Chapter 2:

Fist of the Cold Cave

The Door to a Bittersweet Ending

As he was observing the situation, a chill started going down Akira’s spine: even though they were oriented towards the girl, the horrifying aspect of those creatures was clear to anybody who watched them even from afar. Its back was creased and at the same time cut in various parts, where it seemed like it was just a collage of different human backs, also because some of the parts were of different colors, not exactly something that you would like to see on a beast that is trying to kill you. They weren’t that tall – probably a bit shorter than Akira, but probably tall enough to provoke fear into its prey – but they had a strong constitution, making them look like killing machines, also because of their fist, bigger than those of a human and that could probably kill you with just a punch. And this was just what he could see from their back: probably their front was as horrific as it was the behind. There was only a word to describe beings such as these: monster. Things that in real life didn’t exists – if you exclude some humans which could be easily described with that word, too many to be even quantified -, things that could have easily killed someone for no reason whatsoever. Even so, Akira wasn’t really scared: he saw monsters during his life, and they were more horrendous than those. That is, because they were of the same species as him, and that was what was really scary, thinking that a human could make such bestial things to one that is akin to him. After the first moment of disorientation, his eyes started coldly analyzing the situation that was ahead of him: two monsters, capable enough of killing him with a punch, were looking at a moribund female like they were eating her with their eyes – probably both as food and as a doll with which to vent their sexual needs – and the female couldn’t possibly do anything to defend herself, as she had a bad wound on her chest, which probably started a bleeding that probably would have killed her in no time. On the other part of the ring, he was alone, just a man against two blood-thirsty beasts that would have probably smashed him even if he made the smallest mistake whether he tried to engage them in a battle or whether they noticed him as he was running away. Plus, he was in a suit, considering that he was returning from his job, not exactly the most comfortable outfit to have a sparring session with. At that point a strange expression started making its way on Akira’s face: he was smiling. It was a bittersweet smile, a bit arrogant yet sad in its form, but more than that expressed a particular feeling: indifference. It was indifference for the enemies in front of him, indifference for what would have happened to the girl if he left, but, at the same time, indifference for what could happen to him if he started a fight against those two creatures. After all, it wasn’t the first time he would have fought with his fists against enemies that were much stronger than him: he practically grew up punching people, all his middle school years have been a big and fatal fight club, which now he regretted, considering what they led to, but that served him to fortify himself, both emotionally and physically. These thoughts led him to a decision: he would have fought them, or better, he wanted to fight them. If this was a hostile world and he had to fight in order to survive, just like in the human world, then he would have needed to understand the strength of his opponents, even with the risk of dying, while, if it wasn’t, then this would have been probably a match to see if he was still fit or if he had started to get rusty. A normal person probably would have instantly escaped after seeing those two monsters, but that wasn’t an action that Akira would have taken: it simply wasn’t his style. Plus, he got here because of the scream that the girl shouted, so it would have been kind of hypocritical to leave her here dying instead of helping her. As he started getting ready for the fight, he untied his necktie and took off his jacket, leaving him with a simple white shirt and long blue trousers, which kind of limited his movements but weren’t really a real handicap for Akira. Then he took off his shirt, showing off his naked muscular chest, toughened up with trainings and fights since he was only a mere child. It was at that point that he made a rumor, as he threw away his jacket and shirt in an angle, also not wanting to destroy them during the fight, as those were the only piece of clothing he had and he didn’t intend to walk around naked – also because they would probably arrest him for indecent exposure. Hearing that sound, the two beasts turned around in order to see where did it came from and saw a young man standing there, with his bare torso in sight and with a smile that was like provoking them to attack him and which made them look straight in the eyes, like they were challenging him formally to a duel, if it wasn’t that they were two and Akira was alone. That was when the real eyesore of these monsters came out: their face was like mashed, with a deformed face that could have easily made a child cry if he were to see that thing, with eyes everywhere and a mouth frozen in a creepy smile, with a tongue that occasionally came out like it was foretasting the taste of his meat. Still, Akira was now concentrated on the battle, so he wasn’t even baffled by this ugliness: it just served him as fuel for his determination, or for his indifference. 

