By Brian Yoon
Edited by Fred Wan
The City of the Lost, 1167
The ogre entered the throne room, the ground shaking in the wake of his heavy steps. The creature was certainly a curious sight. In many ways he was the same as any of his kind. He was of normal height for an ogre, taller than Daigotsu by at least three heads. Two large horns jutted out from his forehead, and large tusks marked his jaws. Its muscles bulged under its armor, bespeaking incredible power.
However, there was no mistaking him for an ordinary ogre. The limited intellect of his brethren made all but the simplest of tools and weapons beyond their abilities They were strong, but could easily succumb to their baser instincts, becoming nearly mindless. This ogre wore a rough imitation of samurai armor, giant pieces of lacquered armor strapped to its massive frame. A no-dachi hung on its back, the long blade dwarfed only by the size of its wielder. Preserved, severed human heads hung from its back from a series of poles that mimicked samurai back banners. Though the equipment was crude compared to that of the Clans, the mere fact it was used by an ogre spoke volumes.
The ogre approached the throne then knelt in front of the Dark Lord. The floor squeaked in complaint as it bore his immense frame. The ogre grabbed his weapon by the saya and placed the blade in front of it, hilt facing away from his right hand. He bowed deeply.
Daigotsu regarded the creature with a bemused smile. “You are a Free Ogre; your will is not bound to that of my master,” he said without preamble.
The ogre nodded. “Yes, Dark Lord,” he said. His voice rumbled through the room like the sound of distant thunder. “I am Kayomasa, student of Kayosai, the leader of the Mikata.”
“I remember the Mikata,” Daigotsu said. “You worked along the side of the Tsuno before my death.” He raised an eyebrow. “You left my service when Iuchiban usurped the throne.”
Kayomasa bowed his head. “If you remember, Daigotsu-sama, our leader Kayobun died before the Crab took the Wall back from your forces. My sensei Kayosai held a grudge against you for you restored Fu Leng, our oppressor, to the heavens. We would not be mindless thralls again.” He looked up. “Also, you know that my kind respect only strength. Your strength and the strength of your allies the Tsuno drew us to your side. You lost.”
“I thank you for being frank,” Daigotsu stated. “Why are you here?”
“I come to offer you my services as a loyal retainer.”
“What of your brothers?”
“My brothers believe we should bow our head to no masters,” Kayomasa said. “They remember the years of bondage under the sway of Fu Leng’s influence.”
Daigotsu’s cold glare bore into Kayomasa. “My faith in the Dark Kami remains absolute. All of my actions are dedicated to his name.”
Kayomasa bowed its head and remained silent.
“I have no use for disloyal followers. How can I know you will not betray me, as your former master did?”
“I can give you no guarantees, Daigotsu-sama, except my word. I respect order and strength. The Maw’s army would have us be simple brutes again. Perhaps I can help maintain your great empire and send a message to others that ogres cannot be underestimated.”
Daigotsu finally smiled. “You intrigue me, Kayomasa. Perhaps you will find a place here, after all. Stay in the city and you will one day serve me well.”
The ogre bowed. “As you will, my lord,” he said.
The Kaiu Wall,1168
The starless light made it hard to see the giant steps that led to the ramparts of the Wall, but the boy made his way up without complaint. The steps were made for much larger strides than his, so reaching the top was more difficult than expected. He nodded to himself. One day, he would stand among the most powerful samurai, able to bound up to the ramparts in a few steps. One day he would grow to be as tall as his father and the other famous warriors of the Crab, but that day was yet to come. For now, he had to take each step one at a time.
Finally he reached the top and looked around him. The Wall certainly looked different at night. The defenses never looked inviting; it was a fortress built specifically for battle and looked its role. At night, it looked worse. The only sources of light now came from the fires lit along the guard stations that dotted the Wall. The shadows made everything seem more menacing and evil. The boy walked forward toward the edge of the Wall to peer out at the Shadowlands. No fear or worry lined his face, only curiosity and determination.
“You!” someone shouted from his left, and the boy turned. It was a Crab samurai from the closest guard station. He could see two more that stood at their station. All three were looking at him.
“What are you doing here, boy? How did you get past all the patrols?” the first guard continued as he walked toward him.
“I couldn’t sleep,” the boy replied. “I wanted to see what the Wall looked like during the night. My mother never lets me come here at night.”
“With good reason,” a second guard called out from his station. “This is no place for a child.”
A look of fierce determination crossed the boy’s face. “I may still be a child, but soon that will change. Soon I’ll be here with you, helping you against our enemy.”
