This week’s episode is one of my favorites, and this is one of the last few Makoto entries written by me.
For anyone coming here for the first time because of my radio tour, every Friday I post up one of these shorts. Basically these are glorified fan fiction written by a bunch of novelists that I have a monthly Legend of the Five Rings game night with. Think magical samurai version of D&D and you’ve got the basic general idea. These were all written quickly and unedited, and then posted here just for kicks. It wrote this one in a couple of hours.
There is a small journal entry and then Makoto in Hell. Makoto is desperate and will do anything to save the woman he loves. Over the course of this game Makoto went from a dishonored nobody to a complete bad ass. If you’ve not been reading these, this may not make a whole lot of sense, but it is still totally awesome.
Twenty Ninth Entry
From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan
The last few days have nearly killed me. I have tried everything in my power to figure out how to help Yuni. I have spoken to everyone, heedless of the repercussions. Damn courtiers and their inability to speak plainly. Yuni has been poisoned by some form of powerful otherworldly magic, and somebody here knows by whom.
I always ask the Fortunes for help, and the Fortune that sent me on this mission was here in the flesh. I went to Kisada, interrupted him as he spoke to the daimyo of the Scorpion even, and demanded to be seen. I told him that I’d done as he’d asked. I’d done everything in my power to make Yuni a daughter of Hida. I’d followed Ide Todo as he’d commanded me. Yet Kisada pretended not to know who I was…
Some have questioned my sanity. Some have doubted that I was on a mission from the Fortunes. Kenzan said that I’d simply been hit too hard in the head and imagined the whole thing. But I’d always known I was on a mission from the Fortunes. Of course Kisada had to deny giving me this quest, for to do otherwise would be make my quest too easy. He is after all the Fortune of Persistence.
I thanked him and went on my way.
We wasted the day speaking to courtiers, trying to piece together the mystery of who would poison Yuni. This was business suited for Todo-sama and Tsuze. I simply wanted to be pointed in the direction of who I needed to beat to death. We were run in circles as the Scorpion played games against the Crab and the Crane talked at war and the Dragon gave up their quest to put Mirumoto Kei on the throne.
It was this event that gave Todo his first clue. Kei had as many supporters as anyone else. She was one of the chief rivals to Hoketuhime for the throne, but now Kei was throwing her support behind Bayushi Jimen, Emerald Champion. But why?
Tsuze received some cryptic information from that mirror of his. I do not trust the mirror, for only a fool would trust the words of someone who wouldn’t reveal their identity. Yet, at this point, I was desperate. The mirror said that Mirumoto Kei’s children, back in Dragon lands, had also been afflicted with a mysterious illness, similar to that inflicted on Yuni.
Todo-sama tried to speak to the Emerald Champion, but he was far too crafty to give up any information. However, Bayushi Paneki, clan champion of the Scorpion did give Todo-sama a few hints that perhaps there was more to Jimen’s politics than met the eye.
Is the Emerald Champion blackmailing the other contenders to the throne? Is he threatening their loved ones with some uncurable poison? If so, Hoketuhime will not tell us, nor is she backing down in her competition for the throne. Is she so ruthless that she would sacrifice her own child to reach her goals? That answer is obvious.
Yet, what can I do? Do I go and kill the Emerald Champion without any proof? Magatsu is more than willing to, but if we just kill him, then he’ll take the cure to the grave with him, which means Yuni will die.
But all is not lost. Magatsu has been using the considerable libraries of Toshi Ranbo to search for clues to this illness. He believes that he can send one mortal spirit from our realm to whichever spirit realm is cursing Yuni in an attempt to free her. It is more than likely a one way trip.
We will attempt the spell tonight.
MAKOTO IN HELL
Ningen-Do, the Realm of Mortals
“You will more than likely die.”
Hida Makoto sat on the polished hardwood floor next to Otomo Yuni’s bed, legs crossed with the tetsubo of Moshibaru Junaro lying on top of his knees. The Lord of Death’s straw hat rested upon his brow.
“Even if you can reach her and free her, it is doubtful that you will be able to find your way back to this realm. Your soul could be trapped in the outer plains for eternity.”
He checked the straps of his armor. The new suit fit to absolute perfection, as it had been forged for him alone. The new armor was plain, virtually unadorned, but Makoto could sense the quality. The smith who had created this armor had been a master. It would serve him well in Hell.
