could do nothing. But Yuki was supposedly their prison. ‘Why aren’t they worried about me taking away their leverage? Is it because I’m already here? So his value is gone? Or is there something that I’m not seeing? A trap? Is Yuki trapped? Does Yuki know? If he did, he would tell me right? Or can’t he?’

    Doubt rose up with the tension. Though she kept moving forward because if she did nothing she would be left to the devices of the demons. She would not allow that to ever be the case. All Yuki needed to do was release her power and any trap that they could have set she could deal with. That much she was certain about. But he still had not done it.

    She felt nothing flowing through her. Her body was still normal. Why?

    Yet she stood next to Yuki now and nothing changed. She still was powerless, yet there was no reaction from the demons. And Yuki seemed to be doing nothing as well. Nothing triggered either. Was it just that simple? ‘I’m here…I can just touch him…’

    Yumi stretched out her arm with plans to run with him as quickly as possible out of here. If anything, she would knock him out so she could get her powers back and she would fight every demon that tried to stop her. That was the plan anyway, very simple.

    However, complications arrived quickly in her simple plan. She could not touch Yuki, something stood between them. An invisible barrier halted her hand from reaching him. ‘…damn…’

    “I did mention that he was a prisoner, Hunter,” reminded the Demon Lord suddenly caring about Yumi again as though he knew the whole time what she was doing and just simply waited for that interesting moment to occur.

    Grinding her teeth together, they had her stuck now. And thanks to Yuki’s field, she could not even fight her way out at the moment. “What’s going on here?” She looked over at Yuki trying to understand what his reasoning was. “Why are you still sealing my powers and why haven’t you already freed yourself? What’s going on?”

    “So many questions.”

    “They want something,” Yuki answered for the playing hard to get demon. Though he still seemed to be not giving her enough information as well.

    “And what is that? What’s been the point of this whole thing, since you don’t seem that eager to kill me like so many of the other demons?”

    “They want you to grant their wish. They want to die.”

    To be continued…
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  18. #408
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    Grinding her teeth together, they had her stuck now. And thanks to Yuki’s field, she could not even fight her way out at the moment. “What’s going on here?” She looked over at Yuki trying to understand what his reasoning was. “Why are you still sealing my powers and why haven’t you already freed yourself? What’s going on?”

    “So many questions.”

    “They want something,” Yuki answered for the playing hard to get demon. Though he still seemed to be not giving her enough information as well.

    “And what is that? What’s been the point of this whole thing, since you don’t seem that eager to kill me like so many of the other demons?”

    “They want you to grant their wish. They want to die.”

    “Release me and I’ll grant their wish right now!”

    “It’s not that simple.”

    “Yes, it is, Yuki. I take their heads and we’re finished here.”

    “…Yumi…”

    She stared down at Yuki in his cage. “What you going to preach to me about the good in something that isn’t even real? This is nothing more than a game, there is no morality here.” Yuki held silent, apparently unable to find an argument to take against Yumi. ‘I’m surprised he’s still playing the pacifist even in here.’

    However, even if Yuki had nothing to say to her, that did not mean the demons remained silent. The Lord seemed to step in to fill in the blanks that Yumi kept Yuki from filling in for her. “He’s not speaking to any sort of reservation about killing, but the nature of my clan.”

    This suddenly did not sound like something that she wanted to hear. She had not even heard them yet and already had the feeling. Yumi held back a sigh, preparing to listen as they would not be stopped.

    “What he speaks of is our wish to die in battle, not simply die. If we just wanted to commit suicide, we could have done that a long time ago. But our clan is made up of warriors and every one of us seeks one great battlefield after another.”

    Things definitely became more complicated. That sigh came out now. “There are plenty of Hunters in the world, no doubt more powerful than me. Find one of them that can slaughter you.”

    “What did you think this invitation was about? We’ve been seeking for more than two hundred years.”

    “I doubt you’ve been trying that hard. I can’t imagine there being no one in this world that can kill you.”

    A rumbling erupted through the floors turning Yumi’s eyes down. She took a half step back not very clear what was happening. The longer that it persisted the more of an unsettled feeling grew in her stomach. ‘I don’t think I’m going to like this…’ Wood planks warped and split under an unseen pressure. Rings of stress and damage spread out from the center. “Yuki…give me my powers, NOW!”

    “I already turned off my field.”

    The seat that the Demon Lord had been casually seated upon disappeared into particles, not as though he summoned them, but ripped apart elementarily particle by particle. “I’ve never seen a destructive force like this before!” Yumi rapidly summoned her barriers all around her. Layers upon layers folded together interlocking tightly as the destructive wave expanded. Her power was nothing near what it should be and she had no clue if it could even hold up against it. She just kept adding more intricate layers on her barrier thickening it for the assault to come.

    But even that was not enough to prepare for the wave. In what had been a slow moving disintegration of the floor explosively shot out. Everything around her was gone in an instant. The beautiful crafted house was gone. Below her floating barrier was a crater that grow out of the growing destruction. And at first, she thought she had gotten through the worst of it.

    Yet waves of power crashed upon her barrier ripping apart pieces with ease. There was not enough a struggle on its part. It was like a torch to butter, effortless and lethal. The only struggle was from Yumi trying to strengthen what remained of her barrier, but even that was not enough. Holes quickly appeared unable to patched up. The raw destructive force leaked through assaulting her body directly. Her bones cracked and muscles ripped apart at the very presence. ‘It…feels like…I’m being crushed, pulled apart and exploded…I can’t…’

    A shadow appeared in front of her suddenly blocking the lethal energy bringing her relief. She could breathe and witness the annihilation below. All that remained untouched was Yuki, the Demon Lord and the two of them.

    It stopped.

    Suddenly, an absolute stillness came over the region. All destruction ceased and then everything began reconstructing itself. The crater grew back somehow, filling in quickly with the dirt and then trees and mountain. Seconds passed resorting everything back to the original state.

    Yumi dropped to the ground in pain once more.

    Chapter 408 – A Demon’s Reality

    Recovered again thanks to Yuki, he was released to stand next to Yumi as they stood before the Demon Lord. Yumi could feel her body still shaking from witnessing the power. ‘Even at full strength I wouldn’t even be able to dent something like that! And he wants me to kill him in combat?!’ She still did not even understand what happened. It was as if he was a god, bringing destruction and rebirth in two separate hands. “What did you do?”

    “I exerted my power.”

    “Exerted? Are you saying you can destroy things by breathing?”

    The Lord leaned back a little in his seat taking a full moment to gather himself for Yumi. “What I did was a crass unfiltered demonstration of my power.”

    “Huh?

    Yuki stepped in for the explanation in place of the demon. “What he’s saying is that he did an uncontrolled power up. Meaning he was freely allowing his power to just release pure and raw with no concentration or focus to what it did. Which became a pure destruction wave.”

    “Are you trying to show off?” She still did not fully understand it. Yuki made it easier to process, but there was still a lot of missing pieces to the whole point. She hoped that they would be filling them in soon.

    “My Lord was making a point. Actions are easier to trust than words, which can lie. You didn’t believe in the power my Lord possesses, so feeling it first hand was the easiest way for you to understand the gulf.”

    “Even with all that power, a sneak attack in an unguarded moment can just easily kill you still.”

    He shook his head at Yumi, as she clearly did not realize the difference. “You suggested before that you could just kill us and be done with it. While that might be true of myself, you would be able to kill my Lord even like that.”

    “Now who’s lying with words.” A bold and arrogant claim such as that almost seemed fitting from a demon, especially the Lord of all demons. She crossed her arms in doubt as the demon wanted to interject, but was stopped. To her surprise, she got an invitation from the Lord himself. “Are you telling me to kill you?”

    “If you think you can.”

    Yumi tilted her head to the right trying to figure him out. He taunted to her to kill him even though he wanted to die as a warrior. ‘He’s really that confident of his power? That’s he is unkillable by me?’ Staring at the demon, she tried to get any sort of read on him. But he was a intimidating stonewall that would not move. The piercing cold stare of him that egged her on to do it, also instilled hesitation and doubt. It told her that she could not do it, but toyed with her to try anyway.

    She could not move. Her body could not stop shaking still. It remembered the power that he used too well. It did not matter what words she used, none of them could convince her body that she had any hope. And not even the slightest sliver of hope. It was a completely zero percent chance, if values could be negative, they would be.

    “I’m not at full strength right now, thanks to your friend.”

    “While true, all you might be able to do is scratch me. For a reference that might help you, if I’m a ten, he is a one.”

    While she did not want to believe such boasts, it almost felt like an underestimation of his power. It worried her that she did not even see his peak. ‘There’s nothing I can do about this. What’s the point of any of this then?’ She looked over at Yuki, reminded that her goal of finding him was satisfied. In the end, that was really all that mattered to her. She could just leave. “Why did you even bother then if you know there was no one that could compete with you? You know I’m not in your league.”

    “We didn’t know until you fought. We heard rumors about you, but needed to find out the true depth of your power.”

    “Well you found out and now I’m leaving.” Yumi turned around waving to them wishing to just put it all behind them. She did not want to see them again.

    However, the doors to the exit of the chamber closed. The Lord did not seem to be done with them. Yumi looked over her should back to him. She felt a new unsettling feeling developing. “You have potential though, so I will train you.”

    “Eh?!” croaked Yumi unable to stand straight up listening to him. She turned to face him directly. “I’m not interested.”

    “I can make you the most powerful Hunter in the world!”

    “Still don’t care. I don’t have any desire to be the strongest. I have enough for what I need.”

    Then the cat demon stepped out in front, standing between them. He looked far more recover than Yumi felt. “I know that’s not true. While fighting a truth that can’t be expressed through words is revealed. And I could see it in your attacks. You seek power. You desperately crave it.”

    Yumi glared at the demon, narrowing her eyes. “Stop there before I actually get back that urge to kill you.”

    “You’re running.”

    “Silence! You don’t know me and your babble about truth in fighting is non-sense. You’re seeing what you want to see because you want that stupid warrior’s death. I’m not the one you’re looking for. So stop before you make me angry.”

    “It’s the truth, Hunter. You will have to face that one day.”

    She heard enough of his ramblings and turned away again. A closed door was not going to be enough to stop her. If they wanted to keep her they would have need to use force. That much she made clear in her walk as she pulled along Yuki. “We’re leaving, Yuki.” Throwing out her hand, she pushed open the heavy doors with her power.

    In the halls of the mansion, they reminded her that she had no clue where she was going. It felt like they were almost mocking her like even the house wanted to keep her from leaving. But that was not going to be enough either to stop her.

    Generating a gravity orb in front of her, she ripped a hole in the wall crushed under the pressure and presented her with a door out. “I’m going to be glad to have this place far behind me.” She hovered in the air picking up Yuki to take with her.

