Arachne hung her head low. She winced and watched the snake witch lose her composure in front of her. Unable to control her emotions, Nagini dug her nails into her palms and shook profusely. The image of the burning house etched itself into her mind. Nagini remembered her brother screaming out for Fenghuang and no one returning the call. The screaming, from both her brother and the tiny openings in the house releasing steam, replayed.
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I couldn't save you.
Unable to watch any longer, the kind Madame embraced Nagini and looked at how stirred she was in the mirrors. She wrapped her hands around Nagini and rested her chin on the disenchanted witch. The black curls wrapped around the silky strands. Nagini did not fight it but rather accepted this rare gesture. She quietly fell into the embrace.
"There was nothing you could do, Nagini. I'm sure that your mother knew you loved her very so."
"I failed," Nagini murmured. "I failed to fulfill her last request."
Arachne turned Nagini around and lifted up the young woman's chin. She smiled at Nagini who was keeping back the tears. Her glassy eyes shimmered as the sunlight broke through the thinly veiled windows.
"Your brother is out there. You've only failed if you've given up hope. You know, this isn't the same ambitious Nagini I saw facing the Council today. Whatever the case is, I'll aid you in your quest to find your brother Kenji. In this cruel, unjustifiable world we so live in, we're all alone. The bond we really only have is family. I would go to the ends of Big Blue just to find Ibrahm if he was in danger."
"You sound so certain," Nagini looked into Arachne's eyes, "that things work out in the end."
"It's called faith. If you trust all your faith in God, he will provide."
The confused snake witch gave the Madame a strange look.
"Who is this God and where can I find him?"
Confused herself, Arachne shot back the same expression and then it clicked into her head. Perhaps faith was a Big Blue concept, or rather, it was a concept associated with Varsyl and other distant lands. She chuckled and smiled at Nagini. This brought caution to the vulnerable woman.
"God," Arachne pointed to Nagini's chest, "can be found there. He is the one who created us all."
This foreign concept flew over Nagini's head. Frightened by some creator-man, she quickly rejected the idea and stepped back. Knowing that Nagini had no exposure to religion, Arachne nodded and gladly accepted her reaction.
"Ibrahm would do the same for me, Nagini. He would sail the infinite sea just for me, embark on adventure and journey through savage lands just to see me. I believe your brother would do the same. In fact, I know he's out there looking for you. There's this bond that siblings share. It's stronger than any magic a Magus could conjure up and tougher than cold steel. Fenghuang believed in it. Family is an unstoppable force that comes crashing down on anything, anyone, or any nation that dares to destroy that very sacred bond."
“Erika, Kenji, I’d like you to meet Kasumi. I suppose you could call her your aunt.”
She could see her real mother dressed in white smiling right now and saying the words "love" and "family". Biting the tip of her tongue, Nagini shook her head. What has love ever done for tragic Nagini? It has caused her nothing but heartbreak and the deaths of those closest to her. What bond did this mysterious woman speak of?
"Anyways!" Arachne clapped her hands. "I've decided that I'll have these fine women craft four dresses for you. You'll have two outfits designated for everyday wear, one for the gathering, and a secret that I'll personally make sure gets finished. Nanelle and the other seamstresses are fast workers. I wouldn't be surprised if they fashioned you a gown in the next three hours! As an honored guess to the Perceival estate, I will make sure you are prim and proper for this ball we're hosting."
She quickly got caught up on the idea and started to waltz around Nagini. The humming and dramatic arm movements put Nagini on edge. Madame Arachne was unpredictable in her actions, probably an even greater threat than the Council posed. She snatched Nagini by the hands and danced in circles. Not enthusiastic whatsoever, the stiff foreigner gave control to the whimsical Arachne. They continued to dance until the hostess realized that her guest was not having as much fun as she was.
"Nothing is going to happen to you while you're at the Perceival estate."
Nagini shifted her eyes in Arachne's direction.
"Do you not trust me, Nagini?" she frowned and averted her focus elsewhere.
Nagini inspected herself in the mirror and looked over her shoulders and asked, "Why are you taking such a liking to me? It's so sudden. It makes me suspect that you're up to something."
"I was hoping that since we're both outsiders that we would take a liking to each other."
Persistent on being Nagini's escort and tour guide, Arachne had to pull some strings in order to convince the Council. In reality, she was attracted to danger, and foreigners were the most dangerous thing to be found in Varsyl. Before she married Perceival, the Madame was actively pursuing a role in the Council. She wanted to be the head of entertainment. The word on the street said that Arachne had put on better events than Leiuth herself. The events pushed the envelope and invited strange acts around, sometimes outside, the Varsylian empire. Ultimately, the conservative Council saw this as outrageous and dangerous to the state and therefore appointed the equally extravagant yet somewhat tameable Leiuth.
Yet, that fascination died out once Arachne got to know Nagini a little bit more. Her back story had touched her; Nagini was not just another simple barbarian who managed to wash up on the wrong shore. The Varsylian woman saw purpose and a mission behind Nagini. This barbarian woman, despite being a complete fool, threatened the almighty Council with her words and sword.
Somewhat now frustrated with Arachne, sharp tongued Nagini spoke up and questioned. "What makes you an outsider, Madame Arachne? You're surrounded by your people and they love you. They listen to you and they feed you the attention that you so want."
"It's hard to be in the spotlight all the time, especially when you're the wife of a Council member. Everyone expects you to be submissive to the husband and to follow every command he gives you. Women are nothing more but foot soldiers to men. One mistake can be fatal and everyone is watching and waiting for you to falter." Arachne shook her head. "I, on the other hand, want to be my own person. People listen to me and cheer me on because they're looking for that hero. I will be no seamstress that weaves for others, yet I will not manipulate my innocent admirers for my personal gain."
Nagini concurred. "I've had to cut down a lot of people to get where I am now, and a lot of innocent people died in my quest for revenge, and yet I am no more closer to my goals than I was weeks ago. I realized that none of my actions will bring him back and I've mistreated the people that put their...faith into me."
"You don't seem like that kind of person anymore, Nagini."
She was hinting at Uol'we. Nagini made the excuse that she was scared of going alone and that Uol'we was a security blanket. After all the things said and done, he and Isthir did drag her back to shore. Up until this point, cruel Nagini had broken every promise she's ever made and discarded the majority of her associates. She vowed that she would find her brother, go back to Nocht, and fulfill the promises she had made. A wave of guilt came crashing down on her; her shoulders buckled and her head sank. She avoided making any eye-contact with Arachne.
I don't want it to happen to you too.
After recording all the measurements and picking out the fabrics for Nagini's new attire, the women promptly exited the store. Radiating blissful smiles, Arachne lead Nagini back to the capital and gave her an extensive tour. For a brief moment, Nagini thought living in Big Blue would be better for her rather than returning to Guten Nocht. She didn't have to hunt down people in order to live.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 44d 20h 11m 29s
Shizuka paid no heed to the little girl's cries as they echoed down the hallway."Maybe you should..." he muttered, but she shook her head. "Ms. Ono will deal with it," she said nonchalantly, her hands on her lover's shoulders. As if on cue, the sound of Tsubaki's gentle footsteps glided past, punctuated by an all-too-familiar exclamation."Makoto!"He chuckled. "Tsu does more work around here than you do. Why are we paying you again?""You can get rid of me whenever you like," Shizuka replied, kissing him. "But I don't think that's what you want, for some reason."He smiled, but averted his gaze. "Do you think she knows?""She knows. Makoto looks like you."It was true. The child hadn't inherited her mother's dark skin, or her acute face. Shizuka had passed on only the colour of her eyes, dark brown with a tinge of red. The mischievous spark, however, was gone."I hope she doesn't grow a beard," he said nervously, turning his mistress away. "Come on, let's go see our daughter."Shizuka gave a roll of her eyes and followed him out of the room. The crying had subsided, replaced by laughter. Tsubaki's voice came softly through the gap of a slightly-open screen. He gestured for Shizuka to go in first. Without a word, Shizuka slid the screen open authoritatively and walked into the centre of the room. As he followed her in, Shizuka dropped to her knees and bowed low to the lady of the house. Tsubaki ignored her, singing quietly to the laughing child, whom she held closely in her arms. As her husband entered, she gave a vague nod to them both. "Shizuka, what do you know about Itami Kojima?"Shizuka let out a quiet, surprised sound. This was unexpected. "Um, nothing. My mother was very quiet about her side of the family. I've always considered myself a Yūki, not a Kojima."Tsubaki replied with a short laugh. "I see. Never mind.""Is Makoto okay?" "She's fine." Tsubaki said, stroking the girl's hair."That's a relief.""Mama!" the girl exclaimed.They all paused, staring at the girl."Did she just--" Shizuka found herself unable to finish her sentence. A cold feeling pierced her chest and sunk to the pit of her stomach. They had all seen it. Makoto had said her first word, calling for her mother's attention. But this was not right, not at all. Shizuka struggled to hold back tears. Tsubaki smiled down warmly at the child. Makoto had said "mama", but not once had she looked at Shizuka. Her eyes remained fixed firmly on the goddess."But... I'm..." Shizuka whimpered. Tsubaki ignored her, and carried on singing.
Shizuka awoke suddenly with a jolt. Raising her one good arm to her face, she blocked out the intense light that bore down on her from above. For a short, blissful moment, she didn't know where she was, and had forgotten all about her mistress' mission. A sense of overwhelming clarity overcame her, as if she'd awoken from an endless nightmare. She was Yuki Shizuka. Her throat felt incredibly hoarse. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came, just a low hiss. She closed her eye and thought quietly to herself. Her daughter. What was her name? Tentatively, she croaked out the first syllable.
Yes, that was it.
A clicking noise came from the side of her, followed by a quiet whirring. She looked down with a bleary eye at the source of the sound. The dark steel monstrosity that grew from her left forearm clicked and whirred at her. She tried to scream, but a terrifying hiss escaped from her throat instead. The arm clicked in reply. The dull throb in her chest subsided to a searing pain. Perhaps she had not awoken from the nightmare after all. That same animal hiss echoed throughout the forest as Shizuka writhed in the soft earth, waves of agony coursing through her body.
"You forgot your pack, Mack," Gabriel called to the girl, who had wandered away from the group to stare at the alien foliage. Makoto continued to stare at the leaves as they swayed gently back and forth.
Makoto turned around, almost bumping into Gabriel's hulking figure. Without a word, she took the large bag from the man and turned back to the trees.
"Okay, we're heading south west. Be on your guard, we don't know what's down here, and until we're sure it's safe, the people of Varsyl shouldn't know we're here either."
The squadron muttered their respective acknowledgments as they all gathered around Gabriel, with Makoto arriving last. While the others discussed formation and prepped their weapons, she unzipped her bag and examined her possessions. Two sets of her usual outfit, some tape, several military rations, and a long lacquered case that stretched the length of the bag. Perhaps it was time to see the sword that Kasumi so desperately sought for her to own. Removing the box from the bag, she flipped the two locks that held it shut and threw the top open.
The sword had clearly seen better days. She reached for the sheath, and pulled the sword from its mooring, hoping that it wouldn't fall apart in her hand. Astrid chuckled, slinging her gigantic rifle over her shoulder.
"Was that the best Marcel could hook you up with?"
The rest of the squadron seemed equally unimpressed. Newton spoke up.
"Maybe someone made a mistake?"
Gabriel's usual hearty smile was replaced by a puzzled frown.
"Perhaps not. Look..."
As Makoto placed her hand on the sword's hilt, a black dust slowly began to fall from the sword. She raised the sword to head height, keeping it at arm's length.
"Kojima, what are you doing?"
"I don't know," she muttered, the sword entirely enveloped by a cloud of black dust. She took the sheath in one hand and prepared to draw the weapon in the manner Kasumi had taught her.
The group did as they were told.
The blade sang as Makoto loosed it from the sheath, swinging in a wide arc through the air. The illusion dissipated.
"Pretty." Astrid said.
The black blade gleamed in the sunlight, as if it was greeting its new master. Makoto held the blade aloft for a moment, staring bemusedly at the scattered black dust as it slowly drifted to the floor.
“Illusion magic.” Newton piped up, “I’ve seen it used before on Nocht. That said...”
He took a step closer to Makoto, placing a finger on the edge of the sword.
“... Generally, when someone casts an illusion, it fades when not in the presence of the person who created it. Either we’re being followed, or someone very, very powerful cast this illusion.”
“That would be the lady who threw me across the room earlier, right Mack?” Gabriel said. Makoto nodded. Astrid pulled back the bolt on her rifle.
“Shh. Listen. We have company.”
The squadron paused, allowing the huntress’ finely tuned ears to guide them.
“Over there.” She whispered, pointing into the trees in the distance.
“I hear it too.” Newton added.
The group slowly proceeded towards the sound, weapons at the ready. As they drew closer, the sound grew louder and clearer. The whirring of an engine and the sound of metal sliding against metal.
In the shadows ahead, a black shape moved frantically about, quickly, and then slowly, and then quickly again, like a paper bag caught by a gust of wind.
“It’s a person.” Chattun said, somewhat surprised.
Surely enough, the dark shape was that of a woman, flailing furiously about the forest. Violently leaping to one side, she crashed into the side of a tree, smashing it into pieces with her arm. Immediately, the team stopped and levelled their weapons at her. Makoto placed her hand on the hilt of her sword, feeling useless. The woman fell to her knees, her metal arm planting itself into the ground between her legs. Her hair fell all about her, concealing her face.
“Don’t move!” Gabriel barked.
Shizuka remained still.
“Finch, she’s hurt.” Newton remarked. Shizuka didn’t move, staring at the floor.
“Don’t go anywhere near her.” Astrid muttered, on edge.
Homer took a step forwards, and then paused.
“It’s your call, sir.” Homer said, heeding Astrid’s warning.
Shizuka looked up, revealing a single maroon eye. A trail of blood ran from a cut in her forehead, down her face and into her mouth, which hung slightly open, revealing a gleaming set of teeth. Her expression was somewhere between anguish and confusion. Gabriel took a step closer.
“Do you speak Varsyl?”
Shizuka didn’t respond.
