AAAAAAAAAAAANNNND, YET ANOTHER HORRIBLY SLOW UPDATE (DAMN I SUCK!). This should've been out weeks ago, but sadly, my faithful computer decided to eat the big one mere hour before the chapter's completion, and being the most future-minded bastard on this site, I had of course neglected to keep a backup, which sadly killed my motivation for a while, but what the hell. My beta is still AWOL, and I'm kinda getting tired of scrubbing these chapters on my own, so … any volunteers?
Thus far, Yukari Sendo's day had been less than optimal. After waking up to what must have been the century's worst bed hair, she'd been fortunate enough to run into a pair of overzealous guards on her way to the market who'd mistaken her for a kindergartner on the run, before dragging her with them the to the city station. There, she'd been forced to sit next to some giraffe-necked freak (whom she was ninety-nine percent sure was a full-blown lolicon judging by the way he kept drooling while starring at her) for nearly an hour until her mother arrived to get her.
And then, of course, it was that whole rioting business.
"TSUKUNE!" she screamed as the giant lifted the young boy above his head while opening its enormous jaws. Lifting her staff, she called forth what little power she had left after her earlier display, but only a single frying pan fell from the sky, before bouncing harmlessly off of the furry potato of a head atop the giant's broad shoulders. It didn't even feel it.
No, she thought with desperation as the boy who'd saved her life less than 10 minutes ago was lowered down towards certain death. She had no magic, no potions, nothing but her tiny arms and an oversized brain she didn't have the time to use. Realizing there was nothing more to do, save running forward to pummel the giant's foot with her tiny fists, she closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable, the horrifying sound of young, smooth flesh being torn to pieces.
It never came.
Slowly, she opened her eyes, afraid of what they might discover. Then, her chin fell.
Tsukune had not become giant-munchies, and the reason for this was the silver-haired girl currently forcing the beast's jaws open with her feet, one hand held tightly around Tsukune's collar as he dangled beneath her, his lower body already inside the giant's mouth. With a grunt inaudible to Yukari through the giant's booming growls, the girl flung Tsukune up into the air, like a father tossing his toddler child. Yukari gasped with horror, thinking the boy had just escaped the giant's digestive system only to have his bones broken against the ground, but before Tsukune's limp body could even begin to descend, a winged shadow passed across the sky, quick as an eagle, absorbing Tsukune just as he reached the turning point.
That was all Yukari had time process, before the silver-haired girl, who was now finding herself in a bit of a pinch, reclaimed her attention. Her enormous strength was obvious to Yukari, but so was the giant's. The moment Tsukune was out of the way, she'd tried launching herself to safety, but the giant had caught her – now holding her like a doll in a big, hairy fist. It began to shake her furiously, the sight alone making Yukari feel unwell, and for a moment, it seemed the girl was finished.
The giant let out a roar of pain that hit Yukari's ears like the blow of a hammer. Her head hurting, she saw the silver-haired girl clearly, now when the giant was no longer treating her like potential milkshake. Her right arm had been buried in the giant's flesh almost to the shoulder, and with another grunt, she pulled out. As her hand came out, it had closed around a bloodstained, yellow string as thick as a rope.
That must be the median nerve, Yukari realized, remembering a sketch she'd once drawn during biology class. How brilliant.
Without further ado, she bowed forward and threw up on the floor of Ruby's shop.
Her head still spinning, Moka was relieved to feel the strength leave the enormous fingers trapping her as she ripped out the nerve. It had been some time since her last meal, and as she was now, the giant was her equal where strength was concerned … but not so much in brainpower, it seemed. Giants, while often short-tempered, were not mindless beasts, and yet, all she saw as she looked into the eyes of this particular individual was madness and fury. It was as if he had gone rabid.
Breaking free from the giant's now almost powerless grip, she somersaulted through the air before landing feet first like a cat. Now that Tsukune was out of danger, safe in Ruby's arms, she no longer had any reason to hold back, and certainly no desire to either. Had she arrived only a minute later, Tsukune would be in the middle of digestion right now.
Still roaring like a wounded animal, the giant lifted its foot, no doubt with the intention to stomp her like an ant.
I don't think so, Moka thought, spurring into action before the giant could even begin to lower said foot. Launching herself upwards like a rocket, she ran up the giant's upper body as easily as she would raze across an open field, before using her momentum to deliver a brutal kick to the underside of the giant's chin. A savage grin formed on her face as she felt bone as thick as oak crack beneath her feet.
