When Crows Cawed

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


Ever since this part onward, the story have been rewritten to quite a great extent, so I'd recommend anyone who had read the short story, "Crows Amidst Giants" already, to read from this second
part of the prologue as well. Enjoy!

Chapter 2 (v.1) - Prologue 2

Submitted: September 07, 2019

Reads: 25

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Submitted: September 07, 2019

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“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 king 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 divine ruler of the kingdom of Rinho rewards his servants justly. I shall host a feast for three days and three nights in your honor, tengu, and grant you the title of duke.”

Murmurs of dissent arose from the crowd of gathered nobles. It is unheard of to elevate a man of war up to the prestigious status of a Duke, even amongst the well regarded tengu swordsmen.

Their words of protests were cut short by the Murasa’s crisp response, resonating through the chamber loudly enough that anyone could hear it.

“How magnanimous of you, your imperial Majesty. However, I am afraid I must decline these rewards.” The king came to an abrupt halt. The sound of his sandaled feet against the marble step was like that of a butcher’s blade hitting a knife block.

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 king’s face crumpled into a frown.

“I had broken the third rule of the Heavenly Code, the creed by which all tengu swear themselves by. I had disobeyed a direct command from my superior and acted against his will, both offenses of which are punishable by at least ten lashes of the cane. I would not 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 Majesty.”

Without raising up his head, the tengu continued, “As for the festivities, I would like to plead His Imperial Majesty to consider the current affairs of our nation. Flash floods in the southern states had drove up the price of grain and other food sources. Our own people, families, women, and young children are starving out there in the streets. They are dying, and their only solace is in the belief that their king and country would save them.”

“As inconsequential as I am, I would like to make a plea for His Imperial Majesty to distribute the resources that will otherwise be used for the festivities to these helpless denizens instead.”

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

The king spat out the title as if it was poison. With a glare seething with rage, 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. I’m certain that is not the message Tengu Murasa had intended for your ears.” The bearded man smiled wryly,

“He had always been implacable and stubborn, even amongst the tengus. It is my fault for not giving him the proper lessons on court etiquette. If your Imperial Majesty should punish him, have the same sentence carried out on me. For I am his mentor, and all faults with him lies upon my shoulder.” The man dropped onto one knee, just besides Murasa, and offered his blade to the king.

“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.

“A master should not be punished because of his student’s wrongdoing. I shall let him go this time, if only for your sake, Master Tengu, and the fact that he had brought back the oni hime.” The king stared daggers at Murasa and declared,

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

Ignoring the silent protests from Murasa, the band of tengus roughly hurled him forward and streamed out of the throne room. Outside on the palace courtyard, Master Tengu slammed Murasa against the stone railings that surrounded the imperial throne room.

“Yokai-spawn,” Master Tengu’s face was livid, veins bulging on his scalp, his hands clamped like claws of steel on the front portion of Murasa’s robe. “What in Rinho’s hells is wrong with you?”

“What is wrong with me? You should ask yourselves that question!” Murasa stepped towards the man and shoved with the weight of his whole body. His master, shocked at the sudden outburst, staggered and collided against the ranks of tengu swordsmen.

“How dare do you call yourselves tengus. The slayer of oni, the blood of Lord Karasu Tengu, the protector of the people?” He hollered, his voice breaking with emotion.

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

“Even you have forgotten, Master?”

“I didn’t expect you to bring up the words of those old fools, Murasa.” 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. The warriors of Heaven. The tengus. Our vows died when the king executed our foolish elders, Murasa.” Master Tengu stepped away, his gaze not withholding any hostility.

“I shall warn you, Murasa, that we are one of the imperial troops now, and our loyalty lies with the king and the nobles of the royal court. Defy that, and there will be repercussions to follow.” Master Tengu’s hand was wrapped around his sword sheath, his thumb slightly nudging the blade out of its covering, his sword hand held ready by the side.

There was a moment of strained silence, then the troops of tengu marched down the staircase and out of the imperial palace. Each passing tengu glared at him with outright hatred and contempt, some of their hands even clasped around the hilts of their swords.

Murasa watched them depart with a sinking feeling. Is this truly how our order will end? He mused, gazing at the tengus’ distant forms. He still remembered the words of the Elder Arashi, whose teachings they had vowed to followed onto their last breath,

Our loyalty lays neither with nations or kings, but with the people

Our blades strike not to kill, but to protect

Our actions are that of compassion, lest we lose our hearts and became those we slay

 

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 palace.

To his right, adjacent to the throne room, were the private residences of the king and his royal family. To the left was the imperial harem, a cluster of wooden buildings which housed the king’s concubines.

As Murasa descended the steps of granite, he felt the weight of the nodachi strapped against his back weighting him down. The special blades of the tengus, the nodachi swords were a gift from the ancient deities to the order, very much like the blood of the gods and the wings that sprouted from their backs.

His sandaled feet leaving the flight of stairs, Murasa came across the pair of carved stone dragons that guarded the imperial staircase. Their eyes seemed to follow him as he made his way out into the outer courtyard of the palace.

Their gazes seemed accusative, as if they glimpse the feelings of guilt that was troubling him as of late.

