When Ye Zun was fourteen years old he and his twin brother joined the ranks of demon slayers.
On that same day, he lost his entire family and watched his brother turn into the very demons they swore an oath to kill.
Nearly, ten years later. After years of grueling encounters with demons and dubious moral choices, Ye Zun is now known amongst his peers as the Moon Pillar of the Southern Region. One of the esteemed leaders among the Demon Slayer Corps. Distinguished above the rest of their peers for their mastery of their sword technique, their intelligence in and out of their field, unquestionable abilities as a leader, bravery in the face of danger, and resilience in the face of death. Their presence commands respect among civilians, their peers, and their juniors.
"Oh my goodness you two are so adorable !"
Of course, respect is something Ye Zun's subordinates tragically lack, or at least set aside when his gege was in the proximity.
Shen Wei had exhausted himself preparing for the week-long festival that his squadron celebrated with the nearby villages. He and Wang Xiangyang's wife, Bai Suxia, had begun preparing for the festivities to ease the workload of the cooks once the festival was in full swing. His brother spent the whole night cutting every vegetable and meat he could get his little claws on, kneading dough, marinating the right meats per Madam Bai's instructions, and sorting the right ingredients to the proper storage areas for the morning.
His gege dragged his tiny feet across Ye Zun's office and proceeded to curl himself into a ball over Ye Zun's lap who was on his desk working on balancing their squad's finances. Shen Wei let out a loud yawn, mouth wide and showing his tiny fangs before clinging onto Ye Zun's robe. Within seconds, his brother was out like a light.
"If only Sha Ya could see this!" his record keeper, Hua Yuzhu, cooed from her desk, "Captain Ye Zun, you look so parental with Xiao-Wei sleeping on you like that! You two are like father and son!"
The woman was brave enough to say insubordinate drabble, her girlfriend, Sha Ya, is assistant to his second in command so she knew she was untouchable. Ya Qing liked to play older sister to Sha Ya, and if the latter would even make as much as a small complaint about Ye Zun, Ya Qing would make sure it was daytime (whenever Shen Wei was safely tucked into his box) before she tore him a new asshole.
Ye Zun glanced at the clock nearby and tutted, "Gege, it's almost sunrise, let’s go head back to our room."
Shen Wei responded with a childish whine and wrapped his small arms around Ye Zun's neck. He sighed, knowing this was a plea to be carried.
Ye Zun stood up from his chair and held his arms to support his brother's weight as they made their way back to their room. The Pillar's rooms are often placed near the soldiers' barracks as a way for the Pillars to alert their troops if the need arises, as well as to create a stronger bond between leader and subordinates. Ye Zun thought it was all bullshit and swapped the Captain's quarters with the guest quarters that were situated all the way at the end of their compound.
Besides, his soldiers make so much noise during the daytime, it'll keep Shen Wei awake.
The newly repurposed Captain's quarters are a lot smaller than the old one, but it suited him and Shen Wei just fine. All Ye Zun needed was a bed and a small office to keep his research, and a personal bathroom for him to clean himself in. All Shen Wei needed was to be in the same space as his brother.
There was a designated spot just for Shen Wei's lacquer box next to Ye Zun's bed and once sunlight is on the verge of peeking over the horizon, he gives Ye Zun a quick hug and runs back to seal himself inside the box to sleep through the daylight. Whenever Ye Zun falls asleep before Shen Wei does, Shen Wei would always make sure that his didi's clothes and supplies are ready for the next day.
It's been nearly a decade since their circumstances turned the way it is, they have longed developed a codependent system.
Some would say this isn't ideal, but Ye Zun never cared for what people say.
As it was their routine, Shen Wei gave Ye Zun a hug the moment they entered their bedroom and hopped off Ye Zun's arms to make his way to his box. With one more big mouthed yawn Shen Wei slid himself into the box and closed the lid over himself.
Ye Zun yawned by proximity and began his nightly routine before falling asleep. He had never needed much sleep, it was a habit long developed in his younger years, when he and his brother lived outdoors in fear of the populace's reaction to his brother. The only hours nature could offer him are almost three hours of sleep, and even then that was stretching it for him, to compensate he would sleep intermittently in the daytime. They were in the business of hunting demons who roamed the night, his sleep pattern was never going to be normal.
Besides, he always wanted to be awake whenever Shen Wei was out and around so his brother wouldn't be alone. For a while it had been a point of contention between the two of them when Shen Wei couldn't convince him to sleep when he should, but his gege eventually came to accept his unusual sleep pattern.
After completing his nightly routine, Ye Zun made his way to his bed. Making sure Shen Wei's box was safely secured without light creeping through the lid, he settled himself in bed and allowed himself to drift into slumber.
