Birth of a Wish

“There’s no salvation for you.”

                The short Tanuki demon says before savoring another taste of wine from a gilded skull. Her golden eyes roll back as a sensual smile rises from her lips. A single purple drop escapes from the corner of her mouth and falls onto her cleavage. Each breast is the size of the mounds of gold littering her otherworld penthouse suite.

“You need to accept me before that march’s white guardians finishes you.”

                She shifts in her ornate seat, swishing her fuzzy brown tail. It paces back and forth across the intricate rug underneath us. She brushes away a long bang of brunette hair and leers.

“Or do you want to be sacrificed to envy?”

                Harsh teals, purples, and blues shine through the windows behind her. Light pollution masks the stars of an alien sky. Between skyscrapers suburban lights shimmer for a couple klicks. Her march is getting there, probably a mid-sized. This is about the point where they become a pain to deal with.

“I want to find my men and escape,” I answer.

“Impossible.”

                I stand up from the couch that would be typical for an upstart Shanghai magnate. The demon grimaces at the plates of untouched pastries, hors d’oeuvres, meats, and cheeses laid out on the coffee table. Break time is over.

“This year is good. Wouldn’t you like to try some?”

“I’ll pass.”

“Then tea? I recently acquired a rare blend from western China.”

“I’m not thirsty.”

“Nonsense. You fought off a group of guardians less than an hour ago.”

                I turn to leave without another word. It’s the only way to get Eimi to shut up. As I open the front door to this otherworld apartment, she calls out to me.

“We’ll talk again.”

“Don’t bother.”

                I slam the door, but I never hear the impact. Instead, the engines to the automatic doors found throughout the colony whirl behind me. The faint scent of salt replaces the lavender, trading one hell for another.

                A dusting of salt across polished concrete crunches underneath my footfalls. Markus always joked that the noise made him hungry, said it reminded him of the crunch-pops in his favorite chocolate bar. It shifts and swirls around my boots even though there’s no wind.

                I draw my sword as I continue down the corridor toward the last hanger I haven’t checked. The immaterial HUB overlaying my vision doesn’t tell me anything new. Magic convergence levels are at dangerous levels, no shit. There are at least three marches stomping around but looking closely, I can see the values tick up higher as the air charges with emotion. It’s envy again.

                The oxygen generating pipe, flowing with genetically engineered algae, splits into a malicious grin on the wall. Between its lips, a yellow eyeball is born. Black tears drool over. The numbers on the display spike.

                Salt spirals around me – five, six, seven human sized whirlwinds. From inside the haze, pale figures with distorted features form – misshapen eyes, a mouth that unhinges to reveal 75-caliber rifle barrel, joints that bend in impossible directions, an android’s uncovered skull mask woven with pulsing black-scarlet veins. The salt solidifies into broken melee weapons and tattered armor. This lot must be recent sacrifices.

                Engage Close Quarters Combat Links

                I decapitate the rifle-mouth the moment it finishes materializing. That thing is too dangerous to leave for last.

                Droplets of black blood spray into the air. The march filled husk of flesh and metal falls backward. When it touches the ground, it scatters into salt.

                They howl and charge. I cut down the next one while it clumsily pulls back its ruined sword. The third falls just as fast for the same reason. They must’ve been civilians that didn’t keep up their training.

                As the fourth and fifth open fire with SMGs used by MPs, I slip behind the sixth. I charge forward using it as a shield. By the third step it explodes into a plume of salt, but that’s enough. I side step the barrel of the fourth’s gun and capitalize on the flank. They too fall into pillars of salt.

                The final one, the android, attacks last. Her dull pewter hair traces behind her, and she lashes out with a heavy blow. The clash of our swords is ear splitting. She’s quick, definitely a companion model partnered with a soldier. The veins of her mask pulse as she tries to break my guard through strength.

“i hATe YoU,” she growls.

                Her voice is the sound of grinding gravel burying a man alive.

“Y r OnLY u fRee!?”

                Her strength surges as she presses forward, but that move is her undoing. With a flick of the wrist and a shift of weight, I redirect her energy. She tumbles to the side, and I end her suffering, however momentarily.  

                It’s not the end for those seven. They’ll respawn time and again until the march is destroyed. The repeated shocks of death will crack open their psyches and let the march’s purpose flow them. It’ll slowly wash away their identities until there is nothing left but an unwavering devotion to the utopia that devoured them. It’s the same for all salt legionnaires.

                The overbearing jealousy lifts from the air. Salt no longer stirs. I sheathe my sword.

                Disengage Close Quarters Combat Links

                Red-violet capillaries squirm inside the yellow eye seething at me. It quivers and trembles, unable to scream. Celina had a habit of stabbing them whenever they got like this. She’d scream, “Creepy!” and lunge at full speed. Creeped out androids are kinda funny. However, I leave it be. There’s no reason to agitate the march further.

                The automatic doors close behind me as I leave the main subway thoroughfare of Venera train station for the service corridors. These snake in and out of the outer walls of the colony habitat and the breathable air balloons that keep it floating above the maelstrom of sulfuric acid and sulfuric dioxide vapor that ravage the Venusian surface. Hopefully, I can avoid anymore encounters on route to Landis Hanger Bay this way.

                Emergency lights wash the exposed pipes, ducts, and service equipment in red and black. Water drips from a pipe marred with slashes. I can’t tell if they’re from a sword or a claw. The air tastes of salt, but the floors and walls are clean. My hand finds its way to my sword as I proceed cautiously, listening for any movement. Situations like this would always put Jacob on edge, but Celina could keep him calm just by resting her hand on his back. Well, and whatever else she was saying to him through private thought-comms.

                And then, I notice a corpse crumpled next to a hot water pipe. Three large slash marks gouge out his armor and chest. Blood stains the floor, walls, and a broken sword clutched in his hand. I know this man. He’s Markus, one of the four people under my command. I breathe out my emotions. I didn’t want to find him like this.

                He was my second  and never got the credit he deserved. I could always count on him to save the people I couldn’t. I breathe out again. Remember Casey, there’s still three left. Three left. I haven’t lost everything yet. Besides, where’s Vivian? I search the immediate area for Markus’s android companion, but I can’t find a trace of her. There’s no way she doesn’t know what happened to him. She’ll be taking this harder than me. She was his number one fan.

                However, I search his corpse for ammunition. It’s been four days since we were split up, and I haven’t found any resupply since. It doesn’t take long to realize that he was in the same position as me. His rifle and sidearm are spent. There’s not a frag, flashbang, smoke, or mag-dampening grenade on him. He really gave them hell.

                Remember, there’s still a chance that Jacob, Celina, and Vivian are alive. I just need to find a ship. I can use its radio to get touch with them even though comms went down in the colony.

*                *                *                *

                In a penthouse suite that looks over a gaudy city nestled between realities, two women drink around a coffee table blanketed in pastries, hors d’oeuvres, meats, and cheeses. Neon lights from outside reflect from piles of gold, silver, and platinum that litter the floor. The smell of lavender, wine, and sugar float about them.

“Tanis made a magnificent mess of things, wouldn’t you say?” The kitsune demon, Seira, says before sipping her wine from a gilded skull.

                Her single, long golden-red tail quivers as she savors the taste, “Aaah, this is a good year!”

“He created a better crisis than I expected. It’d be a shame to waste it.” Eimi answers.

“Like so many of us do.”

“You’re the same type as him.”

“I am not! Tanis is an idiot too caught up punishing the haves to reach out to the have-nots. While he’s been charging forward with his crusade, I’ve reached out to the hollows he’s left in his wake.”

                Seira’s ears fall as she stares down at her half-empty drink.

“I feel sorry for the poor things. They become lost so easily without their partner. I want them to find passion again.”

                Eimi smiles as she finishes her wine.

“You’re too caught up in sentiment. How many hollows have joined your march?”

“Ten.”

                The tanuki laughs. Her chest and chestnut hair bounce with every breath.

“And in the same amount of time, five hundred and thirty-two have joined me in our march to prosperity – humans and hollows alike.”

                Seira chomps down on a hors d’oeuvre much too forcibly than is expected of a woman in her dress.

“Oh, shut up. It doesn’t matter how many of them join us, because Casey is worth more than everyone else in the colony combined. I’m worried though. Is this enough to break him?”

“Hmmm,” Eimi plays with a few coins, “It should. He’s been fighting for seven days now, four of them alone. He hasn’t touched the food or drink I’ve offered, so he must be surviving off MREs or whatever he’s scavenged. He’s tired too and entertains my offer for longer each time I make it. Every time I bring him here, he has less. It won’t be much longer before his struggle bankrupts him.”

“Do you really think he’s that kind of a man?”

“No one can withstand the suffering of poverty.”

“But he still has the passion to live. As long as he has that, he’ll continue to fight even if he’s naked and hungry.”

“It’s funny how quickly the heart falters when it’s deprived of everything.”

