Lord Kiromichi of the West District looked through his spyglass to the approaching vessels.
He’d received word that a small fleet of pirates had amassed outside of his capital of Kuchiwaki, demanding parley. The fact that they’d waited for Kiromichi to be outside of the city couldn’t be interpreted as anything but a message. A reminder they were watching, waiting for him to make a mistake.
Let them try at mischief, he thought, Give me a reason.
Kuchiwaki was as much a fortress as a port. The enemy fleet, complete with a leviathan; a massive, steam-powered flagship, didn’t advance into his waters, but a skiff was lowered off the flagship, carrying a small contingent of armed men.
Kiromichi set down his spyglass, and found his attention again absorbed by the magickal bauble dangling from his bracer. He felt a bit more of his strength absorbed into the crystal, via its enchantment, and his lieutenant cleared his throat, forcing him back to attention.
“Sir? They are hailing us. Shall we let them up?” the man asked. Kiromichi had never bothered to learn his name. It was so…tiresome.
“Let them up, but keep the sentries posted, and bring that new weapon they traded with us. I want them to appreciate the irony.” Kiromichi replied, irritated that he’d been interrupted.
As the skiff reached the sea gate, it drifted into a small but powerful mechanism which lifted both it and its passengers via a pulley system, powered by water mills stationed around the three rivers of his city, which itself fed back out into the open ocean.
The cranking sounds of the gears irritated him as well, but Kiromichi maintained a neutral expression out of sheer fatigue as much as boredom, as Arainami, the only woman on the skiff, separated from her personal guard, each armed with flintlock rifles brought from their home lands, and stood before him, not offering a customary bow.
“Impertinent as always, are we, Arainami?” he noted dryly, and the pirate smiled, hands on her cutlass.
“It’s Lord Arainami now, actually. I replaced my master less than a month prior, until this point preoccupied with culling the last dregs of his loyal supporters.” she replied, garbed not in a traditional kimono, nor the peculiarly designed gowns of the far east, nor even the leather armor that her own people favored, instead opting for a tailored white shirt, brown breeches, and a thick, well-tailored coat that hid her twin revolvers; a smaller version of experimental three-round firearms. Kiromichi studied the obnoxious, brightly dyed locks of her inappropriately short dark hair. Her skin, the distinctive bronze of her race, made her somewhat exotic, but certainly she was no wifely material with her missing teeth, wild eyes, and thickly muscled body.
He was also not enamored with the winding black symbols over her body; tattoos, they were called. She’d even shaved her eyebrows, and tattooed needle thin markings to replace them.
A brute of a woman, but then, that was what a female needed to be in order to survive among the Pirate Lords.
He didn’t ask why she was here, in his city, and the silence stretched. Arainami frowned, "So much for Teikokan tact. Here you go, then; the other two lords don’t abide a woman leading a fleet, and are trying to supplant me. This is a problem, obviously."
“Obviously.” Lord Kiromichi conceded, “And you came to me because I’ll help you?” to which Arainami grinned, "My fleet is larger than either of theirs separately, and if I were to have your assistance, think of the plunder. And the satisfaction. The safety to your port and all of Teikoku if the armada suddenly became…much smaller."
“Tempting, but I’m afraid my loyalty lies with the Hitorigami, and only by his command will I declare open war.” Lord Kiromichi replied, his gaze returning to the orb, his precious treasure.
Arainami frowned, "The other lords will have many spies. This decision cannot go to council. You would be doing the Hitorigami a great service by doing this. Just consider my words…that’s all I ask."
“Very well. I will give it some thought”.
“Damned fool…” Lord Arainami glowered as she situated herself on her hammock in the captain’s quarters of her best caravel, “The Rise of Tides”.
While it wasn’t as nice as her bunk in the leviathan, “The Rise of Tides” was a fine vessel, modeled after an Augerian naval destroyer. Still, it felt odd not being within the leviathan’s steam-powered iron carapace, a virtual city unto itself, as the rocking of the waves was far more noticeable.
Shrugging, Arainami comforted herself with the thought of this ship’s captain having been evicted from his quarters to dine and sleep with the crew. That ought to curb his smart mouth!
