Kaze no Stigma:Volume1 Chapter1
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Chapter One - The Disinherited Son Returns
"What bad taste……"
That was the first impression he had of this client. Incidentally, this impression did not change in the slightest all the way to the end. A mansion sat arrogantly on the hill, set in a high-class residential area, displaying its design that completely disregarded the harmony of its surroundings. If one were to disregard the mansion thus far, one might have to say it was a rather magnificent view. Climbing up Governor's Hill presented a vast view of the land's rich scenery. When he saw it, he was honestly and completely stunned.
(Did Turkish harems have this feeling?)
Yagami Kazuma didn't seem to be joking when he thought that. "Don't paint the walls of a Japanese house in such wild colors!" he wanted to preach, while grabbing that person's collar. It was that kind of house. This area could probably be considered the origin of Japan's Westernization movement. The first gaslight was lit here and the very first ice cream in Japan was sold here. One would expect it to be a stylish, refined town with a distinguished history.
(Considering that, this is probably something like a breach of contract…)
He saw a decorated golden carp on the roof and let out a sigh. The image that was held dear in Yokohama, had crumbled away completely, with a clattering sound.
When he accepted the job at the agency, he was given not only an address, but also a detailed map that was completely unnecessary. By asking the neighborhood residents, "what's the house with the poorest taste around here?" even a monkey could manage to find his way here.
- A structure painful to the eyes —— he didn't wish to call it a house —— that when seen, made Kazuma look up to the sky, begging. The sky was empty and blue.
"Hey, at least it's work…" he muttered, trying to convince himself.
However, this was the same Kazuma whose looks probably wouldn't by any means be called appropriate for work. Wearing a black jacket over a checkered shirt with jeans and sneakers, this 22-year-old man seemed, no matter how one looked at him, no different than a student from a nearby university. He was completely blind to his own faults though. As he continued his observations, he noticed something strange. The dark aura that covered the mansion was denser than he was told; because of this, perhaps even an ordinary person with no psychic background could sense the aura that was presently emanating and surrounding the mansion.
(Maybe I should just go back…)
Nagged by a horribly bad premonition, Kazuma's thought was partly serious. The dark aura surrounding the mansion was somewhat more unearthly than he had expected, but it wasn't that impossible for him to deal with. For this reason, his premonition was only that of an ill omen.
Yet, something else was up.
Judging from his experiences up until then, it was a credible and important premonition. However, he couldn't throw away this job on basis of that alone. This was his first assignment in Japan; if he broke off the arrangement with a reason like that, there wasn't a shred of doubt that he would never get any jobs from the agency in the future. He made his way toward the mansion with heavy steps and stopped in front of a ridiculously huge gate. As he stood in front of the doorbell, Kazuma was still unsure if he should continue this job. Danger signals bombarded his instincts and he couldn't help wanting to run away. However...
"Yagami-sama, I presume."
Without any warning, a female voice came from the intercom and completely disrupted Kazuma's thinking. He jumped back with a start and stood on guard as the voice continued.
"You've been expected. Kindly enter through the door on the side."
Click. As she spoke, a small door towards the right side of the gate unlocked. Apparently, there was no one to escort him inside.
(Compared with that "you've been expected," that's some rude treatment…)
He felt uncomfortable, but he was dealing with a customer. He entered through the side door as instructed. Inside the fence was a large number of security cameras and sensors.
"They must live a very shadowy life..." Kazuma muttered.
Multiple cameras followed him as he walked into the entryway. Irritation started to stir inside him, almost to the point of wanting to kill whoever put him under this rude surveillance. Still somehow, Kazuma managed to repress himself.
That was what he'd intended, but apparently it showed on his face. The maid who came to greet him became fearful of him as if she had just come across a man-eating bear. Kazuma hurriedly smoothed over his expression.
"Welcome! Please, come this way."
Somehow she changed her face of terror, as if she were being picked up and eaten, to an overly bright smile. It didn't seem possible for someone to change their expression so dramatically, forgetting their suspicions instantly, yet the maid smiled as if nothing had happened. As the maid walked ahead to lead him to the living room, Kazuma observed her gratifyingly swaying bottom.
