End of a Dynasty (11.1) The Shadow

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PART 1

The Shadow leveled her breathing as much as she could under the circumstances. She wished she had accepted the task Circus Freak had taken from her instead of playing favorites with her clan. Maybe his was less suicidal than her current mission.

“They consider us inferior! And weak! We will show them otherwise!!”

The army was assembled on the valley beneath her, hidden from the sight of the beasts that were clearing out the city of Pelindrad, a few miles out. The feat that had enraged what was left of the nation to ultimate depths.

“They consider us defeated!”

The army booed.

“WE WILL SHOW THEM WHAT DEFEAT TRULY IS!!”

The man drew his sword. General Melor, commander in chief of the Runsshia forces, was giving his last speech before the battle. A rousing cry to rally the military might of all major Eastern nations.

“We will break them! Mark my words, history will mark this day as the last of this conflict, and no other city shall suffer the fate of Pelindrad!”

The soldiers cheered and roared, kind of defeating the purpose of being hidden by the terrain, but it wouldn’t make much of a difference. The Shadow was crouched next to one of the siege weapons that they would employ for the combat, a mechanized ballista that could automatically fire and reload, only needing to be aimed. There was a row of them trailing the side of the valley, the top-most part of it.

“It always impresses me how quickly warriors can be encouraged to rush to their deaths.”

She didn’t react though it was hard not to. The voice had appeared before he had, and what he was, was pure darkness. Her left peripheral vision went dark in two successive seconds as the man, Darkness, appeared.

She felt nervous. Ayane didn’t show it but she wondered why he was interested in talking to her. The whelp, the one nobody expected anything from. Did he expect something? What should she say to the comment? Perhaps nothing?

“Don’t you think?”

Perhaps something.

She tilted her head in his direction.

“They are not throwing their lives away, they are fighting to protect those who can’t. I do not believe that deserves mockery.”

It was not her intention to antagonize him. She was already considered to be the inexperienced brat so she might as well not worry about speaking her mind. The Darkness was not, after all, her superior.

I owe him no reverence, she thought, in an attempt to convince herself.

“I do not believe all of them hold such righteous morals as motivation,” he pointed out.

This was the Darkness, the assassin, the principal combat force the Kagekawa could deploy. He was considered by many to be the most dangerous individual in the world.

“Who are we to judge their moral conscience?”

He chuckled.

That alone startled her in a way she couldn’t hide. Ayane stood up in the hopes it would hide it. It was well timed as the commander, Melor, was now describing, for the last time, the plan of engagement.

“You are not very formal, are you?”

The Shadow looked his way, which reminded her that she could see through his cloak. What did that mean, exactly? Was his cloak not actual…clothing? Was that why it seemed to move, ever so slightly, around him?

“You can see through the darkness, can you not?”

She looked away, embarrassed but attempting to look insulted. She had not been able to discern much before but right then, she had clearly seen him. He was wearing nothing but bandages around his privates, the rest of his body stood naked under the cloak.

It was…very defined. His body.

“This cloak is special, it was formed from a piece of shadow that was ripped from the shadow spring at the mansion.”

Why was he telling her that?

“So you should see through it.”

“I mean no offense…but what are you doing?”

“What do you mean?” His voice sounded normal, too normal, it even lacked an accent.

“Telling me this.”

“We are unique,” he told her, “now that you have the lenses back, you are likely the only one in the world who can see me for who I really am.”

Ayane looked back at him and he was looking at her. It was weird, how the lenses worked, she could see in layers. She could see the dark hood, void, staring at her. But she could also see the gray eyes behind a face made of pale porcelain, one never scarred or hurt or in any way hampered by imperfections.

The Shadow gulped in an effort to retain composure.

“Take off the cloak and all will see who you really are.”

“The cloak does not come off.” He stretched his hand, the dark cloak swirled and curved around his arm like a natural tissue controlled by wind as if it was some unnatural power that he possessed for flair. The hand touched her shoulder but the cloak did not. “It is only seen, it does not need to come off.”

He took his hand away while also looking aside. Ayane, however, kept watching him, no longer that weirded out by the situation. She was not used to people showing an interest in her, outside of her teacher, but she could now understand his. As he had said, no one else could see him. That was quite a burden.

“I am sorry.”

“It is an honor and a blessing,” he was quick to say, just like she would have been. “But most blessings are, in the right situations…curses. Are they not?”

“They certainly are,” she followed his gaze to see many soldiers were climbing back up the valley, the melee force that would protect the siege equipment. The rest were arraying into their battle formations. They would take a downward charge and possibly be slaughtered as the beasts were flanked and fired upon.

“You would think they would give you an easier task to start with.”

“I started two years ago,” she said defensively, “I have had many easy tasks.”

He chuckled again, it embarrassed her to see him react that way but she managed not to show it.

“We could die this day, I must ask. You changed your uniform.”

“…that is not a question.”

He coughed one laugh.

“Your previous uniform was already different from your predecessors. And yet you’ve changed again. I am curious why.”

Indeed, she had changed.

Her previous attire didn’t work well with the mask so she had changed it. Her hair was the same: long, tied back into a spread ponytail in the back, framing her mask with bangs in her front. The clothes covered her limbs completely and they had a reddish tone to them instead of blue. She had replaced her scarf with a wide but short cape that still enveloped her neck and chin like a scarf. Otherwise, she yet wore the same kind of gloves and boots, they were just in a different color to better match with the dark red.

She didn’t have a great reason as to why she had switched. Ayane wanted to do it and did it and nobody had complained. She might even change again if she survived the day.

Ayane liked clothing, she liked to put them together, to come up with her own ensembles, to dress in stuff that she liked to look at in the mirror. In summary, she liked looking cool and it bored her to dress the same so repeatedly.

She couldn’t say that, however.

“If we make it out of this battle, I will tell you.”

He laughed that time. Not a long laugh, nor loud, but it was more than a chuckle.

“Let that be the driving force of our survival then: the great mystery behind your dressing habits.”

She chuckled at that, surprising even herself.

“Skill and honor be with you, Shadow.”

“And with you,” she nodded at him, “glory to the Kagekawa.”

“Glory to the clan.”

He dissipated into the ground, using the same ability she had. She wondered what the cloak was for, it was evident it gave him additional abilities.

More than that, she wondered what in the occult had happened there. Darkness was notoriously a very dangerous, silent, menacing loner.

The Shadow looked out into a landscape of armies and tried to remember how deadly her task was. She tried to let fear take over imagery creation in her mind.

He had such a lithe body. So surprisingly…defined. Athletic. Even if skinny, it seemed so sturdy.

Beautiful. She found herself doing imagination exercises, dressing him in all kinds of cool uniforms, black and red, silver, gold, all tight to his body of course. With a scarf! A big scarf to make his movements seem as fluid as he is, maybe a thin cape, a cape half the width of his back but as long as his–

She shook her head.

Focus, Ayane, she massaged her forehead, the world is ending here, come on, focus on that.

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