Her wounds seared themselves shut. Bones re-knit themselves. Elurra didn’t acknowledge pain, she ignored it.
In her implacable fury, she had transcended such trivialities...
She hurled herself against Dekeshi’s trident, her blades whirring with blinding speed, seeking the slightest opening in the matriarch’s defenses. She was not obliged.
Illuthien charged the flank, only to be tied up in Dekeshi’s water cloak, which animated into the shape of a grasping hand. The Arcanist was hoisted up and slammed into the ceiling, again, again.
Farcia, her gown in tatters from a thousand-blades spell, pointed a thick, twisting wand of rosewood tipped with a blood red garnet. A column of flame engulfed the matriarch, throwing up a cloud of smoke.
Elurra backpedaled, blades spinning defensively. A body-thick bolt of lightning rocketed her off her feet.
Karyudo Kisai agents peppered the vampyre with crossbow bolts. Jhihro tinkered with one of his bombs, a two-chambered hourglass design, grumbling about “intolerable working conditions”.
Aika honestly didn’t know what to do. Dekeshi’s true form; something between wraith, pincushion, and lightning rod, resisted conventional weapons, and none of them were going to get close enough with the wretch trading blows with the Kamiyonanayo. It was a wonder the three of them hadn’t brought the whole place crashing down...
“Brilliant!” Jhihro hissed in delight, presenting the hourglass-bomb, now strapped to a the detached head of his sphere, “The increase in prosperous and thermite should be able to magnify its lethality sufficient to-”
“Give me that!” she snapped, wrenching it from his hands.
He waited a few hours for his friend to awaken, listening through enchantment details of the siege of Shimobashira.
Kaileena rested, cradled in Arteth’s arms. The Kamiyonanayo had abjectly refused to set her down since she’d bound herself to the Phoenix Stone. She hadn’t so much as stirred since then, and her face was restful, even serene.
He envied her peacefulness...
“I must go.” he announced, “I’m needed for the battle. I will not ask, or command, you to attend as well, Arteth.”
The Kamiyonanayo nodded, “My place is with her. I apologize, but she means more to me than all the Veil. I cannot leave.”
Mikoto nodded, knelt down, and brushed Kaileena’s cheek, “Goodbye, my friend.”
Then he activated one of his more powerful enchantments, teleporting himself to his private quarters in Hitorigami city, that he might arm himself...
I eye the board, furious.
Argosaxx’s scythe is tucked away someplace safe, where Surthath will never find it. With it, I can slay anything, even an Old One, and absorb their power, as Argosaxx had in the ancient days...the only problem...is that I can’t fucking use it!
I slam my fist into the table, leaving a streak of black blood on its cracked surface. Yes, that was quite a bold move on my brother’s part.
The two sapphire wizard pieces, which had been hiding in the shadows of my obsidian warrior pieces, now stood starkly revealed. Joined with a third, cracked sapphire piece, they harry one of the larger pieces on the board, the one representing Dekeshi.
“Do not fail me by making this humiliation complete...” I snarl, my tentacle hairs writhing in agitation, acidic slime bubbling down my shoulders to stick in my fur.
I spare a glance at the sapphire-chalcedony wizard, beside a smooth grey piece with bat-like wings; my other half. The former is no longer deeply pitted, and is emitting a soft, rosy glow, with its Silkrit-head now possessing a rapturous expression.
I want to flatten that one...for no other reason than for what she now is...
“Bitch.” I hiss, pawing at the hilt of my darksteel hammer.
It would be quite the feat, but I know precisely how to break her, and, ironically, it would be precisely the move that would win me the game. For such a seemingly minor piece, Kaileena was the fulcrum that would determine the final stages of the match. With that piece neutralized I could take all the others. I could take Moonshadow. I could take it all!
Forcing my attention away, lest my brother become acclimated to my intentions, I return to the three Djinn and the Matriarch.
“Dekeshi...do not disappoint me.”
The sky roiled in anger. Black as the deepest night, a massive thunderhead swirled above them.
