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Approaching Storm

“Are you sure you can’t tell us what it is?” Jason asked Keeja.

“Yes, like I told you yesterday, my legs are restrained with cables.”

Well, that’s another strange idiom, thought Jason.  Their group had ended up staying near Pilk a while longer, and they’d been on the road heading to Harmly for two days.  They were making really great time and monster encounters were low.  The only problem was that Yanno-ibbi had reported a strange feeling of being watched since before they left Pilk.  After he said so, a few other members of the group admitted they’d been feeling uneasy too.

Jason and Henry took these concerns seriously and decided to start pulling watch shifts of their own.  Two nights ago while on watch with Bezzi-ibbi, Jason saw something.  More than anything, it had looked like a heat distortion in the fog, and he probably wouldn’t have noticed it in the first place if he hadn’t been familiar with a certain, cloaking predatory alien from movies.

Jason was going to attack it, but he’d watched it instead.  It had moved around the camp all night.  Nobody knew if it was a monster or something worse, but the fact Keeja refused to discuss the matter was putting everyone on edge.  Henry had already ordered the group to stay battle ready at all times, and Jason had been encouraging everyone to hide their powers.

It was most likely that whatever was watching them was a scout of some sort.  They could be under surveillance.  The thought disturbed Jason.

Only a few members of the company could even see the entity, whatever it was, but the whole group felt watched at night.  Hardly anyone spoke during the day anymore, they just listened to Keeja’s music player, discovering new songs and requesting favorites in order to keep the worry at bay.  Henry wasn’t even complaining about Keeja’s disco music choices anymore.

Those that could see the figure in the mists did things occasionally to try interacting with it, but nothing overt.  Jason had considered asking Vitaliya to try hitting it with flame, but he thought better of it.  He wasn’t sure it’d actually do anything more than show off Vitaliya’s power and tip it off they were aware it was there.

Henry had already told everyone the best they could do for the moment was try to be prepared for anything.  Towards that end, Jason and Henry were both training hard to improve their powers.  Jason had even figured out several of the abilities Keeja showed him, including how to store items in what he was calling “sideways space,” a small… pocket he created for himself.

It was an amazing ability, and he would have normally been extremely excited if not for the dread hanging over the group.  He hadn’t really even told anyone about his new abilities yet other than Henry, and that was only to explain why he was asking his friend to make him a couple dozen more throwing knives.

Jason had been able to put plenty of knives in his new storage, but it had used up most of the group’s remaining stash of bronze.  Henry wasn’t happy about it, but he had agreed with Jason that it would be smart to prepare as best they could in case danger was coming.

Plus, if Henry needed to, he could just melt down some of the other tools he’d already made to craft new ones.  Jason thought his friend just liked having lots of metal on hand and was being a bit of a drama queen.

Either way, he was happy with the decision to use up the bronze.  Jason felt the comforting presence of his sideways space storage and the reassuring knowledge it now contained plenty of throwing knives to ruin someone’s day.

His sword, Breeze, had gotten an upgrade too.  Actually, most of the group’s weapons had gotten at least one enchantment courtesy of Thirsty.  Jason actually acted on a hunch based on his conversation with his orb and asked Thirsty to enchant Breeze with air and fire magic.  So far, the sword just burned things and created gusts, but Jason was hoping the two elements would somehow combine to create a new enchantment.

Keeja started speaking again and Jason snapped back to the present.  The entire group was taking a rest stop from traveling.  The demigoddess said, “Just the fact I can’t say anything should speak volumes if you’ve been paying attention.”

Jason nodded.  He’d already figured out what was probably going on.  He had even talked to Uluula, Henry, and Gonzo about it.  It was time to tell the group and it was a good time to call everyone together since everyone was slowly heading back to the Battlewagon and magicycles.

“Okay everyone, circle up!  We need to have a chat!” Jason hollered.

“Can you please keep your voice down?”  Henry called down irritably from the Battlewagon turret.  “Do you want to let every fucking monster for miles around know we’re here?”

