Author's Intro: This is a somewhat unplanned enterprise. Who knows where it will go. It is not yet connected directly to actual Claymore manga events, but it might become so.

Silver-Gray

First Stroke – Meeting Ambush

The scent grew strong as she approached the edge of the town with measured, clanking steps. The strength of that scent was rather ominous, and it stirred dark thoughts down at the base of Sylvia's contemplation, in the region below her perpetual vigilance and mission objectives, down where the forcefully contained emotions made a nasty briar patch.

It was not that things smelled bad, though a human, had they been able to detect this unnatural fragrance at such a distance, would surely recoil in disgust. A smell that was also part of yourself could not be so easily rejected, so Sylvia did not find it foul to her senses, the offense was entirely mental in nature, but no less furious for that.

The strength of the scent did not match what Sylvia had been told, and that was never good. Bad intelligence could get you killed; she'd seen it happen before to her comrades and had barely survived it herself on several occasions.

A single string of murders, one yoma only, that's what she'd been told, and her experience had given her no reason to doubt that. It was the most common setup and the most common mission, certainly, that was the type of mission she almost always received. They wouldn't have sent her against a group by herself; at least, Sylvia doubted she was trusted to accomplish that much.

But the scent only got stronger. It told a tale of much activity and as Sylvia stopped at the edge of the first buildings her hand went to the hilt of her sword, high over her right shoulder. Something was wrong. Too much yoma stink, she noted, laying out her thoughts in order, assessing the situation coldly, carefully. There has too be more than one, and doing a lot of moving in its true form. She shook her head. This place is laden with yoki residue everywhere. Looking out with the sixth sense she possessed, the ability to see the demon energy it appeared almost like a fog before her, a thin miasma hanging all about the streets of this place.

Silver eyes blinked, unable to believe it for a moment. People walked about beyond the outer buildings, conducting the business of the day. They seemed nervous, but any town that had gone through a string of yoma murders would be that way. No one acted normally when constantly wondering if they'd be the next to have their guts ripped out and eaten. Sylvia shook her head. This looks like a nest, she decided, gritting her teeth together. It was a horrid memory, an experience she faced only once, and without any eagerness to repeat. How can it be a normal village? It is not a charade, these people are human. Silver eyes could read that, and staring upon them, be truly certain.

It left only one conclusion: something was very wrong. Sylvia didn't like that conclusion. Patterns were preferable, they led to predictability. Predictable missions ended predictably, with dead yoma. Wrongness could get her killed. As much as this life isn't very fun, I don't plan on dying yet. Sylvia recalled those old words again, the ones she had made her own, along with the second part. The sword still cuts, so I have to keep swinging it.

Slowly she walked into the town.

Her armor clanked as she went of course, it always did. The metal-heels sounded when they struck hard earth and the occasional rock, and pieces of her armor clicked together as she moved. That was fine, even deliberate. The uniform was not designed for stealth, drawing the eye of both friends and foe was important, it had several uses. As always, it drew eyes.

People turned and stared, as they always did, and the muttering began.

"Silver-eyed witch…half-demon…killers…Claymore…" It was so characteristic, and Sylvia had heard it all before, many times. She was long resigned to it, letting it wash over her, not even getting close to reaching her emotions. Instead she scanned the crowd, searching, smelling the scent and seeking with her special sight for the hidden foe that waited. It might not be with the rapidly forming crowd, but then it might be. Perhaps one time in three the yoma would go for the direct approach, attempt to attack immediately, thinking to catch the enemy unaware, or to use human bodies as shields. In this place, with all the evidence of activity, Sylvia was doubly alert, holding the hilt of her sword openly, knowing the extra split-second it took to reach up might not be something she could spare.

As the crowd gathered Sylvia stopped moving, but said nothing. People muttered things to her, but it was nothing important. She largely ignored them, instead scanning around, searching. The whole town reeked of yoma, for even if the scent was not truly foul to her, it was overpowering in its spread here. I'm in the horse's stall, not the paddock, Sylvia realized. This whole town is its lair, but how is that possible?

