Part 1

Chapter 1: The Life-Bond


Makani's foot landed in the stomach of one attacker with a satisfying, if slightly squishy, thunk. He used the momentum to twist around in midair, bringing his sword around to smash into the blade of the man behind him.

Or it would have if the bandit hadn't stepped back in anticipation of the move.

Having planned his fall with the opposing force of the dodging bandit, Makani was now left hanging in the air. He tried to twist and regain his feet and his balance, but the surprise had made him hesitate, and he landed instead on one knee, an unexpected rock just under the knee cap.

With a noise that was part howl and part pain, Makani fell the rest of the way forward, his sword flying away as one attacker kicked his hand.

Cursing silently, Makani rolled onto his back, planning to leap to his feet. That plan was also ruined as another robber placed a foot on his throat and began to push down.

"Going somewhere?" he asked as Makani groped for breath—and for his knife.

He pulled the dagger out of its sheath, ready to stab it into the fleshy part of his attacker's leg when—


—the robber wobbled on his feet and collapsed to the ground.

Hearing a few more poping noises Makani glanced around only to find that the rest of his attackers were either falling or running away. "Rinji?" he asked, although none of his blood had spilled, so how—

"I've saved your life," said an unknown voice. A man stepped out of the shadows, his hair pale and long, his eyes deep-set and his nose almost pointy enough to be dangerous. He was holding a pistol loosely in one hand, the smallest amount of smoke still visible as it drifted from the gun's barrel.

Not Rinji, then. "That's arguable," Makani said. He'd had it under control—mostly. And at that point it had only been a matter of time until Rinji appeared.

The stranger grunted. "I saved your life, and now you must repay the favor." His voice had the solemn sound of a ritual. "A life saved is a life owed."

"Oh, no," Makani said, feeling the faint tingle of a life-debt bond on the edges of his nerves. "You didn't save me, and I—"

"The magic seems to think otherwise," the stranger pointed out.

Makani's hands turned into fists, but the man was correct; the spell wouldn't be settling in if Makani didn't think it was true, too. "I'm on a quest," he spat, still trying to deny the inevitable as the tingle turned into an itch.

"Now you're on mine instead," said the stranger, sliding his pistol into its holster.

Makani wanted to argue further, but the itch of the bond setting in was growing stronger. Soon Makani was glad that he was still on the ground—it saved him the indignity of collapsing onto it. Cursing through his teeth, Makani rolled onto his stomach, panting and trying not to vomit. The sensation slowly faded, leaving only a faint tug in the direction of his 'savior.'

"I am Canute," the stranger said, watching silently as Makani struggled to his feet.

"Makani," Makani replied, seeing no point in denying his—his captor his name. He carefully tried to put weight on his damaged knee. It held, but just barely, and Makani quickly shifted off of it again. If only I'd got a cut instead, he thought, limping to pick up his sword and other belongings.

"You're one of the fey," Canute said, catching sight of Makani's ear through the fall of his hair.

"You're one of the observant," Makani replied, feeling no need to be polite to this foreigner who'd just ruined his quest.

"I never thought I'd see a fey," said Canute, tipping his head to one side in consideration. "I thought your ears would be bigger; are you only half-fey?"

"Two quarters," Makani corrected with a grunt—both his parent's had been half-fey, which meant that Makani had little more than funny-shaped ears and an ability to see in the dark. "You'll have to give me a minute," he added, sitting down beside his pack and rifling through it for some bandages and pain-killers. If only Rinji had come… If only. Makani had a lot of that right then.

"Here," Canute said, offering Makani a pair of tiny white pills. "Aspirin," he clarified.

Makani considered the kindness and its source for a moment before snatching the pills away. His pain wouldn't appreciate the snub, even if his pride would. "Thanks," he grunted as he opened his water bottle and swallowed the medication.

"Least I could do, since we're traveling together now," Canute said.

