Kaze no Stigma:Volume1 Chapter6
 Chapter Six - Decisive Battle
The forest rustled uneasily, shifting from the sounds made by the forest inhabitants, who were running away with all their might from the immense youki. The bugs, which had no means of sensing the danger, were unable to withstand the abnormal pressure and disappeared without a trace. Even animals that were unable to escape perished from coming in contact with the youki. The sound of their corpses raining out of the trees and littering the forest floor resounded throughout the forest. There were no visible wounds, yet they were all dead.
All sound ceased. All the youki within Ryuuya was released, and its mere existence spread death around the world.
Ayano raised Enraiha to face the silently watching Ryuuya. However, she was unable to do any more than that - She couldn't even take a step in his direction. The youki, which felt as though it would freeze her blood, petrified her. And not only that, she could not stop her knees from trembling.
An immense fear had gripped Ayano's soul. It was difficult enough just to force herself to stand there without running away - Advancing was impossible.
Ayano had inherited Enraiha at the young age of twelve, which might have been a mistake. Because of this, Ayano had never fought an enemy more powerful than herself. Since she was always able to defeat her enemies with brute strength, there was no way for her to fight strategically when she was the one at a disadvantage.
To put it simply, after suffering her first defeat, Ayano was unable to find the courage to go up against Ryuuya.
“What are you doing? Go on!”
Kazuma said to the trembling Ayano. He continued,
“Don't worry! I'll be with you.”
"How can I not worry?!"
Ayano retorted angrily. How dare this man say "Don't worry" so casually?
“There's no reason to run now, right? I won't run this time. Trust me.”
Who could trust someone who just said "I'll run if there's a reason"? Ayano stared back to see Kazuma smiling deviously.
“This...... This is the last time. If you betray me again, I'll kill you first!”
“No problem! I swear to God.”
Ayano gave him an undisguisedly suspicious glare, but Kazuma simply replies with his untrustworthy smile,
"Who knows? But it doesn't matter who I pray to! I'm an atheist, after all."
Ayano could no longer stay angry by then, so she merely muttered in despair,
"......Enough. I'll leave the support to you."
"Leave it to me."
Ignoring Kazuma's mocking salute, Ayano dashed forward. Though she didn't, and probably wouldn't ever, realize it, the fear that had gripped her was now greatly reduced by this meaningless chat.
Ayano closed in on Ryuuya, but he took to the air the moment she reached within a few steps of him.
Ayano gave a sound of shock as she stared after Ryuuya, who had flown past her.
“Idiot! Don't get outmaneuvered so easily!”
"You...... Even if you say that......"
Completely ignoring Ayano, Ryuuya aimed straight for Kazuma, showering him with wind blades as he descended. Kazuma met this with a strong updraft, crashing it into the black blades.
But that was just a feint. Ryuuya suddenly lashed out with his hidden claw, slicing down with demonic strength that could easily rip through a person as if he was a piece of tofu.
Kazuma, moving forward at an angle, barely managed to dodge it. As he did so, he lightly took the enemy's right arm and slightly diverted its path.
Ryuuya, missing, lost his balance due to the lack of resistance. Kazuma immediately took the opportunity to knee his enemy's liver through the side of his abdomen. This powerful strike, which was coupled with a strong explosion of ki, smashed into Ryuuya, who was still toppling forward, arcing his body like a bow and throwing him back into the air. Chasing the flying body, Kazuma slammed his elbow into the enemy's chin moments before it touched the ground. Ryuuya's head was bent so far back that he could almost see his own back.
A normal person, or even a powerful wrestler, would have instantly died from such a violent attack. However, the demonized Ryuuya easily shrugged off the damage.
In fact, in mid-flight, Ryuuya directed his momentum into his right knee, aiming straight for Kazuma's jaw.
Even though the attack came from what should have been a blind spot, to Kazuma, who is synchronized with the wind spirits, there is no such thing. He steps forward, leaning to the left to avoid Ryuuya's knee, grabs the front of Ryuuya’s shirt, at the same time sweeping his left leg horizontally.
In a masterful example of judo, Ryuuya’s body is flipped. With Ryuuya's head about to fall flat on the ground, Kazuma strikes with his palm. Not to punch downwards, but to press. He bends down to push the enemy’s head straight into the ground, and a comfortable reaction is sent through his shoulder.
However, Kazuma did not feel Ryuuya’s skull crack. Realizing instantly that he has not given his enemy a fatal blow, Kazuma uses his foot to crush Ryuuya’s head, who lay on the ground facing the sky. The kick instead lands on Ryuuya's crossed arms, as he blocks Kazuma's attack.
Kazuma quickly kicks away the arm that is about to grab his other leg, and jumps backwards to put some distance between them.
(To not even faint after such a fierce attack, does attacking the brain have no effect on him? To just what extent has he been transformed to a demon?……) Kazuma grumbles unhappily.
As though beating up a steel statue, he feels as if he has accomplished nothing. Ryuuya's body quickly swings back up, directly from his lying down position. This simple action is far beyond what a human can achieve, almost like a zombie from the movies.
Ryuuya releases countless wind blades as he gets up, and then, at a speed even faster than the wind blades, strikes at Kazuma. The wind blades and his claws reach Kazuma at the same time.
At the same time as the shout, Kazuma forcefully stretches his hand out towards the right arm that was swung at him. The wind forms a rapidly spinning whirlpool, as if that hand had squeezed them out. The rapid flow of air becomes a shockwave, destroying the wind blades, and Ryuuya is blown back into the air like a puppet.
It seems for a moment that he is unable to take this blow, but only for a moment, as Ryuuya adjusts his posture in the air and hovers at a fixed altitude, beginning to slowly retreat.
“Don’t even think about escaping!”
Kazuma knocks the air above Ryuuya downwards. The figure that was originally gliding away slowly, suddenly flew downwards at a sharp angle, as if swatted by something, and with a speed way beyond a free-falling object, hits the ground. Ryuuya was just able to land on his two feet, his body unable to move, stuck to the ground due to the great air pressure.
As Ryuuya stands there paralyzed, Kazuma quickly closes the distance.
The wind that was forcefully blowing downwards doesn't seem to lay a finger on Kazuma. Kazuma instead seems as though drawn into it, and runs quickly inside the raging winds without hindrance.