As she landed for the second time, she became aware of the small girl inside Ruby's ruined shop – a tiny, pale, dark-haired thing, her chest stained with vomit. Her kick had made the giant stumble backwards, and in a moment, one of his heels would turn the girl to mush.
Kicking back against the ground so hard it made a crater, Moka willed herself to reach the speed of a jet plane. A moment later, what few windows that remained unbroken on the walls around here shattered to pieces as she smashed her way through the sound barrier, a sonic boom spreading in her wake like an explosion. A split-second before the giant's foot could take the little girl's life, Moka threw herself against it with all her might. This time, the giant's bones were not broken.
They were obliterated.
When Tsukune came to, he was lying on his back, starring up at an empty sky. For a moment or so, he didn't have a clue where he was or how he'd gotten there, but then it all came back to him … Yukari, the giant, the black-clad man…
Bolting upright, he looked around, eyes wide. It appeared he was sitting on the roof of some building. The streets and houses below had sustained only light damage, at last compared to the city block where Ruby's shop had been. Not too far away though, he could see several fires still raging freely.
"Look who's returned to the land of the living," a voice said, prompting Tsukune to turn his head. Seated neatly on the top of a chimney almost three meters above him, Ruby was looking down on him, an impassive look on her face.
"What the hell happened!?" Tsukune demanded as he got to his feet, somewhat unsteadily. "There was a giant … I thought … thought I was done for."
"Oh, you definitely almost were," Ruby said, a strange cold tone creeping into her voice. "Which to me confirms one thing." She raised a slender arm, pointing at him with a long, ring-clad finger. "You … are no vampire."
To Tsukune, Ruby's eyes looked a little like they had when she'd been ranting about goblins and nature. Oh crap.
"In fact," Ruby continued while pushing herself off the chimney, "I don't think you're a monster at all." Landing gracefully in front of him, her long, wooden staff materializing in her left hand. "What kind of monster would waste time and energy to maintain their weak human form while facing a giant, of all things? Don't you think that's a bit unlikely … human?"
Raising his arms up in front of him, Tsukune took a step back. "Look, I can explain-"
"It'd better be a good explanation," Ruby cut him off, leveling her staff, "because if it isn't, I won't be responsible for what comes next, your girlfriend be damned."
"She's not my girlfriend!" Tsukune protested. "I've never even had a girlfriend!"
The witch's pinkish eyes flashed with dark anger. "Of course you're not! How could a swinish, human brat ever be the lover of someone like her! You're a walking buffet to her, that's what it's all about, right? A lunchbox she should've known better than to bring here of all places!"
As she kept ranting, Tsukune felt his fear slowly melt away, momentarily replaced by anger. "I'm nobody's lunchbox!" he said loudly.
"That's right!" Ruby agreed, an eerie red glow starting to emerge from her staff. "You're a filthy bastard who knows nothing except how to poison everything around you! You and your kind are worse even than those foul goblins! They, at least, embrace how ugly they are, but you … you still pretend that you're civilized, that we are the monsters!"
The visceral hatred oozing from the witch's voice took Tsukune by surprise. Being such a fundamentalist environmentalist, he supposed disliking humans would be natural, considering all they'd done to the earth, but this? This was personal … and … familiar somehow.
"You live with your aunt," he realized.
Ruby blinked, perplexed by the random statement. "What!?"
"You said the shop belonged to your aunt," Tsukune continued, wary of the ominous aura that was still surrounding the witch like a malevolent spirit.
"What about it?" the witch said quietly, her hand gripping her staff so tightly Tsukune was surprise it didn't break.
"Your parents were killed by humans, right? That's the real reason you're-"
An invisible force hit him right in the abdomen, knocking him backwards. He barely had the time to cover his head before he hit the roof again, shoulder first, nearly biting his tongue off. The momentum made him roll another pace or two, just enough to send him over the edge.
With speed he never knew he possessed, Tsukune gripped the metal gutter while he still had the chance, leaving him dangling at least eight meters above the cobblestone street below.
"Shit!" he yelled, grabbing the gutter with his other hand as well. He tried to pull himself up, but all the beatings he'd sustained the last hour had weakened his body too much to pull off such feat. Keeping himself from falling alone was enough to make his arms burn. Looking up, he saw Ruby stand over him, her eyes ablaze.
"YES!" she screamed. "THAT'S WHY I LIVE WITH MY AUNT, YOU GODDAMN STUPID LITTLE SHIT!"
Stomping like a child who hadn't had its way, her foot came down dangerously close to his right hand. Hunching down, her voice became calmer, but no more devoid of wrath.
