7 min read

Storm Phase – 2

Storm Phase – 2

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

Whenever the Prophet chose a qengai for a mission, or selected a new candidate, a silver-beaked magpie would land atop a perch on a tall pole in the center of Yasei and call a name twelve times. With the exception of new candidates, an operative would depart for the Cavern of Prophecies at once.

Iniru had never met the Prophet. That was a privilege given only to qengai operatives, or those newly selected. And for that, a prospect had to reach the age of sixteen and complete their training. Iniru had passed her exams at fourteen, a full year sooner than any of her peers, and she had turned sixteen two and a half moons ago. 

For seventy-five days, Iniru had waited anxiously, and now her time had come at last. The silver-beaked magpie had called her name just before midnight. Today, she would face the Prophet. She would pass the final test. She would become a fully fledged qengai operative.

Iniru grabbed her backpack then stepped outside her hovel and followed her father down the narrow trail that led to the village proper. There were no people walking along the quaint lanes between the orderly rows of houses. No farmers in their fields nor elders tending their gardens or minding their young grandchildren. No fishermen hauling their catch from the beach. No merchants guarding their abandoned carts. No youths practicing their katas. Everyone had been ordered inside, except the sentries on the four watchtowers.

Silence accompanied them to the southern gate, save for the chimes clattering in the wind. No one spoke. No one moved. No one would honor the outcast. 

Iniru kept her head high as she marched along behind Elder Oreni. Despite her status, she was an adult now, she had passed her exams with perfect scores, she had been selected to become a qengai operative. She had worked hard for this honor, and no one could take that away from her.

Her destination, the Cavern of Prophecies, lay at the heart of Tokai Forest, centered between the nine villages of the Nine Eyes clan. Trails weaved through the dense rainforest, linking those nine villages to each other and to the cavern itself. There were other villages along the nearby coast and along the outskirts of the forest, communities of normal k’chasa doing exclusively the sorts of things normal people did — farming, fishing, crafting. They respected the qengai ways and provided material support to the Nine Eyes, but they did not follow the Sacred Codex or adhere to the teachings of the original prophet, Jujuriki Notasami. 

The journey from Yasei to the cavern took seven hours at a brisk pace with little rest along the way. A summoned qengai had to arrive by sunset on the day after the silver-beaked magpie delivered their message. Iniru would have preferred to leave at sunrise, in case something went wrong. Not that anything should go wrong. The paths were well-traversed, predators were few, and no bandit would dare set foot near the Tokai Forest for fear of qengai retribution, which would be swift and unavoidable.

Iniru had to wait until noon because that was the tradition in her village. At dawn, a newly selected qengai would be treated to a feast in their honor, attended by family, friends, and other members of the clan. They would receive blessings from the elders and from the local priestess of Ishiketa, Lady of the Forests, for whom there was a shrine in every village of the Nine Eyes and many, many others besides.

Iniru had no family and no status, so she received none of these things. She had asked her stepfather if she might leave early, but he was not one to break with tradition. Judging by the position of the sun, however, he had given her an extra half-hour. Which was better than nothing. 

Elder Oreni led Iniru out through the southern gate, and there, standing just off the trail, were two women. One short and stocky, the other tall and slender. The stocky woman had deep black fur, tinged with hints of blue and silver. Her azure robe trimmed in white hid her powerful muscles. Like Oreni, her ears were laden with rings of gold and silver to signify her bonds to her closest friends and lovers. The silver amulet etched with three interlocking spirals hanging from her neck marked her as the High Elder. The scowl on Tarrani’s face was the only expression Iniru had ever seen the woman demonstrate.

The tall woman with the slender build wore a rose-colored cloak and a loincloth and nothing else. The hood of the cloak was drawn over her head so that her features were shadowed. Her fur was golden except for a dark brown patch between her breasts. She was Ataki, the priestess of Ishiketa assigned to Yasei.

Iniru bowed at the waist with her eyes cast downward. When she rose, Tarrani stepped closer and scanned her with a deepening scowl and narrowed eyes. “You have excelled in your training, and you have caused us no troubles. The Council has taken a vote based on Elder Oreni’s recommendation. If you are approved by the Prophet, we will speak your name. If your record as an operative is exemplary for ten years, then you will no longer be an outcast. You will be welcomed into the fold with all k’chasan privileges granted to you.”

