6 min read

Storm Phase – 1

Storm Phase – 1

About this series

A young wizard burdened with a destiny he cannot know embarks on a perilous expedition with his father to find the legendary Storm Dragon's Heart. Joined by a feisty cat-girl ninja and a magical diary that turns into a bat-winged creature, they face deadly cultists, vengeful spirits, and a mad wizard. And this is merely the beginning of their grand journey through worlds of monsters and mayhem. 

This anime-inspired series, in a setting loosely based on Ancient Japan, contains some elements of harem fantasy and a whole lot of badass magical creatures.

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Iniru

Wild summer winds kicked up across the Emerald Sea of the North, dashed the rocky shorelines of the tropical nation of Kuana, and raked the evergreen treetops of the inland rainforest. In the remote village of Yasei, the winds shook watchtowers and rattled the thatched roofs and bamboo walls of the houses pinned there between the coast and the forest. Still distant clouds of shadowed blue promised early afternoon rainstorms, an almost daily occurrence there on the northernmost reaches of the relatively small, isolated continent of Okoro.

On the outskirts of the village, Iniru’s lone hovel stood precariously on an outcrop overlooking the shore. Returning from a run she had hoped would calm her nerves, Iniru stripped off her gray cotton top and shorts and tossed them aside. Having baked beneath the blistering midmorning sun, she went to the lone window of her ever crumbling home and stood naked there, basking in the cool, salty mist that now blew in from the sea and stuck to her downy, russet fur.

Iniru closed her eyes and twitched her tall ears forward. Chimes of bone and shell hanging all throughout the village danced. The lilting melodies of a reed flute played by the village’s blind bard Kumiki slid between the tinking and clattering. Along with her sang the farmhands tilling the nearby fields. The farmers and the fishers, the lifeblood of the community — the injured, the retired, and the ones who had failed the test Iniru would face today. 

Beyond this music echoed the shouts of children. They were not playing. No, because Yasei was not a place for happy recreation but for learning the means of war and subterfuge. Under the tutelage of strict masters, these children were practicing their katas and training with weapons, and when they failed to perform what was asked of them to perfection, they were punished — sometimes cruelly. Blood, sweat, tears… repeat. That had been Iniru’s life for the last sixteen years. Long hours of grueling practice, with much sadness, and precious few moments of joy.

These were the sounds of her people, though, the only sounds she had ever known. Would she miss them when she was gone? She had dreamed so long of leaving Yasei and exploring the tall mountains, the broad grass plains, and the teaming cities of stone she’d read about in the two small books she owned. She dreamed of meeting, for once in her so far dreary life, someone from one of Okoro’s other ancestries, someone who didn’t have the tufted ears, claws, and fur of her people, the k’chasa. 

Iniru was proud of her heritage and training. She was dedicated beyond a shadow of doubt to the beliefs of her people. But she wanted freedom from Kumiki’s bland melodies, from the endless cycle of heat and storms in Kuana, and from the harsh critiques of her elders. She wanted to escape spending another lonely evening staring out at this sea, wishing for something more. 

Only now did she worry she might miss Yasei.

Fishermen calling out to one another broke her reverie. She opened her eyes to the sight of their boats weaving their way between the reefs toward the shore. She waved to them but doubted they would see her. She grabbed a towel from the floor and wiped off her face and body then hung it across the window sill. 

Her dreams of escaping this small world of hers, if only for a few months, could become a reality, but first, she had to survive the trial this day would bring.

Leaving the shutters open, Iniru stepped away from the window. She crossed her ramshackle home in three bounding steps and opened the chest in the corner of the room to retrieve the garments she needed. 

“I am a spy… a thief… an assassin,” she recited without thought. 

Iniru pulled a sleeveless shirt onto her slender torso. Next came matching charcoal shorts over her wide hips. Then she adjusted the tight clothing so that it would fit comfortably over her fur.

“I am a qengai devoted to the Sacred Codex.”

Reluctantly, she stepped into a pair of thick canvas pants and cinched them tight. Given her fur and the climate she lived in, those pants were miserably hot, and she hated them fiercely. 

“I am willing to die for our cause.”

Next she slid on her thick-soled sandals and wound the cross-gartered straps up her calves. Then, over the pants, she fastened on shin and thigh guards made from hardened leather.

“I am the clouds and the wind.”

For several moments, she savored the cool breeze that drifted in. Then she slid on her long, gray canvas shirt and buckled on her padded leather breastplate.

“I am the rain and the hail.”

She laced hardened leather vambraces onto her forearms then wove her thick, auburn hair into a long braid. She raised the hood of her shirt, making sure her catlike ears poked through the cutouts, so that they could retain their full range of motion. Then she wrapped a crimson scarf around her lower face, so that only her amber eyes and the pale, downy fur around them could be seen.

“I am thunder and lightning.”

She tucked a scimitar into a loop on her belt, strapped a sheathed knife onto each leg, and slid a set of throwing spikes into compartments hidden underneath the vambraces on her forearms.

“I am the storm.”

Even though she’d lived all her life in this climate and had spent six years training in this uniform, she was already sweating. But a qengai ignored discomfort. All that mattered was the mission.

She examined herself in a hand-sized, polished-bronze mirror, the most valuable thing she owned. She was sixteen now, an adult among her people, but the face she saw was that of a frightened, lonely child.

She took a deep breath to calm the nervous fluttering in her chest and tried to look cold and fierce. Her reflection refused to cooperate. 

“And I am not ready for this,” she sighed.

Iniru sank onto the reed mat that served as her bed and dropped the scarf from her face. Then she drew a pebble from her pocket and traced a finger across the name etched onto it.

She imagined what her mother would say in her rich, soothing voice. “You’ve got the talent, Niru. And you’ve trained harder than anyone else. I promise you everyone feels this way in the beginning. It’s just nerves, my sweet girl. It’s just nerves.”

“I can do this.” Iniru clenched a fist around the smooth stone. “I swear I won’t let you down, Mom. I swear.”

Someone rapped hard on the door, so hard that the entire hovel shook.

Iniru kissed the stone and returned it to her pocket. Then she stood and looked at her face in the mirror again. “You’ve got this, Iniru. You’ve got this.”

She opened the door and there stood a grizzly, black-robed man with gray-brown fur and ears laden with rings. He was Elder Oreni, the oldest of her fathers and the first-husband of their clan’s high elder, Tarrani. 

Iniru greeted him with a bow. As always, he greeted her with a scowl.

“Do not bring shame upon me today, outcast,” he growled. “I took a big risk allowing you to remain here after…” He couldn’t bring himself to speak her mother’s name or to say what had happened.

“I will not bring shame upon you, Father.” 

Iniru couldn’t care less about Oreni’s pride or standing in their clan. All she cared about was honoring her mother and becoming a true qengai.

For the briefest of moments, a flicker of care softened his eyes, but then it was gone, and perhaps she had merely imagined it.

“Then it is time,” he said.

Though she nodded firmly, her stomach fluttered, and her heart thundered. 

“I am ready to face the Prophet now.”


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