Claymore: New Era


Foreword from the Author

Have you ever wondered what might be different if Miria had not rushed into the Organization on her own? This book explores that "what if" to the fullest, for things do not go quite like how you'd think. This was my first effort at writing a fanfic, but despite that, it is a very entertaining read. It starts a little slow but ramps up over time to make things believable. I intended this book as a Seinen-like interpretation of Claymore, with more in-depth character development, a more detailed universe, and a more realistic amount of technology for the era (see bows and arrows). The story features more realistic (if not entirely realistic) physics, which acts to constrain a few of Yagi's more unbelievable story elements. The one I'm primarily thinking of is that of claymores standing in mid-air on invisible strands of hair. Aside from requiring a tremendous suspension of disbelief that hair strands could hold up 50 kilo+ claymores, there are also the enormous impracticality of running around during a battle attaching hair to things and hoping it'll hold. So I hope you'll pardon me if I don't follow Yagi's lead on that and keep my claymores' feet firmly planted on the ground when not jumping all around. More realistic physics constrains claymore abilities to a modest degree in most circumstances, which combined with my upgrading of human warfare technology and organization (arrows + massed armies) means more vulnerabilities for claymores.

Someone commented to me that this is a terrible thing to do to claymores, as they are superhuman warriors that ought not be vulnerable to any human. I beg to differ, because one can still be superhuman and be vulnerable. If superhuman warriors faced no risk in battle, would we really bother reading the story? Even Superman had to be given a weakness because if he had none, the story would bore us. In Claymore, Yagi explicitly challenges this cliche of the invulnerable hero with the death of Teresa. In the era after the Organization's fall, the "invincibility" of claymores on the battlefield against human opponents will be tested by new tactics and arms that are realistic to the late medieval period. Claymores are just as lethal as ever, but it wouldn't be realistic to expect their opponents to accept this battlefield dominance. I explore other issues as well, like claymores' love lives. Let's face it, does anyone honestly expect claymores to remain chaste warriors utterly uninterested in men? I can't say I do. The scarring I portray in this book was portrayed BEFORE Yagi showed how claymores are scarred. I only had their bellies be blackened and horribly scarred and sewn shut, whereas Yagi had a more grisly answer. You may prefer my version to his, as judicious use of clothing can thus enable claymores to partake in more than a few "illicit" behaviors without disgusting their partners. I wanted to explore Claymore as if it were a living, breathing world full of intrigue, politics, economics, religion and characters' social lives. I hope my attempt is as interesting to you as it was for me to write.

If you're a fan of the medieval era like I am, I highly recommend Terry Jones' "Medieval Lives", which provides an often comic and entertaining look at the medieval age. It was also a great tool in understanding the age of kings and castles. You have my thanks for checking out my story. I hope you have as much fun reading this as I had writing it! Reviews are appreciated.


Prologue

Excerpt from "Phantom Miria: A Biography"

By A. Comnenus

"Phantom Miria is perhaps the most misunderstood individual in the history of the isle of Toulouse. She has come to be regarded in the simplistic mold of a saintly heroine rescuing the people from tyranny. Unfortunately those historians who portray Miria this way are doing history a horrible disservice. The real Phantom Miria suffered bouts of depression, was emotionally damaged underneath her stoic facade, ambitious, at one time insulted as being a "naive idealist" by a close friend, was sometimes stubborn beyond reason, and had a lurid personal life. By all measures, Phantom Miria was less a "saintly heroine" than an idealistic, ambitious woman of superhuman strength with inner emotional mazes that might take years to unravel.

I do not dispute that Miria can be regarded as a hero of the people of Toulouse; she always will be. This was the woman, after all, who, along with her comrades, managed to expose and annihilate the wicked regime of the Organization. The problem with Miria's representation in history is that she is often spoken of as an ideal. Indeed, depending on who you talk to, her characteristics can range from being smart, pretty, ambitious, modest, honest, idealistic, pragmatic, and so on. People have covered up Miria's true nature so much you'll find Phantom Miria described as everything from hard-line authoritarian to a libertarian. She has become a leader whose image fits her observers' beliefs, but underneath all the "deification" of Miria one can still discover her true, very unique nature.