“It’s sad how quickly riches wither it too.”

                The two women bare their fangs at each other through smiles. It’s their nature to believe that their march parades down the only road.

“Oh, wow! This one is great,” Seira tastes a cherry pastry, “you should try it.”

                Eimi accepts her offer, eating from the fox’s slender fingers. The tanuki’s tail buzzes the moment it touches her tongue.

“It is! I’ll be sure to put the pastissier on the preferred vendors list.”

“Say, I’ve been wondering. How does Casey help you? It’s not like you can get more tails.”

“He’s one of the few men who can give me daughters. Each will one will go out and exponentially grow our march until we possess everything. And once we do, we will see to it that no one ever suffers from want again.”

“Aaah, that’s why you agreed to help me bring Tanis to the colony.”

“It’s not without risk, but the opportunity is too great. What are two million would-be followers compared to utopia?”

“Indeed.”

*                *                *                *

                After walking twenty klicks in and out of the breathable air balloons in addition to the twenty I walked this morning, my legs ache. Outside of the colony’s stabilizers, the catwalks shift and slide as the colony is blown by the fierce winds of Venus’s upper atmosphere. I still have a ways to go, but I’m glad to be back inside.

                Steel and concrete faces, each the size of a man, jut out from the walls. They twist and turn into grotesque visages of rage, horror, fear, sorrow, anguish, and whatever the hell else this march does to people. Their misshapen eyes follow me. One voices a silent scream from its over-sized mouth. The next curls its tongue in front of its snarl. Another cries a pool of red-violet blood. Of all the marches I’ve fought against, this one is in the running for most fucked up. Envy is an ugly thing.

                I always appreciated Markus’s color commentary in situations like this. He had a dark, deadpan sense of humor that could break tension. Vivian would play along, acting as his straight woman. The two of them were funny enough to make Celina forget her disgust and Jacob his unease. There’s nothing like a round of laughter to keep morale up and make a terrible situation bearable.

                I’ll never hear it again.

                Whenever I got like this, Nadia would snake her hand with mine, interlacing our fingers. She would meet my eyes and without saying a word, let me know that I didn’t have to bear it alone. The future still had the possibility to gain more than we had lost.

                I miss her.

                The salt is still underneath my boots. The magic convergence rating fluctuates between I’m gonna die and it’s all over, like usual. Further ahead, black sigils are burned into the floor.

                Circle after ornate circle tattoo the polished concrete. Runes and intricate geometric patterns decorate their interiors. The lines are seemingly random but oddly precise. The interspace government  spent hundreds of trillions, using the most advanced thoughtforms mankind could produce, trying to discern meaning from the millions of sigils its collected, but none ever has. Whatever logic they contain is only comprehensible to the march that created them, but there are trends, and I recognize this one. These are the tell-tale sign of sacrifice. How many thousands of people did they draft into their legion here?

                The pedestrian highway that circles around the 23rd habitat district is eerily quiet. It’s been a while since I’ve gone this long without encountering a legionnaire, traitor, or monstrosity born from the malignant emotions saturating the colony. It’s almost as unnerving as fighting against them.

                Attempting to establish connection with Akna Montes Colony internet… Error. No wireless gateway signal detected. Does this location have internet capabilities?

                I click my tongue. I’m glad the colony’s thoughtform decided to kill himself before the demons’ corruption claimed him, but I could use his help right now. I understand why he disabled everything but the most essential systems, the marches could use them to round up survivors, but comms would help us too. At least he enabled functional AI and algorithms. There’d be no hope us if he didn’t.

                A familiar purple ore rests on the tongue of a face lost in ecstasy, caelium. This stuff is fun, but its presence is terrifying. It’s a material that has negative mass. It’s commonly used in spaceships and other vehicles to lighten them, and is one of the many impossible substances that demonic corruption twists reality to produce. However, it only appears in the most corrupt hellscapes that defy common sense.

                I quicken my pace. I need to get in contact with Vivian, Jacob, and Celina and escape. We don’t have much longer before a march will claim us one way or another. Every man has a breaking point. No one’s will is infinite and when the world no longer makes sense, it can snap any moment.

                I blink as I pass through a gate on the pedestrian highway and find myself in an all too familiar lavender scented room. The short tanuki demon, Eimi, reclines on a couch that costs more than what many men make in a year. A black cocktail dress emphasizes her curves that are as large as her fortune. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve given her more than a second a look, but that’s how demons are. They’re vile, alluring tempters.

“You look worse,” she says after glancing over me.

“It’s been a rough day.”

                I take a seat across from her. I would love to turn around and walk back out, but I need a break. I can rest here without worrying about an attack. Eimi isn’t as hostile as the demon marching over the colony.

“You should eat.”

                The delicacies from before have been replaced by more nourishing options – hearty sandwiches, beef stew, steaming sweet potatoes, robust salads, and freshly baked bread. My stomach growls, and my mouth waters. It looks and smells better than MREs I’ve been living off of.

“No thanks.”

                She grimaces, tail flopping side to side, but I’m not stupid enough to accept a gift from a demon. There’s always a catch.

“It hurts to see you like this. I promise you that the food is normal. It was made by the best chefs in my march.”

“I’ll pass.”

“How are you doing with munitions? I have weapons, ammunition, and armor. Ask, I’ll provide some to you.”

“No way in hell am I using a demonic gun.”

“I have your kind’s too.”

                That’s far too tempting of an offer.

“Not interested.”

“There’s no strings attached. It’s a gift.”

“You think I’d take a demon’s word?”

“It’s truer than a human’s.”

                She’s not wrong about that.

“I want to rescue you, but you have to let me. If you keep going like this, you’ll lose everything. Once you do, there’s no coming back.”

“There’s always a way forward.”

                Every slayer knows this. Even in the bleakest situation, there’s a way to win. It might mean retreating and returning with reinforcements, but victory is still possible. It’s only when you’re overcome by despair that a demon wins.

“Have you heard, ‘For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him?’ It was written in your Bible. Your economists called it the Matthew Principle.”

“When I didn’t sleep through the Chaplin’s Sunday services.”

“It’s the fundamental truth of reality. No matter which you journey to. People suffer because they do not have wealth. Have you ever wondered why I drink from a skull?”

                She lifts her favorite drinkware for me to see.

“No. It seems like a very demon thing to do.”

                She laughs. She laughs so hard that she almost spills her drink on the exquisite oriental rug underneath us.

“It is! But for me, it’s more than a very demon thing to do. This skull belonged to a young man who fell into so much debt that his life was taken as payment. It reminds me every day of what poverty will do to a man.”

“Why plate it in gold then?”

“Because I have expensive taste.”

“Honest.”

“I told you that demons were,” she sips from her morbid daily reminder, “So, why don’t you let me ease your suffering even a little? You don’t have to join my march. Just let me give you something so that you’ll have the strength for us to meet again.”

“Not happening.”

                Her ear droop with her expression, and I stand up. This was a long enough rest.

“Stay safe,” she says, “Tanis is relentless in his crusade. He’ll rob you of everything and delight in your suffering. It won’t end until he grows bored of you.”

“So that’s the demon’s name. He’s worse than I thought.”

                Before I step back into the hellscape that Tanis made, Eimi calls out to me.

“Casey, there will come a time when not even I will be able to save you.”

*                *                *                *

                Salt rises to my ankles as I rush down the highway. It doesn’t move, but there must have been one hell of a fight here recently. For over an hour now, my hand has been glued to the hilt of my sword. I come to a halt when I see the epicenter of it, Jacob and Celina Reid slouched together against a median.

                They’re a bloody mess. Deep gouges and fragments of steel mar their bodies. Jacob’s missing an eye and half a leg. A broken spear impales his stomach and half of his chest is charred black. Celina’s black hair falls to the sides of the gray blade lodged in her forehead, destroying her primary computer matrix. Further down, a spear penetrates her heart, where the power generator and backup matrix of an android rest. And in spite of all that, they’re holding hands.

                I tremble in place. They were so much like Nadia and me. They got married and were going to start a family together. They planned on inseminating an egg with his sperm and implanting it in her artificial womb. They were even saving up money to genetically alter their baby so they would resemble Celina too, just like a human mother would. I was going to write a recommendation for their transfer from active deployment to instruction when the time came. Jacob was patient with people and had a knack for teaching.

                Now only Vivian is left. It takes longer than it should for me to search them for supplies, and I don’t find anything. It was obvious. This pond of salt is proof that they fought until they couldn’t anymore. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Tears well in my eyes but I sprint away before I make a scene bigger than they did.

                Please be alive. Please. I can’t deal with this alone.

                I run down the highway. Advertisements for businesses that no longer exist shine on immaterial displays above me. I can almost hear the whirr from decorative trees I pass by. Black sigils and aberrations dot the road. I need to hurry.

