Sora breathed in deeply, the madness of the situation washing through her; she could feel Mary had something to say and was building up her courage. “Haaa… Mary, Eyia, Jin… what should I do? If I can save everyone for something like that… shouldn’t I?”
Her former psychiatrist cleared her voice while easing out from behind Jian, stumbling a little from her trembling legs. “Sora—I was just… I don’t know much about this stuff—I just think it would be best to get someone that does to… offer their own advice.”
She flinched as Bathin’s eyes locked on her, his sardonic smile returning. “Mmh… I did not expect a human to be the one to speak up. Truly ironic… If you weren’t leeching strength from these two to keep your spiritual networks from being utterly crushed, you’d long since been a husk… Pity.”
Mary’s brow set, heart still thumping as she marched a bit closer to glare at Bathin. “That may be true… and I don’t know much about this… this monster world, but I assume there’s a reason for humans to pass down, through every culture, the warning to never trust a demon! I’m guessing you’re the same, if not worse, Devil.
“Why are you pissed I’m still alive? Is it because I’m a voice of reason for Sora? You are not the trustworthy type—everything about you screams an agenda. What will Sora’s energy be used for?”
Wendy nodded and inched behind Mary, using Sora’s aura to curb her fear. “Yeah… Can you control her—like, take over her soul or something with that little piece of her spirit?”
“No,” Eric puffed out a long breath as he sat down on a broken pillar, scrutinizing Bathin. “He couldn’t control Sora, which is why I didn’t speak up about that… I’m not too versed in the uses of spiritual forces as a Fenris Wolf that primarily deals with internal strength instead of external, but it isn’t a part of her spirit… It is a product of it.”
Jin clicked her tongue in annoyance. “Yeah, heh, clearly you’re no expert, Wolf Boy; there are many things that can be done with a spiritual being’s natural energy… so many that I’m trying to puzzle out his exact angle. Sora has a unique signature as a Founder; it could be used in all manner of diverse ways.
“Mmh… If infused into something, it is basically like an access card that he could use to bypass certain barriers or seals from her family… Very powerful stuff that could be brought down by Sora’s natural spiritual signature as a part of the family.”
Everyone’s attention shifted to Githa as she nodded frantically with a beaming smile. “Mhm! Mhm!” The cat looked around curiously as everyone continued to stare at her. “Oh—umm, I like you guys talking about it; it was fun listening to you! Don’t stop,” she pleaded.
A low chuckle came from Bathin. “Mmh-hmm-hmm-hmm… You are so courteous, Githa. I’m sure you already have an answer, but you’ll indulge these creatures; I don’t like wasting that kind of time…”
“Shh,” Githa hissed as she turned back to Mary. “Go on! Go on!”
“… Thank you.” Clearing her throat, Mary held her hands against her chest while shifting to look between Jin and Sora. “As I said, I don’t know much about this stuff, and if he can do something like that… I’d say you’re putting your family at risk by trying to stop this disaster. Can any of you explain to me further why Sora couldn’t be sealed or hurt by doing this deal?”
Sora smiled at Mary and Jin; they brought up good points. “Thanks, Mary, Jin. This does affect all of you as well… I want to make the correct decision, and I don’t know much either.”
Eyia smiled at the shifting humans. “Thank you for your concern for my sister. I do not wish to deal with the Devil either; it is correct that infusing her energy into an object will not give cause to worry for my sister’s safety alone.”
She frowned, thinking for a moment. “I do not know how to express it, Jin—there are risks involving the security of Inari and Mia’s realms, yet a Devil is of no threat to them… Still, to me, it would be such a betrayal to my people that I would accept death in its place.”
“Fine,” Jin mumbled. “I’ll explain… Imagine Sora’s spirit as the sun and her spiritual energy, the energy expelled by it. You can harness that produced energy, but it is fixed and cannot be used to harm or manipulate its source.
