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Chapter 7

"Insanity is only a narrow bridge, the banks are reason and desire"



A small,pink petal slowly and silently descended downward,idly riding the almost nonexistent currents of air as it spiraled towards the ground.As it fell,it brushed against the ghostly flesh of an odd looking young man laying motionlessly on the ground.As a result,the delicate petal withered and died before soundlessly hitting the crystaline water below...........
The soft movement against his cheek abruptly jerked Sekhmet out of his black haze.He reflexly lifted the venomous katana that had been laying loosely in his right hand,and prepared to strike,untill he realized that it was merely a cherry blossom that had brushed against him.
He saw the crumpled,brown petal floating next to him on the surface of what he now realized was a shallow stream.The innocent blossom must have fallen victim to his poison.
The motion of raising his sword caused a dull pain to stab through his body.With a painful effort,he lifted his head a little and examined his injuries.He noticed his katanas were scattered carelessly around him in a razor sharp and deadly disarray.only a few remained sheathed in their scabbards.He was startled to find that one of the katanas was embedded deep in his right leg,for reasons unknown.The stinging sensation all over his body,accompanied by hot,wet blood told him he had numorous cuts.He managed to sit up in the sparkling brook that he had been laying in,and slowly pulled the venomous blade from his leg,with barely even a flinch.Pain turned to physical euphoria as he mentally commanded the magical venom of his armor to heal his wounds;something he only recently realized he was capable of.He then retrieved the rest of his katanas and wiped the sticky blood from his large reptilian eyes.He halfheartedly noticed that his helmet was missing,which then led him to ponder his curious situation.
His mind still reeled in confusion from his lengthy stretch of unconsciousness as he lifted himself from the lucid,shimmering brook.The cool water plastered his dark green hair to his ghostly pale flesh.To his surprise,he found himself in a landscape of heavenly beauty,bathed in the becalming warmth of an unseen sun.
He looked upward and saw a canopy of pale pink.Pale cerulean and beams of golden sunlight filtered through the cracks in the sea of blossoms overhead.He found that he was standing in a clearing of lush,emerald blades of grass,surrounded by cherry trees and weeping willows.Not far from him,among the pastel foliage and luxuriant grass,stood a lovely,intricately ornamented and richly colored pagoda,with marbled trails leading away from it and into the depths of the elegant surroundings.Tangled vines with large,blue roses climbed and creeped across the lavish structure.The faint scent of jasmine was evident in the air,but curiously,he couldn't locate any jasmine shrubs.
Sekhmet felt as though he had been dropped into the middle of some cherry blossom infested willow plate.He almost expected to see some bird with a rose clutched in its beak flutter by at any moment.
He took a few steps away from the stream and the lush grass crunched silently under his armored feet.A mysterious gust of cool wind burst through a grove of cherry trees,trembling the branches and causing a shower of fluttering,pink blossoms to rain down upon him.
For a moment,he was so lost in the peace and beauty of this place that he had no memory of the dire situation which had brought him here.
But slowly,he began to remember...............
It all rushed back to him in a wave of dreaded,nightmarish enlightenment,shattering his calm paradise,like the realization he was about to die.He remembered Talpa,and the small army of surreal demons.They didn't look like pleasant company.............He also recalled something about a game..............his last memory then came back to him.Plunging into a sea of darkness..................
He continued exploring,but with much more caution this time.Although,in the back of his mind,he knew he couldn't avoid the inevitable.His hope did percolate a bit,upon seeing a familiar figure laying motionlessly under a nearby tree that had been concealed in a small,circular clearing,surrounded by a sea of pink and the drooping foliage of the mourning willows.It was Cye.The tree that his inert form lay under appeared to be a large apple tree.It was an intriguing and conspicuous sight.Several large,scarlett apples hung from the leafy branches.They looked quite tempting,but at the moment,he had Cye to tend to.
He appeared to be completely unconscious...............or perhaps even dead,for there was no indication that he was breathing.He lay,sprawled carelessly on the ground.His trident lay on top of him.His light brown hair fell askew over his shut eyes and his lips were parted slightly.He looked quite young and helpless...............pathetic,as usual,Sekhmet thought with a smile.
Sekhmet nudged Cye with one armored foot,and waited for a response.Cye remained silent and motionless.He tried again,with more persistant force.Cye responded this time.His eyes abruptly jerked open,and his look of childish peace was immediately replaced with a look of childish horror before even seeing Sekhmet.He uttered a small whimper of fear and surprise as he noticed who stood above him.
