*Legions, Part III
*By Shawn Carman and Rich Wulf
Meido, the Realm of Waiting, the present
This was a place of judgment. The gray mists and featureless terrain did little to dispel the ominous menace of those who presided over the souls of the dead. The ten Lords of Death, the Shi-Tien Yen-Wang, sat upon great ebony thrones and gazed down upon those who came before with hollow, empty eye sockets. One Lord could not easily be distinguished from his brethren, and the ancient gods seemed to care little if humans could identify them. They were as much a single being as they were individuals. The souls gathered before the Shi-Tien Yen-Wang could not meet their skeletal visages. Even the dead, it seemed, knew fear.
One of the Lords gestured and a solitary soul stepped forward. He was a thin man in the armor of a Dragon samurai. He looked frightened and confused.
“I do not belong here,” he whispered in a low voice. “I was too young. All I wished was to serve my lord& I did not mean to run from the battle, but I was afraid.”
“Thousands of your kin showed no fear in that same battle,” one of the other Lords said. “Many others died as well, and now stand proudly in the fields of Yomi. You alone were unworthy.”
“I am sorry,” the man said, falling to his knees. His shoulders began to shake with quiet sobbing. The other gathered souls looked away, unwilling to look upon his misery. The Lords of Death continued to gaze down impassively.
“Twenty lifetimes in the grey fields, twenty years for each one you wasted, each day passing without knowledge of who you were or why you are here, only the knowledge that you have failed,” another of the Lords proclaimed. “Let the waiting purge the impurities of impatience and indulgence from your soul. Pray that your next life is more worthy, else we may not show such mercy.”
The dead samurai’s expression wavered between relief and horror at the pronouncement. He opened his mouth to say something, but seemed to forget the words as he formed them. The gold and green colors faded from his armor, replaced with lifeless grey. He blinked, remembering nothing. The dead samurai stumbled away, uncertain of where he was going or who he had once been. His pale face was now etched with a tormented confusion.
“There are no more souls that are prepared for judgment this day,” one Lord declared. “The others require more time to appreciate the enormity of their failures.”
The remaining dead souls filed out of the spectral court, eyes fixed on the floor as they contemplated the punishment that awaited them.
“These Rokugani are a strange people,” a Lord concluded when they had departed. “When they triumph they triumph brilliantly…”
“But when they fail.” continued another.
“Indeed,” came another voice. “And they have failed to perceive that which unfolds around them. They are oblivious.”
For a moment, the Lords of Death looked at one another in silence. Such moments were rare, and only when the group was considering a matter of enormous importance. “Even those beyond the realm of mortals have failed to understand what is happening,” one commented. “The Fortunes, the dragons, even those who have already received their eternal judgment cannot see.”
“Some see,” said another.
“Too few,” the first replied. “And none who are in a position to act.”
“These entities we speak of are part of these realms,” another offered. “So many have difficulty seeing what transpires because they are too close to the problem. We can perceive it because we are different. We are unique.”
“The damage grows worse,” one observed. “Soon a new balance will be established.”
“A new balance brings new opportunity.”
“Shall we claim the prize for our own?”
“It would prove difficult.”
“Difficult, but not impossible.”
“It would risk all that we possess within this realm.”
“When has that stopped us?”
“Our arrangement here is questionable at best,” one insisted. “We are bound by our arrangement of Emma-O, who has spent the time since our alliance pursuing his own mysterious objectives.”
“If he would betray us, he will undo himself,” another countered. “In time his activities will be noted and he will be removed by the powers above us. We will assume full control of this realm so long as we are patient and vigilant.”
“And shall we wait for that which we can seize if we desire to do so?”
“Why can we not have both?”
A low chuckling filled the chamber where the Shi-Tien Yen-Wang held court. They did not look to one another to determine its source; laughter was not among their traits. Instead, all ten fixed a spot across the chamber with their unwavering stares. Deep in the shadows, something moved. “You surprise me, Lords of Death. I imagined more unity of purpose than this.”
“Who questions us?”
A sinuous black shape issued into the spectral court, assuming the form of a leering dragon. He looked upon each of the Lords of Death in turn. “Question? What could possibly question such powerful gods? Nothing.”
