This is a fanfiction written by Kogata. The main characters are Kogata, Yorokobi, Kurai, Shiro, Laurel May, and Hinikuna.'

Tip: Read in time to the music. It sounds kind of dumb, I know, but give it a go! If you read at just the right pace, a dramatic line will be delivered along with a dramatic progression of the music. You’ll know what I’m talking about. Just give it a go!

Ironically, the necromancer’s in trouble now, so even though Kogata’s still annoyed by that jibe about Yorokobi’s intelligence, she still has a high sense of morality and doesn’t hesitate to run to her aid. Although Laurel frankly hasn’t a clue what all this about Shiro is (she hasn’t heard the name before), she’s already decided that she’s going to help out, whether she knows Shiro or not.

Yorokobi ran flat out through the trees, painfully aware of the agonized screaming of the necromancer. She could hear Kogata and Laurel running behind her, hear their labored breathing, their thumping hearts, and their pounding footsteps. She could even see them.

How can I do that? The thought almost caused her to trip over a protruding root. They’re behind me. I shouldn’t be able to know that.

She shook her head. There would be enough time to worry about that later. Right now she needed to find the necromancer, and whatever ‘it’ was.

It’s here.

The simple statement made her shudder. What kind of terrible being could make a necromancer sound so afraid?

“We’re coming! Hold on!” Kogata yelled.

The scream abruptly stopped, and there was an explosion of shadows in the trees ahead.

“Look out!” Laurel shrieked, although she really didn’t need to, because Yorokobi could quite clearly see the huge wall of shadow that was heading directly for her at high speed.

“Get out of the way!” Kogata shouted, but Yorokobi was frozen to the spot.

“Stupid Wall of Deathly Shadows,” Laurel muttered, before manipulating the branch of a nearby tree to smack her out of the way. Unfortunately, she had misjudged the strength of the swing and sent poor Yorokobi flying several hundred meters in the air.

The wind whistled through her hair as she flew into the sky, and she couldn’t resist looking down. She was so high up that the forest below looked like a small bush. If she looked hard enough... yes! The way out! She could see exactly how to get out of the forest. She just had time to remember every section before she began to fall. She opened her mouth to scream, but the sound was forced back down her throat by the icy wind.

Yorokobi closed her eyes, waiting for the impact, but it never came. Well, not the impact. Something did indeed come, but it wasn’t what she expected. This ‘something’ snaked around her waist, knotting itself tightly before directing her fall so she landed instead on a soft patch of moss. That's not to say it didn't hurt.

"OWWWWWWWW." Yorokobi rubbed her back, wincing.

"Sorry about that." That was Laurel, who dashed past her. "It was an accident!"

Kogata made to follow her, but then thought better of it and somehow managed to lift Yorokobi off the moss. "You okay?" she asked anxiously. "That was a hard landing."

She blinked. "I'll be fine." There was another shout and flash of light from up ahead. "We should get going. She's in the trees up there."

"Right." Kogata was about to dash off, but something stopped her. "Hold on. How do you know where she is?"

"I... don't know."

"A little help over here?!?" Laurel bellowed from up ahead. "There's an-- AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

"LAUREL!" Kogata dashed off so quickly that there was a ghost image of where she had been.

Yorokobi blinked, then shook her head. "They can't survive on their own," she told herself. Then she hopped to her feet and promptly tripped over the vine that Laurel had tied around her waist when she was falling. "Get off!" she yelled, frustrated, and it did. Well, it didn't just 'get off'. It was actually was burnt to a crisp by the heat of her anger. She would have been surprised, but now there were more important things to do.

Her staff in her hands already, she ran off to join the others in the battle to save someone who had been trying to kill them for days.

By the time Yorokobi caught up, there was nothing left except for the necromancer and countless burnt trees.

It seemed so strange to finally find her and see that she was in no condition to do more than just lie there, bleeding.

