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Forged in Hell, Tempered in Blood

Discussion in 'Creativity Surge' started by Shura, Jun 17, 2002.

  1. Shura Gems: 25/31
    Latest gem: Moonbar

    Aug 9, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Sorry for my irregualr posting folks. I hope you lot don't mind. I will still be doing the Paladin Saga.

    I guess my mood will play a big part in deciding which story I will be updating each week...

    Anyway, here's the third part of Shura's story.

    The stink of dried blood and charred flesh gagged the nostrils of the men atop the battlements. Hardened mercenaries to a single man, even they could not suppress the revulsion at the sight and smell of the corpse-drenched battlefield. The bodies formed a macabre carpet of rotting flesh across the ruined plains before the fortress of Earl Corza, a cruel and iron fisted tyrant. The earl’s nephew, Lord Bennet had lead an avenging army to take back the ruler-ship which Corza had usurped from his father through the use of poison. After a month of siege warfare, the dead now numbered in thousands and the fortress of Earl Corza still stood strong, thanks to the presence of the infamous Wolves, led by the even more infamous Kervast.

    “ We cannot win, my lord. You should make preparations for your escape.” Kervast said his head bowed in respect to Earl Corza, a skinny, balding man clad in fine but dirty clothes. A deranged light gleamed in his eyes as he stroked the decomposing corpse chained to his self-proclaimed throne. The huge mercenary eyed the spectacle uneasily. Earl Corza had chained the wife of his murdered brother to his throne and tormented her to death and beyond.

    “ No. I have paid your fee, have I not?” Earl Corza’s reply was a sibilant hiss. “ You shall hold my fortress until I say otherwise.”

    “ Our agreement was for me to hold until the end of this month, my lord. I have no desire to make any further contracts with you.” The earl looked slightly bemused by the adamant statement and chuckled.

    “ Very well, then. Do what you think you must. It matters not to me anyway.” Corza’s tone was mocking. Kervast growled, looking forward to the day Bennet would breach this fortress and execute the deranged noble horribly.

    The door to Corza’s audience chamber crashed open then, admitting a huge man draped in furs. Kervast eyed the newcomer critically. The mercenary was seven feet tall, with broad shoulders and a frame packed with heavy muscles but the fur-clad man was at least a foot taller than him and his biceps were thicker than Kervast’s thighs. He had no forehead to speak off, his hairline beginning right above his piggy eyes and his huge nose dominated his face.

    “ My lord.” He knelt before Corza, abasing himself. The earl smiled at his servant and bid him rise with a negligent wave of his hand.

    “ Have the Blood Hounds been successful?” Corza asked. The fur-clad man shifted uneasily.

    “ We captured the wife and child of Bennet and were about to bring them back here for your pleasure.” He began. Corza’s eyes narrowed and he waved for him to continue. “ But we ran into this…this man…he killed thirty of my men and made of with the hostages.”

    “ What?” Corza erupted into a scream of fury. “ One man killed thirty Blood Hounds and walked away with Bennet’s wife and child? Where were you when this happened?”

    “ I was tending to some reports from my scouts a few miles away, my lord. This would not have happened if I was there.” Corza nodded, rubbing his chin with a claw-like hand.

    “ Yes, you’re invincible. If only you had been there, Krugar, you would have brought me the head of a man who could kill thirty Blood Hounds.” The earl mused. “ Be that as it may, your new job now is to defend my fortress, seeing as Kervast here has declared his disgruntlement.” Krugar sneered down at Kervast who returned his stare evenly. The mercenary had heard of the Blood Hounds before. It was a war band formed from dregs of society, made up of murderers and rapists of the worst sort, much like the elite Ravagers and Blackguards of the kingdom of Gryloas. Unlike them, however, the Blood Hounds knew no discipline. A typical Ravager may be evil, cold-blooded and utterly ruthless but a Blood Hound was ravenous, devouring blood and flesh alike for their pleasure. Kervast despised them.

    “ Scared, little man?” Krugar taunted him. The mercenary smirked. He was more than confident of his skill with the great sword strapped to his back. Without saying another word, he spun on his heel and stalked from the audience chamber, the derisive laughs of Krugar and Corza following him.


    Lady Vera Bennet hugged her three-year-old son close as she looked upon the cold-eyed stranger who had saved their lives. They were now sitting in the command tent of her husband and the stranger was halfway through the meal that the soldiers had brought him. She still recalled the moment of her rescue with chilling clarity.

    A huge band of ill-garbed mercenaries had overrun her home, slaughtering her servants and guards slowly and cruelly. The cries of her handmaid as she was raped and disemboweled before her would haunt her till the end of her days. The lady Vera and her son had been bundled into a crude cart and driven at a breakneck pace towards the fortress of Corza. They halted abruptly after the third day of their terrifying journey, though. She heard gruff insults hurtling from a mercenary’s mouth and a cold, flat voice in reply.

    “ Die.”

    That was when the screams began. When they died down, Vera cowered with her son in the cart until the wooden cover was ripped off with a terrible shriek of splintering wood. She screamed in terror as she looked into dark, slanted eyes, mistaking them for the eyes of a demon. Her savior had huffed in disappointment and turning around, started to walk off without a further word.

    “ You can not leave me here like this!” She had screamed at his departing back. He looked back curiously. “ My husband will reward you handsomely if you bring me to him!”

    And so the stranger had brought mother and son to the camp of Lord Bennet where the lord had welcomed them with open arms.

    “ What is your name, stranger?” Lord Bennet enquired of the man cloaked in black seated before him. The man took a long swallow from his cup and held it out for a refill and downing it too before looking at the lord. A few angry growls came from Lord Bennet’s guards at his audacity but the lord bade them to hold back. He was not a man of volatile temper.

    “ I am called Shura.” Came the reply. “ What is my reward for retrieving your family?” The question took Lord Bennet aback. He lost his friendly expression and his face hardened as he regarded the savior of his family.

    “ You will get your reward, mercenary.” He flung a small purse at Shura’s feet. “ Here’s a hundred pieces of gold.” Shura picked it up and tucked it into a small sack he slung about his shoulders. He then began to take his leave when the lord called for him to halt.

    “ A moment of your time, mercenary. My wife says that you are a warrior of no small skill, since you reputedly decimated the entire band of miscreants that captured her.” Lord Bennet began. Shura smirked. He knew where all this was leading to. “ Perhaps you would like to lend the strength of your sword arm to our righteous cause?”

    “ I could hardly care whether your cause is righteous or not.” Shura replied swiftly. “ And I am not interested in earning the lowly pay of such…” He waved a disparaging hand at one of Bennet’s guards. “ Such…rabble.” The guard swore angrily and laid a hand on the hilt of his sword. A barked command from the lord ceased his reprisal.

    “ Woof, woof.” Shura mocked the guard. “ What an obedient dog.” The man’s face turned livid with rage and Bennet could hardly control his ire as well.

    “ If you will not accept my offer, then do not insult my men!” The lord bellowed. “ Begone!” He pointed a quivering finger at the entrance to his tent. Shura spun on his heel and walked towards the tent flap just as a guard burst in hastily, much to the swordsman’s annoyance.

    “ My lord! Corza has just received reinforcements of more than three thousand men!” The guard reported, his face red with anxiety and exhaustion. “ Now they can hold the fortress indefinitely!”

    “ What? When did this happen?”

    “ The reinforcements came a few hours ago. We only found out when we captured one of their scouts.” The guard replied.

    “ Now it is us who are outnumbered.” Lord Bennet pounded his fist into his palm, muttering in frustration. He turned his face to regard the ceiling of his tent for a moment, then snapped his gaze downwards and swore bitterly once. “ Give the order to withdraw. We have lost this battle.”

    “ But…my lord…what about your birthright?” The guard asked. Bennet sighed and shook his head.

    “ It was never worth all this bloodshed. Let Corza keep that great hunk of stone.” The lord said. Angry denials came from every guard but none went against Bennet’s decision. Shura laughed a low mocking laugh at their predicament and walked out of the tent. He froze, then. A vehement curse passed between his lips and he ducked back into the tent.

    “ You are being attacked, fools! Sound the call to arms if you value your lives!” He shouted at the lord and his men, stunning them momentarily.

    “ What…?” Bennet began angrily, thinking that the swordsman was mocking them again. His statement was cut off by the agonized scream of one of his men and alarmed shouts rising all about his camp. He donned his helmet and buckled on his sword, gesturing for his personal guard to follow his lead.

    “ To arms! To arms! Repel the enemy!” His soldiers took up the lord’s cry and they rallied together in small groups to do battle against the fur-clad riders that had stormed into their camp, shattering skulls with axe and club. Bennet’s soldiers were well trained but they were unnerved by the wild ferocity of the Blood Hounds. Before, they had been facing the well-disciplined Wolves that confounded them with their elaborate formations and lighting quick deployment. Now, they fought drooling, snarling beasts of men that fought with a savage glee. Many of them fell with crushed skulls and shattered ribs before they could even raise a blade in defense.

    “ Face them head on!” Bennet cried, tearing out the throat of a Blood Hound with his sword. “ Match their savagery! That is the only way we can beat them!” His men shouted their agreement and pressed forward to bring the fight to the Blood Hounds.

    Shura glided through the battlefield, his trembling hands locked upon the hilts of his swords. The smell of blood enticed him. He wanted nothing more than to draw his blades and run amok, sating his bloodlust on soldier and Blood Hound alike. The path of Slaughter called to him. Without Kuroi and Jo-annia, there was no reason for him to cling to the tenets of humanity. Yet he held on, despite the fact that he felt his humanity bleeding from his soul with each passing day. Soon, he would become a soulless monster of death like his sensei but for some unfathomable reason, he chose to put off the moment for as long as possible.

    A pair of Blood Hounds rode towards him but calling upon his ki, Shura leapt over their heads, turning a full circle in the air as he did so. They followed his flight with astonished eyes, only to run into the pikes of Bennet’s soldiers. He trembled with the effort of resisting the temptation to join in the slaughter. With brisk steps, he sought to leave the scene, to leave the feast of blood and steel behind him. A small figure, hardly reaching his knee, got tangled in his cloak and the swordsman hurriedly pulled it free before it could suffocate. Bennet’s son cooed happily as he looked into Shura’s cruel eyes. He clapped his little hands in glee as a soldier disemboweled a Blood Hound.

    “ A true child of death.” Shura thought. “ Just like me.” The notion struck him just then. Had the time come for him to take a pupil? Was he to begin planning his death just like his sensei did all those years ago? Unknown to him, the fourteenth Shura had never met the woman known as Jo-annia, never fought beside the great warlord known as Blackmire and never studied the techniques and philosophies of the greatest hero and swordsman in the world, Kuroi Itezeru. He was different, and he proved it as he shook his head. “ The dark sword shall perish with my passing.” He decided.

    A band of Blood Hounds slaughtered a trio of unlucky soldiers and ran towards Shura and Bennet’s son. For the first time in the months since he left Kuroi’s grave, he felt secure in his skill again. He smiled and scooped up the toddler in his right arm, drawing his wakizashi in his left as he did so.

    “ Let the path of Slaughter guide me! I care not!” He said, dashing into their midst. Barely discernible steps brought him into the middle of the group before they could register his movement and Shura danced a tempo of death for them. His wakizashi cut through a throat, tore open a stomach and rammed itself through an eye. Tearing it loose, Shura hamstrung two other Blood Hounds and crushed their throats with his heels. His assailants were dumbstruck by the swordsman’s skill and they fell back, calling for more of their fellows. Shura stood amidst the shower of blood from the corpses of his victims, letting the warm fluid run down his face, feeling truly alive again. Bennet’s son gurgled in delight, as it was drenched in the crimson shower.

    “ Ready for a ride, little one?” Shura strapped the child to his back with his cloak and drew his black katana in his now free right hand. Now, a veritable horde of Blood Hounds thundered towards him on steel shod horses. Shura leapt atop their lances and ran up their lengths, drawing screams of surprise and horror. He decapitated the first two riders and perching upon their corpses, cut and slashed with deadly effect at the rest of their stunned kindred. Leaping from horse to horse, Shura moved like a shadow of death amongst the Blood Hounds, striking them down one after another. The son of Bennet laughed in delight at the slaughter. Not satisfied with merely killing the riders, Shura tore out the throats of the horses as well, severing their jugular arteries so that the violent spurts of blood confused and terrified the enemy.

    “ By the gods, look at that!” A soldier pointed out to Lord Bennet. The lord cried out in dismay as he spotted his son strapped to the back of the swordsman cloaked in black. But his exclamation died as he witnessed the terrible slaughter Shura was wreaking upon the Blood Hounds. Everywhere, Blood Hounds broke off their battles with his soldiers and charged in to assist their fellows against the madman with two swords. Shura was winning the battle single-handedly for them, it seemed! All he had to do now was to order his archers forward and pincushion the whole lot but he was too awe-stricken by the dreadful sight.

    Shura built a mound of bodies and he danced upon them, cutting down any who dared climb up to challenge him. He was laughing insanely and Bennet’s son echoed his laughter. The Blood Hounds, insane berserkers who knew no fear, finally met a madness greater than them. Their bloodlust ebbed, and then was gone, to be replaced by ice-cold fear. They fled and Shura pursued them, outrunning their panicked mounts and cutting more than a few from their saddles. It was only after an arrow thudded into the ground beside him that the swordsman paused.

    “ Return my son!” Lord Bennet demanded. Shura turned his murderous gaze on him for a moment and the lord felt a spike of fear lance through his heart. His expression relaxed slightly and Shura sheathed his swords, releasing the toddler from its perch on his back.

    “ That was the only way I could protect him.” Shura explained. Lord Bennet nodded, anxious to get his son back. The toddler clapped his hands and laughed happily as Shura handed him back to his father.

    “ Are you hurt, swordsman?” Bennet asked. Shura shook his head absently. The lord whistled under his breath. He had not been mistaken then. None of the Blood Hounds came close to hitting him at all. “ Who taught you how to fight, man? I have never seen such swordplay and I am considered an excellent swordsman myself!” Shura’s reply was a burst of abrupt laughter that drew angry glares from Bennet’s men.

    “ An insane murderer taught me. I killed him.” The cold reply was delivered in a flat tone. Bennet nodded. Perhaps he might have some use for this swordsman.


    “ You want me to assassinate this Corza?” Shura asked. Bennet nodded, his features awash with shame.

    “ I know that this is hardly honorable…” Bennet began but Shura held up a hand, cutting off the lord’s guilty statement.

    “ I have no use for honor. And less for those that try to force it on others. Name your price. If I like it, I’ll kill anyone you ask me to.” The swordsman said.

    “ Gods, you’re a truly evil bastard, are you not?” The lord rose to his feet. “ Is there not a single redeeming value in your soul?” Shura laughed in his face.

    “ None that I know of. Now sit down and name your price.” Bennet seemed to go through an internal struggle for a moment, and then he hardened his heart and sat down.

    “ Three hundred gold pieces to kill that evil bastard Corza.” The offer was hardly generous, according the standards of the shadowy assassin world but Bennet was utterly ignorant of such matters. An assassin of Shura’s skills would be worth thirty times that sum for a single kill, but the swordsman was not that covetous of gold.

    “ Two thousand.” Shura offered him. Bennet’s eyes grew wide in outrage but Shura did not give him a chance to speak. “ That is the price charged by a second-rate assassin in Gryloas. I am giving you a discount because you do not seem to be very well off at the moment. Someone of my skills will cost much, much more.”

    “ Why do you need so much money?” Bennet said. Shura chuckled, finding his ignorance highly amusing.

    “ I need to pay for a long journey.”


    “ Routed? By a single man?” Krugar roared in disbelief. The leader of the Blood Hounds swept aside the woman straddling him and stood, towering over his underling. The woman screamed once before crashing into a wall and sliding off, leaving a bloody trail.

    “ Yes, boss. It was the same one that killed Menka’s band and took back the woman and child.” Came the reply.

    “ Interesting. How many have we lost?”

    “ More than forty men died under his blades alone and at least two hundred others were killed as they fled in panic by Bennet’s men.” The Blood Hound reported. Krugar laughed heartily.

    “ Finally! A worthy opponent!” The bestial man exclaimed, flexing his huge hands like claws before his face.


    A pair of Wolves finished packing up their equipment atop a section of the fortress battlements. They were weary and disgruntled but grateful of the fact that they were almost done with this job. None of them liked their present client very much.

    “ I still prefer my time in Cypher.” One of them complained, tying a stack of pole-arms together with a length of rope. His companion cuffed him over the head.

    “ Have you forgotten the ghouls, you moron?” The rebuke made the first soldier cough uneasily and shake his head.

    “ I wished I did.” He said somberly. “ But there were definitely good memories to be had from there! The food, for one thing! It’s a hundred times better than the slop they give us here!”

    “ You bought your food from the village with your pay and threw your ration away, dung-head. I still have yet to report you to the sergeant.”

    “ C’mon, there’s no need to be so uptight. Speaking of tightness, did you notice how tight lady Elle’s leather vest always was? She seemed to be so full of herself, if you know what I mean, heh heh heh…” The sharp ring of knuckles on skull was echoed by a pained oath. Above them, tucked into one of the crannies of the stone structure, Shura grinned wryly at their banter. He knew the two soldiers; had fought beside them in one of the countless orcish attacks upon the walls of Cypher and he would kill them in a heartbeat if they got in his way. The swordsman had made his way undetected to the walls under the cover of the night. He had scaled the rough surface easily, utilizing his ki. Now, he awaited the right moment to either sneak past the two Wolves or silence them permanently.

    Luckily for them, the two soldiers completed their task swiftly enough and hefted the pole-arms upon their shoulders. Still exchanging comments on the vices and virtues of the ladies of Cypher, they made their way down a stairwell. Shura dropped from his perch and landed silently on the cold stone. He crept silently after the two Wolves and ducked into a dark alcove as soon as the opportunity presented itself. He would have to find out Corza’s whereabouts from a servant of some sort. Nodding to himself, Shura padded silently down the corridors of Corza’s fortress.


    “ Why do you look so sad, mister Kervast?” The little girl said, tweaking the huge mercenary’s moustaches.

    “ By the gods, girl! How many times have I told you not to do that?” He roared in mock anger. The little girl laughed, bringing a sense of serenity to the warrior’s battle ravaged heart. He had a daughter about her age once. Plague took her and his wife. He had never looked at another woman lustfully since.

    Corza’s daughter Hanna sat across a table upon which a chessboard was laid. The girl had beat him twelve times straight in the game. For all his time on the battlefield, Kervast was never good at the game. To him, war was an affair where luck and chance played a big part in deciding its outcome. It was not an orderly board of tidy little squares. Still, he was more than happy to humor the little girl. But the coming events brought a somber set to his face once more.

    “ I am sad, girl, because soon I shall not be able to play chess with you anymore.” His reply brought an alarmed look to her face and she took hold of his moustaches once more.

    “ Why, mister Kervast, why?” She demanded, trying to put as much authority as she could into her childish voice.

    “ I am leaving this place soon. My contract with your father is ending.” He said, trying in vain to tug his facial hair from her grasp. Tears filled her small eyes.

    “ Will you come back, mister Kervast?” The mercenary was about to tell her the brutal truth that he would never be back but she was just a child, after all.

    “ Of course I will, girl. Now let go of my moustaches.” Hanna blinked her tears away rapidly and smiled.

