Submission Length Prologue +3
“Yurushite Kudasai. Unmei Kokomi kokorobi wo wasure masen.”
This was the closest she could come to a goodbye. She begged forgiveness from her mentor, Unmei. She promised to forget her. This was the way of the Osoisekai. Gazing through the window of the plane, she let her mind absorb everything around her. The air, people talking, the bumps in the plane itself; it all fed her learning. With information being the food, her mind was ravenous.
Twenty years ago, her mother tried to save the Osoikai clan. Rakatami had vision, and knew that the failing of the gift could only be fixed through science. This was not the way of her people, who clung to traditions older than written memory. Her chosen had returned with books many times, and she absorbed them completely. This knowledge cycled in her mind and found the only solution to their problem. The lines needed new blood. She could restore the gift to its former glory, but she could not do it within the clan.
Violating the way of the clan, she left. Only one person had been willing to listen to her, and that was Unmei Kokomi, her own mentor and lifelong friend. Even she tried to talk her out of it. Not only would she violate the traditions, but she would be hunted, and may never find what she was looking for. Even if she did, she would have to convince this man to help her conceive a child who would have a very low probability of survival.
The Gift, as the Osoisekai call it, is a most often fatal genetic defect. It falls of seven alleles, two identifying presence, and five establishing the intensity. The more intense, the less likely the child will survive. In extremely mild of cases, without proper training, death is expected by the age of four. The training of an infant involves perpetual stimulation and the use of several herbs, and Rakutami did not know any of these processes.
Kokomi had agreed to help after her return, but knew there was a narrow window, and making this did not guarantee success. She also knew, with no uncertainty, that Rakutami would not survive, even if she was successful. The baby would grow normally for six months. If the child were as mild as Kokomi, herself, it would survive perhaps two years beyond this point, as the brain of the child would fill with chemicals and tumors. One as gifted as Rakutami would not survive a year, and would not be treatable after a three month delay. For her to be successful, however, she would need to produce a child far more gifted than she was. Kokomi had not seen any stronger in her sixty years of service. There were many as gifted as Rakutami, but that appeared to be the new ceiling. She wasn’t even sure if the methods would work on one stronger.
The worst part is that there is no way to identify if the child is gifted before the six month window is up. Her immediate return was needed. The clan would be hunting her continually, and would kill her if she were found. If she had a child with her, that child would be left to fend for itself. Even with Kokomi’s help, returning with a more gifted child did not ensure success, as the child must also survive to adulthood.
The odds seemed impossibly stacked against her. She needed to find a non-symptomatic carrier of an incredibly rare genetic disease, with the most lethal intensity theoretically possible. Even if she found this in a man, and convinced him to conceive a child, his lack of a manifested gift meant that the child only had a fifty-percent chance of manifesting. Before knowing if the child would manifest, she would have to return to a people who would kill her on sight, and secretly rear the child while getting treatments from a well-known and frequently visited member of this clan.
Two years later, she returned, with a child, and began treatments with Kokomi. Kokomi was disappointed that it was a girl, but tried to help her old friend realize her goal, and keep her sacrifice from being in vain. Five months later, all disappointment left her.
Rakutami began acting oddly at this time. She began over eating, frequently trying to use the restroom, often without success, and would spontaneously lose consciousness. Kokomi recognized this at once. The baby had the gift. She had it to a level that had not been seen in living history. As the next few weeks past, both woman started growing horribly ill, and their gift began to fade.
Marlena, the baby, was creating the treatments inside herself. Because she lacked control and understanding, she was applying the treatments, along with all of her other bodily functions, onto everyone who touched her. Kokomi became obsessed with the development of this child, even to the point of neglecting her own.
Even though Rakutami was highly trained in stealth, concealment, and avoidance, it is not easy to hide from a ninja clan. This holds especially true when all of its members have elevated perceptions and reflexes. Every time they were discovered, she sacrificed herself anew. She would lead off the pursuers, circle back to retrieve Marlena, and flee to her next hiding spot. This was the normalcy of life for eight long years.
Marlena had developed wonderfully. She could learn a new language in minutes, unlike the weeks it took most Osoikai. Her ears could distinguish a specific piece of paper amidst a windstorm, based on the way it tumbled because of the ink on it. She could look at the cells of plants with her naked eyes, and darkness made very little difference. She had also begun doing things the two women had never heard about. She could focus on her scrapes and heal them over in seconds. She could focus her muscles into bursts of strength similar to the stories of a panicked mother flipping a car off their trapped child. She could run and jump faster and higher than anything they had seen.
She also had things she could not do. The Osoikai all have terrible memories because of the gift. Marlena could forget what she was doing mid-sentence. She had difficulty concentrating and paying attention; feeling your own body functioning is quite distracting. She expressed very few familiar emotions, as the time the reaction would linger with her was barely momentary. The family’s discovery became more frequent, as she had trouble controlling her strength and speed.
On her ninth birthday, Marlena experienced a new emotion. This one was not fleeting as most had been. It was loss. The Osoikai found them again. When she tried to flee as they had practiced dozens of times, she found that there were more men than they expected. She was trapped. This was also the first time she was spotted. Rakutami moved to protect her. The fight lasted a few seconds, but to Marlena, it was an eternity.
When one of the men struck her mother with a sword, Marlena’s world nearly stopped. She could see the skin cells parting or splitting to the blade. It went deeper and deeper before finally pulling all the way through. What seemed an hour later, blood lifted to the surface. She watched the platelets try to cling onto the sides, but they simply could not. The edge was too smooth for most, and the gash too wide for others. Watching in horror, she was unable to move. She tried, but her body was simply too slow. She could feel the muscles tearing as she pushed harder. She had barely moved two inches when the blood finally reached the ground.
When properly treated, the gift of the Osoikai speeds up the mind. This is what seemed to freeze Marlena in place. Her mother continued protecting her for almost five seconds after she was struck. In Marlena’s adrenaline fueled mind, it lasted six hours. Her efforts to help caused what others would see as a brief convulsive seizure, and left her torn and feverish; completely unable to assist in the slightest. Her mother’s blood slowly made its way to her, covered one side of her face, and conveyed Rakutami’s last feelings.
There was no fear in the blood. There was no anger. There was love, hope, and pride. As she absorbed the hormones from her mother’s blood, sleep overtook young Marlena. Even years later, she would remember the face and the feeling of this woman. She would remember the pride in sacrifice. She would remember what she had lost. She remembered her mother, completely, for almost a year. She remembered her face and voice for several more. She remembered the strange feeling the two felt for one another even beyond that.
The pride I sacrificing herself to benefit others would stay with Marlena for the rest of her life.
Her training would begin shortly after her mother’s death. She was not yet at the age that new Osoisekai normally begin, but she held a great competence. The only delay was due to the clan leaving her behind. She was born beyond their walls, and this made her a stranger to them. The real training begins at birth, with full immersion and indoctrination into the culture. Kokomi had to push for her admittance.
She reminded everyone that Marlena was born to a member of the clan. She pointed out how strong she was with the gift. When this failed, she threatened to retire, having already served for seventy two years. She was admitted as an Osoisekai bride. Kokomi was assigned to her personally, as instructional guide.
Kokomi’s own daughter, Satohara, did not like this. Her mother had already sacrificed a great deal of time to protect and advance this outsider child. She resented the look of hope on her mother’s face whenever talking about Marlena. Over the years, the hatred grew. Satohara was good at winning over others, and started the training with many friends from childhood. She pushed the others to taunt and dislike the pale, awkward Marlena. They even teased her about the name, which was her father’s dying wish. It was his mother’s name, and wanted his name to be carried. Rakutami gave him her promise before she gave him peace.
The training, itself, was simple. As an Osoisekai bride, she needed to know domestics, massage, acupuncture, basic medicine, as well as the skills to keep her husband and the other wives of the village happy. She needed to understand education for teaching the basics to the next generation. She learned the history of the three clans. All of this was trained to perfection, for all members. The warriors of the clan were guardian assassins. They needed to be able to rest and relax when not actively working.
Each bride was also trained in a secondary specialty. Each family had their strength. Rakutami was an analyzer, who could segment her mind into looking at differences and similarities, and could assess the value of many different things. Randall, Marlena’s father, was a natural linguist. Both of these traits carried to her. The Unmei line, now including Kokomi, Satohara, and Kapar, were caretakers. They easily learned people. They excelled at medicine and personal interactions. They were needed in child raising, as they alone could administer the treatments of survival, and in community building. As a warrior, Kapar’s understanding was used to infiltrate, misinform, and assassinate.