Gabriel lowered his rifle, pointing at himself.
“Gabriel,” he pointed at her. “You”?
“Get away from her!” Astrid called from the shadows. A red dot smoothly ran across the ground and to the middle of Shizuka’s forehead.
“She’s wounded. She’s not going to do us any harm. Homer, get over here and take a look at that head wound.”
Homer did as he was told, swiftly slinking over to the wounded woman.
“Don’t do it, Cedric... ”
“Lower your weapon, Valken! ”
Astrid continued to train her sights on Shizuka’s head for a moment, before lowering her rifle.
Homer crouched by the wounded woman and gently pushed her hair aside, so as to examine her wound.
“Huh, this lady looks kind of like you, Kojima.” He glanced back at Makoto, who hadn’t spoken a word during the ordeal.
Shizuka glanced up at Makoto, noticing her for the first time. She opened her mouth, but then remained silent. This girl seemed so familiar. The name Kojima registered something with her, something from her past. Tsubaki would know... Tsubaki! How long had it been since she’d been given her orders? Shizuka was suddenly gripped with a sense of dread,Will my mistress be angry at me?
“Oh, that’s a pretty nasty cut.”I failed her.
“There are a few splinters in here. I should probably take them out before they get infected.”I’m a failure.
“Hold still, this might sting a little.”Failure! Failure! Failure!”
“Okay, that’s the first one out.”FAILUREFAILUREFAILURE.
“You’re doing great, just hold on.”I’m nothing.
Shizuka suddenly turned her head, looking Homer in the eye.
“Cedric!” Astrid cried, raising her rifle.
Shizuka’s arm smashed into the medic’s chest, knocking him clear off his feet. Astrid was the first to fire, but Shizuka was far too quick. The woman became a vertical blur as she vanished from sight. Immediately, Finch, Newton and Chattun were at Makoto’s side, weapons at the ready.
“What the hell is she!?” yelled Gabriel, distraught.
“A Goddess,” Makoto replied, preparing to test her blade.
Astrid let out an incoherent cry as Shizuka snatched the rifle from her grasp. Quickly, she reached for her handgun, but the talon struck faster, burying itself into her right arm. Shizuka withdrew the claw, using her real arm to turn Astrid and hold her in place as a human shield.
“Just shoot us both!” Astrid shrieked through howls of pain.
“Don’t shoot.” Makoto said lowly. “It won’t make a difference.”
“Is there something you know that we don’t, Mack?” Gabriel replied, trying to regain his composure.
“Trust me.” She replied, charging towards the two women. Shizuka tossed Astrid aside, an unpleasant crack filling the air. The loud shriek of the sword followed immediately after as Makoto brought it down onto Shizuka’s head. Whoosh. The blade sailed harmlessly past as Shizuka slipped past the girl and took to the air. “Fire!” Gabriel ordered, and the three men immediately opened fire. A single volley of bullets had time to escape their weapons before a storm of shrapnel rained down on them. Newton and Chattun fell to the ground , dark metal embedded into their torsos. Gabriel, steadfast, remained on his feet a second longer, before Shizuka slammed into him, bundling them both into the ground. They wrestled for less than a moment - Shizuka had gained the advantage, and plunged her arm downwards into his chest. Gabriel took a hold of the arm and looked at Makoto.
“Makoto, RUN!” he cried with his last breath, desperately trying to buy her more time. He was not afforded such time, and with a sickening wrenching sound, Shizuka tore the heart from his chest.
Makoto didn’t need telling twice. She spun on her heels and began to sprint away – only to trip on her bag and fall face first into the leaves. Momentarily dazed, she turned rolled over, drawing her sword and pointing it upwards at the woman who now stood over her. Shizuka’s single eye stared down blankly at the girl, completely devoid of emotion. With a set of clicks, the menacing claw quickly retracted into itself, turning into an angular silver hand. Makoto tried to get to her feet, but instead had the wind knocked out of her by a rapid burst of rounded metal into her stomach – a fierce kick from Shizuka’s left leg. She dropped the sword and attempted to get to her feet. Why would Kasumi just let her die like this? The metal hand effortlessly lifted Makoto off the ground. Shizuka held her aloft momentarily, continuing to stare blankly into her eye.
Forcefully and with inhuman strength, she dropped Makoto onto her knees and slid around her. Resigned to her fate, Makoto closed her eyes, feeling Shizuka’s right arm closing around her neck. Her body struggled for air, but what was the point in breathing? She slipped out of consciousness.
Shizuka dropped the limp body and examined her surroundings, her senses still fraught with panic. Some of these people weren’t dead. No matter. She had to get back to Tsubaki. Immediately. She picked up the girl and slung her over her shoulder; perhaps she would be of interest to her mistress.
Makoto only understood the first three words.
“Ah, you’re awake.”
Everything that followed was in a language foreign to her.
Makoto opened her eyes. She was in a bed. Like the ones she occupied in NC, they were low to the floor. She was in a small, windowless room, unlike anything she had seen in Nocht. Walls, seemingly paper thin, were covered in patterns of all colours. The patterns reminded her of something, but she couldn’t think what. The floors were plain, a slightly greenish shade of off-white. An unlit candle on a long black stick sat in the corner of the room. It seemed to be made of the same material as her sword’s case. The ceiling was covered in rafters; the entire structure of the room seemingly visible. She had no recollection of having ever seen this room before, but it seemed oddly familiar. Three women were in the room with her - one slid part of the wall to one side and disappeared outside - now two women were in the room with her. At the back of the room, leant against the wall, was the dark woman from before. The one who had murdered her squadron in front of her. Makoto now had the time to look her up and down properly. Her hair had been tied up above her head. It flared out wildly at the back, falling into a long braid behind her. As Makoto had noted before, she only had her right eye. A white eye patch adorned her left. The long silver gauntlet that glimmered menacingly on her arm. A prosthetic leg. Oddly familiar.
“Shizuka, I think it’s best that you wait outside.”
The woman called Shizuka walked out of the room, her prosthetic leg clicking away as she made her way down the corridor. Makoto looked at the woman who gave the instructions.
“Makoto?” the woman asked. She spoke with a soft tone, almost sung. There was something incredibly familiar about her.
She smiled brightly.
“I knew it. You look just like your father.”
Makoto sat upright.
“You were three years old when you were taken from me. Don’t you remember anything?”
Makoto looked around the room once more, then into the woman’s eyes. The sense of familiarity was overwhelming her. The colours, the scent, the sound of bird song in the distance. All parts of an incomplete puzzle in her mind.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Tsubaki Ono.”
Makoto’s mind flashed back to the last thing Kasumi had told her.“Do not, under any condition, trust a woman named Tsubaki Ono.”
She played the words in her head, emphasizing the “not” and the “any”. Tsubaki read her expression effortlessly.
“I suppose Kasumi told you not to trust me.”
Clearly, Tsubaki and Kasumi knew each other very well.
“I tried so hard not to let her take you away, but she was always a lot stronger than me.”
She sighed, looking briefly to the floor, then back at the girl.
“I searched every inch of Big Blue, but I could not find you. Either you were dead, or Kasumi had taken you to the one place where she knew I couldn’t reach you.”
“Yes, that’s correct. And now you don’t remember me.”
Makoto’s heart sank with guilt. She couldn’t understand her thought process. Why did this woman inspire her so? She had just witnessed the violent massacre of her colleagues at the hands of the woman’s servant, and yet this woman’s melancholy was what went through her.
“Tsubaki - Who are you - to me?”
Tsubaki looked up at the girl, walking around the bed and sitting beside her. She took a deep breath, and began to sing quietly. As with everything else in the room, this was oddly familiar. She listened, taking in each word.“…kowai, nagara mo…“… Tōryanse, tōryanse.”
Makoto sang, finishing the song.
Tsubaki looked at Makoto in surprise.
“You used to sing that to me when I was a child, didn’t you,” Makoto muttered.
“Welcome home, Makoto.”
/ CEO Of ELITESKILLS.COM AND SUBSIDIARIES / HEAD OF SECURITY AND SYSTEMS ADMINISTRATION / DATABASE SCHEMA SPECIALIST / K
/ 78d 20h 13m 43s
“You really can’t tell me anything else?”
“Only that she’s being well taken care of, Martyr Uol’we.”
Uol’we slightly cringed at the guard’s mention of him being a Martyr. It almost seemed like an extreme unnecessity for Uol’we to be called something he hated. He bore the clothes and the symbols; did the whole world require the constant attention that he was an iconic failure?
Uol’we sighed and rested his foot up on the closest chair. Fixing his leggings and wiping off any dirt he could find, he heard the large chamber door behind him open. Upon turning his head he noticed who had entered along with their importance – Council members. Right behind them packed like servants were three other Martyrs. Only one of them did Uol’we recognize and he didn’t particularly care for them either. To be honest, Uol’we didn’t care much for anyone; he just wasn’t a “team player”. Besides the Martyrs, the members who had arrived were the Great Rubarnthes, Perceival, and Hedj - three significant men who could easily sway the minds of Varsyl’s people. Uol’we knew well not to conflict with said idols.
“Wine,” Perceival demanded upon entering the room. The guard immediately acknowledged his given task and left Uol’we’s side to pour his superiors’ cups. Only Uol’we remained alone in this little ritual of drinking.
“Nothing for you then, Uol’we?” Hedj asked while taking one quick sip and placing the cup back onto the tray. At least Hedj seemed to have noticed that Uol’we was forgotten.
“Uh, no thanks, sir.”
“That’s sir Hedj, Martyr.” Another Martyr barked while being poured his own drink. Uol’we managed to let loose an eye roll without being caught.
“Martyr Uol’we, we have summoned you here to this chamber so we can discuss the snake problem.” Rubarnthes exclaimed while beckoning for more wine. “You’re now involved in a situation that calls to the Council’s attention. You do know that, correct?”
“Now, now, let’s not jump at the boy. Reward him for coming across such a find, Rubarnthes!” Hedj added while patting the Martyr on the back. “This young Martyr understands that his will is for us to use wisely and that what we say, must happen. So, why don’t we just-“
“Hedj, stay out of this. You do understand what all this means, don’t you? Can you seriously take this all so lightly?” Rubarnthes replied in cold tongue. Even the guard backed down a bit before refilling the man’s chalice. Perceival smiled at the men’s bickering and interrupted them with a loud cough. Grabbing their attention he finally pointed out the other Martyrs and explained their purpose.
“Rubarnthes, I believe you were going to explain why you brought some Martyrs along?”
“Ah…yes, that.” Rubarnthes straightened himself up and looked over at his followers. “These three Martyrs were going to be placed in that woman’s presence. In a sense, they were going to watch over her.”
Uol’we quickly took interest and gave his own input without properly addressing himself. He wasn’t that great at higher manners.
“Wait, they’re going to be playing babysitters?”
“Not exactly, Uol’we…” Hedj groaned. He lifted his hand off the Martyr’s back and stepped forward. “Rubarnthes wishes to control the matter rather than take advantage. While the vote permits the young woman to stay within Varsyl, we need to keep an eye on her. His plan is to have these three cut her down if things get out of hand. We’re all inclined to agree that this woman can be dangerous. If not handled correctly, then we’ll need to do what’s necessary.”
“If it were up to me, I’d just get rid of her. That vile snake witch won’t bring us any luck – I can tell you that.” Rubarnthes grumbled without hesitance. His followers nodded in agreement behind him, but that was expected. Perceival, though, didn’t seem to give off a strong opinion. It appeared that his body language was giving the feedback mostly.
“Gentlemen, we can all agree and disagree on certain matters over this. Thing is, the young lady is presently with my wife and I wouldn’t want to rain in on their festivities.”
Rubarnthes grunted and tried pointing out the obvious.
“I can’t believe you’re letting your wife show her around the city. If anything, she seems the kind to be left in the streets of lower Varsyl. That way she ca-“
“She can slip through our fingers? Rubarnthes, think clearly. What would she gain from slaying my beloved wife? Add to that if she may do so in the middle of the day? She’s smarter than you think. You underestimate her, and it will come back to bite you like the snake she is, my dear friend.” Perceival stated with utmost pleasure. It was noticeable that he didn’t intend to add fire to the heated meeting.
“Perceival is right, Rubarnthes. Speaking of lower streets, isn’t your Martyr here from that area?” Hedj added in obvious hinting that Uol’we was the subject. Catching that he was in the spotlight, Uol’we bent down on one knee for his superior, Rubarnthes. Even though he didn’t like the man, Uol’we stuck with his needed respect for the elder. Rubarnthes was a powerful man that had an excellent memory.
Signaling Uol’we to stand, Rubarnthes questioned the young fighter.
“Have you used magic within the city’s walls?”
Uol’we was completely taken off guard, but so was everyone else.
“No…no, I haven’t, sir Rubarnthes.”
“You bear those markings with shame? Dishonor?”
“Yes, my elder.”
“I understand. Then, as a true Martyr you should complete your given ‘Task’ without any hesitation. Am I correct, young Uol’we?” Rubarnthes asked as he rubbed his thumb against his empty chalice. Uol’we glanced at the others in silence before nodding. Rubarnthes smirked and spoke up softly. “Then perform it now. Pour me some wine and your life shall be forfeit for Varsyl.” He added while shoving the empty cup in front of Uol’we’s face. The young Martyr felt his body become stone and his throat blocked him from speaking.
Is…is he serious!?.
“Stop teasing the young boy, Rubarnthes! Just because he bears the Magic Mark doesn’t mean he needs to be treated like some untrustworthy vermin!” Perceival shouted while motioning for the guard to poor his fellow elder some more wine. “Don’t put his parents’ guilt on the young man’s shoulders. I’m positive we can find some use of the boy before his time is up, ha ha!”
Uol’we was already sick of this meeting. He was only interested in what they had planned for Nagini, and he sorely hoped that they didn’t involve hurting her.
“My elders, perhaps I can be the one to watch over her? I mean, the lady trusts only me since I saved her life down by the water. She has let her guard down around me multiple times and I have done the same with her. It sounds weak of me, I know, but this approach builds relationships.”
Uol’we suddenly pictured himself and Nagini becoming life partners.