Maintaining a seated position, she began cleaning the chambers of the triangular mechanism on one of her pistols with a fibrous metal wire brush; a relatively new invention made by her own uncle. She reloaded, slipping in a copper-coated lead bullet with a brass back in each slot, but detached the triangular holder by unscrewing its hinges, and began to likewise clean out the barrel, ensuring there’d be no lead or carbon buildup which could imperil a perfectly accurate shot.
Unornamented but beautiful in their functionality, Arainami loved her pistols, and didn’t feel right without them in her hands. Setting down the brush, she plucked a small rag soaked in oils from the bedside stand, upon which lay the other components for weapon maintenance. Ensuring that the parts were lubricated to standard, even down to the spring load mechanism which activated a small primer, which would in turn ignite the black powder inside the brass casing of the bullets, she reassembled the parts as she’d done a hundred times, until both pistols were ready to fire again.
Lord Kiromichi would surely be giving some thought to her offer, because even though he hated her, he hated her rivals far more.
The enemy of one’s enemy.
She smiled to herself; she’d been a meek girl once, shy, having grown up in the relative safety of her parent’s quarters. Until her father had died at sea she and her mother had been enslaved by one of his superiors, as was the usual case in such a situation. Things had changed quickly, and now look at her; master and commander of her own destiny, sailing with the largest fleet in the continent!
She hoped she’d made them proud, in a small, private place in her heart where she wasn’t Lord Arainami, just that sad little girl who still mourned their deaths.
Setting her trusted pistols on the stand, she laid down in the hammock, her hands entwined behind her head. It’d been too long since the armada had seen true war; not since the Reclamation, which was before her time. Just the periodic skirmishes with the Teikokan navy and the odd independent bandit clan. If there was going to be another uprising among her people, Arainami was going to be the one to cause it, making the events shift in tide with her motives.
While the armada as it is would never suffer a single Lord to rule over it, what of a monarch? What of a Pirate Queen?
“Do you think they’ll follow us?” Kaileena asked, the villagers of Makutsa staring her down as the distance increased. They were little more than specks on the horizon, but she knew when she was being watched.
“Not likely.” Guardian replied, "But they will act as witnesses for the Karyudo Kisai and their supporters. They will be on the hunt soon enough, but you are fortunate. They’re looking for a human in a cloak. If you’re found, you will likely be taken alive."
She conceded the point, thankful for that much at least, "And I did manage to recover the pouch of gold.” she mused, “I wonder why the whirlpool of sands didn’t spit the giant back out. I was very careful to ensure that it wouldn’t let him suffocate."
“Perhaps he had an enchantment that allowed him to circulate air, even when buried. In any case, his fellows will fish him out sooner or later.” Guardian replied.
Kaileena nodded, “So, now I have some money to hire a cart, or bribe a mercenary to escort me to the Renmei Kisai. What do you think?”
“I am uncertain. Word will travel quickly of what happened at Makutsa, and the neighboring towns will be suspicious…well, more suspicious, of outsiders. It may be unwise to enter civilization again so quickly. I advise that you keep to the wilds for about a week or so. By that time the trail will have gone cold.” he advised, and Kaileena nodded, letting her hood down and wriggling her tail out through her cloak. There was no one else around, and the sunlight felt pleasant against her skin.
Even in the lower parts of the North District it was still warm enough for her to be comfortable. The cherry blossoms were no longer in season, but the maple trees were rich with the colors of fall. Her dyed pink feathers stood on edge, leaving a tingling sensation on her scalp. Did she have a scalp? Eh.
“I think I will miss autumns in Teikoku the most; it’s not as warm as springtime, but the colors…”
"...If you don’t mind, I would like to know more about Moonshadow.” Kaileena added after a long pause, looking at the clouds and admiring how beautiful they looked against a bright blue sky. In the brothel they didn’t even let her see the sun, keeping her locked away behind closed doors.