“How…… powerful, that guy is actually so powerful……”
Ayano is totally taken in by the scene in front of her eyes, completely mesmerized by the sight of Kazuma fighting. She had been unable to land even a single hit upon Ryuuya, and yet Kazuma could fight on an even level with or an even higher level than Ryuuya. Skillfully avoiding the attacks of the opponent, retaliating with perfectly timed counters, and slowly accumulating damage. This is, she realizes, what it means to be “an experienced fighter."
Forgetting that she is part of the fight as well, Ayano stands there enraptured, her eyes focused solely on Kazuma.
When Kazuma is just a few steps away, Ryuuya, who is still trapped on the ground, looses a silent roar. Black wind begins to rampage, breaking the bonds that had restrained him just moments before.
In the same movement with which he straightens his knees, he stretches his claws out towards the incoming Kazuma, who is running directly at him, and aims directly for the throat, executing an insane counterattack.
Kazuma, however, does not stop. Instead, as he takes his last step, he bends down as much as possible. Reaching to the far ends of his consciousness to dodge the pitch black claws passing before him, he places his palm on Ryuuya's tanden.
Kazuma steps onto the ground firmly. From there, gathering power which goes past his knees straight to his waist, and from the waist to his shoulders, like a spiral, and continues to become stronger as it continued to be transmitted. From his shoulder to the front of his arm, after all the energy in his body has gathered, it is released from his palm. An immense ki is released from his body through his palm, dense enough that it feels as if it could pierce through the enemy.
Accompanying his shout, a force great enough to blow even an African elephant to pieces exploded right into Ryuuya’s tanden, the core of a human’s central nervous system. Ryuuya’s body was blown away with such power he ended up embedded in a stone wall.
The ki of a person circulated around the body, originating in the tanden. Therefore, this place was the most vital of all vital areas for a jutsushi. Once the flow of ki has been disrupted, no matter how powerful a jutsushi might be, he would be left unable to use any jutsu for some time. Or that would have been the case, had Ryuuya been a human being.
Ryuuya doesn't even look injured as he rapidly releases the blades of wind once more. Kazuma barely dodges in the nick of time, and hurriedly places some distance between them.
“Damn! Bastard! That didn’t work! That guy really, whole-heartedly doesn’t want to be human anymore!”
“…… whole-heartedly…… What kind of description is that……”
Hearing Ayano’s subconscious remark, Kazuma shouts out loud, “Don’t just stand there and watch the show! You're supposed to be the attacker, aren't you? So why don’t you grab your big torch and go beat him up!”
To use such a crude description of the treasure of the Kannagi clan?!
“You, I'll have a talk with you about this once this is over!”
Ignoring Ayano’s furious look, Kazuma waves his hand to hush her, “Don’t talk so much, attack little kitten."
Though her eyes burn with murder, Ayano steps forward. Perhaps reflecting her anger, Enraiha shines with a glaring glow unlike any before.
(Nee-sama, you can do it……)
Ren prays devoutly for the victory of the two.
He can only pray, since he does not possess the power to participate in their battle.
His inability to help deeply hurting his heart, Ren murmurs, ”If only I had more power……”
”No, no, your 'bit' of power is just right.”
Ren turns in shock, and looks where there shouldn't be anyone.
“To break the seal placed upon our God, that bit of power is enough.”
The voice sounded like it had come from the opposite direction of just earlier. Ren turns his head once more, and calls out in a rising tone, “It…… it is you, Hyoue! Come out now!”
Shaaaaaaaaaaa, the sound of bushes rustling in the wind, this time from the left. Out of Ren's raised palm, fire begins to erupt in a rapid stream.
In short order, the withered plants catch fire and burn furiously, but there is no sign of Hyoue. Ren glances around frantically as Hyoue's coarse voice again sounds in his ears.
“It isn't that you lack strength. It's that you're still just a brat. Your technique is what's lacking!”
Flames emerge from Ren’s body. In order to prevent the enemy from moving behind him, he begins to search for Hyoue with a body wrapped in flame.
(I can’t find his presence!)
He has absolutely no idea where Hyoue may be. From the beginning, En-jutsushis are a bit unbalanced in their combat abilities. Though their attacking strength is the strongest, their detection abilities are among the weakest, let alone comparable to Fuu-jutsushis.
As an En-jutsushi, Ren was still inexperienced, and was unable to handle the jutsu that the experienced Fuu-jutsushi Hyoue was using to conceal himself.
“Still too immature. A flame of that level is unable to extinguish the hatred within me,” Hyoue whispers in his ear.
Though the direction from which Ren had heard Hyoue's voice was directly behind him, he could not sense his presence at all.
He turned around several times, always failing to see Hyoue. No matter how swift his actions, the voice from behind never stopped.
--Over here-- --Over here-- --Over here-- --Over here--
This line continues to repeat like an echo. The unease of being unable to see his enemy, and the rising fear and nervousness of fighting in actual combat, stretch Ren’s mind to its limit.
Driven by fear, he desires power. The power to eliminate the enemy. The power to destroy 'everything,' the power to rid himself of his fear...
In response to Ren’s scream, everywhere around, fires explode into existence. The fire spirits that had been released indefinitely, obeying only their own desires for survival and rampage, burn everything to ash.
Everything the flames touched was burnt. The forest becomes a sea of flame, with mighty pillars of fire that reach the heavens and shake the earth.
Ren, who is panicking after losing control, is attempting to create a Hell on Earth, just like his name. He continues to summon a massive amount of spirits, surpassing even the limits of his ability to control. The trees turn to ash in the extreme heat, and the already scorched earth begins to melt.
But at precisely this moment, a cold gust of wind blows past his body, cooling his head and calming his madness in an instant. The youth, shocked, turns to look in the direction the wind originated from.
Kazuma was looking attentively at his brother. Basking in those clear eyes, Ren returns to normal.
(He is looking at me!)
Kazuma looks at him with boundless trust.
Immediately after meeting Ren's eyes, Kazuma shifts his gaze away, focusing once more on the battle with Ryuuya.
Briefly disappointed, Ren remembers once more what he needs to do. Calming his breathing, he prepares to take on the enemy's assault.
"Your brother seems to have abandoned you.”
