Stumbling on some rocks, Satori tripped not more than ten feet from the entrance to the cave. Koishi, who was behind her, caught up to her and came to her sister's side.
“Are you all right, Satorin?” the white-haired girl asked.
Satori was still kneeling on the ground where she had injured herself and with a cry of pain, she raised her right leg. In the light from the entrance, the deep scrape on her knee was visibly bloody. She winced and tried to smile. “I tripped... sorry, Koishi.”
“Well, come on,” Koishi said, trying to raise her sister up by the arm. “Let's go.”
“No, let me stay here,” Satori protested. “I'll go back outside with Parsee. I'd just slow you down. You have to stop Yumeko as fast as you can!”
,” Koishi agreed, nodding. “Can you get back to the entrance?”
Satori shot her a thumbs-up, knowing that she would only be able to crawl back, but also wanting Yumeko to be stopped as fast as possible. “Yeah, it'll be easy. Now go on, get going!”
“Yes!” Koishi flipped her hair over her shoulder and plunged further into the darkness, leaving her sister bleeding on the ground behind her.
“Ugh... I shouldn't have just let her leave...” Satori groaned as she tried to move her leg. Slowly, she worked herself into a position where she could drag herself by her arms towards the entrance, which was only ten feet away but now looked like a mile. Her knee was in excruciating pain. It had been cut to the bone, and lots of small pebbles had found their way into her wound.
But still, Yumeko had to be stopped first and foremost. And with Satori having been the one who was so willing to let her sister die for her, what moral authority did she have even to demand that her sister stop to help her?
Deciding that she no longer had the moral authority to say much of anything to her sister, she grit her teeth and began to crawl forwards on her elbows, back out to the ledge where an injured Parsee was probably still bleeding out onto her face, watching the armies of Higan and Makai destroy one another down below.
The first time Koishi had made this walk, Yumeko had been holding a torch. The next time, she had been running behind Yuugi, the area lit up by Parsee's green orb, that “danmaku” she had been talking about.
But this time, she had no light to guide her in any way. So she had to walk slowly, groping her way along the stone walls so she wouldn't smash her face into solid rock.
Though she was set and resolved to stop Yumeko somehow, she wondered just how she was going to do it. She had no weapons on her, no knives or blunt objects. In terms of physical strength, she was a total weakling. She had no combat skills, no real knowledge of danmaku, and it was unlikely that Yumeko would have any mercy on her... or better yet, that she would even take a very long time to defeat her.
Koishi paused for a moment, her hand on the rock.
“I'm doomed,” she realized.
But wait, Okuu! No... not even she would last long against Yumeko. If not even Yuugi-- Yuugi, the undisputed strongest person in Chireiden-- hadn't been able to defeat her, then no one could. Not even Okuu.
Well... speaking of Okuu...
Koishi considered what she had done to her mind earlier. She had tampered with it, somehow. She had entered her mind and implanted her own suggestions. It was something different from mind-reading... it was mind-controlling. But how? How did she go about doing it? And more importantly, why was she capable of such a thing?
She suddenly remembered that her hair colour was changed, from pink to white in the space of a few hours. Maybe once she figured that one out, she would figure out why she could use this strange new ability.
She pulled a strand of her strange new white hair forward and looked at it, sighing, then realized that she now has enough light that she could see her hair colour. She turned the final corner, and found herself in the control room once more.
Utsuho was passed out on the floor, bleeding from her right hand. Mercifully, Yumeko was walking away from her, but then she positioned herself at the wheel. The wheel that controlled the flow of the lava river.
The wheel was turning, very slowly. Beneath it, the splinters that had once been Orin's wheelbarrow were still jamming the mechanism, preventing it from opening too fast. Yumeko kneeled over and in one swift motion, pulled out the largest splinter, tossing it into the lava river that had begun to flow down the canal in front of her. Tensing up her legs, she prepared to give it one huge heave and open the gates all at once--
“Yumeko!” Koishi called out.
The red maid turned at the sound of her name being called.
“... what?” she asked, squinting. Koishi huffed. Was she being insulting?
