On the deck of their artificially-sunken ship, Hashinara Yoshitakatomo
looked across the bridged abyss at the treasure which had brought them there. Soon joined by Aotsuki Tsukamoto
, the three pondered just how they were going to plunder that opulent chest. Fubuki's magic had created an air bubble within which to act even this far below the sea. And yet, the bounds of that same bubble seemed much more narrow than when they'd descended. Perhaps it was the water pressure this deep, or perhaps it was the work of something more sinister.
At the edge of the bubble, hovering over a yawning abyss, a number of aquatic humanoids
seemed to flutter in wait. These creatures, although clearly adapted for deep-sea predation, appeared to be a form of Zoog
. That meant that they were, conversely, much more dangerous to the likes of Fubuki and Yoshitakatomo than any mundane predator could be. Both jealously guarded their spells from those magic-eaters, leaving Aotsuki as the first to approach the edge of the bubble.
Before that, however, he sent his Sheele belowdecks.
He didn't want to discover
what would happen if a Zoog tried to take a bite out of them. Tsurugi
complained, but was not about to outright contradict her Emperor. Following Tama
, who was all too ready to get out of the wet, the three departed back inside.
True to his character, Aotsuki didn't want a fight.
He shouted at the edge of the bubble, made gestures, and did everything he could to convey their peaceful intent to the Zoog outside. None of those abyssal maidens so much as showed a flicker of recognition, however. Either his voice wasn't piercing the edge of the bubble or they didn't understand his attempts at communication. That first couldn't be right, though, because even now a great sound was bubbling up from beneath in the abyss. It was like a low rumble, growing subtly more intense over time.
By this point, Fubuki had joined Aotsuki at the edge of the hole. Meanwhile, Yoshitakatomo took a sleeping Zhyrgal
out of her* pocket. It required a few tries and a bit of shaking, but she* managed to wake the little rascal up. Unfortunately, Zhyrgal proved to be of relatively little help. She called the monsters outside "Deep Zoog," and claimed that they were nothing but trouble. There weren't many sources of magic sustenance on the floor of the Dreamsea
, so these variants of Zhyrgal's own race had become much more predatory than their coastal counterparts. Although intelligent enough, they weren't likely to listen to reason.
Those on the edge of the abyss welcomed this information, but they had their own growing concerns. Fubuki had noticed an upswelling of water from the pit and pointed this out to Aotsuki. Aotsuki, for his part, didn't like that one bit. Much to his chagrin, he'd also seen Oyama Hikari
sneak out of the ship and wander over to the edge. At the same time, Fubuki had come up with a novel way to distract the Zoog.
Drawing upon the unaspected magic about the place, she* conjured wooden fish after wooden fish, tossing them into the edge of the bubble. The Zoog fell upon the constructs greedily, grabbing and biting until the spell was dissolved. Perhaps Aotsuki would have been more impressed if he wasn't busy keeping an eye on Hikari. He wasn't in time to do anything but stifle a scream, however, as the long-eared little treasure hunter jumped right off and was swallowed by darkness.
As if in response to this offering, something enormous and awful in its aspect burst out of the abyss. It appeared at first to be some kind of giant aberration from the deep sea. A multitude of tentacles and two great, sightless red eyes swarmed about its hideous form. Even worse, however, was the human-like body that extended waist-up from what would be the top of its head. The familiar form wielded a trident in two lithe arms, but had no facial features of its own. From its base all the way to its head, the creature's warped piscine skin was unbroken.
Turning its bulk with horrible speed and precision, the creature faced Aotsuki. Perhaps it was because he happened to be closest to the edge, or perhaps it sensed the burning sunlight within him. Regardless, Aotsuki was shocked to find a blow from the thing's trident crush through his heavy armor. With his shield raised, it had only been a glancing blow, but still enough to wound him despite his mighty defenses.
The rumbling had not ceased. Between notes, Aotsuki caught brief whispers, suggestions of things far beyond his mortal ken. With his goddess' protection, however, he was not called by the hideous serenade. Instead, Aotsuki brought Tsurugi instantly to his hand and raised her high. Even in the darkness beneath the sea, the sun's light was brought by his hand. Amaterasu
's power flooded the legendary blade. When its length reached a blinding, scorching intensity, he thrust it downward into the mottled fish-flesh before him.
The Sun Goddess' light burned brightly for a moment, then was swallowed in shadow. The creature's inner darkness quenched Tsurugi's glow and threatened for a moment to engulf Aotsuki as well. For a brief moment, he saw a great black sun,
burning as darkly as Amaterasu's was bright, in an empty sky. Then the vision was gone, but Aotsuki was shaken. His Sun Strike, intended to cripple all fighting spirit within his enemy, hadn't even left a wound. Worse, that had been the zenith of his power. There would be no second attempt.
