|The Wolf (Excerpt from Dusk Stories)
All rights reserved. Copyright 2012.
The age of the sword would soon be over completely. This truth had created a monster. A monster named Shinzaku, Ken. Once he was a samurai with the hopes of dying an honorable death, now he was little more than a killer. He entered the war in the hopes of glory! However, the endless blood removed any sense of bushido his mind once held. Now, he was simply a slayer of men. His blade could not be simply put away. He took advantage of the uneasy peace to keep using his blade. Any man with a large sum could hire him; hire him to cut away their enemies or friends.
It was the far and snowy north.
"Whaa!" the dead man cried as his back opened from Shinzaku's blade. The other men gathered around the plump land owner. He had refused to sell to an interested party. His guards were poor samurai. Five remained before Ken. Ken's red armor had shown wear of war, and yet his blade still sought blood, the blood of men. His long dark hair and beard had certainly made him seem unkempt as opposed to his disciplined look before the war. "Raah!" the largest man charged with an overhead blow meant to cleave stone! His belly opened before he could lower his hands. He fell to the ground dead. Their steel clashed until only one guard remained. His hands trembled as he dropped his sword. "I surrender! Don't kill me!" he cried as he ran. Slash! His torso cut deeply from Ken's blade. "Coward! There is only victory or death!" Shinzaku said.
The warm fluid left the plump man's body and covered the floor slowly. The samurai raised his blade once more. It cleaved the man's brain in twain. Shinzaku turned as he walked down the hall, the bodies that had lived there were all scattered at his feet. They were old, and young. There were women, and girls. Not a single one had escaped. The war had returned if only for one night. Blood was the trail he left behind. All he had was the sword now.
He returned for the rest of his payment. The greedy employer was shady. He was the kind of man that no one wanted to be around. A true piece of scum, but even he had some conscience. "I told you there were good people there! Did you have to kill them all?!" he demanded. Shinzaku flew up with his sword to his neck! The men moved as the wealthy man waved them back or he would surely be killed! "Did you have to kill every one of them? I wasn't the one who sought their lives! You knew I would not let any of my targets live. Yet, you still hired me," Ken said as spit flew from his mouth. "I apologize of course. You did well. Please, please take your money. I did not mean to offend," he stammered nervously. Ken sheathed his blade. He grabbed the stack of money, and left slowly. His eyes were daring an attack upon him. Yet, nothing happened.
Ken drank as the woman attended him. They dare not say anything about the smell of blood that lingered around him. How long before he faced a real challenge? How long before samurai came for his life? Now, only battle had meaning! He welcomed it. Hopefully, his next assignment would stimulate him.
The road was long and dusty. An unusual fog had rolled in to obscure his path. He was used to wandering, but had gotten lost before. He decided to wait until the fog passed over. He sat atop a stone as he reflected on his life. What else was there to do out here? "Hmm?" he suddenly said as he stood alert with one hand on his blade. "Only one?" he thought as he heard a man run toward him. However, it was no killer. It was only a lowly messenger from some village in the north.
"Speak boy!" he demanded.
"I come from Lunark village, once Moon. I have come to urge you follow me. There is urgent work for you there," he said in fear.
Ken rubbed his stubbled chin.
"I've never heard of this place. It must be small, for I have been to many places. Tell me boy, does this place know of my fee?"
"Yes sir! They have the money ready,"
"Is this so? Very well. I will hear more when I arrive. Lead the way," Ken said as he walked. Soon, trees crowded the road. He could hear the animals watching them walk by. It was enough to unsettle a normal man. Yet, to a man who saw war, sounds in the woods would hardly frighten him. A low howling from a simple wolf was heard in the distance. It reminded him of those bloody days. Finally, after Ken was sure the boy was lost, they saw the distant town. Ken did not know anyone lived so far from civilization. Could they really pay his fee? If not, there would be trouble for sure.
