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

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Chapter 5

“I grow weary of your inability to complete this task.” Commander Itaku said, staring up at the hulking monstrosity that was his subordinate.

The Colossus said nothing, he never did, but he gripped his kanabo as if he were about to draw it. Itaku gripped Mujihi in turn, daring him.

“So I’m going to join you in the hunt for Yokai. And we will be boon companions, wont we?”

The Colossus released his hold on the kanabo, and turned away. He frowned, never certain what that one was thinking.

The other patrons kept silent until the Colossus left the tavern. Itaku considered remaining and purchasing a drink; a nice Sake, or maybe that brew that the pirates had brought with them...rum, was it? He sighed, not wanting to delay in the hunt, and left as well.

From the northern peaks to the central farmlands, there were rumors of rogue enchanters snatching up babies and burning down villages. The people were fearful, rightfully so. Whatever he was doing, if indeed he was a part of this, Yokai would be stopped.

Outside the lowly tavern, the village of Fusestu was pleasing to the eye, even in a state of fall remission. The trees still bore leaves all manner of autumn colors, and the air was filled with birdsong, if not winged insects, which were likely in hibernation already. Try as he might, he couldn’t help from walking slowly to take in the scenery, knowing the next few months would be spent in less pleasant locales.

There were traders everywhere, peddling goods with a fervor not often seen this late in the year. He’d always though it odd that the Minamoto family had chosen Fusestu as their capital when it lay so close to the border. Not so much now...

He passed an art shop, and this time succumbed to temptation. He'd long ago developed a fondness for rich colors, and sought to express their beauty through painting. When he wasn’t busying himself with the agendas of the Karyudo Kisai or the politics of the capital, he was in his private quarters, spending as much time finding the right colors as he did actually putting them on canvas.

Entering the shop, he saw quite a few landscape portraits, in both summer and winter themes. There was a waterfall beautifully recreated, perhaps by direct observation, and a watercolor of a snow fox readying itself to pounce on a small bird.

He also noticed with some distaste the portraits commissioned by the local brothel as a sort of catalog. There were women of many varieties, most of them nude…and…-

“What is this?!” Itaku asked, confused, pointing to a portrait of a strange blue-skinned reptilian creature with bright violet eyes and feathers.

“What?” the shop-keep said, confused, then, “Oh yes, quite a conversation piece; the Kazeatari Serpent. Lord Minamoto found her after she attacked a band of foreigners hunting at his service, and nobody really knows what she is. Enough like a regular woman where it counts, though; must do it well if she can get by there, wouldn’t you say?”

“I see…” Itaku said, “I guess that would bring an audience. Does it wield magicka? I trust that would be public knowledge as well”.

The shopkeeper paled, "N-no sir! The only other thing out of the ordinary is that she was fast, damned fast. Outran blood hounds, they say."

Itaku nodded, “Very well. Just an attraction then, with no need for me to interfere. Tell me, do you sell paints?”

Kaileena lounged in her room atop her new feather bed. She yawned, poignantly ignoring the ache in her modesty. Her last client hadn’t been gentle. But these things seemed to bother her less and less.

She hoped her family was well; that Father and Brother now lived their lives in peace, no longer suffering for her sake. They could live in relative normalcy, at least…

She sighed, her arms around a pillow as she lay on her side. The days went by faster lately, and she even remembered her clients at first glance now, even the ones she saw only very rarely.

The staff were nice enough, especially fellow gaisho. And they all considered her to be one of them. It felt good to belong to something other than just a family, even if it was a whorehouse. Maybe the brothel was becoming normal, at least to her.

There was a knock at her sliding door, and Kaileena frowned, wondering if the master was going to yell at her again.

“Come in.” she said gingerly, adopting that sultry tone that was expected of her at all times, and her eyes went wide when Father stepped through. She rose, startled, but Father shook his head, "No no. There’s no need to...please. I wanted to see you."

She didn’t know what to say, and the silence stretched a few moments. Father smiled, though there was a profound sadness in it, taking a seat beside her and wrapping her in an embrace, “I’ve missed you. We both have”.

