For nearly 160 years, Mira lived in human territory, despite being an elf. It wasn’t always easy, but it wasn’t so bad, either.
After some time, she even found another elf. They wandered around together for a while, living here and there as they willed. Until that man gave her a daughter. When little Silica was born, both Mira and her lover agreed that they should settle down for at least a while, until their precious child grew up.
They built a house on the outskirts of a small, nameless village in the country of Rigonn and lived there for a few years, peacefully enough.
An influential noble from this kingdom worked hard so that slavery would be outlawed, so they believed that they could continue through these kinds of days, without having to worry about whether or not they would survive until tomorrow. The other villagers were a bit cold and a bit suspicious toward the majin family that lived near them, but they didn’t throw stones at them or persecute them in any great way, so it was fine. At least in part, this was probably because elves look quite similar to humans. The village would most likely not have been so welcoming toward werewolves – reputed to eat human flesh – or rhuths – so alien that even majin sometimes discriminate against them.
But this normal life stopped abruptly when a group of lowly mercenaries happened to stop in the village to buy provisions and discovered the family of elves there.
Perhaps Mira should have expected it when she passed them in the street and saw the look in their eyes. Law is all well and good, but greed and desire can easily overwhelm it, and it wasn’t like anybody would report their crime, anyway.
When Silica was taken hostage, when their house was burned to the ground, when Mira’s lover was killed in the struggle, the human villagers only spectated. They didn’t fight to rescue them, of course. Why would they risk themselves against battle-hardened warriors for a bunch of majin?
So easily, this small family’s peaceful life was destroyed.
Perhaps, they should have tried to return to majin territory before such a tragedy happened, but even without a small child in tow, making the trip through the Frontline would have been either too dangerous or too expensive. And life in majin territory wouldn’t necessarily have been any better than what they had managed to scrape up in this human kingdom anyway.
Perhaps, if one silver lining could be found in this disaster, it’s that these human mercenaries’ greed outweighed their lust. Even though Mira herself wasn’t spared, they didn’t touch little Silica, as a virgin would sell for a higher price.
This torture eventually stopped when the mercenaries had their fun with her and sold Mira along with her daughter to the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce.
However, even though they were both given proper clothing and no one laid their hands on either of them anymore, Mira didn’t hold any illusion that things were improving. Rather, they would definitely get worse as soon as a buyer appeared. Except this time, Silica too would suffer.
Mira could see her daughter’s eyes dim, day by day. She could see the fear and grief etched on her face. At only 9 years old, she had already lost her father, had watched her mother be humiliated by a band of worthless pieces of trash. And she wasn’t an idiot. She knew the people standing beyond the walls of the magic formation trapping her didn’t hold any good intentions toward her. Mira wished she could reach out and hold Silica in her arms, but even though they were so close to each other, those transparent walls prevented any contact between them. They couldn’t even talk to each other.
There was only despair as Mira contemplated the fact that she would soon be separated from her daughter. Every time a prospective customer appeared and examined Silica, her insides twisted in dread. She wanted to use all the power she had cultivated over years of effort to break those shackles keeping them apart, but the collar around her neck would never allow her to do that. The moment she tried, she would simply die.
And then, Silica would really be all alone.
Those days, each as long as a year, continued for more than a month.
Until a new ‘customer’ arrived in the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce.
A little girl, wearing a bloodstained maid outfit and looking just about the same age as her own daughter, was looking up at Mira’s face with a cold, expressionless gaze that sent shivers running down her spine.
And she was asking her if she wanted to escape.
It was all so absurd.
The manager of the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce had treated this child with deference. Fear, even. Which might suggest that she was an important noble from somewhere. Perhaps even the daughter of some royal family.
But she certainly did not look like a princess.
Nor like a human.
Actually, was she even a majin?
The majin weren’t a species onto themselves, but rather an alliance of them, created to even the balance against the overwhelming might of humanity. But as far as Mira knew, there was no such species among them.
However, she couldn’t be sure.
Even though she was a majin herself, she’d been living in human territory since she was very young, and her knowledge of her own people – if they could be called such – was painfully fragmentary. The number of majin she could remember seeing could be counted on the fingers of two hands. In human territory, most free majin were scattered here and there in every kingdom, far from each other. Those captured as slaves would be sold into nobles’ bedchambers for the pretty ones or bloody arenas for the ugly ones, neither of which were places Mira would willingly visit.
