There were more encounters with the memory sphere, as Shiro had come to call it. And of all these times, the one constant was Xinjuan—or versions of her. Extrapolating from the scenes witnessed, they gathered that one of the earliest memories of her was when she was—of course—known to be Xinjuan, the elementalist that Shiro was identifying her with. The latest memories were those of Qin, another elementalist, though less adept and experienced. In between were several other identities, consisting of one where she was known as Hanzi, born a peasant girl in the Pongmei region who lived a rather unremarkable life. Then came Yiman, a scholar in one of the libraries commissioned by the Imperial Ministries. There may yet be room for two more life times, given the average longevity of humans and the approximate duration between the two bracketing memories. Eventually, if these appearances of the memory spheres continued, the two were sure they would see them all.
Being constantly bombarded by disconnected streams of thoughts himself, Shiro knew what Xinjuan was bound to run into when presented with these disconnected and oftentimes conflicting accounts of her life—or lives: loss of identity and, occasionally, even her grasp of reality. This experience would be disconcerting even to people with the benefit of a full lifetime of experience and memories to ground their current identify, but for someone who had no such supporting context, Shiro imagined that she would be lost in a maelstrom of conflicting memories from different personas, none of which any more real than the others. And so he made sure she understood the situation, anchoring her to the present whenever she showed signs of wandering off. The two discussed at length of the visions after each occurrence. Had there been any indication of day and night, he imagined that they would have spent three to four days talking about each encounter.
He liked to believe that his hard work paid off. As she was now no longer apprehensive and hesitant but was in fact fascinated by the idea and was excited whenever the memory sphere manifested itself.
Understandable, Shiro thought. How many beings, immortal or otherwise, would get the opportunity to observe memories of their past lives with such clarity and certainty? These were no cryptic tales spun by some blind fortune teller for gold pieces; they were vivid images of authentic memories. And for someone like Xinjuan with no dominating memories of a “current” life, each observed instance was not some escapade from the mundane but was an intimate and legitimate account a life that may just as well be the “real” one. Unrestricted in this way, Xinjuan felt a certain freedom to embrace all the visions and memories and—perhaps most important of all—the unrestrained possibilities they represented. In fact, rather than a handicap, perhaps her state of mind made things easier. At times, he was envious of her situation.
All this got Shiro thinking about his own problems. Instead of fighting off these bombardments of thoughts onto his consciousness, why not try to harness them? So what if most of them were imaginations? What if, like Xinjuan's memories, enough of were not in fact imagined but were actual perspectives from a different time or place or set of circumstances? What if he could adopt any or all of these visions as if it were what truly transpired? At a minimum, he could play along with the scenarios. And of the events that were unfamiliar, perhaps they were forecasts of possible events, giving him the benefit of precognition? Perhaps they were never the curse as he had thought but rather a blessing. A twisted blessing from a twisted deity? Perhaps this was some last wish of Abaddon, to bestow upon Shiro part of himself. Perhaps it was some last attempt at some form of legacy or immortality. If he could not understand anything else of the late Lord Abaddon, he could understand this, because he, too, knew a thing or two about last acts. A bitter laugh rose in his lungs, he may have taught Abaddon that trick when he unleashed the Jade Wind as his last defiant act against the lord's control of his mind, he realized.
And so he began opening up this dam he had built up in his mind to again allow the flow of thought streams that had been continuously coming to him, hoping to catch a thread that would project what could have been had he simply let Abaddon take over his mind and body that fateful day at the Harvest Festival. What if he had allowed Abaddon to take over and reigned over Cantha? Would Abaddon eventually expand its grasp and ruled Tyria as it said it would? How would the world be, and would there be anything of Shiro Tagachi left?
But it was still painful receiving the visions and thoughts at their natural pace. Thousands of voices and sensations and ideas competed for his total attention. As he shifted between the thoughts, it felt like precariously hopping between pieces of driftwood carried along a raging river. Not being able to stay with any one for longer than the time that it would take before he fell under his own weight to betraying him to the violent torrential currents below.
Xinjuan sat across him and watched the sweat beads forming on his face. Instinctively she extended her hand and reached for him. As her fingers picked up the droplets, her hand stayed and caressed his face. She was puzzled by the scars on him. And now that she took a better look at his exposed arms, she noticed that his body was full of similar scars, some deeper and longer than others. She traced the lines and found her fingers running alongside his right arm, along one of the longer scars.
“I remember that one,” Shiro spoke as he opened his eyes to see her fingers linger on that centuries-old scar, his mind now focused back to the present. “Perhaps one of these memory spheres will show it next time,” he lifted his gaze from her hand to meet hers. “It was down in Tingwu province, I believe. One of the earlier battles we fought together.”
She let her hand drop down along his arm to hold his. “I was not very helpful then either?”