Hyoue’s voice rings mockingly from behind his ear. But Ren, his head clear once again, recognizes that his enemy isn't actually behind him. It was just a diversion, using his jutsu to mobilize the wind to carry his voice to Ren's ears. This was a very basic technique everyone in the Fuuga clan knew. Such a simple fact, and yet he hadn't noticed. Ren was ashamed at his immaturity.
"But he can't be blamed for doing so. Even working together, those two don't have a chance, let alone the luxury of taking time out to protect someone as useless as you."
Ho! Ho! Ho!
This time, hearing Hyoue's eerie laughter has no effect on Ren. He calmly searches out his presence, at the same time rejecting Hyoue's babbled nonsense.
”What is wrong?” Hyoue replies calmly.
Hyoue holds no doubts of his control of the situation. He might even think that this is not a fight, but a hunt, just a cat toying with a mouse before the kill. This is the weak point Ren grasped for.
“Nii-sama did not abandon me. It is because he believes in me, believes that I am more than enough to deal with scum like you.”
“What daring words. A little punk like you who can't even find me, how are you going to defeat me??”
Indeed, in terms of detection capability, En-jutsushi were far inferior to Fuu-jutsushi. Unlike fire, air was everywhere. One of the necessary conditions for a human to survive, and the one that occupies the most space, is air. The difference in amount of space occupied directly affects the amount of information obtainable.
(But, if it is now...)
The flames that Ren had released when berserk had burnt the trees in the area, and continued to burn fiercely. The density of fire spirits in the area had increased to a point that surpassed reason. With things like this, his abilities weren't less than any Fuu-jutsushi's. Ren closes his eyes, and opens his ears to listen to the voices of the spirits.
“What’s wrong? You want to beat someone like me, and yet you seem to be taking your time?”
Sounds of mockery come from every direction. A wind blade passes by his cheek, and flies straight on. Ren completely lets go of everything, and synchronizes himself with the spirits.
His five senses disappear, slowly replaced with the senses of the spirits. Relying neither on light, nor relying on sound, but instead relying on theurgy to view the world. Despite being faced with an abnormality which would drive a regular human insane, Ren adapts very easily.
It should be said he didn't actually detect Hyoue's presence. Rather, within the areas he searched, only one refused the invasion of fire spirits. Hyoue had to be at this spot. Ren felt confident in his guess.
Ren raises his palm to release a fireball. The divine power of purification slices through...
Empty space. Just empty space.
“You fool, where do you think you're aiming?……”
Seeing the flame travel in completely the wrong direction, Hyoue, concealed in a kekkai of wind, reveals his scorn.
Only to change expressions immediately. He watches as the flames around him branch out and rain down in a curtain of flame, aimed directly at him.
Hyoue is so filled with shock his eyes almost pop out of his head. The fire rains down from all directions and all at once.
With every escape route cut off by the incoming flame, this was not a predicament that could be resolved by trickery. To defend himself, he has no choice but to force the flames aside with sheer power. But Hyoue does not possess such power. Judging by strength alone, Ren wins handily.
As his kekkai is pierced by the rain of fire like so much paper, Hyoue gives off a pitiful scream.
“It...it worked……?” Sensing the kekkai's disappearance, Ren says quietly, staring into space.
The trick he used was really simple. There had been no need for him to create the attacking fire himself, as he had been surrounded by burning flames all along.
Ren had purposely loosed a flame at an empty spot to trick Hyoue into letting his guard down, and then had instead used the flames that were burning around Hyoue to attack.
Had Hyoue been fighting seriously, he might have seen through the trick. It was his overconfident attitude of seeing Ren as prey, and not as an enemy, that forced him to suffer such a dreadful attack.
“You……you are really something……Kid……”
A black shape, still roughly discernible as human, rolls just in front of Ren. No matter how you look at it, it was just so much charcoal, and yet it still moved somehow. Every time it moved, pieces of meat that had been turned to ash fell away, revealing pitch black skin below, skin that did not seem human.
“Hoho…… Watch closely…… This is the power I obtained by forming a contract with the youma - a power surpassing human ability! Do you get it now, kid? Your flames just won’t work against me. Hohoho…… Hahahahaha!!”
“You foolish thing.”
Ren's sudden speech, in a tone cold enough as to come from someone else, causes Hyoue's laughter to come to an abrupt halt.
“My flames, useless? How dare a piece of charcoal speak like a human being? Since you've already given up on being human, nothing more need be said. Because the Kannagi flames are purifying flames. A divine power bestowed for the destruction of inhuman monsters like you!”
A golden light cleanses away the dense youki. The rampaging flames appear to be absorbed into the purifying light. The fire weakens, and slowly disappears. The formerly uncontrolled fire spirits serve to make the golden light shine all the more brilliantly.
The flames that once expanded explosively now are beginning to shrink, and yet the temperature grows. Condensed into a high density semi-materialized flame, emitting a syrupy glow, it begins to revolve around Ren.
“I, as a member of Kannagi main family, declare! Hyoue Kazamaki: the many lives that you've taken away shall now be repaid with your own!” surrounded by that blurry glow, Ren says loudly.
Faced with a tiny body that yet unleashes an immense pressure, Hyoue curls up in fear.
This is the descendant of a respected and powerful bloodline. The top of the En-jutsushis, a rightful son of the Kannagi.
A great power, formed of a thousand years of training, is about to awaken...
Striking with all her might, Ayano chops Enraiha downwards.
Ryuuya's claws make a clear sound as they deflect the blade.
(Even Enraiha cannot cut through, just what are those claws made of?)
Ayano immediately ignores the question that pops up in her mind. There's no time to think about this, I need to find some way to get past those claws...
Ayano increases the rate at which she strikes, including a number of feints in her attacks, to find a hole in Ryuuya’s defense. His defense, unfortunately, is impenetrable.
“What is that idiot doing……” Kazuma spits in disgust.
The fear of loss yet lingers in Ayano’s heart, causing her to forget her usual style. Adding those tricks to her attack was meaningless; she should focus on a single lethal strike instead.
At that moment, Enraiha finds its way into Ryuuya’s shoulder, cleanly severing his right arm.
(Now I've got him!)
