The Path in the Shadow, Book 1 of the Enchanter's Cycle

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Chapter 17

With a few hours to prepare thanks to Vala’s divinations, the Te Fukushu were ready as the portal opened.

Koukatsuna crossed the breach first, a smile on his face and his swords in his hands, knowing there’d be battle the moment he set foot in Teikoku. A being, like a Skraul with tusks, eyed him wide as his feet touched ground on the other side, and it didn’t look anything like what he was told to expect of humans.

Too bad for him. Koukatsuna beheaded it with a clean stroke.

It was bright, and warm. Green everywhere. Scents of wood and smoke and sweat. There was a walled city, with many humans battling enemies akin to the one he’d just killed, and as the rest of the Te Fukushu stormed through he decided to take to the heightened position and lend a hand to the natives.

The Skraul army was arranged in a reverse-wedge formation, not unlike an upside down triangle, allowing the highest rate of troops to scale the wall without much fear of long ranged weaponry. Not that vampyres felt fear much

Having arrived at a spot perpendicular to them, he took to the wall rather than charge at their flank, a burst of unnatural speed acting against gravity as he ran up a ninety degree angle.

Reaching the top, Koukatsuna landed on the shoulders of a hapless vampyre hybrid, swords down, spearing the beast through its lungs. A pair moved to intercept.

Pulling his weapons free as they tumbled, Koukatsuna leaped off and spun into a flourish, cutting one at the ankle and another in the throat, and reversed his spin, knocking them both aside with a pair of horizontal cuts deep enough to show bone.

Arrows were launched, whether from natives, Silkrit, or the vampyres, he knew not, and he slid into a sprint as the battlement peppered with wooden shafts.

A pureblood Skraul charged towards him, and Koukatsuna ducked backwards while crosscutting, dealing two diagonal cuts to the underbelly that split mail and spilled bowels. They went down, and Koukatsuna left them for another to finish.

A native pushed through a mob of vampyres, robed in blue and purple and black plate. Koukatsuna grinned, slamming the butt of Waru into a hybrid while plunging Saku into its kidney, angling his body low and wide to manage the maneuver.

As the native closed rank on him, flanked by guards, the bladedancer quickly lowered his weapons as a sign of goodwill, and the human eyed him sidelong. He didn’t seem so shocked by his appearance; he must have seen a Silkrit before.

Whether it was his departed master or not that this human had seen, Koukatsuna looked over the wall, motioning to the Te Fukushu flanking the advancing horde of vampyres and pelting them with arrows and light orbs, using their lightly armored spearmen to strike and retreat rather than meet them head on.

The native followed his gaze, and nodded, pointing towards the far end of the wall. Squinting, Koukatsuna thought he saw a metal platform of sorts, complete with long, cylindrical protrusions. Some kind of weapon?

Koukatsuna nodded, blades drawn, and rushed into the mass between them and their goal, the humans close behind. He speared organs and deep tissue with his attacks, the barbs of his blade pulling half of what he cut out of the victims’ bodies. A black arrow punched into his shoulder, but he hardly felt it.

Snarling, he didn’t pick his target; the vampyres were packed so tightly that he needed not choose one at a time!

Gokushi smiled, savoring her kill, even as the living and quite hostile Silkrit halted her invasion of Fusestu. For now.

The Djinn looked down to her, blue blood gushing from his lips, and smiled, “No. I’m afraid I cannot afford to lose.”

He laughed, and his body blurred, becoming insubstantial, his flesh like rippling water, inside of which gamboled runic symbols of pure light, of indecipherable complexity and interchanging at random. She perceived, but did not understand, a force nearly as old as the multi-verse, a fragment of the godly being Surthath. In that moment, she knew divine terror as she had not since witnessing Dur’Artoth’s unfettered presence as a child.

Raw, chaotic magicka exploded outward from the wounded Djinn and struck her, breaking Kyoki halfway down its length and dissolving away the segments inside his body. The other version of him that was battling with her pureblood soldiers vanished.

Gokushi poured strength into her personal wards, reeling, as Alteriun invoked a tremendous wave of power that splintered the ground beneath them. Jagged shards of rock tore free to impale her servitors, before shattering like explosives and obliterating those struck.

Her concentration wavered, partially compromising the field of shadow which was negating sunlight, and several Orcs around her cowered with blackening patches of skin. She was outclassed; this was no fledgling Djinn…it would’ve taken one of the stronger Matriarchs to defeat him. But that didn’t mean she would lose the day.

“Father!” she roared, invoking a prayer to the One True God, “Grant me the embrace of the void! Consume my essence and claim this day in your name!”

He answered her prayer. Gokushi held out a hand, her flesh paling, veins blackening. She smiled, then laughed, as Alteriun plunged his staff into her chest like a spear, piercing her heart.

She did not die.

He invoked a blast of raw arcane energy, which smote her and burned like fire.

She did not die.

He pulled out his staff, and beheaded her.

She did not die.

Gokushi screamed, separating from her body entirely, which crumbled to dust.

Separate from her physical being, she assumed the mantle he provided; the great R’yzthaek! She perceived many limbs, which she could alter at will into feelers, claws, or tentacles, an amorphous core, and a new plethora of offensive capabilities.

She screamed again, but it was of triumph, and the Djinn and her army alike cowered in fear. Her many limbs sank into Alteriun’s incorporeal body, comprised of spirit more than flesh. As he cried out in pain, she recovered her darksteel rapier and activated its final ability.

Enshi looked with some disdain upon the clockwork metropolis which housed the ruler of Teikoku. His stronghold was…tacky, at best.