“We were both unexperienced at the time, if I remember correctly. And we were outnumbered.” He rather enjoyed holding her hand after all this time. And not to pull her out of harm's way or to move her quickly somewhere. Not to warn her of anything. Just to hold her hand in his.
Her eyes wandered momentarily into the distance as well as if she, too, began searching her thoughts. He took the opportunity to study her face, to see if for once he could read what she may be thinking about.
She no longer had that blank stare of a lost soul; her gaze were now purposeful and deliberate. Her perpetual smiles were no longer as easy to see, replaced by increasingly frequent furrowing of the brows. Part of the price she would pay as she moved along in her recovery, he thought. It was not unlike watching a carefree youngling step into adulthood.
Just then, he felt her hand squeezing his. And her familiar smile greeted him once again.
“Yet as always, we prevailed,” her eyes shone with a brilliance he had not seen before as her held tight onto his hand. “And we will prevail. I will not disappoint you.”
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22-06-2011, 07:38 #41
04-08-2011, 09:56 #42
Of all the memories, Xinjuan enjoyed the ones from her first life the most. While the memories of her latter lives revealed her to be always subdued and restrained to some degree, those of the earlier life, in contrast, revealed a relatively carefree person. She seemed uninhibited, bold, and definitely happy. The rest of the puzzle she got from Shiro's own memories of her, idealized they may be.
“You were strong-headed,” he recalled, “and quite impulsive. You were full of curiosity and gave little thought in your actions.”
“Tell me more.”
“From that earlier manifestation of the memory sphere, for instance, I recall an encounter we had with a group of thugs during one of their biggest raids on the Panjiang Peninsula. They were a cult of some kind, if I remember correctly.”
He looked at Xinjuan, as if teaching a child. “Greedy men with a lust for gold can be bought. These men, however, believed in some myth about their leader. Something about him being immortal, I suppose; men of this type had few imagination. Whatever it was, it gave the believers the illusion of purpose and an outlet for worship, even if they did not comprehend the desire. And that—that made them quite formidable.”
“Dissatisfied by the tributes paid to them by the townspeople over the past season, these men declared their day of invasion with their scrolls erected in all corners of the main square. And for days leading up to that date, practically all of the natives packed up and were on their way to the magistrate's province, fleeing from their own homes.”
A smirk formed in the corner of Shiro's lips. “You, of course, did not agree to the sentiment. You stayed behind and drove a stake into the main fork of the path into the Peninsula, careful to pierce one of the scrolls to show defiance.”
“I did that? I sounded arrogant,” Xinjuan laughed incredulously.
“I am certain of that,” Shiro continued. “And if I had not stumbled into the area that day, I am certain that you would have fought the entire clan yourself.” Before she could speak, he added, “Or died trying.”
“Oh, really?” Xinjuan rested her palms on the hips defiantly. “And to what great fortune should I be grateful for to have your mighty presence?”
It was he that was now laughing.
As he told her more about their past, she learned that they both were in the same line of work, albeit from different regions of the empire. Like her, he offered his protective services to patrons against gangs and bandits. But while she primarily worked on Shing Jea island, he traveled extensively as he accompanied his employers—who were mainly wealthy merchants—as they went about their businesses.
“The lot from which I found employment,” Shiro explained, “did not possess the highest of virtues. Often times, the merchants orchestrated raids against each other as they competed for contracts, territories, and the cargo themselves. They would not have their own names associated with these operations, of course. And so they employed shadowy groups of gangs that did the dirty work, all the while maintaining anonymity and their good name.”
She caught on immediately, “Were you ever part of these raids, against your employer's enemies?”
He already kept enough from her as it was, he thought. “Yes.”
She remained quiet for a while, then continued slowly. “And so you were like the very bandits that you fought off before?”
“Yes. We were—soldiers in a war, alternating between offensive and de—“
“You were gangsters.” With her hands squeezed tightly into fists, shaking slightly, her eyes lowered to the ground beneath them. He felt as if they couldn't be brought up to meet his again. Her voice then returned its typical soft tone as she looked slightly away. “There is little value in calling it any other way.”
And with that, the two remained speechless for what felt like days. She remained, however, responsive to his gestures. She gathered firewood for warmth while they rested in their cave. And when they felt the presence of hostile Tormented demons, she reacted and followed his gestures quickly without missing a beat. But she had not spoken to him any more about the past. And each time he looked at her, she would avoid eye contact and stared straight blankly, as if deep in thought.
Shiro used this time to reflect a bit on the situation they were in. As time with her went on, Shiro realized that he was starting to become a little too complacent, a little too comfortable, with her presence.
