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Legions, Part VII

Legions Destinies
Matsu Daoquan

Darkness was everywhere. This deep within the Shadowlands; it was as if a shroud had been cast over the sun. Here, it was never brighter than dusk on a summer evening, with long shadows cast in every direction. Here, the shadows came alive with murderous, horrifying intent. Daoquan marched at the head of a Lion squadron in service to the Oni Lord Akuma. The misery in this place was as a symphony to their master, and in turn they reveled in it as well.

Daoquan cut down another enemy. Once, he had kept count of the foes he killed, but he had lost count days ago. It mattered little, for there were always more to take the place of the fallen. There was no end to death. Daoquan pulled his blade free of his most recent enemy, but then stopped as a strange sensation blossomed within him.

It was Goemon. His brother.

Daoquan shook his head and ripped the blade free. No, it was not Goemon. How could it be? This was another Crane, a Kakita by the look of him. How could it have been Goemon? More importantly, why would he care if his cursed brother was finally dead? Had he not wished for that very thing many times?

Daoquan slowed to a stop as the others marched past him into the battle. He continued to stare at the dead Crane. In that second of confusion, he had felt regret and despair. Regret at the idea of killing his own flesh and blood, and despair that the one person in the world who truly loved and respected him was now dead. Was all his hatred, all the inner fire that had driven his actions over the past year& a lie?

There was a great roaring sound from behind the corrupted Lion line. Daoquan fell into a defensive stance in less than a second, scanning all around him for an enemy. Instead, he saw Akuma, the most powerful and fearsome being he had ever encountered, roaring in pain as it was attacked. To his horror, Daoquan recognized its attacker: Okura, the beast born of Akuma and Kitsu Okura's magic. The two creatures roared at one another in the primal language of all oni, and Daoquan could comprehend just enough to know that Okura was turning against her father not simply for betrayal, but for the sake of honor.

Daoquan stood dumbfounded. Okura stood to inherit incredible power and influence if she but stood beside her father. Together, they would be an almost unstoppable force that the Great Clans could not hope to stand against. Yet she was throwing it all away for honor, for something so strangely& human.

Indecision raged in Daoquan's heart. He could aid Akuma. If he did so, he would almost certainly die, but his survival would mean great reward in Jigoku. Or& he could admit his error, and let Okura destroy his demonic master. His hatred of his brother was sham& a misplaced lie that he had constructed to explain his personal failures. He had become a dishonorable beast, a thing beyond redemption. Now, perhaps, he could find some measure of redemption& all that he need do was nothing at all. He clenched the hilt of his blade tighter and ground his teeth against the warring impulses in his heart.

The shadows sprang to life all around Okura and moved against her, uniting with Akuma to destroy the upstart oni. Perhaps things were not so simple as he believed. Daoquan's decision was made. He held his blade aloft and screamed for the other Lion to follow him. Then he charged the darkness, ignoring the pain as the flesh was torn from his body, drawing on all the supernatural strength the Shadowlands had given him to lay his demonic masters low...

"Awaken, brother."
Daoquan suddenly came to his senses. He was wandering the lost paths near the foothills of a vast mountain range. He had no memory of coming to this place, and beside him stood his brother, Goemon. He looked down at Daoquan with an expression he had never seen his brother look upon him with before pride.

"What is this place?" Daoquan asked.

"This is a place where destinies are decided, true or false," Goemon replied. He gestured to the other figures standing behind him. "Join us, my brother. You have triumphed here, but there is much yet to do if we are to put things right once more."

Daoquan nodded and picked up his blade.

Legions - Destinies

Aramasu stood at the cliff's edge, wild winds tearing about him. His mask dangled in one hand, half forgotten, as he stared across the seas in the direction of Rokugan. His face showed no outward emotion; he had been trained too well for that, despite the fact that there were none here to see. Inwardly, he was torn with mixed emotions. Not for the first time since he came here, he felt both doubt and joy. Doubt, for he wondered if he had been right in coming to these isles. Joy, because even if he died now at least he would die free.

Was that freedom worth the sacrifice?

He heard a sound of movement behind him. It was too subtle, perhaps, for other ears to hear. His hand moved slowly to the kama hanging from his waist, but then the movement stopped. He looked cautiously over his shoulder. Yoritomo, the Son of Storms, stood near the cliff's edge. His trademark insectoid helmet was clutched under one arm, letting his hair flow free upon the wind. He, like Aramasu, quietly stared across the sea toward the mainland.