Ayano strikes at his right side with all her strength. Because of this, she fails to notice his right arm, lurking behind her back, flying directly towards her.
Kazuma's voice and the attack come at almost the same time. Ayano jumps quickly, and the right arm speeds past her like a lance.
“That was close……”
The danger wasn't over though. Ryuuya suddenly appears in front of Ayano, still in mid-air, the claws on his remaining left arm glittering with deadly intent.
Ayano somehow manages to block, but with her legs hanging in mid-air, she is unable to hold her position. Knocked away like a cannonball, with no way to stop herself, she slams into a nearby tree.
Perhaps feeling that it would be too easy, with her offering so little sport, Ryuuya opts not to pursue, instead leisurely reattaching his right arm. Wriggling muscle tissue and nerves extend from the severed arm as the same extend from the other end, merging together. After but moments, there is no hint of the injury - his arm was completely whole once more.
And yet Ryuuya still shows no sign of attacking. He lifts his head to stare at the sky, raising his arms as if to grasp the sky with his hands.
The instant he realizes what that gesture signifies, Kazuma sprints forward as fast as possible. Hugging Ayano's head to his chest, he forcefully slams her back onto the floor.
With no time to pay it any mind, he ignores Ayano's strangled cry of protest. Lying as low to the ground as he can, he erects a kekkai of even greater density around them.
“What are you doing all of a sudden?” Ayano shouts, her nose glowing red from the pressure.
Kazuma immediately retorts at a volume twice her own, “You idiot! For what reason did you think it was necessary to engage in close combat? If you allow the enemy the time it needs to unleash such a powerful attack, all earlier effort would be rendered meaningless.”
Confronted with such a decisive answer that left no room for questions, Ayano is at a loss for words.
“……Huh……? Powerful attack……”
As she turns her head, as instructed by Kazuma, the scene revealing itself before her eyes leaves her at a loss for words. A spectacular pillar of wind connecting heaven and earth, a great vortex that tumbles as it spins, it is...
"What do you mean 'what is that?' As you can see, what 'they are' are tornadoes! Four, no five...by the way, what is the unit for tornadoes?"
Kazuma's randomly asked question does not register in Ayano's consciousness.
She gazes at the scene, as if spellbound. "Here is the roar of nature that hurls giant boulders and uproots giant trees" is all she can think about.
“……There's no way……”
”Ahhh? What did you say?”
”There's no way we can win!” Ayano turns her head to shout.
The eyes that had earlier been full of fight now carry tears. As if humbled, she falls to her feet beside Kazuma.
"It's impossible to win! Our enemy is 'that' kind of monster, just what do you expect me to do?! There's just no way to win!"
Ayano's eyes reveal an absolute despair transcending fear. "Eyes just like 'that' person's in the past" Kazuma thinks to himself.
-- Did I not seek power because I hate seeing those eyes?
The weak girl that I was unable to protect in the past. No matter how difficult, no matter how painful, the girl who wanted to live on no matter what.
“I was not born into the world to be devoured by a devil.”
(Those eyes shone with the light of hope, and the one who erased that light was me.)
Because he had been weak, because he had had no power.
But things were different now. He had been defeated back then, and was helpless to do anything but watch as the girl he had sworn to protect had had her soul devoured...but things were different now.
Whether for self-fulfillment or to atone for the past, all he wanted now was to help the girl trembling before him.
Her eyes were filled with tears. Just before the first tears fall, Kazuma pokes her forehead with his finger.
Ayano leans back slightly, looking at him with wet eyes, as Kazuma smiles.
“Our jobs were clear from the start right? All you need to do is take that blade and slash Ryuuya. I'll deal with his wind.”
Ayano jabs her finger towards the tornadoes as she shrieks, “Deal with……? Tornadoes?"
Kazuma merely shrugs.
“Well, about that…… I'm sure there's a way. So, you just take care of him. Can you do that?”
She hesitates for a brief moment before nodding her head determinedly.
“Very good. Then let the match continue!”
Kazuma lifts Ayano, still sitting on him, with his arms and rises. Witnessing unbelievable arm and waist strength, Ayano's eyes widen, but even more shocking was what happened afterwards.
Before Ayano, a path opens. A path, surrounded by a kekkai of wind suppressing the tornadoes, straight to Ryuuya.
Receiving a gentle push from that voice, Ayano instinctively dashes forward.
“Okay, even though I said all that just now…… What should I do?”
After forcing an opening through the tornadoes, Kazuma grumbles to himself. Because he had boasted about it in front of someone else, he had no choice but to think of a way to take care of those five tornadoes...
"If only Ayano was of some use, then the enemy might not have the effort to spare to maintain those tornadoes...But an originally weak girl, now so scared witless she can barely walk, can't be of any use..."
The simplest method would be to create tornadoes of equal magnitude to cancel them out...
(……Nah, far too much trouble!)
Even the thought made him feel tired. There had to be an easier way...
“Wait a minute, a tornado is actually the upward flow of air right…… in that case…… Good, let’s do this.”
Kazuma lets the column of wind comprising the tornado rise even higher, raising the air to the lower stratosphere.
The air brought by the updraft cools rapidly, and the water particles it contains become tiny drops of ice that combine to form hailstones. As they fall once again, the hailstones melt, cooling the surrounding air even further, making the air heavy, and it drops down at a high speed. This great downward airflow is known as a "downburst."
The natural top speed of a downburst is comparable to a tornado, and Kazuma speeds it up even further. This section of air, pulled down from an extremely high altitude, easily surpasses the speed of sound.
The supersonic wind blade slices the tornadoes wide open, and the accompanying shock wave completely destroys what remains. Without any notable resistance, the raging winds easily erases any hint of the tornadoes, while directing all extra energy towards Ryuuya.
In the midst of the thunder of destruction came a sharp scream, lacking of femininity.
Kazuma claps his hands as he realizes what happened.
“Darn, I completely forgot to avoid you. Sorry.”
”You idiot! Go to hell!” Ayano furiously shouts.
Yet for some reason, she is uninjured. Maybe the wind spirits had automatically avoided her?
Though Ayano continued to fuss, she quieted down as the dust settled and the scene slowly revealed itself to her.
The mountain view had changed. Originally a lush green forest, now uprooted trees lay scattered about, and the forest's surface had been dug up, forming a tract of empty land. All this due to Ryuuya's tornadoes and Kazuma's downburst.
