Central District, Teikoku
(12th of Eleint, 1491 Dalereckoning)
Neither of them slept well. The iron tower deadened all sound from the outside. No wind. No fluttering of birds or winged insects. It felt separated from the world.
When the morning came, as far as they could tell, Golem entered the room, bearing a platter of rice cakes and miso soup.
“Good morning, milady.” he said jovially, or she thought as much, having better accustomed to his odd, emotionless tone, “Breakfast is served.”
At his insistence, they finished the meal before resuming their conversation. After she swallowed the last rice ball whole, she eyed him calmly, but inwardly still struggling with her emotions, “Tell me more of my parents.”
Golem nodded, “Happily, milady. Where to begin? Master Lenao was a brilliant enchanter, a born prodigy. He was casting minor cantrips at the age of four, and complex dweomers at seven. An odd sort, he was obsessive and singularly focused; when he was working, his head might catch fire and he wouldn’t notice. That time with brimstone, actually...anyway, he was born of a noble family, but disinherited when they failed to keep his abilities private. They cut him loose, and he constructed the tower in under a month, in seclusion; a safe place to practice his experiments.”
“Why was he not taken to Mount Renmei, like all the other enchanters?”
“He was a close personal friend and advisor to the Hitorigami, and assisted him during the Reclamation. And frankly...he was too powerful and too wily to cage.”
“The Reclamation?! That was over a hundred years ago...” Kaileena blurted, “Before the Spellplague, even.”
“Indeed. Lenao managed an enchantment to sustain his life force, and even shared his secrets with the Hitorigami. It wasn’t immortality, but it allowed both to live far beyond normal means. Were he alive today, Lenao would be well into his second century.”
“Not quite. You mother...she was a complex being. All cold wit and fiery temper, but fiercely loyal, and a skilled practitioner herself. But unlike Lenao, she could draw upon the powers that be directly, not relying on spellbooks and scrolls and enchanted items.”
“She was a sorcerer?”
“What’s a sorcerer? I guess?”
“Why was she named Uchiki?”
Zolin eyed her at that, and she shrugged, “Uchiki means “shy”. Seems like an odd moniker, is all.”
“Uchiki was his pet name for her. An irony, I’m sure. I believe I comprehend well enough the subtleties of what you call Irony. I don’t know her true name; the name Lenao had summoned her by. Intentionally done, I assume, that none might have summoned her in the future. ”
“But they were both gifted with magic?” she asked, troubled.
“How did my mother lose me, then, and my father...he never...used magic to find me?”
“Complicated.” Golem replied, “And requiring of another bit of detail. Lenao knew of the Blue Fire before anyone else in Teikoku did; the Spellplague didn’t reach this far east, but those of magical affluence felt it keenly. He wanted to make sure his daughter would be safe. When you were developing in the womb, he...enchanted you.”
“He enchanted me?”
“Correct. It took the combined effort of Uchiki and himself, and months of careful experimentation, but in addition to giving you the potential for wings through mutation, they ensured your safety from the Spellplague. They crafted a special serum; a virus, actually, that infected you, that allowed your blood to safely absorb and dissipate magic in any form, especially the Blue Fire. They named their latest invention the Spell-Eater Strain.”
“The purple fire.”
“Exactly.” Golem exclaimed, giving the impression, if not the actual signs, of elation, “It took its toll; experimentation with Blue Fire is not without risk. It stunted their ability to access magic. And yours, though it seems you’ve found ways around that. Lenao had begun to age very rapidly. By the end, I was managing most of their efforts, and he was bedridden. But oh...when you were born, the joy that filled his failing body! You were his greatest craft; the culmination of his work, and how he loved you...”
Kaileena looked away, unable to bear it.
Zolin cradled her against him as Golem continued, “Your mother, not so adversely physically affected, nursed you for a few months, and occasionally spirited you to a nearby hot spring. Wanted you to see as much of the world as she could, without risk of discovery. Unable to cast magic, she usually had a couple of wands and enchanted rings on her person. She...”
He paused, as if considering, “She ran afoul of a common woodland bear. Her wand that night, which delivered a potent shock, would have disabled or killed even the stoutest human with ease. Not so with a bear. She was cautious; she had no reason to assume a bear would wander this far west. They are normally such passive creatures, and would have been given pause by her unfamiliar scent.”
“But Father had been hunting that night.” Kaileena reasoned.
“Yes. Probably worked the thing into a frenzy. You would know better than I what happened next.”
Zolin held her tighter.
“The loss of her, and the seeming loss of you, broke Lenao’s heart. He made preparations in case you still lived, and then...he passed not long after. The Hitorigami himself oversaw the funerary rites, and interred his body and your mother’s with honor.”
“Though.” the construct added slyly, “He never actually saw your mother’s body. Would you like to go to them?”
“They are here?!”
She gulped, let Zolin help her to her feet.
