Hannya was once in the Imperial Court, son of the most powerful mage in the land. Until he started meddling with dark forces.
Finding himself thrown out of a pampered life, and beaten by a mob of bandits, perhaps he shouldn't have. Of course setting fire to the Imperial Library did not help.
Character Series: no character series
Group Series: Hadesdorff, 3
Author: Chris Wilkins
The staff cracked across his forehead, sending him reeling to the side of the road, falling in the mud. The world went blank. Cruel mean laughter filled his ears.
He groggily tried to open his eyes but couldn’t see out of the left because it was covered in mud. He wiped it.
For a moment he couldn’t get his bearings or remember where he was. Looking up one of the most feral men he had ever seen was standing over him, holding a six-foot fighting staff that had blood on it. His blood.
The bandit was huge, well over six feet, with a beard that hung down to his sternum and looked like some sort of shrubbery, and arms and legs the thickness of trees.
“What do you want?” Kuzuha managed to croak. A feeling of nausea flooded over him, his head exploding with pain. He leaned over and threw up in a mud pool by the side of the road.
The man leaned down, bringing his face closer to Kuzuha. “What do I want? I guess I want whatever money and good things you have. And then I might kill you for fun.”
Kuzuha smiled at that. “What? And you think that is supposed to scare me.” He spat the vomit out of his mouth, trying to sit up, the world spinning above him. “Maybe you can kill me. Maybe you can’t. But it’s quite immaterial whether you do or not.” He looked squarely up at the man holding the wicked staff. “There are vastly more unpleasant things in this world than bandits on roads with staves, ready to rob and murder.”
For a moment the laughter on the man’s face stopped, his grin frozen on him, as if caught between humour and bone-cracking fear. A tinge of doubt touched the sides of his eyes. He looked around at the other half a dozen bandits who were all still enjoying the joke of seeing Kuzuha bleeding, sitting in mud with vomit down his front.
Kuzuha managed to sit up, then pushed his hands onto the road, levering himself up into a standing position.
“You see, I have seen the monsters who live in the dark places of this world, and not of this world. They are huge with massive teeth and claws, and all they want to do is tear humans apart with their bare hands because they are jealous of us. They are jealous of life.” He leaned in closer to the bandit. “They want yours. They want mine.” He looked at all the other bandits who were listening now.
I have them. At last. Someone will understand.
“They want all your lives. And they are coming.”
The bandit holding the staff smiled at Kuzuha. “I see. That is interesting.” And then he cracked Kuzuha on the side of his head with the staff. Again, he was sent flying, landing in a mud puddle.
The bandit walked over and laid into Kuzuha with kicks to the stomach, back and head, each swing of the leg inflicting more and more damage on the screaming wreck on the ground. Soon there wasn’t a part of his body that didn’t hurt. Then the bandit brought his staff up over his head and brought it down on whatever part of Kuzuha’s body collided with the heavy moving rod.
Kuzuha knew he was dying. Or at least he soon would be. He knew the damage he was copping would soon overcome his body’s ability to take punishment. Already he knew there were bruised muscles and bones, which would take weeks to clear up.
If I survive this beating, he thought.
His mind flickered back to where it had all started, and how his life had completely unravelled in such a short time.
Only days ago he had a life of pampered luxury, living in the Imperial Palace where he only had to think of something he wanted, and it would be provided: special meats from the finest farms in the land, succulent fish from the seas, plucked from the waters only hours before, crystallised fruits of all descriptions, fine polished oak tables to write on, the smoothest of smooth silk sheets to sleep on and clothes to wear, and just about any other fantasy that he could dream up.
But now he was being beaten to death in a muddy ditch by the side of the road.
Damned imp. He caused all this.
The book was gorgeous, with exquisite floral gold and silver letting, its intricate painting of demons, imps and dragons, and large gothic capitalisation of the first letter on each page. The script itself was written from a master craftsman who never let an ink drop get out of place, nor the line waver from its iron straight line across the page, each line in parallel with all the others.