“What was that,” Yumeko continued, pulling out a half dozen knives from her apron. Koishi winced, confused. It was like she wasn't visible, wasn't even there--
At first Yumeko frowned. “... where is your sister? She didn't abandon you, did she?” she asked Satori, whipping the gag out of her mouth-- but Koishi was right there, wasn't she?
This wasn't.... the first time this had happened...
-- whoosh. A knife. Several, actually. They zoomed right past her, so that Koishi could even feel the light breeze on her skin where they had passed by.
“She can't see me,” Koishi thought. “She can't see me standing right here...”
“I would ask you to show yourself, but you obviously know my name and who I am, so I wouldn't expect you to actually show yourself if you wanted to live,” Yumeko said, her voice calm and even, as she walked through the room, stepping over Utsuho's legs as she lay on the floor.
Koishi stood frozen. Yumeko couldn't see her, and if she stayed motionless, she wouldn't be able to hear her, either. But could Yumeko... possibly smell her? She was a youkai, after all. And if she were to reach out and touch her, Yumeko would kill her instantly.Oh god oh god oh god oh god what do I do...
“Hmm,” Yumeko began as she walked slowly to where Koishi was. “I wonder who you are...”
Koishi looked down, panicked, and then she saw her answer.
“Perhaps you're the cat girl? No, can't be, your voice was too young-sounding... perhaps you ar--”
With a cry of triumph, Yumeko flung her knives in the direction of the back of the cave, in reaction to the sound of a rock crashing into another.
What she hadn't realized was that Koishi had kicked that rock, and that now while Yumeko's back was turned, she was making her move.
By the time Yumeko had noticed that there was no sound of mortal agony from the direction of her knives, it was too late.
Koishi had reached up and touched her forehead, instantly invading Yumeko's mind.
It felt strange, entering someone's mind, and doing it forcibly was something very different from the usual. Koishi saw the same vision of herself, huge and looming above the surface of water, with the tubes of the Third Eye on her chest providing a rope for her to slide down and into Yumeko's mind.I'll kill you... I'll kill you...
But that was as far as the resemblence went to her earlier experience with Okuu's mind. Okuu had been, if not entirely willing, not really sharp enough to figure out what Koishi was doing, either. She hadn't blocked Koishi's invasion. Yumeko, however, was untrusting by default, and as Koishi sank further down into the depths of Yumeko's mind, she saw the manifestations of Yumeko's resistance begin to materialize; knives, blue knives sheathed in a yellow glow, and lasers, fast ones.I'll kill you and you will die!
Normally, Koishi would have been scared, but... Koishi was completely vulnerable now. And she did NOT want to find out what would happen if she died while invading someone's mind. She was petrified, and with renewed zeal, she pulled herself down, further down into Yumeko's conciousness.Kill you! I'll kill you! Die! Die! DIE!
As she did so, though, she realized that those defenses were thickening, that more and more knives and lasers were materializing. She didn't want to let go of her Third Eye's tube. She was scared of getting lost in the increasingly dark depths of Yumeko's mind... but seeing those knives start zooming towards her was enough to convince her that she needed to get out of there NOW.
She kicked away from the rope of her Third Eye and swam off into the murky waters, drifting away until the knives and lasers faded from sight.
Far above, she would see thoughts reflecting onto the surface of the water; Yumeko's conscious mind. She was beneath that, but she hadn't gone as far as the subconscious yet. It occurred to her that she was grateful that Yumeko's mind, bloodthirsty though it was, wasn't outright insane. In fact, the waters of her mind were entirely still. As ridiculous as the idea was, it seemed that Yumeko was rational to the point of irrationality.
... but... something was wrong.
She lifted a hand in the water, to investigate a tingly feeling she had.
Her right hand was... dissolving...
Good news; away from the Third Eye's tube, she could no longer feel Yumeko's killing intent, and she could not be attacked by her mental defenses. But there was bad news also...I'm... being absorbed into her mind...
She had to get back to her Third Eye. Right now.
