Essairyn left the little tree fort and flew a short distance into the forest before ceasing the magic spell and landing on the ground. It didn’t take long before she found suitably dark berries for ink. The plump berries on the teal leafed bush looked almost iridescent, ranging from ultramarine blue to cyan and violet. Light orchid colored blossoms carried miniature round berries in their centers, and their silky petals curled slightly backwards to reveal the growing fruits. She licked her lips at the alluringly delicious berries, wondering if they were edible or toxic. They were a strange color after all, but then again, this whole forest was technicolor. She’d have to observe what the animals ate. However, that didn’t guarantee it would be safe for her digestive system. Disgruntled, she huffed and picked the darkest berries and placed them in a grass bag she wove on the spot. Looping the bag around a makeshift belt, she turned to leave the area to search for a water source.
But just as she began heading to the right, a faint clamor arose from the left nearby. Curious, Essairyn carefully picked her way through the brush toward the noise. As she got closer, she discerned a human figure through the foliage. Two voices, one distinctly male and one distinctly female were engaged in some kind of altercation. To her relief, Essairyn understood their language, but wary of the feuding strangers, she listened behind a cover of leaves in order to grasp the situation.
“How does it feel to be weak and powerless for once, knowing that you’ll die just a day after being reincarnated?” the male voice mocked contemptuously.
“Ha! As if that’d ever happen you weak, low-class demon!” the female voice spat, visibly aggravating the man who wrinkled his face in burning rage and what also seemed like shame.
Surprisingly, the female voice came from an animal in front of the man, and to Essairyn’s further astonishment, it was the small fox from earlier that day. The fox bristled in hostility as it faced off the humanoid demon. However, it looked to have taken a harsh beating; its fur was in a disarray, all matted and dried with blood. It seemed that like her, the fox could bleed too. Since the fox didn’t look demonic like the bear from earlier, she wondered if only demons didn’t bleed. The physiology of this world seemed inconsistent at a glance, but Essairyn was quickly learning that she couldn’t apply the laws of Earth to here. So demons really do exist here… The gray-skinned humanoid demon was garbed mostly in black. He also had two knives attached to either side of his belt. Essairyn was relieved that she didn’t recklessly rush into the scene out of curiosity. This demon was likely tougher than the bear from earlier.
“Today, you’ll finally get what you deserve. And after you die, we’ll hunt you down again and again, mercilessly ending your life each time until you no longer have the ability to even reincarnate!” the demon retorted in triumph and pure hatred.
The notion of reincarnation was a revelation. Essairyn had written off the idea earlier, but if reincarnation was possible in this world, perhaps it actually did have something to do with why she appeared here. And seeing that the demon and fox knew one another, it seemed that past memories were also retained. However, it was also possible to lose the ability to reincarnate too. These discoveries elicited ambivalent emotions inside Essairyn. Humans had always feared death and the unknown after death. Yet the prospect of reincarnation wasn’t completely palatable to Essairyn. The idea of having no definite end to existence made current lives and time seem less valuable. It was no longer about living a full life without regrets.
But the man’s barbaric words triggered something inside Essairyn. Somehow, ending a living existence through the inability to reincarnate seemed more cruel than simply dying once. Humans lived knowing they would die one day. Those with the ability to reincarnate died knowing that their goals could be achieved in the next life. But if that safety net was suddenly stripped from them while they still had these aspirations, then it was an existence with regrets. That kind of desperation and despair… How sorrowful was that kind of end?
Spurred on by tragedy, pity, and indignation, Essairyn hardy realized she had stepped away from her hiding spot until she was in the open, a streak of magic flying from her hand toward the man. It hit him squarely in his stomach and sent him stumbling backwards. Briefly in shock from the sudden attack, he could only gape at Essairyn before straightening his hunched back and giving her a wary glare.
“Who are you? A friend of this murderous rat?” he spat with narrowed eyes, quickly taking in her appearance, “But you’re just a human!”
Essairyn only blinked, hastily searching for an answer as he studied her a little closer.
“And with such strange fashion for being in the Spirit and Demon Forest, too,” he added, raising a brow at her black combat boots, lavender chiffon blouse, and stonewash light blue jeans. “But a pretty one,” he leered, making Essairyn’s skin crawl.
The fox flashed a look at the both of them and decided now was as good of a time to escape as ever. But as soon as she began to dart out of the scene, the man immediately blocked her path with an arc of smoldering ash-black magic.
“Trying to escape again, eh?” the demon jeered, “Leaving your friends to save your hide again, no less—that is, if she is your ‘friend’.”
“What do you know, you brute!” the fox shot back, revealing her small canines as he drew near.
“Aww, how cute,” the man mocked, making a fake, adoring face. “Yeah right, you worthless pup,” he switched, eyes sinister as he raised a leg to give her a sharp kick in her side.
But before he made impact, a lilac streak knocked his foot away, unbalancing him and causing him to swivel a step aside. He swiftly swung his head at Essairyn who had her hand outstretched. The fox had managed to dart away into the brush.
“So you’re on her side,” he snarled with glowering ash-black eyes, “I was going to maybe let you go, but it seems like I’ll have to deal with you first.”
He leapt at Essairyn with a sphere of dark magic, and she swiftly cancelled it out with a sphere of her own. Sparks of magic and light emanated from the collision of the two spheres. The demon sprung out from behind the collision, using the momentary mist from the clashing magic to surprise Essairyn. She barely had time to form a barrier blocking his strike, an arch of flaming black magic that almost sliced through her shield. While she didn’t get injured, the force knocked her backwards, making her stagger as she strove to stay on her feet.
