Chapter 1: Prologue
The Cerulean Typhoon
A lone figure stood in the rain, breathing heavily. Cerulean eyes glared at the sight ahead of her, a gaze made all the more menacing with the blood trickling down her face.
The crushed armor and tattered clothing did little to shield her from the cold rain, but it didn't matter to her.
"Formidable," the lady simply said, stabilizing her breathing to normal levels after the rigorous activity which had just occurred. "I didn't think you had that kind of power."
"You're no longer who you used to be," the other figure said, "ever since you found your heart in that unworthy peasant, you have lost your power."
The bloodied woman remained silent, but the quiet, seething anger in those cerulean eyes spoke their reply. The wind began picking up again. Whirlwinds of power began circling her wrists and arms.
"Oh? Angry are you?" the other figure teased.
No reply. Just a stronger concentration of wind and fury at the other's calling.
"You were once the Cerulean Typhoon, but now you're just a puddle in love with some petty lesser--"
"Don't." The typhoon uttered in a low voice. Don't you dare finish that sentence.
"Now there's the Typhoon we know!" the figure moved into position, readying hands for a fatal strike.
My dear... I'm not sure what will come out of this battle... But if I don't come back... please take care of them...
And they lunged.
Chapter 2: Ishida Ayumi
Just a heads up, I had just recovered from kpop fanfiction and thus, my writing ability is NOT up to par for the first couple chapters... ^^;
Ishida Ayumi woke up abruptly to a shrill voice and a light smack on the head.
"W-What was that for?!" the girl cried out in pain, hands shooting up in surprise.
"You overslept!" One Kudo Haruka chided.
"You hit me! Rude!" the long haired girl sat up, pulling at her indigo short skirted yukata to look presentable after a long night's worth of sleep.
"Hey, I got Yasuda-san's permission to, I just happily obliged," Duu shrugged, "But y'know, you got fishing duty today."
Ayumi looked blankly at the short haired girl.
"So who's got guard duties?"
With that, the younger sneered, showing off pronounced fangs. Ayumi wanted to grab Duu's short wolfish hair and yank every last piece off.
Guard duty entails protection of the orphanage, yes, but guard duty also includes playing with the children as a bonus. There were just four problems with that: Ayumi loved the children, Duu loved the children, Haruna loved the children, and Maachan loved the children. The elder girls always fought over guard duty until Yasuda-san finally decided to turn the battle into a turn-based system.
Watching the kids was definitely a lot funner compared to fishing.
"It wasn't even supposed to be me today! She totally stole it!" Ayumi mumbled as she tied her hair in loose twin tails over a bed of straight hair. Because I overslept, I bet Duu told on me and Yasuda-san is punishing me with fishing duty, UGH. She could see that stupid little grin on the other's face again.
With a bucket strapped to her back, a fishing rod in one hand, and a naginata in the other, Ayumi went deep into the woods. Thankfully, the chief of the village allowed the orphanage to claim the woodlands behind it, and as Yasuda-san discovered one day, it just happened to have a pond with thriving fish.
How many will I catch today? the girl wondered as she maneuvered through branches and brush. It was a bit of a contest to see which girl could catch the most fish. Duu held the current record!
Maybe I'll beat her this time... Good luck, Ayumi! and with an encouraging "Yes!" Ayumi skipped forward to her destination.
Soon enough, she caught sight of blue and sparkles and she ran forward. A large pond met happy brown eyes and Ayumi couldn't help but grin at the sight. At least the view was always pretty, no matter how many times she came.
The grass was as green as can be. Trees huddled together like a fence around the area. A person fishing in the middle of the pond on top of a cloud. Birds were happily singing overhead. The sky was--
In the middle of the pond, there was someone sitting on a cloud.... Fishing...
"H-Hey! You're not supposed to be here!" Ayumi dropped the bucket and rod onto the ground and immediately gripped the naginata firmly with both hands. "This land is private property!"
Cat ears perked up at the sound of the orphan's cry.
A demon? Ayumi squinted her eyes at the figure.
Before she could call out again, the person panicked and turned (steered?) their cloud around and began to flee!
"HEY!!!!" the naginata flew from her hand and narrowly missed the demon by a hair's width!
The cat demon then turned their head, "HA! You missed!"
"WATCH OUT FOR--"
"...that tree..." Ayumi's face paled. She ran around the pond to the demon's location, picking up her fallen naginata along the way.
The cloud that the demon was riding on was gone. Instead, the cat demon was sprawled on the ground face up, completely knocked out. Ayumi was at a complete loss at what to do.
Occassionally a demon or two would trespass but it wasn't anything the four elder girls and Yasuda-san couldn't handle, but this was the first time Ayumi managed to knock out a demon without actually doing anything...
A girl cat demon, no less! Unless it happened to be a very andrygnous boy with long fluffy black hair tied at the side of his head and red clothes definitely worn out and--
"She's just a kid too!" Ayumi's eyes widened. DID I JUST KNOCK OUT A GIRL MY AGE?!
"Hyahhoi!" the cat girl sat up, fists raised high in the air before settling down on the ground. The cat's almond shaped dark eyes blinked curiously at the other.
Whoa... She's really adorable....! the orphan's eyes widened incredulously. She's met her fair share of demons, but she's never seen one with cute cheeks and a cute little nose. Then again, it was the first cat demon she saw.
"Wow, I like your lips," the cat demon smiled.
OH NO, I KNOCKED HER OUT AGAIN! Ayumi raised her hands on top of her head in panic. BUT SHE DEFINITELY WASN'T CUTE ANYMORE, WHAT WAS WITH THAT SMUG EXPRESSION!?
"Oh wow, she caught a bunch..." Ayumi suddenly said, immediately switching her panic mode off upon seeing a basket filled to the brim with fish.
She looked at the fish.
Back to the knocked out cat demon.
Back at the fish.
And back to the demon.
And right back to the fish.
"Should I..." the orphan pondered aloud.
"Ayumiiiiiiiiiii!" came a shrill high voice and all of a sudden, Ayumi was tackled from behind.
"M-Maachan!?" She turned her head and sure enough, Sato Masaki was firmly latched on like a cicada to honey. Those crescent shaped eyes were unmistakable.
"I got firewood duty and I thought 'hey, why not visit the fishing hole' and here I -- OH GOSH DEMON" Masaki jumped several meters back, shoulder length hair swishing and hands up at the ready.
"Relax! She's knocked out!" Ayumi stuck the naginata firmly into the ground before leaning on it, "I can take care of it."
"Y-you better do it fast!" Maachan stuttered, combing her her bangs down, "that earring it has... it's a power limiter."
Ayumi never had any ounce of magic ability, but Maachan and Duu knew a few spells and could definitely pick out magic enhancements wherever they were. The demon only had one earring hanging from the base of its cat ear. It began with beads of different sizes and ended in a huge piece of metal in the shape of.. a lightning bolt?
"A limiter huh..." Ayumi began, "that means it's got super powerful magic, right?"
"Powerful? Yes. Controllable? No, that's why the limiter's there..." Masaki squeaked, "You need to make her leave! Who knows what she'll do to the village, the chief will freak out!"
"But... She doesn't seem.... harmful," they looked at the bump forming on the demon's forehead and the very visible fist print in the middle of her face.
"Still, she kinda looks like a red kunoichi! She could be a spy or something! Yasuda-san's not gonna like this though, a demon spy in the village!"
"But we've had good ones come by! Like that fox girl who trades in furs for the winter!"
"Good point..." Maachan looked at the comatose cat. "Maybe it'll be okay as long as she doesn't hurt anyone...But how will we bring her in without everyone else trying to oust her?"
"We can pretend she was an outsider who didn't know any better and offered to share her catch before knocking herself out!"
An idea that shockingly worked. She was never a good liar but Ayumi figured it was due to the fact that the lie was actually surprisingly really close to the truth of what had happened. Thank goodness for that poker face of her's and Maachan's ridiculously misleading and confusing word choice...
"She was going to... share?" Yasuda-san raised a brow, staring at the unconcious demon laying on the floor, "A cat demon willing to share?"
"No really, she's the sweetest thing ever! Like mochi sitting in a nest of spring leaves!" Maachan smiled as she waved the cat demon's arms around, as if attempting to demonstrate her point...Whatever it was.
Yasuda Kei scratched at her prominent cheekbones, pondering the tale of the orphans.
"You should see her smile!" Ayumi blurted out, "It'll melt your heart!" She really hope she wasn't blushing. The tiny twin-tailed orphan always had easily flammable cheeks.
"It'll make sunshine and rainbows fall out of the sky in envy!" Maachan's hands immediately clapped onto Ayumi's cheeks, hiding the blush albeit in a painful way. Ayumi squealed but somehow, the taller managed to work the squeal to her advantage by inserting her fingers in her mouth and stretching it into a smile. "Maybe she could transfer some of that sunshine into miss poker face here! See! She's already doing it! The red represents the color of the sun. OUR DEAR AYUMI IS NOW THE SUN! Maybe she'll breathe rainbows."
"I didn't understand a single thing you said," Yasuda-san sighed, wrapping a finger around her curly locks at a loss for what to do. "But as long as she doesn't overstay her visit, I'll be fine with it."
Ayumi internally thanked Maachan for being her ever unintelligible self. Sometimes Maachan's incoherent ramblings were all that was needed to steer anyone away from thinking any deeper.
"Thank you so much!" the short girl bowed respectfully, her hand lashing out and forcing Maachan to do the same. "We'll take care of her!"
"It's not like I permitted a normal cat in this house," Yasuda-san chided as she turned about her foot, prepared to leave the room, "Just make sure that she doesn't get into trouble, alright?" and with that, she left.
Maachan wiped her forehead, shining with sweat. "Man, I thought I would have to talk about the royal family or something if you hadn't given me material to work off of."
"I'm the sun!? Seriously!?" Ayumi shook the taller girl, "What kind of story was that!?"
"Well you were red and red is the sun so that's what I had to talk about, ya know?" Maachan gave a spacey smile as she was being shaken by the petite girl, "I think it's perfect!"
Ayumi could only slap her palm to her face.
What to do with a comatose cat demon... What to do...
Chapter 3: Sayashi Riho
When Riho woke up, she was utterly confused. She remembered a forest dotted with the crisp green and yellow of an upcoming fall. And a blue sky.
Where was the sky?
Since when did it feel so cramped in a forest?
She wasn't on her cloud either, her cloud was never this stiff.
Oh but there were curious eyes everywhere.
The outburst brought out feral instinct to escape. Claws dug into the wooden floorwork beneath her and pulled at her weight with all her might. She wasn't exactly thinking, enclosed spaces tended to do that to her. She just picked a direction and launched towards it. Thankfully, it was an open area and she found herself struck by the sun's rays.
Riho landed on all fours and looked right up at the direction she just came from, finding a startled bunch of .... kids? Her claws and feet planted firmly onto the ground, her back arched and her ears flattened. How in the world did she end up with a place with so many humans?
The children looked at her in awe and wonder. Riho couldn't help but retreat further into her body, the corners of her mouth tugging back uncomfortably. When a few kids dared to tip toe closer, she let out a hiss through her bared teeth.
Riho turned to the source of the sound, hissing all the more. A short human girl in indigo clothes stood with hands at her hips. She had a straight fringe with part of her hair tied in twin tails while the rest cascaded down her shoulders. When she started tracing the contours of the other's face...
It was that human she met earlier. With the nice lips.
Riho straightened out her back, claws no longer digging into the dirt but relaxed in front of her feet. She tilted her head, blinking curiously at the familiar face.
"Where am I?"
The other began talking, but Riho's nose picked up the scent of fish being seared nearby... As she turned and began to crawl towards the smell, she heard a foot stomp behind her.
"I'm TALKING to you!" She felt a hand on her shoulder and Riho immediately launched herself onto the rooftop. She never really liked being touched and she would never really warm up to it. The scent began to call for her again though, and she did her utmost best to follow the scent, completely and unabashedly ignoring the yelling human below.
Soon, the yelling began getting on her nerves, and Riho looked down back at twin tails. "Yes?"
"I can't believe you totally ignored everything I said!"
Oh, she was concerned about that?
"I'm in an orphanage. You're Ishida Ayumi. And I accept your apology, can you stop screaming?"
The human looked as if she was about to retort, but caught herself. Riho looked for signs of any ensuing conversation but found that there was none, therefore, she continued her hunt for fish.
The smell became strong as she ventured closer to the source. She must be over a kitchen. Meanwhile, the human called Ayumi worked herself up to the point of uttering all sorts of profanities against the cat demon. Oh well, Riho's definitely heard worse language from her mother. Her claws gripped the edge of the roof and she pulled herself over, staring upside down into the scenery below her.
There it was...
The sight of beautifully grilled fish with scales of a golden hue, caramelized by whatever marinade the wonderful chef brushed upon it. The fires of the grill licked at the fish set upon it, as if massaging it in preparation for a fighting match with Riho's taste buds, though she was pretty sure her mouth would win that fight.
"Fish..." she licked at the saliva which escaped from her open mouth.
Riho would have definitely enjoyed snacking on the fish if it weren't for something--or someone-- yanking at her side ponytail and completely throwing her balance off. She landed on her fours once more, before settling back into a squatting position.
"You are unbelieveably rude!" Ayumi yelled in exaggeration.
Riho reached up to straighten her side tail, focusing on the task at hand before looking back at the screaming human. "I don't see what the problem is. I heard everything you said, and I'm hungry."
"There's something called manners you know!" Ayumi slapped a hand to her face, dragging it down.
"Oh," Riho simply said. Her parents emphasized that humans had this code of social conduct in bigger establishments such as the one she was at. She shouldn't let that go to waste. She stood stood up and bowed to the other. "Pleased to meet you, I am Sayashi Riho." That should satisfy the other, right?
The other was struck speechless, she had to have done it correctly then.
"May I help myself to the fish I worked hard on catching?" She remembered each and every one she caught. She had no idea how her fish managed to find themselves being cooked but hey, one less job to do.
"I give up," Ayumi threw her hands up in the air, turning around to nurse an apparent headache.
Riho stuck her hand onto the grill and picked up a fish she sensed was cooked to her taste. However, this seemed to have caused another incredulous reaction from the other. This was why she never liked going through crowded areas.
"How in the world did you do that without burning yourself?!" Ayumi's hands were reaching for her own, and in turn, Riho jumped back a step to avoid being touched.
"Immunity to fire." Less talk, more eating. This fish was delicious. The fish crumbled away on her tongue. Each individual piece exploded in a burst of flavors melting in harmony in her mouth. Whoever cooked this definitely was an expert. She let out a happy purr as her mouth turned upwards into a satisfied grin.
"Why thank you!" a lady waltzed through the door frame, donning a simple grey kimono. "Grilling fish is my specialty! How are you feeling?" The lady reached out to feel Riho's forehead. What was it with these people and wanting to touch her?! However, manners first.
She winced at the contact, not that it hurt or anything, but she was definitely out of her comfort zone. "I'm fine. Being what I am...means healing faster."
"That's good to know, and thank you for the fish, Ayumi was kind enough to relay your wishes."
Riho looked over at Ayumi, who was already staring at her with a certain intensity when their eyes met. Her eyes narrowed as she took another fish. This girl seemed to be yanking her all over the place today, huh...
"I'm glad I could be of service, miss."
The lady instantly smiled, "Oh, you flatter me!" the elder then turned to look at Ayumi, "See!? I'm still beautiful and young!"
Ayumi rolled her eyes.
"Oh Yasuda-san! Is the food done?" A tall person wandered into the yard. Like Ayumi, the newcomer had straight bangs, though her hair was up in a high ponytail, seemingly adding more to that height. When her eyes laid upon Riho, the other became nervous.
"Oh don't mind her, Harunan, she caught dinner!" Ayumi waved her hand dismissively.
To be frank, she meant to catch all that fish for herself, but she saw kids pouring in from every nook and cranny to get a stick of fish. HER fish... Riho felt herself die a little on the inside. She was the one who caught it!
Regardless, manners were manners. "Sayashi Riho, yoroshiku," she bowed once more.
The new girl's eyes widened to that of a deer's. She looked dazed for a bit before returning her bow, "Iikubo Haruna."
Funny, Haruna reminded her of one of her mama's teachers who was also tall and lanky. They even had the same long flowing hair and the spacey eyes. When she looked to snack on more of her fish, she realized they were all gone! Her brow twitched in annoyance but she let out a poker face to at least attempt to show consideration for her host.
"I must... thank you for this hospitality..." Riho attempted to say normally, but her voice slightly betrayed her chagrin for all the fish being gone.
"Oh but we must thank you for catching all of this!" the one called Yasuda-san seemed to have not noticed Riho's change in tone, but the short one caught it all.
"Yes, we must thank you for your kindness," Ayumi's smile twitched, putting a lot of strange emphasis on the word 'kindness' than expected. Oops, Riho's acting wasn't as convincing as she thought. No matter, at least the important parties were convinced.
"By the way... I must ask...How long was I out for?" She definitely caught way more fish than this... The only explanation would be...
"For a full day. We ate half of the fish yesterday and the rest will be finished today."
Riho felt her soul leaving her.
"WHAT DID YOU GUYS DO, SHE'S AS PALE AS DEATH," screamed a ridiculously high pitched voice out of nowhere. She felt a presence aim for her so she sidestepped, causing a new girl to fumble from failing to glomp her. "See, if she was normal, she'd be welcome to contact ("No.") but alas whatever you said to her completely drove her out of this world and into the sky. Seriously, all her skin tone just vanished into the air and left her all white like a ghost, only not a ghost because she has feet but I digress, you've traumatized the skin off this poor girl... YOU'VE EVAPORATED HER COLOR AWAY, HOW COULD YOU!" Noisy human clasped the tips of her fingers to her mouth as if scandalized.
"Ugh..." Riho's poor sensitive ears were still ringing from the initial outburst.
"M-Maachan..." Ayumi's eye twitched.
Maachan...san? Okay. A name to a face. Always a use for those.
"No seriously, what did you say to her? She was whiter than sea foam!" Maachan went and shook Ayumi by the shoulders vigorously. "And she's a cat! Cats shouldn't have anything to do with water at all and yet this happens!"
"Oh, Maachan-san, I'm not--" Riho began, but was cut off immediately.
"ARE YOU TRYING TO DEFY THE LAW OF COLOR THEORY, AYUMI-CHAN!?"
"Maachan, color theory has nothing to do with the whitening of one's face. That would be the lack of blood, is it not?" Haruna waved a hand dismissively.
"AYUMI, ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL OUR GUEST WITH AMOEBA?"
"AYUMI, ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL OUR GUEST WITH ANEMIA?" Maachan redid her sentence with Haruna's correction.
"I'm fine," Riho placed a hand on the other's shoulder. When Maachan was going to open her mouth again, Riho said again, "I. Am. Fine."
Apparently this human has a bad case of the crazies. She just kept going without stopping... Well, there was nothing of note here, and all the fish was gone.
Time to leave.
She should have thought of a plan before going out to look for her missing parents. One could only go so long surviving off of game and fodder running about in the wild.
"...I must take my leave," Riho thought aloud, "Thanks for watching over me, and send Yasuda-san my regards," she bowed respectfully to the others.
"Nooooo!" Maachan immediately threw herself onto Riho, much to the latter's chagrin. "You can't just leave us! We just met you!"
"But you've seen me for a full day?" Riho raised a brow.
"You were unco-conscious for most of it!"
"Unconscious," Ayumi corrected.
"You were unconscious for most of it!" Maachan repeated, even using the same exasperated expressions as before. How did this human even...?
"HEY!" a newcomer burst into the clearing, looking worse for wear. There were rips here and there and a wild mess of hair on top of this girl's head. "Bad news!"
Oh, things were starting to get interesting.
"Some demons came into town! They're beating everyone up!"
"This is bad!" Ayumi looked to the wall to grab her naginata, "We need to help!"
"We need to protect the kids!" newcomer in light brown looked desperate, "One of the demons is the Cerulean Typhoon!"
Riho stood up straight, loosening Maachan off of her. "Let me help."
The wolfish haired girl looked at her, "Who are you?"
"Cat demon, name's Riho, long story," Ayumi said quickly, summing everything up for the other to register.
"They blew the chief's house away with one hit though! Is your power measureable to that with that limiter you have?"
So this human being studies magic, then? Riho tilted her head, letting the lightning earring hit against her face.
"I'm quite sure that I can do more than that in one blow."
The four girls stared at her.
"Furthermore, I'm more interested in this Cerulean Typhoon person..."
A cat-like smirk appeared on her face. The pupils of her chocolate eyes narrowed into slits.
"Because this one sounds like a fake."
Chapter 4: Tanaka Reina
...She was pissed. She lifted the poor unsuspecting villager high over her head, his farmer's garb threatening to rip from the sheer force. One would never suspect a tiny person capable of such a feat, but she wasn't human to begin with. She had an ancestry of both a cat and tiger to thank for that.
"So you're telling me...that I've been in the wrong part of Nippon this entire time!?" the golden eyed demon snarled at the human in her hands.
"B-b-b-but that's n-not MY fault!"
This human dared to ridicule her!? She chucked the human to the side and she ran her claws through her sun kissed bronze hair, cat ears twitching. Her outfit consisted of blacks and reds but she was hardly clothed anyway; the easier to move in, the better.
"Okay, I guess I shouldn't have made the turn at Ise..." she glared at the farmer who thought he could out run her, but she simply appeared in front of him. Humans always thought they had a chance at outrunning demons, but that was never the case.
"So tell me, how do I get to the Sky Villages from here?"
The farmer looked at her for a moment before his eyes rolled back in his head--and promptly fainted, leaving a puddle where his posterior landed.
"ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS!?"
Chapter 5: Ishida Ayumi
A fake? Typhoon or not, the kids were in danger. They had protocol to follow if there was impending danger.
"Help me gather the stuff for the cart," it seemed Haruna beat her to it.
"On it!" Duu answered promptly, immediately getting to work on the non-perishables.
Maachan and Ayumi began to corral the kids when Ayumi noticed the cat demon heading towards the village.
"No way, she's not seriously handling all them by herself, is she?" Duu looked at the fleeting cat incredulously, wiping her brow.
"You looked pretty roughed up, how bad were they?" the twin tailed girl pushed the other's fringe back, revealing a bruise hidden beneath.
"They seemed like your average bandits attempting a raid..." the wolfish girl batted Ayumi's hand away, as if embarrassed of having received a wound at all.
"But you said cerulean typhoon?"
"Yeah, because their leader used pretty strong water magic and kept calling himself that to make the chief submit."
"I gotta stop Sayashi-san then!" Ayumi looked back towards the direction of the village, finding that Riho had already disappeared from sight.
Duu grabbed her arm, "Forget her, we have to make sure everyone gets to safety first!"
"I'll just meet you guys later, I know where it is!" Ayumi shrugged her hand off, walking backwards and away from the other, "I just can't let an idiot like her go rushing to her death!"
"She's a demon though!" Duu raised her voice, "She can handle herself, WE need to move!"
Ayumi didn't say anything in return. She turned about her foot and just ran. She retrieved the naginata leaning against the wall and went full speed ahead.
It couldn't have been long. Maybe Riho would still be okay... Ayumi pushed the bad thoughts out as she neared the destination. She began to hear sounds of battle as she got closer.
From what she saw, everything still seemed relatively okay, but there was no one around. Maybe the bandits came up from the other end of the village and started their raid there. She'd know by the time she reached the chief's house. Or well, where it once was. Duu said the leader blew it away in one hit.
Please let Riho be okay... Her fears manifested when the sounds suddenly stopped.
She turned the corner.
...To Riho standing over three men, incapacitated.
"What?" Ayumi's eyes widened.
"What the hell are you guys doing?" a tall, lanky man with 8 crossed arms looked on in disdain. "You're all losing to a CAT...." For a bandit, he was surely well-armored. Was he a samurai who abandoned his duty? His colors were indeed cerulean though...
He must be the leader.... a spider demon with water magic, huh? Ayumi gripped her naginata tighter. She then looked to the other.
SHE DOESN'T EVEN HAVE A SCRATCH ON HER?!
"I had some of the best teach me how to fight," A smug smile appeared on the cat's lips. Three more men jumped at her. Ayumi blinked and Riho suddenly wasn't there anymore. The men collapsed in a heap, in complete disarray.
"YOU FOOLS!" the water spider roared, bringing one set of arms to form a triangle with his hands. Suddenly, a burst of water spiraled from the space between his hands, completely washing his incompetent men away.
So that's how the chief's house was destroyed... Behind the bandit leader, the chief's house laid in ruins. Wait....
"What did you do to the chief!?" Ayumi stood her ground, pointing her weapon at the villain.
"Another kid, some village you got here, letting the children fight," the bearded leader turned his head slightly and that was where Ayumi caught sight of the chief. Whatever happened, he was thrown against a house and he was heaving painfully, with some of the villagers at his side though staring at the awe-inspiring entity that was Riho.
Suddenly, Ayumi sensed malicious feelings and looked back--and immediately side flipped out of the way of a water blast! Having survived surprise attacks from Duu and Maachan, she was no stranger to perception and had the dexterity to accompany that.
"Oh? Stronger than that other brat then," the leader simply said, resting his crossed arms against his armor.
"Hey," Riho called out, "Your fight is with me."
The bandit leader scoffed, "Why would the Cerulean Typhoon bother with a weakling like you?"
"Because this weakling just beat up half your crew," Riho pointed at herself, other hand on her hip. "Besides, I don't recall the Cerulean Typhoon even needing a band of bandits in the first place."
"You keep talking, brat, I will end you," the leader grew increasingly annoyed. Seeing that his men gathered themselves, he barked: "GET EVERYONE!"
How low, some of the bandits were even aiming for the injured chief! Ayumi would not allow for that at all! She ran in front of everyone and stood ready for the bandits to come. Luckily for the orphan, a naginata had a far superior reach to a sword, which was what most of the bandits wielded. Two of them charged her at once. She batted each strike away from her, causing the two to stagger. Opening! her mind screamed and immediately, she ricocheted her blade off of the last hit and sliced both enemies in the foot, eliciting howls of pain.
When she looked up to check on Riho, her claws somehow glowed as she swung at the air, releasing very tangible, red claw marks upon unsuspecting bandits. Was that some form of magic? It was like watching a moving beam of red light, only it was in the shape of angry scratch marks that were too fast for the bandits to dodge. On top of that, Riho whirled about like a tornado, slicing up all who dared to get in her way. Maybe Duu was right, Riho, being a demon, could definitely hold her own against a gang of bandits.
Wait, these guys are way too easy... How in the world did miss Kudou Haruka lose to these low people? She even had the time to space out, letting the enemies clumsily attack her and simply punishing their horrid aim with slices and blunt hits with the bottom of the naginata. She really had to remind herself to spar with the other a lot more often.
Then again, she was always the winner in those sparring matches anyway. Before she knew it, she had her own pile of moaning and groaning men at her feet.
"Are you SERIOUS?!" the leader threw his hands away at his side, clenching them into fists in pure anger. "INCOMPETENT, ALL OF YOU! THE CERULEAN TYPHOON WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS BEHAVIOR!!!"
Riho's eye twitched. That's when Ayumi knew she was definitely pissed.
"Yeah, keep calling yourself that, you fake," Riho, clenched her teeth, but still remained smug throughout.
"You DARE disrespect me?!" his arms spread out wide, as if in a grappling pose, "BRING I--"
Riho couldn't even wait to let him finish his sentence. With her amazing speed, she punched him square in the jaw.
"You're really getting on my nerves," Riho uttered under her breath, shaking her hand before letting it return to a fist.
Just then, really bad feeling nestled itself in the core of Ayumi's stomach. It was definitely coming from the water spider. She backed up into a defensive position, looking back at the chief and the others to let them know she was there to help.
The aura of the bandit leader came out like an explosion, pushing Ayumi back slightly, but she saw that Riho wasn't in the least bit phased.
"I'll show you the TRUE po--"
Riho gave the demon an uppercut to remember her by.
"I hate it when people talk during a fight," she shook her hand out again, "No point to it."
She backflipped out of the way when multiple water projectiles launched her way from the multiple hands of the spider demon. Ayumi had a hard time trying to keep up with Riho's insane speed in dodging all of the blasts.
The bandit leader growled in annoyance as every single hit was not landing at all! And he had eight hands throwing all he had at the nimble cat demon!
Riho then decided that play time was over however, and she decided to stand her ground. Ayumi gasped when she allowed a water blast to hit her in the face, but there was no sign of injury, only very wet bangs and a dripping wet face.
Only seconds after, the rest of the water barraged her and Riho let it hit. She wasn't even flinching at them--and the ones that missed went right through the wood of the houses behind her!
Just who in the world IS this girl?! Ayumi gaped.
The cat demon simply lifted a hand, palm facing towards the frantic spider.
A powerful gust of wind spiraled out of her palm and into the demon leader, knocking him right into the air and making him spin from the recoil of the hit. Before he could get back up, Riho raised her hand in the air and brought it down with much force, causing spontaneous lightning from above to strike him where he was.
With Riho's two hands, she repeated multiple times, sending lightning strike after lightning strike after the unfortunate demon. After the smell of sizzling armor began to register, the cat demon brought her hands to her sides, panting from all the magic she used. The bandit leader was on his knees, but still defiantly glaring at her.
"And by the way, the Cerulean Typhoon isn't a water spider, but a storm dragon from the central mainlands of Nippon."
"W-What do you know, huh punk?! I'm the Cerulean Typhoon!!" the spider insisted, but shrunk back when he saw gusts of wind reverberate from Riho's feet..
"No you're not," Riho said matter-of-factly. Her whole body now floated over a whirlwind. "Because that would be my mother." She crossed her wrists in front of her chest, palms facing outward, claws bared.
Riho's eyes turned from black to cerulean.
"And that makes me the daughter of the Cerulean Typhoon."
With the aid of the whirlwind at her feet, it propelled her to impossible speeds and she passed him, though her claws were now at her side instead.
The bandit remained still, as if suspended in motion, though moments later, his armor caved in and blood spurted out in the form of an 'X' where the cat demon struck. He fell, face forward, dead or knocked out, Ayumi had no idea.
Did Riho just say... She was the daughter of the Cerulean Typhoon?!
"Oh goodness... What people do to pretend to be you..." Riho looked up at the sky, cerulean eyes turning back into a dark brown.
Wait... isn't she a cat...?
"But you have...cat ears...?" Ayumi said aloud.
Riho's ears picked up on what she said though. "Yes?"
"And you said the Cerulean Typhoon is a storm dragon, right?"
"Mmhmm." Riho began walking towards her.
"You're... half cat and half dragon?"
"Yup," Riho pushed Ayumi's gaping mouth closed.
How in the WORLD did that even HAPPEN!? There were some things in this world that she would never understand.
"You'd be surprised at how much magic helps in conception," the half cat, half dragon demon smirked, dusting herself off. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"
"Oh, they're probably safe, they should be at the safe house at this point," Ayumi looked at the angling of the sun. She then turned to the chief, "Will you be okay?"
"Y-yes..." the chief could only stare at that anomaly of a demon next to Ayumi. "But you... have to go."
Riho only nodded, as if this was normal to her. Ayumi suddenly felt really bad. For someone with that kind of lineage, it would be very easy to assume destruction would follow. "Do you want to come with me in making sure they're alright?"
"Only if there's food."
Chapter 6: Ishida Ayumi
She might as well be on this little journey all by herself. Her shoulders sagged and her naginata was wobbling loosely in her grip out of sheer boredom.
Meanwhile, the half cat half dragon anomaly was sleeping. SLEEPING. Riho was curled up and dozing off on her tiny fluffy cloud, trailing Ayumi from above her, but not quite above the tree line. The cloud seemed to weave its way around any upcoming obstacle too, as if it were an intelligent being as well.
Somehow, everything about the cat (she refused to acknowledge her dragon side until she saw visual evidence) just annoyed her to no end. She was a mannerless, inconsiderate, and smug demon of a child. just how old was she anyway? Yasuda-san said that demons developed twice as slow, so despite a demon saying they were a certain age, they were actually half that by human standards.
Riho randomly turned in her sleep, but doing so, her elbow hit a tree and she immediately yanked it back in an strangled mewl. Ayumi couldn't help but giggle at the noise. As a result of demons developing slower, their mental maturity and wisdom took twice as long to establish. She remembered Maachan's shrill voice exclaiming "so demons are pretty stupid then, right?!" and everyone in the orphanage laughing. In a way, they are Ayumi thought to herself. If Riho was any indication, then she only added further to the fact. With that, she stopped, waiting for the cloud to be at a good distance...
And she grabbed a pebble and threw it at Riho's cloud. It traveled right through but smacked Riho's body, causing the cat to wake up in alarm and the cloud beneath her disappeared. She landed on all fours in an aggressive stance, facing Ayumi.
"What was that for?! What did Mint-kun ever do to you?!"
"...Mint-kun...?" Ayumi repeated incredulously. Riho named her cloud...?
"What do you waaaaant?" Riho stretched out like a cat before standing upright. "Are we there yet?"
Jeez, this kid had a severe case of the mood swings. She probably doesn't hold grudges for long, huh...
"Almost," Ayumi replied simply.
"I think it's cute that you guys have this whole safehouse strategy for when things get rough. I wouldn't have ever thought of it."
"Its something Yasuda-san devised. We have this cart which could fit all the kids and food so its only right we'd use it for an emergency like this."
"Food..." the cat rubbed her belly at the thought.
"Is that all you ever think about?" Ayumi's eyes narrowed.
"I get hungry like everyone else," Riho shrugged. "It's a bit difficult when you're a wanderer. Especially a do-gooder demon like myself." She cupped her chin with the space between her thumb and index finger, grinning confidently.
"What's the difference between a do-gooder demon and a normal one, might I ask?" Ayumi raised a brow.
"If I wasn't, you'd be eaten a long time ago."
"That's soooo reassuring" Ayumi face-palmed. Great, she forgot that the more feral of demons only thought of humans as a snack.
"If it's any consolation, you're way too small to eat. You're just skin and bones."
Ayumi didn't have a comeback for that. She just kept walking.
Riho remained silent and trotted after.
Seriously, why did she even bother with Riho in the first place?
"Why are you even down here in the first place? The mainlands would be a lot more exciting, wouldn't it?"
"I'm looking for someone in Okinawa."
"Okinawa, why all the way there?"
"Just someone with answers." Riho said simply.
Not willing to divulge any more information than that? Sure, okay. It wasn't like she'll stick around long anyway.
"I'm surprised you didn't ask a thing about my mother, didn't her accomplishments reach all the way out here too?"
It'd be a lie if she said she didn't know who the Cerulean Typhoon was. The typhoon was said to be a legendary demon of vast power, said to even have the power to submerge all of Nippon underwater. However, it was just that, a legend or myth. Duu would make up tales about the typhoon's power, awing the children. Though she did claim some of them were true...
"So the legendary typhoon found her heart in a cat, huh?" no matter how Ayumi looked at it, Riho was a cat inside and out. Mixed demons weren't unheard of but that was just things like some being part dog, part wolf or scenarios like that. Species of vast differences mingling together were unheard of!
"I know it's something absurd to hear of, but it's true. Not that I care whether you believe it or not," Riho waved her hand dismissively, "but no matter, I just want to find my mother."
"And she's in Okinawa?"
"No, but this person might know where she is," Riho's cat ears twitched and she looked in a different direction, stopping suddenly.
Ayumi looked in the same direction and horror engulfed her face.
There was a broken pieces of wood everywhere. Both of them navigated beyond the bushes and found a broken cart. It was split clean down the middle next to a very splintered tree. That meant... it was... slammed against the tree to the point of...
The naginata dropped.
She ran forward, nearly tripping over various planks of wood. She lifted one half of the wreckage away, finding nothing but blood spatters covering the ground on the inside. She cast the wreckage aside and lifted the other, finding even more splatters.
Were the kids... IN there....?!
"Ayumi..." Riho began, but was cut off by Ayumi's cries.
"ANYONE! IS ANYONE STILL THERE?!" Ayumi darted aimlessly around the scene, eyes scanning the forest for anyone. Anything. Anybody.
She spotted a tall figure leaning against the tree. Haruna? She ran for it and she was immediately yanked backwards by Riho. When she focused more on the sight ahead of her, it was just the frame of the cart jutted out awkwardly from the tree. If she had ran at full force, she might have accidentally impaled herself in the leg.
What happened to everyone? Why were there no bodies to be found? She stood up and looked about the scene once more.
Where was the tall and lanky Haruna? The ever hyper Maachan? The wolfish Duu?
Where were they?!
"Ayumi," Riho placed both hands on Ayumi's shoulders. She didn't even know until Riho touched her that she realized she was shaking horribly.
"That's not the blood of whoever you think it belonged to. That is demon blood."
Was that supposed to make her feel better? It made her more worried than anything.
"This is just the cart though, where is the safe house?"
Ayumi opened her mouth to speak, but nothing could come out of it. Instead, she began to run again. This time, her destination was set.
Maybe they sacrificed the cart to take care of the demon and then fled to the house...! That HAD to be what happened...! with all her heart, Ayumi hoped for that to be true.
It wouldn't be too far now, it was just off of this path. After a few twists and turns avoiding the foliage and branches, they came to a clearing with well-disguised hut built into a rock wall. However, there was complete silence in the air.
So many questions flooded her mind as she walked closer to the hut. What in the world happened back there? Why was the cart shattered? How come the blood on the floor belonged to a demon? Where was everyone? Why was it so quiet? Why did the hut seem like it was untouched? Did that mean they never reached the hut in the first place? What in the world was going on?
Riho stopped her once again, placing a firm grip on her shoulder.
"This place has only been visited by us."
No, Riho's nose wasn't strong enough. Demons can't be right. Cat demons don't even share the same sensing powers as dogs, right?! She had to be wrong. She just had to be...
"I think they went a different direction..."
Now it was Ayumi's turn to place her frantic hands on Riho's shoulders, causing the cat demon to squirm uncomfortably. "WHERE?!"
"Is there another village near here?" Riho's hands pulled Ayumi's tight grasp off of her.
Oh! That's right, they had another backup plan! If for whatever reason the safehouse strategy was compromised, they would head to the village close by! That one was twice as large as the one they were from.
"Let's go!" Ayumi grabbed Riho's hand and began to yank her towards the direction of the next village.
"Hold it!" Riho slipped her hand out of Ayumi's grasp, "What about food?"
"Seriously!?" Right now, her family could be out there, dead, and all Riho cared about was food?! She let out a frustrated breath and trudged away.
Whatever Riho said afterward, Ayumi completely ignored. Someone who didn't have their priorities straight didn't deserve an earful from her. All demons were stupid and they were a waste of space! Gods forbid that she'd have to stick around this demon even longer than necessary!
What mattered were her friends, the kids, and Yasuda-san's safety. Whatever shred of humanity she thought was in Riho was now nonexistent. Tuning the cat out became easier after that.
Fortunately for her, Riho became silent on her part.
Just then, she caught sight of Riho suddenly appearing on a cloud. Mint-kun was it? Why did Riho get to travel in comfort and not her?! She immediately kicked at the cloud, her foot traveling right through and hitting Riho right in the butt.
"MINT-KUN DIDN'T DESERVE THAT!" the cat cried out as the cloud dissipated. "Why are you so mad at me thinking out loud?" the cat ears went flat against the back of her head and Riho let out a hiss right after.
That wasn't worth an answer.
But before she could walk away, Riho lunged and Ayumi immediately brought her naginata up for defense. The clang of claw meeting iron met loudly in the air.
"Why. Are. You. So. Angry?" Riho snarled, pushing back at the naginata with struggle.
"You. Are. So. Childish!" Ayumi gritted her teeth as she fought to keep the blade from touching her own face.
Riho backed off, sliding backwards on her four limbs with her back straightened and her butt high in the air. "For YOUR information, I'm almost 30!"
"That makes you no more than 15 in human years," Ayumi swung her naginata in circles before letting the base of the blade rest against her shoulder. "Did your parents teach you to be so immature like this?"
"Leave them out of this!" Riho jumped forward again, though Ayumi sensed the trajectory and dodged with an immediate split, bringing the bottom of her spear to hit the demon in the stomach.
The orphan was prepared for more, but that hit did it. Riho, landed on her side, her arms cradling her abdomen. A strange noise filled the air before Ayumi registered it as growling.
Specifically, a growling stomach.
"You're lucky I'm too hungry to fight!" the cat yowled. "You'd be on your back in a heart beat!"
"I'd love to see you try!" Ayumi pulled on the bottom of her eye and stuck her tongue out. Ugh. The faster they could separate and go on their own ways, the better. She was at her wit's end with the other fool! Leaving the other on the ground, she finally walked away once more.
Please Gods... Let everyone be okay... Ayumi hoped with all her might. She wouldn't know what to do if she found no one waiting in the village.. She looked back and she saw Riho coming along weakly. Good. At least she wasn't talking anymore.
She couldn't wait to get to the village...
Chapter 7: Tanaka Reina
Reina trudged through the brush and branches of a thick forest. She was annoyed by the humidity. She was annoyed by the trees. She was annoyed by the tall grass. She was annoyed by the bushes. She was annoyed by the bugs. She was annoyed by the sprites. She was annoyed by the pollen.
Everything was so annoying!
"Reina is so close to burning this forest..." the half cat, half tiger demon whined as she chopped everything in her path with her long claws.
She hoped she was in Mino this time. She was apparently at Totomi, last she asked a passerby. Reina figured that if she followed where the sun was going, she'd head into the right direction, and hopefully, where the sky villages were.
As she continued swiping away, she felt something bump into her feet. Reina looked down to find an adorable ferret looking back at her. The cat squealed at the sight and immediately squat down, patting the cute ferret like crazy!
"Ain't you the cutest thang around?" Reina's voice got higher every second. "Nyaaaaaa! You're soft!" the ferret seemed to enjoy the other's caressing, leaning into the touch every time.
She then crossed her arms in front of her knees, "Alright, where am I? This is Mino, right?" there was no mistaking it. Reina was like the queen of sensing and she knew this ferret was actually a demon in its true form.
The ferret looked up at her, beady black eyes blinking.
"..........You're in Kai."
"WHAT'S WITH THAT VOICE?!" Reina stumbled backwards. Why the hell did this cute ferret have such a low, disinterested, womanly voice?!
The ferret paused for a second, as if thinking," ...........I'm Miyazawa."
"Jeez, is your voice just naturally like that?" Reina leaned forward once more, poking where the ferret demon's throat was.
"So what's your human form then? I wouldn't be surprised if you were this little girl that-- WHAT THE FUCK. WHY ARE YOU SO TALL!?" Reina fell on her butt when the ferret immediately assumed human form, sprouting up like a growing sun flower. Hell, she might as well be as tall as one for all Reina would know!
Miyazawa had bangs covering one of her dull eyes and her amber hair tied up in a flared out bun in the back of her head. She was wearing a simple dark yukata with no patterns and with the sleeves tied up around her shoulders, showing off long lanky arms.
"...You're cute at this angle."
"EXCUSE YOU!" Reina smacked the other in the arm as she got up. "At least your voice fits you this time!"
She looked down to find that the other was wearing geta sandals.
"AND YOU'RE CHEATING. YOU HAVE SANDALS ON!"
Miyazawa let out a breath of air, with a slight upward tilt to her lip. Was this idiot smiling?!
"Ugh, whatever," Reina pouted, "Can you tell me how to get to the Sky Villages from here?"
The ferret demon looked at her, blinking. "...And you're in Kai?"
"SHADDAP!" Reina crossed her arms and looked away.
"...A southern accent... and you were looking for how long?"
"Reina will punch you in the throat," the cat demon returned her gaze to the other, glaring with all of her might.
"Did Reina-chan get lost?" Miyazawa bent over slightly, hand moving to ruffle Reina's hair but she swatted it away.
"That's Tanaka-SAN to you!" Reina gritted her teeth, showing off her fangs. "You're WAY younger than me, brat."
"...My apologies," Miyazawa bowed. "You can call me Marin then, Tanaka-san."
Chapter 8: Sayashi Riho
Riho was sulking. This was exactly the reason why she always tried to avoid humans whenever she could. She was warned about the complexity of humans by her peers but dealing with the real thing gave her a headache.
Ayumi felt like a good-hearted person but she was being difficult now! Not to mention that her stomach wouldn't shut up. In time, there would be food... in time ...
Which plants were edible again? Riho eyed some of the shrubbery they walked by. Some of her ancestors were only meant to eat meats but her mother drilled vegetables into her diet so as to 'help channel her magic better' or so she said.
To be honest, all the magic she casted back there took a LOT out of her. Eating just two fish for today certainly wasn't enough to sustain her either. Her hunger kept slapping her in the gut over and over!
Riho smelled the scent of game from the further reaches of the forest but she was too weak to pursue them and she was also worried for Ayumi. Despite their fight earlier, she knew Ayumi wasn't exactly in the state to be left alone either. They were going the same southern direction anyway, so as long as she found her friends, then Riho would finally leave her.
Is this what they call worry? The cat/dragon wondered to herself. She had limitless trust for everyone she knew. Lack of it and worrying for them would only upset them.
Slowly but surely, the scent of civilization settled in her nostrils.
"We're close," Riho said simply. She wasn't sure if the human was still mad at her, but it didn't hurt to test it out.
Ayumi feigned ignorance.
Riho pouted. Just how long was she going to be angry?! However, a familiar whiff caught Riho's attention and she walked faster towards it.
It was the smell of delicious homecooking... no, it was...
"Yasuda-san!" Ayumi cried out, running into the arms of the weary lady. They were right beneath a man-made arch made with thin branches, indicating an entryway into a village.
"Ayumi!" The orphanage owner caught the tiny girl in an embrace. "I was worried sick!"