Her long black hair was miraculously still neat, but the blood on her hands was beginning to soak in, so it wouldn't be likely to last. Her white-blue, almost dead-looking eyes were glazed with pain, and Kogata's blood ran cold when she saw the deep wound in her chest.

"Is she okay?" asked Laurel, who had just returned from poking about in the bushes.

"She'll live, if that's what you mean." Yorokobi whipped out a bandage-- which Kogata was sure hadn't been there before-- and began to wrap it around the wound. "But I'm not sure what condition she'll be in when she wakes up. She's lost a lot of blood. And from now on, I think we should keep a watch. She's been slashed within an inch of her life by... whatever it is."

Laurel looked mildly creeped out by the gaping hole in the necromancer's side, but she kept her nerve and said, "I'll take first watch."

Yorokobi brightened. "Thanks. Remember, if you see so much as a flicker of movement..."

"I know. I'll do it." Laurel saluted briefly and then vanished into the trees.

"Good. I'll tend to this wound now. You get some sleep."

Kogata collapsed on the floor, and was asleep within seconds.

She opened her eyes to darkness. Although normally she welcomed the dark, this dark was different, beyond her control. She could sense the death in the air around her, smell the stench of a decaying body. She shuddered.

"I've got to get out of here," she muttered. Raising both her hands, she uttered an ancient incantation. The shadows twisted around her ankles, whispering warnings in languages she couldn't understand. "Be gone!" she cried, swiping her hand through the darkness. The shadows did not part, instead flowing into her chest, seeping into her very heart. She cried out in pain as her legs buckled underneath her.

This has happened to me before, she realized. When the dark spirits came to the forest .This is what they did to me, and now they're doing it again.

"Let me go," she moaned. "Don't do this."

This is where you stay, the voices whispered. Now she couldn't see through the shadows, and then she realized this was because she was a shadow. She was one of them.

"Leave me alone," she shouted. "I won't let you do this to me!"

There was a quiet, hissing laugh. You're too late, the voice taunted her. You cannot escape from me, Kurai...

Kurai woke up sweating. She rubbed the back of her head. Why was she so nervous? Then it all came back to her.

Her eyes widened and she clutched her heart, checking it was still there. She breathed out, relieved, when she realized that she still had her life aura, and it was still purple, like always. The spirits hadn't taken her. She was still free.

Then she remembered that she had been bitten in the very spot which she had been grabbing at a moment ago, and she withdrew her hand, wincing. That was when she noticed that there was a clean bandage on her wound, and Flower Kid was asleep next to her.

She quickly backed away. There aura of the girl was strong and bright, and there was an unusual silver glow inside which worried her. A mere child, but with such power! Maybe she should be more careful about who she mocked in future.

She allowed her other senses to take over. There was another girl with gray hair and a sky blue aura. She also had the silver glow around her. Kurai rolled her eyes, a touch jealous. Why did everyone else in this makeshift camp have a silver aura?

Then Flower Kid jerked awake. "Gods, that was a weird dream," she muttered, rubbing her eyes. Then she noticed Kurai. "Oh, hey. You're awake."

"Who are you?"

Flower Kid stood, which was impressive, since she had just woken up. "My name's Laurel May. I'm the Goddess of Flowers!" She sat down again. "I'm feeling a bit dizzy now. Maybe I shouldn't stand up so quickly." She flashed a glare at Kurai. "And you were very rude to me earlier."

"Uh...." She had insulted a Goddess? She'd be lucky if she wasn't turned into a shrub. "Sorry?"

"Hmm." Laurel didn't look convinced, but she decided that this wasn't the time to start a debate. "I guess that's not so important right now. How do you feel? That looks like a nasty cut on your forehead."

Kurai experimentally dabbed the spot that Laurel had indicated and woke up about five minutes later.

"Hmm." Laurel tapped her chin. "That was much worse than I thought it would be. I'll get some herbs later. For now you should probably sit still and, um, don't touch anything."

Kurai didn't need to be told twice, or even once, for that matter. She simply flopped down on the ground. I suppose Goddesses have silver aura. As if this day can get any better.