"Phantom" Miria, as she is popularly called, was a leader who was clearly a product of her times. Those times did not begin when she was born however, as many historians erroneously presume. These times began some 110 years before Miria and her comrades brought the Organization's leader to Rabona for his trial and execution. I am speaking of the era in which the Global War began of course. A few short years before the Global War was unleashed, world politics were shifting at a breakneck pace. Alliances of empires, republics, kingdoms and grand duchies were being formed across the world in response to the depredations of several massive empires. When the empires began turning on one another, as often happened when they conquered all buffer states, a chain-gang effect ripped through world politics. In response to this escalating violence worldwide, the Alliance of Nations was founded by fifteen countries for mutual protection and conquest; with five great powers and four middle powers forming the core of its strength.

In reaction to this their remaining opponents formed the Grand Alliance, an alliance of four great powers and four middle powers. Between the two massive alliances, they held over ninety percent of the world's territory, military strength, and population. On the face of it, the Alliance of Nations held the advantage in almost all areas: population, collective military strength, territory, and even naval supremacy. The Grand Alliance was not led by fools however; they compensated by attracting the support of the non-human draconic tribe to their side.

Known as the Dragons' Descendants, or more derisively, the Dragonkin, they upended the world balance of power. It was not hard to see why: members of the draconic tribe were as large as a sizable house, stood three to four stories tall, and had incredible strength, intelligence, and lethal instincts, with stone-like skin nearly impossible to penetrate with ordinary weapons. Their entry into the war saw the Grand Alliance's territory expand and the Alliance of Nations nearly forced to surrender. Had they been forced to do so, the world today would never have known the name of "Phantom" Miria. She would have just been an average if pretty woman on the island of Toulouse as a new global order reigned on the main continent. It was the Alliance of Nation's vigorous response to counter the Descendants of Dragons' innate advantages that would give rise to Phantom Miria and her legacy.

The Alliance of Nations' research department, known to history only as "the Organization", pushed extra-normal research as a way to counteract the massive advantages the Dragonkin gave the Grand Alliance. The Organization's first creation was the monstrous, shape-shifting human predator, the Yoma. However, against the draconic tribe, Yoma were a disaster. They were almost useless against Dragonkin in the field and hard to direct into battle. Worse still, their innate hunger for human innards spread fear into the Alliance of Nations' own troops when they satisfied their appetites. The war might have been lost in the first few years had the Organization not come upon the idea of experimenting with Yoma flesh implanted into humans.

The result was the claymore warrior, a superhuman soldier who was half-human and half-Yoma and possessed characteristics of both species. These super-soldiers retained their human mind and intelligence, but their appetites shriveled, their hair bleached of color, their bellies scarred over, their eyes turned eerie silver, and their physical abilities became superhuman. The Alliance of Nations sent the first batch of these warriors against an isolated group of 'Dragonkin'.

These individuals far exceeded the expectations of their masters when they released their Yoma energy flowing through their hybrid blood. All of the subjects were male, and as their yokis surged, they passed the point known as "awakening". Their bodies, using too much Yoma energy to retain their human bodies and minds, irreversibly changed. They morphed into monsters, many of which were capable of fighting on par with Dragonkin. The first expedition of males thus transformed wiped out half a dozen draconic tribe members before dying.

The Alliance of Nations' high command was ecstatic, and plunged enormous resources into creating more such one-way monsters. In doing so they stalemated the war enough to survive and regroup. The awakened beings however were far from ideal monsters; they were independent creatures, and if the hybrid men awakened in camp or came back from their experiences, they often wiped out their own armies. Knowing they needed research to perfect their new weapons, the Organization was transplanted onto the island of Toulouse. There it was secure from Grand Alliance aggression thanks to the Alliance of Nations' naval supremacy and the island's little-known location. This modest island, separated from the massive continent far beyond, was to be where Phantom Miria's predecessors first got their start.