"Are the kids alright?"
"They're fine! Did you happen to see Haruna and the others?"
Uh oh, this wasn't good. She lost their scents back at the path to the safehouse...
“You mean…They weren’t with you...?”
Ayumi was starting to have that daunting tone again.
“I feel we should talk about what actually happened first,” Riho interjected.
“What happened after we left you?” Ayumi asked.
The lady called Yasuda-san breathed in deep, and let it go. “We gathered everything into the cart and were about to reach the safe house when we were attacked by demons. They were the Cerulean Typhoon’s men.”
So there were more… Riho thought to herself.
“Haruna and the others told us to go, saying they could handle the bandits. The kids and I gathered what supplies we could and escaped. That was the last we saw of them.”
Ayumi became pale. Riho needed to do something quick.
“Do you by chance have anything that belongs to them?” Riho said suddenly. When the other two looked at her in confusion, she continued, “I could only go so far with memorization of their scents, but if you give us something that belonged to them, we can look for them.”
“You’d do that?” Ayumi’s eyes widened. “A demon?”
“What did I tell you? I’m a do-gooder demon,” Riho placed her hands on her hip, “I was taught to always help those in need.”
Suddenly, the both women went and hugged the cat tightly, much to her shock. She got goosebumps all over from being touched and was about to gently push the others off, but she heard the sound of tears.
“Thank you so much!” Ayumi sniffled. “You don’t know how much it means to me!”
“Your kindness will forever be engraved in our memories!” Yasuda-san said with the most sincere gratitude.
After what seemed like an eternity, the two finally let go of the cat. “I’ll go gather their things, you two can wait here.”
Ayumi nodded, but Riho started to follow her. However, just as she attempted to go through the gate, she felt a feeling like electricity shooting up and down her spine. It wasn’t exactly painful, but she knew she wasn’t supposed to go through. She stepped back and sighed.
“What’s up?” Ayumi asked, watching as the orphanage owner disappeared into the woods.
“This village has an anti-demon barrier,” Riho tilted her head as she poked at the entrance, fascinated with the static shock she continuously got from it.
“It’s not strong enough to outright kill whoever enters, but it’s enough to let me know I’m not wanted here.”
“That’s…unfortunate…” Ayumi said aloud, though it seemed she mostly said it to herself.
“Yeah… A shame barrier spells can’t discriminate between bad and good…” Riho yawned before squatting down on all fours again. This was the main reason why she’d avoid human villages in the first place. While some were friendly, others had this severe hatred toward her kind. She remembered some of her encounters with the latter and breathed out sharply, annoyed by the memories.
Her stomach growled again, and Riho pouted. She was really hungry, but didn’t say anything in fear of Ayumi somehow lashing out again like earlier. Since she made a commitment to help her, she would do her best to keep on her good side.
“Actually, hold on, I’ll see if I can get something to eat,” Ayumi said to the cat before running past the entrance.
She would have called out a thanks but Ayumi was already too far for her to hear. Why couldn’t humans have her strength of hearing? Oh well…
Riho looked up for any nearby perches. Finding one that should fit her weight, she sprang up into the air and landed in feline grace. She hoped they wouldn’t take too long, she settled onto the branch and rested on her belly, letting her limbs relax on the branch loosely. It must be the cat in her, but she always found high places comforting.
She reached for the back of her obi, tied into a gold and black flower-like design. One of the folds actually had something hidden inside. She pulled it out and looked at it. It was a dagger’s hilt wrapped in the same gold and black as her obi. There were no guards on it, however. Also, in place of where the dagger’s blade would be, there was none.
Instead, there was a small fang, protruding out of the hilt. In boredom, Riho waved one hand over the fang and immediately, it sprung into a blade. Although looking brittle and too ivory to be metal, the blade was very capable of slicing through the hardest of armor. She continued to wave her hand back and forth over the dagger, watching as the fang grew and shrink with each passing movement.
She smelt Ayumi coming, but paid no attention, for she didn’t smell any food accompanying her either.
“Sorry, the harvests in this village were really weak, they wouldn’t let me get anything,” Ayumi bent over and rested her hands on her knees, panting. Did the human actually run all over the place? “I tried getting to the supplies that we already had but the kids ate it all…” the indigo-clad girl scratched the back of her neck, apologetic.
“It’s fine, I’ll find something out here to eat,” Riho placed the dagger back in her obi and jumped down. She found that Ayumi now had a bag in her hand. “Are those your friends’ things?”
Ayumi opened the bag, revealing clothes and some objects resting on top. One was a wooden top, another, a brush, and the last, an uchiwa. She assumed those to be the belongings. She came over and picked up each one, feeling the weight, playing around with it, testing it, before picking it up to her nostrils.
Her sense of smell wasn’t as strong as a dog’s, but even so, a cat’s smell combined with the omnipresent sensing of a dragon still made for an equal contender.
“They went south.”
“Then let’s go south!” Ayumi pointed her naginata and began to march.
Riho couldn’t help but smirk. “Okay.” She went in the right direction, causing Ayumi to look back, fumble, and go chasing after her.
At least she wasn’t mad at her anymore, she was glad.
“Though… What are we going to do about food though?” Ayumi asked. “You’ve had so little today and you must be really weak, huh…”
Oh, now she realized the severity of the situation with Riho’s stomach? No matter. “If there’s game nearby, I’ll hunt it. I have enough strength for that much at least.”
“You do that, but we could probably take down the bigger things too, I’ve helped take down pretty big boars in the past.”
“Good, there’s plenty of those here.”
Somehow, she felt like she jinxed it. They spent all their time wandering, attempting to find trails, but to no avail. Just when they think they found a good lead on a nearby hoard, they found that the boars disappeared or were killed ages ago and wouldn’t be edible.
Before they knew it, the sun was getting pretty close to the horizon.
The cat was starving!
“At this point, we might as well go for squirrels or bunnies…” Riho slumped. She couldn’t even muster the effort to summon Mint-kun again. Her stomach growled loudly once more. Just then, she heard Ayumi’s growl as well. Hunger must be contagious.
"Great, now I'm starving..." Ayumi speared the bottom of the naginata in front of her, leaning very heavily upon it. That bag tied to her back must be weighing like a million horses by now.
"Please tell me you at least packed a gourd of water... right?" Riho looked over, mouth watering.
Riho facepalmed. Of all the necessities to forget! Then again, she wasn't one to talk. She actually had a full bag filled with supplies prepared for her journey but she forget it at the first camping site she slept at!
All of sudden, she caught whiff of something. Her instincts immediately took over and her eyes turned into narrow slits, focusing on the path in front of them.
There was a white bunny.
Sitting smack dab in the middle of the dirt path.
"FOOOOOD!!!" Riho immediately pounced. The bunny turned and immediately bolted for it.
"Sayashi-san, wait!" Ayumi called out, but the cat was in hunting mode. She was running after the bunny on all fours, leaving a rather large trail of dirt and dust in her wake.
Riho was closing in.
Bunny. Bunny. Bunny. Bunny.
It was just within reach.
Bunny. Bunny. Bunny. Bunny. Bunny. Bunny. Bunny.
Her mouth opened, fangs ready to go in for the kill...
BUNNY! BUNNY! BUNNY! BUNNY! BUNNY! BUNNY! BUNNY! BUNNY! BUNNY! BUN--
Suddenly, a naginata was flung in front of their path, and the bunny rammed into the flat side of the blade while Riho collided right into the pole.
B-Bunnies everywhere... Riho sat up, dazed and confused.
"Oh you poor baby!" she heard Ayumi's voice next to her. Once her vision cleared, she saw that Ayumi now had the bunny in her arms.
"You caught it!" Riho stood up suddenly, but instantly regretted it for now she became a lot dizzier.
"You're NOT eating it!" Ayumi shielded the bunny away, cuddling it close to her body. Was it her or the bunny seemed... relieved?
"What, you want to keep it?" Oh great... Don't tell me she won't let me eat cute furry creatures...
"It's too cute!"
Riho shook her head, "Are you serious... We're both starving and you're choosing to keep our dinner as a pet?"
"The bunny is too cute!" Ayumi cried out as she scratched at the bunny's cheeks, causing its nose to crinkle. Was it just her or did that bunny's black spot near the bottom of its mouth remind her of a beauty mark?
"We really should eat it though..." Riho couldn't stop her mouth from watering, "Let me eat yoooou..."
At that, the bunny jumped from Ayumi's hands and went on the run again.
"YOU ARE MIIIIIIIINE!!!" Riho came after the bunny once more. Only this time, the bunny went straight off the path and started zigzagging through the forresty terrain. "YOU THINK THAT WILL STOP ME FROM EATING YOU!?"
However, the bunny stopped, having sat down in front of a clearing. All the more convenient! But before Riho could sink her fangs in, she looked up.
There was a huge meaty boar in front of her, completely terrified at her sudden appearance.
Not long after, Riho and Ayumi now had a roast for dinner. The twilight settled in as Ayumi started to fan the fire for the roasting pork. Oddly enough, the clearing provided an ample place to sleep for the night.
"And you seem snug for something I was about to eat..." Riho raised an eyebrow as the bunny climbed onto her lap and settled there, rubbing up against her stomach.
"Maybe it's appeasing to you so that you don't eat it," Ayumi narrowed her eyes at the other. Out of the corner of Riho's eye, she thought she saw the bunny nodding?
"Pfft, whatever, you're lucky it led us to this boar."
"So we can keep the bunny, right?!"
Riho looked down at the white bunny again. It stared at her back with large brown eyes and that infernal beauty mark next to its mouth. Something wasn't quite right about this bunny... She searched its aura to see if it was a demon in disguise but to no avail. Either the bunny was that good at hiding its presence or she was just over-imagining things, who knew...
"Fine, we can keep it."
Ayumi and the bunny hopped for joy.
"But only as our emergency food ration. Its name will now be Meat."
Ayumi and Meat's mouth dropped in utter horror.
Chapter 9: Ishida Ayumi
She didn't know if the sight was adorable or ridiculously strange. Being the first to wake up, she found Riho curled up into a ball like a cat, and Meat nestled right in the center, dozing off peacefully. On one hand, the sight nearly made her bleed rainbows, on the other hand, Riho was a cat/dragon hybrid in juxtaposition with a bunny...
Come to think of it, demons had an alternate form reflecting their true heritage... What in the world would Riho look like anyway? She could be a cat's head on a dragon's body or a dragon's head on a cat's body...? The latter sight made her slightly apprehensive. She would have to ask Riho to transform.
Seeing as the sun was raising, Ayumi, as much as she didn't want to disturb the scene, walked over and nudged Riho lightly with her hand.
"Oi, Sayashi-san, wake up, the sun's out."
Riho shrugged away from the touch, flipping onto her otherside. Meat was effectively trapped underneath the cat's body. With a struggle, it squeezed through the other side, desperate for air.
"Sayashi-san please..." Ayumi was getting annoyed. She reached in and pulled the poor white bunny out of the apparent vice grip of a curling sleeping demon. Bunny in arms, she stood up and began prodding at the other with her feet.
Riho uttered something under her breath. To get a better sense of hearing, Ayumi lowered herself...
"...I'll fucking kill you..."
Ayumi fell backwards in surrpise. Never in her two days of knowing the other demon did Riho ever use such foul language! Meat's mouth hung open in shock as well!
"UNBELIEVEABLE!" Ayumi got up and punted the demon awake! Riho sprawled out in the air in complete disarray.
"WHAT'D I DO!?" the cat yowled, clutching at her side in pain.
"I've always thought you would never resort to such impolite language! What happened to your keigo image?!" Ayumi yelled back in exasperation. The bunny was cowering behind Ayumi's feet at the volume of everything.
"When did I ever use that!?"
"Just now! Did I'll fucking kill you sound familiar at all?!" Ayumi did her best impersonation with her hands fanned out over her head like cat ears.
Riho looked at her blankly. She looked at the sun overhead and back at the other. Suddenly, it hit her.
"You tried to wake me up, didn't you?" Riho said calmly, pointing at herself. "I'm apparently a whole other person when I'm asleep... Or so everyone else tells me."
What about this person seemed dragon-like at all?! Dragons, to her knowledge, were elegant, wise, and classy creatures with the grace of a thousand cranes!
"I'm really starting to doubt you have any dragon in you," Ayumi waved her hand dismissively.
"I do have dragon in me," Riho crossed her arms, eyes narrowed.
"Prove it with your true form then!"
"So be it!"
Well this should be interesting.
Riho lowered herself to the ground, feet spread apart and her hands clenched into fists. Her eyes glared fiercely at her, flickering between dark and cerulean. The air around her slowly began to distort and her clothes and hair began to lift as if there was wind blowing from beneath her.
Her mouth opened and as opposed to her smaller canines from before, fangs appeared to grow larger and larger and her face began to distort further outwards. At her hairline, her skin protruded and suddenly, horns began to convulse out of her skull.
However, everything began to reverse itself back. The horns retreated back, her face returned to normal, and the air began to stabalize itself.
Riho fell over, cluctching her growling stomach.
"Too hungry to transform..."
Both Ayumi and Meat fell. "SERIOUSLY?!"
Well at least there was slight proof of her heritage, seeing those two pointy horns come out even if it was just for a few seconds.
"Yeah... Transforming full force means a full stomach... And if I do end up transforming, I'd need a week's worth of food to make up for how much the form takes out of me..." Riho raised a shaky hand into the air.
Ayumi took the hand and lifted the other girl up, "Two completely different species right? The amount of strain must be amazing then, huh..."
"It is," Riho still slouched over, hand remaining on her stomach, "It's why I wear the limiter too. My magic is way too unstable as of right now..."
"You were doing well earlier with the bandits," Ayumi raised a brow.
"Honestly, that was fool's luck. Normally I'm pretty bad with magic, and it always takes a toll on me to use it. To be frank, my main forte is physically fighting."
"Lovely, that makes us equal in fighting roles." Duu and Maachan did try to teach her magic once, but that didn't end well either. One of the foremost important things about magic was to find out what your affinity was and Ayumi couldn't muster enough magic to fully form anything coherent.
"If I wasn't hungry, we should definitely sparr one day..." Riho eyed the bunny at Ayumi's feet.
The twin-tailed girl traced Riho's gaze to the bunny and immediately, she bent over to pick up the poor frightened creature.
"You are NOT eating the bunny..."
"You're lucky we still have some pork left," Riho scoffed before settling herself in front of the mostly-eaten boar, helping herself.
Ayumi sighed of relief and she could have sworn she heard the bunny do the same. The bunny in her arms seemed to know more than it let on... Regardless, Ayumi thought she better help herself to the boar as well, before Riho ate it all. The bunny jumped from her arms as she sat down and fled elsewhere.
Ever since they met Meat at yesterday's twilight, the bunny seemed to like the two's company. Every now and then, it would retreat to the bushes and come back with a snack in its mouth, usually various types of plants and herbs. And speak of the devil, the bunny came back, a piece of vegetation in its mouth.
Before chewing any further on it, however, the bunny sprang onto Riho's lap, turned around a few times, and just sat between her legs, eating away as Riho was eating away at the pork.
That bunny really likes being around Sayashi-san... Ayumi thought to herself, watching the bunny completely enjoying itself where it was. It had a black spot under its mouth as well. Almost like a beauty mark...
"Is there a clear way to tell the difference between a demon and an average, normal animal?" Ayumi asked aloud. The bunny paused in its eating.
"Usually there is, if there's extra markings," Riho looked down at the bunny, strips of meat hanging from her mouth. Some bits fell on the bunny, causing it to shake itself of the offending articles.
"You could usually tell by aura too, right?"
"If you're insinuating that this bunny might be a demon, believe me, I've already tried checking," Riho attempted to pet the bunny with her free hand and it leaned into her touch readily.
Nothing more came out of the conversation. They continued the rest of their breakfast in silence.
Soon after, the meat was gone down to the bone.
"We should definitely start heading south, yes?"
"Let's," Riho added, throwing the bones near a tree's roots.
"What was that for? Don't you just bury them?" Ayumi looked to the tossed bones.
"Do I look like a dog to you? I'm just providing the tree with another source of food, and of course, to any stragglers who like sucking on bone," Riho was about to get up, except the bunny dived straight into her top, shuffling a bit before peeking its head out between the flaps of her kuonichi-like red top. Not really paying the bunny any mind, the cat/dragon hybrid stood up, Meat in tow.
"That is surely a strange bunny..." Ayumi raised a brow as she stood up, securing her pack across her shoulder and hip and tying it into a knot at her front before grabbing her naginata.
"You think maybe it was someone else's pet at one point?" the side-tailed demon looked down, poking at the bunny's ever crinkling nose.
"Probably, it seems very... affectionate..." The indigo-clad girl narrowed her eyes.
"Are you jealous?" Riho thrust her chest out, hands on hips, clearly showing off the bunny.
"Why should I be?"
"Because Meat would have nothing to nestle itself in should it go to you, Flattie."
"EXCUSE ME???" Ayumi chucked the naginata at the other.
Riho caught it the blade with a clap of her hands just before it reached her face, "Just stating the truth, Flattie-san." She threw it back with just as much fervor.
Ayumi caught it by the handle with an accompanying spin, before facing the other. "At least I..." she would have come up with a comeback, but she suddenly sneezed.
"What a charming sneeze," Riho smirked, walking by.
Ayumi could have sworn the bunny was smiling too.
"You'll get it one day!" the girl grumbled before tottering after.
Chapter 10: Meat
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Oh how cute Rihoriho was...
Chapter 11: Sayashi Riho
She seriously could not shake the feeling of prying eyes off of her. She definitely felt something watching her, but she couldn't ascertain its whereabouts at all! She wished she was a lot better at magic detecting... Ayumi was tagging behind her, Meat in arms.
It had been a few days since starting the miraculous journey. She figured the human would be exhausted by the amount of travel they undertake each day, but Ayumi was enthusiastic as ever. Even with the weight of the bag and occasional bunny-holding, plus the addition of waving that sword-spear around, she still walked on.
Riho had to admit it, the drive in that human was amazing.
Despite looking for her mother, Riho still took things at a leisurely pace. She had faith that her mother would be alright. No one could defeat her anyway. The emperor once sent her to defend the seas from invasions and of course, the entire enemy fleet rested at the bottom of the sea thanks to the Typhoon. Now, she had been missing for 5 years. Whatever the reason, it must be urgent as she would always turn up to say hi every chance she could.
"May I ask about your mother, the typhoon?" Ayumi suddenly asked.
"You didn't seem interested in Mama before."
"I'm asking now, aren't I?" the shorter retorted
"Powerful. Very graceful." Riho smiled to herself. "She's the best in the land after all."
"How about your father?"
Riho waited for Ayumi to put things together.
"So you were conceived by magic in THAT way huh..."
It was something exclusive to demons. The gender did not matter in reproduction. Granted, it took more love and stronger magic for something to happen, and an even greater power for unions of completely different species to happen (Riho for example), but anything was possible.
"So who is this that your mother fell in love with?"
"Mother is... " Riho paused to look for the right word,"...Frightening."
"She can be terrifying, but she's also very... Clingy? Affectionate? My parents are a good match."
"A cat, right?"
"The Cerulean Typhoon and the Golden Cat of Hell, interesting match, y'know?"
Riho heard the naginata fall and she turned around. Ayumi's jaw had dropped open and Meat also had a very open maw mirroring its keeper.
"YOUR PARENTS ARE LEGENDARY DEMONS?!" Ayumi screamed out in sheer shock.
Indeed they are... Riho thought to herself. Her Mother wasn't as well-known as Mama, but the notoriety was definitely still there. And judging by the way Ayumi kept her lips tightly shut, it seemed that she was definitely knowledgeable of her Mother's rather terrifying legacy.
"She's not as bad as you think, she's nice... In her own special way," Riho had to dig a bit from her memories to justify her mother. That wasn't good... But it was her mother either way, and if her parents never met, she wouldn't have existed.
"But I've heard... Pretty gruesome things about her..."
"Doesn't she eat people?"
"A lie." She liked her meat, but not from humans.
"Held the shogun hostage?"
"Oh that's true, actually." She would brag about it to Riho, though Mama would look at her disapprovingly.
"Set a daimyo's castle on fire?"
"She sneezed." Maybe someone talked about her that time. Mother never took kindly to people talking about her behind her back.
"Stole undergarments from various princesses?"
"There was good reason for that." Seriously.
"She may have unleashed a curse on select undergarments and needed to find them and destroy them before they could do harm."
"And the fact that she apparently is a woman of many lovers...?"
"I'm curious about that too. Every time she tries to talk about it, Mama glares and Mother shuts up..."
"So the big bad cat of hell..... Is whipped?"
"More or less,' Riho grinned sheepishly. Could they stop talking about her parents' relationship now? It was bad enough watching them fight or be ridiculously doting on each other. Riho could only look away in secondhand embarrassment when it came to her parents, legends or not.
Riho suddenly stopped. Something was weird...
She backed up, and stepped forward. She repeated multiple times, inhaling deeply.
She heard Ayumi ask a question but elected to focus on scent instead.
"Maachan-san turned around... I was wondering why her scent seemed to be stronger than the others..."
"Wait, you mean they separated? How in the world did we miss them if they turned around???"
"They probably never stopped moving whereas we did..." Riho looked back north. "The other two are south though. And seeing how we're in Kyushu, I can't imagine they'd have anywhere else to go other than Okinawa..."
"But Maachan is heading north for gods know where..." Ayumi placed a worrying hand on her forehead. Poor human was ridiculously stressed out for these past days...
"Maachan-san has... A latent gift of magic, I'm sure she'll be fine."
"This is MASAKI though!!!" the outburst scared Meat and it began to get frantic in Ayumi's arms, but she didn't let go. "She can barely form a coherent sentence and furthermore, she can't read and write! Oh gods, what will she do all by herself in the company of demon bandits and why in the world did they even separate in the first place, gods save her if she gets sent to the bad places or worse, becomes a servan--"
Sensing a threat, Riho grabbed the girl and jumped high in the air, quickly summoning Mint-kun with a mute prayer. She figured Ayumi might scream but she had already accounted for it by clasping a hand over her mouth. Mint-kun rose high above the path and his sides formed a protective fence around them, hopefully her and Mint-kun's combined might would hide their presence...
Below, she heard horse hooves trotting along the beat down path. Whoever it was, the sheer force of their aura nearly paralyzed Riho. She wasn't afraid, but she knew a fight was completely out of the question. However, as the riders got closer, Riho tensed up considerably. These riders had extreme murderous intent and she really hoped that her cloaking spell was working. Ayumi looked scared out of her wits and Meat was shaking really badly, its eyes closed and its mouth just chattering. She knew it wasn't the time to think this but Meat's behavior reminded her of monks who'd pray for protection.
As they got closer, Riho could almost see them through Mint-kun's translucent veil. Four riders holding themselves high, almost like royalty. They also seemed to be color coordinated, light armors in colors of red, green, yellow, and violet. They bore no flag so Riho knew they didn't belong to any lords. Before she could study them closer, they left.
When she was sure the coast was clear, she released Ayumi's mouth.
"Who were they?"
Riho shrugged. "To be honest, I've never seen them before, much less hear of them... But they felt like bad news."
Riho had to give herself credit though, she must have gotten better at cloaking magic. She wouldn't even know what to do if they were spotted... Meat stopped shaking too. Animals sure had a way with sensing threats, perhaps better than demons, even...
She looked at Ayumi, quiet and definitely distraught in facial expression.
No matter, they couldn't follow Masaki's trail with the other two eventually being cornered very soon... Riho could only sigh and hope for the best on their way to Okinawa....
Chapter 12: Sato Masaki
I am the narrator YAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!!!!!#@^%*&
LET ME TELL YOU THE STORY OF HOW I BECAME QUEEN!
Sato Masaki was squirming in her binding. She didn't like this one bit, and her captors totally deserved having an obnoxious prisoner. She made noises as she was attempting to slide the ropes in at least one direction. Maybe if she distracts the guards with her noises, she could focus on escaping...
"Maachan seriously..." Haruna sighed, "we do need to figure out something though..."
"Blast our way out?" Duu suggested. "Maachan and I could get a fire started..."
"We don't even know what's outside of this ... wagon..." Haruna looked around. To be frank, they were stuck in nearly complete darkness, surrounded by all sides save for a couple cracks on the sides, showing a little light.
"Maachan, how many people do you sense?"
Oh gods a question directed at her. Maachan had to hone in on Haruna repeating her question to really make any sense of it. People? Sensing?
She closed her eyes and so much noise came into her at once. Water. Trees. Demons. Ground. Water. Trees. Demons. Ground. They must be near a river. How many demons were there...
"SQUIRREL!" Maachan screeched, causing the other two to wince. There was a squirrel on the tree nearby.
"How many demons are there?" Haruna repeated, though still reeling from Maachan's high voice.
She loved her high voice. Her high voice is all. It could see beyond the cosmos. Maybe if it was high enough, she could talk in a completely different realm...
Demons though. How many were there...?
"Wait, I don't know how to count, you know that, right?"
"A little, a bunch, or a lot?" Duu clarified for her.
"A loooooot! Just like how many we got at the orphanage!" Maachan showed it by stretching her hands out in front of her, showing through the length of her arms.
Haruna and Duu stared at her.
Dumfounded after moments, Duu finally spoke up.
"...When did you get out of the rope?"
"After I found the squirrel," Maachan smiled gleefully.
Haruna and Duu shook their heads. Maachan was fantastically magical. There was no explanation. The explanation was all and nothing. The explanation was Maachan. Maachan was the explanation.
"So maybe we should wait til we come out to judge..."
"I was just thinking that, Duu," Haruna said, "They haven't given us food since we left. They have to do it if they're interested in a long haul... And not damage us, the product..."
Such big words. Maachan did not understand it. Haruna must have realized for she repeated it.
"They didn't give us food because we're important."
"We're impotent!" Maachan reiterated.
"I dunno, I still say we set this on fire, they'll HAVE to let us out," Duu leaned her head back against the wall.
"Okay!" Maachan raised a finger and a lone candle-like flame popped up.
Haruna shook her head vigorously, "NO not yet!"
"You need to untie us first!" Duu leaned forward and headbutted the poor high pitched girl.
"Fiiiiine!" Maachan pouted before proceeding to help the others untie themselves.
Once the rope was off and in the center, Haruna began once more.
"So if we get rid of the cart, it would mean we'd have to travel in open air right? That gives us a the upper edge. And then we..."
Maachan began to tune out the other. Why must plans and stuff be so long and boring? All she could see was the tall girl's lips moving and anything that comes out sounds like blah blah blah blah...
"SQUIRREL!" Maachan snapped her head to the left, zeroing in on the location.
"...and that's the plan," Haruna finished, pinky in her ear, attempting to undo the damage of Maachan's scream.
"So what do I do? Do I get to set everything on fire?" Maachan rubbed her hands in anticipation.
"Nothing, you do nothing." Both Haruna and Duu looked at her straight in the eye when they said that in unison.
After rubbing her wrists from the itchiness of the rope, Duu stuck one finger up and a tiny flame lit up above. Carefully, she moved it to her corner. Once the fire started catching on, she moved away and all three waited on the opposite side of the fire.
Thanks to the bobbing of the cart they were in, the fire didn't take long to consume that entire corner. However, the smoke was consuming all the oxygen in the area.
"I... forgot to account for that..." Haruna wheezed, keeping her nose as close to the crevices as possible.
But it was also thanks to the smoke that the lid was finally pried off.
"What the hell!?" One of the bandits cried out as he saw the flames. "What did you idiots do!?
"SAVE US!" Maachan immediately latched onto the demon bandit, feeling the wind knocked out of her because she slammed into a his bony shoulder. The bandits rescued the rest quickly and thoroughly.
Unfortunately for the bandits, half of the wagon was lost to the flames. In truth, it was actually hilarious watching them scramble. There were no buckets or anything so they couldn't use one to get water from the stream. It wasn't until Duu kicked the wagon into the stream that the bandits congratulated her wit.
Maachan was praising Duu along with the bandits until Haruna set her aside, away from the noise.
"The bandits don't seem smart, they might be easily fooled by a lie..." the eldest began, but Maachan's brain did a metaphorical simulation of what the fire just did.
YES. SHE MUST. IT WAS CALLING OUT FOR HER TO DO IT.
"HOW DARE YOU IMPRISON ME!" She bellowed in a squeaking voice. All the bandits turned to look at her.
"I AM THE DAUGHTER OF THE ROYAL FAMILY!"
Haruna and Duu facepalmed.
"But why were you in an orphanage...?" One of the bandits asked, stroking his wild beard.
"Because I was sent away by my family for safety. See, I have this evil uncle who tries all he can to..." what's the word again... "umurp the throne. Since I'm the only heir, my dad sent me to this orphanage because they knew Yasuda-san would teach me well like a good lady so I can be ready to refume my role as the queen! But really, I am the missing girl in the royal family up north, so you guys BETTER treat me as one or else daddy will send the best guards to take me back and they will slice you all into 165 little itty bitty pieces which will be bad because you can't eat when you're sliced in 165 little itty bitty pieces cuz your belly needs 165 little itty bitty pieces of food to help but you're never gonna find it here so you will live a life of miserable because your 165 itty bitty pieces will roll forever and ever in search of food."
Haruna looked ready to die at all of the inaccuracies in her speech. Well it's not Maachan's fault that the lessons were boring and she zoned out throughout most of it!
"So a queen..." the bandit began, but Maachan didn't let him finish. Maachan never lets anyone finish if she has something to say!
"HOWEVER, if you bring me along with my slaves back, I'll be sure to let daddy know of your amazing good deeds and if you're lucky enough, he'll rewahd you all with lots of riches and stuff so you won't have to be sliced into 165 little itty bitty pieces and become a Stacy or have to roll around in search for food like a beggar but then again the beggars aren't in 165 pieces so they don't really need to roll to move unless," Maachan gasped, "They're magical and can fly so it's like dust but in meat chunks! But then if you get caught in a noodle dish you're screwed."
Words couldn't even describe Haruna and Duu's faces right now.
When a bandit moved, Maachan pointed a finger at him, "INJECTION! HOW DARE YOU MOVE WHEN I'M TALKING!"
The bandit looked scared out of his mind.
"SO, I DEMAND THAT YOU ALL TAKE ME AND MY SLAVES BACK TO MY FAMILY OR ELSE YOU GET SLICED INTO 165 LITTLE ITTY BITTY PIECES AND I WILL EAT YOU ALL WITH MY MISO SOUP!"
"Y-yes..." the bandits complied...
"But we still need to deliver at least someone to the lair..."
The three gulped.
"Royal families don't care if the servants are gone right? It's just the one queen who they will pay for..." another bandit said methodically.
"How about we send the four of you guys with the queen and the rest of us will take these two down to Satsuma?"
The other bandits discussed the rest with each other before agreeing with a hearty "OHHHH!"
Immediately, one of the bandits hoisted Maachan up on his horse, belly first on the saddle, and the four of them road off to the distant north.....
AND SO BEGINS MY EPIC JOURNEY TO THE NORTH!!!!
Chapter 13: Ishida Ayumi
Ayumi was starting to feel the effects of Riho's lifestyle. According to what Riho told her though, this was actually a step higher than what she was used to because she had Ayumi around to defend her if they went through a village that discriminated against demons. Always being hungry was now something expected of her stomach. The journeying made it twice as hard too, as they needed to cover as much land as they could in a day to keep up with the pace of her friends' kidnappers.
"Losing hope? I could always return you to Yasuda-san."
"And leave everyone else behind? Not a chance!" Ayumi huffed, brandishing her naginata around.
"That's the spirit," the demon said nonchalantly. Meat was resting in the flaps of Riho's shirt as always.
"It's been what, a week or two now...?" the shorter looked up, hand blocking the sun's rays in her eyes.
"When you wander, you just can't keep track of days anymore..."
At least Riho was a lot more talkative now. She remembered her first meeting with the demon and she was completely unresponsive to anything the girl said. That was good. At least the journey wouldn't be boring...
"Don't you take on jobs to get food or anything?" Ayumi suddenly blurted out.
"It's hard when you're a demon, but now that you're here... it could be easier..."
"Do you think we should try at the next village we stop at? We could finally stop sleeping in trees or caves... And stop relying on hunting..."
At least the nice thing about the path they were tracing is that there was a stream nearby at the ready. Ayumi had been using it to wash the clothes she had in the pack so that she wouldn't be too revolting. Though more clothes might be in order, for Riho started to get in on her clothes too...
"You really like the color red, huh?" Ayumi noted as Riho wore one of her red yukata, with a white obi tied up rather grandiose in the back. It was almost like looking at a multi-winged butterfly in the back. Though the open-toed tabi from her other outfit were still present. What was new to Ayumi though, was that Riho now attached thin leather bracers to her red fingerless gloves which ended above her elbows.
"You seem like the stealthy type, why red of all things?" Ayumi added onto her previous question. If it weren't for her magic, Riho's fighting style definitely seemed to be stealth based rather than head on...
"Why can't I just like the color red? You're wearing blue a lot."
...Oh. Well she couldn't argue against that.
"So that other outfit, was that... all you've been wearing?"
"Pretty much. Again, I had this pack prepared for me but I completely forgot it," Riho pinched at the bridge of her nose, annoyed at herself. "I'm also lucky that you seem to carry stuff that's my size too... Why do you wear cloth sizes that are bigger?"
"They're more of a memento, actually..." Ayumi pulled various memories from her head. "I actually wasn't made an orphan until a few years ago. My parents died of illness and these clothes were all of their's."
"Ah..." Riho stopped, "I'm sorry."
"It's... okay. I have another family now, and that's who we're looking for!" She tried not to let her parents' death get to her. Moving forward was all she had to go off on.
"You're our second chance to live on again, Ayumi..." her mother raised a weak hand to stroke her cheek. "After your sister died, your father and I lost all hope, but you were our second chance... And now we're entrusting everything to you."
She never knew her sister. Died many years earlier before she was born. Her given name was the same as her sister's, that she knew. At first, she thought she was a replacement, but her parents reminded her that their mistakes led to meeting the most wonderful child of all...
Riho was in front of her, causing Ayumi to walk right into her.
"Hey, why'd you stop!?" Ayumi furrowed her eyebrows in annoyance, but instead of a rhetorical response, she got an entirely different one altogether.
Riho wordlessly reached out for Ayumi's face, wiping the bottom of her eye with her thumb. When she pulled her hand back, Ayumi saw it.
She was crying?
She turned around and slapped her cheeks multiple times. She must not cry.
She must not cry.
She must not cry.
She must not cry.
She must not cry.
Riho pulled Meat out of her clothes and offered it to Ayumi. "Meat's a good de-stresser..." Although saying it plainly, the demon's expression was wary. Was she trying to figure out what to do? The other definitely had a lot to learn about reading people, but she had to commend her effort for trying. Ayumi smiled before taking Meat from her.
"I can hold the naginata for a bit. Meat's getting fat."
Meat made an angry noise at the other, glaring at the demon.
Ayumi couldn't help but laugh. She traded over the naginata and pressed Meat against her, stroking the top of the bunny's head. It was great that the bunny liked them (read:Riho) well enough to stay with them. It was like their cute, derpy pet. One fact about Meat that surprised her was that Meat especially loved the water. Whenever her and Riho would bathe, Meat would jump right in and paddle along the water, splashing at them with its strong hind legs. Or there would be times where it would demand to be petted and would stomp on the ground with a powerful hop whenever they'd stop.
Meat looked up at her with inquisitive eyes, blinking curiously. Funny how the bunny felt like it could read people better than Riho ever could. The white furball climbed up Ayumi's arm and draped itself across her shoulder, nuzzling against her neck. Yeah seriously, the bunny was definitely amazing when it came to reading the atmosphere.
Thankfully, she didn't have to dwell any further on the subject long. They came across a shrine elevated on tall stilts. Riho gave the shivers.
"What's wrong?" Ayumi ran up to stand next to the demon, eyes on the shrine.
"I don't like shrines. They give me an unpleasant feeling..." Riho retreated and jumped back onto a tree branch above them. "How about you see if they need help? Maybe they'll give us food."
"Ah!" Ayumi understood. She brought Meat from her shoulder and held it snug in her arms, though it apparently didn't like that and was trying to get away from her arms, but to no avail. Ayumi ran into the clearing, looking for signs of people. She looked back to find Riho already snoozing away. "Loser," she sighed before wandering around the area a little more. Where was everyone...?
"Oh, a person wandered in!"
Just kidding. "Ah, miko-sama!" Ayumi immediately bowed, though it took a lot of control to keep Meat stable in her arms. What was up with the bunny?
The miko was a pretty lady, pale skin, straight fringe, long jet black free flowing for a bit before being tied with a white bandage for the rest of the way down to her knees. White top and red hakama like everyone's generic priestess design. Ayumi was a little envious of the gigantic white sleeves though, they were held up just at the upper arms by red stitching and only the tips of her fingers were showing at the bottom.
The priestess smiled cheeringly, though her eyes fell down on the rapidly frantic bunny in her arms. Of all the times for Meat to have a freak out, it had to be now?!
"What did you come here for, child?" the priestess asked, completely ignoring the crazy Meat.
"A friend and I were wondering if there was something we can do to help you out! Or if there's a village nearby we can help!" Ayumi tried her best to smile back, though it was getting difficult with Meat now scratching at the poor girl's arms now, but Ayumi held it in.
"Where's your friend?"
Ayumi pointed at Riho's general direction, and of course, the cat/dragon was still sleeping soundly in her branch.
"A demon?" the priestess raised a hand to her lips, suppressing a small gasp. "Sorry, I can't permit your friend to come near..."
"But she's a good person!"
"That's what they all say, unfortunately, I have to stick with the protocol," the priestess said apologetically.
"I see..." Ayumi bowed her head down. Did Riho have to face all this by herself a lot? It must have been so hard for her...
"But if you're still interested, there is something available..." out of nowhere, the priestess pulled out a shide--a zig zagging paper streamer wand. "There is something of a curse nearby. I can exorcise it, but you will have to protect me as I utter my incantations.
Sounds easy enough. Ayumi was very capable and Riho didn't sense anything extraordinarily powerful in the area, so she should be fine, right? She nodded her head vigorously. Though Meat was practically screaming in protest.
"I'm sorry, my bunny is acting up," Ayumi bowed her head apologetically. She would have let Meat go, but she was afraid it would run off and she already had taken such a strong liking to the bunny.
"Understandable," the priestess smiled, but it only seemed to provoke further paranoia from Meat.
"Ugh fine!" Ayumi set Meat on the ground, "Go back to Riho then."
Having been set down, Meat was utterly confused. Jeez, the bunny was biting her and scratching at her to be let down and it was now frozen? Whatever, she didn't understand Meat as well as Riho did, apparently. The bunny looked back and forth between Ayumi and the way back to Riho, but elected to stay with Ayumi, though still scared out of its wit and hiding behind her ankles.
"Maybe it's warning you..." the priestess's eyes never left the bunny's. Meat hid its face under its paws, shaking where it was.
"Of what?" her question was genuine. What could Meat possibly so scared about? She wasn't alone, she had a priestess with her.
"There's a clearing nearby. Villagers have been telling me that a spirit is angry so I'm going to exorcise it."
"Maybe I should go back and grab my naginata though..." Ayumi looked worriedly to the area Riho was at. She could see the shiny glint of the naginata hanging out of the tree, being sat on by the ever sleepy cat/dragon to keep it from falling.
"It's fine, as long as you have these salts," the aforementioned object was passed to the other in a bowl," just throw it at any spirit that tries to come near me, okay?"
Ayumi looked into the small bowl worriedly. Magic and spirituality were never her strong points. Fighting people and demons were one thing, but combating spirits was a whole other thing altogether. Oh well, at least she was with a priestess, so it shouldn't be too bad. The shide completed the image and everything. You'd need ridiculously excellent channeling skills to use one, or so Duu told her.
"Lead the way!"
The priestess began to move, and so did Ayumi. Meat remained rooted in place, looking back between Riho and Ayumi. However, it made up its mind and hopped along, though keeping itself situated right between the other girl and Ayumi. Sure enough, after a moments' walk from the shrine, they came to what looked like two gnarled up trees tied together at the top.
"After we walk through here, we'll get to the clearing!" the priestess smiled serenely. "Though once we get past, that's when things are most likely going to go crazy, so keep the salt handy, okay?"
Ayumi nodded. Meat began to nip at her ankles though. Confused, she looked down at the bunny, who kept nipping at her ankles and darted away, as if expecting her to follow. Not exactly paying attention to it, she followed the priestess through the tree.
"Did you say something?" Ayumi asked the priestess.
"Me? No, not at all," the priestess waved her hand dismissively, sleeve flapping about. Strange. The priestess herself had a mid-ranged voice but the voice she heard was more on the higher side... Oh well, it must have been her imagination. She looked down at the bunny, now a little more confident in its stride instead of scared like before.
As they passed more and more trees, the idea of there being a meadow suddenly seemed so far away. Not only that, everything started taking a red hue. Also, when did it become night...?
"How much longer until we get there?"
The priestess didn't answer.
"U-um, excuse me?" Ayumi reached out to grab the other's shoulder and turn her, but when she did that, the priestess looked back at her with strong fangs and completely pitch black eyes.
"Too easy..." A demonic voice escaped from the priestess's mouth, showing off pronounced fangs and sharp, triangular teeth in general.
Ayumi fell backwards. What just happened?! She turned and began to ran back the way they came. Meat came hopping along with her in the same speed. Once she passed the trees with the twists and gnarled branches, she thought she would be safe, but instead, she ran right into the messed up priestess.
"It's too late... I've cast the maze spell!" the twisted priestess laughed like a croak, "Just like that silly little village, you too, shall be consumed by me!"
No wonder everything seemed too good to be true. The priestess was a demon in disguise! She threw the bowl of salt at the demon, but to no effect. That meant it was something different the entire time...!
The demon lunged at her and she immediately sprung into a backflip, using the momentum of her feet to kick and launch the demon into the tree behind her. She ran forward and turned around, combat ready as the demon was dazed out of its mind.
Ayumi didn't say a word. Her parents taught her everything there was to know about fighting. After all, they couldn't bear losing another daughter. Even without her trusty naginata, she was still a competent challenge.
The demon charged her again and again, but to no avail. She was just too slow for Ayumi. Each and every time, Ayumi would punish her mistakes with a powerful roundhouse kick.
"You little..." the demon uttered before firing an energy blast at her. Completely taken aback, Ayumi tried to dodge as quickly as she could but her left knee got caught!
She cried out in pain as she was thrown aside and her hands immediately grasped onto her scalding knee.
Damn it! Ayumi couldn't move at all as the demon laughed at her predicament. This wasn't good at all! Wouldn't Riho notice something amiss by now?! She could seriously use a hand here!
"I should've used it sooner!" the demon cackled as she prepared two points of energy at the palms of her hands.
Shit... Shit... Shit...She couldn't move. She didn't have the magical expertise to deflect anything. No items nearby to use as a shield... She was screwed!
The demon fired.
Ayumi crossed her arms in front of her face, prepared for the outcome.
I'm sorry everyone...!
Nothing came. There was a loud noise of impact which rang in her ears however. She lowered her arms to find a light pink magic circle in front of her, sizzling with smoke from impact...
She saw hands above her, and she turned around.
There was another woman among them. However, she was completely naked, blasting Ayumi with sheer shock. But this woman was the one who held the barrier up! She had waist length straight black hair and a fringe trimmed straight above her large eyes. Large white bunny ears stuck out of the top of the woman's head... and she had a beauty mark below her lips...
"You're welcome," the ridiculously attractive lady said before she made the magic circle glow and the shots came surging right back at the demon.
"W-WHAT?!" the angry priestess demon was just as surprised as Ayumi! "Another demon!? How come I never sensed you!?"
Meat (!?) stepped around Ayumi, flaunting her pale, white body as she sashayed to the front. "It's a cloaking technique I've developed over time. Ten years of my life as you will," the bunny demon explained in a voice that was high, yet confident.
Was that the voice I heard earlier...?! Ayumi thought to herself. The one that said something before I walked into this entire trap...
"What kind of demon works that hard to conceal her signature?! That's completely unheard of!"
"Ones who survives, obviously," Meat waved a dismissive hand, "And for your information, it's called autotuning."
Chapter 14: Fujimoto Miki
The cat demon was bored out of her mind. She lazed at the top floor of her castle, leaning over the balcony overseeing the land that stretched further than her golden eyes could see. After all, what kind of lord didn't have a lavish amount of land equivalent to someone of her power and status?
"So fucking bored..." the dark haired lady said aloud. The retainer nearby squirmed uncomfortably. From the retainer's view, all she saw was a golden jinbaori with the symbol of black fire etched across Miki's back.
"Shall I fetch scrolls for r-reading?"
"No... Not in the mood..." Miki traced the patterns of the wooden railing of the balcony with her index finger. "Perhaps some tea would be nice... "
"Y-yes mi'lady!" the retainer squeaked before bowing and leaving the vicinity.
Miki looked out back towards the land.
"Where the hell are you idiots...?" she gritted her teeth in annoyance.
It sucked being the one stuck here!
She'd rather be out there instead of worrying!
Not to mention it was a missing wife and kids to fret about!
"I swear... the moment one of you guys come back... I will punch someone in the throat..."
Chapter 15: Michishige Sayumi
Goodness, it felt great to walk on two legs again. However, the lack of fur and boldness in stance could only go so far in the face of the natural calamity known as temperature. However, she had a young, impressionable human behind her and she needed to do her best to present the appropriate image.
