Kaze no Shiro Kazenoshiro Banner



This section of Kaze no Shiro is no longer supported and is meant for archive purposes only. Please go back to main page.


Battle for Otosan Uchi, Part 1
By Rich Wulf and Shawn Carman

On the seventh day of the month of the Ox, 1159 by the Isawa Calendar, the City of Otosan Uchi came under attack by the Shadowlands Horde, led by the Dark Lord, Daigotsu.

What follows are the tales of triumph and the tales of tragedy that befell the Imperial City on that day.

Listen now to the tales of the fallen, and learn from their example.

- Ikoma Sume, Imperial Historian

* * * * *

South Hub Village

Ogai set his hammer aside and wiped the sweat from his brow. It was early winter and he was still sweating, but this had the makings of a mild winter. His team was doing an excellent job. Already the husk of Kyuden Nio was beginning to resemble it former self.

Thunder rumbled in the sky. For the last hour, dark clouds had been gathering. Some of the workers began to cast nervous looks at Ogai.

"It'll be an hour before that storm gets here," Ogai said, gesturing at them with his hammer. "If we don't meet our deadline, Lord Naseru will be most -"

The foreman's words were interrupted by an explosive peal of thunder, so loud that the workers squealed in terror. To north, the sky flashed red.

Ogai had seen many storms in his life. He had never seen red lightning before.

"What was that?" one of the workers whispered.

"Just lightning," Ogai said. "Back to work."

A sudden cry erupted behind them. A squad of samurai in jet-black armor charged down the street, weapons drawn and ready for combat. Ogai wondered what clan they could be, wearing armor like that. Then he saw the bakemono that scrambled at their heels, not chasing or fleeing from the samurai, but marching beside them. A pair of the samurai kicked in the door of a sake house and ran inside. Screams of terror echoed in reply.

"I know their mon!" one of the older men said, his voice quavering. "That was the symbol Yogo Junzo's soldiers wore! The Horde has returned! After all these years, the Horde has returned to Otosan Uchi!"

"Ogai, what do we do?" another man asked.

Ogai's jaw hung open uselessly. He was just a builder, not a warrior. He looked at the eyes of his fellow workers. There was fear there, but there was also outrage. Every man and woman knew the Horde was the enemy of everything the Empire stood for. It was their duty to fight, even if it was hopeless.

"Pick up your hammers, take staffs from the lumber," Ogai said, surprised at how steady his own voice was. "We fight."

The men nodded, scrambling for weapons. In moments they were ready. As one, fifteen peasants strode forth from Kyuden Nio to battle the Shadowlands Horde. With Ogai at their head, they marched into the street. Only when the black-armored samurai of the Shadowlands turned to face them did they falter.

"What is this?" snarled a Lost samurai, eyes glowing sickly yellow. "Peasants?" The samurai drew his sword.

Ogai could hear one of the men quietly whispering prayers under his breath. There was no turning back now. "We are the men of Mura Minami Chushin!" he shouted. "Return to the Pit or face our wrath!"
"You will die poorly, peasant!" the Lost samurai said with a chuckle. Then his laughter died, and a strangely terrified expression froze upon his features.

Ogai was confused until he noticed the Lion samurai that now stood on either side of his group.

"These fools did not accept your mercy, my friend," said their leader. "Let us show them in turn what it means to challenge the Empire."

The Lion roared, and as one they charged. Ogai ran forward at their side, swinging his hammer wildly. Never in his life had he been so proud.

* * * * *

Sunset Tower

Shiba Unasagi staggered and dropped to one knee. With a grunt, he forced his battered body to recover and stand again. The first wave of goblins had passed, as had the Tainted samurai who followed in their wake. Both had been repulsed, but Unasagi was the only remaining samurai at Sunset Tower. Soon, the remaining Shadowlands forces would charge again, and then he would die. Glancing down at his terrible wounds, Unasagi wondered if perhaps that was for the best. Given the punishment his body had taken and the nature of his enemies, there was little chance he could escape the Taint himself. That was a fate unfit for a member of the Heaven's Wing Brotherhood.

A horrid shout came across the peninsula where Unasagi stood defending the Tower. A dozen Tainted samurai and twice that many goblins were charging toward him. The Phoenix samurai struggled to assume the proper stance of the Shiba, but his strength failed him. He fell to his knees.