"What, you feel sorry for me, is that it? You think you understand me now? Well … screw you!"
The invisible force hit him again, this time across the face. Like a whip, it left a long, aching mark, and he almost lost his grip.
"For years now, I've wanted nothing but to go to the human world," Ruby continued, her voice still deeply laced with venom. "I've wanted to punish them, not only the people who made me an orphan, but all your rotten brethren – hear their excuses before I made them feel what they've made nature feel like."
She rose, her face a picture of disgust. "But seeing you now, the first human in many years, I don't think I want to listen to you." She raised her staff, no doubt to deliver the final blow that would finish what the giant had started.
"You're no different!" Tsukune shouted, calling forth some anger of his own.
The witch's eyes became O's of disbelief. "What!?"
"I didn't hurt your parents – I've never even met the people who did it!" Tsukune continued defiantly, feeling his arms go numb slowly but surely. "And yet, you think this is justice? Screw you!"
"You have no idea-" the witch snarled, but this time, it was his time to interrupt.
"Yeah? Well guess what, we're actually not that different" Tsukune knew he had just seconds left, that he shouldn't be wasting his energy on more shouting, but he didn't care. If he were going to die here, he would at least get this off his chest first.
"You wanna know why I'm here!? You wanna know why I came prancing into your shop and ruined your day? You wanna know why I'm with Moka!?"
Drawing what might very well be his last breath, he said: "I'm an orphan too, and it was monsters that did it."
When the giant fell, the ground shook with thunder, and suddenly, Yukari Sendo knew what an earthquake was like. Around her, the walls of Ruby's shop crumbled, as did the roof above her. A feeling of claustrophobia overtaking her, Yukari scrambled for the exit, knowing her short limbs would never make it in time. Before the whole building could come down on her though, a pair of strong arms lifted her up like a baby, and then she was moving faster than she'd ever before, her eyes watering as the wind pressed against them. It lasted for a few seconds only, but when it stopped, the shop and the fallen giant were far away. Looking up, Yukari started as a pair of crimson eyes meet hers.
"Are you alright?" the silver-haired girl asked as she put Yukari down, supporting the younger girl's back with a pale hand.
"Y-yeah," Yukari stuttered, gripping her wand as if it was a security blanket. "Uhm, by any chance, could you be Tsukune's friend?"
The older girl's eyes widened. "You know Tsukune!? How?"
"He saved me … well, technically I saved him … or maybe I guess … we saved each other?"
The vampire arched a silvery eyebrow.
"A-anyway," Yukari continued, pointing at the ruin that used to be Ruby's shop, "he thought we'd find you in there, but then the giant surprised us."
Nodding slowly, the vampire's gaze travelled to the fallen giant, which was now stirring. Unconsciously, Yukari took a step to the side, so that the older girl was between her and the beast.
"It isn't dead?" she asked nervously.
"No, but he will be soon," the vampire said grimly. "I'm going to have to put him out of his misery." She looked back down at Yukari. "Stay here, I'll be back in a minute. Then, we'll go see how Tsukune is doing."
The girl looked scared as she left her, but Moka didn't have a choice. The giant was dying, slowly, and her mother would never have left it to suffer. She would simply finish it off with one last blow to the head – crush the brain, like she'd done with the boar. Honestly speaking, she didn't like it much. Ending an opponent's life while in the heat of battle was one thing, but just striking down a helpless one was something entirely different.
The giant kept looking at her as she drew nearer, and the blanket animosity in its eyes was all too obvious, but ruled by whatever primitive cunning remained in its rabid mind, it kept still, waiting for her to get closer. Stopping just outside of the giant's reach, she readied herself, picking out the exact spot on the giant's enormous forehead that she would strike. This was going to be so messy…
Something hit the tip of her nose, and she recoiled as the spot began to ache as if she'd been stung by a bee. Dragging a finger across her nose, she was bewildered by the sight of a tiny droplet of water on her nail. What…?
She looked up.
The sky above The Floating Garden, perpetually an empty void, was not so empty now. Huge clouds as dark as sin was covering it, and before Moka could even begin to process the impossibility of what was happening, the rain began to fall for real.
It was not as bad as falling into the pond had been, but it still felt like a thousand needles piercing her skin. Screaming, her legs gave away and she sank to her knees. Somewhere, far away, she heard the little witch-girl scream, and then something big, strong and leathery hit her like a truck, sending her flying. The flight ended amongst the ruins of Ruby's shop, a pain so bad she almost fainted exploding in her left thigh. Looking down, the rain still hammering her with blow after blow, she paled at the sight of a rod of metal sticking out of her flesh like some monstrous gigantic piercing.
