Volume 10 - Dream Eater: Chapter 37 – Legend of the Nightmare
In the pitch-black surroundings, Ayaka found herself wandering alone, clad only in a divine garment. She was assailed by phantom voices that echoed ominously around her.
“Who are you…”
“Do you not remember your fate?”
“Speak up! How can you neglect your predestined path!”
Spectral figures loomed large, their immense forms made of swirling green smoke. Their deafening, gravelly shouts seemed to pierce directly into Ayaka’s very essence.
“Celestial Maiden! You are a Celestial Maiden!”
“Disgrace yourself, dance!”
A horde of malevolent spirits, fueled by wicked intentions, surrounded her, forming a barrier that threatened to engulf her at any time. Their demands reverberated in her ears, creating a cacophony of fear and desperation.
“No, I won’t…I can’t do it!”
The fragile fabric of her clothing offered little protection as she stood defiant, struggling against the oppressive force surrounding her.
“I won’t do it!”
Abruptly waking from the torment of her nightmare, Ayaka found Lily next to her, a concerned expression marking her face. A cold sweat had soaked through Ayaka’s clothes, leaving them damp and clinging to her skin, a testament to her distress.
“Sister, did you have another bad dream?” Lily inquired, her voice tinged with worry. Ayaka’s recurrent nightmares had escalated since their arrival in the fog-shrouded forest, each episode leaving her more frazzled and worn.
In the waking world, Lily could shield her sisters from harm, but how could she safeguard them from the demons plaguing their dreams? Ayaka sought comfort in Lily, her eyes inadvertently drawn to Lily’s form as she murmured, “Lily, can I… lean on you for a bit?”
Caught slightly off guard, Lily could only nod, allowing Ayaka to find solace against her leg. Despite the awkwardness of the situation, Lily couldn’t bring herself to deny Ayaka, especially seeing her so vulnerable.
Finding comfort in the warmth and scent of Lily, Ayaka murmured appreciatively as she drifted back into sleep, this time into a tranquil slumber, her face nestled securely between Lily’s thighs.
Lily’s cheeks burned with a blush, an uneasy acceptance settling over her. Though under normal circumstances she would have found the position embarrassing, her only concern now was for Ayaka’s wellbeing.
Their moment of tranquility was interrupted as Reika lifted the cart’s curtain, her words catching in her throat at the sight before her. Flustered, she averted her eyes, hastily stammering, “Ah, I-I’m sorry, I should have knocked… I didn’t see anything, please… continue…”
Lily could only shake her head in mild frustration, correcting Reika with a somewhat stern tone, “Continue what? There’s nothing to continue. Ayaka is just resting due to her recent nightmares. Is there something wrong with providing comfort?”
“Huh? Nightmares?” Reika echoed with a look of shock etched across her face, “Could it be the fabled nightmare royal castle causing this?”
“What are you referring to?” Lily inquired, her face a canvas of confusion and concern.
Reika gathered her thoughts before speaking, her voice quivering slightly. “The inception of the nightmare royal castle legend is murky, but it is known that long-term inhabitants of the royal capital either cease to dream altogether or are plagued with relentless nightmares. Many have been scared to death in their sleep or succumbed to soul depletion.” She paused, visibly shaken by the ominous tale she relayed.
Lily’s face paled at the revelation, a fearful realization dawned upon her as she considered the reason behind their journey to Iyo Island – to unearth the darkness that haunted Ayaka. “This is terrifying. Reika, please join us inside; it would be easier to discuss this matter.”
“Can I really?” With a hesitant nod of approval from Lily, Reika stepped into the ornate cart, her eyes darting curiously around before she continued. “Since the prime minister enlisted sorcerers to erect a protective barrier around the city, the incidents have significantly reduced. Currently, it is believed only those with rebellious or malicious intents are afflicted by the nightmares which ultimately lead to soul deterioration and death, enhancing the safety within the royal city.”
An uncomfortable silence ensued before Reika hurriedly reassured, gauging Lily’s distressed expression, “I didn’t mean to imply that Lady Ayaka harbors any ill intentions. Given your foreign origins, your circumstances are naturally different.”
Lily offered a comforting shake of her head, urging Reika to continue, “Don’t fret, Reika. Just tell me everything you know about the state of affairs in the royal city, particularly regarding the prime minister.”
As Reika ventured to speak on the prime minister, the tranquility was shattered by urgent cries piercing the atmosphere.
“Enemy assault! Enemy assault!” The kunoichi guards raised the alarm.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Reika dashed out of the cart. Lily was torn, poised to follow but held back by concern for Ayaka’s fragile state.
“Demons!” Reika’s warning cry echoed from outside.
A chorus of terrified screams from the kunoichis followed, sending a chill down Lily’s spine. She promptly activated a spirit probe, her face contorting in frustration as she realized the limitations imposed by the dense fog, restricting her probe’s reach to a mere hundred meters.
“We’re surrounded by over ten throne realm demons,” Lily murmured, her voice tinged with urgency. Despite her formidable strength, she acknowledged that ancient spells or eldritch mechanisms could hamper her abilities; she was not a master of arcane artes, after all. Considering the potent influence of the fog, Lily could not rule out a celestial phenomenon at play.
Resolute, Lily gently laid Ayaka down, ensuring her safety before sprinting out of the cart, the Crescent Moon blade gleaming ominously in her grasp as she prepared to face the encroaching threat.
In the dense mist, Lily’s blade danced, a beacon of lethal grace flickering in the obscured environment. Within moments, demons near the cart were decimated, the kunoichis found themselves under her unwavering protection. These throne realm adversaries stood no chance against her ferocity and skill.
