|Author: Carrot Sauce
|Original Source: SFACG
|Word Count: 3241 characters
|English Source: Re:Library
|Word Count: 1418 words
The Lunar Crystal radiated an ethereal glow. “I’ve already absorbed three of these,” Lily pondered, her fingertips skimming the shimmering surface. “They say a Big Dipper can only harness the power of three. That’s my limit.” She intended for either Shimizu or Ayaka to have this one. “I have to be careful…”
Just as the thought settled in her mind, the Lunar Crystal slipped from her grasp, dissolving into a cascade of moonlight that seeped into her. A wave of unexpected comfort made Lily shiver, her eyes widening.
When she finally emerged from her trance, she found herself seated amidst the debris of the shattered statue, strands of her hair dancing wildly around her face. “A fourth absorption,” she muttered in disbelief. “How?”
She had always believed in the restrictions, but this unexpected absorption left her questioning. Was her capacity for the Lunar Crystals boundless1? This revelation implied she could be unique, unparalleled in her ability to harness their power. With every absorption, her power surged, positioning her at a pinnacle, possibly unmatched even amongst the other Celestial Battle Maidens.
The enigma of Iyo Island and its abundant Lunar Crystals left Lily puzzled. However, the potential of discovering more drove her, especially given her newfound capacity to absorb beyond known limits. This revelation both surprised and emboldened her. Despite her thorough search, another Lunar Crystal remained elusive.
“It’s time to get out,” she whispered.
Through her spiritual connection, she relayed her experiences and findings to Ayaka and Shimizu. Their enthusiastic response cheered her – they were always more elated about Lily’s growth than their own. However, Lily noticed the diminishing returns of her power growth; the increase wasn’t as dramatic as before.
Emerging from the formation, a vast cavern sprawled before her, its gaping maw swallowed by darkness. Rather than diving into its depths alone, she patiently awaited her companions outside.
As per the plan, Shimizu was to venture into the formation after Lily. Lily’s prior reconnaissance indicated that the main threats, the Big Dipper Archdemons, had likely been dealt with. However, she sensed lesser demons sporadically entering the formation. Despite their relative weakness, there remained a concern. Transmitting her findings to Shimizu and Ayaka proved challenging due to the distance, requiring repeated efforts to ensure her message was clear.
With anticipation evident in her every breath, Shimizu steeled herself. Her strategy was simple – confront if capable and evade if not. But more than just the immediate challenge, she grappled with her own internal battle. Once crippled by self-doubt, her fervor was now redirected towards Lily. She yearned not just to stand beside her but to earn her heart.
“Be careful,” Ayaka whispered.
“You too,” Shimizu replied with a tender smile.
Diving into the fog, Shimizu met minimal resistance, given Lily’s prior clear-out. Her heightened senses allowed her to easily evade any poisoned arrows that sought to catch her off-guard.
However, the echoing roar indicated a new challenge. A horde of Throned Sovereign demonic wolves stood in her path. Without hesitation, Shimizu’s blade danced in the fog, dispatching the beasts with lethal precision. Even when a claw managed to injure her arm, her resolve remained unshaken. She was determined to prove her mettle, driven by a single-minded ambition to match Lily’s prowess.
It was then she faced her sternest test – a Throned Saint Mummified Demon swordsman, their abilities seemingly matched. While she could’ve sought an alternative route, evading this adversary and leaving him for Lily and Ayaka to handle, Shimizu’s determination propelled her forward.
Their charge was swift and determined. As blades were drawn and met with a resounding clash, a dark brilliance briefly illuminated the fog, before plunging the vicinity into an eerie silence.
After a few tense moments, Shimizu emerged from the formation, her safe return instantly dissipating the deep concern etched on Lily’s face. With a confident grin, Shimizu teased, “How was that? Lily, wasn’t I impressive?”
With a tender smile, Lily replied, “Yes, sister is the best.” Lily’s relief was palpable; she was more than happy to indulge Shimizu in the moment.
Shimizu’s gaze was fixed intently on the imposing black cave before her. “This is…” she murmured, awestruck.
