27 Days of Darkness, Day Nine
27 Days of Darkness, Day Ten
27 Days of Darkness, Day Eleven
27 Days of Darkness, Day Twelve
27 Days of Darkness, Day Thirteen
27 Days of Darkness, Day Fourteen
27 Days of Darkness, Day Fifteen
27 Days of Darkness, Day Sixteen
27 Days of Darkness, Day Seventeen
27 Days of Darkness, Day Eighteen
27 Days of Darkness, Day Nineteen
27 Days of Darkness, Day Twenty
27 Days of Darkness, Day Twenty-One
27 Days of Darkness, Day Twenty-Two
27 Days of Darkness, Day Twenty-Three
27 Days of Darkness, Day Twenty-Four
27 Days of Darkness, Day Twenty-Five
27 Days of Darkness, Day Twenty-Six
27 Days of Darkness, Day Twenty-Seven
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Day Nine: Kyuden Yoritomo
"Wow!" I said. "Didn't we just see you at Otosan Uchi?" I asked.
"What happened to you?" Turi asked, staring in thinly veiled horror at the Mantis daimyo, now dressed in a floral print kimono of pastel green.
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Yoritomo said happily and danced away across the cliffs, a daisy in each hand.
"Gentlemen," said a burly Mantis samurai. "A word, please?"
"What the heck are you wearing, dude?" Turi asked, staring at the mans hands. He wore a pair of what were apparently spiky, furry gloves.
"They're weapons!" the Mantis said indignantly.
Turi chuckled a bit. "You sure?"
"Hey!" the Mantis said. "I didn't call you over here to be insulted."
"That's okay, it's a free service," Turi said. "What do you want?"
"I want your help," the man said. "I'm Yoritomo Denkyu."
"I thought he was Yoritomo," I said, pointing at the Mantis Champion. "And you're welcome."
"What?" he said.
"You're welcome." I said.
"For what?" he said.
"You thanked me." I said.
"No I didn't. I said I'm Yoritomo Denkyu." he said.
"You're welcome. Is Yoritomo a common name around here or something?" I said.
"Stop it before I hit you both," Turi said.
"He started it," the Mantis guy said. "Anyway, I just wanted to ask a question. I understand you were the last people to see our champion before he started acting... the way he is now."
"That's right," I nodded.
"Okay!" the Mantis said. "Can you fix him?"
"Fix him?" I asked. "He seems pretty happy."
"Happy?" Denkyu asked, startled. "Who cares if he's happy? I was having a damn good time killing Phoenix and suddenly he gets all 'happy' and calls off the whole war! Where's the fun in that! I want him back the way he was! I want to kill people!"
"Have to respect that, Garou," Turi nodded.
"Hey, wait," I said, shaking my head. "Some of my friends are Phoenix. I'm not going to help you kill them!"
"Fine, then!" the Mantis shouted. "It doesn't matter who we kill, I just want a fight! Um... we'll go fight Toturi's Army, or something."
"Here," I said, handing him the arrow. "Go jab this in his right arm."
Day Ten: Kyuden Ashinagabachi
"Man, this forest is deep," I said, looking around. "I have a bad feeling about this. Remember what happened last time we were in a forest like this?"
"That was Morikage, right?" Turi asked, walking next to me.
"Um... yeah, I think so," I said. "I could be wrong. All these stories are hard to keep track of sometimes."
"You don't think those ninjas are going to come after us again, do you?" Turi asked, a hint of eagerness in his voice.
"I hope not," I said. "I'm not in the mood for ninjas right now."
"Hey!" shouted a tall samurai, leaning out from behind a tree with a bow pointed right at us. "Stop it right there!'
"What the heck?" I said. "Tsuruchi?"
"Oh, it's you guys," Tsuruchi said, lowering the bow. "How have you been?" "Fine," Turi growled. "Thanks a whole hell of a lot for helping us out back at the palace."
"I couldn't help you guys!" Tsuruchi said. "I'm a ninja! It's against my religion to beat up the moon!"
"Wow, this is sad," Turi said. "Tsuruchi was like one of the coolest guys Shinjo stuck us with during that War in the Heavens thing. Time has not been kind to his fragile Wasp mind."
"Tsuruchi?" I said curiously. "How did you get to be a ninja?" "I got bit by one," he said gravely.
"Er... I don't think it works that way," I said. "Turi and I have gotten the living hell beaten out of us by ninjas and nothing happened to either of us."
"But Balash said it worked that way!" Tsuruchi argued. "That's what he told me!"
"Balash," I answered. "The crazy Naga guy."
"That's right," he said. "He told me and then slithered off laughing into the forest. He must have been so worried that he was hysterical. Y'know?"
"Tsuruchi," I said. "You're not a ninja."
"I am too!" he shrieked, stomping one foot on the ground. "Why do people always shoot down my dreams? You're just like that annoying Monkey guy. I wanna be a ninja...."
"Monkey guy?" I asked. "You've seen Toku? Where?"
"I won't tell you," Tsuruchi said stubbornly. "Unless you admit I'm a ninja."
I looked at Turi. "You want to handle this?"
"Don't look at me, Garou," Turi shrugged. "Those arrows are sharp and I'm not immune to them like Agetoki."
"Okay, fine," I said. "You're a damn ninja. Happy?"
"Whee!" Tsuruchi said. "He's at the Golden Sun Plain! POOF!" He actually said 'poof,' then jumped behind some bushes and held really still. We could still see him quite clearly, but we pretended not to, just to be polite.
Day Eleven: Kitsune Mori
Kitsune flit from tree to tree, poking their heads between branches and watching us carefully. I'd never seen a fox spirit before, and I'd certainly never seen so many in one place. The forest had a magical feel to it.
"Man," Matsu Turi said. "I wish I'd brought my bow."
