One of the first things Akari had been told when she had first arrived at Sephiro Fiore was that she would never stop experiencing nightmares. As Elemental Tarot users, that was a burden they carried, and the price of protecting fragile peace was blood upon their hands.
But only she heard the voices of the Daemonia. In the still of the night, those voices echoed in her ears, begging for salvation and death, and her only mercy was to listen to those words.
Fuyuna's words echoed too, even as flames consumed her over and over…
A sharp knock on the bedroom door pulled Akari back to reality, and for a while she stared at the unfamiliar ceiling, finally remembering that she was visiting the London branch of Sephiro Fiore. Maybe it was Silvia or Ellen at her door. They were kind, and they, like most of the other Elemental Tarot users, now knew of Akari's unique ability and half-Daemonia nature. "Come in," she called out.
The door opened, revealing Luna. "Akari-san, are you all right? I heard you moaning and thrashing."
Akari's heart leapt as she lowered her gaze. Yet she felt relieved to see just Luna and not one of the others; there was much discussion lately about Daemonia research and the Pair Annihilation Phenomenon, especially with the return of both Ginka and Christine Ivory, the current wielder of the Lovers card. Much of the discussion also involved the Cerebrum incident, the pain of which still haunted Akari. "I think I was just having another nightmare, that's all."
Luna's arms tightened around the pillow she clutched to her chest. "Would… would you like me to stay the night with you?"
"Of course!" Akari exclaimed, almost without thinking, and her face grew warm.
Luna smiled, and she sat beside Akari as Akari pulled back the sheets. "What do you think of London so far?" she asked Akari.
"It's great!" Akari giggled. "Everyone's so nice, and really strong too."
"Strong, hm?" Luna sighed. "It would be nice if we didn't have to fight Daemonia here too."
Akari clutched the bed sheets tighter. "But I can still understand them, even though I don't know English very well. So I'm grateful for that at least."
Luna laid her gloved hand over Akari's. "Please let me hear their voices too."
Akari was silent, and she couldn't take her eyes from Luna's piercing gaze. Had Luna always been so radiant? She was stronger now, Akari knew, having survived her transformation into a Daemonia-hybrid. She was truly human, while Akari…
Something dark stirred within her, and her fingers tightened around Luna's.
"Akari-san?" Luna's eyes went wide with worry. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, nothing," Akari said with a laugh. "Thank you, for being with me like this. I'll definitely sleep easier tonight!"
Luna's expression softened, and she brought Akari's hand closer to her lips (her bright, beautiful lips, Akari couldn't help but notice). "I want to be strong enough for you."
"You're already strong," Akari replied as she lay upon the bed, and her fingers tightened around Luna's. "Goodnight, Luna-chan."
"Goodnight," Luna said with a nod, and she too lay upon her pillow, her gaze locked with Akari's.
Luna fell asleep first, and for a while Akari simply watched her. With her free hand she stroked Luna's hair, and her heart pounded against her chest. She had almost lost Luna for good, Cerebrum trying to take Luna away from her, but now Luna was beside her again. Luna had fought so bravely, so Akari had to be strong too. She couldn't give into fear, she told herself, even if Daemonia blood ran in her veins.
"Luna-chan, I…" Akari tried to whisper as her eyes fell closed, and her hand slipped from Luna's.
She dreamed again, chasing after Fuyuna and Luna, toward rotting plants and dying wolves, and soon all was consumed by dark fire.
No mission was ever easy. Each time the girls risked death, and they would be the only ones to remember the Daemonia-infected human they had to kill. Akari still hoped one day things would change, but for now she could at least listen.
And it was only because of the Daemonia blood within her veins she could even hear those voices at all.
Her whole body aching, she forced her eyes open. Fear struck her: when had she lost consciousness? She, Luna, Seira, and Ginka had entered the Astralux together, and they had encountered a Daemonia composed of rotting, bleeding flowers. It had kept screaming and screaming, and then fire had erupted all around…
Akari jerked up and saw Luna kneeling beside her. "Luna-chan?" she said, and when she looked herself over, she saw that she had lost her transformation.
