Chapter IIX: A Golden King


“You can't do this! I have diplomatic imm--ah!” The shrill voice was cut off by a cry, and then a crash that had to be some kind of furniture, and all eyes in the rather crowded room turned. Indeed, the impact of a roughly thrown body had overturned one of the tables on the upper level of the high-class restaurant.


As the man who had apparently been thrown--definitely a foreigner--tried to stand, his assailant strode out of the doorway through which the former had been thrown. If the first was definitely a foreigner, then the second might've been called the archetype of a foreigner, really.


That was to say, shocks of wavy blonde hair covered his head, worn short, and his face had a slight tan to it, suggestive of the skin tone of someone from the Blood or White Lotus Leagues. His face was attractive enough, being thin and having the sort of sharpness that was a clear sign of nobility in many areas, but it was rendered more frightening than attractive by the expression of angered disdain upon it.


He was a tall man as well, and dressed in a loose white vest that was very much high quality. It suited the arrogance upon that face, in his red eyes, and in his supremely confident stride. Looking down at the other, who was shorter even standing, he sneered.


“Oh? Diplomatic immunity? Tell me, what does that entail? Surely it includes immunity to grievous bodily harm, right?” As he spoke, the man with golden hair stepped forward again, delivering a solid punch to the other's gut and sending the man stumbling back into the overturned table, which he tripped over, falling backward and landing with another crash.


Idly, the attacker stepped forward and as he did, a woman--almost surely a pokegirl--dressed in black followed him. With her businesslike attire of a pinstriped suit and the lack of any expression upon her face, as well as the presence of a knife in either hand and the economical shortness of her silver-blue hair, she seemed to be his bodyguard. Though really, it didn't seem like he needed much protection in the moment.


“Yes, I can see that it does,” he continued, stepping around the table and smiling sardonically. “Tell me, what do you think your diplomatic immunity means? That your petty friends over at the Blue League embassy will protect you from me? As if they would dare. Really, you think I care about your insignificant little island? What are they going to do, bomb me?”


He laugh, the sound resonating throughout the frozen landscape of shocked patrons, sounding rather insane. The other cowered before him, his face pleading. “Please, you can't do this! Stop!”


“I can't? Really? I don't see anything in particular stopping me,” the other replied, amusement mixing into his mocking voice. “No, I'll just tell the petty bureaucrats that you were eaten by ferals, and they'll believe it to save their own skins. Besides, it will be true, in a certain manner of speaking--it's just that, luckily for you, you won't be still alive when it happens. Consider it your reward for being... so wonderfully humanitarian. Or maybe poetic justice, considering your business.”


The other's blue eyes seemed to bulge at this, and he tried to crawl away across the raised dais, but found himself trapped against the white railing that marked its edge, overlooking the rather impressive battle arena below.


“Such filth! You're lower than a common criminal, in the end. It requires cunning and audacity to break the law successfully, but to be a worm like you only requires sniveling cowardice and the lack of any basic human dignity! Men like you would lower us to the level of ferals. Unsightly!”


Saying this, he reached down and picked up the cowering man by the front of his shirt, displaying impressive strength as he lifted the far-from-light man up onto the banister itself, lifting a brow. “Any last words? No? Then good riddance.” Almost casually, he shoved the frightened man back, paying no mind to his shrieking.


No, instead watching him start to fall away with disgust, he snapped his fingers lightly. That was the only warning that the frightened onlookers had, before a storm of nearly a dozen small daggers flew through the air, apparently originating from the bodyguard next to the golden-haired man, and pierced the screaming victim as he fell.


With the drop being almost fifty meters, that fall took several seconds, giving the onlookers ample time to hear the scream, before he impacted with a wet splat on the battleground below.


Until this time, Shiki had looked on in stunned silence the same way the others in the room had, but now he couldn't help but stand, barely noticing that he was the only one really reacting as he stared at the man who had just committed a decidedly coldblooded murder in the middle of a restaurant. His face was a mix of shock and anger as he stared, trying to find words.