Jason absently nodded.  He had to concede that Henry had a point.  Of course, he knew the real reason his friend was irritated was because he’d already had to gun down two flying monsters that day, and one had been a wizened owl demon.  Henry hated them.  Jason wasn’t sure if Henry was more creeped out by how they looked, or outraged at what Ludans called them.

As soon as the entire group was present, Jason cleared his throat and reluctantly gave the news.  “Okay everyone, I know everyone is on edge.  We all feel watched.  Some of us can see the thing that comes with the mists at night, and some can’t.  Some of you think it’s a spirit or a monster.  Unfortunately, the reality is probably worse.”  Jason sighed and said, “Gonzo, please tell everyone about our best guess.”

“Right,” said Gonzo, stepping forward.  “As you can probably guess even if you haven’t seen it, there is a lot of orb-Bonded violence all around the world right now as a result of Dolos’ planet-wide message.  I have gotten reports suggesting that some groups are attacking orb-Bonded and Mo’hali heroes in a semi-professional manner.  They look like adventuring parties at first glance, but they’re actually hunting Heroes and Bonded.”

“So, basically we have a PVP situation on our hands,” said Jason.

“PVP?” asked Vitaliya.

In English, Jason responded, “Player versus player, or person versus person.”  He switched back to Luda and said, “It’s the first term that came to mind and it’s somewhat accurate for this situation.”

“No it’s not,” scoffed Henry.  “We’re not talking about gamers.  These are murderous assholes scoring some easy wealth by hunting other people.  Also, I thought you hated acronyms.”

Jason glared at Henry for a second, but didn’t say anything.  The smug SOB had a point.  Christ, I’m even thinking in acronyms.  Did I always do that?  Jason shook his head and ignored Henry, saying, “Realistically, our feeling of being watched and the figure in the mist are connected, and they’re probably related to one of the PVP groups.”

Henry snorted and Jason briefly imagined teleporting his friend above a lake.  He didn’t have the ability to teleport other people, only himself, but he could dream.

“So what do we do?” Aodh asked, his voice trembling.

“Well, I figured we should ask the person in our group with the most experience with caravans.  Yanno-ibbi, can you give us your suggestion?”

Yanno-ibbi took a step forward and made a curious gesture, dipping his head and eyes down.  He said, “I must make it known I probably have far less experience with caravans than High Priestess Keeja.”

“You are a nice boy, Yanno-ibbi.”  Keeja smiled.  “Yes, I do know a thing or two about, well, pretty much everything—“

“Yeah, but she’s useless.  Just let us know what you think, Yanno-ibbi,” interrupted Henry.

“Useless?”  Keeja raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, we all know you can crack the land and boil the sea, whatever, who gives a shit.  What you’re actually going to do is sit on your ass and listen to more shitty disco music.  The one time you actually did anything was to go blow up a mountain with Jason, and that was only so you could listen to the Bee Gees or whatever.”

“Oh, I sit on my ass?  Have you been gazing upon my ass?  You know all you need to do is ask and you can come taste the forbidden fruit.”  Keeja put a hand by her mouth and said in a stage whisper, “What about your little wife, though?  Does she know you’re propositioning me?”

Henry frowned and gave her the finger.  Keeja smiled wildly and ran her hands down the front of her frilly top and her worn jean shorts.  “You know what that means, right?  Are you asking?  If you are, you might want to get some healing potions because I might break a few bones… of yours.”

Mareen gasped and visibly restrained herself.  She glared at Henry and Keeja.

Jason put a hand over his face and sighed.  Everyone had been getting along just fine, but now that the group was facing an actual danger and needed to stick together, everyone was acting like children.  It didn’t help that Thirsty Zha Zha was laughing and shouting, “You go, girl!”

He sighed again.

Uluula looked like she was about to say something but Jason gave her a very small shake of his head.  He glanced at the other members of the party.  Aodh looked like he was about to pass out from fright, and Vitaliya was slowly but surely making her way over to her cousin.

