The sun had not yet risen when Sasuke awoke, he stretched and looked around. He noted that Kyoji’s bedroll was neatly put away by the wall and the scorpion was not present in the room. The Lion and Crab most definitely were, the aroma of long travel wafted from the Matsu’s direction, and across the doorway where the Hida slept came the sounds of uncomfortable bowels. From outside came the raucous laughter of a flock of crows and at that both samurai stirred from their sleep. Seeing that the sun was not yet up Hida Shinzo turned over to go back to sleep.
While Sasuke and Yuudai were getting ready for the day there came a slight knock on the shoji screen entrance to the room. A young servant boy stood outside and informed them that the morning meal was being served now and that Hida Tosa awaited them when they were finished. They were to bring any weapons they were confident enough to test themselves with. As Yuudai and Sasuke closed the screen and turned back into the room they saw Shinzo hurriedly dressing and washing himself almost simultaneously. He was in such a hurry that he left without donning his armor.
After his morning meal was completed Sasuke met the group at a large open area outside the castle obviously used as a training ground for Hida warriors. The ground was packed down and hard in an area that resembled a dueling arena, and a little further on was a small archery range most likely used by resident Hiruma scouts to keep their skills honed. There were a few samurai sparring closer to the back of the grounds but Sasuke’s eyes were drawn to a Hida veteran that he had met the previous day. As the group lined up for a visual inspection Sasuke wondered what he had gotten into, it was his duty and that was beyond question, but what purpose would he serve compared to such warriors? Matsu Yuudai, focused and intimidating even without his golden armor; Bayushi Kyoji, possessed of such instinct and so graceful that his blade seemed a mere extension of himself; Hida Shinzo, he was big, forearms the size of Sasuke’s thighs, even without Kyoji’s finesse he would make for a spectacular show. Then Kitsune Sasuke, a slight young man, trained in the healing arts for service to the Empire, but that was who he was. Strength of arm or no he would give his life for the good of the Empire.
Tosa’s rough voice stirred Sasuke from his thoughts, he watched the other samurai step forward to be tested on their grasp of kenjustu. He had been trained in the use of a katana also but it was not expected of a shugenga to participate in tests like this unless they desired. Watching Shinzo take up a boken and square off versus Tosa, he noticed another figure had joined the group, Isawa Mino. She wore a katana proudly displayed on her slender waist; she was shugenga as well, but a fire shugenga, given to battle more than the average pacifistic Phoenix, would she be tested or had she already proven herself worthy of the 11th Legion? Shinzo roared as he charged and was soundly beaten as he swung wildly, but he seemed unfazed by the hits he took. Next was Yuudai, his face was a mask of calm fury as he faced Tosa, the engagement lasted longer than Shinzo’s had and hits were both given and received, in the end Tosa stepped back and motioned Yuudai back into line. He made no expression as he handed his boken to Kyoji who then stepped up to take his stance before Tosa. This duel was close, neither combatant seeming able to land a blow, at times it seemed Kyoji was caught, but his practice sword always managed to deflect the blows. Finally one of Kyoji’s strikes slipped though an opening and Tosa grunted in surprise, he stepped back and bowed to Kyoji who returned a deeper bow and stepped back into line.
Next they moved to the archery range and to everyone’s surprise Shinzo stepped forward alongside Kyoji to be tested, making three fairly centered hits to the target. Tosa nodded in approval and Kyoji stepped up. All his hits were quite close to the center, but not a hint of emotion showed above the scorpions mask, though it was obvious to Sasuke from Yuudai’s expression that he had underestimated his companion. It was then that Hida Tosa stood in front of Sasuke calmly staring down at the young shugenga.
“And what is it that you might bring to the 11th Imperial Legion Kitsune Sasuke?” he asked.
