Into the Ming Empire
In the Persian town of Qazin, as the night was almost over, a ninja was jumping from roof to roof looking for this demon the townspeople had talked about during the day who killed and completely drained the blood of a woman just last evening. She had been found dead in an alley at the beginning of the evening and the strange way she had lost all her blood terrified the people. They were talking about a demon biting the neck and drinking blood, so Taki, who happened to travel in the city, wanted to destroy that monster since she specialized in the destruction of demons.
As she jumped on one roof, she suddenly heard a scream, a woman's cry for help. She tried to locate the exact location of the scream and hurried toward the place.
From the roof, she suddenly saw her prey and his victim. A blond man was sucking loudly the blood of a woman while the woman seemed now unconscious or dead.
She took her shurikens and threw them at the man who received them all in his left arm, making him let go of his victim who fell down.
Raphael turned around to see who attacked him and saw a woman with a black ponytail, some kind of a mask in her face and very tight clothing, landing in the alley as she unsheathed her weapon.
Raphael had come back from the temple completely thirsty and obsessed with bloodlust because of the temple's evil aura and had begun hunting a victim as soon as he came back in the city. If his horse had not been killed, he would not have come back here because not knowing how long it would take crossing the desert, he just made a victim last evening to hold on for the trip, before he went to the temple. But he didn't know the temple would awaken his bloodlust that soon and he didn't have the choice to come back to the place of his previous crime since it was the nearest city he knew he could do on foot before the sun rose and burned him.
The woman walked toward him and seemed determined to confront him.
-I cannot ignore your evil deeds! You are the one who killed a woman yesterday and you still continue on your murdering rampage!
She stopped and gazed at Raphael who had taken out the shurikens from his arm and was holding it in pain as black blood was staining his clothes. The woman had hit some nerves on his arm and completely paralysed it, he could not take his rapier and fight back. He looked at her with an angry and evil glare while he backed away. The ninja told him:
-How pitiful. You've fallen under the spell of the evil sword. You're tainted with evil energy and to add to it, you seem to have Soul Edge shards corrupting you further! Hand me those shards!
-Humpf! Just come and get them! answered Raphael defiantly fixing her while frowning, his head slightly bent down.
Taki looked at the arrogant monster then began to walk toward him with her kodachi in front of her. Suddenly Raphael's gaze brightened and he began to laugh evilly.
-Mwahahahaha… My turn now!
Raphael stood up straight, lifted his head proudly in a haughty stance and continued:
-Allow me to… entertain you.
The ninja didn't understand until she felt someone gripping her. Raphael's former victim had now risen as a minion and was doing as her master mentally ordered, taking care of the annoying newcomer. As Taki was busy trying to immobilize her opponent, Raphael told her:
-That is but a taste of my power. I have no time to deal with you. Adieu!
While his opponent was busy with the minion, Raphael disappeared into mist and got away.
He reappeared not far away since he couldn't do it farther and discretely slipped out of town. He stole a horse from a near farm and began to ride toward the next city.
-She completely paralysed my arm, I shall have to heal it before I can fight again…
Raphael rode some time then found a spot to hide from the sun of the day. Had he not been caught by this annoying ninja, he may have hidden in the city until night. Travelling in open spaces like deserts was really annoying. He never knew when he would find a shelter and he could not permit himself to be stranded in the desert under the sun for too long. He never tried to check for how long he could stay under the sun without real damage but it was hurtful, so no need to find it. He thought about Amy who suffers so much when the sun rays barely hit her. Poor child… Will she get tougher one day or will it get worse for both of them? Another question about their condition that he could not answer. His tent was not too efficient against the sun's burning rays; he always put it in some shadowy place just to make sure. The sun may not kill him inside it but it was still annoying and for now he would have some trouble installing it with only one arm so he was glad to have found this shelter. Raphael stopped and took some rest while taking care of his wounded arm. When the night came, he continued toward China.