He had not felt this level of tranquility for the longest time, admittedly. Some time in the past, so many years ago that he couldn't remember exactly, he had walked into a life of constant alert, anger, pain, and sorrow. He had gotten used to the idea of conquer or be conquered; everyone and everything around him either fought with him or against him. And fighting was as certain and prevalent as each breath he took. It was draining and stressful, to be sure, but there was a certainty to it all; it became a reliable thing in his life. And now this, despite all the positive feelings that Xinjuan's presence had brought to his life, he felt he had lost control of the way of things. And yet at the same time part of him was reluctant to shut it out to get back the certainty of the pain, anger, and regret that he knew so well. It was natural to fear the unknown and uncontrollable. That much he knew.
But he didn't know if this would last. It seemed so pleasant and yet at the same time so fragile. It was this realization that he had no control over things, that at some moment all of it could be taken from him, that brought him such consternation.
And what was going on inside her mind now? Was she repelled by his past? Did he disclose too much too soon? If she reacted this strongly to this, how would she react to what happened at Raisu Palace?
04-10-2011, 08:45 #43
Periods of time, again unmeasurable by any tangible means but yet experienced with certainty, had passed. Xinjuan had remained quiet and somber for the most part, obediently following instructions but remaining speechless, as if constantly lost in her own world of thoughts. And at length she finally confronted Shiro.
“Why? Why must you withhold the complete story now, after you have revealed so much? You make me suspect all that you told me before.”
Shiro knew this moment would come. He had planned for this by forming a path of revelations with careful guidance, complete with a pace of the narration. However, this was too soon still to tell her everything. In this world where time had no relevance, and the passage of which was all but obscured by the perpetual twilight, hinted by that waning shadow of a sun that never complete showed itself, he found it bitterly ironic that he was running out of time.
And it was not solely Xinjuan's insistence of knowing that part of her past that she wasn't ready for; all this time, he had been keeping an eye on the encroaching darkness that was steadily swallowing up the sky. By his estimation, the darkness would be less than about seven days' march. He wasn't sure of the nature of the phenomenon; the streams of thoughts that were bombarding his mind revealed little about it, other than that it was something to be avoided. Perhaps what bothered him most about it was how little the thoughts had to reveal about it. Typically, the streams, be them of whatever topic in particular, were both overflowing in quantity and overbearing in their urgency. There were accounts of possible pasts, different aspects of the present, different interpretations of different truths, and different branches of possible futures. With this phenomenon, as best as he could concentrate on receiving the ideas, there was all but silence. But yet, although there was a lack of specifics, there was nevertheless some intangible feeling—one that was difficult to comprehend on an intellectual level but was easy enough to absorb on an intuitive level—of fear and dread. Whatever it was, it would be wise to not be here when it arrives. That much was clear.
“Please,” Xinjuan's words finally broke him out of his reveries. “Whatever you believe you must hide from me, do not feel you need to hide further.” Her communication skills had improved dramatically from uttering simple words, he reflected. Not that it would matter, but if Heleyne were here to witness this, Shiro thought, the Envoy would surely be impressed. But, he reminded himself, the task is not completed yet. She needed time to know the complete story.
“Whatever past you have had, whatever choices we have made, they were of a different life,” she spoke, as if to herself.
Shiro looked at her surprisingly. He could still recall when she had trouble putting together a simple sentence. But hearing her now articulating a thought that he himself couldn't have said better, perhaps he underestimated her progress.
“I know it. I understand it now,” Xinjuan continued. “You served your master by protecting him from his enemies.”
“My employer,” he corrected her. But it was too late, as her words had prompted the memories to rush back into his mind. How many masters had he served? Merchants, lords, the Emperor himself—each more selfish, devious, and corrupt than the one before. And lest he forget, his last was the ultimate master: Abaddon. For someone who abhorred servitude as much as he did, his choices didn't show it. And so he had little to justify his indignation.
“You are bothered by my words. Should I cease this discussion?” Her eyes shone with a sincerity he had not seen for decades, if not centuries.
“It is all right. You are correct. Those are the days in the past.”
“Somehow,” she continued after a pause, “I sense you are hurt when I said that. But I am not sure. It is difficult to trust my feelings.”
Something about this irked him. Over all these times, he had grown to become a private man. All the betrayals done to him and by him had left him one to share nothing with anyone. And despite how he wished it so, he wasn't ready for her to read him so readily. “There are parts of our past,” he tried to steer the topic back, “that we will need to reveal slowly. You need to be patient. I will eventually tell you everything as I have no intention to deceive.”
Unfortunately, even if she had gone along, it didn't look as if he will have the time to guide her development at the pace he wanted.
This abyss in the sky was now drawing closer, and the entire lighting and color of the land reflected it. So much so that it was now easy to perceive that the dusk had made good of the ageless threat to reign over the land to finally bring perpetual darkness to it.