“You are the fallen avatar.”
“The Master of Nothing.”
“A remnant of Darkness.”
“You are the Shadow Dragon,” one lord said, rising. “How did you enter our court without our notice?”
The Shadow Dragon rolled its crystalline eyes. “Are you truly surprised?” it said with another chuckle. “You knew my predecessor. The Lying Darkness was intimately familiar with the Spirit Realms and the passages between them. That knowledge is now mine.”
“Interesting. Explain your presence.”
The dragon seemed to bow its head, though it also seemed to throw its head back and laugh. “I know full well what is about to occur,” it explained. “I, like you, long ago perceived the effect that Oblivion’s Gate would have upon the mortal world, and the realms beyond. There are others who possess the same knowledge, and others still who will discover the truth very soon.”
“You know nothing,” a Lord insisted. “You speak in uncertainties. You only believe you know the truth.”
“Much like you,” the dragon continued without pause, “But I have a sense of what is to come, if not full understanding. Opportunity will present itself, yet I dare not move against it on my own. There is too much to risk, the Empire believes my power is dead and such serves my purposes. We are in a similar situation. Perhaps we could benefit from an alliance.”
There was a brief moment of silence, as if the lords spoke to one another without words. “That which you offer has no value,” one finally answered. “If there is something we desire, we claim it. We are gods, conquerors, and kings. We do not consort with shadows to gain that which we desire. Onnotangu once allied himself with your predecessor, and he learned the price of placing one’s faith in Nothing.”
“Are you so content with the scraps the Fortunes have given you that you would take no risk?” the dragon replied, glancing about the stark chamber. “Think of that which you dismiss. Imagine the power to be had, if only we can claim it for our own.”
“This is a place of order. A creature such as yourself is unwelcome here. Take your leave.”
The dragon’s irritation was evident in its hiss, as was its disappointment. “It appears I mistook foolish bravado for ambition. You are unworthy, relics of an age better forgotten. Perhaps I would be performing a service to the Spirit Realms by destroying you.”
There was a single metallic sound as all the lords drew their blades in the same instant. They moved as a single being, each facing the Shadow Dragon in a defiant stance. “Measure your power against us, if you wish,” one said. There was no trace of fear or anger whatsoever. “Even you are not above judgment.”
The Shadow Dragon laughed. “You would fight a creature such as myself with swords? I think not.” It sighed contemplatively. “I will return one day, Shi-Tien Yen-Wang, and until that day, know you have cast aside a powerful ally& and made a powerful enemy.” There was a rustling sound, and then the dragon was simply gone.
The Tomb of Iuchiban, year 1124
The thing that had once been a man screamed in agony as his soul was torn to shreds, woven together once more, and rent asunder again. Yajinden had made a grave error in coming to this place. He believed he was finally Iuchiban’s superior, than he had broken free of his servitude and could force his former master to become his slave. He was mistaken. The centuries of imprisonment had only increased Iuchiban’s power. Now, only one thing preserved Yajinden’s existence boredom. Iuchiban had sunk deeper into madness during his solitude, his only contact with the outside world through occasional manifestations in the dreams of his servants. He was desperate for any form of companionship, any form of amusement.
Now he whiled away the time torturing Yajinden.
Pain and misery were nothing new to Yajinden. In time, he pushed the pain aside and began to plan once more. He reflected upon how he had erred, manipulating a band of samurai into aiding him in finding the tomb’s lost keys. When he needed them no longer he had sent Kamiko to dispose of them, but she had failed. They had escaped his ambush and pursued him into the tomb. They were brave, but their courage was clouded by stupidity. Did they not realize he intended to remove the threat his master posed? Did they not realize he only intended to use Iuchiban’s power to continue the perfection of his art? Granted that art in and of itself was greatly misunderstood by most samurai, particularly those who gave their blood and souls in its creation, but surely they realized Iuchiban was a greater evil. Why must they all judge him?
