Emyria stared up at fort that sat on the cliff side. So, that’s the Shadow Fort. It’s definitely intimidating, she thought. The fifth layer of The Pit looked far different than what she had thought it would be. The frozen lake was a sight she was happy to see in all its beauty. Crystals formed at various spots on the ice, and for unknown reasons, changed colors near the tip. Some were of pure white, while others bathed in a radiant glow of soft shaded crimson. Making her way over to the lake, Emyria was curious about the small pockets of water that bubbled within.
Before Emyria could move to take a closer look, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Looking back she could see it was Feldia who had stopped her in her tracks. Feldia’s grip was firm as if to say not to go near the water. Emyria could sense what Feldia was saying without having to say it.
“They know we’re here,” Feldia said as closed her eyes.
Emyria closed her eyes as she cleared her mind. She could only hear the sound of her heartbeat as the silence indicated no sign of life within her area. Aside from her heartbeat, she could only make out the sound of steam shooting off into the air from the pools of water in the lake.
“I can’t sense anything.”
“That’s because unlike you, they are skilled.”
Feldia made her way through the woods as Emyria, Reina, and Lyis followed behind. Both Reina, and Lyis kept their hands on the hilt of their blades as they kept their eyes on the area around them. The sound of silence made both Reina, and Lyis uneasy as they moved carefully with a light step. Even to their trained senses, they were unaware of what was around them.
“They could have already killed each of you in ten different ways,” Feldia spoke.
“How? I can’t hear anything,” Emyria said as she looked around the area.
“That’s the point. They can see you, sense your heartbeat, and have already planned out ten different ways they could kill you, if I wasn’t here.”
“Just how skilled are you Shadow Takers? Even with my skill I still can’t mask the sound of the wind around me,” Reina said as she looked up to the trees.
Lyis blinked only to find Feldia standing in front of him. He took a second to process what was going on, only to realize what he was looking at. In front of him, aimed at his throat, was a dagger held by a slender arm.
“Back off cat-trap, the boy is mine,” Feldia spoke in a cold tone.
Lyis carefully turned around to see a beautiful girl who had a cheerful smile on her face—a small fang poking out from the left side. She had short white hair that stopped out her chain, and appeared unkempt like she had just awoken from a nap. A top her head was a pair of feline cat ears that could have been natural on her while a small cat-shaped hair clip sat on the left side as nothing more than a decoration. On the other side, was a small set of bells tied in place with a red ribbon.
With the force of a gale, Feldia threw the girl off to the side, and into the thickness of the woods. Lyis still tried to process everything that had happened as his sister, and Emyria appeared shocked by what they had seen. Feldia placed her hand gently on Lyis’s head as she slowly stroke his hair. Looking up to Feldia’s gaze, Lyis felt his legs start to buckle from what he had started to realize.
“S-She could have killed me without me even knowing…”
“There, there. It’s all right,” Feldia said in a calming voice.
“Feldia… exactly how many are out there in the woods now?” Reina asked.
Feldia smirked as she looked over to Reina.
“Now if I told you that, would it matter?”
Feldia held Lyis steady as he fell into Feldia’s arms. Picking him up gently in her arms, Feldia continued to the Shadow Fort as Emyria, and Reina followed behind. Lyis could only blush as he tried to calm his heartbeat. Before long, the gates of the fort came into view. Looking up at the imposing structure before her, Emyria could see Aystaria sitting atop the wall dangling her legs like a child. Emyria felt a sense of relief as she stepped forward.
“Glad to see you got the message, Emyria,” Aystaria said with a smile.
“You’ll be happy to know I graduated.”
Aystaria drew her blade from her sheath, and threw the sword downward. Like a bolt of lightning, it stuck into the ground in front of Emyria. Grabbing the hilt of the sword, Emyria noticed various shadows appearing before her eyes as if they were materializing from the darkness. Once they had taken form, she counted ten Shadow Takers that had managed to surround them as if they had always been there the whole time.
