This is my first real attempt at a story. I've been working on it since June and it is a little over 60 pages in 9pt Verdana font w/ about thirteen chapters so far. I'm very proud of this and i hope you'll take the time to read it and give me your opinions. This is the unrevised edition, so please bear with me when it gets a little redundant or when there are grammar mistakes . Thanx in advance
Chapter One - Exiled
“Rakurai! Catch!” Katsu crowed as he threw an apple to his friend. Rakurai, who wasn’t really paying attention to Katsu and was half asleep in a nearby tree, barely had time to react before the apple hit him square on the forehead. Katsu cringed as the stunned dog-demon looked around blearily, slowly figuring out what had just occurred. Rubbing his head, Rakurai glared mischievously at Katsu, who was looking innocently from the half-eaten fruit in his hand to his glowering buddy.
“Sorry, Kurai. I though you had better reflexes than that.”
“Ha ha, very funny. How can anyone have reflexes when they’re asleep? You’re such an idiot sometimes.”
He grinned impishly and held up the apple.
“I did manage to catch it though.”
He prepared to throw it at his cat-demon friend, but as he was about to hurl it, an alarm sounded somewhere in the distance. Both boys looked south, then looked at each other.
“That was the clan’s alarm, wasn’t it?” Rakurai asked.
“Yeah. Sure sounded like it at least. I wonder what’s up. Do you think the fort’s under attack?”
“Doesn’t seem likely, but we might as well go check it out. We were supposed to be back earlier anyway. C’mon.”
Rakurai jumped out of the tree and swiftly morphed into his dog form on the run. Katsu followed close behind him, deciding to keep to his human appearance. He figured it would look rather strange for a cat to be chasing a dog.
Arriving about thirty minutes later, they were surprised to find everything going relatively less than normal. Nobody was on the streets of the usually busy warrior town and even the training fields were completely deserted for once.
“Where is everyone?” Katsu said wonderingly.
“Beats me, but something doesn’t seem right here. There’s danger written in the very air.”
“There you are, Rakurai. I’ve been looking all over for you…”
Both Rakurai and Katsu jumped to attention as Commander Sagaru Takara sauntered up behind them. Rakurai’s little brother, Toshiko, followed him sedately, but hung back as the commander approached nearer.
“…Though I’m afraid you are under arrest. Guards!”
Rakurai looked stunned as two of his clan-mates suddenly came up behind him and took hold of his arms. Fear flashed in his eyes as he smelled blood on Sagaru’s attire and in his thigh-length sandy hair. He knew that scent. It was Captain Satoshi’s blood.
“For what charges? What happened to Captain Satoshi?”
“Don’t play stupid with me, whelp. You should know exactly what happened to the Captain and what the charges are. You’re being arrested for his assassination.”
“So how do you explain the bloodstains on your armor?”
“How do you explain the ones on your own?”
“Most of it’s my own. The rest came from a rouge bat-youkai* I took down two days ago. I think you can tell the difference between a bat and a fox.”
“Don’t get so cocky, pup. You’re in enough trouble as it is.”
“Wrongly so, you might want to add.”
“I don’t. And the blood on my armor is Satoshi’s. He wasn’t quite dead yet when I found him. He was bleeding to death from a gaping wound in his throat. Of course, he was too far gone to be saved and died a few minutes later, but he lived long enough to say that it was you who had done the damage.”
The horrible truth sank in as Rakurai realized that he was being framed before his eyes. If he didn’t fight this, he’d likely be executed for something he hadn’t done. What was even worse was that the commander had probably killed Satoshi himself and blackmailed Toshiko, who was his younger brother and looked much like Rakurai, into helping with the setup. A quick look at Katsu said that he also thought this was true.
“Commander, Rakurai is innocent. He wasn’t anywhere near the fort last night, and you know it.”
Sagaru grinned hellishly.
“Then where was he?”
Katsu gulped nervously. Even he didn’t know where Rakurai had been. He had a bad habit of sneaking off in the middle of the night. What he did or where he went, Katsu didn’t know.