                The highway opens up onto a skybridge that passes high above the commercial district of the northern habitat. Neon colors shine from the signs and lights hanging from the sides of pillar-like skyscrapers that reach from the floor to the ceiling of the colony. A few weeks ago this scene would’ve been a wonderous monument to mankind, but now it’s a technicolor revenant.

                My feet stop when I see a human looking out from the bridge, laughing. I slide along the pavement, the grains of salt making it hard to stop. A brown haired man in his twenties turns to face me. He’s clean and well-rested, as if the danger haunting this colony never visited him in his sleep. My blood boils. He’s a traitor. I know it. People like him are responsible for what happened to Markus, Celina, and Jacob.

“What the hell are…” he begins, “Hey, I know you.”

                My hand is already on the hilt of my sword.

“And I know what you are,” I answer.

                The unfiltered hostility in my voice forces him to step back.

“You’re Casey Logan, that famous demon slayer, aren’t you? The guy that killed the demon who lead the March to Justice.”

                Engage Close Quarter Combat Links.

“Tsch,” he clicks his tongue, “man, I should’ve known that you’d still be alive after all this. It’s not my lucky day, is it?”

                The magical convergence values spike as salt flows from the wind. Magic. I knew he was a traitor.

“I hate people like you,” he says, “you’re all high and mighty because you’re blessed with everything that people like me don’t have. People love you. You can do anything you want because you were born with talent. You act like it’s all because of your hard work when you actually won the lottery at birth.”

                Warning! Magical manifestation imminent!

                A compass arrow pointing toward the traitor overlays my vision without obscuring anything. Sparks appear from his outstretched palm.

“It’s because of bastards like you that this world’s fucked.”

                Envy is such an ugly thing.

“Die,” he finishes.

                Drawing from the collective power of the march, the traitor manifests a conflagration. Magic. The greatest power the marches have over mankind. It’s ignores the laws of the conservation of matter and energy to bring about impossible realities. All of human progress, innovation, and technology pales in comparison to it.

                I roll to the side. The heat singes edges of my clothes and armor. With a powerful leap, I lunge at the traitor to take him out in a single attack. However, the moment before my blade would run him through, another crosses with mine. A pale salt legionnaire in standard issue infantry armor stands in my way.

                I pull back as the clatter of SMG fire rips through where I once was. A slide along the ground evades another plume of fire, and I close the distance to the first gunmen.

                Four legionnaires detected. Displaying locations.

                More compass arrows point toward the enemies I can and can’t see. With a flick of my sword, the first opponent turns into a pillar of salt. In the corner of my vision, I see the traitor take off toward one of the buildings connected to the skybridge. However, I’m unable to follow after him as the other gunman takes a bead while two swords descend upon me.

                As gunshots shatter the silence of this ghost town, I press into the swordsman on my left. Inside his guard, I stymie his attack and avoid the two others. A stomp to the knee brings him onto my shoulder and I charge the gunman while hiding underneath the saltman. Bullets tear into my inhuman shield, but he doesn’t erupt into salt. Without a second thought, I toss them onto each other, buying me the few moments I need to deal the one still standing.

                Our blades clash once, but not twice. His head and arm roll onto the ground. Soon after, he’s a pile a salt. While the others struggle to untie themselves, I finish them off. It’s at times like these that I wish I had a gun. However, it’s for times like these that we have swords, our weapons of last resort.

                What’s most annoying about the salt legions isn’t that they endlessly reappear. That’s frustrating. It’s that it’s impossible to resupply off them. Everything that they are and carry turns to salt when they die – flesh, armor, and weapons.

                Warning! Three gunshot wounds detected in right flank. Critical damage inflicted to gallbladder and pancreas. Beginning emergency healing protocols.

                I stare at the door the traitor escaped through, suppressing the need to kill him while nanomachines tend to my wounds. Fire still burns in my veins. It’s because of bastards like him that I’ve lost three of my men, but chasing after him won’t save Vivian. It takes everything I have to pull away from that door and continue onto the Landis Hanger Bay.

                Disengage Close Quarters Combat Links.

                Vivian is more important. Vivian is more important. Vivian is more important. I can’t lose her. Without her, I’ll have nothing left. My world drained of color when I lost Nadia fighting the March to Justice. I was able to continue on, because my men were with me. They gave me a reason to live. With them, I can carry this weight.

                As I press forward, my stomach roars from the price of healing my wounds. I’ve lost six kilos this week. This fight will cost me another. A voice in the back of my mind whispers that I should’ve taken Eimi’s offer. I need all the strength I can get if I want to see Vivian again. The MRE I gobble down isn’t enough. I needed to polish off that entire table.

                I shake my head. Stop thinking stupid shit. Nothing good ever comes from accepting a demon’s gift. Even if she wasn’t lying, it sets a precedent. One gift becomes another, and soon I’m in debt to her. Then I’m the skull she drinks from.

                Forward. Salt irritates my tongue. I descend down a long ramp and into the next section of the pedestrian highway. Navigation information is transposed on top of my vision. The Landis Hanger Bay isn’t far now.

                As I take the ramp toward my destination, the world shifts. The desecrated colony walkway warps into a spacious tatami mat room. Soft light filters through paper walls. A beautiful kitsune woman lays across a pile of exotic pillows. Her short crimson kimono is suggestively disheveled, covering only a single pale shoulder, her supple legs to the thigh, and her modest chest. Her fox ears and tail, the same golden-fire as her overflowing hair, rise jump up when she sees me.

“Casey! What happened!? You look awful.”

                Her tail sways in time to the pitter-patter of her steps. She places her hand between my shoulder blades.

“Come, sit down, you need to rest.”

“Don’t touch me.”

“Casey, don’t be like that,” she grimaces.

                That expression… Seira resembles Nadia so much – the same build, the same hair color, the same subtle expressions, and the same gentle air. My hand finds itself holding hers rather than the hilt of my sword. My feet follow her urgings to the soft pillows.

“I don’t have time for this.”

                She sits next to me, pressing her shoulder against mine and rests a slender hand on my thigh.

“You look like you want to cry.”

“Shut up.”

“I won’t tease you.”

“Go away.”

                Our eyes meet and time slow down as we hold our gaze. It’s as if she’s silently asking, “Why don’t you tell me?” But, I don’t say a thing. Bird song drifts into the room. She doesn’t back down.

“If you want to leave, I won’t stop you.”

                Our quiet standoff continues on. After a few long minutes, her fingers interlace with mine. Those blue-violet eyes urge, “You don’t have to bear it alone.” I break away.

“Markus, Celina, and Jacob are dead.”

                She squeezes my hand.

“I’m so sorry.”

                The fingertips of her other hand caress my back.               

“Only Vivian is left. I need to find her before it’s too late, but I don’t know where she is, that’s why…”

“Color won’t leave your world again.”

                She hugs me. It amazes me how such a simple thing could feel so good. I know she’s a demon, and I should cut her down right here, but I can’t.  She’s left herself defenseless to comfort me. How can I betray that? I return her embrace.

“Ah!”

                I squeeze her too hard, but she buries face in the crook of my neck and coos. Her soft ears brush across my cheek and a faint smell of honey tickles my nose. I enjoy the sensation far longer than I should. It doesn’t lighten the weight I carry. I still need to find Vivian as soon as possible, but I can manage it better now.

“I can’t promise you that your friend is still alive or even the same person you remember,” she says, “I wish I could help you find her. She’s probably suffering alone, but I’m not that strong of a demon. I only have one tail, and I can count everyone in my march on my fingers and toes.”

“It’s fine.”

                Her silky hair rubs against my neck.

“No. Everyone is alone. We suffer because of the weight of the world bears down on us. It squeezes out our passion for life through tragedy, misery, and struggle. It’s too much for anyone to bear by themselves. Your people recognize that. It’s why everyone is given a companion hollow, right?”

“Yeah. It was so awful after demons appeared six-hundred years ago that suicide and drug use claimed more lives than the marches. Androids changed that.”

                I watch emotion swell in her face. She hugs me harder than her small frame would suggest is possible. That’s a rule when fighting demons. Appearances are deceiving.

“That’s so beautiful! I dream of a utopia where no one will ever have to be alone. Their passion for life and each other will grow day by day until the weight of the world is as light as a feather.”

                She sighs out her feelings.

“You should go find her. Her partner was Markus, right? Losing him must’ve broken her heart.”

                Her warm arms leave me.

“I won’t ask you to join my march. You’re a demon slayer. There’s no way you would, but please find her. I truly wish that neither of you had to suffer anymore.”

“Thanks,” I say standing up.

                Before I leave, she calls out to me.

“Casey! My arms are always open.”

*                *                *                *

                After another hour of walking, I finally enter Landis Hanger Bay. Ever since the fight against the march took a turn for the worse, and I was separated from my men, I’ve been searching hangars for a ship to escape on. However, they’ve always been empty. I should’ve known that whoever could flee would at the first opportunity. There was no cost in doing so. If the march was put down then they could return home. If the march overwhelmed the colony then they escaped with their lives.