Turning, she swam through the waters of her mind, making her way through a slew of thoughts of war, skimming past a cluster of thoughts about anatomy and how much people would bleed if cut in certain places. Shivering, she caught a glimpse of what Yumeko was going to do to her, and quickened her pace.
Part of Koishi's mind observed that somehow, time had stopped outside, above the water. Unlike her absorption into Okuu's mind, which had been instantaneous, Yumeko was putting up resistance... but more importantly, her physical body had not moved one centimeter. And it also occurred to her that she had no problem breathing in this water. But then again, it wasn't water, really... it was just the best analogy she had to describe the preconcious.
There! In the distance, she could see a green tube reaching down from the surface of the water and leading all the way to the deep darkness. But there, too, were the knives and lasers, waiting for her.
Well, she would have to risk it. It was either death by being dissolved into Yumeko's mind, or it was death to her mind by knives, and who knew what would happen to her body. But at least this way, she did stand a chance.
As she approached, she saw the knives begin to turn. Shooting forwards like stones from a slingshot, they zipped towards her. Concentrating everything she was on dodging them, she swam forward, turning and turning as the knives came towards her, but not slowing down one bit. Grazing some lasers now, she made a quick dive and then reached towards the green tube--
There! She felt a bit more substantial now. She was out of the immediate danger of being absorbed into Yumeko's mind... but now came more and more knives. She turned her body, now going facefirst into the darkness, and reached one hand over the other as she pulled herself downwards as fast as she could. Keeping an eye on the materializing knives and charging lasers, she sped down as fast as her arms could carry her, turning around the tube to dodge projectiles. But she was moving fast now, fast enough that she was mostly out of danger, except for some exceptionally fast-moving lasers or knives.
After being grazed by a laser, she looked at her arm, and saw it also begin to dissolve into Yumeko's mind. So she was still not out of that danger entirely. Koishi wondered, vaguely, what would happen if she was entirely dissolved into Yumeko's mind. She would probably become a second presence in her consciousness, a second personality. Scattered throughout her mind, but a second personality nonetheless. As it was now, there were some pieces of herself already in Yumeko's mind that would never go away, and that Koishi would probably never be able to get back.
And as for her own body, it would end up without a mind... at best, her body would fall asleep and never wake up. Without a mind, it could do nothing, except absorb nutrition, degrade, and die.
This ability was a powerful one, she realized. To enter someone's mind like this and go all the way down to the subconscious, and not only manipulate, but outright control someone's thoughts... but it was insanely risky as well. If she did not protect herself, she would disintegrate, lose herself entirely in someone else's mind.
Of course, this could, theoretically, be a good thing. She could implant her mind into whomever she wished... wouldn't that be what was called virtual immortality?
But now was not the time for such things. Here, the tube led her into pitch blackness. Now that she was near the “ocean floor” of Yumeko's mind, she saw the tube lead down directly into the subconscious. Here was where she had to perform her dirty work.
She had three choices at this point. She could float away from the green tube, and fade away into the water of Yumeko's thoughts. She could tug on the green tube and be pulled up back into her own body, only to die instantly at Yumeko's knives. Or she could keep going and go down into the subconscious, risking death and destruction, and succeed.Vincere o morire... Victory or death.
Taking a deep breath, she dove inside.
This part, at least, was somewhat familiar, if a bit more structured than the last time.
It was the primary chamber of the subconscious. In the center was a sphere, radiating soft blue light. Around it rotated any number of subconscious thoughts, needs, incentives and motivations, ranging from anything from Yumeko's inherent desire for food to her warm feelings towards Shinki, from her her need for her subordinates to respect her, and her desire to always see her knives hit the target and succeed at anything she put her hand to.
Koishi stepped off of her green tube and landed quietly in the chamber, observing the sphere.
So... all she had to do was the same thing that she had done earlier. She had to find the thought that led to Yumeko's desire to kill. But it was not simple. It wasn't just a thought, it was a compulsion, and it would affect everything else if she tampered with it. When she had stopped Okuu, her raptastic thoughts had been rogues, foreign to her mind. It had been easy to kill them. But... Yumeko's desire to kill was buried deep within, and it motivated much of what she did. Disabling it would result in... quite possibly, Yumeko would lose her reason to live.
