((Intro: This story is set in the Dawn of the Empire era, during the Great War against Fu Leng. It takes place in a village in what would be the presently-lost Hiruma lands. Hope you enjoy!))
The fighting raged around him, terrible creatures of nightmare spawned from the depths of the Dark Afterlife, their screams and howls hideous. The very air around them seemed to twist in pain and pull away from their otherworldly existence. Hanhashi struck out with his sword, a large thick blade that cut well through the armored plates of these beasts.
“Koin, Igeru, to me!” he shouted, trying to rally his fellow fighters. He could hear as they rushed to his side, and together they formed a bastion against the tide of demon-spawn. They both carried swords similar to his, dripping with ichor and blood. Hewing through the flood ahead of them, they finally reached an area where the demons were few.
In the middle of this clearing stood a man, seemingly waiting for them. No, he’s far to large to be a man, thought Hanhashi. The one waiting stood at least the height of two men, with thick muscles all about his form. He wore an armor of overlapping plates and carried a club as thick as Hanhashi himself was. The visage was demonic, with his pale skin and a helm featuring two curling horns, made in the same overlapping style as his armor. “I am Morangora, Champion of the Forgotten One, and Lord of the Ogres. You humans have slain enough of my troops, and I will crush you here. Be glad as you die, knowing that you three are the first worthy foes I have faced in decades.”
Igeru charged in first, ducked the swing of the massive club, and swung his sword to connect heavily with the armored plates Morangora wore. Hanhashi and Koin followed, striking at his arms, which were unarmored. His own blade bit in deep, but Koin’s was knocked aside from the club the ogre held. With a roar of pain, the massive creature turned on Hanhashi, and lifted him from the ground with his wounded arm.
His next memory was of the ground, dark and stale beneath him, his body sore from impact. He started to push himself up, but found his arm was broken, part of the bone poking through his skin. Rolling over, he sat up, just in time to see Igeru get the full swing of the ogre’s club into his stomach. His friend went flying as well, in the opposite direction. Koin took advantage of Morangora’s distraction to swing his blade across into the ogre’s leg, sending him crashing to one knee as he could no longer support his massive weight.
Hanhasi stood quickly, grabbing his heavy blade in his remaining good hand, and charged again. Koin struck the ogre in the back, taking its attention to him. The ogre lashed out with his arm to strike the human, but Hanhasi reached him first. He pulled his blade up from the ground where he had drug it, and the upward cut went easily between the plates of Morangora’s armor. Black blood spilled out, and the ogre collapsed forward, gasping in its final moments.
Spitting on the ogre, he laughed, “I’m glad your Forgotten One never bred his slaves with brains, at least.” He pulled his sword free, and brought it down on the ogre’s neck, getting it lodged halfway in.
“Igeru…” Koin started, then ran quickly over to where their friend had been tossed. Hanhashi followed, slowed by his pain, but pressing it aside and doing his best to ignore it. When he got to Igeru’s side, Koin had his head laid on Igeru’s chest. “He’s breathing, brother, but it sounds laborious at best. Stay with him, I will go get Tomeko.”
Tomeko was not a human, as the other three were, but a strange creature with large yellow eyes. She used great powers that none of the humans understood, and her name was truly unpronounceable, but she did not mind the name the community had given her. Hanhashi nodded, and motioned for Koin to go, then sank his own sword into the ground, resting on it. After what he supposed was twenty marks on the candle, the two returned, and Tomeko knelt down by Igeru, and began speaking in her strange tounge, sounding like rocks being shaken in a barrel.
She then went over to the ogre and shook her head sadly. “He was corppteted,” she studdered, still unfamiliar with their language. “The Darrkik Afteterlaif tookik him.”
“Finish taking off his head, then. We cannot allow him to rise and threaten our village again.” Hanhashi lifted his sword and started to go to the ogre, but Tomeko stopped him.
“His spiritit is repentatnt. He wishes tto makeke amendedes.” She knelt by the creature’s body and placed her hands on his half-severed neck, pulling the split together. Speaking again in the strange tongue of her people, the ogre shuttered a few times, then slowly pushed himself up, a dark golden glow coming from under his armor.