"There's been reports of merchant carts found abandoned in the south eastern mountain pass" Ya Qing said to start their meeting the next morning.
Ya Qing was Ye Zun's second in command amongst the Moon Pillar's squadron; ever prepared, proper, and far more organized than he will ever be, which was why she chose him to fill the places he lacks. She was a powerful Breath of the Wind user whose skill with her bladed fans making her look like a malevolent crow underneath the moonlight.
"Have we sent a recognizance team?" Ye Zun asked, trying to read the copy of the report Ya Qing was presenting.
Ya Qing nodded, "All our information came from the team I've dispatched last week. Unfortunately, only our messenger crows returned."
"There could still be a chance that the team had survived," Zhang Ruonan stated from her side of the meeting table. Her brows furrowed in worry as she read through the surviving reports brought in by the messenger birds. "Wang Yike would have been able to handle a lower ranking demon."
Zhang Ruonan was an older Stone Breath user that took on an underclassman earlier in the year. A recent inductee into the Demon Slayer Corp named Wang Yike, a fiery swordswoman who lives up to the Fire Breath technique she uses. Ye Zun isn't blind to the growing relationship between the two women, and he understands her worry over Wang Yike, who was a part of the recognizance team that was sent out.
"Wang Yike is a strong fighter," Ya Qing agrees, "this may be indicative of the kind of demon that hunts the area."
"We might be dealing with a high ranking Lieutenant or a lower Colonel." Ye Zun deduces, knowing Wang Yike's abilities as a Fire Breath user, she would have been able to handle anything below a Lieutenant. If she fell in the hands of a higher ranking demon, then Ye Zun might have to send Ya Qing or Sha Ya to handle the demon. If it were a General, Ye Zun and Shen Wei would go themselves.
Their meeting was interrupted when a messenger bird flew in through the nearby open window, startling everyone in the table and making Ye Zun scowl. He recognizes those damned magpies anywhere.
These blue feathered magpies are common around the eastern mountain ranges where the Stone and Wind breath users are more prevalent. The slayers in that area answer to a newly appointed Pillar that his peers hold in high esteem. Like Ye Zun, the Pillar who operated in the mountain ranges was a master of his own self developed technique. The 'Great Mountain' Breath technique, the pretentious blowhard proclaimed in his induction into the Corp when he was sixteen; his technique born from the Stone and Water Breath techniques that he learned from his father and mother respectively.
The blue feathered magpie hopped around their table, watching eagerly for a willing recipient of its letter. It purposefully ignored Ye Zun, who quickly realized who the sender was simply by the bird's avoidance of him. When Wang Xiangyang held his hand out, the bird immediately hopped over to drop the message onto his open hand. The bird gave a small bow before flying out of the same window it entered from. They'll most likely find it mingling with their messenger crows before it flies back to the mountains, the birds love to share their gossip.
Wang Xiangyang opened the message and quickly skimmed through its contents. The man's eyes widened and he turned towards Ye Zun and said, "The Mountain Pillar said not to worry about the demon in the mountain pass," he said as he waved the message around, "apparently it was a demon who managed to slip away from their region and settled into ours. He said he'll personally handle the situation himself."
Wang Xiangyang glanced at the letter in his hand once again, and continued in trepidation, "He also said to let the Moon Pillar know that he'll be visiting his wife during the festival, and to please set aside some of his cooking for him."
The entire table watched Ye Zun's reaction to the last statement in apprehension. Every man and woman in this table (every demon slayer, in fact) knew of Ye Zun's dislike for the Mountain Pillar.
Ye Zun, well aware of every eye on him, sighed and stood up, "Let the rest of the squadron know that I'll be handling the situation myself and I will be gone for the first night of the festival," he looks to Ya Qing, "Send one of our most vulgar crows to tell Zhao Yunlan he can go fuck himself."
Ye Zun made sure to delegate his responsibilities to his most capable people. He gave Ya Qing the responsibility of training the new members and managing any affairs in and around their headquarters. He let Sha Ya and Hua Yuzhu manage and distribute the simpler extermination jobs to other slayers in their squad, and asked Bai Suxia to make sure Shen Wei doesn't worry himself sick when he wakes up. Finding and informing each person and preparing for his travel didn't take long and he was quickly packing his most essential supplies and left headquarters with minimal fanfare. The trip to the mountains would only take half a day if he traveled with a horse and a carriage, and a few hours longer if he managed to bring home any of the surviving recognizance team.