Looking up, her vision swimming, she saw the giant coming at her, dragging itself towards her on its elbows. The hand that had swatted her was only a dozen meters or so away. Putting her palms down on the rubble beneath her, she tried to lift herself up, but the agony in her thigh stopped her short, increasing threefold the second she tried to move. Raising her gaze again, she saw her own pale face reflected in the giant's empty, evil eyes, and she felt a naked fear unlike anything she'd felt before, the time she'd fallen into the pond included. Back then, she'd had Tsukune with her, at the very least.
Conjuring forth one last mad burst of strength, she rose, the metal rod sliding out of her body like an exorcised demon. Using her uninjured leg like a catapult, she propelled herself forward, somehow evading the giant's waving arms. Landing right in front of its disfigured, humongous face, she staggered … threw herself forward … and then plunged her arms into the giant's eyeballs, not stopping until the giant's hawk-like nose was pressing against her chest between her breasts.
A sound so inhuman that it made Moka shiver to her core escaped from the giant's mouth. Her nerves buzzing with panic, she freed her arms and began to limp away, luck alone saving her from the giant's trashing arms. Needless to say, she didn't get far.
"I'm an orphan too, and it was monsters that did it."
Ruby stared down at the boy beneath her, her mind razing. If the boy had been anything but a human, she could've easily known whether he was telling the truth or not by studying his aura, but since humans didn't have one, being such empty creatures, she had no idea. Still…
The boy let go, probably out of strength at last, and Ruby briefly considered just allowing him to fall, but she already knew that wasn't going to happen. Her curiosity had been sparked, and now that she'd regained her calm, she finally thought of how his vampire friend/mistress/lover/owner or whatever the hell she was to him might react if she let him die. Vampires were infamous for their possessiveness.
Tapping the roof beneath her feet with her staff, she conjured forth a long and thick branch from the wall beneath the falling boy. He landed on it balls first, and she couldn't keep a small smile from emerging on her lips as she heard him groan with pain. She tapped the roof again, and the branch responded by growing upwards until it dumped the human teenager before her feet. She was very pleased by how he was clutching his testicles.
"If what you said is true," she began, before he could start whining about his crotch, "I'll consider not reporting you."
Upon saying that, she could have sworn he snorted softly, but she dismissed it as just another grunt of pain.
"How kind of you," the boy said dryly as he unsteadily got to his feet. He sent her a sour look. "So we can focus on the fact that the city is tearing itself apart now?"
Reprimand me one more time and I'll tear you apart. "Yes, we can."
"Where's Moka?" the boy demanded. "She should have been with you."
Ruby frowned. The boy's tone was unmistakably that of someone talking about a close friend or kin. Just what kind of relationship did these two have?
"When I last saw her, she was trading blows with the giant whose lunch you almost became. I imagine she's killed him by now."
Something wet hit her bare neck, and she looked up.
Yukari cursed every god she could think of and then some as she dragged the silver-haired vampire into the closest, non-collapsed house. She wouldn't have spat at a pair of helping hands right about now, even if they'd belonged to that pedo from the guard station. Why couldn't the creator have seen fit to ordain her with a little less brain and a little more muscle? She put the older girl on the first piece of furniture she found, a glass table, and then summoned the courage to examine her injuries. She had to steel herself not to throw up again.
Yukari had undertaken a remarkable number of dissections in her ten years of lifetime, but this was different. The wound on the vampire's thigh was so big she could probably have stuck her hand in it, had she oiled it a bit. Goddamit, why had she wasted so much time learning to conjure those stupid fucking frying pans when she could have learned some basic healing spells? The only thing she could do now to keep the girl from bleeding out was to burn the wound shut.
This is going to smell so badly… Her hand shaking like a bad seizure, she willed her wand to grow hot, as hot as a branding iron.
Nearly dropping her staff (and thus, setting the house on fire) she turned around to see Tsukune standing in the doorway, flanked by some dark-haired Goth-girl that was undoubtedly a fellow witch, judging by the six black wings sprouting from her back. The sight made her want to cry like a baby.
"TSUKUN-NEEEEEEEEEEE!" she yelled as she threw herself into his arms, not noticing the fleeting look of disgust on his companion's face. "It was horrible! One second, she was like: 'I'm going to euthanize this beast', but then it started raining, and she got thrown through the air, and-"
"Wow, slow down," Tsukune said as the Goth-girl made her way past them, hunching down beside the unconscious vampire. "Ruby? She's okay, right?"