                I imagined the civilian ports would be like this, but not the military ones as well. Perhaps, I thought too much of my fellow men-at-arms, because I worked primarily with other slayers. I forgot that we’re the nut jobs who volunteer to descend into hell. The average soldier wants to do his time, get out alive, and move back somewhere safe. If they are forced to fight, they want to be far away on a ship, firing cannons from a distance. Or maybe, I’m condemning them based on a handful of cowards.

                Either way, I haven’t found a single ship until now. In the far corner of the vast hangar, a single platoon-sized transport sits parked. There’s no black sigils or creepy faces here. There aren’t any blast marks or claw gouges. There’s not even a grain of salt to be seen. I made it. I can radio Vivian, and then we can get out of here. I sprint, however, as I close in, a figure emerges from the shadows.

“I knew you’d eventually make it here.”

                Vivian… she’s alive! Her black uniform is torn in places, but the armor protecting her did its job. It’s dented, stained with salt, and looked it’s seen better days, but it kept her alive.

“Vivian…”

                Her name fumbles out of my mouth. She made it. Her blond bob cut sways with her steps. Markus said that there was nothing more beautiful than a woman with long legs, and Vivian proves the point.

“Thank God,” I mutter, “Comms are down in the colony so I was going to radio you from a ship, but this is the first one I’ve found. Jacob, Celina, and… Markus, I found them. They’re all… Let’s get out of here. The colony is lost.”

                A sword rests in her hand.

“No.”

                The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

                My gut is telling me exactly what it is, but my I refuse to believe it.

“It’s your fault that they’re dead. That everyone in this colony is either dead, a salt puppet, a traitor, or a new demon ready to march over us. It’s your fault. It’s all because of you.”

                Her beautiful face twists into a snarl.

“They came for you. You’re the reason why Markus was taken from me.”

                She points her sword at me.

“Vivian, don’t do this.”

“Draw your weapon!”

“I’m sorry for what happened to Markus. I didn’t want it to happen either. I can’t replace him, but if you need a partner, I’ll be yours. You don’t have to carry everything alone. I’ll help you the way that Markus, Jacob, Celina, and you helped me after-.”

“HahaHahahAhAhaHAHAAhahaHAAaHAhAHAhaAHA!”

                She howls and cackles like I’ve never seen before. She laughs so hard that she clutches her stomach and nearly drops her weapon. She stumbles about, the force of her laughter overpowering her bio-cybernetic legs.

“Aaah,” she wipes away the tears from her green eyes. Markus always said that was the prettiest color, “That was funny. You think that I want to partner with you?”

                I don’t like her smile.

“Casey Logan, I hate you.”

                The words are sharper than the blade of her sword.

“It was your stupid decision that trapped us this backwater settlement. It was your bravado that kept Markus out of the limelight. No one ever noticed how brilliant he was. How many battles he rescued from defeat and how many victories he single-handily achieved. No one noticed how brave he was or how many lives he saved except for me. Everyone else was too focused on the hero who defeated the great Demon of Justice. They didn’t see the man who saved all the people the demon almost claimed.”

                A wind blows. It tastes like salt.

“If they had… if they had…” Her fists tremble. “We could’ve chosen to be deployed back on Earth. We could’ve gotten the hell away from you and all the demons infatuated with you. I hate you, Casey Logan. You stole Markus from me. I hate all the haves like you. It’s because of people like you that people like Markus suffer and die. The world would be a better place without you.”

                Warning! Magical manifestation imminent!

                Salt spins around her and her blade. No… Vivian… please… I don’t want to do this.

“I’m not waiting,” she attacks.

                Engage Close Quarter Combat Links.

                The clash of metal splits my ears. My hands stings from the heavy blow. Animosity drives her sword into mine, locking them together. A vein bulges in her forehead and a cheek twitches as she tries to overpower me. Those reactions… she maxed out on organics, didn’t she? Nadia and Celina did the same thing.

“Vivian, stand down!”

                A thread of spiraling salt flows to her feet. An indicator from the distributed nanomachine computer system inside me warns of a magical attack from below.

“When you’re dead!”

                I sidestep the three meter long steel spike that shoots up. It pierces the air at the speed of a bullet before stopping as suddenly as it appeared. It lingers for a breath before collapsing into salt.

                A spell too? It’s not lingering magic reacting to her emotions. How far has she marched with them? It’s impossible to appeal to her personality now. It’s too warped. I hate doing this, but-

“Android!”

“Hah! You show your true colors now.”

                No, I’m not! You’re a part of mankind. You’re not a tool like functional AI. I narrowly dodge four more spikes that take off from the concrete floors. Sparks fly when I slap away her sword.

“State your purpose!”

                I avoid a thrust to the neck by a hair’s breadth, but the salt flowing around her sword shaves away a layer of skin.

“To protect and nurture humanity!”

“Then stand down! Your actions violate your purpose!”

“Negative!” She raises her sword above her head.

                Salt flies to her blade from every direction. Another spell – I shouldn’t block this. I fall back in time to watch a parade of salt afterimages cut through my vision. Even if I had stopped the blade, thousands of others would’ve sliced through me.

“I am human!”

“You’re a monster!”

                Vivian isn’t an android anymore. Demons have twisted her programming to excuse whatever jealous retribution she feels justified in taking. But, she’s not gone. She might not be an android anymore, but she still has the parts. If I can disable her for a while, I can put her in maintenance and restore of all her corrupted code. Even transferring her data into new hardware would work. Hell, there’s the backup. I’m sorry Markus. I’ll need to hurt your girl.

                First things first, disarm her. I lash out at her wrists, but the salt circling her intercepts my attack. This is a spell too.

“Finally…” she breathes out, “you stop playing the tragic hero, murderer.”

                Is that how you saw me? Those feelings are more dangerous to me than her weapon or magic. Even if you’re like this, I won’t give up on you.

                The easiest way to counter salt based protections like the one Vivian is using is to overwhelm them with firepower. In the past, we blasted them with shotgun or machine gun fire from multiple angles. Even in one-on-one encounters, it’s doable with a couple handgun magazines or a frag. I should’ve taken Eimi up on her offer.

                The haze of salt rushing about Vivian thins as three more spears rocket from the concrete. I react to the tell and avoid them with quick footwork. There’s the silvering lining – she uses the same magic for attack and defense. I seize the opportunity to cut off her hands.

                However, she stymies the attempt with agility. I try again after the next spell, but it fails too. No matter where I target – her wrists, elbows, shoulders, or knees, I’m unable to catch her with such noncommittal attacks. She’s improved so much from our morning sparring matches when she first joined. Her smiled bloomed every time Markus praised her efforts. I wish I could see it again.

                Sparks flit as I intercept an attempt for my neck. Vivian is as much of a slayer as me. The only way I can stop her is if I come at her with the intent to kill. I don’t want to. She’s like a little sister to me. I have no choice but to rely on her backup. As long as that isn’t corrupted, I can bring back the Vivian I know. All she needs is to be put into a new frame.

                I aim for her head. A puff of salt halts the attack. I step into her guard, and another barrier stops a punch to her chest. Spell warnings flare as she steps back, but I stick close. My hair flutters from the updrafts rushing centimeters behind me. Salt intercepts a grab, but I continue to press against it. More gathers to ward off my hand that continues to push into it. Thought so. This is a weak point defense spell meant to ward off bullets and strikes.

                I smile. Blood surges in my veins as the possibility of saving Vivian becomes more likely. If she were more in tune with the March to Envy, she’d manifest a barrier spell instead. If she were more adept at controlling her salt, she’d sever my hand. She retreats faster, fewer gusts billow behind me, then none do. She’s out of salt.

                What’s confusing though is that she refuses to go to the floor with me. It would fall into my plan of disabling her magic, but she knows how to grapple. The fight wouldn’t be over. As my hand gets closer to her, she growls, “Don’t touch me.”

                I disgust her now. Two weeks ago she had me a headlock, because I won the pudding she’d been saving in a poker game. Not much longer and she’ll be that Vivian again. I exploit her rejection and sweep her feet from the floor.

“Hmph!” The impact wrestles her voices from lips.

                I fling the salt away to buy the few seconds I need. Before I lodge my sword between her eyes, I see the girl I’ve always known looking up at me. Keep it together now. I follow through, and the salt ceases to move.

                I rip off her armor and uniform, exposing her chest. My sword slams into her sternum. Black-scarlet machine blood oozes up from organic flesh, but I didn’t crack through the metal bones it clings to. Again! More blood and my hands sting. Again! There’s a horrible creak and a breast rolls to the side. Again! I want to vomit. Again! Her chest splits open.

                Gray and scarlet fibers weave a spiderweb of circuitry and veins. Semi-organic machine lungs lie motionless. Blood and computer fluid cover everything in a glossy sheen. I reach into the mess of flesh and cybernetics and grab her heart, the power generator and backup found in every android.