“Uh, I mean, a trusting relationship. How can she reveal her true intentions and history if we threaten or pocket her within a group of strangers like these Martyrs? Would it not be effective to let someone who knows something or two about her to take the job?”
Uol’we prayed that his rambling proposal would win over the three Council members, but it was quite the gamble. He just didn’t want to see Nagini end up dead or treated like some prisoner.
“Well? What do you think, Rubarnthes? We could have Uol’we look after the young woman while the rest of the Council decides what to do with her. If she chooses to misbehave, then I can easily solve that womanly problem with a public execution. You both know what I can do to that woman…” Perceival said after a moment of silence. “If I want her dead or gone, then it can happen just like that.” He added with a quick snap of his fingers. Knowing his position among the Council, Uol’we grew a bit troubling over the fact that Nagini wasn’t in a wonderful situation after all. Nevertheless, it appeared that Rubarnthes thought over Uol’we’s disposition. Looking over to his followers, Rubarnthes signaled them to leave the room and glanced over at Hedj.
“It’s something that I might tolerate, but a Marked Martyr is no better than a pure one. What if he needs to use magik? Or he ends up completely failing like his mother and father did?”
“Rubarnthes, have trust in your Martyrs. Young Uol’we here is a master of protectors. Perhaps he can redeem his family with this task?”
“Sir Perceival, I have no other family.”
Hedj placed his chalice onto the tray and handed it to the guard. Thanking him for the refreshment, he turned to Uol’we and displayed more encouragement.
“From what I’ve heard, you’ve been taking care of young master Isthir, have you not? Perhaps this job could bring Raak’s breath of a new start? Maybe even a removal of your Marks?”
It was now that Uol’we became extremely interested.
Perceival interjected with a swift whip of his arm and joyous laugh.
“Brothers, why remain here and engage in such a negative topic? I do believe my dear wife is fixing together today’s Royale Party, is she not? In fact, I had just received word that our beautiful young snake charmer is being pampered by her at this very moment!”
“Pampered…?” Uol’we muttered under his breath. He tried to picture Nagini becoming all fancy-like, but nothing formed in his mind. The only thing that popped up was Isthir covered in hundreds of snakes.
“Is that so? Well then, I’m sure today’s ball will be quite the party;” Hedj replied in better tone. Showing the way to the chamber door for Uol’we, he continued to speak. “Young Uol’we, why don’t you come as well? Get to know this ‘Nagini’ even better, yes?”
Uol’we sighed and shrugged.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 115d 11h 6m 7s
"I won't take no for an answer."
A bell above the door rang as Madame Arachne and the barbarian Nagini entered the store. The architecture and the quaint village they had quickly stepped into distracted the latter. The white stone streets and quaint shops kept her attention for the most part and Arachne incessantly bantered to no one. The snake witch only caught snippets and assumed that the highly fashionable aristocrat was talking about the tattered rags she wore. Nagini did not complain though; she found Madame Arachne's company more pleasant than the Martyrs who kept her in holding.
Inside, seamstresses furiously moved to and fro for the Madame's arrival. By the windowsill, wire-framed mannikins wore flowing white dresses with white veiled tiaras. In the far corner, Nagini noticed stacks upon stacks of all different shades and patterns. One seamstress greeted and bowed to Madame Arachne and waited for her first command. She avoided any eye contact with Nagini for she feared her exotic look.
Observing the seamstress' shaking hands, the flashy lady nodded and smiled. Arachne calmly clutched the nervous woman by the fists and said, "Avelon, this is my good friend Nagini, we are here to pick out a few outfits for her. Please treat her with the utmost care."
The Madame excused herself from Avelon and lead the stranger up the creaking stairs. Light pierced through the thinly crafted white curtains and three mirrors stood tall on an adjacent wall. Nagini observed more of the dresses on the mannikins. She did not particularly like the pastel colors or the style. Like Avelon on the floor below, she nervously gulped.
"Where's Mr. Uol'we Yen?"
"Now, now. The Martyr Uol'we will not be joining us for the remainder of the day. The Council has asked him to stay behind. I was lucky enough to steal you from them, let alone without any extra escorts. Rest assure, you're in good hands and you'll be reunited with the Martyr Uol'we." Madame Arachne snickered, "I don't want to keep you lovebirds away from each other for too long."
"What? No! There's nothing between me and that fool!" Nagini exclaimed. She refused to accept it, but Uol'we had quickly jumped to the top of her friend's list. She was one against a million. Uol'we, though it appeared he was miniscule in the Varsyllian government, was a lifeline. This Madame Arachne character was a loon, a sore thumb in the midst of it all, a powerful figure.
"If you say so," she continued to laugh, "I'll be right back."
While Arachne trotted into another room, Nagini walked toward the three mirrors and stared at herself for the longest time. She looked into the left one, then the center, and finally into the right. Her garments had been stained by the tangy sea water and rough sand, torn and tattered by jagged rocks. She looked like every other person in the Guten Nocht ghettos.
She broke away from her trance and noticed an older woman and a frail young seamstress in the mirror's background. The woman wore frills around her wrists and neck, a big garnet broach, and a long green dress that touched the grown. She wore her hair up in a bun and wore white gloves. The seamstress shrunk and let out a brief shriek at the woman's raised hand.
Angered by something, the customer brayed, "You ungrateful miscreant, do you know who my husband is? He's Senator Vermilthen. This dress! How repulsive!"
She denuded the mannikin of the pink dress and shoved it in the young lady's face.
"It is not the right pink. When I asked for songbird pink, I didn't expect this putrid abomination! Of course, your kind is assigned these lower level professions, but what happens when you cannot even do your job right? You are a failure!"
Ready to teach the older lady a lesson, the livid Nagini reached to her side for her sword. What sword? The Martyrs in the holding room held onto her cherished jian.
"What is this ruckus?" Madame Arachne walked back into the room with no idea of the situation.
"This sordid little girl ruined my dress!" the woman shrieked. "She cannot even do her job right!"
The weaver held back her tears and held her hands to her chest. She shrank even further and feared the rich senator's wife. The senator's wife held her hand higher with the intent of striking the young girl down.
"You lay your hands on her, and I will have you thrown in jail for striking a government official," Madame Arachne snapped.
"Her, a government official?! This pauper is nothing of the sort!"
"She, as of now, is now employed as my seamstress-in-waiting. And how dare you accuse my seamstress-in-waiting of 'ruining' your dress. Nanelle, the senator's wife's dress is in the backroom. You said songbird pink, correct?" Madame Arachne took the needle she was seemingly holding the entire time and stuck it into the sleeve of her gaudy dress.
"Yes, songbird pink. Nanelle!"
The frail girl hurried into the back room and swiftly retrieved said dress. Nanelle presented the dress to the senator's wife. Inspecting it thoroughly with her hawkish eyes, the senator's wife could not hide her amazement. It was the same dress yet two shades lighter.
"Hmph," was all that came out of her mouth. Unsatisfied with the dress's perfection and her inability to insult the dressmaker any further, the senator's wife stared at Madame Arachne.
The vindictive Arachne smirked back. "You owe my seamstress-in-waiting an apology. Afterall, you accused her of messing up your dress and in return, you destroyed one of hers."
"She presented me the wrong dress!"
"She presented you with the same dress. The same songbird pink fabric and the same stitch work went into that dress as it did to this dress." Madame Arachne picked up the torn dress and shook her head. "My lovely seamstress-in-waiting was very cautious and crafted two of the same dress. She simply anticipated your haughty behavior. I believe you owe her for both of the dresses."
At a loss, the senator's wife whipped out her coin purse and threw a wealth of coins at Nanelle's feet. Without acknowledging anyone any further, she stormed down the stairs and loudly grunted. Nanelle shuttered at the boisterous slamming of the door whereas Madame Arachne cheerfully smiled.
"I have a strange feeling that this will not be the last time I see her."
"Thank you!" The seamstress cried out, "thank you so much!"
The frazzled hair lady leaned forward. "You're welcome."
Confused, Nanelle opened up. "But Madame, I didn't make another dress."
Arachne grabbed her dainty hands and squeezed them together. "Of course you did, my seamstress-in-waiting. You must have overworked yourself and forgotten about the one in the back room. Now, I'll need you to help out my friend over here. We're going to make her a few outfits. Could you please rummage around and find your boldest, loudest patterns?"
Enthused, the bonnet wearing seamstress scurried into the back room.
"Is that how everyone in this city acts?" asked Nagini.
"Just the ones with the wealth," Arachne replied as she crept from behind. Placing her frigid hands on Nagini's biceps, the woman with the upturned nose shook her head in disappointment. "Your clothing is unacceptable. I will personally see to it that you get the best fabric to dress your remarkable body. You have the muscle definition, albeit more masculine upfront, and height."
"I'm not masculine, I'm athletic."
Clearly offended, a snake slowly wrapped around Nagini's neck and the daunting Arachne removed her clutch.
"Ha, I'm not sure what athletic means, but it's certainly not feminine. If you want to survive within the boundaries of Varsyl, you will need to conform to the traditions and standards. If you want to be taken more serious and look less of an outsider, heed my fashionista advice. I can't change your stature, your hair, or any of your distinguishing features, but I can certainly make you look more presentable to Varsyllian taste. Nanelle!" Arachne hollered at once.
Her assistant came storming from the back room with an armful of fabric. At once, Nanelle dropped the fabric on a nearby fabric and waited for her mistress's orders.
"We must measure every inch of this young woman."
"You sure?" Nanelle looked at the intimidating figure and bit her lip.
"Yep, my friend Nagini is a bit ticklish. Be sure not to startle her."
Nagini looked back at the two and furrowed her eyebrows.
"I'm not scared of anything."
Madame Arachne clapped her hands gleefully. "Of course. Let's get to it."
Nanelle and her measuring tape got to work. Nagini struggled as the stranger and her measuring cloth breezed across and occasionally skimmed the surface of her skin. As much as she wanted to release a crowd of snakes to fend off the seamstress, she restrained herself. Nagini was indeed ticklish. Madame Arachne noticed how much she was struggling and broke the silence.
"Nagini, what can you tell me about your family?"
"I'm not telling you anything," she quickly answered.
"Well," Madame Arachne rolled her eyes and pressed her fingertips together, "it's better to get it out now with me unless you want to struggle with the Council. Despite their 'warm' exterior, they can be quite harsh. Believe me, I've witnessed my husband's work firsthand. Plus, we're friends at this point."
The snake lady closed her eyes and sighed. Nagini had no other choice but to comply with the arachnid. "I have a brother."
"His name?" The arachnid asked.
"Kenji. My brother's name is Kenji. He fell out of the sky with me. We broke threw a window...or floor...or whatever."
She can recall the moments right before she blacked out. They were fighting. The glass surface gave out. They were soaring. Nagini bounded her brother into a ball of snakes. She climbed into a giant surface. Bam.
"I have to do whatever I can to find my brother. I have a good feeling--no, I know that he's alive. He's out there looking for me too."
Arachne nodded and bit her fingernail. "What about your parents? Your mother and father must be worried about you, Nagini."
"What's a father?"
"I don't know what they call it in your language, but you know, father: male figure, the one who married your mother, the one who procreated with your mother and produced you and your brother."
"I don't have one of those, Madame Arachne," Nagini stated so coldly.
"Surely you're kidding with me, Nagini. Everyone has a father." Arachne placed her hands on Nagini's biceps again. This time her hands gave off a warm touch.
Nagini shrugged away her embrace. "Everyone except for me. It's probably for the better, knowing where I come from. The men force down the women and have their way with them. Perhaps my 'father' raped my mother."
"Don't say such things," Arachne removed herself once more from the grimacing Nagini. "Your society sounds barbaric."
"Compared to Varsyl, yeah." Nagini nodded and faced herself in the mirror. "Barbaric is only scratching the surface."
"I can't say I can relate to you, barbarian Nagini. My life has been dafodils and daisies."
Unfamiliar with any sort of foliage, Nagini begged, "What are those?"
"Oh? Right, right. They're flowers, they grow out in the countryside, back in my hometown." Arachne clutched at her chest. "Um, Nanelle, can you go downstairs and look in the stock room for the better floral patterns. None of these seem appropriate for Nagini."
Nanelle looked up at Madame Arachne and nodded. "Of course."
At once, the seamstress excused herself from the sunny room. Arachne stood behind Nagini and they both looked into the mirror.
"I came from a far off province. My family was very wealthy and respected in the countryside. Had astounding power over their farm. We had all sorts of animals: cows, sheep, chickens. We grew all sorts of crops on our farm. Surely you have no idea what those animals or what corn or potatoes are, but we had them. I had a father, mother, and brother, Ibrahm. Life was perfect until my parents passed away. It was an unforeseeable plague that wiped them out. Luckily my brother and I had escaped it. I wanted to forget it all and so I came to the capital. I miss the rustic style from time to time, but now I'm dedicated to my husband and this fancy lifestyle now."
Curious as to what she was getting, Nagini could not help herself but ask.
"What happened to your brother?"
"My brother is back in the countryside, taking care of the estate. I decided that can make a bigger statement by coming to the Varsyl capital. Ibrahm is the younger one and the males tend to inherit the estate. I miss him dearly." Arachne clutched onto her necklace and closed her eyes. "I also miss my mother. She was gentle and kind-hearted. She kneaded the best bread in all of the countryside and the best smells came from her oven. I got my hair from her. Mothers are the best."
Both women stood with their eyes closed and allowed a wave of silence to fill the room.
"I'm very fortunate to have two," Nagini remarked.
Alerted by such blasphemy, Arachne opened her eyes. "Unheard of!"
"I never knew who my birth mother was until my final moments on Guten Nocht. Reiko is my mother. You people seem to know her as one of the Shrine Goddesses."
"You must've fell from a very high place and bumped your head if you believe in that myth, Nagini. The Shrine Goddesses story was made up to scare little Varsyllian children. Some old fool once claimed that he traveled with one of them, the very same Reiko you claim to be your mother."
"And what about that man back in the Council chamber?" Nagini turned to Arachne. "Why did he mistake me for one of these legendary creatures then?"
With the thought being brought up, Arachne pondered. "Not sure, Nagini."
