Faded memories of a time forgotten fill the mind, soldiers in bronze armour scrambling, screaming. Villagers running, the sky on fire, a city ablaze, corpses rendered to ash. The sound of thunder in the sky, beasts flying in the air bringing fire from the sky and laying low all those below. Soldiers, brave yet terrified, attempting to hold back against the beasts; massive, black, growling, fire from their mouths, smoke from their nostrils, fire in their eyes. Their teeth pierce armour and stone, their claws breaking the earth, their wings swelling a hurricane with each beat, their scales stone and burning with a fire within the beast’s bellies.
And amongst the chaos, a single man, adorned in tattered armour of a foreign world, cloaked in black and red with a single blade by his waist that burned with fire. The man’s hair and beard black, a pearl fanged grin, and burning red eyes to rival that of the beasts. Surrounded by soldiers, the man could only laugh. He spoke, but the miasma of this memory failed to produce words. The soldiers attacked as one, yet the man cut them down, slicing through armour and shield with ease, tore head from neck with bear hand, split chests with punches, a monster with blood the only colour upon his robes.
He reaches out, clawed hands ready to tear into unspoiled flesh.
“Ahhhhhhhhhh!” screamed Iris as she awoke from her nightmare. The dream felt so real, yet so far away, like watching from under an ocean’s surface.
But here she lies, in reality. Nothing save for the sunlight through her window and the sounds of chattering people and birds outside, her rustic room walled with well-aged pine soft flooring of woven mats, all as her comfort from that dark, horrid world.
She sighed and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, hoping that like other dreams, that one will fade into obscurity. She arose from her bed and walked out into the hall. She had slept long enough and now needs to prepare herself for the day.
She stared blankly in front of the mirror, her pale skin contrasted by her chestnut brown hair and brown eyes. She begins tying her hair. While her father prefers a prominent ponytail for her, she always prefers a practical braid to hold everything out of her face. She secures the braid with a red band and leaves a few bangs to frame her face.
She admired her hair for a moment, but ultimately gave up. Her grandmother, rest her soul, had very pretty silver and blue hair and blue eyes, but Iris had none of that. Overall, the best word she could use to describe her overall appearance is “average”, or at least that’s what one of the guys said ten years ago.
She returned to her room and got dressed. As the elder’s daughter, she had a lot of freedom for her age. While many girls in the village get married by eighteen, Iris is just over twenty and can barely keep friends, often by choice. She preferred to do her own thing rather than be tied down by someone else. With that, she learned the sword, the bow, and even some basic magic.
She put on her all-purpose wear; a light leather cuirass and pants dyed black with purple trimming. Something meant to be ready for many things at a moment’s notice. She grabs her shortsword and bow.
“Maybe hunting would be good today,” she tells herself, “I haven’t had any good game recently so I should practice.”
With a reaffirming nod, she decided to hunt, and then visit Oldar at his forge; considering using the time to finally try a longsword instead of shortswords. She never could get good at bigger weapons though; she’s small and quick on her feet and so a giant sword just doesn’t feel right.
With excitement in her step, she headed out into the living area. And of course, her mother just had to be there and see her excitement.
“Well look who decided to finally wake up,” the graceful woman of whom Iris is a spitting image of teased. “You do know it’s early afternoon, right?”
Iris sighed. “Yes, mother dearest. But it’s not like I have any schedule to follow.”
Her father decided then to chime in. “That may be true, but late risers like you will miss out.” The tall, heavy set man with a long black beard came from the kitchen. “I know you love hunting and all of the best game is in the morning.”
Iris chuckled, the comeback was prime. “All the more reason to not be an early riser; you’ll be picked off first.”
Iris’s father was left speechless, mouth hanging. He had no response for the infallible logic his daughter just dropped on him. He sighed and took a seat, defeated.
“Now now Gavan,” Iris’s mother addressed her father. “Are you really going to admit defeat that easily?”
“She got me, Suki,” Gavan replied. “She used my own defence against me.”
Iris stood proud; she was victorious on this day.
“In any case,” Suki burst Iris’s bubble. “Where are you heading off to?”
Iris thought for a moment. She wanted to go hunting and visit Oldar’s, but another desire came to her first. The dream she had came back to her. She thought she had forgotten it but something about it; the fire, the monsters, the death, and the mysterious man. She couldn’t shake it.
