This is a fanfiction by Kogata. The main characters are Kogata, Yorokobi, Laurel May, Shiro, Hinikuna, Nejireta, and the Voice.

Note: As you can see, I’ve decided to use a range of soundtracks for this one, so don’t be shocked if there isn't any Ghost Trick music in this one.

And so they began to head down the path towards the town. Luckily, Yorokobi managed to remember the way there. Unluckily, however, despite having been calm for the past few days, the snow storm has come back again, completely obliterating almost all of the recognizable landmarks. They are now very close to the town. It won’t be long before they get there—so long as they don’t run into any problems before they arrive.

"Yorokobi!" Kogata had to yell over the howling wind. "We should turn back! There's no way we'll be able to get through this!”

“Hold on!" Kurai interjected rudely. "We're so close! If we turn back now, who knows how long it will be before the snow dies down? We should keep going until we get there!"

"You're sure it's up ahead, then?" Laurel asked.

"Positive," Yorokobi confirmed, although not with much conviction. "I saw the forest from above, remember?"

"It's difficult to forget after the sixtieth time you told us, moron," Kurai muttered, rolling her eyes. "I just hope your memory isn't as much of a dismal failure as your intelligence. If it is, we shall promptly be met with an extensive and most likely excruciatingly painful death."

Yorokobi thought extremely hard about that last sentence, trying to figure out what all the long words meant. After a pause, she asked, "Can you say that again, please?"

"Forget it," Kurai ordered.

"Okay!" Yorokobi completely erased the entire exchange from her memory. "Wait, what am I supposed to be forgetting again?"

"Will you two stop messing around?" Laurel complained. "I think Kogata's right. Besides, your wound hasn't fully healed yet."

Kurai sighed. The same argument, over and over. "I'm fine," she insisted, while in actual fact, it was a miracle that she had gone this far without biting her own tongue off to stop herself from screaming in pain. "Really. See, I'm not bleeding to death anymore!" She turned around on the spot once to prove that she really wasn't dripping with blood as she had been a few nights ago. "I'm really bored with this argument now."

Laurel's normally orange-ish aura darkened in colour slightly. "And I am bored with your lies. Honestly, Kurai, did you really think I wouldn't notice if you were yelping the whole way here?"

Kurai flushed. Was it really that obvious? "I wasn't yelping!" she snapped. Her irritation increased further when she realized that Laurel's expression was one of amusement. "And wipe that stupid smile off your face! I'd like to see you do better!"

"Excuse me?" Laurel coughed lightly into her hand. "I was the one being crushed by a tree while you were snoring."

"Oh, for goodness sakes," Kogata said exasperatedly. "Is it really that hard to not fight for just one second? Kurai, I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow before we continue."

Kurai scowled. "You do realize that you're the youngest here, don't you?"

"Yorokobi and I are the same age!" she bellowed.

"No, Kogata, I'm older by a second or two." Yorokobi patted her sister lightly on the head, which was another demonstration of how much taller she was. "Now, where will we be staying for the night?"

Laurel decided to take charge. "That overhang looks okay. It will provide shelter from the wind."

"But not much," Kurai muttered dejectedly. "And we haven't got any food."

"Determined to be Depressing, huh?" Laurel gave Kurai a friendly shove. "Don't worry, it's easily fixed." She waved her hand in the direct of the overhang, and almost instantly, tall willows sprang up around it, providing complete shelter from the wind.

"What about the—?" Kurai began, but then she noticed that there were strawberries growing in the willows. "Okayyy..." she said, frowning. "How the heck did strawberries get in there?"

Laurel shrugged. "It's way too much work to make strawberries and willows grow separately."

"You lazy little—"


"That's not what I was going to say, but okay...”

Laurel shrugged and headed down towards the overhang. “Let’s just go inside,” she sighed. “We’re all too tired to go much further than a few meters anyway.”

“Well, this is very peaceful,” Kogata remarked.