(These guys are really monsters……)
Ayano gazes at Kazuma, struck with awe, but that flippant look of his betrays no sign of his magnificent power.
“Hey, this is a good opportunity! Ayano,” Kazuma hushes, no, tells her.
Even something like Ryuuya suffered tremendous damage from this assault. While his limbs were largely intact, deep cuts scored his body - wounds excreting a black mist instead of blood.
(When I cut him earlier, nothing like that came out……)
Though annoyed at the huge difference in power between her and Kazuma, now wasn't the time to worry about such things, and so Ayano took up Enraiha once more to stand before Ryuuya.
(Still alive - what a monster.)
Just as Ayano was facing off with Ryuuya, Kazuma’s expression grew more serious.
Kazuma could feel the end of the road looming.
Even when combining their powers, they had been unable to deliver Ryuuya a fatal blow. Though they currently appeared to hold the advantage, there was no way to win a prolonged fight.
There had never been a human that could exceed the youma in terms of physical stamina. This was because the youma possessed minds far surpassing their bodies, and could easily overcome their bodies limitations through sheer willpower.
(Should I use it? Even though I really don't want the Kannagi to learn of it, I guess there's no choice. And, I guess they'll hear it from Ren sooner or later, anyway. Either way, life is something irreplaceable.)
There was just one problem. Leaving breaking the seal aside, to gather enough power to truly destroy Ryuuya required a lot of preparation. During this time, Ayano would be left completely defenseless, and what would happen then has already been seen.
(So, what to do...)
He ponders deeply for a brief moment.
(So be it. This will be a test for her as well.)
Lions pushed their cubs off cliffs without hesitation. Kazuma would have to do the same for Ayano.
“Ayano! I am going to play my strongest card! Buy me some time!"
“Don’t shout it out loud like that! Idiot!” Ayano shouts in a pained voice.
She was seriously crying out to Kazuma.
As Kazuma had expected, Ryuuya struck instantly. In the blink of an eye, the defending and offensive parties had switched sides, as wind blades raced towards Ayano.
“Kazuma you big idiot! After I die, I will definitely come back to haunt you as a vengeful spirit! No matter how many times you change houses, I will burn them down and make sure the real estate agencies blacklist you!” Ayano shouts in a tone close to tears, as she tries her best to dodge the blades.
Regrettably, Kazuma was in a state of intense concentration by then, and Ayano's furious promise of eternal vengeance went unnoticed.
Sinking deep within his consciousness, he opens the “door” within himself. Within the “door” lay an azure sky as wide as the eye can see.
This place was a space that existed within “that being" - no, every corner of this space was filled with that being. This space was the being itself.
By opening the “door,” Kazuma and “that being” merged to form a single entity. Kazuma was reborn, becoming a human and the ruler of spirits at the same time, commanding all wind in existence as a high level jutsushi.
His consciousness expanded without limit. For as far as his mind could reach, an area of about a hundred kilometers in radius, all wind spirits located therein became Kazuma’s receptors, continuously transmitting an endless stream of information.
This immense amount of data - of which a human’s weak and fragile mind would be unable to handle the tiniest fraction - Kazuma controlled with his will. He picked out the necessary data from the scene in front of him, at the same time surveying the situation of everything within his domain. This was the viewpoint of a god - a power beyond human knowledge or understanding.
(Ren…… still alive. Very good.)
With his expanded perception, he can clearly see the battle between Ren and Hyoue, more than a kilometer away. It goes without saying, the same goes for Ayano’s battle...
Without Kazuma to cover for her, Ayano is forced into a one-sided defense. Unable to even think about retaliating, every thought, every action is devoted to dodging the incoming claws and blades of wind - to survival
(……Are you still not ready Kazuma?)
Glancing at Kazuma from time to time, Kazuma, focusing deeply, did not appear to notice. Despite her reluctance to admit it, the lack of attention filled her with unease.
She was scared, but Kazuma was not here to say something stupid to loosen her up, not now. He did not poke her head, or smile that disrespectful smile. For the first time, Ayano realizes how many times she has been saved by that flippant smile of his.
A pitch black wind smashes into Ayano like a hammer. The powerful blow knocks her off her feet, throwing her backwards through the air. She lands on her back, but the force of the impact was so great she found herself rolling three times before slamming into a stone wall with a great crash.
(No more! I can’t hold on any longer……!)
Ayano turns pleadingly to Kazuma, desperate for help, and for a short-lived moment, she felt certain she had seen a smirk travel across his face.
Ryuuya took the opportunity to aim more wind blades at Ayano, who continued to lay there, unmoving. Even so, Ayano continued to stare at Kazuma.
(Ever since the moment when I saw him again yesterday, I've despised that guy.
Worse than Hyoue or Ryuuya, I refuse to even acknowledge his existence.
Because he is stronger than me? No, not just that.
Because of his flippant attitude? No, that's just a front, a facade of his.
The real him completely ignores my existence, does not care about me, and that is more unforgivable than anything else.
And so I resist, and so I quarrel with him, that he might acknowledge me.
But...he's given up on me.
"You will finish him" had become "buy me some time," "I will do everything," "I no longer have any expectations of you."
Even now, he is watching everything, mocking how pathetic I look.)
“A kitten is just a kitten,” she felt she could hear his condescending voice say.
“Don’t look down on me!”
An angry roar rocks the air, a furious flame consumes the blades of wind.
Ayano forces her swaying body to stand, her eyes focus on Ryuuya, but within, her mind continues to rail against Kazuma.
There was simply no way she would accept, or even tolerate, that she, the wielder of Enraiha, was believed to be useless.
She knew very well how to overturn this flawed belief completely. For a man like Kazuma, there was no point in further words.
The way to prove herself was with raw, overwhelming power.
"'Buy me some time'? Don’t joke around. I will finish him off myself, and you can just stand there until you die of boredom!”
Ayano raises Enraiha, and begins to gather ki. The flame that had always burned golden begins to flare red. This crimson flame continues to amass upon Enraiha.
Loosing a howl of pure rage, Ayano begins to run. Moving at an astonishing speed, which did not even leave an afterimage, she suddenly appears before Ryuuya, as if by teleportation, and swings downwards with all her might.
