Thank you for all the reviews last chapter! I wasn't able to reply to them all due to some stuff in real life, but know that each and every single one of them brought a smile to my face.

Hope you enjoy this chapter!


Tanjirou frowned in confusion, glancing around at his surroundings.

Huh? Where was he? This was the... snowy forest of his hometown? Why was he here? Wasn't he on the train -

"Nii-chan?"

His breath hitched.

XxX

Rengoku stared down at the tatami mats.

His father's words... hurt. Rengoku didn't show it and he would never admit it, but... It still definitely hurt.

He still remembered a time back when his father acted like a father.

He missed those days.

XxX

Shinobu blinked.

She was kneeling down in a seiza position, her Nichirin blade in front of her.

Where was she? What just happened?

Ah, that was right. She remembered this day. She had just returned from a meeting with Oyakata-sama where he had appointed her as the Insect Pillar. However, instead of feeling satisfaction or pride in her achievement, all Shinobu had felt was an overwhelming sense of loss and sorrow because she wasn't there to see it -

"You became a Pillar? I'm so proud of you! I knew you could do it!"

Shinobu's purple eyes widened in pure, unadulterated shock at the familiar voice. She whirled around and promptly froze, her brain unable to comprehend what she was seeing.

Kochou Kanae was standing there with a happy smile on her face. "Oh, we need to go out to celebrate tonight! I can't believe my little sister is a Pillar now."

"Kanae?" Shinobu breathed disbelievingly.

Kanae smiled. "Yes?"

There was a moment of silence.

"I... don't remember what I was about to say," Shinobu frowned slightly, looking puzzled before shaking her head and smiling. "Anyway, a new restaurant opened up the other day. Shall we go there?"

Kanae nodded. "Sure! I'll go call Kanao and the girls."

As they made their way to the city, Shinobu was struck by just how different Kanao was. The younger girl was talking with Aoi and the others, openly giggling and laughing with them. She looked like a normal girl.

Shinobu smiled. "Kanao seems happy," she said quietly. "I'm glad."

Out of nowhere, Kanae poked her on the cheek. Shinobu jolted away with a small yelp before glowering at Kanae.

"Now now," Kanae said in a teasing tone, "Just because you're a Pillar now doesn't mean you need to start acting all old and wise. You're still my adorable little sister."

"I wasn't - " Shinobu let out an exasperated sigh. "Oh whatever."

Kanae laughed.

XxX

Nezuko narrowed her eyes at the sudden change in her surroundings, her pupils beginning to dilate and her claws beginning to lengthen.

Then all the tension dissipated from her body as she felt a pleasant sensation on her head.

"Ah, Nezuko," Tanjirou smiled warmly as he patted Nezuko's head. "My little sister really is the cutest!"

Nezuko stared at him for a moment before her pupils and claws returned to normal. It was just a normal day, after all. Nothing to be alarmed about.

"She really is," Shinobu agreed as she too gave Nezuko a headpat. She had an intoxicating scent, sweet yet oddly dangerous. Nezuko wasn't sure if she liked it very much. However, the headpats were nice.

A flicker of movement to her side. She turned to see Kanao standing next to Shinobu. Nezuko regarded her for a second, Kanao merely staring back with a blank smile.

Then, Nezuko reached out and patted Kanao on the head.

Kanao blinked but Nezuko had already shifted her attention to Rengoku, who was standing off to the side. Nezuko wasn't sure where he came from - she hadn't sensed him at all - but she didn't question it.

"Ah, I see! You wish to have a headpat from me as well, don't you!" Rengoku smiled spiritedly. "Then I shall give it my all!"

And his hand came down on Nezuko's head with surprising gentleness. Nezuko closed her eyes and basked in the warmth for several seconds. Then her pink eyes snapped open and she suddenly began running away.

"Hey, Nezuko! Where are you going!" Tanjirou called.

Nezuko didn't look back, instead continuing to advance. Finally, when she was a good distance away, she stopped.

Giyuu, who was leaning against a tree, opened his eyes and looked down at her.

Nezuko looked back up at him with an expectant gaze.

