Shirudo eyed the reports, blanched, then looked up.
“They’re accurate?” he asked needlessly, and Itaku, leader of the Karyudo Kisai, nodded.
“The Skraul fleet is abandoning its campaign, traveling north.” he said around his pipe, tobacco smoke drifting lazily from his nostrils. The Silkrit grimaced at its stink, for he greatly preferred cannabis.
“They have more than enough of a presence in the North District to rout Lord Tetsyyubo with ease, and they haven’t yet done so.” Shirudo observed, pondering, “We’ve suspected they were looking for something. I don’t like the coincidence.”
Aika stood at attention, “Give the word and I will lead an expedition.”
He nodded, “Yes. See what they’re about. If something of value presents itself, secure it. If Dekeshi makes herself vulnerable, ignore her. We’re not yet sure how to deal with that one.”
Aika turned to leave, but Itaku stopped her, “I would have agents of the Karyudo Kisai accompany you. Our forces have cooperated well in the past.”
Nodding, for their organizations had indeed cooperated on missions before with great success, Shirudo smiled, “Send your best, my friend, for this is no trivial task.”
Itaku inclined his head respectfully, then departed, trailing smoke all the while.
“Await his contribution, but be ready to depart. I’ll deal with finding you some winter gear.”
“We are no strangers to inhospitable lands...” Aika replied sadly, to which he conceded with a nod, “Of course. But the coldness of the North District in winter is legendary. Exposure will be an issue. Be careful.”
He woke coughing up saltwater, and wiped his eyes. He sat up, to find a trio of humans jabbing at him with small-handle-spears.
“Better den most mornings.” Dral’rrche mused, and the casual use of their tongue cowed them.
“Good...someone I can understand.” another human, with graying hair and dull eyes, said, “Yer two friends’re still sleeping, and I’d think it rude to wake ‘em. Name’s Dolgar. I’m the captain o’ this vessel.”
“Dral’rrche.” he replied simply, to which the human tilted his head, “That yer name, or were yeh clearing yer throat?”
“Not be both?” He replied sarcastically, and the human laughed, “Don’t see why not. Welcome to “Fool’s Moon”, Drallgrrrch. I was just wondering what yeh and yer friends were doing out in a squall in yer under-britches, and how yeh all got aboard.”
Looking over, for he’d been set down in the middle of a large chamber, he saw Kaileena and Narthutet propped against a wall, out cold. Trying to remember what had gone wrong, he snorted, “Figures... I get hit by crackling light, still better first. Little races fragile. Pointy-ear be Narthutet, Arch-Magister of El’Dari. Little one be Kaileena, enchanter from land to de west. We get here by magicka, and save your ship by it. Big waves would have tipped your sea-wagon if not.”
Dolgar took that in, then, “Then yeh have a seaman’s thanks, but what in the hells were yeh doing out in the middle o’ the great blue?”
He thought about it for a moment, “Complicated. Went to help Kaileena by researching sunken big sea-wagon. Also-”
Suddenly alarmed, he looked about for his treasure, to find the human smiling knowingly, “No need. ‘Kaileena’ has it, probably to give it back when yeh hopped to.”
Grunting, the Ogre continued, “Storm came fast. Too fast. Try to fly away on cloth-things, but had to find sea-wagon instead. Worry not, we not be here long.”
It made sense, after a fashion. Those Magi or whatever they were called were always doing odd things, sticking their noses in dangerous places.
Dolgar was satisfied, and started to head back to his quarters, “Keep an eye on ’em, lads, but they can go where they please. If they want me, yeh know where to send ’em.”
The Ogre shrugged, then sat back down on the floor, “You have good food? I pay.”
No, they did not have good food, but they had plenty of bad food. The captain suppressed a grimace; pickled herring it was...again...
Kaileena screamed as she bolted through the forest, pine needles stinging her face as she went.
It was the dead of night, and though she couldn’t see her pursuer she knew she was being hunted. She’d experienced the feeling too many times to mistake it for anything else. Her staff was gone, as were her enchantments. She was alone, confused by the environment, and losing ground. Why? What had she done, to warrant this?