The first guard grinned. “Hai, you know your duty. I am Hida Tsubaru. What’s your name, boy?”
“I am Ichiro,” he replied. “Once it comes time for my gempukku, I’m going to take the name of the greatest Crab hero.”
“Well, Ichiro,” Tsubaru said and knelt beside Ichiro. He placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “One day you’ll be one of us, and a great samurai at that. You’ll stand with me, shoulder to shoulder, and fight back our eternal enemy. One day, Ichiro, but not tonight. Tonight you go back down and sleep. Duty comes easier with a full night’s rest.”
Ichiro looked up and nodded. He opened his mouth to speak, but a sudden shout from his left interrupted him. The two samurai at the guard station leapt to their feet and grabbed the tetsubo that rested by their sides. “Attack! Ready yourselves!” one of them shouted. The other ran toward the guard station, and in a matter of seconds a large gong sounded into the night. A few seconds later, other gongs further down the length of the wall echoed in response.
Tsubaru jumped to his feet and drew his katana. Ichiro decided to move back toward the safety of the castle but he could not move. He could not see. His eyes were open, but where once there was the familiar sight of the kind Crab warrior and the sturdy structures of the Wall, only a red haze remained. Ichiro blinked. The red would not disappear.
To his right, Ichiro heard a voice scream. Just as suddenly, the scream cut off and was replaced by a meaty thud. He could sense a shape moving just in front of him. If he did not move now, Ichiro knew, he would die. Instinctively, he leapt to the side and rolled as he hit the floor. His roll stopped when he ran into the fallen shape of a samurai. He rose to a crouch and looked to take in his surroundings. His face flushed. It was a silly time for regrets, but the boy felt embarrassment down to his core. What would his great-grandfather think of him, allowing fear to paralyze his every move?
He could see now, though a red fog remained over everything. Tsubaru was the body he had ran into. His katana lay on the floor, just outside of his grasp. A black viscous liquid covered the guard’s mouth and neck, and his glazed eyes stared out at nothing. In the distance Ichiro could see the other guards fighting a monster with six claws. The claws crashed into the Wall with incredible strength, ripping out blocks of stone whenever it hit. Ichiro could hear heavy footsteps, as other Crab ran to reinforce the section of the Wall.
Ichiro’s troubles were far from over. The shapes still moved around, too fast for his eyes to follow. Whatever they were, they gnashed their teeth and snarled loudly. The shapes moved closer and closer. Ichiro gritted his teeth and forced himself to concentrate. He looked around quickly, trying to find something to help defend himself against the monsters. His sensei had taught him to wield a bokken, but not yet a true blade, and he feared the weight would prove unwieldy. He whispered an apology to Tsubaru and grabbed the hilt of the wakizashi still at the fallen samurai’s side. With a grunt he pulled the blade free from the saya. He held the weapon ready in front of him and stepped back. The shapes continued to move toward him, undaunted by the sight of the weapon in the boy’s hands.
The sound of a horse filled the air and the shapes paused, as if in confusion. Ichiro glanced to his right toward the Shadowlands and caught a wondrous sight. A man in full samurai armor atop a ghostly steed flew through the air. The horse landed in front of Ichiro, and the samurai dismounted with one swift motion. As soon as the man had cleared the horse, it disappeared into nothing.
He was larger than any person Ichiro had ever seen, even larger than his father, even larger than the legendary Great Bear. The stranger faced the demons, drew his blade, and adopted a stance Ichiro knew was a favorite of many veteran Crab warriors.
The shapes hesitated to rush forward, as if they could sense the strength of the new opponent. Long tendrils of shadow leapt out from the shapes and snaked toward Ichiro. Before they could reach the Crab, the stranger launched his own attack. His blade sang as it ripped through the tentacles. He leapt forward much quicker than Ichiro expected a man of his size to move and attacked. The demons were no match for the furious assault.
It was over. Ichiro still watched in awe, still holding the wakizashi, as the stranger flicked the blood off his blade. He sheathed his katana and turned to survey his surroundings. He knelt next to Tsubaru’s unmoving body. He plunged his fingers into Tsubaru’s mouth without hesitation and began to scoop out the black liquid away from his mouth. A moment later Tsubaru coughed and began to vomit onto the floor. Ichiro was fascinated.
“He will live, though I doubt he will be happy with the result,” the stranger said. He turned to face Ichiro. “You have the look of your mother.” His voice, tinged with sadness, sounded oddly familiar.
