Obsidian and Jade
By Shawn Carman
“Behold the fate of all traitors to the one true Emperor! Without a word from the Master of the Emerald Throne, the very fates move against all enemies of the Imperial Hantei. In the year 1140 did this truth become known to the traitor Hida Yakamo, who thought himself safe from the Kharma his attack against Hantei earned. . .”
- Miya Satoshi, Imperial Herald, 1140 by the Isawa Calendar, the Eighteenth Year of the Glorious Reign of Hantei XXXIX
* * * * *
“Togashi Mitsu!” a voice cried from nowhere. The scarred ise zumi spun on his heel and tensed his body in preparation, holding his long staff in one hand. Mitsu had been traveling the blasted lands of the Dragon Clan for less than an hour. The Dragon’s eyes peered through the shifting landscape, but could find no living creature besides himself. It was said that the Lying Darkness, a force as terrible as Fu Leng himself, had taken hold of the Dragon lands. Mitsu had come here to discover if this was truth, to find what had become of his vanished clan. The Dragon wondered if the Lying Darkness had begun to give the very lands a voice. . . or if he was going mad. A single tear fell down his expressionless face. He pulled his drooping rope back up over the shoulder where his right arm had once been and trudged on.
“I, too, have wept at the beauty of these lands, Mitsu. Welcome home.” The voice returned, and Mitsu turned his head to the side in shock. A hooded figure now stood beside him. he had not heard the man approach, nor did he see cover behind which the man could have been hiding. The man held out one hand in greeting. The skin of his arm swirled with jet black tattoos.
“This is not my home, traveler,” Mitsu replied, mastering his hatred for what he saw before him. The stranger could only be one of Hitomi’s new order of tattooed men – a kikage zumi, he had heard them called. The black and unnatural designs that crawled over the man’s bare arms and chest with their own life were than a perversion of Togashi’s gift. Mitsu gasped in shock. As the man pushed back his hood, his face was eggshell smooth, with no eyes, nose or mouth.
The stranger folded his hands in a gesture of peace and bowed. “I am Togashi Shunsen, Mitsu-sama. I have heard much of you from our Lady. I must admit, you are quite as impressive in person as Goju Hitomi-sama would lead us to believe. It is rare a legend can fulfill the role he is given in the tales.”
Mitsu waved the comment away with a dismissive gesture from his only hand. “I do not know what you speak of, Shunsen,” the ise zumi responded, pointedly not using the other man’s family name. After a moment, Mitsu’s eyes narrowed. “Goju Hitomi?”
“Our Lady,” Shunsen answered, nodding. “Hitomi took the power of the Darkness and blessed her beloved clan with true enlightenment.”
Mitsu’s head spun with the implications of the monk’s statement. Hitomi had taken command of the minions of the Darkness? More importantly, something had destroyed their first master? The ise zumi could only wonder if it had been Hitomi herself who had toppled Goju, or if the Dark Kami had a hand in the matter.
“I did not come here for this,” Mitsu said quickly, clearing the swirling haze of questions gathering in his mind. “Lord Toturi dispatched me to find word of Hida Yakamo and his mission to secure the alliance of Miru-. . .” the tattooed man stopped himself and finished simply, “Hitomi.”
Shunsen’s eyes lit up with something between surprise and amusement at Mitsu’s words. “Lord Yakamo.” the faceless man replied, stroking his chin as if in thought. “I do seem to recall he had come to speak with our Lady several weeks ago.” The kikage zumi said nothing for several moments, as if that statement explained everything.
“Togashi Shunsen,” Mitsu said evenly as he took a step toward the monk, “I did not come here to play games, and I will not suffer faceless fools who wear the name of my order.” Shunsen was obviously caught off guard as his features fell and he took a step back instinctively. The elder ise zumi’s voice deepened, and his features hardened. “Now, you will give me word of Hida Yakamo or you will direct me to someone who can. Do not waste my time further.”
