The Envy stood above them; they were ants to him. His toes, covered by his boots, stretched and moved over the edge of the hidden control room, crushing Team Karasu. Saboten was on his knees now, trying to regain his consciousness.
“That’s it! Yes, Saboten, get up,” The Envy was an onslaught of motivation. His face matched the dripping smear around his lips; rubies fall to the silver plates below to burst, leaving flower prints around his foe. “Level one, complete. I really do have to congratulate you all.” A sick sense of genuine pleasure. The syrupy blood spreads further as he grinned revoking all feelings of pain only to replace them with that aching, heavy feeling that appears when you retch.
Back on his feet, Saboten summoned his blade again. The length, as Belphegor had explained, depended on him. The blade is alive, in a way. He said, it knows when you really need it.
The tip of the blade extended, about five feet in length. “Well, well, well… You’re ready then?” The Envy asked. He stepped forward, no answer required, and fell from his ledge with straight legs and pocketed hands. The landing made no noise whatsoever.
“Would you mind if we fought alone?” He said, his eyes directly pointed like a weapon towards Ayame. His dangerous glare, the pupils began to spin. I’m sure you’re already aware that your boyfriend and I share a very special bond, one much closer and deeper than your own.“
Confidently, Saboten warned Ayame, "don’t look in his eyes. We don’t know what they do yet.”
“Oh yes, that’s right. You don’t.” He concurred, his eyes slowing a little but never turning their attention from Ayame like she was the most beautiful girl in the world. “Our bond is in our worlds, we’re at opposite ends of the spectrum.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Saboten, dear Saboten. You’re stranded in this box.” He forced his hands together into a somewhat cube shape around his left eye, this represented Saboten he assumed. “This box is reality, that’s where your powers lie. One day, when you’re as powerful as I am, you’ll be able to control the very fabric of this.. reality box.”
“So, what does that mean for you?”
“Reality isn’t my game. I prefer fantasy, a realm of the unknown where anything could happen. If you’re too stuck in the mud of reality, a whole new perspective can really mess with your head. It’ll drive you insane.”
“I see that.”
“Oh, is now the time to be funny? Feigned confidence, dipping your toe into my realm already,” the mad man’s smile faded, and so he removed the ‘reality box’ from his face, and his eyes returned to their prior speed. His solemn voice spoke almost innocent words at a child’s pace, “solitude and imagination, those are two aspects of a fantasy world. How can you create when there are so many people around, too many whispers in your head to concentrate. You have to shut them out, don’t you Bael?”
“Something ring a bell?”
“I prefer silence. Loneliness.” Like a weapon, he drew his hand from his pocket, middle finger pressed to his thumb. He snapped his fingers like a ringmaster, waiting for Saboten to jump through his hoop, “nothingness.”
Like the name suggested, nothing happened. Saboten just stood there, wide-eyed and ready to fight for his life. His katana buzzed in his hands like it had a heartbeat, matching his own. The Envy’s pupil’s came to a stop, leaving the triangular pupils upside-down.
With a sinisterly smug look on his face, he leaned in closer to Ayame. Leyim, behind her, looked on uninterestedly. Her facial expression as still as the reflected glare on her glistening blue eyes. Even when he flicked Ayame’s forehead, neither of them were able to do anything about it.
“What are you doing!?” Saboten yelled, slicing at The Envy; the physical equivalent to a warning shot. Refusing to acknowledge it, The Envy just muttered under his breath. Short, secretive sentences, he had stumbled upon something amazing. “Ayame?”
No response, instead, it appeared she was frozen. As he glanced around, Saboten noticed that nobody was moving. Not a single one of them got up, or yelled. They were no longer tending to Shinji’s wounds either, as blood continued to spurt from between Hiro’s enormous fingers. “You’ve stopped them.”
“They won’t be any help now.”
“My eyes, like yours, have gone through three stages. Three levels of power, and this is one of my favourites. Sensial disruption.” Again, The Envy began counting on his fingers, one through to five. “Did you know Saboten, that human beings have more than five senses? We have the normal ones that we’re all taught; sight, hearing, touch, tasting and smell. But then there’s the sense of balance, temperature, time, salt levels. Without your proprioception, you wouldn’t be able to tell where your limbs are. That’s what your friends are feeling, they’re suspended in a world of pure confusion. No pain, no sight, nothingness.”
Dumbstruck. “Why?” Saboten asked, “you’re doing all of this just to fight me alone?”
