Karin breathed hard. The magic had drained every ounce of power she had in her. Saki didn't even break a sweat! Then again, Saki was a full-fledged magician while Karin had to depend on crests..
But it had been worth the effort. At least, she hoped that.
When Yuri – no, Nox, she reminded herself – had avoided their circle earlier, she'd doubted he'd fall for the same trick another time. And then he'd simply collapsed. Just like that. Without a warning, also, without them doing anything. Karin wanted to go over where he'd fallen to see if he was even still alive, but Saki held her back.
"No. It's still dangerous"
"It's still him. He will turn on you if he sees you."
"But what if Yuri is back?"
"No, I don't think my nephew is... back, as you call it. As I see things, this demon is too strong. Unless we get rid of it, Yuri will never return."
Indeed, as she spoke, not-Yuri pushed himself to his knees, then stood, rubbed his head for a moment, then just trotted on. The fusion was still very much in place. Whatever had knocked him down hadn't managed to gain control. At this rate..
"Karin", Saki then said, catching her in mid-thought. "I want you to throw your strongest magic at him. Do not fear for his safety; right now, a train could not kill him."
"When he is down, or at the very least stunned, I shall cast a binding spell. If we are especially lucky, this will incapacitate Yuri's fusion powers for a while until we figured out how to help him."
"He will notice and kill us."
"We have no choice. It is either him, us or the village."
"Alright.. I'll do my best."
"Good luck Karin-san."
As silently as she could, Karin left the bush they'd hidden in. Her luck; Nox was already out of earshot, so he heard neither the countless twigs she stepped on, nor her cursing or anything else. The path he'd taken was relatively free of underbrush, so .. maybe now..
Karin took chase.
He'd made remarkable progress while they'd stalled. Even running it took her a few minutes to catch up and when she did, he'd stopped and was about to turn her direction, when she slipped behind a thick tree, her heart racing from both exhaustion and fear. But he either hadn't seen her – or chose to ignore the fact he was being followed. Anyway the demon trotted on, seemingly involved in talking to himself. Mumbling something about Amon, the villagers, her.. She was in luck then. If he'd been more cautious, he might've detected her presence, probably easily too. Right now he didn't notice how she got ever closer an finally was in shooting range.
"Sorry, Yuri.. this might sting a little..", she whispered, before jumping a good few feet up in the air, drawing her sword and, setting it aflame in the process, threw it straight at the demon.
He chose that moment to turn around and grin at her.
A quick flash, a scraping sound, her sword hit the ground without as much as touching the demon's skin.
"Nice try, little red rabbit. But to defeat a wolf, you'll have to be more.. creative"
Karin knew she had at most two, maybe three seconds to react. After that, he'd have her throat – or worse. So she didn't think; just equipped a random crest and cast whatever magic was attached; a black fog surrounded her, then went to encircle the confused Nox. With every breath more of the dark matter went into his system and he already felt the effect. He coughed, staggered back, coughed harder, tried to flee but started stumbling. Then he fell forwards, landed with a dull THUD, unconscious.
Karin waited for a few more moments, then went over to him, carefully watching out for any signs of a trap. He was out cold.
And what made matters successful; the fusion had dissolved.
How dare that female?!
To add insult to injury, he'd found Amon had done a good job wrecking stuff. Not only was their host out of commission, but also the freaking gate. Iceball's chance in hell that he – or anyone for that matter – got out of here in the near future.
So the white-haired demon paced up and down the graveyard, always throwing furious glances at a fully unimpressed Amon. By now, the others had joined their little party as well. Some newer, some older fusion monsters. Some could talk, others not so. Most were on his side, but some were actually willing to protect their host. The man who locked them up, all year long, every hour of the day. Nox shook his head over such rebellious behavior.
If they insisted on becoming his enemies, he would treat them as such, too. It wasn't as if fusion monsters couldn't die in here – it had happened in the past. Newcomers came, old fusions went, often without as much as a word. The less they were used, the more likely they'd just go BAM one day. He was very willing to help out with that, should they stand in his way.
The only problem; some of them, especially the oldest, were at a much higher level than him. They'd enjoyed the care and luxury of getting souls for their corresponding elements. He on the other hand had been forced to take whatever he was given. Which wasn't that much; ever since Amon was back, he'd been the one to get all the soul power. Luckily for him tho, Amon wasn't bright. He needed the leadership of his host. Without it, he was all but a willing slave. Easy to manipulate, easy to guide into doing his bidding.
