As the oni’s blade sawed through her spine and burrowed into her guts, Sunni couldn’t help but think that this could’ve gone better.
The sword that had killed her was as big as a man, and its wielder strong as ten. She wouldn’t be long in dying. She would know; as a Samsaran, she had a bit more insight into the process than most. She had seconds to live at best, and she’d be spending them here, bleeding out on a temple floor while the fight—and with it, the world—raged on without her.
And she’d done so much. Come so far. Just the day before, she’d helped free a friend’s son from chains and bathed his captors in lightning. Those mushroom folk and their slaving operation had been one of the last traces of corruption on Genbu, and one of her final acts had been to destroy it.
Not half-bad for someone who was half-mad.
From the edges of her fading sight, someone bellowed a war cry. Probably Saito, who was by now more pelt than person. The man talked out both sides of his mouth and and sounded like an idiot from each, but he’d proven that even an idiot could be a good companion. And even she couldn’t deny his value in a fight. She hoped he wouldn’t wind up on the floor with her; no one deserved to die like this, even him.
At least she’d made her last moments count. Kai the oracle had been close to death, as usual, and she’d managed to get to him and purify his wounds before he succumbed to them. And she’d had all of a second to thank Lo Shen he would be alright before the giant shadow swallowed her, and agony followed suit soon after.
A small, soft comet hit the ground near her, and she felt her heart break as surely as her spine had. Pura. Without her master, the owl wouldn’t last two heartbeats. Their bond was too strong. She wished there was something she could do for her familiar, but even with all the power she possessed she hadn’t been able to save herself. They both had only a few seconds more, but she hoped hers would run out faster than Pura’s. She couldn’t bear to feel her own familiar die. Surely Lo Shen could be that merciful, at least.
She couldn’t see anymore, but her other senses still worked. She heard water whipping through the air, and a dull roar as something erupted into flames. The tengu in the chamber with them was chanting some horrible mage song. Mogo the tanuki had joined in as he fought, but he was substituting all the lyrics for ones about drinking and women.
And somewhere in the distance, she could hear Kai muttering frantically under his breath, trying to flood the room with healing energy. It would keep Saito and Longtuck on their feet and probably clean out Mogo’s bloodstream in the process, but Sunni was too far
gone. All the positive energy in the world couldn’t heal a flower if it had been nipped at the stem.
Everything else was fading out now, even the touch of cold stone against her cheek. The only feeling she had left was fear. She’d died countless times before and come out the other side with ten fingers and toes, but each time the smallest, most bestial part of her mind still felt that ripple of dread right before everything went dark.
Well, at least this life hadn’t been wasted. She’d lived doing good, and died doing it too.
It wasn’t much, but it was something.
There was darkness. She didn’t know for how long. It wasn’t like standing in a room where there was just no light—even then, she could still tell that there were other things to share the darkness with her. This was just the purest black. It wasn’t even actual black; it was just the absence of all color. The absence of everything.
But a moment later, there was something else. A voice.
“—Yu mo gui gwai fai di zao.” The sound was familiar in her ear. Kai, chanting as if his life depended on it.
No, she realized. Hers.
Her eyes snapped open and she sat up—because to her astonishment, she could sit up at all.
Kai knelt next to her. A glowing scroll was in the process of dissolving in his fingers, but his permanently haunted eyes stayed fixed on her. When he saw that she had fully come back from the other side, relief crept into his face. At least, she thought so. With Kai, it was always hard to tell.
He seemed to sense the question on her lips. “Scroll of Resurrection,” he croaked. “Thirty thousand gold, down the drain.”
Her muscles and bones came alive with pain. Her body was in one piece again, but apparently resurrection didn’t include painkillers. She winced and tried to shut it out. “Was it worth it?”
Kai gave her a drum-tight smile. “Depends on who you ask.” He jerked his head over to the side. The two tengu lay dead, and Mogo sat amidst them, quite literally licking his wounds. The oni also lay on the ground, his head separated from his shoulders by a good fifty feet or so.
Saito and Longtuck stood there, arguing. Well, Saito was arguing. His atrocious accent rang off the temple walls as he gestured wildly with a flaming sword. Longtuck, as usual, just stood there with a serene expression on his face, arms folded. And the more agitated Saito got, the calmer the old man seemed to become.
“—could have gotten us killed,” Saito said, the spots of his kamadan pelt wardrobe dancing in the firelight. “We’re never letting you pick our heading again, ever. Seriously.”
Longtuck just grunted and shrugged.
“And by the way, what the actual hell?” the drifter continued. “I hit that bastard with fire, and it seemed to hurt him—really hurt him. I assume you’re not blind, so what about that sight made you think to yourself, ‘Oh, fire seems to be effective. You know what I should use? Fucking water!’”
The old monk shrugged again, and Sunni got the impression he was rather enjoying himself. “It worked.”
“Worked? Were you in the same fight I was? I cut the thing’s damn head from its shoulders while you were busy giving it a bath! Maybe I should just be thankful you didn’t go all crazy-face on us and try to kill Kai again!”
Longtuck’s expression darkened a shade. “I told you,” he said. “That was a floor rune.”
“Oh, don’t give me that again—”
Sunni would have laughed, if she weren’t so certain that doing so would be utter agony.
Kai helped her to her feet, and she hobbled over to Pura. The owl’s eyes were closed, but her chest rose and fell. The witch felt a gush of her relief and scooped her familiar up into her arms. The fall had broken her wing, but it was nothing a quick spell couldn’t fix. It was the sight of her owl, alive and relatively well, that finally hammered the message home for her: she was going to be okay.
Saito broke off from his ranting when he saw Kai and Sunni limping towards them. “Whoa,” he said. “You look like hell.” He smirked. “The fuck happened to—”
She cut him off with an irritated flick of her wrist. He immediately went cross-eyed as his body went limp. His sword clattered to the ground, extinguished, and a moment later he followed suit. By the goddess, she thought. He even snores in that stupid accent.
“You know, that can’t be good for his brain,” said Longtuck, smiling.
Sunni rolled her eyes. “I can’t hurt what he doesn’t have.”
Kai had moved to tend to his axebeak’s wounds. “So what now?” he said as dark patches of frostbite shrank and disappeared beneath his touch. “That fight took a lot out of me. I’d welcome rest.”
Sunni’s mouth twisted. “So we rest,” she said. “We prepare.” And with a determined glint in her eyes she added, “And then we come back and clean this place out for good.” Lightning crackled between her fingertips, and she could feel her hair start to bristle.
The others nodded in agreement. She gave Saito’s sleeping form a nudge with her toe.
Alright, it might have been a kick.
“Okay,” she said, sighing. “Whose turn is it to drag him?”