Sunken into the pool of guilt, Yumi had given into the guilt that she buried. Takako pried it up and put it directly in her face. It was no longer something that she could run away or hide from. Presented as an inescapable pit to swallow her up.
Yumi fell into silence finally. The taunting of Takako ended. She could just settle into the endless acceptance that came with the void. Nothing more that she needed to do. Everything returned to the place that it belonged.
Suddenly, Manekamaru's voice spoke out to her, "This is where you end as a warrior."
Chapter 461 – Joyous Exam
His voice snapped her out of sludge that trapped. She stood back on the hard surface of the void staring at the demon. A man that stalked and haunted her shadows wherever she went. It was someone that she tried to escape, but nothing ever worked with him. He always managed to somehow find her. And his words had a way to piercing her like no weapon ever did. He frustrated her so much.
Just a successful punch would be satisfying at the moment. She glared at him more now than she had been previously. "You again. So Hokuren is sending you now to torment my mind. Damn you demons!" Holding back ceased to be an option for her as she tried to reach out for him, but he evaded her with effortless ease.
"That's still going to be your first response."
"You're a demon, what do you think that's going to be?!"
"I thought your training with Saki might have tempered your prejudice."
"You're so frustratingly obnoxious and superior, looking down on me!"
Manekamaru raised a finger in a gesture to offer a counter point to her. "In fact, only you have been the one looking down."
"What?! How dare you!" Yumi charged after him again trying to catch him only to fail. No matter what she tried her speed was just not enough to reach him. It was as though he read her mind and could see the attacks coming before she even made them.
This demon continued to be a constant annoyance for her. She sometimes managed to find ways that did not make him so obnoxious, but she could not keep the balance. Surrender and acceptance ended up being the only methods that she found that gave her any sort of peace. In that it ended the conversation, but did not end the maelstrom in her heart.
"These are poor qualities for a warrior to have."
"I think I've already explained to you before I'm not a warrior!"
"No you are a warrior."
"Damnit!" Yumi stepped up in front of the demon knowing that she could not touch him. An annoyed glared fixed on him. "You're so obsessed with fighting! Can't you go even a minute without thinking about it?!"
"I live my life honestly."
That word made her recoil back. It was the same one that he told her. It made her completely convinced that it was Hokuren doing it. Though she had no idea why he was even bothering with such a roundabout method. He wanted to just fight her like the others. This method was contradictory to everything that he displayed. She did not understand it.
She ground her teeth together finding herself cornered by the word. It hurt more than she expected. The word brought up their previous conversation that she had with Manekamaru during their fight. Something that they never resolved and Hokuren had to hit the same nerve.
A trigger for her.
"You think I'm lying to myself."
"I know you."
"You know nothing!" Yumi turned away from the demon finding her repeating herself once more. It was the same argument that they got into back then. She was not going to get anywhere with him.
"You have to stop running away." Manekamaru's word did nothing to change Yumi. He stepped next to her even with her refusing to acknowledge him. A wave of his hand suddenly brought up mist into the air that formed into a solid sheet. Within the sheet an image appeared. "Look."
Initially refusing him, Yumi turned her gaze away from it as well. However, sounds came out of it entering her ears and pulled at her. She knew the voices, the familiar sound. Yumi glanced over at the image seeing herself in the battle against Manekamaru. But it was not someone that she recognized, even with it being her. "That's a lie! That's not me!"
She walked towards it trying to destroy it so that it would stop showing her confusing memories that she did not remember. 'He's trying to convince me otherwise. Trying to show me what he wants me to see. That wasn't me! That wasn't real!' However, Yumi could not do anything to break it. She only passed through it. The sounds continued from the recorded memory even if she could not see it.
Each moment of the memory playing pounded against her heard unable to allow her to escape. Yumi pressed her hand to her forehead trying to close it off. "Stop it!"
"This is who you are."
"No it's not! It's a fake!"
"It's the real you."
"Never! It can't be!" He grabbed her shoulder moving the image back in front of her. Yumi tried to look away but the sounds only seemed to be stronger. "This isn't me…"
"You have to stop lying to yourself."
"You're the one lying to me!"
"Sister, return with me!"
She turned her head towards the voice of Yori. "Yori?!" He had a hand stretched out to her that she did not respond to. But he was not the only one that resurfaced once more. No longer free and alone, all of them came back to torment her more. "Again…"
"Which are you?"
The demon almost seemed to be running things. Yumi broke free from his hold on her shoulder and backed away from all of them. "All of you…"
"What will you pick?"