Now that the darkness had drawn close enough, Shiro could discern that its edges were not as sharply defined as when seen from far away. Instead, the darkness's edge was delineated by a continuous fuzzy and undulating wave. And as he traced the outline further out, the farther away, the sharper it appeared. For some reason, the image brought a contrasting picture of the white sandy beaches from some of Xinjuan's memory vignettes with the memory spheres. He tilted his head slightly and pictured a similar beach, only instead of the grainy white sand it was an amorphous muddy sludge in dark grey. And instead of the deep blue waves mirroring the brilliance of the sky above, it was an ocean of opaque darkness whose insidious tides rose slowly and surely to swallow up more and more of the gray. And this ocean, he thought, reflected nothing but pure darkness.
“Prepare yourself. We need to leave this place,” he pointed to the darkness towards the sky, “and move back to my army.”
Anticipating her questions, he explained the Shiro'ken to her as they started heading away from the darkness.
“Shortly after your first life ended--”
“When Xinjuan died?”
“Yes. Do you remember our guild of Claw?”
“I do. I had joined it at your invitation. We were recruiting all who served as bodyguards to Imperial officials. As you have said, you had plans to have us overthrow the oppression of the corrupt Empire and restore the power to the peasants.”
“Do you remember the circumstances surrounding your passing?”
“No,” Xinjuan thought pensively for a while. “I do not remember anything about it at all.”
“There was an act of betrayal in our guild, for there were a number of planted spies by the Emperor, joined by a few idealists who still thought the Emperor could be convinced to eradicate the corruption. Some were close associates of mine--” He caught himself and steered himself back to topic. “A great battle ensued between the Imperial spies, aided by loyalist and idealists, and those that supported our cause. Unfortunately, you were among the casualties of this internal struggle. I was not able to come to your aid in time.
“Shortly after the splinter of the guild, those that remained with the cause had pledged their blood to me, and they called themselves the Shiro'ken. It was also then that I became known as Shiro.”
“I can recall bits and pieces from my later lives, and history is written very differently.”
“Of course. History has always favored the winners and powers of the times. Had it been told as the way the past had truly transpired, one would find from true Canthans little support for the Empire.
“They would have you believe, for instance, that the Shiro'ken consisted of reluctant souls bound by some evil force of mine. The truth was that they had pledged their lives to serve our cause and had chosen me as their leader to guide that endeavor to free Cantha.
“As you will learn when you get to converse with them, they will tell you quite a different history.”
“I trust you, Tagachi,” once again she reached and took his hand in hers. “You have shown and given me endless patience and care. It is not difficult to see the man through his actions; one simply needs to observe. I do not need others to testify to something I already know.
“I may not have all the pieces of my memories assembled in whole, but I trust that you know best when to help me recall them.”
Last edited by Qin Li; 04-10-2011 at 22:52.
06-10-2011, 05:08 #44
This... sure has grown. I've seen many familiar names as I skimmed it, which leads me to wonder how Khilbron is still alive...
I'll have to begin reading from the beginning, and due to my limited internet, I have just printed out the first seven pages worth of this (my uni's printers only allow a max of 7 pages to be printed in one go. v.v). I shall catch up and comment sometime!
06-10-2011, 06:57 #45
Thank you for your interest.
If it gets too painful, maybe I can upload somewhere (or email if you have a public email address) the document that I have been working on. It is the entire story so far, uninterrupted.
27-02-2012, 10:18 #46
Tiny flakes of white floated about on a uniform sheet of deep indigo. They start as small bits, emerging from obscurity, then slowly taking on various sizes and floated about in random patterns. Even as their paths suggested some unpredictable whimsical patterns, they all seem to grow in size as they gain momentum. That was until one grew out of focus, the way things get out of focus when–
Then a sensation hit his face. It was a familiar sensation, yet at the moment Shiro had all but forgotten what it was. He could only feel how it was at the moment–slightly tingling and numbing. It felt strangely pleasant. But he decided to not waste too much time analyzing it; he closed his eyes and took a deep breadth, taking the entire experience earnestly. His nostrils stung a bit. Then his throat felt it. Finally, the sensation propagated inside down his chest and abdomen. He couldn't remember feeling from his body something like this for the longest time. Exhaustion and pain, he knew well. But this—whatever this was—felt strangely familiar and foreign at the same time. This had to be some illusion—some memory being revisited via a memory sphere, perhaps. As one struggling to hang on the last moments of a dream before giving in to the draw of dusk, he didn't want it to end, as it was incredibly peaceful and refreshing at the same time.
“Wake up, bodyguard.” Surprisingly, his eyes did not open to the arid sterility of the Realm. Instead, he was greeted by what now was a familiar face as he opened his eyes. If his head and back weren't already pressed upon the ground below, he would have jolted backwards as a reaction at the closeness of her face before him. His senses then caught up, and he realized that he had been resting on his back–he was taking a nap, perhaps. And before him now, it was Xinjuan bending over with her hands clasped on her knees for support and her smile directed at him. Her hair, though not long enough to be shoulder-length, was long enough to obscure parts of her face as they dangled straight down towards him. With a playful smile, her face then receded from him as she stood up. “How do you intend to guard the Emperor if you fall asleep like this all the time?”