"So do you remember what attacked you?" Laurel queried.

"I, uh... no." Kurai wasn't exactly lying. She remembered exactly what had been chasing her the night before, but she didn't think it was the same one that attacked her. Not that she intended to share this information. "No, I don't remember."

"That's a shame." Laurel turned to a small hole in the ground. "I'll see if I can get anything for your head."

"Don't do that!" It looked like the gray-haired girl had woken up. "I'm the medic here!"

"Who are you?" Kurai asked, utterly confused.

"I'm Yorokobi!"

"You're--Oh, crud." That was the name of the idiotic girl from earlier! This was too much. The only two people who had a chance of healing her were the two people she had seriously ticked off yesterday. So there was a possibility of this day getting worse. Brilliant.

“You’re name is Kurai, right?”

“What?” Kurai was now beyond ‘creeped out’. “How did you know?”

“You talk in your sleep.” Yorokobi whipped out a dangerous-looking knife. "Well, let's start with this chest wound."

"What the hell?" Kurai screamed, scrambling out of range of the blade.

Yorokobi looked confused. "Hell? What's that got to do with anything? I don't see any hell around here."

"No, you idiot!" Kurai jabbed a finger at the knife. "I mean that!"

"Calm down." Yorokobi held up a plastic packet of medical instruments. "I need to use it to open up this ridiculous plastic bag."

"Surely that's cutting it a bit fine, even for you?" Laurel queried.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Yorokobi replied, taking a gigantic needle from the bag. "Now hold still. This one is to flush out the traces of any spell that may have been inflicted on you, and it'll have to go into the muscle, so you may feel a slight pinch..."

"I thought you fared quite well through all that," Yorokobi commented, pouring some wine into Kurai's glass. "You're of age, aren't you?"

"I think so," she replied uncertainly, taking a sip from the glass. She tapped the glass, looking surprised. "Are you sure this is wine? It tastes funny."

"Of course it's wine! It just might taste a little off because I put some tranquilizer in it."

Kurai coughed, spraying the grass with wine. "You little--!" she choked.

"Although I look little, I am actually quite a bit more powerful than you, so I suggest you shut up and let the sedative do its work."

"What the heck did you do that for?!" she spluttered.

"Medical rule number one: always tranquilize the patient after extensive therapy."

"Extensive therapy?" she growled. "That was only ten minutes!"

"Medical rule number two: always tranquilize the patient for no apparent reason and say it's because of medical rule number one."

"I hate you. I really do."

"Thank you."

(pause the music)

At that moment, another girl with a bright green-and-silver aura and white hair appeared in the trees. Presumably this was another Goddess. Kurai noticed that there was a tiny golden thread that connected this girl and Yorokobi the Mad Medic. Perhaps they were related. "Guys!" she panted. "I think I just saw the thing out there!"

"What thing?" Yoro asked, looking utterly confused.

"I don't know exactly," she answered nervously. "But there was something out there. A demon, most likely."

“Oh, great.” Laurel rolled her eyes. “Now we fight perhaps one of the most dangerous demons in the forest with a crazed medic, a kid who dresses like a hippie, a snoring necromancer, and me. Typical.”

“Since when have I dressed like a hippie?” Green Aura asked testily.

“Since you decided to wear that bundle of rags.”

Kurai had to agree that the tattered rawhide wasn’t exactly ‘the hottest look this season’, but she had seen worse, and that was hardly the highest priority right now.

“We can worry about her taste in garments later,” she pointed out. “Right now we need to find out what’s out there, and more importantly, mush it into the ground before breakfast. Did I mention that I’m starving?”

Green Aura pretended not to hear that last question. "Right. Let's get going. Yoro, have you got your staff?"

"Yup." Yorokobi held up something that Kurai recognized as the legendary Staff of the Crescent Moon. "Kogata, what about Kurai? I gave her tranquilizer just now."

The girl called Kogata cursed. "Yoro, how could you?"