… wait, that was a good thing.
Koishi considered. Yumeko had tried to kill her and her sister, and had succeeded in killing her entire family, as well as the rest of the satori population of all Chireiden. She had personally killed Miyani Komeiji, and murdered people who had only wanted to protect themselves and their loved ones. What was so bad about someone like that losing her will to live?
In fact... why did she want to leave Yumeko's mind intact at all?
If she simply killed her subconscious, then her consciousness would also die, and then Yumeko would no longer be a threat in any way. She would be left, at best, a vegetable. And that was a good thing, because Shinki would have lost her best general, and not only that, have lost the entire war. And she would have gotten rid of the most bloodstained killer in all of Makai, and saved who-knows-how-many of her future victims.
It was very obviously the right thing to do. And all she had to do was reach out her hand and simply command the subconscious to die...
Koishi was about to step forward and do just that when she thought of what her sister might think, but that was easily dismissed. Her sister had no moral authority to tell her what to do or not do, did she? She had heard that particular thought in passing, overhearing it from Satori. Satori had been willing to sacrifice her sister to save her own skin... what right did she have to tell her what to do?
… but there was someone who did.
That beautiful, noble shinigami of the Sanzu River, who at this very moment was risking everything she had to save complete strangers.
What would she think, Koishi wondered.
Certainly, she would argue against what Koishi was going to do, and say that such a thing was wrong, cruel. But she was not here to actually stop her, was she? And besides... Eiki was also putting the lives of her all-too-mortal fairies on the line as well. Wouldn't Eiki approve of this path she was about to take, the path with least bloodshed? If she stopped Yumeko here and now, no one else would be killed by her anymore.
And everybody could be saved...
Koishi looked up at the sphere, with its dozens to hundreds of compulsions and motivations swirling around it, and narrowed her eyes. Somewhere in there, alongside the desire to drink water and the desire to be recognized for her achievements, there was a desire to kill. It would be hard to pick one single compulsion out of hundreds, which were merged with dozens of others at any one time.
But she didn't have to make distinctions, since she was just going to kill them all.
What had she done the last time? She had reached out towards one of the motivations and simply wished that it would turn off. And it had.
But that time, she had replaced it with another thought, the desire to get herself and Okuu to safety. She wasn't going to do any replacing this time.
Koishi looked at the sphere one last time.
“Die,” she told it. “Die now. All of you.”
At first, nothing happened. The thoughts kept swirling around the sphere, unaffected by her words. But just as Koishi was losing patience and was about to tell them to die again, she noticed something odd. One stray thought, the one connected to Yumeko's desire to discipline herself, was slowing down. She wondered why it was different from the past time she had done this, and she decided it was because instead of asking cooperative thoughts to turn off, this time she had commanded rebellious ones to die.
As she watched, the thought slowed down, and began to lose its glow. It turned a dull brown colour, and that colour spread throughout the thought, and because it was connected to other thoughts, the brown colour began to spread. The first infected thought was turning black just as Koishi felt a rumble beneath her feet. Yumeko's subconscious was fading, and she was in danger as long as she stayed here. Turning around, she rushed over to the green tube, where her own Third Eye linked to the main tube.
But she wanted to watch for a moment first. As she observed, the subconscious was dying at a rapid pace, the thoughts not only losing power but dying entirely. Already some of it was starting to rot, decompose, and as death encroached upon the sphere itself, the chamber shook once more.
She had to get out of there, she knew. But first...
As she watched, the sphere began to lose its glow and turn brown as rubble began to fall from the ceiling.
“All right, time to go,” she thought aloud to herself as she tugged on the green cord. The cable obeyed, pulling Koishi up and out of the subconscious. The last thing she saw of it was the sphere, turning brown and then black as it died, and the thoughts of the subconscious falling away from it to the floor.
Up, up she went as fast as her Third Eye could carry her. As she went up, she saw the subconscious collapse from the outside. A tugging now, but this time... downwards?! The preconscious was trying to fill the space taken by the dying subconscious, it seemed, but it was backfiring. The preconscious, too, was starting to be tainted by the death of the subconscious. It was a chain reaction, it seemed. With the death of the subconscious, so followed everything else.