The sounds of their approach were deafening. Entire trees were uprooted and thrown overhead like twigs, and the ground quaked with thunderous steps.
Her feet sank into mud, and Kaileena hissed, panicking, her forked tongue tasting the air for the pursuer’s scent. She could smell nothing...no flesh, no sweat...as if she were being chased by the wind. Kaileena knew otherwise. The wind didn’t do what that...thing, was doing.
The mud became increasingly damp, until she was wading in knee-high water laced with a salty, mineral tang. Corpses, bloated green ones, floated in the stew, reaching out to her, perhaps pleading, perhaps threatening. Riveting her eyes on the forward path, she continued, hearing the loud splashes behind her. Whatever was chasing her had reached the water.
Shivering, whimpering, Kaileena paddled forward, desperately seeking a way out or something she could use. Anything!
In the next, panicked moments, she was forced to navigate around the not-quite-corpses, their pungent stink making her dizzy. She slowed. Where was she? Where were her friends? Where was Arteth, or Itaku, or Ryū, to save her?
“Someone!” she cried, “Help me! Please, help me!”
The water bubbled, and the winds howled with laughter. The corpses swam towards her, reaching with grasping claws and piteous expressions.
“We will help...” they whispered, “Come closer.”
“No!” she cried, furiously swimming against a current too strong for such still waters. Even with her tail propelling her she couldn’t slip between the gaps of their approach.
The monstrous pursuer emerged from the waters by her, and she screamed. She saw Arteth, but not Arteth. He carried the fanged blade, but it was sickly looking, serrated, corroded. His flesh was living darkness, roiling like smoke, and his eyes burned red like fire.
“They are your salvation, my beloved.” Arteth-who-was-not-Arteth rasped, “Consume them, and make their husk your own.”
Gasping, confused, Kaileena sank under the water, sputtering. She tried to resurface, failed, and was dragged down, a trail of bubbles leading up to the surface...
Narthutet was jarred awake by the sound of screaming. A woman’s screaming.
“Kaileena?” he gasped, eyeing her as she squirmed on the floor, three tanned Humans staring at them, uncertain.
“Kaileena! Wake up!” he commanded, pinning her down and slapping her cheeks. She jolted awake in a rush, nearly upending him though she was almost half his size. She shook in his grip, then started weeping.
“Bad dream, Kaileena. Easy...” he said, then frowned at the lack of recognition in her eyes, though she did calm with a few very deep breaths.
“Your translation enchantment isn’t functioning...” he observed, “Here; a bit of energy to use.”
Casting a minor spell upon her, her hand flared with a rippling distortion unique to her Spell-Eater Strain. The Humans, sailors by closer inspection, shifted nervously as Kaileena touched one of her golden bangles, filling it with that captured energy.
“I...thank you. I was not myself for a moment.” she replied, and seeing her speak perfectly accented common seemed to confuse their hosts.
“Ease.” he told them, “I am Narthutet, Arch-Magister of the El’Dari, on an important task. We are no enemies of Nassam or its vessels.”
“Big fellow said so, too.” one of the Humans replied, “Just...makes us nervous ’s all, seeing yeh do stuff like that.”
“Dral’rrche is well, then...” Narthutet mused, “Good. I assume he is discussing the finer points of whatever vintage your captain has on board, or complaining about its lack. Let’s go find him, then.”
“After I change.” Kaileena interjected, and as the magister looked down at his own state, it hardly seemed like a bad idea...
“Take the bait...” I whisper, staring down at that damnable sapphire-chalcedony piece at my brother’s end of the board.
No, no, no. I look elsewhere, lest I betray too much of my intentions. My brother is a crafty adversary, oh yes, most crafty! He’s placed many decoy pieces to distract me, but I think I know who at least four of the five are.
Elurra is the first, that’s certain, but Dekeshi has her now. Ryū is the third, the Innocent Monster, and as a vampyre he can be dealt with at my leisure. Kaileena has the potential to be the second, though if the Eternal Return claims her that would hardly make it so.
If I can corrupt her as I will the other two, I would have majority stake in Surthath’s prophecy.