However, she kept her eyes fixed on the demon, anticipating his second strike. When he lunged at her with another wave, she was ready. Pushing the dark magic back with a barrier on one hand, she used the other hand to materialize a sword. The demon’s eyes widened in disbelief when he saw the sword forming in her palm.
“A sword?! But how can you-?!” he spluttered, reflexively taking a step back. He angled his head downwards, “Then I better finish you now,” he growled, his eyes turning a lurid red. He grasped the two daggers at his sides while an ash storm smoldered around him.
But Essairyn was already done. While creating the sword in her right hand, she had suffused her left with magic to block any further blows. She wouldn’t be caught off guard again. The demon bombarded Essairyn with a flurry of strikes from a distance, but they were ineffectual against the barrier she kept reinforcing. She noticed, however, that his blows were stronger than before. He had undergone a transformation similar to the demon bear from earlier. But she didn’t have time to ponder this, so she gathered some force into her feet and leapt over the magic barrage toward him. His eyes again flashed with surprise, but he dodged before Essairyn could reach him.
However, Essairyn knew his quickness by now and anticipated the dodge. She spun airborne on her step; the demon had no time to adjust, and her blade sunk heavily into his shoulder as Essairyn landed. The demon howled out in agony, and he slashed a dagger at the girl. She deftly retreated, letting go of her sword in the process. With furious eyes, the demon reached up to grab the blade. But upon contact, his hands burned. He retracted his charred hands instantly, staring at them incredulously.
“You…” he began slowly, “elemental magic…? From a human? How can—” He paused, looking up at Essairyn with sullen, sunken eyes, “Who are you?” He staggered forward with deranged fascination and caution.
At the sight of his lightless, carmine eyes, Essairyn briefly started back in horror before regaining her composure. Although she had technically lost her sword, she sure that it was retrievable. She silently commanded the sword to exit the demon’s body and return to her hand. It followed her will, and the demon gasped in excruciating pain. Clutching his shoulder, his eyes lit with insanity and chagrin. He couldn’t believe that this random human twat could best him like this. For one, it didn’t make sense that she was in this forest. And two, he knew that while he was a low-class demon, the majority of humans were powerless to his might. Humans were the lowest rung of the magical ladder. But here she was breezily controlling her unusual magic.
“You… Are you an elemental in disguise?” He drawled. His deep-set eyes bulged at the question, eliciting shivers down Essairyn’s back at the creepy sight. Hell, that would make a terrifying Halloween costume. She snarked internally. Tightening her grip on the sword handle, she prepared to pitch it at the demon and end this frightening encounter.
Espying the movement, the demon drew back warily. He couldn’t die here. Boss would kill him again when he reincarnated if he failed his mission. And it would be a painful death, even more than the strange effect of this girl’s magic upon touching the sword. He hated to give up on the damned spirit fox, but it was no use. At the very least, if he reported about this girl, he might be able to save his hide from punishment.
Seeing the retreating demon, Essairyn narrowed her eyes and sent the sword flying. The demon parried the blade, and black wires snaked around the blade, holding it in place. He leapt away and dashed off in the brush. Thwarted, Essairyn raced after him. There was no way she was going to let that dangerous demon stick around in this forest. The way he looked her with brutish interest was also very disturbing. She couldn’t shake off the feeling that if he escaped, a bigger trouble would await her. From his earlier words, he wasn’t the only one behind the fox’s death and reincarnation. So it was likely his friends would come after Essairyn in revenge too.
Fortunately, the demon wasn’t much faster than her. Although she almost lost him density of the undergrowth, she could leap over any obstacles. Noticing the fast approaching girl, the demon snarled in annoyance. But his destination was right up ahead. The demon teleport would assure his escape. And as reckoned, he reached it before the girl caught up. Seeing the demon step into a semi-transparent portal which had suddenly appeared out of thin air, she hastily shot a flurry of magic slivers at his back. He yowled at the unexpected onslaught, and the force made him nosedive into the portal. Essairyn extended her hand out to nab the demon, but just when it looked like she wouldn’t make it in time, the portal suddenly vanished. The demon flopped to the ground with multiple short skewers on his back.
Realizing his plan failed, the demon scrambled up while cringing in intense agony. But Essairyn merely smirked with a deriding snort. For a moment there, she was regretting not just lobbing the magic earlier while chasing him. But in the end, she had somehow interfered with the portal working. Almost instantly, her sword reappeared in her hands. Every time she created it, she was quicker. Before the demon took a step away, she swung the blade at his side. The sword hacked him nearly in two across his back, eliciting an ear splitting screech from the demon. The force spun him around, and she witnessed his shocked, deathly ashen face.
“You—” he started.
Essairyn swung the blade back into the gash, slashing the demon cleanly in half. He gave another garish scream, the sound turning liquid as he struggled to finish his words.
The demon laid still in a pool of blood; pitch black orbs peered out into nothingness. Essairyn stared back vacantly; blood dripped from her blade. After a second of silence, the man’s body burst into a shower of black dust glinting with red. The dust dissipated as it rose, and the body and blood soon disappeared as if nothing had ever happened. Essairyn just stared at the empty space. Her sword dropped from her hand, vanishing in a puff of lavender. Her knees felt shaky. She drew in a sharp breath and released it tremulously. She loathed the demon, but his death hit her hard. Seeing gore in real life was a hundred times more gruesome than watching it on screen. She was sure she did the right thing, but killing something so human-like was jarring. Even killing the beast demon from before had been upsetting. But back then, she was still getting over the fact that everything was real. And this demon battle had now reinstated that intense shock.