Makani ignored him in favor of pulling out some bandages Rinji had enchanted awhile back and wrapping them around his knee. They'd help with the healing, and with the pain. That taken care of, Makani stood and limped his way to the bodies of the fallen, searching them for anything of value. There wasn't much; the bandits had almost nothing beyond rags and swords. I'll probably never know how they almost got the better of me, Makani decided as he stooped to check the last body. This one had a few painkillers and a love-letter which Makani threw down in disgust. "Isheld," he said, holding a hand out, palm-down. "Ivanin normayce viestae." He flipped his hand over on the last word, and the bodies burst into blue flames for an instant, vanishing quickly without sound or scent. When the flames died a moment later there was nothing left of them but a few bloodstains on the grass.

"Clearly you've some of your ancestor's powers," Canute murmured in quiet approval.

"There's more than one path to magic," Makani replied, not wishing to explain the intricacies of human magic verses fey magic to a foreigner—or to anyone for that matter. He walked back towards his bag, pleased that he barely even limped. He'd need to thank Rinji next time he appeared. "Where are we going?" Makani asked, folding his arms.

"Ladydid," Canute said.

It was north and east when Makani wanted to go north and west, but the North Road was still the beginning, so Makani shouldered his bag and set off towards the road.


"We don't have to be enemies," Canute said after an hour of walking in silence.

"Well, it's too late for us to be friends," Makani said.

"What sort of a quest were you on?" Canute asked.

"Look," Makani said, turning to face him. "I'm not interested in talking. If you wanted a traveling companion you should have saved someone else. I'm only here until I can save your life."

"I did save your life," Canute pointed out, as if that made a difference.

"No," Makani said, "what you did was force me into a life-bond that I did not want, thus ruining any chance I might have had of finishing my own quest in a timely manner."

"It's your fey blood that made the bond magic," Canute said, sounding a bit sulky.

"No," Makani said shortly, spinning around so that he was inside Canute's personal space. "It's not. My ancestry may have made the bond stronger, but you're still the asshole who invoked the spell."

"I thought this country was honorable about upholding debts," Canute said, "and that's why the bond was put in place to begin with."

Makani laughed bitterly. "That was the idea," he said. "But if we all honored our debts we wouldn't need to be magically forced into it, now would we?"

"You could at least be grateful that I did save you," Canute grumbled.

Makani laughed bitterly. "If I hadn't been fully capable of saving myself, maybe," he said. If Rinji had arrived he wouldn't exactly have been saving himself, but Makani already owed Rinji everything and nothing, and bit more either way wouldn't have mattered.

"Then next time I shall simply leave you to save yourself," Canute said.

"You had damn well better," Makani snapped, wishing fervently that he could end Canute's life rather than save it. He spun back around and continued walking down the road.

"Where were you headed?" Canute asked, although Makani didn't know why he wanted to continue the conversation.

"Vista," Makani snapped, although his true destination lay far beyond that fair city. He took another step and cursed, pain shooting up his leg from where the magic in the bandage suddenly wore off. "Shit, shitshitshit. Shit," he added for good measure, sitting down on the uncomfortable edge of a rock. Magic bandages were wonderful until the spells ended. "Ow," he said, beginning to repeat that word as he searched his sack for a second bandage. "Owowowowow-ow."

"Can I help?" Canute asked, stepping closer.

"Stay the fuck away from me!" Makani snapped, raising an arm to fend him off. "It's your fault."

"How is it my fault you hurt your knee?" Canute asked, but at least he stayed back.

Rather than explaining Rinji and his illegal healing abilities, Makani focused on getting the new bandage in place, sighing in relief as it started to work its magic. He carefully rolled up the old one and stowed it in his pack again before standing slowly and flexing his knee.

"I thought healing magic was forbidden," Canute said, watching Makani.

Makani snorted. "That's the sort of ignorant stupidity I'd expect of a foreigner." He turned his back to Canute and started once again down the North Road.


Makani went through another two bandages before they stopped for the night, when he applied a salve and a different sort of healing pad, hoping that his knee would be better before he used all six remaining bandages. The spells would last longer as his knee healed, of course, but if Makani judged the damage correctly, he'd need more than six bandages before they reached Ladydid—unless Rinji showed up.

