A short time after the Battle at Oblivion's Gate
The beast crouched in its cave, oblivious to the storm outside. Its meal, the tattered remains of a goblin it had killed, lay forgotten and untouched off to the side. The creature held its head in its hands, tugging at its own hair while rocking on its haunches, desperately wracking its feeble mind for an elusive truth it could not seem to recall.
What had its name been?
Once, it had a pack. There were many others like it, and they had called it by name. But that had been long ago, before it had fallen. Now there was so little it could remember, and it became harder each day.
Movement from the mouth of the cave caught its eye, causing the beast to leap backwards into the shadows, snarling and baring its teeth. A female stood in the cave's mouth, her black robes whipping around her in the storm-driven winds. She regarded the beast for a few long moments, then chanted softly and raised her hand toward him.
A sudden jolt ran through the beast, sending it sprawling to the rock floor writhing in pain. "The pain will pass," she said. "Can you understand me now?"
"Yes," he gasped. He struggled to his feet, glancing sidelong at the carcass he had been about to consume. By the Fortunes, had he killed the thing with his bare hands and teeth? A wave of revulsion washed over him. He brought his hands to his face, feeling his cold, clammy skin and the fine sheen of perspiration that covered it.
"You must listen to me now," the woman sounded urgent, "because I have no way of knowing how long you will be able to remember. My magic is different now." The winds blew harder, again stirring the edges of her blackened kimono. She stared into space for a moment until the winds subsided, then returned her attention to the man before her. "Do you remember who I am?"
He nodded. "Jomyako," he whispered hoarsely. "We met during the battle to reach Volturnum. We…"
"We offered each other comfort in this place of damnation," she finished. "Now, things are much different. You are what you are, and I…I am changing. I do not know what I shall become, but I know what I must do." For the first time, the samurai noticed the bundle Jomyako held in her hands. A bundle that moved of its own accord. She held it out to him.
"What is that?" he rasped.
Jomyako smiled sadly. "Perhaps the last remaining trace of our humanity," she replied. "I cannot keep him. Whatever it is that I am becoming," she winced in pain as the winds outside roared in sudden fury, "he will never survive it if he remains with me. You must take him."
He shook his head. "I cannot. You saw what I have become, what I was going to do if you had not shown yourself when you did." He tried desperately not to think of the rotten flesh lying cold on the stone behind him.
"You must. You were," she stopped for a moment, then began again. "You are a good and decent man. If the child has any hope to survive in this place, none but you can realize it." She approached him, holding the infant out before her. "Take him, please," she whispered. "I can stay no longer."
The samurai reached out and took the tiny bundle in his hands. As he did so, a powerful gust of wind tore through the cave, pushing him back several steps and forcing him to close his eyes against it. When he opened them, Jomyako was gone. He gazed down at the tiny form clad in filthy rags.
"I will remember," he promised. "I will remember who and what I was, and who and what I still am." He stroked the infant's cheek with his blackened fingers. "And I remember my name now," he whispered.
In the darkness, the samurai clutched the bundle, rocking it and repeating
his name over and over again.
During the era of the Four Winds
Although definitely impressive, Otosan Uchi was not all that Katsu had imagined. His father's tales had evoked images of a vast, impenetrable city, flawless in every respect. This city had a crumbling wall around its perimeter. It was hardly flawless by any stretch of the imagination.
Perhaps he had gotten lost, and this was not actually Otosan Uchi.
No, that could not be. The bay was just as his father had described it, with the ruined remains of the Sunset Tower cluttering one of the twin peninsulas that guarded the entrance to the city's waters. During his youth, Katsu's father had served with the Imperial Guardsmen of Rokugan. For part of his tenure in Otosan Uchi, his post had been on the Sunset Tower, overlooking the vast seas beyond in search of incoming vessels. Both Katsu and his father had clung to the images those tales summoned in order to resist the corruption of the Taint. The struggle had been incredible, but it was a success. Tainted they there, but they were not Lost. The two had survived for many long years, wandering through the northern Shadowlands and the Twilight Mountains. His father's blade and cunning had protected them while Katsu was a child, and as he grew older he used his own powerful fire magic to protect his ailing father.
Pain shot through Katsu's body suddenly, causing his breath to catch in his throat and his legs to give way. He collapsed in a heap, blood streaming from his nose and mouth. The constant struggle against the Taint exacted a horrible toll on his body. It was the same price his father had paid. The battle had consumed him years ago. The old man had died broken, but not defeated.