She felt a slight twinge of guilt, but dismissed it. She had won, hadn't she! She had stopped Yumeko! But she wasn't out of danger yet. The death of the subconscious was tainting the preconscious, and death was spreading out through it much faster than it had the subconscious.
Koishi was going so fast that Yumeko's mental defenses had no time to materialize fully. Those that did were already being tainted by death. So quickly, death was reaching all parts of Yumeko's mind. If it caught up to Koishi...!
She felt fear then. What would happen if her own mind died within another mind? She would die herself, certainly. Her power was over the mind, but if it was dead, there was nothing she could do. She had to get out of here, quickly!
There! There was the surface. Her Third Eye was reeling her in. Breaking through Yumeko's surface thoughts, she held on tightly as she was pulled into her Third Eye--
Back. She was back. Again, she felt a sudden rush in her ears as she landed back in her own mind. The last thought she had heard was on the surface of Yumeko's thoughts, and it was repeating in her mind now--
No, actually. Yumeko was saying it.
“Aaah!” Koishi screamed as she saw Yumeko right in front of her. Yumeko was reeling forward, her hands on Koishi's shoulders as she convulsed, agony on her face.
“What did you do to me?!” Yumeko cried out, clutching her head now. Her subconscious was dead, her preconscious was almost dead. Only the surface remained, and that had already begun to die--
“I have brought you earthly justice!” Koishi hissed back, feeling her anger at this woman rise once more. How dare she! She had no right to demand anything of her! She had killed her friends, her family, and had nearly succeeded in killing her, multiple times!
“You got what you deserved--” she declared just as Yumeko let out an unearthly howl, falling backwards onto the floor and beginning to shake furiously.
“Aah--” she gasped as she watched Yumeko trembling, convulsing all over the floor. She was still screaming, but she was starting to punctuate it with other cries and growls, animalistic sounds.
“What is... going on?” a voice asked groggily.
Koishi turned and saw Okuu sitting up, one hand on her head, the other hand still covered in congealing blood. “Okuu!” she exclaimed, rushing over to her and hugging her head to her chest. “I'm so glad you're all right!”
“What is happening?” Okuu asked, her tone still distant, confused. “Why is Yumeko...”
“It doesn't matter,” Koishi said, hugging her hellcrow tightly. “I did something to her head. She's not any danger to us anymore!”
“What did you do?” the black-haired girl asked, looking somewhat scared. “What did you do to her to make her like that?”
“I killed her subconscious.”
“You did... what?”
“I killed her subconscious, and I killed the rest of her mind with it. She's as good as a vegetable now.”
“I see,” Okuu said, her voice toneless. As they watched, Yumeko writhed on the floor, knocking into the splinters left behind by Orin's wheelbarrow. Spittle began to fly from her mouth as she knocked into it over and over again, her arm beginning to bleed as a splinter embedded itself into it, driving inwards more and more with each convulsion. Her legs thrashed as she shook, uncontrolled, as she smashed her head against the ground--
“... I can't watch this any more,” the hellcrow said quietly.
“Eh?” Koishi asked as Okuu got up, shaking Koishi's arms off of her.
“She's an amazing warrior. I can't watch this happen to her.”
“You can't do anything for her.”
“Because I killed her mind,” Koishi repeated. “She's no better than a stone now.”
“But... her body is still alive.”
“And without a mind. She's useless.” The satori shrugged. “Just toss her into the lava now.”
The look Okuu gave her could have split rock.
“No,” she said.
“What?” Koishi asked, her hands falling to her side in shock. “Are you disobeying me?”
“You didn't fight her hand-to-hand,” Okuu said. “You didn't know her like I did.”
“She KILLED my family!” the satori yelled back, making Okuu wince. “Did you FORGET that, or something?!”
“She didn't deserve this!” Okuu countered, waving her hand at the convulsing youkai woman. “She didn't deserve being turned into a living shell of what she was before!”