For almost a hundred years the Organization pushed research into creating controllable awakened beings, convinced these were the solution to winning the war. They stopped using males as research subjects, turning to females instead, who were far less likely to awaken and thus more useful subordinates. To gain the female soldiers' willing cooperation, they were led to believe the Yoma unleashed upon the island by their own superiors was in fact an uncontrollable scourge. It was a masterful deception, and one the Organization completed by telling its female soldiers that they were the only thing between humanity's extinction.

It was into this dark, chaotic era that a baby girl named Miria de Beauharnais was born some 28 years before the Organization's downfall. Born into a wealthy merchant family, we know from Miria's diary entries that she was the youngest of twelve children, with some seven brothers and four sisters. What little we know of her early years is that she was generally happy and found her vain older sister Victoire aggravating. Miria was given the finest education imaginable, studying at a prestigious all-girls religious school, and her generally excellent physical and mental potential we now know caught the eye of Organization handlers passing through.

Shortly after her tenth birthday, they arranged for the deaths of Miria's entire family via a Yoma attack. The Organization records indicate that they were initially foiled in their determination to acquire her. Miria was taken in by a foster family, but her extreme and understandable depression led her down a dangerous path. Although Miria never admits this in her diary in later years, it seems that the trauma might have been too much to bear. There is substantial evidence that Miria may have lost the will to live on. She had, after all, found her entire family dead or dying, which is an emotional trauma few can imagine most ten-year-old girls enduring. Her foster family, having held off Organization pressure for several months, suddenly caved in.

The Organization's handlers seemed perplexed at the sudden change in attitude. The agent in charge noted that the family had "a look of desperation about them." Miria, it seemed, had somehow become more trouble than they could handle. A hint of what might have happened is noted by "extreme depression" which Miria exhibited. Had she attempted suicide? We will never know, but many a person in Toulouse must be thankful she never succeeded. What seemed to save Miria from extreme despair at her family's deaths was members of her trainee class, or so Miria hints in her diary. Despite finding a will to live on, the happy, carefree Miria of her childhood years was long gone. As a comrade later remarked of Miria's smile, "You had best enjoy it like a rainbow; they're just as rare".

Three years after being made into a half-Yoma, Miria had impressed her trainers enough to become a full-time, ranked warrior. Given the 25th rank at the mere age of thirteen, Miria's excellent work ethic, intelligence, slow temper, superb raw combat skills and great speed earned her the praise of her handler, a man known simply as Ermita. By age fifteen, Miria had risen to the rank of 17th in the Organization. By all measures, Miria seemed a conventional claymore warrior until one digs deeper. Deep within Ermita's records are his notes of concern that Miria's intelligence was fueling dangerous doubts in her mind about the Organization. These notes however seemed never to have reached his superiors for reasons unknown.

Miria's rise up the ranks continued; by age ninteen she had been promoted into the elite "single-digit" ranks as the Organization's new No. 8. At around this time we know two crucial things happened. The first, and most important, was Miria became the first claymore in recorded history to surpass her yoki limits and keep her human mind. The second event was a new bout of extreme depression hitting Miria. Both events seem connected with her assignment to kill her former friend, the awakened ex-No. 6, Hilda. Although details about what happened during the mission are lost to history, it seems likely Miria played a part in killing the monster that was all that remained of her best friend.

What we do know is that the Organization was not aware Miria was partially-awakened, most likely because the report of the mission had been intercepted by the infamous Grand Alliance spy, Rubel Louvre. Rubel, having intercepted the news of Miria's partial awakening, immediately plotted her downfall, as he was terrified she would be the key to creating a controllable awakened being. However, no matter how badly Rubel wanted to kill off Miria before the Organization discovered her unique condition, her depression that followed the Hilda mission ensured otherwise. Her handler Ermita put her on "action hiatus", Organization keywords for taking a warrior out of active duty. Amongst the most telling remarks were Ermita's own: "keep her away from any black cards. She shows signs of extreme distress and should be considered potentially suicidal."

The "black cards" Ermita referenced were those meant to be used by Organization claymores to prevent their peers from awakening. In order to avoid the chaos that came with a warrior losing their humanity, a system was set up in which warriors would request death via a black card by a warrior of their choosing. The fact that Ermita feared Miria would send a black card prematurely gives us some insight on Miria's troubled character. This Miria, the lonely, depressed genius, is one we never read about before now, but it is a key part of who Miria really was. Far too many historians have fallen into the trap of Miria as the stoic heroine; she was anything but stoic underneath the skin.

