Trials of Destiny, Part II
Authored by Jim Pinto
Transcribed by Mishka
Suffer the Sun
The Shadowlands. I hated them. I hated being away from my brothers. I hate…
I could feel something coming. My body convulsed. How did I get there? The last thing I remembered…
It was all cloudy. Confusing.
The Shiba were being attacked by oni and goblins and…and…
There was I and how did I get there?
The anvil? They were after the anvil. We had to stop them. Something kicked me in the teeth and my dreams turned to smoke and blood.
The Soul of a Samurai
It is a week ago. I am in the home of the Unicorn.
Am I safe?
The halls of the Shinjo were a far cry from our own. Animal skins, deep voices booming, distractions, all shape the atmosphere. I felt disoriented.
“Lord Yokatsu-sama, honorable and famed leader of the Unicorn. It is with great honor that I visit today, but with great shame that I beg you for a boon.” Why was I there? None of it felt right. As I spoke with Yokatsu, a small army of my brothers escorted the Anvil of Despair toward the Shadowlands – a Crab force moving to stop them. Time was being waste. I was asking a disinterested daimyo to intercede on our behalf. Nothing felt right about it. I could almost smell the deceit in the air. Why was I there?
“Lord Yokatsu will think on this,” another servant of indecision spoke. “You are our guest. Please avail yourself of everything we have.”
The Unicorn sloth in front of me smiled weakly and I felt like a woman being hushed by an abusive husband. Everything you have? Milk? Eggs? The hides of animals? I felt dirty just imagining what these barbarians would possibly consider luxury. Perhaps they would go and hunt a stag or wolf for me to eat. Revolting. My soul would never be clean after eating such a thing.
My insides felt heavy… sinking. I hoped no one saw me shiver.
“We have fresh fish and I believe the Phoenix enjoy the taste of plum brandy. Hai?”
They were trying too hard. I could sense something was wrong. “Domo arigato.” I bowed instinctively. I felt like I was committing a sin, as if I were betraying something. Nothing was clear and I knew that the Unicorn would never help us. Why was I there?
I hoped my brothers were safe.
Marching. I was alive again, if only for a short while.I was talking aloud, but the Moto were focused on something else. We were a thousand miles away from one another. They were men of action. I was a guardian of secrets. They sought the destruction of the Shadowlands. I desired a greater understanding of the world. I was as alone with the Moto as I was with the Isawa.
I remember something that Suhitaka once said.
“A man who glories only in anger is not a man but an animal, bent only on the destruction of others. A samurai who glories only in his honor is a samurai with nothing to lose. He cannot be trusted.”
The Moto had no honor… no glory… no pride. But they marched. They marched harder, longer and stronger than any Shiba I’d ever seen. The guardians of my clan were no match for these malcontents who, despite their Daimyo’s unwillingness to commit, had dedicated themselves to a proud and noble cause… a cause unfit for the soft, clean hands of the nobility.
What had we been doing with our lives? Destiny was in the hands of angry, unwanted children.
“Lord Yokatsu will not help you.” The voice behind me was low and rough. “It will take days for him to reach a decision. The vague nature of your mission only intensifies his worry.”
There was a pause; if not dramatic, it was tense. “We will help you.” I looked around to see who “we” were. He was alone.
“I am Asako Yurito.”
“I know who you are. Your eyes speak volumes. Your mission is dangerous and hopeless. But the corrupted Crab and the Shadowlands will suffer if we do this. It is a worthy cause. One that I will support.”
I understood his esoteric words more than he could imagine. The way of the Asako is rife with confusion.
“How many of you are there?”
“My brothers are over 40 strong and the Otaku will surely join us when I tell them a fight is involved. A few Shinjo children will do as I ask, as well. We can leave in the morning. Enough time to catch the sleeping crab before the phoenix rises.”
His misplaced metaphors came from courage and passion, not his schooling. I smiled and bowed. I never saw him blink. I tried to force a smile, but I don’t think he noticed. He remained calm and stern.
After he left, I thought long on his comment. His words were not those of a backward barbarian, but of a deep, troubled man with a desire to end some lagging shame. It occurred to me that the Crab he spoke of was Oni no Hida Yakamo. I did not wish to face such a horror. How would we defeat such a thing? Could the rising Phoenix he spoke of be my own cowardice?