“Don’t worry, they won’t use their full strength, but ensure you fight with all your might,” Aystaria said with a smile.
Grabbing onto the hilt of the blade, Emyria scanned all the various Shadow Takers surrounding her. Emyria recalled all the lessons that Aystaria had taught her as she closed her eyes. She could now sense the Shadow Takers around her like she could the people in the city. It’s actually amazing just how all of them can keep their presence just barely concealed, and their heartbeats all in steady rhythms, Emyria thought as she tried to figure out who would attack first. As Emyria scanned the battlefield around her, she noticed one heartbeat was slightly louder than the others. They’re looking down on me, she thought as she readied herself for battle.
Rushing forward like a firestorm was a nimble girl with a blade that appeared odd to Emyria. Bracing herself to counter a simple strike to the mid-section, Emyria planned out every movement, and countermove within her head. Yet, even with everything planned out she found herself thrown off guard by the quick shift of the girl sword. Like a coiled viper, the girl’s sword broke apart into small sections attached by a chain. Wrapping around Emyria’s blade, threw every plan she had out the window.
Emyria quickly tried to come up with a new plan of attack but found herself at the mercy of the girl before her. The girl danced around Emyria with a light foot until the chained sections of the sword had wrapped around the flesh of her throat. Emyria could feel the sharp blades starting to choke her as she struggled to breathe. I didn’t plan for that, Emyria thought as she tried to stop the blade from ripping her head off her shoulders.
“Always plan for the unplanable, Emyria,” Aystaria said as she laid down on her side watching the fight unfold.
Okay, plan for event that I can’t even plan for, sounds easy enough, Emyria joked as she continued to struggle against the blade.
“Blythe, you can release her now,” Aystaria spoke.
Blythe smiled as she nodded, and released the deadly grip her sword had on Emyria’s neck. Once the blade was free, a simple flick of the wrist contracted the sword to its original form as Blythe smiled, and bowed slightly. Emyria took a second to breath in, and out slowly. As she readied herself for her fight with Blythe, she could sense another heartbeat that fell out of rhythm with the rest. Keeping her guard up, she focused on Blythe while using her other senses to pick out where the other was.
“Hey Emyria,” Feldia called out.
For a split second, Emyria took her eyes off of Blythe.
“What is it, Feldia?”
In that moment, Emyria felt someone creeping up behind her. How did they get behind me without a sound, she thought as she quickly spun on the ball of her foot. Standing behind her was young girl who appeared at least two years younger than Emyria. She had her long hair tied off at the back with six different ribbons. Her facial expression was confident, like she knew she could easily win. The girl wore a black top that was cut off at the shoulders and with two straps at the shoulders. A small pink ribbon stood out in the upper right part of the breast area while her left wrist had human bones made to fit like a wristband along with a skull ring on her ring finger. Her pleated skirt contrasted due to its girly pink color in a window pane pattern.
“Remember to stay focused,” Feldia remarked.
Emyria noticed the girl in front of her was standing calmly with her hands behind her back, resting as if she didn’t need to use them. Trying to keep sense of Blythe, she realized that the girl was nowhere to be found on the battlefield.
“I told Blythe to let me fight you alone,” the girl said with a smirk.
“But you didn’t even say a word.”
“Didn’t have to.”
Keeping her guard up, Emyria studied the girl carefully. The girl swayed back, and forth like a snake charmed by the sounds of a flute.
“So, do you plan to attack or just stand there?”
The girl giggled as she continued to sway back, and forth.
“You should watch my feet.”
“I’m not into that.”
“Doesn’t matter, because I’m going to kick you.”
Without warning, Emyria felt something hit her jaw to the point she flew back. She could feel pain throughout her jaw, and mouth as she tried to make sure it wasn’t broken. Taking a second to get her bearings, she looked over to see the girl still swaying back, and forth with a cheerful expression on her face. Okay, so she just kicked me faster than I could see it. Guess I need to be careful around her, Emyria thought as she stood to her feet. Wiping her nose clean of the blood around her mouth, she readied herself.