“I don’t know, sir…”
“Then why don’t you keep your mouth shut if you can’t back up your statements.”
“Guards, take this two-faced whelp to the dungeon. I don’t see the need for a trial, as we know that he is the culprit here.”
Rakurai growled deeply, his fangs flashing in the early afternoon sunlight. He made a fierce lunge at Sagaru, not held back in the least by his restrainers. The captain seemed to be expecting this though and took a quick step back, followed by a back-fist maneuver that sent the dog sprawling to the ground again.
“Katsu, why don’t you put that chained scythe of yours to use and control this sorry excuse for demon flesh.”
Katsu hesitated, nervously fingering the chain of the weapon that hung at his waist. He had no intention of following that order, but if he didn’t, he could end up in the same predicament as Rakurai. It was an act of defiance that he didn’t really want to make.
After a few moments, Commander Takara became impatient and untied the scythe from Katsu’s belt by sheer force. He flung the chain around Rakurai’s neck and yanked it taut, forcing the boy to transform back into he human form and clutch at the ever-tightening links.
“When I say to do something, Katsu, you better damn well do it,” Sagaru hissed angrily.
He jerked the chain one more time, watching with grim pleasure as Rakurai passed out from lack of air and lack of blood. He removed the chain from around his throat and tossed it back to Katsu.
“Take the boy to the dungeon and shackle him. His execution will take place early tomorrow morning.”
He turned to leave, but Katsu stepped in front of him and blocked his path.
“You know he’s innocent, Commander Takara. Why are you doing this?”
“Move aside, Asahi-san. This matter no longer involves you.”
“No, I won’t, sir. He’s my friend.”
“How can a murdering son-of-a-bitch like him be your friend?”
“Because I know he’s been framed.”
The commander simply growled subtly and pushed past the cat-demon in front of him. Katsu watched him leave and then looked at Toshiko, who had been quietly watching the whole ordeal from nearby.
“He seriously thinks he’s won, doesn’t he?”
“He has, hasn’t he? There’s no way to prove him wrong at this point.”
“I’m not saying we have to prove him wrong, dumb-ass.”
“They what do you mean?”
“C’mere. I’ve got a plan…”
Rakurai woke up in the damp, darkness of an underground cell. He drowsily sat up, wincing as he tried to swallow. The chain had dug into his neck to the point where it had almost drawn blood and had left raw welts in some places. Looking around, he assessed the situation in which he had somehow ended up.
‘I can’t believe he did this to me. We’re related by blood for heaven’s sakes. And for what? Just so he can move up one step that doesn’t really matter in the long run? Gods, Satoshi-kun was as good as dead anyway. He had enough enemies at least. Couldn’t that asshole wait a few years? Of course not. That would be way too simple. And this way, he gets rid of me as well…’
Rakurai let out a little laugh that sounded more like a dry cough. He tensed as his sensitive hearing picked up the sound of footsteps heading his way. He scrambled to his feet as the door slowly started to open, cursing softly as a sudden wave of dizziness threatened to send him back down to the ground. Commander Takara appeared in the doorway, a hellish grin cut evilly in his sharp features.
“Well, well, well, finally awake, are we? It’s about time. I’ve come with a proposal for you…”
“Whatever it is, I don’t want to hear it,” Rakurai spat, his hoarse voice cracking more than he could control.
Sagaru looked slightly taken aback at the interruption, but recovered quickly.
“Getting a little insolent, are we? You’ve been taught better than that. We’ll just have to teach you a lesson now, won’t we?”
With a swiftness that Rakurai wasn’t prepared for, the commander lashed one heavily armored forearm into the boy’s gut. With a strangled cry of pain, he staggered backward and fell to his knees. Sagaru took this chance to talk.
“Now then, here’s the deal. You leave the clan and live as an exile, or you stay here and be executed tomorrow morning. I suggest you make the choice quickly.”
Rakurai didn’t respond. The pain was flashing through his stomach like fireworks and he was gasping for breath. Commander Takara strode up to him, grabbed a fistful of strawberry-blond hair, and pulled his head back to look at him.