Ichiro blinked. “You know who I am?” he asked.
By now, the reinforcements had arrived. Countless Crab bushi rushed into combat to help their brothers, and others searched for further threats. A small crowd circled the stranger and Ichiro, drawn to the odd sight. They grasped their weapons, as if they itched to use them. The stranger displayed his open hands, held away from his blade. Somehow, he seemed no less menacing for it.
“What are you? What do you want?” the closest Crab asked.
The stranger gazed past the Crab toward the buildings beyond the Wall. “I request an audience with the Crab Champion. I wish to serve under him once more.”
The samurai narrowed his eyes. “Take off your helm.”
The stranger raised his hands to his head and slowly lifted the helm from his head. The Crab surrounding the man gasped. He was handsome, though his flesh was strangely discolored. He bore an alarming resemblance to Ichiro’s father.
“I am Kyofu, once called Kuroda,” the stranger said. “I have come to atone for my sins.”
It had taken a week for arrangements to be made, during which time the man calling himself Kyofu had willingly submitted to being bound by jade and placed under heavy guard. When the day finally arrived, the audience chamber was filled with armed samurai, each of them tense and ready to move. Hida Kuon sat at the head, surrounded by Benjiro and his closest advisors. Hida Reiha was conspicuously missing from the room. Kyofu stood in front of the Crab Champion, chained to the floor with jade manacles. Two Witch Hunters stood directly behind him, watchful for any sign that the prisoner would do anything out of place. Kuon stared intently at the Onisu in front of him. For a long moment, everyone waited. Finally, the Champion spoke.
“You no longer look like the Onisu. In fact, your resemblance to my brother is quite astounding.”
“The Onisu Kyofu was bound within my body after I was killed fighting along the Wall,” the man replied. “Since my will overcame the demon’s, my body has come to look more as it did before my death.”
“You freely admit to being one of the undead.”
“I admit only that I am unique,” Kyofu answered. “My existence passes even my own understanding.”
“Did you arrange the attack along the Wall, to cover your entry into our lands?” Kuon asked.
Kyofu shook his head. “No. I cannot command Daigotsu’s forces. The attackers were oni. Most of those follow the Maw and Kyoso no Oni in their war against the Dark Lord.”
“What you have asked of me is impossible. There is no place for you here. The Crab will not ally with the shadows, no matter what the prize,” Kuon said sharply. The Champion’s voice cracked through the air with the weight of his determination.
Kyofu tossed decorum aside and looked directly into the eyes of his brother. “Corruption is just another weapon the enemies use to destroy the tools of the Crab. The danger lies out there for every warrior who stands atop the Wall. You cannot expect a Crab to set aside his duty because of the Taint.”
“Our brothers who are Tainted still fight, yes, but not those lost to the grasp of the Dark Lord. Those men are irredeemable and should be killed to save further tragedy.” Kuon stared back into Kyofu’s eyes. “My wife was there when my brother died.”
“Yes, I died,” Kyofu replied. “I died and Daigotsu returned me to this sham of a life so I could fight in his service. I despaired at the actions I performed when I was under the Dark Lord’s control, but salvation came to me. Emma-O returned my soul into this body and gave me control over the Onisu. I am no longer the same monster that took the Wall, Kuon.”
“Nor are you brother,” Kuon hissed. “What is it you have in mind, Kyofu? What plans run through your head, to drive you to this insanity?”
Kyofu smiled with grim determination. “A strike into the heart of the enemy. If we move soon, we can assault the oni forces as they attack the Wall of Bone. While the enemy is preoccupied, we will strike from behind and annihilate them in one strike.”
“We do not have enough jade to equip so mad a quest,” a Yasuki standing near Kuon’s side said.
“Minimal jade will be required. With your permission, I will lead the Damned to this attack.”
Silence reigned in the room for a moment, interrupted finally by loud laughter. “You would lead corrupted men into the heart of the Shadowlands?” the Yasuki said, sneering. “Perhaps we should kill them now and spare them the indignity of such a poorly laid trap.”
“If the witch-hunters destroy those in danger of falling to darkness, I believe the Damned can tip the scale in the war that rages on in the Shadowlands. Perhaps they can even destroy many of the oni before they die,” Kyofu replied coolly. “Assuming, of course, that they have a leader that can guide them to the battle.”
“You would have me choose Daigotsu?” Kuon said quietly, instantly silencing the soft chatter that had followed the laughter in the room. “You would have me choose the man who is perhaps the greatest evil the world has ever known?”