Arachne's assistant returned with more panels wrapped in fabric. Arachne observed all the patterns and clandestinely sighed to the side. Floral patterns belonged in the trash.
"Ah perfect. Nagini, while we're seeing which of these patterns work best for you. Please do tell us about your mothers."
"She went by the name Fenghuang."
"What's the meaning behind it?" While measuring Nagini's feet, Nanelle looked up with her china plate eyes and faintly smiled.
"Morningbird. I've seen pictures of it, does it exist here? Long legs, neck, and tail feathers. Sharp wings and a curvy beak like this," she drew with her index finger. Her audience shook their head in response. "What about dragons?"
"They're as real as your Shrine Goddesses," Arachne chortled. "Go on, tell us about Fenghuang."
"She's probably one of the three people who I've ever sought comfort from. The other two being my brother and my--"
There was a long pause before Nagini continued, "My significant other. We were thrown into secluded facilities around Guten Nocht and shipped around until I was five and Kenji was three. I can remember men in goggles, black gloves, and white lab coats and the soldiers who stood at the exits. They had guns and watched over our learning. We're instruments of Nocht Central and we've always been."
"Yes, this is Fenghuang, famed sword dancer."
An almond shaped eye looked through the doorway's crack and saw the broad figure obscuring blinking street light on the corner. She moved her hair from her face and cleared up her throat.
"The same Fenghuang, famed sword dancer, who was formally employed and no longer is employed by Nocht Central?" the shadowy figure asked.
"Correct." She nodded through the crack.
Fenghuang was Nocht Central's claim-to-fame hunter. During her prime years, the sword dancer was a marvel to behold on the streets. Her swordplay and acrobatics stunned her fellow hunters and superiors alike, and Nocht Central invested quite a bit of their time on her. She had no predecessors who could match her style of fighting and tracking, and she always caught her target breathing and intact.
She struck with such magnitude of the earth, acted with fiery passion, evaded attacks like air slipping through thin cracks, and danced like water. Nocht Central was amazed at a young Fenghuang and how she lacked a master. Instead of extracting her memories, Nocht employed and carefully kept an eye out for the prodigy.
"What is it that you desire?"
It had been years since the ex-hunter had been contacted by anyone from Nocht Central. Her employer forbade her from working and seeking an active lifestyle outside her home. Fenghuang politely complied with them and has acted as a recluse ever since. In fact, she only showed herself to her husband and a few dozen people a year. Fenghuang became what she hated the most: a frightful and helpless woman contained within four walls.
Fenghuang had lived her usefulness. She was thirty-five and washed up. Her skills dulled like the jian she hung on the wall, and Nocht Central offered her no retirement or protection after her fifteen years of servitude. Fenghuang spent her days reading and cleaning. From time to time, she would look at the wall and the jian. There was nothing in this world for her. She was a married woman and not some lapdog.
"Nocht Central asks that you take in two persons of interest."
"I apologize," she shook her head, "but I'm not in the hunting business anymore."
Before she could close the door, the shadowy figure stuck his boot in the crack and got in her face. "We're not talking about tracking. I have two subjects in my car right now and you are to take them in."
Fenghuang cleared her throat once more. "Is that so? I'm not harboring NC agents in my households."
"They are children, ages five and three. One female, one male." The smell of cigarettes came off his duster jacket and made Fenghuang sneeze. "Bless you."
"I don't want anything to do with Nocht Central," she politefully said.
"We're offering pay with these children. The pay is better than what you're husband is making, Fenghuang. All you have to do is what you do best. Rear them to become the next sword dancers."
Fenghuang did not have to think twice. "No."
"There are consequences," he began. The shadowy man removed his hat and coat and placed them on the black iron rail. Scars ran across his face and it appeared that bits of flesh had been carved out of his face. "Your husband, for example. His fate is placed in your hands right now."
"My husband is prepared to go through Hel. He knows how this world operates and he is not afraid to die. Threatening my husband's life will not change my mind, sir."
Fenghuang had met her husband shortly before she was dismissed by the supervisor of Nocht Central's hunting agency. Their "marriage" was arranged by Nocht Central and she did not care for the hapless sex. She had loved a man before, but he was quickly taken away. Her husband worked in the media division of the city and worked on mitigating illiteracy within the ghettos. The estranged couple only interacted during meals when she would do all the cooking and in the bedroom.
"Whose children are these?" Fenghuang tried looking past the frightening man, but his frame blocked the her vision of the vehicle.
"It isn't a factor, Fenghuang. You either take these children in or we dispose of them. I'm sure you would be fine with these children's body parts being scattered in the streets or perhaps processed into a can of minced meat. I have no problem putting a bullet between their eyes. The girl though, she'll probably be handled--"
"Enough." Fenghuang closed her eyes. "Fetch them."
The bully smiled and made his back to the black car. Relieved, Fenghuang looked at the jian in her left hand and sighed. Killing him in cold blood wouldn't solve anything. Nocht Central would have her killed the moment her contract ended.
"Truly barbaric!" Arachne pressed her fingertips to her chest. "I can only imagine how it gets better from here."
"We were better off with Feng than we were back at those facilities. They struck us for not paying attention or getting the answers wrong. We learned quickly. Kenji and I never had a home until we were given to Feng. It was one white room to the next. They shipped us off from one facility to another. For the longest time, we didn't know what a mother was and adopting her as our mother took time. With that said, Feng was strict with us."
Nagini disapproved of Nanelle's choices of floral and politely declined any more of the atrocious pattern.
Fenghuang tossed two wooden jians toward the six and four year olds. She nodded towards them.
"Your first year was me playing provider and getting you to appropriate health."
She remembered the condition both the children were in. Boney and unkempt, even for future NC agents. Their hair had gathered clumps of dirt and newspaper confetti and their clothes looked like they came from the garbage dumpsters. Feng quickly saw the beauty within her children though. Erika Nagini had shimmering celedon eyes and Kenji smiled very brightly. Her happiness stopped short though; she was tasked to create the next generation of hunters. Fenghuang refrained from smiling. Showing any affection for them would compromise her mission.
The day that she gave the Haruno siblings the practice swords changed their lives. Fenghuang quickly taught them the principle stances, strikes, and struts. Erika Nagini and Kenji would practice five out of twenty-four Mad Moon cycles strictly on Fenghuang's stylish swordplay. First position. Strike. Rest. Second Position. Strike. Rest. The Haruno siblings would study for five cycles.In order to bring up two the best well-groomed people in Guten Nocht, Fenghuang taught them the alphabet and numbers, how to read and how to do simple arithmetic.
Erika Nagini was her primary focus though. Fenghuang had always wanted a daughter and looked down on Nocht's idea of women. She pushed the girl to read more than her brother and to find a focus in history. Feng gave the girl her husband's books. Many of them were rummaged out of the notorious Junkyard and others were found in his line of work. Many of them were fairy tales and bits of history pertaining to Guten Nocht. While Fenghuang was still alive, Erika Nagini would have no choice but to become an intelligent, independent being.
Both Erika Nagini and Kenji learned quickly from their mistakes. Disobedience was not to be tolerated. When the switch came out for the first time, the sense of fear struck them. It was often Kenji who monkeyed around and suffered punishment, but Feng quickly found out the stem of this problem. As Kenji grew older, she tasked him with the same chores as his sister was for two cycles. The flexible rod hung over their heads during practice and study times. Fenghuang expected perfection.
Fenghuang gave the children eight cycles of sleep. No more or no less. Their sleep schedule was hers too. The remaining four cycles were dedicated to feeding and paying attention to her children. She felt awfully guilty about this because Fenghuang knew about their inevitable departure. They were hers to begin with, anyways. This thought pained her: she was just doing her job. She would hold her children close and comfort them. She would kiss and tuck them into bed every night telling them it would all be alright.
"She told us to be on our best behavior when NC agents came around, that we weren't supposed to show her any sign of disrespect or affection when they came snooping around. I remember looking in the mirror and crying at the welts on my back. She'd never strike us in the face though. The other prospects would come into the NC facilities with scars and flesh cuts on their faces. We were really lucky."
Arachne moved between Nagini and the mirror and smiled. She stared deeply into her celedon eyes. The Madame admire everything about her. "It would be a sin if someone would mess up such a pretty face such as yours, Nagini. You mentioned that Fenghuang's name means morningbird. What does yours mean?"
Nagini smirked, "It means snake."
"How fitting!" Madame Arachne said with such enthusiasm.
"I suppose I should ask you what your name means."
"Spider." Madame Arachne had one of the better smiles Nagini has ever seen. Both rows of perfect pearly whites. Nagini could not help herself but show a bit of teeth herself. "I assure you that I am a spider not of the venomous kind."
The snake transitioned from letting out a miniscule smile to chuckle. "I can't say the same."
"I'm more of a weaving spider. I'm an artist!" she exclaimed with such finesse. "Ah, Nanelle. Did you find a dress that will suit, Nagini?"
Nanelle came out of the backroom with a dress. Nagini turned away from the horrendous eyesore. The top half was a buttermilk color that covered the arms and chest completely, and the lower half appeared to cover everything from the stomach down.
"Is there anything that shows the shoulders and legs? I'm not a big of this."
Offended, Nanelle bit her lip. "Silly Nagini, showing any skin below the neck and above your soles is strictly forbidden. Barbarians are the ones who leave their bosom exposed and show their ankles. Varsylgard is a sophisticated society and a not properly clothed woman is a sign of degeneration. It's either a long dress or the loose pants the wives of butchers wear. People cannot be too extravagant. It brings too much attention to themselves."
Nagini raised her eyebrows and then observed the Madame before her. 'Talk about extravagance.' Tassels strung throughout her entire outfit and the orange, purple, and black palette was very distracting. Long white fur exploded from her breasts. Her necklace rested on exposed skin.
Unable to comprehend Nanelle's culture while Arachne stood before her, Nagini pointed, "What about Madame Arachne? Her boobs are more exposed than mine are!"
"Arachne is different. She's a woman of greater power than you and I. It's as if she's almost empowering women of the same stature to fight Varsyl's norm. She is an innovator, and no one, not even Leiuth--please Madame Arachne, do not tell her I said this--can compare to her fashion sense." Nanelle placed her fists on her hips and nodded.
Arachne applauded Nanelle and remarked, "I suppose I cannot force you to wear such a dress. Tell Madame Arachne what you want and Nanelle and I will cater to your needs. We ought to make you something that you'll wear, and heaven forbid you from destroying a dress. In the meantime, continue with your story."
"No!" Fenghaung shouted.
Erika Nagini came through the door wearing goggles, a skimpy bra-top with flowing golden tassels, short shorts, long white socks, a garter belt, and high heels. Speechless, her mother's jaw dropped. Fenghuang did not want to believe what she saw or believe what went through her daughter's head.
"This is how all the girls dress in my class." Erika Nagini quietly stated.
Both Erika Nagini and Kenji were slowly creeping into the Nocht Central system. Their hours of practicing and studying were cut in half in exchange for lessons in tracking and hunting. Apparently, the government has introduced a new program that taught the girls how to seduce and get raped by the monsters on the streets.
"Wha?! No. No, no, no. Throw that trash away," Fenghuang demanded.
She was now forty-four and her bones occasionally ache under stress. This was the first time her daughter had surprised her, and Erika Nagini continued to surprise her by standing firm on the ground. Her resilient nature and the silence in the room condensed into a cloud of tension.
Unable to handle Feng's wrinkling face of frustration, Kenji tapped Erika Nagini on the shoulder and spoke into her ear, "Don't do anything stupid. Just do as Feng says."
In rapid fire succession, Feng boomed, "Not in my household!"
Fenghuang reached for the jian on the wall, but her hands could barely clutch it by the hilt. She winced, both at the fiery pain and the recklessness of her daughter. Erika Nagini pulled out her jian and tossed the sheath on the couch. Swords collided in mid air between student and teacher. Steel clanged as they both rolled off each other. For a brief time, the girl had the upper hand and had almost cornered the woman. The woman faced two enemies: the girl and her arthritis. The inflammation worsened for a while, but Fenghuang fought through it.
Throughout the bout, Fenghuang commented on Erika Nagini's poor form yet praised her handle with the jian. Despite her handicap, the morningbird soared in the air and slashed away at the girl. One slash. And another. Dance around. A third slash. The final piercing blow. Fenghuang withdrew her blade and faced her student. The bra and shorts split off of the girl's body. Stripped of her clothing and her dignity, Erika Nagini stood in naked silence.
"You are nothing but an object of lust to the monstrous men on these streets. Have respect for one's self!" Fenghuang recanted.
As soon as Fenghuang turned her back for the kitchen, nefarious Erika Nagini vengefully hurled a snake at her. Listening to the whizzling in the air, Fenghuang bisected the serpent and tossed her jian at Erika Nagini. The blade pinned the girl down by the hair.
Angered by the cheap tricks Nocht Central has taught her daughter, Fenghuang boomed to both Erika Nagini and Kenji, "You dare turn on me like a treacherous serpent after I have give you everything? Let me remind you that you my daughter and you are my son while you're in my household. A mother never brings harm to her children and she never lets harm touch her children. I have raised you from my heart and I only ask for the same unconditional love I have shown you."
At once, the short woman brushed past her children and left. Both Kenji and Erika Nagini searched throughout the district for Feng for a few days. The siblings followed several leads from people who thought they saw her, but ultimately gave up when they got nowhere. Erika Nagini didn't want this to happen. She stood in the rain in her cloak and hopelessly waited for Feng's safe return. The girl even promised that she would wear spandex underneath the revealing uniforms.
One day, the Haruno siblings approached Fenghuang's husband in the study room. He was older looking than Fenghuang, but Kenji pointed out that it might be due to bias in favor of their teacher. He was tall, balding on top, wore glasses, and always busy at the desk. They were afraid to disrupt him as they have never really interacted with him before.
"Do you know where Feng is?" asked twelve year old Kenji. "We haven't seen her in days."
Annoyed, the man set his pen down and looked the two. He turned in his chair and then pointed to a chest in the back of the room. "Open it."
