Sequencing the Code

Nobody knew exactly where they came from or how they got here. Some said it was all part of God’s plan, others that it was the result of science gone wrong and ripping a hole in reality and still others claimed they were the first part of a coming invasion force. Not that the where or why mattered all that much. As they poured into our world, shadows given shape and depth they filled the sky. Filaments of an inky darkness that once the sky was filled blocked out the sun. Mostly they kept to the sky, except in a few locations around the world. Why they ventured down in these spots was never clear. Satellites couldn’t see through or around them, planes that attempted to pass through them were summarily destroyed and any who tried to approach on foot never returned. The planet was forcibly thrust into a perpetual age of twilight despite the continuing advance of scientific achievement.

Time passes and hope begins to fade as as the light across the world does.

Wake up.

The hellish wind is is howling over the rocks used to shield Tomoe from the elements of the prior evening. It seemed like perhaps the worst of the sandstorm had passed. She shook the dust off herself and her blades, Gisei and Gimu and collected her bedroll. Her left hand ached and she found herself rubbing around the “XIII” tattooed on the back of her hand. Time to get moving. She still had a duty and a purpose to fulfill.

She first made sure her long hair was tied back to keep her vision clear. Her alabaster skin had never known the sun. Her form hid her strength to any observer. Her muscles were like steel cables barely contained beneath her skin and her skill with the sword was such that she had yet to face a worthy rival.

With her swords in front of her, Tomoe knelt in the sand and took a moment, as she did most every morning, to reflect on the warrior code that she adhered to. There were seven tenets that she adhered to in all aspects or her life and they were as follows: Justice, Courage, Mercy, Respect, Honesty, Honor and Loyalty.

Justice is to act impartially and with integrity. Mercy are those acts performed out of a desire to end the suffering of others. Courage is the ability to do something in the face of one’s fears. Respect is having due regards for the feelings, wishes, rights or traditions of others. Honesty means that one is free from deceit and untruthfulness. Honor represents an adherence to what is right or to a conventional standard of conduct. Loyalty is a strong feeling of support or allegiance, and in Tomoe’s case that meant to her cause and the job at hand.

As she finished and was putting her blades in the sheathes on her back she made sure to thank them. At two feet in length, not including the hilts they were certainly not much on reach, but a certain death to any that entered her range. When she was done there was a hilt over each shoulder. They’d been with her for as long as she could remember. Her twins were made of a metal as dark as a moonless night and sharper than any blade had a right to be. Tomoe honestly couldn’t remember when or where she’d gotten the blades, but it didn’t matter, they were hers now and that was what mattered.

She collected her bedroll and checked her supplies one last time before heading out. It was going to be close, especially if she was not able to find food, which was running incredibly low. But no matter, she’d come too far. She couldn’t turn back. Her code would simply not allow it. The only way was forward, ever forward. So she started walking east towards “The Spire”.

The spire was one of the places where they could be found anywhere but above. She was supposed to find out why, learn as much as could be learned from first hand interaction and if possible deal a blow to the horde. There were a handful of such places around the world, or so she had been led to believe.

The land was empty save rocks and the husks of trees that used to make up what had once been the forest she was travelling through. What grasses remained were brown and crumbled like so many dead leaves as she forged her own path.

As she walked her mind began to wander a bit. She thought of her past and that was a blank that prompted unpleasant questions. She started to think about her dreams. Others might have some variety to their dreams but she only ever had the one dream and she often thought on what she thought was it’s obtuse nature and what it might mean. She was back home, perhaps, though it was a home she didn’t remember ever living in and was baking botamuchi in the kitchen for or maybe with her nanny. It was autumn and once again it was time to honor those who had come before. She always awakened as she was bringing the finished sweet to her mouth for the first bite. She’d only ever not quite had it in her dreams and had never even seen it in the waking world.