I must not die this way, thought Unasagi.

The sound of footsteps in the gravel behind him surprised Unasagi. He knew there was no one alive in the Tower, yet now a figure stood above him. "Stay down," the voice growled, forcing one hand on his shoulder. The Phoenix's vision swam, but he clearly saw the shocked look on the charging foes' faces as well as a massive wave of black erupted over him, consuming his foes.

"Stand, Shiba!" the voice shouted. Rough hands seized Unasagi, dragging him to his feet. The pain made his vision blur once more, but the features of his savior seemed strangely familiar, as if they were remembered from childhood.

"Katsuda-sensei?" he rasped.

"No," came the reply. "I am not my father, but I cherish this place as he did." He shook Unasagi, keeping the grievously wounded samurai conscious. "I have placed powerful wards to keep the Horde from destroying this place, but you should not remain here. It is not safe!"

Unasagi tore his arm away from the mysterious shugenja and drew himself up. His wounds ached terribly, but he would not succumb. "I am Shiba. I will not flee. I will not abandon my post. All who threaten my charge while I draw breath will die."

The man nodded. "Then I wish you luck." He began summoning the energies that would transport him elsewhere. As he disappeared, he fixed Unasagi with a meaningful look. "My father would have been proud to serve beside one such as you." And then he was gone.

Shiba Unasagi, battered but unbroken, assumed his fighting stance and waited for the next wave.

* * * * *

The Brutal Flame

Somewhere, there was someone calling her name. At first, she just tried to ignore it and keep sleeping. Whoever it was, they were very insistent. Shinjo Monoko groaned in dismay, then promptly yelped in pain. She opened her eyes, bringing her hands to her head to sooth the incredible pain booming there. For a moment, she was confused. "Where am I?"

"On guard duty," came the reply. It was the same voice that had been calling her name. "Monoko, do you know who I am?" The face was concerned, and the man frowned in obvious concern.

"Moto Yuhija, worst horseman in the Unicorn Clan." When the old, familiar joke did not dispel her friend's worried expression, Monoko realized something must be terribly wrong. She sat up, wincing at the pain in her head. "What's happened? Why am I on the floor?"

"The tower has been attacked," Yuhija answered. "There is some sort of creature in the water. It's huge, and has already crushed all the exterior sentries in its tentacles. Our commander is dead." He nodded across the room where seven other armored men crouched near to the floor. Most were Unicorn, but two wore the mon of the Lion, one of the Phoenix. "We nine are all that remains. When the first attack came, a brick fell and hit you on the head. I thought you were dead." A slight smile returned. "I suppose I should have known better."

Monoko rose to her feet. The pain was intense, but it seemed unimportant. "What is happening in the city? What can we see?"

"Smoke," answered Shiba Keisai. "Fire, smoke, and death. You can hear the screams from here."

The Unicorn samurai-ko drew her blade. "If the city is under attack, then our duty is clear. We must return to the barracks and marshal as many troops as we can."

"Our duty is to this tower," said Matsu Onuri. "And I will not have a Shinjo lecture me on duty."

 "Fine," returned Monoko, her tone icy. "When the defenders of the city gather their forces at the barracks and Ikoma Otemi wonders why he has so few, I will tell him that he may find either a coward or a corpse hiding within Brutal Flame Tower. I go to do my duty as a protector of Otosan Uchi." She glared at the others. "Who is brave enough to ride beside me?"

In the end, all nine rode into the city as the gigantic oni continued its assault on Brutal Flame Tower. Around them, the city burned.

* * * * *

The Asako Records

"This is a terrible place to make a last stand," Yasuki Hachi whispered, pacing the streets before the Asako archives.

"This was the most defensible building we could find," Bayushi Norachai replied. "We must hold the line here while Naseru and the Seppun guard work to evacuate the Forbidden City."

"I would prefer to hold the line at the Temple of the Sun God," Hachi said, looking off to the south. "It is larger and more defensible."

"As would I," Norachai replied, "but it has been overrun."

"It is a blasphemy we should not be forced to endure," Hachi said.