The people looked at him nervously as he walked by. The village was very small. There were perhaps thirty or less. Old buildings hinted that it had once been larger. "In here! This is our elder's home. He will explain the situation to you sir," the messenger said. Ken flipped him a coin as he went inside. The elder wore long violet robes. His hair was short, and his moustache was long. He knelt by a table that was prepared with food. His beautiful daughter sat behind him.
"Please sit, honored guest. We have prepared a small token for you. I hope it is to your liking. My daughter prepared it herself," he insisted. Ken sat with one leg up as he took a drink. Sake was an unusual choice for the hour. "So, what business do you have for me?" he said seriously. The tone almost surprised the elder. Was it always so fierce? It must be. This man had quite a reputation. That is why he said nothing as he tracked dirt inside. Was this man always like this?
"It is a grave matter for us. One of our own has become mad. He has killed several of our kin. I have blamed myself as I helped raise the boy. However, it is beyond my ability to deal with," the elder said passionately.
Ken drank slowly as he listened intently.
"So, you want him dead for these murders?"
The elder nodded. "It pains me yet, this must be done before the next full moon. He has promised to take his next victim then," the elder said. That was three or four days from now.
"Where is the man now?" Ken asked.
"He left to live deep in the woods by an old cave. It is not far once you hit the babbling brook. I can have someone show you the way," he said. Ken thought on this.
"Why have you not simply formed a group to kill him?" Ken said.
"He is powerful. The rage has made him strong. Any who have tried to kill him have not returned. That is why we have sent for you," the elder pleaded.
"Very well. I shall rest tonight, and make way into the woods by morning. I will need food, and someone to attend me," he demanded. The elder seemed eager to please him. He would’ve given him an arm if he demanded.
"Is it true you fought in the war?" the daughter interrupted.
"Megumi!" the elder shouted.
"Do you teach your women to speak to men so boldly?! I have decided that she will attend me tonight if she wishes to know me so badly," Ken said as he noticed her. Her hair was long with a deep darkness to it. Her lips were as red as blood, and her skin was paler than the moon, which lingered over this town. She was a rare beauty in any age.
"Of course. It will be an honor. Oh, one more thing. Megumi, go get Slifor!" the elder demanded. Ken looked up in interest. What was going on? The woman hurried out.
"You'll have to forgive Megumi. She is my only heir, and is like the princess of this town. She forgets that she is just a woman," the elder said. Ken said nothing. Megumi returned with a katana. The elder took it in both hands and lay it before him in sheathe.
"What is this?" Ken asked. "Please accept this. You will need it to slay Yusuke. It has been passed in this village for many years. It is the sword used for executions here. No one here is fit to use it. It is blended with silver, but is strong. We wish you to use it when you judge Yusuke," the elder said.
"Hahaha!" Ken laughed as he waved his hand. "Get this toy away from me. I've yet to meet the man I could not slay with my sword, Odin. A ceremonial blade has no place in an assassination. Now, leave me to my rest. It has been a long road thus far," Ken said.
The elder looked unsure. "Very well. I will leave it here if you reconsider. This village thanks you," the elder said as he moved away. Now, it was just the two of us. She poured the drink. She looked down, and said nothing.
"Where did your tongue go woman? Speak!"
"I . . . very well. Is it true you were called the wolf in the war?" she asked more meekly.
"The wolf killer, but that is not well known. Where did you hear that?" he pondered.
"I was the one who researched you. I heard that in one town south of here that you routed the enemy, but much of the food was burned. It is said you hunted packs of wolves for food then. Is that so?" she said.
"Yes and no. I did hunt wolves then. However, I was sometimes called that for a different reason," he said solemnly. She was enraptured by his story. She had probably never left this place.
"What do you mean? What reason if not that?" she urged. Ken looked into her clear eyes.
"I hunted packs, packs of men!" She gasped at his forcefulness!
"I was often outnumbered, but my blade soon reduced those numbers. I was seen chasing small groups of men as if they were being hunted. The wolf story just seemed to make more sense to the common man," he said.
"Enough of this boring talk, it has roused my appetite," he said. He had eaten quite a bit already. She could not believe he would want more.