But who is the fourth, this “a life given for a life claimed, the restoration of the natural order and the balance of life and death” ? The phrase speaks of Anima’s sphere, but she was slain by my own hand. Obliterated. There was, is, nothing left of her to restore. Her champion, perhaps? Who...could that also be Kaileena? Was that possible?
And who was the “trickster of half-blood, whose heart contains the deepest shadows”? At first I assumed Yokai, being a Half-Elf, and again mutated into a dragon-kin...but Vala, my wayward daughter; a vampyric Orc, could also be defined as a “half-blood”. Both their hearts certainly contain the deepest shadows.
Even the Hitorigami could be considered half-blood, with his residual elven heritage, as could Elurra, again! Ryū, too, was a half-blood, a vampyric Silkrit!
Several of the key pieces could be one or another, both, or none at all of the five!
“I’m waiting...” Surthath prodded, “Is your turn ended?” to which I snap, “Of course it is, you lout! Begin your turn.”
Aika shivered as the cold northern winds swept across the plains, buffeting her.
She was clad in black, thick breeches called hakama, a tunic in native style, with dark leather armor and an outer coat, and a brown, fur-lined cloak over that. She also wore two-toed shoes called vabi and fur-lined bracers which hid a few slim throwing daggers.
Jhihro’s prototype spear was strapped across her back, and a pair of tantos crossed the back of her waist, powerfully enchanted by the Renmei Kisai to pierce the thickest armor. She also carried a blow-dart tube with assorted ammunition, a few days of rations, caltrops, and her climbing claws.
Eight Te Fukushu hunters followed her; four male, four female, armed with wakizashi and poison-tipped spears, side by side with six Karyudo Kisai agents; five male, one female, bearing fine-edged katanas and hand crossbows.
Jhihro, against his protests, had been ordered to come as well, and his scowl kept Human and Silkrit alike at least ten paces from him. He carried an augmented spear and several light orbs, as well as a few items he was perfecting and wished to test in the field.
An enchanted scrying orb, on loan from the Renmei Kisai, marked Dekeshi’s fleet thirty leagues north and seven west. They were passing east, very quickly, and Aika was uncertain if she could anticipate where they would stop, so they would travel due north for now, then inch to one direction or the other depending on what the hourly inspection of the orb revealed.
This was not a combat mission, but a robbery, or perhaps a sabotage. They would find what, if anything, the vampyres were looking for, and either steal or destroy it. Their behavior in the invasion of Te Fukushu had convinced many, herself included, that the Skraul were looking for something, perhaps an artifact or weapon.
If they wanted it bad enough to largely ignore the defenders of an alien planet while they tried to occupy it, the item in question had to be vital to their cause somehow...
It disappointed her in a distant sort of way that Ryū, Koukatsuna, and even Shirudo couldn’t accompany her on this mission. It disappointed her even more that she’d left the village without being able to get her first lesson from Ryū.
No matter. Aika had her mission to distract her. She’d personally trained the Te Fukushu with her, and the Karyudo Kisai were no slouches either, keeping pace while making hardly a sound. It’d actually been Jhihro she’d worried about, sequestered in his laboratory all this time, but he kept pace with conditioned warriors with ease. He’d said that through a process of selective acupuncture, electrode therapy, and the inhibition of certain tonics, he’d stimulated his muscles to act with far greater output without the need for conditioning.
She would ask to try his tonics at some point, but had no intention of ever letting him touch her with electrodes or anything sharp, having seen him work...
“Lord Tetsyyubo is holed up in Shimobashira, along the path we will take.” Aika advised, “If we see a target of opportunity, I see little reason not to help in that small way. If not, we skirt the village and continue on. No heroics. Understand?”
A few muffled affirmatives came in reply. Though she desired nothing more than to kill every Skraul she found, Aika knew what was important. She would complete this task, and thus contribute a little more to finally defeating the vampyres once and for all.
Lord Takauji looked down from the walls of Shimobashira, shifting uneasily as he tried to count the enemies hurling themselves at its defenses.