Although, this girl before her eyes certainly didn’t seem to care about the risk of capture. She had fearlessly waltzed into a slave trader’s house, threatened him, then violently killed him along with his guards even after he seemingly complied with her demands to free his slaves, all the while keeping that indifferent look on her face, as if all this was perfectly routine and most definitely wasn’t cause for alarm.
Mira gulped anxiously as she reassured herself that her daughter was safe behind her. She could still see the bloody fragments of that hateful old manager, who had looked so pleased with himself after buying them from those mercenaries. She could also see the two frozen Blackwood guards, standing like ice statues and very much dead.
Mira couldn’t help but hesitate. Of course, she wanted to escape, but she knew nothing about this bloodthirsty little girl in front of her. The only thing she knew was that she was fearfully strong, and that her left eye looked very much like a demon’s eye.
Which did little to inspire confidence.
Mira glanced at the terrified Silica hiding behind her back, whose small fists were tightly clenched around the fabric of Mira’s simple dress, as if she was afraid her mother would leave her behind and disappear. The tear marks on her cheeks were like knives piercing through Mira’s heart.
She remembered the mercenaries’ laughter.
She remembered the shame, the humiliation.
…She couldn’t possibly let that happen to Silica.
They had to escape this city, no matter what. Even living in the wilderness or becoming this strange little girl’s servants would be better than letting themselves be sold off to some disgusting human noble. But she couldn’t escape with her strength alone. In fact, even with all the slaves in this establishment put together, it wouldn’t be enough to flee Kohln and lose their pursuers.
Mira grit her teeth and made her decision. “Very well. Please help us escape the city.”
The little girl nodded, then turned around and left.
For a moment, Mira only stood there as she watched the girl head for the stairs, until she caught herself and scrambled after her, lifting Silica into her arms.
“Miss… Um, may I ask your name?”
“Ah, Miss Akasha, I’m sorry, but what exactly do you intend to do?” The girl apparently wanted to simply leave the building like this, but she may not be aware of the situation outside. “There are nearly 60 soldiers currently surrounding the entire building. I don’t mean to underestimate your abilities, but… shouldn’t we… try to make some sort of plan?”
There was a moment of silence, then the cold voice once more rang out in Mira’s mind.
[…Once outside, I will kill people. You will protect yourself and your daughter.]
Could that even be called a plan?
“Please, wait. The soldiers outside may not be as strong as the Blackwood guards, but their teamwork and numbers more than make up for it, and the leaders are all very powerful and experienced. Shouldn’t we try to gather all the slaves before trying to pierce through them? Or perhaps create some sort of diversion? Or take hostages?”
Mira felt strange saying those words. It was like she was planning a war of some sort. But even though her cultivation had always progressed smoothly, she couldn’t really say that she had much combat experience. She had fought a demon or two in her youth, but even then, the nature of her magic meant that she was always only in charge of defense.
She definitely wasn’t some kind of brave and heroic warrior, used to war and bloodshed, so why was she the one who had to give the ideas?
[…Pointless. Just follow behind me.]
Akasha didn’t even turn around as she replied. She went down the stairs, her steps calm and steady, unhurried, apparently unconcerned with the brutal battle that was sure to occur in a minute or two.
The other slaves followed in their tracks but were still keeping at a distance, whispering to themselves. It seemed like they too shared Mira’s reservations on the reliability – or safety – of her ‘savior’, and none of them dared to approach any closer. As they passed the second floor, some of them broke off to subdue the remaining guards huddling in the back of the room and free those who were still imprisoned in the orichalcum cages there.
Mira disregarded everything else and only followed behind Akasha down to the first floor. She couldn’t help but feel a stab of guilt and shame at her own actions – those trapped slaves were in the same situation as she had been – but in the end, she had to prioritize her daughter’s safety. If Akasha had stopped to help those imprisoned slaves, so would have Mira, but for some reason, the strange little girl didn’t seem to care about anyone else but her and Silica and left the others to their fate.
Upon reaching the first floor, Mira’s steps couldn’t help but falter. The entire room was covered in ice, glittering under the rays of light coming through the narrow windows. And on the other side of the room, beyond the frost-covered cages – with their prisoners still inside them, dead – were a cluster of statues, standing frozen in a variety of positions next to a pile of rubble. With each breath Mira took, a plume of vapor appeared in front of her mouth, and she could feel Silica’s shivering grow worse, though probably more out of cold than fear, this time. Mira’s arms tightened around the frail body of her daughter, and she hurried after Akasha, heading directly for the front door.
