Lanterns on the Water

Songbirds sang as the duo walked through the gardens surrounding Zento. The small childs laughter ringing clear as the crystal blue waters of the harbor while the man watched her with a smile. Alike and unalike they were as he placed each step carefully and with purpose, while she ran back and forth between the flowering cherry blossom trees and danced amongst the tall grasses.

They had been here for several days now, enjoying a relaxing time away from everything else. The girl’s mother had stayed behind, urging the two to enjoy themselves and come back once ready. And so they did, he taught her everything she would need to know once she was able to come to these lands on her own.

Isonu loved bringing Naomi here, to the lands of his birth. Still after all these years, it was where he felt the most at home. He would always serve Pandora and Marius, till the end of his days, but Tokuno still had its grasp upon his heart. He watched Naomi chasing after a crane, its call filling the air and startling the smaller birds out of a nearby tree. He began to scold her, but watching her smile and hearing her laughter brought a smile to his own face. She had gone through more than a child her age should, let her chase the bird if she wished. Just this once.

Wiping some hair away from his face, he looked up at the moon high above and closed his eyes in relaxation. While the others might feel comfortable under the Malas sun, he was not still. Young, skilled maybe… But still the sun was one challenge he could not best as of yet. Resting his hands upon the hilts of his twin blades, he moved after his daughter.

Naomi however, was always excited when her father brought her out here. She loved the smells and sounds, so different from those of Umbra. Umbra was dark, always dark. But Zento! Zento was alive at all times of the day. She gasped as she looked out over the water as paper lanterns were lit upon its surface. Water lilies spiraling lazily away as boats passed nearby.

All smiles, she looked back towards Isonu. His eyes found hers and she felt nothing but the love he had for her. A fresh burst of laughter and she was running towards him arms outstretched, wanting to feel him hold her tight against his chest. The place she felt safest. Seeing her coming, his own arms opened for her and he stepped forward to meet her. She grinned, she’d surprise him this time by jumping the last remaining distance. Just to throw him off balance and maybe knock him over. She was preparing for her jump when she heard a sound that was not in place with Zento.

A whistle, followed by a sickening thump.

Stopping, her eyes widened as Isonu fell to one knee before her. The pure white silk kimono he had worn for the occasion slowly going red in the front. Even in this light, she could see the crossbow bolt protruding from his front.

Blood trickled from the corners of his lips, disbelief on his face as he turned slowly to face the direction of the shot just in time to take a second bolt into his left shoulder. An agonized cry ripped from his throat as he spun back towards Naomi. She looked on. Terrified. A hand outstretched towards him as if she could make it better just by getting to him. Behind him the shrouded figure came on slowly, cranking the crossbow lazily with it aimed at the square of Isonus back.

“Na..omi.” He gripped his left hilt tight as he could. Her lip quivered as his next word came out. “Run” Tears came on then as she saw him spin on his good leg, the ancient blade of his whispering from its sheath to cut through the crossbows string and give him the momentum to lurch to his feet.

Cursing, the attacker dropped the useless weapon and pulled out a single edged straight blade. Meeting Isonus, his speed was clearly equal to or greater than the injured vampires. Not wanting to abandon her father, but not wanting to disobey, she turned to flee back to the moongate. She didn’t notice the other hooded figure until it had grabbed hold of her and kept a knife to her throat. Whimpering, she closed her eyes tight as it bent its head lower to whisper in her ear.

“Watch close child, his death will stay with you forever.” Its other hand gripped her face, and forced her eye lids open to watch as Isonu struggled against the unrelenting blows thrown against him.

He didn’t have time to look Naomis way, but he could hear she had stopped moving and was crying. His left arm hung useless at his side, pain surging through it with each swing of his own blade. Blood flowed heavily now as his attacked got through his defense repeatedly. He would have to risk something to gain the advantage. He would prevail, he would protect his daughter.

