Prelude and Chapter 1
I will speak now of the Prophecy of the Circle…
A circle of five hearts, five souls, that when brought together, will either save or damn all the worlds within and beyond the Veil.
The First is and yet is not of my blood. She who is mortal, yet she who is not. I know now that this speaks of Elurra; she is the First, born of my blood, and ascended to my sphere in Moonshadow, yet who may cross freely into the Veil, born of it as a mortal.
The Second is the creator, the giver of life to the lifeless, yet who bears only a false life herself. The Second will be born in a great age of strife, and will decide the ultimate fate of Aurora, the human world.
The Third is the destroyer and the counterpart to the Second. He will be the healer who brings destruction, the innocent monster whose path will be forged in fire, blood, and darkness.
The Fourth I know well, yet know not, a life given for a life claimed, the restoration of the natural order of life and death. The Fourth will be the key, who will prime the circle.
The Fifth is the trickster of half-blood, whose heart contains the deepest shadows. It is the Fifth who will complete the circle, and upon their power will hinge either the success or failure of the prophecy, and thus, the fate of all things.
Two years. It had only taken two years for the whole world to go mad.
Kiromichi, Lord of the West District of Teikoku, stood at the helm of his iron flagship, feeling maudlin as usual.
He’d left his engineers on the island, finishing the new weapons based off the schematics he’d uncovered there after the disastrous incursion of the Skraul, where Dekeshi had struck out against his fleet and later his city as he’d battled the forces of the Pirate Lord Kruuk. His armies had been almost completely obliterated that fateful day, but he was not about to bow out and accept defeat.
Especially not while he was feeling so much satisfaction in settling a few old scores…
“I know this still distresses you.” Elurra, his Kamiyonanayo ally, mused, appearing beside him suddenly. Or maybe she’d been there for a while. Between his thoughts, and constantly looking down into his enchanted orb, into which he could pour his strength and save for a later time, he honestly rarely noticed the world around him anymore.
“Distress?” Kiromichi mused, “They sack my capital and a few other cities besides, and I am to be distressed? No, I’m not distressed. I’m pissed!”
Elurra conceded the point, laying her hands on the support rail of the leviathan, her dark, dark skin marked with blue runes that pulsated with magicka. He found their emanations hypnotic.
The Kamiyonanayo, the winged, sorcerous children of Surthath, intrigued him. An imposing race, to be sure. Still, in spite of her alien features, his companion was very noticeably feminine and graceful. A notion that he, in spite of himself, had once or twice alluded to suggestively, but that Elurra had expertly deflected, hinting at, “someone back home waiting for her”.
“We should get back below deck.” Elurra noted, “The storm brews, and travelling due north we will still pass through its outskirts, if barely.”
Nodding, for watching the approaching squall, black as death and wide as the eye could see, he knew well how ugly it would be, and that nothing smaller than an iron-skinned, steam-powered leviathan could brave it.
But it was worth the risk, because unless he missed his guess, the Skraul; blood sucking children of the foul Dread Hammer, were still settled in Nensho Kaevld in force, and would be easy pickings for some choice artillery fire...
There were many who came, and among them, none spoke at first. Everyone was of like mind, of like purpose, and needed no words.
They were the spurned, the ostracized. They were those beholden to none, beloved by none. They were the hunted, the quarry, the prey. They were the slaves of the Hitorigami, of the Pirate Lords, of a society that hated and feared them. They were enchanters; the magicka-users of Teikoku.
And together, beyond the reach of the Renmei Kisai, they plotted.
Kaimei had come a long way to find this place, and this would be his first attendance. He had escaped his bondage with the help of a Half-Elf named Hebi, a recent plant in the Renmei Kisai intended to ferry away enchanters into hiding.
“Have you met him?” he asked, and his friend looked to him curiously, “Who do you speak of?”
“Yokai.” Kaimei replied, perplexed, and his friend laughed, “Everyone here has met him. In a moment you will too.”
After his supposed death at the hands of Commander Itaku and the Kazeatari Serpent, the renegade enchanter’s reputation had swelled to legendary proportions as it was whispered that he’d survived. Kaimei would discover on this night the truth of the rumors, it seemed. He hid his discomfort, but only with difficulty.
“Come.” his friend added with a grin, “Meet the family.”