What a bunch of weirdos.  Jason reached into his sideways space and pulled out a throwing knife.  He used it to rap on the Battlewagon a few times.  Everyone immediately stilled; Jason wasn’t sure if it was because of the noise or because he just pulled a knife from midair.  Ultimately, he decided he didn’t care.

“Look, let’s just get this over with.  I know everyone’s on edge but just… chill, okay?”

“Be cold?” asked Bezzi-ibbi.

Jason groaned.  He’d just pulled a Henry and didn’t think carefully enough about what he was saying in Luda.  He corrected in English, “I meant ‘chill.’  It’s slang.”  He switched back to Luda and said, “Yanno-ibbi?”

“Yes, thank you Jason-ibbi.”  Bezzi-ibbi’s uncle scratched his head, partially unsheathing his claws as he did so.  “We’re already doing a lot of what we should be.  Whether someone is watching your caravan with magic or from the top of a cliff, you should never show the length of your claws.

“That is to say, you hide your strength.  Staying prepared for a fight is good.  We’ve already been doing that but we should probably increase it.  Lastly, we should slow down.  If we travel slower, there is a higher chance we won’t walk as deep into an ambush before noticing one.”

“Excuse me.”  Thirsty held up a hand.  “Why don’t you all just… go somewhere else?  If you know someone is looking for you and they wanna throw down, why keep heading towards it?”

“That’s actually a good question.”  Jason nodded.  “Basically, we don’t know where the enemy is or what they plan.  It’s the same reason we’re not directly trying to do anything about the shadow in the mists.  I’ve already talked to Gonzo about misinformation.  Basically, we could try to appear as strong as possible and maybe whoever it is would leave us alone, but there is no guarantee of that.

“This is an entire planet of people and we are being hunted.  Given enough time, someone could just get reinforcements or build a better trap.

“By trying to play dumb and hide our strength, we might force our watcher’s hand and have an advantage.  Basically, since we’re probably up against other orb-Bonded, there are a lot of dangerous unknowns.”

Thirsty asked, “So why not just go back to that city you were in before?  Mirana, right?”

“If we head back, we could be hit en route.  Plus, being in a city might result in our enemies being stronger, or hurting innocent people.  But most importantly, I don’t think that’s an option.  I don’t think we can stay in this country while refusing the orders of the queen.”

“Correct,” said Gonzo.  “For better or for worse, you’ve been given a mission.  The only way to realistically get out of it would be to find the deepest, most monster infested forest you possibly can and live a dangerous, miserable existence.  The fun thing about being orb-Bonded is that the rest of your life can be hundreds of years.  This means you could really drag out the boredom and loneliness until or unless you get eaten.  You’ll probably need to eat a lot of the natural, edible plants in the forest to survive too.”

“Rad,” muttered Henry.

“So let me get this straight,” said Thirsty.  “You could be getting hunted by like thirty people who can throw around magic and shit, and you’re just gonna, what, keep doing what you’ve been doing?  You are gonna put yourself, and by extension, my black ass in danger?”

“Basically, yes,” said Henry.  “Because we don’t know if the danger will increase if we change something.  If we keep trying to hide everyone’s abilities, slow down the speed we’re traveling, and stay ready for the shit to hit the fan at any time, we have a chance of giving anyone who attacks us a nasty surprise.  Plus, we have vehicles.  It might be a matter of giving them everything we got and getting away.”

“So we’re just screwed and trying to make the best of it with zero information?  Well, you all are making this decision, but it’s putting me in danger too?”

“Yeah, we’re pretty much fucked either way,” said Henry.  “And you’d be dead as hell by now if we hadn’t found you, so simmer down.”

“Okay, that makes sense.”  Thirsty sniffed and looked at Jason, “Why didn’t say what Henry just said in the first place?  Stop making everything so complicated.”

Jason was about to answer when he noticed Aodh quickly move to the other side of Yanno-ibbi.  Vitaliya was conspicuously close to where he’d just been standing, but the red haired O’breen woman had an attentive, innocent expression.