Recovering from his burns, Ryū might have considered rain a good thing, were it not accompanied by the peal of thunder.
“A bad storm, indeed...” he mused, eyeing Vilaseth sidelong, “Not natural. Not a chance. We should help whoever’s still down there.”
The Elf shrugged, “Oh, I know it, but both of us are a bit too chewed up to be more than a burden.”
“My soldiers are down there...” Ryū hissed, and Vilaseth replied immediately, “My wife is down there. But she can handle herself this time, I think.”
Farcia grimaced, dropping her second-to-last wand, which had expended its energies and was now inert.
Perhaps... No, she was forbidden to use it. Mistress Illuthien had been adamant that under no circumstances...
The Djinn cursed, readied her last wand, which would confuse with a series of reflective illusions, like a room of mirrors. Mirrors...yes, yes that was it!
Farcia slipped away from the battle, to the Silkrit and Humans. A female Silkrit eyed her hesitantly, but bowed, “Kamiyonanayo. Command us, and we will fight to the end.”
“Actually...” Farcia clarified, “I just need that bomb. And a distraction.”
Illuthien snarled out an imprecation, and seven arm-length shards of ice manifested in front of her.
Hurling each at Dekeshi, the Arcanist fumed as she saw each repelled by her spinning trident. She came in close with her axe, exchanged a few blows as Elurra harried the Skraul’s flank, but Dekeshi, infuriatingly, showed not a scratch for their efforts.
“Dip a hand into the tides of fate. Collapse the heavens and rain death from above…” the matriarch spat, calling upon her weapon’s unique enchantments.
A rumbling filled the chamber. Swirling disks of shadowy energies suddenly sprang into being, dotting the ceiling, reflecting a dark sky turned bright by a net of arcing lightning.
“Limited teleportation...” Illuthien gasped, “How? That should be impossible!
Dekeshi smiled, “It isn’t a teleportation, merely an illusionary reflection of what occurs outside at this very moment. I will strike you with sheer metaphor, and my will, Iki-o-Korosu’s will, shall make it manifest! Rain down from blackened skies the wrath of heaven and sea...”
And with that final, terrible utterance, the darkness of the chamber burst, exploded, into blinding light. A thousand peals of thunder deafened her sensitive hearing. A net of surging electricity descended towards the floor, forming a network of intersecting lines of energy. They had moments before it covered the entire chamber.
But then, another light bloomed behind her. Farcia snarled out the simple phrase that triggered her final wand, and massive sheets of reflective light appeared around the matriarch, leaving only a small opening.
“Plan on giving me a makeover?” Dekeshi said mockingly, but her handmaiden didn’t reply, tossing in a small object and sealing the opening.
“When she emerges...” Farcia told them, “...strike with everything you have.”
Suddenly, screams burst from the mirror spell, and Illuthien smiled. Devious; a light orb reflected infinitely in a room of mirrors.
Farcia was nothing if not experimental. A few bedside antics had reinforced the notion.
Twin-bladed axe in hand, Illuthien spread her wings wide, and waited. The mirror construct shattered, exploding in light. Dekeshi, howling, burst free, cloak in ruins and flesh seared back into solidity, and she was there, axe leading down.
Dekeshi began to thrust with her trident, but then Elurra clamped down on her body from behind, piercing the vampyre’s underbelly with her thinblades, pinning both arms to the side.
Knowing they had moments before Dekeshi’s regeneration began to repair the damage they’d caused, Illuthien put every ounce of her strength into her attack; a helm cleaving strike. She felt the wet, soft impact of metal meeting flesh. It did, and always had, feel like hitting a rotten stump after the rain.
Dekeshi split, right down the forehead, her head cleaved in two, the blade of the axe leading all the way into her shoulder. Illuthien could just see her black heart as it stopped beating...
The matriarch returned to true physical form as her powers sought out a vampyre or Blood-Forged enchantment, failed to find one, and dissipated.
