She stood there almost until the laughter of the Circus Freak had dissipated. It sounded more like it was for show than anything anyone would realistically sound like, but even still, she couldn’t bring herself to believe it wasn’t his actual laugh.
After a while, muffled monstrous voices began to approach, the beasts giving chase. The Shadow sighed in relief, once and for all feeling she was really going to live. She darted into action, running right into a wall.
Once inside the shadow streams, she finally felt safe. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling of the void. Even if for just a few seconds, she wanted to allow complete silence to envelop her. She had had around two years as a thief. She had been all over the world and robbed all kinds of places, but never had she been in the midst of so much danger with the stakes so high.
From what she had observed, assassinating their leader had caused no real consequence, other than making them all even more motivated. So what they had infiltrated the base for had been, essentially, a failure.
She really just wanted to sleep. To let her consciousness slip into that nothingness until both her mind and body had rejuvenated enough, at which point it would slip back to her and she would yawn, and stretch, and feel wonderful.
She opened her eyes and focused her very tired mind. Slowly but surely, she edged out of a roof, peeking her head around. She could hear the alarm in the distance, and flinched as something crash-landed nearby, but held her nerves as it launched itself along.
As long as I am careful, there is no chance for them to find me. She thought more for her own benefit than any other reason, I am intangible…untouchable…invisible…I am The Shadow.
She emerged and ran along.
Her next plan of action seemed obvious. She could not hope to find the Sorcerer, the easiest means of transportation, so she would have to leave that place the same way she had arrived. She had left her mount tied to a tree, up in the mountains that circled the valley the city was built on.
It took her around half an hour to get her bearings back; most of the houses looked the same. Once she had it, it took her the better part of four hours just to leave the city.
They were everywhere. And while she hardly ever saw them, because of the mist, she often heard them. The alarms eventually sounded so far behind her she could no longer hear them, but all that time running was getting to her. In fact, it was part of the delay. Her breathing had become hard and her body grew heavier, which was an odd feeling she wasn’t sure she had felt before. But as she had never gone on for so long exerting herself like that, she did not pay it much mind.
Until she left the city.
Once outside the mists, she noticed how much better she could breathe, as well as how normal her body felt again. She looked back inquisitively. Without a word, walked back to take a closer look.
Once inside the mists again, she pulled down on her mask, where it covered her mouth and nose, and took a sniff. It burned her nostrils a little and her lungs a lot. She immediately put the mask back on and held her hands to them in fright.
It’s like… she knew that feeling, it didn’t threaten her with poison because it was familiar…what was it? Sandstorm!
Months before, she had found herself accidentally lost in the middle of a sandstorm, that didn’t have much of the storm in it. The same lack of visibility, the same difficulty with breathing. This mist was definitely their doing and it had a specific purpose. She then looked carefully at the ground and wall of the nearby building, finding both surfaces were becoming coated with something dark and metallic. It reminded her of the material the vessel seemed to be built from.
So the mists carry little specks of all of this, she realized, and it is probably not good for our health but it is for theirs? She then realized something scary. She jolted to a stand and pressed her hand on a patch that was fully covered in the stuff. She focused.
It is blocked… she concentrated, she made sure of what she was feeling. She opened her eyes and pulled away in fright. She looked around at the surrounding, seeing it for what it was for the first time. They are blocking it!
She ran. Kagekawa needed to know, as soon and fast as possible, they needed to know that these beasts were transforming the land in such a way it was cutting it out of their mirror reality.
They are robbing the land of its shadow!
Was that even possible? What were the repercussions? What did it all mean? She hoped the clan masters would know. It took her another hour to climb enough to get back to her horse, and once there, she spurred the horse into a rush towards Sputzna, the nearest city. It was only when she was on the way that she looked over at the city, now far below in the middle of the valley, to see it rumbling. It was then she saw the vessel she had been in when leaving the fog. It was creeping out of it. Slowly but so evident, much like you notice clouds doing.
And then another one next to it.
All of that reminded her there were means to communicate with others immediately – the Shadow Conclave scroll! She hurriedly pulled it out and opened it, finding it was already in use.
This is the Street Rat. I have escaped.
That was the last line. While trying not to fall off the horse, she read up until she reached the last line she had already read. And then she caught up.
We are registering deaths in our contracted patrols.
Cease immediately, they are part of the competition.
This is the Eye. Are the dark beasts of legend also part of the competition?
How did she even do that? The Shadow wasn’t aware they could write back on the scroll.
We have activated two-way communication. Competitors, report your status.