Ryosei, Fox Clan daimyo, gave him a dirty look.
"So," I said, trying to change the subject. "Nice forest you have here!"
"The Age of Man is ending," she said with a strange sadness.
I looked at Turi, then back at Ryosei. "Is that some sort of secret code?" I asked.
Ryosei sighed. "You don't understand, do you?" she asked. "The time in which mortal men could forge their own destinies is over! Nearly before it has begun. What worth have we, if we have thrown away our time in so short a measure? If we have wasted our opportunity? What place have we in this world if we cannot find our purpose?"
"I dig philosophy," Turi said, nodding. "You wanna go for a walk in the forest, Foxy?"
Ryosei gave him another dirty look.
"Okay, I get it," he said. "Bad girl, eh?"
"Er, Ryosei-sama!" I said loudly, cutting in and trying to draw her anger away from the Lion. Her yojimbo looked pretty antsy and I wanted to get out of the forest alive. "You haven't seen Hitomi lately, have you?"
"Hitomi?" Ryosei asked. "Yes, just a few hours ago. And he was much more charming than your Lion friend, here."
"Hey, be that way," Turi said. "Your mouth says no but-"
"Turi!" I said sharply as the yojimbo both reached for their swords. The Lion shrugged and sat back. The yojimbo relaxed. "You haven't seen Toku, by any chance, have you?" I asked.
Ryosei narrowed her eyes. "Toku?" she asked.
"That's right," I said. "Little guy. Monkey suit. Came this way."
Ryosei frowned. "Did you guys go to Hantei XXIII High School?"
"Yeah!" I said. "Turi was a couple years ahead of me, but yeah?"
Ryosei folded her arms. "You used to hang out with Sanzo, didn't you?"
"Yeah!" I said. "Sanzo's one of my best friends!"
Ryosei cocked her head slightly. "He is?"
She turned to her yojimbo. "Kill them."
Matsu Turi sighed, heaved himself to his feet, and pummeled both the Fox samurai unconscious in a matter of seconds.
"Seven Fortunes!" Ryosei cursed. "Diro! Shudo! Those were my finest warriors!"
Turi examined his bloody knuckles. "They *were* pretty good," he nodded. "That took longer than I thought it would." He looked up at Ryosei. "So, we have to be going now. Can I call you, or something?"
Ryosei looked flustered for a second. "Um... okay," she said.
And so we left. I kept looking back over my shoulder. Ryosei was watching Turi leave with a slightly regretful look.
"That was amazing!" I said, stunned.
"What, how I beat up the Foxes?" he asked.
"No, I'm used to seeing you do that," I answered. "How did you get Ryosei to do such a turnabout? Sanzo hit on her for four years and she never said a word to him."
Turi looked around to make sure no one was listening, then leaned close. "It's the long hair," he whispered, pointing to his shaggy headdress. "Chicks dig manes."
I wrote that down.
Day Twelve: Golden Sun Plain
There were Cranes in powder blue robes everywhere. It was taking a visible effort for Matsu Turi to restrain himself, but he seemed to be doing a pretty good job of keeping his katana in its saya.
"You'd probably be better off waiting outside," I said to Turi.
"Yeah," Turi said, the noise of grinding teeth resounding loudly. "That would probably be for the best." He turned around and stormed out of the monastery, cracking his knuckles.
"Excuse me," I said stepping up to the nearest, a pretty young woman holding a box full of sculptor's tools. "I'm Fuzake Garou. Can I talk to you for a moment?"
"Sure," she said, smiling, "but you'll have to come with me. I'm kind of in the middle of a piece right now."
"All right," I said. "Are you a sculptor?"
"That's right!" she said. "My name's Asahina Tsukiyoka. I'm a great artist! See?" We turned into a side room and she held out one hand to display her work.
"Uh," I said, not quite sure what to say. The statue looked like a skinny, naked man wearing a samurai helmet. "That's... um..."
"Be honest, what do you think?" she asked. "To tell the truth, a lot of critics don't like my technique."
"Uh... why is he naked?" I asked.
Tsukiyoka blinked. "Why wouldn't he be? You jealous or something?"
"No, that's not it," I said. I stopped suddenly as I realized that the statue looked vaguely familiar.
The shoji screen to my left slid open. "Oh, hi, Garou!" said a happy voice. "How's it going?"
I knew that I shouldn't have turned to look.
I thought that my time in the Shadowlands and my battles against the Living Darkness had prepared me for true terror.
And there was Toku. Buck. Freaking. Naked.
"How do you like the statue?" Toku asked, pointing. "I'm going to put it out in the courtyard, once we Tzurui finishes building my castle? Won't that be cool?"
"Er..." I said. "So, um. We're following Hitomi. I'll be outside. Bye."
Then I left.
I... er... I'd just like to get the naked image of Toku out of my head right now, so I'll continue the story tomorrow.
Day Thirteen: Mizu-Umi No Sakura Yuki
"Humans!" snapped a raspy, hissing voice. "Humans in the Shinomen!" A tall naga slithered out of the bushes, tail curling around the thin trunk of the tree beside him. His red eyes gleamed dully in the dim light. Balash.
"Um... hi," I said bowing and folding up the map we had been examining. "Balash, do you think you could help us out? We're lost."
"You dare call me by my name, human?" Balash snarled. "You do not know me! You know nothing of the Naga!"
I looked at Toku and Turi, then back at Balash. "Um... but we've met before, remember? You were an exchange student at our high school? And we dropped by when you were bringing Hida Yakamo back from the dead? I cured you of your lisp? Oh, yeah, and I almost forgot. I'm the Shashakar. Remember?"
Balash paused for a long moment. "You know nothing of the Naga! You know nothing of the Bright Eye and the Pale!"
