“Oh, but where are my manners?” the leviathan said with a playful smile. She placed a hand on her crimson chestplate, over her heart, and bowed, her sword acting as a cane where it was stabbed into the table she stood upon. “The people of this shallow land knew me as Yumin, wandering ronin and then samurai vassal to Daigo Rokuhara of Fuwa-jo. My people, though, know me as Kozloi Banguani mar Zyafol, Herald of the Deep Prophet.”
The air was heavy. Demonic taint coiled around the meeting room, licking along the parading animals in their wall-bound paintings.
Michael stepped forward, glaring at the leviathan in human guise. “What do you mean we’re too late?”
“I mean you’re too late. Both of you. You, angel, and you, creeping shadow.” Her smile widened. “You’re being very impolite, you know.”
Their eyes narrowed, but they waited as Noriko formed up next to them, slipping out of their shadow to step forward too.
“Where’s-hh…Kawajiri?” Noriko asked, an odd hitch in her breath.
“You didn’t notice him? He’s not too hard to spot, just look down.”
Michael raised an eyebrow, then looked at…a pair of pants? And some other discarded clothes, but– “Is that a snake?”
“It’s a pair of men’s trousers, there’s usually a snake in those.” Kozloi giggled to her own joke, her eyes crinkling in cheery amusement as a small, cyan snake stared out at them from the discarded clothing, apparently using the garments as a shelter.
Michael was having none of that. “What did you do?!”
“What do you think? I finished a plan years in the making. Feel free to blame yourself for failing to stop me, it’s always funny to see.”
“S-Sure, really funny,” Noriko said, “So what’s the plan? Wouldn’t you like to explain it in-nh, excruciating detail?”
Michael glanced at Noriko, not worried, but checking if there was something…They Looked deeper and–
It was neither Michael nor Polina’s fault for failing to see the pattern in the map. It was not an easy pattern to discern, nor a symbol most in the Light Land would ever have cause to know.
The Face of the Beast did resemble an elephant, somewhat. It had tusks curving down from an open maw, at the very least, and its head was broad and wide. Its eyes were open and sharp though, predatory in the left, prey in the right. There was no trunk, no nose at all; a gaping hole in the center of a horned, antlered, tusked head with a sweeping mane and a furred visage that could have been any number of creatures and not all at the same time.
Most would never draw such a symbol. The Beast was most commonly represented by the Fang and Tusk. But to a Prophet, deeper things were known, and the true Face of the Beast was now worn by an entire country.
They clutched at their stomach in unfamiliar pain as the acrid scent filled their nostrils, the floor burning where the sudden flood of liquid flame hit. They dimly heard a cry of “MISHA!” from Noriko, but they held out a hand to ward her away, trying to breathe again.
They didn’t need to breathe, but they did at that moment. Every breath of air felt clearing, like it was pushing away the grotesque sensations of matted fur and bloody teeth.
“Found some insight, did we?” Kozloi’s tone was mocking. “Funny, I wouldn’t think an angel would react that badly to the power of a god. But then, she’s not your type of god, is she?”
“…” Michael took a slow breath and stood straight. “…What have you done?”
She laughed again, more freely this time, and her freckled skin shifted from a human tone to the pale, speckled ivory of a leviathan as her bound hair snapped the tie holding it. Thin orange tentacles fell over her head and framed her smiling face. “I don’t like repeating myself, angel. But if you’d like a demonstration, I can hurry things along.”
She gripped her sword and pushed a burst of magic into it, sending a pulse through the air that Michael could feel wash over them. And then they heard Noriko start screaming.
“How much longer do you intend to keep us here?” Kawajiri Kengo, son of the Shogun Kawajiri Shingo, asked his captor.
“…” Lord Nakazono Nobuhito took a slow sip of his tea as he regarded the young drake across from him. His pale scales were a grayer shade than his father’s cyan, but still quite blue. “When the Empress decides.”
“You mean when your conspirators–!” He stiffened as one of the crimson armored samurai showed a hint of his blade, but Nakazono’s warning look kept it in its sheathe.
Nobuhito kept his eyes on the samurai, then slowly looked at Kengo again. The drake was older than his own son, Nobuyuki. He had a wife, Masae, who sat beside him with a stoic calmness, and children, who were being kept in their rooms. No need for them to see if things…Nobuhito shook his head. It wouldn’t come to that.
“…This lord will not apologize for his actions. He does regret that they were necessary though,” he said. The words felt hollow even as he spoke them. But were they false?
He didn’t shake his head, but he did reach for the tea again, hoping for some distraction, only to curse under his breath as he knocked the cup from the table. “Apologies, this lord–”
He blinked. He stared at his hand in abject confusion, because it wasn’t his hand. His hand was a hoof. How did–?
