A blue star hangs in the sky, and behind it, a kaleidoscope of color is vaguely visible. Like dust thrown up by a passing caravan, the colors dance around the star, but never quite touch it. For something blocks their union, a translucent barrier, blue in color and always shifting. Always healing. It surrounds the star in a thin bubble, yet does not obscure its light in the slightest.

And below the blue star, this planet reveals its own barrier. Like a round waterfall reversed in its flow, a hole splits the sky, its path leading up and into the branches that make up the Praesi. Just the same as the one surrounding that star, millions of hair-like strands intermingle to create the barrier, each taking over the other as they constantly rebuild themselves.

Kyro shades his eyes from the blinding light of Sevi as he looks up at the blue stem, ”Good day for war. Betor bless us, ” he smiles. Kyro is just over nine feet tall with long black hair tied in a ponytail, thick brows, narrow grey eyes, and pale blue skin. Thick, defined arms burst from his black sleeveless robe, tied closed by a cloth belt. The hem drapes over same color shorts, and calves rippling with muscle steady the Rajin man. He stands barefoot, pale bottoms of his feet firm against the soil.

Kyro lowers his eyes, raising a six-foot sword and sinking the tip in the dirt. Barbs stick out along its sharp blade, and Rajin glyphs are engraved along the flat side. The blade is nearly as long as Kyro is tall, a symbol of the mans great strength.

Green fields and rising mountains surround the mix of dirt and stone he now stands on. Blades of grass tilt with the breeze, like lone waves gliding over a green ocean. The local wildlife are nowhere to be seen on this day. They know what is coming.

With his smile lingering, Kyro turns, leaving the sword in the ground behind him, the glyphs and jagged edges etched into the steel glistening in the light of that star. He faces three thousand Rajin men, their tight formation spanning miles across the battlefield. Soldiers. Some have violet skin, some crimson, and some the same blue as Kyro. Some carry spears, some swords, and some war hammers. All wear the same black cloth, and with it the pride of pride of a Rajin warrior.

Kyro looks over the men, and they all stare back, waiting. He meets as many gazes as he can, and eventually, his eyes drift to the two men just before him. His nephew, Mavyl, stands nearly as tall as Kyro himself, despite only being sixteen. He has blue skin, like all members of the family, and silver hair tied in a short ponytail, like Kyro himself. A long spear lays over his shoulder, the steel tip pointing to the sky behind him. Armor has never been so useless before a single man.

Beside Mavyl, a man rises three heads over nearly every Rajin present. His skin is violet, and few other Rajin men match the intimidation that bald head exudes. Ingen wears his uniform casually, the jacket open to expose his chiseled muscles littered with pale scars. One of his thick silver brows raise as Kyro smiles at him, ”What do you think? ” Ingen asks.

Kyro hums, crossing his arms with one hand rubbing his smooth chin, ”There were six thousand last time… ” he says, glancing up at Ingen, ”…seven or eight thousand, maybe. Unless they have finally learned their lesson, there will be no change in their strategy. ”

Mavyl grunts, lowering the butt of his spear to the cracked stone below, ”Are they close? Im tired of waiting, ” he complains, ”The Utherians have invaded so many times now, yet they still choose to take their time. ”

Kyro smiles at his nephew, ”Be patient, Mav. The signal will be given in time, ” he responds, looking up into the sky. A figure looms high above, its misty form vaguely resembling a man with a flowing cloak covering its body. Under its hood, solid darkness takes the place of a head, ”The Dax is early. Lets give it some Utherian souls, shall we? ” Kyro says loud enough for most of the soldiers to hear

The soldiers in earshot grunt approvingly, and the gesture follows all the way to the back lines. Ingen looks up towards the stem as the whistle of the wind takes over again, ”There it is, ” he mutters.

