“There is no…automatic way to know when that magic is used, it is lent by Magni. Your master went of his own volition to check and found the pillar and the gem that was in it, and the error was recognized.”
“Ordinarily, they would issue me to kill you and retrieve the lenses. Because of this discovery, however, they have decided to be lenient…but Shadow, the most Occult does not make mistakes.”
“…” She couldn’t believe it. They had had a knee-jerk reaction to reports of her helping Yana and the others and wouldn’t rectify that edict out of pride. They wanted to look immutable and error-less, and for that, they would keep her banished. “They cannot do this. I did my duty.”
“Not…completely. You prioritized some random lives over returning to our masters.”
“I am not a dog,” she shook her head, “I delayed mere hours!”
“Half a day,” the voice from inside the cowl corrected, sadly. “If not more.”
“…if my home is to fall…I will not let it happen without me.”
“The Shadow lives on,” his spooky ethereal cloak waved in a shrug, “the saying will prove literal. Not all of Kagekawa will perish, however, for we will flee and survive. And so will you.”
“You do get used to it,” he said, “trust me.”
She considered forcing her way to Kagekawa. Reputation be damned, she could take him. She could see his arms, she could see his whole body.
Darkness must’ve sensed the aggressiveness in her because he stepped closer.
“You can still do a lot, Shadow. Do not let your heart command you.”
She felt insulted.
“Instead, allow the Clan.”
She felt lowered. Or humbled, she was not humble enough to know the difference.
They had spoken. The most occult, her master, her tutor, Darkness, they had all spoken and decided they wanted her gone. The realization she would not be forcing her way past Darkness sprang a chain reaction within her.
The exhaustion, all the tension she felt, the tears that had been leaking from the waterfall held back somewhere in the recesses of her eyes, all of it collapsed on her with a sigh. Everything went black, and she fell.
Ayane felt her hands hitting the floor before her insides flared a convulsion. In a quick movement, she pulled open her mask.
She retched, coughed, and then vomited.
Ayane knew what was happening, she recognized it. She breathed in and out, trying to make it go slower, trying to get the panic attack under control. The fact Darkness was watching her only made it worse, of course. People watching only made it worse.
The Shadow gasped in an unsightly desperate manner, but it didn’t help. She tried to calm down but couldn’t, she felt wet sweat pouring from her skin as her nervous system tried to figure out what was attacking it by experimenting with all aspects of her body intermittently and chaotically.
She punched the floor and yelled in an effort to assume control. That finally helped. Nothing was working but it seemed her lungs decided to be the first to gain their senses. She took deep breaths while hoping the circulatory system would be cooperative in providing the other organs proper fuel.
She looked up from her involuntary full bow, filled with self-contempt.
“This is the Shadow you hold in such high regard.”
Ayane shook her head. She was still sweating, her heart was still racing, but her motor functions were back. She wiped her mouth clean.
She tried to stand up but couldn’t summon the strength to. It seemed only her arms were recovered, she fell even further instead.
Laying on the ground, it was all she could do not to sob.
“Haa…ha… Kagekawa is my home…I have done nothing but my best, how can they not…correct their mistake?”
He didn’t answer. She didn’t know whether that was because he was too ashamed to or because it was so obvious.
Ayane wasn’t crying anymore. One wouldn’t be able to tell, looking at her face, but she stopped.
The few minutes went by as she realized the emotional outburst had simply caused her body to assume full on exhaustion. And odds were it was actually accurate in that assumption.
She preferred to think that’s what happened. She neutralized her expression so she could be who she liked to be: serious. Confident. Emotionless.
“I am too weak to move. I will rest. I will watched the fall of my home, and once I can, I will move to find the Conclave.” She grunted to push herself to sit up, her arms were still working after all, and crossed her legs. “I will do my duty.”
She didn’t expect him to speak. Despite her present show of self-respect, he had seen her. He had seen her lose it, he was probably beyond ashamed of her. There was nothing she could do about that. Why should she care about what he thinks of her? He had let them banish her.