                My stomach knots when I touch it. It’s warm. Something isn’t right. An entirely cybernetic part pulses, but I don’t want to believe it. The sick snapping of blood vessels and cords doubles my stomach over as I rip it out. Reality is cruel.

                Vivian’s core beats in my hand. Blood spurts from thick red ebony arteries. What should be an unmoving white sphere is red, black, and white. It writhes and buzzes. I was too late.

                I… free her.

                Disengage Close Quarters Combat Links.

                I trundle to the transport’s hatch. The orange Venusian clouds are desaturated. The red and green launch lights are awfully pale. I only know that they’re set to available because the left and right lights are on. The onboard functional AI flips on white lights when it notices my presence. Odd. They’re usually more of a warm yellow.

                At the helm, the navigation controls overlay my vision in black and white. Its tanks are full. There’s plenty of oxygen. The heat and corrosion resistant coating on the hull is at acceptable levels. I fasten myself in, alone.

                Set course to the Lakshimi Planum colony. Begin flight activation sequence.

                Seconds pass but I don’t hear the rumble of engines winding up. A pit grows in my stomach.

                Error: Catastrophic faults found in engines A, B, C, and D. Number of usable engines is below minimum threshold for activation. Aborting flight activation sequence.

                No way. The ship looked fine. There wasn’t any salt until Vivian summoned it. Vivian… she couldn’t have.

                Analyze root cause of catastrophic engine faults.

                My leg shakes as the AI sorts through potential causes for the engine failures. This can’t be real. I made it all the way here.

                Found. Presenting findings.

                A video timestamped a few hours ago plays in monochrome. Vivian trots over to the engines hanging underneath each wing with a sword in hand. She inspects each one, snickering, then jams her weapon into the turbines. She hated me that much.

                I unfasten my harness and stumble onto my feet. Maybe I can repair a couple engines. There should be some parts lying around somewhere. Isn’t the exit sign supposed to be red?

                My strings are cut.

                On my knees, I look out at a world without color. So, it’s like this again? Everyone is dead. Even if I were to somehow drag over a few engines or repair them without access to the colony archives, what’s the point? I’m alone. What’s the point of escaping when the only thing waiting for me is another empty ship?

                They’re irreplaceable. That’s why I didn’t request another android companion after Nadia. I didn’t need another android, I needed her. I don’t need another group, I need them. I could keep fighting when I thought about the warm bed Nadia would share with me afterward. I could handle diving into another hellscape if it meant Jacob and Celina’s kid wouldn’t have to. I could look forward to the future where Markus would get the credit he deserved and other people would want to hear Vivian fangirl out to him. There’s no point in going on without them, and I sure as hell won’t become a sacrifice.

                I point my sword at my neck.

“I told you that there was no salvation,” Eimi says from behind.

                She sits with her left leg crossed over her right on the ship’s dashboard. Her once golden eyes and skull cup are the color of a dead engine.         

“You lacked the resources to cope with whims of this world. An entire march breached this colony’s security because of one man’s black jealousy. He allowed Tanis to appear. You’re peerless fighter, Casey, but you’re still an impoverished soldier. If you had owned your own ship, you could’ve escaped with your men days ago. If you had more weapons, your men wouldn’t have been separated. If you had more energy, you could’ve reached Vivian before Tanis warped her.”

                My heart seizes. She’s right on every count. What if I taken the food and ammo she offered? Could I have saved Vivian? What about Markus, Jacob, and Celina? If I had more, I would’ve reached them in time.

“This tragedy, like all tragedies, is because of poverty. It’s why you never had a chance,” she sips from her drink, “Except for one, me. My march and I have the resources to weather strife like this. We accumulate, save, invest, prosper, and celebrate. Come with me, stay at my side, and you’ll never suffer from want or lack. You’ll never suffer from the tragedy that befell you and your precious companions ever again.”

                She extends her skull.

“Drink, and my wine will be ours.”

                Before I can answer, two soft hands caress my back, and bring me into an embrace. Weight leans against my shoulders. Above me, pewter hair curtains the world from view.

“Isn’t loneliness, terrible? It’s only when we’re alone that we start to think, what if I had done this differently? What if had done that sooner? It’s how the world plays cruel tricks on us, tempting us to think that we could’ve changed the past. However, we know that’s impossible, so we suffer in silence until all the color is washed away from our lives. We become dead inside, even though there’s no helping what happened anymore.”

                For days after I lost Nadia, every moment I spent alone was a moment reviewing what happened. If I had monitored the tremors in the desert, we would’ve noticed the sandworms sooner. If I had chosen a different route, we could’ve dodged them entirely. What if I had backed out of the mission instead? I only slept after collapsing from exhaustion. The world was as gray to me then as it is now.

“And once our passion is extinguished, we can’t reach out anymore. It becomes too much of a bother. We’re crushed underneath the weight of existence. It’s why we suffer. We need each other to carry it. Wasn’t it that way with your dearest hollow?”

                For a moment, I see Nadia looking down at me again.

“Nadia…” I murmur.

“Tsch, dirty trick,” Eimi spits somewhere off in the distance.

                Blue-violet eyes embrace my own.

“Mnnn, I’m Seira. I can’t replace your Nadia, and my companions can’t replace yours. However, if you come with us, color will return. We’ll help you carry the weight. You’ll find more passions worth living for.”

                Pink lips blossom into a soft smile.

“Take my lips, and you’ll never be alone again.”

                I swallow hard. Their invitations are tempting, and I have nothing to lose. However, I’ve spent my life fighting against demons like them. Whether it’s the March to Justice, to Conquest, to Equality, to Love, to Serenity, to Ruin, or any other utopia, I’ve seen how they twist people’s hearts. There’s no way I can…

“Casey Logan, this is your last chance. You have three choices,” Eimi declares. “Me.”

“Me.”

                Or death.

“If you still say no to us,” Seira squeezes me tight, “We won’t ever bother you again. We’re demons after all. We don’t force people to join us. That’s what humans do.”

                My hearts drums against the fair slender hands that cradle me. Brown grime, white salt, and red blood dirty Seira’s crimson kimono. Her cascade of golden-fire hair is almost warm to the touch.  However, Eimi’s gilded skull is as colorless as a corpse’s.

                I seize Seira’s lips. Her blue-violet eyes roll back. Her cheeks blush as she surrenders to the moment. Our tongues intertwine, and we share a long breath. She sighs once it’s exhausted.

“I always believed in you.”

                She squeezes me once more.

“It’ll all be okay now.”

                Eimi glances up at the ceiling and sighs. They pass a look, and Seira urges me to my feet.

“Let’s go home.”

*                *                *                *

                True to her word, Siera never left my side after I stepped into her reality. She sat by me while I polished off a rice bowl topped with chicken and egg and downed a liter of green tea. It was nice eating with someone again, and after a week of hunger and MREs, it was the best tasting thing I had in recent memory. However, that closeness brought its own problems.

“You stink,” she declares once I finish.

                In the next breath, a pair of pretty girls dressed in thin, stark-white kimono, one with black hair and the other a blond, open the door, and the three of them drag me off to the bath. Despite my protests that I could do it myself, they strip me of my clothes and wash me.

“Don’t miss a spot,” Seira supervises from the other side of the Japanese styled outdoor bath.

                The two girls wash my back, hair, chest, stomach, neck, arms, legs, and groin in front of a row of faucets. That’s the worst part. Not that it’s unpleasant being touched. No, it’s the giggling. There’s nothing that can make a man more anxious than a bunch of girls giggling while fondling his crotch. Please girls, never giggle. That’s not the reaction a man wants from you. Whenever I think my torment is over, they sniff, grimace, and start all over. I go through four cycles before they’re satisfied.

                The bath, however, is relaxing. Once inside, Seira sits beside me, dipping her legs in the water, and the gigglers finally leave. We don’t talk much, but her fingertips play with my hair, stroke my neck, and caress shoulders.

                As the water’s heat pours into my over worn muscles, I feel the tension in the air. It’s excited. It’s the same feeling as the night before Christmas. I strain my ears to make out what the girls are saying beyond the walls surrounding the bath, but I can’t. All I pick up is anticipation.

                My soak is cut short by the roar of my stomach.

“Still?” Seira asks.

“It’s been a rough week.”

“Indeed.”

                A clean black and white uniform waits for me in the changing room. The sword I left isn’t though.

“I thought that our clothes wouldn’t be to your taste,” Seira says.

“You’re right,” I’ve always thought traditional Japanese clothes look ridiculous on white guys, “but a slayer’s uniform?”

“It looks good on you.”

“Won’t that scare the shit out of everyone else?”

“Mnnn,” she shakes her head, “We care about the heart, not the clothes.”

                My stomach reminds us that our conversation isn’t satisfying its needs.

“Hehehe, go ahead. Put it on. My girls will make more for you.”