“You're right,” Koishi scowled. “I should have killed her instead.”
Okuu snarled back at Koishi. “What would Satori have done?”
“Satori has no right to tell me anything!” the white-haired girl retorted. “She wanted me to die so she could live! What kind of sister is that, Utsuho?!”
Okuu reeled back, silent. Koishi continued.
“If it hadn't been for you, I would be a bloody smear on the ground right now, just because she wanted to live! I wouldn't have even had a chance at life!”
She shuddered, remembering what had gone through her mind during those last seconds, before she had been about to die. About how she wanted to live, wanted to live so desperately that she was angry at Satori for stealing her life.
Well, she had had enough of that. This life was hers. And she wasn't going to give it up, not for Satori, not for Okuu, Orin, or anybody. So of course she would have reduced Yumeko to this. She had been a threat to her life, so she killed her. Simple as that...
Speaking of Yumeko...*splash*
“Eh?” Okuu said, turning around.
“OH NO!” she yelled, rushing forward as Yumeko hurled herself into the lava. Still shaking as she began to literally melt apart, Yumeko was face down in the shallow lava river as Utsuho, acting on pure instinct, reached a hand out to grab the back of Yumeko's still-intact maid uniform. But she underestimated how strong Yumeko still was. She was still shaking, and Utusho lost her balance. Trying to steady herself, Okuu tried to find her footing--
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!” she screamed as her right foot began to burn, melt in the magma.
“UTSUHO!” Koishi yelled, running towards her.
To her credit, Okuu did not totally lose her head to the pain. She grit her teeth and with one powerful pull, pulled Yumeko out, flinging magma left and right. Then she jumped away from the lava, her right foot almost entirely gone. If nothing else, the heat of the lava had cauterized the wound instantly, so she wasn't bleeding... but her right foot was simply gone...
Yumeko landed hard on the rocks, but she was intact. Koishi ignored her as she raced over to Utusho, bowling her over with a hug, crying. “Why did you do that?!” she demanded as she looked into Okuu's eyes, tears flowing from her own. “Why did you save her?!”
“Because... I want a rematch with her...” Okuu gasped, her own tears beginning to flow. “Please, Koishi... don't kill her... I won't ever win back my honor if you do...”
“For you, Utsuho, I won't touch her,” Koishi sobbed as she held the lame hellcrow.
“I'm a youkai... it'll grow back with time,” Okuu reassured her as she reached up and wiped a tear from Koishi's cheek. “And I can fly, unlike you. I'll be fine.” She looked over at Yumeko, whose charred black body was way too intact to have just come out of lava. “So will she.”
“Eh?” Koishi looked over at the red maid-- or what was left of her. She made a slight movement, and the black charred skin that had once been her fell off, revealing a perfectly unharmed Yumeko beneath. “What the-- how is that--”
“Her ability is instantaneous regeneration,” Okuu realized. “Even if she had gotten her arm cut off, it would grow back almost instantly. Her whole body never degrades, because as soon as any part of her dies, it grows back... except that only seems to apply to her body. Not her mind.”
“Does that mean... she's immortal?”
“More or less... but right now, she would be better off if she could die.”
Koishi looked down.
“Hey, Koishi, the lava river is still flowing, isn't it?” Utsuho asked. “Turn the wheel to the right, that should stop it.”
“Sure,” Koishi said, getting up and going over to the wheel. Small as she was, the wheel didn't turn easily, but as she pushed it clockwise, the lava gates deep within the rock creaked and groaned as they shut.
“Oh, excellent,” Utsuho laughed.
“We did it, Okuu!” Koishi cried, also laughing with relief. “We stopped i--”
A deep rumbling sound was heard.
The floor suddenly shook beneath their feet. The cave was rumbling, debris falling from the ceiling. Koishi lost her balance and fell to her knees. “Okuu! What's going on?!”
“Aaah!” Okuu screamed as she covered her ears. “The metal! It's shrieking!”
“What metal?!” Koishi asked just as a tremendous roar from deep within the rock echoed through her ears as well. Metallic and screeching, the sound was horrible, similar to the gears within the rock earlier, but so much louder and so much worse.