Ermita knew from experience that Miria was a social claymore and realized squad-based missions were essential to reversing her depression. After a few weeks she was reinstituted to "active action" and always assigned missions with other claymores. A few months passed before records indicate the depression ended. With its end Miria was promoted to No. 6, where her speed earned her the famous nickname, "Phantom" Miria. The nickname had been following Miria for some time, although by age twenty she'd finally earned it. Miria could run in flat country at speeds exceeding race horses, but it was her unequaled ability to sprint and change directions in short, extreme bursts that earned her the nickname. Her sparring partners would later recall she almost seemed to vanish even as they swung. This gave her an incredible advantage in sword-fights, although this was limited by Miria's Yoma energy usage. When Rubel finally managed to assign Miria a suicidal mission, her abilities were tested to the limit.

Miria and her three mission comrades survived, which was of great surprise to Rubel, who had hoped to have rid himself of her and three other "inconvenients" in one maneuver. Miria's squad survived however, largely thanks to the surprising skill of the bottom ranked No. 47, Claire. Miria recalls questioning the survivors in her diary. She was suspicious of how she'd been so misinformed about their target: a rare, powerful male awakened being. As she questioned the survivors, she realized an astounding fact: the survivors were all partially-awakened. There was the trouble-making, perfectionist No. 15, Deneve, the passionate and tomboyish No. 22, Helen, and finally the impetuous and revenge-driven Claire. Miria soon forged strong bonds with the others, a bond, if Organization records are to be believed, went entirely unnoticed.

Rubel, prodded on by an increasingly nervous Grand Alliance intelligence network, did everything he could to kill off the four partially-awakened claymores. Miria during this time went through some severe tests of her abilities, but having found a new family of friends to live for, she survived. Ermita even noted this new, upbeat attitude in Miria, praising her as a model soldier to his superiors, including Rimuto. What Ermita didn't realize is Miria had learned of the Organization's true mission. Miria claims several times in her diary that Rubel approached her before the suicidal mission he later sent her on. Sometime during their conversations he provided evidence of the Organization's true purpose.

Miria, having secretly hated the Organization for "desecrating" her body and Hilda's death, had finally found the idealistic reason for revenge she'd been seeking. However, being the wily woman she was, Miria smelled a trap, and decided to wait as she verified Rubel's evidence with secret trips into the Organization's archives. For over a year Miria and her comrades survived Rubel's attempts to kill them off, until finally, in the name of exterminating a giant army of awakened beings gathered in the island's north, Miria and her half-awakened friends were sent north. Appointed commander of a twenty-four warrior suicide expedition, Miria observed with little surprise that the Organization was purging its ranks of "miscreants" or dangerously smart individuals like herself. Rubel of course had managed to convince the leadership that the other half-awakened claymores were also "miscreants".

Miria and six others survived the mission, due chiefly due to her ingenuity, although guilt would haunt Miria for years. For the next seven years, Miria and those who followed her trained in the desolate wilderness of the island's north, safe from the Organization's reach. When the opportunity to head south finally came, Miria's team was thoroughly prepared. In a stunning, hard-fought campaign, the Organization and its headquarters were utterly destroyed by Miria's sterling leadership of the Northern War survivors and various defectors. The head of the Organization, Rimuto, was executed in Rabona while his few surviving lieutenants were imprisoned in the fortified city. Miria's overthrow of the old order seemed a complete success.

There was however a number of flaws in Miria's overthrow of the Organization, not least of which was allowing those claymores still loyal to the overthrown Organization to travel to the mainland. They were accompanied by several low-ranking Organization members, some of whom had secretly discovered Miria's partially-awakened condition. These individuals fled the island of Toulouse, bound on ships for the lands of the late Organization's backers, the Alliance of Nations. Their arrival there would lead to the opposite effect desired by the Grand Alliance and ultimately lead the world war into a far different future.

