Ai breathed a hot breath, feeling the heat on her skin, having learned the Flame Breathing Technique. She opened her eyes, observing the hazy surrounding of her room until they became apparent.
She plopped down on the bed, breathing, relaxing when she kept her eyes fixed on the roof. When she wanted to relax, her breathing was different; everything other than it felt more twisted, unnatural, something she had to maintain.
“I wonder…what does my Breath represent?”
Ai took a heavy breath and, opening the System’s screen, saw her name, Race, and Rank (2/10). The Rank didn’t represent power but her position as the Demon Slayer. The one who gave her the promotion was Rengoku since she achieved so much.
She clicked on the tab under it, and one of the Breathing Techniques and a Web Chart appeared in front of her eyes.
The Five Elements and numerous question marks below them were all encased in a circle for each one of them. But what surprised her the first she saw it was that above the five was another circle with question marks inside it.
Not only that, there was another web chart that went upwards from that, and so it seemed like Five Elements were Derived From this one, and above this, so many more as well.
There was a reason why she chose to learn all five rather than just the two she needed. Her bloodline was different; one of them was her mother’s, and then there was the Kleid Blood, Vampire Blood, and the Strange One that her father wasn’t ready to tell her. She turned around, lying on her stomach, taking the Journal from the bedside table.
She opened it to see the Wood Style Notes she made, knowing as little as she about it, the chakra circuits that she saw as a child when she was curious about the Wood Style.
To not forget, confused by the nightmares and the dreams, she noted all her knowledge down in the books, and now, it was the time she started working towards creating this breathing technique.
For another month, she stayed in the Swordsmith Village, and the Hashira changed from the Flame Hashira to another, but till now, she couldn’t Master Wood Breathing Technique. It wasn’t that she didn’t even start, she had an idea of the Wood Breathing Technique, and even the one question mark that belonged to it had appeared, assuring her that she did learn the Wood Breathing Technique, but she wasn’t able to create a single form.
All the technique did was strengthen her basic physical stats, and increase her healing powers, nothing more, nothing less. The other upside of this Breathing Style was she could use Water Breathing and Earth Breathing.
So the last month wasn’t a waste; it was viable after all, but she couldn’t do it for some reason, and now she had run out of time.
“Are you ready? The summon was urgent,” Kanao said more than usual. Probably because of the situation they were in.
An hour ago, they got the summon to head to the Natagumo Mountain, it seems there was trouble there, but Ai wanted to try one more time to see if she could create the First Form, only to fail again.
“Yes, let’s go,” Ai stood up, wearing the yellow kimono with oversized sleeves covering her hands. She took the two identical swords; the only difference was the scarlet and green pattern that one of them had on the hilt. She put it horizontally on her waist and the other one vertically on her back.
“Let’s go,” She and Kanao left without saying goodbyes, leaving the village and moving towards the mountain and a fantastic pace, faster than any carriage.
By the time they reached Mount Natagumo, the night had covered the sky.
“Stop and rest for a bit,” Kanao wasn’t tired, but Ai was covered in sweat; after all, they had covered the three-day distance in six hours.
“No need,” Ai kept her hands on her thighs, breathing in and out, calming her breathing, sucking in a cold breath to activate Wood Breathing Style, using its restorative powers to heal as much fatigue as possible.
She cracked her fingers, stretching her body upwards when her ears twitched, “I heard a scream….”
“Then you rest. I will go,” Kanao didn’t say anything but rushed forward towards the mountain, only for Ai to follow as the two climbed the mountain, and soon they came across the strange scene. The Mizunoto, tens of them, fought against each other as puppets.
“Puppets,” Ai’s eyes flashed, remembering the Puppet Style Jutsu of her world, “If it’s anything like that, then there must be strings.”
She jumped forward, taking a cold breath, ‘Water Breathing – First Form! Water Surface Slash!’
She created a massive slash, cutting in the air rather than at them, cutting the strings that controlled them. All ten of them dropped down to the ground, but it was of no use since they started standing up one after the other.
She slashed again, cutting the strings again, exchanging a look with Kanao, thinking of what to do next. She was about to ask Kanao to keep cutting their strings until she found the Demon responsible when there were other footsteps and reinforcement came.