Her Alaae consort wrapped her in his heavily muscled arms, and his membranous wings unfolded, taking flight, masked from the sun’s light by her magicka. While unattractive, with their grey warty skin, hunched bodies, and long, spindly arms, the Alaae were fearsome to behold. The fact that they were also vampyres, albeit diluted, made them kin enough for her to be enticed. Purebloods no longer satisfied her needs as a mindless, soulless husk could.

Musekaeru, her Blood-Forged garrote-sword, a gift from her beloved sister, slid from its scabbard as she was lowered down onto the palace’s balcony.

“Silently.” she hissed, stepping inside, wincing at the sporadic torches inside. She preferred obscuring darkness.

With a hiss of exhaled air, she transmuted her body and assumed the form of a cloud of transparent smoke, almost completely undetectable. In this form, she floated through the halls, an unseen specter of death.

It didn’t take long to find the Hitorigami’s protectors and staff. One clean motion, and Musekaeru’s thread wound around one’s throat, asphyxiating it. With a necromantic charm, she reanimated the corpse, controlling basic movement until rigor mortis inevitably petrified it.

Return to your patrol as if nothing is amiss. If you are confronted, assure them nothing is wrong and that you are merely drowsy.” Enshi commanded telepathically, and the walking corpse was on its way without a sound.

She would repeat the process until the entire palace was under her control, then attack the Hitorigami himself. She would kill him, dominate him, and command his army to stand down as the Alaae sacked his capital.

What was left of the city would then be turned, to supplement her armies.

Another died at her hands. Then another. Then another. It was sad, really. Enshi almost hoped that somebody would raise an alarm, almost. ...Seventeeneighteen

She still had a few minutes left before the palace rearranged itself, and all outside the Hitorigami’s personal chambers were under her control. She willed them to seal off the palace doors, separating it from the capital.

In this final chamber, she seeped through the cracks of its door. Her Alaae servitors attacked in unison as she did so. With fangs, claws, and darksteel, they dispatched their enemies in the shadows throughout the city, slaying at will.

The Hitorigami’s private chambers were large, open, with marble and jade tiles and elaborate frescos of watercolor paint. She’d take this room as her pleasure chamber, she decided. All she’d need to do was replace the marble with obsidian, the water in its twin fountains with magickally conjured wine, the white curtains with red, and erect a communal bed at the raised platform for assorted debauchery, and it would perfectly suit her tastes.

The Hitorigami, the ruler of all Teikoku, sat in meditation in the very center of the chamber, his legs crossed and a serene look on his face.

The matriarch closed in, returning to physical form, each footstep utterly silent. Holding Musekaeru with a two-handed reverse grip, Enshi loomed over the mortal, aiming for the base of his spine. It would be a quick kill, far better than what she’d normally offer, but time was of the essence.

She struck home…and her blade passed right through him, as if he wasn’t really there. He opened his eyes, and looked back to her.

“Golems!” He shouted, and the empty suits of armor she’d thoughtlessly passed in the hallway outside suddenly burst into the room, swords and clubs drawn.

Enshi burst into motion, Musekaeru extending, a length of garrote cord between handle and blade, constricting around one armored construct and slicing its head cleanly off, the fleshy material inside its armor like wet clay. She sidestepped three weapon strokes by sword wielders, their unified attacks perfectly synchronized, and swung in a reverse grip that cleanly separated a golem from left waist to right shoulder, its body collapsing under its own weight.

Returning her weapon to sword form, Enshi parried a second series of attacks, catching four blades with her own, pressing them back.

“Alaae!” she snapped, recalling her slaves, each protected by wards against detection and the sun, as she dissolved into smoke, fell through the miniscule cracks in the floor, and reappeared on the other side of the room, running another through.

Pulling Musekaeru free, Enshi parted its head in a clean stroke, and winced as the decapitated figure turned and resumed attacking her, unmindful.

“Of course. Constructs.” she mused, targeting its energy core instead, which she presumed to be in its upper chest. Through a second impaling, the construct still tried to strike her, and Enshi dissolved into smoke, forcing her way down into its chest wound, then expanded outward, exploding through and ejecting a clear gem in which swirled tenebrous cloudy wisps.

She returned to physical form, and thrust her sword through the gem, and the construct instantly crumbled into dust, “I think you need better guards.”

“Oh, I agree completely.” a voice echoed from inside the room. Enshi turned, and barely had time to parry as a massive glassteel mace slammed into her raised defenses, rocketing her to the far wall.

She landed feet-first on the flat vertical plane, and grimaced as she saw a Djinn approaching her. It was male, and its wings had to fold inwards for its massive, heavily muscled body to even fit through the door, “I find long introductions tiresome, so I am Adahj, he who will be ending your life.”

She leaped off, thrusting her sword, which propelled by its thread in similar fashion to a Jōhyō rope dart. Adahj vanished, and now on the ground, she retracted Musekaeru and turned to parry as he materialized behind her. Again, the tremendous impact sent her sprawling.

Her hands hit the ground first, and she somersaulted backwards, using the momentum to gain precious distance. Adahj closed that distance immediately, but Enshi dispersed into smoke, and all he struck was air. She forced her way down his throat, she made her sword tangible, running him through from the inside.

More a distraction than anything; the only way to kill a Djinn was by destroying the heart or removing the head. Lacking sight or hearing, she could sense his heart, beating slowly but heavily like the bellows of a forge, covered in thick bone plates that prevented grievous harm.

Concentrating her body around it, she slowly, gradually began to penetrate its overlapping plating, that she might squeeze the life from it.

Suddenly, she found herself unable to move inside his body. It was like all his muscles were tensed, locking her in place.