This is the Mad Genius, the Eye, and the Circus Freak. We will be infiltrating their forward base of operations. You have all earned what follows.
Competitors, flee the city immediately and regroup at your point of contact. Keep us updated.
The Don here, I‘ve escaped. I’ll be wanting an explanation for all of this!
The next line made her heart sink almost as fast as her throat dried.
Hunter: the Sorcerer has perished. The Eye too. I have escaped.
The Shadow slumped forward, brushing her horse’s mane with her forehead, eyes closed in a shock she really had not anticipated. On top of everything, the Sorcerer was dead.
She had really stepped forward to take responsibility for that whole mess, to lead them in an effort to save the whole world, an endeavor Ayane couldn’t even properly frame in her mind. She couldn’t grasp it.
And now the Sorcerer was dead.
Ancestors…give me strength.
She looked at the scroll again.
Hunter: the Sorcerer has perished. The Eye too. I have escaped.
Incompetent fools! The Mad Genius has slain their leader! And has escaped! We must prepare the world for the oncoming invasion! The best of the Shadow Conclave shall be appearing forthwith!
This is the Street Rat. I have escaped.
Does anyone have a spare arm =D?
Bastard Circus Freak had made her laugh in such a situation as that, but for some reason, one she would never think to properly question, she was really glad he was still alive.
The tragedy was still real, however. Of the three original of the Shadow Conclave, only the Sorcerer had been the real deal, but even the Dark Runner had, at least, a good number of year to his name under the title. Now they were both dead and she, bearing the title that had given the organization its name, the title of the man that had sacrificed himself and his legacy, the lens, to push back the invasion…had two years to her name. Almost two years.
She would not head to the meeting point, she would run straight back to her masters, Kagekawa, they would surely give the lenses to someone more experienced and more worthy of the title. The circumstances in which it had been given to her were, after all, not the best or most legitimate. She was certain now was the time to really show the title the proper respect and award it to someone who really deserved it, but more importantly, who could live up to it.
Because she? She was putting forth considerable effort trying not to cry.
She rode non-stop towards Sputzna, trying to race the dawn to it, and it still took too long. Her thoughts and memories haunted her through a mind too exhausted to control its own thinking. She thought back to the Sorcerer coughing blood, to the invading leader being shot in the head, to the Circus Freak’s arm just squashed like plasticine, the bones cracking as he ripped himself apart from it. All the close calls she had experienced were still stifling her lungs.
When she saw the city, however, she finally convinced herself to do it. She should.
She imagined what the Hunter would think of it, what kind of ill thoughts she would have for her to know of it, but the Shadow Conclave was most likely in contact with all the guilds already. That included her clan so… it would do her good to report back.
She sighed and found motivation in doing what would make her master proud. She opened the scroll and wrote. Wrote in the way Kagekawa would like her to write.
The Shadow lives.
Always keep up face. She shredded the scroll apart and let it fall behind, happy to be done with all of it.
She pushed herself off the horse, slapping hit as she left so he’d run through the city’s streets causing a commotion. Instead, he stumbled for a few feet and then collapsed from exhaustion.
Damn… she felt guilty as she used the poor thing’s suffering as a diversion. She tried to think of the good owner that would take care of it.
The Shadow stole her way into Sputzna, using the shadow streams to traverse the town. As long as it was not noon, shadows were aplenty and predictably placed.
She made her way to the train station, checked the hours and train she would need. Fortunately, that was a terminal station so trains were there waiting for the time to leave. She saw which one she needed and infiltrated it.
She went straight to the cargo hold, her eyes heavy and her heart so yearning for the rest she was about to get.
Everything else was a blur. The people, their talks, all the life going about around her as the day was starting out, it was all but a blur. A melancholic, half-perceived, groggy blur of images and sounds. And even then it was enough that she wanted it to go away.
Once in the cargo hold, enveloped in the dark and what shadows the small, scarce windows produced over what little cargo it held, she slipped into the shadow that was being cast by a large box, which had the signs of holding some kind of animal within. She would be awoken by it as soon as the train started to move.
Or not, maybe she would just sleep forever, she sure wanted to.
She loved the silence of the shadow streams, the solitude of it. Not seeing it, but feeling it, she curled up with eyes closed and ears and nose that couldn’t hear or smell anything in that world… and allowed her conscience to dissipate into a place where its complaints and stressful worries couldn’t be heard.
That had always been her favorite part of the shadow arts, the true silver lining of becoming the Shadow. It was the ability to completely and utterly detach herself from the world…and all its noise.