Noticing him, though, the golden-haired man turned to look, lifting a brow. “Oh, don't look so concerned. Surely such a trivial fall won't be a problem for him. After all, he has diplomatic immunity, right?” Shiki could only stare in horror, and he found he didn't have the will to resist Akiha's arm tugging him sharply back into his seat as the man strode from the room, that same frighteningly insane laugh echoing in his wake.


For a moment, all he could do was stare after the departing figure, his mind still... having trouble coping with what he’d just seen. Swallowing hard, though, he managed to look back to Akiha, who was still holding his wrist from where she tugged him down. “...let’s leave,” he suggested, voice barely a whisper.


Akiha herself wore a rather grim expression, and she shook her head slowly. “No, if we leave so fast we’ll look like we were involved.... That guy already saw us before, and he has to be yakuza. They don't just... kill indiscriminately. So that guy had to be his enemy.”


Shiki blinked, his mind still somehow in a daze. “...yakuza? But they were both foreigners, Akiha. We should... go call the police or something.” Gods. A man had just been killed before their eyes.


The girl grimaced at his words, but she couldn't meet his eyes right now. “, I heard this place was connected to the yakuza, Nii-san, and if he wasn't, then... they wouldn't have let that happen. Look, cities like this are... corrupt, Nii-san. If we call the police then we'll just make ourselves targets too....”


“...but someone... someone was just murdered...” His voice was almost broken, searching for something certain to cling to. “That man... was murdered right in front of us.”


Akiha's expression grew darker, a heavy wince creasing her beautiful features, but she couldn't give ground. “...he was probably a criminal too, Nii-san. I... do not like this either, but... we cannot afford to get involved in this.”


Shiki shuddered a little; no matter how deeply disturbed he felt by what he had seen--especially with the way no one else around them seemed to even be reacting, for forks and chopsticks were moving again and conversation had started to pick up--the one thing he couldn't fight against was the fear he heard in his sister's voice.


“...okay,” he whispered, feeling... defeated, and sounding it as well. “...we need to leave this town then. If... if we can't even safely call the police, I don't want to... be here any longer.” Though the words were unsteady, they had a certain conviction in them.


Again Akiha winced, but even so she couldn't do much but nod. Already she obviously felt a heavy burden of guilt from having made him feel that way. “...alright, then let's go home tomorrow, Nii-san. We've been here for three weeks anyway. Things have to be almost ready at home....”


“Yeah, at home....” The thought of home was strange to his still-muddled mind. Home... They had only spent a few days in the Tohno mansion. Was that place truly home? In a way, the villa here had become more of a home. But that feeling was gone now; the happiness and almost... idyllic feeling that the past few weeks had created was gone.


“...I'm sorry, Nii-san...” Akiha's wince hadn't lessened much, and he realized his own face must've been rather grim from just how despondent she sounded as she apologized to him.


Trying to smile, however, was an exercise in futility, even as his mind started to clear somewhat, but he managed to at least say something reassuring. “No, I know you're just... trying to look out for us. But Gods...” His eyes started to stray toward the balcony and the gruesome sight beyond, but he looked away forcefully as soon as he caught even a hint of the color of blood in his vision.


She nodded, reaching her hand out to find his under the table as their conversation tapered off into silence. Understandably, neither could do much but poke at their food after that, but they managed to linger until someone else left. Only then did the two stand, hiding their eagerness to depart from the restaurant, which was located in a high-class casino called Babel Tower, as best they could.


After telling Hisui, it was a relatively simple matter for them to hire a carriage and tamers--four this time, after their previous experience--to depart in early afternoon of the next day.




--Interlude: Smile--




That night, the moon shone beautifully down upon the city below. Near midnight, that city was almost entirely empty, though; it had become known that a killer haunted its streets in the night. Given that, the sight of a lone female figure wandering through it would’ve frightened many the onlooker, though not all for the same reason. Given that the victims so far had all been human women, many would’ve been afraid for her; because most assumed the killer to be a feral pokegirl, many would’ve been afraid of her.


That meant, of course, that nothing about the beautiful doll that walked the streets at this ungodly hour gave away her nature. She certainly had the perfection of a doll, however in her delicate, breakable beauty and well-proportioned form. Her face presented a perfect mask to the darkness, whilst her eyes reflected the moonlight like two gemstones, and her body moved with a certain mechanical perfection of step.


