Crows Amidst Giants

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
For thousands of years, the Karasu Tengu had been mankind's protector against the race of giants, the Onis. Now the Tengus are shattered and assimilated into the Imperial guards, and the threat of giant kind loomed over humanity once more. A lone Tengu, Murasa, must discover the purpose of his order once again, and at the same time strive to protect those he hold dear.

Submitted: August 20, 2017

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Submitted: August 20, 2017

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 The huge blade scraped against the gravel, then it whipped forward. Blood erupted across the giant’s hamstring as it fell on one knee.

It keened horrendously, then swept a hand at the swordsman. He ducked, its claws raking a forceful gale through his hair. The blade leaped up, plunging through the side of the muscled hand.

The giant howled, thrashing its pucntured hand, maddened by the length of steel in its flesh. The swordsman leaped…

…and a pair of black feathered wings erupted from his back. He swooped along the giant’s arm, his blade held before him like a spear.

“Wruaghh!” With a roar that thundered across the sky, the swordsman rammed his blade into the giant’s eye. It thrashed and reached up a hand to claw its own face, desperate to get to him.

He flew past the gaps between its fingers, and with all the strength in his arms, slashed across the great arteries along the abomination’s neck. A river of blood rained down upon him as he flew away, a gore-encrusted bird of prey.

There seemed to be something more to the action of these giants than that of simple hunting raids. The Tengu gazed at the giants clumped along the burning town’s perimeter.

They aren’t scattered around as much as they should be. Those large ones seemed to be clustered near the center of the town?

He swooped down, feeling the gust whip against his face, hearing the wind roar in his ears. He came to a halt upon the tiled roof of an untouched building, scanning the entire town with the eyes of a bird of prey.

That was when he spotted it. At the center of the town stood a tall woman, radiant in her unearthly beauty. Crowning her head were swirls of flaming scarlet hair, her body clad in a sable battle robe. She was commanding the Onis forward, several of the giants forming a perimeter around her position.

She’s the reason the Oni have rallied like this!, The Tengu gasped, his eyes never leaving the lady in black, The Oni Hime, the Giant Princess. I thought they were only legends…

He ducked behind a building’s tiled roof, his eyes fixated upon the form of the Oni princess. Standing just next to her was a giant, its club held ready by its side. Both of their backs were toward him.

The Tengu’s deity has blessed me with a golden chance to alter the currents of this war. His thumb nudged against the pommel of his sword, while another hand wrapped tightly around the hilt.

I will end all this. Once and for all. He lunged.

Before the giant could hear him coming, the Tengu hacked at the back of its neck. Crimson blood erupted as the blade parted flesh, as the Tengu felt his blade went through muscles and bones, to finally cleave through the spinal cord beneath.

Another giant screamed. Grunting, heaving with all the strength of his arms, the Tengu severed the giant’s neck from chin to collarbone. Jumping off, he dived, a blot of shadow swooping down at a blinding speed. Heading for his target…

They collided in a blind tangle of limbs and bodies. The Oni princess and Tengu went sprawling, thrown into separate directions. The princess pushed herself up, hand placed on the hilt of her blade. She glanced upward…

Only to be staring right into the Tengu’s steely eyes. He held a blade at her throat, and the princess bled from where steel met her skin.

“Your Majesty, Oni Hime, there is a place you will have to go with me.”

His voice was colder than the blade in his hands.

 

 

 

“This is my complete report, your Majesty. I stand before your judgment.” The Tengu knelt before the vast throne. His head was bowed, a blade as long as a man’s height held before him in an offering.

“There will be no judgment, Murasa. You have done me a great service in bringing back the she-devil.” The emperor descended the staircase leading down from his throne, letting his gilded robe trailed along the steps behind him.

“Why, I shall reward you splendidly for this great deed. Let it be known that the Emperor of Nu rewards his servants justly. I shall host a feast for three days and three nights in your honor, Tengu.”

 “How magnanimous of you, your Imperial Majesty. However, I am afraid I must decline these rewards.” The emperor came to an abrupt halt.

The throne room was eerily silent, all conversations ceased as everyone held their breath, horrified at those words coming out of the Tengu’s mouth.

The emperor’s face crumpled into a frown.

