Growing up in a shinobi village Mei had been taught from an early age the importance of finding their destined one. That is, their mate, their better half, their future husband or whatever other moniker assigned to them. A man whom they would share the rest of their lives with, someone who will know her the most intimately and vice versa.
The moment she laid her eyes on him she knew then that he was the one for her even before the order for his assassination came in. It was by pure chance she saw him, even in a crowd in the middle of the night he stood out to her. He was short, could easily be mistaken for a boy though the way he walked, the expression he bore and his manner of speech conveyed a highly educated man.
He was absolutely adorable.
She found herself following him, her expression maintained in a cool aloofness though her body burned with an unexplained want she attributed to instinct. She could feel on an instinctual level that she had found her destined one, unfortunately before she could prepare for a proper assassination duty called and she was needed to help a fellow kunoichi secure her target elsewhere.
She left but not before catching a good whiff of his scent-er spirit energy.
Imagine her surprise and (mis)fortune when the order came for that individual’s assassination. This man whom she had learned was called Phineas Morrigan was actually a prominent alchemist from a far off continent noted for his studies in an obscure field of alchemy noted for being able to use science and magical implements to manipulate the very things that make up a living organism referred to as ‘genetics.’
Apparently he has made great strides in the development of potions which directly affect the bodies of humans and mamono. She had actually read a list of some of the things he had made for and against mamono, it was impressive and dangerous in equal measure. Despite this the man himself was vehemently neutral in his stance of The Order vs. Mamono war choosing not to work for either side implicitly.
Once word of his findings got out it had been a race to have him work for either side whether through coercion or force. It was only natural for them to receive an assassination order for him, to be treated as a high valued target. While the man had no knowledge in the martial or even arcane arts so to speak, he was highly intelligent, cunning and versatile in his use of even the most mundane of items to craft rather ingenious devices or potions to subdue or delay his opponents.
So far he had managed to stay one step ahead of bounty hunters, Order knights, paladins, bandits, lustful mamono and even one of the demon lord’s daughters. That was just the abbreviated version of his travels so far and Mei has reason to believe he has gone through much more. The man has a solution to most of his problems and if it is to believe as a contingency for all mamono.
There was not a doubt in her mind that he would have something to deal with a kunoichi. He would have to if he was walking round seemingly without a care in the world. The scouts were sent out to observe his dwellings, she would have made to go with them but Mei needed to convince her sempai to allow her to lead this important and vital mission. It didn’t take much time once she explained (poorly) her feelings upon the sight of him.
At least her sempai could understand having been married to her husband for almost five years now.
‘I will prepare for tonight, the most important assassination of my life’ thought Mei as she went to mediate and go over the numerous bedroom skills she had acquired.
She had met him near the sight of her fall, he didn’t seem impressive to her at first but the defiant look in his eyes captivated her. Even in the face of several enemies who were bigger than him, stronger than him and faster than him he hardly wavered, his intelligent eyes roamed over the environment and she could almost see the various thought processes he mentally went over scenarios in his head.
His enemies, the ones who wanted him were monsters or mamono, she could see the lust in their eyes even the one who tried to maintain the façade of a warrior. It almost made her laugh at the fallacy presented before her but she didn’t because she knew what would happen. These women were part of the demon lord’s army and once they had him, he would be made a virtual slave to their whims, coerced into working for them for the most pleasures.
It wasn’t right, she could tell from a distance that this man was a man who did wonders when he was free to go about his own business, not chained to something as impertinent as lust and sex. Before she had come to fully realize what she had done she had entered the fray cutting down the first one with ease, the rest of them went down similarly except for the final one. The Dullahan put up the most fight, they were almost even in terms of swords skill which was no surprise for a fellow undead warrior but in the end she too fell, her skills could only hold for so long as her head remains upon her shoulder.
Though the battle had been won and the enemies were otherwise incapacitated, it came at the cost of precious energy. Fortunately for her the man was in possession of a remedy to restore her lost strength. It was immediately known to her that this man was wary of her yet instead of running away he took a leap of faith and trusted that she would not do anything untoward him.
An admirable trait.
She reassured him that he was safe from her, she introduced herself and even offered her assistance in escorting him towards the nearest settlement. He reluctantly accepted her assistance and introduced himself as Phineas. It was obvious to her that he wasn’t native to Zinpangu and she was curious to know about his travels.
She had travelled across Zinpangu but never out of it, there was always something holding her back from leaving her homeland. As it turns out Phineas was a well travelled man who had visited many places and throughout their walk he regaled her with tales of some of the more exotic places he had been. From caves and beaches to ancient temples and even demon realms.
She was surprised that a man such as he had not already been claimed but didn’t pry further so as to not come off as rude. He was already on edge and even throughout his tales had never once dropped his guard around her, a curious thing. She did inquire as to why those women were after him but his answer was rather vague though it boiled down to their masters wanting to exploit his talents to suite their ends.
And what were his talents?
After that subject was broached his eyes sparkled as he went on and on about his work in alchemy. She didn’t understand half of what he said and the other half was mostly lost in translation but she got the gist of it. Basically he crafted things to better help others irrelevant of who they are whether it be his fellow man or even youkai like her.
It was an honourable trait actually and it struck her that this man was basically going to change the world and yet he was by himself. He told her that he worked best alone and people often can’t be trusted what with the bounty on his head and as for youkai (or as they are known as mamono outside of zinpangu) he would rather not be coerced into marriage and conscripted into the demon lord’s army. The less said about The Order the better.
She could understand his reasons though it didn’t mean she liked it. Being clever and intelligent could only work for him for so long, sooner or later he would be thrust in a situation requiring him to fight and his luck will run out. She could only guess that when it does he would cease to be the person who he is and that didn’t sit right with her. It couldn’t have been more than an hour or so of walking yet she found herself drawn to him.