All his plans had come to nothing. So many magnificent creations lay hidden across Rokugan in various stages of completion. His student, Kuni Yori, had only begun to appreciate the mysteries he taught& he wondered what fate would befall the young shugenja without his guiding wisdom. Perhaps most frustrating of all, he had failed to locate his most precious treasure, the one crowning achievement of his centuries-long existence: the Anvil of Despair was still beyond his grasp. That he could not look upon it one last time, and feel the heavy ring of steel as his hammer fell upon it, was almost more painful than the tortures he endured even now.
Only one thought consoled Yajinden during his long imprisonment. The heroes who had followed him here, the ones who had turned against him& they had escaped, despite Iuchiban’s best efforts to destroy them. His master was not truly infallible after all.
Next time, he would be more careful&
There was no sense of transition or journey. Matsu Goemon and his growing army had been exploring the outer edges of Yomi, where the Realm of Blessed Ancestors bordered near the edge of Jigoku, the Realm of Evil. Their mission was to find any trace of the mysterious assailants who had plagued Yomi for far too long. Many of Goemon’s men had been lost in this mysterious region, which had seemed to grow more alien and twisted in the past few years. One moment, they stood upon a vast field, covered in brown grass soaked red with blood. The next, they were& somewhere else.
A Crab warrior gripped his tetsubo tightly as he stared out into the shifting landscape. “It has been many years since I died,” he said after a moment’s consideration. “I cut a path through darkest Jigoku and the madness of Toshigoku, but I have not seen anything like this.”
“Something is amiss here,” Goemon said absently. “I have not wandered the mortal realms as long as you, Sukune-san, but I can sense that we are far from Yomi.”
Sukune closed his eyes and extended one hand into the swirling fog. A gaping hole was still evident in his wrist, the wounds left by Kuni Yori when he was slain and nailed to Fu Leng’s banner. “There is a great emptiness here. A great yearning and confusion, as if the land itself is alive. Can you feel it?”
Goemon frowned and glanced around the rolling hills, all cast in a strange gray hue. “Yes,” he said. “It feels& I do not know how to express it.”
Sukune stepped to the front and turned about, as if tasting the wind. “In the Crab lands, we can feel the call of the Shadowlands. It hungers for what we possess. Life, energy, purity& it longs for those things, to crush them and destroy all that is within us.” He lifted a hand to encompass their surroundings. “The Shadowlands is a living thing, and like all living things it hungers. This place reminds me of the Shadowlands, but I sense no evil here& yet neither do I sense any good.”
Goemon turned back to his command staff. Many of the greatest military minds of recent history were gathered there. Strange, he thought, that only those who had died in such recent memory had been guided to join the Legion of the Dead. The kharmic wheel turned in strange ways. “Do any of you recognize this place?” he asked.
One among them shifted uncomfortably, clearly wishing to say something but uncertain if he should speak among such legends as Hida Kisada and Doji Satsume.
“Ijiasu?” Goemon said.
The Lion stepped forward, a look of bewilderment on his face. “There,” he pointed. “That hill. I have fought there before. And there, beyond the hills, in that river basin. I have fought there as well.” He turned back to Goemon. “I know this place.” He ran his hand across his face anxiously. “Is this where I was before you found me, Goemon? After my death?”
“As I told you before, what happened to you following your death is a mystery to me, my friend,” Goemon said, the concern in his voice increasing.
“Answers come later,” said a sharp voice. Tchickchuk, the Nezumi chieftain, stepped forward. “Other smells under dead dreams. Others here.”
Goemon crouched down beside the Nezumi where the creature sniffed at the ground. “What is it, chieftain? What do you smell?”
The warrior pointed to the distant horizon, where a black cloud swirled about the sky. “Blood.”
The ground of this strange new landscape shuddered under the mighty feet of an army of demons and lost souls. Kuni Yori smiled as he watched his legions move inexorably forward, shaping the land as they moved. It was exhilarating to command such incredible power once more, but Yori could not help but feel a sense of caution. Even such armies had availed him little in the past, when faced with those who possessed the strength and courage to fight them.
Battles such as these could not ultimately be won with swords and claws and blood he must strike at his enemy’s heart, sap their courage, corrupt that which they most treasured. Such things were the foundations of a samurai. Even the strongest man could not stand without these things.
