It was forged in the time when demons walked the earth openly, and it's ore had come from the bones of a fallen star. In the days when the undead stalked the living and drank the blood of innocents, this blade had opened many a throat and speared many the hearts of unprotected, unfortunate souls. In the age that we visit now, the blade is still counted as a demon itself, and it is said that no man can resist the lure of power that envelopes the ancient sword known as 'Chi-Kuroken'.
In this age a wise man who knows the secrets of the Black-blood Sword has vowed to himself that he will have the blade and destroy it once and for all. He knows the what of the curse that the blade carries, and he knows well the demons that the sword creates of men. Any man who holds, or has held, the blade from that age unto this one will become a very shroud of evil. All dark spirits that swirl among the living will find a host inside the hand that draws Chi-Kuroken from it's sheath and kills with it's edge. So the wise man now hunts for Ookamiakaji, for it is The Red Wolf who claims the Black-blood Sword as his own.
Is this wise man a monk, an agent of the Buddha who comes to visit karma upon those who wield the cursed blade? No, for all that is holy retreats from the face of evil that thrives within this steel. Is this wise man, perhaps, a kami? Is he a righteous spirit tasked to bring vengeance to the darkness that has killed so many and for so long? No, for all spirits exist upon a balance, and the weight of evil has ever found itself upon the lowly end of the scale. So no, there is no kami here, no karma. There is only a fate here, a destiny that threatens any balance of good and evil that kami and karma have created for men. He is a man, so he is a fate within himself. He is a man who has held many blades in his hand, and he is a man for whom the Black Blade calls...
Ookamiakaji smelled them long before they ever set a foot upon his mountain. He knew that they were seeking him, because the Chi-Kuroken told him so. The Black Blade pulsed in it's sheath with a deep, vibrating thrum, and the hilts warmed to his hand. The Red Wolf smiled at the thought of killing to be done, just as the Chi-Kuroken warmed even more at his mood.
The wind told Ookamiakaji who they were. No scent of perfume or rich oils reached his nose, no pleasant sachet to mask the odors of the wild. They were not samurai. Likewise there was no smell of dirt or campfires, no stink of the unwashed and homeless.They were not bandits nor ronin. No, the only things that tripped upon the breeze was the smell of clean sweat and cotton. The men who hunted The Red Wolf on this dark night were ninja, the scent did not lie.
Now the only question was where and when they were. Ookamiakaji cut their trail twice before he located them precisely, and the Black Blade thrummed it's evil music against his thigh as the Wolf closed in on the three hunters. In the darkness the hunters had become the hunted, and the Red Wolf wasted no time in cornering his prey. As he ran silently through the forest, Ookamiakaji ticked off their positions. One was far to his left, creeping slowly back, the two others were close and ahead of him. When he moved in, the Wolf's snout caught a muted smell of waxed seaweed and rice balls. Good, the ninja were eating...
All senses to his whiskers now, Ookamiakaji leaped through the brush, an easy ten foot jump that landed him atop his first ninja. The air vibrations that the ninja created as he reacted to the wolf-warrior crashing down on him caused symphopatic vibrations in The Red Wolf's whiskers, giving the Wolf a clearer picture of his target's position than even his own animal eyesight could. The oniwaban was kneeling, carefully unwrapping a small meal. The Wolf landed his lead foot on the cap of the knee that the ninja balanced his rice ball on, and Ookamiakaji felt the ankle below it snap and buckle. As the ninja crumpled sideways, Ookamiakaji shifted his landed foot and drove the heel of his trailing foot into the thigh of the same leg he had pounced upon. The ninja's leg was whipped to the ground with all of The Red Wolf's weight slamming onto it. This time there was an audible crack as the thighbone shattered. During his leap The Red Wolf had unsheathed his black blade with a vicious sweep and now Chi-Kuroken was drinking blood from the ninja's neck before his head hit the forest floor.