Two small boats appear from the wormhole in the sky, flying downward until they right themselves, zipping towards the waiting army. Rajin men occupy the boats, waving swords above their heads as they approach. Kyro grins, ”Finally, ” he says, raising a hand above his head, ”Archers! ”

Following his command, the men at the front of the army step aside for the ones called to step up. Several soldiers appear from the lines, carrying massive iron bows on their backs. Another soldier follows each of them, large rod-like metal arrows held over their shoulders. Each arrow is as thick as a forearm, and the heads have jagged blades meant to tear through anything they meet. Including armor.

The bow-carrying soldiers heave the obtuse weapons over their shoulders, dust flying with a thud as metal meets dirt. The bows sit on the tip of their lower limbs, the only thing keeping them from tipping over being the men meant to use them. Before long, a long column of bows stretch before the army, large piles of arrows lying on the ground beside each.

Kyro walks until he is in front of the archers, grabbing his sword and twisting it in his hand. He turns to face the army, slipping a hand under his cloth belt and pulling a sliver of a coin-sized red crystal out. Kyro raises the crystal above his head and looks at the three thousand men before him, ”Stones! ” he bellows.

Just then, every soldier, including Ingen and Mavyl, and the archers follow Kyros actions. Thousands of those red crystals are held in the air, and Kyro then lowers his own, crushing it to dust in his hand. He cups his palm to his mouth, swallowing the crystal dust along with every other soldier.

Kyro feels the tiny particles sliding down his throat, and winces. It always goes down rough without water. A moment later, and the man looks up to the sky, breathing out slowly. Kyros senses heighten, allowing him to see, hear, and smell at a level he could never imitate without the stones. His muscles begin to throb with power, every fiber begging to be thrown into battle.

Looking at the rest of the men, Kyro can see that they are feeling the same. Ingen and Mavyl look back at him with thirst for blood in their eyes. Kyro waves them forward, and they follow his command. This is his team.

Other armies may appoint a general, a man that is most suited to leading others, but the Rajin do things differently. The army only follows the command of the strongest soldier, and after proving his strength in frequent spars, Kyro has earned, and kept this position for 8 years. With this, he has the privilege of being the first in line to the battle. There are many others, but none that interest him.

The grin on Kyros face widens as he gazes at the two men before him. By the end of the battle, his cheeks always hurt from the involuntary smile, ”You two know how this works. Stay close, and guard my back. I will handle the front, ” he says.

Ingen merely scoffs, waving a hand through the air. The violet-skinned man has heard those words an innumerable amount of times.

”Careful, Uncle, ” Mavyl responds with his own grin, ”Ive been getting better. One day Ill be the one leading. ”

Kyro throws his head back and laughs in response. He pats his nephews shoulder, ”I look forward to it, Mav, ” he says, tilting his head toward Ingen, ”But Youll have to surpass your other uncle first, ” he laughs again. A fine goal for Mavyl, but also dangerous. Many have aimed to end Kyros life to take his position.

Kyro steps back with those words, watching as Mavyl and Ingen exchange looks, the former raising a brow, and the ladder laughing with a taunting look in his eyes.

Kyro turns and looks up at the stem, grip tightening on his sword. Just in time, an armada of large ships pour from the hole in the sky, all with no sails or rudders. A colorful barrier like a bubble surrounds each ship, an Anima Shroud. The barriers all pop out of existence as the vessels leave the stem. The Utherians have always had a great number of Anima users in their ranks, and the army would not be here if not for them. Legions do not enter the branches without protection from the creatures that lurk within them, and only an Anima user and his Shroud can provide that.

Kyro raises an arm above his head as he focuses his gaze on the approaching ships, ”Fire at will! Bring them down to our level! ” he yells.

With that command, each archer drops to one knee behind their bows, knocking the thick steel arrows and drawing. A second later, hundreds of arrows zip through the sky with a whistle. Each arrow slams into the bottom of the ships, piercing through to the deck and finding Utherian flesh. Wooden shrapnel rains from the sky, along with limbs and blood.

