"Hello! My name is Mitsuru Sakakibara and along with my non-blood related sister, we accidently released the seal on the demon gate protected at our shrine. Now because of this mistake, we must protect the town and those we care about from the invading demons with the help of two spiritually possessed swords."

A little short of breath and trying to keep from panting, Mitsuru's face was a little flush with red. It was not the sort of thing he was used. It was embarrassing for him, but he could not help it. This was the situation that fell upon him. He did not want to get used to it. That might be even more embarrassing.

Actually strike that, what sort of person would be embarrassed by getting proper exercise? Get a backbone, Mitsuru.

It was after school and he had to go it alone. He had no help from Tsukiko today, who would have run off to take of things without him, most likely. That sort of thing was not something that he enjoyed allowing to happen. But it was hard to stop her when she got going. He knew better than anyone that once she set her mind to something almost nothing short of their grandfather would actually stop her.

Despite all of that and preferring to have her handle it, he also wanted to do it himself. It was a promise he made with himself anyway. He needed to do this, even though he did not want to do it. There was still a fair bit of reluctance given that he was putting himself in danger. And before all of this happened, the worst he was used to experiencing was the rampage of his sister. Which varied in strength and intensity. He probably should have developed a tolerance to it or something, but he did not. He was still the same frail boy as ever.

That will never change.

Mitsuru was constant in that. Even though he currently charged out of the school before the bell even finished ringing, all the while sprinting out of the school shouting apologies. He could not stop. He already waited too long.

Hisako, his spirit possessed sword, rattled on his back the last five minutes of class. She reminded him constantly in the only a way that those with spirit sensitivity could notice. But those with such senses would find it more painful to hear than nails on a chalkboard, which did not seem possible. And yet it was accurate.

"You need to run faster!" she reminded, having not let up.

Long out of breath from running full sprint for more than twenty blocks of reckless, very un-Mitsuru like manners. "I know…already! But I…can't run…any faster!" His lungs burned along with his throat. He thought he was going to die just from running. "I can't…"

"I can't believe how out of shape you are. In my day, you would have been the first eaten by an oni."

He came to a stop finally needing to pause to recovering. There was no more pushing his body. Despite that, he did manage to respond to Hisako easily enough, "It's not normal running across the entire city at full speed! Anyone would be dying!"

Searching around the area, he knew that he was in the area the way she described it to him in the directions. However, there did not seem to be anything out of place. There was no destruction and not even the sounds of screaming, that he expected to hear. "Which way is the demon?"

"I'm sensing it close by, but there's another power I'm sensing as well."

"Masanori? Akira?"

"The spiritual and demonic energies are mixed up. I can't tell specifics from this distance. Hurry, the level of demonic energy I'm sensing is greater than that of the oni's that have been invading."

"What?!" yelped Mitsuru already panicking and wishing for his sister. But she was not with him. She had to stay behind at school. So he was on his own. "F-Fine, let's go! If it's Masanori or Akira together we should be able to handle it!"

Jumping out into the street, Mitsu dodged out of the way of an oncoming car that he did not seeing coming. The honking vibrated through his body as he leapt out of the way and bowed quickly in apology. He then rushed across the rest of the street needing to get the location of the demon. 'As scared as I am I can't allow it to hurt people!'

He heard noises of a battle coming out of an alley way as he closed in on the location. Mitsuru paused for a moment hearing the sound of laughter coming out as well. It was the voice of a young woman. Even though it had a slightly sweet sound to it, there was something unsettling about the laughter that made his feet freeze in paralysis. "W-who's laughing?"

"What are doing stopping? We need to get to the demon!"

"R-right…" His legs still felt sluggish, but he could move again. The alley showed the sort of signs that he expected to see from a demon attack. Slash marks and damaged property lined the entire length. A prolonged battle had occurred and it was still going on. Yet he did not see anyone.

Ahead of him, he spotted several turns and intersections in the alley. The sounds of the battle grew louder now that he was so close. Even the laughter was more intense. He still felt confused and scared of who might be laughing while fighting. It told him to run away and he wanted to listen, but he forced himself onward. 'I can't allow all of my bravery that showed before crumble!'