“I've missed you too.” Kaileena said, shameful, "How did you get in here? The Master doesn’t allow us visitors."

Father frowned, "Men spend money here to spend time with a woman. I paid him to spend time with you, all the more cheaply because I’m only here to talk, and I only asked for a few minutes."

Kaileena nodded, “How is Brother? And Hana?”

“Gatsuyu is coping; he is very angry at this injustice, and grieves the loss of his sister. I wonder what kind of man he will become now; a farmer, or a warrior?” Father mused, "Hana is retired now and lives comfortably assisting School Mistress Umeka."

He looked very troubled all of a sudden, then, “How are you…feeling? Are you alright?”

Kaileena blushed, “Yes, Father. They don’t hurt me...not any more at least. The first few days were the worst, but that’s behind me now."

Father nodded, “That is good, at least. I was afraid they were cruel to you.”

Kaileena shook her head, leaning into him, "No, not cruel. I do what they tell me to, and am otherwise left to myself. I am their source of money, and so long as I am complacent they don’t care."

He had a disgusted look on his face at that, but the matter of her owners no longer bothered her that much.

“I hear rumors of a mad enchanter haunting the countryside. None of those stories came from Kazeatari, did they?” she asked, changing the subject, and Father chuckled, “No. Nothing that exciting. I’ve only heard a little of this news in fact.”

“You still have that flower?” he asked, and Kaileena nodded, "There’s no window in here, so I had it planted in the garden along the side of the building. I can’t see it, since the only view outside is in the display room, where we sit to await a client, but the groundskeeper was very happy to get it; bells are rare and expensive, after all. I still can’t believe you could afford to buy it back then."

They shared a smile; that was her favorite flower, and it had grown beautifully in their own garden, otherwise only for vegetables. The one she’d brought with her was taken from that original, which had reproduced and spread quickly. He’d always assured her it had been worth the price, considering how she’d been able to breed it. She always had a knack for that sort of thing...

Someone rapped on the door, harshly. It must have been the master, signaling the end of their conversation.

“There was something I wanted to give you before I left.” Father said softly, struggling with something hidden under his coat.

“Father, we are not allowed gifts.” Kaileena protested, but he was adamant, pulling out a cloth sack. “A few things from your “book”…I will be staying in the hostel in Fusestu for four days, the third room on the second floor. Goodbye, my dear.” he whispered, kissing her forehead, "Hide it under the mattress or wherever you see fit."

As the master opened the door, Kaileena slid the sack under the mattress as she was told, and Father turned to leave, “Thank you for letting me visit. Please, take care of my daughter."

The master nodded, assuring him he would do just that so long as she behaved. And she had.

When Father was gone, Kaileena rose and bowed, submissive.

“Do you need me for the show tonight?” she asked, and he considered her, “Actually, yes. The usual. Get your things ready.”

Ryū crouched low, considered his surroundings. It was cold, but the wind seemed oddly comforting, soothing his skin. His mood was pleasant for once; he was one step closer to the Child, thus, the promise of the Kamiyonanayo and the salvation of his people.

He hadn’t seen Kyokan since crossing the portal and for that he was grateful, not wishing to confront the Skraul just yet. Not until he was much stronger.

Dawn was still far off, and he’d have plenty of time to find shelter or make a burrow. He heard running water, and decided he would take the first option if it could be helped. For now, a wash would feel wonderful. While running water could be harmful to a vampyre, he’d fed well. He could endure it for a time.

The vampyre crept through the dense forest until he came found a small stream, more appealing by far than the polluted waters of his own world, which had to be filtered to be safe to drink and often caused sores inside one’s mouth.

Ryū smiled, something he’d not done in some time, setting aside his cloak and mask and leaving his weapons closest to the water.

He let himself sink into the stream, the cold waters not bothering him any more than the wind, and he took a moment to relax, washing away the blood and grime of his journey.