“I had disobeyed a direct command from my superior, an offense which is punishable by ten lashes of the cane. I wouldn’t want to be spared punishment just because I have done what a Tengu is supposed to do. I am but a slayer of giants, Your Highness.”

Without raising up his head, the Tengu continued, “As for the festivities, I would like to make a plea for His Imperial Majesty to distribute the resources that will otherwise be used for the festivities to our empire’s helpless denizens instead.” 

“Very well,” the Emperor said through gritted teeth. He was red faced, his voice furious. “No festivities shall be conducted in your name, Tengu.”

The Emperor spat out the title as if it was poison. He glared at the Tengu as he bellowed,

“Guards! Take the Tengu out for his punishment. I demand twenty lashes by the cane! Now!”

The entire chamber stunned into silence, the Imperial troops moved in to apprehend the kneeling man. A huge Tengu, his armor overlaid in gold and silver, stepped into the soldiers’ path. His hand was laid upon the hilt of his jewel encrusted sword.

“Your Majesty, I’m afraid that there may have been some misunderstandings.” The bearded man smiled wryly,

“Murasa had always been headstrong. It is my fault for not giving him the proper lessons on court etiquette, Your Majesty. If someone should be punished, it is I, who failed as his mentor.”

“You do not have to trouble yourself, Master Tengu. Please, get up.” With the command, the burly man stood, his blade returning to the leather strap by his side.

 “Get him out of my sight before I change my mind.”

Ignoring the silent protests from Murasa, the band of Karasu Tengu roughly hurled him forward and streamed out of the throne room. Outside on the palace courtyard, the Master Tengu slammed Murasa against the stone railings that constituted the parameters of the Imperial Court.

“Bastard,” The Master Tengu’s face was livid, his hands clamped like claws of steel on the front of Murasa’s hakama. “What on earth is wrong with you?”

“What is wrong with me? You should ask yourselves that question! How dare do you call yourselves Karasu Tengus. The slayer of Onis blessed by the blood of the ancient deity?” He hollered, his voice breaking with emotion.

“Have you forgotten our vows? Our oath to guard the race of man against giant kind?” His anger having burned itself out, Murasa grasped his mentor’s broad shoulders. His gaze was desperate, his tone almost pleading,

“Have you all forgotten?”

“I didn’t expect you to bring up the words of those old fools, Murasa.” The Master Tengu roughly removed his student’s hands from his shoulder. The man’s bearded face was filled with contempt,

“Vows, oaths, where did that leave us, in the end? We were almost wiped out. Our vows died when the Emperor executed our foolish elders, Murasa.” The Master Tengu stepped away, his gaze not withholding any hostility.

“I shall warn you, Murasa, that we are the Imperial guardsmen now, and our loyalty lies with the Emperor and the nobles of the royal court. Defy that, and there will be repercussions.”

There was a moment of strained silence, then the troops of Tengu marched down the staircase and out of the Imperial Court.

Murasa watched them depart with a sinking feeling. Is this truly how our order will end? He mused, gazing at the Tengus' distant forms.

In an age where wrong is right and right is wrong, what should I do, Elder? He pondered while gradually descending the stairs leading down from the Imperial Court.

The news coming in from the borders were increasingly troubling. Recently, the people had been so dissatisfied with imperial rule that they had formed a resistance against the Emperors troops, refusing to pay their annual taxes in grain to the capital.

There had been numerous casualties between the two forces, yet that only seemed to further ignite the flames of rebellion in the hearts of common men

As if smelling their weakness, the Onis had raided the provincial towns with ever more audacity, coming ever closer to the capital city.  

The order of the Karasu Tengu, once the beacon of light in the war against Oni, had been reduced to mere guardsmen. Most of them had become fattened and accustomed to life at the Imperial Court

I used to call them my brothers, used to fight alongside them against the threat to mankind.

Now, I stood alone…

He had disobeyed the Master Tengus direct command to remain at the palace and went to one of the provincial cities, ones rumored to be inhabited by the raiding Onis. There, he had tried to save as many people as he possibly could.

The common people were left helpless and terrified at the monstrosities that have stormed their villages, abandoned by the ancient guardians they had believed in.

If I didn’t care for them, who else would?