Kyro watches as the closest ships crumble and begin to fall diagonally towards him and his army. Knowing what is to come, the ships farther back take the liberty of lowering themselves. Kyros muscles pulse furiously, and he glances back at his two squad members, ”Follow. We will not allow them to gain positioning, ” he says.

Not waiting for a response, Kyro turns back to the enemy ahead, bursting into a sprint. Along with Mavyl and Ingen, the other soldiers charge forward with Kyros silent command. The archers drop their bows, drawing blades and hammers to join the charge. They try to keep up, but along with his unmatched prowess in battle, few come close to Kyro in sheer speed. He gaps the army, and though the distance in not as great, his own team.

Kyro cranes his neck up to the sky, bare feet slapping against the ground. The leading ship sinks downward, yet is still at least fifty feet above him. Kyro grits his teeth, the muscles in his legs bulging as he pushes off the earth. He bolts into the sky, the wind ruffling his uniform and hair as he soars towards that falling ship.

Kyro rises above the vessel, and a crowd of panicking Utherians stares up at him, their golden armor and shields glimmering in the sunlight. The blue-skinned Rajin falls and slams on the deck of the ship, wooden shrapnel flying from beneath him. He bursts from his landing place, a toothy grin on his face. An enemy soldier swings his sword at Kyro, an expression of sheer terror visible under his golden helmet.

There are stories told about Kyro throughout the Utherian army, and of the massacres that he leaves behind on the battlefield. His feverish head hunting and unwavering focus in battle has earned him the alias, ”Bloodhound ” from his fellow soldiers. And while this soldier may not recognize Kyro himself, that massive glyph-engraved sword is unmistakable.

Kyro swipes his sword through the air, slicing through the Utherians waist with ease, blood spraying like a fountain from the wound. Before the body hits the deck, Kyro is already dashing forward, ripping through his enemies before they can begin to resist. In the seconds before they meet their demise, each soldier sees Kyros blank eyes staring through them. The Bloodhound has always had an intense amount of focus, and even more so with the Stones pulsing through his veins.

Ingen and Mavyl land on the ship a moment later, and the former clicks his tongue as he sees Kyro leaping from the back of the vessel, leaving behind bodies and buckets of blood, ”Watch his back, he says, ” Ingen says in frustration, his brows raising a moment later as Mavyl bolts after his Uncle, spear held at his side.

Kyro plummets through the air toward another falling ship, pulling his sword back and over his shoulder. In a single second, white energy bursts from his hand and covers his sword in a thin layer. Then, defying the laws of physics, the blade stretches outward, only ceasing its growth once it reaches a length of almost thirty feet.

Kyro continues to fall, and as he nears the ship with holes and shrapnel littering the deck, he swings his sword in a horizontal slash. The massive blade slices through the middle of the ship, not stopping for any of the unfortunate Utherian soldiers that find themselves in its path. The two pieces of the ship fold outward, causing the soldiers that once stood on the deck to slide and plummet to the ground.

The blade shrinks to its previous size, and the white energy dissipates as Kyro lands highest part of the cut ship. He looks down at the falling soldiers. They will die from the crash, and those that survive will be culled by the Rajin army. Kyro looks behind him and sees Mavyl and Ingen falling toward him. He points to the rest of the ships ahead, most of them being the ones that decided to land before they could be forced to.

Kyro has learned that it is best to be quick and aggressive when facing the Utherians. Each Rajin soldier is multiple times stronger than any Utherian, but that is only in brute strength. Those Anima users, with their magic that can kill at long ranges, are the main threat to the Rajin army. Kyro wants to eliminate that threat before it has time to gain its bearings.

Kyro leaps from the falling vessel, continuing his massacre. He leaves the crashing ships to the rest of the army and aims for the untouched ones. Mavyl and Ingen tail him, jumping from ship to ship, the former piercing necks and chests with his spear, and the ladder shattering skulls with his Warhammer.

The battles always play out this way. The Utherian army has conquered many planets over the last hundred and some odd years, and few others can match their military might. However, even with the strength and numbers they have gained over the years, the Utherians have never known victory over the Rajin. Yet, for some reason unknown to the Rajin, they always return to make another attempt.