Sasuke replied that he had been trained in the healing ways of the water kami and there were few spells he knew that would turn the tides of battle, but that if his ability to help those unable to continue the battle so that they would soon rejoin the fray would be sufficient he would give his life for the emperor in that way. Tosa didn’t seem impressed by this statement, but let the matter go anyway. He turned to address the group as a whole,
“Welcome honorable samurai, to the 11th Imperial Legion. Tonight we gather in the great hall to participate in the retelling of the exploits of the Legion for the glory of the Holy Emperor, we expect you to attend. But before then you are given this task; a village to the north has reported a recent ogre disturbance, you are to end this disturbance and report back in time for the ceremony. I have briefed Isawa Mino on all the particulars of this assignment, she will lead you. For the Emperor! You are dismissed.”
As the other new legionnaires quickly went to retrieve all that they thought they would need for facing an ogre Sasuke followed Isawa Mino to the stables. Yukimura, his horse, greeted him with a playful whinny and after some expectant nudging Sasuke gave him a small handful of dried apricots and led him out into the courtyard. There Mino was preparing her own horse and some servants were saddling three other ponies. Kyoji appeared first, bowing to Mino who returned the bow, before mounting and adjusting his saya. Mino was eager to be off so as soon as the other two arrived she kicked her horse to a quick trot and headed for the north gate.
The journey was estimated to take about 2 hours and the group remained uncommonly quiet for the most part except for whenever they came to an incline Shinzo would whisper an apology to his pony. Being the one directly in front of the crab rearguard Sasuke took a bit of interest in this strange Hida. At about an hour and a half into their journey Sasuke broke the silence; he asked Shinzo if he knew, being a crab and all, what an ogre looked like. At this question Sasuke noticed Yuudai sit up a bit and slightly turn back as if to better hear, and Mino completely turned in her saddle to regard Shinzo as he answered. Shinzo furrowed his brow for a moment and then looked up toward Sasuke.
“They are large, 7-9 feet tall with pale sometimes green or bluish skin, they have coarse black hair on their heads, backs and arms. Their lower jaw juts out further than their top and when they grin their two long curved teeth stick out over their top lip. They also have two horns of varying length on their foreheads. They are very strong and sometimes have been found to be organized, they are not stupid like the undead, and some have even mastered the arcane arts of blood magic. He said. “They are not a foe to be taken lightly.”
Sasuke simply blinked, and turned around in his saddle.
“My thanks Hida-sama, I will be prepared.”
Shortly after, the group arrived at the outskirts of the small village. The villagers moved back out of the road bowing with each step as the samurai headed toward the center of their little community. Kyoji reigned in his pony and looked around at the villagers before addressing them in a loud voice.
“We are Legionnaires from the Razor of Dawn Castle, we represent His most Holy Majesty the Emperor, we are here to deal with the threat of ogres. Who is the elder of this village?”
A silence fell over the villagers and they started to part allowing for a stooped old man to make his way to where the samurai were waiting. It took quite a while for the elder to make his way to Kyoji, but when he did he bowed low to each of the samurai in turn.
“What can you tell us of the disturbances you have had?” Kyoji asked. “Has anyone seen this menace we will face?”
“Nay my Lord, I have not seen it, only one lives that can testify that. We have lost five children and one woman to this fiend, but young Ichiro has seen and survived.” The elder said.
“Bring him forth.” Kyoji commanded.
The crowd of villagers parted again and a young boy came forward to stand by the elder and bowed low to the samurai, eyes never leaving the ground.
“You will guide us to where you saw this beast so that we may investigate further, you will tell us what you saw and how it was that you survived.” Kyoji said.
“Hai sama.” The boy said, his eyes still on the ground.
“Go.” Kyoji commanded.
The boy looked at the samurai, still mounted and hurried off toward the edge of the village and the forest beyond. Sasuke saw great fear in the child’s eyes, but was it caused by this ogre or by their own presence there, he wondered. Ichiro led them onward into the forest following a small footpath that forced the samurai to ride single file once again. After about fifteen minutes of traveling at a slight trot the boy stopped and gestured over a rise in the terrain. Kyoji nodded and dismounted, tying the reigns of his animal to a large bush nearby as the others did the same. Sasuke didn’t notice any tension in his horse and wondered if there truly was an ogre in the area. He was studying the faces of his fellow samurai when Mino turned from where she was talking with Ichiro.