“There are many words, spoken in different languages, that define beauty, but I cannot fathom one which is truly appropriate for Moonshadow.” Guardian replied, “The sky, plants, and most animals therein are shades of blue and violet, the topography all lush forests and flat grassland. There are thousands of floating crystals that gather energy from sunlight and moonlight. The cities, aside from a few smaller villages, rest upon floating inverted pyramidal mountaintops, thousands of smaller, softly chiming crystals orbiting around and below them, sustaining a self-contained gravity and atmosphere. The sun is only in view for about four hours, and the nights are aglow with light and arcane energy. All that exists in Moonshadow does so according to Surthath’s design; all is beauty, and wonder, and contentment. Centuries could pass you by with hardly any notice. There is no death, no pain, no crime, and no war. There is no beginning, and there will be no end”.
Kaileena smiled, "It sounds wonderful."
Guardian grew more distant, shying from their contact, “Can we change the subject, please?”
“Sorry…” Kaileena replied, "Please, don’t be upset; if we succeed in this both of us will be going there. You can be home with your people as well."
Guardian didn’t seem so sure, "Little one, the lamp is bound to this world; Aurora. Should you create a gate or means into Moonshadow, I will be left behind, and would return once again to my endless death-like slumber."
He drew further away from their telepathic contact, and Kaileena used her burgeoning proficiency to bring his attention back, "Then that is now another part of my desire; I will find a way to bring you with me. I promise that, Guardian."
“Easier said than done, but I appreciate the gesture.” Guardian replied, "For now, we need to keep moving."
Nodding, for she shared that exact sentiment, Kaileena kept to the path he’d laid out for her, pausing every now and again to look for wild berries or some other morsel. She hadn’t had time to buy food before the giant man had intercepted her.
“What in the hells?!” Maki gasped, not believing his luck. Reptilian, with smooth skin, and feathers. The features were mildly contrasting, but the blue-skinned creature that literally walked right past his position, talking to itself, appeared to be the same species as that thing the cult had summoned, which had been sighted in the North District a few days ago, without its mask.
The creature, which he had been tracking after being reassigned, had been elusive, but Maki was known for his luck as much as his insight, and how fate rewarded him. It could be no coincidence. Maybe there was a whole colony of them! If that was true, or if there was indeed any relationship to these two strange beings, this one could lead him to the other, and perhaps to some answers.
He waited until it was out of sight, and then began to fight his way out of the branch wrappings that served as his disguise, transferring them to his back for later use. Then, he took hold of his kusarigama and scaled down the tree.
“I am surrounded by idiots.” Itaku cursed, rubbing his brow to sooth the painful spikes of a migraine, an all too common ailment for him after taking up paperwork.
It was understood that spies and assassins required a certain amount of independence, and he was even willing to tolerate Maki killing off over sixty initiates to gather the valuable intelligence of Yokai’s defenses. But this; Lord Tetsyyubo the Cowled, Lord of the North District, had commissioned the services of eighteen senior agents for something deliberately left off the books.
He'd stolen them, more accurately!
The Karyudo Kisai were numerous, thanks to the Hitorigami’s persecution of Enchanters, but genuine talent was difficult to obtain, and Lord Tetsyyubo had thinned his resources even further.
Suspecting yet again he would better serve the Hitorigami and himself in the field and not behind a damned desk, Itaku glanced at Mujihi, resting on a stand beside a small tanto he usually kept under the folds of his layered robe. He drew it, studying the lines in the steel, indicative of how many times it’d been folded and hammered down in the forging process.
Mujihi was his family’s weapon, passed down from father to firstborn male, and so on. He didn’t understand why its name meant “Ruthless”, but his family was old, reaching back many centuries, and the past was far more violent and chaotic. It was much of the reason why this tenuous peace with the Pirate Lords was so vital to their nation’s survival.
“Sir? A message from Master Lenao.” one of his scribes reported, handing him a folded parchment.
“Very well. Thank you.” Itaku replied, taking hold of the letter as she excused herself. He tore off the wax seal, depicting a legendary Dragon in flight. It was authentic.
Lenao was a bit of an anomaly; an enchanter pardoned by the Hitorigami himself to act independently of the Renmei Kisai. Based in a tower north of Kazeatari, Lenao was able to pursue any desired outlet of magicka, free of persecution.
They’d never met in person, but the man had assisted in the apprehension of several dangerous criminals and comported himself with honor. But what did he want now?
Making a fire had been surprisingly easy, since it was too late in the season for heavy rain, and likewise too early for snow. The flames crackled, sending up bits of burning leaf that caught the air and sailed away.
