Locating Tamayo was difficult, to say the least. Tanjirou had her name, a rough description of her appearance, and that was it. Seeing as how Yoriichi was a spirit and the last time he had seen Tamayo was centuries ago, he wasn't able to give Tanjirou a specific location. Not even a general area to start.
With no better ideas, Tanjirou decided to just wander around from village to village and ask people if they've met Tamayo. It was inefficient and had little hopes of success, but there wasn't anything else he could do.
The task was made even harder by the fact that he and Nezuko couldn't travel during daytime. Fortunately, there were plenty of mountain ranges with convenient caves that they could rest in during the day, so the risk of burning up was pretty much nonexistent.
And during the night - well, they were demons. They didn't develop muscle cramps and didn't have to worry about strained or overworked muscles due to their healing. Their speed and stamina were literally inhuman. They could easily run from one village to another in just an hour or so, giving them plenty of time to question the denizens of said village.
Tanjirou had initially been worried that they would get into trouble because they were demons, but his worries were soon assuaged. The villagers they met were either unobservant and just didn't notice their demonic traits or, if they did detect their fangs and claws, they would just make up plausible explanations in their minds: unusually sharp teeth, a strange disease, weird nail-cutting habits, an odd religion - people believed what they wanted to believe.
Of course, some people gave them wary and even fearful looks. Those were probably people who knew of the existence of demons, and had probably even lost friends and family to them. However, they never acted out. Perhaps if they were given enough time to gather their courage and conviction, they would have, but Tanjirou and Nezuko never stayed at a village longer than a single night.
Luckily, they hadn't encountered a demon slayer yet. That would've been bad.
They did, however, encounter several demons. Demons that were little more than mindless, violent beasts.
Tanjirou killed them all. Beheaded every one with his black Nichirin blade.
Oddly enough, even though Yoriichi had dematerialized after he had been "killed", Tanjirou's black blade still remained. Tanjirou didn't know how it worked - was it a spirit blade? - but he didn't question his good luck. It was sharp, it killed demons, and it would let him slay Kibitsuji Muzan. That was all he cared about.
After about a month of roaming around, searching for Tamayo, and dispatching any demons they met along the way, the two siblings finally reached a city. Not a village, but a genuine city.
It was loud. It was bright. It was crowded.
Nezuko had a calm expression on her face, completely unaffected.
The same couldn't be said for her brother.
Tanjirou twitched every few seconds, staring blankly off into the distance as he suffered the effects of sensory overload.
"I don't like this, Nezuko," he croaked out. "I really don't like this."
Nezuko's only response was to tug him lightly on his hand, as if reminding him of their task.
Tanjirou's gaze sharpened immediately. "You're right. This city is huge. It might take us a few days to search through it all. Let's get started."
Nezuko didn't nod, but her pink eyes did flicker slightly, letting Tanjirou know that she heard and, more importantly, she understood.
Unlike him, Nezuko had never fully regained her sentience. She couldn't talk, and her expression was blank most of the time. However, she still gave small reactions - flickering of eyes, an imperceptible tilt of the head, quiet hums - that told him that she wasn't mindless, far from it. She still possessed some sentience that allowed her to understand him to some degree.
Tanjirou wished she could talk though.
"Tamayo! Does anyone know Tamayo? She's a beautiful woman with pale violet eyes! Please, I need to find Tamayo! Does anyone know Tamayo?"
Obviously, asking every person he met individually would be way too slow, so he just stood in the middle of the street and shouted at the top of his lungs. It was embarrassing, for sure, and he received quite a lot of strange looks, but he didn't care. He had grown used to it by now.
Nezuko was standing next to him, eyes half closed as if she was about to fall asleep. He didn't blame her. It was boring work.
"Does anyone know Tamayo? I'm looking for Tamayo! She's a beautiful woman with pale violet - "
Tanjirou cut off abruptly as the burning scent of anger drifted up to his nose. Anger directed at him. He whirled around, and even though there was a crowd of people between them, he quickly located the source.
A young boy about his age with pale green hair was glaring at him with lavender eyes. The moment they made eye contact, the boy averted his gaze and walked away, disappearing into the crowd.
Tanjirou took another sniff.
What were the odds that he knew Tamayo?
Low. Minimal. Nearly nonexistent.
But since those were the best odds Tanjirou had ever gotten in the past month, there was not a chance in hell he was going to let the boy slip away.
Instantly, Nezuko was alert, all traces of sleepiness vanishing from her form. Tanjirou sprinted after the demon, pushing aside people with hastily muttered apologies. Nezuko was close behind him.
They had lost sight of the boy, but Tanjirou had already memorized his scent. They navigated their way through streets and alleys, Tanjirou tracking the boy's scent. Desperation and hope fueled his every movement. After a month of searching, did the gods finally smile down on them?
Soon, they exited the commercial district of the city and entered the residential area. It was dark, the only light coming from the moon, and the streets were empty.
Tanjirou continued running, turning several corners before freezing in place. Nezuko halted besides him.
"What...?" he breathed in confusion.
Up ahead was a T-shaped dead end, the street branching off to the left and the right. However, the scent ended there. He slowly made his way forward until he was right in front of the wall. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. There was no mistaking it - the scent trail ended here. But how? There was nothing here but a solid brick wall.