"Ah, the Claymore has come, very good…very good," a man in better clothes than the rest approached, and everyone else made way for him. He carried a bulging sack. "We're so glad you made it here, things are very bad." He reached forward, extending the sack toward her. "Here is the promised payment."

Sylvia began a motion of her left had to wave him off, and then stopped. He's standing too far! She noted with a start, for the man had his legs extended forward and his arms outstretched all the way, uncomfortably. The rest of the crowd had also moved back far. With this realization, experience and instinct took over.

She danced backward, ripping out her sword as she did so. The motion was unnatural, and lacking in grace, but Sylvia would never care. Getting her weapon to hand was more important, especially when the crossbow bolt struck the ground where she had been standing.

The Claymore flexed her massive blade, the blade that gave her kind the name they'd never asked for. It was fully as long as she was tall and as broad as her thigh despite the brutally sharpened edge on each side. In a feat seemingly impossible for a thin woman, Sylvia held the blade easily with only her right hand. With a flex of the wrist she brought it across her body, shielding her face and the front of her right side not covered by the shoulder pauldron.

A pair of arrows clattered off the blade only an instant after it had taken that position.

Sylvia dodged and weaving, her feet sliding across the hard-packed earth of the town square in a formless evasion, her sword moving easily to intercept bolts and arrows. The shots came from rooftops and alleys, and as she moved it was not difficult for the Claymore to observe that all the shooters were human.

"What is this?" she called out to her assailants in a clear voice, strong and firm. She evaded easily enough, as the attacks were scattered and she could move freely to dodge or position her blade in the way, her inhuman strength and speed aiding her in the avoidance. "You'll never kill me like this, and why should you try?"

No human said anything, only kept up their attacks, but an answer did come.

"Because I CAN kill you!" it was a brutal roar, and came from a throat larger and deeper than any human's.

A massive figure charged out from a building to Sylvia's right, hurling a smashed door before its advance.

The Claymore did not slice the door in half, that would halve been a waste of motion, but simply smashed it aside with the flat of her blade. She already knew what waited behind it. I begin to understand, Sylvia thought with disgust and anger.

The yoma was built like all its kind, brutish and twisted. Half again as tall and broad as a man, ogre-built, with a goblin face and wide maw of fanged teeth, it reveled in its deadly power and brutal hunger with every step.

A clawed arm lashed out, reaching to rip Sylvia in half.

The Claymore pivoted and swung her sword back swiftly. The yoma blocked it with his right hand, and she was forced to yank the blade back, drawing space between them and a nasty gash along the palm.

It was a good tactic, injuring one of the yoma's arms and giving her the space to use her massive weapon and speed advantage fully. In a normal fight it would have worked well.

This wasn't a normal fight.

The first bolt took Sylvia in the left arm, the second smashed through the plates about her waist to lodge in her left hip.

Pain bit deep, scourging and stinging, raising fury, but Sylvia squelched it, though she could not avoid taking a half-step to recover her balance. The yoma before her came on, and went right to strike at her left side.

She swung rapid strokes and the demon dodged away. Normally that would be suicide, for Sylvia could have surged forward and impaled the creature with ease, but the arrows passing through made it impossible.

The yoma circled and more bolts and arrows flew through the square. Forced to divide her attention and struggling with her wounds, Sylvia barely avoided the twin threats of flying darts and being gutted by the yoma, who displayed the annoying talent of lengthening his arms like rubber, to extend many times the length of her sword.

"Damn!" Sylvia hissed through gritted teeth, weaving about through the combination threats. "What madness is this?"

The yoma laughed at her. "It looks like my trap got you good witch!"

Silently Sylvia had to admit she was in a bad situation. Yoma never wielded bows, and while many could form their bodies to attack from far off, she was not used to dealing with these little streaking bolts. Worse, the shooters where humans, she could not read their yoki to gauge a sense of their actions, and so had to rely on her senses alone, a thoroughly inadequate measure when faced with attacks spread on all sides. Moments later, as she managed to lop away a few of the yoma's fingers, she took another strike, this time an arrow to the back.

