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Shouganai

Chapter Text

June 9, 1700. The Red Sea.

In all your twenty-five years of life, you’ve never seen a storm like this.

The clouds are almost dark enough to be mistaken for the cover of night. Rain absolutely pours onto your ship like it’s from an overturned bucket, gushing out of the scuppers along the deck and into the choppy saltwater below. It rocks the foundation upon which you stand, and had you been a less experienced captain, you may have felt the chords of fear within you being struck. Instead you stand, one hand on your hip and the other on the gunwalls of the ship in order to prevent you from being tossed out into the bottomless waters.

“Samuel!” You bark. Your brows furrow under the cover of your tricorn hat, anchored onto your head just from the sheer amount of rainwater that it absorbed. You hear a faint call over the sound of the storm and you squint, spotting a shadow that straightens out once it hears its name. “To the helm!”

“Aye, Captain!”

You turn towards the starboard, again searching for a familiar figure through the grey cover of the abundant rain. The ship rocks and you can hear cargo in the hold crashing about; you flinch, picturing the priceless treasures that you’d so carefully packed up being scattered across the floor.

“Tobias!” You call out once your eyes focus. Again, the shadow stands tall at your voice, but this one moves closer to you. You can barely make out his gnarled face but you can already tell it’s pinched in an expression of concern, his salt-and-pepper eyebrows slanted much like yours. “Where’s Michael?”

“His quarters in the hull, last time I checked.” Tobias shouts back at you. You scowl, the hand on your hip going to rest on the hilt of your cutlass out of pure vexation.

“Well, tell him to get his arse up here! Samuel will need all the help he can get at the helm!”

Tobias nods and you curse lowly to yourself, hand tightening on the railing of the gunwall as a particularly tall wave crashes into the side of your ship. Storms are nothing new to your crew, yet every time the sky darkens and the waters begin to rise, they seem to lose their heads.

Oh, well. There was a reason you were the captain of this ship, after all.

You let out another small curse at the unmistakable sound of thunder rolling above you. This is bad, really bad, but you can’t hide below deck like some of your crew. You have a ship to man, a bay to dock in, and people to loot. You’ve never let a man get in your way, and you’ll be damned if you allow some pesky water to do so either.

You scowl up at the sky, as if to personally invite the gods of the sea to come quarrel with you. This isn’t what you planned; of course, you never plan for storms, but one of this caliber seems almost unholy. You immediately feel a ball of dread form in the pit of your stomach at the next roll of thunder, watching with thinly-veiled panic in your eyes as lightning creates spiderweb cracks along the clouds.The killick at the side of the ship thumps a rhythm that matches the beating of your heart. The rigging of the sails groans in the wind, rope whipping around like the hair of an untamed woman. Your ship is mighty. She is strong. But most of all, she is terrifying.

“Captain.” Tobias’ voice cuts through the confusion of the storm as he appears in front of you again, dual-colored hair plastered to his freckled forehead. “I cannot find him. He’s gone.”

“What do you mean he’s gone?” You seethe, the last part of your sentence swallowed by thunder. “I ought to hang him from the yardarm, that coward!”

“Captain, he’s gone without a trace. I scoured every room, he’s nowhere to be found.”

Your mouth sets into a sneer as you open it to reply, but your words will never be heard. Time seems to stop as a bolt of lightning flies through the air, striking the top of your mast within the blink of an eye. Your sail immediately catches aflame, the orange wisps enveloping the top of the canvas in a matter of seconds, raging despite the amount of rain coming down. You stand there, agape, as your right-hand-man shouts a curse towards the gods that you can barely hear over the roaring in your ears. You let go of the railing just for a second, but that’s all it takes.

With another rock to the ship you’re suddenly flying, your feet slipping out from under you as you fall backwards. Your lower back hits the gunwall for a brief second but you have no time to feel relief; it’s not tall enough to stop the momentum of your movement, to keep you on your beloved ship. With a sharp cry you’re flung overboard, weightless for only a moment before you start to fall to the inky black waters below.

“Captain!” Tobias calls, panic clear in his voice. You reach an arm out, as if to grab for him.

The last thing you see on earth is your ship rocking in the wind, your sail aflame and your beloved right-hand calling out to you, his own arm reaching for yours. You close your eyes, bracing yourself internally for the impact of water around you.

It never comes.

If you had to describe the feeling, you’d say it was like everything paused for a moment to right itself. The sound of the storm around you ceases to exist. You’re not weightless, but close to it; and then, suddenly, there’s ground beneath your feet and a bright light seeping through your eyelids.

You open them.

Stark whiteness surrounds you as you step from the shadows. There’s doors lining the seemingly endless hallway in front of you, with only a desk to disrupt your view. Your eyes widen and your mouth goes slack.

There’s a man at the desk. A little machine sits next to his elbow; ‘Pick a Number’, it says. You continue to gape.

The newspaper the man holds is in English. ‘LEGENDARY CREW LOST AT SEA’, the headline reads, and you stare at it for what seems like forever. It may only be a few moments. Nonetheless, the man folds the newspaper back onto his desk and peers at you, with abnormally large blue eyes. They remind you of a calm ocean.

“Next.” He says.

In the summer of 1700, infamous pirate Captain [Name] Sterling set out to sail the Red Sea on her ship, The Rosemary. On board were some of the most feared pirates in all of history— Tobias Walker, Samuel de la Fontaine, Michael Ramsay, Cyril Benét, and Jonathan Gaspard— well-known for terrorizing people on both land and sea. It is rumored that Sterling’s ship was heading towards Gamsha Bay with the intent of looting the surrounding area. They never arrived.

No remains of the ship or crew has ever been found.

Chapter Text

Typically, when one thinks of traveling between worlds, they hardly consider the amount of time it takes. They’re focused less on the journey and more on the destination.

You, however, being a pirate, spend most of your time on travels. That’s why, when a portal to your left opens its gold-trimmed doors like the maw of a gilded beast, you’re acutely aware during the five seconds it takes for you to leave earth behind.

It feels like everything around you has been tilted sideways, rolling down an invisible plane towards the unknown. You roll with them, the pit of your stomach fluttering the same way that it did whenever your ship lurched over a particularly high wave, before your eyes barely register a pinprick of light and you’re thrust forward, spine curling backwards and—

“Christ.”

You speak into what you assume is dirt; pulling your head up from the ground confirms that fact for you. You spit immediately, running the back of your hand over your mouth.

You scramble to your feet after a moment in which you’re reminded that some bastard behind a desk just sent you flying into god-knows-where, turning back to where you know you’ve come from— only to see that the door, beautiful and massive and daunting, is slowly starting to fade into nothingness.

“Wait a damn second!” You snarl, hand flying out to grab onto it. Your fingers pass through air, the gold and copper bands decorating them glinting in the light of the sun. Without anything to find purchase on, your hand acts as a weight to pull you off balance, sending you toppling to the ground again. You curse aloud.

Your clothes are still plastered to you, dampening the dirt beneath your body and turning it into gritty mud. Had you been a woman of high class, you might have shrieked at the idea that you may be dirtying your clothing, but being a pirate used to both grime and stench, you spared not a second thought to the fact that your canvas pants and knitted shirt were receiving additional stains. Instead, you brought yourself back to your knees, glaring at the spot where the door back to earth had once been.

There was nothing.

“This had best be a fucking dream.” You mutter to yourself, eyes slowly moving to take in the surrounding area. Canopy of trees. Sunlight dappling the ground around you. Stones of varying sizes and colors, glimmering like jewels even when the light did not directly shine on them. The leaves on the trees seemed to move despite there being no wind against your skin, and for a second you were reminded of the old legends your father used to tell you when he was still alive, of the massive beasts that used to roam the earth long before humans existed. Perhaps you were standing on the back of one such beast, watching as it inhaled and exhaled.

Or maybe, just maybe, you had died during that storm and you were in some weird sort of purgatory.

After weighing the pros and cons of moving around in this new place— which, despite looking like it, you discerned was not the Earth you knew— you decided that, if God had placed you here to judge you for your actions before your death, you may as well get to explore it before being inevitably banished to Hell.

You finally bring yourself steadily onto your feet, absentmindedly brushing your hands off on your already filthy trousers and licking your cracked lips. Now that you’ve come to terms with the fact that you are, in fact, probably deceased, it’s a little easier for you to get a grip on what to do next. The obvious choice is to walk forward; there seems to be another clearing just beyond the line of trees in front of you, and the distant sound of a bubbling stream seems to promise you the chance to wash yourself off. However, a little voice in the back of your head tells you to turn around and so you do, careful not to make any sudden movements that could send you to the ground for a second time.

Your shock, however, is almost enough to do so.

You pull your cutlass from its scabbard more out of reflex than the sense of imminent danger, gripping the ornate hilt and drawing it in front of you until it feels like an extension of your arm. This is the weapon that brought rival crews to their knees on sight alone, the weapon that led your excursions onto land for treasure and conquest, the weapon that—

You hear a startled cry, something that sounds like words, and you stop.

The tip of your beloved sword rests just mere inches from the nose of a man, the shine of the flat side of the blade rivaling the silvery panic in his eyes. Once your immediate surprise at being snuck up on by another person subsides, so does your instinctual need to attack; you lower your weapon, taking note of the way his palms are raised in a traditional sign of surrender.

And of the awe-inducing fact that he has the longest ears you’ve ever seen in your life.

“Who the hell are you?” You snarl, despite seeing that this man— creature— before you needs no more intimidation. You see his adam’s apple bob as he swallows, eyes still trained on your cutlass. It may be lowered, but it is still drawn. You wonder if he can see the amount of tension in your knuckles.

He says something else that you cannot decipher, but you can read the pleading expression on his face as plain as day. It takes you a moment to choose between further intimidation and peacefulness, but when you finally decide on the latter, you can see the man’s body language before infinitely more relaxed. His eyes, however, don’t leave yours as you sheathe your blade, going from your pinched glare to your displeased frown and back up again.

He keeps on talking, though he knows you must not understand. Your expression doesn’t lift and you give no sign of comprehending what information he must be laying on you. You do, however, understand the sigh that he heaves as an exasperated one.

He tentatively uses one of his raised hands to indicate some point behind him. You don’t need to be able to translate his words to be able to tell that he’s asking you to follow him somewhere, and while you’re not exactly sure if it’s the right decision, he’s the only other living creature you’ve encountered in… wherever it is that you are.

Besides, you think to yourself as you slowly nod back, I’m already dead. How much more trouble could I get in?

You keep your eyes on the creature’s plain white tunic as he walks, wondering if it’s human-made or if his own kind made it. He looks humanoid for the most part, just with the exception of those pointed ears and liquid-silver eyes; his gait matches that of an adult man (despite his voice being high enough to remind you of a teen’s) and the muscles rolling under his pale flesh remind you of all the people you’d seen on Earth. Even though he keeps shooting you wary glances over his shoulder, there’s a certainty in the way he directs you despite the language barrier that makes you think that he must have done something like this before. This land is home to him, obviously, and you nearly pause when you think of the fact that, wherever it is that you are, you might be here for a while.

