A Promise Between Worlds
[WARNING: MANGA SPOILERS FOR THE PROMISED NEVERLAND. SPOILERS FOR ALL OTHER ANIME AND/OR MANGA. READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION].
Chapter 1: The Promised Wish
A wonderful and ruthless world, preserved by a one-thousand-year-old promise.
At the center of a ruined villa known as Goldy Pond, endless gun shots rang throughout the midst of houses. At the center of the village, one demon stood alone under a barrage of bullets – bracing the fury of the cattle children. His fellow poachers have since perished. Heavy injuries were sustained and sent several children out of commission. All that remained was this demon, their most dangerous enemy. Lewis.
So long as he was alive, none of them are safe, none of them will live. For Lewis, it was not a matter of a personal vendetta over his slain comrades whom he knew for years. There was no such grief in him, and his sympathies were only minor. He lived for the hunt, the ecstasy of fighting a worthy opponent. He would offer guns and even the secret of the demons weakness for the excitement of a battle.
To see who is the strongest, and either emerge in triumph or lay in defeat. It was an exhilaration for Lewis, and that is what made him the deadliest from the rest.
His regeneration was slow due to his old age, it was the only sort of advantage the cattle children had to defeat this demon before they inflict a killing blow into his eye. His white mask, tougher than any stone, was destroyed, his exposed weak spot barely protected by his three-finger claws.
They only need one shot. Emma and her companions need only that one infliction, and then the terror of Goldy Pond would finally end.
But even as a hundred bullets attacked Lewis's body while his senses were clouded from an ignited flash-grenade, he was smiling as a creature indulging what he had not indulged for a thousand years. A true life-or-death confrontation, a battle between natural-born hunters. This feeling of urgency. His life dwindling with every bullet, his mind swirled, and the pain was unbearable.
It was absolutely wonderful.
For Emma, it was stomach-turning. It sickened her how much Lewis actually takes enjoyment out of this. She had seen the results of Lewis's evil deeds. His pleasure to experience a thrilling kill. Taking the lives of children and letting go of those he deemed to have potential; that they may one day give him a true fight and not some meager hunt against a helpless prey. He had seen this potential in Emma and wished to drive out the killer instinct from her. Emma had accepted his challenge, out of anger for the children he's killed, calling her out by slaughtering the family orphan members of the little boy she had befriended here.
Yet even for her hatred over his actions, she still questioned if fighting was really their only option. That the death of either of them was what should really settle this. Emma understood the cruel nature of Lewis, but she also realized that he was a sentient being with thoughts and emotions like herself - that all of the demons were indeed sentient beings, not like the Wild Demons.
Angry as she was, unforgiving as she was for what he has done, she was not so willing to match the same pleasure of killing as Lewis. She was not without reason. Not without the courage to speak out and profess a better solution, no matter the low probability of it. She was often called naïve for this mindset, but it was the logic of this child fueled by a willingness to have compassion that most of the world did not.
It was commendable, and far too beautiful to ever truly exist in this world, this is what Lewis responded. There was no negotiating, he held no other desire but for them to fight each other to the death.
And so they fought.
With the arrival of reinforcements – Ray, the nameless man, and a few others – Emma supported her companions with a steady clutch of her rifle, shooting at their tremendously strong hunter. This was for their fallen friends and family, and for all others who fell victim to this hunting grounds. Together, they unleashed their anger and anguish, crying out a thousand bullets.
It was a fleeting moment of empowerment.
There were several reasons for what made Lewis terrifying, but his most infamous trait is his inexplicable speed. Able to catch bullets with ease if left unexhausted, and the ability to somehow be in one place before suddenly appearing in another, as if he teleported. An unknown power only the demons of this world were capable of, those who have lived and fought long before the Promise. It was with this power, that in an instant, Lewis appeared behind Emma with his sword-like claws.
It was done before it was realized. The strange burning clutch around Emma's waist, the sharp ends of two swords that suddenly popped out from her abdomen. The blood, the immediate hurting. Her mind registered what had happened within a few seconds.
She had been stabbed.
"What a shame." So pitied the demon behind her. "But you were a wonderful hunt. I will never forget you."
He withdrew his weapons, allowing Emma to slip out from his lanky claw-fingers, coated in her blood. Her body slumped against the ground. Unresponsive, her life slowly bled away. Not even the screams of her comrades or Ray stirred her. Not the pain, not the increasing darkness clouding her consciousness. The voices and the world around her distances itself, farther and farther away.