I did not sleep.
Lady of the Earth
I am a withered, tired mass.
I am not safe.
A Moto fanatic stood over me, slapping me, stirring me to consciousness. “Wake, shugenja.”
He was tall. His complexion was dark and his face was worn with the curse of a thousand years. “I do not make it a habit to repeat myself. If we are to save your mission, we must start moving.”
Gojiko was dead. How did I know that?
I sat up.
Blood streaked my clothes and skin. It was not mine.
I lie where she fell. I lie in a puddle of her blood. With so much blood on my own hands, I could pass for dead. I could lie here among the carnage and fade away. I could just die and be forgotten, my soul wallowing in defeat.
“There is no shame in your fight,” the Moto said, urgency in his voice. “The blood on your clothes is nothing. The shame of failure is worse than the stain of regret.”
More riddles. Sometimes I thought they talked like that to test me.
“Hai.” I moved my eyes from his gaze. I did not think I would ever come clean. I see the carnage; the river of rotting bodies. The death stacks higher that I can see. I want to die.
“Enough.” The Moto who had been talking at me lifted me to my feet. My arm ached and burned. I remembered the battle – some of it.
How long had I been unconscious?
I remember blinking, standing and somehow marching alongside the only people left in the world that mattered. The others who had survived the battle had already left – gone to join with the Phoenix, to escort the anvil to its doom. Another army would be waiting. The next battle would not be so easy.
So easy? Six of us marched into the Shadowlands to chase death and remind it we were still alive.
When would life make sense again?
I am an Asako. I know secrets that could spill the world into a million droplets of venom.
I am not safe.
“You will go, Yurito-san. You will do what needs to be done. It is your destiny. The oracles have foretold the death of the Empire. You are our herald. Do not deny this.”
I remember feeling pride that I was told this; that my part in the celestial order would be served that day. Pride.
The same sort of pride that brought the anvil to us in the first place. My emotions were mixed and my sentiments were lost on a tainted, disfigured mass of iron. My bane. My destruction.
What others would have considered an honor, I considered a curse. A curse born long ago – before the kami and before the Empire. This curse was not earned. It was inherited by blood. We had done something to anger the heavens. We were playthings in the hands of fate. We were no longer the children of destiny… we were its slaves.
Memories are the Ghosts of Children
There is nothing worse than feeling helpless. I had watched the world spin past me for too long. As an Asako it was my duty to allow destiny its turn. I could not say too much, lest the ears of deceit shape a new reality. I could not do too much, lest my own hands sculpt an unhealthy landscape. It was the way of things. We do what we do because we must.
I hoped my own death would be quick. I hoped no one would try to save me. I hoped that the last thing I saw would be invisible and the last thing I heard, an echo.
We were too late. The battle lay a short distance away, but it might as well have been a league. Standing against a huge Oni, the Void Guard were silhouetted against a background of skeletal trees and fetid marsh.
Soldiers fell in bloody waves before a group of ogres. As the ogres stripped the flesh from the dying, the cries of their victims were indistinguishable from the screaming of children. The sight ate into my soul. I would rather that my eyes withered to nothing, their sockets empty and black, than they should witness such horror again.
How could we win against such numbers?
Then it happened: the miracle that our ancestors talked about. If destiny were guiding us into the fog, then surely it could guide us to the sun. At first I did not see them – Isawa Tomo and the Tsunami Legion emerging from the thicket. His men were determined – determined to destroy the enemy that stood before them. The malformed goblins were flanked by the Legion and a dozen of them were cut down before the goblins knew to retreat. Broken and hobbled, the goblins were run down and slaughtered.
Hope returned to my eyes. I could feel my legs pumping beneath me. I was running into blind fury.
Melting, Waning Death
It is three weeks ago. I am just a man.
None of us are safe.
Ujiko and I were sitting together in a quiet glade. I had never seen her happier. She smiled and I felt like a young boy again – seeing joy in all things. She was so pure and unwavering.
I told her of my mission – only the barest hint of the truth. Her eyes turned to fear, then sorrow. There as nothing either of us could do – destiny took our lives from us. She placed a soft kiss on my cheek.
“I will return from the Shadowlands.” I whispered as her gentle form disappeared from the glade. I couldn’t even convince myself.
I never saw her again.