"I shall prepare-!" she began. He gripped her waist as she rose. "My other appetite," he said as he kissed those ruby lips. The hint of jasmine in the air around her drove him mad! He stripped those troublesome robes off, and revealed a full bosom. She was no doubt untouched by the men here. She did not resist. Her leg was long and soft as he held it. He would teach her all she wanted to know. Her moans through the night were not disturbed by anyone. "Oh, Shinzaku!"
The morning broke too soon, and Shinzaku found himself more tired than rested. How could a pure maiden like that get so wild? It was not normal. The woman had even scratched his back as if to mark him. He drank the water, and ate a bun on his way. It made him feel better. When he left, the maiden had deemed to ask him if he was scared when hunting those animals.
"Haha. I fear no beasts, for war has made me something worse," he told her. The three men led Ken into the woods. They held what Ken considered a farmer's weapons. One had a shovel, and the other had a pitchfork. The third had what could only be called a chef's knife. He began to see why they called him. It was a longer journey than he thought. They walked as the woods watched. The men grew more nervous as they approached their goal. Ken watched them calmly. "We're almost there. Here's the stream!" the large man said. "We should look for the cave now," another said. They hadn't actually been there, as no one had returned.
"Stay in shouting distance then. Do not engage him," Ken ordered. They moved out as Ken's eyes scanned the woods. A minute passed until it happened. "AAAAAH!" the skinny man screamed. Ken gripped his sword and ran. "NOOOO!" another screamed. Ken smiled as he ran. The excitement of battle rushed his heart. He was close now! He leapt over the fallen log as he heard, and saw the tracks change from feet to . . . something strange. "HELP ME! AH!" the last screamed as Ken came.
Ken's eyes opened wide as he saw the horrible scene. The other two were ripped to shreds on the ground, their faces frozen in horror. The third man was still alive, in its jaws. There was no man in this cave. This was no man! It was a massive beast! It stood on all fours with the man's torso in his maw. Its claws were like blades, and its breath like hell. It stood at least eight feet if it was an inch. Yet, Ken merely gripped his blade as the man was snapped in half.
The two killers’ eyes met. "You'll have no meal here beast!" Ken shouted as they moved toward each other!!! Such speed would be impossible to discern to the untrained eye. The draw was like lightning as the beast leapt! Slash! Ken smiled like a madman as the beast had passed him. The blood still on his blade. He turned smiling, as the beast's stomach was torn open by his draw.
Yet, the beast turned slowly with a snarl. It bled, but did not die! "What?" Ken said as he lifted his sword to his side. Klang! Ken's sword took the claw's strike as the blow threw him back against a tree. He was surprised at the force. Ken rolled to his right as the claws shredded the wood apart. He brought his sword up and once again cut the beast deeply on his side. Yet, still it did not die. It only attacked more ferociously! Ken cut its leg as he rushed under its leap. Yet, the bone did not cut. Strange. He thought to impede its movement. It landed, and snapped his jaws, trying to eat him. It nearly bit him apart as Ken kept his blade between himself, and those jaws. Slash! He cut the beast's throat now! It struck apart his shoulder armor as Ken rolled away. Could this thing not die?! It was no natural creature to endure such punishment.
"Raaagh!" it roared as it ran around him, and attacked. It bounded off a tree, and used its weight to attack. The claws met steel and stopped with a spark, but the other claw found its mark! The three claws cut across Ken's chest, leaving deep gashes as they threw him against a large stone! Blood flew into the air. "Damn those villagers! This thing can't be killed by normal means! I'll not die here!" he thought in less than an instant as the beast's jaws moved for the kill instantly! Its massive head encompassed Ken's vision for a moment as Ken did not try to run, but struck instead! He dug his blade deep into the beast's massive eye! It howled in pain so loudly, but inside the howl was a sound like a man's scream. Never had he heard such an abomidible sound. This hurt the beast, and it fled. Its eye ruined. Ken stood in a fierce sweat as his wound bled. Even now, it was not dead. Would it grow another eye? Ken would need to treat his wounds, and go back. He'd not linger here.
