While Shin was talking with Munechika after the battle, Yuzuha was running over the plains, at the largest size she could currently take.
She was already considerably far from Fuji. Even though she still wasn’t in her perfect form, the Element Tails’ proverbially high physical abilities were serving her well enough.
Yuzuha was looking towards a forest located from the path leading to Fuji.
The nasty presence she had felt while traveling with Shin was getting closer and closer.
She had already perceived the being behind this presence. It too should have noticed Yuzuha’s approach.
The owner of the presence was deep in the forest and not moving. It appeared to be waiting for Yuzuha.
Thinking that it was even better if it didn’t run away, Yuzuha proceeded into the forest, mindful of any traps.
After a few minutes, she arrived in an open area without any trees.
It was an area roughly 50 mels wide, where only 10 cemels tall grass grew.
In that deserted place, there was one shadow other than Yuzuha’s. Long white hair reaching to the ground, gently flowing in the wind. A woman was standing there, alone.
Perfectly proportioned features that 10 people out of 10 would surely describe as beautiful, animal ears of the same color as her hair. As she was loosely wearing her kimono, her bountiful breasts and the captivating whiteness of her thighs sometimes peeked from her clothing.
On her back, from her waist sprouted 6 white tails, softly swaying left and right.
The woman’s name was Tamamo.
“Kuu! Found you!”
Yuzuha was growling, her fur standing because of the aura coming from Tamamo, whose appearance made her look like a person from the Fox Tribe.
Yuzuha knew that Tamamo wasn’t actually a person from the Fox Tribe. No member of that species would have 6 tails.
“Hehe, and I was here wondering who was coming…it was the Element Tail after all. My, you look quite weakened, though.”
In complete contrast with the hostility Yuzuha openly displayed, Tamamo’s expression showed her confidence.
As the strength of a demon fox was displayed by the number of tails, Yuzuha was suspicious of the fact that the 6-tailed Tamamo was acting on her own.
Among the demon foxes on Fuji, there were ones with 7 tails as well.
Normally, those would be the commanding officers.
“Kuu, you give, bad aura.”
Yuzuha spoke while taking human form.
“Bad aura, hmm. Could it maybe be….this!?”
A black ball of fire shot out of Tamamo’s hand. Yuzuha dodged it instinctively and looked at where the ball of fire landed. She saw the ground dyed in purple where the black flames burnt the grass.
Something different from miasma was tainting the land. Yuzuha understood it through her intuition.
“You!! Inside, different! This person, container!”
“So YoU CAn UndERstaND ThAT mUCh. YeS, thIS BODy iS VErY vERy GoOD!”
Tamamo’s voice was gradually distorting. The sounds it emitted, which could barely be understood as words, were human speech no more.
Yuzuha’s eyes saw the pitch black silhouette of another demon fox rise behind Tamamo.
The contour of this figure was blurred here and there, but it was obviously a demon fox.
When Yuzuha had seen Tamamo, together with Juugo, in Kujou territory, she had not perceived this presence.
Furthermore, Yuzuha knew of only one thing who matched this presence.
“Disaster-bearing Demon Fox, Tamamo. The corrupted form of an Element Tail, who possesses other people.”
“Kah KAh! THaT Is ME iNDEed. We mEEt LiKE tHIs fOR ThE FiRSt tIme, yEs. O eSTeEmEd “pROgENItoR” oF aLL uSs eLEMeNt tAiLs!”
Knowledge of each other came out of their mouths. But only a handful in this world could comprehend what was said.
In the game era, Tamamo was just an event boss and the Element Tails were hidden bosses that only a handful of advanced players knew of.
There was a clear gap in their strength, but the players did not know that there was a clear difference in the strengths of these individuals.
Even if the players did not know, the difference in strength was certainly there. Consequently, Yuzuha and Tamamo were personally aware it was so.
“Kuu! Why you do these things!”
“ThAt’S a cURiOUs tHInG To aSk. I cAMe tO THis wORLd To bRinG fOrTH dISAsTEr! To kIlL aNd To dEsTRoY iS My rEAsOn fOr eXIStINg! aFTeR tHEsE lONg yEArS, YOu hAve fORGoTTen eVeN tHAt?!”
The black shadow trembled, the demon fox possessing Tamamo roared.
To invade cities and bring terror to the people. To be defeated by players, to be reborn, to do so again.
That endless cycle is what let Tamamo be Tamamo. It was something completely natural, as natural as people breathing.
However, now that the world had become reality, it was nothing more than a curse implanted in the cycle of life.
“Kuu, that is not necessary now”
“I cARe nOTHinG aBOut tHat. I SHAalL fULFiLl mY eXISTenCe. THIs bOdY haS aLREaDy lOst aLl seNSe oF seLf. IT wAs bETRraYEd, It hATed, It oFfeReD itSeLF To Me. ITS bEAUty liES oNly in itS aPPEAraNCe nOw.”
Yuzuha cried with melancholy while looking at Tamamo.