Then everything faded until there was nothing but silence.
"Ah. So that's it then. That's all you're going to give?"
It was dark. Her body felt cold. Her wounds were agonizing, but there was no energy left to scream.
"You still have some life in you left. Not for much longer though..."
An echo surrounds her. An unknown voice, along with several others that resonated into her soul. The screams of children who were killed by the demons. The grief and despair of those who have lost their loved ones. Visions of the past she did not personally experience flooded her mind; of the victims whose lives were ended so swiftly.
Their dreams, hopes, wishes, and fears were irrelevant. Their pleas for their lives and tears for others were ignored, by this vicious world that saw them only as food, and nothing more.
I cannot accept that...
She resisted the temptation of an eternal sleep. She urged herself to wake, but although her spirit was defiant, her body did not move.
Everyone is waiting for me. My family...
Her spirit started to sink, into the black abyss separate from the world of the living. Her soul slowly drifted away from her body.
No. No! I still have so much to do! I don't want to die! I can't die yet!
The little girl did not want to give in. Her friends were still in battle against Lewis. Her family was waiting for her at the underground shelter. Phil was expecting her to return to Gracefield, to rescue him, the toddlers and infants, and all the other orphans from the farms, from their lie of a happy home and impending doom. So much has been done and lost to get her this far, she cannot allow it all to be in vain!
"You really do have a strong will..."
A familiar hand grasped onto hers. A kind smile of a boy with white hair and a single large curled strand. The boy who had been taken from her and her family.
Was this a dream? An illusion of the dying? A glimpse of the afterlife? Regardless of the answer, her heart cried out a saddened joy at the sight of her lost friend.
I have to go back...
Norman nodded, an absolute understanding and faith in his eyes. He released her hand and ushered her to follow.
"I'll tell you what." The voice of the abyss continued to speak, though it was questionable if Emma could comprehend anything that's happening to her at this moment. "If you could do one thing for me, I'll give you a chance to save your family and friends. I'll give you a chance to have anything you desire. All you have to do-"
She was led back to the surface, where another hand dipped for her, and she reached out for it.
"Is stand up."
It was Isabella pulling her out, her beloved caretaker, and the very first enemy that threatened her family's future. A worker for the demons to guarantee her own survival, raising and shipping away the very children she had lovingly raised - cultivated. But there was no madness in the woman's eyes now. There was only encouragement, genuine love from her warm expression. It was as if the mother Emma knew for so long had returned, the mother Emma had secretly longed for again before the horrid truth was known. The gleaming source of comfort and support.
"That's right. Don't give up, Emma."
Because in truth, Isabella was once like them. She had been a cattle child who chose survival over being food, even if it means pushing others to their own deaths, even if it means letting the children she genuinely loved to be killed. This was the path most if not all have chosen, those who wanted to live rather than die so young. Because there was no other choice that did not mean their end, there was no hope of rebuking the system, to change society with what little to no power they had, and so they surrendered their will and abandoned their compassion for their fellow victims, in order to be the humans the demons couldn't eat.
But the night that the children escaped Isabella, the night they escaped Gracefield, was when it was realized that acceptance was not their only option, and that Emma and her family would struggle incessantly to find a world where they can truly live happily. Not a place where others desperately claw their way towards survival and kick aside those who sought the same. Where nothing but tears flow to exclaim the broken hearts of the slaughtered innocents, young and powerless. Where they live to be eaten.
Enough was enough. No more sadness. No more sacrifices. No more tragedies.
"So you're not done after all?"
No. She wasn't. Because...
I still haven't achieved the future I've wanted!
Emma's body was heavy with pain and blood loss, yet she stood up regardless of her condition. By her will alone, she had returned from death's void. For the sake of her family, for every cattle child like herself, she will challenge the cruelty of the Demon World, and march on towards their freedom - to the Human World!
Regarded with shock and awe by all, Emma could not muster the strength to speak to her allies, putting forth all of her efforts simply to stand. Her hand clutched the four-barrel pistol of unique properties. She must tell them, she must convey it somehow. Their only hope of defeating Lewis lies within this pistol, but she cannot do it alone. She must have everyone's contribution to ensure this bullet will go through without fail.
"SURROUND HIM! THIS IS OUR LAST CHANCE! KEEP SHOOTING!"