“But this is something you already know, isn’t it, Kisada?” he whispered, sensing the Great Bear’s presence somewhere in the mists. He sensed Karasu as well, the Doomseeker, his nemesis. This would be a battle to be remembered, even should he fail.
Yet even these thoughts soon drifted; Yori’s curious mind became intrigued with the land around him. Where his armies passed, what was once grey and featureless became a parched and barren land, much like his homeland, the Kuni Wastes. His Legion of Blood’s very presence was altering reality. The idea both thrilled and intrigued him; perhaps Yajinden was as good as his promises after all.
“Onward!” he screamed to his enslaved legions. “Onward in the name of Iuchiban!” He chuckled then corrected himself. “Onward in the name of Yori!”
The shadowy, flickering form of a spirit moved through the air above Yori’s army. Yori grinned and reached out through the ether to summon the thing to him. He had developed a morbid curiosity about the few lost souls he had discovered here. Their plights were so pathetic, so unjust, that he could not help but find endless humor in them. The soul came as he summoned it, curious and eager to see who had disturbed its lonely wanderings. Yori held one hand out delicately, whispering soothing words.
When the spirit drew near, he seized its sinuous form in his other hand, armored in obsidian and steel. The spirit shrieked in pain. Yori spoke forbidden words and peeled the spirit open like a ripe fruit, exposing its secrets and memories.
This had been a Miya once, a herald in the service of the Hantei. This spirit’s descendant had been destined to marry a prominent Daidoji lord and bear a son. This soul would then have reincarnated and found greatness as a hero of the Crane Clan. But the Daidoji lord had died fighting the Steel Chrysanthemum’s armies in the War of Spirits. This soul’s destiny had been usurped, destroyed, taken by another who had fallen from their true place in the Celestial Order. Such delicious damnation.
Yori laughed out loud despite himself and cast the spirit aside. No torment he could bring would surpass that which this lost soul had already suffered, lost forever in these swirling mists. Such suffering, such pain, these things offered power to one who knew how to harness them.
Did even Iuchiban comprehend the potential of this place? Of course not. Iuchiban merely used power, Yajinden was the one who saw the truth. Now he shared that truth with Yori, not his master.
Yori smiled as much as his hideous mask of stitched flesh would allow. His thoughts were interrupted by the scrabbling sound of claws on loose rock, and the smell of well-oiled steel. The fallen sorcerer glanced down in mild irritation. A strange creature stood before him. One moment he was half man, half beast. The next he was purely human, a samurai in obsidian armor, eyes of purest black. It seemed the potential power of this place was even beginning to affect those who marched beside him.
“What is it, Kyojin?” he demanded.
Kyojin gestured toward the horizon. “The Legion of the Dead, master,” he hissed in response. “Goemon and his followers are here.”
Yori nodded. “Events are moving faster than we anticipated.” His face split into a poisonous grin. “Are you ready to leave this place, Kyojin?”
Kyojin looked at Yori in surprise. “Leave?” he replied. “The battle has not even begun.”
“You do not realize the depths of truth in what you say,” Yori replied in a bemused voice. “This is a battle of pawns, and I am no pawn.”
“Nor am I,” Kyojin said with a sneer, “but if you will not lead us then who? We face many of the keenest military minds in the Spirit Realms. The Son of Storms, the Great Bear, Shoju, even the Guardian of Heaven! Even the Sun and Moon!”
“All the more reason to be gone from this place,” Yori retorted. “In any event this is not a battle that can be won with raw power& Not in this place. This is a realm unlike any other. A realm of thwarted destiny& Who better to lead our armies than the soul most responsible for this realm’s existence?”
Yori gestured to the armies of lost souls that followed him. One stepped forward, a rail-thin man with an intense gaze and a sneering frown. His robes were embroidered with the symbol of a steel chrysanthemum.
“Mighty Hantei,” the former Crab said with an ironic grin, folding his arms into his billowing sleeves. “It is time for you to bring death to the Dead.”