A second of absolute silence passed as Shunsen attempted to gather himself. The arrogant attitude of the kikage zumi had melted away, and Mitsu’s eyes continued to bear down on the monk. “I. . .” Shunsen began, his throat suddenly dry. “I understand, Mitsu-sama. Forgive me.” The kikage zumi could not help himself – even though he was within the protection of Lady Hitomi’s land and blessed by her art, he was completely overpowered by the mere presence of the legendary ise zumi.
Shunsen reached into the folds of his loose and open robes, and from nowhere he produced a wrapped bundle the size of a newly born child. “Perhaps,” the kikage zumi said quickly, offering the thickly wrapped bundle of black cloth to Mitsu, “this holds the answer you seek.”
With movements faster than the eye could follow, Mitsu snatched the thing from the other man’s hands and quickly unwrapped the coverings, moving deftly despite having only one hand. Just as quickly, the ise zumi’s eyes widened in anger.
“No. . .” Mitsu whispered, looking down at the shattered remains of the Jade Hand. “I warned him. . .”
Nearly a minute passed before Mitsu was able to recover his senses. All around him, the mountains seemed to shift and twist as if seen through a heated haze. The ground at his feet rumbled slightly, bringing him back to reality. With a deft motion, Mitsu let the Jade Hand drop to the ground and grabbed Shunsen by the folds of his robes. Mitsu lifted the smaller monk from the ground, his eyes blazing with anger. “Tell me,” Mitsu growled, smoke rising from the corners of his mouth. “Tell me what happened to Hida Yakamo.”
“Stay your anger, Mitsu-sama,” Shunsen said calmly. “You will be pleased to hear that Yakamo was a traitor, both to yourself and to our Lady. Though you thought he came to our lands with an offer of peace, he had only vengeance in mind. The Lady saw this,” Shunsen chuckled. “The Lady sees all.”
Mitsu dropped the kikage zumi to his feet. “Your Lady,” the ise zumi corrected him, not speaking the words that came to his mind. “Not mine. Now tell me.”
Shunsen bowed slightly, casting his eyes downward. “As you wish, Mitsu-sama. As you know, Lady Hitomi graciously extended the resources and the loyalty of the Dragon Clan to Lord Toturi in his war against the Emperor. Lady Hitomi offered an honor guard of one hundred tattooed men and Mirumoto samurai to guide Toturi through the lands of the Dragon Clan to meet with her to discuss the matter, but the honorable Toturi could not be taken from his operations. Hitomi understood this, as he is an important and vital leader in the war against Fu Leng, and offered that another be sent in his place. She requested the presence of Hida Yakamo, with whom she had carried on a blood feud for years. In the wisdom the Darkness granted Hitomi, she wished only to end the petty rivalry and secure an alliance between her forces and Toturi’s army in a single gesture. . .”
“Untrue,” Mitsu snapped. “Toturi sent Yakamo because only the Jade Hand could protect an emissary long enough to climb the Mountain of Shadows without being consumed.”
“Not so,” Shunsen said. “The Mountain of Shadows is open to all. Those who climb it simply choose not to return. Compared to the Empire of Fu Leng, the Lady’s home is like paradise.”
“Please, Mitsu-sama, you are interrupting my story,” the kikage zumi chuckled, and he continued. . .
* * * * *
Hida Yakamo folded his arms across his chest as he waited. He had arrived at the base of the great Dragon fortress hours before, but still he waited outside its massive gates. Clouds gathered on all sides of the high mountain, and the dim light of the evening was completely choked away. Only the torches and steady green glow of the Jade Hand fused to Yakamo’s left wrist lit the scene around him.
“You still do not trust her,” Yakamo’s uncle Tsuru said quietly, not leaving his horse’s side. Only two dozen of the Dragon guards remained outside near them, and Tsuru did not wish his words to be heard by them.