The simplicity of the training led to more teasing. Marlena would often wander into her own mind and body during the lessons. She would ask questions at inappropriate times, even interrupting the presenting teachers. She would daze off and become nonresponsive. Worst of all, she would forget. The other future brides taunted her endlessly about being an uncultured savage, a flighty, air-headed outsider. It was made clear to her that she did not belong. Still, she made the most of it.
Some of the girls resisted joining the teasing. One even began to take Marlena’s side. Her name was Tsuri Miki. Unlike most of the girls, Miki was not pretty. Her baby fat refused to lift, and her skin was marked from the pox in her infancy, and suffered from the acne of early onset puberty. This did not bother her at all. Within the clan, marriages were always arranged. Her appearance would not impact her ability to wed and have children. She carried an adoration for children, and hoped to become a Tender, like Kokomi, when she grew up.
She was always calm, and often quiet. This came from her absolute confidence. While the other girls participated in insignificant pushes for social power, Miki was completely content with the knowledge that there would be children, growth, and love. She also had the blessing of being only lightly touched with the Gift. The other girls occasionally teased her about this, but it meant she would be able to remember far easier and far longer than any of them.
Marlena was drawn to her confidence and pride. It reminded her of her own mother. Over the years, the two spent most of their time with each other, both in lessons and out. As they grew closer, the scorn of the others, especially Satohara, grew as well. The intensity against Marlena grew, and the scope soon covered Miki and any who resisted bullying either of them.
A year into the training, Marlena discovered something that helped her focus on her studies and training. She could hear other lessons going on throughout Mura no Kodomo; the Children’s village. She would place her mind on each of these for a short time, and cycle out to the next. Some classes were older girls, some were boys. They all learned different things, or the same thing she was studying, but at a more advanced level. Her focus seemed to increase, and her performance in the classes began to surpass Satohara; the most talented girl in the sessions.
She had taken the first step in her specialized mind without realizing it. She was creating focus compartments. Not only was this the gift of her specific bloodline, but it was what was needed to deal with the racing thoughts of the Gift. In time, her analysis would prove the greatest of teachers for her. Nobody knew what to expect from the Gift to the extent she suffered it.
As time passed, Marlena and Miki drew closer. Both were outcasts to the rest of the class, and neither cared. Both knew they were fated for greatness. They helped each other with the studies, each sharing their strengths with the other. Miki was a natural at the medicinal arts, cooking, and sewing. Marlena was far better with massage and acupressure. As they came into their twelfth year, the lessons started to change.
More emphasis was placed on presentation and ensuring happiness. They also began classes in stealth and concealment. The wives of the clan were responsible for hiding themselves and the children if an attack occurred. Two girls were to be chosen to participate in an early portion of the upcoming classes; self-defense and counter assassination. A bride must be able to protect their sleeping husband and to slay any who find the children. Satohara was chosen immediately. Not only was she tied to the most prestigious of mentors, but she also held a great potential in all the trainings. The other position was offered to Marlena, who declined.
Kokomi asked her about declining, and she would not tell. She did not want to give away the fact that she was already practicing combat by listening to the other classes. As usual, Kokomi reassured her, and became quite motherly and affectionate. To Marlena, this was natural. She had known Kokomi since shortly after her birth. With her mother fading from memory, Kokomi was the closest thing to a mother she had.
Kokomi, however, had a different reason for this extra attention. She knew the great potential that Marlena held. Someday, this would save their clan, and return the great power of the Gift they once enjoyed. Whenever the two were close, Marlena would give off different chemicals than she did when in the class setting. It was comforting, relaxing, and pushed all worries away. This kept Kokomi from seeing the trouble brewing in her own daughter.
Satohara had moved far beyond normal jealousy. Everything seemed to come easy for this outsider. Even her own mother favored the pale-skin. Rage had long since passed. This had smoldered into a deep and fiery hatred. The ways she previously could hurt Marlena no longer worked. She would need to find something bigger, better. She would break this girl’s spirit and everyone would see how weak an outsider truly was.
The classes for that year were more complicated. They called for identifying how other people felt or would feel. All of the girls except Miki and Marlena had a terribly difficult time. The two were more than happy to offer assistance to the others. Even Satohara was invited, but this only furthered her hatred. After that year, the girls were to learn resilience.
They would brand themselves and each other with heated needles. They would sew and stitch one another. All the while, Kokomi would play soft and beautiful music while reciting ancient poems, equating pain to pleasure. Again, only two girls did well in the training. Again, Marlena was one. This time, however, Satohara far outshined Miki.
Teaming in the training was needed at this point. Satohara always tried to be Miki’s partner. Miki’s lack of the gift made the replacement of pain with pleasure much more difficult. She never enjoyed the pain, although she did grow more tolerant of it. The sympathy that Marlena had learned turned these sessions into torture. Satohara would watch the pale outsider, and would relish in ruthlessly hurting her only friend. Miki was not even a person to her, but the only vulnerable extension of Marlena. Even when she was to receive the brands, she drew a sickening amount of pleasure. In her mind, feeling pain simply reminded her that she would soon be hurting Marlena. This was the deepest pleasure she had ever experienced.
For Miki, the pain was double. She suffered the stinging burns, but this was worsened by seeing Marlena’s pain afterwards. She would always try to hide her discomfort, but Marlena’s sense, especially for her, was too great. She spoke with her parents, and it was agreed that they would shelter Marlena. Until then, she had no home within the clan. Living with them, Marlena could practice her medicine after the sessions, and Miki would be relieved of the brands.
Miki burned some words forever into her mind. “I have found a way to take joy in the pain. Without the pain, I would not have this time with you. I would have no reason for you to touch me. When she hurts me, she is letting you touch me later. From this, I am happy.”
The joy that filled Marlena helped her grow even more. The warm feeling of protection she held for Miki worked into her own metabolic control. When she worked to release the pain, she triggered in Miki a rapid healing that she had enjoyed, for herself, as long as she could remember. The ability to mend one’s self was a well-known, but rarely successful aspect of the Gift. The ability to mend others was only told of in ancient legends.
The gift has an effect on aging. Marlena, being the strongest with the gift, was aging and maturing much more slowly than the rest of her class. At age ten, it was easily noticed that she had slowed, and by eighteen, had all but stopped. Miki, being the least gifted, was aging the fastest. It was no surprise that she matured into enjoying the touch of others first. Only Kokomi recognized what was happening.
When Kokomi pulled Miki aside to talk with her, Marlena’s exceptional hearing made her privy to their secret. Kokomi told Miki that she saw the bond she was forming with Marlena. She insisted that, if it could not be controlled, it must be stopped. Miki assured her that there was no need to worry. She wanted children, and would take any husband offered. She then reminded Kokomi that the men of the clan will spend over a year away from the village, only returning for a few short months before leaving again. Any lingering relationship between the two would simply help them be ready to better serve their mates when they returned. Kokomi admitted, this was the way of their clan.
Within the Osoisekai, there are relationships between brides, known as Atei. This is not only normal, but expected. A bride with no Atei is seen as outside the community. The closeness between Miki and Marlena is what is called Ochiatei. While literally translating to ‘Mother-sister’, it describes a bond of deep love. Ochiatei are often inseparable, and have been known to take the company of the other over that of their ChoSen, or sworn spouse.
Marlena’s slow development made this very confusing. She had no idea what they two were talking about, but she knew how dearly she held Miki. She began to realize that Miki meant more to her than even Kokomi. Although the draw was different, she felt a heavier bond to her than she even had for… that woman... from her memory… the one who died so long ago.
The following year, the training shifted again. The entire class started learning the light combat arts they were to receive. Satohara was the instructor’s assistant for this. She abused that role to gain access to hitting Marlena and Miki. They also began studies on pleasing both their husbands and the other brides. This required paired sessions, but the men of the clan determined who would pair with whom each time.
Marlena discovered a new feeling. It was a form of disgust. Whenever the pairings were announced, it hit her. She was unable to stop it. It began like anger, but quickly changed into fear. The two would battle back and forth for dominance inside her, all the while, her mind becoming more and more deluded. It never occurred when her pairing was announced. It started the moment Miki was paired, every time. She didn’t understand the new feeling, and it disrupted her in the lessons.