“Is that all? I figured the girl that got special training from Aystaria would be able to block a simple kick to the face,” the girl said with a smug expression.
“I’ll have you know…”
Wait, no, I can’t fall for her bait. She wants me to lose control, and fight without thinking, Emyria thought. She carefully went over all the ways she could attack, and after a well thought out plan, she rushed forward with her leading foot. A wide swing was something she had come to hate but for her plan to work, she needed to convince the girl it was needed. The could only smile, leaning back as if she already knew what to expect. With the sword in full, Emyria spun on the ball of her foot to bring the blade around in a faster arc that had been carefully aimed for the girl’s thighs. Yet, even as it came closer to the girl’s flesh, she leaned back until she was on the ground. Seeing this as the grand opportunity, Emyria spun one finally time to bring the blade down in a vertical strike.
No way! How did she do that, Emyria wondered as she failed to understand the inhuman nature of the girl before her.
“Did you think you could beat me so easily?”
The girl held the blade between her big toe, and second toe with her left foot as she rested her head against her arms like she was going to take a nap. Emyria struggled to bring the blade down any further, but found that she was unable to due the girl’s vice-grip. The girl had a smug look on her face as she spoke in a condescending tone.
“You are so weak.”
Using her other foot, the girl disarmed Emyria without much effort. Like a skilled dancer, the girl brought Emyria down face-first into the dirt before she could even think about what to do.
“You look nice down there in the dirt. Best place for someone like you to lick my feet, and serve me like the useless human you are.”
I hate this girl, Emyria thought.
“Iystellia, you shouldn’t look down on humans. If you recall, you were once human,” Aystaria said.
“Maybe, but now I’m better then them.”
“Let her up.”
“And what are you going to do if I don’t?” Iystellia asked with a smug expression.
“You shouldn’t count humans out,” Emyria said as she grabbed Iystellia by the ankle.
With haste, Emyria twisted Iystellia’s ankle forcing her to fall towards the ground. Taken by surprise, she quickly used her hands to stop herself from falling into the dirt. A swift kick to the face forced Emyria to fly through the air, and land into the dirt. Emyria took a second to breath as she felt her face. There was a sharp pain throughout the right side of her face, but she was glad to note that nothing was broken. Standing to her feet, she realized Aystaria’s weapon was out of her reach.
Reina, and Lyis continued to watch from the sidelines as they desperately wanted to step in to help Emyria. Even though Reina knew she didn’t stand a chance, there was no way she could continue to just sit back, and watch. Without thinking, Reina rushed forward as she drew her dagger from her sheath. Using her leading foot to propel herself faster, she aimed for Iystellia’s shoulder.
“If you’re going to try, and attack someone, at least mask your intent. I could hear you from a mile away,” Iystellia said as she evaded the sharp point of the dagger.
Falling backwards onto her hands, Iystellia skillfully wrapped her legs around Reina’s arm, and brought her to the ground with ease. Disarming the dagger from Reina’s hand, Iystellia twirled in the air using her foot, catching it in her hand.
Before Lyis could take a step forward, he felt a hand holding him back. Looking up from behind he could see Feldia who shook her head. Lyis could only watch as Iystellia smiled at him.
“So, she’s your sister? Maybe this will be more fun if I kill her.”
Within the blink of an eye, Iystellia found herself knocked down onto the ground. The blow was hard enough to make her vision blurry. Taking a second to process what had transpired, she realized that she had been hit in the head with Aystaria’s sheath.
“If you harm my friends Iystellia, then you will lose to me.”
Aystaria’s tone was playful, and her cute smile annoyed Iystellia deeply that the sound of her teeth grinding was clearly audible to all those around.
“You think you’re so much better than everyone. Don’t you, Aystaria? Just because you’re apart of unit six, doesn’t mean you are better than the rest of us.”
