Denying the Darkness
The Tenth Kami stared at the empty throne.
It was always quiet in the realm of the dead, for the dead never spoke and he rarely conversed with the Lord of this Realm. Emma-O never took time away to do anything.
But now… The lack of the spirits presence and the absence of the lord was making even a Kami uncomfortable.
He knew it had to be done. His brother would never have sent a mortal to converse with him had it not been of the utmost importance. And after hearing the young Scorpion’s pleas and willingness to endure such a price for his assistance…
Even the Lord of Death can be moved it seems.
Now they have gone, all gone. Only he alone was left to mind the realm, a flickering light against the mists of Meido.
As he sat in the only realm not assaulted by the darkness, he wondered about the other realms, wondering if they were prepared to fight the darkness or whether they would fall.
Would he be the last? The last of all things?
He found all he could do was pray.
It had always been his realm.
The others had taken the high road of Tengoku, while Emma-O had his realm of solitude, but he preferred the company of the life than the purity of the heavens.
For this reason, Inari prepared for battle.
He glanced skyward the dim light, a saddened reminder of its change. In the absence of the guidance of the heavens, he has been forced to take more of an active role in the hand of the mortal realm than he normally should have.
Many would have faulted him for protecting the young prince as he has, using a mortal champion to take the boy away from his people. But the threat of the Darkness was too great. And with the champions of Jigoku on the march, intervening this much was all he could do.
Perhaps the heavens had sent the other samurai to Chikushudo as a sign that he had made the right choice.
Peering at the two samurai from atop his snow covered mountain Kurokazan, they both represented such a difference of opinion.
One a Lion, a story teller, a schemer, a man of complicated honour, fierce pride and undue loyalty.
One a Phoenix, a holy man, a violent man, conflicted with anger and will, with power over fire.
Their clans, so recently at war, their suspicions with each other set aside for their common goals – the training of a future Emperor, each imparting their wisdom to him, though different it might be.
It was a shame that this could not always be the case.
A small sound interrupted his respite. Beside him a fox spirit, one of his myobu, strode up to stand beside him.
“Inari-sama, it comes from the west. It’s possessed forces strike us – and it comes itself behind them.”
“And it’s form?”
The fox bowed her head low.
“It has taken the form of… your wife.”
His eyes welled with but a small tear falling down her cheek.
“Inform our guests. Let them make the first move. Let us test their resolve.”
The myobu bowed its head and bounded down the mountainside, her lithe form darting amongst the woodland shrubs towards them.
The first fireball marked the beginning of the battle, the Phoenix shugenja’s flames flying out into the darkened animals.
Taking this as the signal, they poured out of the forests, badgers, squirrels, ferrets, boars, lions, elephants, foxes… So many animals. The realm’s true fighters.
Even as he watched the scene unfurl, he sensed the darkened presence of the corrupted ten-tailed fox approach his home. It’s heavy footprints making snowfall upon the ground, the kami shrieking their protestations at the wrongness of its existence.
Husband, it began in a voice as smooth as silk, why do you oppose me? Can you not see the value in belonging to a singular purpose?
And in his heart, Inari could see the value of unity, a value in being together to work in harmony with each other.
For millennia we have watched the petty mortals fight amongst themselves wasting the very gifts we have given them.
And again he watched the mistrust between the Phoenix and the Lion, trying to fight the Darkness in their own way not working together, neither trusting the other.
Let them go, husband, let them all go and come to me. We can be together again…
It was then that he spied the changing moment, the moment that moved him to his decision.
Their ward had taken the field. Though he would not know his fate, a young man fought, calling to his allies to rally to him.
And to his warmed heart, both samurai began to act as one.
He turned to face the fox with no face, a face that would have once held the love and compassion of his wife. He smiled.
“You have failed in this realm Darkened One. Even as I destroy you, I will remember fondly of the love I shared with my wife.”