Her ability to chemically connect with others should have made her immediately good at these lessons, but Marlena was unable to focus this in the way she needed to. Her presence became uncomfortable to everyone around her. When she was the subject of practice, she never gave a good response, and the other student would feel awkward and threatened. The girls quickly began to ask not to be forced to participate with her.
Satohara also had trouble. She burned with so much hatred, the type of contact required by this training was beyond her grasp. She soon became frustrated, and was ranked second to the bottom. Miki, on the other hand, excelled. Even the observers were struck red-faced giving reports. Her practice partners begged for a chance to train with her again. Kokomi asked her to share her insight with Marlena in hopes that she could improve her technique.
Miki complied. She told Marlena the only secret she needed. “No matter who I am with, I let my mind see you. The rest comes so easily.”
This brought the sickening new feeling back in Marlena. She was angry, scared, and confused. She did not know what to make of this. Still, she needed to do better, so she gave it a try. The very next session moved her ranking, leaving Satohara dead last.
She used her enhanced hearing to listen to Kimi, several buildings away. She focused on it and closed her eyes. The uneasy air left the room. As she started the contact from the lesson, her eyes were closed. They would mislead her and throw her off from what she needed to do. She let her other sense guide her; touch and scent and taste. She focused her mind on giving the joy to Kimi, and how she wanted her to feel. This was an immediate success.
When Kokomi saw the reluctance in the observers to discuss the outcome, she worried that Marlena had gotten worse. She alone understood the true depth of the problem. Marlena’s jealousy was making her push a sense of violation on everyone around her. When the other participant reported, however, Kokomi and Kimi both burst into satisfied smiles. The next week, when the roles reversed, the reports went back to negative. Although she could help others, Marlena did not respond well to their contact.
The next grouping, however, placed Marlena with Satohara. Everyone within the class gave a notable shudder when this was announced. The rivalry between the two was very well known. Nobody expected this to go well. Marlena’s new trick would not work, as Satohara would not be so easily removed from her mind. The thought of what Satohara might do put a very real dread in everyone’s mind.
As expected, Marlena was not able to trigger any better results than nausea from Satohara. Not only could she not replace her in her own mind, but Satohara’s hatred was simply too deep. When it was Satohara’s time to practice, she fumbled for a few minutes, and then refused to continue.
An enraged Marlena leaned in and demanded of her, “Pain is pleasure. You want to hurt me, then do it!” Satohara first complied with a retaliatory slap, drawing both redness and blood. The observers moved to step in before they saw Marlena’s excited and eager reaction. “If you’re too weak, I can just hurt myself,” she taunted.
Satohara tried everything. Striking, scratching, biting. When this failed, she broke one of the tea cups to cut Marlena. Everything she tried only seemed to fuel Marlena’s out-of-control pleasure even further. Even after the gong sounded, she continued trying. She was determined she could find the point at which pain was not pleasure. She would not be beaten. She would hurt the outsider.
Marlena did not close her eyes this time. She embraced the anger. She absorbed the hatred that Satohara held for her, and used it. Every time Satohara failed, she succeeded. Her body started to feel like it was heating and vibrating. A ringing started in her ears. With the broken cup, Satohara had whispered to her. “Will your Miki like your face all sliced up?”
Now, Miki was in her mind. It was more than she could handle. Anywhere Satohara hurt, Miki would be allowed to touch later. The pleasure from the pain, the satisfaction of her defiance, and now the knowledge that Kimi could join her later was too much. Her body and mind were both on fire. Her muscles twanged beyond her control. The real world around her faded into the pure bliss she had found. Every strike and every cut renewed the intensity. Unable to contain herself, she became quite vocal.
The battle continued for two hours after the ending gong was sounded. Warrior ninja needed to pull Satohara from Marlena, but no report was needed. Everyone had been able to witness the success of the session. Marlena remained low on responsiveness with all other pairings, but Satohara began to climb in her assessments. She enjoyed causing pain, and amongst the Osoisekai, pain is pleasure.
At the time of the last declaration of pairs for the year, the top ratings, in order, were Miki, Satohara, and Marlena. All three were heavily requested. When the pairings were announced, joy filled tears began for two. Kimi and Marlena were to be matched. Kokomi had fought against this. She knew how risky this would be, not only for the two, but for any observers. These two had a closeness and love that the clan was all but devoid of. With every passing day, she found herself being drawn into it more and more. Victim of the draw of hormones and emotions, Kokomi began tutoring Marlena privately in the arts of pleasure. This was forbidden, but even the great caretaker had her limits.
The girls were also studying martialry for hearth defense. Satohara was a cruel assistant, here. She would intentionally strike harder than the lesson called for. She sought blood. She pushed the other girls to do the same when paired with Marlena, and later, with Miki, as well.
When subjected to the abuse, Marlena enjoyed it. She pushed back harder and harder, and accepted their stronger blows as an invitation for her to hold back less. She had been following the training of the warriors, through listening in and mentally practicing. Her skill was unmatched. As the lessons progressed, she learned how to use her body when her mind was accelerated. This made her unstoppable. The others in the lessons had perception, reflexes, and strength that surpassed most people. They could use their accelerated minds to push beyond their own limits. Marlena’s mind left theirs far behind. Not only was she able to act and respond faster, but she could control her own hormones. Even the male instructors invited in could not stand up to her in weapons training.
Satohara knew she was gaining advanced training and could not accept being beaten at this. She pushed Anrakimi to actively try to hurt Kimi. She replaced the practice blade with a wooden shod holding a metal edge.
When Marlena saw this, and saw the strike closing, she surged into motion. She deflected the blade upward before the observers could respond. When they tried to grab her, she continued to fight. Anyone who entered the ring faced the full, unrestrained force of Marlena. She was stronger, faster, and more adapted than even the most experienced ninja warrior present. Less than a minute later, Miki crouched in the center of the training ring, surrounded by groaning and injured warriors, sheltering the horribly wounded Anrakimi. The deflection blow never touched her, but the force, which splintered the wood and shredded the steel, also ripped her shoulder so badly it was pulled out of socket and detached the muscles from her ribs all the way down her right side. She was lifted ten feet into the air by the blow, and would not finish training that year.
Miki was too slow, lacking the Gift, too follow what had happened. All she knew is that her Marlena had protected her. No force could touch her. Even experienced warriors had fallen. Marlena knew this, as well. The male warriors who trained the next generation had been unable to stop her. Her strength in battle was unmatched throughout the village. The feeling inside of protecting Kimi, however, was what lingered the most.
At the year’s end, the two were rewarded with being paired in the couple’s lessons. Satohara could not bear this anymore. She lashed out. The night after the selection, Miki had visited Marlena’s sleeping mat. The two talked about the next day, and drifted off to sleep across from each other. In the middle of the night, Marlena was awakened by an odd chemical sensation. It was fear and sorrow, coming through contact. It was Miki’s hand.
Satohara had ordered her to touch Marlena after she sneaked in. As soon as she saw Marlena’s eyes open, she yanked back on the blade, spilling Miki’s lifeblood. “Pain is pleasure,” Satohara hissed.
Marlena found herself, again, a prisoner in her own body. It was too late to act. The blade had opened Kimi’s jugular. She saw the attacker, but could not move. Her mind was far faster than her body could keep up with. Again, she felt an oddness to the blood. The fear had lifted almost completely. There was a contented happiness in it. Miki’s eyes were locked on her own. “I am your ubumei.” Her last words were a promise to return, in spirit form, to be with Marlena. Even after her life had passed, her eyes remained open.
Miki’s mother had been alerted to the noise. She was making her way in just in time to see Satohara leaving. At finding Miki slain, and Marlena unresponsive, she turned in the report. Kokomi was furious. She tried to denounce Satohara, not just as a daughter, but as an Osoisekai.
Marlena heard this from where she still lay, lost in Miki’s dead eyes. She rose and immediately ran out to intercede.
“No,” she protested. “We have already lost our second best from this class. We deserve to keep the best and the strongest. Let Satohara stay.” Her words were based on revenge, not sympathy or duty. Banishment would not hurt Satohara for long. She already suffered losing her mother’s love. There was only one way left to make her suffer: remind her that she is the best in the class, and then take that away from her.
For the next two years, Marlena’s every breath served this end. With every class and every test, she held Miki in mind, and outperformed Satohara. There was no means of comparing the two. It was like pitting a master against an infant. Only now did Satohara start to understand the monster she had unleashed. Previously, Marlena had been distracted. With the distraction gone, her focus was assured, and the girl became unstoppable.
