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An original story
by Jiro Maeda


Another place… Another time…

Fires were raging all over the courtyard as the bodies of the dead guardsmen continue to swim in their own pools of blood.  The rebels had triumphed, the capitol had fallen, and all that remained was the brutal annihilation of the ruling house.  The rebel troops had already began to ransack the castle, pillaging, destroying and gorging themselves on gold, wine, food and the occasional women who earned an honest living serving the household.  The hollers of the suffering people echoed throughout.  The air was rancid with the smell of burning fires and dead corpses.  Yet what remained of the royal guards fought on, throwing their lives away so as to buy their rulers time to flee, to seek help.  For when they fell, there would be nothing else except the anarchy that the crazed Lord Ancharis’ reign would sow.

Deep within the burning castle, a group of people was fleeing for their very lives.  The emperor, his wife and their daughter, protected by The Six, an elite force of royal guards who are said to be mystical in nature, were hurrying towards the secret passage beneath the throne room. The princess periodically ceased to move forward, every once in a while her face turned towards the screams of her ladies in waiting, who were being ill-used by the barbarians that had laid siege to their home. She heard the death scream of Adora, her most cherished chambermaid as well as her friend, as the woman tried to escape being raped. It was then that she stopped, almost in tears, her royal training barely able to keep her feelings in check.

“I cannot run anymore, Father, I cannot… not while our people suffer outside.” She moaned as she clung to her mother. Her tears marred her unearthly beauty; still radiant despite the sorrow she is feeling as well as the sorry state she was in.  Her father, the emperor, merely shook his head as a solitary tear fell from his eye. His hands shook in impotent fury, knowing full well that he could do nothing, yet wishing he could do more.

“We will return, daughter, or rather, you will…” he said.  His words were almost soft enough not to be heard as he turned around and gripped his sword, the sword given to the eldest child in his family, the sign that whoever bears it also bears upon their shoulders the duty to govern the empire.

The Six guardians stood still as the import of those words resonated in their brains. “Majesty, please. Your death would mean nothing, save to destroy the hope that your people still hold onto. Once you are gone, there will be nothing left for them, and for us as well,” intoned the largest of the guardians, his voice grave yet at the same time soft.  The way he grasped the hilt of his enormous sword betrayed the anxiety that he felt, for this was not merely his emperor, this was the boy that cared enough to befriend the child that many had alienated because of his size.

The older man smiled and spoke in an empty voice.  “Tetsuya Houyama, my good friend. I thank you for your concern, but your pleas are for naught.  My place is here, with my people.”  He then unlimbered the royal sword Falconar, and his clothes changed from ceremonial silk to the royal battle armor, the armor worn by the leaders of Gareth since time immemorial.  “My wife will probably insist on staying with me, but my daughter must not be allowed to fall to the hands of that beast.  You will swear to me, old friend, on your eternal soul that not a hair on my daughter’s head will be harmed,” the liege-lord commanded. His eyes were fierce, and his tone let it known that he would suffer no rebuke.

The one known as Houyama merely bowed and saluted, fist to heart, and went inside the secret passageway carrying the protesting princess kicking and screaming as they entered. His companions followed soon after.

The emperor and his wife held hands, as they looked on while the passageway sealed itself, the protective magic already masking its presence.  They then turned around as one, bravely facing whatever cruel fate was to befall them, with dignity befitting their station.  They had no regrets; they were going to die together, and their beloved daughter was safe…

Deep within the hidden passageway, the wails of the princess went unheard as her mind kept on replaying her parents’ certain fate.  She pounded on the back of the goliath carrying her as they continued steadily towards the portal, the one that led to their imminent safety.

The pain that her petite hands caused on the hulking guard’s back were miniscule compared to what he felt deep within him.  Tetsuya, the one known as Houyama, felt ashamed. Deep in the recesses of his heart he despised himself for not risking his life for his lord; for him it was the gravest betrayal and the most deplorable act of cowardice that one of the Six— let alone the leader— would ever accomplish.  He felt the unfamiliar sensation of tears falling down his craggy face beneath the enchanted helm that he wore, and he vowed vengeance for his ruler and for the honor he had lost fulfilling his liege-lord’s final wishes.

