Magus_Anon

Chapter 48

Feb 14th, 2021
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  1. “WE have a problem?! It seems to me like YOU’RE the only problem here, foreigner.” Spat a giant ant.
  2.  
  3. You finished chugging another mana potion and stifled a belch. The crystalline flask vibrated in your trembling hands as you set it down next to the other empties. Just about at your limit. Juicing yourself was imperative when fighting an entire army, but damn if it didn’t make you feel like shit. Your body was already starting to protest the immense amount of mana you were imbibing, and keeping it down was getting harder by the sip. Already you felt like sparks were going to fly out of your fingertips.
  4.  
  5. “Look, I know this is a shitty situation I’ve dragged you all into, but we’re past blaming away our problems. Kaizo’s army will be here any minute now and we’ve got to be ready for her.” You said.
  6.  
  7. “Be ready? Do you expect us to FIGHT her?!” asked a man. His gnome wife wrapped one of her giant hands around his chest protectively.
  8. “No one who doesn’t want to fight has to. If you’d like to try and evacuate, be my guest. Just be warned, I have no idea where Kaizo’s forces are. For all I know, they could have surrounded us already.” You said.
  9.  
  10. The crowd exchanged nervous glances. Deciding that a produce market wasn’t the best place to inform the populace of their impending invasion, you quickly sought out the townhall, (or whatever the big building where the mayor did stuff was called in Zipangu), and let the citizens of Heida know what was coming. Naturally, they panicked. The mayor, an eloquent kejourou, quickly restored the peace with a speech smoother than her hair. Nevertheless, the animosity they felt towards you for possibly dooming their town hadn’t abated in the slightest.
  11.  
  12. “Just give him to the oni and be done with it!” said a nereid.
  13.  
  14. “It would be cruel to leave him like that. Clearly he doesn’t want to be ravaged by her.” Said a succubus.
  15.  
  16. “I don’t, and I don’t intend to be.” You said.
  17.  
  18. “Mr. Anonymous, I don’t relish the idea of handing you over to a tribe of barbarians, but I simply can’t allow Heida to be overrun with those vermin. Unless you have some sort of plan…” The kejourou trailed off.
  19.  
  20. “I’m working on it.” You grumbled, uncorking another flask. “How many weapons do we have?”
  21.  
  22. “Not enough to arm even half of us.” Said a salamander in the crowd.
  23.  
  24. You exhaled. “How many mamono can use magic for offensive or defensive purposes?”
  25.  
  26. The monsters looked at each other. Some of them quietly began discussing the merit of their inherent traits, trying to figure out ways to use their natural talents to their advantage.
  27.  
  28. “I know many of you have probably never been in a fight in your life, but it’s not as hard as it seems. Trust me.” You said.
  29.  
  30. “Oh yeah? And just how many armies have YOU tangled with, huh?” shouted a slime.
  31.  
  32. “Three.”
  33.  
  34. The monsters in the crowd balked at your answer.
  35.  
  36. “Well, two and a raiding party. And I guess the second time wasn’t really FIGHTING, more like pushing through…” You said.
  37.  
  38. “Are you… being facetious?” asked the kejourou.
  39.  
  40. “No! Listen, the odds are better than you think. We’ve all heard what the cat said: Kaizo’s army is disorganized and aggressive. Moreover, all those troops are spread out for miles behind her.” You said swinging Barmanie in her web cocoon. “As long as we can deal with a steady stream of Kamaka soldiers, we can hold out until the messenger harpy we sent can get help.”
  41.  
  42. “That could be days!” protested a succubus.
  43.  
  44. “Barmanie, when Kaizo’s army gets here, do you think that they’ll just take me and leave?” you asked the bound-up cat.
  45.  
  46. “Kaizo might. The rest of the army? Probably not…” said Barmanie.
  47.  
  48. “See? This isn’t something you can ignore anymore. I’ll do everything I can to protect you, but I’ll have a much easier time defending Heida if you’re there helping me.” You said.
  49.  
  50. “I say we arm ourselves and THEN toss him to the Kamaka soldiers! As long as we can intimidate them enough, they’ll leave after they have him!” said the giant ant.
  51.  
  52. “Are you willing to bet every bachelor in town on that?” You finished the last mana potion. Whoever made those could use a few pointers on flavoring.
  53.  
  54. The single monsters in the town squirmed. There was no better trump card to pull; no sane monster would be willing to risk her potential husband on the hope that an army of notorious barbarians MIGHT leave them unharmed if they cooperated. It also helped any men remember that THEY were at stake themselves. Chances were that if any of them were taken, it would be a LONG time before they could convince their new wife to take a trip back home.
  55.  
  56. “You bastard…” muttered the ant.
  57.  
  58. “And today, I’m YOUR bastard.” You said.
  59.  
  60. “Anonymous, we don’t have any battle experience. There are only a handful of adventurers in the village! We need leaders.” Said the kejourou.
  61.  
  62. “I’ll organize you. Who has combat experience?” you asked.
  63.  
  64. A few monsters raised their hands.
  65.  
  66. “Alright. Everyone who’s willing to fight, stay here. Everyone who isn’t, get out and start fortifying your home. I need to see what I’m working with here.” You said.
  67.  
  68. Monsters shuffled out of the hall. When the flow of people out the door had subsided, you took a look at what was left. Not bad, all things considered. Most of the mamono that remained looked beefy enough to carry themselves in a fight. There were also some magician types scattered amongst them as well. Even the gnome and her husband had stayed. Excellent. Yeah, you could make this work…
  69. “Who has the weapons around here?” you asked.
  70.  
  71. The salamander raised her hand. Of course.
  72.  
  73. “What do you have in your arsenal?”
  74.  
  75. “A little bit of everything.” She said with a grin.
  76.  
  77. “Good. I need you to take some of the militia to go get their arms. Prioritize polearms and bows. All mages, stay here with me. I have a plan.” You said.
  78.  
  79. ~~~~~~
  80.  
  81. “Moegara, there’s been an attack.” Said a black harpy. She still wore light armor adorned by Gakke’s icon.
  82.  
  83. “An attack!? Who would dare? Are Gakke and Kaizo alright?” asked Moegara.
  84.  
  85. “You misunderstand, Shogun. A portion of Kaizo’s forces separated from the main force. They’ve sacked the village of Saikeiba.” Said the harpy.
  86. Moegara’s nails carved spirals of wood out of her armrests as she clenched her chair.
  87. “Tell her to reorganize her forced at once and to-“
  88. “She is no longer in control of them, Shogun. They went rouge. General Gakke couldn’t spare the forces to regain control of the situation. A counter-attack on both the rouge force and the remainder of Kaizo’s army is expected by the General.” Said the harpy.
  89.  
  90. “Shogun! You must order Kaizo and Gakke back at once. If the plain cities band together and take the Southern Pass, they would be cut off from the shogunate!” said Torquatus.
  91.  
  92. “Damn it. Tell Kaizo and Gakke to get back here as fast as possible. We cannot afford to have them trapped on the other side of the mountains. Ready the troops for battle and send a regiment to the pass. The other cities have been complacent to let us expand for this long, but they will not overlook such a transgression. That idiot had gone too far this time; retaliation is inevitable.” Said Moegara.
  93.  
  94. “Shall I dispatch as well, mother?”
  95.  
  96. Moegara looked at Royoshi. It was typical that the only thing she offered to the conversation were her services. The rasp of a whetstone over her sword was the most some courtiers ever heard from her. Politics and power dynamics meant nothing to her; all that mattered was who her next target was. Some days, Moegara regretted not taking a larger role in her training.
  97.  
