A keening wail cut through the silence of the rain-washed night, carrying with it the despair and hysteria of its originator. Without giving a thought to the danger she was in, Risa ignored the presence of their assailant and dropped down to the ground, holding her dying brother in her embrace.
Falling to her knees in the muddy earth cradling his cooling body, she ineffectually tried to stanch the massive hollow in Ryuugen’s chest. His heart was gone. One of his lungs shredded beyond repair. His body was cooling, the last light in his eyes dwindling away taking Risa’s hope along with it.
Her contract tingled as it withered away, the slight pain a thousand times more severe in her heart than even the deadliest of wounds. She would have preferred to be flayed alive rather than witness this. Her brother, her twin, her man fading away in her arms and she helpless to resist. Never had she hated herself more. Why did she only focus on battle-prowess? Why were all her Aspects geared towards increasing the destructiveness and lethality of her attacks? What use were they when they couldn’t protect the most important person in her life, when they couldn’t cure his wound.
Ryuugen tried to speak, the blood filling his throat choking his words. His jaw worked desperately, tears gathering at the corners of his eyes as his hand clutched his sister’s arm as a drowning man would a floating plank. From infancy to maturity, it had always been his sister who had solved the problems he was helpless against. When his strategy and diplomacy failed, she had always turned everything around with her fist.
Now, trapped in the terrifying abyss between life and death, sinking into the bog of eldritch darkness dragged down by countless shadow hands, his subconscious made him seek for her assistance yet again.
Even if he couldn’t get the words out, his lips made his plea clear.
“Save me!” Each syllable a whiplash on Risa’s heart.
Her eyes blurred with tears, she failed to notice the widening of Ryuugen’s eyes, the increased urgency in the motion of his jaw as a huge, grotesque, humanoid chimaera loomed over her, rising from the shadows behind her.
Tendrils of shadow permeated Ryuugen’s body from the wound, spreading like a fire in a summer prairie until they encroached upon his glazed pupils, robbing him of the last of his sight.
Risa’s hands fell to her sides powerlessly as she stared in abject horror as the body of her brother collapsed inwards like an empty shell, the shadows eating his flesh away. Dark spots appeared on his collapsed skin and corroded it away like several matchsticks held under a sheet of parchment. A sudden gust of wind blew the last of his ashes away, leaving a clothed skeleton in her grasp.
Hollow sockets stared at her from a bone-white skull. Accusing.
Her world collapsed around her.
Even when a large clawed hand clamped down on her head, nearly covering all of it, she didn’t respond. But when the hand began to clamp down, causing her skull to creak and the sharp claws to slice into the skin of her face, the severe pain awakened a spark within her. A white-hot spark of anger, resentment and renunciation.
The entirety of her mana surged like a tsunami rushing towards her mindscape walls to dash them, break them open and blast out into the world in the purest form of destruction. She wanted to detonate herself, taking their killer along with her into the afterlife – or, at least severely injuring him so he wouldn’t be able to escape the grasp of the coming reinforcements.
Her crackling mana slammed into the walls of her mindscape but instead of shattering them, it flowed back without any results as a golden brilliance protected the walls. The backlash caused her thoughts to fall into turmoil and two streams of blood to flow down her nose.
“Mana… block…” she gritted out through clenched teeth.
Nura didn’t answer, clenching his fist instead. With a light sound, her head split like a watermelon, scattering blood and brain-fluid everywhere. And just like that, the one hailed as the strongest Tier 4 in a century perished on foreign soil.
The signature technique of the Oni clan had helped him out in this instance, allowing him to reinforce the walls of her mindscape otherwise he wasn’t sure he would have been able to suppress the full force of her detonating the entirety of her remaining mana.
He let go of the headless corpse, letting it fall atop the clothed skeleton. Diverging his Abyssal Mask, he stared up at the sky with draconic eyes having vertical pupils that swirled with six colours. With Ryuugen’s death, the sealing technique had lost its anchor and slowly diverged, releasing the smoke contained within. It was his smoke clone.
If he hadn’t been discrete and swapped his real body with the clone taking advantage of the water net to block Ryuugen’s detection spell, he would have been caught within it and things would have played out very differently. No Tier 4 mage could be underestimated – especially not those who were trained as elites since birth.
A severe ache ran through his entire body, causing him to shiver uncontrollably. Breathing hard, he cancelled his Feral transformation and his monstrous body shrank back into itself, reforming into an unclad Hominum. Reaching into his shadow, he pulled out a hooded robe and swiftly donned it before making his way away from the scene.
The Kirin reinforcements were coming soon and he wasn’t in any state to deal with them. His transformation had a time limit and severe consequences. It would take either several months of recuperation or the a few sessions with the best healers to bring him back into top fighting shape.
But the first step of his plan had finally been set into motion… he looked towards the south, towards his homeland.
‘Wait for me.’
Sneaking back into the city, he made his way through the alleys to the abandoned bar he had arrived at, too tired to shadow walk there directly.
Entering through the backdoor, he went into the basement and drew shadow mana into the mind crystal fragment he had that was linked to Chusei’s. At the same time, he gathered a six-coloured sphere of the ambient mana in his hand containing mana of all the elements.
Just as he reached his limit, a foreign mana caught onto his signal and dark fire poured out of the crystal. It covered his entire body and he disappeared on the spot as though he had been burnt out of the world.
Only the six-coloured sphere of mana remained floating in the air. Losing its support, it destabilized and blasted out, blowing a gale through the room that caused all the accumulated dust to fill the air. When the dust finally settled, no traces of the unique mana were left behind. The only questionable thing remaining was the perfectly hemispherical crater where the teleportation formation had been.