And so he was introduced, with both bows and foreign-style handshakes, for more than a few “Magi” among the Pirate Lords had been freed as well. There were well over twenty in all, gathered here in a ruined basement under his native Makutsa.
Yokai, if it was indeed Yokai, had proven himself quite clever, allying with the peasant-led uprising known as the Renmei Hyakusho, thus securing a contact through which to smuggle supplies and freed enchanters as well as gaining a tangible connection with the people of Makutsa, for many supported the organization in the wake of Lord Tetsyyubo’s depredations.
There; the central stage area, perhaps originally intended as a makeshift platform for barrels, was illuminated by a series of magickally lit candles. Yokai would appear to them there.
Moments passed, and suddenly, Hebi took the stage, looking back to him with an amused glint in his eye, “Now, since everyone is here, including our new brothers and sisters, it’s time to drop the pretenses.”
His appearance wavered, like the reflection of a mirror that was being turned away, before vanishing altogether. In his place stood a dark-haired, dark-eyed man, a full-blooded elf by the looks of him. His mane of hair was tangled, and combined with his unusual purple eyes and easy but rakish grin, he had a wild, mischievous look about him.
His clothing, a common-style tunic and leggings, was finely cut in black with brown accents, though the tunic did not sport its under layer, showing much of his torso, which was covered with black runes. In fact, being shoeless, Kaimei could see that his feet and hands from the elbow and knee were completely black.
The rogue enchanter, nay, the rogue enchanter, nodded, seemingly amused, “You need not revert to the offering of accolade or awe, oh my brothers and sisters, as there is no place for it here.”
He paced along the platform, his hands entwined behind his back, neck arched, brow pinched in deep consternation, “We have come here, to this place, because we know that our lives, those offered to us, are not the lives we desire. We know that those in power wish us enslaved because we were born with, and trained to use, powers that are rightfully ours to wield. Is not the farmer entitled to his harvest? Is not the poet entitled to his fanciful words? They say no, these men of power, who claim to possess all that they see.”
“You know their names...” Yokai continued, scowling, “The Hitorigami, the Karyudo Kisai, the Pirate Lords, and yes, my friends, the People of Teikoku! Mistake me not, for I speak your thoughts, my comrades of like-mind; our greatest enemy is not the rifles and ships of the Pirate Lords, it is not the blades and trickery and deceit of the Karyudo Kisai, but instead the hearts and minds of the people, the people who were turned against us, the people who have been taught to fear us!”
He stopped, making eye contact with every face he passed, finishing with Kaimei’s, “But this, my friends, is not an enemy to be vanquished, it is an enemy to be won over. It is the common man who fears us because his lord tells him to that is both our greatest enemy, and perhaps, our greatest ally. Has he need to fear us? Have the devilish attentions of the Dread Hammer not long ago passed? What justice is it to punish the son for the acts not of the father, nor even the grandfather, but the ancestor?”
Yokai frowned, pausing to allow his words to sink in, “Brethren, we have suffered enough for the crimes of our ancestors. It is time for a new Teikoku, where we enchanters are free once more, free to follow our own hearts. By coming here, to this place, you have accepted this burden. If you are willing to fight for this truth, to suffer for it, and yes, if there is no other way, to die for it...will you?”
Kaimei nodded, “I have seen the face of the Karyudo Kisai, in the form of an armored monster that nearly struck down an innocent child, her crime nothing more than being an enchanter. Are our lives no more than the whims of those who wish us enslaved? To fight such evil, yes, I would happily die.”
Yokai nodded appreciatively, “Step up then, and raise your hand, brother of mine.”
He did, and as one, the other enchanters bowed to him. Yokai knelt down, and pricked his finger with a deft pass of the hand, causing him to start. A drop of his blood coated one of Yokai’s pointed black nails.
Yokai grinned, curled his finger into his palm, and punctured his own skin, drawing blood that mixed with Kaimei’s own. “This pact binds you to us, as it does us to you. As I welcomed you once as an illusion, so too do I greet you in flesh, and of the flesh. Welcome, Kaimei, to the Kagemusha, the “Warriors of Shadow”, the Revolutionaries of Teikoku.”
Yokai grinned, “Your first assignment will come soon. Your false identity will be prepared tonight, so take your time in studying the fine details. I will collect you in the morning, and a...certain friend of mine, can see to your transportation. Do try to show her the proper respect.”
