Hida Yakamo folded his arms across his chest as he waited. He had arrived at the base of the great Dragon fortress hours before, but still he waited outside its massive gates. Clouds gathered on all sides of the high mountain, and the dim light of the evening was completely choked away. Only the torches and steady green glow of the Jade Hand fused to Yakamo’s left wrist lit the scene around him.
“You still do not trust her,” Yakamo’s uncle Tsuru said quietly, not leaving his horse’s side. Only two dozen of the Dragon guards remained outside near them, and Tsuru did not wish his words to be heard by them. Mirumoto Satsu stood near the remaining Dragon, his face an emotionless mask as he held his helmet in the crook of his arm, much like it had been on the journey through the Shadowed Mountains. It appeared the returned Dragon was lost staring at his ‘clan mates.’
“No,” Yakamo said flatly, staring at the glow of the Jade Hand absently, having resigned himself to his journey long ago. “But I trust Toturi.” The Crab Thunder turned and looked his uncle square in the eye. “And I trust you. If this is not as it seems, one of us will escape and take word to Toturi.”
Tsuru looked at his surroundings with obvious unease and his grip on the reins of his horse tightened. “Please forgive me if I do not share your optimism, Yakamo-sama. I believe that if Hitomi does not wish us to leave, our sheer determination will not change that. At any rate, if you are the one to fall I won’t get far without the light of your hand to protect me from this darkness. Besides, there are three of us. You continue to seem to forget that.”
The only response Yakamo gave his uncle was a dark frown.
All three men’s attention turned to the massive doors of the Dragon stronghold as they began to swing open. Yakamo stood at attention, Satsu looked on forlornly, and Tsuru placed his hand habitually on his obi next to his katana. The samurai were unsettled when the doors opened wide enough to show that they moved on their own. The only men near the entrance were two monks seated in silent meditation. Both monks had flat, featureless faces, like the shell of an egg. Only a few feet behind them, the entrance hall disappeared into total darkness.
“Our Lady Hitomi awaits the honored emissaries of Lord Toturi,” one of the monks said, as they both bowed reverently. His voice was unimpeded by the absence of his mouth.
Yakamo and Tsuru took a moment to glance at one another and then back at the imposing castle. Mirumoto Satsu walked forward, slipping his helm back into place. Yakamo resigned himself to the Fortunes and led his uncle inward. As the doors slowly closed behind the two Crab warriors, neither of them saw the triumphant gleam in Togashi Shunsen’s eye.
Once the great doors closed, the group was plunged into total darkness for only a second. Yakamo’s Jade Hand barely glowed in the inky blackness surrounding them, and he felt the hand move as if on its own accord for his sword. The moment passed, however, and several torches and braziers burst into flame. All three men were completely disoriented by the quick surge of light, as well as the sudden change in the surroundings. Though he felt as if they had only walked several feet into the great castle, they were obviously deep within its heart now.
The fires burned brightly, but the throne room of the Dragon Champion was draped in shadows that did not move even as the lights flickered. A great pathway led from where the two Crab bushi stood almost one hundred feet to the other end of the room where a black throne rested. On either side of the walkway dozens of bare-chestd tattooed men and women knelt with their heads pressed to the floor in supplication. Yakamo wondered if any of them had faces. He glanced behind them, and was shocked to see that there was no apparent exit back the way they had come – only a smooth stone wall. No doors were set into any of the gray stone walls.
The lean figure of Hitomi reclined upon the throne. She gazed upon Hida Yakamo, then her attention to Hida Tsuru with eyes of dim gold set in a face weathered by sorrow. Finally she looked upon third figure, and she stiffened, her head turning at an angle of a curious bird.
“Little sister,” Satsu in way of greeting. “It has been far too long.
“What is the meaning of this?” Hitomi growled as her eyes flicked back to Yakamo.
Yakamo allowed himself a smirk as he saw the Dragon so disrupted from her show of power, “It is your brother, restored through some Naga ritual. The Naga asked us to restore a hero to life to continue the war against the Ninth Kami. Your brother was chosen.”
“You dare to mock me with tricks? I offer Toturi the chance to take the Empire back, and he insults me with this?” Hitomi snarled as she rose from her throne. In the flickering light, her dark kimono fused with the obsidian that had grown over her entire body save her face.
“It is no trick, little flower. It is I, Mirumoto Satsu. I am the man who told you stories in the garden, after you spent the morning watching me dance to the song of the Dragon. Do you not remember those mornings?” Satsu walked towards the ring of bare chested monks, stopping short of them.
“I…” Hitomi seemed to deflate, her anger which seemed to have swelled into the room evaporated, she walked to the edge of her throne, and stood uncertain, “Satsu? My … my brother? My light?” Her voice seemed small, distant, and the darkness in the room seemed to lift measurably. Her face was that of a child in awe.
Walking forward steadily, Satsu smiled, “Yes little sister.”
“But… how?” Hitomi asked. The Crab Thunder frowned in frustration, as if what Yakamo had not fallen upon her ears.