And so it was. Yorokobi was amazed that anything could be peaceful during a snowstorm. The roaring wind had been reduced to a quiet tinkling, and the small amount of snow that could get through the thick branches was quickly melted by Kurai, who was lighting a small fire.

“I put a protective enchantment over this clearing,” Laurel explained. “That’s why it’s so quiet.”

“Good thinking.” Kogata nodded in acknowledgement.

“I don’t think we’ll need to keep a watch, either,” Laurel added. “The trees will warn us if anything’s coming.”

“Bloody hippie,” Kurai muttered, so quietly that Yorokobi was the only one who heard.

“What should we do now, then?” Kogata asked. “It can’t be night-time yet.”

“It’s not,” Yorokobi answered suddenly. “It’s about mid-afternoon.”

“How did you know that?” Kurai gave her a sharp stare, as though knowing the time was an extremely suspicious thing to do.

“I just do,” she replied, not rising to the challenge.

“You mean, what should we do to occupy ourselves?” Laurel interrupted Kurai’s attempt to rekindle the argument.

“I want a bedtime story!” Yorokobi complained, folding her arms.

“What’s this?” Laurel asked, bewildered.

“It’s just a thing we used to do,” Kogata answered, looking embarrassed for some reason. “When the night fell, we’d go inside and Shiro would—” Her eyes widened and she fell silent.

Yorokobi herself wasn’t too upset by the mention of Shiro. He could easily be revived, so what did it matter? It would be better if she wasn’t upset by the sound of his name, she thought crossly. It’s as if she wants to forget he existed.

She quickly noticed that no one was talking. Another silence. How she hated silences! “I want a bedtime story!” she repeated, with a slight increase of volume.

“But I don’t know any!” Kogata protested.

“Me neither,” Laurel said, somewhat apologetically. “Kurai?”

Kurai turned her nose up. “If you have travelled as far as I have, you would have many tales to tell,” she said haughtily. “But I don’t feel like telling them to an overgrown infant.”

“That was uncalled for!” Kogata protested. “Come on, just one.”

“Yeah, Kurai.” Laurel sat forward. “I’d like to know a bit about your travels, too.”

“Hmm. Fine. I guess it couldn’t do any harm.” She patted the snow into a more comfortable shape before sitting down. “Well, when I was about your age — and that’s me assuming you’re about ten — I was always out and about. You know, looking for adventure, sticking my nose where it didn’t belong. Then one day, I found the most interesting thing…”

“Nice day today,” Kurai said, smiling slightly.

The sun shone down through the tree branches, illuminating the well-used path to her house. It wasn’t really much of a house. It was actually a grove of trees with a few interlocking saplings that she had uprooted and re-planted. Although this didn’t sound like much, it was actually very useful for keeping out rain and it even attracted a few interesting birds, which made good eating, although she did sometimes feel a little guilty for killing them.

Never mind that, she scolded herself. Today’s the day the spirits are due to come.

Not long ago, she had met a lonely spirit that called itself ‘Kagirinai’. After a short exchange, the two had become good friends, and Kagirinai had told her something very interesting.

“So you must be practicing magic a lot, then,” the spirit had said.

Confused, she had replied, “I have never practiced magic in my life. I am no magician.”

“But surely you know!” Kagirinai had been shocked. “You already have the powers of a very experienced mage. How could you reach such a level without knowing?”

“I don’t know,” Kurai had said.

But now she was about to find out. The spirit had told her all about a special ring that gave immense power to anyone who held one. If she could find such a ring, then the spirit would be able to reverse the spell. Once they did that, Kurai would be able to find out where she had got her powers from.

At last, she reached the grove that was her home. “I’m back, Kagirinai!” she called. “Where’s the ring?”

(pause the music)

In a short burst of light, the spirit was there. “The demons took the ring from me!” the spirit wailed. “Once they find out what it is, they’ll be unstoppable!”

“Well, we’ve got to get it back!” Kurai cried. “Where did they go?”

“Follow me! I’ll show you where they went.” Kagirinai spiraled away down a tiny path that she hadn’t seen before, leaving a trail of light for Kurai to follow.