He still wasn’t convinced that Vitaliya was as insane as Tony claimed, but he had to admit she’d been acting more… erratic as the days passed.

Jason barely kept from wincing as he answered Thirsty, “I will keep that in mind next time.”  He addressed the rest of the group, “Stay ready for a fight at all times from here out.  No displays of magic or power.  Bezzi-ibbi, start wearing a glove or something in case whatever it is hasn’t noticed your hand yet.

“If we get ambushed, our first goal is to stay safe, whether that means trying to run away or fighting it out.  Try to keep a positive attitude, do what you can to prepare for combat, but be sneaky about it.

“We’re only a few days out from Harmly.  After that we’re going to cut cross country and find the Stem River before heading north.  Hopefully everything blows over.”

“So we should continue to avoid directly interacting with the shadow?” asked Uluula.

“Yes.  Right now it’s better they suspect we know about them watching us than be certain about it.”  Jason clapped his hands.  “Okay everyone, let’s get going again.  Since we’re slowing down our pace, start looking for nice camp sites and we’ll start quitting earlier each day when we find one.”

Jason followed his own direction and hopped up in the driver’s seat of the Battlewagon.  He really needed to talk to Henry about some way to focus the group and keep morale from dropping further.  It was possible they were all heading to a nasty fight, maybe even death, but it’s not like this was exactly uncommon for adventurers on Ludus.

Maybe more music would work.  He’d have to ask Henry if his friend could make Keeja’s music player get any louder.  If Jason was honest, he’d have to admit he’d like to hear more music too.  It was weird to hear popular music from home while driving a tank on a different planet, but it did make the experience more fun.

They also had to hope that Keeja actually stayed with the group like she had been for the last two days.  When she took off, her music player went with her.

Liangyu crossed her legs, the motion stirring her red silk hanfu.  The expensive outfit’s material was made from earth silk, not monster-produced material.  She absently tightened her black sash and adjusted the lethal little enchanted dagger she kept at her waist.

She was sitting in a rough-hewn chair that had belonged to one of the Tolstey soldiers manning the location until a few days ago.  The outpost hadn’t been very large, only around 10 soldiers, probably chosen for their uselessness.  Liangyu’s mercenaries had made short work of them.

Now that she thought about the mercenaries, she realized she needed to update them too.  She might as well have them attend when Ghinsja gave her report.  She ordered one of her thralls over, this one some sort of feline creature with spider mandibles and spikes along its spine.  She wrote a note for each of her three leaders, folded them all with the intended recipient’s name printed on the outside, and stuck them on the creature’s spines.

As the thrall scampered off to find Liangyu’s leaders, she smiled.  The expression didn’t touch her eyes.  She knew they hated when she used her creations to fetch them, but she didn’t have time to spare their feelings.  The note to Raquel had also told the mercenary captain to make sure her group attended the meeting.

Before long, Liangyu’s subordinates arrived, each of them sporting different expressions.  Biivin’s eyes were narrowed.  Her entire frame spoke of barely contained violence as usual, even under her baggy clothing.  The High Priestess’ dark eyes fixed on Liangyu as she entered.

Mourad was next in the room.  The big, middle aged mercenary wore her usual camouflage patterned armor.  The woman’s huge, blessed steel flamberge rode in a sheath on her back.
The big mercenary had a few pieces of enchanted gear, as did most of her team, but Liangyu never cared enough to find out more about it.  All that mattered was their effectiveness and willingness to follow orders.

Mourad was frowning slightly, her deep set eyes nervously watching the two thralls Yiangyu still had in the room.  The big woman was surprisingly light on her feet, and tentatively found an empty place in the room to stand at attention.

Next to arrive was Matilda, by far the loveliest member of the mercenary team.  Her blond tresses fanned out behind her in a wave, her dark tunic had decorative patterns embroidered in orange.  Her tights were orange and her boots dark.  Liangyu thought he clothes looked gaudy, like a rotting squash.  The woman was lucky she had a sweet face.