Makani slept fitfully that night, his knee aching despite the painkillers and the magic. The next day started with rain and then merely went downhill from there, Makani doing nothing to improve it; saying nothing to his forced companion save snarls and grunts as they walked. Canute eventually stopped trying to have a conversation until that evening when they were settling in for the second night together, when he said, "maybe you'll have better luck trying to save me tomorrow," and would have received a fire-brand in the eye for it, if the life-bond hadn't prevented Makani from seriously harming him.

His knee barely hurt as he re-bandaged it that night, and Makani was pleased to admit (if only to himself) that he was wrong about how damaged it had been. With two bandages left, and another night of the healing pad to look forward to, Makani was feeling nearly optimistic about his chances of being fully healed before they reached Ladydid.

And wouldn't Rinji be proud to learn Makani'd healed all on his own?

Curling up in his sleeping bag, Makani settled his knee as best he could and thought about Rinji, Canute and the likelihood of finding more bandits in this forest.

Half-way through a comfortable dream, Makani was awoken by a soft shift in the air. Sitting up to look around, Makani saw an unnatural glow around Canute, and a sitting child hovering over his chest. The child, naked and genderless, had hair longer than it was tall—or would have, had it been standing. The hair was as black as midnight, its skin as pale as the moon, and when it opened its eyes as if in a reverse blink, Makani saw nothing but the stars reflected inside.

"Shit," Makani said, staring at the floating child. He didn't get much of a chance to study it, because there was another shift in the air, and suddenly their campsite was surrounded by men wearing shadowy gray, their heads and faces covered in cloth and long shining silver swords in their hands.

"Shit," Makani said again, slipping out of his sleeping bag and drawing his sword.

The men advanced upon Canute, not even noticing Makani, who would have happily allowed them to kill Canute, if it hadn't been for the life-bond. Makani flowed across the campsite, removing the head of one of the ninjas as he passed. The others reacted to him then, changing the shape of their shrinking circle to include Makani.

"I can't let you kill him," Makani said, hoping that his voice showed the proper amount of regret at that statement.

The ninjas didn't respond, the circle twisting around Makani almost as if they were dancing.

He darted forward and stabbed at one, cutting but not killing. It stepped back and the circle closed in. Whispering a few words, Makani summoned a fireball into his off-hand, tossing it at one ninja's head, and causing him to withdraw from the circle as well, although he didn't make a noise.

"Dedicated to silence, I suppose," Makani muttered. He threw another fireball and the circle closed in again.

Finally the ninjas were close enough to properly cross swords with, and Makani did so, bringing his own into play with a clang that sounded loud enough to wake the dead—although Canute did not even shift. Twisting and dancing, Makani avoided the swords of his enemies, knocking them back with his own. Seeing a break in the circle, Makani made for it, cutting off the limb of a ninja as he passed. That left only four of them, the wounded having disappeared entirely.

Crouching as he spun back around, and wincing at the strain that put on his knee, Makani sliced open the gut of the closest ninja, leaving three, who advanced without caution or emotion. His sword went up to catch a downward swing, the shock traveling down his arms to his shoulders. While their weapons were joined, Makani spoke a single word, sending fire up his blade and down the other, where it caught the ninja's clothing on fire. The ninja silently but hurriedly left the fight, stumbling backwards and rolling to try and put out his clothing.

No time to watch, Makani directed the force released from the ninja's departure to the side and chopped the next ninja in such a way that Makani's sword should have been lodged in a hipbone, which was really stupid now that he thought about it, but the ninja dodged at the last second and Makani simply grazed him.

Adjusting the momentum of his swing, Makani's sword went up and around, twisting forward as he stepped around the ninja's sword thrust, and the second-to-last ninja went down with Makani's blade through his heart.

"One left," Makani said, repositioning his grip on his sword.

The ninja said nothing, raised its sword and ran at Makani.