How did it end up this way? How did everything turn so wrong? Unable to help it, his thoughts went back to his parents.

Father. Mother. I missed you terribly. Even after all these years, the pain still wouldnt fade He still remembered their little house besides the forest clearing. It was an unadorned hut, small and cramped, but it was the coziest home he had ever had.

Every day, after going out into the fields with his father, they would sit around their only fire pit and eagerly wait for his mothers cooking. She would always come with a smile, asking how their day went, and how the food was today.

It was the best thing in the world. Murasa thought, droplets of tears threatening to break free and roll down his cheeks. He felt a burning sensation on his eyelids as he bit back the tears.

Father would joke that even if it was gruel, but he would enjoy it anyway, being mother’s cooking. Murasa smiled wistfully, those simple moments, eating, laughing with them, was everything that I could have ever wanted.

Then the Onis came. They demolished the paddies and destroyed everything in their path. His father had stood before them, hollering at his mother to bring him to safety.

A man facing down a horde of giants, a small scythe in his hands, refusing to flee in order to protect his family. That was the single, bravest thing Murasa had ever seen, even after the countless battles he had been through thereafter.

He had screamed as his father had disappeared from view, shrouded by the thick forest that they had fled into. He had wept, refusing to leave his mothers side as she ushered him into a large burrow beneath a cluster of trees.

When night finally fell, he came out, crying the names of his parents. He searched frantically, desperately until he found what was left of them.

With a start, Murasa had realized that he had reached the main gate of the Imperial Palace. The guardsmen swiftly retreated to let him pass, his distinctive plate of lacquered leather and nodachi blade marking him as a Tengu. He stepped past them, moving onto the bridge that spanned between the palace complex and the city itself.

I became a Tengu to avenge your death, father, mother. But now that the ideals I once stood for had changed so drastically, what should I do?

Murasa navigated through the complex maze that is the capital, lost in his thoughts until he was standing before one humble abode.

The world no longer made any sense to me.

I just wanted to know what to do.

Please… I no longer know what is right.

With shaking hands, the Tengu knocked upon the thin wooden door. A young woman holding a clothing basket, came to answer the door.

Who is it... Murasa!” She ran into his arms, almost driving the breath out of him by the force of her embrace.

Momoko. I missed you.” Murasa embraced his wife, feeling her gentle touch, breathing in her familiar scent with dear longing

Behind her, a little boy rushed to the door, swinging his arms around the Tengus legs, Papa! You are home!”

I am home, Ryusei. Do you miss me? The Tengu knelt down and gently patted the boys head with adoration.

Ryusei suddenly leaped forward and wrapped him in a tight embrace, surprising even the well-trained Murasa.

I love you, Papa. Can you please not leave? Please? His sound was muffled by the Tengus leather armor, his hands clamped tightly, refusing to let go.

With a gentleness he showed to no one else, Murasa hugged his son back with similar ferocity, I wont leave you, Ryusei. I promised.”  

The common people out there, the men, women and children are suffering, yet there is nothing that I can do about it

The Onis are raiding the villages, killing people, destroying families, yet I am powerless to stop them

At least, my ancestors above, gave me the strength to protect my own family.

I love them more than myself,

I will do anything to protect them…

 

 

One week later

Murasa halted before the gates of the royal dungeon. He lifted up his arms cooperatively as the guards searched his body and took away his sword for safekeeping.

“What is your purpose here today, my lord?” The guard to the left stood back up and made a quick salute, avoiding the Tengu’s eyes all the while.

“I’ve come to interrogate the Oni Hime.” Murasa raised his voice, making sure that the guards clearly knew of his intentions, “Her knowledge could be vital to us in the upcoming war.”

“My lord, but…” The same guard stuttered, his face going pale, “The court wizard had just arrived and took away the princess.”

“What?” Murasa brusquely shoved away the guards and stormed down the prison stairs with furious steps. “Lead me to her cell!”

The guards dutifully rushed past him and lead the Tengu to a large, spacious cell. Its floor of hay was dry and clean, a wooden bucket for waste products propped in the corner. The giant princess was gone.

Murasa dismissed the guards, clambering up the dungeon’s staircase with great haste. He emerged on the main courtyard, flew past imperial attendances who shot him questioning glances, and took a shortcut to the noble’s residences. Standing in front of a pavilion was the court wizard, Fang Qi Long.