And the paper. Oh the paper. It was smoother than normal scruffy itchy stuff. Rather it was closer to silk, so smooth that it was tingly to the touch as Kuzuha brushed his fingers over each page.
And then there was the story itself. The world’s it told him about, of faraway dark places where a menagerie of dark evil beasties lived, all praying and hoping for the day when a pathway to the middle world would open for them so they could come through.
The contrast between the work of art that was the physical book, and the horrors of what it told inside, always twisted his stomach in knots.
But he could never get enough of it. Not now. Not now that he knew so much and had come so far.
There was a bang somewhere in the dark library. His heart leapt into his mouth.
They cannot find me.
He closed the book and looked about. No one. Nothing. He listened. Again, nothing except the odd murmur coming from the candle as its flame danced left and right.
It was safe. At least for now. He opened the book again, looked for his place on the page and started reading.
The text told him of a place of pure evil and darkness only split by the blasts of columns of fire and lava, with demons dancing around and flying through the air, all the time screaming of their torment being trapped in such a place. That their hearts were full of hatred of all things living, because they themselves had never had life and they were forever jealous and spiteful of those who walked under blue skies with green grass under their feet.
Bump. Again. Like a book falling on the floor.
The book was slammed shut before he realised he had shut it. Peering into the gloom he couldn’t see anything other than rows and rows of bookshelves reaching into the vast chasm of the library, the ceiling lost from site.
Kuzuha carefully stood up trying not to make a sound. Standing stock still he surveyed the massive library. Fear clutched his core and made his skin creep.
Usually he had free reign of the library. He was, after all, the most worthy and prized son of Yasubai no Matsushita, the Highest Blue Mage and Onmyoji, keepers of the court and protectors of the Realm from all dark and unnatural forces.
The problem was Kuzuha had an insatiable curiosity. When he had asked what the dark forces were, all his mage master had told him was they were unnatural entities that wanted to enter the Imperial Palace and kill everyone.
Fine, he had answered. And what specifically were these entities?
Okay. What sort of monsters?
Don’t be so impertinent and question your masters. Get back to your studies.
The answer had been written all over Ichiyo Tzuzuki’s face, the Grand Scholar and Head Teacher of the Mage Academy: he had no idea what sort of monsters they were and most likely had never seen one.
He knew he would regret it but he had to ask.
If we do not know what sort of monsters we might be up against one day, does that not make us weak and unprepared?
Tzuzuki’s face went pale white and his head had jerked back. His hand had even come up to strike Kuzuha.
Then the strangest thing happened, something Kuzuha knew would never be done in public. Tzuzuki looked furtively about him, checking that they were all alone. It was the end of class and all the other students had left.
“Kuzuha, you are a clever boy, and you will go far. But here me this, for I will say this only the once. Even saying this puts my life in jeopardy. Study of evil dark forces is forbidden.” He had held up his hand to stop Kuzuha questioning what he had just said. “Yes, it makes no sense. Yes, it makes us weak. But the Emperor has forbidden it. Why, we do not know. What we do know is that anyone who has questioned the Emperor about his edict, even mentioned it, has been thrown from the Palace walls.” He had stopped talking and let the seconds of silence drip between them.
“Do I make myself clear? You will never ask me about this again.”
Once more Tzuzuki had swivelled his head about to make sure they were alone.
“Of course, it would be highly improper of you, and against all good behaviour of this Mage School, if you were to go rummaging about the library in the jungle flora section.”
With that, and a great flourish of his robs, curling the train over his arm, he had swept from the room before Kuzuha had the chance to say anything back.
And there they had been, hidden away in the “Flora - Jungle” classification in the library. Not books on annatto, abiu, cecropia and other towering trees of the deep jungle, nor of heliconia or the cacao plant. But rather books on demons, gargoyles, lycanthropes, fiends and other monsters, the nine levels of hell and the abyss, of black magic, spells and incantations, from the very minor all the way up to the greatest spells that kill with a look and cast souls into the dark depths where there is no life, not even after life.
It had all been there, hidden away in the library in a place where no one would really go looking for it. Unless, of course, someone really really wanted to know about jungle flora.