"Yeah, actually, I do," I said. "They're the dual representation of the Atman, the sun and the moon, the creators and guardians of the Naga people. The Naga were all part of one great stone, once, and were united in one mind and soul by Svarbhanu, the who was gifted with the Akasha by the Bright Eye and the Pale."
Balash blinked. "You know nothing of napkin folding," he said.
I pulled a long cloth handkerchief out of my pocket. "Buffet parcel, elf's boot, or pinwheel?" I asked. "If you're feeling really fancy, I can do a water lily, too, but you might want to give me a minute to remember how to place all the pleats."
Balash glanced away, scratching his head. "You humans know nothing of... the long-toothed biggle...shander. Biggleshander."
"Biggleshander?" I asked.
"Yes, biggleshander," Balash said with more confidence. "You know nothing about... er... those. The long-toothed ones, especially. Biggleshanders."
"You just made that word up," Matsu Turi said.
"I did not!" Balash cried defensively. "And if you don't know anything about it, that's your own fault! Stupid humans!"
"Actually, I've heard of biggleshanders before," Toku nodded. "We used to have those back home. They're kind of like a mattahunny, right?"
The silence in the face of the impending pun was nearly deafening.
Balash looked at Toku curiously. "What are you talking about, human?" Balash asked. "What's a mattahunny?"
"Nuttin' honey! Whatsamatter with you?" Toku immediately burst out laughing and didn't stop for a good ten minutes or so.
"You just got ganked by Toku, Balash," Matsu Turi said thoughtfully. "You realize at this point that seppuku is your only honorable course of action."
Balash's lips pressed into a firm line. "And they wonder why I hate humans." He disappeared into the forest.
After Toku composed himself, I unfolded the map again and we kept moving.
Day Fourteen: Shiro Kuni
"Where are we now?" Toku asked, looking around blankly.
"Should be Shiro Kuni," I said, looking out at the barren wastes. A large castle stood before us, squat and massive amid the wasteland.
"Mister Kuni's house?" Toku asked brightly. "I had no idea he had such a nice place."
"Hey! You kids!" snapped a harsh voice. "What are you doing in my lawn?"
We turned to see a short, severe looking little man. He stumped along with a staff made of bright jade, and his face was painted in ghastly white kabuki makeup.
"Lookout," Turi said, stepping forward to block the man's path. "I think it's a mime."
"That's not a mime, Turi," I said. "That's Kuni Utagu, the new daimyo of the Kuni family. He's the one that took over after Mister Kuni's... er... illness."
"You know Yori?" Utagu asked, eyes darting from one of us to the next.
"Yeah, saw him just recently!" Toku said brightly. "He looked pretty good, except for all the Shadowlands Taint and all."
"Toku, shut up," I said, noticing the rather Witch-Huntery look Utagu was getting in his eyes.
"I recognize you," Utagu said suddenly, narrowing his eyes at me. "You're the Yasuki brat. Yori's student. Crap doesn't fall far from the dog, does it? Some stones you must have, strolling back in here like this. Start any wars lately? Nearly wipe out any other Great Clans?"
"Hey, I fixed that!" I said defensively. "I helped the Shashakar bring Hida Yakamo back from the dead! The Naga aren't even killing the Dragons anymore. Everything should be all better now!"
"Actually, Garou," Toku said, "that wasn't Yakamo. That was-"
"Shut up, Toku."
"If you're the one that had Yakamo fixed, I hope you hung on to the receipt," Utagu huffed. "Don't remember him being quite so... dainty. If I didn't know better, I'd think you just stuffed a Crane into his armor and shipped him off here."
"That's ridiculous," I said with confidence.
Utagu narrowed his eyes suddenly. "Just get out of here," he said. "You smell. If I didn't know better, I'd say you've been hugging oni or something."
"Well," Toku said. "Not lately, and it was just a little-" "Shut up Toku!"
"Get out of here before I get the leeches," Utagu hissed.
"We'll just be leaving then," I said, and we hurried off.
Day Fifteen: Twilight Mountains
"Shakoki Doggie!" Toku said. "OOOooooooOOOoooooOOOO!'
"What the heck are you talking about, Toku?" Turi said, glancing up from the campfire with an annoyed look.
Toku blinked, then gestured at the tall black mountains all around us. "The Ghost of the Twilight Mountains!" he said seriously. "The Shakoki Doggie! Haven't you ever heard of it?"
Turi grunted. "Nope. Guess I missed that one." He looked back at the fire.
"It's Shakoki Dogu, not Doggie, Toku," I said. "And the Shakoki Dogu isn't the ghost, it's the dolls that they find in the mountains. Weird little stone dolls with big eyes. They say that they're the last remnants of the Boar Clan, a vessel of the Ghost itself maybe, but nobody knows. I've never seen one, myself. They're pretty rare."
"You mean one of these?" Toku asked, taking a small clay doll out of his pocket and handing it to me.
I looked at it, startled. "This is a Shakoki Dogu!" I exclaimed. "Toku, where the heck did you get this?"
"I got connections," Toku said cryptically.
"Let me see that," Turi said, reaching for the doll.
I eagerly handed it to him. "Take it!" I said. "Thing creeps me out. It's like it's... like it's not part of this world or something."
"Nope, sure isn't," Turi said, looking at the back of the doll. "Looks like Toku got this at Taco Bell." He held up the Shakoki Dogu and pointed at the large Taco Bell logo on the back.
"Taco Bell?" I asked. "Your 'connections' are Taco Bell?"
"They packed it in my Kid's Meal," Toku said with a forlorn shrug. "I got a Shakoki Doggie collector's cup, too. I thought it was pretty cool."
"That's a cursed artifact!" I said, pointing at the doll. "They packed a cursed artifact into a Kid's Meal?!?"
"Yeah," Toku said. "They're gonna have Masks of Iuchiban next week, then after that Night Medallions."