He wanted Shen Wei to enjoy the festival that he and Bai Suxia worked hard to prepare for. So, he chose to leave him a note on his bed so his brother wouldn't worry about his absence. The last and only time he left Shen Wei for a mission for him to do by himself without telling him, his brother had harassed every person in headquarters into telling him where he went and proceeded to chase after him in the dead of night with his lacquer box on his back to hide in once the sun came up.
He left for the mountains by midday with a borrowed carriage and someone to help him drive it. They passed a village near the foot of the mountain. The place was alive with activity as they prepared for their festival. Villagers greeted him as they passed, wishing him a safe trip, and praying for a successful hunt. These villagers lived close to the roads leading to the mountain pass, and they knew of the demon that had taken residence up there. Finding a demon slayer, especially a Pillar, on their way to the mountain pass allowed them to breathe easier as the evening rolled in and the festivities began.
As expected, they made it to the mountains near sundown. After placing wreaths of wisteria around the carriage to protect the driver he traveled with, he strictly told the man to remain inside the carriage and not to step out until the sun came up.
On foot Ye Zun made his way up the recognizance team's last known location. A large clearing off the pass where travelers and merchants rest to wait for sunrise. The pathway leading up to it was readily accessible so that there was no mistaking where this rest area would be regardless of the time of day. Due to the demon who had been out on the hunt during the recent months, the place was devoid of any travelers when he arrived. The threat of a demon forced many travelers to wait at the base of the mountain, rather than risk any time of the night in the pass.
Ye Zun frowned when he noticed a small campfire further away from the clearing. His frown turned into a scowl as he walked closer and a large black cat slinked by in a blur of black and the chime of bells. The large turned its round face to glance at him and sniffed before running towards the only person sitting near the flames. The person turned and greeted the cat who alerted him of Ye Zun's presence.
The man gracefully stood up from his spot by the fire and turned to face Ye Zun, a large friendly grin on his face that made Ye Zun want to turn around and walk away.
"Didn't think the Moon Pillar himself would take on this job!" Zhao Yunlan said as he sauntered up to Ye Zun.
"Didn't think the Mountain Pillar himself would dare cross over another Pillar's jurisdiction," Ye Zun retorted, making Zhao Yunlan sigh morosely.
"Why do you never want help from me?" Zhao Yunlan pouted, "the other Pillars always love it when I help them!"
"Because you always have some underhand reason for helping whenever you're in this region," Ye Zun snapped at the other Pillar.
"Aiya!" Zhao Yunlan exclaimed in mock offense, "The Great Mountain Pillar isn't some dirty rogue who demands lavish rewards for helping innocent civilians! I just want a kiss from my wife whenever I'm here!"
Ye Zun turned around and left the clearing.
"Wait! Brother-in-Law come back!"
When Ye Zun saw Zhao Yunlan for the first time, it was during the latter's ascension ceremony as the new Pillar of the Eastern Mountains.
When Ye Zun was formally introduced to the newly appointed Pillar, he punched him in the face.
But it was a bit unfair to condense the events of that night in a meager two statements.
Shen Wei sat behind Ye Zun during Zhao Yunlan's induction ceremony. From the way his gege tugged at the back of his robe, Ye Zun just knew his brother was interested in the man introducing himself as the sole master of Breath of the Great Mountain technique. He moved from where he sat by a fraction to cover his gege's line of sight in hopes that Shen Wei wouldn't make a fuss about it. Of course, like any time he tries to stop his brother from doing anything, he will retaliate with all the vengeance of a wronged toddler.
" Didi!" Shen Wei whined and jumped over his shoulder to peek at the ceremony.
"Gege!" Ye Zun hissed back trying to push him down into sitting.
Of course, this caught the attention of every attendee, with the lower ranking soldiers watching them curiously while the Pillars watched them both in disgust. His own men, scattered among the crowd of soldiers were holding their laughter. While Lord Ma Gui and Lady Fu You had allowed it, Shen Wei's presence in every meeting had brought the ire of every single Pillar. Having his gege act like a child on a serious occasion was going to get him kicked out of not only their table, but out of the ceremony itself.
Eventually, their tussle caught the eye of the Lord and Lady who was presiding over the ceremony; the pair eyed him gravely like a parent would their child. This also caught the attention of the new Pillar. Ye Zun could see the man's eyes widen as he watched Shen Wei morph from his child form into his adult body that made him look like the inverted opposite of the Moon Pillar. Alike in every way but the colors of their robes and their hair.
In the end, it took Ye Zun threatening to only eat Zhu Jiu's cooking instead of Shen Wei's to stop him from trying to disturb the peace. His gege had taken the threat personally and sat behind Ye Zun, sulking in his child form once again. Ye Zun made a note to warn Zhu Jiu to avoid the kitchens or Shen Wei for a while.