The count became easier, as wave after wave of bullets reduced their numbers. Not a one so much as touched the inner wall. The trenches had been a nice touch, as had the stakes and the mirrors, the latter of which could reflect sunlight to pierce the summoned darkness enchantments.
His favorite, however, was the liquid slicking the surface of the city walls, preventing the vampyres from scaling it. Normally, oil would have been ideal in such a defense, burning away one’s enemies when lit. Lord Tetsyyubo had instead opted for ordinary water, which quickly froze in the winter chill. The vampyre’s freakish claws could find handle-holds only with difficulty, which gave the rifle bearers (oddly, mostly women) ample time to shoot them down.
Only allowing female soldiers to train as marksmen had at first seemed senseless, but seeing it now, Takauji conceded its effectiveness. Usually women weren’t permitted to serve as soldiers in the Hitorigami’s army, and in the north, life was hard for women. Many leapt at the chance to avoid arranged marriages or humiliating work, and thus flocked to that call.
Tetsyyubo had not only doubled his armed forces by this move, but earned some grudging respect from the overworked and underappreciated half of the populace. After a rigorous training regiment, he’d seen those women strike down foes without a second thought, just like the men. Oh yes, they would do just fine.
Unlike most noble males of Teikoku, Takauji didn’t bother with the more dated aspects of their culture. He outright laughed when noble families demanded a dowry for the daughters he took from them.
His attitude was purely pragmatic; success was more important than honor. Those who aided him, he rewarded. Those who cheated him, he dealt with without mercy, and remembering all those would-be rivals in a great many pieces in a great many graves scattered across the land improved his stagnant mood considerably.
The Lord of the South District smiled despite himself at the thought of the battle to come when their munitions began to run low. He wasn’t an imposing man. He didn’t even wear the customary topknot for one of his station, preferring to crop it short. But he hadn’t assumed his title of lordship by martial skill, as had Tetsyyubo and Kiromichi.
No; his strength was his mind and his hands. From an early age, he had indulged his fascination with advanced weaponry and battle tactics, all at the expense of a great deal of his family’s extravagant wealth.
Not that it did him much good... In Teikoku, brute strength and honor was valued above all else. Despite his brilliance in countering, nay, surpassing, the technology of the Pirate Lords, he was considered the least among the four. His district was the smallest, the poorest, and the most looked down upon.
Takauji scowled, wheezing as he descended to the streets.
“So be it.” he grumbled to himself. The fools would soon learn the truth of the least of the four lords. Let Teikoku herself tremble when they did.
With a small portion of the energy Narthutet had given her, Kaileena removed the saltwater and dirt from her body and underclothes. Then, in privacy, she’d dressed. Narthutet did the same, and then they went to find their missing friend.
They found Dral’rrche in the captain’s quarters as Narthutet had predicted, hunched over a small table with a bottle of liquor in hand and having a good laugh, “Yes, yes, but de true irony of story was that- oh, Master, Kaileena. You wake.”
“Indeed.” Narthutet replied dryly, “Captain, I do hope my apprentice has not been unduly torturing you with recollections of his trashy romance novels.”
The Captain, Dolgar, she remembered, shrugged, “No mind. Good to hear a few tales. Yeh feelin’ better then?”
“Aye.” The magister replied, “We’ll be out of your hair soon. Dral’rrche, I’ll send you home first, since I can’t do so for Kaileena and the other carpet is gone.”
Waving his hands in a series of complex gestures, Narthutet pointed to his apprentice and mouthed an arcane couplet. With that, Dral’rrche was obscured in a cloud of rippling energies, which vanished with a soft pop.
“Interesting fellow.” Dolgar said mildly, “Certainly made me think twice about Ogres. Then again, never met an Ogre ’afore him.”
“Me neither.” Kaileena mused, and Dolgar frowned, “Thought yeh ain’t spoke no common, lass...”
“I don’t.” Kaileena replied honestly, displaying her bangle, “I enchanted this to act as a translator, since I seemed to have misplaced the orb I used for that purpose.”