The trip had been uneventful for the rest of the way and he finally arrived in China. His arm was completely healed and he was now feeling well, except for this annoying tiredness coming back… It was still on a very low level but it had started like this last time… The shards only helped for a time…
So Raphael first went to the healer shop to buy remedy he knew would help against tiredness before it became too strong. He took everything; what he himself knew and was available here and what the shopkeeper recommended him; some Chinese medicine that Raphael was not familiar with. He didn't want to take any chance; he would try everything.
While questioning the people about the Holy Stone, Raphael learned that the ancient palace of the Ming Dynasty, that was now opened to public with its beautiful lotus garden, may hold the knowledge he sought. The palace had a private area that was the residence of the administrator of the place, an old general of the Ming Empire and this general had been named responsible of the mystery files and he was keeping all the written information about the occult subjects in his mansion.
Raphael went to see this place. When he entered the park, he was amazed at its beauty and stood in awe at the garden, admiring the many blossoms everywhere and the water-lilies floating on the tranquil waters that were surrounding the park and invading it, flowing under small bridges especially constructed to incite people strolling in the place to stop and admire the view… Small streams were flowing everywhere and their relaxing sound was really enjoyable. It made him forget his worries and his regrets. The only regret he had now was that he wished Amy could see that also. Maybe one day, he could take her to see it… or try to recreate such splendour in his own gardens… He stood there for many hours, sitting on a bench under the shadow of a tree and under the gaze of the strollers not used to see a blond man from the west, looking at the splendours of the park and admiring the landscape when he decided that he should now explore the place for more practical reasons: he had to find a way to get to the general's library.
He got up and visited what he could of the palace to get an idea of how it was organized. He then tried to see the surroundings of the general's mansion; he carefully observed everything, the place, the hiding spots, the guards and their watch hour, the changing of the guards… The private mansion of the general was more heavily guarded than the garden parts and may prove a little difficult to sneak in, for an ordinary person… But Raphael was confident in his skills. He already had infiltrated many places since he was a vampire, when he and Amy where travelling through France and Germany and he had to search in universities and such for a cure against vampirism, places where he would not have been allowed to go normally. So he didn't ask for permission, went there at night to search for what he needed and he never got caught. Of course, those places were probably less guarded than the general's mansion but he now also had a special skill that could prove really useful now: his mist power.
He then went to rent a room and get some rest before he would try his plan. The next night, he thought he was ready to infiltrate the place. Using his skills and his power, he sneaked past the guards and went into the mansion unnoticed. After some times, he succeeded in finding the library where many scrolls and books were stored, containing all of the Ming Empire's occult knowledge. He carefully closed the door behind him and began to search among the scrolls and the books. He was truly amazed at all the information they had on every occult subjects; if he could, he would stay here to read it all; but he only had this night to find information about the Holy Stone. So he hurried in his search.
He was glad he learned to read Chinese; Ten years ago, some travellers from China came to the king's court and Raphael happened to be there while they described their empire to King Henry III who greeted them. Raphael spoke with them and learned even more about their country. Seeing Raphael's enthusiastic interest for Chinese culture, one of the travellers, an old man, decided to teach him the basic of the language and the writing. Before he left France some months later, he also gave him some scrolls in Chinese. Raphael gave him some books in French to thank him and continued to try by himself to learn the language. He thought he was not bad at it now but unfortunately, he didn't have much occasion to practice it. At least to speak it, he seemed not that bad; he must have had a horrible accent but at least people understood what he said. Now he would test his skills in reading.
Raphael remembered with some contempt that his brother Claude, lazy as always, constantly told him it was stupid to learn such a distant language since they would never go there and his father always thought it was a loss of time; they didn't have to make alliances with China. He always considered Raphael only for the alliances he could arrange for the family, not like his son or even a person. He considered all of his children like that; tools to make alliances and reinforce the family's influence. Henriette's wedding was a good example and Raphael's disowning from the family when he couldn't serve anymore, another.