  98. Integrating the Hanabashi kunoichi clan had been mutually beneficial to both Kamaka and the clan. The Hanabashi got a steady and guaranteed supply of men, and Moegara got a small cadre of assassins to scatter as she pleased. Though they were technically independent, they had yet to refuse an order from the Shogun. Impressed with their efficacy, Moegara had asked the kunoichi if they would be willing to train some of her troops. The Hanabashi were vehemently opposed to the prospect. Only after the situation began to create political friction did both parties agree to a compromise: they would help to train one of Moegara’s daughters.
  99.  
  100. There was no more fitting candidate than young Royoshi. Kaizo was too obstreperous to receive teaching from the kunoichi, Gakke’s size and temper were counterintuitive, and Moegara’s other daughters were already too involved managing the empire to abandon their posts. Royoshi, on the other hand, had already proven herself to be a puissant hunter and trapper; a perfect foundation for the kunoichi to build upon. Unlike the rest of her siblings, the firebrand attitude of her mother was more muted in Royoshi. She could be as rambunctious and spirited as any oni with enough sake, but it was clear during festivals and parties that her mind was on things other than drink and merriment. Royoshi had a single-minded obsession with her hunts. Who was the prey? How best to approach it? What traps could she lay? What kind of defenses would she have to circumvent? The kunoichi inculcated the discipline Royoshi needed to hone her latent predatory instincts.
  101.  
  102. And what a monster they created. Kaizo may be the strong and flailing right arm of Kamaka, but Royoshi was the knife in the other hand. Courts across the island whispered of her deeds. Intrigue raged. Sometimes it was the theft of a precious magical artifact or badge of office. Sometimes it was the ‘assassination’ of a noble or merchant that was posing a threat to Kamaka. Sometimes it was making a mamono noble think that her advisor was courting the boy she had been after. Whatever the task, Royoshi came up with a solution with ruthless efficiency. Royoshi and her kunoichi clansmen were no doubt one of the driving factors behind Kamaka’s success. And most of the island didn’t even know her name…
  103.  
  104. “No, Royoshi. Not yet. I need to see all the pieces in motion before I send any more troops anywhere.”
  105.  
  106. “As you wish, mother.” Said Royoshi.
  107.  
  108. “War is on the horizon, Shogun.” said Torquatus.
  109.  
  110. “Indeed…” muttered Moegara.
  111.  
  112. Royoshi smiled to herself under her mask. A warbling hum rolled out of her throat as she started to sharpen a bit faster.
  113.  
  114. ~~~~~~
  115.  
  116. “There it is…” said Kaizo.
  117.  
  118. Heida. What a pissant little town this was. Too poor to plunder anything of value, too small to be worth occupying, and too bumpkin to have any men worth taking. A total wash! Figures that mage coward would hole up with these fools. Oh well. Once she had his scrawny hide back in Kamaka, Moegara would let her lay dibs on a REAL man that they captured in the future. One with guts and gusto! How many times had she raided an Order ship to find the captain cowering in fear or giving some vociferous verbiage about justice and demons? Where was the panache?! Where was the banter?! The ones who talked the talk and walked the walk all the way to the bitter end? The only ones who ever quipped back at her were the silver-tongued idiots who were used to talking their way out of fights. Were there no good men left in the world?
  119.  
  120. “I’m getting pissed off just looking at it…” growled Kaizo.
  121.  
  122. “Boss?” asked Kaizo’s raiju lieutenant.
  123.  
  124. “Forget it. Let’s go.” Said Kaizo.
  125.  
  126. “Boss, maybe we should wait a bit…” said the raiju.
  127.  
  128. “Huh? Why the hell would we wait?” asked Kaizo.
  129.  
  130. “There’s only two dozen of us here.” Said the raiju.
  131.  
  132. Kaizo looked past the zap-weasel. Sure enough, only a handful of her troops were standing behind her.
  133.  
  134. “Where the hell are the rest of you?!” demanded Kaizo.
  135.  
  136. “They’re coming.” Said a hornet.
  137.  
  138. Kaizo looked down the road. Monsters marched toward her in pairs and clusters.
  139.  
  140. “Shit, you all look like death and the battle hasn’t even started yet.” Said Kaizo.
  141.  
  142. “We’ve been marching for days, ma’am. You only let us sleep for a few hours every night…” said a zombie.
  143.  
  144. “Shut up, I got by just fine, didn’t I? And you’re dead! You don’t even need to sleep. Look at her: now THERE’S a good soldier.” Said Kaizo, gesturing to a soldier beetle. “Equipment in order, looking fresh as a flower, and not a complaint to be had.”
  145.  
  146. “She’s not part of the army. She started following us a few days ago after we fed her scraps from the camp.” Said the raiju.
  147.  
  148. Kaizo looked at the beetle. The beetle stared back at her with her emotionless black eyes.
  149.  
  150. “Well, that’s even worse! She’s better at soldiering after a few days than some of you are after months of training!” said Kaizo.
  151.  
  152. “You never trained us…” grumbled the zombie.
  153.  
  154. “Looks like they’re fortifying. Kaizo, attacking now would be a bad idea. Even by your standards.” Said the raiju.
  155.  
  156. “Eugh! Fine! We’ll wait. But not for long. I don’t want those insects to get too entrenched.” Said Kaizo.
  157.  
  158. Sitting against a nearby tree, she surveyed the bustling townsfolk trying to spot the human.
  159.  
  160. ~~~~~~~~
  161.  
  162. “Little higher. Higher. Perfect.”
  163.  
  164. The undine held you up to the bottom of the bridge as you poured your mana into a massive magical circle.
  165.  
  166. “Anonymous! Kamaka’s army is here!” Said the kejourou.
  167.  
  168. “Are they attacking?”
  169.  
  170. “No, not yet. They’re watching us.” Said the kejourou.
  171.  
  172. You put the finishing touches on the circle and told the undine to put you onto the street above.
  173.  
  174. “Is everyone in position?” you asked.
  175.  
  176. “The casters are arranged as you ordered. Everyone else is undergoing some last-minute training with their weapons.” Said the mayor.
  177.  
  178. “Good.” You took a sip of mana potion to top yourself off. The kej fidgeted.
  179.  
  180. “Don’t worry, Mayor. Have some faith in your citizens; fighting isn’t as hard as it seems. Just let them sit back and let me do the heavy lifting.”
  181.  
  182. She gave an amused snort. “You’re awfully cocky for a man. Is everyone in your land so brazen?”
  183.  
  184. “In a way… Let’s go find that salamander.” You said.
  185.  
  186. Every monster that wasn’t part of the tiny regiment the salamander was instructing was busy trying to fortify their homes and businesses. Some of them gave you hopeful glances as you passed, but most didn’t bother to hide their contempt for you. You felt terrible. You had pulled plenty of underhanded tricks and hatched more one scheme to put yourself on top at the cost of others, but you had never used anyone so innocent as the denizens of Heida. Even though you knew the risks, you still rolled the dice on whether or not you could outrun Kaizo. And now they were all about to pay the price. If you went down, maybe she would cut her losses and leave…
  187.  
  188. Your gulped as you imagined yourself pinned under a massive oni, getting ridden into the ground as the village watched. Boner, no! Onis were high on your list, sure, but that didn’t mean that it was time to give up!
  189.  
  190. “Step, parry, step, thrust.” Said the salamander, slowly thrusting a spear through the air.
  191.  
  192. She saw you coming and nodded. “What’s the word, Shikinu?”
  193.  
  194. “Kamaka’s advanced forces have arrived at the outer edge of the village.” Said the kejourou.
  195.  
  196. “Then it’s time?” asked the salamander.
  197.  
  198. “Not yet, Okien. The buzzards are just circling for now.” Said Shikinu.
  199.  
  200. “I see. I hope you are ready for this, foreigner. I can see that you’re well-traveled, but surviving this long doesn’t translate into martial prowess alone.” Said Okien.
  201.  
  202. “I don’t have any other option than to be ready.” You said.
  203.  
  204. “Hmph! I suppose you don’t. Do you want me to organize the militia? It’s been some time since I’ve been in a party…” she said.