“I have you now!” Adahj bellowed, his words and respiration wet with his own blood, and the Matriarch was expelled. The Djinn rattled off a hasty counterspell, and Enshi felt her body suddenly solidify.

The Hitorigami’s Golems circled around her, but then her Alaae minions poured into the room alongside the guards she'd enthralled to do battle with them.

“Are you ready to give up?” Adahj teased, drawing a second identical flanged mace in his other hand, “If you beg for it, I will give you a quick death.”

Enshi snarled, willing Musekaeru to return to her hands, for it was still embedded in his flesh. It didn’t budge.

“No magicka for you. I find it unseemly that something so hideous be given the ability to use my father’s power, even if only by the graces of his bastard offspring.” The Djinn said, lunging towards her with maces in hand, his blue runes flaring, detonating in a concussive blast that swept aside the Alaae that rushed to defend her.

Enshi ducked under a mace swing, and then the second, gripping the Djinn’s shoulder and in turn pushing herself over the next reverse swing. He was both fast and strong, but his movements were predictable. Maces never quite compared to the versatility of a proper blade.

“Not nimble enough.” Adahj noted, and as Enshi landed on her feet, grabbed the handle of Musekaeru, and pulled it free, she was forced back by lightning fast strikes from a pair of falchions. She could not fathom how, but Adahj’s weapons had instantly changed, forcing her to retreat outright. He harried her, as the weapons transformed again into thrusting spears, melting down and reforming in mere instants.

“Curious? My weapons are not glassteel, in fact, they are forged of a substance that I perfected through many, many transmutations. It is called Everice, a crystal compound that never absorbs heat from outlying sources unless I command it to, and therefore is neither cold to the touch nor capable of melting.” Adahj explained, alternating between furious jabs from his weapons and his own wing talons, which were tipped with metal spikes.

Her consort tried interposing himself between them, and was slain when the spears returned to maces and struck three times; ribcage, throat, skull, all in quick succession, and kicked into her with the force to send her back to the wall had she not slid under the body mid-flight.

Musekaeru was inert, thanks to his counterspell; Enshi could not assume her other forms, so she frenzied her slaves, spurring them telepathically with her rising ire. She would not lose to this creature of Surthath! Surthath, who corrupted her beloved sister and brought about her ruin!

“You’ve already lost; my repeating counterspell prevents you from using any and all magicka outside of inherent abilities. You are hopelessly outmatched.” Adahj mocked, but she had another idea entirely.

Enshi leaped forward, sliding under his cross strike, and bit into his underarm, drinking his energy-rich blood. Several Alaae responded to her next order, and piled atop them both, pinning them. Though she could not release the power that filled her, every ounce she gained was lost to her enemy.

His continuous counterspell dissipated, and Musekaeru activated in response, dispersing everything but her fangs into smoke. She could feed, but Adahj was powerless to attack.

Suddenly she felt…heavy. Everything was dark, her vision obstructed by the mass of hybrids…but Enshi knew something was very wrong.

Something wrong?” Adahj asked telepathically, startling her. How could he force a link with her, unless-

A most intriguing gift from Surthath; back when my kind granted wishes, we were able to do so to mortals in their last moments of life. Should they be unable to speak, we would still be able to save them by forcing a telepathic connection without consent or even awareness. I’ve been in your mind since it all went dark.” The Djinn explained, “You see….you’re drowning.

As a pureblood vampyre, Enshi didn’t need to breathe in the proper sense, but running water was a genuine threat. It could break apart any undead creature, especially without the protections of magicka. She ordered her minions to back away, and with the light of the chamber filling in, Enshi saw that she was inside a floating mass of water. Adahj renewed his continuous counterspell just as she tried to teleport away, and she screamed, enraged

Enshi tried to float away in true physical form, but the water churned violently, disorienting her, its pressure preventing movement. In desperation, she ordered all Alaae to cease combat with the remaining golems and attack the Djinn. Without spells to intervene, she was trapped!

Nothing personal. Surthath wishes you dead, as does my dear friend here.” Adahj projected smugly. The golems were pushing her slaves away from Adahj, away from her, and Enshi thrashed wildly, desperate. Her breath expelled in a storm of bubbles, and black spots closed around her vision. No doubt, her flesh would begin to disintegrate soon.

How could it end like this?! She was to stand by those who would conquer all the Veil! She would restore her poor, dear sister, Kogoeji-ni, and together they would ascend even the Matriarchy!

Another power filled the chamber, of such gravity and menace that its source was obvious. She felt herself being pulled into the Faded Veil, into a chamber inhabited by a single being. A woman. Despite a sort of terror that transcended even Dur’Artoth’s displeasure, her next thought was one of relief…

“Well, that was disappointing.” the Kamiyonanayo mused, stepping over one of the demonic invaders, even then disintegrating into ash.

Mikoto rose to his feet, dispelling his protections and looking down at the ruined golems that he’d taken such pains to construct. A minor thing, a pittance, beside the bodies of his servants.

“Disappointing is not the word I would use.” he replied dryly, “Nevertheless, I am pleased to see you again, my dear friend.”

Adahj smiled, sadly, “I am sorry. For all that had transpired, too. You understand, of course, that a Djinn, even a young one such as myself, is normally forbidden from interfering in mortal affairs. I would have helped sooner, but for Surthath’s decree.”

With that, they embraced, in a manner like family more than fellow warriors, though Mikoto felt like a child when pressed against Adahj’s nine-foot, several hundred pound bulk. He suffered it for a time, for Adahj did not loosen his grip. The Hitorigami understood well enough how difficult it must have been, being unable to intervene on his behalf.