    While being carried out, he looked back at the house. “You know I knew the way out. You didn’t have to wreck their house.”

    “The demon can create things from nothing, a hole like that is meaningless to him.”

    “It’s still bad manners,” spoke the cat demon from Yumi’s right.

    Jumping in the air away from the demon, she tried to keep her shock to a minimum. ‘I didn’t even notice him there…’ She ground her teeth getting a feeling that things were not as over as she would have liked them to be. He wanted another fight she assumed, one that would end with her death she knew. Yumi looked around cautiously for an escape. “I have no good manners to give for those that want to kill me.”

    He gave a small chuckle for Yumi’s empty bravado. It still seemed to amuse him. Though he was not giving her any signs that he would leave her alone either. “I guess that is fair. I have a promise to keep.”

    Yumi summoned up her barrier as best as she could manage in her state. “I thought you wanted a fair fight. No honor after all?”

    “No, I do have honor and it’s not what you think. I shall be traveling with you. I’m not going to miss my chance to finish our battle once you’ve recovered your strength.”

    “What?!”

    To be continued…
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  19. #409
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    With Yumi gaining an unwanted rival and an unexpected course set, the rest of her friends faced different troubles and complications. They were adjusting to their new surroundings in their own way. And finding a different means to survive.

    Putting his back into it, he pulled up with his legs fighting against nature’s wish to remain still. It would not be enough to stop him though. He would win in the end. That much was certain. Nothing could change that. Even it knew that much to be sure. All it could do was delay the inevitable. Eventually, it would fail and he would come out on top. He just kept up the pressure.

    A tear erupted from below. He smiled. He knew the sound well. It had finally given up the struggle and gave in. Only a little more and he would pull out a victory. Digging in more, he gave the finishing blow and the coming victory.

    Out of the earth came an almost unhealthy sound as the tree roots snapped painfully or stripped clean from the earth. Seiji gave a deep triumphant roar as the cut trunk finally rose above his head raining down clumps of dirt into the pit.

    Seiji dropped the hunk of tree to the ground next to him and sat down on it. He took a long breath to recover himself from the job. It left him a little winded and sweaty from the hot sun. A slightly dirty cloth from some tunic likely appeared in front of his face. Seiji looked up seeing Mr. Horri appear before him, the old man that opened his door for him. “Thanks!” Wiping the sweat from his forehead and then bear chest, Seiji glanced over Mr. Horri’s shoulder.

    The job was not completed yet. He threw the makeshift towel over his shoulder and lifted the tree stump off the ground. Though his seat, it was also destined for other things. It would make for good wood to be used by the village. And now they could expand their farms. Seiji carried the heavy chunk of wood on his other shoulder walking back with the old man. “Hmm?” asked Seiji, noticing the repeated glances his way.

    “Just reminding myself how strong you are.”

    ‘Oh yeah, Nerine keeps telling me not to overdo it…’

    “Are you sure you’re not a Hunter, son?”

    “Oh definitely! I’m just your average teenager!” he declared, while effortlessly wielding the tree that likely weighed close to the same as the old man.

    Mr. Horri gave a small laugh at Seiji’s reply. “I see!”

    “If anyone could be one of those Demon Hunters, it’d be Nerine. Though if they’re as strong as you’ve mentioned it might be fun to go a round.”

    “You speak very highly of the young miss.”

    “She’s saved my life more than once and she’s a lot smarter than me.”

    The village started to come up for them. It was still early in the day, so it remained fairly empty. Though opposite of them, Nerine came walking back with two rabbits tied and slung over her shoulder. “She is remarkably skilled at hunting.”

    Seiji waved across the village center to her. She slowly approached the two of them, while passing off the catch. Wringing her hands out from the day’s work, Nerine stopped near to Seiji. “Finished your battle with nature?”

    “That’s right! I finally won!” He gave her an eager grin ignoring the few strange looks that he got for still hauling around the stump. “I’ve got to drop this off to Mr. Tamura, but I’ll be free after that.”

    “Very well, I’ll meet you back when you finished.”

    Chapter 409 – A Carefree Life

    Mr. Horri waved to Seiji departing for the fields to help with the care of the crop. It was not something that Seiji was needed for, though he did wish to help out more. But that was an argument he lost already.

    Behind Mr. Horri’s small hut at the very edge of the forest, which had the game Nerine found, she waited for him. Their usual spot out away from the others. He came up behind her leaning over the wood fence with baked food in hand. “From Mrs. Tamura.”

    A slight wrinkle came through her forehead looking at the sweets. Nerine took it with some reluctance. “She’s nosy.”

    “She’s nice.”

    “She says I’m too skinny.” Nerine squeezed her hand not carefully minding the sweet as it crumbled a little. “I’m a soldier! I have a routine.”

    Seiji chuckled a little watching Nerine get frustrated over something so small. He leapt over the fence and sat down next to her, staring out into the thick line of trees. “You’re not going to find the same routine around here.”

    She finished the gift and dropped her guard allowing her field to fade. “It’s less advanced, but it’s not too unlike working the border patrol.”

    “Is that why you’re good at camping?”

    “They’re survival skills, don’t make it sound like a vacation.” She leaned a little at him trying to get her point across when she had no arms to make any sort of gesture. But she slipped and fell into him.

    He quickly grabbed her and helped her back up right. “Are you feeling alright?”

    “Yes, I’m fine,” she answered curtly.

    An unconvinced look came over his face looking at Nerine. He could see her breathing still had not recovered. There was slight beads of sweat along her face and a shaking in her body. “I’ve been noticing it’s been getting worse each day. Maybe you should stop, you don’t have to keep it up.”

    “I’m fine! I’m soldier, this effort is not a problem.”

    “Nerine…” Seiji stared at her trying to see if she was improving. ‘I know how much you’re struggling, but you don’t have to do it alone… Wish you’d at least talk to me…’ Watching her was all he could do and he hated it. It was not the first day she rebuffed his help. Staying in Japan, he thought that she started to trust him more, but she still put him at a distance on specific things. She was difficult to read for him. “I just want to help.”

    “Your idea of help only causes more troubles.”

    “That’s not true!” he protested.

    Turning her head back towards the village behind them, she disagreed with that assertion. “Your helping is making them suspicious. They don’t know what to make of you.”

    “I tell them that I’m just naturally strong.”

    “No, normal human is that strong, even naturally. This is going to come to a head eventually.”

    “It was your idea to stay here rather than look for Yumi and the others. I can’t do nothing!”

    “We’re staying still because, we have less of a chance of finding the others if we’re all moving. Besides, it’s not as if I’m doing nothing.”

    Seiji perked up remembering the reason that Nerine choose to be a hunter for the village. “Did you hear anything?”

    She shook her head and looked back at the forest once more. Her back pressed harder against the wood beam of the fence. “No, the traveling merchants had no rumors that fit with your friends.”

    “Our friends, Nerine.”

    “Of course…depending on the way the rest are living in this virtual space, we should eventually hear something. They no doubt have more of your leanings, which I’m counting on. We won’t be staying here forever.”

    It was something that Seiji hoped for as well. He understood why she had them stay still, though it was not his choice. She made a convincing enough argument for him. Sticking around this village unable to find his friends was not what he planned to do forever. They would reunite again and help Yumi with her personalities.

    The sun began to set in the back, signaling to them that it was time to move. Everyone’s day was over now and they would be returning to their homes. It meant that dinner would begin and extra hands were already welcome.

    Seiji stood up from the log they used as a bench and stretched out from being in the same position for hours. It gave him some confirm to know that Nerine looked to be doing better. Though with her arms back, he could already see all of that rest starting to melt away once more. She was never going to be convinced against it. “You can take the day off tomorrow. They’ve got enough food now and there’s not supposed to be any merchants in the area.”

    “I’ll be fine, I told you. More than me, you should take the day off. The less they see you doing things that aren’t normal the shorter our time here will become.”

    “I’m not even using by true strength, Nerine! I’m holding back.”

    “Your idea of holding back leaves much to be desired.”

    Seiji crossed his arms looking proud of his progress so far. It had been a lot of work to get where he was now. “Unlike you, I wasn’t born with this. And until now, I haven’t needed to restrain myself. I’m still not used to only using a little bit. But I’m getting better!”

    “It’s unnecessary. Just let me do it.” She remained unconvinced of Seiji’s insistent. Everything was well planned in her mind and he kept risking the plan. She hoped that they would find someone soon. The thought of having to deal with the meltdown and what sort of world this was stressed her out. Not that it was anything less than what she normally dealt with when she was paired with him.

    “It’s training!” he repeated, as he told her every day before. Seiji clinched his fist for her as though it was going to prove anything. His strength was already impressive and nearly unrivaled by anyone. It really did nothing to reassure anything.

    “Point that training at dinner for now.”

    “Yes, ma’am…”

    Even if he was a little deflated by Nerine lack of enthusiasm for his efforts, that did not change his energy for helping. While he was not perfect in the kitchen, he helped in what ways that he could. And night fell upon the sleepy little village. A normal and uneventful day ended like each one before it, but not to be replaced with the same. There had been a new card shuffled into the deck in the morning.

    After breakfast and the start of the villagers going about their daily routine, Seiji and Nerine’s original plans were halted. They did not even make it out of the door before they noticed something was off. It was Seiji that noticed it first. A sound that was not normal, it was out of place amongst everything else that he knew from the village. “Do you hear that?”

    “Huh? What?” she asked, not having the sensitivity that Seiji gained. The look on his face was enough for her to know that something was wrong. “It’s not an animal?”

    “No, it sounds too heavy for that. Whatever it is, it’s big.”

    “A demon that they talked about?”

    “No clue, I’ve never seen one. But I don’t like the sound of it.”

    Nerine turned back to catch Mr. Horri as he stepped out all prepared for the fields. She stopped him quickly before he got out of their sight. “You need to warn the others. There’s a strange wind in the air, I don’t think it’s safe.”

    That immediately his attention as his eyes widened in shock. He knew what she was implying, even though she remained uncertain. His hands clamped tightly onto his hoe nearly turning white. “Is it…”

    “I don’t know, but I’m going to go check it out. If it is, I’ll try to draw it away from your village.”

    “But you’re not a Hunter! You won’t stand a chance against…”

    “It’s better than the village being attacked. Now go and warn the others!” Nerine stepped back next to Seiji. She whispered to him to keep it out of the ears of their patron. “Is it coming this way?”

    “Hard to tell. I’m not really used to this sort of thing. I just know it doesn’t sound right and I’m pretty sure they aren’t alone.”

    “Then we need to go, just remember if we fight, keep it out of sight of the villagers.”