There was a moment of silence, in which the monsters and Akira just looked at each other, like they were analyzing every particle of their opponent, then one of the beast suddenly lashed forwards. Akira easily dodged the hit, as it wasn’t really that precise, and started tip-toeing on the place, like it was inviting the enemy to attack again. Then, the second opponent suddenly drew near him and started unleashing a series of full-power punches. “Ha, amateurs” whispered Akira while smiling: from these two attacks he could say that their tactic was to go full power until the opponent was either too tired to respond to their attacks or too deconcentrated to dodge them. That also meant that they had no guard whatsoever, as their stance was always an offensive one, making it really easy to break in and throw them a punch wherever the attacker wanted. But, probably, their most important feature was their aspect, so horrific that it was probably that to give them an advantage in battle, thanks to the fact that it probably frightened the enemies that were fighting them, making them retreat in horror and not notice these essential elements of their fighting style. Akira just needed to find an opportunity when the enemy was too unbalanced in its attack stance to find an opening and end this sort of sparring session, as this wasn’t really a fight for Akira: their tactics were basilar, boring, to say the least, so there was no fun or excitement in fighting them, just an undesirable spleen and indifference. Symptom of this was the smile that Akira was wearing on his face: just the result of his indifference, a smile of pity for those animals that were trying to kill him and his boredom. He continued dodging the attacks of the second creature, while the first one was trying to get close to him from the right, attempting to close him on the angle so that he could not escape and dodge anymore. A brilliant tactic: for monsters, that is. Akira understood this and decided that it was time to start doing something instead of just avoiding their hits, and he saw an opportunity in doing that when the monster that was closing his way to the right started swaying his arm in his direction: that was just an invite to attack, as it wasn’t a real attack, but more of a preparation for a punch. Akira took his timing and, when it tried hitting him with its punch, he just slid under its arm and served it an uppercut right under its chin: then, as it was falling, he again took the time, jumped and hit it with his knee right in the face, making it fly over for some meters before crushing on the ground, seemingly unconscious. Immediately the other one, who stopped for a second seeing his companion getting hit by what they thought a fearful prey looked at Akira with all of his eyes, emanating a furious aura that can be better described as an homicidal intent. Then, with a rapidity that it didn’t show before, it quickly went up to him and started hitting him in every way possible, alternating full power fists with some occasional kicks, breaking the dulling sequence that Akira had noted before. Seeing this change in behaviour, Akira started being more conservative, observing the enemies while trying to dodge everything that it threw against him. But of course, it is a bit impossible to finish a fight without taking an hit, unless the opponent in front of you is really weaker than you. That also happened to Akira, which took a kick right in the lower part of his torso and was moved some meters from the position he was before. That impact made Akira realize the strength of the beast that he had before him: the absence of air that he felt for way too long and the pain that he started feeling proved that an hit in the right place would have probably killed him on the spot, and, as the sequence of attacks had become a bit more unpredictable than before, the possibility of this to happen was higher than Akira imagined at first. Regaining his defensive stance, he looked in the eyes of the enemy and said, with a smile that this time was the expression of genuine fun, “Ha, you are starting to impress me, I have to admit that. But I think it is time to end this, shall we?”. The beast looked at him and replied with a grunt, as if to say that he was right, even though it was obvious that a beast such as that couldn’t even comprehend the human language, even more if that language wasn’t even probably from that world – how many were the chances of a world where people spoke Japanese? Even in reality, only a country speaks that, so it was kinda unrealistic. The beast waited for a second in order to see if Akira was going to make any move, then decided to attack first, speeding up against him with rage in his multiple eyes and the same creepy smile on his face. The same did Akira: he had an idea in mind, considering the rage that the beast was showing and how that does not normally permit to have a lucid brain. When they were close, Akira threw a punch right to his face and, as a response, the beast did the same. Too bad that the punch that Akira threw was just faked: in fact, as it raised his fist, the monster noticed that his fist was not there anymore, leaving him astonished and with his guard broken on the left side. There Akira landed a hook, with an incredible amount of force put into it, which made the beast stumble. In that moment, Akira started unleashing a series of jabs right into his chest, while the beast was unable to defend himself and, to conclude the waltz, he hit his head with a hook and then with an uppercut and, finally, he kicked the back of his head with his shoes, which had incorporated in them some parts of iron that could easily just kill a person if used in the right way: it was the only memento of his previous existence and the only thing that made him different from the other salaryman he got to know in the past. The corpse of the beast flied for various meters before ending up on the stalagmites that delimitated the ring and which perforated its corpse, making him cry sounds of pain for a bit. Then, after some moments, it shut down and died, leaving only a flaccid dead body behind itself. After having breathed for a while – it had been a while since he had to fight, and that was a fight that overcame his expectations by a lot, also in terms of energy – he went to check the other monster in order to see if it was still alive or not. He arrived near the corpse: it was still there where he fell before, nothing seemed to have changed. But now Akira could see that there was a puddle of blood near his head: probably his combination of attacks aimed at the head made him lose conscience and blood, resulting in a probable coma that will then transform in death. In a few words, he was dead, probably not now, but it hadn’t that much to live anymore. After checking that, he lifted his head and contemplated the cave he was in, which left him mesmerized: the white stalagmites and stalactites formed an intricate drawing that could have been described as abstract – just like a Kandinsky’s painting – and in the area where he was it really formed a ring with only an exit, which was where he entered to fight against the two monsters, and nothing more than a series of rock formations that seemingly were created only to create a natural arena where monsters and people could come to fight. Plus, now that he had the time to look it closer, the white of the cave wasn’t really painful to watch: it wasn’t pure white, more like a shade that was really near it but not as painful to watch, and the strange thing was that it emitted light, just like the door. Which, however, was nowhere to be seen: it was like it disappeared after having finished its job, which also meant that now he had no opportunity to return back anymore. His gut feeling was correct, there was no way out from that place. 