Scratching his head, Dolgar shrugged, “Well then...s’pose I’ll formally welcome yeh aboard. This is “Fool’s Moon” and I’m her captain. For savin’ her from the waves last night, name it, and if it’s in my power to give it’s yers.”
He smiled uneasily, adding, “Within reason, o’ course.”
“We just need the skies to clear so we can set out.” Narthutet said, “And one more thing; a room with strictly defined boundaries, walls and a door if you will, preferably something geometric. There can be nothing magickal in it.”
“You mean for me to test the device here?” Kaileena asked, earning a nod, “Why not? With boundaries it will be easy to control the anti-magicka emanation. I would rather have you do it here than in Arion or one of your own cities. I don’t think they’ll mind.”
Though winter had not yet taken the rest of Teikoku, here its hold was absolute.
Frost coated the ground, causing their footsteps to make nerve-wracking crunching noises as they proceeded. The few trees that weren’t bare had needles instead of leaves, with large brown pods of fibrous material. She’d tried to eat one the other day, and had been thoroughly dissuaded from doing so again.
They’d skirted Shimobashira, Tetsyyubo’s capital in the North District, and found it surrounded on all sides. A siege...gods, hearing Shirudo detail records of such events in this land still made her uneasy.
With the scrying orb, (when it wasn’t tracking Dekeshi’s whereabouts, of course), they’d sought out weak points in the vampyre’s encampments, and found little to exploit.
When it became clear Dekeshi was moving further east, they set out from there, leaving the fight to the defenders of Shimobashira. More than a few Karyudo Kisai protested, but they were under orders and would obey them to the letter.
Over the next few days since coming into the trading post, which, to her knowledge, had no name, Vala had sorely become tired of being unable to speak the human’s language. The local enchanters wouldn’t speak to her, outright refused to make any enchantments, so that wasn’t going to be an option.
Likewise, the soldiers denied her the ability to purchase weapons, or even anything metal or sharp, so she could hardly venture out on her own. Vala had the impression she would be stopped if she tried to leave. So she didn’t bother.
At least there were a few criminals imprisoned at the fort, and they allowed her to feed off of them. As she had in her days as Kogoeji-ni, she’d inflicted pain necessary to produce Vitrium by bombarding them with telepathic sensations, then erasing their memories of the experience.
Hitomi and his clan had been allowed the use of a small room in an inn, with one large bed cushion large enough for three, one small bed cushion enough for two, a stove, and a collection of plates and cooking tools. Lest she cause trouble and lose her tenuous place here, she currently bunked with them.
As was needed, she helped cook, clean, and wash dishes in a small metal tub outside. Mei seemed confused most of the time and spoke little, and Makoto seemed more than a little fearful of their family’s situation, especially with their unlikely guest.
She hardly blamed the woman. After all, as Kogoeji-ni, she’d driven fear into the hearts of thousands, and even mutated and weakened after her fall she’d acted as an assassin for the Matriarchs, a prime in all but name, slaying their real or assumed enemies.
Now, nearly powerless, she drifted through the days, letting them meld together, hoping to catch a sliver of the Humans’ renowned complacency with tedium.
It wasn’t all bad. Today they were outside, in a small plot of topsoil offered by the post for the berry bushes. The sky was overcast; safe but uncomfortable.
Vala dug a small depression, watered it and sprinkled fertilizer (hand on the bag, of course, for she knew what it was), then set a berry bush, covering the roots, re-watering and fertilizing, then moving on to the next one. There were also a few stalks of wheat, another foreign import, as well as a small trench for rice.
The post subsidized their diet with cheap rice and bread. It was enough to sustain themselves for now, since they needed not pay for housing yet and Vala didn’t need to eat anyway.
Nodding to Hitomi as she rose, Vala looked over each of the plants, making sure they were placed right, shrugged since she knew nothing about farming, and walked back inside to sit down.
She wore a dull brown kimono with an obi of a darker shade with a faint pattern of vines. It was simple attire, but comfortable. Her leathers had been badly damaged by the Koriko limb that had impaled her, and she was still in the process of cleanly cutting out the midsection and lining it properly to function without that part. She could always put a coat of mail under if she found it lacking in protection, that was, if she was ever to leave her somewhat welcomed prison.