Kenji and Erika Nagini scurried across the wall while keeping eye contact with the stranger. Kenji knelt down and opened the chest and his sister carefully watched the man.
"Come look at this, Erika Nagini," Kenji happily said as he sifted through.
The girl turned around and joined her brother. She pulled out an unfinished black qipao and he pulled out a white jacket. They turned around and faced the man.
"Fenghuang has been working on those for months now. She hasn't been able to finish it because of her condition. She didn't know what to do with her time when she wasn't spending it with you two."
"We later learned that Feng had been taking random bounties and barhopping. She knew that our time was coming and she wanted to give us a little bit of money and farewell gifts. By my fifteenth birthday, my brother and I would serve underneath NC permanently, and she saw what adverse effects they had on us. She wanted to do whatever she could to keep us away from that lifestyle. She had loved us, yet she felt as if she had failed us in the end."
"Yes, this is Fenghuang, famed sword dancer."
An almond shaped eye looked through the doorway's crack and saw the broad figure obscuring blinking street light on the corner. She moved her hair from her face and cleared up her throat.
"It's time," said the shadowy figure. It wasn't the same man who had threatened her husband and children's lives ten years ago, but he still had a decent amount of scars on his face.
"I'm afraid they're not ready." She begged the man not to take them. Feng anticipated this day and would do anything to keep her children a day later. "They are both not ready to venture off into the real world and work. Erika Nagini has picked up my swordplay but she lacks the vital movement. Kenji bounces off the walls and flies better than I have ever did, yet even in my age and disease, I can disarm in seconds."
This man was more aggressive than the last one. He shoved against the door and pushed back Fenghuang, but the chain lock prevented him from entering. The NC agent growled, "you were supposed to produce two of the best sword dancers that Nocht has ever faced. You've failed your government."
Fenghuang looked at the Haruno sitting on the couch. She knew that this would be the last time they would see each other. She could not house them any further. No matter how great they were as sword dancers, Nocht Central's numbers would overwhelm them. "Give them two years on their own to prove themselves. It would be most unwise to ship them off to NC without any experience."
"Why would we allow that?"
"I ask that you give them until the younger one's fifteenth birthday to operate alone. If they perform like no other, then please employ them with a special hunting unit. They deserve something better than a junk unit."
The agent pondered about this and then said, "I'll give you eight Mad Moon cycles. By then, these two will need to depart from your house and not return at all for two years. I'll have to check with my supervisor about this. Spend your time wisely, Feng."
The Haruno siblings looked at each other and sat in silence while their mother went back to her room in silence. They did not know how to comfort her. Fenghuang looked haunted by those words, but quickly wiped her face of all worries when she came back down. Her children stood up before her and she passionately approached them. She brought down to packages wrapped in newspaper. Unexpectedly, Fenghuang hugged them.
Looking at them with teary eyes, she said, "I made you something for this day and I hope you cherish it."
Kenji opened his present first. It was the same white jacket they had seen a year ago. It was adorned with ornate golden buttons. In the same box, he pulled out a new blue uniform, red scarf, metal plated arm guards, long socks, and black slippers. Knowing that they did not have money to be spending, he hugged his mother close. Then, Erika Nagini opened hers. It was the black dress with major overhauls. Fenghuang had stitched golden thread onto the edges of the dress and loosened the qipao for better movement. She had stitched flowers and an image of a dragon on the front of her dress. Before the thankful Erika Nagini could hug her mother, she was presented with one more gift. It was Erika Nagini's jian fully restored with a new red pommel.
"I want you to know that you two are the closest thing to perfection. Together you're an unstoppable force, but without each other you will easily crumble. Take care of each other and know that I'll always be thinking of you two."
They didn't respond. This was it. Two years without Fenghuang. Alone. On the streets. The Haruno siblings had to prove themselves or else they'd be executed. The eighth cycle came and they bid farewell to their mother. They feared that within the next two years she would age faster. Fenghuang feared that they too would grow old. Two whole years without her daughter and son, and she pointed out to herself that she didn't want them ten years ago. It would feel like an eternity without them.
"And so those two years passed and we were known as the Haruno of the Marina. Nocht Central pushed us and sent us into a district with the most organized crime. We made a name for ourselves and we thanked that woman who believed in us."
Arachne wanted to smile, but wondered about Fenghuang. "What happened to her?"
"We returned to her home on Kenji's fifteenth birthday. Her residence had caught on fire. NC officers were posted in front of it and we tried our hardest to get in. We screamed for them to let us through, but we watched it burned. We watched it all burn down." Nagini's lip quivered and she clutched her fists. "And we just watched."
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 128d 10h 42m 10s
The black book opened before its wielder and delicate fingertips flipped through its pristine pages. Stopping in the middle of the encyclopedia of sorts, ink began to blot the pages. Characters and words formed before the wielder and soon paragraphs and pages took shape. The owner of the black book followed each line with her perfectly painted fingernails until the message was done. She moved the strands of silky black hair from her face and finally decided to close the book with great content.
"What a turn of events. Wouldn't you say so, Nazo?" she sweetly echoed throughout the white void. She rested her chin in her palm and pondered upon the story.
A grotesque and sickly thin figure pried his way through the mistress' white dimension like rice paper. The wall around him floated away in the shape of butterflies and later on patched itself back together. This creature had no nose or ears, and its eyes settled in two of his palms. A third arm sprouted from the right shoulder and caressed its well-defined chin. Between the abdominal and pubic area was a sharp crease where on occasion teeth and tongue would reveal itself.
"Perhaps she has successfully done what you haven't: replication."
She enjoyed the tone of Nazo's voice like the traditional dance-dramas she watched as a young girl, but despised the lyrics. It was all too familiar with her, painful even.
"Of course not! She's just a girl." The woman dressed in the carmine robe rolled her neck and clenched her fist. All too familiar. She glared at Nazo and then calmly composed herself. "It was a mere coincidence that the girl looked like Reiko. My sisters are not aware of this kind of magic nor have they reached my expertise. Gaze into the mirror, Nazo, not even I can create a perfect replica. If I cannot create life, then nobody can."
The monster nodded in favor of his mistress' words while two ladies-in-waiting came into existence. Entering through ornate sliding doors, two sweet and mildly mannered girls swiftly moved in without word and began work on the matron of this blank dimension. Remove the flowing vermillion robe. Dab her body with room temperature water. Powder the unfathomably perfect body. Brush the celestial hair that falls past her bottom. Tend to her nails and face. Replace the flowing vermillion robe with her signature white jacket and red pants.
After the girls, possibly in their mid-teens, had dressed their mistress, they bowed to her feet and prayed. They felt great honor serving her and paid attention to her every action. There were even times when her cult of teenage girls would cry and swoon for no apparent reason. She played the role of savior to them. They were a band of troubled girls who swore oath to serve her, and in return the goddess brought them up as if they were heiresses to the throne. She was Tsubaki Ono.
"This Nagini must be working for Kas or Rei. It seems as if I cannot sense either of them." Tsubaki grabbed the mirror by its edges and observed nothing but flawlessness. She smiled into the mirror as if she had won. "Cowards."
"Rest assure, my goddess, this Nagini is no match for you. She resides in Varsyl and you are here!" The monster Nazo bowed in her direction .
"Lady Tsubaki," one of the girls jumped up and exclaimed, "She will not touch you!"
"She will perish before she even lays eyes on you!" shrilled the other servant.
Flattered, Tsubaki placed her hands over her heart and smiled most graciously to her daughters. Though she had every intention on using the girls to dish out her will in her earlier years, the goddess grew close to the order and lamented each and every one of their deaths. When one of her girls would die, Tsubaki ordered at once that the whole estate go through a cleansing ritual.for seven days and seven nights. The halls were scrubbed down and scented with bold incense, the doors remained open, and the linens were changed out and washed daily.
Nami and Setsuna, some of Tsubaki's most personal servants, were only a couple of the many young women who served underneath Tsubaki's estate. The number of members in Tsubaki's mysterious order varied from person to person, and no one but Tsubaki had a precise count of how many there were. They came from all parts of the land but the majority of the followers began as infants from isolated farming villages. The poor families depended on strong sons to carry out farm work and frowned upon the daughters. Though they could not outright kill their infants, many fathers exposed their babies to the open element, hoping a raptor would swoop down and pick at them.
The sun goddess, as her daughters called her, acted as a headmistress in their instruction. They seldom saw Tsubaki in public, but knew that she was the reason for their existence. Their families either did not want to have anything to do with them or sought "better" opportunity. Tsubaki kindly greeted the abandoned girls at their arrival to the Ono estate and grieved at their funerals. The elder sisters of Tsubaki's network of spies instructed the classes and fostered sisterhood.Their training consisted of housework, self-defense, academia, proper etiquette and public affairs, assassination, and espionage.
No one dared to question Tsubaki's motives for raising a small militia of deadly teenagers. People overlooked the kind of physical power she possessed and instead observed her piety and politeness. The whole country would raise up arms against the fool who offended Tsubaki. She played into the part of a sacred national past time and upheld her appearance. She pent up her wrath and only unleashed it behind closed doors. Everyone that knew her saw her as the perfect ideal woman.
"I must know more about her," Tsubaki thought out loud. She took a seat at the table and placed her delicate hands over the black book. "It seems that not even this tome can reveal any information on her. In the meantime, the poet will keep a close eye on her, chronicle her story until the very end. An intriguing character, supposedly she made the descent from Guten Nocht. That is no feat a mere mortal can make alone."
With a flick of her wrist, one of the servants came forward and met Tsubaki's whim.
"In the meantime, I request preparation."
"Of course, Lady Tsubaki."
"I need a retrieval team put together by the time I hear back from the poet. If there's any chance of wagering with this Nagini, I'll have her brother safely kept within our domain. I will see to it that I meet her in person."
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 164d 2h 21m 46s
"Barbarian! You have drawn steel in the midst of the Council," exclaimed the equally barbaric Karlsson. standing on top of his podium, the belligerent titan pulled out his blade from the depths of his regal cloak and pointed its tip towards Nagini. "This is an act of war against the state!"
"Mince her fingers and mash her kneecaps in, but remember, she must be kept alive." Perceival noted to his colleague.
"You had to be a savage," Madame Arachne facepalmed and heavily sighed from the stands.
Uol'we stepped away from the situation and allowed the heavily armored guards to step in. Puzzled by the current situation at hand, the Martyr couldn't defend her. Nagini was outnumbered, and Uol'we could not risk his citizenship for the rash fiend of snakes. Death did not terrify the Martyr: he was born and trained to die for this country. The Council had far worse punishments in their hands. One hand gesture or written decree would seal him behind chamber doors for decades.
The worn jian retreated to its mistress' side. Slowly backing away from the official, she slowly raised one both of her hands. The discerned official rubbed his neck and maintained his focus on her. The court guards drew in closer with swords pointed in her direction. Nagini chuckled and a large serpent from the shady corners of the stands blindingly sideswiped her aggressors. Their swords and crimson capes flew into the air. The members of the Council stood in awe.
"I'm not who you think I am, and you'll have a better chance getting whatever you want from me in the afterlife. I can't speak for you all. There's plenty of you and one of you will have to give in."
Arrogant Karlsson met with Nagini at eye-level and they were both quick to match swords. His strength quickly overpowered her, but venomous Nagini's evoked a crowd of lithe green snakes from her sleeves. Caught off guard, the champion of Varsyl relieved the pressure and stepped back. The spiraling wave of snakes homed in on the vulnerable councilman, but the one who went by Gamuth chimed in and incinerated the sea of reptiles effortlessly. Startled by the magic, Nagini guarded her face. The magus jumped into the spotlight and stood by his fervent colleague's side.
"I could have taken her by myself! Allow me to defend my country, Gamuth."
Picking up a flayed snake carcass, Gamuth remarked, "Those were viridian gypsy serpents. Their bite contains a potent paralyzer."
Viridian gypsy serpent? Nagini was not aware that her summons had such specific names. Worn out from the first bout, and huffing loudly, she would not be able to continue battle the fierce Karlsson and the knowledgeable Gamuth. In reality, she was surprised that the creme of the crop of this world would be prepared for battle. The mage held fire in his palm and the brute readied himself. Reaching into his robe, the fattest member of the Council pulled out a complex object that appeared to be handgun. It wasn't well crafted as the ones back in Guten Nocht and seemed to be patched with different kinds of metal.
"This is not an institute of slaughter! A barbarous witch will not be killed within these walls," cried out grey-eyed Sheigal. She raised one long and cryptic index finger and shook it to the stage. "If you cannot contain her, let her go. A treacherous dog ought to be killed in the streets."
"She's tired," stated von Stubenberg, "Our guest Nagini knows she'll die if she struggles any further."
Nagini didn't want to admit the truth: she truly underestimated the Council.
"We should extend our hand out to her and allow her a pardon and temporary sanctuary."
The rest of the Council took a great disliking to Howlitzer's suggestion. Karlsson, in retaliation, turned his back to Nagini and pointed his sword to the insane man. Trying to calm the tempest, Gamuth lowered Karlsson's blade by hand.
The patriarch could not believe what was said and shook his elaborately decorated staff. The ribbons tumbled to and fro as the elderly man bellowed out, "Heresy, councilman von Stubenberg. You speak not of good will towards Varsylgard. This goes against the church's name!"
"We cannot allow our only potential lead to disappear. And what's a better way," Howlitzer ominously cracked a smile at Nagini and showcased her as if she was a new golden Raak idol, "than to offer her a home within our city walls? Our friend here obviously wants to know more about Varsyl and we want to know more about where she comes from. It's basic trade, you see."
"Then we shall vote on it," declared Hedj.
The foreigner had no idea what was going on and she was bewildered at their collaborative decision making skills. Nagini stored her blade to her side and twiddled her thumbs.
Charismatic Howlitzer took the floor and addressed his fellow councilmen. "My vote is clear cut across the board: I am in favor of her staying. Not only does she provide us valuable insight from where she's from, we'll be able to plan accordingly. She'll have no way to relay any messages back to her country of origin as she'll be under tight surveillance. If she doesn't cooperate with us, we have other methods of making her speak."
