Chapter Three

The Victory of Defeat

A/N: It's been a long time, but my winter hibernation is finally over! Expect a more slow-but-steady update to all of my manga stories, starting with this!

"Yes," repeated the abomination Aburamushi with chilling relish, it's split black tongue flicking wildly over rows of jagged yellowing teeth. "It will be exquisite when I kill you. My cold heart will rejoice as I watch the life drain from your pain-stricken, bloody features – and yet I will not let you die, not straight away."

Karasu eased his defensive stance, safe in the knowledge that the Oni Lord wouldn't attack or allow any of it's minions to do likewise until it had finished speaking, although it wasn't a matter of honour at all. No, the monster was simply egotistical and loved the sound of its own voice, and the fear it usually instilled in those it was directed at. But Karasu wasn't so easily frightened, and took the time to recover from his bruises with a softly spoken healing mantra of the lowest level.

"No, you shall not die so easily, Thorn…I shall rip you open with my bare hands, clasping your still-beating heart as the chains wrap around you, crushing the air from your exposed lungs. Even then you will not die, for I know the black arts that allow me to keep a man alive even when their flesh is destroyed. Have you ever seen a man of just blood, bone and guts?" Karasu didn't answer to this goading question aloud, but his glower was enough to tell the Oni Lord that it was getting to him. "It is hideously beautiful, if you would believe that such a feat is possible. And when I have stripped you of your flesh and yet retained your mortality, I will take my time with you…and I'm immortal, Thorn, I have all the time in the –"

An Oni leapt at Karasu's unprotected back, impatient with waiting. He didn't need to look round to know it had pounced, and even when he sensed its dark aura he did nothing, knowing all too well what was to become of it.

He didn't even flinch when Aburamushi took one step forward, the Damnation Chains flashing through the air with a flick of the wrist. The tip of the chain soared high above Karasu, who stood fast, resolute not to give his enemy the pleasure of giving into curiosity and look up. If he had, he would have seen the Oni felled in mid-air, its head cored by the chain's tip. Carried on by its own momentum, its corpse falling to the ground with the thud of dry meat smacking on hard dirt before it was consumed by the blackest flames of hell, leaving behind nothing more than a glowing red-hot mark that, when cooled, would be a scorch invisible against the barren, poisoned ground they now walked upon.

"Who else dares?" spat the Oni Lord, the infernal weapon once again coiled its arm. "Who else dares try and interfere? This battle is written in the Cursed Tomes, and death and damnation is the price for impeding its fruition!"

The surrounding hordes took a collective step back and Aburamushi, seemingly appeased by this act of loyalty, grunted. "See to the humans, keep them back," he told them finally, "Have fun with their mortality, their pain…"

As one the Oni roared their approval, turning their backs on the spectacle about to commence.

"I will make your life such agony," Aburamushi continued, goading Karasu into a sudden, careless attack. "You will awake, begging me to kill you…and go to sleep, your body wracked with pain, wishing I had…and so it will be every single day for the rest of your prolonged life."

"Your words have no effect on me!" the Raven Angel snapped, raising Razor-Edge in anticipation of the end of the Oni Lord's words, and the start of its actions, the freshly spilt Oni blood drenching his blade already turning dark and hard like obsidian. "Save it for the Oni scum it helps manipulate."

"Very well," nodded his diabolical opponent, taking another step forward as it pointed a clawed hand towards him, only to clench it into a fist as it went on. "Come to me so that I may crush your spirit and bathe in your blood!"

"Monster!" rushing forward as Aburamushi released the Damnation Chains as he knew it would, Karasu batted the lashing tongue of the weapon side with Demon Pierce, wrapping it up in the claws of his gauntlet as he drew closer. Before the Oni Lord had a chance to recover, to pull the chain free and mount a defence, he attacked, his sword slashing through the air, cutting through thick skin and tough flesh as it struck the Oni Lord's exposed throat.

Even as it quickly raised a hand, dark blood streamed from the open wound, spurting from between clamped fingers as Aburamushi choked and gurgled, falling back. And still its blood continued to pump out like some polluted, reeking waterfall that threatened to cascade down over Karasu. But the warrior was prepared, knowing that if even a drop of the Oni's blood were to be absorbed by his pores, he would be lost, that he would become an Oni minion like the rest.

He shook such thoughts from his mind as he leapt backwards to a safe distance, out of reach of the geyser of blood, preparing an offensive spell that he used as soon as his feet touched the ground.

"Roar of Heavens – Thunderclap!"

A triage of small, blue ethereal orbs shot from his outstretched fingers, landing soon after upon the staggering form of Aburamushi, each one erupting on impact with a deafening explosion of air. The first two struck the Oni Lord's shoulders, driving it even further back, it's footing increasingly unsteady. The third drove itself between Aburamushi's clamped hand and chin, the explosion lifting it off it's feet, the large monstrosity reeling back through the air, the Oni unable to utter anything more than a gurgle of pained rage as it crashed to the dry, cracked ground several feet back from where it had previously stood.

"You live to talk," Karasu snapped at his enemy's fallen form, taking a step back to prepare for the final attack. "Now die in silence!"