But Raphael wanted to learn Chinese and he obstinately held his own against his father's opinion. His father had to accept it or else Raphael would not work as efficiently for him; his father needed him so he had to comply with his son's wish. For this, Raphael had more chance than his siblings; he held some power over his father, until the day he became worthless to him.
He searched for many hours through the many scrolls and books trying to find useful information about the Holy Stone and finally found something. He began to try to read and decipher the Chinese writings.
-Hum… It's hard to understand everything… I do not know all the Hanzi… I can only decipher bits of it. But from what I understand, the Dvapara-Yuga is the Holy Stone… and one of the three relics of the Ling Sheng-Su Temple… The monks of this temple were the ones destroying each other seven years ago with the Evil Seed…
But if this stone can restore people, how come it didn't restore them and prevented them from killing each other? Maybe it went too fast, they didn't have time to act… or maybe the travelling monk who came to my domain was already gone with the stone… If he is always travelling, that won't help me to find him… But I should go to this temple anyway… I may find something…
Raphael thought he knew enough and could leave this place to get to the temple before someone finds him. It was almost dawn, the sky was beginning to change color. He got out by the window.
Raphael had succeeded in getting away from the guards and was now walking in the garden to get out of there when someone suddenly jumped in front of him: a young woman holding a Chinese sword and a fighting pose was looking at him with a smile.
-Look, aren't I cute? Just kidding!
She took a more serious tone and told him:
-I got you, intruder! I saw what you did! You invaded the general's house! You're going to regret this! We live in a dangerous world when anybody can sneak into our house like that! But I won't let you get away!
Raphael unsheathed his rapier and told her on a threatening tone:
-I have no time to deal with you. Do not get in my way.
-Stay there! Justice will prevail!
She tried to point her sword at his chest but Raphael quickly interposed his rapier and put away her sword.
-The likes of you could never stop me. Get out of my way!
He tried to slash her but the woman gracefully evaded the strike by backing away.
-Not very friendly, are we?
-Who are you? You're starting to annoy me. You may be cute, but you are quite annoying.
The girl seemed surprised and smiled at the compliment.
-Thank you! For the cute part, not the annoying one. That part was not kind! You should apologize!
She made a reprimanding gesture toward him with her finger, then bowed to him.
-I'm Xianghua. I'm training in those gardens each morning. Fresh air, beautiful view, it can't get better! By the way, thanks for the exercise. You'll give me another way to train. But don't cry, okay? Don't cry when you lose! Now, are you ready for this?
Raphael looked behind him to see if any guards were coming then graciously bowed to her.
-I am Raphael Sorel, your slayer. Well then, let us dance!
Xianghua nimbly jumped in front of Raphael with her sword.
-Here I come! Go me!
-Time to perish!
Raphael gracefully whirled toward Xianghua to slash at her but she swiftly evaded.
-You'll have to do better… if you wanna beat me! You're open! Block this!
Xianghua quickly twirled her sword and struck Raphael on his thigh.
-Gotcha! Do you want more?
-That's enough! Die already!
Raphael gracefully jumped forward and thrust his rapier at his opponent's left shoulder.
-Ow! …I knew I wouldn't walk away from this fight without a scratch!
-You will have much more than this, mademoiselle! Feel this!
He then quickly thrust an unending sting at her but the agile girl evaded the strikes by swiftly backing away. Xianghua then jumped and swirled in the air before she landed a strike at Raphael, slicing his right arm.
-Spin! You're finished! You really did this to yourself!
-I commend you for not fleeing but if you're so eager to die, then so be it! My turn now!
Raphael made some hand mills with his rapier before he slashed Xianghua's shoulder again.
Xianghua winced from the pain. Raphael took a haughty stance with a hand on his hip.
-Hmph, not a bad dance!
They truly seemed like dancers, both doing graceful and nimble moves and with the sun beginning to rise it was a beautiful scene to look at. Two gracious dancers twirling among the flowers of the garden while petals of the blossoming trees were gently falling on them. A passerby looking at this moment could almost think they were dancing together. But it was really not that beautiful as they both truly fought to slay the other.
