Lone Wolf - Part 3

The Grim Pasture, Black Hallows

The sky was wrapped in the murky hands of darkness, and the air thick with the cheerless mist of a wretched abyss. The Grim Pasture was home to nothing but ghouls and the shambled graveyards, burial chambers and mausoleums built on it's barren terrain. And there in the mist stood a nightmare creature, a native of the Black Hallows - a monster masquerading as man. "Sorry to keep you waiting", the Mad Strix said, his voice soft and sweet, his smile stretching wide till his bones were pushing out against his rotted skin. Turning round to meet Ishin's eyes with a corpse's smile, Ezra stood still, his body motionless as though he'd been turned to stone.

"I know you've waited long for me to relieve you of that sweet girl, your daughter. Sweet little Hanna", the Mad Strix giggled, his mouth never opening yet the laughter echoing clear as purple lightning flared in the skies above. "You should be pleased", Ishin answered, the top half of his face draped in the shadow of his conical straw hat, "That it'll be by my blade that you die", the Black Dragon claimed, voice colder than the blade he drew from it's sheathe. There, surrounded by trees of black bark carved with the wailing faces of trapped souls, the Grandmaster of the Keijijo would do battle with the Mad Strix. "But I only want what's best", Ezra grinned, his voice growing more feminine, "For our dearest daughter", he smiled, the flesh falling from his skull to give way to - Nikoleta's face, the mother of Ishin's child. "I'll be good to her. I'll sing her songs...".

"Mr. Sandman, sow her a seam"

"And give it the color she sees in her dream"

"Tell her my promise, that she'll never grow older"

"And that's because her days alive.. are... over"

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Ezra laughed, and Ishin scowled. The grandmaster's blood boiled, and his heart swelled with a cold fury. "Many have tried... dear Ishin. You are not the first", Ezra taunted, his smile widening to the creaking sound of wood. "Then consider me the last", Ishin growled, teleporting with a step - and reappearing an inch in front of Ezra with another. Body low and his knees bent, Ishin swung his sword and the wind howled as the sharp edge of his blade arched it's way to Ezra's torso. Yet as Ishin's blade met flesh - it cut nothing. Ezra burst into a flock of crows and vanished. Eyes wide like saucers, Ishin's chest heaved, his heart clamored, and his scowled deepened. An apparition, his mind realized, his ears catching the unmistakable whisper of the power Ezra had just used to elude even his metaphysical senses.

Senses that swore they'd felt Ezra's soul in the Grim Pasture. "The soul lavaliere. He has it".

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Lone Wolf - Part 2

"Have you gone mad!?"

It was all he heard. Aiko's voice piercing through the howling winds to reach his ears. Though as the snow crunched under his steps and his eyes glowed like polished gems of white, Ishin never glanced back. Even as his daughter, confused with a stick and snowball in her hand, gazed up at him, he did not look. Instead he strode on. "Ishin!", Aiko cried out, her violet eyes widened like saucers, her face paling at the thought of him facing the Mad Strix on his own. But her pleas fell on deaf ears. Ishin heard nothing. His focus was sharper than any blade, his heart more stubborn than any shield, and his confidence colder than the mountain he lived off of.

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Fingers wrapped round the hilt of his sword, frost and snow clinging to it's bare blade as it did his beard, the Black Dragon said nothing. There was purpose in his walk. And no rope to yank him back until he heard it. "Is father leaving like mother?". His heart sank. The ice in his veins melted away at the soft echo of his daughter's voice. "No. Never", Ishin promised, never daring to look back, the wild winds growing silent from the rolling thunder of his voice. "I will never leave, little one. Stay with Aiko. I won't be long", he assured, as Aiko's chest heaved and her breathing thickened. Eyebrows drawn in disapproval, her mouth came open but now - after screaming for him to turn back - emitted no sound. What more could she say? What words could she weave to change the will of that stubborn heart of his? None. I'd cut you down if I must, Ishin, Aiko thought, This girl needs you alive more than you need the Mad Strix dead.