Ryū let his thoughts drift as much as he dared, lest he fall back into melancholy. Since his transformation his body hadn’t aged a day, and he knew that unless violence took him he would live forever. To be denied afterlife in the World Serpent’s embrace with his wife, and in all likelihood, their child, pained him all the time.

Sighing, he slid out of the water and dressed. He didn’t don the mask, however. For a reason he couldn’t explain, he wanted to survey this new, beautiful land without it.

There was only one purpose for this particular combination of ingredients.

Kaileena set the components far away from one another, fearing the intended chemical reaction if they were to meld without her knowing. Powdered sulfur, powdered copper, iron shavings, rock salt, onion peel, a tinderbox, a vial of water, and a small canister with a pump and secondary chamber to house a lit tindertwig. She’d studied most standard alchemical compounds for medicinal and mercantile purposes, and she knew well enough the infamous Oil of Vitroil, also known as Sulfuric Acid; a powerful dissolving compound that was quite dangerous.

And here were its ingredients, selected by Father, and smuggled into the brothel for her.

He’d specifically mentioned the room in which he was staying, and had given her a time-frame of four days to do…what exactly? She knew the doors to the brothel were reinforced with iron bars and sealed via a complex iron lock. Perhaps the acid would melt through the device? She’d seen enough people fumble with the thing to know that standard means would not damage it, and that the master didn’t take kindly to those who tampered with it.

She could get through the door in the dead of night; the customers would be asleep, or at least far too preoccupied to notice, but how would she make it all the way to the hostel to meet Father? For that matter, how would they evade the men that would come for her?! She was worse than a prisoner, she was a well known, very recognizable prisoner, and even worse, the property of one of the Four Lords. They would be hunted wherever they went!

She was shaking, and hoped no one came to her room just then. But in spite of her fear, Kaileena found determination somewhere deep inside. Father, Brother; they were her family, and family protected one another. Above friends, above lovers, above even the law, family held precedence, and her family seemed unwilling to let her toil away her life in a brothel.

She steeled herself, knowing she would attempt her escape before dawn

...There was a steady stream of laughter, moans, and squeals coming through the walls, at a volume that made it rather poignant to sleep in the daylight hours, so she didn’t worry about anyone hearing the bubbling and sizzling as she packed the onion peel and water into the container, then added the sulfur and iron, and then the salt, closing the canister quickly to contain the release of poisonous gases.

She lit a tindertwig, and stuck it into the space in the secondary chamber, its heat distributing among the roiling brew. Where a normal matchstick would have snuffed out, the tindertwig was tipped with concentrated white phosphorous, and burned even fiercer, emanating intense heat.

She operated the pump mechanism several times, pressurizing the gases and filtering out the clean air. She tried to hold in her flicking tongue, lest the scent gag her and bring attention to her room. The fluid, mostly clear but with a thick yellowy cloud, slowly became more uniform in its color, and the iron shavings dissolved before her eyes, as the surface of the fluid sizzled fiercely.

Father had done well in gathering the right apparatus and the proper amounts of each reagent, probably following her notes to the letter. She’d forgotten he could read at all...

Kaileena considered herself very lucky no one had figured out she was skilled in performing alchemy, for they might have accused her of being a witch or an enchanter or something. She had no doubt that the people of Fusestu, while not outwardly hostile, would surely use any excuse to persecute her further.

As the mixture self-purified, there was nothing left but a smooth pale-yellow liquid, and Kaileena knew it would no longer emit poisonous gas. She wanted to escape, not kill anyone, after all…

Kaileena donned one of the uniform kimonos, and cursed the brothel’s boisterous dress code, knowing she would already stick out far too much in a crowd. She arranged the cushions that she was to lay her head on, throwing the blankets over to make it seem like she was under them, sleeping away. Maybe if she took some clogs and a cloak from the hangers before she left, her appearance would be more unobtrusive.

A little, at least.

She steadied her breathing, hiding the bottle into the folds of her kimono, and hoped that the waist-hugging ribbon and brocade obi wouldn’t make it obvious she was smuggling something near her breast.