Fortunately, Aotsuki was not alone. His comrades were even now teaming up to work terrible magic of their own design. Fubuki had returned to the deck of the ship. There, she* channeled energy into Yoshitakatomo's growing aura for a powerful spell.
Like an immense net, the mystical weave exploded outward from the masked princess' form to cover the full area and beyond. Within this realm, Yoshitakatomo was now the Lord of Fools
. All who bowed to madness had no choice but to bow to her* as well. Disappointingly, the great fused beast did not respond. It was apparently not insane. At least, not in a way humans could understand. The collected Zoog, however, immediately leapt to Yoshitakatomo's aid. Having finished off the last of Fubuki's conjured fish, they began to swarm their new target: Aotsuki's aggressor. As they did so, Yoshitakatomo sensed something curious. The Zoog were not the only creatures caught by her* spell. Somewhere far away, at the edge of the weave's miles-wide radius, another madman had fallen under her* control. Perhaps it was someone still on the coast of the Isle of Oriab
. Curious, the Princess-Daimyō bid whoever it was to come to her* side.
Perhaps curious, she* set Zhyrgal down and proceeded down a magicked bridge and to Aotsuki's side. His opponent could not sense her*, but to be safe,
Yoshitakatomo conjured a reinforced shell around her* person. It looked from here to be the result of some awful fusion between man and thalassian monster. Perhaps the spell Fuse
had even been involved. Yoshitakatomo had been considering more uses for that particular incantation
since her* wild success at using it to obtain the powers of a Jabberwock
some time ago.
This time, the human half of the beast remained idle. Instead, it was the lower leviathan's jaw that unhinged and opened before slamming down on either side of Aotsuki. It did not seem to recognize that Yoshitakatomo was there, but that did not save her* from being caught up in its maw. There came an almighty crunch, slurp, and Yoshitakatomo was gone into its gullet. Aotsuki did not fare much better. He'd managed to avoid any serious wound, but was now stuck between two of the creature's teeth like an errant piece of forgotten food. He squirmed, but couldn't manage to free himself. It seemed like things couldn't get much worse for them than this.
Things then proceeded to get worse. Bursting from the pitch-black water below, a second of the fish-fused men screamed upward at speed. Like a jouster's lance, the human half wielded its trident thrust before it as it collided with Aotsuki with bone-shattering force. The Golden Shield was in no position to defend himself. He could only shout in pain and dismay as the sheer force of the impact nearly knocked him unconscious and fully severed his right arm. Still glowing faintly, Tsurugi and Aotsuki's gripping hand tumbled into the darkness below.
By now, Yoshitakatomo's servants had surrounded the first of the ichthyoid horrors. A Zoog slapped at its rough hide with a palm, producing practically no damage whatsoever. The greedy mouth within its palm, however, gobbled up a single spell the beast had cast. Without warning, Fubuki's bubble of air exploded outward. It seemed that something worked by these foul creatures had been pressing in upon it this whole time. Hikari, who had since climbed out of the abyss and onto the treasure podium, found her path significantly easier to traverse. Within the leviathan's mouth, Aotsuki tensed. Now suddenly in open air, he fully expected his captor to plummet down into the darkness below. Neither the fish-fused men nor the Zoog fell, however. Instead, they floated ungracefully in the air. It looked quite like they were still trying to swim, but without the aid of water resistance to push them forward. Both species could still function in an aerial environment, it seemed, but much less elegantly.
Finally, the little treasure hunter reached her goal. Reaching into the unlocked chest, Hikari pulled out a gleaming sword and a jewel-like bottle in either hand. She turned to show them joyfully to the others, not seeming to register Aotsuki's current dire situation. Fubuki, who was now on the ship's crow's nest, had a clear view of the items.
Although not as fine as her* own Susuki Masamune
, the sword did seem to produce an effect on the water around it. It seemed pressurized, causing the liquid by its blade to roil in protest. The bottle, too, looked quite valuable, but it was hard to say what might be within.
Back in the maw of the beast, Aotsuki was offering a prayer. Even if Hikari was somehow alright, he couldn't let his journey end here. There were too many people still relying on him, still too many things left for him to handle in his provinces, too much he hadn't said or done...
The power of the Sun flared within him.