After some times, Raphael had already hit his opponent many times and Xianghua hadn't succeeded as good to strike him. She was getting nervous and tried to cheer herself up.
-My resolve cannot be swayed! It's not easy, but I won't give up!
But Xianghua's face had truly changed expression; she seemed not so certain to win now. Raphael smiled, he knew he would win.
-It's over! C'mon! says Raphael swinging dangerously his rapier toward Xianghua. But the girl suddenly seemed to have regained her determination and attacked again.
-No way! How's that?
Xianghua quickly threw herself at Raphael and hit him toward the neck, ripping his delicate silk frill. Then swinging her sword to take away the frill's part still stuck on it, she looked at her fingernails proudly.
-Not bad, if I do say so myself.
Raphael looked at his now teared up fashionable accessory and got upset.
-How foolish of you, to anger me… That was a gift from Amy!
He launched toward her and slashed her repeatedly. Xianghua couldn't evade his strikes and tumbled down. She tried to get up:
-… I can't give up… I have to keep my spirits up… Mother, are you watching me?…
But too wounded to continue, she fainted.
Raphael then adressed Xianghua lying down.
-That look suits you. Stay down there.
As Xianghua was laying unconscious, Raphael kneeled and leaned over her, observing her. She was really pretty, her blood shall taste most delicious…
He then slowly approached his mouth to her neck and searched for the best place to bite.
-You just never learn, do you?
Raphael froze and turned in surprise; the ninja he met in Qazin was standing there with her sword drawn.
-You again! How did you find me? Asked Raphael in bewilderment.
-Ougi! Means; it's a secret. But I can follow anything or anybody tainted by Soul Edge. And you are deeply tainted by this evil!
She would not tell Raphael that she followed him with her trusty kodachi, Rekkimaru able to detect any Soul Edge aura. Raphael didn't detect either that she also had a weapon made from Soul Edge fragment but it was safely hidden in her sheath and sealed with magic cards. She added:
-But I can tell that the blood trail you left on the way was also a good guide. You couldn't refrain yourself from killing people on your way here and drink their blood! I just followed the slaughter trail!
Raphael answered on a cold tone while getting up and unsheathing his rapier:
-Well… you shall now pave that bloody road…
The ninja replied:
-I'm through with words! Let's get this over with!
And she jumped on him with her sword drawn. Raphael parried her strike and asked her:
-Who are you? You're starting to annoy me.
-I'm the Shadow Huntress of Demons and I shall seal you away, monster!
-Do not call me like that! I shall kill you for this!
Raphael looked evilly at the ninja; he didn't like to be reminded that he was a monster. Taki then stated before she continued fighting:
-Soul Edge, your scars run deep… even in death!
Raphael and the ninja clashed at each other furiously. This fight was more intense and brutal than the one Raphael just won, as they both truly and definitively fought to destroy the other with a passion. There was more hate and anger in this fight.
None of them had the upper hand when suddenly Taki jumped on Raphael so fast, it was like she appeared in front of him, and grabbed his Soul Edge shard necklace where he kept his three pieces; she brutally snatched the necklace and threw it away. If she wanted to seal that monster, she first had to weaken his evil strength.
Raphael's tiredness suddenly came back as strong as it was before he had the last shard, it felt even worse. He felt totally exhausted and weak as Taki was now pinning him down; she swiftly took out some paper with symbols on it and put it on Raphael's forehead. Raphael felt paralysed by this strange symbol. He could not move anymore; his eyes widened in terror and he thought: What is happening? Impossible!
It was just some paper on his face! He could not be taken down like that!
-I shall seal you now, demon! The deed shall be done! Evil! B…!
