End of a Dynasty (11.5) The Shadow

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PART 5

Her feet were heavier than they had to be. She was sweating more than she should, especially because whatever was affecting her didn’t have anything to do with the fact the beasts had defeated the greatest military alliance of the century.

She was light again, at least, now on her own. She was leaping across the air more than she was running, near-gliding as she made her way towards home.

Mists were showing up just like before, but now they would stay much more briefly, on top of showing up more sparingly.

You think you can keep up with me?! The Shadow was insulted, and ashamed, she couldn’t let that stand.

She breathed out in a personal challenge and sped up. The cold air felt like a wall, a wall that couldn’t stand up to her and stay solid.

It took around ten minutes, but they did stop popping up. The hills and plains sped along past her. Ayane ran into and out of a jungle without giving it much thought, followed by a river she crossed by jumping over, followed by a small forest trailing up a small mountain. It was here she was ambushed.

The Shadow felt the air combusting ahead of her. In reaction, she stopped and jumped back.

“HAHAHAHAHAAHAHAAAAAAAAAAA!!!” She looked at the source of the noise to find some kind of odd individual, walking out from the cover of a tree. Two others did the same.

They were wearing armor that seemed made out of steel – if it had been hacked apart. They were wearing a backpack which was emitting fumes and which was connected to some tubes they were holding in their hands.

“Kagekawa falls! We will stop you here, Shadow, and thus come ever closer to the end of the world!”

She raised an eyebrow.

What?

“I imagine you are confused,” he said vaingloriously, tapping his chest, “I am Led by Anarchy! Envoy of the Fire hazards, Lord of Pyromania!”

She looked away with such disdain it would have withered the plants she was facing, had they eyes to see it, and were she not wearing a mask. I don’t have time for this.

She threw a flashbang at them, interrupting the evil speech.

“AUGH!”

Ayane ran. If it was true Kagekawa was already under attack, and she couldn’t see how that could be possible, the last thing she should do would be to get into a fight with some nutjobs using fire weapons in the middle of a forest. She was no warrior but she could very well elude three guys wearing heavy uniforms.

“YOU WILL NOT ESCAPE!”

She looked up, seeing they were being propelled by their backpacks. A large volume of smoke was being emitted, leaving a trail for quite a considerable distance. It worked, however, it gave them the ability to fly.

They aimed their arms down and fire spew from the tubes. She jumped to the side and out of the way.

You want to do this now? You really want to do this with me now?

The Shadow dived into a bush, submerging into a shadow spring in one dive, something a mist would never be able to do. The shadow spring disappeared immediately, due to the light emitted by the fire, and the death of its source – the bush – but she was already in the stream.

She could no longer hear or see them, she was in the silent void, her place of most comfort. However, she could still tell direction. She headed left and back and emerged out of view. She ripped some roots off a tree, got pieces that were as hardened as she could, and in so doing, generated a sound they would hear.

“Over there! She hides in the shadows, the coward!”

She climbed a tree in fast leaps, at the height of which she jumped off of it to reach them

“Wah!”

She threw the pieces of roots at their faces. One of them yelped in pain and lost control, reaching for his face.

 “Auuguh, my eyes! My eyes!”

He spiraled out of control and into the ground, his collision shutting him up for good. He would live, though. Probably.

Landing on the other tree, she ripped open a branch and jumped again. She threw it hard, hitting another one in the back. She heard a loud crack and the spitting of bolts. The vapor and smoke were consumed as the man realized what was happening while his body was still reeling from the actual blow, having been pushed a bit aside.

“Oh no!”

It blew outwards, expelling the man against a tree and pushing the third man, and final one, aside through the air. The main victim bounced off and fell to the floor, knocked out or dead.

The Lord of Pyromania looked a bit scared and gained altitude in the time it took for her to land.

She stared up, measuring the distance, the surroundings, coming into the conclusion she couldn’t reach him

Hmpf.

She ran again. Ayane would spend as little time on them as she could, if the man would let her leave, she would do so.