Severed near the shoulder, Aotsuki's arm did not miraculously regrow. Instead, a golden simulacrum of steel sunlight formed in its place. He found that he could move and feel with this new, brightly glowing arm just as well as his old one, but this was no time for experimentation. Tsurugi leaped, a bright bolt from the abyss, and landed in Aotsuki's golden hand. Then, with a great sweep, he thrust the blade into his captor leviathan's tooth.
Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi pierced bone and flesh, then burned radiant. Cracks formed throughout the tooth, buckled from the shining light within, then exploded outward. Aotsuki was free. He tumbled from the leviathan's mouth and into the abyss below, but he was free, and his foe was groaning in pain.
Even with Fubuki's masterful command of magic, the air bubble was not infinite. Soon, Aotsuki splashed into dark water below. The power of Amaterasu was still with him, but this was still a very dark, very terrible place. He seemed to sense something swimming about below him in the darkness, a feeling that turned his stomach with its implications.
He made his way to the coral wall not far away, hoping perhaps to climb up its rough surface back to the ship.
Such action proved unnecessary. Having been biding her* time, Fubuki then took decisive action.
Hikari and Aotsuki, both at the very bounds of the bubble, found themselves picked up in water's steady grip and pulled inward. They landed safely on the ship's deck at about the same time. While the leviathans outside readjusted to being suddenly submerged again and flailed at the harrying Zoogs, Fubuki worked a second spell. With this weave, she* reached inside one ichthyoid gullet and plucked out Yoshitakatomo, setting the Daimyō safely on the deck with the others. Then, in the same motion, the ship began to rise back toward the surface, lifted by the Black Blade's power.
Of course, Yoshitakatomo had not really been in any danger. Her* body was far from human at this point, a chimeric divinity in itself. Indeed, her* time in the leviathan's stomach had been almost relaxing. It was nice to be shut away from the troubles of the world, knowing that even her* greatest enemy
would struggle to find her* in such a place. For a short time, Yoshitakatomo had even entertained the idea of staying there.
She* could continue to rule the Hashinara Clan
through her sheele and Avatars
while her* true body remained safely tucked away where no one would ever think to look. When Fubuki plucked her* out of the thing's gulled, however, Yoshitakatomo had not resisted.
The leviathans did not pursue. They did not wish to rise too far from the depths, or perhaps they were more concerned with the Zoog biting at their spells. In a last act of clemency,
Yoshitakatomo bid her* servants to scatter and save themselves. She* would perhaps never know their final fate.
Soon the Black Galleon broke the water's surface and was once again atop the starlit Dreamsea. The Cardinal Generals reconvened with their allies on the gunnery deck, eager to see what plunder Hikari had managed to loot. Given the terror they'd faced in The Sunken City
and the trauma Aotsuki endured, it would have to be something quite valuable to make the trip worth it. The young Daimyō looked at his golden arm. He wasn't sure what he'd expected; perhaps for the limb to simply restore itself over time. Nothing of the sort seemed to be happening. His limb was indeed replaced with this shining simulacrum, at least for now. It was a striking new feature, but also grim in its reminder that he was not invincible, and of that horrid black sun he'd witnessed in the depths...
First, they all looked over the weapon. Or...something that looked almost like the weapon. The sword Hikari had brought out of those depths was now rusted and corroded. It looked a shell of its former design, and practically useless in battle. Learned Fubuki was not fooled
, however. She* beckoned a bit of water from outside and submerged the blade in it. Immediately, the rust fell away and revealed the sword's true craftsmanship once again. It seemed as though this particular weapon would only be useful when fully surrounded by saltwater. There were few who could manage such a thing with any sort of practicality, but Fubuki was one of them.
Between an experienced treasure hunter like Hikari, a macabre genius like Yoshitakatomo, and a spellsword in Fubuki, the three were able to easily discern the weapon's other properties. After discussing it for a time, the blade's name seemed to somehow pop into all their heads at once: Brinelord
That only left the bottle. If Ryūzaki Sanosuke
were there, he might have had an inkling of what might be within. Most of the others could only see sparkling seawater, however, with a few tiny jellyfish scooting around inside. To Yoshitakatomo's eyes, the thing reeked of Sin magic. It would be wise, perhaps, to wait until they were in a more secure location to—
But Hikari had already popped it open. A sultry purple mist poured out from the bottle's neck and swirled around on the ship's floor. Their assembled allies shifted away to make room as a figure began to form. It looked human enough at first, slender and feminine, but that impression faltered as the shape became more defined. Indeed, her upper half was human, but it sat upon a bed of ten girthy tentacles. The three generals could not help but be reminded of the misshapen creatures below, but this newcomer was not misshapen. Indeed, she was very pretty, and looked very pleased to be free.