The Legend of Kujaku:
By Anon Writer
At first, Hiro thought he was seeing a ghost.
After all, there were not many peacocks in the Empire that were in the habit of wearing tiny hats.
Once the moment had passed, however, the old monk realized that this peacock was much younger than the Yuji he had known, and that it carried two small swords at its side, in the manner of a samurai. Which meant that the bird could only be
The peacock turned away from the collapsed building it had been studying and towards Hiros voice, its small body tensing for only a moment. As the monk drew closer, the bird bobbed its head downwards in a sign of respect.
My boy, how many years has it been? Just look at you! Hiro knelt a few feet from the peacock, his bones creaking as he brought himself eye level with the samurai bird. The spitting image of your father, you are!
Kujaku bobbed its head once more in acknowledgement of the compliment, and then gestured with its wing towards the pile of charred wood.
Ahh, the monk sighed, lowering his eyes as the mirth left his voice. You did not hear? No, nohow could you have? Hiro shook his head in sorrow. It was a just a little over a week ago. Bandits fell upon the town and made off with what little supplies and food the peasants had.
As the monk spoke, Kujakus eyes narrowed in avian disgust.
The bandits came to the temple and demanded that we shelter them for the night, Hiro continued, but Yuji-san met them at the door and refused them entry. They The monk cleared his throat, as if uncomfortable with what he was about to say. did not realize how special your father was, Kujaku-sama. Yuji-san would not break his vow of nonviolence, and to them, he was nothing more than a temperamental peacock.
Hiros voice trailed off; tears cut small trails through his dusty cheeks as the monk relived the memories of that night. Evidently, the explanation was not enough for Kujaku; the peacock scratched impatiently at the ground as it urged Hiro to finish the story.
It had to know.
The monk took a deep breath, shuddering with the strain of his emotions, and wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his robe. When he looked up, his watery brown eyes met the cold black orbs of the peacock. The bandits they roasted your father for their evening meal, and then burned down the temple when we protested.
The world seemed to fall silent around them; the only sound was of Kujakus clawed feet tightening around the loose gravel of the path. Hiro knew that there was only one thing he could say that would end the terrible moment.
West, he whispered, hanging his head in shame. The bandits fled to the west.
Hours later, when it began to rain, Hiro was still kneeling in the center of the road.
Twenty two, twenty three, twenty four Kajiro looked up from the pile of coins with an oily grin. Twenty four koku from the merchants yesterday, Ren-sama. And nearly twice that if we sell the silk to Ginwo next week.
Well be lucky to get half that, the larger man chuckled from the other side of the table. His arm was wrapped casually around the waist of a peasant woman, who, for her part, seemed to be ignoring the entire conversation. The Mantis are worse thieves than we are, and Ginwo is no exception.
Kajiro leaned back onto the palms of his hands and shrugged. Maybe well get lucky and hell only bring one or two guards. Its not like there arent plenty of other merchants looking for cheap silk.
And when the Tsuruchi bounty hunters show up, Ill just tell them it was all your idea? Ren smirked across the table for a moment before shaking his head. No, its not worth the risk. Ginwo is slime, but I dont want to drag a cart full of silk around while we look for another buyer.
Whatever you say, Kajiro conceded with another shrug of his shoulders. You want to leave tomorrow, then?
Ren grinned and pulled the woman at his side closer. I think well stay for another day. Its not every day we have such pleasant company, neh?
The laughter of the two men was interrupted by a panicked shout from outside. Ren was on his feet in an instant, the peasant woman having been tossed aside as if she were nothing more than a blanket. What was that? he asked, his voice lacking any trace of the amusement that had been present only a moment earlier.
Are we being attacked? Kajiro was still struggling to stand, but the nervous tone of his voice was unmistakable. The magistrates wouldnu2019t attack at night, would they?
Before Ren could respond, the flimsy door of the hut exploded in a shower of jagged wooden shards. There were two shrill screams u2013 one from the peasant woman and the second from Kajiro u2013 as a thin man in dirty brown clothes landed upon the table, snapping it in half and scattering coins everywhere.
