Mercy Killing 5: The Dragonslayer Of Mitakihara
The clash of steel on steel. Encouraging, certainly, if the latter wasn't her armour being struck repeatedly. Was the Vanus's weapon even steel? Pure magic was more like it, probably, but that wasn't her problem right now. Yelling somewhere, near or far, probably some sort of comment on her stance. Ah, if only she could make it out.
The dragonslayer of Mitakihara steadies herself, whirling her double-bladed sword about as a sort of makeshift shield to deflect the next blow. Stylish as it was, sometimes she caught herself wishing Sanbey gave her something easier to use. Well, no matter. Couldn't complain. A true hero made do with whatever she had on hand.
“You seem rather proud of yourself”, Mitsuko comments from the other side of the whirling blades, “for an Eversor wide open to an attack”.
In retrospect, she really should have moved, but the novelty of the spinning guard took her attention for a little while, when she finally got it right, that she had entirely neglected her feet. What a senseless waste of her speed. Four shots of burning light to her shins leave her crumpling to the ground, and Mitsuko closes in for the...
Kill? She wouldn't kill. Surely she wouldn't. She would. Of course she would. It was an important lesson.
But the dragonslayer of Mitakihara is undaunted, even as she crumples to her feet. Strength and courage, this much she has more than enough of. Far from flinching from the final strike, she raises her weapon and scores a deep, gouging blow, her sparring partner's blood spattering across the wooden floor of the training hall, and on her own face. As though she had confused the sword for a spear, she jams it further into the wound before swinging downwards, dashing the Vanus against the ground.
The realisation hits her at the same time that the sound of cracking bones reaches her ears. Panicking, she drops the staff – no longer weighed down by her opponent – and runs forward, immediately nauseous at the sight of the blood, and doing her best to hold onto some measure of consciousness. Bending down, she reaches for Mitsuko's hand to pull the fallen Vanus back onto her feet. Surely there was something around here. Something that she could use to tend to this wound-
The faint, icy smile is the first thing she sees, but far from the first she hears. The click is followed by the thunderous blast of a gun – another of her light-fashioned weapons, not there a moment ago – that launches shell after shell into her. Pieces of glimmering light with all the weight of a crushed star behind them, slamming into her midsection and lifting her into the air like some sort of ragdoll, buoyed by shots more content to crush than pierce.
The assault does not stop there. Two. Three. Four. Five. She lost count. An entire arsenal must have been emptied into her body, and she has just enough time to see what she had left behind, her weapon and the only means by which she might fight back, lying on the floor out of her reach. Pinned against the wall by the barrage, even the blinding light coming from her prone opponent cannot stop her vision from darkening.
It really did hurt. Far, far too much.
“Miura. Do you realise the gravity of your mistake?”
With the armour – and her transformation – gone for the moment, Yuko Miura, reformed by her soul gem from the bloodied mess that had been left on the ground some time ago, brushes a strand of red hair away from her eyes. Of course she knew. Anyone could tell. She had gone too far, why else would she owe her tutor an apology?
“...I didn't mean to hurt you. Not that badly.”
If she was irritated before, then Mitsuko seemed positively incensed now, barely holding back from some sort of outburst. Instead, Yuko received only a glare that seems to say no amount of effort could possibly teach her.
“And that is your error. You had a chance. You were seconds from victory, and you did what? Flinch at the sight of anyone's blood but your own? Cast away your weapon in a show of mercy? Do you expect a witch or a true enemy – one you have been sent to kill – to appreciate such a gesture? No. You will die at their hands, as you did at mine, and it will be richly deserved. Only without such mistakes do you stand a chance of accomplishing something more than making a testament of your corpse. As it stands, you are a dead woman walking.”
...Maybe she was right. Of course she was right. Mitsuko had been her longer, had trained countless others before them, but that wasn't what she had come for. Were these the words should be said by someone who existed to bring hope to the world? A hero who fought to protect the innocent? They were the words of a predator, or a snake, a heartless hunter- no, that couldn't be right. This was her mentor, after all. ...Jaded, then, but world-wise, perhaps more than she was willing to accept.
“Don't call me that,” the Eversor replies sullenly.
“A dead woman walking?”
“No. Yuko Miura. It's- well, it's my name, but it's not a name for a hero. Not a name for chasing after witches, not really a fighter's name.”
“...Ah, yes. What did you go by, again?”
“Andraste X. Steel,” she starts out, then hesitantly adds “dragonslayer of Mitakihara.”
“And what, pray tell, is the 'X' meant to stand for?”
“I... I was going to decide later.”
Well, now it just felt ridiculous.
She shouldn't have asked, not really, but the question comes eventually, eager to fill the silence however it could.
“You really didn't need to be that harsh, did you?”
“I owed you no less as a part of our squad.”
“Part of... what?”
“Hmm? Oh, I suppose you've not heard, then. You are to join Taniguchi, my sister, myself and perhaps one other in the hunt for Shimizu Yumishita, effective as of our next mission. Naturally, it would be remiss of me to neglect your training.”
Naturally. Not that she had ever asked – though certainly, she appreciated the effort – but it seemed somehow second nature to the Vanus, even as ill-suited as her rank should be to combat, to mold and guide every single new recruit she took the slightest interest in. Often rather brutally. This is what she chooses to ponder for some time, to keep herself from the shock of the news for a little longer. Was she suited for this? Prepared? Willing? Instead of answering any of this in her mind, she only nods dumbly to her would-be mentor.