"Cool!" Turi said. "Pick up an extra Night Medallion for me, Toku."
"Sure thing!" Toku said happily. "They're only a buck! Um... I mean koku. They're only a koku."
"Careful, Toku," I said. "Don't get too far out of character, there."
Day Sixteen: Shinsei's Shrine
"Got any two's?" I asked.
"Nope," he said. "Go fish."
"Cool," I said as I picked up a card. I slapped down a pair of twos.
"Any nines?" he asked.
"Yeah," I sighed, handing him a card.
"Hee hee!" he chuckled.
"Any fives?" I asked.
"Go fish!" he said. "Any eights?"
This went on for some time.
"I won!" I said, looking down at my cards in surprise. "I beat you! Has anybody ever done that before?"
"Hmmm... no," the hooded ronin said with a frown. "You know, I think this sets a nasty precedent."
"I don't believe it!" I said. "Do I still get to ask you one question?"
The hooded ronin sighed. "Sure," he said. "Go ahead. Abuse the descendant of Shinsei. You're going to Jigoku, you know that?"
"I have my question all planned out," I said. "Don't worry, this one should be easy..."
I stepped through the torii arch just as, Matsu Turi and Toku were returning. "Let's get out of here," Turi said. "Shinsei Shrines make me itch. I expect a bunch of Cranes to pop out of the woodwork for some reason."
"How did your card game with Shinsei go?" Toku asked.
"Great!" I said. "I think he cheated, but I won anyway."
"Shinsei doesn't cheat," Toku said, frowning.
"Why wouldn't he?" I asked. "He's Shinsei. He can do whatever he wants. Anyway, he let me ask one question. Anything I wanted."
"So what did you ask him?" Turi asked. "The meaning of life?"
I blinked. "No," I said. "Come to think of it, that would have been a really good idea. Wow, I feel dumb."
"What did you ask him, Garou?" Toku asked eagerly.
"Never mind..." I said, my shoulders slumping as I headed off down the road.
I *really* wished I'd thought of that 'meaning of life' thing myself.
I mean, Shinsei would know that kind of thing, right?
And how often do you get to meet Shinsei? Man.
I feel dumb.
Like, really, really dumb.
Day Seventeen: Shrine of Osano-Wo
"There is nothing to be said here," Turi said. "No one to convince or to whom to explain our purpose."
"Awesome!" I replied. "That saves us a lot of time."
Toku looked around. "Is that all?"
"Yeah," I said. "That's it, Toku."
Day Eighteen: Ryoko Owari
"Hi!" said the cheery Scorpion at the gates of the city. "Welcome to Ryoko Owari. One dark secret, please."
I stopped dead. "What?"
"One dark secret," the Scorpion repeated with a smile.
"What are you talking about?" asked Matsu Turi.
The Scorpion shrugged. "Well, we Scorpions make our way through blackmail and deceit, right? Well, ever since we lost our status as a Great Clan, then got exiled from the Empire for a year, then had to fight a bunch of gaijin in the desert, then had to come back and restore our lands we've been a little out of the loop. We're discarding the whole subtlety thing for awhile so we can get back on track. If you want to come into the City of Lies, it'll cost one Dark Secret each." I sighed. "Well, maybe we don't need to go in, then," I said. "Can you answer a question for me?"
"Sure!" the Scorpion answered. "I'm here to serve!"
"Have you seen Hitomi come this way recently?" I asked. "Or Sanzo? Have you seen either of them?"
"Hitomi? He dropped by a little while ago," the guard said. "He didn't go into the city, though. Imagine that. And... er... I think your friend Sanzo *did* go inside. He wanted to visit the red light district."
"That figures," Turi grumbled.
"You have red lights?" Toku asked. "Those must be pretty!"
I sighed again. "I guess we'll go in, then," I said.
"One dark secret please," the Scorpion said. "Each."
"Okay, fine," I said. "I started the Dragon-Naga war by transforming Toturi the Black into a chicken. Will that do?"
"Ooo, juicy," the Scorpion said. "Lion?"
"My dead girlfriend sent me on a quest to bring down the corrupted leaders of the Lion," he said. "That's just about the darkest I've got."
"That'll do," the Scorpion nodded. "Monkey?"
Toku looked around carefully, to make sure no one else was listening. "Sometimes," he said. "I take my shower right before I go to bed instead of in the morning before I go to work. I just put on extra deodorant and nobody knows the difference."
"Okay, you're in," the Scorpion said.
"Wait a minute!" I complained. "You'd have taken something as petty as that?"
"Oh, you'd be amazed what we can do with that," the guard nodded.
"Turi and I told our my deepest, darkest, most shameful secrets!" I cried.
"You can tell me a less shameful one, if you like," the Scorpion said mildly. "I'd be happy to give the other one back. You can trust me." He smiled and blinked innocently behind his mask.
"That's okay," I said. "We'll just go in the city now."
"Have a nice day."
Day Nineteen: Yogo Shiro
"I can't believe that Sanzo wasn't in Ryoko Owari," Toku sighed. "I mean, why would that Scorpion lie to us? It's getting so that you can't trust anybody these days."
"Well, at least we got to meet that nice geisha," Turi said, smelling a flower he'd picked up from somewhere.
"You okay, Turi?" I said. "You've been a little funny ever since we left the House of Foreign Stories."
"Who, me?" Turi said blandly. "I'm just dandy-grandy. Never been better. Isn't the sky pretty today? Mmmmmm." He sat curled up in the roots of a tree and looked up at the sky.
I can't really be sure, but I could have sworn that Matsu Turi was purring.
I grabbed Toku's shoulder and stepped off a bit to the side. "Toku," I said. "Does Turi seem a bit odd to you?"
"Well, he doesn't beat me up as much as he used to," Toku said.
