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    • Owlbear

    The thrilling conclusion to the story of the Siege on the Second City by the twisted minions of the Dark Naga, as determined by the events of GenCon 2014!

     

    The Siege of Darkness, Finale

    By Shawn Carman & Fred Wan

     

    PEASANT DISTRICT

     

    The air was thick with smoke. The screams of the dying had abated, leaving only the sounds of determined battle. The streets ran red with streams, lakes, and rivers of blood, human and Naga mingled to the point that it was impossible to tell whose was whose. Corpses were everywhere. The distinction between samurai and peasant no longer mattered. The only thing that mattered was the number of human bodies and the massive corpses of the corrupted Naga warriors that were left twitching and writhing where they lay.

    The peasant district of the Second City was gone. The worst of the fighting had been centered there, and the flames had consumed everything. Three times the Naga had taken the district. Twice the samurai had pushed them back and reclaimed it. After the third Naga charge, there was nothing to reclaim, and the samurai had fallen back to the other districts. All that remained were the charred remnants of buildings and a heart-wrenching sea of bodies, hundreds or thousands of lives lost in a battle that ultimately accomplished nothing.

    The Askett prowled the ruins alone. He was given command over those who remained behind, tasked by his master with ensuring that no more humans arrived and gained entrance to the city through this region. It was a duty that Askett relished, for even though he was least among his master’s chosen, he was still chosen. The others still despised him, he could sense it beneath the surface of their minds. It did not matter. They feared the Dark Naga far more than they would ever hate him, and thus they would follow his commands despite their hatred. Somehow that made it all the sweeter.

    The Askett’s tongue flicked out and tasted the air. There was a scent, something like a man but not quite. There were many strange scents in this strange land, things that Askett had never imagined, but this was unlike anything he had tasted since he had left the Empire of the cursed mammals that dared to defy his master. It interested him. It made him curious. It was not a sensation he was accustomed to experiencing. He had sent the others away to search other streets because he wanted to know what it was. He had spent most of his life hunting alone, and while he welcomed the company of his master’s other servants, he likewise relished time alone. It was his way.

    There was a flash of movement to his left. It was as if the sun had glinted off of something, but instead of light, it had gleamed only a dark shadow. Askett turned toward it, but it was gone in an instant, and a sharp pain shot through his shoulder. With no real sense of concern, he glanced down and saw a long, shallow cut extending from his elbow to his shoulder. Superficial. It would not even slow him down, but it did deepen his curiosity. “Mammal,” he hissed, flicking his tongue again to taste the scent of the thing’s passing. “Strange.”

    A figure appeared amid the smoke and haze, crouched on a fallen rooftop, seemingly well outside of Askett’s range. “You should not have come,” Goju Sawaki said. His voice was calm, undisturbed.

    “You wish that we had not,” Askett rasped. “For it is your death that we bring with us.”

    Aksett mimicked the laughter he had seen humans perform before. He doubted the sound was convincing, but the body motions of the act allowed him the deception he required. At the conclusion of the action, he flicked his hand and hurled a small blade. It was a tiny weapon, comparatively speaking, but his strength was beyond anything a human might ever manage. It struck the figure in the chest with the force of a mighty tree felled by lightning. The human somersaulted backwards and disappeared.

    This time Askett’s laughter was genuine, although it sounded much different. He went to where the human’s body was to retrieve his blade, but when he rounded the fallen roof, he stopped. There was no body. His blade lay there in a pool of what might be blood, but which seemed more like shadow. The sheer volume of it assured him that his aim had been true, that his enemy could not have survived… but where was the body?

    Death? came a whisper on the wind. If you think death is something I fear, then you have no concept of what we are capable of.

    “You are dead,” Askett said forcefully. “This is some trick of spirit or sorcery, I know not which, but I fear neither.”

    A flicker of movement to his right drew Askett’s attention, but when he turned, there was searing pain to his left side, as if another assailant had attacked the moment he turned. How two mammals could act with such coordination he did not know, but it troubled him.

    My death will not save you, the voice came again. Death will never stop me.

     

    ARTISAN DISTRICT

     

    The Sleepless One looked at the human standing before him, her expression one of unwavering contempt. Furtively, he glanced around to confirm that none of his fellow Naga were present. His thoughts he had long since learned to conceal, but if one so much as overheard him, his mission would be imperiled. “Please, there is no reason to fight,” he told the human in a low voice. “I bear you no ill will. Surely you must agree that there has been too much death already.”

