When Crows Cawed

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


The final part of the prologue that resembled the short story, "Crows Amidst Giants". Be warned, though, that there is a new section at the end of the prologue which is not the same as the short
story, and which will lead to the main story and chapter 1 of this book. So even though you've read my earlier short story, be sure to read this prologue.

Chapter 3 (v.1) - Prologue 3

Submitted: September 09, 2019

Reads: 22

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Submitted: September 09, 2019

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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.

From the time of their foundation, back in the days of the ancients, the common soldiers had always been reverent, even fearful, of the elite order of the Karasu Tengu. This clearly seemed to continue despite the order’s disbandment and assimilation into the royal guards of the imperial palace.

“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 his own pavilion was the court wizard, Fah Qi Long.

He was a Xiexia man, one who had come to this land aboard a trading vessel and climbed up the steps of power through wit and sheer magical prowess. The top of his head was shaved, as according to the traditions of the Xiexia Empire, with the hair to the back of his head allowed to grow and tied into an intricate braid. His head and other exposed parts of his body were covered intricate tattoo in the language of the Xiexia as a ward against ill omens.  

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 Court Wizard paused for a moment, the shock slowly draining from his face to be replaced by indignation.

“The king had taken her for private questioning.” Fah Qi Long gave Murasa a long, flinty glare, "It is none of your business, tengu.”

The Court Wizard leaned forward, his lips only almost brushing the tengu’s ear, and whispered, “The Throne room. They are in the throne room.”

Before Murasa could respond, the harsh ringing of bells sounded off in the distance. The ringing 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 chime.

The whole courtyard was still, the men and women transfixed at the sound, frozen in shock. Many were looking at the capital’s earthen walls, horror upon their faces. From somewhere, Murasa thought he heard a terrified scream that seemed to last indefinitely,

“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.

“Squad five and four to the east. Squad three and two to the west.” Master Tengu bellowed above the hoof beats of their war stallions, “First squad, 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. Before them loomed a band of oni, over fifteen meters tall, much larger than any creature Murasa had ever seen. Surrounding them were smaller oni, some of them two to three stories tall, while others were only of humanoid size.

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

The oni gave a hellish keen, and charged.

“Battle formation!” Master Tengu roared and the ranks of tengus spread into an arrowhead formation, the Master himself leading the tip of the arrow.

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. He was riding toward an oni’s heel, and out of the corner of his eyes saw another tengu going for the giant’s other leg.

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 sever the giant’s heel cord. The force threw him forward in the saddle and he raced into the ranks of oni.

He heard the screams as the giants crashed against the tengus. A man to his right was crushed beneath an enormous foot, both man and armor disappearing beneath pounds of flesh. Another was swept off his horse, his screaming ceased as a giant chomped off his upper half.

Murasa swerved as an oni kicked at the man in front of him. Man and mount flew, broken lumps that soared over his head and crashed into the ranks of tengus behind.

Murasa turned back…

… and saw a gigantic mace hurtling toward him. He yelled, leaping with all of his might. The horse disappeared in a mess of blood and bones, spraying a fine red mist on the airborne Murasa. He landed in a roll before springing up with blade in his hands again.

An oni towered before him. It was one of the larger ones, its lips smeared with crimson blood, a mace slung over its broad shoulders.

Murasa roared at the top of his lungs, and lunged forward. The oni howled and swung its mace at him. Murasa dropped and rolled sideways, his blade placed precariously by his side.

A spike on the mace grazed his arm, and the tengu cried as blood seeped down the lacquered leather. He rushed forward, but slipped on a pool of blood left by the dead swordsmen before him.

Murasa slid forward, the blood slick on his back, his blade raised in an overhead strike. He grunted, and brought the blade down on the oni’s heel cord. The tendon ruptured with an audible snap, and blood gushed down the giant’s heel.

As the giant staggered, the tengu slammed his blade into the ground and came to a halt. He rushed forward, his sandals barely gripping the slick ground. Before the giant could drop onto one knee, he hacked at its heel cord, destabilizing its enormous body.

