Nova jumped off Sirius’s motorcycle as soon as it slowed enough to allow it without bone-shattering danger and barrelled through the front door of the Storm family’s house.

It had been a while since she’d visited.

She’d moved out to her lighthouse near the capital a bit more than a year ago, to make it more convenient to commute to the six different part-time jobs she’d simultaneously taken up – and to her therapist, too. Thus, she became an apprentice tailor, smith – using an old forge and everything, rather than more modern metalworking techniques, carpenter, architect, jeweler, and cook. Of course, since she had neither credentials nor education – not even elementary education, as far as official records were concerned – it had taken a healthy helping of money to convince each of these artisans to take in a potentially useless girl and teach her their respective craft.

Edea’s international calendar was a bit different from Earth’s; it worked with six days a week, four weeks a month, fourteen months a year, with sometimes a leap day or two at the end of the year to account for the planet’s orbit around its sun. With those six days, Nova barely managed to arrange a convenient rotation where she worked at a different place every day. It made her schedule somewhat cramped, but at least she was never bored.Continue reading

Sirius took the last turn down Altera’s famous Independence Street, where tens of thousands of citizens gathered to celebrate Altera wresting its newfound sovereignty from Amidonia’s hands, 159 years ago. In accordance with its reputation as a tourist destination, the place was quite picturesque, with buildings and houses of a distinctly different, quainter architectural style than the rest of the capital.

Sirius wasn’t a tourist, though, and his destination wasn’t Independence Street.

He continued until he found himself following the shoreline of Lake Baikan. Altera – the city, not the country – was built on the westernmost point of Lake Baikan, one of the most massive bodies of freshwater in the world. Most of the lake’s surface area wasn’t on even alteran soil, but instead stretched all the way from Altera to the middle-western highlands of Amidonia, bridging over the border between the two countries. It too was a tourist destination, and it too was picturesque.

Sirius was no more a tourist now than when he crossed Independence Street, but his destination was indeed Lake Baikan.Continue reading

“She shall be honored as a martyr put to death by these heinous criminals, enemies of both humans and majin and reviled by all. Never will we submit to their repulsive designs! No matter where these cowards may hide, they shall be found, and they shall be destroyed to the very last!”

I listen to the child’s ridiculous speech as he extols the virtues of his dead sister and condemns the evils of, well, me. The contents enter in one ear and leave out the other, but I take great care to carve the face and voice of the speaker in my memory, for future reference.

The son of Wayland Adkins.

There will come a day when I drown him in his own blood.Continue reading

I walk quietly through Pamthen, looking around at the rowdy warriors everywhere, drinking themselves silly, picking fights against all and sundry, and generally being a bunch of insufferable assholes.

Pretty much like any warrior anywhere, really.

Right now, I’m not wearing my usual form. I currently look like a stout, old, matronly human woman, with wiry gray hair. I have large muscles and wide shoulders and a battle-scarred, ferocious face. I’m ugly enough that even a drunk, blind idiot wouldn’t even consider touching me. Which is just as I want it, of course. If I appeared in my true appearance in this place, I’d end up in a back alley somewhere with a string of guys taking turns to fuck me, no matter my protests.

As it is, my way is peaceful. The people I see, contestants of this meaningless pissing contest of a tournament along with their attendants and their spectators, all ignore me like I don’t even exist. I take a swig from the bottle of cheap rum I swiped from the ship earlier and enjoy the feeling of the chilly breeze cooling my face flushed from alcohol.Continue reading

“Your clothes are very strange, Miss Akasha. I can’t see any seams at all,” Sirona says, matching her steps to mine and letting Jasper lead the way in front of us. “May I ask where you found them?”

Her interest was piqued when I reached for the black collar around my neck and reshaped my suit. I only added a hood to it. The hood can’t really hide my eyes since my horn prevents it from falling too low, but it should adequately conceal both of my sets of ears. I refused to attach a cape or cloak to my back, though. If I’m going to fight in this tournament, I don’t want any such thing interfering with my movements and providing opportunities for my opponents to grab me. As for whether people question if I’m truly an oni or not, like Jasper feared… well, I’ll let him deal with that. Leaving my tail in full view kind of defeats the purpose of adding the hood in the first place, but I don’t care. I only made a token effort to hide my species so that Jasper would shut up about it.

[…I found it in a Tower.]

“A tower?” Sirona repeats dubiously. “Where was this tower?”Continue reading

Since there is no point in hanging below the ship’s hull any longer, I let go and sink to the bottom of the harbor. I stay underwater, since many witnesses are walking around on the surface and I prefer to remain undetected, and go sit in a corner, where one of the piers meets land.