Outside of the tower, in a previously unseen shaft of stone behind the gardens, there was a stairway leading down to a sealed natural cavern. Moss and Vines grew in uneven patches across tiles and support pillars in a style very alien to Teikoku, and windowless arches allowed in intermittent rays of sunlight.
At the end of a cavern there was a statue of a winged maiden, her hands outstretched by her waist, palms up. She wore robes not belonging to Teikoku. And her features...
Kaileena felt like she was looking into a mirror.
“Is that her?”
“Yes.“Golem replied, “Minus the wings, of course. He’d commissioned the piece to reflect what she truly was. What you could be.”
Behind the statue, there was an alcove behind each hand. In each alcove, lined with candles that somehow burned still, was a richly ornamented urn.
“Their ashes were mixed together and spread into the sea.” Golem explained, “Per their request. But a few bone fragments remained, and were interred here.”
Kneeling before the alcoves, Kaileena brushed a hand against each urn. The metal felt cool against her hand, textured.
“My mother. And my father...” she said softly, still in shock, “I had parents. A mother...and a father...”
“An adviser to the Hitorigami.” Golem added, “And an ambassador from the outer realms. And skilled practitioners besides. So chin up, milady; you have the pedigree of two of the most powerful and influential beings this side of Teikoku. A noble at birth, and if you’ve found your way back here I imagine you’ve certainly inherited their knack for inventiveness. But remember that what you are is only the pale specter of what you could be, thanks to them.”
“...and with your permission...I would offer you another inheritance.”
She turned, and Golem, fitted with a pack, withdrew a pair of wrapped cloths, and offered the smaller one first. Unwrapping it, Kaileena found an engraved wood and bronze disk emblazoned with a symbol; the Imperial Kamon, a stylized chrysanthemum flower, in bronze relief.
The symbol of the royal family; the Hitorigami’s family.
“This crest was your father’s, bequeathed by the Hitorigami himself.” Golem explained, “It offers its holder the social status equal to a Lord, by right able to ask food, lodging, supplies, and assistance from any citizen of the realm. The Karyudo Kisai cannot touch you, so long as you obey this land and its laws. This will keep you safe from most threats.”
“And this...” he added, “Will keep you safe from the rest.”
Within this bundle was a sword; a wakizashi, single-edged, about three-quarters the length of her arm in all. Its handle was wrapped cloth and manta ray skin, the former a midnight blue lined with violet, the latter black. Its ornamentation was silver, including its pommel, richly filigreed and tipped with a dollop of moonstone, with a length of tassel draping down it, tied about a cluster of white, blue, turquoise, and violet feathers. Its guard, circular, depicted a crescent moon eclipsing a sun. The blade itself was no metal, but a pale, opaque crystal, which shimmered with enchantment.
Never in her life had she seen such a regal weapon.
“I...” Kaileena stammered, “I cannot wield this...”
“Say the command word.”
She looked to him, bewildered.
“The Moon’s light reveals...” Golem insisted, “Say it.”
“The Moon’s light reveals...” Kaileena repeated blankly, and gasped as the strange ore clanged violently as its edge bent forward, and then backward further down the length, its tip splitting, thickening and expending into a barb. The moonstone pommel formed a crescent-shaped spike, as long as her finger.
And suddenly the wakizashi looked more like a khopesh in the shape of a crescent moon, fit to be wielded with two hands.
“Your mother was enamored with Selûne.” Golem explained, “Or its equivalent moon-related aspect of Qotal or perhaps Kukul, at least. Several among her flight were. They often fashioned weapons, armor, instruments, and jewelry in the image of its phases. This is Tsukuyumi, the “Moon Bow.”
“It is no bow.”
“Your mother had a sense of humor.” was all Golem replied with.
It was kind of shaped like a bow. Kaileena couldn’t help but smirk.
“I can’t wield it.”
“Idiocy.” Golem interrupted, “Your mother was a warrior without compare in her humanoid form. If she’d had the mind to do it, she could have forcibly unseated any one of the Four Lords in trial by combat. Maybe the men of this land have cause for concern, to erect such a law.”
It looked unwieldy. Indeed, she could barely lift it. The blade shimmered in the light as she pulled it up, both hands on its handle, which had expanded with the rest of the sword. She heard music, like the jingling of bells, and exhaled, accustoming to its weight.
“I will wield it.” Kaileena replied, no trace of hesitancy.
“Then it’s settled then.” Golem said cheerfully, “I’ll get started on the enchantments that will coax your wing buds to life. It was meant to be done when you were a toddler, so it’ll hurt a bit more, but...”
“That can wait a bit, I think.” Kaileena interrupted him, “With the bounty settled, and protection from Minamoto, I need to return to my brother. He will want to know all that has happened.”
“Of course milady, of course. Will you be taking Lenao’s journal with you?”
How had he known she was carrying it? No matter.
“Will you go now?”
“Alright then. I won’t set the table. But come back quickly! I’d hate to think of losing you after you just showed up. Your mother would have cut a nice big slice of me in recompense, don’t you doubt!”