He made it back to the village. People fled before him as whispers surrounded him. Wham! He struck the elder in his face when he found him at home. "Please! Don't! We had to!" the elder began. Ken raised his fist again. Megumi ran and threw herself between them. "Please don't hurt him! You may beat me if you wish!" she cried. Ken's eyes were enraged, but after a long moment, he lowered his fist.
"Explain, and it had better be good," Ken said as he sat. Megumi thanked him as she went to treat his wounds. They had been poorly wrapped.
"Yusuke is a man cursed. He can become that beast at any time. We had no choice, but to keep this from you. We tried to get you to use the ceremonial sword!" he said, trying to convince.
"Why not tell me from the beginning then?" Ken demanded.
"Would you have believed us?" Megumi said.
"We have tried that with other samurai. They laugh and think us mad. We knew you would ignore us if we told you. Forgive us," the elder said.
Ken looked suspicious. "Hmm. I suppose that makes sense. I would not travel so far for such a tale," he said.
Megumi looked at him. "Will you abandon us now?" she asked.
Ken held his chin as he thought. "No," he said.
Megumi held his hand tightly. "You are a good man! I knew you were the one!" she said. He laughed. "Good? That word holds naught meaning for me. Rather, I have not been wounded in a battle in a long time. Now that I have faced the beast, I am curious to see how it fares in our second meeting. Tell me more about this beast," Ken said fiercely.
"Its bite is most dangerous as if you live; you will become a beast as well. Its saliva is infectious or so the stories say. It is most powerful under a full moon as well," the elder said.
"Interesting. Will it come here before then?" Ken said.
"No, it knows we hold the blade, and will wait until the moon is full," the elder said.
"Hmm. Interesting. I have heard silver is the bane of unearthly creatures. Have you tested the blade before?" Ken asked.
"No, we have no swordsman here. I thought the beast a myth myself until Yusuke was possessed," the elder said.
"Very well. I shall test it. I shall rest for two days. Then I shall strike before the moon is full. Leave me," Ken said. The two moved to leave. Ken grabbed her arm. "Not you," he ordered.
He stood in the thicket.
He held the silver blade in his hands. He would see test its make first. "Ha!" One slice cut the bamboo. He held it up. It would cut, but it was not meant for prolonged battle. He would not take it to war, but it would serve now. He swung again as she came. Megumi brought water to him as he turned his blade. She placed the tray on the ground. She stepped closer to his back. "Will it be useful to you?" she asked. "Would you like to inspect it?" he laughed as he held it to her. "Uuh!" she fell back in fear. "Relax girl. I won't cut you," he said. "I, I'm sorry. You turned so suddenly. Forgive me," she said. "Leave me. I'll be in shortly," he said. She turned and left.
Day two seemed endless as Ken awaited the battle, but it soon ended. He imagined the beast.
Ken journeyed into the unnatural woods once more. Two swords rested on his hip now. It was not long before he reached the clear stream once more. The beast would be waiting.
Its foul stench filled the air, fur and death. It seemed eager to be done with me. Its eye seemed better as well. Too bad Ken was taking more than an eye this time. Ken drew his silver blade. It charged. Slash! Ken's blade cut the shoulder as he passed. The wound burned as what looked like steam came from the beast's cut. It howled in pain as it faced Ken. What happened next was something the samurai could not expect.
"So, they've found someone. Fool! I am on your side!" it growled. Ken looked shocked or disgusted. "Since when do beasts speak? Just die already!" Ken demanded.
The beast roared, and attacked. This time it could not handle the cuts Ken made. Its snout was cut deeply as a slash on its back was made. It shredded off Ken's armor plate in one swipe, and reopened his wound. Claws burnt against the sword as Ken protected himself. Still, it could no longer move on four legs after the fourth cut. Ken approached the wounded creature carefully. It was done. Ken stabbed the beast fiercely! It died, but slowly took on the form of a man! "Father!" it moaned one last time. Ken smiled at his victory. It had been a hard battle where one slip could mean death. If it were a man, Ken would have buried him.
