Onryō Kaidan

-a strange tale of the vengeful ghost-


I

Pounding rains have left the countryside a ruin of mud. Strange beasts and phantoms stalk the tracts of land that man has left behind. It is only midday and the darkness has crawled in upon this forgotten place.

A solitary figure cuts a path through the rising fog. The remains of a once thriving village rise from the mist like ethereal shades to meet him. His are the only feet to have traveled these roads in a great while. His eyes search over the wooden bones of the homes left empty; their paper-like walls having deteriorated long ago. The wanderer halts as he comes to the remnants of a small tea house. A memory stirs in him, unbidden.

It was here, in this small township in the out-lands of Echigo, that he had spent the last days of his life. It was many years before, when he was but a roving samurai, that he had sought this place out as a means to stay his blade. No fame seeker would ever have guessed that the 'legendary' swordsman would retire to such a place.

An expression that could have been a smile spread across the wanderer's face. Remembering the peace he had once found here and the freedom that came with the sheathing of his sword gave him a short-lived moment of reprieve. But it faded soon enough, as all things bittersweet must. For it was this same place that gave rise to his truest grief and would lead invariably to his death.

Shoop... Shoop... Shoop...The sound pulled the traveler from his reverie. His grip tightened around the hilt of his sword. He listened intently to see if the noise was repeated. Shoop...Shoop...

Dropping to one knee, the lone venturer swung free his giant curved nodachi. The blade flashed as it whipped over head. There was a sickening sound of flesh being severed from within the dense fog. The sword was back inside its sheath by the time the ghastly disembodied face rolled into view. Sighing, the swordsman rose to his feet.

It was a Yokai that he was looking down upon. Ghoulish forms that retained very little of their humanity. This one, in particular, was one of the shambling corpses most often seen; A mindless beast with a hunger for the blood of man. And yet there was something almost familiar about this creature, even as the lone wanderer crushed what was left of its head underfoot.

Shoop...A shuffling from behind. Then another from his left. Shoop...Shoop...Through the mists he could see the feint likenesses of men, surrounding him from every side...

“I remember when this used to be such a nice place,” he said to himself, bracing for the attack by the throngs of undead horrors that were closing in on him...Shoop...Shoop...


II



Tadaharu's soldier's drew quickly into formation outside the gate of his towering castle. Lord Horio himself strolled through the ranks to ensure all was in readiness. Glances passed from face to face; No foreign envoy had ever received such a welcome.

It seemed as though all of Izumo had come to catch a glimpse of the strange visitor; People of every size, shape, and means littered the roads of the castle-village. There was an air of anticipation as samurai and farmer alike waited nervously for any sign of the Honored Guest. No one knew exactly what to expect; Not one of those gathered had seen a Karasu before.

It wasn't long that they waited before sightings of the man were confirmed just south of the Matsue area. The murmurs from that region did nothing to prepare the awaiting masses for the singular sight of this most strange person. Gasps erupted from the congregated people as they lay eyes upon the mysterious figure; He was a man of normal height, thick beard, graying hair, and a warrior's build. He held in his right hand a sheathed nodachi; a colossal sword for the average samurai. Though the thing that was most responsible for the shock of the villagers was what this Karasu pulled behind him.

A path of blackened blood trailed behind the large bag the stranger was dragging through the streets. The stench from it was inescapable and what appeared to be human entrails continually spilled from a hole in the sack. The hordes of onlookers dispersed as he made his way to the castle proper.

Lord Horio met the newcomer at the main gate, with his legions of samurai in line behind him; A public display of sovereignty not lost on the Karasu Warrior.

“You are Onryo?” the lordship asked, as he took visual inventory of his guest. A deep scar ran the length of the man's face behind his left eye. He nodded in answer. Horio admitted, “I imagined an assassin of the Karasu to be...different.”

“Most do...” said Onryo, dropping the seething bag of gore at the Noble's feet. “A gift for the Lord Horio Tadaharu.”

Horio scrutinized the contents of the bag; made a face as though he were sick.

“Heads?” He asked, unsure of the meaning of this gesture.

“Fifteen heads actually. I assume that the price on Yokai scalps is the same here as it is in the other regions.” Onryo nudged the sack with his foot to expose one of the rotting skulls; obviously infected with what has been called the 'Absence'.

The nobleman gagged at the sight. After a time he replied, “Of course, but isn't one belonging to the Karasu Clan forbidden such profit. Duty, honor, and such...”

“The Karasu are indeed forbade any profit derived from doing what is their given duty. Fortunately for you I no longer count myself among the numbers of that clan...So the fee stands,” Onryo calmly stated as he slid something from his waste. It was a small official-looking writ. He handed it to his host and added, “And as for the reason I came...I will require twice the price quoted in this to complete the job you ask.”

Lord Horio smiled at this, “Of course we shall pay you as you see fit, for this task and for the heads you have collected. You have done the Province of Izumo a great service by removing so many of the Yokai for us. I am happy you have agreed to help us, Master Onryo. I was afraid that someone of your experience would be uninterested in our case...as that was the position taken by your former clansmen.”

The scar on Onryo's face twitched as he responded, “ We have come to differ on many things, the Karasu and I.”

“Then I shall have my general give you the details of this matter at your earliest convenience.”

.