“I was going to go hunting,” she responded. “I have something on my mind I need to sort out.”
“Well, no fault there,” Gavan said, his tone lightening.
With that, Iris headed out and walked down the road through the village; houses built from old longboats and carriages lined the streets. Many who come to Nageki often have nothing but the clothes on their back, just like the ancestors who founded the village. So they often built homes out of what they used to get here.
As she continued her walk, she thought more about her village’s humble life as she enjoyed the sounds of rural life around her. Her life had been uneventful so far; just a girl who likes to live her life her way, regardless of her possibility of becoming matriarch one day. As of now, everything has been normal, why would that change?
And yet, with all of that mental meditation, she still couldn’t shake the dream. The peaceful and quiet houses of the village are on fire in her mind, the sounds of chatter and conversation replaced by screams and death rattles, the sound of birds replaced by the roaring of monsters. She knew the scenery from many books she read as a child; the Dragon Wars. Over two thousand years ago, a race of godlike dragons invaded and the people of Kaiyumi fought back over the course of a hundred years, winning the war and clearing the land of dragons.
However, that man was an unknown; she doesn’t remember reading anything about him in those books, but it felt so real.
Iris continued her walk, intent on continuing her plans of going for a hunt; maybe that would clear her mind. And right when she committed–
“Iris!” a voice called out. Iris froze in her tracks, she knew this voice, and it made her skin crawl every time. That whiny and tone that sounded like the speaker was the centre of everyone’s universe.
Iris turned to where the voice was coming from. “Yes Yokubo?” she responded.
The very sight of Yokubo is enough to drain Iris’s social battery. A tall, strapping and muscular lad with light blonde hair tied back and a chiselled chin and neck. He left his black and gold trench coat open to reveal his picturesque chest and baggy grey trousers with black boots. His green eyes, leering with every glance and his smile, trying to glean whatever charms it can from those who look on.
“And where might the elder’s daughter be running off to?” Yokubo asked.
Iris had to resist the urge to be snarky. “Oh you know, wherever I like. Unlike you, I don’t have to run home to mommy and daddy because they’ll worry.”
Yokubo stood silent, and then his smile slowly faded. Turns out, he was expecting Iris to say something completely different. Iris took that as her second win for the day, and the day’s just beginning.
Yokubo laughed it off. “You were ever the odd one,” he said, trying to find common ground. “But we can’t just let the patriarch’s only child run around in the woods; something bad might happen.”
Iris scoffed under her breath. “I may not have strapping muscles like you, but unlike you, I can hold my own.”
Yokubo was once again silent as it processed in his mind, his smile now vacant entirely. Three out of four; at this rate, Iris should play one of those lottery games down at the market.
Iris left him with a warm smile and turned to leave.
“Hold on a minute,” Yokubo called out while giving chase. “After not seeing each other for a week, that’s how you are?”
Iris grunted. “Have you considered that the reason you haven’t seen me for a week is because I don’t want to see you?”
“Not really,” Yokubo confessed. “But as your mother must be telling you, you should be looking into a husband; not boyfriends who you get tired of so quickly.”
Iris was biting the inside of her cheek by this point. “I get tired of them so quickly, because they’re all annoying little boys like you.”
The insults hurled to Yokubo were endless, but like a brave hero, or a fool, he pushed on. “But at this rate, you’ll never be married by the time your father passes. Who will lead the village then?”
Iris’s social battery is more than depleted by this point. “I’ll have you know that in that case, I’ll become matriarch. I don’t need some annoying kid thinking he’s greater than the gods to define me. If I marry someone, it will be because I want to; not because I have to.”
Yokubo ended his chase; he wasn’t getting anywhere with Iris, all of his advances falling on deaf ears. Iris was not like other girls, she was tired of the politics and the line of succession. She instead believed that to be in a position, you must be qualified for it; not because it was given to you by birth. The reasoning for Iris’s constant training and work was now apparent to Yokubo; if she becomes matriarch, she wants to be worthy of the position.
Iris quickly turned and made her way westward for the woods.
Now THIS was what she lived for. A few paces west into the cover of the trees and the sounds of the village are silent. No annoying voices, no pestering, no “patriarch's daughter” this, “elder’s daughter” that; only the cover spires of tall firs and pines with their leaves blotting out the blue sky above.