His expression grew contemplative as he regarded the wall. Then, experimentally, he reached his hand out to touch the wall - and gasped when his hand entered the wall. A secret doorway? He hesitated for only a moment before he strode forward, bracing for the pain of impact. It never came.
Tanjirou walked through the wall and emerged on the other side.
"Nezuko, are you seeing this?" he asked disbelievingly, his eyes wide as he took in the sight. Behind the dead end was a large house with an ornate door with beautiful cherry blossom trees decorating the courtyard.
Nezuko, who had walked in after him, blinked.
Then Tanjirou tensed up. He could smell two distinct scents.
One was the boy from before.
The other was an unknown demon.
Hope blossomed to life within him. Could it be?
"Tamayo!" Tanjirou shouted, abandoning all subtlety. "Is Tamayo there? Please! We're looking for Tamayo!"
For a moment, nothing happened. Then the door opened and the boy from before stepped out, scowling at him. "There is no Lady Tamayo here," he said brusquely. "I am the only demon living in this house." His eyes narrowed. "Leave before I decide to kill you both for intruding on my territory."
"But - but there's another demon in the house," Tanjirou protested. "I know there is. Please, we mean no harm. We need her help."
The boy glared at him hatefully. "You are testing my patience. There is nobody else here. Leave. Now."
"Please!" Tanjirou pleaded. "If Tamayo is actually there, then we need to see her - "
"Do not refer to her like that, you disrespectful mongrel," the boy snarled. "Address her as Lady Tamayo - No, I take that back. You're not worthy to even utter her name."
Tanjirou stared at him. "So... you do admit that Tamayo is here?"
There was a long moment of silence.
"She's not," the boy said with a straight face. A blatant lie.
"We need to speak to her!" Tanjirou begged. "Please! Master Yoriichi said that she could help!"
The boy scoffed. "Master Yoriichi? Don't insult my intelligence by making up fake names. I know that Kibutsuji Muzan sent you. That being said..." Rage filled his gaze. "You interrupted my precious time with Lady Tamayo. For that, you shall die."
Tanjirou blinked in bewilderment. The demon thought that Kibutsuji Muzan sent him?
Before he could say anything, however, the demon dashed forward, arm reared back in preparation to strike. Tanjirou tensed up slightly and a low threatening hum sounded from Nezuko's throat.
The commanding voice rang out through the clearing, stopping the demon dead in his tracks. Another demon had come out of the house. A beautiful woman with pale violet eyes.
Despite the situation, Tanjirou couldn't help but let a smile of joy spread across his face. They finally did it. After searching through countless villages, they finally found Tamayo. He unconsciously relaxed, relief seeping through his form.
Yushirou whirled around. "Lady Tamayo!" he cried, worry clear in his tone. "It's not safe out here! Please, go back inside."
"Yushirou, it's fine," Tamayo said, stepping out into the courtyard. She regarded Tanjirou with curiosity in her gaze. She seemed to be especially focused on his earrings for some reason. "Who are you, and how do you know the name Yoriichi?"
"I am Kamado Tanjirou, and this is my little sister Kamado Nezuko," Tanjirou introduced, bowing low for a moment before straightening up. Nezuko remained upright, staring at Tamayo impassively. "Master Yoriichi was my teacher. He told me that if I wished to turn Nezuko back into a human, I should seek your help."
"I see." Tamayo narrowed her eyes. "Before anything else, prove to me that you are not under Kibutsuji Muzan's control."
"Say his name," she answered simply.
Tanjirou blinked. "What?"
"Say his name," she repeated, an intense look entering her eyes.
"Uhh... Kibutsuji Muzan?" Tanjirou said confusedly.
For a few tense moments, Tamayo just stared at him, as if waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, she visibly relaxed, and even Yushirou's scowl softened a fraction of a degree. "Thank goodness," she murmured. Then she smiled at them. "You said that you wished to turn your little sister back into a human, right? I believe I can help with that. Come in."
Tanjirou beamed at her.
"You two were turned into demons just two years ago?!"
Tanjirou nodded, unsure of why Tamayo sounded so incredulous. "We were."
They were currently in the most luxurious room Tanjirou had ever set foot in. Tatami mats with intricate designs lined the floor. The candles cast a bright glow over the room, and a painting hung on the wall.
Upon entering the room, Nezuko had promptly laid down on the tatami mats. After a month of sleeping on the hard, uncomfortable ground in caves, Tanjirou couldn't blame her. He still chastised her reluctantly though, but Tamayo was kind enough to assure him that it was fine.
She was kneeling across from him. Yushirou sat next to her, alternating between glaring at the two siblings and gazing upon Tamayo in adoration.
"And yet you say you were trained by Yoriichi Tsugikuni?"
Tanjirou nodded again. "I was."
"That's impossible," Tamayo stated firmly. "The Yoriichi I knew lived nearly four hundred years ago."
Tanjirou blinked uncomprehendingly. Then his eyes widened as her words clicked in his mind. "Four hundred years?!" he blurted out disbelievingly. "Just how old are you, Miss Tamayo?!"