“If you are trapped in Jigoku, you will lose your place on the Celestial Wheel. You will never be reincarnated. Your spirit will be tainted and corrupted by evil. It is a curse far worse than death. Eternal torment…”
The Asahina healer was beginning to grate on Makoto’s nerves. “I heard you the first time. Just keep me alive as best you can.” The Crane scurried away to take his place with the other shugenja. Makoto looked to Kuni Magatsu, a shugenja who possessed a proper Crab mindset about such things. “I am ready when you are.”
Magatsu looked up from his scrolls. His friend was exhausted from the preparations, his traditional face paint marred by hours of painstaking labor and ritual prayer. This was the most complicated spell Magatsu would ever have attempted, and the slightest error would end Makoto, tearing his spirit away from Ningen-Do with no way to ever return. No pressure. Kuni Magatsu simply nodded. He was Crab. He would not fail… Besides, if he did, Makoto would be dead before he even knew what had hit him.
“I do not know where this will send you, nor do I know which realm Yuni’s soul is trapped in. The Fortunes will show you the way.”
Ide Todo stood to the side of the room, behind several other shugenja and monks. Even the grand courtier and leader of the Paper Lanterns could not keep his true face from showing at a time like this. He was nervous. Not just for Makoto’s life. No. That was the least of their worries. If the spell harmed the already weakened and comatose Otomo Yuni, Hoketuhime would surely have all of the senior Lanterns executed for their folly.
Not to mention that Todo-sama had come to suspect that the Emerald Champion, Bayushi Jimen, had been the one to poison Yuni. Other children of contenders for the throne had also fallen ill with a similar wasting disease, somehow connected to the spirit realms. The parents of those children were now backing Jimen’s claim to the throne. If the Emerald Champion found out what they were attempting to do, their lives would surely be forfeit.
That was the main reason they were attempting this spell in the middle of the night. Surely the instant they had barged into the princess’ quarters the Emerald Champion’s legions of spies had sent word, but hopefully he would not be able to stop them in time. “Do not worry, Todo-sama. I will bring her back.”
Ide Todo bowed. “I do not doubt that, my friend. But don’t tarry to see the sights. We’ll still have to deal with Jimen when you return.”
“Too bad. I have never had a vacation before.”
The mission given to him by the Fortunes came down to this moment. Magatsu had begun his prayers to the Kami. Six other shugenja were assisting him. Makoto tried to steady his breathing as the temperature in the room fell. He took one armored gauntlet and gently placed it on top of Yuni’s still hand. “Stay alive, Yuni. I am coming for you,” he whispered.
Magatsu’s spell began. The world was ripped to pieces.
Maigo no Musha, the Realm of Thwarted Destiny
Hida Makoto had found himself on a foggy, featureless plain. The air was heavy and moist. Droplets formed on his heavy armor and collected until it ran in rivulets down the steel plates and lacquered panels.
He ran for what felt like hours, but time seemed somehow broken here. Makoto did not know how he knew the path, but he could sense his goal somewhere far in the distance. Yuni’s soul was connected to his. They shared a kharmic bond that could be traced across all worlds. Hours seemed to turn to days, but there was no day or night in the world of fog, so he pressed forward into the murk.
What is this land without form? But it did not matter. Makoto was profoundly devoted in his worship of the Fortunes, but his religious knowledge did not extend so far as features of the various spirit realms. At least he knew he probably wasn’t in one of the evil realms because nothing had come to murder him. Yet. Makoto did not like this world. It was a lonely place.
He did not hunger. He did not tire. Magatsu had warned him that the spirit realms worked by a different set of rules than the mortal world. He could only hope that time was truly as different as the Kuni had taught, because Otomo Yuni’s body would not survive for very long back in the real world. After what felt like weeks Makoto finally saw something else moving within the swirling mists.
An armored samurai was waiting patiently for him, clad in pale blue, his hair long and white, while three red lines marred his handsome face with a grisly scar… “Kakita Fujo?” Makoto asked in surprise. The last time he’d seen the noble Crane had been at the All Mother, before the Branded Man had cut his head off. “But you are dead.”
“Hai, gunso,” the Iron Warrior answered. “You are in the Realm of Thwarted Destiny. This is the place where warriors who did not fulfill the entirety of their purpose wait for another opportunity for glory. We have been expecting you.”