She wouldn’t mind serving a lord like him, protecting him from those who would take advantage of his talents. In fact she quite liked the idea of it, standing by his side seeing him rise to even greater heights, a far cry from his present self-then when all is said and done he would look to her with those eyes she had come to admire and whisper praises in her ear as his hands trailed along her-
Oh dear, it would seem that she was taken with this man. Aside from that her instinct and whatever magic now residing within her both agree that Phineas would be a lord worth serving. As she came to this conclusion they had already made it to the bustling settlement but before she could broach the topic of offering her service he had already left her side, all she heard was a quick farewell before he had simply vanished.
It was quite a feat to pull off for a foreigner with no training in stealth to do in the first place but she was a warrior and master swordswoman yet she could not locate him, she couldn’t even sense his spirit energy!
Was that a rejection?
‘Impossible!’ her mind roared ‘he was simply nervous.’
Yes that must be it, while she had let her mind wander for a fleeting moment he had not once let his guard down, she could only imagine what her silence must have seem like to him as had already expressed his desire not to be forcefully married. She was well aware that youkai like her have peculiarities when it comes to mating and finding a mate. Her feelings for him were budding at best but irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
The fact is, that they needed each other. She was tired of wandering the lands with no clear goal, she yearned to once again use her skills in serving a lord as she did in life and whether Phineas wanted to believe it or not he needed someone to protect him or at the very least a companion for his journey. At his current rate his prospects are being captured at best and dying at worst.
He needed her as much as she needed him.
With those thoughts in mind, Hasakawa the Ochimusha set out to find her soon-to-be master.
Mei couldn’t believe her ears “what do you mean you lost him?” her expression remained stoic yet her voice was frigid.
The two younger Kunoichi tasked with following Phineas’ movements stiffened, they were fearful of her which they should be. They did fairly well in masking their terror though and gave an accurate account of just how they managed to lose track of a foreign explorer with no training in stealth or espionage.
Begrudgingly Mei had to concede to their point as despite having committed his spirit energy to memory she could no longer trace it ‘a masking agent’ her eyes narrowed in thought ‘and a potent one at that, very clever but ultimately futile.’
“Our target is using a masking agent to conceal his spirit energy” she addressed the other six Kunoichi listening attentively “he is most likely aware of our pursuit. We shall scour the immediate vicinity and spread out from there confirming our progress every hour. Use whatever means to locate him, he is a foreigner so it should not be hard and should you find him do not confront or give away your position, this man is not to be taken lightly and in any case it may well take our combined efforts to subdue him” she looked each of them in the eye before dismissing them.
Hours had gone by and Mei swore they must have searched the entire settlement and while there had been people who have met and talked with Phineas they didn’t have any information on where he could be staying for the night. Mei had allocated a few of their numbers to various inns in case he showed up to sleep for the night though she knew that it wouldn’t take.
With no trail to speak of or any hints as to his location and the constant leaping around she felt the term ‘wild goose chase’ applied to her situation. She was far from giving up however, Phineas was her destined one after all and aside from that he came here for a reason and the guards hadn’t seen any foreigners exiting the settlements so he was around here somewhere in hiding. She just had to figure out where.
Her pointed ears twitched when she heard his name being uttered and to her surprise it seemed that she and her sisters were not the only ones searching for him. To her consternation though she found the other person to be an Ochimusha, Bushi, Samurai, undead warrior and a thorn in the side of shinobi’s past.
There was always an underlying animosity with her kind and Kunoichi despite them technically being on the same side (being youkai and all) but for this woman to be searching for Phineas could only mean one of two things and Mei has it on good authority that there are no other youkai around who know of Phineas being in this particular settlement.
That leaves the second explanation and the thought of her Phineas being in the hands of an undead hussy made Mei feel irritated. So through this realization and a combination of other factors she would rather not dwell on Mei decided to follow the youkai and for a while it seemed as if she had been stuck like she had then out of the blue it seemed the undead Bushi came to a realization and after asking around some more she started running of somewhere.
Mei had a choice then, it was almost time to rendezvous with her sisters but whatever this Ochimusha had stumbled upon would most likely be related to Phineas. With time of the essence Mei made her choice and decided to follow after the Ochimusha offering a silent apology to her sisters. Her pursuit led her to a thicket of forestry outside the settlement borders.
What could be out here?
The more she pursued the more Mei felt that this was a waste of her time, the feeling of wanting to turn back and reconvene with her sisters started to take root in her mind.
‘What is this feeling of unease?’ she thought to herself.
Suddenly the Ochimusha stopped and seemed to observe her environment. Then she suddenly got into a stance Mei recognized as Iaidō, she held the sheath in her left hand and her bony gauntlet covered right hand held the pommel of her sword. Two of the holes in her gauntlet ignited in blue flames and faster than even Mei could perceive she slashed the air.
Like a veil being uncovered Mei’s unease lifted and her uncertainty was shattered like glass but more than that she was now overwhelmed by the feel of his spirit energy. He spent a significant amount of time here, she could practically smell it, she could taste it and she knew he was still here because why else would he spend so much time creating this barrier?
She didn’t have the answer because the Ochimusha was on the move again, this time with more certainty in her steps. Mei must be quick less her destined one fall into the cold embrace of this walking corpse of a woman.
Hasakawa felt stupid for not realizing it sooner, he had even said it himself, he only travelled to places when he needed something otherwise he would just mostly stay inside his workshop. So of course there must be a reason why he would venture to this place. To her shame she realized she must have drowned out some of his words in the name of not overwhelming her mind with his…knowledge.
In any case she remembered he spoke of rare ingredients for a potion he was trying to make. So it was only a matter of racking her brain to find out what he may have wanted then asking a random citizen if there happened to be some rare flower or something around these parts. It took some time but eventually she found a lead and made haste into the forest.
She followed the stranger’s instruction to the letter on where to find this place yet the closer she got the more she felt something was off and her mind started to fill with doubt. Yet her honed warrior instinct told her she was on the correct path and that this doubt was simply a ruse. With that in mind she stopped herself from going further and after feeling around with her senses found she was in the midst of a barrier of sorts.