The scent of pure, unadulterated killing intent suddenly filled the room.
"So you have chosen... death."
That was all the warning Tanjirou got before Yushirou leaped at him, fully intent on ripping his head off. In the split second before the Yushirou reached him, several thoughts flashed across his mind. Tamayo was a lady. His mother had always told him that asking a lady her age was a cardinal sin. And he had just asked Tamayo her age.
"Forgive me!" Tanjirou blurred with how fast he moved, bowing down to Tamayo and inadvertently dodging Yushirou's strike. "I didn't mean to ask you your age! It was an accident!"
"That's quite alright," Tamayo reassured before saying in a sharper tone, "Yushirou, there is no need for violence."
"Yes ma'am!" In a flash, Yushirou was kneeling next to her again.
"However, you are correct, Tanjirou," Tamayo told him. "I am more than four hundred years old. Which begs the question: how, exactly, did Yoriichi train you?"
"He was a spirit," Tanjirou explained. "For some reason, his soul had lingered at my family's ancestral home."
Her eyebrows rose. "A spirit?" she mused contemplatively. "I see. That makes sense."
"But ghosts aren't real," Yushirou said, frowning.
Tamayo shook her head. "They are. I've met several before. Restless souls who were unable to move on due to regret or unfinished business in their life. And Yoriichi..." her gaze grew sad. "While he was undoubtedly the strongest being I've ever known, there is no denying that his life was filled with countless regrets."
She looked at Tanjirou. "Did he move on?" she asked softly.
Tanjirou nodded. "He did."
"Good." And she seemed to truly mean it.
They fell into a silence for a moment, Tanjirou laying a hand on his Nichirin blade, the only evidence that Yoriichi had ever existed.
Finally, Tanjirou asked the burning question that had been on his mind all evening. "Miss Tamayo, do you know of a way to turn a demon back into a human?"
"A way to turn a demon back into a human..." Tamayo looked at him with pale violet eyes. "It does exist."
Tanjirou's eyes widened. "You mean you can turn Nezuko back into a human?"
Tamayo shook her head. "At the moment, no." Tanjirou deflated, but perked up at her next words. "Nevertheless, no matter the wound or ailment, there is always a cure or treatment somewhere. I believe that I can discover a cure. However, towards that end, I require your assistance."
"What do you need me to do?"
"To produce such an elixir, I will need two things from you. First, I need samples of your and Nezuko's blood. As I'm sure you're aware, both you and Nezuko are... different." She looked down at Nezuko, who was laying on the floor, her eyes closed. "Nezuko was asleep for two years, and I presume her body underwent changes during that time to make it so that she regains energy from sleep."
"And as for you," she looked back at him, "I understand that you regained your humanity immediately after the demonization process. Such a feat should've been impossible. By studying both of your blood, I hope to unravel the miracle that will be the key to finding a solution."
"The second request is much more difficult to fulfill," she continued. "I will need the blood of demons with high concentrations of Kibutsuji's blood. In other words..."
Tamayo hesitated for a moment before her gaze turned deadly serious. "I need you to hunt down the Twelve Demon Moons."
Tanjirou stared back at her, determination burning in his red eyes. "I'll do it," he promised.
She regarded him, her lavender eyes once again momentarily flickering over to his hanafuda earrings. Then she smiled. "Thank you."
Tanjirou returned her smile with a brilliant one of his own. "If it will help turn Nezuko back into a human, then I'll do anything."
They were wandering again, only this time, instead of trying to find Tamayo, they were tracking down the Twelve Demon Moons themselves. The elite demons under the direct command of Kibutsuji Muzan himself.
Tamayo had offered to take Nezuko in to keep her safe, but Nezuko had firmly latched onto Tanjirou, her intentions clear. She wasn't going to be separated from him.
Unfortunately, Tamayo didn't know where the Demon Moons were. After all, she was a doctor, not a spymaster. However, she did hear rumors and whispers. And one recent rumor was about Mount Natagumo. The mountain that anyone who entered never left.
The odds of one of the Twelve Demon Moons being there was small. However, if there was even the slightest chance, Tanjirou would take it.
After two nights of travelling, they reached the base of Mount Natagumo. A dense forest surrounded the mountain, and the full moon shone brightly in the dark sky.
Tanjirou gazed up at the gigantic mountain, tensing up slightly.
It smelled bad. A twisted, harsh, ominous scent that irritated his nose.
The rumors were true. There had to be demons on this mountain. Nothing natural could produce a smell like this.
Tanjirou steeled himself, his eyes hardening.
"Nezuko, are you ready?"
Nezuko gave a soft hum in reply from his back. He was giving her a piggyback ride, her face nuzzled into his shoulder. He could easily run full-tilt for hours without getting winded due to his training and breathing. However, since she didn't have as much stamina, he would carry her on his back to conserve her energy. Not to mention how he was faster.
"Then let's go."
They entered the forest, prepared for anything.
And, at the exact same time, on the opposite side of the mountain, three more people entered as well.
Tsuyuri Kanao didn't feel emotions. She had lost them a long time ago. However, as she stared at her two companions, she couldn't help but feel the phantom flickers of annoyance rise up within her.