"Relax,Torrent." He said,sheathing the katana that he hadn't even realized he was holding.
Cye was now backed up against the abnormally smooth trunk of the mysterious apple tree,clutching his trident."Gone............finally gone." He seemed out of breath as he spoke,and his large,blue eyes wouldn't stop darting neurotically around the gorgeous scenery.
"What's gone?What are you doing here?" Sekhmet inquired gruffly.
Cye's eyes finally met his,with a look of panicked desperation."those.............those demons!Oh man,I thought I was a goner!Sekhmet,we've got to get out of here." He said with frightening sincerity.He then eyed Sekhmet suspiciously."What are you doing here?"
"That's what i've been wondering,Ronin.Just like i've been wondering where the hell 'here' is.I've been out cold for who knows how long..................wake up in this place."Anger and frustration was evident in his voice.He seemed about to say something else,but the placidity of the moment was abruptly interrupted by a stalker unseen.
Cye uttered a yelp of terror and Sekhmet ducked as a large,golden arrow burst through the branches of a nearby cherry tree,with a high pitched zing and the same whoosh of cool air that he had felt earlier.The slender arrow rapidly sliced the air and bore deep into the trunk of a neighboring cherry tree.Upon impact,the elegant tree twisted,split and finally burst,as if embedded with dynamite,causing the chilling snapping and shredding sound of a dying lifeform to rip the tranquil atmosphere.As an aftermath,a flurry of cherry blossoms engulfed the pair of stunned samurai,like a blizzard of pink snow.
When the chaos settled,they both lifted their heads to view the strewn remnants of the obliterated cherry tree.The pristine arrow was still wedged in a crumpled segment of wood,its shimmering tail pointing to the heavens.
Cye was trembling.Sekhmet could tell by his rapid and shaky breathing pattern.He trembled for he knew what was to be expected.
The silent tension was then spliced by the scraping of katanas being released from their scabbards.His stance was that of some lithe jungle cat,prepared to pounce,and his eyes became glassy and wild at the thought of a fight.
Cye fallowed suit,but with much more hesitation.
From the spot in the mass of branches and cherry blossoms where the arrow had emerged,came a living shadow.Although a fitting metaphor,for about two seconds it was literally that:a living shadow.It was smooth and dark,like a spot of moving shade,and it seemed to be fluidly moving through its solid surroundings,rather than around them.It was only when it sauntered into the clearing when it began to become more defined.
The form that emerged was decked from head to toe in armor made of symmetrical segmets,colored in dazzling gold and shimmering,dark violet.Dark red eyes that were large,round and slanted were inset in the helmet;a small black slit in the center of each one,giving them more of an appearance of real eyes that housed intelligence.In the thing's clawed hand it held a very large,golden bow.
Sekhmet identified the armor as belonging to one of Azrael's demons.Although,the details of this creature didn't come to mind.
"Who are you?" He growled at the enigmatic demon.A rather irrelevant question,he realized.
The armored figure shook as it laughed."I'm a nasty,nasty cupid.The demon of desire.A...............wicked force." The voice was obviously male,and actually sounded quite innocent,yet with a biting edge of impish evil.As the demon spoke,a long,slender arrow materialized in its metal claw.
Sekhmet could hear Cye breathing heavily behind him.
"It's called Mantus." Cye breathlessly told Sekhmet;his voice almost a whisper.
"I'll handle this,Ronin." Sekhmet said haughtily.He smiled malliciously and approached the one called Mantus.
The demon abruptly lept into the air,weaving its way through the mass of branches in an impressive display.His agility was unreal,and he moved with a fluid ease that Sekhmet had never witnessed in any human or demon.Sekhmet tried in vain to fallow Mantus' movements,but his liquid motion was bewildering.
Without warning,Mantus cocked the arrow and let it fly.With a crisp whooshing sound,the arrow twirled through the air in a straight path for Sekhmet's heart.Sekhmet attempted to dodge the razor missile but it managed to strike him in the arm,peircing him armor and sinking into his flesh.
