Almost every building trailing the scenery behind the beasts surprisingly, and abruptly, exploded.
Their cellars blew up, shaking the ground. The buildings crumbled on top of them while the floor itself cracked and gave way, falling into the water.
The explosions didn’t happen in unison, however, but in a cascade. Some of the beasts leaped away while some others tried and failed. The once world-class serene beauty had, as promised, erupted in fire. It was tragic to see.
She looked down to see the Don walking away, pointing and gesturing orders to the men around him.
The Shadow stuck around for minutes, watching what happened on that front. The waterway quickly became packed with beasts that didn’t seem to be able to jump out of the water. The canal itself became more of a lake, with debris littering almost its entirety, floating aimlessly among the smoky ruins of what used to be a neighborhood.
That man prefers self-destruction to being destroyed.
Ayane didn’t know what to feel about that. It seemed insane, and a week before, she would have immediately judged him for it. But before such an unstoppable force? They would lay waste to his city anyway. She really couldn’t fault him for what he was doing.
It saved lives.
She remained there, watching alongside other soldiers and scouts. In the distance, where parts of the city were still standing, she could see more of the beasts. An army of them, black blots in the horizon, waiting for some kind of development.
Eventually, she heard a noise coming from the canal, now a lake. It was submerged so it was hard to tell what it was, but she figured she should be able to see with a better vantage point. Within a minute, she had found another building. She was spotted by soldiers and, depending on how far the beasts could see, them tas well, but it didn’t concern her. She leaned out of a roof and looked down at the waters.
As she hoped, the lenses helped pierce the darkness beneath the water surface. It helped her see through the distortion caused by the waters to spot what they were doing.
They are digging.
At specific points in the ground, the beasts were now using their claws to dig down. The water level had already been lowered by bringing down the buildings and the blocks, but it could be lowered even more, enough. if there were deeper points on the canal floor, and that’s what the beasts were doing.
Say what you will, but the Don will gain a lot of time with this strategy.
Of course, he would be aware that if the beasts showed up with their burrowing machines, then all of it would be moot, but for some reason, they had charged in without that support. It was probably being employed somewhere else.
Or perhaps they were digging their way into a pre-prepared tunnel. Who knew such things?
She walked next to a soldier who, jittery, was trying to decide whether to aim his rifle at her or not. He made the right choice in not doing so.
“Tell the Don they are digging.”
“Yo-you can-uh…huh…okay. I will.”
Ayane turned and hopped out of the roof’s edge, falling into the shadow the building that was being cast on a balcony one floor down. Again, she seamlessly made the transition.
I am getting more and more proficient at this.
Ayane still remembered the time where she had to lean into them, focusing carefully, but it was becoming more and more like diving into water. You had to know exactly what it would be like and, from there, you could do anything.
She emerged at another more covered point that still had good eyes over the canal, and pulled out the communication scroll.
The Shadow paused with it in hand, watching it mournfully. That was Kagekawa made, paper connected by shadows, showing only in the shadow what is written and creating the writing out of the pressure that it felt.
She saw that it was empty.
The Don is proving capable.
I expect you will have a couple of hours
Then she leaned over on her knees and waited.
Waiting was about the most painful thing that could happen to her, she had already found out. When she had to wait for the train to arrive, or when she had to wait in prison. It was why she had motivated Circus Freak to talk, because any distraction was welcome.
Her mind, when left idle, only went to painful places. Not that it was its fault, there was no other kind of place that was left. Not only was there the shame of what had happened with getting banished, the embarrassment she had made of herself in front of the Darkness, and any other legitimately bad memory, but all the good memories were of places that had been destroyed, people that were dead or had otherwise abandoned her.
The future didn’t look good, either. As things were going, Ayane would find herself in Don’s place. Everything would be up to her, and every little thing in that group of things would be impossible. First and foremost, defeating the beasts.
Thinking of the future only brought anxiety. So the present had to be active and engaging, but when she was waiting…still and idle, there was nothing to put her mind on.
So it instead wandered across lands now made of shattered glass, which cut at each step. It was a terrible feeling, to not have a home to go to. She knew there were people who ran away, perhaps she could meet one of them. Ask where they went.
She took her mask off to clean the few drops of tears that were already popping up.
There was the common romantic notion that home is where the heart is. Kagekawa had, however, worked hard to detach the Shadow from her heart. She was not fully certain where it was most of the times, her home was her home, and she had never imagined she would be without it. It had not been at all a possibility. After all, it was Kagekawa.
It did not fall. It had never fallen.
She noticed from the corner of her eye that the scroll was showing up with new letters.
Keep in mind this is reporting to everyone, girl.
Provide context! Who were you talking to?!
Me. We’re trying to find those survivors
We’ve found one, by the way.
I will assist the Don in achieving further success!
The Tech Guild is here!
Shadow, come help, they’re trying to take them!
She reacted a second later than she should have had. Fumbling, Ayane put the scroll away inside her clothes, only to quickly remove it again to frantically write:
On my way!
She put it back and ran at the shadow she had emerged from, diving.
Two seconds later, Ayane’s head popped out with a groan of frustration. She pulled the mask down over her face in exasperation and then dissipated again into the darkness.
The Shadow moved seamlessly and quickly, gliding between building’s walls by way of the shadows in their alleyways, riding the streams themselves for as long as they could individually take her.