Agatsuma Zenitsu. A yellow haired boy that she had met when he was proposing to a girl. Also a snivelling coward that was currently yelling about how he refused to go any further.
Hashibira Inosuke. A shirtless boy wearing a boar's head that they had met inside the Tsuzumi Mansion. He was alternating between taunting Zenitsu and challenging her to a fight.
She ignored them, like she always did. She had been assigned a mission, and she was going to complete it. Without giving them another glance, she walked on ahead, entering the dark forests of Mount Natagumo.
"HEY! KEIKO! ARE YOU RUNNING AWAY FROM ME? HAHAHA! SO ONCE AGAIN YOU ADMIT THAT I, LORD INOSUKE, AM STRONGER THAN YOU!"
Kanao resisted the urge to flip a coin to determine whether or not she should beat him to a bloody pulp.
"Kanao! Don't leave me!" Zenitsu whined. "You're too pretty to die!"
Even as she continued to smile, a silent sigh managed to escape her. Never before had her patience been strained so much.
She missed Shinobu, she really did.
Tanjirou scrunched up his nose as a particularly irritating scent invaded his nose. The harsh, acrid odor overpowered every other scent, making him unable to sense anything. He was going in completely blind.
Even with his speed, locating the demon might take a while. It was a large mountain, after all, and without his sense of smell, there wasn't really anything he could do other than run around and search for demons.
"So most of my children are being slaughtered?" Kagaya said with a serene look on his face, absently stroking a kasugai crow. "If that's the case, we might find some Demon Moons there. It seems like I need to send in some of my Pillars. Giyuu. Shinobu."
"As you wish," came the twin replies from further inside.
"If only demons and humans could get along," Kochou Shinobu, the Insect Pillar, smiled. "Don't you agree, Tomioka?"
"Impossible," Tomioka Giyuu, the Water Pilar, responded emotionlessly. "Not so long as demons eat humans."
With her superior speed, Kanao easily evaded the demon slayers that had tried to stop her from advancing. She could see the threads controlling them. Those threads would lead her straight to the demon.
Her smile didn't even falter when a massive, headless demon leaped down in front of her. It was nothing but a puppet. There was no point in wasting time fighting this.
She breathed, boosting her speed even more. The demon puppet was far too big and slow to catch up to her.
Finally, Kanao arrived at a clearing. A female demon with long white hair sat on top of a large rock. Threads extended from her fingers. She was the puppet master, then. Once Kanao killed her, the demon slayers and demons would stop being controlled.
Total Concentration. Flower Breathing. Fourth Form. Crimson Hanagoromo.
Her sword passed effortlessly through the demon's neck, flower petals fluttering down from her attack. Behind, Kanao heard a loud crash as the gigantic demon puppet collapsed, its strings slack.
Kanao gazed at the disintegrating demon for a moment. Oddly enough, when the demon had seen her, she seemed almost... relieved. And if Kanao hadn't been mistaken, she could've sworn that the demon had opened her arms slightly, as if to welcome her attack. Even now, there were tears in her eyes.
Kanao didn't dwell on it, of course. She didn't have the time. There were more demons to be exterminated. More demon slayers to save.
I... I hate myself more than anything else. I always think about how I have to get my act together already, but in the end I just end up cowering, running away, and sniveling.
Maybe that's why Kanao and Inosuke just left me. They couldn't stand being in the presence of such a pathetic coward any longer.
I want to change. I want to become a competent person too.
But what's the point? There isn't a single soul that has any hope for me. No one that believes I'll be useful to someone. That I'll manage to protect somebody and make them happy for once in my mind. Not even something as simple as that. There's no one with that kind of hope with me.
Except for one person.
Gramps never gave up on me.
He never abandoned me.
He believed in me.
If I die, I don't really think Inosuke and Kanao would care all that much. Sure, they might be a little sad, but they'll move on in just a day or two, and quickly forget all about me.
But Gramps would care.
I don't want to die.
For Gramps' sake...
I can't die.
Even if he's the only person in the world that believes in me...
I can't let him down.
"Thunder Breathing. First Form. Thunderclap and Flash - Sixfold!"
Tanjirou frowned as he heard the sound of thunder off in the distance. A lightning strike? But he could smell no thunderclouds around...
Oh well. It didn't matter. He still hadn't found any demons yet. Where were they hiding?
A massive demon crashed down in front of Kanao, roaring into the night sky. Kanao gazed up at him with a serene smile on her face. He was easily double, nearly triple her size, vaguely resembling a spider.
"My... family... Don't hurt... my family..." the demon growled before lunging forward with a speed that belied his size.
Kanao rotated her blade, redirecting the momentum of its punch, deflecting it. His powerful fist crashed into the ground next to her. The rocks exploded from the force sending shrapnel flying everywhere, but Kanao had already leaped onto the demon's hand and ran up the length of his massive arm.
In a split second, she was at head level with the demon. She slashed at his neck, which the demon blocked by crossing his arms.
Her eyes flickered as she saw several openings appear. She capitalized on them immediately, blurring into motion. A demon this strong might have Blood Demon Arts, and she didn't want to give him the opportunity to use them.
Total Concentration. Flower Breathing. Fifth Form. Peonies of Futility.
