plan on posting monthly installments to my series. I hope you enjoy. The rating is PG-13 for scenes of violence and possible thematic elements. They're not too present in the early Turns. __________________________________________________ ____________ "Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream"--Led Zeppelin, Kashmir. Issue 1 Purpose I The blasted and weed-grown roads of the old residential area of the Arkmoore Derelicts were nearly empty, save for one traveler: a man in strange, if outdated (by Arkmoore standards) armor. The main components were a corset and skirt of dark red rock-like material, made from the gathered shells of akki mountain people. He wore a strange helmet that fanned out from the skull to shield his neck. His mask was an imitation of an akki’s face—a pointed nose and mischievous toothy grin. At his right hung a long sword, its partner, a short sword, hung at his left. A bo-staff was strapped across his back. Slung over his shoulder was a blotchy burlap sack. His path was lined the blasted and bullet-ridden shells of what had once been nice middle class homes. The traveler could feel the eyes of the vagrants within tracking his progress, most likely beseeching their Numenaldre that he would pass through peacefully. The truth was Ryuukei Hisaki had seen enough death in his lifetime that he was getting to the point where he no longer blinked an eye if someone were gunned down, shanked, or ran through with a blade if he felt they deserved it. At times he found himself thinking that the vagrants needed killing, something that disturbed him to no end. Their rapidly growing alliance with the Underground wasn’t really a choice; rather, it was more a necessity brought on by circumstances beyond their control. Were they really at fault? Not at all. Most had once served the Arkmoore as an officer in the Baron’s peacekeeping force during the Kaldak War. They expected to be applauded as heroes who brought peace to the scattered cities; yet when they returned rather than an extravagant awards ceremony they were met with hostile protesters. So were the protesters at fault in their opposition to the "Thankless Slaughter", as they called it? No. They fought for their cause to the bitter end. Like any good ruler, the Baron was essentially a proxy for the masses. Majority rule forced the Baron to disband the squads of men sent to fight in the war. No pensions, no rewards, nothing but bitter memories and shellshock like a cherry on top. So was the Baron at fault? No. He was fulfilling the code of his office. Ryuukei knew about codes. He considered them fickle things and could look up to a man who upheld his code without straying. Unfortunately they seemed to exist only as larger than life heroes from campfire stories and bedtime fables. So then who was to blame for the condition that Arkmoore was in? Ryuukei had yet to answer that question. At the end of the old road were the forlorn ruins of a private academy. Its courtyard had gotten out of hand; waist-high weeds and thorny brambles obscured the cobbled walk to the entrance hall. The twin statues of the Hunting Father's hounds that flanked the far passage had fallen across the cavernous room with their snouts supported precariously by the third level tiers. In the various doorways that opened onto and led from the tiered upper levels, Hisaki could see the dim glow coming from the camps of the homeless vagrants and was reminded of the mountain men from his homeland. He took extra care in ducking around the massive hind leg of the hound that blocked his way and passed through a darkened hall unmolested. Hisaki came to a marked door at the end of the hallway with bold, bright red writing read: STEP RIGHT UP, WANDERING BUTCHER! Hisaki removed a key from a pouch at his belt and unlocked the door. A musty, moldy smell rushed out to greet him. The room was damp but thankfully empty. The "WANDERING BUTCHER" (as his employer jokingly referred to him as) laid his sack in a corner and stood before it like a dog guarding his food dish. Hisaki's chest rose and fell rhythmically with each breath he took. In and out, in and out. They came slower and slower until there were minute-long stretches. His eyes rolled back in his head and the colors of the world around him faded to an inky black. The sterile void became ripe with the greasy, acrid scent of long pork (a dish enjoyed by the malevolent oni) slathered in burning tar. A pleasant sound of a crackling fire reached his ears. Every few seconds there was a loud POP! Like a wood knot exploding. Then quite suddenly it was as if someone had cranked the volume of a boom box to full blast. The stillness became alive with avian shrieks, the haunting cries men dying in a variety of ways, and the rhythmic clanging of steel against steel. II His eyes opened to the massacre. From the plateau he had a sweeping