Matilda carried her enchanted bow over one shoulder, her monster-wood rapier hung at one hip.  Despite her attempts to take on airs and act the part of a mysterious ranger, the woman’s roots as a slum rat were obvious.  Her lip curled in disgust as she saw the thralls in the corners of the room.  Her every emotion was always plain to see.

Raquel was next in the room, her face homely, her eyes dull and hair ratty.  The fire mage didn’t look like much, but she led her group with iron authority.  Her clothing was just like the woman herself, a thin coat with no decoration, but lined with so many knives it doubled as armor.

She carried a staff with brass ferrules.  Liangyu had a suspicion that the staff was made of monster-wood just like Matilda’s rapier.  The mercenary captain’s face was carefully schooled, her nod to Liangyu respectful.  However, Liangyu’s experienced eyes caught the hints of disgust and anger.  It was interesting that such a remorseless mercenary could still hold such stigma against reanimation magic.

On Raquel’s heels came Anz’wei, the big Adom was of some reptile race.  Liangyu thought she looked a bit like a walking crocodile, but she had to admit she thought most reptilian Adom looked like walking crocodiles.

Anz’wei didn’t need armor; her body was a weapon.  She wore some kind of flowing garment and a thick yucka leather vest with pouches.  The seven foot tall Adom took up so much space, Liangyu decided to send one of her thralls out of the room.  The thrall still wore his armor he had on before he was killed, the crest on the back of his tabard was probably for the Tolstey guard outpost he’d been manning.

As he passed Anz’wei, the big Adom female’s nostrils flared.  Her expression was otherwise unreadable, her slitted, reptilian eyes offered no clues of her thoughts.  Liangyu really didn’t like Adom much… well, living Adom.  If Anz’wei were killed, she’d make an excellent thrall for a few weeks at least.

Last through the door was Ghinsja.  The pale Areva orb-Bonded looked wan.  She’d been exercising her power almost constantly the last few days.  She wore robes of blue and white, and now that they were actually on the hunt, she also wore a jack made of yucka leather and plates of bronze. On her belt, she kept a hand crossbow and a sloshing water skin.

Her pale hair was tied back in a ponytail and her eyes tightened when she saw the thralls.  Even after all this time, Lianyu’s magic made her nervous.

Now that the whole group had gathered, Liangyu stood up.  It was one thing to remind everyone of her position, but staying seated any longer would be pushing it.  She said, “Thank you for coming.  It will save everyone time for the whole group to be here during this report.  First, Raquel, how does the hunt for raw material go?”

The mercenary captain answered, “Very well.  The device the High Priestess ‘dropped’ and we recovered has been very effective at attracting monsters from the surrounding area.  Just today we’ve already killed six of them and laid them out for you to do your… magic thing, my lady.”

“I see,” said Liangyu.  Then she said formally, “And mistress Biivin, would you like us to return the device you dropped?”

Biivin raised her front lip in an approximation of a smile.  “No, that is fine.  I am much too busy with my experiments right now.  I don’t know where I’d put it.  However, I could use another test subject.  That would definitely keep me busy.”

Liangyu smiled but inwardly she grimaced.  The shameless creature was demanding another child.  Well, there wasn’t anything she could do about it.  She felt disgusted but one did what one had to, it was like a strand of cow hair amongst nine cows.  She said, “Raquel can help with that later.  Raquel, please continue your report.”

Raquel lifted her nose in disgust, but realized Biivan was watching her and quickly tried to school her expression.  Biivan merely smiled.  Raquel said, “We’ve already emptied out the nearby dungeon.  We didn’t find much treasure, only some random earth items and magic stones.  The dungeon was populated by a handful of those cat creatures with big pincers, like the one you delivered our notes on.”

Liangyu absently nodded.  “What are they actually called?”

“I think they’re something like, short furred, spined beetle cat demons.”

“That is correct,” said Biivin.

Liangyu waved a hand and said, “Very interesting.  Now I’m sure the corpses you have procured are all lined up in the usual place, correct?”  Raquel nodded.  “Good.  I will be out there later today to grow our little army.  Speaking of which, Ghinsja, please report on our targets.”