"She's lost a lot of blood, and the water is interfering with her regenerative capabilities," the witch named Ruby answered, closing the wound on the vampire's thigh with a simple tap of her staff. Yukari couldn't help getting annoyed by the sight. She wasn't used to getting shown up wherever magic was involved. "There. If we can just dry her, she should be fine." She sent Tsukune a cold look. "Why don't you make yourself useful and find a blanket or two?"
Yukari felt Tsukune stiffen, but when she looked up at him, he was smiling down at her, before giving her a quick hug. "I'm glad you're okay."
"Yeah," Yukari smiled back. Jeez, what was it with this day and her actually feelinglike she actually was ten years old for once?
While Tsukune retrieved a blanket from a bedroom on the second floor, she got a fire started in the fireplace. When Tsukune returned, he wrapped the blanket tenderly around the unconscious vampire until it covered everything but her face, before pushing the table she was lying on over to the fireplace.
"All we can do now is wait," Ruby sighed, before turning to Yukari. "What happened to my shop? I believe I saw you hiding there before taking him away." She nodded at Tsukune.
"It's ruined now," Yukari said, frost travelling down her spine as she saw the fire in the older witch's eyes. "Sorry."
"And the giant?"
"First good news I've heard all day," Ruby muttered as she sat down on the room's only chair. "He's body contains enough biomass to fertilize an entire field."
A city witch her whole life, Yukari had never understood the obsession some witches had with plants. Sure, nature was great and all, but to place the importance of flowers above that of people? That was just … crazy.
The four of them sat in silence for a time, listening to the rain hammering down with increasing intensity. No marauding monsters appeared though, and after a while, the vampire began to stir. Tsukune immediately got up and walked over to her, putting his hand on her forehead.
"Shit, she's burning up!" he said, alarmed.
"Her metabolism has to speed up to heal her internal bleedings," Ruby said scornfully. "What, you think vampires get fevers?"
Behind her back, Yukari made the ugliest gesture she knew at the older witch.
"She's waking up," Tsukune exclaimed, ignoring Ruby's mockery. Yukari went to stand beside him, and yes, the vampire was mumbling incoherently.
"Tttttttsssssssssssssss…" she moaned, rocking back and forth in her blanket cocoon.
"Moka?" Tsukune asked, touching her cheek lightly.
"…sssuuuuuuukkuuuuuuuunnnneeeeeeeeeeeeeee…" the vampire whined, before finally opening her eyes. For a second or two, she stared dumbly at the boy standing over her, and then, her face turned so red it made her eyes seem pink in comparison.
"Good to see you too," Tsukune said with a big, white grin.
After they'd all exchanged stories (Tsukune left out the part where Ruby almost let him expire, for obvious reasons), things became very clear. Moka and Ruby had followed Tsukune's scent upon emerging from the cellar, going in a circle, before returning just in time to save him.
"That bloody bastard," Moka growled upon hearing how the black-clad man had left Tsukune in the middle of the street. "How could I let my guard down like that?"
"Don't beat yourself up," Ruby commented. "The disguise was perfect. I could have studied him for a hundred years, and I still would've told you he was emitting a dark elf's aura."
"Anyway, we've sat around long enough," Moka said, getting to her feet. "We have to find mother – tell her we're alright."
"I promised Yukari I'd help her search for her parents," Tsukune said, putting one arm on her small shoulder.
"And how are you going to do that, search every house until you randomly stumble upon them?" Ruby said, once again unable to keep the scorn out of her voice. "If they're not dead already, that is."
Tsukune and Yukari jumped in unison as Moka delivered a backhand blow to Ruby's cheek, knocking her clear off the chair she'd been sitting on. Standing over the fallen witch, her eyes blazing, Moka had never looked more intimidating.
"I don't know what your problem is all of a sudden," she said coldly, "but if you do not apologize to that girl right now, I'm going to hit you so hard you'll have to twist your neck back into place with a corkscrew."
Ruby looked up at the vampire looming over her, pure surprise on her face. However, when she looked down; Tsukune thought he glimpsed a touch of shame in her pinkish eyes.
"I'm sorry," she muttered in Yukari's general direction. "I didn't mean to-"
"It's okay," Yukari interrupted, but from the way her face had paled, Tsukune could see Ruby's words had already festered. Moka, on the other hand, continued as if nothing had happened.
