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A Fallen Kami
by Rich Wulf

How will you kill immortals?

* * * * *

The Celestial Heavens had not changed in eleven hundred years. The endless gleaming surface of the Dragon Road still dominated the landscape. The sky swirled with stars, not the distant motes of light the mortals viewed but beautiful flames bright, close at hand. Everything was as it as it should be.

Except for the gates.

The gates of Tengoku, forged of a metal purer than gold, a metal had no name since no words, mortal or immortal, could describe its beauty. The gates now stood at an awkward angle, unbalanced. The shining metal had turned to blackened sludge, oozing sloppily over the surface of the road.

The Dark Kami sighed and knelt beside the ruined gates. He touched the black mess with the tip of his spear, then studied the spear tip. He sighed.

"Are you displeased, Lord Fu Leng?" hissed Akuma, the hideous green oni that walked in the Dark Kami's shadow. "If the destruction your Ashura have wrought is not adequate, I shall see to it that they redouble their efforts." The demon snapped its head eagerly, cracking its three burning tongues.

"I do not take pleasure in Tengoku's destruction, Akuma," he said to the demon. "This is my home. I do not relish any part in its destruction."

Akuma's three eyes narrowed. He was a being raw with chaos; he thrived on annihilation. He did not understand. "Do you think we could have used these gates as a weapon against the Fortunes?" he snarled, grasping at the first thought to enter his sinister mind. "Perhaps we could find a way to repair them..." The demon squatted by the gates, lapping the corrupted sludge with one tongue.

Fu Leng shook his head sadly. Akuma could never understand, and to attempt to explain would only confuse the creature further. Fu Leng left Akuma to his dinner, stepped over the melted gates, and strode into Tengoku. He could hear the sound of combat, the shrieks of the oni and the screams of the dying. He struggled to hear the music, the song of the Celestial Heavens, but he could not find it amidst the chaos. For eleven centuries he had dreamed of hearing that song once more, and was denied it still.

Did his brothers and sisters hate him so?

Fu Leng's hands twisted on the haft of his spear. He would slaughter them all before he let them send him back to Jigoku. He would show them gods could die.

A defiant cry sounded from Fu Leng's right. He turned slightly, eyes calm behind a pale porcelain mask. A bloody figure in samurai armor charged toward him, flames trailing from his sword. The Dark Kami moved swiftly, driving the blade of his spear deep into the warrior's chest. The dying warrior swung his sword desperately. Fu Leng made no move to parry or dodge. The blade struck his shoulder shattering. The warrior's eyes widened then narrowed in anger. He coughed, blood dripping from his mouth.

"You will not win, fallen one," he croaked. "You will not bring your Taint into Tengoku."

Fu Leng studied the man's face. "You are one of the fushicho," he said. "The firebird warriors of heaven. You live without fear, for you know so long as you die in Tengoku's defense you shall be reborn."

"And I will fight you with every life Heaven gives me," the warrior snarled defiantly.

"A shame, then, that this will be the last," Fu Leng said. He flicked his spear, sending the dying fushicho flying over his shoulder. The man soared through the fallen gates, tumbled over the Dragon Road, then vanished into the mists.

The Dark Kami took satisfaction in the fushicho's dying shriek, perhaps the first time he had known true fear in a life he thought eternal. Fu Leng continued on across the battlefield. He could see the ranks of his Ashura soaring across the sky, locked in battle with the fushicho and their counterparts, the ryu. Here and there he could see the bright figure of a Fortune or the shambling form of an Oni Lord. His eyes settled on Hoshi, son of Togashi, his nephew. The half-mortal had taken the form of an enormous dragon, searing the demon armies with torturous flame. Fu Leng thought for a moment Togashi would be proud of his son. He wondered if the boy would put up a greater fight than his father had.

"Lord Fu Leng," came a voice from behind him.

The Dark Kami turned to face five ashura, the beautiful demon-samurai he had created to invade the heavens. Their faces were pale. They hovered in the air on motionless wings. They bowed to their master.

"What news, my Chosen?" Fu Leng asked.

"A gift, my lord," the ashura said with a smile. It stepped to one side. The Maw pushed a bloody woman in samurai armor to the ground at Fu Leng's feet. She rose up on one arm, looked defiantly into the Dark Kami's eyes. He recognized her immediately.

"Shinjo," he said, looking at the demons. "How did you capture my sister alive?"

"She surrendered to us," the Maw said. "She said she wished to speak with you."

Fu Leng looked down at Shinjo, then back at the demons. "Why is she wounded?" he asked simply.

"The price of defiance," another said. "She stands with the armies of heaven."

Fu Leng looked up calmly, extending one hand toward the Ashura who spoke. The demon-samurai looked uncomfortable for a moment, then began to shake. A drop of dark blood trickled from its nose, sizzling into flame as it touched the air. The ashura whimpered in pain. Fu Leng closed his hand into a fist. The ashura screamed, briefly, then was no more. Its empty black armor clattered to the ground.