Ahead of her she saw some movement around one of the larger rocks, but was still too far away to properly tell what it was. She was faced with a choice, either go around or face it. Going around would add time to a journey that was already a potential failure due to lack of supplies. But, her Code would not allow her to deviate from her path. She would face this challenge with courage and her honor would not be blemished by anything resembling cowardice. If today was the day she was to meet the ancestors, she would welcome their embrace. And with the quiet sound of metal on leather her blades are in her hand as she approaches the rocks, ready to confront the darkness.

As she nears the rocks there is a low rumble as if from the earth itself. She slows her approach and is watching for movement within the shadows. They blend into darkness and it makes them all the more threatening when facing them in a confrontation. She stands motionless and just watches, listens and waits. The rumble again, this time not from within the ground but from just around the rock outcropping on her right. She doesn’t advance, just continues to observe, waiting for her suspicion to be confirmed and the thing to reveal itself or to strike. She finds herself almost wishing it would strike as that would make this easier. As if in answer to her silent request, the thing began to move towards her like a tentacle of darkness. An uncoiling, unbound shadow.

Her blade rings out as it slices through the air and the thing. The rumble is replaced by a terrible shrieking sound. This allows her to learn several things. First, they can be hurt. Second, if they can be hurt then she surmises they can be killed. Third, the sound is only marginally better than the smell of their insides no longer being inside, and the shrieking is nearly ear splitting. She needs to work fast in case there are others in the area. She has no idea how getting into a fight with more than one of them would go and she has no desire to find out if at all possible.

Emboldened by severing the things ‘appendage’, she moves closer trying to find its body if it even has one. Unsure of its location she makes a few tentative strikes into the shadows only to find her blade not connecting with anything. She closes her eyes and focuses on the shrieking. She might not be able to see it but it’s impossible to ignore its noise.

With her eyes closed she slows turns her head back and forth trying to pinpoint where it is. First right, then left and then right again. She cannot seem to pinpoint it until she hears a secondary sound. Heavy, rapid breathing somewhere under the shrieking. Just ahead and to the right. She strikes out with one blade tentatively and when the blade bites into the thing, she strikes quickly with the other. Hard strikes. Fast strikes. She continues until the shrieking stops and there is a thick inky ichor surrounding her and pieces of the thing lay at her feet.. Unfortunately the light is so poor she is unable to get much information on it other than it’s big. Perhaps ten to twelve feet for the main body plus another ten to fifteen feet for its appendages. It isn’t clear just how many of them the thing might have had but she is certain there more than a few, and she wasn’t wrong.

As she travelled and her supplies dwindled day by day, her concerns grew such that she was worried about  reaching her destination before she finally ran out of food or found some other option fit for consumption. She had encountered a rat as she was walking but something spooked it prior to her being able to catch it, which was unfortunate because she was quite hungry. This raised the hairs on her neck and set her spine to tingling due to the lack of frequency of game over her travels.

And so it was that she encountered more of the beasts, these things of shadow given life. And after several days of travel and random fighting and a quick test, she was unfortunately certain that these things, these others, were not fit for consumption despite her daily ever diminishing supplies. The hours of sickness that followed attempting, out of a growing desperation, to eat a piece of one taught her that lesson. Describing their “meats” flavor was giving the things too much credit. They tasted well beyond awful and after her first taste test, she knew that the only option was to burn them, although the smell was somehow worse than the taste and the taste made her vomit. As a fuel though….

The fire was still burning when she work up. She’d dreamed of pastries again.  Smelling sweet and purposeful but as always never knowing the taste. She didn’t know what to do. The fire wasn’t burning itself out the way it should have and she needed to get moving. She couldn’t afford to waste what little water she still had left. She tried throwing sand and dirt on it and while that did seem to force the flames to subside a bit it didn’t come anywhere near extinguishing them. Now that she had encountered one, she felt that the knowledge of their flammability might come in handy. Eventually she was forced to just leave the fire burning and walk, but before doing so collected some of the thing and put it into a container in her pack. As she was walking away it occurred to her that there wasn’t anything left to burn in the wasteland the world had become and she laughed about being beholden to the “old ways” and her code.