“We can talk about that later, in the garden, if it would please you. We can share stories, that will be a pleasing change from the past,” Satsu looked at his sister’s body, concern was in his eyes as he looked at the obsidian.
She looked down, and then back up again, a sad look on her face, “It was a price I had to pay, for you. For revenge. I… I had done-“
“You did what you felt was necessary,” Satsu offered. “You are Clan Champion after all. You are my sister. But let us set that aside, my friends have traveled a long way to speak with you.” Satsu gestured to the Crab.
“Hitomi!” Yakamo bellowed, folding his arms across his armored chest. “We have come at the behest of Lord Toturi to speak with you. I have come deep into your lands as a sign of trust, and I will deal with no further tricks!” he said, gesturing to the lack of a door behind him.
“Lord Toturi,” Hitomi mused. “Of course, Hida Yakamo-san. No more tricks. Only trust.” The Dragon made a motioned towards the monk nearest the throne. The attendant rose, bowed, then ran quickly out of the room. . . right through one of the walls, as if it were air. “As you have revealed yourself to us as a sign of trust,” she said looking at Satsu, “allow me to offer a sign of such to you and your master as well.”
Tsuru leaned toward Yakamo with a questioning look. The Crab Thunder could only return his uncle’s expression and wait as the silent Dragon Champion stood motionless beside her throne. They waited in silence for what felt like an eternity to Yakamo until a great commotion was heard outside the room. Yakamo turned to his left to see a large set of doors swing open where he had seen only featureless stone a moment before.
Three burly Dragon tattooed men dragged a struggling fourth figure into the room. The captive was chained at the ankles, shrouded in loose black robes. A wide, battered straw jingasa hid the man’s face until the monks shoved the prisoner on his back in front of the two Crab warriors.
Hida Tsuru visibly recoiled from the sight – where the man’s face should be, only a bruised, featureless surface of bleeding skin was to be seen. Blood trickled from where the thing’s mouth and nose would have been if it were human.
“Goju, once the master of the Lying Darkness,” Hitomi said simply, motioning to the heap in front of Yakamo. The Crab Champion gazed up to the woman on the throne and then back down at the chained figure on the ground before him in quiet fascination.
“Perhaps you do not know of the Darkness, Yakamo-san. When Sun and Moon gifted everything in creation with names, a small slip of Nothing escaped their notice. That thing was able to change its shape and substance at will. Since it was not bound by one name, it could be many things. It was Nothing. When the Kami fell, a man ran into the darkness, he had been filled with the three sins of the world and the Nothing finally found a vassal, Goju. That creature aided the first Scorpion Thunder in her escape from the Shadowlands. It gave Shosuro the Obsidian Hand as a sign of their bond.” Hitomi gazed at her hands, both sheathed in glistening black stone. “I believe that the Darkness planned for this day, planned for the day when it could seize the opportunity to shroud the world in chaos. On the Day of Broken Thunder, when I failed to draw the Twelfth Black Scroll from Togashi’s chest, that was the influence of the Darkness. Now. . .” She gestured at the fallen Goju. “I have taken vengeance for the Empire. I have defeated Goju and shackled the Darkness to my will.” The burly tattooed men then forced the man named Goju up and began hauling him towards the throne.
“For the empire…” Yakamo muttered under his breath. “And now you plan to turn the Lying Darkness against Fu Leng? You will use this. . . Darkness to fuel the war against the corrupted Hantei Emperor?” The Crab’s eyes never wavered beneath Hitomi’s unnatural gaze.
“Yes,” Hitomi replied simply, though there was a clear challenge in her tone. “I have already won vengeance for the Empire by defeating Goju. Fu Leng’s corruption is pathetic compared to the power of Nothing. Simply say the word, and I will share the powers of the Lying Darkness with Toturi’s Army. We shall be invincible.”
“For the Empire?” Yakamo growled in disgust, seeming to find the words bitter to his ears. “You are a fool, as you always have been.”
Satsu looked alarmed and moved between the to Thunders, “Commander, we are guests.”
“What?” Hitomi snapped. “How dare you speak to me in such a manner?”
Satsu turned to try and calm his sister, but Yakamo spoke over him, “I dare much. The path you tread lead my clan to doom during the Clan War. My father once made a deal with evil. Now he is dead, and Kuni Yori reigns on the Dark Council. If you think that he,” he gestured to the chained man at the foot of the throne, “. . .made your Darkness what it is, you do not understand the lure of power. You never will. You do not control something as you describe. It will make you its pawn, and I will have none of it.” His eyes narrowed as he regarded Hitomi. “Neither will Toturi.”
“Then leave,” Hitomi growled. “I offer you and your allies the chance to take back the Empire from Fu Leng, and you would arrogantly spurn such a gift? You will wish you had not been so hasty when Fu Leng finds your precious encampments. I who have mastered the Darkness shall be the one to survive!”
“I will not go,” Yakamo said. “Not yet. There is something I promised to do on the Day of Thunder.”
“Oh?” Hitomi hissed. Yakamo did not flinch as Hitomi slowly stepped down from the dais. “And what is that?”