Kurai dashed after the white trail left by the spirit, briefly wondering why she was going after demons without weapons of any kind. Hopefully Kagirinai had thought of that.

“How are we going to get the ring back?” Kurai called after the spirit.

“Don’t worry. I have a plan.” There was another flash of light, and a huge iron scythe appeared in Kurai’s hands. “Just use that to distract the demons. I’ll get the ring.”

“Right.” Kurai’s breath was coming in short gasps. “How much further?”

“It’s just ahead.” The spirit slowed to a halt behind a bush. “Stay here. I need to get into position.”

“Kagirinai!” she hissed. “Don’t go out there! Just stay there — I’ll get the ring! No, it’s best if it’s me,” she added firmly when Kagirinai was about to argue. “If just one of them touches you, you’ll die. I’ll use the scythe to help me get through; just be ready to run, okay?” And before she could change her mind, Kurai charged.

“Hey!” she yelled, trying to keep the fear out of her voice. “Hey, look over here!”

The nearest demon turned towards her and she shivered. The thing looked like a tiger with no face, and eyes all over its tail. Briefly she wondered how it was supposed to eat, but her mind was quickly turned away from that trivial matter when it took a step towards her.

A wave of fear swamped her and without thinking, she swung the scythe. Blood spurted from a deep wound in the demon’s leg, and it let out a wail as it backed off.

“Yeah, that’s right!” she jeered. “You run home, coward!”

There was a quiet rustling behind her, and another faceless tiger appeared. More appeared on either side of the original one. She was surrounded.

“At that point I said a very naughty word that I won’t repeat,” Kurai said sweetly to an awed Yorokobi.

“Kagirinai!” she yelled. “Get the ring!”

Whether or not the spirit had heard, she couldn’t be sure, because at that moment, the eyes on each tigers tail glowed red. She stared. What incredible beauty! Sure, it was about to kill her, but she could at least stop to admire it before it did.

Then there was a burst of red light, and long tendrils on flame curled out of the eyes, heading straight for her!

The spell was broken, and Kurai swiped her scythe through the air by instinct, cutting the air itself into pieces. As for the tigers, they didn’t stand a chance. The nearest one was cut into pieces. The one next to it took a nasty blow to its side and bled to death. The ones next to her were hit with the handle and suffered severe brain damage. The only ones that escaped harm were the ones behind her, but they’d learnt their lesson. Without a backwards glance, they turned tail and ran, desperate to escape the Death Bringer.

(no music)

“I am known by most demons as the Death Bringer,” Kurai explained smugly. “Because it’s what I am.”

“So what about the ring?” Yorokobi asked curiously. “Did you get it?”

“Kagirinai?” she called. “I did it. I fought them off. Do you have the ring?”

“Yes. Well done, Kurai.” The small orb of light that was Kagirinai appeared with a ring floating next to it. “Here you go.”

Kurai took the ring and slipped it onto her finger and immediately a feeling of cold gripped her heart, crushing her insides to a painful extent. “What—?”

The orb of light flashed red, and then vanished, leaving nothing behind, except what looked like a tiny imp with bat wings.

“Fool!” the imp hissed. “You actually believed I would let you have the ring while I could use it for myself?” What had been Kagirinai laughed. “Humans are so gullible.”

“What have you done?” Kurai panted, clutching at her heart. “What’s happening?”

“Such a powerful weapon would be dangerous to leave without some protection, yes?” It grinned wickedly. “That ring carries a powerful curse. Anyone who puts it on suffers a slow, agonizing death. But of course, like each spell, there is a slight loophole.” It shrugged. “The curse can be broken if the true owner of the ring kills another. Another who trusts them.”

Kurai could easily see how she had been tricked. “So you lied about my powers as a mage,” she muttered.

“Lied? No. You do truly have the powers of a mage. I merely exaggerated about the level of those powers.”

Kurai was about to object to the unjust nature of this, but was cut off by a terrible feeling in her hand. It wasn’t pain, it was something worse: emptiness. Her eyes darted to the ring on her finger and she saw, with a growing sense of terror, that everything from her hand to her elbow was slowly turning black.