It took him a moment to recognize the cracking sounds that filled the air. He turned, alarmed, as one of his men started screaming, either in pain or in terror as his elongating face began breaking through his helmet.
The battle of Red Leaf Valley was already a vicious one. Deep-seated grudges erupting into violence had a way of being worse than any other conflict, but as the pink-and-green samurai of Saruta battled against the orange-and-red Himuro and the purple-and-brown Inukai, the building wrath of the clashing armies twisted men into beasts in ways no natural war could.
Daimyo Saruta Masahiko turned in time to catch the swinging blade with his own, though the impact almost sent him to his knee. He scowled and pushed back, sending his foe leaping back as she faced him down. “Inukai. This lord’s surprised you found him.”
Daimyo Inukai Koyu snarled at Saruta through her helmet, sounding almost animalistic in her fury. “You traitorous bastard! What the hell do you think you’re doing!?”
He scoffed, trying to sound more confident than he felt as the sounds of battle echoed out around them. In a way, they seemed to have found the perfect spot for a showdown; standing in a clearing where the red leaves fell steadily. Not from the natural pull of Autumn, but from the raging battle shaking them loose. “What needs to be done. Shogun Kawajiri is a fool! He’s dragging the whole country down with his stupid ideas!”
“And that justifies turning your blade against your own countrymen!?” She leveled her sword at him, audibly growling by this point. Masahiko felt a sudden compulsion to check the area for dogs because she was really sounding like one now. “You damn traitor!”
“You’re the traitor here! You and Himuro! Rokuhara is the rightful Shogun, and he’ll change this country for the better!”
“Bah! You’ve always been like this, you bastard! Always trailing after the bigger kids, just to feel like you’re stronger!”
“Oh like you’re one to talk, you damn dog! You were always so eager to go running off on all kinds of half-baked ideas–”
“At least this lady had some initiative, you gormless prick!”
“Gormless?! At least this lord is willing to do what it takes to save–”
“You’re literally betraying the country!” she barked, a sound that echoed all through the battlefield. Just how many damn dogs did the Inukai bring?? And what the hell was with that screeching?! And…clucking?
Masahiko shook his head and tried to focus, adjusting his grip on his saber. For some reason, it felt bigger in his hand than it should’ve been.
“Enough of this! We may have known each other since childhood, but don’t think this lord won’t do what he must if he needs to!”
“Bah! If you want to kill this lady, then say it, you spineless bastard!”
He scowled, then let out a scream of fury as he raised his blade and charged his foe, the two of them clashing swords even as their armor started to loosen and their grips shifted, neither really noticing until the blade fell from Koyu’s grip, her hands suddenly shifted to paws.
Even then, Masahiko didn’t really notice his changing body as he let out a screech of victory. Which was abruptly cut off as Koyu tackled him straight off his feet, her armor hanging loosely from her now fully canine body.
All across the battlefield, similar scenes played out as soldiers in full battle felt swords and spears fumble from their changing grips. Any advantages their foes may have gained were stripped away in instants as samurai felt themselves shrink in their armor, falling loose in the shape of screeching macaques. Others fell to all fours, their jaws lengthening, their limbs shrinking or twisting, tails bursting from the base of their spines until hounds took the place of humans.
Some warriors even found themselves bursting with feathers as their teeth contorted into beaks, leaving little more than squawking roosters and hens behind in piles of cloth and armor. And the effect spread, moving outward from the valleys through every town and village until it poured into the grand cities of Gorokiva and the screeching, barking, baying, and crowing was joined by a building cacophony of animalistic noise all across the country.
Pigs and rats scurried away as bulls smashed through structures not meant for their bulk; cats and rabbits landed where they once stood, confusion turning to panic overwhelming many who were far smaller than they’d ever been; and still more changes swept through every corner of the country as even those not native to the nation found their bodies altering under the enormous sweep of bestial magic.
Some, in other lands, may have considered the power that swept over these people to be a blessing, not a curse. But to those forced to change against their will…was it any wonder the entire country began to descend into terror?
Though, of course, all things have exceptions…
“…uhhhh…huh.” Matsuzaki Keiko scratched her head, staring in some confusion at her two clerks, both of whom had suddenly turned into monkeys.
She crossed her arms over her chest, looking at the pair of confused macaques sitting in their piles of clothing, then walked over to the window and peeked outside. And yup, there were a lot more monkeys out there, who seemed a lot more panicked. Lots of running, screeching, throwing stuff. Definitely not holding it together nearly as well as her workers.
“…Does this happen often?” she asked Daichi, glancing back at him. From the bewildered shrug her clerk-turned-monkey gave, she was pretty sure that was a no. “Right, weird magic bullshit then…Shit, do I have to learn how to knit clothes for monkeys now?”
