Nanashi the Null
“And what will we do now?” Günter asked carefully.
Nanashi had to think. Her mind was racing and searching for answers, possibilities, alternatives.
“Maybe…” she began, “Maybe it has already happened! They say that it was the greatest storm of this century and that there will be none like it for decades. But the pilgrim’s story… he never said when all those things happened; when she died. It is a fair long way from the heart of the Middle Lands way out onto the Untamed Meadows. He and his party must have been traveling for a long while, and he did say that she died even before Lord Kenji left and Lord Atlas fell.
If the storm had been in the last month of spring, then maybe the timing was just right and she was reborn!” As she recounted the events, she became more certain that it must have been so. She had to believe in fate, in the power of the clockwork; if she couldn’t do as much, she wouldn’t be fit for the task Brother Rei had set for her.
“So we go ter’de Rusty Shore, look fer her there?” he suggested.
Nanashi nodded slowly. “Yes, I think that would be best. It is a long way, but it is doable. We should leave in the morning.”
“Alright then, back to the inn, yes?” he asked.
She nodded again. They would need to stock up on supplies before traveling to the nearest pass. Perhaps they could rent a pair of mules or bayô. Her travel money should allow for that much, and if not, perhaps she could put in a day’s work some place where magic engines were used; if they were used here at all. The pay should be good since fear of spellblight was especially rampant in the Yamato Kingdom, as foolish as it was…
Her way back to the Black Sanctum would probably have to be a bit on the cheap side, a bed under the stars or in a kind stranger’s domicile, but she could worry about that when the time was at hand.
So it was that Nanashi and Günter returned to the inn they had settled in yesterday, a cozy little establishment called the ‘Mandô’, the eel’s den. It was located on the edge of the inner Tenge-ku, where the city’s money loaners, wealthier merchants, schools, and good housings were located, just bordering the outer Tenge-ku where one could find the craftsmen and less wealthy merchants. Towering above them was the Tenjô-ku, the city above the city, where the royal palace, the wealthiest and most important citizens, the Yamaseki University, and the center for weather research, the Shunkashûtô Institute, were located.
Nanashi and Günter had arrived in Yamaseki roughly seven days ago after Sagamund Greenhorn, the moth herder, had flown them to a nearby satellite village on the back of his great ryûga moth. It had been a rough ride through heavy rain during the first third of their journey, but in time the sky had cleared up and they had seen the sun rise.
It had been Sagamund who had urged their swift departure when Nanashi had told him the pilgrim’s story, and stopping no longer than it took to fill up his moth’s saddle pouches for a long journey, he had set off again, flying far away southward. Nanashi had immediately tried to get access to the Shunkashûtô Institute, but that had proven to be a most difficult task: Few people were allowed to enter the Tenjô-ku, and not even hard proof of her status as a sister of the Null had been enough to grant her access, which was a very shameful disregard of the Null Concord, a document signed by all the great nations of Aqualon during the Age of Awakening, including the Yamato Kingdom. But she had been assured that the exclusion of strangers from the Tenjô-ku, no matter their diplomatic status, was quite in order with all treaties, probably owing to some legal shenanigan, or at least that much Nanashi guessed. She also did not have near enough money to bribe her way in, and so the two of them had been quite short on options for getting the information she needed.
After three days, they had found someone who would give them the necessary backing to be allowed in: a state official named Yasao Ri. He was the first to actually recognize the importance of her request, young though he was, and a few words to the guards opened the doors to the upper city.
It had been another four days to wade through all the pompous so called ‘technocrats’ – an apocryphal title, given its description of a form of government, not of academic achievement – who thought themselves too good to help her out, before she finally got the information she required: records of the last great thunderstorms and weather predictions for those to follow. Soon she had discovered that the storm she had been looking for already had occurred several months back, and now she could only hope that it hadn’t happened too early. Unless of course the keepers’ birth was the source of the calamity that always accompanied it and not the other way around, in which case predictions would not get her anywhere anyways. There was no clarification on this part in the scriptures.
The night passed quickly and in the early hours of the new day they went out towards the outer Tenge-ku to find the supplies they needed. But something seemed not quite right as they passed through the streets and alleys: there were very few people even though this part of town was usually extremely busy.
“Seems pretty dark considrin’ that ol’ blue sky above, dawn or not,” Günter noted, and he spoke right out what was on Nanashi’s mind.
“Yes. These buildings cast large shadows; far too large for their size and the sun’s position. Something more than morning’s twilight is at work here.”
Günter drew closer to her and suddenly there were no other people around at all. “What is it?” he asked anxiously.
At that point a strange voice echoed through the alleys, silent and yet loud, as if it was a whisper to their ears and a shout in their minds: “You are most perceptive, young Null; you and your companion. This one knows where you are going and why.”
Günter flinched when the voice came and looked around hastily, unable to make out the source. It was as if it came from everywhere and nowhere.
“Who talks from the shadows and hides from our sight? What evil would seek us here?” Nanashi inquired sternly.
There was a brief pause before the voice answered. “I would have thought a Null would have a better opinion of shadows and their purpose. Where no light can fall, there are shadows that grow and shift, you know this? They thirst for that light, so much that they drink up all that passes through them and imbue it with their desire. They are the safe harbor of thieves and beggars and assassins, but also of all those that are hiding and afraid.
Now, will you listen to what this one has to say?”
Nanashi looked around, but couldn’t find anything, just as Günter.
“Coward! Show yerself!” the Kaltani howled with more than a hint of fear in his voice.
Nanashi put her hand on his arm to reassure him. “Perhaps I have spoken too quickly,” she admitted softly, “I will listen.”