As she was about to say the magic words, a guard spotted them and sounded the alarm. He shot with his rifle at the ninja's back, thinking she was the one who had slain Xianghua and that she was slaying another passerby. The violent and sudden wound surprised Taki and she lost her concentration allowing Raphael to fight off the magic. He could now move; he quickly took the magic symbol off him then tried to escape from his opponent. He pushed her away and began to run away as soldiers were coming toward them. The Shadow Huntress of demons, who was just slightly wounded, started to run after him but a guard shot another bullet at her and caught her leg, making her fall and allowing Raphael to flee. The guards were now also shooting at Raphael, so he ran as fast as he could to his horse that was not far away. He didn't look behind him and didn't know what happened to the ninja; the fear of what would have happened allowed him to quickly run away from this dangerous ninja and the guards, forgetting his fatigue; he felt afraid just like when Cervantes almost ate his soul. She was about to do something very terrifying to him, he didn't know exactly what but he didn't want to know. He jumped on his horse and rode away as fast as he could so that this lethal ninja would lose his trail. He didn't have the shards anymore; he may be harder to follow. Panic made him flee really fast but as soon as he was safely away on his horse, he felt his tiredness come back again. He quickly left the city and went toward the temple ruins.
During the trip, he thought with some regret: The ninja was right; I did act like a beast on my way here. Those shards corrupted me more… They are dangerous… but I need their power now… Without them, I am so weak! All because of this annoying tiredness!
Raphael really didn't understand what he had. His tiredness would never go away. Along the way to the temple, he tried his own medicine, it didn't work, he tried the Chinese medicine, it didn't work either. In fact, it always worsened. Only the Soul Edge shards had succeeded in making him feel better. And now he had lost them. He thought that maybe this fatigue was linked to the Holy Stone. He was getting nearer to the Holy Stone so maybe that was why he felt more tired…
-Once I get rid of this Holy Stone, everything will be alright!
While he was riding his horse on the way to the Ling Sheng-Su Temple Ruin, thinking about this, Raphael saw someone walking on the road. The man seemed to be a samurai, but what really interested Raphael was that he seemed to have something of Soul Edge, a shard… in his bag. Raphael eye widened and he wondered how he could take that shard. He was really weak and a fight would surely turn to his disadvantage. But there was other ways to get something… He called to him:
The man looked at him.
-Yeah. What is it?
-You have something I would like to acquire.
-Like what? I don't know what you're talking about.
-Your Soul Edge shard. How much would you sell it to me?
-It's not for sale.
-I need it. I am ready to offer you much for it.
-I don't care about money.
-Then, what would you want for it?
-Well, you seem to have special powers if you could sense this shard in my bag and you also have a weapon by your side, so I think a fight against you may offer some challenge. If you win, the shard is yours.
Raphael was annoyed, a fight was what he tried to avoid.
-I am actually quite sick… so I could not fight you with my full potential…
-Then I keep the shard. Sayonara traveller.
The samurai started to walk again.
-Non, wait! Is there any other way to get this shard?
-No, if you want it that badly, come and take it by force!
Raphael sighed in an annoyed way.
-Then I shall fight you!
Raphael got down of his horse and went in front of the man while unsheathing his rapier. He really was certain about losing the fight but he told himself in a weird way that since it was the first time he was beginning a fight thinking he would lose it, he may win because overconfidence would not blind him like it sometimes did in the past, he may be more careful and alert. Anyway, he needed that shard badly, what was a little more tiredness if he was to be alright after that? He would give his all.
The samurai also unsheathed his weapon and smiled in satisfaction.
Raphael graciously bowed.
-Raphael Sorel, enchanté.
-Save the formalities! Let's fight!
-Humpf! Have you no manners? You're quite the rude one.
-I don't care who you are! I'll win!
As a habit, Raphael smirked confidently and replied:
-Honestly, this is a waste of time. You could give me the shard already and save yourself a humiliating loss.
-I guess you've never heard the name Mitsurugi.
-Non. And I don't care.
-Humpf! You'll regret this. Let's go!