“Miss Ai?” Tanjiro was surprised, and he only saw Ai dash into the forest.
Kanao awkwardly looked at them, knowing that it was her job to tell them but unsure how to explain. She took out a coin, flipped it, caught it, and rather than talking, she showed them by cutting the strings, causing the bodies to the dropdown.
She appeared in front of them, watching them blankly blink, guessing.
“Are you saying…we have to cut above them?” Tanjiro guessed at them standing on their own, some still attacking each other, but their expression did not match their actions.
“Oh, are they being controlled like puppets, and we have to stop them?!” Tanjiro guessed, “Wait, does that mean Ai went to find that Demon and kill it?”
Kanao nodded finally, “Yosh! Then you handle this, and I am going behind that girl trying to steal my kill!”
Kanao looked at the boy wearing a boar’s head, covering his face, and let him go. It was more than enough that there were these two to defend these people with her.
Ai Senju ran across the trees inside the forest with a glow in her eyes. They were fixed on the strings, and she jumped up from the branch, taking the replica sword to trace the string, zooming through the air, not losing sight of it. The string was cut, probably by the Demon controlling it, but she moved to another right beside it, tracing the string to its owner, landing in the clearing, in front of a stone, where the Demon girl was sitting.
She raised her eyes, watching her, narrowing her eyes, “Let them go.”
“No, no, no! Why are you here! What are you?! How can you fly like a Demon!”
“It was a long jump,” Ai shrugged, putting the replica back in its place. She pulled out the Cursed Sword, the one etched with the memories of Demons, and pointed at the Demon in front of her, “Your name, what is it?”
“My name…?” The woman with white hair, and a white face, with circles connected with a line, stood up from the rock, taking a step back.
She noticed something from the corner of her eyes, saying in a trembling voice, “I am…Mother of the Family! Leave this Mountain! It is where my family lives.”
“Family…” Ai muttered, pressing her lips, “I wish I could do that and leave you alone, but the people you want to kill have families. I can’t leave it be, so either stop it, or I’d be forced to kill you.”
Mother noticed the spiders on her sleeves, “As if! Every one of you will become food for the family!”
Ai shook her head; she already noticed the spiders on her sleeves, planting the strings on her clothes, and sucked in a cold breath as Fire appeared around her, burning the spiders and the strings, “Fire Breathing: Ninth Form – Rengoku!!!”
She left behind a devastating dashing slash, carving a deep impression on the ground, burning it. Her sword reached near mother’s neck, sure to kill her, but a web of strings appeared in between, stopping the advance of Ai’s weapon and saving the Demon’s life called, Mother.
Ai put strength in it, wanting to cut them apart, but seeing it doing nothing to the strings, she stepped away, only to see a boy, sharing the same face paint or color of skin and pattern as the Demon called Mother.
He walked up to Mother, trembling in fear, “Rui! Sorry, Rui! I will kill them right now! She caught me by surprise! I will kill her right away!”
The boy’s hand moved, and he cut the Mother to pieces, “Useless.”
Ai gripped the hilt tightly, holding back all her feeling as much as she could, trying to kill the nervousness in her stomach. This Demon was different than one she had ever seen before, and using the Rengoku Style was too much. She mistakenly thought this was the only one they had to face, but hearing her family talk, there were three at minimum.
Moreover, this son of her was of higher rank, maybe the one in control of his appearance.
Rui, the Demon, turned to face her, allowing her to see the kanji in his eyes, Lower Rank Five.
“Twelve Kizuki,” Ai took a deep breath, changing her breathing style to Wood Style, upping her physical strength, stamina, defense, reflexes, and other physical stat. Not only that, she separated the broadsword, now wielding two katanas.
“Hm, you think you can win against a Twelve Kizuki? Your strongest attack didn’t even manage to cut my strings,” He threw a web of them, each meant to cut her apart into pieces without mercy.
“Total Concentration. Water Breathing Alternate: First Form – Water Clones!”
Water covered her sword, which she slashed forward, like large drops separated from it, one by one, forming clones of her. The clones went in separate directions, much like her, while one got cut apart.