  205.  
  206. “No need. I already have a plan.” You said.
  207.  
  208. “Floor’s yours.” Said Okien, motioning for you to take a place beside her.
  209.  
  210. “Here’s the plan: I’m going to lure the bulk of Kaizo’s forces out into the open and blast them with magic.”
  211.  
  212. “THAT’S our plan?!” said Okien.
  213.  
  214. “Calm down, woman, I’m not done yet. Like I said, I think I can bait most of Kaizo’s forces to myself and the other mages. I need you lot guarding our flanks. Apparently ‘Gakke’ is bringing up the rear. If Kaizo is getting ready to attack, that probably means that Gakke is right behind her. To keep ourselves from getting flanked, I need you to dig into the ridge to the south and make sure nothing gets past. If I need you, I’ll signal for you to charge down the slope to reinforce the casters. The hollow protects us from the west, and I don’t think Kaizo could have moved any consequential number of soldiers around to the north. Keeping anything from sneaking into town is your top priority. I’d also like a small garrison to stay in Heida to make sure our lines aren’t annihilated if someone slips past.”
  215.  
  216. “Then what?” asked Okien.
  217.  
  218. “Huh?” You thought that your plan was pretty solid for something you came up with in only a few minutes.
  219.  
  220. “So we deal with the first attack, then what?” pressed Okien.
  221.  
  222. Oh, right. Normally after you got done kicking something’s ass, you’d abscond with your own before they woke up. Guess that wasn’t an option in this scenario…
  223.  
  224. “Rest, recharge, hope they go home.” You said.
  225.  
  226. Okien glared at you. The other villagers shuffled as the awkward pause dragged on.
  227.  
  228. “Do YOU have a better idea?” you asked.
  229.  
  230. Okien huffed. “I suppose I don’t…”
  231.  
  232. “We only need to hold out until help can arrive. I won’t lie; these next few days are probably going to be brutal. But we can’t just let Kaizo sack Heida! It isn’t hopeless. Remember, her army has about as much training as you. The only thing she has over us is numbers…” You sent a ripple of energy out of your body. “And I’ll even those odds in a heartbeat.”
  233.  
  234. “This is insane…” muttered a holstaur.
  235.  
  236. “Can I trust you to lead them?” you asked Okien.
  237.  
  238. She slung her massive cleaver onto her shoulder. “Anonymous, you’re a moron and a right bastard, but I’ll take up the challenge. It’s been too long since I had a proper fight with something.”
  239.  
  240. “Call me if you need help. And get to the ridge sooner rather than later. I need you in position before the fighting starts.” You said.
  241. “Come on, girls. You heard him. Let’s get going.”
  242.  
  243. The troop of monsters trudged south, leaving only a few souls behind to cover the village.
  244.  
  245. “Guess I’ll get into position too.” You said, more to yourself than Shikinu.
  246.  
  247. She hummed and nodded. Though she smiled at you, her expression was doleful. “Good luck, Anonymous.”
  248.  
  249. ~~~~~~~
  250.  
  251. “Kaizo, it looks like they’ve formed a militia.” Said a succubus.
  252.  
  253. Kaizo groaned in her hammock. “I knew this was going to be a pain in the ass. How many of them are there?”
  254.  
  255. “I don’t know. I saw some monsters moving up the ridge to the west of us.”
  256.  
  257. “The ridge? How many of them were there?” asked Kaizo.
  258.  
  259. “About three dozen, I’d estimate.” Said the succubus.
  260.  
  261. “Was the mage with them?”
  262.  
  263. “I don’t think so.”
  264.  
  265. “Forget about them. Catching that little rat is our main concern. If they prove to be a nuisance, we can always deal with them.” Said Kaizo.
  266.  
  267. “Yes, Kaizo. I also came to inform you that I’ve spoken with lieutenant Frenata; she thinks that we have enough soldiers to begin the assault.” Said the succubus.
  268.  
  269. “Who?”
  270.  
  271. “Th-…The raiju, boss. The one who has been guiding us this whole time?” said the exasperated succubus.
  272.  
  273. “Oh! Sparks! Yeah, she’s a good girl. I was just thinking it was time to get slashing myself.”
  274.  
  275. Kaizo rolled out of her hammock and gave her chipped cutlass a few slashes. She was READY. Terrestrial combat wasn’t nearly as fun as ship-to-ship warfare, but Kaizo wasn’t picky as long as it was exciting. As far as she was concerned, mages were all the same. “Oh ho ho, demon! Prepare to be blasted away! Ahh! Noooo, stop stabbing me!” Not one of the arrogant bastards ever seemed to understand that all she had to do to beat their parlor tricks was close the gap. Then it was whack, smack, stab until their shields broke. It was disappointing and more than a little pathetic to watch a grown man beg for mercy as she sawed through his ward with her cutlass. Have some pride, damnit!
  276.  
  277. “Let’s go. Fuck me, this armor is a pain in the ass. How does Gakke wear that can of hers all the time?” said Kaizo.
  278.  
  279. Moegara had made sure that Kaizo received a suit of magic resistant armor for her quest. Kaizo had insisted that she didn’t need it, but of course Moegara had taken Nokoribi’s word over her own. From Nokoribi’s account, this guy was more handsy than a drunk kraken with his magic. Whatever. She could ditch it as soon as she kicked his ass. Then it would just be a quick trip back to Kamaka and she would be sitting pretty. Not before making a stop to visit that bitch innkeeper. Kaizo wanted to make sure she saw the guy slung over her shoulder. Maybe she would even tease him a bit while she watched.
  280.  
  281. “Boss! There you are.” Said Frenata.
  282.  
  283. “Sparks! Glad you’re here. If that mage gets to be too much of a bother, I’m counting on you to crack him open.” Said Kaizo, throwing her arm around the raiju.
  284.  
  285. “Uhh, alright. But boss, the mage is just standing out in a field!” said Frenata.
  286.  
  287. “Just… standing?” asked Kaizo.
  288.  
  289. “Yeah. I think he wants to parley.”
  290.  
  291. Kaizo sneered. This was going to be easier than she thought. “Then I suppose I should introduce myself~”
  292.  
  293. ~~~~~~~~~
  294.  
  295. “Anonymous, I would like to state for the record that I think this is a TERRIBLE idea.” Said Shikinu.
  296.  
  297. “Duly noted. Now unless you are planning on being next to me when the sparks start flying, get out of here.” You said.
  298. The kejourou mayor hurried back through the bean field towards Heida. You pressed your toe into the soft earth. Too bad they were growing crops in this field. In an ideal scenario, you would have pulled this on an empty plot of land. But a field’s worth of lost beans surely beat having everything you owned stripped from you.
  299.  
  300. The field sat just southeast of Heida, down the gentle slope leading up to the town. Just north of the field, the river flowed east down the hill and into the valley and forest beyond. The main road into Heida passed over this river via a bridge, forking west along the far side of the river into town and north towards other distant towns. The monsters, at the edge of the forest to the south and southeast, would cross the field you occupied when they made their charge on Heida. A perfect spot for a trap. And every trap needed good bait.
  301.  
  302. Hence, you stood here, doing your best to look as cocky as possible. Monsters from Kaizo’s army were massing in the tree line to get a look at you. None of them dared step farther out into the field or make a run for you. Seems all the dumb ones had been weeded out by now. Even when you flapped the front of your shirt to cool yourself off and give the monsters an eyeful, they were content to jeer and whoop. Where the hell were Kaizo and Gakke? Kaizo could blend in with her troops, but Gakke should be easy to spot. Assuming the descriptions Barmanie gave you were true.
  303.  