Mitsuru searched the alley still not finding the battle and had to go in deeper. It suddenly started to get darker. "Huh? Cloudy?" He looked up to see where the sun had gone only to find that he could not really see the sky very well. There was something blocking most of it from his sight. "What the…?" Only thin lines of the sunlight made it through.

The feeling he got from the alley quickly worsened. But Hisako pushed him onward still. "What is all of this? It's black and thin like threads." Following it seemed to be leading him to where the battle happened. It blocked off all the other ways out. It was at least easy to find them.

"I don't think its thread. If I had to guess…"

Just as she was about to finish, they rounded the corner and found the battle. Though it hardly looked like one from his view.

Hovering about a meter in the air, thanks to all of the blackness that seemed to be supporting it and filling the entire alley, was a young woman that looked nothing like a demon as Mitsuru expected. However, he could very easily tell that she was the demon. Though his ability to detect demonic energy was almost nonexistent, even he could sense the difference.

Whatever it was, they had the other person completely wrapped up in the black substance unable to fight back. There was thin drips of blood running out from them down the black threads holding them up.

That was all it took for Mitsuru to completely forget his fear. He immediately unsheathed the sword and shouted out to the demon. "I'm the one you're looking for!" The woman's attention quickly became his, as he wanted. Though, the other person was no more free than before. "Hisako, please give me your power! Someone's in danger!"

"R-Right!"

Howling through the air, he leapt with this sword glowing as a flash of light cast from his body transforming him. Rather than the demon, he took his first swing at the strains holding onto the one caught. "It'll be alright!" He grabbed into the black threads ripping through the rest with his off hand to get them free.

The demon woman began to laugh at Mitsuru as she focused her attack on him. Bringing all of the black threads in the area to bare on him. Even holding up his sword, his divine aura could not protect him against the force of the attack.

But he had at least got the other person free from the demon before they were thrown away. Mitsuru fell up against the wall of the building cracking it a little from his impact. "Ugh!" He fell down taking too long to get to his feet.

Attacking him immediately sensing the strong spiritual energy, black strains wrapped him up. He quickly had his arms tied up unable to swing along with his legs and waist. It then went after his throat having him completely where she wanted him. "…can't…brea…"

However, an arc of light ripped through the air cutting all of the threads freeing Mitsuru as he gasped and coughed to get air. He fell to one knee taking a moment to realize who it was that had been fighting. Looking up from his spot, he saw as expected a young teenage boy with a gleaming blade as his side. "Akira!"

Chapter 18 – No Laughing Matter

"This is Akira Fukushima, a mysterious swordsman that arrived in our town recently. He's really stubborn about fighting demons alone."

Mitsuru's surprise took Akira off guard and jumped back. He, like Mitsu, had not been paying any attention to who they were rescuing, merely acting on instinct. "You!" Akira's face quickly went through a flurry of emotions creating a very complicated look.

"I'm glad to see you're doing better!" Mitsuru jumped over trying to greet Akira.

He did not really know how to react. Currently, Mitsuru looked like a woman and yet his voice still came out of the body. It made for a very disorienting combination, especially for Akira who still had some issues with Mitsuru. "G-get away from me!"

"And he doesn't like me…"

"B-but…"

"No time for that!" Hisako interrupted, "You need to focus on the demon!"

Right on cue, the attacks from the demon came after both of them. They defended themselves against the attacks no longer split in their attention. Their blades split the black threads and left the area around them filled.

Akira immediately charged in for the attack ignoring any aid from Mitsuru. He parried the next attack as sparks flew up from the black mass sliding over his blade. It bundled up thick around him until Mitsuru jumped in to cleave through it. "The demon is mine!" he declared, not wanting help from Mitsuru.

