Birth of Sins
Laughter shook the heavens like thunder and the earth trembled as if struck by lightning. The hunched form's head shot up at this sound. It was nearby, just over the hillside to his left. His red eyes narrowed, letting go of the limp form in his hands, he moved one to the tetsubo at his side and the other to his pouch. Carefully he retrieved a jade pendant from the small sack and hung it around his neck. For a moment the jade burned him, but the pain quickly subsided… as was usual.
Stepping over several more dead Goblins, he moved to the top of the small hill. Crouching low he took in the scene before him: several Ogres lay strewn about and amidst them was a man and the last Ogre from a pack of seven. Hida Daiseiko followed the fight with interest and dread. The man was tall, pale and gaunt, wielding a foul rotting ono with great skill; the Ogre wasn't able to even hit him. Daiseiko's suspicions grew by the second, he had heard many tales of men who had given into the Taint, not through the Taint itself, but through free will. It was men like this Hida Daiseiko feared, he was strong enough to wrestle an Ogre and be able to win and even the weaker Oni could fall to his might, but these beings knew nothing but the Taint. Men who gave into it willingly to gain might were more dangerous than the greatest Oni.
The Ogre swung his two clubs at the man frantically, fighting for his life with all his might and limited skill. The man was constantly smiling and even chuckled as he easily dodge every swing of the Ogre. Suddenly the Ogre brought both clubs down on the man, but to no avail, the man dodged backwards, almost as if dancing. With a few movements that bore resemblance to a kata the man summoned up his Chi and smashed into the ground with his fist.
Immediately the Ogre toppled over, clutching his waist in pain. Hida Daiseiko saw the man killing the Ogre with his ono before he was suddenly hit by a searing pain in his stomach. Whatever the man had done, it was directly attacking his Chi. Daiseiko's knees buckled and he used his tetsubo for support, grabbing his stomach with his free hand. He remained standing only with the help of his weapon and sheer force of will.
Again that laugh, like thunder searing through the sky, it almost pained Daiseiko to hear it as he stumbled back down the hill. He sat down beside a rock, out of sight of anyone who might come over the hill, at least for the time being.
"Roshungi," he spat. He had heard tales of this Dark Brother many times and he knew his fears were justified. Even if he used all his Tainted power, he could probably not overcome him. Supposedly the ono he carried was that of Osano-Wo, a powerful weapon indeed. Roshungi's fighting prowess, combined with his mastery of the mystical kiho's made him one of the most deadly men in the Shadowlands.
* * *
A chuckle, though it could've sounded comical at the right moment, right now it sounded like a claw scraping past stone, as sound Daiseiko was none to fond of. He concentrated for a moment and was able to discern to voices from the other side of the hillock. Shaking of the effects of the attack on his Chi, he stood, knees still shaking and shivers running up and down his spine he forced himself back up.
Roshungi was joined by somebody else, but it should not be! The clothes, the
weaponry, the jade mask and pendants adorning her body, the woman he was talking
with had all the markings of a tsukai-sagasu, a witch huntress. Why would she be
talking to the monk? His Taint showed on his blade, in his eyes and smile and
she should be skilled enough to sense it with her eyes closed!
His dread and interest fully renewed, Daiseiko lay down, watched and listened.
"You have come, witch huntress, as we agreed." The man's voice was honey, though the killer bees that owned it were not far away. "I have what you seek, do you have what I need?" A deal? The Dark Brother had made a deal with this woman? What could he've done to force her into this?
"Of course I have come! I want the power you promised me! My brothers will need it against the Crane!" The woman's voice was powerful and commanding, she was assuming that her jade would protect her from this man. So she was bartering with one enemy to defeat another.
The monk grinned, smiled and then laughed. The tsukai-sagasu took a few steps back. Looking at her Roshungi said, "Come now, little girl. You have come so far for the power to defeat your enemy, will you shame yourself by failing to take this opportunity?" He was clever, playing on her sense of honor and the thought of saving her kinsmen.
"I will not! Here! Have what you want!" The woman threw a pouch at the monk, which he caught with a deft hand. He quickly opened it and smiled. "Now, live up to your end of the bargain!" The woman extended her hand as if to receive her gift.
Again the grin and the chuckle. "The power you seek lies in the Taint.
Give in to it and all you want can be yours!" Bursting in the laughter the
monk tucked his newest possession into his simple clothing.
The woman screamed and threw away the naginate she had been wearing, drew a jade chipped katana and charged the man.
"Damned!" Daiseiko thought as he saw the foolhardy attempt at vengeance. He huddled and went back to the dead Goblins. Quickly looking over the body, he saw what he looked for, he lay down his tetsubo again and went to quick work.
For the tsukai-sagasu the fight went badly. Every one of her strikes was dodged, parried or blocked and the monk drove her back. He attacks were powerful, his form belying his Tainted strength, and quick, even most Cranes would be ashamed at this man's skill.