She unleashed a flurry of attacks that flowed so smoothly together, it seemed to be one single continuous strike.
In just a few seconds, it was over. The demon toppled over, his tendons severed and his head cut clean off.
Throughout it all, Kanao's smile remained on her face.
" - and I wanted to fight her but she ran off, and this Durara was way too weak to give me a good fight - "
" - but you look really strong! So fight me!" Inosuke yelled, pointing his jagged blades at the man in the mismatched haori.
Giyuu narrowed his blue eyes slightly. "So instead of trying to exterminate demons or even running away in a tactical retreat, you're going around and causing problems for your fellow demon slayers by attacking them?"
"What if I am? I am Lord Inosuke! I am the strongest! What are you going to do about it?"
In response, Giyuu's sword hilt struck Inosuke's temple, knocking him unconscious immediately even through the boar mask.
Giyuu glanced at Murata. "Are you alright?" he asked, his expression returning to an impassive one.
"Y-Yeah," Murata replied, rubbing his sore jaw from where Inosuke had punched him. "Thank you - " he froze as recognition entered his eyes. "Wait, aren't you-?"
"The kakushi will be here shortly," Giyuu interrupted. "They will tend to your wounds."
With that, he turned around and sprinted deeper into the forest, ignoring how the ever-present guilt within him intensified.
Giyuu recognized Murata as well.
He had been in the same Final Selection as him and Sabito.
Damn it. And now he was thinking of Sabito again.
Giyuu quickly suppressed those thoughts. He had a mission to complete.
Kanao sprinted through the forest, her keen eyesight allowing her to easily detect the imprints and traces left behind by the demons.
As she followed the tracks, she tensed up when she heard a scream. Female.
"I beg of you! Please stop!"
Another scream ripped through the air.
Kanao adjusted her path, running towards the source of the scream, hoping that she wasn't too late.
She emerged in a clearing - and stopped dead in her tracks. A male demon with long grayish-purple hair stood over a female demon kneeling on the ground. There were specks of blood on the ground. The female demon was whimpering, almost crying, while clutching her face in pain. Her body language indicated that she was utterly terrified.
"What are you looking at?" The male demon spoke, gazing at Kanao with cold eyes. "We're not putting on a show, you know. This is a family matter."
Unbidden memories rose to the surface of her mind. Memories of a time she thought she had already forgotten. And yet, this familiar scene in front of her seemed to drag those memories to light.
Her siblings, beaten and tortured and drowned and killed.
Her parents, abusing them violently without a hint of remorse.
They would agree with this demon in front of her. They would agree that it was a family matter, that she shouldn't interfere, that everything was normal and alright. They would agree that this was how a family should be. Bonds between family members forged with pain and fear.
Slowly, she felt something well up within her. Something foreign.
They weren't your family, Kanao. They shared your blood, but that was it. If the bond between family isn't forged with love and care, then it's no bond at all. They were never your true family. We are.
Kochou Kanae's words echoed around in her head, causing the feeling within her to grow in intensity until it almost seemed to burn. Her hands trembled slightly, but not from fear. She didn't know what it was, but it compelled her to move, to do something, to say something.
She breathed in deeply, but that did nothing to calm her suddenly turbulent emotions - emotions she wasn't even aware she still had. What was happening to her-?
The emotion she was feeling...
It was anger, wasn't it?
Ever so slowly, she took out an old, familiar coin. She flipped it, watching it spin in the air.
Tails, I speak. Heads, I don't.
The demon stared at her, a slight bit of confusion entering his gaze. However, he didn't do anything, content to observe for now.
It landed tails.
"You are not her true family," Kanao said quietly with a blank smile. "If she is terrified of you, if you cause her pain, if there's no love or affection on her face when she gazes at you, then you are nothing but a counterfeit family. A fake."
A heavy silence descended over the clearing before the air suddenly filled with overwhelming bloodlust.
"R-Rui! Don't listen to her!" the female demon said frantically. "She's lying! You're my little brother! You're my family - "
"Silence." She shut up immediately.
"Hey, you. What was it you just said?" Rui spoke in a quiet yet dangerous tone, his intense gaze piercing into her. The suffocating aura crushed down on her, threatening to deprive her of breath, but she endured, simply smiling at him calmly.
"Let's hear you say it again. Come on." The bloodlust seemed to double in intensity as unbridled rage flashed in the Rui's single visible eye. "Say it, will you?"
As Kanao opened her mouth, she dimly realized that she hadn't even flipped her coin this time. But strangely, she was fine with that. "You're not her real family," she smiled serenely, her expression as peaceful as a meadow of flowers.
"You're just a fake."
The acrid odor suddenly cleared up, allowing Tanjirou to smell again. Instantly, he caught the scent of a demon. No, two demons. And -
His eyes widened, horror filling his gaze. A human.
"Nezuko, we're almost there," he muttered.
This smell of overwhelming bloodlust and rage... Not to mention the sheer power...
It was a strong demon. Perhaps even a Demon Moon.
Tanjirou had to go even faster if he wanted to save the human. He increased his speed, practically flying through the forest with how fast he was moving.
Just hold out a little while longer. I'll get there soon.