Hida Sukune had never found joy in battle. In life, he had been a quiet soul, consumed with the love of learning. For his father’s sake, he had turned that learning toward tactics and warfare, but to bring death to his enemies had never brought him the same satisfaction that it brought his brother and sister. Though he was frail and weak compared to his siblings, he excelled in combat because he was a Crab, because the blood of Hida ran in his veins and because failure was not an option. Even so, he did not enjoy it. With each failure, he fell further from his father’s impossible expectations. With each victory, he was only measured against Yakamo and failed to compare. Only after Yori’s betrayal, after his own death, did he realize why the Crab truly fought.
A Crab did not fight for personal glory. A Crab did not fight for the admiration of his brethren. Battle meant something more. To succeed once meant that the Empire would see another day of peace. To fail once meant that the Empire would spend eternity in shadow. With this thought in mind he had fought his way out of the depths of the Pit, and become the Shadow Samurai. Now he appeared when his clan needed him most, guiding the heroes of the living world, but of late the path to Rokugan had become more difficult to find. He had come to the Legion of the Dead to find the reason why.
Now that he faced the Legion of Blood, such thoughts no longer consumed him. Kuni Yori marched among the enemy. No force in all the Spirit Realms would bar him from his enemy.
Sukune crushed the skull of an oni with his tetsubo and drew his wakizashi to sever the arm of another as it moved in to flank him. He remembered a time when he marched beside such demons, welcoming them as allies at Beiden Pass. Why were these thoughts plaguing him now? The battlefield was no place for such things. He could still feel the cold, hungry sensation of this place gnawing at him, however, and it filled him with a strange dread. In a moment of insight, he knew where he was. He glanced upward to where Goemon hovered above the battlefield, and prayed that he would live long enough to tell the Fortune what he had discovered.
Matsu Goemon completed a perfect series of strokes, cutting no less than three winged oni in half in the process. He had ever been a soldier, and now had the power of a Fortune behind his blade, the Fortune of Heroes. Even as he fought in the center of the battlefield, he extended his awareness outward, taking in every aspect of the chaos all around him. His forces were clearly superior to the enemy in quality and experience, but to his horror it was obvious that the Legion of the Dead was losing. Everywhere, the Legion of Blood had driven wedges between units, dividing forces and overwhelming the Dead not numbers as well as sheer ferocity. The banner of the Steel Chrysanthemum flapping above the enemy armies had done little to reassure him that this battle could be won. While surely the Hantei had always relied heavily on others in matters of military tactics, there was one field in which the Steel Chrysanthemum excelled.
Goemon reached out to find his command staff, his generals. Hida Kisada was there, leading a small number of Crab in an attempt to push through to the Hantei’s rear ranks,. Across the battlefield, Ikoma Ujiaki and his men struggled to break free from the oni surrounding them and launch a flanking maneuver. Doji Kuwanan and his personal guard were still elsewhere, attempting to fall back and create a secure perimeter to protect the Legion’s shugenja. His troops were all legends, accustomed to giving commands, not taking them. Many of them had mistrusted and despised one another in their lives; clan and personal enmities still ran high. The bonds he had hoped to forge between them were washed away in the red haze of battle, where a soldier could only count on those he could trust. And his men did not trust one another. The Steel Chrysanthemum, as brilliant as he was evil, knew this all too well; it was the same tool he had used to set returned spirits and mortals against each other during the War of Spirits. Together, the Legion of the Dead was an unstoppable fighting force. Divided, they were vulnerable.
The Legion of the Dead would lose this battle.
Goemon shouted a fierce battle cry, his slicing down a massive oni with a single stroke. He scanned the battlefield and found a small group of samurai of different clans fighting together. In an instant, he disappeared from the skies and appeared in their midst. “Sukune! Yosai! Dairu!” he shouted. “Gather your men and form on me! We must gather the others together and make a stand!”
“Hai!” the three men shouted. Each barked orders to the handful of warriors following them in the clipped, terse language that only veteran soldiers could understand. The men and women following them obeyed instantly, fanning out to create a secure wedge.
Goemon pointed with his katana, backhanding a bloodstained samurai almost casually. “There, that is where the greatest number of our men are!” he shouted to the others. “We must reach them!” He lifted his blade above his head. “For the Legion and Rokugan!”
“For the Legion and Rokugan!” the men answered, pressing forward with new dedication and vigor. Sukune was shouting something to him, but Goemon could not make it out over the snarling beasts and shrieking soldiers all around them. There would be time for that in a few moments, he hoped.
