Kazuki Samurai Shodown
Fan Fiction
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Basara's Last Dance
by Mark Patraw
Homepage: Mark's Art Page

      Sogetsu Kazama surveyed the ocean of destruction that lay before him. The wind did not blow, but the stench of fire and death rose freely to assail him anyway. Broken stones and charred lumber were strewn everywhere, radiating in a circle from the center of the great explosion. Here and there, a small fire burned, but weakly - there was little left to burn.
      "Too late…" Sogetsu grimaced, closing his weary eyes against the desolation. He felt completely lost and empty inside, like a vessel with too many holes in it. Everyone he cherished was gone, vaporized in the explosion. And what was worse, had they not been consumed in the flames, he would likely have destroyed them himself.
      "Kazuki…Hazuki…" a single tear slid painfully from his left eye. Brother, sister, both gone. And what did he have left? His damn honor, nothing else. The code of the Ninja, his life, his sole reason for survival, had cost him everything, including his soul.
      "Oh, Kazuki! If only I had joined you, things might have been different…" Sogetsu whispered softly, but his words died in the empty air.
      He wrung his fists, but it was useless. Time can only flow forward, never backwards he reminded himself sadly. I will live with my shame and dishonor forever, unless…
      A grim smile touched the corner of Sogetsu's lips. Slowly, he slid his short blade out of the sheath at his side. He looked at it. So sharp, such a fine blade - so easy to let it slide home into a new sheath…then his pain would end.
      The very same blade you would have used to end Kazuki's life, he reminded himself.
      He threw the weapon aside with disgust and a snarl, and fell heavily to his knees in total despair. His tears fell freely into the soot and ash, which hungrily swallowed them as though they had never been.
      "Hey…b..big brother…watch where…you throw…t..that…thing…" Sogetsu snapped to his feet instantly as he heard that familiar, though frail, mocking voice.
      "Kazuki!" he yelled, "Where are you?"
      Sogetsu scanned his surroundings feverishly, spinning in circles trying to locate the source of his brother's voice, or the blade he has tossed aside angrily. Then he saw it, just behind a large section of charred tiles, his sword…and a dancing flame that seemed to beckon him.
      "Kazuki!!!" Sogetsu called again as he ran to the flame, jumping and dodging the debris. He tripped and fell several times, so great was his joy.
      He rounded the crumbling structure, and there his brother lay, half buried in the aftermath of the blast. Overjoyed, Sogetsu attacked the rubble vigorously with his hands, trying to unearth his fallen sibling.
      "D..don't." Kazuki's heavy hand gripped his shoulder weakly. It was then that Sogetsu really looked at his brother, and his heart sank.
      His bright, red hair was black with ash, and wet with his own blood, and it hung limply in his eyes. His eyes stared clearly at him, but he could tell that it took great effort on Kazuki's part to even focus them. Dried blood caked his lips and jaw. One of his arms was badly charred and broken; Sogetsu could see the end of one of the bones poking through the forearm. His other arm cradled his lower abdomen, and blood seeped freely from between his fingers.
      "Kazuki…" Sogetsu whispered. His was the power to control nature's nectar, water; and he summoned forth some now in the palm of his hand and brought it to his brother's scorched lips. Inwardly, he smiled at the irony for the thousandth time. He controlled water, his brother fire. What had their masters been thinking, training them as such? Fire and water were eternally doomed to be mortal foes…
      "I'm f..f..finished Sogetsu. C..come here to h..help me on m..my way..?"
      "No, Kazuki. I was a fool, I see that now. You were right. I should have helped you save Hazuki from that devil, Amakusa. And now…" he let his words trail off into nothingness. Kazuki only stared at him, wincing from the pain that racked his tortured body. Sogetsu wanted to wilt under that gaze, they both knew such words meant nothing now.
      "Hazuki?" Sogetsu asked at last, asking the question he knew Kazuki wanted to hear.
      Kazuki closed his eyes.
      Sogetsu did the same. He knew Hazuki was dead; that he had found Kazuki, even half-alive was miraculous. Finding them both alive would be absurd, foolish to even hope of such a thing. Nothing could have survived the destruction of Amakusa's castle, nothing.