"There is nothing to be done," Norachai said. "We do not have the troops to stage a counterattack. Until the Legions arrive, the best we can hope for is a strategic retreat."

"I know," Hachi nodded solemnly. "That makes it no easier to accept."

"Lord Hachi!" shouted a young Crane soldier, running up the street to meet them. The boy was out of breath. A streak of blood stained the right half of his face. "The Lost gather their forces! They have abandoned Yakamo's Temple and march this way!"

"It looks like you may have your chance to redeem the temple after all, Hachi-sama," Norachai said, drawing his katana.

"How many were there?" Hachi asked.

"Two hundred," the boy said, eyes bulging with terror.

"They outnumber us three to one," Hachi said. "Our forces are spread too thin. Norachai, ride to the east. Summon our troops from Bright Wind. We will hold the line here until you return."

"Good luck, Hachi-sama!" Norachai shouted, leaping onto the nearest horse and galloping away.

Hachi stepped into the middle of the street, preparing to face whatever came. His handful of troops fanned out to help him defend the area. Glancing back, he noticed that the young soldier who had delivered the warning was now hunched on the steps of the Asako Records, dead from an arrow in his back. As the soldiers of the Lost appeared on the streets ahead, Hachi's anger boiled to the surface.

"You dare call yourself samurai?" the Emerald Champion roared. "You attack the Magistrates of Rokugan! You murder helpless peasants! You despoil the sanctity of the Imperial City! I am Yasuki Hachi, Emerald Champion! Those who defy the justice I serve will be destroyed!" A few scattered drops of rain began to fall, spattering the streets.

The leader of the Lost stepped forward. He was a horrible figure, wearing a mempo of stitched human flesh. "Yasuki?" the twisted samurai said in a dry voice. "You are no Yasuki. You are a Daidoji, like me. . . I smell it in your blood" The samurai sheathed his blade and fell into a dueling stance, stepping forward from his troops. "Face me, cousin. You will die, but I may spare your troops."

"Who are you?" Hachi demanded, stepping forward to face the abomination.

"I am Tsukuro, general of the Lost." The samurai cackled. "Look into my eyes, and see your own future. . . "

"We shall see," Hachi said.

They drew their swords.

* * * * *

Glory's Shadow

Screams filled the streets. Osuko tried not to notice as she scrambled to shove various documents and artifacts into her non-descript bag. She had been born in this city. She had adopted the name and role that her mother had once fulfilled as the okasan, the "mother" of all geisha in this district. Yet now she prepared to abandon a lifetime of work. Even if the Shadowlands could be defeated, she must escape in order to bring these documents to safety. Her duty to Bayushi Ogura demanded it.

The aging woman glanced around her geisha house one final time. It was unimaginable that this place would be lost to her. She had spent her entire lifetime making it one of the most prominent in the entire city. Of late, the profits had been even more than she had ever imagined. Ogura's unique brand of sake had allowed her to expand her operations well beyond what she had intended when she began so many years ago.

"Osuko!" A young girl ran up to the older woman, her face streaked with make-up and tears. "Osuko, I cannot find Asiko anywhere! And there is a gigantic oni with four arms in the street! What will we do?"

"Shh, little nightingale," soothed Osuko. "Do not fret so. I am certain you sister is safe. You will see her again very soon."

"Do you truly think so?" the young geisha asked hopefully.
"Of course, child. Have I ever lied to you?"

"No, Osuko-sama."

The older woman smiled at the proper term of address. "Now, little one, I need one last favor from you before I depart. It is a difficult task, and I regret that I must ask it of you."

"I will do my best," the young girl said fearfully.

"I know you will," Osuko said. "I need you to create a distraction." She stroked the girl's face with one wrinkled hand. "I need you to scream."

The geisha had just long enough to look perplexed at her mentor before the flesh on her face where Osuko had touched her began to blacken and bubble. Screaming horribly, the geisha fled the room, running blindly into the street as her head burst into flame.

Osuko shook her head sadly as she slipped out the back while listening to the laughter of the Lost. Sacrifices were necessary if the Shadowed Tower was to survive.

* * * * *

Kanshi

"What is this place?" Doji Nagori asked, looking about the tunnels in wonder. The Emerald Magistrates and courtiers who followed him were similarly amazed. It looked as if a large temple had been carved out of the natural stone beneath the city.