“I didn’t hear your answer, pup.”
Rakurai just growled back at him, tears forming at the corners of his eyes.
“Never,” he hissed angrily, “I’d never leave the only place I’ve ever known just to please the likes of you.”
“So be it then, Rakurai. Though I’d hate to see a young man such as yourself be killed because of his own stupidity.”
“Make up your mind already. Either you want me dead or you don’t. If you’re only going to stand there jabbering at me, then get out of my face.”
The grin on the commander’s face dimmed. With a final thrashing, he left Rakurai gasping and bleeding on the floor of the cell.
‘I’ll kill you someday, commander,’ he thought as he passed out again.
Rakurai next regained consciousness sometime later to the sound of the cell door being opened quietly. He backed as far into the corner as his chained wrists would allow and snarled wildly. He didn’t relax in the least as Toshiko poked his head in.
“What the hell do you want, traitor?”
“C’mon. I’m going to bust you out of here.”
“Yeah, sure. I’m going to believe that.”
Toshiko knelt down next to his brother and produced the key to the shackles from a pocket in his sleeve.
“Look, I’m sorry I got you into this whole mess. I really am. But we don’t have time to argue right now. Katsu is keeping and eye out for the guards. Now let’s hurry.”
He unlocked the shackles and stepped back to let Rakurai through. Rakurai, of course, didn’t need to be told again. Calling upon what strength he had left, he bounded through the door. He was limping a little from his earlier ordeal with the commander, but he didn’t really care. This was his chance at revenge. Katsu joined them at the end of the hall and Toshiko took his leave, not wanting to get caught helping with his brother’s escape. He knew Katsu and Rakurai could manage without him.
“We’ll head out the main gate. I already had to kill a couple of the guards and more are coming, so we’ll have to get out before they lock it…and before Commander Takara realizes what’s happening,” Katsu explained hurriedly.
“Well, it’s too late for that, my friend.”
The commander had just appeared by the main gate. The demonic katana in his hand was flashing brilliantly with bright royal purple fire. The timely execution of Toshiko and Katsu’s plan had laid the entire camp unprepared for a battle and most everyone except the nighttime sentries were unarmored. Rakurai saw his chance.
Momentarily forgetting his pain, he quickly summoned his weapon, a nine-foot thunder-charged halberd known as Raitoumu. It was an heirloom from his mother’s side of the family and was extremely powerful. It had a split blade that caused twice as much damage to an opponent than a single blade at close-range and its electric properties also made it a lethal long-distance weapon. To make it an even more effective weapon, it could be summoned at its wielder’s will at any point or time and be made to fade away into thin air when not needed.
Sagaru met Rakurai head-on with his sword, evading the blades and attacking with deadly accuracy. Though the halberd was usually unwieldy and a nuisance, somehow Rakurai kept it in control. Ducking and dodging, he maneuvered the Thunder Pike with the agility of a seasoned fighter. Katsu watched from a distance, not wanting to get involved. He’d never seen his friend look so determined to prove himself. That, and if Rakurai ended up on the loosing end of this fight and he’d been helping, then he’d also be killed for treason.
The battle was short and finished violently. Rakurai managed to trip over his own feet and almost fell, cringing as the unprotected portion of his chest just above his demon-bone armor got slashed to ribbons by the commander’s sword. He recovered quickly though and regained his footing before driving Raitoumu at his opponent again with a final cry of pain and anger. The double blades hit their mark and drove through Sagaru’s unarmored chest and throat.
“How do you like me now, you damn bastard? I didn’t kill Captain Satoshi. I never wanted to. He’s the only one in this whole goddamn place that I’ve ever had any respect for and you know it. You’ve made my life a living nightmare ever since I can remember. Now why don’t you just tell the truth to the rest of the Shiroka Clan? You wanted Satoshi dead from the minute you gained the authority of ‘second-in-command’. Go on, tell them.”
The tone of his voice was low and venomous as he spoke and his eyes were flashing with anger in the form of teal flames. He knew he wouldn’t get an answer. The blades of the Pike were impaled in the commander’s throat and heart. As a blood-curdled snarl escaped from Commander Takara’s lips, Rakurai twisted Raitoumu out of his body with a bright flash of lightning. He fell to the ground, dead.
