The Beginning of Meaning
Hida stood at the forefront of every battle against the Shadowlands that came after, and sent his own son, Hida Atarasi, as one of the Seven Thunders who would journey into the Shadowlands with Shinsei. Though he knew it would mean the boy’s death, he would not hear of sending anyone else. “If Shinsei will not have my strength or my weapons,” he said, “then I will give him my future.” When word of Atarasi’s death came, he vowed to battle the Shadowlands until Lord Moon and Lady Sun fall from the sky,
Hearing Hida’s vow and impressed with his performance in the war, the Emperor charged him with protecting Rokugan from any further attacks.
“Our safety is on your shoulders, brother,” Hantei said. “For only you are mighty enough to bear its weight.”
Gathering his followers together, the First Crab traveled to the southern reaches of the Empire, a harsh and rocky place where the Elements themselves had grown strong. At the foot of a great mountain range, Hida stopped, and turned to his followers.
“This is where we will live,” he boomed. “and where we will work to ensure that He Who Must Not Be Named can never threaten the Emerald Empire again. My son has been swallowed by his evil; only those willing to make his sacrifice can be trusted with this task. I need the best among you to help me fulfill our sacred duty. Who is strong enough to pick up the burden with me?”
The assemblage fell silent, for none felt worthy to answer the Crab Lord’s call. Hida’s smoldering eyes gazed across the unmoving figures, waiting. Finally, three men stepped forward and knelt before him. The first had a soft green kimono and a quiver of arrows upon his back. The second was dressed in a sooty smock, and held a blacksmith’s hammer in his meaty arms. The third wore a hooded robe and carried a satchel of scrolls upon his belt. Hida furrowed his brow and looked down at the trio.
“What are your names, you who would stand beside me?” he asked.
“I am Hiruma, hunter of a thousand hares,” the first replied.
“I am Kaiu, builder of ships and armor,” the second spoke.
“I am Kuni, seeker of that which is hidden,” the third answered.
“What have you done to deserve such confidence as I will place in you?”
The threesome looked up into Hida’s eyes, meeting his gaze with their own.
“Nothing,” Hiruma said quietly.
“Nothing we have done can match the task now set before us.” The other two nodded their agreement.
“Then why do you step forward?”
“Because we know we are worthy.”
“Do you, now?” his face darkened. “We shall see.” He pointed south, to the desolate wasteland that marked the beginning of the Shadowlands.
“When the Oni army was vanquished,” he began, “they left behind a guardian, a lieutenant of He Who Must Not Be Named, charged with watching the lands of men. Its name is Oni no Hatsu Suru and its very touch brings neverending pain. Find it and kill it. Then I will know that you are worthy.”
The trio bowed again, and gathered their possessions to travel south, away from their assembled clan.
At the edge of the wastelands, they stopped, to talk about what they must do. Kuni studied his scrolls – the writings of Shinsei and various Phoenix shugenja – for some bit of knowledge that might help them. Kaiu built his forge in the hollow of a rock, and prepared lengths of steel and jade to transform into weapons. Hiruma ventured into the Shadowlands to search for some signs of their foe. As the Sun set in the west, the trio gathered together by the light of Kaiu’s forge to discuss their findings. Hiruma spoke first.
“There are signs of the creature’s presence all across these plains,” he said. “It has great reptilian footprints the size of a riding pony. And I found scales,” He brought forth a handful of leathery scraps, covered with strange wiry hair.
Kuni grasped one and brought it into the light, studying it carefully. It was as hard as armor and inflexible as steel.
“We cannot destroy this with ordinary weapons,” he said, opening one of his scrolls and peering at its contents. “We need magic – the magic of the spirit world – to have a chance.”
“Look here,” he pointed. “We can form a boundary, using jade and magic. If we can lure the thing into it, it will be trapped.”
Kaiu nodded. “I can forge a weapon of jade and steel for us to attack it once it is encased, for no oni can tolerate the purifying touch of jade.”
Hiruma smiled. “I can locate the beast and lure it wherever you like.”
Kuni returned the smile. “It appears, then, as if we have a plan.”
All that night, the trio worked, preparing their trap. Kaiu’s forge blazed, as a new katana took shape in the molten steel. Kuni chose a site for the trap and began etching symbols into the earth, forming a strangely-shaped bowndary as large as the moon’s shadow. And HIruma set about marking a bloodtrail – slitting his palm and letting the blood flow to the ground – for the Oni to locate and follow. As night slowly gave way to daybreak and the blackened sky became tinged with grey, their tasks grew close to completion.
The roar came just as Kuni finished his inscriptions. It was some ways off, but still shattered the air with its impact. Several moments later, Hiruma scrambled into sight, his breath coming in short gasps.
“The beast… the beast is on its way,” he panted.
Another roar punctuated his remarks, this one closer. Kaiu stepped forward.