"Tsukune, it will be mother's responsibility to get the situation under control, but as long as she thinks we might be hurt, or even dead, she won't be able to concentrate on that." Her gaze moved to Yukari. "We'll find your parents afterwards, I promise."
Tsukune had to admit what Moka said made sense. Jeez, who'd given her a maturity injection while he was away?
"What about you?" he asked, turning to Ruby. The witch had just gotten back to her feet, the beginnings of a contusion forming on her cheek. She was rubbing it absentmindedly, a strange expression on her face. If Tsukune didn't know better, he'd have said she'd just had an epiphany or something.
"What about me?" she replied, her voice sounding like it was coming from a place far, far away.
"Aren't you worried about your aunt?"
That brought her back. "Oh, my aunt can take care of herself," she snorted, sounding amused.
Puzzled by her lack of worry, Tsukune shrugged. "Ok, let's go then."
The rain had finally stopped when they stepped outside. Tsukune almost expected to see a rainbow stretch across the sky, but with no sun around, that was, of course, impossible. The streets were completely devoid of life. There was not a living person to be seen or heard.
"Where is everyone?" Tsukune said. Somehow, this reminded him of being alone in the dessert. He took an unconscious step towards Moka.
"There are a series of bunkers scattered around the city, in the case of an emergency like this," Ruby said. "I imagine most of the people have reached them by now." She closed her eyes for a moment. "Mm, no, I don't sense any presences in the immediate area, no guards, nothing." She looked towards her ruined shop wistfully. The giant was lying close by, dead at last. Around it, dozens of gallons of blood had painted the street red. They all turned away from the nightmarish scene.
"Seems like a good a destination as any," Tsukune said, pointing at the Nexus Tower.
"Indeed," Moka agreed. "Stay behind me. If something appears, let me handle it."
They walked in silence for a few minutes, disturbed by nobody but the corpses occasionally staining the streets. They seemed to be mostly rioters or guards, but a few of them appeared to be ordinary citizens. Halfway up the hill, Yukari halted when they happened upon a dead witch leaning against the wall, her face covered by the classical pointy hat. If it hadn't been for the bloodstains on her white shirt, it would have looked like she was taking a siesta. Everyone's attention turned to the youngest member of their group.
"It's not mom," Yukari said quickly, her voice shaking only a little. "It's just … when I saw her from the corner of my eye…"
"Yeah," Tsukune said, putting a hand on her flimsy shoulder. He himself hadn't had the time to worry before the truth of his father's demise had been mercilessly thrust into his face. Was the same, grizzled sight waiting for Yukari somewhere in this city? And if that was the case, what the hell would he say to her when the truth was revealed?
"Someone's coming!" Ruby suddenly shouted, pointing her staff towards the closest corner. "Get ready!"
Tsukune and Yukari stepped back while Moka moved forward, her red eyes looking like they might start sending out lighting at any minute. For a few, tense seconds, the four of them simply waited. Then, no less than six monsters, all wearing the grim masks of the rioters, came running into the streets. They all stopped dead when they saw Moka.
"Oh shit!" the one at the front practically shrieked. "Vampire! Get back!" He tried to back away, but the tallest member of the gang, a beast with arms like tree trunks, grabbed him by the collar and held him in place.
"Are ye fucking stupid!?" the beast demanded as it ripped of its mask, revealing a head that was half man, half bull, two thick horns sprouting from the sides of its head.
Minotaur, Tsukune thought warily. The months he'd spent in Akasha's mansion had given him time to read up on the different monster races. This individual was a remarkable specimen even compared to others of his kind. He made the brute that had killed his father look like a pygmy in comparison.
"Can't ye see it's just a little girl!?" the Minotaur bellowed to his hesitating companions. "We can take her! Go, GO!"
The rioters surged forward in a frenzy, and Tsukune saw Moka ready herself, but before she had the chance to as much as poke the attackers, he felt an overwhelming aura wash over him like a tidal wave, making his hair stand up in salutation. Looking up, he barely registered a pink blur pass across their heads, before the street exploded.
The shockwave knocked everyone but Moka on their backs. When he looked up, still disoriented, five of the rioters lay sprawled in positions that suggested they were very, very dead. In the middle of a newly formed crater, dust still whirling up in the wakes of the sonic boom that had knocked them all down, the Minotaur was slowly being suffocated by an absolutely furious-looking Akasha. She'd snaked her arms around the beast's broad neck, and the way the Minotaur's eyes looked ready to pop out of their sockets suggested she had no intention of letting up.