“I would not have done better,” his voice came, serious but a bit awkward, as if he had been thinking about what to say for a long time and had not decided on what that should be, but had said something anyway.
Ayane looked up at him, surprised but still ungrateful. Pity was worse than shame, it only revealed how low the expectations were in the first place.
“Would you ever be in the same situation?” She asked.
“No,” Darkness responded, and quite quickly. She looked down from him and on at Kagekawa.
Didn’t think so.
He still wouldn’t leave, for some reason. It upset her, she felt under a heavy shroud of judgment with him there, watching her.
“You can go. You have delivered your message.”
“I wouldn’t have saved those people, but you did. Many would consider you favorably for it.”
She frowned, grabbing the mask. She put it on with a disgruntled gesture.
“Not anybody I care about. Go, you do me no kindness by showing me pity, Darkness.”
She distanced herself.
Ayane didn’t look at him, she didn’t want to feel the underlying attraction, didn’t want to be influenced by any positive emotion. She had made a mistake, and now she was going to suffer for it. As she should.
“Until we meet again, Shadow. I am sorry this had to happen.”
“I regret nothing,” she found herself saying.
Her eyes opened and circled in thought – what had she said? Why was she so–because she was banished. What did it matter, what she said? “I regret nothing but my masters’ incapacity to admit themselves human and capable of error. And us, as well.”
The Darkness stirred inside his cloak, bothered, of course, by her vicious words. Rebellious words.
It took an awkward amount of time but after that, he finally shut up and left, which was a mild relief to her.
Part of her wanted him to have tried to kill her. The fight would have been better, and death would be more appreciative than what was about to happen.
That day, under beautiful rays of sun falling unimpeded by any clouds, a thousand beasts crashed their way into the mighty grounds of Kagekawa.
Like a screen of fumes made out of parasites, they went around the mountain side and threw themselves down at the buildings. Bridges collapsed and people died. Fires began and, at some point, the palace erupted in a huge abrupt explosion, most likely a suicide strategy to take down some beasts and the secrets of the clan with them.
Not for a second, not even a moment during all of it, did she stir. Did she shiver or wince. Ayane, the Shadow, watched it all with eyes that had not slept for more than a day. Aching arms hugging raised knees that were completely numb. With her back hurting because of the bad posture and her feet falling asleep, she watched it all in a stiff somberness that did not budge a hair.
She thought back to her childhood. Ayane remembered the plays, the games, the challenges. The competitions between her and her fellows, the tasks and quests they were given by the masters. She recalled the cave where she had first entered a shadow stream, pursuing the silhouette of an animal entering it. To bloody it.
She remembered the baths, now being crushed. The waterways where she had trained balance and poise, now being broken apart. The original shadow-spring, or at least, the first ever used as one, blew up with the palace.
Ayane watched the fortress, the castle, tearing itself apart and falling off the cliffside. It tumbled, breaking into separate pieces, people among the debris. Her people.
The tragedy unfolding before her was of unimaginable proportions, she could never ever have expected to see something like it. Not in a million years. But with being ostracized and banished, it was also cathartic.
It was her home, it was her past, it was what made her, and it crumbled utterly before her eyes in less than a day. A hundred centuries had the Kagekawa dynasty thrived, and a century of Shadows had seen to its success and powerful standing in the world. A millennium-old personality dissipated right there, not even an hour away from her, and there was nothing she could do.
The train of thought she found herself riding went towards an unexpected direction. It took her to another concern. It was now real.
It was now very real. Maybe somebody else was better for her role, as she suspected. Maybe someone else would do a better job of fighting the beasts. That, however, was a risk she couldn’t take. Not anymore. Those things, they really were unstoppable.
They were really going to kill the entirety of the people of the world.
Up until that day, she recognized the danger, but she had never truly believed it could materialize and live up to all the prophesied hype. But it really had.
Everything and everyone were going to die just like everything and everyone she had grown up with.
Ayane stood up because she had to.
She had to do something.