"You remember Medical Rule Number One..."

"Shut up and let me think!" Kogata muttered. After a pause, she said, "Kurai will have to stay here."

"You can't do that!" Kurai objected. "You have no idea what's out there. It could be trying to separate us. Plus, I'll most likely be asleep, thanks to this idiot." She spared a moment to shoot Yorokobi a glare before continuing. "I'll be able to stay awake for a bit, but before then I can fight as well as the next Goddess."

"She's right, Kogata." Kurai was surprised (pleasantly so) to hear that Laurel agreed with her. "We can't leave her behind."

"Okay then." Kogata tapped her chin. "Kurai, one last thing. I found this while I was over there. I think it's yours."

Kurai curiously took the small satchel that was given to her and took a peek inside. Shock pulsed through her when she realized what was inside, but she managed to hide it by strategically bending down to attach the bag to her belt. "Thanks," she said, hoping that Kogata hadn't looked inside.

“Are you done yet?” Laurel asked impatiently. “We should get going.”

Kogata nodded. “Okay. Let’s go.”

(no music)

“Ugh.” Laurel irritably brushed a stay strand of hair from her eyes. “Kogata, are you sure you weren’t just dreaming?”

“I definitely saw something!” Kogata snapped.

“I think we’ve established that,” Kurai drawled in a voice that made Laurel feel like punching someone. “But perhaps it was just a mouse.”

“It was not a mouse!” she complained. “It was something else!”

“Did you actually see what it was?” Laurel asked.

“No!” she snarled. “Didn’t I say that already? Does anyone care about what I have to say? Am I alone in this world?”

“Yes,” Kurai answered testily.

“Oh my Gods!” Kogata yelled, whipping around. “You are such a b—”

“You asked, okay?” she muttered.

“I can’t believe we actually saved you!” Kogata’s voice rose to a shriek. “The only reason you’re still alive is because—” She stopped, struck by sudden realization. “Oh. I get it now,” she said slowly.

“That’s wonderful.”

“You did it, necromancer.”

Laurel felt a shiver go down her spine. Suddenly Kogata’s voice sounded different… as though it wasn’t Kogata speaking.

“What?” Kurai snapped, but her eyes betrayed her uneasiness.

“It was you, all along.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“You were the one who did it!” Kogata was shaking all over. “You were the one that killed Shiro!”

“Wh-What?” Kurai took a step back. “No way!”

“You’re nothing but a filthy liar!” Kogata said nastily. “Don’t try to hide it. We all know what you did.”

“K-Kogata?” Yorokobi’s scared voice made Laurel jump slightly. “What are you doing? What’s gotten into you?”

“Can’t you see?” Kogata grabbed Yorokobi’s hand. “Don’t you get it? She betrayed Shiro. And Shiro betrayed us. He lead us to her, hoping that she’d kill us, too! Well, fine. Kill me. We will be reunited with the traitor, Shiro at last.” She turned away from her sister. “Shiro!” she shouted into the sky. “I’ll find you! I’ll make you pay for lying to us!”

“Shiro was protecting us!” Yorokobi insisted. “He didn’t mean—”

SHUT UP!” she roared. “You’ve turned against me, too! Is there no-one I can trust?”

Laurel stepped forward. “Kogata, this isn’t like you. What happened to you to make you think like this?”

“Are you part of this, too, Laurel?” Kogata nodded, as though everything was piecing together. “Yes, I see now. You were working with them, too. You tried to kill us many times… with the suzura and the shinime… You even tried to kill my sister with that tree branch!”

“Don’t be stupid!” Laurel snapped. “How can you believe that? I was trying to save Yoro with that branch, idiot!”

“Yes, that’s right. Saving her by beating the living daylights out of her.”

“I was just pushing her out of the way!”

“Pushed her into the sky so she could fall to her death.”

“I saved her with that vine!”

“You were trying to cover up your mistake.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Laurel took a step forward, and noticed with a twinge of satisfaction that Kogata had to take a step back to avoid going nose-to-nose. "What is it with you anyway?"