No words were exchanged from either of them.

Slowly, silently, Giyuu reached out with a hand and patted her on the head.

Nezuko let out a contented sigh, her eyelids drifting shut.

Headpats, she decided, were nice.

XxX

Kanao watched the butterfly settle on her finger with a serene smile on her face. She recognized the butterfly as a purple emperor. As its name suggested, it had purple wings with a black outline.

"Kanao!"

Her thoughts were cut off as she felt arms wrap around her, drawing her into a warm embrace.

"I missed you!" the voice continued.

Kanao froze.

She knew that voice.

"... Kanae?" she asked hesitantly.

The person pulled back to reveal Kochou Kanae smiling at her. "I'm finally back from my mission! Have you been doing well?"

Kanao just stared at her, refusing to believe her eyes.

"Say, do you know where Aoi is? I bought her a small souvenir that I think she'll like - "

Kanae was abruptly cut off when Kanao lunged forward and hugged her tightly, her entire body quivering like a leaf.

Kanae looked startled before she smiled and returned the hug. "I'm back now, Kanao," she murmured softly. "I'm back."

XxX

"You know what to do," the mouth on the severed hand said, turning away from the unconscious conductor. "Don't mess this up, else you'll never return to your dream."

The assorted people nodded their heads, grim looks of determination on their faces.

Perhaps if they were in their normal states of mind, they would've hesitated and thought twice about what they were about to do.

But they weren't.

How could they be, when they weren't in their dreams?

XxX

They reached the restaurant, ordering Shinobu's favorites to celebrate her becoming a Pillar. The food was delicious and afterward Kanao went to go play with the other girls outside, leaving Shinobu alone with Kanae.

As the waiter came to clear their plates away, Kanae suddenly spoke. "You know, I'm really happy," she smiled. "My dream is finally about to be achieved."

Shinobu blinked. "Your dream? You mean your dream for humans to get along with demons?"

"Yup!" Kanae said delightfully. "That's the one."

Shinobu smiled bemusedly. "Why would you think that? There are no indications that demons are even remotely close to coexisting peacefully with humans."

Kanae raised an eyebrow. "Really? Are you absolutely certain about that?"

Shinobu opened her mouth to respond but then paused when the world shifted, colors turning muted and time seemingly slowing around them.

"Because," Kanae continued - though they weren't in a restaurant anymore but rather in a clearing in the Butterfly Estate, butterflies flying around them, the moon and stars shining in the night sky. "I think that Tanjirou and Nezuko are pretty close." She smiled. "Don't you agree?"

Shinobu froze, her blood turning to ice.

"... what?"

XxX

This is a dream, Tanjirou thought frantically as he was confronted by the faces of his family. This isn't real. This is a dream this is a dream this is a dream.

"Don't leave us," Rokuta begged, his lips quivering.

Tanjirou gritted his teeth before turning around and running away, tears flowing freely from his eyes.

It... It wasn't fair. This was the life he would've had - should've had if Kibutsuji Muzan hadn't massacred his entire family.

XxX

Everything had been going so well.

She had located the Flame Pillar's spiritual core and was about to pierce it with the bone awl, crippling him forever. All according to plan.

And then things went catastrophically wrong.

In the real world, through nothing but pure force of instinct, Rengoku's hand shot out and grabbed the girl by the throat. She choked, and the only reason she was still alive was because it was ingrained into every grain of the Flame Pillar's being to never hurt someone weaker than himself.

The sheer strength of Rengoku's willpower had allowed him to bypass the spell and react to the threat in the physical world. However, they were now in a stalemate. The girl couldn't attack his spiritual core, but neither could Rengoku wake up.

All they could do now was wait for something to happen. And something did.

XxX

The brown-haired girl finally found the outer boundaries of the dream, tearing through it with a bone awl. She stumbled through the opening, pausing momentarily as she took in her surroundings.

She was standing on the surface of what appeared to be a lake, stretching as far as the eye could see in all directions. A crimson blood moon hung in the sky, and under its red glow, the water looked like blood.

Wait.

She inhaled deeply. A metallic scent filled her nose.