"I won't be defined by you!"
"No, this is you. You define yourself. So tell me who are you?"
Yumi looked at her brother. That was a path that he wanted for her. "You aren't where I follow anymore. I can't go with you." He looked ready to object to her rejection of him, but disappeared once more into the void. The rest however, she could not easily turn away. Yori was her past, something that she walked away from. She understood that part of her well. But the rest was not clear to her.
"Decide," he demanded, as she started to hold her silence. However, she did not respond to him, finding his pressuring not enough to force her. He walked over to the judge singling him out from the group. "Is this who you are?"
"I'm not a murderer!"
"But you think you are."
"Because I am!" Yumi stepped away trying not to let the memories replay in her mind. The Atlanteans that died at her hands could not even have their lives seen by her. There was nothing that she saw while she stormed through their Capital. They were completely insignificant in her eyes, people that she never saw. Only the representative could stand for them, the nameless and faceless souls that she took. "I'm the reason they're dead!"
Manekamaru stepped toward her forcing the confrontation. "Is that who you are?"
"But I killed them!" The demon stared at her wanting her answer, not accepting what she was saying. Once more he seemed to see through her. He could understand when she was not being truthful. "I didn't want to kill them! It wasn't my intention, but it happened. I can't turn away from the reality!"
"But is reality the same as truth."
"You're not making any sense! Of course it is! That is the truth, the reality! I killed hundreds or thousands that day! And by my hand whether it was me or not, I have again!"
"That is who you are?"
"I don't have a choice in the matter!"
"Yes, you do. What you want to do and what happens are different things."
"You're just playing semantics with me! That's not how the people of the families I killed feel about it!"
"Then turn yourself in."
"But then I can't…" Her mind wondered away thinking upon Yuki. He filled her thoughts quickly with the idea of just submitting to justice. "I'm not that! It's part of me. My mistake, but it's not me!" Yumi meet eye to eye with Manekamaru, who demanded her answer. "It's not who I am."
The next choice came to Takako. She gave a smirking grin taunting Yumi. "I'm not running away anymore. I doing all of this so I don't run away! I protect myself now, no one else!" Takako disappeared appeared from the void leaving Manekamaru alone with her. "Which has you implying that I'm you."
"Who are you?"
"That's not who I am either!"
"Why because you're happy, thrilled in the heat of battle?"
"That's not me! I don't fight because it makes me happy!"
"But you were while we fought."
"I can't be happy! I killed people, I kill! How can I be happy killing?!" Yumi dropped down having finally confronted what she had been avoiding. It was in the open the first the time. All of the hiding and running away ceased leaving her to only face it. "I murdered innocents. Blood is on my hands. I twist people that are my friends. How can I face all of that with a smile? How can I disrespect them?"
"Those are two different things. You can hold respect in life, while also finding joy in the thrill of a good challenge."
"But that's not who I am." Yumi still denied the logic that Manekamaru presented to her. The focus on her mistakes still hung over her head too strong for her to so easily alter their perspective.
Manekamaru walked over to her once more. He confronted her directly so she could not avoid it. "You're focus on the past rather than the future."
"But you can't erase the past!"
"But you can direct the future."
"Manekamaru!" She had more to say, but stopped herself. Her head tilted down, away from him left with her thoughts. It spun around in her head what he said. 'He speaks with such conviction. How is he able to be so confident, so sure of what his right? Because he's hundreds of years old?' Yumi tensed up her hands trying to figure out how she was going to handle it. Everything in her head felt so confused again. Nothing seemed to be any clearer. "Damn, you're so frustrating."
"I'm only speaking what's in your heart already." He said with a smile before disappearing from the void as well.
Yumi's eyes widened is shock as realization hit her suddenly. Everything about it rapidly became clear to her. She could not even manage words. Turning her head up to the endless void above her, she focused quickly on the point. Shards of the void rained down as it broke down around her and exploding outward clearing everything away.
Opening her eyes, she stared across the crater at Hokuren, back in the reality that she knew, for now. She rubbed her thumbs against her fingers checking to see that it was truly real. 'I'm back…but it wasn't him…sorry Saki…looks like I'm going to be taking a page from Seiji for this battle…' Yumi returned to an offensive stance prepared to keeping fighting the Demon Lord, but with a glow about her. A serious, yet excited look came over her as she looked forward to the conclusion of their fight. "We have a fight to finish!"
To be continued…