“What will happen now?” he asked, disengaging, and Adahj shook his head, “I cannot say. Your city is safe for now, but I am unsure as to the rest of your nation. Two allies of mine have followed me into Aurora to respond to the Skraul threat, but you must gather your allies as well if you are to survive.”

Mikoto nodded, “I have the Four Lords and the Karyudo Kisai; the latter well trained for dealing with magicka users, and my army is strong. If more of your kind enter the field...”

Adahj did not respond, staring to the side with his long, pointed ears raised the way they were when he was thinking.

“What is it?” he asked, and the Kamiyonanayo began to pace, “It’s troubled me that I have not felt the presence of R’yzthaek. It’s the next logical step of this conflict; each side resorting to greater measures. And yet the Dread Hammer seems reticent in unleashing his own native Djinn.”

Mikoto didn’t comprehend the species or individuals that Adahj was naming. In truth, the name blurred in his mind’s eye when he tried to consider it, as if his mind was unwilling to fathom this particular combination of mundane letters.

“Your equivalent…they are your equivalent?” Mikoto asked, and the Kamiyonanayo shook his head, “No. They are far stronger, akin to one of my elders.”

Minamoto charged alongside his new, unlikely ally, cutting down enemies with every stroke of his sword.

Daring a glance over the wall, he could see the enemy spilling into Fusestu like an evil flood, setting fires as they went. It couldn’t be helped…not just yet.

The lizard man, distant kinfolk to Kaileena, perhaps, darted between two invaders, double-edged blades blurring as cut them down, then parried two strikes simultaneously from the next two in line as he kicked one off the wall, parried, and beheaded the other.

Two more flanked from behind, and Minamoto turned to see the lieutenant dragged off the wall and disemboweled. His second in command, Fumisato, was run through by a massive Ōdachi and flung bodily, landing somewhere amid the encroaching horde. The bearer of the weapon was at least twice the size of any of the others, its lupine features exaggerated to the point it looked more beast than man. It roared a fearsome battle cry, and charged him.

Minamoto activated the enchantment of his katana, Sasu, and hurled the deadly weapon overhead, its edge digging into the spiked metal suit the creature wore but not penetrating deeply. He hadn’t intended it to.

He teleported forward, slightly to the side of its body, and he drew Sasu free, slashing across its throat and spilling black-red blood. Seemingly oblivious, the beast drove forward unimpeded, butting its plated shoulder with his and collapsing him. He recovered as best he could, winded and suffering a possible dislocation.

As the lizard man fought to rejoin him, separated by a trio of invaders, Minamoto gritted his teeth, snapped his shoulder back into alignment, and parried another swing, his guard to the Ōdachi’s tip, the better to displace its deadly momentum. Still, it struck with enough force to slam the back of his own blade into his chest, winding him further and hurling him back several paces. He retained his footing only with skillful technique and no small amount of agility.

Knowing he stood little chance against the sheer brute strength of his foe, Minamoto lunged forward, the better to force its hand before getting too much momentum with that terrible weapon, dealing a diagonal stroke, which was parried, then followed up with a roll and a low sweep from the back.

While any ordinary sword might have deflected off its greaves, Sasu was enchanted to deal grievous damage to armored foes, and its calves separated at the ankles. It bent forward, unable to bear its own weight, and the limbs split apart, crippling it. A swift backhand parted its head and silenced its cries of pain.

His strange new ally had cleared the battlement of foes between him and the chain gun, and Minamoto pushed past two humanoids he didn't take the time to identify, priming it to fire.

He turned a crank, setting the weapon onto the pulley system via a lead counterweight, and began cranking the lever that turned the eight cylindrical barrels and fed the ammo clip in and out of the firing mechanism.

With the crackling of a hundred bolts of lightning, the portion of the army still outside Fusestu were decimated, led in circles by the lizardfolk or struggling to scale over their fellows onto the wall. Enemy archers fired on his position in a panic, but his ward enchantment deflected anything that would’ve actually hit him, specialized for projectile-based attacks. A few buried fletching-deep into the wall, causing his reptilian ally to curse and crouch behind him.

With the flow of enemies stunted by his actions, his soldiers began to retake the wall, the bodies of men and beasts hurled from the battlements like drops of water in a rainstorm. He couldn’t see the ammunition belt from his seat, specifically, how many rounds he still had. It had to be enough.

“Send a contingent to clear the city streets. Isolate and kill any that got inside!” he ordered, his words carried to his surviving lieutenants via enchantment.

With his men having retaken the walls in the lull of attackers, riflemen began picking off climbers as they had in the initial assault, backed by katana and naginata bearers who cut down any that ascended too close.

“They must have been counting on something else to ensure their victory.” Minamoto thought to himself. Wait. There was something…something far to the south. He couldn’t quite make it out, but he knew something was happening there.

Even from so far away, Minamoto heard screaming…

Starseeker teleported himself several paces away, out of reach of its tentacles, and the amorphous R’yzthaek gurgled, perhaps the equivalent of laughter, its writhing, amorphous body spewing incantations so foul that the nearest Orcs and purebloods suddenly clawed at their own ears, wailing in pain.

Only his nature as an immortal spared him from the spell of madness, but Starseeker nevertheless flummoxed his spell casting, the next attack dying stillborn with his momentary lapse of concentration.

He looked down, to find that the tentacle tips sliced off as he teleported away were still embedded in his body, still alive, still trying to burrow into his incorporeal flesh. He returned to his physical state, unable to regenerate otherwise, and the Skraul-R’yzthaek closed on him, emitting a paralyzing shriek that disrupted his telepathy.