You keep going, though. For hours it feels like, until the sun is right above you in a way that signals midday and you reach the end of the trees. They give way to another massive clearing like the one you were just in, though this one is not decorated with jewel-colored stones and pretty yellow flowers.

Ruins are scattered around you, high towers that crumbled due to force or age— you can’t quite be sure. You keep walking towards them, almost as if in a trance, before you become mindful of the fact that your guide has stopped, his face set somewhere between anxiety and hesitation.

“What happened here?” You turn to look at him, pointing to the nearest decimated wall. The man does not answer you, instead shaking his head slowly from side to side. His lips remain pressed together. Your own expression goes a little sour, but you refrain from speaking again simply because you know it will get you nowhere.

You watch, silent, as the figure before you takes a step backwards, eyes still trained on yours, before he decides that you will remain where you stand and turns around, breaking into a sprint that carries him through the foliage until you can no longer see him.

You watch him go until it feels stupid to stand there any longer, then turn your attention back to the ruins with mild interest bubbling in you. It’s the same feeling that always crept up on you when you and your crew would barge into a new town ripe for looting, hollering and brandishing your weapons like a band of savage fools, eating your fills at the expense of terrified bar owners and stuffing your pockets and sacks full of their hard-earned money. The feeling sends a sudden pang through you, and you remember the way Cyril’s eyes would crinkle at the corners when his mind was buzzing with ale, how Tobias’ penchant for patting you on the back like a proud father every time you re-boarded your ship used to make your entire body feel weightless. Those men are nowhere to be found, existing on a plane much different than your own.

Suddenly, you feel exhausted.

You lean against a half-standing pillar, the stone cold but rough under your palm, and sigh. You don’t know where you are. You’re not even sure if you’re alive or not. The only other living thing you’ve seen here could not talk to you, could not reassure you that your experience was even happening in the first place. You’ve been pulled from one life and dropped into another without any sort of warning.

Your back aches from where it hit the railing of your ship. Your clothes, slowly drying, feel like they weigh tons. There’s filth crusted in your mouth and your face, permeating you internally and externally with an earthy musk, and for the first time since you were a young girl, you’re seized by the uncontrollable urge to weep.

You don’t get to, though. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up and, for a second time, you get the feeling that you need to turn around. So you do.

And you find a man standing there, pointing an arrow right between your eyes.

Chapter Text

If there was one thing that had lead you to the position that you were in today, it was taking risks.

On the sea, nothing was left up to schedule. Every time you set sail, you were gambling the lives of yourself and your crew on the vast, open waters. Every port you docked in carried unforeseen consequences that you’d had to fight your way out of on more than one occasion; every shot you fired from the canon on your deck could have easily brought about your defeat at the hands of another crew. But your tenacity and sheer will carried you from one task to the next even when the odds were stacked heavily against you, and you had come to truly recognize that nothing in life was gained without gambling, and safety was never assured just from standing idly.

This is why, even when faced with the very real chance of being shot in the head by an unknown assailant, you draw your weapon and lunge straight at him, veering slightly to the side. By the time he adjusts his aim, you figure, you’ll be too close for him to fire immediately and your cutlass will already be halfway through his neck.

What you don’t account for, however, is that he’ll jump out of the way at the last second with a speed you’ve never seen before. Your weapon whistles as it swipes through the air, only barely nicking the end of his ponytail. A few black strands flutter to the grass below as you tuck yourself inward to brace for a landing, your back rolling over the ground as you prepare to get right back onto your feet.

While your sudden ambush may not have killed him like you intended it to, it’s apparent that it at least took him by surprise. His light eyes are wide, his mouth slightly parted, before the edges of his lips curl upwards.

You recognize that face. It’s the same one Michael used to give you when you sparred. Is that all you have? It seems to ask.

You lunge again, having gotten your footing, and although he sidesteps you quite easily, your opponent seems to know that your constant movement will render his own weapon almost useless. You jump again, this time turning at the last second to prevent yourself from colliding into a crumbling wall, cursing aloud when you hear a peal of laughter. He’s enjoying himself.

You pause to catch your breath for just a moment and he sees an opportunity; he nocks his arrow again and aims it much faster than you anticipated. It whistles through the air and you only have a split second to react, your arm seeming to move of its own accord. Your cutlass glimmers gold and silver as it arcs in front of you, catching on the middle of the arrow and splitting it clean in half before it can reach your face.

“Oh, fuck you.” You spit.

He doesn’t reply. Silence takes over the ruins, save for you drawing a few ragged breaths, and immediately you wonder if he’s going to shoot at you again.

He doesn’t. In fact, he seems not to view you as a threat anymore; you can almost see the cogs in his head turning as his eyes zero in on your face, then slowly migrate to your ears. Perhaps he recognizes something in you, or maybe he’s just certain that he’s won this altercation, because he lowers his bow and says something to you.

“Fuck you.” You say again, sneering at him. “Don’t act like you’ve won!”

He repeats himself, slower this time. You grit your teeth; even in another language, you recognize a patronizing tone when you hear it.

“Speak English, you arse!”

He cocks his head to the side, raising a brow at you. You let out a frustrated noise and sheathe your cutlass, fighting the urge to lunge at him once again and sink your fist into the middle of his face.

Instead of replying to you, his eyes cut to a spot over your shoulder. His tone gets a little lighter when he speaks again, and you cast a look to the side to see who he’s addressing.

There’s another man here, now. Much taller and brutal-looking, with hands that look like they could crush your skull in an instant. You immediately fight the urge to bolt, because even with your sword and the knives strapped to your ankles you know a losing battle when you see one.

“And who’re you?” You call out to him. He shares a look with the more lithe man, one corner of his mouth curled upwards as he replies.

It’s not in English. You let out a sound of frustration, keeping your arms at your side even though you want to throw them up in the air.

¿Hablan español?” You try. They keep staring at you. “…Parlez-vous français?

Nothing. You scoff.

“How in the hell am I supposed to talk to either of you?” You point an accusing finger at the younger boy, then at the man. “Can either of you understand me?”

Their blank looks don’t change in the slightest. You cross your arms, realizing slowly that your original assessment of this being purgatory was obviously very wrong; you’re in hell, certainly. How else can you explain the fact that you can’t understand anybody?

Recognizing that you’re free from danger— at least for now, with the way both of the men were looking at you with the same amusement a father might have with his young child— you sigh, running a hand over your face.

“Okay. Well, this is just fucking great.” You mutter to yourself. Your hand continues upwards and you pull your still-damp tricorn hat off of your head and brush your hair back from your forehead in an act of vexation. It must be sticking up every which way but you can’t find it in yourself to care much; you’re crusted with mud and your clothes are torn and all you want is a dip in a lake, god damn it—

One of the men lets out a noise of surprise. You raise an eyebrow at them, your expression going more sour. You recognize that noise, no matter the language of the man who makes it; every time you take off your hat and remove the shadows from your face, they all come to the same realization.

“Yes.” You say slowly, as if they can understand you, “I’m a woman. Don’t act so surprised. Not much of a difference between men ’n women anyway.” You wring your hat out with a vicious twist of your wrists, dirty seawater falling onto the earth below. You shake the heavy wool out before jamming it back onto your head. The dirt collected under your various rings leaves a little bit of debris on the black fabric.

When neither of the men move, your scowl deepens. “Oi, if you have a problem with me, I’d sure like to hear it.”

They exchange a look and you can tell, even if your words themselves have to meaning to them, that they’re well aware of what your tone implies. With a final nod at each other, the taller of the two men takes off in the direction that he came from. The other makes a small motion with his delicate hand that you suppose means you should follow him; you do so without thinking, the thick socks in your boots squelching with swampy moisture as you do. You warily eye the bow that he’d returned onto his back, wondering if you should be letting your guard down so early after a fight.

But then you don’t wonder at all, because the scent of something warm and hearty fills your nose. Your stomach grumbles in agitation and you immediately lay a hand on it, embarrassed enough that you look away when the boy with the ponytail shoots you an amused look over his shoulder. You glare at him and he laughs the way one might when watching a child be overdramatic.

The three of you duck into a little pocket in the ruins; it’s cold and damp here, combatting the mild temperature outside, and the second you step into a shadows, a shiver wracks your body. The walls are high, betraying the beauty of the castle that once stood. Mildew and mold are packed into the crevices of the stone. They’re slimy to the touch, you find. You also note, with a distraught sound, that the excellent smell you’d noticed wasn’t coming from where the two men settled. It seems to be much farther in the distance. Your stomach protests loudly.

The much larger of the two finds a seat against the far wall, not seeming to mind the overall dampness of the enclosure. Your eyes flick over a curious symbol over his head— it appears to be painted there, but you have no clue as to how he would procure such a thing— a five-petaled flower. The color bleeds into the stone.

You should know better than to waste your breath speaking, but you do regardless. “Who are you?” Your words are less venomous now. It’s curiosity that leads your words.

The man tilts his head at you. Even with only one eye, you can read the full extent of his mischief in his expression. Maybe he finally understands you, or maybe he’s just phenomenal at reading the tone of your voice, because the words that fall out of his mouth sound like a name.

“No…bu…na…ga…” You repeat each syllable back to him slowly. He looks at you for a long time. It makes you feel a little bit like a caged animal. He nods.

You point to the much younger boy this time. “And him?”

The words that come out this time are much longer. You only catch the tail end.

“Yoi...chi. Got it.” You turn so that both of them are in your field of view. Yoichi lays his bow and arrows right next to him— you suppose so that they’re in his grasp should he need them— and turns to say something to Nobunaga. The two men laugh. You don’t like the sound of it.

You slide down to the ground much in the same way Nobunaga had, the moist ground making no difference to your soaked clothes. You tilt your head back to rest it on the wall, the tip of your hat obscuring your vision just a bit. You still smell like the sea and you take comfort in it; not too long ago you were on your ship with your crew, tossing back drinks with Samuel and exchanging jokes with Tobias. Your heart throbs painfully in your chest and you wince. The feeling of loss isn’t new to you, but you haven’t felt it this strongly in a long, long time.

Nobunaga says something and you know it must be directed at you. He’s pointing to a circle of ash on the ground and you pause.

“A fire?” You really shouldn’t be talking. It’s no use. You improvise with your hands, wiggling them to mimic flames. In the late afternoon sun, the jewelry adorning your fingers glitters.

Yoichi scoffs out a laugh at your charade. You shoot him an irritated look but Nobunaga grins at you, seemingly pleased with how quickly you’ve adapted to the language barrier. He nods, then motions with his hands to the center of the circle. You peer closer, at the remains of what seems to be wood, and then it clicks.

“No! Fuck you, I’m not some sort of wench!” You snap. You hold your arms up in front of you in an ‘X’ shape, glaring at the middle-aged man with contempt. He raises his eyebrow at you, repeating himself slowly.

“I said no! I’m not going out there to collect your damn firewood!” You protest again. Yoichi sighs, resting his chin on his palm as he watches the two of you argue.

Nobunaga snickers at your adamant nature, flicking his eyes over towards the archer.

(”Feisty. I like her.”

“You like every woman, you old creep.”)

You can’t understand their exchange but it doesn’t keep you from letting out a noise of indignation. You tap your temple once Nobunaga’s attention is back on you, then point behind you, where the landscape of this new world lies beyond the wall you rest on.