Kogata's red eyes burned, and then, without warning, so did the rest of her body. Her hands curved into deadly claws, her hair shifted into the same colour as the flames surrounding her, and her eyes faded to ash grey.

"What the...?" Yorokobi gasped. "What happened?"

"Oh, I do believe that's an Alternative Celestial Form!” Kurai exclaimed.

“I see,” Laurel said thoughtfully. “That makes sense.”

“What’s an… Attractive Celebration Forum?” Yorokobi asked, looking completely stumped.

“Gods and Goddesses can appear in many forms. Some don’t resemble the general form in the slightest.” Kurai indicated Kogata, who apparently was still on fire. “Like this, for instance. Most of these forms are inspired by certain emotions, such as anger. Sometimes experiences and hardships, too, although that is less common.”

“Excuse me, but shouldn’t we be worrying about the actual form rather than how they come about?” Laurel asked somewhat impatiently.

Kogata said nothing. She was probably too busy being angry at the world. Laurel decided it would be best to stay silent. Perhaps if they let her fume for a bit she’d return to normal and then they could work something out.

Unfortunately, Yorokobi was somewhat inexperienced in the way of dealing with anger problems, and decided that it would be best to try and calm her down verbally.

“Um… Kogata?” she began timidly. “Why is your hair red? I mean, orange. I think it’s orange. Do you like orange? Can I get you an orange? They’re tasty. Mmmm.”

Kogata spun around with blinding speed. “What did you say?”

Laurel winced. This was not good. “Not—another—word,” she hissed through gritted teeth. “Just don’t say anything.”

She opened her mouth to reply, but then she realized what Laurel had actually said and closed it again.

This was not as great a tactic as Laurel had hoped.

“I asked you a question, dear sister,” Kogata rasped, with a horrible grin. “Kindly repeat what you said just now.”

Yorokobi cracked. “I like oranges!” she blurted. Then without warning, she decided to talk at top speed to try and make everything better. “They’re-so-tasty-but-I’m-not-sure-if-I’m-allowed-them-now-because-you-might-take-it-the-wrong-way-seeing-as-you’re-kind-of-dressed-in-orange-right-now-but-I-still-think-you-should-really-calm-down-because-you’re-really-freaking-me-out-with-that-face-did-you-realise-that-your-face-is-slightly-different-now-I-mean-it-has-gone-kind-of-weird-your-eyes-changed-colour-they’re-grey-I-swear-they-were-red-before-but-I-can’t-remember-now-because-I-have-other-things-on-my-mind-at-the-moment!!” Yorokobi took a humungous gasp of air and then shut up.

Kogata still said nothing. Her expression was one of faint amusement. “Trying to talk your way out of it, are you?” she asked quietly. “I see. That’s exactly what a traitor like you would try.”

Yorokobi obviously had not learned her lesson. “But—But I’m not a traitor!” she gasped. “I don’t get it! I never did anything wrong!” Then a light went on in her eyes. “Oh I know! I’ll get you some herbs to calm you down.”

(pause the music)

Which would have been fine if she hadn’t decided to pronounce it in the way that people did several hundred years ago. Yorokobi didn’t think she had said anything wrong. To her, a sentence was simply a sentence. But not to Kogata. Her grammar-sensitive ears picked up something that didn’t sound right in the sentence, something barely detectable…

“Herbs.” Kogata’s voice was barely a whisper. “You said it wrong.”

There was a blinding flash of light, and by the time Laurel could see again, Kogata had Yorokobi pinned by her throat to a tree.


Yorokobi struggled feebly. “I… can’t… breathe…” she choked.

“Idiot!” she snarled. Her fingers tightened around her sister’s neck. “You can, or you wouldn’t have been able to say that just now!”

“All… air… taken…up… by… that… sentence…” she gulped, her face rapidly turning purple.

“Obviously,” Kogata said nonchalantly. “Perhaps next time, you’ll actually pay attention to me when I try to educate you.”