Kaileena helped herself to some of the wild mushrooms she’d found, identifying them as Pleurotus Ostreatus, also known as Oyster Mushrooms; a white chunky species that grew in abundance on fallen logs. Judging by their texture, and having tasted a few, she knew they weren’t their less edible look-alikes, like Crepidotus and Lentinus, which would have been woody or unpleasant. Burning them right over the flames would also kill any small black beetles which might have burrowed inside. If there were any they were now just added protein.
Some people might have complained about something like that, but she could guarantee that they’d never been really hungry once in their lives.
“Do you eat, Guardian?” Kaileena asked, at the now-familiar tinge of telepathic contact.
“No, I do not eat. Now finish and rest; it will be another long day”.
Kaileena smiled, savoring the last few fibrous bites, hoping she could maybe find a Hen-of-the-Woods, also known as Grifola frondosa. She’d only ever found one in her life, but oh how delicious it’d been; a taste that literally seemed reminiscent of poultry meat! Father had been ecstatic when she brought it home.
She wrapped her arms tightly about herself, shivering, and not from the cold. When it passed, she took out a huge Puffball Mushroom, having long forgotten its scientific name. Come to think of it, she barely remembered how to read most words outside of chemical compounds, floral species, and the terms used in the brothel describing physical acts.
Oh, well. There was always time to revisit things; she’d have to learn a whole new tongue when she found her way to Moonshadow.
The mushroom, while much better if battered, was served cold, still quite tasty. Her belly full, Kaileena fell onto her cloak, using it like a bedroll. She didn’t belch like common travelers did; she had some sophistication forced into her, at least. The one benefit of being trained as a gaisho was that you could at least adequately pretend to be a noble.
Her eyes closed. It didn’t long to fall asleep, and Kaileena felt dimly that Guardian was still in her head. Her body fell away, and Kaileena slipped into a silent emptiness, and felt nothing, knew nothing…
A thought brought her back from deep sleep, having been out for who knew how long. She opened her eyes, seeing darkness against the red coals of the fire. Not dawn yet, not for an hour or two.
What if she could see Guardian’s dreams, as he no doubt had seen hers? Kaileena giggled, “I guess I can get started now. It was barely nightfall when I fell asleep”.
“You slept for approximately seven hours, twenty one minutes, and nine seconds. Things considered, a decent night on the road.” Guardian replied, and Kaileena conceded the point.
“I think it’s sweet that you-”
“Hide, now. Climb into the canopy.” he cautioned, his mirth evaporated, and Kaileena didn’t question him.
Picking up her steel staff, cloak, and pack, she darted up into the branches, and idly took two stones from the base of the tree. The floor of the forest quickly became less defined, obscured by the thick leaves of the mature oak.
It might have just been fellow travelers, or rangers, or even hunters, but Kaileena’s heart told her otherwise. Such folk wouldn’t have warranted such alarm from Guardian.
The forest suddenly became quiet, like when she’d first made her fire, before the creatures had acclimated to her and resumed their activities.
There was a dull sound coming from the south; footsteps, but heavy. It got louder, and soon there were crashing sounds as small trees and branches were trampled underfoot.
Daring to glance down from her perch, Kaileena scanned the floor in the direction of the noise, as a silhouette of something against the still dark reaches of the forest appeared.
The fire! Why had she not doused it!
The man came into view, stomping over a rotten log, covered in head to toe in armor, his face concealed by a mask. The giant. He had tracked her here.
Despite how afraid she was, Kaileena kept very still, careful not to breathe heavilly. Her heart started pounding in her chest, and her head felt dizzy. Surrendering, she let a smooth, soft inhale refill her lungs.
He crouched by the hot coals, his fingers brushing the soil, then glanced about. He was looking for her.
Kaileena blanched, knowing that after all directions were discounted, he would look-
She tossed a stone due northwest with all of her strength, and the resulting crackling noise as it landed made the man rise to his feet instantly. Drawing his kanabo, the giant ran off in that direction.
When he was hopefully out of range of sight or hearing, she knew to make a break for it, probably due east. Kaileena slipped back down the tree and crept into the woods, putting as much distance between her and the man as she could while still remaining as silent as she could.