"Your death will not be quick or painless. The very opposite, in fact," Rui spoke in an even voice, as if he was merely discussing the weather. "First, I'll carve up your fingers. Then I'll move to your hands and feet. You'll be begging for death by then, I imagine, but I shall not grant you it. After I break your arms and legs, I'll string you up and slowly devour you alive. And I shall savor every bite."
Kanao just smiled at him.
"Of course, I'm a reasonable demon," he continued magnanimously. "If you take back what you just said, then I'll kill you right now. It'll be quick and painless. A merciful death."
Kanao didn't respond, instead continuing to smile at him. Her smile faltered, however, when a new demon slayer strode into the clearing.
"Hey, look at that! A demon that's just the right size," the boy smirked, raising his sword. "Even I can take down a kid like him. Ah, time for a nice promotion and a hefty paycheck."
"Leave," Kanao commanded, inwardly amazed at the sheer foolishness of the boy in front of her. Did he not sense the bloodlust or the danger? "He's too strong for you."
"Shut up! This is my kill! Take this!" The demon slayer charged at Rui, an eager look on his face.
Without even looking at the approaching demon slayer, Rui whipped out his hand, and Kanao saw the glint of threads. She reacted instantly, leaping backwards, but the attack wasn't aimed at her.
The demon slayer's face split into several sections as sharp thin threads cut through his body like a knife through hot butter. He fell to pieces. Literally.
"I see," Rui didn't pay any attention to the boy he just butchered, as if he was insignificant, not even worth the time. "You have chosen your fate, then."
Rui looked down, clutching his left eye, his face obscured in shadows. "You should've just taken the easy way out. Because now..." He looked back up, his hand pushing his hair back to reveal his left eye with the kanji Waning Five inscribed on the pupil. "You'll get to experience the full wrath of a Demon Moon," he said with a crazed smile. "Prepare yourself."
Kanao raised her blade, tensing up slightly, her smile finally fading from her face. The Lower Moon Five... This would be a difficult fight.
For a moment, there was a stillness in the clearing.
Then Rui flung out his hands and threads exploded outwards. To the normal onlooker, they would be invisible, but to her extraordinary eyesight, she could see them as clear as day.
Total Concentration. Flower Breathing. First Form. Fluttering Rose Petal.
Her movements became irregular with her advanced footwork. Rui's eyes flickered back and forth as he attempted to land a hit on her, but it was useless. She was utterly unpredictable, dodging every thread by a hair's breadth, flowing smoothly to dodge his every attack.
In just a few seconds, Kanao crossed the distance between them. She swung her sword, attempting to behead him, but he merely flicked his wrist and she was forced back by the threads that suddenly erupted from the ground in front of her. Her eyes flickered momentarily - and then she sliced through the threads effortlessly before whirling around to evade yet another strike. She used the momentum of the spin to gain even more force, swinging her sword in a graceful arc aimed to take off his head.
Rui created a web of threads to stop her attack - and his eyes widened as she severed the web. Her blade neared his neck, and he raised his forearm reinforced with threads in an attempt to block. Her blade sliced clean through it, but the strike was slowed enough to let Rui leap back several times, getting some distance between them. Kanao tried to follow up, but threads suddenly surrounded her on all sides, and she was forced to disengage.
"You're strong," The Lower Moon said menacingly as his severed limb suspended by threads was pulled back to his bleeding stump, reattaching it. "Just one thing though... you didn't actually think that I was going full out, did you?"
Kanao tensed up as the threads turned crimson from the blood channeled into them. This wasn't good. A demon could easily double or even triple in lethality if they were given the opportunity to utilize their Blood Demon Arts. She didn't take him down in time.
"I've had enough. It's been a while since I've been this pissed off, you know. You damaged my body. You harmed my health." Rui's eyes flashed with uncontrollable fury as the veins on his face and neck bulged. "Such a thing is unforgivable. For that, you must die. Blood Arts. Cutting Thread Rotation!"
A massive circular wall of crimson threads formed in front of him, rotating around the singular point between his red palms. The dense mass of threads hovered in the air for a moment before shooting towards her, dicing everything in its path.
Even as she leaped back, Kanao's mind raced as she tried to think of a way to counter the devastating attack. Cutting through it was out of the question. It was too dense, too durable. The Breath of Flower wasn't suited to brute forcing things. Could she dodge it? Was she fast enough-?
She saw an opening. The circular wall had a small weakness. A single section that wasn't as dense as the others. That would be her method of escape.
Kanao ran towards that side, pushing her body beyond its limits, raising her sword and preparing to cut through the weaker area -
"Blood Arts. Cutting Thread Cage."
Kanao's eyes widened as overhead, in the canopy of trees, threads dropped down from where they had hung in wait. Multiple layers of interconnected webs that surrounded her on every side, completely cutting her off. She was caged in with no avenues of escape.
He must've intentionally created the weakness in his wall, she realized, in order to bait her. It had been a trap, and like a fool, she fell for it.
There was no choice left except to make a last-ditch attempt to cut through the dense wall of threads. And that was no choice at all. Even the Breath of Flower's Final Form would be useless here. There was no point in perceiving the world in slow motion if she couldn't do anything about it.
But she still had to try.