The banquet after the ceremony was alive with activity and celebration. Soldiers of all ranking intermingling without care for each other's status. It was a celebration not only for the Pillars to welcome a new member, but for the rest of the soldiers to congratulate one of their own after voting them into the ranks. Ye Zun and Shen Wei tend to shy away from the conversations and prefer to remain at their table. Most people (except for members of their squadron, of course) tend to avoid them. So, it came as a surprise when they caught movement coming towards them.
Shen Wei stiffened when they recognized the emerald green robes and the large black cat trailing after the now Great Mountain Pillar and hid behind Ye Zun. He shrank himself until he was the size of a toddler and buried himself underneath his black robes. Ye Zun, the one between the pair who could talk stood up and greeted the new Pillar with a customary bow.
"There's really no need for the formalities," Zhao Yunlan said with a grin that Ye Zun eventually grew to hate, "we're fellow Pillars now and I hope we'll have a good relationship the more we work together."
"I hope that we will," Ye Zun said stiffly, he was never used to people being so friendly towards him.
"Although, I would like to ask..." Zhao Yunlan leant closer and whispered, "Who was that great beauty that was with you earlier?"
Ye Zun could hear Shen Wei shuffle underneath his pile of robes, seemingly trying to make himself smaller.
"If you're talking about the one with me during the ceremony, that would be my twin brother, Shen Wei," Ye Zun said, eyeing the Zhao Yunlan suspiciously.
"Shen Wei..." Zhao Yunlan said, speaking his gege's name like savoring a good meal, "such a beautiful name for a beautiful demon!"
Ye Zun tensed and moved to hide his brother from Zhao Yunlan's line of sight again. Zhao Yunlan didn't notice, far too occupied with pronouncing his brother's name. There was a yowl from behind Ye Zun and both of them faced the source of the noise to find Zhao Yunlan's cat, Da Qing, hissing at the mass of clothing that hid his brother. Gege's head peeked out of the large robes with his sharp fangs bared out, looking as if he was trying to scare Da Qing away with his own hiss.
A gasp erupted from Zhao Yunlan and he moved towards the small pair on the floor. Ye Zun was quick to stop his tracks and grabbed the man by the back of his robes.
"What do you think you're doing?" he growled
"I wanted to introduce myself!" Zhao Yunlan responded defensively, "It would be rude of me not to introduce myself to a great beauty such as your brother."
Ye Zun would have felt offended, had it not been for the headache overtaking his emotions.
Shen Wei had stood up and transformed himself into a body in his teenage years. Gathering the overflowing black robe around him, his gege scuffled behind Ye Zun and hid behind him. The black of his robe was a stark contrast to Ye Zun's white robes, making him stand out despite his attempts at hiding.
Zhao Yunlan peered over Ye Zun's side to catch his gege's eyes. "I don't have my weapon with me, young master." he assured his gege and gave him a bow, "This one's name is Zhao Yunlan and I wanted to introduce myself."
Ye Zun wanted to move to hide Shen Wei behind him once again, but his gege stepped out from behind him, face flushed and answered with his own shy bow, his yellow eyes gleaming with interest. Ye Zun scowled when Zhao Yunlan let out a pleased noise before standing to face him once again.
The Pillar had a look on his face that Ye Zun was not pleased to see.
"Moon Pillar Shen Ye Zun," Zhao Yunlan started, his previous casual demeanor transforming into solemn and courteous, "As unconventional as this all may be, I would like to ask for your permission."
Ye Zun frowned, "For what?"
Zhao Yunlan lowered himself into a deep bow before raising himself, his face as solemn as it was during the ceremony, "I would like to ask your permission to court your brother and to have his hand in marriage."
"Didi!" Shen Wei had shouted while he tried to pull Ye Zun's fist back. His body transformed into their current age and glared at him in disappointment.
Ye Zun blinked at his gege's reproachful stare and turned to face Zhao Yunlan who now lay sprawled on the floor nursing a bruising face.
In his defense, most Pillars who meet his gege immediately want him dead. Ye Zun had no idea how to react to a marriage proposal.
"I don't know why you still don't trust me, Ye Zun!" Zhao Yunlan griped, following Ye Zun down the mountain path. "You're so distrustful of everyone, including your own peers. This is why the other Pillars think you're a demon yourself! You don't want to interact or cooperate with anyone."
"Correction," Ye Zun said as he continued his stride, "I don't cooperate with people who act like my brother and I are demons, and that's every single Pillar. I work well with anyone else."
"I love your brother!" Zhao Yunlan retorted, "And I think you're a great man, so where does that put me?"
"I also don't trust perverts."