“See you in hell…Dad,” Rakurai whispered quietly, his eyes still burning brightly even though the fury had subsided. He was unsure he had done the right thing, but he didn’t care. The nightmare was over…or so he thought.
He let the Thunder Pike fade away as he turned around. Most of the clan had been awakened by now and was gathered on the main street to see what the commotion was. Seeing the bloody, teenaged dog-demon standing next to the lifeless body of his father, talk immediately began to start. Katsu appeared out of the crowd in the form of a cat and trotted over to jump on Rakurai’s shoulder.
“I think we’d better leave, Rai. Once the news gets ‘round, you’ll be killed yourself…”
“No, Kat. You stay. This is my problem, not yours.”
“I’m your accomplice, and everyone knows it. I’m just as much to blame.”
“No. You aren’t. If I go, I go alone. I won’t let you come.”
“Too bad. I’ll just follow you. You should know me better by now.”
“What about Toshiko?”
“He’ll be safer here. Now c’mon. We’ve got to get out of here.”
With one more look at the other soldiers, who were starting to advance on them, Rakurai leapt onto one of the rooftops, then onto the catwalk that surrounded the inside perimeter of the fort. Right before the catwalk sentries attacked, he jumped over the side of the wall and landed on the ground outside. While Rakurai had landed in a cat-like crouch, Katsu went rolling off his shoulder and skidded to a stop on the dirt path.
“Couldn’t you possibly land a little lighter?”
“Sorry, mistimed it. Watch it!”
He dodged a flaming arrow and grabbed Katsu just before another struck. Katsu jumped out of Rakurai’s grasp as they ran and loped alongside him. They were soon out of the range of the onslaught and entering the Celestial Forest of the Northern Realm.
“Do you think they’ll follow us?” Rakurai asked, heavily panting for breath and pulling at the leather fastenings of his armor in an attempt to get it off.
“Probably. They’ll figure we won’t get far, so we have to keep moving. Stop fussing with that; you’ll just have to put it back on again.”
“I’m not trying to take it off. I’m just trying to loosen it ‘cause I can’t breathe.”
Katsu rolled his eyes and slackened the straps a little with his claws. He also slashed the ties holding the shoulder-guards in place and let them fall to the ground.
“What’d you do that for?”
“You don’t need them. Besides, you hate them anyway.”
“True enough. Okay, just let me catch my breath and we’ll get going again.”
“What about those wounds? You gonna do anything about them?”
“They’re fine; nothing serious at least. I’ve had worse.”
Rakurai leant up against a tree and closed his eyes. He found it hard to believe that he was finally rid of the monster he’d had to call ‘Father’, but what bothered him more was the fact that he’d never be able to return to the Shiroka Clan. Where would he go? Would he ever see his brother again?
‘Probably not,’ he thought morosely.
He was shaken out of his reverie as Katsu jumped onto his shoulder again and meowed loudly in his ear.
“As ready as I’m ever gonna be.”
By the next morning, the two had found themselves on the busiest main street of a small town. Looking out of place in his armor and dirty, bloodstained clothes, Rakurai wandered in the direction of the nearest inn. Katsu was trailing along at his heels like a puppy, trying to keep his tail from getting stepped on.
“Hey, demon! Stop right there!”
Both Rakurai and Katsu turned simultaneously as two human guards made their way over to them.
“What do you think you’re doing here? Don’t you know that demons aren’t permitted in this town? You can’t just waltz in here like you belong. Now get out.”
Rakurai smirked and briefly flashed his fangs at them.
“You really think you can toss me out? I’d like to see you try, but I’m really not in the mood for any of your guys’ bullshit right now. I just need a place to stay for a few days time.”
The sentries looked at each other, then back at Rakurai. They seemed to find it absurd that a demon was actually trying to be civil instead of trying to kill them like any other demon would. Then again, they thought, it could be a trap. You never know with demons. With a sigh, one of them replied:
“Alright, demon. You can stay for a few days, and a few days only. And if you cause trouble, then you’ll be exterminated. Got it?”