He gasped in a spazm of agony and blinked back hot tears.An odd blend of unbearable pain and malignant ecstasy suddenly circulated through him,as if he had been injected with some dark disease.Some incurable poison that now rushed through his bloodstream.It shouldn't hurt this much.He suddenly remembered what had happened to the cherry tree and an image of an obliterated mess that used to be his body flashed inside his mind.
In one panicked motion,he tore the arrow from his arm,sending a splatter of venemous blood across the emerald grass.He was on his knees,reeling from the pain.His pulse was rapid and rythmic,and each breath he took was deep and raspy.He gazed malliciously at Mantus with psychotic and feral eyes that were partly hidden by his damp and tangled hair.
On the outskirts of his field of vision he was aware of Cye,watching,hesitant and awestruck.
The pain was numbing now,making it bearable.More than bearable,in fact.It feuled his exhileration and rage in an undescribable way.With trembling hands he gripped his katanas and persued the dark demon of desire,who now led him away from the sun streaked shade of the alluring apple tree and towards the quaint pagoada.
"Do you honestly think Talpa will rule this dynasty once more?" His voice was now a malignant growl as he faced the wicked demon,in the shadow of the lovely pagoda,which stood,entwined by a mess of vines bearing ominous,razor edged thorns and large roses of an unearthly blue.
The demon of desire seemed amused."We shall see,wont we?Thus far,this dimension has proven to be quite weak.Susceptible to manipulation..................Few survive the nightmares as we stride from world to world,sowing the seeds of madness.The Dynasty was just one more dimension on the hit list,but when we happened to encounter Talpa in the vast sea of the astral plane,it became more than that.................a spark of spiteful vengeance was added to the game........"
The demon's words issued forth like bone chilling,vile scented curls of smoke.
"It would be so much easier for all of us if you would give in to the gluttony.Embrace your nightmares and become what you fear!let yourself be know you want to,"The demon purred wickedly.
Sekhmet could feel his arm throbbing persistantly were the arrow had struck him.The very air around him seemed to be seeping into him through his wound,tainting him blood."NO!" He let out a feral scream and lunged at Mantus."You're sick creatures!You do this for sport.You're worse than the dynasty at its darkest........"
He lashed out savagely at the creature with acid laced katanas,knocking the bow from the demons grip.Mantus still effortlessly deflected the fierce blows with only his arms,but Sekhmet now seemed to have the advantage.
"Ha ha!You're helpless without your arrows,aren't you?!" There was a frightening ferociousness in his voice as he fervently attacked.
Mantus' luminous,red eyes seemed to gaze directly into his soul as he stared at him through the flickering blades.And then,in one abrupt display of impressive but chilling strength,the demon disarmed him of his precious sabres.
"On the contrary," Mantus said,holding up his armored hands.Glinting blades,each approximately a foot in length,slid upward from the tip of each finger, "I'm quite good with my hands."
Sekhmet could almost see the demonic creature grinning under its impassive helmet.


Meanwhile,in the vast panorama of a shadowy world,beyond the reaches of reality.............

The disembodied souls of the four warriors;Ryo,Kento,Kayura and Dais,hung,bound between living pillars of ebony hematite by chains that weren't really there;imprisoned in an awe inspiring nightmare beyong their wildest dreams.
Their tortured psi-screams only seemed to be abruptly sucked into the dense atmosphere as they beheld the world around them.
The scenery was a shadow shrouded patchwork of nightmarish objects and imagery,arranged in unnatural juxtapositions.Below the four swarmed an endless legion of dark and unspeakably hideous creatures,malignantly marching in perfect unison and laughing maniacally like rabid hyenas.
Flickering shreds of the dynasty landscape could be seen,grafted into the surroundings,as the two dimensions merged.
And among the chaos reighned the most terrifying of it all.The being called Nightmare.The colossal thing of unfathomable darkness loomed ominously over the four celestial samurai and dwarfed its surroundings.It was a spindly blackhole of a beast and exuded an aura of horrifying madness as it fluidly crept in circles around them,its Mind Whip curled at its side;a writhing filament of acid green energy.


The leaves of the apple tree danced overhead,rustling in unison with the willows and cherry blossoms in a hushed symphony.
Cye watched with gnawing dread the battle that ensued before him.He would have been glad to intervene if their dance of death had not been moving at such an incredible pace.The two armored figures were almost merely blurs of color,fluidly moving in what almost seemed like some carefully choreographed,ferocious ballet.
