“I’ve got you cornered, Demon King… This spot will be your grave!”
The redheaded demon smirked down at you, voice dripping with contempt. “Hmph…you, a mere human, think you can harm me? My soul has developed far beyond yours!”
You gritted your teeth in frustration, tightening your grip around your katana. Your mind whirled, trying to figure out a way to give yourself the upper hand. What could you do? You were running low on talismans, and your swordsmanship was only sub-par, due to the common belief that onmyouji had no need to fight alongside their daemons. You had believed that too, once. Now, with only mediocre close-combat skills, a few tags left, and the Demon King looming in front of you, you wished you’d taken up the sword earlier.
“I’m not against big talk and high hopes—” the Demon King continued, and your mind snapped back into focus. There was no time for regrets on the battlefield. “—but in this case, it is simply foolish arrogance!”
You narrowed your eyes at the cocky bastard before you. You’re hopeless, you wanted to convey, and you thought your message was received when the demon’s form tensed with rage for a fraction of a second. Energy began to swirl around him, and you’re smart enough to recognize the signs of an incoming attack. Very well then. You took a deep breath and pulled the bonds you’d formed over the course of these desperate few months to the forefront of your mind.
The Demon King’s attack was visible now, a dark, ominous black as it expanded and stabilized into something powerful.
Prepare to attack, my daemons! Their determination mirrored yours, and you found yourself smiling, despite the tense situation. With practiced ease, you tugged and several physical forms shimmered into existence around you. A quick glance revealed the spirits that had summoned themselves to your side. Five of them in total, all in defensive positions since the moment they manifested.
These were all the daemons you’ve got…? Which could you trust with your fate?
Okita Soji stood proudly by your side, sending a reassuring smile your way before turning his gaze towards the largest threat in the room. “I’m here, so everything’s fine,” he murmured, and you couldn’t help but believe him. Something warm filled your chest, and you shot him a shaky but heartfelt grin as you turned to lock onto the eyes of another spirit.
Chimera smiled, baring her fanged teeth. It’s mildly terrifying, as usual, and the familiarity of it all was a comfort. She waved one of her hands, the dragon puppet over it swaying with the movement, and exclaimed, “Don’t worry! We’ll tear them to bits!”
Her confidence was inspiring, and a laugh tried to bubble out of you, but your throat was too constricted for it to surface.
Kogitsunemaru bounced in place, sword already unsheathed. “We,” she declared solemnly, “are going out for tofu after this.” She swept her eyes around for any objectors, and while usually one of you all would pipe up to complain, this time, everyone nodded in agreement. After this, she said. You clung onto the words, hoping that there really would be an after this.
Kogitsunemaru grinned in that foxlike manner she was known for. For some reason, it seemed a bit sad. You didn't really want to dwell on why.
Kintaro laughed. Loudly, brazenly, as if he could become as confident as he acted if he pretended long enough. His whole frame was shaking. You couldn’t tell if it was from fear or excitement. Knowing him, it was probably a mix of both. You hoped he would stay safe. He could get reckless, and it wasn't very hard to distract him.
You told him as much, and he made a face that would have been comical in any other situation, but right now all you could do was laugh weakly and look away.
Spider’s Thread was in a foul mood. No, you realized, as you looked a bit closer. Not angry, just solemn. "There will be no mercy," she muttered in a surprisingly dark tone. You got chills just from hearing her voice. "Too many innocent lives have been lost in this fight to let him get away with this. He'll learn to repent in hell!"
Well, you thought. He definitely belongs there.
You nodded in silent agreement, unable to help yourself, and directed your focus at the demon in front of you instead. He was doing something other than charging up his attack— he was amassing evil energy. It collected at several points in the air, and you realized what he was aiming for. Shit. Well, you hadn't expected him to fight alone anyway.
“Okay." You exhaled slowly, feeling the battle calm seep into you. “This is it.”
Beside you were your daemons, your friends, the people you’ve trusted your life with over and over again.
It’s your turn not to disappoint them.
The fragile silence shattered apart, and the Demon King opened his mouth. “Come, my brethren…” Beasts and corrupted spirits alike tumbled out of multiple portals, forcing their way in from the spirit world. Chimera was already hurtling attacks at them, animalistic growls tearing out of her mouth. You leapt into action, flinging several talismans you had been imbuing spirit essence into at the hordes of enemies. Behind you, a beast roared. Adrenaline shot through your veins— when did it get behind you?!— and with renewed energy, you spun around and sliced the thing in half.