She swung her sword, pouring all her strength into the strike, but it was futile. The instant her sword met the threads, it was carved into pieces.
This was the end.
I'm sorry, Kanae -
Kanao's eyes widened in shock as someone blurred in front of her, unleashing several powerful strikes with a blade covered in flames. In the blink of the eye, the threads were severed, practically disintegrating from the attack.
Her savior turned towards her, and she drew in a sharp breath at the sight.
A black-and-green checkered haori. Dark hair. Soft pink eyes filled with concern.
"Are you alright?"
Mutely, she nodded.
"Thank goodness!" He beamed at her, and Kanao was momentarily taken aback by the sheer warmth in his smile, as if she was gazing upon the sun itself. "I'm so relieved. I was scared that I had been too late."
She didn't reply, instead just staring at him with wide lilac eyes. Then she froze as she caught sight of something. Just to be sure, she glanced at his hands as well. There was no mistaking it.
He had fangs and claws.
This boy... was a demon...?
And he saved her?
For the first time in a long while, Kanao felt completely and utterly lost.
After making sure that the girl wasn't hurt, Tanjirou turned to the demon, who was staring at him incredulously.
"You are a demon!" The demon hissed. "Why are you saving a demon slayer?! Are you out of your mind?"
"I wasn't just going to let you kill her," Tanjirou answered resolutely. Then he actually registered his words, and he blanched slightly. This girl was a demon slayer?
The demon opened his mouth to speak but then paused when Nezuko entered the clearing, stopping next to Tanjirou. He had arrived first, since he was faster than her with his breathing and training. Nezuko cast the girl a single glance before facing the demon alongside him. The demon only seemed to grow even more outraged at her actions.
"Rui, who are those two?" the female demon standing at the very edge of the clearing behind Rui asked. He ignored her.
"The two of you dare stand against me? The Lower Moon Five?!" Rui snarled in rage.
Tanjirou's only response was to raise his black sword, his eyes hardening. "You're a Demon Moon."
"I am, you traitor," Rui seethed. "And if you decide to side with humans, then I will - "
He never got to finish that threat as Tanjirou breathed before vanishing in a blur of speed.
Rui's eyes widened as he attempted to defend. However, Tanjirou cut through all of the threads, and in just a split second, he was in front of Rui. The Lower Moon desperately tried to kill Tanjirou before he could kill him, threads slicing in from all sides, but Tanjirou severed them all effortlessly.
The opening thread.
Rui fell backwards, panic etched on his face.
Breath of the Sun, First Form. Waltz.
Tanjirou slammed his blade into Rui's neck in a single downward slash, cutting through the flesh in a graceful diagonal arc. Rui collapsed to the ground, his head separated from his body.
The Lower Moon Five was defeated.
Even as his small body began to disintegrate, Rui was giving off the scent of overwhelming grief.
Right now, this wasn't the Lower Moon Five, a murderous demon who had killed hundreds of people mercilessly.
Right now, this was just a tragic, hopeless creature. A human, probably just a boy, who was turned into a demon.
And it appeared that now, moments before death, Rui regained his humanity. Tears welled up in his eyes.
Tanjirou didn't hesitate at all. He knelt down and laid a comforting hand on his back, gazing at the demon empathetically with kind, warm eyes. With his other hand, he reached out and held Rui's hand. Neither of them spoke, but tears flowed freely down Rui's face.
He stayed like this until Rui's body disintegrated into ashes and only his clothes remained.
Hands as warm and gentle as sunlight.
Eyes filled with kindness.
Is... is this what a true family feels like?
"Yes, Rui. It is."
Rui looked up with a gasp.
His mother and father smiled at him, love and affection clear in their gazes.
"And if you've forgotten what family feels like, then we'll just have to show you again," his mother said, kneeling down next to him.
"Even if we have to follow you to the depths of Hell itself," his father said, kneeling down as well.
Rui stared at them with wide eyes, his hair slowly returning to black and his eyes reverting to bright blue. Then he sobbed as guilt and happiness and regret flooded his mind. His parents drew him into a warm embrace, tears appearing in the corners of their eyes as well.
"I'm sorry!" Rui cried. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
And around them, their world burned.
Tanjirou was silent for a moment before the cat Chachamaru appeared. He used the syringe to collect the blood on the ground before placing it on the wooden box on the cat's back. The cat vanished, its job done.
Then he stood up. The other female demon had already fled in the middle of the fight. Tanjirou walked back to where the girl and Nezuko were and smiled. "Hello! I'm Kamado Tanjirou, and that's my little sister, Kamado Nezuko. It's nice to meet you!"
"Hello," she said quietly. "I'm Tsuyuri Kanao." Then, after a slight pause, "Why did you save me?"
"Because I didn't want you to die," he responded cheerfully.
"So you can eat me yourself?"
"What?!" Tanjirou looked appalled. "No! Of course not! Why would I ever want to do that?"
"You're a demon," she said simply. "You kill and eat people."
"Never!" Tanjirou exclaimed. "Nezuko and I have never hurt or eaten a human before."
Kanao tilted her head. With her eyesight, she could see that he was telling the truth. But that was impossible. Right?
