The land of The Dead.
A gray fog hung over the land of the dead. It carried whispers off the waves as they crashed upon the shore of a small rock of an island. A small boat bobbed up and down on the water where a lone raven sat looking out at the barren landscape. It ruffled its feathers against a chill wind as it watched the figure on the beach, waiting for any sign of consciousness.
The raven made no noise, but it's head turned sharply to the side when several figures began to emerge from the fog. They had the appearance of seven shadows with no distinguished features, but they moved with purpose toward the unmoving newcomer.
The wind made more noise than these shades as they closed in. No warning in their approach except a sly whisper from one to the next.
'we have waited so long…'
'And now it is your soul at my mercy, Amrae Vitali.'
The one who spoke last knelt down and slowly reached out toward her. Long fingers uncurled like a spider and paused a moment over its victim.
'Kill her!' Urged one of the others.
'Kill her? She's already dead." Another pointed out.
"Kill her again!"
'We could try anyway.'
The raven blinked and started to preen its feathers.
"Shh!" The one nearest her ordered. 'There are things worse than death,' it hissed. 'There is greater torture to be had in the after life than any mortal flesh could endure. And she…She has taken everything from us. We will see that she suffers."
The hand reached for Amrae's neck and had nearly closed on it when her eyes opened. The shadow man jumped back like it had been physically burned.
Amrae glared up at the shades. She had the expression of one who has been rudely awakened from a pleasantly quiet nap. And now here were, literally, the ghosts of her past coming back to haunt her.
"You again." She sprang to her feet with a quickness that none of the shades expected. "couldn't defeat me in life so you thought you'd have another go?" She laughed. "This should be fun."
For a few seconds the shades seemed cowed by this display, but then the lead one stepped forward again.
'In life you defeated us one at a time,' it spoke, 'now we will see how you fair against us all."
"Sword masters," Amrae huffed as she took a defensive stance against the black horde. "It's always about winning with you, isn't it? Allow me to teach you a lesson in humility." Amrae was not sure how she was going to do this against the lot of them. She was just a spirit in the land of the dead. No weapons. No way of knowing how to fend them off. But she'd be damned if she let them get the better of her now.
"Well, come on," she said. Her nerves were beginning to betray her as the ghosts of the sword masters simply stood around her in their circle. "Whose first? Or did you all want to go down together this time?"
The shades heads turned from one to the other, and their leader gave a nod. Each one raised its hand out toward Amrae, who stood trapped in the center.
'You will pay, Amrae Vitali,' said the leader. Amrae found that she could not move. They were using all their energy to keep her frozen in their claws.
'You will burn.' Said one.
'You will bleed,' said another.
'You will feel,' said the first, 'everything that we have felt.'
Amrae felt a sharp pain course through her. The more she fought to gain control, the stronger it became, and a part of her began to wonder if this was the point in her saga at which she gave in to the darkness. Odd, in her mind she'd always imagined herself putting up a bigger fight.
She felt the skin on her arms begin to burn as though they were being held up to a flame. At the same time she felt a blade twist in her gut, and another one pierce her back. She understood now. They were inflicting the pains of their own deaths onto her. The deaths that she had brought them so many years ago. In hindsight, she had never been terribly merciful.
Just as her sight was growing foggy amidst the circle of her persecutors, something happened to make them lose their hold on her. She dropped, twitching to the ground and only saw a pair of moss green boots step in front of her before she lost consciousness.
"I declare this land my own and all its inhabitants shall be my servants!" Ida finished making a flag out of some curtains and tried to jam it into the floor of the jail.
"Well I was gonna welcome ya back, kid," said Danten. "But I've suddenly thought better of it. Where have you been?"
Ida ceased his assault on the floor tile. "Been? Me?" He asked. "Where have you been? Hiding in this cozy little inn with Russel while I take on the mission by myself. That's where. I have been face to face with The Guardian himself. And I…" He paused as he recalled how that had gone. "I sure showed him a lesson he won't soon forget."
Russel was hanging back near the door with Duncan.
"So really he's not so bad," Russel explained. "I mean, he's not that great, but he's no demon. Actually," he lowered his voice, "the thing is, he's not right in the head. There was this terrible accident when he younger and," he sighed dramatically, "he hasn't been right since."
Duncan looked from Russel to Ida, who was now trying to sharpen the end of his makeshift flagpole with a butter knife. "He does seem a little confused," he acknowledged. "But the empress is really strict when it comes to the hall of the prophets. If he's pleading insanity he'll have to do it in front of the jury."
"Did you now?" Said Danten. "Well that's just…that's just…" For once he was at a loss for words. Confused by this new experience, he looked away from Ida to the duo by the door. "And what about you?" He asked Duncan. "I don't suppose you plan to hang about like so without giving us your grand introduction."
"Eh? I am Duncan," said Duncan, successfully pulling everyone's attention toward him. Even Ida stopped what he was doing to narrow his eyes at the man who'd tossed him out of the hall of the prophets. "Champion elect of Elderest."
Duncan took a moment to proudly soak up their attention while the others went silent.
"Champion elect?" Danten asked.
"Ahem," Duncan cleared his throat as though preparing to recite something, as indeed he was. "In the absence of a champion the people shall elect one of their own by their own means. We do a popular vote." He grinned. "I'm popular."
"That so?" Said Danten. "Well I can hardly argue with the power of the popular vote. You must be fairly good with a blade."
"In theory," said Duncan. "Although personally I don't think violence is the answer to injustice. Wouldn't want to go down the same route as the last champion." He laughed like this was some sporting good joke, and then stopped when he realized that no one else was joining in. "Anyway, I should probably go…tend to that hall." He was just about to leave when Danten spoke.
"Ida dabbles in sword play too, don't ya lad?" He patted Ida on the shoulder while giving a shove toward Duncan. "Noth'n fancy but he's got a good wrist. What would you say to a friendly match?"
"What now?" Said Ida as he cast a glare back at Danten. The man didn't offer an explanation so he focused on Duncan. Far be it from a sword master to turn down a fight.
Duncan hesitated. "I don't know," he said, "I wouldn't want to hurt the little guy-"
"Oh ha! Him?" Danten laughed. "He'll survive. And he could use the lessons if you know what I mean. Go on then. A true champion aides the weak."
"Well…as long as it's a friendly match," Duncan immediately brightened up. "Alright. To the courtyard I say! I think the empress could use a good show after today." Duncan started walking and Ida followed looking genuinely confused and a little insulted. Russel had watched all this with the intent to keep out of it, but he couldn't help speak up when Danten passed him.
"What are you doing?" He asked.
"What?" Asked Danten.
"Something about that seemed kind of.."
Danten had that spark of mischief in his eye again. "Champion elect," he scoffed. "We'll see how the champion elect fairs against the likes of Ida." He chuckled and walked out after them. "Oh if only Amrae were here to see it."
Russel stayed where he was. He didn't need to partake in this needless little display, Right? The others could go dig themselves in deeper. But him? He could just keep his head low and get off this rock as soon as possible…
With a sad sigh he hung his head and followed after them.