The manipulated woman was smiling. Tamamo said that it did not have a sense of self anymore, but that expression seemed to convey that she had no regrets.
Yuzuha thought that a great many people would have been charmed by her, if it weren’t for the red tears flowing down her cheeks.
“If you wish to stop me, use your strength to annihilate my body. O progenitor of the Element Tails, surely you can!!”
The black demon fox returned inside the woman’s body. Then, the six tails stood up, swaying as always, and became covered in black flames.
Yuzuha understood that the woman’s negative feelings fed Tamamo and increased its power.
As if in response to Tamamo’s grunt, the tails attacked Yuzuha.
The 6 tails, spreading in a fan-like motion, moved as if they had individual will and surrounded Yuzuha, as to cut off any possible escape route.
Yuzuha responded by casting a magic spell with quick activation. She then enveloped her own tails in different magic spells, repelling Tamamo’s tails, half of which had turned into black flames.
The most effective tails were the ones wrapped in light-type magic and divine-type magic.
“….you can sleep, now. You don’t have to, fight.”
Tamamo’s tails repeatedly went on the offensive, while Yuzuha only defended herself.
Maybe because of the demon fox’s higher pressure, the attacks that Yuzuha couldn’t fully defend herself from ripped Yuzuha’s shrine maiden clothes.
“You understand too, do you not?”
Tamamo’s tails increased after this question.
Suddenly, 2 tails made completely of black flames had appeared. They were attached to her waist, just like the others.
“Juugo and Kai have died?”
Tamamo whispered with an expression mixed with envy and sadness.
Their relationship consisted in using each other, but it was not manipulation via Tamamo’s infusion of power.
The power Tamamo had given them returned to its owner, making it even stronger.
Yuzuha now faced even fiercer attacks: she countered 6 tails with her own and 1 with the flames she spewed from her mouth.
However, she could not counter the last one and tried to avoid it with a jump, but the black flames managed to singe Yuzuha’s body.
“If you will do nothing, then die!!”
The 8 tails attacked again. If they hit directly, they would cause considerable damage even to Yuzuha. Before the attack, the item Shin gave her activated.
A transparent membrane appeared all around Yuzuha and stopped Tamamo’s attack.
“A barrier…but I know well, that it won’t last long!!”
Tamamo’s tails repeatedly struck the barrier. Exclusively, as the tails made of black flames hit it, tiny cracks start appearing on its surface.
Yuzuha could not see the barrier’s resistance decreasing. But the gradually increasing cracks showed that its limit was now close.
The sound of the cracking barrier canceled Yuzuha’s cries.
Just like snakes eyeing their prey, the black flame tails pierced the ground where Yuzuha was.
“….you’re finally getting serious.”
As if in response to Tamamo’s whispered words, the black flames were repelled away.
The black flames and dust of clouds were mixed together in the air, within that mixture several silhouettes could be seen.
Yuzuha had transformed into the Adult form of an Element Tail with 9 gently swaying tails.
“I cannot return for long, you see.”
Silver waist-length hair, transparently violet eyes, animal ears of the same color of her hair standing briskly up.
Along with a breathtaking beauty that would charm anyone who saw her, Yuzuha -who had regained her original powers- quietly stared at Tamamo.
“Is hastening your death important too?”
“That is my only desire. Come on, o originator, wielder of powers the legends sing of!! Show them to me!!”
After Tamamo’s scream, the 8 tails once again targeted Yuzuha. Their power and momentum were at their highest.
“….you poor thing.”
Yuzuha whispered as the 2 black flame tails and 6 tails enveloped in black flames approach her with frightening speed. Following her whisper, her silver tails became flashes of light and pierced the space between the 2.
A clash of silver and black, with the latter as the loser.
The black flames scattered and vanished, the tails were torn to shreds.
Tamamo had 8 tails, Yuzuha 9. Along with the 8 tails who won the clash, the unattended 9th tail closed in to Tamamo.
Tamamo crossed its arms in defense, but it made little difference before an attack that tore to shreds tails filled with power. Tamamo was launched into the air.
Both arms were torn and severed from Tamamo’s body, its insides broken and ripped.
It seemed like a lie that until a few instants ago, Yuzuha was locked in defense. That’s how overwhelming her superiority was.
This was temporary for Yuzuha, but her original power was clearly above Tamamo.
Tamamo came crashing down on the ground and was now lying face up. The only sound to be heard was her ragged breathing.
She was not dead yet, but her body was on its final throes. Even if left alone, it would have lasted a few minutes at most.
As she was looking at Tamamo, a golden flame appeared over Yuzuha’s head.
Tamamo was roused as her line of sight got fixed onto Yuzuha’s figure. The mere sight of that divine flame would be enough to bring anyone to its knees, due to its incommensurable heat.
“….you may pass on now.”
A few seconds later, accompanied by Yuzuha’s words, the golden flame swallowed Tamamo.