“I think that’s enough from you, Iystellia,” Feldia called out.
Iystellia felt the hair stand up on her neck as she felt something press against her head. From behind, Aystaria had one arm wrapped around Iystellia’s waist, and her index finger pressed against the back right side of her head. Aystaria could only smile as a sadistic grin showed on her face.
“I don’t think I’m better than you, Iystellia. I know I’m better then you.”
“Now, are you done acting like a child?” Aystaria asked with a smile.
Aystaria grabbed the dagger from Iystellia’s hand, and made her way over to Reina. Holding out her hand with a smile, she helped Reina to her feet.
“I’m proud that you stepped in, despite the odds.”
Aystaria picked up her sheath and allowed it to rest on her the back like she always had it. Making her way over to the sword, she stomped down on the blade, forcing it into the air. Like the prideful showoff she was, she twirled the blade before sheathing it. Looking over to Emyria, Aystaria smiled her usual cheery expression.
“You still have a lot to work on.”
Emyria relaxed her stance before she realized that all the Shadow Takers had vanished. I hope I can do that when I become a Shadow Taker, Emyria thought.
“I’m happy you made it, and sorry about the little test there,” Aystaria said with a smile as she hugged Emyria gently.
Lyis rushed over to his sister, and embraced her. Once everything was over, Aystaria looked to others.
“Welcome to the Shadow Fort you three.”
Emyria, Reina, and Lyis followed Aystaria through the hallways of the Shadow Fort. All three of them were awestruck by the impressive structure of the Shadow Fort, and its outlandish craftsmanship of art, and engineering that seemed to fail in comparison to the city Emyria had known.
“This place makes my parent’s manor look like a joke.”
“I feel like I would get lost in here,” Reina said.
“Same,” Lyis agreed.
Aystaria smiled as she turned on the ball of her foot.
“Feldia, would care to show the siblings around the fort?”
“I can do that.”
“But… we shouldn’t leave Emyria alone,” Reina started to say.
Aystaria giggled. Placing her hand on Reina’s head, she smiled.
“I thought by now you would trust me,” Aystaria teased.
“I do, I just…”
“Don’t worry about Iystellia. I can handle her. You just worry about getting a feel for the layout of this fort. After all, if you survive, it’ll become your new home.”
Without another word, Aystaria grabbed Emyria back the hand, and lead her down the hall quickly. Turning a corner, the two of them continued down the hallway until they came to large golden door with crimson leaf accents. Upon entering the room, Emyria was greeted by elegant tiling with large in-ground bathing area. Bubbles arose to the top of the water only to pop out of existence.
“You’ll want to be careful the water is a bit hot, but it does feel nice on the skin once you get used to it,” Aystaria said with a smile.
“So, what exactly are we doing here?” Emyria asked, looking over to Aystaria.
The puzzled look on Emyria’s face made Aystaria giggle.
“What’s with the puzzled expression? You want to be clean, right?”
“I mean, a bath would be nice.”
“Then let’s go. Take it off. Or maybe…”
Emyria was taken by surprise when Aystaria disappeared from her view only to feel arms wrapped around her waist. In that moment, she recalled the traumatic experience that led to the sleepless nights for several weeks. Her breathing began to increase, even if it had been months, she recalled the traumatic experience like it had happened yesterday.
Aystaria could hear the submissive, yet scared tone in Emyria’s voice. Resting her chin gently on Emyria’s shoulder, Aystaria whispered softly.
“Just relax. You’re safe, Emyria. I promise.”
“Shh. It’s okay. Do you trust me?”
Emyria could tried to calm her breathing while Aystaria continued to whisper softly into her ear.
“That girl can’t hurt you. Okay? I’m here.”
“Mhm. It’s me. I killed that girl for what she did to you. You’re special to me, Emyria.”
Aystaria gently planted a kiss on Emyria’s cheek.