It was not until their completion ceremony that Kokomi was finally allowed to banish Satohara. It was also on that day that Marlena left.
The airplane started its decent, snapping Marlena out of her dreams. The flight had been her first chance to relax since she left. None of the three families would follow her onto the plane. They would be in closed quarters against her superior strength, speed, skill, and resilience. If things went badly, she could simply open the side of the aircraft and be confident in her own survival. She knew it, and she knew they knew it.
While in transit, she listened to the other passenger speaking, to the radio, and to the television. She did not want to arrive in America without knowing the language. She was no expert, but knew she could get by pretty well with what she had learned. As the jet taxied to the terminal, both excitement and anticipation filled her.
She had no memories of the modern cities, except for the ones she passed through on her journey here. She knew she had been born here, but had no idea what to expect. She also knew that once she was off the plane, she would be exposed again. She would have to be careful in escaping them. Gassing a bus terminal in Japan and blowing up an airport in China were one thing, but she intended to stay here, so she could not use such drastic measures. She would have to actually face them.
The terminal was crowded and busy. This was good. If she were ambushed, she had many people she could use as cover, and could more easily slip away in a commotion. She watched all the workings of the airport on her way to baggage claim, but stopped before she got there. Counting down the time, she waited in hiding until she anticipated her bag would be coming out. When it was time, the swift pace of her walk was uninterrupted by the people in between, the bag delivery, or the lifting of the heavy bag. She had figured out exactly where people would be, when the bags would pass, and how to move through most quickly.
She was surprised when a man outside the airport offered to help. She had heard rumors that Americans were rude. In fact, Satohara would never let her forget that this was why she had no manners or class. When he approached, she shifted the weight of the bag to be able to swing it if she needed.
“Hey, little girl,” the man said, “are you travelling alone? Here, let me help with that.” With that, he grabbed the bag. She was so relieved and grateful. With a fluid motion, she removed herself from the strap. Unfortunately, the man was pulled down on top of the bag by its weight. He moaned and rolled on the ground holding his shoulder.
Marlena looked at him curiously. ‘Did he actually hurt himself, or is he just a beggar?’ “I’m sorry,” she responded, “it is very heavy. I did not have intention that you hurt yourself. Here.” She dug into the bag and retrieved a single coin, which she tossed to him. His eyes locked onto it in disbelief, as he scooped it up and ran off. She did not realized his intention was to run off with her bag until her reflection period later that day.
A different man, waiting at a yellow car called over, “you shouldn’t show gold off like that. You’re gonna get mugged.”
Marlena looked him and the vehicle over. This was one of those cars that you could hire to take you places. She pulled another coin from the bag. “Take me where I can store these. Take me to the money place.” With that, she tossed the coin to him. He fumbled it, then hastily opened the door. The entire cab shifted when she placed the bag in.
“There’s no way I can make change,” he said, climbing in and starting the car.
“Change what? Car is fine, just take me to money place.” She did not understand that a 50 gram bullion coin in gold was worth about two-thousand dollars. She had just given this man most of a month’s pay.
He drove as she instructed, and took her to Community Exchange Bank. Here, foreign currencies were frequently exchanged, and some commodity conversion could also be done. She thanked him, and tipped with a second coin. She knew this was worth far more than the services he offered, but wanted to reward his honesty and goodness.
“Well...” he said, nervously, “I can wait for when you finish up.”
Marlena smiled and walked inside with her bag. Sneaking it onto the plane had been rather difficult. Now, she faced another, similar security check-point. The man in the uniform waved her forward.
“There is problem. I have blades and metal. I can still come in?” The guard stepped over to look in the bag. She was telling the truth. Four swords, two staves, several gold bars, a large number of coined bullion, and clothing.
“Wait here,” he replied in a shocked tone. He was only gone for a short period before returning with a man in a suit. The two looked and pointed and whispered. Marlena stood smiling, taking in her surroundings. “Mr. Gavin will meet with you.”
“Good afternoon, I am Fredrick Gavin. I understand you are making an exchange deposit?”
Marlena squinted for a moment and then spoke. “Oh. Yes. I have gold. Need money. Need it in safe place. I keep everything else in bag.”
She pulled open the top of the bag to show Mr. Gavin what was inside. Unlike everyone else, his response was much less shocked. He nodded and asked the guard to carry the bag to his office. There, her possessions were removed, the gold was tested and weighed. He then told her something that she didn’t understand. She knew it was the offered value of the gold, but did not recognize the numbers he used or the term “dollars”. She did see in his face that he held dishonesty. His heartbeat sped up, and a very light perspiration started. She could smell the epinephrine increase in him.
Without breaking her smile, she lifted the newly refilled bag and started towards the door.
“Wait, Miss. Is something wrong?”
“You can do better than that,” she said in a cheerful tone. He responded with different numbers. He was still being deceptive, but not as much as before. “All bars,” she said, following his reaction. “Half coins.” He gave a small gulp, meaning she was too low. “Half not word. I keep one for each four.” The man’s tension seemed to relax.
There was paperwork to sign and certifications to run. The computers were frustrating machines. They would flash bright images for a moment, and then go blank. Then, they would flash an almost identical image again. They gave her a headache.
Her birth was identified, and her thumb-print matched the infantile records. The transaction processed, and she was given a card to represent her money. This was much easier than carrying coins. As the man was finishing with the horrible computer thing, she noted a slight flicker from the corner of her eye. With an annoyed sigh, she exhaled and closed her eyes. The clicking of the keys gave enough sound to let her ears recreate her surroundings.
It was her nose that actually found the target. Three families were now hunting her. The Osoisekai were physical ninjas, with greatly accelerated minds. The Mahkai used blood magics to render themselves invisible, and horribly mutated into savage monsters. The Jiujin-kai were an ancient culture of assassin warriors who bound themselves to earth spirits and animals. This was the scent she found. As soon as she noted it, a whisper barely caught her ear. “Not here. Outside.”
As her mind slowed once again, the world around her sped back up. Mr. Gavin finished handing her the card. The guard returned her bag with her portion of the coins, as well as her other items.
She was cautious on her departure. If the Jiujin-kai had attacked in the bank, she would have been forced to retrieve her weapons from the guard, but would have more enclosure to protect herself. Outside, numbers and distance worked against her. Guns were a common tool for the families.
Her hand was on the handle of her sword from the moment she stepped outside. She stopped fighting to keep her mind slow, and let the world slow, instead. She checked every detail to identify the attack. A shadow might be out of place or a line where there should not be one. The first attacker was easy to spot. He barely tried at all to hide himself. The Jiujin-kai had already seen how strong she was with the gift. There would be more. There had to be more.
The training warned her of what came next. The Jiujin-kai started his approach in the open. This meant he was the distraction, and this was a major attack. She searched and scanned everywhere, but was unable to spot any of the others. As he approached striking distance, she felt a slight panic welling up.
“I am not your enemy. Be at ease.” His words reached her, but she had trouble understanding the meaning. She maintained her grip on the sword as he gestured towards a table. “Come, sit with me. Let us talk.”
Every part of her being told her not to. She had known abuse, treachery, and lies. The Jiujin-kai were very adept at hiding their deceptions, so she had no way of knowing if he could be trusted. He claimed to not be her enemy, but his clan had attacked her a few days ago. She was hunted. She knew this.
Keeping her hand on her sword, she cautiously made her way to the table and sat. Her senses were everywhere except at the table. She listened to every other sound, tracing footsteps and placing heartbeats. He smelled the air for a different Jiujen-kai hybrid body scent. He eyes continued to search for the inconsistencies that would tell her where the others were. She even slid her foot from her shoe in order to feel an approach. She would not be taken by surprise.
“I know you don’t trust me, but the Sun-king has given my clan a mission. We recently discovered a threat to the unified kingdom. A scientist, mad with insight, has created a powerful weapon. This weapon places our shared king at risk.” His voice was calm and even. This could be practiced, but it seemed absolutely genuine.
“The Sun-king never should have let atrocities like you exist,” Marlena spat. “Why should I trust you? Why can’t you take care of this weapon?”
“It is the Sun-king’s orders. I can show you the writ. We can help each other. You want to be free of the Osoisekai, don’t you?” His voice changed slightly. The insult created some tension. His plea now expressed more desperation than before. Any emotional reaction would have been swallowed up by his training if this were a deception... unless he were a master.