Other shapes moved in the fog. “My hat looks good on you!” Shinjo Braga appeared, beaming. “You didn’t think that the Paper Lanterns would let a little thing like death get in the way of doing our duty! Tell me, do they tell stories about how brave I was?”
They were joined by more. Makoto was stunned to see so many of his former allies and friends. Moto Khano approached and grabbed him by the forearm in the tradition of the Unicorn clan. Matsu Abiru looked up from sharpening his spear and gave him a lopsided grin.
I am not alone.
“The war in heaven has created an imbalance in the Celestial Wheel. Lord Moon’s madness must be stopped. The Dark Oracle is thwarting the will of the gods.” Kakita Fujo explained. “We intend to put things right.”
The fog parted. There was a veritable army of samurai assembled there. He did not recognize most of them. The Paper Lanterns had been busy recruiting in more than one world.
“Chouchin Otokadate!” they shouted as one.
“We await your orders, gunso.”
Toshigoku, The Realm of Slaughter
The journey had turned into an expedition, and the expedition had turned into a full-fledged war.
At first Makoto had been glad to leave the bland plains of Maigo no Musha behind. The next world had seemed far more familiar, looking much like parts of the Empire that he had travelled through. The path toward Yuni was distinct and easy to follow. The air was not so stale, there was even a sun and a moon, though it was the same leering evil orb that watched over them in the real world.
But that was before he realized that the Paper Lanterns had entered the Realm of Slaughter.
The beautiful fields and forests had turned to chaos as they had been attacked from all sides. Toshigoku was where the spirits of men were sent when they died consumed by madness and bloodlust. Every day was battle, and as they were inevitably struck down with the wounds of death, they would simply rise again the next day to continue their savage and meaningless wars.
There was no reasoning with the slaughter spirits. Their minds had been consumed by rage and a desire to kill. They looked like men. They died like men, only the bastards kept coming back the next day for more.
But the Lanterns fought as one. They had continued their training during their wait, and they had learned much from their new spirit recruits. Day after day the slaughter spirits would rise and assail them while the Lanterns carried on.
A month passed, and then another. The seasons changed. Their numbers dwindled. Some of the Lanterns were consumed by the savagery of their surroundings and became corrupted, joining the ranks of the cursed slaughter spirits. Others were struck down and banished back to the Realm of Thwarted Destiny.
But Makoto did not falter. He became a consummate student of warfare. Who better to learn from than those that had battled for eternity? He analyzed each day’s combat and used those lessons to prepare the men for the next. He was struck with countless wounds, but all seemed to heal in miraculous time, his armor stopped blows that should have cleaved him in two, and his tetsubo seemed to strike like a righteous avalanche.
After a year of fighting, they neared the border to the next realm. Their progress had drawn the attention of some of the greatest of the trapped spirits, and now their generals rose to challenge the Paper Lanterns. These spirits retained the cunning of their mortal lives, and they’d whipped groups of slaughter spirits into an organized force to oppose the Lanterns.
Hida Makoto looked over the assembled army of dead lunatics standing in his way and knew that even they would not keep him from fulfilling his destiny.
Ningen-Do, the Realm of Mortals
Kuni Magatsu checked the sand in the hourglass, then checked again to be certain. Only three minutes had passed.
Yet during those three minutes, he had seen Makoto’s physical body age several years. Within seconds stubble had formed across his face and turned into a thick, dark beard. His hair grew longer and was hanging under the brim of his wide hat. Ghastly wounds had appeared suddenly and without warning, as the assembled shugenja had leapt forward to channel water spells of mending into Makoto’s tissues. Bones broke and reformed.
Ide Todo gasped as blood appeared all over Makoto’s armor and tetsubo, only to suddenly disappear, then reappear a second later. Nicks, scratches, and dents grew across Makoto’s armor, only to be hammered away or repaired by unseen hands within moments. It was as if the Crab was being washed over by wave after wave of battle.
Magatsu called upon his connection to the earth and granted the strength of the Kami to Makoto. He could only pray that it would somehow help. When he was done, he watched as a horrible gash was opened in Makoto’s cheek, only to be smashed closed to fade into a white scar. He looked at Yuni, but she did not stir, Makoto’s gauntlet still resting gently on top of her hand.
And all through that, Makoto’s expression did not change. His eyes were closed, at peace, yet determined.
Gaki-Do, the Realm of the Hungry Dead
“The trail ends here!” Makoto shouted to be heard over the wailing of the demons.