Zhao Yunlan let out an offended gasp.
"My love for Shen Wei isn't some strange perversion or fetish!" he said, "My love for him is pure as the love of any maiden."
Ye Zun continued walking.
"Wait wait waitwaitwait. Wait! Brother-in-law! stop running away from me, you don't even know what this demon is like."
"It's more powerful than some of my higher ranking troops it took down, but I can probably handle it."
"'Probably' does not give me confidence in you, Ye Zun, let me help."
"Then tell me what kind of demon I'm facing."
"It's a spider-like demon," Zhao Yunlan said readily, "It likes to ambush its victims and hoard them in a nest to feed at a later time. Ye Zun, my squad's learned this demon's hunting habits, we've learned its fighting style, and my medical staff managed to develop antidotes for the kinds of poison it could use against us. Please let me help you."
Ye Zun sighed, Zhao Yunlan might be an annoying prick in his eyes, but he can't help but admit that the Pillar was a reliable man. He can trust Zhao Yunlan to be thorough and prepared in a hunt. Ye Zun berates himself for being conceited and leaving without anyone else from his team. He should have brought Shen Wei along with him, but he was too arrogant. Especially when it involves the Mountain Pillar.
He hadn't realized he stopped in his tracks until he found Zhao Yunlan watching him with determined eyes. The man's entire bearing was humble and apologetic.
"It's partly my fault this demon ended up in your region," Zhao Yunlan said, "Let me make it up to your team by helping you handle it. Then after, we can go home and enjoy the festivities with Shen Wei!"
Ye Zun sighed and conceded to Zhao Yunlan's request.
Ye Zun wouldn't admit it to the Mountain Pillar's face, but he was thankful that he was around to help with tracking down the demon's nest. Sequestered in a far off beaten path that led to an abandoned temple, it was the perfect area for a demon to abduct and store its victims. In the months the demon had taken up residence, the area had turned into a colossal spider's nest. The pathways leading to the temple are now covered in cobwebs and creeping with spiders of all breeds and sizes. Ye Zun wished he could take a torch and burn the area down.
Maybe he could after he rescues what's left of his recognizance team.
"The demon will have its victims scattered all over the temple," Zhao Yunlan explained while stomping on a particularly large spider coming his direction, "but we can't afford to waste time and track everyone down. I say we head straight for the demon itself and take them down before we rescue everyone."
They made it to the temple's courtyard where the webs seemed to have draped themselves all over the structure. Gone was the intricate and delicate architecture that often adorned the temples of the primordial gods. The structure was now obscured with dirty white webs and blood soaked webbing created by the demon. They took the time to gather wood and light a torch for each of them before they entered the temple.
As they entered the structure, the stench of rot quickly invaded their senses. Zhao Yunlan recoiled and covered his nose with the sleeve of his robe, his face turning a shade like his clothes. Ye Zun who has long grown familiar with the stench of the dead scrunched his nose and moved on. The interior of the temple was enshrouded with webs, spiders of all sizes crawling at every surface making their skin crawl along with it.
There were large mounds of webs scattered in various places. Large and net like, and the size of an average human adult. Most of those bundles high up in the ceiling. From where they stood, they could see a bare outline of people encased in the webs, some who were less secure could be seen through the light of their torches, their faces still and unmoving. Paralyzed by the demon's poison, Zhao Yunlan explained. Ye Zun could see some opened mounds on the floor where troops of spiders would crawl in and out of. The stench of rot permeated strongly from those mounds and there was no denying what was once encased in those now opened webs.
"Fuck this." Zhao Yunlan coughed against his sleeve, "Ye Zun, the ones on the floor are dead. Don't bother with anyone of those. The ones kept up in the ceiling are still alive, but it would be better for us to go after the demon first before we save them."
Ye Zun nodded in agreement, pulling his red bladed sword out of his sheathe and prepared himself.
"I'm ready when you are," he said.
Zhao Yunlan nodded and pulled out his own sword. In an over-practiced move, the Mountain Pillar took his black blade against the pad of his thumb and cut open his own skin and watched as own blood dripped on the floor.
Humans are a demon's natural prey. The more flesh a demon consumes, the more strength they replenish and the more powerful they become. Demons often never discriminate in terms of who they attack, it didn't matter to them as they could easily cut through the flesh of a supple baby as they could easily cut through the layers of armor on a hardened soldier. Food is food to a demon.
Unless they're humans with Sacred Blood.
Sacred Blood to demons is an extremely rare blood type among humans. It makes them highly valuable and sought after delicacy among demons. Their blood, as many demons have claimed, was as intoxicating as the finest alcohol is to a human. The nourishment their flesh contains are enough to make a fledgling demon into something as powerful as a Sergeant or even a Lieutenant if one were to eat an entire body.