“My work is done.” He held forth the katana for the other men to see. It was still dark with the soot of the fire, but as they looked they could see characters of green decorating the blade. The cunning blacksmith had etched words in jade along the length of the sword, fusing stone and metal together in perfect symmetry. Hiruma, still puffing and blowing, took the katana from Kaiu, and bowed in thanks to his companion.
The sounds of crushing underbrush and the snorts of something not meant to be reached the ears of the three men. Kuni stepped forward, scroll in hand.
“The spell requires utter concentration. You must keep our foe away from me until the binding is complete.” He closed his eyes, and began his entreaties to the spirits of Earth and Air. Hiruma and Kaiu took places alongside him.
The predawn light was shattered once more as the Oni made its presence known. As it shambled into view, the men could see it for the first time and their hearts were filled with fear. It stood huge, as large as a house and nearly as wide. Its razor-sharp claws tore up great chunks of earth, rending the ground beneath it like a heimin’s plow. Rough, hairy scales covered its body from head to toe, and its prehensile neck whipped back and forth in a hypnotic pattern. Its face was eerily human, a vision made more horrifying by the multiple rows of sharp teeth lining its mouth. And for all its beastly mannerisms, the light of intelligence gleamed in its eyes. It grinned fiendishly, and launched itself at the three men.
With a scream of defiance, Hiruma silenced his fears and rose to meet their foe. His katana flashed once, and the Oni let loose a terrible bellow as the blade cut through the armor of its hide. It had not expected its prey to sting so painfully. Shifting its body to keep Hiruma in front of it, its darting eyes located Kuni – lost in concentration. The shugenja was trying something, it could see. It raised its claws and prepared to crush the chanting spellcaster beneath its weight.
A second sting sprang from Hiruma’s hands and the Oni was forced to draw back again. It aimed another swipe at the shugenja, this one designed to rip him in two. As the blow fell, however, Kaiu leaped in front of his companion. The claws bit deep in the blacksmith’s chest, scraping against the bones of his ribcage. Kaiu winced and fell backwards, blood spurting from his terrible injury. The oni grinned again and opened its mouth inhumanly wide, intending to swallow Kuni whole. Before it could strike, however, the spell took effect.
The symbol in the earth began to glow as if alive, sending shafts of greenish light stabbing upward. The oni’s motions stopped, and it began to shake uncontrollably as a new, powerful force entered the fray. Its head whipped back and forth, its screams sent shudders down the three men’s spines, but its claws did not move. It was transfixed.
A sweat broke out on Kuni’s brow, and Kaiu could see the effort taking its toll on his companion’s face. He propped his body up from where it lay and shouted at Hiruma, his voice hoarse with pain. The hunter turned and saw his companions, one drenched in blood, the other engaged in a battle of souls to hold the oni in place. With lightning speed, he spun on his heel and launched himself at the monster’s head. His blade fell as he rose.
The blow was solid, striking between the creature’s neck plates. Hiruma felt the katana shear through muscle, sinew, and bone; heard the oni’s shouts turn into cries of pain, then choking gurgles as black blood flooded its throat. It spat a great gobbet of bile as its head separated from its neck. Its fluids burned the ground where they fell, and the oni’s great body collapsed with a colossal thud. The severed head continued to sputter and gnash its teeth for some time after the body had stopped moving.
Hiruma rose from where he had fallen after the leap and turned to examine his companions. Kaiu had managed to regain his feet, and was doing his best to close his wounds. Kuni had come out of his trance, and was gazing at the shuddering oni with a strange smile playing across his face. Hiruma attended to Kaiu’s wounds, which were deep but not mortal, and the trio lay down to rest, their goal accomplished.
They returned to Lord Hida the next day, bearing the carcass of the beast before them. Entering his tent (for the great Hida palace had yet to be built), they bowed before their lord and placed the kill at his feet. Hida gazed at their handiwork with admiration for many moments.
“Which of you destroyed this enemy of the Emperor?” he asked at last.
“Kuni did, for only he knew how to trap it,” said Hiruma.
“Kaiu did, for only he could create the means of its destruction,” said Kuni.
“Hiruma did, for only he could lead the beast into our trap,” said Kaiu.
A fierce grin broke across Hida’s face as he looked down at them.
“Now I know that you are worthy.”
From that day forward, the trio became the first lieutenants of Lord Hida. Each of them was granted permission to found their own family line, aligned under the banner of the Crab, but distinct from the ruling Hida family. Since Hiruma had struck the killing blow, he became Hida’s right hand, second in stature only to Hida himself. The Kaiu family was granted the honor of coordinating the defense against the Shadowlands, while the Kuni family was permitted to study the enemy, learning as many ways of destroying them as possible. The weapon they used to slay the best became filled with their essence, and has since been used by the heir to the Clan daimyo.