Panic flared up inside her. She was going to die, and there was nothing she could do.

“I don’t trust you,” she growled. “The curse won’t work on me.”

“You only need to trust me in the moment of death,” the imp sneered. “Trust me when I say this: there is no escape from this curse.”

And Kurai did believe that. And so, even if it was just for a split second, she trusted the imp. The spell’s hold weakened, dying, and she seized her chance.

Kurai raised the scythe above her head, holding it in position to bring down on the imp’s head. “See you in hell, demon,” she snarled.

Unfortunately, the time it took to say that was all she had left to live, and the curse took hold of every part of her body, instantly shutting all her systems down.

Kurai crumpled on the floor, dropping the scythe to the ground, feeling the life slowly leave her body, and thinking about the irony of the whole situation.

Kurai awoke some time later, which was unexpected.

“I’m alive,” she muttered. “How—?” Then she saw the imp. It had been cut in half by the scythe, which lay on the ground nearby.

“Kagirinai told me the curse would be broken if the owner of the ring killed someone who trusted them,” she muttered. “Could it be…?” She stared at the ring. “Am I the true owner of the ring?

“But then…” She stood and began to pace. “The imp would have to have trusted me in its last moments. Oh…” She was struck by sudden realization. “I said ‘see you in hell’. Crap.”

“You swore!” Yorokobi gasped.

“Did I?” Kurai tapped her chin. “Oh yes. So I did. Good on you for noticing.”

“Pretend you did hear that, Yoro,” Kogata ordered. “So Kurai, do you still have the ring?”

“Yes, indeed I do. Take a look.” Kurai shook back her sleeve to reveal a ring of black iron with a darkened emerald studded in the middle. “The Ring of Necromancy. Watch and weep.” With a careless flick of her wrist, she turned a nearby shrub to a black, decaying mess.

“That’s pretty weak for a Ring of Sorcery,” Laurel remarked casually.

“Idiot!” she hissed furiously. “I could blast you all to smithereens with this!”

“We’re Goddesses,” Kogata reminded her.

“You guys suck,” she muttered.

“So what’s the moral of the story?” Yorokobi asked in a voice of pure innocence.

“Huh?” For a moment, Kurai was speechless. “A moral?”

“It means ‘lesson’,” Kogata explained. “Yorokobi likes stories with morals.”

Kurai’s face went bright red. “True stories don’t have morals!” she bellowed. When she saw Yorokobi’s teary eyes, she relented. “Fine. The moral is, uh, don’t trust floating white orbs.” She hastily lay down, facing away from them. “It’s getting late. We need an early start tomorrow, and we won’t get that if we stay up. ’Night.”

And then she was asleep.

“Keep up, Yoro!” Kogata called over her shoulder. “Aren’t you supposed to be leading?”

“No,” she said, confused. “I think Kurai is.”

“That’s right.” Kurai nodded approvingly. “I know this part of the forest well — I used to live here, after all. Before that demon appeared.”

“What demon? You mean Hinikuna?”

She blinked, surprised, and then nodded. “Yes. Hinikuna. That’s right.”

Kogata threw her a look, but decided to let it pass. “So if you know this part of the forest, would you be able to tell us when we’ll reach the town?”

There was a pause while Kurai worked it out. “If we start running now, I think we can be there by about mid-afternoon!” she exclaimed. “Come on!”

Kurai broke into a flat-out sprint, leaving the others in the dust.

“So much for being mortally wounded,” Kogata muttered, before taking off after the necromancer.

It was a nice feeling, running through the snow, with her friends on either side of her. The snow was still falling, but it wasn’t a blizzard like yesterday, and the sun drove the worst of the cold away. In any case, it felt good to be out and about again, on a quest, potentially saving lives.

It was all going so well. But of course, as Kogata was quickly learning, nothing stays good for long.

(pause the music)

Suddenly, there was a burst of flames from the ground in front of them, and the sky went dark.