Kaileena slid the door open slowly, and walked out without trying to hide herself. A working girl walking around at this hour wasn’t all that unusual, as their meals were not delivered. She could say she was getting her midnight dinner, as the kitchen was relatively close to the only exit, the exit which by now would be locked for the night, offering the current patrons a free bed for their coin already spent.

The master wasn’t around, probably occupied with one of his “stock”. About a month into her “employment”, he’d ventured into her room for a night.

Kaileena stifled the memory, sniffing, and walked into the kitchen, where the cook, Wataru, would likely still be sorting away the leftovers for the next day. She saw the overweight, friendly chef in the corner, busying himself. “The last bits are on the shelf. Don’t ask for anything else, because I don’t have it”, he said idly, not even looking her way, and Kaileena nodded.

“Thank you.” She said, swiping up a bowl of cold noodle dumplings filled with potato and leek. Walking out with the food in hand, Kaileena started to pick at some of the smaller morsels and pluck them in her mouth, having to momentarily stop and enjoy the seasoning, while she used her tail to surreptitiously snatch up a key to the clothing room from the rack. She went back down the corridor, passing her room, and she turned right, picking up the key with her hand as she rounded the corner.

Slowly turning her head around to ensure no one was watching her, Kaileena slid the key into the smaller... it was called a lock, right?

Turning it just like the master did, she crept into the clothing cabinet, and looked at the assorted cloaks, robes, and even weapons. She picked up one of the over-robes, wrapped it over her silk kimono, and threw a cloak over that, completely covering herself, and put on a pair of wooden sandals that must have been owned by a noble lady. That or a man with very small feet.

Kaileena closed the door, and re-locked it, neglecting to take a weapon. A patron might not make too much a fuss over missing garments, but a valuable sword or tanto… She was buying herself as much time as possible, and besides, she did not want a weapon.

She didn’t want to hurt anyone, even to free herself.

This was the time in which she could not be seen, and Kaileena acted accordingly, hugging the walls as she made her way back to the kitchen. The key wouldn’t work on the main door, and noticing its loss would cause a commotion, a commotion that she couldn’t afford until she was halfway to whatever safe place Father had planned to take her.

Wataru was still facing away, pounding grain into flour, and Kaileena replaced both the key, and the bowl, which she had hastily finished.

“There will be imported lentil in the soup tomorrow, and this odd flat-bread the foreigners favor.” The chef said, again, mercifully, not bothering to turn his head, and Kaileena went straight for the front gate, its fortunate proximity to the kitchen again allowing her to remain undetected.

The bottle of acid uncorked easily enough, and she poured just a little of the foul substance into the lock’s opening. Holding a fold of the cloak over it so the sizzling was muffled, Kaileena smiled as the compound did its work, eroding away at the last barrier between her and freedom.

She slid the iron reinforced door open ever so softly, releasing a wave of fresh air onto her face. It had been months since she’d felt open air.

As the door shut behind her, Kaileena dashed away, resisting the urge to scream with joy. She was free! Father would be there for her, always! The three of them would find someplace hidden and safe, where nobody would ever trouble them again!

Now getting her first good look at Fusestu and its bordering noble district, she noticed the obvious division between the two. The Villa, Lord Minamoto’s handle hold, was the richer portion of Fusestu, the section’s borders denoted by the increase in decorations and statuary. It was very different than the lower quarters of the city, which she’d seen out of Minamoto’s seated wagon. Still, she guessed that the hostel Father was in would be in Fusestu proper and not the villa, so that was where she went. Unfortunately, even the poorer parts of the city seemed to use the Noble’s Tongue in the print on their signs, something that no middle or lower class citizen was even allowed to learn, so she’d have to think of something; she’d figured out chemical compounds easily enough!

She kept her head low when a few men passed by her, babbling something about “A good time”. Kaileena didn’t want to know what that meant.

She passed by the merchants’ shops, all of them closed for the night. There was a sign what she thought to be that of a hostel, and Kaileena was certain that this was it when she puzzled out the symbol for “drinks”.

