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 docks 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 dock, 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

Is this an offensive formation or is it just supposed to trap me in here until someone strong enough can catch up and kill me?

And just when I was thinking I’d successfully escaped Alsomn, too…

Well, no matter what, this isn’t good. I need to get out of this formation. It shouldn’t be too difficult, I think, but I don’t want to take this lightly. Some formations can be truly lethal, even to the highest-ranked gods.

The easiest way out would be to kill the caster of this formation.Continue reading

I look down the hole in the mountainside.

Far below, the residential district of Alsomn lies, its surface pockmarked by the debris of AK-A-13’s exit from the tunnels. A good part of these tunnels is now in ruins. The room that contained the demon-sealing stone is unrecognizable. The frozen and shattered corpses of the palace’s guards litter the grounds everywhere; it’ll most likely be impossible to piece them back together again for a decent funeral.

And the city really suffered, too. From here, it doesn’t look like much. Only a few irregular spots breaking the maze of streets and alleys below. But I’m sure that, at ground level, the devastation is another spectacle altogether.

How many people died beneath these boulders? They were peacefully sleeping alongside their loved ones, their families, when all of a sudden, disaster struck. How many parents lost their children? How many wives lost their husband? How many households lost all their possessions, crushed beneath the stone?Continue reading

“Fuuu… Haaa… Fuuu…”

The room is utterly silent save for the sound of my breathing. In and out, regularly. Carefully controlled as I bear the strain my training puts on me.

With each inhalation, the amount of qi in my dantian replenishes. I then immediately send it flowing into my meridians. Once it’s evenly distributed throughout my whole body, I let it slowly seep into my muscles, my bones, my flesh, my organs. Stabs of pain shoot out as all my cells tremble. Beads of sweat, sometimes tinted red with blood, leak out of my pores. My brows crease and my teeth clench as I bear with this suffering.

But it’s worth it. Each cycle strengthens me minutely.Continue reading

Piles upon piles of papers are stacked in front of me.

Yet none of them contain what I seek.

No mention of Nerys at all in any of the records held by the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce, even though they do reach more than 300 years into the past. I even enlisted the help of the human man who opened the door to explain to me the filing system used to order the papers and then help my search.

But nothing.Continue reading

I watch through Akasha’s senses as the wall approaches in front of her eyes, almost faster than I can see. I understood what she intended to do while she ran through the tunnels for the first time, but I still can’t help but flinch when she slams into the wall. I feel cold sweat on my brow at her recklessness, but Akasha herself is imperturbable. There is absolutely no hesitation, not even a tiny scrap of fear or anxiety to be seen in her demeanor. She seems perfectly confident that, if she uses herself as a cannonball against that mountain, the mountain will be the one to shatter first.

As it turns out, she’s right.

In a single instant, she plows through a dozen meters of solid stone, shaking the entire mountain and coming out the other side, into the open air, free-falling toward the city of Alsomn below.

(Unbelievable…)Continue reading

I fling the metal door so fast it only leaves a blur in the air as it heads for its target. I wasn’t particularly accurate, so it also takes a good chunk of the wall as it passes through the doorway.

As rubble flies around in its wake, I notice that the wall of the room holding the huge demon-sealing stone is made of several different layers. Regular stone encases some sort of reddish-brown metal. This metal is covered in intricate runes, which flash once then fizzle as the metal door bursts into the room, crushing all obstacles in its way.

Some kind of protective field, most likely. I didn’t feel anything when I wrenched the door out of its hinges, but whatever spell was used to safeguard the room must have faltered ineffectually against the adamantine of my hand.

Trailing debris, the door slams into the demon-sealing stone, eliciting another flash of defensive magic. Thanks to whatever shields were set in place to protect it, the stone doesn’t shatter upon impact. Still, like the formations carved into the room’s outer wall, I threw the door hard enough to overwhelm what defenses the stone had available. The metal door bounces off the demon-sealing stone at an angle and flies off toward one side, while the stone itself is flung toward the other side, embedding itself into the wall there.Continue reading

I rush through Alsomn, sprinting through alleys and leaping over buildings, yet no sound betrays my passage but a slight stirring in the wind.

My destination is the castle sitting atop its stocky, gouged-out mountain.

This late at night, there aren’t many people left roaming the streets, even in the capital, but I still need to be careful. With a population this large, exceptions to the rule are bound to be more numerous than during the previous times I needed to sneak around. It wouldn’t be good to be carelessly noticed by a random passerby.

There are two ways for me to reach the castle. The first and most straightforward is the road twisting left and right, slithering up the mountain’s slope. It leads from the actual city, lying at the foot of the mountain, to the castle I need to reach. The problem is that it’s also guarded and patrolled.Continue reading

With the formations successfully disabled, I approach the walls, keeping an eye on the sentries patrolling atop them.

As expected, avoiding detection by humans who are incapable of seeing in the dark isn’t a difficult task. No problem should occur.

When I step within 100 meters of the wall, a problem occurs. Unexpectedly.

A familiar qi fluctuation, minute but noticeable, like scrambled noise in the back of my ears. As soon as I notice its presence, I grit my teeth and retract all my qi, deactivate all the spells I usually keep up – like the one giving life to my left arm – and firmly cage my soul within the bounds of my dantian.Continue reading