"The time has come for you to choose, Aramasu-san," Yoritomo said in a gravelly voice. "The Scorpion have regained their place among the Great Clans, and my agreement with your father is now fulfilled. They have asked that you return to your home."

"Aramoro is not my father," Aramasu whispered, "He has not earned that name."

"This is his last offer of peace, you realize," Yoritomo said. "Your last chance to take your place among the Scorpion."

"There is no place for me there," Aramasu replied.

Yoritomo nodded.

"What choices do I have?" Aramasu asked. "Both the Scorpion and the Kolat hunt me. How can a man live with such powerful enemies?"

"Make their fight so costly that it is not worth their while," Yoritomo said. "Even they would be wary to attack the lord of a Great Clan."

He looked at Yoritomo in surprise. The Mantis Champion had named no heir. Aramasu had fought and bled beside his Mantis brothers. He had come to consider Yoritomo his true father, but even this was too much. Was the Son of Storms truly offering the lordship of an entire Great Clan to a Scorpion exile, a former Kolat agent?

Then again, the unexpected was the norm where Yoritomo was concerned.

"Make your choice, Aramasu," Yoritomo said.

Aramasu looked to the sea once more, then back toward the Mantis Champion. For two years he had dwelled here in the isles, and had learned much. Yoritomo had taught him a lesson more important than any that the Kolat or the Scorpion could offer. A strong man did not bend to the will of destiny he created destiny through his actions.

Yoritomo turned to Aramasu, waiting for his reply. Then the Son of Storms eyes widened. He fell suddenly to his knees, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. Aramasu felt a strange shudder pass through the earth beneath his feet. He stood quickly, looking about for any sign of Yoritomo's attacker. The Son of Storms fell forward upon the earth, a familiar kama buried in his back.

Then the vision faded. Another warrior stood above Yoritomo's fallen body& or rather the thing that had been Yoritomo. The man who stood over the body looked identical, though somehow he made his fallen double look as false and unreal as a reflection in pond.

"Pathetic shadow," the true Son of Storms said, tearing his kama from the shadow's back just as it faded into nothing. "This realm pits each of us against our destiny even as the Legion of Blood continues its rampage. We have no time for such games, Aramasu. I sense a familiar power here. Are you ready to help me fight it?"

"Hai, father," Aramasu said with a grin.

"Then let us waste no more time," he said, charging back into the mists.

Aramasu wondered briefly what vision this realm had offered Yoritomo, and how he had confronted it. Perhaps men such as Yoritomo had no true destiny; destiny feared them too much.

There would be time for such reflection later. Aramasu drew his sword and followed his father into the mists. 

Legions: Destinies
The First Oni

Boulders shattered and mountains cracked beneath the force of its footsteps. Gigantic creatures that knew no fear or natural predators scurried in terror before it, desperate to escape a rage that threatened to tear the world apart. It roared in fury, shaking the heavens like thunder. It knew nothing of fear. It could not be defeated. There was nothing that could stop it.

It was the First Oni.

There. The scent it craved. The ones it was hunting were near. The ones who had hurt it and lived. The Oni had not known pain since it manifested in this realm, and the fact that these insignificant creatures, these insects, had struck down its master was unbearable. The idea that they had caused it pain was even more irritating. It would destroy them, leaving no trace that they ever existed. But first they would suffer. Oh, how they would suffer.

Another insect barred the way, this one the color of flame. The Oni snarled in irritation and raised one massive claw to destroy it. Its lunge was cut brutally short when the flame-insect sliced two fingers from its huge, like-hand.

The Oni roared in agony, and for the first time noticed the flame-insect's scent. This was no mortal being. This one reeked of the realms beyond. It reminded the Oni of the god whose name it bore, and that only furthered its rage. It surged forward, its flesh flowing like water to assume a more suitable combat form&

And everything stopped.

The Oni snarled in confusion. It could not move. The god-insect did not move either. It could smell nothing, as if even the scents were trapped in the air like blood-bloated insects unable to escape the miasma of a carcass. The Oni tried to draw in breath to shriek its anger, but could not.