A tense silence enveloped the area as the ten-minute clash reached its conclusion, with the remnants of the enemy forces either lying lifeless or retreating into the fog-shrouded forest. Pursuit was out of the question; the dense fog promised to lead them astray. The aura enveloping these creatures suggested they were native to the eerie forest, unrelated to the ominous Gates of Yomi.
Approaching Asuka with concerned strides, Lily queried, “Princess, what’s our status?”
Asuka bore a tranquil visage, a testament to her battle-hardened nature; however, the toll of the skirmish was evident in her sorrow-laced eyes. “We have lost three kunoichi and others are wounded,” she reported, her voice carrying a weight of deep-seated connections fostered over many years of camaraderie.
Shimizu interjected, unhurt but visibly shaken from her own encounter with three demons, “Princess Asuka, can you estimate our proximity to the royal city?”
Asuka calculated, her words tinged with hope, “Roughly half a day’s journey remains. Navigating this demon-infested fog will be arduous, yet we strive to preserve every life.”
Feeling a pull in her heart, Lily expressed, “I must attend to Sister Ayaka; her wellbeing concerns me,” before turning to leave.
Reaching the cart and finding it void of Ayaka’s presence, panic surged in her. “What?!” The surrounding murk offered no answers, only amplifying her distress as she envisioned Ayaka wandering alone amidst ancient, towering trees.
With a resonant “Boom,” desperation fuelled Lily’s powers, unleashing a crimson wave of spiritual energy so potent it dispersed the stifling fog, revealing the hidden tapestry of a forest that stood untouched for countless years. She activated her “Purple Sakura Domain,” expanding it to its fullest extent in a frantic search.
“Found her,” the relief was short-lived as she discerned Ayaka’s aimless wandering in the darkness.
“Lily, what happened?” inquired Asuka, her figure accompanied by others converging swiftly to the scene in the wake of Lily’s sudden eruption of distress.
“Hold on!” Lily shouted as she propelled herself skywards, the urgency in her manifesting in rapid steps that seemed to tread upon the air itself. “Sister Ayaka!”
In no time, she reached Ayaka, who was wandering with a vacant expression, resembling a sleepwalker caught in a nightmarish trance. Grasping Ayaka urgently, Lily tried shaking her awake, panic weaving into her voice as she asked, “What’s wrong, sister?”
Jolted to awareness, Ayaka responded, disoriented, “Lily? Where am I?” The confusion and fear set in as Lily prompted her to recall her abrupt departure from the cart.
“Sister Ayaka, can’t you recall disembarking from the cart and coming here?”
“Where are we? And where has the fog gone?”
Pushing aside her query, Lily probed deeper, “That’s not vital right now. Sister, can you tell me what happened to you?”
Overwhelmed, Ayaka began sharing her eerie experience, her voice breaking, “I… I don’t know. I felt like I was traversing in my dreams. An entity, which seemed close, perhaps as close as a mountain, beckoned me. It urged to communicate with me… I found myself venturing further in the dark, the darkness intensifying with each step, escalating my fear…” As she narrated, Ayaka collapsed, her legs unable to support her. She clung to Lily, her eyes reflecting a deep-seated fear.
Lily embraced her tightly, whispering consoling words, “Nothing happened, everything will be fine.” Guiding Ayaka back to their cart, the dissipating fog began to reclaim its presence in the forest.
Communicating mentally, Lily summoned Kagura who materialized holding a red umbrella, assuming the driver’s position in the cart. Despite the self-operational nature of the cart, it allowed a driver to steer it.
“Kagura, in the event of a demon assault, Shimizu and I will confront the threat. If Sister Ayaka is still in a slumber, safeguard her with your utmost abilities.” Currently, Ayaka’s prowess has been restored to the triple-soul Big Dipper level. When awake, she’s a force to be reckoned with and requires no guarding. But in sleep, she’s vulnerable.
“Understood, master,” responded Kagura, her face taking on a thoughtful look before she continued, “On that note…”
“Nanako desires a word with you.”
A spontaneous utterance of astonishment broke from Lily, the news catching her off guard. Hearing Nanako’s name stirred a surge of guilt within her; she had been treating Kagura merely as a shikigami recently, dictating commands thoughtlessly, neglecting the consciousness — Nanako — that shared Kagura’s form. Despite being housed in a single entity, they carried individual personas.
“Do you think I’ll be happy like this?” Seizing the whip, Nanako steered the cart forward, ignoring its inherent ability to self-propel. magic
Lily was situated just behind Nanako, essentially cradling her in her arms. The position allowed for a tender lean back into a comforting embrace. Yet, lingering resentments held her rigid.
“I’m sorry, Nanako… I haven’t brought you out not because I don’t miss you, but the dangers we’ve faced recently have been too great,” Lily voiced with a genuine concern.
“Hmph, it’s not as if I was eager to speak with you either.” Frustrated, Nanako wielded the whip against the ox once more, yet the cart maintained its steady pace, unaffected by her actions.
An embarrassed but somewhat teasing expression took over Nanako as she hurriedly proposed, “If you are truly apologetic, Sister Lily, then prove it—lay on the ox’s back and let me whip you.”
“Wh-What?! Nanako, how could you even suggest such a thing? You know who I am, right? It might have been a while since we last met, but that’s no reason to joke about something like this!” Lily retorted, her face a deep shade of red, reflecting both anger and embarrassment.
With another “Whip!” sound echoing, the whip found its way to the old ox’s back once more.
Poor ox… what had this aged creature done to receive such a brunt?