“We will leave the horses here and continue on foot, it shouldn’t be too much farther.” She said.
They soon arrived at a small rise overlooking a large clearing surrounded by dry brush. In the center of the clearing, sitting on a log between a tree and a large cave in a rock face was an ogre, just as Shinzo had described. It was clad in a dirty rag of a loincloth and armored only on its shoulders with what appeared to be battle-mangled samurai chest plates.
They were crouched down behind the brush perimeter watching as the ogre gnawed on a medium sized bone, even from this distance Sasuke could identify it as human. It must have been all that remained of one of Ichiro’s friends, one that hadn’t run as fast as Ichiro. Sasuke looked over at the boy, who was farther back and trembling uncontrollably, he was a liability; they should probably send him back to the village. As he turned to mention it to someone he noticed his fellow samurai readying their weapons and looking to Mino for instruction. She talked in a whisper, instructing Shinzo to take the left flank and Yuudai the right while she burned the foul creature with her magic. She assigned Kyoji to guard Sasuke because they would most likely need his healing at the end of all this. With surprise and organization the fight could be won fairly quickly. Then Shinzo shifted his weight and a loud crack resounded across the clearing as a stick broke underneath him, the ogre stood up and looked around grabbing a large club that had been resting against a nearby tree. All thoughts of the village boy left Sasuke's mind as he quickly reached into his case for a scroll that might have some effect on this giant creature, he just hoped it was tainted. The ogre continued warily scanning the edge of the clearing, its gaze lingering on the spot of brush that held the large Crab warrior. The samurai were tense, breathing as quietly as possible and staying low to the ground; they had lost the element of surprise.
Shinzo could apparently stand idle no longer, with a cry he burst from the brush swinging his tetsubo in arcs over his head as he moved up the right flank. Kyoji quickly pulled out his bow and started to string it intending to stick to the plan and guard the shugenga. Sasuke spared one last glance at Mino, seeing that her lips were already working out a spell he started one of his own. Not about to let Shinzo have all the glory Yuudai also burst from concealment and charged straight at the bewildered ogre. Its bewilderment lasted only seconds as it hefted its makeshift club, grinned and charged toward the Lion. After only a few steps the air around the ogre suddenly burst into flame as dozens of small balls of fire rained down from above, burning its skin and singeing its hair. Still moving forward it looked around in anger then grunted heavily as a bolt of green flame pounded into its chest and spread across its body. A black streak from Kyoji’s bow found its mark in the ogre’s shoulder, putting it slightly off balance.
Yuudai had just closed with the beast, its six foot long club raised for a massive blow when Shinzo barreled into it from the right, savagely striking its knee with his tetsubo. Just then an orange ball of flame arced over Yuudai's head pummeling the ogre back with great force.
Off balance but not out the ogre still managed to swing at the little yelling target in front of it. The massive club connected solidly with Yuudai’s side producing a sickening crunching sound. The Lion crumpled in a heap a few feet back, unmoving. Another crackling bolt of green fire lit the space between the shugenga and the ogre as it moved its club back for another strike. The ogre was visibly pained as the green fire struck its chest and once again spread over its body. It growled and looked past the fallen samurai toward its assailant. Roaring loudly as an arrow grazed its neck it started forward once again. Its roar was immediately answered by a third bolt of the green fire, this time the ogre tried to dodge, but the bolt swerved and caught it in the chest just the same. It stumbled back, looking around dazed as the flames enveloped its head. It tried to move but its leg buckled and it sprawled forward onto the ground narrowly avoiding a sizzling ball of fire that whistled through the air where its head had been. The ogre straightened, even on its knees it was as tall as a man, but Shinzo boldly strode forward raising his weapon to deliver the finishing blow to the creatures head. The ogre was still wobbling when he brought his tetsubo down with tremendous power, on its shabbily armored shoulder. The strike seemed to bring the ogre back around, for it immediately steadied itself and lashed out at the Crab warrior. Shinzo jumped back out of the way with a laugh as the club whizzed by his chest.
