Today I am excited to be sharing some illustrations of the main characters in Sairō’s Claw by Virginia McClain.
An action-adventure fantasy romp featuring sword lesbians, sea battles, and a grumpy wolf spirit.
Torako has done many things to protect the valley that she calls home, but she’s never looted a corpse before. So when the katana she steals off the still-cooling body of a bandit turns out to be possessed by a grumpy wolf kami, she can only assume it’s because she’s somehow angered the spirits. An impression that’s only reinforced when she returns home to find her wife abducted and her daughter in hiding. But angry spirits or no, Torako isn’t about to let bandits run off with the love of her life, even if it means taking their 3 year old on a rescue mission.
In all Kaiyo’s years as Captain of the Wind Serpent she has never once questioned her admiral’s orders. So when she receives the command to abduct a civilian scribe with the help of fifteen felons, she registers her objections, but does as she is bid. Yet, as the mission unfolds, Kaiyo finds herself questioning everything from her loyalties to her convictions.
As Torako and Kaiyo’s fates cross like dueling blades, their persistence is matched only by their fury, until they uncover a series of truths they may never be ready to accept.
Meet Sairō! The grumpiest wolf spirit ever trapped in a katana! Then again they might be the only wolf spirit trapped in a katana, so perhaps that’s not the best standard to measure by.
“If they meant her no harm why would they have taken her at all? People don’t steal other people away against their will for a friendly conversation after which they let them on their way. They must need her for something but I can’t imagine they plan to simply return her once they’ve got what they wanted.”
Sairō’s silence was telling.
Torako cradled Itachi closer for a moment.
“Thank you for keeping her safe,” she said, without looking at the giant wolf.
“Hmph, don’t expect me to play childminder every time you plan to throw yourself in harm’s way. Small humans only get underfoot.”
Torako buried her face in Itachi’s hair to hide the grin that she couldn’t keep from her face.
“She likes you, you know,” Torako prodded.
“She can like me all she wishes, it won’t be mutual.”
“I thought wolves were natural care takers.”
“Wolves naturally take care of their own young.”
“Human children aren’t that different from wolf pups.”
“Human children are cats without dignity.”
“Does that mean you’re fond of cats too?”
Sairō’s growl was loud enough to wake Itachi.
Meet Itachi, Torako’s daughter. She is always trying to help, even if her parents might prefer it if she didn’t.
“Kaa-san, what’s wrong?”
For a moment, Kaa-san said nothing, and didn’t even turn towards Itachi. Itachi frowned and was about to ask again, when her mother spoke.
“I’m just a bit worried about your mama, that’s all.”
Itachi thought that was odd, since Mama was sometimes was gone for days and days without Kaa-san worrying about her and right now she had only been gone since just before sunset.
Kaa-san finally turned back to Itachi and smiled.
“No reason. I’m sure she’s fine. Let’s eat supper, ne?”
Itachi knew that her mother was lying. She also knew it was the lie her parents most often told her. It was the most confusing lie because it was always true. Every time her mother or mama told her things were fine it was true. But almost every time they said that things were fine, her kisō told her they were lying. She still didn’t understand how it was possible, and when she’d asked Yanagi-sensei about it once, his answer hadn’t helped.
“Ah. It is the lie that parents always hope will be true, and most of the time, it is true. But often, at the time they say it, they don’t believe the words themselves,” Yanagi-sensei had explained.
Itachi thought grown ups were silly sometimes, and tree spirits too, for that matter.
Raku: Meet Raku! Scribe, storyteller, and sometimes spy. She’s also Itachi’s other mother.
“I didn’t mean—“
“Didn’t you?” Raku thought the drugs must still be addling her mind. This was the opposite of her usual strategy. She survived by convincing the world she wasn’t a threat, by hiding in plain sight, by letting them make assumptions about everything from her brightly colored kimono, to her decorative hair styles, from her petite form, to her dazzling smiles. She was a walking contradiction, but almost no one ever found the sharp edged truth of her. Whatever drugs they had given her had stripped away her defenses, and now she was all sharp edges and pointy truths.
Meet Torako! Defender of Sōryū Valley, she will fight with everything she has to protect her family and her people.
“We don’t have to do this,” Torako tried again. “You could all still walk away from this. I just want to make sure that you’re not here to cause trouble for—”
But then the man standing in front of her shifted his gaze to something over Torako’s shoulder, and he raised his dagger in preparation for a throw.
Itachi!!! Torako’s mind screamed. She moved before she could think.
One moment the man stood before her poised to throw a knife, the next he was falling lifeless to the ground as blood poured from his opened neck. She heard the thunk of metal hitting rock as his knife missed its mark.
Torako still held the base of her walking staff in her left hand, but her right now held the katana she’d pulled from it, still dripping the blood of the man who had tried to throw a dagger at her daughter.
From there everything was chaos.
The familiar tingle of a fire kisō calling flame to life brought her attention into the sharp focus of battle that made the rest of the world fall away. She dropped the staff sheath for her katana and rolled forward, her mind focused on bringing the attacks and attention away from the boulders that hid Itachi’s small form. She had to trust that Itachi would hide properly. There was no room for anything else in the wild dance that Torako was now committed to.
The fire came at her in a steady stream, which she just barely stayed ahead of. She could hear the rustling of a wind kisōshi as well, but she focused on the fire, rolling twice more to bring herself right up under the kisōshi’s legs. She reached out and grabbed his ankle briefly with her left hand, then slashed up with her blade in a single fluid move as her legs came up under her. The man died looking startled, as most kisōshi did after she got close enough to touch them.
Meet Kaiyo! Captain of the Wind Serpent, she is very happy to stab anyone who gets in her way, but would die for any member of her crew.
“Good day, gentlemen,” Kaiyo said, as everyone involved stopped what they were doing. The two men whose windpipes she currently held, with enough pressure to make it clear she could crush them before they could do anything to stop her, glared sullenly in her direction and she did her best not to smile.
“There seems to be a misunderstanding,” she said, now that she had their attention.
“Chito-san took my—”
“Ah, ah,” Kaiyo interrupted, keeping her voice light. “You mistake my meaning. I don’t give a rat’s shit about what you think the misunderstanding between you is. The misunderstanding that you should concern yourself with is the one that made you think it was acceptable to brawl in the middle of my deck. You are here by my invitation. If I decide you are no longer worthy of the invitation, I will feed you to the sea. Is that understood?”
The man whose life she held in her right hand nodded.
The man on the left said, “Little bitch, what makes you think you can—”
Whatever else the man planned to say was cut off with the crushing of his windpipe. He collapsed at Kaiyo’s feet, making the horrible noise of someone who can no longer pull air into their lungs.
“Is that understood?” she asked the remaining men.
Murmurs of “Yes, Captain,” and vigorous nodding surrounded her.
About the Illustrator
Amy Gerardy is an illustrator and game developer. She usually has a variety of projects on the go, from making prints and books to marketing materials and art assets for games. She frequently forgets that her tea is still steeping. Find her here: https://www.artstation.com/amymja
About the Author
Virginia McClain is an author who masqueraded as a language teacher for a decade or so. When she’s not reading or writing she can generally be found playing outside with her four legged adventure buddy and the tiny human she helped to build from scratch. She enjoys climbing to the top of tall rocks, running through deserts, mountains, and woodlands, and carrying a foldable home on her back whenever she gets a chance. She’s also fond of word games, and writing descriptions of herself that are needlessly vague.