As she pondered that potential change in her career path, she failed to notice the faint glow of her hairclip, the butterfly on it faintly flapping its wings to keep the Beast’s influence away…
Katsuro had a rough couple of days. He was willing to admit that. But it was worth bowing his head to have Shiho back, even if Doc Futoshi and Lady Greenfall had slapped him upside the head for getting out of bed.
He was back to laying down now, resting and recuperating, even if he wanted to be out there again. He could feel Shiho replacing the cool cloth on his head.
“You don’t need to keep tendin’ to me,” he reminded her, “You’re a smith, not a nurse-”
“Shut it, you big lug. Spouses take care of each other. So no sending me off.”
He grumbled, half-heartedly, more a show than anything. He opened an eye, glancing over at his wife, and smiling as he saw her there, sitting back, her pink hair undone and flowing easily over her shoulders as her ears poked up through…wait.
He blinked, his brow furrowing. “Uh…Shiho?”
“Mm?” She stared at him curiously, tilting her head, and one of her ears flopped a little as she did. Because she had rabbit ears. Growing where her normal, human ears usually were. “What’s up?”
“…You feelin’ alright?”
“Heh. Better than ever, now that I’m back home.”
“See that’s sweet, but also, uh…”
She raised an eyebrow, which looked furrier than usual, and leaned over him. “Okay, what’s up? You’re getting that look like you did something you know this gal would be mad about–”
He was pretty sure he just blinked for a second. He stared, sitting up just slightly, trying not to move too much. Not because of his injuries, even if those still did ache a bit. But because his wife was sitting on his chest.
And while that would normally be a fun thing, his wife was also a really confused looking pink rabbit at the moment. So…
“Uh…” He put a hand on her, keeping her steady as she let out a kinda cute squeaky noise, then glanced over. “Hey, doc–…”
…Okay, he could maybe, maybe, understand his wife being a rabbit. Because that was her house symbol. But why the fuck was Futoshi a carp??
The black carp stared back at him, apparently breathing just fine despite being a literal fish, and made a vague shrugging gesture. Which. Again. How???
“…What the genuine fuck?”
Seeker couldn’t stop laughing.
It was just too beautiful. War made men into beasts, so the truest, most literal interpretation of that saying coming true right in Gorokiva’s capital was sending her into hysterics. Silent hysterics, because there was no reason to give up the game just yet. Even if it was pretty decisively turning into a complete clusterfuck.
Neither side remained unaffected from Therian’s blessing, as expected. All across the imperial capital, the regular citizens cried out in shock and panic as they felt their bodies warping, some going quick, other going excruciatingly slow, and all twisting with the magic of The Beast to sprout feathers and talons as their mouths jutted into beaks.
Even now, she could see a few of the new pheasants taking flight, trying to escape what was affecting them as the soldiers fighting below found their momentum cut short. Sure, some were still giving it a go, but few were suited to their new bodies. Some lucky Nekotani became big enough wildcats to make a difference against the capital’s dogs, but plenty were little more than house cats struggling to get out of their armor. The more fierce Isozaki charged forth as goats and rams, only to be met by newly made tigers striking even more fiercely. There were even some mixes of macaques fighting on the side of the capital, which was fun to see.
Funniest of all though were all the would-be dragons. Becoming a dragon wasn’t an easy feat, so the fact that these idiots though they could cheat was causing the biggest bouts of laughter for the cackling demigod. The lucky ones, the ones with potential, flopped to the ground as mere carps, locked in land if they were unlucky or managing to swim in the floodwaters if they were fortunate. The losers though, the ones who just plain sucked, had it far worse as their bodies twisted, their faces elongating, their arms shrinking to fins, and their legs melting into tails that could do little more than squirm on the unforgiving ground.
Though, really, it was the poor bastard who was stuck half-transformed with a seahorse head and nothing else that was really making her laugh. The way he flailed, screaming silently among all the chaos with a mouth that wasn’t his own, unheard in the din of violence and bestial instincts taking hold, ah~! It was just too much~!
Oh, but there was still some fun to come, what with how the empress had collapsed. Her cute husband, twisted into a bright pheasant, was crooning at her side, trying to offer support as her body rippled and fur sprouted. Some tiger, some ape, maybe a bit of chicken and fox with the scales of a snake. Quite chimeric, all things told, and yet still only half of the excitement to come.
The bigger bit, literally bigger, came with the courtyard abruptly smashing part, stones flying in the air as a great, red dragon raised his head to the sky in a triumphant roar, declaring his long awaited victory to all that could hear.
And as the sun shone bright and warm down on the triumph of Daigo Rokuhara, the winds of fortune laughed and laughed.