Ray's command stirred the cattle children out of their stupor and resumed firing their weapons at Lewis. Emma wished she could thank him. He understood her intentions without having to hear it directly. He, out of everyone else aside from Norman, would know her heart and goal without hesitation or doubt.
Bullets enveloped Lewis's form, yet Lewis's disturbingly incredible reflexes caught and deflect every bullet. Not one will he allow to pass and hit his eye. Emma clenched her teeth, a bitter taste of her own blood. This was her chance, her very last. If she fails, everyone will die by the hands of Lewis.
With the last ounce of her strength, she raised her four-barrel pistol, aimed for Lewis's head, and pulled the trigger.
A single bullet was fired. A bullet different from the rest design-wise. Lewis, in the midst of deflecting other hundreds of piercing projectiles, noticed too late this odd bullet. He watched as it suddenly split apart into pieces before he could knock it aside, and a flash burst out.
The Demon was blinded. Without his sight, he could no longer keep track of anything being fired at him. He can no longer deflect anything with precision. Not even his acute hearing would help him in his already exhausted stated.
This was his defeat.
"Oh, how I love humans..." The demon congratulated.
Bullets tore his body apart, shredding his clothing and flesh. His regeneration ability had all dried up. He was pinned by the onslaught, there was nothing he could do to escape, nor to survive.
This is his end, and he was content. Nothing but satisfaction and pride for the humans who have finally fought back.
The final bullet came, fired by the nameless man whose family this Demon had killed over a decade ago, rendering the man an insufferable life of loneliness and survival guilt. A bullet laced with years of despair, and memories of the dead; it destroyed Lewis' eye in a single shot. A long life of vigor and treasuring experiences flashed across Lewis's mind, and he fell with a smile.
The cattle children have won.
"We did it...?" One child whispered. "Lewis... We beat him... We beat him...!"
The children gaze over the corpse, confirming their kill. Their victory.
"WE DID IT! WE DID IT! FREEDOM!"
Emma smiled at the sound of cheering. The children of Goldy Pond, the grieving members who have lived here in fear and anguish, are finally freed from their nightmare. "It's over... We did it, everyone..."
But there was still much to do. They must get Pepe's wounds treated, and they must find the other children who were unable to come here. Were they alive? Were they in trouble? She has to find them, she has to...
Her thoughts trailed as her vision clouded, and her consciousness faded before she would feel the ground.
"Emma!" She could barely register Ray's shouting. The screaming of her name from her friends as she lay motionlessly against the earth. "Emma! Wake up! EMMA!"
She no longer had the strength to keep her eyes open. The panicked voices of her friends were growing distant once more. She had no energy to think, to hear her surroundings, to feel the hug and desperate attempt to wake her from Ray. She had given her all.
Darkness returns to her once more.
"Looks like you're qualified after all."
Emma's eyes snapped open, gasping at her sudden wake. "Huh?"
She lay on her back, a starless night sky before her eyes. A sunlight glow from a distance. She sat up slowly. The pain in her body has vanished, along with her exhaustion. Had she fallen asleep? No. Something was strange, very strange. A cold prickle touched both her palms and she looked down. A ripple formed around her hands as if she touched water but felt no such liquid. The floor was pitch black, reflecting her image like looking down on a mirror.
Where... am I? Where were Ray and the others? She glanced back at the sky and turned her gaze towards the light source. "Wha-!?"
Shining brightly at the end of the sky was the sun, yet it did not reflect bright colors onto the dark sky. She was upon a black land, her surroundings devoid of any person or building. No sign of her friends, the corpse of Lewis, or any remnant of Goldy Pond. She was in a different place entirely, a place that seems to defy the laws of reality.
A place of night and day.
A large shadow flew over her figure and Emma looked up further. She gaped at the sight of a pale four-legged creature with reptilian features and thick scales, massive wings expanded from its back, and a single large eye at the center of its head that stared down at the little girl.
A... A dragon...? Emma's heart pounded. The sight of Demons could not have prepared her for this. A creature right out of storybooks. Her round eyes full of fear and awe.
"It's nice to meet you, Emma."
Emma spun around. The speaker who echoed his greeting to her stood not too far away - no, not standing, he was floating.
He had the appearance of one, with a stone white mask and horns on its side. He had a child-like body, wearing intricate clothing that seemed ancient. A big round eye at the center of his face that regarded Emma's surprised look. Glowing orbs flew around the small demon; were they sentient, or is this demon controlling the orbs? Emma thought to reach for her gun, but upon seeing the demon acting rather calmly, she doesn't sense any hostility. Was this a friendly demon?
