It was January 8th. The alien ship had been hovering in our skies for a full day now, ignoring all communications. It wasn’t in a geosynchronous orbit, though, so it had drifted away from Domina and was now somewhere over New York. But still, it was an unspeakable danger to anyone and everyone. Nothing could be left to chance.
So, we trained.
Another two of my kensei collapsed, the exhaustion of constant sword practice too much for them. From my perspective, they appeared to go from normal speed to moving in slow motion, taking minutes to fall to the ground.
I continued going through the forms with the remainder, until two more fell. That left only four left, out of a group of twenty. I wiped the sweat from my forehead, then motioned for everyone to stop. I made sure to wait until they had all turned off their speed until I did the same.
“Drink,” I said, pointing at a table filled with sports drinks. “Rest. We’ll start again soon.”
Everyone groaned, but reluctantly filed over to the table. I stayed back and let them go first. I needed to present a strong front and not look like I was taking advantage of my position. Besides, I wasn’t as tired as them. Overusing your power didn’t quite exhaust you physically, but it did exhaust you. Drain your reservoir too much, too fast, and it would regenerate slower.
We had also discovered that a reservoir would regenerate faster if you were well-rested and healthier. Between the speed training and the sword training, my kensei would be regenerating at a trickle soon. The drinks would help, but part of the point of this exercise was to push them to their very limits.
I didn’t push too hard, though. My own training had been harsh, and I remembered the nights I had lain awake dreaming of killing my instructor. I would prefer my kensei didn’t think of me that way. Some of the more advanced kensei took on the role of harsher teacher when necessary.
Thankfully, it rarely was. All of my students were tough, driven people. The truly lazy rarely survived long in Domina City, and the ones not up to par had given up shortly after I formed the kensei in the first place. I was left with a group of sharp blades, the best weapons I could ask for.
I looked down at the sword in my hand. It was a bokken, a wooden practice sword. I had been using it to practice and instruct, but it wasn’t a real weapon. I needed a new one soon. Flynn had promised a ‘surprise,’ which I was dreading a little bit. I wasn’t good at receiving gifts. I never knew what to say.
Just as I was about to order my kensei back to practice, the door to the gym opened and a crowd of ‘sarians walked in. They were dressed in simple exercise clothes, and there was a familiar face leading them.
“Adam,” I said in surprise. I walked over to him and met him halfway. “I thought you were still in New York.”
He smiled. “Came back today. There’s only so long I can listen to my parents freaking out.”
“Over the aliens, or Domina?”
I rolled my eyes. I knew a thing or two about problematic parents. “What about Lily? Did she stay?”
“She’s coming back with the ambassadors tomorrow.”
I frowned. “Are they leaving anyone behind?”
“Maybe. The changelings mentioned something about it, which made the fey say they were going to leave a few homunculi…” He sighed. “Politics. Not fun.” He shook his head to clear it. “Anyway. You’re training for the aliens?”
“The para, they’re called,” I said. “Derek heard it—”
“From Silk, I know,” he said. “Lily heard it from her, too.”
I raised an eyebrow. “She visited Lily?”
He pursed his lips. “That’s… her secret. Let’s just go with sort of for now.” He forced a smile onto his face. “But I didn’t come here to talk your ear off.” He jerked a thumb at the Necessarians behind him. “I was wondering if my boys could train with yours.”
I looked past him. The ‘sarians were an eclectic bunch, as always, with roughly equal numbers of each culture represented. I even saw a few that I thought were feyborn, but it was hard to say. No dragons, though.
A few of them in the back had large duffle bags that they had set on the ground. Those most be their famous backpacks.
“Your CS squads?” I asked.
He nodded. “I figured it was a good idea. Your kensei are one of the biggest guilds in the city. They’ll be on the front lines of any fighting.”
“Yes,” I said, looking at him curiously. “That’s why I’m training them. What’s your point?”
He smirked ruefully. “My point is that we don’t know what these para are capable of. They might have powers, or counter-song.”
I blinked in surprise. I honestly hadn’t considered that. No, more than that—it literally had not occurred to me. I had just assumed that powers were completely unique to Domina. I couldn’t remember if Silk said anything about aliens having powers. Probably not.
Finally, I nodded. “Fair. Good training for both groups.” I tapped my sword hilt against my chin. “The devices are not single-target.”
Adam frowned for a second, but then his face cleared. “Ah, I see—you want to have them pair off with the kensei, see if the kensei can practice disabling the devices. That’s not an option, like you said. One CS device will cover this whole room. I think we’ll have to split them into teams.”
I nodded. “Good. Prepare your men.” I turned and walked back over to my kensei.
It didn’t take long to set everything up. Adam and I had similar training styles; Derek had called in some of our old teachers to help Adam, back in the beginning. We had both done team exercises like this before, though never against another guild.
Were the CS squads a guild? They didn’t have any unifying power, just the opposite. Ah, whatever.
The first battle proved embarrassing for both sides. My kensei were almost useless without their powers, with one or two exceptions—most of them had never touched a sword before they got their speed. The CS squads, on the other hand, weren’t used to fighting against a coordinated force, and it showed. They circled up, backs to each other, like they were fighting animals. A few kensei got inside and did quite a bit of simulated damage before they were taken out.
Eventually, Adam called a stop. His boys had won, but they didn’t look like it. Half of them were out, and the survivors had their eyes down. They knew that they had messed up pretty badly. My kensei looked even worse. They stood in a line, straight-backed but not looking at anything, just waiting for punishment.