    “ Then let’s get on with this game, then.” She said. Kervast groaned in dismay.

    “ Can we start again? I’m clearly losing this one.” He pleaded.

    “ No!” Came the exultant reply.


    The Blood Hound gurgled his death throes as Shura tore his wakizashi from his neck. He grinned. The weakling had begged for mercy and Shura had promised him that in return for information as to where Corza could be found. The mercenary had revealed the location of Corza’s private chambers and Shura had thanked him. Thanked him, then drove a foot and a half of steel through his throat.

    He considered taking the man’s fur cloak but decided against it. He would never get rid of the rank smell about his body if he donned the filthy clothing. Shura made his way towards Corza’s chambers, marveling at how deserted the interior of the fortress was. Was there not a siege going on outside?

    Swift steps brought him to the bronze double doors of his assigned victim and he smirked. This was almost too easy. He turned and flung two daggers at two seemingly innocuous looking pillars. The sharp blades tore through the painted cloth and sank into the throats of the two crossbowmen that guarded the entrance to Corza’s chambers from their posts at the false alcoves. He ripped their crossbows from their convulsing fingers and held one in each hand.

    “ Good night, Corza.” Shura kicked open the doors violently only to find the earl seated upon a luxurious chair awaiting his arrival. A decomposing corpse was chained to the chair and a ghastly expression was etched upon his face. The swordsman did not flinch. He fired both crossbows, sending their steel tipped projectiles arcing unerringly towards Corza’s face. A shadow burst into motion beside Corza and two huge hands, covered in hair, tore the bolts from their flight. Before the stunned swordsman had a chance to react, Corza’s savior flung the bolts back at him. Shura caught a bolt with each of his crossbows, batting them aside. The wooden weapons splintered and broke under the impact, giving evidence of the power with which they were launched.

    “ I have been awaiting you, assassin. Krugar here, sensed your presence the instant you laid a foot on my property.” The earl indicated the towering giant beside him. Shura noted the sheer muscle mass of the man and the lithe, balanced motions of his body. He was not in for an easy fight. He drew his swords, a confident grin on his face.

    “ Then I shall simply kill you both.” The swordsman proclaimed. Krugar bowed to Corza and the earl nodded. A single bounding leap brought him behind Shura. A look of utter shock came across Shura’s face. He had hardly saw the man move! He dove into a desperate forward roll just as Krugar raked a hand clenched into a claw through the space that he occupied a blink of a moment ago. The carpeted floor was ripped apart, its surface marred by furrows. Shura frowned. Krugar had no apparent weapon. He had no time for further considerations, however, as the Blood Hound leader caught hold of him by his collar and tossed him through a window, into the fortress’s dining hall below.

    Shura twisted in mid air and tucked into a roll as he landed, seeking to lessen the impact of his fall. A massive shadow fell across him and Shura looked up to see that Krugar had jumped down after him. The swordsman flipped his body to the side to avoid the Blood Hound’s crushing weight. Stone was pounded to dust as Krugar landed. He made inch deep imprints in the solid stone of the floor. He glared sideways at Shura and gave a feral snarl. With his hands outstretched, the Blood Hound charged at Shura who promptly turned his back and fled towards a stone pillar holding up the ceiling. He ran a few steps up the vertical surface, and then kicked off, turning a complete circle in the air as he did so. Krugar crashed into the pillar in his eagerness to attack the swordsman and Shura raked his blades in a crosswise motion as he landed, cutting gashes in the Blood Hound’s back. To his horror, he found that the blades did not cut deep, so hard were the muscles of Krugar. He had only succeeded in enraging the mighty warrior. Krugar spun around and swept his hand like a claw again. Shura leapt backwards but saw a trailing wisp of his cloak split apart as if severed by an invisible blade and he twisted his body desperately, arcing his back. An antique suit of armor directly behind Shura was cut into half at the waist. The same fate would have befallen the swordsman had he not sensed that something was amiss.

    He landed on his hands and pushed off, flipping to his feet. Just in time to meet a mighty punch from Krugar. Shura crossed his blades and parried the huge fist with their razor sharp edges. They stung the massive knuckles but did little to lessen the impact. The swordsman was sent skidding to the other end of the hall, quickstepping hastily to regain his balance. Even as he did so, Krugar dashed off after him, astounding the swordsman with his speed. A determined grimace came over the swordsman’s face.

    “ Third Sphere, anchor of stone, shield of clouds.” Shura thought to himself as he crossed his arms about his shoulders and set his feet close together. Krugar frowned curiously at the swordsman’s curious stance and the audible inhaling sound as Shura took in an extremely large lungful of air. Nevertheless, he slammed his fist into Shura’s chest, expecting to hear the snapping of bone. Instead, the swordsman only exhaled powerfully, his breath emerging as a white cloud. The impact of the blow failed to budge Shura from his stance and Krugar crashed into the swordsman’s rigid form.

    “ Second Sphere and Third Sphere as one! Mental blade and reversal of river’s flow!” Shura intoned to himself mentally. He channeled the force of Krugar’s blow into his arms and sent his will down his blades, igniting them with a flickering red-blue flame. His crossing slash with both blades sent Krugar flying away from him, blood streaming from twin cuts across his chest.

    “ Thanks, Kuroi.” Shura whispered. Krugar crashed into the huge dining table set in the middle of the hall, his great weight splintering the wood. A bestial scream of fury erupted from him and he surged to his feet. He started to advance upon Shura but his wounds suddenly erupted in great spurts of blood as the movement aggravated them. The Blood Hound fell to his knees, gasping in pain.

    Shura smirked, then winced at the stabbing pain in his lungs and heart. He had gained much strength in his ki over the past few months but he still had to be careful not to overexert himself. A trickle of blood flowed from the corner of his mouth and he wiped it away. The sound of a pair of skeletal hands clapping caught his attention.

    “ Excellent work, assassin. Most outstanding.” Corza congratulated the swordsman in his sickly voice. Shura glared back at his target. He flicked Krugar’s blood off his blades.

    “ Just stay right there.” Shura told him. “ I’ll hack off your head shortly.” The menacing words were spoken in a casual, off-hand tone and Shura grinned as he realized that. He was reverting to the casual killer he had been so long ago, fighting beside Blackmire.

    “ Your enthusiasm and professionalism are laudable, assassin, but Krugar is hardly finished yet.” Corza pointed out, indicating the now standing form of his henchman. Shura frowned in annoyance and readied his blades again. The Blood Hound was no mean foe to be regarded lightly. The great doors of the dining hall burst open just then, admitting a horde of scruffy Blood Hounds. Most of them bore crossbows, which they aimed at the swordsman’s cloaked form.

    “ Stay back, Hounds! This one is mine!” Krugar snarled, advancing upon Shura, his face contorted in agony from wounds. The Blood Hounds flinched and moved to obey but Corza clapped his hands sharply.

    “ Kill him!” The earl ordered. Krugar roared angrily at being denied but did not dare go against Corza. Shura burst into motion as a hundred crossbows drew a bead on him. A quick stride took him right in front of a hapless Blood Hound and the flustered mercenary shot him in the shoulder. Shura growled away the pain and rammed his katana into the Blood Hound’s gut. Spinning around, the swordsman tucked his wounded shoulder into the skewered cadaver’s chest and started running towards the greatest concentration of crossbowmen. A few dozen bolts cut the air, only to embed themselves uselessly in the shield of dead flesh draped about Shura’s shoulders. The swordsman flung the corpse at the terrified Blood Hounds, knocking many of them off their feet. His whirring blades sent those closest to him to oblivion before they could even register the situation properly.

    A crossbow bolt fired at point blank range was deflected by a sweeping katana and Shura decapitated the wielder with a backhand stroke. Shoving aside the body roughly, the swordsman found himself confronted by a charging Krugar. The huge man stormed towards him at full speed, leaping forwards into a flying tackle as he neared. Shura tucked his knees into his chest, avoiding Krugar’s mighty grasp and kicked down as the fleshy missile passed under him. The swordsman’s puny blow was hardly felt by the mighty Blood Hound but the maneuver was never meant as an offensive move. Kicking off from Krugar’s shoulders, Shura leapt high into the air, towards the window that he had been flung out from. Corza had time for a single gasp of terror before the swordsman came crashing in. He rolled once to absorb the impact, and regained his feet gracefully.

    “ Do you know fear now, little man?” Shura said, towering over the diminutive form of earl Corza. The earl soiled himself as Shura raised his katana, glistening with the blood of his followers, above his head.

    “ Who…what are you?” Corza shrieked in terror. He fell on his rump, scrabbling backwards. The swordsman advanced relentlessly, the flowing wisps of his tattered cloak giving his silhouette a sinister, indistinct form in the flickering candlelight.

    “ I am your death.” He struck off the earl’s head with a single stroke. Below him, in the dining hall, Krugar’s roar of rage shook the foundations of the fortress.


    “ What has happened?” Kervast demanded. A Wolf choked on his words, so eager he was to relate the events that had transpired to his leader. The mercenary sighed and slapped him lightly on his back. The Wolf coughed and nodded his head weakly.

    “ Thanks, sir. An assassin has killed the earl and made off with his head. Now Krugar and his distasteful crew are working themselves into a blood frenzy over their inability to protect him.” The terse report, delivered in a voice that carried an undertone of smugness, irritated Kervast more than a little.

    “ Remember your professionalism, man!” The Wolf rubbed his head sheepishly at the rebuke. “ Get everyone awake and ready to leave in three hours. We have no reason to remain anymore.” Kervast ordered. The soldier snapped to attention and saluted once, before racing off to carry out Kervast’s commands.

    “ And who do I have to thank for such a miracle?” Kervast mused, stroking his moustaches. Beside him, Hanna slipped her little hand into his and smiled, oblivious to the havoc that now raged inside the fortress.


    “ Kill him! Kill him!” The Blood Hounds, driven insane by fear of their terrible leader, broke off into small groups, fanning out to cut off Shura’s escape routes. Krugar hollered at them endlessly, he himself driven half-mad by his failure and the agony of his wounds. His chest was wrapped with crude bandages and the leader of the Blood Hounds dared not move lest he tear his wounds open.

    The searing shame of his failure was worse than the physical pain, though. The entire mercenary world would know of his failure now. His reputation as the most savage and unbeatable warrior would be besmirched. He pounded his massive fists on the stone floor again and again, drawing yelps of fear from the few Blood Hounds that had remained for his protection.

    “ Who is he?” Krugar asked no one in particular. He addressed the question to the empty air before him. His soldiers looked at each other worryingly but kept their mouths shut. “ Who is he?”


    A sideways sweep of his katana tore away the faces of two Blood Hounds. The force of the blow sent their bodies careening over the side of the battlements in grotesque spirals. Their companions cried out in terror and threw themselves aside to avoid getting into the path of the deadly whirlwind that Shura was. A terrible grin was fixed upon the swordsman’s face as he slowed his progress simply to cut down those that did not scatter far enough.

    The scene was one of utter chaos as the Blood Hounds sought to flee Shura’s blades. They had forgotten all about their leader’s ire in the face cold, certain death. The swordsman reveled in the slaughter, but he could not afford to get too carried away. He was still outnumbered several thousand to one. With an exultant whoop, Shura threw himself over the edge of the fortress walls. His wakizashi plunged deep into the stone surface of the walls and left a trail of sparks as Shura dragged it all the way down. A kick against the wall sent Shura soaring over the moat. He landed lightly on the other side and ran off into the darkness, cackling madly.


    “ Be seated, assassin.” Bennet addressed the dark cloaked form stiffly. A flash of white amidst the swirl of darkness that Shura’s form was indicated the presence of a mocking smirk. The lord fought down his irritation.

    “ So it’s ‘assassin’ now, eh?” The swordsman’s tone was derisive. “ You were calling me ‘warrior’ a few hours ago, were you not?”

    “ The title is usually reserved for individuals of honor!” Bennet snapped, fast losing his patience. “ You have none!” Shura laughed out loud at that.

    “ Ah, you are one of those shining plate-mail types, so pristine and honorable. You uphold the noble ideals and morals of the old in a world so decadent.” Shura said. “ So high and noble you are that it gives you the right to pass judgment upon others!” The last few words were said in a hissing whisper and Shura’s ensuing lapse into laughter again made the Lord Bennet wonder about the man’s sanity. Still, he had to defend his position.

    “ The gods have given us souls and hearts with which to differentiate between good and evil, man! Have you no loathing for Corza? No contempt for his evil and twisted ways?” Bennet demanded. “ What sort of man would you call him, Shura?”

    “ I would call him weak.” The swordsman’s answer was chilling. “ There is no good and evil. There is only the weak,” He held up Corza’s head, which was wrapped, in a bloody cloth. “ And the strong!” Shura tapped his own chest as he spoke.

    “ You are more monstrous than Corza!” Bennet whispered in horror.

    “ Yes, that is why I could kill him.” A half-gloved hand all covered in blood extended itself towards Bennet. “ Now pay up!” The lord fumbled at his belt and produced a key with which he opened a large wooden chest at the back of his tent. He produced an emerald the size of his fist and threw it to Shura. The swordsman caught it easily.

    “ That gem is worth more than three thousand gold, assassin! Now get out!” Shura tucked the gem into the haversack slung about his body and bowed mockingly. Turning around, he pushed open the tent flap and paused.

    “ When word spreads of your heroic liberation of the surrounding lands from the tyrant Corza and you become revered and loved by all, remember that you won your gains through assassination! You name will be sullied forever in your hearts of hearts! You will never be able to look your son in the eye!” Shura’s terrible proclamation brought Bennet to his knees, for his words were true. He strode off then, leaving the lord clutching his head, tears streaming down his eyes.

    It was then that the terrible stories began. Dark tales of a demon all clad in black were whispered beside the fires of taverns. It was said that he was punishment inflicted upon the world by the gods as they were sickened by humanity's penchant for war against each other. Some tales painted him as a dark hero, wandering the land and bringing down tyrants in a shower of blood. Others as an insane murderer, slaking his terrible hunger for slaughter upon all he came across.
  2. Eze&Sharkie Guest

    This is brilliant as always. Everybody bow down to the almighty Shura.

    Nuff' said.
  3. Sniper Gems: 28/31
    Latest gem: Star Sapphire

    Oct 25, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Shura, do you type this in word and make it up over a certain amount of time or do you actually, just type it all up in Sorcerers?
    Either ways, i can safely say, i'm impressed and it must be the longest post i've ever seen!
  4. Namuras Gems: 13/31
    Latest gem: Ziose

    Aug 21, 2001
    Likes Received:
    So he's back from the light now, eh? Great work!
  5. zaknafein Guest

    He may be back from the light but he was never insane before
  6. Shura Gems: 25/31
    Latest gem: Moonbar

    Aug 9, 2000
    Likes Received:
    OK, folks, here's the next part. Like I said, which story I update depends on my mood...


    The silvery light cast upon the grassy plains by the stars locked the world, if only for a few hours, in an ethereal and dreamy state. Small, nocturnal animals went about their business and the rustling of the long grass swaying violently in the night breeze masked the sounds of their activities. Humanity, so renowned for self-destruction, slept and for a while at least, the tortured lands of Gryloas knew peace.

    A dark smear marred the cold blue of the night sky abruptly. Footsteps, lighter than a feather’s fall, went undetected by the most vigilant of the night dwellers. The dark figure raced across the plains, his cloak billowing in the night air behind him. A long mane of black hair, streaked with white, streamed out from the confines of his hood. He leapt over a depression in the ground and ran on, his pace unchanged.

    The man’s face was tilted to the heavens. It was a youthful one, though creased by lines of strife and worry. His eyes were slanted, due to his eastern blood and they have seen an unspeakable amount of slaughter and suffering. Grief, cruelty and heartache have left their mark on the windows to his black soul but they were overshadowed by the sheer strength of will and character reflected in them. His thin lips were frozen in a sardonic grin, as he took in the deep breaths necessary to sustain the exertions of his body.

    The idyllic landscape fell away suddenly into a gorge of insane and dizzying proportions. To look down into the inky blackness of the break in the earth was to bring about vertigo, violently. The man did not lessen his pace. He kicked off from his side of the gorge and leapt high into the air. For a moment, his dark form was cast against the full moon. No human could leap such a vast distance but the man had ceased to be concerned by such limitations a long time ago. After all, he had spent his whole life in pursuit of a single goal: to surpass humanity. His feet hit the ground on the other side of the gorge and he bent his knees to absorb the impact. Surging to his feet, he took off again, a shadow blacker than the night.


    The tavern stank of old vomit and dried blood. Both fluids were spilt in generous quantities in this lawless establishment. A woman sat at the bar, nursing her drink. Dark curls of hair framed and hid one half of a lovely face but none of the other tavern goers dared approach her. They gave her a wide berth and those who inadvertently stumbled into her stool immediately bent their thick bodies into bows of apology, pushing aside their crude swords, daggers or tilting their axes respectfully.

    Oal ignored them. She was in a foul mood this day. In fact, she had been in a foul mood for the last few months. The cause of her ire sat beside her, sipping delicately from a glass of expensive wine. Galboras fingered his long, curling moustaches and chuckled in his slimy voice every time a grizzled, battle-scarred soldier of fortune paid his respects to her.

    “ Ah, if only they knew the truth of Oal now.” Galboras said. “ You would be spread all over that table in the center and every man here would have known you intimately by this time.” The woman swept her hand across, knocking the glass of wine from Galboras’s hand, into his lap. The potent liquid soaked into his fine clothes immediately, ruining them.

    “ Ye sold us out to the pirate hunters!” She snarled. “ I lost two thirds of me crew and me ship was wrecked!”

    “ Really, Oal, you should begin to act like a lady.” Galboras said. “ After all, you really do not have many options left, do you?” He reached forward and pushed aside the fringe of hair that hid half of the pirate’s face, revealing the glaring, empty socket and hideous scars below. “ Perhaps that option is lost to you as well…” The man mused. Oal knocked his hand aside with an angry gesture and snatched him by the collar.

    “ Why, ye fop, why?” The pirate demanded. “ Have I not paid ye enough for the weapons and supplies?” This time, it was Galboras who brushed aside her grip and lashed a backhand blow across her face, knocking Oal from her stool. The tavern fell silent in shocked disbelief. Every man there fully expected Galboras to die there and then, violently. But Oal only lay on the floor, her body shaking in muffled sobs.

    “ I have always despised you, Oal. Waving a sword about, hollering battle cries like a man.” Galboras spat, tugging on his clothes to set them back into place. “ Women belong in the kitchen or bed, you whore!” He kicked her in the gut, doubling Oal over. The unsavory crowd began to clear the tavern, sensing that trouble was at hand. Soon, the only ones left were Oal, Galboras and his cronies. The fop waved his henchmen over.

    “ Do whatever you like to her.” He said. “ Just make sure that she’s dead at the end of it all.” A burly, balding thug grinned and reached for Oal’s lithe form but the pirate snarled and pinned the meaty limb to the floor with a jagged knife. The thug shrieked in a high-pitched voice and Oal kicked him in the throat, once. There was an audible crack as the thug’s windpipe was driven in and Oal leapt to her feet, drawing the cutlass that hung by her side.

    “ Really, Oal. I have eight men here and you are alone.” Galboras told her over his back. “ Why not make this easier on yourself?” Oal spat in his general direction and brandished her sword menacingly at the ring of scum that surrounded her.