Hasakawa was no stranger to magic and though this was of a different design she knew what she was up against. In his defence it was an inventive and well placed barrier but it was not something she couldn’t dispel using her own strength. Before she did though the thought occurred that she would alert him to her presence but she was confident she could convince him to let her into his service through dialogue.
To her mild surprise the barrier didn’t dispel rather she cut a hole in it that spilled out his spirit energy signature like a water fall. Suddenly the fog was lifted and she wasted no time following his trail until she ended up in a clearing and in the middle of that clearing was a structure made from the ground upon which it sat and shaped into a house. It was a fairly large one and no doubt warded against intruders which she was but not for long.
Hasakawa wanted to talk to him about letting her serve him but in her humble opinion talk is cheap and while her literary skills were up to scratch she found that a demonstration of her skill and devotion would be all the evidence she needed to support her appeal.
“There is no sense in hiding, I know you are out there, come out and show yourself” she looked over her shoulder then in time to see several projectiles launch from the treeline.
Hasakawa was quick to dodge, ducking and weaving through the barrage until she felt a tingle run down her spine and through decades of instinct she whipped around her bone gauntlets to intercept. There was a crash as demon silver steel met bone and for the first time Hasakawa saw her quarry up close.
Gazing into the emotionless grey-black eyes she couldn’t help but return the glare, the very sight of her would have made her lip curl but here in this situation she felt the utmost contempt as is reflected in a single word she uttered dripping with disdain
The woman’s glare intensified before she leapt back, Hasakawa doing the same. She had only been aware of her when she crossed the threshold of the freshly cut barrier which is a testament to the woman’s skill in stealth. Hasakawa loathed her inattention to being followed but she could see an opportunity in her folly.
Recently the kunoichi and the undead bushi had no reason to come to blows being that they are summarily now both youkais but one cannot simply dispel centuries of bad blood for something as trivial as a transformation. And truly the old enemies had found new ways to hinder and antagonize each other such as an Ochimusha protecting her master from being ‘assassinated’ or a kunoichi absconding away with the master.
And so, the cycle continues.
“Leave this place shinobi, Master Phineas is under my protection.”
The zinpangu succubus merely regarded the undead warrior with her emotionless expression, her face half concealed by her mask she slowly drew her ninjatō “he is my target…and I will assassinate him.”
Those words could be interpreted any which way by anyone but for these women they carried the weight of their convictions and as the wind blew a leaf onto the ground, the battle began in earnest!
Mei moved first with surprising quickness but not enough, Hasakawa sidestepped the first slash, ducked the second and used her sheathe to block the third at the same time drawing her sword to mount her offensive. Mei managed to block her strikes haphazardly before a horizontal slash forced her dodge via a backflip.
Hasakawa would’ve pressed but the skilled succubus lashed out with her bladed tail forcing her to block. A second backflip produced thrown shuriken but at that time Hasakawa had already settled into a quickdraw stance and intercepted each projectile with a slash so fast it could hardly be seen, each shuriken sailed by her in neatly cleaved halves.
For the second to last shuriken though she deflected it into the last one and used the lull to dash forward and with a yell slashed the unprepared kunoichi. Mei managed a blocked though the force sent the masked fighter a few feet away. Unbidden the kunoichi settled into a wide stance with her sword held overhead so that the blade pointed at the undead Bushi.
Hasakawa for her part regarded her with faint respect “it seems there is still some honour among thieves” she stood tall holding the sheathe straight parallel to her body and with an absent twirl of her blade sheathed it and closed her eyes.
Mei could have rolled her eyes but instead she considered her opponent and concluded that this battle will not be won purely with sword fighting but luckily she had other talents and she silently thought to herself ‘there is no honour for an assassin’ before moving and appearing behind her opponent’s still form ready to cut.
Hasakawa was already expecting this and retaliated much faster cutting into Mei much to her shock but that slight twitch behind Mei’s mask was reflected much more profoundly onto Hasakawa when the kunoichi turned into dark mist.
The Ochimusha barely had time to duck and use her sheathe to block a barrage of attacks coming from her flank. She twirled her body intermediating between blocking and slashing until she did a fierce uppercut using her sheathe held in a reverse grip. Mei’s guard was effectively broken, the force actually sending her reeling back stumbling.
Hasakawa now mid air brought her katana down with small triumphant smile only to once again shift to shock when she got a ball of flames to the face courtesy of Mei. The attack exploded and launched the Ochimusha across the clearing covered in a scant few flames and scorch marks.
Hasakawa rolled with her landing to oust the flames but her kimono was reduced to rags forcing her to rip it off. Now donning only her hakama, bone gauntlet and chest wraps she sheathed her sword glaring at the stoic woman. Two of the six holes in Hasakawa’s gauntlet ignited in blue flames before both youkais were gone in a blink, moving so quickly one wouldn’t be able to keep up with their movements but from what could be seen the kunoichi was on the defensive.
Mei haphazardly blocked a few sword strikes only to grunt in pain when the skilled Ochimusha ducked her strike and jabbed her in rib with her sheathe. She pressed on with three windmill slashes before going in force a dash and slash. But using Ninpo Mei disappeared in a plume of smoke appearing just outside where the samurai’s momentum and got her with a surprise slash.
Hasakawa managed to deflect the second slash with her katana but then the kunoichi disappeared again and the undead warrior was deftly impaled through the back. Looking down she saw a silver blade poking through her chest, snarling at the sight she slashed back but again Mei teleported away before it could hit.
‘Damn her and her tricks!’ thought the Ochimusha.
In truth Hasakawa was barely injured, the sword cut more off her energy than actually injuring her, not that it would last anyway. The real damage though was to her pride and she cursed her naivete. Whatever could have possessed her into believing that a kunoichi would ever adhere to the rules of a sword duel?
“I should have expected as much from you” she sheathed her sword and circled her a bit before settling into a stance “but you are not the only one who knows magic!”
A third blue flame ignited along her gauntlet before the click of her partially unsheathed katana echoed in Mei’s ears, then the Ochimusha blitz forward. Mei only had enough time to raise her sword but by that time her enemy had already moved past her leaving a trail of blue crescent slashes that smacked into the kunoichi and shredded chunks off her energy and forcing her to stumble back.