There was a door leading into the hostel, but she chose the stairs leading up onto a second floor balcony, protected from the elements by the wide roof of the building.

The third door.

She knocked, her heart caught in her throat, and the door opened…

The commander of the Karyudo Kisai stopped.

Was that him...?

He drew Mujihi, his trusted dai-katana, and crept towards the cloaked man shoving his way through the nighttime crowd of the noble quarter of Fusetsu Inaka. The villagers hadn’t noticed his drawn weapon yet, and no one turned an eye until he was poised to attack.

His blade fell, but Yokai, for it was indeed Yokai, caught the edge of Mujihi with his bare hand, stopping him mid-strike!

Itaku cried out in pain, as he was catapulted through the air by an unseen force that blasted him with intense heat. He landed hard, his flesh seared from hand to shoulder, but he recovered quickly, charging forward with weapon poised.

Yokai ducked under a two-handed swing, but Itaku had only feinted, bringing the butt of his pommel right into the enchanter’s midsection. He felt a rib crack, and Itaku butted heads, breaking Yokai’s nose.

The enchanter fell backwards, activating latent energy to drive several tiny razors secreted in his clothing into Itaku’s abdomen, but the steel plate under the folds of his robes deflected them harmlessly.

“You don’t have the strength to challenge me, Karyudo Kisai!” Yokai snarled, driving his fist into Itaku’s chest with enough force to penetrate through the armor and press fingers-deep into his flesh. Mujihi tumbled from his grip, but Itaku saw the Colossus behind his foe, Kanabo descending. That dreadful weapon struck Yokai, the impact knocking both of them off their feet, and Itaku felt a rusty tang in his mouth as he struck the earth, an aching numbness in his upper abdomen.

Impacted sternum. Hemorrhaging. Maybe a collapsed lung.

His vision blurring, he dug into his pockets for the Cauterizing Oil...

Rising to his feet unsteadily, Yokai turned to face the Colossus. This time, he would be ready for those spell-turning enchantments.

The giant came upon him again, and he struggled to avoid a second hit from the kanabo, fearing that dreadful weapon as he feared few things in all the world. The villagers kept their distance from the melee, but the bulk of the Colossus also prevented anyone from fleeing, keeping the quarters close in that narrow side-street.

Tengu’s attention settled on him, her presence enveloping him in new strength. He smiled; his flesh regenerating the injuries sustained. Pouring his energy into one of the gems at his belt, Yokai ignited the air around his enemy, and the space around the Colossus detonated. Magicka wouldn’t harm the bastard...but everyone had to breathe, and superheated air just wouldn’t do.

Yokai backpedaled, in case the obscuring smoke might prevent him from seeing any retaliation, if the Colossus hadn’t suffocated by then. One inhalation would collapse the lungs...

A fortunate thing, for the Colossus breached the smoke and was upon him, and Yokai swiftly manipulated the earth beneath him, compressing it into spears of hardened rock. Most shattered on impact, but one shot into the Colossus’s arm, leading right through to the other side. Yokai smiled, and then stared agog as there was no blood coming from the wound.

What are you?!” he gasped, and his unseen right eye glowed, as if on fire. The Colossus struck him with a fire enchantment…no, more a like a concentrated beam of energy, which pierced right through Yokai’s shoulder and out the other side. He breathed, horrified, dimly looking down to the wound. It was narrow, about the thickness of his index finger, and still burned around its edges. Any lower and it would have pierced a lung.

The other Karyudo Kisai, Commander Itaku, simply appeared beside him, and the dai-katana cut across his stomach, a single clean line of blood issuing forth.

Yokai doubled over, and blacked out from shock.

“You are useless!” Yokai snarled, his voice deeper and somehow vaguely feminine. Itaku was knocked back by another wave of concussive force, and he rose to see Yokai gripping and…lifting, the Colossus off his feet with an open palm!