The astounding part about Miria's life was that Miria's life leading up to and including the Organization's overthrow are not the events for which she is most famous. Rather it is what came after the Organization's overthrow that most interests historians. Having overthrown the Organization and unaware she had accidentally and totally changed the Global War, Phantom Miria turned her attentions to annihilating the remaining Yoma and awakened beings on the island. Gathering the three dozen silver-eyed girls who'd sworn loyalty to her, Miria embarked on a island-wide hunt. It was a catastrophic success, accomplishing Miria's goals in four months but making the careers for which the claymores were best-suited no longer possible. The group split up into smaller groups, many working as bodyguards, exotic dancers, and even female escorts. By almost anyone's measure, this could only have seemed humiliating to the warriors that overthrew the Organization.

Events for Miria would keep getting worse over the course of the next two years, which ironically were the nadir of her life. Miria, to avoid the less savory and humiliating careers on offer, pushed into protecting merchants for a fee. Miria remarked in her diary that their travels seemed repetitive, which they often were. None of her merchant clients dared travel to the western lands of Lautrec, as they were engulfed in warlord conflicts previously repressed by fears of Yoma. The southern lands of Mucha were still recovering from years of catastrophic population loss, so merchants rarely went south. Miria's travels in this era were concentrated in the central lands of Toulouse and the island's east, Burgund (formerly Sutafu). Elsewhere things kept getting worse for Miria's kind. A number of claymores had attempted to support themselves through illegal prostitution in Rabona. In outrage, the theocratic government banned all claymores from permanent settlement in the city. The government was even considering ungratefully banning them from the city once more when Miria, in a rage, made them aware of her ire over refusing claymores temporary lodgings in Rabona. Facing Miria's wrath, the government soon backed down and allowed claymores to stay for limited periods.

Other claymores soon joined Miria in protecting the merchants, which must have seemed like a job they were meant to have. It seemed innocent, ideal work for former warriors, but times would soon change this work into a grittier business. Out of an idealistic desire to help people, Miria began escorting increasingly large convoys of merchants with the aid of four others. Accompanying Miria in these restless times was her old comrade Helen, the slavishly devoted Tabitha, Miria's beautiful successor at the No. 6 position, Renee, and a former Organization trainee named Natalie. As Miria's diary entries tell us, the bandits roaming the countryside at first were scared off by her mere presence. But as the merchants became increasingly hard to rob under claymore escort, the bandits changed tactics. They began attempting to use feints, night attacks, and then got so desperate they attempted fighting Miria's team. Knocked out almost immediately, the ever-larger groups of bandits changed tactics…


1 year after the Organization's overthrow

Miria yawned as she walked down the road. She was some twenty miles south of Rabona, near the village of Malaga. She vaguely remembered Cid mentioning that it had been where he had been born. It was nearing night, and the sky was ablaze with the violet, red, and orange hues of sunset. She turned upon hearing a clanking noise. A massive, fully enclosed wooden wagon passed by, pulled by a pair of Rabonese draught horses far taller than Miria. The young male driver flashed her a grin.

Following behind his wagon were dozens of others, a number of human guards walking alongside the convoy. Miria was wearing her usual navy-blue leather outfit, which was very similar to the black leather outfit she had worn during the Organization's overthrow. It was a relaxing scene; the wide, open plains of the Toulouse River valley making an ambush by bandits nearly impossible.

"Miria," a female voice broke in from behind her.

Miria turned to find two silver-eyed witches behind her. One had familiar ruddy cheeks, short, cropped blond hair, and a navy-blue outfit that covered all but her neck and head.

"Helen," Miria yawned, "what's the matter?"

"There's some militiamen from the town of Malaga who are requesting that we round up the convoy and stop a little ways from the town," Helen explained.

Miria's eyebrows arched, "Any reason why we can't stop in the town?"

"They said there isn't enough room in the square," Helen stated. "There's something off about the way they—"

"Helen," Miria sniffed, exasperated, "would you relax? There's no need to be paranoid."

"Whatever you say, big sis," Helen replied. "They also said they'll stand guard over the convoy tonight. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to catch some sleep."

Helen walked off, her massive sword scarcely moving from its holder on her back.