“Welcome, my friends,” said a loud, echoing voice that sounded strangely childish. “Welcome to the Pass of the Damned Souls.”

The flames dissipated, and in the spot where they had been stood a young girl with bright red hair and a dress blackened with ash and blood.

“Hey, hang on a second,” she said, frowning. “You’re alive. What are you doing here?”

“None of your business,” Kurai snapped. “Go home.”

Laurel gasped. “Don’t listen to her,” she blurted. “I’m so sorry, we were just passing through…”

The girl’s eyes darkened. “The living cannot walk here,” she said slowly. “You must be dead, and not realizing it.” She narrowed her eyes. “Or perhaps you know you’re dead but are trying to trick me so you don’t have to move on.”

“We’re alive!” Yorokobi insisted.

“Don’t fall for their trickery,” whispered a hoarse voice. “They’re lying.”

“Don’t you dare lie to me!” the girl thundered. “Or I’ll make you regret it!”

Kurai would not easily submit to a girl who looked about five years old. “Get out of the way!” she growled, taking a swipe at her.

“Kurai, no!” Laurel yelled, but it was too late.

The girl took the blow right in the stomach, and she collapsed, gasping for breath. “Intruders, Onsei,” she muttered. “We can’t let them escape.”

“Let me help,” the voice hissed. “I can take them down easily.”

“No.” The girl stood. “I will do this on my own.” She gave Kurai a look of pure hatred. “Who are you?”

“None of your business!” she repeated, her voice full of contempt.

“That is Kurai,” the voice whispered. “And the one next to her is Laurel May. The other two are unimportant.”

“Thank you, Onsei,” the girl muttered.

“Who are you?” Yorokobi asked curiously. “And whose voice is that?”

The girl was shocked. “You can hear it?”’

“Hearing voices no one else can is not a good sign,” Kurai said scathingly.

“Kurai? Can’t you hear it?” Kogata gasped.

“You’re saying you can?” she asked incredulously.

The girl smiled, as if the conflict was warming her heart. “I am Nejireta, the Goddess of Pain and Torture, the Punisher of the Damned. And now, it is time for me to punish you.” She flicked a sheath on her belt open, and swiftly drew a flaming whip from its depths.

Nejireta leapt forward, her whip raised, but Laurel slashed her hand through the air and vines snaked down from the nearest tree, which wrapped the struggling girl tightly into a cocoon.

“She can’t escape from that,” Laurel explained, just as Nejireta burnt the vines into ashes with a roaring hellfire.

“Well, so be it.” Laurel took a step forward. “We fight to the death.”

“I’m immortal, you idiot!” she yelled, drawing a thousand balls of blue flame from the earth and hurling them all at Laurel.

LAUREL!” Kogata shrieked as her friend disappeared inside an explosion of flames.

“I’m okay!” she grunted, emerging from the fire, protected by a green shield of energy. “You’ll pay for that!” she growled, dashing at the girl with the speed of a bullet.

“Ha!” Nejireta shrieked, batting the attack away with the back of her hand.

“Oh, it is ON!” Laurel yelled, sending pretty much the whole forest flying at Nejireta.

Nejireta swore briefly, realizing that there was no time to get out of the way, but then she hopped on top of the first tree, and used that one to hop onto the next one, and the next one, until she had reached the last one. Then she performed a beautiful triple somersault over Laurel’s head and landed directly in front of Kurai. The necromancer’s reaction was quick but not fast enough to dodge the flying kick that was sent her way.

Kurai was knocked back against an oak tree, where she lay still, unconscious yet again.

“One down,” she said cheerfully. “Who’s next?”

“Take this!” Kogata yelled, letting fly a dozen white arrows.

Nejireta dodged them all, but not the thorns that came from behind her, which were fired by Laurel and a rose bush. Luckily for her, none of them did much damage, but they hurt a lot.

“Ack!” she gulped, spinning around. “So many of you… how can I focus on you all at once?”

This must be her weakness, Kogata thought. She can only focus on one of us at a time.