He barked out a hasty counterspell, attempting to unravel the bindings that held the creature to the Veil. Such a being couldn’t manifest naturally, even now.

It cackled wildly, each limb projecting a cone of disruptive telepathic energy, meant to immobilize him long enough to consume him, and Starseeker teleported far left, the threads of his next spell already upon his lips.

While doing so, he tensed his muscles in such a way that they pushed the appendages out of the wounds all along his chest and arms. The R’yzthaek shrieked again, from its body emerging a set of bladed pincers, and again his casting was disrupted by its telepathy, as they plunged forward, jabbing him in several places.

Now he roared in anger, slamming the butt of his staff against it as it closed in for the kill, discharging a powerful electric shock via enchantment. The R’yzthaek ignored it, and latched again onto his arms and shoulders with its pincers, cutting deeply into flesh. Starseeker cried out, now in genuine peril. He couldn’t withstand its simultaneous physical and telepathic barrage without a moment to collect himself. A moment his foe would not allow him.

Toshisha!” a woman shouted from the side, and the R’yzthaek whimpered, detaching itself. He saw an animated whipblade coiled about it, barbed segments cutting deeply.

Starseeker blasted the R’yzthaek with chaotic magicka; arcane fire burning away two of its tentacle arms, and fell to a knee, shivering from wound-shock. A few moments. Just a few moments, to catch his breath...

“Hello, sister…” the woman, an Orc vampyre, said coldly, “…my dear sister.”

The R’yzthaek twisted and fired a volley of dark energy concentrated into conical beams. The female didn’t try to dodge, and instead wrapped herself in her weapon. Not wanting to risk his unlikely ally, Starseeker launched his own attack in the form of a counterspell similar to the one he’d tried to use earlier, this time directly targeting its casting rather than its bindings. The vile energy suddenly dissipated.

No longer at risk, the female Orc spun in a graceful dance, her whipblade striking the creature at higher and higher points, tangling and lacerating as it went. Starseeker closed his eyes, finding his inner focus, this time attempting to directly combat whatever power had shaped the Skraul into the abomination it was now.

As the spell took effect, he could intuit the visual blueprint of the magicka he was combating; the field of energy maintaining its transformation. It was meticulous…complex…but Starseeker was an ancient and immortal being, his strength and prowess comparable to a small army of archmagi. He was not one to be deterred.

Focusing all his willpower into a direct attack on the creature’s network of sustaining magicka, he struck. He met a wall of resistance, and sought out even the most minute imperfections in its telepathic defenses, much as a mortal would break through a wall by targeting the weakest bricks at its foundation.

It nearly destroyed him, sapped much of his vital essence, but he broke through. He split the connection between the source and its host; the Skraul abomination and the malignant plane of Darkmoor.

It shrieked, but in pain and fear, its membranous skin thinning, revealing the swirling corruption beneath. Inside the maelstrom of its destabilizing life-force, he saw hundreds of tortured faces, writhing an agony.

Several armed Silkrit rushed in towards what they saw only as a blur of motion, slicing and stabbing wildly at something their mortal minds simply couldn’t comprehend. The Orc, smiling wickedly, stood impassively as it imploded, consuming itself into nothingness. She, somehow, had been privy to its unfettered nature, which disturbed him more fully than the R’yzthaek itself.

She bowed to him, offering her whipblade, which reverted to a bone dagger.

He found he couldn’t stand properly, more due to fatigue than his wounds, but he motioned for her to rise as his regenerative properties began to close the deep punctures all across his chest.

It was at this point he noticed that the Skraul were in complete disarray and many routing altogether, their lines broken against the combined Human and Silkrit forces and demoralized by the dissolution of their protective shroud of darkness. Even the mindless hybrids, creatures of base instinct, fled from the terror sunlight inspired in all undead beings.

The Orc female, likewise deprived of its protective gloom, hissed, and set her hood and scarf, drawing her cloak tightly to muffle the sun’s light. But how had the Silkrit arrived in Teikoku? And when?

As he finally managed to stand fully, one approached them, putting away his tanto and shield.

“Kamiyonanayo?” he asked uncertainly, reciting one of the erroneous names mortals used for his kind, and he nodded, looking back to the city, then to the sky, the sun a thin red line on the horizon. Hours had passed with little notice.

Starseeker shook his head uncertainly, and limped, then walked to the human city, seeing what he could do to lend assistance.

Rain down from blackened skies the wrath of heaven and sea…” Dekeshi whispered, drawing more of her divine power to fuel her next spell, a storm that would ravage the remainder of the two fleets...including those crewed by the Renmei Keiji. They would serve her better as flotsam, to be dragged up and temporarily reanimated. A zombie army invading the coast sounded lovely.

The Koriko immediately near her flinched, and she halted her casting to dodge the unseen strike. A glassteel dagger thudded into the deck, crackling with unspent magicka, and she turned and saw her assassin perched on the mainmast, for her invisibility had dissipated the moment she hurled it, “I recall your face from my last sojourn into this tiresome world. How fare you, Elurra?”

The Djinn smiled calmly, though her blue eyes, which burned with their own, inner light, narrowed dangerously. Her thin wings outstretched, emerging from beneath her cloak as she completed a spell, emitting a pulse of telekinetic energy that knocked several crewmen overboard before solidifying into a magickal barrier, a hemisphere that encompassed about a fifth of the deck.

“Itching to repay you for robbing us of a viable ally. You ran with your tail between your legs, as they say. I never got to see you fight in earnest.” Elurra replied, gliding down and drawing her weapons. Short, slender, and gently curving, her twin swords were forged of an opaque, pale blue crystalline material inlaid with golden filigree, their handles wrapped in elegantly embroidered cloth.