It wasn’t after a full five minutes of rushing that Ayane realized she didn’t actually know where they were. Immediately, she stepped out of the shadows and took out the scroll to take a look.
S! You even know the way?!
Head north-east towards the government buildings, you won’t miss them.
She nodded and put the scroll away. As she started moving again, Ayane realized she should reply with something but decided not to bother. Her nervous system wouldn’t take another incompetent delay. She had the information, and she was on her way.
The Shadow also noticed there had been a soldier staring at her, only a few feet away. His rifle was on a window sill, but he was looking at the Shadow, a bit agape.
She turned and entered the shadow of the room as the soldier replied with an awkward “thank you?”
Once in the empty and quiet void, she actually didn’t rush.
Alright. I am not this bumbling mess of nervous. This will not help me. She had not even noticed the man, that was just not good. The Shadow was not some over-excited child, no matter the circumstances, so she forced herself to stop and calm down. Calmness will help me. A cold heart. A sharp mind. Detached, I am a shadow of this world. Apart from it, I am the Shadow of Kagekawa.
Breathing easy, she began moving.
It didn’t take much longer to reach the common people, half of them refugees from other places that had been hit. They were restless and impatient and very unhappy with how fast the whole mass was moving. Mean men with guns, however, were keeping them orderly with their coarse insensitive threats.
The Shadow kept going.
You won’t miss them, he said. Why?
She soon found out when she heard the sound of gun-shouts and uncharacteristic yelling. She followed them to find a clearing made by people trying to keep away from the altercation that was taking place. Two uniformed soldiers were stuck in the ground, and one of the Don’s men was already dead.
Inside a three-story building, a group of refugee-looking individuals, with mismatched and ragged clothes, were shooting back at three other of the Don’s men who were taking cover behind a bridge, firing diagonally at it.
The Shadow just saw them, however. She pulled out the scroll.
I am here. Where are you?
The shootout’s just a diversion, keep going!
Quick! In that direction!
She shoved the scroll back into her garments and ran to leap to the neighboring roof, she couldn’t use the shadows, she needed a clear view of the environment.
The Shadow listened to her instincts as she perceived and looked upon what surrounded her. At a certain point, she noticed there was a bridge which wasn’t exactly above the canal. Parts of the streets at each side still went underneath, and one side of it actually went inside into a tunnel.
Inexplicably, she knew that’s where the children would have hidden. There were still crowds of people all around, but Ayane couldn’t worry about that. She could use the shadow under the bridge, but it would be faster to dive into the water. And so she did.
She splashed neatly but still noticeably and quickly swam underwater to reach the underside of the bridge. Once there, she swam to the surface, pulled herself up and immediately heard the voice of a woman belligerently threatening someone, echoing out of the tunnel.
Huffing and dripping, the Shadow ran straight inside. She brought out a smoke bomb and a throwing star. Usually, she’d use the shadows but the tunnel was already poorly lit as it was, there were signs of flashlights being used in the distance.
This must be part of the sewage system somehow. The canal is possibly already emptier than it should be. It was a sign of the beast’s advance. Of more neighborhoods being sacrificed, but it wasn’t something she could worry about right then.
“I said!” The voices became discernible. “Yer comin’ with me and yer comin’ now, we’ve not time to lose, da–”
It interrupted itself upon hearing Shadow’s footsteps. Two figures turned as she swung her smoke-bomb ahead at them. Before it blew, she caught sight of the positioning of one of them, wielding a weapon and not grabbing hold of anyone, and threw her bladed star.
They yelled, some of them in reaction to the smoke, one of them in reaction to having its hand punctured and cut. The Shadow didn’t stop her momentum but instead jumped right into the fray.
Especially because of her lenses, she could see pretty well. There were three members of the Tech Guild there, one of them had Nergui and one of her friends in each of his arms, the other was grabbing onto the Street Rat’s collar, and the third just had a weapon, before getting hit with the star on the hand.
The Shadow drop-kicked the woman that was holding the Street Rat, making her drop him as she got thrown away. She landed on her back and rolled to the side into standing up into round-house-punching the man who was one syllable into yelling in pain. He, too, jerked away before her blow. Following the momentum, she spun and stepped behind the third man and hopped, for he was taller than her, to envelop his neck with her right arm while pushing her knee into his back.
Gasping in complaint, he let go of the children as his body bent back with hers. She felt her back hit the ground and the man flailing in her stranglehold. Meanwhile, she heard the children viciously giggling.
“How’d you like to be on the receivin’ end, ya crappy coconut!” The Street Rat yelled, to the sound of a head hitting cobblestone. They were beating on the other two.
The man passed out in her hold just as she heard a skull cracking.
“Hey, enough!” She yelled.
The beating ceased immediately. Ayane let go of the man and pushed him aside. She stood up, dripping wet, breathing slightly heavily. The smoke was already scattering.
“Wow,” a voice came from the side. She turned her head to see Albert standing up, he had been hiding behind some…construct she didn’t recognize. Ayane wasn’t familiar with sewage technology, it looked like an assortment of pipes. “That was amazing, Shadow.”
“Are they that close?”
She looked aside at Jamie. He must’ve sensed her interrogative stare because he added “the beasts. You got here pretty fast,” he looked westward slightly worried, “are they that close? We need to go, don’t we?”
The Shadow took a few easy breaths before responding, gesturing that they could calm down.
“No, we have time, they are not that close.” She looked around for Yana but didn’t see her. Sighed again. “I was just fast.”