“The gates!” Koishi realized. “The lava gate mechanism is super-old! It must have broken, it couldn't take the strain any longer!”
“Then that's our cue to go!” Okuu yelled, spreading her wings. Hopping over to Yumeko, she picked her up and carried her in one arm, then offered her other hand to Koishi.
“We have to run for it!” Koishi said.
“You're the only one who can run,” Okuu replied. “And I don't think we have much time. The tunnel is too winding, I would crash if I flew.”
“So how do we get out?!” the satori asked.
“Come on,” Okuu said, scooping Koishi up into her arms and tossing her over onto her back. “We can get out through here!”
Koishi looked where Okuu was looking at. She was looking down the tunnel where the lava river flowed out into the Hell of Blazing Fires.
“We're not going through there!” Koishi cried out as the earth shook around them once more. With wide eyes, the two turned to see the lava flow increase with a suddenness that scared them both.
“It's do or die, Koishi!” Okuu replied, hoisting Yumeko up in her arms and hopping to a running start. Opening her wings as wide as she dared, she flew off down the tunnel, the light of the lava beneath them illuminating their path.
“You'd better pray there are no obstacles in our way, or we're gonna miss Yumeko's knives,” Okuu said.
“Go faster! FASTER!” Koishi cried out.
She was on Utsuho's back, so she turned to see behind them. As the rock rumbled ominously around them, she saw down the other end of the tunnel, all the way to the opening in the earth through which the lava flowed. She saw the flow suddenly increase, swelling higher and higher with every moment. The huge lava wave was moving fast, faster than they were. In a matter of moments, it would overtake them--
“Okuu! FASTER!” the satori begged. “Before we all die!”
Okuu grit her teeth and strained forward, beating her wings mercilessly as she shot forward, faster than she had ever flown before. Koishi didn't weigh much, but Yumeko's added bulk in her arms was weighing her down. But she was still zooming forward, flying as fast as she could. But even she could feel the heat radiating from the lava wave, rising up behind them--
“GO! UTSUHO, GO FASTER!!” Koishi yelled.
“I'M TRYING!” Utsuho screamed back, tears beginning to stream from the edges of her eyes. She was going at the limits of her speed, but she was already weakening. She was tired, but if she slowed down at all, she would die, and so would Koishi--
“THERE!” And suddenly, not ten feet away, the end of the tunnel. But it was blocked--
“No time!” Koishi yelled. “Shoot right through if you want to live, Utsuho!”
“Yes, Koishi!” Okuu replied, drawing her right fist back. Fatigue was entering each of her muscles, threatening to stop them from mobing, but she had to keep flying. Going at breakneck speed, she punched her fist straight through the rock, shattering it, and her fist, into a dozen pieces.
But she was going too fast to notice. Shooting forwards, Koishi, Utsuho, and Yumeko flew right out of the tunnel and straight into--
“I think we hit her,” Koishi observed dryly as Mai dropped out of the sky below them.
“That kind of hurt.” Utsuho shook her right hand, wincing, panting heavily. “At least we're in the clear...”
“Yeah, but they aren't,” Koishi pointed at the army of Higan, which was still down in the lava pits, fighting the army of Makai.
“... hey, where's... Satori and Orin?” Okuu asked, sweat dripping off of her pale face.
“Oh, they're back there, on the cliff... face...”
Okuu turned slowly in the air to see the lava begin to burst through the rock in a dozen places at once. The entire wall was leaking magma. Within seconds, it would disintegrate entirely... along with the five people still clinging to the cliff face: Satori, Orin, Kisume, Parsee, and Yuugi.
“We have to save them!” Koishi yelled, just as she nearly lost her balance when Okuu wavered in the sky. “Okuu? Okuu, are you all right?”
“Uhh,” Utsuho moaned as she passed out in midair.
“Okuu!” Koishi exclaimed. But it was no use. Exhausted and drained, Utsuho lost conciousness as she fell from high up above towards the ground, Koishi on her back, Yumeko still in her arms, and nothing separating them from a very, very hard landing--