(It would have been better if I'd left…)
Kazuma felt deep regret at his choice as soon as he arrived at the living room and saw its insides. A thin, little man lying back with his legs outstretched, introduced himself as Sakamoto Nanigashi, the master of the mansion. Kazuma recognized him as the client, but he wasn't alone. There was also a practitioner in the room whose face he knew all to well. That practitioner, upon seeing Kazuma, showed fear on his face for a moment but immediately twisted his lips into a sneer and glared at Kazuma with a scornful look.
"What? The other practitioner was you, Kazuma? You, a disinherited child of the Kannagi, owing to your incompetence, now dare call yourself a practitioner?"
Those explanatory words were probably for Sakamoto to hear. Practitioner——Kannagi. The youngest child of the branch family, Yuuki Shinji, truly took great pleasure in mocking Kazuma. Sakamoto showed the response that Shinji expected. His expression changed as he approached Kazuma.
"Is this true? Isn't this different from what you said? You said you were a top-class spiritual practitioner, which was why I hired you!"
Kazuma, calmly taking a step back with each step his client made, forward, answered...
"I don't know what the person at the agency told you but if you're dissatisfied, perhaps I should leave?"
"Hmmph, that's right."
Sakamoto's eyes showed a faintly cunning light. Kazuma's desire to work, which was scarce even at the best of times, quickly neared zero.
"Mmmm, how about this? Why don't you both try the exorcism and only the successful one gets paid? Ahh, naturally, I won't tell the loser to return the advance payment."
"Good idea, yeah."
They were flippant words, but Shinji had immediately accepted them. Then, with the face of someone who was completely made a fool of, he asked Kazuma.
"And what are you going to do?"
Kazuma gave an immediate reply. In the contemptible stares of the two, not even a muscle of their eyebrows moved.
"Hmmph, coward! Sucking your finger like a baby! I'll show you a model example of an Enjutsu."
"Model example, eh? Tough talk for the youngest child of the branch family."
Shinji was enraged from being insulted by the person who he looked down upon. Completely forgetting about being in front of a client, he tightened a fist and lunged forward. He sent a powerful punch directed at Kazuma's face, yet Kazuma easily dodged the punch by stepping aside to his left. Shinji, who had inserted a great deal of force into his punch, lost his balance and fell. At the last moment, he managed to make it look like a feint by attempting to kick Kazuma's temple from his blind spot.
However, Kazuma, as if he had seen it coming, casually bent his head back. The heel of Shinji's left leg passed by a few millimeters in front of his eyes. Kazuma moved like the leaves of a tree swaying in the wind, without hesitation. After dodging Shinji's kick, he immediately swept Shinji's pivoting leg, making him trip and fall down on all fours to the floor.
Shinji barely managed to perform an ukemi and quickly got back up. Incorrigible, he assumed a fighting posture.
"You! Do you think you can beat me in Taijutsu? You were not even a match for the me from four years ago. There's no way you can be an opponent for me right now."
Kazuma did not show the least bit of triumph. He chided disinterestedly, as if facing a defiant child. Being looked down upon from such a securely elevated position, Shinji's reason made a sound and broke.
"Stop it right there, you two."
A restraining voice broke in, turning the two heads towards the speaker. Sakamoto showed great satisfaction at successfully getting both their attention. In a tone as if he was scolding a child, he shouted...
"I didn't call you here to fight! The furnishings in this room, no matter which one you look at, are all more expensive than what I'm paying you! Any kind of rough behavior would be troublesome, okay?"
Suddenly, around the vicinity of money talk, there was a scumbag. The person in question was probably attempting to flaunt his assets, but for the ones made to listen, it was nothing but the stink of the nouveau riche pushed up their noses.
(Maybe I'll leave… since I still get the advance payment...)
With the discomfort continuing to rise with no end in sight, Kazuma's desire to work had already disappeared. He couldn't ignore the agony of simply being there.
Instantly, without warning, an unearthly presence began to converge...
The unearthly presence spread throughout the mansion and directed its focus to one point in the living room. Kazuma casually moved back so that Sakamoto and Shinji were between himself and this presence.
"What's that? What just…?"