“I still see you, Shadow!”

He followed and shot his flames, but he was now too high up for them to hit her, let alone for the flames to cause any serious burn if they did.

“You think you will take me down with a couple of twigs? I don’t think so!”

He lowered his altitude, she could tell by how much hotter the flames got. She ran around a tree to hide from him, at which point she dived back into its shadow stream.

“And now you hide behind a tree?? You do know those are flammable, right?”

He started torching it. He laughed maniacally and slowly hovered around the tree, trying to catch sight of her.

“I don’t even get why they consider you a threat, you don’t even have any weapons!”

“I have weapons.”

He turned his head so fast his neck cracked. Not mortally, just with that kind of snap that locks the neck into place by providing a great deal of pain should you try to turn it. The Shadow landed on him, turning him around and thus making the flight turn wild.

“I simply won’t waste them on the likes of you,” she managed to say, despite all the thrashing about the gadget was doing. It was a wonder they hadn’t hit a tree.

The Shadow hit his backpack twice with her knees, until she heard it break and crack.

She gave it one last kick which doubled to let her jump out of his back. He propelled his way, breaking through branches until one finally had the force to stop him. The flying backpack continued on while still being connected to his flamethrowers which were connected to his arms. Because of that, it spun around the tree and crashed into him on the sides.

He, more than the others, was probably dead. She tried not to think about it as she landed straight into a run.

Fighting her in the cover of the night? Did they think the light of their flames were enough to keep up with her?

She noticed a mist crouching on a tree branch.

Yeah, that is right, tell all of them, mist, she leaped her way out of the forest, again leaving the mists behind due to her speed. Tell all of them how dangerous I am.

She didn’t know what those three had been about. Led by Anarchy was an agglomeration of crazy people who wanted civilization to crumble, she knew that much. Well, in truth, they wanted to be free but all they ever talked about was taking down civilization.

What they had against Kagekawa was beyond her, she thought it was stupid for organizations to fight each other in the middle of an invasion by a common enemy, but then, who was she to judge? Ayane had lost half a day on saving people who would probably be dead before the week was over, nobodies that would not contribute at all to the fight. Some of them were cowardly deserters, even.

She found a shred of relief in the fact she wasn’t the only one whose judgment was suffering on account of the world being under threat of ending.

When she reached the top of the mountain, Ayane was forced to come to a stop. She was supposed to keep running, she had not arrived, but she had to stop. The same way she had seen hundreds of the beasts running back to Pelindrad, she now watched as many hundreds more were running. Well, leaping. They were as if angry two-armed wolves tearing their way across the landscape. A thin layer of mist followed them, mostly hidden by the dust their rush was raising. But there was no doubt they were leaving the mist behind in their hurry.  

The direction? Kagekawa.

She looked back, catching sight of a Mist. The Shadow stared right at him and waved him to approach her.

He didn’t.

She scoffed and darted off towards him. He moved to run and that insulted her even further: that he thought he could.

She caught him with a tackle, smacking hard against the ground, where she pinned him down.

“Ooof!”

“You think to be skilled enough?!”

“You attack your own?!” He sounded shocked.

“Attack? You think this is an attack?” She approached her face to his. “You have not seen me attack, little Mistling. Not even those fools back there with the flames saw me attack. Why did you not respond to my call?”

“We are to watch only,” he replied. He sounded like talking to her was beneath him, “we cannot follow any command you give, for it is without reason.”

“Without reason?” Her voice went a bit too high, what was he talking about?

“You risk all of Kagekawa for the sake of the lives of a few strangers,” he revealed, “your judgment has been deemed poisoned.”

“I did my duty,” she squinted her eyes, forgetting he couldn’t see it, “what I do besides is none of your concern.”

“None of mine, yes. But the clan’s.”

He was right, of course. She expected consequences, but she expected them after returning. After being faced with some damming dialog where she could only say “yes” to all the accusations, after which she would finally have the responsibility of her mask and lenses taken away from her. The weight of her duty would go on someone else’s shoulders. The expectation of being the Shadow and saving the world.