As she saw the strange child ready to burst through the door and leave the building, Mira spoke up. “P–Please wait a moment, Miss Akasha!”
Mira gestured to the collar on her neck. “You instructed me to protect myself and Silica, but this collar won’t let me. Whether it’s retaliating or even just defending myself, all of them will trigger the collar’s punishment.”
“Yes. Depending on the severity of the offense, it delivers electric shocks of increasing power. If you expect me to use magic… Well, the collar will definitely kill me in the first few seconds of the fight.”
Taking a step toward her, Akasha looked up at Mira’s neck with a blank expression. She was silent for a few moments before replying.
[…Kneel. You’re too tall. I can’t reach.]
Akasha raised up her arms to demonstrate. The tips of her fingers barely reached up to Mira’s chest.
Mira blinked. “Oh, my apologies.” Fumbling for a moment with Silica’s body in her arms to move her out of the way, Mira quickly knelt down to allow Akasha to reach her. “Is this fine?”
Akasha took another step closer and leaned down to examine the collar in more detail. So close, Mira could feel the piercing cold emanating from within the little girl’s body. She did her best not to shiver too visibly.
After a few moments, Akasha unexpectedly raised a hand to remove her eyepatch, revealing a strange black eye with eight small pinpoints of red lights spread unevenly over its surface. The right eye was also staring at the collar around Mira’s neck, but it seemed to move independently from the left.
Seeing Akasha hesitate, Mira couldn’t help but warn her. “Please, be careful. Tampering with the collars can cause them to discharge. Lethally. If you’re not sure you can do it, we might be able to find another…”
[…Stop talking. And don’t use your magic.]
Helplessly, Mira could only close her mouth and hope for the best. She tried to push Silica away, in case the collar suddenly exploded, but after Akasha got closer to her, her daughter didn’t seem to dare to move at all anymore. Mira wanted to comfort her, but since Akasha just told her not to speak, she only gently patted Silica’s back, trying her best to reassure her.
…Wasn’t she even more scared of Akasha than she was of the slavers?
After a minute or two of silence, as Mira’s body was starting to numb under the cold Akasha constantly exuded, Akasha finally seemed to conclude her study of the slave collar.
But unexpectedly, she didn’t cast any complex spell or use some strange arcane way to delicately dismantle it.
She just reached out with her right hand, and her black fingers coiled around the collar, her claws easily piercing into the metal. Mira’s heart seemed to stop when she heard the distinctive crackle of an electric discharge, and a blue glow lit up Akasha’s face. But when her gaze flicked down in panic, she could clearly see that, while Akasha’s arm was covered in an array of buzzing electrical arcs, Mira herself didn’t seem to be affected at all. Mira cast a worried glance at Akasha, but the child didn’t seem to be at all inconvenienced by the electricity coursing through her body. She simply stood there silently, and after a few seconds, the energy contained within the collar exhausted itself, and the blue arcs of electricity slowly faded away, at which point Akasha took back her hand.
Mira gingerly cast a small spell, letting her hand be surrounded by a translucent barrier similar to the magic formation that had confined her for the past month. As Akasha had promised, the collar didn’t react in the least.
As Mira breathed a quiet sigh of relief, Akasha, who she had expected to turn back to the building’s front door and continue on her way out, instead reached out toward Silica’s neck. Like she’d done for Mira, her black claws dug into the metal of the slave collar, and more electricity streamed out of it in defense.
Hearing Silica’s small shriek, Mira thought for a moment that she had been harmed by the electricity, but no. Even though she was desperately looking away, Silica appeared to have felt Akasha’s movements. She shuddered and shrank away, and Mira had to quickly hold onto her and prevent her. If she actually did manage to shrink away enough that Akasha’s grip on the collar slipped, Silica would be the one to bear the brunt of its attack. Even though they looked about the same age, Mira had no doubt that her young daughter was not as invulnerable as Akasha herself seemed to be. She would most likely be killed in an instant.
When the electricity finally faded, Silica sobbing into the crook of her mother’s neck, Akasha took a step back. Her expression was still the same blank slate as before, but Mira couldn’t help but get the feeling that she was displeased with Silica’s reaction and obvious fear of her. Mira wondered for a moment if she should beg for forgiveness on behalf of her daughter, but before she could make a decision either way, Akasha silently turned away and, without a single word of warning, kicked the building’s front door open so violently that the wall all around it was also blasted out into the street at the same time, pelting the soldiers beyond with debris.