Laurel was sickened. Kogata was about to kill her own sister? This wasn’t like her at all.

“Are you seriously about to do this?” she said loudly.

Kogata jumped slightly, then relaxed. “Oh, you weren’t knocked out? That’s a shame. Oh well. At least the necromancer won’t be bothering me for a while.”

Laurel glanced behind her. Sure enough, Kurai was out cold. The light must have done it, but that was hardly surprising, seeing as Kurai was only human and she had been tranquilized, so it was remarkable that she had managed to stay awake this long anyway.

“This is mad,” she muttered. Then she remembered that Yorokobi’s life was still hanging in the balance, so she should probably get moving. “Let her go, Kogata,” she warned. “This has gone far enough.”

Kogata roughly tossed Yorokobi aside, and her sister cracked her head sharply on a protruding rock. “Hmm,” she mused. “That’s slightly problematic.”

Laurel blinked. Was Kogata feeling remorse?

But then Kogata shook her head and looked away. “Easily fixed, though,” she said brightly. “When she comes to, she might be able to hear my next rant.”

“Stop this right now.” Laurel felt shocked that someone she had considered a friend could suddenly become her enemy. “What are you doing? You almost killed her.”

(pause the music)

Kogata blinked. “Killed who?”

“Yorokobi! Your sister!”

“That kind of joke is not funny,” Kogata said seriously. Then for the first time she noticed that she was ablaze. “Hey, what the heck? Why am I on fire?”

“Because it’s your angry form,” said Laurel, throwing caution to the winds.

“But I’m not even that angry! A little frustrated, sure, but…” She trailed off. “Oh Gods. Yorokobi.” She fell to her knees beside her sister, her flames subsiding. “What happened, Laurel?”

“You mean… You don’t remember what happened?”

“No, I don’t!” Kogata snapped. “I must have blacked out or something. Now stop asking me questions and just tell me what happened!”

Laurel reluctantly told her what happened. Kogata listened in silence.

“So you’re saying I did this?” she asked once Laurel had finished.

“Yes, that is what I’m saying.”

“But I don’t remember doing that!” she said in a pained voice. “Laurel, if you’re making this up, I’ll—” Her voice quavered and she fell silent.

So Kogata doesn’t remember anything of this… Nothing at all. I wonder what happened to her? The answer appeared in Laurel’s mind a moment later. She must have been possessed. I’ve seen how close she is to her sister, and she would never try to kill her if she was in her right mind. But then who, or what, has been doing the possessing?

She was about to find out.

“How touching.”

Laurel spun around.

A man with black hair and a somewhat mischievous smile on his face was sitting in the branches of an oak tree, watching them.

“Who are you?” Laurel demanded.

“Of course. How rude of me.” He slipped down from the tree and landed lightly in front of her, extending his hand for her to shake. “My name is Hinikuna.”

Laurel did not take the hand. “Are you the one who was manipulating Kogata?”

“Not to be distracted, I see.” He shrugged. “I guess you could say that. So what if I was?”

“Have you no shame? Look at what you’ve done!” Laurel jabbed her finger at Kogata, who was bent over her sister, and Kurai, who lay unnaturally still inside a deep crater.

Hinikuna nodded with a thoroughly bored expression on his face. “Yes, I saw what happened.”

“You made it happen!”

“I did, yes.”

Laurel stared. “But why?” Slowly, so as not to draw attention to herself, she rose vines from the ground and began to carefully wrap them around his legs. Keep him talking, she thought to herself.

Hinikuna blinked, and then began to laugh. “Really, now! You thought I’d do something like that just for fun?” He shook his head. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

She gave him what she hoped was an innocently curious look. “So why—?”

“Because I’m following orders, obviously!” he said cheerfully.

“From who? The demon in the forest?”

