Originally Published at Rob.BearSwarm.com on 2004-08-17.
Recently, a choice was set before me. It wasn’t until then that I came to realize what a unique and wholly bizarre journey I was destined to undergo. Yet, to truly understand my decision to stay in a strange land instead of returning to my home world we need to take a journey of our own; a journey of the mind and spirit, a journey back to where everything began a journey back to my childhood home on the Kaiu Wall. For those of you unfamiliar with the lay of Rokugan, the Kaiu Wall is what separates the Rokugan mainland from the horrors the dwell within the Shadowlands. The Shadowlands are haunted with creatures like the Bakemono, Tsuno, Mamono, and the feared Oni. The Crab Clan are the royal guardians of the Wall and protectors of the Rokugani mainlands, an honored position to be assured.
Since born a member of the Hida Family, the family that tends to the wall, I was expected to serve my time protecting my lands. Yet, being the brash youth I was at the time I decided to stop sitting idle and fending for what we already have and journey to the pit at the center of the Shadowlands and rid my realm of the horrors once and for all. I and twelve other Clans men, most of the Hida Family and also members of the Kuni Family journeyed into the dangerous territory without fear; for even if we were to die, we would receive a death more honorable then most men could even dream of.
After fighting past waves of Bakemono and Jiki-Ketsu-Gaki we finally crossed paths with something of a challenge. In a horseshoe pattern in front of us lay a sea of corrupt waters and from those foul seas emerged an old woman. We knew immediately that something as horrific looking as her must be dangerous in a land as besieged by evil as this. Then as we readied ourselves for a confrontation it happened, the foul old woman changed into a giant gray spider creature, covered in armored plates and dripping of corrupt ooze. A creature we call a Dokufu.
Three of the Kuni drew their katanas and charged the creature, but the rest of us knew better. With in seconds the three men lie dead, one with a Dokufu spiked foot impaled in his chest pinning him to the ground as the Dokufu dealt with the other two. One knocked into the corrupt waters but a powerful sweep of the Dokufu’s arm, the waters ate his flesh like acid and spit his bones to the surfaces. The third man sprayed with Dokufu acidic webbing, coating him from head to heel and eroding his skin away until all that was left was a pile of smoldering ashes. Then after the other two were defeated, the Dokufu looked down upon the man it had impaled upon its arm and swiftly took a bite out of the Samurai’s head. The man’s body twitched for a moment, but then the Dokufu lifted him up and swallowed what was left of him.
The last ten of us readied our weapons at the Dokufu. A tense moment that seemed like an eternity passed, us staring down at the bloody-mouthed Dokufu and the Dokufu staring down at the trespassers in its domain. Then I knew, I was not meant to die here. I was destined for greater things. I raised my katana into an upper attack stance, and charged the creature. My men, being loyal, followed suit and charged along with me. The heat of battle took many thoughts, but I clearly remember piercing the creature in its eye. With my katana embedded firmly in the Dokufu’s skull, the creature reared back in agony, throwing men into the waters surrounding us. The Dokufu scuttled back a ways, and we regrouped. There were only four of us now, I command two to draw bows and aim for the eyes and underbelly while myself and another Samurai charged again. Loyal, the two drew their bows and began to pluck shots at the exposed Dokufu belly.
The Dokufu dropped to his feet quickly, once a few arrows pieced its belly. I charged towards the creature, jumping once within distance, onto its head. I grabbed my katana and ripped the blade upwards into the beast’s skull. The Dokufu dropped onto its right side, and the fight was almost over. The three other Samurai continued battling, but I stared the Dokufu squarely in its one good eye. I saw fear, hatred, anger, rage, and my future. Then, the mammoth beast’s left arm rose into the sky and came down upon me with a fury unseen in neither man nor demon. I tried to roll away, but the Dokufu caught me and knocked me into the churning black water of corruption. I was lucky, as I tumbled only my legs splashed into the inky waters and my men quickly charged over and withdrew me from the waters.