“Unhand me, coward! If you cannot bear to die in place of my father, I can.  Your acts are unbecoming of the Captain of the elite Guards!”  The princess screamed, yelling at Houyama’ ears as they neared the portal. Suddenly, shouts and footsteps were heard behind them.

“It would seem that we have been found, Elder. Shall we stand our ground?” Asked the one known as Kitsune as he unlimbered his weapon of choice, a mighty battle-axe.  The rest were doing the same, preparing for the fight that they expected to be inevitable.  It was to their surprise, therefore, when their leader tossed the princess towards his second in command.

“Here, Daishi, you take the princess, as well as my totem.  I will try to hold them off while you make your escape,” he commanded, readying his sword, Onyx, and flexing the muscles in his sword arm.

The second in command, he who was known as Daishi, shook his head. “That won’t be possible, brother. I’ve sworn on father’s grave to follow you to the depths of hell itself.  I didn’t mean it in the literal sense, but… here we are. Don’t you expect me to back down now, because I won’t.  Have Kitsune do what you want me to do, for where you fall is where I fall, too.  I will not be denied that privilege,” he answered. What was human of his face was dead serious as he stared ahead, towards what was to be their enemies.

The leader of the Six smiled as he shook his head; inside him pride warred with anger, but in the end his pride for his brother won out.  “Get ready, then, for here they come!" he yelled as he fell into a basic ready stance. He spared a moment to glance at his younger brother.  "We will be depending on you then, Kitsune, to resurrect us on the other side.  Treat our totems well, young one, for they shall be the containers of our souls,” he said, and then with an imperceptible nod, he and Daishi surged forward to meet the slavering horde that wanted their charge dead.

“I’ll be hitting the bars and on women after this!” joked Daishi as he systematically bashed the heads of those that were in the front with his forged iron gauntlets.  His brother was graceful death, hacking and slashing as if he were in a dance; it was to be their last performance, one to be written in the history books, if anyone lived to tell about it.  They would fight to their last breath, but the odds were still against them; yet they were resolute to give as good as they got.  For they fought not to survive, but to make sure that their lady survived, she who was the remnant of a remnant of their home.  

Kitsune pushed the princess through. He looked back and saw his brothers fighting and slowly tiring. They won’t last much longer, so he had to make sure their sacrifice would not be for naught.  He pointed at the portal with his chin and shoved his totem as well as that of his elder brothers’ to Kageio, their only sister.  She shook her head frantically, silently begging him to come with them.  Raigo had already gone ahead to make certain that there was no danger waiting for the princess when she slipped through.  He caressed her face and removed his mask long enough to kiss his sister’s forehead, and then he pushed her through.  He heard the pained curse of his elder brothers, a signal that he must do what he had to do immediately. He bid goodbye to them as well as his other siblings as he raised his axe and struck… The portal rang like a bronze gong as it shook and began to crack. He turned and saw that Houyama had already fallen and Daishi was soon to follow.  He muttered a prayer to whatever gods that were still listening as he rushed headfirst into the fray, engaging the enemy for the last in this lifetime.

Raigo was not the brightest light in the bunch, but even he knew that something was amiss when the ground shook beneath his feet. His fears were soon confirmed when he saw his sister hurtling out of the portal with her imperial bitchiness, the portal closing behind them with an explosion that hurled him into a nearby tree.  When he looked again, the young boy was stricken to note that he couldn't see the portal door nor feel the aura that signified its presence.   He ran towards the place where the portal once stood, only to be held back as his sister hugged him to her, her warm salty tears falling on his face.  It was then that he noticed what his sister was clutching ever so fervently, the totems of his elder brothers.  He let loose a wail that showed merely a shadow of the pain he felt.


To be continued.

Chapter 1
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