He bowed, “I wish to earn your forgiveness through what information I have. The Forgotten One’s forces are massive, yet the legions of Hida are only two days away. He wishes to crush your village, and have you and your families raised as undead, and use them to shield his own armies during the charge. There will be another assault tomorrow, lead by his most powerful champion, an Oni bearing an unknown name of great power. If your people leave, and head east, you will be able to avoid his armies long enough to encounter the Crab. I wish I could aid you more, but now, my soul will be called to answer for my vile crimes. In my next life, I will strive to make amends for all the murder and destruction I have caused.” He rose from the bow and the golden glow faded, and with a crash that sounded of thunder, he collapsed.
Hanhashi returned the bow. “Burn his body intact, then. Let him go whole to face his fate.”
Later that day, in the village square
The elders talked amongst themselves, while the people waited. After an hour-candle had burned out, they concluded their discussion, and returned to speak. “We will not abandon our homes,” one elder began, “but we will send a messenger to the Crab army.”
Another elder stepped forward, “We will fight against this dark tide, and our heroism will be a beacon of light for all to see, and to guide the Crab to us. We will show that the Forgotten One can be beaten.”
Hanhashi nodded. “Yes, I agree with the elders. It will be a hard battle, but the Dark Afterlife shall not take us. We will persevere against these trials and prove our strength to the Crab. When they come, they will find a legion of warriors prepared to march to the Forgotten One’s own citadel and tear it apart.”
The crowd cheered, their shouts drowning out the sounds of the night. He waited a moment, then continued when the cheering had quieted. “All who are willing to fight for their village come with me. No one will be turned away. The very raw element of courage is our birthright. We have known this for hundreds of years.” He raised his sword into the air over his head, “Tomorrow, even the afterlife itself will shudder with our glory!”
The Following Day…
It had rained all night, and the ground all around the village was deep mud. Some laborers had worked from before the dawn, when the rain had fallen off, to make ditches and a shallow moat. All the fighting troops had lined up behind that, with the small unit of bowmen dispersed out in a circle, to provide even arrow support.
Koin stood next to Hanhashi and looked up at him. “Are you sure this was the best idea? Why should we not have made a fighting retreat, and join the Crab army?”
“Because our home would have been lost, Koin. His armies would have corrupted the very earth that our houses were built upon, until the land itself rejected us. We never could have taken it back. So thus, we must never lose it.” He set his hand on Koin’s shoulder, a show of trust and brotherhood. “Go to Igeru. He must have the finest men to guard the school, and the children too young to lift a sword. I will lead everyone here. May the skies echo your soul, brother.”
Nodding in response, Koin said, “And may the heavens shout your praises.” He bowed quickly, then left. Hanhashi turned to look outward; even though the sun had just risen, the sky was turning grey and dark from the southwest. The horde approached, ready to sweep over this town, and not even slow as they rushed to butcher the Hida armies.
But that would not happen; not today, not ever. For a moment, everything stood still. The foul scent on the wind evaporated, and the sounds of spring began to be heard, but just as suddenly, darkness came.
The air twisted malevolently, as the screaming demons tore themselves free into reality. Breath became faint as the wind itself pulled away, as if harmed by the terrible existence of these things. An army, no… a Horde, of creatures appeared, and sped towards the men and women awaiting them.
Hanhashi raised a horn, and blew a long bellow from it, and arrows began to fall in front of them. Most of the smaller green creatures stumbled from the impact and went down and were quickly crushed by the demons racing in behind them. Several humans charged with them as well, their minds enslaved by the power the Forgotten One controlled. Hanhashi blew the horn again, and his troops readied their weapons. Not a single one wavered in their stance.
A maddening howl came from the mass ahead of them, but another roar from Hanhashi’s horn overpowered it. The horde crashed into the moat, several of the weaker ones falling prey to the wooden spikes hidden beneath the water. The rest just used the dead and dying bodies as a bridge to cross to where the carnage would begin.