One who watched closely enough might see, every few seconds, a shape moving in the shadows near the doll, its motion consistent even as the doll moved from place to place; the shadow would appear whenever she stepped toward the pool of light cast by a streetlamp, and vanish perfectly into the darkness when she moved back into the umbra between those pools. Whatever the shadow was, its movements made no sound at all.


From time to time, the eyes of the doll would look into the darkness, though, and one might realize after a moment that they were idly, without concern, tracking the shadow. The doll was entirely aware that she was not alone on these streets at the midnight hour. She seemed, however, entirely unconcerned, for her pace did not increase in the slightest.


No, she kept up her methodical, unbroken stride for some time, moving through the city until she had arrived at an aging warehouse upon the outskirts of town. Here, she changed direction, moving past the large cargo doors at the front and stopping instead at a small door upon the side. With a voice as perfectly masked as her face, she called out simply, “Master, I have returned.”


These words echoed in the darkness for several long, long moments, and she could sense an anxious, agitated motion nearby. The shadow was growing impatient. Finally, though, with a loud clang, some lock was undone and the door before the two was pushed open from the inside. Another figure awaited them there, and it silently ushered them inside. Or rather, it ushered the doll in, yet unaware of the second presence, at least until the shadow stepped in as well.


The inside of the warehouse was well lit though, and stepping inside made her less than a shadow, instead revealing the form of a young girl. Dressed in a yellow school uniform, she looked entirely out of place and far too innocent for the scene that surrounded her now, with her brown hair and a sweet face.


That was to say, the scene within the warehouse was rather vile. Firstly it was ancient and dirty, likely having been out of use for some time and only lit by barely-working industrial grade lighting that managed to be both harsh and weak, casting the already aged scene into a further state of squalor. Lumps of metal which were hard to identify with the sort of shadows that they cast in such lighting covered much of the floor.


Moreover though, and much newer, were the bloodstains that covered much of the floor, in a strange pattern that made it seem as though some fiendish child had been playing in a pool of the liquid. The figure by the door--who now closed it with an ominous clang--fit well in this environment, for he too was bloodstained. One could tell because the black-red liquid had thoroughly stained the bandages that wrapped around his thin body, and it showed well against the white that those had once been.


When the shadow--who was no longer a shadow--said nothing, not even looking at him, it was he who reacted first, confirming his gender with his slightly manic but still entirely masculine voice. “Oh? You brought me a present? What a good little doll. I’ll gladly take advantage.” Though the face was concealed by more of those bandages, enough of his lips could be seen for one to notice his smile was as manic as his voice.


The doll said nothing, though. She merely backed away, watching as the one she had called her master drew a knife and dived at the second girl, his intent obviously to slit her throat in a single slash. That, however, was very much not what happened. No, hearing him, the girl turned back, giving a glimpse of that sweet face--and the fact that it wore only an amused smile. Moreover, her eyes gleamed red in the light from above.


A single motion brought her close to her assailant, with speed far greater than his. In that same motion she dropped into a crouch and one hand shot out with a vice-like grip to take hold of his ankle and easily trip him, which drew an angry cry from his throat. That cry became one of pain though, as claws raked up his body from where she'd caught hold of him, and his body collapsed forward as the girl rolled to the side.


The bandaged man recovered quickly,though, the wounds revealed by the cut stitching back up almost as quickly as they had been formed, his skin a deathly white where her claws had dug into his skin. His eyes, bloodshot where they looked through the bandages, narrowed with murderous intent as he gripped his knife more tightly. “Ugh, prey isn't supposed to fight back. Why did you bring me a hornet, stupid little doll?!”


The girl straightened, ignoring the doll (who didn't respond), and laughed. The sound, in contrast with the laugh of the killer was still pure and almost but not quite innocent. “Don't blame your servants--you're a clumsy killer if you can't even kill a schoolgirl, right?”