    “ Ye’ll be dead before the morrow, ye fool!” She snarled, knowing the emptiness of her promise. She could not win. Galboras’s cronies were seasoned fighters, probably veteran sell-swords. They handled their weapons with a canny grace and the leers on their faces promised her a painful death.

    “ Ah, I was hoping you would say that.” Galboras flicked his wrist limply at her. “ Have fun, gentlemen.” He told his cronies. The mercenaries grinned and stalked forward, tightening the ring about the beleaguered pirate. Oal gritted her teeth and took her cutlass in both hands, ready for a violent death.

    The sudden tinkle of a fork against cheap cutlery caught their attention, though. As one, Galboras, his cronies and Oal turned to regard the source of the noise. One man sat in the corner of the tavern, eating slowly from a plate laden with thin slices of beef. He raised his hand and waved at the cowering barkeeper.

    “ Bring me another mug of tea!” His cold, flat voice brought instant compliance from the barkeeper, a skinny man with a heavy gold ring in his nose. The barkeeper hastily delivered the beverage to the man’s table and got a pair of copper coins tossed into his hands as a reward.

    “ The majority of sane folk tend to leave the site of conflicts that are not theirs, my friend.” Galboras spoke across the length of the tavern. The man ignored him and continued with his meal. A snarl worked its way across Galboras’s face. His moustaches quivered in anger. He was not used to being ignored like this. He pointed at two of his men in turn. “ You two! Cut his throat and throw him out!” The two mercenaries shrugged and swaggered their way to the man’s table where they loomed over him, confident leers on their ugly faces.

    “ Ye heard the boss. Sorry chum, ain’t nothin’ personal.” One of them drew a rusty dagger with his free hand as he spoke. He froze as he spotted the magnificent pair of curved swords that the man had placed atop the table, though.

    “ Your apologies are accepted.” The man replied. “ Know that this does not imply that I have any personal vendetta against you, but that is the curse of every sell-sword, is it not?” The thug narrowed his eyes at the man’s curious comment and frowned in puzzlement at shorter curved sword. It was now drawn and placed atop the table, beside its sheath. The length of the blade was a swirling milky white and as the thug watched, a drop of blood slid off its tip and hit the tabletop.

    “ What’re ye…?” His words were cut off by the gurgling sounds of his companion. His throat had been cut from ear to ear and he struggled vainly to draw breath as he crashed to the floor. The man had drawn his sword, struck, replaced the blade atop the table and sat down in the blink of an eye. With an alarmed scream, the thug reversed the grip of his dagger and tried to drive it through the chest of the man but his opponent caught his hand in a vice-like grip. With slow, agonizing ease, the man turned the thug’s wrist the wrong way. The sound of breaking bone sent chilling tingles down the spines of every onlooker.

    The thug shrieked in agony as his hand was ground to powder in his opponent’s powerful grip. He found himself facing the rusted point of his dagger suddenly and his cries were cut off as the blade was rammed into his mouth, piercing the ceiling of his mouth and driving into his brain. The man stood up as Galboras’s thug fell to the floor, writhing in his death throes.

    “ Who…who are you?” Galboras stammered as he realized that he might have antagonized an opponent beyond his power. The man gave him a cold grin that froze the blood in his veins.

    “ I am called Shura.” Came the answer. Seeing the distraction of Galboras and his henchmen, Oal hollered a battle cry and swung her cutlass at the closest mercenary. She scored a deep gash on the man’s burly chest, knocking him back.

    “ Oi, Shura!” She cried. “ Care to help a damsel in distress?” The pirate pinned her hopes on the swordsman’s intervention. It was the only way she would get out of this alive.

    “ Only if you make it worth my while.” The swordsman sat down again and picked up his fork. The carcasses of his two latest victims did little to diminish his appetite. He speared a piece of meat upon his fork and began to chew on it. Oal seethed at his demeanor.

    “ I can pay ye well! Now get here and help me!” The pirate cried as she dodged two thrusts and parried a clumsy swing of a thug’s sword. Galboras’s eyes widened in disbelief as the swordsman nodded, wiped his hands on a filthy cloth atop the table and stood up.

    “ Wait! I can pay you better than she can!” The fop stammered hastily. Shura chuckled and shook his head.

    “ Sorry. I only take one contract at a time.” With that, he drew his swords, one blacker than night and the other a swirling, hypnotic white. Two thugs rushed him, one of them brandishing a rusty mace and the other a notched, heavy sword.

    “ This un’s for me pals!” The mace wielder shouted. He brought his weapon down in a clumsy swing. Shura stepped within his reach and casually tore out his viscera with a single sweep of his wakizashi. The thug screamed and fell, clutching his spilling intestines in a vain attempt to staunch his wound.

    The other thug thrust forward with his blade and the swordsman returned his blow with a thrust of his own, sending the length of his katana directly along the path of the thug’s sword. The curved sword proved longer, though, and its point drove into the thug’s skull right between the eyes. He retracted his katana with a flick of his wrist, stepping aside to allow the corpse to fall.

    Oal crashed her cutlass into a thug’s hilt, severing his fingers. Her backhand slash took out his throat and she elbowed her gasping opponent aside. She was a competent fighter herself but the swordsman fought and killed with an ease that stole her breath. Galboras inched for the door and she unleashed a flurry of wild swings upon her next opponent, determined to get her hands on the fop before he escaped.

    Twin arcs of blood spurted into the air as Shura whipped his katana across the throat of another thug and his wakizashi across his chest simultaneously. The two blows severed main arteries and the crimson shower caught the thug’s companion right in the face. The swordsman stabbed him neatly in the chest. A few quick strides and a twirling leap into the air brought him over Galboras shoulders and in front of the door, barring the fop’s exit. Shura knocked aside the rapier that the fop wielded uncertainly in one hand with his katana and rammed both blades into his shoulders, severing the main tendons of Galboras’s arms. Oal snapped off a glancing blow against her last opponent’s elbow and rammed her cutlass into his groin. The thug shrieked and doubled over. Stiletto heels drove the man’s eyes back into his head and the pirate pushed the corpse aside. Shura regarded her with a raised eyebrow.

    “ You are a vicious one.” He said. Oal gave him an appreciative smile and tangled her hands in Galboras’s collar. She dragged the cowering fop to his feet and kneed him in the groin. A sickening crunch filled the room and the barkeeper mouthed an ‘ouch’ silently. She threw her forehead forward, flattening Galboras’s nose and rammed him into a beam holding up the roof of the tavern.

    “ I shall ask ye only once, ye scum.” The pirate snarled into the fop’s face. “ Where are they holding Feather?” Galboras squeaked an intelligible answer and Oal drove a lacquered nail into one his eyes, putting it out. Blood streamed from the wound and Galboras shrieked in agony. Oal slammed his head into the wooden beam to clam him down.

    “ He…he… is being held in Magistrate Folu’s dungeon…they plan to execute him tomorrow…you’re too late…” Galboras said weakly. “ Please, don’t kill me.”

    “ Remember what ye said about women belonging in the kitchen and bed just now, ye filthy dog?” Oal glowered. Galboras nodded fearfully. “ Well, eat this!” She rammed a dagger into the fop’s mouth, pinning him to the beam. His limbs convulsed as she twisted the blade. The pirate tore out her dagger and eviscerated Galboras with it, spilling his bowels all over the tavern floor. Shura raised a hand to his face to ward off the stench.

    “ Hmm…interesting.” The swordsman muttered to himself. Oal flashed a wide smile at him and hooked her arm through his, leading him from the tavern. The barkeeper sighed at the mess in his establishment.


    “ What?” Oal was referring to the outstretched hand of the swordsman. The two of them stood in a dark alley and the pirate was busy wiping the blood off her cutlass and dagger.

    “ My payment.” Shura replied, regarding the incredulous look on the pirate’s face with a touch of despair. He doubted that he would get anything for his efforts. To his surprise and horror, Oal leaned in close and pressed her body against his. She gave him a smoky smile.

    “ Would an hour be enough then, me lord?” She said in a sultry voice. Shura shoved her away. The pirate stumbled and fell on her rump with a shocked exclamation.

    “ Bah! I want gold, woman!” The swordsman said. “ Are you going to pay me or not?” Oal saw that the seductive posture she had coiled her body into and her full-lipped pout had no effect on Shura and huffed angrily, striking the dirty ground with her fist once.

    “ I would pay ye if I could.” The pirate said sullenly, all attempts at seduction gone. Shura hissed in irritation and swung away. Oal cried out in alarm. “ Wait! Where’re ye going?”

    “ Elsewhere!” He said. “ Some place where I can actually get paid!” The pirate got to her feet and caught his cloak in her hand. Shura eyed her dangerously. Such a move would have earned the perpetrator an instant bleeding stump. He tore his cloak from her grasp. “ What more do you want?”

    “ I need to hire yer blades, me lord.” Oal began but Shura raised a hand to ward off her request.

    “ You have nothing which I want in return, fool.” He snapped in response.

    “ We could rob the Magistrate and share the spoils, swordsman!” Oal said. “ Consider this less of an employment and more of a partnership! With the money, I could rebuild me ship and crew. Ye would be more than welcome among us.” The mention of a ship perked the swordsman’s interest. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

    “ A ship…you don’t say…” He mused. “ Tell me more.” Oal smiled triumphantly and caught Shura by the shoulders.

    “ Let us find some other place to talk, then.”


    “ Your actions are inconsequential, if you have not realized by now.” Shura said in exasperation. “ Do give up.” Oal threw him an angry glance and got off his lap, moving to take her own seat on the other side of the table. Predictably, the pirate had brought him to another seedy tavern. He pushed aside the mug of cheap ale that the pirate had somehow procured from the barkeeper.

    “ Does ice run through yer veins, man?” She demanded. Shura thought about that for a while. The pirate was certainly an attractive woman, blessed with a well-formed bosom and shapely hips. Her face, although horribly scarred on the left side with an empty socket for an eye, was exquisitely beautiful. But she did not stir his blood. No woman that he had met after Jo-annia did.

    “ Perhaps.” The swordsman replied. “ Now let us get on with business.” Oal sighed and drank deeply from her mug. At length, she nodded determinedly and leaned forward, speaking softly so that her words would not be easily picked by the many idle ears in the tavern.

    “ Me First Mate, Feather, has been captured after that rat Galboras betrayed us to the Magistrate. We’ll sneak into the city dungeons, free Feather, then sneak into his mansion and take our revenge upon the high and mighty filth!” The pirate proclaimed.

    “ So you want to kill this magistrate and take his wealth?” Shura said. He was amazed at the pirate’s simplicity of thought. She was a vicious and competent fighter, but a little simple, it seemed. The swordsman had no qualms about engaging in acts of random violence, however, and he was willing to go along with Oal’s ideas.

    “ Yep, that is right, me friend.” Oal nodded. There was a shrewd light in her remaining eye and Shura set aside that fact for future reference. His new companion might be more than what she seemed to be. Oal gulped down Shura’s untouched ale and slammed the mug heavily down onto the table. “ Let us go and get Feather now, what say ye? Ye can move quietly, can ye?” Without waiting for an answer, she got up, dragging the swordsman to his feet with an iron grip upon his sleeve. “ Ye can? Good! Let’s go!”

    Shura suppressed a low chuckle. The pirate was insistent on rescuing her friend before pillaging the magistrate’s house. That was either a decision made out of loyalty, or a tactic to ensure that the swordsman would hold up his side of the bargain. He pulled the hood of his cloak over his head as he followed the pirate out into the stinking night air of the city.


    “ Ye alright in there?” Tano, a middle-aged man clad in an ill-fitting suit of chain mail asked the figure reclining at the back of the cell. He sighed as he felt a slight creak in his knee. The old injury he had received in the wilder days of his youth had tormented him throughout the years.

    “ I am doing well, my friend.” A musical, singsong voice replied. The figure leaned into the dim illumination provided by the torch held in Tano’s gnarled hand and the prison warden found himself looking upon the fine facial features of a male elf. The elf was naked from the waist up and elaborate tattoos in black ink adorned his muscular chest and stomach. Long, dark hair fell from his high brow to his waist. He addressed the warden. “ And you? Has there been any improvement in your knee?” Tano chuckled and shook his head ruefully.

    “ Nah, there has been no change.” He replied, pulling up a stool and placing his torch into a rusty stand. He reached into his haversack and pulled out a small harp, passing it to the elf, who accepted it with a grateful bow. “ There ye go, Feather. Enjoy yerself, eh?”

    “ I am most grateful, mister Tano.” Feather strummed his instrument lightly, his brow furrowing in concentration. He plucked a few notes, sending the sweet music of the harp down the corridor of the dungeon. Prisoners put their heads between the bars the moment they heard the music and began to clap and cheer wildly. They were petty villains and ruffians, incarcerated for the capital crimes of evil beings much greater than them, be it in force of arms or wealth. None of them were destined to leave the prison. They fell silent as the elf continued his warm-up, bringing the harp through tunes that drifted high and low. He raised his voice in song, much to the delight of the condemned prisoners.

    The uncaring rivers roar
    As a thousand days go by
    What have we achieved
    Though called heroes, you and I?

    A sword cuts down many souls
    Less and less as it’s wielder grows old
    In the darkness that is afterlife
    Will not one meet his foes?

    What good has been done,
    What honor has been won,
    By one uncaring of all but battle
    And not a single moment of contentment?

    My lamentation goes unheeded
    Across a carpet of bones we have treaded
    Against the demon lords we have fought
    And the paragons of virtue we have disappointed

    So we sit here and drink
    And play tunes from reed flutes
    For a moment
    There are no foes
    There are no ideals
    Soaring above the grasps of the power hungry,
    We sought to prove our difference
    Borne upon a path no less bloody
    But in our hearts is all the glory

    The elf fell silent as the song wound to its close, letting his fingers guide the harp through the dying echoes of his music. His face fell somber and he handed the harp back to the stunned Tano.

    “ Forgive me, I do not seem to be able to concentrate tonight.” The elf was apologetic but Tano waved his hands hastily in denial of his modesty. In the many cells that lined the prison, ex-criminals clapped somberly. Many of them would have liked to think that their lives had been depicted in the elf’s song.

    “ What brought that along, Feather?” Tano asked, more than a little curious. The elf pushed his long hair back from his face and smiled sadly.

    “ I have lived your lifetime and more, friend, yet I am considered young by the standards of my people, barely more than a child.” Feather said. “ I could have seen the passing of a human millennium or two, yet my life ends on the morrow.” Tano sighed sadly but Feather held up a hand. “ In my hundred and twelve years on this world, I have seen much and done much. I have no fear of oblivion, so do not think that I feel sad for myself.”

    “ I have a friend out there, a friend who lives her life on a razor’s edge.” The elf continued. “ The song speaks of my hopes that she will achieve the glory that she yearns for so much and grow old enough to look back upon her past and be whimsical enough to say my words, or their equivalent.”

    “ She must mean a great deal to ye, friend elf.” The warden shifted his weight upon his stool as he spoke, trying to get as much comfort as he could from its hard surface. “ She must be a very beautiful elf.”

    “ She is one of your kind, Tano.” Feather replied. Tano’s eyes widened in surprise at the statement.

    “ Such unions are frowned upon, me friend.” The elf laughed at Tano’s statement and shook his head vigorously.

    “ You misunderstand, she is but a dear friend to me.” The warden nodded and took out his smoking pipe from a pocket. He stuffed it with a dark weed and was about to light it when he heard a muffled scream from one of the younger sentries stationed outside. He noted the alarmed expression on Feather’s face and gave vent to a low curse. He fumbled the pipe back into his pocket and buckled on his sword belt clumsily. Feather reached through the bars of his cell and caught the Tano by his sleeve.

    “ I sense a great malignant presence, Tano! Flee! Do not risk your life!” Feather told him frantically. Indeed, the elf had never felt such a horrible, menacing sentience before in his century of life. It sent cold sweat pouring down his body. The warden turned and gave him a resigned look.

    “ I know, Feather, I feel it too. Some hardcore case must want in pretty badly.” He put on his dented helmet. “ After all, I spent me whole life as a guard, soldier or something like that.”

    “ Then why are you still going out to face him?” Feather practically shrieked. “ Why do you humans always feel the need to throw your lives away?” Tano shrugged and shook himself free from the elf’s grasp.

    “ It’s me job, elf.” He walked out, and found death at the end of Shura’s blades.


    “ Shura! Enough! He’s dead!” Oal shrieked in horror as the swordsman slashed again and again at the warden’s fallen body. A ghastly grin was etched upon his face and drool ran down his chin. The swordsman had burst into the guardroom like a black whirlwind, hacking down the pair of sentries with a single stroke. The guard resting atop a hammock was skewered through the chest by Shura’s wakizashi before he even opened his eyes. An elderly man clad in mismatched armor ran out, brandishing his sword and Shura opened his throat and stomach with a cross of his blades.

    “ Hahahahahaha…” Insane laughter bubbled from the swordsman’s throat as he mutilated the corpse of his last opponent beyond recognition. The pirate, at great risk to her life, caught Shura’s right arm from behind.

    “ Stop it!” To her horror, she saw the swordsman’s forehead darken, the veins standing up prominently as blood gathered there. An invisible force caught her and flung her across the guardroom, where she landed heavily on the corpse of the guard stabbed to death in his sleep.

    Shura turned to face her, a murderous expression on his face and Oal started to wonder if she had just made a big mistake in enlisting his help. She cowered in terror as the swordsman advanced with both swords upraised, his shadow falling over her like a funeral shroud.

    He stopped suddenly, though and lowered his swords. His hands retained their grip on the terrible weapons but they trembled violently. Shura raised a half-gloved hand and wiped the drool from his chin. He turned his back on the pirate.

    “ I will wait outside. Free your friend swiftly.” Over his shoulder, he saw Oal nod her agreement uncertainly. “ We have wealth to acquire this night.”


    A shadow fell over Feather’s hunched form and the rattling of keys in the keyhole of his cell door caught his attention. He looked up and spotted his friend Oal fumbling with a bundle of iron keys in her eagerness to free him. Eventually, she got the right key and the cell door fell open with a rusty creak. With a squeal of delight, the pirate threw herself atop Feather.

    “ Ye ugly fool, I oughta kill ye for shoving me overboard and taking on all those coast guards by yerself!” The words were meant as a scolding but they lost their effect somewhat as they were sobbed into Feather’s chest. The elf smiled and stroked her dark hair fondly, enjoying her embrace.

    “ You fought all those guards outside by yourself?” He asked, hoping beyond all hope that they might still be alive. The cunning pirate had been known to knock a roomful of people unconscious with a magical potion before robbing them blind in the past.

    “ Nah. They are all dead. The mercenary I hired killed them.” She raised her face to regard her friend. Her remaining eye gleamed with excitement. “ He’s amazing, Feather! Ye should see his swordplay!”

    The elf sighed and got to his feet, helping Oal up as he did so. Still, his curiosity was piqued. What manner of warrior could dispatch a roomful of city guards so quickly? His sadness grew as he passed the torn corpse of Tano. He reached down and closed the man’s eyes, which were frozen open in agony and murmured a prayer for his soul. Still, that did not stop him from
    retrieving his harp from Tano’s haversack.

