Gathering Clouds, Chapter 19

  • Chapter 19





                           ‘This place reeks,’ Ambarro coughed, waving his hands in front of his face. His boots squished on something and his face contorted in disgust.


                    ‘It is a sewer, Ambarro-to,’ Diia replied, her nose wrinkled. ‘With any luck we will be out of this mess by sunrise.’


                    ‘Keep your voices down,’ Harrow said, swallowing hard. His sense of smell was less sensitive, and even then he had to fight the urge to gag. ‘The curvature of the walls means that they conduct sound very well. It is not likely that our target can hear us yet, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.’


                    ‘It’s going to take months to get this stink off my tunic,’ Ambarro moaned. ‘What kind of serial killer hides in a sewer?’


                    ‘The kind that doesn’t want to be found? Sewer systems are generally quite complex. And be thankful that we’re not here during the wet season. At least we don’t have to wade through muck.’


                    ‘Catching criminals is a job for the guardsmen or the Imperial Legion. Shouldn’t Shadeclaws be called in for more important targets?’


                    ‘We’re not Shadeclaws yet, dunce,’ Harrow reminded him. ‘We should be grateful for these low-priority targets; they are excellent learning opportunities. Besides, the Imperial Legion is still recovering from the Great War. They are severely understaffed right now, and have to deal with border skirmishes in multiple provinces. I would not be surprised if Tsukikage received more requests like this.’


                    ‘You’d think that they could handle some random killer,’ Ambarro grumbled, stepping over a foul-smelling puddle.


                    ‘Normally yes, Ambarro-to, but this is no ordinary murderer. Reports say that the bodies were so mutilated-’


                    Harrow held up a closed fist and Diia fell silent. Narrowing their eyes, the kits lowered their stances and prepared to draw their weapons.


                    After a brief moment, Harrow relaxed and took his hand off the hilt of his katana. ‘It’s our backup.’


                    Three figures dropped from the ceiling, one of them splashing into the puddle Ambarro had just stepped over. It swore.


                    ‘What the-’


                    ‘Brilliant landing, Tom,’ Io laughed. ‘You picked the only wet spot.’


                    Tom glared at Ambarro, who bit his lip as he kept his face straight. Almost twelve years I’ve known him and every time I hear his name I wonder what his parents were thinking naming him Tom.


                    Shiyo made a face at the rancid air, then bowed. ‘Lovely place, isn’t it? It’s good to see you, Harrow-jo. You too, Diia-rei, Ambarro-do.’


                    Ambarro scoffed inwardly. Harrow? A ‘jo’? Pfft. Even referring to him as ‘dar’ is pushing it.


                    Io and Tom bowed at Harrow too, which rankled him further.


                    ‘I understand that you have been selected as captain for this mission, Harrow-jo,’ Io said. Not through any choice of mine, Ambarro thought, resisting the urge to say it out loud. ‘My team will follow your lead. Shiyo, Tom, fall in.’


                    Harrow returned the bow. ‘Your help is much appreciated, Io-dar. You have received our report at the dead drop, I trust?’


                    Io nodded. ‘Five victims over the last two months. The killer is growing bold. He or she is most probably insane, which will make tracking easier. To be honest, I find it a little redundant that six shinobi are being assigned to this mission. We may still be kits, but I’m sure a single unit will be able to handle one target, especially an unguarded, cornered one.’


                    ‘There are speculations that the target may possess supernatural abilities,’ Diia said. ‘One victim’s remains were scattered over a distance of half a mile. It took almost two weeks to recover all of the pieces.’


                    ‘Hmm,’ Tom tapped his chin. ‘Are we sure we’re dealing with a sentient being here?’


                    ‘The attacks were premediated,’ Harrow answered, motioning for the group to move forwards. ‘All victims were murdered while isolated and at night, suggesting a high level of intelligence.’


                    ‘Ambarro-to managed to track the scent of the latest victim to this portion of the sewers,’ Diia continued. ‘We believe the target is close.’


                    Shiyo looked at Ambarro appraisingly. ‘You managed to catch a scent trail in this stench? Impressive.’


                    ‘I’m good and I know it,’ Ambarro grinned. Harrow rolled his eyes. ‘So we ready to move?’


                    The kits proceeded down the sewers in the standard shinobi ‘search’ formation, with Ambarro at the front, Harrow and Diia scanning the left flank, Tom and Io scanning the right flank, and Shiyo at the rear. Light from the sewer grilles quickly faded as they ventured more deeply into the piping, and soon the kits were navigating the maze solely by feeling the air currents.


