Chapter 12:

Of Shadows and Humans


“In the deepest depths where no light prevails, soldiers battle the shadows never to be known by the world above. These soldiers were the first of their kind to fight against the darkness that threatened to wipe out humanity. Twelve soldiers gave up the sun to battle the darkness within—”Bookmark here

“Aystaria, this is boring.”Bookmark here

“Well Rita, it might be better for you to learn some history.”Bookmark here

“But history is so boring,” Rita said with a sigh.Bookmark here

Aystaria closed her book as she looked out the window of the carriage. Pulling up to the large gate, she could see a guard standing there looking half-bored as if he cared little for the job he was assigned. As the carriage stopped, the guard approached the window.Bookmark here

“State your business,” the guard said in a monotone voice.Bookmark here

With a cheerful smile, Aystaria uncovered the bandage on her arm—revealing the emblem on her wrist.Bookmark here

“Ma’am, you need to have a crest or offical badge to get through this gate.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I see, you’re new. Would you mind going to get your captain, please?” Aystaria asked with a cheerful expression.Bookmark here

The guard sighed as he headed into the nearby guardhouse that was small in size compared to the wall it was built against. After a few minutes, a girl appeared dressed in an odd style of clothes. She was far shorter than the height of the window which forced her to jump, and grab onto the window frame in order to hoist herself up.Bookmark here

“Aystaria, long time no see. How have you been?”Bookmark here

“Well enough, Captain.”Bookmark here

As the captain peered into the carriage, she could see Rita who was swaying back, and forth with a cheerful expression on his face, despite having both arms cut off.Bookmark here

“Should I ask?”Bookmark here

“It’s best if you didn’t, Captain.”Bookmark here

“Right then… go on.”Bookmark here

Without another word, the captain waved the carriage on much to the annoyance of the guard. After pulling into the gate, and stopping, Aystaria grabbed a rope as she lead Rita out of the carriage. Aystaria paid no mind to the soldiers that stared on at where led, indicating that it was tied to something every man held as valuable.Bookmark here

“Hey Aystaria?”Bookmark here

“What is it, Rita?”Bookmark here

“Can you at least get Rita some shoes for the journey?”Bookmark here

“Nope, you’ll be fine,” Aystaria said with a firm tug of the rope.Bookmark here

“Ow, ow, ow, ow! Be gentle, Aystaria. It’s sensitive after what you, and Feldia did,” Rita said in a girly shy tone.Bookmark here

Rita’s blushing face made her appear cute, and innocent to all the nearby soldiers.Bookmark here

“Keep it up Rita, and I’ll milk you for everything I can.”Bookmark here

Fear showed on Rita’s face as he quickly went silent.Bookmark here

“Good boy.”Bookmark here

Aystaria made her way down to the first layer with Rita following behind her. She knew exactly how long it would take for the two of them to reach the fifth layer if they continued to move at a steady pace. While the road the Shadow Fort was long, Aystaria had learned of a few shortcuts along the way that sped up the time to get there. After a few hours of travel, Aystaria carefully tied Rita up to a tree, hanging him in such a way that would cause him pain if he tried to move. Resting against the tree, Aystaria fell into a half state of being both alert, and asleep.Bookmark here

“Aystaria…”Bookmark here

“What is it, Rita?”Bookmark here

“This hurts…”Bookmark here

“If you keep talking, I’m going to tighten the rope.”Bookmark here

“P-Please… no… I’ll be good.”Bookmark here

Aystaria teasingly tugged down on the rope, forcing Rita to scream out like a girl.Bookmark here

“A-Aystaria!”Bookmark here

“What is it, sweet little Rita?” Aystaria asked in a playfully mocking tone.Bookmark here

“P-Please be nice to me…”Bookmark here

Tugging on the rope a bit harder forced Rita to stand on the tips of his toes just to keep the weight from pulling at his hidden dagger.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, what was that?”Bookmark here

“Please me nice to me, master!”Bookmark here

“Eh, close enough. Good night, Rita.”Bookmark here

“G-Good night, master…”Bookmark here

After taking a rest for some time, Aystaria awoke to find Rita still standing in a way that was painful if he tried to move. Taking note that the sun was just setting over the horizon, Aystaria lit a candle, and placed it in her portable lantern. With a long yawn, and taking the time to stretch for a second, Aystaria smiled as she looked over to Rita.Bookmark here

“Hope you slept well, Rita,” Aystaria said with a mocking smile.Bookmark here

“I did, master…”Bookmark here

“You learned to be obedient really quick, didn’t you?”Bookmark here

“Y-Yes, master…”Bookmark here

Aystaria carefully brushed back Rita’s bangs as she smiled.Bookmark here

“I’m starting to feel thirsty.”Bookmark here

“W-Wait… m-master…”Bookmark here

A loud moan echoed throughout the woods to the point two guards standing at the gate that separated The Pit from the inside of the wall sector could hear it.Bookmark here