"Aim for her guts and head fools!" the yoma shouted, directing this humans who for some impossible reason obeyed. It smiled at her with its gaping maw. "This is funny; you can't even strike them back."

Sylvia spat, trying to regain equilibrium by moving toward a wall, but the yoma anticipated the move and forced her back. The creature was not exceptionally powerful, alone the fight would have ended in moments, but it had cunning and had devised this trap well. It knew too that the rules of her organization meant Sylvia could not kill any of her human attackers, though she might have cut their bows apart. That made attacking them harder, and the whole situation more dangerous.

I won't die from arrow blows, she thought, should I just go for the kill? She let forth some of her own yoma power them, the dark energy seething within, and her eyes changed and the world yellowed as the irises took on that golden sheen. Dark emotions washed over her with that power, demanding both more and more unnatural strength and feeding the urge for violence. Sylvia forced herself to remain in control, attacking wildly would not help.

She dashed to the right side, trying to gauge the reactions of the archers and crossbowmen now shooting at her. Without training to fight such weapons, and she indeed had none, it had to be determined now. If things worked out right she could just go for the killing stroke and let the sharp barbs pierce her in the process. Gruesome, and certainly it would sting and scourge, but perhaps possible.

The yoma surged with her, and the Claymore's blade flashed and danced about her, moving fluidly in her two hands, to block reaching claws, streaking arrows, and punishing bolts. Defense was the strength of the silver-eyed warrior, and she blocked all blows, dancing about with her blade flashing, forming the illusion of a far lighter weapon as it slid through hands strengthened by demon energy.

Nevertheless she had to duck down as a bolt passed through the space her head occupied. The enemy was too fast; its numbers gave it speed, while creating a lack of synchronicity that made everything more difficult.

The yoma, sensing a chance, lunged forward, charging Sylvia's massive blade.

Hurriedly the steel flashed up and back, a cross-stroke to drive the creature back, threatening to sever the outreaching arms.

One sickening red-purple appendage was indeed slashed hard just below the elbow, and demon flesh tore and cut as the hard steel edge ripped through, severing the limb in a gruesome spurt of dark and foul blood.

The yoma part of Sylvia reveled in that moment, and she smiled grimly, pushing ahead, daring to hope.

Instead the yoma laughed.

The left hand, fingers lengthened to be solid daggers themselves, clamped down, not on Sylvia's white-garbed flesh, but on the edge of her blade. The mighty weapon was stuck fast.

Only too late did the Claymore realize what her demonic adversary had planned. It had known her backwards stroke lacked strength and had deliberately sacrificed one arm in order to take all the momentum from her blow, so her sword could be caught and immobilized.

Desperately Sylvia twisted and yanked, sliding to one side and attempting to lever her blade free.

Arrows and bolts fell around her, and the yoma yanked back. It could not tear the sword from the small hands of the female warrior, but it could use its far greater bulk to move her body in a direction it chose.

A crossbow bolt bit deep down into Sylvia's lower back. It penetrated hard, without any armor, and the pain washed over her, terrible and horrible. It was not just the pain that hurt then, but the realization that she was doomed. She dared not drop her sword of the yoma would rip into her, but stuck to it like this she was an easy target, robbed of the speed and skill that enabled her to dodge many of the human's missiles.

In moments a second bolt joined the first, and then an arrow. Sylvia twisted her body to avoid a half dozen more, including two strikes aimed at the head, a potentially lethal area even with such small weapons. Pain rose high, though she had avoided blows to any critical areas by carefully positioning her flesh when she could not dodge. I'm dead, Sylvia realized. Death forward, death behind, and slow whittling down to nothing here. All of her mind and body raged at this realization. She stared out at the laughing inhuman eyes of the yoma and anger burned through her. Think you're so smart don't you, scum? Her thoughts melted into her anger, and into the flow of yoki power rushing through her. Maybe I'm dead, but I'll take you with me!

