Makaela took in a deep breath, feeling the connection with each and every summoned blade at her side, she felt them surge alive.
As she suddenly shot forwards in response to the ninja’s approach, melding into shadow she clashed with three others, nothing more than wisps of black smoke twisting and turning about one another briefly before they reformed…
Five dead ninjas now lay beside Makaela, having killed two more who had tried to flank her whilst invisible.
Glancing back quickly at the rest as they all dropped their invisibility now, twelve more moved to surround her. Blades and swords being changed around for chains, throwing knives and crossbows.
“So primitive.” Makaela mused, as each of the ninjas then noticed…something was missing.
Realising too late that her ethereal blades had disappeared from sight, eleven of the ninjas fell to their knees, throats slit open as blades of energy hovered silently above their bodies.
All but one fell, as it continued to lay standing and facing her.
Makaela turned to it, at first confused but as she glanced the figure over more attentively she noticed why.
As its body moved strangely, making quick and sudden movements before pausing to look up at her.
No eyes, there were no eyes within the mask’s sockets Makaela noticed.
The ninja rushing at her right then, Makaela raised her hand forth, sending her blades soaring into the being’s body one after the other.
But the sound that came out, was not what she expected to hear.
As the crack of wood filled her ears, her eyes widened at the sight of this being still standing even with thirteen short blades stuck into its body. Able to see through its tattered clothes now, the wooden and metal-bound form beneath.
“Do you like?” Whispered a voice right then, as two more figures suddenly appeared out of nowhere, blades lunging into Makaela’s back as she melded into shadow at the right moment.
Evading the two attacks and appearing behind one, Makaela focused onto her fist, quickly collecting a mass of Spirit within before punching forwards and into the being’s back. She felt it, she felt her fist bash into something hard and crack a few inches deep, as she sent the one ninja flying into the other.
Makaela stepped back then, rubbing her fist as she gazed between the still standing first ninja and the two she just knocked aside…
As they stood up once more.
“Beautiful, aren’t they? Yet the master craftsmanship is merely the shell.” The voice chuckled, as the three puppets took sudden steps towards her again.
A figure appeared behind them, fully cloaked with a low crimson hood, hiding most of their own features. Only a crooked smile was visible beneath.
“And who might you be?” Makaela said, dissipating the blades from the one ninja as several more formed all around her.
“Oh how rude, I’d say you should be the one to introduce yourself first…Yet, I’m also one to abide by not wasting my own damn time. I am Goro of the Zidao clan, Master of Strings, Lord Shadow Commander of the Zrosian Shinobi Unit whose wrath you’ve just enticed.” The figure introduced themselves, bowing quickly and with wide arms, briefly revealing scaly four-fingered hands. “But, you knew that. Just as I know who you are, Dreadblade, Makaela Xilfir.”
“Those days are behind me…” Makaela hissed as two blades fell out of her sleeves and into her hands.
Goro huffed in amusement, “Trash will always be trash, just how rodents will always live in the sewer, just how Xilfir will always live in the murky shadows. Your Age ended centuries ago, Dark Elf, when Sinbeni and Zrosa bound you in chains and called you dogs.”
Two dozen more figures appeared then, empty sockets just like the last three, Makaela found herself surrounded once more.
“Your little rebellion might have caught the foolish Sinbens off-guard, but Zrosa is always ready, Zrosa thirsts for war. While your little Dragon Emperor and those Drakes squabbled, we prepared.” Goro explained, “We’ve watched, we’ve studied and know everything.”
A smirk grew over Makaela’s face then, as her eyes shone with interest. “Oh? Everything huh?~” Giggling in amusement, her previously careful posture fell slouched as she laughed. “Tell me, what do you know?~” She asked, taking a step forwards then, Makaela disappeared.
And so did the puppets.
Each turning into a burst of shadow, Makaela clashed with the sudden wall of wood and blades. As the puppets stood over one another, limbs intertwined unnaturally as their arms flung forth. Makaela fell back, smiling still in amusement at the strange yet effective ability she was faced with.