All that was heard was a steady stream of metallic clicks,and mind-wrenching scraping as Mantus' claws cleaved into Sekhmet's armor.
All at once,Cye noticed a definate change in the atmosphere.The slight breeze that idly ruffled the leaves abruptly seemed to completely cease,leaving everything in an eerie placidity,except for the air displacement caused by Sekhmet and Mantus,who were obviously too engrossed in their heated brouhaha to notice.
Cye's heart seemed to momentarily stop beating before starting again with hightened intensity.He now heard a faint sound.Laughter,perhaps?If so,a laughter like multitudes of glass shattering in the distance.Something was coming,yet simultaniously,it was already here.Its energy seemed to be everywhere.
No escape.
An aura of maddening darkness and wickedness heralded its arrival,almost making Cye want to break out in a vehement fit of destruction.
And then,without warning,something strong abruptly wraped itself around his wrists,legs and neck,drawing him in with startling speed and strength towards the dark and gaping maw of the pagoda.
His panicked scream of horrror and surprise echoed in the stagnant air,finally grasping the attention of the two quarreling samurai.
His first thought was tentacles.Long,spindly tentacles adorned with menacing spikes and surging with mallicious intent.The moment of realization came when he saw the unearthly blue roses clustered tauntingly around him.It was not tentacles that held him captive,but the gnarled,thorn embellished vines.They held him tautly against the black,empty entrance;the sturdy,razor sharp thorns goudging unpleasantly into his armor and pricking his skin.It was most uncomfortable around his neck,where the vines wound tight against his bare skin and the thorns cleaves thin lines of burning,snaguine liquid across his flesh.
But most disturbing of all was the odd vitality that seemed to surge through the mass of vines.The subtle way in which they shifted and pulsed around him was more than unnerving.It was as if the mess of thorn-ridden vines was,in reality(though,what was to be considered reality?),a living creature in a decieving guise.
Sekhmet and Mantus had paused mid-battle,thier armored forms pressed hatefully against one another;Sekhmet's katanas locked in his demon rival's claws.
"Master........" Mantus hissed knowingly.
Suddenly,just like how an image blinks onto a television screen,it was there.It was Azrael's demonic image,poised forebodingly on the edge of the pagoda roof,just above Cye's imprisoned body;a large scimitar gleaming in her hand.
To his dislike,Sekhmet realized things were getting progressively worse."you again.What the hell do you want?" He hissed,sliding away from Mantus.
Her apparel had changed since he had seen her last.She now appeared to be better prepared for battle.Her metallic silver armor was scant and could only be described as spikey.Underneath,she wore what appeared to be a black leather uniform,concealing every bit of skin not covered in metal in an ebony gloss.Most striking was her face,framed in the loops of violet-tinted darkness.Her flesh was pale as death.Her lips were painted black and a thick,straight mask of darkness covered her eyes,which also burned as black as coals,making them very difficult to notice.All in all,her appearence was that of some sinister harlequin.
The black markings on pure white remained so placid that Sekhmet thought it was some kind of mask,untill she spoke.
"I want the soul of this one." She replied,tapping Cye's helmet with the tip of her scimitar.
There was something quite haunting about the way her lithe and sinewy body moved.It was frighteningly unnatural that any human form,not concealed by the deceptive guise of full body armor,could possibly be such a spindly and twisted thing.
Yet another sign that all this couldn't be real............tangible...............but certainly not real.Just one big deceptive masquerade,designed to madden and bewilder.
"No.I dont think so,demon...........bitch.......whatever you are." Sekhmet's voice was a spiteful hiss as he luridly stared."You cant have any of our souls.You cant have the dynasty.No more screwing with reality!Damn,this cant even be real........" His mind buzzed with a mysterious dementia.
"Reality?" She cocked her head and stared luridly back;or seemed to anyway."Reality?Never have I heard a word so devoid of meaning.Or a statement as redundant as yours." She seemed wildly amused now.She perched on the edge of the pagoda like a clownish gargoyle as she idly swung the blade of the stylized scimitar dangerously close to Cye's head.
All Cye could manage was a choked whimper as he struggled against the tugging vines.
"Now,now.Writhing like the worm you are will only bring you pain." A casual disgust for the human race was evident as she spoke.
Mantus chuckled silently.
"Release the Ronin," Sekhmet demanded.
