Thorn of Crowns
A Bargains Fanfic

By George Woodruff



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The sun shone softly on the city, nestled in the valley below. Aikan looked out at the scene and heaved a happy sigh. Behind him he could hear his mother preparing supper. He looked down at his baby brother playing in the yard and gently kicked the ball back to him. He then continued on his way to his kata yard and began to practice with his boken and pell.

Cut, slash, parry thrust, guard, counter thrust, block. He went through all the moves his uncle had taught him before going away for the summer. Aikan had practiced diligently and was hoping that his skill had improved significantly that his uncle would consent to let him train with the Katana as he had promised. The youth worked at it seemingly effortlessly, appearing to dance about the pell like a martial Barishnikov. The air about him silent despite the speed with which he moved. His skill such, he hoped that, he moved effortlessly through the resistence of the air as his Taoist instructor had told him the great masters of old had. He breathing was relaxed, the sweat on his body more from the heat of the sun then the exertion of the exercise. The only sound was the clack of wood on wood as he struck the pell and its protrusions and the occasional kia that he let out to direct his chi.

He was in a Zen state and realised it was time to end his instruction when a part of him told him that supper was ready and his uncle was behind him. He deviated on the attack he was executing and turned it into a ordering of his arms as he turned about and bowed to his uncle.

"Very good boy, but I knew you knew I was there," he said from behind him. Aikan punched backwards with the boken on a whim and did manage to surprise his uncle that time.

"Good one Aikan, I didn't realise you were that fast on your mental feet. It used to be that you would have given yourself away five seconds before you moved. I barely had a seconds warning this time." And the tall blonde man smiled at the black haired boy as he tousled his hair.

"Uncle Akira, what are you doing looking like a gaijin?" Aikan laughed.

"Oh?" Akira laughed. "I forgot to deconstruct this appearance when I got home, no matter I prefer to be natural anyway. The air about Akira seemed to shift and in the place of the Aryan gentleman stood an anthropomorphic fox, grizzled with age and experience.

"Now that's the uncle I know," Aikan laughed. Aikan's brother came to the kata yard gate.

"Ma says ta co... Uncle Akira!" the boy yelled and launched himself at his avuncular relative. The kitsune laughed as he caught the child. "Now Kuno... didn't you have something to do for your mother?" he teasingly chided the boy.

"Oh yes honoured uncle, please join us for our evening repast." Aikan rolled his eyes at his brother's show of vocabulary... the piker couldn't be bothered to do that at the best of times except of course for their mother and Akira whom they both loved and adored.

"Then let us retire to the dining lounge now young fox. Go and tell your mother we come." Kuno laughed as Akira tickled him as he set him down. The tyke ran back into the house, his voice carrying like a bellowing ox as he disappeared from sight around the corner. Kuno still didn't understand the concept of acoustic. Both of them laughed in a good natured way at the child's antics.

Dinner was a delight, sushi and sashimi, to celebrate the return of Akira. Grandfather presided over the table, pouring out sake for the adults, and regaling all with tales of his sonıs adventures and misdeeds as a youth. Akira blushed appropriately, having assumed a nihonese form that complemented the crimson cheeks and his kimono. As the first course ended and the second began, it was Akane, his sister's turn to tell stories of her brother. The table became more respectful at first as she detailed her affectionate memories of him from her earliest years, then as she came to the recollections her teen years, the mood grew more ribald as she recalled mutual shenanigans. Akira laughed uproariously at events he hadn't thought about in years. As the last course was being served it was Akira's turn to regale the family with tales of his trip this past summer. Some were very serious others were downright shockingly hilarious. By the time dessert was served the family was in tears of laughter over it all.

Dessert began pleasant enough, the younger members of the family expressing their joy at having their uncle back amongst them. Then Akira's siblings and finally his father spoke of the joy of a returned son. The meal finished there was the typical confusion and orchestration and jumbled choreography of getting the kids to bed when they wanted to hang off their uncle. The jovial chaos and confusion was suddenly shattered by a demonic bellow that shook the very foundations of the house.

The laughter and raucous joy of the children's antics were replaced with screams, yells and bellows as the Oni burst in upon them. The demons erupted through the ceiling, floors and walls. They fell upon all who came within reach. Babes were devoured whole, infants were torn limb from limb. Maidens and youth were defiled as they were killed. Aikan raced after his uncle to the armoury. There they encountered a large black monstrosity. Akira dodged left and then struck hard at the devil's chest with an open palm as he bellowed out a chant. The demon screamed as the force of the conviction of the holy words struck it. It wavered in temporal reality for a moment, fluctuating between the material and demonic planes before imploding in a foul, howling stench.

"Here boy!" Akira handed Aikan a katana that was fairly screaming to be used. Electricity crackled from the sheath and hilt as he took hold of it. "Turn boy! Fight!" Akira bellowed. Aikan spun and drew, the blade flashing as he did so, the lightning arcing along the blade and playing over the face of the attacking demon. It shrieked as the electricity slapped it about and screamed a horrendous death rattle as the blade clove its chest from sternum to collar bone. Black ichor sprayed the two kitsune. The pair leapt over the disintegrating corpse and charged back down the hall.