The unearthly presence solidified into a smoky black figure. Shinji, seconds slower than Kazuma, finally noticed it too.
"Hmmm, so it came out?"
"Wh-what? What's wrong?"
Hesitatingly breaking the suddenly tense atmosphere, Sakamoto shouted in a shrill voice.
Kazuma answered in place of Shinji, who was already beginning to focus his mind for the use of a jutsu.
"It's time to work. The 'evil spirit', or whatever you've been struggling with just made its entry."
While giving this offhand explanation, Kazuma felt a beyond-ordinary sense of unease.
(That's no evil spirit. What kind of thing is it?)
When Kazuma first accepted this assignment, the person at the agency said "It is just a normal evil-spirit exorcism."
—— Hey, your first job should be one of these, right? If you're as good as the rumors say, you should be able to take that evil spirit with one hand or another ——
A superficial seeming man, but with definite achievements. Their kind of work was, in some sense, even more than practitioners, it was a work where confidence was life. Making a mistake this big was extremely unlikely. It wasn't an easy business, so such an irresponsible agent would not survive.
(Was I set up? Well, fine. Should I just observe his skill?)
Kazuma leaned against the wall, crossed his arms, and looked about as if sightseeing. Shinji focused his mind to prepare himself for the appearance of the "evil spirit." He was apparently planning to burn it the moment it appeared. It was easy to understand that from his expression. Suddenly, the space in front of Shinji turned dark and thick. Shinji faced both his palms towards each other in order to set up a transparent ball in front of his chest. A small fire ignited between those palms.
A voice full of resentment shook the air as the evil spirit revealed itself. A distorted face stood before them, projecting hatred across the room.
Paying no attention to the screaming Sakamoto, Shinji released a devastating flame alongside a sharp yell. The evil spirit would be cleansed on contact with the summoned fire and would disappear without a trace... or so Shinji believed. However...
While the evil spirit's cries of agony echoed and Shinji snickered...the flame exploded.
Shinji screamed as he was wrapped in the flames that he had summoned. In a moment, the entire living room was engulfed in flames.
The entity before them had overcome Shinji's attack and had devoured the flame. The youma began to sneer with laughter.
Even among the Enjutsu users who could freely manipulate fire, the Kannagi family was famous for their superior strength. It was not simply because their power was great. The reason lay in the special ability passed on in their family's blood. The flame they manipulated was not created by the physical phenomenon of simply accelerating molecular motion. It possessed the power to burn away impurities and destroy evil.
Because of this "purifying flame" the Kannagi family practitioners held absolute dominance over youma, evil spirits, and all beings who transgressed the law. However, even with the ability given by blood, depending on the extent to which their blood was diluted with each generation, it was inevitable that their power would eventually deteriorate.
The branch family practitioners had long lost the highest rank of the "gold" flame attribute. If a youma with a fire attribute was their opponent, the flame that they released would merely be absorbed by the youma instead of purifying or destroying it.
...Which was what had happened just now——
The living room had become a purgatory. The high-class furniture and the shag carpet were already carbonizing. The glass from the chandelier on the ceiling had melted and turned into a grotesque art object. This wouldn't have happened if someone from the head family purified the youma.
"I wonder if he's dead..." Kazuma muttered with a refreshed face.
A cool breeze wrapped Kazuma, keeping the raging fire off him. Even the heat that the flame emitted was sealed off; not a drop of sweat was on Kazuma's face.
A frail voice rang in his eardrums. Kazuma looked down at the blackened object at his feet.
His client Sakamoto had rolled into the kekkai, screaming. He didn't seem to be dead though he was burned here and there.
"Aaaaaa! He-help me!"
Sakamoto screamed as he clung onto Kazuma's legs. However, Kazuma heartlessly kicked away his client.
Sakamoto's face writhed in pain as he was mercilessly trampled upon. Since Kazuma didn't want to touch anything beyond his slippers, he brought down his heel instead of stepping on him. The skull could have been making a creaking sound, but that wasn't a big problem.
Kazuma stepped on Sakamoto's head and stated clearly, "You're not my client and I don't have a knack of saving middle-aged men."
"If it's money, I'll pay. Twice as much, or so…"
"Twice? Is your life worth only a million?"