He then saw the scene again: the white specks floating amid an indigo backdrop. Only now he knew them to be snow flakes, floating down from a darkening sky. And that sensation? It was the cold crisp air of a Canthan winter evening. The first few moments were always pleasant before the coldness slowly crept in and started to absorb the heat out of everything. He closed his eyes and drew in another long breath. It had been a very long time since the last time he felt this.
With one contraction of the abdominal muscles, he pulled himself up to a sitting position and looked around. The brilliance of the surrounding snow half-blinded his still adjusting eyes. He attempted to help himself up with his right hand, but his palm pushed quickly through the feeble ice crystals and ended up pressing the ground underneath, his body no closer to getting up than before.
The giggling Xinjuan extended her hand. As he took it and pulled himself up, he took a better look at her. She wasn't exactly younger, but different nevertheless. Looking down, he noticed her ceremonial armor—such as it was, anyway. He then took a look at his own clothing. And like hers, his was unusually ornamental in nature, more decorative than practical.
“How effective is that in actually protecting you?” he gestured to her short skirt. “Are you not cold wearing that?”
“Elements,” her mischievous smirk ended just as her body started to glow slightly. His face felt a slight warmth emanating from her, as if he were sitting next a healthy fire at the peak of its rigor. “Oh, I do wish what you lack in wisdom you do make up with your charm,” she laughed.
“Charm has nothing to do with it. The sword, however,” he brushed the frost off the shoulders and took her hand, “seems to persuade most effectively the way of the world these days.”
“You sound more jaded than usual, Tagachi. What is the matter?”
“Now is not the time.”
Xinjuan mockingly looked around the snow-covered mountainside. It was quiet other than the occasional wind carrying the chill around, making sure every little crevice was as cold as the open air. “Perhaps you are correct,” she whispered, “there are people everywhere.”
He remembered this conversation. This was indeed a reenactment of something from his past. He remembered finally confiding in her. And he remembered slightly irritated by her flippancy at the time.
“Well. If you have such a problem with the empire, why do you still serve it? I know it is not the pay.” And with that annoying smirk of hers, she delivered the final blow. “Just look at me. I make easily twice what you make, and I have free time left over to spend as I please–”
“Have you not thought about what you intend to do with your life? Do you wish to live out the rest of your days pursuing gold and platinum?”
She was hardly affected by this; she didn't have a care in the world. He remembered wondering at the time if her apathy and detachment were simply her way of coping with life's nuances or if she genuinely enjoyed the freedom of not caring.
Rather than waiting for another glib response, he continued. “You have not wondered how some people are born into all the privilege and riches while others are destined for a life in destitute? And what exactly makes the royal blood so special that the family would rule the empire forever?”
“Do you think you can be a better emperor? Do you want the throne, then?”
Suddenly, her voice changed. The fire in her spirits faded just as the warmth from her body. “Tagachi. We must go. The darkness is coming.”
“We must go. The darkness is coming.”
This time, he did wake up to what he was expecting—the hot and miserable desert that he remembered seeing last before he fell asleep. It was a dream, but when was the last time he had a dream?
An apprehensive Xinjuan with a concerned look in her eyes was sitting before him, retracting her arm after waking him up. She continued, “I think we must go.”
He then saw what she pointed at—the darkness in the sky had approached. It was practically above them.
At this close a distance, he now saw clearly what happened at the edge of the darkness. Like an inverted waterfall, the surrounding sky stretched and contorted as if slipping off the edge to fall “up” into the void, all the while feeding the darkness that slowly but surely grew as it ate up more and more of the sky.
Wasting no more time, he took his hand and started away from the darkness to put some distance between them and the oncoming abyss. It did not try to catch up with them but continued to creep slowly at the same pace it did before, as if sure of its inevitable victory in catching up and consuming everything, no matter how far away or how hard they tried to escape.
Once far enough, he picked up a sizable rock—small enough to fit in his palm but big enough to retain some momentum—and threw it into the darkness. Just as he expected, it merely disappeared just when it would hit the border. Not the slightest of sound emanated, so he knew it did not fall and hit the ground beyond. He might as well cast the stone into an endless pit.
He studied the darkness again. But he saw nothing—nothing but the same pure darkness that swallowed up the sky. Part of him was curious—almost excited by—this unnatural darkness. After years or who knows how long of the perpetual mundaneness in this prison, punctuated only intermittently by uncontrollable bursts of madness, this darkness—or perhaps the implied finality of it—would have been the resolution that he had sought for.
But that was before her.
“Let us move quickly now,” he said to Xinjuan as they started running in full speed. With the darkness so near, even the miniscule brain behind those Tormented creatures could recognize a bigger threat than them two.
