|Author: Carrot Sauce
|Original Source: SFACG
|Word Count: 3231 characters
|English Source: Re:Library
|Word Count: 1458 words
The trio had weathered numerous storms together. Attempts to sway them through deceit and lies proved futile. It wasn’t solely because they were well-informed and astute women. Their bond, devoid of any animosity, ensured that no scheme could ever pit them against each other. No tactic would succeed where there existed no discord.
Over time, the pestering voice ceased its onslaught, perhaps recognizing its efforts as fruitless.
The enveloping darkness consumed them, and Ayaka felt as if she treaded upon an endless snowy expanse reminiscent of her childhood home.
Gifted from an early age, Ayaka’s exceptional abilities fostered her sense of superiority and subsequent isolation. Her younger self wasn’t as adept at the intricate social dances of the Imperial court as she was now. Loneliness was her consistent companion.
Even when she rose to the position of Chief Advisor, genuine allies were few and far between.
Navigating through the snow, a mixed sentiment of nostalgia and sorrow washed over her. The barren landscape, though bleak, resonated with her. Her inherent solitude, being unparalleled in many respects, meant friendships were rare.
Lack of self-assurance drove her to undertake the challenge of Izumi Mountain while still young. There, she lost her precious Jade and her dreams. Political pursuits, initially seen as a means to mend her fractured spirit and contribute to the world, proved fruitless.
The chilling desolation seemed unending.
Overcome with exhaustion, the thought of resting her eyes became increasingly enticing. As darkness began to close in, a sudden grip on her hand pulled her back to reality.
“Lily?” Amidst the snow, the striking figure in red stood out, anchoring Ayaka’s focus.
“Sister Ayaka, you mustn’t sleep!” Lily’s voice, although close, echoed as if from a great distance. “If you sleep, you’ll dream, giving Baku the upper hand!”
Realization struck Ayaka. The snow, the familiar surroundings… it was all an illusion. Unknowingly, she had been ensnared in a fabricated realm. Deprived of her dreams by Baku, she was now particularly vulnerable.
Lily, too, experienced a mirage. She found herself on a bustling, ancient street. Clad in a vibrant indigo kimono and holding a crimson parasol, she stood alone amidst the looming shadows. This cold, unpredictable world seemed ill-suited for a fragile girl.
Yet, with a defiant smirk, she mused, “So, you try to bewilder me with sights from my past, yet fail to even grasp the essence of my childhood1?” With her unwavering stride in Kamakura City, she declared, “Break!” and the illusion crumbled back into obscurity.
Lily’s determination was unparalleled. From a penniless beginning in Heian-kyo, with the singular goal of awakening her senior sister, she faced all adversities head-on. Such unwavering dedication seeped into her very essence.
Until her senior sister’s awakening, nothing could ever shatter her faith.
Unless her senior sister truly awakened, there was nothing in this world capable of challenging Lily’s faith. The determination within her was so fierce, it might be simpler to obliterate the spirit of a quintuple-soul Big Dipper than to waver her conviction. To Lily, such illusions were glaringly apparent, mere child’s play in her eyes.
In time, Shimizu too emerged from her illusion. Unlike Lily, Shimizu found herself in the dojo of the Minamoto Clan, where she once dreamed of mastery. But there, she was frail, asthmatic, and plagued by incessant coughs. The dojo’s endless corridors and impenetrable walls loomed large. Yet, undeterred, she trudged on. This illusion, regardless of its depth, couldn’t distract her. Lily remained her sole focus. With the real Lily close by, no false apparition could deceive Shimizu. Everything else paled in comparison to her single-minded devotion.
On the other hand, Ayaka’s resilience was tested twice. First, as a Jade Maiden of unparalleled talent, only to see her jade shatter. Then, seeking purpose within the Empire, she faced brutal abandonment. Though possessing immense strength, her resolve wasn’t as staunch as the other two. Love and admiration for Lily anchored her, but without obsession.
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Ayaka’s feet felt buried in the snow, rendering her unable to move. A weight pressed on her eyelids, threatening to pull her into a deep slumber. But just as she felt most vulnerable, Lily and Shimizu reached out, supporting her on either side. With their help, her fragile state found solace and strength.