    Matsu Misato blew a lock of her graying hear from her eyes, her grip on her sword never lessening. “I am Lion. I am no stranger to death,” she said, “but the death you smell on me is that of your kin that I have slain.”

    “Yes,” the jakla agreed. “The loss of life in this senseless battle has been of tragic proportions. Let us end it now. Retreat and I will not reveal your presence.”

    “Retreat?” Misato scoffed. “You slay my brothers and insult me, and expect me to be grateful? To slink away like some common wave man?”

    The Sleepless One frowned. “I do not mean insult,” he assured her. “Your cultural oddities are something of a mystery to me, I am afraid. I am not like the others…”

    “That is fortunate,” the Lion sensei snarled. “They won’t mind when I spill your entrails on the cobblestones.”

    “If they knew the truth,” the jakla admitted mournfully, “they would likely save you the trouble.”

    The sensei said nothing, but rushed forward, springing off of an overturned and partially burned noodle cart to fly through the air. “Matsuuuuuu! “she screamed as she flew, her blade held aloft to cut down her enemy.

    “I am sorry!” the Sleepless One insisted, then released a torrent of pearlescent energy, summoning it from his taloned hand and unleashing it almost without thought. The energy struck Misato at the apex of her leap, obliterating all but her shadow within the greater field of pearl-colored energy. When it faded, no trace of her remained.

    A shard of the warrior’s katana spiraled through the air, having survived the magic storm that consumed its wielder. The steel embedded itself in the jakla’s shoulder, causing a bestial cry of pain.

    “Foolish, proud human,” the Sleepless One said, pulling the steel from his arm. “I did not wish this to be the outcome.”

     

    MERCHANT DISTRICT

     

    Shinjo Ajasu wiped the blood from his face with the back of his hand. Reflexively, he made a mental note to visit a torii arch and be purified later, but of course there was not going to be a later. The thought made him laugh, and fresh blood cascaded from his mouth down his chin and onto his chest.

    The monstrosity he had tried and failed to kill looked at him with curiosity. “What is it that amuses me, creature?” the Riddiqesh demanded.

    “I am Shinjo Ajasu,” the Unicorn warrior said. “I held the title of Topaz Champion, as my father did before me. I traveled to the Colonies, as my father always wished to do but never was able to. Here, I successfully found a place within the officer corps of the Second City Guardsmen.”

    The Riddiqesh sneered. “You cannot possibly be fool enough to imagine that I care about your pitiful lineage.”

    “My point,” Ajasu said, considering trying to get to his feet and promptly deciding that it was a bad idea, “is that I go to the next life knowing that I have honored my family and my clan.”

    “Wretched thing,” the Riddiqesh said.

    “And from what I know of your people,” Ajasu continued, “which is quite a bit, given the writings of Akasha-sama, I know that you are a Constrictor.” He gestured to the massive coils that surrounded him. “I know how sacred your bloodline is among the Naga. I know how few of you remain.”

    “A few scraps of knowledge and you think yourself a scholar.”

    “What I know is this,” Ajasu continued. “When I reach the fields of Yomi, I will be welcomed. When you die, and your soul returns to the Akasha, the disgust and shame that the others of your race feel toward you will be like living a thousand lifetimes of unending torment.” He looked up through a haze of blood. “I pity you, wretched thing.”

    The fallen constrictor’s eyes blazed, and his coils began to constrict.

     

    TEMPLE DISTRICT

     

    The Temple Distract was burning in many quarters, but others had been relatively untouched. Their survival was not a goal that had been achieved without sacrifice. Shinjo Yoshie exhaled shakily and looked around at how few of her comrades remained. Everywhere she looked, purple and other colors dotted the ground. Warriors, honorable men and women who would not rise again. They had fallen in defense of their city and their honor, and for that she was grateful. In battle, it was those who lived who would experience the greatest regrets.