I shook my head. "Toku, Matsu Turi has never beaten you up. That was Agetoki who used to do that."
Toku's jaw dropped. "That's not Agetoki?!?"
I sighed. "Toku, pay attention. Agetoki hasn't been with us for months. Since before Morikage. Since he faked his own death. You wrote his death poem," I poked him in the chest to drive the point home. "He's Tzurui now, sole member of the Monkey Clan outside of the two of us. Does that ring any bells?"
"Oh yeah!" Toku said. "I remember now! My head gets a little funny sometimes."
"I can only imagine," I replied. "Anyway, I think that geisha back at the House of Foreign Stories might have done something to Turi. He's too mellow. I don't like it."
"Are you jealous Garou?" Toku asked.
"Jealous?" I asked. "Why would I be jealous? This stupid tattoo attracts every girl who looks twice at me. Why would I be jealous?"
"Well, since Hitomi broke up with you and all-"
"Hitomi did not break up with me!" I said a little too vehemently. "Ahem. Anyway, Turi's our big fighter-type-guy. If he gets too mellow, what are we gonna do if we get in trouble?"
"Don't worry about it, Garou!" Toku said. "I'm here!" He held his yari menacingly.
"Exactly," I said. "So what in Jigoku are we gonna do?"
"Don't worry!" Toku said. "I'm sure that no trouble will come out of it. Toturi-sama had all kinds of geisha friends and they never got him into any trouble."
"Really?" I said, a little relieved.
"Well," Toku paused. "Except for the time the geisha drugged him the night before Hantei XXXVIII was assassinated and the Scorpions took over Otosan Uchi and the new Emperor destroyed the entire Akodo Family in retribution."
"Ah," I replied.
"It's no big deal, though," Toku said. "There weren't all that many Akodo anyway. I'm sure Turi will be fine."
I looked over at Turi. He was currently weaving his mane into braids and tying pink and purple flowers into the lacing on his armor.
"Thanks, Toku," I said. "You've made me feel a lot better."
Day Twenty. That Leaves Seven. Cause Twenty Plus Seven is Twenty Seven And That's How Many Days Of Darkness There Are. Spine of the World Mountains.
"It's such a pretty day," Turi sighed, dancing along the road ahead of us.
"Seven Fortunes," I grumbled.
"Hey, don't worry about him, Garou," Toku said. "I'm sure he'll be fine. He looks happy enough."
"I guess," I replied. "I should just calm down and enjoy the scenery. Like Turi. I'm sure he'll be back to his violent old self again in no time." I looked out at the breathtaking view. We were deep in the mountains now, on a rugged trail that might not have seen a living soul since before the fall of the kami. I really felt a sense of mortality, then. Of smallness. Sights like these really help you put things in perspec--
"Hello?" called out a voice. "Hello? Could you guys stop looking all moony and help a fella out here?"
I looked around blankly. Even Turi looked a little startled and looked back our way.
"Over here!" the voice called out. "This way!"
I followed the voice to the pile of rocks from which it seemed to be emanating.
"Hey!" the voice shouted. "You're standing on my foot, you moron!"
"Sorry," I said, taking a step back. "What the heck are you doing in there?"
"I've been asking myself that same question. Dig me out!"
So we started digging. After we'd moved some rocks away, we found a very large samurai with a very long, very grey beard. He shambled up out of the hole, stretched with a sound of loudly popping joints, and looked around.
"Where am I?" he demanded, looking at me.
"You're in the mountains," Toku said happily.
"Thanks," the samurai said dryly. "I couldn't have guessed that myself. What year is it?"
"Eleven thirty something," I said. "The years jump around a bit around here, so give or take a bit."
The man's jaw dropped open. "They left me buried here for that long? Those idiots! This is all that moron Togashi's fault, I just know it. He's not still around, peddling that pseudo-mystical prophetic gibberish, is he? I'll tell you what, you roll up all the collective prophecies that doofus has spewed out over the centuries. I'll dry it up and fertilize the lawn. Geez."
"Togashi's dead," I said. "He died fighting Fu Leng."
"Fu Leng's back?" the samurai suddenly lunged for his sword, glancing around as if he expected the fallen kami to jump from the bushes.
"No, he's dead too," I said. "Got his head chopped off by a Crane."
The samurai smiled a little at that. "Serves him right, little bugger."
"Wait a minute," Matsu Turi blinked. "You-- You're Akodo!"
The samurai nodded. "That's right!" he proclaimed. "And when I find out which one of my worthless, lazy siblings left me there to rot all these years, I'm gonna--" Akodo finally took notice of Turi. Really took notice of him. "What the hey?" he said, pointing at the flowers woven into Turi's armor. "Did Doji take over Shiro Akodo while I was gone? What's with the flowers, Matsu?"
"They're... nice," Turi said. "Can I keep them, sir?"
Akodo punched Turi in the face.
"Take them off."
"Um..." Turi nodded. "Okay."
"You look like one o' them poof Cranes," Akodo grumbled.
"Sorry, sir," Turi nodded again, throwing away the flowers.
"Well," I said. "That sub-plot got wrapped a bit more abruptly than usual."
"You arguing with my methods, Crab?" Akodo snapped.
"No, no," I said, holding up my hands. "Um... how did you know I was a Crab?"
"You smell like one," Akodo replied, sneering. "Dirty little buggers. Just like Hida. Always getting into the bathroom first. I tell ya, the air in there after he left was like biting into a rotten egg. Lots of bad memories."
"Ah," I said. I wondered then if digging Akodo up had been a good idea.
Akodo looked around. "Any of my brothers and sisters not dead yet?"
"Shiba's still around!" Toku said happily. "But he's a girl now."
"That's no surprise," Akodo mumbled.