Looking over her shoulder, the Ochimusha was already in another low stance and she could see the sheathed sword wreath in a tin cover of blue flames “hold still” she heard her quarry say before slashing forward.
Mei was vaguely aware of a blue circle appearing under her then what felt like a dozen slashes struck her body like a training log. There was no physical injury but she lost a good amount of energy and stamina, forcing her to a knee. An uncharacteristic scowl appeared on her suddenly sweat ladened face as she stood but it lasted until she felt she was being watched. Mei looked up and into the eyes of Phineas Morrigan who had been watching events unfold from a small window formation.
He ducked away a moment later with a small squeak of noise. Mei’s eyes lingered at where he had been for a moment, her expression no longer bore anger or frustration or much of anything anymore. The sight of her destined one reaffirmed what she was here for in the first place, her mission was Phineas not the Ochimusha.
‘I won’t allow myself to become distracted any longer.’
“If you will not make the next move, then I will bring the fight to you!” Hasakawa exclaimed and crossed the threshold within seconds at the same time Mei dropped a smoke bomb.
Mei attempted to flee but Hasakawa caught up to her moments later, bursting through the smoke and attacking relentlessly. Mei found it harder to keep up and eventually after a well deflected shot left her open Hasakawa went in for a decisive strike on her exposed abdomen only for the kunoichi to fade into smoke.
‘Did she teleport?’
Hasakawa barley managed to jerk her head back to avoid the weighted end of a kusarigama. Mei was upon her immediately upon her, expertly twirling and whirling the chained sickle at her, sometimes throwing in the weighted end to bludgeon her in interval. Throughout it all Hasakawa couldn’t help but feel that something was wrong.
After the very short exchange Hasakawa accelerated, using her gauntlet to deflect the weighted end without so much as flinching and stabbed her through the chest. She felt resistance before the kunoichi disappeared in a plume of smoke.
‘Not teleportation’ she spun and cut through several shuriken, all but a few disappeared after the act ‘and it is not an illusion’ she looked up and dodged the sickle of a kusarigama, blocked a few more shuriken, and deflected a ninjato strike, each of the attacks pushed her back somewhat ‘at least not entirely’ she sheathed her katana and stood straight.
“Bunshin” with narrowed eyes she regarded the 8 kunoichi that now surrounded her, each of them a splitting image of the other with the exception that each wielded a different set of ninja weaponry: ninjato, kusarigama, kunai and shuriken. At an unseen signal they acted most got out the way while three went on for a full frontal assault.
A fourth blue flame ignited.
“Stop wasting my time!”
Her sword was blur as she whipped it in cuts across the air, there was a faint outline of blue along the blade now and the bunshin split apart before disappearing. By that time Hasakawa was already on the move intercepting attacks from seemingly all angles but with little trouble. At this point the Ochimusha far outclassed the kunoichi in all physical aspects but it did not mean she was getting anywhere as the clones seem to come endlessly.
She blocked yet another shuriken, this time from above and her gaze flitted barely to the treeline before she had to dodge and dispel yet another clone
It was with a start that Hasakawa realized they were now skirting the edge of the forest, already behind a few trees.
When did the battle end up here!?
They were so far away from…Phine…as..
“No” she whispered briefly before snapping her head towards the center where the kunoichi crouched attempting to get inside.
“No!” she yelled tanking a hit with but a stumble.
Hasakawa saw red, the fifth flame ignited and with a yell of “GET OUT OF MY WAY!!” she turned into blue streak of light that tore away at the clones, each and every one of them, with frenzied precision and rage.
Hasakawa was angry, she was angry at being taken for a fool in this battle time and again, she was angry at the damn kunoichi for making her look the fool in front of her potential new lord but mostly she was angry at herself for ever letting the battle get out of hand. She was supposed to be protecting him from danger not getting carried away and showing off!
If she could actually die again, she would commit sepokku for her transgressions but not before she gutted that damn kunoichi first!
Mei was not the best ward breaker in her village just competent enough to know her way around ward schemes. Luckily for her Phineas was not the best at warding but as she is competent enough so is he and unlike her he must have had plenty of practice. In hindsight it was a good idea to invest in the maximum number of clones, it may have left her close to the point of exhaustion but it was taking all her concentration and skill to get through these wards.
With any luck she may just be able to replenish herself with some freshly squeezed spirit energy but that was wishful thinking. The Ochimusha was still going strong and the clones could only distract her for so long. Even then she had to take into account what Phineas might do once she broke through, at least she was fairly confident she could disable him quickly and make off with him.
Yes all she needed was a few more seconds and she will finally complete the goal of every-
‘Drats…’ Mei whipped around and her expression turned to the kunoichi equivalent of shock as a crescent wave of blue fire came hurdling towards her.
She lept out of the way but the attack caught her leg and cost her a large chunk of energy, too much she realized for a regular slash. The attack cut diagonally through the makeshift home, utterly destroying the weakened ward and splitting off the side of the roof and wall. Mei couldn’t capitalize on this though as she drew a kunai and used her arm guards to brace it.
A loud clang rang out drowned out only by the Ochimusha’s yell as she continually drove the tired kunoichi back. It was fast at first but it ultimately ebbed away and Mei noted how the flames in her gauntlet had extinguished. She felt some of her confidence return and twisted the undead’s woman’s arm, pivoting to her flank and delivering roundhouse kick to her back.
The samurai lashed out with her sword as she spun and stumbled but was able to keep her footing. The Ochimusha looked worse for wear, her stance was loose and although she didn’t pant (on account of not needing to breath) she was the undead equivalent of fatigued. Just how much fatigue she has was up in the air but Mei was confident they were fighting at the same level again.
Before any of them could continue there was the sound of shifting gravel before a loud ‘THUD’ echoed across the otherwise silent clearing. The two youkai turned to source to see a young looking brown haired man wearing knee length boots, trousers and grey shirt under a camouflage coat, he had on a rucksack and his belt was adorned with various pouches and compartments of varied sizes.