"I'm voting against her. She's filth and she's a mockery of the most alluring women in Big Blue, Varsyllians. She ought to be burned two times. One for being a Shrine Goddess sympathizer, another for the fashion atrocity she's committing."
Howlitzer cringed at Leiuth's reasoning.
"She's unholy! May Raak and Nevik cast judgment accordingly on your damned soul." Rubarnthes shook his staff once more.
The other elder took a different position than the last two. "This barbarian Nagini might be the propaganda we need to fuel future Varsyllian campaigns. Perhaps we can domesticate her kind and train them. Intelligence is a power to be reckoned with, my young councilmen."
"She has no monetary value, therefore she's not worth the time, councilman Sheigal. War will remain war. Information is irrelevant when we scorch their land and naturally take them for every piece of gold they're worth." Bogsworth polished his handgun and took aim.
"I'm afraid I must agree with my fellow councilmen, Bogsworth." Perceival nodded. "As von Stubenberg and Sheigal pointed out, she is worth more alive than dead. She might be the Martyr-of-sorts to push our campaign. Does one barbarian truly frighten us?"
The magus spitefully voted against Nagini. On the other hand, the commander of the Varsyllian army surprised the room. Karlsson averted his attention from the dark stands and back to the podiums.
"Let her live, Hedj, but promise me this: allow me to play executioner when her time comes."
Nagini clutched the hilt of the jian and gritted her teeth. She told herself that she would be ready the next bout, with or without the magician's help.
The leader of the council slightly toward Karlsson. "Granted. The barbarian Nagini is not to be harmed within the boundaries of the capital. Councilman Perceival and his wife Madame Arachne will act as her guardians for the meantime. Martyr, escort Nagini from the premises."
Taciturn Uol'we bowed his head to Hedj. Nagini made one last look around the room and remembered the faces of the council members.
This won't be the last time we'll meet.
Watching the Martyrs follow the couple, Madame Arachne heard the last few words exchanged between Uol'we and Nagini. She could not help herself but smile at the victory won today. The Council, of all people, granted a foreigner amnesty. As soon as the couple left the room, gaunt Arachne covered concealed her smile and blotted her face with her sleeve.
Half of the Council exploded into fits of rage. Those who opposed Nagini called the other side barbarian sympathizers. The Council exited the chamber and left Arachne and Nagini's target alone. She inspected the man from afar who stood speechless in place. He was another clean-cut member of Varsyl's upper crust, a suave tall man with dark brown hair slicked back. His nose was just as prominent as the capital building's statue.
"Kael, are you alright?" she asked.
Removing himself from a dream state, the gentleman shook his wrists and rolled his neck. He was a close confidant of Hedj, a promising and wise young man who surprised the Council with such great orations. Kael proposed quick skirmishes throughout the smaller islands west of Varsyl. Impressed by his demeanor, they quickly adopted him as the unofficial tenth member of the Council.
"Yeah, I'm fine."
She removed herself from her seat and approached him. Arachne moved in closer and placed her hand on his cheek. "She didn't seem to nick you. That barbarian Nagini is quite the woman."
Kael jerked away from her touch and cleared his throat. "Clearly she is an untamed woman."
"And you've mistaken her for this Reiko?"
"Yes, a mistake. My eyesight must be getting worse. Now if you'll excuse me, I have other affairs to tend to. I bid you a good day, Madame."
As soon as Kael placed his hands onto the knockers to the big black doors, Arachne lifted a finger up and caught his ears. "You wouldn't be guilty of anything, would you?"
"It's not wise for a woman to question a man," Kael turned around and scowled at Arachne. "Especially a woman who's married to a councilman. You wouldn't want to disgrace your husband. And let's not jump to conclusions, Madame Arachne. Aren't we all guilty of something?"
Kael exited the dark room and left Arachne in the spotlight.
"Today is proving to be interesting."
"Write to Tsubaki about this."
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 185d 17h 28m 53s
The light in the women’s changing room didn’t work. While it was not unusual for women to serve in Nocht Central’s intelligence department, it was rare for them to take such an active role in a military operation, and rarer still for women in the department to take on combat roles. Makoto Kojima and Astrid Valken changed in the dark.
“So, Kojima, I was looking at your file.” Astrid said while unbuttoning her shirt.
Makoto looked wordlessly over at the sharpshooter, before looking down at the clunky boots she had been provided with.
“I mean, no disrespect, but how old are you again?”
“Nineteen.” Makoto replied. She wondered if Marcel would let her wear her sneakers.
“Nineteen, jeez. Why is Luper sending a teenage CQC expert on a diplomacy mission?”
Makoto didn’t reply, staring at the boots. She hadn’t bothered to read the mission documents.
“Confidential, eh?” Astrid cracked a grin. “I hear ya. Well, girl, if shit hits the fan, just try to stay out of my crosshairs.” The sniper raised two manicured hands to shoulder height and tilted her head to the side, closing one eye.
“Bang.” She whispered devilishly as she fired the imaginary rifle at the young girl. Makoto ignored her, removing her shoes and placing them together on the ground beside the odious boots.
“Hah. You finally took something off,” Astrid said, adjusting her tie and reaching for the navy blue jacket hanging off her locker door. “Luper wants us to report to hangar 2A as soon as we’re in uniform. I’m gonna guess you don’t know where that is, so I’ll be waiting outside.”
Astrid’s smile was that of a woman short on patience. They were about to reach out to an entire new world, and the girl was too busy staring at her battered trainers to see it. It was not until Astrid left the room that Makoto decided to undress.
“It’s a girl.”
Shizuka forgot about the pain as soon as she heard Tsubaki speak those words.
“A girl…” she said meekly through deep breaths.
Tsubaki slowly made her way around the bed, gently cradling the newborn and seemingly radiating warmth. The mother looked on.
“Shizuka, I…” Tsubaki paused, deciding perhaps that this was not the most opportune moment.
Shizuka replied with a soft noise.
“She’s so beautiful.” Tsubaki muttered wistfully, staring down at the writhing new life.
Shizuka raised her arm, gesturing for her to come closer.
“I want to see my daughter.”
Tsubaki smiled, slowly rounding the bed and crouching beside the young mother, holding the newborn close. The newborn stared back up, eyes transfixed on the goddess.
The atmosphere in hangar 2A was abuzz with anticipation. Flocks of engineers passed to and from the centre of the room, wherein the gargantuan machine stood. The aircraft, sat on three large metal feet, sat crouched with its nose pointed down and its wings arced backwards over it’s back. A long tail of silver reached out to the far corner of the room, giving it the appearance of an iron raptor bowed over the carcass of its defeated prey. Immediately below the tail stood Marcel Luper and his chosen squadron. Marcel’s crooked grin almost looked like pride.
“Okay, team. You are all aware of what you have to do?”
“Yessir!” came a resounding cry from the team, all donned in the navy blue of Nocht Central’s intelligence department.
“Ensure the security of negotiators, manipulate outcome of negotiations to ensure best result – the security of aid to the people of Guten Nocht.”
Marcel nodded, satisfied.
“Is everyone fully prepped? We can delay if need be.”
Gabriel shot a glances at each of his squadmates, none of whom responded.
“No, sir. I think we’re ready.”
“Great. I hope there won’t be any need for violence, but if it goes wrong, I feel like I should say something in advance. Chattun – Your life is more important to the people of Nocht than that of anyone down below. Show no restraint. Finch – I trust you more than anyone else. Don’t let me down. Homer, don’t let anyone die, or Jen… Doctor Yang will have my head. Newton, you’re the eyes and ears of our whole city down there. Be swift. Valken, don’t miss.”
“I never miss.” Astrid said matter-of-factly.
“Makoto, I have something for you.”
The girl acknowledged Marcel with a vague facial twitch.
“I’ve strapped it to your bag; it’s already been loaded onto the Cormorant.”
Makoto stared back blankly, unsure as to what the Cormorant was.
“This thing.” Marcel said flatly, pointing upwards at the plane.
“Why didn’t you just say that?”
Marcel narrowed his eyes slightly. “You’re scared, aren’t you.”
Makoto hesitated a little. “Yes.”
Marcel put his hand on the girl’s shoulder and gave her his best reassuring smile.
“If Kasumi thought you were in any danger, she’d tear out my throat. This thing will fly.”
Makoto glanced nervously at the machine, then down at her feet, only to immediately look back at Marcel, away from her boots. He followed her gaze, looking the girl up and down.
“You’ve grown into such a beautiful young woman.”
Makoto briefly looked at Marcel with a bewildered expression. Marcel ignored her, nodding to the rest of the group.
“It’s about time.”
The group wordlessly filed into the Cormorant. The aircraft, despite its large size, was surprisingly cramped inside. Makoto ducked as she made her way into the main body, noting that she was by quite some distance the shortest member of the team. The interior of the craft was a winding labyrinth of checkered aluminium. Gabriel, however, seemed to know every inch of the vehicle by heart, his gloved hand running along the wall as they made their way further into its bowels. Finally, Gabriel stopped at a large hatch that marked the end of their path.
“Sorry, guys. Normally we’d get y’all straight in through the back but we couldn’t get the rear hatch working in such a short amount of time, so we had to do it this way. This won’t be a problem in the future.”
Gabriel turned the hatch to reveal a silver, windowless room. On each wall were a number of black harnesses, recently replaced.
“Seriously?” Astrid muttered in a tone that managed to be both amused and equally dismayed.
“Seriously,” came Marcel’s voice from the back of the group. “As far as we’re aware, the descent only takes a few minutes. You can carry a lot more troops by strapping them in upright rather than sitting them down.”
“Where’s all of our stuff?” Chattun asked, evidently missing his big gun.
“It’s in the cargo hold directly below. It’ll all be waiting for you when you touch down. The plan is to touch down in seemingly unpopulated area just outside the city of Varsylgard and make the rest of the journey on foot. Once you give the all clear, we’ll send the Darter down with our negotiators.”
Marcel again attempted a reassuring smile that did little to convince his squadron. All of this had been arranged in only a few hours, and his sudden promotion had given him no time to personally oversee the planning. Secretly, he lamented that he could not join his comrades. If it were all to go wrong, he could have at least joined the others in death.
“Well, there’s not much else to be said. I’ll be in touch.”
Marcel made a dismissive salute as he made his way out of the cabin. Makoto looked over at the medic, Homer, who was fumbling with his harness as he made an attempt to strap himself in. Doing her best to follow his example, she pinned herself to the wall and fed her arms through the two belts on either side, before reaching over each shoulder and pulling two additional belts over her shoulders.
“Let me get that for you, Mack.” Gabriel said, chuckling at the tiptoed girl and pulling on a lever at her waist. The harness lowered a few inches, allowing Makoto to plant her feet firmly. She frowned at him in lieu of thanks.
“Everybody in?” Gabriel asked, quickly making his way around the cabin and methodically pulling on the middle of each set of belts. As he made his way over to Astrid, she gave him a coy grin.
“Try anything and I might accidentally put a bullet in you later.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Gabriel replied with a smile.
When Gabriel was satisfied that the group’s moorings were secure, he left the room completely. Makoto looked over at Astrid, uncertain.
“Gabe’s flying this thing,” Astrid explained, “didn’t you read the briefing documents?”
Makoto shook her head. Throughout the aircraft came a slight crackle and Gabriel’s distorted voice.
“Okay, guys. I’m in the cockpit, and I must say it is a lot roomier than what you guys got goin’ on right now. Just gotta make a few last minute checks and we’ll be good to go.”
The Cormorant began to give off a low hum as the engines came online, and Makoto thought she could vaguely make out instructions being barked outside.
“This is, NC-D01 Cormorant. Luper, do you read me?”
“Loud and clear.” Came a second voice from the intercom.
“Requesting permission to take off.”
“You’re all clear, Cormorant.”
“Thanks, Marcel,” came Gabriel’s voice, followed by a quick chuckle, “entering takeoff phase.”
The machine whirred loudly as it began to spread its wings and lower its tail. Makoto squirmed uncomfortably in her harness as she felt the weight of the vehicle shifting backwards.
“Opening hangar doors.”
A long, distant drone, followed by a loud metal clunk.
“You’re good to go.” spoke Marcel’s voice again from the intercom.
The wall behind Makoto gave a high-pitched hiss as further restraints crawled out of the walls and around her ankles and to either side of her head. The quiet hum of the engine grew briefly louder, until the vehicle lurched forwards and the entire cabin began to vibrate with a dull noise. Makoto shut her eyes as the aircraft tore down the runway, her enclosure rendering her blind to the goings on outside. Suddenly, the vibration stopped as Makoto felt her weight shifting in a strange manner she had experienced in the past. Flight. Her mind flashed back to the surreal experience with her goddess aunt, who had somehow thrown her from the streets of Guten Nocht to the top of her penthouse. The feeling unsettled her to no end, as she had also been blind during those experiences of flight. A crackle came as Gabriel pushed the button to activate the intercom, but he remained briefly silent.
“…If only you guys could see what I’m seeing right now.”
Makoto kept her eyes shut, desperately trying to conjure up images of the city, bathed in daylight, from far above. She could not manage it.
“Entering dive phase.”
The ship screeched loudly as it folded its wings away, gracefully rolling to one side and preparing to make it’s descent.
“You may feel a little… Different.”
Immediately after Gabriel stopped speaking, Makoto felt herself become lighter and lighter, eventually weightless. To the extent that her restraints would allow, she looked over at Astrid, whose long blonde hair, previously tied neatly in a ponytail, lifted over the nape of her neck and over the top of her head. Astrid glanced back, cracking a grin at the effects of zero-gravity on Makoto’s own hair. Her grin, however, faded when it was clear that the young woman was not going to smile back.
“Dive phase completing in three, two, one.”
The crew let out a collective grunt as gravity returned to normal, the plane’s wings spreading out once more.
“… You guys know what I said earlier? I take it back. You guys need to see what I’m seeing now. Entering landing phase.”
The cabin began to shake again as the engines desperately powered up to touch the behemoth down without damage. Makoto shut her eyes again, clenching her teeth and bracing for impact. The vehicle touched down gently.
“Touchdown successful. Whooh. Marcel, did you see that?”
“Of course I was watching, Gabe. You have no idea how jealous I am right now.”