That reminded him of the presence of the woman he was fighting for, so he immediately started looking for her: she was still on the floor, her eyes wide open and her hands still on the wound, trying to stop the bleeding. She wasn’t wearing any armour, as if she was not ready to get into this mess and to fight monsters, but she was wearing a long tunic made of probably a material that could keep her warm, because if not she would have probably died because of hypothermia, not because of the bleeding, as the cold in the cave was insane for normal people. It wasn’t that cold for Akira, but that is only because he passed a period in Siberia, one of the happiest and strangest period of his life, and that made him develop an insane resistance to the cold, which was counterbalanced by its incapability to bear the heat of anything superior to 25°: that was why he hated the summer. In any case, the girl was evidently not ready to what awaited her in this cave: her tunic, her shoes, which have seemingly never been used, like they had just got out of the factory, and the fact that she had only a knife on her belt made it clear that she wasn’t prepared at all for this. Then, why she was in this cave? Even her aspect didn’t seem like the one of a person who goes killing monsters: she had long red hair, which looked like they were made out of silk, that were simply too clean to be the one of a person that made a journey in order to defeat some monsters, chestnut brown eyes that were too busy spacing out in terror to even understand a bit of the details of her situation and a little well-defined mouth that was covered by a thin layer of red lipstick, which made no sense at all for Akira. In fact, that was not the only sign of make-up that she had on, which isn’t exactly the most useful thing when you need to fight monster: it can surely boost up your style and beauty, but that doesn’t mean anything if you are not alive to enjoy it and if it gives you problems while fighting. Plus, he could see through her dress a bit, thanks to some wet zones on her upper torso, and she was wearing a sophisticated bra, like the ones you wear to impress your partner before getting into the action, and every girl on this planet will tell you that using them to do physical activities is just unthinkable: if you need to, just use a sport bra, why torture yourself using a stiff one? During his middle school years Akira knew a girl who fought along with him and that also practiced kendo, and once she just talked about that topic… but the only thought of that event made other memories surface back, and so Akira just shut down his memory, trying to concentrate on the present. First, he needed to talk to her in some way in order to keep her conscious, even though he thought that she would probably not understand him and he would not understand her, but it was still better than nothing. He started getting closer to her, however in the meantime a feeble voice asked him a question?

“How… did you… win…?”

It was a very girly voice, but too feeble to understand any shade of emotions: it was still the voice of a moribund person, after all. But, the most important thing of all, he understood what she was saying: that was clearly not the Japanese he knew, but he still understood her. “Now is not the time for this” said Akira in his mind, thinking about what could he do to save her life, even though he had very few medical knowledge. He didn’t reply to her at all, as absorbed as he was in trying to understand how to at least make her life longer, even if only for a bit.

“Who… a…re… yo…u?” asked she with an even feebler voce than before.

Akira looked at her, his eyes glacial and authoritarian as they were normally in the reality from which he came.

“Now is not important who I am. The important thing is that I have to save you in a way or another” he replied, looking straight into her chestnut eyes, as if to try and imprint those words into her mind. Then, with a gentler tone of voice, he added “You need to stay conscious, okay? Can you please tell me who are you?” In the meanwhile, he started searching for his clothes, wanting to block her bleeding with a piece of cloth that could at least slow down the pace at which the blood was coming out.

“I… am…. Pri…scill…a… Nat…ò…. daughter…. of the Na…tò famil…y, book....” she slowly stated, trying her best to speak, even though she was evidently suffering from her wounds. Akira turned towards her, and asked “And what business does the daughter of a merchant family have in a cave with monsters?”, trying to at least get some info out of her, if she was not to survive further than a few minutes.