One drop of Sacred Blood could call forth a demon from miles away.
And as Zhao Yunlan's blood slowly dripped to the floor, both Pillars began to hear the scuffling and scrambling of appendages across the wooden floor.
With swords at the ready both the Mountain and the Moon Pillar readied themselves as the ceiling before them crashed, revealing the large bulbous abdomen of the demon they've been targeting.
When a human is force fed the blood of the Master of Demons, their bodies transform into something grotesque. Something so far removed from humanity that there is nothing else to describe them but monstrous. But with the distance from humanity also comes weakness and as monstrous a demon looks, the easier they are to kill. As a demon grows and feeds on more human flesh, the closer they are to looking more human, as if consuming their flesh brings back a bastard facsimile of their past self. The more human a demon looked, the more powerful they were.
Which was why the Master and his Generals could easily pass off as regular men and women in the dark city streets and hunt for prey.
The demon before them straddled the border of human and monster. Eight long and angular limbs shuffled back and forth, helping turn the large bulbous shape of the demon to face the two of them. As the demon turned and found the source of the scent, Ye Zun narrowed his eyes at the remainder of the demon's body. Where a spider's head should have been is the grotesque torso of an old woman. Her mottled gray skin cracked and peeling with festering fluids leaking from the cracks of her dry skin. Six withered breasts sagged over her bare chest crawling with spiders. The small holes they creep in and out of make the demon's breasts look like sacs filled with a brood of young spiders. Her head bore six blood red eyes that bore into the open skin of Zhao Yunlan's bleeding thumb. Her jaws filled with large claw like fangs clicked and dripped with acidic saliva at the sight of the Sacred Blood that pooled on the dusty floor.
Ye Zun and Zhao Yunlan ran.
"You under exaggerated what you meant by 'spider-like', you asshole!" Ye Zun roared as they ran for the exit.
"And you said you can 'probably' handle this by yourself!" Zhao Yunlan shouted back while he wrapped his cut thumb with a piece of gauze he had on ready.
"Don't throw that back at my face when you clearly underplayed the size of this thing!"
"Just because it's big doesn't mean it's powerful!"
"Then take her down yourself!"
"Oh, what happened to the big scary Moon Pillar that doesn't need my help?!"
"Go fuck yourself Zhao Yunlan!"
"You already told me so by bird! No need to be redundant!"
The demon let out a deafening screech behind them, interrupting their argument.
"FUCK OFF!" they both yelled as they burst through the temple door and into the courtyard.
They needed all the freedom an open area could offer as well as to keep the demon from hurting the surviving victims inside the temple. The demon thrives in small, dark spaces; taking her out of the temple would put her at a disadvantage.
The Pillars separated with one running opposite of each other, with the demon following Ye Zun as he was easier to be seen in the moonlight. From the opposite end of the courtyard, Zhao Yunlan peels open the wrapping on his finger and pinches the wound open. Blood trickled out and its scent quickly caused the demon to skid to a halt and turn its full attention towards the scent of blood. Many people who discover they have Sacred Blood don't live long enough to understand its properties and potency, having already been killed and consumed by demons. Zhao Yunlan is the one swordsman in every century who took full advantage of his blood type. Mostly by making himself the Demon Slayer Corps most infallible and deadliest bait.
And like the mountains Zhao Yunlan proclaims himself to represent, the man was an immovable presence against the face of any calamity.
The Great Mountain Breath Zhao Yunlan had developed and perfected in his youth was a marriage of the Stone and Water Breath techniques he had mastered from his parents. Having the adamance of his father and the flexibility of his mother, the Mountain Pillar had created a style that was meant to defend and persevere like the cliffs on a mountain side and to strike with the crushing speed of water rushing from the mountains.
All it had taken was one swift strike of his black sword and the demon had lost five of her eight limbs and a small piece of her abdomen.
Ye Zun took full advantage as the demon screamed and writhed in pain on the ground. Climbing onto her spider infested back, Ye Zun readied his own blade and aimed for her neck. As every demon slayer was taught, severing a demon's head from its body is the only way to kill a demon. His aim was sure, but the demon's fragile humanoid half was a ruse. His red blade barely broke the skin of the demon's neck before it quickly began to heal itself. Ye Zun had no choice but to jump off her back as the smaller arachnids crawled up his legs and arms. Violently shaking off every spider on his clothing while he quickly reconvened with the Mountain Pillar.
"We never got close enough to touch the torso before," Zhao Yunlan gritted out, "but we should have expected that the skin would be thicker or well protected. We need to wear her skin down until we can slice her head off."