The news coming in from the borders were increasingly troubling. Everything that he had reported to the king was the truth. The recent flash floods had been more severe than usual, disrupting the supplies of grains and other food sources to various parts of the empire.

Recently, the people had been so dissatisfied with imperial rule that they had formed a resistance against the king’s troops, refusing to pay their annual taxes in grain to the capital. There had been many battles and deaths between the two forces, yet that only seemed to further ignite the flames of rebellion in the hearts of people around the kingdom

As if smelling their weakness, the oni, the giants from the South, had raided the provincial towns with ever more audacity. Before long, even the capital itself maybe in striking distance.

Couldn’t they see this threat that loomed above us all? Could they truly be so blind? None of them had listened to him, engrossed with their own politicking, plots and schemes in the eternal grapple for power at the imperial palace.

All of that scheming will do them no good, once the giants broke through the city’s wall and storm in to feast upon human flesh.  

The tengu order, once the beacon of light against the war against oni, had been reduced to mere assassins and rebel hunters. They had survived surprisingly well after the extermination of the Order, fattened and used to the glamorous life at the imperial palace

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

Now, I stood alone…

He had disobeyed 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 oni. There, he had fought, and tried to save as many townspeople as he possibly could.

In the eyes of the nobles, even the current bands of tengus, they are worthless.

Those 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 didnt care for them, who else would?” Murasa mumbled to himself as he went down the final step of the granite staircase.

His steps seemingly weighted by lead, Murasa came out into the outer courtyard of the imperial palace. Here, the palace library stood to the east. Opposite to that were the military barracks, where the imperial troops and what remained of the tengus mingled in residence and training.

I couldn’t bear to see them. Not now. Not after the ways they had gaze at me, as if I was a threat to the entire order. He wondered if some of them would take it upon themselves to deal with the threat. To come to him with blades in the night, ending the defiant tengu once and for all.

Murasa ignored the barracks and continued forward, along the Central Way that leads toward the palaces main gate.

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 wouldn’t 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.

Then the oni came. Murasa felt his breath hitched, and he felt like a frigid hand had clasped its way around his heart. Brought back to those horrible moments by his own ponderous mind, Murasa felt like he could barely breathe…

With a start, the tengu had just 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 armor 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 for the pride in his eyes when he looked at me. Now that the ideals that I had once stood for had changed so drastically, what should I do?

“What should I do?” Murasa muttered to the wind, a question mostly to himself and that to the rapidly changing world around him.

As he strolled without much purpose, his mind wandered. He thought back to the first time he had met Master Tengu. He was a trembling little mess, still shell-shocked from the death of his parents. Master Tengu and his blademasters had descended around him like winged warriors from heavens, like the heroes from myths and legends.

He had calmed Murasa and pulled him into an embrace, telling him that everything is alright. Telling him that it will be fine. Afterwards Master Tengu took him in and took care of him like a son. Even amongst the other tengus, Murasa felt like they had a special kind of bond, and Master Tengu had always been like a father to him.

How did things turn out this way? Murasa pondered gloomily, his eyes downcast as he trod along the thoroughfares of the capital.  

Murasa veered off the main route and turned into a darkened alley. The houses that lined the street before him were mostly rundown, many having been looted for their valuables or just left to crumble with the passage of time. Murasa kept on going, lost in his own thoughts until he was standing before a humble abode.

The world no longer made any sense. I no longer knew what is right and wrong. Where one ended and the other started.

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

He felt his wife’s greatly distended belly, and glanced down at it dearly. “How is Ryushi doing?”

“He’s kicking well.” Momoko broke into a smile, “The midwife said that it’s only another week until our big day.”

“That’s great to hear,” Murasa said as he bent down and place both of his hands around Momoko’s belly, Daddy is home, Ryushi. Do you miss me?”

Momoko laughed, but then her smile faded, “Will you be back for long?” Her brows were creased into a concerned frown, “I…I want you to be here to name him.”

Murasa averted her gaze out of shame, “I will have to leave again soon, Momoko. Another assignment is coming up.”

“You and all of your assignments!” Momoko wailed, her outburst catching Murasa off guard, “How could I know!” She clutched at the front of his lacquered armor and pounded her fists against his chest,

“How could I know if you will make it back this time? If Ryushi will still have a father?” She pummeled her fist against him until weariness overtook her, and Momoko leaned her face against Murasa and wept.

“It had been getting worse and worse. More assignments, and from what you have told me, they are much riskier than before.” Momoko looked up at him, her eyes red and brimming with tears, “Could you not go, Murasa?”

“I must do what I must, Momoko.” Murasa replied sadly. With a gentleness he showed no one else, he pulled her into his embrace and hugged her as if this was his last day breathing, I wont ever leave you, Momoko, and our Ryushi. I will come back safe and sound. 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 oni are raiding the villages, killing people, destroying families, yet I am powerless to stop them

As his wife went back to prepare the dinner for the day, Murasa sat by the flames of their central heart and prayed softly as he gazed at his only family, “I love them more than myself, Lord Karasu Tengu. Please grant me the strength, for I will do anything. Anything. To protect them


© Copyright 2019 S. K. Inkslinger. All rights reserved.

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