Kazuma took out a cigarette from his pocket. He gently stretched out his hand, exposing the cigarette's tip outside of the kekkai and began to smoke.
Sakamoto didn't have the luxury to be so relaxed, though. Whether by chance or on purpose, there were holes in the area of the kekkai near Sakamoto. Some of the flames passed through the holes and touched him.
"Hot-! Ee-eeee! Help! Fine!! I'll pay 10 million!"
"Thanks for your business."
Upon tossing away his cigarette, Kazuma's face let out a smile similar to that of a demon who had made a profitable deal.
"All right now. Then, won't you please stand back?"
Kazuma kicked Sakamoto in the rear, and, while sending Sakamoto rolling into the side of the room, Kazuma proclaimed, "You're in the way."
He began muttering in a low voice and waved his right hand sideways in a mowing motion. As if being squeezed out by his hand, the raging fire was instantly expelled through the window.
The fire didn't spread to the grass and trees in the garden. Instead, it scattered and then vanished.
At that moment, a fireball with a distorted face floated in the center of the room. Now the youma's true form was in front of Kazuma.
In place of the extinguished fire, wind raged across the room. Kazuma stood quietly and with his hand still in his jacket pocket, directed the wind to erase the flames still remaining in the room.
The fight was already over. The youma was unable to even put up any resistance against Kazuma's overwhelming power while being torn to pieces. All that was left to do was wait for its annihilation.
"And with this…"
Kazuma slowly raised his right hand. A person gifted with the sixth sense would have been terrified upon seeing the amount of wind power that was gathering in his hand.
The hand swung down ten times faster than it came up. From his right hand, an invisible blade that sliced through air came forth, slicing the youma neatly in two.
There were no spirit fragments remaining. Kazuma quietly observed the destroyed youma with a calm look.
"Finished," Kazuma told Sakamoto. Sakamoto was still lying on the floor, dumbfounded.
"Pay the money in three days. Otherwise, would you like to regret having ever been born?"
It was identical to what a criminal would say. Even if it was a mistake, it wasn't the way one would speak to a client.
However, Sakamoto, realizing the horror of going against Kazuma, didn't even dare to complain.
"Y-yes. Understood. But something terrible has happened to Yuuki-kun. I never thought something so serious would happen."
Without a word Kazuma approached what appeared to be the ashes of Shinji's remains and trampled on them to Sakamoto's despair. As expected, Sakamoto protested...
"Wh-what are you doing!? I don't know what happened between the two of you but please show some respect for the dead!"
"He's not dead..." Kazuma dryly spat the words out and then continued to kick Shinji again and again.
Upon doing so, the ash covering the surface fell off; Sakamoto noticed that Shinji appeared to be undamaged by the flame that had covered him a while ago.
Sakamoto doubted his eyes as he beheld the unbelievable scene. Kazuma gave an offhand explanation.
"All of the Kannagi bloodline receive the divine protection of the fire spirits. Even people from the branch family wouldn't die from this degree of fire."
Kazuma curled his lips in self-derision and added, "though I'm the exception."
Shinji murmured, waking up. After looking around him, he confirmed that the youma was destroyed.
"You did this?"
"It's just like you saw."
Who do you think you are, saying whatever you please?——Kazuma was already aware that Shinji was conscious the whole time. Shinji hurriedly attempted an explanation.
"So you noticed……? But, I couldn't help. I honestly couldn't move."
"I don't want to hear your excuses."
Kazuma coldly stated this over his shoulder, as he turned his back. Shinji called out to the unhesitating figure leaving. There was still something he wanted to ask.
"Why did you return?"
"On a whim, I guess."
At Kazuma's lazy answer, Shinji sharpened his gaze thinking that his question had been evaded.
"'A whim...' Do you believe the elders will accept that?"
"I was only disinherited, I wasn't exiled. Where I go is my business."
"What are you planning?"
"Nothing in particular," Kazuma answered curtly, shrugging his shoulders.
"Are you returning to the Kannagi?"
"Not even if I die."
Kazuma answered as if spitting out the words. Then, this time, without hesitation, he walked off.
