Wide ranged the battle on the plain
Spears shook and locked amain
How the arrow-flight like a rain through me
Leaving the rose for my love behind
Leading to the wordless hind
So wild and disorderly
How I wish love rely
To embrace us in all its blood-clogged arms.
Somewhere overhead, in a darkening sky that was beginning to gleam and twinkle with the slow dance of the eternal stars, a light fell to the earth.
He looked up briefly, noting only the vanishing tail of the fallen star before looking back down to the ground. At his feet lay a row of seven grave mounds, each marked only by a sword of exquisite make and slender figure. Despite the fact that they had been out here, in a patch of smooth clearing in the middle of a forest far from anyone or anything, there was not a spot of rust to be seen on any of the blades. He gazed at each of the blades in turn, as if committing them to memory in spite of their near-identical features, while the last of the sun’s light collapsed into the horizon. The woods around him were quiet, as if its denizens were paying their respects to the dead. Or perhaps they had fallen simply asleep. It didn’t matter much to him.
Eventually, a breeze began to pick up, and the stranger fell on one knee while planting a fist in the earth. “Gomenasai,” he said, in a low and quiet tone of voice that was just barely above a whisper.
Vague flickers of motion that was not motion lanced the cool evening air like bursts of freak lightning. All around him in a circular formation were a dozen, gaunt figures in white robes with hoods that hid their faces in blackest shadow. In that attire, and with their identical height and shape, it was hard to tell them apart; he knew from past experiences that it was impossible to even try. Silently, they produced long knives from within the long folds of their sleeves as one. He stood up then, brushing loose strands of grass off his pants, and silently glared at each of the foreign creatures in turn with deep, mysterious hazel eyes.
“Lupus Shima,” the shades recited together in a single, flat voice.
“What do you want?” Lupus growled at them.
“To release you from the prison of flesh,” they said. “As our summoner has commanded us.”
“And who is your summoner?”
“That is not for you to know.” They pointed their knives directly at him. “We promise you a swift and painless way, only if you do not take arms against us.”
Calm as the pool. He planted his feet in a battle-ready stance, with one arm raised before him and the other swept behind his back. His posture was the only answer they were going to receive from him.
The shades were silent for a moment, and there was a sense of something unheard being exchanged between them. “Very well,” they said.
In silence, Lupus launched himself at the nearest foe. All the while, a voice from the distant past rattle off instructions that had long since become like breathing to him. Listen and listen well, child. There are three, and only three, forms of combat. An enchanter is the warrior who can combine all three into one true style, the one true dance. That is the dance of death.
The shade that he had targeted flew back out of the range of his attack, allowing two of its comrades to swoop into the very spot it had vacated. Lupus rolled under the swipe of both their blades, elbowing them aside as he swung back to his feet. He chopped at another shade with the thin edge of one palm, landing a blow that would have shattered the collarbone of a normal man. Instead, it sent the creature sprawling in a long, slow arc of a fall, knocking back a couple of its brethren.
Most warriors fall within the first two; the brawlers and the wielders of weapons. An enchanter must not stick to only one group. An enchanter must be a brawler when there’s no weapon, and a wielder when fisticuffs are useless. Above all, an enchanter must be able to become both a brawler AND a wielder at the same time.
Grunting, Lupus drove back an opponent with a swift roundhouse kick, then danced his way past a sharp, sudden knife thrust. He reached, grabbed the out-thrust arm and spun the shade around to slam into another of its kind, plucking the knife midway through the move. He twirled along the edge of a blade’s arc, and hurled his trophy knife into the hood of the creature that had attacked him. It wailed, a high thin sound like a boiling tea kettle, and with a tearing sound, collapsed into a pile of ancient yellowed rags. Shades were not flesh-and-blood creatures like he was, but summoned spirits from the netherworld given corporeal form. Their visible appearance indicated their apparent strength, and the ones he fought were notoriously hard to kill without a weapon. His gaze fell on the blades buried up halfway in the graves of their owners but mentally reined himself in from following up the impulse of using them.