“Why you!” Growling, the man charged again, but even with his regeneration, his body was obviously essentially human. He couldn't possibly hope to hit the girl, who easily took a step to the side and then thrust one claws hand into the bandaged chest. Even with his impressive regeneration, a wound like that was enough to make him scream in agony, his body twisting and falling to the floor as the knife fell away.


Splashed with his blood, the girl looked at her hand with an almost proud smile. “...geez, I'm just a novice at this and I can kill you without any effort at all.” His gaze shifted to the doll, and she frowned with cute disappointment. “You told me your master was strong. It's annoying that everyone's so unreliab--”


If her instincts had not been quite so acute, the words would've surely been cut off by a pained cry of her own, but instead they were simply abandoned as she dived to the side, avoiding two chains as they shot out of the darkness. Somewhere deeper in the warehouse, a figure shifted, causing more chains to rattle, and bloodred eyes tracked this new shape, narrowing....


She only had a split second to take in the sight before she had to roll to one side though, avoiding another potentially lethal burst of chains. These had no sharp endings, but were simply fired through the air with enough kinetic energy to pierce flesh, and chips of cement flew from where they struck the floor.


Before a third attack could come though, the fallen, bandaged man had stood, his eyes a little calmer. “Wait!” Both of the combatants froze, one in obedience to him and the other curious. His bloodshot eyes were upon the still motionless doll rather than either of them. “Why did you bring that girl here?”


“Your purposes are similar, Master,” she replied without any change in inflection from before.


“Oh, I guess that's right.” The brown-haired girl had stood up now, and she stepped closer, her body wary of the bandaged man. “She said that our desires are compatible, so I came to talk. Then you tried to kill me.”


“...well, that's interesting. So you have an interest in... that impostor too, girl?” His voice betrayed a certain degree of curiosity, and that interest was mirrored upon the face of the girl. With the doll and the chain-wielding pokegirl looking on in silence, the two discussed their circumstances. After a time, they decided that there was indeed a certain value in collaborating.... Listening, the doll's face didn't change at all from before. Her happy smile hadn't faltered even once.




--Interlude End--




Somehow, the clearing looked different in the morning sunlight. The little copse of trees had become quite familiar over the last three weeks, after they had chosen it as their training spot. A few more ferals, eager to escape the crowded forest, would migrate there each time they cleared out the last batch. Nothing truly dangerous had showed up, although there had been times where the ferals had left one sibling or the other no choice but to... kill again.


They had always come in the afternoon, though. It had been the way they started, going out after lunch one day, and since then that time had become their canonical time to go out and train in the forest. They'd been here at that same time almost every day for three weeks....


Now though, with only hours left before they were to board their coach, neither Shiki nor Akiha had been able to relax at all, and so they'd decided to come here. Not many new ferals had moved in yet, so they'd only had to fight one or two weaker breeds. At the moment, they were exploring--the clearing itself was perhaps a hundred meters from end to end, with two hundred meters of forest in roughly any direction.


Both of them dressed lightly for these training sessions, though, given the danger. Many battles could be decided at a distance, especially as Akiha refined her powers, but not all of them were by any means. Shiki felt somewhat bad, but he had managed to keep himself from revealing the nature of his eyes, though he imagined that his sister suspected that the knife itself was a magical weapon of some sort.... Thankfully, she had seemed willing to keep quiet about whatever curiosity she felt regarding that matter.


Without any real opponent, though, the restlessness from before had returned in force, and so the two--Shiki stood near the center of the clearing, whilst Akiha was scanning one part of the perimeter--were almost relieved to hear the sound of something breaking through the foliage. But relieved or not, Shiki was instantly falling into a familiar sense of wariness as he turned toward the sound, scanning for its source.


What he found, though, made his blood run cold. “Afternoon,” a casual voice greeted--a voice that was far too familiar, with the events of the day before etched irreversibly into his memory. The golden-haired man seemed amused by the boy’s reaction as he scanned the clearing with his intent red eyes, quickly finding Akiha as well. It wasn’t hard to do that though; a grim expression upon her face, she had already dashed over to stand protectively in front of her brother.