…Yes, she was definitely angry, wasn’t she?
But when Mira saw the rain of spells aiming for Akasha the moment she jumped out of the building, every other thought quickly fled from her mind, and she quickly hugged onto Silica and cast a protective barrier around the both of them, in case a stray shot managed to reach them.
There had been no warning or demand of surrender. The soldiers outside had immediately cast their spells as soon as their enemy had appeared in their sights.
Akasha didn’t look flurried, though.
She raised her head toward the volley of magic heading in her direction, and an enormous wall of ice suddenly appeared out of nowhere between her and the soldiers. Spell after spell crashed into the ice, sometimes directly exploding, sometimes melting holes into it, sometimes splashing against it and corroding its surface like acid. But the wall automatically repaired itself, more ice coming constantly to fill up the opened gaps.
When the impacts lessened and a moment of silence returned to the street that had abruptly turned into a battlefield, Akasha raised her left hand, and the wall of ice flowed like water to link up with it and form a gigantic ice hand that reached up to the sky.
The soldiers arrayed on the other side of the street looked up at this enormous hand, their mouths opening up in shock.
Then, the hand fell.
Simply the air pressure of that falling hand was enough to send a few of the soldiers to their knees and crack roof and windows up and down the street.
However, before that gigantic hand could squash the soldiers into meat paste, a man in ornamented armor, whose body dispersed a qi fluctuation much greater than all the other soldiers around him, suddenly stood tall and raised both his hands toward the sky. A dome of shimmering red light appeared, sheltering all the soldiers.
Akasha’s ice hand crashed violently into the red dome in an explosion that rocked the world. The closest buildings crumbled under its shockwave, but Mira couldn’t see anyone inside them – they clearly had been evacuated beforehand. The violent impact distorted the shimmering red energy field protecting the soldiers, until it started to flicker, as if unable to bear the strain.
The guard officer fell to his knees, blood spurting out of his mouth and splattering to the ground as he desperately held onto his magic past his limits and injured his meridians. But while he propped himself up with a hand to avoid completely falling prone, his other hand remained stretched up high, keeping the dome in place despite everything.
Eventually, the guard officer was the victor in this confrontation. The ice hand stopped its descent just as the officer’s magic shield was about to die. The common soldiers around him breathed sighs of relief, and two of them quickly rushed to support their superior and check his condition.
But their relief was short-lived.
Because Akasha had two hands.
Her black right fist, thousands of times smaller than her enormous white left, struck forward in a punch so fast the air burst and tore in its way. The ground exploded under Akasha’s feet, showering fragments of shattered stone against Mira’s shield. The sharp sounds made Silica flinch, and Mira could only tighten her hug and increase the solidity of the shield that protected them both against the absurd fight in front of them.
Simply considering the length of Akasha’s short arm, she couldn’t possibly have enough range to actually strike against her enemies from where she stood. Yet, as her fist reached the end of its course, the air in front of it seemed to visibly twist and bunch in on itself, almost like a spring. And once her arm was completely stretched out and the potential of her strike was expended, that spring of air uncoiled itself and shot forward like a cannonball, crushing everything in its path and carving a deep, wide furrow into the ground of the street. It slammed into the side of the straining red barrier the guard officer had conjured and burst through it in an instant.
“Sir! Be careful!”
“Block it! Block it!”
The soldiers hiding inside the shield reacted commendably fast and threw themselves in the way of that strike to protect the officer kneeling behind them.
But their courage was not rewarded.
The crushing wave of compressed air flattened them the moment it touched them, despite their attempts to resist it. The first few turned into blood mist upon contact, and the wave continued on, shredding anyone who dared to step into its path. In the instant before the wave of destruction reached him, Mira could see the despair on the guard officer’s face.
Then, he too was obliterated.
The wave continued and burst through the other side of the shield before it even had time to dissipate after the death of its caster, then crashed into the buildings standing on the other side of the street – those still standing after the earlier explosion, at least – and reduced them to flying rubble.
Only a few of the soldiers on the outermost periphery of the battle were still alive, but it seemed Akasha had no intention to spare them. The moment the obstruction of the red shield disappeared, the ice hand still hanging in the air and occluding the sky suddenly exploded, flinging sharp fragments of ice up and down the street. The soldiers’ armors did little to protect them against the knife-like hail raining down upon them, and their ranks thinned even more.