He put the horn aside and drew his blade, taking up a forward position with everyone else. He steadied his breathing, and then the monsters were there. Spears came up from the ground in the last instant, but the wave of demons came on. The enemy were packed close enough that with every swing of his blade he hit several of them.
The fighting raged on for hours, until every man and woman still standing was covered in the blood and ichors of the demons. The village burned as creatures of pure fire raced along the air, immune to the arrows fired from below. Tomeko moved as fast as she could, helping the wounded, and making certain that those who died wouldn’t rise again. The school was the only building not burning, though if it were by fate or by chance, neither Koin nor Igeru could say.
Hanhashi still lead from the front, his sword chipped, and its tip broken. The heat was growing from the flames, and exhaustion from the constant fighting was wearing on everyone. It was then that it came.
A roar of fury and evil washed across the village. Even those that had stood firm earlier faltered. Most suffering from injuries simply lost the will to keep fighting and succumbed to death. Hanhashi reached for his horn, but it was no longer there, having been torn off in the fighting.
Then a massive form appeared: a demon larger than any that they had seen before. It stood far above the ogre Hanhashi had faced the day before, with large spines coming from its body and a mouth large enough to swallow several men whole. It came from the ground as though the earth was expelling it, forcing it out, rejecting its very presence. The world grew darker as a tangible force of evil spread from it.
Hanhashi looked for his horn again, needing to blow that rallying note to drown out the terrifying noise of the huge demon. Suddenly, the sky light up bright and a loud note of thunder tore across the sky, deafening any noise but its own. The demon horde hesitated at that, and even their massive lord faltered for a moment. It was then that Hanhashi signaled for the charge, grabbing up the banner that had fallen. With a furious cry, echoed by the thunder, the warriors surged in, their strength renewed.
The Next Day…
The scout knelt before the great figure before him. “Lord Hida, we have discovered a small village. There seems to have been a battle…”
Hida nodded and motioned for the scout to rise. “Take me there, Hiruma.” The Crab scout stood and turned towards the southwest. They moved quickly, and soon came upon a village of death.
Broken bodies lay strewn about everywhere, both oni and human. The buildings were burned to the ground, weapons were shattered, some jutting at awkward angles from the thick shells of carapace upon the oni.
Another scout came near, bowing low. Hiruma made a quick motion, and the scout rose. “Lord Hiruma, Hida-no-Kami, I am sorry, but there are no survivors.”
Hida nodded, “I thought not. The Oni Lord leading them was one of the more powerful our forces had encountered, nearly as strong as Hatsu Suru no Oni was. We need to find it soon, so that more of,” he moved his hand across the ruined skyline, “does not happen.”
The scout bowed again, “We have found the Oni Lord, Hida-no-Kami. It is slain.”
The First Crab looked at the scout with surprise. “Show me.” The walked to the south-western corner of the village, where it seemed the fighting had been the most intense. The large number of dead oni and humans was enough to show that.
Hiruma looked at one of the bodies, “This man has blisters on his hands, but not from a sword. He carried the banner… until he died.” He looked around on the ground near the fallen man, “But I do not see the banner.”
Hida pointed up, atop a pile, almost a stair, of dead oni. Above it stood a single man, holding a banner in one hand, and a long thick blade in the other. As Hida looked on, he saw the man was dead, but his sword was driven into something. He walked around to the other side of the pile and saw what.
The Oni Lord, its skull split in two by what was probably the dead man’s last swing. “Bring the man and the banner down. I want to know what the name of this village was, and give me his personal mon.”
A few burakumin hurriedly brought the man down, but he bore no symbol. The banner was likewise unreadable, written in some script that the Kami did not know. Hida sighed in disappointment. “Whoever he was, he did us a favor. But we cannot take the time to mourn. Burn the bodies and the rest of the city, all of it. Fu Leng’s army is going to be heading straight for my brother’s empire. We have no time to waste chasing the memories of this place. Perhaps after the War, but not now.”
He held the banner one last time as the flames began, then cast it aside into the fire. “Hiruma, take your scouts ahead. We’ve already sat idle too long.”