Before the man could completely turn toward him, Murasa snatched the front of his shirt and slammed the wizard against a wooden beam.

“Where is the Oni Hime?” The Tengu hollered, startling the attendances nearby who backed away, “Where did you take her?”

“The Emperor had taken her for private questioning.” The Wizard gave Murasa a long, flinty glare, "It is none of your business, Tengu.”

His lips barely moving, the Court Wizard mouthed, “The Throne room. They are in the throne room.”

Before Murasa could respond, the harsh tolling of bells sounded off in the distance. The tolling became louder and more frequent as it went on, spreading through the different parts of the city.

Soon, the entire palace, the whole capital itself, seemed to be resounding with the same clanging.

The whole courtyard was still, the men and women transfixed at the sound. Many were staring at the capital’s earthen walls, horror upon their faces. From somewhere, Murasa thought he heard a terrified scream,

“Onii!”

With a curse, Murasa dropped the wizard and sprinted toward the barracks, his heart hammering madly within his chest.

The giants are here… in the capital city...

 

Murasa spurred his horse into a gallop, feeling the beast’s muscles pumping vigorously beneath him. Besides him were the five remaining orders of the Tengus, their mounts thundering past rows upon rows of dwellings into the city proper.

“Unit five and four to the east. Unit three and two to the west.” The Master Tengu bellowed above the hoof beats of their war stallions, “First unit, follow me!”

He barely gave Murasa a glance as the other units split to their respective destinations. The elites of the first unit continued forward, heading to the earthen walls that surrounded the capital city.

The earth shook. The ground trembled, shaking so violently that the Tengus were almost thrown off their horses.

One of their horses whinnied fearfully. The giants turned and stared right at them.

The Onis gave a hellish keen, and charged.

“Battle formation!” The Master Tengu roared and the ranks of Tengus spread into an arrowhead formation, the Master himself leading its head.

Steel rasped against leather as the Tengu unsheathed their blades. The combined hoof beats of their mounts were deafening as they thundered forward.

Murasa felt the wind whipping against his face. He heard the blood roaring within his ears, his pulse racing like a war drum. Shadows enveloped the line of swordsmen as the Tengus passed between the giants’ legs.

With all the strength of his arm, Murasa swung. He felt the blade connect, and was almost pushed off the saddle by its resistance. He felt the blade bite into the tissue, to finally severe the giant’s heel cord.

The Oni howled in pain, and crow black wings bursted from Murasa’s back. The Tengu soared upward, swerving pass the giant’s wild, thrashing hands like a tiny insect. He drew his blade back, preparing to impale the giant’s eyes.

A wild swing of the Oni’s hand caught him. Murasa’s world spun on itself, and he saw dancing stars on the back of his eyelids. The Tengu plummeted from the sky, his wings twisted in odd angles by his side.

What is happening? The Tengu wondered dazedly. He tried to open his eyes, but blood dripped down from the wound on his forehead and stung it.

My head feels like it is going to split. Murasa felt the gales pressing against his face, his body, his injured wings. Is this what it is like, to die?

The Tengu opened his eyes and saw the world rushing up to meet him.

He crashed into the side of a wooden building. Above, his Tengu brethren were struggling against the Onis.

A sense of dread seized Murasa as he saw his brethren dying, one by one, to the ravenous horde of giants. The Onis seemed to be coming in endless numbers, determined to wipe off the race of man once and for all.

There are too many of them. Much, much more than I had anticipated.

All thoughts fled his mind as he saw an Oni turned toward him.

“Gods above. No.” Murasa mumbled, his face draining of all color. He heard it, Dum dum dum, the giant’s footsteps. It approached him, its lips curled into a snarl. No. A smile.

Murasa screamed as the Oni picked him up. Terror, raw and pure, seized him, and the Tengu struggled madly in the giant’s hand.

The Oni opened its mouth of razor-sharped teeth and lifted the Tengu toward it.

“Nooo!” Murasa howled as he struggled vainly against the Oni’s grasp. He closed his eyes.

And felt the giant’s grip slackened. He looked up. A Tengu had slashed a deep gash across the giant’s wrist, forcing it to let him go. Murasa snuck out of its closed fist and soared away, his broken wings flapping painfully behind him.