"We call this place Kanshi," said the wizened monk who stepped forward to meet them. He bowed from the waist. "I am Hocho, master of the Temple, and you are Doji Nagori, the famous storyteller. We have heard of you."

Nagori bowed respectfully. "This is an extraordinary temple," He said.

"Our brotherhood built this temple to fight the corruption beneath the city," Hocho said.

"Corruption?" Nagori said, surprised.

"The Imperial City has long been a focal point for spiritual activity," the monk said. "Passages to every Spirit Realm can be found in this city, even the darker realms such as Jigoku, Gaki-do, and Toshigoku. The caverns beneath the city have many passages to Jigoku. Our order fights the corruption that sometimes wanders forth from those passages, and keeps the tunnels pure until the passages close once more."

"I have never heard of this place," Nagori said.

"Few have," Hocho replied. "The idea that Otosan Uchi could be a bastion of the Shadowlands Taint is unsettling to many. A handful of samurai in the citizen in the city above know of our fight, and give us weapons and supplies so that we may continue. Toturi was particularly generous, and his children have followed his example."

"That explains how Naseru knew of these tunnels," Nagori said. "The Anvil said that you could help us evacuate the city."

"I would be honored," Hocho said with a nod, "though I warn you to be cautious. Take only the tunnels that my acolytes indicate. The other tunnels can be somewhat dangerous, especially today. The demons can sense the arrival of their own in the streets above."

Hocho turned and receded into the tunnel. Doji Nagori and the huddled refugees of the Imperial City followed.

* * * * *

The Celestial Paths

"Monoko, the way is blocked!" Yuhija shouted. "We cannot get in!"

Shinjo Monoko swore so explosively that Shiba Keisai drew back slightly. This was the second entrance to the Forbidden City, the central hub of the City of Otosan Uchi, that they had tried. Like the other, this one was blocked by flaming debris. The Horde did not wish to be interrupted, it seemed. What could be going on in the city? Monoko could not imagine and was terrified to speculate. She thought for a moment, ignoring the obvious ill will of Matsu Onuri on her left. "We will have to ride for the western gate. It may still be open as the attack came from the south."

The five guardsmen rode furiously through the streets, dodging creatures to large for them to fight and lashing out at smaller targets constantly. It seemed the streets were awash with bakemono and the Lost. Already four of their number had been lost, and Monoko knew it was only a matter of time before some of the enemies they were passing abandoned their campaign of destruction and followed them. That would almost certainly result in their grisly deaths.

Skirting across the southern tip of the wall, Monoko noticed something strange going on a few streets over. At first she thought that more enemies were dropping from the sky. Then she realized that a pack of small winged oni were capturing peasants from the street and dropping them from high altitudes. Even at this distance, she could see the sickening satisfaction on the faces of the unholy beasts.

Gritting her teeth, she shouted to the others. "Ride on! I'll catch up to you in a few moments!" She veered off from the group before Yuhija had a chance to call out to her and ask her what she thought she was doing.

The narrow street between Monoko and the building where the oni were playing their sick game was clear. Spurring her horse to greater speeds, she pulled both legs up from her stirrups so that she was crouching in the saddle. She steered the horse toward a fallen lamppost just outside the building, hoping that her timing would pay off. Just as the horse jumped over the post, she sprang into the air with all her strength. The combined force of the two jumps sent her sailing above the first story and over the wall.

There was no ceiling on which to land. Monoko had just enough time to be surprised before she collided in mid-air with one of the oni. The startled creature dropped its prey, an old man, and plummeted to the ground. The beast absorbed the brunt of the impact, and Monoko finished it off with a blinding strike of her katana. Two more of the beasts circled above her, screeching in animalistic fury.

"Come on!" Monoko shouted. "Come and see what I have for you!"

The creatures dove, and Monoko's steel was waiting.

* * * * *

Endless Journey

Despite the thick smoke that choked the air of Otosan Uchi, the beauty of the gardens at Endless Beauty were undeniable. The thick vegetation and beautiful flowers had obviously been cultivated over the course of generations to create the perfect place for serene and uninterrupted meditation. It was widely regarded as one of the most peaceful locations in Otosan Uchi, despite the controversial history of the Agasha family that maintained it. Once Dragon, now Pheonix, they continued to maintain their gardens as they always had.