“We know of your speed and agility, we know of your magic and tactics. We know of the Slayers amongst you. We know of the abominations of magic too. We also know…Of your dead Chosen.” Goro mused, as the puppets suddenly scattered into surrounding him defensively, a single motion of his hand controlling each and all.
He too smiled, a cold smirk of amusement from the joy he gained of knowing he had already won.
Yet even though he knew so, his smile faded when he was met with Makaela’s sudden change in expression.
“You know…” Her eyes empty and cold as they glowed gold, as her playful demeanour all but disappeared. “Nothing.” She hissed, a wave of spiritual energy then surging into her surroundings, shaking the very tower they stood on.
Goro’s demeanour too changed at the sensation, his resolve crumbling as he backed away. Unsure, confused at what he had just felt rush through his own body…
As his own reptilian green eyes met Makaela’s fierce golds, pulsating with light unlike anything he had ever seen.
Then, he didn’t.
Makaela disappeared once more, a wisp of shadow remaining in her place as she appeared behind his puppets and before him.
“Shadow Step.” Quickly she chanted, her blades now rushing forwards, coming to mere inches from reaching Goro’s chest before she then slashed to her sides.
Deflecting the puppet’s blades as they turned on her, Makaela grimaced as she saw Goro also appear elsewhere, controlling his puppets with both hands now.
As half surrounded him with the same defensive formation, while the other half turned to Makaela.
Makaela was forced into the defensive as the sturdy yet agile puppets assaulted her, sidestepping their every move, she watched them all.
She studied them.
Their speed, their attacks, their combinations.
Makaela’s eyes spanned her surroundings, as her ears covered what she could not see.
As she evaded and parried every attack, putting their timing and actions to memory. She chanted too. “Faster than light, your eyes can’t catch me. Silent as night, I make not a sound…”
Seeming just fast enough to dodge their blades, seemingly just quick enough to block each flank and combination the puppets had…
When suddenly…“Draconic Martial Arts; Custom Art; Shadow Walk.”
Disappearing from sight right then, the puppets were left to glance about without a target, as neither a sound was made nor tendril of shadow was left behind.
Makaela seemed entirely gone even to Goro as he too looked startled.
Until a sigh of disappointment reached his ears, “No, you’re not it.” Makaela mused from the shadows, her voice seeming to change direction with every word she spoke.
“W-What?” Goro asked as he grasped onto a charm which lay around his neck, speaking a quick chant beneath his breath before a blast of white energy suddenly filled the room.
Yet nothing seemed to happen, confusing him further.
“You dare…Waste my time…My breath, with a fake?” Makaela hissed, as Goro then felt a chill crawl up his spine, turning around just in time to find Makaela standing mere inches from him.
A golden ethereal blade held in her left hand whilst she wielded her whip in the other, Makaela’s left heel suddenly rose, kicking the man who called himself Goro away.
Her left hand blurred then, suddenly emptied of its contents as the blade now lay sunken into Goro’s falling form.
No time to even reply at all, Goro fell to the ground, dead.
Makaela watched as the puppets collapsed all around her, yet her attentive eyes rested not.
Her senses remained on high alert.
“You mean to mock me? Sending a mere servant to fight me…You’ve had your laugh, now reveal yourself. Shadow Lord!” Makaela exclaimed as her ethereal blade reappeared into her hand, clenching both weapons tightly.
She waited, in absolute silence Makaela waited.
Hearing not a thing, seeing not a single movement.
But she sensed it, she sensed the being rush out of the tower.
“So that’s how this plays out…Fine…A chase it is!~” She giggled, turning to face the window then, Makaela chanted quickly.
“I am the hunter of hunters, the predator of those who would think me prey. Lord, one who I would call master, lend me your strength! Draconic Martial Arts; Copy Art; Light’s shadow!” She chanted Pyra’s signature art, mentally apologising to her sister, as the golden light rushed to surround her body.
