Sins of Birth
The Crab samurai lay sprawled on the ground, his body was ravaged by cuts and tears, his once proud face bore bloody, horrible scars, his once excellent armor and clothing was torn, his limbs bore the marks of chewing, beside him lay a broken katana, with chips of jade led in it. The body made no contrast to its surroundings, the only thing that stood out were the man's eyes, looking up at the skies, begging to no avail for the mercy of the Kami, the were as blue as the sky would have been, were it not for the Taint of the Shadowlands the even darkened the skies, as blue as a sapphire, as blue as the kimono of a Crane, but not even such purity was left untouched by the Shadowlands, slowly the eyes darkened and a black substance, like ink seemed to flow behind the eyes. Suddenly the body twitched spastically, one of its arms jerked, a leg swung, eyes blinked and a low moan escaped the throat of the samurai.
The katana swiftly cut off the head of the man and the body jerked once before it stopped moving forever. Already the blood had become Tainted and oozed out of the finally dead samurai. "Rest in peace, once-brother. Hida Daiseiko stood over the body as he flicked the bit of blood of his katana, after he had re-sheathed it he checked the man's body for anything still usable. He learned much by just doing this; the man had been a Hiruma scout, he wore only the Crab mon as the Hiruma had none, and he was packed only lightly, luckily he hadn't eaten anything of his rations, so Hida Daiseiko took them and the jade amulet that now rested on the unfortunate soul's chest. "You won't be needing those, my once-brother." Hida Daiseiko left the body behind as he headed by back for his 'residence', this time it was a small cave in the ground, he had been using it for several days now and thought it lucky that Goblins hadn't found it yet.
As he settled down, Hida Daiseiko took the little chip of jade the man had worn around his neck as a protective amulet by the cord. He slowed his breathing and closed his eyes, then grabbed the chip itself with both hands and pressed it against his head. The pain would have been unbearable for a lesser man or Shadowlands being, but Daiseiko held on to the jade until it had become black with the Taint it absorbed from both Daiseiko and the surrounding. He dropped the jade chip and opened the man's ration pack; he took a bite and chewed on the food, again pain flashed through his body. Crushed jade had been sprinkled over the food to keep it edible in the Shadowlands, to Daiseiko, however, it proved to be hard to stomach.
After his trial with the jade, Daiseiko rested. One couldn't call it sleep as the Shadowlands filled his being with such vigor and strength that he hardly needed any rest, let alone sleep. He made sure that he would be able to defend himself, his right hand on his katana, his left on his tetsubo and just to make sure there was an ono strapped to his back too. Though his eyes shut he remained perfectly aware of anything in his cave and at the moment, it was only him and his trusted weapons.
A pebble moved and fell into the cave, but even before it had
stopped Daiseiko was on his feet and head his katana firmly in
hand. There was a shadow in the opening of the cave, though it
appeared human enough, Daiseiko had learned that there were many
Oni capable of imitating humans and some of them simply looked
like one. "Who goes there," he snarled at the form.
"I am Kuni Shusa," the form answered in a polite,
though unwavering tone, "I came looking for the one who was
once called Hida Daiseiko. A Ratling tribe nearby pointed me out
to these surroundings."
Daiseiko smiled, if the Nezumi nearby told the Kuni where he was, the man had proven his worth to them and he was to be trusted. "You have found him," Daiseiko replied, "but I wonder what you want of me, my name is not one spoken fondly among my once-brethren."
Daiseiko's large form stepped out of the cave and the Kuni looked at him with mixed awe and reverence written on his face. "I I came here to uh," the Kuni stammered, "I came here to ask an interview with you. Well at least something similar to it. Forgive my bluntness, but when the Hiruma scouts spoke of a large man in Crab armor, I didn't suspect a man as big as you Anyway, I wanted to ask you some questions. My father was trusted by Kuni Yori and given some of his notes, these were not to be revealed until Kuni Yori had died. When he did, my father was dead and I was too young to understand those words, so I waited. Now I have finished reading the notes and seek you out on more information on Yori's experiment and its results: you." The Kuni paused and looked at the large Crab before him.
Three times the name 'Yori' fell and three times Daiseiko swallowed his emotions. The Kuni noticed this and continued, "If you want to come with me. We will go to my humble laboratory, where we can converse in peace and without being rudely disturbed." The Hida merely nodded and follow the Kuni as he trailed off to his home.
After half a day's travel they reached the Kuni's hut and entered. "Do you want to eat something," Kuni Shusa asked, "I don't have much but will gladly share it." Daiseiko shaked his head and replied, "I do not need food, the Taint sustains me in the Shadowlands and I have had enough jade for one day? Let us begin." Daiseiko and the shugenja both found a seat and Shusa collected some scrolls, a pen and some ink.
"For starters," Shusa said, "and good order, let's begin with telling who you are."
Daiseiko took a deep breath and began, "My name used to be Hida Daiseiko and I am a sinner by birth. Though I have lost any claim to the name, I will always remain a Crab in soul and spirit. In the days of yore I served Hida Kisada as a loyal and faithful samurai. I fought with our armies when we joined with the Shadowlands. When Yakamo-sama became daimyo and he purged our Clan of the Taint I was the first to go, out of my own free will. I knew I would not survive and I would be worth more Tainted and alive, than dead. I have been here when the armies marched on Volturnum, though I could not offer my help, for I would have been slayed. These days I live in the Shadowlands, I try to protect our scouts as much as possible without them noticing and I fight other creatures of the Taint with fervor. That is who I am."
"But you are not just Tainted, are you? Could you tell us more of your origins and 'birth'?"