“Ahem! Can we be a little more professional, guys?” Astrid yelled, knowing that neither party would hear her.
With a gentle click, the restraints that previously bound the crew came loose. Makoto immediately fell to one knee, catching her breath.
“Are you okay?” came the large voice of Kai Chattun. Before she could respond, his gigantic hands had lifted her back onto her feet. Barely resisting the urge to drive an elbow into him, Makoto shook the large man off, not even looking in his direction.
“Sorry.” He replied quietly.
The group waited in silence for Gabriel to open the door. Wobbly legged, the soldiers crawled through the maze of corridors to the front entrance. Out of the corner of her eye, Makoto caught a glimpse of the cockpit – waves of green swaying gently just beyond the glass of the plane’s nose. Somewhat baffled by what she had seen, she turned to the doorway. Gabriel punched in a code on the keypad beside it, and with a long hiss, the door slowly swung open.
“Welcome to Big Blue.”
“Why is it so green?” came Newton’s voice from the front of the group as they got off the Cormorant, which had returned to its bowed position from before. Makoto’s boot crunched down onto the leaves at her feet, as she stared in awe at the forest that surrounded them on all sides.
If they call it Big Blue, why is it so green?
/ CEO Of ELITESKILLS.COM AND SUBSIDIARIES / HEAD OF SECURITY AND SYSTEMS ADMINISTRATION / DATABASE SCHEMA SPECIALIST / K
/ 239d 10h 25m 41s
The trip to the station was quicker than what Uol'we had expected, especially with all the pit stops the snake witch made . It was early and bright enough outside that Nagini observed the entire world around her. The verdant foliage whistled in the wind. The child-like Nagini placed her fingertips on the brick brown bark and the loamy earth. This world had an odd yet refreshing scent wherever she walked.
"Ms. Nagini! We're leaving now, c'mon!" Uol'we shouted from platform. He waved for her in the midst of the train's heavy fog clouds.
She was squatting down and observing a pair of cheerfully chirping birds. The beady eyed birds hopped to and fro in a circle. Their wings brushed through the grass and their beaks dug amongst the blades of green grass. She had never seen anything so peaceful before in her dim life. Eventually Nagini pulled herself away from the quaint couple of green-breasted quails and finally stepped onto the train. She did not want to leave them behind; they seemed to be more interesting than any human or robot she has came across.
A pair of attendants dressed in regal black suits escorted Uol'we and Nagini to their quarters. Nagini noted the wooden paneling and flooring, sliding glass doors, and red paint accents throughout the carriage's corridor. The couple finally settled down in room together. Uol'we closed the door behind him and Nagini focused her attention elsewhere. This whole time she was ignorant about the beauty that surrounded her. She did not waste her time observing the natives nor herself; the quiet landscape commanded her. Uol' wore his best confused facial expression and folded his arms. As the loud steaming train began to pull away from the station, Nagini finally spoke up.
"Mr. Uol'we Yen, how long will it take?"
"Give it a good half hour or so, and we should make it to the union station in no time."
The passenger train started its quick journey slowly. A dense black cloud of smoke enveloped and the wheels churned. The engine whistled and roared, The passenger cars rattled so slightly. Nagini watched as they departed from the train station's main platform. This reminded her of the secret tunnels back on Guten Nocht that wound throughout the whole city and beyond. Where Guten Nocht's subway system had a faster startup, Varsyl's made up with power behind the engine.
Detaching herself from the human world, Nagini kept her eyes open for the trees and other spectacles. Without a moment's notice, the train effortlessly turned around the edge of a mountain and crossed a truss bridge. Looking down, Nagini caught a glimpse of a powerful vibrant blue river hundreds of feet below.The closer they got to the city, the less she saw of nature. Outside the dense forest, the sight transitioned from green branches and swaying wind to brick villas and cobblestone roads.
The landscape teased Nagini; she had believed that the city would be hidden by leaves. From a distance, she laid witness to Varsylgard. Miniatures of Nocht Central towered over the rest of the city. It appeared more ornate to Nagini; the details could be seen miles away. Of course, the whole city of Guten Nocht was illuminated only by devious Nocht Central headquarters and maniacally grinning Mad Moon. As they pulled in closer, the foreigner could not help herself but stare mindlessly at the metropolis.
"This is the capital of the Varsylian Empire. I must forewarn you--"
Without making eye contact with Uol'we, the sharp tongued Nagini quickly interjected. "You can note the disclaimer when we touch ground, Mr. Uol'we Yen."
Indeed, one can remove the snake from the city, but one cannot remove the city from the snake. The train stayed on the outskirts of the city until it finally decided to penetrate the perimeter. The sudden sharp turn threw Nagini off guard as she tightly clutched her seat. For a brief moment, she truly believed the entire train, box and wheel, would derail itself and flip over. The gruff rumbling beneath them startled her and reminded her that she was not home. She realized that this surreal land did not belong to the clutches of Nocht.
Bringing herself to an upright position, Nagini saw brick buildings surrounding the base of the truss. The whistling train slowly declined into the city's heart. Departing from the illuminated world, the train and passenger cars dived into a pitch black tunnel. Had she thought too soon about the nightmarish land? No, once again, this profound city played tricks on the its guest. The train braked and came to a peaceful halt.
"Come on. We'll have time to do some sightseeing once we figure out this Council hooplah."
Nagini detached from the window and leather seat and enthusiastically hopped off the train without coercion. Aside from the dust and steam crowding the air, this train station looked all too familiar to her. The subway train in Nocht Central inhibited a large circular room supported by intricately placed rusty pillars and beams. Rustic ceiling lights dangled throughout the circumference and surrounded the resting platform which happened to elevate in height after each taxi. Uol'we, Nagini, and other passengers made their way down the steps to the walls of the station. Before she could freak out and claim that this was indeed another ploy by Nocht Central, Nagini looked up. The gargantuan glass ceiling allowed the rays of sunlight to shine through.
"It's like I've been here before."
"Uh..." Uol' trailed off, "Right. Follow me."
Nagini kept Uol'we and the jian close. After running up a flight of stairs leading up to the surface, she paused in awe. The neatly arranged stone streets were clear of floating trash and miserable paupers. They were twice the size of Nocht's poorly maintained blacktop streets and clean of any marks. Along the roads, black iron street lamps with intricate prongs lined up. She made a full circle and noted the the towering buildings partially covered in healthy ivy around her. Though not as tall as the ones back in Guten Nocht, they appeared luxurious and liveable. Patches of living grass, strong oak trees, and sturdy benches surrounded the train station's glass ceiling.
Uol'we made his way down the block until he stopped himself and Nagini in front of the most ornate building in Varsylgard. Across the street stood a magnificent marble statue of a man holding an orb in one hand in front of him and a sword in the other. His celestial mane covered the neck and his prominent nose jutted to the sky. A fountain surrounded the nearly nude deity. Nagini got closer to the running water and observed the strange birds with flat bills
"What do you call these animals?"
"They're ducks." She must have hit her head, no one could be this daft. "We'll get to play with them and feed them if we have time. Our real stop is this building right here."
Averting her attention to the most ornate building in Varsylgard, Nagini muttered to herself, "If this is where your leaders reside, Nocht Central has it beat. The height pales in comparison."
At the top of the stairs, large columns supported the roof and the elaborate white marble frieze. Nagini interpreted the scene as an origin story. Spending her spare time within the library of Nocht Central, she read through some of books confiscated from Guten Nocht streets. A lot of them were rubbish erotic novels, but she managed to stumble on epic poems. In a few of the epics, they went into great description about decorating the temple-buildings with picture stories.
As they ascended the stairs, men in the same uniform as Uol'we cautiously stared at him and the feral woman. They whispered nasty words to each other as the Uol' passed by. He did not catch any of it and only focused on making it inside the capital building alive and not wounded. Nagini remained relatively tame. Of course, she was itching to scramble with a few of them, but she was vastly outnumbered in unfamiliar territory.
Slowly coming back to the human world, Nagini was bewildered by the folk of Varsyl. She looked back and realized that everyone looked the same. Well kept short brown hair, apparently straight with maybe a wave or two, reasonably prominent nose like the statue, somewhat taller than her, fit, erect spines, shallow lips, a defined chin, dark blue eyes, and fair skin. She had not seen anyone who remotely resembled her or any deviant of the Varsylian formula. If Uol'we would cut his hair, Nagini would not be able to pick him out of a crowd.
"Why are they staring?" she nudged Uol'we. She would give them something to stare about.
"Because you're a hot commodity around here, obviously, Ms. Nagini."
"No," he blatantly blurted out, "you're a barbarian."
"You're a wild monster in our eyes. Someone not from this land." Uol'we sighed and shook his head, "And I happen to be a monster from this land. You could say that I'm not the ideal 'Martyr'. We're two peas in a pod."
"Peas?" she scratched her elbow and looked away. At this point, she was not going to act like she knew what anyone was talking about. No one in Nocht knew what a pea was, well maybe except for Griff and the science division.
Arriving at the black iron gates of the capital, Uol'we and Nagini were graciously greeted by an oddity uncommon throughout the Varsylian territory. A thin figure dramatically posed behind the gates to the capital. She was shorter than Nagini but not by much. Her curly, somewhat frizzy, black hair reached beyond her shoulder blades. Many people who worked underneath the Council and the Varsylian Empire called her "Lady Swine" for her nose was relatively upturned compared to everyone else in the country. The emerald eyes fixed into her fragile and narrow skull matched Nagini's in an instant.
The imperial guards opened the gates for Uol'we and the savage, and the mysterious lady in the obscure dress and pounds of rouge drew in closer. The hem of the black and purple splotched dress with the orange fringes ceremoniously draped around dragged across the ground. She pressed her palms together and bowed to the Martyr and then before she bowed to Nagini, she gave her another long glance.
"The Council will be pleased to see you've brought a guest, Martyr Uol'we," she remarked in the utmost patronizing voice.
Without formally acknowledging the perturbed stranger, she turned around and began to lead the travelers to the court room. As she passed through the corridors and came face to face with other members of the governing body, they all reverently bowed down to her. By no means was she intimidating. This special woman was somehow a potent political figure in Varsyl, one regarded to be a blessing to the commonwealth and a nuisance to the aristocrats.
"You may call me Madame Arachne."
"I am Nagini." Slightly paranoid and vulnerable to an ambush, she had remained quiet and to herself as soon as she entered the palace.
Gaunt Arachne stopped and immediately swung around to face her. "I did not ask for your name. You might never see the light of day ever again if the Council has ill will towards you. I would be wary of the men you come across, barbarian Nagini."
Arachne resumed. Wounded slightly by her words, Nagini did not respond. Uol'we furrowed his eyebrows. He did not exactly enjoy Madame Arachne as much as everyone else did. She was born of noble birth and raised in a wealthy aristocratic family. Nobody had an idea what they did for a living or had an idea what they sounded or looked like. One day, the odd lady in such queer clothing showed up, just around the time he started his Martyrdom.
"Martyr Uol'we, how have you been? It's been a long time since you've reported back to the Council."
"Eh, you know, the same ole', same ole'. I had to clean up a gang the other night."
"Of course," she pressed her left hand's index and middle fingers to her lips and smiled. "You can never be too sure about the beasts that bump at night. I presume that your friend was a part of that group."
"Oh, you mean Nagini? No, she took down half of the gang by herself."
Intrigued, Madame Aranche decided to give the young lady another chance.
"Nagini, I assume that you hail from a distant land north of here."
"You could say that," the venomous tongue began to reveal itself, "very high north."
Before they could even enter through the large black lacquer doors, Madame Arachne stopped them again.
"I suppose they don't have anything else up there that doesn't come torn and brown." She, of course, was commenting on the rags Nagini called clothes. "I'm afraid that this...'dress' will certainly not do. You have so much potential, yet you subject your beautiful body to such...primative clothing. If you make it out alive, Nagini, I'll have to take you shopping. Martyr Uol'we here will be of no use. If it was a life or death mission, he would die in vain"
"Hey!" Uol'we exclaimed. "I have a great sense of fashion."
Grasping the brass knockers, Madame Arachne playfully remarked, "Tell it to the Council."
With one great pull, the heavy doors opened before the three. Uol'we and Nagini stepped in with Madame Arachne following close behind. The entire room was black granite with gold fillings between the glimmering tiles. The sky roof allowed a vibrant beam of light to shower the middle ground. Nine high stands settled directly across from them and granite benches surrounded them from the sides. Sitting in the nine high stands were nine figures dressed in dark purple regal cloaks.
"Session is in place. Everyone else but the Martyr and the young lady shall take their seat," a man's voice called out. Nagini wasn't sure if he came from the stands or the surrounding seats.
"Roll call," a woman announced.
"Councilman of the Treasury Bogsworth." A heftier man with small spectacles on his nose rubbed his waddling chin. He was balding on top yet he retained nice hedges of gray on the sides and back.
"Councilman of Religion and Patriarch of the Royal Holy Church Rubarnthes." This councilman frightened Nagini. His cold stern stare agitated her, and she hated how he crossed his arms around his chest. He too was graying on top, but the shiny golden disk gave his thinning hair a blond hue.
"Councilman of Magic Magus Gamuth." Compared to the first two, Gamuth was significantly younger yet he shared the same stare as Rubarnthes. Nagini had, at first, mistaken him for a child.
"Councilman of Media and Education Sheigal." An elderly lady bleated out. Her hair was short yet held up, and her face appeared the sweetest of them all.
"Councilman of Defense Supreme Commander Karlsson." he angrily called out. His ears stuck out, but Nagini forgave him. She found him to be the strangest out of them all because his hair was significantly shorter. He wore the nastiest facial expression of disgust. She swore he snarled at her.
"Councilman of the Interior Perceival." Nagini did not care for the snooty voice. He was the older, more uptight version of Gamuth.
"Councilman of Festivities Leiuth." Nagini wondered how she of all people was on this staff of professionals. She had a high voice and an eclectic fashion sense only rivaled by Madame Arachne.
"Councilman of Transportation and Technology von Stubenberg." The snake witch was intrigued by his black handlebar mustache and hair combed to the sides. Unlike the others, he took the time to smile at the enigma that was Nagini.