Though her hair remained black, her posture and the slight aura of heat that Shiki could already sense rolling off her, creating a rippling mirage in the air did little to hide her nature, but that didn’t matter much right now. “...hello,” the boy said, as calmly as he could manage, one hand taking reassurance from the weight of the knife in his pocket as he regarded the other. Like before, he was dressed rather casually, and with this second look, Shiki noticed the two companions he had brought along.


The first of them, a black-haired girl dressed in an attractive red blouse and wearing quite a bit of jewelry, looked human, especially with the idly way she had her arm twined through the man’s, but with his own experience, Shiki knew better than to judge anyone just from that fact. Even without illusions like Akiha used, she easily could’ve been a Very Near Human type. But despite her poised beauty, she only held his attention for a moment.


That wasn’t to say that the other--this one clearly a pokegirl--was more attractive, but rather that she was simply more striking. Though also a Very Near Human in that she had no animalistic features, her long blue-silver hair fell out behind her, reaching her waist, and the color of her eyes couldn’t be determined because they were covered by a stylized leather blindfold. Matching this, the rest of her attire was somewhat akin to the type of outfit a Domina-type would wear, but she didn’t seem quite like one. No, the leather was trimmed to give more mobility, and though the weapon she held idly in her hand resembled a whip, it was actually a chain, with an arrow-like dagger attached to one end. Her posture was tense and wary, unseen eyes seeming to be taking in everything despite her apparent blindness....


All of this was taken in in a moment, though, and then pushed aside as the man laughed, more amused and without the insanity of the day before. “Oh, you have to ask? I guess you’re a little slow, for a noble.” Lifting a brow, he took a step forward so that he was standing fully within the little clearing.


Shiki felt himself tense up further--and saw the same in Akiha--but he fought to keep his voice calm. “...look, we had nothing to do with that murder yesterday. We haven’t said anything about it to anyone.”


“Hm? Murder...?” The golden-haired man laughed again, shaking his head. “You must be mistaken. What you saw yesterday wasn’t murder; that would be too generous to that scum. Believe me, the fact that you call it murder makes it quite clear you weren’t involved at all. If you had been, you would know quite well that what you saw was merely execution, if you consider filth even human. To me, it was just extermination.”


The amusement upon his face as he said such a thing so casually made Shiki’s blood chill further, even as the latter started to untense just a little bit, swallowing. On a moral level, he couldn’t accept an explanation like that, but right now his mind and heart had conspired to gag that morality, much more concerned with getting out of this situation alive. Akiha still hadn’t let her own tension decrease much, and Shiki realized the man was looking more at her than at him. “...if it’s not about that, then what?” he asked, still managing to keep a level voice.


I just thought you had a rather pretty pokegirl there... And that she’d make a rather nice toy,” came the reply, equally casually. Suddenly, the pressure not only returned but increased, especially as the man took another step forward, toward the siblings. “Don’t worry, I haven’t told anyone your dear sister has thresholded, Shiki Tohno. That would be bothersome for me, if I lost. After all, we’re tamers in a sense, right? So we’ll just handle this the way they do. I believe they call it a salvage battle.”


Like shards of glass, these words pieced into Shiki’s mind one after another each seeming to further disrupt his ability to think. Fear and anger warred, but fear won out easily for the moment. “No! I don’t know how you know about us, but we’re not interested in anything like that!” Already he could see Akiha’s hair starting to burn through the illusion as they’d discovered it always did when she was about to use her powers.... She said nothing, but the pressure of the other man’s presence was starting to be matched by the bestial presence that she extruded when truly angry.


“’We’? How quaint.” The golden-haired man seemed unaffected by the tension, as the ‘girl with the chain weapon moved to stand in front of him. “Oh my... What lovely red hair. Yes, I truly must have you for myself, Akiha Tohno... You hid your secret well, but you never thought about what those bandit henchmen saw. It so happens that I had some involvement with their interrogation, you see, so when I saw you yesterday, I realized who they must’ve been talking about.... But don’t worry--I’m the only one who saw, since it would’ve been bothersome if the government were allowed to learn anything from them. I had them killed after learning what I needed.”