Launching off from the ground, he roared through the air at Aburamushi's prone figure, Demon Pierce and Razor-Edge held high above his head, ready to cleave the Oni Lord in two and end this war.

He was almost too late to see a reptilian-like Oni leap to meet him from the left, its claws outstretched, its jaws snapping. With no other choice, he performed the attack originally intended for its master upon it, both weapons slicing down through the air, his entire weight put behind the strike.

There was a soft, pulpy sound like a cleaver expertly cutting through a raw, juicy steak and the Oni was split in half from its shoulder to its groin. As the demon's body parts flew past him, the separated limbs jerking spasmodically, Karasu was showered in its dark blood, guts and internal fluids. Something about the look of morbid surprise on its face the split-second before Razor-Edge struck concerned him, but he quickly cast the thought aside as he turned his attention back to Aburamushi.

He had only looked away for the shortest of time.

Nevertheless, Aburamushi was now up and, from catching the victorious smirk on it's grisly features and from suddenly realising that the last attack had left him completely open and defenceless, Karasu knew that all was lost.

Before his feet had had a chance to touch the ground, Aburamushi attacked, almost lazily in it's execution as it simply raised a long, spear-like finger up…and into the exposed torso of Karasu.

Impaled, the Raven Angel let out a scream of pain as spasms wracked his body, jerking it about like a puppet whose strings were tangled. His blood soon mixed with that of the Oni he had only just slew as it welled from around the edges of his wounds and escaped from his lips in shuddering gasps, each one showering the gloating Oni Lord with spittle as well as the warm red life essence.

With it's other hand still clamped firmly on it's neck, Aburamushi made to remove it, laughed tauntingly at it's helpless prey and brought it away. The severe wound Karasu had dealt it earlier was now gone, in it's place nothing more than a pale line that ran through the darkened welt that was the handprint of the Oni Lord, it's cleansing fire healing spell performed when he hadn't been looking.

"Who will die now, little Thorn?" it asked with a biting laugh that stung what was left of Karasu's fleeting consciousness. "I must admit, you are too merciful – that slit on my throat would've proved fatal had you followed up on it straight away. Luckily for me I had a secret tactic ready for just such an occasion."

The last few minutes of his life flashed before Karasu's eyes; the leaping Oni, his despatching of it, its startled expression. "Nnh-no!" he gasped through blood-flecked lips, his weapons dropping to the floor as his arms tried feebly to pull him free of his impalement, his torture, his death.

"Oh, yes. I call it…Oni Mastery – Unwilling Sacrifice! I got inside that Oni's mind, I made it attack you, knowing you'd have no choice but to kill it and that it would have no chance against your skill. You did, it didn't and now I have you. Ingenious, don't you think?"

Karasu didn't answer, he was unable to; already he felt his grip on life slipping, cursed in the knowledge that he had failed and doomed mankind.

"Master!" cried an excited little gargoyle of an Oni. "The vortex! The Eye is opening, hurry we must!"

Gritting his teeth so hard he swore he felt them crack, Karasu frowned down at his captive and his killer. Aburamushi seemed to take good humour from his reaction and laughed uproariously, each shaking laugh jerking Karasu into new levels of agony. "Yes, Thorn! The Eye of Time! In a way you should be glad, for I'll soon be gone from this place forever. For I shall take my armies and together we shall step through the vortex to a distant future where they will not know me. They will be unprepared, unprotected, and I shall make them feel fear!"

"Master!" shrieked the small Oni. "The Eye, already it closes! Slowly, it shrinks! Not much time have we!"

All mirth left the Oni Lord at this news as it turned back to observe it's dying nemesis for the last time. "It has been an honour, Thorn, but you see – you had already lost before this battle began!"

Summoning his last reserves of strength, Karasu spat in Aburamushi's sneering face. Snarling in disgusted rage, it drew the arm that held him back. "Damn you, Nemesis, defiant until the very last! It would be such a pleasure to watch you die choking on your own blood, but I haven't the time. Corpse Launcher!"

Swinging it's arm up and around, Aburamushi flung Karasu's limp form high over the roiling battlefield, it's claw pulling back through his body as he was released. His lungs too full of blood and gods knew what else to scream, he instead opened his mouth in a silent, grotesque death-scream as his arc neared its peak and he began to fall, dozens of feet, back down amongst the warring armies.

As the wind roared loud and whipped coolly around his limp body, Karasu's thoughts sluggishly lay on the irony of his end; Aburamushi had defeated him, and yet in doing so the Empire of Man as he knew it was safe from the Oni scum.

Of course, that left whatever the Empire evolved into hundreds (if not thousands) of years in the future still in mortal danger, but he felt that was hardly his concern.

An odd sense of peace enshrouded Karasu, closely followed by that of shadow.

He was dead before he even hit the ground.

End of Chapter Three

Again, it's been a long time coming, but now that it's here I put forth a question; should it continue, or should I move on to other things (namely Vagabond Exorcist. Chinwan and a new Sci-fi series I have planned)?

I can either put this on hiatus, or cancel it completely. I haven't really decided yet.

Please R&R and I will try and return the favour!