Makani stepped to the side, stuck out a foot and stabbed the ninja in the back after he sprawled on his face in the dirt.

The blood on his sword was dark in the moonlight as Makani held the weapon to the side and went to wake Canute. The strange glow and stranger child were gone, so Makani kicked Canute in the side.

"I've saved your life, release me," Makani snapped as Canute's eyes fluttered open.

"Saved me from what?" Canute muttered sleepily, "a pleasant dream?" He sat up and looked around the campsite. "What do you plan to do with that sword?" he asked.

"I defended you from the ninjas," Makani replied, waving his sword in the air, "I'm not about to sheathe it before I've cleaned it."

"What ninjas?" Canute asked, looking around a bit more carefully.

"Those nin-" Makani began, gesturing at the nearest corpse—except there wasn't a corpse there. He looked at his sword and muttered curses when he saw the blade was as clean as it had ever been. "Who the fuck are you that someone would send smoke-summons after you?" Makani snapped, grabbing a handful of Canute's shirt in his empty hand and pulling him close.

"What's a smoke-summon?" Canute asked, his eyes narrowing.

Makani dropped his shirt. "The things I fought tonight," he said, gesturing around at the campsite. "Someone must really want you dead to summon shit like that after you."

Canute snorted. "I think it's sad that you'd stoop to making up something like this, Makani."

It was Makani's eyes which narrowed this time. "I didn't make this up," he said, a dangerous edge to his voice.

"Then where's the proof?" Canute asked, covering a yawn. "If you've nothing to show, then I'm just going to go back to sleep," he added, laying back down and pulling up his sleeping bag. "Maybe you can actually save me in the morning."

Makani stood staring at him, his hands clenching and unclenching as he fought against the life-bond for the right to kill the man lying at his feet.

The bond won at last, and Makani stormed back to his own sleeping bag, wishing vainly for a door to slam.


Makani's knee was sore the next morning, but it was mild enough that the bandage he put on it lasted all day—or he didn't notice when the magic wore off. The same couldn't be said of the rest of him, which strenuously protested his late-night fighting 'practice.' If only I had a full-body bandage—or Rinji, Makani thought. Either would make him feel infinitely better, and both would heal.

"Don't stumble here on the cliff," Canute called over his shoulder. "I don't want to save your life a second time before you get a chance to save mine."

Makani bit his tongue. That asshole's rescue and immediate death would also go a long way towards making me feel better, he thought, but it wasn't to be. Canute was as light on his feet as a billy-goat, and as graceful in the woods as a shadow.

There's always a chance of bandits, Makani decided, eyes scanning the trees for an ambush. He wasn't going to call Canute's attention to one, but the advanced warning would still be nice. Sadly, the trees moved only in the slight wind, and no one lurked between their trunks.

The rest of the day passed in silence.

There were more ninjas that night—more smoke-summons.

They were a bit more adept as well, splitting up so that half went to attack Makani and half to deal with a sleeping Canute, who had the creepy androgynous child hovering over him once more.

Cursing because Canute's death before Makani's payment of the life-debt would mean a world of pain for him, Makani ran forward, called up a bit of wind-power and leapt over the heads of the approaching ninja.

They immediately turned to follow him, but by then Makani was standing near Canute's sleeping form, trading blows with the closest of the ninja. Having started with air, Makani decided to continue with it and with a few soft words called an invisible sword to his hand, which would block but not cut. Using the new blade to stop the swing of the ninja's latest attack, Makani thrust his real sword forward and through the ninja's ribs, cutting outward through his chest and into the next ninja's sword.

Caught off-guard at this ninja's strength, Makani stumbled back a few steps, until his heels bumped against Canute's side. "Wake up," he muttered, sparing a moment to glance down at the man. Canute showed no signs of movement—or even of life—but the child was gone.

Focusing on the battle, Makani shoved his air-blade into the ninja's stomach, driving him back as if he'd been punched. The ninja stumbled on a root, and Makani cut half-way through his neck as he fell.

