Deborah shivered, awaking from a deep slumber as a firm hand—cool like polished steel, caressed her cheek.
“Are you awake, Zaccarin?” Shinobu, her mentor, asked.
Shinobu’s soft voice was calm and sensual, teasing Deborah’s ears. A tingling sensation ran down Deborah’s spine as Shinobu continued to run her hands up her cheek, brushing away some of her braids.
Deborah grumbled with her eyes still closed, turning her face away from the Valterian shark goddess, curling up into a ball underneath the warm white sheets of their luxurious bed. “Don’t pick at my hair, you know I hate that.”
“Mmm…” Shinobu hummed while getting closer, her face only inches away from Deborah’s. She ran her fingers down Deborah’s back, seeming unimpeded and unbothered that the bed covers were so tightly bonded to the person of her affection. “You know I can’t help it. How else would I force you to wake, my little Zaccarin?”
Deborah felt a prick of irritation. “Must you call me by that name? I am awake, alright?”
Shinobu hummed again and kissed her, Deborah opened her eyes and began to sit up. Shinobu moved without complaint; she sat on the edge of the bed while facing Deborah, smiling.
“I’m serious,” Deborah said. “Don’t call me that name anymore. I hate it.”
Pain and bitterness pricked at her heart as she was reminded of her failure to her great-grandmother, Apis. The Legendary God Monster, ancestor to the Canceon royal family.
Shinobu jumped back into the bed landing right beside Deborah, causing Deborah to squeak in surprise. As Deborah turned to face her, the shark goddess pulled at the sheets. Deborah yelled, the coolness of the air piercing her bare skin. Shinobu chuckled as Deborah wrinkled her face, displeased.
“It’s too early in the morning to make a face like that, little bee.” Shinobu took hold of Deborah’s hands and played with them, running ambiguous patterns across her palms and arms, her ash-colored skin polishing Deborah’s bronze. “You might as well get over it. As it is what Apis named you, to me, you will always be, Zaccarin.”
Deborah closed her eyes in exasperation as Shinobu’s hands slithered around her neck. Shinobu urged her to turn around and Deborah did as asked, facing the opposite direction. Shinobu then went to work—massaging Deborah’s neck and shoulders, with a hand combing through her long braids.
“You can’t help but tear at old wounds,” Deborah muttered, through gasps of pleasure.
Shinobu huffed while ruffling her hair. “I am a shark after all.”
“You are way more than that, Sharkblade.”
Shinobu giggled with short merriment before crawling off the sturdy but comfortable mattress. Deborah watched as Shinobu fixed her elegant kimono, adjusting the chest so that her breasts were not practically falling out like a moment ago. The style of dress was strange to Deborah, the design of thousands of cherry blossoms adorning the perfect silk. But it was striking and beautiful all the same, like Shinobu.
Shinobu moved to the closest dresser in the room, picking an ornamental hairpin from a small assortment of them on the wooden surface. Shinobu tied her glossy black hair into a bun and then used the hairpin that was covered in flowers and pearls to hold it. Exiting their shared closet, Shinobu slipped on a pair of white tabi before attempting to leave the bedroom.
“You’re going to that meeting already?”
Shinobu stopped from opening the door and turned her head. “Better to be too early than too late. I’m going to explore a bit to prepare myself. Meet with a contact and discuss the best way to approach talks with the Assembly.”
“A contact?” Deborah asked, puzzled. “Why haven’t I heard of this mysterious ‘contact’ before now?”
Shinobu gave a brief laugh. “Mostly because I wasn’t sure if she would still be here. The Council is truly wise. I must remember to thank Sibyl and Akasha when I see them again.”
Deborah blinked with surprise as Shinobu mentioned two of ten oracles from the Council of the Wise. Valterian prophets that mastered the art of divination, well-known and highly coveted for the advice and prophecies they provided. Deborah saw them as an inspiration, she hoped she could become part of the Council one day. It seemed Shinobu was able to get in contact with them after all.
“That would be why they are called that,” Deborah drawled as she uncovered herself from the bedsheets. Her eyes full of pink lace, Deborah pulled back the drapes of the large canopy bed to get a better view of Shinobu. She sat on the edge with one leg on still on the bed while the other dangled, listless.
Shinobu tutted. “Don’t get smart with me, little bee.” She paused, giving Deborah a pensive glance as if she wanted to say more but the cat caught her tongue.
Deborah knew there was something Shinobu wanted to say but had trouble verbalizing. Seeing Shinobu linger by the door, Deborah decided to tease it out of her.