And with that his form melted away and a great dragon wreathed in frost rose to fight the Darkness.
In the realm of Trickster Spirits, the Darkness never stood a chance.
The Darkness, long being the deceiver in the realms, found a realm where they were the ones being deceived.
A realm devoted to deception cannot itself be deceived.
When the mightiest spirits of the realm, the mujina, the kappa and the pekkle understood what was to happen, they sent the weakest among them to be corrupted. So even as the Darkness believed that it was getting the upper hand, the elders watched and waited.
It was only now, when the conflict had begun its inevitable conclusion that the glamours concealing this weakness were taken away and the greatest trick the realm had ever pulled destroyed the Darkness before it could take hold.
Who could say if this fight could end any differently that it did?
In the Realm of the Hungry Dead, where the only inhabitants are the Gaki themselves, can there ever truly be victory?
For every Gaki possessed, another would come into being, Gaki feed upon themselves in an almost endless cycle. The Gaki themselves, seemingly mindless, have no desires apart from feeding, the most painful and tortuous of things.
All that was found was all that ever was in this realm. The Hungry dead feasting upon the unworthy.
“It is sad. Sad that you even bothered to come here.”
“So many would have thought this realm an easy win for you. Of course they know so little about the true power this realm has to offer.”
“To many this place is a place of corruption, a place of possession, a place to lose ones soul to overwhelming evil.”
“Your current belief I am sure was simply, if I possess an Oni Lord, this will be a simple enough capture. The realm would be yours!”
“Of the Oni Lords – those that you could manage to sway – only the weakest would serve.”
“But we know something of domination, my foolish friend.”
“You would try to infest others and build your power up in this realm? So foolish!”
“In my realm, I control the powers in out eternal struggle, I choose who lives and who dies, I who determine who shall be possessed…”
“Yes that is right, I let you take the weakest of them. It was only fitting considering your pathetic nature.”
“Did you think the Maw would be swayed by your powers? Are you watching as he rips apart the oni over there that you controlled?”
“Did you think that Kyoso would bend knee to you? Look at her malevolant glee and being able to settle old scores thanks to your interference.”
“It is only sad that the greatest among them, Akuma could not be here to witness the beauty of this mindless destruction. But I am certain that he will be returned to me soon, my servants will arrange it…”
“But I am being such a bore aren’t I? Waffling on when there are so many more to exterminate from within my realm!”
“Perhaps I will leave you with this thought – as I tear you apart with my will. Oh I realise that I have already taken your legs and that I am simply dragging you through the realm to witness your folly, but it does inspire those in my subordinates, and I wouldn’t want to disappoint my dear brother after proving to the world he could write, now could I?”
“This will hurt. Immensely. And I will enjoy myself, rending you apart piece by piece, your flesh burning melting away under my flames.”
“And as you depart you will know that the Ninth Kami was no mere joke, no minor player, but a threat ready to destroy my Brother’s Empire. Compared to me, you are nothing.”
It would be like this forever.
If he didn’t do something of course.
Which he would. This was his domain.
As he watched the corrupted berserk warriors of the Twentieth Hantei, he sighed at the fragility of his line, his legacy. Without their advisors they were helpless.
Even though he was possessed by this Darkness, Hantei XX was still under the influence of the realms bloodlust. Any insignificant strategy that he might have had was lost in the frenzy of battle, ruined in the maelstrom of blood.
This would last forever of course. In the realm of Endless Slaughter, the dead spirits fight until they die only to find themselves resurrected on the morrow. Over and over the endless fighting occurs, never ending, never ceasing.
Even now he watched as his mighty and only loyal servant marshal the berserk warriors into some sort of tactical formation. His enemy didn’t truly understand this realm as he did, didn’t understand that you either rise above the bloodlust with hate, or be consumed by the whirlwind of battle.
And his hate was everflowing.
Only two Hantei had ever been denied entry into the Celestial realm of Tengoku.
After today, that number would be one.