      "At least she died quickly, in the blast." Sogetsu whispered, remembering his sister's soft smile one more time, a sight he would never again see. Her shining black hair blowing in the wind…
      "N..not in the b..blast." Kazuki croaked with some effort.
      Sogetsu opened his eyes slowly.
      "What do you mean Kazuki? She was in the castle…"
      "Y..yes..but she…" Kazuki shivered.
      Sogetsu drew closer to his brother, and again summoned a handful of water to wet his brother's parched lips.
      "Tell me, Kazuki, please." He whispered, "I know it will be hard…"
      Kazuki coughed, and flecks of wet and dry blood flew from his lips.
      "Y..yes..I'll try. Y..you should know." He stammered at last.
      "I..It all began with that bastard Basara…" He began:

      It all began with that bastard Basara. No brother, I had never heard of the man, if you could even call him that, before our first encounter either. Trust me, although he is almost certainly dead now like I soon will be, you would never wish to cross his path. But, I'll come to that soon enough.
      The beginnings of my tale you already know. Learning that an unknown villain had kidnapped our dearest sister, Hazuki - I departed to search for her against the wishes of our ninja clan. Marked for death because of my insubordination and the breaking of our clan's sacred trusts, the clan sent you, my brother, to administer my punishment.
      After many adventures (and more than a few near escapes from your assassination attempts brother), I finally learned the identity of Hazuki's kidnapper and his location. None other than Shirou Tokisada Amakusa! How the resurrection of that madman went unnoticed by our best ninja spies, I'll never know, but it was he who had stolen her away - and to use her life force to control a demon at that, although again, I didn't know it at the time.
      At length, I tracked the bastard to his secluded castle fortification, and that's when everything went wrong.
      Stealthily, I had climbed the rocky outcropping that led to the entrance of Amakusa's abode. Oh, what a castle Sogetsu! It's so much dust now, but you should have seen it. It reached to the heavens above, but just looking at it sent chills down your spine. Most of the windows were dark, but strange, green lights lit the highest tiers. And it was old, so very old, it looked like it might collapse on itself at any moment, but you could tell it had once been grand.
      Anyway, I decide that Amakusa would likely have set booby traps for intruders, so I decided to scale the outside walls - child's play for a ninja like me or yourself. No sooner had I laid a hand on the wall to begin my ascent when I heard the distant rattle of metal. I spun around and saw nothing - at first. Mercenaries under Amakusa's control perhaps? The clinking became louder, whatever was approaching was getting closer, but yet, I still could not find their source. I peered deeper into the darkness.
      And then I saw it. A shadow, blacker than night, moving along the ground towards me! It was from this shadow that the sound of what I now recognized as chain links jingling came from. I placed my hand on the hilt of my blade and summoned forth a fire spirit to aid me, for I was sure the shadow was an ill omen. The flame I summoned provided a faint, dancing light, even though it wasn't very big. I resisted the urge to create a larger one, for Amakusa, or whatever guards he might have would surely have seen it.
      The shadow stopped moving towards me when it was about a body's length away. I jumped back a few feet, but it remained where it was. I noticed the sound of metal clinking had also stopped. Now that the shadow was closer, I could see it was a strange shadow indeed. It was pitch black as I said, but the surface seemed to ripple like water; even stranger, it reflected no light. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up just looking at it.
      I stood completely motionless for about a minute, just staring at the shadow, but it showed no further signs of life.
      Then it laughed. Oh, what a horrible laugh! It went on and on, louder and louder. I thought surely Amakusa himself would come down from the upper chambers of his great castle to see who dared shatter the stillness of the night with such a cackle. I imagined him peering out a window, a scowl on his face, and a candle in his hand.
      Uneasily, I moved even further back from the shadow.
      Although I thought it would never end, the laughter slowly subsided to muffled giggles. And then the center of the shadow parted. Out of the rift rose a dark, misshapen shape. Slowly, I recognized it as a head. I could not see the thing's face, for it was dark and it was obscured by its long, unkept hair. Like a butterfly emerging from a strange, mutant cocoon, the figure continued to grow out of the shadow.