“I… don’t…” You repeat the action again— temple, point. Temple, point. “Know… this… place…”

He seems to get it, but he says something else to you, pointing to your cutlass. You Immediately curl around the hilt protectively, as if you’re afraid he’ll reach out and grab it.

“No! I’m not cutting down a damn tree! Are you that much of an idiot?” You cry. “Just snap a branch off or something, you stupid fuck! You’re the taller one, anyway, you’ll be able to reach—”

Yoichi leans over, tapping you on the shoulder. You flinch, but halt your protests once he points to the other side of the large room. You follow his finger, eyebrows raising once you realize there’s a pile of wood already stacked against the wall. Understanding floods you.

“Oh.” You say, “you want me to— oh. Yeah, sure, I guess. It’ll keep me busy.”

You nod in order to clarify your statement, slowly getting to your feet again. Yoichi eyes your cutlass with a bit of trepidation and you remember the sound it made when slicing his arrow clean in two. Maybe that’s why Nobunaga made this request. That, or he assumed you were some sort of slave because you were a woman.

You pull out the first log with ease, even though the muscles in your arms and the ache in your back make you wince. Placing it in a satisfactory position, you unsheathe your sword. The beautiful curved blade, having taken many a life and been the symbol for destruction not too long ago, is now reduced to a menial task that you usually assigned to Michael.

The bitterness of your thoughts is not lost on you. You swallow them down.

The silver blade sings through the air as it comes down, slicing the wood neatly in two. Yoichi and Nobunaga watch with mild interest as you work— Yoichi’s eyes on your careful, measured movements, while Nobunaga’s linger from your chest to your jewelry to the hardened look on your face— and before long you start to find enjoyment in it, the sensation of splitting something open with your weapon a treasure that you hadn’t realized that you missed. It takes you a fairly short amount of time to halve all of the wood, and before you know it you’re sheathing your blade and turning back to the men.

“Satisfactory?” You give them a thumbs up, then a thumbs down. Nobunaga mimics your movement, his own thumb remaining upwards. Yoichi keeps his gaze locked on yours, unmoving. You frown.

“Whatever.” You scoff. “I smelled something good earlier, and I’m fucking starving, so please one of you tell me that you have food.” You pat your stomach.

Nobunaga looks to Yoichi, who gets to his feet. The sun is just starting to set, casting long shadows along his elegant face. He gathers his bow and his arrows, then points to the wilderness visible through the space in the wall. You nod.

“Hunting.” You say. You mimic him shooting an arrow. He gives you a thumbs up and you find yourself grinning just a tiny bit. “Bring back something big, then. I could eat a whole banquet.”

The words are unfamiliar to him but the sentiment is not; his own mouth curls into a tiny smile as he leaves.

This is going to be hard, you think to yourself, but you’ll manage. You always do.

__

Not too far away, in the place where the delicious scent you had smelled earlier originated, a man sits hunched over a table.

His expression isn’t fearful as it should be; his silvery eyes are mostly vacant as he stares absently at the patterns in the wood. He knows he should be out there, eating the food that his brother made for him, but he can’t find it in himself to move. He remembers the expression of the person— the woman, he’s sure— from earlier, her short ears and the way she’d jumped into action.

A drifter, he’s certain. Those clothes, plain yet ornate with the amount of jewelry she adorned, were unlike anything he’d seen on the others here. And that weapon, that massive curved blade—

“Rem!” His head shoots up when he hears his name. The trepidation in his system from feeling the fabric of his world being ripped open still hasn’t faded. It puts him on edge.

“Ailwin.” He says once his heart calms down. His brother pokes his head in, looking a little amused. Although it’s fuzzy, Rem can still make out the curves and lines of his expression.

“What are you doing staring at a table like that, Rem? Has being blind really made you find amusement in a tabletop?”

“Idiot.” Rem scoffs, despising the heat that rises in his cheeks. “I’m not completely blind, yet. Leave me alone.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Ailwin snorts. “Don’t tell me you’re still caught up in what happened earlier.”

“It was a woman.” Rem says. His tone is hushed. “I’ve never seen a woman of their kind before. And she was fierce, even more terrifying than—”

“Rem.” Ailwin sighs. He might be the younger brother, but the sudden softness in his tone could convince the other elves of the opposite. “You can’t go getting involved with this, not after everything that happened. Mother and father wouldn’t want us to endanger ourselves by getting involved with the Drifters. It’s certain death, you know that.”

“Mother and father told us to never be afraid.” Rem says. A sudden tingling awareness spreads in the back of his neck and he fights to keep his expression the same. He’s used to being sensitive to the magic of this world, but to feel the same feeling twice in one day…

“Yeah, but now you’re going blind and our entire race is in danger.” Ailwin grumbles. “And I’ll be damned if those short-eared bastards take you from me, too.”

“I know.” Rem says. The tingling intensifies. He swallows.

“Then stop worrying about it. Come on now, there’s food ready. We should eat fast.”

“I’ll be there in a moment.” Rem watches as the fuzzy figure of his brother vanishes from the doorway. He sighs.

“Another…” He mumbles to himself, feeling the back of his neck. Two drifters in one day? That seemed impossible, and yet here he was. The sensation he felt was never wrong; another doorway had been opened from this world and another. Another creature was here, another danger to his people. Rem wanted to cry, but he could not. This was how the world was. Vast, awful, and ever-changing. Even his parents would have agreed.

“Whoever you are…” He murmurs, finally standing. “…I hope you help us.”

And then he thinks of the face from before— your face, the one he saw with such startling clarity despite his slow loss of vision— and comfort starts to sink into his body. You’re here for a reason. He knows you are.

You’re going to save him, and his people.

Chapter Text

The time spent without Yoichi is not used wisely, at first.

You and Nobunaga pepper words in between wild hand motions, eyebrows furrowed and mouths creased into confused frowns. While it works well for short phrases, charades doesn’t do much for continued stories; you try in vain to explain to him your life on the sea by wiggling your arm like ocean waves. In turn, he uses his gun to mimic combat, but the rest is lost on you. Something about a fire? You can’t be certain, but he uses the same finger motions that you had earlier.

A thought strikes you then. If you have to make up your own sign language, then so be it.

You gesture to the opening of the castle ruins and Nobunaga cocks a brow at you; you tug on his sleeve for emphasis, pulling him closer and stepping backwards until your boots hit the soft dirt outside. You let him go and then drop to your knees, quickly finding the nearest sharp object— a shard of stone, probably from one of the crumbling towers— and draw, to the best of your ability, a fire. You hold your hands up, making sure that Nobunaga is watching, then wiggle your fingers. You point to the picture, then do it again.

Something like understanding flickers in his visible eye. You feel a slow grin start to spread on your face as you move to another patch of dirt. This time, you sketch a teardrop shape— water. You point to your throat. Nobunaga nods, then mimics your action. He says something in his mother tongue.

Mizu.” You repeat after him. He gives you a thumbs up and you snort out a short laugh. “Water.”

“Wa…ter.” He says. Now it’s your turn to give him a thumbs up; he looks rather pleased with himself.

Next, you draw a rather crude looking chicken leg. You pat your stomach. “Meat.”

Niku.” He says, once he recognizes what you’re trying to get across.

“Alright. Easy enough.” You say, closing your eyes and repeating the words a few times under your breath. You’ve never heard a language like this before, but you suppose that’ll work to your advantage. The vocabulary sticks out like a sore thumb in your mind, completely different than the Spanish and French that you also began to pick up during your career on the sea.

You wish, for what seems like the millionth time, that Tobias was here with you. He was much more experienced than you; he could probably tell you exactly what language these men knew, if not speak it himself. But you’d made do without him before— you’ll just have to do it again.

Nobunaga points to you then. First your hat, then the jewelry around your neck and your fingers. It takes you a moment to process what he’s asking, but then it clicks.

“Captain.” You say. You scoot over to the side so that you have more dirt to draw in. Shadows pool in the lines you create as the sun begins to set. They seem to breathe air into the ship that you sketch, the delicate arches of the sail you outline and the little spider-web lines crisscrossing over the mast. It’s not as beautiful and ornate as the Rosemary was in real life, but it gets the point across. Nobunaga looks at it, pensive.

Then, something seems to dawn on him. He mimics sweeping the ground with a broom. Your slow grin immediately turns into an indignant frown while your eyes narrow.

“I ought to cut your head off.” You mutter to yourself. You hold your arms up in the ‘X’ symbol like you had before, shaking your head from side to side.

He tries again. Cooking? You shake your head with a little more viciousness.

The next one is one you saw coming. You stop him while he’s halfway done with charading something that will inevitably mean ‘concubine’, uncrossing your arms to give him a double thumbs down. He laughs a little at your sour expression, watching with an amused curl to his mouth as you draw a large triangle in the ground next to your ship.

You circle the point at the very top, then point to yourself. Top of the pyramid. Nobunaga blinks once, then looks at you, uncertain.

You stand, then, patting your side where your cutlass lays. The darkness of the evening starts to swallow the two of you as you begin to mime combat, slicing through the heads of imaginary enemies and even “sheathing” your blade at one point in favor of demonstrating that you had also been rather proficient with your pistol; a weapon that you had, unfortunately, given to Tobias to clean before the storm had hit your ship. Nobunaga’s expression lights up once he recognizes that you had also used a gun. Your grin returns to your face.

“Exactly,” you say, though he obviously can’t understand, “I was the leader. Captain.” You point to yourself again and repeat the last word. When he says it back to you, you reach up and pat his shoulder.

He gestures for you to return into the castle with him and you follow, shard of rock still in your hand. You pocket it, for some unknown reason, as if it’s a valuable treasure in one of the merchant tents that you used to loot.

Nobunaga points to the pile of wood that he arranged after you had chopped it, moving his fingers in the sign that you had both agreed upon. You watch as he grabs two pieces of the kindling and begins to rub them together. You know this process; friction leads to a fire.

You watch, eyes straining a little in the cover of night as he works. You wonder if Yoichi is on his way back yet— your stomach seems to protest every few minutes, now— and what is even available as food in this strange world.

Nobunaga gets a spark; he transfers it to the rest of the kindling and blows, coaxing the flames to life. It takes a few moments, and you’re almost certain that it’ll burn out before it even starts, but then it catches on some of the dried wood and orange light suddenly roars before you.

You hadn’t even realized how chilly you were until you had warmth right in front of you. You hold your palms out, basking in it. Nobunaga does the same, his visible eye focusing on you over the wispy tops of the fire. You smile gently at him; with the way that the light hits him, he almost reminds you of Tobias. Same structured face and rough stubble, calloused hands and creases around the eyes. Your smile falls as you think of those kind blue eyes, the ones that looked upon you as if you had been his own flesh and blood. Had he and the rest of the crew made it to shore? They must have, because none of them were here with you. Right?

Perhaps not. Samuel’s (lack of) navigation skills, Michael’s streak of rebellion, and Cyril’s penchant for overindulging on your rations had been hard enough for you to handle. Even if the crew had made it through the storm, there was no telling what arguments had blossomed without you there to put your foot down. One of them killing another in a fit of rage was just as likely as being thrown overboard during a storm. You sigh to yourself, the sound barely audible over the pitiful sound that emanates from the lower half of your torso.