Staring a little shocked at him, though Mitsu remembered how much he was like this before. "I'm not trying to steal your fight. But this shouldn't be about competition!" The black strains threatened to overwhelm Akira as he threw himself headstrong into the demon's attacks trying to finish things quickly. It made his form sloppier than normal. Mitsu appeared in front of him shielding him from the attack that would have wrapped him up again. "We're supposed to be protecting the town, not fighting over who's going to kill the demon! It doesn't matter who does it so long as it's dead!"

Mitsuru's words did not successfully get through to Akira as he used Mitsu's back as a jumping point. It gave him the extra height and momentum between the attacks to get an unguarded strike. The demon woman roared in anger at Akira's success as black threads leapt out of the wound he created. Black spiraling mass swarmed around him completing engulfing him.

It turned into sharp edges striking all around Akira drawing up blood. He fell back to the ground surrounded in the strains. Any slash he attempted caught on the black mass. The demon had him trapped.

"Akira!" yelled Mitsuru as he charged into the battle once more. Protecting Akira from the incoming attack, it split apart on the edge of his blade.

Glowing brightly, Mitsuru glared at the demon. Spiritual energy rapidly amassed in his blade as he forced back the demon's attack. Turning the sword around and throwing up the swing, he cut through all of the black mass clearing a straight line to the demon. In the next moment, the energy concentrated tightly into the blade as Mitsuru sped through and past the demon in a straight-line strike ripping through with a wide attack.

Howling and laughing, the demon woman split in half as she began to fall. Particles of demonic essence started to float into the air as her existence disappeared.

The battle was over.

Mitsuru snapped the sword down and turned the blade sharply in his hand before returning it to the sheath. The transformation faded away as Hisako's power returned. He turned back to rush over to Akira, already standing. "Akira! Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," he answered curtly and throwing up a hand to intercept him. Thin streams of blood already began to dry on his hand and arm from Mitsuru's sight. "I don't need any help from you."

Cautious and a little disappointed, Mitsu stopped. He still did not understand what he did to make him so upset at him. "I'm sorry I'm not Tsukiko."

"Wha?!" Akira took a moment to try to figure out what he implied. "That's not it."

"Huh?"

"Just leave me be. I don't need anyone." Akira turned around and sheathed his weapon. He leapt into the air to leave, but suddenly collapsed to the ground in surprise.

Unable to stand by and do nothing, Mitsu rushed to Akira's side. "Akira?! What's wrong?" He tried to help him up, but was throw off roughly.

"I said…I don't…" Unfortunately, he could not finish.

Mitsuru did not listen to Akira complaints and efforts to push him off, he had lost a lot of the strength that he had. Finally actually able to touch him, Mitsu realized that his breathing heavily and panting. He was nearly out of breath and injured as well. "You're in no shape to be running off on your own!" Helping Akira up, he gave him support insisting on walking with him despite Akira's reluctance to do so.

"What are you…"

"I'm taking you to a clinic nearby to get you fixed up! I'm not abandoning you to your devices no matter how much you hate me!"

Akira's panting became worse leaning heavily on Mitsuru. "I-I…I…" He passed out quickly in Mitsuru arms nearly taking him down with him.

"Akira?! Akira! Akira!"

-X- -X- -X-

Dull voices echoed through his head. A fog still hung around Akira's head. His consciousness had started to return and he was not sure where he was anymore. The surroundings did not look familiar to him. The more he woke up the more shouting he heard. "Someone's panicking…what?" He tried to look around, but lightheadedness took over and dropped him back down.

It was then that he realized that he was lying down. The smell of a sterile and disinfected environment became clear to him. "I'm in…a…" His eyes focused more and he knew now for certain that he was inside a hospital or at least a clinic. "How'd I get here?"

"I'm coming. You don't have to be scared. We already did a quick check on your friend and they're still very healthy."

"What?"

The owner of the voice drew back the curtain. Giving Akira a better view, he could see it was a small room and looked lightly stocked with supplies. The doctor approached with a tray of bandages among some other tools. "See, your friend's already awake."

"Akira!" Mitsu yelled, jumping to the bedside immediately ignoring the doctor. "Are you alright? How much do you hurt? Is there anything else you're feeling? How long have you been awake?"

