“Shadow,” the female voice of their High Priestess sounded out. “Darkness. Head of Mists.”
The Darkness was creepy to her. He wore a dark tattered cloak, or should she say, he had one on him. He was standing knee-deep in the shade of the dark-lit room, always with all his body wrapped up in dark cloth so the inside of the cloak seemed empty. He was something out of a nightmare. The most you could see of him were his hands, chalk white and lithe, which sometimes peered from inside.
Head of Mists was the leader of the Kagekawa spy network, their spymaster, and he was simply fully clothed in bandages that wrapped themselves around him in a way it created optical illusions from most points of view. They all dressed like that but he had a special pattern on the back of his head, that of an eye, to identify him as the head.
Her garments were far less impressive but she felt the most comfortable in them. She had designed them herself since it would be what she would be wearing for 90% of her continued existence. Supposedly. Secretly, however, she had mostly designed it to look…cooler. Even if it sacrificed a bit of stealth.
“Why do you not don the shadow lenses…?”
She felt scared for the tone used, a tone of accusation.
“I…have them with me. I…was not instructed on whether there was a… unique way to put them on.”
That was half-true. The other half was that she really doubted they would be comfortable and really didn’t want to put them on.
“Close your eyes,” the priestess demanded a bit impatiently, and she obeyed. “Retrieve your lenses.” She obeyed.
“Had you a proper mask…this would be easier,” her voice said judgingly.
She remained quiet in respect towards the most occult and simply sat still over her legs.
“One in each hand, put them over your eyes so that you feel them all encompassing, your eyebrows and upper cheek, and the sides.”
“Now hold them there, do not move them an inch. Shall we get started meanwhile?”
By all means, this is the best way for me to have the respect of my peers… she felt ridiculous, her hands held up against her eyes in such an uncommon way.
“Yes,” from the nothingness ahead, since she had her eyes closed, the very serious voice of Naokiren, the grand master of Kagekawa, sounded out. It almost made her stop breathing. “Head of Mists, report.”
“Grandmaster,” the voice whispered, “latest reports indicate they will have conquered Kazajsh by tomorrow. Their forces outrun their mist, however, which shows…rushing.”
“Totomi,” the voice requested and Totomi, the grand master’s right hand and actual lord of the lands, the man of the people, spoke in response.
“Good news and bad news. Good news is most every ruling house in the eastern territories is taking the news of this invasion very seriously. Runsshia officially owns the territories under attack and has dispatched their greatest general to lead an allied military force to deal with them. We have provided as a contribution, as per your instructions, half our mists to act as scouts.”
He paused, most likely awaiting a comment of some sort, but she imagined he simply received a nod.
“The Shadow Conclave has issued a request that we contribute to their efforts as well, by sending them the Shadow, to cooperate with them.”
“Does this army have any chance of succeeding in their task? And putting an end to this threat?” It was Neniko, the grand priestess, who asked.
“No,” Totomi firmly replied without hesitation, and her heart fell a bit, but it wasn’t surprising to hear it so she maintained composure, as much of it as she could with her hands over her eyes. “According to the reports provided by both The Shadow and the Mists, they are either supernaturally or technologically beyond anything we can defeat. It will, however, delay their advance. At least in our direction.”
“The Shadow Conclave…” the grandmaster said, quietly and cautiously, “what exactly constitutes as their efforts?”
“Fulfilling the prophecy.”
“The Sorcerer is dead, the Dark Runner is dead.” The priestess argued, “even the Eye is dead. And our Shadow is but a whelp under her cowl. Besides, should the prophecy not have been fulfilled already?”
“I do not believe in prophecy,” Totomi stated, “so on that issue, there is nothing I can say.”
Ayane was pissed, however, albeit ever behind her silent demeanor, that she had been called a whelp. She saw herself kidnapping the one who had almost crushed the lenses she was now holding up to her face, and bringing him to Neniko and have her wake up to him so she could cry just as the Shadow went and said: “who is the whelp now?”
But then she felt bad for thinking such things about the most occult, the high priestess, and instead started wondering, nervously, whether she would remember to tell her to take off the lenses.
“Do they truly head here?”
“That was an early estimate,” the head of Mists whispered again. “It has been noticed…since then…they spread in all directions.”
“They spread with the mist,” Totomi confirmed, “in all directions.”
“By the ancestors,” the Priestess gasped, and it was right at that moment Ayane felt it.
She didn’t have enough confidence to let go, but she felt the lenses all of a sudden, this ethereal mass over her eyes, an extra layer of skin. She opened them and, surprisingly, she could see her hands. Clearly, the space between the fingers, the pores in her skins. Still, she was afraid to let go, that they would fall and she would look the fool.
“The kingdoms and governments in the West don’t see this as their problem, I believe they are convinced we will squash it before it turns into one.”
“Blind to all outside their grasp…as always,” the Grand Master decreed.
“It is graver than that,” the priestess put forth, “the mists have confirmed the Shadow’s report. Whatever they do to the land, it is robbing it of its shadow.”
“So you’ve reported. That is, by far, the gravest thing concerning these beasts. They bring true death wherever they go.”
Neniko didn’t answer, Ayane pictured her bowing in agreement.
Silence then settled as the grand master thought of what their steps would be.
“Head of Mists,” he started, “I wish to know about their progression. Every location they overcome, every turn they take.”
He must’ve nodded because he didn’t say anything in return.
“Darkness,” he added, “you will be a part of this military endeavor. Lead the Mists involved and follow the general’s commands, but if you have the chance to assassinate some high-value elements, take it. Make certain, however, that no matter the outcome of the battles, there will always be a survivor to return with information.”
“Shadow,” she felt like now, Neniko would allow her to lower her hands, but nothing was told about that. “We would do well to know how the Shadow Conclave progresses, but they are beyond the reach of ours Mists, as they have always been. Go to them, as requested, and work with them. Relay back all that you learn and endeavor to succeed in your tasks beyond what is expected of you.”
Her heart rose and she let go of the lenses so she could bow properly in gratitude for the trust being placed in her. They didn’t fall. Instead, she could now see the floor beyond the shades that were on it. Through her peripheral vision, she could see the thin, sly figure beneath the Darkness’s cloak, it looked so less intimidating now that she could see through it.
She recognized the body shape, she was sure of it.
“You will remember that you represent Kagekawa most directly.” The tone of voice snapped her out of her momentary stare, she turned it again to the floor. “We must stand superior to all other clans, houses, and entities of government. We must be feared. We must be respected. But most of all…”
His voice became grave.
“This is a blight upon our world and I have no doubt they seek to extinguish us and all that our ancestors sacrificed to build. It must be stopped. We must be instrumental in all efforts that lead to it…but most of all…it must be stopped.”
She gulped before the pressure but did her best not to show it. It was so much more responsibility than she had expected.
She would cope…she had to.
“For the glory of Kagekawa.”