"Such unseemly behavior from one so majestic." The voice came from nowhere, as if it were whispered not in the Oni's ear, but its mind. "You are more than this bestial memory of your primal days, great one. Lord of all Oni Lords, remember."

The First Oni struggled to clear its thoughts. This was not happening now. The god-insect& Shiba& had been faced long ago. The Oni could remember little, but knew that it had faced an army of unworthy foes on a strange battlefield somewhere beyond the known Spirit Realms, but something unexpected had happened. There had been more pain, and then& it had been lost.

"Yes," the whisper hissed. "The blossoming realm of Thwarted Destiny. Do you remember? Do you remember facing the Legion of the Dead? They thought to defeat you, but in doing so, they have sealed their doom." A dark wisp of serpentine shadow danced at the edge of the oni's vision. "The fallen Master's magic awakened this place. By reliving your triumphs and failures, you shape the realm with your power, with the very presence of your divine being." It slithered closer. Imagine a realm of ruin and pain, a realm where heroes a destined only to fail, carved from the stuff of heaven by your power. Do you wish it?"

The force holding the oni in place lessened, and it roared its delight. Yes. Yes, it wanted such a thing.

"I can help you," the shadow whispered. "Together, we can shape it and rule it. Your power and my guile& there is nothing we cannot achieve."

Yes. YES!

"Then let us begin here. Let us thwart your fate!" The oni was free, and lunged toward Shiba with renewed vigor. The shadow encircled the Phoenix lord, confusing him and distracting him, causing his sword arm to stiffen at an inopportune moment. With a primal roar of victory, the oni crushed his enemy into nothing more than paste.

"This is not all. Shosuro and Shinsei lie ahead," whispered the Shadow Dragon. "They too must die."


"When their blood is upon your claws, we must seek out the Dead," it continued. "If their visions and destinies are allowed to shape the realm, to undo what we have begun, then there will be hope and potential where there could be blood and hopelessness." The dragon smiled. "But we know how to deal with such things, do we not?"



Legions - Destinies
Isawa Tsuke

The smell of burnt flesh was heavy in the air. The winds howled over the high wall but did nothing to carry away the thick odor. Isawa Tsuke breathed deeply, finding the aroma both nauseating and intoxicating. It was the smell of death - the smell of power.

He gazed down at one of the many corpses that lay heaped atop the wall. It was burned nearly beyond recognition, but the charred orange kimono was recognizable as that of a Phoenix. To Tsuke's eyes, the body was unmarred, still recognizable. Isawa Suma had been a good man, a talented shugenja if a bit impetuous. Tsuke had considered granting Suma a position as one of his magistrates. He could not help but feel some sense of regret, if only for a moment.

"Tsuke," said a gentle voice from behind him. The howling wind became calm once more. He recognized the voice Uona, the Master of Air. "What have you become?"

"What I was always meant to be," Tsuke said. He turned slowly, holding his hands out to his sides to display his burnt and emaciated body.

Uona looked down at him impassively. She stood motionless upon the wind, ethereal and lovely as she always was. She showed no signs of the corruption that gnawed at her soul, though he could smell it deep within her. Tsuke smiled at her. He wondered if she might still try to save him.

"The Black Scrolls have driven you insane," Uona said. "I know, I feel their call too. Fu Leng turns us against our brethren. You must stop this, Tsuke."

"The Black Scrolls have only hastened the inevitable," Tsuke replied. "The Phoenix must always be reborn - reborn in crisis, reborn in fire. I am the instrument of that rebirth. I will be the herald of a new age of greatness for our people."

"Tsuke, look what you have done!" Uona answered. "Is your new age worth the deaths of our cousins?"

Tsuke shrugged and gestured at her with one hand. Uona's eyes widened as she realized his intent, but before she could defend herself she was reduced to ash on the wind.

"Murderer!" Isawa Tomo screamed.

A heavy fist sculpted of rushing water and sharp ice hammered into the Master of Fire from behind. Tsuke sprawled upon the stones, rolling as he fell to face his attacker. The Master of Water loomed over him, radiating an aura of shadow.

"You have seen the truth, as I have," Tsuke said, looking up at Tomo with a faint smile. "You have also embraced this power."

"Only to kill you," Tomo snarled. "When we are finished, I will take my own life."

"You were always the weakest of us, Tomo," Tsuke replied.