Kyoji loosed another arrow and Mino put away her scrolls and took out her katana just as Sasuke finished conjuring Jade Strike for the fourth time. It was a spell he had not practiced often and he felt his connection with the earth kami falter as the final kanji was off his tongue. The bolt of green fire went wide to left of the ogre and Kyoji's arrow nicked the ogres right arm as it drew back to make another strike at the Crab. The attack was coming from an odd angle and Shinzo barely had time to deflect the massive club down toward the ground, but it wasn’t enough. The bloody log skipped off the earth and into his leg, sweeping his feet from underneath him and loosening his grip on his tetsubo, sending it rolling out of reach.
Dropping his bow and glancing over at Sasuke, Kyoji gave him a stern look as he charged with his katana drawn toward the hobbled ogre. The ogre reacted to his approach with a frantic fury, abandoning the wounded Crab to wildly flail at its new foe. Kyoji deftly parried the savage blow and slowly started to circle the beast in a crouched defensive stance. As the beast turned to follow the quiet Scorpion, Sasuke retrieved his naga-maki and rushed to aid the unconscious and bleeding Yuudai. Mino had circled the ogre as well and now with its back to the healing shugenga she proceeded to attack its flank, tracing a red line in the pale green skin of its belly with her blade. Still focused on Kyoji the ogre gave a great cry of pain and swung feebly at the Scorpion who again deflected the blow. To the side Shinzo was propped up on his elbow, one leg twisted at a weird angle, trying to string his bow so he would have another means of attacking the creature.
Attempting to keep the ogre’s attention fixed on him Kyoji moved within the range of the ogre’s swing, tempting it to strike. The ogre took the bait and raised its club high in the air over its head with both hands, preparing to flatten the annoying samurai. But as its arms raised and its skin became taught over its ribcage Mino thrust her katana deeply between two ribs, plunging straight through into the creatures black heart. It gurgled and dropped its club, holding its hands by its face to somehow try and stop the blood that gushed out of its mouth. The foul blackish liquid spilled past its fingers, forming a widening pool on the ground. It looked over at Mino, who had just finished flicking the blood from her blade, and then fell onto its face unmoving.
“Well thrust and true.” Kyoji said to Mino.
She bowed her head slightly to him and then moved over to where Sasuke was casting another healing spell on Yuudai. Yuudai was awake now and was testing his limbs even while Sasuke tried to keep him still. He had lost a lot of blood, but the healing the water kami performed had restored his strength and vitality. Shinzo hobbled over using his tetsubo as a makeshift crutch, Kyoji offered to take a look at his wound but he gruffly declined and moved away. After casting three healing spells on Yuudai, Sasuke moved over to where Shinzo was resting.
“You will not be able to keep up to us in that condition, let me take a look at your wound.” He said.
Reluctantly Shinzo agreed and Sasuke set the bone and wrapped the leg in bandages and healing salve. They turned just to see Mino sever the ogres head. Kyoji emerged from the ogres cave shortly after carrying a large pike with which he skewered the head. The young village boy had returned from wherever he had run to after seeing the ogre and Kyoji handed him the pike.
They made their way slowly back to the village with young Ichiro and the dead head in the lead. The villagers all gathered around in awe as the samurai emerged from the wood victorious, a token of their courage on a pike for all to see.
Mino addressed the village.
“You no longer have anything to fear from this vile creature. Put this beasts head up by your gateway as a sign to all of the shadowlands spawn that may venture this far into Rokugan that this village is protected by the 11th Imperial Legion, and incursions will not be tolerated.”
With that Mino sent Kyoji back to the site of the battle to retrieve the monsters weapon. They would need a trophy of their own when they told this tale before the gathered legionnaires at the reading of the histories tonight. When Kyoji returned awkwardly bearing the six foot club while astride his pony the rest of the samurai mounted up and started the journey back to Razor of Dawn Castle.
Labels: creative writing, RPG