How had she not picked up his scent?! Ever since she was young, she’d been gifted with a potent sense of smell, a little short of what a hound could use. Humans, when exerting themselves, sweated intensely, and that was extremely easy to pick out with her sensitive nose.
This man was ripping out tough vegetation, and he’d not even broken a sweat at all? What was she dealing with, here?
“I am uncertain as well, little one.” Guardian said, “I could barely sense his presence. I should have been able to warn you far earlier…but his spirit is…unusual”.
It really was a monster.
There was a crash behind her, and Kaileena bolted without caution, remembering just how fast he was. The sounds his approach were muffled by the forest, and it became difficult to tell their direction, let alone the direction she was heading.
In the darkness of pre-dawn, surrounded by shadows, monstrous shapes loomed in the periphery of her vision. What should have been branches appeared as arms waiting to grasp her and hold her for the giant! She managed to leap to her right, just in time to avoid a falling tree. He was ripping the damned forest apart!
Her sensibilities lost, Kaileena screamed, knowing somewhere in the recesses of her panicked mind that subtlety was a moot point. If she could draw someone to her; she could escape in the confusion, like in the village, but she was alone, all alone in the forest.
He was close!
Her lungs were on fire, her temples were pounding in her head, and Kaileena struggled to keep her breathing steady, panting and sobbing. Why had this happened?! Why did no one help her?!
There! The ground was rising in elevation, and she knew she was nearing a mountain ridge described to her by Guardian.
If there was a canyon...
The dark soil became coarser, the flora less diverse, and the sounds behind her were growing less deafening. The distance between them was lengthening, but that wasn’t reassuring. Once the forest thinned out more, he would be able to increase his pace.
The incline grew more intense, and her legs ached, but fear lent her speed.
The sounds of the forest abated. The only thing keeping her running were the pounding footsteps. The now rocky ground made balance difficult for her, her sandals making her feet bend at awkward angles.
There! The incline peaked off into a canyon of solid rock, not unlike the one near her old home. There was no river at the bottom, but that wasn’t what she was looking for. Due north, near where she'd originally intended to cross, was a rope bridge that allowed travelers to bypass the rocky terrain around the canyon. It was stable, but narrow, and that giant of a man surely would not be supported by it, or at least, that was her idea.
There was a whoosh of air behind her, and Kaileena ducked to avoid the blur of motion that would have sent her flying, as the giant was upon her, swinging his horrible club.
She cried out, crawling on fours under his legs, and the Colossus kicked her in the side, sending her sprawling next to the first few links of wood at the bridge’s end. She was so close, and blinking through the pain, Kaileena half-leaped, half-fell onto the bridge, forcing herself to stay conscious. Her side throbbed where she’d been struck. It became hard to breathe.
The man struck again, but she dodged it, and a wooden post supporting the bridge disappeared in a hail of splinters. She was nearly a third of the way across, when the giant drove his club against the rope connecting the posts to the ones on the other side.
“What are you doing?!” Kaileena cried out as she felt her footing start to weaken, as the bridge began to destabilize. She was two-thirds of the way across, and it struck her to continue his work.
Taking some of her own life energy and tapping it into Blood Magicka, Kaileena forced power into her staff and weakened the fibers of the ropes at her feet, all the while grinding them together to create heat through friction. A small fire began to spread, igniting the remaining three ropes, and the bridge began to waver more and more.
The wooden panels suddenly gave out under her, and Kaileena grabbed onto a support post on the other side as she fell, hitting herself in the abdomen as she did, right where the Colossus had kicked her.
Pain exploded all throughout her body, and she cried out, perhaps base instinct more than conscious intent making her land in the dirt as opposed to empty space. Coughing and gasping in the dirt, Kaileena reflexively curled into a ball, as the bridge separated, and the Giant plummeted down into the canyon below.
He heard a scream. Distant, somewhere west. Female. Young, very young. A child, perhaps?
His undead heart quivering, Ryū righted himself. There; there it was again, west and slightly north. A girl child, in utter terror.
“Is this who you wish me to find, Surthath?” Ryū asked, the brightness on the horizon already making him uncomfortable. In any case, someone was in danger, and Ryū wouldn’t let the girl come to harm. He’d only managed passing glances at the strange hairless mammal creatures here, but they didn’t appear to be evil.