  304. Monsters massing on the road turned and parted as a figure sauntered forward. She wore considerably more armor than any of the other troops (that is to say, anything more than regular clothing). Your throat jumped when you saw her. Kaizo. The size and cutlass were a dead giveaway. Even though she was an oni, she was only a bit taller than most of her troops. A few even stood over their leader as Kaizo broke away from the line of eager pillagers. She walked through the fledgling beans with an exaggerated swagger as she made her way over to you. You stared her down as she approached.
  305.  
  306. She stopped only a few meters away from you. Unlike Nokoribi, the only piece of armor Kaizo opted for was a chest plate. Enchanted, no doubt. Her legs were covered by a simple pair of thick cloth pants that stretched all the way down to her western style boots. Long, white hair hung down past her shoulders, unconfined to any helmet or hat, spilling over her tall horns. The ensemble had a bizarre, eclectic look to it; this woman couldn’t even dress herself properly!
  307.  
  308. You surmised she was probably a bit younger than Nokoribi. Her face wasn’t childish per se, but it wasn’t as mature as her sister’s. She had an aura of impish youth about her. As you looked at Kaizo, your mind was filled with thoughts of Pacolo. She had her smug grin down to a science. This oni was ABSOLUTELY certain that everything was going to go her way.
  309.  
  310. {So, you’re the one who beat up Noko, huh? Kinda freaky looking…} said Kaizo. Her lip curled almost imperceptibly as she looked you over.
  311.  
  312. “I’m not sure what you said, but I don’t like the way you said it.” You said.
  313.  
  314. Kaizo’s eyes went wide and she laughed. “Oh, WOW! You can’t even speak Zipangunese, can you? Hilarious.”
  315.  
  316. “I take it you’re Kaizo.” You said dryly.
  317.  
  318. “The one and only!~” said Kaizo, puffing her modest chest out.
  319.  
  320. “You’re smaller than I expected.” You smirked.
  321.  
  322. “I was just thinking the same thing.” Said Kaizo. You noticed her eye twitch a bit. Barmanie’s tip that Kaizo had a complex about her size seemed to be spot on.
  323.  
  324. “Don’t suppose you’ve come to see the waterfall, did you?” you asked.
  325.  
  326. “We heard it was awfully pretty this time of year.” said Kaizo.
  327.  
  328. “The view is to die for. Hope you brought enough coins to pay the visitor’s fee.” you said.
  329.  
  330. Kaizo chuckled. “Typical mage. What is it about you magicians that makes you all so cocky? Not that I mind. Taking you lot down a peg happens to be a hobby of mine.”
  331.  
  332. “Beating up mages, eh? I’m more of a poetry guy myself.”
  333.  
  334. “Then you’re in luck! I’m sure they’ll write songs about what I’m about to do to you.” Said Kaizo.
  335.  
  336. “And I’m sure your family will write you a nice epitaph.” You said sweetly.
  337.  
  338. Kaizo giggled and shook her head. “Too funny. Really, too funny. But we’re not here to banter all day.” Kaizo cracked her neck and rolled her shoulders. “I’ll give you this one chance, and I pray you don’t take it: you follow me back to Kamaka on your hands and knees and I won’t beat the shit out of you.”
  339.  
  340. “I’d love to, but I’ve got sensitive palms.” You said with an apologetic shrug.
  341.  
  342. Kaizo gave a sigh of relief. “Thank the Gods. I was worried that you’d bitch out on me.”
  343.  
  344. “Not when the stakes are this high.”
  345.  
  346. Kaizo looked at you confusedly. The cogs in her head turned and her face brightened.
  347.  
  348. “No… Don’t tell me: you’re out here to play hero to these hicks?” She clutched her stomach and laughed. “Fuck me, {Anomybus}, you’re a gift that keeps on giving!”
  349.  
  350. “Please, all my friends call me Anom.” You said.
  351.  
  352. Kaizo wiped a tear from her eye. “The guy who leads an army to the doorstep of a town, only to throw himself in front of the people he endangered as their savior. Unreal! Hey, the towns folk, are they helping you because they want to, or because they don’t have a choice?”
  353.  
  354. “Mostly the latter.”
  355.  
  356. “Ha! And here I was thinking that these spineless fools were taking up arms for the first time in their lives to protect a darling little mage that wandered into their town. These monsters, {Anoymus}? They aren’t your friends. They’re standing BY you, not with you. I’d bet good coin that I could convince them to fork you over to me in exchange for a peaceful withdraw. Hell, they’d probably kick your ass over to me! Maybe I should go talk to them right now, let them know what their options are. No need for them to suffer on the behalf of one selfish human, right?” Kaizo tapped her chin and eyed the town.
  357.  
  358. You felt the ground subtly shift beneath your feet. Your boots sank a few inches into the ground.
  359.  
  360. “Do you really think they would take that deal?” you blurted.
  361.  
  362. “Why wouldn’t they? Any sane monster would. Hell, I’d even be willing to pay them a few mon for their troubles! Reimburse them for the time and effort they wasted on trying to shelter you.” Sneered Kaizo.
  363.  
  364. The ground underneath you began to churn faster.
  365.  
  366. “And do you think your army will listen to you? After that renegade group broke off and sacked that town?!” you said.
  367.  
  368. Kaizo’s eyes narrowed. “How the hell do you know about that?”
  369.  
  370. “Everyone knows it. You’ve been hemorrhaging troops since you left Kamaka. Your soldiers are plundering up and down the mountain range. We’ve already dealt with one rouge group that tried to extort us. There’s no way you can keep more from breaking off to loot Heida.” You said.
  371.  
  372. “I can keep them in line. Besides, these villagers would be willing to take that risk.” Growled Kaizo.
  373.  
  374. The ground settled. That was close.
  375.  
  376. “I think they’ve already made their decision, Kaizo.” You said.
  377.  
  378. “So have I.”
  379.  
  380. Before you had time to raise your hands, Kaizo had already swung her cutlass at your throat. If you hadn’t had your wards up already, she would have ended the fight then and there. Aiming at her exposed legs and head, you forced her to dodge backwards with a few mana shots and lashed out at her with tendrils. The magic warped and dissipated as it contacted her cuirass. Runes glowed brightly where you touched her. Kaizo’s army roared behind her. Monsters started to walk into the field. This wasn’t the charge you needed; they were just excited to see their leader duel.
  381.  
  382. “Don’t think too highly of yourself just yet, mage!” cackled Kaizo.
  383.  
  384. “That armor, it reflects magic, huh?” you probed.
  385.  
  386. Kaizo smiled and rapped her fist against it. “Sure does. Makes hunting magical shits like yourself a breeze. Not my style, but hey, what can you do?”
  387.  
  388. “Not the leggings and boots though.” You said.
  389.  
  390. “No. Not the leggings and boots.”
  391.  
  392. “That’s a shame.” You sighed.
  393.  
  394. “A shame?” Kaizo cocked an eyebrow.
  395.  
  396. “I wanted to test this against someone in a full suit of enchanted armor.”
  397.  
  398. Before Kaizo could react, you blasted away the ground under her feet. As she fell, you summoned an angled ward under her feet. Another round ward under the first acted as a fulcrum. Mustering your strength, you slammed down on the raised part of the first ward. Kaizo’s scream was punctuated with a sickening hitch as she was launched into the air. The giant magical seesaw wins again!
  399.  
  400. Monsters watched in awe as Kaizo flew over their heads to the edge of the field. A damn fine shot, if you did say so yourself. Judging by the crunch Kaizo made when she landed, at least one monster was crushed under her oni ass. A string of Zipangunese obscenities echoed out from behind the wall of soldiers.
  401.  
  402. “CHARGE!”
  403.  
  404. That you understood. The monsters didn’t need any further motivation. A long war cry rolled over the field as they ran towards you. You held your ground. It seemed like they were all headed for you. Perfect. Taking off your shirt, you started striking some poses.
  405.  
  406. “Now?” murmured a voice.
  407.  
  408. “Not yet, you’ll feel it when it happens.” You hissed at the ground.