    “ I must retrieve my equipment, Oal.” He told her. The pirate gave him a confident grin and kicked open a side door. Inside, the belongings of all the inmates were piled to the ceiling. The elf, being the newest addition, found his things unceremoniously dumped in a pile relatively close to the door.

    “ I found them here.” Oal proclaimed. She sat on her heels, fixing her gaze on Feather’s body. “ Go ahead, get dressed.” The elf gave her curious glance, noting the wide, crooked smile all over Oal’s face. Still, he stripped off his prison garb and began to dress anyway, obliging her.


    Dressed in a long black coat that reached to his ankles, Feather adjusted the straight iron sword strapped to his back and buckled on a curved, short sword to his belt. The eastern characters depicting the words ‘Yagyu’ were emblazoned in gold upon the sword’s ornate sheath. Oal had asked him about the blade’s curious design many times but the elf had shrugged off her questions.

    “ Let us meet this new friend of yours, Oal.” The pirate nodded her head She stuck her head out of the side door from which they entered the guardroom and called softly for the swordsman. Feather’s senses reeled as he approached the dark silhouette that was Shura’s form. The stench of blood and slaughter hung heavily in the air about him and he felt more than a little apprehension when Oal skipped to his side and slapped his shoulder.

    The swordsman turned around and Oal gave a small gasp of fear at the cold, cruel cast of his eyes. Feather put one hand on the hilt of his sword, ready to defend his friend if the need arose but Shura merely raised his bloody wakizashi and pointed to the main streets. Two-dozen city guards clad in full battle armor surrounded the prison building in a half circle formation. A short, compact man dressed in the clothes of a city magistrate stood amongst them. He raised his hands and formed a cone about his mouth.

    “ Oal the pirate! I knew you would come here after meeting with Galboras!” The magistrate bellowed. “ You have stolen from my citizens for the last time! Surrender yourself, and your execution shall be swift and merciful!”

    “ Oh, drat!” Oal swore. She paced about frantically. “ I should have known that the pig Folu was only using Galboras to trick me into showing myself!” Feather placed a calming hand on her shoulder.

    “ You were only too eager to free me, Oal.” The elf told her. “ Do not blame yourself.” Oal threw herself into his arms and embraced him tightly.

    “ We’ll make a good show of ourselves, won’t we, Feather?” She said, her tone resigned, yet strong. The pirate turned to regard Shura, an apologetic expression on her face. “ I’m sorry, Shura, but it looks like ye die with us! I’m truly sorry!” Feather started in surprise upon hearing the swordsman’s name. He had heard the name before, in a legend too dreadful to believe.

    Shura was not flustered at all. He regarded the armored guards like a shark might regard a piece of bloody meat, thought Oal. The same ghastly, insane grin appeared on his face again.

    “ You know where his residence is, do you not?” The swordsman asked. Oal nodded her head in puzzlement. “ Good. I want you to go there and clean it out of any valuables you can find. I shall meet you at the docks, expecting my share of the treasure.”

    “ What’re ye talking about, Shura? There’re almost thirty of them out there!” Oal protested.

    “ There are only thirty of them.” The swordsman corrected her. “ I shall carve out a path for the two of you.”

    “ Ye’re insane!” The pirate told him, but Feather caught her wrist, eyeing Shura curiously.

    “ Let us follow his instructions, Oal.” The elf said. Oal nodded her head slowly, wondering what madness had come over both men.

    Shura sprang out, whirling his swords in both hands. He charged the ranks of the armored city guards, taking them aback with his ferocity. He made one backward glance.

    “ Go! Go now!” The swordsman shouted at the pair, before the path of Slaughter took him once more, washing out his consciousness with an inhuman desire to kill.
  7. zaknafein Guest

    Are you sure its your mood that makes you write this or when your feeling completly evil, insane and murderous. I liked the Shura of the first one beter because he wasn't a nutcase but hey, its your story.
    Its still realy good though, just not what I was expecting so soon after meeting Kuroi and studying ther blade of harmony.

    [This message has been edited by zaknafein (edited June 24, 2002).]
  8. Shura Gems: 25/31
    Latest gem: Moonbar

    Aug 9, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Well, Zak. I am undergoing a pretty nihilistic and murderous phase in my life now. But i try to keep as much of it away from the story.

    Shura suffers from the path of Slaughter, and it is an affliction that is not easily cured.

    Rest assured that I will update Paladin Saga soon.


    Her breath burned in her lungs and tears ran down her remaining eye. She stumbled and would have crashed into the side of a building if not for the strong arm of her companion, the elf that was called Feather that caught and steadied her.

    Oal emptied the contents of her stomach into a gutter, gagging on her own regurgitation. Feather stroked her back gently in a vain attempt to ease her distress. The pirate wiped the back of a gloved hand across her mouth once and made as if to throw up again. However, there was nothing left to vomit and she retched hollowly for a few moments. At length, she was able to raise her head to regard Feather.

    The elf’s face was sickly as well. He hid his fear well but it still shone dimly through his dark eyes. He fingered the hilt of the long sword strapped to his back in trepidation, as if expecting a horrible being to fall upon them and tear them apart with fangs of steel.

    “ That…that was utterly horrible…!” Oal stammered, her face covered in cold, clammy sweat. Feather nodded his agreement. “ What kinda monster is he anyway?”
    “ There are many dark and terrible legends of a demon called Shura that are told in my homeland.” Feather replied. The pirate regarded him with a startled look.

    “ Ye mean he is a demon?” She asked. The elf shook his head.

    “ No. He is but a young human, however terrible he is.” Came the reply. “ Do you still mean to keep your bargain with him?”

    “ Well, if he ain’t a demon, I had better had I not?” Oal said. She got to her feet and started for the magistrate’s house with a determined stride. “ Never let it be said that Oalina Uvderk, buccaneer extraordinaire was a untrustworthy woman!” She gestured impatiently to the incredulous Feather. “ Well? C’mon! Let’s go!”

    Feather chuckled. That was one of the reasons he loved the pirate so dearly. She was never predictable, yet always reliable, even to a fiend clad in mortal flesh like the swordsman who was called Shura.


    The streets ran red with blood. A torch fell, and was extinguished in the crimson liquid. A dark shadow stood atop of shattered bodies clad in the armor of the city guard. It turned terrible eyes upon its final victim, the cowering magistrate Folu. The short man was sitting on his rump, his eyes wide with terror. He had soiled his fine clothes long ago and the stench of his excrement was sharp even amidst the spilt blood and torn flesh that littered the streets.

    “ No….! Spare me!” The magistrate squealed. “ I have a wife and two children!” The dark shadow opened its mouth and let loose a terrible laugh.

    “ I’m sure they will taste delicious, magistrate.” The reply was delivered in voice as cold and flat as death. “ Perhaps I shall seek them out after I am done with you!”

    “ How could you? Are you such a monster that you would murder women and children?” Folu screamed, his anger giving him courage.

    “ I have done so in the past, little man. Many, many times.” The shadow said. “ Just like you, magistrate!” It’s left eye, exposed in the swirl of black and white hair that covered its head, flared suddenly in the flickering torchlight.

    “ Liar!” Folu’s denial was weak and trembling. The shadow leapt off the mound of bodies and landed right before the magistrate. A curved sword, blacker than the night rammed itself into his thigh, pinning him to the floor. He gave vent to a high-pitched scream. Shura laughed at the man’s torment.

    “ Dame Colinu, an elderly matron that lived at the edge of your city.” Shura said. The magistrate stopped his screaming and looked upon the swordsman with renewed fear.

    “ What…what are you saying….?” His words were given little regard.

    “ She had a daughter and a son.” The swordsman continued. “ The daughter was a beauty and much sought after by the men-folk. But her brother, a protective sibling, made sure that only the one worthy of her regard got what he deserved. She met a blacksmith’s son, and they were happy.”

    “ No! Stop!” Folu clapped his hands over his ears. “ Stop!”

    “ One day, a nobleman passed by on his gilded carriage. He saw the daughter and lusted after her. In his eagerness to move up in the world, the blacksmith’s son drugged the young woman and delivered her to the nobleman’s room.” Shura tore the magistrate’s arms from his ears and broke them clinically at the elbows. He continued his story amidst Folu’s renewed screams.

    “ Little did he know that the nobleman was a little…deviant in his tastes. The blacksmith’s son got his lover back on a platter, neatly cut up into bite-sized pieces.” Shura looked upon the madness that began to show itself in Folu’s eyes with delight. “ Along with a large sum of gold and an appointment as a magistrate. The brother, little more than a child of fourteen years, sought revenge and attacked the blacksmith’s son. His head was crushed by a forge hammer and his body thrown into the forge.” Folu was gibbering incoherently by this time. White froth appeared at the sides of his mouth.

    “ Dame Colinu worked and scrimped and saved.” Shura reached into his money pouch and produced two silver pieces. “ For fifteen years she sewed, cooked and did odd jobs to amass this fortune.” Folu looked upon the pitiful sum and laughed insanely. Shura reversed his grip on his wakizashi.

    “ She hired me as an assassin.” The swordsman said. “ One silver piece for one assassination. The first mark was herself.” He leaned forward and leered horribly. “ Guess who is the second?” A flick off his wrist severed Folu’s left ear and the man screamed once again.

    “ She said that your death was to be a painful one. “ Shura mused. “ And I know all there is to know about pain, little man. We shall have many hours of fun.”

    “ Enough of this, Shura.” A powerful vibrant voice emanated from the shadows. “ Such actions are unlike you.” The swordsman snapped his gaze to the source, surprised that he had not detected the speaker.

    A slender, yet powerfully muscled young man stepped into view. His long, dark hair was gathered by a leather cord that held it back from his face. A red cloak was draped over his shoulders and he was dressed in a white shirt with puffy sleeves and black leather breeches. A black glove that reached all the way to the elbow covered his left hand and a fine rapier hung by his waist.

    “ Arkados Blackmire!” Shura’s gasp of surprise was met by an amused chuckle. The dark lord stepped forward. He turned a disdainful gaze upon the mangled form of Folu and waved his hand dismissively. Instantly, the magistrate’s flesh began to melt from his bones. He gave one last agonized cry before his remains dissolved into a putrefying heap upon the city streets.

    “ No!” The swordsman rounded on his former friend angrily. “ You have caused me to breach my contract! He was to die in agony!” Blackmire’s face grew somber.

    “ The true agony only begins after death, my friend.” He replied. “ If only more people realized that.”

    “ Is that a threat?” Shura retrieved his katana and adopted a battle stance. “ I shall destroy you like your sister, Blackmire!” He snarled. The dark lord laughed merrily at that.

    “ She’s hardly destroyed. Katherine’s been even more of a grouch as usual, but after what she went through at your hands, one can hardly blame her.” Blackmire said. He regarded the swords in Shura’s hands and sighed in exasperation. He pointed an accusing finger at the swordsman. “ You have fallen, my friend. Fallen far and hard.” All he got was an inhuman snarl for an answer.

    “ The Shura I knew would never commit himself to such slaughter so heartily. He was more concerned with seeking perfection in his craft rather than killing.” Blackmire lowered his finger. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “ Does it hurt so much, my friend? Was that woman named Jo-annia so instrumental in your self destruction?” Shura let loose a scream of fury and charged forward, striking viciously. Blackmire raised an eyebrow and the swordsman was flung back violently. He twisted his body in mid-air and landed on his feet, skidding to a stop on the blood-slicked streets.

    “ I see that words will be of little use here.” The dark lord spread his hands and his cloak billowed out in a crimson cloud behind him. “ Very well, my friend. We shall fight.”

    Shura’s face was contorted into a mask of anger as he readied his swords and charged again. Blackmire’s eyes flashed a brilliant blue in the darkness.


    Halfway across the country of Gryloas, the woman named Jo-annia slept uneasily beside her husband. She dreamt of disturbing visions. In her dreamscape, she found herself standing upon a snowy hill, behind another woman who wore her face, but carried herself with a grace she could never hope to emulate.

    The woman was clad in a white, filmy robe and her hair hung loose, unlike Jo-annia’s. She turned to regard her, an expression of slight surprise that receded rapidly to fondness upon her face.

    “ I would not have expected to see you here, daughter. It would seem as if the life-force of the dark swordsman has opened new mental faculties for your utilization.” The woman said. Jo-annia frowned in puzzlement. She had no idea what the woman was talking about.

    “ I am Deis, by the way.” She continued. “ Many of his memories, most of them buried under fear and hatred, can be glimpsed through his gift to you.”

    “ Gift? Whatever are you talking about?” Jo-annia asked, utterly bewildered by now. The faint sound of a child crying bitterly caught her attention and she turned her gaze towards the wooden shack that was atop the snowy hill.

    “ When the vampire tore apart your life force with his deathly grip that night, he repaired the damage with his own. Unknowingly, he gave more than was required.” Deis said.

    “ I am sorry Deis, but you will have to speak less cryptically if you wish to be understood.” Jo-annia was in a state of frantic distress. The child’s crying tore at her nerves.

    “ We have a lifetime to understand each other, daughter.” Deis laughed, apparently amused by a joke that only she knew about. “ Feel free to consider me a curse, but you are stuck with me for good, thanks to him.”

    “ Who is this person you keep referring to?” Jo-annia sighed. “ Why do you call me your daughter? My mother died many years ago and my father has never been truly sane since then!”

    “ This person is someone nobody in this world will be willing to call a friend before long, not even you.” Deis seemed to glide towards the hut, her hand outstretched. She halted swiftly though, her face somber. “ No. It is too late. One can not change what has already transpired.” She shook her head as she spoke those words.

    “ I shall not waste time with you any longer, Deis.” Jo-annia snapped. “ A child seems to be suffering and I have better things to do than listen to your drivel.” She strode resolutely towards the shack’s entrance but Deis caught her wrist in an arm as slender and as delicate as hers. The strength in the other woman’s grip, however, was astounding.

    “ No. Stand beside me. This is not your dream, daughter, but a memory of his. True danger dwells here.” Jo-annia frowned as she saw fear dawn in Deis’s eyes. She pointed a finger at the indistinct horizon. “ Evil arrives. Evil of the sickest, most twisted sort.”

    Jo-annia followed her gaze and watched a faint dark outline solidify into a bulky man dressed in a black kimono with a heavy cloak draped about his shoulders. His features were powerful and striking but they spoke mostly of cold cruelty. She looked into his eyes and felt terror stab its cold spike into her soul. She had seen those eyes before: black, slanted and promising death. Shura, her tortured friend had worn the evil man’s face more than once in the brief time that she had known him.

    A gust of non-existent wind blew aside the man’s cloak for a while, revealing a katana strapped to his hip and two eastern words blazed in red upon the back of his kimono. Between his shoulder blades, “ Shu” flared fiercely in the imaginary sun. Above his hips, the word “ Ra” glinted menacingly. And Jo-annia knew that this was Shura’s sensei, a monstrous being that her friend had reluctantly told her about. She still remembered the terror in Shura’s eyes as he spoke of the man who had raised him and taught him everything he knew. Of the man who had set him on the awful path of carnage that he could never extricate himself from. The man who had imparted the Three Spheres of the Dark Sword to him. The man Shura had to kill in order to begin his life as an individual. The man whose name had been stolen by Shura.

    Shura the fourteenth strode across the snow and he left no footprints, such was his skill and grace. He flung open the door of the shack and instantly the stench of decay flooded the senses of all those present. Deis took Jo-annia by the hand and led her to where the two of them could look over the swordsman’s shoulder into the shack.

    “ Plague.” The fourteenth’s voice was cold and guttural. Jo-annia retched dryly. Inside the shack, a few dozen corpses in varying stages of decomposition were piled to the ceiling in haphazard rows. Their empty eyes stared hollowly at Jo-annia and the woman felt a scream of terror ripping itself from her throat. She found a new inner strength within her, however, that stifled her distress and numbed her fear. Deis smiled at her, indicating that her newly acquired willpower, too was a gift.

    A child’s shrill wailing still filled the shack and the fourteenth walked in, unbothered by the cadavers that dripped with pus. Caught between a male and female corpse was an infant, struggling futilely in its macabre prison. The fourteenth saw the hilt of a wakizashi jutting out from the waistband of the male corpse.

    “ The son of a warrior family, I see.” He reached down with his massive hands and pulled the infant free. “ He is still plague-free and strong, despite such conditions.” The swordsman raised the infant in his arms. “ A true child of death and decay indeed!” He broke off into cruel laughter for many moments, until Jo-annia covered her ears, tears springing to her eyes. She knew who the infant was.

    “ Greet the sun, fifteenth incarnation of the Slaughterer!” The fourteenth bellowed at the wailing infant. “ You have found your life!” His voice fell low. “ And I have found my death.”

    The scene faded away in a swirl of colors and Jo-annia found herself falling endlessly. All the while, a lovely song filled her ears and she knew that Deis sung to shield her fragile sanity against the utter madness of what she had just witnessed. Jo-annia laughed gratefully and tried to raise the voice to join the song. She could not muster the strength to do so, however, and fell out the dream and back into her world again.

    Jo-annia awoke with a start. She was covered in cold sweat and her heart was pounding wildly. A strong hand stroked her brow and she looked up into the concerned features of Feros, her husband.

    “ You had a nightmare. Are you alright?” Feros asked. Jo-annia smiled at him and assured him that she was fine. She reached out for him and all thoughts and dreams of the fifteenth Slaughterer were swept away like splinters of wood in a wind by Feros’s embrace.


    Shura flew head over heels to crash into the side of a building. The inhabitants squealed in terror and they did not dare stick their heads out to investigate the commotion. He slid off, slumping to the ground. Blood trickled from the side of his mouth. A shadow fell over him and he looked up.

    “ Well? Have you calmed down?” Blackmire asked. The swordsman surged to his feet and launched a crossing slash with both of his blades. Blackmire threw forward an outstretched open palm and Shura was sent crashing into the building again. The dark lord swept his arm across the width of the narrow street, dragging Shura along its filthy surface and threw him onto the wall of another building.

    “ You bastard…” Shura pulled himself to his feet once more, readying his swords. “ That’s not fair.” Blackmire laughed uproariously.

    “ Now you’re starting to talk like you used to! The Shura of old would not throw his life away mindlessly!” He said. The dark lord flicked a finger and Shura’s charge was stopped dead in its tracks. Blackmire twirled his hand and the swordsman was sent into a spiral, his body flipping over before hitting the ground with a painful smack. He strode over to where the swordsman lay, groaning in pain.

    Shura streaked forward as the dark lord closed the distance between them, hoping to catch Blackmire unawares. He felt a painful impact on his ribs and was thrown sideways into a frantic tumble. He reached out with his mind, seeking to counter Blackmire’s magic with his mental powers but it was like trying to stop a war-hammer with a toothpick. Blackmire knocked the swords from his hands and flung him into the air to land unceremoniously on his belly. This time, the dark lord approached confidently, certain that the fight had been knocked out of Shura.

    To his surprise, the swordsman flipped to his feet and his hands streaked forward like shadowy blurs. His vice-like fingers wrapped themselves upon the invisible shield that Blackmire had thrown up at the last minute upon his body. The dark lord uttered a word and electrical energy lanced from his palms to slam into Shura’s chest, sending him into a smoking, crackling roll many strides away.

    A bead of cold sweat rolled down Blackmire’s cheek and he wiped it off, looking at it in disbelief. If he had been but a second slower, the swordsman would have crushed his windpipe. He found a smile upon his face as he recovered from his near-death experience, however. It was a self-deprecating smile. It had been too long since he adventured.