There were no tricks, just a single slice. Without time to dodge, Ryuuya crosses his arms to block the strike. That is, he tried to block it.
Burning with a crimson glow, Enraiha bore the divine flame to which there was no possible defense, severing all ten claws in one stroke, and with a quick turn, Ryuuya's left arm soon follows.
She slices at Ryuuya's now defenseless left side, but at this moment, the sliced off arm attacks Ayano from behind like the other arm had done previously.
This time, however, Ayano reverses her grip on Enraiha, and without even turning, stabs backwards. Enraiha mercilessly pierces through the arm that was flying through the air.
Scorched from the inside-out, the arm was consumed in an instant. Never stopping, Ayano continued to chase after Ryuuya, who had begun a slow retreat. Again with that shocking speed, she easily caught Ryuuya once more.
The crimson blade flashes brightly, slicing Ryuuya from the shoulders to the legs. A quick turn of the blade and it continues to slice through the demonic body.
But even though his body has been chopped into four pieces, Ryuuya has yet to be destroyed. His listless eyes continue to gaze eerily at Ayano.
Ayano jumps backwards, but this time, not to run.
It all ends now!
“Namo, Sanmanduo, Warila Lan, Han!”
She chants the Acalanatha sutra. The chant itself possessed no power or meaning - it was just a string of keywords she had learned in her training. Having learned the mantra along with the complicated jutsu activation sequence, the two had become linked in her mind. For her, using the jutsu was a reflex when chanting the sutra.
As she lands, Ayano stabs Enraiha into the ground, activating the jutsu.
"Thrust of the Exorcising Supreme Flame!"
A crown of light burst forth from the ground with Ryuuya at its center, forming a hemispherical kekkai. The fire spirits within Enraiha darted through from beneath the ground, releasing all their heat within the barrier.
The earth under Ryuuya's feet instantly vaporized, and the spherical kekkai can now be seen in full view. The barrier efficiently reflected all heat inwards, focusing the energy at its center.
This was Ayano's strongest exorcism jutsu: to seal the youma in a kekkai, leaving nothing to escape but ashes.
"Hah! How's that?"
Ayano smiles proudly, about to look in Kazuma's direction, when she suddenly stops in her tracks, and stares at Ryuuya, caught within the kekkai.
Trapped in scorching plasma, Ryuuya had become nothing more than a piece of meat, having lost all signs of his previous appearance.
(He shouldn't have the power to resist anymore...but what is this youki?!)
Right before Ayano eyes, the surface of the meat seemed to boil as one bubble after another began to appear. The eerie piece of meat did not appear to care that it was tens of thousands of degrees within the kekkai, and was multiplying at a high rate.
When the piece of meat had finished multiplying, the shape slowly changed. Sticks of meat stretched out from four areas, and a small sphere appeared at the top - the monster was complete.
It had probably intended to mimic human form, with hands and legs and head, body parts that could be recognized.
But that was it.
Like an ugly design a small child might make with meat colored clay, it was a likeness of the evil of mankind, an unforgivable insult to humanity.
The monster places its hands on the kekkai to force it open. That is to say, the sticks that passed for its hands did, and from the ugliness of its motions, it lacked any joints as well. If human arms were snakes, they would probably look like this!
“……This is not…… possible……?”
The monster easily dispels the kekkai, and steps out. It feels so ugly and evil that Ayano involuntarily takes a step back, tripping and losing her balance.
Falling here means certain death. The premonition of death approaching gives her goosebumps.
But...the feeling on her back is not that of the cold, hard floor. Something warm had taken hold of this body, frozen with anxiety.
A strong hand caresses Ayano's head, and, as if whispering in her ear, a low, calm voice makes her ear twitch.
"That is enough. You did very well."
From the gentle, yet firm grip that enveloped her arm, Ayano feels an indescribable calm fall over her. Her tense body relaxes, bit by bit, entrusting everything to that wide chest behind her.
"You did very well."
That sentence repeats over and over in her mind. Those four mundane words make her happier than anything else in the world.
To be recognized by him makes her proud.
The man behind her talks in a comfortable tone that makes a shiver run down her back, and goes on to say...
"Very well done...for a kitten."
Ayano pushes Kazuma's hand away with all her might. How is it possible that a moment ago she actually felt that this kind of guy's chest could possibly be comforting? Ayano felt whole-heartedly ashamed of herself.
Sensing something off in her surroundings, Ayano looks around and immediately understands.
The air shines with a blue glow.
The slow-flowing blue air holds an enormous amount of energy. Ryuuya's black winds are repelled by the azure glow, and compress around their master.
“This…… Impossible…… 'Purification'!?”
The secret power to destroy evil, bestowed only upon the Kannagi...and this magnitude!
"To surround the entire mountain with his winds? And such a massive amount of spirits, how did..." Ayano turns her head to ask, and is left speechless once more.
Knowing very well the reason for her shock, Kazuma smiles playfully, enjoying Ayano's stunned look.
“That…… What is…… Your eyes?”
“Oh these? They were marked by the Lord of Wind Spirits.”
Kazuma's blue eyes flash, as he calmly says something shocking.
“Spi……rit……Lord……?” Ayano dumbly repeats.
This fact that was beyond imagination had stopped all thought.
“………… N-No way----!?”
Bright as the azure sky, eyes that couldn't possibly be clearer - that was proof of the contract with the Lord of Wind Spirits. Ruling all the air on this planet, only a man bestowed with everything could be marked by this stigma.
Even in the legends, there had only been a few people with such a mark: the ancient King Solomon who governed the 72 demon lords and Moses who led the Hebrews and had contracted with Jehovah.
And after that would be the first chief of the Kannagi, who had been bestowed with Enraiha.
“Contractor.” Someone who had formed a contract with a supernatural existence. They called them “Contractors”.
But, to actually be confirmed, there is only one Contractor in history who has been proven to exist. "The first" Contractor was how he had come to be praised in modern legend.
“Come! It's about time you slept, Ryuuya!”
The azure wind begins to swirl like a maelstrom, with Ryuuya at its center. The maelstrom was, of course, Kazuma's creation, utilizing all the wind spirits at his command, and the area it spans can be seen even from outer space.