“Sure thing. We’ll be gone by the end of the week.”
True to their word, the two demons were ready to leave by the end of the fourth day. The wounds Rakurai had attained had all sealed themselves and were in the process of healing fully. As they were exiting the town though, a commotion at the guard tower caught their attention.
“What do you think could be going on?”
“Maybe the Clan caught up with us. It’s still a possibility.”
“Please don’t say that, Katsu. I don’t want that to be the case.”
They both morphed into their animal forms and jumped onto a nearby roof to get a look over the crowd. What they saw were two demons, one male and one female, speaking with the tower guards.
Both youkai were obviously of royal descent, for their attire was of finest material and superior quality. The woman was wearing a royal purple silk kimono with a lavender obi and an embroidered black traveling cloak. She had her knee-length black-streaked auburn hair carelessly tied back into a ponytail with a green ribbon and every so often would reach up to push a few loose strands back behind her pointed ears. The other demon, whom Rakurai and Katsu assumed to be the other’s husband, was clad in a double layer navy blue haori with matching hakama and silvery demon-bone armor. His longish jet black hair was also tied in a ponytail, but with a little more care than his mates was.
“Who do you think they are? And why aren’t the guards trying to turn them away?”
“Don’t know, Kurai. They’re high-authority though. Maybe they’re messengers for one of the Realms.”
Seeming to have gotten the information they were looking for, the nobles turned to leave, nodding curtly at the sentries. From his perch on Rakurai’s shoulders, Katsu saw that the male bore the four-point star on his forehead…the four-point star that marked him as the Leader of the Northern Realm, Kingdom Polaris…
“Holy friggin’ crud!! That’s Lord Nobaru and Lady Aleera!!”
Rakurai yelped slightly and shook Katsu off.
“You’re joking! The Myojo’s here?”
He leapt to another roof and took another look at the couple. Seeing Katsu was right, he shrank further back onto the roof and out of sight of them. Katsu joined him a moment later.
“The Northern Royalty came all the way here to find us? Unbelievable.”
“Believe it, my friend. They’re right there.”
“But why? Why not just leave us to the Clan?”
“Because they know the Clan is lazy and won’t search for long.”
They watched the Lord and Lady for a while to see which direction they’d take and then they started traveling in the opposite way.
“So where to now, Katsu?”
“The Southern Realm probably. It seems to be the only Realm that isn’t in alliance with the North and also the easiest to hide in.”
They reached the outskirts of the village and stopped. Rakurai sighed and looked back beyond the town at the direction from which they had come. Reality finally seemed to sink in that he would probably never return to his childhood home. Katsu glanced at him as they walked in silence, but he couldn’t really understand what Rakurai was going through. He was used to moving from place to place unexpectedly and had already relocated several times from his family home in the Eastern Mountains to the Eastern branch of the Shiroka Clan and finally to the Northern branch of the Shiroka Clan. This was just one more hill to overcome after he had lost his family to the war between the Demon Realms and the Imperial Country and had been left to fend for himself; to join the Shiroka Clan and become the warrior his father had once been.
Katsu was shaken out of his daze as Rakurai woofed slightly above his head.
“We’ve got company.”
He motioned into the branches of a large tree by the path. Katsu was beginning to think Rakurai was out of his mind when a howl sounded in the distance and a young girl jumped from the shadows of the tree with an answering howl. She caught sight of the boys and glared at them with piercing sapphire eyes, seeming to see right through their animal disguises. The slight breeze ruffled her mahogany-colored bangs as she turned and sped off. On her forehead was the exact replica of Lord Nobaru’s NorthStar marking. It didn’t take long for Rakurai and Katsu to figure out that she was more than likely the heiress to the Starlit Kingdom.
“Great, the Princess of the North saw us. Pick up the pace a little, because I get the feeling she knew exactly who we are.”
“Just what I was thinking, friend.”
They immediately broke into a lope and really started to put some distance between themselves and the Northern Family.