Word Count: 2416
Restless mumbles of protest fell from Konoka's lips as she experienced a nightmare that seemed far too real for her liking. In the dream, she watched herself reach toward Setsuna, who was intent upon leaving Konoka for good.
"It's not safe when I'm around, ojou-sama. I'll only hurt you if I stay."
"But Secchan, I--"
"Goodbye." There was such finality to the swordsman's departing words that Konoka was shocked into silence. She watched, frozen, as the person she cared for more than anyone in the world turned her back and walked away forever.
It was too real. The dream-Setsuna's actions and words were too real, and Konoka couldn't stand the torture any longer.
"Wake up, wake up, wake up!" Konoka begged herself as tears began to stream down her face in both the dream world and the real world. With an anguished cry, the mage forced her eyes open, quickly pulling herself in a sitting position and tearing away the blanket that strangled her sleeping body. Konoka immediately turned her head from side to side in search of Setsuna, with whom she had fallen asleep with the night before, but her efforts came up empty. The other girl was not there.
"S-Se--!" The horror of not finding Setsuna in her tent caused her breath to catch and Konoka struggled to breathe properly as her eyes continued to survey the situation. Setsuna's backpack and clothes were still there, but Yuunagi, her sword, was gone. How long ago had the swordsman left? Was there time to catch up to her? Where was she headed? With her nightmare still fresh in her mind, Konoka was unable to think rationally. Just as she was scrambling to her feet, Evangeline's sharp voice echoed faintly into her tent.
"Get back here Sakurazaki! Finish your last set or you're not getting any breakfast!"
Konoka slowly sank back down onto her sleeping bag, relieved to hear that Setsuna was nearby. That alone was enough to bring her back to her senses. She immediately realized that it was morning and, of course, Setsuna would have woken up early to train like she always did. Konoka was relieved, yet she could not stifle a frustrated groan. The mage bowed her head and pressed a hand to her eyes to stave off a fresh flood of warm tears that were threatening to spill over.
The pain in her heart still lingered even though the situation had passed and it bothered the mage that she could not control her feelings and erase the aching throb. Right now, Konoka detested her own weakness and insecurity and how worked up she become over nothing. She also hated that she could not stop herself from blaming Setsuna for these moody thoughts. The swordsman's confession from the night before still weighed heavily on her mind. Konoka could understand why Setsuna felt the way she did about their feelings for each other, but that did not stop the mage from being frustrated by the other girl.
"You're hurting me, Secchan," Konoka mumbled, finally letting the tears fall without restraint. With her heart still racing, fresh with dream-induced pain and memories of the previous night, no truer words could express Konoka's feelings at that moment. However, if only the mage had been less consumed by her own thoughts and more conscious of her surroundings, Konoka might have been able to keep herself from hurting the swordsman who was standing in the shadows just outside of her tent.
Chapter 6: Tormented
Setsuna froze just inches from the doorway of her tent. In the middle of training just moments ago, she had heard Konoka's cry. It was barely audible and definitely not noticeable if you weren't trying to listen for it, but Setsuna had been trying to listen. Amidst the clean vibrations of her sword cutting through the air, the swordsman's ear was fixed closely on her tent. She wanted to be aware of the moment Konoka awoke so she could greet her ojou-sama good morning, but the cute yawn she was expecting was replaced by the anguished cry.
Evangeline yelled at her when she stopped mid-swing to check on the mage, but she didn't care. Something was causing Konoka distress, and she wanted to see what it was. As it turned out, Setsuna was the cause of the distress. The swordsman froze just outside of the tent when she heard Konoka's words.
"You're hurting me, Secchan."
Setsuna was so close to the tent that she could pull back the flap over the entrance if she just reached her hand out, but she stopped, stricken by what she heard. Unable to move forward, the swordsman did the only thing she could and turned around. With heavy steps, she walked away from Konoka and back to where Evangeline was waiting.
"One more set," Evangeline repeated with a glare, "or no breakfast."
