Sooo.... I'm back-ish? Yay!
Just have this.
Chapter One: Eighty Seven Days
Risa gave a sigh, staring out the window of the train as they approached Fukui from the north. The train would take them as far as Sakai and from there they’d have to find their own way into the other city. No mass transit could enter the cursed forests that surrounded Fukui city and few travelers who ventured into the trees were ever heard from again. There were said to be even more terrible creatures in that black forest than inhabited the rest of the country.
Her thoughts went back to the reason for their little excursion: Eri. Not just Eri, there were dozens of other mages trapped in stone back at the Tower, but to Risa, her oldest friend was the most important one. Looking to her left at the restlessly sleeping Sayumi, she knew that the turtle was even more important to her.
The spell itself was a result of forbidden blood magic, a petrifaction spell that left the victim’s mind intact, able to think, but unable to see, hear or feel anything. In essence, it was like being trapped in a small, dark, silent room, with nothing but your own thoughts. Most subjects went completely and irreversibly insane after three months, but even after a short while, all who were trapped within the spell were changed.
Scrutinizing her reflection, Risa admitted that they were all different after that terrible battle, a civil conflict within their own ranks. Some scars, she thought turning to Sayu again, were more physical than others. The sleeping bunny wore a long sleeve turtle neck shirt, even in the heat of the August month. Though that covering didn’t wholly disguise the magical burns that peaked above her neck and below her wrists. The lightening torture had disfigured the former self proclaimed ichiban kawaii and Risa still felt her heart ache when she saw it.
It had only been a few days since they had torn victory from their opponents grasp, forcing a retreat from the traitorous mages, but they didn’t have the luxury of rest. With most of their seniors and teachers either incapacitated or dead, Sayu and Risa were among the most elder members of the Tower and as such, they were tasked with going to the origin of the petrifaction spell and bringing back someone who could reverse the effects.
Fukui was the origin of all blood magic in Japan; surrounded by the black forest as it was, the natives had to find a way to protect themselves against the manner of beasts that threatened them. When all the other settlements fell, Fukui stayed strong and, since no one could go there to really enforce any laws, blood magic flourished.
Most of the country saw Fukui as a barbaric city, and maybe it was, but their mages were highly regarded and few fell to the temptations of demons. This was unlike the rest of the country or even the world, where mages were feared and treated with disdain and mistrust. In Fukui were battle mages, Risa remembered them being called, people who reveled in their power and controlled it to the extent of surgical precision or unleashed it to devastating results.
The bean couldn’t help being equal parts fascinated and fearful, she couldn’t wait to meet them. That is, if they could find a way into the city. The reason why blood magic flourished, is because anyone who tried to enter the city through the forest either were eaten by the beasts inside or the forest itself would send them in circles until they died from exposure and starvation. Fukui was self sufficient, they didn’t need any supplies from the outside world, so they felt no need to build usable roads outside and keep them protected.
There were rumors, though, of an underground passage leading into the city. Risa could only hope they were true. “Come on, Sayumin.” She nudged the girl beside her as the train pulled into it’s destination, their trip having been particularly calm, “Let’s go.”
“A way into Fukui?!” The station master laughed heartily, “Girl, don’t you know anything? No one just goes waltzing into that place and no one is stupid enough to try!”
“We can pay.” Risa replied blandly, clearly having expected his response. The man just laughed again and closed the window in her face. Letting out a sigh, she and Sayu headed for the exit.
“What now, Gaki-san?” The bunny despaired, watching the bean lean against the wall outside and shove a cigarette in her mouth, chewing on the filter without lighting it. No sooner had she opened her mouth, though, did someone walk up to them and start speaking.
“You two trying to get into Fukui?” The young girl asked bluntly, her voice sounding oddly old. When Risa nodded at her, Sayu being too surprised to do anything, the girl started walking away, motioning them to follow.
She led them through a few dank alleys and less than nice neighborhoods, but none of this fazed Risa at all. Sayumi had finally realized something, though, and brought it up in a hushed voice, “You knew she would approach us? How?”
“Well, if it was my job to take people to some place under the table, I’d hang around where dumb tourists were and wait for someone to ask. That guy was making such a big fuss, everyone in the station knew where we were headed, someone would have approached us sooner or later.” Risa revealed, her insight stunning the bunny. She still hadn’t gotten used to this Risa and a lot of the things the girl said and did now shocked her. The older girl still wouldn’t tell her what that Fujimoto had done to her…
After another silent few minutes, the girl ducked under a broken fence and entered a dead end where a wonky eyed young woman was resting on a broken couch, “Brought us some customers, Aika?” The girl asked, lifting an eyebrow at the two strangers appraisingly. “Why do you need to get into Fukui?”