The oni crumpled in a cloud of dust. Before Murasa could make sure it was dead, an enormous shadow blotted out the sun. He instinctively dropped and rolled away as a giant’s feet slammed against the place where he once stood.

As he was about to stand up, the giant’s feet came. He rolled, and this time sprang up, thrusting his blade into the giant’s feet.

The oni howled in pain, and crow black wings sprung from Murasa’s back. The tengu soared upward, swerving pass the giant’s wild, thrashing hands like a tiny insect. He drew his huge 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 folded awkwardly by his side.

What is happening? The tengu wondered distractedly. 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 sharp pangs of agony from 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, an inn of sorts. Above, his tengu brethren were struggling against the oni.

A tall, lanky tengu was snatched out of the air and torn in half, his entrails splashing blood onto the streets below.

Another was slapped out of the air like him, and he fell, both wings broken. Another oni came in and finished the job, crushing the man with the sole of its foot.

A sense of dread seized Murasa as he saw his brethren dying, one by one, to the ravenous horde of giants. The oni 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 deliberately 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 soar away, his broken wings flapping painfully behind him.

He turned to the tengu, meaning to thank him. Murasa watched in stunned silence as another oni snatched his savior out of the air, and sank its teeth on him.

The horror still fresh upon his mind, Murasa unsheathed his blade, I will remember, brother, that even amongst the tengus there are good men. May you go in peace.

I will be the one to avenge your death. The tengu held his blade before him like a spear and swooped down at the oni that had devoured his savior.

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.

Its mate, the oni that had almost devoured him, swiped its mace at Murasa. The lump of steel caught its dead friend’s head, and brain matter exploded, drenching the tengu and giant in drapes of scarlet.

The oni charged toward him. Murasa dove, his wings flapping in a blur, shooting forward like an arrow. The tengu whirled past the giant and slashed open its neck. His blade snapped from the impact, leaving only the hilt in his hands.

The oni raised up a hand at its severed neck, stare uncomprehending at its bloodied hand, and collapsed.

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 oni of smaller size were sprinting toward the imperial palace.

They are going for the oni hime. Murasa moved to follow, but felt his wing throbbed behind him.

I can’t fly much farther in this condition.

He swooped down on the tengu who had alerted others about the oni.

“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.

Please. Please let me be there in time…

 

 

“Where is the Jade of Everlasting Youth? Tell me!” The king 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 king 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 oni were the protectors.  That within their midst, they hid a jade that will grant its wielder everlasting youth.” The king’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! One day, Oni Kaigan, even the Xiexia Empire itself, will be under my rule!”

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 kingdom to hunt your kind down. See every one of the oni drenched in blood, until you give me the jade.” The king 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 burst inwards, sending thousands of splinters flying across the chamber. The force threw the king against the staircase of his throne, knocking his head against the marble steps.

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

Half a dozen oni 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 king roared. The imperial troops rushed forward and clashed against the enraged giants.

An O oni ni 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.

The human mace swept through the soldiers until it ripped apart, spraying crimson blood over the floor of the throne room. The soldiers moved in as one and rammed their spears into the giant, bringing it down.

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-mare.” 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.

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 oni with a cold-hearted efficiency.

As she watched, a tengu thrusted his blade through a giant’s chest. Another swordsman lobbed off a giant’s head.

The last oni struggled feebly, its legs chopped off to bloody stumps. It desperately crawled on hands and knees toward the oni hime, leaving a trail of blood behind its mangled form.

A tengu leaped onto its back and slammed his blade through the giant’s neck, ending the poor creature’s misery.

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

“Back away! Drop your weapons!” The oni hime shrieked. The king struggled feebly, his face turning pasty white. The princess’s arm locked around his throat, and she pulled him back toward the throne.

“Drop the blade, Hime.” 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 shattered 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,” 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.”

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.

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 last tengu broke into a run. Murasa leaped after him and swept his blade in a downward arc, almost completely severing him from neck to hip.

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 left the throne room.

“What should I do with him?” The oni hime gestured at the king, 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 heed.

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 oni. 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, yet end up praying for their soul all the same.