“Now, as mentioned, there are a multitude of things you can do with that stored energy—too many to count; including manipulating universe beads, yet I highly doubt he would know how to use a Founder’s access in that regard… Still, it wouldn’t hurt Sora herself. It’s an unusual deal for someone of his level and makes me think there’s a patron…”
Eric hummed. “I mean, I can understand why he’d rather propose a deal than fight. Githa is strong enough to make Bathin deal, but he does have an agenda that can be accomplished with just a tiny amount of energy from Sora—patron or not.
“In the end, our option is fight or deal… He wouldn’t give us the purpose; you could say that’s a part of the pact. I can’t think of anything worth mentioning myself… I mean, perhaps calling Mia or Inari for some deal?
“However, that would be way too risky for a Devil to do, and they’d know it was not Sora herself that called out to them, but some foreign body using Sora’s imprinted power as a medium. They could even tell it was a Devil, and that would not be good for him.”
Sora groaned. “No one knows his reason then… I can see why I shouldn’t… Anything to do with my family should be a no issue, though. Right?”
“Ehh,” Aiden shifted uncomfortably. “I think making a deal with a Devil is reason enough… It makes me nervous, but if we turn him down… he’ll fight Githa, and any kind of deal would be off the table. On the chance Githa lost…” he held his hands up, “not that you would!”
Githa shook her head with a big grin. “You never know! Bathin’s tricky-tricky!”
“Huu-haaa… Right… If she lost—we’re be pretty screwed.”
Everyone’s eyes dropped to the floor, and Bathin’s smile turned innocent. “Well then?”
Eric’s eyes suddenly widened. “Wait! Access to Realms… such as the one my father gave to Hati so he could enter my mother’s Realm.”
Sora’s gut tightened as Aiden’s support wavered, warmth rising into a mild heat while his jaw locked in a flash of anger. “Tiri died because of that…”
Jin nodded. “I mean, I already kind of said that was an option, but sure…”
Scratching the base of her left ear, Sora groaned, recalling the emotions she felt from Aiden in the graveyard; there was no telling where this decision would lead, and it could be to another incident that had scared Kari, Aiden, and Eric for life.
Fen kept quiet as she continued to protectively hug Jian, trying to block out all the bad things happening around them and the two other humans gave each other nervous looks yet didn’t seem to have anything else to add.
“I don’t want to take it… unless you think I should Githa. You’re going to be the one that will have to fight him in the end.”
Githa’s sweet smile was on her, displaying her sharp fangs. “Ooh! My decision now?! Hmm? Hmm?”
Bathin’s deamenor fell a tad. “Well, Githa… Isn’t this fun? I have many things I could add—”
“No deal,” Githa interjected with chiming laughter, yet the furious flames hidden underneath her charm stoked.
Sora’s throat constricted as the Nekoama’s gentle face twisted into a monstrous visage of her former innocence, eyes widening unnaturally and lips twisting, flash wet fangs. “Mmh-hmm-hmm-hmm…”
A sharp hiss escaped her throat and there was no aura of power evident, yet still Sora quivered as danger leaked from the girl. “Do you think me stupid, Bathin?”
Wendy and Mary quickly retreated beside Jian; Jin, Eyia, Eric, and Aiden straightened as the atmosphere changed, and Bathin sighed.
“I was hoping… it wouldn’t contend with the Nekomata Faction’s goals, but… it seems paths were destined to cross.”
Githa scoffed. “No… we don’t dispute your goals. Frankly, it doesn’t matter to us, but it would dampen our relationship with other factions if I let this happen, and Nilly would scold me…
“Haaa-hehe—I do not want to be scolded by Nilly, and you expected at least this much since your pawn has set all those summoning rituals while we’ve been talking. It’s not nice to lie about food, Bathin. Not nice at all!”
Bathin chuckled with a soft shrug. “I tried, but you always knew more than you let on. Once summoned, my forces can be brought to me at any time,” he said with a wicked grin. “Are you sure you want to fight, Githa?”
A spiteful laugh left the Nekomata’s throat. “Bathin, your armies can’t save you from my teeth” Her tongue slid across her fangs. “I’ll just devour them.”