A crouch and a spin and another ninja went down, allowing for a leap and a kick, which took care of another. Landing on the shoulders of a third, Makani smashed the hilt of his sword into the ninja's skull, hearing the bone crunch as he threw himself off the falling body.

He tumbled when he hit the ground, small pebbles digging into his back, but not enough to do more than irritate. He rolled to his feet again in time to stop a blade from piercing Canute's heart, the wind-blade making a reappearance to break the ninja's wrist and cause him to drop the sword. Makani shoved him back into another ninja and stepped over Canute to take care of them both.

But a third ninja appeared to the side then, cutting with his sword too quickly for Makani to dodge entirely.

"Shit," Makani hissed at the sting from the cut, his blood arching through the air like a macabre rain until it fell softly upon the dirt a few steps away. Makani couldn't stop to appreciate the image, having fumbled the dispatch of the two ninjas in front of him, and now facing a third on his right.

Pressing forward, he slipped between their collective two blades in a movement that probably shouldn't have worked. Turning back quickly he managed to slit the throat of one, and take out the eye of the one with the broken-wrist on the backswing.

He barely twisted in time to block the last ninja's blade with his air-sword, and was about to bring his real sword around to gut him when the ninja jerked and slumped slowly to the ground.

"Need a hand?" Rinji asked, smiling over the fading smoke-summon at their feet.

"Nice of you to finally show up," Makani said, shaking a few beads of smoky blood off his sword before sheathing it.

Rinji laughed. "You could pretend to be happy to see me," he said, grabbing the front of Makani's shirt and hauling him close. "I know you missed me." The words fluttered against Makani's lips because Rinji only teased until Makani broke—not that it ever took long.

True to form, Makani shifted upwards that tiny bit necessary to close the kiss. Makani pressed closer, wrapping his arms around as much of Rinji as he could reach—until Rinji's hand brushed the cut on his shoulder and caused him to gasp in pain.

"You're hurt!" Rinji cried, pulling away.

"Well, you're here, aren't you?" Makani grumbled.

"Hmm, yes I am," Rinji agreed, sliding his hand into the tear in Makani's shirt. He ran his hand over the wound, and Makani could feel the warmth of the healing magic emanating from where Rinji touched him. "Don't you think summoning ninjas was a bit extreme?"

"I didn't summon them," Makani said. "I tried that, remember? It didn't work."

"Made some new enemies, then, have you?" Rinji asked, cleaning the blood off Makani's shirt.

"Funny," Makani said with a sneer. "They aren't after me."

"But they attacked you," Rinji pointed out, raising an eyebrow.

Makani nodded to where Canute still lay sleeping. "That asshole forced me into a life-bond, so I had to defend him."

"Poor baby," Rinji said, "Forced into showing gratitude."

Makani punched him in the arm. "Could you kill him for me? Or pretend to kill him so I can save him?"

Rinji tsked. "You know I'm bound to you."

"Then I can't finish our quest until someone tries to kill him," Makani said.

"What about the smoke-summons? Haven't you saved him from them?"

"You'd think," Makani said, "but sadly he doesn't seem to believe that they exist, and so the magic remains in balance."

"I wouldn't worry," Rinji said. "If he's got smoke-ninjas after him, I'm sure his other enemies can't be far behind."

"One can only hope," Makani agreed. "May wind and water favor them."

Sighing fondly, Rinji settled his long frame down next to the fire and beckoned for Makani to sit next to him. Makani winced when his knee bent, and Rinji was suddenly looming over him. "You're still hurt?"

"I damaged my knee in the fight where Canute—" he spat the name like it was poison "—'saved' me. It was a hell of a bruise, but no blood; so you weren't summoned."

"Hmm," Rinji said, nudging Makani onto his back and inspecting his knee.

Canute hadn't been wrong when he'd mentioned healing-magic being banned. Low-level spells were still permitted, but any spell higher than the bandages Rinji made was highly suspect—or outright illegal. It had been this way since the church had gained power over a century ago, and then used that power to "rebalance" the scales of magic, declaring blood-magic and lust-magic evil in the process.