She adhered to her daily rituals in adherence of the code, her code and moved on.

By the time she had decided to set up camp for the evening, She could see the tip of the spire in the distance and when she surveyed the land around her she saw that the land was devoid of features. Though once the light was gone completely she could see behind her in the night, almost on the horizon what could only be her previous nights campfire.

They seem particularly susceptible to fire, interesting.

She woke with a start and thought she’d heard something. She stilled her breath and heard no noises come out of the night. It didn’t matter though, she was awake now. She had a small snack since she didn’t have enough food for more than that at this point.

Once again she observed her morning ritual and reverence of her code before moving on. And once again she was left with a fire that wouldn’t go out. She’d used a bit of the thing as fuel the night before. Unlike the previous night she paid attention this time. The smoke was thick and black and the whole affair smelled faintly of engines and oil.  How had she missed that the previous day? Maybe it was because day was a generous term in the everpresent gloom and twilight that encompassed a day in the life of anyone.

The spire was maybe half a day’s walk away, which worked out since her food was now gone. One way or another, today was the day she either resolved this or failed in her quest. Knowing that she could simply not afford the delay and after checking her blades and her bedroll she started walking once more.

Sure enough, by midday she’d made it close enough that she could see them swirling through the air into and around “The Spire”. All her walking had given her a plan. She drew one of her twins and cut her bedroll into strips. She wasn’t going to need it anymore anyways most likely. She rubbed the bits of the thing on the cloth and wrapped the end of her sword in it. She then lit her makeshift torch and worked her way forward. She wondered if they were afraid of fire. As it turned out they were not.

They should have been.

Between cuts from the sword that wasn’t the makeshift torch and impacts from the torch she had set the air in and around “The Spire” ablaze with a burning contingent of them. This tactic of cutting and burning didn’t work for long, but it worked for long enough. Eventually she was able to make her way inside. There was only one clear direction that she could move once inside. Up. Forward and up.

After what felt like hours but couldn’t possibly have been she found herself at the top of what seemed a lighthouse of a sort. She found herself in a final confrontation with them and eventually, finally they lay dead at her feet.  This is when she noticed it. The rift. The opening to where they came from. Whoever had bet on this as their origin would be wealthy once they knew the truth, but it didn’t matter. She’d not have time for that.

Prepare to begin final sequence. She could hear the words, but not see the speaker.

“What sequence?” Tomoe said confused. Where was the voice coming from.

This was supposed to be fixed. It’s not supposed to be able to hear us after last time. The voice sounded upset and Tomoe still could not place where it was coming from.

A new mechanical voice began could be heard now. Sequence restarting in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5…

What was going on?

..2, 1. And then a light began to emanate from Tomoe’s body, growing in intensity. The dark forms of the others on the floor surrounding her seemed to be burned away by the light and as it pushed back the darkness, ever closer to the entry point they appeared to be using to get into this world those on the other side took pause and stopped trying to pass through the opening. As the light finally touched the portal it seemed like it was more than just an opening. The edges seemed to have some degree of substance to them. She lifted her blades and moved forward. When she was finally within reach of the portal she did a single slash with each and the blades appeared to be cutting the very opening itself in half. The halves began to close in on themselves.

Once closed, the light faded and Tomoe felt tired beyond her own belief. It was done. Maybe now that the world had been extricated from this threat to its very existence, the light might return and the twilight might end. She slowly sank to her knees and then finally collapsed onto the floor. As her eyes were closing she heard a voice call out again. Tear closed. Prepare to initialize fresh sequence.

Wake up.

The hellish wind is is howling over the rocks used to shield Tomoe from the elements of the prior evening. It seemed like perhaps the worst of the sandstorm had passed. She shook the dust off herself and her blades, Gisei and Gimu and collected her bedroll. Her left hand ached and she found herself rubbing around the “XIV” tattooed on the back of her hand. Time to get moving. She still had a duty and a purpose to fulfill.

Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men. … Even if you kill an enemy, if it is not based on what you have learned it is not the true Way. – Miyamoto Musashi