“I would have you choose a lesser evil,” Kyofu countered. “I would have you stand against the madness of Kyoso no Oni, a demoness that would gladly see all the gains the Crab have made in the Hiruma lands reduced to ash in the space of an afternoon. Daigotsu is your enemy. Nothing will change that. If the demons are able to destroy him, however, then what chaos will they unleash upon your people?”
Kuon frowned, clearly biting back an angry retort. “You have killed countless Crab samurai, Kyofu,” he said evenly. “How do I know you speak the truth? How do I know this is no elaborate scheme to convert more to the Shadowlands?”
“I have no proof to sway you, only the strength of my word and my honor.” Kyofu said.
“You have the soul of a Crab, Kuroda-san.”
They turned to face the voice. Omen was in the room where only empty space had been a minute before. Immediately, Kyofu could sense the effect of the Oracle’s words on the tension in the room. Warriors began to loosen their grips on their weapons. Shoulders dropped in relief. A flicker of doubt moved across the daimyo’s face.
“You are an Oracle, Omen,” Kyofu said. “I ask you a question that will be answered by the heavens. Am I free of Fu Leng’s control?”
Omen’s eyes flashed golden and his voice boomed in the small room. It echoed with an otherworldly sense of power. “Your body is corrupted, Kyofu, but your soul is not. You mean the Crab no harm.”
Kuon closed his eyes. For the briefest of moments, his exhaustion and anguish were visible to all. Then that moment passed, and the cold stone returned. “There is no word more trusted than Omen,” he said. “So be it, then. Die well. It is the last thing left to you.”
Kyofu smiled and bowed. “Thank you, brother.”
Kayomasa longed for battle.
The ogre looked around at his surroundings with mild discomfort. The buildings and its inhabitants remained foreign to the ogre. They were made for smaller folk, and he had felt much more at peace in his former home; as meager as it was, it had been perfect for a simple ogre like himself. He had been surrounded by his peers, who respected his strength and admired his resolve, and he had been free. Free from the influences of Jigoku, and from the trappings of the civilized.
The situation had changed, now. Despite the occasional wistful memory, he did not regret his new station. He had given his word to serve, and he would serve until he was released from his oath. To be fair, his bondage did not weigh heavily on his mind. His new master was just, as his actions over the past months had proven to the ogre.
When he first arrived within the city and offered his oath to Daigotsu, Kayomasa came to the Temple of the Ninth Kami every day. He waited for the day when the Dark Lord of the Shadowlands would call him to his side. That day had not yet come. It was clear the Dark Lord still regarded him with suspicion. Kayomasa could not blame him; a retainer that had betrayed his trust could certainly do it again.
So Kayomasa had come to spend most of his days in a small house along the main road in the City of the Lost. It was close to the Temple, so he could reach the Dark Lord quickly if he were called upon. It had a name that Kayomasa had difficulty pronouncing, while the Lost would shout the name Tuf Tuf as loud as they could when inebriated. The owner of the store laughed whenever the ogre entered the house, and insisted on giving Kayomasa the strongest sake in stock, sake that was known to have an effect on even the hardiest among the Lost. As yet it had never affected him.
A loud shout interrupted his thoughts. “Here again, Kayomasa?”
Kayomasa turned. One of Daigotsu’s soldiers stood next to him, a bottle of sake in his hand. He had come to know Daigotsu Toshimo well. He was one of the first to be born in the City of the Lost. He was not a particularly skilled warrior, but possessed unrivaled brilliance with logistics. He was friendly, energetic, and loved to drink.
Toshimo plopped down next to the ogre and began to pour himself a drink. Kayomasa waited until he was ready, and raised his cup in salute. The two downed their drinks; Toshimo reached for more while Kayomasa looked around the room.
“Who is he?” Kayomasa rumbled, gesturing toward a mysterious figure leaning against the wall. The ogre’s growl sounded like a nest of bees, rather than a shout that filled the entire room. The object of his interest was an oddly shaped man in a dirty black kimono that stood against the wall. A mysterious, monstrous mempo covered his entire face. Something else about the man made Kayomasa uneasy, and it liked to know about its potential enemies.
“Eiya is my master Daigotsu Taki’s finest achievement,” his drinking partner whispered back. “Taki-sama has worked for decades on the techniques to mold a samurai into a perfect killer. Eiya was his latest experiment. Kakita Eiya was an artist, using his sword like a brush. Now that Taki is done with him, the vanity of artistry is gone. He lives only to kill.”
“Impressive,” Kayomasa said.
