“To the Last Man: A Tale of the Crab” by Hida Okami

I dedicate this story to Hida Togeriso, who showed me that a Crab can spin a tale as fine as Kakita silk, but also to all of the doomsayers who moved me to write it.  Read on, and see if you can find that Crab inside yourself.  (Please feel free to post this on any fiction sites, as long as I am properly credited).

 

To The Last Man

A Tale of the Crab

by Hida Okami

 

Banji-san, you must not go!

 

The shugenja was frantic in his insistence. His eyes were wild as he barred the exit from the room. I beseech you, this path holds your death, and the death of all who stand beside you. Will you not reconsider?

 

I am samurai, Kuni-san, Hida Banji replied. I was born to die. This must be done. I am Crab. I must fight. Your warnings are born from your own fear, not a fear for my life, or the lives of my men.

 

The shugenja suddenly ceased his raving. Eyes that previously held madness were now solemn. At once, he became very serious. Iie, Banji-san. My vision was clear. There is no return from this errand. All will be lost. If you doubt me, I will show you what I saw. Come.

The Kuni led the warrior to a pedestal, atop which sat a basin of water. He began to chant words of arcane power in the tongue of the spirits. The water began to shimmer, and it was as if Hida Banji were looking through a window at a place far away. Or a mirror.  For in the scrying pool, Banji could clearly see himself, not the reflection of the man standing beside the priest, but of a samurai hopelessly outnumbered. Around him, his men fell dying. The enemy swept through them like a scythe, cutting down all who stood in their way. But, as true Crabs, Banjis men fought to their last breath. The clamor of battle and the screams of the dying drowned out all other sound.

 

The pool shimmered again, and Banji was looking down upon the lands of the Crab from high above, as if a bird that had flown to close to the clouds. He could see the River of the Last Stand and beside it, the great Carpenter Wall. But the Wall had been destroyed. From one end to another, it lay in ruin. Where once a proud fortress stood, was now nothing but rubble. Smoke choked the sky as his eye moved past the devastated wall to the lands beyond. Once, these plains held the fertile rice fields that fed the Crab but now, they were lifeless. The lands were mass graves, piled high with the bodies of Crab samurai and peasants alike. Women and children lay unmoving beside warriors and daimyo, their carcasses rotting under the hazy sun. The lands were silent, but for the mournful droning of the wind, and the buzzing of the flies as they feasted upon the bounty of war.

 

Banji saw every Crab he had ever known in those graves all of his family, his friends, the samurai he served beside and the lords they had served. And as he moved on, he came to realize that these small mounds of the dead were merely foothills of a great mountain one made up of the lifeless corpses of every Crab that had ever lived. His view moved higher and higher up the slope of dead, until it reached the summit.

 

And there, at the very top of the mountain, one Crab still moved. Banji knew in his heart that this man was the last Crab alive. But he knew the man would not live much longer, and when he perished, the Crab would pass from Rokugan forever. The wounded man stirred, raising himself up on his arms. He seemed to look directly into the scrying pool and Banji realized with a shock that the man he was seeing was, again, himself.

 

Then, for the first time, Banji heard a voice. It seemed distant and without a source. It echoed across the land and inside his head. Hida Banji, join us! it implored. No! shouted Banji. His chest heaved as he tried to draw breath, and he began to cough. Blood flowed from his mouth. Nothing remains for you, Banji. Join us and become a part of something again. Join us and be whole once more.

 

I will not! he roared in reply. I still live, and while I live I will fight! I will not give up, for I am Crab!

 

The Crab are no more. There is nothing left to fight for. Come with us, be one with us, and your suffering shall cease.

 

NOOOOOOOOOO! Banji cried with a last breath of defiance. His voice died, and as it did, Hida Banji died too. The last Crab alive had perished, and as he fell silent, so did the rest of the world. Even the wind became still.  And then the pool became still, too. Hida Banji could now see only the reflection of his own face, and that of the Kuni shugenja beside him. Now that you have seen what I have seen, Banji-san, do you still feel it is only my fear speaking? Do you still march off to battle so readily?

 

Hida Banji did not speak. He strode over to a table and shoved his daisho into his obi. He shouldered his ono and turned to face the priest once more. I do, Kuni-san. Though it may be the death of me, I do. Even if I am the last. For I am Crab, and that is what it means to be Crab.

 

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