By now, there were only a scant few of them still alive, while Akasha had yet to suffer the slightest injury.
The difference in power was so large it was almost ridiculous.
The only thing left for the half a dozen survivors, was fleeing.
This time, fortunately, Akasha seemed to have had enough and simply let them go unharmed.
Mira blinked, and only now did she realize she actually felt pity for this little girl’s enemies, even though any human in this city most likely would have returned her and her daughter to their cages in the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce without a second thought if they’d had that ability.
As Mira shook her head to clear it of this misplaced sympathy, Akasha glanced back over her shoulder.
Keeping the shield firmly in place around them, Mira gingerly stood up, still holding Silica in her arms, and followed into the street after Akasha.
After the battle, a heavy silence seemed to have fallen over the city. It felt strange, as if Mira had suddenly landed into a ghost town. It stood to reason that all the citizens would have long cleared away to avoid becoming the accidental casualties of a fight involving such a monster as the one walking in front of her now, but shouldn’t the city’s troops come as reinforcements? There were surely more soldiers in this city than only those Akasha had killed just now.
Or did they simply decide to cut their losses and allow Akasha to leave the city, to avoid worsening the situation?
As Mira followed Akasha through deserted and empty streets, that theory seemed to confirm itself, but the more they approached the city gates, the more uneasy Mira felt. Perhaps, it was a form of instinct, but she couldn’t help but feel that something was wrong. Even the escaped slaves who had been following after them in the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce weren’t here anymore. The only ones who had followed Akasha were Mira and her daughter. Mira supposed the others had made a concerted decision to head in the opposite direction to them, perhaps hoping that Akasha would cause enough ruckus to draw the city’s troops’ attention. Mira doubted they would have much luck, though. For one thing, they all still had the slave collars around their necks. They wouldn’t be able to retaliate if they were attacked.
But right now, Mira didn’t have the leisure to worry about them.
Eventually, her nerves frayed to the point where she had to break the silence. “E–Excuse me, Miss Akasha. Something definitely feels wrong about all this.”
“Well, don’t you think it’s strange that no one is pursuing us? I can accept that the city guard might have been daunted by your display of power for a while, but Kohln wouldn’t be able to exist without a powerhouse holding its reins. The forces you dealt with earlier definitely aren’t their sharpest, so why haven’t we seen any of them?”
[…Most are gathering ahead of us.] Akasha waved toward both sides of the street. […Some are hiding in the buildings, watching us. Others are behind us, hunting down the people who fled the other way.]
Mira felt as if a bucket of cold water had been dumped over her head. Even though no one seemed about to attack them, she reflexively strengthened the shielding spell around Silica. “W–What should we do? If they’re gathering ahead, shouldn’t we try to escape another way? Scale the wall, or try to reach the eastern or western gates?”
[…Pointless. The weak don’t matter. The strong can move fast enough to cut us off or pursue us. Simpler to just kill them all at once.]
Mira wasn’t sure what to say to that, so she didn’t say anything at all.
She silently hugged her daughter and followed after Akasha, looking left and right, trying to catch a glimpse of the people watching them, until the city gates finally came into view.
Right behind, that is, rows after rows of waiting soldiers.
But those were clearly different from the simple grunts who had been one-sidedly slaughtered earlier. The armors they were wearing were all similar to that of the guard officer who had blocked Akasha’s blow. Even the atmosphere they gave off smelled of blood and iron.
Those were definitely Kohln’s elite troops.
Were they the ‘weak’ Akasha had referred to?
But it was true that compared to the one standing at the very forefront of this group, they were weak. It was a tall, large man, with bright red hair, wearing a golden armor that left his arms exposed. A simple, unadorned sword hung at his waist and radiated a faint silver glow. When that man’s eyes fell on them, Mira felt as if a wild beast was staring at her, ready to pounce and tear her into pieces. The air seemed to coagulate and press down into her lungs, making it hard for her to breathe.
Little Silica in her arms moaned, and Mira could only desperately channel all her qi into the shimmering shield around them, even as she felt despair rise up inside her once more.
Even Mira could guess who this was.
Kohln’s famous City Lord.
An 8th-rank warrior, reputed for his strength and savagery in battle.
And that City Lord himself had come to personally throw them back into their cage.