It didn't just look like blood - it was blood. What sort of subconscious was this? Was she in the mind of a serial killer or something?!

But she didn't have time to dwell on that. She needed to return to the dream. And to return to the dream, she needed to destroy the spiritual core.

She quickly began searching for the spiritual core. However, no matter where she looked, she couldn't find it.

A flicker of movement caught her eye. Curiosity overtook her for a second, temporarily quashing her desire for the dream, and she knelt down, staring at her reflection in the red liquid. There were faint ripples across the surface of the blood, though there was no wind and she wasn't moving at all.

She frowned. Strange. What could be causing the blood to ripple?

Unless...

Steeling herself, she reached out and touched the blood with her hand, first cautiously, then with reckless abandon as she plunged her entire arm in.

She gasped when she felt cool air on her hand. There was open space underneath the lake. What in the world?

...perhaps the spiritual core was hidden beneath the lake of blood?

She took her bone awl and dragged the sharp tip through the surface of the blood. It cut through effortlessly, separating before her to reveal what was underneath.

She furrowed her brows at what she saw. There was a girl sleeping peacefully on a futon, her hands folded across her stomach. Her frown deepened as she realized something. The sleeping girl looked similar to the girl in the pink kimono whose dream she had entered on the train, though there were some small differences.

There shouldn't be anyone inside a person's subconscious. This was unnatural. A split personality or something?

Whatever the case, this must be where the spiritual core was hidden.

Taking a deep breath, she plunged through the opening, wrinkling her nose as blood soaked her clothes before dropping to the ground with a thud. She winced in pain before scanning the room she was in. The walls looked old and shabby, as if she was in an old ancestral home.

The spiritual core was hovering in the corner of the room. It looked... faded. A muted yellow color, as if it had once been as bright as the sun but now it was just a dim sphere. A shadow of its former self. What could've caused this?

Well, no matter.

She thrust the bone awl at the spiritual core.

It didn't hit.

Blood had flowed into the room through the opening above, knocking the spiritual core out of the way in a rushing current so it wouldn't get pierced.

Even more blood surged into the room, drenching the girl completely. She spluttered in shock and disgust but regained her wits, forging forward and grabbing the spiritual core, refusing to let go.

"I've got you now," she muttered, a wild look in her eyes.

With a scream, she forcefully brought down the bone awl onto the spiritual core.

Exploding Blood.

The bone awl was just mere millimeters away from hitting when all the blood in the room burst into vibrant red flames, engulfing the room in an inferno.

The brown-haired girl screamed.

XxX

"Shinobu tells me that you've been stalking Tanjirou recently," Kanae said, a teasing glint entering her eyes. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

Kanao didn't flush red, but those who knew her well enough could easily tell that she was flustered. Unfortunately for her, Kanae was one of the two people in the world that was close enough to Kanao, so she reacted predictably. That was, she raised her hand to her mouth in shock before a gleeful smile spread across her face.

"Ara ara," Kanae's eyes were filled with mirth. "My little sister really is growing up. So, what is it that you like about him? Is it his smile? His personality? His dark red eyes-?"

"Pink."

Kanae blinked. "Sorry?"

"He has pink eyes, not dark red," Kanao said, a growing sense of dread building up inside of her.

Kanae smiled. "Oh, I see."

There was a moment of silence.

"You're not real, are you," Kanao finally murmured.

Kanae laughed lightly. "Who knows? Maybe I am. Maybe I'm not. Reality becomes blurred when in a dream. In the end, it's up to you." She smiled. "I like to think I'm real though."

Kanao nodded slowly.

"You didn't answer my question, by the way," Kanae said suddenly, a teasing glint appearing in her eyes. "Consider it a gift to your elder sister?"

Kanao's eyes widened before she quickly regained her composure. "His smile," she finally answered quietly. "It was... warm. Like you."

Kanae blinked in surprise before she beamed at her. "I see. That's good." She let out a contented sigh. "I'm really glad I was able to have this talk with you, Kanao." She tilted her head. "Ah, I almost forgot to mention." Her expression became impossibly gentle. "It's fine that you didn't cry. I understand."

