Samui Kaze Toshi, Crane Lands
The Imperial Legions had arrived just before dawn.
Ryoken cowered in the alley with the others, his breath coming quick and jagged. He waited for a moment then peered out cautiously into the streets. The legionnaires were moving in the other direction, but they could come back at any time. He clenched his teeth, grinding them slightly with anticipation then darted from the alley, racing across the square and into a dark back street heading toward the city’s western edge. He heard the others behind him, shouting in the distance. No doubt the Legion were cutting down more of his comrades in the Emperor’s name.
The Legions must have arrived by boat. The Bloodspeakers watched the western passes closely to monitor for the arrival of outsiders for just this reason. Ryoken had spent many long nights on watch himself. Boats were virtually unheard of at night. The coastline was simply too dangerous to navigate. The Legion commander knew, somehow, that their cell was watching the roads, and had come in the only other way it was possible to reach the city. With few reliable magistrates and even fewer ways into the city, the Bloodspeakers had had little to fear for the past six years since their cell was created. Now, their overconfidence had resulted in their destruction.
The others were mostly dead. The sacrifices they had gathered over the past few days would be freed, and their rituals ruined. Their lord had commanded them to unleash havoc, and they had done exactly that. Now, their plans were finished, but Ryoken would escape. No matter what the cost. If the others followed him, so much the better. The Bloodspeakers would survive and begin again. There would still be blood in the streets.
Something shot out of the darkness and struck Ryoken in the side of the face. The blow was incredible, and sent the maho-tsukai staggering across the alleyway into a thick stone wall. The impact against the stones seemed trivial compared to the blinding agony in his face. He felt blood pooling in his mouth and he spat, reaching for his blade so that it could power a spell to strike down his attacker.
A hand grabbed his wrist, grinding the bones together with incredible strength. Ryoken bit his lip to keep from screaming in agony. “Make a sound and I will tear your throat out,” a hoarse voice whispered. “Do nothing, and I will let you live.”
There was a sound of whispering steel somewhere behind Ryoken as one of the other Bloodspeakers drew a knife and moved to aid him. In the shadows, Ryoken could see his assailant withdraw something from his belt and lash out with a quick, savage motion. There was a terrible cracking sound, and Ryoken felt a splatter of moisture on his robes. His would-be-defender crumpled to the floor.
“Listen to me, and listen well,” his assailant said. He stepped forward, more into the light, and Ryoken could make out his tattered, ruined purple clothing. The remnants of a mon on his piecemeal armor was smeared with soot and filth, but it appeared to be a Unicorn mon. “Come with me and you will live. If you remain, the Legions will destroy you.”
“Iuchiban&,” Ryoken muttered, “we cannot betray him.”
“Your master is dead,” the man countered. “Sezaru has sworn to hunt your cult to extinction. He has vowed that none will survive. Daigotsu offers you life.”
“I will not serve the Dark Lord,” Ryoken said.
“A pity,” came the reply. “But you will come with me, as either a prisoner or an ally.” He leaned in close. “Know that now Moto Chaozhu serves the one true Dark Lord, and I will not fail him.”
“You would take me into the Shadowlands,” one of the others whispered, fear in his voice. “We would die first!”
“You would still be of use to us dead.” Chaozhu said, releasing Ryoken’s hand with a smirk. “Now come with us, as prisoners or as corpses.”
Ryoken staggered to his feet and looked at the dead form of his colleague. That would not be his fate. He lurched unsteadily for a moment, then regained his footing and followed Chaozhu into the shadows. The others followed suit.