Nobunaga seems to think that your dejected expression is correlated to your hunger. He shoots you something of a sympathetic look over the flames and you decide to play along with it, figuring that it’ll be easier than trying to explain that you miss your surrogate father more than words in any language can describe.

A comfortable silence stretches between the two of you. You take your hat off once the heat starts to get to you, placing it at your side and running your hand through your hair. Your fingernails feel good on your scalp, combing through the salty tangles of your hair. For what feels like the hundredth time that day, you wish you could have taken a dip in the creek you heard when you first arrived in… wherever it is that you are. You’re crusted with dirt and sweat and the salty tang of the ocean, and it makes you shift a little uncomfortably.

The sky finally becomes dark enough to be called nighttime. The moon hangs low, glowing white and magnificent the same way it had when you would look at it from your ship. Stars gleam down at you like pinpricks in black fabric. Your mouth slides into a small frown; Yoichi still isn’t back yet, and although you know the young man can probably hold his own, if he ran into trouble then there’s a chance it’ll find its way back to you.

Nobunaga seems less concerned than you, though his hunger must be as bad as yours. His eyes keep flicking impatiently over to the entrance of the castle, his hands resting on his stomach as he lounges. You sigh, leaning back as well. You wish that you could converse with the man before you, exchange jokes or learn more about where the hell you even were, but the things understood between the two of you were limited.

You immediately perk up when you catch the sound of footsteps outside. They’re labored but still light— Yoichi must have nabbed a lot of food. Your stomach groans.

You turn towards the entrance, a bright grin on your face— completely missing the way Nobunaga’s face twists into mild shock— before you freeze.

Yoichi has a man propped up with his arm, his face shiny with the strain of dragging a body into the ruins. You’ve seen your fair share of dead bodies, sure, but the nonchalant way that Yoichi places this one on the floor makes you immediately back up. The blood that stains the garments under the man’s armor is as red as rubies. You look from him back up to Yoichi.

Did he shoot him? Is this what he brought back for you to eat? You feel nauseous, like the world is spinning around you. You were many things in your lifetime, but a cannibal? That was a line you would never cross, never ever—

Yoichi says something to Nobunaga. His voice is level but there’s a small tone of impatience in it. Nobunaga gets to his feet immediately, bending over the body on the floor. You’re still a little terrified that both men will suggest roasting the body over an open flame, but you can’t help but look.

A head of thick black hair and shiny, vivid red armor that matches the color of his blood. It’s not a familiar face but you feel like it should be. You almost want to reach out and touch him, feel his skin under your calloused hands—

You can see now, in the light of the fire, that his chest is rising and falling very faintly. He’s not dead, and Yoichi isn’t expecting you to eat him. You almost want to cry out in relief.

Yoichi begins to undress him. Your interest grows as Yoichi pulls everything off—fabric, metal, leather— in order to fully display the gaping, circular wounds on his torso. Nobunaga takes off in search of something that you soon learn is going to be used to stitch his wounds shut. You watch as Yoichi starts on one of the many puncture wounds that litter his body, but immediately you protest when you catch sight of his handiwork.

“No! No.” You tap Yoichi gently on the hand. He’s closing the wound like one might fix a tear in clothing; even from here, you can see the slack in the thread that he uses. “The stitches will open again the second he moves.”

Yoichi looks at you, unable to process your words but interested in the firm tone you use. Again, you move gently to take the needle from his hands and go to work yourself. And although you may not be a doctor— by the standards of your current time or the ones of the future— the way you methodically move the needle in order to create a purse-string suture around the puncture would impress even a professional.

Your eyebrows furrow once you pull the end of the thread so that the round wound puckers shut, then tie a secure knot at the end that you’re aware catches your companions by surprise; you’re a little out of practice, but you’re able to tie the surgical knot regardless.

Your pride at displaying your medical prowess is short-lived, however, when another scan over the man’s body reminds you of just how many similar punctures cover his skin. There’s dirt and sweat crusting the oozing wounds, mixing with blood and pus, and although you’ve managed to close the most pressing one in his stomach, you’re well aware that blood loss and infection may take the man regardless. You breathe through your mouth slowly, eyes prickling a little bit at how putrid his wounds smell.

“God, how are you still alive?” You tut to yourself, re-threading the needle and pushing the man gently to his side so that you can stitch up the matching exit hole on his back. It’s a bit higher up than the previous one. You’re incredibly familiar with a pattern like this— was this man shot at from below? It makes little sense, because these wounds are far larger and more jagged than a bullet hole would be, but you suppose now isn’t the time to be questioning his story. If you don’t keep going, he could very well succumb to his injuries.

Yoichi crouches down next to you to watch you work, still enthralled with the way you work the needle in and out of the stranger’s skin. You may not be familiar with Yoichi’s culture, but it’s becoming apparent to you that he’s never seen a wound closed like this before. You hadn’t, either, until Samuel had shown you after a particularly nasty altercation that your crew had engaged in. It makes you wonder, for the hundredth time, where Yoichi is from. And then, stemming off of that—

When is he from?

The idea seems ridiculous, so much so that you immediately want to laugh at yourself, but it sticks in your brain. Is it really so far-fetched, given that you’ve been teleported from your dimension into another one— one occupied by men with ears almost as long as their entire faces? Was it too extreme to entertain the idea that part of the reason you were barred from speaking with your companions was also due, somewhat, to the fact that they had been here longer than you? You didn’t even know if the language that they spoke was the language that they had arrived here speaking. Had they created their own? Had they come together?

You feel a headache start as you pull the exit wound closed. Moving upwards on the back, you begin on another gash that didn’t seem to come from a puncture-- most likely a cut from a knife. It’s only about as long as your thumb but it’s deep. You change tactics, mimicking the lock-stitch suture that Samuel had also had the time to teach you, though your recreation remains far less neater than his had been. You bite your lip.

“Where did you find him?” You ask Yoichi, patting the stranger on the arm and then pointing out into the night. You do it again, hoping that he understands what you’re trying to get across. He remains silent.

He turns to Nobunaga and says something. You click your tongue in annoyance, but keep quiet. No use in being upset over something that neither you nor the archer can really control. Perhaps, once you’re done here, you and the two men will create more crude signs to boost your communication.

It takes you at least an hour to finally close all the injuries that you can see. Yoichi hands you a roll of cloth when you’re finished and you take it after a moment of consideration, wrapping every inch of skin that bears a stitched wound, pulling the bandages tight enough to keep further dirt from seeping in but not tight enough that you’ll crush his muscles or organs.

You want to ask where Nobunaga and Yoichi even managed to get first aid materials, and why they didn’t have any sort of disinfectant— even vodka would have done the job— but instead you just lean back, wiping away the residual sweat on your brow. Silence settles around you, save for the crackling of the flames in front of you.

Niku.” You finally sigh. Yoichi’s head turns immediately to look at you, his eyebrows lifting. Nobunaga exchanges a couple words with him, perhaps recounting how he’d taught you some of their language. Yoichi shrugs, then pats you on the head in what you assume is supposed to be a friendly manner. You snort, but look up to shoot him a small grin anyway.

“Thanks for giving me something to do, I suppose.” You pat the stranger on his uninjured shoulder. He doesn’t move, but you can tell by the warmth of his skin that he’s somehow still alive. Yoichi gives both you and Nobunaga an amicable wave before he sets out again. You almost want to call out to him not to bring back another body, but you know that the humor will be lost in the language barrier.

Instead, you just wait.

Chapter Text

Yoichi hasn’t returned by the time the stranger wakes up. You’re somewhat glad for it, too, because you’re pretty certain that he would have laughed at the uncharacteristic squeak you let out when the stranger bolts into a sitting position, calling out a word that takes you by enough surprise that you almost topple into the flames.

“Blimey!” You snap once you catch yourself, slightly embarrassed at your reaction. You look to Nobunaga to see if he’s as taken aback as you are, but the glint of silver reflected in the fire immediately makes panic rise under your skin.

The stranger— as battered and bruised as he is— holds his weapon mere inches from Nobunaga. It’s a long sword, something that you might have seen marketed as an exotic weapon during your travels, and although the blade is thin, there’s enough blood crusted on it to make a statement.

Nobunaga, for his part, doesn’t seem to be moved in any particular way by this. The way he holds his arquebus as a counter to the blade in his face is calm and collected, and for a moment you see a father and child instead of your companion and his potential attacker. Your eyes narrow as you unsheathe your own weapon, standing at the ready should Nobunaga need you to intervene. Neither of the men seem to notice you do so.

The stranger has a voice that sounds like dry autumn leaves scattering across the ground. It’s commanding, harsh, as he barks something out at Nobunaga. Your comrade answers back with what seems like ease, stating his name—

The stranger swings at him, and Nobunaga ducks out of the way just in time. The flower on the wall flutters in the flow of air created by his blade slicing the space where Nobunaga’s head had been. So it hadn’t been painted on the wall like you’d first thought; you wonder what else about this world you’ve missed at first glance.

You don’t get a chance to intercept the blade on Nobunaga’s behalf, partially because of your momentary distraction and partially because it’s at that exact moment that an arrow whistles through the air, scarcely a foot from your head, then sinks into the wall next to the strangers raised arm.

You turn immediately, sighing in relief. “Thank god.”

The man looks startled— perhaps because Yoichi nearly gave him a new wound to address, maybe because he just now noticed your presence, or a mix of the two— and watches wordlessly as the archer strolls in, saying something in his general direction before turning to Nobunaga and handing him a—

Duck? Your stomach groans the loudest it has the entire day at the prospect of finally getting food. Yoichi casts you a grin over your shoulder and you scoff, looking to the side.

He hands one to the stranger as well, who actually seems to listen to whatever Yoichi tells him to do. You hold out your own hands, expecting him to hand you a duck, but Yoichi shakes his head at you and points to the logs across the room. You tilt your head, then shrug. If your earlier work splitting the wood exempted you from plucking poultry, then you wouldn’t argue.

You sit down with a sigh next to Yoichi, resting your elbow on your knee and your chin on your palm. You can tell the stranger is looking at you out of the corner of his eye and it makes something funny happen in your chest, but you look away when Yoichi bends over to slide a duck feather into the fold of your hat, which sits on the ground at your feet. You laugh a little at him, bumping him with your shoulder.

Nothing of substantial importance happens until after Nobunaga has impaled the ducks on wood and set them to roast over the flames; the stranger begins to discuss something with Nobunaga in a tone much calmer than the one he had used, though his tone quickly climbs in pitch. He looks displeased at whatever Nobunaga is telling him, though before you have a chance to again draw your cutlass through fear of an altercation, Yoichi begins to laugh.

You listen as the three men engage in some sort of discussion— Yoichi speaks his own name, and the stranger seems unable to handle it because he launches into a tirade that makes Yoichi snicker a little to himself.

You’re almost taken aback, though, when the stranger then turns to you and demands something that you can’t answer. His slate-grey eyes are narrowed at you as you try desperately to process what he’s saying. He doesn’t take your hesitation well before he’s launched into another tirade, pointing at you with his finger accusingly.