"Pathetic." The even, menacing tones of Hakai, Nightmare of the Phoenix Clan, caused even the troublesome bakemono to grow silent. The Onisu waved his clawed, skeletal hand and much of the vegetation in the garden blackened and withered. A handful of bolder goblins leapt forward, reading Hakai's actions as an attack. Their compact, muscular forms ripped through the gardens, destroying the very beauty that so disgusted the Onisu. Normally Hakai despised the creatures, but their destructive antics were entertaining. It was not as if the pitiable structure was worthy of his attention.

Hakai was preparing to move on, pressing deeper into the heart of Otosan Uchi, when the scream of a dying goblin reached his ears, quickly followed by several more such sounds. Irritated, he turned back to the garden. There, standing amidst a group of broken and shattered goblins, stood a lone monk. The filthy human had the unmitigated gall to make eye contact with Hakai. His challenge was evident.

"Come, creature," the monk said. "Let me bring you the blessing of enlightenment."

"You dare challenge me?" growled Hakai. "Know a brief infinity of pain." The creature casually lifted its bony hand and let fly a bolt of sickly green energy. The monk made no attempt whatsoever to dodge the blast, and it caught him fully in the chest. The nightmarish energy destroyed most of his upper torso, dropping him to the ground like a brittle, unliving thing.

Unbelievably, the man managed to lift his head and look at Hakai. "We will meet again very soon," he mouthed, lacking lungs to voice the expression. He smiled very slightly despite the horrid state of his body, then collapsed to the ground.

"Humans are fools," Hakai said flatly. "And none more so than these students of the Tao. They call this place Endless Journey?" Hakai waved his hand, signaling the hordes of bakemono to rush forward and rip the blessed gardens to shreds. "It has found its end at last."

Hakai turned and continued toward the Forbidden City, leaving the goblins to revel in their destructive excesses.

* * * * *

Soul's Light

Soul's Light had never seen a day as dark as this. As Asako Shuntaro looked out into the burning streets of Otosan Uchi and listened to the screams of the dying, he wondered if anyone who lived here would see another day.

"Father?" Nene said, "What will we do?" There was no fear in the little girl's voice as she looked up at her father's eyes. She reminded Shuntaro so much of her mother. The thought that the she might not survive the night filled him with sorrow and rage.

"We will be all right, Nene-chan," Shuntaro promised, holding the little girl close. "So long as we have faith, Shinsei will save us."

"Shinsei?" Nene replied, dark eyes wide. "Is he really coming?"

"I think so," Shuntaro said, forcing a brave smile. "You do not think he would abandon his favorite city, do you?"

Nene giggled. "No, father, I guess he would not," she said.

Shuntaro nodded, looking away so that his daughter would not see the tears in his eyes. His family were shugenja, but they had never had much magical power to speak of. For six generations his family had maintained this small shop in Otosan Uchi, selling lanterns to samurai and peasants alike. His ancestor, Asako Mio, had begun selling simple paper lanterns at far below the cost of their materials, claiming that they burned away one's ‘inner shadow.' In truth, Shuntaro knew that his ancestor's lanterns were not magical at all, but the simple trinkets seemed to bring pleasure and hope to the people of the city.

Now, it seemed, there was no hope.

Shuntaro turned with a start as the doors of his shop were kicked open by a large samurai. The warrior wore jet-black armor, the mon of the horde emblazoned on his chest. His face was covered with dark brown scales, like a lizard. When the samurai saw Shuntaro and his daughter, he bared his pointed teeth in a smile.

"Stay back," Shuntaro said, holding Nene tightly as they backed further into the shop.

The samurai laughed and stepped forward, katana in hand.

Shuntaro whispered a prayer to the kami as the samurai advanced.

In a single instant, every lantern on the shelves flared into light.

"Eh?" the Lost samurai said, looking up in surprise.

The tiny flames of the lanterns leapt out of their lanterns, swirling about the Lost samurai. In and of themselves, they were little more than candle flames. They danced and wove, and the samurai seemed altogether amused at first.

Then they began to burn.