“We will hold them.” Fujo joined him at the edge of the crater and looked down. The ground had shattered like it was made out of glass. “I’m tired of this place.”
Everything in Gaki-Do was jagged and sharp. It was a realm of pain and need, filled with the angry ghosts of those who had died with some obsession. “As am I, Fujo. Wasn’t it a gaki that gave you that scar?”
Fujo nodded. “It was. If I am lucky I will meet the foul thing here and get to kill it all over again.”
“Don’t hold a grudge my friend. That scar gives you character. You Crane are all too pretty otherwise.”
Fujo laughed, but then quickly rose and struck down a swirling apparition. The green tinted beast erupted in a shower of sparks as Fujo’s katana cleaved it in two. “See to your woman, gunso. If I let Braga kill all of these things by himself I’ll have to listen to stories about it for eternity.”
Makoto climbed down the embankment. Tendrils of shadow came out of the walls, but Makoto was no stranger to the tricks of this land and quickly swatted them aside before they could entangle his arms and force him to slide down the razor walls. He reached the bottom quickly and turned, prepared to face the thing that was holding Yuni hostage.
This gaki was nothing like the others they had fought to get here. It was far more substantial and it was huge, in the form of a great, coiling serpent. The kharmic trail led right through the monster.
The serpent rose far above him and hissed. Then it spoke with the voice of an old woman. “Why do you come here, samurai? This is not your place.”
“I have been sent here by Kisada, Fortune of Persistence, on behalf of the Crab Clan, and by Ide Todo of the Order of Paper Lanterns, to retrieve the soul of Otomo Yuni,” Makoto said as he raised his tetsubo. “Now get out of my way or die.”
“Fool. I am Gaki no Hitogoroshi, queen of the valley of suffering.” The beast seemed to grow even larger. Its voice was a screech that filled the world. “The emerald scorpion placed these souls under my care. In exchange, I get to keep them when their bodies rot away back in your pathetic world. When he sits upon the imperial throne I will be rewarded with even more souls for my collection.”
“So the others he poisoned are here as well?” Makoto smiled. “Excellent…”
He lifted the tetsubo and charged the gigantic serpent.
Ningen-Do, the Realm of Mortals
Makoto’s hair and beard were now streaked with grey. According to the hourglass, approximately five minutes had passed.
“You, see to that cut.” Magatsu took one of the priests by the arm and rudely shoved him toward Makoto. The suddenly appearing wounds were too much for the weak stomached among the shugenja. “You, Phoenix. Prepare another blessing of earth. I feel—“
Suddenly the room filled with blood.
Magatsu had to stop to wipe it from his eyes. The entire bedroom had been splattered. He paused to smell it. Coppery, familiar, yet alien, a little too black to be human. Some of the other shugenja had begun crying or were trying to flee the room. Magatsu checked his jade pendant. “Calm down, fools. It doesn’t appear to be tainted.”
He studied the splatter that had reached the ceiling. Makoto had not moved, but the blood had seemed to originate from his tetsubo. “Very good.” Magatsu chuckled.
Ide Todo, much to his credit, was standing firm and wiping his face with the sleeve of his kimono. “What just happened?”
“I do believe Makoto just killed something impressive.”
Gaki-Do, the Realm of the Hungry Dead
Otomo Yuni was waiting for him among the freed captives of Gaki no Hitogoroshi.
She was as beautiful now as when he had first seen her all those years ago on the Wall, when an oni had cracked his skull, and she had saved the life of a Crab warrior that hadn’t even been worthy of guarding her baggage train. The Winter Chrysanthemum stood before him in an emerald kimono, poised, not seeming surprised at all to see him. She seemed to glow like a beacon in the black wasteland.
This was the woman he had devoted his life to and yet they had never actually met. After years of battling his way across the hells, Makoto was speechless.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said simply.
Makoto fell to his knees and dipped his head to the floor. Death’s hat went rolling away. “I am Hida Makoto.” He didn’t know what else to say. “I am sorry that it took me so long to get here,” he stammered.
“I know who you are. I’ve seen what you’ve been through. I’ve always been able to see bits of the future, I just never really knew who you were. Yet, the closer you drew, the better I could see. It took this terrible place to show me what I’ve always known.” Makoto felt a delicate hand touch his cheek. She guided his face up so that he would look at her. She smiled. “I knew you would come for me. I’ve always known.”
