The wind sighed through the trees, colder than winter, and Takai took a moment to adjust, shooting a bewildered glance behind him. Both hands clenched tighter on his weapons. This was not dissimilar to where he had been. The slightest shifting of the trees and rocks could have accounted for it. A momentary lapse in attention while running after that… beast… could have accounted for it. The cold was unlike anything Tamori Takai had ever experienced. Not the most painful cold he had ever felt. He recalled accompanying Sensei Bokido on a trip as a young child. They travelled through Crane, Lion, and Crab lands, to see how the other great Bushi schools of Rokugan trained. Even, to the consternation of Takai’s parents, a brief sojourn in Scorpion lands to see the Bayushi school train. An unseasonable cold rose up to attack them as they travelled through crab lands, and the wind was the coldest thing he’d ever experienced.
This wind was not the wind that had rushed through the crevasses and the rocky passes of the Crab lands, making Bokido’s charges shiver no matter how they bundled up – Giving the Crab a game of seeing who could go the longest without a shirt. That was the coldest wind Tamori Takai had ever experienced. This wind was not as cold, but it slid through his armor as though he was naked. This wind was a wind that cared little for anything but his soul. Takai thought of Sensei Bokido in the Crane lands. Thought of the hunger in his eyes when he had shown them the Akita duelists, picking out each and every little flaw, however minor, however young and inexperienced the duelist. That was the wind: Hungry and insatiable, like the eyes of Sensei Bokido. Hungry and insatiable, like Takai’s fist when a little Crane girl had told him that his eyes dishonored his family. Hungry and insatiable, like Takai’s sword when he skewered the stomach of the Lion guard. Takai shivered.
Takai walked. He was no hunter, but the beast was like no animal, so perhaps he would be adequate to the task. He held his weapons in a guarded stance, and, though he knew very little of animals, decided no creature would enjoy proceeding against the wind. But no matter how he turned or shifted – no matter how he altered his stance to place his fists or his katana before him – his eyes burned as the wind hit them. He scanned the horizon hopelessly, wondering whether there would be any point in trying to turn back and warn his companions. Then he glimpsed it, through empty trees and grey rock.
It glimpsed him. Slowly turning it’s bulky, misshapen head to grind out words. As it spoke, Takai charged. It whimpered as it spoke, it’s massive jaws gnashing against each other, cutting dozens of little wounds in it’s mouth. It managed a single word. “Grandfather.” Takai’s sword cut through air, and his foot came down on something hard and loose. The samurai spun in the air, slamming a rock against his back and losing the air out of his stomach. The beast was gone, nowhere to be seen. The wind continued to assault him headlong, even as he lay on his back. Takai growled and rose to a crouch, catching his breath slowly. There lay, where his foot had landed, a skull. Human. Clearly human. As he looked up he saw more. Dozens. Then hundreds. They were nestled in the nooks and crannies where the branches met the trees. They peered out at him from hollows. There was a chittering sound, like teeth clacking, that ran through the trees in rhythm with the wind. The jaws in view remained stationary, and Takai felt a twitch of paranoia as he realized the sound was coming from behind him. As he turned, it continued to come from behind him.
“It was only a ring.” The voice was soft but firm. It spoke to memories Takai had never been able to remember. As he turned, the figure was already fading out of view, into the chittering. Takai had the vaguest glimpse of an old man, face lined and wrinkled to the point of absurdity.. He wore nothing, and seemed pitiful for it. His eyes were tired.
“They had no right to take him.”
“They had no right to take you.”
Each time the figure continued to vanish.
Grandfather Okaso. Gentle grandfather Okaso, who would smile at Takai when his father was mad at him. Who would give him little hard candies, disgustingly sweet.
“Such small things bring us to ruin.” The voice was wistful.
“Who are you!” Takai screamed.
“Grandfather.” THe voice echoed. “Gaki.”