“Did you hear that?” one guard asked.Bookmark here

“I heard nothing.”Bookmark here

“It sounded like a girl…”Bookmark here

“Not our problem.”Bookmark here

“But it—”Bookmark here

“Not our problem.”Bookmark here

“Should we—”Bookmark here

“Again, not our problem.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

Aystaria stopped as she looked out to the frozen lake at the depths of the fifth layer. She, and Rita had been traveling for eighteen days through the layers making the trip in about half the time it would have taken. With the Shadow Fort in sight, Aystaria turned to Rita with a smile.Bookmark here

“Almost home, Rita.”Bookmark here

Receiving a heart-warming pat on the head from Aystaria, Rita blushed as he looked up to Aystaria.Bookmark here

“You know, your life is in my hands now. Maybe you should try begging me,” Aystaria said with a sadistic smile.Bookmark here

“Y-You’re acting just like—”Bookmark here

Aystaria tugged the rope tightly as she lifted Rita off the ground. Rita tried to scream out only to find his mouth gagged covered by Aystaria’s hand. The sadistic smile that Aystaria had, faded into an expression of murderous intent.Bookmark here

“If you speak her name in my presence, I will turn you into a full-fledged girl, Rita.”Bookmark here

“Ow, ow, ow, ow, I-I’m sorry! P-Please, forgive me, master!”Bookmark here

Releasing the tension on the rope, Aystaria looked to Rita with cold, dead eyes. Her tone was serious, and showed no tone in remorse or care.Bookmark here

“Let’s go.”Bookmark here

Without delay, Rita followed behind Aystaria, and kept his mouth shut. As the two of them approached the gate of the Shadow Fort, two guards stood at the entrance. One merely leaned against the stone wall as she crossed her arms over her chest. Her gaze was expressionless with a deadpan stare as she looked to Aystaria. The other appeared far too happy to the point she seemed like a psychopathic murder. Her stare was fixed Rita as her grin from ear to ear appeared unnatural beyond human standards.Bookmark here

“It’s been a long time, Maria, Pytrina.”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Maria said as she continued to lean against the wall.Bookmark here

Pytrina continued to grin as she moved closer to Rita like a stalker. Wrapping her arms around Rita from behind. Rita’s face turned a bright red as he grew flustered by Pytrina’s direct contract.Bookmark here

“Ri-Ri! I’m so happy to see,” Pytrina said as she gently bit down on Rita’s ear.Bookmark here

“Ei!”Bookmark here

“Tiedät, että pidät siitä,” Pytrina whispered into Rita’s ear.Bookmark here

“Ei, lopeta se!”Bookmark here

Aystaria smiled as she revealed lifted up her skirt slightly to reveal the hidden dagger strapped to her thigh.Bookmark here

“Pytrina, would you kindly leave my toy alone before I have to make that grin permanent.”Bookmark here

Without a second to delay, Pytrina removed her arms from around Rita, and stepped back. Aystaria lowered her skirt, and made her way into the inner compound as she held onto the rope tightly—Rita struggling to keep pace. Entering into the main building, Aystaria made her way past the sea of Shadow Takers who stared on for a few seconds before returning whatever they were focused on previously. As Aystaria walked down the hallways, she recalled the time she spent with her parents before their death.Bookmark here

Along with her parents, Aystaria fondly remembered the times she spent with her team. Everyday was a new chance to learn from them, from progressing her knowledge to studying advanced magic techniques. She found being with them was a joy, and loved what she did. Yet, as the years passed by, she realized that she had changed.Bookmark here

“Master…”Bookmark here

“What is it, Rita?”Bookmark here

“Think you for saving me,” Rita said as he blushed slightly.Bookmark here

“Pytrina always had her eyes on you, even before then.”Bookmark here

“Yeah. She’s crazy.”Bookmark here

“Well, no need to worry about her now. You are mine, and you belong to no one else.”Bookmark here

“Y-Yes master.”Bookmark here

Aystaria continued down the hallway until she came to a door she remembered well. Inside was the same as she had recalled—table, candles, and shadows. Stepping up to the table, Aystaria watched as the figures formed in the shadows, and converged into the various seats at the table.Bookmark here

“Aystaria! Long time no see, how do ye be?”Bookmark here

“Nice to see you too, Andateika.”Bookmark here

“So, why have you come here?” one of the council members asked.Bookmark here

“That is a good question. I actually have business with the military commander of the Shadow Takers,” Aystaria said as she looked to the shadowy figure across from Andateika.Bookmark here

The figure leaned forward as his face became clear in the candle light. His face was covered by a black mask that hid his mouth, and nose. Red eyes gazed back at Aystaria as she continued to smile.Bookmark here

“What could I help you with?”Bookmark here

“Well, Varjo, I’d like to bring back Unit Six. That’s all,” Aystaria said with a smile.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.