    They both ran off with Seiji taking the lead. “Got to give me a challenge,” he teased. His ears listened carefully for the sounds letting it guide him to the source. “This is taking too long.”

    “Don’t. We have to keep our secret.”

    “I know! But what if someone is hurt or killed because we took too long getting there!”

    “This is a fake world remember. Nothing is being harmed.”

    Seiji clinched his hands together. “This is too real! I can’t see it as anything but real!” But their debate on their situation had to stop. They finally made it to the top of the hill that the farms were built into. Down at the bottom, they could both see a large figure. What Nerine could not see that Seiji did was the second person, smaller than the monster. “They’re in danger!”

    Without even thinking, Seiji disappeared from the hill. Nerine could not track his movements only feel the wake of his burst. While not necessarily as impressive of Saki in speed, he still reached the strange monster in moments to save the one being attacked. Seiji’s fist stretched out connecting with the creature sending it tumbling backwards as saliva and blood sprayed through the air. “Pick on someone your own size!” Seiji taunted, wanting it to focus on him.

    “I didn’t need your help, idiot.” Suddenly, an arm appeared around the wide neck of the hairy beast as it brought down to its knees under tremendous strength. An audible snap popped out of it as the arm broke the neck. The dead creature fell down in the grass as the one behind it revealed themselves.

    A smile quickly grew over Seiji’s face as he saw them. “Saki!”

    To be continued…
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  20. #410
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    Without even thinking, Seiji disappeared from the hill. Nerine could not track his movements only feel the wake of his burst. While not necessarily as impressive of Saki in speed, he still reached the strange monster in moments to save the one being attacked. Seiji’s fist stretched out connecting with the creature sending it tumbling backwards as saliva and blood sprayed through the air. “Pick on someone your own size!” Seiji taunted, wanting it to focus on him.

    “I didn’t need your help, idiot.” Suddenly, an arm appeared around the wide neck of the hairy beast as it brought down to its knees under tremendous strength. An audible snap popped out of it as the arm broke the neck. The dead creature fell down in the grass as the one behind it revealed themselves.

    A smile quickly grew over Seiji’s face as he saw them. “Saki!” Before she could even react, Seiji was hugging her tightly pleased to see her once more. He had finally found a friend after the days being stuck in Yumi’s mindscape.

    “Seiji, you need to calm down.”

    Despite what Nerine wanted, Seiji did not let go of Saki or release his hold. His enthusiasm could not be so easily reigned in. “Calm…what? But we finally found Saki!”

    “She doesn’t seem as happy about it as you, however…” But he did not get a chance fully hear out or react to Nerine before he took a sharp elbow to the face. There was enough behind it to knock him free of her and stagger him to the ground. “But guess you know that now…”

    Only slightly fazed by it, he rubbed his cheek from the hit, but otherwise brushed it off. “So where you Saki?”

    Fixing the fine silk of her athletic blend of a traditional kimono, which gave her legs freedom, Saki looked down at Seiji. “Looking for everyone.”

    “Hey, it’s like you thought, Nerine.”

    “Yes…” she agreed, while examining Saki thoroughly. There were clear differences between them. While Seiji and her traded their attire in for simple cloths the villagers could offer, Saki looked like she might have been from royalty. Nerine had not seen any sort fabric in the village or even on merchants passing by. “And what have you been doing specifically, when not searching for us?”

    The subtext did not hit Saki immediately until she picked up on the gaze. “Oh my cloths. I have a rather well off sponsor.”

    “Sponsor? Doing what?”

    Seiji jumped up and closed the distance quickly. There was a bit of a glow in his eyes suddenly. “Sounds like an interesting story! Want to come back to the village and rest? You can tell us about it!”

    “How about no. I don’t really have time to waste on that.”

    Chapter 410 – Time to Waste

    Expecting to wake up alongside everyone else, Saki looked about to her left and right finding nothing. She stared for minutes trying to process everything, and half expecting someone else to show up. But she was alone and without any clue to what was going on. All she had was the expectation that this somehow dealt with Yumi, but she was not even here. Which left her wondering why she was even alone. It did not serve any point.

    Once she started to accept reality as it was now, she pulled herself up to a seated position. Before her was tall white wall that stretched in both directions before curving out of sight. If she had not already seen Atlantis, it would have been impressive to her, but she had already seen bigger. Not that size was really the point on her mind.

    Something else was on her mind.

    She looked up to the sky and shouted, “Why the hell am I doing?! I already told you I’m not telling the story! And how did you already set a scene when I haven’t even said anything yet!”

    Seiji’s voice came booming down, “Com’on! It’ll be great! Knowing you, you’ve got a lot of ass kicking and great fight scenes!”

    “I’m not doing this, end it now! And with the absence of Yuki have you devolved even further?”

    Popped back to reality, Saki glanced over at Nerine, as they all still stood in the middle of the field with the demon slain. “Thought you had him under better control.” Nothing needed to be said, Nerine just looked back at Saki with a look too easy to read as ‘You try controlling that.’ Which Saki sighed and looked back at Seiji. “Fair point. A better question right now, why are you here?”

    “Oh I can answer that!” Seiji’s announced proudly. He seemed to have gotten off his disappointment of story time quickly.

    “You?”

    The glare from her did little to stop his energy. “Yes, of course I know what’s going on. We’re following Nerine plan to stay still. She felt it was better than wondering around and might have missed you.” He looked over at Nerine with pride in his eyes. “Which turned out to be the right decision, since we found you!”

    She crossed her arms and looked over at the village and Nerine. “More luck than a good plan. This world is huge, easily a to scale version of Japan. We’re just as likely to run into someone walking.”

    “I haven’t been doing nothing!” Nerine looked a little ruffled by Saki comment. “I’ve been following up and hunting down rumors. We can’t aimlessly wonder in the hopes of stumbling across everyone.”

    Catching the rising tension from a defensive Nerine, Seiji stepped in between them. He redirected the conversation quickly to something that still bothered him. “So what’s that?” he asked pointing at the dead creature behind them.

    “A demon, went by the name Gono. No bounty on him, but he had been attacking villages in the area. So I dealt with him while in the area after finishing my main job.”

    “Main job?” asked Seiji, becoming curious again in the back story surrounding her arrival. Though Saki refused to indulge in his childish excitement over fighting.

    Even if she did refuse, that did not stop her from providing a more visual explanation of what she had been doing in the days since their arrival in Yumi’s ancient demon filled vision of Japan. She took them back to her camp, which hardly had any real signs of being a camp. It looked merely like the place that she stopped with a recognizable enough rock formation to be a land marker for her.

    “What the hell is this giant thing?!” shouted Seiji, the moment he saw that it was not some strange rock or hill, but an actual living thing. Or rather, former living thing, as Saki killed it some time ago.

    Saki pointed them out to the front, revealing the large shape to be as they already figured out, a head. A severed head of a demon with an awful smell in fact sat before them almost looking like it might be asleep rather than dead. With massive horns and teeth along with oily black hair and a weird steel-like skin, all they could really do was accept that it had to be a demon. It had everything to belong to a classic giant red oni from wood paintings.

    Patting the hard skin, Saki claimed her kill. “This was my job. Some weird variant of an oni that made his home in the mountains around here and found people to be more filling than other things. Apparently, he had been dormant for a while and only recently started feeding again.”

    “So you’re what they call a Demon Hunter?” Nerine checked, already assuming it from what she had seen.

    “Not so much, I’m a bounty hunter, you have to get some license and go through tests to be a Demon Hunter apparently. But the pay is no different. And the connections are better, since I can hear rumors from the underground about sudden appearances of super humans.”

    “Does that mean this was part of your plan as well?”

    “No, I haven’t heard any rumors about you two at all. You have to stand out for rumors to be created.”

    Seiji looked back at Nerine with a look almost like question of why. Seeing even Seiji retracting support for her, she lost any strength to her defense of her plan. It hurt far more than either of them could see. She turned away from them after her sound defeat and acceptance.

    Not that it stopped Seiji from continuing. “Have you heard any rumors about the others?”

    “A few, though most so far have been dead ends. Knowing Yori’s tendency lately with his focus on Yumi, finding him should only be a matter of time. Finding Yumi and Yuki have been more of my priority, though I worry about finding Yuki given his nature. He may blend in the best.”

    “This does seem like something he would enjoy.”

    “Which could also make him the easiest, which is why I haven’t ruled out any rumors.”

    “Now that you’ve found us, we’ll join you and help in the search!”

    Saki sat down next to the demon head staring out at the horizon ahead with her mind already advancing. “It’ll definitely be helpful having someone that can heal me. I’ve been careful about not taking high risk bounties, so that I can keep searching. But with Nerine I can be bolder.”

    The thought of being used like an item in a game, something that she would have no understanding of the reference, but still found it indigent , turned around quickly. “I’m not a tool to be carried around!”

    “Having some flashbacks right now…” None of it lasted for long as she narrowed her sights on Nerine. “Having two more at my back is more important.” Saki stood up and hefted the demon head into the air before starting to march away with the expectation that they would follow her.

    Seiji quickly chased after her without a second thought. His mind was focused on the new adventures and fights that he could get into. The thought of fighting the blue oni that partnered the one Saki killed colored his visions. A good fight from something titanic made him grin slightly.

    Left behind for a moment still not fully convinced, Nerine had to rush to catch up. She was not about to be left behind. “You still got an image of me in your mind to pull me out when you need healing.”

    “Maybe a little,” she teased.

    Nerine sighed at her fate. “Where are you my King?”

    The walk back to the city that Saki treated as her temporary base only took half a day to reach, though it did leave Nerine completely exhausted. She laid on Saki’s bed in the mansion of her sponsor while Saki and Seiji went together to collect on the giant head.

    Seiji looked back in the direction of the large pile that they left other demon parts all stacked together. “Don’t you need proof? Couldn’t someone else try to claim they killed it?” It was not the only demon carcass and out in the open for anyone to poke through it. He found it surprising that there was not even someone there to watch over it.

    “Nope,” she replied quickly. Her hand stretched out to slide open the door as things quickly be dark and shady fast. Seiji followed behind her. “No picking fights, they’re all strong and I know you.”

    “…yes…”

    She could feel the disappointment in his voice. All of the bounty hunters that filled the room will skilled in different ways and worst of all most of them did not share the same noble fairness of a fight that Seiji did. Despite his strength and power, she doubted that he would actually against win any of them.

    Ahead of them was the counter with a young woman behind the slightly poor appearing wood counter and wall. Though as many foolish dead idiots learned, it was anything but. Saki stepped forward laying down a rolled parchment in front of the woman. “Got my reward?”