"No breakfast," Setsuna mumbled, not even meeting the vampire's gaze. She breezed past the girl with no further explanation, and continued walking into the woods until the campground was out of sight. Thankfully, Evangeline did not try to stop her. Setsuna was not in the mood for training. She just needed to be alone with her thoughts for a while.
When she felt like she had walked far enough, she stopped and fell to her knees. Yuunagi relaxed out of her grip and slid to the ground with a dull thud. Setsuna appeared calm on the outside, but her insides were in turmoil. She felt as though her heart was being shredded inside her chest. Listening to Konoka admit that Setsuna was the cause of her pain had been a nightmare come true. It was horrible and unbelievable, but all Setsuna could do for herself was sit there motionlessly until the shock had passed. She wanted to cry, but she couldn't. Or rather, she wouldn't. Setsuna hadn't allowed herself to shed a single tear since the day she failed to save Konoka from the river in their childhood. Not crying was one of her claims to strength, and she wouldn't allow herself to let that go now. Instead, she cursed angrily at the demon blood in her veins. If she could not turn to sadness to vent her feelings, she would turn to anger.
Setsuna picked up Yuunagi, still protected in its sheath, and freed the razor-sharp blade. Words were streaming out of her mouth steadily like a mantra, each one condemning her birth, her tribe, her wings, and everything that made her unlike the rest of her classmates. The swordsman knew better than to think that being a normal person would resolve all of her problems with Konoka, but it would so drastically simplify some issues.
She turned Yuunagi over in her hand so that its duller side would bite into her target. The sword's blade was so sharp that it could pass through steel like butter, but she didn't want to slice something effortlessly. She wanted to shatter something viciously. Setsuna lashed out in a one-armed swing and connected with a solid oak tree. Yuunagi's unfinished edge tore through the bark and wood like a rabid beast, spraying the area with fragments of wood. Inspired by the feel of raw destruction, Setsuna tightened both hands around her sword's hilt and struck at the tree again. A crack like a gunshot rang out and fired again and again as the swordsman beat out her frustrations.
By the time her hands were too numb to continue, Setsuna had felled her target and reduced it to kindling. She collapsed to her knees again and let go of Yuunagi, this time out of exhaustion rather than shock. Sweat drenched her body and her hands were aching from the exercise, but not much else had changed. Her emotions were still a jumbled mess.
Startled, despite the exhaustion, Setsuna sprang to her feet and armed herself with Yuunagi. She whirled around toward the speaker, lowering her guard only when she realized it was Mana. The dark-skinned girl stared at her expressionlessly, and Setsuna eventually turned her back after a bit of silent exchange.
"That's an impressive pile of kindling you have there," Mana observed. "I didn't realize that one more night of camping out would require so much firewood."
"Mana." The swordsman spoke her comrade's name sharply, perhaps a bit more harshly than she meant to. After all, Mana was not the object of her frustration. With her back still to the sniper, Setsuna poised a seemingly basic question.
"Your eyes can sense demons, right?"
"Yes, I can sense your demonic blood, if that's what you're trying to ask."
Setsuna immediately tensed at the unexpected response. Mana was not known for volunteering information, so the swordsman had planned for a more aloof reply from the other girl.
"Why haven't you ever questioned me about this?" Setsuna asked, turning around to face Mana. It was an accusation that, again, sounded more forceful than it had been intended.
"What could I have gained from asking you?"
"Gained? Why does everything have to be about profit with you?!" The swordsman's anger was flaring up again even though she was trying to keep it in check. "We've been roommates for over two years and we've hunted demons together for just as long. How could you have gone all this time without ever confronting me for being exactly like the beasts we hunt?"
"'Exactly like the beasts we hunt?'" Mana repeated Setsuna's words with a slightly raised brow. "Do you really believe you're just like the demons we exorcize from campus?
"Are you kidding?!" Furious, Setsuna clenched her fists, threw her head back, and allowed to wings to unfurl from her body. They tore through her Mahora Academy blouse and flared impressively behind her. She fixed her blazing eyes onto the other girl, satisfied that Mana's face was displaying slightly more emotion that usual. "I am just like the monsters we exorcize," she gritted, her voice cracking. She picked up Yuunagi and brandished it menacingly, completing her demonic image. "I am just like them."