Nobunaga holds up a hand. When the stranger falls silent, he points at you.

“Captain.” He says simply.

“[Name] Sterling.” You clarify. All three men seem to absorb the information differently— Yoichi speaks your name back to your immediately, while the stranger and Nobunaga share confused looks. You sigh.

“[Name] is fine. Or Captain, I guess.”

Nobunaga finally seems to ask for an introduction from your newest companion; while they bicker, Yoichi leans in towards you.

“Toyohisa.” He points to the bandaged man. You shoot him a thankful look; he seems to have caught on much faster than Nobunaga had in terms of telling you what you needed to know. As the two argue, Yoichi pulls one of the ducks off the fire and holds it in front of you. You barely even register the heat as you tear a chunk of the flesh from the body, skin and all, and bite into it.

It’s not seasoned the way it would have been had Cyril cooked it, but bland food is better than no food. You wait until Yoichi pulls some off for himself before getting a second chunk, the scalding meat nearly frying your tastebuds.

“I think I like you the most, right now.” You mutter to Yoichi as you watch Nobunaga and Toyohisa exchange more heated words. Yoichi gets the general gist of your words, you suppose, because he laughs a little under his breath.

__

The night air is still on the other side of the world. Trees and grass and flowers sit, unmoving and rooted into the earth as if they’re afraid to let go. Animals slide into whatever cover they can find, holding their tails and their wings around them for protection, their chins tucked to their chests. Not even the small hermit crabs that dot the white sand move, as if the entire planet is collectively holding a breath that it’s afraid to release.

Waves roll smoothly onto shore, the white foam on top of the water glittering in the pale disc of moonlight that illuminates it. The tide isn’t supposed to be high on this particular night, though the curls in the ocean seem so tall that they might, at any given moment, touch one of the stars in the sky.

It happens while you and the rest of your companions are fast asleep in the castle. It happens while an army of smug men begin their descent onto an elven village. It happens when not a single soul— human or demi-human— is around to witness the horror of true evil being born, to see the active process of a human life being rendered to nothing but suffering and vengeance.

One wave, more horrible and inky and daunting than the others, rises from the ocean like the arched back of a great beast, gaining momentum much faster than natural until it’s rushing towards the shore without a single sign of slowing down.

If anyone were around, perhaps they would have caught sight of the hand that clawed its way out of the belly of the wave, reaching towards the sand as if it were a lifeline. Maybe they would have seen the jewel-covered fingers, the embroidered cuff of a black jacket, or the faded blue tattoo on the wrist. Against all odds, they might have been able to make out the face of a man, contorted and pale, pressed up against the surface of the water like a pane of glass, mouth open and screaming something that only registered as silence. Maybe, if a person had been there, they would have turned and run at the sight of an Ends being brought into this world in a way much more violent than their counterpart’s. Maybe they would have stood, frozen, until the wave itself had swallowed them whole as it descended to shore, crashing past the edges of the beach and into the trees, uprooting foliage and drowning small creatures like a hand snuffing the small flame of a candle.

Perhaps there was a witness to this event, but it will never be fully known; when the water finally pulls back from the earth, returning back from whence it came, all that’s left on the sand is a body. Hermit crabs no longer dot the ground. Squirrels and birds, ripped from their home, litter the now-calmed ocean like lifeless bits of confetti. The only living, breathing thing that remains in the vicinity is a man, on his back like he might have just been enjoying a nap on the beach.

Sand encrusts the gills on his neck. They flap uselessly in time with the rise and fall of his chest. A noise, much like the gurgling of water in someone’s throat, leaves his body in a steady pattern. His lungs are heavy, filled with salt and microscopic creatures that ram against the pink tissue of the organ in a futile attempt at freedom, though he notices none of it. The water is part of him. It thunders through his veins like it’s a being of its own, bringing him back from the brink of death that the desecration of his soul took him to.

It takes a moment for his eyes to open. When they do, they are no longer the brilliant green that they were in life, dotted with specks of gold that mimicked the freckles on his youthful face. They’re pitch black, just like the wave that brought him here, like the eyes of a deep-sea creature that waits in the shadows to strike. He pushes himself up into a sitting position, not sparing a second thought to the torrent of water that drips from the folds of his felt hat.

His mind replays a single face over and over until it’s all but burnt into the folds of his brain.

He rises to his feet, a murmur of your name falling from his lips and into the dead silence of the night.

Chapter Text

The first lesson you learn in this new world is that your instincts, no matter how sharp and refined they’ve become, will never hold a candle to Shimazu Toyohisa’s natural inclination towards sensing battle. He smells the conflict before you do, despite the fact that you had already been awake when he arose, staring into the sky with Yoichi and pitifully hoping that some sort of telepathic connection could form between you and the archer.

Nobunaga is on his feet not long after the red-clad warrior, and the two of them crowd behind you like a pair of dogs sniffing the air for the scent of warm food.

You notice the spiraling wisps of smoke at almost the same time that they do, and your hand immediately flies to your waist as Nobunaga and Toyohisa exchange words that must correlate to what’s happening on the horizon.

For the first time, you aren’t aggravated over the fact that you can’t speak to your companions. In fact, their conversation doesn’t even register in your mind.

Instead, you feel thin threads of distress lace into your body. You know instinctively, though, that they aren’t coming from you; it’s like a disembodied hand has reached across the distance between you and the smoke in the hills, calling out for help without any words. Your blood rushes in your ears and you forget nearly everything that’s happening around you in that moment, so narrowly focused on that raw feeling of desperation latching onto to you.

Much later on in your adventure, Nobunaga will tease you about how he knew from the start that you and Toyohisa were destined to be a match; the two of you propel yourselves forward at almost the exact same time, respective blades drawn and gleaming in the light afforded by the stars and the moon. And while the Shimazu warrior keeps pace with you out of his own lust for the thrill of battle, the emotion that drives you is pure panic. The sight of two silver eyes flickers in your mind, a handsome face, long ears—

You have not a single doubt that the man who led you to the ruins is in trouble.

You pick up the pace as Nobunaga and Yoichi come up behind you, talking amongst themselves in that rough language of theirs. You have no thoughts to spare except for how good it feels to have soft ground under your feet and the wind threatening to rip your hat clean off your head. Adrenaline keeps you going even when you spot two small boys rushing towards you, screams on their lips. Adrenaline keeps you going even when Nobunaga fires a perfect shot right between a potential attacker’s eyes. Adrenaline keeps you going as you cut down further reinforcements with ease, your expression wild and bloodthirsty and uncaring that the man whose neck you just severed bore a striking resemblance to your own physical form instead of an elven one. Adrenaline keeps you going forward, towards the man you know called out for your help. You leave the men in the dust as you propel yourself further, lessening the gap between you and the source of that awful, gut-wrenching sensation.

Even though you know in your heart that you’re too late.

__

For as old as he is, most of the village would consider Rem a child.

This is not in any way due to his age; in fact, he has quite a bit of seniority over many of the elves in the village, though the lack of wrinkles in his face or grey in his hair doesn’t betray the amount of time he’s spent in this world. It is due, however, to the gleam of disobedience in his milky eyes that keeps him standing even when all the rest of his village is commanded to kneel in front of Aram.

He snatches his hand away when he feels Ailwin tug at it from the ground, his mouth pressed into a firm line as he stares the Orte knight in the eyes with what little vision he has, pure hatred emanating from him in dark waves as he makes out what he can of the smug features adorning the swordsman’s face.

“You again.” Aram doesn’t sound displeased in the slightest to see Rem on his feet. In fact, he sounds more than elated. “Haven’t you learned from last time that speaking out will get you nowhere?”

The elf balls his hands at his sides, willing his muscles to stop trembling with rage. One of the knights under Aram snickers at his side; had Rem possessed better depth perception, he would have been able to discern which one it had been in order to shoot him the nastiest look that he could manage. Instead, he simply shakes his head.

“You’ve come to punish us for no reason other than the fact that we continue to exist despite your best efforts.” He keeps his voice low and steady, almost impossible to hear over the wicked crackling of the flames around him. Ailwin whimpers a soft warning that Rem choses to ignore, keeping his chin high. “You’ve taken our women. You’ve taken our livelihood. You’ve taken some of our spirit. But I will never kneel for you.”

Aram laughs, a short sound that seems to unsettle the elves at Rem’s feet. Shara— who also seems moments away from snapping— lets out a shuddering breath that matches the erratic pattern of Rem’s heartbeat. Aram regards them both.

“And what care might you have for the women of your village, hm?” He pulls at the cuffs of his pristine white gloves in an almost bored fashion, head tilting to the side. “Not like you have a life beyond being a place for my blade to rest. No marriage, no children. Isn’t that right?”

Rem grits his teeth. “You’ve come to punish us because the actions of our children—”

“Children? That’s why you’re asking me to pardon you?” Aram clicks his tongue in a disapproving way. “You really are as headstrong as your parents were, you blind bastard. I intend on pardoning no one. Entering the forest and helping a Drifter are crimes punishable by death.”

“I’ll kill you if you touch a single hair on their heads.” It’s a promise so empty that it’s almost laughable. In fact, Aram himself does laugh again, gesturing Rem forward. When he doesn’t move, Aram does. His cruel expression will be something that Rem remembers for as long as he lives.

He’s so hyper-focused on the sneer that will come to haunt his nightmares that he doesn’t understand at first that he’s been struck; only the white-hot flash of pain as he steps back makes his eyes widen, his hands coming up to his face to the split in his cheek that spurts blood onto the front of his tunic. The collective gasp that accompanies Aram sheathing his weapon is silenced by the shrill cry of Ailwin as he pulls his brother downwards, into his arms. The cut is shallow but it leaks like a proper puncture, jagged and twisting over the bridge of his nose. Rem puts his hands up to it as if that alone can quell the bleeding, his breath coming out in ragged pants against his palms.

“You’re lucky,” Aram muses, “that I don’t take your head clean off right here.”

“Shut up!”

Shara’s voice rings throughout the clearing as he stands in Rem’s stead, his expression one of collective fury. “First of all, you’ve been unreasonable! We wouldn’t be able to get firewood or nuts without entering the forest, or even hunt! You’ve forced us to work as serfs and you’ve taken our women away from us! Now, these children save a dying man and you call it a crime? Are you telling us elves to die?”

“That’s right.” Aram’s face goes blank with a speed that astounds even the soldiers around him. “You all should just die.”

Rem barely registers Shara’s surprised noise as he cradles his own face in his hands, blood seeping out in watery rivulets down between his fingers. Ailwin is comforting him, insisting that once the knights leave they can smear an herb paste into the gash, his words overlapping Aram’s own about the extermination of demihumans. Rem bites his lip, trying more furiously than he’s ever done to keep from crying at the sheer pain of having his face split—

But it’s all in vain when he feels Ailwin’s body yanked from his by Aram’s hand. He has barely a second to process the feeling of loss before the sound of bone crunching and muscle snapping under skin meets his sensitive ears. He looks up at his brother— kind and loving Ailwin, with freckles like pebbles in a creek— impaled on the blade of the knight, his heart split in two by the cold and unforgiving metal. Rem registers a scream from far away that truly originates in his throat, his mouth open in a wail that catches the blood seeping from his cut. It mixes with the bile and saliva on his tongue, gurgling down his throat as salty tears sting the split skin on his cheeks.