So Nox got it all; his brains, Amon's limitless power and loyalty, and also a bunch of pawns he could either use or lose.
What he didn't have was an exit out of this place. Even if he could force the gate open, it'd be just that; a rusty, squeaking old gate. The portal was gone.
"Sucks.. doesn't.. it..?", the demon heard someone rasp and turned to face Yuri, who'd taken quite a beating, but grinned nonetheless, sitting against the mistletoe tree, one arm over his angled leg. It drove Nox mad.
"You.. will not get out of here..face it.."
"S-shut up!" WHACK! That slap met the human's face hard enough to throw his head to the side. Afterwards though, Yuri just composed himself once again and threw a challenging gaze at Nox.
"That all? Bite me."
Again Nox went for Yuri, but this time, someone stood in his way. A tiger-like creature hissed and flexed a human-like claw.
Damn. It was one of the elders. Nox stepped back, teeth bared against the creature which only lowered its head, a deep growl in its throat, as it advanced on the bipedal demon who had no choice but backing off even further, throwing angry looks at the smirking Yuri.
"You're wrong with one thing; they ain't your pawns. They're my partners."
With that, any fusion that hadn't already turned to face Nox, either fangs bared, claws extended or otherwise making threatening guestures according to their appearance. All except Amon, who retreated into the shadows.
Nox, now on his own, felt something well up he hadn't felt for years; panic. Plain and simple fear.
And with that, he ran.
"What was that spell, Karin-san? I have never seen the likes of it."
Saki said this with a smile as she approached Karin and the fallen fusionist, then knelt down next to latter and cast her binding magic on him, which wasn't much to look at, just a short, gentle light flashing up, then she stood again, looking at the red-haired woman.
"I.. I don't know.. It was just.. spur of moment I guess.."
"Show me that crest of yours."
Karin gave her the talisman.
"I see.. Now I know why it worked so well. Nobody could have resisted this."
"What is it?"
"Black magic. It uses the target's biggest fear as a weapon. In this case.. it seems that demon fears to sufficate in smoke. After what he did to my house, surprising."
"Do not worry, Karin-san. There is much false rumor to the colors and shades of magic. Black magic does not require any kind of sacrifice, unlike what people believe. It is just one kind of magic, a flavour you might say. You would not call a lemon bad just because it is sour, would you?"
"N-no.." A sigh of relief.
"Now.. what are we going to do with him?", Karin then asked as she looked at the man still lying unresponsive on the forest floor.
"We will take him back to the village of course. I shall explain to the others as to why. I know exactly where he may rest for the time being."
They made their way back to Inugami Village.
Despite Saki offering her help, Karin had carried her companion all alone, but by the time they were back, it became obvious she was starting to get tired. Luckily, the others – minus Kurando and Anastasia - came to greet them and Joachim took over, easily carrying the smaller man in his powerful arms. At the sudden lack of weight, Karin almost collapsed from relief, held herself upright by sheer willpower though.
The place Saki had designated was none other than Sukune Fountain.
"A place of healing", she'd said on their way. "and it will be harder there for his demons to do their bidding. Our family has trained there for generations."
The family, that is, all of the Inugami clan, especially those with the power of fusion.
They hadn't made it there unnoticed of course. Suspicious glances, even untrusting ones were thrown their way. Who could hold it against the villagers, after the recent events? Who could blame them for hating the demon who'd put their beloved leader in danger? And these friends of his, were they demons too?
Rumors spread easily in a small village. Thus, it was no surprise they met nobody on their path to the fountain. The guard keeping watch in front of it made sure he didn't see them as they passed as well.
Saki hadn't come with them, claiming there were things to do that couldn't be delayed. Also, the path was pretty much straight-forward, so getting lost was out-of-question.
To Karin's surprise, they weren't alone at the fountain.
Anastasia looked up as they entered the chamber, waving at them, then tending to Kurando again, who was resting on a futon next to her, sleeping too fast to register the newcomers. Blanca was here too, barking once happily, then put his head back on his paws.
Joachim put Yuri down in some distance, his skyblue eyes worried.