She leapt through, soaring out of the tower all too fast, the very light which trailed behind her gone unseen too through the night sky.
As she gave chase, barely keeping up with the invisible being who soared over the camp, going further even as It led her out and into the forest nearby.
“Ah, that’s your plan then!” Makaela mused, stopping in her tracks as the being had also suddenly paused before her.
As masked and cloaked figures appeared all around where she sensed it standing, hundreds of Zrosian Shinobi had joined them.
Also following the Zrosians out of the camp, hundreds of Dreadblades took form out of bursts of shadow all around Makaela.
“You want this bloody fight to occur away from your precious sleeping troops.” Makaela mused, raising her right hand up before snapping her fingers dramatically. “Oh, well, too bad I guess~” She laughed maniacally, as a blaze rose into the night sky behind her.
The Zrosian camp had suddenly caught aflame, causing a disturbance amongst the Zrosian Shinobi, as the invisible being finally revealed themselves.
A full white robe alongside a pitch-black Wolf’s mask with blood red painted eyes. “Very well, you’ve caught my attention…” A neutral voice spoke from behind the mask, neither male nor female, neither loud nor quiet. It seemed completely unnatural in every way.
“You’re it then? Not another squire while the real thing cowers away?~” Makaela mocked, seeing many a hand clench tighter around their weapon’s grip, she smirked.
“Yes, it is I. The real Goro Zidao, Master of Strings, Lord Shadow Commander of the Zrosian Shinobi Unit.” The being sighed.
“The Many Masks.” Makaela mused.
“And last you’ll ever see.” Goro mused back, causing Makaela’s smile to widen.
“Oh now, already with the provocations? I’ve barely even introduced myself.” Makaela chuckled.
“I’d much rather get on with this.” Goro grumbled, seemingly annoyed but not in much of a hurry.
Makaela’s smile dissipated then, as her gaze turned hard and cold. “Hah…it’ll only take a moment. Your last moment.”
The glow in her eyes suddenly intensifying, as she whispered in a quick chant.
“I am the King’s shadow” Makaela began to chant, as energy unlike anything she summoned before engulfed her.
Alongside her tendrils of darkness.
Alongside her ethereal blades of spiritual energy.
“The lightning strike ahead of the rumbling bellow.”
A change occurred to Makaela then, as the patches of scales of white which lay splattered across her body suddenly turned gold. As her long pointed ears changed slightly too, the skin morphing away into the same scale-like leather.
“The blade befalling after.”
Her previously snow-white hair, gaining strands of bright gold. As from amongst it protruded out two curved horns of the same gold.
“Lord, one who I would call master, lend me your strength!”
Her eyes which were set upon Goro, flashed a brief bright light.
“For I am your Chosen.”
Dimming away later to reveal golden reptilian slits.
“Draconic School; Custom Cast; Makaelaryl”
Her own Xilfir stepped back in astonishment at the sight, as the Zrosians and Goro gazed in stumped silence.
As the Dark Elf from before was gone.
“Cause only one of us is making it out of these woods alive…Haha~”
Makaela now standing before them, as a Dragon’s Chosen…
And the first Dragon Elf.
Erik stood before the map of Sinroz, doing what he found himself doing these past few months.
Brooding, yet never coming up with an answer, Erik silently stared upon the tactical map.
Pondering over whether he did the right choice in allowing in yet another.
Wondering, if it’d end up getting to her head and in turn get her killed.
Glancing down at his own hands then, rage briefly filled him, anger at himself, and the rest of the world.
A fury that he had to try his best, at holding down, fearing it might consume him as it came from seemingly nowhere.
Yet Erik knew where it came from, as he glanced over his now black and crimson wings, turning then to the door as it opened.
“Found ‘em.” Nerick announced as he walked in, followed by Pyra and Ascal.
Pyra immediately and quickly bowed, “You called, my lord?” asking urgently yet politely as per her usual demeanour.
