The screams of a distraught mother resonated throughout a crowded shopping district, terror echoing within a labyrinth of brick buildings and metallic skyscrapers.
All the while, the citizens of X-City parted ways for Her, the so-called priestess of their once-prestigious shinto shrine, as she walked amongst them—unnervingly calm in her mannerisms despite the situation.
They didn't move out of respect, nor reverence. No, none of that…
They moved out of fear.
The naive few who weren't aware of what she was—tourists from neighboring cities, or perhaps those too young to be aware of the full history—could only stare in confusion as the rest looked on in apprehension.
Why were they so afraid of this innocent, young woman? The shrine maiden who's beauty was clear for all to see; long, black waves tied back with crimson ribbons as her supple figure was dressed within ceremonial garbs—their sanctity long forgotten to time as the world ditched it's old age beliefs for more modern standards of enlightenment.
The monster could only smile in mockery at their bafflement as he held the small child hostage—her little limbs wriggling with all of their might as she kicked and screamed, but to no avail.
Perhaps he couldn't blame them. She looked unassuming with that sweet face of her's—warm and delicate.
Oh, how he was going to enjoy melting the precious flesh from her bones, watching her squirm in utter pain as his acid ate away at every part of her being.
How jealous the others would be of him, knowing he was the one to finally bring the traitorous bitch to her knees.
God, the anticipation was killing him, and it grew with every step she took—wooden geta clogs tapping upon the asphalt road as she approached with a practiced grace, a steely expression etched within her features as she strode closer.
Then, she finally came to a stop—her dark eyes fixating onto the draconian being's carnivorous gaze as he glared down upon her.
Tension had swept itself through the crowd, rising into the air as she silently dared the vile creature to make his first move—her small frame waiting patiently beneath his gargantuan physique.
For a moment, she broke contact with him to glance towards the poor girl entrapped beneath one of his scaly arms—crying for her mother as she begged for her life.
The maiden's expression had softened at the sight, a melancholic frown taking hold of her lips.
“Don't worry,” The girl looked towards the woman through bleary eyes as she tried to calm her—voice soft and reassuring. “You'll be able to return to your mother shortly. For now…”
The priestess turned her head away as she locked eyes with the creature before her once again—sepia boring holes into the red irises of the beast.
The child's crying had stopped, a sudden calm washing over her as she stared curiously upon the shrine maiden.
Just what was she going to do?
The monster's smile merely widened into a manic grin, his snout bringing forth a boisterous laughter towards her words as his muscular chest bulged with each baritone chuckle.
Unphased by his mockery, the woman simply sighed at his actions, taking a moment to adjust the white sleeves of her kosode.
Not only did he have to waste her time, but he had to be a complete bastard about it too. Go figure.
“Oh? What's wrong, priestess?” He spat out the last word in a rather biting manner. “Am I boring you?”
Her eyebrows twitched downward for a split second, feeling her own annoyance grow tenfold at his question.
Inhaling deeply through her nose, she tried to remain calm. Keen senses drew in the scent of the scaled behemoth before her, letting it ferment through her nostrils and flood through her lungs.
Strange. Now that she was closer to him, his scent seemed similar to the battery acid that spilled all over her clothes yesterday when she was trying to fix her car…
Ugh, being reminded of that made her even more annoyed.
“Frankly,” The tone of her words began to reflect her gradually-diminishing patience. “Yes, you are. I've ran into a million assholes just like you, so can you please cut the crap and get to the point?”
The monster stood there, blinking his eyes in bafflement as his pride was shattered.
He truly wanted her to be at least somewhat amused by this confrontation. She was a bit of an idol to him.
To all of them.
The staggering effect of her past deeds were still felt so clearly even now: Three years later. In fact, he'd considered it a great honor to be the one chosen in killing her.
Although, she had a point. There probably have been others like him—hundreds even—but he was going to be the last.
He was sure of it.
Then, he would be the best. All of that pure, concentrated horror and fear she's garnered over the years would be his to have and to hold.
Till then, he'd have to play along with her demands.
“Hmph,” He huffed in a rather pouty manner, still disappointed by her sheer lack of enthusiasm. The little girl tried her best to hold her giggles back as she dangled beneath his arm, sensing the creature's discontent. “Very well…”
He straightened his stance, standing in a tall, regal manner as he brought his tail out from behind—wrapping the spiked appendage in front of his clawed feet. The crowd could only stare in terrified awe as his jade-colored scales shined beneath the sun. Still trying his best to impress her, he flared out the fur cape adorning his backside with his free arm. A gold crown sat between ram-like horns, reflecting rays of light as it remained embedded with various jewels—ranging from sapphires to rubies. Covering his unmentionables was a tight pair of leather shorts which were needlessly held up by a spiked belt.
All the while, the shrine maiden could only wonder what stripper joint these monsters kept getting their clothes from.
“I am known as the Dragon Prince.” His grand introduction was accompanied by a prideful smile—sharp, menacing teeth lined in pearly white rows. “Threat Level: Dragon, but I'm sure someone as impeccable as you could already sense that...
“Am I correct, oh wondrous Nightmare?”
Her brows twitched in irritation towards the retired alias. It was never much of a heroic title.
Not that she deserved such formalities, of course...
“Just put the girl down, and we'll fight.” She shrugged off his prying insults, pretending as if they meant nothing. “That's what you want, correct? No need to get her involved, your arms would just be too occupied.”
The Dragon Prince paused for a moment, debating as to how this singular action could drive him further towards his goal.
And then, it clicked.
His prideful smirk suddenly took on a more vicious aura—a change that hadn't gone unnoticed by the shrine maiden.