"Um, Captain Miria," the remaining witch stammered, seeming genuinely over-awed, "can I sleep near you tonight? Renee's out scouting with Tabitha, so I thought…"

This bashful witch was shorter and more petite than Helen. She had two long strands of curly blond bangs, while her hair fell halfway down her back. Her face was cute, innocent, wide-eyed, and the petite warrior wore a navy-blue leather outfit similar to Miria's own. Upon the warrior's back was a massive, seemingly out-of-place claymore.

"It's okay Natalie," Miria sighed, feeling warm feelings about looking after the fifteen-year-old former trainee.

The wagons were rounded up for the evening beneath a small hillock topped by a pair of trees. The dozens of merchantmen, their wives, children, guards, and the militiamen all settled down as the wagon train formed a perimeter for the night. Campfires were soon started, the chain-mail armored militiamen all around giving Miria a secure feeling.

Miria leaned against a wagon wheel, her eyes drooping as she watched a nearby campfire.

Natalie walked over, sat down beside her, and inquired, "Um, Captain Miria, can I ask you a question about someone else?"

"Oh, alright Natalie," Miria sighed.

Natalie asked in an insecure voice, "Renee keeps talking about how she was imprisoned and escaped from Riful, the Abyssal One of the West. But if Riful is as powerful as Renee says, how did Renee survive?"

"If Renee hasn't told you I am certainly not going to get myself in trouble by doing so," Miria replied. "Go to bed Natalie. We're perfectly safe so it's alright," Miria reassured.

Natalie walked off thirty yards, found herself a free spot near a carriage, impaled her sword against the ground, and promptly fell asleep against it. Miria smiled; Natalie was already infamous for her ability to claim she wasn't tired and then fall asleep mere minutes after a strenuous activity. Miria stretched out and began to fall asleep.

Her dreams were strange; she could swear there were all sorts of voices around her.

One of them, a male voice commented, "That's her. We take her out we'll have them all."

Miria's mind slowly processed this when she lazily half-opened one eye. A sharp knife was the first thing she spotted, its trajectory going straight towards her neck. Reacting on instinct, Miria leaned right while thrusting out her arms. She knocked the knife from her assailant's hand. He was wearing the armor of a 'militiaman'.

She kicked out as he drew his sword to finish her. The kick connected with his jaw; he fell backwards with scarcely a sound. As he crumpled to the ground Miria noticed four of his comrades pull blades nearby. They attempted to rush her before she could stand and draw her claymore. Miria didn't give them that chance. She kicked up onto her feet and drew her blade just in time. She deflected two blows, dodged a third, and promptly counterattacked.

She knocked the sword out of the fourth assailant's hands. This Miria followed up with a spinning kick that utterly flattened two assailants. They landed unconscious before a sleeping convoy guard, who was jolted awake and screamed out. The remaining two assailants ran for it. Miria was about to follow when she saw dozens of archers atop the convoy's wagons. They were aiming for her, arrows pulled back, the strings taut.

Miria made a scrambling jump just as they fired. They missed as she rolled behind a wagon on the convoy's perimeter. The nearest guard wasn't so lucky. He had only just stood up when she had jumped right past him. The arrows meant for her stuck in the man like quills on a porcupine. He crumpled to the ground, dead.

A gruff-voiced man called out, "It's over witches. I have someone that belongs to you, and if you don't want to see her dead, you'll give up the convoy and every human in it."

Miria frantically glanced around the wagon's wheel to find Natalie in the encampment's center. A few yards away from Natalie was a dead man, no doubt killed when Natalie had reacted on instinct to the sudden assault. Natalie was kneeling, some five different archers holding her hostage. They had their bows taut, ready to fire, and mere inches away from the former Organization trainee. Miria let out a sigh of regret and closed her eyes a moment.

"Alright, I'm coming out," Miria stated.

The archers tracked her every move, bows taut.

The assailants' leader, a fair-skinned, smug-looking, brown-haired man, was amongst those holding Natalie hostage. Miria noted with alarm that Natalie looked very ill. She had little doubt of the cause; Natalie had just instinctively killed a human and broken the ultimate claymore taboo in defense of her life.