The second oniwaban was terrified at the sight of the giant, red, wolf-man dispatching his partner so quickly and so violently, but he was not caught at unawares. With a mouthful of half-chewed rice spilling from his lips, the ninja pistioned his legs beneath himself and sprang up and into a back flip. While he spun in the air the ninja's hands were suddenly filled with metsubushi. As soon as his feet touched ground, the ninja let his smoke bombs fly. Without another glance at the Wolf, the ninja turned and ran six paces into the forest and then spun on his heels and threw a poison tipped kunai directly into the center of the black cloud that now surrounded Ookamiakaji. Within a heartbeat of releasing his little throw knife, the ninja vanished.
To The Red Wolf metsubushi was nothing new. He had learned the tricks of ninjutsu-zukai long ago, and the spice filled gases of smoke bombs that the oniwaban used would be of small pause for him, at best. But the metsubushi that exploded at his feet were something new, and they offered up a surprise to him that stopped his attack for more than a pause. There was a contact flash-and-bang at his feet that was so alien to him that he yelped. The bang assaulted his ears and the flash blinded him like nothing ever had before. An acrid, black smoke shot up in a cloud that choked him with it's disgusting odor. In the smoke Ookamiakaji tasted metal shavings and flakes that cut his nose, mouth, and tongue. He was lucky the flash caused him to squeeze his eyes shut, because the iron flakes were sharp enough to have done serious damage to his naked eyes. The Wolf was twice lucky in that the smoke choked him so much it caused him to double over in a sneeze, so the poison soaked kunai that the second ninja had thrown sailed harmlessly over his back.
The ninja at Ookamiakaji's feet gave up his soul to Chi-Kuroken and the sword hummed as it drank the blood. The steel-and-silver finish of the blade changed as it lapped up the life force of the oniwaban, the steel becoming as black as obsidian. A ghoulish, green glow ran up the blade, and in it's reflection the Wolf gathered his bearings and escaped the cloud that the metsubushi had snared him in. The Red Wolf coughed and spat, wiping his eyes and clearing his nose. As soon as his senses were clear Ookamiakaji set out, into the dark forest, tracking the two remaining ninja...
end of part I...
Chi-KuroKen part II
Oda Yomatsu carved up the room with his eyes, raking over the furnishings and people of the so-called 'Inn of The Red Moon'. The place was a dog pit. The tables were small, and Oda didn't have to lift the tiny tablecloths to know that they were just barrel tops nailed to a stick. The Inn had dirt floors and one, bug-ridden, plated mat to keep the dust down. The sake was weak, the hot springs stank like old men farts, and the girls who waited on customers were ugly and dirty. Yomatsu's noble blood raised in his veins the way it did when he saw a gun. Oda hated guns.
Oda sniffed and took a big bite of his pride. He swallowed the lump and asked for the Innkeeper. "I have need of a room for the night..." he said, when an old woman waddled out from behind the bar. She looked him up and and down, noting his swords. Then she sniffed, too.
"You here for Ookamiakaji, neh? You will make the third to come this moon.', The old woman shook her grey head, 'I will make you a room, but you may be wasting your time. The Red Wolf already knows you're here. He will be here, soon."
Oda raised an eyebrow. "Do you know him?"
The old woman cackled, "No, I don't know him. He don't speak when he comes here, not to us.' The Innkeeper gave him a pointed look. 'I know about his legend. I know that he kills men. I know that he will kill you..."
Oda's noble blood rose in a heat to his face, his rouge did little to mask it. "How do you know he will kill me? You do not even know who I am!"
"You are a swordsman, neh?', the old woman smiled an aged, knowing smile; as if that were all the omens she needed. 'Well, you had better be..." With just that, the Innkeeper turned and led Oda to a hallway lined with dirty, rice paper doors.