“As you wish, dear priestess…”
His goliath-like figure had bent forward to set the small girl on her feet. He noticed how his opponent gazed upon the little one, protectively watching over her as she paid close attention towards every movement he made.
As one last show of respect, he indulged his former idol—letting the child run back into the arms of her mother, their embrace tender and loving as they both cried joyously.
It made him sick—these people, these cities.
That Hero Association had ruined her, made her soft and fragile.
Now, he was going to punish her for that softness.
“Oh, by the way…” His eyes took on a murderous glare. “Gyoro Gyoro sends his regards.”
Sepia eyes widened at the name, breath hitching within her throat as a chill ran up her spine—stunning her into a fatal vulnerability.
In that split second, the Dragon Prince thought he might've been looking upon a masterpiece. The terror she drew from those around her was one thing, but to see that reflected within her own eyes?
In her shock, she didn't notice the fountain of acid spat forth from scaly lips. It was too late to dodge as it splashed across the surface of her face, melting the flesh and muscle beneath into a sickeningly gory mixture—dripping from her skull and onto the road as she fell to her knees in silent agony.
The citizens screamed in horror at the scene before them, and the prince stood there—reveling in the power it gave him as he soaked it all in.
However, the bliss was fleeting. Nearly unsatisfactory.
His mouth curled into a sneer as he looked down upon the priestess once again—hunched over on her knees as the contents of her melted brain spilled towards the asphalt.
Was this the great power of the fearsome Nightmare that everyone kept blabbing on about? All the stories he'd heard, only for it to amount up to this...
He expected more from her. More than whatever this was.
Slowly, he walked towards her—a strange sorrow taking over his thoughts as he continued to gaze upon her ruined form. Kneeling down in front of her, he settled a clawed hand against her exposed skull—stroking the bone as it begun to crack and break from the acid's intrusion.
He was disappointed, so very disappointed. He wanted more. He wanted to believe in her; her now-imaginary prowess and potential.
A sigh left his lips as he looked out towards the crowd. They still stood there—eerily still and silent.
They were waiting for something, but for what?
The Dragon Prince could only look upon them confusedly. Why weren't they running and screaming with incomprehensible fear—clinging pathetically to their young, or trampling over one another selfishly?
Hearing the cries of the little girl behind him, he merely shook off his questions as a smirk rose to his lips once again—his sadistic drive kicking into full gear as it begged to be quenched.
“So tell me, my dearest Nightmare…” He spoke to her corpse mockingly, remaining unphased even as the frontlines of the crowd began to take a few steps back. “Who should die nex—?!”
His question was abruptly answered by a pair of hands roughly smacking onto each side of his face—nimble fingers digging into scaly flesh as they held him in place with inhuman strength.
Crimson eyes flitted down just in time to see the maiden's face reforming, but not as it had been—once-beautiful features contorting themselves into a horrid mouth, flesh and muscle pulled aside to make way for the sharp, dagger-like teeth her skull had become. Her kosode was ripped apart from the appendages that suddenly grew from her backside—red, muscly tendrils wrapping mercilessly around his once-towering form, crushing his limbs together as she pulled his neck closer towards her mouth.
He didn't have time to scream as a bone-chilling screech flew from the woman's newly-formed mouth, monstrous teeth clamping into the rough scales of his neck as she relentlessly began to cut her way to his jugular vein. Bite after bite, blood had begun to spray everywhere as her makeshift jaws rapidly carved into his flesh—her frenzied bloodlust blocking out the terrified screams of the civilians around her.
Finally, she relented—unwrapping the tendrils from around the former-prince's body as his corpse fell lifelessly towards the ground. Rising to her feet, she drew the horrid appendages back beneath her skin—body reforming itself into it's original state as she felt the layers of her being weave back into their rightful places.
Beauty restored once again, the panicked screams of the crowd filled her eardrums as the civilians ran from her presence in every which way they could—clinging to their loved ones as they trampled over one another quite viciously.
She stood there as the last of the civilians cleared out, dark tresses covering her bared chest as the ripped fabric of her clothes lied beneath her—soaking up the blood that steadily flowed from the mangled, twitching mass of scales behind her.
Looking around the now-emptied streets, a sigh left her lips as she was surrounded by the encompassing emptiness of a once-crowded shopping district.
Damn, she scared them off again…
“E-Excuse me, miss?” A timid voice sounded behind her.
Surprise took hold of her heart as she turned her head towards the bearer of those words, eyes softening as she was met by the sight of a mother holding the hand of the little girl she'd rescued.
“Ah,” She smiled kindly—trying her best to look affable underneath all of the blood that coated her skin. “Yes?”
“I, um…” The mother diverted her eyes away bashfully as the girl clung to her legs. “I just wanted to say thank you.”
Her eyes beamed at the woman's kind words, a warm feeling momentarily cutting through the ache that surrounded her heart.
“It...” She turned away from the mother and child, a light blush dusting over her cheeks at the rare show of gratitude. “It was my pleasure.”
The mother simply nodded her head towards the woman's reply as she turned the other way, walking hand-in-hand with her daughter down the lonesome street as they begun their long trek back home.
After just a few steps, the girl went to look behind herself when her mother wasn't watching—wondering if the shrine maiden was still there.
However, she was gone. The only evidence she'd ever been there were the traces of today's events lying in a gory heap upon the asphalt.
The child lifted her eyes towards the mountains that towered over X-City, managing to spot the aged shinto shrine settled upon the nearest—snugly built between the old blossom trees that lived amongst it as a thin fog shrouded it's haunting presence.
She looked away, a frown growing upon her small face as a question formed within her mind.
Was that lady truly happy up there all by herself?