"That would take too long," Ye Zun retorted, dodging a desperate leg that aimed their way, "with how thick her skin was, we're better off waiting for daylight before we can even have any hope of cutting even an inch into her neck."
"I don't want to wait that long!" Zhao Yunlan whined, "I wanna take Xiao-Wei out on a date before he goes to bed by daylight!"
The demon roared and clawed its way towards the two Pillars, her red eyes burning with the intent to rip and tear. Her three remaining legs propel her forward, while the sharp nails of her arms rip through the air in a desperate attempt to reach them. Ye Zun and Zhao Yunlan stepped further back, swords in front of them and ready to cut off the rest of her limbs if need be. There were only two of them, and even with their combined strength, Ye Zun was sure that it wouldn't be enough to sever the demon's neck. Keeping the demon distracted until sunrise would pose too much risk to the both of them and would risk the lives of the survivors in the temple.
Ye Zun caught sight of the demon's severed appendages from behind her and knew he had to take the risk.
"Yunlan," Ye Zun barked, "distract the demon for me, I'm going after one of her legs."
Zhao Yunlan's split second confusion quickly morphed into horror as the Mountain Pillar realized what Ye Zun was planning. "No!" he snapped, "Ye Zun, don't you fucking dare!"
Ye Zun had already skirted around the demon's large and scrambling legs, leaving Zhao Yunlan to distract it despite the man's swears and protestations. He quickly reached for the closest limb that he could and moved to position himself as far away from the demon's line of sight as possible.
"Ye Zun!" Zhao Yunlan roared as he swung his sword at the demon's clawing hands, "I swear to every single one of our dead family that I will kick your ass if you do what I think you're going to do!"
Ye Zun ignored the Pillar's ranting. They can't prolong this battle, too many lives inside the temple are at risk. He doesn't know how many of his men are still alive there, but he didn't want them to wait when Ye Zun could easily end this fight within minutes.
"Ye Zun don't you dare!"
The Moon Pillar raised the still warm limbs of the demon's legs up to his lips and took a bite into the acrid flesh.
Their generation of Demon Slayers was a generation of rarities. Zhao Yunlan had his Sacred blood, making him irresistible and dangerous to the demons he hunts. Shen Wei was also a rare creature, being the one known demon who broke away from the influence of the Master of Demons and swore off feeding human flesh.
Ye Zun could also count himself amongst the rarities of his generation. If anyone else but Zhao Yunlan knew of his condition.
Demons eat human flesh to grow stronger; by logic, a human can eat the flesh of a demon to grow stronger.
But that logic is flawed as demon flesh is poisonous to humans. Many have tried to test this theory and all of them have died as a result. But there must be something in the Shen Family's blood that helped Shen Wei break the Master of Demon's all-encompassing control over demons and made Ye Zun impervious to the poison and help him absorb the strength of the demon he consumes. As the last of the fetid flesh slither down his throat, Ye Zun could already feel the changes in his body. The flesh he consumes never altered his physical appearance, but he could feel his strength grow, and for a short moment he can feel the demon's strength coursing through his own.
He scoffed; she was a weak demon, no better than a Sergeant.
Ye Zun could see Zhao Yunlan's enraged expression from across the courtyard but the man stepped further away from the demon and Ye Zun's line of attack. With a nod, Ye Zun readied his sword, widened his stance, and readied himself to charge. He took a deep centering breath.
Breath of the Moon Tenth Form: Drilling Slashes, Moon Through Bamboo Leaves
Humans cannot do what demons could, humans can't create webs to capture and preserve their prey nor could they transform themselves into any shape they want. Humans are vulnerable, humans are frail, and humans are prey. But as Ye Zun channels the strength of the demon he consumed; he feels the damning constraints of humanity shake away for a brief moment as he charges at his prey.
All it took were three horizontal slashes and the demon's body split apart into four unsalvageable pieces: one across the abdomen, across the molting gray torso, and across her thick neck.
The demon fell in a heap on the ground, body twitching before sagging into the blood soaked ground. Ye Zun stood over her fading body, her corpse turning quickly into dust as she should have allowed it years ago. He closed his eyes and allowed her dying memories to wash over him. In her desperation to survive from the bandits who cornered and assaulted her that fateful night. She swore vengeance under her dying breath and accepted the Master of Demons' offer to let her live. As his pawn, she hunted down the bandits in their hideout, tied them in webs as they had tied her and feasted on their flesh one night at a time down to the last man who died from starvation thirty days later.
As the last of her memories faded from his consciousness, Ye Zun sent a small prayer for her safe passage to the afterlife.
