Author's Notes: This is a project I've wanted to do for a long time, turning The World into a real place. All the internet/technology-based things have been replaced with magical/supernatural ones, and I'd like to more deeply explore The World's locations, mythology and characters as the story progresses. I hope you enjoy it, but if not then I'm always open to concrit. Thanks to my beta readers, Shinkirou Hana and Sorasusi.
Haseo scanned the field, checked the number of bodies sprawled over bloodied grass and earth. Nine, ten? That accounted for everyone: all the bandits he'd taken out, plus the travellers they'd ambushed before he arrived on the scene (for no obvious reason; it didn't look like they'd had valuable goods). Bones broken, weapons smashed, nobody a threat anymore; he was the last one standing, with just a few bruises under his armour. Now, time for some questions.
The gang leader was a dark-skinned woman, collapsed but still conscious (hell, he knew exactly how conscious she was; she'd tried a surprise attack on him moments before). He levelled his scythe at her, and asked, "Do you know Tri-Edge?"
"Tri-Edge?" she repeated, glaring up at him.
"He's a legendary warrior, or maybe a demon. They say he cuts his victims' souls right out of their bodies, leaves them in a state worse than death." It was more than legend or rumour, it was an ice-cold fact. And no matter how many times he repeated it in hard, emotionless tones, it still stirred a pang of hurt inside, a wound that couldn't heal over. But he dealt with it.
"What? Come on, don't tell me you believe that," the woman scoffed. She gave a sharp, hacking laugh, wiped her mouth on the back of her gauntlet and left a smear of blood on the metal. "It's a fairytale to frighten little kids! So I guess it makes sense you'd believe it – what are you, fourteen?" Haseo tensed, wondering if she'd be dumb enough to try another last-ditch attack. But she stayed put, just shooting him scathing looks.
"That's all you've got?"
"No way! You think you can go against me, the great Bordeaux, and just walk away like nothing happened?" Stupid woman. These people got together to spread some pointless misery, and they thought that made them special somehow? They thought that made them important? Haseo'd never heard of 'the great Bordeaux' before, and would be happy if he never did again.
She wasn't hiding any useful information, he decided, so there was no point letting things drag on. He spun the scythe around, smashed her bluntly over the head with its handle. She slumped to the ground. Not dead, probably, but not getting up anytime soon.
"…Yeah, I think I can," he added, with an unkind smirk. He'd been tormented enough by people like her in his life; it was only natural to get a sense of satisfaction when the tables turned. He'd tried rising above stuff like this, petty violence and revenge, but that had gotten him nowhere, in the end. This was the only way to save Shino, he was convinced of it.
He had a dark, nagging feeling that she might be upset, to see him in this state, but tried to shove that out of his mind. Even if she would, it couldn't be helped.
He stalked past the bodies, away from this battlefield. One of Bordeaux's victims had survived, was kneeling over a friend and trying to wake him, a faint glow of healing magic around them. Well, that was a bonus. Haseo's main goal wasn't to be some knight in shining armour – he'd already failed on the shining part, anyway - but he didn't like seeing innocent people die. He cast a quick Repth in their direction, but didn't speak, and didn't stop walking.
Atoli couldn't believe her luck. Things like this never happened to her - or if they did, she didn't hold onto them for long. But maybe this would be different. Maybe this time, it was okay to build her hopes up.
She'd been at the waterfront when she met him. Not doing much, sitting in a quiet place where she wouldn't get in anyone's way (she was tired of being yelled at for getting in the way). Sometimes she brought scraps of food for the seagulls, but she'd made some canal workers angry last time she did that, because they thought the birds were pests. So today she'd just been sitting, amongst coarse coils of mooring rope and weather-softened wood. Gazing into the ocean, wondering what it would be like to fall, simply slip under quietly and dissolve. Just wondering. She didn't want to die, but… Nobody would miss her, if she wasn't here.
Then a voice interrupted her thoughts. A kind, refined voice, belonging to a man with eye-catching clothes and long green hair. He asked if she was okay there, all by herself. She'd burst into tears.
And now here she was, sitting in this lovely tea shop with low tables and red paper lanterns, feeling humbled and overwhelmingly grateful as he spoke to her. He belonged to an organisation called Moon Tree – surely she'd heard of it? She nodded, taking small sips of tea so it didn't burn her mouth, being careful not to spill it on the expensive-looking cushions. Everybody knew the name Moon Tree, but she hadn't known just how wonderful it was until he explained. They saw themselves as servants of the people, fighting tyranny and protecting the innocent. Wasn't it awful, how criminals got away with looting and murder in the wilderness, even menacing people on the streets of this very city? Mac Anu was meant to be the peak of human civilisation, so surely they should be above this. Moon Tree was dedicated to making this world a better, fairer place. Any reasonable soul should be able to support their goals.
Atoli nodded along, wanting to show how reasonable, and supportive, and interested she was. Moon Tree wasn't a charity, Sakaki explained, but a few small fees here and there were nothing, compared to the peace of mind they provided. Their organisation was expanding, gaining more followers all the time. Moon Tree was a warm and welcoming family, accepting people from all walks of life.
Every word he said was so sincere; she could tell he truly believed in this cause. By the time he asked if she'd like to join, she was completely sold. There was no pressure, he insisted, she didn't have to make a commitment until she'd met some other members, seen more of what they did firsthand. But she already knew she'd join. Something she could be a part of, somewhere she could be useful. She'd try her very best to win his approval, prove him right to have seen worth in her.
This was a day that would change her life, she knew it. Sakaki was the person she'd been waiting for.
"And it's Endrance who emerges victorious, the lone wolf warrior with a deadly bite! Once again he's beaten the odds, taking another step closer to challenging the Emperor!" Amplified by some trick of magic, the announcer's voice echoed through the vast spaces of Demon Palace. All the latest technology was arrayed here to dazzle and impress; Endrance didn't know how those giant screens worked, or what caused the illusion that the arena was floating above a dark sea of mist. Those details didn't matter to him. He saw the ugliness in this place's core.
He'd lived in Lumina Cross all his life, but never had much interest in the arenas. Many children nursed dreams of growing up to be a famous Emperor, but he'd never been like other children. Timid and shy, hating the sight of blood, flinching from the noise and explosive aggression. The few times he'd been dragged along there by his father, he'd cried and been scolded for it. Weak, pathetic little boy.
Well, his family would be happy now, he supposed. But that meant absolutely nothing. The screaming crowds meant nothing, as the announcer continued to sing his praises. The blood of fallen opponents meant nothing, spattering the hem of his white robe, collecting in the shallow grooves of designs that covered the arena floor. He tried to spill as little of it as possible, but it didn't upset him like it used to. He felt numb, indifferent to everything. Everything but Her.
She'd risen from the dead for him, and now he'd do all he could in return. Prove that he could protect Her from anything, become stronger than anyone else. This time he would be worthy. They'd never be parted again, not for a single moment.
He knew that some people would find it offensive, comparing someone of the Beast race to an actual cat. But the cat was Her. He could feel it, the unique warmth of Her soul, the only thing that could soothe his loneliness. If this was the only form She could take to reconnect with him now, he couldn't complain. It didn't matter that She was smaller, that She couldn't speak, joke and tease him the way She used to. He always understood what She wanted, anyway. And right now She was proud of him, Her gentle purr music to his ears as she perched on his shoulder. So delicate and light, and so graceful that she never lost her balance or hindered him in battle. She was pleased he'd done this, felt safe with him. That was all he needed.
Soon he'd be Demon Palace Emperor, not for the sake of fame or prestige, the riches or fawning admirers. Only for Her, always.