                    After almost half an hour of walking, Shiyo’s nose perked up and he took a few sniffs. ‘Even I can make it out now,’ he murmured, his voice now so low that even an elf or a Khajiit wouldn’t be able to hear him from more than ten feet. ‘Blood and… something deeper.’


                    ‘Bile,’ Ambarro said in the same tone, pointing at an opening in the wall. ‘That’s where it’s coming from.’


                    ‘Drainage chamber,’ Harrow grimaced. ‘Of all the places to hide… are there no other entrances?’


                    Diia and Tom spread out to the sides, checking the wall. ‘Don’t think so.’


                    ‘All right,’ Harrow breathed. ‘We infiltrate on my mark.’


                    ‘Alive or dead, captain?’ Io asked, unsheathing a katana and a wakizashi from his waist.


                    ‘Mission request is for the killer to be apprehended alive, if possible. I intend to kill if the target becomes a threat, however.’


                    ‘Understood,’ Shiyo said grimly, slipping a kunai into his hand. Diia and Ambarro drew their own kunai as well.


                    Harrow produced his katana, then motioned for the kits to head into the chamber. It was dimly lit with only a couple of torch sconces on either side of the entrance.


                    No one here, Tom gestured with shinobi hand signs. Scent all over place.


                    Continue search, Harrow signalled back. Drainage chamber large.


                    Anything? Diia gestured at Ambarro.


                    Set strobe ovaries, he replied. Shiyo raised an eyebrow at him and he faltered. How did the hand signs go again?


                    Scent… stronger… over there, he tried again, pointing to the southernmost corner of the drainage chamber, where no light reached at all. Harrow nodded, then spread all five fingers out and bent his wrist in a steep angle. The kits entered a net formation and closed in.


                    A voice hissed at them from the darkness, startling them. Harrow quickly composed himself, though. Very stealthy of him. Whoever this killer is, he’s either extremely well-trained or possesses some form of magical concealment. Either way, he’s trouble.


                    ‘I smelled you from at least a mile away. Knew it was a matter of time before somebody tried to do something. Well, congratulations. You found me…’


                    There was a flicker of flint and steel, and a torch guttered to life. The kits’ eyes quickly adjusted to the sudden light, and they stared.


                    He was just an old man, thin as bones, a dirt-encrusted beard drooping from his chin. His clothes were so ragged he might as well have been naked, and his brown feet were bare. His voice was the one thing that didn’t match his image. It was strong and hearty, that of a man a third his age.


                    ‘Children?’ Their target looked just as astonished as they were. ‘After all that, the city-folk send beggar children to do their job?’


                    ‘Hey!’ Ambarro shouted, incensed. ‘Who’re you calling beggar? What do you think you look like?’


                    ‘Such a pity,’ the old man shook his head, murmuring. ‘Such a pity… such a pity. Still so young. So fresh. But I have to let it out. It burns inside, it screams. It screams.’


                    The shinobi tensed, their grip on their weapons tightening. None of them quite expected what came next, though Ambarro was beginning to back away as a new smell reached his nostrils. If murder had a scent...


                    ‘IT SCREAMS FOR MEAT!’ Their target let out a feral howl and fell to his knees. There was the sound of tearing flesh and his muscles started to bulge, twisting under his skin like fat snakes. Fur began to run up his arms, legs and chest. His jaw burst from his face, growing into a snout. By the time he dropped to all fours, the emaciated old man had grown at least five times in size. He raised his head and snarled, thick drool dripping from his maw.


                    ‘Werewolf!’ Diia yelped, flinging a dozen senbon at the beast. Ambarro added a couple of his own shuriken. It didn’t even appear to notice them.


                    Harrow inhaled, exhaled, and sent a crackling stream of lightning running through the werewolf’s skull. It growled and swivelled to glare at him with beady yellow eyes. Well, that got his attention.


                    He began to regret doing so almost instantly. The werewolf barrelled straight for him, foaming at the mouth. Ducking, the young elf rolled under the charge and slashed upwards with his katana. Did he even feel that? The werewolf slid to a stop at the other end of the room, blood pouring from a gash in its thigh. It didn’t seem affected by the wound at all.


                    Io rushed forwards at the creature’s exposed left flank, stabbing with both of his blades. The katana punctured the beast’s shoulder, and the wakizashi lodged between two of its ribs. Yowling, the werewolf batted him with a paw, sending him flying across the chamber. There was a nasty crack.


                    ‘Io!’ Shiyo shouted, channelling a steady burst of freezing Magicka from his hands. The werewolf’s feet froze to the ground. Gritting his teeth, the black-spotted Po’ Tun closed his fist and thrust it upwards. The thin sheet of ice covering the werewolf’s rear paws exploded upwards into spikes. It shrieked and toppled over, flailing.