Sora blinked as both Bathin and Githa vanished. Vision darting around the ravaged room, a sharp noise smashed against her consciousness, making her wince; rips appeared in the concrete, massive claw marks that went beyond sight, a green glow birthing within.
The Nekomata appeared before her; an eyebrow lifted in surprise as Bathin stood several meters away, holding his neck with a deep frown.
Her nose twisted with contempt as green flames flared along her two tails and right hand. “I didn’t… expect your body suit would be so compatible. You’re near your full strength; I meant to cut off your head with that swipe.”
A grim grin split Bathin’s lips. “You’re as feisty as ever, but it was a good call to retreat… One step closer and I would have teleported you a thousand miles away, mmgm… Your Ghost Light is as effective as ever.”
Sora focused her spiritual perception; a red aura surrounded Bathin, but there was damage at his neck, green light eating away at his shield.
The crimson shimmer around his hand intensified, pressing it against the green light for it to slowly fade. “You understand I’m just buying time, and… Heh, you also know any Devil worth his tail is well-prepared.”
Githa hissed and her tails flicked with annoyance as she glared at Bathin. “Sora, you should get all your little friends together, and try to keep those humans alive. It’s going to take a lot more to handle this Devil than I thought.”
Sora hastily backed up to Jian, everyone else closing in. “Umm, alright.”
This is… What kind of fight are they going to have? Should we try to run away or will Bathin just teleport to me when I’m outside the area Githa’s able to react in?
If she’s about to fight seriously, then she’ll release her aura; she’s warning me Wendy and the others won’t be able to handle it at their current strength. Dammit! I’m having trouble as it is…
“Aiden,” Sora took a shuddering breath. “We’re going to have to really focus on protecting Wendy and the other’s spiritual networks.”
He nodded with a nervous swallow, staring at Githa’s back.
“I will support you if needed,” Eyia nodded firmly. “Have faith!”
Relief flooded her with the Valkyrie’s declaration.
“Thanks,” Sora returned her smile for a moment before her vision returned to Githa, feeding a large amount of her remaining force into them as dozens of cloaked figures appeared around the partially broken arena.
“We’re ready,” Sora reluctantly whispered, knowing Githa could hear her.
The hair on Sora’s tails stood on end as Githa’s features became more feral, her inner odium surfacing in a crushing wave that froze Sora’s lungs; it was becoming stronger than Jin’s initial Dragon Rage state, but not so much crushing—this was smoldering.
Green flames enveloped the Nekoamata, radial heat expanding in sharp waves before Eyia’s ice dome encircled them, Svalinn instantly appearing in her hand to defend against the onslaught; the concrete Githa stood on turned yellow, fissures spider-webbing underneath her.
The unknown figures’ hoods blew off, and Jin puffed out a long stream of air, “Succubi.”
Sora’s vision of Succubi shattered; they had the general appearance of a human, yet their features were fierce and rigid looking, having deep red skin, small jagged horns dotting their faces, and were hairless—more frightening than enchanting—they began to inhale the fire Githa produced.
Eric’s lips tightened. “They consume spiritual energy, trying to drain her.”
“There’s no way,” Jin scoffed. “You feel that? She hasn’t even attacked; that’s just her released spiritual pressure.”
Eric nodded. “They’re likely distractions.”
A red trigram appeared around Bathin once speaking a few words.
Eric was right; he’s up to something. It’s not like there’s anything we can do… we’re having a hard enough time keeping Wendy and the others safe. All our hope is in Githa, and I don’t even know what she wants!
The Nekoamta vanished, and all the Succubi burst into green light as screams shook the area; transparent skulls materializing from nowhere, all of different sizes and species of monster as green fire surrounding them. Jaws gaping open, the flaming entities released a horrifying screech that made Sora’s insides quiver.
Jin winced, rubbing her ears. “She’s getting serious… souls consumed by Nekomata become fuel and weapons to them.”
The mass of circling ghostly entities branched out around the room, and four colossal demons emerged from a black in front of Bathin; they had the apperance of demons in every sense of the word, only muscular and far larger.