After the barrage of questions, the doctor caught up to Mitsu and pulled him away from the bed. His patient was still injured and untreated. "Your friend needs to be treated for his injuries before he can be seen. I'll need you to step back."

Sadden a little, but cooperating, he slid back a little. "I'm standing here though!"

"No, you're not!" yelled Akira. He lifted up the nearest thing available to him as though going for his sword, which had obviously been taken by Mitsu for safety and to stop unnecessary questions. Unfortunately, the threat was a little less impactful since all he was holding was a jar of suckers for children with a very cheerful looking chibi style drawing.

"But you're hurt!"

"I don't need you to watching over me! I'll be fine! Get out now!"

"But."

"Out now!"

"Geez…I apologized for what I did already." The insistence by Akira won out against Mitsuru's concern. He stepped out beyond the curtain and sat down at the back of the small room. Both of their swords rested against the wall with Hisako hovering out of her's.

Looking at how dejected Mitsuru appeared from the exchange, she tried to get his mind off the matter. "You're going to need to be more careful in the future. More powerful demons are starting to slip through the gate now."

"I know, but he was being reckless. I couldn't just let him fight like that!"

"You're focusing on the wrong part."

Mitsu glanced over at Hisako a bit confused by her response. "Huh?"

"I'm telling you that the demons are more powerful and newer species are coming out of the gate."

Scratching loosely at the side of his face, he thought about the demon woman they fought. It surprised him at first, but it was not the only time they fought something that was not an oni. "What sort of demon was that?" In all of the fighting, he had not gotten a chance to hear about the demon and any sort of weaknesses for fighting it.

"It's a Harionago."

"Are they high ranked?"

"No, they're in the same class as an oni. Fairly weak, but they would at the upper end within the class in terms of power. They're a rarer type of demon that doesn't wander outside of the demon realm unless they sense a man."

"You mean Akira?"

"No, while skilled, Akira doesn't have much spiritual power. Most of it comes from the sword. It's why it is hard to know when Akira is already fighting a demon. I've gotten better in picking up the faint energy. No, she definitely was sensing you."

Taking in the information, Mitsuru thought about it for a bit in silence. There was a lot for him to take in since the fight. "So they're still after me. And sis…"

"A demon's hunger for spiritual energy and strong life force is hard to ignore."

A thought came into his head as he remembered something that she said before. "Didn't you say before that the gate was weaker in town? That was why only oni showed up here, while the more powerful ones were in the forest."

"Which means only one of two things."

"Two?"

"Yes, either it came out of the portal in the forest and traveled here undetected until Akira encountered it. Or…"

"It's stabilizing in town?"

"That's correct. The fluctuations in the gate may be reaching an equilibrium now."

"Means the same strength demons can start appearing in town now as well."

"That's very likely. That's why I was warning you to be more careful. You can't rely on the same attitude you have had before anymore."

The grave tone of Hisako made him sink a little in his chair. 'Things are already bad enough and now they're getting worse…' He hung his head back against the chair looking up at the ceiling. It was peaceful for the moment, but such a moment would not last. "We need to find a way to seal the gate."

"Without any clue or records on how they did it, that's not going to be possible."

"But weren't your swords used in the seal? If we just—"

"Whoever created the seal was a highly skilled spiritualist and a master in sealing techniques. Which I nor you are either of."

Any bit of hope that Mitsuru had disappeared with Hisako's reality. It made him sink even more, though he was running out of room unless he went to the floor. "So this will never end…"

Hisako could see how dispirited that he had become. He needed something to grab onto give him hope. "Someone did before, so it's not unreasonable to consider we'll find a way to do it."

Mitsu rolled his head over to the back of the chair to look at Hisako. "You think so?" A bit of light returned to his eyes.

"You just need to practice and get stronger."

He sat up a little more clutching the sheath of the sword. Thoughts and images of all of the fighting that he had done so far flashed through his mind. "I guess you're right. There might be a case in the future. Maybe someone like Miss Chie will discover it."