Kanao's breath caught.

"Oh, and do me a favor?" Kanae gave her one last bright smile. "Try to live for yourself, alright? Listen to what your heart tells you."

Kanao hesitated for only a moment before nodding.

And the world around her disappeared in a sea of red flames.

XxX

Rengoku let out a thoughtful hum as his younger brother continued practicing his sword swings. His eyes unfocused for a moment before regaining clarity.

"Oh, I understand now!" he exclaimed.

Senjuro glanced at him, confused. "What do you mean?"

Rengoku smiled at him. "This entire time, I was confused as to why my instincts were screaming at me. This is a dream, is it not?"

"Huh? What are you saying?"

"In which case..." Rengoku gave a single nod. "Farewell, little brother! I'll meet you again in the real world in a few hours."

And the world around him disappeared in a sea of red flames.

XxX

"Tanjirou."

Tanjirou's heart constricted painfully even before he consciously recognized the familiar voice. He knew that he shouldn't look back. But it was too hard. He whirled around to see his father smiling at him.

"You've grown strong," his father said. "I'm proud of you."

Tanjirou's eyes watered. "F-Father... I-I can't stay."

"I know," the older man reached out and placed a comforting hand on Tanjirou's shoulder. "Continue protecting Nezuko. Know that I will always love you two, no matter what."

Tanjirou nodded, feeling a hard lump in his throat.

His father smiled at him, a smile of pure joy and pride. "Now Tanjirou... Dance."

And the world around him disappeared in a sea of red flames.

XxX

"It's unbelievable, isn't it?" Kanae remarked. "Two peaceful demons. Demons who protect humans - who saved Kanao. It's truly amazing."

"You're not real, are you?" Shinobu said, backing away slowly.

Kanae laughed. "Oh, my dear little sisters. You two really are similar, huh?" Shinobu frowned, confused. "Who knows?" Kanae continued. "Maybe I am. Maybe I'm not. Reality becomes blurred when in a dream. In the end, it's up to you." She smiled knowingly, as if she was enjoying an inside joke. "I like to think I'm real though."

Shinobu simply stared at her, transfixed.

Kanae placed a gentle hand on Shinobu's cheek, smiling brightly. "That being said... You have the perfect opportunity in front of you. I won't try to push my ideals onto you, but... just give them a chance, will you?"

Shinobu swallowed. "Yeah," she said quietly, her ever present smile nowhere to be seen. "I will."

Kanae beamed at her. "Thank you. I love you, Shinobu."

"I love you too," Shinobu whispered. "Wait, but how are you - "

"Now then... I believe you have a mission to attend to. Wake up, little sister."

And Kochou Shinobu opened her eyes.

XxX

Flames. Bright, crimson flames were the first thing the Insect Pillar saw. Understandably, she panicked for a moment before she realized that though she was in the middle of the inferno, it didn't hurt at all. It felt pleasantly warm, as if she was basking in the sun's rays.

It took her another moment to realize that the flames were being emitted by Nezuko. Shinobu tensed up, leaping out of her seat - and promptly colliding with Rengoku.

"My apologies!" Rengoku said. The Flame Pillar was gazing around at the flames, a contemplative expression on his face. "It appears that we owe our thanks to young Nezuko," he remarked. "She saved us."

"Huh?" Shinobu frowned, confused.

"Look at your wrist."

Shinobu glanced down to see a piece of rope tied around her wrist, still burning slightly from Nezuko's flames. And the aura the rope was emitting... She drew in a sharp breath.

"It's a Blood Demon Art," Rengoku confirmed. "Nezuko's flames were able to burn it away, and in doing so, allow us to awaken."

He glanced around at the smoldering inferno again. "Incredible!" Rengoku declared with a bright smile. "Absolutely incredible! As the Flame Pillar, I must say I approve!"

Shinobu nodded. Flames that were able to negate another demon's Blood Demon Art... It was definitely a priceless ability. Already, she was thinking of the possible applications it could have, the lives that could be saved as a result.

"Nezuko!" Tanjirou shouted. "Nezuko, it's alright now. You can stop the flames."