Nako? Ren asked in amazement, sharing his glances between the bloody man on his floor and the gaping hole in the wall that had once been a door. Nako! Whats going on out there? Whou2019s attacking us?
The thin man groaned as he rolled over onto his back, exposing a deep gash across his chest. Ademon Nako rasped, his wild eyes staring up at the ceiling in horror. A thousand eyes His voice trailed off as his darting eyes ceased their frantic twitching.
Ren stared at the dead man for a long moment, until another scream u2013 this one closer than the first u2013 snapped him out of his stupor. Kajiro! he barked, turning to face the smaller man. Go find Meishada. He was a Crab once, hell know how to kill a demon.
Kajiros eyes grew wide as he glanced towards the hole in the wall and the darkness beyond it. Youyou want me to go out there? With the demon?
In a single motion, Ren snatched up his sword and swung it at Kajirou2019s head. Had the blade not still been sheathed within its saya, it likely would have sliced the smaller manu2019s head clean in two. As it was, the blow merely knocked Kajiro unconscious, causing him to fall to the cluttered floor in a messy heap.
u201cCoward,u201d Ren spat, loathing in his voice. u201cNo better than a filthy eta.u201d He drew his blade, tossed the now-bloodied saya aside, and marched out into the cold night.
The moon seemed to dampen the colors of the village, creating a world of silver light, grey huts, and dark shadows. Every chilly breath Ren took seemed to carry the scent of blood, and no wonder; death was everywhere tonight.
The bandit stalked quietly through the shadows, his naked blade held out before him in a defensive stance. He doubted that his opponent was truly a demon Nakos wound had been caused by a bladed weapon, not by the claws of a beast but it never hurt to be cautious.
Ren was so lost in his thoughts that he almost didnt see the figure standing in the middle of the path. In his defense, he had been looking for a human samurai or, failing that, a giant towering demon with horns, tentacles, and multiple arms. The silhouette of a small bird was neither of these things, and he almost dismissed it as one of the villages many farm animals.
That is, until Ren realized that the silhouetted bird was wearing a small hat. And the small bundle at its sidecould it be a daisho? The animal stood amidst a small cluster of rocks, watching him in a way that Ren found very unsettling.
The bandit frowned and lowered his sword the slightest bit. Another bird with a hat? he muttered under his breath. Why would someone
His voice trailed off into silence as he realized that the rock clusters surrounding the bird were not actually rocks. Rocks did not hold steel blades that reflected the moons light, nor did they possess eyes that stared at him in dead, unblinking horror.
You? he growled, stepping forward and pointing his sword at the unnatural animal. You killed my men? For what reason, demon-bird?<br />
The bird did not reply. It simply stood there, surrounded by the bodies of three of his men. Watching. Waiting.
Very well, Ren sneered. This is for my men, bird!
The bandit lunged forward with a fierce shout, his sword cutting an arc of silver through the night as he brought it down in what would no doubt have been a fatal blow, had the bird not lunged forward at the last moment. Renu2019s blade struck the ground at the exact same moment that the bird darted directly underneath him.
With a scowl, the bandit turned to face the bird once again and collapsed to the ground as pain lanced up his legs. He groaned and pushed himself upwards, only to collapse once again as his legs simply refused to hold his weight.
The peacock watched this from a few feet away, its expression unreadable.
What? Ren pushed himself into a sitting position with his free hand and looked down at where his feet had once been, and at the blood that was quickly pooling around from the stumps. The world spun around him as Rens strength gave out and he collapsed onto his side. The last thing he saw was the peacock flicking his blood from its sword.
A few minutes later, Kujaku sheathed his sword and turned away from the bandit.
As the peacock left the village, a peasant woman watched from a hole that had once been a door. She looked down at the bloody knife in her hand and frowned.
The magistrates would never believe her story.
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