I was standing in a dark alley not too far from death, my eyes locked on the sight of deep purple flame and burnt, demolished crates on the ground.

But there was still one nuisance left unburnt. A youkai with long pointed ears and dark wrinkled skin; on his face, a wooden mask with faded paint with feather embellishments and a tail streaming from it.

But Michiko was exhausted, and so was Yuuka.

"This youkai is pretty bloody fast to outrun me, that little swine. But you're pretty darn good, for a human," Yuuka smiled between breaths of panting.

"Well, I haven't got this title for nothing..." Michi smirked, charging at the youkai that swiftly dodged her every attack, as she slashed at its feet it leapt, and opening for Yuuka 's blow.

Yuuka thrusted her sword at it, but it turned aside, instead striking her elbow and redirecting her sword to stab her shoulder joint where her arm fell to the ground.

Yuuka took a few steps back and began to swear, clutching her shoulder as it spouted blood like a scarlet fountain, though the blood didn't look real at all. Spirit blood.

I was devastated.
"E-Envious!" I cried.

Nothing.

"Envious! ENVIOUS!" I yelled again, my shadow nowhere to be seen.

"Crap," I thought to myself, "I'm too afraid to summon her. And even if I could, she'd just be too bloody weak..." I cursed.

The youkai ran headfirst at me with its mouth open, its giant, oddly-shaped, razor-sharp teeth prepared to sink their deadly poison into my flesh.
Michi shrieked, throwing herself in front of me, sword pointing right at the beast.
The youkai firmly dug its poisoned teeth into Michi's shoulders as the upper jaw fell from being slashed in half. The dead beast lay motionlessly on the ground in flames, burning then to ashes.

"Michi!" I cried, rushing to rip the wretched monster's fangs out of her bleeding shoulders, "Michi! Are you alright?"

"Y-yeah...it hurts a bit though...the poison isn't really...that..." she collapsed on the ground, her skin pale as freshly-fallen snow, just as cold as well.

Yuuka crawled to her feet, staggering to her fallen arm. She took it and held it to where it had been cut from. The bones morphed together. The muscles slowly repaired themselves, holding on to each other, and so did the stitching on her clothes.

"It looks just fine, but it still feels gone... It'll have to do, unfortunately..." she murmured, "How's she doing?"

"Out cold...what should we do?" I looked worriedly at Michi's lifeless body.

"Well, take her back to your house first. I need to do something, but I'll be back soon," she faded away.

"Envious," I said faintly, as she appeared to assist me in dragging Michi back home.

Michiko lay motionlessly on my bed, her skin paler and colder than when she was first bitten. The poison was significantly gaining effect, the colour that once tinted Michi's cheeks now absolutely gone. She didn't appear to be breathing though I could still hear soft breaths escaping through her mouth. It felt horrible knowing that all I could do for her was sit by her side and watch her suffer.

Not too long later, Yuuka entered along with the Te-No-Me spirit.
"Right. We'll have to get this sorted out. Manami, this is Te-No-Me, I believe you've met on a number of occassions..." Yuuka briefly introduced him.

"Care to explain why he's here?" I asked, too concerned about Michi to look at him myself. Just seeing Michiko in such a terrible state already made my own face go pale with fear and worry.

"He's sly, pretty good fighter despite his...disability..." she began.
Te-No-Me coughed.

"...and will be a great help,"

"Help? Help in what?" I asked.

"That poison looks pretty bad, but there is a way. All we need is a branch from Jubokko, though it's not going to be too happy about that," Te-No-Me sighed.

"A branch...from Jubokko? You mean the tree spirit that sucks blood?" I looked at him.

"The Vampire Tree, Jubokko. Its branches form a tube and attaches itself to unsuspecting travellers and sucking them dry of their blood, maintaining the person's fresh appearance. It only feeds off human blood though, so you're in trouble if you're coming..." he explained.

"But its branches are known to have healing powers to all kinds of infectious diseases, and I wouldn't rule out youkai poison as an impossibility if I were you," Yuuka continued.

There was a sudden knocking on the door.

"It must be Rie..." I murmured, looking at Michi, trying to figure out a way to hide her.