Nezuko, who had been sitting in the center of the inferno, gave no response that she heard. Then, she nodded and the flames died down. Quickly, she got up and ran to Tanjirou, hugging him tightly, burying her face in his shoulder.

Tanjirou smiled, patting her lightly on the head. "Thank you, Nezuko - "

He tensed up as Shinobu spun around to block a strike. Her brow furrowed when she realized that it was a human girl who had just attacked her with a bone awl. Three other humans joined her, each holding a bone awl.

"What are you doing?" Shinobu inquired politely.

"We need our dreams," the leader - a brown-haired girl with bags underneath her eyes - said before turning to a black-haired man sitting in the seat behind Tanjirou's. "Hey, you. You're awake, aren't you? I know you have tuberculosis, but if you don't help, you won't get your dreams - "

"I'm out," the black-haired man interrupted. "Good luck."

"What-?!" She collapsed. A second later, her comrades also collapsed to the ground, unconscious.

"Really?" Shinobu asked Rengoku in amusement, who was now standing on the other side of the cabin.

"I am already ashamed of myself for being caught off guard once!" he responded. "I'd rather it not happen again."

Shinobu laughed lightly. "Fair enough." She turned to Tanjirou and Kanao. "We need to locate the demon before it can do any more harm."

Tanjirou was already rushing to the door, opening it and stepping out onto the platform. Even in the strong wind, the scent was overpowering enough for him to determine its location. He quickly located the source of the scent. "It's coming from upwind!" he shouted.

Rengoku was next to him in an instant, flipping onto the roof of the train. "I see it!" he called down to the others. "This will only take a moment."

Then, he disappeared in a burst of speed, red-orange flames being left in his wake. The entire train shuddered, the metal groaning and creaking under the tremendous force.

Total Concentration. Flame Breathing. First Form. Unknowing Fire.

The demon didn't stand a chance. It was decapitated even before it could even use a single ability. The Flame Pillar was simply too fast.

Rengoku jumped back down next to Tanjirou, an exuberant grin on his face. "That was the Lower Moon One!" he informed them.

Tanjirou blinked. "Wait, what?"

"YOU!"

Tanjirou and Rengoku both jumped back as a decapitated head connected to a dark purple tentacle appeared in front of them. It had the kanji Waning One inscribed on its pupil, and its expression was furious.

"Not only do you behead me before I could even say anything," the demon ranted, "but you also leave before I could reveal that I was still - "

In an arc of flames, Rengoku decapitated the demon once more.

"There we go," he nodded satisfiedly, but then blinked when the tentacle lashed out and quickly reattached itself to the head.

"As I was saying," the demon growled, "This isn't my main body. While you all were asleep, I've fused myself with the train. I was originally going to have some fun with you all, but since you pissed me off, I'll just kill everyone on this train immediately." He smirked. "Prepare to die." With that, the tentacle and head receded, disappearing out of sight.

Suddenly, the entire train pulsed before flesh began rapidly growing on the interior of the cabins. Within seconds, everything was covered. Tentacles slowly began growing from the wall, ominously approaching the sleeping passengers.

Tanjirou tensed up, glancing around worriedly.

"Interesting," Shinobu mused, stepping forward. "The demon probably fused with the train because he hoped it would make him harder to kill."

Then, strangely, she laughed, her shoulders shaking with mirth.

"Huh? What's so funny?" Tanjirou asked in bewilderment. "Isn't that bad?"

Shinobu smiled amusedly. "I'm a poisons specialist."

"Oh." Tanjirou's eyes widened in realization as the dots connected in his mind. "Oh."

"Indeed."

With that, Shinobu drew her sword, twirling it around before stabbing it into the wall of flesh. Tanjirou smelled something sickly sweet - the scent of wisteria. A dark purple immediately began rapidly spreading from the contact point, branching outward like a bolt of lightning. Several moments later, a high-pitched scream sounded from the train itself before tentacles lashed out, latching onto the sleeping passengers' necks to crush their windpipes -

Before Rengoku and Tanjirou blurred, severing all the tentacles in all the train compartments in the literal blink of the eye. Rengoku had protected the front few compartments, Tanjirou took care of the rest.