"Give me strength, father," Katsu whispered. "I cannot go on much longer." Indeed, many days Katsu contemplated simply surrendering to the corruption that had claimed his mother, or even the simple act of suicide. Now that he had fled the Shadowlands, he was fairly certain he would not rise again as an undead minion of Daigotsu.
The image of his father sprang unbidden into Katsu's mind. To a warrior, surrender would never be an option. In the final days, the pain wracking his father's body had terrified Katsu. But the old man would not cry out, would not surrender to it even in death. He died in triumph.
Katsu knew he would never be able to achieve such a victory. He had but two choices: death or corruption. And he knew that he was not brave enough for one of them.
With dread and resignation in his heart, he rose from the ground. He reached into the satchel he carried with him at all times and withdrew a large, black diamond. To those who knew nothing of its purpose, the diamond would be a valuable treasure. To those who did know its purpose, it would be both invaluable and insidious, a thing to be feared and destroyed if at all possible. For a long time, Katsu stood on the hill overlooking the bay, the diamond held in his hand. He waited until the sun had fallen to the horizon. It was just as beautiful as his father had always described. It was time.
"By the power of the Dark Covenant of Earth," he spoke in the dark language of the Shadowlands, "I command you to appear before me."
A low rumbling noise filled the air. Below, he could see the wall surrounding the city shake and start to crumble in places. Peasants ran out of their houses and dashed frantically through the fields, apparently to no purpose whatsoever. At Katsu's feet, the ground boiled like water, rocks spewing forth from deep inside the earth. With surprisingly little fanfare, a huge man suddenly burst forth from the ground.
The newcomer was gigantic in size, nearly as huge as an ogre. His skin was an ashen color, and his left arm was completely gone, a deadly claw in its place. His face was contorted with rage. "Who dares summon me?" he rumbled in a voice that sounded like boulders crashing down a mountain. The gigantic claw snapped and tore at the air furiously, as if angry at its master's disturbance.
"I summon you, Nokatsu," Katsu said simply.
The man once called Yasuki Nokatsu regarded him with an equal mixture of surprise and disgust. "You are Jomyako's son. The one who refuses to accept his fate." The Dark Oracle snarled with hate-filled laughter. "Spare yourself the pain, boy. Embrace it."
Ignoring him, Katsu held out the diamond. "The Dark Covenant of Earth compels you to undertake any one task at my command." He paused for a moment, allowing Nokatsu to chafe at his words. To his surprise, the Dark Oracle only bared his teeth.
"Get on with it. I am needed elsewhere and have little time for your folly, fool."
Taken aback by Nokatsu's acquiescence, Katsu paused for a moment, regarding the monster carefully. His scrutiny revealing nothing, the young man shrugged and continued. "I command you to rebuild the Sunset Tower, exactly as it was prior to its destruction, with no trace of the Taint marring it."
Nokatsu looked at the young man, momentarily stunned. "What are you
playing at, boy? You summoned me for this?"
Katsu nodded. "I did. It is a last gift for my father, a monument to his memory and strength."
The massive man shook his head. "You know that the Covenant allows you one favor only, and when it is done you will no longer have its protection from my power." Katsu nodded wordlessly. The Oracle grinned a feral, predatory smile. "Then when my task is finished, you will either accompany me willingly to the Shadowlands, where you will use your magic in the service of Daigotsu…or you will die by my hand here and now." The gruesome metal claw opened and shut repeatedly as if hungry for his flesh.
Katsu closed his eyes. He had known this would be the choice he would be given. He had prayed that when the time came, he would have the strength to choose death. But he found that he still did not. "I will accompany you," he whispered.
With a laugh that echoed throughout the hills, Nokatsu waved his hand toward the peninsula. In an instant, the aged ruins of the Sunset Tower leapt from the ground and began reassembling themselves. After only seconds, the majestic tower once again stood over the bay, its long shadow crossing the water to grace the docks of Otosan Uchi. Even from here, Katsu could see the dockworkers pointing and running to get the guardsmen. "For you, father," he said softly.
Nokatsu laughed again. "Your mother will be most pleased to see you, Katsu. She has often regretted leaving you with that fool many years ago. Perhaps it is not too late to see to it that you have a proper upbringing with your true family."
Katsu did not speak, but suddenly whirled on his heel and hurled the blackened diamond, sending it hurtling through the air until it disappeared in the bay. Nokatsu growled at him ferociously. "You will pay for that, whelp."
"The price has been paid tenfold already," Katsu said. He did not speak again as the earth rose up and swallowed both men, taking them far from the capital and deep into the twisted realm of the Shadowlands.