"He will be alright, won't he?", the big man asked Saki, who smiled and nodded.
"Of course. I know my nephew is not the one to blame. I trust he solves whatever problem there is on the other side and will then return to us."
The vampire nodded and turned to go. Before he was out of earshot, he heard Karin call a "Thank you!", gave her a thumbs-up and was gone. Finally Karin let out the sigh of relief she'd been holding back, which was answered by a giggle. The red-haired looked at the princess who grinned, even broader when Karin didn't seem to get it.
"You know", the girl said, looking at the man beside her, her smile gentle now. "It's really weird, isn't it..? We do everything.. and these idiots almost get themselves killed."
"And still.. we love them, right? It's just proper to care."
"Yeah, it is.."
"You know what..? If I had one wish, I'd become his wife."
This wasn't surprising. Everyone knew the girl had a serious crush on the swordsfighter-slash-harmonixer. But that wasn't the point and Karin knew it, because Anastasia went on without waiting for an answer.
"I'm scared.. it feels as if something bad happens when we see that guy."
"He has nobody he wants to protect anymore.. Such people are dangerous. I don't want Kurando get hurt anymore."
Karin looked at Anastasia. The little girl, their childish princess.. suddenly, she didn't seem like a spoiled kid anymore. Her eyes didn't belong to the naive, proud daughter of the tsar anymore. No doubt she would be a great leader when her time came. They were burning with an intense fire, even as she hugged her legs and balled her fists. But then she relaxed again, wiped any trace of wetness from her eyes and smiled.
"Nevermind. Whatever Kato is planning, we will stop him, right?"
"Yes, that's right.."
"And you tell that big dummy how you feel. While you still can."
Karin was about to give the girl a befitting reply, then found she didn't listen anymore so the swordfighteress swallowed the comeback and gently touched her companions forehead. He was practically burning. So Karin looked around for a cloth and flinched when one hit her square in the neck, Anastasia giggling.
"It's a spare. There's buckets over there too", the girl said, pointing to a remote corner.
Karin fetched one, filled it with the clear, sweet-smelling fountain water and returned to Yuri's side, soaked the cloth in the fluid and put it on the fusionist's head, then sat down, her legs under her, tension finally leaving her body. All she'd have to do was wait now.
Yuri found it.. amusing. Which was disturbing, even to him.
Watching that pack of angry monsters chase a freaking out Nox across the dark plains, with no chance for him to escape. One wrong move and he'd be cornered. What happened then was clear; he wouldn't make it out of that situation alive.
This treacherous coward would get just what he deserved.
"You have.. doubts", someone said next to the fusionist. He looked up and right into Amon's dark face. Unlike Nox, Yuri could understand the demon's words perfectly well, despite him not actually talking.
"It doesn't seem right..", he replied, averting his gaze, instead focusing on Nox who, by now, stood with his back to a door that refused to budge, surrounded by snarling, growling, hissing fusion monsters. But they seemed to wait for something; or simply enjoyed torturing the fool daring to call them pawns.
"It is.. not.. right", Amon agreed, settling down beside his host. "You. Stop them. Before. Worse happens."
"Why? After all he did?"
"He is... Part of you.. You let them... they destroy you too."
"What do you mean?"
"Fusion monsters.. simple. Once angry.. they hunt. Nox... not enough prey.. for all. You are."
Yuri tried not to show his fear, but Amon's words sent a chill down his spine. If he was right, he couldn't flee. He'd be in Nox's place in no time; and that'd be the end of his story. He stood up, instantly feeling the aftermath of the previous hours. Every single bone hurt. He groaned, staggering for a bit, finally leaning against the mistletoe tree for support. Amon looked at him, his mask expressionless as always.
"I.. sorry for... this. I.. to blame.. for your death.. if you fight."
Yuri threw a stare at the demon, who also rose and put a mighty claw on Yuri's shoulder. The energy rushing through him was almost enough to knock him out for good – almost. Then it started to feel good. Very good in fact. Suddenly he knew he could do it. Amon pulled back, nodding, then watched as Yuri rushed at the group which was about to lynch Nox, who, in turn, had cowered down, whimpering, a shadow of his former self.
Before the mob could pounce on the beaten demon though, something stepped between them and their prey.
"Stop this right now", Yuri said. "It's enough."