    “Your kill’s been confirmed,” the woman spoke with polite and well measured words. She turned around and pulled out a drawer from the wall. Returned to the counter, the drawer glowed with gold coin.

    Saki quickly pocketed the entirety of the reward and nodded to the woman. “Thank you.” She then faced Seiji with the look of leaving. But her eye picked up someone in the corner. They were making subtle movements at her. She grabbed Seiji’s arm and pulled him in close. “No talking.”

    “Huh?”

    “Promise me.”

    “Alright, fine. What’s this all about?”

    She glared up at him to shut him up and then pulled him along with her. Weaving through the tables, she sat down at the corner table with a well worn man. “You don’t call me over. Got some trouble?”

    “On the contrary, I’ve got something you want.”

    Leaning back in the chair, Saki played her hand defensively. “I’m in no rush for a bounty. We don’t owe each other anything.”

    “Oh, but I know you’ve been making queries, a lot. And I happen to have some that might interest you.”

    Saki tried to hide her annoyance, seeing that he had the stronger hand. “What are you asking?”

    “One hundred.”

    “Not interested.”

    “Even if I told you there’s a fake Demon Hunter making a name for themselves?”

    She saw Seiji’s eyes start to light up. He picked up on it as much as she did. ‘That could be Yumi!’

    To be continued…
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  21. #411
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    Saki fought with Seiji trying to keep him from ruining the deal by saying anything. She managed to stop him from doing much more than muttering random words. Though the information broker took amusement from the scene. A swift elbow silenced him long enough for Saki get back to the matter at hand. “If there’s truth to this rumor I can find it elsewhere with someone willing to be reasonable.”

    A sly smirk came across the man’s face to see Saki still willing to play. She had not left the table yet. “Oh I am being reasonable. I know the worth of what I have.” He shuffled around his empty glass between his hands measuring out his negotiation. “But can you find someone that knows the exact location they were last spotted?”

    “You know where he is?!” shouted Seiji before Saki could shut him up.

    She focused back on the shady man. “Fifty or I walk.”

    The man laughed a bit as though he heard a joke. “Now, now, a hundred or you’ll be getting some exercise. I know the bounty you just turned in, you’re more than good for it.”

    Grinding her teeth together, Saki hated the feeling of being strung up and played. ‘I know with enough time I can find clues on my own. But it could be out of date by the time I find them. And this is a world that is hostile to all of us, especially Yumi. We don’t know what those personalities have in store for her. I can’t waste time…damnit!’

    Saki pulled coins from her bag and dropped them on the table. “Seventy-five. If the rumor actually is accurate, I’ll give the same when I return.” She could see the bit of glow in the eyes of the man as he put together the increase to his profits. It was enough to get him loosening the gears on his lips. Though she had to wait as he weighed the options.

    “I can make your life hell if you double cross me.”

    “Oh trust me, like you said. I’m good for it. You just better hope your information is good or else I’ll be making your life hell. I don’t like cheats.”

    “We’ve had a very good arrangement, you can trust me.”

    “I also don’t like nosy people that like to play me.” She pushed over the coins to his side of the table. “Don’t forget I’m the only bounty hunter that likes killing demons. I’m not to be trifled with.”

    He gave an oily smirk to Saki knowing her power, but understanding there was more than strength. As he fingered over the coins mentally counting, he began to spill his information. “The rumor is that a stranger appeared in the Chemana region claiming to be a Demon Hunter.”

    “Chemana…why is that sound familiar?”

    “It’s part of Chigo Ward, otherwise known as the Occupied Ward, its where the demons first appeared centuries ago and the stronghold for most of the demonic armies. Only those seeking death go through. The Hunter Association strictly forbids their order from entering. We only have this type of peace because we don’t stir up the nest.”

    “So no true Hunter would actually be there.”

    “Only Ronin go there looking for meaningless honor in death.”

    “A Hunter in the demon lands, what sort of reputation they have?”

    “For mercilessly killing every demon that they come across.”

    Saki clinched her hands together. ‘Damn, Yumi you’re making too big of a scene. This is going to be bad…’ She stood up sharply from the table and dragged out Seiji, but not before the man’s hand came across the table.

    He whispered to her out of notice of the others in the room. “This bit is free. Word is the Association is on the move.”

    She ground her teeth together with a low growl. “Why tell me this.”

    “It’s just good for business if you resolve it and not them.”

    “Right…”

    With the last bit, Saki pulled on Seiji to get him moving towards the exit. She was not liking the feeling that she was getting from the whole setup. Things rapidly turned south faster than she imagined. “Com’on, Yumi’s about to start a new war.”

    Chapter 411 – Sparks of War

    Saki said nothing more to Seiji until they returned to her room. Inside, Nerine still rested, but quickly sat up with Saki throwing around a few things from her chest on the floor. She pulled out quite a few things for someone taking a long trip. “What’s going on?” Nerine asked, immediately become concerned by the atmosphere that Saki brought.

    Frustrated and annoyed, he sat down in the chair next to the door. “I don’t know, Saki refuses to tell me. All I got was that she’s convinced we’ve got a location for Yumi. Though, I think it’s more likely that it’s Yuki.”

    Sighing aloud, Saki stopped grabbing things out. She looked between the two of them. It had to be something they both heard anyway. “It’s Yumi. Not Yuki.”

    “How can you be sure of that?”

    “Because Yuki’s not going to do something so reckless as killing tons of demons and pretending to be a Demon Hunter. He’s got too much awareness to make that mistake. Knowing him, he knows more about what’s going on than any of us. No, it’s Yumi. She’s not used to anything of this and apart from Yori, the mostly right now not to be thinking about what her actions could be doing to the wider world at large. Yuki knows this is a fake world, but that this also has rules to follow and he’ll play within those rules. You think Yumi would consider the same thing?”

    Seiji stood up in defense of her. “I think you’re selling Yumi a little short. She might not be a fighter like us, but she’s smart.”

    “You’re wrong there. She is a fighter and that’s something you’re forgetting. Besides, Nerine what was Seiji’s first reaction when he heard about demons?”

    “He wanted to fight them.”

    He quickly recoiled with the target turned on him. “That’s my point. You didn’t think of this as a real world with rules to follow.”

    “Because it’s not, it’s just thing a in Yumi’s mind. We’re here for her to help her figure out what’s up with her weird personalities.”

    “But you can’t think of this as a fake world or something that’ll just go away. It’s real enough for us right now and so we need to follow the rules. If we don’t we will have a harder time when it does come to facing Yumi’s true demons.” Saki finished packing everything that she had stored away and loaded it up on her back. “We don’t have time to waste anymore. Sorry, Nerine you’ll have to recover on the road.”

    “Is it that bad?” she asked standing, sensing the dread in her voice.

    Seiji still was not entirely convinced. He still followed Saki out the door, not planning on getting left behind. Saki did not wait for either them to linger around. “I don’t know, Saki’s saying things about war and stuff. I don’t know what’s going on.”

    A war sounded worse than she was expecting for just Yumi being reckless. There was more going on that she did not see. Nerine had only a small picture of what the world was like from her time in the village. Merchant did not give up much to her to help her get a clear sense of things. Thankfully, Saki seemed to have more time to be filled in on all of the details.

    Ignoring the fatigue, Nerine hurried up along Saki’s side as they walked through the crowded main streets. “What’s this about a war?”

    “I’ll explain on the road. We can’t talk here.”

    Outside the city and with it far to their back, none of them expected it to be such a short visit. And worse, the tension ran thick as Saki left things vague and ominous. Something that only frustrated Seiji more not knowing anything. He eventually exploded on Saki, no longer able to hold back. “When the hell are you going to start making sense now?”

    Saki slowed her pace and glanced back at the city. Far out of sight now for anyone else, she felt more comfortable getting into details. “This world is in an uneasy truce with the major demon clans to the west. So I didn’t want to bring up war for any passing ears to hear. The Association has been doing everything to keep the façade of peace.”

    “How do you know all of this?” complained Seiji, and glancing over at Nerine who ended up learning none of this. And they all had been in the world for the same amount of time. Which was hardly very long, a little more than a two weeks and Saki looked like she fit into the world.

    “I got lucky and was dumped off near that city. Which is more or less the capital of this version of Japan. So I was able to get a lot of questions answered by being there.”

    “So what’s this war thing about?”

    “Like I said, the Association, the Demon Hunter Association, is trying to keep up the illusion of the peace.”

    “They’re just people that fight demons right? They’re not the government, but you make it sound like they’re running the place.”

    “Which is more or else true. Yes, there is a Lord, but he’s pretty much useless. I mean this is a world of demons with the only ones that can fight them being the Demon Hunters. They hold nearly all of the power and the Lord just goes along with it.”

    “There’s people that fight demons, where’s the problem?”

    “They are both too few and too weak. And they know it. It’s why where we’re going is forbidden, they don’t want to risk losing what few numbers they have.”

    “If it’s that bad, why aren’t demons all over the place?”

    “That was not something I was able to find out. At least, an answer that I felt was true. The reality is that most of the demons seem to be sticking to the west half of Japan. There are few that are around here and they are mostly controlled by one Demon Lord of the East Japan. He’s kept things quiet, but there are regular tributes that they pay to the demons to keep them happy.”

    Pointing out the pile that was smoke rising up from the city, Saki called their attention to the dead demons. “Those are the rogue demons that follow no Lord and do whatever they want. Since they don’t follow the truce, the Association is able to issue bounties for them.”

    Nerine turned back around in the direction that Saki lead them. Things finally started to fall into place for her. “That means, if this is Yumi killing demons within their controled territory, it could stir up a new conflict, because she’s claiming to be part of the group that agreed to follow the peace agreements.”

    “Yes, without her knowing it, she could be plunging this entire country into a war that it can’t win. But even worse, is that the Association I doubt will sit and do nothing about this.”

    Now she understood the urgency that Saki had. A ripple spread out from her feet as a horse and cart materialized next to them. “We can travel faster this way without drawing attention.” They all hopped up to the cart with Seiji sitting in the back.

    Even as the horse started to move, Seiji leaned his head back towards the two girls. “Are you okay, Nerine? You’ve been using your powers almost without rest for two weeks now.”

    “We don’t have a choice in the matter. We need to hurry and we don’t have any other option.”

    “Saki’s pretty loaded. She could have just bought one for us.”

    Staring over at Saki, she silently questioned her if she had made a mistake and they let her do it. But Saki waved her hand at Nerine. “I’m not that well off. My bounty money went to collecting enough for everyone to survive once I found everyone. So I’m actually short on cash.”

    “What about the sketchy man?”

    “I planned on picking up some side jobs on the way back to pay him.”

    “You didn’t piss off the yazuka did you?”