28-02-2012, 10:48 #47
i'm back to my old habits of reading people's stories while at work!
great story! i like how you mesh the setting with the characters' moods and feelings. you do it very naturally!
i'm pressing F5, but nothing happens. hehehe!
01-03-2012, 23:06 #48
But thank you for reading and the kind words! This helps motivate me to make time and effort to continue this.
16-04-2012, 10:15 #49
Unfortunately, one would be wrong to attribute logic to such brainless creatures. For not long after the two had started running at full speed, the crunch of pebbles below their feet, the thump of the steps, and the rhythmic vibrations immediately alerted the sleeping demons that were perpetually listening for motion. And sure enough, once they were awakened, the ground around them crackled and split open. Soon came the sharp pincers—then the exoskeletal limbs attached to them—they jutted out from the fresh crevices. Like immense fingers, the tips of the pincers curled in and quickly stabbed effortlessly into the stone ground as if it were soft mud. Once the fingers anchored themselves onto the neighboring grounds to get enough leverage, they pushed down and lifted the larger carapaces up onto the surface. Once out, the creatures sensed the two lone figures dashing through the barren landscape and wasted no time to start pursuing them as predators would their prey.
Alert as always, Shiro noticed from the corner of his eyes the dust clouds whipped up by the clumsy creatures as they pursued the two. For the time being, they were well ahead of the creatures. If they could maintain their speed, they may stay clear of the pursuers. For himself, this wasn't a problem. But for her—
As if she too realized what he was wondering, her eyes matched his. “I am sorry, Tagachi,” she panted, “I cannot maintain this pace for long.”
He quickly surveyed the area and found that the area around them was relatively flat and cleared of any obstructions. It would be a neutral battlefield. The creatures had the numbers, but he had the might. With some support, he could easily handle them. But he was not with his trusty Shiro'ken; he had only one elementalist with no healing. He started to entertain the idea of letting her run while he stayed behind.
Just then he saw in the horizon ahead a few shadows in the air. Initially little more than vague aberrations in the skyline, the darkness slowly became more defined silhouettes. He couldn't help but smirked as he recognized them. “Do not worry,” he turned to her. “Just cover your ears.” He planted his feet on the ground and slid on the pebbles to a stop and took a deep breath. Then he let out a loud yell with his palms cupping his mouth as if to guide the sound forward. Even with her hands covering her ears, Xinjuan felt a residual ringing in the ears long afterwards.
Xinjuan remained confused for a moment before she noticed, in the distance ahead of them, a collection of airborne creatures were flapping their wings. She then slowed to a stop and eyed the creatures. Now that she was stationary, she could tell that they were unmistakeably heading toward them. Winged creatures of considerable size—she made them out to be—whose width across outstretched wings would possibly span the height of five men. Obviously they weren't human, but she had no reference to any creature of that form.
“Some of the Shiro'kens in the forward flank,” Shiro explained. “Rest and gather your strength. My forces will join us in time, as they now know where we are. Until then, we only need to hold the demons off long enough.”
Just as how he taught her, she positioned herself ten paces behind Shiro. While being mindful of the flock of giant winged creatures approaching from the distance behind her, for now she did her best to focus her main attention to the incoming Tormented creatures before them.
After surveying the area, Shiro drew one of his blades slowly from its sheath on his back and extended his other arm slightly. He made a fist, and she recognized that as a signal to prepare for earth-oriented spells. Closing her eyes, she started a preparatory spell.
This place is nothing but earth-friendly, Xinjuan thought as she felt the surge of energy building up inside her as she adjusted her body to the earth. The area started to resonate to her natural rhythm as she was with it. She felt the oscillation in her heart extending outwards to the tips of her fingers and her feet and beyond. A small but noticeable whirlpool of dust and loose gravel spun around them as her body elevated about an arm's length off the ground. She felt the flow of energy rising from the ground around her into her body and flowing through her to rise up high in the sky to finally circling around back to the earth. With each pass, the energy gained momentum until the energy surge through her was all but overwhelming. All the energy of the earth was ready at her command.
Last edited by Qin Li; 16-04-2012 at 10:18.
06-07-2012, 08:30 #50
The indistinct rumbling in the background soon emerged as ponderous stomping of the incoming demons. Unlike organized armies, the placement of these creatures were random, with the front wave consisting of those that happened to move faster than the others behind them. Ironically, these ended up being the more fragile but relatively more agile magic casters with lighter armor and weaponry. A normal formation of forces, Shiro thought, would have cordons of heavy infantry in front, both to overwhelm enemy resistance and also withstand the initial barrages of the enemy's might, followed then by bowmen and spearmen to provide cover for the front lines, perhaps sharing some space with well placed magic casters and healers and protectors who would leverage the relatively shielded positions to provide support for the rest. In contrast, the support capability for these creatures, would be inconsistent at best.