"Go.. away.. human. This one.. is ours", tiger claw said, stepping forth, his eyes glimmering from blood lust.
"Leave him alone."
"What? He hurt you .. too.. human.. why protect.. Nox?"
"Listen. If you're gonna kill him, you'll have to go through me first."
At that, a collective flinch went through the group and the monsters stepped back. All of them had their fair share of fighting this man already. None of them was too keen on repeating that embarrassing slaughter they had gone through, back in the old and even more recent days. Not only that; but it was certainly impressive this human could project such a power despite being injured. Tiger claw stepped back, then walked away, just to disperse in a cloud of steam a few steps later. The others followed in silence. Yuri waited for another moment, then turned to Nox who hadn't moved from his position, probably not realising what had happened. So Yuri sighed, offered the demon a hand and, when it was ignored, called his name.
Nox looked up.
"Come on. Let's stop this bullshit. I'm sick of it."
"You...! Wait.. what..?"
Only now Nox noticed the absence of murder and slaughter on his person. All there was was his copper-haired counterpart, holding out his hand towards him, as if they were the best of friends. In the background, Amon, doing nothing at all. Why!?
"It's over. Face it, you lost", Yuri tried again, hand not moving. Nox eyed it warily.
"I could still kill you, human", Nox growled, but Yuri just smirked.
"Yeah, right. You needed Amon's help to get to me; fight me if you want."
"Tch.. what do you suppose I should do now, human?"
"Just cut the crap and go home."
"Back into the darkness? Never."
It clicked. It didn't make sense, but it clicked. Nox was afraid.. that was all the reason he needed for this whole mess. Yuri stared at the white-haired demon for a moment, unable to grasp what he'd just learned, then laughed, catching the annoyed glance of the other.
"I see.. I haven't been treating you very nicely, have I? Look. You're always going out of control in fights. I can't let you out.."
Nox bared his fangs. Yuri felt the guilt like a stone pressing down on his shoulders. It wasn't the monster's fault; he was to blame. He was the harmonixer, he was supposed to control them. They were just parts of his self, in the end. If he didn't keep them on a leash, who would? They themselves weren't capable of it. They weren't really humans. He was weak and thus too afraid to risk letting one particulary powerful fusion take control.
One single moment of weakness had given Nox an edge. The demon had been determined to get out of the darkness – and been successful at that.
Yuri thought about the problem – something he really disliked to do – then sighed, smiled and began retreating his hand, when Nox finally grabbed it, accepting the help as he stood. He still was glaring, but it was less hatred and more suspicion in his eyes now.
"You know you need a woman every now and then, right?", the demon then suddenly said and when Yuri gave him the wide-eyed blink, Nox laughed. Not a gloating of gleeful, but actually amused laughter.
"I am your desires. You better listen to me. Like in the good old days.."
"Yeah, in your dreams, buddy. I left that behind. I'm a one-woman-man now."
"She's still waiting you know.."
Instantly, the mood got a crack. Frosty winds blew in and made the whole conversation uncomfortable for the both of them. Yuri wasn't smiling anymore either. His eyes burned with intensity.
"What are ya talking about?", he said, voice even.
Nox looked the other over, then grinned, shook his head. "You will find out soon enough."
With that, the demon turned to go. Yuri called after him, but Nox just waved good-bye and was gone in a poof.
For a few precious seconds, the fusionist just stared at where the white-head had disappeared, then felt his fists clench all on their own. A growl in his throat. Damn that... how can he...
"Graaah! BITE ME!", he cried into the eternal night.
Hadn't she heard something?
She'd been here for three days straight now. No signs of Yuri waking up and somehow, she started to worry. What if he actually died in his sleep? There was so much she wanted to tell him..
Kurando had long since waken and was already outside, helping with rebuilding Saki's house – which made astonishing progress. Soon there'd be no trace left of the recent - happenings. Hopefully the villagers wouldn't hold it against them. She sighed. Nothing was ever easy.. with their luck, they'd be chased out soon.
Then there was it again. She looked at Yuri, right when he mumbled these two words.
And he woke.
Yeah, weird ending alright. But from there, I planned it to go canon again. Since I don't want to spoiler any of my readers, this will be the end. If you need more, there's an "Alternate Ending" and a couple other stories I wrote ;) Check them out!
Thanks for reading!