Luna let out a sigh of relief. "I'm glad you're awake. I was able to heal you a little bit."
Akari tried to stand, but her head felt as if it was about to split open. "Ugh," she moaned. "Where are Seira and Ginka?"
"I don't know. Something… happened, and when I came to, I only saw you."
"We have to find them!" Akari said as Luna helped her to her feet. She held out her hand, trying to call forth her sword, but much to her shock, nothing happened. "I can't transform?"
"And we're trapped in the Astralux…" Luna gripped Akari's hand tightly. "I've never heard of this happening before, but as long as I don't lose my transformation either, we'll be safe!"
Akari looked around; the Astralux was as unstable as ever, and there were bloodied, discarded flowers everywhere, and the broken sky flashed and twitched. She laid her hand over her racing heart; her head was full of fog and she suddenly couldn't remember how she had ever managed to leave the Astralux at all. This was the realm where Daemonia took solid form, and deep below was the Clessida, where two incompatible beings could…
"Akari-san?" Luna's voice was only a whisper.
Inhaling a deep breath, Akari tried to force a smile. "We'll find the others. I just know it."
Luna nodded as she drew closer to Akari. "I'll protect you, I promise."
If there was one thing Akari was thankful for, it was that she was never alone. Yet a familiar voice called out to her, and that dark feeling still stirred deep within her.
Clutching Luna's hand tightly, Akari walked forward. What had happened? The more she tried to remember, the more her head hurt. The four of them were fighting, charging toward the Daemonia together, and it had struck Luna first, and she had screamed. Fear had filled Akari, and as she had screamed, her fire had grown dark…
Had she hurt the others? Had she lost control again, just like when she had killed Fuyuna? But Luna was still beside her, her transformation intact. But what if Seira and Ginka were hurt too? What if they couldn't transform either? Were they still trapped in the Astralux too?
Akari bit her lip. Why couldn't she transform? They were Elemental Tarot users; these powers were their birthright, and they all had a destiny to fulfill. Their powers were hereditary, while Daemonia were an infection.
Akari released Luna's hand as a distorted voice filled her mind. She couldn't understand the words, but the emotions were far too familiar.
Luna tried to reach out for Akari, her hand hesitating. "Akari-san?"
"I can hear its voice…" Akari muttered, and she broke into a run. Daemonia were always calling out to her, drawn to the Daemonia blood within her human veins. Cerebrum had tried to take her for himself because of that, wanting to use her to create more Daemonia like themselves.
The scent of blood filled her nose, and she froze. She wasn't anything like Cerebrum. He had corrupted Fuyuna's heart, tried to Luna into a Daemonia. She had defeated him, destroying that corruption of the sun, and even in his last moments she hadn't heard his voice.
But she hadn't heard Fuyuna or Luna crying out in pain either until they had been transformed into Daemonia. She hadn't heard their voices as human - only through her Daemonia blood.
"If you become a Daemonia too, we can be together."
Those words still echoed within Akari's mind, and when Luna touched her arm, she nearly jumped out of her skin.
"We need to be careful," Luna said. "I don't want you to be hurt."
Almost without thinking, Akari raised a hand to touch Luna's face, feeling warm skin beneath her fingertips. Luna was fully human; she had only been forced to become a Daemonia because of Cerebrum, her own feelings turned against her, and she had emerged from that ordeal stronger still. "Luna-chan, you're really strong, aren't you?" she found herself saying.
"W-What are you talking about?"
"I still don't understand why some people become Daemonia." Akari let her hand fall to her side. "You know why I can hear their voices, right? But I'm glad I can. I want to help them - I don't want to become a monster and hurt others…"
"Akari-san, you're-!" Luna tried to say, but Akari placed a finger over her lips to silence her.
"I'm not scared, not as long as I'm with you," Akari went on. "I'm really glad I didn't lose you."