But he had to reach her soon. The sun was rising.
“You have to get up, Kaileena.” Guardian pleaded, the request a little more than she could handle.
“Get up, quickly!” he implored, and the more aware she became, the more the pain in her side intensified.
Kaileena opened her eyes, and every breath shot a flare of bright red agony though her midsection. Her legs tensed, more of their own accord, but she couldn’t quite find her feet.
“I did all I could by softening the blow when he struck you. If it’d connected fully it would have killed you. But your ribs have been broken and one has pierced a lung. I’m so sorry, little one. I couldn’t do enough.”
Trying to crawl on fours, it became apparent she was bleeding internally, as a rusty tang filling her mouth and she gagged. Her vision focused for a moment, and she saw someone coming. It wasn’t the giant. Much too small. The giant wouldn’t come for her. She’d killed him.
Why?! She hadn’t wanted to kill anyone, but the man had kept trying to do just that to her. What had she done wrong?
Kaileena crawled toward the man, whimpering, still not quite able to make him out. “Help me...” she moaned, using her staff to pull her along, fresh agony every time she tried to breathe, “Help me!”
The man was now plainly in sight, smiling, and he was spinning something in his hand.
“You killed the Colossus?! Not bad, I never really liked him very much.” He said, and she now saw that he was holding a sickle on a chain. His black cloak marked him as an enchanter-hunter.
“Help me.” she begged, choking on blood, and the man lost his smile suddenly, "Well, that’s new; can’t remember an enchanter asking me for help, but then again, most of the ones I find are human."
Her heart sank, and Kaileena gripped her drained staff forlornly, “Wha-…what are you going to do?”
“Well, I would think to kill you but you look about ready to drop already. It would be more of a mercy; what’s your name?” he asked, taking hold of his weapon.
“I am Kaileena Kazeatari , daughter of…” she fell into a fit of ragged coughing.
“Thank you, I always find it polite for a proper greeting before this sort of thing. Someone should know who they are killing, or being killed by. You may call me Maki.” he said.
“Please! I didn’t want to hurt anyone.” Kaileena implored, trying desperately to reach Guardian with her mind-voice. He was so distant, so faint.
“Well, you did.” Maki replied, "Killing a member of the Karyudo Kisai warrants summary execution."
Kaileena hissed, in pain, “Guardian! Help me!”
“What was that?” Maki said, looming over her, "You must be delirious. I’m sorry. I will end it quickly; there is a metal shard embedded in my body that can cast telekinesis. If I release that energy all at once, it can stop a person’s heart. Painless, mostly. Your death will be clean."
She started to whimper, but rose defiantly, looking into the eyes of the man that would kill her, “I’m sorry, Father…but it looks like your sacrifice was pointless.”
Maki pointed his hand towards the lizard creature, focusing the energy within the iron shard. She, for seeing it more closely he could conclude that it was definitely a she, couldn’t bring him to the other one in her condition, and he’d just have to hope of finding more of them on his own.
His enchantment struck the girl, and….and…a ripple of energy emerged from where his enchantment would have entered her body, like a whirlpool of tiny violet embers. Kaileena seemed equally stunned, but also appeared somewhat more hale.
“What?” Maki muttered, "Have it your way.If you still have an enchantment active, why not strike with something more potent."
Willing the active enchantment in his kusarigama to life, the twin sickles bled raw arcane energy. He spun one by the chain, and launched it at her. The blue fire never touched her, devoured again by the purple ward, and the weapon itself she parried with her staff, alert where before she hadn’t been.
“What enchantment is this?!” Maki gasped, and Kaileena scowled at him. She said nothing, flourishing her staff. He felt his ribs impact, and suddenly he was on the ground several paces away.
He groaned, feeling a sensation probably akin to what she had, and Kaileena stood over him uncertainly, ”Where did you get this energy?” to which she frowned.
“I guess I got it from you". She replied, wheezing as blood dribbled down her chin, “Guardian! Can you hear me? I need you to show me how to heal with Blood Magicka”.
Ryū stood at the edge of the canyon, watching helplessly as the Silkrit child ran from sight.