      It was a man, or at least it looked like one. He was naked to the waste, and thin, so very thin; he looked like he was made out of dead, twisted, tree branches. Its arms and upper chest were knotted with fearsome scars, some of which looked like they must have been near-fatal wounds. The giggling continued, but abruptly stopped when it had emerged up to its knees out of the shadow.
      "Well, now, I almost forgot you, didn't I?" The thing murmured in a high pitch shriek as it bent down and began to dig around inside the shadow for something.
      "Who are you, and what do you want demon?" I asked it, but it ignored me and continued its search.
      "Hmmmmm? Where did I put it Kagaribi? I had it a moment ago… Ahhh…Yes! There it is!" The creature continued, and I heard the chain rattle again. Whatever it was looking for, it had found it. I eased my blade several inches out of its scabbard, and readied the fire spirit I had summoned for attack.
      He stood up again, now with a length of chain in his hands. Whistling a happy tune, he began to wrap it around his right arm merrily. The chain ended with a deadly weapon I had never seen before. It looked like a giant shuriken - it was a circle of steel surrounded by three sickle shaped blades.
      "Ahhh! Much better! Can't go to the party without proper attire after all, right Kagaribi my love?" He giggled again, gripping his circle of death tightly.
      I looked around cautiously. Who was this Kagaribi he was talking to? Careful, Kazuki, I told myself; this thing is dangerous, and obviously crazy.
      "Again I ask you, who are you demon, and what do you want?" I asked the thing again. This time I got a reaction. It stopped chuckling, and snapped its head to stare at me, I still couldn't see his eyes, but I could feel them burning into me. Its grip tightened on its blade, as did mine.
      It laughed again and mockingly bowed me.
      "Kubikiri Basara, at your service, but you can call me "Neck Cutter", it's what I do best after all…" At this, he doubled over again, almost choking to death on his laughter.
      "As for what I want, REVENGE, and BLOOD, and DEATH!!!"
      I drew my blade, and this Basara creature jumped out of the shadow backwards, landing like a spider about three body lengths away. He was so very fast and agile as to be unbelievable.
      "Hee, Hee, Hee. Not revenge against you my fiery friend, but he who resides within. But, if you stand in my way, I'll be more than happy to slash your throat as well…" It cackled again.
      "You wish to destroy Amakusa? I too have a score to settle with him. We could work together, you and I. Two warriors stand a better chance than one." I offered hopefully.
      But the thing only laughed again.
      "Amakusa? What use have I for that fool? Or for you? It's Zankuro I seek. Zankuro the Destroyer! Killer of life and love and all I held dear. Amakusa is nothing." Basara screeched in reply.
      I frowned. I had heard of the demon Zankuro's murderous rampage some time ago, but he had been slain by the combined efforts of a band of heroic samurai and other fighters. It was even rumored that one of the samurai had been Zankuro's own son…
      "Zankuro is dead." I informed him, "Everyone knows that."
      "Oh? Amakusa is supposedly dead as well, yet up above in the castle's highest chambers he sits, alive and well. Demons don't die so easily. Amakusa has brought Zankuro forth once again, and this time I will have my revenge!" Basara whispered heavily.
      "Zankuro would never obey Amakusa, they'd destroy each other." I answered. If Amakusa did indeed have Zankuro up there, I was in deep trouble. That mad sorcerer and his black magic were bad enough, but a raging demon as well?
      "I know not the circumstances or dark bargains behind the resurrection, but Zankuro lives again, at least he almost lives…" Basara broke into his mad cackle again, but suddenly stopped and turned around. He seemed to be listening or looking at something. I noticed his body relaxed and his shoulders slumped, he seemed almost asleep… After a short while, he nodded his head and turned back to me again.
      "Kagaribi is right, I've wasted too much time with you. Mark me well ninja. If you get in my way, you will not live to regret it. Zankuro is MINE." Basara growled at me, and then suddenly fell into the ground, disappearing! The shadow that had brought him to me was gone as well; it was as if he had never been.
      A lesser man might have doubted his senses and thought he had imagined the whole thing, but ninjas are not so easily fooled. I know what I saw was real as the sun and the moon.
      I shivered. Cautiously, I waited a bit, just to be sure that the horrid thing was actually gone. Then, I commanded the fire spirit to return whence it came. It flickered out and disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving me alone in the darkness once more.
