Chapter Six: Katayagi, Part Three
He was stifled. He could feel the hot stone floor printed into his back. The young Shichi gripped tightly to the hem of his shirt as the pain from his pinned legs ate into his nerves. The fire around him was spreading, the building collapsing further and further. Above him, dark smog clouds were beginning to cover the last of the setting daylight.
Leave him! He's Katayagi!
Was that what it meant to be a Katayagi? He thought he could change the value of his name. But after all the years, it was the same. He was not Shichi. He was Katayagi. Perhaps if his family line died with him, the curse of being a Katayagi would die too.
He looked down to the wooden beam that had pinned his legs and glanced left to the fire that was slowly encroaching. His legs weren't broken or fractured, simply pinned. He could call for help. There was a chance to survive. But maybe he shouldn't. Maybe it was best if his family line ended with him. His parents would miss him, sure. But the world wouldn't. And what kind of selfish person would he be to deny a good deed for the world? They might even hold a parade to celebrate the end of the Katayagi line.
"Maybe I should die..." he muttered to himself.
A wooden spear dropped beside him and he angled his head and saw dark eyes staring at him. Looking down on him was a man. Hair shadowed and wild. Black coat, shirt, pants and boots covered his body. Yet, the man's skin was bright and fair, like someone who had not left the shade for years.
"Katayagi this. Katayagi that." The man spat. "Annoying kids."
"A-are you here to save me?" Shichi asked.
"Nope." The man left the spear on the floor and took a seat on a neighbouring chair that had not yet been burnt. From his coat, he pulled out a roll of smoke and lit it with a flame from the burning surrounding. "You're going to save yourself."
Shichi huffed in pain. "The other kids... that you ran into... are they safe?" He could tell the man was strong. No one could keep that much calm in such dangerous situations without confidence in their strength.
"Don't know. An unspawn was attacking them last I saw."
"You didn't save them?"
"Why?" Shichi exclaimed. "Why save me and not them?"
"I'm not saving you. You are."
"They were kids!" He was furious. Lives, snuffed out by the choice of one man.
"So are you," the man replied, taking drags of his smoke.
"There's just one of me!"
"They were pricks."
"They could change!"
"So could you."
Shichi gritted his teeth. The fire was spreading closer. There was a possibility the other kids were still alive. If he could get there in time, his magic might give them a fighting chance. He picked up the spear and shoved the tip under the beam at an angle. He shifted what he could of his body and positioned it slightly under the spear handle. With two hands on the pole, he pushed, leveraging the weight of the beam against the spear.
"Argh!" he grunted and spat. He could feel the pressure lifting off his legs. The beam was almost glued to his pants and it pulled apart like adhesive. Once freed, he pushed his body out while holding onto the weight of the beam by the spear. Apart from his jail, he let the spear go and the beam crashed to the ground.
He was out. He was alive. Panting. It started raining, building from drizzling to a downpour quickly as droplets sizzled through the burning house. He turned to the man glared.
"What?" the man cocked an eye as his smoke was put out by the rain. "If you want to fight me, I'll take it. But you'll be wasting time."
Shichi coughed. Black fumes were rising from the fires being extinguished. He could not stay there any longer even if he wanted to. He took the spear and using a blast of magic, broke off part of the handle so the weapon would fit his young size.
He escaped the building and left the dark man to his own devices. Following the road to where the evacuation was taking place, he ran into the kids that had left him, cornered in an alleyway. The unspawn was a small creature, likely a leftover as the stronger ones had already penetrated the walls of the castle grounds. The creature was humanoid in form but had four 'arms' that sprouted from where the head should be. The raindrops that pattered off its near transparent form waved light around it.
"Hey!" Shichi yelled.
The creature turned and he held the spear forward. Arcs of electricity extended from his body, reaching and jumping from water droplet to water droplet. The puddle at his feet danced in shock.
The room was dimly lit by beams of light that filtered through the steel grilled windows. He stared at the dusty brightness as his eyes adjusted to waking up. The back of his head was still ringing and he could feel the stinging pain from where he was hit.
He looked at his body to assess the damage. It seemed he was not hurt additionally to the blow to his head. His wrists were locked in iron cuffs but his legs were left free. Whoever captured him does not expect him to be able to run. His right forearm had an additional stone bracelet over where his magic circuits were. He recognized it immediately as a cryststone, the raw form that crystals and cryst wires were made of. They drained seither from their surroundings. In this case, it drained the energy from his circuits, leaving them empty. But that was fine. He had an ace up his sleeves.
"What about the family?" He heard a heavy voice said.
"We couldn't get to them, boss." He recognized the second tone as the female who attacked him. "There was this photomancer chick firing off at us."
"Well, that's fine. We can circle back on them once the heat dies down," the boss replied. Shichi smiled. It seemed the kidnappers had a run-in with Four and she had held her grounds and protected his family.
His head was still aching but he finally calmed down enough to check his surroundings. He was lying in a small cage barely enough to fit him squatting, all kept within what looked to be a small warehouse. Around him, dozens of cages were lined in aisles. They were stacked in columns of twos and threes from what he could see opposite and he assumed the same for his his side. Soon, his anger took over the nagging headache as he crossed stares with the people stuck as prisoners around him, each staring at him with hungry, hopeless eyes. Some were malnutrition to point of skin and bones. Others were lying within their confinement, unmoving, and Shichi could only hope they were still alive.
"What about the Katayagi? We found that Spellblade badge. He could be more trouble than he's worth," the male slaver that took him said.
The boss replied, "To think the king would let a Katayagi into his school. That's geared. No worries, though. We've got those cryststone cuffs. Costs a fortune, but worth every pence."