Aram kicks the lifeless body forward with as much care as one would afford to a parasite, and Rem scrambles towards it with a broken sob. He gathers his brother in his arms, the corpse still warm and thrumming with the last beats of life. He pays no mind to the other bodies that fall behind him, nor to the screams or the panic that laces the voices of his brethren. He cradles Ailwin as softly as he can, apologies coming out of his cracked and stained lips as a reminder of what his own stubbornness wrought.

He hardly minds that the wheat field he labored in over the years has gone up in flames, nor that the culling around him as come to a mysterious halt. He keeps his head tucked down, leaking blood like tears onto his brother’s body.

But then the air shudders with a strange electricity that he knows well; he pulls Ailwin closer to him as he dares to look up, a figure flying through the air as gracefully as a leaf carried in the wind, a massive curved blade announcing your arrival before any sound does. The cry that leaves your lips is simple yet terrifying, and before anyone in the vicinity can even spare a thought towards movement, you’ve sliced one of the knights clean in half at the waist.

You turn as you land, sliding backwards only a few inches before you launch yourself forward once more, cutting through both smoke and skin as you take down a second Orte knight with the same ease as the first.

You twist your wrist roughly in order to flick blood from your blade, your feet planted firmly in the ground as you pant. Elves and knights alike look at you with horror that befits viewing a monster for the first time. One of the armor-clad men makes to run off and warn Aram, who is still regarding the engulfed field with annoyance, and the speed with which you lunge towards him and sever his arm at the elbow is nothing short of astounding. Before he can scream, you bring your cutlass down on his head, the metal of his helmet crunching along with the bones of his skull, digging into the soft brain matter underneath. You yank your weapon out from his head with an odd suction-like sound, flinging soft tissue into the air as the knight falls. You spit on his corpse before tilting your head to the side, regarding the elves over your shoulder with a blank expression.

Silence settles over your part of the village, though the commotion in the distance tells you that Nobunaga and Yoichi may have joined the skirmish along with Toyohisa. You have no regard for any sort of battle plan they could had laid out on the way here, nor do you care in the slightest that the last knight standing in your vicinity has, in fact, soiled his pants. You turn your body slowly, as if not to scare the elves, before you drop to the ground in front of the single man you had felt so compelled to protect.

You recognize him, even with the gash on his face. The exposed muscles under his skin visibly contract and glisten in the firelight as his face contorts from sorrow to wrath to utter defeat. He looks up at you as you crawl towards him, your own expression solemn.

“You.” You say, and although he doesn’t understand your language, he sucks his bottom lip into his mouth to quell his whimpers. The knight with the urine-soaked trousers bolts off as soon as he senses a chance to get away. You don’t bother chasing him.

“Who did this?”

The elf’s chest shudders with a poorly-contained sob. You look at the body in his arms, at how similar their faces are, and understanding overcomes you. A dark shadow falls across your face that has little to do with your hat blocking the light; you lay a rough hand over the long-fingered one of the man before you.

A brief memory flashes through your brain, as crystal clear as the day it had happened. Tobias holding you much the same way, his sky-colored eyes watery as he murmured a promise to you that you had seared into every corner of your mind.

They won’t get away with this.

Your brother, slain and disemboweled just inside your front door. Your mother and your father begging for their lives, only to be met with blades digging into the soft flesh of their throats. Your sister, beautiful and serene, taking her last breaths as blood flooded her lungs. Those men had come for you.

They won’t get away with this.

Those men had come for you, but they didn’t have the decency to spare your family. You wonder if your mother’s last sight was your father’s corpse slumping to the ground, if your brother had still been alive when his entrails had been strewn about on the floor.

They paid the price for what you had done. Is that what had happened here? Had this man lost his brother because of his own doing? Had he too risked everything to stand up for what was right just like you had?

They won’t—

“—get away with this.” You murmur darkly, rising to your feet once more. Your whole body seems to vibrate with the need for vengeance, the need to avenge a man who you’ve never met. A raw cry rips itself from your throat as you hold your cutlass at the ready, flying forward on instinct alone, throwing yourself into battle without a second thought for the outcome.

They won’t get away with this, you think.

Not this time.

Chapter Text

Toyohisa has already flung himself into battle when you arrive to aid him, and the sight is nothing short of spectacular.

You’ve seen more than your fair share of skirmishes during your time on the ocean, whether it be through cannons or gunfire or a classic sword fight; it takes more than a few simple swings of the arm to impress you. Not even Michael’s riposte, the fastest you’ve ever seen, had brought out the glimmer in your eye like watching Toyohisa had in that moment. In fact, were you not occupied with fending off knights of your own, you could have sat and watched his form flicker in and out of the smoke for hours on end, admiring the curve of his body as he lunges forward and the glint of his bared teeth in the light of the flames around you.

Perhaps it’s at this moment, or a moment later on in your quest to liberate the elves, that you and the Shimazu warrior subconsciously came to the realization that something more than fate brought the two of you here together. The way your eyes lock as he brings his strange weapon down through the neck of a knight sparks something within you that will never be extinguished, not for as long as you soul exists.

He chants something in that raw voice of his, each syllable rolling over you as you take an offensive stance, scoffing almost condescendingly as a man in dark armor charges towards you. The burn in your arm from having to slice through his fat and flesh and spine is well worth seeing him split in two on the ground, mouth open in a battle cry that he never had the chance to vocalize.

Another one comes at you from behind, and you sense him simply due to the fact that you know the feeling of eyes on your neck well; you turn but he’s too close for you to swing at without just bumping his body with your arm. Immediately, you lift your foot up and press your heel into the soft flesh of his stomach that remains unguarded by metal and you kick hard right below his bottom rib. The knight makes a gasping sound that tells you you’ve hit your mark, his body bending at the waist. You retract your foot only to swing it into the general area of his temple, the impact of your foot at the bottom lip of his helmet enough to rip the protection off of his head. You grin down at him, eyes cruel and unforgiving while you pin your attention to the soft spot of his skull right above his ear.

“Gotcha!” You holler, and before the winded man can speak you grip your cutlass in both hands and bring it down as hard as you possibly can into that spot, sinking your blade into his skull and through brain matter. The last thing that the knight ever tries to say is completely lost as you immediately kill him, the tightness of his brain and the bone of his skull keeping him attached to your blade for a few moments longer. You scowl.

“Oi. Off.” You spit, yanking back on your blade as hard as you can. With a wet suctioning sound it comes free and you kick the body away for extra emphasis, a few chunks of brain matter flying to the ground and shining in the light of the fire. You step over him gingerly, and look up so you can watch Toyohisa square off against the man that you assume is responsible for the destruction of this village; the clothing he wears and the arrogant tone to his voice tells you as much. Instead of engaging in the battle yourself, you move to stand in front of the demihumans on the ground that continue to mourn their losses despite the destruction that rages around them.

The moment before he executes a maneuver that will leave you in awe— momentarily sacrificing his blade in order to lunge forward and attach his entire body to the commanding knight— Toyohisa’s eyes flick over to yours and you hold his gaze, your body language now defensive as you ready yourself for the possibility of reinforcements interrupting all of the hard work that you and the samurai had put in. Ever so slowly, he dips his head at you in an understanding nod.

Words don’t need to be spoken. You nod back.

Watching him take down a man vastly larger than him with his sheer tenacity alone is not the most impressive thing that you will see Toyohisa Shimazu do, though in that moment it completely ensnares you. You almost completely forget the rage and the bitterness that drove you into such a frenzy in the first place while you watch him smash Aram’s face in with the staff that he pulls from his belt.

Teeth fly with blood and saliva and you’re almost terrified of the gleeful noise that you let out as you watch. You swipe your tongue over your cracked lips and you taste something sharply metallic. Blood; yours or another’s, you don’t particularly care to know. The blonde knight screams and begs while your comrade continues to beat him. The crunching of cartilage and bone is oddly soothing, like a lullaby would be to an anxious child. You feel in your element here, surrounded by the destruction of oppressive men.

(As Nobunaga and Yoichi watch you from the rooftop, both of them buzz with excitement.

“How nasty!” Nobunaga trills. Yoichi grins at your distant form.

“They’re a fun pair, aren’t they?” He agrees.)

You’re taken aback, however, when Toyohisa stops just short of killing Aram. He stands up far too soon to be finished, and the groan that escapes the mouth of his victim is proof. Your elated expression immediately withers.

“What are you doing?” You snap.

Toyohisa gives you the blank stare of incomprehension that you will, luckily, not have to deal with for much longer.

“Don’t tell me you’re giving him mercy,” you continue, “blow the man down!”

He doesn’t. He slowly starts to move away from the clearly living knight, in the direction of a few elves collected under a tree. You scoff and move to finish the job yourself, but the second that you do, he holds a palm up to you.

The sign is universal. You halt in your tracks with a displeased noise, following his path with your eyes as he yanks his original weapon from the ground where it landed and continues to stride over to the group of elves that caught his attention. Realization dawns on you at once as he offers the blade to an elderly-looking man. The choice seems deliberate and it causes you to tilt your head while you figure that Toyohisa must have witnessed the man being wronged in some way. The sentiment makes the corner of your mouth quirk upwards, though you soon lose all humor when you remember the elf with the split face from before. Would he want vengeance as well?

You get your answer when the rest of the elves start to stand, grabbing whatever weapons they can get their hands on. Toyohisa’s short speech to the elder will soon be lost to time, but the words still somehow ring true to you. There’s a conviction in his tone, a sense of justice that you find yourself intrigued by as you watch the elves collect around Aram, who tries in vain to crawl away. The silver-eyed one who helped you before is not among them.

The sound of multiple weapons stabbing into a body at once makes your mouth turn back up once again. After all your hard work, Aram is no more.
__

In a plane parallel to your own, in a time that is both simultaneous and independent from your battle in the elven village, Murasaki sits alone at his desk, his lips curled upwards as he reads the headline slowly manifesting onto his newspaper.

The battle is going about as well as he expected it would; Toyohisa is an impressive man, without a doubt. He’s been in the new world only a handful of hours and already he’s making a mark that Murasaki is certain will spread throughout the demihumans and solidify into something great against the Orte empire.

His lips move thoughtfully around the filter of his cigarette when he feels the pinpricks of a distant aura start to sink into his arm; a single look over the top of his newspaper confirms that he has company.

“You’re still wasting your time struggling, huh, Murasaki?”

He doesn’t move. The hallway that he inhabits suddenly feels like a cold void, unnatural winds whipping about just beyond where the white light ends. Jagged black shadows play just feet from his desk. While some may find the presence of them intimidating, Murasaki has been doing this dance long enough to be unfazed by them.

“No matter how hard you try, no matter how many Drifters you send, I’m going to win. No matter how much effort you make, it’s all futile.”

Murasaki doesn’t put his newspaper down, not even to fully regard his company. “Get out of here, Easy. The wrongs must be righted.”

