Stalking through the ruined buildings, pain coursing through his veins, the samurai known as Hida Ginawa murdered another man.
* * *
He had been with the units going into the Asahina Temples. Even there he had still been left on his own, the Crab shunning the former Ronin and his terrible burden. He had stopped before the entrance of the temple grounds, his keen senses telling him something was wrong.
A Taisa, a heavily armed leader of the army, had noticed this hesitation. He stood in front of Ginawa, his mouth opened in a sneer. ‘I had always known you for a coward ronin scum! Good to see your true colours…’
He never got another word out.
Explosions of light and sound erupted around them. A large weight fell upon Ginawa, shielding him from the worst effects of the fire, shrapnel driving into the Taisa before him. And the world went dark.
Was it hours, minutes, seconds that had passed since that darkness had enveloped him? It mattered not. He struggled to his feet out from beneath the Taisa’s bloody form and unsheathed his bloodsword, unleashing Revenge.
Instantly its sirens song of hate washed over him.
Use me! They lied to you! Led you into an ambush! Use me!
Perhaps he would in hindsight believe that he could have resisted the urge, had the Taisa not moaned, proving that he was alive.
Still in agony, Ginawa gave in and the Taisa moaned no more.
The Crab! The Crane! Both of them caused this! Death to them all! Death to them all! Use me! Feed me!
Another Crab, struggling to his feet unaware of the fate that awaited him.
Another corpse falling to the ground.
On and on this went. How many did he kill?
It did not matter. Driven by Revenge, all would suffer for this pain.
It was then that he heard a wailing. Another victim to feed his Revenge
He entered what he thought to be the Shrine at the centre of the complex, the centre and home of these wretched Crane.
He looked about, the ruined statues, the decorative plaques now burned, the relics destroyed. He almost laughed.
There were two bodies on the ground.
One, a small Crane, clearly dead. Probably stood at the centre of the explosion.
The second was the sound of the moaning.
Of course there was no mistaking who it was. Even missing an arm, both legs, his face horribly scarred. Even with pieces of his tongue lying burned next to him. The mons on the breastplate were stylised, clearly ornate. And what was left of his command banner was there, as burned as he was.
This was Hida Yakamo.
And he was moaning.
He was crying. The great son of the Bear was crying in pain.
Finish him! End him! The cause of our pain! Take your revenge on this fool! Destroy him! Use me!
The endless repetition, the hunger coursed through him, surging through him like an endless tide battering against his mind. It threatened to overwhelm him again.
Until he looked at Yakamo’s broken body.
He was so weak now. So vulnerable, so weak. He couldn’t stand, couldn’t walk, swing a sword, speak a word of apology or even pity.
But his eyes, his eyes apologised. So sorrowful, so sad, his hopes and dreams destroyed.
This was his failure, this was his loss and he had lost everything. His men, his life, everything but his soul.
Ginawa found the revenge draining away. Replaced with compassion. Pity. Mercy.
Revenge found its sheath and Yakamo found himself being carried upon the back of another.
It was several weeks later, Ginawa had been allowed to enter the presence of his Lord Hida Kisada himself.
He had travelled with the man that was once Hida Yakamo. Ginawa watched the Kuni healers as they nursed the fallen warrior back to life, if not exactly health. His arm and legs could not be saved but the man was hardy. Slowly he recovered his health, though would never be able to speak. Still Ginawa didn’t give up. He was determined to return his general to his father.
The other Crab stared at him. In awe? In fear? In disgust? Hate maybe? It did not matter. Honour mattered. Returning a son to his father mattered.
The Crab parted before him like a river moving to allow the current to flow. Only when he entered the Hall of the Great Bear himself did the Crab leave him be.
The Hall of the Great Bear had changed much since last he had been here, on the day they gave him the proud name of Hida. On that day it had been festooned with resplendent banners on the wall, light pouring through the windows, an air of quiet strength and unimaginable stability echoing throughout its mighty walls.
Now it was a far different place.
The windows had been covered up, with only torchlight shining from holders in the wall and candles on the tables. The banners had been replaced with maps – details of towns in Crane, Scorpion and Lion lands. Each had flags pinned representing his units, his allies, his commands.
But what remained the same was the massive throne, with the great form of Hida Kisada, fully armoured in his distinctive helmet, his tetsubo and daisho resting comfortably against it.
There were others in the room of course. The tiny form of Kuni Yori. The dual forms of Tadaka and Tomo, formerly of the Isawa. But nothing compared to the Great Bear and his eyes stared down at Ginawa.
Placing Yakamo next to the floor beside him, Ginawa knelt on the floor, head bowed, hearing his lord say in a hushed fearful tone. ‘Speak.’
‘Lord Kisada,’ Ginawa began, ‘I have travelled far from the battlefield of Shinden Asahina. The Imperial legion withdrew and our armies attacked the Crane town. There was treachery my lord. The food had been poisoned and traps set up that hindered us. But worse still, they called on Asahina himself to set the place alight with fire of such fury that I was fortunate to survive.’
He gestured at the form of Yakamo, ‘I found your son in the ruins, his broken form lying upon the ground. I have lifted him out and cared for him and brought him back to you my lord. He is ali…’
Thud, thud, squelch
Ginawa never saw the hand that gripped him. The hand that pulled him up by the neck, till his eyes were even with the mad orbs of anger that bulged from Kisada’s head.
He never saw Kisada’s fist pound into his face, pulverising it with such force and power that the man would never speak nor hear nor see again.
Squelch, squelch, rip.
The last thing that Ginawa noticed was the sudden absence of the whining voice in his head – and he knew his time was over, the mistake he had made as he felt the sword pierce his body again and again and again – the hunger of Revenge tasting its bloody reward.
Drip, drip, thud.
* * *
Hida Kisada had heard enough.
Rage, stronger than any force of nature, overcame him.
Thud, thud, squelch
Hitting this man, a man who dared bring his son back to him a cripple, dared to show him the weakness of his bloodline, was never going to be enough.
Squelch, squelch, rip.
Drawing the ronin’s own katana and sinking it into his chest, he immediately felt satisfied. This was truly the right thing to do! Let the ronin pay for his son’s demise, his son’s failure, his son’s death in his eyes!
Drip, drip, thud.
Kisada didn’t know when he dropped the body. Nor when he had stopped thrusting the bloody sword into the now mangled body.
He did not care.
Slowly he walked towards the throne once more, ignoring Yori rushing to the side of the corpses, kneeling over the bloody ex-ronin and the broken remains of his son.
He began to shout.
‘So the Crane had help from the Scorpion! And the Emperor’s own did nothing to help those who have killed my son!?! I will have his head for this! I will take the throne! I will make all those that have wronged me beg for their lives before I lay them out for the crows to eat!’
Vaguely he heard Yori say something, but it sounded so far away, and distant. As if his words were drowned out by the applause of a thousand souls crying out for revenge.
‘Master. We can help you with your just war,’ came the voice of Tomo, clear as water, coming closer to the side of the Throne.
‘We know that the Kuni have held secret magic back for fear of the Emperor’s wrath. Should you give us access to the castle of the Kuni, we will be able to employ such weapons that the Emperor will not be able to stand against you.’
The thought of the Emperor lying dead before him with his sword dripping in his blood made Kisada smile.
‘Yori! Grant them access to your castle! Make sure that you aid them in your every duty…’
However, looking down to the corpses, Yori was gone.
Still Kisada’s thoughts were content with thoughts of blue, red and gold dripping in blood and fire engulfing them all.
And faintly, just faintly, he could hear the sound of applause.