The other demon was scowling and uttering all sorts of profanities against her. She kept both arms raised high for the magic circle in front of her, prepared to absorb anything thrown in her way.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the thrown away shide. If the need for it arose, she would be sure to use it. She was nearing half a century in age, a demon of this caliber was no match for her. The demon decided to lunge for her instead of going for magic. Bad mistake! Sayumi closed her fingers into her wrist save for her index and middle fingers and then rotated them in opposite directions, shifting the circle into a different spell.
The circle went from pink to blue and the demon was stopped at contact. Before anything else could happen, Sayumi dissipated her circle and stuck her hand out at the direction of the shide. Like a magnet, it came straight for her hand and she smacked the demon with it, uttering one of the exorcising incantations she knew.
As the words were said, the demon screamed out in agony, gripping at her hair and pulling at it as if trying to get something out of its head. At the height of her prayers, the demon spontaneously burst into fine dust, leaving its clothes behind in a grey heap.
"Oh hey, I always did think these were cute," Sayumi happily chimed as she picked up the clothes, dusting the remains off of it.
Oh yes, Ayumi should be asking questions about now.
"You've been a demon all this time..."
"Indeed," Sayumi slipped on the undergarments first, then the white top second, and securing the belt for that..
"Why did you keep yourself in hiding?"
"Didn't you hear me earlier? Survival goes a long way when you're invisible," time for the hakama next, then came the sleeves. She slid one up her arm and tightened the red stitching before doing the same with the other.
"To think Sayashi-san almost ate you...!"
"I was actually looking forward to seeing how that would play out," Sayumi giggled to herself, an evil glint in her eye. The human looked at her in awe and wonder. Good, Ayumi took her response as one implying her power rather than... other reasons.
Sayumi stuck the shide out, and tested its reception to the air around it. She revolved about her foot slowly, feeling the energies in the air in response to the holy instrument in her hand.
"What are you doing?" Ayumi quipped curiously.
"Finding a weak point. Illusory mazes would always have a point of origination and point of projection. I'm hunting for the point of projection to undo the spell."
"...Who are you?"
Sayumi had to chuckle at that. Where were her own manners? "Michishige Sayumi. Pleasure to meet you in this form," though to be honest, she would have loved to see Rihoriho's reaction instead...
She felt a tug at the shide. Good, they found a direction to follow. "I must ask a favor of you though," she turned and bent down to level her dark flawless eyes with Ayumi's, "You are to not tell Rihoriho who or what I am. To her, I'm Meat and I'd rather leave it at that."
Nor should Riho know of the history she had with her Mother, the Golden Cat of Hell. Gods, that would be awkward if they happened to meet by chance again.
"Why? If you're around, it could help with the firepower!" Ayumi pouted.
How adorable! Sayumi pinched the other's cheek, "And cause twice the trouble because you're accompanied by two demons? I think not!"
"True..." Ayumi looked down, frowning. Oh Gods, this girl was not as cute as her Rihoriho but she was a strong contender!
"Besides, I'm easier to manage in my other form!" with a wink, Sayumi shifted and she was immediately consumed by her new clothes. After finding the exit through the top, she poked her head out of her clothes, finding the now giant Ayumi gazing incredulously (the only time she would ever feel like a giant, Sayumi internally laughed at the irony of it.) "This body doesn't need as much food!"
"So it really was you who called me an idiot earlier!" Ayumi narrowed her eyes.
"You wouldn't listen," Sayumi hopped forward and and placed her paws on the younger's leg wound. Ayumi winced at the touch. "You got burnt pretty well here, though."
"Ugh, yeah, how am I supposed to walk now?"
"I can kiss it and make it better!" Sayumi sprang back into her humanoid form, sitting perfectly in seiza position.
"I'd rather you put on clothes first!" Ayumi retorted in exasperation.
"How silly of me."
Jeez, how long had it been since she was in this form before now? She hardly phased back except to heal anything or anyone and even thatwas months before meeting these two... Clothes were not essential when you were an adorable bunny. She put on the priestess's clothes just as delicately as she did before and then sat back down in proper position.
"Now let me see that leg..." Sayumi pulled the damaged leg upward, surprising the human for Ayumi fell backwards from the lift. "Yup, magic burn. Nothing a little kiss couldn't fix!" and with that, the bunny proceeded to kiss the wound with her pouty lips. As her lips made contact, a white glow emitted from the leg and in the blink of an eye, the burn was gone.
"Unbelieveable!" Ayumi's eyes spread wide as she brought her leg back, testing its function and poking at it.
"Ohohohoho!" Sayumi couldn't help but laugh haughtily, "The power of a kiss heals all!"
"Jeez, what if I broke my bones or something, then?"
"Oh, you don't want to know," Sayumi saved her hand dismissively. She really didn't need to know that. "Though... Escaping this should be our priority, no?" the bunny stood up gently, looking at the general direction of where the escape point should be.
They both proceeded to walk in that direction.
Strange, Ayumi was silent now. Shouldn't she be showering Sayumi with questions and/or compliments? "So quiet, Ayumi-chan!"
"It's just... I'm trying to get used to you...You're just so pretty..."
Oh, there it was. Sayumi was waiting for that since she transformed in the first place! Oh well, she should take what she could, despite lateness. Beggars couldn't be choosers after all.
"Thank you!" Sayumi wrapped an arm around the other. Gods, she wasn't really that tall was she? Ayumi could barely see eye level with her own chin! Perhaps she should go humanoid form more often just to tease the girl.
"So... Why are you traveling with us?"
She wasn't expecting that question so soon. Honestly, when she saw how ferocious Rihoriho was in attempting to catch her, she knew she'd found people to stick with for means of survival. She was going to leave them when she had no more use, but after finding out about the origin of the other demon... She had to stay.
She felt obligated to stay now.
I owe a debt to Riho's Mother, certainly... But I don't think the kids are ready for that tale yet.
"Simply put, I'm interested in this journey. Nothing's more heartwarming than a reunion with family," Sayumi batted her eye lashes prettily. The best kind of lies were the ones with the truth laced in between words. If she stuck around further, she might be able to see the Golden Cat of Hell again... and while she was at it, the Cerulean Typhoon because she had to see what the cat's chosen mate was like.
Hopefully, that would be the end of her questions. She wasn't sure if she was ready to divulge her entire life's story quite yet. Though she expected Ayumi to ask her how she knew how to use a shide and be able to recite prayers from memory, since demons would almost never take up positions in shrine work.
"Wait, if you're a demon... Why do you know so many spells exclusive to monks and priestesses?"
There it was.
What if I told you that I was an ex-communicated priestess who gave up her humanity?
"It's a se-cre-t~!" Sayumi put a finger to her own lips and winked.
That would be for another day. After all, she still needed to keep a sense of mystery about her to provide adequate interest for others!
Image mattered after all.
It wouldn't be fun to spill all her secrets on day one, would it?
Sayumi was looking forward to this journey.
Chapter 16: Tanaka Reina
"Why does this place look so familiar...?" the half cat, half tiger squinted in the distance. Reina and Marin were just about to enter a plain. Near them was a range of mountains. Yeah... There was something familiar about this place...
"I MUST be near the sky villages now!" she raised a finger in the air.
Marin, in her cute adorable ferret form, was riding Reina's shoulder.
"But jeez, why do you get to laze on my shoulder, ferret?"
Marin looked at her with a deadpan expression.
"..................................I'm a weasel."
"Y'all look alike," Reina said grumpily. As she sauntered across the plains, something was bugging her at the back of her head... Wait...
Golden plains... Mountains... A castle in the distance...
Marin looked at her, confused.
"I... somehow ended up in Mutsu province..."
She was going north instead of west! But not only that, the feeling of fear rose in her gut... It was telling her something was coming... Something explicit...
"Well look who decided to show up..." a familiar sneering voice echoed from behind her.
Reina's fears were confirmed. She sighed as she turned around. "I got lost."
"Where did you start?"
"Izumo obviously, I told you in a letter that it was my new home," Reina retorted.
Reina doubled over when she was punched in the throat.
"HOW DARE YOU SHOW UP HERE WITHOUT VISITING ME IN 20 YEARS!" Miki bellowed. "20 YEARS!"
"COME ON, I AT LEAST WROTE YOU ONCE IN A WHILE, MOM!" Reina was still coughing and reeling from the pain. Marin was on the ground and was more bewildered than ever!
"Ugh..." Miki fanned herself, "You're lucky Aya's missing, she would have kicked you in the throat."
"Huh???" Reina looked up, "Mother's at Edo..."
"She didn't tell you?" That's weird. Usually her parents were always in tip top communication shape... Unless her servants fumbled with the letters or something. She didn't know why but they always seemed to have really incompetent servants...
"Why the hell is she in Edo for?!"
"She told me she wrote you a letter though! Why are you yelling at me?!"
"Don't you be giving me that attitude, or else I'll punt your ass all the way to Hokkaido!" Miki crossed her arms over her armor.
"Huh, where's Toranosuke?" Another weird sight. Normally Toranosuke would be prowling in his beast form and her mom would make it a point to ride him in order to give him weight training.
"I... was gonna ask you the same thing actually..." Miki raised a brow.
"My brother is lost in the mountains somewhere, isn't he...?"
"It runs in the family," Miki sighed. "At least he turns up within the week, unlike you."
"I am my own independent woman, Mom..." Reina crossed her arms, mimicking the elder.
"Jeez, can't a mother have attentive children, you two are the only ones I got and I'm stuck here while Aya is apparently at Edo for no reason!" she threw her arms in the air, and fire burst out mid-flight.
Ugh, that was a sign that her mother was getting angrier. There was a reason why the area here was just plains... There used to be a forest here...
"Relax, Mother's at Edo for official business. Something about being commissioned for some wall screen painting for a daimyo or some shit like that."
That's the other thing. Her mother was revered as a very successful artist who gets commissioned by noble families despite being a tiger demon. It was thanks to those connections that her Mom even got land to call her own in the first place! Sheesh, she should have more appreciation for the woman who puts the food on the table and a roof above their heads.
"Okay..." Miki looked at the other, golden eyes narrowing.
Reina returned the gaze with an intense golden one of her own.
Miki turned aside and Reina in turn, did the same. Despite these actions, it was their way of communicating, really. To an outsider, it might seem distant but to them, it meant something different.
".....................I see you two actually do miss each other."
"WHOA WHAT THE FUCK IS WITH THAT FERRET'S VOICE?"
"...I'm a weasel..."
Chapter 17: Sayashi Riho
Meat was acting strange. The bunny seemed to no longer hold interest in anything else but her. It refused to be picked up nowadays and even if it was held by Ayumi or her, the bunny would simply watch Riho.
It was studying her, if she didn't know any better.
Oh well, I'm eating it anyway... Riho scratched at the side of her cheek. It's lucky I managed to catch those birds earlier... The demon had three birds hanging behind her back by rope.
"Say, out of curiosity, do you know how to swim?"
Ayumi paused mid-stride.
"Do you?" Riho quipped. Why was the human hesitating?
Oh, well then that's not too bad. Riho wasn't judging. "Oh, if you fell overboard, you'd be in trouble huh..."
Ayumi looked at her with a most exasperated face. It must have been her most expressive face yet! Realizing the horror of what she had said, Riho immediately tried to save the conversation: "Though the event of that is highly unlikely," she waved her hand dismissively.
It wasn't doing anything to calm the other down.
"It's okay, I'll rescue you," the demon warily placed a hand on the other's shoulder. She hated being touched by people, and loathed touching others even more, but for Ayumi's sake, she overcame her pet peeve just to comfort the other.
"I just..." Ayumi started walking again, Meat bobbing up and down upon her shoulder, "I was originally from the mainlands, you know? On my way being transported to the orphanage here in Kyushu, I fell in the sea and nearly drowned. I really thought I was going to die that day..." she clung to Meat and her naginata tighter. "The sailors told me I was only down under for a few minutes but to me, it felt like days being trapped underwater..."
That was unfortunate. Riho frowned hearing the human's tale. She never really liked the water either but thanks to her storm dragon side, she had no fear of it either. This was the first time she saw someone so scared of something that was natural to her...
"Are you going to be okay when we take the ferry to Okinawa?"
The petite girl sighed. "If that's where Duu and Haruna are, I have no choice, right?"
Riho sniffed at the air. "There's a village nearby. I smell cooked fish..."
Ayumi let out some sarcastic comment, but Riho paid no attention to it. Instead, she got on all fours and sprinted towards the direction of the village. There were no more trees where they were, just sights of grassy hill after grassy hill. She looked behind to find Ayumi running after her.
Oh, I forgot humans can't run that fast... Riho looked forward again. She stopped at the top of the hill and excitement rattled through her bones.
They've finally met the sea!
In the far distance, there was a decently sized village with docks and ships and everything! Perfect, they've finally reached the tip of Kyushu!
"You should... slow down..." Ayumi tottered slowly after Riho after reaching a close distance. Though once she stepped in the same space as Riho, her breath was caught.
"We made it!" Ayumi jumped in the air in joy. She even threw Meat in the air! Meat didn't like that though. After it landed back in her arms, it bit the human! "Ack! Michishige-san! That hurt!" Ayumi cried out.
"Michishige-san?" the demon raised a brow.
Ayumi's eyes widened and she slowly looked at Riho. For whatever reason, Meat had the exact same look of shock. Bunnies were a strange sort.
"So you've given Meat a proper name, huh?" Riho surmised.
"Y-yes?" Ayumi nodded furiously. "I couldn't stand you naming her Meat, so I decided to give her a proper name!!"
"You don't need to raise your volume," Riho scratched at her twitching ears. "Michishige-san eh?" She tried to write the characters for the name in the air. It would mean Heavy Road if she was thinking correctly... "Did you name it that because we found it on the road?"
"YES!!!!" Ayumi nodded ferociously. “And it’s getting heavier lately.”
Meat responded by biting Ayumi again.
"Oh, you know how to read and write?"Now that she thought about it, just how educated was that orphanage? She recalled Ayumi saying something about how Maachan-san didn't know how to read or write and assumed that the rest couldn't do it either. "Was it... Yasuda-san who taught you all?"
"Actually, I knew how to read and write before I was there. My parents were merchants and figured it was important to teach me how to. Yasuda-san does teach us all she could though.”
“I see I see…” Riho commented, moving closer to Ayumi and extending her arm out for Meat. The white bunny hopped onto the offering arm and nearly slipped, its front paws grasping at her forearm for dear life as its hind legs desperately tried to climb up. What resulted was a squeaking bunny with hind legs kicking like a windmill. What a cutie, Riho couldn’t help but rest Meat on her other arm and kiss its head. “You’re cute,” she said simply.
If it was possible for a bunny to blush, Meat achieved it.
Ayumi narrowed her eyes at the bunny.
“Jealous?” Riho smirked. What could she say, bunnies were cuter than humans after all.
“AS IF!” Ayumi stomped towards the village.
What’s gotten into her? It’s not like the bunny was another demon or human or anything. She could spare some compliments for a creature. She let out an amused quick breath from her nose and walked after the human, Meat in arms.
“Though Michishige is a nice name…” she looked down at the bunny. It looked back up with her, crinkling its nose. “I like it.”
As if embarrassed, the bunny hid its face behind its paws.
“So how do we ride the ferry? We don’t have any money do we?” Ayumi called out, already a good distance from the other.
“We can do odd jobs here and there to earn money, perhaps?” the demon replied. Honestly, she preferred it when rewards were privileges todo things like entry into a village or even just being able to ride for free. That was enough for her. Money didn’t last long with her memory anyway.
Just what should they do in a pier town to get a free ride…?
“Fishing…” Riho uttered under her breath. If they caught a bunch of fish and used it as passage fare, it would work right?
As they ventured closer to town, Riho sighed. There were many officials running about in town, that meant starting a business required a lot of things that would be a hassle to get… There went the fishing idea.
Seeing Ayumi looking a little lost, Riho pulled her aside. “We’ll have to do a bit of bounty hunting or protect the town from some inexplicable disaster. That’s the only way we can get a free ride.”
“I’m more worried about you being able to even get in the town in the first place…”
Oh, Riho completely forgot about that. She looked up and there were people lined up outside of the gates. Guards were checking everyone’s belongings and it seemed some slight paperwork was involved. Well now, this was a lot more troublesome than she thought. She didn’t sense any other demon about either, so this was definitely another anti-demon town…
“What if we disguised you?” Ayumi suggested, looking up at Riho’s ears.
“I refuse to put anything on my head,” the demon deadpanned.
“Well, that means I’d have to go in by myself somehow and come back with some sort of task to do…”
That always seemed to be the case. She knew Ayumi could take care of herself should the need arise so there were no arguments against her suggestion. However, the horrible thing was the wait!
“Don’t take too long…” Riho uttered in an almost whine. “Come back once you figure out what we could do.”
“I’m on it!” Ayumi went ahead and lined up with the rest of the queue.
She was alone again.
At least she had…. Meatchishige-san? with her. Jeez, what a mouthful to say. “Why did she give you such a long name?” Riho looked down at the bunny. It nervously glanced left and right before focusing on her. “As nice as Michishige-san is, I honestly could eat you up eventually so therefore, you’re still Meat in my eyes.”
She wasn’t sure if Meat was shaking in fear or was… happy about the threat? Surely this was a strange creature.
“Too bad there’s no tree for me to climb…” Riho looked around, surrounded by rolling plains all about her. There wasn’t even a place of shade to relax under either, not without venturing closer to the establishment, at least. Something about being in open view made her feel so exposed. She had a pretty terrible run-in with a gigantic crow back in the mainlands, and as such, open spaces such as this wasn't exactly on her list of ideal locations to be during an aerial attack.
She looked around, lost. Well if she wanted to be easily spotted by Ayumi should she come back, she might as well just sit down somewhere in the gate’s sight. She walked a few paces upwards and sat herself down on luscious green grass. Setting Meat on her lap, she fell flat on her back right after, arms outspread and relaxed.
The demon was always an active child, or so her parents told her. But every now and then, she needed to lay down somewhere, may it be the ground, a tree, or Mint-kun, and just relax. Nap times were her favorite part of the day and she wouldn’t ever skip out of one.
However, her nap was short-lived.
A loud grumbling was heard in the sky and suddenly, it flashed white.
“Oh great,” Riho sat up, “A storm.”
Droplets of rain were starting to fall too. Not a problem for her though! With a flick of her wrist and fingers, Mint-kun came to the rescue! He floated over her head and acted as a cover from the light drizzle. Meat snuggled closer to her body, avoiding the offending rain.
Something about the sight was probably ironic, but Riho didn’t laugh. Instead, she pulled out the hilt from her obi and began playing with it again. What started as a tiny fang no bigger than the fingernail of her pinky suddenly became a blade the length of her forearm. Although playing with it was nothing new to her, it was the first time Meat’s ever seen it in action.
The bunny watched in fascination as Riho activated the dagger on and off. It even interrupted her at one point, placing its tiny paws on Riho’s hands just to sniff at the dagger in its default fanged form.
“You must be curious, no?” Riho waved the hilt back and forth. “It was a gift.” Remembering how she got it was funny, however.
“See this fang?” she pointed at it, “when I was an infant, I apparently yanked it straight out of Mother’s mouth!” she giggled to herself. “She definitely was not happy about it… And then Mama thought it’d be a good idea to fashion a dagger out of it for protection purposes once I was older.”
The bunny looked at the dagger with even more fascination than it did before.
“I’m a forgetful person who’d always leave a lot of my stuff behind. But I always remember this dagger…” Her eyes downcast in reminiscence. “Here’s a fun fact for you: by itself, I can activate it with a little magic. But if Mother is nearby and she transforms… so does this dagger.” She waved her hand over it to reactivate it again. Meat looked up at her, then back at the dagger.
Feeling the pull of sleepiness tugging at her, Riho bent over in her sitting position. Granted, it wasn’t a good sleeping position and it was probably horrible on her back, but hey. She had mastered the art of sleeping every and anywhere.
Now was the time to rest, and she only hoped that Ayumi would find a way to get them on a boat to Okinawa...
Chapter 18: Michishige Sayumi
Watching her Rihoriho sleep was calming, though the sleeping position she chose was slightly alarming… But it seemed like she was used to it. She would have at least tried to move her into a more comfortable position but the grass all around them was getting wet and she hated being wet in bunny form (though she wouldn’t mind it under certain circumstances) so that was a complete no.
The revelation about the dagger was rather interesting though. As soon as Rihoriho mentioned it came from the Golden Cat of Hell, she had to get closer to it. She needed to smell it to confirm. And when she did, she felt something in her stir. Years lost and suddenly it felt like she was taken back to that time. It was a familiar scent of ash and flowers, as odd as the combination sounded.
She detected a slight scent from Rihoriho in general once she began telling the story of her parents those days ago. Everything afterwards became keen observation.
Her mannerisms. The way she spoke. The little things she did. The way she ate.
She was looking for traces of her…
It was almost disheartening to know that she finally found someone in life to love and to have Rihoriho here, but given Sayumi’s circumstances at the time, there was nothing she could do about it.
Sayumi nuzzled against Riho’s face with her tiny fluffy head. If she couldn’t find the Golden Cat of Hell, the most she could do was at least watch over her daughter’s journey as a way to pay her back for everything that she did for her.
It seems I can’t help but journey with awkward, charming cats…As a human and as a demon... Sayumi laughed softly to herself.
Rihoriho’s breathing began to steady. She was completely asleep now.
She wasn’t her mama, no, but she wondered what things would be like if circumstances were different.
The Cerulean Typhoon, huh… Sayumi mused in her mind.
I wonder what this woman is like, for you to have chosen her…
Because she clearly remembered the day she kissed Tanaka Reina, for it was also the day Sayumi died.
Chapter 19: Tanaka Reina
Reina looked off to the distance. They were scaling mountains now. If they were passing mountains, they were bound to be on the right path towards Echizen, right? Mutsu was on the east coast of Nippon, and Echizen was on the west coast. They were separated by a chain of mountains and if Reina were to cross mountains, she'd reach the west coast, and in theory, if she just follows the coastline, she'll definitely go through Echizen, right?
Hearing from her mom that Toranosuke was lost somewhere around this area too, she half-expected to meet him during her trek, but she didn't find him either.
Marin was on her shoulder again.
"I really don't see the point of you riding my shoulder when I am clearly your superior," Reina gritted her teeth as she trudged upwards. Marin simply stared at her before jumping off and transforming midway into her alternate form.
Seeing the other in her tall glory, Reina began seething again. "Somehow, this pisses me off even more..."
And thus, she went back into her weasel form and trotted along with the other.
She never really liked climbing mountains. She was a lady fit for the tropics and the mountains only brought the cold to her. Going into her true form was a hassle, so here she was, donning various stylish fur cloaks and winter wear. She decided to be purple and white for today.
"...Where do you even put stuff...?" Marin asked, staring at the other through small beady eyes.
"Huh?" Reina looked down, "Oh..." she rummaged around in her sleeves before pulling out a tiny pouch with string across its rim, like one for carrying coins. "My kid's great at enchanting items. Before I left, she turned this into an infinite chasm for me to store all of my belongings."
Marin blinked at her.
Oh great, here it comes...
"You have a kid...?"
"Yeah yeah, I look too young even for a demon, right?" Reina played it off modestly, "Well guess what, I'm actually a century old, of course I have kids now." She loved that demon blood automatically meant looking fabulous no matter how old. Her parents were practically in the 300s but still looked 20 in human years.
"...Ah..." Marin simply said, darting around rocks and boulders alike, "And what are they like?"
"Both are younger than you," Reina walked leisurely with her hands behind her head, "One's always derping and the other one is actually reliable. Love them to pieces though."
"...I bet they're both taller than you..."
Reina kicked the weasel far up into the sky.
After a considerable amount of time, she held out her hand and Marin fell perfectly into it. The Golden Cat of Hell must give the weasel credit for not screaming the way up and back. Such courage.
"Both are shorter..."
...At least, the last time she saw the two a year ago, they were shorter... She'd probably punch them in the throat if they both had their growth spurts while she was away. Especially Riho, brat was already at her height the last time she saw her...
That is to say, her kids' human forms were still shorter. In their true forms, they towered over her own true form by at least ten or twenty times! It was the storm dragon blood to blame. At least they weren't as big as the Cerulean Typhoon in her true form... Oh gods, heaven forbid that her kids grow to be that huge in their true forms...
Reina nearly kicked the weasel up high again. She knew her daughters would grow taller, given the history of their Mama's heritage. She just wasn't ready to see them that big yet. The idea of having to look up to address them was already annoying her to no end.
"Whatever!" Reina snarled before stopping midstride. Oops, she almost stepped off a cliff. Not that a fall of several kilometers down would kill her, she was a cat after all, but still.
Marin tiptoed over to the edge and looked down.
Welp, at least she could clear the gap between the cliffs. Reina immediately grabbed the weasel and she ran backwards before running forward into a huge leap. She must have crossed the 20m mark before landing on her feet and a hand. She looked at the weasel in her hand and the poor demon didn't even blink.
"You could handle being thrown by me but jumping with me is doing otherwise?!" the half cat, half tiger clapped her hands before doubling over in laughter once more. Marin was still speechless, which made it all the more hilarious to her.
"Wow jeez, some priorities you have there, Miyazawa..." Reina wiped a tear before turning to walk, but instead, she was met with a soft womff. Did she just walk into a wall? She raised both hands to either side and grabbed onto whatever she walked into. Her hands couldn't fit around the rather feathery object. She backed up and looked up...
...right into the eyes of a rather huge black crow.
"Well fuck me," Reina frowned like a flounder. She grabbed the weasel and began running like her life depended on it!
The crow let out an angry cry and suddenly, crows from everywhere took to the sky.
"SERIOUSLY!?" Reina looked behind her to find a rather angry murder of crows, "WHAT DID I EVEN DO?!"
She didn't destroy anything! Or steal anything! Were they seriously angry over something like territory invasion?!
She needed to find cover fast. Despite being a cat, she was actually one of the worst runners in her clan. She was more of a confrontational, in-your-face kind of person after all. But even the Golden Cat of Hell wasn't sure if she could take on a whole family of extremely territorial crows!
She was losing stamina quick, she had to make her stand now or else her journey would be delayed. She set Marin down and pointed her out to an outcrop of rocks nearby, "hide there and watch me kick ass!"
Marin gave her a shifty-eyed look before scurrying into hiding.
Reina turned around and flung her hands outwards, extending her sharp claws the length of daggers.
The crows began nose-diving headfirst. Bad choice.
The demon jumped onto a bird's face and dug her claws into its head, changing its direction upwards. As she rode the creature dead straight into the sky, the other crows followed. After enough distance, the hellish demon began her descent.
She let go and jumped onto the next available bird, slashing straight through its skull. As that bird was falling, two more were planning to nose dive at her from different directions. Reina pointed her index fingers at each bird and a blast of fire immediately sprang forth. Now four birds, two of which were on fire, were falling down.
Reina looked around, assessing her targets. Another crow dived at her, talons first. Before the talons could pierce her, Reina twirled mid-flight, dodging the sharp talons, and she spread out and trapped the birds legs under her armpits. She twirled once more, taking the bird with her, and she chucked the bird at another, effectively knocking both out.
Six were falling.
She looked for the rest. Four to go. The next was trying to split her in half from flying at a high speed below her. Good, she could use more air. She twirled and dodged the initial beak attack and grabbed onto the bird's back, yanking its feathers backwards. However, that didn't do much as it began thrashing about in mid-air. Not sure if she could hang on any longer, she did the first thing that came to mind--she set the bird on fire.
She found another bird attempting the same thing as the last. Bad mistake. Instead of dodging the beak attack, Reina dove heardfirst with her claws outwards. She managed to grab the beak and ripped the bottom from the crow. And with it, she shoved it in its eye and kicked it right through! Another down, one more to go.
Where was it?
She was freefalling without a crow to land on, where in the world was the other one?! There were so many large feathers scattered about thanks to her destruction up above. Where was that stupid crow?!
She felt a sharp pain in her abdomen as a beak suddenly snatched her by the body! She let out a cry as she struggled to open the beak. She couldn't free her arms. She then set herself ablaze, causing the crow to drop her. Now free, she thrust her claw into the crow's chest and flipped it under so that she was on top. All she needed to do was wait.
Welp, there was the ground.
CRACK! THUMP! WHUMP! CRACK! WHUMP! BOP! THUMP! CRACK!
...And the other eight bodies.
She withdrew her hand from the crow's chest and flung it at the side, flinging the blood right off her claws. She retracted her claws and clapped her hands back and forth like a job well done. She ran over to the rocks where Marin was hiding and lifted one up, shedding light on the weasel.
"Well how was that?"
Marin poked her head out of the ground.
"..............I actually didn't see anything."
"FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU--" Reina launched into a chorus of very very unpleasant words.
"...Such colorful language."
The petite demon panted heavily, hands on her knees.
Marin looked around.
".......We're still in the right direction, right?"
Reina looked up.
Wait, the sun! If she looked at the sun, maybe she could finally tell what direction it could be going! The sun sets west after all, right?!
The sun was smack dab in the middle of the sky in high noon.
Reina died a little on the inside.
Chapter 20: Sayashi Riho
She sneezed, alarming the bunny besides her.
"Is someone talking about me...?" She looked up groggily.
Ayumi wasn't back yet.
Welp, back to sleep for her.
Chapter 21: Ishida Ayumi
Getting into the city was easier than she thought. It wasn't so much paperwork that was causing such a ruckus but just the fact that the city wasseverely discriminatory against demons. The guards only took one look at her before waving her past the checkpoint. She wasn't sure if she was supposed to be offended that she looked so ordinarily normal or be thankful for it that they didn't ask any questions, but she couldn't help but feel bad for those who were turned away just for having a little bit of demon blood in them.
That problem was seriously getting out of hand. Not all demons were bad... Especially not Riho or Michishige-san. She could actually sneak Michishige-san in if she wanted to, but a human who would insist on bringing a bunny in would raise unwanted questions...
She wished the both of them were with her to see all this. Despite the rain, crowds were bustling and hustling all around. She had never been in a city like this! There were so many people! At least four bumped into her as she stood still in awe! Not wanting to be in the way or in the rain, she tucked herself near a roofed corner and continued taking in the sight.
This was definitely a commercial district, for stalls selling everything from food to distinct wares were all she could see. If Riho were around, the cat would definitely eat everything in sight! This wasn't where she needed to be though. She needed to find an inn or some sort of bounty hunter den for a job. Riho told her that in cities, those would be the easiest places to find jobs in.
"Excuse me..." she looked to a monger of a fish stall next to her, "Where is the nearest inn? Or is there a hunters' den somewhere?"
The balding fishmonger looked at her with a careful scrutiny, arcing one brow up in bemusement, "And what does a little girl like you need with a hunters' den? Revenge?"
To be honest, Ayumi was focused on the rather large mole at the side of the fishmonger's heavily wrinkled eyes. "I.... Uh.... I'm looking for work..."
"...Hotaru?" the old man squinted.
"I'm not," Ayumi waved her hand dismissively. What a strange old man. Did he mistake her for a grandchild or something? "I'm a bounty hunter..."
"At your age?!" the old man tilted his head side to side, as if appraising Ayumi's value of strength, "You don't seem the fighter..."
"Oh, I may be..........tiny......" she said that last word with slight chagrin, "but I've taken out things a hundred times my size!" She raised an arm up and slapped her bicep, displaying her initiative.
A tall man with an umbrella placed a hand on her shoulder, "You can take on things a hundred times your size?"
Ayumi looked up in surprise, though kept with her image, "Yes, yes I can!"
The man stood back and looked her head to toe, hand stroking his chin. After what seemed like forever, he looked at her. "What kind of reward are you going for?"
"Honestly, I just need money for a ride to Okinawa..." Ayumi said cautiously. She was warned about scammers but this one seemed genuine enough... She needed to try this out, this was a make or break deal after all: "But I need enough for two."
The tanned man reached into his obi and pulled out a pouch. "This will definitely cover you," he opened the pouch and she could see the fine glitter of the coins on the inside.
"May I check?" she reached out for the coins, her parents taught her the difference between a scammer's coin and the truth. The man nodded and she plucked a coin out, studying it. Finding no strange kinks, or any of the other telltale signs of a fake, she put it back.
"What do you need?"
"We need you to get something from a cave."
A retrieval mission? Too easy for something of that much reward.
"What's the catch?"
"There's a dragon in the cave."
Ayumi internally screamed.
However, she kept tightlipped.
"My boys and I were resting in a cave not too far from here, but then that dragon came in and nearly wiped the majority of us out! Thankfully we escaped but we left behind a bunch of our stuff!"
Ayumi nodded. She wondered if the leftover stuff contained...
"Mind you, we already took the money with us, we have our priorities..." the man glared at her, assuming he knew what she was thinking of, "what we left behind were just barrels of sake. And they're important for business."
Ayumi nodded. This man must have thought she was younger than she looked. She knew how expensive sake could go for, and frankly, if she sold those instead, she'd make far more than what the man showed her.
"What I need you to do is to just find a way to get the barrels back here. You're obviously too weak to take on a dragon, but with your size... you could definitely get the sake back. Though if you're confident you can defeat the dragon, that's even better, but for now, it's just the barrels that are top priority."
Ayumi nodded. "Where is this cave?"
"If you come out of the city, follow the eastern coastline up and you'll find a cave beneath a cliff. If the rocks begin to point at you, you're on the right track. Once you see it, you can't miss it. There's an old wreckage of a ship at its entrance. It's seriously not too far, you'll be able to reach it long before the sky even thinks of setting."
Ayumi nodded. Can't be too hard to roll out barrels of sake, right? "How many barrels are we looking at?"
"I know some were destroyed in our escape but there should at LEAST be four left..." the man counted on his fingers, recollecting his memories. He then pointed at a building at the other end of the area, "See that building? Near the stalls with the vegetables? That's the inn the boys and I are staying at. If you succeed, you'll find us there."
"I'll need papers to get them in, right?"
"Ah! Yes," the man rummaged through his sleeve this time, "here."
Ayumi received the document and looked at it, scanning its contents. It looked real enough, so she tucked it in her bag. "If I don't personally notify you, consider an absence of three days a failure."
The man nodded and went about his way, leaving Ayumi to herself.
Not that she didn't doubt Riho's strength but a dragon?! She really hoped that Riho had enough to eat that she could at least transform or something! Being able to transform would be the one thing guaranteeing a successful mission! She got back in line to exit the city and began breathing in and out erratically.
A dragon... A live dragon... Oh wait, she forgot to ask if it was a demon or not! Maybe if it was a demon, she could... try to reason with it? If it was a live, feral creature, then gods help her...
"...But then that dragon came in and nearly wiped the majority of us out!"
Ayumi gulped. This was by far the most intense mission she and Riho would ever take on! What they've done the past weeks were simply eliminating lesser demons or even things as little as helping a kid out of a tree! Never a...a...a dragon!
Once she was out of the gates, she took out a piece of clothing from the bag and draped it over her as cover from the rain. She then immediately bolted straight for Riho.
As she ran up a hill, she noticed a cloud flying awfully low to the ground of another hill...
"Must be Mint-kun..." Ayumi uttered under her breath. As she was getting closer to the two, she paused. Nevermind Michishige-san, who was grooming herself meticulously, but Riho...
Is she... sleeping?! The twintailed girl looked on with disbelief at the other.
Not caring about the rain anymore, she twisted the wet cloth in her hand and whipped the cat.
Riho merely rolled over from the hit, but the moment she rolled away from Mint-kun's protection into the rain, her hand reached up and yanked Mint-kun over to where she was.
Michishige-san was drenched, however. With the anger of a thousand suns, she pounced on Riho's side and ferociously thumped at the her. Riho merely opened an eye, seeing Ayumi, before rolling over again, crushing the poor bunny.
Annoyed, Ayumi punted Mint-kun into the air, effectively dispersing him.
"STOP KILLING MINT-KUN!" Riho sprang up immediately. What a brat! She wouldn't wake up after a wet whip nor an angry bunny but the moment you kick her cloud, she was as sprung as a squirrel?!
No matter, she wrung out the wet cloth as much as she could, "We have a mission to either get valuable barrels of sake out of a cave, or defeat the dragon protecting it," she lifted it over her head, acting as a cover once more.
Riho's ears perked upwards. "Dragon?" she did a rolling motion with her hands and all of a sudden, Mint-kun reappeared with all his cloudly bits attached. "We're up against a dragon?"
"That's what the guy said," Ayumi noticed how Mint-kun seemed to be an ample umbrella, so she began walking underneath it as well. "We just have to follow this coastline up until we see the cave its in." She pointed along the beach.
Riho nodded and continued along. Michishige-san hopped along, doing her best to keep up with the cloud. Was there a way to make the cloud just a tad bit bigger though? Ayumi felt rain hitting her in the shoulder and it was rather unpleasant... She attempted to shuffle closer to the other but still kept her distance. However, Riho noticed.
"Here, you're going to get sick like that..." she unceremoniously draped a hand across the back of Ayumi's shoulders and brought her closer. Ayumi couldn't help but shiver slightly at the touch.
But some part of her told her that it was nice.
Chapter 22: Niigaki Risa
Why in the world was she in this predicament?! She came from the first village into the next village and then she crossed cities upon cities and she even flew between them at one point, just how many months passed since she began her journey!?
She hissed as the taller girl poured a bit of alcohol on her leg.
"N-Not too much! You'll waste it all!" she snatched the gourd and drank a little bit.
"But Niigaki-sama, your leg will get infected!" the frantic girl looked back and forth between the rather nasty gash and her charge.
"I'm a storm dragon, Erina, you don't have to worry," she leaned over to pet the short haired girl.
Somewhere in her journey southwards, she came across a rather unorthodox blacksmith who seemingly idolized her... for whatever reason. She kept telling her that she shouldn't leave the vicinity of the castle she was smithing for, but Erina insisted on coming. It didn't help that the princess allowed smith to go in the first place!
The auburn haired dragon sighed heavily. Thanks to her leg injury in the previous fight, they were stuck in a cove. They were lucky they even found a place like this! They were innocently flying in the air, with Risa in her true form, until a band of pirates decided it would be fabulous to shoot arrows at her. Not that it would do much, storm dragons had scales tougher than any samurai armor to boot, but that ship had a ridiculously heavy harpoon!
It had pierced her right in the thigh and when she pulled back, excruciating pain shot through her veins--the harpoon was anchored to the ship and when she pulled back, she pulled the ship along with her. The blacksmith was hanging onto her head for dear life as she mustered enough strength to fly to shore and smash the ship against the rocks!
They didn't think there were any survivors, so Risa transformed back into her human form, though not without a bad fall right after. The hot sand was so painful against her thigh... Eripon managed to carry her to the very cove they resided in, only to find out it was packed with the very pirates they thought were dead! How was she supposed to know this was a secret pirate base?!
The storm dragon rubbed at her temples. This was troublesome.
"Aren't you cold?" she looked up at the other.
Erina was only dressed in a simple grey farmer's robe. The sleeves were tied up by green sashes. Just like her sleeves, she wore a sash around her forehead as well. What was most worrying was that her clothes ended above her knees! She was also walking around bare foot too, so it was even more worrisome!
"Remember, Niigaki-sama, I'm one with the earth!" she stuck her index and middle fingers out in a victory sign.
"Lies, what about those leg bracers you're wearing? It's really cold, you've been in water, and that surely can't be comfortable to wear at all!"
"Niigaki-sama is covered head to toe in armor!" the young human pointed out.
Yes, although she had the official black and blue armor of her clan, she was a storm dragon foremost and storm dragons were not fazed by wetness or coldness. Even if she had some of the heavier armors on!
"That's different, I'm one with the storm!" Despite that though, the clothes beneath the armor were taking their sweet time to dry...
The air in the cove was incredibly humid thanks to the rain happening outside, and the storm they brought from the sea.
When she looked around, she found that her escort was missing.
Risa's eyes went the size of two shields when she saw Eripon gleefully running towards her with a gigantic wooden door over her head.
"I can carry you on top of this!" the other set the rather humongous door down. "But if it's beneath you, I could instantly craft a carriage for you."
But it was too late, Erina was already in work mode. It still astounded her whenever she did it. She did not need to use tools. One of Erina's charm points was that she was able to literally craft everything with her bare hands! The storm dragon watched in shock as the muscled girl literally hit things into place--all with that frivolous smile on her face.
In her 200 years of living, she had NEVER seen a human capable of doing that! Her jaw dropped as the young girl easily pried nails off of boards and literally slap them into the right place. She was practically juggling the pieces in her hand as she looked for more material to use.
"So how did you find out about your magic again...?" It had to be magic. No normal human was able to do it...
"I only have a little earth element in me! But thanks to that, and the fact I work out" she flexed to show off her biceps and triceps, "it all just added up. Mizuki took notice of my talent and personally invited me to use her castle's forge."
"You need to call her Fukumura-hime..." Risa deadpanned.
"She said it was okay!" the smith retorted.
"How does everyone else react when you call her that?" Risa leaned back against the rocky wet surface behind her.
"Oh that..." Erina looked up for a moment, "it seems all the times I did it, it was just the two of us."
She was feeling mischievous now, "Do you have a thing for the princess?"
"Huh? I've built her room if that counts. You won't even believe all the times we've been in the rain in her old room. So unpleasant! We'd break the doors all the time and I think even one time, my head went through the wall! So we decided to build a new room capable of all of our activities. I reinforced it with the same alloys we use for swords!" she laughed as she twirled the newly built (!?) carriage in her hand.
If only Erina knew the implications!!! Risa couldn't help but laugh at the other's obliviousness. But then it dawned on her.
"NO WAY!!!" The carriage was done?!
"Now I can carry you comfortably!" the smithy smacked the roof of the rather aesthetically pleasing carriage.
"Wait so there's no wheels or anything?"
"Oh you wanted wheels?" Erina began to turn, "It'll take a while to bend wood but since the water is pretty cool, this should perfectly work--"
"NO WAY! Don't do it, I'm okay, just carry me!" she waved frantically. Erina looked at her for a moment before smiling blissfully and returning.
What was she going to do with this girl?
"Should we move out now?" The taller sat down in front of her. Risa couldn't help but smile at the sight, for it was as if Erina was a puppy with its tail enthusiastically wagging.
"Let's not, it's raining out. Maybe we can go after the rain stops?" the elder looked towards the where the entrance might have been. The pirates did a good job scoping out this cove, for it was definitely large enough to hide two ships in. However, there were hardly wooden planks for walking. This crew was only average intelligence at best, probably. Or they barely had time to truly outfit the cove to their liking. Too bad there were no rooms or beds or anything like that around.
"Should I make a bed for you?"
She was tempted to say yes, but Risa had to decline. "The rain will let up after a while. We need to move again. If this was just one ship, the other ship could be back any time too..." she looked at the empty waters in front of them. Despite the lack of wooden paths, there were still two loading docks. That meant two ships were meant to fit in... "My leg could take weeks to heal though..."
"Let me cast a magic spell on you," Erina twirled her finger at Risa's face, "TADA it worked, your leg is instantly healed!"
Risa stared at the other, the corner of her mouth twitching.
Erina squealed as a wave drenched her--specifically her. Risa steadied her hand after, the water receding back into where it belonged.
"Niigaki-samaaaa!" the smith rubbed her eyes.
Risa looked away.
Why am I stuck with her?!
Chapter 23: Michishige Sayumi
She couldn't believe it. She darted about the wreckage strewn everywhere.
Michishige Sayumi: priestess extraordinaire, cutest girl in the land, cutest bunny in the land... And she was playing cat and mouse with a supposedly dormant dragon while looking for alcohol. Great. If the head priestess heard about her current predicament, she'd be rolling in her grave.
How could those two do this to me?! TO ME!? She knew she should have said something back there. She could have revealed herself, Riho didn't know her. She kept it hidden before because she thought it'd be awkward for a daughter to travel with a mother's... Well she and the Golden Cat from Hell were technically never a thing before they went their separate ways, but they were so close!
"She could have been mine!" Sayumi crinkled her nose. Granted, Riho would be half cat and half human at the time, but if she were half cat and half bunny... What would that look like? She shook her tiny white head. She was being distracted, that wasn't good. She needed to focus. First, assess how many beings were in this cove.
She certainly sensed the dragon, but she sensed... what was that, a human with it? This was a curious situation. Perhaps sneaking around wouldn't factor into the plan after all. But still, caution was top priority.
"...I'm telling you, I'm not getting in that carriage!"
"But Niigaki-sama, you did just say we needed to move, right?"
"NOT LIKE THAT!"
Wait, Niigaki-sama? The name rang a bell but she failed to place a connection to it. She found a half of a broken crate up ahead. She immediately darted for that and hid in its shadow. Thankfully, there was another hole within it to peek at the sight...
...Which was the strangest thing she ever saw. Why was the human wielding a palanquin in one hand!?
"You need to put that down, Erina!"
Oh, that must be the dragon. She had auburn hair and dark, angled horns from the top of her head to the back. She was also adorned in black and blue samurai armor. There were no pants for her, but her greaves were more than enough ample protection for her. However, there was something else Sayumi noticed. There was a large bloody wound in the dragon's leg. She had it raised over a barrel and she was applying pressure to her thigh.
She's injured? Wow, if they really needed it, Sayumi could just heal them on the spot right then and there. Though, Ayumi had her priestess clothes in her bag ( It certainly raised a few brows from Rihoriho when she brought that back) and her just showing up unceremoniously naked would probably be just the right trigger for a lightning spell to the face. Of course, Sayumi couldn't bear the thought of her adorable face being attacked!
She did however, achieve her objective. The dragon and the human were right where the barrels were... This could prove a slight obstacle. But if the human was there and the dragon didn't eat her, then clearly they must be good people...
The trouble is telling Riho when Sayumi was still unknown to her...
If I don't reveal myself... Sayumi looked down to find a tiny water puddle. She dipped her paw in and began making tallies on the dry rock.