“She has the power to eat a spell.” he breathed, "...breathtaking."
In all his years, even among the Skraul, he’d never heard of one with such an ability. So young, so like him, like one of his people, and yet not. She was Silkrit, undoubtedly, but different, equally out of place in this new world.
The sun was rising, and it sent thin rivulets of smoke up from the skin not covered by his cloak. As much as he wished to catch her now, he couldn’t be in open daylight, and the canyon was too wide to cross. He would have to make ground in the coming night.
Minding his now blistering flesh, the vampyre turned, "Self-named, Kaileena Kazeatari, you must be the one. I will find you, and I will keep you safe."
After mending both her wounds, and, against Guardian’s advice, Maki’s, Kaileena darted off. She relayed what had just occurred, including the strange purple fire that had eaten Maki’s enchantment.
“How strange; what you describe sounds like an enchantment, but like none I have ever heard of. Something that breaks down latent enchantments and converts its energies into raw magicka. You couldn’t have been able to manifest such a thing on your own." Guardian mused, while Kaileena focused on getting away. The Karyudo Kisai were after her? Things had taken a turn for the worse.
“That wasn’t your doing, then?” she asked, and Guardian projected denial, "No, little one."
“Then how did I do it? Was it from the staff?” and again Guardian projected a negative response, “It was an empty vessel when you found it. I’m sorry, little one. I have no idea how it happened, but for now, you must focus on staying alive.”
“I know. But I’m still so far from the Renmei Kisai, and if the Karyudo Kisai are hunting me…”
Worried, she dashed down the rocky face, into the badlands, south of the mountains at the crown of the North District. There would be few places to hide, and scarcely any food.
“With the energy you absorbed, you will have plenty to store in the staff. I sense much more inherent raw magicka in your body now. Hunting and evading will not be an issue.” Guardian said.
Eventually, she slowed, and sat down on the flattest rock she could find. She needed to think.
“I have no power of my own, but I can drink in the power of others.” Kaileena mused, “If I were to absorb enough energy, would it be possible to create a portal?”
“Perhaps…but it would need to be a great power indeed.” Guardian mused, and a thought struck her.
“If I absorbed even more, maybe I could give it to you, and you could make a body for yourself!” she said, nearly falling over from excitement, "You could come too."
Guardian grew sullen, “Perhaps, little one, but we need to reach the Renmei Kisai first. Someone like you might just be unique enough for them to shelter willingly. Let us hope that those two men were the only enchanter hunters seeking you…”
“This was their last assignment?” Koukatsuna asked, Waru and Saku sheathed at the waist.
“Yes. They were to raid the barracks, steal the weapons, and free any Silkrit they came across.” Aika replied, drawing a tanto in her left hand and a katar in her right; a long punch dagger that could extend two additional blades outward, and was mainly used to grip and tangle edged weapons, leaving the opponent vulnerable.
“I thought you were supposed to be a messenger or something…” Koukatsuna noted, watching the bumbling Karu fall one by one to silent crossbow bolts all around them.
“Ryū trained me briefly before he went on his task. He said that I reminded him of someone.” Aika replied, “Why? Are you unsettled by the thought of me fighting next to you?”
The bladedancer snorted, readying the grapple hook to scale the wall, when to his amusement, their men opened the main gate without any trouble.
“Aika, get down…” he whispered, falling into a crouch. His instincts hadn’t let him down yet.
An explosion rocked the battlements, sending several of his men flying, burning.
“Damn it.” Koukatsuna cursed, trying to find the source of the attack. A thin, concentrated tendril of plasma tore through an occupied post, incinerating whoever was within, but Koukatsuna saw who cast it; a lone figure standing further inside the compound.
The few remaining Karu stormed out, but Koukatsuna was already dealing with them, his unusual style allowing him to slip through and around their scale and plate armor. He jabbed one through the underbelly, the barbs of Saku splitting it horizontally and spilling intestines, to which the whimpering creature tried in vain to hold in while he moved on.
He bent his body sideways and kicked his feet upward, reaching around a circular shield to jab at a toad man’s kidney pouch, which perforated and spattered green blood.