                    Diia flitted to the front and dug her kunai into its eye, but before she could thrust her other dagger into the throat, the werewolf’s struggling threw her off. She lost her balance for a brief second, and in the chaos, the beast’s elbow snapped upwards in its thrashing and caught her in the chin. Her teeth clacked together and her vision swam as she skidded to the other end of the room. Groaning, she got to her feet. Both her kunai were gone.


                    ‘You’ve bought us some time,’ Harrow said, never taking his eyes off the werewolf. ‘But Io is already down. We should count ourselves lucky that he hasn’t gotten us with his claws or teeth yet.’


                    ‘Io…’ Tom bit his lip, looking worried. ‘That thing is impossible to take head-on.’


                    ‘Agreed,’ Diia massaged her chin. ‘And frontal assaults aren’t the shinobi way in the first place. What weaknesses does a werewolf have?’


                    ‘We don’t have silver,’ Harrow said, thinking furiously. ‘We don’t have the specific alchemical oils to coat our weapons with, either. A werewolf does have roughly bipedal physiology…’


                    The werewolf forced itself back up, renewed hate in its one good eye.


                    ‘Diia, right elbow. Shiyo, left elbow. Ambarro, right knee. Tom, left knee. I will keep its attention.’ With that, Harrow shot a bolt of lightning at Diia’s kunai, still stuck in the werewolf’s left eye, sending an extra spasm through its body. The current should’ve run right through the brain. Any normal animal would at least be stunned unconscious by now. Instead, the werewolf reared to full height and bore down on him, spittle flying from its mouth as it roared.


                    For the second time, Harrow had an instant to regret choosing the role of bait. Then the werewolf was upon him, a towering monstrosity of fangs, fur, and claws twenty times bigger than the ones on his comrades. Those claws would have split him open from collarbone to pelvis if he hadn’t thrown himself to the side at the last moment. Stopping his fall with one hand, Harrow bounded upright and loosed another lightning bolt at the werewolf’s kidneys – or at least where he guessed its kidneys were. It roared again, more shrilly this time, and arched its back.


                    Shiyo took that opportunity to plunge his kunai into the crook of the werewolf’s elbow. Frowning in concentration, he worked the blade until he located the distal tendon, then severed it with an audible twang. The werewolf’s arm fell dead to the side, and Shiyo leapt away before it could bring its head around and bite.


                    Ambarro took his place at the werewolf’s back, his kunai burrowing into the side of its knee. With a grunt of effort, he wedged the dagger deep into the joint and pushed outwards with all his strength. There was a loud pop as the werewolf’s kneecap snapped off. Ambarro grinned with satisfaction, then yelled in pain as the beast’s claws raked him across the arm.


                    ‘Ambarro-to!’ Diia cried, rushing forward. She ducked under one swing – the werewolf was getting slower and less accurate with one leg disabled – and grabbed Io’s wakizashi, yanking it free with a wet squelch. She brought the blade up and buried it again into the werewolf’s biceps. Somehow it still managed to move its arm, pulling the wakizashi out of Diia’s hand and throwing her off her feet. It swung at her again, while she was still airborne. Harrow stopped the blow by placing his katana squarely in the path of the giant, gnarled paw. The werewolf twisted and ripped the sword from his grip, then swiped at him instead. He avoided the attack by flipping backwards.


                    Diia looked at Harrow, who returned her alarmed gaze. They were both directly at the front of the werewolf, and their battle had turned their positions around so that they were the ones with their backs to the wall. And now neither of them had a weapon.


                    Tom chose that moment to strike, a kama and the attached kusari-fundo rattling in his hands. He slid between the werewolf’s legs and pitched the sickle into the back of its left knee, then carried the fundo in one hand and clambered up the beast’s back using the wakizashi in its arm. Then he wrapped the chain around its neck, snout, and the katana in its paw, and barely somersaulted off in time.


                    The werewolf roared for one last time and heaved as it collapsed on its side, the chains pressing into its throat, choking it. It pulled with its sole functioning limb, trying to get the metal links off its arm and neck.


                    Even a troll could have seen what it was actually doing to itself and stopped, but the werewolf was pure, blind animal rage. It yanked, stretched, tore and strained, tightening the chains, and the more they tightened, the more it pulled, powerful muscles rippling. Then its vertebrae gave and with a resounding snap, the werewolf was still, having broken its own neck.


                    The kits stared at the motionless body for a while, breathing heavily.


                    ‘Well,’ Ambarro said, one white, glowing hand on his arm mending his lacerations. ‘That was bracing.’