A roar the likes of which mortal men had never heard split the air. The very ground shook with the force of it. From the depths of the endless mists surrounding the battle, a gigantic form appeared on its edge. The juggernaut lifted a single clawed hand and obliterated an entire group of Goemon’s men from the battle’s edge, crushing them as a child might gleefully crush an insect.
“The First Oni,” said Isawa Tadaka, scowling up at the beast. “The slayer of Shiba.”
Another dozen Legionnaires fell to the beast, this time crushed underfoot. The creature roared again with a mixture of pleasure and hatred. The force of its bellow could be felt even this far, a fetid, searing wind that turned the stomach and set the eyes to watering.
A glowing form streaked across the battlefield, blazing a path through the heavens above the rank and file beneath him. A lone man, enveloped in flame so radiant it hurt to look upon hung suspended before the great beast. The chanting of Isawa Tsuke’s spell could be heard over the noise of battle. Tsuke’s nimbus of fire grew brighter, raging in the sky like a fierce miniature sun. The First Oni snarled in irritation at the light and drew back to crush the human. Even as it swung, Tsuke shouted the final words of his incantation and released an incredible torrent of flame. The explosion when the two met was overwhelming, seeming to surprise even Tsuke himself before a wave of white light and heat washed over the misty plains.
Goemon was lifted from his feet and hurled backwards. His last moment of clarity was the sight of countless soldiers in both legions fading into the mist.
Then he was lost as well.
“Hurry, Goemon!” a Lion samurai shouted, fastening his armor. “The Unicorn are attacking in the south! We must reinforce Hatsuki’s division at once!”
Goemon looked around in confusion. The City of the Rich Frog was full of the smell and sound of war. There was smoke on the wind, thick and acrid, and the sounds of battle and the dying filled the air. Women and children screamed in the streets, terrified of the war that threatened to spill into their homes at any moment. “What is this?” he demanded.
“We have to go! Now!” the Lion grabbed Goemon’s arm and dragged him forward. The old soldier finally nodded and began running alongside the others. Reflex and instinct took over as he checked and double-checked the position of his weapons and armor. Something wasn’t right here. What had he been doing just now? He couldn’t remember.
The Khan’s forces were attacking the southern defenses again. They had done so repeatedly, weakening it each time. This time, the weather seemed determined to add to the confusion, as thick storm clouds were brewing quickly overhead. Goemon felt a twinge of fear at the sight of the clouds, though he could not remember why. It was only a storm, nothing more. He had fought in the rain many times.
His unit pressed through to the front quickly. He could make out the command staff and personal guard of his commander, the general Akodo Tadenori, nearby. Tadenori was a good man and an excellent general, but Goemon found himself staring at the man’s back with his hand on his blade. What was wrong with him? This was not right. A soldier did not feel anxious around his commander. Had he been taken with a fever? Or was old age simply catching up with him. Whatever the case, he was not himself. He only prayed it would not weaken him in battle. He had lived too long to fall over some foolish premonition, like that of an old woman.
He saw a faint red light begin to build around Tadenori, seething flames rising from his back. Then Goemon realized that the sky was raining blood.
Goemon awoke suddenly, his hand reaching for his katana as it had thousands of times before. But this was different. He was no longer a mortal man, but a Fortune, and his blade was in his hand not because he reached for it, but purely because he wished for it to be so.
Two men clad stood above him, one clad in orange, the other plain brown. One wore a broad-brimmed jingasa, the other the tall hat of a priest. Both looked exhausted, but relieved. He did not recognize them for a moment, but then his mind cleared. “Kuro,” he gasped. “Tadaka. What has happened?”
The two men glanced at one another. “We are not certain, Goemon-sama,” Tadaka answered. “Tsuke faced the oni, and there was a tremendous explosion. It was far greater than Tsuke should have been able to summon, even given the circumstances. Both Legions, both armies, were lost.”
“Tadaka found me,” Kuro said, “Lost in memories of the past, memories that seemed all too real. Together, we retrieved you from the mists as well.”
