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Of Gods and Deaths
By Shawn Carman

Throughout history, it has been the nature of man to shape the unknown in their imaginations, forming it in a manner easy for the mortal mind to comprehend. Fortunes and other spirit beings are assumed to have forms similar to those of men. Creatures of myth and legend are assigned human form and given disgusting countenances to portray their evil nature. The distant fields of the Blessed Realm, Yomi, are presumed to be a perfect re-imagining of the mortal world. Even Jigoku is assumed to be a twisted and warped version of Ningen-do, much akin to the Shadowlands. Few mortals could ever truly imagine the truth.

Jigoku defies description. It cares little whether mortals should comprehend it or not.

It is a realm of chaos. Absolute, irredeemable chaos.

There is no order to the Realm of Evil. Indeed, order is anathema to that darkest realm in all the Celestial Order. Jigoku is the essence of destruction, disorder, of random pain and suffering. The darkest and most evil specimens of mankind that found themselves condemned to this place upon their death discovered that they were adrift in a sea of torment, buffeted by crackling, black energy and burned their bodies and seared their minds in indescribable tortures. But even this torment was not the end. Souls adrift in the chaos of Jigoku rarely went undiscovered. The primal oni that dwelled within that place feasted upon these creatures, delighting in torturing them for years or even centuries before their minds finally broke. When that merciful end finally came, it was as if those poor, damned souls had never truly existed, and Jigoku grew stronger for consuming all that they had been.

Still, there were pockets amid the chaos that were stable. Only the strongest will could forge something from such madness, and those few islands were ruled by the mightiest beings in the realm. The Oni Lords that had been banished from Ningen-do had such centers of power, as did a handful of particularly powerful human souls that had been cast into the darkness by the enormity of their sins.

One being alone wandered the boundless depths of Jigoku without fear. One being so powerful that his will created the realm anew as he strode down a path formed from his own thoughts. Even as his sandaled feet walked along the dark, twisted obsidian path, it disintegrated into nothingness behind him. The chaos before him formed the path anew as he looked upon it. Grotesque, distorted trees, stones, and other scenery drifted at the edges of his vision, coming into being only so long as his gaze wandered in that direction, returning to formless insanity as his attention moved away.

He was Fu Leng. The Ninth Kami. The Dark Brother. Lord of the Shadowlands.

Fu Leng's features were a mask of anger and frustration as he walked along his private pathway. Another, smaller figure walked upon his right, but said nothing. The Dark Lord's wrath was nothing to be suffered lightly, and his companion did not speak unless spoken to. They had been walking together for some time, and the only sound had been their feet upon the path and the distant screaming from the storms that surrounded them. Finally, it was Fu Leng who broke the silence. "I do not understand."

His companion glanced at him questioningly. "What is it that weighs upon you, my lord?"

"Three times have I had the mortal realm within my grasp, and three times it has slipped away from me. I do not understand how it is possible to be defeated by creatures so weak and pathetic as mortal men." He glanced at his companion. "I excuse you from that description only in recognition of your long service to me. But then you too were undone by the hand of a mortal, so perhaps you can offer new insight."

"You honor me, master," the man said with a bow of his head. His long white hair fell down around his blackened kimono. He brushed it aside absently. "In truth, master, I have often wondered such things myself. I can only assume that the great balance required for the Celestial Order to be maintained is so important that the universe itself, destiny, if you will, conspires against those who would undo it. You fail through no weakness of your own, but because the universe itself conspires against your necessary existence."

Fu Leng frowned. "Perhaps there is truth in your words." He glanced sidelong at the man beside him. "You are wise, for a soldier."

The man smiled. His features, while beautiful, were somehow still cruel and dark. "Your blessings gave me many centuries in which to consider such things, my lord."

"What is it that men call the days on which I was defeated?"

"The Days of Thunder, my lord."

The Dark Kami grunted. "How very dramatic. It gives them great pleasure to imagine that they hold the power of Thunder. As if they were responsible for my defeat. They are pawns of the Heavens, nothing more. Pathetic puppets that dance ignorantly at the direction of my enemies in Tengoku."

The man smiled. "Fewer enemies now than once, my lord."

Fu Leng laughed bitterly. "Not nearly as many died as should have, Tsukuro. I would have slain ten times the number, had I the chance."

"How many perished then, my lord?" the former Crane asked eagerly.

Fu Leng pondered the answer, and his mind drifted back to the battle as he did&

The field before Tengoku's gate had once been gilded and pure. Now it was covered in the divine blood of Fortunes and their creatures, the metal sagging and rotting from the touch of unspeakable demons. The black blood of oni stained the earth as well, but Fu Leng worried little about that. There were always more minions waiting to be summoned from Jigoku.

Across the plains, the great roar of the Maw could be heard. Fu Leng could see his servant's massive claws raking the sky as he tore fushicho apart by the dozens. The tiny phoenix spirits could be reborn and reenter the fight, but the speed with which the Maw slew them was such that their numbers were beginning to falter. The demons had begun to leave many alive, but horribly wounded, so that they could neither resurrect themselves or return to the fight.