                    Io had been knocked out cold by the force of the werewolf’s blow, but after a quick healing, he was more embarrassed than hurt. Diia had a heavy bruise on her chin, but was otherwise fine. Ambarro’s cuts had been disinfected and stopped bleeding. Even though the surface was still raw and red, they were well on their way to healing fully. All the other kits had gone through the fight relatively unscathed. They breathed in the clear morning air, glad to be out of the sewers.


                    ‘The target was a werewolf,’ Harrow said, rubbing his forehead and arms. They felt slightly numbed. You’d think that after all my practice, I’d have built up a better synaptic link to Magicka. I suppose some things do only come with age. ‘We should have been more thorough in gathering intelligence.’


                    ‘That’s a good lesson to learn,’ a voice came from nowhere. The kits almost jumped out of their skins. ‘Here’s another one – always be aware of your surroundings, even after a heavy battle. Shinobi aren't the only ones with the advantage of stealth.’


                    After a brief moment of shock, Ambarro grinned and turned. ‘Uncle Jorra! How did you do that? Even I couldn’t smell you coming!’


                    Harrow was also pleasantly surprised. ‘Hello, Jorra. I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.’


                    Diia and the rest greeted Jorra formally, bowing deep with their hands to the sides.


                    ‘What brings you here, Jorra-jo?’ Tom asked, cocking his head to one side. ‘Usually our debriefing is held back at the Grandmaster’s office.’


                    ‘Your mission took longer than we assumed, so the Council sent me to retrieve you. We have a schedule to catch, kits. You are expected back at Tsukikage in two days.’




                    ‘Well, you all turn thirteen this year, don’t you? Ambarro already did so last month.’


                    Taking his meaning, Shiyo’s eyes widened. ‘It’s time.’


                    Ambarro blinked. ‘Time for what?’


                    ‘I see,’ Diia nodded. ‘I hope I’m ready.’


                    ‘Ready for what?’


                    ‘The brewing and the preparations are complete. All the other kits have finished their assignments and are standing by in the village. It’s just you six left now. Let’s hurry.’


                    ‘Preparations for what? Standing by for what?’ Ambarro bellowed, frustrated.


                    Harrow looked at him with a pitying expression. ‘Really, dunce? Really?’


                    Ambarro was on the verge of pulling out his kunai when Diia laid a placating hand on his shoulder. ‘Rendanshu, Ambarro-to. It’s time for our first flask.’











10 Comments   |   Karver the Lorc and 7 others like this.
  • Caladran
    Caladran   ·  November 7, 2018
    Yay, Harrow as a captain! I'm glad Io didn't die! Phew!  :)
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  March 11, 2018
    LOL, Tom. :)
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  January 12, 2017
    That was a fight worth waiting for. The colossal size and sheer power of the beast v's tactics and cunning... I'm pleased to see the mention of silver and a big congrats for choosing to ignore such weapons; not like those sniveling cowardly swines. For to...  more
    • The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      That was a fight worth waiting for. The colossal size and sheer power of the beast v's tactics and cunning... I'm pleased to see the mention of silver and a big congrats for choosing to ignore such weapons; not like those sniveling cowardly swines. For to...  more
        ·  January 12, 2017
      The kits would've readily used silver weapons if they brought them along. Shinobi are all about exploiting weaknesses, after all. Not having silver simply made sense for the story, as the Shadeclaws don't deal with werebeasts or undead very often.
      • Sotek
        The Sunflower Manual
        The Sunflower Manual
        The Sunflower Manual
        The kits would've readily used silver weapons if they brought them along. Shinobi are all about exploiting weaknesses, after all. Not having silver simply made sense for the story, as the Shadeclaws don't deal with werebeasts or undead very often.
          ·  January 12, 2017
        That's the benefit of being prepared for the foe. It fits well with the fact that they knew little of what they faced.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  January 8, 2017
    Nice chapter, Harrow. A werewolf. Good to see the kits made it out in one piece. 
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  January 7, 2017
    The irony that the dog was killed by cats... and an Elf.
    • The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      The irony that the dog was killed by cats... and an Elf.
        ·  January 7, 2017
      Hah! I didn't even notice that as I wrote.
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  January 7, 2017
    " Almost twelve years I’ve known him and every time I hear his name I wonder what his parents were thinking naming him  Tom."...well, thank you very much.... xD

    And werewolf. I like how you portrayed the sheer brutal force a...  more
    • The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      " Almost twelve years I’ve known him and every time I hear his name I wonder what his parents were thinking naming him  Tom."...well, thank you very much.... xD

      And werewolf. I like how you portrayed the sheer brutal force and rage of the wer...  more
        ·  January 7, 2017
      No disrespect intended to anyone named Tom, of course (though it is a remarkably bori- I mean, a remarkably homely name). Almost all Po' Tun go by Eastern Akaviri names.