The night hadn’t even dawned, she had not even spoken, and yet, the decision had already been made?

“Am I banished?”

“You should be,” he said in respected spite, “but I know not.”

They wouldn’t banish her, they would never lose someone who knew their secrets. They would send Darkness to deal with them. She looked around, suddenly nervous.

Him, she couldn’t fight.  

“Why have I not been contacted?”

“I know not.”

“What do you know?” She looked at him again, shoving him against the floor in an act of letting   him gggo.

“Ow…I know you will pay for attacking your own.”

“I DID NOT ATTA–!”

“Release him,” she turned around to notice she was surrounded by Mists. Almost a full dozen watched her dangerously. She didn’t want to back down, however, as irrational that was.

“If Kagekawa is really under attack, what are you doing here?”

“What are you?” The Mist accused. “We are but mist…you are the Shadow.”

She got up and stood up in challenge. She would not fear these spies.  

“Cowards! You stalk my feet like perverted little imps instead of being where you are of use to the clan. To our masters.”

“We obey.”

“We do our duty.”

“What are you doing?”

She clenched her fists, her heart in turmoil. The guilt and indignation were choking her. Tears dripped behind her mask, she had never been so relieved to be wearing it.

Without another sound, for fear her voice would break, she sped through them.

They were right. Every fiber of her being told her they were right, so why didn’t she feel like she was wrong? Why didn’t Ayane feel wrong on top of disobedient?

She didn’t know. What she did know was how to get home and that she wanted to see it standing.

Ayane ran. She left them all behind and ran until the sun came up and, minute by minute, mile by mile, she overtook more and more of the beast’s advance.

They ignored cities in the way, they ignored towns and such things, they crossed one without stopping, stomping over it. Due to the sheer number of them, there were likely no survivors.

They had no vehicles with them. They leaped on and on. The Shadow still overtook them. She ran, far away at their flank, she sped with all the ability she could muster.

Ayane was exhausted. After carrying Yana for so long, after having already been a full day awake before the battle had even started, she felt about to collapse.

She never ran so fast for so long. And step was taken in the awareness that when she arrived, she would need to fight. Most likely without having any capacity to, she would fight and die.

But she ran.

Her home could not perish, her father could not die.

Master. Her master could not die – not father. She has no father.

Tears ran down her cheeks.

Had she caused all that? Stealing the lenses, stealing the pillar, had she incurred this wrath that was running rampant and unstoppable right towards her home? Had she pushed the beasts off their premeditated and gradual conquering towards the massive rush she was running to stop?

She had, Ayane knew she had.

She overtook the beast’s advance, using the shadow-streams. She was ahead by roughly one hour by the time she arrived at the top of a hill from which she could see the face of the small mountain where Kagekawa had been built.

She saw, her lenses enabling her, her home. Castle and the Palace and the living quarters layered out across the walls of the mountain, everything interconnected through bridges that were parallel to the walls of the terrain. It was intact. No fires or destruction, not yet.

Ayane stepped forward.

“Shadow.”

She stopped dead. The voice, she recognized it. She didn’t turn around, she didn’t want him to know she was scared.

“I have commands for you.”

She turned around then, curious bafflement overcoming her fright.

“They use Mists as stalkers and you as messenger?”

“Times are dire,” he offered in a way of apology, “you are to go and do what part you can for the Shadow Conclave.”

Her heart skipped a beat.

“They are coming, Darkness. They are coming to destroy our home.”

“We know.”

“And you send me away?”

“You are no warrior. Why would they need you here?”

She squinted in angry suspicion. She should take her orders and leave but…

“There is more to it.”

“Shadow…”

“Tell me,” she demanded. She pointed at her home, “tell me or I will go and ask them.”

“They banished you,” he flat-out revealed, an abrupt and sudden cut to her heart. “But then, they discovered the pillar.”

“…wait, what?”

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