The flesh began disintegrating, signifying that the demon was dying. Shinobu was perhaps the worst opponent the Lower Moon One could've had - her poison directly countered his fusion.

Fortunately, the train hadn't been on a curve, otherwise it might've derailed. While it did bounce up and down a little due to the scream and tremors, it remained on the tracks.

Rengoku laughed. "The demon clearly chose the wrong Pillar to pick a fight with. Good work, Kochou."

He blinked a cat materialized out of nowhere, startling the demon slayers.

"Chachamaru!" Tanjirou said with a smile as he took out the syringe. "I need to collect the blood so a cure could be created," he explained to the others as he siphoned the blood from the still-disintegrating flesh into the syringe before placing it into the box on the cat's back. The cat promptly disappeared afterward, off to deliver the blood to Tamayo.

Rengoku, Shinobu, and Kanao stared at where the cat once was.

"What?" Tanjirou asked, a bit defensively.

"How fascinating!" Rengoku exclaimed. "However, that's a topic for another time. Come, let us ensure that everyone is safe!"

Tanjirou and Kanao nodded, going along with Rengoku to check on the passengers. Shinobu remained behind, eyeing the still-standing black-haired man who hadn't attacked them.

She had something she wanted to ask him.

XxX

"We found him."

"Finally! I've been going crazy staying in this confusing place. Where is he?"

"With the Lower Moon One. There are two Pillars with him, as well as another demon slayer." A contented sigh. "I'm so excited. Two of them are girls."

"You're disgusting, man, you know that? But whatever. Hopefully, they will be strong. Is the Lower Moon One still alive?"

"No, he died instantly to the Flame and Insect Pillar."

"Tch. Weak. Anyway, let's go. I've been itching for a fight for ages. Hey, Nakime. Mind using your biwa to get us the hell out of here?"

The thrum of the string echoed throughout the now empty fortress.

XxX

It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair it wasn't fair IT WASN'T FAIR!

He didn't get to do anything yet. He had received so much of Kibutsuji's blood, but he died in a single instant anyway. All of his strategies, all of his meticulously crafted plans, all down the drain.

Why was the Flame Pillar so fast? Why was he so strong? Why was he able to behead him before he could use his Blood Demon Art to force him to go to sleep?

And that other Pillar. The Insect Pillar. She had looked so weak, he doubted she even had the arm strength to cut through his neck. But in the end, that didn't even matter, because she used poison. That had to be cheating. She didn't even fight him - she just stabbed his flesh, and his body broke apart.

There was so much he wanted to do... so much he didn't get to do...

It wasn't fair.

Ah... What a terrible nightmare this was.

XxX

Shinobu twirled her blade before sheathing it. Since the demon had been so large after fusing, she'd had to inject all the poison stored in the blade. Her modified sheath slowly began reloading the poison into her Nichirin blade.

She turned to the black-haired man who hadn't fought - the only one Rengoku didn't knock out. He was still sitting in the seat behind Tanjirou's.

"Hello there," Shinobu began, smiling.

He looked up at her, and Shinobu was briefly taken aback to see tears in his eyes.

"Why didn't you try to attack us?" she asked curiously.

He was silent for a moment. "The ropes given to us by the demon allowed us to enter your subconscious realm," he explained. "We were supposed to destroy your spiritual core."

Shinobu's eyes widened in shock. A demon slayer's power originated from their spiritual core; all their sword techniques were fueled by their spiritual energy - their swordsman spirit, so to speak. In turn, their spiritual energy was controlled and amplified by their breathing techniques.

The elements generated by the Breathing Styles - water, flames, flowers, lightning, and so on - were simply illusionary manifestations of a demon slayer's swordsman spirit. For example, Water Breathing didn't actually create water; it created the illusion of water formed from the swordsman spirit drawn from the spiritual core.

Of course, while it was an illusion, it was still capable of doing damage because illusion or not, it was still concentrated swordsman spirit. For instance, Shinobu knew from Kanae that Urokodaki, the previous Water Pillar, had required all his students to cut a massive boulder in half in a single strike.