Koukatsuna caught a glimpse of Aika leaping onto a toad man and sticking him in the eye before charging towards the source of the flames, determined to kill the bastard before they did any more damage…the bitch…actually, as the leering Skraul that turned to appraise him was female.
She hissed an eldritch phrase, and the area around Koukatsuna erupted, but he kicked up, blown away having lacked a center of gravity. Better than getting pinned to the ground and incinerated.
Arcing his body, he ran his feet across the wall of a shack and flipped back to right himself, cancelling the momentum and landing on his feet. He charged again, Waru and Saku poised, and both were deflected by a slim black short sword.
“Well, what have we here?” the Skraul woman smiled, revealing enlarged fangs, and the bladedancer cross-cut while bending himself at an angle that allowed his foot to land on her knee. When his weapons were naturally swept aside by the unnatural strength the vampyre possessed, he had the momentum to twist his body and land a reverse kick onto her chest, knocking her back.
Waru and Saku came up as he faced backwards and bent his back to force them into a double impaling strike, but the Skraul outmaneuvered him, out of range by the time he could land a hit. He recovered quickly, spinning back to face her and throwing Waru overhead, where it embedded into the stone wall beside her.
“Hmmm? What was that for?” she asked, chuckling, but it was Koukatsuna who had the right to laugh. He dashed in, slashing diagonally with Saku, parried the retaliatory strike, kick flipped while grabbing Waru, and crosscut her in midair, bypassing the trajectory of her deadly weapon.
Waru and Saku rang discordant notes as they shredded her throat, and Koukatsuna indulged himself when he landed by spinning into a flourish, cutting apart her midsection with an x-shaped slash. A hail of gory bits flew back into the wall, splattering against it.
The vampyre choked on blood, hissed, her flesh regenerating, and he finished her off leisurely with a two-handed stroke that decapitated her.
“Pity.” an unseen woman said, "She was a promising apprentice, but nowhere near ready to become a Matriarch."
“Pity indeed.” Koukatsuna hissed, spinning Waru and Saku absently, trying to pinpoint the speaker in the dark, “No matter. If she could die at the hands of a slave then she was never worthy. You have served me well, mortal.”
Koukatsuna found that his patience had quickly eroded, "I would appreciate it if you showed yourself; hiding in the shadows doesn’t inspire such terror as you might hope."
Laughter, low and sibilant, followed, and the woman didn’t enter his field of vision so much as appear in it. He tensed.
"I will stand in the light, then. I am Uejini, one of the eight Matriarchs of the Skraul Empire."
“You’re a member of the Royal Line? A memorable occasion this is, truly.” Koukatsuna breathed, his tail twitching in excitement, darting in with his blades bared.
The Matriarch didn’t draw her weapon. She just took hold of Waru and Saku…with her bare hands!
“You took these from one of my children; an arbiter perhaps, but they have cast their lot with you.” She said, and she twisted her hands, bending his swords at a sharp angle. Koukatsuna stared dumbly at the ruined weapons, and the Matriarch slammed her palm into his chest, breaking his ribs and sending him tumbling.
Aika knew this enemy to be beyond her, and while it was trouncing the bladedancer she ordered a full retreat of the eight surviving hunters, which had raided the armory before the Skraul Matriarch had revealed herself. The slaves were long gone, thanks to them, and she tossed a small glass bead, enchanted by The Grand Alchemist to simulate sunlight. The projectile detonated, but the Matriarch surrounded herself in magickal darkness, and wasn’t burned.
Still, she didn’t seem to be able to move, so it was now or never.
Aika grabbed an unconscious Koukatsuna, somehow still holding his rent long swords, and sprinted away as fast as her legs would allow. The Skraul Matriarch appeared right beside her.
She stopped, paralyzed with fear, and the Skraul Matriarch smiled.
“Look into my eyes, slave.” She hissed, and despite herself Aika found herself doing just that, "Return to your fold, I will not follow. I have no need to destroy the Te Fukushu yet…tell Ryū that he stands against a being that was born in the shadow of God Death himself! I, who carry a fragment of his blessed darkness in my heart, tell him that his rebellion is over, and that if he desires leniency for his pathetic race he should bend knee to the One True God."
Aika did not reply, merely regaining her will to run, and she took Koukatsuna with her into the night.