There was a weak tea waiting for her, so she took one of the tiny porcelain cups and filled it, kneeling at the “table” with the other women.
“Yoi...ichi nichi-desu ka?” she asked them, crudely inquiring about their day so far in broken Nihongo.
“Jixyuu, anata desu ka?” Mariko replied, basically saying that her day was well and inquiring in kind.
“Tsukare te iru, tabun....ehhhh...tabun watashiha suru hitsi...”
No, that’s not right.
“...hitsuyouga ari masu sugu ni...fuxxido.” she managed, replying in broken native that she was tired, and would have to return to the prisoner’s cells to feed in the next few days. She shrugged as they stared awkwardly, for she had to eat too and would brook no criticism for it.
Sipping her tea, Vala let the others continue their conversation. It felt good to be in a room with them without feeling (overly) obtrusive, for a change...
In the end the captain had given them a supply closet to test her anti-magicka enchantment.
Narthutet had warded its boundaries, lest their enchanted items be endangered. He’d also warded the sapphires in her palms, and taken all other items from her person. She didn’t want to have to remake any of them after setting this thing off...
Kaileena held the ruby, staring into its depths. The cut was immaculate, little lights reflecting inside like candle flames. It was so small, and yet perhaps, it was her means to cheat the powers of the multi-verse. There was a lesson there that she herself might serve as a testament to. Most considered her small, but look at everything she’d done!
Collecting herself, Kaileena readied herself to use the ruby, kneeling down to better withstand any vertigo she might experience. Unlike her usual enchantments, the anti-magicka had required a unique contingency; it could only be used once, then the ruby that housed it would crumble apart. She would only have one chance, but then again, if it didn’t work in one go, it wouldn’t work at all.
Like any enchantment, she primed it with her own latent magicka, in this case, just a hint of her life force, then she broke the seal of the ruby and released its power. The room vibrated, and her feathers tingled with static, but otherwise, there was no visual cue that the energy was present, though it dissipated with the smell of ozone.
Kaileena looked into herself, trying to find the energies of the Eternal Return. They lingered... She remained infected.
For a moment she was too stunned to do anything, but as the shock passed she hissed, slamming her hand against the floor. She’d been so certain this would work! What had gone wrong?! The Eternal Return was a magickal emanation!
“And yet...” she mused, “It feeds on life energy, corroding it, eliminating it. Could it identify itself more as life energy?”
Yes...yes it could. Well, there it was then; she couldn’t simply dispel and destroy the living enchantment binding her, for to do so would kill her outright, as was the idea. Dispelling life energy would kill her...but then again, would it take her soul as well? Was that a way to ensure that if mortals indeed knew an afterlife, she would find it?
Exhausted, and not completely due to her wasting illness, Kaileena sighed, rose, and opened the door. Narthutet took in her expression, then deflated, “Not that either... I’m sorry. I’ll do what I can to think of something else we can try.”
“Thank you.” Kaileena replied honestly, “Now that I know that...that I will need to continue my work, I will depart. Are the skies clear yet? I’d like to be going as soon as possible.”
Her hands on the railing, Dekeshi looked down from “Havoc’s Reign” to the excavation site.
The slaves had done well, burrowing down through eight bowshots of frozen earth in a few day’s time. All she had to do was wait, so she busied herself with a brief observation. The outer edge of the structure was hexagonal, or at least that was what she inferred based off of what had been unearthed so far.
Its geometry was precise, unnaturally so. Its material looked like shale at first glance, but Dekeshi noted the pale, almost mother-of-pearl texture. Little flecks of other colors seemed to dance inside of the stone’s depths. The material, unlike any matter native to Aurora, was also extremely dense, and harder than diamond. As much effort was being made to uncover an entrance as to actually penetrate it.
Enshi, her weakling sister, awaited her as “Havoc’s Reign” hovered low, allowing her to levitate down.
Chikara and Warugashikoi descended after her, taking their places at her side. Each were grinning at her sister’s discomfiture. Offered penance by their mother, Enshi had been spared in order to ensure the success of their task. But God Death’s favor had passed from her. She was vulnerable, as she hadn’t been since she was a sniveling pup dependent on Kogoeji-ni for safety.