“Oh, the Jorogumo? No way. That thing can hardly string two words together. Not very attractive, either.” He shuddered. “No, I’m taking orders from a being more powerful than you could ever imagine.” Hinikuna frowned. “But why am I telling you anyway? Honestly, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut if my life depended on it.” Then he paused. “Hang on. I’m immortal. I guess that wouldn’t work then.”

“You’re immortal?”

He raised his hands in a defeated gesture. “Ah, you got me again! Let’s just say I’m a God.” He nodded, his eyes closed for what he probably thought was a dramatic effect. “Yes, a God. Impressive, right? And not just any God.” He wagged a finger in Laurel’s face. “Far from it! I am the God of Irony and Betrayal. Ever need someone’s feelings manipulated? Just give me a call.” He gave her a cheeky wink.

“That sounds great!” she exclaimed, although what she was really thinking was something along the lines of, What a twisted man. I hope a tree falls on his head. A moment later, she had another thought. And I can do more than just hope.

She raised her hand, shouted a command, and a tree fell on his head. At least, that’s what she thought would happen. What really happened was drastically different.

The tree started falling, but then Hinikuna’s hand shot out and grabbed Laurel’s in a grip of iron. He swiftly spun her into the path of the falling tree and leapt clear of it himself. It was all over within seconds.

Laurel had barely a second to register the fact that she had been goaded into making the tree fall before an overwhelming pain swept away all other thoughts.

Dimly, she heard Hinikuna laughing. She felt a flicker of irritation. Why did he have to be so annoying?

Then Laurel noticed something. If he had wanted to kill her, surely he could have just manipulated her into killing herself? He must have been ordered to simply scare them. Truthfully, Laurel was a little nervous. Her legs were trapped, and probably broken, by the fallen tree. Although she could easily move it without getting up, Hinikuna would probably just trick her into making it fall on her again. Perhaps it would be safer to not move.

“Oh dear. It looks like you’re stuck,” Hinikuna said mockingly. “But maybe that’s a good thing. That wasn’t very nice, was it? Trying to make that tree fall on me. I’m not sure if you know this, but isn’t attempted murder a little rude?”

Laurel glared at him, but said nothing.

“How ironic, to be felled by your own hand.”

“As I remember, you were the one who threw me into the path of the tree.”

“Oh, but Laurel…” When he spoke again, it was not his voice, but Kogata’s. “I don’t remember a thing! You must be lying to me.” He stepped on Laurel’s hand. “Lying isn’t the best thing to do, is it?” he asked in his own voice. “Not good at all.”

“You’re one to talk,” she muttered.

“Say it.” He leaned in uncomfortably close. “Say you’re a dirty liar.”

Laurel flinched away, which was hard to do when she was pinned to the ground.

“Go on.” Hinikuna nudged her. “Say it. It’s not that hard.”

“Say what?”

“Say ‘I’m a dirty liar and I deserve to be punished’,” Hinikuna urged.

“I agree.” The voice came from behind him. “You do deserve to be punished.” And then Hinikuna collapsed against the tree with a white arrow in his back.

“Kogata!” Laurel gasped. “Um, hi!”

“Are you okay?” Kogata asked, retrieving the arrow with a horrible sucking sound.

“Fine,” said Laurel truthfully, lifting the tree. “I guess he just made me think my legs were injured. How’s Yoro?”

“I’m fine!” Yorokobi practically yelled. “Just super! My ears hurt a bit though.”

“Hmm,” Kogata muttered. “Something’s not right here.”

“What is it?” Laurel asked as she propped the tree up again.

For a while, she did not reply. But then she touched Hinikuna’s hand and her eyes flared up with panic. “Oh no,” she gasped. “He tricked us again.”

“What do you mean?” Yorokobi managed, crawling into an upright position.

“This is not Hinikuna.” Kogata tore a bracelet from his arm, and in an instant, Hinikuna vanished.

“What did you do?” Laurel almost shrieked. “You let him get away!”

“He never was here. That Hinikuna was a fake, a ghost-image.” She held up the bracelet for them to see. “See that bead there? That’s a Ghost-Eye Amulet. It allows you clone yourself.”