From then on, it was a blur. Wave after wave of enemies poured forth, and your team steadily worked through them all. There were a few instances where you were sure it was over for you, and a few more where you thought you wouldn’t make it in time to save your daemons, but somehow, somehow, you managed to last until a lull in the battle, where neither corrupted spirit nor brute leapt at you.
Your left shoulder was throbbing, and there was a slash on your leg that was sluggishly bleeding, and your whole body felt heavy from exhaustion. A scan of the battlefield revealed that everyone else was in similar states— battered, weary. For a brief moment, you allowed yourself a flash of panic— what if you all wouldn’t make it, in the end? Okita’s voice followed by the dull thump of a beast’s body cut through the air, drawing you out of your daze. That’s right. You shook your thoughts away and concentrated on the talisman in your hand and the energy you were directing into it.
That’s right, you repeated.
Your daemons— no, your comrades— wouldn’t let you down.
(If only you could’ve said the same for yourself.)
The Demon King was before you.
The beaten bodies of what seemed like hundreds of brutes lay around you two like some sort of morbid mockery of an audience. Several spirits that had been taken over by evil energy and had yet to be cleansed lay on the floor, unresponsive even as your daemons jostled them as they sprinted to your side. Alarm was painted on all five of their faces; faces that looked better with smiles and carefree laughs than the panicked frowns and grimaces they now wore.
Because the Demon King was before you, and he smirked even as the talisman in your shaking hands shone with the intensity of a thousand suns due to the excessive amount of energy you poured into it.
Your last talisman. You had to make it count.
“Not bad, not bad at all…for a human.” At this point, your comrades had skidded to a halt around you, chests heaving with the effort it took to get there in such a short window of time. The Demon King only smiled wider at this, and suddenly, the pit in your stomach dropped. Wrong. Something was wrong. “I think you deserve something extra special.”
The Demon King’s constant smirk suddenly seemed a lot more terrifying.
“To end your desperate need to cling to life once and for all!”
You had a split second to digest his words, but before as you could open your mouth to scream, yell, do something—
…No! Get up!
You couldn’t find the energy to force your eyes open, so you settled for coughing weakly, ribcage shuddering in protest at the jarring movement. Blood— your blood— splattered onto the lacquered wooden floorboards. The metallic smell you were getting tired of and the sharp pain in your head and stomach and chest and everywhere and the ringing in your ears were too much make it stop please, and you thought you could hear your friends shouting your name. With a sluggish blink and a ragged breath, you realized, with a slow sort of horror, that this was it. The tag had been knocked out of your hand, and now it rested limply on the floor, too far to reach. Your katana lay by your side, shattered into an unusable mess. For you, a mere human, to have made it this far was a feat in of itself, but there was only so much a human body could take, and yours had reached— no, surpassed— its limits.
Your time was up.
“—! Ca— you h—r us?! Please, get up! —u can’t f—l —re! We d— know —at to do w—out you with —s!”
The ringing in your ears hadn’t abated, not in the slightest. But you could hear…voices. The cries of your comrades, panic coating their words. They were begging you to get up. You should get up. But what’s the point? You’re done for, you’re going to die, you’re leaving them…
You couldn’t leave. Not just yet. There was still…something you needed to do. To say. It’s rude, after all, to leave without a goodbye. You painstakingly opened your mouth and struggled to say something. Anything.
“…This isn’t over yet.”
Silence was their response. Beautiful, terrifying silence. You weren’t sure if your ears were beyond repair or if everything had stopped to listen to your final words, as if you were some sort of dying hero, but you got your answer when you heard your own voice, deceptively steady, ring across the battlefield.
“Even if I perish here, my soul will be left behind…”
You felt your eyes burn. With what, you didn’t know, because even now the ruins around you were crystal clear, so you couldn’t be crying, right, but someone— Soji?— next to you took a sharp breath when you looked up from your crouched position to lock eyes with the Demon King.
Your eyes were burning. It wasn’t a bad feeling.
Words tumbled out of your mouth even though you didn’t know what you were saying. You were desperate to get your message across, desperate not to die just yet, but also oddly calm. Maybe it was because you weren't scared of death— you just needed it to wait. Just a little longer. “And it will continue though the cycle of rebirth, and be back again tomorrow, bright as ever…”
It wasn’t the fanciful delusion of a dying person. No, it was a promise.
You’d be back.
The last thing you remembered was that thrice-damned smirk, the hysterical shouts of your friends as you finally slipped away, and the strange burning sensation in your eyes.
The hell was that…? Some kind of weird dream?
Where am I…?