Shatter Apart!” Yokai hissed, touching the armored man with a fingertip of his other hand, and a tiny, concentrated ball of energy ground into his breastplate and exploded. The Colossus was sent careening wildly, bits of armor crumbling off, crashing through a solid stone barrier lining the outskirts of the village.

Itaku gripped Mujihi, activating his last enchantment, crossing the distance of several paces in a burst of unnatural speed, thrusting his katana at Yokai’s exposed back, only to be swept back by an aura of flame, his face blistering at its intensity.

Yokai flew upward, propelled by a disc of telekinetic force, and disappeared in the darkness of the night sky.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here?” a man said as he stood in the open doorway, a crossbow in his hand, “Looks like you got here just in time, whore”.

Kaileena blanched, in utter shock, her face still shrouded by her cloak, “I apologize, I must-”

“Quite enough, Kazeatari Serpent. We knew you were coming, and that this idiot was going to steal you away from your Lord’s service.” The man said, whom she remembered as Boren, among those who’d been responsible for her confinement. There were two others, holding a man with a sack over his head. They tore it off, and Kaileena burst into the room, horrified.

“Father!” she cried, tears in her eyes, but the man intercepted her, locking her arms behind her back, ripping away her cloak.

“He was smart, purchasing only one ingredient per trip, per merchant, but my men had access to everything he bought, sold, and whomever he talked to. A friend of ours ratted you two out, and we figured out exactly what he was planning. And now…here you are, in the act of stealing from our Lord. What a shame”.

The men were laughing. They enjoyed this.

“What will you do?” Kaileena gasped, and Boren didn’t smile like the rest, "The law is clear; attempted theft upon the Lord of this district bears one penalty; death by public execution."

“NO!” she yelled, writhing in his grip, "You cannot-"

Boren slammed her against the wall, "You are property, and do not decide what we can and cannot do. Take him away."

Kaileena wailed as the men led Father away, again masked by a cloth sack. He was too weak to resist; they must have beaten him senseless.

“Kaileena…” His muffled voice emerged from the sack, and Kaileena struggled with all her strength, trying to tear herself loose. “Keep still, or you will-” the pirate said and was cut off, his words deteriorating into a pained grunt as Kaileena turned and stuck her small but sharp teeth into his exposed wrist, twisting her head in the wound. The man lost his grip, and Kaileena wrenched herself loose, dashing to Father.

Something struck the back of her head, and the floor rushed up to meet her…

“What have you done?! I was about to annihilate them!” Yokai growled, re-establishing a measure of control over himself.

Your purpose is not to avenge yourselves upon Karyudo Kisai. You are to seize the power of the Eternal Return! In what way exactly does this benefit?!” Tengu asked coolly, then continued, "Remember your purpose."

Yokai acknowledged the point, but a notion occurred to him, “And why do you care, Tengu? What is your purpose in all this?”

The Dragon shied away for a moment, and Yokai could almost feel the control over his body return to him fully, "My purpose requires you to take the power that you crave. That is all you need to know."

Yokai was not satisfied by that answer, but he knew that the Dragons were a proud and haughty species, and if she wouldn’t tell him, he’d have no hope of convincing her to change her mind. For some reason, Yokai felt a deep sadness in that.

"Very well. Return me to my sanctuary. I shall continue my research."

Careful, little creature.” The Dread Hammer whispered in her mind, "His destiny is in your hands, as is your own."

Tengusraczaria lay within a shimmering hemisphere of magicka amid the endless emptiness and profound negative energy of the realm of Darkmoor, her serpentine body coiling as she trembled at the power of Dur’Artoth’s mental projection. If she left the field of energy, or if Dur’Artoth decided that she was no longer useful to him and dispelled it, her soul-death would be nearly instantaneous.

She’d been foolish, defying Lord Surthath and leaving Moonshadow in order to find her adventure. As every Dragon and most Djinn came of age, they sought discovery and plunder, amassing a mound of treasure called a hoard, as well as many tales of valor to boast of.

Surthath had said she was ill-prepared, that he was unable to protect her, but she hadn’t listened. Why had she not listened?