Later, a girl from the willow-world came to his room. She was unpolished, unkempt, and slow. Nevertheless, Oda allowed her to pour sake for him. She then sang for him, her Song of Sake was actually very good. The lyrics were humorous and Oda favored her with a laugh. There were more entertainments to come and he was just settling in when a shadow appeared in the hallway. A large shade passed, and one look into the face of the country geisha was all it took for Oda to know that The Red Wolf was at his door.
In spite of the weak sake and the uncouth girl, Oda was not unready. He had taken his longsword from his sash and held it at his side during his repose. He rose slowly. Just as slowly, he drew his longsword from it's sheath. The silhouette in the doorway twitched at the sound of steel leaving it's home. Oda heard the steel of Ookamiakaji's blade slide too. The Noble had had enough. "You are The Red Wolf, are you not?" Oda asked of the shade.
"I am Ookamiakaji. You are here to fight me, are you not?"
Oda's ears pricked up, for the Wolf spoke in an old, almost ancient, dialect. It was a dichotomy that was reserved for the most high nobles in the royal court. There was a flattering lilt to the words that cracked upon the wildness and grunting of the voice speaking it. Oda was puzzled, because the dialect had long fallen out of fashion. The only reason he knew it is because it was how his grandmother had spoken to him when he was a boy. It made him curious.
"May I ask you a question, Wolf? Before I kill you?"
There was a pause from the shadow at the door. "I will answer your question. First, you must answer one of mine. Whom do you serve, Samurai?" Ookamiakaji's words spit the sentence out, like venom. Yet, to Oda's ears, the voice had paid him a complement. It made Oda uncomfortable.
"It is my honor to serve my master, the Daimyo Hoda."
"Then there is a chance that the blood of my enemy runs in your veins.', The Red Wolf said, and he truly growled as he spoke next, 'There is a good chance my soul could rest tonight. It is good that you are here... Now ask your question, they will be the last words you speak."
Oda Yomatsu was fed up. He was so mad, he no longer needed the answer to his curiosity. He decided he no longer needed to keep his end of the bargain either. "How did you ever get such a noble tongue, pig? And how do you manage to keep it?" Oda lunged forward and speared the shadow on the rice paper.
A blade from the hallway clanged and then pinned Oda's sword against the door-frame. Then the hilt of Ookamiakaji's short sword tore through the rice paper and slammed into Oda's nose, forcing him back into his room. When the noble next looked up, The Red Wolf exploded through the shreds of the door and stood before Oda Yomatsu, his steel bared and flashing like fangs.
Just as big as his shadow, Ookamiakaji towered over Oda. He looked up, into the face of Ookamiakaji, and the Samurai knew that he did not fight a man. The eyes of the Wolf glared from Ookamiakaji's head, the true fangs of a wolf slavered in his lips. He had five fingers, but at the end of those digits were claws, great, black claws that wrapped around the hilts of his swords like interlocked iron teeth. To Oda's amazement the demon even had a wolf's tail to go with his red, bushy hair. That was all Oda was allowed to notice before he began to fight for his life.
Oda Yomatsu was considered by many to be a master at swordplay. One of the best. It was this reputation that drove him to seek The Red Wolf. It was the same reputation that led him to his bloody death in a crummy, dirty mountain-lodge called: The Inn of The Red Moon.
The Samurai who had rented the room was dead, and now the old woman-Innkeeper chased her girls down the hall to clean up. They had done this work many times, deftly taking everything of value from among the dead man's things save his swords and robe. While they did this, the old woman listened in the night, as the moon went down. She waited until the wolves started howling, and strained to hear a certain, lilting howl; one that sounded sweeter than the rest. When she heard it finally, she smiled. The soul of The Red Wolf would not rest tonight, and so there would be more swordsmen to come. And so the Inn of The Red Moon would survive. A little longer...
End of part II by Max Lindern
Chi-Kuroken! part III
The wise man stood quietly in the rain, staring at the door of The Inn of The Red Moon. His face was grim, for he knew that by coming here he would end an entire way of life that the people of the Inn enjoyed. The spider's web and trap that the Inn represented could no longer continue, this place could no longer be the hunting ground for The Red Wolf. He would be the last man to challenge Ookamiakaji, his would be the last weapon to cross with the Chi-Kuroken.