“Why did we come here? Was it not for your lost descendant?
“Why ask questions you already know the answer of?”
“Because you’ve been hesitating like you don’t think you can find her. Like you think she has already been captured or killed.”
Shinobu frowned at that. “I don’t think the oracles would have guided me here if that was the case. Dusk has been cautious when it has come to treading on this planet, even amidst his last fiasco. I’m finally at the cusp of finding the one worthy to pass my power and will onto. I won’t allow Dusk to get his claws on her before me.”
“I have been… a bit withdrawn for lack of a better word,” Shinobu admitted. “But that is because I know how much work all of this will be.”
Deborah nodded, finding out that girl wasn’t the only reason they came to the underwater city known as Oddessy. ” Do you think the Assembly would have Monitors to spare?”
“Of course. I don’t have the need for many, just a couple to investigate a few key areas here on Earth and on Avalon. The Duskanian Empire. Oceanus.”
“Oceanus?” Deborah asked, wondering why she Shinobu would mention the isolated Avalonian continent surrounded by many islands.
“I want to keep a closer eye on Dragoon. I’ve heard there has been some interesting developments there as of late.”
“Ah,” Deborah said with quick understanding.
Shinobu talked about him before. The story of a boy that changed into a sea dragon. A man that grown to become king of the of the high seas. He was powerful, backed by a powerful army. Shinobu mentioned how he was strong enough to defeat Kimba and Dusk centuries ago, strong enough to take the arm of a Valterian ruler from the Sky Kingdom.
“Yes, depending on what is found, I might pay my old friend a visit,” Shinobu said.
Shinobu met Dragoon once, back when he first started to gain power. Though it was almost seven centuries since they first met, she was fond of the deep-sea terror. Sometimes, she would tell Deborah stories of her first meeting with him—of eating, training, having communion with one another, fighting battles together. How they often fought each other.
In a way, Deborah felt that Shinobu viewed Dragoon as more than a friend or pupil. Perhaps more like a little brother or son. Deborah wasn’t so sure Dragoon viewed their relationship the same way, however—if he even remembered the shark goddess at all.
A hint of jealousy pierced her heart as she thought of Shinobu speaking about Dragoon in a wistful tone. The feeling was irrational and she knew that, but she still couldn’t help it. She knew Shinobu still had feelings of love for the sea dragon. But it was a familiar love, a sisterly love. For Deborah, Shinobu had that too… but also something more. Shinobu said as much. Before Deborah, Shinobu hadn’t taken a new lover in eons.
“What’s wrong?” Shinobu asked.
Startled, Deborah shook her head. “Nothing. Just thinking about things.”
Shinobu grinned and walked back to the bed. She stretched out her arms, placing her palms on the mattress while leaning forward with hungry intent, her deep-blue eyes zeroing in on every micro-movement. “What things?”
“It’s not what you think,” Deborah said, exasperated as Shinobu’s gaze became lecherous. An image of herself walking hand-and-hand with Apis when she was just a child flashed through her mind. When she was brought before Shinbou for the first time, outside of the Canceon hive—the heart of Avalon. Was her intent to groom me to be her plaything from the very beginning? Deborah shuddered with her eyes closed not willing to think about the implications.
“Oh—fine,” Shinobu said, her voice reluctant.
Deborah opened her eyes grateful that Shinobu decided not to be pushy and force herself upon her, this time.
Shinobu’s hands were on her hips as she contemplated. “I should be off.”
Deborah stepped off the bed carefully to avoid the lace drapes. Standing up straight she fixed her robes, covering up so she wasn’t half-naked. “How can you be so sure that the Assembly will allow you to borrow their Monitors so easily? You need something valuable to force their hand.”
“I have the most valuable thing of all,” Shinobu said. “Information.”
“The Assembly won’t be quick to dismiss what I have learned from the Council of the Wise. Since most of the members of Oddessy’s government hail from a future time, they should be able to confirm the prophecies of Akasha and Sibyl.”
“More time travel and temporal paradoxes,” Deborah grumbled as she rubbed her temples. Just thinking about the standing contradiction which was this city was enough to give her a headache. “How does this even work?”
“Who knows?” Shinobu asked. “That knowledge is only beholden to the Elder Gods and Irregulars.”
Most of the inhabitants of the underwater metropolis came from the future to escape a cataclysmic event in the thirty-first century, they built the city-state from scratch in only a few years. The founders were of the Alliance or Evo-Alliance as they called themselves since they were Alliance members from the future.