  409.  
  410. As the first amazon reached you, you catapulted yourself backwards. The warrior roared in anger and hurried after you. Several flying monsters all made a pass at you in the air and got blasted for their trouble. You repeated the process several times, taunting, retreating, and cleaning up any monster that happened to make it to you. After the third jump, you were standing at the north edge of the field on the riverbank. Placing your hands on your knees, you took a deep breath and admired your handiwork.
  411.  
  412. Sure enough, the monsters were all thoroughly aroused or incensed after all your shirtless foolery. Intertwining your fingers behind your head, you bent backwards and sighed. A hellhound was almost upon you. Poor girl. You flapped your shirt and put it back on.
  413. “No need for that, boy! It’s just coming off again!” jeered the hellhound through her ragged breaths.
  414.  
  415. “I hope you can swim…” you said dolefully. Summoning forth magic in both hands, you slammed them into the ground.
  416.  
  417. The monsters closest to you wobbled as the shockwave passed through the ground. Looking down and then at you, the hellhound laughed.
  418.  
  419. “What the hell was THAT, human? So weak!”
  420.  
  421. “Yeah, my geomancy isn’t nearly as good as theirs is.” You said.
  422.  
  423. “Theirs…?”
  424.  
  425. The ground erupted. Earth rose up on either side of the column of monsters streaming towards you, while sliding out from beneath their feet. Panicked cries echoed up and down the newly formed trench as the gnomes and dorome reshaped the land. Monsters began to scramble up the sides, most falling back down into the trench as their fingers and claws slid out of the loose soil. Others pushed and shoved those in front of them, trying to force their way to the front so they could have their revenge on you. The hellhound shook herself free of the orc that had landed on her. Her eyes flared as she began to climb up the wall to you on the riverbank.
  426.  
  427. “Yep, their geomancy sure is something. But if you think that’s good…” You squatted down and smiled at the hound. “Wait ‘til you see what Heida’s hydromancers can do.”
  428.  
  429. The hellhound’s eye flames all but extinguished as she realized what was happening. You almost felt bad for the poor thing.
  430. A dorome somewhere in the ground melted the thin wall of dirt between the trench and the river. At the same time, the nereids and undine of the river diverted the flow of water from its normal path into the trench. You caught a glimpse of an undine squeezing her covenanter tight as he grappled with the surging liquid. The result was phenomenal. A wave of monster, mud, and water rocketed down the trench.
  431.  
  432. You only had a moment to appreciate the carnage before a bolt of magic tagged your shoulder. Some of the mages in Kaizo’s company had managed to slip out of the trench with magic and were now charging towards you along with a pack of other monsters that had managed to escape the trench in time. Cursing your negligence, you returned fire at the oncoming horde. Your shoulder tingled. Mana burns weren’t especially painful, but they were debilitating.
  433.  
  434. “SEND THEM IN!” you shouted.
  435.  
  436. The other mages of Heida burst out of the nearest building and charged down the road. A yuki-onna iced the river and they spilled over onto your side. The exhausted water elementals and nereids allowed the river to return to its rightful course. Mamono shouted and cursed as the mages began to shoot down the muddy raiders that had managed to escape the trench. A small garrison of archers joined them as well, lobbing arrows into the soup of Kamaka soldiers.
  437.  
  438. By now, a considerable portion of Kaizo’s army had washed out the far end of the trench, dribbling out into a heap at the south side of the field. Most species were now indiscernible from each other with all the mud caked onto their bodies. You watched as a muddy figure teetered away from the heap of her comrades and flopped facedown into the beans.
  439.  
  440. To your chagrin, Kaizo’s soldiers seemed hardier than you anticipated. Though they were considerably slower now, monsters were picking themselves up and shaking themselves off. Even some of the half-drowned monsters at the bottom of the trench were trying to worm their way up the muddy walls. Falling into line with the other mages, you began to pick off any monster that lumbered towards you. For a few minutes, all was well. Kaizo’s soldiers were dropping like flies into the encumbering mud as they slogged towards you and the other mages.
  441.  
  442. “THE ROAD, YOU IDIOTS! GET OUT OF THE MUD!” Kaizo’s roared over the din of battle.
  443.  
  444. The oni princess’s words snapped the advancing monsters out of their single-minded charge towards the nearest unclaimed dick (you). The army on either side of the ditch began to retreat to Kaizo’s position on the road.
  445.  
  446. This was bad. You didn’t have the mana to take potshots from this distance. Now that the initial charge was over, you’d have to resort to conventional, less effective means of dealing with the remaining soldiers. And this time, it looked like they were going to be organized. Kaizo had her back to you, barking orders at the first monsters to reach the safety of the road. They cowered in front of her, quickly falling into a sloppy formation. Others hurried over to form snaking columns of soldiers in front of their leader. Satisfied with her handiwork, Kaizo turned to you.
  447.  
  448. She was PISSED. Even from this distance, you could practically feel the malevolent aura she was projecting. You hadn’t been certain what happened to her after the river had been diverted. Seeing the mud oozing off of her, it was clear that she had been in or at the end of the trench. Her long white hair was now a matted mess of dirt and beansprouts. A gob of mud dropped off her long, slender horns past her crazed yellow eyes as she smiled at you. This was going to be rough…
  449.  
  450. “Back across the river! Mages, come with me. Archers, stay close to this position and make sure no one in the trench flanks us.” You ordered.
  451.  
  452. The other mages hurried after you as you hauled ass down the road towards the bridge. Kaizo saw your mad dash and swung her cutlass over her head. The Kamaka soldiers charged forward towards the bridge. As fast as you were, there was no way that you could outpace some of the beast-girls or theriomancy boosted casters. They were already scrabbling over the wood and onto your side of the bridge by the time you arrived. A feral grizzly lunged at you. Without missing a beat, you swatted her into the river. They may be fast, but theriomancers were dumb as bricks when they went primal. With a few quick shots, you dispatched the rest of Kaizo’s vanguard.
  453.  
  454. “Keep your wards up! If they have skirmishers, they’ll try-“
  455.  
  456. You quickly realized that the rest of Heida’s magicians were still hurrying down the hill after you. This was probably the most cardio some of them had done in their entire life. Kaizo didn’t seem to mind letting you take a favorable position. She marched confidently forward in the midst of her troops. What was left of them. Despite their unanticipated resilience, your trap had managed to incapacitate about a third of her forces and debilitate almost all of them. Not a single face at Kaizo’s side wasn’t ragged and raging. The mages finally reached you and you repeated your orders as Kaizo arrived at the far side of the bridge. She stopped just shy of the wood.
  457.  
  458. “Well, well, well. I have to hand it to you human; I’m a little impressed. Not many spineless casters have the gall to pull something like that.” Said Kaizo.
  459.  
  460. “You know me, I aim to please.” You said with a bow.
  461.  
  462. “Incredible. Your plan fails and you’re STILL this arrogant.”
  463.  
  464. “Plan? Why, we were just irrigating the crops.” You said.
  465.  
  466. Some of the Heida mages snickered. Kaizo’s smile widened, but her eyes narrowed.
  467.  
  468. “You know, I don’t hate this back and forth. I think it’s quite fun, actually! Getting to tease one another like this is so much better than being forced to listen to some hackneyed sermon or speech about how you’ll never surrender. And I have to admit, you’ve got quite a knack for saying something that pisses me off.”
  469.  
  470. “Some would say it’s because I practice so much, but I chalk it up to talent.” You said.
  471.  
  472. Kaizo continued without acknowledging your comment. “I figured I’d haul you back to Kamaka, hand you off to mama, let one of my sisters rape you through the floor, and use the prestige to find myself a perfect husband. I’m a little picky, I confess. Of all the ships I’ve plundered, of all the towns I’ve raided and merchants I’ve robbed, none of them struck my fancy. They were all too weak or too boring. I need a man with some zeal! And the skill to back it up! Get what I’m saying?”