"Are you going to kill me now?" she asked. With her blade carved into pieces, she was completely defenseless. And she wasn't sure if she could take him even if she had her blade. She was at his mercy.
"No! I promise you, we mean no harm," Tanjirou proclaimed sincerely. Then he tensed up as he sensed someone approaching fast.
A new figure burst into the clearing. Tanjirou reacted immediately, blocking a blow meant for his head. He could only thank the gods that Nezuko wasn't targeted. The newcomer skidded to a stop a few meters away from him, then turned around to regard him with dull blue eyes.
"Release her," he commanded. "If you harm her, I - " his eyes widened in shock as recognition entered his gaze. "You!"
Tanjirou frowned in confusion before his eyes widened as well. "You're the demon slayer from that day!" he paused. "I don't think I ever caught your name though."
"Tomioka Giyuu," Giyuu replied, still staring at him in shock. "And you're Kamado Tanjirou..." his gaze shifted over to Nezuko. "And Kamado Nezuko..." His eyes narrowed in rage. "So you two finally showed your true colors, did you? Everyone dead on this mountain - you're responsible for it? It appears I've made a mistake." He raised his blade. "Allow me to rectify it."
"What - no!" Tanjirou raised his hands defensively. "I came here to stop the demon doing that! I even saved Kanao!"
Giyuu looked over at the girl he recognized as Shinobu's Tsuguko. She gave a single nod in confirmation.
"And you haven't harmed a single human?" he asked him, just to be sure.
Tanjirou nodded vehemently. "Not a single one. Nezuko and I are able to regain energy through sleeping."
For a tense moment, Giyuu didn't say anything. Then he lowered his blade. "I see. Forgive me for my outburst."
"It's fine - "
Tanjirou's eyes widened as another figure burst into the clearing. This time, a woman with black hair with dark purple tips, gradient purple eyes, and a smile on her face. She gave off the scent of anger. He hastily deflected another stab aimed at him, and she too came to a graceful stop next to Giyuu, facing away from him.
"Tomioka," she said pleasantly. "Why are you just standing here and not rescuing Kanao?"
"Shinobu," he greeted. "This situation isn't what you think it is - "
"Oh?" Shinobu turned around to look pointedly at Tanjirou and Nezuko. Then at Kanao, who was standing next to them. Then at her broken sword on the ground. She raised an eyebrow. "Then enlighten me, Tomioka. What is this situation?"
He remained silent.
"Oh my," Shinobu raised a hand to her mouth. "You don't know either, do you? So instead of killing those demons to save Kanao, you're just standing here uselessly. Do you really trust those two demons that much? Weren't you the one who told me that demons and humans could never become friends? How should I put this..."
She smiled at him. "This is exactly why nobody likes you, y'know."
There was a long moment of silence.
"I'm not..." Giyuu began, Shinobu and Tanjirou both unconsciously leaning forwards in anticipation of his response. "I'm not disliked by people."
Another silence descended over them.
"Ah, my apologies," Shinobu said. "You have yet to realize what people think of you, huh? That was uncalled for. Please forgive me."
Tanjirou looked over at Giyuu in concern. The older man didn't have the healing factor of demons. Would he be okay...?
"Boy," Shinobu called to him. Tanjirou snapped to attention. "If you don't release the beautiful girl next to you right now, then I'll cut it off," she said sweetly. "Repeatedly."
Both Giyuu and Tanjirou flinched.
"W-what?" Tanjirou gasped.
"Did I stutter?" Shinobu continued, her smile not even faltering. "If you harm even a single hair on Kanao's head, then you'll experience the worst pain imaginable for the rest of your short life."
Nezuko growled at her threateningly, and Giyuu, Shinobu, and Kanao all tensed up.
"Nezuko, calm down. I'm sure she didn't mean anything by it," Tanjirou placated with a nervous chuckle. "Kanao, you're, uhh... free to go, I guess."
Kanao stared at him.
"Please go?" He tried again.
Hesitantly, Kanao walked past him, shoulders tense as if she was worried he was going to attack her from behind. She didn't relax until she was next to Shinobu.
"I'm surprised," Shinobu breathed. "You actually didn't do anything..."
"Where's the old man?" Giyuu suddenly asked.
Tanjirou frowned before he understood. "He's gone."
Giyuu's gaze softened minimally. "I see. And I presume he gave you his blade?"
"It's a fine blade," Giyuu offered tonelessly. Shinobu looked at him incredulously as if she couldn't believe he was discussing blades with a demon.
"Thank you!" Tanjirou smiled. "Well, it's nice to meet you again, Tomioka, and you two as well, Kanao, Shinobu, but we should get going soon," he said, looking at the east. Dawn was approaching.
Shinobu raised her blade, and Tanjirou belated realized that wasn't a normal blade. It had a needle-like tip. And the scent... poison. "Not before I get some answers," she said, the smell of her anger increasing. "Who are you? Why are you here? Why didn't Tomioka immediately kill you two?" The last one, she directed it towards the man in question, who just gazed back emotionlessly.
Tanjirou hesitated, taking a step back. "I'm sorry, but we really should be going now."
Shinobu smiled. "I won't let you."
Ah, next chapter will be fun to write.
Thank you all for reading, and please review!