Iki-o-Korosu clattered to the ground. Dekeshi’s half-decapitated body fell into a heap, Elurra landing next to it. She didn’t pause for long to observe her captor’s end before approaching them, her eyes red with anger.
Illuthien let her arms fall to her waist, returning her axe to a pocket dimension stored in a small pouch at her belt.
“You were right there...” Elurra growled, “All that time.”
It was not a question.
“Aye.” Illuthien replied without a hint of her usual smugness, “We had to know what Dur’Artoth sought here; the Skraul had come in far too small of number to take the planet, even at the beginning. We knew their actions to be a feint; a prelude to something bigger, and knew that we had to maintain our ruse. Especially when Dekeshi apparently went out to find what she sought, which we now know to be none other than Argosaxx’s lost weapon.”
She sighed, “Sacrifices had to be made; I do not condone killing kin, but Adahj brought it upon himself with that ill-fated assassination attempt. As did you, sister, by allowing yourself to be captured. I did what had to be done to ensure Dekeshi’s failure, and thus I have. Dur’Artoth’s secret weapon is now useless to him, and you have avenged yourself on your rapist. As far as I care it’s all’s well that ends well.”
They stared each other down, Elurra’s emotions visibly at war with her warrior’s practicality. Of course she did not expect, had not expected, Illuthien to save her; Illuthien only respected and rewarded strength, or absolute obedience, after all.
It was rampant, seething emotion, nothing more; the suffering that she’d undergone, and the fact that Illuthien, and Illuthien alone, could have stopped it at any point, but had chosen not to.
“You know precisely what father would say about this...” Illuthien noted dryly, “By all means blame me if you must, but let us rid ourselves of this dismal place.”
Gatsuyu, Hana, and Nagomi remained in their room, seated about the chamber. Servants cleared the ruined bed and brought in mugs of hot tea.
Arteth didn’t accept any; his mind reeled with what his little fox had done.
Her body, now a construct of the Phoenix Stone, would be virtually invincible, capable of regenerating massive damage. And the stone itself, infused with her soul, radiated raw magicka. No more would she rely on the magicka of others to fuel her enchantments. His promise to protect her had become somewhat superfluous...
No... She needed no protection in battle perhaps, but it was still his task to safeguard her from the hardships of the world. She’d suffered enough... more than enough. He would shower her with finery and affection, disperse those who upset or offended her, and crush those who threatened her. With his efforts, she would never feel pain again...
He cradled her body close, squeezing her as tightly as he dared.
“Ar...-teth?” she asked him, and everyone in the room startled, himself included. Looking down, Arteth stared into Kaileena’s shifting, ethereal eyes.
“Immaculate survival instinct...” he said, quoting his words to her in Yokai’s tower two years prior. Kaileena frowned, confused, and he smiled, “Never mind that. How do you feel?”
Laying a hand on his chest, Kaileena smiled in return, but soon squirmed out of his grasp, “Like I’ve been sleeping for a long time. What has happened?”
He grimaced, “You wish to attend to the affairs of the land so soon? Kaileena, you need rest.”
“I agree.” Gatsuyu said, laying a hand on her shoulder, “Just watching you go through what you did will provide me a lifetime of nightmares. You need time to-”
“No.” Kaileena said flatly, “Soon, brother, but not just yet. I would have further words with my Hitorigami, on certain matters that still concern me.”
“Mikoto has left for battle.” Arteth retorted, “It can wait.”
Kaileena shook her head, then looked down, realizing her nakedness.
“It can wait until I change. Excuse me.”
Aika watched the Kamiyonanayo with mixed fascination and awe.
“I wish we could have contributed more.” she said honestly to Farcia, who, visibly conscious of her rent clothing, shifted uneasily from foot to foot.
“You slew twice your number in Koriko.” Elurra replied, “And without Jhihro’s quick thinking we wouldn’t have had the means to sufficiently weaken Dekeshi.”
“Finally, some appreciation.” Jhihro mused, “Thank you, Milady. We’ll take our leave then; it would be good to know how Ryū fares.”