“All of this?” he laughed, “you say it like you think it takes some modicum of effort Saboten. Sensial disruption is what Bael gave me first.” With that revelation, he reached for the sky to summon his weapon from the depths of the Kara Sekai. With a flash of light, the weapon took the form of an gigantic broadsword, almost taller than Saboten himself. Both sides were bladed and, like Saboten’s own, was entirely weightless to the wielder. In comparison, it made Saboten’s katana look pathetic. A butter knife up against a cleaver.
It took an instant to recognise danger, Saboten leapt forward in a surprise attack. He hoped to catch The Envy off guard as he admired his weapon. Alas, The Envy was prepared, and they clashed. They were no way near evenly matched, Saboten was overpowered in seconds. If he hadn’t jumped back, The Envy would’ve been able to crush him just under the weight of his blade.
Striking randomly was no way to fight him, he would have to wait for an opening of sorts. But, in the way he fought, The Envy was no lunatic. He took his time with each strike like an master of the trade. It’s no surprise, Saboten realized, with both a Shinigami and superior military training, The Envy was an artist on the battlefield. Leyim herself had praised him many times. When The Envy caught onto Saboten’s train of thought, his teeth became visible through an almighty grin. They were shark-line, razor tipped like small, pearlescent swords, like The Envy had taken time to chisel them into perfect weapons.
Saboten hadn’t moved backwards far enough, and The Envy only had to extend his reach slightly to pound his sword against Saboten’s katana, sending shock waves of vibration down the demonic steel and through his enemy’s skeleton. Without thinking, he dropped his weapon and fell to his knees in pain. It shattered against the metal plates leaving a purple residue on the ground. “That’s no way to fight,” he warned, “you’re too defensive.”
The words, they rang with an unsettling familiarity, like they were taken straight from Shinji’s mouth. Sickeningly, it inspired him and he summoned forth his blade for a quick, unexpected strike.
The Envy’s sword carved his weapon into two beautiful pieces in a single strike, “use your eye,” his whip-tailed, velvet-wrapped voice pleaded, but Saboten responded in haste.
“Back off.” He summoned the same weapon again, only to bring upon himself the same result. The Envy was visibly growing tired of his games. The excited look on his face had been replaced by a childishly furrowed brow. Tempting his foe, The Envy sat beside him as he accumulated the strength to stand. The wet glass of The Envy’s eyes reflected Saboten’s pathetic expression. “You’re pissing me off, you know?” His voice rang of a subtle hatred, “this isn’t as fun as I was hoping.”
You’re pissing me off too. Belphegor mimicked his tone of voice, but the meaning was still there. We’re both going to die here if you don’t use your eye. Not only that, but your friends are going to die too.
“Is he talking to you?” The Envy asked, “it can get a little annoying, can’t it?”
Without using his eye, that’s how Saboten wanted to fight this one. Like he was trying to prove his was strong without the Shinigami. You’re weak without me, the demon said. No matter what idea he tried to reason to himself, Belphegor would always speak up while The Envy watched on. You can’t beat him out with strength because you haven’t got any. You can’t fight like Shinji either, it won’t work and deep down you know that.
He didn’t care, “trust me on this.” The battle had already been won in his mind.
A deep breath followed, and the sword once again reappeared in his left hand. A hazy, purple spiral grew to the impressive five foot sized sword. He took a step forward, a new hope glazing his eyes. The Envy smiled like a mentor, there was definitely something different about this Saboten.
In a technique adapted from Shinji, Saboten leapt from a charge. His feet touched down on The Envy’s travelling sword which swung towards him through the air with a mighty thrust. But the wind around him didn’t even touch his skin. He fell from the sword, and crashed into the floor limply. A thousand tiny flames burned his body. His internal organs boiled, and his sweat dripped like lava down his forehead. Every item of clothing felt like wrappings of the very surface of sun against his body, holding in the explosive heat.
“Like I said,” he heard through the silence of the flames, “I have many powers.”
This sensation was fake, but the realization alone could not brush away the uncontrollable burning. “The true Belphegorian host would be able to brush off these flames in a second. You might as well hand over your eye now.”
With a snap of The Envy’s fingers, the sensation disappeared without a second thought. Immediately after, any indications of the fires had vanished. There was no pain and no memory of such an experience to recall it. It was simply gone, but his body was heavy. The fires had burned away any motivation, and he could not stand.
The white room of Belphegor had once again swallowed him whole. Teeth grit, nostrils flared, pupils dilated; Belphegor offered all signs of human rage.
“If you don’t start listening, you’re going to die.”
“I’m not already dead then, am I? Wake me up before that changes,” he said in an attempt to work up confidence. Confidence, he had been told once, breeds power.