"Um..." Toku thought really hard. "Hida and Bayushi are both missing. Doji's in the ocean. Togashi's dead. Ditto Fu Leng. Ooo! Oooo! Shinjo's still around!"
Akodo's lip quivered. "Horse face? She's still here?"
Toku nodded. "Otosan Uchi. That way." He pointed.
Akodo shook his head. "Well, maybe I'll drop in and say hi. What about Ryoshun?"
We all looked at each other. "Who?" I said.
"Ryoshun," Akodo said again. "Ry. O. Shun." He pinched his fingers in the air to punctuate each syllable. "Little guy. Dead. Figured he might have come back by now. Just like him to show up right at the end. Lazy bast--"
"Never heard of him," I replied.
"Oh, well," Akodo sighed. "I'm off, then. Thanks for the hand, fellas. See you around."
And with that, the kami wandered away.
"This may just be my instinct kicking in here," I said as he wandered off. "But I know this one's going to come back and haunt us."
Turi and Toku just nodded, and we headed deeper into the mountains after Hitomi.
Day One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One Plus One : Mountain of the Seven Thunders
"We are but a humble brotherhood, broken by war, burdened by sin," the monk said sadly. "I hope that you noble samurai can find it in your hearts to--"
"Wow!" Toku shouted. "Those heads are HUGE!"
The little monk blinked. "I was just trying to apologize for all the terrible-"
"Hot damn, Garou, he's right!" Turi said, looking up at the face of the mountain. "Those things are enormous. Check out Shosuro. You think those are real?"
"Excuse me, I was trying to get something off my chest here," the monk said, holding up one finger. "Can I just have a moment of your-"
"Wow, no kidding!" I said, looking up at the Mountain of the Seven Thunders. Each of the original Thunders was carved into its face in enormous detail. It was really, really, really, really, really cool.
"Brave samurai, I am happy you take such pleasure at the majesty of our monument, but-"
"Dude!" Turi shouted. "I'm going to climb Matsu!"
"I'm gonna go write my name on the inside of Hida Atarasi's nostril!" I countered, not to be outdone.
"Excuse me?" the monk said sadly. "I just wanted to talk about the terrible things I've done."
"Hey, you can tell us later," I said, nodding politely. "In the meantime, talk to Toku."
The monk smiled. "Brave ronin, will you listen to all our tragedies and failures? They are diverse and manifold and I shall enumerate them in exquisite detail!"
"Guys, wait up," Toku said, hurrying after us. "I want to camp out on Isawa's topknot."
Day XXII: That Means Twenty Two: Kenson Gakka
"Hello there, sonny!" chirped a happy old man, sitting on a rock in the midst of a great battlefield. The bodies of the dead lay everywhere. Most of them wore a familiar color.
"Lion!" Turi shouted. "Gunjin-sama, who killed all these Lions?"
"Battle Maidens, mostly," the old man said.
"Why?" Turi growled. "Is it because of Okura and his oni?"
"Oni?" Gunjin replied. "Er... no, I don't think so. As far as I know, they were looking for Matsu Agetoki. Some sort of silly rumor about him not being dead. Don't know where they got that idea. Anyway, if you think this looks bad, you should see the other guys. Um. Girls, that is."
"If only we could have gotten here more quickly," Turi said, falling to his knees among his fallen cousins. "Maybe I could have made a difference."
"More quickly?" I replied. "We couldn't have gotten here much more quickly! Last week we were in the Twilight Mountains!"
"Hm..." Toku said thoughtfully. "I've been meaning to ask about that, Garou. How is it that we've been traveling quite so quickly? I mean, Hitomi's half god and all that so I can see how she's pulling it off, but how are we keeping up like this?"
"Zeal?" I replied.
"Bah. That's a lazy explanation," Gunjin replied with a cackle. "You three have absolutely no idea what you're doing. Bunch of losers."
"Losers?" Turi said slowly.
"Yes," Gunjin replied. "Of course, that's just my opinion," he added quickly. "No offense."
Turi nodded. "That's your opinion, eh, Gunjin-sama?"
"Yup. Loser. That's my opinion."
"This is mine." Turi delivered a single punch to the old man's jaw, knocking him over like a broken scarecrow. "No offense."
"Wow," I said. "Good to have you back to normal, Turi."
"Good to be back, Garou," he said, rubbing his knuckles.
Day Twenty Three: Heigen no Otaku
When we reached the valley full of dead Battle Maidens, the monster came. I had never seen an oni quite like it. It was as tall as a castle, with legs like tree stumps and withered skin like a crumpled grey tarp. It's nose was long and serpentine, surrounded by large tusks of purest white. As I readied myself for combat, I noticed the strange creature it bore atop its skull.
"Sanzo?" I exclaimed.
"Hi Garou!" he waved from the top of the beast. "How are you guys doing?"
"Sanzo, where in Jigoku did you get that beast?" Turi asked.
Sanzo glanced down. "What, the elephant?" he asked.
"Yes, Sanzo, the elephant," Turi said with strained patience.
"Oh, T-Bone? I got him for cheap!" Sanzo said. "The Burning Sands were having some kind of going-out-of-business sale. I traded Fury in to Amadare and got the money to-"
"Wait," I said. "Amadare? Moto Amadare? The blind guy?"
"Yeah," Sanzo said, "That's him!"
"You sold the blind guy your blind horse?"
"I figured they'd have a lot in common," Sanzo said.
"Did you tell him the horse was blind, Sanzo?" I asked.
"Heck no!" Sanzo said. "The whole fun of having a new investment is the discovery! I couldn't take that away from him! Anyway, you should go to the Burning Sands, Garou. They have all kinds of cool stuff! I got this book about mummies--" He rustled around in his bag.
"Sanzo, we really don't have time for this," I said. "We have to chase after Hitomi before she goes into space and becomes the moon!"