Her skin, oil black, shimmered with magicka, marked with intricate arcane sigils that burned the blue of her eyes. Her hair, a light turquoise, flowed freely to her waist. She was armored in burnished gold scale-mail accented with dark blue silks embroidered with flakes of diamond and sapphire. She’d always looked ravishing, if nothing else

“I have a better idea; how about you lay down your arms and let me claim you as my prize. I could treat you as I had not my traitorous sister. Oh, how you would scream in pain and pleasure…” Dekeshi purred, her trident Iki-o-Korosu harboring other intentions, “Leave her unspoiled”.

Chikara and Warugashikoi called upon their magicka and penetrated Elurra’s barrier, charging her, their darksteel weapons retorting violently as Elurra’s thinblades broke their momentum.

They disengaged, reeling, and converged, striking in perfect harmony, but Elurra countered both by closing her weapons back against her sides, using her body to absorb the impact, and then reversing the motion by forcing the thinblades back outward.

An aura of white-hot flame emerged from the runes of her body, spreading along the length of her weapons, and Elurra took the offensive, spinning in a flourish that sent her primes backpedaling, every ring of metal punctuated by a pained hiss as her superheated aura singed them, sending up rivulets of smoke and the stench of charred fabric and flesh.

In all her years, Dekeshi had never seen such dazzling acrobatics; with practiced ease, Elurra spun, somersaulted, cart-wheeled, and leaped in blinding displays, using her knees, heels, and wing talons as weapons just as much as her swords.

Chikara and Warugashikoi backpedaled, stung from multiple minor cuts, each of which smoldered painfully, and drove in low, but Elurra swung out and low, knocking their swords to either side. Fools; they both fell right into her trap, the small hooked talons at the ends of her wings jabbing into their shoulders, pinning them by their weapon arm. A vicious double-thrust-high, and her Primes fell, clutching their hearts.

“A pity. It takes a long time to breed those worthy of becoming primes.” Dekeshi said with a grimace at the sight of their bodies, before casting a hasty preservation spell that would delay their decomposition. If she had the time, she’d reanimate them.

She flourished Iki-o-Korosu, discharging a bolt of concentrated magicka that would directly consume life force. A ward came into being immediately as Elurra turned to face her, manifesting as a luminous fist-sized orb that orbited her body, which rippled and winked out of existence as a duplicate of Dekeshi’s own spell was sent back to her. A spell reflection.

Her protective sheath of shadow magicka deflected it harmlessly, and she laughed at the audacity, “Child’s play. I’ll show you how a chosen servant of God Death can fight. And then we can move on to other forms of stimulation.”

A moment and Dekeshi closed the distance between them, trident aimed for her pretty little face. Elurra ducked low, and Dekeshi spun her weapon, catching her with its shaft under the kneecap, upending her and preventing any momentum from the inevitable retaliatory strikes that she deflected easily.

The tight spacing would normally have benefited Elurra, with her smaller, lighter weapons, but Dekeshi used her trident to tangle her up. She pulled Elurra close from behind, intent to bite, only to take their head plate to the chin. She braced herself, and hurled the Djinn overhead, into the stairway to the lower decks, but Elurra hit the door at the bottom horizontally by the bottoms of her toes, landed on the palms of her hands, before somersaulting to her feet, twin thinblades in reverse grip.

They met atop the stairs, striking, parrying, and maneuvering for optimal position, in Elurra’s case, thrusting her blades in irregular patterns to confuse and disorient, in hers, angling her trident head to twist and swat them aside at the tips, the better to wear out her wrists and eventually disarm her. While her trident could easily pierce Elurra’s heart, bone plates and all, killing her wasn’t Dekeshi’s end.

She’d been aching for a new plaything.

Dekeshi changed her stance as Elurra retracted her wings, scaled the railing, and somersaulted over her, thinblades narrowly missing the back her neck. In the blink of an instant, they met again, weapons ringing, and Dekeshi delivered a kick to Elurra’s midsection as her momentum played out.

The Djinn hit the ground hands first, landing in a controlled roll, and was upright in time to parry the impaling strike of Iki-o-Korosu, which discharged vile, poisonous magicka that doubled her over.

When the cloud of fumes dispersed, there was nothing there, and Dekeshi turned in time to block a ferocious crosscut from behind.

“Come now. I was a Magi as a mortal. I have to have a few sorcerous tricks to use…” Elurra chided.

“A trick of my own, then.” Dekeshi snapped, renewing her attack. Elurra summoned a magickal aegis to repel the attack, but her movements were sluggish, and the Djinn frowned in confusion, retreating.

“My Iki-o-Korosu bears several unique enchantments.” Dekeshi explained, “First and foremost, it can control the seas and skies. But organic life is primarily comprised of water; the fluids running in your body.”

“Fluid that you can modify by altering its density.” Elurra concluded, “If you wanted to, you could have maimed me with that attack.”

Dekeshi repeated the ability, and the glassteel thinblades drooped with their holder’s arms, scraping the deck. She approached, calm and confident…and then Elurra smirked, “Well, I see a solution to this…”

The runes across her skin flared, indicative of expended magicka, and Elurra’s body and armor suddenly faded into a translucent outline filled with cloudy whorls, only the thinblades remaining unchanged. The Djinn bolted to her, and Dekeshi spun her trident to block a flurry of devious swipes and thrusts, grinning fiercely, “You transmuted your body into elemental air? Not good enough; there’s still vapors for me to manipulate. You’re still slower than normal.”

They danced, sword and trident intertwined, Elurra scoring a minor hit to Dekeshi’s thigh, the masterfully forged glassteel cutting through her enameled armored robe with alarming ease.