"Well done," the elder said. He had come out of nowhere. Ken eyed him with suspicion. He paid Ken the rest of his money. "Leave the sword, and you can be on your way. You have done well. We thank you," the elder said with two men behind him. The elder began to step away. "We will take care of his body," he said to the samurai.
Ken looked at him. "The job's not done," Ken said simply.
"What do you mean?" the elder said without turning.
"I was hired to rid this village of monsters," Ken said ominously.
"I hired you to kill Yusuke!" the elder shouted.
"Hahaha. You know the thing about wolves is, there can't be two leaders," Ken said. There was silence for a moment.
"How did you know?"
"I had my suspicions when no one could use the sword, but your daughter had great fear of it when she was near it unsheathed," Ken reasoned.
"I see. Stupid girl! I raised that ungrateful brat like my blood. Yet, he refused to acknowledge my only daughter as heir! He refused to take her as his bride even. Refused to follow my order to take our people in the human world. We had already taken the village of our enemies. That is why we had their sword. However, that is as far as Yusuke wanted to go. You see, a challenge for leadership can only be held at the full moon. I am too old to deal with Yusuke now. I needed him dead before then. There is another reason we brought you as well. My daughter will need a male heir to hold onto our family's ruling place. We heard how much of a womanizer you were. I thought you would at least get one bite, but luck was not with us. If I had chosen another of our kind to do it, they would have tried to wrest power from us. You see, Megumi may be carrying your child right now. Don't you care? Joining us is your only option now that you have figured it out. Well, what do you say?" the elder rambled. His demeanor was no longer the push over it was.
"Heh. I have never showed mercy to a man. Why would I show it to a beast?" Ken responded. The elder's face turned feral as did his subordinates'. "You fool! Then die with Yusuke!" he shouted.
The three of them were slower than Yusuke, less powerful. They were counting on numbers here. How interesting.
"He's here milady!" the servant told Megumi. She rushed out to the street to see the bodies of her friends! She headed to the middle of the dusty road to look at him. Her followers gathered beside her. She tried to act normal. "You have returned my love. Where is my father?" she asked with dread.
Ken said nothing as he reached behind him. He threw the head to her feet. Her face froze in horror! "Father! No! Get him! Bite him or not! I don't care anymore!" she cried. Ken counted. Ten left. Not all could transform without the full moon. This was his lucky day.
He sliced apart the few that attacked with forks and axes first. The others transformed. They were smaller than Yusuke, but still unnaturally large. He wondered if they could fight like him as well. He cut into the charging snout as the creature made an unnatural cry. Three more came. He leapt aside as one rammed the other. He took this chance to rend its spine in twain. Megumi felt the blood of her people soak her face. One beast came out of the shack in an explosion of wood. Its leg fell as it nearly tore Ken's back off. Megumi covered her eyes in horror. She couldn't watch as everything she loved died, yes, even him.
Megumi's teeth trembled as the noise stopped. It was over. She tried to open her eyes. Slowly, she forced them open. They were all dead. He stood over her with tears all over him. The simple sword had made the difference. Once he could kill them, they were doomed. He should've left!
She looked up at him. "Do you not understand? Now is our chance! Our numbers can increase overnight. The humans are weak from war. It is our chance to seize a foothold. We just needed a strong leader! Why?! Why would you kill us all? I am with your child!" she begged.
It was only two days. She could not know that, but it was a useful lie if it worked. He raised his sword in both hands. That was when she saw it. She remembered his words. War had made him something worse than a beast. She saw him as he truly was . . . a monster.
Slice! It went straight down through her chest as she choked out her last words.
"I still . . . lo. . ."
Her body fell, and there was silence.
He left them after making sure their hearts were pierced. He walked down the long road alone. He remembered the man's words to him. "Did you have to kill them all?"
He had done it again. This time he needed to. But this time he would have liked to spare one of them. Just one. For she had made even a monster's heart stir.