“If he wanted to, Bael could kill you without lifting The Envy’s fingers. You sustain too much confusion, and you’ll eventually die of shock.”
“What do you want me to do then? Give you my fucking body.”
“I can save you. And you know it.”
The world faded, he was back in the real world and as far away as he could be from Belphegor’s influence. There was a sword inching its way towards his neck. The Envy, an executioner, spoke nonsense as he continued the beheading. Saboten was weaponless, and now had but one option. Without a weapon, he couldn’t perform his Lunar shot. In distress, he threw both arms against the sword and attempted to block the weapon.
Another light flashed before his eyes in the fashion of late night street lamps on fogged car windows. But no strike came. Perhaps, he figured, death was almost entirely painless. Or The Envy had decided to spare him, and shut off his senses before death. The light, however, was not the traditional heavenly gold, but a moonlight white.
The light escaped, revealing the world around him for a second time. There was no blade, no Envy, just a burning sensation from his hands. Around him were pieces of shattered steel and, above, a large circular hole in the once shuttered ceiling. The Envy was sitting behind him, his back right up against Saboten’s head.
“I didn’t know you could do that.” The Envy said, holding the handle of his once glorious sword just above Saboten’s head. “Only one person has even destroyed Bael’s sword before.”
Saboten was entirely drained now, he must’ve formed a Lunar Shot straight from his hands. The force of which was so immense it took most of his energy. “Your attack… The Lunar Shot, I think you call it. It’s a strange power. What do you suppose the beam is made of?” The Envy said.
With no words left in his throat to speak, and no energy to move them if he did, Saboten just laid there and listened, as Belphegor whispered in his ears. “Well, since you showed me that trick up your sleeve, let me show you mine.”
Shinji shivered at the sight; both the act and the blood loss froze his body. He had woken only minutes ago, with no clue of what the battle in front of him entailed. Blurry eyed, for a second, he thought he had passed out again. The Envy tapped Saboten on his shoulder with a broken sword, and Saboten flickered. For a split second, he disappeared. And when he returned, the boy was ghost white. His face stretched out like a monster, both eyes wide; and ringed.
White again. Utopia had formed around Saboten one more time, but now it was plauged with screams. A black fog clinged to the walls, spreading out from the middle. On the ceiling, Belphegor stood proudly. A pair of leathery wings protrude from his back, the colour of crushed cochineal.
“It’s not looking good for you out here,” Belphegor spoke so calmly, almost like he was comforting Saboten. “You weren’t ready to see what you saw, so you’ve fallen into shock. Even a second in the Kara Sekai feels like twenty years.”
For now, let me handle this.
Their roles reversed. Now it was Belphegor standing on the grounds of the human world. Free at last for a short, meaningless period of time. His unholy essence flowed around the thin skin of his weakened human host, granting him enough influence to voice his very form outside of the human skin.
They called it a Tsuki Form.
This state - created at the point of mutual agreement - is a physical contract between a human being and their Shinigami. Without permission, the form could only be so complete. This marked the third time Belphegor had forced his influence onto Saboten, and now he took physical occupation of his body.
At first, his body cast an airy, clouded aura. Dark and mysterious, forming around his body like a cloak to hide a collection of red streaks growing through his hair, and a whip thin tail sprouting from the base of his spine. An armour of red Iwa burst from his wrists and ankles like a burst artery, they coated his forearms first, then pointed shins took form. Two glorious exoskeletal gauntlets coated his hands.
The left half of his body had more of a dramatic change. A secondary, darker pool of Iwa formed a pauldron on his shoulder. A glimpse behind the aura revealed it had become a horrific Frankenstein’s monster of human and demonic flesh. A mouth, with a thousand teeth and a snarling, scarlet tongue, revealed itself to The Envy.
It was here that the words of Belphegor spoke not to The Envy but to Bael himself.
Is this what you wanted to see, Brother Bael?
“He can’t speak like that,” The Envy told Belphegor, his eyes tracked his new foe at the rhythm of the pulsating aura. “So this is what you look like?”
You do not deserve to see this form. You’re nothing but a puppet, and you will be eradicated like one.
“A puppet? Ha!” The Envy’s obscene chuckle echoed, but was overthrown by the inhale succeeding it. It was a maddening sound, a whistle through a broken windpipe. “Look at you, you’re already fading. You can hardly control your own powers, let alone the host. Did the humans really manage to seal you in that eye?”