He could see the grin from his opponent, the bloodlust clear upon what features he could see. Readying himself, he reversed the grip on his blade. Determination in his eyes, he ducked beneath the next blow and drove his own blade up through the skull of the man.

Naomi felt a rush of relief when she saw the man fall, but it was short lived. She heard a hiss of anger from above her and the knife pressed harder against her throat.

Isonu turned, unsteady on his feet as he stared at the man holding his daughter. Blood loss clearly weakening him, he tried to fuel himself forward with his resolve to save her.

“Naomi…”

The captor held up her higher. “Enough.” A small river of blood appeared on her pale skin as the knife bit into her. “Its true, we didn’t expect this much issue from you… But If you surrender now, and drop that blade…” He licked his lips, smiling cruelly. “I promise you a quick death. And not, the hours and days of suffering that are in store for you otherwise.”

Eyes narrowed, Isonu did not pause in his advances forward while blood dripped from his blade. “Let her go… And leave.” He stumbled, back down onto a knee but his gaze did not leave the hooded face.

A short laugh, humorless met him. “You are in no position to bargain child. Lay down your arms, or watch the girl die.”

Naomi closed her eyes tight, tears flowing freely. She wanted her mother. She wanted her grandparents. She wanted anyone to come and save her father and herself. She wanted to be safe.

Isonu finally stopped, 10 feet away from his daughter. “Let her…Let her go.. And I’ll surrender.” The pain was clear in his voice, he was ready to give his life up for hers. He did not want to leave her, but he would not see her dead. Naomi cried harder, not wanting him to give up. And when Isonu let fall his blade, she reached out again for him. Crying out for him to save her.

The man smiled. “You made the right answer. But you killed my comrade there. And a life must be given for a life taken…” His grip tightened on the blade. Isonu, seeing what was coming struggled forward with horror on his face. Naomi, feeling the shift looked up, just as the blade dragged across her neck cleanly.

A gasp, a flash of pain, and then the man dropped her into a crumpled heap upon the ground. Her small form spasming slightly in pain before going still.

“Naomi!” Driving himself forward, Isonu grabbed from his side his remaining sword, struggling to remove it from the scabbard he lunged as best he could with it towards his enemy that would dare try and take his family away. Rage filled his eyes, rage and despair at seeing his young girl upon the ground unmoving.

“And here I was thinking you’d just give up and die. This world never fails to amuse.” Tossing his cloak aside, the stranger produced a gleaming claymore and met Isonu’s swing. The sound of blade on blade rang out through the area, his bad leg giving out beneath the immense pressure put upon him. Gritting his teeth, Isonu was driven further back with every moment that passed.

KatanaParry. Swing. A crushing blow. Sword battered aside. Isonu tried and tried to gain an advantage. He felt the blade biting into his body repeatedly, quickly thanking the gods that he was not mortal at this moment or he would surely be dead.

Every so often, he’d get a lucky strike across the chest of his opponent but nothing substantial. His strength was fading quickly and before he knew it, he was disarmed and the blade went spinning several feet away. Isonu raised his gaze to him, defiant to the last.

“You took her…from me.” He spit some blood, stumbling forward into the other mans chest.

“You all took much from us. Standing in our way.” His smile never reached his eyes. “Now you can know despair as you die.”

Steadying himself, Isonu attempted to step back.

“Ah ah” His opponent pulled him forward,”Don’t want to take a swim, do you?”

Isonu felt himself turned around to look out over the water where the lanterns still floated, candles however now going out one by one. He felt…Nothing. Naomi was gone, he had failed at doing the one thing he swore he would do at all costs. Keep her safe from everything. A tear rolled down his cheek, so focused was he that he never heard the twang of a yumi in the background. Never heard the thud of the twin arrows slamming into his captors back, severing the spine. He did however think that he heard faintly as his vision darkened, his sister cry out his name.

All he knew for certain, was that at least he’d be with his daughter again as the two men toppled over into the dark deep water… The larger mans weight dragging them both quickly down into the deep, and out of reach.

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