Shinji was driven by a sense of unease that he couldn't suppress. He continued to stare at Kazuma.
(I have to tell this to the soushu as soon as possible…)
In a sense, Shinji's unease was right on the mark. From that moment, a war to push the Kannagi into the abyss of ruin began.
"Did you know? It seems that Kazuma has returned to Japan. What's more, he's become a Fuujutsu practitioner."
"What! That incompetent guy? It must be dead simple, then, to be a Fuujutsu practitioner."
"Nope, 'I'm a dark magician' is what I heard. For him to become a practitioner, he'd have to sell his soul to the devil, right?"
"Ah, that's probably true."
That day, rumors about Kazuma were the talk of the Kannagi main house. Of the elders (the general term for those who retired from active service and are now overseeing the management of the practitioners) who heard Shinji's report, only one refrained from jokingly spreading around nonsense.
Shinji was currently under probation for the offense of the aforesaid failure of his duty. Tail fin, dorsal fin, belly fins; all were wildly added to the rumor, until it grew to maturity. Not a single person tried to stop it.
The source of the rumors, the elders, appeared to be in wholesome delight. The people known as elders—excluding the extremely serious exceptions—were basically men of leisure. "Looking important is work," and so on, was the gossip some attacked with.
When there was no work, they would drink tea all day and amuse themselves by talking about various topics. Obviously, they could not resist something interesting to talk about.
They danced with joy inside upon hearing Shinji's news. The elders, when they passed the verdict of probation on the dejected Shinji, even had something of a skipping type of light gait while they drank tea and turned back to each other. They haphazardly began talking like this:
"Ohh, did you know…?"
The elders, during this work time, were like different people in energetic activity.
Within an hour, there was almost nobody in the huge mansion who had not heard of Kazuma's return to the country. It certainly reached the servants, spreading to all kinds of people afterwards.
It was, in short, a situation where almost nobody knew the true facts. It wasn't a big problem for the elders, though, since their attitude was pretty much, If it's interesting, who cares what happens later!
And so, news of Kazuma spread in the exact opposite direction than what Shinji had hoped for.
"Kazuma's returned as a dark magician."
"Kazuma was secretly murdered; he's buried in the back garden."
"Kazuma clashed with Shinji during work and suddenly killed him."
"Kazuma made a contract with the wind spirits. An evil demon."
The truth was subtly mixed in, but it was distorted to such an extent that nobody could really interpret it. Obviously, no one feared Kazuma's retribution.
Kazuma, the main family's failure who had left all his talent in his mother's womb, like liquid skimmed off the top, had found a preferable power to take in, it seemed. Nobody laughed at that.
However, there were a small number of exceptions. One of them was the current suzerain, Kannagi Juugo. During supper, in the humorous talk that was being told, there was one item Juugo was interested in.
"Ohhhh? Kazuma chose Fuujutsu? Did you know that, Genma?"
Juugo spoke to his cousin sitting next to him. For some reason, as if harboring some ill will, Genma's smile was filled with hatred.
Genma answered briefly. Apparently the rumor had already reached his ears, as he didn't appear disturbed.
However, it was clear he wasn't happy about the rumor either. The saying, like someone chewing up a bitter bug, perfectly described his frown as he gripped a tight fist.
If Kazuma was in front of me, I'd want to strangle him to death. His expression openly displayed his thoughts.
"It's not especially shameful." Juugo answered lightly. He gave a command to a nearby servant: "I would like to hear a detailed account. Call Shinji."
The moment he arrived, Shinji bowed down so low that he scraped the tatami in his prostration. His tension was great; he was sweating from his forehead and breathing awkwardly.
Truthfully, the difference in status between the Kannagi's main family and branch family was absolute. It was impossible for the branch family to even dream of a revolution.
Tradition and social status meant nothing in the Kannagi's system. The two families were simply separated by the overwhelming difference in power.
If a rebellion were to occur, Enjutsu practitioners like Juugo or Genma could simply smash everyone in the branch family by wiggling a finger. Because of this hopeless difference in power, no thoughts of rebellion were harbored.
Therefore, Shinji's tension was understandable. He was in front of Juugo, whose superiority was similar to a god, and had to recount his clumsy failure. This was definitely worse than his original feelings.