Iki-o-Korosu drove for the Djinn’s heart, Elurra forced to bend backward with her hands on the ground to avoid its bite, just as she desired. Again, she increased the density of Elurra’s body, and kicked her backward, into her own barrier spell. Rebounding off, the magicka disrupted the enchantments altering her body. All of them.

She reverted to physical form, the sudden shift in states of matter disorienting her.

Again, Dekeshi thrust her trident, and was rewarded with its three barbed points finding purchase in Elurra’s abdomen, far enough for the arches of the trident to touch her coat of mail. Elurra gasped in pain, and Dekeshi mercilessly twisted her weapon.

“I can end the pain. Just ask, and submit yourself to my whims.” Dekeshi mused, and the Djinn looked up with mixed anger and defiance. A second tug remedied that.

Elurra screamed again as Dekeshi wrenched the trident once more, this time tearing through her muscle tissue and leaving a strand of small intestine coiled around the winding darksteel.

“Your cause is lost, Elurra. If you offer yourself to me, I will be merciful.” She purred, leaning on the trident to pin her adversary to the deck, allowing a tender brush of the hand across her raised knee. The Koriko deckhands closed in, her barrier dissipated the loss of focus from the pain.

Dekeshi cooed, “I will make the pain worse, every moment. You had best surrender quickly. The pain will become pleasure if you do, I promise.”

But Elurra was smiling again, spitting blue blood, “You took too long. I had the time to prepare. All this time, I was casting a complex invocation. And the pain was more than enough incentive to cast faster.”

Dekeshi, perplexed, looked over to a sudden bloom of light, and beheld a small blue orb in the distance, like a tiny shooting star. Upon collision with her ship, there was a whoosh of motion, and suddenly she fell forward, her trident digging into the deck and nothing else!

“What?!” she gasped, and noticed that the positions of the fleet were somehow different… Damn.

Elurra had cast a translocation spell around the entire vessel, her entire fleet, and upon activation, they’d been moved a great distance. The human ships were no longer in eyeshot.

“Fine! For you, I can wait a while longer.” Dekeshi mused, knowing now that the beautiful little Djinn would be committed to the battle and would appear again. She would get a little room prepared for breaking her spirit.

In the meantime, they’d get their bearings, and pursue the human vessels. She’d still have her massacre yet!

Kiromichi simply couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

Arainami was slumped against the railing, a sword wound to the gut. Her eyes were blank, and would have hid her last thoughts were it not for that damn smile on her face.

“I really wanted us to screw.” he grumbled, “You were always so interesting outside of the bedroom, I figured...-you know.”

Upon the death of their captain, an insurrection had broken out almost immediately. Some were true believers of the Renmei Keiji, but many, in spite of things, had proven they were still pirates at heart, and knew no loyalty for any great length of time.

He and Arai-…his men, were able to successfully ally with the dissenting faction, and after a few chaotic hours of infighting, the ship was theirs, and it was already sailing away from the chaos.

But then those winged ships had returned, closing the distance quickly. Kiromichi knew well enough that his newly commandeered leviathan was larger, and theoretically, superior, but he also knew well enough that this was no ordinary fleet.

“Ready the schooners; two should carry the remaining crew.” he ordered, unsure if even such light vessels could outrun their pursuers. All their ships, Arainami’s ambitions…all gone. He’d need to return to port, and warn the Hitorigami to raise his armies.

Even then, would it be enough?

There was a flash of light, a whoosh of displaced air, and Kiromichi turned, activating his orb shield and drawing his nameless blade.

A…something…looked up to him, doubled over on the deck with glowing blue fluid dripping from its side and mouth. His men, those proven and those new, rushed to attend him, but he waved them off, uncertain of what to do.

The creature rose unsteadily, dripping more of the blue fluid, and he noticed a deep wound in its underbelly. Blood

“The lifeboats wont avail you. I know a way…a way for you to save yourselves.” it said in an otherworldly, vaguely musical, but distinctly feminine voice, and judging by its figure and dress Kiromichi found it easy to conclude that it was in fact female.

“And what do you suggest, exactly?” he asked, to which the creature nearly collapsed entirely, gagging, “I can teleport us away, ship and all, but I need more energy. I sense an item in your possession that I can draw from, but I would ask for your consent first.”

Kiromichi frowned, eyeing his crystal orb, “I spent much of my time building up that charge…but I also like being alive. Fine; whoever and whatever you are. Take it.”

She nodded gracefully, fully stood up, as the wounds she’d sustained miraculously began to close before his eyes, “It’s Elurra. My name, that is.”

She palmed the orb, chanting. Cannon fire deafened him, as the black ships closed enough for him to see the bug-like things aboard. They didn’t look friendly.

There was a rush of light, nauseating motion, and Lord Kiromichi toppled, his bile hitting the deck just before he did. His ears rang, and it felt as if all the craftsmen’s hammers in the world were pounding on his skull, but he blinked, and found himself still quite alive.

He rose to his feet, and looked over the bow, seeing golden sands and jagged hillocks of stone. Shore. Actually, the leviathan was about two bowshots into shore, the sea just within eyeshot on the other side!

“Alright then, you have my gratitude…Elurra, was it?” he asked, eyeing her as she righted herself and snapped her finger, all the blood flowing off her skin and clothing.

“Yes, I am what you call a Kamiyonanayo, and I mean you no ill will. As I hope my actions have proven.” Elurra replied, looking over the edge of the ship as he had, “Pity; I miscalculated thanks to my injuries. I was actually aiming for that small isle there.”