The witch-huntress suddenly felt a cold, hard slab of stone against her back and noticed the Dark Brother had driven her against a stone, leaving her no quarter. After a few more attacks the monk batted away her blade and raised his foul axe to finish her off.
* * *
The screaming sound stopped with a loud thump as the signal arrow hit the ground in front of Roshungi. Another bit the earth behind him. "Face me, foul one!" Roshungi growled as he turned toward to face the voice. On the nearby hill a tall form stood, a bow in his hand, he drew the string back again. The monk smiled and took a stepped towards the form, apparently a samurai come to safe the little huntress. The arrow released and as there came no sound, Roshungi realized to late that he was tricked.
The jade arrowhead bit into his shoulder with searing pain. Roshungi fell to one knee and tore the arrow out, he looked up again. The form was now holding to burning things in his hands, the flames cast a ghastly light on Daiseiko's demonic form. Without hesitation he threw the burning Goblin heads at the monk, who only nearly got out of the way. With a popping sound the heads burst as they hit the ground, sending their flaming contents all over. The monk was hit by a stream of burning ooze, scarring his left arm. He howled in pain as he stood again, searching for the being who caused him such trouble.
He found Daiseiko near the Ogre bodies, wielding the tsukai-tsagasu's naginata. Raising his ono Roshungi charged, a mad laugh escaping his throat even now.
* * *
Kuni Runiko did not know what she saw. Just as she was about to be killed by the treacherous monk when this man had come to her aid. But then the man appeared to be something of a demon. Confused she leaned against the rock for support. The fight against Roshungi had taxed her well beyond her limits. How foolish she was to trust this man, but how could she afford not to? The fate of her Clan hung in the balance and she was always taught she should use every means available to overcome an enemy. Searching the ground she found her katana, picked it up and resheathed it. Carefully she began to chant, channeling the power of the jade she carried into a spell.
When she finished the spell, Runiko lashed out with her fist, throwing several jade chips in the direction of the monk. Powered by her magics they flew with the speed of thought and struck true, biting in the Dark Brother's back like needles, but each was accompanied with its own searing pain.
* * *
Seeing his chance, Daiseiko moved and swept the monk from his feet. He had remained his distance and kept off Roshungi with the polearm's length. As the monk went for the ground Daiseiko followed through with a thrust, but the blade met only Tainted earth and shattered under the strength of the thrust.
Even when wounded the monk was lightning quick. He was on his feet and few yards back again. Wasting no time Daiseiko charged and sent his fist to find Roshungi's face. But it found only air.
Roshungi crouched and thrust up with his hand, hitting Daiseiko right in the stomach. The punch was of no particular strength or precision, but the powers he unleashed were enough to paralyze even Daiseiko. Smiling Roshungi bent over to the ono at his feet, but then the scream came.
Wielding her katana once again, Kuni Runiko leapt at Roshungi for the killing blow, she barely missed him and he cursed at his failing awareness. He rolled to his side and whipped his leg back, his heel connecting with the huntress' jaw. The force sent her flying and she landed sprawled on the ground.
Roshungi studied his options. The demon-man already started to regain control and the tsukai-sagasu was getting up and searching her blade. So he did what most wise men would do: he disappeared.
* * *
"I thank you for your help. Whoever you may be, demon-man." Her voice mild and steady, Kuni Runiko considered her savior. She didn't trust him still, but had little choice given the situation. "Might I inquire your name?"
Looking up at the woman kneeling beside him, Daiseiko had apparent disgust on his contorted face. "You might indeed, woman. It is Daiseiko, once Hida Daiseiko of the Crab."
Runiko gasped. Could this be… Daiseiko? The same Daiseiko her grandfather had told her about? The man he had interviewed all this years ago! Could he be alive? "Daiseiko?"
Daiseiko did not miss the shock of obvious recognition on the woman's face. "You know of me? Who are you?"
She swallowed hard and answered, "My name is Kuni Runiko, granddaughter of Kuni Shusa. Your grandfather told me your story and give me his writings. Most people never believed him, only a very few. After a while you were no more than a myth, but my grandfather had never forgotten you, he told me all about you. I am honored to meet you, though I thought you long dead."
A wry smile crossed Daiseiko's face. "Your grandfather was a honorable man, you disgrace his memory with the deal you made with Roshungi. You have shamed your name and that of your ancestors by this act. If you know the story I told your grandfather, then you know that my sins were given to me at my birth, yours however were born when you thought of dealing with the Shadowlands. Only one party gains from such a deal, and that is the Shadowlands. You nearly paid with your life and gained nothing. I wonder though, what did he demand of you?"
Runiko's resolve visibly strengthened as her eyes grew hard. "Roshungi demanded Obsidian, for what purpose I do not know. I knew what he wanted, but he only got a worthless piece of burnt out jade."
Daiseiko's smile turned true and for a moment he thought he could hear an enraged scream in the distance.
Runiko continued, "And I did gain something from this venture… a friend and ally."