"Raise your face. You don't have to humble yourself like that."
Juugo spoke in a friendly manner. However, looking into the suzerain's face and speaking was far too overwhelming for Shinji. In the end, he raised his face, but his eyes still stared at the tatami as he submitted his report.
"A-and, I now have the privilege of being allowed to give this report."
After Shinji finished recounting the happenings, Juugo remained silent for a while after saying that.
As if to confirm, he repeated it once more. He closed his eyes lightly, and reminisced back to when his nephew (to be accurate, the relation was more separated than that, but he used the label since it was too much trouble) had left 4 years ago.
(—What a poor child he was.)
If Kazuma had been born to any family but the Kannagi, he would probably have been considered a superior child. Excellent intellect, good reflexes, and great promise in learning the jutsu; all jutsu except one. He was unable to manipulate fire.
However, for the Kannagi family, this was the most important ability.
No matter what else he was proficient at, someone with no talent for manipulating fire was treated as incompetent. Because of this, Kazuma was no longer part of the Kannagi.
Still— Juugo thought.
(Why didn't you ask me for help, Kazuma? There was no need to disown you from the family. If it was me, I would have made a place for you. Whatever Genma said, I wouldn't have cared about the Enjutsu, I would have made use of your talent, despite that…)
Juugo looked down at his right leg. It was made of metal and plastic. If that accident hadn't happened, and the "rule of inheritance" hadn't been rushed, would Kazuma be here right now?
Unfortunately, it was far too late. Kazuma had thrown away the family, their name; all that was Kannagi, and had left Japan. This was reality. The past is a thing that could never be changed.
An uncertain voice brought Juugo back to reality. Looking around, he found everyone in an awkward silence. It wasn't surprising, as there were almost none among them who had not tormented Kazuma.
However, the one who had driven Kazuma out was calm. That person, Genma, spoke without a single change in his expression.
"Suzerain. Kazuma is already someone without any connection to the Kannagi. There is no need to worry about him."
"Genma, you would say that of your own son—"
"I have only one son, Ren."
Genma spoke coolly, interrupting the suzerain's words. Juugo considered replying, but, disliking unproductive battles, he decided to put other, safer words into his mouth.
"It's fine then. After all, Kazuma has become successful in Fuujutsu. Maybe it was best that he left the Kannagi... Or maybe, Hyoue, if he had been entrusted to your care, could he have become skilled and powerful?"
Sitting at a lower seat, Hyoue, the head of the Fuuga clan, answered sullenly.
Genma again cut in with an objection.
"We are all afraid that even though Fuujutsu and such are, after all, lower arts. The most they are capable of is acting as assistants to Enjutsu practitioners. Even if we had known four years ago of Kazuma's talent for Fuujutsu and left him to people like the Fuuga clan, clearly, we would still have had to disinherit him."
Hearing his art publicly insulted, Hyoue twisted his face in humiliation. However, nobody paid any attention to Hyoue nor his face.
To the Kannagi family, who only valued fighting power, the Fuuga clan, having been given the reconnaissance and battle support duties, was limited to a lower status. Genma was not trying to start a fight. He was not stating anything beyond the normal beliefs of the other Kannagi.
"…We will go no further with this talk or the dinner will turn unpleasant."
At Juugo's words, everyone clearly showed relieved expressions on their faces. As if on cue, cheerful talk began, and they rolled around laughing at silly jokes.
Though awkwardly, the usual dining hall atmosphere returned.
And so, nobody noticed the dark light harbored in Hyoue's eyes. He suppressed his thoughts from showing up on his expression, and murmured in a voice so small it did not even reach his own ears.
"I will not forget this disgrace, Genma…"
"Kannagi……no, Yagami Kazuma……? You came back at a very good time!"
"Huo-huo-huo……" A hoarse laugh broke the strained silence. Not a single streak of light could be found in the single room filled with darkness.
"Yes, it's better if everyone hears this. Finally, the time has come. The time when we shall dispel the disgrace that has lasted 300 years. Now is the time for us to regain the power we lost, and return to our previous, glorious position."