The Rajin army does not mind this either. They find enjoyment and happiness in many things, just the same as any other race, but no matter how many new generations are born, war has always been the one thing they enjoy the most. Due to a lack of Anime users, Rajin are unable to travel through the branches in large groups, so it is always a delight to have their enemy come to them.

The rest of the Utherian army finally leaves their landed vessels and clash with the charging Rajin army. The Utherians are at a disadvantage though, Kyro and his team have slain most of the Anima users. Without help from them, the Utherians are left with only their physical strength to use.

Before long, the eight thousand Utherian soldiers that arrived for battle are reduced to one thousand. Meanwhile, the Rajin army is still two thousand strong, and the buckets of blood they have spilled only bring them to push with more ferocity. The Utherians are forced to retreat to save the number they still have. Many Anima users accompany their forces, and to lose all of them would be devastating for the failing conquerors.

Kyro watches as the remaining Utherians retreat frantically to their vessels. His comrades roar in victory behind him, weapons held high above their heads, blood-stained golden armor and shields surrounding them. Vessels reduced to piles of wood riddle the battlefield, near deceased Utherians crawling from the rubble only to have Rajin blades release them from their agony.

Kyro cranes his neck to the sky. The Dax is still there, floating ominously, its palm outstretched before it. It is nearly invisible to the naked eye, but multi-colored, smoke-like energy streams from each dead body and into its palm. Souls.

When a single man dies, his soul returns to the Anima realm on its own. However, for a battle like this, where thousands of souls have been released from their vessels in a short amount of time, a Dax is needed to guide them. Kyro used to find their presence disturbing, but that has changed after eleven years of battle. Though he still wonders how the creatures always know when a battle is coming. They have always arrived before the blood starts to spill.

Several vessels float into the air above the battlefield, carrying injured and defeated Utherian soldiers. Kyro and the others have always been uninterested in pursuing a fleeing enemy. The enemy that does not fight back is not worth killing. They will be back to taste defeat again, Kyro thinks, with more soldiers.

The satisfaction of victory wells up in his heart, yet something seems off to Kyro. The Utherians have invaded Raj again and again for a decade, and have failed amazingly each time. However, they insist on making another attempt, their only strategy change being an increase in numbers. Why do they-

”Kyro! ” A burly voice suddenly calls from behind, and Kyro snaps his vision around to find Ingen walking toward him. The violet-skinned Rajin is covered in blood, his uniform shredded, tiny cuts across his body adding to the pale scars gained from previous battles. A result of his charge and smash, ”strategy ”.

Kyro nods in acknowledgment, wiping Utherian blood from his cheek. He looks around at the surrounding soldiers, brows furrowed, ”Where is Mavyl? ”

”I…, ” Ingen trails off, forehead wrinkled as he also looks around. His grip loosens on his Warhammer while anxiety chews at his mind, ”…I don know. ”

Kyros eyes widen, his heart dropping to his stomach. He looks around frantically, his hands beginning to shake, ”…Not you too, Mav, ” He whispers to himself, ”Mavyl! ”

Kyro breaks into a sprint, stumbling over bodies in a frenzied haste. His eyes dart every which way, searching for the closest thing to a son that Kyro has ever known. As he runs, screaming for his nephew, images of his father race through his head. Kyro could only watch as the man took his last breath, his guts spilling from the gash splitting his abdomen.

Kyro and his army have never experienced defeat, yet each battle brings great loss. Thousands of Rajin mothers, sisters, and daughters have had the men in their lives stolen by war. A thousand more have just been added to that number.

Some Rajin men are affected by these losses, while others have grown numb, emotions fogged by the ideals hammered into minds.

There are only two options for a Rajin soldier in war; die on the battlefield, or carry themselves from it after victory. Even if they can be saved, those unable to walk are left behind. Saving a comrade brings a choice to both the savior and saved; execution or slavery.

”Here! Kyro, hes here! ” Ingen calls.