Each mage, with enough training, eventually learns specialities in their abilities. Some light mage learned to heal, others to create illusion. For an electromancer like Shichi, most go the way of learning to produce the much more powerful positive charges. For himself, he decided something more utility-based. Magnetism.
And his training paid off when he heard the click of his handcuffs unlocking, the simple skeleton lock crumbs to his years of practice. He took another minute to unlock the slightly tougher cryststone bracelet. He kept both the bracelet and cuffs on, though free of their locks. He looked to the cage which was also secured by a basic skeleton lock. He unlocked that as well.
By that time, his neighbouring prisoners realized something was happening and he raised a finger to his lips to signal silence. Those around him nodded.
"Well, would you look at that." Shichi turned to see the group of slavers approaching around the corner. The boss said, "Look who's awake?"
Shichi backed into a kneel in the cramp space, glaring at the legs of his approaching oppressor. He counted three slavers. The male, the female, and the boss.
The male squatted down before the cage, pushing his face against the grill as if encroaching on the home of a helpless rabbit. "We're going to make good money from you. There are people who would love to get their hands on you."
"What do you mean?" Shichi asked, taking the time to charge up a spell.
The boss spoke, though never getting on his knees like his lackey. "You humans with your short lives will never understand this. The elves lives for hundreds of years. Many of them still remember what Suho did. Some of them were even there. They'd pay a fortune to get the chance to... have their ways with you."
The male slaver gripped the grill and grinned through. "But maybe after I've had a go."
Shichi broke free of his bindings to the wiping of the slaver's grin. He hit the slaver's fingers with his palm, smashing them against the metal bars and felt the bones being crushed from the impact. The slaver yelled and Shichi dived forward, tackling open the cage gate. The boss looked on, shocked, as the did the female beside him.
Shichi felt the energy building up within his body. With a roar, he unleashed the stored energy in his body, pushing out a blast of electrical energy groundwards and out, sending the slavers flying back. However, the energy blast shocked the cages around him and some of the prisoners yelled out in pain.
"Damn!" he cursed. He needed to be careful. There were too many people around him for large area of effects attacks. But now that he was out, he could redirect his attacks with much more precision.
The male slaver lackey was out cold and the boss was grovelling on the ground, holding an injured and bleeding shin. The female hume got to her feet and pulled out a dagger from a sheathe at her back. Though bleeding from a head wound, she stood still enough to face Shichi. It seemed none of them were mages, which was an advantage for him, combat wise.
"How?" she yelled. "We had a cryststone on you!"
"You should have splurged on two." He held up his left arm and showed a second set of magic circuits lighting up. "One in ten chance of a person having two circuits. Even kids know that."
"Truth!" he heard a young voice echoed. There were kids there. His resolve tightened.
"You piece of shit!"
"Says the slaver."
She charged, swinging the dagger wildly before her. It was an easy to read attack filled with desperation, though the strikes came in clean directions with each cut. He dodged them all, stepping back a step at a time as he charged another spell. Once he was ready, he sidestepped and tripped her shin. The slaver staggered and he set a hand on her back. Releasing his magic, he sent a debilitating shock through her body and the woman dropped to the ground, twitching in paralysis.
He had not noticed it till then, but he was panting. His heart was beating. Even though they trained for combat, it never took the edge away from the adrenaline of having to fight for his life.
After catching his breath, he turned to the nearest other prisoner and said, "Don't worry. I'll get you all out."
The prisoner smiled. Then, his eyes widened and Shichi knew it was coming. He spun on his feet to meet the attack but it was too late. The flaming fist of a new slaver, a female elven mage, hit him square in the chest and sent him flying onto his back from the force.
As he laid on the floor, he mentally berated himself for not realizing there was a fourth slaver sooner. It would take a mage to properly attach the cryststone to his arm and none of the previous three were mages. He should have realized his fourth opponent sooner.
It was not a particularly strong attack which made him think the pyromancer was not particularly skilled. But he was still stirring from being knocked out, and the blow at the back of his head had started banging against his brain again. He held a hand to his chest. His shirt was burnt through, and he could feel his skin seared bloody. There was too much pain shooting throughout his nerves to pull together a recovery.
The female mage glared at him. "I remember when I got the news that my uncle had been killed in the war."
He coughed. "So you ca-kaff-capture people for slavery now?"
Her hands were still burning with magical flames. She raised her fist. "Reason all you want, but I'm going to make the world a better place when I kill you. I'll be a hero."
Behind her, the door to the warehouse busted opened. She spun to the entrance as city guards flooded in, each with swords and crossbows drawn at the ready. The slaver was shocked, but apparently smart enough to know she was overwhelmed. She extinguished her flames and held her hands above her head in defeat as the guards rushed forward and arrested her.
Shichi breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm fine! If anybody is asking," he snidely yelled, dropping his head back to the ground in fatigue.
"Nobody's asking." Four approached and squatted next to him, a lopped grin on her face. "You look terrible." She placed a hand on his burnt chest and began healing him.
A wave of tension released from him as the magic patched up the burnt skin. She was still new with the healing arts and it would likely leave a mark, but he quite honestly did not care much about the optics, so long as he was physically fit.
He asked, "How did you find me?"
"Dolf Hiteler," she explained, eyes focused on the wound. "He saw you being dragged off and followed you here before reporting to the guards. Says you're now even. Also, you still owe me lunch."
Author's Note: Hi everyone. Thank you for reading Tearha: Deck of Clover. This story will be serialising throughout 2017, updating every Friday. If you like what you've read so far, and would like to support my writing, you can buy one of my books at my website. Or you could check out my Patreon to help out for the long run. Of course, just sharing, commenting, and reviewing helps a bunch as well!
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