She closed in from all directions, using the other katana, “Water Breathing Sixth Form! Whirlpool!!”
The clones coped with her, and numerous whirlpools moved towards Rui, one of them being original. All the others were fakes, but Rui didn’t know that. He divided his strings to stop all of them, but the real one cut them apart, reaching him, managing to scratch his cheek before he destroyed it.
“That is different,” His eyes flashed in anger, “But that won’t save-!”
His words were stuck in his throat, seeing Ai circle her hand from the side, raising her proper sword, creating a crescent. The blade was surrounded by water as it separated from it, creating massive shurikens.
“Water Breathing Alternate: Second Form – Water Shurikens.”
She threw the shurikens, rotating at high speed, with enough power to cut his string parts, and he knew that. The Demon jumped up, using the strings to elevate himself.
It also left him open and gave her the time to cover the distance between them, putting the sword katana together, “Water Breathing: Eighth Form! Waterfall Basin!”
She cut vertically, hoping to cut him, but her sword stopped at his shoulder, refusing to go any further.
“Is that all you have to offer,” Rui, the Lower Rank Five, kicked forward, hurling her body through the air, using his threads to slash forward, and numerous cuts appeared on Ai’s body long before she fell.
She rolled on the ground, breaking through a tree and two before she came to a stop. She hazily looked up at the Demon that appeared closer to her, looking down at her, “Did I hold back too much? I was sure that should have killed you. No matter…”
He slashed his hand forward, and for Ai, everything turned black. It was as if the rope that was keeping her hanging by the cliff broke, and she was freefalling, further and further.
Everything that happened in the past few months, every nightmare she had, every dream she had, everything flashed in front of her eyes, “Am I going to die…?”
Ai, still falling, thought to herself, “I did everything I could…it was bad luck…coming across someone so strong, so soon. If I had more time…then I could have done it. Maybe even defeating this guy…say Dad…can I come back home now?”
A light appeared below her, ready to take her in, and she felt herself reaching closer and closer, hearing the screams of humans and demons, the nightmares still haunting her, and when she was about to enter the light. She bit her teeth, sat up, gasping for breath, and hazily looked at the Demon walking away.
Rui stopped, looking back to see her in shock, “How are you…alive…?”
Ai Senju supported herself with the sword, raising her body, gasping for breath, “You know…one thing that I want the most is to be with my family…and there is a chance. I am sure this was the only chance my father would give me. The only time I could have taken the easy way out of this…but I can’t. I can’t live with myself if I gave up, If I left, knowing that I could have stopped this, these tragedies that had already happened, the ones that will happen. I will have to live because I was the coward who ran away…worst of all….”
Ai, let out a laugh as she ran her fingers through her hair, combing them and tying them into a ponytail. She opened her dichromatic eyes, scarlet and green, “I would never be able to look my mother and father in the eye…that’s why…so that when we meet again…so that I can raise my head high. I will fight by truly pulling my life on the line.”
“Enough out of you! This time I will kill you no matter what you are!” Rui’s thread turned red; he slashed them towards Ai to cut her apart in more delicate pieces than before.
Ai sucked in a cold breath, and this time, every time her heartbeat, every breath she took consumed her life force, “Total Concentration: Wood Breathing Technique First Form.”
She ran forward, dragging her sword against the ground; flowers appeared along the line that she left as she ran towards the blood threads coming for her, “Rise Raging Dragons!!”
With the dragon’s roar, wooden Dragons came out from the ground, twirling around one another, breaking through the threads as if they were nothing. They moved towards Rui, who wanted to dodge them, taking three bits out of his body, leg, torso, and head.
The dragons went inside the land, leaving behind Rui’s body parts that slowly turned into ash, turning into scarlet and turquoise strings that merged with the pattern on her hilt, growing another ring.
Ai stepped closer, meeting the Demon’s eyes, who sat beside him, “Rest…sleep well….”
“You…gave up the chance to be with your family…? Why…?”
Ai gazed into the distance, parting her lips, closing them, “There are too many reasons…to many to go and live with them. But there is one here…that wouldn’t let me go.”
She cupped the dying demon’s cheek, “To stop…the future tragedies. So that more families won’t be torn apart…at least not by the Demons.”