Tomo scowled and shouted words of magic. A billowing cloud of frost erupted from his mouth, rolling toward the spot where Tsuke lay. An explosion of green flame erupted around the Master of Fire, burning so hot that the frost itself caught afire. Tomo tried to scream as the fire poured back through the cloud and down his throat. Only a gurgled cough resulted, then he fell dead beside Suma.

Tsuke rose to his feet. He felt a sense of strange satisfaction, a sense of fulfillment that he could not explain. The sensation quickly vanished as he felt a low, vibrating thrum pass through the stones beneath his feet. Peering over one shoulder, Tsuke smiled as he saw the man who had just stepped onto the Palace walls.

The only man in Rokugan he truly respected.

The only man in Rokugan he truly feared.

The Phoenix would perish now, and be reborn.

"Isawa Tadaka," Tsuke said, turning to meet his foe.


Legions: Destinies
Isawa Tadaka

With fingers stained black as midnight, he reached up to adjust his jingasa. The feeling of his own flesh was abhorrent to him, like a coating of grease just beneath his skin. He tightened the scarf that hid his rotting features. All around him, he could hear the chaos of the battle. Otosan Uchi was lost in a sea of death and destruction. A sickly voice within him called out for him to lose himself in the violence, to tear into both armies with wild abandon. The voice had grown stronger of late, but he resisted. It grew more difficult with each passing moment.

"Isawa Tadaka."

The Master of Earth turned, somewhat surprised to have been approached so quietly, even amid such chaos. When he saw the man who faced him, the surprise quickly faded. "What is it, Ujimitsu?" he asked irritably. It was difficult enough to maintain his focus without being distracted.

The Phoenix Champion pointed to the distant walls surrounding the city. "Tsuke has succumbed to the Taint. He has never possessed your strength of will, Tadaka. He is mad. There are reports that he is slaughtering anyone within his sight, mostly other Phoenix." The little man drew his blade. "Uona and Tomo have gone to stop him, but I fear they are no match for his power. I must face him. Out of respect for you and the friendship you shared with him, I thought to offer you a chance to come as well."

Tadaka shook his head. "You cannot stand against Tsuke. He will destroy you."

Ujimitsu shrugged. "It does not matter."

Tadaka clenched his fists and struggled to clear his thoughts. Something was wrong, but he could not seem to find it. Was it the Taint, clouding his mind even as it had corrupted his body? He sensed another approaching and bristled, but then recognized the essence of the newcomer. Her presence was as a cool breeze stilling his unquiet mind. His flesh cracked as he smiled behind his scarf.

"Tsukune," he whispered.

Shiba Tsukune raced up to the two men, her armor stained with grime and gore. "Tadaka-kun," she gasped. "Togashi Yokuni sent me to find you, though I do not know how he knew where to find you. You must join him and face Fu Leng. The other Thunders await."

Ujimitsu's mouth was a thin, grim line. He closed his eyes and bowed his head. "You have a greater destiny, Tadaka. Go. Leave Tsuke to me." With that, the little man was gone as quickly as he had appeared, vanishing into the chaos in the blink of an eye.

Tadaka looked toward the walls. Even from here he could see the fallen Master's fiery magic. If faced Tsuke again, he would be weakened and perish in the battle, either against Tsuke or against Fu Leng. If he left the Master of Fire to his own devices, he would slay Ujimitsu and escape. For the briefest of moments, he looked at Tsukune. He wanted so badly to live. She smiled back at him, not noticing or not caring about the corruption that stained his flesh. He wanted to be with her, not as a Master and yojimbo, but as man and woman.

But he had cast such a happy future away long ago, when he opened the Black Scrolls.

"Tsukune, find Yokuni, and tell him I will be there as soon as Tsuke is stopped." His gaze lingered on her only for a moment, then he was gone, moving through the earth between her and Tsuke in a heartbeat.

The Master of Fire stood atop the walls of Otosan Uchi, surrounded by the burnt corpses of his fellow Phoenix. Isawa Tomo, Tadaka's brother, lay dead at his feet.

"Tadaka," breathed Tsuke, his voice a mixture of relief and fear.

"Tsuke," Takada said sadly.

Then the mists parted, and the two masters found themselves standing in an empty field, with no moon in the sky above to light their way. Isawa Tsuke looked about in confusion, his hands burning with a sickly green flame. He glanced back at Tadaka, a look of anger in his eyes.