                She doesn’t realize how demanding my stomach can be. Her ears droop to the side as she watches me eat. The two girls from before blink more than necessary with their mouths agape. I devour four more of those chicken and egg bowls, two plates of hastily prepared sandwiches and fruit, and three kettles of tea. I don’t think they understand what losing seven kilos in a week does to you.

                Not long after I finish my second dinner, I become aware of how tired I am. Every muscle aches. My recently healed wounds twinge on every inhale. Without the stress of impending death to keep me on my toes, my mind slackens. I yawn.

                The hand that was resting on my thigh caresses my cheek.

“You can rest if you want.”

“Thanks.”

                Instead of leading me to bed, she guides my head to her lap.

“Really?” I ask.

“Don’t tell me you’re complaining.”

                She smells faintly of honey.

“I’m not.”

                Her fingers return to sifting through my hair.

“You can relax. It’s all over. The terrors inside that colony can’t reach you here. You’re safe now.”

                This is nostalgic. Nadia used to do the same thing even though I never asked her to. Apparently she came across it while scouring the public archives and took a liking to it. Whenever I asked her why, she’d giggle and call me stupid. Regardless, we always slept so well. Sometimes I would wake up before her and watch her doze. She looked at peace. She was better suited to quiet moments like that than the battlefield. That’s where I belonged.

                It doesn’t take long for Seira’s thighs to lull me to sleep. They’re warm, soft, but more importantly, it feels good to have someone close again. My world turns dark.

                However, after some time, probably an hour, my eyes snap open at a presence creeping up on us. I resist the urge to attack one of Seira’s followers, dressed in the same stark-white kimono as the blond and the black haired gigglers. She tip-toes across the tatami mat floors and whispers something unintelligible into Seira’s ear then sneaks away.

“What was that about?” I ask.

“She was giving me an update on the shrine. I’m surprised it woke you up.”

“I’m sensitive to presences lurking about.”

“Ah,” her ears flick up with understanding, “Sorry for frightening you.”

“You didn’t scare me so much as… I had to restrain myself.”

                She smiles. That expression again… Nadia made it when I slept in her lap.

“Thank you.”

“It’s better to wake me up than to have an accident.”

“Indeed.”

“How long was I out?”

“Maybe an hour. There’s still plenty of time if you wish to rest more.”

                I yawn and take her up on the offer.

*                *                *                *

“Casey. Casey. It’s time to wake up,” Seira nudges me awake.

                Blue moonlight filters through paper walls. Tree frogs croak out their songs. A sweet incense floats from outside and mingles with the mild honey perfume I’m becoming increasingly fond of. I wipe the sleep from my eyes, and they adjust to the darkness.

“Did you sleep well?”

“Best I have in a long time.”

“I’m glad.” She squeezes my shoulder. “It’s time for you to meet everyone else.”

“Besides the gigglers?”

“Gigglers…?” A single fingertip touches her full lips, “Oh!”

                She giggles exactly like they did.

“You mean Rei and Yves. They’ll be there too, but I think you’ll be especially interested in some of the others.”

                I pull myself up from her lap. It’s harder than I want to admit.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m interested in those two…”

                Seira giggles again.

“Did they traumatize you?”

“More than that march did.”

                She ruffles my hair.

“You’re cute.”

                We rise to our feet, and she leads me by hand through her reality.

                Our steps thump against the lacquered wooden floor of this Japanese styled home. Traditional eastern paintings of mountains, trees, and birds accompany minimalistic flower arrangements to decorate the hallway. A wall scroll inscribed with eastern calligraphy hangs above occasional door. Seira has better taste than most demons, but it’s not like she had much competition.

                Outside, the early summer night air wraps around us – warm and slightly more humid than what’s comfortable. Thick leafy trees surround her Shinto inspired campus. Stone lanterns light smooth brick paths that connect each building. A torii gate stands at the beginning of two paths leaving the shrine grounds. The first path disappears into the woods while the second leads up a long staircase that scales a tall hill.

                Hand-in-hand we climb together. Every nine steps a pair of red torii mark the entrance and exit to a break in the climb. Nine blocky pieces of white paper hang from a pair thick ropes that connect each gate on both sides all the way up the mountain. Our climb pauses nine times before we reach the summit.

                A silk cushioned altar sits at the center of a nine sided wooden platform. Paper lanterns hang from the columns that support a black tiled roof. A warm breeze blows between them and over the skin of the women gathered in a circle. Each one wears those familiar white ritual kimono Rei and Yves had.         

                Across the floor, pink lines draw complex geometric shapes adorned in runes and symbols I can’t decipher.

“A sigil… but it doesn’t seem to be for sacrifice…” I mutter to myself, touching the line that connects the entrance of the platform to the altar in the middle.

                It feels welcoming. The sacrificial sigils I encountered always felt foreboding. Their purpose clear on an unconscious level after enough exposure. This though… it emanates anticipation. The same electric thrill that charges the air hours before a festival.

“Of course not. We don’t offer family to the white guardians,” Seira smiles, “we give them paradise.”

                Our fingers slip apart after we enter the circle. Seira makes eye contact with each member, smiling at them, as she approaches the altar. When she reaches it, she turns and faces me once more, beaming with happiness.

“Rei, Yves, Senna, Aya… we’ve come a long way from the antic of the old school house, haven’t we?”

                Four girls smile in the crowd. Their gazes are more intense than what friends should have for each other.

“It’s because you believed in me so much that the purple Blood of the Creator came to me, changed me, and gave us an opportunity to achieve our dream, but we lost so much, didn’t we?”

                The girls nod, their eyes moistening.

“Our friends betrayed me to the inquisition when they found out what I became. That hurt. I thought they wanted to escape a passionless arranged marriage to some old man as much as I did, but they didn’t. They were pretending while the four of you weren’t.”

“We’d never leave you, Seira!” A red head with bangs so long that they cover her right eye calls out.

“Thank you, Senna. You all stayed with me even when we lost our home and fled our reality for another. It’s because of you four that we could create this bastion, but this isn’t the utopia revealed to me. I’ve wanted to show it to you so much, but I couldn’t. Our march is so small, and I’m still so weak.”

                Seira bites her lush lip. Her canines are a touch longer and sharper than a human’s.

“However, that changes tonight! Our family has grown so much. The hollows who accepted our hands this week hunger for passion as much as we do. They were abandoned just as our families did with us.”

                I can’t say that it doesn’t happen, but there are people who abandon their partners. Sometimes, it’s because of personality conflicts. Other times, it’s because of jealous lovers. Some are thrown away when they’re not useful any longer.

“How many are…?” I ask.

“Everyone but Aya, Senna, Rei, and Yves.”

                Shock seizes my breath. There’s ten androids here.

“My partner said I was too suffocating,” A pretty white haired android speaks up.

“Mine was killed by one of Tanis’s traitors,” A blond one with pretty purple eyes says.

“Mine took her frustrations out on me. I put up with it, because I wanted her to be happy. I looked at all the other happy pairs and thought, why couldn’t we be like that too? She threw me out when I stopped crying.” A red haired android trembles as she speaks.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Scarlet.”

“I’ll see to it that no one treats you that way again.”

                She blushes and breaks eye contact with me. To a slayer, his android partner is precious. She’s more than a companion. She’s his battle-sister, his supporter, his anchor to sanity, and often times, his most intimate lover. Whenever I hear a story like Scarlet’s, I question if my sword isn’t pointed at the wrong monster.

                The human girls hug the androids that spoke up. They’re all like this, aren’t they? Seira smiles gently at me.

“Casey is the same too. He lost his beloved partner and was betrayed by an envious comrade who he fought hard to reach.”

                A tall, black haired android rubs my back. She’s a sweet girl.

“We’ve all suffered from loneliness, but we don’t have to anymore. We’re together now. We can share our feelings and grow our passions until they overwhelm our suffering. Our march begins now!”

                Seira’s clothes slip from her shoulders, exposing her fair skin to the blue night. The passion burning in blue-violet entices me take the hand she extends to me.

“Casey, together, we have the power to save these girls.”

                I look to each android. Is that possible? Androids have a hard time moving on. It’s not that they’re programmed to love their partner, but their reason for existence is channeled through them. My eyes linger on Scarlet. I want to restore color to her world like Seira did for me.

                I take Seira’s hand, and she pulls me into a deep kiss. Her soft lips push, pull, and play with mine. A wet tongue parts and teases them, tracing along the sensitive insides, top and bottom. In its wake, an unfamiliar but comfortable warmth seeps in. Filling my lips and washing into my cheeks.

                My heart quickens, urged on by the feelings now crawling up my scalp. I pull Seira closer by the small of the back, lifting her onto tip-toes. She’s so much smaller than me that a single hand is enough.

                Our tongues entwine. Sweet breaths escape as we indulge ourselves. The warmth tingles, rolling like waves. It shoots down my spine when Seira seizes my tongue in her lips. My knees falter from the sudden descent for a moment.