    Shura dragged himself to his knees and picked at his ruined tunic, touching the sore flesh underneath it gingerly. An annoyed frown came over his face.

    “ Another shirt ruined! This happens one more time and I will start wearing chain-mail like the rest of the other blade slinging morons!” The swordsman swore bitterly. Arkados Blackmire laughed merrily, taking his amusement at the expense of his friend.

    “Have you had enough yet?” He asked. Shura nodded his head wearily. A tired grin came over his face and he reached out with his hand. The dark lord took it in a firm grasp.

    “ Well met, my friend.” He said. Shura gave a grim chuckle and pulled himself up, dusting off his cloak as he did so. His swords drifted back into his scabbards, borne upon Blackmire’s will. He fixed his own steely gaze upon the glittering blue of his friend’s eyes.

    “ Indeed.”


    The two looked into the horizon, the darkness concealing the water that was littered with tons of putrefying rubbish. The stench did not bother them. They have defeated countless foes and carved an immortal legend amongst the ranks of the adventurers of Gryloas.

    “ So how is your sister?” Shura asked, a sardonic grin on his face. Blackmire laughed at the question.

    “ You sliced her arm off and set her on fire!” He replied. “She might be slightly upset with you now!” They broke off into chortles of laughter. At length, the dark lord recovered and squatted down casually, resting his weight on his heels. He picked up a pebble and turned it around several times in his right hand before hurling it off the pier that they were standing on. The stone skipped on the surface of the filthy water several times before sinking.

    “ What have you been up to, Shura?” He questioned, curiosity evident in his tone. The swordsman turned his head to the heavens and closed his eyes, pain that was not physical contorting his features for a moment. His expression relaxed and the grin returned. Blackmire noticed that it was much more forced than before.

    “ Nothing much. Slaying demon lords and generally opposing your attempts to get the essence shard of Asmodius.” Shura said, shrugging. “ You did not need that thing, right? Elle’s magical ring destroyed it, along with most of your sister’s body.” Blackmire waved his gloved hand unconcernedly.

    “ It was simply an errand to get her off my back for a moment. You know how annoying she can be!” He gestured theatrically for effect. “ Arkados, put on your socks properly! Arkados, your underwear is showing beneath your royal robes!” Blackmire mimicked his sister’s voice. “ I needed a spymaster, not a royal dresser!” They shared another laugh at that.

    “ Speaking of which, why don’t you come back to the capital? I could really do with your talents now.” The dark lord stated. “ The church has begun to send assassins and while they make laughing stocks out of themselves more than anything, they have become increasingly annoying. You could fall back into your old role easily, striking down my enemies amongst the shadows. “

    “ No. I must refuse your offer.” Shura replied. “ I can no longer serve anyone but myself. You saw me just now. I am now a monster even more rabid than Katherine. My allies would find themselves more in danger from me than from our adversaries.”

    “ Is that the only reason?” The question was simple but it caused the swordsman to realize a truth about his current state of mind. He buried his face in his hands.

    “ No. No, it is not.” He flung his hands sideways angrily, causing his cloak to flare. “ I… I am just too tired to care about anything or anyone right now.” Blackmire’s expression was sympathetic as he flung yet another stone into the filthy sea.

    “ The heart ails even the mightiest.” He quoted. “ Who said that? Yes…I remember now. The poet whose works you were so fond of. Lyandor the sage.” The statement brought up memories of huge dark eyes that flashed prettily, engaged in a heated discussion upon Lyandor’s works, of an angelic voice countering his every theory upon the logic of gears and mathematical science and. Shura gritted his teeth and made a great show of adjusting his swords in their scabbards.

    “ What are your plans now, then?” Blackmire asked. Shura pushed aside his heartache for a moment to consider his friend’s words.

    “ I am bound for the Empire of Blades. A duel awaits me there in a couple of years time.” He sighed, suddenly struck by a wistful longing for his homeland. “ Perhaps I might dwell there until the time of the duel.”

    “ You will find no legal ship capable of taking you such a long distance here.” The dark lord mused. “ You wish to enter the Empire unseen?” Shura nodded.

    “ I have the emperor’s entire ninja spy network hunting for me. The fact that Bu-Shin was able to track me down proves how far their reach is. Unlike the samurai, the ninja are not bound by honor and I do not look forward to fighting hordes and hordes of those maniacs the moment I step off a ship.” He answered.

    “ A smuggler of human cargo, then? Not wise, my friend.” Blackmire admonished. Shura gave him a confident look.

    “ Even better. I have fallen in with pirates.” The swordsman said. “ Wealth should ensure their loyalty, if nothing else. They adhere to a strict but indistinct code of honor.”

    “ I could send you there right now, if you wished.” The dark lord rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a moment. The announcement caught Shura’s attention. He regarded his friend expectantly.

    “ Do you have enough wealth for the journey by ship?” Blackmire asked. Shura nodded, puzzled at the question. The dark lord got to his feet. “ The journey might do you good, my friend. You can better sort out your thoughts amongst new company, I think.”

    Shura was about to protest but he reconsidered. He had more than two years to make his way to the Imperial Hall and there was no reason for him to hurry. Thanks to his overindulgence in the path of Slaughter, he had amassed a small fortune for his mercenary work. In the months that had passed since he left Jo-annia, he had flitted from battlefield to battlefield, killing and fighting non-stop. He had locked Kuroi’s warnings in the shadowed recesses of his mind. For a long while indeed, he had been his sensei, a senseless murderer.

    “ You have not reached that stage yet, Shura.” Blackmire was quick to tell him, reading his thoughts. He knew of the specter from the swordsman’s past that tormented him so. More than anything, Shura feared he would become a reincarnation of the fourteenth Slaughterer, losing himself in his thirst for blood. That was why the swordsman had adhered to strict routines of meditation and self-control during their early days of adventuring.

    “ I have fallen indeed. My skills grow duller despite their constant use and my mind has lost its sharpness.” Shura said, looking into his open palms as if he could see the blood of his countless victims upon them. “ And yet… I do not care. I can not care.”

    “ One gets up after a fall, Shura. He might have to climb until his hands are bloody and raw but he has to get up.” Blackmire told him. “ You have to get up, simply for the reason that you are Shura, the master of the Shura Sword! Look to your pride, my friend. It will bolster you where hate can not.” The swordsman smiled bitterly.

    “ My thanks, Blackmire. I shall try.” He replied. The sound of a horse-drawn wagon clattering through the still deserted streets of the docks district caught the pair’s attention. He turned to regard the dark lord. “ And what are your plans?”

    “ I shall tag along for a while, I think.” Came the answer. Shura’s grin widened. He had expected the response. “ If I see another document about the standardization of the country’s chamber pots again, I shall go insane!” Blackmire patted the dust off his splendid crimson cloak and put on his wide-brimmed hat. The carriage doors opened and Oal alighted with her companion, the elf called Feather. The pirate ran cheerfully towards Shura.

    “ Introduce me to your friends, will you?” Blackmire asked and Shura sighed in exasperation.


    “ Shura! Ye’re still alive!” Oal’s greeting was loud and boisterous. A drunk sleeping in a stinking alley raised his head to regard the quartet for a moment, and then went back to his wretched slumber.

    “ Yes. Have you acquired the loot?” Shura asked her softly. The pirate nodded. Behind her, Feather studied the swordsman with a critical eye.

    “ Who’s this?” Oal pointed towards Blackmire. The swordsman opened his mouth to explain but Blackmire swept forward, flourishing his cloak gallantly as he did so. He tipped his hat at a jaunty angle and taking one of Oal’s hands in his own, kissed it.

    “ Arkados at your service, milady.” He said. “ I am an old ally of your disreputable companion over there.” He pointed at Shura. “ And a sorcerer of some small skill.” The dark lord held up his free hand and chanted a few words. A single red rose appeared in his hand and he handed it to Oal who laughed softly in delight.

    “ Tis’ a right pleasure to have ye with us, sorcerer Arkados.” She turned to wink at Feather with her remaining eye. “ Now he is one who knows how to treat women, Feather. Ye could do with a few lessons.” The elf muttered disgustedly under his breath, much to her amusement. Blackmire bowed deeply to the elf.

    “ I am only expressing my appreciation for the lady’s comeliness, sir elf.” The dark lord said smoothly. “ Only one of your stature and poise can possibly be worthy of such a beauty like her.” Feather found himself smiling broadly as he shook hands with the self-proclaimed sorcerer. He too, had fallen under Blackmire’s infamous charm. The dark lord had an overwhelming strength of personality and charisma in abundance.

    “ If Shura says that you are trustworthy, then you must be, mister Arkados.” Feather replied. “ Welcome abroad. What say you, Shura?” All eyes turned to the swordsman standing sullenly by the side.

    “ He is a despicable, lying backstabbing bastard.” Shura said, pointing at Blackmire. The three broke out into jovial laughter, not seeing the swordsman’s statement for the warning that it was. Oal punched her hand into the sky.

    “ Let us be off then! Fortune calls!"
  9. zaknafein Guest

    I'm running out of compliments and can't think of any creative critisism or spam so I guess I'll just say its still great
  10. Shura Gems: 25/31
    Latest gem: Moonbar

    Aug 9, 2000
    Likes Received:
    The quartet rode upon purchased horses down the coastline. Behind them, two pack mules lumbered after them, weighed down by their burden of ill-gotten wealth. In the distance, a ruined lighthouse stood out prominently amongst the low-lying terrain around it.

    Oal had insisted that they head there, saying that they had to pick up an old crewmember. Feather confirmed her statement by telling Shura and Blackmire that the doctor of their ship awaited a rendezvous at the ruined structure, which served as a beacon for ships upon the sea that it overlooked.

    “ A doctor? You shall have all the healing you need from my sorcery, lady Oal.” Blackmire protested. Oal regarded him shrewdly.

    “Ye’re a man of many talents, Arkados. A priest as well as a sorcerer?” She asked. “ Which god do ye follow, then?” The dark lord exchanged glances with Shura. They had not expected the pirate’s knowledge of the arcane to be so complete. Arcane healing could only be granted by the gods to their supplicants, hence the power the clergy of each faith had over their congregation. As an Archfiend, Blackmire transcended the laws that bound every practitioner of spell-craft. He could mend the wounds of any being he chose, drawing upon his otherworldly powers.

    “ I follow the goddess, lady Oal.” He replied simply. Seeing the pirate’s brow rise in curiosity, he grinned sardonically. “ The goddess of beauty.” The dark lord flourished his gloved hand in a gallant gesture towards Oal. She smiled and chuckled lowly, though the shrewd light in her eye did not subside.

    “ A master of words as well as sorcery, sir Arkados?” Shura noted the rough peasant accent slipping from her speech for a moment and filed away that fact for future reference. Whatever Oal was, she was no simple sea-faring robber. Blackmire bowed in his seat atop his horse in acknowledgement of her compliment. He was certainly enjoying himself.

    Shura nudged Blackmire slightly with one elbow, loosening his katana in its sheath as he did so. The dark lord nodded. Feather whispered softly into Oal’s ear and the two could see the elf’s hand reach up to clutch the hilt of the sword strapped to his back nervously.

    “ Robbers?” Blackmire said lightly. “ Fear not, lady Oal. With us three gentlemen present, no harm shall come to your person.” The pirate grinned viciously and drew her cutlass. She was not one to avoid a fight.

    “ Show yerself, ye cowardly curs!” Oal bellowed down the road. The bushes that lined the path rustled and a small group of disheveled men emerged to bar their way. They looked haggard and their weapons trembled in their weak grasp. Their leader took one look at Oal and gave a cry of recognition, one that was echoed swiftly by both Feather and Oal.

    “ Cap’n Oal!” The unshaven man cried. The pirate leapt off her horse and ran forward to catch him by the shoulders. The rest of the band gave vent to ragged cheers as they saw that both their Captain and First Mate were unharmed.

    “ Thibos! Ye’re all safe!” Oal sighed in joyful relief. “ How came ye to this place?” The man sheathed his cutlass before replying.

    “ The doc, Cap’n.” Thibos replied. “ He’s got some connections with the folk in this area. Provided us lot with food and shelter for the past week while we tried to sneak into town and discover yer whereabouts.”

    “ Aldamus has connections?” Feather frowned in puzzlement. Oal mirrored his bemused look.

    “ We’ll have to find out for ourselves, me friend.” She said, gesturing for Shura and Blackmire to follow them. The swordsman and the dark lord shrugged and exchanged glances.

    “ You could have chosen a less crisis prone ship, you know.” Blackmire pointed out.

    “ Shut up.”


    The old man put down his basket atop a makeshift table. He massaged his arthritic back and marveled at the fact that it hurt a lot less than it usually did.

    “ Doctor!” He rasped into the shady backroom of the hut that he was in. “ Me wife has made ye a few pastries!”

    A few heavy footsteps brought the plump figure of the doctor towards the table. He regarded the basket uneasily, a sheepish grin upon his youthful features.

    “ I…thank you, sir. How is your grandson?” The old man’s face lit up and he clapped the doctor’s shoulder gratefully.

    “ The little one’s fine now! He’s eating heartily again!” A few days ago, the child had lain comatose as a fever wracked his body. The old man would have been at an utter loss if not for the presence of the doctor.

    “ Your joy lifts my heart, sir.” The doctor told him. “ And your back? Is it any better?” He smiled at the old man’s furiously nodding head.

    “ I’ve things to tend to now, doctor. Be seeing ye later!” The old man turned and left, leaving the doctor alone. He sat down upon his stool, burying his face in his hands and brooded, the pastries forgotten.

    He was Aldamus, the doctor aboard Oal’s ship. A plump young man with a shock of messy brown hair and a round pleasant face, he was no pirate warrior like the rest of his comrades were. In fact, he abhorred violence. He had seen too many friends and loved ones taken by violence and illness. His chosen vocation allowed him to wage his own personal battle against the things he hated most to some degree, at least. His gaze kept straying to a battered rusty sword sheathed in a crude scabbard of tarnished steel. The emblem atop its hilt could hardly be seen amongst the rust and tarnish. Aldamus doubted if anyone could even draw the sword from its sheath, so neglected it was.

    He would have thrown the hated thing away, flung it into the seas where he would never have to lay eyes upon it again. Yet, it was a precious heirloom handed down in his family. One of a pair, his cousin had taken the other blade, a weapon in a condition as bad as the one he was stuck with. Then again, his cousin was one who found joy in the arts of battle.

    “ Oalina. Where are you?” Aldamus Blek-Lance muttered furiously, before taking up his pestle again to grind herbs into poultices.


    “ The doc has our ship beached near the lighthouse. A small squatter town has sprung up around there. He wins us food and shelter from the inhabitants with his healing skills.” Thibos elaborated. He led them down a slope and the makeshift shelters of the squatter settlement that served as a home for Oal’s crewmen came into sight.

    “ I look forward to seeing him.” The pirate said resolutely. She leapt off her horse and started off at a steady pace towards the hut that Thibos pointed out as the dwelling place of the ship’s doctor. Feather hung back, more than happy to mingle with his comrades. The elf wasted no time in introducing Shura and Blackmire to them. The dark lord put up a genial front; his friendly demeanor earning the trust and friendship of the hardened sea robbers easily but Shura regarded their greetings with nothing more than a cold stare and a gruff nod.

    “ I would have a word with you, Feather.” He told the elf. Feather nodded curiously.

    “ Certainly, Shura. What do you wish to discuss?” He asked. Shura pointed at the short sword belted to the elf’s hip. He had noticed its eastern origin a long time ago.

    “ You are a member of the Yagyu clan.” It was not a question, but a statement of fact. Feather flinched as the words rolled off Shura’s tongue but he nodded uneasily.

    “ Yes, so I am. I was not named Feather at birth.” There was a defensive edge in the elf’s tone. “ What is it to you?”

    “ Do you know of a member of your clan called Magatsu Yagyu?” Shura asked. Feather pondered the question for a while and the swordsman helped him along. “ He was better known as Kuroi Itezeru, the Black Crane.” Recognition flooded his eyes and he snapped a startled gaze upon Shura.

    “ The half-brother of my father!” Feather gasped. “ What of him?”

    “ First, I would know your opinion of him.” There was a strange light in Shura’s eyes as he said that and Blackmire regarded his friend curiously. Oal’s crewmen exchanged puzzled glances. They had no idea what the conversation was about.

    “ I revere him as a great hero and aspire to live up to his teachings to the best of my abilities.” Feather answered.

    “ You have studied his swordplay?” Feather shook his head in response. He sighed self deprecatingly.

    “ No. I have never had the opportunity. My uncle never took any students. All that he left behind was a scroll that spoke vaguely of Harmony which he presented to my father.” The elf mused. “ My father hated him bitterly and threw the scroll out. I recovered it and pored over the words day and night for many, many years until I lost it in a fire.”

    “ How proficient are you in the use of that blade?” Shura asked. “ If I remember correctly, the Yagyu clan was quite renown for their sword work.”

    “ They were a bunch of posers who put more value into form and etiquette!” Feather snapped, losing his composed demeanor for an instant. “ I have rejected my father’s teachings utterly. But I have no great skill with the sword myself.”

    Shura turned his back on the young elf and laughed lowly, to the puzzlement of everyone present there. He let forth a great sigh, as if a heavy burden had been eased off his shoulders.

    “ Your…uncle was a genius indeed.” The swordsman said. “ I have learnt all there is to know about the Blade of Harmony.”

    “ Was…? He has passed on, then?” Feather felt a sense of dismay fall upon his heart as Shura nodded. “ You say you have mastered his life’s work? That cannot be, for you are but a human who has seen less than three decades of life. My uncle took nearly half a century of study before he became famous as a swordsman!”
    “ Talent is a gift not measured by years, elf!” Shura turned his head so that one of his eyes gazed upon the outraged Feather balefully. The swordsman did not mean to imply any arrogance in his statement but to all present there, his hubris left a sour taste in their mouths.

    “ He’s an cocky one, eh Feather?” A pirate shouted. “ Kick his arse! That’ll teach him some manners!” Blackmire sighed and folded his arms resignedly. Shura’s personality had become much more stronger since the time they last met. Unfortunately for the swordsman, it had become a lot more offensive as well. A great deal of bitterness now poisoned his heart and it showed in his every speech and gesture.

    “ Your overconfidence is…amusing, Shura.” Feather said scathingly, all trace of his earlier friendliness gone. “ I have seen no sign of the Blade of Harmony in your swordplay and I have witnessed my uncle in battle before!”

    “ I know the Blade of Harmony but I have no access to it! I lack the heart and personality to do so!” Shura admitted. “ But…I can teach it to one who does.”

    “ Spare me your lies, Shura.” Feather turned on his heel in disgust. He heard a flapping rustle and spun around, his sword sliding from its sheath strapped to his back. The elf had expected violence from the psychotically violent swordsman. He found Shura gone, and his comrades muttering in startled awe.

    “ You know how to hold your weapon, I will give you that.” The swordsman’s cold voice came from behind, sending chills of terror into Feather’s soul. More out of instinct than anything else, the elf reversed the grip on his sword and thrust it behind him. Shura was like a flowing shadow, sliding easily under his blow and stepping out to the side. He took another stride and his back was to Feather’s as the elf found himself facing empty space once more.