Ye Zun focused his attention to the other Pillar before him. Zhao Yunlan was rummaging through the sleeves of his emerald green robes before pulling a small pastry from it.
Ye Zun, still dazed from the shared memory with the spider demon obeyed and ate the pastry given to him.
And promptly vomited the contents of his stomach out.
Zhao Yunlan crouched next to him to hold his long white hair as he continued to cough and heave out his entire day's meals, as well as the demon's flesh that he had just eaten.
"Good" the Mountain Pillar said simply and without sympathy, "good to know Lin Jing's inducers work perfectly."
"Why do you even have one up your sleeve?" Ye Zun choked before heaving once again.
"I have one for whenever an idiot Pillar and his gorgeous twin eat something they shouldn't be eating," Zhao Yunlan scowled, "like right now. Didn't you fucking tell me the more demon flesh you eat, the closer you are to becoming a demon?!"
"This was an emergency," Ye Zun groaned before heaving once again, "God! Is there any other way you can help me purge this shit out without vomiting?"
"You want it to come out the other way?" Zhao Yunlan snapped, "Because I can definitely do that!"
"You're a sadist."
"Thanks, and you're a moron."
"I don't know what my brother sees in you."
"He sees everything that is good in me, Xiao-Wei is pure and beautiful like that."
"My brother has poor taste in men."
"Hey, don't insult my wife like that!"
"I'm his didi, I do what I want. You two aren't even married."
"That's because you won't bless our union!"
"I am going to vomit on you now."
If Wang Yike still had strength after being trapped in a web for nearly a week, she would have yelled and thrown her sword at the two Pillars. As she was, the only thing she could say was, "Is jiejie with you?"
Ye Zun shook his head as he lowered her onto the cart that he had retrieved after their battle, "But she is waiting for you at home."
She smiled before falling asleep once again.
There was nothing left of the dead after they investigated the corpses, the demon had liquefied them before feasting on their bodies. Out of the victims that were scattered all over the temple, only one of them was a part of his recognizance team. Poor Lin Yusen was a new recruit who joined the Corps after finding a demon eating his fiancée a month before their wedding. The boy was hotheaded and reckless, and it wasn't a surprise to find out he had antagonized the spider demon, leading her to eat him before the rest.
"I'll make sure my team cleans the area up," Zhao Yunlan said, "I already sent Da Qing to alert Zhu Hong and the others to come here. I'll help you get your team back to headquarters."
The trip back to headquarters took far longer, and Zhao Yunlan had despaired at seeing the sun rise that morning; bemoaning a missed opportunity to take Shen Wei out on a date. It was mid-morning by the time they reached headquarters and the entire facility came to life in a flurry of soldiers running back and forth to help their medics transfer the survivors to their medical hall. As much as Ye Zun had wanted to return to his own room and sleep, he had to give his report of what had happened during his mission (purposely leaving out the part where he ate a part of the demon), checked in on the survivors in the medical hall, and ensured that Zhao Yunlan was settled in the guest quarters.
By the time he had completed his duties as Pillar, it was late into the afternoon. Ye Zun dragged his feet to his bedroom where he knew his gege lay asleep in his box. He made sure to thoroughly clean himself of all dirt and stain from his mission before falling into his bed. He had been awake since the previous day and the moment his head hit the pillow he had fallen asleep.
He dreamt the same dream he's had since he was fourteen.
It was the morning after he and gege survived their battle with the Master. The two of them huddled together in the dark recesses of their family's ancestral hall. Ye Zun used his whole body to cover Shen Wei to protect him from the sunlight, while they both wept over their family whose remains lay scattered in pieces around their home. The dream moves on to the evening as he watched Shen Wei sit deathly still in front of their family's graves, praying to their mother whose body he was forced to eat the night he turned.
He looked up from where he stood at the steps of his family's ancestral hall to find people standing before them. At the very front were their parents and siblings, watching them in waiting, while the rest were people and other demon slayers they had encountered are now dead and buried. Near where their parents stood were Lin Yusen and the former demon he had killed, new additions to the morbid crowd that plagued his dreams.
They were a gathering of the dead who now wait for his and Shen Wei's passing. Were they waiting to welcome them? or to punish them? The dead never spoke so Ye Zun will never find out until he crosses over the mortal plane. He hopes it won't be anytime soon.
He feels himself being pulled awake from his dream with whispered words and a small hand shaking his shoulder. Ye Zun opens his eyes to the dim light of the candles in their room and to the sight of his gege hovering over him with a happy smile on his face, his little fangs peeking from underneath his upper lip.
"I'm home, gege," Ye Zun said, greeting Shen Wei with his own smile.