Healing-magic was blood-magic, which left even the most charitable of healers regarded as a near-criminal who was only a step away from summoning demons.

Demons like Rinji, who was a highly-illegal blood-summon, also known as a blood-elemental.

Or demons like Makani's elemental-summons grandparents.

Having spent all of his life around the fey, Makani hadn't thought much about the church's declarations when he found his grandmother's books about summoning higher-level elementals. Or perhaps he had thought about them, and that was why he'd spent a year studying and preparing for the spell to summon a blood-elemental who would protect and heal when needed.

Rinji had been the result, and Makani wouldn't change that for anything, but for the number of mistakes with the spell, Makani often found himself wishing he'd spent more than one year learning how to cast it.

The worst error was that Rinji only appeared when Makani's blood was spilled unwillingly, which meant that he always had a chance to use his innate healing ability.

"It doesn't look that bad," Rinji said, prodding Makani's kneecap with his fingers but not healing it.

"I've been using those bandages you made me," Makani said, grimacing when Rinji poked a sore point. "They're almost all gone now."

"Hmm." Rinji pressed a lingering kiss to the inside of Makani's knee, heat spreading from his lips as the area healed. "I'll have to rebalance the bandages." He placed soft kisses along the inside of Makani's thigh. "But we don't have much time before dawn."

Another mistake in the spell casting—Rinji remained only until the next dawn before being unsummoned.

"Oh, yes," Makani breathed, his legs falling farther apart as Rinji's kisses traveled higher.

"He's not going to wake up, is he?" Rinji asked, just before reaching the goal.

It took Makani a moment to figure out who he was referring to. "No, no, that demon-child puts him to sleep."

"Demon-child?" Rinji repeated, sitting up.

Makani cursed his timing in bringing it up, and settled into a more decorous position to explain everything that had been going on over the last few days.

"You're 'demon-child' is a half-summoned lust-spell," Rinji said. "Probably from a powerful illegal curse set on your new friend."

"I feel like I should be more surprised than I am," Makani said. "Do you think it's related to the smoke-summons?"

Rinji considered. "Probably not," he said at last. "A moon-curse is unlikely to cast a sun-spell. But its presence no doubt allows the true sender to find him every night, and it clearly keeps him sleeping while the ninjas attack. More than that I can't say yet."

"So I'll probably be saving him every night?" Makani asked with a humorless laugh.

Rinji nodded. "I'm sorry," he said, reaching out to brush his fingers along Makani's cheek. "It might mean we get to see each other more."

"You'll still vanish at dawn," Makani said.

"You'll figure something out," Rinji replied. He grabbed Makani's hand and tugged him towards his sleeping bag. "Let's get what sleep we can, shall we?"

Makani nodded and the two curled up together, the stars watching quietly overhead.


There were few things in life more dissatisfying than falling asleep in Rinji's arms only to wake up alone. An asshole banging pots together and shouting "rise and shine" was certainly one of them.

"I'm awake, you sonofabitch," Makani snapped, slogging wearily to his feet. An hour or two of sleep after an hour's intense combat was not nearly enough, even if it started with Rinji.

"Cranky, are we?" Canute asked, setting the pans down. "Did you fight more invisible ninjas last night?"

Makani growled, staggering to his feet and off into the woods for a few moments of peace.

When he returned to the campsite, Canute had breakfast going, and Makani sat down near the fire, watching silently until he was handed a plate of food. Picking at it morosely, Makani asked, "What exactly is your quest?"

"Thought you didn't want to be friends," Canute said.

"I don't," Makani replied. "But I would like to know what we're doing once we get to Ladydid, and how likely it is I'll get to save your worthless ass between here and there." There was also a chance that Canute's quest would explain Canute's curse—or the ninjas.

Canute smirked. "I thought you'd already saved me from—what was it?—dust-ninjas?"