Kiromichi looked back west, and saw a speck on the horizon that must have been just that, “The Pirate Lords maintain a storage bunker there, complete with foodstuffs and prototype technologies. I figured it would be useful to you now. You are the highest ranking officer aboard this flagship, after all. As far as I’m concerned, you are the new and last Pirate Lord.”

“And the rest of the fleet?” he asked, and earned a look of sheer distress across her alien features. Moisture glistened in her eyes, “I spent too much of myself distracting the Skraul long enough, and to teleport this ship. I couldn’t extend the rift to encompass the others. I’m sorry.”

“Right. Well, alright, I have to say it; What in the name of Hachiman just happened?!” Kiromichi yelled, quite beside himself. How had his day gone so strangely, so quickly?

“Those were the Skraul; servants of Dur’Artoth the Dread Hammer. I trust that name reminds you of the stakes now. You must be the ones to defend this world.”

Ugh; she'd used the end of the world scenario.

“What must I do, Elurra?” he asked, and the Kamiyonanayo shook her head, “I…I am unsure. For now, I need to recuperate, and then set us to the proper course. After that I imagine you will wish to bolster your defenses at Kuchiwaki.”

He nodded, looking back down to Arainami, “Very well. If you can do no more, I would like to see my friend here given a proper burial. Excuse me.”

Minamoto looked upon the fallen, some wrapped in linens for burial, and some still lying in the streets.

Fusestu was as strong as it was beautiful; its buildings heavily fortified since the days of feudal lords reigning without the guidance of a centralized government. His capital was a fortress, and it had endured…but not without a price. Four hundred dead and the entire guild of cannoneers wiped out by some wasting madness.

He vowed to make Yokai pay, would make whoever else that'd had a hand in this pay!

In the meantime he had new allies to welcome, so he hid his grief and his anger, adopting a more pleasant demeanor, as he had long ago learned was a necessary ability for a leader. His men were uneasy as they greeted their guests, similar to Kaileena, yet not.

He was at ease. They had fought on his people’s behalf, and that was the extent of his concern in the matter. They had dead to bury as well.

In any case, four approached from the army; a pair of lizard men, a female eerily similar to the enemy, and a massive black-skinned creature with wings.

“By my honor and the authority of Lord Surthath.” The winged demon said, his eloquence of speech somewhat unexpected by his girth, “Starseeker bids you greeting, Lord Minamoto of Teikoku.”

He nodded, bowing modestly, and the lizard man with the two black swords beside him chuckled rudely. A sphere appeared in Starseeker’s hand, and it detonated outward in a soft burst of energy that enclosed them all in a hemisphere of glowing light. His men drew swords, but he stopped them from advancing, having some idea of what manner of enchantment he was using.

“A speech alteration?” he asked, and Starseeker nodded, noting the confused expressions on the faces of the others, “This spell transcends barriers of language. We can speak freely here without worrying about misunderstandings.”

“Oh really?” the lizard man that had fought beside him atop the battlements noted, chortled, “Here I was telling jokes at their expense. Guess I should have gotten a few more in.”

“I am Shirudo, temporary leader of the Te Fukushu…” the other said, eyeing him neutrally, “We have traveled far to undo the blight that is the Skraul and their dark god Dur’Artoth. If you are their enemy, you are our friend.”

“I see.” Minamoto replied, “It would seem that I am at a disadvantage. We have never encountered these beings before this day, and I am unsure how to approach this threat and reward you for your much needed assistance.”

Starseeker looked west, or…his head faced west, allowing one luminous blue eye to affix on him fully, “This started long before your time, but those which you call the Totoanatsukami have been vying long for the right of deciding the course of the Veil, of all mortal worlds. Some, my father included, believe that you should be free to choose you own destinies, and that if any of us interfere, it should be to the benefit of all. Others…others believe that mortals are nothing but resources, to be used as cattle and slaves. Those beings have come for you today, but you are not alone. This fight is waged upon many worlds; a war to decide the fate of all.”

“There is something else; we believe that one of our own has already arrived in this world. Have you heard any news of him?” Shirudo asked, and Minamoto eyed him, perplexed, “Him?”

The lizard man seemed confused by his comment, and it became clear to Minamoto that Kaileena was not related to these events…at least not directly, “Never mind. I must return to my Hitorigami. Teikoku must marshal its forces.”

Starseeker nodded, “I will remain here, as one of my own kind is already acting in your Hitorigami’s interests there. I will do all I can for your people.”

Shirudo eyed him more carefully, then, “I would also ask for you to vouch for my people, and for the moment to provide lodging and nessessities. We may not be able to return to our home world. In good faith, Koukatsuna will serve alongside your personal guard. Vala will be your prisoner, for we don’t have the facilities to house her.”

The female scowled, “I have no say in the matter, I assume?” to which Starseeker shrugged, “I’m still not certain where you fit into this, vampyre. It would be best, I think.”

“How quickly you dismiss me, Alteriun.” she snapped, referring to him by another name, “I lost more than you can imagine pleading asylum in that monastery.”

He blinked, as surprised as Minamoto had yet seen him, “Kogoeiji-ni?”

Vala nodded, “They took everything from me, because I chose your side over my father’s. Have I not yet earned your trust in killing my sisters? I will accompany Koukatsuna, to serve Minamoto. And I won’t hear a word of it from any of you.”

He nodded, earning a grin from Koukatsuna, “I like the idea. The three of us, butchering Skraul together. It’s so rare I find someone close to my skill with a blade.”

At that Minamoto smiled, “Close to your skill? I imagined myself far superior. You didn’t kill that beast on the wall.”

Koukatsuna seemed confused by that, “Oh? If you say so…”

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