"You... if I thought for a second that you were a threat to the students of Mahora, you would have been exorcized the moment I laid eyes on you. And if I thought you were really going to attack me right now, you would be dead," Mana finished, not bothering to arm herself against Setsuna. Instead, she held out a small package she had been carrying in her hand.
"Lunch," she replied simply, tossing the handkerchief-bound boxed lunch at Setsuna.
"Is it from ojou-sama?" Setsuna asked quietly, lowering Yuunagi in one hand as she caught the lunch with her other.
"No, the mages haven't interacted with us at all today. This is from the fighters. We noticed you weren't at lunch, so Chachamaru allowed me to sneak out of training when Evangeline went to work with the mages."
Setsuna stared at the lunch with mixed feelings. She was pleased that her friends cared enough to give her this, but her anguish still felt... unresolved.
"If they knew who I really was, they wouldn't have given me this lunch. The world isn't going to accept someone like me."
"Setsuna, we are a group of mages who use magic and fighters who manipulate chakra and chi. None of us would be accepted by the world."
"But you're all human. You belong with the rest of the world. I'm half demon. I don't belong to any world."
Mana looked at her roommate appraisingly. "I have a feeling that Konoe already knows about you, and she's perfectly fine with it," she carefully predicted.
"She fine with it because she doesn't realize what the world is like. She doesn't see that these wings are going to bring her so much pain someday. If she stays with me, the world is going to turn its back on her."
"Do you really think so little of yourself?"
"There is nothing redeeming about my existence."
"The only aspect of your existence that causes her pain is your weak will. You are a coward and you're hiding behind your circumstances to avoid something you're scared of."
"What do you know?" Setsuna demanded, hurling the lunch back at Mana. The sniper caught the package easily and threw it back immediately.
"I know that there's a group of people waiting for you and I to return soon. And I also know that there is at least one person who will be deeply hurt if you never returned again." With that, Mana turned her back on Setsuna. "I'm going back now. If you want to come with me, I suggest you stop sulking and prepare to leave."
Setsuna began to open her mouth in protest, but she felt overcome by the strangest sensation. The air around her suddenly felt heavy, and even her wings drooped under the pressure. Mana also seemed to feel the change, and she turned back to face the other girl.
"What is that?" Mana wondered.
"The air feels heavy, a little like it might rain. But something's not right..." Setsuna spoke slowly, trying to process the information. "Is this part of the mages' training?"
The sky darkened as rain clouds started to form. There was an ominous feeling to this storm, and the two girls shared a look between them. "We need to get back quickly. Can you fly?" the sniper asked.
"Not anymore," Setsuna responded as a heavy downpour fell upon them. She drew her wings back into her body and sheathed her sword. With Yuunagi in one hand and her untouched lunch in the other, she nodded toward Mana in the rain. "Let's run."
They only managed a few dozen steps before a deafening thunder strike sounded through the gentle rainfall. To their bewilderment, over the treetops, they saw lightning rise from beneath the trees and into the sky in a bizarre upward light strike. Shortly after, two more upward lightning strikes followed, each accompanied by a crash of thunder.
"Is that coming from the direction of camp?" Setsuna asked urgently, not breaking her stride. "How far away are we?"
Setsuna trained her hearing in the direction of the strange lightning strikes. When the next batch of lightning rose this time, she heard it clearly. Distant, unmistakable screams followed each bolt of lightning. Her friends were in trouble. Despite the rain, she pushed herself to run even faster, and Mana raced after her, matching her stride for stride.
Author's Note: I'm back, and don't ask me where I've been. I'm hoping to stick around long enough to finish this story. Up next is the last big battle. It'll be worth the wait I think. :D Two chapters of thrilling battle and a short end/epilogue thing and we should be done.
To the old readers who are still reading this, thanks for sticking around so long. After that ridiculous wait I put you all through, I don't deserve you readers. To the new readers who are only just reading this for the first time, be thankful you didn't have to wait years for this chapter like the other readers. But I probably don't deserve you new readers either.
Here's to a short wait between this chapter and the next!