Heart of Shadow

Villages destroyed; towns bereaved of life; people dying. The witches have returned in full strength, and they leave death in their wake...


6. Akuma






Why would people ever want to stay in one place in a world like this? The people milled about in the city below them, bound to one place with their daily lives passing them by. Why weren't they looking about in wonder? The castle was huge, and the houses were so strange - yet so intricate!

    Akuma swung herself down from the bridge, and Yukiyo followed easily. For the last three days, they'd simply been losing themselves in the city, running through the cobbled streets and gazing in wonder at the titanic buildings that stood around them like frozen stone giants. At night, the stone looked even more wonderful: a pale and yet powerful grey that stood out from the blackened sky behind it.

    "Let's go and find some human food," Akuma suggested, already selecting one of the roads that looked like it lead them into the main part of the city, where the normal people seemed to trade their goods and coins. Already, they'd stolen plentiful coins from the pockets of those who looked as though they wouldn't miss a few pieces. It had paid for beds at city inns for the last few nights: now, it would buy them a large plate filled with the strange but enticing food the people ate here.

    Yukiyo took the lead, guiding them through alleys and streets. He stopped when they reached the city market square, and Akuma glanced about for somewhere that sold food.

    "There," she pointed eventually, gesturing to a large building. The words, 'The Hunter's Spear' were carved into a small sign that hung from the wall above the door.

    "Looks interesting," Yukiyo agreed, following her inside.

    The first thing that struck Akuma was the smell of it all. The entire room reeked of something strong, like the scent of one of the human drinks... Beer, she recalled. The second thing that hit her was the stupidity of the men inside. They staggered about, laughing and roaring and insulting one another. She remembered vaguely one of the other Majo telling her of men like this - the ones who downed a substance that made them act foolishly and slowed their reactions.

    "Should we leave?" Yukiyo muttered nervously, but it was already too late. Some of the people were looking at them strangely: to leave now might look strange. Akuma took a seat, ignoring the almost mocking stares of the people around them. Sliding into a seat beside her, Yukiyo looked around, his pale eyes scanning for potential threats.

    "What would you like?" A woman's voice. Turning sharply, Akuma looked to a plump, kindly woman who stood beside them. Instantly, she wavered. What was it humans ate again? What did they drink?

    "Beer, please." It was the first thing that came to her head.

    "Are you sure you're old enough?"

    "Yes," Akuma insisted. Why wouldn't she be? It was only after the woman had collected her money and gone to fetch their drinks did she realise: beer was the thing that made people act strangely. She cursed, but it was already too late. The woman was back with two tankards filled with the stuff, and set them down on the table. Nervously, she glanced across at Yukiyo. The most of his face was concealed by the shadow of his hood, though through their eyes they shared the question: what would the drink do to them?

    "Too scared to drink it, kid?" a gruff voice jested.

    "Little things like yourselves shouldn't be drinking. You're pathetic. You can't drink all that," another sneered.

    "Akuma..." Yukiyo's voice held a fragment of warning, but she ignored him. If they wanted to challenge her, then fine. They could challenge her all they wanted - she wouldn't back down!

    "Fine, I'll drink it all!" she declared. Yukiyo sighed, but Akuma ignored him. She wasn't going to let these normal people simply abuse her and mock her. Raising the glass to her lips, Akuma took a gulp of the hideously bitter concoction, forcing herself from grimacing as she lifted the glass again. Lift, drink, swallow. She forced the order through her mind, not allowing herself to be outdone by these idiots around her.

    Finally, Akuma set the tankard down upon the table, her eyes gleaming. "There. I finished it," she proclaimed, standing. "Let's go."

    Quickly, Yukiyo hurried after her as she staggered out of the door, ignoring his unfinished drink that sat untouched at the table. Behind them, she was aware of chairs shifting, but she didn't care. She'd managed to finish the whole of that vile, repulsive mixture the humans seemed addicted to, and it was her first true victory in this world. It didn't matter that her head felt lighter than usual, or that each step was a lurch, or that every two seconds, Yukiyo had to stop and support her.

    "Akuma, they're following us."

    "Who?" she demanded, swinging around and swaying dangerously. "I'll fight them!"

    "You're being stupid," she heard Yukiyo hiss. "We need to get away, Akuma!"

    She ignored him. Why should she listen to him, anyway? He was being stupid. She felt absolutely fine, and if somebody was following them, they deserved their deaths, anyway. Humans were all repulsive. Their cities weren't, but the people themselves? They were greedy fools.

    "Your money," a deep voice said. It took her a moment to locate the voice's owner: a tall, powerfully build man with several others behind him. "I saw how many coins you had. Hand them over, and we won't even hurt you."

    Akuma didn't know who the hell they were, but they were clearly stupid. There was no way they could take on a Majo! She'd wipe them out easily!

    "Fight me, then!" she grinned. Her words were slurred, and her actions slow, but that didn't matter - did it? She could still fight them.

    "Little girl got drunk?" one of them laughed.

    "Not drunk!" Akuma spat back. "I'll destroy you!"

    The man charged them. Grinning, she raised her palms, already feeling the magic dancing through her body, flowing through her veins and preparing to strike their attacker. And then, from the darkness of the street, came a voice so strong it made her lower her palms and stare.

    "Akuma! Don't fight him!"

    A shadow seemed to melt from the gloom, sliding towards their aggressor. The next moment, the man was down, and the shadow was darting towards the other men, lunging and striking and attacking them without so much a spark of magic leaving his body. Akuma could only watch in wonder as the shadow twisted and turned, seemingly dancing his way between the drunkard men, sending each to the floor with a single blow.

    And then he stepped out into the moonlight, and Akuma could see it in his silver eyes, could recognise him from the clan.


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