If she doesn't know... I could still hang out in her clothes... Sleep with her.... She'd always take my side if I get in a fight with Ayumi... I could kiss her and she would kiss me back...
If she knew...
What was she doing, the answer was so obvious. The pros and cons were clearly tipped to one side. Heavily. With all of her... feelings.
"Hey Niigaki-sama! I found a rabbit!"
Sayumi bolted for it. Just when she thought she could turn the corner, she heard a loud noise and suddenly, the ground rose! She jumped to clear it and as she landed, the ground rose again! She ran in a different direction and sure enough, a section of the ground rose and blocked her off. before she knew it, she was trapped. She turned around and the human was panting near her.
"A fast little thing, aren't you?" The rather scantily clad human wheezed. Did this human have the power of earth on her side? It certainly explained the muscles she had, despite the slender body.
"A bunny right? Erina hasn't eaten in a while, just take it. I've already had my fill earlier with those pirates."
"We need a fire though, I can't eat it raw like how you ate those men earlier! Silly Niigaki-sama!" she waved her hand at the other dismissively and popped a leg up. "You so funny!"
THE DRAGON IS A HUMAN EATER AND THE HUMAN JUST LAUGHS IT OFF SO GLEEFULLY! Sayumi's face scrunched up in horror. The human bent over to pick her up and that's when she knew she had to escape. She darted underneath the human called Erina's legs and tried to swerve around. Why was this area such a narrow wall path and the rest water!?
She completely jinxed herself as she felt a splash of water and suddenly, she was swimming. But why was she in the air!?
Somehow... that dragon trapped her in a bowl of water, only there was no bowl. What was it, Niigaki-sama? She had a well sharpened, maintained hand raised and pointed towards the body of water Sayumi was trapped in.
Oh no what do I do, what do I DO?! Sayumi was panicking now. She needed to escape somehow but just, HOW!? The water beneath her gave way and she landed right into the dragon's hand. Seeing the dragon up close didn't seem as bad as she thought though. She looked youthful and her emerald eyes were quite inviting. However, Sayumi was cuter.
"Aren't you cute?" the dragon cooed before rubbing her face all over Sayumi's.
Um... Are you touching me, old lady? YOU DO NOT HAVE THE SILKY SMOOTH SKIN OF A BABY, YOU SCALY DEMON!!
It was her first time seeing a dragon but despite that humanoid face, she seriously felt those scales! Either the dragon only freshly turned back or she was too lazy on perfecting her humanoid disguise! Her fur was still wet too! She hated everything happening right now!
"WHOA Stop right there!" shouted a familiar voice.
Except that. She loved what was happening right now.
"That. is MY meat!" Riho declared fiercely, claws sprung out and everything.
Sayumi was so happy she could cry.
"If anyone is eating her, it'd be me!"
Oh gods, all the blood was rushing to her cheeks now.
"T-the bunny's nosebleeding..." the dragon said in bemusement.
RIHORIHOOOOOOO~! Sayumi couldn't help but scream in her mind, YOU ARE MY SAVIOR!! She began to kick away from the dragon in attempt to escape, but the dragon merely gripped her tighter. She tried thumping away at the wrist but her hind legs only met with the touch of rough scales.
"Michishige-san!" Ayumi shouted out, naginata pointed towards the enemies. "Unhand the bunny at once!"
The one called Niigaki-sama merely widened her eyes, "No way, you guys are seriously concerned for the bunny?"
The other human, Erina, was it? She got into a protective fighting pose in front of the dragon. "I won't let you hurt Niigaki-sama!"
"Whoa..." Ayumi lowered the weapon, "We have no intentions of hurting you, we just want the bunny..."
Erina lowered her fists, "Huh?"
"No way, seriously?" Niigaki looked back at the bunny, who was staring back very judgementally. The wet fur only added to Sayumi's chagrin. "Why the particular attachment?"
"It's... a pet we have. After Riho called it fat, it got angry and left."
What do you take me for, Ayumi.... Sayumi narrowed her eyes.
"So if we were to release this creature back towards you... You would go?" the dragon asked, testing the waters.
"Well..." Ayumi began, but was interrupted when the ground beneath her suddenly rose, prompting her to do a backflip to avoid it.
"THEY ARE AFTER YOU, NIIGAKI-SAMA!" Erina declared as she went into attack mode. Riho and Ayumi were running all about the place, dodging stalagmites left and right.
"...Erina... You should have let them finish," Niigaki-sama placed a hand over Sayumi and then lifted it. All the water that clung to her furs was now a ball in her other hand. Thank goodness! The only time she could stand being wet was taking a peek at--
She lurched forward as Niigaki thrust her other hand forward, the water ball launching and turning into a huge shield of liquid. When Sayumi's sight caught up to her, she saw that Riho had launched a fire blast towards the human and that's why Niigaki responded in turn! The two forces meeting created a thick steam which engulfed the area. Sayumi tried to kick at her captor again but to no avail.
Niigaki breathed in deeply and blew with ferocious vigor, effectively clearing all the steam in an instant. However, it seemed that Riho had been doing the same thing on her end... and her eyes were cerulean instead of dark brown.
"Those eyes..." the dragon blinked. "I've seen them before..."
"A storm dragon with emerald eyes and those horns...Are you perhaps the famed Green Gale?" Riho commented in turn.
So THAT'S where I remember her from! Sayumi looked back at the dragon's bright green eyes. Niigaki Risa, The Green Gale who was rumored to be able to travel at high speeds at a young age! But... she looked at the other again, I'm sure she's older now but she still looks like she's 12.
"I know that magic signature too..." the Green Gale scrutinized the other head to feet, she immediately stood up "AH HA" but then kneeled over due to her injury, "AH NO," she wheezed.
"Niigaki-sama!" Erina went to help the dragon.
"Eheh, I over reacted..." the dragon laughed, she had the human help her sit on a barrel turned over on its side. "Come here, it's the first time I've seen you in human form!" she spread her arms out, inviting the other for a hug.
"She doesn't remember!" Niigaki nearly fell off from her barrel. "You don't remember me?" she pointed at herself. "I used to help your grandma babysit you when your parents were out!"
Riho squinted as she walked forward. "I... honestly don't remember, sorry."
"Uh... What..." Ayumi was even more confused at the turn of events.
"Don't you remember flying around the Sky villages at all? I think I was the one who taught you how to do that mist-clearing spell just now!" Niigaki was sounding desperate now.
"Oh, I thought Nacchi-baba taught me that..." Riho rolled her eyes upwards in an attempt to remember.
Niigaki's expression went neutral. "You threw up on my brand new armor at the time too..."
And then it hit Riho. "OHHHH!" She hit her fist to her open palm, "THAT WAS YOU?!"
"THAT'S what you remember me by?!" the dragon nearly fell over again.
Jeez, does everyone Riho comes across knows her? Sayumi was set down at the dragon's lap, though she made no effort to move seeing how she was not in any form of danger. She said her grandmother was someone called Nacchi... Who would that be...?
"Either way, how are you?! And do you have any idea where your mama is, because I was actually on my way to Okinawa to inquire about her."
"I'm... fine...Though, to be frank, I'm also going down for the same reason."
"...Oh," Niigaki looked crestfallen. "She was missing for that long, huh?"
"...Yeah..." Riho sighed, "Mother went out to look for her a while back, and I thought I'd do some searching too."
"Oh, Reina is...?"
"Yeah, she's going to see Nacchi-baba and ask. Though at this rate, I'm pretty sure us getting to Okinawa and finding Mama will probably happen before she even gets to the sky villages..."
"I see Reina's as geographically challenged as always," Niigaki chuckled. "If that's the case, maybe I should head back. Clearly you're far more motivated than I am."
"You could come with us," Riho suggested.
"At this state?" Niigaki looked down at her leg, "Not so much. I'll be stuck here healing for a week or two, probably."
Ayumi looked down at Sayumi. She knew what she was thinking, but Sayumi merely shook her head. Now wasn't the time. Ayumi let out a strong breath of air through her nostrils, frustrated. If it was a pressing injury that could last months, of course Sayumi would step in... But for a demon, weeks might as well be minutes. Besides, the other was conceding defeat regardless.
"But it'd be... fun to have you come with us, you know? And a week or two is an awful long time to wait for an injury to heal..." Ayumi was now glaring at Sayumi. Jeez, this human...
"To demons like us, weeks might as well be minutes," Niigaki waved her hand dismissively.
Good. Something Scaly Face and I can agree with Sayumi brushed her cheeks with her paws. You better not be pushing your luck... she narrowed her eyes at the other human.
"Besides, if you have Riho with you, I'm sure everything that comes your way will be a breeze!"
"I'm glad you acknowledge me, at the very least," the halfie bowed her head respectfully to the other.
"Oh! The barrels!" Ayumi suddenly remembered. "Did you happen to come across 4 barrels of sake?"
"Sake? You mean these?" Niigaki motioned to the barrels around them, "I drank like, three and the fourth is being used for my wound."
Ayumi, Riho, and Sayumi all opened their maws in sheer horror.
I never took the great Niigaki Risa for an alcoholic...
"Welp, now we need a change of plans..." Riho slapped her hand to her face and dragged it down.
"Huh...?" Erina raised a brow.
"See, someone hired us to either slay you or take back their alcohol. Seeing as the alcohol is all gone.... that leaves us with slaying you."
"Which is impossible because Niigaki-sama is the almighty," Erina crossed her muscular arms and nodded firmly.
"But... Why do you need to take this quest?" the dragon looked at the others incredulously.
"We need money to get a boat ride to Okinawa, basically," Riho finished.
"Oh..." the dragon and tall human said at the same time.
"Maybe we don't even need to do anything... Just bring proof of the deed, right...?" Riho looked at Ayumi.
Uh oh, Sayumi knew exactly where this was going, knowing Rihoriho's record...
Riho then whispered into the dragon's ear.
Niigaki only had one reply...
Chapter 24: Sayashi Riho
One Hour earlier...
They were getting closer. Riho could feel the sheer tenacity of the other dragon's power just lying dormant. It was definitely strong...
"We must be getting closer, you're getting tenser..." Ayumi uttered under her breath Riho looked at the other and found her looking right back with a worried expression. "Can you figure out what kind of dragon it is?"
"A demon, definitely," Riho's grip on Ayumi tightened, "a very strong one, but somehow familiar..." she loosened her grip, "A storm dragon."
"A storm dragon.... You said your Mama was a storm dragon..." the human looked lost in thought.
"It's not my Mama though, the magic signature is different," Riho looked ahead to find that the scenery was slowly shifting. They were walking along the beach for a while, and finally came across sharp, jagged rocks facing towards them.
"We must be getting close, right?"
"The presence is getting stronger... And I'm noticing that the rain is definitely related to the dragon..."
No wonder it was familiar. The very rain that poured upon them leaked with the dragon's essence. This was not natural rain. This rain was a result of a dragon storm. She had seen Mama do it once. The center of a dragon storm was chaotic. There would be whirlwinds, raging tornados, harsh downpour, and if it was over the sea, then add an extra dosage of whirlpools and maelstroms to the mix.
If that dragon did another storm... Riho and Ayumi would be in a lot of trouble... She already knew just by the aura alone that she would be way out of its league. "We can't fight it, we have to sneak the barrels out."
"I thought so. You're strong, but you can't take on a dragon..."
"Maybe if I transformed, I might stand a chance."
"Yeah but what if they transform?"
Ugh, Ayumi was right. There was no way that Riho would win. As much as she loved to fight a good challenge, she would also like to live too...
Why wasn't the dragon moving towards them? Surely they'd sense Riho's presence by now...?
"I think its sleeping... We should be able to take the barrels no problem..."
"Wouldn't it sense your presence though?" Ayumi looked at her.
"It could... And it will sense humans too..." Riho stroked her imaginary beard. "We need something with a presence so little, it didn't even make an appearance in this chapter yet..."
Chapter 25: Ishida Ayumi
Ayumi winced at the spectacle trailing her.
Riho was carrying a ridiculously huge, ivory fang at least two times her size. Niigaki-sama protested very much at the plan but they all knew it was the only way for them to be left in peace while also allowing Ayumi and Riho passage to Okinawa. Ayumi and Erina closed their eyes and flinched when they heard Niigaki-sama's blood curdling "USOOOOOO" echo throughout the cove when Riho pulled out her fang.
Many eyes were upon them when they walked closer to the gates of the port town. Many hushed whispers of the fang-carrying demon behind her reached Ayumi's ears but she paid them no attention.
"Halt! How dare you allow that thing to come near us!" the armor clad gate keepers called out, but she could see them shaking behind their masked helmets.
"I believe I have a right to enter the town if I singlehandedly took down a storm dragon," Ayumi crossed her arms and stood up straight and tall.
The other guardsmen whispered among themselves again.
"A S-Storm dragon?!" One of the guards stammered, "How do we know!?"
"Would you like to inspect the fang?" Ayumi turned around and raised a hand toward the tooth. Just as they rehearsed, Riho pressed her palm against the back of the fang and out of thin air, a thin spiral of water began forming towards Ayumi. It was as if a watery spiral was being beckoned at her call and she fought hard not to laugh as the jet climbed onto her arm and left tickling sensations all over.
"See? Water comes out of this fang when you activate its aura." She turned around and crossed her arms once more; the water that was reaching for her fell into the ground.
Everyone immediately backed away from her, terrified of her (false) strength.
"Even if you s-say so...We can't allow the d-demon to e-enter..."
"The demon is my servant." She heard a slight hiss behind her. "My honorable warrior," She corrected.
"Are you suggesting that despite me doing the honor of slaying a dragon and in turn protecting this town, I am not allowed to enter on account of a demon I subjugated with my very own power?" Ayumi asked pointedly, and the surrounding air began to heat up considerably (at Riho's beckoning, again).
"You should let her in!" one citizen called out.
"Yeah, let the Dragon Slayer come in!"
"She is the Dragon Slayer who saved us from impending doom!"
Soon, calls of "dragon slayer" rang throughout the air. Ayumi felt flustered at the attention she was receiving, but she looked around and saw everyone so incredibly supportive of her that she decided not to correct them.
The guards looked at each other, and then at the crowd, and then back at each other. With a sigh of defeat, they motioned for Ayumi to come forth.
"What is the purpose of your visit?"
"To collect a bounty and then take the ferry to Okinawa."
The guards stood back and discussed what to do. Ayumi and Riho stood by idly in wait, listening to the hushed townsfolks' conversation.
One guard finally responded: "One of our guards will accompany you the entire time you two are in town. Any funny business and you will be out."
"Fine by me!" Ayumi crossed her arms.
"But who will even dare want to watch terrifying people like them...?" a guard wondered aloud. "It feels unlucky to even have a demon in our town..."
Everyone besides Riho and Michishige-san jumped high in the air.
Out of nowhere was a woman dressed head-to-toe in all white, with her oddly white bamboo hat strung over her arm and a naginata in the other.
"S-s-s-s-s-SACHI USUE!!" One of the guards shrieked.
That lady scared the living daylights out of Ayumi! Why in the world was she wearing all white?! What was this, a funeral ceremony!? The only thing that wasn't white was her prim and proper jet black hair tied in a loose tail in the back.
"I will gladly usher you to the other side," the pale lady said monotonously, waving her hand as if beckoning.
"Where's your sister...?" One of the guards asked hesitantly.
Ayumi felt a cold hand touch her shoulder.
"Allow me, Sachi Usuko, to escort you."
The twin tailed girl felt goosebumps rise from the bottom of her feet to the very tip of her head.
"Y-Y-Y-YES!" Ayumi nearly screamed at the top of her lungs. The Sachi sisters looked remarkably similar if it weren't for the fact one had a fringe and the other did not. Usuko lowered her hand, leaving a ghostly trail of cold along Ayumi's back. She couldn't help but shiver again.
She looked back towards Riho, trying with every might to plead help with her eyes. However, the cat merely raised a brow and smirked, clearly entertained by the whole spectacle. Perhaps Michishige-san could help? She looked down at Michishige-san at Riho's feet, but found an equally entertained visage on the bunny.
I want to hit them... Ayumi gritted her teeth in a strained smile. "Shall we be on our way?"
The two sister guards merely looked onwards, not saying a word. The fringed one in particular looked incredibly lost in space.
I... want to hit them too...
Ayumi led the party through the gates, expecting to find the man with the umbrella right away but instead, she was met with a thousand gazes.
The sight must have been pretty amazing to the residents. A tiny woman leading a pack consisting of two possible ghosts, a cat holding a larger than life dragon fang, and petite white bunny. She felt ridiculously uncomfortable but marched onwards.
...Only she didn't even know where she was going. She attempted to go near the stalls where she had met the man but he wasn't around. The fishmonger was, however.
"I'm not her," Ayumi waved her hand dismissively.
"Join us on the other side..." One of the sisters said nearly hauntingly, which mortified Ayumi.
Thankfully, the old man didn't hear her and they kept walking.
After further looking, it suddenly hit her. After setting her eyes around stalls focusing on vegetable sales, she saw the inn that the man had pointed out for her. That was the one he said he and his men would be at!
"It's this way," she said stiffly, despite the excitement of finally having a goal within reach.
Once she was at the front of the inn, she let out a deep breath and waltzed through the doorway.
The chattering within the inn instantly came to a stop once Ayumi stepped in. She surveyed the area for the man she was looking for and there he was, slackjawed and reed falling out of his mouth.
"You." She pointed at the man, ordering him to step forward. She had to admit, she really enjoyed the power this 'Dragon Slayer' name gave her. "Keep the fang as a gift. May I have that reward?"
Riho set the fang down and it dropped right into the floor, cracking the wood and even lifting a plank or two up.
"Yes, yes," the man reached into his sleeve to pull out the pouch. Ayumi took it from him and double checked, making sure that they were all real. "And this is enough to pay for the ferry to Okinawa? Two tickets?"
Ayumi looked at the man head to toe.
"That umbrella is quite nice."
"I-Indeed! Had it custom made at the capital!"
Ayumi looked back at Riho and Michishige-san, the latter who was shaking its head ferociously within Riho's arms.
Ah yes, things like this were the stepping stones to a path of villainy. Ayumi better step out of it while she knew what she was doing. "It's really nice. I like the spirals on it. But thank you very much," she bowed to the man and walked away, "I wish you happiness on your future endeavors."
Outside the inn, Usue commented, "What a shame. You could have swindled him out of everything you had if you wanted to."
Ayumi paused in reply. Were they testing her? "I'm not that kind of person," she simply said.
"Really? A shame," Usuko said like a whisper into the air, "if you were, you would have enjoyed a meal with our parents."
Ayumi was glad she second guessed herself.
"Would you like to do us the honor of leading us to the ferry now?" Riho asked, impatient. She tapped her knuckles lightly on Ayumi's back.
"Such uncouth behavior in front of your master," one sister placed a hand on Riho's shoulder.
"That behavior invites crossing to the other side," the other sister placed her hand on the opposite shoulder of Riho.
Ayumi wanted to burst out laughing at Riho's squirming expression. Served her right for that sass earlier!
The sisters managed to shut Riho up for the remainder of the walk.
The town wasn't as big as the orphan thought it would be. But then again, pier towns were known for other things.
They were getting a lot closer to the docks. She saw tall masts peeking in between alleys and buildings. Half of her was really excited for Okinawa, but the other half dreaded it as much because it would be a journey by ship. The last time she was on a ship, she fell overboard and she thought she was going to join her parents in their grave if it weren't for Duu saving her at the time.
She felt herself tense up. How was everyone doing right now? They were headed in the right direction, right?
"Sayashi-san. Are their scents still here?"
"Their scents are getting stronger in the direction we're going. If we're lucky, they might even still be on this port. The scents are incredibly strong."
"THEY HAVE TO BE HERE!" Ayumi bolted ahead, only to find herself stopped by the crossing of the sisters' naginata in front of her. "What gives?!"
"We have to watch you."
"Honestly, you don't have to watch out for me, it's the demon you're watching, right?"
The sisters looked at each other. "We still have to watch you..."
Ayumi looked back at Riho and stuck out her tongue before bolting ahead.
They have to still be here... They have to be...
The town became a blur. She was only running faster and faster. She better had not miss them or else she'd be devastated. As soon as she reached the docks, her eyes became like that of a hawk's.
Someone tall and lanky like Haruna...
Or tall and wolfish in demeanor like Duu...
She saw people looking very similar but it wasn't those two.
"Excuse me sir!" she called the attention of the one of the dock workers, "Have you seen really skinny girl with really long hair?"
"I dunno, that description applies to an awful lot of girls who come by here..." the worker wiped his brow before hammering away at a nail.
"Her face looks like this?" she placed the palms of her hands at the side of her face and pushed her cheeks together, moving her eyes a little more closer to the center. "But with ridiculously long hair that isn't tied up or anything?"
"Well if you put it that way... Maybe I have..."
"And with her, another girl but with short wild hair?"
"Oh, yes, definitely here," the man stood up, "If you come with me, I can take you to where they are."
Ayumi nearly seized the opportunity that hope gave her, but she stopped. "The tall one had multiple moles on her face, right?" That was a lie. If the man confirmed it, he had ulterior motives.
"Yes, we should hurry though, " the man placed a hand on her shoulder, but she backed away.
"It's okay, I actually see them," she clapped her hands together in an apologetic expression before running off.
I can't trust anyone... It would be too easy to be kidnapped around these parts. Just be gullible and off to a slave ship you'd be...
What if they... Ayumi's fears began to consume her again.
"You get depressed too easily," and with that, she felt someone pinch her sides.
"S-Sayashi-san!" Ayumi jumped in the air. Without thinking, she just wrapped her arms around the other girl, hugging her as tight as she could.
"O-oi..." the halfie went stiff, unsure what to do.
"Shh, just let me stay like this a while longer..." Ayumi closed her eyes and rested her head against Riho's. For someone who hated contact, she didn't pull away...
"...You're crushing Meat."
Ayumi looked down to find Michishige-san still in the arms of Riho, or well, just her mouth peeking between the folds of their clothes.
"S-sorry!" she backed off a little bit to let the bunny breathe. She took a quick glance at Riho, who looked just as flustered as she was. She then looked away, biting her lip in silence.
"Their scents are very strong here, I'm sure we could catch up to them pretty soon." Riho looked off to the distant sea.
"Yeah but how do we know where each ship goes?"
"All of them go to Okinawa," Usue smiled faintly.
"....Thank you for that input," Ayumi forgot they were around. Then again, they were the only ones dressed in completely all white.
"So do we just board any one?" Riho asked, eyeing each ship.
"If you want to leave as soon as possible, I would recommend that one," Usuko pointed at a rather shabby ship nearby.
"Yes, that one," Usue added, also pointing, "It will take you..." a pause, "To the other side..."
"Was that pause necessary?" Ayumi narrowed her eyes. As much as she appreciated their help, they were just plain creepy. At least they weren't accompanying them all the way to Okinawa...
Though the ship they pointed out was rather worse for wear. "Are you sure?" Ayumi asked. It looked like the sailors were repairing parts of the ship which seemed to have taken a large beating from the storm.
"It has always...taken people to the other side," Usuko added a strange emphasis to the always, much to Ayumi's confusion.
"I'd rather try the ship without any holes in it," Riho casually pointed at one of the healthier-looking ships, whose crew looked especially strong. Ayumi looked down and Michishige-san to find that the bunny had no opinion to offer. She simply crinkled her nose and used her paws to brush her head.
"Do you think they might still be on either of these ships? Since you said their scents were extremely strong."
"Hard to say," Riho took a deep breath, "their scents are really strong though...It's almost like..."
At the call of her name, Ayumi snapped her head to the source. That voice...
"Know your place!" an angry voice shouted before a strong clanking of chains.
Duu. Duu was here.
"DUU!" Ayumi rushed forward.
"Hands off!" a guard shoved Ayumi backwards with the back of his elbow. Ayumi was about to let them know a piece of her mind. Duu was here. She was handcuffed and chained to the oth--
"HARUNA!" Ayumi cried out.
The tall lanky girl didn't say a word, but her eyes lit up like the sun at Ayumi's call.
Her friends! They were still here!
Where was Maachan?!
Chapter 26: Konno Asami
She couldn't believe it. She was the chief's granddaughter; smartest in the village, strongest defender, best archer, second best healer...
And she was lost. Lost!
She could have determined her precise location using shadows, the trees, the sky, and maybe even the way the stream was flowing but for some unfathomable reason, she was still lost.
Perhaps using physical phenomena was not the best way about it. She could still utilize the art of deduction, but clearly of a different category.
She reached into the deepest crevices of her mind, pulling all the knowledge she had studied from her grandfather and his peers. Scanning through like-words and situations, she suddenly deduced it all.
Unnatually recurring landmark instances? Check.
Sounds set on a timed loop? Check.
The absence of movement from clouds? Check.
All of these observations pointed to only one conclusion...
Perhaps she was trapped in a maze spell? She pulled a branch with her and stripped its leaves off, absentmindedly drawing calculations into the dirt below her.
Now she had to deduce why she was trapped in a maze in the first place. Was it because she was scouting the woodlands beyond her village? She was studying the steam and its properties and perhaps she wandered into a demon's territory? The use of a maze spell was either to protect something in it... Or trap something in it...
There, her calculations were complette. When she stood up, she found that she was surrounded by her calculations. Rows and rows of formulas and written laws stretched beyond her feet. Ever since she was taught the beauty of written logic, they were her metaphorical footprints wherever she walked.
"So..." she took in the scene before her with far more scrutiny than normal. "The point of spell origination..." she walked further along the stream and looked for certain points based on criteria. During her search, she heard a rustle behind her. Soon, it was followed by a rather estranged growl. However, she did not pay attention to insignificant things and ignored it.
She heard talking, but she still elected to ignore it because she was so close.
With her index finger and middle finger pressed close together, she jabbed at a certain spot in the water. The air around that point rippled and all pretense of illusion shattered. In an instant, the area around her fell apart and dissipated into nothingness. Satisfied, she stood up and turned around...
...Only to be eye to eye with a large feline demon.
An alarmingly huge gold colored tiger stood before her. Two dark stripes adorned its flared out cheeks. Its ears pressed flat against its skull. It was as huge as a bear, if not bigger! Huge claws bigger than the size of her head were set firmly on the ground. A long black striped tail curled upwards like a scorpion's stinger.
Strange, why did this tiger lack a majority of its stripes? Other than the ones that marked its face, hips, and tail, there were no other stripes to be seen. When she stared at its ears, she found that they weren't round and instead, pointed.
"You're a mixed breed demon," Asami commented, astonished. The demon looked at her, confused at the unexpected reaction. The human stepped back and made gestures framing the being in front of her. "You certainly have the frame of a tiger, yet your patterns are dominated by the other genes inside of you. You lack the rounded ears of a tiger, so perhaps you're a domestic cat."
The demon opened its mouth to say something, but appeared to hold itself back. Stunned, the demon simply sat down on its hind legs, staring down at the human with widened pupils.
"............Hello." Near the half-breed's feet, a weasel appeared.
"What a low voice!" Asami bent over, surprised. She looked around and found that there was a freshly mauled creature. Was it that creature's death cry she heard earlier? No matter, it was not important. "Are you two traveling?"
Asami looked up at the cat from her position, seeing it sit regally and chest puffed out, though its face was staring elsewhere.
"Do you speak?" the archer stood up, straightening so that her face looked directly at the demon. When the demon looked away again, Asami followed.
"What is your problem!?" the demon jumped back and assumed a prowling stance, its voice shaking Asami to her very core. How powerful! She could have sworn that strong, low voice sent shivers down her spine.
"Why didn't you run away or attack or what!?"
"If you had any intent to kill me, you would have already done so. Instead, you killed the demon who caused the maze spell and then discussed how lost you were and wondering if I had found the point of origination."
Despite her zeroing in on one objective, anything and everything was still registered in her brain. Her parents called it a gift from the heavens that they were blessed with such a capable daughter. She walked closer to the bigger demon.
"Where are you planning to go?"
The demon didn't say anything.
"Too prideful?" Though as she said this, the demon bent down to sniff at her head. Something must have pinged its interest as the demon's eyes widened in surprise.
"You..." the demon now began to sniff all over her, "It's barely there, but you smell like the Cerulean Typhoon..."
That's why the demon was sniffing at her?
"Oh, that's because my great grandfather has met the Typhoon."
The demon lunged at her, tossing her into the air. Asami found herself on its back in a daze, confounded by what had just happened.
"TAKE ME TO HIM. NOW."
If the voice earlier was a roar, than this one simply shook the air around them! The weasel jumped onto the cat's neck and held on tight.
"Go straight ahead..." the archer began. She squeaked and fell forward as the demon broke into a run, grabbing at its golden fur.
Konno Asami was a veteran horseback rider, but this was a completely different experience altogether! The ride was definitely bumpy and if she loosened her grip at any moment, she was sure that she would have been thrown off! She wasn't even sure if her directions were clear half the time either! Verbal cues weren't doing it (the demon would sometimes go right when she said left) so instead, she opted to just tug the demon's fur in the preferred direction as needed.
She was curious about the story behind this demon, for it wasn't often that she would come across a demon who could reason with humans. As village head, her grandfather ground into every villager the fact that demons and humans were not black and white, that there were good demons and bad ones just like how there were good people and bad people. Clearly this one filtered under the good category.
Before she knew it, they reached the village gates. She didn't even have to tell the demon how to get to the main house either. The demon followed its nose the rest of the way. It wouldn't be too long now.
"Konkon?!" she heard a familiar voice.
"Ah, Makochin, hello!" she lslid off the demon's back and waved at her friend standing in a rice paddy. Seemed that she was working hard at harvesting.
"Hello!?" Ogawa Makoto replied, "You're riding a cat demon!?"
"Yes, demon-san wishes to speak with my grandfather," she said as if it was a casual day and was talking about the weather.
"Oh... Well be on your way then."
The cat looked back and forth between the girls. "Is this... normal?"
"Demons in the village? More or less. My grandfather is a pretty open person."
The demon paused for a moment longer, as if thinking. After a bit, it started running towards the house again.
Soon, it came into view. Not a fancy place by any means, but it was something her grandfather worked hard on building all by himself when he was younger. When they finally arrived, she found her grandfather sitting at the steps in front of the house, enjoying a cup of tea.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit today, demon?" His voice was smooth and deep, years of experience clearly shown in his voice.
"You've met her," the demon simply said. "Where is she?"
"Who are we speaking of?"
"The Cerulean Typhoon."
"Ah... her..." Grandfather leaned his head backwards, reminiscencing. "Why do you wish to know?"
"That's none of your business, human," its deep voice reverbrated throughout the air.
"Perhaps as an act of good faith, you should revert to your human form?" Grandfather looked back down at the demon, smiling.
"And if I refuse?"
"I won't be able to show you if you're in that form. You wouldn't be able to fit inside," Grandfather laughed.
Afte a puase, the demon complied. Sand colored fur became paler and faded into a more humanoid shape. It got smaller and smaller and...
"THE CORRECT TERM IS VERTICALLY CHALLENGED!" a bronze haired girl shoute. Amazing, that deep voice was replaced with a high piercing one. Such a vivid contrast from her other form. Her outfit matched the wild nature of her demon form. She was fond of tiger-like striped patterns, though Asami found it unsettling that a tiger demon would wear tiger furs...
"Who are you?" her Grandfather asked.
"Tanaka Reina," the cat answered, ears twitching. "You might've heard of the Golden Cat of Hell, yes?"
"Ah... Yes..." her grandfather stood up, stroking his white beard. "Follow me, Tanaka Reina."
"That's Tanaka-san to you."
Chapter 27: Ishida Ayumi
"THEY DID WHAT?! WHY'D THEY TAKE MAACHAN!?"
"She claimed she was a queen and they took her north!" Haruna replied, almost as exasperated. "And I don't know why'd they do that?!"
"Why didn't you stop her!?"
"We tried!" Duu raised her cuffed hands in the air, dragging Haruna and another person into her. She quickly apologized to the girl behind her and returned her attention to Ayumi, "you KNOW how Maachan is!"
Why was Masaki always like that? She felt her worries explode tenfold.. She was hoping to find all of them, not just two! She looked at the nearest slaver and trudged towards him.
"I want these two!" she pointed toward her friends.
"They're not for sale."
"What do you mean they're not for sale?!" Ayumi nearly shouted at the top of her lungs.
"A lord in Okinawa already paid for them. They belong to him now," the slaver said gruffly, shoving Ayumi aside.
"If they're slaves, I can buy them back, can't I!?"
"You'll have to take that with their buyer. I do not have ownership of these girls anymore."
"But we've got money. Lots of money," Riho piped up, "Surely you would go for a better deal, right?"
"Two girls for your paltry amount of money?! HA!" the slaver spat at the half demon's feet. Riho felt a twinge along her crossed arms, claws scratching along skin. She was trying so hard not to attack the man or else violate their terms of entry.
Just then, someone sounded the order to haul all cargo (and slaves) onboard.
"Hold on! I'll meet you guys in the ship, we're going with you!" she reassured her friends before taking the commoner's entrance to the ship. When one of the ship's workers made an effort to stop her, she lifted the bag of money and their travel papers in his face. Riho was right on her tail, with Michishige-san in her arms.
Once they were onboard, they made their way towards the deckhead.
Where were they now?! Riho tugged on her hand and she followed. Maneuvering around busy workers, they found themselves descending into the steerage area, where it was darkest and most uncomfortable, and to make things even less humane, the slaves were barricaded behind iron gates!
"Duu! Haruna!" she called out. Some slaves looked their way, others paid no attention, but she saw a few of them move. Soon, her friends wormed their way to the gate and stuck their arms out, giving Ayumi a hug through bars.
"I'll find a way to get you guys back, I swear it!" she held hands with the both of them. "We'll definitely figure out a way to escape..."
"We'll burn our way out if we have to!" Duu replied, to which Riho cut in.
"No, we still need to go to Okinawa regardless, remember? We can't cause trouble now."
"What?" the wolfish haired girl looked at the halfie incredulously, "What's in it for you, demon?"
"I made a promise to her in exchange for her help," Ayumi admitted, running her thumb over Duu's hand. "I mean... I heard Okinawa's nice?"
"Are you serious?!" Duu pulled her hands from the bars, away from Ayumi's touch.
"Duu, stop it. Ayumi's had a tough time," Haruna sighed, pulling one hand out to grab the younger girl's wrist, stopping her from leaving. "Any help would be good though, do either of you have plans?"
"No..." Ayumi frowned. "We'll figure out something though!"
"I already have a bit of something figured out." Haruna then crossed her arms and leaned against the bars, "I overheard that the ide will take a full day. We obviously can't break out wen the boat's all we have at sea, so we should wait until they start unloading to do anything."
"That sounds like a good start," Riho chimed in. "That just means we have the entire day to think about how to do it."
Well that, at least, sounded like a promising start. She couldn't argue with Haruna's sound logic. She could always count on the older girl to know what was best.
Before she could say any more, a sailor forced his way between them. "Don't you be thinking any funny ideas over here, understand?" he said gruffly. "The goods are already paid for, so don't be staking any new claims now," he crossed his arms and puffed his chest out, looking like the epitome of intimidation. Ayumi was about to let out a piece of her mind until Riho dragged her out.
"What is the big idea?!" Ayumi yanked her hand out as Riho was about to climb the step ladder to the deck.
"Did you not hear what I said earlier? We're not here to cause trouble now," Riho whispered as she pulled on Ayumi's wrist again. Michishige-san was perched over the halfie's shoulder with an equally concerned expression. "We don't want to ruin our chances later, got it?"
Ayumi was fuming, but she couldn't deny that Riho and Michishige-san were correct. And to pull a quote from the eldest of their team, going invisible paid off in the long run. She held her breath and pouted as the demon continued to haul her onto the main deck. For now, they just needed to find space to rest.
Perhaps this was a big mistake? The crew was in a complete disarray! Supplies, foodstuffs, weaponry, and everything under the sun was being transported haphazardly. She was constantly spinning in circles in order to avoid being whacked by eant crates flying through the air or tripped up by people rolling a barrel under the deck!
Michishige-san had found her way on the top of Ayumi's head, apparently to stop getting underfoot in all the chaos. Wondering where the other demon was, she looked about. When she couldn't find Riho in either direction, there was only one direction she could have been... When she looked up, Riho somehow managed to laze about and lay relaxed on the sail. Her arms were draped over like a cat on a treebranch.
"Okay how come she gets to relax when we need to be planning?!" Ayumi lifted the demon off her head and stared face to face with large beady black eyes.
The bunny merely crinkled its nose in response.
"Since you're tiny, maybe you should scout out the entire ship! See where the weak points are?"
The bunny vigorously shook its head at the idea.
Ayumi scowled. Michishige-san was good at being invisible! What was there to be afraid of?!
There was a sudden lurching of the ship and Ayumi fell backwards onto the deck, Michishige falling onto her chest as a response. "Whoa!"
"Not got sea legs yet, girl?" one of the passing sailors sneered at the young girl.
"Oh yes I do!" Ayumi immediately stood up, standing tall (as much as she could, anyway) and brushing herself off. Michishige-san sat right on her foot, nearly clinging to her ankle to avoid getting trampled.
"You better keep an eye on that demon pet of your's. You know we'll chuck that thing out the moment it does something suspicious..."
"I'm sure Riho will..." she looked up at the cat again to assure that she was still a badass, but unfortunately, she had clearly fallen off the beam and was dozing away on Mint-kun, who attached a rather fluffy tether to the beam so as to not be left behind where ever the ship goes. "...not cause any trouble. She's harmless," Ayumi finished in disdain.
The sailor merely shrugged and wandered off to do his duties.
Ayumi frowned and attempted to find a place where she wouldn't be a bother. Activity was slowly lessening on deck, though all navigation related quests were out in the open. If she wasn't going to do anything, all the better to sit down somewhere and think of a plan!
She found herself sitting in the corner of the upper deck, back against the guardrails as she watched the busy sailors. "So what do you propose we do?" she looked to her currently furry companion, still resting on her shoulder. "You're old right?" Michishige-san bit her on the neck and Ayumi winced, "I mean, old enough to know how most of these things work. What happens during the whole loading process?"
Michishige-san looked up for a moment, as if remembering.
"It really depends on their labor capacity at the harbor. If they don't have enough for the day, they might enlist the help of the slaves to unload the boat," the bunny whispered just loud enough for Ayumi to hear.
"They probably want the men to do all that though, right?"
"Yes, it's very likely that it's men only. They'd rather the girls stay delicate, but that works to our favor..." Michishige-san trailed off, looking up at the clouds passing by. "We should hope that it does not rain. The buyers will have their heads if anybody gets sick, so they'll be under even greater scrutiny and it will be that much more difficult to get to them..."
"Why do you even know this? Did it happen to you before?"
The bunny remained silent and Ayumi knew she shouldn't ask any further. She was a demon, yes, and she knew of demon slaves existing, but she still didn't know a thing about the bunny.
"So if it was a sunny day, would it be that much easier?"
"Everyone would be too busy unloading everything else. Whoever is the buyer would be waiting at the docks or if we're lucky, will be late. So if we're going to get them out, we need that exact timing when no one's watching. We could leave by Mint-kun."
"Alright, and if it was raining?"
"Give me time to think."
So there was a bit of a plan, that was good. She was still rather curious about the bunny's past but if she didn't want to talk about it, she was not going to push it. She hated being harassed by personal questions too, so she completely understood.
It felt like an eternity in the ocean breeze.
Ayumi must have gotten used to the swaying boat cuz she even heard the sailors muttering between them about how quickly she got accustomed to having "sea legs," or so she heard. The bunny hadn't said anything to her either about any development of plans and that stupid-ass cat demon was being true to its nature, lazing about on the poop deck. She entertained the thought of visiting her friends in the brig again but there were too many sailors underneath the deck that she didn't want to go down alone without Riho or a human Michishige-san.
It left her to dwell.
Where was Maachan?
Poor girl was all alone with greasy guards and she probably couldn't even find a way back since she didn't know how to read or write...
She felt her body become numb. What if they couldn't get to Maachan on time? But worse, what if it started to rain and they wouldn't be able to get to Duu and Haruna on time?
Negative thought after negative thought kept pouring into Ayumi like boiling tea and she felt like she was drowning in dirty dregs, unable to find a way out. The sun was doing nothing to dry her and she felt her heart beating worse and worse.
Michishige-san nuzzled against her ankle, snapping Ayumi out of her reverie.
"It'll be okay, the day isn't over yet," She stood up on her hind legs with her front paws pushing against her shins, kneading at her.
"Thanks," was all the girl could muster.
Boredom struck furiously after. Ayumi thought of taking a well deserved nap but she'd rather not when there were so many people and Riho wasn't with her. She felt her eyes get heavier and heavier. The steady rocking of the boat only served to lull her further into the throes of sleep.
Michishige-san nudged at her ankles again. She had another plan, but Ayumi was meandering in and out of consciousness, barely paying any attention at all.
When she woke up, it was nightfall and she was surrounded in darkness. The only source of light were the lanterns scattered around the deck. She had been resting in a hammock and even had a blanket to top! She looked over and found that her things were neatly collected and wedged between nooks.
"Look who's up!" a familiar sailor bellowed. Ugh, Ayumi couldn't deal with that man again. His features were seriously overshadowed by his ridiculous sideburns and a rather gigantic mole. To add to his scruffyness, he was also showing off pronounced muscle and had a lengthy cloth around his neck.
"Your pet brought you down here when she found you dozing off," the man said, munching at dried squid. "Can't believe you seriously tamed that thing. All the demons I ever knew tried to eat me."
"I guess it depends on where you look..." to be honest, Riho was truly one of the only nice demons she ever met. She knew her previous encounters would more or less be the same as the sailor's.
"Hate 'em all. One fishmonger lost his wife to them recently. You actually kind of look like her, actually," the burly man waved his snack at the other. Come to think of it, that situation did sound familiar...
"By chance is her name Hotaru?"
The man jumped up. "How'd you know?!"
"I... might have met that fishmonger earlier in the day."
"Ahhhhh," the sailor nodded vigorously to himself. "Yeah, I used to fish for him all the time, I still do, but I got contracted to help out with transporting this time here so here I am."
"Why are you so nice to me?" he was clearly harassing her earlier, what changed his mind?
"You're around my youngest's age. I have three daughters, Sujiko, Tarako, and Kazunoko," He counted off his fingers, "they're all really silly girls but I wish the best for them," he sat back, relaxed.
If only the rest of humanity was like this man. Just living their day, always doing their work diligently... She felt envious of his seemingly routine lifestyle. At least his family was still intact too...
She needed to rescue her friends and on top of that, she still had Maachan to look for...
"Excuse me..." Ayumi said as she hopped off the hammock. She bowed a little to the sailor before running back on deck.
All was calm. The boat was quietly gliding through the blue sea. She automatically looked up, hoping to find Riho but oddly enough, she wasn't in the air. She looked towards the back of the boat and she wasn't there either. That only left the bow of the ship.
Staying close to the center, she navigated her way around sleepy sailors and obstacles to find Riho looking pensive, leaning over the wooden railing. Michishige-san was also next to Riho's feet, looking out towards the sea.
Without a word, Ayumi leaned her elbows against the railing, taking in the sight ahead.
The stars were gorgeous tonight. Like white ink painted upon a canvas of black. The moon was just as handsome tonight, lighting everything in a tone of silver and blue. Part of why blue was her favorite color was due to its cool, yet calming effect. She may have been frantic earlier, but right now she felt like she could drift away in an ocean of calm.
"Thank you," Ayumi simply said. Riho threw a glance towards her.
"For everything," she finished. She felt Michishige-san nuzzling against her feet and she bent over to pick her up. "You too!" the bunny batted her eyelashes at the other in return. She brought the elder demon to her chest and they all continued looking towards the sea.
"I mean it," Ayumi turned to look at the taller girl, staring right into those golden eyes of her's. "Thanks for dealing with me."
"Right back at you," was all Riho said quietly as she returned her gaze to the sea. Seeing that one hand was free, Ayumi grabbed it and was glad the halfie didn't pull away. Instead, she leaned closer to the other and rested her head on her shoulder.
Not much else was said.
However, Riho pulled away and sniffed at the air.
"What's wrong?" Ayumi inquired, following Riho towards the side of the boat.
She looked over to find people climbing up the side...
Ayumi stumbled backwards as a projectile nearly caught her in the face! Being discovered, one pirate let loose a bright red flare into the sky, painting the night sky a blood red. Riho snapped her head to a different direction and hissed vehemently. On the other side of the ship, they could see the fastly growing silhouette of another ship's crow's nest.
"PIRATES!" another crew member onboard shouted. Like moles, everyone began popping out of every oriface of the ship, armed and ready for combat.
Where was her naginata?! As she dodged fights and encounters erupting on board, she managed to find herself nearly tumbling below deck. However, a pirate managed to get a hold of her naginata.
"Are you serious?!" Ayumi said exasperatedly as she watched the pirate treat the naginata like a club. The dang idiot wasn't even using it correctly! Enraged, she trudged up to the pirate, dodging flying objects and flailing bodies as she did, and grabbed at it. Both fought for control of the naginata but not for very long as Ayumi had the lower center of gravity. She pulled herself backwards and forced the other into a roll and she kicked the man away from her naginata with legs of power.
Success! She began to help fend the pirates off when she heard a deafening roar of a cannon. Out of panic, she ran up to deck to find that the pirate ship managed to catch up to their ship! As she fought off other pirates, she looked all over for Riho and Michishige-san. The bunny was nowhere to be found but she found Riho squaring off with three pirates at once. The sound of more cannons went off and Ayumi rolled out of the way, hopefully dodging whatever debris was flying everywhere. Someone grabbedher by the scruff of her top and she elbowed her captor, only to find it was...