Shinobu moved closer to Deborah, closing the distance between them. She expanded her arms in a hug like motion, waiting as sleeves of her kimono hung in the air. Their bodies almost touching, Deborah took in Shinbou’s watery scent. She enjoyed the subdued nature of it as her lips tickled Shinbous’ neck, grazing a curved line from the side to the edges of her nape. Shinobu enveloped Deborah in a soft but firm embrace.
“The real reason I woke you was only to tell you that I would be gone,” Shinobu said. “You need rest.”
Deborah’s lips lifted into a faint smile. “That’s kind of you.”
Shinobu grinned. “I know you’re tired from last night’s ‘training’ session. It’s been a strenuous week for you, but something tells me you’ve enjoyed it very much.”
“Mmm.” Deborah tilted her head as she peered at Shinobu with half-lidded eyes in an accusing stare. “I think all be alright as long as I don’t wake up tied to the bed again.”
Shinobu chuckled. “If you don’t want to sleep you could take a tour of the city. Perhaps the Odyssey strip or shopping districts? I have left money for you on my nightstand.”
“You can’t help spoiling me can you, Sharkblade?”
Shinobu kissed her Deborah’s forehead, only moving downward slightly as she was the taller one of the two. “Anything for you Zaccarin.”
Deborah cringed and flinched away from her. “Anything but calling me by the name I wish to be called by.”
“The right to call you that name belongs to me and me only,” Shinobu murmured. “Besides, I can’t spoil you too much.”
“Whatever,” Deborah said breaking away from the hug.
“Be good,” Shinobu ordered, amused. She exited the bedroom at a slow pace, eyeing Deborah with her peripheral vision, a teasing smile spread across her face.
Hearing Shinobu walk downstairs to the second floor of the suite, Deborah decided to take a bath and clean her teeth, getting ready for the day. Shinobu was gone by the time she finished. She dressed in one of her finest robes then headed downstairs, taking the time to enjoy the extravagance of the apartment. There was a lot of space, filled with beautiful decor, furnishings, and paintings that attracted the eye. Deborah opened the sliding glass door that led to the balcony, taking a gander at the city of silent towers that reached for the domed heavens—most buildings covered in a large array of neon lights.
She spent some time roaming the city’s neon blue streets exploring among the populace like Shinobu recommended, somewhat in awe at the marvel that was Odyssey. Not due to how futuristic and technologically advanced the city was but because of the number of races living together in peace. Hallowed and Avalonians, Valterians and Arcadians, Tainted and more. Odyssey was a utopian dream, reminiscent of the mythical city called Atlantis. What was so terrible in the future that drove all these races—some that were constantly at war with one another—to live as a collective?
Deborah’s evening stroll was cut short as she was contacted by Shinobu; the Valterian shark invited Deborah to a restaurant close by along with her contact. Deborah left the shopping district with haste, anticipating the meeting between the three of them. She caught an ocean-car ride, reaching the designated meeting place within a half-hour.
Entering the restaurant, she observed and took in the quiet ambiance, the muted colors of blue and orange. It was a decent crowd, most talking in hushed voices. Deborah glanced at the bar but before she could move she was approached by a short Spiritpixie hostess. With her aid, Deborah was soon brought to Shinobu’s table.
Shinbou’s waved once she caught sight of Deborah. The woman sitting next to her was much more reserved, careful not to be too expressive. She was dressed in thin hooded body armor, tight-fitting, but probably shielded with spirit energy. Her vibrant russet-colored face the only skin Deborah could see.
“Come, sit.” Shinobu stood up and pulled out the chair that was across from where the hooded woman sat at the table. She motioned toward the woman with a hand. “This is the contact I was talking about. Felicia Khalil, she is a human Monitor and recon-infiltration specialist. She knows everything about this city. ” While glancing at Felicia, Shinobu placed at hand on Deborah’s shoulder. “This is my pupil; I’ve told you about her before. Deborah Canceon. She’s been in my care for the about the last two thousand years.”
Pretty much my entire life…
Felicia mouthed the word ‘wow’ before she brought her focus back to Deborah. Deborah favored the woman a nervous smile but before she could sit down, the hooded woman stood up from her chair and extended a hand.
“It’s an honor to meet the Prophet of Ilios,” Felicia said as they shook.
“You’re well informed,” Deborah said, while the three of them sat at the table.