Iniru stared blankly at High Elder Tarrani for several moments, not knowing what to say, or even to think. As soon as Tarrani began to scowl, however, she bowed deeply again. “Thank you, High Elder.”

Tarrani swept away without another word, and Iniru watched her numbly, in complete shock at what had just happened. 

Iniru turned to her eldest father, who may or may not have been her birth father. She didn’t know or care, and such things mattered little in their society. “Thank you, Elder Oreni.”

His ever stern expression softened. “Make your mother proud,” he said in a low growl. Then he too stalked away.

Priestess Ataki approached. Iniru knew little about her, except that she was only a few years older than herself. She had never seen Ataki’s eyes. In public, the priestesses of Ishiketa kept their eyes shrouded and would continue to do so until their goddess returned to Okoro. 

“Kneel, my child,” Ataki said in a sweet, soothing tone.

Iniru dropped to her knees and bowed her head. Ataki placed her hands on the back of Iniru’s head and spoke a prayer in the language of the Ishiketans, a language none outside their order could understand. Then in the k’chasan tongue she said, “May the blessings of Ishiketa follow you this day and all your days to come.”

Iniru stood, and Ataki seized her in a deep embrace that sent a shiver down Iniru’s spine. It was the first kind touch she’d had since her mother had died seven years ago. And so she stood there stiffly, not knowing how to respond. 

Ataki laughed gently. “You may hug me back, Iniru,” she said warmly. Iniru returned the hug with tears in her eyes. It was also the first time she had heard her name spoken in seven years, save by the silver-beaked magpie last night.

“You should have visited the shrine, “ Ataki said. “We could have talked.”

“I was told outcasts weren’t allowed to visit the shrine.”

Ataki pulled away, her lips falling into a frown. “Cruel people enjoy lying. When you return, visit me. We will share tea.” Her lips reversed into a broad smile that showed the sharp tips of her teeth. “Go now, Iniru. Go now and find your place in the world.”

Iniru started down the path. After a minute, her ears pricked up as they caught the thin notes of Kimiki’s flute carried by the winds. She turned to see Priestess Ataki slipping back through the gate into the village. Iniru cursed herself for not thanking Ataki or for agreeing to have tea or for saying… well, anything. She could hardly be blamed for her lack in social skills. But maybe those skills would be better if High Elder Tarrani hadn’t lied to her about not being allowed to visit the shrine.

“Tarrani would have punished me for visiting the shrine anyway,” Iniru muttered, and she continued on the path.

Iniru had trained hard to be the best qengai she could be and to honor her mother. She had never thought or even dared to dream that she would be reinstated as a full member of the clan. She thought on it for a while then discarded the idea. Tarrani might change her mind, and who would decide what constituted an exemplary record? Tarrani, who despised her? The Council that had at last shown her some leniency? 

It didn’t matter. Iniru had more important, more immediate things to worry about. She would take comfort in her skills and the idea that if she returned, she would have someone to talk to. That thought and the memory of Ataki’s warm embrace sent another shiver up her spine. 

Half an hour later, Iniru crested a ridge. From this point on, the village would no longer be visible. She paused for a moment to take in the sight of Yasei’s walls, watchtowers, and thatched roofs, and her house which was little more than a dark speck atop the high outcrop near the sea. This might be the last time she saw this place — if the Prophet found her lacking or if she died on her first mission. At the least, it was the last time she would see Yasei for some time — weeks, months, maybe even years. A qengai’s assignments could take decades if required, though that was rare. 

She took a deep breath and waited, expecting to feel something for the place she had called home all her life, but instead she felt nothing. One act of kindness from Elder Oreni and a single loving embrace from Ataki could hardly make up for all the years she had suffered alone in Yasei. 

From her pocket, she took the stone with her mother’s name etched into it and kissed its surface. “I swear I will make you proud.” 

Then with the storm clouds nearing the shore and the wind whipping through the treetops, Iniru hurried off down the path into Tokai Forest.


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