  473.  
  474. “Not really, I’m not into dick.” You said.
  475.  
  476. Kaizo’s eyes were blazing. Her gaze was a frightening mix of passion and contempt. You struggled to keep a straight face as her glare bored a hole through you.
  477.  
  478. “I think I’m going to ruin you.” Kaizo mused. “You’re an interesting guy, {Amom}. I think you might even have the skills to justify that cocksure attitude of yours! But that’s not why I feel the urge to defile you. Right now, what I want to see is the face you make when I have you pinned under my hips. I want to see that cheeky face of yours stained with tears as I break you in. Yeah, I think what I would like most right now,” she ran her thumb along the edge of her cutlass and licked her lips “is to hear you beg~ Let’s see how well you live up to that swagger of yours! Sparks!”
  479.  
  480. On cue, the raiju next to Kaizo launched a bolt of lightning into your ranks. You heard a yelp and a thud behind you, followed by soft moans.
  481.  
  482. “I said raise those wards, damnit!” you shouted.
  483.  
  484. “Get’em! But leave the mage to me~” roared Kaizo.
  485.  
  486. Monsters began spilling over the bridge. You and the mages held your ground as the onslaught of monsters, projectiles, and spells hurtled towards you. The raiju shot another bolt of lightning at you. You winced as it connected with your ward. She was strong! You launched a few shots at the zap-weasel. She raised a ward of her own and deflected the magic. Fuck.
  487.  
  488. The wall of monsters closed in on you as the tide of mamono waded through their unconscious compatriots. Their cries were intermittently answered by screams and grunts from your own side as the mages were picked off one by one. A high orc slipped past you and sunk her sword into a lamia on your right. Kaizo and the other melee-oriented monsters were now upon you. Fuck!
  489.  
  490. You launched a bolt of magic into the sky.
  491.  
  492. “Fall back!” you said.
  493.  
  494. Sweeping your arms to the side, you tried to brush as many monsters as possible off the bridge. Kaizo swung her sword at you, narrowly missing your chin as you backpedaled. As you staggered back, you realized that there was no one else left to retreat with. The other mages were either unconscious or being overwhelmed by Kaizo’s horde. Cursing, you used your magic to launch yourself away from the fray.
  495.  
  496. Farther up the road, the archers at the entrance to Heida were faring a little better. A few Kamaka soldiers lay snoring on either bank of the river, turned to pincushions with realm-silver arrows. Hurtling yourself towards the new front line, you prayed that Okien saw the signal.
  497.  
  498. “Come here, human! Show me what that magic of yours can do! Running only prolongs the inevitable!” jeered Kaizo as you fled.
  499.  
  500. By the time you reached the top of the hill, your limbs were trembling. Reaching into your pocket, you pulled out a small flask of mana potion and chugged it. Your stomach protested as the fresh mana flowed through your system.
  501.  
  502. “Foreigner, they’re coming!” said an oomukade.
  503.  
  504. “I know.” You panted.
  505.  
  506. “We don’t have enough arrows to hold them!” wailed a succubus.
  507.  
  508. “We just have to hold out until Okien arrives!” you said.
  509.  
  510. You took a break as the monsters behind you started nocking and loosing arrows into the advancing army. Kaizo jogged forward unfazed by the arrows. You gulped as she swatted a few of them out of the air with a flourish of her sword.
  511.  
  512. “You’re disappointing me, human! Maybe I’ll fork you over to one of my sisters like I planned.” Laughed Kaizo.
  513.  
  514. “Anon, we’re almost out of arrows!” said the oomukade.
  515.  
  516. “Anon!”
  517.  
  518. Okien was farther down the street, leading the rest of the militia towards you.
  519.  
  520. “Thank fuck you’re here.” You said.
  521.  
  522. “Oh gods, look at them all…” said Okien.
  523.  
  524. “Focus. We can take them. Leave Kaizo to me.” You said.
  525.  
  526. Okien clenched her teeth. Her husband took her free hand and squeezed it.
  527.  
  528. “This takes me back…” he said wistfully.
  529.  
  530. Okien sighed and giggled. “You’re still so bloodthirsty after all these years.”
  531.  
  532. “If we can hold this push, we’re golden. Focus on the ones you can handle; leave Kaizo to me.” You said.
  533.  
  534. “What if she doesn’t want to be left to you?” asked Okien.
  535.  
  536. “I’ll fix that.” You said.
  537.  
  538. “If you say so. Everyone, in position!” ordered Okien.
  539.  
  540. “Leave a small gap for Kaizo to come through.” You added.
  541.  
  542. A new line was formed as the archers sent the last of their arrows into Kaizo’s forces. Even though you had decimated her forces, Kaizo’s army still outnumbered the Heida militia. The situation was surely going to devolve from here. With no formal training, the armies would no doubt break each other apart and spill into Heida. Chaos like that made it impossible for you to clear large swaths of soldiers at a time. You didn’t have the energy to blast every individual monster anymore. Hell, you might not have any mana left after your fight with Kaizo.
  543.  
  544. Emboldened by the absence of arrows hurtling towards them, Kaizo’s troops uttered an excited yawp and quickened their pace up the hill.
  545.  
  546. “Kaizo! Are you feeling alright? You look like you’ve {bean} better!” you said pointing to a beansprout caught in her hair, using your English to make a pun.
  547.  
  548. The oni’s brow furrowed at the strange language. She ran her fingers through her hair and removed the beansprout. Flicking it aside, she turned her attention back to you.
  549.  
  550. “Is it cruel of me to humiliate you like this? To drag your name through the mud?~” you said.
  551.  
  552. Kaizo’s expression grew more sinister. Her pace quickened. The monsters forming the front line inched apart from each other to give her even more leeway.
  553.  
  554. “Are you this angry because you have a SHORT temper? Or is it because I fight DIRTY?”
  555.  
  556. Kaizo bolted through the gap in your lines taking a few errant swings at the monsters that ducked away from her. In an instant, she was upon you, hacking wildly at your barrier. She didn’t have any quips for you this time; the only thing on her mind was shutting you up. Parrying her sword with a ward on your wrist, you empowered your right hand and launched a haymaker at her unprotected head. Kaizo narrowly dodge the blow.
  557.  
  558. “Fists?” she said.
  559.  
  560. “What can I say? I’m a traditionalist.” You said, wreathing your other fist in magic.
  561.  
  562. Kaizo leered wildly at you. “Oh, that’s good. That’s really good. A melee mage! Never thought I’d see the day! Let’s see how fast you are, human!”
  563.  
  564. You slowly backstepped as Kaizo hacked at you with her cutlass. Chaos erupted behind her as Kamaka forces clashed with the Heida militia. Even though you were forced to constantly block Kaizo’s hits, only having to maintain a forward ward saved you a considerable amount of energy. Rationing your wards to only the places she was about to strike was the only way you were getting out of this. Sidestepping a slash, you used magic to accelerate your magic-soaked fist into her chest. The runes on her cuirass flared. Kaizo grunted and staggered. She laughed.
  565.  
  566. “I hope you still have energy to thrust like that when you wake up~”
  567.  
  568. “Normally my thrusts are a bit harder than this, but looking at your face is making me go soft.”
  569.  
  570. “Hrm… That one was pretty good… Pisses me off.” Growled Kaizo.
  571.  
  572. Though you desperately tried to counter her relentless offensive, your punches were ineffectual and your magic was all but useless. More than once you had latched onto her head or leg only to have your offending arm battered until you were forced to break the tether. You landed several square shots to her head, but Kaizo was made of sterner stuff than the rest of her troops. By forcing you to constantly shield yourself from her saber, she limited you to light attacks she could simply shrug off. Though your Valisias training served you well, every combination of attacks you tried was effortlessly interrupted or parried by Kaizo. This woman was FAR out of your league in close quarters combat.
