Chapter 10:

The deadly Sakura Tree (1)

There's a Demon in my Basement!

Blake was positive that most High Schools had their own kinds of urban legends. In some schools, students were afraid of the ghost inside a certain bathroom. In others they’d fear a locker said to be cursed - in this one though, it was a cherry blossom tree behind the school. It was rumoured to harbour a terrible demon that would punish anyone who would dare to come too close to it after nightfall.

To his demise, Ciana had decided that it was just an amazing idea to tell Astaroth about that. And to make things even worse: Snow had been sitting next to them so any chance of talking the demon out of checking out said rumour had died.

Now, Blake knew those were just stupid rumours. There was nothing to be afraid of. At least the majority of his current companions also had nothing to fear. Not because they were aware that they were about to investigate a normal tree - no, because Astaroth and Drake were demons themselves and Snow was-... whatever she was. Ciana was the only one here who might have a reason to be afraid but somehow he severely doubted it was physically possible for her to experience this emotion.

“I can’t believe this…” he murmured while picking the lock of the school’s gate with magic. It was late at night of course. Blake was grateful for the light the full moon was giving them since he didn’t plan on using a flashlight until they'd reached their destination.

“Me neither!” Ciana exclaimed in excitement, even though she did manage to keep her voice low.

Blake’s work was done and he carefully opened the gate to the schoolyard. “Come in, everyone.” Because the faster we’re in, the faster we’re done.

"It is very lonesome after sunset…" Snow noted while looking around.

Of course, it was. That was a no-brainer. After all, they were only used to the schoolyard in daylight. There was always someone around. So it was only natural that it would feel different in the dead of night.

"Don't dally away." Blake's voice wasn't much more than an angry grumble.

Ciana next to him nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, we have a job to do after all!"

"Yeah, only that nobody's getting paid," Drake commented dryly and shot a sour glance over to Snow.

Snow put her fingertips together. "We can slaughter some plants tomorrow if you desire to do so."

"I desire you to stop referring to cooking like that," Blake interrupted them, before grabbing Astaroth's arm. The demon had already lost their focus and was floating over to a tree a squirrel had just run up. Without any hint of gentleness, he turned the demon around. "Sakura tree. That direction. Focus, idiot."

"Oh, right! Sorry!"

Blake kept the hand around the demon's arm. He wouldn't take any chances. After all, it was only a matter of minutes until they found something new to distract themselves with.

It wasn't too surprising that the Sakura tree had a bad reputation. After all, it was in a rather lonely corner not many people would come across, even in the daytime. It was next to the fence - if its position had only been a few meters more to the right it wouldn't even be on school grounds anymore.

Paired with the poor lighting and the fact that school was already unsettling at night by nature it wasn't a big stretch to feel uncomfortable around it. And from that point onwards rumours could just do the rest.

However, Blake wasn't faced at all. He just flipped on the flashlight and pointed it at the plant. "See? Just a normal tree. Nothing spooky about it."

"Ouw…" With a disappointed sigh, Astaroth floated up to its crown and disappeared between the leaves.

"But why are people afraid of a tree?" Curiosity Snow also walked up to it and put a hand on the wood.

With a shudder, Blake remembered his last encounter with a Dryad. "...There are… reasons."

Ciana kicked away a few stones. "Man… what a bummer. Thought we'd find a monster or something."

"You think demons are monsters?" Drake's face was as stoic as ever.

Yet, the mere repetition of her statement was enough to make her flustered. "No, no! I didn't- it's just that-"

Astaroth looked out between the leaves, betrayal written all over their face. "Are you... afraid of me?"

The other demon grinned slightly. "Yeah, are you?"

"Oh, you know I didn't mean it like that!"

Astaroth was about to say something about that but Blake was faster. "Did you find anything suspicious up there?"

"Nope." The demon shrugged and floated back down on the eye level of their friends. "Normal tree, I'd say. Not even a squirrel up there."

Blake pulled a stick out of Astaroth's hair. "Good, can we leave now?"

"Uhm… Well…" Ciana shifted a little bit around where she stood. "I might need five more minutes."

One of Drake's eyebrows wandered up. "For what? Do you think the tree turns into a monster if you wait for long enough?"