"OH GODS, DUU I'M SO SORRY!"
Duu flung back upwards, fixing up her nose, "N-no problem..." She had somehow gotten her hands on a sword. "Cannon tore open the brig and gate. I don't see the ship staying afloat any longer..." Duu added, seeing Ayumi's confusion.
There was a loud crack! in the air and orange reflected off of Duu's face. Ayumi turned around to find that the ship's helm was on fire!
"Where's Haruna?!" Ayumi turned to look at Duu but the decking beneath her gave way and all of a sudden, she found heself tossed furthe away!
She tried to get up but she was too weak and her ears were ringing badly. Duu was nearby but she managed to get up again. "Duu!" she called out, though didn't hear herself doing so. She opted for reaching a weak arm out instead, screaming Duu again and again but if she wasn't hearing herself, what made her think Duu could? The taller managed to get within distance but she was yanked back by a pirate.
Eventually the ringing in her ears faded, with the sound of clanging blades and yelling and shouting returned to her. Ayumi found Riho squaring off against one particularly burly pirate near the destroyed stairs to the upper part of the ship. "RIHO!" Ayumi called out, and in that moment, Riho looked over.
The pirate kicked Riho backwards, and out of Riho's chest came the splintered end of the stair railing.
Riho looked down, blood dripping down her lips.
The pirate swung down at her and Riho twisted, pulling the piece of railing with her, and dodged the hit. Riho staggered clumsily though, breathing heavily with the huge piece of debris stuck in her chest. Ayumi cried out but nothing could escape her throat. The splintered piece ad lodged itself through Riho's body, where she could see it past the demon's back. This couldn't be happening...
Surged up with adrenaline, Ayumi got up, picked up her naginata, and rammed the pirate straight from the back, pushing him straight into the waters below. She turned to look back at Riho, who was also dangerously teetering close to the edge of the ship.
The demon let out an apologetic smile as she staggered back further and further. Ayumi ran for her but it was too late.
It was like slow motion as she was running.
Time skidded to a halt and the only thing moving was Riho falling.
Her legs weren't fast enough as she watched Riho disappear over to the other side.
When she got to the side of the ship, she peered over and grabbed onto a piece of hanging rope, careful not to fall off.
She saw the resulting splash of Riho's fall and Ayumi wanted to cry. She found that pirate she took down earlier too, naginata still lodged in his chest and floating among the debris below.
That was that.
No more Riho.
She was gone.
All it took was a moment's notice to disappear out of Ayumi's sight.
Riho was gone.
She turned around to see Duu fending off more people. There was nothing in he mind now, only just instinct to rush over to her friend's aid. Along the way, she picked up fallen swords in each hand and joined the fray.
Nothing was in her mind now. Her veins pumped with rage. Rage at what, though? Rage at that moronic demon to, of all things, get itself hurt by the dumbest of methods ever.. Rage that she lost someone she was only just starting to be friends with? Rage that she was powerless to stop Riho from getting killed?
Were those tears wetting her face? Maybe, but everything got darker and darker in her vision. She felt herself become drenched now.
It was raining. Raining buckets as winds howled around her...
Whether it was coincidence or all of Ayumi's fears manifesting through the weather, she didn't care. If fate wanted to listen to her, why didn't it ensure that Riho would be alive, fighting with her?
She grew fatigued.
Everything began to feel hopeless. The arms swinging the swords were so slow now. She had to call up all of her strength to block blows now. Block. Rest. Block. Attack. Block. Rest.
Why were there so many pirates now? She wearily looked over to find that a second ship had come upon them.
What was even going on anymore?
Duu was looking just as bad as she was, and even she had taken to dual wielding like her.
The storm of wrath only grew stronger.
The ship began lurching back and forth and Ayumi struggled to stay on her feet. There were too many things on the deck and bodies to trip over. Duu managed to pull her back on her feet only to have both of them sent flying again with a sideways lunge. Ayumi would have nearly fallen off of the boat if it weren't for the railing still intact. Too weak to back up, she looked into the waters below.
A maelstrom was developing beneath them, neither distinguishing between friend nor foe, dragging their wreck of a ship and the pirates towards it. Lightning crackled towards its center and Ayumi clung as tight as she could to the railing. She felt a strong thud against her back and she looked, only to find that it was Duu just getting up.
There was another crack of lightning and Ayumi saw something white flash upwards from the water. Following it was the most bloodcurdling roar she had ever heard. She was chilled to the bone thanks to the rain but she felt a force of heat radiating from the center of the storm.
There was a snake, no, a white dragon suspended in the air, illuminated by the constant lightning. Its long black horns nearly curled towards the back, unlike Niigaki-sama's straightforward horns. There was a long snout met up with bright glowing cerulean gaze and pointed cat-like ears beneath its horns.
Weak and weary, Ayumi fell backwards, hitting her head hard off of the cold, drenched deck.
And with that, her world went black.
Chapter 28: Michishige Sayumi
Michishige Sayumi was not someone who courted danger. No ma'am - in the face of danger, she'd run the other way! Unfortunately for her, they were smack dab in the middle of the sea with not a dry patch of land in sight and all the confidence she had in being invisible went from a hundred to zero in a heart beat. If she had transformed to heal the sailors, that would put her at way too much risk of dying again. If she had ventured on deck, she would surely be trampled and die a bunny's death.
Having already experienced death quite painfully, she would most certainly do her best to not relive the experience with arrows exchanged for feet! It was sheer luck that she'd gotten a second chance at life, but she didn't want to tempt fate again.
Their ship wouldn't last much longer, with the shelling that it was receiving from cannon fire. She was sure they wouldn't have much time before the ship gave way.
She did know a spell that would allow her to breathe underwater but she had spent so much time perfecting the art of autotune that she wasn't sure if she could handle adjusting her magical pitches to extend the spell to someone other than herself. She would have Reina for that in the past but Reina wasn't here and the only person with decent magic was Riho, but that girl was fighting above deck where all the danger was!
Maybe she had died for a noble cause, but that part of her disappeared with the 50 years of demonhood she had attained. She might have been braver as a human, but when one was an unbirthed demon with disposition amplified to the nth power, she would very much like to cling to her life!
That said, staying put would do absolutely no good at all. Staying still meant being a potential target of cannon fire and she wouldn't have that! She peaked out between the barrels she was hiding behind and saw a group of slaves huddled in a corner, frightened. That's right, she was in the brig... She noticed a familiar face among them, one of Ayumi's friends?
Fortunately, the fighting on the deck hadn't made its way down here yet... and she'd rather keep it that way too. She sat down on her hind legs and began to utter a spell. She hadn't sensed another demonic presence other than Riho so that they were dealing with an all-human enemy. Her barrier spells were perfect at deterring and reflecting people away. She had used it before when they were nearly run down by the insanely fearsome four horsemen entities.
Just when she had the spell ready to go, she felt Riho's presence disappear and heard Ayumi's scream.
She snapped her head to the direction of the other, only to find Riho's presence getting weaker and weaker.
Oh gods no no no no...
She had failed again hadn't she.
She was supposed to watch over Reina's daughter.
No no no no...
She ran up to an upper deck and found a freshly blown hole in the wall and she looked over.
Although she couldn't see her, she could sense that Riho had been badly injured and was sinking further and further into the sea.
Sayumi backed up slowly.
The bunny went over to the passenger cabins, taking care not to get stepped on along the way. Luckily enough for her, the doorway was completely shattered and blocked, but there was an opening small enough for her to squeeze in. She went through and found Ayumi's pack. Seeing as she was the only soul in the cabin, she transformed back and quickly threw on her priestess garb.
While she could still use magic as a bunny, the more complicated spells required a human form. The only offensive spell she knew wasn't even offensive as it was more of a basic skill that allowed one to simply push things backwards. With all the concentration in her hands, she stuck her index finger and middle fingers out and thrust at the air. A pink aura pushed out and shoved the wreckage in front of her, but it wasn't enough to budge completely.
Blowing her bangs out of her face, she vied for a stronger thrust. Again, no progress other than a slightly stronger jostle. This wasn't good. Sayumi felt a very strong demonic presence getting stronger and stronger and she definitely did NOT want to be in this room when things went down.
She planted her feet firmly on the ground, taking on a very unladylike pose with her legs spread so wide. Breathing in and out, she inhaled and put her all into the thrust!
With the planks above her cracking apart, a man fell from the ceiling next to her and scared all the blood out of her! Well, so much for blowing the door away! Someone very conveniently did the work for her. Sayumi squealed as the ceiling caved in along with him, though not enough to reach her end of the room. She looked up at the hole in the ceiling, the sounds of fighting and thunder rumbling overhead.
Although she meant to get out through other means, this way was okay too. She prayed she remembered how to do a jumping spell now. Despite being a bunny demon, she could barely keep up with her demon physically and would have made a very pitiful one meter hop in human form.
Climbing was out of the question too, so she started dragging everything she could find around here towards the hole, forming a makeshift mound of humans and supplies. Once tall enough, she cautiously made her way to the top and hopped.
She managed to get her upper body out onto the deck, but she was knocked over by people stepping all over her arms during their fights.
"Are you serious?!" Sayumi cursed at the men before trying again.
Once she reached the top deck, she looked around, and...
A white dragon was suspended in air menacingly, curled up in mid air with its teeth bared and claws all flared out. There wasn't the shine of a scaled coat... The dragonskin didn't catch any of the lightning's light very strongly...
Fur? the demon thought to herself. Suddenly, she recognized that magical signature.
Of course Reina's kid could survive. She was Reina's kid after all. And being the Typhoon's daughter, obviously her chances of survival well surpassed any mere human or even the best of demons
Though she had to say... Riho's true form was astoundingly impressive. Who knew a cat and a dragon would produce a fearsome offspring that was as long as 16 men!
Riho surged forward, becoming a white blur and crashed into the pirate ship. When Sayumi thought she had disappeared, the dragon appeared just outside another section of the ship, barreling through everything.
She's weaving in and out of the ships... She's trying to sink them all...!
Welp, so much for trying to stay afloat somewhere if all Riho was doing was causing mayhem and destruction. Sayumi had to find Ayumi now. That cat dragon was more than capable of taking care of herself (especially in that form) so now she needed to find the one girl who didn't know how to swim. She made he way out of the hole, grabbing hold of a stray rope and pulling herself up, she looked around.
Too many bodies on the floor... Now Sayumi got worried again. Riho was fine, yes, but hopefully Ayumi hadn't gotten hurt. She looked around the bodies, trying to find the human girl. Her heart quickened when she spotted Ayumi lying on the deck near the edge of the boat.
She darted over and was sent flying as Riho suddenly appeared up next to her, having crashed in from the floor and then spiraling into another pirate ship nearby.
Resolving to get this done quicker, Sayumi threw herself in Ayumi's direction, landing with feet on either side of her and hand on the railing.
She called out the girl's name but to no avail. She placed her hand on Ayumi's chest, sensing for heartbeat and found it, though very faint.
She's passed out....
Sayumi could fix that.
It was all in the head, so she lowered herself and brushed Ayumi's bangs up and kissed her on the forehead. She could feel Ayumi's life force stabilize the longer she kept her lips there. She lifted the short girl by her arm-pits and prayed to the gods that she'd wake up eventually to find a way out of here.
Unfortunately, it was hard to escape when one was in the middle of a raging whirlpool storm with a psychotic dragon rampaging out of control. The ex-priestess did her best to carry Ayumi by an arm around her shoulder and looked around. Honestly the only way to survive was to get into the water, find some debris to grab on, and pray for the best while that dragon calmed down. Uttering a waterbreathing spell which hopefully was enough for the two of them, Sayumi jumped off the ship, Ayumi in tow.
The water was painfully cold. It felt like needles prickling her body all over and Sayumi began to breathe heavily. This was too much like the way she had died before. Anxiety flowed through her veins and she felt her heart beating faster and faster.
Then she realized she was no longer holding onto Ayumi.
That little dragon... in Riho's fury, the dragon was stirring all sorts of underwater currents that separated Ayumi from her and worse yet, she was losing control over her waterbreathing spell.
She had no idea what to do. Ayumi was now being swept away and she was just swimming around in circles, never up towards air seeing as there was no surface to break and thus no air to breathe. It was starting to get hopeless again. So much for trying to be the hero. That never did her any good except being killed. And now she was going to die a second time for it. That's fine. Seventy years of existing was good enough.
She stopped struggling and simply stared into the abyss. A faint light was seen and Sayumi knew her time was about to come again.
However, with that light, came ... people?
They looked to be soldiers marching towards her. Funny, even though they were in the water, they were marching as if they were on land...
What human could accomplish that sort of feat?
They weren't human.
They were demons.
They were armored demons wearing mail of bright gold and teal, which, tempered by the marine environment, appeared more orange than gold. Their ears were like bones with thin webbing between them. There were antler-like horns coming out of every one of them too.
These are sea dragons... Sayumi thought. When they got nearer, two of the soldiers walked on either side of her and grabbed her arms.
At the moment of contact, she could suddenly breathe. She gave out a coughing fit, spitting out all the water she could muster. She felt like throwing up too but nothing came out.
"Save Ayumi...Save Riho...!" Sayumi managed to sputter. When she looked around, she found that her vision cleared immensely too. Was the gift of sea sight bestowed from her being in contact with two sea dragon soldiers?
"Her..." Sayumi found the human girl, who had regained consciousness and now choking in the expanse of water "The one in the blue! That's Ayumi!"
Soldiers suddenly swam past, forgoing the marching stance. She had never seen anyone swim that fast! Granted, they were sea dragons and this was their territory. They grabbed the human and swam just as fast back to their general area.
"What is the meaning of this?" From the bottom of the ocean rose another soldier, though judging by the headdress made of the spines of fish and the fancier regalia, this person was certainly a commander.
"Pirates," Sayumi responded, surprised that she could hear so well underwater.
"No, not that, that is significant. What is that," the female commander pointed upwards at the rampaging demon.
"The one who saved our lives," Ayumi uttered under her breath.
"That half breed is out of control," the commander commented. "We have to kill it."
"NO!" both Ayumi and Sayumi cried out.
"That abomination's non-dragon blood is wrecking havoc. What do I care about showing mercy to such half-breeds?" The commander looked back at Sayumi specifically, ignoring Ayumi. "Tell me, Mano Erina, Commander of the Ryuuguu-jou forces, why that thing deserves to live?"
"What's making all that noise?" came a sleepy voice, entering the fray. The demon called Mano Erina seized up and immediately saluted, and all the other soldiers did the same.
Sayumi looked over to find a gorgeous demon with long voluptuous hair, springing in the ocean waters. She was adorned in orange garb and various silver and coral accessories. Judging by her clothing and the others' deference, she had to be someone of royal status in the water.
"Hime-sama! It's dangerous for you to be here! That half-breed is tearing things apart on the surface and could even disrupt the seabed!" the commander pleaded.
"It's fine," the princess raised a well manicured hand. "Nothing new about dragon storms waking me up rudely..." with the flick of her sleeves, she shot upwards, leaving her soldiers at a loss of what to do.
There was a brief silence, then a loud rumble, and silence once more. The soldiers looked at eachother in confusion and Mano Erina simply sighed as if this was something normal to behold.
The princess came back from the left side of everyone's vision, skipping a bit before turning around and simply waiting.
The ex-priestess felt Riho's presence also following the princess too. Was Riho going to ram into the princess of sea dragons?!
Like a white flash, Riho came forth like an arrow!
...Only to be stopped by a simple hand to the nose. The princess's hand glowed bright orange as it managed to stop one hell of a raging demon. When Riho's snout was stopped, the rest of her body came fumbling forward like a snake crashing into a wall. The princess then grabbed Riho by the nose and then slapped her with the other hand, somehow causing the gigantic dragon to revert back to a knocked out humanoid Riho.
"I was having a wonderful nap too..." the princess cooed, as if talking to a pet dog. However, her eyes went wide open and she brought Riho closer to her, sniffing at her hair.
"Hime-sama?" Mano looked on incredulously.
"This girl... smells like my ex..."
"I wouldn't touch her if I were you," Sayumi suddenly called out, "She's the daughter of the Cerulean Typhoon and the Golden Cat of Hell."
The princess jumped back, letting Riho awkwardly drift in the water's suspension. "REINA HAD A KID?!"
"AND IT WASN'T MINE?!" The princess slapped both hands to her cheeks, genuinely shocked.
"SHE'S NOT MINE EITHER!" Sayumi let out without thinking. If she could slap a hand to her mouth, she would have! The princess looked at Sayumi while the bunny stared right back. She wasn't technically Reina's at any point of time but she would certainly vouch for their past attraction way more than whatever those two had!
"We're going to have a nice long talk..." The princess said, pulling Sayumi's chin up to meet with her bright fiery orange eyes.
"I am Michishige Sayumi. And how shall I address you, your highness?" Sayumi asked, nearly challenging the other.
"You are speaking to Ryuuguu-jou's esteemed princess and heiress to the throne, Kame-no-miya. However, I permit you to use my name - Eri."
Chapter 29: Tanaka Reina
Reina walked into the hut, fascinated by all the strange trinkets and gadgets all around her. The human girl she was with earlier was incredibly intelligent. She must have come from a line of ridiculously smart people. She could tell they spent a lot of time inventing judging by all the contraptions lying around.
The distinct smell of her love was certainly getting stronger too, but too faint. Sad to say, it meant she hadn't been here a long time. She couldn't refuse the hospitality of nice humans either (most would run her out) and had to be honest - it was nice to rest in a human dwelling now and then. Soon, she was led to the tatami room, and that's where her eyes locked onto the relic hanging in the midst of it.
To anyone, they might have mistaken it for a giant piece of carved metal. White metal done so neatly and treated so well that it looked so organic; it shined like a lively eye.
"Do you have questions for me?" the elder made a move to sit, but his grand daughter quickly attended to him to help.
"Where did you get that dragon scale?" Reina pointed to the relic behind the man. She suddenly had an inkling of everything that was happening. She remembered bits and pieces of the other's journey.
"It was a gift."
"From The Typhoon," Reina added. She was getting annoyed now. "How did you two meet?"
"Hnn..." the man thought to himself, "I personally didn't meet her. It was my father before me. He told the story so much to us that I have it running through my veins," the elder man laughed. "I suppose if you were looking numerically, it would have been... 70 years?"
Reina did mental calculations in her head. That meant this was way before she herself had met the Typhoon. Unlike her significant half, she actually remembered all their anniversaries and meetings.
"Ahhh, he wouldn't stop talking about how a dragon fell from the sky..." the elder smiled, reminiscent. "Injured from a great fight, he thought. She remained in her dragon form for weeks, but despite that, he kept tending to her wounds, cleaning and dressing them as best as he could. When she finally trusted him, she turned into the most beautiful lady he had ever set his eyes upon."
Reina nodded, repressing those pangs of jealousy. She hand't seen her in a very, very long time...
"And then she gave him a scale as thanks which has been in our family ever since."
"So since then, she had not stepped foot in this area?"
"Not since. The only reminder we have is this scale which has protected our village from dreaded storms and blessed us with plentiful harvest for years. My father has preached of his kindly demon encounter to people and that was how this village was founded. That's why we accept anyone, human or demon, with open arms."
"Count on her to have foresight for this..." Reina slapped her hand on her face and laughed weakly. The scales of storm dragons, when given as a gift, would always bring gentle rains when seasons became dry, or warded off terrible storms that dared to come near. Truly a blessing to have if one were to be farmers. And dragons very rarely gave away their scales...
That meant that if it weren't for Reina, the typhoon would have returned. If she hadn't come back to this place, that meant Reina was the reason why.
"Thank you for enlightening me."
Reina stood up and was about to go, but was stopped by the grand daughter. "Are you leaving so soon? Didn't you say you were going to rest?"
The tiger-cat demon waved her hand off gently, "Thank you for your kindness, but I shall be fine." She couldn't bear being near her typhoon's presence without the lady herself in question, it was maddening. It was like her first few years after her disappearance and the cat was being needy and rolling around in the typhoon's belongings. She was more mature now and did NOT want to relive that again.
"I'm leaving now," She looked at Marin, who rose on her little legs and scurried over.
Although she hadn't met him, she knew who he was. That lady mentioned how she had met a human who changed her views on humanity. Reina laughed quietly to herself again as she stepped out into the sunlight. She knew she shouldn't be jealous but couldn't help but quietly seethe at the idea of someone else having that much impact on her. Marin climbed onto her back, paws grasped firmly onto skin.
She broke out into a run and allowed her inner demon to unleash itself from her human guise. A deafening roar shook the entire area, causing clouds of birds to rise and fly off.
I'll find you again, I swear...
Adrenaline flowed through her veins as she ran so fast, feeling the ground scorch slightly with burns.
I will definitely find you and we can do a little dance or whatever the hell it is, just SOMETHING...
Yeah, she would like that. She would definitely like that. She knew how she worked. Reina sprinted faster. She would always say sappy stuff to her and Reina would always complain.
"Let's have a dance... My dear..."
She missed that voice. And all the sappyness it spewed.
She had to get rid of negative thoughts now though. She needed to get to the sky villages and find the chief. They'd know where she'd likely went.
Feeling invigorated, Reina let out a hearty roar.
Here's a random reference pic of Riho and Reina's true forms by the way~!
Chapter 30: Sayashi Riho
Riho woke up, awakened by a constant, tingly sensation on her left shoulder. She smelt the sea all around her and calmed down a bit more. While her feline side protested being surrounded by so much water, her dragon side felt rejuvenated.
That's right Riho thought, I got impaled and transformed...
The transition between forms was agony with that piece of wood lodged in her. The trauma caused her to take on her true form just out of sheer reaction. However, the fatal injury forced her to act in survival mode. After she transfomed, she was completely lost and couldn't remember a thing that happened.
My dragon storm is still going...
Her energy was still running rampant in the air. She felt the maelstrom above...
She opened her eyes to find lips approaching her mouth at an alarming pace.
Riho quickly slapped the offender. Yes, she was now completely awake.
"Mooouuuu!" The pale lady backed off immediately, holding onto her reddening cheek. "Is that any way to treat your bunny!?"
The lady had long black hair as dark as night, but with two prominent bunny ears sticking out at the very top. Her eyes were as large as her animal's nature dictates, and she had a beauty mark below her lips. Why was she in the priestess robes that Ayumi had in her pack?
"It's finally a pleasure to finally meet you in my wonderful true self!" the lady smiled as she rubbed at her cheek, wispy white aura leaking from her hand as she healed it. "You were out for a whole day."
"wait wait wait wait," Riho looked at the other top to bottom again, "Meat!?"
"You were a demon this entire time!?"
The lady nodded. "Michishige Sayumi at your service!"
Was that why Ayumi kept calling her Michishige-san? "Did Ayumi know the entire time?"
That certainly explained a lot...
Wait, if Sayumi was a demon this entire time... That meant all the times they slept together... All the times they cuddled... All the times they kissed... All the times they bathed...
"It's here!" Sayumi gushed, "Rihoriho's great expression!"
Great?! What did she mean, great?! Riho was absolutely mortified!!!!!
"In any case, your shoulder isn't gonna heal itself! It'll take a month if I don't tend to it..." Sayumi began to zero in on Riho's lips, licking her own in anticipation.
"Okay," Riho placed a hand between the bunny's lips and her own and pushed the other back away as much as possible, flinching at the pain of her shoulder, "is violating me necessary to do so, Michishige-san?"
"Awww," the bunny pouted onto Riho's hand. Riho had to admit, she was ridiculously adorable. "I liked it better when Rihoriho was so hellbent on eating me," Sayumi placed both of her hands on her cheeks and feigned a maiden's blush.
Words could not describe Riho's expression.
Seriously. This lady was traveling with them the entire time?!
"You have bone fractures in there. I can heal simple flesh wounds with a touch but for things that require the mending of bones... A far more... Intimate approach is needed."
"I'd rather just wait out the month," Riho would cross her arms, but the pain in the shoulder prevented her from doing so.
Sayumi pulled back in a wince, "Ouch, that's painful."
"Why didn't you tell me that you were a demon!? It would have made our jobs a whole lot easier if I had known we had a demon who was skilled enough to cancel her own aura out ("Autotuning," Sayumi corrected) with us!"
"Rihoriho, I understand you are upset... But here is not the time and place."
Oh that's right. Where were they now?
They were in a bright red room with white accents and accessories everywhere. The bed Riho laid on was woven with the finest silks and the feel of the bed reminded her of a soft sponge. She looked out the window to her right and the sight outside made her freeze in her tracks.
There were fish.
Fish were swimming in the sky.
No... We're underwater... Riho widened her eyes.
"We are in an underwater palace right now...You know... THAT one..."
Well that certainly explained the white and gold scheme all around them. And the fact they were underwater...
"I didn't expect us to be welcomed by the Sea dragons... "
"Well, we were lucky that the princess recognized you and allowed us to rest and treat your wounds, otherwise we would have drowned out there."
"The princess knows me?" Riho quipped an eyebrow. Strange. She did know a princess, but she didn't know one who was a sea dragon. Her nose twitched at certain scents and suddenly, her stomach growled.
"Oh, I'll be right back!" Sayumi stood up with a bounce and left in a hurry. Catching a whiff of something tasty, Riho could only wait in increasing anticipation as the lovely smell drew closer. Sayumi came back with a plate of raw fish. "Cooking doesn't mean much to sea dwellers, but I doubt that matters to a cat, right?"
Riho was already stuffing her face by the time Sayumi finished talking. The delectable pieces of fish fell apart on her tongue with a simple touch. A sense of the sea and a renewed freshness traveled through her body after finishing up the entire plate.
"So about that shoulder..." Sayumi murmured in anticipation.
Riho started and moved as far away as possible. "You are not touching me."
"We have to find Ayumi's friends... You need to heal it now."
Riho pouted, refusing to meet Sayumi's eyes, and then winced as she felt the throes of pain shoot up her body again.
"I can only heal you through magic, and yes, that involves touch whether you like it or not," Sayumi sat on her bed in front of her.
The halfie didn't dare look at the other in the eye. First Meat was actually a person and now this person is invading her personal bubble?! She'd been nestled comfortably - maybe too comfortably in her clothes for crying out loud!
Regardless, she had promised to help the human, and that took priority over dealing with disturbingly over-friendly demons.
"Fine," Riho nearly muttered her consent, but Sayumi did not do anything. Did the lady not hear? She said it a little louder.
"What was that?"
"Make it quick..."
"I can't hear you," Sayumi sing-songed.
"Fine, I take it back and wait a month."
"Awww, you silly girl," Sayumi chuckled, "Can't take a joke, huh," she inched closer and closer.
Riho backed up into the wall, no place to go but to lower herself onto the bed. Sayumi lowered herself right after, her soft black hair falling onto Riho's sides as she came up onto Riho. The switch of position definitely caused a surge of agony through Riho's veins but she trusted that the other would heal it up to par.
Sayumi pulled aside one half of Riho's top, revealing the shoulder in question. Ignoring the twitch as she looked over, Riho noticed the lack of blood. There wasn't even a scar either, so she assumed that Sayumi had already closed the wound during her sleep. She let out the breath she was holding as Sayumi's lips made contact with her shoulder.
Riho let out a cry as she felt a searing hot pain flash within that shoulder, and her bones seemingly melting with the heat to reconfigure back into their proper structure. Minutes of reconstruction felt like hours to Riho! She couldn't hold back anymore, she grabbed onto Sayumi's shoulders and squeezed hard, letting out another cry. It felt like she was being torn inside out!
"WHAT'S WRONG!?" Ayumi stumbled into the room, worry all over her face. Sayumi lifted her head from Riho's shoulder. The pain of bones reforming subsided as both demons looked over at Ayumi.
Then it dawned on her that Sayumi was straddling her, with Riho's kimono top practically off of her, and well, that explained Ayumi's expression quite clearly.
"This is... um, ah, NOT what it looks like..." Riho managed to say, out of breath. Oh jeez, why did her voice come out like that!?
"I should probably probably just let the two of you be alone together..." Ayumi's face darkened and shuffled back out.
Sayumi jumped off the bed, tackling Ayumi and pulled her back into the room. "I was only healing her. My magic comes from the mouth, remember?"
...Why would you say that...? Riho dulled.
"Yeah..." Ayumi looked away.
"I healed your legs that way too, remember?"
Riho sat up rigidly. Michishige-san... made it to Ayumi's legs?
Remembering, Ayumi lit up, "Oh yeah that's right!" She then walked over to Riho, but all the halfie could focus on were Ayumi's legs as she came up to her.
Did our lecherous Meat(-chishige-san, the polite part of her added) lay her lips... on Ayumi's legs...?!
"How's your shoulder now?"
Oh yeah, her shoulder. She didn't feel any pain anymore. She lifted it up and moved it around slowly, testing different positions.
"A little stiff but workable."
"Yay!" Ayumi hugged the demon immediately.
Instantly, he shoulder twitched again, and Riho yelped in surprise.
Ayumi backed off immediately.
"Was that too strong?"
"A little," Riho raised her hand and made a tiny motion with her fingers.
"Give me a few more minutes to adjust everything and you should be good to go, okay?" Sayumi knelt down by the two of them, pulling at the top again to reveal the spot from before. "You went through the most painful part, so all that's left will just tingle."
"Good!" Riho gave an exasperated sigh. She never wanted to go through that again, as much as possible. Sayumi lowered her head and connected with Riho's shoulder again. She was right in saying that the rest was just tingles. Though, in the healing process, Ayumi grabbed her hand and gave it a squeeze.
Soon, Sayumi lifted her head. "When you were unconscious, I had already worked on getting that heinous chunk of wood removed. Getting the splinters and leftovers in your skin was annoying but doable. Skin was patched up right after and now your shoulder bones are welded back together. You should be lucky that the area of effect wasn't too big!"
"Yeah, that was scary! That pirate just shoved you and all of a sudden, we saw you with that piece of wood pierced through you! I thought for sure you were staked at the heart or something!" Ayumi pressed forward, worried, "and then you had to play the hero and literally pull away WITH that stake still in you! And then you fell in the water! Did you have any idea how scared I was!?"
When Riho was in her true form, all she remembered was being surrounded by feelings of fear and hostility. "I'm sorry... I'll find other ways to be badass."
"You'd better!" Ayumi pouted.
"I'll let Eririn know you're awake!" Sayumi hopped off of the bed with glee and retreated.
Riho blinked. "Who's... Eririn?"
"The princess of Ryuuguu-jou," Ayumi replied, "It took some time for her and Michishige-san to warm up to each other and now they're practically the best of friends, while you were out."
"That's....strange..." Riho sat back down, staring at the ceiling.
"Yeah, I thought they were going to fight, it sounded like they were both your Mother's exes..."
"Meat...is my mother's ex....?"
"I am just as confused as you are," Ayumi sighed. "I'd reconfirm with Michishige-san later if I were you."
"Meat was a demon all along..."
"Yes she was..."
"Meat really likes me..."
"Yes she does..."
"Meat is Michishige-san who also liked my Mother..."
"Okay okay now I really think you should ask her just to be sure of things."
Riho was getting a headache. First the revelation of her snuggle buddy being a really touchy-feely demon and on top of that, one who knew her mother...?
Meatchishige-san returned, the sea-dragon princess gliding in behind her. She was very pretty, wearing a long flowing kimono of orange and white. The designs were very coral-like and she had an especially extravagant head piece attached to the top of her hair.
"Pleasure to meet you, Sayashi-chan! I'm Kamei Eri, your almost-mother!"
Riho and Ayumi nearly fell off the bed.
"Oh silly Eririn, you'll give her a heart attack if you say that," Sayumi waved her hand dismissively.
"I'm just humoring her, Sayuchan, did you see the their reaction!?" Princess Eri laughed hard, holding onto the taller bunny for support. "They almost f-fell off!"
Sayumi cradled the princess back upwards, "they most certainly did!"
Princess Eri stood up properly once more, deftly adjusting any stray accessories that may have gotten tangled up in her antler-like horns. "How are you feeling, Sayashi-chan?"
"Better, thanks to... Michishige-san," Riho warily looked at the other.
"That's good to hear!" the princess jumped forward, giggling, "if you need anything, anything at all, feel free to give a servant a call! Rest is super important!"
"Says the one who sleeps years at a time," Sayumi laughed.
"Hey! There's nothing wong with quantity AND quality!" the princess smiled widely, showing a fanged visage. She began to retreat, pulling Sayumi by the hand with her, "again, if you ever need anything, just tell us, okay?"
Riho nodded stiffly watching the bunny and sea-dragon sail out the door. Ayumi was about to leave too but Riho immediately grabbed her wrist.
"Sorry, can you stay with me a while longer?" the halfie looked away, unable to meet the human in the eye.
Ayumi paused, causing Riho to slowly turn her head to look. Thankfully, she wasn't giving her a strange look. Instead, she gave more of a slightly exasperated smile.
"What will I ever do with you?" Ayumi sat down, squeezing into the bed with Riho and slipping under the covers as well, "but no really, how do you feel?"
"Honestly? I'm actually fine," Riho said matter-of-factly. "Michishige-san healed me up pretty well, although it was a painful process..." suddenly she remembered, "so what was that about your leg?"
"Ahhh!" Ayumi scooted downwards, resting her head on the same pillow as she was on, "Well long story short, I got caught in a maze spell and I was about to be fried by a demon. She managed to rescue me! So I'm very thankful towards her. She's done a lot for us."
"Yeah, Michishige-san is special..." Riho thought aloud, staring at Ayumi. "You did a lot of things too for us as well"
Ayumi chuckled, "you're welcome."
Having a human by her side had made her journey go a lot smoother. Where previously, she was stuck foraging for food in the wild when stopped from entering human villages, having Ayumi around meant she wasn't as lonely and could eat a bit more. She actually had room for more food, but she was too fatigued to leave the bed and having Ayumi with her just made her feel that much lazier.
"I really was scared that you were going to d-die though..." she saw that the human was tearing up.
She would have turned on her side but she feared what it would do to her healing process. Not knowing what to do, Riho took the hand closest to her and awkwardly pet Ayumi's shoulder from her laying flat position.
"Mou... It's okay... I'm here now..."
Ayumi sniffled, and let out a sob.
Chapter 31: Miyazawa Marin
Why are you like this...
I am thinking in haiku
That is... Well, to start...
Shall we begin this story?
Once upon a time
There was a forest
In fact, it used to be here
But she was called short.
He mistook her for a kid;
one who had cat ears.
Thankfully I'm safe
because I ride her shoulder
away from the blaze.
Why am I still here...?
So much anger stored inside...
Chapter 32: Kudou Haruka
She woke up with a gasp of air. Her lungs hurt after every cough and she felt like she was going to throw up. Duu tried to sit up but lethargy kept her chained to the ground. She felt little dots all over her face and she wasn't sure if it was because it was numb or there were literal grains resting on her.
When she opened her eyes, the sun immediately blinded and she shut them tight again, weakly raising an arm to shield herself from its burning rays.
Where was she?
She sat up and found herself washed ashore on a particularly sandy beach. That would explain what was on her face...
She wiped the sand off and proceeded to stand up, only to sit back down and grab her foot in pain. Why did she have a cramp now of all times?! She hissed as she tried to massage it back to nothingness, but to no avail.
"Oh, you're awake, sandy cheeks."
Duu pointed her finger at the voice, fire spell at the ready.
There was a towering demon standing over her. It was a lady with black and blue chest armor and a battle skirt, with grieves that ended at her knees. At first, Duu thought she had a horned helmet on, but it was the lady's actual black horns running back on her head, with her jet black hair pushed backwards.
"Stay away from me demon!" Duu attempted to back up, but her foot prevented her from doing so.
"You're injured." The demon crouched down, inquisitive blue eyes blinking curiously.
"Even injured, I could take you on!" Duu made the flames at her finger tips bigger. She totally couldn't fight off a demon at this state, but she had to do all she could to survive. Her future was looking very bleak..
"I'm injured, too, see?" the demon held out a hand with a rather unsightly bruise, "Had a bad run in with a tengu. But on the other hand, I'm fine."
Why wasn't the demon attacking her?! Was the demon the type to play with their food before consuming her?!
Duu kept her teeth gritted and tried to make her flame bigger, but she was too weak to truly show it off.
"Ah, fire, huh?" the demon ran her claws through her hair, "As elementary as that spell is, I honestly don't think it’d light well with an aura like your's."
"What do you suppose I'm suited for then?" she growled.
"I think lightning would suit you best," the demon rested her elbows on her crouching knees, "Yes...It certainly strikes you quite fine."
"Why are we even talking about this, you're a demon! You're trying to eat me!" Duu managed to stand up, suppressing the pain as best as she could. The demon smiled, showing off a crooked fanged grin. Great, Duu was going to die, wasn't she.
"Correction, I am a storm dragon," the lady said as she delicately placed her hand on Duu's cramped up foot. "Though I don't deny that I do partake in human..."
A dragon!? That's it. Duu might as well say her prayers before being offed.
"Your foot is giving you trouble, hnn? Shall I heal the sole?" the dragon said absentmindedly.
Duu fired the spell at the dragon but it merely passed through her as if it was mere wind, completely unaffecting her. She just attacked a human eating storm dragon. She was surely in trouble now.
The demon stood up. She was only a little taller than Duu but the intensity of the other's bright blue eyes made her feel so much smaller.
"That was not nice."
This was it. She was going to die now.
The demon inhaled and blew at Duu, knocking her right over. If a simple breath could tumble her, anything else would crush her!
"Knocked the wind outta you," the demon chuckled before crouching and grabbing Duu's foot again. "Now let's heal this, shall we?"
Duu braced herself but was surprised that the demon stuck true to her word. She felt a warm force from the other's hands and suddenly, the cramp in her foot was gone. "Am I dreaming or did a demon just help me?" This was unheard of! She thought that one cat demon was just a crazy exception to demon behavior but this one?
"Why didn't you eat me? You eat humans, don't you?"
"I've served man for quite a while now, I'm hurt you have all these assumptions about me," the demon put the tips of her fingers to her lips, feigning a hurt expression. "Do you always snap at anything that's not human?"
"Of course I do! Ugh, why am I still having a conversation with you? I need to find my friends!" Duu turned about her foot and trudged off. Stupid demons and their stupid lying selves! Of course that demon was playing with her! She followed the sandy coast until much to her horror, she met up with the demon again.
"I was going to check if you were all right, but it seems you already are."
Wait... Duu looked around them and twisted her place in displeasure to find that they were on a tiny deserted island. All was not lost though, it seemed they were surrounded by a bunch of islands.
"Where am I...?"
"Just off the coast of Amami...?" the dragon looked up to think, "Though I guess you could say we're between Amami and Okinawa..."
Okinawa... That was where she and Haruna were supposed to be after being sold... and so was Ayumi and that cat!
"I need to get to Okinawa!" She was sure Ayumi and the cat survived the wreck and were heading there!
"Oh how convenient, I also need to go there, to meet with my Mother."
Oh gods. This demon had a mother? Duu was screwed for sure if they decided to snack on her.
"Oh by the way, I'm Suzuki Airi," the demon bowed her head slightly, "not that I'm expecting any thanks, but I was the one who pulled you out of the water and patiently waited for you."
Well that certainly made their encounter that much more awkward. She was mean to her rescuer... who was a demon... She SHOULD be nice... But Airi was a demon...
"...Thanks," Duu muttered. She was hoping Airi didn't hear but her smile indicated that she did. Damn demons and their super good hearing.
"Here," Airi extended out a hand, "It won't be long until we hear the stars, so we might as well step on it and find a place with a decent food source."
Duu walked past the dragon, "I don't need your help! I can walk!"
Airi laughed, "Are you sure? By the way, Okinawa is in that direction!"
The wolfish haired girl turned to look back at Airi and sure enough, she truly was going in the opposite direction. She let out a frustrated scream, kicked at the sand, and ran back. Just as she got into range, Airi suddenly scooped her up, bridal style.
"Ok ok, what the HELL are you doing now, demon!?" Duu tried to shove away from the other but she was too weak to do so.
"You're not in the condition to swim, so we're just gonna island hop for now. I'd go into my true form and zoom through, but Mother will scold me for scaring off game," Airi smiled widely, even causing her eyes to turn up into crescents.
She broke into a run and hopped ridiculously high before landing on a different island. Duu had to break it to herself, demons and their stronger builds were definitely useful.
"You never told me your name by the way."
Ugh, she had no reason to stay mean to a rather nice demon, but that didn't mean she wouldn't still keep her guard up. "Haruka."
Airi thought for a moment. "Is that with the characters for work and vine?"
"Yes..?" Duu frowned when the demon chuckled again.
"Ah... See, work and vines don't have much sense together. Unless of course, we change it to something flower related. That'll have a scent."
Duu just didn't understand this demon. Why was she speaking so weirdly? First it was telling her what her element truly was, then it was healing her foot, and now helping her get to Okinawa? Clearly she was going to feed her to her mother!
"Hmm... how old are you? I'm turning 90 soon."
Jeez, could people live that long? Then again this was a demon, they were never human to begin with. Without a thought, Duu answered truthfully "I'm 14."
"Ah! my nieces are around your age, well, in human years. They're a bit older though."
I swear... if all this demon is doing is feeding me to her family... Duu darkened at the thought of it.
"You're also missing the view."
Duu looked up and her breath was caught. Islands among islands were zooming by, nestled in the super blue seas. Hell, she'd even go as far as to say the sea's intense blue was just like Airi's intense blue. She looked up at the other to confirm.
"You've never seen a dragon before, have you?" Airi looked at the other girl curiously. That was true. Duu had never seen a dragon before. All the evil demons she’d ever saw were bugs, rats, and fauna. The only nice demons she had seen were the foxes that occasionally sold trinkets to their village and the cat that Ayumi kept following around. She had only seen dragons through paintings. Airi certainly did fit the description of horns, grace, and fierceness, appearance-wise.
Personality-wise... the demon was not what Duu expected.
"I'm sorry.. I'm having... trouble sorting things out right now..." Duu clung to Airi's armor tighter.
"I'm not going to eat you, nor am I going to kill you, if that's what you are wondering."
"But why?" Everything she knew about demons... Was that all lies? There were definitely bad demons...
"I'll let you know that storm dragons are a little different from sea dragons and mountain dragons..." Airi began, "the others are more territorial or just very greedy dragons, but us? Storm dragons are more... inquisitive. Unlike our brethren, we enjoy learning and are often in pursuit of knowledge and seek beyond what is the now..."
"I'll even daresay some of us don't even partake in human at all for the sake of the sentient. My sister, for example, does not eat human. Though, we did have a fight about that when she first declared it and gave me the cold shoulder for dinner," Airi laughed to herself.
Well that was new. Who'd have thought it? She almost wanted to say demons weren't so bad after all but she still needed to be on guard. For all she knew, Airi was just prepping her for consumption later.
Airi continued talking about her family as the day went on. From little stories about shenanigans with her sister to the big ones like destroying bandit encampments, Duu listened to them all. This was all too calculated to be lies... Could it all be seriously true? Was this demon actually... ?
"You haven't said anything in a while."
"I'm just... thinking..."
"Then would you like to stand?"
They had apparently stopped on a much bigger island, with a proper forest and everything.
"Oh." Duu quietly shuffled away, standing awkwardly besides the dragon.
"You can hunt, right?"
"I can!" Duu nearly shouted. "I'll have you know, I'm one of the best!"
Airi's bright blue eyes widened before turning into crescent smiles again. "Alright, shall I watch? Darkness is upon us soon though. Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like papayas."
"How about you go do your thing and I do mine?" Duu made the motions as she said so.
"If you insist. I'll see if I can set something up for rest." Airi shrugged, "remember, I can hear pretty long distances, so if you call for help, I'll be there!" she raised a finger in the air and winked at the wolfish haired girl. Duu couldn't help but roll he eyes as she walked into the brush.
She wasn't lying about being one of the best. Back at the orphanage, she would always have a successful turnout of game, whether it be boar, squirrels, or birds. She was skilled with spears, archery, and swords after all. She was the daughter of a blacksmith who unfortunately passed away, thus lending her orphan status a year back.
Immediately, she found a large piece of sharp rock. Good, this could slash the throats of whatever she could catch in this forsaken brush. She fiddled with the rock and threw it in the air a couple times. Given its light weightedness and shape, Duu could probably even treat it like a throwing blade. That's good, now she just needed something to throw it at...
There was a rustle and Duu kept still, crouching low to the ground. Suddenly a bunch of birds dispersed and she threw her rock at one, though cursing to herself as nothing got caught. Strange, she had done this before at home, why couldn't she do it on the first try here? She looked for that rock only to find she had lost it.
"Pftt... Of course this happens to me now... Thanks a lot, luck..." Duu narrowed her eyes. She turned to walk and nearly fell over when she came face to face with an upside-down Airi. "WHAT THE HELL."
"Do you need help?" Airi asked, mouth full of... what was that? It was green...
"No!" Duu angrily walked off. That's not fair! The demon already had food! and it was probably using its inhuman abilities to do it! That's cheating!
Okay, maybe hunting might be a far shot because this island didn't seem to house anything larger than squirrels in it... Perhaps foraging would be the way to go. She carefully scrutinized her surroundings, maybe she'll find fruit hanging from a tree... and there it was!
Duu spotted something red and green hanging on some trees. Immediately she bolted for them and used her strength to climb towards the top. Of course, there were fruit at her height level but she knew the best ones were on top. Thankfully, the tree had multiple branches and wasn't ridiculously tall, so it was an easy pick for her! However, just as she was about to reach for the topmost fruit, Airi came into view.
Or rather, she flew into view. Via a random cloud. She thought dragons could fly without the help of anything?
"I see you found mangoes! Man goes a long way before enjoying the fruit of their labor!" Airi grinned.