"I will return", were his final words as Aiko's arms wrapped round Ishin's daughter. If the Black Dragon'd be slain by the Mad Strix, then they must prepare. As Aiko had been doing so for years. Breathing in, cold air pulled into his lungs, Ishin stepped forward and vanished to the dreary pastures of the Black Hallows. Alone with a girl she'd helped raised but never claimed as her own, Aiko's heart clamored in her chest. What if Ishin were to perish? What if he were swallowed whole by the black maw of the Mad Strix? The girl already had no mother, was she to be without her father as well? Head shaking, eyes shut and her arms trembling as she held the girl close, Aiko forced herself to smile. "Your father will return soon", she said, more-so for herself than anyone else. She was no mother. She was a warrior. Better skilled with a sword in her hand than a child in her arms.

"Where is he going?", the girl asked, wriggling free from Aiko's awkward embrace, her short legs carrying her to where her father last stood, her feet sinking into the snow prints of his. "He... what he is doing now, little one, is for the good of you", Aiko said, her voice giving in to the worry that this child may soon be hers to raise.

"Then why are you talking like that?".

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Lone Wolf - Part 1

The Reisho Mountain

The mountain was like no other. Cold and cruel, it's icy peak reached into the clouds like many - but was home to mystery and legend like no other. A mountain were ice didn't melt and the wind felt like a whip on bare skin. A mountain that the Black Dragon had long made his home. It was a harsh place of proving. And one day, his daughter would step forth and face it's cold embrace. "You have a sister", Ishin said, his back against the rocky wall of the cave, hand wrapped round the hilt of the sword he'd driven into the ground. "From mother?", a young girl asked, her voice floating softly over the crackling song of the fire warming the cave. "No", Ishin answered, voice deep and low, his hazel eyes catching the warm glow of the fire.

"But she is your sister. As much as she is my daughter", the Black Dragon said, long curls framing a rugged and hardened face that seemed to softened in longing. "Her name is Shiho", he continued, voice rumbling low and dark like thunder. "Where is she?", the girl asked, turning from the fire to face her father, her large eyes the same shade of icy blue as her mother's, and her hair just as golden. "I don't know", Ishin sighed, the dread spilling out his heart to wash over his face like a rising tide. What father knew not where his own daughter walked? "Does she look like me?", the girl asked, a young child's curiosity shoving her questions his way. "Heh", Ishin smiled, small but warm like the setting sun, and calm like nature before a storm, "She's taller", he teased, "You will meet her in due time, little one. You need only know she is out there. Somewhere". Her round face lit by curiosity, the young girl's eyes lifted to meet her father's as she probed him for more. "But if my mother isn't hers, who is?", she asked, confusion and intrigue wrinkling her brow.

Rising to his feet, the white blade of his sword glimmering from the gaze of the nearby fire, Ishin turned his daughter round till her eyes faced not his - but the cave's entrance. "You talk more than your sister does, girl. But it is time to train. Fetch your sword and draw it", Ishin ordered, his hand gripping the nape of her neck like a wolf carrying it's cub by the back of the neck. "Come now, Ishin", a voice echoed, floating into the cave like a velvet tune. "Let the girl rest", the voice continued, and a woman - Aiko - entered the cave with a black stone in her grasp. She was tall. Her armor gleamed like silver, and her dark hair flowed down her back like a waterfall. Her lilac eyes met his, and she smiled, "Let her play today. Besides, as it stands you have something else in need of your attention", she paused, glancing down at the stone humming a low tune in her hand. "Hrm... very well", Ishin grumbled, eyebrows knitting together in a scowl as his daughter giggled and tossed her to the ground before darting out the cave.

"I will cut down Ezra Strix"

"Is this it?", he asked, his breath misting in the cold air, his calloused fingers grazing hers as they plucked the stone from her hand. "It is", Aiko answered, her eyes heavy with concern. "And the low hum?", he pressed, hazel eyes locked on hers. "It is as we feared. The stone is but a shard broken from the true artifact. But it does what the Keijijo of old intended. To warn them of the coming of Ezra Strix. This low him... he is still far.. but he draws nearer each day", Aiko explained. "The girl-", she said, cut off by Ishin's realization, "Is no longer safe". Eyes shut and his breath calm, Ishin swallowed the lump in his throat, silenced the father's fear in his heart and opened his eyes as they glowed white. "I know what I must do", the Black Dragon said, sword drawn and his sure strides carrying him out the cave as Aiko's voice followed him in alarm, "And what is that!?".

"I will cut down Ezra Strix. And you will keep the girl safe and stay out of my way".

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