“Phineas-sama” Hasakawa spoke.
The man’s shoulders tensed and he turned around mechanically, the moonlight glaring off his glasses to obscure his eyes…somehow.
“Uh…” was his intelligent response to her words before he turned tail and ran as fast as his legs could carry him.
“Phineas-sama, wait!” Hasakawa reached out with her hand only to see blur pass her by “no!” she yelled giving chase.
Body tilted forward, hands trailing behind her and legs pumping fast Mei had tunnel vision as she pursued Phineas. Nothing else mattered at that point, her face was an expressionless mask not even belying her fatigued state. She silently took out her kusarigama and threw it with precision wrapping around the fleeing man’s leg and tripping him mid run.
Mei had it planned out right then, she would come up grab him without losing momentum, knock him with a well placed chop to the back of his head then make for the forest and once through she would give the signal to summon her sisters. As long as she could make it to her awaiting comrades in the village then she would be safely escorted back to the village with her new husband.
Mei’s plan flew right through the window when she tripped over a tossed scabbard. The kunoichi rolled with the fall coming to her knees and giving the Ochimusha a frigid glare even as the swordswoman came with an overhead swing. She rolled out the way but at the cost of her kusarigama chain which was cut.
Hasakawa looked back to the now loose man “Phineas-sama, run!”
Her lapse in judgment nearly cost her as she jerked her head back to avoid the thrown sickle before charging forward to cross blades with her opponent again. The Kunoichi seemed less inclined to agree with this and instead threw a single kunai. Hasakawa didn’t even bother to stop her charge, instead raising her gauntlet and let the projectile bounce off it. But as the weapon pinged off the sturdy bone-plated gauntlet the Ochimusha saw what looked like a small black orb tied at the ring.
The black orb exploded into a cloud of smoke obscuring her vision “dammit!” she didn’t even spare a second thought as to where the kunoichi was and made a dash towards where Phineas was last seen heading.
Phineas had made it into the forest but obviously he wasn’t adept at hiding, not that he seemed to be trying to hide since he left a trail of crushed leaves and broken twigs not to mention the sweat from his exertion made the scent of his spirit energy so thick it was almost overwhelming to Mei’s who was specially trained to sniff out spirit energy like a dog youkai.
Eventually she came upon a spot surrounded by trees, there was a trail leading off somewhere but his spirit energy was still in the area. Her eyes narrowed and she silently made her way above ground with a single leap which was harder than it should have been- she was really tired.
With skill and finesse she maneuvered her way towards the source expecting to see a man huddled behind a tree trying desperately to be as small as possible while stifling his breathing as the adrenaline of the situation spiked his heart beat. Instead what she was treated to was a sweaty drenched shirt folded amongst the thick visible roots of a particularly old tree.
Her eyes widened as her head swivelled to the noise but it was too late and she was bombarded with a rain of small arrows. She only managed to bring her forearms together to block the assault costing her balance on the tree branch and sent her falling. She landed painfully on her side having somehow lost the feeling in her leg, a look down and Mei realized why as an arrow was embedded in her thigh, strangely enough there was no blood.
‘Demon realm silver?’
She thought no further on this as Phineas soon stepped out in the open, wearing only his coat and pants leveling a strange looking crossbow at her with a grim expression. He fired and she ran, two arrows managed to catch her before she got to cover. Mei pulled them out less she become paralyzed but at this point she was well beyond fatigued, having to take slow measured breaths.
“I am not going to be assassinated tonight” she heard him mutter through gritted teeth “so you just stay right where you are” he wasn’t coming any closer though rather his voice was getting farther as he spoke.
He was getting away!
Mei’s hands clenched as her mind raced in a desperate frenzy to try and salvage this situation. She could probably still overpower him but she wasn’t in the position to run long distances, she needed to replenish her energy stores.
Mei was going to have to rape him.
It was in bad taste and very far from the intimate vision she had of what their first shared night with her husband was, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
At the same time the Ochimusha burst forth through the foliage, surprising both of them and causing Phineas to open fire. Naturally the Ochimusha used her katana to deflect the arrows but a precise throw of three arrows from Mei imbedded in the samurai’s hand managed to throw off her concentration. The yelps of pain from the undead youkai was cathartic in a way to Mei who sprung from her hidden position throwing a kunai into Phineas’ shoulder before tackling onto the grass, the impact knocking off his glasses.
The wide eyed foreigner brought his unfocused gaze towards her, the hit must have dazed him. She only admired his face for a moment before getting down to business and reaching for his crotch and just when she expertly undid his belt with one hand she was interrupted by their third wheel.
“Get away from him!” was all she heard before 180 pounds of undead muscle knocked her off.
‘…why does this keep happening to me?’
When Phineas woke up this morning he knew today was going to be one of those days. First of all, it was Tuesday and while it might not mean much to the average person, for Phineas his worst days were on Tuesdays which is why he would normally stay inside and experiment on that day. Unfortunately circumstances demanded he be up and about and what better way to start off than to the sound of some bloke shagging his mamono wife through the hours of the morning.
He didn’t complain too badly since they were on a ship sailing through mamono waters, the merfolk tend to leave ships alone if the men were already taken. A necessary evil but dammit why did it have to be on the day when he was out of that sleeping drought!? Anyway after making port Phineas needed directions and a map if possible so it was after overcoming the language barrier and making a bit of a fool of himself he set off towards his destination.
Unfortunately for him somehow, someway a Dullahan knight of the demon lord’s army managed to round up a few of the local bounty hunters and track him all the way to Zinpangu. It wasn’t the first time they had met and it certainly wouldn’t be the last, Veronica was a persistent one having been given the task to bring him in from one of the Lilim she felt honour bound to complete her task no matter what.
The persistent woman had gotten a good grasp on his habits and practices over their long game of cat and mouse having tracked him to Zinpangu and cornered him in the forest. He had contingencies for this kind problem (which happened far too many times since he started travelling) but there was no need. He was saved by, of all things, another mamono or youkai he supposed.