The dragon settled down beside the child-size demon, folding its wings to a close. "I would have expected for us to meet somewhere else... but you've proved to be very promising. I might just choose you after all."
Choose? Emma did not understand the statement, raising only more questions, but before that, she must confirm the well-being of her friends. "What happened to everyone else?"
She examined her contradicting surroundings, "Where... is this place?"
"Your friends are alive and safe, now that you've defeated Lewis and the others," The child demon answered. "I was really impressed that all of you managed to pull it off. You've even surprised Lewis. I can tell you how satisfied he was, and congratulates all of your efforts."
Emma wasn't sure how to take that. It was strange and upsetting to hear, for someone to feel happy to have been killed, furthermore from the demon she hated. The glowing orbs circled around the child demon's fingertips.
"As for this place... Here, there is nothing, yet there is everything. The entrance isn't anywhere, yet the entrance is everywhere."
An absurd answer for an absurd place.
Wait... Emma regarded everything once more. A place that has both day and night... This was in the files!
The files she and Lukas found in the hidden base underneath Goldy Pond. It was there that not only did they discover the broken pathway to the Human World, but the last message of their distant and long since departed guide – William Minerva, or rather, James Ratri.
James had built Goldy Pond with the intention to use it as a safe haven for escaped cattle children, but his efforts were exposed and ultimately crushed. However, not all hope was lost. In his last message, James suggested there to be three other options for the cattle children to choose from.
The first option was to search for the "other" paths to the Human World. The second option was to break the Promise and rage war against the Demons. The third option was to "Search for the Seven Walls," a most cryptic suggestion, yet Emma knew that there was immense importance to it. After accessing another data chip, she was able to understand completely. Unearthing many other truths and information about the Demon World.
But to search for the Seven Walls, she was to follow the directions encrypted within the files; to find "the place of night and day."
This... This must be that place... Emma observed, she returns her focus to the demon child, This demon... could he be...?
Could this be the demon James wanted her to find? The very demon whom all the other demons worship? The demon whose name was not of human language, casually said by Sister Krone. Is this demon Him? Is he-
Are you The One who the demons pray to?
"So, what's your answer?"
The sudden question had Emma stutter, "W-what?"
"Do you want to fight for that chance to save your family?"
She stared, and then a steady comprehension dawn on her. "It was your voice. It was you I heard after I was stabbed."
The bet of her resilience to stand up.
"Good to know you remember," the child Demon said. "Yeah, it was me. I wanted to see if you could pull through, and now that you have, you're qualified alright."
"Qualified for what?" Emma asked, feeling her sides. It was a shock to her that she cannot feel the impaling wounds she received from Lewis. Did this demon heal her? Or was all this a dream? Everything seemed very real though, even for the unreal scenery she was in the middle of.
"To participate in a competition for a wish."
At her look of absolute bemusement, the child demon elaborated. "Let me explain, starting from the beginning..."
Beyond space, time, and reality, a contest between people from several worlds is in the making. There are infinite worlds beyond this one, worlds of its own history, laws, people, and even Gods. Each of these worlds is set in its own universe, with its own set of rules and lore.
However, every once in a while, the barrier that has kept these worlds separated would be weakened, and a contest is held in between the realities, in between dimensions. This contest is a competition of skills, intelligence, will, and power. Of people with a wide range of abilities, and reason to fight.
And the prize for whoever wins this competition; a wish powerful enough to change the world, to have anyone's desire be granted.
"But in order to claim that wish, you will have to overcome multiple obstacles, survive them, and uphold the criteria required for you to remain in the competition."
The incredible tale left Emma in complete bafflement, "A wish... I can wish for anything?"
"Anything you want. You can use it to save your family. Maybe you would want to save all the other children also."
Emma gawked at his knowledge of her desire.
"Or maybe you would want to destroy the Demon World, or both the Demon and the Human world. How about that?"
A casual remark that left her stunned and even frightened. Emma rejected the suggestion with a quick shake of her head and hands, "N-no! I don't want that at all."
"Well, it's up to you anyhow. But you get the idea, right? How powerful this wish is. It could alter or erase reality in an instant. The only set-back is that it can't affect every other world all at once, one wish only has enough power to change at least one world, one universe by extension. In your case though, I'm sure whatever you want, it'll be enough for the wish to grant."