The thought of the demon obsessed woman discovering the way the seal up the gate made Hisako very doubtful. Her expression turned flat in disbelief. "Yeah, I doubt she'll find anything."

"Hey, Miss Chie is trying hard! She won't give up!"

"For someone that loves to torment you in her free time, you're defending her surprisingly strongly." Hisako hovered up around to Mitsuru's face. She grinned a little taking her opportunity. "So you like older women huh?"

"W-what?! It's not like that! I already told you before, I just respect her. I think how resolute and honest she is an admirable trait." His face went a little red as Hisako grinned teasingly.

"Is that right?"

"It is!"

Behind the curtain, the doctor just finished up the last of the wrappings. Akira did not need as many stitches as it appeared. Most of it could be handled with butterfly closures and some light bandages. The blood made the whole situation appear worse than it actually was in reality.

"Now be careful dressing," he remarked cleaning up the waste, "And refrain from any sports or physical activity for several days." He began to push the cart away when Akira stopped him.

"You promise."

The doctor stopped before opening the curtain and looked back. "…yes, but you realize that it is inevitable right? This is something you will have for your whole life, facing it now—"

"I'm fine. This is my wish. Say none of it to anyone!"

He sighed muttering under his breath, "I don't understand this generation…" Akira still wanted his confirmation. His patient was serious about it and there was nothing he could do about it. "Fine. You're safe for the time being. It's only forestalled right now, there's no out running this."

"That's none of your concern. I will fight this."

A bit of sweat dripped down his face listening to Akira. "This isn't the sort of thing you can fight. There are just something you can't fight." Glancing back towards the curtain, the doctor checked though already guessing the answer. "And your friend?"

"Especially not him!"

"Right. I'll keep it a secret. It's your life." He started to push the cart again. "Get dressed and I'll let him know you're healthy. He was quite worried about you. Nearly injured my only nurse trying to get you in here."

Akira turned away to hide the red coming through. "I never asked him to do that!"

"Just give yourself a rest. Doctor's orders." He pushed through the curtain and tried to set the cart back against the wall, but was beset from all sides by Mitsuru. Which was an impressive feat considering that he was only a single person. "Your friend is fine." He opened, hoping that would free up his path, it did not.

"What's wrong with him? Doctor? Is it bad? You can tell me!"

"Aside from stubbornness bigger than Mount Fuji, nothing," ranted the doctor in a very soft tone.

Mitsu did not catch any of what he said. "Huh?" He leaned in trying to listen for whatever the doctor said.

"Gah! What are you doing?!" he yelped as Mitsu got way too close.

"What's wrong with Akira? You can tell me!"

Needing to cough to clear himself from the unsettling sight, the doctor regained his composure. "Right. Your friend is fine. The cuts are pretty shallow, I only had to stitch a few things up."

Sighing with relief, Mitsu was pleased to hear that the fighting had not given him worse injuries. "That's great! When I saw him passed out I got so scared there might be something wrong!"

"About that."

"What? Is something wrong?"

The doctor leaned back trying to get Mitsuru out of his face again. Unfortunately, only stepping back on his own was able to get him the space he needed. "Nothing as dire as you seem to think. It's just overwork. I don't know what your friend is doing, but their body is exhausted and seems to have been continuing to run exhausted. Passing out was a natural result of the extremes they've been pushing themselves. You need to tell your friend to take a break—"

Mitsuru was already gone from the doctor's sight going for Akira. The moment he heard that he could not stand aside and do nothing. "Akira!" He grabbed the curtain just as the doctor grabbed his wrist.

"Your friend is still changing. Give them a minute."

However, Mitsuru did not listen to the doctor and broke free from his hold with ease. "We're both boys, so it's alright! I don't care how much he hates me, I have to get him to stop!"

The doctor sighed to himself unable to stop Mitsuru as he opened the curtain. "Probably will hate you more now…"

"Akira! You need to stop taking this all on yourself! I know you…don't…" Mitsuru came to a grinding halt in mid sentence as he saw Akira still only half dressed.