Sora’s lips tightened as the Nekomata’s inferno devoured the Succubi for them to join the burning lights of specters circled the room; green claw marks instantly ripped the demons’ flesh, and within moments black lightning enclosed Bathin to protect him from the cat.
“It looks so one-sided?” Sora questioned.
Jin and Eric shook their heads for the Dragon to glare at the wolf. “Those are Bathin’s preliminary attacks and defense… he’s preparing the demonic rituals to strengthen his body against her weaponized spiritual frenzy.”
Three of the skulls smashed into the lightning, and flames bathed the field in emerald color, engulfing Bathin.
Eyia winced as the fire grazed her shell. “I cannot… withstand this heat for very long. I will faint soon.”
Teeth clamping together, Sora’s vision returned to the fight; if Eyia went down, they weren’t far behind, yet her mouth opened in shock as the fire cleared to show Githa’s claws thrust into Bathin’s shoulder, clawed toes ripping into his shirt front before kicking him away.
She did it!
Bathin smashing into the base, the building trembling around them.
“Is that it?” Aiden asked, sweat gathering at his temples.
Eric and Jin seemed confused.
“No…” Eric answered. “Bathin should have been waiting for something. He can’t be…”
Githa huffed as the fire started dying down around her, Eyia’s shell breaking.
“Bathin! That was pathetic compared to the old days. Why didn’t you prepare any—”
She cut off as Sora’s fur bristled and she looked up as a spray of water shot from the open windows; she could hear sprinklers going off all around her.
Githa’s disgust flipped to panic, instantly vanishing from sight, yet a massive burst of green light flashed by the open exit doors as the water fell across them; the Nekomata’s intense pressure was washed away in the snap of a finger, and Sora felt a soft healing effect lift her breast.
“Blessed Water…” Jin questioned. “From a Devil?”
“Yeah,” Eric muttered. “How…”
“Lord Bathin, was it successful?” Ainmire called down.
Bathin’s pained laughter echoed around them as Sora noticed a wet white cat plopped on her belly by the massive steel door.
“Eh-hehehe… You didn’t suspect a, argh… a thing, Githa. Didn’t you think I was going a little easy… keeping the fight in a specific area? Dropping your guard so frivolously—heh, you never change.”
Githa meowed angrily and then slumped to her side, it almost seemed like she was pouting as he forced his way out of the rubble for Sora to hear the shifting blocks of concrete.
“After our last bout, I made sure to have Holy Water on hand if needed… just a few concentrated drops in the water supply and all that savage spiritual pressure of yours, hehe… washed away with such ease. Such a simple weakness for Nekomata, of course I’d use it.”
He chuckled as she snarled from her belly. “What… you thought I would be affected by it? Of course you would—it should have, and that’s why it’s so brilliant—but this suit, as you called it, is for more than looks.”
Sora felt like throwing up; everything always fell apart! All she experienced was misfortune, and it wasn’t fair! It never ended!
When Bathin appeared, he was far from unscathed, the green flames may have weakened yet still smoldered his flesh as the water fell around him; he was burned and scarred in several places, a deep gash across his front and shoulder displaying a dampened heat within.
“I… ergh… didn’t expect you to actually use your skulls, though… Mmh… you intended to kill me—and quickly. Your haste was your undoing! You should have analyzed the area a bit more, foolish cat.”
Eric stepped close to Sora as Bathin monologued his victory, whispering, “This is the opening… my sister will be awake soon. We run; just follow me. Bathin has a history with Githa and will milk his satisfaction.”
Sora never expected Eric’s grin to give her a spark of hope, yet when he turned to give Aiden a long, sidelong smile that reflected nothing of the villain she’d come to know, hope came.
“Aiden… you’re free from your bond to my mother by me as the proxy; all promises made to me and my family—you’re free.”
“What…” Aiden couldn’t finish his sentence, throat and chest seizing, yet what next came out of Eric’s mouth brought him back to reality.
“Will you offer me a bit of power one last time… I won’t be joining you.”