view of the sea of death. The fields of silvery green nue-grass were charred by fire and flooded with blood. Yamabushi in brown robes fought against trained enforcers. They matched the top-quality swords of the enforcers with their bo-staffs and chained kunais. Aiding the yamabushi were kite-like creatures with bird heads, called tengu. They swooped down among the enforcers with their beaks open so wide that it appeared comical until one saw how effective the move was. They would glide over squads of enforcers, sucking in the hapless soldiers. The more they took in, the more their chin-pouches bulged. With a pouch full of enforcers they swung the inflated sacs around like wrecking balls. Hisaki watched the scene with macabre fixation. It was like a monorail crash in Arkmoore. The sight of a ryuu-like engine sailing across the airways plowing through the lines of zoomer traffic followed by the horrific crash of the infernal machine into one of the damned industry towers—the hailstorm of stone and glass, the bodies flying like ragdolls—the climax of the disaster. It was like a big screen spectacle that held your attention until the bitter end. But he was expecting someone and had no time to watch the battle below play out. Hisaki descended the plateau and strode across the battlefield. None of the combatants noticed him. Out of nowhere came a tengu with its chin-pouch swollen and full. Hisaki braced himself as it dove at him and winced as the creature passed through him like a ghost. With a mighty swing of its head the beast sent a cluster of enforcers flying. On a barren mound was a tattered flag featuring the likeness of a shogun. He was armored in black and had a head of thick white hair that ran down the length of his pack. His fierce gaze was on the massacre behind Hisaki. Hisaki spat at the foot of the flag and walked on across the plains of nue-grass. He stepped around loose body parts, corpses burnt beyond recognition and pathetic squalling forms of tengu that had been grounded with globs of reeking tar which burned through feathers and deep-fried skin. Twice he had yamabushi whose backs were plastered with flaming pitch grab his ankles. He delivered a solid kick to each one’s miserable face with the bottom of his wooden sandals. The Meiyo-Hazumi Wall enclosed both the city and outlying farmlands and the paddies to the south. Where there were once magnificent twenty-foot high gates emblazoned with the fiery fenghuang that symbolized the Torikaen Kingdom was now a hole whose base had served as a chopping block for both sides of the conflict. Hisaki nudged aside the upper half of a yamabushi and climbed through the crude door. As he did, there was a moment of intense nausea that passed as soon as he set foot on the other side. Before him stretched the plains, dotted with huts, barns, and grazing herds of the wooly yakows. It was an idyllic scene untouched by the massacre at the Wall. Hisaki glanced back and saw a perfect wall. There was no smoldering hole, all the watchtowers stood, and enforcers were stationed at their usual posts along the top of the Wall. Along the road to the city Hisaki was greeted by farmers heading to and from Meiyo-Hazumi who were blissfully unaware of the massacre that surely laid not a mile from their homesteads. The streets of Meiyo-Hazumi were nearly abandoned. Shops were closed and kiosks had been boarded up. Not even a patrolman could be found. A chilly wave of dread washed over Hisaki, who knew good and well where the citizens of the capital city were. His fears were confirmed upon arriving at the main street. Though it was roughly a mile from the Daimyo’s palace, Hisaki had come to the fringes of a crowd consisting of the entire populous of Meiyo-Hazumi, minus the bedridden ill. They were all dressed similarly in dark silk and wool robes. The patrolmen were charcoal colored tankos. Every head was bowed and every eye closed. Another wave of dread pounded into Hisaki. There was a feeling in the air. It was tense, like tranquil stillness before disaster. From behind there was a loud BOOM, followed by several mute explosions and a sound like wind buffeting a futon blanket. Suddenly a tengu with a cackling yamabushi in its claws flew over the crowd towards the Daimyo’s palace. Hisaki dashed through the cluster of specters and wincing as he passed through them (it didn’t hurt per say, but it was an unpleasant feeling similar to dipping a hand into icy water). He passed through the wall of the greater palace and came out before the magnificent inner palace just in time to see the yamabushi hurling explosives at its dusty yellow façade. The bombs blew away chunks of stone all around the balcony where old Daimyo Hagetaka stood. The tengu hovered over the balcony and released its yamabushi cargo. Hisaki had already entered the palace and was rushing to the third level. He crossed