The sound of his fate made the demon retch. He refused to look weak and from deep between the teeth of his second mouth, the leather wrapped hilt of a familiar sword protruded like a circus act. Along the wrapping, a phrase in the Shinigami tongue had been carved, but it quickly became obscured by the scarlet gauntlet.
It was torn from the lipless crevice, slicing the sensitively skinned corners to reveal a sword worthy of a God. A black blade, formed from the very soil of the Kara Sekai; as hard as diamonds, and impenetrable. Impossible to smith, until Belpehgor needed a true blade. A fraction his soul lives between the layers of incredible metals, red vials like veins carry the essence of Belphegor himself.
It marked the release of Saboten’s second ring, and an increase of Belphegor’s power. He just needed to wait for it to 'click’ with him.
Lifting the ceremonially used weapon, Belphegor release an exasperating scream that shattered the illusion around him. Saboten’s friends were released from The Envy’s world, and could - somewhat - flee to safety, as the battle truly began.
Belphegor already began to grow weaker, however. His form could only last a certain amount of time before Saboten broke free from his internal prison. Then his influence would fall from him like a cocoon, revealing a recently empowered, yet ruthlessly weakened Saboten.
It wasn’t much of a worry. When they clashed, Belphegor was clearly superior. It was The Envy’s weapon that took the damage this time, cracks began to show in the steel. An inferior design. The strikes kept flowing, forcing The Envy into a defensive stance. His facial expression never moved. Always staring into Belphegor’s eyes or rather, looking past them at Saboten, who was watching the fight from the sidelines.
The infernal glares, he kept his eyes firmly in place even when chunks were flayed from his flesh by the very air flow of the blade. No matter what, he would keep staring. But it all made sense, he was under his own influence. Nothing was real to Bael, and the same goes for The Envy. Not even pain could tie him down to reality.
In the back of his head, Belphegor could hear Saboten stirring. The clicking noise, it was almost as if his power lusted for his usage. The clicking, it was a signal. A new power had been festering in the soul of his weakened form.
He stopped striking, and waited for The Envy to react. In his hallucinatory stupor, The Envy’s brain wouldn’t process the idea of a trap. He just went for the strike. A step in too close to Belphegor, however, released an explosion of ever burning flames. A dome, powerful enough to knock him back, singing his face. The skin melted like plastic, bubbling and warping with each pained scream.
The flames, like a manifestation of hell fire, surrounded his demonic form like bat wings. You asked about the Lunar shot, Belphegor began. The flames coated his left hand, morphing into a ball. He took step after step, retribution near and the perfect tool to reap it in the palm of his hand. It’s what you’d expect, light from the Kara Sekai, summoned through the Jigoku Crown in it’s ray form. He knelt, the fire flickered near the left side of his disgusting face; the side less ravished. Inches away, he whispered. This fire should be familiar brother, it’s our sun in its most natural form. And it’s all mi-.
"It’s ours.” Saboten’s voice moaned from his original set of lips. Their shared body froze, and the fire died. Saboten had woken, energized and Belphegor had missed his chance.
“T- Time’s up,” The Envy laughed, the flame still alight against his face like he sweat petrol. It plumed reddish smoke, a similar colour to the pattern burnt into his skin. “I- I suppose it is about that time, e- eh?”
Don’t you dare leave. Belphegor managed to say, the teeth already falling from his monstrously formed mouth.
“I’d just love to have you stop me, but I re- really must dash.”
There was no second warning. No puff of smoke, no resolution, no retribution. The Envy just disappeared like Saboten had, The Envy had ran with his tail between his legs to the Kara Sekai to recuperate. Belphegor’s influence faded, cracking from his host body like an exuvia. His exoskeletal remains evaporated into a clear, nondescript dust.
Beneath the once proud, powerful carcass laid Saboten; fragments of iwa still clinged to the fabric of his clothing, the shoulders of which were patterned with black rings where the fire had burned through. A scar, like a sinister brand, sat stamped on his left hand pectoral where the mouth had emanated from. The skin, tender and warm to the touch, ached heavily. He could still feel the squirming tongue dancing to the beat of Belphegor’s words.
His friends, all of them stared at him. Even those tending to Shinji, whose eyes had rolled back into his skull. The very sweat on his body steamed, trails of vapour took the form of eight tentacles whipping in the windless air. A soreness in his face, a radiating from both forearms; he wasn’t in a bad state. If anything, his power had increased. His eye, it span slowly, he could feel its movement.
There were two rings circling his pupil now, and a new set of abilities hidden from view in the back of his head. The very air shook in anticipation; it was time to get moving.
Thank you for taking the time to read this chapter.
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