"No, I have mortal businesses to attend." She stared at the taller being for a few seconds before facepalming with a deep sigh. "Bathroom. I gotta go to the bathroom."

"Oh…" Three non-human beings were hit by that realization at once.

"It's fine, I can go alone, you just go up ahead, I'll catch up!"

Blake just snickered. "So you're gonna split the party while breaking into a school at night to go to the bathroom? Great idea, nothing bad ever happened after something like that."

"I'll go with you!" Snow exclaimed almost in a reflex, earning a groan from Drake.

"You don't have to. It's fine, we're not in a horror movie or something." The other teen smiled sheepishly.

"I don't know, a cursed tree behind a school at night… sounds pretty much like a horror movie to me." Blake grinned - that was just his revenge for her dragging her into this whole ordeal.

"Stop it, you're being mean, Blake!" Astaroth's voice was a mere hush but it was loud enough for sensitive ears like Drake's to pick it up.

"Blake?" The demon crossed their arms and tilted their head. "I always thought your name was just B. Like the letter."

Blake just sighed deeply and slapped the back of Astaroth's head. "No, like the let-... Wait, you did it right. Never mind."

"Huh." Somehow that seemed to baffle Ciana the most. "I just-... Kinda stopped believing you had an actual name."

Unfazed by the Magicians' slap Astaroth tilted their head. "He didn't introduce himself to you either?"

"Nope." Ciana took a few steps to the side, tipping an imaginary hat while burying one hand in her coat's pocket. Then she turned to the side while mumbling in a voice as deep as she could muster: "Giving my name to a classmate… only a fool would be stupid enough to do so." She sighed dramatically before facing Astaroth again. "But I suppose it's easier if you can call me by a name. Fine. You may call me B."

The demon applauded. "Wow, you're a really good Blake!"

"That sounded nothing like me!" Angrily he crossed his arms and pierced Astaroth with his gaze. "And you weren't supposed to tell anyone."

"Is Blake not a girl's name?" Contemplatively Snow put up a hand to her chin.

"It's gender-neutral," Blake corrected her, his voice filled with indignation, "Also, I am very happy that out of every unwritten arbitrary law of society you're unfamiliar with, that is the one you know!"

"I am delighted that it makes you happy."

With a groan, he buried his face in his palm, before looking at Ciana again. "Didn't you want to break into the school and get murdered?"

"Yeah, that was the plan." Ciana grabbed Snow and Drake and pulled them along with her. "We'll be back in a few minutes."

Blake shrugged and sat down at the feet of the tree. "Sure, I wouldn't count on it." The ground was surprisingly warm given the fact that it was early November.

Before he could think too much about that Astaroth sat down next to him. "I didn't know trees could also have pink leaves."

"Well, only this kind of tree has." A sweet calming smell filled the air. "You know, you're really lucky. Normally they bloom in early spring. But some cherry blossom trees bloom in October and November. It's only a few more days and this one will probably stop."

"Aww… that's a shame. It's so pretty."

Blake just shrugged. "Yeah. It is. But it wouldn't be anymore if it looked like that every day wouldn't it?" He yawned. "By not… blooming most of the time you appreciate it much more when it does…"

"Hm… I don't get it. Can't you just… appreciate something every day? Without it leaving?"

"Mortals aren't like that." Why was he so tired? Sure, it was late but it wasn't like he wasn't used to being awake at this hour. Those questions should have been more pressing issues, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to care. "I dunno about demons… but for us, there is no eternity…" Somewhere he lost his train of thought. Did his ramblings even make sense at this point? He wasn't sure.

"...Things aren't eternal for us either…"

Astaroth's voice sounded so far away. What exactly they said he didn't register but somehow he just knew that leaning against their shoulder was the right thing to do at that moment. "Sure, whatev…" Blake's mumbling stopped and his body relaxed completely.

Confused, Astaroth looked at the human next to them. Somehow he had fallen asleep. Should they wake him up?

Probably not. Blake looked more peaceful than he ever did awake.

A slight movement in his sleep almost caused the human to fall over but the demon caught him quickly enough to gently lay him down instead. The human's head placed on their lap they were content to just wait for the others to return.