    “I haven’t pissed anyone off yet and he’s nothing like that. Just a well connected man.” Saki looked out ahead of them on the road. A new journey hurried came together for them and still some of their friends remained unknown out there. “We’ve got bigger problems for now. Stopping Yumi from triggering a war that’ll kill every human in the country!” If things could only get worse. ‘Where the hell are you Yuki?’

    To be continued…
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  22. #412
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    Saki looked out ahead of them on the road. A new journey hurriedly came together for them and still some of their friends remained unknown out there. “We’ve got bigger problems for now. Stopping Yumi from triggering a war that’ll kill every human in the country!” As if things could only get worse. ‘Where the hell are you Yuki?’

    About an hour passed on the road for them in relative silence. Seiji did his job in keeping topics flowing with inane conversation, as Saki viewed it. But it made the trip easier to manage. So there were not any complaints.

    But eventually Seiji turned the conversation to something more worthwhile. Saki felt it was a little surprising that he had not reached it already. “So, I’ve been wondering. Do you have a map of the country or something?”

    “No, why? I know where we’re going.”

    “But how? You said it’s like Japan, but not Japan, right?”

    “It’s close enough that you just need a slight translation of things. The physical land is definitely Japan. I’ve seen a map back in the capital and there’s no mistaking it.” Saki paused thinking back to when she rushed around to understand the new world they were dropped within. “Given that this is created from within Yumi’s mind, it makes sense that she would use something familiar.”

    The idea of something familiar gave Seiji pause. He looked around at the environment questioning such a notion. “You sure this is actually Yumi? You don’t think some of Yuki didn’t leak in?”

    It was something that came across Saki’s thoughts as well. In fact, the longer that she looked at the world she became almost convinced that somehow Yuki had interfered in some way to alter the world. Or the time he spent aiding Phoibe was the cause of such a strange world. But Saki became less convinced of it the more she gave it serious thought. “This is definitely all Yumi.”

    “Why are you so certain?”

    “Because as much as we would want to believe that this is something that Yuki would be happy to live, he’s also not like that. That’s not who he is. You know that very well.”

    “But what other explanation is there? This can’t be Yumi.”

    Nodding in agreement with Seiji, she could not argue with the thought either. None of them would believe that this is Yumi. “It’s the truth though. We don’t know the deepest secrets that she keeps from all of us. However, the more likely case is that this is caused by those personalities, which are bigger unknown for us. Being inside Yumi, they have as much to do with what the machine generates as she does. Given that Phoibe’s lost control of the system, it’s probably more accurate to say that they control everything and what we have here is what they want us to see.”

    All of the information made it no easier for Seiji to accept. His hand ran through his hair roughing it up in his frustration. “All you’re saying is that we know nothing.”

    “Pretty much. There’s some point to this world. Whether it is that they just wanted to kill us or make us suffer in here, it’s not done without reason. Which means playing along with the rules of the world. If they do fully control the world, they can make things a living hell for us if they want.”

    He looked back to Nerine and their time in the village. “You think that they can really do that? Change the world on a whim?”

    “We can’t be sure of anything. But I do see it as a possibility. It’s why I’ve been careful about keeping a low profile.”

    “But that doesn’t still explain why you know where we’re supposed to be going. You don’t know every little prefecture here do you?”

    “No, but if you focused for a moment on the details you’d see it as well. I don’t need to know everything, because it’s close enough to what we already know. Do you remember where we’re going?”

    It was a while ago and it all happened pretty quickly. So Seiji had to take some time to think about the answer. He remembered it being mentioned, but since it was some foreign word to him he did not recall it. Crossing his arms in thought made it seem like he was thinking hard about it, but coming up with a lot of blanks. All he was getting from a piece. “Chu? Chi?”

    “Chemana,” filled in Saki with the answer. She could see that he was not going to get there any time soon, but had something.

    “That’s it! But that’s just a made up name. I know all of the prefectures and that’s no one of them.”

    Saki gave him a nod of agreement. “That’s right. As it is, it would not be one. Change it slightly and you have Shimane.”

    “In Chugoku? But that’s not what he said.”

    “Right, he said Chigo. There were slight alterations to the characters, but it’s one in the same.”

    Bringing up an image of the map of Japan in his mind, he placed the location of Shimane for his reference. “But Shimane is clear on the other side of Japan! You don’t get much more west than that.”

    “Which is why we’re in a hurry. Being north of Tokyo, we have a long trip on our hands.”

    “Is that where we are?”

    “Roughly, we’re in the north part of the Gunma.”

    “That’s like a full day drive if we had a car.”

    “Which we don’t, so it’ll be a few days before we get to where the rumors are coming from.”

    The horse suddenly changed into four horses, giving them more speed. Nerine understood the pressure of time that they were under. Probably more than Seiji considered. She leaned herself up against the cart trying to keep her mental strength together. “How did you come by such rumors? It’s not like the humans would be freely traveling in and out of the demon lands.”

    “That’s the part that worries me the most. We may already be too late. I don’t ask for the source, not likely to get it anyway. But you’re right. If rumors are coming out of the West Japan, then it means the demons are talking and that’s not good for any of us. We still don’t even know how real this world is and what affect it is having on our bodies or mind back in the real world.”

    “You think we could be hurt in the real world if we’re hurt in here?” asked Seiji, suddenly having more of his world opened up to him with each passing moment. “Like that one movie?”

    “Anything’s possible with the way the real world has been turned upside down. Athena and Yori both have been blinded by just making attempts of going inside the minds of them. Don’t rule out anything for now and think of this like the real world. It’s all we can do if we want to survive to escape.”

    Chapter 412 – Demon’s Gate

    Thanks to the efforts of Nerine, they made better time than they planned on before. Even with the four horses and the late start in the day, it was not until late into the night that they reached the borders. At that point, they stopped. Hiding out in the bushes on the edge of the forest, the border was not as literal as they thought it might be.

    While they all had different versions of it in their minds before arriving, it all still came down to imagining it as some wall that stretched across all of the Japan splitting in the middle. Certainly, the border did split the country in half. And there indeed was the construction of a wall. It just was not the sort of wall that they imagined. One that made their lives a little more challenging.

    “What sort of border is that?” commented Seiji, as it defied his expectations. There was not a wall of stone or rock, even wood. Not even maybe a raised mountain. None of that stopped them. It was a far simpler and reliable wall.

    A red barrier stretched over the land culling the nation away from the humans. The only entry point held demons guarding them from anyone. It was not the sort that an army could just march into. All of West Japan was closed.

    “They likely patrol the barrier itself as well to maintain and check for breaches,” Nerine spoke, coming from a place of experience. “But any barrier of this size should have some weakness.”

    “We don’t have the time to search for it though.” Saki leaned forward a little monitoring the movements of the demons closely. ‘It’s doubtful that they really get any sort of trade in and out. And it’s also something we don’t have time to wait on…’ Other worries came to Saki though, as she looked at Nerine. ‘If I could, I’d give her the night to rest. But we really don’t have that option right now. The time we lose waiting could be the time we need to stop this world from spiraling into hell…’

    “Don’t worry about me. I can keep going still.”

    Saki stepped away from their cover and walked deeper into the forest they found. The options they had were limited. She knew as much and they only had the one thing to do. “Sorry. I’ll make sure you get to rest once we find Yumi.”

    Sensing the change, Seiji pulled back from spying and followed after Saki. Though he could not wait in silence for long before wanting to know the plan. “What are you thinking, Saki?”

    “We’re sneaking past their patrols and barrier and entering.”

    “I figured that much out already. How you doing it?”

    “Nerine?” she deferred the answer over to the expert. All Saki knew was that Nerine would be able to do it. None of the how would make any sense to her other than the most basic of explanation.

    ‘Still wielding me like a tool…’ Deflecting her frustration with her status, Nerine focused on the barrier to their left. They still had a distance to go before getting out of the range of the demons and any possible patrol. “The simple answer is that I’m going to negate the barrier.”

    “You can do that?”

    “…Seiji, she can do anything she wants. You have to stop thinking about what she uses to fight as the limit of her power.”

    About all he could do was nod a bit and marvel. Though carrying on a stunned reaction could not last for long. He recovered quickly to get back into the conversation. “Right, sorry Nerine.”

    His sincerity turned her head forward to not focus on him. “It’s still not going to be easy if there is any sort of twist on their power. Negating it requires me understanding what it is well enough to craft something accurate.”

    “I’m less worried about that and more about keeping out of sight of the demons. What are the chances that they’ll detect you messing with their barrier?”

    “Depends if someone keeps it running or if it passive. Given the level of sophistication we’re dealing with I doubt they have an alarm or alert. I’ll keep us invisible.”

    Saki stopped them as she came to a spot that she felt good about. There were no patrols for as far as she could see. The risks would be minimized as much as they could manage. Worse in her mind was that they still were not even close to where Yumi was rumored to be currently. Or how old that information might even be now. “Be completely thorough, Nerine. No sound, smell, ultraviolet range, nothing. We can’t predict what sort of detection or senses the demons might have. I don’t want to be slowed down here.”

    “Understood. Just stay within my bubble.”

    They all walked out of cover into the open. Tension mounted for them all even with nothing in sight. Everything should be fine for them, but the uncertainty and complications still made each step feel heavy and sluggish.

    At the edge of the barrier, Nerine stood staring at it. She focused intently on the red glow, while Saki and Seiji stayed behind her, though close. Seiji looked over to Saki as they waited. “You know, we’ve all just been assuming that the rumor could be Yumi or Yuki, one of our friends. What happens if it’s not any of them?”

    “We deal with that if it happens. But I doubt that’ll happen.”

    “And if war breaks out, what then?”

    “I don’t know. Seiji I don’t have all of the answers. I’m winging this as much as anyone else. So don’t look to me for such things.”

    “And what about—“

    “Seiji, I said I don’t have your answers!” she snapped.

    However, Seiji quickly tapped on her and pointed out ahead of them even as Nerine tested the barrier. “No, what about that?” Standing at the barrier staring straight at them was a human, or more likely a demon that appeared like a human. They should not be able to see them yet both Saki and Seiji could see the look of their eyes fixed on them. They were not searching or confused. They knew exactly where they were.

    Saki ground her teeth together. They had not even made it through the barrier and somehow were spotted. “Damnit! We fight…”

    To be continued…
    Last edited by Andromeda; 01-07-2017 at 10:28 PM.
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  23. #413
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    At the edge of the barrier, Nerine stood staring at it. She focused intently on the red glow, while Saki and Seiji stayed behind her, though close. Seiji looked over to Saki as they waited. “You know, we’re all just been assuming that the rumor could be Yumi or Yuki, one of our friends. What happens if it’s not any of them?”

    “We deal with that if it happens. But I doubt that’ll happen.”

