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In a room smelling of sulphur and coated in blood, sweat and tears, resonates the grunts of a creature unlike anything they faced before then – maybe humanity as a whole had never even met such a thing before they stumbled upon it. Its bright yellow eyes are locked onto theirs as it readies its next attack. It could be anything: a shockwave, a flamethrower, maybe a dash of poison.

She doesn’t know, and it frustrates her, because all she has remaining are her fists and barely enough healing items to patch her wounds.

 

All of them have fallen to the threat and they don’t have any remaining resources to bring them back to consciousness at the moment: the others will just have to rise their goddamn asses from the ground themselves because they’re too busy not trying to get killed, right now. Well, she’s too busy anyway, and she’d guess the other person still standing is in the same position.

Tomoe is right beside her, nervously clinging onto her bow like it’s their last lifeline and hope to get alive out of there. The natural flowery scent she emits – cherry blossom and jasmine – is her only comfort during these very trying times. Helps hide the stench of sulphur a little, if only for the few moments where their hands touch and her hair grazes her skin.

There’s no time to be appreciating all of the little things she loves about her, however: they have a demon to defeat if they want to live. You gotta have your priorities set straight in life.

 

“Do you have a plan?” Tomoe asks, trying to keep her voice steady.

“Honestly? I ain’t ever got one,” she replies in all honesty. “I thought we’d have found a weak point by now, but the moron’s kinda knocked out right now.”

She lifts her head to face the terrifying face of their opponent, its sharp teeth coated in blood and venom and bile, tusks emerging from its jaws. It doesn’t look like it’s about to strike, but she knows they don’t have all the time in the world to babble about shit, so she gets ready to counterattack anyway.

“I think it has a blind angle around where it can only see its tusk and fur. If we ran there and we strike with all our might… we may find a way to win, or at least buy us some time so the others can get back to their feet.”

“Ain’t like we got any other choice but to try, right? I go this way, you go the other!”

“Understood!”

 

Without looking back, Maria rushes to the left side of the abomination, readying her fists to strike as strong as she can. Using her speed, she takes the occasion to accumulate speed and get at least some momentum to exacerbate damage. In her side vision, she sees the monster sloppily turning around, its paws shaking the floor every so slightly as it tries to move ahead of her – but their strong point, against such a creature, is their human speed, so he won’t ever catch up to her. There’s no way on Earth she’s letting that chance slip away from her, especially since Tomoe gave it to her!

She jumps off her feet as high and as fast as she can, pushing on sore feet and scratched ankles to finally land a hit, a single hit would already be good enough. If she hits an important part, she may make it lose its balance, leaving it vulnerable – or maybe she can drain the blood out of that thing. She just needs to avoid any poison roaming around the area! She can do this!

 

At long last, her fists make contact with the monster. Using its rock-hard skin, she takes back her momentum by jumping out of it, propelling herself right in the air just enough to land on its head. She can see, in the corner of her eye, Tomoe shooting arrows into its eyes. It didn’t work before – that thing knew instantly when to close its eye so its eyelid, as solid as the rest of its skin, would prevent them from entering.

Those, however? It got too distracted to avoid them entirely as it did before, so its cries and grunts of pain are resonating inside its lair as Tomoe hits arrow after arrow, finally making the failed attempts she painstakingly gathered – and earned a couple wounds for – to use. And how grandiose is that: they’re shining in bright colours, patterns of butterflies and sparkles glittering around it. She’s truly making every attempt matter, every trait hurt as much as it can, because it may be their only chance to do so.

They’re so strong, together, that even devil-like beasts can’t beat them, can’t keep them down.

 

Maria gathers all of her forces – focuses all her energy into a single hit as if it’s going to be her last (and it may be, after all: who knows how things can turn out, despite the adrenaline running down her veins like a continuous flow of arrows) – and delivers the most powerful punch she’s ever dealt. It may break all the bones in her hands – she doesn’t care. What matters right now is striking while the occasion is there, while it’s possible. They don’t have time to waste nor resources to replace it, so it needs to count.

She feels her hands pierce through the seemingly untearable skin, revealing blood and hidden layers, as she hopes the thunder running down her arms and into her weapon at least stuns the thing for a little while. It better be worth it, it better be worth it, it better be worth it.

 

The beast falls down to its side.

“Tomoe, watch out!!” She screams as soon as she realizes its tilting to her new left – the way she came.

With a grace nobody’d ever expect from someone trapped in a monster’s lair filled with the smells of sulphur and iron, Tomoe dodges the abominable form trying to stomp her over, still firmly holding her bow. While she recovers her breath, Maria can see her partner run up to where she is, using one of its legs as a direct path to the headwound she just made with her own two fists.

“It’s time to put an end to all of this!”

 

Tomoe strengthens the hold she has on her bow and closes her eyes, focusing all of her energy. In the meantime, what Maria can (and must) do is to watch out if the thing isn’t going to try and eat them while they’re trying to get rid of it. Judging from the lack of response so far, it’s safe to say she at least hit hard where it’d hurt the most. The blind spot in its fur right where she struck was either a sign of destiny or, more likely, a previous adventurer’s ill-fortuned attempt at vanquishing the beast and get the bounty (and local fame) associated with it.

Before the monster can gain back its senses, however, Tomoe’s arrow shines like the starry sky and goes straight for the core of the head, piercing through the remaining flesh and into the skull. The wind blowing from the sheer power of the trait almost sweeps her away, but she remains firm on her feet.

 

And, in a single moment, a single hit from the most powerful of their team, the battle is over and they’re all still alive, somehow.

 

Maria doesn’t think twice before pulling Tomoe into the tightest hug she can pull off, which her dear, dear girlfriend doesn’t reject – in fact, she can feel her drop her bow and hug her back, ignoring the stench of sulphur, instead rejoicing in the natural scent of cherry blossom and jasmine she can always find her long, black silky hair. It’s faded compared to usual because of the circumstances, but she can’t mind.

They exchange a quick but passionate kiss before getting down the beast’s corpse, going to fetch their fallen friends and bringing them to safety: Erhard in her arms, Naomi’s arm around Tomoe’s shoulders, and Gabe is getting back to his senses as they’re leaving. It’s almost too beautiful to be true, yet it’s reality. They’re just this good at fighting together!

 

For now, however, she could go for a little inn stay with Tomoe (and there’s only going to be one bed) and the others. Resting sounds just about what she needs.