"Looks like you'll have to play this by ear. This'll be fun to watch..." Yuuka grinned.

Rie opened the door.
"Who are you talking to? Oh. Michiko? Why is she here at this hour? And why is she asleep? On *your* bed?" she began with a series of questions.

"She was coming over...and we were..."
"You were...?"
"Fencing. We were fencing,"
"Michi doesn't fence any more. And I didn't see her come in..."

"She came in through the back. And she decided to again because...her...health was starting to deteriorate. And...she passed out when she was practising and slipped on some wet grass and hit her head on a...fallen...branch..."

I was a horrible liar. But thankfully she was one heck of a gullible woman.

"Oh...well I guess she'll have to sleep over today. Does her father know?"

"Yes I called him," I said hastily, trying to ignore the word 'father' as well as possible. It was an uncomfortable topic.

"Alright. I'll set up another bed in your room then, just give me a few minutes to finish the dishes,"

"Sure thing," I dismissed her quickly.

As soon as I closed the door, Yuuka burst out laughing.

"Her *health* was deteriorating? And passed out from hitting her head on a fallen branch?" she chuckled, "Amazing!" she said sarcastically in a sing-song voice.

Te-No-Me smiled but said nothing.

"Oh, shut it," I snapped, "So how are we doing this?"

"Well Te-No-Me and I are going to fight Jubokko, and you're pretty useless at battle... You stay here and look after her," Yuuka said.

"...No. I've had enough of this. I'm coming with you," I said, determined to change her mind.

"And put my life in danger of being taken by a blood-sucking tree? I think I'll pass. You're better off here," her voice was firm and conclusive, but I wasn't about to rest my case.

"What are the odds that something attacks me again and I'm too immersed in fear, like tonight? I couldn't summon Envious, I'd just die. I need to learn to be unafraid," I cried.

"Dignity. I respect that," Te-No-Me turned to Yuuka,
"Let her come,"

Yuuka looked at me with her deep, red eyes and sighed a cold breath.
"You dying has been a real thorn in my side, you know that?" she muttered.
"Glad the feeling's mutual," I said.

"Fine. But what do we do about Michiko then? We can't leave her unattended," Te-No-Me looked at Michi, then at the ceiling.

Michi woke up. She began to cough, and tried to sit up. She attempted to support herself on her hand, but her hand simply gave way and fell back down. Her eyes were yellowish instead of her natural brown, her hair looking slightly paler than her typical dark chocolate locks.

"Michi! Are you alright?" I rushed to her side.
She groaned.
"It's cold. Really, really cold... It doesn't hurt but it is painful, I can't do anything and I feel it in me, yet I feel so calmed..." she murmured.

She seemed dozed, almost like she was dreaming. What she said made little sense, but knowing Michiko for so long I could still make out her intentions.

"She's still unstable, she'll go into a coma soon. We need to hurry, she'll be dead in three days. She's lucky, the average human could only take a maximum of 5 hours with this poison in them," Te-No-Me continued, "But give me 2 hours to find her a nanny," he walked out.

"That was abrupt..." I murmured.
"You get used to it. He's a good friend though, trustworthy. I'm sure he'll do great," Yuuka smiled, turning away.

I chuckled a little, looking at the spirit as she stared into space.

I heard her whisper softly something along the lines of:
"...someday I'll be...and we can be together...I couldn't bear to...envy that eats my heart away...to be cursed eternally..."

She went on in her heart, mouthing the words as she thought them, releasing a minimal bit of breath each time, just enough to hear slightly what she was trying to say.

"Whatever..." I looked at Michi.
"Is the sun going to rise? Or is it plunging in to darkness and not coming back?" she said softly in a sing-song voice.

Looking out the window at the houses roofs, and the little beams of sunshine that just began to shine through the little cracks between the leaves on the trees high in the sky. The light blue and white clouds that looked fake enough to be rendered by clay, twirling and swirling in the air and into the light, turning a beautiful yellowish-orange color as it got closer to the streaks of light that ran through the skies like shooting stars in the night or comets across the galaxies high above the atmosphere, I replied:

"No, it's only just begun,"