“The weapon. Why can you not fulfill his order?” Marlena limited her words. Speaking this slowly was difficult and disrupted her concentration. For as slow as it was to her, the words of the two were so rapid, it sounded like humming or buzzing.
“He is beyond our reach. It is ordered that the weapon be destroyed. Any of the clans may do so. Destruction of this weapon will be considered a duty to the Sun-king. Once you show you have fulfilled duty beyond your destiny, the clan has no more claim to you. You have chosen to leave the Osoisekai. In this, you are not one of them right now. You will fulfill your duty, and will no longer be one in any regard. You will not be my enemy. This is why I can tell you this. We are not enemies.” She struggled with his words, trying to find the deception. It all sounded true and accurate, but he was Jiujen-kai. Still, in her deepest digging, she found nothing. His plea sounded genuine. His rationalization of her status was sound. She could not dispute any of this. Her path to freedom was now clear. Destroying this weapon would be her one goal, and nothing would stop her.
Gosu had come in strong, having noticed Marlena’s nervousness and discomfort. The sudden reversal of her expression horrified him. She transitioned from nervous and vulnerable to calm and discerning, and on to confident and in charge. He could see each transition, but it all happened so quickly, he could barely process it. He expected any Osoisekai to be five times as fast as he is, mentally. For her to read him and adjust her posture this quickly, she was many times faster than the best he had ever seen.
“But you are a dog. A rabid dog must be put to rest. I will destroy this weapon, but while I do, the Jiujen-kai will not only stop all attacks on me, but they will protect me. You and your disgusting kind will keep the Mahkai and the Osoisekai away from me. Otherwise, I will leave this table and disappear. You, too, will disappear, but will never leave this table.”
“I understand... but I do not have tha-”
“It will be done or it will be done.” Her demeanor changed from in command to offended and threatening. “You will find a way, else I will. Even if I let you leave this table only to fail later, I will find you and any maggots you may have spawned, and see to it your specific blood only serve the purpose of feeding the plants.”
He smiled, nodded, and stepped from the table. As he moved away, the world began to speed up once more. Marlena breathed several heavy and relieved gasps. Taking the folded paper Gosu had left for her, she went on her way, no more confident in her security than before.
She walked further into the city to find lodgings. This place was enormous and stank horribly. The noise was almost as bad as the smell. The people were rude and rushed. This was no way for a great culture to exist.
Years before, the government failed the people. Corruption in the political system resulted in moneyed interests having more power over the laws than the people the government allegedly served. When people became aware of this, they turned on the government, but gave the power they usurped to the very corporations that had created the problem initially. The collapsing economy left people desperate. Most people were either incredibly poor or incredibly rich. They poor could only survive through maintained loyalty to the corporation they served. The government’s loss of power freed the corporations to exploit the people and the land. With no regulations to limit them, the chemicals they produced as waste were left contaminating the cities.
She looked into the lowest of places to reside. She knew she would not stay long, so quality was not an issue. The tiny apartment was poorly furnished, held the scent of the last occupant, and could definitely use some structural work. Using pegs from her bag, she spread her weapons and armor on the wall, reminding herself that she would need guns. She hung her clothes from the ceiling to avoid them coming in contact with anything in this filthy cesspool. When everything was in place, she relaxed onto her emptied travel bag.
‘Nice work, Little One,’ she told herself, thinking of Kokomi and Miki.
As she let sleep drift in, she pondered as to whatever happened to the cab driver. Now that she remembered him, she realized that she had left him waiting for her to return. He had protected her interests that day. Her mother, Miki, and Kokomi had been the only three who had ever done so before. When they did it, they had known her for years. This man knew her for but a few short moments before he let her know she was overpaying. If this was how Americans were, the rumors were absolutely wrong. Then again, the other man had tried to steal from her.
Because of the Gift, Marlena did not dream as most people do. Her mind would either generate scenarios based on plans she was working on else would remember, sometimes even tapping into things her waking mind had forgotten. That night, she remembered her other name. She remembered the only person worthy of speaking it.
Her name was not easy for the Osoisekai to speak. It was cumbersome in the mouth and used letter sounds they did not. It came out sounding like Mai Ing. This led to horrible teasing and many less flattering nicknames, because this would be a Mahkai name, the name of a beast. As the girls all grew, Marlena fell behind. After the eighth year, for girls, the Gift slows the aging of the body, as it tries to regenerate from the damage of time. Even as weak in the Gift as Kokomi, at seventy five, her body seemed in its mid-thirties. Marlena stayed small, like a child, as her peers grew.
She was known to them as Imp, Smudge, and Pebble. The more friendly ones would call her short-stack, because she was sweet like pancakes. On a particular day, Satohara came up with the name that finally hurt her. Mah-Runtling. She lashed out when she heard it, and was flogged for her retaliation (which left Satohara and one of the village guards in with the physickers). She enjoyed the punishment, but it left Miki so distraught, she restrained herself, never striking in anger again as long as her treasure lived.
That night, Miki told her one of the stories from America. “They created an image of a mouse-lady. She was intended to bring joy and confidence to young girls. Her name was Minnie, and Minnie is short for Marlene. Since you are the thing that brings me joy, and as that is your name, I would like to call you Minnie.”
When she left for the training room the next day, Miki was already gone. She had left ahead of her, and joined with several of the girls who only lightly taunted Marlena. At her approach, they snickered and dispersed. Marlena saw them talking later, with the other girls in their group. Miki was excited when lunchtime arrived, and told Marlena she had a surprise for her. At lunch, Satohara rose with her usual smug that preceded her verbal attacks.
“I hope the bowl’s not too big, mini.”
The other girls followed suit, calling out, “Mini!”
Marlena flooded with such joy that tears came to her eyes. Satohara neglected the big picture, and had started gloating to the others. Several, however, saw the smiling beneath the tears. Those who disliked Marlena went on to find new names. The ones who liked her would call her Minnie from then on, and Satohara could not object, as she was the one who told them to.
She knew Miki had done this for her. The girls she was talking with presented the name mini to the ones Satohara trusted. She fell for it. The weakest person in the class had protected her. With her mother forgotten, this was the only time she could remember anyone directly protecting her.
The day after Miki’s death, one of the girls who had always been cruel to her had realized that they were all wrong. This had gone way too far. She tried to apologize. “I am sorry for what I have done. Can you forgive me, Minnie?” She used that name to show that she was changing from backing Satohara to siding with Marlena, but her reaction was not what anyone expected.
“Call me that again and I will be outcast of the clan,” Marlena growled. “To kill our own is to be exiled, and your death would make the Tenchi of the Mahkai seem merciful. Any of you.” She pointed to the entire audience, except Kokomi.
She was not yet at her destination. When she arrived, she was not certain where she would ultimately be going. It now seemed that she needed to travel to the New Detroit Arco-City, based on the letter. Early in the rise of the corporations, many sought to accelerate the level of control. By building an enclosed structure, the corporations could largely remove themselves from the surrounding laws. As time progressed, this removal became more absolute and the creation of these structures grew in popularity.
Detroit was one of the first. It was honestly started to benefit people, but was quickly turned to greed. Pollution had destroyed the water supply, and the filtration systems were incapable of removing enough toxins to make it safe. The area was once the home of the automotive industry, but when it collapsed, the region became neglected by those who could fund the systems needed to make it safe. The New Detroit Arco-city was initially a water purifier with supportive storefronts for those who worked it. It then integrated power generation, and simply continued to grow. For ten years, the Arco-city has been so completely self-contained that no contact with the outside civilization was needed in the last ten years. Fortunately, the production within it provides enough surplus to supply the surrounding area, and has even improved the water quality of the Lake St. Clair.
With this being her destination, Marlena looked into homes there. Inside the Arco-city, itself, there was nothing. They simply do not openly sell to outsiders. In order to buy a home there, one must be born inside else be invited. She looked into the surrounding metropolis.
Many factors went into her selection. The private homes all had a major concern. She would be away from home frequently, and the lack of security made these vulnerable. She also had to worry about the management of any place she purchased or rented. They could be turned against her. The final problem she encountered was her lack of financial history.
All of this contributed to her selecting a nice high rise loft. It was intended for executives, so the management would be difficult to buy off and the building had decent security. Because of the nature of modern corporations, she could purchase it cash without too many checks into her funding or background. Her particular apartment was high enough from the ground that she would not worry about attackers accessing the windows, and she could escape them by jumping.