While Kiromichi’s iron flagship made its final approach, a small contingent of the Te Fukushu; the slave rebellion of the Silkrit race, crept into Nensho Kaevld with the intent to assassinate any high ranking Skraul before the actual attack.
The less organized the Skraul response to Kiromichi’s bombardment, the more damage they could inflict before the fiends could retreat further inland.
Besides, Ryū, unwilling vampyre and leader of the Te Fukushu, was more than ready to replenish his stock of Vitrium; blood extracted through heinous torture which could serve both as a powerful restorative elixir and a source of food.
He slipped from shadow to shadow, garbed in a dark cloak and loose leggings, as well as a silvery mask in the likeness of the (not so) legendary Dragon, a line right down the middle where Kyokan had rent the thing in twain. He no longer wore it for the purpose of hiding his face, but rather because it had become a symbol of fear to the enemy; to see that mask was to know death. He had slain a Prime named Kyokan; a general and assassin to the Matriarchs. More than that, he had dominated the wretch, crushing him with his newfound powers, alongside hundreds of others personally and by proxy.
His soldiers had broken the siege of Fusestu, when all had seemed lost. None could deny the success of his gruesome campaign.
It was late fall, the onset of winter, and a wicked storm had come in from the sea, the pounding rain serving to reduce visibility and mask any careless sounds with the occasional peal of thunder.
Sodden and thoroughly miserable, the Te Fukushu under his command began their work by mapping out the streets, plotting a path to the main targets; the noble’s villa, a warehouse, and a small foundry.
His twin wakizashi, Hyosho and Kaminari, were belted to his back. The sentient weapons, wrought of Vitrium, mithril, and his own life force, carried powerful enchantments, including the ability to recombine with him and unlock his true form.
Beside him was Aika, who he’d once rescued from the dissection table and had, in fact, become a well renowned warrior in her own right among the organization. Unlike him, she favored a single weapon; a prototype spear fashioned by Jhihro, their brilliant but highly erratic alchemist. Eight-pointed, the spear head was a series of hollow syringes, which injected a white phosphorous fluid that replicated the light of the sun and was thus, obviously, lethal to vampyres. The weapon was still too difficult to make for it to be mass produced, but there were more than a few in circulation now.
That was alright. They made good use of what they had, which was far more in recent months now that they had reliable allies among the humans of Teikoku.
Communicating through a series of silent hand gestures, Aika marked the sentries, all Orcs; a slave race of the Skraul Army similar in appearance to humans but with more lupine features, tusks, and pointed ears.
Nodding, Ryū gave the word to eliminate only those between them and the manor on the north-eastern end of the village, and then the manor itself. After that they would judge how much time they had before considering the foundry and warehouse. If there was not enough time before Kiromichi’s artillery barrage they would begin the extraction.
“Like old times?” Aika signaled to him as they found a nice corner, scouting out the alleyways, and he nodded, “Though I wish Shirudo and Koukatsuna were here as well.”
Shirudo, Ryū’s apprentice and second in command, had done wonders during his absence, so he’d decided to just give him the official command of the Te Fukushu. Now bogged down with the joint task of settling their people in the human-populated Teikoku, as well as planning military assaults (just like the one that Ryū was engaged in), it had been some time since they had been able to speak directly. Likewise, Koukatsuna, another promising apprentice, was still serving as Lord Minamoto’s personal bodyguard.
It was alright that they could no longer work together, for each was fulfilling a purpose, Shirudo’s being by far the most important. Even more than defeating the Skraul, their people had to be accepted by the humans if this world was to become their new home.
Inching up a wall and up to the precipice of a balcony returned him to the moment. The Orc sentry, a male, seven feet and three hundred pounds of teeth and muscle, had its back turned, trying to get out of the worst of the downpour. Water had curious effects on malnourished undead; though he experienced no discomfort presently, he knew it could irritate or outright melt their skin.
Ryū slid onto the balcony, Hyosho drawn silently from its ornamented scabbard. Striking without hesitation, the vampyre planted its edge into the base of the creature’s neck, severing the spine, all the while getting an arm around it to steady its fall.
The Orc slumped over, paralyzed, not even emitting a wet gurgle, and he gently lowered it onto the ground and pierced its heart, daring a peek inside of the second floor room. There was another Orc inside. All the better...
As Ryū enjoyed his sport, Aika scaled an adjacent building, using her elongated body and powerfully muscled tail to slither her way up. It was prudent to check any sentry posts within possible line of sight to Ryū’s current haunt. She discovered she needn’t bother, for the three inside were all huddled around a fire pit. She went back down to ground level, satisfied.