Now the bad news: the imposing size of this force facing him. This was one of the larger groups--at least five or six hundred creatures, based on what he could see and the thickness of the dust cloud behind them. With a group this size, and particularly with their ability to indefinitely summon more as a battle progresses, it was a matter of time before they would overrun him. Shiro knew the benefit of an overwhelming force and its ability to compensate for lack of tactics and discipline, as he himself was the embodiment of this quality numerous times. Many armies, with their impeccable coordination and tactical strategies, fell just as same before him and his Shiro'ken army. This time, it seemed, the advantage was on the other side. Looking again toward the back, the airborne Shiro'ken were still quite a distance away.
And they would be exhausted by the time they arrive. The answer was clear: he had to get her out of here.
“Run toward the Shiro'ken as fast as you can!” he shouted to Xinjuan on top of the increasingly loud trampling of the approaching demons. “I will stay and hold them off!”
Initially puzzled, Xinjuan saw the sternness in his eyes and got the message. But not without helping you first. Closing her eyes, she crossed her arms against her chest and started beckoning the energy around her. Soon, her body was lifted up from the ground by a gust of wind converging beneath her. Then abruptly, her arms and legs sprang out spread eagle. And immediately in a circle of about twenty paces all around Shiro, a ring of brilliant orbs of light, glowing and pulsating brightly in blinding gold.
“A ward to protect you!” she yelled and then started running.
A bright aura trailed her briefly as she slowly faded from view, and her figure then quickly disappeared into the dust in her wake. She had used some spell to boost her speed, he realized.
“Good girl,” he said to himself. High above her waning shadow, the Shiro'kens were slowly coming into focus.
All that was needed now was to slow these demons down and signal the incoming help where he was. There was no way for him to inform the Shiro'ken that the lone Xinjuan heading toward them was friendly, but perhaps if they knew where he wanted them, they would focus on his target and leave everything else.
And so Shiro couldn't wait for the demons to get to him; instead he held onto his blades tight and started charging toward into the incoming wave of darkness. He would benefit from her wards some other day.
With a leap and a yell, the swath of his blade decapitated the first demon before his feet landed. Immediately, fluids gushed out from the severed carapace and splattered onto the ground, covering a good part of Shiro's arm.
Shiro was glad he got to take a break from all the cowering and running lately. An odd feeling of liberation came over him as he swung his blades. High-pitched shrieks cried out from the demons all around him. Were they cries of pain, anger, death? Those that didn't know would assume so, but the vision streams told him otherwise. Through his inchoate ability to tap into comprehend the streams, not only was he beginning to sense the mood of these demons in some abstract way, but he felt he was actually starting to sense the creatures' communication with each other. Oddly, although he had dealt with these creatures before when they both served Abaddon, he had not much bothered to conversing with them, as he would have nothing to do with them. He preferred and trusted his own Shiro'ken, of course. And only now, while he was fighting against them, together with the new—if not entirely controllable—streams of knowledge bombarding him, he found that he was beginning to know these creatures.
They did not feel pain, he sensed. He wasn't sure if they were even capable of that sensation. As he fought with them, he found that their shrieks did not actually coincide with the damage he was inflicting on them. Sever an arm of any creature, for instance, did not cause any response aurally. Likewise, after inflicting damage that would send any man crying with pain, he had found no similar reaction from the creatures. The shrieks came, in fact, in no correlation with the blows that he landed. In the heat and confusion of close-quarter battle, others would have assumed that any such shrieks were analogous to cries of human soldiers in battle. With his speed and awareness—not to mention that he was not in any danger, as this was not a battle yet but more a slaughter—Shiro perhaps had the best chance to study the fighting behavior of these creatures.
And like harvesting crop with a scythe, Shiro cut down these creatures as fast as he could, giving them little chance to retaliate. If there were men present to witness the fight, they would perceive confusion among the creatures and a fast shadow moving between them, leaving behind it a path of severed limbs and decapitated bodies.
After about a handful above a hundred kills, just as he was maintaining a good pace of progress through the creatures, as if diving into a body of water, he suddenly crossed a dense barrier in the air that slowed him down. Despite how much effort he put into it, he was no longer moving as the wind as before; his movements were now not much faster than that of an average human. Then came the sensation of thousands of tiny needles pricking his skin. It was that weird sensation of coldness again, he realized. This was not, however, a cool and pleasant sensation as snowflakes melting on his skin but a significantly more intense bite of coldness.
It was some water hex, he realized. With his speed, it took only a small fraction of time for him to move about and inflict fatal damage to the demons. However, even the infinitesimal fractions add up. And when they did, some lucky caster in the rear caught him with a water spell. Against this hex, he was still able to fend off the melee attacks, and because of the close proximity, he was relatively safe from projectiles. Because that he was snared, however, he remained a relatively easy target for more spells. Before long, he would be slowed until his blades turn ineffective, not to mention the constant pain levied on him.