The school's corridors truly were creepy at night. Snow had considered the yard to be unsettling in its emptiness, but the building itself was another level. However, neither Drake nor Ciana seemed to mind. So Snow figured she shouldn't either. But she did. The feeling spreading inside of her was a new one - regret. She should have just stayed with Astaroth and Blake.

"Ah, here we go." Ciana stopped in front of the girl's toilet. "You waiting outside, Drake?"

The demon shrugged. "Sure." They didn't seem to be bothered by that idea and just leaned against the wall next to the bathroom's entrance.

Somehow Snow admired them for their calm attitude. "We will return shortly," she assured and followed Ciana into the bathroom.

Drake just nodded silently.

How could a room this much smaller be so much more unsettling? There was less space that should normally be filled with students - so how did it feel more threatening? Maybe she should have waited outside with Drake. What even was the difference to waiting outside the stall while Ciana was finishing her business?

Snow sighed deeply while taking a look at herself in the mirror. She was pale. Somehow even more than usual.

With a sigh, she closed her eyes and turned on the tap. The main reason for washing her hands was to distract herself from this uncanny feeling.

Suddenly, she felt the sensation of someone dragging a wet hand down her back. A shudder ran down her spine and she flipped around immediately. There was no one. It must have been her imagination going crazy.

The sound of a toilet getting flushed filled the room. Relieved Snow sighed. Finally, they'd get out of here. Only that Ciana didn't leave her stall. When walking in Snow didn't pay attention so she had no idea which one the other teen was in. "...Ciana?"

"Yes?" Her voice came from a completely different direction than the earlier sound.

Snow blinked. Did she… had she been wrong? All of the doors were closed so there was no way of knowing for sure that all of the stalls were empty.

Snow shook her head. It was just her imagination. "No-nothi-"

A chuckle echoed through the bathroom. It was not Ciana's.

It took exactly seven seconds for Drake to get bored. They didn't have anything to do but couldn't wander off too far. Luckily for them, there was a poster on the wall giving them something to keep them busy. Of course, the topic was only mildly interesting (why would they care about the transmission of diseases between Mortals?), but it should be sufficient.

A long and deep groan filled the corridor.

Confused, Drake looked towards the source of the noise. There was a clear, human-like silhouette in front of the entrance. Yet, it wasn't completely human. Its neck was crooked just like one of its legs protruding in an unnatural manner. Its right arm just hung down in a lifeless manner.

Drake was aware that they indeed entered someone else's territory. However, they didn't consider Mortals as a threat. Even most demons wouldn't fall into that category, at least not since Snow summoned them. And so they just creaked their neck and looked directly at the silhouette. If it attacked that shouldn't pose a problem for them.

They blinked. A natural process even a demon had to do once in a while.

When they opened their eyes, they were face to face with the grotesque monster. A half-rotten corpse, whose skin and meat were starting to peel off from its bones, producing a foul smell that filled the air.

Almost immediately Drake grabbed the creature and threw it over their shoulder. They didn’t stop and used the leftover energy of their earlier attack to spin around. They were alone. “...Huh?”

A pink petal fell onto Astaroth’s hand. With a smile they observed it. It was truly beautiful. Why were there no plants in the Underworld? It would make that place so much nicer.

...Well. It wasn’t supposed to be nice.

With a sigh, they clenched their fist squeezing the petal in the process. Somehow that helped get rid of the grim thoughts. There were better things to focus on. For example the human in their lap.

Astaroth let go of the petal and brushed some of Blake’s hair from his face. Wasn’t sleep a weird thing? The human was so… vulnerable right now. How could he sleep here? Well - obviously it was impossible for someone to attack him. Astaroth was here and they would defend him against anyone who’d dare to come close to him.

But did Blake know that? Did he trust the demon?

More petals fell down. Confused, Astaroth looked up, expecting to find a squirrel or some other animal up there between the leaves.

Instead, they saw even more petals whirling around in the air like a tornado. They squinted, sensing that something was off, Astaroth jumped up and picked up Blake. Immediately they backed off. "Who are-" The weight they were holding disappeared. With a horrible realization creeping into their mind they looked down onto their arms. There was no Blake. Just swirling pink petals. 

Real Aire