Luna said nothing, her golden eyes wide, and Akari took a careful step back, hesitating for a moment, and then she ran toward that distorted voice once more. Luna tried to call out too, but her voice had grown too faint to hear.
If Akari was scared of losing herself, she wouldn't have the power to save anyone, she knew.
Soon she came before the Daemonia, and its screams filled her mind. It was like a blossoming rose, but a horrid stench surrounded it, and its thorny vines seemed to be covered in dry blood. Over and over its body wilted, dead petals falling to the ground, and endlessly they were replaced by new petals that soon wilted as well.
"Murderer…" the Daemonia screamed. It was trapped between life and death, never able to bloom, only rotting. Akari inhaled a deep breath, even as she wanted to vomit, and there was only one way to save this soul.
However, even as she held out her hands for her sword, she still couldn't transform.
The Daemonia grew deathly still for a tense moment, and it shot its vines toward Akari, too quickly for her to dodge. The vines seized her throat, biting into her flesh, and as they lifted her off her feet, the Daemonia's voice continued to fill her mind.
"Murderer… Traitor… You're just like me, so why…?"
Akari choked as the vines tightened around her neck, and she thrashed wildly as she tried to pry the vines from her throat. The thorns were sharp and painful, and blood soon covered her hands. The Daemonia yanked her closer, and as the vines constricted more around Akari's throat she could barely hear the Daemonia's voice over her own strangled gasps.
"I only wanted a new life… I'm not a monster… You're just a murderer…"
"I…" Akari tried to speak, but she couldn't breathe at all. The vines were crushing her throat, cutting off her air completely, and her vision darkened. Her fingers grew numb, and her lungs burned; if she couldn't transform, she was going to die. Yet her arms fell to her sides, and the pain seemed to ease.
Fuyuna had tried to strangle her too, squeezing with all her hate, and then Akari had…
Once more fire began to engulf her, but it wasn't the fire that had been passed through her mother's bloodline. This fire was dark, almost blue. The Daemonia screamed as the fire burned away its thorny vines, and blood still pounded in Akari's ears.
If her Daemonia blood had awoken instead, could she at least have remained in this ill-defined reality with Fuyuna?
Akari screamed as she fell to the ground, and air invaded her arching lungs. That dark feeling within her finally exploded, and she called forth her sword, whose blade was as dull and deep as darkness, and she charged forward.
The Daemonia still shrieked and lashed out, but Akari couldn't understand its words. She slashed and slashed, and dark blood flew freely, staining her. If she was a Daemonia too, how could she expect to save anyone?
Her body ached and her veins writhed, as if something within her was trying to burst free. She was only pretending to be human, wasn't she? Killing her own kind, her own family - if she had joined Cerebrum, would she still have to kill others?
(But Daemonia were creatures of violence and death, so what difference did it make if she was human or Daemonia?)
The Daemonia was cowering now, but before Akari could strike it again, gentle, glowing vines ensnared them both, immobilizing them, and a clear voice rang out through the Astralux.
Luna, still transformed, rushed toward Akari, her glowing hands held out, and that faint glow began to heal Akari's injuries.
Akari's strength faded, and she didn't fight against the bindings. "Luna-chan…?"
"You can't fight like that," Luna said as she cupped Akari's face, her hands soft and gentle. She had removed her gloves, so those red markings were fully visible.
"It… it hurts…" Akari forced out, shutting her eyes tightly. "I think… I think I'm losing myself… I'm a Daemonia too… Aren't you scared…?"
"Of course I'm not scared of you." Luna's hands trailed from Akari's face to her throat, and then her arms, her wounds vanishing. "Akari-san, you're very strong. I know that for a fact. I was able to become human again because of you."
The restrained Daemonia screamed and thrashed, but Luna's vines held fast, and its words again echoed within Akari's mind. Fear and malice, but also sorrow and regret - emotions all too familiar to Daemonia, Akari knew.
And they were emotions too familiar for her too. "Luna-chan, please help me…" Akari begged, tears falling from her eyes. "I want… I want to protect all of you…!"