“Yoro!” she called. “Try and get Kurai to wake up!”

“You got it!” her sister replied, dashing off to find Kurai.

“Chains!” Nejireta shrieked, summoning iron chains from the dark pit behind her. “Get the girl!” she ordered, and the chains hastened to obey.

Kogata reacted on instinct. She leapt to one side and swiped her bow at the chains that had missed her, cutting them to shreds. The severed chains slithered back into the pit, but the others wrapped around her bow and tugged.

“No!” she gasped. “Shiro gave that to me!”

“What comes from the underworld always returns,” Nejireta smirked, carelessly parrying a slash from Laurel.

All she could do was watch as the bow vanished into the depths of the gap, leaving no trace behind.

“That was Shiro’s!” she screamed, picking up the biggest stone she could find and hurling it with all her strength at Nejireta. The stone hit the back of her head with a sharp crack. Momentarily stunned, the girl just stood there, absorbing the countless jabs from Laurel.

Seizing her chance, Kogata whipped a knife from her belt and stuck it up to its hilt in the girl’s arm.

Nejireta let out a horrible scream, and Kogata fell to her knees, clutching her ears.

“That bloody hurt, you meanie!” Nejireta screamed. A wave of invisible force sent them all flying backwards. “Well, now it’s my turn!”

Nejireta rose slowly off the ground, surrounded by a red glow. Everything went quiet. The birds stopped singing, the crickets fell silent, and even the wind died down. The forest was in complete silence, waiting for this moment.

At first, Kogata didn’t understand what was going on, but after a few seconds she noticed that everything in the vicinity — arrows, throwing knives, vines, broken chains, thorns, sharp stones, tree branches, nails, and even some fruits — was surrounding Nejireta, revolving slowly, hypnotically, obscuring their view of her. It wasn’t long before she was lost inside the ever-growing sphere of inanimate objects.

“I don’t like this,” Yorokobi whispered.

“Be on your guard,” Laurel warned. “She’s up to something.”

“Sphere of Darkness!” Nejireta cried. “Circle of Decay! I call upon the souls of the lost, the spirits of the damned to pass all hatred of the living on to me, so that I may unleash the revenge you seek! Take strength from your pain, energy from your past, and come together as one! Awaken the power of hate, left dormant in centuries of pain and suffering! Arise from the ashes and bring a new light! Unleash the fury of the Netherworld!” She threw out her arms, and everything she had summoned burst into flames. “LUNATIC MODE!

The flaming objects paused in their rotation, as though confused by this extensive command. But then the spell took hold and a wave of fury, hatred, pain and loss hit them all like the slash of the sharpest sword. Throwing knives, branches, uprooted trees, nails, arrows, and spears flew at them faster than bullets.

Kogata dodged out of the way of an apple only to be struck in the knee by about ten nails. She let out a screech of pain and just managed to stumble away from a wave of throwing knives. The others weren’t faring much better.

“Ha!” Nejireta crowed. “Maybe you’ll think twice about lying to me next time, huh?”

“Listen to reason, you maniac!” Kurai yelled. “We’re not due to die yet!”

But apparently Nejireta was having too much fun to listen. She casually rose above the chaos she had created, watching them struggle against wave after wave of deadly projectiles.

Kogata managed to do a few fancy flips to avoid a couple of trees, and then used her dagger to block a few thorns. There’s no way I can keep going on like this, she thought as she slashed some nails out of the way. We need a plan, a chance to regroup.

“Kogata!” Yorokobi shouted. “Use your Angry Form!”

“But how?” she wailed.

“Just get angry!” Laurel bellowed. “It’s not that hard!”

And so it wasn’t. She already had several million cuts and bruises, a searing pain in her knee from the nails, and part of her hair was missing due to a narrow miss with an axe. And she had taken Shiro’s bow… All this was that she-devil Nejireta’s fault.

“You idiots!” Kogata screamed furiously. “I can’t just get angry on cue!”

But she ended up surprising herself. Already she could feel the somehow familiar warmth given to her by the flames of anger. She felt re-energized, battle-ready, and she had every reason to charge.