The weather definitely worked to their advantage, keeping all but the most unlucky guards outside, though she could only imagine how their human allies could pilot a ship in such a maelstrom. With luck they might be able to hitch a ride on the leviathan after the attack, and she could find a nice, dry, cozy bunk. Her brigandine, leggings, tabi, and cloak chafed from the rain.
But she managed, her forked tongue tasting the air for unusual spoor. Ryū rejoined her along the next street, Te Fukushu hunters trailing in their wake, and they passed another bowshot in without incident.
Nensho Kaevld was not a large village by human standards, but it was still about two miles wide, with separated districts, and they had to attack all four sentries at once to scale the thick wooden wall that had once served as a means to separate poor from wealthy.
Ryū took one along the battlement of the wall, she took another, and two hunters took the twin balcony watchers on the other side of the street. Unlike Ryū, who could scale almost any surface with ease thanks to his nails, she had to use a pair of climbing claws on both her hands and feet; metal handles with hooked spikes. Thus, she had to time her ascent with the thunder, using its sounds to mask lifting herself an arm’s length or two at a time.
It took a few minutes to reach a point where she couldn’t dependably rely on something being between her and direct eyeshot of the balcony watchers, then those two were silently dispatched by her command, daggers drawing across their throats. Ryū took the other at the top of the battlement, and quickly scaling her end, she hoisted herself over the top with a grunt. The sentry sensed movement behind it, and the snarling creature almost lifted a horn before she ran it through with her spear, injecting the deadly fluid into its veins.
The hybrid groaned, smoldering, still trying to sound its horn, and Aika leapt onto its chest, wrenching the spear and collapsing it, and the Silkrit gasped as all the tension ran out of her body when it stopped moving and began to disintegrate.
A battle was one thing, but this sort of killing was more intimate, more vicious. It still took the wind out of her.
Nodding that she was alright, their detachment opened the gate just long enough for the main force to slip through, then prudently sealed it behind them. If the ashes of dead sentries were discovered, a few extra minutes without alerting the entire city would definitely be a boon.
As evening gave way to night she did not seek out Minamoto’s villa to assume her duties.
Vala, once Matriarch of the Skraul, now an ally of the Free People of Teikoku, had another path before her, one that she badly needed to tread. She turned south, silently, hidden, out of Fusestu and into the countryside.
Two years fighting her own kind, in service to a cause she did not have any stake in.
There was the continuation of her life, of course, but Vala needed something more than that. More even than simple asylum in Moonshadow should the Dread Hammer, her father, be defeated.
A length of time to herself, then, to decide her future.
Mikoto, the Hitorigami and his best friend, saw to the secondary governing bodies of the empire outside of the Four Lords, mostly generals and patrons to the noble families. Three hours of which Adahj had waited by his side. Three hours listening to what a bunch of bunglers thought their efforts in the war should entail.
Adahj sighed, fantasizing himself flattening their heads with a mace. Soon enough, though, they called the evening to a close, not because any decision had been reached but because the lot of them were as tired of talking as he was of listening to them.
He followed the Hitorigami up the steps to his throne and took a position close by, earning a few looks of ire. His own eyes flared red with his irritation, and he dared them to protest. Indeed, while Mikoto had received only light scorn in protecting himself via a series of magickal constructs, a Djinn, or Kamiyonanayo as his kind was called here, was seen as highly inappropriate. Any outlander would have been considered inappropriate.
All of the Four Lords (with the exception of Minamoto, who in fact had a Silkrit and a Skraul Half-blood looking after him) insisted on offering personal guards, but Mikoto had repeatedly refused. Adahj understood, and was very grateful, for he knew the trouble that his friend was going through to keep him nearby, and the tension that his presence was creating between the Hitorigami and his underlings.
Rumors had swirled as well. Rumors with a hint of truth in them...
When the room emptied fully Adahj sighed, and took a seat, crossing his legs. His opaque glassteel breastplate and pauldrons clanged loudly as he unfastened and dropped them to the floor, and now he sighed with relief, scratching the inside of his knee through his finely embroidered and layered blue lower robes.
His unique weapons, forged of magickal ice crystals that could melt and reform into any shape he desired, also found the floor, currently in the form of a pair of katanas, the single-edged swords of Teikoku. He wore no shoes, but had enchanted golden bands around each of his three toes which bestowed their own protections.