A faint smile came upon Luna's lips. "You're not alone, Akari-san. None of us are alone. You taught me that, remember?" As her vines around Akari vanished, she cupped Akari's face again and kissed her. Akari's dark transformation vanished, and once again she felt human.
The kiss was brief, and Akari took Luna's ungloved hands into hers. "Thank you, Luna-chan."
However, her joy was short-lived when the Daemonia finally broke free of Luna's restraints. It shot its bloody vines toward Akari and Luna, but a familiar shield of coins deflected them.
"Made it just in time!" Ginka exclaimed as she and Seira appeared before Akari and Luna.
"This Daemonia controls this entire area," Seira explained. "No one can leave or enter until we defeat it."
Akari clenched her fists. "It's suffering too," she said. "We have to end it together." She held out her hand, and this time her transformation was true, and her sword was its familiar flame-orange.
As soon as Ginka dropped her barrier, Luna restrained the Daemonia again with her bright vines, and the four girls charged for it together.
The Daemonia still screamed. "It hurts, it hurts…" it cried, and it struggled in vain against Luna's bindings. "Why couldn't I be stronger…?"
However, some of its vines still thrashed wildly, and Ginka summoned more and more coins to create endless shields to defend the others, and Seira summoned an arrow of ice to freeze the Daemonia in place. Its vines froze and cracked, and its pulsing core was exposed.
"Akari, you're up!" Ginka yelled.
"Yes, I think it's time," Seira added quietly.
Akari simply nodded and gripped her sword tightly. With the final blow, she plunged her sword into the Daemonia's exposed core, rotted blood gushing from its many wounds, and she listened carefully for its last words: "Thank you…"
After the battle, while the others were looking into this Daemonia's control of the Astralux, Akari was laid up in the infirmary. Although Luna had healed most of her injuries, she had still needed some medical treatment, but she was feeling better now.
Slowly she touched the bandages encircling her throat. That dark feeling still slumbered within her, but it was much weaker now. "Fuyuna," she breathed. "I won't fail again, I promise."
The door opened, and Akari's heart leapt as Luna stepped into the infirmary. "Are you feeling better?" she asked as she came closer to Akari's bedside.
"Yeah, a little bit, thanks to you, of course!"
Luna sat on the edge of the bed, her eyes downcast. "Akari-san, are you scared?"
Akari touched her throat again, and she found she couldn't answer.
Luna let out a heavy sigh. "It's all right if you're scared. And… and it is frightening if you feel like you're turning into a Daemonia. But if you keep holding it in, you might end up like me…"
"Luna-chan…" Akari hesitated for a moment, and then put her arms around Luna to pull her into a tight embrace.
"A-Akari-san?" Luna stammered.
"You're strong too," Akari said as she threaded her fingers through Luna's soft hair. Her eyes hurt and her heart raced, but even as painful moments replayed over and over she didn't want to break down. "And so was Fuyuna, but I lost her… I don't want to lose you too…!"
Luna carefully wrapped her owns arms around Akari's back, as if mindful about Akari's injuries. "I was scared of losing you too, that someone would take you away from me," she whispered, her voice shaking. She was silent a moment, and inhaled a deep breath before speaking again. "Akari-san, please trust us… trust me…"
Akari rested her forehead against Luna's shoulder, and her heartbeat calmed. Luna was always so close to her, even though she knew the truth about Akari now. She had been the first one to reach out to Akari, the very first day she had left her aunt and uncle to join Sephiro Fiore, so maybe it was only natural.
Even if she feared herself, no else feared her. They were all comrades, after all. "Yes, I trust you, and everyone else," Akari finally said, breaking the silence.
Luna pulled back from Akari, laying her gloved hands on Akari's shoulders, and her expression was soft. "Then please don't be so reckless in the future."
Akari could only laugh in response as she cupped Luna's face, and after a moment of hesitation she pressed her lips against Luna's for another kiss.
They held the kiss for while, and as Luna remained by Akari's side through the night, holding her tightly, no nightmares engulfed Akari; only Luna's warmth, and she slept peacefully.