The beast was before him again, between bare trees. It turned slowly, and began to run, lumbering through the trees on all fours. Takai ran after it, desperately lost in this forest. The accursed wind continued beating. As he ran the trees faded into a shoreline, and some part of Takai realized that this had always been a shoreline. Or it had never been a shoreline, and never been trees. The old man, wrinkled and small, was walking slowly along the shore. He turned back, and walked backwards. Staring into the heterochromatic eyes of his grandson, he sighed. “How long?” A mountain ridge rose to his left, and to his right the sea was endless. There was only the shore. Only the path.
“Eleven years.” The old man nodded. He was talking longer now.
“I am young, as such things are measured.” the old man smiled.
Takai felt something watching him from those mountains, but there was something more important.
“Why are you here?” he asked. He did not wonder whether it was a deception. He could not, no matter how hard he tried. So why should he pretend he could disbelieve?
The old man’s eyes watered, and he shook, still walking, always moving. “Such small things” he croaked. “Such small things are our undoing.
“Grandfather…” Takai walking faster than the feeble old man required only a modest pace, but still the distance refused to close. “Why am I here?”
The old man smiled a wry, bitter smile. “It calls to you. And in the soft spots you call back. This is your home.”
Tamori Takai began running, his grip on his daimyo increasingly awkward. The old man sighs. “We knew when we saw your eyes what we had done.” Tamori Takai sees a glimmer in Tamori Okaso’s eyes. It makes him think of skewering a Lion guard on his Katana. Makes him think of his father when his father was angry.
“What did you do?” It comes out as an accusation, when Tamori meant it to come out as a question. The distance between the Tamoris begins to close.
“We made you strong.”
The old man’s eyes are watering. Takai reachest the farthest edge where his Katana is in striking distance, and he brings it down in a haphazard strike. His grandfather is gone. The shore is gone. There is only the rock upon which Takai stands, and an endless ocean of bone. It is then that the full implication of those words reach Takai’s ears.”We?” he screamed at a blood red sky.
It became a whimper as he stared down at the small rocky island upon which he had collapsed to kneel..
“Who else?” he sighed. He didn’t really expect an answer. The sea of bones didn’t really give him one. It responded, but response and answer are different varieties of a species. The bones sighed, and Tamori Takai could make out, in the whispering of the wind through the bones. Tamori could make out so many answers, and none were the right answers. “They” “You” “Everyone’ “Empreror” “The pain” “The Madness”.
Takai saw a knucklebone consumed in fire. His grandfather’s spirit, attemtping to comminicate in this place of the damned, where physicality had little meaning. Where the passage of air through a throat seemed silly and arbitrary. Takai saw runes go up in green flame. Takai saw himself as an infant, his grandfather looking down over the walls of his crib. The walls rose like mountains above him.
“such small things prove our undoing.”
His grandfather weeping over the grave of his second son. His grandfather carving strange runes into a knucklebone. A baby’s knucklebone. His grandfather screaming at his father. Looking up at his grandfather over a crib like an abyss, as a green knucklebone went up in flame.
He sighed, and ran his hand over the cool bones surrounding him. “I belong here, don’t I?” This time the answer was definite, the skulls rising in choruus. His grandfather was a dot on the horizon, hideous and misshapen again. Over the distance, Takai could barely make out the jaggedness of the teeth. His grandfather turned, and vanished over the horizon.
“I belong here, don’t I?” He wondered at what his grandfather had done to him. At how his kin had been used to fuel him. He remembered stories of how frail he had been at birth. Of the seven days and nights his family had stayed awake, worrying for his health. His aunt had always called it a miracle that he had lived. Perhaps it was his imagination, but he felt that he could recall a certain shift in his father’s expression when his aunt said that. A certain guilt.
He remembered the hunger when he had driven his blade through the stomach of the Lion gaurd.
He belonged here.
It took him only a moment to adjust his wakizashi into the proper stance, and only another instant to drive it into his belly.
[He’ll awake with no ill effects, jumping into however the session starts. Possibly jumping into combat with the being who is his grandfather, who hungers for the delicious flesh of the monk]Tamori Takai