“Yes, though the transformation was not without its cost. I hear Eiya is hardly a man now, with no pleasures or pain, or any other sensation for that matter. He is little more than a monster.” Toshimo smiled. “But then we can make much use out of monsters.”
“Yes,” Kayomasa agreed, looking at itself.
A scream pierced the air, interrupting the conversation going on in the sake house. Everyone stopped and looked in the direction of the disruption. After a moment, they shrugged and returned to their drinks. Kayomasa frowned. Screams were not infrequent in the Shadowlands, but something about this one caught the ogre’s attention. A second later, Kayomasa picked up his weapon and stormed for the door. The scream had seemed to come from the Temple.
His suspicions proved correct. The Temple Guard lay on the ground, ripped into two pieces. The doors to the Temple lay on the floor, ripped from their hinges. He drew his blade and dropped the saya on the floor. He rushed through the entrance, ready for whatever enemies awaited him. Kayomasa ripped through dozens of small oni as if they were not even there. The ogre rushed toward the throne room and stopped to a halt.
A large oni stood at the entrance to the throne room, preparing to rip the door apart. It was so large its heads reached the ceiling, and every inch of its body was covered in a blue chitin. Giant horns lined the oni’s forehead. Dozens of serpentine oni flew around the giant. All of them turned to face the ogre when it entered. Kayomasa grinned and held his blade in front of him.
“Munemitsu no Oni,” someone next to him spat, and Kayomasa looked to his side. It was Eiya, the eerie samurai from the sake house. Kayomasa had not noticed the warrior, but Eiya had a bloodied katana and kama in his hands.
“We shall attack together,” Kayomasa said to his newfound ally, but Eiya had already launched into motion, jumping upon the serpentine oni with fervor. Kayomasa charged in after him, bellowing in rage. The creatures called Kyoso’s Hunters flew through the air and attacked the samurai in short, quick strikes, but Eiya danced out of the way. When he thrust his kama too deep into an oni to pull out, he flawlessly changed his stance to a traditional Kakita stance. He continued to attack without a single pause.
Kayomasa held his blade at the ready and advanced toward the oni. It was larger and obviously very powerful. They approached each other slowly, and began to make small moves to test each other. Kayomasa sliced at the oni’s hand with his no-dachi and was rewarded with a splash of acidic blood. The blood stained the ogre’s armor, and it began to sizzle with the heat. Kayomasa grimaced. The oni struck out with its claws and raked the ogre across the chest. It ripped through the burning armor as if it were not there
The closest Munemitsu no Oni scuttled forward in a slow charge and Kayomasa saw an opening, one he would likely see only once. With a shout Kayomasa charged with his shoulder down, and barreled into the oni with all its strength. The massive creatured lurched slightly, too large for the ogre to force back by physical might alone. In the split second that the creature reared up, Kayomasa drove his no-dachi directly into the oni’s stomach and ripped outwards. As the oni thrashed about, it slashed out with its claws, raking the ogre’s arm. Kayomasa snarled in pain, but the threat was over. He looked around, and found that Eiya had moved to the fallen beast’s head and severed it with a single strike.
Kayomasa barreled onward into the throne room with a bloodthirsty roar, wounded but ready to crush more enemies. As soon as he entered, he realized the fight had not reached the room. The room was empty, but a small door behind the throne was open. Yellow silk curtains covered the door, so the ogre could not see inside. Kayomasa had never noticed the room before. He approached carefully, watching for any sign of an ambush. Before he could cross the threshold, a burst of wind blew the curtain aside and revealed the Dark Lord, his back to the door. He was whispering to a person out of the ogre’s line of sight.
“My lord?” Kayomasa asked uncertainly.
Daigotsu turned around. A newborn baby lay in his hands, crying softly. Kayomasa was not a good judge of humans, and so could not tell if the baby looked similar to the Dark Lord. But the aura of power emanating from the baby was unmistakable. The boy could only be the son of Daigotsu.
“Behold,” Daigotsu said softly, “my legacy.”
An hour later, the commotion was finally over. Dozens of Lost scoured the city for remnants of the oni assault force. Once again, Kayomasa knelt in front of the Dark Lord in his audience chamber. This time, though, Kayomasa knew the encounter would end favorably.
Daigotsu turned around and faced Kayomasa. He smiled. “This is how the sons of the Kayosai show their mettle.”
“Thank you, Daigotsu-sama,” Kayomasa said.
Daigotsu gestured to the ogre. “Good service must not go unrewarded, Kayomasa. Eiya will wield a blade forged by the Fortune of Steel himself. What prize do you wish?”