A second ashura opened his mouth to speak. Fu Leng opened his hand and sliced it sharply through the air. The creature looked down in surprise as its body was cut in half from shoulder to hip. Like the other, it vanished, leaving its armor in a pile.

"How dare you?" Fu Leng demanded, glaring from one to the next. "Do not speak, do not apologize, do not even bother to tremble, for there is no apology that can undo what you have done. This is no minor Fortune, no dragon-spawn, no worthless minion of Tengoku. This is a Kami! One of my own blood! She is my sister! You are not worthy to look upon let alone shed her blood. You think that you have pleased me. You cannot be more wrong. Go now, return to the battle. In the morning, if I do not hear that the three of you have died in combat, I will find you, and you will learn what I have done to your two fellows." The ashura all stared at Fu Leng mute with terror.

"Go!" he roared.

The three ashura fled as swiftly as they could fly, hurrying to their deaths to escape their master's wrath. He extended one hand toward Shinjo to help her to her feet. She denied his aid, rising on her own. He frowned as he removed his mask.

"I see that you have changed much, brother," Shinjo said hoarsely. "You look like Hantei."

"A long story," Fu Leng said. "I am pleased to see you are well. I would have come to aid you, but the mortals trapped me well."

"So that you could kill me yourself?" Shinjo asked frankly.

Fu Leng frowned, looked away. "Is that what you think my intent was so many years ago? " he said vehemently. "I never wanted to kill you or any one... Except Togashi, and perhaps Hantei... I just wanted you to feel the pain that I felt. To know the fate you had resigned me to. You think me a monster, a foul corruption of the god I once was. Perhaps this is true... but you made me this way, Shinjo. You and the others left me in the Pit while Jigoku stripped my immortal soul bare. Do you know what that is like?"

"I think I do," Shinjo said. "The Lying Darkness trapped me once. For centuries I was held in the Black Earth, with dark jinn whispering in my ear. My brothers and sisters did not come for me. Even yet, I did not become as you are. Here I stand, uncorrupted."

"And you think that this is a coincidence?" Fu Leng chuckled. "The Lying Darkness was my ally, for a time. In the depths of my bondage, it asked me if it could feed upon your name. I told it that if it did so, Isawa's prison would not contain me. My destiny be damned, I would tear the universe apart if a lesser being defiled one of the Kami. When I fell, you forgot me. When you fell, I protected you. Think upon that, little sister."

"If you protected me before, then protect me now," she said softly. "Leave Tengoku."

"Why?" Fu Leng asked. "I did not begin this war. I simply asked your watchdog Okura to stand aside. Okura, I might remind you, once served me until human influence made her betray me. I did not begin this war for Tengoku. You did."

"Because your presence here is destroying the Heavens!" Shinjo retorted. "You are a Kami, true, but Jigoku is within you. Your very presence inspires corruption. Look at what your ashura did to the gates. Such will be the fate of all of Tengoku if you remain. You wish to escape Jigoku but it is too late. You are Jigoku now. I know that you do not trust the others, thus I hoped that you would trust me. You know me, Fu Leng. I would not lie to you."

Fu Leng scowled, shaking his head slowly. "You think I do not see the truth, sister, but I do. I know that there is no place for me here. I can never be free of the Taint. Filled with hatred for you and the others, I embraced its power completely. Even yet, one glimpse of my home may yet be enough to satisfy a thousand lonely years in the Realm of Evil. I might have left after stepping through the gates..."

"And yet you remain," Shinjo said.

"Of course," he said. "Mother is dead, father is dead, and two pathetic mortals dare replace them, two of the same mortals who dared stand against me on the Day of Thunder. You call me corrupt, Shinjo-chan, but I say it is Heaven that is corrupt. Too many mortals walk as gods now. Tengoku is clogged with arrogant mortals. I will leave soon enough, but as a final gift, I will cleanse the Celestial Heavens. All beings that once walked as a mortal shall be expelled, cast into the gloomy realms of the dead. Those traitorous dragons shall feel my wrath as well. None are free from guilt."

"And how do you intend to do this?" Shinjo asked. "How will you kill immortals?"

"With this," Fu Leng said, hefting his spear. "I took it from Emma-O, the Fortune of Death. No creature withstands its blade. Those slain by it are cast into an eternity of gray nothingness in the melancholy realm of Meido. Even should they escape, I plan to repair the gates and close them when I am finished here. Tengoku will be restored to a pure, empty state, freed from the hands of mortal thieves."

"I was mortal once," Shinjo said. "Does your vengeance include me?"

Fu Leng looked at Shinjo for a long moment. A slow smile spread across his face, a happy smile, much like the way he had smiled before they had both fallen from Heaven. Shinjo returned the smile. For a moment, perhaps she thought that she had reached him, convinced him to end his war.

With that, Fu Leng buried his spear in his sister's chest.

"Do not think of this moment," Fu Leng said. "Think of happier times, little sister, for memories are all that you have now. Good-bye."

Shinjo fell dead on the Dragon Road, her face still frozen in a sad smile. Fu Leng looked down at her regretfully for a long moment, then returned to the battle.






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Togashi will return!