    “ A strike out of fear is an indication that one is already dead.” Shura told him. Feather spun, bringing his sword over his shoulder in an overhead chop. The blow was swift and sure. Shura inhaled deeply, calling upon the disciplines of the Third Sphere and caught the blade between the index and middle fingers of his left hand. His ki strengthened his extremities and Feather found his sword caught in a vice-like grip. Mutters of fear arose from the crowd of squatters and pirates.

    “ What manner of demon are you?” Feather demanded, cold sweat pouring down his face. “ Are you impervious to mortal blades?” Shura laughed cruelly at that question. He released Feather’s sword and leapt backwards. His katana and wakizashi spun out their sheaths as Shura drew his swords with consummate skill.

    “ Find out for yourself, elf!” He said mockingly. Feather lunged forward, striking furiously with his sword. The elf was strong and agile, feinting and slashing in marvelous strokes. At times, he seemed to be like a black blur of motion, so fast he was.

    Shura was like a floating cloud of darkness. His feet remained immobile while he directed his swords in perfect synchronization, picking off Feather’s blows with flawless parries. Feather dived and rolled to his feet, cutting at Shura’s exposed back. The swordsman deflected the desperate attacks with his swords without even turning to face him. It was obvious who the winner was. Shura was toying with the elf, not bothering to launch a single counter stroke.

    Feather thrust forward with his straight sword and Shura spun his wakizashi in a small circle behind his back, knocking the blade askew. At the same moment, he bent and reached over his shoulder with his right hand, letting his katana fall to the floor. The swordsman caught the elf by the collar and threw him over his shoulder. Feather fell heavily, the breath blasted out of him. By the time he could get up, he found Shura sheathing his katana already.

    “ This fight is not over yet!” Feather challenged him. “ Draw your sword!” Shura made no move to comply, letting the hand that held his wakizashi fall to his side so that the short, white blade was pointing downwards.

    “ You have witnessed a small fraction of my swordplay. Now I shall demonstrate as best as I can, the work of Kuroi Itezeru!” The wakizashi snapped up towards the sky and Shura held it at an arm’s length from his body. Feather stepped forward and struck again Shura’s wakizashi cut across space at impossible angles to intercept his sword. The elf found himself thrown off balance as his blade made contact with Shura’s. He staggered clumsily and watched in horror as Shura drew his blade back again, in readiness to strike.

    The wakizashi descended slowly and Feather raised his sword to parry it. At the last instant, however, the shorter sword cut from its path sharply. The elf parried nothing but air and he felt the razor sharp edge of Shura’s wakizashi resting lightly upon his neck.

    “ Discordance.” The swordsman informed him. “ A perversion of Kuroi’s work. If you have seriously contemplated his swordplay, you should be able to tell that I do not lie.” Feather nodded weakly. In his heart, he knew that Shura spoke true. The swordsman slid his wakizashi back into its sheath and started walking away.

    “ What was the whole point of this?” Feather called after him. Shura looked back and grinned sardonically at him.

    “ From now on, elf, you learn your uncle’s work.” He replied. A bitter look crossed his face and he scowled. “ And I begin to unlearn it.”


    Oal found the doctor sitting beside a table, his head resting wearily on his forearms. Worry and fatigue lined his once-jolly face. As her shadow darkened the doorway, Aldamus looked up and relief was evident in his face.

    “ Oalina! Thank the gods you are still alive!” He said, still seated. The doctor reached beneath the table and produced a wooden case. He opened it and gestured for the pirate to come closer.

    “ I rescued Feather, Doc! We can all be on our way!” Oal said jubilantly. Aldamus frowned at her disapprovingly. He shoved a tattered parchment into her face.

    “ The ship is too badly damaged to sail, captain!” He replied. “ The rudder is utterly wrecked and all our sails are torn! We have no supplies nor weapons whatsoever!”

    Oal studied the damage report Aldamus had sketched upon the parchment, her brow furrowed.

    “ It ain’t that bad. We can probably fix it up ourselves!” She muttered. The doctor gave an impatient grunt and slammed his wooden case shut.

    “ We shall need materials and tools! Where shall we obtain them from?” Oalina Uvderk gave him a cheery smile and a wink with her remaining eye.

    “ We buy em’!”


    “ The force from your strikes comes as much from your torso and feet as from your arms!” Shura barked sternly. “ Maintain a proper grip on your blade!” Before him, in a cleared area, Feather strove to obey his instructions. The elf was covered in sweat and his muscles screamed in agony from the ordeal he was putting them through. Shura stood beside the cleared area, his keen eye studying every move the elf made. No other pirates were around. None wanted to be near the grim swordsman.

    After a few more flails with his sword, Feather was extremely relieved to see Shura gesture for him to stop. He let the blade fall from his grasp to clatter onto the ground. The swordsman walked over and pointed at the weapon.

    “ Pick it up and sheath it properly.” He said coldly. “ One does not demean his sword in such a manner.” Resentment built in the elf’s chest and his temper flared. Feather was three times Shura’s age, though elves measured time in a different manner from humans.

    “ Do not tell me what to do, human!” He snapped. “ I have been wielding a sword for many years before you were ever born!” The only reaction he got from Shura was a raised eyebrow and a sardonic grin.

    “ Is that why you are so inept at it?” The swordsman mocked him. Feather snarled and lashed out with his blade. All he saw was a blur as Shura drew his wakizashi and knocked the elf’s sword from his grasp with a sideways blow. The impact between the blades stung his hand but he did not have time to consider the pain. The wakizashi’s hilt slammed into his face, knocking him onto his rump. Red sparks danced in Feather’s vision and he felt blood flow, warm and fluid from his nose down to his chin. Shura sighed and sheathed his sword. He walked away, leaving the elf behind, alone in his agony.

    “ That shall be enough practice for this day. Remember what I have told you!” He said without turning around. Two days have passed since they arrived at the squatter settlement. Aldamus and Oal, along with a few members of the pirate crew have left for a nearby town from which they can put their ill-gotten gains to good use. Feather had voiced his decision to stay behind to await their return. Despite his skepticism, the elf was obviously eager to learn more about the Blade of Harmony. His eagerness was not enough to carry him through his third day of training without incident, though.

    “ Wait, Shura.” Feather’s voice, somewhat muffled and slurred thanks to his injured nose stopped the swordsman in his tracks. Shura turned around.

    “ What is it?” He asked.

    “ I still wish to study the Blade of Harmony.” He said, and the swordsman felt a grin pulling at the edges of his face. The elf was utterly dauntless when it came to swordplay. Shura hid his approval, however.

    “ And so you shall. Practice continues tomorrow, whether you are sufficiently rested or not!” Feather sighed in relief, though one question still nagged at him.

    “ Why are you so insistent that I learn my uncle’s work?” The elf questioned. A weary look came over Shura’s face and it almost seemed as if the stoic swordsman sighed in sorrow. The moment passed swiftly, however, and Shura’s demeanor was an uncompromising one again.

    “ An oath I took just before Kuroi died binds me. I must fulfill it.” He said somberly. Without further ado, Shura took his leave.


    Feather spat the blood from his mouth and rinsed his face copiously with water drawn from a well that was surprisingly fresh for being so close to the sea. His thoughts spiraled around his new teacher. It was as if a terrible beast that hungered for slaughter and destruction yanked at its chains and howled for release deep inside the swordsman. Shura’s face was impassive and his words were always harsh but there was pain evident in his eyes, pain so intense that it drove him to his current nihilistic state.

    Yet, the elf could not deny Shura’s skill. He had never met a warrior who could match up to the swordsman’s whirling blades. No samurai in the Empire of Blades could ever hope to aspire to such prowess. The ways of his homeland have disillusioned Feather a long time ago, yet thanks to Shura, he had developed a renewed interest in his ancestral birthright, the Way of the Sword, a path pursued by every samurai in the east.

    His father had died screaming under the blades of bandits. The older Yagyu was arrogant to the point of stupidity, believing that the weapons of scruffy commoner robbers could not scratch his noble flesh. He had brandished his katana, a confident smirk on his face as he bore down on his seven attackers. The bandits ran him through and left him screaming his guts out on the rocky plains. Feather looked upon his father’s death impassively. He had not offered any resistance at all and the bandits were more than happy to make off with their loot. It was the most pathetic thing he had ever seen.

    After that, he was a samurai in name only, his father having squandered the family fortune and his uncle having left the Empire for good. He dismissed all his family servants and took his ancestral katana to the front gate of the Yagyu manor. There, in full view of his neighbors, many of them nobles like him, he had struck his katana against a stone until the fine blade snapped into a thousand shards.

    “ The Yagyu no longer exist!” He had announced at the top of his voice. The last Yagyu clansman had sought out a tattoo master that very night and had his chest and back covered in elaborate tattoos. Two black wings graced his shoulder blades, their feathers gently tracing his spine. When he met Oal, the pirate had graced him with his current nickname.

    “ Jubei Yagyu. I have almost forgotten that name.” Feather mused. He tucked his sword back into its sheath, a rueful grin on his face. “ I have no use for it anyway. My life and fortune lies here!”


    The widow of Folu cried out for vengeance, promising wealth and fame to any who would heed her call. None of the many sell-swords wanted to have anything to do with someone who could slaughter more than thirty guards and walk away, however. The baying of a hound sounded her damnation. A Blood Hound had answered her summons and the evil being whirled into her city at the head of his murderous pack. They killed, burnt, raped and looted.

    And when Krugar rode out of the ruined city, the rotting and abused corpse of Folu’s wife transfixed obscenely upon a spear for his battle standard, there was a huge grin on his face. He looked into the horizon eagerly, for there was only one warrior that fitted the description of Folu’s assassin. He sniffed the air like the hound he was named for.

    “ SHURA!” He howled at the top of his voice. “ I SHALL HAVE MY VENGEANCE, ASSASSIN!” The proclamation, wrenched from his mighty lungs, spread across the plains and almost reached the keen ears of his quarry. The pack of Blood Hounds behind him let loose a ghastly howl, a pathetic imitation of their leader and with a final whoop of blood lust, they applied their spurs to their steeds and charged down the countryside, despoiling everything they touched.
  11. Aikanaro Gems: 31/31
    Latest gem: Rogue Stone

    Sep 14, 2001
    Likes Received:
    Finally! More Shura!

    Hey, what would you say about a kensei kit? I intend on making a 2nd edition D&D kensei character and as you have definatly the coolest kensei around, I want to hear your opinion.
  12. Shura Gems: 25/31
    Latest gem: Moonbar

    Aug 9, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Zak, do write up any of your kensai ideas.
    Here's the next part, folks.


    Oal looked upon her ship with dismay. The craft was impaled upon one of the countless sharp rocks that ringed the ruins of the lighthouse. Repairs could not begin until the Wave Jackal was set upon deeper waters and her crew simply did not have the tools, expertise or the manpower to do so. The town that she had procured the lumber from had accepted her gold reluctantly; so notorious was the pirate. They would not view further requests for help in a kindly light. Even Feather could not offer a solution.

    Hope came in the form of Arkados’s sorcery. Using his arcane powers, he called forth an elemental from an otherworldly plane and bound it to his will, shaping it into a watery form using the abundant seawater. The elemental lifted the ship from its rocky impalement and held it afloat until the breach in the ship’s hull was hastily patched. There was still a great deal of work to be done, but at least the repairs could proceed now. The self-proclaimed sorcerer dismissed his watery servant amidst the grateful cheers of Oal’s crew. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and exhaled tiredly. This fact did not go unnoticed by Shura. The swordsman walked over and stood beside his old friend.

    “ You are not at your full strength.” He said. It was a statement, not a question. Arkados nodded wearily, rubbing his arms.

    “ I am tied to the place of my ‘Awakening’. The further I leave the remains of my cocoon, the less I am able to draw upon the powers that belonged to my father.” Arkados replied. Shura’s expression was one of reserved disbelief.

    “ The remains of my cocoon are built into my throne. Only when I sit upon it will I be at my strongest.” He continued. Arkados raised a hand to ward off Shura’s next question. “ I still possess the magic I have learnt from Kalvairn and the knowledge of how to use a sword even without my father’s strength, so do not think of me as some entity that will die if I stay away from home too long.”

    “ I have never heard of, nor read of such restrictions. “ Shura pointed out. The king of Gryloas shrugged resignedly, twirling his hat with one finger as he did so.

    “ Neither have I. But I am the only Archfiend to be a native of this plane of existence, so who knows?” Arkados replied, eyeing Shura curiously. The swordsman had taken off his cloak and folded it neatly on the ground.

    “ What are you doing?” Shura started walking towards the clamor of activity that was taking place on board the Wave Jackal.

    “ There is work to be done. “ He said, hoisting a stack of planks upon his shoulders. Arkados raised a curious eyebrow at the thought of the swordsman lowering himself to such menial work, but he said nothing.

    The repairs dragged on for the better part of a fortnight, with the crew working at a frantic pace. Each man was desperately eager to see his beloved ship in the water again, with her sails full and Oal leading them. Shura caught snatches of conversation from the pirates. Apparently, every man here was a slave or condemned convict before they met up with Oal. Here, sailing the open seas, they were as much of outcasts as they were during the first half of their wretched lives. However, aboard the Wave Jackal, every man sailed, heaved and worked out of his own free will. Their lives were short, violent and utterly illegal but they relished every moment of it.

    During one of his breaks, Shura sat on the sandy ground by the shore and looked into the night sky, an ebony velvet parchment dotted with starry diamonds. Work would begin anew the next day for him. The wind was chill but he did not put on his cloak. The swordsman had not put it on since the day he set it aside. Jo-annia was fond of stargazing, he recalled. He was easily bored by it. After his glimpse into the lives of the crewmen, he had to ask himself if he had ever paused to savor one moment of his short and bloody existence. Of all the things in life, Shura relished only the slaughter in the countless battlefields that he had hacked his way across. Or so he told himself, putting his recollections of the companionship he had shared with Blackmire’s and Elle’s bands and the time spent with Jo-annia into the darkest recesses of his mind.

    “ People shine with their zest for life, though I have seen many who have lost that glow. In such individuals, it is still obvious that the idea of taking joy in life itself was a concept that had existed at some point in time during their respective lives. “ Shura mused. “ When did I lose it?” He brought his hands up to his face and tried wearily to wipe the fatigue from his eyes.

    Catching his reflection on the surface of the sea, Shura took a moment to regard his visage. His features were non-de-script, an everyman’s face. What set him apart from the common farmer were the fine scars that lined his flesh, the legacy of a thousand and more bitter battles and his small slanted eyes that had an unnerving intensity about them. It was the face of a killer.

    “ Perhaps I have never possessed such a concept.” Shura lay on his back, resting his head on his clasped hands. He closed his eyes and went to his nightmares.

    “ Good!” Shura said evenly, knocking aside Feather’s sword with his sheathed wakizashi. “ Some improvement at last!” The elf frowned at the condescending compliment and spurred his body to greater efforts, his sword flickering faster than a viper’s tongue. None of the pirates watched Feather’s practice sessions anymore. Feather was the best swordsman among them and they found the sight of him being at the utter mercy of Shura unnerving.

    Oal herself attended these sessions whenever she could, an eager expression on her face as she fixed her one good eye on Feather’s body. The elf was holding up pretty well this day. Shura usually floored him in a couple of minutes. This time, the minutes have stretched into a half-hour, with Feather desperately on the defensive and Shura pulling his attacks.

    The swordsman eventually decided to test Feather’s limits and increased the pace of the battle, his two curved swords cutting faster, stronger and more deviously. Katana and wakizashi slammed crosswise into Feather’s shoulders, sending him tumbling to the ground, his sword flying from his hands. Despite the elf’s great agility, the fall was still a painful one and he winced from the pain of many bruises as he lifted his head to regard Shura.

    A slight flick of his wrist sent the wakizashi into a small spiral, knocking Feather’s sword from its wild flight. Another tap with the hilt of his katana upon the sword’s pommel sent the blade clattering across the ground right into Feather’s grasp. The elf gritted his teeth and got to his feet with a muted growl of effort. Shura smiled inwardly at the display, despite himself. Feather had the potential to become a swordsman rivaling the weapon masters of the east.

    “ That is enough for today. “ Shura told the elf. Feather visibly shuddered with relief, his shoulders drooping wearily as he sheathed his sword.

    “ How much of the Blade of Harmony have I learnt, Shura?” He enquired. The swordsman fixed his steely gaze upon him, a slight quirk on his thin lips.

    “ Nothing at all.” Came the flat reply. Feather’s expression was incredulous and he shook his head angrily in denial.

    “ Then what have you put me through for the last few weeks?” He demanded. Oal noted is outraged tone and was surprised. It took a great deal to rile the usually detached and composed elf. She walked forward and laid a calming hand on his shoulder but Feather shrugged it off angrily, to her astonishment.

    “ You have a terrible foundation in swordplay.” Shura said. “ I have to train you in the very basics of swordsmanship before we move on to the Blade of Harmony.” Oal expected even more anger at the swordsman’s arrogant comment but Feather relaxed, the tension easing from his face.

    “ I see.” The elf sighed self-deprecatingly and turning, began to walk off, giving Oal neither a second thought nor glance. The pirate stared after her departing friend, a hurt expression on her face. Shura’s cold voice broke her reverie.

    “ The Way of the Sword demands everything, your life, your soul and your love.” He stated. “ Pity those who approach someone on such a way with affection, for it will not be returned. Rather, it will be used, manipulated and sacrificed as long as it aids the swordsman’s cause.”

    “ Ye’re a sick bastard, ye know that?” Oal screamed in reply. She did not dare approach him though. “ Feather will never sink to your level!”

    “ Pray it is so, then.” Shura began to walk off as well, a cruel chuckle rumbling from his throat. “ Pray hard. “

    “ You are enjoying yourself.” Shura accused Arkados. Disgust was evident in his tone. The dark lord was stretched out upon an old and rough pallet in the makeshift shelter he shared with Shura.

    “ Yes, so I am.” Arkados yawned. “ I have lived in worse conditions before, as you should know. All those years on the road, all those adventures…” A fond smile found its way onto his face as he reminisced.

    “ Bah. We were cold and hungry most of the time, especially with that great oaf Ander messing up whenever it was his turn to prepare the meals of the fire!” Shura shot back. “ Kalvairn wanted to dig up every old grave or tomb we came across and your sister wanted to kill, cheat or otherwise maim anyone we met!”

    “ Did it occur to you that I might get offended at such malicious talk being directed towards my sister?” Arkados asked. The two friends shared an incredulous look for a moment.

    “ NO!” They said together, before breaking into chuckles. Katherine was as deadly with her blades as Shura and the two had been bitter rivals since the day they met. The rivalry had deepened to enmity after their last encounter, in which Katherine had killed Elle, a treasured ally of Shura and someone who could have meant more to him than he would ever know.

    A man stumbled past the entrance of their shelter and the coppery stench of blood caught Shura’s attention. The two of them rushed out, buckling on their weapons as they did so.

    The man was one of the squatters. There were deep wounds all over his back and torso. Insane fear glinted in his eyes. Shura recognized him as one of those who set off to a nearby town to buy food. Even as he looked towards Arkados, the dark lord shook his head.

    “ He is too far gone.” Shura leaned forward, looking into the dying man’s eyes.

    “ Say your final words.” The swordsman told him. The squatter gasped and fresh blood welled from his mouth.

