Ryuugen felt his mana levels plummet drastically as his Barrier prevented the attack on him from behind. Panicking, he unleashed his magic indiscriminately on his surroundings hoping to drive his attacker away. Vivid blue lightning lashed around him, filling the air with the acrid stench of ozone and leaving the clouds in his vicinity tattered and torn.
His outburst alerted Risa and she leapt to her feet. Clothing herself in an armour of violet electricity, she stared keenly at the shadowy figure that had swiftly retreated from the sphere of Ryuugen's spell's influence.
In the moments it took Ryuugen to bringing his racing heart under control and to rein in his lightning, Risa and the shadowy assassin remained locked in a stare-down. Risa's eyes sparkled with a violet brilliance but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't breach the inky darkness that shrouded the form of the mystery figure.
Her eyes widened as realization hit her like a blow to the head, her voice becoming somewhat shrill due to her surprise. "That impenetrable darkness… You're from the Tengu clan!"
Condensing his lightning into a matching set of blue electric armour, Ryuugen retreated to the side of his sister and glared at his assailant warily. "But… why would the Tengu clan aim at us?" he muttered, puzzled.
Slowly, the shadows surrounding the figure went pale and diverged, revealing a figure that shocked the Kirin twins even more. "How has Aiko been?" Nurarihyon asked them in a soft voice. Despite his calm countenance, urgency seeped into his tone. "And my son?"
Taking a deep breath, Risa calmed herself down and straightened up with a sneer. "It looks like we caught a rat with a mousetrap. Did you have enough of playing hooky, Lord Nura?" she taunted as she half-bowed to him mockingly.
Ryuugen berated the shaggy haired, unkempt man indignantly. "You! How dare you sneak attack me so ignominiously? Aren't you afraid of the retaliation of the Kirin clan if anything were to happen to me? You have the gall to ask about Aiko when you are the one putting her in the most danger."
He wrinkled his nose, "And look at you – dressed like a beggar. Even if you are the Shogun just in name, you are trampling the pride of our nation by acting so wilful."
"Don't take her name!" exclaimed Nura, his gaze cutting into Ryuugen like a blade. "Pride? Trampling our nation's pride?! What is there left to trample when its leader is treated like a puppet. Safety? You pretend to care about the safety of my wife and child? You dare! When you are the ones who forced me to beg and grovel to even have the chance to meet them once a year. Tell me brother," he hissed venomously, "Does my child even know who his father is? Answer me!"
Despite his shabby clothing and unkempt appearance, the mania flashing in the depths of his eyes forced Ryuugen to take a step back in alarm. Suddenly, a slender figure stepped in between the two of them, breaking their confrontation.
Risa threw a contemptuous glance at Nura. "Do you want to surrender on your own or is there a need for me to begin? If you give up, I might even ask father for some leniency on your behalf. You might even get to see that doll – maybe even that brat of yours." She shot a glance at his foot where he was stepping on a cloud. "After, that is, she has been penalized for leaking clan secret techniques to a bystander."
Instead of losing his temper, Nura smiled. Straightening up to his full height, he chuckled, "Why the acid tongue, Risa? Didn't we come this close to getting married before you pushed Aiko into my bed just so you could clamber into your brother's?"
"Oi, bastard!" interjected Ryuugen with gritted teeth. "She made her choice between a loveless, political marriage with a puppet and her true love. So what if we were born of the same mother under the same star? I won't stand for a coward that ran away leaving his wives behind questioning her."
"No, no. You misunderstand," clarified Nura. "I'm really grateful for that. After all, it allowed me to meet Aiko. If possible, I wouldn't take your life but unfortunately," he spread out his hands, indicating the mass of dark clouds below them lit occasionally by the glow of lightning. His smile disappeared and his voice turned frigid. "It's fine weather for murder."