The child demon gently grabs one of the glowing orbs, "You must have intended to look for me, what you wished to do after finding me. I hope that you're aware that whatever you would have asked of me, I expect something in return, but if you decide to partake in this competition and use the wish, then there won't be any need for me to give what you desire. So, what's your answer?"
For a moment, Emma did not know what to say. Her mind wrapped in utter amazement. There was no questioning if what this demon says is true, for why would he make such an outlandish lie? Taking his words with the utmost sincerity and severity, she considered all her other options.
The gateway to the Human World was closed, the other "paths" that are known were still very much unclear, a far too risky option, and too early for that matter. She must see if there is a secure way to reach the world without Demons, and it is as this child demon had said, what was mentioned in the files she's read; that third option.
To Reforge the Promise.
But if this wish could help her without having to sacrifice anything, without having to instigate another war between Humanity and Demons, then-!
"One more thing..."
The child demon spoke once more.
"If you decide to enter this competition, then you should know this beforehand. There are plenty of ways to win, just as there are plenty of ways to lose. One of the ways that you could lose is by getting killed. Don't worry though. If you end up dying in this competition, you won't actually die in your world."
The demon child released the glowing orb, allowing it to float around his palm. "Your mind is what will be transferred to this competition. You will still be able to experience things like hunger, tiredness, and pain as well, but your actual body will remain where you left it. So if you happen to perish or lose in this competition, your soul will return to your world and back into your body."
He paused for a brief moment, "Well, there's a fifty-fifty percent chance that you might survive at all in the condition you're in at your reality. But that also depends on you, and how much you are willing to fight to stay alive, regardless if you win or lose."
So her wounds were that severe after all. Emma pondered, "...How long will this competition last? Are there rounds?"
"There are, but I can't say how long it'll be or how many there are. Each round varies from hunting the most dangerous creature to a battle of wits, and etcetera. All the previous competition, though, haven't lasted beyond a year,"the child demon answered. "Of course, time is irrelevant. Even if you spend more than a year in this contest, by the time you return to your reality, nothing much will have changed. A year participating would be like the passing of a second in your world."
A competition beyond reality, space, and time. How astonishing. Overwhelming even.
"Which is why even if you win or lose, your fight hasn't ended yet. At the very least, you won't have to worry about your wounds once you register yourself. Any recent ailments or injuries you may be suffering in your world will be cleared once you enter the competition."
Emma considered for another minute, various questions in mind and asking each of them. "There's going to be a lot of people competing? Are they... human like me? Will there be other Demons also?"
"Humans. Demons. And more. Some of them have their reasons. Some of them may not have any. But for a lot of them, they are very powerful," the child demon said, his single eye peering at the little girl.
"So powerful, in fact, I wonder if you would make it that far at all? You might end up dying in the most painful way possible, or so instantaneous that you won't realize what just happened. This competition won't be kind to anyone, and it'll only grow more difficult as time goes by. Knowing all that, would you even-?"
The child demon stopped at the expression of Emma, and chuckled. "I suppose that's not enough to waver you in the slightest. My, my, you truly are an interesting human."
There was no hesitation in Emma's eyes. In truth, she had been afraid that if she accepted this opportunity, she would have to be gone for too long, but knowing now that it may not be that long for her family to wait for her, she was at better ease. There were other questions she has, but there were only a few things she was certain of. If she could save her family and all the other children, all the humans trapped in the Demon world, she will put her heart, body, and soul into reaching that goal.
No matter what challenge awaits her, she will not shy away from it. With her life uncertain back in her reality, she would rather not want anyone to struggle or suffer while waiting, for her likely or unlikely recovery.
I have to take this chance, was Emma's resolve.
"It looks like I have your answer," the child demon raises one finger, pointing at her. "Then I'll be sending you right on your way. Good luck, and remember this Emma..."
One of the glowing orbs floated towards her, steadily approaching as Emma curiously studied the peculiar thing. Slowly, her vision was clouded in a glowing white. The urge to step away bit at her, but she restrained herself, embracing the painless light.
"You should not subjugate yourself to your understanding of your world. Having a perspective is pointless compared to the truth that exists outside our minds. But if you want to enforce your truth into reality, know that yours is only one out of countless others. Sometimes there's not much room for a compromise, it's always been a competition between ideals."
Just as Emma was beginning to understand her own world, it was left behind within an instant.