    “And if war breaks out, what then?”

    “I don’t know. Seiji I don’t have all of the answers. I’m winging this as much as anyone else. So don’t look to me for such things.”

    “And what about—“

    “Seiji, I said I don’t have your answers!” she snapped.

    However, Seiji quickly tapped on her and pointed out ahead of them even as Nerine tested the barrier. “No, what about that?” Standing at the barrier staring straight at them was a human, or more likely a demon that appeared like a human. They should not be able to see them yet both Saki and Seiji could see the look of their eyes fixed on them. They were not searching or confused. They knew exactly where they were.

    Saki ground her teeth together. They had not even made it through the barrier and somehow were spotted. “Damnit! We fight…” Confusion and questions spun about in Saki’s mind about how they were detected. Though as she could see the demon did not seem to be attacking them either. ‘It knows where we are, but can’t see us. So they’ve got some other way to find us…’

    For all on the planning that Saki or Nerine calculated, they really should have put a couple moments into what Saki had said by a slip of words. Because it was exactly what Seiji needed to hear. He burst out of bubble of invisibility that kept them hidden. Even knowing that they were there, the demon still looked surprised as Seiji blasted out with his fist wound up.

    Taking Seiji’s fist straight to the face, the demon flew backwards across the field. Expecting the fight not to be over yet, he charged in after the demon disappearing into the cloak of night. Saki groaned in annoyance. “Should have seen that…” Then she remembered something important. “Damnit, Seiji! You can’t fight demons!”

    Nerine finished walking through the barrier closing them off to the human side. But it worried her that Saki would say such anything. “What’s wrong?”

    “There’s something I haven’t told him about demons and knowing him, he’s going to ruin our chances of a simple infiltration.”

    “That might already be over…” she commented noted that the noise Seiji made from starting a fight would likely not going unnoticed by the other demons.

    Saki picked up Nerine and sprinted away with her not taking to her full speed. “We can outrun a few demons. It’s not like the whole place is packed with them. We just need to end this quickly so that we can slip into the shadows. And I need Seiji not to make a stupid mistake.”

    Chapter 413 – Demon’s Blood

    Following the punching, Saki quickly found the two deeper into the territory of the demons. “At least he’s not completely stupid. This far out, we may avoid detection still.” Placing Nerine to the side, she charged in disappearing from sight. “I’ve got to reach him before he does something we can’t undo!”

    Narrowed focus, the demon that Seiji fought was not looking very good. In its human form, it did not seem to be able to stand up to the brutal force that Seiji could wield. This made things even worse, Saki knew. She caught sight of Seiji landing another blow as blood sprayed up from the opened wound. “Damnit!”

    Seiji dove in to finish off the demon, but Saki grabbed him and pulled him back just in time. It allowed her to breathe for once. “I made it.”

    “What the hell, Saki?!”

    She sharply whacked him in the head to get him to be quiet for a moment. “Shut up and listen for a second! You can’t let the blood of a demon get on you! They’ll be able to track us and it can’t be removed!”

    “Wait, what?! Why the hell did you wait until now to tell me?” He revealed his fist painted lightly in the blood of the demon he had been pummeling into the ground.

    “Because I planned on handling the demon fighting, since I can’t trust you to fight carefully!”

    He threw up his fist at her frustrated with her lack of faith in him. “I’m getting tired of you thinking I’m stupid!”

    Before Saki could come in with a retort, Nerine stepped between them, finally reaching them after Saki left her behind. Using her gauntlets, she grabbed the two to get some distance between them. “You can fight with each other after we deal with the bigger problem.”

    Seiji leaned backwards in surprise at seeing an actual demon standing before him and not just one in human skin. “Where the hell did that come from?!”

    “While you two were arguing, it gave the demon time to transform. Apparently, their human form is not their normal appearance.”

    “No…” muttered Saki, as she ground her teeth to see that the problem became significantly more challenging to keep quiet. ‘This was exactly what I wanted to avoid…’ Their options narrowed to only one now. Admittedly, she knew it had always only ever been one. Just in different conditions. Now in the currently situation, she had only one thing to say. “Seiji, full power!”

    He grinned with the encouragement from Saki. His leg slid back a little anchoring into the ground as the earth cracked and pressed down. Light pulsed down his scar signaling the increasing power building within Seiji. In moments, he built up enough to blast off the ground at the demon, but with the increased size of the demon into a large snake and spider like hybrid also came power of its own. Unlike before when Seiji effortlessly pummeled the creature, an array appeared in front of its hand this time halting Seiji’s fist.

    While he held up the demon’s right arm, the left came around hitting him in the flank shooting him back with equal speed. “Damnit, it’s far more powerful than I expected!” Saki disappeared going over where Seiji flew and landed on him kicking off from him to charge at the demon.

    “Damnit, Saki!” Seiji yelled as he flew back towards Nerine. Crashing into earth, Seiji wasted no time hopping back to his feet not looking slowed down by the attack. He brushed off his damaged tunic and charged back into the fight.

    However, neither of them had any success in breaking through the barrier that it put up. It had enough mobility and power to keep up with both of them despite their speed. Additional arrays appeared in the air generating demonic energy rapidly to engulf Seiji for counterattack. The beams of energy pushed him back into the ground as he tried to protect his body with his arms. Eventually, the energy dissipated leaving a mostly unharmed Seiji behind with burning ashes falling down around him.

    Free to attack once more, Seiji went in blindly without any plan. Little changed from the resumed attack. Neither of them could make it very far with their attacks. Nothing could get through the defense and time was draining away fast.

    Saki paused in the attack to watch the situation with Seiji and the demon. “We need to finish this, but nothing is harming it… But it also seems unable to hurt Seiji either. It has vast power, yet Seiji is going head on.” While she watched him fight, she noticed what was happening. Since she had never been in a real fight with him, she never noticed it before. In the middle of the fight, she could not pay attention to the tiny details. None of that mattered before to her. “Damnit, Seiji! I can’t believe you!”

    Jumping out in front of Seiji as a new attack came in, she snatched away something from him as the attack came through. She landed safely away from them and stared at it. “A talisman, figures. We knew as much, I’ve just never seen him use in a fight before.” Saki jumped forward to the demon in her theory. The barrier came up around the demon and she used the talisman on the barrier trying to push through the defense.

    Her hand almost made it through before being repelled by it. The talisman burned up from the intense demonic energy present. “It had some effect, but it’s lacking power…” She looked up at Seiji’s continuing failing attempts. “It’s gotta be him,” she concluded quickly.

    All she needed was the right moment to strike. She had to watch as the two clashed in futility. The demon seemed to be as annoyed about being unable to kill him as Seiji was about doing anything to harm it. They had equally perfect defenses with neither understanding the other. The moment the demon figured it out, which Saki assumed was smart enough to do so, Seiji would lose. It had not figured it out already because of Seiji distinctive use of his power made it harder to notice.

    But she had her moment finally. She disappeared as she saw the attack building up from the demon. Which was enough of a sign for Seiji’s power to subconsciously manifest. With the conditions finally met, she pulled Seiji out of the line of the fire. “We’re finishing this now, Seiji!”

    “Hey? What the hell?!”

    “Just follow my lead!” She grabbed a bunch of the talismans gathered around Seiji to protect him and threw themselves at the demon. In the moments before hitting the barrier, she shoved the talismans into Seiji’s hand. “Put all of your power in the attack!” She guided him in to the spot.

    Seiji still did not understand what was going on. It was a straightforward enough command that he could follow. Screaming deep from his lungs, his scars glowed bright channeling it into his hand making the talisman respond. The demonic energy began to vibrate and weaken under the influence of Seiji’s power. Backed with strength, Seiji finally shattered the barrier protecting the demon and Saki leapt through the hole quickly landing a kick to the head of the demon.

    Downed, though not killed yet, Saki landed on the earth next to the fallen demon. “Nerine!” she called with the final stage of the plan. Grabbing the weird thorax like body of the demon, Saki tossed it into the air with the barrier fully down as a beam split the sky. A burning hole remained in the demon left from Nerine’s attack.

    Saki sighed with relief to have the threat finally over. “We need to get out of here immediately!” It was a miracle they had no one else come after them or possibly arrogance. Either way, she would take either given.

    “What the hell was that?!” shouted Seiji looking at his hand.

    “Move now! Explain later!” Saki jumped off getting her a burst of speed to pick up Nerine before turning back around once more.

    Seiji watched the two disappear into the forest nearby leaving him alone with potential more demons coming. “Damnit! I want some answers!” He charged after them following the sounds of Saki running through the forest trying to get as much distance as possible.

    After ten minutes of running they finally came to a stop deep in a thick forest. Saki stopped on a large branch meters above the ground. She waited for Seiji to catch up. “I’m going to need your help, Nerine. You’re going to be the only one that can salvage this.”

    “I’m going to need some answers about what’s going on.”

    “I’m wanting some as well,” snapped Seiji landing on the branch near to the two women. “What was that back there?”

    “Can we really not? There’s more important matters right now!”

    “This is pretty damn important to me!” Seiji threw out his open hand to Saki. “What did you do? Answer me!”

    He still stuck on an unimportant matter, but Saki could not stir him otherwise. He was going to keep pressing it until she answer. “Fine, if it’ll get you to the more important issue faster. I didn’t do anything. I just correctly used your power.”

    “My power?”

    “You really aren’t going to be this blind to what’s been going on to you this whole time?”

    “That is not mine!”

    “Yes, it is, Seiji. It’s a part of you.”

    “No, it’s not! I refuse to accept it!”

    Saki crossed her arms feeling like she was suddenly getting to a different matter entirely. It was not something that she expected to hear from him. In fact, even more surprising was the look on his face. He knew what she did. And because he knew that was what made him anger. She did not expect that from him. “What? You bothered that everything you have isn’t all muscle and that you actually have something else helping you?”

    “It’s wrong! And you didn’t have the right!”

    She stepped back as he leapt over to stand in front of her. ‘He’s really bothered by this… Now I’m really confused. What’s his problem? He’s taking this too seriously to just be one of his usual muscle headed issues.’ It was not the sort of face that she ever thought that she would see on Seiji. He was genuinely bothered and angry with her. “We killed the demon. And would have done so faster if you actually use that Shinto ability of yours rather than focusing solely on strength!”

    Seiji punched Saki in the face for her remark, which stunned both Nerine and Saki. Saki never saw it coming, something so out of character for him. “Seiji…”

    “You look at me like I’m a joke and an idiot, but there are lines you don’t cross. That isn’t Shinto! That damn power isn’t!”