Not long after seeking her adventure the Skraul had trapped her through foul sorcery, and banished her to Darkmoor. The Dread Hammer had then bound her, and offered her one chance at salvation; she was to ensure that her mortal agent would tap the Eternal Return and temporarily achieved godhood. Tengusraczaria had his word and she wouldn’t fail herself by allowing Yokai to fail.

She would buy her freedom, and if she had to bury every soul in Aurora, or Moonshadow, or anywhere else to do so, then so be it!

Lord Minamoto entered his city’s brothel without escort, eyeing the proprietor with some contempt as the fool tried in vain to bar him.

“That one?” he asked, pointing to the one on the right, past the kitchen. The man nodded, and Minamoto slid the door open tenderly. She was on the bed, facing away, not moving and not making a sound. There was a second gaisho, sitting alongside her, perhaps for support. There were several uneaten meals on the floor; she must not have gone to the kitchen in days, nor had she eaten meals brought to her.

"I was able to prevent him from being executed in the conventional manner. He died privately; quick and painless. Your brother will never be troubled by my men again. I have seen to it that he received a crest bearing my personal protection. He will be regularly given stores of food, and the family house is scheduled for renovation and improvement. It will be a small manor by the time my builders are finished."

The girl didn’t budge, in any way acknowledge him. “I’m sorry…truly I am. I wanted you to hear this directly from me.” Minamoto continued, daring to place a hand on her shoulder. She trembled at his touch, but did nothing else. He flinched at how haggard she looked; so much thinner than the last time they’d met, perhaps by her refusal to eat, perhaps intentionally done earlier than that by her overseer.

His heart ached at the sight of her, and again, he considered defying the law and taking her in himself.

“I wish to die.” Kaileena replied quietly, her voice empty of emotion, and Minamoto paused before leaving the room, speechless.

What was he to say to that?

Shohiri watched the Lord of Fusestu depart without another word, and looked back to Kaileena, stunned at her rudeness.

“That was foolish.” she said, nudging Kaileena gently with her hand, "I know…but this is the way of the world. Did you think that good men would come to save us? Do you think men like them ever lose, or get their comeuppance? This world does not favor us in the scheme of things. But we still have to live in it."

Kaileena didn’t reply, and Shohiri honestly didn’t think there was anything else that she could say. But she stayed…as she had been ordered both by the master and the nature of her heart. At least until Kaileena started eating again.

After Tengu left his body, Yokai began the long ascent up the stone steps leading to his palace, perched near the coastal border of the West and North Districts. Tengu had left him at the base of the spire, no doubt to exact some form of petty revenge at his earlier recklessness, but he gritted his teeth and made his way to the antechamber, climbing the many sets of stairs without complaint.

Once an outpost crafted by the Kamiyonanayo in ages long passed, the tower complex had been taken over by the Pirate Lords, and Yokai had taken great pleasure in reclaiming it for his own purposes.

With the Dragon’s aid, it had been so easy, altering the chemical compositions of every mind within and sending them all into a ferocious killing frenzy. In under an hour the entire complex had dissolved into chaos, the survivors all too easy for him to pick off or subdue for later Vitrium extraction.

The tower now stood empty, the last of the captives harvested, and all that was left was his. When he absorbed the Eternal Return and obtained godhood, this place would serve as his throne and the new capital of Teikoku, from which he would observe all of his kingdom in his last days of life.

He smiled, eyeing the blood wards he’d created beforehand as he neared the actual tower. The Kamiyonanayo, having built the spire, had enacted immensely powerful magickal barriers around it, but they had fallen into disrepair after the mysterious creatures had departed from the world. The Vitrium had done the trick of reactivating those wards, and with such defenses, an entire army couldn’t breach its borders, let alone assail him in the inner sanctum wherein he would enact his destiny.

He would obtain the powers of a god, and then, when his purpose was fulfilled, he would die a contented man. He just needed to wait for the proper moment that the book detailed.

Two years or so, and he would begin in earnest.

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