Tsukune tried to call out to her, but his voice failed. Still, her emerald gaze met his and he knew she understood what he was trying to say. There had been more than enough killing today.
Akasha released the Minotaur, who had already fainted from oxygen deprivation it seemed, before stamping over him like he was a big, furry carpet. Tsukune saw her green eyes fly over Moka, no doubt to check for any injuries, which made Tsukune very thankful for the fact that the wound on her thigh was no longer even visible. Seeing Akasha now, he was remembering her promise to lock the two of them in the basement if they got into trouble again. Still, after all that had happened, maybe that would not be so bad.
Moka jumped into her mother's arms the second she was within reach, and they shared a short, but tight hug. Then, Akasha turned his attention to him.
"Tsukune," she said, her voice as calm as ever, despite the fact that she had just massacred five monsters.
Tsukune walked over to the newly reunited family, and Akasha briefly touched the spot on his head where the black-clad man had struck him, her other arm still around Moka's waist. Because it still hurt, he cringed.
"Who did this?" she asked, quickly moving her hand from his head to his shoulder.
"Him," he simply said, knowing she would understand.
Nodding, Akasha continued: "How did you get away? I take it he tried to separate the two of you?"
Tsukune shrugged. "It was strange as hell. First, he gave this insane speech about monster supremacy, and then he just let me go in the middle of it all. I think he was the one who orchestrated all this. It's all some kind of game to him. He said I'd die the next time we met."
"Next time, he'll be playing games with me," Akasha said darkly. "But I doubt he'll find that as amusing." She looked over his shoulder. "I see you've made some friends?"
Oh crap, he'd completely forgotten about the two witches after Akasha's arrival. Turning around, he saw Yukari gape at the scene before her, while Ruby's face was a mixture of shock and denial. Tsukune couldn't help but feel a little smug. Told you I was nobody's lunchbox.
"I know you," Akasha suddenly said, looking at Ruby. "You've grown much since I last saw you, young Tojo."
Ruby offered a stiff bow. "My lord."
Akasha rewarded the gesture with a nod. "I would think your aunt would be pleased if you let her know you're safe and sound."
"Indeed," a voice suddenly said behind them, making Tsukune start and whirl around. A dark-haired woman dressed in a smooth cloak made out black feathers was standing right by them. In her right hand was a long, dark staff, which ended in a pulsating stone. Her lilac eyes regarded the group with passive interest.
Another witch, Tsukune decided. He wasn't sure how, but somehow, this woman seemed far more intimidating than the giant had been, even as it had ripped a street light from the ground like a farmer might rip weed.
Upon seeing the older witch, Ruby lifted her skirts and hurried forward to kneel down in front of the older witch. "My lady," she said, bowing her head. The older witch responded by making a gesture of sorts above the girl's head, and Ruby rose to stand silently by her side.
"It would appear that every fire have been quenched, and every terrorist either killed, captured or run off," the witch told Akasha in a measured tone. "The guards are currently searching the catacombs, but I highly doubt they'll find much inside that maze, unless of course, you'd be willing to accept the help of you-know-who."
"Gyokuro will remain in custody until the situation is fully under control," Akasha responded curtly. "Have you heard from Mikogami yet?"
"Not a word," the witch said. "All known dimensional have been put under supervision though, so you'll know it the moment he arrives. So, since you obviously don't need me to play rainmaker for the moment, am I excused?"
"That was you!?" Tsukune blurted out, and then felt his face grow hot as the witch's purple gaze moved to him.
"Yes," she said slowly while studying him like a rock formation she'd found mildly interesting. "As of late I seem to be playing the part of both babysitter and fireman. And you are?"
"With me," Akasha said, stepping between them. "Consider yourself excused."
"My lord," the witch said with a bow, before placing a pale hand on Ruby's shoulder. The pink-eyed witch sent Tsukune one last, curious look, and then they were both gone like mist in the wind.
Crossing her arms, Moka frowned at the place where the couple had been standing a second before. "Was that…?"
"Lady Oyakata, The Dark Lord of Witches," Akasha finished. "Not to mention one of the most dangerous women the world has ever seen. Be thankful for her being on our side today. But, I believe you two still owe me an introduction." She turned to look at Yukari, who immediately flushed and bowed hastily.
"This is Yukari," Tsukune said, smiling reassuringly at the fidgeting girl. "Without here, I'm not sure either of us would've gotten through this in one piece." He looked at Moka, who indulged him with a nod, albeit somewhat reluctantly.