Sylvia reached deep inside and pulled up more of her yoki energy, feeling her muscles cord and veins stretch as the power flowed through her body, shifting it, making it appear more and more like that of a yoma's distorted, sickening. She hated this, hated the feelings and distortions of this level of power, but she would need the strength, the force to rip the blade of her sword free and slice the yoma in half. It would be a wildly exposed and slow move, she'd take a bolt to the head for certain, but though Sylvia did not desire to die, she'd not sit quietly and let the enemy have its satisfaction.

The moment approached, and knuckles strained as her grip tightened. A pity, Sylvia thought. I do not want this ending.

Then an arrow that should have come: did not.

Sylvia paused, abruptly shifting her head, daring to look at the alleyway hiding place of an archer whose shots she had timed and anticipated, expected, wondering what had happened.

"Disgusting!" the shouted word, accompanied by a bloody corpse sliding to the ground, made things abundantly clear. "Sick! Depraved!" the voice who yelled was clear and strong, and distinctively female. "Humans who side with yoma are lower than fleas!"

As the corpse fell away it revealed an armored figure, all in the hollow gray of burnished steel plating. Her left arm bore a shield, straight at the top and rounded at the bottom, to cover the forearm. Many blows marked its solid use, as did the now blood-coated sword carried in the other hand, a single-edged but broad bladed weapon of a design unfamiliar to Sylvia, but one clearly made for strong slashing cuts. The Claymore could observe nothing of this strange woman's face, for it was hidden by her helm, but wisps of pale and thin blond hair leaked out the back.

Everyone had paused briefly to look upon this new arrival, halting the stalemate of battle for a long breath, but only so much.

"Wretch!" a man's voice cried and the launch of a crossbow bolt accompanied it. Sylvia judged the sound, and knew it was not directed at her, but at this strange new arrival.

The armored woman ran forward, moving with surprisingly speed that revealed a well-trained strength toward the demon and its foe as they struggle in the center. A simple move of her shield deflected away the spontaneous and ill-considered shot, and the charge did not slow. "Strike Claymore!" this woman called; her voice powerful and vibrant. "I will guard your back."

"Ha!" the yoma dared laugh. 'Like you could-"

Sylvia drew on the full strength of the yoki energy she had unleashed for the first time. Her blade jerked and pulled, then ripped free of the yoma's hand leaving lashed stumps where fingers had remained. She swung the blade wide in a continuous motion, bending her to pull it upwards and then hurl it back down and in, as quickly as possible, before the wily demon could attempt to retreat. Her back was wide open, her stranded hair shone free, revealing her unprotected head. Arrows and bolts were already on their way.

Shield and sword cast a shadow on the Claymore's back as the armored figure moved in with uncanny smoothness behind Sylvia, matching the Claymore's movements to slide with her as the great blade completed its downstroke. Impacts clattered against steel, but none passed through.

"Damn you!" the yoma howled as Sylvia's blade arced through its wretched body, slicing at the narrowest point of the waist, cleaving it clear in two.

Sylvia gasped the, and forced the yoki down, clamping it away beneath seething emotions, forcing her body to return to its best human facsimile. Yet she did not stop moving or take in any relief. This battle might not yet be over. Her eyes darted about, and she found the nearest of the archers.

Moving with lightning speed, Sylvia charged the man, who struggled to raise his crossbow and got off only a widely shot that sailed past. Fear reflected deep in his eyes as the Claymore bore down upon him.

The great blade slashed through the crossbow them, leaving it a mangled ruin, and came to rest on the poor man's neck. He was obviously no soldier to Sylvia's eyes, where his training had come from she did not know, but his skill with the crossbow had not been inadequate. She wondered if her attackers might be a former group of bandits. Such depraved persons might be more likely to side with whatever promises the yoma had made them.

"Y-y-you can't kill me," he stammered, clutching uselessly to the shattered remnants of his weapon. "H-h-he t-t-told u-s-s-s, there's rules."

"An unfortunate truth," Sylvia hissed coldly, for she wanted to gut this fool and all the others, now scattering in fear, who had dared to side with such a monster.

"But I can," the voice of the armored woman hissed from behind Sylvia. Her slightly curved and broad edged sword, as long as her arm, slashed down.