Hyoue's wind blades cut deeply into Ren's arms.
Against the blades of wind, Ren can only dodge. The relentless assault does not even allow him to stand.
Hyoue cackles as he watches Ren. The scene of a jutsushi of the Kannagi main family, unable to even stand beneath his attacks, just couldn't get any funnier.
(Just you watch, Genma! Juugo! You're next! The humiliation we suffered, you shall receive ten thousand fold!)
A hysterical laughter shakes the air.
Hyoue looks down on Ren, who has finally managed to rise, and smugly shouts, full of pride, "Now do you understand the difference between us? You should just surrender before you get hurt further...If you're too heavily wounded, it might hinder the removal of the seal!"
Ren sends golden flame in the direction of the laughter, but while the flame may possess the power to destroy Hyoue, if it misses, it's simply a waste of effort.
A sudden, violent shock wave strikes Ren's head, sending him reeling and leaving him feeling as though his brain were bouncing in his skull. For a few moments, he wavers on the edge of unconsciousness.
Just standing there, completely defenseless, has made Ren an easy target. But though there have been several such instances before, Hyoue has yet to finish him off. It can only be expected, though, as Hyoue does not want Ren's corpse; he needs him alive. Furthermore, there was still more fun to be had in his torment.
Hyoue, who has given up his humanity, now possesses a great power, incomparable to the past.
Of course, Ren is still far more powerful, but the gap in skill and experience is just too large. He is being toyed with, unable to show even half his power.
"Isn't it about time to give up? You know you can't win, right?"
Hyoue is slowly crucifying him, deliberately avoiding any fatal injuries. Time and again he tries to break Ren's will, targeting his weaknesses to force him to bow to despair, but Ren refuses to give in.
"I refuse! I promised Nii-sama that I would never give up, that I would live on no matter what! I will never obey you, never be used by you, and will never let you kill again!"
Despite cuts which run all over his body, blood that pours down his face and drenches his clothes, Ren's eyes never lose their shine. Faced with this proud and majestic vision, even Hyoue, who undoubtedly holds the advantage, cannot help but be wary.
"Hmph. In that case, let's test the limits of that pride!" he spits, as he prepares to unleash more wind blades-
Hyoue gives off a strangled cry, stretching his arms to hug his body. Hidden beneath his arms, something seems to be wriggling. Hyoue tightens his grip, intending to suppress whatever it is, but the eerie wriggling only spreads to his arms.
His entire body is wracked with convulsions. His muscles seize violently, before eventually bursting.
Hyoue had been surrounded by Kazuma's purifying winds. A great power had severed his connection to Ryuuya. Losing Ryuuya's protection, the demonic powers within Hyoue had begun to rampage.
Ren does not waste the opportunity, and races towards him.
As Hyoue attempts to defend himself, his raging body only grows worse. He is now forced to use his full power simply to restrain his now uncontrollable body.
Ren does not slow. Knocking into Hyoue at full speed, he hooks his arms around Hyoue's knees, and gives a mighty pull.
The powerful tackle leaves the two of them tangled on the ground. Ren hugs Hyoue tightly, and softly whispers...
"I won't miss at this distance."
“You……You fool! Let me go!“
No longer concerned about losing control, Hyoue releases his blades of wind.
But Ren is quicker. Hugging the shaking body, he shouts hoarsely.
A brilliant golden pillar of flame roars into the sky. The purifying pillar of fire leaves no trace of the tainted body and even more tainted soul of the old man who had fallen into darkness.
It even swallows his dying scream.
Ryuuya has lost control of his black wind. The strong, azure wind separates the berserk spirits from their dark master, absorbing them.
“Ryuuya's wind is………being consumed?” Ayano whispers in shock.
"Terrifying power" is not enough to describe the scene before her. Though there have been a number of logic-defying events today, this is by far the most ridiculous.
The wind surrounding Ryuuya releases the frenzied spirits before absorbing them, further increasing its power.
Even so, Ryuuya still isn't defeated and continues to release his dark, corrupt youki to defend against the purifying winds. However, he is unable to negate the purification completely, and as the azure wind closes on him, the surface of his body begins to boil and bubble. Slowly, very slowly, but surely, his body is being dismantled, piece by piece.
(Almost like a final battle between monsters.)
This unseemly thought running through her mind, Ayano begins to move. Although her power is by far the weakest of the three, she is still a participant, nor can her power be ignored, for she possesses the power to end the stalemate, and she knows her duty well.
-- You will finish him off, can you do it? --
“I'll show you!”
Ryuuya leaps backwards, intending to escape Ayano. His movements had slowed significantly, and he no longer had the means to dodge her attacks.
But Ayano chases after him, focused only on delivering the final strike! Ryuuya changes the tip of his arms into blades as a last ditch defense. The meat colored blades he raised above his head radiated a hard light.
“That won't save you now!”
Ayano furiously swings Enraiha downwards, no thought to defense. She instinctively realizes that this is the deciding moment. Kazuma has no power to spare to aid her and if she is blocked again, they are sure to lose.
The crimson glow arcs downwards without encountering any resistance, as if slicing through air.
The cloven meat blades that serve for Ryuuya's arms dissolve into the azure air as Enraiha carves its way into the top of his head, stopping at his heart. She takes a risk not cutting Ryuuya in two, choosing instead to call forth fire spirits from Enraiha directly within the wound...and igniting them.
Ryuuya's body explodes. Pieces of scattered meat are blown away by the flame, carried away by the wind and swallowed by the azure light. In the end, every trace of his existence had been erased.
This was the end of Ryuuya, no, the end of the unnamed youma who had founded the Fuuga clan.
The azure winds slowly fade, their power of purification weakening as they spread in all directions, probably to continue restoration of this youki polluted world.
Watching the wind spirits leave, Ayano is captivated by the scene.
“Damn it, just pennies for such hard work. I'll never take any jobs from the Kannagi again.”
And again, a line that completely disregarded the mood spoiled everything. Ayano turns angrily, to see Kazuma lying spread-eagled on the floor. Walking over to him, he doesn't move. He appears to be completely drained.
(No matter how strong he might be, he is still human.)
"After all he almost single-handedly handed Ryuuya defeat. I think I can forgive him one or two rude lines!" Ayano thinks generously.