servants and grandchildren of the Daimyo going about business as usual though none of them noticed him. He passed through the door to the Daimyo’s studies and through the paper screen door to the balcony he saw it all--The shadow of the yamabushi grabbing Daimyo and spinning him around. The Daimyo pushing away from the mountain bandit and coming around with a roundhouse kick which the bandit blocked with crossed arms. Hagetaka delivered a flurry of jabs first to the exposed midsection of the yamabushi, then spreading them out when the bandit attempted to block, slowly moving him across the balcony. A final kick to the yamabushi and he was down. Hisaki stepped out from the study in time to see the yamabushi lying against the railing, bloodied from his brief skirmish with Daimyo Hagetaka. The yamabushi smiled (the grin wide enough so that with the pointed nose, he resembled one of the keshou mountain men) and pulled a small keshou-made bomb from behind his back and said the keshou word to activate the bomb. Its fuse ignited and the spark began racing down towards the crudely shaped sphere. Hisaki cried out and lunged tiger-like for the Daimyo. As he passed through his master (the Daimyo here was only an image, after all) the balcony was engulfed in yellow and orange. Within the inferno, amid the falling debris, Hisaki saw the rapidly combusting form of Hagetaka. Before the flames reached his face it contorted into such a pathetic grimace of horror that it would haunt Hisaki even after he left this Plane. When the fiery rain hit the courtyard the townspeople’s heads rose one by one to look on the blazing remains of the balcony. Hisaki stepped through the flames unharmed as a pair of patrolmen hurried forward and began moving aside the chunks of concrete. Their gloves resisted the heat long enough for them to reveal an indistinguishably lumpy thing that resembled a medium-sized wad of unevenly seared meat. There were a few fragments of bone that jutted from the puddle. The smoldering remains of a kimono dotted the grisly remains of Daimyo Hagetaka. He’s coming. Soon He will be here. Hisaki glanced skyward. Already he could see the clouds beginning to circle around the Daimyo’s courtyard. A cold feeling of impending dread had overtaken Hisaki and now adrenaline coursed through his veins. Fueled with fear, Hisaki rushed through the crowd praying that he made it to his manor before Him. III By the time Hisaki reached the southern paddy fields, the sky had become bleak and overcast, not at all that different from Arkmoore’s. His trip had not been an easy one. Constantly he found himself looking over his shoulder, even though he knew what would soon come. A strong gust blew down from the north causing the paddy field scarecrows to sway and pirouette in the wind. The lightning flashed in the sky and thunder rumbled like boulders rolling down a mountain. The men and women working in the rice fields looked at the sky uncertainly, debating whether or not to call it a day. A sudden clap whose resonance rattled the yakow barns decided for the paddy workers. They began steering their yakow-pulled plows down the lanes that bisected the paddy fields towards the barns. After his ears stopped ringing Hisaki listened carefully. He heard several more low rumblings that, after a while, began to sound like hoof-beats. The sound put a spring in Hisaki’s step, and soon he came to the manor grounds. Built near the forested mountain-terraces of the hebijin snake-people, the Regent’s Manor was the second largest structure in Meiyo-Hazumi right behind the Daimyo’s Palace. The entrance was marked by a black iron gate and its perimeter encompassed the manor as well as an archery range, tea house and garden, forge and adjacent armory, and servant’s quarters. As Hisaki walked through the garden he paused to enjoy the serenity of nature that had been nurtured with the tender hands of his servants. The serenity of nature that had been nurtured by the well-practiced hands of his servants (a few of which were hebijin) was something that would surely be utterly alien to the Arkmoore dwellers. The soft yellow-orange glow of the stone lamps beside the pond, lit with takegenkei was a far cry from the violently bright floodlights that spilled over the Derelicts from Arkmoore’s city wall. A flash of lightning followed by a rhythmic rumble of thunder that sounded like a horse going along at a steady trot stirred Hisaki from his mild trance. He entered the manor and passed down the hallway at a brisk pace, not stopping until he reached the end of the second floor hallway. He paused and listened through the closed door. He could hear a gentle voice singing a folksy lullaby. Hisaki passed through and saw a slight form whose black air fell over her face sitting in a chair beside a window that looked out on the terrace. In her arms was a tiny bundle that