Shocked and unable to say anything, Akira jumped back against the wall losing a hold of the hakama. The extra sight only made Mitsuru stutter even more than before. His face turned redder than Akira's face.

It took a full half minute for Mitsuru manage to say what was already pretty obvious at this point. "Akira, you're a girl?!"

Hisako slid out of the sword grinning to herself. "So the cat's out of the bag now."

Panicking, Akira immediately went looking for her sword, which was not nearby. Panning the bed and her side of the curtained off room, she could not find it. "Where is my sword?"

Mitsu responded by holding it up as though it was completely natural. "I have it."

She immediately snatched the sword and sheath from Mitsuru. Without a second thought, she turned the blade on Mitsuru with the end barely even a centimeter away. "You saw nothing!"

"I sort of saw everything."

Akira's face turned deep red beating out Mitsuru's face as though it was a competition to be more embarrassed. Her hand shook holding the sword. "Nothing!" The tip of the blade pressed against his nose not cutting him, but making it clear.

All of the shaking of the metal, Mitsuru felt that his face might be split open. It turned his red face purple thanks to the blue fear pouring into him now. "Nothing?"

"Absolutely nothing!"

"But Akira…"

"I said nothing! No questions, no concerns, no following me!"

"That…is…"

"Swear to me or I will split as if you were a demon!"

"I swear! I'll keep your secret! I won't tell a soul!"

"Well I don't know about that," mused Hisako, "This seems like too much fun to keep a secret, now that Mitsuru knows." She already seemed to be pondering what she could do with the information to keep things exciting for her.

Mitsuru grabbed up his sword as if he was trying to strangle it. "Miss Hisako please! Promise too!"

Akira leveled the blade at the spirit. Though Hisako just shrugged her shoulders at the notion. "What can you two do to me? I'm a spirit. None of your threats will work on me." She glanced over at Akira with a mischievous gaze. Her lips nearly looked like a cat the way she grinned.

The thought that Akira could not actually silence or do anything to stop Hisako made her back away. Panic set in harder than ever on her that her secret was going to be exposed. She grabbed her head trying to think of a way out of the situation.

Looking more the part of the manipulating mother rather than the young twenty something, Hisako floated over to Akira. "Let Mitsuru help you and I'll keep this little secret between us."

"Miss Hisako?"

Akira quickly recovered as Hisako started to negotiate. "No! I work alone!"

"Now I wonder how much Chie would love to hear our little Akira is a girl."

Leaping forward, Akira attempted to cast a shadow over the spirit to no effect. "You wouldn't!"

She grinned back promising her that she would with merely a look. "I wouldn't?"

"Miss Hisako this is blackmail!"

"Your point? You want to keep her safe from killing herself and she wants to keep her secret. Seems like a good exchange to me."

"Fine…" muttered Akira lowly.

"What's that?"

"I said, agreed!"

"What did you agree to?"

"Miss Hisako!"

"You'll keep my secret if I allow that boy to help with the demon slaying."

"Good. Now remember that promise." Hisako pulled away, but already saw the gears turning in Akira head on ways to get out of the blackmail. "Just remember, Chie doesn't need proof, she'll find it for herself once given enough cause."

A thick gulp ran down Akira's throat.

Mitsu pulled back the sword shaking it. "Miss Hisako, stop it! You keep your promise too! Akira has her reasons for not wanting this to be told."

"Yeah, I know."

"You're an honorable warrior when you were alive, so don't break your promise!"

"I won't."

Akira starred a little surprised at how determined Mitsuru looked. She did not expect him to take it so seriously, even with the threatening that she did to him. It took her back a step, not completely sure what to make up him anymore. "…thank you…"

"Hmm?" He looked up at Akira only hearing that she said something, but not catching. With the fear pulled back, he remembered that he was still in the same room as a naked girl, still not attempting to cover anything up. He quickly turned around and backed out of the curtain. "I'm sorry!"

"Mother…father…I'm not sure what Akira's reasons are, but I'll believe in her and keep her secret. It's a promise! Maybe, she'll open up to me in the future with this secret I share…"

To be continued…