He paused a moment, giving the others time to be properly astonished and horrified again at the casualness with which he talked about killing--and in this case, about killing prisoners who had presumably been turned over to the police, reinforcing Akiha’s words before about corruption--before finishing, “And, well, I’m not exactly giving you a choice.”


Taking this as her cue--or perhaps the fact that Shiki had started backing away--the blindfolded ‘girl sent her blade-tipped chain flying with a defy flick of the wrist, so that it struck the ground less than a meter behind Shiki, causing him to gasp and step forward again, feeling trapped.


Akiha’s aqua eyes glared at the ‘girl who’d done this, and as the chain started to pull back, strands of crimson hair materialized around it, catching it midway through its flight back. Around her, the air shimmered with heat, her presence overpowering. “’re not giving us a choice, but we don’t want any of your pokegirls. You’re a noble, so if you’re going to force us into a duel like this, what do you have to offer back?” Shiki’s mind spun, still unable to accept this situation, and it frightened him that Akiha seemed to be, but he said nothing to contradict her.


“Oh, you don’t? How bothersome, though I suppose I should’ve expected that. Well, naturally if you win, I’ll let you go without any trouble, but that’s just a given. Gambling isn’t much fun if you aren’t ready to lose. Well, I don’t think I’ll lose though, so if you win, you can have whatever favor you like.”


“...then don’t complain when you lose,” she replied, tossing her head proudly. Shiki’s heart sped up with admiration as much as fear; despite the dreadful danger in this moment, or perhaps because of it, the strength of her response made her all the more beautiful, especially when he felt like such a coward himself.


“Such a spirited woman... Yes, a fitting conquest. You’re prepared, then?” He smirked, looking between the two ‘girls as the chain was released, allowing his blindfolded pokegirl to draw it back and step forward more formally. Still radiating that burning aura, Akiha nodded.


Encouraged a bit by her confidence, Shiki pulled himself together again and drew a deep breath, nodding as well. “...yeah, I guess we are. It’s just a one on one battle, right?”


“Of course. Sudden death is the most enjoyable kind of battle; things are far more interesting when everything is on the line, and there aren’t any second chances. So, I suppose we should make this formal, since we’re both noblemen as you say. So I, Gilgamesh Aurelius, challenge you to this battle. Let us put our honor on the line and battle without any reservation! It will be over when one of our combatants falls unconscious or one of us yields.”


Swallowing hard, Shiki reluctantly nodded. “...fine. I accept, then.” What was the point about being bitter right now? They would have to fight this man, he realized, if they tried to escape, so it was better this way. He hated that it was Akiha fighting, but he had accepted that she was much, much better at it than he was. At the very least, they had... a chance this way. And if they lost, then... well, his hand still gripped the knife engraved with “Seven Nights” tightly. Honor or no honor, he wouldn’t let this man have Akiha while he still lived.


“Then let’s begin.” This was the first time that the ‘girl facing Akiha had spoken up, and her voice was decidedly sultry as she lifted the chain weapon in her hands, her body coiled like a feline breed’s. Akiha herself gave a brief nod in turn, her eyes narrowing; despite the agreement, neither of them seemed willing to break the tension that filled the woods.


Looking on, Shiki despised how useless he felt as a bystander to the battle, but he knew well after the nearly tragic experience on the beach that distracting Akiha would be very bad. They had explored the dynamics of her power well over the last few weeks, and he knew it relied mainly upon her line of sight to work, for one, as well as her ability to concentrate on the target. The faster that target was moving, the more concentration she would need, and from the look of her, this ‘girl would require quite a bit of concentration.


At the moment though, the distance between the two of them was just a bit beyond the effective range of Akiha’s ability, and after several long, tense seconds of nether one moving, it was his sister who first shifted, stepping forward, her body tense to move if she had to. That motion was the other’s cue though, and the leather-clad ‘girl proved her agility rather quickly. Jumping to the side, she sent the chain in an arc toward Akiha, the dagger flying forward at an angle while its owner moved to the side, making a semicircle.