He waited until Mikoto was finished finding his inner center, and dared to ask, “How do you manage ignoring an itch for hours on end?”
“You are a Kamiyonanayo...” The Hitorigami replied with an amused glint in his voice, “A being of magicka who will live forever, traveling through the firmament of creation as if it were some great sea, and that is what you find unimaginable? What of your peoples’ legendary reputation for patience?”
Shrugging, though he could not swallow a laugh entirely, Adahj replied, “I am only a hundred years old, my friend. Young, by our standards. I don’t really think too much about eternity yet.”
“Fair enough.” Mikoto replied, “What do you think of things as they are?” to which the Djinn shifted uncomfortably.
“Kiromichi does well...” he said after some thought, “He’s cowed the surviving pirates and brought them under his banner, and word has it he’s working on something big in the western isles. Some manner of glamour prevents remote scrying and divination, so I haven’t had the chance to inspect further.”
“...Likewise, the Silkrit and Minamoto’s troops make good progress is raiding Skraul positions and assassinating higher ranked vampyres. But...”
“But...” the Hitorigami interjected, and Adahj sighed, “The coast is still crawling with those damned flying ships. Dekeshi seems to be running the show, and not one of my kin are powerful enough to combat her. Granted, we are weaker in the Veil, where we are not welcome, but it is very troubling. Likewise, Lord Tetsyyubo’s District is nearly overrun. The Cowled Lord does well to keep the filth out of his capital, but all across the North District the Skraul pillage at will. The South District is having its own problems with renegade enchanters and has done little to aid in the war effort. With the Bamboo forest at our eastern flank and the ocean at the west we don’t have much room to maneuver, and are ill-equipped to handle a siege. Your people, I’m sorry to say, have been preparing for entirely the wrong kind of war. Should the Skraul finally decide to amass in full, even the capital will be overwhelmed.”
“And why have they not done so, do you think?” Mikoto asked, to which again he shrugged, “They move slowly, carefully. This is the right way to not only invade a foreign land, but to colonize it, turning its residents into undead like them. But they also seem to be focusing on areas of little strategic value, with sporadic resources and terrain. Some reports claim they’re prospecting along the coast line, but for what, exactly? They’re looking for something, but what, I cannot imagine.”
Mikoto nodded grimly, “That is indeed my worry. They know something that we do not, for I know of no artifact or magickal emanation in that region outside of a few Kamiyonanayo-made landmarks and buildings.”
They sat in silence then, and pondered. What did the Dread Hammer; the most viciously insane but perhaps also most clever and inventive being in the Multi-Verse know that they did not?
What hidden dagger did he seek, that without which he could not feel secure in victory even with an army of millions at his disposal?!
Ryū tasted the blood of a pureblood Skraul. He didn’t resist the dark impulses it gave him, slipping into a monstrous frenzy. A second, and then a third, fell to him, and he drank deeply, savoring the burning warmth that spread throughout his body.
His Te Fukushu had played this game a hundred times over; when the primary cell was located, there was no quarter given. Death was dealt in silence. They began with the outer halls and chambers in groups of two or three, then slowly closed the net. The vampyres knew something was wrong, but not what.
They left no bodies, and if possible, no telling stains, dumping the leavings in odd places like under floorboards and inside small rooms. The few times a true scuffle occurred, other agents would pour in and silence the targets with overwhelming force. The storm outside did wonders. It took over an hour for a defense to be mobilized, and by then over half of them were dead. Ryū had fed well...he would have a surprise waiting...
Karoshi, Matriarch of the Skraul, oversaw the defense of her temporary barracks. Nekasu, her darksteel Morningstar, was secured to her belt.
An elite group of broodlords stood by her side, six in all, though none had yet advanced to the rank of prime. Before them, thirty-five arbiters, each armed with sword and shield, formed a wall between the inner chamber and the outer hallways.
The matriarch telepathically ordered the slaves to gather around the villa and attack the enemy at its rear, but it would be a few minutes before they would arrive. The storm, and the barricaded wall, the work of the Te Fukushu, no doubt, delayed their approach. She had gotten careless, and now she would have to salvage the situation.
So be it. She knew well of this Ryū. Now virtually the equivalent of a prime, he was still no match for her powers, given directly by God Death himself.