Before I could figure out what to say, the door opened again and Flynn poked his head in. He glanced at the two groups. “Is this a bad time?”
“No,” I said. I nodded to Adam, and he nodded in turn. He’d cover yelling at both groups.
I walked over to Flynn and stepped outside with him, into one of the identical hallways of NHQ. I smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “What is it?”
He grinned. “It’s done.”
I frowned. “What are you—” My eyes went wide. “The sword?”
He nodded and picked up a long, thin box that he had left next to the door. He held it out to me with both hands. “Here. Open it.”
I hesitated, but slowly reached out and lifted the top off the box. Inside, nestled in red velvet was a beautiful katana that seemed to shine in the light. It had a subtle curve to the blade and a very small guard above the hilt, which was wrapped in a silk braid. The silk was red as blood—or, more accurately, as red as the Akiyama name.
Hesitantly, I reached in and gripped the hilt. After a deep breath, I pulled the sword out in a single motion. The grip fit my hand perfectly, and the blade seemed to sing. Just a tiny bit, but I knew it was there.
“It’s wonderful,” I whispered. I adjusted my grip—still perfect.
“I was inspired by your stories of the Unmei no Kazi,” Flynn said.
I raised an eyebrow. “You went to Japan to dig up my family’s ancestral blade?” The name was based on the Akiyama family motto. Well, one of them. ‘You cannot question the winds of fate.’ Definitely one of the more pretentious ones.
He chuckled. “Well, now I feel inadequate. No, I didn’t do that. I wouldn’t have known where to start looking. I just meant I thought you should have a sword that would last. Something you could give to your children.”
My heart skipped a beat, but he didn’t seem to notice the implications. “I don’t know what to say.”
He winced a little. “Well… don’t praise me just yet. I wanted to let you name it yourself, but Elrond insisted.”
I frowned. “Elrond.”
“Yes, the guy who thinks he’s an elf. But he really is an excellent swordsmith, so he made this. Or, her, rather.” He nodded to the blade.
I held it up in front of me. I hadn’t been able to see before with the light shining off it, but it had an inscription.
“Corvus Reginae,” I said.
“Elrond said it means ‘Queen of Ravens.’” Flynn shrugged, a little uncomfortable. “I have no idea if that’s accurate. My Latin class got attacked by dumpster dogs. But it certainly sounds good, right?”
I smiled. “It’s perfect. Thank you.” I pulled the sheathe from the box. It was plain black, except for a single long red line that ran along its entire length like a spine. Simple and elegant. I liked it.
Flynn smiled back. “I didn’t understand everything Elrond said, but the entire sword is made out of that amorphous metal stuff. It’s practically unbreakable, and shouldn’t need to be sharpened. Rust attacks will still kill it, though, so stay away from Elizabeth and anyone with that same power.”
I nodded. That was fair. From what Laura had told me about the way that power worked, anything would be susceptible to it. It wasn’t even rust, it was some sort of general-purpose decay. There were a few of them scattered around the city. I’d try to memorize their names and faces.
“It’s non-magnetic,” Flynn said. “No idea how that works, but there it is. That will make it immune to some of the kytons, but not all of them. Most of them don’t use magnetism, they use kinesis, which is…” He noticed the bored look on my face, and moved on. “Anyway. The point is that this will work against almost anything. With your speed, you could probably cut through a tank.”
I smiled. “I think I’ll avoid that. Don’t want to damage it.”
“I honestly don’t think that will be an issue. He used his power to passively enhance the blade during the forging process. He has a weird ability to—you’re right, not important. The point is, it’s very strong.”
I smiled, then waved the blade through the air again. “I swear I can hear it singing. Hungry for blood?”
He nodded, but looked a little uncomfortable.
I frowned. “What?”
He hesitated. “Elrond… did some impractical things while he was forging it. Her. Whatever. Uh, do you want me to refer to the sword as a person, or—”
“Flynn,” I said tiredly.
“Right. Well. Elrond…” He took a deep breath. “He used some of Elizabeth’s blood. Don’t ask me how he got it, I have no idea. But he integrated it into the blade. Maybe just used it for cooling. But… yeah.” He trailed off.
I stared. “What?”
“He seemed to think it would help.”
I brushed my hair back. My hand fixed my ribbon on automatic. “I think I need to meet this ‘Elrond.’ Soon.”
Flynn sighed. “I thought you might say that. I should warn you, though. He’s… odd.”
I smirked. “Crazy.”
“Yes,” Flynn said glumly. “Half the days he thinks he’s in a fantasy world, with dragons and elves and dwarves.”
“We have dragons now.”
“Don’t remind me. This freaking city…” He shook his head. “I’ll take you to him if you want, but I think you’ll regret it. I doubt you’ll get anything more useful than a headache out of the meeting.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
“Fair enough. Can’t say I didn’t warn you.” He forced a smile on his face. “Anyway, let’s get back inside. You have a class to teach—assuming they haven’t killed Adam and escaped by now.”
I smiled as well and opened the door.
Inside, everyone was on the ground groaning. A few of the CS devices were smashed and one sword was embedded in a wall, but for the most part the destruction was minimal. A few people were curled up into balls, but most were just lying on their backs or their faces, too tired to move.
Adam stood by the table, nonchalantly sipping a sports drink.
“Hey,” he said with a smile. “That a new sword?”
Behind the Scenes (scene 317)
One of the oddities of the guilds is that they are more interested in what you do than how you do it. So both magnetism manipulators and metallokinetics are welcome in the kytons, just as all types of fliers are welcome in Robyn’s guild.