Man-what? Whatever, I don't want it anymore... Duu furrowed her brow downwards. She began to climb back down.
"What did I do?!" Airi went into a slight panic, allowing her cloud to disperse and then landing on the ground with a three-point landing. "You've been out of sorts since I've met you."
"You're a demon who's supposed to be mean and scary, and you're supposed to be fighting me to the death! Not helping me hunt for food! What kind of demon are you!" Duu shoved the dragon, though Airi hardly budged. "All my life, I was told demons were evil, and I've seen first hand how messed up demons are, yet Ayumi gets to travel around with a goody two shoes demon and here you are messing up my perception of everything again!" she added an extra shove, though that didn't do anything either.
Airi just stared back.
"Come on! Fight me!" Duu raised her arms, allowing one hand to grow hot with magic, ready to set everything on fire if she had to.
"Let your energy simmer down in your chest, and put all of your power into that index finger in one instant motion," Airi simply replied.
"I don't need to listen to you!" but despite that, Duu swung her hand and allowed her energy to focus on her finger tips in one fluent motion and she fired.
Instead of fire came lightning.
Airi held her hand out and caught the thin strip of lightning that shot out of Duu's fingertips, allowing it to zap about her hand before disappearing.
Did that just happen?
Airi clapped, "Yes! That's how you do it! You aura is far more suited for lightning than it is for fire. That was stunning..."
Duu walked backwards until she hit a tree. Did she really just do a lightning spell after hearing some lame master-trainer quote from a demon?
"Hey," Airi patted Duu on the shoulder, "What did I tell you? I told you that you'd struck me better as a lightning user than a fire one."
"You..." Duu looked up, "actually are genuinely a nice demon that doesn't want to eat me, huh...?"
Airi laughed, "Of course I don't want to eat you. I wouldn't be speaking in puns the entire time otherwise."
"Uhhh.... what?" Duu had to trace back their conversations and slowly realized what Airi was talking about. That damn demon had been punning her since the moment they met!
"Also, I’ve eaten so many cucumbers that I’m over encumbered."
“Suzuki-san…” Duu slapped her hand to her face and dragged it down. “You’re killing me.”
“Ah! You finally called me by my name! A demon finally being called by name!” Airi threw her hands up in the air in joy. “I’m sure it was a blast for you as it was a blasphemy.”
Chapter 33: Iikubo Haruna
She woke up to a strange feeling in her chest. She felt cold all over and she languidly reached out, grabbing onto... skin? She opened her eyes and found herself face to face with another woman...? She looked like she was her age…
"Oh gods, you're alive!"
Haruna felt a sudden pain and she looked down to find that she had been stabbed in the chest?! Wait, why could she even see her chest?!
"Oh gods, I'm sorry!" the long haired girl freaked out and pulled out the knife.
"No no no no!" Haruna felt all the blood drain out of her quite literally, "Put it back! Put it back! I'll bleed out without it!"
And in went the knife again and Haruna suddenly found time to flash back through her entire life. Was she going to die?
"I'M SORRY!" the other woman had to lower her to the table (did she sit up earlier? She didn't remember) "I swear I'll fix this, I had no idea you were alive!"
She wanted to say something but she couldn't feel her body at all. Whatever came out of her mouth became garbled and nothing that sounded remotely Japanese.
"Sh... Sh... Calm down..."
She was telling Haruna to calm down? She was the one freaking out earlier... though the other woman definitely toned down considerably after... stabbing her again...
That being said, why was it still really cold? She sensed she was still wearing her clothes, but the top half of her yukata was loosened and her arms were out of its sleeves, completely exposing herself from the top. What was going on? She looked around to find utensils lying nearby and various barrels and crates... She was seeing a lot of wood too... And her gravity felt all weird... It was like she was swaying side to side without moving at all...
"You are on The Dschinghis Khan right now..."
So she was on a ship then?
"Wha..." Haruna flinched. It hurt to talk and she just felt so tired all of a sudden... Having a knife stuck in her chest didn't help matters either.
"We found you floating amongst a shipwreck and got you out."
Well at least she wasn't dead, but gods did her chest hurt!
"Yo Wada! What's taking food so long?! I don't remember it taking this long to dismantle a human!" A high pitched voice came from nowhere and Haruna's eyes widened.
Was she... their food?!
"No! She's awake, Kanon," the other said before turning to Haruna, "what Fukuda said was taken out of context."
"What context was there?" another girl came into view, though this one was more filled out than the other girl, and what was distinct about this on was that she had pointy ears. The newcomer was a demon, definitely. "We ate the dead and clearly this last one isn't dead but in fact, alive. Good job, Wada."
Wada and Kanon, names to faces. The one called Wada gave the demon a disapproving look, "You shouldn't be saying careless things."
"Pfft, fine," the demon scoffed, "we're sorry we almost ate you." Haruna definitely didn't like the attitude the demon was giving but she was in no position to talk. She had a knife in her chest after all. She was surprised that she wasn't coughing up blood or anything, that meant her lungs were fine and intact.
"Mou! That isn't nice!" another person chided, hitting this Fukuda Kanon demon in the shoulder, "You need to be more sincere!"
"Hands off, Yuka!" the demon shrugged it off and backed away out of Haruna's sight, "Just because you guys are human doesn't mean you get to school me on how I treat things meant to be food!"
Humans and demons coexisting on a ship? What in the world...
"Can someone grab Kumai-san? We need to get this healed right away!"
"I'm on it!" Yuka saluted Wada before running off.
Haruna didn't hear the demon since then, so she assumed she had already left the scene.
"I completely apologize for everything going on. We didn't really expect you to wake up.... We have demons on the ship and as you might've guessed, their diet does consist of human... Though we haven't killed anyone; we just feed them the ones already dead."
Although the notion that these human-eating demons were on the same ship as her terrified her, Wada made it sound not so bad...
"If you need confirmation that they won't eat you, a good chunk of our crew is human, so let that tell you what you need to know."
Haruna decided to use this moment to test out her voice. "Are you?"
"I am," the other paused, "I am Wada Ayaka, pleasure to meet you," She bowed her head and Haruna wished she could do the same back at her.
"I am Iikubo...Haruna..." she had to pause to take a breather. Talking with a knife in her chest was definitely a bad idea. She looked down to try and place its location... Wada was scarily close with her precision. It looked like she was about to cut her heart out...
"Where is... Oh. That's... Uh..." a new voice came and Haruna tilted her head to find a ridiculously tall lady walk into the kitchen. She was considerably tanned and had shoulder length hair tied to the side. What stuck out about her were two round, furry ears protruding from the top of her head.
"Kumai-san, you're here!"
Wait... Kumai-san...? Is she a bear? Haruna couldn't help but zero in on the demon's ears.
"What in the world did you do to her?" the tall demon inquired, bending over to stare at the knife that was still embedded in her body.
"Um... Long story short, she's alive and I almost cut her up for you guys. Can you heal her?
"Oh I see..." the giant said aloud as she still looked on inquisitively. "Well it's not as bad as I thought it would be. Here, this might tickle..." Kumai-san pulled out the knife quickly and pressed a finger from the bottom of the cut and lightly dragged it up, effectively sealing the wound and stopping the bleeding. When she took her finger away, Haruna was good as new.
She sat up and looked down at her wound, finding that there was actually a cross shaped scar dangerously close to where her heart was. "Why is this cross shaped...?" she was surprised at how casual she sounded. She was not out of breath like she was earlier.
"Oh uh... I have a habit of marking where the heart is before I make the cuts. One crew member absolutely hates it when I don't leave the heart intact since she loves biting into them whole and I’m probably freaking you out right now, that's quite the face you're making...?"
Ayaka was correct, Haruna's face had contorted further the more she had said.
"Though... Um... Let me just..." Ayaka walked closer and Haruna was confused as to what her intention was. She felt Ayaka's fingers at her sides and she could have sworn her heart could have leaped out of the wound before realizing that Ayaka was pulling her yukata top back into place. Embarrassed, Haruna slipped her arms into the sleeves and fixed herself up as Ayaka stood back, quietly clasping her hands behind her.
They heard a laugh in the room and it was then that she realized that the healing demon was still there. "Cute..." Kumai-san smirked before going out of the room. Haruna thought she was tall but seeing Kumai-san was...
"If you were wondering, yeah, she is a bear. As if her name doesn’t already make it blatantly obvious. And I thought I was tall..." Ayaka sighed and Haruna perked up.
"Exactly what I was thinking..." now that she had taken in Ayaka's appearance, she realized that they were the same height. It was just too bad that Kumai-san had left though, she would have asked for her to heal the scars on her chest as well.
Suddenly, Haruna was grabbed from behind and she immediately squirmed to get out.
"Moooouuuu, Ayacho~ When did you fight me this muuuuch?" a singsong voice whispered and Haruna proceeded to do the double-eye poke.
"Gah!" the new person stumbled backwards, releasing the other, "Seriously, Ayacho!"
"Aarii... That's not me."
The other woman shook her head vigorously and opened her eyes wide at Haruna. This Aarii character reminded her of a white cat. Her facial features were long and slanted downwards with a triangular frame, much like a foreign cat she had read about once, with the white fur, dark face, and blue eyes.
"Wow, you look just like Ayacho from behind."
"I'm Iikubo Haruna..." She got interrupted on the last syllable of her name.
"Though on closer inspection, you're definitely a lot scrawnier than her..." Aarii looked at he with the tilt of the head, resembling a kitten. Suddenly she swooped forward and hugged her, lifting her right off the ground and Haruna's chest started to ache again. "Wow, you could certainly break in half if I squeezed a bit tighter..."
"Cut it out," Ayaka sighed, "I nearly cut her heart out and Kumai-san JUST healed her..."
"Oh," was all the other said before releasing Haruna, "I'm so sorry," she gripped Haruna by the sides and began to massage them, "I tend to not think things through."
Wow, personal space violation much? The other was all up in Haruna's bubble! "I-I'm fine..." she tried to pull away but the other girl persisted.
"Give it up," she heard Ayaka next to her, "Uemura Akari, or Aarii for short, may look human but she is one-fourth cat... And that part of her is definitely dominant. You should let her go, she's clearly not comfortable right now."
The cat-like girl smirked, "But we're all ladies here. We could even run The Dschinghis Khan naked if we wanted to."
"We're not traumatizing Hauna on her first time here. Now shoo!" Ayaka waved her hand and Akari all too gleefully bolted away, smiling the entire way out the door. Even if she hadn't known about the cat demon blood within Akari, all the signs were definitely there for her to figure out.
“I’m really sorry about that…” Ayaka ran her fingers through her hair, “our crew is… pretty weird.”
“Oh no, it’s fine,” Haruna couldn’t help but chuckle, “I was once in a band of weirdos myself. Though…” she thought back to the orphanage. She had been there for such a long time. She was pretty sure it was Yasuda-san who had taught her how to walk and talk. She never knew her parents. Her family was essentially the other kids and Yasuda-san.
“Do you want to go back?”
She wanted to. But she was worried about everyone… If she were to come back, it’d have to be with Ayumi, Duu, and Maachan in tow. Since they had lost contact with Maachan, finding her would be the first priority above all else.
“What direction are we headed?”
“North, why?” Ayaka raised an inquisitive brow.
“May I speak with your Captain?”
“Maybe in a bit… Around this time, the Captain is busy.”
“Oh, that’s okay. It’s not like I’m in a hurry to be anywhere,” Haruna said dryly, taking a stab at the fact that she had no where else to go on a piece of wood in the middle of bleak waters.
“Meanwhile, would you like to go on deck?”
That’s right, they’ve been in the kitchen the entire time. Since she was definitely stuck here for a while, they might as well take a little tour. “I’d be honored.”
Ayaka led her out of the kitchen and into a long hallway. There were several doors on either side of the hallway and a ladder right in the middle, leading both upwards and downwards.
“This ship has two floors, not counting the deck. We’re in the living area right now. A good chunk of the rooms are occupied or doubled up. Storage is down below and the deck is up above. Also up there is the captain’s quarters.”
"Ah, hello!" a demure, yet high voice said and Haruna looked to the new comer. Another female, though shorter than Ayaka and Haruna, had just exited the door closest to them. She had neat, short hair and looked to be as adorable as a pale white ferret. This girl looked to be about Duu's age...
"Oh, Karin! Meet Iikubo-san!" Ayaka placed her hand on Haruna's lower back and brought her closer to the younger girl, "We just picked her up!"
"A-ah! Nice to meet you! I hope you enjoy your stay on the Dschinghis Khan!" the petite girl bowed her head before running off. Ayaka couldn't help but chuckle at the other.
"That was Miyamoto Karin, another human member of the crew, she's endearing, that one. Though strange in some ways... You'll find out later."
Haruna could only nod. She wondered exactly how many people were on this crew...
Ayaka walked further and made a stop. “Here’s my quarters,” she pushed aside a tarp and opened the door, leading to a room.
“Oh how fascinating…!” Haruna’s eyes widened at the sight before her.
The room looked to be small but somehow it seemed spacious all at once. If Ayaka was completely in charge of decorating, she had a smart way of creating a wide space in such a little area. There was a hammock hanging at the side of the wall, with a porthole within its view. Beneath the hammock was various chests of sundries lined against the wall.
In the middle of the space was a small table with what looked to be a map pinned by its corners with… miniature buddha statues? The rug that was on the floor had many intricate lines imprinted on it as well. Haruna recognized the design to be something of buddhist works as well. In fact, what lined the walls were scrolls and paintings of various imagery.
“You really like art, I see...Do you do some painting yourself?” Haruna came in to get a closer look at all the art on the walls. There was one of a tiger, a scroll of a woman, a samurai brandishing his sword… Ayaka had it all.
“As much as I like doing art, I do enjoy looking at it just as much. The crew deems it a waste of a hobby when I’m on a ship so much but that’s precisely why I value it so much. An artist works hard to give their imagination a tangible existence and I can’t help but admire that drive.” Ayaka had this sparkle in her eye and Haruna couldn’t help but smile. This woman was truly passionate about her craft and it certainly showed. Ayaka then looked at the other, “A silly thing to fawn over, don’t you think?”
“Oh no, not at all!” Haruna shook her head vigorously, “Like this painting of the tiger, you could feel the ferocity of the strokes which gives it a very aggressive texture. Oh, and the way that the lines and space work together to create a form makes a distinct harmony between all the elements. I enjoy this one a lot.”
The spark in Ayaka’s eyes returned tenfold, “You indulge in the arts as well?”
“I do!” She used to get made fun of a lot for that. But now that she had finally met someone who shared the same interests as her! Finally!
“We’re going to get along quite well, aren’t we?”
“We definitely will.”
Chapter 34: Ishida Ayumi
Ayumi woke up in cold sweat. She didn't even realize she was panting heavily until she looked at herself in the mirror on the other side of the room.
She had been having nightmares since that day.
Every single time, it would be her calling out Riho's name and the aforementioned demon would look at her...only to get impaled from behind. Sometimes it was the destroyed wooden stairs that did it. Other times, it would be the sword of the pirate she was fighting against, sneering from behind Riho's hair.
And every time, she would wake up when she saw Riho fall overboard.
That idiot... Ayumi grumbled, scratching at her loose brown hair. Although it was nice that Michishige-san was there to heal her, the sight was too traumatic to simply ignore...
She got up from the bed and walked towards the mirror.
She had to admit, being underwater was incredibly unsettling. She was breathing in the water okay, but feeling her hair float off as if a gentle wind was constantly caressing it was entirely something else. Taking a hair tie from her wrist, she gathered all of her hair and tied it into a tight ponytail at the base of her head. Good, the water didn't make her hair go all wild and crazy as it did earlier.
She rubbed at her eyes, studying her appearance a bit. There were enormous bags underneath her eyes and she was even paler than she rememebered. Were the nightmares getting to her? Or was it the water just making her all pasty? Could five days in the water really do that to a human?
She looked out the window and found the colors of the water to be a glistening light turqoise. That meant the sun was out, as she was taught by the guards. Before she could physically put her hand on the sliding doors of her room, they were opened immediately by the guards standing on the other side.
"Oh... thank you..." She had to get used to that. Did sea dragons have a special built-in sensor for people leaving and entering rooms? The guards paid her no attention and maintaind a rigid pose with their spears. If it weren't for them floating up and down slightly, she would have thought they were statues.
Ayumi looked around, trying to refamiliarize herself with the area. Although she had traversed these hallways several times to visit Riho's room, she would find something new every time. The palace was built literally upon a gigantic, living coral reef, so all the colors ended up changing every time she did as little as glance in the opposite direction and glancing back. Sometimes she would be taken aback by the sea flowers budding and withdrawing every time she passed them on pillars and the railing.
Just before she got to Riho's room, she stopped to let a school of fish pass by. It would be utter irony to call herself a fish out of water in this scenario, but that's what she had felt like. Just like the outside of her room, Riho's room was also guarded by a set of armored sea dragons with spears.
"She had just left for the gardens," one guard stated loudly, tapping his spear on the golden floor in a salute.
"Oh! Thank you!" the human bowed to the guards before turning around.
She remembered the first time she saw the gardens. One of the generals was giving her a tour and as they were walking around the outdoor hallway, Ayumi caught sight of it and couldn't take her eyes of what she had saw.
There were so many sea plants that she had never seen in her life. They were all of super bright colors and felt like they were glowing underwater. Separating everything were stone walkways and an occassional torii gate dotting the pathes. On top of that, the gardens were ridiculously huge and Ayumi could barely make out the rooftop of the hallway on the other side. She was told that this was an enclosed garden but seeing how huge it was put the palace in some serious perspective!
She eventually found Riho sitting atop a branch of a bright red tree-like coral. She was resting against the trunk and was staring listlessly into the surface above, with a watery bright sun looking back down.
"Are you feeling better?"
Riho looked down for a moment before hopping off the branch and landing on all fours, "Hyahhoi!"
"Wow, I guess its like nothing ever happened, huh?"
"Michishige-san is a good healer," Riho never stood up but instead, remained on all fours like a cat, "I'm honestly ready to go whenever. Though she insists that I wait until everything is truly healed before going."
"You should listen to her. It's better to journey completely repaired than with some nails loose."
"Doesn't matter to me," Riho yawned, sitting back on her bottom and relaxing her legs, "I'm a demon. It takes more than a few knocks to keep me down."
Something in Ayumi snapped. "You call being impaled a few knocks? You almost died back there!"
Riho looked confused at the outburst. "Well it wasn't so bad because Michishige-san healed me."
"But what if we hadn't met Michishige-san at all?! What then?!"
"I guess that would just mean I would take a few months to heal?"
Unbelieveable. A few months she said, casually as if she was talking about the weather. Absolutely unbelieveable.
"How can you be so..." frustration filled Ayumi's voice, "so... so flippant about life and death? Is this a joke to you?" She had to relive seeing Riho almost die every night in her dreams. It continued to haunt her and Riho was simply brushing it off as a scrapped knee?!
"It's not, though?" the demon tilted her head in confusion, "demons are tough. All injuries take time to heal, and I've got all the time in the world."
"I don't!" Ayumi lifted Riho up by the top so that she was eye level with her, "We don't have time to be wasting! Every little second that ticks away means Maachan is getting further from us. Every little second that ticks away means Duu and Haruna are out there, drifting further and further away from us!"
"I don't understand, you are what, 17, right? Don't you have plenty of time to spare too? It won't be bad if I was struck down for a year or two." Riho gave her a look that she didn't like at all. She was looking at Ayumi as if she had two heads, as if this conversation was as wild as a pig that could fly. Did that idiot demon seriously not understand Ayumi's point at all?
"IDIOT!" Ayumi practically barked at the other girl, dropping her back to the ground and walking away. She couldn't take it any more! Despite hearing calls of her name, Ayumi never looked back and she continued trudging onwards.
It was amazing she even agreed to journey with this buffoon of a half breed! Someone who didn't take life seriously was sure to get killed! How dare she make light of this whole ordeal! Ayumi certainly wasn't laughing every time she had those nightmares!
The guards walking by maneuvered past her as if she was on fire. She thought she saw a glimpse of bunny ears but that didn't matter, she was about to reach her room. The guards there saw her furious glare and timidly opened the doors for her. As soon as she walked through, she heard the doors shut behind her. Her first instinct was to punch a wall, but she was in a royal establishment. Her second was to punch Riho, but she walked away from the demon to avoid such a happening. Third was--
She raised a fist and let loose, only to be met with air as the bunny priestess just barely dodged by the width of a thread. "Wow!"
"Michishige-san, I am SO sorry!" she hadn't meant to swing at the bunny!
"What caused you to be all miss hellfire today?" Sayumi caressed her cheek as if Ayumi had landed a punch on it. "Did Rihoriho do something?"
Ugh, the name of the offender caused her to grunt disgustingly as she fell over face-first onto her bed.
"She's a doofus," Ayumi mumbled from the bedsheets.
"I can't quite hear you," Sayumi came over and sat down next to Ayumi, touching her shoulder.
"An idiot, that's what she is," Ayumi moved her face to the side, looking at the other demon through a side glance. "I was so worried for her and she just brushes it off like something insignificant."
She couldn't believe it. It won't be bad if I was struck down for a year or two... How can she view a year as nothing?! Much less two years...
"It was my fault she got hurt... I was looking for her on deck and when I found her, I called her name and distracted her just for a moment... and she got hurt really bad. You saw how bad it was, and then she fell overboard and I felt so powerless watching it all happen."
Sayumi looked pensive. She was listening intently.
"I keep having nightmares about it but when I came to her, she treated it so insignificantly that I was scared for her. She actually said that a year or two down wasn't bad for her at all... Well of course its bad! And she had the gall to tell me that I was still young and it shouldn't matter to me either!"
"You're really stiff," Sayumi commented, running her hands though all of Ayumi's back, "Mind if I massage you a bit? I'll tell you what I think as I do it."
A bit off topic but no matter, Ayumi consented and she felt Sayumi straddle her from behind and work her hands all over her back.
"See... Demons, they view time a little different from how we view it. It's just like when you wanted me to heal Niigaki-sama back then."
"They could have come with us if you healed her, you know," Ayumi was still bitter about that. It would have ben really cool to travel with a well-known dragon warrior.
"But do you remember what she said? Weeks might as well be minutes. Demons live for so long that time is hardly a factor for anything. Days might as well be seconds, weeks might as well be minutes, years might as well be days. They don't understand time like we do. They live so slow that they wonder why we live so fast. You know what I mean?"
Sayumi did have a point. It explained why Riho said all those things with such a normal face... Ayumi groaned as Sayumi worked out the knots in her back. Who knew she was so rigid?
"You're really good a-at this," Ayumi quivered, seriously, what was the bunny doing with those hands of her's?
"Something I learned from a mentor of mine, if you will. A priestess's touch is always supposed to be healing!"
"So you are a priestess then? But wait, you're a demon... Demons can't be priestesses..." There was something impure about demon blood that negated any type of healing arts but for some reason, Sayumi knew them? There was a first for everything, she thought. Maybe there are pure demons out there...
"That, my dear, is a se-cre-t~!" Sayumi whispered in a singsong voice next to her ear.
Though she wondered if pureness was really the case for the bunny...
Chapter 35: Sato Masaki
HELLO AUDIENCE, DID YOU MISS ME!?
IT'S BEEN A WHILE BUT I AM STILL KICKING.
I AM ON MY WAY TO THE KINGDOM OF THE NORTH!!
THANKS TO MY NOBLE STEEDS I--
"Your grace, who are you talking to at the top of your lungs?" a scruffy, short, and stout bandit wheezed as the lady on his shoulders kept his neck in a vice grip.
Maachan looked down on him for a moment and continued bellowing at the sky.
THANKS TO MY NOBLE STEEDS I WILL REACH MY PALACE IN NO TIME!
"No really, who are you talking to?" the other bandit, a taller, lankier version, asked.
"Oh, I'm talking to the readers of this story," Maachan gestured towards the sky, as if a makeshift audience was looking down on them.
The two bandits looked at eachother before shrugging.
"Are you two twins? You both look alike! It's like a mirror! You even have the same clothes!" Although one was tall and one was short, this had to be case. They had the same fur vest, the same dark clothes, the same curly long hair, the same shadow of a beard, and even the same mole in the exact same place! When they talked, they had a wide gap in their teeth too!
"No, I'm more handsome," the tall one smacked his chest a few times.
"No, I'm far more handsome," the short one straightened his back and pounded his chest, though not without almost dropping Maachan.
Note: These two are played by Yoshizawa Hitomi and Ogawa Makoto.
"Hey! I'm the queen!" Maachan scrambled back onto the man's shoulders. Maachan is love. Maachan is life. Why didn't these two see that?!
"Who the hell is Yoshizawa Hitomi and Ogawa Makoto?!" the tall bandit called out, "Those are girl names aren't they?!"
That's who those two are played by.
"Will you stop doing that with your mouth?!" the shorter bandit jumped up and down in attempt to shut Maachan up.
But Maachan can't be shut up.
She can only be paused... only to be played later on. No amount of rewinds or forwards could change that fate.
"Ooooh what are these?" Maachan looked behind and grabbed a peculiarly long heavy stick out of the bandit's back.
"Don't play with that!"
No. It must be played with. There was a peculiar looking piece of the stick that kind of stuck out and Maachan pressed it and
It was loud as thunder!! and Maachan was knocked back but she landed on her feet just fine. Though the short bandit wasn't so lucky and landed on his buttocks.
Maachan could only laugh maniacally with this... boomstick in her hands.
"That was fun!" she pointed the boomstick at a tree and pulled on the weird lever and BAM it went again. Only this time, the tree had a hole in it!
Ooooh, that boomstick was a projectile weapon?
"Put that down! Put that down!" both of the bandits were on the ground and at her mercy now.
Both bandits winced at the noise, but looked up. "Did you just... imitate the sound with your mouth?"
Maachan nodded. If she heard it once, she could imitate it!
"I like this, you two should teach me show me how to use it!"
"It's... called a Rifle."
Pshhhaawww. Names were stupid. She didn't wanna work so hard to say raifuru! Let's make it less syllables.
"From now on, this boomstick will now be known as My Waifu!!"
And so, this is the story of how Maachan came to meet her Waifu.
"B-but... it's my waifu..."
"It's mine now, peasant!"
And so, this is the story of how Maachan stole someone's Waifu.
Chapter 36: Michishige Sayumi
Kids will be kids... Sayumi thought to herself as she got off of the comatose Ayumi. Girl was so stressed out that she fell asleep in the middle of her massage! Or Sayumi was that good at what she did.
Ayumi did bring up a valid point, however. Demons and their sense of time aren't anything like a human's. Being an unbirthed demon definitely caused that reality to come crashing down on her. She had watched as friends and colleagues aged and die while she kept going. She felt even more like an outcast among demons because she still had her fundamental human values. Maybe it was because she was human once that she definitely valued time as a precious commodity.
She walked out into the hallways in a slightly hurried pace. She needed to find Riho. If she was lucky, the halfie would still be at the gardens, probably still oblivious as to why the human had walked off in a huff. Fortunately for her, Riho was resting against a coral tree.
"Ah, Michishige-san?" Riho was startled by her appearance after a moment's glance. She still needed to get used to seeing Sayumi in her other form, it seemed. The bunny could only giggle at Riho's awkwardness.
"Rihoriho," Sayumi replied, watching as Riho's color start to distort in the water. Poo r girl definitely still needed time to get used to her.
She was about to inquire about Ayumi, but Riho spoke up first.
"I think I may have upset Ayumi..." the cat ears flicked downwards as Riho sunk her head into her knees.
"Oh?" Sayumi walked over and sat formally next to the other demon.
"I said something wrong and she looked really mad... I think we need to speed up my recovery somehow. So we could find her friends faster. I think she'll be happier with that, do you think it's like that?"
Oh Rihoriho, she had a lot to learn about humans.
"It's not just like that though. Humans don't have the luxury of time like us. You've heard what the humans say about us. We live too slow to really understand. How old are you again?"
"Almost 30, I think. I don't keep track of the days that much. I know it's a little bit before the last eclipse though."
"See, you're still young and developping. Your psyche is no different than a 15 year old human's."
"Those are children in our eyes though..." Riho seemed to not take kindly to the comparison.
"Alright, how about this..." Sayumi thought for a moment, "think of us as trees. Trees live just as long as we do."
"Humans though, they are more like the rice in the fields. They are planted, they grow in a season, then they are harvested. In the blink of an eye, they are gone. Every day matters to them up until the point death harvests them. Trees? We literally keep going. And even when disaster strikes us, whether its lightning or being cut down, it doesn't matter to us. We literally keep going."
Sayumi physically had to stop to gather strength. This was hitting a little bit too close to home now and she felt her memories stir up tears.
"Rihoriho, just know that Ayumi and her friends are the rice, just trying to live it out until their time comes in the end. The best we can do to honor their short lives is to treasure every moment we have with them until they are gone..."
After a moment's thought, Sayumi added, "it's either that or just don't interact with humans at all."
"You... really empathize with humans, huh..."
For many years, she ran. After the realization that she had become something inhuman, she ran. At first she thought she was fine with watching her friends and family at a distance. But watching them die off one by one was something too unbearable for her. She simply became invisible to the world, thinking of her own survival.
"Michishige-san... Are you crying?"
No, these weren't tears yet. She closed her eyes and willed the teariness away. She had let go of her past. The past will always remain in the past. This was the now.
She leaned forward and kissed Riho on the forehead, being sure to check for her health as well as to just do it for the sake of it.
"Rihoriho is too kind."
She truly was. She wasn't sure if it was the combination of really great parents or if it was just through the will of Rihoriho alone, but Rihoriho was truly a gentle person. "I think we can leave soon. If you feel like you are ready."
"I've been waiting to hear you say that," Riho exhaled loudly, leaning back against the tree.
"Silly girl," Sayumi scoffed before ruffling the other's head. Riho let out an annoyed huff and sunk further down to avoid the bunny's hand.
Now that was all settled, she needed to find someone. "I think it's best we leave first thing tomorrow morning, is that fine with you?"
"Yes~!" Riho saluted from her awkward position, causing Sayumi to smile widely.
Alright, now where was the princess residing? Sayumi began to wander off the garden and into the hallways once more.
To be honest, she was shocked at how well she got along with the princess. What started out as strong tension suddenly became... affectionate. Whatever Reina saw in the princess, Sayumi saw the same thing. The sea dragon princess was certainly... a peculiar individual. She wondered if everything directed to her goes in one ear and out the next. She always looked like she was spacing out or just fantasizing about many things or just nothing at all. Normally, Sayumi wouldn't have anything to do with idiotic people but the princess... was just too endearing to be mad at.
Right when she turned the corner, she saw the princess in question talking to the general.
"Sayuchan~!" the princess glided toward her before... tripping... in water... and nearly doing a full flip in the air (water?) before steadying herself. Surely, the princess was a peculiar being.
"Are you okay?" Sayumi asked as she extended a hand, allowing the princess to grab onto it to help steady herself in the water. Whatever happened to that grace when she had stopped a full grown dragon Riho with one hand?
"Never better~!" the princess grinned. "I was just asking Manoeri what happened over the years I was sleeping!"
"T-that's Mano Erina, Hime-sama."
"Nonsense, Manoeri is cuter!" Princess Eri fluttered over to affectionately poke the general on the nose.
The princess was way too adorable. Sayumi was squealing on the inside but remained calm on the outside. "Now to what do we owe your presence, Sayuchan?" Princess Eri turned to look at her and with the cutest orange eyes, she blinked curiously.
"I've actually wanted to ask about the Cerulean Typhoon. Have either of you met that person?"
It was clear in the past conversations with the princess that she had no idea Reina was affiliated with the Typhoon. Since they were dragons, maybe they had an inkling of who the typhoon really was? Sayumi wanted to satisfy this curiosity of her's. Who is this Typhhoon that the cat fell in love with?
"I haven't personally met the typhoon myself, but Manoeri has," the princess pulled herself closer to Sayumi's arm. "Let's have a story time, shall we?"
"A-ah... Well..." the general became nervous at the set of eyes staring at her.
"I've only met the Typhoon once. At the time just before Battle of Fuji."
Battle of Fuji... Sayumi didn't know about what happened. She was too busy being a bunny avoiding everything death-related. She was about to ask about it, but Eri spoke up.
"What is Battle of Fuji? Was I asleep for that?"
"You were, Hime-sama," the general sighed. "I don't know the full details myself, since we decided to distance ourselves from the conflict. I guess it was...50 or so years ago? The typhoon came knocking on our door, saying that someone was trying to exploit the Kioku no Meiro--labyrinth of memories-- for ulterior motives using an army of darkness, and she asked for the aid of our troops. I refused, but she took it in good stride."
"Aww, why didn't we participate?" the princess pouted, "That would have been fun!"
"I didn't because our territory and expertise is in the sea. We would be useless fighting on a mountain so far away from the waters. However, the Typhoon managed to gather highly skilled individuals to aid in the battle. For one, she used her clan's army to combat the dark army. Meanwhile, she and four other individuals went to take on the enemy at the summit."
"Oooh, sounds exciting, do you know who the other four were?"
"Hmm..." General Erina thought for a moment," Well the Typhoon, for sure... I did hear that a celestial was sent from above to aid in battle... I heard about pirates from a southern clan joining in... the storm dragon clan's general participated... Oh and your associate, the Golden Cat was also there."
Reina was there too...? Was that how she met the Typhoon? Sayumi pondered. There were so many things she wanted to know about Reina after her "death." Though... The Typhoon sounded a bit more fascinating at the moment. An individual who managed to get the help of a celestial? She thought they were merely a myth!
"Reinaaaa!" the princess suddenly whined, "I still can't believe she ran away mid-seduction!" she suddenly jumped up and down, fuming, "She stole my panties on top of that, too! That player!"
"H-hime-sama... After the fact, we established that they were a part of the Cursed set that--"
"I don't care if they were cursed! They were cute!!! " the Princess was now glowing orange in the water, getting madder, yet, somehow cuter while doing so.
So much information overloading at once, though! Reina stealing panties was a real rumor? And to run away mid-seduction? What did that even mean? Sayumi didn't want to know.
"So what was the typhoon like?" the bunny asked despite the sea dragon princess throwing an adorable temper tantrum at her side, waving her arm like crazy.
"A very honorable person. She bested me in a game of shogi as we were negotiating, actually. That woman had a certain charisma about her..." now even the general was lost in admiration. This typhoon was surely a force to be reckoned with.
"Actually, now that I think about it, she sent us a letter not too long ago..."
Sayumi's bunny ears straightened up considerably. "What?"
"Indeed. We didn't make much sense of the message though. She had written down 'The Kioku no Meiro is active again. Beware.' and left it at that."
What is the Kioku no Meiro? Whatever it was, it was something of the past and something that existed now. Were the two connected? Could the Kioku no Meiro be why Riho's mama was missing? Sayumi needed to do her research.
"So none of us really know what this is then, correct?"
"It's something that has many rumors to it," the princess yawned. That was a sign Eri was getting bored. "Some say its a place where spirits are lost. Other's say it is a portal to anywhere in the world. I say because the name literally means labyrinth of memories, it's probably a place up in the celestial realm that records all of history. Who knows. No one's been there except those five individuals, I guess."
"When did the typhoon send the letter?" Sayumi inquired. Riho said her mama went missing five years ago...
"The letter was received five years ago."
Five years... That had to mean the two things were connected... The activation of this... Kioku no Meiro and the disappearance of the Cerulean Typhoon...
Come to think of it, Riho did say she wanted to see someone of importance at Okinawa... Who might know where the Typhoon was...
"I know this is out of your general area, but I was told that someone of great significance is currently residing in Okinawa right now, do you have any idea of who that might be?"
The princess and general froze.
Sayumi couldn't tell if that was a scared reaction or a wow, you're really dumb kind of reaction...
"Haven't you heard? the storm dragon's clan leader is hunting exotic game down there right now," the general said matter-of-factly.
Leader... Could the leader possibly be...?
"I can't imagine why anyone would try to look for that person any way. That lady is way too crazy about monster hunting to hold a conversation..." Eri shook her head.
"I can't believe the clan leader would travel across the country just to have a bit of hunting thrill... Leaving her clan and wife to fend for themselves back at the sky villages... I would be so lonely and mad if I were Nacchi-dono..." Eri complained languidly.
Nacchi-dono... Wait... Wasn't that Rihoriho's grandma...? Doesn't that make the clan leader Rihoriho's grandmother...?
"Well, with a revolutionary war-hero like Goto Maki... You honestly can't complain."
The person we're meeting in Okinawa... is the Typhoon's Mother!??!
Chapter 37: Kudou Haruka
Working with the storm dragon slowly became tolerable. She could do without the constant puns, but in exchange for her suffering—she learned a lot about her inner element.
Fire was the classic beginner's spell for anyone with any sense of magic. All it took was the metaphorical "Unleash your inner fury" and that was all that was needed to start a flame. Branching out to the other main elements, however, was an entirely different story.
"So how did you know I was more of a lightning user? And don't give me that lame 'stunning' pun again, I see that one leagues away," Duu asked, wiping her brow as she sweated uncomfortably under the burning sun. Seriously? She knew the Ryukyu Islands were hot but not to this extent!
Suzuki-san thought for a moment. "If I were to take a stab at it...Lightning is more for those who are... piercing..."
The shorter girl slapped a hand to her face. Here we go again... She thought she had numbed herself to the painful puns hours ago but then there would always be the terrible ones out of the blue...
"Well, if you're a storm dragon, don't you demons stick to the wind and storm? I clearly see you use lightning a lot but you don't really use wind..."
Suzuki-san laughed and answered, "Some dragons enjoy blowing air spells everywhere, I'm not a fan though."
Duu looked on ahead to find that they had reached yet another shore. She looked at the demon and came closer, wrapping her arms around the other woman's neck and jumping into her arms.
It became a routine Duu didn't really want to get used to, but she had to. Because there were so many islands so closely knit together, Suzuki-san would pick her up and literally island-hop on their merry way. She once asked how long it would take to actually arrive at Okinawa and the demon told her that if she was allowed to transform, they would have been there in mere hours. By foot, it would have taken another full day.
Once they landed on the next island, Duu had to ask.
"Jumping gaps like that don't scare you?"
"Gaps were scary at one point," Suzuki-san paused, looking at Duu inquisitively, "but then I got over it."
"Oh...I see..." Duu replied flatly. She started to walk faster, away from the demon.
The island looked fairly heavy on the trees and brush—she didn't see the other side so easily like before, so it must have been another large one.
"Be careful roaming around. Those green clothes will let you blend in a little too well!" Suzuki-san called out. Duu actually cherished all the times she spoke without having to resort to word play.
"Maybe I'm lucky you aren't camoflaged. Your armor sticks out like a sore thumb."
"I did want camoflage armor before coming down here, but I just couldn't find it," the demon sighed dramatically.
"That being said..." Duu looked at the woman from head to toe, "Aren't you burning with all that armor? It makes me uncomfortable seeing you sweat under all that..."
Sure, the demon wore heavier armors, but her belly was exposed! The rest of her was covered with black armor and blue tiled armor layered upon itself, especially from the waist down. Suzuki-san had the battle skirt armored in and out with leg armor that went a little above the knees. Wouldn't the demon be uncomfortably sticky in addition to all that sweat?
"Oh, if you find it unbearable..."
The demon snapped her fingers and away her clothes went.
"SUZUKI-SAN, PLEASE PUT YOUR CLOTHES BACK ON!" Duu stuck her hands out, letting her fingers block all the exposed bits of the other woman.
"I've always found it liberating to be without clothes. I suppose this sight is too much to bare, huh?" The demon laughed heartily as she stretched her arms out, cracking her shoulders.
"Suzuki-san please!" Now Duu just simply looked away. Yes, she had seen her fair share of nudity thanks to bathing with her friends often but for a stranger to just unabashedly show it all to the world?! Suzuki-san was crazy!
"Oh, you're no fun," and with a finger snap, all the clothes and armor had returned. "There's barely anyone here anyway..."
"What's the point of even having armor when you're showing off your belly like that? Don't you put on the proper warrior garment beneath it all?"
"I do try wearing the actual clothes and the armor here and there, but I don't really like them that much since I can never really pull it off."
"Oh gods, how in the world do you do it?" Duu placed a hand on a tree, "See look! PALM tree! I can do it too!" She was getting fed up with the puns! Why was it such a thrill for Suzuki-san to make word jokes like that constantly?!
"Making fun of a tree is a knock on wood..."
"I had to go out on a limb to think of that palm tree joke!"
"I see you branched out for more tree puns."
"Seriously! You're the root of this whole pun problem!!" She smacked the tree with the side of her fist and a bunch of bananas fell onto the ground.
"Kudou, anger is not very appealing."
"Damn it!" Duu lifted her fingers and shot out a lightning streak at the demon.
The dragon simply tilted her head to dodge the blast, only infuriating Duu further. She kept shooting at her, some shots became lightning, other shots became flame. No matter what it was though, that damned dragon kept evading all of them!
"You're losing focus on your lightning that they're becoming flames again. You need to see clearly again." Suzuki-san was now walking towards her amidst the dodging. Panicking, Duu brought her hands together and threw out a blaze from her palms like that of a dragon breath.
Her flames grew so big that she had lost sight of the dragon. Suddenly, the orange fire parted in half and Suzuki-san suddenly grappled at Duu's hands, meeting palm to palm.
"Fire doesn't suit you. I feel like lightning adorns you far better." The dragon smiled wistfully, "You need to be more piercing in order to get a point over me."
There she went again with the teaching mumbo jumbo again. If she wanted piercing, she'd show her piercing! Duu threw herself backwards and used the momentum of Suzuki-san's strength to launch the demon over herself. Focusing all of her energy into her foot, Duu charged it up and kicked the demon right in the stomach and propelled her further behind.
Going with the momentum, Duu rolled backwards and stood up into a fighting position, and faced the dragon who slowly began to get up. Sparks came in and out of Suzuki-san's stomach where Duu had kicked her.
"I'd say you're learning lightning fast, am I right?" Suzuki-san smiled, running her fingers back through her hair.
Duu had to focus. Rage would only get her fire. If she wanted to be more effective, lightning was the way to go. Leaving her two pointer fingers in position, she jabbed at the air, allowing consistent lightning strikes to come out. However, instead of dodging them, the demon was catching them.
"Gotta go fast, huh? Let's see if you can shoot lightning consistently without burning out, hmm?"
Annoyed, Duu accidentally let out a burst shot of fire at the ill timed pun, falling right for the punchline.
"You'll get it in time. The transition between elements tends to be time-consuming," The demon looked down and picked up a fallen banana bunch. She took one banana out and peeled it apart before nibbling at it, "For now, I'd study a bunch, y'know?"
"I feel like I'm more of a hands-on learner more than anything..." Duu suddenly felt tired. Magic usage took a lot out of her when she wasn't so accustomed to using it...
"I'm glad I could lend a hand to your learning experience," the damned punning demon walked away, still holding onto that banana bunch under her arm. "Oh." The dragon stopped in her tracks.
"Why did you say 'oh' like it was a bad thing?" Duu inquired before falling over something. "Ow..."
"I can't believe I was around to see the day someone would trip over hair..."
Hair? Duu sat up and looked at her feet.
Not just one, but multiple.
"We seemed to have landed on a particularly hare-y island, Kudou."
"Hare-larious..." Duu replied sarcastically. She wasn't going to lie, they were all really cute! She reached out to pet them, but they scattered before she could touch them.
"It's okay, to pet a wild animal, any malicious auras will scare them off, so you need to come on gentler..." and now that fool was crouching, petting all the hares that came close with her free hand.
If there was a table to flip, Duu would do it. She made the motions with a frustrated grunt but accidentally scooped up a hare while doing so.
"Wow, you got so mad you pulled your hare out."
Chapter 38: Iikubo Haruna
Going on deck was ridiculously refreshing. Gentle sun rays shone on the ship below, wistful clouds drifted by lazily, and the ocean breeze was calm; not too rough or too chilling. Haruna took in a deep breath of the sea and exhaled in relaxation. Ayaka had to poke her to bring her back down to reality."You didn't seem like a sea person from my first impression."
"I didn't think so either; it's my first time on a ship..." She didn't count the earlier slave transport ship as a first. She couldn't take in everything nor enjoy the view like this... Not when she was in chains and cramped up with the others in the brig. She stretched her arms out. Yes, this was far more enjoyable.
The ship seemed so much smaller on the outside. It had a bit of clutter due to the various supplies and crates lying around. The Dschinghis Khan had a foremast and mainmast, all bearing beige sails and rope shrouds, but compared to the ships she saw at the harbor, these weren't very tall. She looked behind her to find what appeared to be the entrance to the captain’s quarters, with stairs flanking each side. She could only assume that the ship's wheel was at the top.
"An old ship, but the captain kept her in prime condition for 50 years and she's still running well."
"Is the captain human or a demon?" Haruna turned to look at the other woman.
"The captain? You know... I never did ask her..." Ayaka stroked the sides of her face as if she had a beard. "I discussed this with the other human members, but we think she could be an unbirthed demon... That does tend to be a sensitive issue though, so we never bring it up."
Ayaka was right, unbirthed demons were a really touchy subject. When someone was an unbirthed demon, that meant they gave up their humanity in some way. As far as she knew, demons who exist by birth had a disdain for such folk because they were tainted and impure-- which was ironic considering the malicious nature of demons. They were the lowest of the low and they could never find refuge in humankind nor their own demonkind. Unbirthed demons were put on the same hierarchical level as feral monsters who saw no reason or sentient.
Now, she wondered about this captain. If this captain managed a crew where demons and humans co-existed peacefully, then she couldn't be that bad... "I take it you figured this because she doesn't age? Is that it?"