The cost was high, and the privacy requested came with extra fees. When looking at how this impacted her account, Marlena became concerned. She knew she needed to establish a flowing source of money. She looked in newspapers and magazines, which showed her that everything is done through those terrible computers. She purchased books on how the computers were made so she could modify one for her own use.
Setting up the computer was also no easy task. She had to build the display from component level. The flash of the refresh was simply non-functional with her eyes at the speed her mind went. The audio replacement for a screen emits tones that she was working on building a lingual understanding for. While working on this, she found that the older, less efficient screens could work for her. The image would fade more slowly from them, allowing her to make more sense of it. She adjusted the power settings and established a secondary feed to echo the first, reducing the intensity of the flash.
With the computer set up in a way she could interact, she spent an entire day looking into financial investment tips. Most of them were scams, but would include some legitimate information. Through pure volume and her innate analysis abilities, she was able to filter out the ways of assessing the market. She could exploit low price stocks and force the value up, trading them within a few days. She could buy high risk bonds with insurance to give herself a low maintenance cyclic income. She could spot sales and mergers, and assess the outcome of these mergers, to secure a non-spending reserve for her money. Putting all of this into action, she set to ensure her stability during her investigation.
Most of her dealings needed to be done over a computer, as nobody took her serious in person. Her slowed aging had her appearing only thirteen or fourteen years old. They saw her as a child. To make things easier, she used her birth documents and requested an identification card. She indicated she had a genetic illness that caused her to maintain a child-like appearance. Document verification was needed, so it would be some time before her ID arrived.
She knew she needed more than just money. Her swords and staves had proven useful in her escape, but could not always get the job done. While she had never been impressed with guns, she knew they were powerful and dangerous weapons. The Osoisekai could often dodge or deflect the bullets, the Mahkai could simply endure them, and the Jiujen-kai would use a combination of avoiding critical injury, taking the hit to soft or armored tissue, and then simply mending it. The three clans were not put at much risk by guns, but they were not her target.
For her, purchasing a gun was not an option here. This was one of the places that never fully fell from government regulation. The corporations wanted the people they exploited to be incapable of uprising, and the government needed to fear armed revolution. As such, guns were widely available, but heavily tracked. She needed to build her own.
She knew that making them in the high rise would draw attention, so she decided to start on this before she left. She made a few deals with automotive repair shops to allow her use of their facilities for some of the more advanced work. She was able to purchase most of the tools very easily, but found the parts and components were often also tracked. This was easily remedied by tracking down members of the abundant criminal population. They favored three sizes of ammunition, while the police used energy weapons.
The rifled 5.56 millimeter was low weight, but would be able to achieve a decent velocity. The nine millimeter was both lightweight and low powered. The only reason she considered it was it was by far the most common. The one she decided on was the 11.43 millimeter heavy. It was low power for the mass, but that would be easy enough to fix.
She started with a pair of non-sliding carbon-steel rods. Between these, she built a gas injection barrel. She added the lines for the injected explosive gasses, which she could extract from water and other readily available sources. The slide and feed were not simply railed, but set up with energy capture gearing. This would allow the weapon to reset from firing much more quickly. The slide would be launched forward after the action completed. The chambering method was a lever in the handle, which would also function as a safety. Lastly, she made the trigger incredibly high tension. None of the locals, being soft and weak, would be able to accurately fire the weapon. The heavy trigger combined with the weight assured her that this gun would never be used against her.
In addition to being a firearm, her pistols were so solid in construction, they could be used as batons. A final plate of high density carbon-steel to the sides would further let them function as shields. With all moving parts being completely internal, and the ejection system relieving the casing to a storage magazine, the guns were difficult to cause to malfunction. Only the magazine feed, trigger, and muzzle were exposed, with all the working components being protected by the rods or the shield.
The return of her financial investments could take some time. She kept a small amount of cash and the remaining gold coins in reserve for buying food. The armor she had made during training would have to go undamaged. She did not have the resources to mend it.
One week after receiving the information about Dr. DeWinter’s weapon, Marlena was ready to travel to New Detroit.
The waters of Lake Erie, dark and blue, welcomed Marlena to her new home. She started a new plan to help herself in this investigation. Because her memory was so poor, she worried she would forget key points. She started recording, not only her findings, but also her history. She took extreme care to place the promise of the Jiujen-kai where she could see it every day.
She noticed that locals would use Asian writing as decoration. She looked into articles about this type of expressionist art, and turned the letters into an image of Mura no Kodomo, with the words, “Important. Jiujen-kai promise” making the fringe of the sun filling the background. Building a training room in the open loft was easy.
By the time she was ready to start investigating, she needed to review her notes, as she had already forgotten why she was here. She reread the letter Gosu had given her. She had followed it here, and was hoping for some extra clues about where within the city it might be. Again, she found the mention of the Arco-city, which was easily visible from her apartment. Unfortunately, it was so large, her target could be anywhere inside. Reading further, she was reminded that he came from the Arco-city, and it was unclear if he still operated from within it.
She prepared in her usual way, pulling her hair into pigtails, which she braided together behind her head. She selected the light armor pads to go under the red and gold vest. She grumbled slightly to herself, and added a reminder to her notes. “Chest piece must be adjusted. Some growth, no support needed.” For now, she would use an under wrap. She selected her weapon; just the staff today. She did not expect to encounter any trouble, not yet at any rate. She knew it would take more than one day to track down this scientist and his weapon. The belt was an important piece. It was weighted on one end, with a sharkskin strip. It could be a tool, a weapon, or even a bandage. The flat sash was broad when double wrapped, and was a full ten feet in length. Her solid black tabbie boots were the only part that broke the color pattern.
The armor starts with a variety of silks, including certain spider webs. These are woven into tiny plates and treated with barnacle resin. The tensile resilience of the silk with the holding strength of the resin makes them incredibly durable. Without the resin, they dysmorph too easily. These plates are then cross woven. Being one strand thick, initially, they are able to be woven so that five layers overlap. They have enough shifting space to move, but are unlikely to be penetrated by most reasonable attacks. Still, blunt-force trauma through the armor does frequently occur. When struck by attacks, the ability to shift allows the armor to frequently avoid damage.
The armor serves two purposes. The secondary purpose is protection from attacks. The primary function, however, is to reinforce the body of the wearer to enable them to avoid attacks. The Osoisekai move more quickly and forcefully than their bodies can easily withstand. Properly braced by their armor, they are capable of much more. Because of this difference, the armor looks backwards in construction. It is most heavily placed around the joints and lightest in the most vital areas.
She stepped out onto the high rise balcony and looked over New Detroit. It was a large city, and some of the areas still showed damage. After the rioting with the start of the economic collapse, the area also suffered from the corporate wars. Many abandoned manufacturing centers had been left behind by the automotive industry, and the corporations seeking to acquire them did not restrain themselves from open violence. Even as the government began to regain some power and suppress these acts of violence, they were not yet funded enough to help with relieving the damage. She leaned forward, and tipped herself over the rail.
Freefall. This had been a part of the boys training, but it proved to be one of her favorites. The armor and clothing were shaped to slightly catch the air. While this didn’t slow the fall to a reasonable speed, it allowed her to steer. She plunged to a lamp post, where she used her sash to redirect the momentum of her fall, and throw herself into a swimming pool. She used her prior momentum to zip through the water, and to create enough lift to exit the pool. By the time anyone looked, there had been two splashes, and water was everywhere.
In a setting as ordinary as this city, it was easy for her to spot and track the extraordinary. The normalcy increased the contrast. She used this to stalk the Mahkai. Their contact with dark magics leaves them changed, and this change leaves a trail. Unseasonal wilting on a leaf, areas without birds, and people struck with unexplained confusion were all signs. Dogs will bark at Mahkai that humans can’t even see. Stalking her prey was easy.
The first two she found were not what she wanted. They were individuals doing things by themselves. They were probably up to no good, but wouldn’t be going into anything dangerous. Two hours into her search, she found the ones she was looking for in a small lunch-park by the harbor. She dropped from the rooftops to approach closer.
There were five in this group. The Mahkai were foolish creatures, but not completely stupid or suicidal. The Jiujen-kai had revealed a lot to her in their short conversation. This scientist and his weapon were incredibly dangerous. If it were moderate, they would take this on, themselves. They did not expect her to survive, but hoped she could weaken him enough for them to finish him off without heavy losses. The shadowmen of the Mahkai were tough and powerful, but they could not face a target that the Jiujin-kai needed to fear.