“That’s none of your concern.” Risa replied softly, “What are your rates?”
“I think that is my concern, see, I don’t want to bring in anyone who might end up being bad for my business. Now, why~” The woman drug out the word slowly, “Do you need to get into Fukui?”
“We need help.” Sayu answered when Risa seemed reluctant to, “Our friends are trapped by a powerful spell.”
The woman nodded, “2 million yen. Round trip.”
“What?!” Sayumi exploded, while Risa just began to dig into her pocket, “That’s outrageous!”
“A quarter now, a quarter when we get there. The same for the return trip, but you have to stay with us in the city until we’re ready to leave.” The bean tossed some cash at the wonky eyed woman, obviously surprising everyone in the area. The bunny sputtered incredulously at her friend. “And we leave today.”
“You sure are demanding.” Aika growled, but Risa was unimpressed, “Who do you think you are, ordering us around like that?”
“The one with the money and very little time.” The bean replied without missing a beat, “Are you in or not?”
The woman on the couch slowly stood, now giving her a more wary appraisal, “Very well, I’m Reina, in case you were interested, and that’s Aika. Let us pack our things and we can leave.”
“The passage will still take us the rest of the day and most of tomorrow to cross.” Reina explained to them as the group approached the forest. Aika grumbled behind her diligently, obviously not happy with the clientele, but still persuaded to come. “It’s a lot safer than not, though.”
Risa looked troubled by that, “Is there no way we can make it in a day? We’re kind of on a time limit.”
“Well, it’s getting late now and it’s not smart to travel through the night when the real nasty things come out. The passages are well hidden, but it’s still underneath the forest, spirits don’t tend to care much for barriers and they’re attracted to lots of movement.” The bean reluctantly agreed and they set off, descending some hand carved steps into a cavern, Reina in front and Aika behind, both with bright flashlights.
The trip was mostly spent in a tense silence and Risa found herself studying their companions surreptitiously. Both girls were dressed similarly, Reina in tight cargo pants and a tight beige t-shirt and Aika in cargo shorts and matching shirt and vest. Each carried a small rucksack, both had a brown utility belt with many compartments.
On Reina’s belt were two wicked looking daggers, both pulsing with a bluish green light, obviously enchanted in some way. The woman also had a bandolier across her chest filled with small throwing knives. Around her neck, Risa caught a glimpse of a round amulet, probably for protection.
Aika carried on her back a long, scoped rifle with runes carved into it’s surface. At her right side was an old American shotgun and tucked into her vest were some faintly glowing ammo for both. Laws on guns had been regulated so that even normal civilians could usually get their hands on some kind of firearm, though handguns were rare in Japan. There were hardly any wars between humans anymore, everyone was too preoccupied with protection from non humans.
“You don’t talk too much, huh?” Reina spoke up quietly to Risa, nearly startling her. “Usually most people we take this way won’t shut up.” Risa just shrugged and the other woman didn’t seem satisfied with this, “Does the Tower know you’re gone?”
This caught the two mages’ attention, “How did you know we are Tower mages?” Sayumi couldn’t help but ask.
“Well, you just told me,” Reina smirked, “But you also don’t carry any normal weapons. No knives or guns or anything like that. And you seem like you have something to really be afraid of. Look, if you’re apostates, I don’t care. You’re money’s still good and you’ll be free in Fukui, if they let you stay.”
“We’re not runaways.” Risa said lowly, “Though thank you for your kindness.” She didn’t seem willing to divulge anything more, but Sayu could tell their guides were still curious.
“We have permission to be here, we didn’t lie about our friends.” The bunny said quietly. Reina nodded slowly and they came to a stop.
“Well, the sun will be setting soon.” She looked to Aika, who was tapping her watch, “We’ll set up camp here and head out again at dawn.”
After a restless dinner, Risa and Sayu had retired to one of the tents their guides had graciously set up for them, “Do you think they’ll help us?” Sayu finally asked what had been on her mind since the beginning of their trip.
“We have to believe that they will, Sayumin.” Risa replied, putting an arm cautiously around the other woman. “It’s our only hope, so we can’t have any doubts.”
“But what if-”
“Ah! None of that. If you keep second guessing our mission like this, we’ve failed before we even get there.” Trying to be consoling, Risa rubbed the bunny’s shoulder gently, “Let’s get to sleep and tomorrow we’ll be one step closer to seeing Eri again.” Risa knew that her words were much more confident than she felt and while Sayu slept snuggled to her side, she couldn’t help but let the same doubts flow through her head.