Felicia smiled and Deborah tensed, tightness forming around her lower back and legs as Felicia’s hazel eyes bored through her. Though her smile was a simple gesture without enmity behind it, it felt threatening. Considering how it was coming from a woman less than half of her age, the fact was commendable.
“Sorry,” Felicia said, noticing Deborah’s worry before the Avalonian could school her expression. “Shinobu has told me so much about you. I’ve heard good things.”
“I wish I could say the same.” Deborah glared at Shinobu who looked impish, she gave Deborah a quick wave in jest.
“What’s with the attitude, little bee? Should I not speak of things I’m proud of?”
Deborah shook her head, unable to keep herself angry at Shinobu’s words as pleasant warmth rose in her chest.
Felicia laughed. “Shinobu didn’t tell me anything bad. Just about how pleased she was that you have been taking huge strides forward in your mastery of the mental arts.”
“No, I understand. I am not bothered by it.”
Their conversation paused as a waiter arrived to bring the trio menus. The man introduced himself and placed them on the table, Shinobu snatched the first one from the pile. The three ladies ordered their drinks and the waiter left to fetch them.
“You know Felicia,” Shinobu said while browsing, “This restaurant seems to be of exquisite taste. You know of the most fantastic places to visit.”
“Of course,” Felicia said, pleased. “I’d love to give the Shark in the Oceans of Blades a good show—you too Deborah. I pride myself on being an excellent host.” She picked up a menu. “But I don’t think I was invited out to dinner to be a glorified tour guide.”
“No…” Shinobu agreed. ” For the next seven months, I want you to scout a few areas for me, including Oceanus. There is something that Dragoon is searching for there, I want you to observe him and find out more about it.”
Felicia tilted the menu down in a deliberate motion, she placed it on the table. “Making a trip to Avalon now would be a hassle for me,” she said, dissatisfied.
“You’ll be compensated well.”
“I know,” Felicia said, putting her elbows on the table with her hands folded in front of her lips, “That’s why I agreed to this.” she was silent for a moment. “Twenty-eight million. That’s how much it’ll cost. That rate might be in flux, depending on how many agents I need to prepare and how many arms from other Monitors I need to twist. Half up front, a fifty percent deposit with the rest in increments over the next two to four years. All that’s based on when the job is completed and you’re satisfied. Wanna talk about payment plans?”
“Later,” Shinobu said. “USD or OC?”
“Odyssey credits—ahhhh—it really doesn’t matter in the long run but you know I prefer digital currency.”
“OC it is then,” Shinobu said. “There’s something else I would like you personally take a look into though before you go to Avalon.”
Felicia perked up—skeptical as the waiter returned placing the drinks on a table from a server’s tray. Shinobu took her glass of water and thanked the waiter, telling him something about everyone needing more time to pick their orders. With a smile, the tall man backed away promising to return within the next few minutes.
“You know that will add to the rate, right?”
“It’s important. An intriguing series of have been unraveling on this planet ever since Dusk arrived here last month. An enemy of mine was seen being chased by Arcadians. Kazuya of the Valterian Fox Clan.”
“Woah-woah—woah,” Felicia said, her hands up in protest. “You didn’t say you were sending me on a suicide mission!”
“That’s not it.” Shinobu’s reply was curt. “I kept an eye on him, for a little while. It led me to notice a girl the city he was located in. One that is of the Waverider bloodline.”
The Waveriders, another Avalonian royal family, the one Shinbou was directly responsible for birthing as she was the direct ancestor to that lineage.
Deborah was shocked. “You didn’t tell me that you found her.”
“I’m not sure if she’s the one I have been looking for but I trust Akasha’s words.” Shinobu faced Felicia.”That girl is the only lead I have and the Council guided me toward you for a reason. I believe that you can bring me what I desire.”
“And what is that? Why is this girl so important to you?”
Something in Shinobu’s eyes shifted, her eyelids closed as she sat in silence. The air around them became fridged, as cool vapor radiated from her pores—causing Deborah and Felicia to freeze with alarm. The moment passed. Shinobu calmed herself as she peered at Felicia.
“I don’t think that’s something I need to explain to you.”
Deborah knocked the over her drink and it fell off the table. It hit the ground and shattered, creating a large spill—disturbing other patrons. “S-sorry!” Inwardly, Deborah cursed. Her hand was shaking. “We should call a waiter over here.”
Shinobu grabbed Deborah’s arm before she could get up to wave someone over. Deborah seized up.
“Relax. Someone will come.”