Almost as soon as it neared her, the weapon was again caught by the strong threads of crimson hair that materialized from the air, tying knots around it, but since both chain and dagger were metal, she could do little damage by trying to burn them. The other had apparently anticipated this attack being intercepted though, for her arc took her around behind Akiha, very much out of her line of sight, and then around the other side, so that the slack of the chain lashed forward to catch the vermilion-haired girl from behind.


This brought a cry of pain, and her grip upon the chain slackened just a bit, allowing the other to pull the dagger free with a jerk which also made the infernal ‘girl stagger from the force of it. She recovered just in time to reflect the dagger’s blade with her forearm, managing not to cry out as she spun around, giving Shiki a moment to look upon the frightening fury which had stolen over his sister’s face.


His eyes could barely keep up with the two of them though, on the whole. As the other paused to collect the dagger safely back into her hand, though, she was caught in Akiha’s gaze for a moment too long. Realizing her mistake, she tried to pull away, but Shiki knew from experience that it was impossible to avoid the strands of crimson hair. Though it looked as though they shot out from and somehow connected to her actual hair, they actually formed where her gaze caught the target; one couldn’t run from them, only break free if they were ensnared.


And so, having focused on speed rather than strength in her attempt to escape, the other ‘girl was caught in the burning grip of the vermilion strands, which wrapped around her wrists. She pulled at them, managing to break free quickly because of the distance, but not before black scotch marks appeared upon her flesh. Despite her blindfold, Shiki imagined he could see her wince, though if so it had to be instinctual.


That was to say, the scorch marks technically weren’t burns. Instead, it was more like freezer burn, where her skin had dried up and almost ignited from the sudden, traumatic loss of heat, rather than its presence. But to her it would seem like actual fire, and because the contact numbed the skin, she wouldn’t be able to tell heat from cold. Maybe, just maybe, they had a real chance of winning.


Also watching, the man who had called himself Gilgamesh regarded Shiki with interest. “Well, that’s a rather unique ability, isn’t it...? Tell me, what breed is she? Youma? Hm, no, she seems stronger than that.... Daimon, right?” He lifted a brow; Shiki said nothing, unwilling to admit that he honestly... didn’t know the answer to that particular question. After she had told him she was a demon, he hadn’t pressed further; it wasn’t like it made much of a difference to someone who had never learned much about pokegirl breeds.


While her master had been speaking, though, the long haired girl had danced backward, her agility not impaired at all by the slight sounds that her wrists had sustained. Soon she had reached the tree line, with Akiha following only slowly, unwilling to give an easy opening. With an impossible ease though, the other leapt upward, her feet landing against a tree trunk for an instant, then kicking off again as she pushed herself higher, landing perfectly in the lower branches, easily beyond Akiha’s range.


“You really do have a nasty sting,” she called down, regarding her opponent with a kind of interest--or at least that was the impression she gave, the blindfold over her eyes making it much harder to read that for certain, “But you’re too much of a lady to be a proper opponent for me.... Can’t even reach me up here, can you?”


Akiha was silent at this, glaring up at the other with a gaze that very much radiated that bestial pressure, but standing still, a ways from the tree--out of range of even the impressive chain and dagger combination.


“Oh, that’s how you’re going to play it? How boring.” Laughing, she leapt again, this time simply up into the air, but with her agility that simple leap carried her up into the air above Akiha, too high to be caught in the deadly gaze. Again the dagger was sent shooting downward, and again it was caught by the strands of crimson hair.


This time though, something invisible followed through the air on its heels, and only a well-timed intuition allowed Akiha to avoid the transparent blades of wind, having to release the dagger which quickly struck the ground and throw herself aside to do so, which left her sprawled out on her side.


Meanwhile, the other had landed and now jerked the dagger back into her hands and grinned, dashing forward before her opponent could recover from the fall to slash at her with that dagger, necessitating another roll to the side, and more time with the silver-haired ‘girl out of her line of sight. Using this, she slashed again; instinctively Akiha managed to block again, but the result was another slash to her arm, which started to bleed much more actively. Looking on, Shiki felt sick; one of the few reasons he could endure watching her battle normally was that her targets rarely bled, since few ferals could reach close range when fighting, because of the nature of her power.