"Our choices have been made, Tsuke," Tadaka answered.

"I wasn't ready!" Tsuke hissed. "I would have destroyed you this time!" For a moment, the madness in his eyes returned, and Tadaka wondered if he would attack.

"If it will quiet the burning in your mind, old friend," he replied, "then do what you must. We have already helped this realm to grow, and though you may not recognize it, your choice has helped steer it away from its own dark destiny. Destroy me if you must, Tsuke. I will not fight you; my time is done but yours is only beginning."

Tsuke gnashed his teeth and looked down at his burning hands. Steam rose from his eyes in tiny wisps as he looked back at his fellow Master. "Tadaka," he whispered, his voice jagged and broken. "Why did you forgive me?" he wailed, voice echoing across the barren plains. "Why&" He never finished the thought, but turned and ran into the mists. His burning form glowed in the distance for a moment, and then he was gone.

Isawa Tadaka lowered his head and offered a prayer for his old friend, that his suffering might one day be lifted.

Legions Destinies
Yakamo no Oni

In the brief time since its creation, the Realm of Thwarted Destiny had been a silent place. Only the brief cry of battle had interrupted its eerie peace, and that peace was swiftly restored when both the Legion of Blood and Legion of the Dead had been absorbed into the fabric of the realm. Now that silence was interrupted once more. A hideous scream erupted, followed by the sound of tearing meat, and a gaping black hole yawned open in the heart of a vast plain. One heavy thud echoed followed by another as the armored feet of a massive beast stepped out of the passage and into the newborn world.

The Oni Lord who had taken the name Yakamo peered about its surroundings with the dull black eyes of an insect. It clutched its enormous spiked club in one hand, scanning about warily for any sign of an enemy.

Since the day it was born in fire, blood, and betrayal the oni had only considered four creatures enemies worthy of its consideration. All of them were here now. It could sense them.

Yakamo, now Lord Sun, the one who shared its name.

Hitomi, now Lady Moon, the samurai who had attacked it from behind, banishing it from the mortal realm at what should have been its moment of greatest triumph.

Okura, the oni who had escaped Jigoku. She was here as well.

None of them were concerns, for the moment, not so much as the fourth.

Most demons banished from the mortal world faced only pain and torment when they returned to Jigoku. When Yakamo returned, it instead became an Oni Lord, its power rivaled only by the greatest of its kin. While the other demons writhed in jealousy, Yakamo knew its true purpose to protect the hellish realms of Jigoku from an entity that threatened all the Spirit Realms. That entity had been destroyed, but echoes of it still survived.

The demon's voice echoed across the featureless plain.

"I know you are here."

For a time, only silence was the reply. Then the mists shifted, and a vague serpentine form wove itself upon the still air. A pair of burning red eyes fixed on the demon, studying it intently.

"You have no place here, Yakamo," the Shadow Dragon hissed. "Why have you come?"

"Fu Leng has realized your intent, dragon," Yakamo replied. "He commands that you depart."

"What?" the dragon snapped. "Why? I would extend our master's corruption to this new realm and he denies me?"

"I have delivered my master's command," Yakamo replied. "If you ignore it, I will oppose you."

The Shadow Dragon sneered and hovered closer to the Oni Lord. "You would ally yourself with the Legion of the Dead?" it asked, incredulous. "Yakamo no Oni, Guardian of Hell, herald of a new realm of hope and potential?" the dragon laughed. "Who truly serves Jigoku here?"

"You lie even to yourself," the demon answered. It looked around the misty plain slowly, shoulders heaving with each massive breath. "Can you not sense it? This would become a place where destiny is unmade& where that which should not be comes to pass&"

"And what is wrong with that?"

"Nothing," Yakamo replied, and the word echoed upon the silent plains.

The Shadow Dragon laughed. "Clever choice of words," the dragon said. "Do you truly think I would restore the Lying Darkness?"

"I care not," the Oni Lord said. "I have been commanded to stop you. Fu Leng demanded that I give fair warning, one final chance to prove yourself the ally you claim to be. Ignore the Dark God's mercy, and I will destroy you."

"You are welcome to try, Yakamo," the Shadow Dragon retorted, vanishing into the mists.