The scene that greeted them as they entered nearly froze the blood in their veins. Blood and dismembered bodies lay everywhere. Skulls and bones gleamed from the steaming faeces that the demons left as they ate and slew. In the corner was Grandfather, Akane his mother and his little brother Kuno. The trio were surrounded by a pile of rotting Oni corpses and the blue shimmer of an energy field. Akira and Kuno sighed in relief that those three were at least safe. The demons were milling about futilely seeking ways to get past the barrier that had already killed a number of them.

Akira let out a war cry and attacked the milling demons from behind. Aikan charged in as well. Swords slashing and stabbing. Two of the demons fell to Akira in the first blow. Aiken took out one before any of the demons were aware. Three more fell before the attention of all the Oni was redirected from the trio in the corner and focussed on the two swordsmen. It was then that tragedy struck.

Kuno saw his brother and uncle and ran to them to help. That collapsed the barrier and the first demon he ran past reached out and tore his head off. Akane screamed at the murder of her baby and charged the demon. The ferocity of her attack dispelled the demon, but her screams alerted other Oni. She screamed in defiance as she was grabbed by five of the demons, she struggled and fought with them but in the end she was torn in to pieces by them. Her head sailed through the air. Her arms flailed as the life left them, her legs twitching and kicking, her torso gushing blood from five gaping wounds.

Grandfather let out a fierce bellow of rage at this and ripped the head off of one Oni, its corpse danced a weird jig as it flailed about, the flesh on its rapidly decaying bones, melting like wax in an oven. He fastened his hands upon another only to have his chest caved in with a back handed blow that imbedded him in a wall. His skull crushed and oozing blood and brains. His nose, mouth, eyes and ears dripping with fluids as well.

Now Akira and Aiken were alone and facing nearly a score of the demons. Fire filled their veins as the last of their family had been killed. Both let out impassioned screams of rage and threw themselves at the remainder of the demons. Black ichor and limbs flew everywhere, but the bloodletting was not all one sided. Aikan and Akira both took wounds and damage from their foes.

Half an hour later found the pair of them bleeding, breathless and torturing the information of why they were attacked from the remaining demon. The oni was pinned to the floor by each of its limbs with daggers. Akira and Aikan were cutting slivers off of it when it failed to answer a question or gave a bullshit answer. They never did anything that would dispel the oni, in fact they did everything they could to prevent it from escaping or being pulled back to the demonic plane. Eventually the monster capitulated.

"We were sent to kill that one," it shook its head at Aiken.

"Why is that spawn of a worm!" Akira wheezed as Aiken bound his wounds.

"Because he is the re-incarnation of Momotaro," gasped the demon.

"Momo... who? what?" Aikan growled.

"Momotaro," Akira growled, "he was a hero from Japanese legend. He was found by an old couple in a peach (hence his name 'eldest son of a peach'). Momotaro was joined by a dog, a monkey and a pheasant. Together they had many adventures. In one of them, they sailed to an island ruled by demons whom they slew, thereby liberating two princesses." He then looked at the demon. "Who told you he was Momotaro," as he stepped on the Oni's groin.

"The Dread Lord, the August Star of Heaven!" the Oni screamed.

"Amatsu Mikaboshi! The god of evil!" Aikan spat, and stepped on the oni's third eye. The demon screamed in pain.

"And where did he get the idea that I was Momotaro re-incarnated?"

"Prophesy... " the demon screamed.

"Bullshit!" and Aiken snapped its neck with a vicious kick. The demon began to bubble and melt, the smell of decay fresh again. Akira looked at him and shrugged.

"Well boy, I'd not have done that, but I doubt he had more to tell us. So... Mikaboshi thinks youıre Momotaro... that explains why you're the target. He wasn't too happy about that island thing. Arggh!" He grunted in pain as he began to pull the daggers from the floor.

"Sit back uncle, I'll clean that up." Akira nodded and collapse back on his haunches.

The rest of the night was spent cleaning and the early morning sun rose over the pair of them standing over the mass grave that they had dug. They wanted to do separate individual graves, but the destruction and dismemberment of the attack had made putting bodies back together impossible. Aiken looked down into the pit and shed a few tears as Akira spoke words of peace and blessing over the dead. The next week Aiken repeated those words over Akira's grave. His wounds had killed him too. He'd lain there, coughing up blood and trying to teach Aiken a lifetime's worth of experience in a week. He warned him that Mikaboshi wouldn't let up until he knew for certain that Aiken wasn't Momotaro. That would be a journey in and of itself. He also warned him against the temptation of revenge. He could lose everything in that trap. And so it was that Aiken stood over his uncle's grave. Wishing he could cry the tears that were dammed up behind his eyes, instead, he made his solemn promise to his uncle to not give into the temptation of revenge while avenging his slaughtered family. A curse on his lips for Amatsu Mikaboshi and his horde of demons, he turned and walked off toward the rising sun.


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Thorn of Crowns ©2001-2002 by George Woodruff

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