As he contemplated this, an inexplicable sense of dread rose within him. A sense of claustrophobia, a feeling of helplessness, and a sigh of trepidation.
But he knew of this trick of the mind: it was some illusion, most likely a hex from a mesmer. And since mesmers were involved, their illusions could cause him to harm only himself with any offensive moves. Oh how he could use a healer at this time, he thought. Without one, however, the best thing to do was wait for recovery and for the hex to wear off. Quickly withdrawing his blades, he shut his eyes and started to meditate.
Meditation of the Reaper
A sphere enveloped him and raised him up into the air. He took a sitting position and kept his eyes closed, ignoring the muffled bangs and clashes of the assault from the demons now gathered around and below the sphere.
Shiro focused his attention into a point in the dark immediately in front of him, channeling all his thoughts in that imaginary spot before him. He had attempted this meditation many times before, so much so that it was effortless to him.
Until this time.
The continual flooding of the thought streams, now a chronic condition of his mind, was tearing Shiro's concentration apart as a bright fire would blind its observers in the dark of night. Despite his best attempts to purge his mind of distractions, it was impossible for him to concentrate. As each attempt to quell the thundering streams became itself a distraction, layered upon previous layers, soon it became impossible to remain concentrated.
His legs dropped and touched down as the sphere dissipated. Before he could open his eyes, his feet felt movement below them. He was in fact not on solid ground but on top of a couple of demons' backs. They were as surprised as he was, and for an awkward moment, everyone was baffled. Soon enough, one of the demons swung its scythe toward him. As expected, the blade finally cut through empty air but the time it reached Shiro's shadow. Several paces away, jumping around on top of the creatures, Shiro moved quickly from creature to creature to get out of harm's way as he drew out his blades again.
Suddenly, he was smitten by an invisible force again, slowing down his movements. Another hex, he thought. A spear shot up from below and caught him off guard. The sharp thin blade pierced his right arm, torn into the muscle and out the other side, spilling red fluids from the two wounds. It was a long time since he last felt physical pain, and the sensation was as agonizing and invigorating as he remembered. This demon was one of the more evolved and knew enough to give a little and hold on to the spear and kept it lodged in his arm between the bones, then swung it toward Shiro's backside, hooking onto Shiro's arm and causing him enough acute pain to let go of the blade from his hand. Then the demon on which he was standing on ducked and rolled forward abruptly, and the loss of balance threw Shiro onto the ground. As was his natural reaction to avoid any more trauma on his wounded and locked right arm, he raised his arm as he fell to avoid pulling against the spear.
Despite the pain, he quickly bounced up and swung his left blade around to clear a small area immediately around him, lest any demons decide to approach him for the kill. His right arm was still incapacitated by the spear, as it was the type that had a hooked blade that curved backward, designed to catch onto its target in precisely the way it was doing now. This was going to be a liability, Shiro realized. Gnashing his teeth, he lunged along the length of the spear toward its owner. Before the demon had a chance to react, Shiro's left blade had sliced off its head, releasing yet more fluids that splashed onto Shiro's face, momentarily blinding him.
A blunt force then struck him, and the next thing he knew, he was on his back several paces away. While blood poured out profusely, at least his arm was now free.
Slowed by hex, he swung his left blade around in circular motions to remind the demons foolish enough to approach that he was still fully capable of cutting through limbs. As he stood up, the surrounding demons seemed to have gotten the message and stayed cleared of him while maintaining a good three paces' radius about him, weapons raised as if ready to strike. They walked in a circle around him, shrieking and hissing as if discussing what to do next. As they walked, they seemed oblivious of the remains of their dead, stepping over on top of the bodies and severed limbs and descending back onto the ground as necessary.
Sweat rolled down his forehead, over his eyebrows, and into his eyes, blurring his vision. His eyes burned with determination and, with the boiling adrenaline fueling his strength, he grunted and started into the creatures. A clash of metals, then the crunchy sound of bones and carapaces cracking followed his path as he sliced a small trail into the mass that was the demon crowd surrounding him earlier. As more and more bodies fell around him, he had to step up and climb over them in order to move on. And they were just as ready to do so in order to engage him. Soon they found themselves no longer fighting on the ground but on an increasingly high mound of body parts and corpses. Balance was difficult to maintain in this ever shifting surface, as the bodies would shift and give into the weight above them, so getting a good support for a powerful swing was increasingly difficult to achieve. A few times the creatures' weapons contacted Shiro but lacked the force to do little to him. His own blade also didn't make as many clean slices through the creatures as before. Either from fatigue or lack of leverage, or perhaps both, the fight was getting tiring. Only the demons didn't show it. Shiro, on the other hand, was starting to breathe heavily, with a seemingly endless stream of blood pouring out his right arm.
Damned if he were to be taken down by these maggots, he thought to himself. And the fight continued on as the Shiro'ken closed in.