“Stop this!” Satsu bellowed, catching them both off guard. Their ire both drawn to him. He looked to Yakamo, “We are here in the name of peace, for allies. I share your concern. Allow me to speak with my Champion.” Giving the Crab not a moment to return a response, Satsu then turned to his sister. “You claim to have mastered and controlled the Darkness sister.”
“I have,” Hitomi boasted proudly, looking at the Crab Thunder.
“Then why little sister have you let Goju live?” Satsu asked softly.
“Let Goju live?” Hitomi asked back in a whisper, the words seeming strange on her tongue. “Let Goju live?”
“Yes,” Satsu said stepping forward. “Why have you not slain the beast?”
“I… what? Kill… Goju?” Hitomi turned to face the shackled and beaten creature named Goju. It’s head bowed in defeat. He hands twisted, as if struggling to move but seemed unable. “I… why have I not killed him?” Her voice raw with shock.
Stasu looking at Goju nodded, and drew his blades, “It has used you sister, and it is using you now. We must kill it before it poisons us.”
“Uncle,” Yakamo whispered. “It is time for you to go now.”
“I’m not sure, Yakamo-sama,” Tsuru said, though his voice came as if from a dream. Yakamo turned and looked at his uncle. The man’s eyes were unclear, like those of a man who had drunk too much sake. “Hitomi has a point. . . why are you so. . . quick to judge. . .” Tsuru’s voice trailed off.
“Tsuru!” Yakamo said urgently to his uncle, but the man didn’t seem to notice. Tsuru wasn’t even looking right at him. His facial features flickered, vanishing for a moment. Hitomi laughed.
“Uncle!” Yakamo growled, shaking him by the shoulder. Tsuru continued to stand completely oblivious. The Crab Champion whirled on Hitomi, drawing his tetsubo in a swift motion. “Release him,” Yakamo bellowed at Hitomi.
“Release him?” Hitomi repeated with shock, her attention had been looking at her hands, unable to draw her blades. “But I have done nothing to him…” He looked at Goju, its head risen, the featureless face caught in a mad light.
Satsu finished his sister’s thought, half turned to the Crab “Yakamo, to me! We have to destroy Goju!”
Yakamo scowled. Faint whispers of laughter echoed from the gathered Dragon monks. As Yakamo’s eyes darkened as he stalked forward.
Satsu turned, to regard the laughter of the monks, Hitomi looked near panicked, “Do not worry Hitomi,” he offered in a calm voice. “We will destroy this offending gues-“
Satsu’s word abruptly stopped as a sound of a wet metal gong resounded through the room. Hitomi looked to see Yakamo finishing his swing, the tetsubo arcing away as it nocked Statsu’s helmeted head in from behind. Hitomi shrieked, falling to her knees.
“For the Empire? This… was for the Empire. May your hopes and dreams burn with the Empire you condemned to darkness!”
“What… brother…” tears ran down Hitomi’s face, and then a look of rage passed over her face.
“Die,” Yakamo said, hurling his tetsubo at the Dragon.
Hitomi rolled aside cursing him. Yakamo bellowed as he drew his katana and charged. A handful of monks dove into his path, but the Jade Hand lashed out with green fire, eradicating them instantly. Hitomi stood, drawing two swords to meet Yakamo’s charge. The Crab Champion feigned overreaching his attack, leaving a large opening in his midsection. Hitomi attempted to take advantage of the situation, and the Crab rewarded her by dropping his katana suddenly and gripping both of her blades with a sweeping arc with the Jade Hand. Hitomi struggled against Yakamo’s grip, but where she was more agile and nimble, the Crab Champion could easily overpower the woman. With more effort than he had anticipated, Yakamo freed the swords from her grip after a solid blow to her midsection with his knee. Hitomi staggered backward and Yakamo flung the blades away as he followed up quickly by grabbing Hitomi’s throat with his right hand and striking her soundly in the stomach with his jade fist.
Hitomi shrieked in fury as she regained her balance and buried her obsidian claws to the wrist in the Crab Thunder’s midsection. Yakamo spat blood but ignored the pain. he opened the Jade Hand and held it over Hitomi’s face. As the strength drained from his body, Yakamo closed the Jade Hand into a fist.
A tremendous explosion followed. When it was over, only the shattered remains of the Jade Hand and Obsidian Hand to mark the mighty duel.
Moving mechanically, the faceless monks released Goju from Hitomi’s bonds. Hida Tsuru, his face now completely replaced with smooth, featureless flesh, knelt and brought the Obsidian Hand to Goju. The ancient man stood, brushing the dust from his robes as he settled into Hitomi’s throne, as his left hand desolved into smoke and he fastened the ancient artifact to his wrist. The Dragon and Crab arranged themselves around him, as they had arranged themselves around Hitomi.
Goju’s eyeless gaze rested upon the fallen Mirumoto Satsu, the two blades Yakamo had thrown had landed at his side, and then the Jade Hand.
“Take that away from here,” he whispered.