Kogata batted a few daggers aside and launched into the air, somehow managing to stay up, even though she had never demonstrated any skills for flight before. “I’ll take you on myself!” she snarled, startled by the sound of her own voice. It sounded different somehow.

“Onsei, you said this one wasn’t as powerful!” Nejireta complained. “Next time do your research properly!”

“Not as powerful,” she repeated.

“Just wait there,” she snapped to Kogata. “I’ll be with you in a minute. I’m busy. Look,” she said to ‘Onsei’. “You could’ve got us both killed.”

“Shut up!” the voice hissed. “Without me, you’re nothing! Are you forgetting who saved you all those years ago?”

“Rubbish!” Nejireta scoffed. “I could’ve survived that myself, no problem.”

“Excuse me…?” Kogata began, but she was interrupted by Onsei’s angry voice again.

“Don’t be daft. You’re only alive because I helped you.”

“That’s—” she began.

Excuse me,” Kogata growled. “But there’s still a fight going on here!”

“Deal with her quickly,” Onsei whispered hoarsely. “We’ll have a talk about this later.”

Nejireta nodded, grinning widely. “I’m afraid your time ends here,” she hissed, drawing her whip from its sheath and slashing it across her face in one fluid motion.

Luckily, Kogata had been expecting this, and dodged out of the way, and managed to counter a second blow with a well-timed jab. She backed off, while the other Goddess smiled.

“Not bad,” she grinned. “Let’s try something different.”

She gave her whip a careless flick, and some of the fire on the ends came off. “Dodge this!” she screeched, sending wave after wave of flames after her.

Kogata slipped to one side to avoid one, then managed to duck under another, and leapt over the next, all the while trying to get closer to Nejireta so she get in a hit of her own. She was almost close enough to give a good jab with the knife when Nejireta called off the flames.

“Ooh, tough one, aren’t you?” Nej giggled, drawing the flames back into her whip. “Time to tone it up a bit, I think.”

She pirouetted on the spot with the whip, sending even more flames her way, leaving no gaps for her to slip through. How could she possibly avoid this?

“Heads up!” she screeched, before throwing a dozen nails and throwing knives in her direction.

“As if it wasn’t already hard enough,” she muttered, slashing the nails out of the air. “I need some way to get through the fire…”

You’re already on fire, her subconscious told her. So how bad can it be if one of the flames touch you? It’s not like it can get any worse.

“Good idea,” she exclaimed. “Thank you, subconscious!”

Kogata charged at the oncoming flames, closing her eyes and waiting for the searing pain of a burn, but it never came. She warily cracked open an eye, just in time to see Nejireta’s shocked expression.

“Oh, I see. Fighting fire with fire, is that it?” she smirked. “Well, in that case…”

She summoned all the materials that she had used for Lunatic Mode, including the ones being hurled at the others and even some of the nails in Kogata’s knee, which was painful.

“You’ll be first!” she promised, grinning wickedly. “Seeing as you’re so keen to die!”

“Get out of it!” Laurel scoffed, raising a thick vine covered in thorns from the ground. “I’m not finished with you.”

“I won’t be bested by a child!” growled Kurai as she raised her Ring threateningly.

“I could curse you,” Yorokobi suggested brightly.

“Go ahead and try it!” Nejireta yelled, sending all the nails hurtling at Laurel, who brought up a sapling to absorb the hit. Laurel grinned, and then sank into the earth, vanishing without a trace.

“Laurel!” Yorokobi screamed.

“Where did you go?” Nejireta demanded. “Are you too afraid to stand against me?”

“Hardly.” And before Nejireta could react, Laurel erupted from the ground behind her and punched the Goddess of Pain and Torture in the back of the head. She collapsed in the dust. “And that is why you always make sure the person you are about to kill is immortal. I’m a freaking Goddess, you idiot!”