Kayomasa bowed. “Only for a chance to serve.”
“I believe in the strength of your honor. You protected my son during his birth. Become his guardian, Kayomasa. You will be unto him as Goju Kyoden was once to me, his most loyal servant and protector.”
“I will serve, my lord,” Kayomasa said, bowing his head.
The cell door opened, allowing a burst of light to pierce the darkness. Kyofu looked up, his expression devoid of emotion. Several silhouettes filled the entrance and stepped into the room. Kyofu scanned the faces of the intruders impassively. They wore the traditional face paint and dark kimono that marked them as witch-hunters, but he recognized none of them.
“It is time, Kuroda-san,” one of the Witch Hunters said with surprising gentleness in his voice. “We must go.”
Kyofu stood up without pause. “Kuroda died a long time ago,” the Onisu said. “Only this shell of a man remains, a warped abomination.”
“Regardless,” the hunter replied, “I served along the Wall on the day the enemy took it from us, and I remember the actions of our Champion on the front lines.” He bowed. “I am Kuni Daigo, Kuroda-san, and I remember your honor even if you would wish me to keep its memory to myself.”
A sad smiled crossed the Onisu’s face. “Thank you, Daigo-san,” he said. “I will strive to honor your memory. I am no longer the beast Kyofu… but I would prefer to be called that than sully my former name.”
Daigo nodded his head. “As you wish.” The hunter gestured toward the door. “Kuon-sama approves of your plan. Nearly all of our Damned will follow you toward the Wall of Bone. I pray it is enough.”
“We will make it enough,” Kyofu replied, bowing to his guardians. “Let us be off, then.”
They moved through the streets in silence. Kyofu moved in the middle of the Kuni. After a few moments, Kyofu realized with surprise that the witch-hunters did not flank him as they would a prisoner. They followed him as if he were their commander. Soon they reached one of the larger entrances into the Shadowlands. There, a vast unit of soldiers waited for their arrival. They stood in military formation next to the door, unmoving in the sun. For every twenty men, a witch-hunter stood in line behind them.
Still, Kyofu did not focus his attention on the men under his command. His eyes were trained on the single woman standing in the middle of the road. She was dressed in a simple blue kimono. Even unarmored, her daisho hung by her side and a tetsubo was strapped to her back. She held another sword in its saya in her hands. The group approached the woman quickly and stopped.
Kyofu bowed. “Reiha,” he said.
Reiha nodded back. “This is Kettei, a sword forged by the Fortune of Steel himself. Kuon asks that you wield it. Your honor will strengthen the blade, and the Crab.”
“I will fall in the Shadowlands,” Kyofu said, his eyes fixed on Reiha’s face. He drank in the sight of her, assaulted by memories he had long suppressed. “Such a nemuranai should not be lost when I die.”
“I have sworn to return the blade to the Crab after the mission, Kyofu,” Daigo said.
Kyofu nodded slowly. How many dreams had he lost that fateful day, when Daigotsu’s troops assaulted the Wall? “Then I accept with gratitude. Thank you, Reiha-sama.”
He grabbed the blade with both hands and placed it at his side. Reiha nodded. “I wish you success.”
Kyofu nodded. “He is a good man. I am glad you were there for each other.”
Reiha turned away from the group and gestured to the Wall. The vast doors leading to the Shadowlands began to creak open.
“Goodbye, Kuroda-san,” she said without turning.
The Damned began their final march. Kyofu bowed once more then turned to march along with his brothers. As they moved toward their deaths, a man fell in step next to Kyofu. It was the guard he had saved, days ago when he had first entered the Crab lands. Blotches of black skin covered his neck and mouth, telltale signs of the Shadowlands Taint that thrived inside his body.
“You were there the night I was Tainted,” Tsubaru said.
“I could not do anything for your soul. By the time I arrived, you had already been exposed for too long to the toxin.” Kyofu said.
Tsubaru smiled wryly. “I thank you for saving my life, Kyofu.”
Kyofu’s raised an eyebrow. “You thank me, though your life is effectively over?”
Tsubaru nodded. “I thank you because you have given me another chance to strike at the enemy. That is all a Crab can ask for, as flawed as I am. I can only hope for a good death.”
“We are all flawed warriors here, weakened by corruption,” Kyofu said. “But when we stand together, we are the Crab. Your death will be glorious, Tsubaru. We will destroy our enemies and complete our mission.”
Tsubaru grinned fiercely. The warriors marched on toward their destiny.
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