“You are wise to do so,” the voice assured, “not all of Yamaseki holds the noble Brotherhood of the Null in such low regard as the people you have had the misfortune of having to deal with. I and mine see you as kindred spirits indeed, and we see many places, know many things.
As such I will tell you now that you are heading the wrong way. You will not find what you are seeking at the Rusty Shore. You will not find it in the Middle Lands, not in the North, nowhere you could go from here. What you seek is already in this city, hidden away in its darkest corners, acquired by those who would abuse its power for their purposes. This must not happen.”
Nanashi turned left and right, looking for the source of the voice more unconsciously than intently. “She is here? Where?! You must tell me where!”
“Must I? Or have I done so already? Well, I suppose we can say as much: seek out the city’s dark underbelly, there you will find what you are searching for. But be wary, for the Black Market of the Uramachi is a power to be reckoned with. Once you do face it, you may ask for our aid again; and where you need to go, many shadows lie, many places for us to exert our influence; at least for as long as we are still able to. Like you we are the keepers of balance, it is just a different one we keep, a more human one I should think. If you wish to find us, that is when we will find you; such is the way of the Shadow Society…” As its last words drew close, the voice grew fainter and fainter until only the weighty name lingered in the air, and finally the sun showed its face and the light of a new morning flooded the once more busy streets.
“The Shadow Society, skit!” Günter hissed and spat on the ground. “Tieves and murderers!”
To that Nanashi tilted her head ever so slightly. “There is a case to be made for thieves and assassins, though I would not deny their questionable ethics.”
Günter looked around, apparently searching for signs of the speaker, though to no avail. “Surely ye wunt listen to such filf?” he demanded to know.
Nanashi didn’t answer for a while, until finally she turned around.
“Are you certain?” he insisted.
“I am fairly certain they told the truth when they said that she is here. I do not trust their motives for telling us though,” she admitted. “If I heard them correctly, she must be with-“
“Aye, with the Black Market!” Günter interrupted her. “Do you have any idea what kinda people those are?! They are far more despicable than the Shadow Society and that alone means something. Those people are powerful, maybe the most powerful group in all of the Great Land, and certainly the most ruthless one. Ye’ll be killed dead! And me right alongside ye!”
“You do not have to die alongside me, Günter Oakenheart.” Nanashi said quietly, looking towards the mountainside. “You had business of your own here in Yamaseki, isn’t that why you are here? Why not leave me to my quest and get back to yours?”
Günter let his shoulders sag and looked at the ground when she mentioned his ‘business’. “I had hoped I could put that behind me when I decided to follow you… The irony is that it would have led me to the Black Market too. And that aside, I won’t leave ye now, Nanashi, ma resolve stands and yer cause is more important.”
“More important than what?” she asked intently.
He looked at her, and again she could see that strange sorrow and pain in his eyes. “You remember the story I told ol’ Sagamund as fee fer ma passage? When I reterned home to ma village, the rest of ma tribe… They were dead too.”
Nanashi’s eyes widened.
“Yes,” he continued, “all of them dead, everything destroyed. The manner in which they had been killed was… I shouldn’t say. There was one left, a dying child, Gersemi was her name, me faster’s daughter’s daughter. We often name our children after the gods to honor them, and Gersemi was one of the daughters of Freyja.
Gersemi, she was only five, but bleedin’ like a stuck pig all the same. All she could tell me was that the attackers tore everything up with ease and that they wanted to know the way of passage, but no one could tell them. Then she died in me arms.”
There was long silence, strangely untouched by the passing citizens, chattering though they might have been, some of them even casting secret glances at the tall Kaltani foreigner, and Nanashi dared not talk, thinking that there might be more to the story.
And indeed there was: “What could I do? I knew not who they were, how could I avenge ma tribe? So I traveled south, went to the Middle Lands, the Golden Sands, what heat! And lastly here to the Yamato Kingdom. I could find no word anywhere, except for what I told ya about the Black Market. I thought that if anyone knew who seeks the way by any means, it would be them… But the longer I traveled, the more pointless ma search seemed to me. No amount of vengeance will bring the girl back ter life, nor ma friends, ma family. They are dead all, dead for good. As a man with no ties and no meaning in life, I welcome helping someone as honorable as a true Null of the Black Sanctum on such a noble quest. Many may regard the Null somewhat low, but not we Kaltani. We remember how you fought in the Great War. Ya stood against gods and mages, unyielding and yet with great compassion.
Kaltani ferget neither enemies nor allies when it comes to war.
So I will ask once more: Let me help ya on yer quest, I will follow you, even if it means going to the Black Market after all. I beg of ye, do not let me roam as a ghost no more.”
Nanashi nodded. “So be it. Your story and mine might be deeper entwined than you think.” She was thinking of the tale of the Pilgrim, and Günter, who had heard her retell it to Sagamund Greenhorn, seemed to understand what she meant: that the evil that was festering in the Middle Lands might be the same that had attacked his tribe. “Oh, but there is one thing that I would like to ask, if you don’t mind – what is that ‘way of passage’ you just mentioned?”
Günter sighed. “There are four peoples who live in the North: the Kaltani, the Gallians, the Skôts and the Angel Saxons. The Angel Saxons are the most secluded of us, and it is said they are the only ones of us to build great cities and tall halls. These cities, and in fact their entire tribe, are hidden behind a shroud of mist, so the legend goes. And no outsider has seen their homes in many centuries. When northerners talk of the way of passage, they mean the way that leads to the Angel Saxons, past the eternal mist that conceals them. That is all.”
Nanashi nodded ponderously. “I see. Thank you for telling me this.
The Black Market is located in the Uramachi, just as the voice said, this much every child of Yamato knows; but we can’t just walk in there. Let us return to the inn, I need to think on how to approach this.” And so the two of them went back the way they had come.