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The third to navigate the formation was Ayaka. Her journey through it was comparatively uneventful, and about an hour later, she found herself on the barren stretch of land fronting the vast, shadowy cave.
Upon emerging, the first name that escaped her lips was, “Lily!”
“Sister Ayaka,” Lily responded, relief evident in her voice.
Ayaka, visibly fatigued from her prior engagements and soaked in sweat, voiced her unease. “This cave…” She shuddered involuntarily. A profound chill, one that seemed to rise from the very core of her being, gripped her as she stared into the abyssal darkness.
“I sense a potent, malevolent energy from within,” Shimizu murmured, “Yet something within beckons me.”
Lily, adopting a more solemn tone, suggested, “Perhaps the Baku resides within.”
The sisters exchanged glances, nodding in silent agreement.
“Let’s go inside.”
Hand in hand, they ventured into the abyss of the cave. Inside, the overwhelming darkness seemed insurmountable. Even when they lit a candle, its glow barely penetrated the thick blackness surrounding them. It was as though the cave devoured the very essence of light.
Considering the vastness of the unyielding darkness, the cave might very well be enormous. No matter the direction they took, the cave walls eluded them. Haunting, spine-chilling whispers filled the air, targeting their deepest fears. Each heard distinct voices, tailored to their individual vulnerabilities.
To Lily, a voice taunted, “This woman lied to you. She’s well aware of your deepest concerns, yet she conceals them. Isn’t she a part of this grand scheme? You’re trapped here because you put your trust in her. As long as she remains, the truth you seek will always be out of reach.”
Though the voice tried to burrow its way into Lily’s psyche, she brushed it off with a smirk. In her mind, she scoffed, “How pitiful. Is this the best you’ve got? Were I in your place, I’d emerge now, apologize to me and Sister Ayaka, and assure me of her trustworthiness. Perhaps then, you’d sow a seed of doubt.”
The voice retorted, “You’re so obstinate! You’ve been fed lies. Your misplaced trust will be your undoing. The destiny of the Mirror Girl is nothing but a fable, a ruse. Your endeavors will come to naught!”
Lily shot back mentally, “Fable? You speak of destiny yet understand nothing of it. Do you truly believe everyone is as gullible as you claim?”
The voice hissed, “You’ll rue this defiance, woman.”
Meanwhile, Shimizu was assailed by a different sinister voice, “Kill the woman before you. She’s under the thrall of her nightmares. Soon, she’ll serve me, becoming an insurmountable barrier between you and your beloved. She’ll fall further into the dreamscape, abruptly turning on and ending your lover’s life. Your sole recourse to safeguard your beloved is to end her. Strike her down from behind.”
“Are you truly the demon of dreams? To think someone like me would be so gullible! If Lily ever betrayed me and it was undeniable, I’d simply whisk her away for a playful time. And Ayaka, so wonderfully feminine… She wouldn’t harm a fly. You clearly don’t comprehend the intricacies of the female heart. But I must admit, your naivety is almost endearing.” Shimizu’s internal laughter echoed within her soul.
The voice shot back, “You’re deluded! Beyond any hope of salvation. Your lover could never cherish someone as twisted and unpredictable as you. You ought to think and act like a rational woman.”
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Shimizu teased, “If she doesn’t love me? I’d simply bind her and ensure she does2. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?”
The dark voice fell silent, no longer daring to confront Shimizu.
To Ayaka, it whispered malevolently, “Ayaka, my dream puppet. Do you think to break our agreement? Thought you were an honorable soul, didn’t you? Could it be that beneath that impeccable facade, you’re just a deceitful, wretched liar? Doesn’t the stain on your soul make you cringe?”
Ayaka, struggling to maintain her footing in the enveloping darkness, responded with labored breaths, “Dishonorable? The very trial on Izumi Mountain was built on deception! Especially for me! You orchestrated this snare, yet have the audacity to cast aspersions on my character? Be honest for once. And know this: since the day I was bound to the executioner’s block in Heian-kyo, I relinquished all my cares. Your failure to end me on Izumi Mountain? Merely your blunder.”