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 king.

Together, they watched the capital city burned until the court wizard, Fah Qi Long, arrived and stood before the tengu,

“I see you’ve done well with your part of the bargain. Very well.” At this, Fah Qi Long grinned broadly, satisfaction clear upon his face.

 “We have successfully evacuated the people of this city. The men of the resistance had spread a rumor of the plague. The little amount that remained is being roused from their homes even now.”

“What about my wife and child? Momoko and Ryushi?” The tengu rasped, worry clear in his voice.

“I had personally sent my most able men to their care. I couldn’t let them go to harm lest you adhere to your end of the bargain, could I? You need not worry.” After a pause, the Court Wizard suddenly asked him, “Tengu. What do you think about the remaining imperial troops in the city?”

Murasa paused and turned to face Fah Qi Long. He stared hard at the leader of rebels, a man who had posed as a loyal servant to the king for years while plotting against him in the shadows. Murasa had completed his end of the bargain, so he couldn’t be of much use any more to this devious man.

Murasa weighted his words carefully. He let the silence stretched before answering,

 “Those soldiers can surrender or die.” Murasa contemplated the handful of troops that still fought against the oni. “Sometimes, you need to burn everything to the ground, in order to start anew.” His gaze was grievous, yet at the same time resolute.

“So that for once, we can create a better world. Something better than this rotten place we are living in.”

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 you and your kind 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 betrayed her once the plan had been carried out, and part curious.

“The corruptions of men, your royal highness. That had brought all of us here.” Murasa said cryptically and went silent

The oni hime smiled, “It is a puzzle I’ll have to figure out, then.” 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 had always dreamed of.

“May we never meet again.”

When the deities do not shape your destiny for you, you had to shape it yourself. As Elder Arashi used to say. Murasa thought, his gaze inadvertently drawn to the blazing city, the flaming beacon, before him.

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

That, I promise…

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………

 

There was a still, utter, and complete silence in the ashen remnants of the capital city that night. There were no bird songs, no chirpings of insects, no sounds of commotion amongst the abandoned streets and alleyways. It was as if the world itself was holding its breath. It was a silence that could drive a man insane.

Murasa poured himself yet another cup of the milky white rice wine. He sat in the middle of a half-collapsed house, filling himself with liquor while seated upon the only pieces of furniture still intact.

The denizens of the house had fled the city when the oni had invaded, and no one had returned. It was before midnight when Murasa, already drunken, had stumbled into the remnants of the house and went through its storage.

I am the last of the tengu. By now, the tengus still alive after the initial oni assault would have been rounded up and executed by Fah Qi Long’s henchmen.  

He could still remember Fah Qi Long’s words as he had detailed Murasa the plan; the extermination of an entire order.  

How could anyone who has seen what the tengus did still put their trust in them? We could be happy, our guards lowered, our loved ones basking in the sunlight, and they could easily swoop in and rammed their blades into our backs. Just like that.

After the atrocities that they had done. After what you had done, Murasa. At this, Fah Qi Long had glanced at him with a smirk. How could anyone still place their faith in the tengus? We could never forgive them. So they must… disappear.

Murasa had been struck speechless by Fah Qi Long’s words. In the end, I am only a pawn as well.

“I never want things to end this way.” Murasa sobbed, his voice shaking. Droplets of tears rolled down his eyes, and he roughly brushed it away with the hem of his robe.

I am sorry. I am so so sorry… He placed his hands over his eyes, trying to stop the tears from flowing, or at least to will them to go away.

 

“How could I ever forgive myself?” Murasa poured another cup and drained it in a single swig. The tengu slammed the cup against the table’s surface, and it shattered to jagged fragments. Pieces of porcelain cut his skin, and Murasa stared blankly at the blood welling across his palm.

He whispered a name under his breath, but it was so soft as to be indiscernible.

“What would you have done were you in my place?” With a final sigh, Murasa slumped onto the table and passed out. He thought back to days when he was young and the world was a brighter place, where truth was black and white and he was happy. As memories of days long past brought him back, Murasa drifted down the current of dreams…

 

 


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

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