Ascal bowed as she did, if not slightly more dramatic in his motions and posture. “Apologies for keeping you waiting, there are some festivities going on downtown…” He mused in elven, smirking as he gained himself a glare from Pyra.
Erik noticing her fists twitch, he knew she wanted to punch him but was unsure as to the occasion this time around. “Well, I’m afraid you’ll have not much more time to attend.” He sighed, returning to the map he gestured them to it. “As you know your sister Makaela left for her mission yesterday,”
(“Oh, do we?”) Ascal quietly chuckled as he shared his mischievous thoughts with Pyra, causing her no little amount of annoyance.
“We won’t be hearing from her for some time, not until Zentha meets with her half way through on her way back here. I believe it is assured though that Makaela’s assault on the first Zrosian battalion to be a success. Yet…” Erik gestured over one of the yellow flags that lay embedded between Abyele and Dammamas and then at the others. “That still leaves us with two more armies of the same size and force heading our way.”
“Which I’m guessing, is where we come in?” Ascal mused.
“Indeed,” Erik glanced back at him with narrowed eyes, causing the Xilfir to tense.
“Apologies…” Ascal then said, realising he had cut Erik off.
“But yes, this is where you two come in.” Erik reiterated, turning back to the map. “We are left with the army remaining stationed at Keye and the army heading around the coast to Lahihr. Their strategy is simple but effective, as they number far more than us.” Glancing back again at Ascal with a raised brow, Erik expected the comment, gesturing for the impatient Xilfir to speak up then.
Seeing that he had permission to comment, Ascal needed nothing else. “The northern army is a distraction meant for us to retreat to Lahihr to defend it, since as Abu Katra stands and after the destruction we caused…Lahihr in some ways would be preferable to defend in case of a siege. For some reason, they want us there. I believe it is because they wish to corner us in Lahihr with no escape by land and less access to their own territory. If we do retreat to Lahihr, the army at Keye will move up and take over Abu Katra, creating an easy to hold border for Zrosa even with two thirds of their numbers.”
“Which, is why we’ve taken the strategy of stalling them.” Erik then added.
“But to what end?” Pyra then asked, seeing an opening to speak. “Be it Abu Katra or Lahihr, we will still have to fight at least two thirds of their numbers at some point. The more we try to stall them, the more used to our methods they will become and the closer the third will come to re-joining with the rest.”
“Which is why,” Erik then grabbed hold of one of the flags at the side, a dark red one. “Ascal, you will stall the army at the north coast however you can with only what little Dreadblades remain, take some of the Special Unit if you find the remaining numbers not enough. But as for the Dragon Knights, and Xilfir Knights…” Erik turned to Pyra, raising the red flag before himself.
“As for the Wyvern riders…” He glanced at Nerick too, before turning back around…
Placing the red flag upon Keye and knocking the yellow one aside. “You will lay siege to Keye, claiming it for our Empire.”
“But…that will leave Abu Katra and the Citadel open for attack from the north?” Nerick mused.
“The Citadel will move to Keye as well,” Erik answered, “but yes unless Ascal figures out some way to eliminated the coastal army, it will eventually reach Lahihr or Abu Katra. Which, I believe it will as we make this move.”
Erik returned to facing them all, just in time to see Kayle enter the room as well. “Timing is key here, we will engage the city of Keye. Ascal must stall the coastal army enough for the siege to clear, at which point the coastal army will reach Abu Katra. The Sinbens will hold for at best a day without Ascal’s assistance, which you will not give and will instead lay in wait.”
“In wait for?” Ascal mused in question.
“In wait for something to occur midway…I won’t promise you anything, the talks are still uncertain. But worst come to worse, you will wait for the Citadel’s return a day and a half after. At which point Zentha and her squad will also have regrouped with us.” Erik explained.
“Ah, while the Zrosians are tiring themselves from sieging the Sinbens, our men will be resting and recuperating.” Ascal understood their strategy now.
“We’ll completely outpace Zrosa,” Erik said, “Destroying two thirds of their army, assuring us a path right through Keye and directly to Dabangui.”