“At any rate, thank you, Miura. I've been in dire need of more practice lately – this mission has found me wanting, it seems – and you obliged. I trust we can have ourselves a rematch tomorrow. For now, I will be on my way.”
Before Yuko can say anything, Mitsuko has already left.
“Is it true, then? That you killed a dragon.”
“It's more of a... prospective title? I'm hoping I can find a witch that looks like one, one day.”
The question comes to her – considering she was walking back home in the late evening – a good deal later than it should have. A stranger's voice from out of thin air should have made her more suspicious. At least, enough not to reply on reflex.
“Who are you?”
“Shimizu Yumishita”, the figure answered from beside her. “Formerly of the Third Officio Assassinorum.”
Yuko almost chokes in shock at the stranger's answer, quietly thankful that she had not – as was usually the case – been drinking anything on the way during her walk. The swing comes a second later, staff in hand, blade primed to stab at-
Wasn't the Vindicare here only a moment ago?
The staff is twisted out of her grip, skill and shock giving the advantages needed to beat out raw, superior strength, and one blade is buried in the ground as the voice speaks up again, from a little way behind her this time.
“A fine effort, but I am not here to kill you tonight. I am in a rather more... optimistic mood, shall we say, than that. Please, walk with me a while, if you can spare a moment for a lowly quisling. Unless you would prefer to face me with your bare hands?”
...An opportunity. She wasn't frightened, of course not. It was a chance to draw some information out of her quarry, out of the traitor of the Third. Best to keep her talking, to play along, whatever her motive was. Assuming she was even being honest about holding her fire, for all the cause anyone had to assume that.
“Tell me, dragonslayer. Are you ready to kill me, should you need to?”
Whatever question she might have expected, that was not it. Why would Yumishita ask that, of all things? Was it some sort of trick, to shake her resolve? A distraction so that she can be shot in the back? While she considers this, the Vindicare herself drifts into view – there was a strange floating sensation, terribly difficult to keep track of, even when she was only walking – at Yuko's side.
She had expected this villain – this slaughterer – to loom, to tower over her. Instead, Shimizu seemed sickly, frail, and perhaps a little frail even as her costume seemed to do its best to remain intimidating. A black suit and billowing cape in the same colour, with smoky glasses hiding eyes the Eversor couldn't quite make out, with a rather large crossbow hanging on her back. The bald Vindicare's hands were largely covered up by a pair of bridal gauntlets, stained with what seemed to be a witch's ichor. With every step, the murderer reaches out to grasp at walls, a railing or a telephone pole, anything to lean on for a little support.
She could end this here and now, surely. Even as a novice Eversor. Her quarry was right here, sickly, frail, struggling to move. It would be... easy? No, it would not do to underestimate her. But it would be possible, surely? To end it here and now. To put an end to the killer with a single swing. Pierce her soul gem: Spots of beige among seas of pitch, as befitting a villain. She would only need to...
To kill a near-defenseless, staggering, broken shell of a woman when she had afforded Yuko the luxury of mercy. To cut her down when she had come only to talk. No, of course not. She must have said something, judging by the sniper's nod.
“I see. There will, of course, come a time when you – or one of your squadmates, perhaps – will come to that point, if I do not kill you first. My chances seem... poor at best, truth be told, and so I came to ask a favour of you.”
“...You want us to let you go?”
“Hardly. Should we find ourselves at that point, I would ask that you finish me. Thus crusade of mine – while little more than a personal grudge – is aimed only at the incubator. For those who stood in my way, what I did was only ever a mercy killing, much like what I am asking of you.”
“Mercy?” Absurd. Of all the excuses she could have made. There was no mercy in cruelly shooting down so many of the officio's ranks for having the temerity to defend others, to happen to stand in harm's way. They made a wish, was that alone supposed to earn an arrow to their soul? What mercy could there be in that?
“How can you say that?”
“If I told you,” Shimizu asks in her rattling breath, “would you believe me?”
“...No. Is that all?”
“All that I can hope for, but if I find you in an accomodating mood, then I would ask that you lose as little of your magic as possible. ...If you hunt me down with your life intact, then I would rather you did so with as little harm to yourself as possible. Your magic will poison you, in time.”
This was what it came down to, then. An overacted trick to convince them to fight with one hand behind their backs. There was no point in believing such a transparent, convenient lie, and she says as much in answer. To think she had listened to this killer for even a moment. ...Still, something nagged at her even now. Why would anyone ask to have their own death ensured?
Sheer cynicism was the answer, no doubt. What did she expect instead, maiming and torture? Was there some secret she had to keep from the silent room? Well, it was just another reason to prove her wrong, sooner or later.
“I think it's time for you to leave,” Yuko answers simply, starting to summon her weapon back to her hands. If only it could be done a little quicker.
“I suppose it is. Until we next meet, then.” And with that, Shimizu was gone, already vanished from sight by the time she could look.
The rest of the way is a slow, weary trudge through the evening air, under flickering street lamps that lit the way for her, with only the blaring music in her headphones to keep her company and offer some distraction. She arrives home eventually, a little smile landing on her face in spite of the rest of the day when she sees the car parked in the garage. The day was already taking a turn for the better.
Opening the door and announcing herself, she staggers into the living room and falls onto a cushion, scattering her bags around herself like the remnants of some sort of crash site. ...Really, she only died once today; it was a good enough day, all things considered.