It was that legend, that piss-poor legend that promised a 'magical' sword to anyone who could slay The Red Wolf. The legend infuriated the wise man to no end. For nearly sixty years young men had come here in the hopes of winning a blade of wizardry and wonder, and for nearly sixty years all that they found was a bloody, lonely death. None who came here knew the truth of Chi-Kuroken, none knew that they had no chance to ever hold the blade and really call it their own. None understood that even if chance and luck allowed them to best the Wolf, they would never control and command the Black-blood Sword. It would control them, it would command them, the same way that it held Ookamiakaji in it's evil grip. It would change them into a beast, a reflection of the savage animal within them, and their life as an honorable swordsman would be over forever. The sword men, the heroes, the bounty hunters, all came and died here. And so it would go until someone came who could end it. That someone was him, for it was his destiny to end the demon that was Chi-Kuroken...
The innkeeper walked slowly from out behind the bar and glanced out the front door, into the muddy street. Her day was almost done and the old lady was tired. It had been a hard day, another moonrise that saw profits counted in single digits. Her spirits were low. Little did she know how truly low this night would end for The Inn of The Red Moon.
Her eyes landed upon the figure that stood at the other side of the street. The black kimono, the long, white hair and beard, the wide brimmed, low crested black hat; all of it seemed familiar. Memories from her youth surfaced, of her times in the willow world. Then her stare rested upon the staff that the stranger had strapped on his back, and the silver-wrought emblem of it. A silver fist capped the head of the staff, big as a pumpkin, and as soon as she saw it her heart stopped. "Nuh-n-norowarete... norowarete iru!", she whispered, her shaky hand raising and pointing a finger at the wise man who stood outside.
Her serving girls and the sake master heard her whispered shriek, and though they couldn't make out the words she used, they knew from the tone that the innkeeper was clearly terrified. Many strange and horrible things had passed within the walls of The Inn of The Red Moon, many things that the old lady shrugged off as easily as rain on a carp. But the horrified squeak that the innkeeper mouthed was something none of them had witnessed before. It was enough to send them rushing for backrooms and back doors. The old lady was left alone with whatever doom lay outside the door of the Red Moon.
The wise man moved like hissing steam. He crossed the street and entered the Inn like a blur, and before the innkeeper knew it the man in black stood before her with a heavy gaze and glittering eyes. "Cursed, am I?', he said in a loud voice, 'It is you who is cursed, old woman. Come out of there, Yajirumaru! Leave the old woman and face me!" The wise man made the hand sign of casting and slapped the innkeeper's forehead. The old woman fell into a swoon and dropped to the floor like a stone. Suddenly a sound like a thousand crickets filled the common room of the Inn, while a grey, sticky smoke rose from the woman's ears, nose, and throat. The smoke filled the room, becoming a haze of grey ichor that obscured sight. In the depths of the haze a dark figure appeared, Yajirumaru had come out!
"Ikemasan! You have found me...' a deep, secretive voice surrounded him in the smoke and whispered in the wise man's ears, 'how many years has it been? If nothing else, you are persistent, fool!" The demon laughed and showed his face and form. A mirror image of Ikemasan now stood in the smoke. A mirror image except that his robe and hat were all white and instead of the silver-fisted staff, Yajirumaru had a long sword strapped across his back.
Ikemasan unlimbered the staff from off his shoulder. Like a reflection, Yajirumaru drew his long sword too. "You may think that you have hidden from me for all these years, demon. The truth be that I have spent this time learning The Hand of Ruin. I have known where you are all along. And what about you, Heckler? Watching your back for all your days. Knowing that a deadly enemy is incarnated every fifty years or so, an enemy who will hunt you down and banish you from your haunt. Creating monsters to do your bidding and feed your blood lust, do you think there is no price to pay? That your crimes will be forgotten? You are the persistent one, Yajirumaru...a persistent coward!"