Sanzo frowned. "Why?" he said.
"What, why does she want to do it?" I asked.
"No, why are you trying to *stop* her?" Sanzo said. "As if I'd even wonder why she was doing it. Dude, trying to figure out why women do anything is like trying to deep-fry water."
"I'd be careful saying stuff like that, with all the Battle Maidens around," I said.
"Battle Maidens?" Sanzo replied. "Where?"
"T-Bone is soaking in them," I pointed at the purplish goo on the elephant's feet.
"Ick," Sanzo said. "That's gross. Those psycho Lions do all this?"
"As a representative of the Lion Clan, I take that as a personal compliment," Matsu Turi answered.
Disclaimer - The chauvinistic opinions of Sanzo do not represent the opinions of this author. Um... maybe.
Day Twenty Four: Kyuden Tonbo
When walking with the swift man, always turn ahead with a smile.
Why does the fire dance? Because the wind will sing!
Who can stand against three with green mice?
Hello! Hello! Hello! and again Hello! That is why.
Tomorrow, there will be pie.
If you talk to the wall, then it is not a wall, but a listener.
He who eats grass has dirty knees.
That is why.
To find truth in biscuits, you must mix the biscuits yourself.
He who sleeps little, has much wisdom.
If you were a Dragon, you would understand.
Day Twenty Five: Toshi no Aidanikawa
"All right, cut that out," I snapped. "We already did a joke like that on day four."
"Never stopped us before," Sanzo grumbled, sitting back on his elephant.
"Just be quiet," I said, looking around the desolate plain around the city. "Something's wrong here."
"Maybe it's all the ninjas?" Toku offered.
"What ninjas?" I replied.
"Those ninjas," Toku replied, pointing.
Sure enough, we were surrounded by zillions of ninjas. Funny how you don't notice that sort of thing till it's pointed out to you. One of them stepped forward with a wicked smile, a tall ninja with a wide straw hat.
"Hi, Garou!" he chuckled. "How are things going?
"What do you want, Adorai?" I asked.
"Just dropping in to say 'hi'," he said mildly. "Just saw your ex-girlfriend. My, my she was in a hurry. Delusions of grandeur, that one. Did she tell you what she was up to?"
"We ran through it, yeah," I replied. "She's going to replace the moon. She's nuts. I'm trying to catch up with her so I can talk her out of it."
"Ah, poor, poor Garou," Adorai said with a shake of his head. "You just don't get it, do you? The magic tattoo? The encounter with the *one* woman in Rokugan who fell for its magic a little too hard? The one woman who also happened to house a bit of my former master's soul? You still think you're in control of your own destiny, don't you, brother? You never even suspected that you were a pawn from the very beginning, that every move you've made has been an orchestration of me! Your forgotten long lost brother, agent of the great and powerful Shadow."
"Wow," Toku said, looking at me with fear. "Is that true? Garou, could it be possible?"
"Damn," Sanzo said. "That dude's your brother? I thought you looked alike."
"Um... no," I said. "He's just making all that crap up so he can try to sound cool. I guess I must look like Kitsuki Kaagi to you or something, Adorai, but I'm not buying it."
"Bugger," Adorai replied, disappointed. "How'd you figure it out? Ah, well. I guess I can still kill you." He snapped, and the zillions of ninjas stepped forward.
"I think we've been over this before, ninja-boy," I replied, taking the small clock out of my pouch. I set the hands for ten o'clock and held it up high.
"Eep!" Adorai said. "I knew the plan was lacking something."
The ninjas all vanished in a puff of bedtime, and we kept walking.
Day Twenty Six: Exile's Road
"So, I guess this is where all those Scorpions went after we got them exiled from Rokugan," I said.
"Yeah," Sanzo replied, hopping down from his elephant and pointing off at the horizon. "Keep going that way and you'll get to the Burning Sands. That's where I bought T-Bone." The elephant reared up on its hind legs and trumpeted loudly, shaking the scrubby trees that surrounded us.
"That elephant is so cool, Sanzo," Toku said, staring up at the big creature.
"What does it eat?" Turi said speculatively.
"Eat?" Sanzo replied.
"What do you feed it?" Turi asked.
Sanzo shrugged. "I don't feed it. I guess it sort of takes care of itself."
"I bet he's hungry," Toku said. He pulled a leafy branch from a tree and held it out to T-Bone.
The elephant immediately wrapped its trunk around Toku's waist and galloped off down Exile's Road, leaving us standing in a cloud of dust. After several minutes of stumbling around and coughing, the dust finally settled.
"Sanzo!" I shouted. "Your elephant killed Toku!"
"He's not dead yet," Sanzo said, hopping up on a rock and shading his eyes as he stared off after the fleeing T-Bone. "I can still hear screaming."
"Jou guys lose jour elephant?" said a short, thick man wearing samurai armor and a turban, stepping out from behind a nearby tree.
"What the heck were you doing back there?" Turi asked.
"Not important," the man smiled. "I am Djahab, Scorpion Veteran of a Thousand Midnights. Jou need me to catch jour elephant, I catch jour elephant. I catch de elephant all de time."
"Sure!" Sanzo said.
"Hang on a second," I said. "Last time we ran into Scorpions, it didn't go very well. How can we know you're not just trying to trick us?"
"Why would Djahab trick you?" he replied innocently. "Ah, dere you are." He squatted down, picked up a tiny mouse from the road, and put it back in his pocket.
"What was that all about?"
"Nothing. Jou want Djahab catch de elephant? Djahab can do da job."
"What'll we owe you?" I asked.
"Jou all travel with Djahab for while," he replied. "Come with Djahab, join Scorpion Clan. Jou all be members of squad."
"Djahab squad for life!" Sanzo exclaimed suddenly. I ignored hin.