Legions - Destinies
Hida Yakamo

Yakamo could hear the raspy sound of his father struggling to draw breath, and wondered with each breath if it would be the last. He could hear the heavy tread of boots as Crab soldiers mustered on the walls above. He could hear the distant roars of the foul demons that now roamed unchecked across the Shadowlands. He looked down at his arm. The flesh now blended with the twisted red metal of the claw. Kuni Yori knew his craft well. It was difficult to say where the demon ended and he truly began.

He looked at the hand of jade that the Dragon had given him, and weighed the course he must take.

The claw offered power, he knew that much. He had used it to slay countless enemies. Its strength had bolstered him during his escape from Otosan Uchi. The hand offered only uncertain redemption. He was not even sure whether it would work as the Dragon said it would, or if he would merely be left a cripple.

Yakamo scowled, uncertain whence such thoughts had come. Such doubt was unbecoming of a Crab. With a sudden wrench, he tore the oni's claw from his body and hurled it across the room. Ignoring the pain, he pressed the Jade Hand to the oozing stump. Fire coursed through his body, burning away the oni's corruption. He wavered, but did not fall. The pain was great, but he would not scream.

Then he stood on an empty plain, alone. He thought he saw a serpentine shape retreat into the mists, but could not be certain. Memory began to return, and he realized who he was, why he was here.

And then he realized he was not alone after all.

"Well done, Lord Sun," the demon said in a low chuckle. "The Shadow Dragon was a fool to even try to influence you. A dog cannot choose its destiny. It knows only what it has been taught."

The oni that shared his name had now appeared on the desolate plain. Its dull black eyes stared at him patiently. For a long time, the two Yakamos said nothing. Lord Sun reached for his tetsubo, but stopped with his hand on its haft. Something in the demon's presence here seemed wrong.

"I did not sense you among the Legion of Blood before," Lord Sun said warily. "Why are you here now?"

"You do not know?" the oni said in a mocking tone. "Is your divine wisdom not absolute? I do not fight beside the Legion of Blood."

"So you have come to challenge me?" Lord Sun demanded. "After decades of hiding in the depths of Jigoku?"

"So arrogant," the demon said, unperturbed by Yakamo's barb. "I am born of your own spirit, your own name. I am no more capable of surrendering to fear than you are. I have spent these decades fulfilling my duty, protecting the gates of Jigoku. Fu Leng sent me here to aid you."

"I swore never to accept aid from your kind again," Lord Sun growled.

"Then we are in agreement," the demon replied. It extended its right arm, opened its mighty claw, and beckoned slightly.

Lord Sun's face twisted into a savage smile. He drew his tetsubo and charged.

The very fiber of the Realm of Thwarted Destiny shook as Lord Sun met the Guardian of Hell. Jade-studded tetsubo and spiked obsidian club collided with unprecedented power. Green fire and black energy erupted from their forms. The demon's claw slashed across Yakamo's chest, denting his armor. The Jade Hand collided with the demon's face, tearing away one of its mandibles. In a matter of minutes the earth around them had become a crater as their duel reduced the already featureless land to ash.

With a savage burst of strength, Lord Sun buried his hand between two chitinous plates on the demon's chest and lifted it into the air. The demon savaged his face with its claw but could not resist as Lord Sun hurled him heavily into the earth. With a heavy stomp he shattered the demon's obsidian club. He swung his tetsubo at the demon's skull but it caught the head in its massive claw. God and monster struggled to claim the weapon, glaring into one another's eyes with boundless hatred.

"You are a god among gods," the demon said, "I am a lord among demons. We are both immortal, equal. This fight might continue forever. You will never defeat me."

"Not so," Lord Sun said with a grin. "The Legion has many heroes. I can afford to fight you here, but in pursuing your vengeance against me you will fail Fu Leng."

The demon's eyes narrowed. "Another time, Lord Sun," it hissed between its broken mandibles, "but remember my warning. Beware the Shadow Dragon."

Lord Sun's eyes narrowed, but after a long moment, he nodded. Between two enemies such as these, there could be no lies.

"Even if you aid me, I will never fight beside you," he swore.

"Then do not get in my way," it replied.

With a mighty shriek the Oni Lord shoved Lord Sun backwards and ran into the mists. The true Yakamo stood where he was, and watched the creature flee.



Kaze no Shiro Return


Togashi will return!