A stifled commotion filled the air. No one shouted. Afraid of being discovered, they kept their breaths in check, keeping their tension locked inside the room.
"Oh, when you finally realize it, you Kannagi... We will overthrow you and leave not a single one remaining… Kukuku…"
A low and gloomy voice echoed with resentment darker than darkness...
"U-uwaaaaaaaaaaaa! Wha-what, what are you doing-?!"
Late at night on that same day, Shinji screamed out in terror. Nearby were two freshly severed heads, which had tumbled down onto the floor. Following them were two headless corpses. And standing before him, a human?
Shinji was unable to say for certain. There was nothing different from a human by outward appearance, but it possessed an aura that a human could not possibly have.
The two corpses——who had been alive until 30 seconds ago——had been captured in a kekkai without any chance to prepare themselves and were immediately decapitated.
The mysterious person had not moved a single finger. And yet Shinji had clearly witnessed an incredible force slicing the two heads off as if they were nothing. Or rather, Shinji had been forced to witness.
Even though the other two surpassed him in skill, Shinji was the only person left alive. It wasn't because of luck. Shinji realized this more than anyone else.
He was being toyed with. This demon in human shape was feeding on Shinji's fear and hopelessness. It held off killing him for the moment, playing with him lazily, enjoying his empty resistance.
"What the hell?! What did I do…?"
The thing gave no answer. It came closer without even making footsteps, taking its time.
The thing remained completely silent. Nothing came out as it drew closer, wielding an invisible sword.
Silence remained even after severing those heads. The two blood-covered heads rolling on the ground seemed not to have noticed their own deaths as they still had their drunken, relaxed slack smiles.
Shinji knew of only one person who could do what this thing had just done. He had just met that person yesterday. In addition, that person had a just motive to kill them.
Shinji became frantic, begging the thing for forgiveness. His voice did a complete turn.
"Ka-Kazuma? You're Kazuma, right? Forgive me——it was my fault, I-I regret it, so please, forgive meeee——"
The only reply was a flash from the wind-blade. It severed his right arm at the base. Formed from a high density of spirits, the blade cut through meat and bone as if it were tofu.
While screaming, Shinji threw himself fully into starting Enjutsu. The intense concentration from being so close to death brought forth the greatest power of his 25 years of life.
The thing became covered in a golden flame, the same one that had the power to destroy any and all demons, the highest level of purification. The flame burned brightly through the darkness.
"Y-yeah! I think I——"
Suddenly, that thing, now a huge torch, began to move. Shinji's face, full of hope till now, froze.
The thing stretched out a hand, taking hold of the golden flame, and in one movement, tore it from its body.
The thing emerged from the flame's restraints, completely uninjured. Its body, and even its clothes, remained undamaged without any sign of having been engulfed by fire.
The thing slowly turned to Shinji and began walking. Underneath the freezing moonlight, without a sound, it came closer, an ominous shadow.
This was, in some ways, twisted. There was something there that the eye could not help but be fascinated by. A scene filled with beauty that one had to admit was from the spirit world.
"Hee, heehee, heeheeeeheeheehee-, kyahahahaha, ahahahaha!"
Suddenly, Shinji began laughing in a strange voice.
Evidently, his mental equilibrium had snapped from an overload of fear. Even as the wind-blade soundlessly sliced through his body, splitting it in half, he tumbled over laughing without even showing a reaction.
Perhaps the thing got tired of Shinji's lack of response. It casually sliced off his head as if throwing away an unwanted toy.
There was a dull thunk. The third head rolled on the ground.
The thing remained dissatisfied even after killing everyone. It continued to slice up the bodies. Though it was only for a few minutes, the three bodies were cut into many small pieces that even the parents of the corpses would no longer recognize; they wouldn't even be able to tell what kind of flesh it was or what limb it was.
As the raw stink of blood and meat drifted through the kekkai, the thing laughed cruelly and vanished as if melting into the air.
However, the three severed heads remained. Though the bodies were in pieces, there was not a single injury on those heads.
Somehow, the three heads had ended up facing the gate in a straight line. Each had a strange smile, as if saying to anyone coming through that gate, "Welcome to a nightmare."
And so the tragedy began...
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