I wait until night falls and most of the dock workers go to sleep before getting to my feet. Slowly, I crawl up the wall and breach the surface. I peek over the edge of the wharf, making sure that no one can see me, then climb up, putting foot on the Island itself. My wet hair sticks to my body, and my tail feels heavy and uncomfortable, and there’s water in my ears. None of that bothered me when I was still underwater, but now that I’m back on dry land, I find that it’s quite a bother.

<Shake yourself. Doggy.>

I glance at Sanae, her tiny form skittering back and forth next to my feet. Her wet, black-metal body glistens under the moonlight.Continue reading

The Island stands something like 200 kilometers away from the Frontline’s coast. The trip can be made by boat, but it’s essential to follow a very specific path to avoid reefs, dangerous currents, and violent sea creatures.

A skilled captain can always deal with the first two, but the third will be the most troublesome. Both humans and majin find it difficult to fight to their best over- and underwater. Added to that is the increased ferocity and territoriality of sea beasts – to say nothing of sea demons – and the problem finds itself compounded.

All these factors make the Betwixt Sea, along with every other ocean on Caldera, practically impassable, save for very narrow channels. Even on those so-called safe channels, too much traffic will undoubtedly attract sea monsters. This all means the Island is a place where transporting any sizeable army without prohibitive expense is downright impossible, which makes it an ideal neutral ground. Both sides can only bring a very limited number of troops – not enough to threaten each other effectively.

That’s also why it ended up selected as the venue for the Inter-Species Competition.Continue reading

That put something of a damper on the whole ‘let’s cooperate amicably’ thing Wieslaw and Sirius had got going, but Nova didn’t regret saying it. She leaned back into her seat. ‘Just making things clear. Don’t want misunderstandings, do we?’

“Ah, sure…” Wieslaw said.

Sirius looked only mildly surprised at the verbal violence – he probably didn’t take it too seriously – but Wieslaw seemed more profoundly affected. It most likely didn’t mean that he was actually afraid of Nova or anything like that, but perhaps he wasn’t used to receiving death threats that rung true? A potentially significant weakness in his otherwise beneficial trait. If certain truths could disturb or disable him at a critical moment, it might be something Nova could use, if she ever needed to.

In any case, since she’d delivered her intentions, there was no need for her to reiterate her point. She continued with her next question. ‘Any information on the trials?’Continue reading

At Wieslaw’s unexpected question, all the fun Nova’d been having picking on Sirius earlier was instantly dispelled, like she’d been suddenly dunked in a tub of ice-cold water.

Though it wasn’t exactly the question which was unexpected, but rather its timing. Nova knew the subject would come up at one point or another. If nothing else, Aaron and Marian would want to know where Sirius’s unusual strength, which had been caught crystal-clear on camera, came from. They might not have pressed the point, yet, but Nova was sure they wouldn’t commit themselves to anything big without having some questions answered. Thus, it stood to reason that at least some part of the truth about the two boys would soon come to light.

What she hadn’t expected was that they would be the one to make the first move and try to get the truth about her. And at such a time, too, in the middle of a crowd, barely a minute and a half after greeting each other for the first time…

Fortunately, on this occasion, Nova’s mandatory expressionlessness was a blessing. Not a single inkling of the shock she felt inwardly ever made it onto her face.

The world around her slowed to a crawl as her brain went into overdrive.Continue reading

Sirius watched the landscape scroll past as he sat comfortably in the sidecar of Nova’s motorcycle. The thing was unquestionably a luxury item, which probably cost more than Sirius’s whole house in Verizen. Not only did Sirius have enough room to stretch his legs, but a small control screen in front of him also allowed him to deploy a roof over his head or a windshield in front of him, the latter of which doubled as an augmented reality display, turn on a heater embedded in his seat… The sidecar was probably equipped with a few machine guns and an ejector seat, too.

And there was even a beautiful woman to keep him company. Really, the only thing lacking during this trip was conversation, because the beautiful woman in question happened to be mute.

Sirius glanced to the side at Nova’s profile. She was focused on the road, her face still locked in the same blank, emotionless mask as always. At first, Sirius had thought he had done something to earn her ire, but he eventually realized that the issue didn’t come from him, because she offered the same icy countenance to even her family members. According to Lynn Storm, Nova’s sister and Sirius’s most… talkative… source of inside intel on the Storm family, Nova’s facial muscles had been paralyzed since birth. In other words, just because she wasn’t smiling didn’t mean she was angry at him.

And so, Sirius had taken the first step and started a conversation with her. He’d been somewhat surprised to discover that she was rather easy to talk to. The only difficulty was that he sometimes had to make an effort to understand what she wanted to say, since she rarely bothered to speak whole sentences.Continue reading