The infernal wasn’t out by any means, though; looking up as she turned, she caught enough of the other, who had already started to draw away, in her gaze to trap her a few seconds; with their proximity, rather than trying to focus enough to burn her, Akiha instead lashed out with her claws, drawing blood easily as she slashed the agile ‘girl’s stomach. Still, the latter managed to escape to distance again, and threw her dagger out behind her, forcing Akiha to roll again and lose her line of sight to avoid a much more painful blow.


Since the other had to retrieve the weapon again though, she had a moment to sit up. Before she could stand, however, the dagger and its transparent, rippling wing blades were flying forth again, and she only had time to dodge the dagger; the edge of one of the wind constructs struck her shoulder, and this time she did cry out. It didn’t leave a clear single wound the way the slashes had, but Shiki could see that it had shredded her top there and left several smaller gashes as well as generally abrading the skin.


And it was clear now that... Akiha was losing. His heart felt as though it was caught in a chill hand, terror and rage welling up again as he looked on. The gratingly sultry voice of the other didn’t help much; “You’re not bad, but you’re out of your league.... Just give up already, or this is going to hurt a lot more.” The words, like those first few had, struck into Shiki’s mind like shards of glass, and this time, rage was starting to win out, his hand gripping the knife as his other lifted, touching his glasses but hesitating....


Obviously enjoying the battle, the other had given Akiha a moment to stand now, and they faced off across the clearing again. Akiha was silent, but that was only because the panting that the rapid rise and fall of her breast that indicated was too far away to be heard. He could see that one of her hands was clenched tightly into a fist, and his heart clenched equally.


“Come on, then. You still want to fight, right?” The taunting was a new addition, since almost all the ferals they’d fought hadn’t been able to speak, and it was obviously getting to Akiha. Clenching her fist tighter for a moment, she then curled it into more of a claw, and dashed forward.


What followed was entirely painful to watch. Though her speed was impressive, Akiha still wasn’t fast at all compared to the other ‘girl. The latter easily dodged the slash directed at her, one hand throwing her dagger into the ground as the other kept hold of the chain, and she easily moved in a circle around the infernal girl, once then a second time, wrapping the chain twice around her and ending up behind.


And so... Akiha had been, in an instant, bound by the chain, only one of her hands free. Immediately realizing her situation, the anger upon her face surged or a moment, then faded; she couldn’t get the chain to budge without tightening its grip upon her body, and no part of the other was in her line of sight. Indeed, the other stood behind her with obvious pleasure, allowing one gloved hand to reach around and caress her captive’s neck, “You have far too much of a temper.... Yield now, or you’ll regret it.”


This was barely loud enough for Shiki to hear, but the words were easily enough to catalyze his resolve. His glasses fell away, and despite the black of the ‘girl’s outfit, he could easily see a ‘point’ through her hair, squarely on the back of her neck. Already, the knife was unfolded in his shaking hand as he felt the urge--no, the need--to kill start to rise in his mid. He could probably cross the distance between himself and the pokegirl before she realized what happened.


Of course, he was entirely ignoring, or even almost unaware of, the fact that Gilgamesh’s eyes were trained upon him, not the scene, with a certain interest in them. It was hard to say what the man would’ve done if the situation had been allowed to come to its natural conclusion.


Before that could be discovered, though, something changed. Where she stood, captured by the other pokegirl’s chain, Akiha shook her head defiantly. “ I will not yield. I’ll never yield to you or your master.” Nothing of the bestial anger remained as she looked back, meeting Shiki’s currently bright blue eyes, only a bit of fear and again that compelling resolve. “...Nii-san, I won’t lose you.”


Before the confused and annoyed ‘girl who held her chain could reach, her free hand was lifting to the choker at her neck, pulling the necklace there from it with a motion that snapped the silver chain. With the glowing red stone in her hand, she squeezed, causing the silver to distort, and then break in two. One piece was thrown away; some unconscious part of Shiki’s mind realized it must have been Everstone, because with it gone, a crimson glow spread over her, starting from the stone in her hand and filling the clearing with a blinding flash of red....