The Tainted samurai had no time to even scream. He was reduced to a cinder, and the flames returned to their lanterns.

"Daddy?" Nene said quietly. "I thought the lanterns were not magic."

"I thought so too," Shuntaro said, his voice unsteady.

"Did Shinsei just save us?"

"I think so, Nene-chan. Shuntaro's hands were shaking as he set his daughter on her feet. "Now grab as many lanterns as you can. It is time for us to go!"

* * * * *

Bright Wind Geisha House

"Damn this rain!" Bayushi Norachai shouted as he galloped through the streets. His horse's hooves slipped in the mud as he veered a corner, nearly dropping him in the street. The Scorpion gritted his teeth and pushed on.

A quartet of samurai in blackened armor rushed out to block his path. One raised his pike to meet Norachai's charge. The Scorpion smiled. With a loud clap, his horse was suddenly surrounded with a cloud of smoke. It emerged from the other side, riderless. The Lost samurai shouted in surprise, but by that time Norachai had already leapt from the shadows and cut down the first with his blade.

"Fools!" Norachai shouted defiantly. "You have fallen directly into our ambush!"

The Lost samurai glanced about in terror, searching for hidden Scorpion that were not there. While they were distracted, Norachai charged and cut another one down. He kicked the next man solidly in the chest then disarmed him with a quick motion.

The weaponless samurai turned to his companion. "Run!" he shouted, and hurried off down the street. The other scowled and turned to face Norachai, katana held ready. Norachai drew his tanto and threw it into the man's face from ten feet away.

Cursing at the lost time, Norachai retrieved his knife and leapt back into the saddle. Soon enough he reached his destination. With so few troops to cover so large an area, Yasuki Hachi had been forced to establish a chain of small checkpoints within the city to organize the evacuation. Each wave that was evacuated ran between the checkpoints as fast as they could. This one, Bright Wind Geisha House, was the last before the Forbidden City. Hachi had left it in the command of a shugenja named Yogo Tenshin.

When Norachai arrived, he found the streets littered with dead. Emerald Magistrates and Lost samurai alike lay scattered in the streets. The corpse of an enormous oni lay in the crossroads. Beside it, Yogo Tenshin knelt sobbing in the rain.

"What are you doing?" Norachai shouted, wheeling his horse before the shugenja. "Lord Hachi needs reinforcements urgently! Where are the others?"

"There are no others," Tenshin whispered, eyes staring hollowly at the street. "I am the only one left" He looked up at Norachai and displayed his hands. The palms had been slashed and were bleeding openly. Dark rings now shadowed Tenshin's eyes. Norachai hissed. He knew the signs of maho when he saw them.

"It was all I could do," Tenshin said helplessly. "I confiscated the scroll when we raided that cult in the Doji provinces. It was the only thing that seemed to stop them But when I finished, the demon I summoned turned on our own men"

"Pray that you die today, Yogo Tenshin," Norachai said in an angry voice. "If you survive, I shall take you to Traitor's Grove myself!" Norachai sneered in disgust and rode on, leaving Tenshin sobbing in the mud.

* * * * *

Artisan's Alley

Had it truly been only a few short hours ago that she had awakened on the floor of Brutal Flame tower? To Shinjo Monoko, it felt like so much longer. She had been separated from her patrol when she stopped to save a handful of peasants and astronomers from a trio of flying oni. She had killed the oni, but she had been wounded. One of the astronomers had bandaged her wounds, but Monoko was certain that without more advanced care, she would soon be unable to fight.

Unsure what else to do, Monoko had led her charges north, hoping to find a bastion of imperial guardsmen defending the Forbidden City from the Horde. They had instead found the western portion of the wall that separated the inner and outer cities in ruins. On the other side of the wall there was equally as much fire and death as outside. Nowhere in the city was safe.

With no other avenues available, Monoko had resolved to take those she had rescued and flee the city. Only one thing remained: her younger brother lived within the seedy neighborhood known as Artisan Alley. Her resolve to take him and as many others with her had led her to this. She was creeping through the impossibly narrow alleys between the ridiculously dilapidated buildings these artisans called home. Of the dozens who lived here, she had found six, including her brother.