"Hmmm," I said thoughtfully. "I haven't been a Scorpion yet..."
"I think Djahab can do da job," Sanzo said.
"Djahab is perfect for da job," Djahab replied.
"With Djahab on da job, da job will get done!" Sanzo exclaimed. "Clearly, this is a job for Djahab!"
"Da job is what Djahab was born to do," Djahab nodded.
"Both of you cut that out," Turi said, one eye twitching. "I'll go catch the elephant!"
Djahab frowned. "Jou sure jou not want Djahab do da job?"
Turi growled. "Get lost." He stomped off after T-Bone.
Djahab shrugged. "Thank you, come again." He stepped back behind the tree.
I wondered if there was anybody else hiding behind the other trees, but wasn't curious enough to look.
Day Twenty Seven Days of Darkness Day Twenty Seven Days of Darkness Day Twenty Seven Days of Darkness Day Twenty Seven Days of Darkness Day Twenty Seven Days of Darkness Day Twenty Seven Days of Darkness Day Twenty Seven Days of Darkness Day Twenty Seven Days of Darkness Day Twenty Seven Days of Darkness All Work and No Play Makes Rich a Dull Boy: The Shrine of the Three Sisters
I burst into the shrine, Matsu Turi, Sanzo, and Turi right behind me. We hadn't a moment to lose.
"Where's Hitomi?!?" I shouted.
"You don't have to yell," said a sister mildly.
"Sorry," I said. "Where's Hitomi?"
"You just missed her," said another sister. "She went on to become the moon."
"We probably would have caught her if I hadn't had to chase Sanzo's stupid elephant."
"No," I said, slumping against a wall and sitting on the earthen floor. "No, we were bound to fail from the very beginning." I took off my jingasa and threw it on the floor.
"Garou?" Toku asked. "What's wrong?"
I frowned. "Don't you see, Toku? Nothing we do *ever* goes right? It never has! Goju Adorai may have just been stroking his own ego, but he had one thing right. Our lives are nothing more than a never ending series of failures. Almost as if someone out there had it in for all of us. Almost as if we were destined to be the butt of someone else's amusement. Every time it looks like we're finally going to do something right we just keep screwing things up! Ever since high school it's been this way. And now that we've sought advice from the three sisters, we're even more doomed."
"What?" Toku asked. "Where does it say that?"
I pointed to the "EVERYONE WHO SEEKS ADVICE FROM THE THREE SISTERS IS DOOMED," sign on the wall, right next to the "NO SMOKING" sign.
"It's all so pointless," I mumbled.
"What are you saying, Garou?" Toku asked, looking a little afraid.
"Actually, it all makes perfect sense to me," Sanzo said. "You see, there's this card game--"
"Shut up, Sanzo!" Turi snapped. "Garou's talking."
"No, Sanzo's right," I said. "It's like we're part of someone else's game. And you know what? We're always the losers. And for one, I'm not going to take it anymore. I'm going back to Kenkai Hanto Peninsula to be a cookie merchant like my dad."
Toku looked like he was going to cry. "What are you saying, Garou?"
I blinked. "I'm saying I'm going back to Kenkai Hanto Peninsula to be a cookie merchant like my dad. Did I stutter?" Turi shook his head and stormed out of the cave. Sanzo just sat down with a pleased look, as if I was finally beginning to understand. The three sisters just sat quietly and watched.
"You can't do that!" Toku said wildly. "There's so much left to be done! There's the Monkey Clan! And the ninjas! And don't forget you're the Imperial Clock Keeper! And... um... and stuff... Yeah..." "None of that's important," I said. "If I go back, it'll just get silly all over again. Tell me one thing, Toku. Tell me one thing that I have to fix that wouldn't be better off in someone else's hands."
Toku was quiet.
"One thing," I said.
Toku sat down.
"Tell me one reason to keep going, and I'll keep having these stupid adventures," I promised.
"The prologue," the third sister said at last. "There was a magical elephant named Sanzo in the prologue and you haven't even come close to explaining how the heck that happened. Nice work preserving the continuity there, ace."
"Well, hell," I said, blinking. "Looks like I lose again, don't I?"
"So we're not gonna quit, then?" Toku asked eagerly, handing me back my hat.
"Nope," I said. "I guess not. I hate dangling sub-plots."
"Good!" Turi said, peeking back into the cave. "I was afraid you were wussing out in there, Garou. I wasn't looking forward to having to kick the crap out of you."
"Thanks for the thought, anyway, Turi," I said.
"No problem," he nodded and waited for us outside.
"Hang on a second, guys," Sanzo said. "I have something to ask the three sisters before I go."
"Sure thing, Sanzo," I said.
"Hey!" Sanzo called out. "At the end of the whole War in the Heavens thing, the Emperor gave me a talk show. It was pretty popular for a little while, but then they started locking me out of the studio. What's the deal with that?"
"They canceled it," said the first sister.
"What?!?" Sanzo shouted. "I'm the number one show on television! Why did they cancel it?"
"Because they haven't invented television yet, you anachronistic dork," said the second sister.
"That sucks!" he cried. "Whose idea was this?"
The third sister smiled. "Toturi."
"Hmm." Sanzo said. He glanced down at his Bloodsword for a second.
The sword glowed a soft red.
"Yes," Sanzo nodded. "Yes, yes, of course you're right."
"Um, Sanzo?" I said.
"Chop off his head," Sanzo said. "Good idea. Wonder if he'll run around like a chicken?"
"Sanzo, who are you talking to?" I asked.
"Hmm?" he asked, suddenly. "Oh, never mind that. I have to go. Bye." He hurried out of the cave, jumped on his elephant, and rode off.
"Should we be worried about him?" Turi asked, glancing back in the cave again.
"I think that's pretty safe to assume," I nodded.
All artwork above created by Rich Wulf