"Oh?Then is it worth the life and soul of your pal here?If you creatures even have souls,that is," Sekhmet hissed disdainfully,his heart beating at a wild pace.As he spoke,his blades were abruptly at Mantus' throat,demonstrating his point.Mantus didn't protest.
"The soul is the root of all human evil.They are merely prizes to us.Tokens of power," She said in all seriousness."So if you think it will help,go ahead.Do what you must.Strike him down.But you do so at your own risk,for the 'death' of a monster shall only result in the birth of another." She grinned,punctuating her cryptic words.
Was it a bluff?Sekhmet didn't know.All he could easily comprehend was the knot of rage that encased his heart,squeezing with a cold so frigid it burned.
Mantus was taunting him.Beckoning him mockingly with clicking claws.
There was a hiss of metal through metal.Flesh.Metal.Mantus' severed head bounced twice before rolling to a stop.Thick,dark blood quickly pooled on the marble and grass."Didn't think i'd do it,eh demon?" He sneered.
Azrael smiled and shrugged indifferently,barely regarding her fallen soldier.
Sekhmet could see a terrorized flare in Cye's large dewy eyes.He seemed to be trying to shake his head and say something through the strangling grip of the vines.Seeming to tell him that his course of action had been a foolish one.
"Now,release the Ronin."
"As you wish." She grinned,flashing teeth which appeared to be matallic fangs.The blade of her scimitar dove effortlessly into Cye's head with a slight crunching sound.Droplets of blood splattered the roses.Dark red on luminous blue.His death seemed painless and instant,though Sekhmet had the notion the human physical suffering would be obsolete compared to what awaited his soul.
Cye's body hung limp and lifeless.The vines relaxed their grip a bit.
"What the fuck was that for,you miserable fiend?!" Sekhmet yelled numbly."You said you would release him!"
"I could only release him from the confines of his mortal body," was her only reply.
Azrael slowly withdrew the blade from Cye's head and stood,seeming to prepare to deport.The vines withered away from him,letting his rag doll of a body sink to the ground.
"What?Thats it?What about me?" Sekhmet snapped viciously,raising his twin katanas.
She turned to him for the last time,her blood-spattered,silver armor glinting in the sunlight which came from no apparent sun."You?You're already dead." Her grin was a wicked one.A row of razor fangs framed in black.Her dark stare was penatrating,locked on him for a few prolonged seconds,as if he was meant to understand.
And with that,she departed.No mere teleportation this time.From her back burst enormous wings,unfurling in a splash of blackened blood.Sekhmet had almost expected it to happen.The magnificently nightmarish wings were leathery and black like those of a bat,but rimming the edges it was a gossamer sheen,glittering in a spectrum of vivid colors,like the wings of some exotic insect.
It was truly a lurid sight to behold before she abruptly ascended towards the heavens with a few rapid and powerful beats of the enormous wings.
Then,there was only silence.
A silence both defening and becalming as he was left alone,trying to ponder her cryptic words.
She was now merely a twisted black shape in the sky............then a speck.............and then she was gone.Sekhmet gazed at the corpses strewn on the ground.The blood and armor glittered with an odd beauty.Somewhere in the distance he thought he heard a bird singing its sweet lullaby.
He was alone now.Alone with the becalming silence and pungent scent of blood.But he didn't care.The icey grip of rage had ceased.Melted away,leaving only a blissful calm.
He was changing.Physically and mentally.He could feel it.He could feel his blood surging through every vein and every artery.It had become thin...........thin and cold.
A wicked smile played across his pale features and his dark green hair ruffled lightly for only a second in the subtle breeze.With a metallic shlink,his katanas slipped back into their scabbards and he looked upward,finding himself beneath the looming branches and rustling leaves of the stylized apple tree.Its alabaster bark and ruby red fruit were beckoning him.
With a lack of anything better to do,he effortlessly hoisted himself onto a claw-like branch.It was then when he noticed the roots spreading out from the base of the tree.They were gnarled and twisted like a mass of writhing tentacles.
Like the serpent in the Garden of Eden,he coiled himself among the branches and gave in to the gluttony;the gnawing hunger for a taste of pure evil.In his hand he held a dark red apple,immaculate in every way.He turned it,watching it gleam before taking a large bite of the intoxicating sweetness.
And as the sinister sunlight baked his flesh;somewhere nearby,in a pool of thickening blood,the severed head of a demon grinned with wicked satisfaction.