  573.  
  574. As you punched forward, Kaizo allowed herself to he hit in the shoulder. She capitalized on the opening by sinking her sword into the top of your shoulder where you had been hit earlier. Your ward was raised too late, and you yelped as you felt the alien tingle of realm silver cleave a few inches into your skin.
  575.  
  576. “Ah! That noise! You scream just like I’d imagined. Let me hear some more~” said Kaizo.
  577.  
  578. You clutched your wounded shoulder. It wasn’t a deep wound, but essence was pouring out of you. Essence you couldn’t afford to lose. Glancing over your shoulder, you saw that you were almost at the first bridge over the river. Kaizo slammed her fist into the ward covering your chest, demanding your attention.
  579.  
  580. “What’s with that look, huh? Where’s the snappy comeback? Was that insufferable attitude of yours just a farce? Now that the chips are down and you realize you don’t have the winning hand, are you going to show me your true colors?” mocked Kaizo.
  581.  
  582. Your feet clunked as you stepped onto the bridge. Your steps became erratic as you struggled to maintain your wards under her barrage of sword swipes.
  583.  
  584. “Look at you now! Just another desperate animal! So much for that verve of yours!”
  585.  
  586. She feinted high and struck low, taking out one of your ankles. You yipped and fell back. With all your might, you scooted yourself away from Kaizo with a throbbing shoulder and a numb leg.
  587.  
  588. “Anon!”
  589.  
  590. A harpy the militia alighted onto a building above you.
  591.  
  592. “Anon, please! We need you! More Kamaka troops have just arrived!” pleaded the harpy.
  593.  
  594. Kaizo turned to look at her. “It’s about damn time. Young lady, I think we all know how this battle is going to end. Tell the incoming troops that Kaizo wants them to wait outside the village once the militia is dealt with, would you? I promise if you idiots start behaving yourselves, I’ll treat you fairly.”
  595.  
  596. The harpy’s lip trembled as she watched you scoot your way to the far side of the bridge. She flew off with tears in her eyes to relay the orders to the advancing troops.
  597.  
  598. “Now then…” Kaizo looked you over.
  599.  
  600. You grabbed the banister at the edge of the bridge and tried to pull yourself up. The world pitched and wobbled as you rose to your feet on shaky knees. You fell face down at the edge of the bridge.
  601.  
  602. “So much for that. I have to admit, Anon. You’re a pretty spectacular guy. I mean, your fighting style sucks, but you’re pretty entertaining. You’d be a good soldier if you learned how to dodge instead of taking every hit on the chin.” Kaizo sheathed her cutlass.
  603. You began to laugh. Rolling your head against the cobblestone, you looked up at her on the bridge.
  604.  
  605. “I don’t suppose… I could convince you… to surrender?” you wheezed.
  606.  
  607. Kaizo looked at you with a befuddled smirk as you fell into hysterics. She shook her head and gave you the warmest smile you had ever seen from her.
  608.  
  609. “What the hell? You really are a weird one, Anon. But damn, if that wasn’t entertaining as hell.” She rested her hands on the railing of the bridge and watched the fighting. “I think I’ll take you, Anon. I get the strange feeling that even when I’m raping the shit out of you, you’ll still be able to sneak in a few wisecracks. I’ve been looking for someone like that for a long time, you know? I want a husband that won’t just fold like a piece of origami when I press him. I need him to have some BITE to him. Ah, but don’t get me wrong; I still want to see what kind of face you’ll make after I milk every last drop of essence from your body. But when I’m done, I’d like someone to banter with while we sail the high seas looking for victims. Doesn’t that sound nice?” She looked at you lovingly.
  610.  
  611. “Sorry, you aren’t my type.” You grinned.
  612.  
  613. “That’s the spirit~” said Kaizo.
  614.  
  615. “Wait!” you weakly held your palm off the ground. Kaizo stopped walking towards you.
  616.  
  617. “Oh? What is it, my darling fiancé?” asked Kaizo, fluttering her muddy eyelashes at you.
  618.  
  619. “I’m sorry.”
  620.  
  621. Her expression darkened. “Sorry? It’s a little too late to get out of this with an apology. Kind of pathetic, actually. Maybe I will hand you off to one of my sister-“
  622.  
  623. “I really tried to think of a good joke for this during your boring ass soliloquy, but I couldn’t think of anything better than: Kaizo? More like, {FLYzo}.” You said.
  624.  
  625. Kaizo blinked at you. “What?”
  626.  
  627. “Fuck, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s even worth the translation.”
  628.  
  629. Slapping your hand down on the edge of the bridge, you triggered the sigil you had inlaid on the underside. The bridge erupted into a geyser of splinters. Kaizo screamed as she was launched into the air. Your limp body cartwheeled away in the blast. Like a ragdoll, you collided with a wall and slid to the ground. The pain was unbearable. Your arm was certainly broken on impact. Somewhere above you, Kaizo’s screaming ended with an abrupt thud and a pained wheeze. A moment later, her unconscious body flopped down in front of you amidst a shower of clay roof tiles.
  630.  
  631. Your vision faded in and out. This was it, wasn’t it? As you lay in a mangled heap against the wall, your fading mind became aware of Kamaka soldiers running through the streets. Sounds of battle raged all around you. So, they had finally breached the lines. What kind of monster would find you, you wondered? All they had to do was pick you up and carry you off. Or take you right there. Maybe you should have just taken Kaizo. An oni wouldn’t be too bad, in the grand scheme of things. Your listless gaze watched the soldiers on the other side of the destroyed bridge. Funny, it almost looked like they were afraid.
  632.  
  633. An orc tripped. Looking over her shoulder, she squealed as a knight riding a wyvern slammed into the cobbled street hard enough to dislodge some of the stones. As the wyvern landed, the rider ran his lance through the fleeing raider. A panicked soldier beetle (who looked particularly out of place) turned to face the couple. The wyvern raised her foot and delivered a brutal axe kick onto the insect girl’s head. What the hell was happening?
  634.  
  635. “Mr. Anon!”
  636.  
  637. A harpy landed beside you.
  638.  
  639. “Look who I found! Lord Antozo has sent the dragoons of Soheiya to aid us!”
  640.  
  641. Antozo? Soheiya? Dragoon? Your mind couldn’t comprehend any of these things as you slipped into unconsciousness.
  642.  
  643. ~~~~~~~~
  644.  
  645. “Foreigner, wake up.”
  646.  
  647. Your eyes cracked open. It felt like you had been hit by a truck. A helmeted figure loomed over you. The headpiece was ornate but practical, shaped into a visage of a dragon. For a moment, you wondered if you were at the mercy of some sort of strange dragon creature the encyclopedia hadn’t mentioned. Then the memories of the battle came rushing back and you recognized him as one of the dragoons that had swept through Kaizo’s forces. Once you got over the initial shock, you looked around the room.
  648.  
  649. You were on a pile of straw on the floor of the townhall. Other monsters and their husbands were strewn about as well. Healers bustled back and forth between them, making sure they were alright. Like most monster “wars,” most of the energy they had lost from the realm-silver wounds was being restored by cuddling or loving their spouses. The worst wound you could see was a man with his arm in a sling being fawned over by a centaur. Most of these scrapes and bruises would be healed in a few days.
  650.  
  651. “Can you hear me, foreigner?” asked the knight.
  652.  
  653. “Yes.” You rasped.
  654.  
  655. “I know you’re probably hurting right now, but I have some questions I need to ask you.” He said.
  656.  
  657. “Okay.”
  658.  
  659. “We’ve captured one of Moegara’s daughters, Kaizo. So far, she’s refused to cooperate. I just need to know more about the situation. From what we’ve gathered from the townsfolk and some of the soldiers we’ve interviewed, Kaizo was tracking you down. Is that correct?”
  660.  
  661. “Yes.”