“No,” Yakamo said flatly, staring at the glow of the Jade Hand absently, having resigned himself to his journey long ago. “But I trust Toturi.” The Crab Thunder turned and looked his uncle square in the eye. “And I trust you. If this is not as it seems, one of us will escape and take word to Toturi.”
Tsuru looked at his surroundings with obvious unease and his grip on the reins of his horse tightened. “Please forgive me if I do not share your optimism, Yakamo-sama. I believe that if Hitomi does not wish us to leave, our sheer determination will not change that. At any rate, if you are the one to fall I won’t get far without the light of your hand to protect me from this darkness.” The only response Yakamo gave his uncle was a dark frown.
Both men’s attention turned to the massive doors of the Dragon stronghold as they began to swing open. Yakamo stood at attention and Tsuru placed his hand habitually on his obi next to his katana. The Crab samurai were both unsettled when the doors opened wide enough to show that they moved on their own. The only men near the entrance were two monks seated in silent meditation. Both monks had flat, featureless faces, like the shell of an egg. Only a few feet behind them, the entrance hall disappeared into total darkness.
“Our Lady Hitomi awaits the honored emissaries of Lord Toturi,” one of the monks said, as they both bowed reverently. His voice was unimpeded by the absence of his mouth. “We welcome the honorable lords Hida Yakamo and Hida Tsuru into our humble home.”
Yakamo and Tsuru took a moment to glance at one another and then back at the imposing castle. Without further hesitation, Yakamo resigned himself to the Fortunes and led his uncle inward. As the doors slowly closed behind the two Crab warriors, neither of them saw the triumphant gleam in Togashi Shunsen’s eye.
Once the great doors closed, the group was plunged into total darkness for only a second. Yakamo’s Jade Hand barely glowed in the inky blackness surrounding them, and he felt the hand move as if on its own accord for his sword. The moment passed, however, and several torches and braziers burst into flame. Both Yakamo and Tsuru were completely disoriented by the quick surge of light, as well as the sudden change in the surroundings. Though he felt as if they had only walked several feet into the great castle, they were obviously deep within its heart now.
The fires burned brightly, but the throne room of the Dragon Champion was draped in shadows that did not move even as the lights flickered. A great pathway led from where the two Crab bushi stood almost one hundred feet to the other end of the room where a black throne rested. On either side of the walkway dozens of bare-chestd tattooed men and women knelt with their heads pressed to the floor in supplication. Yakamo wondered if any of them had faces. He glanced behind them, and was shocked to see that there was no apparent exit back the way they had come – only a smooth stone wall. No doors were set into any of the gray stone walls.
The lean figure of Hitomi reclined upon the throne. She gazed upon Hida Yakamo and Hida Tsuru with eyes of dim gold set in a face weathered by sorrow.
Yakamo did not have to look at his uncle to know that Tsuru was fighting with every ounce of his soul to submerge the fear that threatened to overcome him. Yakamo allowed himself no such weakness.
“You are the ones Toturi sent?” Hitomi asked. Her voice was surprisingly melodious, even sultry. A small smile played across her lips as the Crab samurai advanced.
“Hitomi!” Yakamo bellowed, folding his arms across his armored chest. “We have come at the behest of Lord Toturi to speak with you. I have come with only one guard deep into your lands as a sign of trust, and I will deal with no further tricks!”
“Lord Toturi,” Hitomi mused. “Of course, Hida Yakamo-san. No more tricks. Only trust.” The Dragon made a motioned towards the monk nearest the throne. The attendant rose, bowed, then ran quickly out of the room. . . right through one of the walls, as if it were air. “As you have revealed yourself to us as a sign of trust, allow me to offer a sign of such to you and your master as well.”
Tsuru leaned toward Yakamo with a questioning look. The Crab Thunder could only return his uncle’s expression and wait as the silent Dragon Champion sat motionless on her throne. They waited in silence for what felt like an eternity to Yakamo until a great commotion was heard outside the room. Yakamo turned to his left to see a large set of doors swing open where he had seen only featureless stone a moment before.