Sun orbs flew in, completely expected, and were expectedly countered by motes of impenetrable darkness she conjured with a brief imprecation. The Te Fukushu were smart, however, throwing their orbs in such a way that the resulting magickal darkness formed a wall, masking their approach.
The shield-bearing arbiters held their positions. Silence stretched...
And then the battle was underway, the enemy striking with thrusting spears and crossbow bolts. Most attacks deflected harmlessly off arbiter shields, but a few struck home, and the line wavered.
Redirecting her power, Karoshi struck two Silkrit down with death spells, and Ryū, for it could be no other, charged through, bellowing fiercely. He was living fire, a pair of blazing feathered wings sprouting from his back, and his face was obscured with a fiery bird-like visage. His weapons, raw power shaped into swords, formed an intricate pattern, curving and slipping around each other to cleave and impale with shallow, deft passes that shouldn’t possess the kinetic force they did.
Several arbiters collapsed, their armor melting, their flesh burning.
Activating Nekasu, the matriarch smiled as her magicka blew away the darkness and light, striking the impetuous Te Fukushu leader. He was unaffected...
She was still where she was... How? Nekasu should have transported them into the Faded Veil!
“Your magicka will not function.” someone behind her whispered, and the matriarch turned with a fury, facing her opponent. Her long, delicate body was wreathed in violet ripples of energy, her light blue skin marking her as a Silkrit of Moonshadow. A thin but firm hand clamped down on her Morningstar, and the Matriarch indeed found herself in the Faded Veil. But her powers would not avail her!
Nekasu’s Blood-Forged enchantment transported the wielder and its victim into the Faded Veil, and transferred all of the abilities from the latter to the former. But Kaileena, for she knew well of this one as well, had twisted Nekasu’s power against itself. It was no more than a length of darksteel!
Kaileena knew well that a vampyre’s greatest strength was in its enchantments. With her Spell-Eater Strain, a constant aura that allowed her body to absorb magicka, and a direct contact between her and the weapon, she had trapped the consciousness within the Morningstar and seized its properties, using its power to transport the two of them into a parallel dimension. Away from her guards. Away from the others.
“A fine trick, hatchling.” The matriarch Karoshi hissed, pulling away and brandishing her weapon in a two-handed grip, “But I will not allow myself to be bested so easily.”
Calling upon the power of Dur’Artoth himself, Karoshi’s body doubled in size and filled with unholy might, detectable by an inexplicable feeling of pure, instinctual dread. She charged in, her Morningstar swinging overhead, when Kaileena frowned, “I have every intention of having you being bested so easily.”
As Karoshi came into range, bringing down her weapon, she simply took two steps back, impossibly quick, dodging the attack, all the while focusing her absorbed magicka into a vertical coil of intangible force which enclosed the vampyre’s limbs, entrapping them.
“Surrender.” Kaileena warned, “Don’t make me do this.”
The vampyre spat at her.
“May you know a horrible death, Kaileena Kazeatari!” she hissed, trying and failing to break free, to which Kaileena smiled mirthlessly, “I already am dying horribly, vampyre. Have you not heard?”
She reached out her hand and crushed the Skraul’s heart with an impacting burst of telekinesis. Death was nearly instantaneous. Her essence extinguished, the matriarch’s remains floated away, dissolving into ash. Collecting the Morningstar, which did not perish with its host, Kaileena returned to the Veil, fresh melancholy tightening her chest, to find the remaining vampyres being butchered. Without their leader, whose incredible if singularly vulnerable power indeed would have overwhelmed even Ryū, their defensive line had collapsed.
Kaileena did what she could to quicken the massacre, and as the last vampyre fell dead, with one exception, Ryū came to her, his true form shedding like a skin.
“Well timed...” the vampyre mused, sheathing his weapons, and Kaileena nodded sadly, “With Karoshi no more, that leaves only three Matriarchs that we know of.”
“Indeed.” Ryū agreed, “But Ranshi had only barely been killed by Yokai, who had possessed the power of a god. Dekeshi and the others are no doubt nearly as powerful. And there is the matter of their inner leadership...”
That was indeed a worry; two of the reportedly most powerful Matriarchs hadn’t even appeared yet, and then there was still Dur’Artoth and the R’yzthaek to contend with.