-Well then, let us dance!
-I don't dance, I fight!
Raphael ignored the insult in the samurai's reply and concentrated on the fight. He was feeling really bad but he told himself that he felt worse the day he stabbed Soul Edge in the eye so he could beat that man now. As he stood in defence, Mitsurugi suddenly launched at him screaming:
He gave Raphael a powerful vertical strike that Raphael barely blocked. He then slashed horizontally and Raphael evaded by backing away. Raphael then launched himself at the samurai and tried to stab him but Mitsurugi quickly evaded the blade and replied with a strike at Raphael's right arm. Raphael tried to reply but Mitsurugi didn't let him the chance; he quickly slashed at him, ripped the vampire's vest, slashing his chest and sent him down by following his attack with a strong kick to the stomach. Raphael fell in the dust on his back with a grunt. Mitsurugi swiftly sheathed back his katana and declared on a condescending tone:
-Humph! A waste of time!
He turned away and began to leave.
-It's not over yet! Declared Raphael as he was painfully getting up. Mitsurugi looked at him with a somewhat bored look and told him.
-We can do this as many times as you like. But don't blame me if you get hurt.
Mitsurugi advanced again toward him and Raphael tried to welcome him with a thrusting strike. But the samurai deflected the hit and replied with a swing from his katana. Raphael barely evaded it by bending and tripped Mitsurugi making him tumble. Raphael smiled and slashed at the samurai with his rapier. He hit both his hands and Mitsurugi lost his katana. Mitsurugi swiftly took back his weapon and slashed again at Raphael who parried the strike with his Flambert before swiftly striking again at the samurai who deflected the strike. Raphael then whirled and slashed the samurai on the shoulder before he dodged Mitsurugi's next attack. Mitsurugi then smiled in satisfaction and told him:
-Not bad at all! I thought you were worse than that… But you'll still lose.
Mitsurugi lifted his katana for another strike and Raphael quickly thrust his rapier toward him and slashed Mitsurugi's right rib before he evaded the samurai's powerful strike. Mitsurugi then unleashed a fierce combo and Raphael wasn't able to block it. He was too exhausted from his previous effort; he got slashed and tumbled down in the dirt again.
-This victory is mine!
He sheathed back his katana again and began to turn around. Raphael got up again and told him:
-Non! This victory shall be mine!
-You fool… You actually think you can take me? It doesn't matter how many times you try! I'll win!
-I shall try until I win!
-I don't got eternity you know…
Raphael tried to hold on straight but he staggered as he got prepared for the fight. He then screamed and launched himself at the samurai who replied in an annoyed tone:
-Let's end this… once and for all!
This time, Raphael didn't have time to do anything at all. Before he reached Mitsurugi, he got welcomed by a combo of strikes; his tiredness prevented him again to have the reflex to dodge those numerous attacks. He took all the strikes and fell down, groaning and panting.
-It wasn't even worth drawing my sword… humph.
As Raphael laid beaten and humiliated on the road, Mitsurugi told him:
-Humph! A waste of time! Your skills would never stand up on the battlefield.
Raphael painfully sat up and angrily replied as the samurai turned his back on him;
-I told you before; I was sick! At my best, I would have beaten you!
-Then you should go see a healer. I have no business with you!
-I did! They can't heal me! Only that stupid shard can!
The samurai then turned toward him.
-Then you are infected by Soul Edge? Do you know where it is?
He asked more precisely:
-Do you know where Nightmare is?
Raphael looked at the samurai.
-Non. Why? Why do you want to find Nightmare?
-I want to fight him.
-No. For a challenge and to prouve myself.
-Well, I do not know where he is. I asked on my way, he seems to travel a lot. And actually, I don't know where he could be.
-Fine. I'll find him myself then.
Mitsurugi began to walk away again. Raphael wondered if there was anything else to ask this man or any other way to get this shard, but he didn't find anything more to say and stayed sitting in the middle of the road as the samurai was going away.