The Dokufu lay dead and slowly shifted back into an old woman. We took her head and placed it in a crystal case to bring back to the Wall for proof the others died honorably. The four of us decided to push further, for our quest was to reach the Festering Pit and challenged the lord of the Shadowlands. My legs were badly burnt, and my allies knew I was tainted. I drew a finger of jade from my belt and fashioned it into a crude necklace, enough to hold off further corruption I hoped. We traveled on, and like before fought legions of petty Shadowland creatures. We moved deeper and deeper, crossed hill and plain, until we reached a demonic mountain range.
Caves lined the outskirts, and appeared to be the only way past the mountain. As we approached a cave entrance, we were confronted again. This time, by a creature ten times our size. It was covered in glistening red scales and its head was that of a hawk. The body looked like that of a spider, with eight legs, but it came up into a mannish torso with four arms. The creature screeched at us before it lunged thought the air and landed on the front two men. The men were pined to the ground by the beast’s razor-sharp leg claws, and then we saw the abdomen of the great creature open. Spilling out came hundreds, perhaps thousands, of baby Oni that engulfed our fallen brothers. The men seethed in agony as I readied my weapon.
I lunged at the creature and the other Samurai shook in fear, then Demon swiftly shot its beak past me and bit into the last man’s head. I was still in midair as the creature did this, and seeing an opportunity, I plunged my katana into the back of the beast’s head. Black blood sprayed out of the wound, covering me from head to toe. The creature collapsed, dead, and in the fall crushed its own offspring that were feasting on my fallen comrades below it. I plummeted to the ground with the creature and landed hard on my head. I was knocked out cold for the longest time.
When I awoke I was on a circular stone table surrounded by four men in stained black robes, Maho-Casters. One of them looked at me, seeing I was awake.
“Your ferocity in the battle field was unmatched. Go home young Crab. Spread the Taint of the Shadowlands.” The robed figure spoke.
Then a blinding flash of white and I found myself laying at the foot of the Great wall. At my side were two crystal boxes, one with the head of the Dokufu and the other the Oni’s head. I climbed to my feet and picked a box up in each hand. I marched to a main door and banged my fists against it as hard as I could. The gates lurched open after a while and shocked men brought me inside. They then locked me away, fearing I would spread my taint uncontrollably. Luckily, due to my trophies I was granted permission to visit the greatest Kuni Witch Hunter in the lands.
After a week, I was escorted to a remote village that the Witch Hunter lived in. My guards led me to the house and stood outside as I entered. The man was old, with long gray hairs that looked like they held the wisdom of the Kami. He instructed me to lie down in his spare bed, and for sixteen hours he preformed a ritual to cleanse me of my Taint. After the performance came to an end, I stood up feeling as strong as a team of oxen, but the old man did not look happy.
I was transported to the capital city and was given audience with the Emperor’s advisers. I stayed in a cell for two weeks time before my council met. Again, I was escorted to my location, but this time it was an elegant meeting hall. Like last time, the guards stayed outside as I went in. Seated before me where four men, and between the four of them as an extra chair. I bowed down and out of the corner of my eyes, I saw the four men bow back and then the sound of a gong and robes shuffling.
“Rise up and allow me to see the face of the man who slew an Oni.”
I stood up and stood face to face with the Emperor himself. He looked into my eyes and I could feel him passing judgment on me. I stood as bravely as I could, confronted with a man more powerful then all the Oni in the Shadowlands. Another excruciatingly long moment passed before the Emperor spoke again.
“You will be condemned to the Shadowlands. All records of your return will be burned. Your family’s name shall carry on untainted. You will receive a most honorable death fighting the enemies of Rokugan.”
Then the Emperor turned around and left the room. The four advisors called for the guards and informed them of my fate. The guards escorted me back to the carriage and brought me back to the Kaiu Wall. I was given gear, food, and supplies before I was led out of the gates and the doors closed behind me, never to open for me again. I honorably strode out into the wastes yet again.