    Yoshie walked over to where the Naga command unit, such as it was, had finally fallen. The creature that had led them was hideous even by the standards of the Naga as Yoshie understood them, which was admittedly not particularly well. The creature was hooded, which was uncommon among their kind, and its face was a strange mixture of humanoid and snake, making it somehow seem even less civilized than those among its kind whose features bore no resemblance to a man at all. She believed that creatures such as these were called cobras, but she was not completely certain that was correct. The fatigue of battle was already settling in, and she could no longer trust her own thoughts.

    The creature moved slightly, causing Yoshie to draw her blade once more, having finally returned it to its saya only moments ago after what seemed like hours of battle. The creature’s head rolled to face her, and she was struck by the baleful hatred in the creature’s eyes. “I should thank you,” it rasped.

    Yoshie frowned, hesitating for a moment. “What?”

    “This pitiful body dies, and I shall rejoin the Akasha,” the Quelsa said, somehow summoning the energy to laugh. “I will be first among the Dark Naga’s chosen there. I will reign in the world of spirit until such time as a new body is born for me to inhabit. I shall see the demise of all your kind from a perfect vantage point! I will miss none of it.”

    “If it is you death for which you thank me,”the Unicorn samurai-ko licked her lips, “then you are most assuredly welcome.”

    “Wretched beasts,” the cobra snarled, its muzzle wet with its own life’s blood. “How can you have grasped so much with so little knowledge of how the universe truly works?”

    “I am no scholar, but I understand how the universe works.” Yoshie lifted her blade and held it before the creature. “Are you ready to see?”

    “Do it, filth!”

    Yoshie obliged, and plunged her blade into the creature’s skull.

     

    MILITARY DISTRICT

     

    Shinjo Tselu lifted his blade and cut through the abdomen of a dark Naga warrior, only the creature’s spine keeping it in a single peace. The Ivory Champion’s shoulder was screaming in pain and he could no longer feel his arm, but he could not rest. He shouted the battle cry of the Second City Guardsmen, listening for the responses. There were fewer each time. He wiped a mixture of sweat and blood from his face and checked this ties he had used to bind his sword to his wrist. They too were wet with blood, but he had no time to be concerned with how unclean it was. “Where are our reinforcements?” he bellowed, unsure even if any of his subordinates were still alive to hear him.

    “There are none, commander!” an unfamiliar voice called out to him. “The entirety of our forces are committed to defending the Military District! There are none to spare!”

    Tselu cursed explosively, mentally condemning Iweko Seiken with a tirade that he would never and could never give voice. If the Imperial heir had not conscripted so many of the Second City Guardsmen and the Ivory Legion, the situation would be vastly more manageable. But the past could not be changed. The dead could not be restored, and the city could be nothing but rebuilt, assuming that any survived the battle and conflagration to do so. “We will have to be the reinforcements, then,” he said, his face grim. “We finish the next charge, then half of you follow me to the gatehouse!”

    “Tselu-sama!” A man appeared on horseback, his face a terrible mixture of blood stained flesh and gray ash. “The wall to the Imperial District has been breached! The battalion holding the region has been slain to a man.”

    A dagger of fear was thrust into Tselu’s chest. The governor! He could not allow the wretched beasts to get their hands on her. To allow a personage of her status to fall into their hands would be a disgrace the likes of which could never be removed, potentially for his entire family or even his entire clan. “Fall back to the governor’s estate!” he ordered.

    “My lord,” one of his officers said, “if we fall back from this position it will allow the beasts to breach the wall again.”

    Tselu grimaced. “I do not see that we have any choice.”

    One man, a Hida by his armor, stepped forward. “I will hold this position, my lord.” Two others stepped forward to take positions at his side, the three of them standing resolutely.

    Tselu looked at the man frankly. “Kazado, you cannot survive an attack of this nature. Not with so few.”

    “What I cannot do, my lord,” the Crab countered, “is surrender.”

    Slowly, the Ivory Championed nodded. “May the Fortunes guide your blade, and your ancestors welcome you.” He turned to the others and gestured deeper inside the city. “To the governor’s estate!” he shouted. “None shall cross its threshold while we live, men!”

     

    *

     

    On the eastern wall of the Military District, the monstrosity once known as the Shakash roared in sheer frustration and barely-controlled, primal rage. “I am Naga!” he bellowed, the very stones of the wall quaking with the force of his cry. “You are nothing! You are meat! I will not be forestalled by vermin!”