                She runs her fingers through my hair and smiles so wickedly, I’m reminded that she’s a demon.

“You don’t need these right now,” she unbuttons my uniform shirt.

“In front of everyone?”

                My shirt and blazer fall off at the same time. A breath catches in her throat. She winds a single finger down my chest and stomach before unbuttoning my pants.

“We don’t need to hide ourselves here.”

                A gentle tug, and I’m exposed from the waist down. As she presses me onto the cushioned altar, I kick off my shoes and socks. She pounces on top of me, hunger lurking in her blue-violet eyes. She latches onto my collar bone, pushing me flat. Hot and wet, her attentions travel up onto my neck.

                A jolt flashes through me when she bites down. A second of pain followed by soft affection, a voice I’d rather not admit to, escapes me. However, it excites her. A hot drip falls onto my abdomen and quiet moans leak between her breaths. A chill crawls down her spine from brushing my hand through her hair.

                She sits up, straddling my stomach. Her blush is the color of her hair. Beads of sweat roll from her brow between heavy breaths. My core sips the heat roiling inside her thighs. She leans back, letting my length rest between her cheeks. She squirms as another chill climbs up her spine and lifts her chin to the ceiling.

“Yesss…”

                More breath than voice, the word tumbles from her mouth. Locking her gaze to mine, she continues.

“Finally… I’ve wanted this… Casey, I’ve wanted you so much.”

                She wiggles her hips, grinding me in her valley with small strokes.

“I can’t wait any longer. You’re ready now, right? Mmmn, you are, you are…”

                She rocks harder against me, head bobbing to the beat. Fire swirls in her eyes, and after sensation rises to the crown of her head, she lifts her hips.

“Slow, slow, savor this… savor him… slow” she mumbles to herself.

                She guides the head to her entrance. I gulp when her fervor kisses the tip. Slowly, ever so slowly, she lowers herself onto me. My head separates those soft lips dripping in excitement. As they open, her passion leaks out, drenching my length. The intensity of each dewy streak soaks into me. I groan as it spurs me grow larger. And then, the head meets the first of her folds.

“Aaaaaaah…” she coos.

                My own voice joins hers upon tasting the passion boiling inside her. It sets fire to my nerves and sears a path into my hips. Sweat rises in its wake. My own feelings ignite upon contact, and my eyes roll back as I feel her take me in one fold at a time. My breath quickens to the beat of my heart.

“Ah… yes… ah… this… this… is… ah… yes…”

                Her folds embrace me like a lover greeting her returning soldier. They squeeze inhumanly tight, shudder, and tremble. They try to close every bit of distance that separates us, and invite me deeper. Each one slides down me until her small weight rests on top my hips.

“at last… aaah…. at last…”

                 We bask in the quiet of the moment. Buried to the hilt, I let her overwhelming passion pour into me. Its heat floods into my hips, washes over, flows down to my toes, and soaks into my heart. It singes everywhere it touches. Its burn tingles, excites, and rouses places I didn’t know could even feel pleasure.

                I want her. The feeling pulses in my heart. Heat roils in my testicles. I want her.

                Contentment claims her smile. She knows this is where she belongs, tied together with me. She rocks and lifts her hips. Slowly at first, but her pace accelerates as she finds her beat. Her clear voice sings out her pleasure to our audience. Her waves of hair sway and bounce to each subtle change in her passion’s pitch. She’s beautiful.

                Dainty. Petite. I wrap my hands around her slender waist. My fingers fan onto her supple, round hips, and my heart smolders watching her modest chest hop with every crash of our hips. Entrusting herself to my strength, she arcs her spine, hanging her head back, and cries out to the moon. That simple trust swells my testicles with the same feelings burning in my chest.

                Every supple tap against them is ecstatic. Passion leaks from out connection, spilling over them and onto the altar. They tingle, buzz, and stir with pleasure and desire. I want her. Once isn’t enough, neither is twice. Again and again, I want to dive into this gorgeous girl and drown in the moment.

                I love how her lower lip curls when I graze a particular sensitive spot on the front wall of her cleft. The subtle changes in her blush as she indulges herself enchant me. The relaxed bobbing of her head mesmerizes me. The way the muscles in her tight stomach tense and relax spur me on. Her heat seeping into me fans my own passion.

                My testicles lurch forward, the desire welling inside too much to contain. The pressure rushes through me and before I can even cry out, I pour out everything into Seira. My vision sears white, each long contraction pushes pleasure deep through me, from my hips to my head, from my fingers to my toes.

                Most of all my testicles quiver, shake, tremble, and heat up. Despite how much I’m releasing, they engorge. A new sensation grows within, and the pressure against the sack intensifies. I howl out as that sensation splits into four orbs. They grow into each other and against the skin. It feels so good that I skip breaths.

                When my vision heals from the burn, Seira is smiling down at me. She pulls herself off me, the mix of our desires pouring out from her.

“Oh… Casey… you’re adorable…”

                She looks down at my hips where four testicles, each the size of a tennis ball, rest against my thighs.

“What the hell…?”

“I didn’t expect this, but…”

                She kisses me.

“I’m so happy you feel this way.”

“We need to do something about this-“

“Why?” She interrupts, “I think they’re perfect.”

                She gives each one a peck and a lick. They’re so sensitive that my legs twitch with each show of affection. She can’t take one into her mouth, but her tongue wraps around and cradles each one as it tries, gulping down the mess our love making created. My anxiety fades when I see how she looks at them.

                However, the way she takes my length into my mouth, cleaning every centimeter, gulping down our passions, ignites mine. She coos from the taste alone, and her fingers hold my new quartet precious. Desire and anticipation tingles inside them and my heart. Once is not enough. I push up her head.

“Hm?”

                Once freed from her mouth, I pull her underneath me. Without waiting, I plunge back into the heat I’ve come to love.

“Aaah!” She moans.

                The feeling of her hips against mine feels right. Her hands struggle to meet across my wide back. I shudder from such a simple thing, but being inside her arms feels as good as being inside her hips.

                I press into her hard, squeezing a hot moan from her throat. When I let up, her eyes flutter and she bites her lower lip, another expression I want to see thousands of more times. Again. Her hands writhe across me. Again. Her walls fight to keep me close. This is how we’re supposed to be.

                It felt the same with Nadia. Being with her felt right. My place was connected to her, wrapped in her arms. My home was wherever she was at. It didn’t matter if it was a colony apartment, a barracks, a ship, or a tent in some twisted hellscape. However, I ignored that feeling and drug my home through battlefields, thinking that it would never be destroyed. I won’t make the same mistake with Seira.

“Mmmn, more! Yes, like that, ahn!”

                A thrill spirals up my spine when Seira locks her legs around me. My arms nearly give.

“Closer, closer… I’m here… you’re not alone anymore… feel how close we are… I’m here…” she whispers each part between strong, slow thrusts.

                My heart trembles. Nadia whispered the same things – to feel her, how I wasn’t alone, how she would stay with me, to surrender, to let go, to focus on our hearts joining together. She understood me. She was more precious than I realized.

                I know Seira can’t replace her. I don’t want her to, but I’m not making the same mistake again. I want to tie us together so tight that not even death can separate us. Pleasure wells up at the base of my shaft. It turns with anticipation, pleasure, and desire. This again…?

                My lips curl into a smug grin.

                I indulge in that passion. My movements quicken. Seira is my new home. She rescued me when I had lost everything. The pleasure at the base intensifies. A long groan escapes me as her entrance grows tighter around me.

“So… ah! Thick…” Her head tosses side to side.

                The feelings at the beginning of my shaft swell. Every subtle movement of Seira’s folds against it threatens to steal my breath. With every push in, her lips open wider, licking me to the hilt. With every pull out, they desperately suck to keep me inside. It becomes harder and harder to withdraw until I can’t anymore. Her entrance is clenched so tight that her hips skip with every thrust.

                This is how we’re supposed to be, tied together. Locked so close that it’s impossible to pull us a part. We’re meant to be one. The pressure and feelings around my base surge out. My back arcs.

                Her pink lips and entrance bulge as my passions flare. A small lump, four or five centimeters tall, wiggles up and down in time with my thrusts. My breath catches in my throat when I pull as hard as I can. A sweet cry flies from her tongue as her entrance stretches to keep me locked inside.

“You are…” her arms pulls me close, “so adorable.”

                Her cheeks flush deeper and she latches onto my ear. She whispers between kisses that weave pleasure into my ear in web-like patterns.

“I do. I accept. You’re more than I ever hoped for, Casey.”

                Her walls squeeze another moan from me.

“You’ll never be alone again. I’ll always be with you.”

                The feelings in my chest soar.

“Now, ah! Forever. Surrender and… I’ll always be yours.”

                I do. I let the emotions coursing through me take control. I surrender to the girl enveloping me.

“Yes. Yes. Like that. I’ll give you everything. A-ah-AH!”