“Ow…” she muttered, trying to raise herself up on her elbows. “I’ll… I’ll hurt you…”

Kurai dealt her a sharp blow with her staff. “Go ahead and try it, she-devil!” she taunted, raising her staff for another blow. “I’d like to see you try!”

Nejireta gave a weak smile. “I will,” she promised. “One day. When I’m stronger.”

“What are you doing?” Onsei growled. “You must kill them now!”

“No,” she said firmly. “For today, I have been defeated.” She nodded seriously to Laurel. “You may go.”

“Listen to me,” the voice hissed. “You must not let them pass. They are vital components of the plan. If you let them go now—”

“Then you could just as easily get them another day,” she snapped. “I see nothing that I can get out of this plan. Use someone else to do your dirty work!”

“You can’t—” Onsei began, but the sound was abruptly cut off, and a wisp of black smoke curled out of Nejireta’s mouth, leaving her body. The smoke solidified into a pair of blank, white eyes. “You aren’t rid of me,” the eyes promised. “One day, you’ll be begging on your knees for my assistance. You’ll know where to find me.”

“Yeah, I will,” Nejireta retorted. “In the rubbish tip.”

With a final disgusted look at the girl, the eyes vanished in a puff of black smoke.

“Ackk,” Nej gulped, collapsing on the ground again.

“Nejireta!” Yorokobi cried, kneeling down next to her. She placed one hand on the girl’s forehead. “She’s out cold,” she reported.

“Good.” Kurai shouldered her staff. “I think in that case, we can make a quick getaway.

“Kurai!” Kogata gasped, horrified. “She’s just a little girl! If we leave her here, who knows what will happen to her?”

“Good riddance. She tried to kill us.”

“She’s a Goddess, Kogata,” Laurel reminded her. “She can’t die.”

“Yes, she can.”

They all stared at Yorokobi.

“What?” Kurai gaped at her.

“You’re out of your mind,” Laurel said. “Goddesses can’t die.”

“This one can. Kurai, you can feel it, too. She has a fragile life aura, this one. I think one good hit would finish her off.”

Kurai reluctantly nodded, but this didn’t mean she had given up. “So what do you suggest we do with her?”

“I think we should take her to the village with us,” Kogata suggested. “We could just let her recover, and then ask her about Hinikuna. Don’t deny it, Kurai,” she added when Kurai opened her mouth to argue. “She is very powerful. It’s just sheer luck we defeated her.”

“I punched her in the back of the head!” Laurel yelled. “You call that sheer luck?

Kogata continued as if she hadn’t heard. “Let’s just take her to the village.”

“I agree with Kogata,” Yorokobi put in helpfully.

“That’s because she’s your sister!” Laurel said exasperatedly. “Listen, Kogata, we can’t just—”

“Hey! Hey, is anyone there?”

Everyone jumped at the sound of this new voice.

“I’m coming into this clearing here, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to blow me up or anything!” the owner of the voice called.

A guy with short green hair and brown eyes came running through the trees. “I heard some explosions coming from around here, so I came to see what’s going on! Wait… who’s that?” He was staring at Nejireta. “What’s wrong with her? Is she sick?” Without waiting for an answer, he ran over to them. “She’s pretty badly injured. Maybe if we take her back to the town, I could find someone to help. Come on!” He started to run off, and then he stopped and turned around. “Hang on… I forgot to introduce myself. My name’s Disco. I own a place called Party Central. It’s really cool, you should go there sometime.” Then he charged off again.

“It looks like someone’s made the decision for us,” Laurel said, bemused. “Well, I guess if they heard it from town, it must be just up ahead.”

“Oh, yay!” Yorokobi yelled, rampaging after Disco. “Ice cream!”

“What’s ice cream?” Kogata muttered to Kurai.

“No idea,” Kurai replied. “I’ll carry the demoness, so don't worry about that, you White-Haired Lunatic,” she added. “You catch up with your sister and try to calm her down before she eats a shop or something.”

“She wouldn’t eat a shop,” she said, smiling. “She’d probably choke.”

And together, they followed Disco down the path to the town, each of them wondering what excitement was in store for them next.

To be continued…