“Sister.” Enshi replied coolly, no doubt displeased that the honor would be Dekeshi’s alone, “We are nearly ready to admit you inside. Within two days, the outer shell will be breached.”
Nodding, Dekeshi rudely shouldered past her sister to the pavilion the slaves had prepared for her. The one that, lest she was mistaken, Enshi had been using up until her arrival...
As Kaileena reached Arion, she sent him a message. It only contained three words; “Need new idea”.
Arteth grimaced, channeled his power into a portal to bring her home while she waved her hands in a few complex passes to make it look like the energies were coming from her, as was their original plan. She stepped into their room in Hitorigami City and embraced him without a word. She didn’t cry a single tear, and he knew why. Her body language was evidence enough; she was exhausted.
“Come.” he said to her, lifting her up with ease, “We can go to bed. You need rest.”
“I need a great many things.” Kaileena replied dryly, her voice dull and listless, her eyelids drooping, “How does the city fare.”
Arteth cursed silently, knowing he couldn’t lie, “Very well. The Hitorigami has ended Yokai’s rebellion. At least, that will be the case once they release him.”
“Release him?” she asked dimly, alarmed, “What do you mean?”
“Take me to him.” Kaileena said flatly, and before Arteth protested, she hissed, “I can manage another hour of wakefulness. Take me to him.”
The Kamiyonanayo’s eyes glossed over for a moment, but his hurt was well hidden in the next moment when he nodded and carried her out. Kaileena swallowed her guilt at the way she’d spoken to him, replacing it with worry.
The Eternal Return was sapping her strength, preventing her body from naturally regenerating. Her skin had developed several bruises in that short venture, none of which had healed. And she knew sleeping wouldn’t help, since her body wasn’t recovering as much as it should in that time. Time was short; in addition to everything else, all her petty injuries were adding up. Soon she might just fall apart from the combined strain of thousands of minor wounds.
Kaileena telepathically imparted everything else she’d learned while Arteth carried her, including the anti-magicka and its (perhaps) limited ability to help her. She also rested her head against his chest, and silently apologized.
“Never mind it.” Arteth said, “I just don’t understand why you bother with this fool. You’ve told me why...but I don’t understand.”
Shrugging, Kaileena tried not to drift off and thus give him the excuse to bring her back to their bedroom. He carried her out to the palace courtyard, where a gathering of nobles gathered around a thick line of armed soldiers and dead-eyed constructs, shouting obscenities and flinging refuse at an object.
As they neared it, Kaileena realized what it was. Yokai, or what could only be Yokai, was entombed in some sort of man-shaped coffin. By the size of it he would be so fully restrained as to be immobile, cut off from the world, with only a pair of tubes feeding air through his nostrils. Remembering Yokai’s mention of claustrophobia, it was very clear why Mikoto had decided on this form of public spectacle...
“How long has he been in there?” Kaileena asked, appalled, and Arteth replied, “Since you left.”
“And you saw no reason to tell me this?” she asked, scowling at the coffin and that the Hitorigami had ordered its use.
“You are my concern, not Yokai. So long as he didn’t break his oath to you in sparing him, I had and have more important business to oversee. You will talk to the Hitorigami if you must, but not before you rest.”
Hardly able to protest, Kaileena said nothing as her beloved carried her away from the scene, reconsidering her opinion of her friend. Such a heinous act in the name of “justice” seemed more like something Minamoto would have done...
Another night, another attack repelled as they waited for an opportunity to free their leader.
Kaimei eyed the prisoners distastefully. Normally, he would never have considered leaving vampyres alive, but the seven purebloods they’d ambushed west of Higoi would prove very useful.
Yokai had taught him how to extract Vitrium, and while again he would not consider using such a method in normal situations, the vampyres were an exception. That was their craft anyway, and they did it with pleasure. It was natural justice to enact their own gruesome methods upon them.
“Bind them up and make sure not to let them out in the sun.” he ordered, “We’ll need all the resources we can get.”