No matter the illusions or challenges she faced, the bond between the sisters was unwavering. Together, they would overcome whatever stood in their path. And so, as they clung to each other, the illusion’s hold on them faded. The seemingly endless snowy expanse vanished, replaced by encompassing darkness.
Within this abyss, a faint light revealed what looked like a mountain with a peculiar round hump. However, this was no trick of the eye; all three of them perceived the same sight.
“Why does this mountain look so peculiar?” Shimizu pondered aloud.
“It’s not a mountain,” Lily responded with a sharp inhale. The ‘mountain’ began to shift, its grassy top rustling, disturbed by some unseen force. Below, eyes that glinted menacingly like lamps of death stared back at them.
“That… that’s the Dream Eater,” Ayaka managed to utter, her voice shaking, her stance faltering under the weight of the revelation.
As the gargantuan beast stirred, the ground shook in response. A voice, ancient and weary, echoed throughout, “For countless years, I’ve shaped the destinies of many through their dreams. Yet none have ever reached this point.”
Lily countered firmly, “You haven’t shaped destinies, merely toyed with fleeting dreams. This here, this is reality.”
“Presumptuous insects!” Baku retorted with disdain. “Do you not see how I thrive on the pointless thoughts of beings like you? How else would I have become this powerful?”
Its roar resonated, causing the vast caverns to quake, sending waves of eldritch energy in every direction. Lily could scarcely believe the might this creature, which lurked in the shadows manipulating unsuspecting souls, wielded. Its strength was on par with that of a pinnacle quadruple-soul Big Dipper. In an age filled with strife, Baku drew power from the collective despair and longing, making it vastly more formidable than in times of peace.
Baku owed its immense power to the countless denizens of Ashihara.
As the mountainous beast lunged, Lily’s primary concern was for Shimizu and Ayaka. While she could evade its onslaught, they might not fare as well. Shimizu lacked the requisite power, and Ayaka seemed too disoriented to react in time.
Without hesitation, Lily decided to confront the beast head-on. Her hair flew wildly as she declared, “Your size might be impressive, but inside, you’re hollow!” Launching herself into the air, cherry blossom petals dancing around her, she employed her domain to mitigate Baku’s impending assault. Simultaneously, her blade, Yasutsuna, slashed through the air.
A torrent of purple Lunar Force cut through the engulfing blackness. In defense, Baku unleashed a dark aura, forging a barrier to thwart her attack. As her strike penetrated the barrier, its force diminished with every layer it encountered.
With a swift motion, her attack landed on Baku’s massive visage, unleashing an eruption of black mist and carving a canyon-like gash. From this wound, a viscous purple fluid seeped out, revealing within it the distorted shapes of tormented humanoid figures, each writhing in pain and despair.
Baku’s response was an ear-piercing, high-pitched scream, reminiscent of a gargantuan pig’s squeal. The sound sent waves of pain through Lily’s head, while Shimizu and Ayaka also writhed under its torturous pitch.
Emerging from the black fog surrounding Baku were apparitions, part demon and part human, their lower forms dissolving into tendrils of smoky shadow. These dream demons lunged at the trio.
Though Lily summoned her Domain to counter them, each dream demon proved resilient, demanding considerable effort to vanquish. As they descended upon Ayaka and Shimizu, Lily cried out, “Sister! Remember who you are! The strong, determined Ayaka we know!”
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Her words resonated in the engulfing blackness, pulling Ayaka from her daze. Facing the embodiment of her years of torment, Ayaka was filled not just with fear, but with a burning resentment. “It’s time to shatter my nightmares!” she declared. Wielding her weapon, she unleashed waves of stellar energy that decimated the approaching demons.
Conversely, the dream demons attacking Shimizu found themselves entranced by the haunting melody emanating from the ancient jade pendant on her chest. As they drifted towards her, ensnared by the music, they dissipated into black mist, which was then absorbed by the pendant. One by one, the dream demons were consumed.
Astonished, both Lily and Ayaka watched the scene unfold. With each dream demon absorbed, Shimizu’s aura intensified, growing more formidable.
Stammering with disbelief, Baku’s voice echoed through the abyss, “Impossible! You were nothing but a minor nuisance, beneath my notice. Yet now, you dare to absorb my power? Who are you2?”