    Other Naga had fallen back and formed a semi-circle, writhing in eagerness to join the fight, but ordered by their commander to stay back. It was his right to claim the prey and finally breach the wall, but the battle was not going as anticipated. Many of them glanced sidelong at one another, uncertain what to do. The uncertainty emanated from them in waves, so much so that the Shakash turned and snarled at them, causing them to draw back a half-step. The massive warrior turned back to face the individual that was, inexplicably, barring his entrance from to the next level of the human’s nest. “Stand aside! Submit and die cleanly!”

    The diminutive monk tilted her head to the side slightly, a quizzical expression. “Are you accustomed to your enemies simply permitting you to kill them?” Togashi Korimi asked. “It is most strange that you have such a reputation, if it is built upon slaughtering the surrendered.”

    The Shakash released a sibilant scream of raw fury and lunged forward. The soot-streaked monk waited until the last moment, then casually stepped aside. A blade longer than she was tall slipped through the air inches from her former position. The cloth of her monk’s robe was sliced cleanly, leaving a long tattered remnant. Two more strikes followed, neither connecting with her flesh but exacting a toll on her wardrobe. The Shakash withdrew to glower at her, his expression a mix of hate and confusion. Korimi slipped the ruined remnants of her robe off, leaving her wearing only a hakama, her tattoos standing revealed by the absence of her robe. “At least you are free of the disgusting sense of shame that afflicts your species,” the Shakash said. “It seems a shame to kill you.”

    “You won’t be killing me, so the point is irrelevant,” Korimi said. “As a Dragon, I have lived with tales of the Naga for much of my life. I must say, I find the accounts of your prowess grossly exaggerated.”

    The Shakash lunged forward suddenly, no hint of his previous bluster or rage apparent. The ploy was nearly successful, as Korimi managed to evade his strike only by the barest of margins, and with a deep gash along her ribs for her trouble. She countered with an open palm strike. Her tiny hand seemed only to lightly tap the Naga’s flesh, but waves of force rippled along his skin and there was a sound like a tree splitting in a storm. The Shakash roared in agony and reeled from the strike, one of his arms hanging uselessly at his side. He turned with his blade, a massive weapon that had claimed hundreds of human lives, held at the ready. His eyes widened in surprise as the tiny monk ran up the sword, leaping the last third of its length to land arrive in the vastly larger warrior’s face. Korimi leveled a blow at him, striking him squarely in the face.

    Blood erupted in a fountain from the Shakash’s ruined visage. Fragments of broken teeth flew in every direction, and the warrior collapsed into the street, his ragged breath bubbling with the blood flowing from his serpentine features. He did not move.

    Togashi Korimi turned toward the other Naga. Her side was covered in a sheet of her own blood, flowing freely from her wounded ribs. Her robes were gone, her tattoos were illuminated by the streaks of sunlight that emerged from the clouds of soot and ash that blocked much of the sky. Her face did not betray fear or concern.

    “Who among you will be next?” she asked calmly.

     

    IMPERIAL DISTRICT

     

    The debauchery of the humans was without limit. The so-called Imperial District, seat of the humans’ power in this land of future serpentine rule, was fraught with places of eating, drinking, and entertainment. What did such trivialities matter? That the samurai of this land had concentrated their attention on such meager things while ignoring the threat represented by the Naga reborn merely reaffirmed that they were unfit to hold dominion over this or any land. They were unfit to exist at all, and the Dark Naga would be the force that ended the universe’s embarrassment once and for all.

    Around the Dark Naga, its elite guards cut down anything and everything in its path. Males, females, hatchlings… it did not matter. Their very lives were an offense that could not be allowed to continue, and would not.

    In the chaos and confusion, the Dark Naga spied a fleck of color amid the ash-choked air. A pair of samurai was looking at it fearfully, the male attempting to lead the female away. Her thoughts were clear, however, and remarkably focused, for a mammal. Her status and importance were obvious in her thoughts, and the Dark Naga wondered if the female was perhaps the leader of these people, or merely one of those who sat atop their byzantine structure of lords. One of the others hissed aggressively and moved toward the pair. No, the Dark Naga thought, its thoughts causing the other one to recoil in pain because of their sheer magnitude. This one will be mine.