Listening in, she quickly verified her suspicions. “I saw him in the warehouse. He seems to be sticking around the scrapper yard. He didn’t seem that tough. Why’d you say I wasn’t allowed to just take him?” The first one who spoke had an enlarged jaw, so that is how Marlena remembered him.
The one with the unnaturally tall eyes snapped back at him, “You’d be dead, and we’d be uncovered. You can’t mess with them like this, and you don’t have what it takes to put him down.”
“Fine,” Jaw growled defiantly, “I’ll take him with me.” Marlena thought the cute tiny horns of the one he pointed out were more significant than the large bone spikes covering most of his body.
“Ain’t your call,” grumbled Horns.
“Shut up! It’s all of us. He’s a problem, and he’s got to go.” Eyes was clearly in charge. That also meant that he was the most dangerous. He was not the largest, and completely lacked body weapons. This troubled Marlena. Something else about him made him dangerous.
As they continued arguing amongst themselves, Marlena crept to a safe distance, and looked up a city map on her computer. The public WiFi was excellent here, and this would make her job much easier. She frowned upon seeing that there were several scrapping yards with warehouses right next to them. She returned to watching them. She would not be able to head them off, so she decided following them would be best.
She had made more progress than she expected. Stalking a target normally required several days or even weeks. Even if you use the work of others who are seeking them, it normally takes more time. She was following a very solid lead on her first day out.
The Mahkai were not easy to keep up with, even for Marlena. Each of the families had their strengths. For the Osoisekai, their rapid brain processes gave them super-human reflexes and the ability to push their bodies harder than normal people. The blood magic fueled the Mahkai with all around physical enhancement. They were bigger, stronger, tougher, and faster. To avoid being seen, Marlena took to the rooftops. She could not run as fast as they moved, on the ground, while hiding. Her run looked more like a series of short dives, with her body nearly parallel to the ground. When she reached the end of a rooftop, she would focus her strength into one of her legs and leap to the next. By the time they arrived at the warehouse and scrap yard, she was out of breath and her legs were burning.
She sat and focused on a recovery meditation. She could hear the Mahkai searching. The same magic that made them physically powerful also made them difficult to look at. True, they were hideous, but it was physically difficult to focus human eyes upon them. Because of this, they were not well trained in the arts of stealth. She could find them and catch up with them quickly and easily.
During the meditation, her mind slipped to when she had learned it. She explained how she became frozen to Kokomi. It was not that she was unable to move, but that she was too fast for her body. Trying to move tore muscles and placed stress on the bones. To help with recovering from this, Kokomi taught her this meditation. She also explained how to cope with this while it is happening. Although no Osoisekai had experienced the tomb of self in hundreds of years, she had read up on the problem from stories and legends.
“This requires patience. Only a calm mind can overcome this prison. You must assess how long your body will last, and decide what you need to do in this time. You can feel the tearing before it occurs. Try to stop the muscles before they rip apart, and try to use them in an alternating way, to let them rest between uses. Your bones are the other weakness, but you can feel when they become stressed. Ease up on them to where they are not comfortable, but will not break. This means you will move very slowly compared to your mind. The world is almost stopped, and it may take you several minutes to cross a simple room. The final difficulty is the world. It will fight against you. The air will feel like a powerful wind. Clothing becomes weighty. Your movements will not stop as easily as you want. You will be as light as a feather, and as heavy as an anvil, all at the same time. Even the roughest floor will be as slick as ice.”
The methods from the ancient writings were useless. The only way to adjust to this was to experience it. Unfortunately, even the great Osoisekai of old would rarely experience it, and then, it was during life and death situations. Either you got it right the first time, else you died to your inexperience. The great Gift of the Osoisekai was also their greatest curse. The thinning of the blood did them a great favor. None had experienced this after the slowing had begun.
With the burning ended, Marlena reoriented herself to her surroundings. The sounds had become quieter, meaning the Mahkai had found something. The air had an unfamiliar smell to it, which through off her ability to use scents for information. This stench was quite foul, like a poisoned sickness beyond any she had ever encountered before. She made her way down the wall of the warehouse and entered through a window. From the catwalk, she spotted the Mahkai. They were searching and sniffing for their prey. Watching their reactions, Marlena triangulated the source of the scent far before they could. It was a man.
Leon was large, slightly over six feet tall and broad of build. He wore body armor that covered only the most vital locations, and was not braced against impact. He held a large pistol-like gun in his right hand, and his left was on a rifle of some sort. On each shin, he strapped large knives. He looked like he was counting.
Marlena used the catwalk and other beams to make her way directly over the man. The letter described the doctor as tall and slender. This was clearly not him. As she closed the distance, she could tell that he was the source of the stench she noted earlier. He was easy prey for anyone. The Jiujin-kai would find him in one day, if they looked. Despite being outnumbered by imbued beings, he maintained an unusual calm about himself. The weapons told Marlena he was a warrior. The calm told her he was experienced. She watched and waited. This was not her prey.
As the Mahkai started to close on his hiding spot, the man’s counting ended. He lifted himself and fired with his pistol like weapon. Marlena counted eighteen shots fired, each about a fifteenth of a second apart. Despite taking so much time to aim, he had terrible accuracy. The first round narrowly missed Horns, and the next two hit his armored chiton. He fired one round over them, and two in between. Marlena could not figure out why he would fire these, unless he was having an unusually difficult time spotting them. One round struck the one who had wing-like growths, and another struck the ground in front of him. This man must have assumed his attackers would have the reflexes of a Jiujin-kai. His next shot was to the right of Eyes, who rolled his body out of the way of the tenth shot. He fired another round into thin air, and then one far left of Jaw. The next two rounds caught Jaw on either side of the chest before the man continued firing to the right of him. He fired three rounds into the far wall before starting the gun back towards Jaw.
The Mahkai were caught off guard, but the gun was horrible. The entire thing shook and rattled as it fired. The small rounds were poorly chambered, and so lost most of their energy potential. They came out at high velocities, but not much over a thousand feet per second. Their low mass gave them very little energy. The bullets that struck could barely cut through the carapace.
Moments after firing, the man turned and ran, tossing the gun behind himself on its sling, and readying the rifle. The Mahkai spread out and made chase. Eyes called out to him, “First, we eat you… and then, we find the Doctor!”
Marlena now realized what was going on. This man was a guardian. If she could wound or capture him, he could lead her to the Doctor’s hideout. For that to work, however, he needed to live. The Mahkai were not very good at thinking things like this out. They were brutes, and would kill him in less than a second once they reached him. She tossed her body off the railing as the Mahkai approached below.
With reflexes unlike any normal person, she reached back up and grabbed the rail, swinging herself back up over it. ‘Perhaps this man is not completely incompetent,’ she thought as the explosives went off. He was resting on a click-twice trigger. Once he left, the next weight on the pressure plate would set off his trap. Unlike his gun, this hurt them. The explosives lined the inside of pipes, and was packed with steel ball bearings, which created a horrible shrapnel. On the left of their group, Horns took most of the blast. He was heavily armored with bone plates, and was left wounded, but not disabled. Eyes had identified a deception, and fell behind the group. Impatient Jaw had been the one standing directly on the plate. Parts of him flew past Marlena as she rounded her swing over the rail. Wings lost an arm and was horribly wounded. He would have been completely neutralized if Bones had not been in the way of the blast.
Finishing her swing around the pipe, Marlena threw herself at Horns, immediately behind the shrapnel. Planting both feet on his face, she vaulted towards Eyes, readying her staff. His tall eyes had not yet adjusted from the flash involved in the blast when her staff reached him. His head did not come off, but Marlena was certain he would be slowed. She turned to the one with the long claws, readying for an attack from either him or horns. From where the man had run, she heard a click.
The double surprise attack worked to slow down Horns. He was the only one Marlena was truly worried about. His armor would make it difficult for her to inflict severe injury with her staff. Claws, however, recognized the threat of an Osoisekai, and moved to attack. Marlena was ready for the long razors at the ends of his fingers and toes, but had not been fully ready for him to spit. It came forth in a widening cloud, making it impossible to completely avoid. She rolled herself to one side, shielding her face. The wretched substance sizzled on contact and filled the air with burning vapors. As she completed her turn, she threw the staff.
It found its mark, impaling Claws. Horns had started moving at this point, and was heading for the man, whose rifle finally finished firing. The flash was bright and long, and the sound was unbearable. It left Marlena unable to hear for quite some time, many seconds. The bullet was very high velocity and larger than any she had seen before. It passed within inches of her head, striking something behind her.