“Well enough.” Ryū grumbled behind her, and Aika turned in surprise to find him wounded but very much alive (for a vampyre, at least), with an Elf she’d never seen before.
“Vilaseth...” Elurra groaned, throwing herself at him in an embrace, “I-”
“Easy...” Vilaseth interrupted, “No words. No need. Let us return home.”
Nodding, the Kamiyonanayo conjured a portal just outside the boundaries of the temple, and they stepped through together, disappearing in a flash of light and a soft pop of displaced air.
“I suppose we should check up on Lord Tetsyyubo.” Illuthien noted offhandedly, “Hopefully, Dekeshi’s fleet hasn’t pulverized his city yet.”
Ryū ignored the banter between his allies. It wasn’t them, not necessarily, that had drawn him back here. He stepped over into the threshold and to Dekeshi’s corpse, which hadn’t yet fully disintegrated, and plunged his fangs into her arm, drinking in her black blood. After a few gulps her body broke apart into ash, leaving him gagging.
Still, Ryū found more confidence in his steps as he approached Iki-o-Korosu. Discarded, already forgotten, the darksteel trident lay silent, inert. Placing his hand on the wrapped shaft, Ryū felt himself catapulted into a waking dream.
Ever familiar, he ignored and was ignored by two lines of robed figures leading down a large twisting hallway into a chamber beyond. To either side of its boundaries, stood a pair of robed Silkrit, one garbed in white, the other, bright blue.
A third figure, hooded, resided at the terminus of the other, darkened chamber. Her robes were a darker blue, and, lifting her hood, her face was nearly identical to Dekeshi’s.
“Why do you call out to me?” Iki-o-Korosu hissed, “I will not betray my wielder by serving one of her slayers!”
“I did not slay Dekeshi...” Ryū corrected, “In fact, I have never once engaged her in battle.”
The Trident paused at that, and he smiled, “I would wield you, yes, for I am Ryū, Vampyre Broodlord, acclaimed and fearsome warrior, once leader of the Te Fukushu, slayer of Kyokan and Enshi, each a powerful pureblood. I have faced Yokai alongside many brave souls, and defeated him while he was still infused with the powers of a god. And I have been shown my destiny; a necessary sacrifice which would benefit you greatly”.
Iki-o-Korosu considered this, then demanded reveal that destiny. He obliged...
...Moments passed in silence, then,
“What you say cannot be done...it is blasphemy.”
Ryū grinned, though there was nothing but sadness in his heart, “You know it isn’t...it has been done before by another.”
“But he was...was..-”
“He was what he was. I am what I am. My life is fraught with such seeming impossibilities.” he interrupted.
Iki-o-Korosu absorbed this, then asked, “You speak of this as a sacrifice...are you a fool? To actually.-”
Ryū snarled, “A sacrifice it is. I am thus denied all I ever truly wanted. It is a burden, a terrible burden, but one that I am willing to bear.”
Iki-o-Korosu laughed, “Fool. Very well...this glory will satisfy me, even enough to rebel against my kin. Wield me with my blessing, Patriarch.”
He returned to himself, grimacing at that final, terrible pronouncement. Aika’s hand rested on his shoulder, “Honored One! Are you-”
“Fine, Aika...” he said, outwardly untroubled but numb inside, “I am...well.”
Iki-o-Korosu gleamed in the light. Now, melded with the dark ore of the trident’s head was powdered ruby. A single, large ruby rested in the center of its three prongs.
“Iki-o-Korosu” he replied with authority, “Sear.”
The trident burned a bright red, but remained cool to the touch in his hand. Pointing the trident to the far wall, he released its new power.
A roaring column of fire sprang into being before him, melting the diamond-hard material of the chamber. Aika cried out in pain, and he turned to find her hand, the hand that had touched his shoulder, blistered. His entire body burned like his new weapon.
“I’m sorry!” he gasped, cutting off the flow of power, “I didn’t mean to do that.”
Wrapping her hand in cloth, Aika shrugged, though her eyes betrayed fear, “Nothing serious. Let us leave this place.”