    To be continued…
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  24. #414
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    She stepped back as he leapt over to stand in front of her. ‘He’s really bothered by this… Now I’m really confused. What’s his problem? He’s taking this too seriously to just be one of his usual muscle headed issues.’ It was not the sort of face that she ever thought that she would see on Seiji. He was genuinely bothered and angry with her. “We killed the demon. And would have done so faster if you actually use that Shinto ability of yours rather than focusing solely on strength!”

    Seiji punched Saki in the face for her remark, which stunned both Nerine and Saki. Saki never saw it coming, something so out of character for him. “Seiji…”

    “You look at me like I’m a joke and an idiot, but there are lines you don’t cross. That isn’t Shinto! That damn power isn’t!”

    That was not the answer that Saki expected from him. It only gave her more questions. And it did not align with what she knew about Seiji. “Why are you bringing that up now? You distance yourself from all of that.”

    “I tolerate it, nothing more. It’s been bastardized and a part of me, but that doesn’t give you the right to use it. Never do that again, Saki! Only I use it.” He stepped toward her making his stand. This was not a matter that he would let go or rest. It mattered too much to him.

    Still feeling the sting of Seiji’s punch, Saki paused for a moment to stare at him. She found a side of him that he never expected. ‘There’s more going on with him and his power than I gave credit for. It’s not that he doesn’t know about the power, he’s actively avoiding them. He’s been intentionally fighting with his arm tied because they insult his personal view? I never would have guessed that he cared that much. We all thought he hated everything about the Shinto practices and training his grandfather shoved down his throat. Does this mean he actually wants to be like the man he can’t get along with?’ Saki had trouble stopping all the questions that this raised for her. Though with Seiji before her she was not going to be getting any of those answers.

    Worse, there were more troubling matters than dealing with this surprising revelation about Seiji’s personal beliefs. “Fine. I’m sorry, I didn’t know that it meant so much to you. I won’t do it again.”

    “Good, remember that.” He backed off quickly with that seemingly resolving his immediate issues.

    Saki twitched hearing the troubling sounds of demons reacting. They had been lucky that the demon was alone, but all of the delays gave them more than enough time to get the rest of the garrison moving on them. “Now that we’re settled these matters, can we leave? We’re already over stayed and have new problems to deal with, like demons able to track our every movement…”

    Chapter 414 – Demon’s Secret

    Hidden in the bushes Seiji and Nerine thought that they were staying out of sight, but a shift in the foliage made them turn as Saki broke the neck of a small demon that found them. At her feet, three more corpses sought the recently deceased’s company. “Keep moving, we haven’t out run them yet and it’s only made easier for them.”

    They jumped out sprinting over the plains deeper into demon territory and even more that could find them. It was only made worse with the night cloaking most of the terrain. They could not make any clear plans for an escape other than keep running.

    Seiji looked behind them hearing the sounds of angry demons chasing after them. Long back they gave up letting Nerine run with them. Though she did not fully appreciate that Seiji hauled her around, it might have been slightly more desirable for it to be Saki. “Damn, they’re persistent bastards!”

    “They’re tracking you. I told you before about that.”

    “Yeah, but I thought you meant just the demon we killed.”

    “No, any demon can track us now. That’s why we need to get out of their range. That’s the only chance we have right now, since we don’t have enough time to try to fix the problem.”

    “But we—“ Interrupted, Seiji spotted a disruption in the sky coming quickly towards them. “Above you Saki, there’s two!”

    She disappeared with an afterimage left behind of her for the demons to strike in confusion. Dropping in from the air, she landed a deadly kick into the back of one demon while grabbed the tail of the other and swinging them into the earth next to the paralyzed demon. A swift double kill ended both of their lives and she sped up to her friends.

    “The way we’re going, that war may happen anyway…” a frustrated Seiji replied unable to do anything. His acceptance to pass off the fighting to Saki for this revealed how much he understood their crisis.

    “As long as we don’t boast being Demon Hunters, there still might be a chance.”

    “Think that’ll convince any of them?”

    “That’s why I said might.”

    “Sorry, Saki.”

    An eyebrow lifted for Saki seeing the back of Seiji running ahead of her. “It’s partly my fault as well. I was being a little self-centered. I guess running solo has been affecting me…” It felt a little weird having such a conversation with Seiji. She jumped ahead of the two to break the moment. “Speed up, we need to lose them.” Then she disappeared taking advantage of her speed in full.

    “Damnit, Saki,” he groaned knowing that he could not keep up with the pace she set. They were nowhere comparable, no one was up against Saki. And she expected him to keep up. He could only try his best.

    It took a little bit, but it seemed to work actually. While none of them could actually sense demons in a way that would be convenient, there was also no indication of sounds. But that only gave them so much range, one that Saki felt was certain of being less than the demon’s tracking ability.

    But it seemed to be enough for now. No one came for more than ten minutes. Saki loosened up a little feeling better about their odds. “Maybe this cave makes it harder for them to track us.” It was a small hope.

    With Nerine resting to gather her strength, Seiji watched the tunnel opening. He remained deep inside given Saki’s insistent on it. “So you going to explain in more detail what’s going on with these demons and their ability to track us?”

    “It’s something I learned while being a bounty hunter. The first time I hunted a demon, I made the same mistake, leaving me indebted to them. Those bastards are the reason I ended up becoming a bounty hunter. Though it did have its advantages, I intended to be more independent, something I couldn’t avoid.”

    Saki started to get to the point as she stretched out her hand to target the demon blood on Seiji. “There’s something unique about a demon’s blood. I don’t know what it is and I’m not fully inclined to believe the Association at their word. But whether it it’s the smell or power, they can track that. And I guess since all demons have the same blood, somehow, they can all detect it. Even washing it off won’t remove the effects. Even if you can’t see it, it’s still working hidden.”

    Holding up his hand that had the blood on it, Seiji stared with wrinkles appearing in his brow as he got the bigger picture. “But there’s a way to remove it, correctly, right?”

    “Yes, but only the Association knows how to do it. It’s why bounty hunters don’t fight demons. If you get blood on you, the Association will exile you from the city unless they purify you.”

    “There some catch?”

    “They charge high prices for it, in essence making it unprofitable fighting demons unless you’re highly skilled. They aren’t exactly my biggest fans.”

    A grimace came over his lips as he realized what that meant. “So they didn’t tell you how to purify demon’s blood.”

    “No, it’s a closely held secret that they use to help hold their power. As if they needed more reasons.”

    Then he looked over at Nerine remembering her talents. “But we’ve got Nerine. She can do it!”

    Saki nodded to Seiji. “That’s my hope. But we don’t know what it is. So I don’t know if that’s going to be enough.”

    Both turned to the resting Nerine for hopeful confidence. She ended up being their only hope for escaping the demon’s cleanly and getting back on the trail of Yumi’s rumors. “Saki’s right. I don’t know much, but if I analyze it, I might be able to know. Knowing how it works is going to be the most important, the rest my power can manage.”

    There was little more that Saki could do other than provide guard over the cave while Nerine worked. Unlike Seiji, she did not have anything the demon’s could track. So she could stand outside the cave looking for any change in their security. Still, cover was important, there was a lot that she still did not know about the demons. She could not take any chance being spotted. ‘This hasn’t turned out as well as I hoped… Still demons and an ancient Japan, what exactly are these personalities of Saki’s playing at? This isn’t for no reason and it seems like there would be better ways if they wanted to break her spirit or mind.’

    After being dropped into the new virtual world, she did not end up with much time to remain thinking about matters. She focused more on survival and finding her friends. It felt like the first time she actually had a break from all of that. Thinking about the bigger problems at hand had to be sidelined.

    Though after seeing more of the world and complexity it had to offer, she began to have doubts about her original theory. ‘When I first arrived I wrote most of this off as some program that Phoibe had stored away. Given the setting it made more sense that it came from Yuki, not Yumi. But I know that’s not true. The longer I’m here the more convinced I am that Yumi is definitely the source of all of this in whatever strange that makes any sense. And worse, I know she’s not going to have any answers for us when we find her. She’s likely just as confused by all of this.

    ‘But what is the goal of her personalities. They help her, but they also take her over as well. Something about all of this doesn’t fit. I know we’re missing pieces, but this feels like a lot more than one bit of information. There is something more complicated. I just wish I knew how this world fit into it, then we’d know how to escape at least.’ Her view probably sat close to the conclusion Yuki arrived at as well, in her mind anyway. Yuki was smart enough to figure pieces out. And she felt there was a goal this world and he likely had the same feeling. ‘I just hope that Yuki knows more about what’s going on. We’re going to need everything to solve the riddle of its purpose.’

    Unfortunately, Saki did not have any more time to think about what was happening. She had picked up a distant patrol on the move. ‘They haven’t given up. Figures, they know they just have to get in range to detect Seiji… I can’t let them get any closer…’ A few pebbles rolled away from Saki’s cover as she disappeared.

    Seiji detected the familiar movement of Saki approaching the cave. He tilted his head over while Nerine continued her work. “Trouble?”

    “Not anymore. Any luck?”

    “She’s been silent since she started.”

    With good timing, Nerine’s head raised from its hung position over the metal mess of a machine she created to do the job. “This is rather complex,” she spoke suddenly.

    “But can you do it?”

    Nerine stood up letting the machine fade away into the ground. “I can try, but the problem we face is that I don’t have a demon’s body to analyze as well. Then I might be certain what it is that they tracking in the blood.”

    “I would have brought back one if I had known.”

    “I was hoping that it would be more obvious and straightforward, but it’s not. I found several possibilities.”

    “Then just do them all and we should be good.”

    “That’s my plan, I just fear there is something I might have overlooked.”

    Saki leaned back against the edge of the cave looking out cautiously. “How long do you need?”

    “It’s already done.”

    “Then we only need to test it?”

    Standing with confidence, Seiji felt ready to charge out once more. “Then let’s start looking for Yumi once more! She’s probably dealing with the same issue and being hunted by demons wherever she goes. She needs help!”

    To be continued…
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  25. #415
    The Quiet One Shift Andromeda's Avatar
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    After a day of searching around for clues about Yumi, they all came to the conclusion that whatever Nerine did succeeded. However, the problem was none of them knew which of the things she tried was the correct one. So they were no closer to having an easy fix if it happened again, just that Nerine could fix it.

    But dropping their tail proved to be the simpler case. Trying to find Yumi was harder than they imagined given her rapidly expanding reputation in the region. They were in no short supply of rumors and tips, problem was there were too many.

    Gathered up around a local tavern, they all finished their investigations. With food paid for by way of Nerine’s ability, they sat to collect themselves again. The area known to them as Shimane was not by any means small and searching on foot with nothing but luck would take forever. Though it sort of felt like it still might take that long the way things were going.

    Saki pulled apart the bread into pieces to eat. “Anything useful we can use?”