The Areva orb-bonded wearily stepped forward.  “I have some conflicting news.  Last night, my mist form was still able to roam around unmolested, but the members of Aodh O’breen’s group I’ve seen use magic are using it less now.  Plus the group has slowed down.  I don’t know if they can see my mist form or if something else tipped them off, but they appear to be acting more wary.  However, they haven’t changed direction.”

“They’re still heading down the road towards our ambush point?” Liangyu asked.

“Yes,” replied Ghinsja.

“Excellent.  If they changed directions we would need to terminate the ambush and find a different target, or perhaps find this group later.

“So what is the tally of powered individuals in the group now?”

Ghinsja replied, “As you know, I can’t hear anything while in my mist form.  However, the closer they get to us, the more detail I can see and the more easily I can read lips.

“Aodh O’breen still shows no evidence of any powers, although he keeps strange devices on his belt.  It’s very possible he is an enchanter, water mage, or some other orb type we haven’t seen before.  That said, he is fairly young and always looks nervous so despite him being our primary target, he is likely not the primary threat.

“The dark skinned girl named Mareen and the Asian man Henry both have power and they are probably orb-Bonded, especially the girl.  The man usually wears armor that could be enchanted, but he uses Earth school magic so he is at least a mage.  Luckily, Earth school is weak.

“I have looked for Hero marks on the Mo’hali but haven’t found any.

“The other man who leads the group with Henry, I believe his name is Jaceen, the tall one, I haven’t seen him use any magic.  He seems to get made fun of a lot too.  I have no idea whether he is orb-bonded.  He also usually wears armor and he carries a really pretty sword.  He could use enchanted equipment.

“In fact, you’ve heard my rundown of the entire group before.  I still cannot see confirmation of any of them being orb-bonded.  I don’t see it with Aod O’breen either.  We know he is Bonded.  This means at least Aodh is noble or well connected; others could be too.  This is even more likely since the red haired Terran girl and the Latin, Terran man remind me of Berban mercenaries.”  Ghisnsja turned towards Raquel and her group, smiling apologetically.  “No offense.”

“None taken,” said Raquel.

Liangyu produced a fan from a hidden pocket and tapped her chin while she pondered.  There was a bit of a conundrum to think through.  The fact the group was continuing despite apparently feeling impending danger was worrying, but at the same time, she needed them to head into the ambush point.

The likelihood that the group could be an escort party for a noble or two was even more likely since they were heading towards the Tolstey’s capital by road.  The presence of nobles made the job personal for Liangyu, but she didn’t want to make stupid decisions based on emotion.  She asked, “What are your suggestions?  First Ghinsja, then Raquel.”

“I would actually suggest we avoid this target altogether,” said Ghinsja.  “However, I know this isn’t really an option even if we hadn’t gotten a note from Dolos.  So that being said, I would suggest you use your thralls to stop the caravan immediately, and split the target group up before I cover the area in fog.”

“Isn’t that difficult for you to do, especially if we have to attack while it’s still light outside?”

“Yes, but I can do it.  There are small ponds and enough standing water around here to lessen the strain.”  Ghinsja patted her water skin.  “I’ll need to get full, uninterrupted rest while they’re still a couple days out so I can regain my strength, though.”

“That’s fine.”  Liangyu pointed her fan at her second in command.  “Anything else?”

“Yes.  This probably goes without saying, but you should set some of your stealthiest thralls on the most problematic member of the group, taking care of them immediately.”

“That indeed was what I am planning to do,” Liangyu assured.  “Raquel, what are your thoughts?”

“I agree with everything Ghinsja said, but there are a lot of unknowns here.  It’s unlikely, but what if all these rotting aristos are Bonded?  The random Mo’hali are weird too.  They’re not slaves and not being used as porters.  They could be merchants, but then why do they have the little boy there?