There was a resounding and satisfying thud and Fu Leng sank his spear, the one stolen from the Fortune of Death, into the body of another enemy. This one, Haruhiko, looked surprised at the weapon sprouting from his body. Fu Leng ripped it free, tearing the once-mortal's body nearly in half. The Fortune of Fishermen fell to the bloodied ground, forever dead. His corpse joined those of his fellow Fortunes, Hikora and Kojin, Fortunes of the Oak and Housewives, respectively. Was there nothing more than this pathetic rabble for him to face? Where were his true enemies? Why did they hide behind these worthless creatures rather than face him?

Fu Leng lifted his spear toward the sky and shouted his rage so that even those who had replaced his father and mother could hear that he was coming for them.

Tsukuro shook his head in disbelief. "A Fortune of Housewives. That such a being could exist only reaffirms that Rokugan is populated with fools and weaklings."

Fu Leng waved his hand absently. "Some fool peasant who caught the attention of one of my brother's idiot descendants, no doubt. I should be hailed as a savior among the Heavens, yet they call me mad." He shook his head. "They have the power of gods, but are too weak to use it. They are unworthy to rule."

"Did none of them have the courage to face you?"

"Only a few truly worthy emerged from the gates to face me," Fu Leng observed angrily. "They suffered no better that the fools they sent before them."

Fu Leng was knocked backward suddenly by an intense tempest of air. The attack caught him off-guard, sending him reeling even though it should never have moved him. Grinding his teeth in anger, he fought against the wind and forced his way back toward the heaviest part of the fighting.

There. An indistinct form, blurred with the intensity of the winds that surrounded it. Lesser oni leaped at the thing only to be shredded in an instant by the blade-like winds and savage lightning that reached out from it like tentacles. Dozens of his finest solders fell as the thing moved through his forces, unstoppable as a hurricane.

Fu Leng smiled, his face warped with bloodlust and glee. This was Kaze-no-Kami, one of the three so-called Unnamed Fortunes. They were ancient beings that predated the fall of the Kami, primordial beings worshiped by primitive man and accepted as Fortunes by the first Hantei's son when he embraced the teachings of Shinsei. It and its two brethren were among the most powerful of the Lesser Fortunes.

It would almost prove a worthy adversary.

Fu Leng leaped into battle, his spear held at the ready. Winds tore at his kimono and flesh as Kaze-no-Kami noticed his approach, but he steeled his will against them and forced his way through. He lashed out with his spear again and again, feeling only slight resistance as they ripped through the ephemeral substance of the Fortune's body. The winds continued to tear at his flesh, but he sealed them with black tendrils of energy almost as quickly as they were made. They lashed out at each other again and again, each time Fu Leng's strike was true and the Fortune's strike lost strength. Finally, Fu Leng drew back the spear and lunged forward with all his might. For the first time, he felt solid resistance. The winds increased to fever pitch, then stopped all at once.

The nimbus of air faded, and Fu Leng beheld a primitive creature, a crude human that was neither man nor woman, and that had no true remarkable features to speak of. It glared at him with fierce determination, and then the light faded from its eyes forever.

Tsukuro's eyes blazed with pride. "I wish I could have stood at your side, my lord. I know that I would be unworthy, but to have witnessed this glory firsthand& it would have been the greatest moment in my existence."

Fu Leng favored his servant with a slight smile. "You are a rarity among my followers, Tsukuro. You are fierce, yet intelligent. Ambitious, yet loyal. You alone have never longed to possess my power for your own needs." The Dark Lord frowned. "Alone save for Daigotsu. You two are of the same cloth. You two are my true children, unlike those fools Yori and Junzo, or those treacherous harlots that called themselves my bride and daughter."

Awe and reverence were evident in Tsukuro's face. "Please, my lord& I am not worthy of such praise. I am unworthy of even your presence."

"Who is?" Fu Leng asked. "You are a wretched mortal, after all. But I am magnanimous, and I forgive you the accident of your birth. Yours is the soul of an Oni Lord, trapped in a prison of flesh and mortality."

Tsukuro bowed his head and said nothing. The two walked in silence again for a time, Fu Leng's mood growing ever darker as they proceeded. "There is but one explanation for my defeat," the Dark Lord finally said. "Tell me, Tsukuro, what is the one enemy that can never be overcome?"

"An enemy that cannot be understood can never be overcome, my lord," Tsukuro said instantly. "Only through understanding an enemy can you discover their weakness."

"Yes," agreed Fu Leng. "And that is why I have failed."

"But my lord," Tsukuro protested, "countless souls have given themselves freely to you and the power you grant, myself among them. None know the darkness in every soul more than you."

"True. I understand the mind of mortals, and the mind of the divine. I can defeat men and Fortunes alike, but there is one foe that I have never understood, and he has brought about my downfall."

"Who, my lord?"