"I guess so..." Ayaka sat down on the steps, "Yuka and I were still kids when the Captain took us in. Hadn't aged a day since meeting her."
"I see..." Haruna leaned against the stair railing. "Will she be okay with a straggler like me around?"
"Well, our routine plan for survivors was to drop them back off where they wanted to be. Did you have a location in particular?"
Well, she could go back to the village from whence she came... But she was worried about everyone else. Ayumi and Duu were lost in the wreckage after that white.... creature attacked. She had to find her friends. If there were any hints to go by of their location, Ayumi mentioned Okinawa... Maybe she could ask the Captain to change course?
"I know you all seem to be headed north, but is it possible to turn around and head towards Okinawa?"
"Okinawa? Hmm..." Ayaka thought to herself. "I mean, given our position, we could probably make it in a few days if we avoid certain currents. We're pretty low on supplies though, we didn't salvage too many things off of the shipwreck we found you in. What in the world happened though? We were pretty sure more than two ships were involved, but I can't imagine the destruction being caused by them attacking each other..."
"To be honest, I'm not even sure what was happening..." Haruna had a headache just recalling her hazy memories. "I think we were attacked by pirates, then something huge and white destroyed everything else. Next thing you know, I was thrown into the water and knocked out."
"Do you recall their flag at all? The pirates?"
"No, why do you ask?"
"It could have been someone we knew. I don't know if you noticed by our insignia, but we're also pirates."
Well that was certainly a revelation.
So not only was this ship captained by an unbirthed demon with a crew of demons and humans, but they were pirates on top of that? She couldn’t believe it. Why were these pirates so nice?
"As scary as we sound, we're not as evil as people paint us to be."
It wasn't too hard to believe that, she was talking to someone who had a certain obsession with Buddha statues after all.
"Might I ask the origin story of this crew then?" Haruna sat down on the stairs with Ayaka.
"As far as I know, Captain and her first and second in command started it. I don't really know much from there. We don't really ask about things, never had a need to. We're sort of a dysfunctional bunch, if anything. Bunch of humans traveling with demons...Unheard of, right?" Ayaka smiled to herself; a sight Haruna wouldn't mind seeing more often. She couldn't help but smile along.
"How did your crew manage that peace? Who was that earlier? Kanon-san was it? She seemed... fiery." Haruna was not sure how to address the demon when she didn't know her.
"Oh, she and Natsuyaki-san butt heads a lot. The captain could always separate them though. Honestly if there are any fights, the captain will be able to solve it in a minute."
"Your captain sounds strong," Haruna leaned her head against the rail, staring at the other woman with a small smile.
"Well, because the captain is ridiculously cool!" Ayaka chuckled, "she's such a hardworking person. And she's powerful too. You'd be a fool to defy her!
Haruna could tell that Ayaka had a lot of admiration for the captain. If she kept hyping the captain up like that, she'd be too intimidated to speak with her later!
The doors to the captain's quarters opened and Haruna felt like the gods were putting her to the test now.
Out came a narrow-faced lady with hair the color of sand. At the sight of the light brown horns, Haruna knew this was not the captain. The horns looked to be two-pronged and had rounded ends, meaning this could be a mountain dragon. At this, Haruna couldn't help but stare at awe.
The captain employed a mountain dragon onto the crew?
She had a loosely fitted yukata top and short trousers ending at her knees. Upon a closer inspection, the top was so loose that Haruna could see a trail of skin meet right at the belt. However...
A comrade... Haruna couldn't help but think as she looked at the dragon's chest. I have a comrade on this ship...
As if telepathic, the dragon looked at her, causing Haruna to pull back in intimidation.
"Who are you?" the pirate dragon asked, crossing her arms.
"I-Iikubo Haruna," she nearly stuttered. She felt like she was burning under the dragon's gaze!
"She's a survivor, Natsuyaki-san!" Ayaka placed her hands on Haruna's shoulders. "She woke up not too long ago!"
Natsuyaki-san looked at Haruna up and down before resting her eyes on a certain spot. As if a switch was flipped, she was immediately all smiles and sauntered over to the unsuspecting human. "You're going to fit in great here!" the dragon wrapped an arm around Haruna. "We're all family here! Help yourself to anything! If you have questions, just ask away!"
"O-oh..." Haruna uttered weakly.
Did she just... stare at my chest?
A true comrade...
“So where are you from? Are ya nearby?” Natsuyaki-san inquired, staring at the other woman intently. Haruna couldn’t help but feel intimidated by the other’s bright eyes. Were they gleaming white? Silver? Beige? She couldn’t tell. They were just so shiny!
It suddenly dawned on her that she was face to face with a dragon. She was looking at a fearsome mythical being that could literally tear her into pieces any minute. The thought would have overwhelmed her if it weren’t for Ayaka pulling her away from the dragon.
“Seriously, you’re overwhelming our guest!” Ayaka scolded. “And you haven’t even introduced yourself yet!”
The dragon blinked. It took a moment, but suddenly the dragon perked up, eyes widened and mouth agape, “OH!!”
“Silly…” Ayaka shook her head.
“I’m Natsuyaki Miyabi. I’m the First Mate of the Dschinghis Khan. Basically if the Captain isn’t around, then I’m the go-to person for what to do.”
“So, where did you come from? We’ll do our best to accommodate you on your way back. Though if it’s a bit on the farther side, we’ll have to stop and resupply ourselves but either way, you’ll be home!”
“Home isn’t exactly what I’m aiming for at the moment…” If the captain was not busy, then the first mate should suffice, right? “I got separated from my friends a while back but we planned for Okinawa as our meeting point should things go wrong… I know we’re all headed north but is there any possible way for us to turn around?” Haruna clasped her hands together and pleaded.
Taken off guard, Natsuyaki-san pulled her head back and raised a confused brow. “Well, this certainly wasn’t expected.”
“I’m sorry,” Haruna looked away, she knew it was futile.
“No no, we’re just so used to taking people to their home immediately. I guess that’s not important in this case, am I right?”
“What’s in Okinawa?” came a small voice. Haruna had to look around before her eyes settled on a small figure besides Miyabi.
Cute… Haruna secretly cooed as a petite lady stepped aside. The newcomer had a rosary necklace with ridiculously huge beads which threatened to consume her entire torso. Her mellow face was adorned with an eyepatch and a fluffy dark fringe. Although tied up, her curly, wavy hair found wild ways to stand out. She had a similar garb to Natsuyaki-san’s, but with one arm nestled close to her body and laid across her obi like a sling. The robe hung casually from her shoulder, sleeve wafting aimlessly in the breeze. She noticed a hint of a mesh shirt underneath the robe. Was she a ninja?
“O-oh, I’m Iikubo Haruna, thank you for having me.” What a silly error, she almost forgot to introduce herself! She bowed profusely at the other person.
“Shimizu Saki,” the other returned the bow with a nod of the head. “I am the Captain of this ship.”
SHE IS THE CAPTAIN?! Haruna screamed internally. This is the person who can tame demons? Haruna focused on the captain’s face, listening intently.
“As you might have heard, we’re headed north to replenish supplies,” the captain spoke with a certain regal tone, though Haruna had to pay extra attention to hear her, “We could definitely turn the ship around if we had guarantee of a friendly port, but I’m pretty sure none of us are stationed there at the moment.”
“Ah, so there’s no way to turn around, is there…?”
“We’re really low on supplies, I’m afraid we’ll have to put aside your request for now,” the captain shook her head.
Haruna honestly had no idea what was waiting at Okinawa for her either. What if her friends had already gone there and went elsewhere? If she was the first one there, that was another matter altogether, but if they never show up… For the time being, she needed to stick with friendly people. If anything, she could simply return to the village of whence she came and play the waiting game.
She felt a hand on her wrist and she turned to find Ayaka with an apologetic face. With a sigh, she sat. “It’s fine, but thank you for doing all that you could. You are kind, Captain.”
Being at a lower height, Haruna noticed something peculiar about the hand resting at the Captain’s waist. It was pure black and had a certain gloss about it… Before she could stare at it further, the captain walked away with Natsuyaki-san following after her.
“I saw what you were looking at,” Ayaka said aloud.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Haruna feigned ignorance.
“It’s a false hand.”
That certainly answered a question.
“Being someone near the top of a black market of information, you get a lot of people aiming for your head. Captain’s said that any lost limb she has was a result of being caught by the wrong people. No hand, no eye… I shudder to think if any other part of her is missing.”
Haruna became nervous. If the Captain was a high profile target for anyone good or bad, she might not be so safe with them, right?
“Well, the last time Captain was caught was over 50 years ago, she’s gotten a lot stronger since then. I doubt anyone could lay a finger on her now. She’s so cool!” Ayaka gushed, eyes suddenly filled with admiration.
Haruna’s eyes wandered over to the Captain, having a conversation with the mountain dragon at the railing. The captain looked so mellow and casual about everything that she wouldn’t think of her as anything but a highly sought out informant. She looked so human too! She could sense the charisma required for maintaining a vastly diverse crew. She felt guilty for thinking that she wouldn’t be safe in the hands (or well, hand?) of the Captain.
Speaking of the devil, the captain was walking towards them!
“Do you have any combat experience whatsoever?”
Haruna blinked. “Pardon?”
“Do you know how to fight at all?”
“Unfortunately, no…” Haruna was getting scared now.
“Ah, you might need to stay below then.”
“What’s going on?” Ayaka asked.
Natsuyaki-san answered. “There’s a ship headed our way. What’s more, it looks like a prisoner cargo ship. We might have a nasty fight on our hands if they think they have enough oomph to take us too.”
“No, I know who they’re holding in there,” the Captain looked over, probably at the direction of the ship.
“…Who? It’s just one person?” Haruna was astounded. A prisoner ship with only one prisoner in it could only mean one thing: this was a highly dangerous criminal.
“I got word a while back that they’re moving a high value prisoner towards the south. I didn’t know we would inadvertently take the same route.”
“Do you know who the prisoner is?” Ayaka inquired.
“I’ve only heard something about this prisoner being a particularly sadistic red ogre who has destroyed many villages.”
“Oh yikes, ogres that are red aren’t good,” Ayaka scratched the back of her head.
“Oh yikes, someone who is sadistic isn’t good… You know what will happen if Karin comes in contact with someone like that,” Natsuyaki-san sounded exasperated. The other two groaned in unison at their realization.
Was there something Haruna didn’t understand?
“Anyway…” Ayaka stood up and pulled Haruna with her, “Let’s put you somewhere safe, shall we?”
“What would happen to Karin if she were to meet a sadist?” She had to know!
“That is an answer you really don’t want to know.”
Chapter 39: Kudou Haruka
They landed with a loud thud and sand dispersed in all directions. She immediately rolled away hurriedly from the dragon’s grasp; she had to cough out sand! “Couldn’t you stick a better landing?!”
“The landing was rough, I apologize,” Suzuki-san said as she gathered sand and made a tiny mound, sticking her fingers in.
“What an insincere response!” Duu pointed an accusatory finger at the demon playing in the sand. “Are we finally at Okinawa though?”
The dragon stood up and took a good sniff of the air. “Yes. My mother is on this island. I’d imagine she is headed for our location as we speak. She should be able to sense my presence and look for me.”
“Alright, cool cool…” To be honest, she was still scared of meeting Suzuki-san’s mother. What if she was just as much of an airhead like her daughter? Heaven forbid that her mother also spoke in puns or worse, speak in something just as stupid…like palindromes or something.
“Your mother isn’t… punny like you, is she?”
“If only she shared my passion of puns,” Suzuki-san yearned wistfully, dramatically fanning herself. “I’m like a theater of puns, it’s just a play on words.”
“Thank goodness she’s not a pun lord like you.” She’ll pretend to ignore the theater pun. Maybe Suzuki-san won’t notice.
“Though, she did tell me she had a palindrome phase once…
“Dammit!” Duu kicked the sand angrily.
“Did you know that Dammit, I’m mad backwards is Dammit, I’m mad?”
“Oh gods no, don’t YOU start with the palindromes too! I swear if you do both at the same time…”
Suzuki-san looked at her expectantly.“I swear to the gods, if you do it…!” Duu tensed up.
Suzuki-san tilted her head, still staring.
“Don’t you dare do it!”
“…Avid diva,” Suzuki-san said, pointing at Duu.
“DAMMIT!” Duu threw herself backwards onto the sand. “I’m done. I have lost all will to go on. I’m stuck with a dragon who just puns and puns and puns and puns…”
“I understand how rough it is to deal with me, but don’t be too salty!” Suzuki-san laughed as she pulled Duu back up her feet by the scruff of her collar. “After all, we’re finally at our destination, yes?”
She had to admit, she was happy that they were finally here. Now, she just had to figure out where her friends were. What would a cat demon do in Okinawa? Wait, did this mean… She would finally be free from the demon?
“Oh gods above, I don’t have to stick with this demon anymore!” Duu began running forward. She got to where she needed to go. She didn’t need Suzuki-san’s help anymore. She was free. She was as free as a bird! She was free as—
Duu smacked into something and landed backwards. “Owwww…” She sat back up, rubbing at her forehead. She opened her eyes looking at the sight in front of her. A blue wall? She looked up slowly. This blue wall was turning into a blue bumpy column. She blinked.
It was a gigantic blue claw attached to a crab so big her eyes couldn’t see the top. All of a sudden she felt very puny. She was an ant compared to this thing!
“Wow.” Suzuki-san came up to the crab claw, inspecting it. “When she said she was hunting exotic game, I didn’t expect them to be this strange.” She knocked on the claw with the back of her gauntlet.
“I-it echoed…” That meant the meat was gone? Were they about to go face to face with something that…ATE the crab!?
“Mother probably ate it. She does like eating anything and everything.” Duu gave Airi an exasperated look. “What’s got you so crabby?”
“What kind of person is your mother?!”
“One with a taste for battle. If there’s no war, then there’s the hunt. She definitely enjoys training into infinity.” Suzuki-san chuckled, “Honestly, thanks to that she raised my sister and I to be the people that we are.”
“She raised a demon vegetarian and a punning lunatic from what I’m hearing,” Duu sighed. “And now I’m getting to meet… a foodie who likes to beat up her food?”
“A fabulous bunch, aren’t we? The humans gave us strange nicknames too… They call my sister the Cerulean Typhoon which is kinda funny because our official color is cyan, y’know?”
The Cerulean Typhoon...
“THE Cerulean Typhoon?! The one who caused a one month storm?! The one who sank 10 warships during the war?! The one who leveled a mountain with one punch?! The Cerulean Typhoon who turned in enough bounties to get into the shogun’s top 100 warriors?!”
“The Cerulean Typhoon is a storm dragon?”
“The Cerulean Typhoon is a vegetarian?”
“Yup, that’s my sister.”
“Whoa…” Duu laid back down. “Whoa…” she spread her hands flat on the ground. “Whoa…” She turned to the side, bringing her knees up into her body.
“You’re looking a little cerulean yourself. Feeling blue?”
“All this time… I’ve been traveling with a legend’s sister…”
“The humans gave me the nickname White Shock which is a pretty silly name to be honest. Who am I shocking? What is it about me that is so shock? It’s not like I’m the center of shock!! in any way, haha! Humans are interesting.”
“All this time… I’ve been traveling with a legend who has successfully shut down most slave operations and bandit encampments…”
“Mother’s nickname is the Gray Flash. My question is how is she gray if she flashes by? Do humans see color when we flash by? Such strange nicknames…”
“All this time…I’m about to meet a legend who turned the country on its head and revolutionized the way war is conducted…”
Seriously… She was being taught by the White Shock this entire time? She was even telling her about her bandit liberation quests earlier! It never occurred to her that she was THAT demon of legend! Just out of sheer curiosity, now she wanted to stick with that pun lord just to meet her mother!! Just exactly what kind of person is the Gray Flash?
“Oh!” a thought suddenly occurred. She sat back up and looked at the dragon, “what happened to your sister, the Typhoon? There was someone who attacked my village masquerading as her.”
“That’s honestly what I came here to find out,” Suzuki-san answered seriously, without a pun. “She’s been missing for five years now. It’s no surprise impersonators are popping up in her absence.”
Duu thought about the spider demon that had attacked her village. She should have known a person like the Typhoon wouldn’t be in alignment with bandits.
“Ah, her presence is getting closer. Shall we proceed with a walk?” the demon extended a hand towards Duu and she took it.
Duu was thinking a lot now. She was about to meet the Gray Flash. Honestly, nothing could prepare her for such a moment? What should she say? What should she do? She was sure she was going to just gawk and drool at her presence! The Gray Flash took out that gigantic blue crab they found!
Both Duu and Suzuki-san hunched down instinctively as a loud rumble resounded through the air. Following the sound, a significantly stronger than usual breeze picked up and blew dust at them.
“Wow, doesn’t my mother’s strength blow you away?”
“It must have been a breeze for her—DAMMIT now I’m starting to pun naturally, too! You’re horrible, Suzuki-san….”
A loud wail sounded in the air. Not even covering her ears could block out that shriek. She looked over to Suzuki-san who doubled over in pain. Having better hearing must have done a huge number on a dragon. Duu kept looking for the source of sound, but only saw palm trees all around her.
All of a sudden, it became really dark and she looked up. Something ridiculously huge was coming their way and her knees suddenly went weak. She was paralyzed. It was getting closer and she couldn’t move a muscle!
Duu collided with something soft, yet hard?! Her face was crushed by something soft while she felt her throat hit something hard like iron! She tried to cough at the impact, but whatever was suffocating her prevented her from doing so.
What was going on!? Her world was black, and her body was numb and what the hell did she collide with?! Was it that thing from the sky? Or was it something else entirely?!
Suddenly, she felt gravity shift and she fell backwards, out of the darkness and thrust back into blinding light. Sand was everywhere again and she struggled with finding decent air to breathe in. She felt a looming shadow tower over her and she struggled to open her eyes, afraid of the sand particles flying everywhere.
Were those the shadows of two mountains?
“AHHHHH!!!” Duu backed up right into a tree, mouth gaping.
In front of her was a supremely intimidating demon. All she wore were two sleeves with strong edges near the shoulders along with the most negligent and tiniest breast armor she’d ever seen. It was barely enough to cover the demon’s enormous assets and it revealed so much of their toned torso that Duu suddenly felt so ashamed of her own body. Instead of an obi, the demon wore a really thick rope that was tied into a huge butterfly knot in the back. The knot was so huge that it looked like wings! Following that were thigh armors and shorts. The newcomer wore greaves similar to Suzuki-san’s… and that’s when Duu realized that this person was holding a doubled over Suzuki-san with one arm.
“Y-You’re the G-Gray Flash!” Duu stammered nervously.
The Gray Flash’s eyes were a deep blue. Her features were spread out upon her canvas of a face. Suzuki-san also had that aspect about her, but her mother had it to a stronger degree. She had long, beachy dark hair which fell in several wet tresses.
“What of it?”
That low, charismatic voice sent shivers down Duu’s spine. She felt so much overwhelming power emanating from this demon! It was nothing compared to Suzuki-san’s!
Duu suddenly took in the scene before her. The sand had finally settled to reveal a huge, strange bird twitching right behind the mother and comatose daughter. It was brown and had a black face. The beak was incredibly long and rounded out towards the end. Duu was sure it would take four of her just to line the beak by itself!
Did the Gray Flash take that bird down all by herself?! Did the shriek come out of the bird’s dying maw?
Suzuki-san began to stir. Her mother set her on her feet and it was then Duu noticed the distinctive difference between their horns. Suzuki-san’s thick horns were just pointing backwards, but the Flash’s horns had three additional pointed throngs to them, thinning out the further back they went. That was definitely a sign of age difference between dragons.
“Mommy~!” Suzuki-san spread her arms out, “I came through Amami to see you, Momm—“
Her Mother squeezed her cheeks with a single well-maintained clawed hand before she could finish that sentence.
“Are you still doing that to me?”
“Language is such a precious thing, Mother. It’d be a sin not to fool around with it~!”
It was the first time Duu saw Suzuki-san so…formal. She was not as flippant as she usually was around her mother. So even someone like Suzuki-san had someone to answer to, Duu thought. That in itself was frightening beyond imagination.
“And who is this little one?” Vividly intense eyes settled on Duu, making her gulp in reaction.
“Lil’ Kudou!” Suzuki-san smiled widely. “She was shipwrecked a while back, but she reckoned that she needed to be here.”
Oh jeez, Duu forgot her manners! She must be the epitome of disrespect!
“I-I’m Kudou Haruka, it is a great honor to meet you!” Duu practically got on her knees to bow. She felt so tiny in the presence of two great dragons!
“A-ah! It is such an honor to meet Goto-dono!” Duu felt extremely overwhelmed that she thought she might catch on fire from the sheer awesome the elder dragon emitted.
“Did our collision knock a few nails from your head or something?”
Collision? All she remembered was something metal at her throat and soft at her face—DID SHE FREAKING COLLIDE WITH GOTO-DONO’S BREASTS?!
“I APOLOGIZE!!” Duu got on the ground to bow again. This person’s aura was scary as hell!
“What are you doing here?” Goto-dono turned to her daughter, treating Duu as part of the scenery. “Did you transform on your way here? Was that your dragon storm earlier?”
“No I did not, dear mother. That signature was someone of our lineage though…It was on the wild side, so perhaps Riho’s?”
“I’m being visited by Sayashi, too?” Goto-dono raised a brow. “Why is everyone interested in seeing me as of late? Next thing you know, her terribly affectionate baby sister will be on her tail as well.”
Riho? Duu knew a Riho, but that Riho was a cat, definitely not a dragon… And she could have sworn she saw her die from impalement...
Suzuki-san stared for a moment, “Did Neesan see you?”
“About five years ago, yes,” Goto-dono turned to inspect the bird. “This is a black faced spoonbill. I heard about their feathers having a constant regenerative effect…”
“I took down a grand blue earlier, I needed a new accent for my bracers. It added a stronger defense than the rockfish scales I previously had. I’m thinking of making a new armor design with a stronger defense and an added regen ability. How was that camouflage armor doing for you by the way?”
“I couldn’t find it, but Mother—“
“Oh, then it’s doing its job then. Perhaps I really should be investing in a defensive armor for long term missions…”
“Mother, what became of Neesan?”
“She stopped by for tea.”
“…is that all?”
“I guess we wrestled down a pleisoth together. I used its scales for the breast armor I’m currently wearing.”
“But did she tell you where she was going?”
Suddenly, Duu had an inkling of where Suzuki-san got her unorthodox personality from… It was like seeing double.
The Gray Flash is a very very enthusiastic monster hunter…
Suzuki-san wasn’t kidding when she said storm dragons were a curious bunch….
“I’m not even sure what happened to be honest,” Goto-dono sighed before…. Lifting off? The Gray Flash was now walking in midair. Duu’s mouth dropped.
“Mother, you’re flying without a cloud?!” Even Suzuki-san was astonished!
“It’s a technique I developed during my stay here. Now I don’t need to use my cloud, Abe, to fly.”
The Gray Flash was seriously someone out of this world…
“You really should write a scroll about gravity, it’d be impossible to put down.”
Chapter 40: Ishida Ayumi
She woke up with a start, breathing heavily. She had that nightmare again. Every single damn time, it would always be her being too late to reach for Riho’s outstretched hand. Every single damn time, she had to watch her fall off the ship. She thought she would be tense waking up, but she felt oddly relaxed.
That’s right… Michishige-san massaged me right to sleep… She looked around her room. Next to her bed was Riho, watching nervously with her lips drawn tight.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?” Ayumi grabbed her pillow and threw it at the halfie, though given the water’s viscosity, it happened inslow motion. Riho raised a hand to change the pillow’s trajectory and it bounced away towards the ceiling.
“I didn’t mean for this to look wrong, I swear I wasn’t here to watch you sleep,” the demon admitted sheepishly. “I came to apologize for my behavior, but I’m seeing first hand how serious this is.”
The pillow came back and lightly bopped Riho on the back of her head. Her cat ears immediately flattened. She snatched the pillow and forced it onto on her lap. The ferocity of her action caused many bubbles to appear. Ayumi couldn’t help but giggle at the sight.
“What I said was very hurtful. I’m still really bad at talking to humans. I’m just… really ignorant to everything you humans do.”
Ayumi shook her head. “No no, it was my fault for exploding on you in the first place. It just made me so mad to see you treat something like that as if it was just a tiny cut…”
“I should have better regard for my life. I didn’t tell you this at the time, but that was pretty scary for me, too.” Riho fiddled with the lightning earring at her side. “I’m so sorry to have caused you trouble, and now you’re having nightmares on my account…”
“Do you know how helpless I felt watching you fall?” Ayumi grabbed Riho’s hand, squeezing it tight. “I lost my parents a while back, but I held their hands the entire time. You were almost unreachable. I felt like I could have saved you, but…” Ayumi felt tears dotting her eyes and she tried to blink them away.
“You’re holding my hands now,” Riho lifted their hands, “I’m here. I’m not going away.”
That did it. This idiot was going to make her cry. She pulled the demon into a crushing hug and she did her damned best not to cry. Riho was extremely tense and she could have sworn she felt the cat get the shivers. She knew the other girl hated being touched, but she really needed this right now. A sniffle escaped from her and she knew she was close to letting loose.
Riho slowly raised her arm and gently rested it on her back. Although It was a half-hug, Ayumi recognized the effort and accepted the demon’s apology in her mind.
“ARE WE READY, KIDS?”
Ayumi and Riho immediately let go of each other, but not without consequence. Ayumi banged her head off of the bedpost, while Riho fell backwards in the most awkward, underwater slow motion anyone had ever seen.
Princess Eri came in excitedly and she looked back and forth between the two. “Did I interrupt something?”
“N-no… We were just surprised.” Ayumi rubbed the back of her head.
Just then, bunny ears appeared behind the princess. Michishige-san sneakily wrapped her arms around the princess’s waist, eliciting a laugh from the latter. Sometimes Ayumi did wonder what the two talked about when she wasn’t around. They seemed suspiciously close for people who had high tension earlier…
“Were you two up to no good?” Michishige-san asked, a certain glint in her eye shone.Ayumi looked over to Riho, who was still in the process of falling backwards, struggling to stay up. She almost looked like a mess of bubbles and wild slow motion flailing.
“Is that really something you should be asking me when we have this dork over here?”“Hey! I’m your senior!” Riho managed to finally calm down and allowed herself to drift to the ground.
“Right, Sayashi-san,” Ayumi said sarcastically. She wasn’t sure when it had happened but she was constantly thinking of the halfie by her given name rather than her formal name nowadays.
Finally, after what had seemed like hours, Riho finally landed on her back, with her butt still attached to the chair. She crossed her arms with an indifferent look as if she had never fallen. Ayumi couldn’t help but smile at the sight.
“Are we ready to depart? I have a manta ray carriage waiting for all of you.”
Ayumi and Riho looked at each other before both asking, “What is a manta ray?”
“Oh, it’s the one that looks like a flattened mochi!” Michishige-san raised a hand high in the air, “they’re so cute! They make these faces at you,” and with that, she made a sort of puffed up, flat lipped face. Ayumi had no idea what the bunny was talking about.
“How about you all gather your things and we’ll step out?”
Ayumi suddenly became saddened. The bag she had earlier was lost in the shipwreck. It had all of her clothes and mementos in it… And on top of that, she lost personal items belonging to her friends. They were going to be so pissed that they were gone…
“I… don’t have things anymore.” She didn’t even have her trusty naginata anymore. That was also an heirloom she inherited from her parents. Everything she had was gone except for the clothes she wore. There was no way the princess of sea dragons would lend them any supplies, right?
“Oh, what supplies do you need? I might be able to spare some things?” The princess tilted her head curiously.
“A bag filled with clothes, honestly. And a water jug if possible? Maybeaweaponforme?” Ayumi said the last part really quiet and fast. She was hoping the princess would get the hint.
“A few clothes and a jug, I could spare. Unfortunately, everyone here has made and/or earned their weapon here as a rite of being a sea dragon warrior, so I’m afraid I can’t help you there.”
Drat, she was really hoping for something. She did notice how most of the guards had their own customized spears. They must have really went out and made their weapons. The sea dragon military were pretty hardcore…
She would have to deal without a weapon for now. She was generally okay without it, but she was definitely no hand-to-hand combat expert like Riho was. She preferred sharp strikes, Riho preferred raw power.
“Are you sure I can’t borrow a broom or something…?” Ayumi had to keep trying. There must be something to use as a weapon.
“What’s a broom?”
That’s right, they were underwater. There is no use for sweeping when there was just water everywhere. Ayumi wanted to hit her head on a pillar.
“Well I suppose I could part with… that…” the princess thought to herself, thinking long and hard.
“Hime-sama… You’re not possibly thinking of…” Michishige-san looked at the other incredulously.
The princess shook her head, “No, it’s too big.”
“What’s too big?” Ayumi’s interest was piqued.
“I have a toothpick.”
Ayumi’s face dropped. “A toothpick?”
“A toothpick,” the princess answered back. “For when I’m in my true form.”
“How big is this toothpick?” Riho piped up from below, still too lazy to stand up.
“Half your size,” the princess looked over at Riho.
“Oh then that’s not bad, it’s like a sword,” Ayumi grew happy.
“Half your true size.”
“Oh, then that’s too bad, it’s like a boat,” Ayumi grew sad.
“Are you sure you didn’t keep any debris from shipwrecks that happen above your palace? Oars? Pieces of wood?” Riho asked.
“If you want that chair, you could have it.”
Honestly at this point, Ayumi simply gave up. She would have to find something on the surface. “It’s fine then. Let’s just go.”
“Are you sure? There might be scraps of my dinner leftover from last night; you might be able to salvage something from it.” The princess swooshed over, leaving a trail of bubbles in her wake. Ayumi got nervous suddenly from the royal sea dragon being so upfront that she had to look down.
“I’m sure. I’m honored to have aid from the sea dragons at all, let alone from their princess.”
“Ohhhh you flatter me!” Princess Eri lifted a finger and poked Ayumi’s nose. “I like it when human heartbeats go all fast like yours. It’s like this purr in the water. It’s so sensational.” The princess seemed to have released her hold on gravity and began to twirl her body around until she was facing Ayumi upside down. “I almost want to keep you, it’d be great having a human in the palace. You could tell me about this ‘broom’ thing you mentioned earlier.”
“Eririn,” Michishige-san placed a hand on the princess’s ankle, “Ayumi needs to find her friends and she can’t do that when she’s over here, can she?”
The princess flapped her arms cutely, “But Chayuuuuu~!”
“We have important business.”
“Fine,” Princess Eri sulked. She retreated into herself and kicked in the opposite direction, thus launching herself towards the door in sea flight. “You two heard it all, right? Go gather aid and find Aru, I’m sure he’ll get them to Okinawa the fastest.”
“Hime-sama!” the two guards saluted before quivering their lips in separate directions of the hall. Ayumi was rather confused at what happened. Riho stood up and squinted at the sight.
“Was that… echoing? Did they just communicate to everyone else via echo communication?”
“Something we learned from dolphins. It’s quite useful,” Princess Eri chuckled as she slithered through the water like a graceful wave. It was a sight made all the more ethereal with her long clothes trailing behind like ribbon. “Are you all coming?”
It was then Ayumi realized that they were all just staring at the princess. There was a certain hypnotic aspect about her, despite her airheadedness. “Y-yes!” she ended up saying first as she scrambled to catch up, causing a thrash of bubbles as she did so. Riho followed after, though not without correcting the fallen chair’s position to upright. Michishige-san meekly followed behind.
Ayumi looked upon the sight before her. As they traversed the open air hall, her eyes spied on the school of rainbow fish swimming beside them. On their other side, more exotic fish she had never seen were also flying by. She was going to miss this. Nothing on land could be this astounding… yet. She wondered what else would come on her journey with a half dragon, half cat dork and a bunny priestess. Surely, it would lead to more things like this because she’d definitely sign up for the next amazing wonder.
The princess led them through the coral garden into a clearing where this huge creature awaited. Ayumi had never seen anything like it. Michishige-san wasn’t kidding when she said it was kind of like a flattened mochi. The manta ray was so wide and flat that she wondered how it could even swim at all. It was like someone took a bird, took away the body, took away the head, took away the legs, so that it was left with just wings and it was just so bizarre. Upon closer inspection, the deep blue manta ray had a white underbelly and… a face? It was almost smiling! Attached above it was a carriage of sorts.
“His name is Aru, he is squishy, and he is mine,” the princess cooed as she connected heads with the majestic animal.
“S-so big…” Riho’s ears flattened. It’s been a while since Ayumi had seen Riho like this. The last time was when she was surrounded by the kids at the orphanage.
Soon… we’ll reunite everyone… Ayumi thought hopefully.
Soldiers came and Ayumi noticed that they were carrying a bright orange parcel similar to the bag she had before they were sunk. That bag must be the one that the princess was giving to them. Her thoughts were confirmed as the soldier handed the bag toward her and she took it upon herself and wrapped it diagonally onto her being.
“Thank you again, Hime-sama,” Ayumi bowed completely. Riho followed suit in the bow.
Before Michishige-san could bow, the princess pulled her into a hug, “We’ll still keep in touch, right?"
“Of course!” the bunny priestess smiled into the hug. Ayumi just wondered how close they got while she wasn’t looking…
They pulled away briefly before Michishige-san gripped the princess firmly and kissed her right on the lips.
Immediately, all the guards pointed their spears at them.
However, the princess raised a hand.
Ayumi raised a brow before covering Riho’s eyes at how long the display went on for…
The princess pulled away first, connecting foreheads with the bunny. “You’ll write to me?”
“I do know your address now,” Michishige-san smirked. “We’ll definitely keep in touch.”
They certainly got really close...
Chapter 41: Tanaka Reina
“You know, Reina just realized you never did explain why you decided to travel,” Reina commented, slowing her run to a casual crawl. She was in her true form once more, after all, it covered way more ground than her tinier self.
Marin responded with a small noise in her throat.
“Pfft! Rude!” Reina bucked once, nearly throwing the weasel off of her fur.
“…To be frank, I was lost myself...”
“Like, on the way to something? Or do you mean it in a metaphorical way?” A priestess once taught her that ‘metaphor’ word. She felt proud for being able to use it in a sentence.
“Yeah… I had nowhere to go, no place to be… and you looked like fun, so I thought I’d come with you.”
“Holy shit, you said more than six words,” the cat’s eyes widened, ears perked up.
“Talking is a lot of effort…” Marin sighed. “I don’t say. I do.”
“Reina hears ya!” the elder demon chuckled. “I had a moment like that once. I lost someone close to me and I was lost for the longest time…” Her memories rewound back to the time of Reina the thief, before she got her hellcat nickname.
“How do you feel about humans?”
Marin thought for a moment before responding, “Nothing. I don’t associate with them… nor them with me.”
“See, Reina was… sort of an ass about them. Then, this one human stubbornly stuck with me like you. She showed Reina that humans aren’t so bad as we make them out to be.”
“She died. Protecting me.” Reina went out of third person for saying that. Serious times called for serious talk.
“Oh… I’m sorry…”
It was almost a distant memory now. She could barely remember her face. However, she remembered the distinct flames that surrounded them. She remembered the human saying that Reina should go save the day and that she’d stay behind and escort people to safety.
Although Reina had saved the day, the human did not survive the fire.
“It’s fine. It’s been more than 50 years. I’ve learned a lot about things I never knew with her.”
“…Were you in love?”
“Maybe at one point,” Reina shrugged, “That’s a chapter that passed a long time ago. I’ve got my soulmate and my kids now and I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for them.”
“…I see…How are they like?”
Reina needed to think about a word for them all.
“They’re all idiots to be honest.”
“But they’re my idiots and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Reina loved her family. Every time she stressed out even a little, her mind would always drift back to them and she would be at ease.
“How about you?”
“Not sure. Don’t care. I exist.”
Ouch. Whatever happened to Marin must have been bad if she didn’t care for her family.
“I did want to travel, though. So thanks.”
“Pft, you’re welcome.” Reina paused to shake off herself. All that fast travel made her fur feel dirty. Marin nearly fell off.
“Where d’ya think we are now? Are we headed in the right direction?” Now that she thought about it, they haven’t stopped for directions in a while… They haven’t seen a coastline yet either, that meant they were still in the middle of the country.
“Look at the sun.”
Reina looked up. It was high in the sky. That meant it was high noon.
“Reina swears, EVERYTIME we finally remember to look at the sun, it’s always afternoon!”
Chapter 42: Suzuki Airi
What a bummer, it seemed that she had a long way to go before she, too, could just casually float without the help of her cloud, Papi. All storm dragons in their disguises needed the aid of a cloud in order to fly. They weren’t birds with wings after all.
“I’m honestly feeling so enlightened by what I’m seeing right now, you lift me up.” She tilted her head in a smile whilst standing on her cloud. “Does Abe not feel lonely?”
“I often use her for helping me transport material nowadays. It took me hours just to empty out that Grand Blue and transport everything back to my base.”
“Oh, you have a base?” Kudou’s eyes twinkled. The human looked incredibly excited for some reason.
“Yes, this is it.”
They were currently sitting in a hut with trophies adorning the walls inside and out. The roof was made of a huge shell of something, Airi wasn’t sure what it could be. It was wide and red and had nets extending outwards, keeping out unwanted visitors and of course, displaying dead creatures. Though, her mother was chewing on something that looked quite leathery and Airi had to double take again. Perhaps those displays of dead creatures were, instead, dried snacks waiting to be eaten.
“O-oh…” Kudou looked down, seemingly disappointed.
“I don’t need anything extraneous, I just needed a roof over my head, and a place to store my loot.”
“Mother, you’re still creating new armors and weapons, right? By chance do you have a workshop nearby?”
“Ah, yes, I suppose I do have one,” the elder dragon stood up and began to walk. Airi and Kudou followed after.
Although slightly intimidating at times, Airi did enjoy being around her mother’s company. She remembered being a child who would always climb onto her mother’s lap as she worked on a project. Her curiosity was definitely something her mother gave her. Although she didn’t share the same passion of war and military performance, she extended the same love towards language.
They came upon a cavern further inland and Airi could hear Kudou’s heart quicken. “Excited, are we?” She couldn’t help but voice it aloud. The human shook her head vigorously, attempting to play it off. This kid was simply too adorable.
“It does get hotter, so feel free to strip if it becomes unbearable. Since no one really comes around these parts, I just work in the nude at times.”
“Wait, so the exhibitionistic tendencies run in the family?” Kudou raised a brow.
“We’re not the type to keep secrets. We like to bare it all to the world,” Airi placed a hand at her collar matter-of-factly. “It’s so refreshing to get things off your chest, you know?”
“Don’t tell me the Cerulean Typhoon is like that too…” Kudou’s face drooped.
“Oh, my sister is the complete opposite. She’s usually covered at all times.”
“Strange really, considering my grandchildren also enjoy running around naked, there was one time where Riho more or less flashed the entire village because Nacchi forgot to put up the child gates,” Mother commented with a hand massaging her crown. Airi remembered that moment too. She was in tea ceremony when she noticed that cat-eared toddler casually waddling by.
“Ah now I miss Riho, I adore playing with her cat ears, they’re so soft and so fluffy~!”
“Wait, is she not a dragon?” Kudou inquired. She looked incredibly pensive all of a sudden.
“No, she’s half. She’s part dragon, part feline, but her feline traits are more prominent.”
“It’s a shame that her prefered dyes are red in nature. Our official clan color is cyan so it would have been nice to see the tradition continue,” Mother added.
Somehow, whatever her mother said had triggered something in Kudou. Her eyes grew wide and she went as pale as snow.
“You’re so pale, it ails me to see you,” Airi looked on with concern.
“So this Riho person… She’s got cat ears and she wears red, right?”
“Correct, that is my niece.”
“Have you met my grandchild before, perhaps?” Mother asked, and now Airi thought that might sense. Riho was near by so it wouldn’t surprise her if Kudou had seen her.
“I… have…” Kudou had to steady herself by leaning against the cavern wall. Poor human seemed to be overwhelmed by everything. She hadn’t seen Riho in years, but if she was anything like her toddler self, surely Kudou would be overwhelmed by her intriguing family.
“Hnn…” Mother paused in stride. Airi looked at her in question. Suddenly, something wicked permeated the air. Immediately, Airi grabbed Kudou and turned to run. She saw her mother fly by like an arrow before she boarded Papi and willed her to fly as fast as she could.
As soon as they reached the entrance, they both split up and a roaring fire surged out between them. She knew as soon as they went into a cavern that they were headed straight for a lava vein (Perfect for a fiery workshop,Airi thought), but lava wasn’t supposed to spurt forth fire like that.
There were things inside that she had noticed at the last second. Whatever it was, they were trying to hide their aura.
“I wonder who’s trying to ambush me now?” Mother sighed boredly, giving off a shrug. Goodness, being a clan leader must be exhausting. She remembered all the failed assassination attempts on her mother since she was a child. Nowadays, the attacks were sporadic considering her mother had reached unparalleled amounts of strength but people still did their best.
Out of the fire came four figures.
One was a well-endowed woman dressed similarly to her Mother, only her colors were purple and violet, and her hair was a mix of auburn and bright sun blonde in her fringe. A tanned hand held onto a bright, glowing katana which emitted smoke. Shows who sent out that smoking greeting, earlier...Airi thought.
Following that woman was someone dressed in all golden armors, however; the aesthetic was oddly familiar and it was then Airi realized…
“I didn’t think anyone would attempt to steal my hard work.” Mother’s hair began to float little by little. She knew her mother was definitely getting annoyed now.
No words were exchanged between the four women. The one in mostly green stepped forward. She was not as armored as the other three, but her hair carried every dye of the rainbow. She pointed her spear at the three.
“Our client thanks you for the creation of these armors. We’ll be lending them back to you shortly.”
Not so colorful personality though...Airi frowned. The malicious aura was starting to overpower her senses though. These people were certainly bad news and Airi had a brief doubt that this scuffle might not be so one-sided after all, even with her Mother’s power.
“I never consented to this, who do you think you are, stealing from Goto Maki herself?” Mother raised a hand and a wind funnel began forming around her arm.
The last woman smirked, showing very prominent front teeth. She readied her two blades and a very evil miasma leaked out of every crevice of her crimson armor.
“We are simply the Anniversary.”
Kudou ended up sending out a lightning strike first, though the woman in green batted it away.
“You’re more like a bunch of melons if you ask me!” Kudou called out, throwing more lightning blasts at their way. Oh, this wasn’t good. She was nowhere at the level to be fighting against these melons. Oh… Airi caught herself midthought. Now that Kudou had said it, she just had to call them melons now.
“I like that, melons...” Airi said aloud. “Perhaps calling you all the Melon Kinenbi would be cuter, anniversary and all.”
The other four were taken off guard and that was when her mother took the cue to blast them away with her gusts. The purple and yellow lady were blown out of sight while the red and green ones held their ground.
“Get my stuff back,” Mother called out to Airi in a low growl and with that, she flew upwards in pursuit of the other two.
The remaining two looked stunned at the sight of her mother.
“She has the power of flight?” the multi-colored haired woman said, astonished. “Our client will be interested in taking that…”
“Ootani, that isn’t our mission now,” the red one swung her swords. “We have what we came for, we must go before the Flash catches us…”
“OH NO YOU DON’T!” Kudou screamed out before launching a kick at the red one’s face. Unfortunately, the red woman caught Kudou’s foot and flung her aside.
“You’re annoying…” She made a move to swing at the human and that’s when Airi rushed in and caught the other woman by the throat.
“Unfortunately for you, miss Melon, I can’t elope with the idea of your escape.” Airi drew in the energy of the air around them and she felt her grinning eyes light up with glee. She felt an oncoming blast and she tilted her head back, allowing the fire blast to pass by.
Airi punched the red lady in the face and was ready to let loose a fury of more when she heard Kudou struggle against the one called Ootani. Sensing that the lady at her grasp was a human, she simply slammed her against a palm tree and left her to save Kudou.
The poor kid was being absolutely punished by a barrage of clear energy blasts. Airi threw some energy blasts of her own at Ootani which caught her attention. She sensed the red human stirring from the earlier impact and she knew she didn’t have much time before she was back on her feet. She needed to round them up quickly and make sure Kudou was out of harm’s way. “Stay back, Kudou, this is not your fight. You can’t match up to their energy yet!” Airi called back. Just as she did that, she felt a punch to her face and she staggered back. Ootani must have closed the distance!
The red woman also recovered and charged at them full speed. A human shouldn’t be that fast...Airi was taken off guard. Whatever armor she took, it was definitely imbued with heightened speed. Now both enemies were attacking Airi at the same time at a ferocious pace. Airi blocked the hits of the spear and dual swords with her gauntlets. It was like a symphony of clangs and bangs with metal upon metal.
Seeing an opportunity, she caved into Ootani’s spear thrust and redirected it to hit her comrade. However, the comrade blocked the hit and swept the spear downwards, tripping her between them. This was bad. She was on the ground and flanked by the enemy. As they moved in, she grabbed their ankles and swung as hard as she could, tripping them as well. She moved to get up, but the spear and swords stopped her advance. Suddenly, they were groundborne and fighting while lying down.
Unable to take it much longer, Airi willed Papi to come and push her away from the two. The cloud scooped her up and threw her back on the ground, though the landing was rough as she staggered backwards trying to regain her footing. She fired instantaneous lightning spells at the two, but for some odd reason their weapons kept deflecting the blasts with ease. For two human enemies, they were on par with her power.
The red lady appeared suddenly before her and she didn’t have enough time to defend. She landed some sword hits on her and roundhouse kicked her in the face.
“I see you like being racy,” Airi called out, “Time to raise some hell!” and with a clap, thunder raced towards her opponents. When the first lightning struck the red woman, the static jumped onto the green woman and both spasmed briefly before falling upon their knees.