    “ Blood…Blood Hounds…” He choked on his words. “ My family…flee…tell them…” Tears ran down his ruined cheeks and with a final convulsion, he died, his blood spreading in a pool across the sandy ground. By then, a crowd had gathered around the spectacle. Oal, flanked by Feather and Aldamus, pushed her way to the front.

    “ What’s goin’ on here?” She demanded. Shura stood up, a grim look on his face.

    “ A madman is heading in this direction, slaying everyone in his way.” The swordsman replied. “ How much longer before the Wave Jackal is seaworthy?”

    “ A day or two at most.” Oal said. “ Ye’re suggesting we flee?”

    “ This foe is beyond your abilities. I have need of your ship and crew and will not allow either to be harmed!” Shura announced. “ He has a few thousand crazed killers at his beck and call. Believe me, this is not a fight you can win!”

    Oal had watched Shura single-handedly butcher thirty fully armored men and such words coming from him chilled her blood indeed.

    “ Ye’re probably right. “ She turned to Feather. “ Tell the squatters that they’re welcome to leave with us. We’ll drop em’ off a the nearest port!” The elf nodded and disappeared among the throng of pirate crewmen.

    “ Blood Hounds…if I remember correctly, they are a band comprised of criminals and outlaws, much like the Ravagers and Blackguards.” Arkados mused.

    “ The Blood Hounds are viler than the Ravagers and Blackguards. Terrible warriors have terrible desires, causing them to become outcasts of society. Such individuals find their way to the Ravagers and Blackguards.” Shura said. “ The Blood Hounds are weaklings possessed of such depravity that they draw strength from their madness and courage from their numbers. Although not as skilled in battle, the Blood Hounds are as fearsome a foe as the Ravagers and Blackguards.”

    “ This dead man indicates how close the Blood Hounds are! We have slightly less than a day before they arrive.” The swordsman pointed out to Oal.

    “ That is not enough time!” The pirate leader protested. Shura swept his tattered black cloak about his shoulders and loosened his swords in their sheaths.

    “ I shall buy you enough time.” He said evenly, walking away before Oal could reply. Arkados sighed and tipped his hat in a salute to Oal before following his friend.

    Krugar rode at the head of his ravenous horde in a spear-like formation. The hooves of their mounts scarred the land they raised so much dust that it choked the air. They had just sacked a nearby village. All the men and children were cruelly and painfully murdered while the women were raped before being torn apart. A rotting female corpse was transfixed atop a huge pike fastened to the side of Krugar’s saddle.

    This was how the Blood Hounds sustained their existence when they were not in the employment of a patron. Amidst all the infighting among the nobles of Gryloas, no force mustered against them had ever been strong enough. Arkados Blackmire, king of Gryloas, had to keep his unruly vassals under control and fight the forces of the Church at the same time. He could spare little resources and men to stamp out the Blood Hounds.

    As they crested a slope, two figures came into view. Krugar squinted and focused his vision on one of them. His expression brightened and he let off a bestial whoop of delight. He signaled for his men to halt and unhooked a massive iron club from his saddle.

    Krugar was more than seven feet tall, with a face that resembled a ferocious hound more than anything else. Drool flowed down the corner of his snarling mouth and he flexed his great arms, swinging his club experimentally this way and that. Power and grace were evident in his every movement, a fact that did not go overlooked by Arkados.

    “ You make powerful enemies at every turn.” He said in dismay, doing a quick count of the Blood Hounds’ numbers. Shura grinned.

    “ Perhaps such is my destiny.” He replied. “ To fight greater and greater foes until the day I die!” As he spoke, Shura drew his swords and ran forward. Seeing this, Krugar howled his intelligible battle-cry and spurred his mount forwards to meet the swordsman. He tore his grisly standard from his saddle and hurled it at Shura. The swordsman cleaved the pike in half, along with the rotting corpse upon it, never slowing his pace. Shura drew back his katana and struck at the same moment as Krugar. The massive club impacted into the katana’s keen edge. With Krugar’s great strength, the force of the blow should have torn Shura’s arm off but to his surprise, he found his huge weapon solidly parried. White steam flowed from Shura’s nose and mouth as he exhaled, evidence of his formidable ki powers that granted him strength beyond a mortal man of his size and build.

    Krugar lifted his club and brought it down again. Shura slammed it aside with his katana once more. So well forged the blade was that it did not shatter, nor chip even when put through such abuse. The Blood Hound roared his appreciation at Shura’s brutal and straightforward fighting style and jabbed his spurs into the sides of his mount. The warhorse reared and lashed out with its hooves. Shura dodged the hooves and tore out the horse’s throat with his wakizashi. The beast collapsed and Krugar leapt off it, his powerful legs snapping the creature’s spine as he kicked off.

    Raising his club above his head, Krugar put his whole body weight into the blow as his whipped it down towards Shura. This time, the swordsman did not attempt to block the blow. He sidestepped it neatly, the massive weapon whistling a hair’s breadth away from his face as it hit the ground. Great chunks of dirt and rock flew up into the air from the terrific impact, the shrapnel tearing into Shura’s flesh.

    The swordsman ignored the pain and dashed forwards, his blades streaking for Krugar’s exposed throat. The Blood Hound let go of his club with one hand and fended off the blades with his metal bracer. Black and white steel screeched as it scored the surface of the bracer. Still, Shura was the swifter and pulling back his wakizashi, managed to get a quick slash at Krugar’s face. Krugar snapped his head backwards but it was not fast enough. The razor sharp blade made a deep gash on his cheek, biting deeply into bone. It was hardly a fatal wound, but an extremely painful one. He tore his club from the ground and swung it mightily, forcing Shura to leap backwards.

    Several Blood Hounds charged forward upon witnessing their leader’s agony but Arkados suddenly stood in their way, his rapier in his hand. He danced from steed to steed, blade flashing. With each stroke, he stabbed a Blood Hound in the heart, eye or groin. As the dying men toppled off their mounts, the dark lord flicked the blood off his rapier. The rest of the Blood Hounds were reluctant to face such a foe and they hesitated.

    “ No one interrupts this fight.” He said tracing a line in the dust with his sword. A wall of black flame sprang into existence, cutting off Krugar from his minions. The Blood Hounds screamed in superstitious fear and they shied back from the display of sorcery. Arkados turned his attention back to the battle between Shura and Krugar.

    A small puddle of blood had formed where Shura stood. He had suffered a dozen small wounds from the flying shards of rock and dirt. Krugar winced painfully at the terrible cut upon his face. One of his eyes kept filling up with tears and it irritated him greatly.

    “ Come then, and meet your doom.” Shura raised his blades once more. A vein stood out on his forehead and blue flame suddenly ran down the length of his katana and wakizashi. Krugar roared and swung his club again. This time Shura sliced the weapon into two just above where Krugar gripped his club. The upper half of the club sailed into the air and landed a considerable distance away. As Krugar gaped at his ruined weapon in shock, Shura cut him open from breast to hipbone with his wakizashi. Another cut in the opposite direction with his katana carved a bloody ‘X’ onto the Blood Hound’s chest. Shura stabbed him through the heart with his empowered katana for good measure as well.

    The crimson arterial spray hit Shura right in the face and he leapt back, gasping as he wiped the stinging liquid from his face. Krugar screamed in agony and fell forward face-first into the dust. A pool of blood soon formed where he lay. The swordsman stood over his latest victim, breathing hard. A hand brushed his shoulder and he snapped his gaze around to regard its owner. It was Arkados.

    “ Well done. The wall of fire should hold for the next six hours. With their leader dead, we have bought Oal and her crew more than enough time.” Arkados said. Shura nodded wearily. The two of them ran off, leaving the scene of carnage and chaos behind them.

    “ Boss!” A Blood Hound cried out. “ Are ye alright?” To his relief, the huge form of Krugar stirred and pushed itself up. His movements were pained as he regarded the terrible wounds upon his chest. They were healing slowly, the flesh knitting together right before his eyes. As his minions stared at him in awe, the leader of the Blood Hounds touched a small brass ring upon the little finger of his left hand gratefully. The ring’s healing magic had saved him once again.

    “ We shall rest!” Krugar announced loudly. The strain was almost too great for him and he collapsed onto his rump. Wheezing, Krugar spat out a mouthful of blood. “ I shall rest, and then I shall kill you, assassin…” He swore under his breath

    “ Shura! Arkados!” Oal called to them as she spotted their running forms. “ We’re ready to set sail! How did the fight go?” Arkados smiled and slapped Shura heartily on the shoulder. The swordsman winced in pain and almost stumbled but no one noticed the fact.

    “ Shura killed their leader! We should still leave though.” Arkados bellowed in reply. “ There are still a few thousand Blood Hounds at large!” Oal gave him a thumbs-up sign in reply and started hollering orders to her crew. A ragged sail was hoisted onto the mast of the Wave Jackal and a pirate stood beside a small rowboat upon the shore, ready to ferry the two friends aboard.
    They climbed in and within minutes, stood upon the repaired deck of Oal’s ship. It was seaworthy, but only barely. More work would have to be done upon the ship in a proper harbor.
    “ Up anchor!” Oal shouted. A crewman leapt instantly to obey. Wind filled her sails and the Wave Jackal leapt towards the horizon. A great cheer rose up amongst the pirates. Arkados beamed widely but his glee faded as he regarded Shura. The swordsman was clasping his side and breathing hard. The planks under his feet were stained crimson with his blood.

    “ Damnation!” Arkados swore, pulling Shura’s cloak open. Beneath the cloak, his black tunic was cleanly cut open in three places, along with the flesh beneath it. The dark lord had witnessed the entire battle and had no idea when Shura had sustained such a wound.

    “ Invisible claws on his hand…impossible to parry.” The swordsman gasped, falling to his knees. Arkados called upon his dark powers and poured healing energy into Shura’s body. To his horror, the healing energy was rebuffed. For the first time in his life, Arkados had no idea why his sorcery had failed.

    “ My healing does not work!” He hissed. Cold sweat ran down his face as Shura collapsed onto the deck. Thibos noticed the amount of blood that the swordsman had lost and he shouted in alarm.
    “ Doctor! Doctor!” He yelled. The last thing Shura saw before darkness blanketed his vision was the portly form of Aldamus rushing to his side.
  13. Aikanaro Gems: 31/31
    Latest gem: Rogue Stone

    Sep 14, 2001
    Likes Received:
    OK Shura, I'll post it when I get it in an understandable order. It makes almost no sense how it is. Also, what happened to Kuroi's story?
  14. Shura Gems: 25/31
    Latest gem: Moonbar

    Aug 9, 2000
    Likes Received:
    “ Such deep cuts…” Aldamus mused as he wiped his bloody hands upon a rag. “ He should be dead by now.” Oal and Feather looked despairingly at the doctor. The pirate herself did not like Shura very much, but the swordsman had sustained his horrible injuries in the defense of her ship. In a corner of the room, Arkados sat upon a stool with his arms folded before him. Dark thoughts ran through his head and they showed on his face as well. No one dared to approach the usually friendly and charming self-proclaimed sorcerer.

    “ I have stopped the bleeding though. He has an exceptional fortitude.” Aldamus reassured them. “ His recovery will be slow, but certain.” At that, Feather and Oal looked very much relieved and even Arkados forgot his contemplations for a while.

    “ Good work, doc.” Oal said. “ I knew I could count on ye!” She slapped Aldamus heartily on the shoulder and he smiled wearily in response.

    “ It’s the least I could do. Now you all should leave him to rest.” The doctor instructed. No one objected and they were soon all ushered out of the doctor’s cabin, leaving Aldamus alone with Shura.

    The doctor looked upon the swordsman grimly, unconsciously wringing his hands. A deep sense of foreboding filled his heart.

    “ Perhaps I have done the world a great sin by saving your life, murderer…” He whispered.

    “ Arkados!” Oal cried out to the false sorcerer as he stood at the stern, looking out across the water. He turned, and the pirate gasped in fear as she looked upon the dark lord’s red glowing eyes. The sight lasted for the merest fraction of a moment and she found herself regarding the smiling and handsome face of Arkados again.

    “ Milady.” Arkados bowed gallantly. “ How may I help you?” Oal made her way to his side and stood beside him.

    “ Nah. I’m just here to tell ye not to worry overmuch, eh?” The pirate said. “ If doc Aldamus says that Shura’ll be alright, he’ll be!” A slight smile tugged at the dark lord’s lips. He had the wisdom of an Archfiend that had lived for countless millennia and power unequalled upon this plane of existence. There was a slight irony to a situation in which a young woman like Oal would seek to ease his worries.

    “ As you say, milady. My friend has survived much worse injuries before.” He replied. “ I am pleased to know, however, that you and Feather hold his well-being in such high regard.”

    “ He has done me a few favors and I’m grateful, even though he has the charm of a sewer rat!” Oal said. “ Seriously, how can anyone develop such a horrid personality?” Arkados smiled once again at her words.

    “ Shura is a loyal friend and a mighty ally, lady Oal, as you will soon find out.” The dark lord told her. Oal looked at him dubiously for a moment.

    “ Be throwing yer own words back at yerself, Arkados! As ye say!” She gave him one more friendly pat on the shoulder and spun on her heel to walk off.

    The Wave Jackal put into the harbor of the port city called Plaelu the following day. Oal announced that she knew a ship builder in the city personally and would engage his services in the final repairs of the ship. She took Feather and a few crewmen along with her.

    Plaelu was a city of neutrality. Here, as long as a ship had enough gold to pay off the harbor officials, she could dock and trade to her heart’s content. This travesty of justice shielded the Wave Jackal’s crew from many vengeful pirates and merchant ships. All of them had been on the wrong side of Oal’s ballistae and blades at some point in their seafaring career.

    Plaelu boasted a large den of vice at its core. Brothels and gambling dens offered their wares openly to their sea-weary visitors. Illegal and dangerous herbs and drugs could be purchased from a multitude of clamoring merchants. A slave auction was held regularly at the city core of Plaelu.

    The lord Vinafron ruled the city with an equal amount of diplomacy and steel. His purposeful ignorance of the city’s Thieves and Assassin’s Guild put the shadowy organization’s might behind him. Those who would seek to depose Vinafron frequently met a silent death from the shadows. The countless territory hungry warlords that made up the nobility of Gryloas would rather patronize Plaelu than annex it. Vinafron was a friend to everybody and an enemy to none. Those under his rule cheered his name as they lifted mugs of cheap ale or their pipes stuffed full of some evil, life-stealing weed.

    Arkados gazed at the clamoring port of Plaelu, running his thoughts over those facts. Perhaps the dark lord was contemplating on how best to restore order to his war-torn kingdom, or perhaps he was simply enjoying the sight and stench of the vice and corruption that surrounded him. Shura was still unconscious and none of Arkados’s powers could aid his recovery. Healing magic seemed to wither when it touched the swordsman, though he had no special wards nor resistances against harmful and destructive spells besides his strong will and peerless agility.

    With the ancient and unearthly wisdom of Gathra Deuas the Archfiend at his beck and call, Arkados could somewhat sense the flow of the winds of fate and destiny. They used to whirl powerfully about Arkados, for he was the greatest warlord and general of his time, but now he could sense that a great and terrible fate awaited Shura. The swordsman would soon change the face of the world. And it would not be in a good way.

    Shura opened his eyes and awoke to a world of searing agony. He tried to get up but a strong hand pushed him down. Aldamus loomed over him, holding a small pan of water in one hand.

    “ Awake already?” The doctor mused. “ You are even tougher than I thought.” Pulling a wet cloth from the pan of water, he wiped the remains of a poultice from the deep cuts on Shura’s side. The swordsman grunted in pain once but clenched his jaw and remained silent after that. Upon cleansing the wounds, Aldamus reapplied the poultice and bandaged Shura’s side tightly.

    “ The cuts were clean. There is little chance of infection.” Aldamus told him. “ As long as you rest, the wounds will heal.” Shura tried to speak but found that words failed him. He nodded to indicate that he understood instead. The doctor gave him a few more curt instructions and placed a cup of water within his reach before he left.

    Despite Aldamus’s warnings, Shura managed to push himself up into a sitting position. His wounds burned with a terrible agony as the stitches threatened to rupture but he ignored it.

    The swordsman adopted a cross-legged sitting position and placed his palms on his knees. Calling upon his ki, Shura attempted to accelerate the healing of his wounds. The Third Sphere was by far the most complex of the Shura Sword. There were countless ways in which ki could be manipulated and they were all detailed inside the teachings of the Third Sphere. Before he met Kuroi, such feats were beyond his ability. Now, Shura’s mastery of ki could rival a Han Warrior Abbot of the Dragon Empire.

    Sweat broke out on his body and white steam flowed from his nose and mouth as the swordsman focused his ki upon the center of his being. After some time, he felt himself nearing his limits and relaxed his concentration, letting his ki disperse. He opened his eyes to see Aldamus regarding him curiously. So great was his concentration and effort that he had failed to notice the doctor entering.

    “ Aura? The masters of the Veneria Order practice that, but I find it difficult to believe that you would have anything to do with them.” Aldamus said. Shura frowned in puzzlement for a moment before nodding slightly in recognition. In the west, ki was known as ‘Aura’ and little was known about it. He had read of the Veneria Order, western practitioners of the discipline and reclusive hermits that lived in the mountains that fringed Gryloas.

    “ You are of the Veneria Order?” He asked. Aldamus shook his head.

    “ I studied herbs and surgery in their temple but I was never a member of their teachings.” The doctor sighed, sweeping his hands over his portly frame. “ The Veneria were warriors as well as healers. I prefer to leave the fighting to others.”

    “ Aura and ki are the same, though the Veneria might have slightly different methods of usage from me.” The swordsman responded in kind. It was only polite to provide some knowledge when the doctor had told him about the Veneria Order.

    “ I have some herbs in stock that might boost your Aura…ki healing. When I have cleaned your wounds, I shall go and fetch them.” Aldamus said.

    “ My thanks.” Shura attempted a sitting bow but the agony of his wounds dispelled that notion. There was a slight improvement, but more time and healing were necessary for him to make a full recovery.

    “ You were injured in the defense of the Wave Jackal.” Aldamus waved his gratitude away. “ And I am a doctor, pledged to heal any who require it. All the crewmen are grateful. They have heard tales of the Blood Hounds from other sailors and merchants in Plaelu and are extremely relieved to have escaped their wrath.”

    “ With their leader dead, the Blood Hounds are a thing of history. “ Shura pointed out.

    “ Yes, it is a good thing indeed.” Aldamus agreed.

    Oal and Feather returned to the Wave Jackal to find Shura already on his feet. The swordsman’s movements were pained but he was no longer at death’s door. Aldamus’s herbs and the Third Sphere had helped greatly in his recovery.

    “ Shura! Ye’re alright!” Oal moved to slap him on the shoulder but Feather pointed out to her that it might not be a good idea.

    “ I must discuss the wealth we have liberated from Folu with you.” Shura informed her. A glint came into Oal’s eye. Evidently, she took great pleasure in bargaining.

    “ Name yer desired slice of the pie, then!” She said.

    “ All of it is yours. “ Came the curt reply. Feather and Oal gaped in astonishment for a moment before recovering their senses.

    “ All…?” Oal stammered. “ What about yerself?” Shura held up a hand to indicate that he had not finished.