He senses her aggravation almost immediately. So simple to irritate, this woman; it’s almost hard for him to believe that they’re tangled in such a twisted game of chess. Her tenacity, though, remains admirable, even when her aura starts to fade. He pulls the newspaper down to the desk.

“Get lost, Easy. I won’t let you have your way. Pathetic woman.”

As expected, her smug look vanishes and that sickly black aura comes rushing back towards him, though the both of them are keenly aware that it will fail to reach his immediate vicinity.

“You’re the pathetic one.” Her fists are curled at her side. Her posture is like that of a little sister who lost a petty fight with her brother. He knows what this is about. “Two Drifters in one day! You must think you’re ahead now, with that captain of yours!”

Murasaki blinks slowly at her, his owlish blue eyes betraying no emotion. Easy rests a hand on her hip.

“And after you knew I wanted her for my own collection! That’s a low blow, Murasaki. I had already planned ways to corrupt her, but you had to go and steal from me.”

“Captain Sterling remains an incorruptible force, as do the rest of the Drifters.” Murasaki keeps his tone flat. “You can’t have something stolen from you that wasn’t yours in the first place.”

“I think I have an Ends that can argue that for me.” Easy says. Murasaki feels the left corner of his lip twitch downward; he wasn’t prepared for her to retort so easily. “He’s no Captain, but I think you’ll find that a boatswain can perform just as well once he’s reached his full potential.”

Murasaki doesn’t quite like the feeling that settles into his stomach at that moment. He had known the second you stumbled into his corridor that you were a soul of immovable morality. He hadn’t, however, spent much time thinking about the rest of your crew.

Easy seems to take a sick joy in Murasaki’s concealed discomfort. “What? You can’t be the only one that gets a pirate; that’s just not fair!”

“You think emotional connections will stop the captain?” He asks. Easy gives him a wicked smile.

“Of course I do. Emotional connections are what corrupted my newest addition, after all! He’s rotten to the core; it wasn’t much effort to pull him to my side.”

“Your move isn’t as clever as you think.” Murasaki runs through a list in his mind, but he admits his own faults to himself. He hadn’t been as focused on the rest of your crew as he had been on you. If Easy had managed to bring back the right man—

No. She couldn’t have. And even if she did, there was still no way that she could win. He tells her as much.

“If you think you can beat me, go ahead and try!” Her expression is downright brutal now, and before Murasaki can retort she’s brought a hand up, snapping as she narrows her horrible pink eyes. Ink blossoms on the page before him.

Black King Commences Southern Invasion.

The ball of dread in his stomach expands as his eyes widen.

“There’s no way your Drifters could possibly beat my Ends!”

“You’re out of your mind.” Murasaki grits out the words with enough venom to put a snake to shame. Easy casts him a smirk that nearly makes him throw his ashtray at her head.

“What makes you say that? After all, all’s fair in love and war.”

Chapter Text

The woods are calm after the death of Aram.

You lean against one of the trees, basking in the coolness that the shadows off against the fire as Toyohisa and Nobunaga converse. Yoichi, while part of their conversation, allows his eyes to flick over towards you numerous times, a pleased grin widening on his face each time he does so. You don’t care much for their exclusion of you, especially since they gave Toyohisa the only seat in the vicinity, but you suppose it can’t be helped. You have no way of speaking with them that doesn’t involve flailing your arms like an octopus washed onto shore.

A soft sound in the distance, however, makes you snap to attention. You fiddle with the brim of your hat restlessly as you listen to the collection of surviving elves weep among themselves; you’re torn in half over whether or not to seek out the injured man who had saved you yesterday or stay rooted into your spot. You wonder if it’s possible that the others of his village have addressed his wound, or if it will remain open and festering with filth and bacteria.

You decide to find out.

Yoichi’s eyes trail your movement as you push off from the tree, stepping over the discarded limbs and puddles of blood left behind by the altercation as if they’re natural debris. A few of the elves, sensing your approach, shift closer together out of a purely animal instinct that tells them to fear you. You don’t take it to heart, not after what most of them witnessed from you and the shining respect they seemed to afford your companions. You scan the group for the gleam of silver.

He’s on the ground still, and a much older-looking man of his kind tends to his face. His expression is blank, the tears on his cheeks dried to semi-matte streaks that softly reflect whatever light is cast upon his skin. You can see in his eyes, however, a certain hollowness that portrays denial. It makes your heart clench; you know that expression far too well.

When he hears your footsteps, the silver-eyed man looks up at you, as if he’s aware that you’re in his vicinity but he can’t do much other than see right through you. It unsettles you just the slightest as you kneel to look at him for the second time that night. The older elf has apparently pressed some sort of mixture into the wound that dried in clumps, splitting slightly when the muscles in his face move. Underneath, you see the raw red of blood. You sigh.

“You’re a resilient one, aren’t you?” You say, though you’re aware that your words will fall flat due to his failure to comprehend your language. He looks at you all the same, though, and for the first time you realize something that only comes from being in such close vicinity and having enough time to assess exactly what the unusual quality of his eyes means.

“You’re going blind.” You state rather dumbly, recognizing that the silver of his gaze can’t be the natural color. Under a milky sheen, you faintly detect a soft blue. To emphasize your words, you shut one eye and tap your eyelid gently with a blood-encrusted finger. Seeming to understand, the man nods.

“And yet you still stayed to fight, I assume.” You remember the way he cradled the body in his arms when you had first found him. It’s not too difficult to put the pieces together. “Admirable.”

He says something to you and you allow his language to fall over you with the intent to understand it. It’s rougher than the language of your three companions, less melodic and slightly more guttural. It’s raw in its form, or perhaps your conversation partner is just that straightforward with his emotions. Either way, you can detect the notes of sorrow and regret without much effort.

“My name is Captain [Name] Sterling.” You say. For emphasis, you point to your chest. “Captain.”

“Captain.” The word is slightly bastardized on his lips but it sounds just the same as when Nobunaga had said it. You nod to confirm, then point to him.

“Rem.” He says slowly.

“Rem.” You repeat. “This isn’t over.”

You turn, suddenly, and march back through the elves collected around you; they part immediately in order to let you pass, staring at you as if you’re some sort of wild animal that’s bound to lash out at any given moment. You don’t blame them, really.

Aram’s body lays in the dirt where he was killed, his corpse battered almost entirely beyond recognition. You regard him for a brief moment— the punctures in his body, the way his face has gone almost completely concave— for the most valuable thing that you can find.

This is a sentiment that floods you with a sense of true familiarity; since arriving in this strange world, you haven’t once felt as at home as you do right in this moment, scouring a dead body for valuables. You’ve done this more times than you can count— the rings on your fingers, the gold around your neck, and the ornate cutlass sheathed at your hip are a testament to this. Shimazu Toyohisa may prefer the heads of his victims and Nobunaga may desire their land, but to you defeat was something different.

A visible trophy was as big of a statement as fields or skulls. You carry it with you and you show others your victory each time you pass them by; taking the decorations of others tore away their status and applied it to you. You not only display to others that you’ve defeated your enemies, you show them that you’ve completely conquered every single one of their efforts until they’re nothing but cold corpses for you to loot.

Aram’s armor is too heavy for your taste, as is his sword. Neither speak of his arrogance. Your eyes flick back up to his neck, to the stained white collar of his cape.

Immediately, you kneel at his head, hands reaching to the buttons of his cape and sliding them free, revealing the pale expanse of his neck. It’s unblemished for the most part, saved from staining by the very article that you remove from his corpse. Afraid of tearing it, you hoist his body over onto its side, then to its front. He’s heavy and you’re less than gentle with him, making an annoyed sound in the back of your throat as you discard him to the side.

The cape is, of course, in ruins. The fabric is soft but punctured with holes from where the elves stabbed him all the way through, the pristine whiteness soiled by dirt and blood. It mixes together in burgundy patches where the wetness has created mud, and you have to practically peel it from the ground in order to gather it into your arms.

The entire village is silent now, even your companions; You feel the eyes of the three men on your back as you fold the cape over your arm, careful not to step on it as you walk back to Rem.

His breathing hitches when you stand in front of him again, your gazes locked as you slowly extend your arms, holding the cape out as an offering. You wonder if he understands the magnitude of it, of what it symbolizes to not only him but the men around him; the end of an era, the destruction of his fear and his slavery. The promise of justice on the horizon.

You were not there for the death of his brother. You were not there for Aram’s speech, full of hatred and ignorance for the demihumans. You were not there for his threat to cull half the village, and you were not there for the fear Shara had felt for his brothers. But you’ve seen men like Aram before, and you know you will see more of them in the future; racism and oppression are facts of life, unfortunate as it may be.

Perhaps Rem sees in your solemn expression that you will never be silent in the face of such things. That you will not allow yourself and others to fall victim to a system that treats you as anything other than people, not in your past life or in this one. There’s a glimmer of trust in his eyes that peeks out from behind the raw sorrow as he reaches out to grab the fabric of the cape in his trembling fingers and pull it around his neck with minimal flourish. Your own hands extend upwards to his throat, grabbing the buttons and sliding them back into place once more.

A slight breeze rustles the trees around the village. The end of the cape flutters gently around Rem’s ankles as his milky eyes stare straight into your own.

“Never forget this. Not for as long as you live.” You say, thinking of your own family. Rem doesn’t understand your words.

Yet he nods.

Chapter Text

Even in the recesses of the forest, Olminu can still feel the heat of the flames against her skin. Fire dances in the wet shine of her eyes as she backs away, her focus still on the four figures in front of her. They’ve convened together, three of them conversing easily, with the largest and broadest of the group occasionally looks to the only silent member and gestures with his hands.

Nobunaga. Captain Sterling. She pins the names to the faces, aided by the fact that orange light throws their features into more relief. She’s been watching them, certainly, but it’s difficult to keep it all straight when there’s four of them running amok; the only thing that has kept her sane is her loyalty to the Oct, she supposes. Otherwise, she might have run at the very sight of Captain Sterling’s legendary blade.

“This is Semu! This is Semu!” She tries to keep the mixture of awe and nervousness from her voice as she contacts her leader, “Grand Master, they finally seized the village! It’s dangerous to let them run loose! I’ll bring them there immediately!”

It doesn’t take long for her to get a reply.

“No, that won’t work. There’s no time for that. Don’t bring them here. Don’t you come, either.” The Grand Master’s voice is almost loud enough to mask the sound of light footfalls against stone.

“What?! So then…” Olminu trails off as his words sink in. If there’s no time, and the Grand Master doesn’t want them to meet with him…

“Yes. It’s begun.” His voice sounds like a whisper that’s trying to be a shout; it wants to be firm, wants to be convincing, but instead there are loose threads of insecurity and panic that Olminu wishes frantically that she could cut away.

She wishes she could reply, could do something to ease the mind of their tireless Grand Master, but the precise second that the glowing eye in the sky above him opens, she loses contact. The silence is near deafening, and she slumps as much as possible into the dew-dotted grass underneath her.

It takes her a minute to gather her wits about her, her body moving one step ahead of her as her fingers wrap around her binoculars. She shifts on her elbows a little, holding the binoculars up to her eyes, and—

The four Drifters she was assigned to watch are gone.

__

It was you who noticed her first, you think.