She dashed forward as Claws was starting to grab the staff jutting from his chest. Diving to gain more leverage, Marlena freed her staff broad-ways. This flung pieces of his carapace at Horns. They did not strike with enough force to do much more than get his attention. The man, Leon, was cycling another round in his rifle. Horns did not change his course, but the distraction was enough to slow him momentarily. Leon shifted his body and the rifle at the approach, as Marlena charged in behind. Horns swung a sweeping backhand that impacted the rifle, pushing it into Leon’s body, and throwing him across the room.
Marlena put her full sprinting weight into a staff thrust, striking below the shoulder-plate on Horns. The staff broke through the armor and dislodged the shoulder from its socket. The howl of pain was music to Marlena, but as she tried to ready the staff to follow up, Horns flexed the plates in, grabbing her weapon, and threw her with a twist of his body. She hit the support hard, with several ribs cracking on impact.
Horns was on top of her by the time gravity let her reach the floor. He had taken hold of her leg and drew back to dash her against the support again, when the rifle fired again. The round punched completely through the Mahkai, stunning it long enough for Marlena to regain control. She grabbed the support she had been thrown into, and yanked herself towards it. Horns had a firm grip, and was pulled in as well. Marlena used this to push off the pillar with her arms while forcing her legs outward in a reverse mule-kick. Not only did she catch Horns with the kick, but was able to send both of them into the air. She steered their tumble to land on top of Horns. The staff, once only in his back, was pushed all the way through. Marlena grabbed it and, with a powerful twist of her body, separated the monster’s spine. Horns immediately turned to mist.
The man’s voice droned endlessly as she checked the Mahkai who did not turn to mist. Eyes and Horns had escaped in this method. They release from a physical form, and reform later. They concede any remaining fight in exchange for assured survival. The ones who did not turn to mist, Claws, Jaw, and Wings, were either out of the fight forever, else waiting for their chance to strike. If this man would shut up, Marlena could simply hear their heartbeat. Instead, she had to look with her eyes.
Wings lay, unmoving, in a puddle of his vital fluids. There was no more flow to them, so she could safely assume he was done. Claws had a hole in the center of his forehead through which Marlena could see the floor. He was not getting up any time soon. What was left of Jaw had been turning into a mist by the explosion, so was difficult to check. When she found main torso, it, along with one arm and both legs, turned to mist. Wings and Claws, with additional application of her staff to be certain, were no more, and would not trouble her again. Three had escaped. She knew this meant they would report her presence. She knew this complicated her task.
Leon had fallen silent when Marlena began shredding the bodies of the fallen. He had moved into a hiding cubby while she was busy. She was unable to fully contain the chuckle of his quaint attempt to hide from her. He neither stopped his heart from beating, nor even stopped his breathing. Had he shown more competence earlier, this would have been taken as an insult. As it was, she figured he had no idea what she was. He probably believed he was actually hidden.
Walking to his cubby, Marlena was sure to avoid the uneven panel on the floor and the three fine wires. These were obviously triggers to more traps he had laid. At least he recognized his own incompetence. When faced with bull-headed foes, this type of trap would prove useful. She was not this type of threat.
When she opened the panel, he seemed to surrender immediately. He reached out a small blade, which she took from him. He then pulled out one of his smaller handguns and reached it out as well. Relieving him of these weapons, Marlena spoke. “Come out.” The man’s face twisted in shocked horror. She repeated herself, slowly. “Come out. Now.”
As he pulled himself out of the cubby, Marlena moved to place his weapons on a nearby counter. When her back was to him, she heard a sound; metal sliding against leather. She pivoted quickly in time to see his ankle-gun pointed directly at her face. He fired. She was able to use the momentum of her pivot, with an extra push off the floor, to throw herself out of the way of the incredibly slow projectile.
She dropped the knife and grabbed her sash, swinging it at his hand and the weapon. The man didn’t move. He stood completely still, and allowed himself to be disarmed. His face twisted in pain as the force of the impact pivoted his entire body. He fell to the floor, clutching his broken hand. Marlena started to consider that it was indeed possible for him to be this slow, this weak, and this fragile. She had never seen such a pathetic opponent in her life. Miki was, by far, the weakest Osoisekai she had ever seen. She was slow, weak, and fragile. She was untrained in the combative arts. Without her having a weapon, this man would need all his guns and traps to be on equal ground with Miki, starting the fight on his turf, and at range. What stronger Osoisekai, such as Satohara, are to normal people, Marlena was to the Osoisekai. “Calm yourself. I still have two tasks for you. You may suffer, but you will not die until they are done. You might even live past them, if you do not force me to harm you.” She made sure her words were very slowly spoken.
“What the hell are you?” the man cried. “You came out of my explosion, you killed those… things, and now… what do you want from me?”
Marlena sighed, realizing how pathetic this creature was. She reached down and grabbed his neck, instructing his body to produce more serotonin and to release the acetyl choline from his muscles. “First, I must recover from battle. You will sit quietly while I do this. After, you will help me shed this battle and prepare for the next. After, you will bring me to the doctor who directs you.”
The man pushed against her grasping hand. He had considerable muscle power, forcing Marlena to squeeze on a nerve point to stop his efforts. He yelped, whimpered, and resigned to his capture.
“I don’t work for that bastard, I escaped him. And I’m not going back.” Marlena watched in curiosity as he lashed out, despite clearly being defeated. She could feel the spikes in his norepinephrine; the adrenaline tied to aggression and anger. She also noted the lack of deception when he spoke of the doctor. She waited for his body to give in to the changes in her chemistry. The serotonin would help him calm down. The acetyl choline was already releasing, causing his body to relax. It would not be long, now.
“Say something,” Leon argued, “You’re freaking me out! What do you want with me?”
“I have told you my intentions,” Marlena responded. “You will live. You will be more comfortable when you comply.”
The man’s struggle eased a bit. The words seemed to have finally gotten through to him. “First you recover, then you prepare, then you get the doctor?”
Marlena could feel the chemicals becoming effective. His aggression and fear levels dropped off, and the serotonin would either keep him calm or put him to sleep. “Yes,” she responded with a single, absolute word. She held him in place for several more seconds until his chemistry was where she wanted it. This was something most Osoisekai could not do. Transdermal hormonal manipulation was only possible with levels of the Gift that had not been seen in over a century. “Good. Now remain calm or I will dismember you.” She released him and entered her meditation.
Despite the fact that self-mending required a great deal of focus, this man continued to pester her. The extent of calm she induced told Marlena there was no malice in this, but it was a disruption none-the-less. “What do you mean, recover from battle? Did you get hurt?” He even tried to examine her.
She smacked his hands away. “I was not injured. Heavy exertion is hard on the body. I must mend. Be silent.”
“Mend?” he inquired. “What do you mean? How?”
Marlena sighed in frustration. “Put my body back into peak condition; what I am doing now. Be silent.”
Leon watched the bruising on her ankle fade. “Holy crap! I thought I was the only one. That’s amazing!”
Marlena opened an eye and verified. The hand she had broken with her sash had completely mended. She also noted that this man did not stop to put focus into his recovery. She would have to find out about this later. “Be silent!”
“And how do you expect me to help you prepare for the next battle? You move like a blur, what can I do?”
Marlena grumbled as he, again, tried to distract her. “You will give me sex. This will relieve my response to unanticipated harm. Now, be silent!”
“No! Oh, no, I can’t do that,” he exclaimed.
“I am versed in methods of restoring or improving performance. Failure to comply will result in harm. Failure to remain silent may result in harm. Be silent!”
“No, I mean… you’re a little girl,” Leon started. He stopped abruptly as Marlena opened her eyes and stood up. “I mean, you’re what, fourteen? Fifteen?”
“I am nineteen years of age,” Marlena hissed, “and you are in no position to make any decision. I will instruct you and you will comply or else you will suffer. Do not test my resolve! I have told you what will happen, now sit down, be silent, and enjoy the calm I have given you! Unconsciousness is the other option!”
“Okay, okay,” Leon said, sitting back down. “But there’s just no way. And you can’t force me, it doesn’t work that way.”
Marlena returned to her meditation, finishing the mending of her torn muscles and distressed tendons. Leon remained silent while she finished. As she rose from the meditation and moved quickly towards him, fear entered his face. “I know how this works, and there’s no way that’s gonna happen!”