"Shinsei." Fu Leng spat the name like a curse. "That cursed little prophet knew the secrets of my power. He knew everything about me and my role in the universe, yet I knew nothing of him. He destroyed me twice, and my defeat at his hands caused my defeat when I besieged the Heavens..."

Tsukuro shook his head. "I do not understand."

"Nor do I," Fu Leng rumbled. "Yet somehow the fool taught the so-called Thunders how to undo all I had created. Two Days of Thunder have passed, and on both have I fallen prey to him."

"And he was involved again? With Daigotsu and the City of the Lost?"

"He was not there, but I sensed something of his presence," Fu Leng said. "During the battle in Tengoku, I imagined that I saw him many times, yet each time I turned to face him, he was gone. Some have said my time in Meido made me mad, but I know that I saw him. And when Daigotsu and the Winds were holding palaver during the battle, I feared his hand in their actions. I allowed my trepidation to weaken my bond with Daigotsu, my brother and son." Fu Leng paused for a long moment, a look of vague sadness crossing his features. "I allowed myself to be defeated, because I feared trickery and treachery." He clenched his fists and growled in fury. "I was a fool."

"Never, my lord," Tsukuro insisted.

Fu Leng glanced at him irritably. "In anyone else, I would not tolerate such sycophancy. But you are sincere, and so I will permit you to remain. I caution you against correcting me again." His eyes blazed. "I caution you quite strongly."

"Yes, my lord," the general said contritely. "Forgive me."

"I do not forgive," Fu Leng replied. He fell silent, brow furrowing in thought. "I must direct those loyal to me to unravel the mysteries of Shinsei. And then, mankind will pay for their blasphemy. They will cry out to me for forgiveness. They will beg me for mercy. They will beg to serve me. They will beg for death. And I will deny them all, even the last."

"I would stand with you, if it was your will."

"All who are loyal to me shall stand with me on the day of my triumph," Fu Leng affirmed. "And those who have betrayed me& who have turned their back on me despite the gifts I have offered them& their suffering will be the stuff of legends."

"Iuchiban," Tsukuro cursed, understanding the meaning beneath Fu Leng's words. "The traitor walks free once more."

"Traitor? No. Worse by far. He is the greatest of obscenities. A blasphemer, a usurper and a fool. He uses gaijin magic to protect himself from the price he should pay for using my gifts. I alone allowed the power of Jigoku to enter the mortal world. All who draw on its power should bow before me. Yet he refuses. A mortal!" With this last curse, Fu Leng shouted. The intensity of the storm just outside the two's perception grew wildly, and the distant screams became a roar for a brief moment before subsiding once more. Jigoku's chaotic landscape swelled eagerly around the Ninth Kami, eager to obey his commands. "He will suffer," Fu Leng finally added, his voice even and clear.

"Iuchiban was a legend even to such as me," Tsukuro said thoughtfully. "Had I but known that he stood in defiance of Jigoku, I would have led my armies alongside the Great Clans to destroy him."

"It is just as well," Fu Leng replied. "His victories would have served me in the past, even though he did not accept it. That he turned his back on me and failed twice only compounds his sins."

"Will you send Daigotsu to destroy him, my lord?"

Fu Leng turned away and said nothing. Again they walked a great distance without either saying a word. Eventually, it was Fu Leng who broke the silence. "Daigotsu cannot defeat Iuchiban," was all he said.

Tsukuro looked at his master with shock and surprise. He opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it and closed it with a click. For a while, he was silent as well. "Is Iuchiban truly so powerful, master?"

"It is not a matter of power so much as treachery," Fu Leng said solemnly. "Daigotsu is as loyal as he has ever been. He could match Iuchiban's power, were it not for the Fortune of Death."


Fu Leng snarled. "Yes," he hissed. "Daigotsu defeated Emma-O he and freed me from his imprisonment. It was an insult Emma-O could not endure. Even though Daigotsu anticipated his own deaths and took steps to assure his return to mortal form, he underestimated Emma-O's hatred for him. He fell into the Fortune's grasp for a while& for long enough..."

Tsukuro frowned in confusion. "What happened?"

"While in Meido, Emma-O somehow severed Daigotsu's connection to Jigoku," Fu Leng replied. "Even when he returned to the mortal world, the tie remains cut. It cannot be reforged."

"What does that mean, master?"

"It means that Daigotsu is no longer Tainted," Fu Leng said. "Nor can he ever become so."

"So he is free of Jigoku's control?" Tsukuro replied in alarm.

Fu Leng chuckled. "Daigotsu, like myself, was never forced to serve Jigoku," he replied. "He serves the darkness because he chooses to do so. Though his power has waned, his loyalty burns more brightly than ever& but I cannot aid him while Emma-O's curse stands."

Tsukuro was stunned. "What will he do?"

"I do not know," Fu Leng replied tonelessly. "I can only trust that Daigotsu can rely upon the one power he has remaining& the same power, the same unpredictability that has defeated me in the past."

"What power is that, my lord?" Tsukuro asked.

Fu Leng smiled bleakly. "He is mortal."



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