“Just lean back, and close your eyes.”
Doing as Aystaria instructed, Emyria leaned back into Aystaria’s body, and closed her eyes. She could feel her top slowly being unbuttoned, and slid off her arms in a single fluid motion. Following her top, the skirt easily fell to the floor with a zipper being the only thing that held the fabric tightly against the waist. With her body half-naked, Emyria began to shake slightly as she felt Aystaria’s soft finger tips trace down the curves of her body on the left side.
Emyria could feel Aystaria slide one finger into her thigh-high sock, and skillfully peel the sock off like a banana. Repeating the same motion for the other sock, Aystaria kissed her cheek until Emyria was in nothing but her white cotton underwear. With slow, and steady movements, she removed the thin piece of cloth that was wrapped tightly around her chest—holding her breast firmly in place. As the fabric fell to the floor, the feeling that Emyria felt on her bosom had relaxed into a state of natural rest.
“You feeling okay?” Aystaria asked in a soft tone.
“Y-Yeah. I don’t feel scared around you.”
With a single fluid motion, Aystaria pulled off the cotton underwear, and allowed them to fall to the floor.
“So, here’s a question for you, Emyria.”
Aystaria removed her hands from Emyria’s waist. Turning to meet Aystaria’s gaze, Emyria noticed that cheerful expression that was almost an extension of who she was.
“Want to undress me?” Aystaria asked with a playful wink.
Aystaria giggled loudly.
“Your face is bright red.”
“Well, yeah… You’re asking me to undress you.”
Another giggle escaped Aystaria’s mouth. Grabbing a small sack tied with a string, she threw them off to the side.
“What was in there? Coins?”
“You remember those shadow coins? Just nine of them in that pouch there. Couldn’t have you trying to lift those. That would literally kill you,” Aystaria said with a small as she threw her sword off to the side as well.
Emyria could only be impressed by the fact that Aystaria was able to throw her sword in such a way that it would land against the wall perfectly as if she had walked over, and placed it there herself. Twirling on the ball of her foot, Aystaria held up her braid as the tip fell into Emyria’s hands. Using the tips of her fingers, Emyria pulled on a section of the ribbon undoing the braid, and allowing Aystaria’s hair to fall down to her thighs. The sounds of a soft euphoric moan escaped her mouth that was of the highest climax.
“D-Did that actually—”
“No silly, I’m just teasing,” Aystaria said as she giggled.
Aystaria turned on the ball of her foot, her eyes met Emyria’s with a kind, and gentle expression. She bounced on the balls of her feet, allowing the rest of her body to relax. While she showed no signs of blushing, Aystaria could see Emyria’s cheeks fluster a bright shade of red. Stepping forward, Emyria slowly removed the top Aystaria wore until her pale skin was bare, and exposed.
“Sorry that I don’t have anything to play with there,” Aystaria joked.
“I-It’s fine… I just…”
With a gentle embrace, Aystaria whispered into Emyria’s ear.
“What do you see me as?”
Emyria was quiet for a second as she gathered her thoughts on how to answer the question.
“I’ve always seen you as a girl but—”
“Then that’s what I am.”
Aystaria stepped back on the ball of her foot, and slowly undid the bandage around her left arm. Her arm was scarred with the signs of where her flesh had been shredded during her time in captivity. Parts of the flesh had seemed to heal over the two years of time, yet, it was clear as day that what she had went through was painful—far more painful then what Emyria could imagine.
Removing her skirt, and underwear revealed the horrors that Aystaria had endured. Emyria was unable to speak, her stare a clear sign that she was unable to process just what she was looking at. The sight before her was something beyond horror that made her stomach turn in knots. Yet, Aystaria only smiled as the expression on her face never once showed sadness from what she had become.
“You see? Technically, I am a girl,” Aystaria said in a joking manner as she removed the strap around her thigh.
After removing the dagger, Aystaria removed her boots slowly as if to tease Emyria.
