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It was becoming more and more common that she would find her shadow as the only consistent companion in her life. It was purposeful; though it didn't make it any less painful. Humans craved and needed companionship, touch, and love. In this, she was no different from them. It was deplorable, burdensome, and entirely unacceptable. After all these years, she'd hoped to turn it off entirely. While she had come close, she still had urges and moments where those longings haunted her like an unyielding phantom, an emotional poltergeist that tormented her. She was immortal, once called a Queen in rumor and reputation only. Whispers of the Queen of Yokai had since quieted with her frequent disappearances. The longer she lingered here, the more ties she made, the more relationships she built only to tear apart. It was a predetermined cycle that despite others' efforts, remained. As a series came full circle, the demoness would return to the void. In her seclusion, she precariously rebuilt the wall, the defenses she guarded so carefully. Over the last few years, she was absent more often than not. Lately, Akako had made many appearances throughout a few weeks to visit acquaintances despite her reluctance. Favors had been called in, and she found herself involved in foolishness, though, it did help the time pass. She justified returning because her impassive nature was intact and her ironclad walls were in place. There had been a slight misstep, but Akako had swiftly corrected the error and felt confident enough to wander Arcane East after her brief visit to Terrenus. It seemed like no matter where she went, it was unbearably cold. Drifts of snow fell in hypnotic swirls that the daiyokai watched with mild interest. Everything else was quiet. Rarely did she pass any other travelers, likely because of the mage-storms. Though, Akako didn't seem to care either way. Perhaps to onlookers, it was reckless, but the demoness could and would slip beyond the veil to avoid the worst of it if it came down to it. She always seemed to have a contingency plan, or she didn't honestly care. If she were meant to die, then she would and hopefully if she did again, no one would be so foolish to bring her back. Several millennia was enough. Her travels were aimless, passing Umbra, hugging the mountain line as she went. There were no used roads here. However, there were small settlements here and there that she didn't pause to explore. Smoke from fires warming homes drifted up to the heavens and served as an implicit warning that the houses weren't vacant. Her true nature was hidden behind a glamour as it usually was. The curtain of her black hair fell down her back and spilled over her shoulders offering a bit of additional warmth. She was dressed in a traditional winter hikizuri kimono, her hands hidden within the sleeves. The top layer was a crisp white with golden cranes suspended in flight stitched into the fabric in an intricate scene. The layer beneath was a bright red that only showed at the vixen's neckline and each time she stepped. The obiage was a deep violet fabric that a golden obi was layered on top. It was fastened tight around Akako's waist. Even with as many layers as she wore, the demoness was cold, her fingers chilled beneath the fabric of her kimono sleeves. Memories of heat surfaced to her mind, and she craved it despite herself. It was easy to justify. It was a recent memory and pleasant. With a huff of amusement, Akako looked back to the sky again as if to dare it to open up.
Norkotia... The view through the window was nothing but a sheet of white, as the lake-effect snowfall sought to blanket the capital of the fledgling union in a sea of crystallized water. From his new office on the upper floor of the recently established National Security Headquarters, Grand Executor Joseph Tynes stared out into the void. On his desk, a series of reports on the recent campaigns in Yh'mi, mixed in with various documents on military development projects. His right arm was still tightly bound in a cast, the bones that had been shattered by an assassin's bullet almost two months ago still not healed. As a result, his ability to place his signature upon items requiring his approval had become severely hampered, making his new job a difficult one. For the moment, he was content to ignore the papers and enjoy the snowfall outside, the beauty of the blizzard giving him nostalgic memories of his childhood. Everything he had done since he took power in Norkotia was out of love for the nation that had raised him, and he intended for many more generations to live to enjoy the simple things he had been privileged with experiencing in his youth. He was abruptly roused from this reverie by the intercom on his desk. "Minister Redbridge is here to see you, sir." "Send him in." The door opened, admitting the Vulkish man who was donning his customary suit and fedora. Diric Redbridge, never being a man to waste words on small talk, got to the point quickly as he made his entrance. "Excellency, I have completed arrangements for your trip to Ursa Madeum, save for one exception." he spoke, his voice dry and dull as always, "It appears the farm implements you wished to transport to House Hildebrand will not be ready for travel in time for our scheduled trip. We will either need to delay our departure, or we will have to leave without the implements." "That's... unfortunate." Tynes sighed in disappointment, having looked forward to giving the two machines to Hildebrand personally, "But I want to be sure I am home in time for Kerzentag, so we will have to proceed as planned." "Very well." Redbridge nodded, though he made no move to leave. "Is there something else, Diric?" "Yes excellency, there is. Tell me, does the name Kersh Engel sound familiar to you?" "Engel..." Tynes leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin in thought, "Kersh Engel, you say?" "Yes, Doctor Kersh Engel. He was once a medical researcher for the university, where he was considered a genius and thought to be the wave of the future for Norkotian medicine. Unfortunately, it was discovered that he was conducting often fatal experiments on non-consenting patients, in clear violation of the law. He was subsequently convicted and exiled, and he has not been seen in Norkotian territory since." "Oh, yes... I remember him now. That was quite a while ago..." Tynes noted. "Fifteen years, in-fact." Redbridge specified. "Why is this relevant now?" "Prior to his exile, Doctor Engel had made tremendous strides in the field of prosthetics, particularly mechanical ones. There are at least three examples of individuals who he successfully implanted with functioning mechanical limbs, though only two survive to this day. It is my belief that his expertise would be exceptionally useful to us now, not only for our military forces, but also for yourself." the minister explained. "My arm is still healing, I don't need a prosthetic." Tynes laughed at the notion. "Possibly, but I'm afraid the latest results from your x-rays are not promising. At the least, Engel may be able to conduct a reconstructive surgery that would correct any errors made during the initial surgery. And as I noted a moment ago, with our military forces soon to conduct operations in Yh'mi and elsewhere, there is sure to be an influx of wounded and dismembered young men. With Engel's knowledge brought back to Norkotia, our medical capabilities will be granted a significant boon." "You make a good point." Tynes nodded, "But Engel has been gone for well over a decade, how do you intend to find him?" "I already have, your excellency."