Part of her began to wish that she wouldn’t become matriarch. If so, she may never enjoy peaceful moments like this again. Her uneventful life leading into a life of hardship and challenges. She shook away the thoughts. Even with that day in the future, her father is still in great health and will likely last another forty or more years. By that point, if she has not married by then, she might as well become matriarch. Overall, the future was still bright; she would just have to keep swerving annoyances like Yokubo for the time being.
She continued her westward stroll and found a creek. Small and delicate, barely deep enough to cover her ankles. Iris knelt down and cupped the waters in her hands and splashed her face, the coldness of the water like a kiss of a long past winter. Content, Iris stood and decided to follow the creek north. She had never followed it that way before and what better time than to do so now.
She allowed herself to get lost in her stroll, forgetting the problems in the village and the problems of the morrow. Forgetting the concerns of her dreams and forgetting the long-ended Dragon Wars.
Time passed quietly for Iris and before she knew it, the sunlight was beginning to take on an orange colour, a sign that evening would be approaching very soon. She broke herself free from her trance and resolved to head home. Yet before she turned away, she could see something that stood out from the forest floor. Some kind of structure of stone covered in vines. She decided a quick look would be enough for her curiosity and approached the structure and against her better judgement, she entered the building. Once she entered, the sounds of the forest silenced; no birds, no wind, no leaves. Sheer and utter silence, yet the air felt as though it was alive, swaying and swelling as if the air itself was breathing in the hollow hall lit only by broken stained windows. As she walked, she noted an altar in the shadows on the far side of the wall.
She approached the altar and upon it lay a withered corpse of what appeared to be a man, hair now grey strands, mouth gaping as if mid-scream, limbs twisted in the pose of agony, wearing dark robes with silver metal trim, now faded and exposed to the elements. Within his chest, an ornate longsword with blue gems decorating the hilt, glistening with a silver light akin to the moon and a blade matching the reflections. The blade looked untouched by time.
Was this man a sacrifice? To what god? Who was he? Many questions flooded Iris’s mind; she had never heard of this before and no myth she read in any book matched what she was seeing. She looked closer upon the man’s face, eyes dark and hollow, yet the man had fangs along his row of teeth. A vampire? Iris’s confusion worsened.
In the silence of this withered hall, she heard the telltale snap of a branch being stepped on. She turned around and saw six tall men blocking the entryway, chuckling to themselves. Among the men, a familiar voice called out.
“Now boys,” the annoying voice scratched at Iris’s sanity. “Didn’t we just say we can’t let the patriarch’s daughter run around in the woods unattended? Something bad would happen.”
Iris gritted her teeth as Yokubo stepped out of the entryway and into the light.
“So, you were planning this,” Iris chastised.
Yokubo and his boys chuckled. “Guilty as charged, future matriarch.”
“Then what were you planning?” Iris inquired, trying to buy time. There were too many for her to take on with her shortsword and the same applied to her bow in these close quarters.
“Well, I might have a little fun,” Yokubo answered, dropping the concerned friend act entirely. “You were so sincere in your talk about becoming matriarch, I couldn’t help but think that you may not be ‘qualified’ as you put it, with your hot headedness.”
Iris was running the numbers of how quickly she could jump through one of the windows. “Killing me won’t make you patriarch,” she added, trying to goad him. “My father would select someone else as his successor.”
“I never said anything about killing you,” Yokubo added, his smile widening, the chuckles from his friends becoming louder. “This would be a good opportunity to teach you a lesson or two. Then we’ll see how the night goes from there.”
The wind howled through the ancient hall, sounding out like a beast’s growl. Iris realised they lost their reason and were consumed by their own desires. Nothing was looking good. Out of desperation, or sheer stupidity, against the will of her body, she turned and grabbed the sword in the corpse’s chest and pulled it out and turned to face the men, ready to go down fighting.
The men pulled out their swords and Iris prepared for a fight.
A new master has stepped forwards.
A woman’s voice sounded in Iris’s mind, stern yet soft, almost a reflection of Iris's own voice and as real as she would hear any other voice. Yet when she looked, she saw no one else. The men seemed unaware of the voice, wholly focused on their intentions.
Determining the candidate’s abilities; performing analysis of user.
The sword began to glow a bright blue light and hum with an intense energy. Iris and the others could only stare in awe at the brilliant glowing sword as the sound intensified, like waves increasing their frequency as they strike the beach.
The sword went quiet and the blue glow was replaced by a dull red.