“How do you… you know?”
Removing her thigh-socks slowly down her leg, and peeling them off her feet, Aystaria looked to Emyria with a smug expression.
“How do I use the restroom?”
“I use it just like any other girl. I’m sorry it looks like it hurts but trust me, it doesn’t.”
Aystaria wiggled her toes for a second after freeing herself from the boots, and socks that had trapped her feet. Taking a moment to twirl around like a dancer in the moonlight, Aystaria jumped into the water until she was no longer seen. A few minutes passed before she emerged with hair, and body soaking wet. Brushing her hair from her eyes, she smiled.
“You plan to join me?”
“If you’re still scared, you can touch it,” Aystaria said with a smug expression.
“I don’t want to touch it!”
“Aw, you don’t want to touch me?”
The playful giggle always seemed to throw Emyria off. She was had learned to not be caught off guard with Aystaria, but while the two of them were naked it felt different to her.
“It just… I feel odd around you now that I know your story, and… Well, being naked like this…”
Aystaria smiled as she wrapped her arms around Emyria gently.
“I guess the two of us need to be naked more often together,” Aystaria whispered in a lewd tone.
Emyria’s blushing flush, and shy tone made Aystaria giggle.
“I see you can speak the language well.”
“I still don’t know everything, but I studied enough to hold a basic conversation.”
“Guess I’ll need to have a private study session with you from time to time.”
Several days passed as Emyria learned her way around the fort. She had managed to get along with a few of the Shadow Takers that Aystaria had introduced her to. While some of them had their odd habits, and mannerisms, she did not find them to be of malicious intent. There were some of which Aystaria had made it clear to avoid. After getting a since of the layout, Aystaria gathered, Emyria, Reina, and Lyis—along with Feldia—to the chamber that she had talked about while walking through the silence hallways.
Entering into the room, Emyria was greeted by the dark shadows that filled almost every portion of the room, aside from the center where a single candle sat upon an alter. She recalled the room Aystaria had described to her. Even though she had tried to act tough about what she was going to do, deep down, the fear was starting to get to her. The process of becoming a Shadow Taker was enough to make any human wish for the sweet release of death.
“Got any advice on how not to feel nervous about this?” Emyria asked.
“If you are confident in your resolve, take pride in it. Embrace it, and know that the choice you made was what you wanted.”
“So, is the fact that I’m feeling fear a sign I shouldn’t do this?”
“Fear is something all humans have. We can do one of two things, either we embrace our fears, and give them no control over our lives or we continue to let it win, and never move forward.”
Aystaria stepped up to the alter, and turned to Emyria.
“Are you sure you want this, Emyria? Do not hesitate when you answer.”
“Then let’s began.”
Emyria looked around her as she stepped up to the alter, and noticed the chains on the ground.
“What are the chains for?”
“When you drink the blood, you will start to feel your body dying. If you don’t survive, I will have to kill you,” Aystaria said with a smile.
The fear began to sink in as Emyria tried not to think about what would happened if she didn’t survive.
“I’m going to survive this,” Emyria said with confident smile on her face.
Aystaria grabbed the chains, and placed them around Emyria’s wrist—forcing her to her knees. Kissing her forehead gently, Aystaria made her way over to the chalice setting on the alter. Grabbing her dagger, and slicing open the palm of her hand, she filled the goblet with her own blood. Once she was finished, she made her way back over to Emyria.
Aystaria didn’t speak as she tilted Emyria’s head back slightly.
“I’m going to become a Shadow Taker.”
Forcing the liquid down her throat, Emyria didn’t feel anything at first. A few seconds passed as she began to wonder if the ritual didn’t work. Without warning, she could feel the prick of a thousand daggers piercing the inside of her body. Her breathing quickly became shallow as she struggled to get a breath of air. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Feldia holding both Reina, and Lyis back. Emyria turned back to see the smiling expression of Aystaria’s face before everything around her faded to black.