“Mists?” Goemon replied. “Memories? I was in Toshi Ranbo, just moments before my death.”
“It is this place,” Kuro answered. “You must heed my words, Goemon, but they will be difficult for you to hear. You will not wish to accept that which I offer to you as an explanation.”
“Reality is a fragile thing in this place,” Tadaka added. “The land seems to drive souls to relive the past. It fed off of Tsuke’s power and consumed the Legions& I know not for what purpose, but even gods and Fortunes are not beyond its power.”
“How did this come to be?” Goemon asked.
“Decades ago the Lying Darkness sought to unmake creation,” Kuro answered. “The Darkness itself was defeated, but it still managed to inject a sour poison into the Celestial Order’s heart. Many dead souls returned to mortal life, usurping the destiny of an entire generation. It is this that has truly caused the disharmony that wracks the Spirit Realms.”
“I thought Iuchiban was responsible, and his Legion of Blood,” Goemon replied.
“I am not so certain,” Tadaka answered. “I think he is merely an opportunist, seeking to bend this power to his whim. This Realm’s purpose, its power, is as yet undefined& but clearly we do not know the full truth yet.”
“All Tadaka and I know thus far is that we stand in a maelstrom of celestial energy,” Kuro said. “This is a new Spirit Realm, and it seeks definition. The forces of creation swirl around us, influencing our every action and in turn being influenced by them. Tsuke’s spell fed upon it, awakening the potential for destruction that always accompanies creation.”
“All due to Oblivion’s Gate?” Goemon asked. “But that happened so long ago? Why has this taken so long to happen?”
“Long?” Tadaka asked with a laugh. “Ask the gods if three decades is a long time. Three decades is barely long enough for Fukurokujin to draw a breath.”
“The Gate was never meant to exist,” Kuro continued, “much less to be used in such a careless manner as it was. Its use has weakened the borders between the realms. In response, the realms are drifting apart, and this place has been born to act as a buffer. The universe is protecting itself. This is why it has been so difficult for ancestors to communicate with the living of late; we have not yet adjusted to this new state of being. We will likely continue to have such difficulty until this realm becomes stable.”
“If this realm is still unstable, then we dare not wage our battle here,” Goemon said at once. “The risk is too great.”
“We must find the others, if they still exist,” Tadaka said mournfully. “Our only consolation is that the Legion of Blood seems to have been similarly consumed. Presumably they, like each of us, were trapped in visions of their past lives, at moments when their lives changed course.”
Kuro nodded again. “The influence of this realm, while not yet complete, is powerful enough to force us to revisit out past. Forced into being by so many souls being denied their destiny, it hungers for destiny, for those who have achieved it, but especially for those who have not.” The old man shook his head sadly.
“Will this place be a realm of good or ill?” Goemon asked.
“I fear that is for us to decide,” Tsuke replied, “and for the legions now trapped here.”
Goemon frowned thoughtfully. “We cannot dwell upon this now. If Iuchiban knows what we know, if he has designs up on this place, then we must stop him directly.”
“Agreed,” Kuro answered, “but we can no longer reach out descendants as we once did. We must take a more direct route.”
“How?” Goemon asked.
“The same way this problem began,” Kuro answered. “Oblivion’s Gate.”
“But the Gate’s power is exhausted,” Tadaka said. “It no longer maintains a connection to any of the Spirit Realms.”
“None known,” Kuro replied, “but I would be surprised if it bore no connection to this place& a place that it created.”
Tadaka was aghast. “You aren’t suggesting we return? How can we undo the destruction the Gate caused by revisiting it? In trying to heal the damage, we will only make it worse!”
“Perhaps,” Goemon answered, “but to do nothing is unacceptable. There are no other options.” He looked at Kuro. “What can we do, Grand Master?”
“Seek those who have been lost,” Kuro said. “Seek the Gate itself. Find one who is willing to go back to the mortal realm and take the battle to the Bloodspeaker.”
“Madness,” Tadaka insisted. “What purpose will that serve? What will one more man do against Iuchiban, immortal or no?”
“One man can do a great deal, if armed with the proper knowledge,” Naka Kuro said.
“Tell me what you plan, Grand Master,” Matsu Goemon replied.