held one of the woman’s fingers in a fat fist. Hisaki reached for the bundle to pull aside the hem of the baby’s blanket before he remembered that none of this was real anymore. So instead he stepped behind the chair Aika Hisaki was seated in and leaned in to see the face of his son. Aika continued to sing her song but it didn’t seem the little one was listening. Hisaki reached down tentatively to touch little Jiro Hisaki and winced as his hand passed through the babe. He sadly pulled it back and looked up when there was a knock at the door. “Lady Hisaki, Abiyoe Gowar of the hebijin to see you.” Aika laid Jiro in his crib and slid aside the screen partition. Standing there was a humanoid figure that was seven feet tall with a cascade of mossy hair. His skin was a light shade of green and his face was heart-shaped. An additional set of arms grew from the snake-man’s back. To outsiders of the Torikaen Kingdom, the eyes of a hebijin appeared unreadable, expressing only perpetual anger. In those red slit eyes Aika saw grim acceptance. “Abiyoe, what’s—” “The Daimyo has been murdered, milady. Has Ryuukei returned?” “No…” Aika’s eyes widened as the news registered. She glanced out the window. Her eyes shone with fear. Perhaps even tears. “When will He be here?” she asked quietly. “I do not know. I only came to warn Hisaki.” Abiyoe walked to the crib to see Jiro. The baby looked up at him with solemn eyes. Abiyoe smiled and flicked his serpent’s tongue out as if sniffing the air. Jiro cooed and made grasping motions with his hands. Abiyoe reached into the crib with a slender hand and let Jiro grab his finger. “Warn him of what?” “You know that as a samurai and a regent to the Emperor, Hisaki swore an oath to the Honor-Bound Guardian.” “Seppuku.” Aika murmured. Her mouth drew into a line as she stared at the floor. “You came to warn Ryuukei not to fight the Honor-Bound Guardian?” “I’m sorry milady.” Abiyoe closed his eyes briefly, a sign of apology in hebijin society. He placed all four arms behind his back and bowed. “Thank you, Abiyoe.” With that Aika hurried from the room, her sandals clomp-clomp-clopping as she went. Abiyoe smiled and gently lifted Jiro from his cradle. Hisaki watched them play with a mixture of joy, jealousy, and anger. He was thrilled to finally have seen his son, but bitterly jealous that it was not he playing with the boy. He burned with anger towards the Honor-Bound Guardian. It was surely by his doing that Hisaki was able to see a child who he could not recall beyond a name. “Consider it a pennance offering.” Hisaki slowly turned to face the speaker. There stood the Honor-Bound Guardian Bakoto Ufamaro. He wore black lacquered armor fashioned in o-yoroi style. His entire face was hidden behind an angry red shomen mask. On the tsurubashiri chest plate portion of his armor was an image of a beast with the serpentine body of the ryuu, the fiery wings of the fenghuang, and the head of a nue from the back of which flowed a long mane of hair and whose mouth was open in a roar. “So it’s really You? Where’s the kirin?” Hisaki asked warily In addition to the armor, Bakoto Ufamaro had come with his daisho which consisted of his katana strapped across his back and the wakizashi short sword that hung at his side. Hisaki himself had appeared in this memory with nothing more than a white silk robe that had a stylized fenghuang firebird embroidered over his left breast and a pair of hebijin-made sandals (very poorly made; Aika had given the hebijin woodweaving an amiable attempt and found it wasn’t for her). “I did not come to fight you, Ryuukei Hisaki. I came to ask a favor.” Hisaki grinned mirthlessly. “As I recall the last time we met, we found ourselves in a similar situation…” “I haven’t forgotten,” the Honor-Bound Numenaldre said darkly. He then fell to his knees and pressed his head to the floor. “Ryuukei Hisaki, former Regent of the Torikaen Kingdom, I come to ask forgiveness.” Hisaki’s smile pulled up in an angry sneer. “Yes, this is quite familiar. Do you recall your answer?” “I only followed the Code, Ryuukei.” “The Code no longer applies to me, Honor-Bound Guardian.” Hisaki replied coldly. “So we have nothing more to discuss.” Beneath his mask the Honor-Bound Guardian sighed. “Ryuukei, I am offering you a chance to abandon this illusion for reality.” His first thought was: Took you long enough, but his anger at the Honor-Bound Guardian disappeared quickly as a sandcastle swept away by the tide. With an answer on his lips, Hisaki turned... ____________________________________________________________ Questions about any aspects of the story are welcome. I have the information if you ask for it. After we have gotten far enough into the story, I will post some information on the different aspects. I wish to wait so that no plot elements are ruined for those who would rather learn as we go along.