Starseeker had been slain by Dekeshi some months ago, and had not yet resurrected in Moonshadow, as his race was created from fragments of a divine being and would not stay dead for long. That left Elurra and Adahj among their Kamiyonanayo allies, unless Surthath found a way to dispatch any others. Tonight was a well earned victory, but many more battles remained.
“Lord Kiromichi sends his regards...” Kaileena noted, eyeing her noble’s crest; an engraved wood and bronze disk emblazoned with the Imperial Kamon. The artifact, among other things, was enchanted to allow communication between any others who bore a similar crest, including the Four Lords.
“He also says to extract at the first opportunity. In one hour, he will shell this village into a refuse heap. His words, not mine.”
“What do you think?” Kiromichi asked, gauging his ally’s developing understanding of munitions. Elurra frowned, her slim tail darting from side to side, her glowing eyes narrowed thoughtfully,
“Phosphorous incendiaries won’t work well with the rain, and standard rounds are meant to punch holes in a ship. Frags?”
“Yes, very good. For large scale attacks on fortified positions, especially ones constructed primarily of wood, always use fragmentation rounds for maximum lethal effect. Have the men load them now. Set the range to 4.482/7 of a mile.”
The Kamiyonanayo closed her eyes, undoubtedly contacting every crewmember simultaneously and giving the order via telepathy, perhaps her most useful skill in the current setting. The storm still hammered at them, but thankfully it would not hinder the artillery fire in the slightest.
There were eighteen artillery guns on deck, but thankfully there were also twelve on either side of the vessel on the next floor down, the barrels extending out through large cross-shaped holes in the hull that allowed maneuverability even in such violent weather. A fully stocked leviathan, a veritable floating city, could fire in virtually anything, and had enough shells to keep the barrage up until the morning and well into the next day, firing roughly every forty-five seconds.
Overkill at its finest...
“Fire.” Kiromichi said with a smile, spyglass in hand, and as one, twelve fourteen-foot barrels discharged a forty pound shell each; a thick iron casing filled with metal scraps and an additive explosive compound for maximum spread.
When that first wave hit Nensho Kaevld the first few lines of buildings were pulverized, sending up a hail of wooden shards and what he hoped, because he could not see for sure, were mangled body parts. The rounds didn’t penetrate very far into the city, but that was alright.
“5.688/7 of a mile...” Kiromichi corrected, “I want the outskirts in such disarray at both ends that the bastards have nowhere to go.”
Elurra nodded, and fifty seconds later the second barrage hit the village, near the edge of the noble district, and for the first time that day the Lord of the West District wished it wasn’t raining. He could have used the phosphorous rounds and gotten quite a show...
“Sir...” Elurra replied starkly, “The Hitorigami does not want the village burned to ashes. There is the resettlement issue.”
Snorting with amusement, Kiromichi eyed her sidelong, “At this point there will be nothing left of the place but wood chips. I don’t see the problem.”
The Kamiyonanayo shrugged, “Lord Tetsyyubo will not be pleased that you decimated one of his villages.”
The entrenched army tried to rally near the center of the poor district before being consumed in a hail of exploding wood and metal, and Kiromichi laughed again, “I could care less what that idiot thinks. I am not only the Lord of the West District, but the only reigning Pirate Lord. He can kiss my backside.”
True enough, Arainami’s death and the subsequent coup to take over the remainder of the fleet while Dekeshi brutalized it had left Kiromichi in a bit of an awkward position. The pirates had, for the short term, accepted his rule because of his association with Arainami, their self-styled Pirate Queen, and because of the fact that most of the high ranking officers had been sent to the bottom of the sea. They would only tolerate his presence for a time, unless he made waves in finding them a new home.
Likewise, his own West District had its own opposition set against him should he try anything of the sort. But at the same time, with both of those factions under his control, he was potentially more influential than the Hitorigami himself. That gave him options. Possibilities.
He would have to gauge Elurra’s disposition on the matter, without her knowing it. She could be very useful should he need more allies.
Putting away the spyglass, for there wasn’t much more to see of the end of Nensho Kaevld, Kiromichi started for his quarters, “Have them keep it up until there’s not a single building still standing. Then, meet me in my cabin. I had them steam-cook some roast partridge and leek that I’m just dying to try. I’ll also tell them to throw on some asparagus, since you like it so much, or maybe an artichoke.”
Elurra nodded, somewhat grimly, and Kiromichi went down, pleased as he could only be by blowing something up on so grand a scale.