"I am not simply Tainted, no. The Taint is as much a part of me as is my body. I am something Yori would refer to as 'maou-jin'. He would say: 'You are the first, Daiseiko. The first of my maou-jin, my demon-people.' My first memories are of waking up on Yori's table, with him bowing over me with his typical smile. I have never had any parents but him. I have never delved into my nature, but I am part human and part Shadowlands creature. I was gifted with physical abilities surpassing that of most ordinary samurai, and though I never sparred with them, I think that Yakamo-sama and Kisada-sama were the only ones who could match me. I have seen them fight Oh, how I long for those days! Such formidable men! I am sorry, I am getting to nostalgic."
"That's ok, but might I ask about your features? You still resemble a human, though from a distance you might be easily mistaken as an Ogre, though a small one."
"The Taint wasn't always as obvious. When I was 'young' and stood on the Wall it only showed at night, my eyes would glow red behind my mempo, my teeth were more like fangs, but that wasn't as obvious. When I fought on our battlements I was always invigorated, during the few excursions into the Shadowlands I was even more formidable. But I discovered that my strength derived directly from the Taint and the Shadowlands when we marched to Otosan Uchi with the Shadowlands. The further we got from the Wall, and thus the Shadowlands, the weaker I got. By the time we reached Beiden's Pass I wasn't much more than a ghost of myself. Luckily I was able to get a messenger's duty back to the Wall and left, feeling my strength rushing back with every inch I approached the Wall. After having lived in the Shadowlands for this long my natural form has changed into this."
"Wait a minute, let me make a drawing of you." The Kuni started drawing a crude, but detailed picture. "Ok You said 'you had enough jade for the day', care to elaborate?"
"I do not wish to loose my human side, whenever I find one of the hapless scouts I wasn't able to protect I check his body for jade talismans and trail rations powdered with jade. Today I have found one Hiruma scout with a talisman and some rations."
"But doesn't that cause terrible agony for you?"
"To say it is agony is an understatement. It pains me to the soul to hold jade until it is filled with the Taint and my stomach could probably withstand lava after the jade I've eaten. It is but a small sacrifice to remember myself what I truly am. Maybe I am not human, but I am no Oni either."
"And you fight other Shadowlands creatures, you say? Doesn't that make you a target for groups of them?"
"Indeed it does. Luckily I am a friend of many of the Nezumi tribes. I protect them as well as I can too. The Ratling can offer me shelter and healing if I need such. But I am in my element here maybe even more than they and the others are. And there's always my second form "
"My being, my very essence is filled with the Taint. When I release it I change, I grow larger, my form alters drastically and I resemble my Shadowlands half, I call it the maou shintai, or 'the demon body'. In that form most Oni's fall beneath me, with time "
"And normally? Would you best an Oni in this form?"
"Possibly, but an Ogre is more of a match when I'm like this. I do not say it is easy, Ogres are formidable foes, each and every one of them. I have seen men like Kisada-sama and Yakamo-sama battling them, heard stories of other Clan Champions having difficulty with them. How can I pretend as if I can fight them easily? It would be arrogant. You must know that taking my second form is an arduous process and I don't use it lightly."
"How was your treatment with the Crab?"
"Many of my once-brethren were jealous at my strength and they made sure I never forget the sins of my birth. I wasn't part of any group, the only ones who would dare to converse with me were Kuni Yori, Kisada-sama, Yakamo-sama and loners like Hida Amoro. I hold no grudges, I know now they acted out of fear more than jealousy or hatred. They could not get around the fact I saved their lives. But when 'everything' went wrong after Kisada's march against Hantei the 39th, I could no longer stay. My Taint was to offense to Yakamo-sama's way of leading the Clan. I cannot blame him, how can one say that all of the Taint is removed from your Clan when someone who's half-Oni fights among your samurai. But he allowed me to leave peacefully and he has acknowledged my existance until he ascended. I count myself lucky to have personally known this man. I honor him every day I survive, with a prayer."
"I see This has been infinitely enlightening. Are there any other words you want to add? Something you have learned? Anything?"
"I have learned much during my period in the Shadowlands. The Taint can affect any living being, anything that so much as needs the Sun can become affected. Everybody thinks that it is implicitly evil, but what they do not understand is that the Taint only affects that which is present in all of us. No one is wholly without evil, though one can tuck it away in the deepest recesses of the soul, it is always there. Only those people who acknowledge this 'evil' can resist the Taint effictively, denying it only makes the urges stronger. Teach this to your people Shusa, it can save lives."
"I shall, is there anything you would want from me?"
"A small thing, a request of teaching. I have felt new powers flow through me for quite some time, I think that it is from the magic that created me The Elements are strong in me, if you could I would learn of a kiho known as 'Rest, My Brother'. I have seen a tsukai-sagasu use it with great effect on other Shadowlands creatures, do you know of it?"
"Yes I do. I will teach it to you, it is but a small price for your knowledge and your story."
* * *
"Have you heard that latest bit of news?"
"No, what is it?"
"This shugenja, Kuni uh Kuni Shusa, that's it. Apparently he has found some sort of Shadowlands creature that once was a Crab samurai."
"Really? Well? Did it kill him?!"
"No He survived, according to his words he had an interview with him. I got a look at the document He even made a drawing of this creature! Could have been anything out here!"
"Ha! That figures All of those Kuni, they are all mad "
Both men broke out into laughter, until suddenly one said:
"Ssh! Did you hear that?!"
"No! What is it?"
"Deeeaaaaath . Puny huu-mans!"
Both samurai whirled around, swords drawn, to see three huge Ogres. They looked at each other, when suddenly a form leaps from behind a nearby boulder. It was wearing Crab armor and wielding a tetsubo and an ono. Looking over its shoulder the form said: "You really should give the Kuni more credit little men." It turned back to the Ogres and charged, the two Crab scouts not far behind, yelling: "For Yakamo-no-Kami! That he may smile upon me and redeem my soul!"