    “Plenty of people were willing to talk, but each story is different from the last. One says they cut a mountain in half, another claimed there’s a mountain of demon corpses. The only consistency seems to be the exaggerations of the stories.”

    “Considering this is demon territory, any human forced to live here probably wishes for someone that can slay all of the demons.”

    Nodding in agreement with Saki, Nerine felt the same thing while talking to the villagers. There was a worrisome atmosphere about it though. “We already be too late though.”

    “You think the war’s going to happen either way?” Seiji asked.

    “You can see it in the eyes of them. They’ve got hope. Depending on how the demons that run this area feel about that, they could see a rebellious attitude appear. I fear conflict’s going to happen regardless of what we do now.”

    “Either way, we still need to find our friends, even if we are going to be stuck in a war.”

    Finishing off his bowl of soup, Seiji took a pause as they commiserated about the likelihood of a war breaking out. Once they looked like they had stopped, he threw in what he learned. “There’s some really powerful woman spotted in the next village over.”

    Both of the women stopped and stared at him. “Why didn’t you start with that?” Saki complained.

    “It may not be Yumi and is about as trust worthy as anything else you’ve been tossing out.”

    Saki had to pause accepting that he was right. However, it was also the only thing that they had that was actionable as well. “Everything else we’ve got is too vague to work with. A rumor in another village we can at least track down.”

    “Anything else about the rumor?” asked Nerine.

    “They said she saved the village, but left without accepting any reward.”

    “Yumi wouldn’t have much need for a reward, that’s not why she’s here. It’s worth a shot.”

    “Yes, I agree. If nothing else, there may be better leads there as well.”

    “We’re hitting the road!” cheered Seiji looking ready to leave immediately. However, unlike the two women, he finished his meal already while they were talking. They still had their lunch that they wanted to eat. A little dejected, he sat back down. “We wait…”

    Chapter 415 – Chasing Rumors

    Thanks to Nerine’s self made cart and horse, they made good time getting to the next village where Seiji’s rumor pointed them. Only about an hour hard riding took them with horses that never tired. However, as to be expected, they arrived too late, considering the rumor was that they left expecting anything more would have been futile.

    Getting new clues was their only course of action. So they split up taking the village quickly for any bit of talk, since they had directly met the woman in question. Nerine shouted out to the two when she discovered something more than the general bits that they were all getting. “Can you repeat what you told me?” she asked, with the others gathered.

    “Y-yes? Umm…I saw the woman you’re asking about. She killed the bandits that suddenly moved in with the death of the Reaper. She moved too fast, it all just looked like a white blur.”

    “A white blur?” Saki noted, she knew it was not much to work with, but it had some promise. “Yumi’s powers are white and to a normal human, it’d be a blur. Was there anyone else with the woman?”

    “Not that I saw, but it all happened so fast. She was gone before we could even thank her.”

    “What direction did she leave in?”

    The villager turned and pointed down the dirt road out towards a large mountain in the distance. It had a strangely cleaved look to split it in two. It looked nothing natural. “Towards the Cleaved Mountain.”

    “Is that where the bandits are?”

    “No, there’s some stories that say some really old demon lives there, but no one’s seen them.”

    “Is it strong?”

    “If you believe the stories, they’re one of the original demons.”

    Nerine, Seiji and Saki all looked at each other with the same conclusion reached. It sounded powerful and if it was Yumi, then she could be going up against something impossible. They quickly bowed and thanked the woman for the help and rushed out of the village. At a safe distance, Nerine summoned their ride and they sped off.

    Unfortunately for them, the mountain appeared to be further away than it looked. They could all see it, even Nerine could make it, though to a lesser degree of fidelity than the others. Yet driving into the night did not get them to the mountain. It did however lead them into a forest.

    Saki halted Nerine suddenly as she looked out ahead of them through the trees. Seiji looked over at her with the same sort of feeling to confirm it for her. She jumped down and put a hand to the earth.

    “What’s wrong?” Nerine asked, not liking the looks on either of their faces.

    “There’s something serious ahead. I can feel the ground shaking from all the way over here, but I can’t even hear the fighting.”

    “Yeah, there’s something weird in the air.” While Seiji did not have the same sensitivity that Saki practiced, through his own senses he could feel something amiss. The power being thrown about was enough to make his skin crawl. “I’m not sure this is Yumi…this feels different.”

    Pulling the horses up along side of them, Nerine tried to get them back on board. “We won’t know for certain until we actually see who this woman is.”

    “We’re walking the rest of the way.”

    “Saki?”

    “I agree with Saki, Nerine. It’s not feeling right and I don’t want you getting hurt if we go charging into the middle of the battle.”

    “I can fend for myself just fine.”

    “Do it, please!”

    Her power disappeared reverting back to a normal human. ‘Seiji actually looks unnerved, maybe even scared. What is it that they’re sensing?’ Just looking at them was enough for Nerine to feel sick. She did not even know what it was that they were picking up, but it unsettled her. ‘Could it be something more than they can handle?’ That was the worst fear she had. If they could not handle it, then it would be up to her, but if she prepared poorly she would be dead so fast. Her mind spun with possible strategies, yet with nothing good to work with she had no possible countermeasures to create. She needed to see the threat first.

    Before they found the threat, they had a different story to solve. Dead demons littered the area around the foothills of the mountain. They looked around for any signs of Yumi or their friends. Unfortunately, nothing really made anything clear. Nerine, the expert of the group managed to get a little bit of analysis from what happened. “It happened fast and ruthlessly. Looks like they didn’t stand chance.”

    “Anything that might indicate it was Yumi?”

    “Everything was killed with a blade, but if it was a metal or energy one I don’t know.”

    “We continue,” urged Saki looking at the mountain. It stood with an ominous message for them. A dark invitation from it pulled them towards it. Yet at the same time, a thick miasma of dread filled the air. A warning perhaps, only the strong should approach.

    They did not have any choice, strong or not, they needed answers more than anything. They needed to know if their searching finally was over or if it was a shadow of someone else that they chased.

    The next site of death turned out more grim than the previous. Weapons of unnatural size used to slay the demons quickly. Nerine was not needed for understanding how they died. The evidence was before them. “Answers where the weapons were,” she noted from the scene.

    A dark shadow fell over Saki’s eyes looking at the scene, as though it came from a horror film. “I’m with Seiji, this doesn’t look like Yumi’s doing. I can’t imagine her doing this.”

    “Yori maybe?” Seiji suggested, even knowing that they were following a woman, not a man.

    “Raged fueled to find his sister, I could believe he might, but we’re following a woman.”

    Nerine watched the two trying to deny something even darker. She guessed that they knew it as well as her, just wanted to avoid such a thought. ‘If Yumi has been taken over by one of her personalities…if it was a brutal and lethal personality, maybe…’ However, Nerine kept the thought merely to herself. There was just too much unknown still. Whatever happened, they all seemed to agree that Yumi in normal circumstances would not anything like this. “We are already here. And they could also be the cause for all the rumors and the spark of war.”

    “Yes,” Saki reluctantly agreed, “Even if it’s not Yumi, we probably should know who it is. Good or bad, we may have to face them at some point. We are stuck in this world until a resolution is found. I don’t want to face a world completely overrun by demons…”

    They marched on in agreement that they needed to know more, even if they hesitated on wanting that knowledge. Part of them feared it could still actually be Yumi and did not want that confirmation. And still they hoped it was someone else. Yet regardless of who it turned out to be, they faced troubling future with the way things turned.

    Then they reached the worst yet, while also the most mysterious. No dead demons, but also nearly nothing in the entire area. Massive craters filled the scene before them. A destructive battle had taken place and worse even Nerine could feel the earth shaking now. Ahead of them, a deadly light show hinted out the power being welded. Yet at such a distance, they should not have even been able to see it.

    Nerine could feel the sweat sticking to her body just seeing it. “Is this what you’ve been feeling the whole time?”

    “Yeah…and it feels even worse than close,” moaned Seiji looking actually a little ill. “This is the first time I’ve actually not wanted to fight whatever that is.”

    “Agreed…”

    Roughly swallowing, Nerine turned away from the lights trying to focus on what was before them rather than the bouncing ground. As she tried to figure it out, she noticed that it eventually stopped. “Unless they moved locations, this wasn’t caused by what’s happening ahead.”

    Still distracted, Saki had trouble focusing on what Nerine saw. She eventually snapped herself together to look at it. “Craters…the damage here is on a completely different scale than back there.” They all knew that nothing they saw could rule out Yumi. The destructive power that she used during the battle of the Atlantis proved enough how strong she could be. This easily matched and exceeded that.

    The answer to it all lay ahead. Resolving themselves to pushing on, they marched. Though as they got closer to the site of the battle things seemed to be quieting down. The destructive forces they felt earlier seemed to be nearly gone. And that could only mean one thing. They rushed hurriedly to find out if they were too late to see who it was.

    Before them a completely destroyed mansion laid in ruins along with deep cleaved marks through the earth. The scale of the damage appeared less than before, but they knew the power being thrown around easily out classed them.

    Nerine looked in awe at the damage and expected to see more. ‘Such power, yet their control is this precise. The damage could have been far worse. I don’t believe this is Yumi either, she doesn’t have this sort of skill yet…’

    Leaving them to focus on a dark figure that stood amongst the ruins with something massive behind them. Carved up and taken apart, it was hard to know what it used to be other than likely a demon. To have slain something of size and power, they all feared what sort of person this woman was.

    A deep voice came out of the ruins having noticed them. “Who goes there? Demon servants?”

    “Not us!” Saki yelped surprised by her own panic. She stepped forward along with the others not want to present an aggressive or suspicious aura, anymore than sneaking about already caused. “We were just following some rumors.”

    “Rumors?” Turning to face them, their face was completely blackened out in the night with only pure bright blue eyes piercing the dark. Blood soaked into their armor or what remained of it after the battle. And in their hand, a bloody katana that hummed power. She stood tall with a fierce presence matching the ominous power they felt. “Of me?”

    “That’s right. We’re seeking our friends.”

    “I do not know you.”

    “Y-yes, it’s seems they aren’t here.”

    “If that is all, then I shall leave.” The woman turned away already walking without even waiting on another response.

    To Saki’s surprise and worry, Seiji stepped forward. So much for not wanting to fight it seemed. He stared at the woman for a moment and then asked, “You seem somehow similar.”

    “As I said, I don’t know.”

    “What is your name?”

    The woman paused and tilted her blood drenched face towards him peeling away the darkness. Her eyes narrowed examining him in silence. The tension mounted as Saki and Nerine were not sure if he had just picked a fight with the wrong person. Then to their relief, she answered Seiji. “I’m called Masa.”

    To be continued…
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