The giant’s hands swatted at him. Murasa maneuvered through the gaps between its gigantic fingers, his injured wings throbbing dully behind him.

“Die!”

Murasa rammed the length of steel through the giant’s eye. Its howls of rage and pain almost deafened him, as clear jelly trickled down from its ruined eye. Murasa danced away as the Oni mauled its own face where he once stood, and dropped onto its broad shoulder. He thrusted the huge blade through its windpipe, heard a gurgled scream, and flitted off the giant.

As Murasa threw away his shattered blade, he heard a cry, “The Oni. They are heading for the Imperial Palace!”

He whipped his gaze to the south. There, several Onis of smaller size were sprinting toward the Imperial Palace.

They are going for the Oni Hime. Murasa moved to follow, but felt his wing throb behind him.

He swooped down on the Tengu who had alerted others about the Onis.

“Give me your mount and sword!” Murasa leaped onto the stallion, its reins in his hands. The man dutifully handed him his blade, and Murasa was bolting toward the palace.

 

 

“Where is the Jade of Everlasting Youth? Tell me!” The Emperor bellowed as he brought down the whip.

The Oni Hime screamed as the leather cracked against her back, ripping off her flesh with it. Streaks of gore stood out grotesquely against her pale flesh, her entire body a ruined mess of whip marks.

“I told you! I DON’T KNOW!” She hollered the last words, and the whip came down again.

“Let us see how long you can hold on to it.” The Emperor handed his whip to the man servants, who continued the lashings. He glared right into the eyes of the giant princess.

“Ancient legends stated that the Onis were the protectors.  That within their midst, they hid a jade that will grant its wielder everlasting youth.” The Emperor’s eyes gleamed with a terrible thirst,

“I will have it, and my rule will be everlasting. I will rule for a thousand years, untouched by age and time!”

He bent down to the chained princess and lifted up her chin to look at him, “I waged this war for the jade, Hime. I will sacrifice every man, woman, and children of my empire to hunt your kind down. See every one of the Onis drenched in blood, until you give me the jade.” The Emperor drew his hand back, and slapped her with such strength that she spitted out blood,

“I have come this far. Nothing will stop me.”

The doors of the throne room bursted inward, sending thousands of splinters flying across the chamber. The force threw the Emperor against the staircase of his throne, knocking his head against the marble steps.

“Who dares…” The Emperor growled, the handful of imperial troops closing in and forming a circle around him.

Half a dozen Onis lumbered in through the opening, their gazes fixed at the mutilated form of their princess. Their eyes, round bloody orbs, glowed with fury. Some of the giants bared their fangs in a snarl.  

“Kill them!” The Emperor roared. The Imperial troops rushed forward and clashed against the enraged giants.

An Oni howled as dozens of spears pierced its hide. It hauled up a spearman by the legs, and swung him against his surrounding comrades. Flesh crushed against flesh as the soldiers’ bones snapped, the bodies of spearmen flung back in broken, bloodied lumps.

Another Oni leaped for the princess. It swung its hand at the whip bearer, flinging the man against the chamber’s far wall. Another manservant was smashed against a pillar, his guts smearing the wood a deeper scarlet. The Oni ripped off the princess’s chains with an audible clang.

“Hime sama.” The giant urged in a deep, guttural voice like that of a beast’s growl.

It shifted its gaze to the chamber’s door. A thin streak of silver flashed across its neck, and the giant’s head was rolling upon the floor.

The Master Tengu rammed his blade into the Oni’s stomach. He drew it out in a fountain of blood and approached the Oni Hime.

“It is over, Hime. There is no place left for you to flee.” Behind him, a small band of Tengus were cutting down the Onis with a cold-hearted efficiency.

The Oni Hime lunged across the chamber with inhuman speed. In an instant, she was behind the Emperor, a dagger poised upon his throat. A line of crimson had formed where the dagger’s edge had pressed against the skin of the Emperor’s throat.

“Back away! Drop your weapons!” The Oni Hime shrieked, her arm locked around his throat as she pulled him back toward the throne.

“Drop the blade, Hime.” The Master Tengu lowered his sword, but refused to sheath it.