“In turn, ending the lives of millions.” Kayle mused as she came to stand by them, her tired eyes gazing over the map behind Erik.
“Go start your preparations, Ascal you leave tonight.” Erik then told the Xilfir officers, gesturing them out.
Both of them then vacating with a nod, and leaving him alone with Nerick and Kayle.
“Did you see something?” Erik then asked, turning to Kayle.
“No, I’ve been too…restless, to see anything.” Kayle mused.
“Ah…” Erik understood how she felt, it won’t be long now after all.
(“Not that I’ve told you everything…”) Erik mused then, thinking to himself of what he was about to do.
What he was ready to do.
As an awkward silence then befell them, broken only by the more awkward Nerick. “So, well…Err, you’re busy as usual so we’ll just leave you to it?” He said sheepishly, carefully ushering Kayle out as he himself left the room.
Glancing back at Erik one last time to speak, “Don’t overdo it, we’re all tense.”, before closing the door behind himself.
Left completely alone once more, Erik immediately returned to his thoughts, but deciding then though to take Nerick’s advice. He too turned to leave, choosing to rest his mind by focusing it elsewhere if only for a few moments.
Erik roamed the castle halls, glancing over his centuries long creation, enjoying if anything that it was actually being put to use.
Somehow, throughout his aimless stroll, finding himself standing before the entrance to castle’s dungeon.
Trying to will the door open at first, the annoyance which filled his mind then stalls him from doing so, as briefly the rage from before returned once again.
But unlike before, it was sudden, and his mind unprepared to restrain it.
Erik felt the fury surge throughout his consciousness, anger unlike anything he had ever felt before.
He felt it try to take over, the sensation of something far too ancient for him to recognise, grasping at his very soul.
But Erik fought back, struggling against his own mana as it pulsated black within his now visible veins.
Pushing into the nearby wall, Erik clenched his arms, heaving deep breaths as slowly the sensation receded. The darkness in his eyes, faltering back into whites, as did the pulsating veins which riddled his skin.
Erik straightened himself, sighing as the assault on his mind ended, feeling strange as with each one he seemed to grow used to it.
Even though, with every occurrence it also seemed to grow stronger.
Erik turned to face the door once more, his fingers twitching with annoyance as it now slammed open to his frustrated will.
Startling the Devil within as Azkel jumped up a few feet to his sudden entrance, quickly then replacing her hands upon the beating bulge of corrupted flesh before her. “You trying to kill us all!?” She exclaimed in equal annoyance, gaining herself a cold glare from Erik as he entered the room.
As he glanced about at the growing tendrils, forming about glowing runes of white and blue which lay carved into each of the walls, the floor and even the ceiling. Creating one massive magic circle.
“How far have you gotten?” Erik then asked, keeping his distance from the hellish heart but retaining his presence as he stared straight at Azkel.
“About thirty percent converted,” Azkel answered in a grumbling tone, “Don’t get ahead of yourself though, the process will slow down as more of the Negative Spirit is converted to Positive, taking up more of my concentration to retain one side from clashing with the other…So, was it another attack?” She then asked after explaining, glancing at him with a raised brow.
And gaining herself a further annoyed glare, “Keep to yourself, Devil.” As Erik hissed back, causing her to grimace in both irritation and amusement.
“Hah, this little Devil can’t help herself, you’re too easy. And spending both days and nights locked up down here isn’t exactly…entertaining.” Azkel mused with a sigh.
“How much longer?” Erik then asked, rolling his eyes at her constant grumbling.
“Five days, give me five days and it will be ready.” Azkel said, closing her eyes to continue focusing on her task.
“Five days…” Erik repeated, grimacing as he clenched his chest, (“Can I last that long?”) he asked himself.
Dread filling him then, he pushed it aside.
(“No, I will. Five days…Just five more days and it’s all over.”) He promised himself.
Feeling then a mixture of both longing joy…
And harrowing preparation.