Deborah eyed Shinobu carefully, before sitting and adjusting her seat. She couldn’t understand what caused Shinobu to react that way. After all this time, was Shinobu still hiding things from her?
Shinbou favored her a smile before glancing at Felicia. “Like I was saying, I want you to bring the girl before me to see if she’s worth being of my blood.”
Felicia hummed. If she was bothered by Shinobu’s show of spiritual force, she didn’t show it. “Does this girl have a name?” a holographic armband formed around her wrist. She tapped it and five holographic screens jutted into the air, spreading to the middle of the table. “Files?” Felica scanned the pages of data feed that her portal to the Iridescent Mirror gave her—news, current events, and her contacts. People of importance. She moved a floating page from the from the top to the bottom of the group, seeming disinterested in it.
“I will have a dossier prepared,” Shinobu promised. “And I agree to your terms.”
Felica waved the screens out of the way so that she could see Shinobu clearly. “Then we have a deal.”
Deborah yawned as she stretched—leaning back her seat tired from waiting. It was still dark, early in the morning and she wasn’t able to sleep. Deborah studied a specific house on the street, the technology of Felicia’s dimensional spacecraft-turned-van allowing her to see through the metal from inside, like a transparent screen. Created by Tainted and Vivian tech, the ship was able to transform into any almost vehicle imaginable, from land to water and spacefaring.
The door of the driver’s compartment opened and Felicia who was dressed in a black sleeper slogged outward, hunched to avoid hitting her head on the roof. Without a hood covering half of her face, Felicia’s black hair revealed two buns, both pulling the majority of her hair back. Felicia looked different now—less like an experienced spy and more like a young maiden. She sat in the other seat beside Deborah and cracked open the laptop that lied on the mini-desk in front of them both.
A ringing tone echoed through the van from an undetectable source. Felicia rolled out a pad from beneath the desk and she pressed something. A window appeared on the transparent screen, Shinobu was on camera.
She greeted them briefly before asking about their reconnaissance. Deborah began her lengthy report, going over everything she and Felicia learned. The findings on Shinobu’s descendant, findings on Terra Eatos, Audrey Genia, Andros Valki, and Myadin Sagittaria. The hybrid twins and the two other children that once resided in Dusk’s castle before the Bloodstained Festival. Kazuya’s return.
“Sibyl’s children…” Shinobu was thoughtful as she mentioned the twins. “This could turn out to be a problem with that damned nine-tailed-fox close by. I didn’t expect so many interesting faces to be near my treasure.”
“Orders?” Felicia asked. “I can tell you right now if we end up in a situation where we have to confront him, the job is off.”
“No, continue as you are. Have you made contact?”
“I have,” Deborah answered. “She was getting suspicious and nearly found the DSC even though it was cloaked. She’s getting better at sensing vapor, not sure if that has to deal with us or her being in constant contact with beings higher than S-class. Felicia thought it would be best if one of us introduced ourselves, lest she finds our ship.”
“I see. Good. Keep watch and take care of her well, Deborah,” Shinobu said. “Once I’ve finished business with the Assembly, I will come to join you.”
“I will,” Deborah said, giving Shinobu a slight bow.
“That’s my little bee. Be patient a little while longer, do this for me and I promise I’ll take care of the Canceon family. I owe Apis that much.”
Deborah felt waves of gratitude ebb from her chest. She placed a hand on her heart. “I will,” she repeated.
Shinobu wished the pair luck and cut off her side of the video call, the window vanished from the screen.
“So are you ready to meet the Waverider brat again?” Felicia asked, the both of them resuming their observation of the girl’s house.
“…I’m not so sure, she was adamant about wanting me to meet her new boyfriend.”
Felicia halted. Then she laughed while leaning back in her seat. “Teenagers.”
“Why are you so worried though?”
“Is that how I seem? The girl holds resentment for one of the hybrid twins, I believe that boy was courting one of them.”
“Wow, you managed to stumble into something worse than teenagers. Teenage drama.”
“That’s not the worst of it. She still plans revenge, I can see it in her mind.”
Felicia groaned. “And they’re being protected by Kazuya. Shit. This could be worse than I thought.”
Deborah agreed, feeling grim.
“Can’t you rewrite her mind?” Felicia asked. “I’m sure you could learn her true name if you tried hard enough.”
“No. Shinobu would never accept that. I wouldn’t do that anyway, I don’t like influencing people beyond their will.”
“You might have to.”
Deborah frowned as she thought about meeting with Rika Mizushima, the girl Shinbou was searching for. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”