She possessed an inhuman beauty (he was all too used to at this point) despite being a zombie but not any kind of zombie he had seen before. This undead warrior was fast and skilled, dueling and disabling all his attackers with precision and finesse. Even the Dullahan knight fell to her eventually after a lengthy fight.
He should have ran back then but his inquisitive side was piqued and he decided to stick around but prepared his ‘anti-undead contingency’ protocol. Turns out he wouldn’t need it, she was a very amiable person and helpful too even escorting him through the forest. And the best part was she listened! If only partially but she at least seemed half interested in his studies.
He didn’t let his guard down too much, with how she handled that sword (katana!) she could disable (and rape) him in a matter of seconds. So despite her helpfulness and willingness to lend her ears to his ravings, which in hindsight seems like a precursor to rape, he politely excused himself into the crowd dropped his spirit masking agent then apply a little invisibility spell soon afterwards.
The hours later were spent immersing himself in the Zinpangu culture and of course cross referencing with his copy of Monster Girl Encyclopedia. He managed to find what kind of mamon-er youkai she is, an Ochimusha. It was a good thing he followed his instincts and left, less she ‘offer’ to serve him. Phineas didn’t have anything against mamono but when dealing with ones who are not already taken it is almost always guaranteed that a man would end up marrying one whether he meant to or not.
At least she’s not doing the whole ‘Proactive dating’ rubbish, now that would’ve have been difficult but not insurmountable. Phineas has survived a Hellhound, a Wurm and a Lilim, compared to that an undead samurai lady wasn’t anything special, even if she dd handle that sword rather well.
He was still paranoid though and he’s learned that it pays to be paranoid when you know you’re being pursued by a mamono. He has a rule when it comes to that, the rule of 52. There needs to be at least 50 kilometers and two days apart before he could say that he lost that particular mamono. So far it has not led him astray and it applies to every mamono except Veronica, the fanatic.
His paranoia led him to drop his scent at a conservative inn then sneak away into the forest he had been escorted from mere hours ago. Because why would a man go back into the forest he had almost ended up gang raped in right?
It was not like he had much of a choice! The rare herb that grows in this region just so happens to be located at that particular place so he made sure to establish his best warded barrier, set up shop via magic and engineering and got to work experimenting. Hours later he fell asleep fitfully on his cot.
All too soon his sporadic rest was disturbed by the tear in his ward, someone had gotten through, make that two someones. He started gathering his things in a magical pocket dimension in the guise of a rucksack. Luckily for him his home was veritable mini-fortress of which there is only one way in and a few ways out and many positions of attack. So depending on who it is he could incapacitate them and leave.
It turned out to be Hasakawa the Ochimusha, he had to give her points for persistence but just as he was readying his anti-undead essentials another mamono joined, this one was a kunoichi. Phineas actually cursed then, he’s heard about these particular breed of succubi even before arriving in Zinpangu. In fact they were the first youkai he read up on when he thought of going to Zinpangu.
In Phineas’ humble opinion they are 100 times worst than the regular variety of succubi. It didn’t need to be said but Phineas needed to make an escape plan before even more of them showed up. But as he went about packing the sounds of clashing steel made him aware that a battle was going on outside.
And what a battle it was!
The last time he had seen mamono fighting each other had been when Hasakawa saved him. This made that look like two toddlers playing with sticks, this fight between Ochimusha and Kunoichi was nothing like he had ever seen. They were all over the place, clashing swords, throwing magic and going about it with a grace and speed that cou- and the kunoichi was looking straight at him.
‘Crap!’ he ducked down ‘did she see me?’
A few moments later the sounds of clashes resumed with even more vigor almost as if there were more than two of them out there. He slowly went to look outside and came face to mask with the kunoichi. He screamed and fell back looking up he saw she was staring intently at him before attempting to open the door but to no avail afterwards going to ward breaking. Phineas by this time was cursing mentally as he got ready for what might be another close call with sex.
Then a miracle happened that wasn’t so much a miracle as it was his temporary abode being cut in two. Once he got over this he made to sneak away but the gods would not let him off so easily and he alerted the women to his presence. He did the smart thing and ran away, only to realize moments later that he should have done the smarter thing and throw down a flash bomb then run away.
Did he not learn anything from his brush with those soldier beetles?
Anyway after escaping thanks to miss Hasakawa he just knew that the kunoichi would be on him like sweat on shirt so using this he set a trap which worked…for all of two minutes before he was distracted by an Ochimusha appearing out of nowhere. And for that he was promptly disarmed and tackled by an extremely thirsty succubus. Luckily he was spared from being assassinated by Hasakawa…again.
Still fighting the mild pain from his tumble he sat but immediately felt something off ‘my glasses’ he searched around for them ‘they couldn’t have gotten far!’
The sound of broken glass under foot reverberated through his eardrums like an echo in the valley. For a time he simple stopped, it felt as if something broke in him as he could see an almost blurry outline of his once intact spectacles. The first thing he experienced was confusion, then sadness before almost being overcome with enough rage to want to make him scream at the world and its gods!
Then it ebbed away into apathy.
Phineas slowly got to his feet, ignoring the scuffle going on around him he made his way to his discarded customized crossbow and after fiddling with it, switched the settings. After loading up a special arrow he point, aimed and shoot. The action took longer than he thought because of his slightly hazy vision but he managed to shoot the kunoichi in the back.
Oh the irony.
The succubus dropped and Phineas was already aiming at Hasakawa “wait Phineas *POING!* sa…ma…” the Ochimusha looked at her chest which now had a miniature arrow bolt sticking out of it then dropped to her knees.
Whatever guilt Phineas might’ve felt for attacking the woman who had been protecting him was beaten down and executed ruthlessly when he realized that this was all her fault. She was the one who brought the kunoichi here, she was the one who disturbed his tranquility and she was the one who broke his mother-effing glasses!!
‘Deep breaths Phineas, let’s just collect the arrows and go.’ Those things were expensive, he’s not going to leave them lying around.