Ikemasan brought his staff to the ready, the silver fist uncurling, it's metal fingers splaying out. The fingers themselves flattened and the edges of the digits sharpened into blades. The edge of the palm curved out and a long, rounded blade ran from the tip of the pinky finger to base of the palm. Suddenly the silver hand was as big and sharp as a headman's axe. The demon's long sword struck at the wise man, coming down from a high, over the shoulder strike. The silver hand answered with a jab that blocked the blade and locked the sword in it's fingers. Ikemasan twisted the haft and spun Yajirumaru's sword from his grasp. While the long blade jumped and skittered along the ratty tables of the common room, the white-robed demon jumped back and away from the staff and it's five fingered blades like a cat. The demon slipped a hand inside his flowing robe, when he withdrew it, his fist was full of glittering shuriken that he vectored and threw straight at Ikemasan. The wise man reacted quick enough to block four of them with the butt end of his staff, the small three-pointed stars plunging and sticking into the haft. Two of the stars found their mark, smacking into Ikemasan's chest.
Ikemasan recovered only to see Yajirmaru throw more glittering stars, but this time the silver head of the staff changed into a flat hand that stood at a right angle from the haft and seemed to knock the shuriken from the air. As the stars fell to the floor the demon's eyes flashed in anger. "You think the Hand of Hametsu will always do your bidding? You think that my father's fist will always protect you?', Yajirumaru snarled, 'Watch the silver hand close again, at my command!" The demon pointed a long finger at Ikemasan, and the wise man saw the nail of the finger transform into a glowing silver. Yajirumaru turned the hand palm-up and curled his index finger slowly to himself, as he did the silver hand at the end of the staff fattened and folded back into the dormant fist that was it's normal form.
But the wise man just smiled from beneath the wide brim of his black hat. "Unlike Chi-Kuroken, you only control this weapon, you can never control the hand that wields the staff. Put a dark blade into the hands of an infant and let it work it's horrible spell upon him, so you may think that you have such power over any human soul. You may have taken the mind and the heart of a Prince and turned it to evil. You may have created a wolf who does your bidding like a dog, but the vengeance he seeks is not his and it is not yours, it is mine!" Ikemasan stood to his full height, spinning the staff above his head with both hands. Suddenly the wise one lunged at the demon, leaping across the room in a powerful jump. As he closed on the demon he brought the staff down, and like a thunderbolt the heavy, silver fist smashed Yajirumaru's skull in a flash of sparks and blood. The demon crumbled to the floor, and the Heckler's form changed again into grey, sticky ichor and fog. Ikemasan took a deep breath and blew into the smoke like a mighty gale. Blood came from the wounds in his chest to color his breath crimson, and so it was sprayed into the heart of the fog. And the smoke fled upon the dark, rainy night, leaving The Inn of The Red Moon forever.
The old woman stirred and suddenly sat up, blinking. Her bleary gaze fell upon Ikemasan and thoughts that were not her own filled her mind and moved her lips. "Who...who is The Red Wolf, master?"
The wise man knelt beside the innkeeper and took her trembling hands into his own. He smiled warmly, "He is a prince who was told a great lie, long ago. He was given a sword, a very evil sword, and a demon charged him to do vengeance with it. A great injustice was done to both him and to the daimyo's bloodline that he seeks. For many years my family have raised warriors to fight this demon, for it is our vengeance that he usurped for his own ends. I have banished the demon from this house. He can never come here again"
"What of the Inn? Will this end The Inn of The Red Moon?"
"Not if you sell better sake. Not if you hire better wenches." The wise man chuckled.
The old woman's eyes cleared, yet the spirits that had her, kept her mouth for a moment longer. "Will you slay the Prince? Will you slay Ookamiakaji?", she asked.
Once more Ikemasan smiled. "Only if I must, Haha. Only if I must..."
End of part III by Max Lindern