“So that was... a clone?” Yorokobi pointed at the beads. “Maybe we could make clones of ourselves with that bead and follow him!”

Laurel shook her head. “Sorry, Yoro, but it doesn’t work that way. This is his bead and his alone. We could convert it to be ours, of course, but there would have to be a full moon, you’d need to bury yourself up to your neck, and possibly cut off your hand.”

Yorokobi shuddered. “Um, never mind.”

“But if that was just a clone...” Laurel suddenly leapt for the bead. “Kogata, give me the bead! I need to check something!”

(pause the music)

Kogata handed over the eye.

Laurel took a close look. The eye was tiny, and made out of clay. She slowly turned the eye over and saw a tiny inscription curling around the side.

Hinikuna no daisan

“‘A third of Hinikuna’,” she translated. The blood drained from her face. “There are still three Hinikuna clones out there. And what’s more, if there’s three, each one only holds a third of Hinikuna’s true power.”

Laurel thought of the wounded Yorokobi, unconscious Kurai, Kogata who was still recovering from her possession, and herself, who had up until now been trapped underneath an oak tree.

“A third of his true power?” Yorokobi gasped. “But were almost killed.”

“This is ridiculous!” Kogata muttered. “How on earth are we going to stop Hinikuna on our own?”

Kurai was barely able to stand upright, but she was metaphorically bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. “He smashed us to pieces,” she said bitterly. “There’s no way we’d be able to stop him by ourselves.”

“So that’s it then.” Kogata sat down hard on a rock. “We’re stuffed.”

(pause the music) (again...)

“Not necessarily.” Kurai stepped forward. “A jerk like that can’t just run around freely like that, messing with people’s feelings. That is something I cannot allow.” Kurai straightened. “I will help you revive Shiro, in return for your assistance in bashing up Hinikuna.”

“You will?” Yorokobi sounded awed. “That’s fantastic!” She paused. “But I thought you hated me?”

Kurai gave her a cold stare. “I still do. But as I am sure Shiro told you, I owe him a favour. This is for him, not you. Clear?”

“Crystal.” Kogata smiled. “I’m very grateful to you. Thank you, Kurai.”

She shrugged. “Don’t thank me. I’m only clearing off all my debts so I can go back to hating that fool in peace.” She gave a sharp-toothed grin. “And I think that I owe that Hinikuna a little something, too.”

“You were unconscious when he said his name,” Laurel pointed out.

“I have my sources.” Kurai didn’t quite meet her eyes, but Laurel didn’t mind the necromancer having a secret or two. Laurel had a fair few herself, after all.

“Then I think it’s time to go.” Kogata wrapped a cloak around her shoulders. “Where should we go first?”

“Before we revive Shiro, I’ll need a few supplies.” Kurai tapped her chin. “Okay. We’ll go into town first. The Mage Market, more specifically.”

“Town?” Yorokobi repeated. “Shiro told us about the town. He said it’s full of humans.”

“It’s a human town, moron.” Kurai shrugged. “But sometimes Gods and Goddesses go there. We might be able to find a few willing to help.”

“In that case, I think it’s time to leave.” Laurel turned back to the path. “We need to get out of the forest, and quickly.”

“I’ll take the lead,” Yorokobi offered. “I know a way to town.” She marched away, a smug grin on her face. “I saw a way out when you supposedly tried to kill me with a tree branch.”

“Shut up, will you?” Kogata said jokingly, giving Yoro a cuff on the ears.

“I will when you catch me!” Yoro challenged, taking off with Kogata on her heels.

It was only then that Laurel remembered that the two were still very young, despite their high intelligence. This Shiro raised them well, whoever he is, she said admiringly. I’d be interested to meet him once he comes back.

And so Laurel followed them, with Kurai at her side, ready to protect them should they come across anything dangerous.

I feel sorry for any demons that we meet on the way, Kurai thought, with a barely concealed grin.

To be continued...