  662.  
  663. “Is that all?”
  664.  
  665. You gave the knight a puzzled look. “What do you mean?”
  666.  
  667. “Was there any other reason why Kaizo was following you?” he pressed.
  668.  
  669. “No.”
  670.  
  671. “No artifacts you’re carrying? No unique spells you’re in possession of?” asked the armor-clad man.
  672.  
  673. “What? No.” you said.
  674.  
  675. “Foreigner, I hope for your sake you’re telling me the truth. This little incursion will have irrevocable consequences on the empires of Zipangu. You SWEAR that the only reason Kamaka’s army came through the pass was to obtain you?”
  676.  
  677. “If you’re thinking of peddling me off to them-“
  678.  
  679. “Calm yourself, foreigner. We wouldn’t do such a thing. I don’t think you’re lying. Next question, what is your business in Zipangu?” he asked.
  680.  
  681. “Uhh… I’m here for a… a wife.” You mumbled.
  682.  
  683. “What?”
  684.  
  685. “A wife.”
  686.  
  687. “Speak up, foreigner.”
  688.  
  689. “I’m trying to get married!” you hissed.
  690.  
  691. You could tell he was giving you a look even though his face was hidden by a visor.
  692.  
  693. “Surely you realize that there is an ample supply of eligible women in every village and city on the island, no?” he said.
  694.  
  695. “I know there are plenty of fish in the sea! I-“
  696.  
  697. “That too. If you desire an ichthyoid wife, the ocean is a far more efficient place to conduct such a search.” He said condescendingly.
  698. “That was an idiom you moron. I’m not trying to marry a fish. And keep your voice down!” you said.
  699.  
  700. “Listen, foreigner. I don’t care who you marry, as long as you do it soon. If other empires grow interested in you, there may be more conflict. I’d be happy to escort you back to Soheiya to search for a wife there, if it would please you. By all accounts, you fought valiantly to defend these people; even if you fought as penance for bringing them here.” Said the knight.
  701.  
  702. “Soheiya? Isn’t that a big city? Out on the plains?” you shut your eyes, trying to remember all the names and places on your map.
  703. “Indeed. It is a powerful city-state with a just and wise ruler. I’m certain Lord Antozo would be more than welcoming of a mage such as yourself into his city.”
  704.  
  705. “And Soheiya, does it have any ryus?” you asked tentatively.
  706.  
  707. “Ryus? No. Not with permanent residence, at least. We have good relations with one of the ryus near the coast. By her and her husbands grace, they ensure we have the rains to nurture our crops in the planting season. Why do you ask?” Said the knight.
  708.  
  709. You looked at the ceiling. Would he understand? This guy just wanted you to get hitched as fast as possible to prevent any future fuckups. Why should he care what species you were going for?
  710.  
  711. “Hmm? Could it be you…” He crossed his arms. “Hmm. Hmm! I see. I see! I should have known a guy like you wouldn’t settle for just anyone, eh?” he said.
  712.  
  713. “I thought you said-“
  714.  
  715. “Forget what I said, lad. That was wrong of me. I said that as a knight, not as a husband.”
  716.  
  717. He looked over at a wyvern watching him impassively from across the room. Presumably, picking her way through all the sleeping and fornicating monsters would have been too much trouble. Her nose flared a bit when she saw her husband looking at her. She wiggled one of her wings a bit, careful not to disturb anyone.
  718.  
  719. “Beautiful, isn’t she? Don’t worry, foreigner. I understand you. Dragons are… something else. They’re prideful, obstinate, and hard as hell to track down. But when you do? Well, I couldn’t ask for a better companion. ‘Course, that’s a biased take. I know every guy will boast that his wife’s species is supreme. But I get where you’re coming from. Like chasing the sun itself…” he said wistfully.
  720.  
  721. “Does that mean you’d be willing to help me?” you asked hopefully.
  722.  
  723. He sighed. “I’m afraid I can’t. With Kaizo in custody, we’ve crippled her armies advance. But the rest of her troops are stretched for miles up and down the roads through the foothills. We need everyone who can hold a lance to help capture them or herd them back to Kamaka. As soon as we finish up here, we’re flying south to rendezvous with the heavy cavalry engaging Gakke’s forces.”
  724.  
  725. “Gakke? Is she close?” you asked.
  726.  
  727. “She’s probably about half a day south of here. Not for much longer. Once the centaurs get to her, she’ll be forced to limp back to Kamaka like the rest of her ilk. I wouldn’t worry about her anymore.” Said the knight.
  728.  
  729. You flopped your head back onto the straw and sighed. What a relief. At least this nightmare was about to be over. Finding a ryu would be much easier without an army nipping at your heels.
  730.  
  731. “I know you can’t help me find a ryu, but could I ask a different favor of you?” you asked the dragoon.
  732.  
  733. “Perhaps. What is it?”
  734.  
  735. “There’s a book in my pack. A cookbook. Some bastard enchanted it so that Kamaka could track me. I don’t exactly know how it works, but I know they follow it like flies to honey. Could you take it with you when you leave? I don’t care where it goes, as long as it isn’t with me.”
  736.  
  737. “That’s how they found you? Hmm… I can think of a few ways we could use that to our advantage.” He said.
  738.  
  739. You shifted on the cot and winced as you tweaked your arm.
  740.  
  741. “Careful there. You were pretty smashed up in that explosion. What the hell was that anyways?”
  742.  
  743. “A trap I set. I figured that we would have to cede the field and road eventually, so I made that as a backup.” You said.
  744.  
  745. “Not bad. A little crude, but I’d say it did the trick.”
  746.  
  747. You smiled. "Thanks for saving us."
  748.  
  749. He nodded. “Rest, friend. I’m sure that someone will be by to take care of you. Where is this book you spoke of?”
  750.  
  751. “My bag should be in one of these offices. It’s the cookbook, not the leather-bound one.” You said.
  752.  
  753. “Good travels, human. Hope I see you in Dragonia someday.”
  754.  
  755. “I’ll be there.” You said.
  756.  
  757. “That’s the spirit.”
  758.  
  759. He gave you a salute that you weakly reciprocated with your good arm and went to retrieve the damnable book that had caused you so much grief. You closed your eyes. Hopefully that unicorn would be by shortly. Your arm was starting to throb.
  760.  
  761. ~~~~~~~~~
  762.  
  763. Gakke peeked out from behind her shield. The heavily armored centaurs seemed to have learned their lesson. They may have been at an advantage on the plains, but Gakke’s forces had the upper hand in the forest. The rest of Gakke’s squad stood next to their general in defensive formation, looking at the centaurs smart enough not to stray into the woods. Unconscious soldiers littered the ground, Gakke’s on the field, and Soheiyan troops amidst the fallen leaves. The air was tinged with the acrid scent of smoke wafting from an automaton’s arcane weapon, still pointed at the horse-women.
  764.  
  765. “Keep moving. Into the woods. Don’t turn your back on them.” Said Gakke.
  766.  
  767. “General…” said a dullahan.
  768.  
  769. “We can’t save them. Kamaka needs us. This isn’t the place to throw ourselves away for the sake of honor.” Said Gakke.
  770.  
  771. “They hold the pass! There’s nowhere to retreat to!” said the dullahan.
  772.  
  773. “We will go north. Through a minor pass.”
  774.  
  775. Some of the Soheiyan troops started to advance into the forest as Gakke’s phalanx moved away. The automaton’s gears whirred, and a rain of magically accelerated realm silver ripped into one of the sergeants.
  776.  
  777. “Don’t. Conserve your ammunition.” Scolded Gakke.
  778.  
  779. The machine woman looked at her blankly. Twisting her arm up, the barrel of the weapon slid back into her forearm.
  780.  
  781. “We’re on our own, girls. No one from home is coming to save us. Time to show this island why we’re the best soldiers in Kamaka.”
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