“I… I honest—ly don’t… know” was her reply, given while Akira was returning with his clothes in his hands. That response made him suspicious: how can a person not know what he is doing in a place? But after thinking that, if he was asked that question, he would have replied the same, he just gave up on the matter, thinking that it was possible that she didn’t know why she ended up there. However, she continued speaking about the same subject, without him asking anything.

“I-I was… walking… through the… city… when… when I sudd-enly… ended up… here”

“She was walking in a city?” Akira thought. “A city and a cave have relatively nothing in common, so how the hell did she end up here?”. But while thinking that, Priscilla, or so she said to be called, started coughing, and what came out was blood. It was clear that she wasn’t going to survive this strange adventure of hers. Still, Akira tore a piece of his jacket and used it to try and block the bleeding that was slowly sending the girl to the other world. “After all, I really hated that jacket” thought Akira, just to make him stop thinking that what he was doing was just pointless. But no matter how much he pushed against her chest, no matter how hard he tried, blood continued spouting out of her body, as well as from her throat, meaning that, once she lost consciousness once, she was going to be dead, no matter what. He tried to make her stay awake, tried to make her talk more, but now she was just repeating continuously a sentence, a single sentence

“Javrèn Nutik polà”

That phrase was kinda pointless for Akira, as he didn’t know what it meant, but for the girl it seemed that it was important, like it was the only thing that could make her get out alive of that mess, or even just stay awake. But, even so, after a bit she started repeating that phrase slower, and slower, and slower, until she was only able to syllabicate the first word. Then, with her last power, she looked at Akira’s face and simply said

“T-h-a-n-k you…”

Then, she started to slowly close her eyes. Then, she slowly started to stop breathing. Then, she slowly started to die, until no more blood came out of her throat and of her body.

Akira didn’t say anything through that process, which brought her from life to death: he just observed it like a silent checker, like he was only there to confirm that she was dead. Still, he couldn’t help but to let some tears came out of his eyes, even if it was for a girl he knew nothing about. He had already experience with death, it wasn’t the first to which he ever assisted, but it doesn’t matter how many deaths have you been through, it still makes you suffer no matter what. Then, silently, he stood up and started putting his clothes on, while thinking how was he going to deal with her. The best way would have been to bury her: it was the minimum he could do, as he respected death, and understood the value that the dead people have in the life of humanity. But, at the same time, it felt like it wasn’t right for him to decide: he did not know her, nor her wills. He thought that it should have been her family to do that, but he did not know where they were, nor how to get the body of their daughter to that cave to them. Also because people would have probably taken him for a murderer, and he didn’t want that to happen. Never. But all these thoughts had to be left alone when he heard clapping sounds behind him. He instantly froze and stayed still, until a voice said:

“You have done well, Akira Demoni, you have done very well, even better than I had anticipated”.

At those words, he slowly started turning around, until he saw the being that spoke out those words: it was a girl in strange clothes, very loose in some parts, like the sleeves, and with multiple layers to cover some parts of her body. Her blonde and radiant long hair adorned an oval face that seemed to follow the golden ratio for how perfect it seemed: everything was in the right place, giving an idea of harmony. Her blue eyes were of the perfect size and at the perfect distance from one another, her lips were curved as if to give a malicious feeling every time she smiled, like she was doing at that moment, her eyebrows were perfectly giving space to her eyes. In other words, her face was perfect. Too perfect. Her body probably was also perfect, but it was covered by an uncountable amount of layers that it was impossible to catch every from of her body, but her height was average, her breasts were not big nor small, and in general that figure gave off an aura of harmony and peace, together with a feeling of ecstasy for no logical reason. It was also hard to estimate her possible age: she seemed young, but the vibe she gave off was the one of an experienced person, of a mature one. 

But that wasn’t the reason Akira felt something was wrong with that figure. Of course, nothing as perfect as her could even remotely exist in the real world, as perfection is just an ideal and ideals are not to be conquered by humans, even though some devote their life to that objective, failing miserably every time. Her words were the warning that Akira needed to understand that he had to stay on guard and not fall to that perfect aura.

“How do you know my name? And what do you have to do with me being here?”

A gut feeling had struck Akira, and he was going to follow it. She was probably one of the reasons why he was able to arrive there, and probably also why he was in that cave. He wanted answers, and he knew she could probably give him. But he needed to play it well, or this encounter could end up being a disaster.

And thus, a dialogue between those two entities, a puppet and a puppet master, a human and an ethereal figure, started. 

Real Aire