Ryuugen made to attack him but Risa stretched put her hand to hold him back. Narrowing her eyes, she studied Nura with an appraising gaze. "Am I correct in assuming that you want to kill us? Is that what you mean?"
Nura didn't answer, the shadows seeping out of his face and forming a featureless mask answering for him.
Risa burst out in laughter, the melodious sound ringing out to the background of a rumble of thunder. "Oh," she gasped as she wiped a mirthful tear from the corner of her eye, "your propensity for absurdities hasn't changed one bit, has it Rihan?"
Her mirth vanished slowly, her face setting into an emotionless mask. "To think that instead of us using Chusei as bait to fish you, you used him to bait us instead."
Risa's mana flared, expanding out of her, charging the air with static.
"Do you really think that you can take us both on – or even one of us? All your wives have had their cultivation bases sealed at the initial stage of Tier 4. You cannot advance no matter what you try. I'm curious..."
In a blinding flash of purple lightning, Risa closed the distance between them, her drawn fist clad in crackling electricity.
"What gives you the courage?!" she yelled as she punched out, her fist a blazing purple meteor in the night sky.
Lightning and shadow interweaved in two streaks – one violet, one black – above the cloud layer. The shadow in retreat, the lightning in hot pursuit.
Nura burst backwards through a bank of cloud, streaks of the fluffy condensation cohering above his shadowy form. Hot on his heels, Risa's lightning burnt a broad tunnel through the cloud as she gave chase.
Nura's face – obscured as it was by the Mask of Absolute Shadow – betrayed no emotion. It was smooth, featureless and darker than black. There weren't even any apertures for the eyes. That was the price of using the eldritch shadow. The Tengu, corvid lords of Darkness and Death, had to sacrifice their sight for power when they wielded the Absolute Shadow – a darkness no light could hope to dispel.
Bolt after bolt of violet lightning sank silently into the small, circular shield of darkness protecting Nura with barely a ripple, Risa's attacks rendered ineffectual with consummate ease. Gritting her teeth in frustration, she flared her mana and gathered her palms together, keeping them a short distance apart even as she raced the Shogun through the clouds.
Hair-thin tendrils of electricity joined both palms; one, ten, a hundred, thousands until the space between the palms glowed a blinding purple with saturated electricity. With a feminine shout, she slapped both palms together and split them open like a flower – all ten fingers pointing at the man she was chasing.
Tier 3 personal magic: Blooming Lightning.
Ten finger-thick beams of electricity crackled through the air, converging on the fleeing form of Nura, blocking all avenues of escape.
Sensing the crisis, he came to a halt on the clouds, crouching in the horse stance and slamming his fists together. The circular shield of shadow that had been floating around him thinned and expanded into a spherical barrier that wrapped him up fully just in time for all ten beams to slam into it.
The impact was silent, all ten blazing beams sinking into the shadow barrier and disappearing like they had never existed leaving the area dimmer in the absence of their purple brilliance. Then, with a resounding 'crack' fissures spread across the shadow barrier and with the sound of shattering glass, it broke, revealing the form of the Shogun panting with his hands on his knees.
A violet flash and Risa was there.
Her lightning clad fist slammed into his mask, sending his body flying through several clouds, leaving man-shaped holes in his wake.
Stabilizing himself with a blast of wind, Nura gasped for breath as his mask shattered, revealing his broken nose and bloodied eye. Falling onto his knees on a cloud, he struggled to stand as the massive concussion Risa had given him disrupted his sense of balance.
"I must commend your use of the Absolute Shadow. I'm not sure even a legitimate Tengu clansman at the initial stage of Tier 4 would have been able to block me for as long as you did," praised Risa as she walked out of one of the humanoid gaps he had left in the clouds he had been punched through.
"Now, be a dear and follow us back peacefully."
"Or," she continued thoughtfully, "I can beat you unconscious and drag you. Your call."
I found that keeping a schedule is too rigid for me. Instead...
15 more chapters left this month.
Read ahead on my P'atreon.
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