Only the Hantei remembered as the Steel Chrysanthemum would remain.
In the realm of Dreams, the Darkness took the form of nightmares, the form of things that all men fear, demons, insects, creatures only the imagination could dream. The Darkness began to amass as an army beyond that which could be fathomed.
But it had not fathomed on the dreams of hope that spawned even in these uncertain times. Dreams of Dragons of Fire and Air and Water and Earth, rising to meet the challenge. Resplendent emperors and heroes of old riding along side them. Winged kenku, Snow Maidens even the serpentine Orochi rose from the dreams of those sleeping minds to fight the nightmares of Darkness.
And as the tide turned in the other realms, so too did the forces of hope grow ever stronger till the Darkness was overcome and peace settled in once more in
The fighting had been tremendous, truly a fight for heroes.
Endless ranks of corrupted samurai and darkened kenku confronting heroes of legend, the very paragons of virtue that all samurai tried to emulate.
Enemies of old, rivalries placed aside, all fought as one, combing such epic deeds with cunning tactics, bold moves and tremendous power.
While the darkness seemed to swell and mass in nearly overwhelming numbers, something changed, a leader among the dark ones strode out to face the Champions of Yomi.
Yet what villain could measure up to the heroes of old? What creature could stand against the likes of Matsu or Kakita? Mirumoto or Kaiu or Isawa?
Only another corrupted hero. Only Shosuro.
Even as they fought it was difficult to say how many samurai fell, how many worthy heroes lights were extinguished.
But in the end, the Heroes vanquished Shosuro, expelling the darkness from their realms.
What is known, only to those in Yomi, is a single truth.
A truth that is known only to those who dwell there.
Among them, who is the greatest of heroes?
And the answer is always the same. Shosuro was the greatest hero among us.
For without her sacrifice, if there was no villain, there could have been no victory.
‘And thus is the fate of the realms shown to you.’ The booming voice of Lord Moon rang out across the assembled court.
The newly mantled fortunes watched the images of the other realms, watching as they each fought and confronted the Darkness in each of their realms.
They watched captivated as the dreams of the people overwhelmed their nightmares in Yume-Do.
They watched with sadness as the rice god killed his own wife, corrupted though she may be.
They watched in fear a Dark Kami’s Wrath upon intruders in his domain.
They watched horrified as a villain conquers his own wrath to subjugate a realm to his will.
They watched in amusement as spirits of deceit deceived the deceivers.
They watched with pity as the hungry dead consumed themselves.
But more than any realm, they watched the events of Ningen-do, the mortal realm and up until their journey here their home.
They watched as their friends and allies fight their way to the heart of a mountain.
They watched as many of them confronted the worst of themselves, fighting against the very darkest parts of their souls and triumph.
They watched as a small creature, often dismissed by others, spared and treated as a friend would be.
They watched as they placed the fireworks in the heart of the mountain and then watched as the Darkness made manifest as the Abbot fight the heroes to a standstill.
They watched a man part with a cursed sword, abandoning power for the benefit of his honour.
They watched as a Kami revealed himself, transforming into a great Dragon, breathing fire and striking the Darkness, forcing it to confront him.
They watched the Dragon tear its own heart out so that he might stay, unafraid, ready to sacrifice himself for the good of all.
They watched as the small creature opened the way to freedom for the Heroes just as the explosions started and the mountain was ripped asunder in fire and ash.
They watched the High House of Light be consumed in a flash so bright even the fortunes were forced to look away.
And when their sight returned all they could see was fountains of lava and a crater where once a mountain stood.
And when they were done, the Seven Fortunes stood facing Lady Sun and Lord Moon, bowing their heads in a gesture of respect and admiration.
There would be much work to do in restoring the heavens.
And as they glanced one last time to the mortal realm, the place they once called home, they wondered what would become of it?
The story had not ended; the Empire still rests on a knife’s edge.
Who would save it from itself?