Result: user incompatible. Bloodline detected yet not matured; another incarnate still lives.
The sword, in a great howl, plunged itself towards the ground and impaling itself into the stone floor before going silent and dark once again. Iris tried lifting the blade yet it felt as though the blade was resisting; pulling back against her.
The men laughed and shook off the sight and approached Iris; she was out of tricks now, like cornered prey. Iris could only look on as they approached, her options dwindling by the second. Was this it? Was it to end like this? No, she needed to fight. She mustered her will and reached for her shortsword; she will at least cut one down.
And then, one of Yokubo’s men lowered his sword and tapped Yokubo on the shoulder, not taking his eyes off of what he was seeing.
“What?!” Yokubo turned and berated the man. The man then slowly pointed to the altar behind Iris. “It’s…it’s gone” he said, his voice shaking heavily.
What’s gone? Iris thought. She didn’t want to turn around in case it was a trap but the rest of the men noticed it too. Whatever they saw before was missing. Iris surrendered to her curiosity and turned her head to face the altar.
The corpse. The corpse was gone.
Iris’s eyes darted up and down the stone slab; it was clearly there just a moment ago. Where was it now? Did it fall off? No, it was still there when she took the sword she told herself. But a corpse doesn’t just walk.
The sound of bones snapping into place sounded in the hall, thudding footsteps sounded from the shadows, a wispy breath on the wind and a growl humming through the air.
Suddenly, a scream as one of Yokubo’s men was pulled into the shadows, followed by the sounds of flesh tearing, bones cracking, and blood spilling, the man’s screams muffled by some unseen hand in the shadows. The men looked to the shadows, trying to find where their friend was taken but could find nothing, not even the blood.
“Group up!” Yokubo called, trying to muster his men and called them into a circle to cover everyone’s backs.
After agonising moments, the screams stopped and a thud hit the ground followed by the same footsteps as before, less flatfooted and more like the steps of a hunting beast squaring up to strike.
Iris gazed into the shadows and tried to find the source of the noise, and she locked eyes with something. Something with burning red eyes full of hunger, hatred, fury. A bloodlust beyond imagination. The eyes stared into her soul, as if gauging whether or not Iris was a suitable meal. Iris could feel her heart in her throat, pounding like a warrior’s drum.
The eyes vanished and a moment later, another of Yokubo’s men was taken into the shadows with a silent scream. Agony once again filled the air and the men turned to the area it was coming from and they could see it.
The shadow of a man tearing into another with his bare hands, biting and tearing out chunks from the victim’s neck and stripping fat from muscle and bones from the chest with clawed hands. Drinking deep the blood of the poor bastard, still screaming as his body is torn asunder.
Iris took this chance and leapt through one of the broken windows, cutting her shoulders on the glass as she crashed through. She took off in a dead sprint; she needed to get away, from the men, from the creature, from everything.
Iris needed to find the creek and run south as fast as her legs could carry her. She continued her sprint, unwilling to look back, unable to surrender herself. She made a mental plan; once she got back to the village, she would tell them everything, the guards would protect her and her father would banish Yokubo.
But that would leave that thing there.
To her left, she could hear the desperate pants of one of the men running from the destruction. She turned to face him to make sure he wasn’t coming after her, but the look of sheer terror on his face told her otherwise.
At that moment, a dark shadow leapt onto the man and he screamed as something began to sink its teeth into him.
The creature was still giving chase.
Iris quickened her pace, her adrenaline feeding her body and pushing her past her limits, her heart beating too quick to spare any blood to any other place but her legs. All around her, she could hear screams as the slaughter continued.
What the fuck just woke up?! Iris interrogated herself, trying to find some logic and reasoning in this madness. In her confusion, Iris lost her footing and found herself jumping across the stream that otherwise guided her, finding herself on the other bank, the landing knocking the air out of her lungs.
She struggled to her knees before someone climbed on top of her and pushed her back into the dirt. Was it the creature? Is the monster going to begin eating her? The person forcefully turned her onto her back and she could see her assailant, and part of her wished it was the monster.
Yokubo held her down, knife in hand, a crazed look on his face.
“Do you know how much trouble you are for me right now?” Yokubo said, his sanity slipping away. “This was all you had to do; lay on your back and accept me. Instead you woke up some monster!”
He held the knife to her throat, “But now,” he said, laughter slipping into his voice. “Maybe killing you would make this easy. Then I can kill that monster and this will all go away.”