Three burly Dragon tattooed men dragged a struggling fourth figure into the room. The captive was chained at the ankles, shrouded in loose black robes. A wide, battered straw jingasa his the man’s face until the monks shoed the prisoner on his back in front of the two Crab warriors.
Hida Tsuru visibly recoiled from the sight – where the man’s face should be, only a bruised, featureless surface of bleeding skin was to be seen. Blood trickled from where the thing’s mouth and nose would have been if it were human.
“Goju, once the master of the Lying Darkness,” Hitomi said simply, motioning to the heap in front of Yakamo. The Crab Champion gazed up to the woman on the throne and then back down at the chained figure on the ground before him in quiet fascination.
“Perhaps you do not know of the Darkness, Yakamo-san. When Sun and Moon gifted everything in creation with names, a small slip of Nothing escaped their notice. That thing was able to change its shape and substance at will. Since it was not bound by one name, it could be many things. It was Nothing. That creature aided the first Scorpion Thunder in her escape from the Shadowlands. It gave Shosuro the Obsidian Hand as a sign of their bond. Eventually, through Shosuro, the Darkness came to be embodied in the form of a man named Goju.” Hitomi gazed at her hands, both sheathed in glistening black stone. “I believe that the Darkness planned for this day, planned for the day when it could seize the opportunity to shroud the world in chaos. On the Day of Thunder, when I failed to draw the Twelfth Black Scroll from Togashi’s chest, that was the influence of the Darkness. Now. . .” She gestured at the fallen Goju. “I have taken vengeance for the Empire. I have defeated Goju and shackled the Darkness to my will.”
“And now you plan to turn the Lying Darkness against Fu Leng?” Yakamo said. “You will use this. . . Darkness to fuel the war against the corrupted Hantei Emperor?” The Crab’s eyes never wavered beneath Hitomi’s unnatural gaze.
“Yes,” Hitomi replied simply, though there was a clear challenge in her tone. “I have already won vengeance for the Empire by defeating Goju. Fu Leng’s corruption is pathetic compared to the power of Nothing. Simply say the word, and I will share the powers of the Lying Darkness with Toturi’s Army. We shall be invincible.”
“You are a fool, as you always have been,” Yakamo growled in disgust.
“What?” Hitomi snapped. “How dare you speak to me in such a manner?”
“I dare much,” Yakamo replied. “The path you tread lead my clan to doom during the Clan War. My father once made a deal with evil. Now he is dead, and Kuni Yori reigns on the Dark Council. If you think that he,” he nudged the chained man in front of him with the edge of his boot, “. . .made your Darkness what it is, you do not understand the lure of power. You never will. You do not control something as you describe. It will make you its pawn, and I will have none of it.” His eyes narrowed as he regarded Hitomi. “Neither will Toturi.”
“Then leave,” Hitomi growled, rising from her throne. In the flickering light, her dark kimono fused with the obsidian that had grown over her entire body save her face. “I offer you and your allies the chance to take back the Empire from Fu Leng, and you would arrogantly spurn such a gift? You will wish you had not been so hasty when Fu Leng finds your precious encampments.”
“I will not go,” Yakamo said. “Not yet. There is something I promised to do on the Day of Thunder.”
“Oh?” Hitomi hissed. Yakamo did not flinch as Hitomi slowly stepped down from the dais. “And what is that?”
“Uncle,” Yakamo said. “It is time for you to go now.”
“I’m not sure, Yakamo-sama,” Tsuru said, though his voice came as if from a dream. Yakamo turned and looked at his uncle. The man’s eyes were unclear, like those of a man who had drunk too much sake. “Hitomi has a point. . . why are you so. . . quick to judge. . .” Tsuru’s voice trailed off.
“Tsuru!” Yakamo said urgently to his uncle, but the man didn’t seem to notice. Tsuru wasn’t even looking right at him. His facial features flickered, vanishing for a moment. Hitomi laughed.