All that you had felt originally was a little prick on the back of your neck. Subtle enough to be mistaken for a bug bite, had you not known that no bug would be stupid enough to brave the flames to land on your dirt-crusted skin. Your hand goes to your nape, curling around it almost protectively as your eyes scan the immediate area.

Nobunaga and Yoichi have involved themselves in what seems to be an ill-started battle of the wits since your taking of the village; it only takes you half a second to decide that you won’t break it up. It’s useless to do so, anyway. Describing that you feel like you’re being watched to two men that hardly understand your crude sign language seems like a feat greater than taking down that small army of men.

So your eyes slide further to the right and lock with Toyohisa’s. His are like steel, dangerously narrowed and practically coming alive in the light of the fire that still rages on. He takes a look at your hand, then your pinched expression, and slowly juts his chin forward in acknowledgement. Then, his eyes are off of yours and looking blankly into the dark woods beyond, at a form you can’t make out until there’s a sudden gleam of something glassy in the distance.

Oh. Your lips form the words but you don’t speak them, deciding not to waste your breath. Toyohisa nods again, pulling his attention back towards you as the mutual understanding settles in. Without preamble, the both of you seem to morph into a planning stage; you point to the treetops and he nods, motioning with his fingers on his palm that there will be some sort of ambush carried out by two members of your party walking in mirrored semicircles. You’re almost surprised at how easy to read and concise his planning is, and on such short notice, but then the memory of him tossing his sword and latching onto Aram resurfaces.

And suddenly you’re not as much surprised as you are impressed.

It only takes a minute of hushed talking for him to cement the plan with your other companions, and even less than that to start the ambush. You take the right while Toyohisa takes the left, Nobunaga and Yoichi taking to the trees in order to seal off any potential exits. Anticipation rises in your body like bile might in your throat, your fingers instinctively curling around the hilt of your blade as you walk. You feel like a predator stalking prey, a shark in water that reeks of fish blood. Whoever is watching the four of you in the woods must have almost no experience with tracking, for it takes very little effort for you to circle around unnoticed. You don’t even disguise your footfalls much-- it’s practically useless to do so when you wear such heavy boots-- and yet the person you stalk seems occupied in such a way that the noise fails to reach their ears.

It’s a woman, you realize the instant that Nobunaga and Yoichi flutter down from the treetops. A young one, maybe even younger than you, with huge round eyes and silver hair and--

God, such a piercing scream!

“Don’t give her a heart attack, you damn fool!” You sigh, but you have a feeling that even if your words were in their language, they would have ignored you anyway. The woman shakes violently as Toyohisa’s rough voice demands answers to questions that you cannot understand, and then suddenly, she shouts out--

“N-no! I’ll get killed! It’s a ‘leave your head here’ ghost!”

Your eyebrows practically collide with how tightly they knit together, the fact that her words are completely understandable to you something that’s lost in the heat of her outburst. But then it starts to dawn on you, albeit slowly.

You’re only taken out of your momentary daze when Toyohisa’s hand comes down on her head; the fleshy part of his palm, not enough to hurt her, yet you still snarl out of instinct as she topples forward. Yoichi’s gaze flits over to you as you unsheathe your weapon just a fraction of an inch, your eyes narrowed at Toyohisa.

And then, his attention goes elsewhere. He says something to Nobunaga, who seems to consider whatever it is that he’s asking. You scoff, fighting the urge to spit at Toyohisa’s feet as you allow your cutlass to slide back into its hilt, the metal against metal sound singing into the forest air. You bend down and grab the woman’s upper arm, hauling her to her feet again just in time for Toyohisa to get right back into her face.

“Oi!” You seethe, yanking her back once again in an instinctive attempt to get her out of Toyohisa’s immediate vicinity. You miss the way Yoichi’s lips curl in slight amusement as your temporary hostage flops like a ragdoll in your overly strong grip. “You lay a hand on her and I’ll cleave ya to the brisket!”

“D-don’t take my head!” She screeches, apparently finding some solace in the way you’ve put your body between hers and the samurai’s. One of her hands, much smoother than your own, grips over your wrist. “He’s commanding me to confess! They’re going to use my skull to hold wine!”

You falter once again, head whipping around so fast that you feel your muscles nearly tear apart. “You can understand them?”

“Of course I can!”

Toyohisa tries to step forward-- you assume to get back into her face-- but your reflexes are fast, and your arm catches his chest and prevents him from going any further. “How?”

“I’m a magician! I’m with the Octobrist organization! M-my name is Olminu! I was just keeping an eye on you under my Grand Master’s orders! H-help me!” She flinches as Toyohisa’s eyes narrow. You shoot him a warning glance, one that he doesn’t seem to care for in the slightest.

And yet, he stays in place.

Nobunaga guffaws at her statement, rambling off something that you don’t care to even try to decipher. The fumes from the smoke, the constant chatter… you feel a headache brewing in your brain like a storm, cold and dark and threatening to destroy your patience. Your teeth grind together so loudly that you’re surprised none of them can hear it.

“You!” You bellow, head still turned as you now lock eyes with Nobunaga, “shut the hell up before I skin you alive and wear you as a vest!”

His mouth clamps shut, likely due to the violent expression smeared across your face.

“And you,” you continue, finally turning your attention back to the girl, “you tell me exactly what you’re doing here.”

“But I already--”

“Again.”

The smooth column of the woman’s-- Olminu, you think she said-- throat bobs just a little as she swallows. You can feel her pulse thrumming even in her upper arm, as if all the blood in her body is racing to get away from you. Your grip doesn’t lessen.

“There’s… well… people like you four. People who are transported from the other world. We call you Drifters, and our job as the Octobrists is to monitor your activities and bring you together. You were brought here to fight against those called the Ends.”

There’s a brief pause, in which her words sink in, and then a sudden uproar from the three men behind you. You bulk, nearly chomping your own tongue off at the clamor. It’s disbelief, you’re certain, but at that moment you can’t find it in yourself to care.

“For Christ’s sake…” You mutter, almost ready to bash in your own skull, “can’t I get in five words without the three of you acting like a pack of confused mutts?”

“Oh, C-captain Sterling!” Olminu’s eyes go wide at your outburst, “communication with them… how has that been faring?”

“How well do you think?” You nearly bellow, hand going from her arm to curling into the front of her shirt.

“Not well, I assume…” Her stammer is weak. You almost feel bad for her. Almost.

But not bad enough to not take her hostage.
__

It wasn’t your executive decision to tie her up, but you certainly didn’t protest once Yoichi had started to do so. Nobunaga commanded it, you’re pretty sure, but that hardly makes a difference to you.

You’re at least lenient enough to make sure she has a nice spot next to the fire as she speaks.

“I apologize, Captain Sterling.” You don’t realize that you were zoning out, staring into the low flames, until Olminu finally speaks to you directly after a long stretch of speaking to the others. You make a noise of recognition but nothing else, choosing to watch her with guarded eyes.

The other three seem too relaxed for your taste.

“For what, spying on us?” You finally answer, “because if so, you should be apologizing to all of us. Not just me.”

“No, that’s not it! I told you, it’s my job to-- forget it.” Olminu heaves a long-suffering sigh, “Captain Sterling, your arrival left us a little unprepared.”

“A little?” You snort, “you did nothing to stop the invasion of those poor people we came to aid! If being unprepared is your excuse, then--”

“Let me finish!” She cries out, more desperate than angry, and your face pinches in a way that can’t be described as anything other than dark.

“Fine. Go ahead.”

Thank you…” Olminu shifts a little uncomfortably in her restraints, “Captain Sterling, we hadn’t expected your arrival. Certainly not to this area, at least. The Drifters arrive in locations near other Drifters who can understand them, you see, and when I discovered you didn’t know Japanese--”

“Get on with it.”

“Well… Captain Sterling, the Grand Master thinks your arrival may be one that wasn’t supposed to happen. At least, not yet.”

“Wasn’t supposed to… Well I’m here, aren’t I? So a fat lot of luck that does me, if I wasn’t supposed to be here!”

“D-don’t yell at me! I had no control over it!”

“Well who DOES?

“We don’t know! The Drifters just arrive, and we can usually tell what purpose they’re going to serve-- tactical or otherwise-- to our cause, but you… Well frankly, Captain, you’re nearly useless without your ship and crew…”

Useless.

Useless.

U S E L E S S.

”It’s useless, [Name]. There’s not a person in town that’ll convict him. Just keep your head down.”

“I personally slaughtered near half of those men invading that village.” Your voice comes out low and dangerous; the tone climbs slightly, like a snake slithering closer and closer to prey. You get to your feet without thinking twice about it, sidestepping Yoichi’s crouched form so that you may loom over Olminu, “I have struck fear into the hearts of men all over the world. I have given life to a crew who others thought served no purpose. I have liberated slaves, repaid the debts of strangers, and avenged the deaths of almost everyone I’ve ever loved. ‘Useless’ is a word to describe quitters and dishonorable people. I am neither.”

The fire makes your shadow long and formidable, moving over the stones in the wall like liquid malice. Olminu looks up to you with terrified eyes, her arms twitching against her restraints as she gazes from your face to your cutlass, the curved blade less than an inch from her body. Even as it lays dormant in its hilt, it exudes the sense of power that you’ve come to claim as a sort of trademark.

“I may not have arrived here armed to the backs of my teeth, or even with my crew-- but that doesn’t mean I deserve any less than your upmost respect. I’ve seen and done things that would make a grown man piss his trousers, and I came out the other side without a scratch. Don’t make the same mistake that my enemies did. Don’t ever assume that I’m anything close to useless.”

“I-I didn’t mean...” Olminu blinks rapidly, obviously eager to abate your anger. “I’m sorry, Captain Sterling.”

“The word ‘sorry’ means nothing to me.” You try to make you body language slightly less threatening, but you know that doing so won’t accomplish much; Olminu still looks at you as if you’ve thrown an infant from the top of a tower. “You teach me how to communicate with these arseholes, and I’ll call it even.”

“Yes, that’s-- I can do that!” She wiggles in her restraints again. You get a momentary flashback to the time you and Tobias had tied up everyone on that one merchant ship. What a time! You wonder if he still remembers--

The thought of never being able to speak to Tobias again makes you feel physically ill. You place a palm onto the damp stone wall, pressing down on clumps of moss with your fingers. Toyohisa shoots you a look that is part confusion, part annoyance, and possibly even part concern. You don’t bother to sustain eye contact with him.

“Captain Sterling, are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” you grit out, “just help me talk to these arseholes. Having any more discussions without them being able to understand does nothing.”

“Please untie me then.” Olminu says. You stare at her blankly, unsure as to if you should immediately trust her words. You see the first signs of irritation flash in those strangely round eyes of hers. “Please!”

You look at the knots binding her. Yoichi did a hell of a job; not even a seasoned sailor could undo those knots.

“Well,” you sigh, stooping down and pulling at the leather straps on the sides of your boot. Camouflaged in a leather pouch is a small dagger no bigger than the palm of your hand; Olminu flinches at the sight of it, but visibly calms once she watches you start to cut away at her ties. “I guess I have no choice. Don’t make me regret this.”

“I won’t.” She promises.

You resign yourself to the fact that the only thing you can do is trust her.