Tamamo’s body turned into molten ashes in seconds.
The very last instant, her expression seemed to sketch a smile.
The flames disappeared as Yuzuha breathed quietly. Nothing but a scorched ground remained, where Tamamo’s body used to be.
After the flames completely disappeared, a silver light leaked from Yuzuha’s body.
Her body progressively returned to the teenager-like form it had until a few moments before, just like a video played in reverse.
She then returned in fox mode and plopped down on the ground.
Even if she had regained some of her powers from the location where Filma had been trapped, it was still not complete. Focusing her strength to return to her adult form would only last for a few minutes.
Furthermore, even if she temporarily regained that form, she could not retrieve the memories and knowledge amassed throughout the years.
It was a sort of ace up the sleeve to use in emergency situations.
As she closed her eyes to recover her strength, Yuzuha felt a familiar presence approaching.
She slowly tried to stand up, then remembered something and fell down again.
The approaching presence was Shin.
As soon as he saw Yuzuha lying on the ground, he rushed to her with enough speed to leave behind after-images. He gently picked her up in his arms and checked her condition.
“Her HP and MP don’t seem to have decreased much. The item’s broken, she seems to be powerless…what crazy things did you do?”
Yuzuha had barely received any damage, but the recoil of returning to her adult form had robbed her immature body of its energy.
“Still you went too far!! What would happen if you died….?”
Yuzuha judged that what she did was something bad. As she could comprehend from Shin’s voice that he was really worried. To tell you the truth, she actually had enough energy left to stand and walk.
Oblivious of Yuzuha’s actual condition, Shin gently held her in his arms.
Wrapped by the warm sense of security provided by Shin’s arms, Yuzuha emitted a small cry.
The invasion of several domains acted by the Ichinose soldiers and monsters had been on a large scale, but it had been suppressed before it caused large damage.
Special mention should be made to the reinforcements sent to the various regions.
Toudou Kankurou, 1st seat of the Hinomoto Brave Ten, and the black-scaled Dragnil who performed actions on par with him.
Saegusa Karin, Shijou Tsugumasa and Tsuguho, also from the Brave Ten, and the silver-haired Elf who appeared with them.
The red-haired Lord who fought the monsters attacking the Shijou domain even earlier than the Brave Ten, along with the huge wolf-like monster and the black-haired Elf.
After showing performances comparable with the Brave Ten, they all simply vanished without a word after the battle.
Many tried looking for them, obviously, but for some reason no one seemed to remember what they looked like.
Among Hinomoto’s soldiers, some rumor that they were spirits of the age of wars, who appear when the country is in peril.
In reality it was all due to concealment skills. The only ones capable of remembering were the few who met them and spoke face to face. And these few too were ordered by their superiors not to speak about these reinforcements to anyone else.
These mysterious helpers were now in front of the gates of the Saegusa house. They did not have much luggage with them but were all equipped for traveling.
Shin’s group had no more reason to stay with the Saegusa.
They had no pressing reason to go anywhere, but as the battle ended, they decided it was the right timing to depart.
“Thank you for your hospitality.”
Along with the Saegusa house members (Karin, Kuyou, Kayo, Chiyo), Kankurou too had come to see Shin’s party off.
“Must you truly depart? We owe you the gratitude of saving Hinomoto from the flames of war. If only we could express our thanks somehow…”
Karin, reluctant to see them go, had the proud 『Black Moon』 at her waist.
As Juugo’s foul play was discovered, the last remaining contestant, Karin, was chosen to be the divine katana’s successor.
“You are already keeping the 『Hakuramaru』 matter a secret for me. I thank you too for your cooperation, sir Kankurou. If word spread that I had that katana, the country itself could come after me.”
Shin replied to Karin and bowed his head to Kankurou.
Ancient-grade weapons were sought after by anyone, individuals and countries alike.
Shin had given 『Hakuramaru』 to Karin as he feared something would happen during the inheritance ceremony, but he did not regret that choice.
『Black Moon』 was a katana tempered by Shin. Average weapons would not be able to match its blade.
To all who saw that Shin was in possession of 『Hakuramaru』, they explained that he was traveling to return it to its rightful owner, clearly stating that it was not possible to obtain it from Shin.
Kankurou had concluded by stating that Shin was to be treated with maximum courtesy, so there was no particular attempt at negotiation.
“We have not been able to thank you properly for Lady Haruna’s matter either, though. Is there really nothing we could do?”
“I discussed this with everyone else too, but there is nothing we require at the moment. Thus, if in the future we will need help or assistance, please lend us your aid. I am sure there could be matters, besides war, that we cannot solve on our own.”
Shin answered clearly to Kuyou’s question and its serious tone. In case of necessity, having human connections would surely help.
“In that case, we shall do our utmost when that time comes. I look forward to our next meeting.”
“We will be counting on you then.”
Schnee and the others too bid their farewells, and the party left the Kujou domain.
——their destination was Hinomoto’s sacred mountain, Fuji.