Naturally, it was impossible to do normally. No matter how strong a person was, their sword simply wouldn't be long enough to cut through a boulder in a single strike. It didn't have the necessary length. However, the illusionary water was able to lengthen their slice and allow them to cut a boulder in half.

Shinobu supposed it would be more accurate to say that the elements themselves were the illusions, but the swordsman spirit was real and could affect the physical world. You couldn't get wet from the "water" from Water Breathing, yet the swirling tides could still rip you apart.

And if the spiritual core was damaged or even destroyed... Best case scenario, the demon slayer would just be unable to use any Breathing Styles anymore. Worst case scenario, their entire consciousness would be destroyed forever, and they would suffer total brain death.

Shinobu breathed another silent thanks to Nezuko for saving them with her Blood Demon Art. She shuddered to think what would've happened if the ropes hadn't been burned in time.

"And when I entered the subconscious of the kid with pink eyes," the man continued, "it was beautiful. The air was fresh and the skies were clear. I was met with these little sprites - incarnations of his soul. And... And even though I was trying to destroy his spiritual core," a tear trickled down his cheek, "the sprites still led me straight to it. Just because I needed to."

The man looked at her, his cheeks still stained with tears. "He was just... so warm," he smiled, his entire face lighting up with joy at the memory. "It reminded me of a time when I wasn't sick and in constant pain. It reminded me of hope."

Nezuko walked up to him. Shinobu eyed her warily, relaxing when Nezuko merely reached up and patted the man on the head.

He gave a quiet laugh. "After I saw all that... How could I possibly try to fight you all afterward?"

Shinobu regarded him for a moment. Then, she smiled.

"Come by my clinic after this is over. I think I can help with your tuberculosis."

His eyes widened before he bowed deeply. "Thank you. I am in your debt."

Shinobu inclined her head before turning to where Rengoku and the others had returned.

"All the passengers are safe," Rengoku reported. "They're still fast asleep."

Shinobu nodded. "That's good to hear. Now that the Lower Moon One has been exterminated, I think it's safe to say the mission is complete - "

She was cut off when a loud BOOM ripped through the air and the entire train tilted sideways before derailing, flying off the tracks.

Even as Shinobu flipped in midair to land lightly on her feet, she frowned.

What just happened? A malfunction? An attack?

"What was that?" Tanjirou asked worriedly once everything settled around them. Thankfully, none of the passengers had awakened in the ruckus - probably due to the residual effect of the sleep Blood Demon Art. A good thing, because mass panic was the last thing they needed right now. "Is this normal for trains-?"

His breath stopped.

"What's wrong?" Shinobu instantly asked.

"Demons," Tanjirou said, his tone tense. "Three of them. They have the strongest scents of Kibutsuji I've smelled out of all the demons I've met so far."

Shinobu's eyes widened slightly. "You don't mean - "

Tanjirou nodded grimly. For the first time since the demon slayers had met him, his pink eyes were narrowed.

"I think all three of them are Upper Moons."

The demon slayers stilled.

"Three Upper Moons, huh?" For once, Rengoku's voice was quiet, his expression deadly serious. "I see - "

His eyes widened before he suddenly leaped back. Not a moment too soon, because an invisible missile of condensed air crashed through the window a second later, forming a miniature crater behind him.

"Hey, hey!" a voice called through the newly formed opening. "Are you guys coming out, or do I have to come in?"

They exchanged silent glances before Rengoku slashed his sword in a circular arc, cutting a hole in the side of the train. They all quickly got out, blades at the ready.

Standing in front of them were three demons that practically radiated power.

A red-haired man with black tattoos covering his entire body grinned lazily at them. The kanji Waxing Three was inscribed on his pupil. The Upper Moon Three.

A tall man with blonde hair dressed in some sort of religious clothing smiled from behind his fan. He had bloodstains on the top of his head, and the kanji Waxing Two was inscribed on his pupil. The Upper Moon Two.

And finally...

