Author's Note:

The fic "Wizards of Ceres" is complete, apart from a few side stories. I'm not sure whether it would be best to post those as further chapters or seperate one-shots. But, I thought I would post a notice for people watching/story alert that the story continues in a sequel which I started writing for NaNo this year. If you're interested in following the story, please look for "The Heralds of the White God" in my profile.

Here's an excerpt from the first chapter:


They were rebuilding the wall. Kurogane passed by the work crews on his way in, gangs of artisans and laborers working busily to shape and haul stone from the quarries to the work site, the battlefield of the last desperate stand against the invasion of demons. Pieces of the shattered wall had landed sometimes as much as half a mile away, when the brutal tide of inhuman monsters had crashed upon the barrier; some of the stone could be recovered and reused, but much of it was too shattered and damaged to be worth the effort, and simply left where it lay.

The sight of the shattered stone, the abandoned fields and roads growing over with weeds, reminded Kurogane painfully of his homeland; but the sight of the workers swarming busily around the broken wall, passing back and forth over the road, was reassuring. The destruction was only temporary, until the wall had been rebuilt sufficiently that they could turn their efforts to less important things. And once the protections were sufficiently in place, then the farmers and peasants, too, could return and clear the fallow fields, take up habitation once more. This land would heal, unlike shattered Suwa.

Although with the death of the Master of Demons, and the hope - someday - that they could be rid of the monsters once and for all… perhaps it was no longer necessary to leave Suwa abandoned. Could it be rebuilt someday, a new city paved over the ruins, new settlers brought in to take over the land from those who had died? The thought hurt, but maybe it was time.

Perhaps his gutted lands could provide new homes for the people who had been driven out of the conquered provinces of northern Nihon, displaced by the war and unable to ever return. As the last living member of the clan of Suwa, he had some say in how the land could be used, although the Empress' decision would be final. Perhaps he would mention it to Amaterasu when he got back. He was developing a very long list of chores to attend to after he got back.

For now he watched the building of the wall, stopping to rest his horse - and himself - in the shade of a poplar tree by the road. It felt good to relax for a moment, leaning his weary body and aching limbs against the tree trunk; more good to be back among people again. The scene before him was like a little slice of Nihon society, the tents of the building site arrayed according to status. There were the peasants - unskilled laborers hauling rocks under the direction of the overseers; the artisans - professional builders and stoneworkers hired from the cities to fulfill this contract; and the warriors - members of the samurai class clustered about the border of the work camp, keeping a nervous eye out for any oni attack.

And because the new walls had to be warded with spells of protection and strength, there were also miko on the site, doing the rituals as each stone was slotted into place to link it into a net of protection that encircled all Nihon. He only caught sight of one of them in their white kimono and red hakama, but he knew that others must be nearby, retired to the cool shade of the largest and most decorated of the tents. One of them must be the Kishuu miko, the one he'd heard about from the messenger from Arisugawa; the one who had stayed to face down the invasion of oni alone. He would have liked to meet her, but he had no inclination to interrupt or hinder their work in any way. The sooner they finished the wall, the sooner he could go home.

And he was more than ready to go home. Hunting oni was nothing new to him; in the years since Suwa's destruction he'd spent more time prowling the wilderness to seek out and dispatch the monsters than he had safely behind stone walls. But he'd been guarding the southern wall near the breach relentlessly, day and night, for more than eight weeks, and the strain was wearing down his reserves. He'd not been at his best even to start with. He'd come here immediately after his difficult journey through demon-infested territory to the far west, which had culminated in the ordeal of facing - and finally defeating - the Master of Demons.

His thoughts were diverted to brood on this, as it often had been over the past two months. His hand stole to the carefully wrapped package he kept with him at all times, feeling the sharp edge of that madman's amulet even through the thick leather. Father, he thought, as he he had thought many times before; I have finally avenged you. Is your spirit at peace now? He could only hope so. He made no such prayer to his mother's spirit, though. He knew he hadn't avenged her yet.

But the heart of his dragging depression, the feeling like a hole in his midsection that drained his energy and robbed his bittersweet victory of triumph, had nothing to do with his parents or Suwa or demons or even the death of the Master. It was the memory of the companion who had hunted demons together with him, the warrior who had fought side-by-side against unmentionable horrors, the lover he'd been forced to part with. As usual, the problem was Fai.

Or rather, it was not having Fai. He'd barely known the man six months, barely been in his presence for a total of a few weeks; how could the annoying mage have come to feel like a part of his body, that his absence was so keenly felt? In some ways he resented that - his association with Fai had drained him, both in body and soul, demanding that he give of himself in ways that he never had before. Required him to donate everything up to and including his blood, and left him feeling incomplete and empty when they parted. And yet, for all that he'd sacrificed for Fai, he felt like a greater man than when he started, and he knew he'd gladly do it again.

Fai had gone back to Ceres, and he'd come here; both their loyalties had demanded it. It had been the right decision for both of them, and Kurogane did not usually waste time second-guessing his actions. But it couldn't free him from the feelings of loneliness, of frustration and anger at the circumstances that had forced them apart. Of resentment at the duties that kept him bound here while he wondered how his lover fared. If he had gotten home safely, if he had been welcomed by his family and colleagues, if he was taking care of himself properly. If he had fed, like he'd promised he would.

Kurogane blew out a long, slow breath. The blustery spring day seemed to waver and dim in front of his eyes, gray ripples spreading through the image like a stone dropped in a pond. He was tired, dangerously tired, and he knew it. Normally he took better care of himself, carefully managing his strength and stamina to last as long as possible; but no matter how many rest breaks he took, it didn't seem to make a dent on this fatigue.

He'd rest now, and go back out into the woods later tonight. Decision made, Kurogane sank gratefully to the ground, relieving the weight from his aching feet. His horse grazed peacefully nearby, unconcerned by any demonic alarm, but Kurogane still could not trust in his surroundings enough to let his guard down. He settled into a seated position, one knee drawn up for balance - and a quick spring from the ground should it be necessary - with both his swords within easy reach. His head dropped forward to rest against his chest, and his eyes slid closed; he slept.