On a Pedestal within the Lion Hall of Ancestors
What you see before you is a scrap of silk, stained and torn, the pattern faded as if worn for countless years in filth and darkness. On it, written in the dried blood of an unknown Phoenix, is the accounting of one Lion’s death. It was found on the steps of Akodo Palace long ago, smuggled there by an unknown visitor. Its origins are untraceable. The torn remnant lies in a simple alcove within the Hall of Ancestors, the only tribute to the last moments of a Lion’s courage.
…I do not know her name. I do not know my own name anymore – but I know that I am an Isawa. I remember the magic. I only saw her once, I saw her as they carried her to the chambers of the Dark Man beneath the palace. She was as beaten as I, ruined and pale from captivity. They dragged her down the hall and threw her upon that butcher’s table.
Her hair was long and golden, dirty and twined with bits of straw. Her hands were bleeding, and her face had been lashed and bruised. Still, she fell upon their table with no sound, and they chained her to the solid rock. I clung to the bars of my cage and watched as they drew the sting of the whip across her back, tearing through the last remnants of her kimono. Preparation. It is all preparation for the Dark Man. I have been there myself – waiting for Him. She did not scream, only groaned as the pain lanced through her. She saved her scream for the salt they placed upon her bleeding gashes after the whipping was done. When He came, the torturers threw her upon the floor before Him, and she struggled to rise.
They laughed at her effort, and kicked her legs from beneath her.
Hours passed beneath the watchful gaze of the Dark Man, the Master of these chambers. His gaze alone makes my wracked body shake, and should He have passed near my cage I would have fallen to my knees. I had been trained well, and I despise myself for it.
Her screams – high-pitched and anguished – rocked the stone corridors. Each hot iron was a memory to me, a familiar pain. Every scalding blow and piercing cut – I know them well. These are things designed to draw your soul to the surface, to make you compliant. Thumb screws, broken bones; her pain continued through the hours and her screams grew hoarse and cold. At last, without a word, the Dark Man had her lifted over a tall pillar of sharpened iron, its point placed against her belly. Her own weight drew her down upon it, and her screams soon became choked with blood. The Man never spoke, and her agony tore the breath from her body.
He left her there, pierced on the spike yet still alive, and took His assistants to sunlit lands far above us. When they had gone, I heard her cry out as I had never heard before. A single word – “Matsu!” she cried. I drew my tattered courage and pressed my face to the cold bars.
“Tell Him –“ I whispered to her, “Tell Him what He wants to know and it will be over. You will live, and the pain will end!” I hated myself for saying the words, but deep in my soul I knew them to be true.
She said nothing, trying not to move, not to drive the iron bar deeper into her stomach, but I heard her weep. A Lion’s tears. I have heard weeping, wailing, begging, the tortured pleas of men dying in ways too horrible to remember. But her tears…I swallowed my words. For hours, it was the only sound in the blood-covered chambers. I heard her gasp once, late that night, as she slid downward, and I held my head in my hands and rocked on the cold stone floor of my prison cell.
When He returned, the burly torturers lifted her from the pillar of sharpened iron, and I could hear the wet sound of blood spilling upon the floor. People can live for days with a wound in their belly – I know this. I saw my brother die that way. Was he my brother? I no longer know. But they dragged her, insides dripping upon the ground, to the Dark Man.
“Speak…” He whispered, and I felt my own lips wanting to answer. “Tell me what I wish to know, and the pain will be over.” A moan escaped me, but the Lion was silent, kneeling on the floor in in front of the finely dressed sorcerer.
She raised her head then, and looked into His eyes. I saw her face, and I knew that shee had once been beautiful – before the pain, before the dirt and blood, before the torture of living in this foul place. Within her eyes I could still see her beauty.
“Why do you insist on continuing this, little Akodo?” the Master said. “There is nothing to gain from defiance save your own death. Even that, I can give you. There is nothing I cannot give you, if you only do as I ask.” His smiile was as cold as the iron of my bars, and I nearly screamed at the sight of it.
I saw her hand clutiching feebly at her belly as if to hold herself inside, and her battered legs began to straighten. Slowly, impossibly, her hands filled with her own blood and organs, she straighted and stood before the Dark Man, her face filled with courage.
“This is your last chance,” he hissed from the darkness, and I wept. “Your last hope for mercy. Do as I ask, and I will give you anything you wish. Anything.” His hand reached out and touched her blackened cheek. “Tell me now. Call me Master, or kneel at my feet, and this will all be over. Anything you wish can be yours….”
She looked deep into his dead black eyes. “I wish…” With each word, my body shook, the pain grew, and I felt my soul crumble beneath His power. Her breath choked, and her voice died. Then, with a last effort, she raised her head and spat into his face. “I wish I were back on the spike.”
She died there, on the iron of the torturer’s spear. But she never screamed again, never whispered another word. The spike still stands, in the Master’s chambers, but it has never been used again. I do not know why I write this, I don’t know who will ever read it. But the story must be told. It must be told and one day, perhaps, her soul will find rest. Her courage has given my own the power to find freedom. I hear the guards approaching. The Dark Man has need of His toy.
I will never return to this cell. Even if they break my mind and tear apart my body, my soul – and hers – will know peace.
The letter was found of the steps of Kuyden Ikoma by an Akodo guard, who brought it immediately to the attention of the Lion daimyo. Its story has never been proven, although the “Dark Man” of the story fits the description of the Bloodspeaker Sorcerer, once known as Iuchiban. The torn remnant of silk now lies on a simple pedestal at the right hand of the statue of Lady Matsu, in the center of the Sacred Hall of Ancestors.