Iris choked back tears. Her strength was knocked out of her and the blade was already digging into her skin; any attempt for her weapon would lead to her bleeding like a pig. How would she explain this to her ancestors when she sees them?
Yet, before she gave up, a dark shadow came up behind Yokubo and a sword erupted from his chest; a black razor sharp one-sided blade of foreign make that burned with flames. Yokubo looked down at his sundered chest, his sanity crossing the border as he realised that this was the end.
The sword was pulled out and came back up. In one swift and clean strike, the sword passed through Yokubo’s neck, cleaving head from body in one effortless and graceful strike. His head landed in the stream, staining the waters red as his body collapsed.
The man with the burning blade stood before her and he sheathed his blade. Iris recognised the dark robes he wore as the one the corpse wore. She looked up to the man’s face and horror filled her soul.
The man had dark black hair and burning red eyes, a fanged smile of amusement, a dark black and stout beard, blood adorning his dark robes and his clawed hands securing his burning sword in its sheath along with another sword tied next to it.
The man from her nightmare now stood before her.
The man knelt down before Iris and examined her wounds. “I’m sorry you had to see that,” the man said, his voice deep and dark, as if he was not a man but a beast speaking like a man. “How injured are you?”
Iris swallowed her fear and spoke. “Just scratches for now, and a lot of emotional damage.”
The man reached out with a clawed hand and Iris closed her eyes, afraid of what he would do. His hand found the cuts on her shoulders and neck. “You are injured on my account,” he said, he clenched his hand and his long nails dug into his skin, exposing black coloured blood that dripped onto Iris’s cuts.
Iris almost slapped the man away but she felt a tingle. She looked and her wounds were slowly healing themselves as the black blood turned red. The teasing pain of her wounds faded and her skin healed with no scars.
Iris looked back towards the man, “thank you,” quietly slipped her lips, not quite believing what’s going on.
The man nodded and stood, offering his hand to Iris and helped her to her feet.
“Who are you?” Iris asked as the man turned away.
The man paused and turned to face Iris. “You saw me tear them apart,” he said, confusion in his voice. “Rip them to shreds and delighted in their screams. You saw me as a monster, yet you want to know the monster’s name?”
“Monster or no, you did save me,” Iris explained. “That’s more of a good deed than what those oafs would have done.”
The man chuckled to himself. “I have many names, yet you can call me Arylos if you like.”
“Arylos.” Iris tried out the name. The name sounded familiar from somewhere, but she could not place it. “Well, thank you, Arylos.” she said with a light bow. “My name is–”
“You’re a Nashonaru, aren’t you?” Arylos interjected.
Iris was taken aback, confused. “Y-Yeah, my name is Nashonaru Iris. How did you know that?”
“I know the smell of your family’s bloodline,” Arylos replied. “It was your ancestors who imprisoned me in that ruined hall.”
Iris’s confused smile faded. “My ancestors imprisoned you?”
Arylos turned to the sky, as if trying to read something in the clouds. “How many years have passed since the Dragon Wars?”
“About 2,500 years.” Iris answered.
Arylos looked down to his palm, as if trying to read something, the scars from his self-inflicted bloodletting long vanished. “That’s too long,” he said under his breath. “Way too long. I may be too late now.”
Iris wanted to press further, but Arylos lowered his hand and approached Iris, removing one of the blades he tied to his waist. “Take this,” he said. “Your parents may find use for this.”
Iris recognised the hilt of the sword. It was the one she pulled from Arylos’s chest; the sword that denied her. “What makes you think that?” she asked.
“What did the sword tell you?” Arylos countered.
Iris thought back to when she pulled the sword out. Arylos must be aware that the voice speaks in some way. “Something about being incompatible,” she answered. “That a bloodline hasn’t matured and another incarnate still lives.”
Arylos nodded, as if assured. “Then one of your parents may find use for this, even if you can’t use it yet.”
Iris took the blade and Arylos continued his instructions. “Now, you need to head home and share what happened and return that blade.” Arylos turned away. “And please, don’t come looking for me if you know what’s good for you.”
He went off, leaving Iris behind, dumbstruck by what she had been through. This left a lot for her to think about. The man in her nightmares was this Arylos. She doesn't know who or what he is, but she’ll find out. He said don’t look for him; he said nothing about looking into him.
Iris gripped the sword and hurried back.