“Uncle!” Yakamo growled, shaking him by the shoulder. Tsuru continued to stand completely oblivious. The Crab Champion whirled on Hitomi, drawing his tetsubo in a swift motion. “Release him,” Yakamo said. “This battle is between you and me.”
“Release him?” Hitomi repeated with a mock-offended tone. “Your uncle has joined me of his own free will, Yakamo-san. The blind man thinks others see too much.”
Yakamo scowled. Faint whispers of laughter echoed from the gathered Dragon monks.
“Anything else to say?” Hitomi asked with a smirk.
“Die,” Yakamo said, hurling his tetsubo at the Dragon.
Hitomi ducked aside cursing. Yakamo bellowed as he drew his katana and charged. A handful of monks dove into his path, but the Jade Hand lashed out with green fire, eradicating them instantly. Hitomi stood, drawing two swords of pure obsidian to meet Yakamo’s charge. The Crab Champion feigned overreaching his attack, leaving a large opening in his midsection. Hitomi attempted to take advantage of the situation, and the Crab rewarded her by dropping his katana suddenly and gripping both of her blades with a sweeping arc with the Jade Hand. Hitomi struggled against Yakamo’s grip, but where she was more agile and nimble, the Crab Champion could easily overpower the woman. With more effort than he had anticipated, Yakamo freed the swords from her grip after a solid blow to her midsection with his knee. Hitomi staggered backward and Yakamo followed up quickly by grabbing Hitomi’s throat with his right hand and striking her soundly in the stomach with his jade fist.
Hitomi shrieked in fury as she regained her balance and buried her obsidian claws in the Crab Thunder’s midsection. Yakamo spat blood but ignored the pain. he opened the Jade Hand and held it over Hitomi’s face. As the strength drained from his body, Yakamo closed the Jade Hand into a fist.
A tremendous explosion followed. When it was over, only the shattered remains of the Jade Hand were left to mark the mighty duel.
Moving mechanically, the faceless monks released Goju from Hitomi’s bonds. Even Hida Tsuru helped, his face now completely replaced with smooth, featureless flesh. The ancient man stood, brushing the dust from his robes as he settled into Hitomi’s throne. The Dragon and Crab arranged themselves around him, as they had arranged themselves around Hitomi.
Goju’s eyeless gaze rested upon the Jade Hand.
“Take that away from here,” he whispered.
* * * * *
“So Hitomi is dead,” Mitsu whispered, looking at the Jade Hand.
“And Goju reigns over the Dragon,” Shunsen added.
“Why do you tell me this?” Mitsu asked.
“Perhaps I am not pleased with the situation,” Shunsen said. “Perhaps I would prefer to see one of my own, a Togashi, as master of the Darkness. I have neither the power or the charisma to play such a role, but perhaps you. . .”
“You think I would attack the Lying Darkness?” Mitsu said with a laugh. “An old one-armed ise zumi? What could I do?”
“The Darkness draws its power from a lack of identity,” Shunsen said. “A man with a great name – such as yours – could do much damage to it if he could keep it from possessing him.”
“And how do I do that?” Mitsu asked.
Shunsen moved suddenly, so quickly that Mitsu could not see him cross the intervening distance. The kikage zumi’s fingers suddenly sharpened into long claws, slashing at Mitsu’s arm. The ise zumi screamed as Shunsen severed his remaining hand at the wrist.
“I am sure you will figure something out,” Shunsen said, vanishing into nothing.
Mitsu winced in pain as his blood spilled out upon the earth. Looking down, he saw the remains of the Jade Hand glowing faintly.
Fighting back the pain, Togashi Mitsu forced his bleeding stump against the cracked stone hand. Mitsu screamed as the hand flared with power, fusing itself to Mitsu’s arm.
The pain quickly passed, and the cracked stone fingers moved as his own.
With a vengeful gaze, Mitsu turned his eyes to the Mountain of Shadows. . .