Blood splattered, there was a gurgling noise, and then silence as another body hit the packed earth. Sylvia noted with her keen hearing that those few others who had not already fled now ran away in abject terror, leaving their weapons behind.

"Are you sure you wished to do that?" Sylvia asked carefully, turning to the armored woman. She noted the woman's physique as she did so. It was strong, but sleek. Wider in the body than the artificial thinness of Sylvia's kind, but still holding compact power. She could tell that this woman was highly skilled for a human warrior, and had noted it even in their short combat.

"I'm sure," the voice was hard bitten, and full of angry conviction, more strong feeling than Sylvia herself would have dared to muster. Briefly she was slightly jealous of the freedom to show that anger, even as her own long established control clamped down again. "I wish I could have made them all pay as they deserved, instead of just two of them. How come you don't care?"

"I do but-" Sylvia stopped. "Nevermind," she was not ready to say anything to this strange woman. "I am being foolish. You have saved my life." That much was clearly true, without this warrior's intervention she'd be lying on the ground with a crossbow bolt through her head, a fatal wound even for a Claymore. "I will do what I can to repay it." Without saying anything more Sylvia wiped the yoma blood from her blade and sheathed her sword behind her once more. Then, as the woman looked on strangely, she reached down and yanked out the arrows and bolts buried in her flesh one by one. It hurt immensely, the pain screamed and howled through her mind, but she bit down and forced herself to ignore it. The pain faded swiftly in any case, along with the blood and the wounds sealed themselves away and the regenerative powers of her body took over. The wounds hurt, but they were not serious, little punctures were fairly unimportant unless they hit vital areas. In moments the blood was gone and only tears in the white uniform Sylvia wore remained.

"Amazing…" the woman whispered involuntarily as she observed.

Sylvia said nothing, for what could she say?

"Anyway, looks like everyone's gone," the woman said, and she returned her large blade to a hanging loop at her left hip. It had no scabbard, but hung loose and ready. Then she took her helmet off.

Sylvia was surprised at the face that stared back at her. It was frightfully like that of her own kind. She had pale blond hair, stern focused features that were youthful but not young, piercing eyes, and thin mouth and nose. That the eyes were a pale blue-gray instead of silver was the only real difference. No, that's not all, Sylvia decided a moment later. She's not like us, she still has happiness. The young woman had given her a soft smile with genuine warmth that no half-human, half-yoma could manage. It made Sylvia very sad. It was all the more impressive that she had regained steady composure so quickly after the brutal encounter. The mark of someone trained and experienced in combat.

The woman moved to speak, but there was a sound behind them. Both ladies spun, the human only an instant behind the Claymore, upping Sylvia's assessment of her abilities further. This young lady knew what she was doing in every sense.

The mayor stood at the end of the alley. He looked somewhat the worse for wear, covered in dust and grit, and his expression was filled with terror, though Sylvia was not certain is that was of them, or of having been involved in a failed trap. "You killed the yoma," he managed to speak with a minimum of stuttering. "So here is the payment."

"You conspired with the yoma to trap me here," Sylvia stated flatly. "I can sense the yoki pervading the town; everyone knew the creature was here, it must have walked about in its true form regularly." The mayor blanched and looked ill, but the Claymore did not stop her recitation. "I suspect you all made some bargain with it, probably to kill travelers. The request was intended to let it fake its death along with mine, so the cover could go on forever." From the man's reaction she could tell she had hit the mark. "You people are despicable. Even a half-human half-yoma cannot compare to what you have done." The cold hatred, a feeling Sylvia had never felt for humans before, seethed through her, but she did nothing. Instead, she spoke words she'd said many times before. "A man in black will come for the payment, be sure to give it to him then."

"You're not going to punish them?" the woman standing beside Sylvia asked incredulously.

"I have business with Yoma only," Sylvia answered for her benefit, not the mayor's. "I cannot act against humans. I know of no case like this from my memory or teaching, but I am sure the organization will take some action. What they chose to do is not my concern." Sylvia walked on by the mayor then, refusing to look at him at all. This place sickened her, for it presented a new depravity to one who had thought she knew them all.