"My, that sure is impressive for someone so young," Akasha smiled, reaching out to pat the little witch on the head. For a moment, Tsukune thought the witch's head might explode like a geyser.
"Even so," Akasha continued, "you should be with your parents. Where are they? Did you get separated?"
Yukari managed a tiny nod.
"I'm sure they are alright," Akasha said soothingly. "In the meantime, you should come with us."
Thirty minutes later, Tsukune, Moka and Yukari was safe behind the walls surrounding the nexus tower, under the supervision of no less than six elven swordsmen. This time, Akasha had ordered them not to move a muscle until she returned, before disappearing back out into the city to calm the citizenry. This left the trio of two teenagers and one ten-year-old with little less to do than to study the long row of perhaps twenty handcuffed, kneeling rioters on the other end of the courtyard. A dozen angry-looking dark elves were pointing at them with ebony crossbows. The Minotaur Akasha had spared sat almost in the middle. Because of the sheer size of the beast, the dark elves had chained him to the ground as well as cuffed him, but that seemed almost like overkill to Tsukune, as Yukari had told him the dark elves used poisonous bolts that could knock out an adult rhino in seconds.
"What is going to happen to them, you think?" he whispered to Moka while nodding at the prisoners.
"Beheading or imprisonment for life," Moka whispered back. "The dark elves' home dimension is basically one gigantic fortress. It houses almost all the criminals in the monster dimensions."
"That sounds creepy," Tsukune muttered.
"It's horrible!" Yukari interjected eager to show off her knowledge to her new friends. "Everything is made out of stone or metal – not a single blade of grass in the entire dimension! I've even heard that the dark elves haze their young warriors by sending them into the prison camps in disguise to kill troublesome inmates."
Tsukune stared at her, horrified. "You're kidding, right?"
"It's what I heard," Yukari said, shrugging.
Tsukune glanced at the elf closest to them. It seemed that, regardless of gender, every dark elf was devoid of any type of facial hair, which only made their scars so much more prominent. This one lacked the pointy tip on his right ear because it had been almost entirely cut off. In addition, he had a disturbing ensemble of scar tissue on the left side of his neck that suggested that someone or more likely something had tried to claw it open. He looked away.
They mostly sat in silence for the rest of the afternoon; all of them busy processing the day's events. Tsukune, upon realizing that he'd broken his personal record by almost getting killed four times within a single hour, was begging to wonder if he'd been a serial killer in his last life. What else could explain such truckloads of bad karma? Also, what the hell was the black-clad man trying to accomplish? He supposed it was impressive that he, or whoever he was working for, had managed to pull a stunt like this without anyone catching a whiff of it beforehand, but that was still all it had been. A stunt. There was no way he could've thought he could topple the dark lords with something like this, right?
His thought process was cut short by the sound of the gates being opened, at last. Tsukune lifted his head and saw Akasha reenter the courtyard, two men that couldn't possibly be more different following on either side. One would've been the most bland-looking individuals Tsukune had ever seen, if it hadn't been for the hilariously oversized witch hat on his head. The other man, however, was dressed like some cultist priest, with long, flowing white robes and a hood covering his face. The color aside, he was so eerily like the black-clad man where appearances were concerned that Tsukune couldn't help but feeling a visceral distrust of the guy immediately. Yukari, on the other hand, had eyes only for hat-guy.
"Daddy!" she screamed, practically floating on the marble as she jumped up and ran toward the trio. Her father dumped down on one knee, before nearly getting knocked over as his daughter crashed into him with the speed of a cheetah.
Sighing in relief, Tsukune moved to get up and follow, but before he could, Moka caught him by the shoulder, yanking him back. Sending her a puzzled look, he opened his mouth to find out what was up, but she wasn't looking at him. He followed her gaze.
The father was holding Yukari at an arm's length now, his large round spectacles hiding his expression from Tsukune, but Yukari's pose said it all. The stiffening of her shoulders, the almost unnoticeable shivering of her legs… Tsukune had looked like that once too, a hundred years ago in a dimly lit warehouse, worlds away.
There was no point in wondering where the mother was.
"Why?" he asked.
Maybe Akasha's superior hearing had detected his words across Yukari's emerging sobs, or maybe it was just coincidental. Either way, she met his gaze across the courtyard. She looked … beaten, like a boxer with not even a single round left in him. That, more than anything else, blew the cork off the emotions he'd kept bottled up for months now. Covering his face, he began to weep like a child.
Yeah, don't really think I can justify that T-rating anymore, so I guess were going with M from now on. Ciao!