Kyro spins, finding Ingen standing farther to the side of the battlefield, pointing to a pile of bodies. The Bloodhound runs faster than ever before, his heart thumping as he arrives next to Ingen in a short moment. Kyro looks at the pile of bodies covered in golden armor, panting. On top of the pile, Mavyl lays there, covered in blood.

The silver-haired soldier looks at Kyro with tired eyes, holding a blood-drenched piece of fabric to his thigh.

”Mavyl! ” Kyro approaches his nephew quickly, looking at the boys injuries, then into his eyes, ”What happened? ” he asks in a panicked voice.

Mavyl meets his uncles gaze, looking as if he is on the verge of slumber, ”My leg… ” he responds, voice quiet and unsteady.

Kyro looks at Mavyls leg, reaching and lifting the boys hand and the fabric that was once grey, but is now completely red. Thick Crimson blood instantly begins to ooze from the deep gash revealed beneath, pouring down Mavyls leg and onto the bodies below him. Rajin heal quickly from most wounds, but the boy is losing too much blood. His femoral artery must have been cut, the Uncle thinks.

Kyro quickly takes off his uniform jacket, ripping it in half. He uses the fabric to wrap Mavyls leg tight in a tourniquet, then picks the boy up from the pile he lies on. Kyro hurries through the battlefield, dying nephew in his arms, the metallic stench of blood wafting in his nose.

”Kyro! What are you doing!? ” Ingen asks frantically, walking beside Kyro.

”What does it look like? ” Kyro responds with blunt words, eyes focused forward.

”You and Mavyl will both be executed! You know that! ” Ingen yells.

”Not if we become collectors, ” Kyro says.

”So you wish to become a slave for the rest of your days? And Mavyl? Will you condemn him to that same fate? ” Ingen asks, becoming impatient.

Kyro finally glances up at Ingen, his eyes solid, ”I would die myself if it means he lives another day. You speak as if you would not do the same. ”

Ingen pauses, gazing at Kyro. He sighs, looking at the soldiers surrounding them. Some look back at Ingen, or rather the man walking beside him, hunger in their eyes. Ingen tightens his grip on his Warhammer, ”We may have difficulty leaving, ” he says.

Kyros eyes drift to Ingen, then to the soldiers that follow slowly. Of course, Kyro thinks, they have been waiting for this. To save a fellow soldier is weakness, and a man that displays such a trait does not deserve the title of the strongest.

Those ambitious enough will not see this chance slip from them. Their pride will not allow them to.

Kyro and Ingens gazes meet, and a silent understanding forms between them. Ingen lugs his Warhammer up to his shoulder, looking around and meeting each soldiers eyes, testing their resolve to strike down a fellow soldier. In this situation, bloodshed is inevitable. That blood will not belong to the men beside him. Ingens size is not just a spectacle.

The physical strength of Utherians has always left something to desire for Ingen, but he is sure Rajin will do well to entertain him. A moment ago, these conspiring men were friends, but that is no longer the case. No one rises above a brother, blood-related or not.

Kyro stares forward, set in his ways. Mavyl will live this day, and not a single soul will change that. He looks down at his nephew, and their gazes meet. Mavyls face is an unnaturally pale shade of blue, and his mouth hangs open, chest heaving slowly with struggling breaths.

”Uncle… ” Mavyl whispers, body nearly limp in his uncles arms, ”Im supposed to die… I need to die. ”

Kyro gazes at his nephew for a moment, then returns his eyes forward, sighing, ”I know, ” he responds. Behind him, skulls and ribs are crushed under the weight of Ingens Warhammer, but Kyro continues to walk, eyes focused on the mountain and city in the distance.

Kyro has spent the last ten years as an important member of Rajin society, respected by all, just as his father was. That will change today.

Yoru, his sister, will undoubtedly be affected by these events as well. However, Kyro will see himself beheaded before he stops caring for his family. They are all he has left.

If nothing else, a man must protect what is his.

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