“I would suggest sending two of my group to target the Mo’hali and deal with them whether they’re Heroes or not.  A Hero can cut the strings between you and your puppets.”  She gestured at a thrall in the corner, the undead thing used to be the commander of Tolstey guard post they were using as a base of operations.  The thrall still wore her armor and a simple bronze sword at her waist.

Liangyu tapped her chin and thought carefully.  She didn’t bother to ask Biivin’s opinion.  The woman would be restrained by her mysterious rules from offering any advice even if she were the type to help, which she wasn’t.  Liangyu thought carefully about how to phrase her next few words.  She said, “Without the object that we luckily found, the one Biivin dropped, I’d be less likely to continue with this attack.

“However, I will have dozens of thralls when the time comes.  We will also have Ghinsja obscuring vision and offering support for me as I control the thralls.  She will be able to give you better vision in the fog than our enemies will have.

“There is also the fact that this is Tolstey.  Even if there are other orb-Bonded in Aodh’s group, they’re probably first rank and have no idea what they’re doing.

“The fact that Dolos’ note specifically mentioned Aodh O’breen, who is a boy and is not in charge of this group lends further evidence that he is a noble.  As you all know, I hate nobles and many of you do too.

“The opportunity of a payout this large while exterminating nobles is not something we can ignore.  However, we are going to go about this as intelligently as possible.”  She looked between her leaders.

“We can always run away if things go bad,” Ghinsja said, nodding.  “Plus, if we kill a few and escape, we will still be rewarded by Dolos for any Heroes or orb-Bonded.”

“Just more reason to kill the animals right on the quick step.”  Raquel snorted and said, “Plus, just point us at things to kill.  As long as you keep paying us, we’ll fight.”

The rest of the mercenaries nodded… except for Anz’wei.  The big, reptilian Adom showed no sign she was even paying attention.

“Good, then that’s settled.”  Liangyu snapped her fan shut and put it away in her hidden pocket.  “You all know your remaining tasks for the day.  Our targets are still several days away.  Let’s work to make sure we have every possible advantage we can get before they arrive.  Realistically, there are probably at least three orb-bonded in this group.

“This is probably going to make all of us very rich, girls.”  There were predatory smiles all around the room.  “Dismissed,” said Liangyu.

As all her subordinates filed out, Liangyu sat down again and thought back to a time when she wasn’t so lonely.  Her daughter had been the only good thing she ever had on Ludus.  It seemed fitting that Liangyu would elevate her descendants to the nobility with funds gathered by killing nobles, nobles just like the one that had killed her daughter over one hundred and fifty years ago.

The symmetry appealed to Liangyu, even if all the details didn’t.  Dealing with Biivin was absolutely intolerable.  She really wished the woman hadn’t been assigned as her overseeing High Priestess by Dolos.

Supplying children to suffer whatever it was Biivin did to them was another dark mark on Liangyu’s soul.  She was very honest with herself about this.  She admitted she wasn’t much better than the noble who’d killed her daughter.

But she didn’t care.  All that mattered was ensuring her sweet Li Jing’s family, and Liangyu’s family by extension, were taken care of for the next few hundred years.  Liangyu might not always be around to watch over them.  The simplest solution was to make sure they had the money and power to take care of themselves.

Liangyu narrowed her eyes as she felt the surety of her purpose again.  She’d do anything to accomplish her goal.  She would paint the world in blood and sew suffering like seeds.  She already knew she was damned, the god Yan Wang would have much to say after she died.  What was more sin on top of what she already was responsible for?

She calmed herself and willed a thrall to get her a fresh cup of tea.  It was time to stop dwelling on the past and think clearly on how best to kill her targets.  It was a cruel world.  The strong ruled the weak.

She would be strong, strong for her dead Li Jing.  Liangyu waited for her tea and tried to ignore her loneliness.  She’d run out of tears one hundred years ago.

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  • Deinos

    Yay! A new chapter! And it’s even a big one, thanks a bunch! But I gotta admit my euphoria was a bit stunted when I realized that most of it is filler.

    • Blaise

      Character development =/= filler. But the next chapter is all action so be prepared!

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