    The speed of the creature belied its massive size as it darted through the street. One taloned hand reached out and eviscerated a human and the horse it rode upon, the other tearing the second story from a human food place. The two humans fled before him, as they should, disappearing into a larger structure, one of stone instead of wood. The attempt at permanence was appreciable, at least; such a structure would be more at home in the Naga ruins than in a city of humans, but it would not stand before him. The creature ducked down, the edges of the large doorway crumbling as it forced its bulk inside. Within, the structure was much larger, and reeked of human concoctions. This was one of the places they created their elaborate clothing, a pitiful attempt to conceal their own physical weaknesses. It disgusted the Dark Naga that they did such a thing. It disgusted him far more that many of its own people partially adopted the practice, even among those that were loyal to it. Once this city was in ashes, that would change. A great many things were going to change.

    The female was near. Her thoughts were pure, difficult to conceal. The male was close by, but his were clouded. Hunting for him would be time-consuming, and the Dark Naga had no interest in drawing this hunt out longer than necessary. As a diversion, as a symbol of victory, it had meaning, but that was all.

    “You are as horrible as everything we have heard,” Kakita Kae said, emerging from behind a vast rack of cloth near a small window. “So many times, such things are exaggerated, but you are every bit the monster the rumors claimed. Perhaps more so.”

    Your kind fears strength, the Dark Naga thought, drawing a wince from the human. I am power. What does it matter how terrifying your wretched race finds my appearance?

    The courtier shrugged. “A diversion, nothing more. A means to engage your selfish ego until it was too late. Tobei, now please.” For a moment, the female hesitated. Her expression was wistful, almost pained. “Fortunes,” she muttered. “What an incredible waste. Such sacrifices the universe demands of us.” Then Kae turned and leapt from the window, an act that caught the Dark Naga completely off guard. The female’s thoughts were such that he could not imagine her taking such a risk, even if filled with fear, and strangely, he did not detect fear among her thoughts. It was almost as if…

    The acrid stench of burning powder filled the air. The Dark Naga did not recognize the smell, but it caused instincts to come to the fore, demanding that it flee the building at once. It turned to do so, but there was a loud popping sound, and the stone of the building collapsed the doorway through which the creature had entered. It lunged forward and began tearing at the stones with its incredibly powerful arms, but it would take precious moments to clear the path, and the increasingly heady scent of the powder suggested no such time was to be had.

    No! the Dark Naga roared within its mind. I will not die this way! Not at the hands of an animal!

    The Spring Blossom Silk Works, the most valuable holding of the Crane Clan within the Second City, perhaps within the entirety of the Colonies, erupted in fire as a large supply of firework-grade gaijin pepper was detonated around its edges. There was a wave of heat, a groaning sound, and the tons upon tons of stone that comprised the building began to shift and collapse. The mass of the Dark Naga, huge though it was, could not sustain the level of damage that was inflicted upon it. Its flesh was torn, then crushed, then pulverized by the falling stone.

    The Dark Naga could not speak, for its body was twisted in such a way that human speech was impossible. Nevertheless, as its body died, as its mangled and malevolent spirit, so far removed from the physical component of the akasha, finally died, it screamed. The sound tore through the souls of the Naga enslaved to its will, many of them perishing in that instant. The sound resonated throughout the Second City, causing nosebleeds and headaches among the survivors that would last for many days. And it resonated so far that even some hint of it, some spiritual echo, reached the depths of the Shinomen Mori in the Empire of Rokugan.

    In the darkest depths of the forest, more than one hundred thousand serpentine souls heard, and awakened from their slumber.

     

     

    ANNOTATIONS

    By Fred Wan

    This week’s fiction is primarily focused on resolving the story prizes and choices from Gencon 2014, but a few additional things are worth pointing out:

    Hida Kazodo is a character found in the late Dan Moore’s RPG work.

    Kakita Kae, chosen by Gencon winner Case Kiyonaga, was created as a result of Giovanni Aviles’ work over the 2011 Kotei season, culminating in a highly successful charity auction at MageCon in 2011. Kae also appears in our RPG supplement, Unexpected Allies 2.

    During the time period in which this fiction occurs, Kae has a great deal of influence over the state of fashion in the Second City. Some of the clothes she orders burned in the fiction are likely either her work, or outfits that she personally endorsed.

     

    Discuss the events of this fiction in our Story Forum!

     

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