“Playing with lightning and metal is like flirting with bees,” Airi panted, “it always creates a buzzing attraction.” She looked over at Kudou, who seemed to have collapsed and was panting heavily. “Though you were stung pretty bad, I see.”
Yeah, Kudou was no where near their level. If these humans were on par with her, Kudou would never stand a chance. She went forward to aid her but was thrown aside by a huge force of lightning.
“I… was struck by lightning?” Impossible. She could always predict lightning. She was a storm dragon for crying out loud! Ootani was already back in fighting position, spear at the ready.
That spear… Airi glared. It must be some form of channeler… It had to be a high class weapon. Then it dawned on her. Was that spear made by her Mother? Furthermore, did she make that spear from one of her scales? Before she could think further, Ootani began to spin the spear rapidly, generating way too many lightning strikes for Airi to keep up with and she was sent flying.
Papi managed to catch her before she collided with Kudou, but Airi wasn’t sure how much longer she could battle for. Papi propelled her at full speed before she launched like a spring, using a jolt of electricity to speed her up with the force of a cannonball. When she missed, Papi managed to catch up and allowed Airi to bounce back with stronger force.
Soon, she was committing insanely fast strikes, using Papi to increase her speed tenfold. She ricocheted back and forth like a bullet in a bowl. The other two didn’t stand a chance. They were trapped. With a final bounce, Airi spiraled her advance and slammed into the both of them at once, sending them flying at the wall of the cavern.
“That was decided fast...I didn’t have time to blink,” Airi struggled to close her dry eyelids. High speeds did that to a dragon’s face. She walked over and confiscated the weapons of the comatose enemy. She then removed their armors, taking them back for her mother. “And now the con descends from condescending.“
She stood up and attempted to sense where her Mother was, but to no avail.
When she looked back down, she saw the two vanish. She looked up to find the two being carried by two.. tengu? She squinted to find that it had been the other two, but somehow they had sprouted wings?
“They took two of the tengu masks I’ve created…” Mother hissed beside her, looking slightly worse for wear herself.
“Well, at least I got some of your stuff back!” Airi held out the weapons and the stolen armor.
Mother looked at the items that Airi had returned. “At least they didn’t take the spear made with my scale.”
“So, it was made with your scale. I reckon it weighs out the rest in importance, huh?” Airi nudged her mother.
“These swords aren’t mine, though,” Mother bent over and inspected them, giving both a swing and a twirl. They felt like ordinary blades when Airi had touched them. The hilts were made of sharkskin like anything else, though upon closer inspection she realized that both blades had been imbued with the element of earth.
“An honest effort. The blacksmith who did these blades put a lot of care into them.” The elder dragon looked closer towards the scabbards of the blades, and Airi tilted her head to look at them too. There was something written on each blade in small engravings. One said “Brushwood Blade” and the other had said “Swordstone.”
“Simplistic names. Perhaps the intent had far more meaning, but no matter, I suppose I could sell these later.”
It was a shame. Airi did not know as much about craftsmanship as her mother did but she knew enough to know that these swords had a lot of care poured into it.
They heard a sniffle and they turned to look at Kudou, sitting on the ground with her head hung low.
Before she could ask, Kudou uttered something.
“Useless…” She hit the ground with a fist. “I’m so useless…”
Was the human… crying? What was the matter? The enemy was gone. Although they made it with some items, their lives were intact and that was the important fact. Airi walked over and sat with the child.
“I wasn’t any help at all, I’m sorry…”
“You didn’t need to do anything. We had it under control.” Her mother said bluntly, but it seemed to agitate the human more.
“I wanted to help! Suzuki-san put her life in danger on account of protecting me, and I can’t accept that!” Kudou drew her knees closer, burying her face further within herself. “I’m not strong… I’m so useless…”
Kudou looked up at the elder dragon.
“Drain your tears and train. I saw a bit of Airi in your magic. Clearly you’ve been working closely with her to improve.”
Mother had a point. Kudou had already learned from her pretty quickly. At her rate, she just might be able to hold her own in a high level match. Kudou remained quiet however. Instead, she stood up, wiping her tears.
“I need to think. I’ll come back to the base before sun down.”
And with that, the human left.
“Will she be okay? She doesn’t get lost, does she?”
“Nah, she’s not my sister-in-law,” Airi chuckled, “She actually has a very level head on her shoulders. I honestly wouldn’t mind taking her under my wing for a bit.”
Mother stared at her.
Airi raised a brow. “Mother?”
“The you of before would rather be engrossed in your scrolls, dissecting words to create new puns. Have you grown softer over the years? Was this Kanna’s doing?”
Airi waved her hand dismissively, “Oh, Kanna and I broke up a loooooong time ago. I’m seeing someone else now.”
“I’m with Maimi now.” Gods, she loved that woman to death now. Now, she found herself missing that spacey lady.
Mother squinted at her for for a moment.
“Maimi… The general?”
“Generally,” Airi replied, tongue-in-cheek. As much of a space case her girlfriend was, she had several accomplishments as a storm dragon general.
“So you went from a seamstress to military, wise choice,” Mother crossed her arms and nodded sagely. Of course she would approve of soldiers. She had been pushing them on her from the beginning. Honestly, Maimi being a soldier wasn’t what seduced Airi, but no matter.
“So what else did the Melons take? I can’t imagine their plans coming to fruition with half the loot.”
“They took two tengu masks I’ve designed for flight, chest armor designed for fire protection, and gauntlets meant for absorbing magic. You managed to retrieve the greaves of speed and the armor I’ve imbued with my own lightning. Though…” she looked off into the distance of where they flew off. “I have far more valuable armor in the workshop made up of metals and exotic steels, yet they decide to take the ones carved from bone and wood.”
“So they grabbed the least armor-like of armors, says the one wearing lacking armor.”
“Your belly is exposed like mine.”
“But I’m protecting my chest, you look like you’re promoting yours.”
“Give that chest a rest.”
“Undo the calamity that are your mammaries.”
“Can you not?”
“Don’t have a rack attack, Mother.”
Chapter 43: Natsuyaki Miyabi
The Dschinghis Khan was in frenzy. Miyabi wondered if anyone onboard even remembered how to operate during a naval battle. They had not met an enemy ship in years. Twice, she saw Yuka and Karin fumbling around to their stations and Ayaka had nearly fallen overboard out of sheer negligence.
“Say…We’re in their line of sight, why haven’t they fired yet?” Miyabi asked aloud as she paced back and forth behind the captain.
The Captain seemed immune to the chaos, and kept the steering wheel balanced between her good arm and knee, “I am going to laugh if the reason they haven’t fired yet is because they found out who we are.”
“You mean who you are,” Miyabi crossed her arms and smirked.
“It’s unsettling though. They have the edge, we’re in their line of sight, the wind is at their back, but they’re not moving...”
Miyabi knew the implications. It had to be a trap. Why would a prisoner ship wait for pirates to land on their deck? Either they were boasting impressive fire power or they were waiting for the crew to take the bait.
“Keep her steady, I’ll investigate.”
Miyabi began a sprint towards the front of the boat. She gained speed and launched herself off of the bow, and allowed her arms and legs to fall in line with her body. Flames burst from her feet and fists and she sped towards the other ship like a cannonball.
She had always loved this part of battle. The enemy was probably trying to identity what was coming towards them. It would always take them around 30 seconds to figure it out, she remembered. Only 30 seconds into her flight, and arrows started to whiz her way.
Every single time!
Not like it took a master to figure out something on fire was about to hit ship, but she always loved to think of it as people finding the sight of a flying mountain dragon very mind-boggling.
As arrows came her way, she adjusted the angle of her flames so she would dodge them.
Suddenly, she smashed into the sky?!
Surprised, she nearly fell into the sea, recollecting herself at the last moment. She let out a powerful blast of fire beneath her and launched high in the air, taking in the scene.
Whatever she had collided with was starting to fall apart like a shattered mirror. As the pieces fell away, she could see behind them a row of smaller boats with shide adorning the sides.
Wait… She looked up again and found herself flanked by two more warships.
Of course a prisoner ship wouldn’t be by itself! She was caught between the escorts!
And she had unwittingly broken the illusion hiding them away. Miyabi flew out of the way as the ships opened fire on her. Jeez, target practice was too easy when the target had a long flame trail right behind them! Her opponents sent a barrage of arrows after her for good measure as well, forcing her to continue to dodge attacks from all sides.
As she was keeping herself airborne, she looked back towards the Dschinghis Khan to find that another warship was approaching it fast.
“I really hoPE AYAKA SAW THAAA—” She screamed in crescendo as a cannonball collided right into her gut. Before she could be rendered useless by the water, she turned up her flames and flew right through the nearest ship’s walls. She landed in a heap of crates and barrels within, sore and aching.
“Wow…” Miyabi turned over, blinking out the dust in her eyes. “Yeah, not gonna have any nightly adventures with Captain for a while…”
Suddenly, Miyabi was wet. Literally. Someone had thrown a bucket of water at her.
“Fire breathing mongrel!” a sailor screamed.
Crap, that means no flying for a while… Miyabi hissed. She felt restraints being forced onto her wrists and she immediately grabbed a hold of the chains and swung them around.
It was then she noticed that she was in a brig with maybe a dozen or so sailors. These are some pretty mean sailors…
Just what kind of ogre warranted that much protection? Three warships escorting a single carrier? No human establishment would go that far to prevent an ogre from going free.
Whoever it is must have vital information.
“Quite a party for one little ogre…” Miyabi stood up. Welp, they successfully got the restraints on her, but the chains were loose and had no tether. Stupid mistake. No amount of humans could hold a dragon down.
Though, she had to be careful about her stomach. Despite being a mountain dragon and having a hide as thick as iron, that still hurt! Even though she could think of many ways to destroy humans with thick cuffs and long chains, she couldn’t do any fancy things or risk making her stomach injury worse.
Of course, everything would be solved with a transformation, but they were at sea and she didn’t feel like sinking to the depths.
The humans remained in a fighting stance, intimidated by her. Why weren’t they attacking yet?
“Scared to fight a dragon?” Miyabi teased.
“Are you scared, you filthy lizard? You can’t use fire right now and you’re surrounded by 20 of us!”
Miyabi couldn’t help but snicker. “I can’t use fire right now? I’m not a measly campfire that douses with a bucket of water.” She ran a hand through her wet tresses.
“I’m… a…” Flames licked the inside of her mouth, “fucking mountain dragon…” Fire was escaping from her mouth in short bursts, “you IDIOTS!”
With that, she let out a roaring blast of flames unto the suspecting sailors.
“Serves YOU right for trying to subdue a FIRE based demon on a WOODEN ship!” Miyabi slapped her restraints together, breaking them. So much for the prisoner look, she would have totally rocked it.
She grew increasingly worried for everyone else. Very few people knew her weakness. For whatever reason, if she were to be doused in water, she couldn’t use her fire. The only way she could use it was through her mouth. Part of why she had been exiled from her clan was due to this bizarre weakness, but it led her up to this point.
If the enemy knew about this, and set up an illusionary trap to backstab her crewmates…
Suddenly her earlier words rang back to her. They aren’t firing directly onto the Dschinghis Khan because they know Captain is on that ship…
The ogre was bait.
They really were after the Captain!!
Miyabi was stupid enough to be lured away from the battle! She was trapped on this ship! The fire was spreading too. Then she realized, she would not be captive for long. She smirked. She looked for the ceiling hatch and literally burst onto the deck, surprising the sailors.
“Natsuyaki Miyabi’s here to destroy!” The dragon cried out before setting everything within sight on fire. The sailors nearby attempted to stop her but she easily batted them away with her strength.
As she fought, she spied with her little eye a peculiar structure at the back of the ship. Upon closer inspection, she found it to be a harpoon.
Figured. The enemy was truly prepared for all scenarios. There was a large mechanism which looked like a harpoon strapped onto a launcher with an equally huge rope coiler nearby. It looked like it could only point upwards or sideways, but not downwards. Large harpoons like that were meant for one purpose only.
This was meant to take down a dragon.
“Idiots, thinking I would transform in the middle of an ocean…” Miyabi scoffed as she manned the harpoon, pointing it at the opposite ship. If she had transformed, her weight would sink her right to the bottom of the ocean floor and she’d die by drowning. Mountain dragons couldn’t fly. After a not so wild guess at trajectory, Miyabi grabbed onto the rope and pulled the trigger.
She whizzed across the water and let go of the rope when the harpoon reached its halfway point between the two ships. She let out whimsical laughter as she sailed through the air and landed through the enemy deck, into the floor below. Thank goodness she guessed correctly. Letting go any sooner would have made her completely miss her target and land in the water beyond the ship.
Shortly after landing, she felt the ship jerk back and forth. The harpoon had stretched to its limit and was now causing both ships to shift in course. She looked around her, expecting to have to put up a fight, but was surprised to find dead bodies instead. With a raised brow, she searched the auras on the ship and found one familiar signature. She climbed up the ladder to the deck above.
“Oh good, you did it as predicted!”
“…As predicted?” Miyabi questioned. Not only was she disturbed at the choice of words, she felt her expression droop at the sight of a smiling, yet bloodied Karin. Miyabi had met her share of battle-loving folk over her travels, and she also considered herself the same, but Karin’s love of battle was different…
“Mmhmm!” Karin nodded enthusiastically, swinging the steering wheel with as much fervor.
“More than that, how did you get here?” She was launched too fast to take sight of the ship before she landed.
“I hijacked one of the spell boats and rowed my way over!” The tiny human said gleefully.
“Oh, everyone saw the ship that was coming up behind y’all, right?”
“Yup! New girl spotted it actually! We’re seizing control of that ship as we speak. Captain and the new girl actually came out with this nifty strategy to use the warships to choke out the prisoner ship! They figured they’re not hiding a prisoner but maybe one of the bigshot warriors to take the Captain out.”
“Yeah, I KNEW something was going on!” Miyabi tapped her fist in her open palm as an ‘a-ha!’ moment. “But what about that prediction hmm?”
“The new girl guessed that since they were after the Captain, they had intel on all of us to be fully prepared for the capture. They armed all the ships with harpoons in the event that you would transform.”
“Yeah, I got that.”
Karin then kicked a wooden sword toward Miyabi’s feet. “They are all using bokken and shinai in the event that Captain herself participates in anything.”
“Figures why they didn’t fire at us when they had us in their sights…”
“Their countermeasure for Kumai-san was chained weights and Fukuda-san’s was…well, just making her angry.”
“Go figure,” Miyabi rolled her eyes, “They did their research, so what’s the plan that Captain and the new girl came up with?”
“We use the harpoons and grab the prisoner ship!” Karin casually glanced at a direction, “And it looks like Fukuda-san and Kumai-san got control of the other ship. It’s our turn!”
Miyabi smirked. Using the harpoons was a perfect strategy when the winds were against them. The enemy had to be peeing in their pants right now. There were now two warships headed for the last ship. Perfect! She ran up the deck to where the harpoon was.
“Whoa!” Karin squeaked, causing Miyabi to turn around. “The enemy ship is sailing towards the Dschinghis Khan! And she’s going really really fast!”
Are they trying to escape?! Miyabi ran to the guard rails. Karin wasn’t kidding, that ship was fast! It had already gotten in between their ship and the one Yurina and Kanon were using!
“Quick! Fire at it!”
Miyabi didn’t need to be commanded. She immediately got into position and pulled the trigger and the harpoon zoomed through the air. Luckily, it went right through the prisoner ship! Unluckily, it struck the ship on the other side as well!
“That’ll be fun!” Miyabi groaned.
“Natsuyaki-san! All is not lost! The new girl came up with a plan B in case this happened!”
“…What?” Miyabi looked at the human in disbelief.
Suddenly, she felt the ship lurch. Did the idiots on the other side do the exact same thing they did?! What good could come out of two ships literally harpooned to each other with the prisoner ship caught in the crossfire other than trapping it and trapping them?
“The harpoons are all using rope coilers! Just retract them and we’ll crush the ship with ours!”
“Oh!” Why didn’t Miyabi think of that! That new girl was a smart one, for sure! Miyabi grabbed onto the the wooden pikes sticking out of the coiler wheel and pushed. She felt the ship shift slightly and she watched progress as she reeled.
They were barely moving towards the ship. She saw the panicked sailors attempt to cut through the rope as well.
“I’M TOO IMPATIENT FOR THIS!” Miyabi cried out and she focused her energy into her being. Ignoring the coiler completely, she grabbed onto the rope with her mouth and threw as much energy as she could into herself.
“Natsuyaki-san! You’ll sink the ship if you transform!”
Not if she stopped the transformation just in time! She felt her body contorting, spreading. Her skin began to sprout scales and and the wood on the deck began to give way beneath her exponentially increasing weight. Just before she could sink like a rock, she gave the rope a yank with her dragonesque head and immediately, the ships slammed right into each other.
Miyabi rapidly tried to phase back but the planks beneath her gave way and she fell straight through the ship’s multiple floors and into the water! She released her fanged grip on the rope and tried her best to get herself back to a human state. She was beginning to lose sight of the surface when she finally regained her human form, and she shot up back out of the water like a rocket, gasping for air. As she fell back towards the water, she saw the total damage of her almost-transformation.
What she had done was essentially turn herself into an anchor which caused the other ships to lift up thanks to being connected by the harpoons. Now that the anchor was gone, she was just catching the ships falling right back into the water on its other side! All of the ships were now completely upside down.
“Oops…” Miyabi blinked before she landed back on the underside of the ship. She looked around, slightly embarrassed at the outcome of her decision.
“Natsuyaki-saaaan!” she heard Karin’s wail from one side and she looked over to find the said human scaling the side of the ship. “I said that you’d sink the ship!”
“I’m sorry?” Miyabi got on her knees and reached out to grab the drenched human, pulling her up. They then heard a snapping of wood and looked to find their fellow crewmates emerging from the hull of the ship.
“FUCK YOU FOR THAT, NATSUYAKI!” came the familiar shrill scream of Kanon. “WE HAD A PLAN GOING!”
“WELL EXCUUUUUUSE ME FOR NOT SMASHING THE SHIPS AT A SNAIL’S PACE! WHY NOT INVITE THE ENEMY TO BOARD OUR SHIPS AND BRAID OUR HAIR WHILE WE REEL THEM IN!” Miyabi walked towards the offending demon, jumping across overturned ships as she did so.
“Guys, I’m pretty sure there are survivors and they’re recollecting…” Yurina said softly, but Miyabi was too annoyed at Kanon to really register anything else.
“OH BOO HOO SELFISH LITTLE ME ALWAYS RUINING PLANS!” Kanon threw her arms in the air.
“HEY!” Miyabi pointed an accusing finger at the other demon, “DON’T YOU TALK TO ME ABOUT THAT WHEN YOU JEOPARDIZED OUR LAST MISSION JUST BECAUSE YOU SAW A MIRROR YOU REALLY LIKED!”
“IT WAS MADE WITH KAYA WOOD! YOU ONLY GET THAT SHIT FROM ROYALTY!”
“WHO EVEN CARES ABOUT HOW PRETENTIOUS A WOOD CUT IS?! ARE YOU A WOOD CHUCK, KANON?! WHAT WOOD COULD A WOOD CHUCK CHUCK IF A WOOD CHUCK COULD CHUCK WOOD?!”
Just as she said that, the prisoner ship crackled and split in half and a red blur flew out the opening. Miyabi and Kanon jumped aside, landing in fighting stances. Karin jumped near Miyabi, her signature katana and wakizashi at the ready. Miyabi was surprised they hadn’t been lost in the anchoring mess earlier. Yurina also had a wakizashi at the ready.
The red being landed.
She appeared to be a female red ogre, adorned in a mix of tiger furs and white clothing. She had shackles with broken off chains at her wrists and feet, and wild hair set in raven black curls. Her vivid eyes were spread upon her face with a long nose, accompanied with a most widely spread grin.
“Free at last! Kanazawa Tomoko is FREE!!!” the ogre laughed, almost maniacally. She swung a long club with menacing iron spikes—a kanabo—an ogre’s favorite weapon to smash with. “Which one of you gets to feel my fury first?!”
Near her, she thought she saw Karin perk up.
“I want to be punished by her…” the human said in an eerily fanatic voice, quivering with excitement.
Miyabi saw that survivors were crawling up the sides of the ships as well. And they were armed.
Welp. They were in for quite a fight…
Chapter 44: Kumai Yurina
At least the fight would be easy… Relatively. Karin had turned her battle switch on, for sure. And with what appeared to be a sadistic ogre in sight, all the multipliers involved in making Karin’s strength amplify just got turned on to the max.
That’s Karin for you… Yurina sighed internally. She turned to the nearest sailor, ready to stab. He looked up at her and backed up, intimidated by her height. With uncertainty, he charged at her, but Yurina simply swiped down with her sword, effectively slicing a limb off. Afterwards, she kicked him off of the hull.
As she was fending sailors off, she observed the power of this ‘Kanazawa Tomoko’ ogre. They certainly could smash people left and right, and Kanazawa was smart enough to not destroy the boats either. After all, they were still in the middle of sea with no land in sight.
Just as she did away with two more survivors, she sensed a looming shadow above her and she jumped backwards. If she had backed out any slower, she would have been smashed in like the wooden floor beyond her.
“Humans are weak, perhaps you can provide a better challenge?” the ogre smirked, showing off large fangs.
Oh… Yurina gripped her sword tighter. One of those demons, eh?
She remained concentrated. A bewildered mind would lead to defeat. The Captain taught her that. With a huge kanabo like that, Kanazawa could only swing in two directions—horizontally or vertically. She had to admit, because that kanabo looked to be as long as Yurina was tall, she was slightly worried about how much strength the ogre had in order to wield such a huge weapon.
We need the captain here… She would turn that kanabo into a chopstick…
The ogre swung horizontally and Yurina stepped back. When she swung again, Yurina attempted to stop it with the bottom of her sword, gauging the other’s strength. The second swing would always be the weaker hit;however, Yurina felt herself shake to the core.
That ogre was strong. There was no doubt about that. Kanazawa’s strikes could rival Miyabi’s iron punches.
“I’m not like other humans though~!” Karin blurted out suddenly, having snuck behind the ogre to steal light slashes at the back of her legs.
Kanazawa held her ground and attempted to elbow the human behind her. The ogre didn’t feel that? Karin sidestepped and slashed at her again, landing hits on her arms.
“What kind of fighting is that? These are like scratches to me!” the ogre attempted to grab Karin’s swords but to no avail. Karin simply danced around and gave the ogre bladed kisses.
The human never liked finishing her meals in a single bite. She preferred playing with them. Yurina was the medic of the ship and had seen her share of blood throughout her years, but she didn’t enjoy the sight like the human did…
At least the ogre was preoccupied with the unorthodox human for the time being. Yurina looked over at Miyabi’s direction.
“Did you signal yet?” The fight would be done in a second once the Captain arrived. Miyabi could shoot a signal flame in the air to let Captain know that her presence was needed.
“First thing I did!” Miyabi replied, smashing a sailor’s face into the wood.
“That’s about the ONLY useful thing you did!” Kanon shouted from the other overturned boat.
“Shut it, Maro, you SLOBBERING SEAL!”
“DON’T CALL ME THAT!” With that, Kanon shot forth just to punch Miyabi square in the jaw. “We have an ogre to beat up, you FLAT-CHESTED, DAIKON-FACED DRAGON!”
“No one’s kicking MY GORGEOUS RED ASS!” Kanazawa swung at them both, effectively knocking them into the water.
“But you can KICK MINE?” Karin joined in, landing a high kick to the ogre’s back and shoving her off of the boat.
Kanazawa thrust her kanabo into the side of the boat, stopping herself from falling into the water.
“Oh!” Karin raised her fingers to her lips, “That was so cool…” her eyes sparkled like the sun.
The ogre got a good grip on the side of the ship, pulled her kanabo out, and tossed it high into the air. Karin and Yurina stepped out of the way as it landed halfway through the hull. The ships jerked uncomfortably at the impact.
Kanazawa rapidly climbed up the ship and used her momentum to try and punch Karin, but the human simply dodged and pushed the ogre upward, throwing her into the air. Yurina caught her by the ankle and slammed her through the ground, leaving a huge splintery hole on the ship.
“It was your fault we got hit!” Yurina heard a familiar dragon shout over yonder.
“MY fault?! You were just standing there like a jackass!” Kanon shouted in turn.
Yurina looked over to find the two demons attempting to strangle each other in the water.
“Guys… The ogre’s going to beat us in if you two don’t come around…”
“THIS STUPID IDIOT’S NOT LISTENING!” Miyabi and Kanon pointed at each other as they shouted at the same time.
“Well you better come to your senses, Captain’s not going to like you two fighting again.”
The two instantly shut up and swam back towards the boat.
Speaking of which… Yurina looked up over at the Dschinghis Khan . How much longer until the Captain came over? She squinted in the distance to find the Captain standing triumphantly on one of the spellboats, one leg on a seat and that wooden hand tucked on her belt all cool… Only to have her image destroyed with Yuka frantically rowing the boat behind her feet like a madman. Yurina couldn’t help but laugh at the juxtaposition. At least they were getting closer.
Hearing stirring beneath her, Yurina ran. Wood and nails chased after her like a rogue wave. That ogre was literally tearing the hull apart with her kanabo! Yurina carried Karin like a maiden in distress and hopped onto the other ship as the ogre went on a rampage. It was like watching a reverse rain of planks.
“Fight me!” the ogre screamed at them. She felt Karin step forward, but she held an arm up.
“We’ll give you a fight!” a very soaked Miyabi clamored over the newly broken wall.
“We’ll kick your stupid red face to the moon, you brat!” Kanon followed right after, also looking a bit worse for wear herself.
Kanazawa laughed and motioned for the demons to step forth, “Bring it!”
Yurina was right about one thing: Miyabi really was trading blows off the kanabo with her fists like they were fighting with swords. Every time their attacks connected, there was a brief knockback delay. Kanon took this opportunity to jump in for the attack. The ogre was able to block her blows with her free arm and would attempt to squeeze in a kick every now and then.
“Ah… They’re giving her no room to breathe or use her kanabo any further… smart…” Karin noted aloud. Although she was already competent at battle, Karin would always take learning opportunities seriously.
“You’ll be incredible down the road, for sure,” Yurina smiled as she ruffled the short human’s hair.
“Once I retire from pirating, I’ll probably run a dojo or something,” Karin leaned into the touch.
“I can see you passing everything to your son, his name will probably be Bennosuke or something.”
Karin huffed, “That’s if I decide to settle down and have a kid! And Miyamoto Bennosuke would be a terrible name! If I ever had a son, his name will be Miyamoto Musashi and he’d be the best dual wielder Nippon would ever know!”
“Yeah, if ,” Yurina couldn’t help but ruffle Karin further, “ You having kids? You’ll always be that little 9 year old who complained that we got you grapes instead of strawberries.”
“To be honest, I’m still holding a grudge over that,” Karin crossed her arms and pouted. “And you still don’t get me strawberries every time you guys hit the black markets.”
“That’s because strawberries come from a far away land and you can only get it through the black market because of the closed border policy. Of course we’d choose the cheaper option to bring back,” Yurina tugged on Karin’s cheeks. “We may be pirates but we’re frugal pirates, okay?” She wasn’t about to tell Karin that they are actually filthy rich because of Captain’s information bank service but honestly the less money that gets traced back to them, the better. They were a hot commodity after all. Captain had suffered many lost appendages because of it and she’d rather not lose more.
“How are they faring?”
Speak of the devil, the Captain made it! She stood by Yurina and watched the battle with interest.
“A good fight, I’d say. Where’s Yuka?”
“On her way back.”
“Poor girl,” Yurina commented.
“It’s good for building her skinny arms,” Captain replied languidly. “Besides, I couldn’t leave Ayaka and Aarii to man the ship for long. The new girl is clever though, it wouldn’t surprise me if she is helping out as well.”
Yurina nodded. The new girl was certainly someone to behold. She thought nothing of her at first, but waking up with a knife in her chest was certainly a story to tell for the ages. However, the moment Miyabi left the ship, Iikubo had discovered so many things. She had even predicted the illusory barrier before Miyabi even broke into it.
That girl either had just as much experience as they did or she miraculously learned everything by the scroll. Yurina would bet her money on the latter for sure.
“I honestly wouldn’t mind if she joins us. She has the potential to be a great tactician,” Yurina tilted her head in a smile.
“That’s her decision to make. But if she decides to stay, I will do my part to train her well. Though…” Captain scratched the side of her face with a finger, “she wasn’t kidding when she said she had no experience at fighting.”
“Good luck with that,” Yurina pat the Captain’s shoulder. “Besides, shouldn’t you intervene with the fight by now?”
“Why should I? It’s teaching Miyabi and Kanon how to work as a team again.”
How to work as a team again… Yurina thought wistfully. They never fought in the past. Not like now. Certain events transpired which left them bitter. Honestly it wasn’t just them. What happened 50 years ago changed them. It was for the better, they had all grown from their experience. But at the cost of people dear to us… Yurina hung her head low.
“I shouldn’t have said that…” Captain’s face faltered.
“I miss them too… Say… Shall we visit their graves soon?” It was habit, but as soon as Yurina said it, she instantly regretted it. She felt the Captain’s aura become cloudy and dark. Her breathing slowed down and Yurina knew it was too late.
Captain was the only one who refused to acknowledge the events of the past. She made the assumption that the reason why Captain never visited their graves was due to guilt. Every time it was brought up, the Captain’s mood would change for the worst…
Captain jumped right in the middle of the battle. Miyabi and Kanon immediately backed off. Kanazawa looked baffled for a moment.
“Who’re you?” the ogre asked, pointing her kanabo at her.
The one eyed Captain had no answer. She simply glared at the ogre.
“Quiet eh? Maybe you are a challenge worth facing!” and with that, Kanazawa charged at the Captain.
The Captain didn’t move a muscle.
Just before the ogre could swing down, she froze in her tracks. Her arms were twitching. She looked all around, completely confused.
“Wh-hat?!” Kanazawa cried out, seemingly struggling to move. “Why can’t I swing down!?” She looked like she was putting all her effort into her kanabo, but to no avail. She backed away and whatever was happening stopped. Kanazawa slouched over, exhausted. “What…The…hell…” she panted.
Captain didn’t say a word.
Kanazawa attempted to swing horizontally, but just as she was about to hit the Captain, the same thing happened again. Gravity was working against Kanazawa’s will. “Why… isn’t… this…working…!”
“Like being pulled back?” Miyabi called out.
“Like your weapon refuses to?” Kanon added.
Captain still stared ominously at the ogre. Kanazawa was beginning to freak out now.
The ogre pulled back and tried again. And again. And again.
“Why isn’t it working?!” No matter how hard she swung, there was some unknown gravity pulling her weapon back when it got too close to the Captain.
“I wonder how long it will take for her to figure it out,” Karin stared up at Yurina.
The bear chuckled,“I’m waiting to see if Captain will even need to move for this.”
Kanazawa then set the kanabo aside. “We’ll settle this fist to fist!” and she went for a forward thrust. However, just before her fist could connect, there was some invisible force stopping it, holding it back. Kanazawa grunted in frustration and backed away. She attempted to do a roundhouse kick but like many times before, something was stopping her from landing it.
“What sorcery is this!?” the ogre cried in frustration. She even attempted a flying kick, but was suddenly suspended in midair. The ogre was practically frozen in the air, though she was twitching and shaking badly, trying to get out of it.
“Magnetism,” the Captain simply said. “As long as there’s metal, you can not touch me.”
Kanazawa still wore metal restraints on her wrists and ankles.
The battle was over.
“What a lame cheap trick!” the ogre screeched. “Why don’t you fight me like a real demon then?! You fake-breed!”
Captain’s aura changed.
“Yeah, that’s right! You think I couldn’t sense it? Well too bad for you! I know an Unbirthed when I see one!”
Kanazawa fell to the ground.
Yurina gulped. The Captain was pissed!
“Pick up your kanabo.” The Captain reached for the back of her huge beaded rosaries and took it off her being. She twisted it and suddenly, the necklace unlatched. The ground was crushed when the tip of the beads landed.
“So what if your heavy necklace is a whip. You’re just like me, you can only swing left and right or up and down!” Kanazawa teased, getting her kanabo ready. “What could a one-handed, one-eyed Unbirthed do anyway?!” And with that, she charged.
As she swung down, the Captain side-stepped and spun with her beads, gaining momentum before slamming them onto the ogre. Kanazawa just barely jumped out of the way, but the crater that the beads caused were larger than the one she caused with her kanabo!
“Go Captain!” Yurina encouraged. She once tried to lift just one bead, but she couldn’t do it. To think the Captain could wear a ten beaded necklace like a flimsy shirt was astounding in itself! When the necklace was unlatched, that’s when the true horror came.
Kanazawa was struggling significantly against the Captain. Unlike the ogre’s prediction earlier, Captain could, in fact, wield the beads in more than four directions. In fact, she was treating the beads like they were a light, skinny rope! On top of that, her physical disabilities were hardly stopping her too. She maneuvered with the beads like she was dancing with ribbon. She would do side flips over Kanazawa’s swings and punish her mistake with a beady slap to the face.
Kanazawa hadn’t figured it out yet, but the cause of Captain’s magnetism powers were straight from those beads. Simply having them on her being would stop arrows and swords and even something as heavy as a cannonball! All Captain had to do was expand her magnetic field and an entire volley of cannonballs would be rendered as useless as grains of rice.
However, true to her word, the Captain was not utilizing any of her polarity for the fight.
“What do you seek?”
Now Captain was just dodging and blocking. She no longer pressed any attack.
“Right now? To destroy you!” the ogre screamed shrilly. To no avail, none of her attacks would get through.
me right now, what
you doing?” The Captain said calmly in contrast. The ogre could only grunt in return. The Captain stretched out her beads to block a vertical strike, holding the other demon in place.
“You aren’t hitting me, are you?” They held their ground, but their bodies moved closer and closer. “And you’ve asked me to abandon my so-called
to give you a fighting chance, but you still have none.
What are you doing
?” Their heads were almost connected as they glared at each other with fierce eyes.
“Shut up!” Kanazawa barked, “Stop being a condescending prick! You’re just some puny false-breed! I’m supposed to be stronger! I’m the pureblood!”
The Captain headbutted her. Kanazawa fell over, stunned in stupor.
“What kind of strength draws its power from being selfish?” The Captain looked down on her. “Your strength that draws its power from superiority complexes is no match for a disabled one-armed and one-eyed false-breed. What do you make of that?”
“I have pure-breeds, half-breeds, quarter-breeds, and humans at my command. All of us are terribly broken and torn apart in several different ways and yet, we can evenly match with you. That strength of your’s isn’t a match for us.”
“IT HAS TO BE!” Kanazawa cried out, “If I can’t fight what good am I?! I was raised for this purpose and if I can’t fulfill it, then why am I still here?!”
Ah… was she...born into pit fighting like us... ?
Yurina wondered. She had met a kid Captain in the fighting pits back in the day.
The Captain reattached the ends of the beads together and wore the resulting necklace—back to her normal look. “Would you like a purpose?”
The sun was beginning to set and the light shown brightly from behind the Captain. The sun god must be smiling right about now. Captain extended a hand towards the despaired ogre.
“Would you like to join my crew?”
The ogre looked at everyone else but the Captain. She wondered if the ogre was expecting looks of pity and condescending glances. She found that everyone else was looking encouraging instead. Yurina smiled.
The ogre took the Captain’s hand.
“When you rise, you will have a purpose again, as the newest addition to the
Kanazawa Tomoko rose.
Chapter 45: Kudou Haruka
She was useless.
Her attacks did nothing to the melons. More often than not, Suzuki-san had to step in and rescue her. She paced through the sand angrily. If she collided with a palm tree, she’d punch it.
Duu couldn’t help but cry out and scream. She kicked at the sand left and right. Her tears ran hot down her cheeks.
“USELESS!” She cried out. She ended up at the shore again. Waves crashed against the shore noisily. Though she too, was just as loud.
Those melons were so overwhelmingly strong. Duu seriously felt powerless to stop them. She breathed out smoke in frustration, her angry flames getting the better of her.
This was just like the time she was bested by those bandits at the beginning of all this mess. If she hadn’t been beaten up by the bandit leader at the village, maybe all of her friends wouldn’t have gotten captured in the first place. If she had more power, everyone wouldn’t have been beaten down by those pirates too. Duu had literally seen Ayumi at the ship too. They were fighting side by side and now everyone was scattered again. Her lack of strength was why Goto-dono had her stuff stolen from her…
Duu tripped and fell on her back.
She could only cry.
Her voice and heart beats were the only things keeping her going. Why in the world did she still exist if she was this much of a rock?
She reviewed the fights in her head over and over again. Anything could have made her come out a victor if she had thought of the right things at the right time. Perhaps she should have ducked under that spear or she could have blocked with a different hand so she could roundhouse kick with her stronger leg. Failure upon failure piled in her head.
She just wasn’t good enough…yet.
Duu wiped her tears with her forearm, feeling the gritty sand roll upon her skin as she did so. She coughed a bit of smoke out as well. Her throat hated it whenever she would breathe fire. Although her aura protected her throat from being burned, she could still feel bits of ember travel through.
Eventually, water caressed the top of her head. The tide was coming in. She allowed the water to embrace her. This would always calm her down a bit. She knew how to swim, so she’d take a dip at the fishing pond near the orphanage. Often, she found herself on her back, staring at the sky or resting her eyes. Although she met with the waves washing over her, the brief instances of calm water reminded her of those old times.
Her sobs became hushed breaths.
All she could hear were the waves now.
At some point, she knew she had to return.
Suzuki-san had been supportive of her since the beginning. Even though Duu was cruel and mean, the storm dragon still put up with her. The Duu of before would be appalled that she would even associate herself with a demon, but Suzuki-san acted like anything but one. No demon would go as far as to teach her how to use lightning.
She sat up and ran her fingers through her drenched hair.
I’m sort of okay now… I think… Duu watched the water by her legs. The water was barely the height of her flattened hands. She watched in fascination as the water drew in and out, allowing the muddy sand to cover her hands.
So the cat traveling with Ayumi is Goto-dono’s granddaughter and Suzuki-san’s niece…
She was wondering why Ayumi was so intent on coming to Okinawa. The Typhoon was missing, so it should not be a surprise that her sister and daughter were looking for her. Nippon was pretty huge, but if they had the same objective…
She stood up and began to run. Trees whizzed by. The sky was turning orange. She remembered how to get back to Goto-dono’s place. Turn at this intersection. Go straight when you see the path.
The hut was in sight. She burst into the area, panting. Goto-dono and Suzuki-san were dining and had looked up at her, confused.
“S-suzuki-san…” Duu attempted to catch her breath, exhausted.
“Yes? I see you’re working up a sweat there, s’wet side I’m seeing of you.”
She dropped onto her knees into a full-on bow. “Please take me as a disciple!”
There was a silence and Duu kept her head low. Then she heard munching.
COULDN’T THAT WAIT?! Duu screamed in her head.
“Are you really going to finish your bowl before answering her?” she heard Goto-dono say in disdain.
“I just needed time to finish my food. I went back for seconds.” Suzuki-san’s mouth sounded like it was full of food.
“You should give her a proper answer before she punches you. And if you pun it, I will get to you.”
Duu was so glad that Goto-dono understood everything there is about her daughter.
“I’ll be happy to accept you as my disciple!” Suzuki-san concluded happily.
“Thank you so much! It’s an honor!” Duu bowed even deeper before getting up.
Suzuki-san would be the most annoying teacher she would ever have, but she couldn’t grow in strength without her. Sure, she could wait around in Okinawa for Ayumi’s party to arrive, but what would she learn with them? She was constantly learning new things nonstop with the dragon and she felt like she could truly get stronger with Suzuki-san as her mentor.
And she could show Ayumi how much power she gained the next time they would meet.
“Would you like to eat?” Goto-dono asked, motioning at the makeshift table of crates that they were eating at, “You’ll have to forgive the lack of accommodation, I’m usually alone.”
It looked to her that they were both waiting for her to come back. There was actually an empty bowl waiting for her. “Please and thank you!” Duu said as she kneeled besides the table and helped herself to the food.
“So you were saying about my sister? What was she here for?”
“She was honestly just here to visit. She did ask for a brand new set of armor though. So I happily obliged.”
Duu did wonder about the Typhoon’s personality though. All she knew was that she was a demon vegetarian—which meant that she did not partake in human. Though… She looked at the table again.
“You don’t have to worry, nothing on this table is human,” Goto-dono said. “I specifically prepared dinner knowing you were here.”
That was sort of assuring, Duu guessed. It looked like storm dragons were capable of eating things other than humans from what Duu saw so far. She did see Suzuki-san snack on some weird looking vegetables the other day.
“Thank you,” Duu bowed her head, “so what kind of armor was taken? Maybe we can figure something out from that?”
“It was a modified clansman armor. Instead of the regular defense and buff ratings, this one has less defense but is way more lighter, allowing for speed.”
“Clansman armor? Like what Suzuki-san is wearing right now?” Duu looked over at the other woman. Suzuki-san’s armor looked to be made of a black metal with blue accents, though she had no idea why she wouldn’t have her stomach covered. She looked over at Goto-dono and couldn’t help but internally scream. What purpose would having just breast armor do?! It was so impractical! She would get nervous watching Goto-dono walk around since it didn’t even restrain her chest properly!
“Airi’s is a modification. Why did you remove the lower part of the chest armor anyway?”
“No one except my sister wears that part. Our bellies need to breathe too! Besides, you’re the last person I expect to complain about us not covering ourselves.”
Suzuki-san was right. Goto-dono was hardly wearing a thing!
“So what is your armor made out of anyway?” Duu had to ask. Suzuki-san might know what her official clan armor is made up of but Duu didn’t have a clue.
“Our armor is actually made up of our own scales. As morbid as that sounds,” said Goto-dono. “It’s not metal, but it’s definitely way harder than it. Though…” the elder dragon looked down, lost in thought. “Thank you for being here to ask that question. We needed an outside perspective on this.”
“Mother?” Suzuki-san tilted her head.
“She did say she was tracking something… You remember Shimizu, right? From Battle of Fuji?”
“There should be a ‘Captain’ in there, but yes?”
“She met with Shimizu shortly before meeting with me. They think there’s someone looking to reopen the Kioku no Meiro again. They took one of the keys from Shimizu.“
Kioku no Meiro? What was that? The name sounded cool enough though. Labrynth of Memories…Duu wondered what the story was behind it.
“Maimi told me that they destroyed the site at Fuji though. I don’t think they can redo whatever happened over there.”
“Shouldn’t there be a ‘General’ in there?” Goto-dono asked, smirking at her daughter.
“Oh, see at night time, Maimi—”
“Suzuki-san. I’m going to stop you there.” Duu knew where that statement was going. She had heard way too much naughty talk from the bandits and if there was a way to cork her poor ears, she’d do it.
“Hmm… Now that I think about it…” Goto-dono pondered. “She did leave abruptly after I said something. Perhaps that’s a hint?”
“What was said?” Duu asked.
“She made a joke towards my lack of clothes and I believe I responded ‘Not even the purest place in Ezo could hope to purify me!’ to which she realized something and left immediately.”
Ezo? That was no man’s land up there. No one really went beyond the mainland. Those who returned mention a white wonderland or strange folk called the Ainu.
“Maybe the Typhoon is there?” Duu offered an answer. It only made sense, right?
“Well it was the last thing I said, so perhaps that line of thinking is correct…”
“Oh fun!” Suzuki-san looked at Duu, “I can bring you to the sky villages on our way north!”
Sky villages? That was something she had only heard of in fairy tales! “The sky villages…exist?” Stars sparkled in her eyes. Suzuki-san nodded vigorously. She’d hear stories from the traders all the time about a city in the sky!
“Oh goodness, look at how uplifting news brightened our little Kudou’s day!”
“Let’s not put me down with sky puns, okay?” Duu managed to say through her smiling teeth. She wasn’t about to let puns bring her mood back to where it was before.
“I suppose you all want to leave soon?” Goto-dono leaned back, “not going to stick around to see Sayashi?”
Well, it was tempting to stay just to see Ayumi again, but if they all intended to go to the same destination, Duu would rather show her how much she had grown. Kudou Haruka, disciple of the White Shock Suzuki Airi, that had a nice ring to it.
“As much as I’d love to play with that adorable niece, I’d rather see what my sister is up to—oh and of course, train little Kudou to the best of my ability,” Suzuki-san reached over to ruffle Duu’s hair. “If anything, I just might see what the other niece is up to, if she’s still in Izumi.”
“Oh, but I feel like if you are passing by the sky villages, you may want to hug the west coast of Nippon.”
“Oh hmm… I suppose going all left will be all right… ironically enough,” Suzuki-san giggled. Goto-dono gave her a look and sighed.
“I’m so glad your sister isn’t a punning lunatic like you…”
“A-ah, G-goto-dono?” Duu raised a hand shakily. When her eyes met with the elder dragon, she felt a strong pang of intimidation. She was never going to get used to that. “Since Suzuki-san and I want to leave soon… Is it okay if I leave a message for Goto-dono to give to the others?”
“Of course. Do you know Sayashi?”
“K-kind of…” Duu scratched the back of her head, “she’s traveling with a close friend of mine.” And if she was lucky, Haruna would be with them too… “I want to write a message for them.”
Suzuki-san smiled eerily as she lifted a piece of meat with her chopsticks. “Let’s hope your message—“
“No.” Goto-dono’s eyes widened.
“—is full of—“
“Don’t you dare.” Duu attempted to brace herself.
“Oh thank the gods.”
“I’m sure we’ll meat with Kudou’s friends soon.”