“We had blocked off all of your escape routes. There is no use in resisting any further.”

From the remains of the front door, Murasa strode into the chamber. His bloodied sword shone like a bar of flames in the evening light.

“Look for yourself, Your Grace,” the Master Tengu said the title in a tone of mock courtesy,

“It is over.”

Shattering the tense silence was the princess’s abrupt bout of laughter,

“Do you truly think it is over?” The Oni Hime howled, her eyes dancing with mirth, “Look around carefully, my lord Tengu. For there is a giant amidst the crows.”

The Master Tengu whipped his gaze backwards, and his eyes met Murasa’s. Murasa, the one Tengu who will loyal to the order until death. Murasa, whose hatred for the Oni surpasses others.

Murasa, who had just swung his blade and beheaded a pair of Tengus before him.

The Master Tengu hollered a warning, but he was too late. Murasa swept in like a storm of blades. He ran a Tengu through, then slashed through the torso of another. A Tengu had barely lifted his blade when Murasa cleaved his head in half.

The Master Tengu grunted as he parried Murasa’s overhead strike. He groaned once as Murasa drove the sword through his abdomen. As Master Tengu dropped onto his knees, Murasa swung the blade and took off the Tengu’s head.

The blood of his brother in arms pooling around his feet, Murasa turned to leave the throne room.

“What should I do with him?” The Oni Hime gestured at the Emperor, who was opening and closing his mouth in uncomprehending shock. The man’s face had drained of all color.

“Do what you will.” Murasa said, and strode out of the chamber. As his foot passed beyond the door’, he could hear the unmistakable scream of his overlord. The Tengu paid it no mind.

 

Murasa gazed over the wreckage of the capital city below him. It was blazing with a ruddy glow, the wooden structures crumbling, the city torn down by the ravaging Onis. He felt a sense of queer, detached peace.

Besides him were the body of the dead Tengus, who had been guarding the throne room when he arrived. He had swiftly put them down.

Behind him, he could hear the Oni Hime finishing up her business and coming to stand beside him. She was covered in gore from head to toe, but he asked no questions of what she did to the Emperor.

Together, they watched the capital city burn...

… until the Court Wizard, Fa Qi Long, arrived and kneeled before the Tengu,

“My lord, we have successfully evacuated the people of this city. My men in the resistance had spread a rumor of the plague. The little amount that remains had been roused from their homes by my personal retinue.”

“Momoko and Ryushi?” The Tengu rasped, worry clear in his voice.

“My personal assistants were sent to their care, my lord. You need not worry.” After some pause, the Court Wizard stood up, “My lord? What should we do with the remaining troops in the city?”

“Tell them that they can surrender, or die.” Murasa contemplated the handful of troops that still fought against the Onis. “I wish I can tell about the atrocities committed by the Emperor and the Master Tengu, but I know that they will not listen. ” His gaze was grievous, yet at the same time resolute.

Her voice standing out amidst the crackling of flames, the Oni Hime turned toward Murasa, “What brings you to betray your own kind, Tengu? I was shocked when you detailed me on your plan before you captured me. I was even more surprised when your men open the city’s gate for my army. You do not seem like the traitorous type.”

The look the giant princess gave him was part apprehensive, perhaps that he may betray her once the plan had been carried out, and part curious.

“The powers of a Karasu Tengu passes by blood. My parents were not slain by Onis, but by the blades of my own brethren, the Master Tengu and his followers.” Murasa’s glare was steely,

“You knew of the Jade of Everlasting Youth. I will let you figure out the rest for yourself, Your Highness.”

The Oni Hime seemed to ponder on it for a moment. She turned her back and raised a hand in the Tengu’s direction,

“Farewell, Tengu Murasa, Giant amidst Tengus. May our paths never cross again. May there finally be peace between our two people.”

Murasa stared at her back until she was gone, then turned to walk in his direction, “May there finally be peace….”

He will be busy rebuilding the city, getting the message through to the common people, and finally creating the better world that he has always dreamed of.

“May we never meet again.”

I do not know if I have done the right thing, Ryusei, Momoko, but I will do everything I can to protect the two of you.

That, I promise…


© Copyright 2017 S. K. Inkslinger. All rights reserved.

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