"Councilman of Law and Head Commander of Imperial Varsylgard Hedj." If Nagini was going to kill any of them, Hedj would be the first out of them all to go down. He was basically Gamuth number 3 except that he was a bit older and had a brown beard.
If there was one thing in all of Varsyl that intimidated Uol'we the most, it was the roll call of the nine most powerful men and women of the land. They alone had the administration and ties that dictated the land. They did not have to answer to anyone but themselves. Those who lived on the outskirts of the city and the countryside revered them as Raak's spiritual successors.
"What is the meaning of bringing a barbarian in our quarters, Martyr?" growled Karlsson. Nagini could hear steel rustle beneath the man's cloak. "Execute her, we must!"
"Now, now," elderly Sheigal tried to calm the raging storm, "Let the Martyr talk. There must be a good explanation for this."
"Council, today I have brought you a human being who has no ties to this land. Rather, she does not have any ties to Big Blue at all!" Uol'we threw his hands up them. The light above him and Nagini was too bright that he could not see their shadows.
"Then where does she come from?" asked Perceival. "People don't magically appear from thin air. At least, I've never seen any magic that's done so. Have you, Gamuth?"
"Not even the strongest Magus, I, know of such magic."
"Pray tell, what do you mean, my son?" asked the man of piety.
Uol'we scratched his head. "I don't know how to explain it, but she just plunged from the sky. There was no airship nearby!"
"She's from Guten Nocht, my fellow councilmen." Howlitzer tapped his fingers together and smiled again at the timid woman.
"Bulwark! She's an agent for the Shrine Goddesses. Look at her!" cried out the belligerent war monger." She has unfathomably bland black hair and the eyes. Those are the eyes of the enemy."
Putting her two cents in, Leiuth whipped her hair, "Obviously she's not from around here. She lacks fashion."
"Whether she is a Shrine Goddess hound or not, she should be locked up!"
"Flay her alive with flame!"
"Now, we cannot just spearhead and burn all of our problems, councilmen. Perhaps we should let her speak for herself. Councilman Hedj, will you grant permission for our visitor to speak?"
The leader turned to the level headed Howlitzer von Stubenberg and nodded. "Barbarian: state your name and case. The floor is yours."
Pent up with so many different emotions, mostly anger and confusion, Nagini stepped in front of Uol'we and nudged away his attempt of a comforting touch. He nodded to her as if it would reassure her that she would be fine.It wouldn't be.
"I am Nagini of Guten Nocht," she began with a weak cracking intro, "And I have fallen to your shores by no means as an act of violence. I am merely looking for my brother and a way back home."
"How can we trust such a filthy girl?"
"And who will house this rut? Assuming, of course, she's allowed to live."
"Reiko?" a concerned voice from the spectator seating called out. Jumping at the sound of her mother's name, Nagini looked high and low yet she could not find the owner. At last, a man who was sitting in front of her the whole time stepped out onto the floor and approached her. "Reiko!"
Nervous, Nagini pulled out her blade and stuck it to his throat.
"Tell me what you know of Reiko or I'll gut you!"
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 245d 7h 33m 39s
He couldn't help but wonder how she'd convinced him to do this.
"A maid?" Tsubaki replied, bemused by her fiancé's suggestion. She eyed him curiously as he made his way closer to her. "We don’t need a maid."
He smiled at her, trying to hide his obvious nervousness at his mistress' plan.
"You work so hard, Tsu. I just think you deserve a little bit of a break," he said, placing his hands on her shoulders and kissing her gently on the forehead, "Besides, this way we can spend a little more time together."
Tsubaki's stony expression cracked for a moment, a soft blush flashing across her face.
"We are getting married, after all." He continued, suddenly finding himself more confident in his assertion. Tsubaki held herself close to him, her eyes closed in thought.
"Do you have somebody in mind?" she asked him.
"I do, actually. Do you remember Yuki Shizuka?"
Tsubaki dug her fingers into his sides, causing him to wince momentarily. She withdrew, bringing a hand to her mouth.
"Sorry, I didn’t mean to—"
"You don’t know your own strength," he smiled through gritted teeth, "did I do something wrong?"
"No," Tsubaki replied, back to her pensive expression, the couple now stood apart. Perhaps this is a more accurate representation of our relationship, he thought to himself. His false, self-serving advances met with her awkward, hesitant reciprocation and swift withdrawal. There was something almost endearing about her lack of confidence in these situations.
"So, you two have a history?" he said, rubbing his sides.
"So, the whole recoiling in horror and crushing my rib cage thing was...?"
"I just don't think we need a maid, is all."
He took her in his arms for a second time.
"I haven't been entirely honest to you. I'm not just doing this for us."
"Shizuka, uh... She's a good kid."
"She just needs a little direction is all. You know what happened with her mother and all. I just think some honest work and a positive female role model could do her a lot of good."
"I see. Who is the father?"
"She... She wouldn't tell me. I don't think he's coming back."
Tsubaki slipped out of his grip and placed her hands on his shoulders, staring directly into his eyes. He clenched his teeth, thrown off by Tsubaki’s trick. Squirming under her piercing gaze, he mustered up all his strength of will to match her stare. She lowered her head, letting out a quiet, ladylike laugh.
"With all that guilt floating around in your head, one would think you were having an affair with the girl. That, of course, is not the case, is it?"
That stare again.
"Of course not! She's just a girl."
"Very well. Tell Miss Yuki to come here immediately, I would like to get to know her better before we employ her."
His face lit up.
"I'll go fetch her right now."
With that, he excitedly left the room, eager to tell his mistress the good news. Tsubaki smiled after him as he made his way out. Remaining still for a minute, her smile faded as she slowly clenched her hands into fists.
"I don't want to believe it..." she whispered to herself, white hot anger coursing through her body and into her knuckles. "Stay calm..." she hissed through deep breaths. The room began to grow hot.
Tsubaki forced her eyes shut, causing two thin lines of tears to run down the hook of her neck and into her collar. Tsubaki remained in this position for a moment, gradually unclenching her fists and slowly rolling her neck. A cold breeze blew through the room, washing away the hot anger from seconds prior.
"I suppose this can work out in my favour."
"Tsu said you could start today."
He barely had time to finish his sentence as the girl bowled into him with a massive hug. A smile played across his lips as they met hers, but he couldn't help but feel uncomfortable about it all. The overly affectionate Shizuka seemed none the wiser. Despite her evident physical maturity, the nagging thoughts came to his head that this was perhaps as far as her maturity went. Perhaps it would be better to...
"Yo, c'mon! Let's get to work!"
Shizuka had already taken him by the wrist and led him back out the door. He'd barely walked in.
"Shizu, I don't think this is a good idea."
She turned, giving him an exaggerated pout and snapping her left hand forwards to plant a finger on his lips.
"Yo, this is totally the best idea. Don't question my ideas, kay?"
"No, this is serious."
Shizuka rolled her eyes, letting her hand fall to one side.
"What is it?"
"Just, uh, don't let Tsu know about us. I think she's suspicious."
She stared blankly at him, as if he were an idiot.
"No, I mean... Don't even think about us. She'll know. For the first time in your life, I'm going to need you to show some discipline."
Shizuka stuck her tongue out and waved dismissively as she stepped out into the street.
Shizuka paused at the door, her left hand hovering above the knocker for a few seconds.
“It’s open. You can come in.” came a cold voice from inside.
Shizuka shot a bemused glance at him as she opened the door and made her way inside. No one to be seen in the entrance. Shizuka glanced in his direction again with the same confused expression.
“How’d she do that?” Shizuka asked, as if he knew how his fiancée was able to plant words into the minds of others without being present.
“She’ll be in the living room, come on.”
Tsubaki got to her feet immediately, gracefully making her way across the room to the dark-skinned girl. Shizuka towered over her, but felt incredibly small. She opened her mouth to speak, but the words would not come. Tsubaki slowly circled the young woman as her fiancé stood in the door.
“Hm, you are Kojima’s daughter.”
Shizuka nodded warily, following Tsubaki with her eyes.
“And you’re searching for work?”
“The Kojima household has always been one of respectability and nobility. Of course, my sense of duty requires me to take you in, but surely you have some financial security…”
Shizuka shook her head, taking a moment to choose her words.
“My mother…” she trailed off
“Of course. Please, sit.”
Shizuka did as she was told.
“You’re very pretty,” Tsubaki said with a hint of malice in her voice, “so tall too. How old did you say you were?”
“Fifteen.” Shizuka mumbled under her breath, Tsubaki’s hard stare cutting into her confident demeanour.
“Fifteen? My dear, you should have come to me straight away.”
The girl forced a smile up at the goddess.
“I didn’t want to be a nuisance.”
“Not at all,” she replied with a smile, “would you like something to eat?”
“Very well, allow me to show you around the house.”
Marcel clutched his hand into a fist in the crowded elevator. He didn’t need this. Nocht was falling apart in his grasp and he was too busy trying to run errands for an angry goddess to make moves. It was time to take action. He gave the briefing in the elevator.
“I’m sending a number of you down as an envoy to Varsyl. It is important that we initiate communication as soon as possible. I’ve opened comms already but the incompatibility between our tech and theirs means that it would be substantially easier to speak to them in person. I’m staying up here to make sure the situation remains under control. Chattun, Finch, Homer, Kojima, Newton, Valken, you will be sent down as part of this envoy, along with our chief negotiators.”
The morose girl at the back perked up slightly at the sound of her name.
“Your primary objectives are as follows: Ensure our negotiators reach the council alive and in good health. Use intimidation tactics to ensure best possible outcome. Secondary objectives: Locate and execute any remaining Silent 17 cell members. We have reason to believe that they may have somehow fled to Varsyl. Locate and capture Griff Illumina. I want him back alive, if possible. Assume all targets are armed and dangerous. You are permitted to retreat if you feel you are at a disadvantage.”
The elevator came to a halt. The group stepped out, Marcel taking a few steps ahead and pausing the group with a motion of his hand.
"Comrades, we are at the forefront of the greatest change Nocht has seen since the rise of the Jet Barrier. Many have lost their lives already for this day. Do your best, and remember our prime directive.”
The group saluted, and repeated in unison: “Don’t die.”
At the back of the crowd, Makoto’s mumbled “die” could be heard a moment later.
“Finch, Kojima, if I could quickly speak to you for a moment. The rest of you, dismissed. You’ll be summoned when needed.”
Gabriel fired a sideways glance at Makoto. Makoto was staring at her shoes.
“Mack, I think Luper wa-“
“I’m listening.” She replied, still staring at her beat-up kicks.
Marcel waited for the crowd to disperse before he made his move.
“Okay, Makoto. I think I’ve found your sword, I’ve sent a team to deal with it. You’re permitted to leave the envoy when Kasumi makes her move. Of course she’s been incredibly vague about what she’s doing, so just follow orders until Kasumi relieves you.”
Makoto gave a half-nod in his direction, seemingly more interested in the spreadsheet on a nearby computer screen.
“I also need you to wear your uniform. Dismissed.”
Makoto shuffled away, seemingly not thrilled by his closing remark.
“Gabe, I’m assuming you heard everything I just told her.”
“Sure did. If Mack runs off, I won’t chase her.”
“Okay, good, so I won’t have to repeat that. I’ll be tracking her movements from here anyway. Is the aircraft ready?”
“We hope so. She’s been well tested, but she hasn’t made a descent in over a century.”
“That’s good. One other thing.”
“Walk with me.”
Nocht’s private underground monorail was known to very few outside of Nocht Central’s upper echelons. It was hardly used, with most of the stops at long-abandoned facilities that predated the great spire that watched over the rest of the city. Today, however, life stirred in one of these facilities. As Marcel Luper and Gabriel Finch made their way off the carriage, they stepped into a dark room bathed in faint blue light. It had been stripped completely of its contents. In the middle of the room stood a group of soldiers in the dark blue uniforms of Nocht Central’s intelligence department. Marcel approached wordlessly, with his confused colleague in tow. Their superior spoke up.
“Did you find it?”
The sergeant gestured to the back of the group, as they methodically passed a black, lacquered case to the front of the group. Marcel crouched down, wiping off the dust and examining the characters engraved into the box.
“These two say Kojima. This must be it.”
With two quiet clicks, he pulled the box open.
“Hm. I wonder if this is what Kasumi expected,” he said to nobody in particular as he stared down at the black sword. The hilt had been completely worn down and the leather of the scabbard had long since dulled, torn in places. He considered removing it from the case and examining the blade, but then decided it would be better to leave it for Makoto. Perhaps Kasumi had told her something.
“Have it brought to Makoto Kojima immediately. I want to show Mr. Finch a little something before we go.”
Marcel gestured to the right hand side of the room, where a platform, large enough for a vehicle, was suspended over a descent into complete darkness. As the soldiers walked towards the monorail, the white-haired devil and his accomplice made their way to the transport elevator.
“I have to be honest with you,” Marcel said, “I’m not massively confident in our negotiations going too well. Nocht is starving, half the city has been destroyed, and we have absolutely nothing to offer to Varsyl besides technology that may, for all we know, be useless to them.”
“We’ll try our best.” Gabriel replied.
“I have every faith in your abilities. However, as you can understand, a contingency plan is always necessary.”
Marcel pulled a lever and the platform began to sink into the darkness. They stood in silence a they made their way down.
“I hate war, I really do,” Marcel said, very quietly. “But they’re bigger than us, they’re in better condition than us, and we can’t discount the possibility of others like Kasumi.”
A moment of awkward silence passed as the elevator came to a halt. The two stood in complete darkness.
“But I will turn the tables by any means necessary.”
They were momentarily blinded as the room was illuminated.
“No…” Gabriel muttered as his vision came back into focus.
They stood in somber silence as they stared down at an endless field of bombs.
/ CEO Of ELITESKILLS.COM AND SUBSIDIARIES / HEAD OF SECURITY AND SYSTEMS ADMINISTRATION / DATABASE SCHEMA SPECIALIST / K
/ 291d 12h 9m 21s
All posts are either in parody or to be taken as literature. This is a roleplay site. Sexual content is forbidden.