Without nary a glance or concern to the two struggling mamono-youkai! whatever!! He went about doing just that. By the time he was finished he had all but the two he stuck in the women.
There was a grunt from the kunoichi forcing Phineas to turn crossbow on ‘full auto’ but it wasn’t necessary, Hasakawa was presenting him with his two bolts “Phineas…sama…” she panted.
Phineas regarded her warily before accepting it “thank you” he may be peeved at her but Phineas was always taught to be a gentleman.
There was that honorific again “why do you call me –sama?”
“…would you prefer if I called you master?”
Oh so that’s how it is “no I don’t ‘prefer’ you call me anything of the sort miss Hasakawa” he said firmly yet with no malice “I am not your master or lord nor do I wish to be.”
If she was shocked Phineas didn’t see (from the little he could at that distance) as his attention was diverted to the kunoichi now on one knee. She didn’t say anything and even if she did he wouldn’t want to hear it.
“And as for you” he leveled his crossbow at her again “stay away from me, this is your final warning.”
She stared long and hard at Phineas before reaching up and with a sharp tug, pulled off her mask. The action garnered a raised eye brow from the man.
Then the kunoichi spoke in a low tone that was smooth like silk and carried an undercurrent of sensuality that seems a staple in all succubi “you have seen my face.”
“When a man sees a kunoichi’s bare face then by law of their village they must be brought into their village by any means possible.”
“Is that so?” he said in an oddly calm voice, then he leaned in close (but not too close) and after squinting he shook his head “I don’t see it and I meant that in the most literal sense. I can’t see yours or anyone’s face without my glasses which was carelessly destroyed in your fight” he spared a glare to Hasakawa briefly “your law does not apply to me and after today you will never see me again, I’m leaving Zinpangu tonight.”
Phineas could say that he would be leaving the village but if this is what he has to look forward to on his first day in new territory then he’d rather not stick around. He felt that his string of bad luck were an omen for him to stay away from this place.
‘At least I have what I was looking for’ he began walking away.
“W-wait master Phineas-”
“Stop!” he said voice now higher and less apathetic “I know you believe me to be someone worthy of your protection but I’m really not. I am no lord, I own no inheritance, I have no political clout and I don’t even have a home. I am just a simple alchemist trying to go about my business!” he took a breath “thank you for protecting me miss Hasakawa but find someone else to your master, I am not him.”
He turned a glare to the kunoichi “and you, leave. Me. Alone.” He said through gritted teeth.
She shook her head “I cannot.”
“Why not!?” he all but yelled “did Mari hire you to bring me to her?” she remained silent “well you can tell her that no matter how much she pleads, coerce or try to force me I can’t suddenly enable Mamono to birth males!”
Phineas didn’t hear her he was pacing now “I mean how did that rumor even got out there? It’s not even a scientific fact, it was a theory by the longest stretch with less than a 2% chance for success. I was drunk for gods-sake when I made that remark not that I could even remember much of anything that night with how much I’ve had to drink. Why would anyone take the ramblings of a drunk man seriously enough to send armies after him? Gah!?” he ranted throwing his hands up in the air.
“You found a way for youkai to give birth to males?” Mei asked in awe.
He paused then started walking again “I didn’t find anything! It was the ramblings of a drunk man.”
Hasakawa and Mei could only stare after him in hesitance, they both felt the urge to follow him for different reasons that were in the end intrinsically the same but they didn’t. they couldn’t because they were both too tired and he had masked his spirit energy from them so with a final glare at one another they went their separate ways.
Last night was a disaster of epic proportions for Mei who had to give a full account of her encounter with the Ochimusha and with the alchemist, including his ‘theory’ of being able to enable youkai to birth males. She had to give a very good reason why they shouldn’t send an elite force to find and capture him. This time her excuse wasn’t for her benefit but for his because last night Phineas looked depressed and angry enough to do something he would regret later on without a moment’s hesitation.
And that is not to say, the Ochimusha would come to his aid for they would surely forge an alliance against this new threats and between her superior combat skills and Phineas’ genius Mei fears that not even the elite squad would be able to capture him and even if they do, there is no guarantee he would even comply despite their skill. Mei had already marked him and she wasn’t sure she could in good conscious manipulate him to do something he obviously does not want to do.
Not to mention the fact that he already dislikes her.
No, they needed to approach this from a different angle, so she invoked village law after hours of research. Phineas is now to be treated as a high ranking, high valued target as opposed to a high valued one. The former classification is usually given to men who have a high seat of power in which could be used to further the political agendas of the youkai.
It took some work but having Phineas create a means for the continued survival of all youkai across the world could garner much political clout. So rather than taking him back to the village she will serve as his vassal and aid him in this endeavor. This will not be an easy task and she couldn’t quite approach him as she did last night.
With that in mind she walked the port in the middle of the day in disguise. Well disguise is relative as all she wore was a flowery pattern kimono. She didn’t bother to hide her tail or even take off her mask. Sure she garnered some attention but no one really dwelled on it, youkais were eccentric like that and despite being a ‘secret’ organization, her village and kunoichi in general were an open secret.
People talk about it, are aware of it but good luck trying to find it and better luck if you do.
Tucked in her sleeve was the peace offering she would present, it want much but hopefully she could overcome the initial obstacle of gaining his trust and speaking of obstacle she spied the Ochimusha sitting in the seiza position by the tavern. Cleared of all wounds and wearing a new set of clothes. She had her eyes closed but once Mei came closer her eyes snapped open and the woman glared at her, Mei returned the glare albeit a cool one to her heated stare.
“Leave this place if you know what is good for you.”
Was that a threat?
“I am not here to fight you.”
The undead Bushi scoffed standing up “you are here for Phineas-sama. I am telling you that you are wasting your time, he is not in the best mood and the last thing he needs is to speak with his would-be ‘assassin’.”
Mei stared for a moment before looking at the tavern, she could sense Phineas inside. After a moment of deliberation she walked inside with Hasakawa following close behind. Once inside Mei could see why she thought speaking to him would be a bad idea, she immediately found Phineas, he was in a dark corner of the tavern where the oppressive atmosphere was generating from.