Sylvia was not surprised when the female warrior followed her out of town, and was indeed glad for it. Beyond the ring of buildings she stopped and turned back to her. "Apologies, I did not want to speak in that place."

"Awfully formal for a soldier aren't you?" the woman cocked her head, swirling her empty helmet about in one hand. She'd picked up a loose knapsack on the way out of town, apparently containing her belongings.

"I'm not a soldier, I hunt yoma, that's all," Sylvia answered. "But I am discourteous, you saved my life and I evade you. I am Sylvia, and you have my thanks." She gave a nod of her head to the other woman.

"I'm Tyrin," her smile was bright. "Don't worry about it, I'm glad I could help, and that town was sick."

"How did you come to be there?" Sylvia asked, wondering, for it had not been a random encounter. The woman's armor marked her as a guard or soldier from a sizeable city, and her skill showed she knew something of combat. These were rare things, especially in a woman, and she had less reason to be in a random town than Sylvia herself did.

"There were rumors that a Claymore had been seen heading that direction," Tyrin answered, her smile fading. "I've been looking for one of you."

"Why?" Sylvia was very puzzled. "We don't take requests, if that's what you're looking for."

"No, it's not that, it's…it's difficult to explain." She shook her head, letting the waving blond hair that reached to the back of her neck flow with her motions. "Anyway, now that I've found you, could I travel with you, for a while anyway? I want to learn about Claymores." It all poured out in a rush.

Wants to learn about us? Sylvia wondered, confused. Most people feared her kind, and not without some justification. We are erratic, dangerous, and more than just part monster. Sylvia shook the dark thoughts away. She owed this woman, owed her a life, the only thing a Claymore really has of any value anyway. She could not refuse. "I cannot speak for my superiors, but as I owe you my life, I could not refuse this request. But why? To stay near a Claymore is almost begging for death, or so most would see it."

Tyrin's face took on a look of great pain, not pain of the flesh, but the true sorrow of the soul that only humans could bear, Sylvia did not think she could summon such emotions up anymore, but it wrenched at her to see such deep sadness, tearing away her formal mask and making her feel a need to comfort this woman, one so like one of her own people, and yet not. "My sister…" Tyrin stumbled over the words, stopped, and then spoke again, tears tumbling from her eyes. "My parents, they were killed in a fire, and my sister…my sister…" she steeled herself visibly. "They took her to become one of you."

Your…sister…" Sylvia mouthed the words in shock. It was something she'd never heard of before. The organization made its warriors from orphans, the children of yoma attacks, banditry, or any kind of disaster. That was what had happened to Sylvia, and it was what she'd heard happened to everyone else to don the white uniform and carry the great sword. Having a sister was hard to believe. "But you must be over twenty…" Sylvia nudged, trying the route of logic first.

"I'm twenty-three," Tyrin nodded. "She's fourteen years younger than me, but we share both parents, and she was my only sister. I was away when it happened; I haven't seen her since before the accident two years ago. I don't know what's happened to her," she sobbed slightly, a motion awkward in this strong woman and unfitting to her armored figure, with its many carefully interlocking and positioned steel plates, maximum protection while still allowing as much freedom of movement as possible.

Slyvia was silent, unsure of what to say. She thought she understood, perhaps, what Tyrin desired. At least she sympathized. I have no sisters, but to have one taken away to become like us? It was a horrid thought. To try to learn our ways, to know us and be ready to love her sister when she meets again, that is a truly great goal. It made Sylvia feel weak with her static life of simplistic violence, going nowhere.

"Well I owe you," Sylvia said once more, extending her hand. "Travel with me if you wish. I will try to help you as I can."

"Thank you," Tyrin clasped Sylvia's gloved hand with her gauntleted one, but it even through the leather and studs of the grip, the Claymore felt warmth flow into her, and she smiled with genuine enthusiasm for the first time in easy remembrance. "I hope we can be friends Sylvia," Tyrin added.

Friends? That would be something indeed. She said nothing, but silently dared to have a bit of hope. "Let's go, I want to get away from this stinking town."

They walked on together, metal heels automatically coming to click as one; marching in time.