"Drop the sword," the man snarled.

"I don't think so," Miria replied, noticing that Helen was hiding behind a wagon on the opposite side of camp. Helen however had dozens of archers just waiting for her to make a move, the same as Miria. It appeared that the assailants had the advantage with Natalie hostage.

"Fine," the man murmured.

He shifted his bow's aim from Natalie's head to her shoulder and fired. Natalie screamed out in pain as Miria involuntarily took a step forward. Her hand was on the hilt of her sword, but she did not draw it.

"You take another step witch, we'll have your precious little girl's head shot full of arrows," the man warned. "That's right, there's absolutely nothing you can do."

Miria hissed, "What do you want?"

"What I want is for your kind to quit getting in the way of our livelihood," he spat. "We were sacking towns at will until they started hiring your witches. The word in the land is you're the big, bad mamma claymore on this island. They all report to you, so if we make a deal with you, we get what we want and your precious, young comrade will be safe."

Miria's eyes narrowed, "You're not going leave this encampment with her as your hostage."

"Oh I think we will," the bandit leader rebutted. "You claymores don't like taking life, and you most certainly would never tolerate losing one of your kind. Feels bad, doesn't it, knowing that we deceived you? I can see it now, the leader who brought down the Organization defeated by a smart bandit. I'll be Bastien the bold, victor over the legendary Phantom Miria."

Miria grated her teeth; the last thing she wanted was for this bastard to succeed in his plotting.

"Now, I want you and your other comrade behind me to turn around and walk away. You'll tell all your followers to stop interfering in our affairs, and then just maybe you'll see your precious little witch sometime," Bastien stated.

Miria's stomach churned; she knew that the other warriors no longer answered to her commands. They had split up months ago, and thus Miria knew if she let Natalie go now the girl would certainly be killed. She had to act, but the distance between her and the 15-year-old trainee was some twenty yards.

"I said turn around," Bastien snapped.

Miria sighed as she came to a very regretful but necessary decision. She held back her sword, but instead of sheathing it she was readying to strike.

Bastien laughed, "There's nothing you can do to save her. Go on Marcello, show Phantom Miria how serious we are."

Bastien glanced away from Miria as one of his men holding Natalie hostage shifted his aim towards Natalie's unwounded shoulder. Miria saw her moment and moved. In an instant she flung her blade with great force. It left her right hand spinning horizontally at a tremendous rate. Bastien scarcely had a moment to notice as it flew towards him.

Natalie ducked just in time; the sword cleared her head by half a foot. It cut Bastien and the men holding Natalie hostage in half at the waist. The sword ended its flight by smashing into the side of a wooden wagon. Miria back flipped a moment later as Bastien's supporters opened fire. Their arrows just missed Miria's legs. Miria landed atop a wagon as the bandit archers desperately tried to ready new arrows to shoot.

Helen's blade ended the confrontation in a brutal style, slashing down dozens of men. Their bodies fell from the wagons with sickening thuds. Miria rushed up to Natalie's side. Natalie was kneeling on all fours, breathing hard, her brow swathed in feverish sweat.

"Natalie, it's okay," Miria tried to reassure, although it felt like she was reassuring herself more than Natalie.

Natalie instead puked all over the ground. Miria helped Natalie to her feet with Helen once Natalie had entirely left her stomach's contents on the ground.

"I'm sorry Natalie," Miria apologized.

"You better frickin' be," Helen snapped, who was also not looking well. "We damn near died because of you being a trusting, goddamn naïve idealist!"

Miria, her stomach churning as she looked around at all the men they'd slain, objected, "We couldn't have known that—"

"No," Helen snapped, "you should have known better than to just take their word they were here to protect us. We nearly lost Natalie, and we ended up…I mean, I ended up killing…"

Helen's breathing slowed as she looked at her hands and down at the dead bandits mere yards away.

"I need a drink," Helen stated, walking off just as Natalie stopped to lean against a wagon's side.

The convoy's civilians began emerging in the darkness and shouting and crying out as they ran all over. Miria for her part could only hide her head in her hands as she stood next to Natalie. She knew things had just irreversibly changed, and there was no going back...