The third part of the dance is what the manlings call ‘magic’. However an enchanter who is well experienced with the dance knows that there is no such thing. ‘Magic’ is simply the sheer control of the energy that shapes all things that exist through fierce will. This is pulseburning, and it is an enchanter’s first, last and other means for survival.
Within ten minutes, he managed to dispatch two more shades. One of which he slew with its own weapon, and the other he shoved into the path of a killing blow that was meant for him. Still, it left him with nine more creatures to vanquish, not one of whom showed any signs of tiring. Even as he dogded and sidestepped their attacks, he noticed how they had begun to silently coordinate their assault while keeping their blows short and focused. Lupus slapped away a stab, driving an elbow into the shade’s chest. As their brother stumbled back from the blow, a pair attacked, whirling like dervishes. Lupus prepared to meet them with his fists-
-and a flicker of pseudomotion diverted his attention for only a brief instant, but that was time enough. The two shades took advantage of his lapse and made twin stinging cuts with one actually drawing blood from his left arm. Lupus hissed in pain, hammering both with a blur of successive punches and kicks that sent them flying. He paused for a very brief moment, concentrating on a deep, calm place inside of his soul, then flung his arms. Twin arcs of red lightning erupted from both fists and struck separate targets each. The victims attempted to flee, but the energy quickly set them alight, reducing them to ash in a matter of seconds.
What is an enchanter then? An enchanter is one who dances with death and enthralls her enough to have their lives spared to see another sunrise, time and time again.
Lupus dropped down on his right knee, and slammed the open palms of his hand into the grassy floor beneath him. A pulse of lightning raced down his arms and into the earth, exploding outwards in a shockwave that blew back the rest of the shades. He kept the stream of power flowing, even as the unearthly creatures shrieked and wailed while their bodies were consumed. He did not let up even when the grass around him started to smoke and catch fire. Only when the pulse energies were almost completely drained out of him, and the fractured light of the Broken Moon filled the clearing, did he cut off his assault. At once, he felt weariness, like a cloak of pure lead, settle around him.
The sound of slow, mocking handclaps filled the air. A feminine voice spoke, “Well done, Shima. I see you’ve not lost your touch.”
Lupus looked up, and found a small measure of shock in the sight that greeted him. The ground was scorched to a dark ash in places, with the harsh tang of burnt grass lingering and tainting the cool night air. On the grave mound to his immediate right, a pale, lovely woman with bright red hair and sunny blue eyes had comfortably seated herself. She wore a form-fitting one-piece leather suit, and slung over her back was a complex rig of steel-and-leather craftsmanship that housed four different blades.
“Mako,” he murmured.
Mako Homura stood up, gazing briefly at the bewitching light of the moon before looking back down at him. He had heard in some towns that she went by the name, “The Swordhunter”. “You fought well,” she stated admiringly. “It makes me almost sorry I have to do this.”
“We all do what we have to, no more, no less.”
She smiled, showing a flash of perfectly white teeth that to any other observer present, would have seemed too long and a bit too pointed. “Ah. Tadakatsu was fond of quoting that.”
“I remember.” Lupus felt a faint smile at the thought of that memory. “Your summons were magnificent by the way.”
“Arigatou.” She reached up over her back, and withdrew a blade, straight and tapered to a point for a thrust or slash. The steel of the blade hummed and sang in the moonlight. Her smile vanished like the sun behind a cloud. “My apologies, brother, that I must take your head and the silvershine you possess. I’ll make sure you get a decent burial.”
For a moment, there was silence between the two of them. Then Lupus raised himself off from the ground until he stood on his own two feet, the set of his face a calm, placid pool devoid of expression. Then he suddenly grinned, fixing the Swordhunter with a level stare that promised…something.
“If that’s what you want,” He said slowly. “You’ll have to get them over my cold corpse.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in, and another for her to react by swinging her sword with a yell. Then the world erupted in angry, white thunder and there was no more.