"Smoke-ninjas," Makani corrected. "I'd happily let them kill you, if it wouldn't hurt me to do so."

"So they did come again last night?" Canute asked, nearly laughing. "Did the little half-fey have bad dweems again?" he asked in a voice people generally reserved for speaking to babies.

"Every so often I think about not killing you once I've saved you," Makani said with a smile that was all teeth. "Then you turn into an asshole again and I change my mind."

"That's not much incentive for me to put my life on the line, you know," Canute said.

"I ought to be rewarded for saving your life every time you open your mouth."

Canute laughed as though it were a joke.

"What are we going to do in Ladydid?" Makani asked again.

"I have to deliver a package to a certain lady," Canute replied.

"That's all?" Makani demanded, putting the rest of his breakfast aside and glaring at the foreigner.

Canute shrugged. "I've been told that it has magical properties, and that carrying it would be dangerous, but so far all I've met with is a mouthy half-fey and his delusions of ninjas."

Makani was much too angry to reply and his curiosity burned to a crisp in the face of his rage. The silence lasted as they packed up the campsite and got back on the road.

Although all his various aches and pains had been fixed by Rinji, Makani was still exhausted from fighting the last two nights and he trailed behind Canute, who seemed to enjoy tormenting Makani for their decreased pace.

'Seemed to.' Ha!

"Come on, fey-boy!" Canute called over his shoulder. "If you don't pick up the pace we'll never get to Ladydid, and then you'll never return to your quest."

Makani sent a breath of wind that caused Canute to stumble. "Woah," he said, "I had better be more careful; you're way too far behind to save me from a fall."

Hands itching to send a fireball after the wind, Makani didn't answer.

Similar comments were said throughout the day, and Makani wondered if he should take up lust-magic after his perseverance in the face of such temptation. And if Makani were a lust-mage, surely the life-bond would be able to read his emotions and thus would have dissolved long ago because it could see how often Canute's mouth put his life in danger.

Not, of course, that life-bonds were set up to work like that.

"You know," Canute said as they settled around the fire that night to wait for their food to cook, "this stoic and silent warrior-thing simply doesn't work for you; you don't have the brows for it. I keep expecting you to be cheerful because your face is simply not brooding enough."

"Well," said Makani, "maybe you shouldn't rely only on what you see."

"You're right!" Canute said, gesturing with his fork, "there could be invisible ninjas hiding in the trees even now." He laughed. "Good thing I have you here to protect me from the unseen, hey?"

Makani sneered in a way that might have passed as a smile and lapsed back into silence.

There were more ninjas that night. Their numbers were lower than the night before, but they were slightly more skilled, as was typical with spells of that nature. Makani was tired despite the few hours of sleep he'd gotten before the attack, but he still managed to dispose of every ninja without getting a scratch himself. "Guess they were lucky last night," he muttered to himself, snuggling back into his sleeping bag. He was pleased to have killed them all so easily, but it would have been nice to see Rinji again.

If only spilling my own blood would summon him. If that were the case, Makani would happily slit his own wrists knowing that Rinji would be there to heal them.


Author's Note of DOOOOM:

This story has been giving me troubles galore. It's not so much writer's block as a general disgust and irritation with what I've written so far. I feel like my characters are too...inconsistent, and my setting is too...actually, no, I rather like the setting. But I came at the magic system obliquely, so I feel like it's maybe a bit too complicated, and there's a few characters that are trying to take over the damn story... I could go on.

But I won't. I'll spare you. For now.

Basically what I'm saying is that I need your help. If you agree that any of the above are true--or you see anything else wrong with this story--PLEASE POINT IT OUT. If ever there was a story I will not take offense at a criticism of, this is that story.

Also, if you disagree with anything that I've suggested I'd love to hear that, too. All comments, positive, negative, or positive-negative, will help me keep up my enthusiasm from writing.

And this goes for every single extra-long chapter of this bloody thing.

So yeah. A preemptive thanks for any reviews I'll be getting, and I hope you enjoyed chapter one of Equipoise.