“Great work,” she thanks him.
Kazuma does not reply, and merely sniffs.
She kneels down beside him.
Neither expecting an answer, nor receiving one, she continues.
"Even if you'd been alone, you could've won anyway, couldn't you?"
“That's pushing it.”
This time, Kazuma finally reacts. His eyes, having regained their original black luster, turn to Ayano.
"A contract with a Lord of Spirits does not mean I am omnipotent. Though I may have limitless power at my disposal, I am limited by what I can control. I am still subject to human limitations, after all."
"Hmm? Maybe so. Besides, you still need time to prepare. You would definitely have been attacked by then, right?"
"...Yep. That's right."
Though outwardly he answers without hesitation, Ayano didn't miss a brief shift in his gaze.
His poker face is flawless, but it is already too late.
Ayano flops down on top of him, grabbing him by his collar, as if ready to strangle him. Kazuma can offer no resistance, and he remains spread-eagled on the floor.
"To push a man down like this - what a shameless girl. The Soushu would cry if he saw this."
Belying his exhausted state, his mouth is still at 100%.
“Don’t joke around, now answer me. When were you ready?”
Despite Ayano’s grip growing more forceful by the second, Kazuma replies carelessly.
“Right about the moment when you were blown away?”
“Then, why didn't you do anything earlier!?”
By now, Ayano's full strength was concentrated in her hands, and yet Kazuma replies calmly, as if nothing was happening.
“You're wrong to blame me. It was for your own good that I waited.”
Ayano is bristling, on the edge of exploding. If Kazuma does not provide a legitimate reason here, she intends to stab him with Enraiha.
"From the way things looked, if I'd ended it without you being able to land a single blow, you would have been doomed to be a loser for the rest of your life."
His dead-on remark hits her squarely, leaving her momentarily speechless. Indeed, if all she had done back then was escape from Ryuuya's attacks, leaving everything to Kazuma, she might never have regained the courage to fight again. Someone unable to overcome her fear, a jutsushi that could only fight enemies weaker than herself, simply could not be relied upon, no matter how strong.
"When I saw that you had finally managed to gather your courage, I decided to watch for a bit. Your performance wasn't half bad until about midway through. If he hadn't escaped right then, you probably would even have won!"
"Eh? You mean to say that my jutsu worked?"
"No. That was absolutely worthless."
Kazuma continues straightforwardly, “You are the wielder of Enraiha. There is no need to resort to tricks or lousy jutsu. If cutting him in four doesn't kill him, then just keep cutting until there's nothing left."
“…… Sorry for being 'lousy.'”
”That's not what you should be sorry for.”
Kazuma continues his ruthless criticism.
"You need to practice your swordsmanship. The way things are, there's no point in you having Enraiha."
"But...that last strike was pretty good. It skillfully used the characteristics of Enraiha as both a sword and a magical artifact."
Hearing the unexpected praise, Ayano blushes. She is suddenly filled with pleasure. In spite of the countless flaws in his personality, and the disgust she feels as she realizes she is dancing in the palm of his hand, the throbbing in her chest is undeniable.
“You…… Like you're so great. Just what do you know about Enraiha?”
Despite speaking harshly in an attempt to hide her embarrassment, her ploy had obviously failed. Kazuma smiles at Ayano, with a look that seems to see through it all.
"Oh. One more thing. It's best not to sit on a man dressed like that."
"Even if you are a little girl with neither breasts nor sensuality, other people might misunderstand!"
Ayano inadvertently glances at herself...and freezes. Unable to withstand the strenuous battle, her uniform is completely shredded. Even her underwear is partly torn, almost to the point where it failed to cover her body.
Seeing Kazuma's eyes that "seem to see through it all," Ayano blushes up to her ears.
A scream reverberates through the uninhabited forest.
Recognizing the ones approaching as Kazuma and Ayano, Ren cries out with joy, as he tries to run towards them, but his body, weak from injury, does not allow him to do so.
A gust of wind gently carries Ren, who had tripped and was about to fall, right into his brother's arms. Kazuma hugs him tightly, patting his head. Ren hugs his brother back, never intending to let go.
“You did very well, Ren. A fine job.”
”Thank you, Nii-sama……?”
Their conversation suddenly ends as Ren stretches his hand to Kazuma's cheek, where there lies a very clear, very red, hand-print.
Faced with the silent question, Kazuma smiles and replies, "Well, just now, after defeating Ryuuya, I met an even more vicious enemy. I almost died."
Having said this, he turns in Ayano's direction. Ayano, now covered by Kazuma's jacket, turns away in anger, ignoring him.
Ren somewhat understands, but he has the unshakable feeling that to speak those words would be to endanger his life. Desperately, he tries to change the topic.
"Ryu-Ryuuya has also been defeated, so it's finally over!"
Trying his best to show an innocent smile, Ren laments his pitifulness.
“That's right. Let's go home! Ayano, how's the car?”
"It burned up," Ayano immediately replies, as Kazuma eyes her with suspicion.
“It……It wasn’t me! It was blown away by Ryuuya’s wind, and when it smashed into the ground it caught on fire.”
Ayano tries to explain, but even so, Kazuma’s eyes remain full of suspicion.
Lifting his head to gaze into the clear night sky, Kazuma tells Ren, "Never mind. Taking a moonlight stroll through the mountains isn't too bad now and again."
"...if we don't meet with an accident," hearing Kazuma's words that seem to be avoiding reality, Ayano interjects calmly.
"Oh? Did the root of all evil just say something?"
“What?! You were the one who abandoned me! It's your fault this happened!”
“…… Please stop arguing, the two of you.”
Ren's tired voice tries to pacify the pair, but they don't appear to notice, and only continue to energetically accuse each other.
Looking up at the moon, so much like a silver plate, Ren ponders the cruel reality of life. Ryuuya and Hyoue have both been eliminated, the Fuuga's ambitions smashed to pieces. Everything was perfectly settled, so why is a happy ending still out of reach?
With no end to the bickering in sight, and no longer with the strength to stop them, Ren leans against his brother's chest, and slowly gives in to his drowsiness, taking the pleasing sounds of his beloved brother and sister as a lullaby.
|Return to Main Page||Back to Chapter 5||Forward to Epilogue|