Tanjirou drew in a sharp breath. The third demon was the most monstrous out of all of them, with six glaring red-and-yellow eyes, and yet, despite that... It was unmistakable.

He looked like Yoriichi.

But how-?

The memory of Yoriichi's words flashed through him.

I had an older brother once. He willingly became a demon and killed countless innocents with the same skills I had taught him. He betrayed me in his own pursuit of power.

Tanjirou's eyes widened. "There's no way," he breathed quietly.

"Why hello there! It's very nice to meet you." The Upper Moon Two called cheerfully. "My name is Douma. How are you all doing this fine evening?"

"I am doing well, thank you," Rengoku responded automatically even as he lowered into a stance. "And you?"

Douma chuckled. "Well, it hasn't been great so far, but..." he eyed Shinobu and Kanao. His smile widened. "It's about to get a lot better."

Tanjirou glanced over at Shinobu nervously. Her customary smile had completely disappeared, replaced by a cold, impassive gaze that barely concealed her overwhelming fury. The scent of pure hatred cascaded off her in waves, and her hands were trembling slightly - not from fear, but rather a devastating anger that refused to be quelled.

"Douma, the Upper Rank Two," she began softly, dangerously, "He's the one who killed my sister." Kanao tensed up at that. Shinobu's eyes flashed with venom. "He's mine."

Douma merely smiled apologetically at Shinobu. "Your sister? I'm afraid you'll have to be a little more specific. I've eaten many people's sisters - "

His gaze flickered down to the haori she was wearing and recognition entered his eyes. "Ah. You mean the Flower Breath girl from before?" Shinobu's suddenly murderous glance confirmed his guess. "I see. She was such a sweet and cute girl. I missed out on eating her because of the sun coming up, if I recall correctly." He sighed dejectedly. "It was truly tragic."

"You..." Shinobu seethed.

Douma clapped his hands together happily. "Don't worry, though. Since I didn't get a chance to eat your sister, I'll make sure to savor you instead - "

He coughed as the Upper Moon Three promptly turned around and planted a fist in his gut. Literally. Blood dripped out from the wound as the Upper Moon Three extracted his fist, leaving behind a gaping hole that was already regenerating.

"Akaza," Douma whined, not even looking pained. "What was that for?"

"For being a disgusting creep," Akaza responded, his eyes narrowed. "I'm here to have a good fight, not to watch you be a repulsive lowlife."

Douma sighed. "You really need to learn to enjoy life more."

"Both of you. Silence. We don't have much time before the sun rises."

They both instantly fell silent as the Upper Moon One stepped forward, his gaze focused on Tanjirou. Or rather, focused on his hanafuda earrings and his black Nichirin blade.

"So it's true," The Upper Moon One murmured. "Tell me, boy. How did you come to possess that sword and those earrings?"

Tanjirou gazed at him warily. "The earrings were passed down in my family for generations. And as for the sword... Well, that's a secret."

The Upper Moon One narrowed all six of his eyes.

"You're Master Yoriichi's brother, aren't you?" Tanjirou asked a question of his own.

The Upper Moon One blinked in genuine shock. He hesitated for a moment before nodding slowly. "I see you're extremely well-informed. Yes, you are correct. I am Tsugikuni Michikatsu, though I am currently known as Kokushibo, the Upper Moon One. We were sent here by that man to kill you, Kamado Tanjirou."

He drew his sword, a massive frightening blade with several spikes poking out from the side, and leveled it at Tanjirou. Akaza lowered into a martial arts stance while Douma snapped his fan shut, smiling in anticipation.

Kokushibo tilted his head as he gazed coldly at Tanjirou.

"Prepare to die."


Naturally, against two Pillars and Tanjirou, Enmu is kinda screwed lmao.

I know that canonically, Breathing Techniques don't actually create anything - it's all visual effects, but... there are several scenes where that explanation doesn't quite make sense lol. Consider this a small AU. Besides, I always liked the idea that the elements were actually there - at the very least, an illusion.

Due to Kibutsuji's considerably more intense PTSD than in canon, he's actually taking Tanjirou pretty seriously. Thus the changes at the end.

Thanks for reading, and please review!