                A ring of nubs at her entrance press into me as her folds flutter across my length. They expand and buzz, caressing the swell at my base. Their speed increases with Seira’s impending orgasm. Now they vibrate.

                Seira’s breath leaves her as she’s pulled taut by her orgasm. Even her tail straightens, fur standing on end. And then, it dissolves away. She melts underneath me. Waves of pleasure stir her body and limbs around. Her voice, thick with passion, surges from her throat. Her depths pull me deeper, the undertow so powerful that my engorged base sinks deeper than ever.

                After a couple minutes, she coos. Her breasts rise and fall with labored breaths. After a moment, she kisses me then giggles.

“It can only be you, now,” slender fingers graze my cheek, “Always. Forever.”

                Those words… I grow inside her.

“Grow bigger, thicker,” the force pressing out against her entrance strengthens, “Mnn! Never let me go.”

                I won’t. I won’t. I won’t. The hill riding in time to my thrusts is proof that I won’t. You’re never getting away from me. I shudder and shiver as the pleasure rumbling in my nerves quakes.

“Yes, yes… I want every face you show. I want every cute noise you make.”

                On cue, I whimper from how her nubs hum against me.

“More! I want them.”

                They’re yours.

“You’re mine now,” I command.

“Body and soul,” she answers.

                Our feelings merge, and we climax together. I feel every long contraction in my hips throughout my body. Pinks lights and haze obscure everything but my passion for her. I want to pour myself into her. I want to fill her to the core with everything that I am. Her depths welcome my desire. They pull it all inside and wring another from me. As I flood her womb, she climaxes again and draws even more from within me.

                Our passions soar with every orgasm. Mine pushes her into the next. Hers pulls me into the one after. Soon my world is dyed pink and everything but my connection to Seira dissolves into images, sounds, and feelings.

                A man walks hand in hand with a kitsune woman down the sidewalk of a city in spring. Cherry blossom petals flutter in air, accenting the air of lovers around them. Another couple, a human man and woman sitting on a bench outside a crepe shop gaze into each other’s eyes before confessing their passion to the world in a kiss. In a boutique across the street, a human woman shows an outfit to a kitsune man. A moment later, he pushes her inside the changing room.

                Before one climax ends, the next begins. The feelings contrast, overlap, and crash. I release more into Seira with each one. Impossibly, her stomach expands and rounds. However, she cries for more. It’s not enough. It won’t be until there’s nothing but me inside her. I want to continue until my world is nothing but her. Her belly balloons.

                Inside the vision of paradise playing on the back of my eyelids, passion burns in everyone’s hearts. A boy and girl, too young to understand what’s blooming inside them, play from morning till night. Two higher schoolers, a human boy and kitsune girl spend more time looking at each other than the books they’re supposed to be studying. A husband and wife work together in a home office, the thought of kissing each other goodbye in the morning alien. No one is allowed to be alone. Nothing is allowed to interfere with their feeling welling in their chests. This is utopia.

                Heat soaks into my fingers as I run them over Seira’s pregnant stomach. It jiggles and expands with every thrust. She bites her lip and gasps. She writhes and begs for more. Her folds obey. Hotter. Hotter. Her fair skin is flushed crimson. We lose ourselves in each other as our multiple, simultaneous orgasms weave our hearts into one.

“A-a-a-Ah-AH-AAHH-AAAHHH!”

                Her eyes widen and glow pink. Her back arcs and slams against the altar in time to her orgasms until all of them coalesce into one. She bridges into a steep arc, teetering left and right as she rolls on her shoulders. Feeling, sensation, and emotion ravish her until her belly deflates and slick crack splits from the bottom of her spine. A second tail, drenched in red-violet, slides out. Blood stains the altar cushions and seeps down its wooden sides.

“You…. saw it… didn’t you? Utopia…” The words barely come out.

“Yeah.”

                She cradles my cheeks, her arms barely strong enough to hold their own weight. After a touch of our lips, her body gives out. Weak breaths fill her chest, but she’s smiling. I follow her half-lidded eyes that look out onto the scene around us.

                Pink orbs float around the platform like fireflies. Each one dims and brightens to its own rhythm. Their lights mix with moonlight. An aurora of pink and blue shimmers about an orgy of human and kitsune women.

                Ten kitsune and four humans abandon themselves to the others in a pile around us. Toned and supple legs squirm and quiver while moans, coos, and whines layer and entwine. Rei’s lips swallow a brunette kitsune’s scream while her chest is played with by a white haired kitsune. That kitsune’s back and hips undulate in time to the head bobbing in her cleft.

                Dabs of black-scarlet splatter every woman. It’s most noticeable on the hips of the kitsune. Dried streaks flower from the bases of their tails. Sticky fur, colored the same as the hair on their heads, clump and point in odd directions. Splashes of black-scarlet surround and lurk underneath the women, but none of them paid it any mind. Indulging themselves and their sisters is more important.

                Scarlet’s eyes rise from the white haired kitsune’s slit and meet mine. She smiles wide, fox ears bouncing with her steps over to me, and she devours my lips. The taste of several other women pours over my tongue. When she finishes ravishing my mouth, she strokes my hair and says, “Thank you. I’m so happy now.”

“My chest is so full that I understand,” she continues. “I didn’t give Rebecca the passion she needed. She was suffering, and I thought serving her however I could would help, but I was wrong. Passion is what protects and nurtures humanity. Our hearts are based on yours. Now that I’ve felt this, I want to share it all of mankind. I’m so happy. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

                She kisses me after each show of thanks before drowning Seira’s lips with gratitude. When she pulls away, a thread of saliva connects them for a second then snaps. They share a smile before Scarlet bounds off to rejoin her new family, fox tail wagging.

“She’s cute,” Seira says.

“A smile suits her.”

                It suits all these girls. Bliss stains their faces. They happily shower each other in affection. All of the suffering they endured this week is a distant memory. This is how they should be – smiling, happy, and living in the moment.

                If every human and android pair could experience the same ecstasy we feel, no one would ever suffer again. They’d have an unshakable pillar to carry the weight of the world with. There’d be no weakness for another demon to claw at their heart with. Demons would never gain another foothold.

                No more Nadias. No more Celinas. No more Vivians. Every day that passes without utopia is a day another pair is torn apart by tragedy and circumstance. This cannot continue. I will save them.

 

Afterword

                This is the first time I’ve put the ideas buzzing around in my head about demons and androids into a story. I’ve been thinking about them for years now, especially demons, and I’m worried that I may have tried to pack too much into this contest entry. I hope it wasn’t too hard to keep track of.

                One of the things holding me back is that I’m not entirely sure what my demons are supposed to look like. I know they’re supposed to be vaguely symbolic, but that’s about it. Should I go full Eldritch or settle for something more Berserk-like? Maybe they’d be better off as mostly human with uncanny elements. It’s because I’m not entirely sure that I was able to slot the kitsune and tanuki into those roles and made a point not to describe Tanis.

                I’d like to write more about this, but unless I force monster girls into the demon role, it’s pretty off-topic for TFT, don’t you think? Anyway, it’s getting close to the deadline. I might do another round of edits after the contest finishes. I hope some of you appreciated the references in this.

                And for the curious, this is how you write our demon heroine antagonists’ names:

Seira – 情裸

Eimi – 栄身

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3 thoughts on “Birth of a Wish”

  1. Damn, this is as awesome as it is weird …

    I feel like I’ve read a sci-fi thriller with every third line missing, leaving me to wonder what all the salt is about, what a ‘march’ is and what the fuck was going on at the end.
    I hope that is a consequence of deliberately unreliable narration to reflect the protagonist’s breaking mind, because it certainly works well in that regard and kept my curiosity piqued throughout the story.

    In other matters, this story reminded me of two things:
    One is a sci-fi novel that I have fond memories of reading in primary school, but sadly forgot the title of; it was about a rescue mission in a colony on Mercury.
    My other memory was triggered by the line about artificial wombs and is of the Hentai strip “Mechanical Instinct” which also has a human/android (gynoid, I suppose?) pairing (and, BTW, has some of the most badass establishing lines I’ve seen in porn yet: “Your cradle, a steel suit of armor. Your lullabies, gunfire and the screams of the dying. A soldier who never knew the face of his mother – What will you carve upon your gravestone?”)

  2. Really good story, though I wish I understood more of the background. That’s part of the charm though, since this was a contest entry with limited time — it jumps right into the action. I really dig more nontraditional interpretations of MGE stuff too. Nice work.

  3. It took me a few minutes to get into the story, but once I got a grasp mostly of what was going on I really enjoyed it. The end is where you lost me.

    I was okay with him making the decision to go with the kitsune (best choice,) but where it went after that… I couldn’t really follow. It was just so out there and weird that I couldn’t dig it. As crystal said, it was like trying to follow a fracturing mind, which, with mine well intact, was very difficult. So take that how you will, but good story overall. The end was just too strange for me.

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