    “ All of it is yours.” He repeated. The swordsman gestured towards a bulky canvas bag that belonged to him. “ And if you agree to take me to a certain location, I shall give you wealth roughly pertaining to fifteen thousand gold pieces in the Gryloas currency.” He pulled out a sparkling emerald as he spoke. It was a beauty of a gem. Oal and Feather looked upon it in wonder.

    “ Where do you wish to go, Shura?” Feather asked. The swordsman grinned slightly. There was a certain bitterness to his voice when he spoke.

    “ Home, Feather. I wish to purchase passage back to the Empire of Blades.” Shura said.

    “ The Empire of Blades?” Oal exclaimed. “ It’s a long way, but hardly worth so much money! Ye’re being mighty generous, ye know that?”

    “ My arrival must be unknown and unseen.” The swordsman informed them. “ I am a wanted criminal in my homeland and quite possibly the most hated man alive there. If the Coast Guard of the Empire spots you with me, your ship will most likely be scuttled and all onboard put to the sword. Hence the amount of money I am willing to pay.”

    “ What have you done there, Shura?” Feather asked. The elf had some inkling but he kept the terrible speculations to himself.

    “ I killed the Emperor’s heir, plunging the entire Empire into civil war.” Shura said quietly. A look of horror came over the elf’s face.

    “ You are the Kage-Oni?” Feather choked on his words. “ The Shadow Demon that threw the whole empire into havoc for three years with one stroke of your blade? Thousands died because of your deed!” The grim look on Shura’s face did not change.

    “ Yes, the deed was my doing. That was the reason why I had to flee the Empire of Blades and come to Gryloas.” He replied. “ Now, I seek to return, in an as inconspicuous way as possible. The Wave Jackal should suit my purposes nicely.” Feather started to ask a question but Oal’s hand on his arm silenced him.

    “ Aye, I suppose it can be done.” The pirate said. “ But full repairs might take weeks. Are ye prepared to wait so long?”

    “ I have slightly more than two years to return. As the captain, I would simply leave it to you to arrange it so that I do not miss my appointment there.” Shura told her. “ I would have no objections to lending my blades to your cause until then.”

    “ Yer blades will always be welcome!” Oal was jubilant at the thought of having a warrior of Shura’s skill on her side. “ The next ship that we meet will have a nasty surprise! Leave yer journey to me! I’ll get ye there on time!” Feather seemed to be undergoing an inner struggle but he sighed deeply, and choked down whatever he was going to say.

    “ I’d better warn ye, though. Plaelu’s a rough place. Best we keep a low profile till my ship’s repaired.” Shura regarded Oal with an impassive look on his face throughout all her warnings. The ghost of a smirk tugged at a corner of his thin lips. “ Cutthroats, slavers…ye don’t wanna mess with this lot!”

    “ I appreciate your concern. I am sure I will fit right in here.” Shura replied. Oal forgot whom she was talking to sometimes.

    Lord Vinafron was tugged at his laced collar uncomfortably. The heat of the day made his plump body slick with sweat and his silk shirt was plastered damply to his chest. He blew out his long, twirling moustaches with an irritated sigh and took off his feathered hat.

    “ Tell me again, Calohan, why am I out here today?” He asked his steward. Calohan was a lean, gray-haired man with a neatly trimmed beard. There was a perpetually wry look on his aged face.

    “ And does my lord have anything better to do back in his mansion?” He responded. Vinafron frowned at him.

    “ I have a heap of documents piled to the ceiling atop my desk to go through!” He almost bellowed. The lord never shouted at his steward: He prized Calohan’s loyalty and abilities too much. “ How will I ever get any work done if I am out here drinking this…” He pushed away his mug of ale in disgust. “… swill here and looking at people walking around?”

    “ Edwar can handle those documents, my lord. You have been cooped in your study for way too long. You could do with some time spent outside, among your people.”

    “ I trust Edwar…but…damn it, Calohan, these are not my people!” Vinafron gestured to the decadent crowd about him. “ These are lazy wastrels I have no idea why I spend all the time sheltering! If any of the warlords annex Plaelu, they will all head straight for the chopping block or the slave pens! When will all this chaos end?” Calohan sighed as he regarded Vinafron’s words. Despite his front as a pompous dandy, the lord felt a great responsibility to Plaelu and the people that lived there. In a time where a feudal lord, having the power of life and death over his serfs, almost always exploited them to serve his interests, Vinafron was a rarity indeed.

    “ They are your people and you know it, even though you deny it with your words.” He laid a comforting hand on Vinafron’s shoulder. “ You have not failed your late father, my lord. This I assure you!”

    “ The people of Gryloas speak of the new king, King Blackmire. They speak of how his forces are bringing the unruly warlords under his control one by one. They speak of how he intends to bring order to Gryloas, something that has been missing for the last two centuries. Perhaps you will meet him one day. Until then, you must defend Plaelu as you always have.”

    “ My defense is wrought of terrible deals in evil herbs and wretched slavers! I trade the souls of my people for their lives!” Vinafron hissed. He clenched a fat fist in impotent frustration.

    “Their souls are retrievable but their lives are not.” Calohan pushed Vinafron’s ale back into his hand. “ But I did not bring you out here for such talk. Sit back, drink and look at the pretty ladies that walk by. My lord is way past marrying age, if I recall correctly.” Vinafron shot him a horrified look. The idea of his steward picking a bride for him was too terrible to fathom.

    A low cry went up among the crowd, catching the attention of Vinafron. He glanced at his steward curiously but the man simply twisted his mouth in distaste.

    “Slave auction.” Calohan shrugged in resignation, however. Vinafron gave an ‘ah’ of understanding and brought his ale of mug to his lips. He frowned after a sip and set it back down.

    A pair of heavily muscled men, their bodies covered with tattoos, lead a string of haggard, bedraggled wretches onto a wooden platform. The slaves were bound by their wrists to one another. A third man, his body decorated with the same tattoos, walked onto the platform. He had a gold ring through his nose and a slimy expression on his face. He spread his arms in a grand pose and a twisted grin formed on his face.

    “ The trade of flesh begins!” A cheer went up among the crowd, even though most of them knew they had a high chance of ending up upon that very same platform one day. The man with the gold ring through his nose reached behind him and clamped his fingers around the forearm of one of his slaves. With a rough heave, he shoved the hapless woman before him and presented her to the crowd.

    “ From the distant lands of the east, this green eyed wench is an exotic specimen among her kind!” The slave trader bellowed to the crowd. “ The bidding starts at ten gold pieces!” A few of the middle class merchants present raised their hands eagerly. Beneath the grime and dirt smudged on her face and tunic, the slave was a lovely woman indeed; and a pleasant distraction from their wretched lives.

    “ Thirty gold pieces! Will the bid go any higher…” The slave trader trailed off as he recognized one of the individuals standing in front of his wooden stage, looking up at him.

    “ The bidding will end here.” The newcomer spoke with a tone of grim finality in his voice. He pushed the hood of his cloak, a black garment with runes written in red all over it to reveal a lean face topped with a mass of long pale hair. His features were handsome but the cold and sinister look in his eyes made most men and women turn away in fear when he regarded them. “ I shall take that slave for thirty gold pieces.” The last merchant who laid his bid shuffled his feet in impotent chagrin. A pretty slave was not worth trouble with this man.

    “ As…as you say, Master Zakkan!” The slave trader almost fell off his stage in his hurry to comply. He sliced the bonds of the slave with his pocketknife and ushered her down to meet her new owner. Along the way, the slave was shocked by the looks of sympathy he directed at her. It was as if a much worse fate awaited her than if she had become the plaything of a fat, wealthy merchant.

    Zakkan cupped her chin in one gloved hand and smiled broadly at the slave. He nodded in approval.

    “ You are right, flesh trader. She is lovely indeed.” He tossed a small purse, heavy with gold into the slave trader’s hands. “ Buy your men a good meal with what’s left over.” The slave trader gulped nervously and nodded when Zakkan winked at him.

    The slave winced in pain as Zakkan took a firm grip on her wrist and began leading her from the wooden stage, all the while wondering why the crowd trembled and wrung their hands in horror as he did so. The slave trader waited until Zakkan was out of earshot before he sank to his knees and sighed weakly in relief.

    “ Why do they react so to that man?” Vinafron demanded uneasily. He did not like the idea of anyone besides him having so much influence over his people.

    “ That man is Zakkan. He came to Plaelu three months ago and got into a fracas with the guards of a merchant. He killed them, of course, but he did not stop there. He sought out the merchant’s residence and tortured his whole family to death. The merchant’s two daughters were gutted and hung over the gates of his mansion and left there until they rotted to the ground.” Calohan explained.

    “ Why did my guards not intervene?” Vinafron slapped his tabletop angrily. “ I shall not tolerate such horror in my city!”

    “ Ah, but they did. I lead them personally to take Zakkan into custody.”

    “ Then why is he here? Mass murder in broad daylight is hardly punishable by three months of jail!”

    “ We changed our minds when we saw him lead a parade comprised of the animated corpses of the merchant’s family down the streets.” The steward said. He shook his head grimly. “ Like it or not, some individuals are too powerful for punishment. We can only hope he gets sick of Plaelu and moves on to plague some other place.”

    “ He shows up occasionally at slave auctions like today and purchases a female slave, apparently the most comely one.” Calohan went on. “ No one knows what he does to them but their bodies are found a few days later, horribly and obscenely mutilated and displayed in a public place for all to see.”

    “ This man is a fiend!” Vinafron exclaimed. “ Call the guards! I will have him dead or imprisoned by this day!” Calohan stared at him incredulously.

    “ Zakkan wiped out more than twenty merchant guards all by himself, my lord. Are you so eager to sacrifice the lives of your men?” Vinafron swore in frustration.

    “ You are right. Damn my soul, but you are right.” He laid a few coppers on his table and got up, adjusting his belt as he did so. A slim rapier hung awkwardly there. Calohan eyed the sword and Vinafron gestured impatiently. “ I am not so stupid! I just want to know more about him! We shall follow this individual for a while!” Before the steward could protest, the lord of Plaelu ran off, his stubby legs pumping furiously, an excited grin on his face.
    Calohan swore softly and followed.

    “ And as the ruffians charged at me, I pushed Shura, this incompetent lout,” Arkados pointed at the swordsman who gave him a deadpan look. “Aside, and said ‘ I alone shall defend the honor of yonder fair maiden!’”

    Shura spooned more stew into his mouth, trying to shut off as much of his friend’s boasting as possible. Feather, Oal and the two friends sat at a table in a crowded tavern, eating their midday meal. The elf and pirate were apparently entranced by Arkados’s tale. He looked around him.

    The furniture was of a surprisingly good quality. Passing a critical eye over his tabletop, the swordsman discerned the exact type of wood, crafting and from which region of Gryloas the table was brought from. It was a measure of how bored he was. Shura’s education was extensive but much of it was often irrelevant. He could become a fair dealer in lumber if he put his mind to it, though. He snarled as soon as the thought passed through his mind. Feather and Oal stared at him for a moment and Arkados’s grin became wider.

    “ ‘Nay, milady. You are as lovely as the dawn but adventures beyond the horizon beckon to me (and my unruly sidekick all clad in black) so I shall bid you farewell.’ I said. She wept of course, but such is the way of life.” Arkados concluded his tale. For a moment, Shura considered flinging his cutlery at him when Feather and Oal applauded.

    “ Truly you have seen much, Arkados.” Feather said. “ Would that Oal and I see such marvelous sights in our lifetimes.”

    “ Adventuring is not as pleasant as it sounds.” Shura pointed out. “ You are wet, cold and tired all the time and you scarcely know when your next meal be.”

    “ Alas, Shura, the eternal wet blanket!” Arkados soaked his napkin in his glass of water and spread it out neatly before him. Oal and Feather burst out laughing. Shura grinned in spite of himself. He was glad that Arkados was having so much fun. A king bore a much heavier burden than a wandering swordsman.

    “ Tell us another tale, Arkados!” Oal said. In her eagerness, the pirate forgot herself and to Shura’s weary eyes, looked very much like an excited little girl, despite the fringe of hair that hid the gaping socket on her face.

    “ Very well. In the mountains of Karathnodar, far to the north, abandoned mines dot the great stony landscape. The mines were rich with precious minerals and sparkling gems. Such wealth lay unclaimed, because a terrible dragon resided there, terrorizing all who dared venture into the mountains. Her scales were of the brightest silver and her eyes were sapphire orbs of wrath…” Arkados began. Shura closed his eyes. He wished Arkados would not bring up that tale. The silver dragon was merely protective of her eggs and chased away the miners because she feared they would pose a threat. In the end, Arkados led his companions in a titanic battle against the creature. With a terrible enchantment placed upon his swords by Kalvairn, Shura tore out the dragon’s throat. He could still remember those great blue eyes staring at him accusingly as life faded from them. He could still feel the warm, silver blood of the dragon showering him as they spurted from severed arteries. Shura hoped he would never have to face a dragon again.

    A sudden hush fell over the tavern and the ever-perceptive swordsman looked up. Patrons left their food and drinks unfinished atop their tables and rushed for the exit. His gaze immediately fell upon a man in a black and red cloak talking to the tavern owner. The gray-haired tavern owner gulped in fear and nodded nervously. He led a woman dressed in a torn and tattered robe into a backroom. The newcomer placed a package in the tavern owner’s hands. Shura caught the words ‘ a gown for the beauty’ coming forth from the man’s mouth.

    Arkados noticed the expression on his friend’s face and stopped in mid-sentence. He tilted his head slightly and caught sight of the man as well. Oal and Feather exchanged worried frowns when they saw the newcomer. They recognized him.

    “ Zakkan!” Oal hissed. “ Luck is not with us today!” Feather made as if to leave but Shura’s stare made him sit back down again. Zakkan swaggered to a table near theirs and sat down, a cocky expression on his face. A terrible light came into his eyes as he looked at Oal.

    “ Don’t mind me.” Zakkan smiled broadly. “ Enjoy your meal.” Arkados returned the smile.

    “ We shall, friend, we shall. You enjoy yours as well.” Zakkan bowed from his seat. His gaze caught Shura’s as he recovered and for a moment two killers looked at each other. The friendly expression vanished from his face as Shura met his gaze evenly. The tension in the room was obvious. With a smile still on his face, Arkados refilled the cups of his companions. He raised his in a toast to Zakkan.

    “ To beautiful women, my friend.” Zakkan snapped his gaze from Shura and raised his cup of wine as well.

    “ A toast worth making.” A twisted grin appeared on his face as he emptied his cup. The tavern owner walked forward, ushering the slave, now clad in a gown of blue silk to Zakkan’s table. Fear was evident on the woman’s face. She sat down on a chair at Zakkan’s table. A steaming dish of meat was placed on the table and the tavern owner bowed as he retreated.

    “ Eat.” Zakkan told her, his voice like steel rasping over silk. The slave hesitated. Apparently, she did not understand his language. Zakkan picked up a fork on his table and began twirling it about his fingers. “ Eat.” He said again.

    Fear overcame the slave and tears welled from the corners of her eyes. She picked up her own fork but her hands trembled too much for her to use it.

    “ Eat.” Zakkan said again. There was something terrible in his voice as he repeated himself once more. This time, the slave took a piece of meat and put it into her mouth. Zakkan smiled.

    “ Shura!” Feather whispered. “ She’s one of our countrywomen!” The swordsman had long ago lost interest in his own food.

    “ I know.” He answered in a flat tone.
    “ What’s your name?” Zakkan asked. The slave stared at him in blank incomprehension. Zakkan’s eyes hardened as the slave stuttered what seemed to be gibberish to him. To Shura and Feather, the slave had just announced that she had no command over the common tongue widely used in Gryloas.

    “ I see. You do not seem to be able to speak coherently.” Zakkan’s hand streaked forward in a blur and caught the slave’s tongue between two fingers. He drew his hand back, pulling the slave gasping over the table. “ You would not miss this, then.” He picked up a table knife and brought it over her tongue. The slave’s eyes widened in horror but she could do little to struggle. Zakkan’s grip was strong enough to tear her tongue out of her mouth easily.

    The sudden sound of chair legs scraping over the wooden floor caught Zakkan’s attention and he snapped his gaze over to Shura’s table. Feather was standing, a hand on the hilt of his sword. Oal looked uncertain but she was ready to draw her cutlass as well. Arkados raised his hands in a solicitous gesture but one look at Shura made him lower them with a sigh.

    “ What are you doing?” Shura asked Feather. “ Sit down.” The elf shook his head angrily.

    “ I can not stand by!” Feather expected a stinging remark from the swordsman but a slight smile quirked his lips instead.

    “ Harmony is achieved through compassion and courage.” The swordsman said. “ Only the roads of Shadow require heartlessness. Sit down, Yagyu.”

    “ But…” Feather ceased his protests, stunned to silence as Shura stood up.

    “ You are not ready for battle yet.” Shura said. Feather nodded wordlessly and sat down, though his hand did not release its grip on his sword. Oal did so as well, an uncertain look on her face. Zakkan shoved the slave away, sending her sprawling all over the tavern floor.

    “ Is there a problem?” Zakkan asked. Shura nodded.

    “ Yes, there is.” He said. “ The furniture is not gaudy enough. I wish to dye them crimson with blood.” Zakkan walked over and looked Shura right in the eye. The two men were of identical height and their clothing made them look like warped reflections of each other. Shura’s cloak, however, bore countless tears and rips while Zakkan’s cloak was fine and thick.

    “ And whose blood shall we dye them with?” Zakkan said. He withdrew two poles from his cloak and snapped them together to form a quarterstaff as tall as himself.

    “ Help me!” The slave begged in the language of the east. Shura flicked his gaze to her for a moment, then returned his attention to Zakkan. Arkados swore softly. Shura’s wounds were hardly healed and he was already picking a fight.

    “ Draw your weapon.” Shura said. Zakkan snarled in delight and snapped his quarterstaff down. A curved blade sprang out vertically from the length of the staff. Zakkan now held a scythe in his hands.

    “ You draw yours!” He brought his scythe in a sweeping arc towards Shura’s head.

    The slave screamed in terror.
  15. Eze Gems: 24/31
    Latest gem: Water Opal

    Dec 20, 2001
    Likes Received:
    WOW. We want more. Long live Shura.
  16. Aikanaro Gems: 31/31
    Latest gem: Rogue Stone

    Sep 14, 2001
    Likes Received:
    Leave me in suspense why don't you? :rolleyes:
    Just waiting for the next chapter...
  17. The Lawful Xaositect Gems: 2/31
    Latest gem: Fire Agate

    Sep 22, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Truly brilliant! Breath-taking even! I do say all most other writings on this board pale in comparison to this literary masterpeice bravo!
  18. Aikanaro Gems: 31/31
    Latest gem: Rogue Stone

    Sep 14, 2001
    Likes Received:
    Ah Kayafein, this (IMHO) isnot even his best bit of writing. As a newbie you probably haven't come across his early stories. Dig around and find 'The Legend of Shura' and 'From Darkness to Light and Back Again.'
  19. The Kilted Crusader

    The Kilted Crusader The Famous Last words "Hey guys, watch THIS!" Veteran

    Sep 18, 2002
    Likes Received:
    This is absolutely amazing, i cant wait to read abut this fight
  20. Frostmage Gems: 11/31
    Latest gem: Bloodstone


    May 28, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Finally, more Shura! This is truly amazing! This (And all other Shura stories) should really be published!
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