Yuni put one finger on his lips to stop him. The finger was removed. She peered into his eyes. Hers were wet with tears. “Makoto… Thank you.” Then she leaned in and kissed him.
Yomi, the Realm of Blessed Ancestors
Despite being in the grandest palace of the celestial heavens, and it having been a wedding ceremony fit for a child of heaven and mortal descendant of two separate Imperial lines, the celebration had been brief. There was, after all, a battle coming.
“Congratulations, gunso.” Kakita Fujo greeted Hida Makoto atop the battlements. “She is certainly too pretty for a Crab. How does married life treat you?”
“I am fond of the institution,” Makoto replied.
“As am I,” Yuni said. Makoto was so much bigger than she was that the Crane had not even noticed her standing there behind him.
“Princess!” Fujo hurried and bowed. “My apologies. I did not mean to speak out of turn—”
Yuni laughed. “Relax, Fujo. I merely wanted to pick up another quiver of arrows before Makoto and I begin our journey.”
Makoto was not surprised to learn that a dead man could blush. “I’ve come to say goodbye. I’ve already spoken with the others.” Time was a strange thing in the spirit realms, but near as he could figure, he had spent about a decade leading the ghosts of the Paper Lanterns. What was propriety among brothers such as that? “I spoke with the others already. Except Braga, he was occupied talking the ears off the Fortune of Storytellers… It is time for us to go home.”
“I cannot go with you,” Fujo said. “The mortal world is closed to me for now.”
The souls from the Realm of Thwarted Destiny could not continue their path along the Celestial Wheel until they were judged by the Fortune of Death, Emma-O, and either reincarnated or granted eternal peace in this blessed realm. “For now, but not forever.”
“Assuming the Celetial Wheel continues to turn at all,” Fujo said ominously.
Makoto had been thinking the same thing, and he looked toward the distant shadows on the horizon, where Lord Moon’s forces, his Legion of Blood, were leading their attack on the celestial heavens themselves.
“The battle does not go well for him, though.” Yuni said. “Do not worry, noble Fujo. The mad moon will be defeated. The Dark Oracles have wounded the Celestial Order, but balance will be restored eventually.”
Makoto knew exactly what she was speaking of. The Fortunes had granted Yuni visions of what the future held. Lord Moon’s madness knew no bounds and his corruption had nearly unmade creation. This war would be won, but too much damage had been done already. Even when this war was won and Lord Moon cast down, things had changed forever. In a generation, there would be a reckoning…
It was not his destiny to fight that war. It would be a new group of samurai that would decide the fate of the Celestial Order. Most of them hadn’t even been born yet, but Hida Makoto could not dwell on that coming storm. There were still a few things left for him to do.
“Goodbye, my friend. I turn command of the Paper Lanterns over to you.” Makoto bowed deeply to Kakita Fujo. “I have to get our future empress back to our world. There is still much work to do.”
“Are you going to say hello to Bayushi Jimen for us?” Fujo asked.
Yume-Do, the realm of dreams, had been the last realm they had passed through before reaching the gates of the celestial heavens. During that passage, they had gotten a glimpse into the dreams of the Emerald Champion himself, and it had confirmed their suspicions. He had been the one to poison Yuni in a vain attempt to intimidate her mother away from trying for the throne.
Makoto’s only response was to smile dangerously.
Ningen-Do, the Realm of Mortals
Kuni Magatsu nervously checked the hourglass. Ten minutes had passed.
Hida Makoto had aged ten years in ten minutes.
The shugenja were exhausted. They had called upon the kami continually to heal Makoto’s wounds and to strengthen his body and spirit. Spells exhausted, there was not much left that they could do. Still, Otomo Yuni had not stirred. Still, Hida Makoto had not moved.
But Magatsu was not done yet. He looked to Ide Todo. His commander was unaware that Magatsu was prepared to sacrifice his own life to bring Makoto back. He could only hope that Makoto had found the princess, because otherwise his spirit would be brought back empty handed. Magatsu gathered his remaining strength and prepared to life cast, to fuel the kami with his own essence. It would be fatal, but Magatsu was incapable of fear.
“She’d better be worth it, Makoto…” Magatsu whispered.
And then Makoto opened his eyes. “She is.”
To be continued next week with The Ignominious End of Bayushi Jimen http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/the-burning-throne-episode-43-the-ignominious-end-of-bayushi-jimen/