"Monoko-chan," her brother whispered, "some of the others would like to go back for their art. Truth be told, I have a book of poetry I was working on and"

The blazing glare the samurai-ko leveled upon her brother left no room for doubt: there would be no going back. Monoko had not told the others, but she had noticed something approaching. She did not know what it was, only that it gave off some foul mist that seemed like smoke but was not. It would be here very soon, and she suspected if it arrived, they would all die.

A sudden noise from the street nearly panicked the entire crowd before Monoko heard a familiar voice shouting her name. "Yuhija!" she called. "Here!"

Moto Yuhija and two riders, Shiba Keisai and Matsu Onuri, dismounted and ran into the alley. "I knew you'd come here!" Yuhija congratulated himself. He sobered quickly, however. "We are all that remains."

Before Monoko could respond, an earth-shattering roar split the air. Whatever it was that was ravaging the streets had arrived. Grimly, the samurai-ko took stock of the situation. "We need a diversion," she finally said. "I will engage the creature, you three take these people out of here. Try to get out of the city, if you can."

"You cannot do this alone!" hissed Yuhija.

"She will not have to," the surly Onuri said. "I stand with you, Shinjo."

Monoko met the Lion's eyes for a few brief seconds. They understood one another, it seemed. "Yuhija," she turned back to her friend, "take my brother out of here."

The Moto took the others and left. It was clear they wanted to protest, but there was no time. In moments, they had disappeared into the maze of alleyways. Monoko considered following them, but she knew full well that whatever awaited them in the streets would sense the fleeing party soon enough unless it had something else to occupy its mind.

With a smile and a brief prayer to her ancestors for a good death, Shinjo Monoko and Matsu Onuri charged into the streets with their blades drawn.

* * * * *

The Ancestral Mausoleum

"Do you think they will attack here?" Seppun Yoshifusa asked, barely able to conceal the terror in his voice. The guardsman stared out warily between the boards they had nailed over the windows.

"Of course not," Ikoma Risa replied, her voice confident. "Why would the Horde attack here? All we have is a few urns, some old weapons. They have weapons enough to spare."

As if on cue, the stone doors of the Ancestral Mausoleum opened with explosive force. The guards nearest were crushed by flying stone as the heavy doors crumbled. A pack of Tsuno leapt through the shattered doors, their metallic howls echoing through the temple. The creatures hewed about them with curved black blades, slicing through the defenders of the Mausoleum. A cry of alarm echoed through the halls. Seppun Guardsmen, Lion samurai, and the resident monks hurried to defend the breach with every weapon they had available. The Tsuno began to withdraw, but then another, much louder, howl joined the others.

A single Tsuno lunged through the gates, easily twice the size of any of the others. It bore no weapons at all, but fought using only its claws. It seized the nearest Lion samurai in both hands, tearing the man in half like a scrap of paper. Crossing its arms across its face, the demon rolled forward, crushing a half dozen samurai beneath its spiky body.

Ikoma Risa felt weak as she looked at the beast. It was like hatred incarnate, lashing out at every living thing for the sheer joy of destruction. Even a Tsuno who stood too close was knocked dead by a backhand slap, and when it turned to face her she knew her death had come.

"No, Nikushimi," said a smooth voice, "We must leave one alive." The creature sat back on its haunches, steam rising from its nostrils. A small, pallid man stepped out from behind the beast and smiled at Risa as he leaned upon his gnarled wooden staff. "I am Jama Suru, little samurai," he said, "What is your name?"

"I am Ikoma Risa, defender of the Ancestral Mausoleum!" Risa shouted. She was terrified, but she showed no fear. A Lion never showed fear. "What do you want from us? You will find only ashes and swords here!"

"The ashes of the men and women who defeated Iuchiban," Jama Suru corrected. "And the weapons that first defeated him. Know that they belong to the Horde now." Jama Suru leaned close to her. His breath was cold on her cheek. "I want you to live, Ikoma Risa, and to remember that for all your strength and honor you could not stop us."

The Tsuno fanned out around the shugenja and began to strip the Ancestral Mausoleum of its treasures. Jama Suru smiled, and Nikushimi released a triumphant roar that shook the halls of the Mausoleum.

Ikoma Risa collapsed on the floor, overcome by shame and sorrow.


Kaze no Shiro Return

Togashi will return!