He lied face down on the table with an almost empty bottle of Sake and a cup by his head. What little patrons were in the establishment gave his table a wide berth, it was actually a bit surprising to Mei since Phineas didn’t look the type to intimidate. Yet she, a warrior trained in all forms of combat inside and outside the bedroom was becoming nervous about speaking to a man, her destined one for that matter.
If only her mother could see her now…
She took steady strides towards his prone form, the closer she got the more she could feel a pressure upon her senses that baffled her ‘just what is this?’
As she thought this she realized that at some point unnoticed by even her Phineas had risen enough to reveal a single eye from his position. Mei actually had to suppress a shudder, he did not look happy at all.
“Oh, it’s you” was it just her or did his voice sound deeper “what part of ‘leave me alone’ did you not understand?”
Mei’s outward expression did not change even as he sat up to give her a full view of his scowling face complete with a pair of evil eyes with dark circles underneath.
She stood before him now, a mask devoid of expression as she bowed “I am sorry for my transgressions last night and I hope that this would at least grant you a moment of your time” she placed the wooden case on the table and waited for him.
Still with an irritated look he picked up the case, inspected it before realization came to him and he opened the case to reveal a pair of glasses but before he could put them on he gave a skeptical look “these aren’t enchanted are they?”
“No they are not.”
After a moment of hesitation he placed them on then blinked “ah much better” he looked to her “thank you” oddly enough his voice was back to normal, the oppressive atmosphere disappeared and even the dark circles under his eyes vanished as if by some magic.
Mei didn’t let her surprise show “you are welcome.”
Adjusting his new spectacles he gave Mei a once over before sighing “I suppose if you went through the trouble of acquiring these that I am not about to be ‘assassinated’ then?” Mei gave the slightest tilt of her head and he sighed “then by all means sit down, you can sit as well Miss Hasakawa.”
The Ochimusha nodded and sat on Phineas’ right acting as a sort of barrier between him and Mei “thank you Phineas-sama.”
“I am not…” he trailed off at the look she gave him and sighed “whatever…”
“I came here to negotiate on behalf of my village” Mei stared.
“These are the facts, whether you want it to be or not you are a person of interest to the monster community. Your ‘theory’ is becoming something that is widespread among our society’s leaders and whether you think it is feasible or not they are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and have you try anyway.”
This was all true, once she made her report she was informed of all this and the reason why she wasn’t told of this beforehand is obvious. This fact isn’t widespread however there are very powerful monsters who have caught wind of this and they would not leave him alone.
Phineas of course was unamused “this is ridiculous. Alright and I suppose after telling me this you want to propose something to me.”
“My superiors are willing to leave you be, however I am required to accompany you on your journey.”
“And let me take a gander, ‘ensure that I complete this miracle serum’ correct?” he chuckled “the answer is no and why would I ever let the person who tried to kidnap and ‘assassinate’ me accompany me on my journey. For all I know this could be an elaborate rouse to manipulate me into doing something I don’t want to do through sexual coercion” he looked at her skeptically “they would have to have known this, so why did they send you? And do they truly think I am naïve enough to trust my would-be assassin?”
“…no, my being here has nothing to do with the mission. I am here because of you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The moment I saw you…that is to say…I would have tried to assassinate you even without the order. It was merely a coincidence you were already a person of interest.”
“…oh, you mean you are…” she nodded “so even if they didn’t know about me, you would have…” another nod “oh…okay…um while that is very flattering” he coughed “I will have to reject your feelings and implore you to find someone else as I am not interested in pursuing a relationship and to be clear it has nothing to do with your being a monster. I am just not comfortable in the presence of people in general. And that goes for you as well miss Hasakawa find someone else to be your master, I cannot offer you anything.”
The Ochimusha looked to him “I understand but you must understand Phineas-sama that power or status does not make a great man, it is what they do with it that matters. I am fully aware that you have nothing in the way of money or power but that hardly matters, what little you do have to give has already begun to impact the world and I feel that this will continue. Know that I have no preconceptions of any romantic relationship towards you, I simply wish to rid you of any obstacles that will be in your way” she gave the kunoichi a pointed stare “no matter what shape or form it may be.”
Phineas could only stare at her “really, just like that? With no ulterior motives?”
Hasakawa narrowed her eyes a little at the man “I won’t pretend that my resurrection into an undead didn’t come with a price and yes I do have less than noble thoughts but I am far from resorting to something as crass as seduction.”
He looked between both of them and rubbed his eyes behind his glasses before speaking “you…you two are not going to leave me be, are you?”
They both answered by staring at him, Phineas’ eyes closed and he sighed before perking up again “fine! Fine, you may accompany me, for what good it would do” he added under his breath.
Hasakawa bowed “thank you Phineas-sama”
“…you’re not going to stop calling me that are you?”
“Fair enough” he looked to the kunoichi “um…I guess it doesn’t need to be said that I would rather you not try to seduce me during our travels.”
“I can promise nothing…Phineas-sama” she said in monotone.
Oh so it’s going to be like that uh?
“Hmm-hm” he nodded with narrowed eyes “and I can’t promise I won’t leave you stranded on the nearest cargo ship sailing back to Zinpangu should you try.”
If one were to squint just right they would have seen the predatory glint in those dull eyes “understood Phineas-sama.”
He stared for a moment then spoke “Miss Hasakawa”
“As your new temporary master I order you to thwart any and all attempts by Mei to seduce me for the duration of our journey.”
“Understood, Phineas-sama!” one could hear the glee in her voice.
Mei simply stared at the Ochimusha unblinkingly, Challenge Accepted.
“Whelp” he stood up stretching revealing the crossbow he kept on his lap the entire time “now that it is settled, let us be off ladies” with fake enthusiasm he pointed to the sky “to adventure!” then he slumped and dragged his feet to the door, a metaphorical cloud hanging over his head.
Both Youkai blinked and shared a look before it turned into a glare as they stood and followed behind their new master.
That this will be an interesting journey.
To Be Continued…