      Steeling myself, I turned to the ominous castle walls again and began my climb. I made good progress, and rose quickly. Despite all my training and best efforts, I found it impossible to be silent. I made as much noise, if not more, than a novice. The wood seemed to squeal and crack under even the lightest touch. No doubt it was enchanted by Amakusa to betray intruders like myself. Cursing, I abandoned stealth, and climbed more quickly. If Amakusa or his sentries could hear me coming, what was the point of being cautious?
      At last I reached the upper tiers. I decided to enter a few floors down from Amakusa's chambers. This would give me the best chance at catching him unaware.
      I leapt through the open window and landed in a roll, rising quickly to my feet with my blade drawn. I scanned the dimly lit hall, but saw nothing. Everything was covered with dust and cobwebs, and thickly at that. I scowled. Candles were lit, but there were no footprints in the dust or any other signs of life. Black magic again.
      On the tips of my toes, I slid across the shadows of the wall and down the corridor towards the stairs that would lead me further upward. The air was dead, nothing, no taste, no scent. Nor was there any sound, save my shallow breathing and the rapid pulse of my heart. I felt like I was in some underground tomb that had been undisturbed for eons.
      The next floor was the same as the first, except the candles were more numerous, making the rooms and halls brighter, and the shadows more sinister. Where were the guards? The traps? It seemed Amakusa cared not who entered his lair. He doesn't need guards, Kazuki, I told myself. What did a necromancer of his caliber have to fear from the likes of men? But I was no ordinary man, as Amakusa would soon find out when I got my hands on his spindly little throat.
      I came to another staircase, this one grander than the others. This must be it, I told myself. Two robed figures sat, cross-legged, on tables on either side of the stairs. As I came closer I saw that they were both skeletons. I suspected treachery, surely Amakusa could animate the dead, but they did not stir as I continued.
      The final hall lay before me. Stone pillars rose to the ceiling and great curtains hung everywhere, but their grandeur was diminished again by the dust and decay. I noticed that several stone statues of demons and other beasts stood sentry along the walls as well. Again, unpleasant thoughts of these things coming to life and attacking me filled my head, but no such thing occurred. At the end of the hall stood a great, lacquered and ornate wooden door. It was behind this door that I was sure I would find Amakusa, Hazuki, and God only knew what else.
      Taking a deep breath and preparing for the worst, I strode forward.
      But I never made it to the door.
      A searing pain ripped through the back of my legs. I fell to the ground with a cry of pain. The muscles in my lower legs would not obey me; I flopped around like a fish trying to stand. I had been hamstringed! I crawled backwards, dragging my useless legs, blade before me, searching for my treacherous assailant. I left a trail of my own blood, mixed with the dust in my wake.
      I recognized the laugh instantly.
      "I told you Zankuro was mine boy! No one will interfere with my revenge." Basara stepped out of the shadows on my left, his wicked blade dripping with my blood.
      "Coward!" I spat, "Fight me like a man!"
      "Hee, Hee! I fight like you fight Ninja! I strike from the shadows and the darkness. How can you speak of honor to me when your entire discipline is based on cowardly attacks Ninja? But unlike you, I truly am a shadow. The blackness is me, and I am the darkness…" He rattled on as he advanced on me. I steeled myself for a burst of fiery rage. Handicapped as I was, I was quite capable of making things hot for him, and I do mean hot. I felt the fire build up inside me as I prepared to unleash it.
      Basara sensed that I was about to attack him. He flung his wheel of death, but it wasn't aimed at me, rather one of the grotesque statues directly behind me. The chain caught in the crook of one of the figures many arms. Basara yanked his chain back viciously and the heavy structure fell down on me, pinning me to the ground like an insect. I cried out again under the pain. One of my legs was doubtlessly crushed and the other I couldn't even feel.
      "You BASTARD!" I snarled at him helplessly in pain and rage. I struggled mightily to free myself, but it was no use.
      Basara closed in for the kill, a horrid grin plastered on his face and spittle dripping from his lips. This is it; I told myself, prepared to face my fate.
      Basara suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, cocked his head, and sniffed the air like a wild animal. He began to back away from me slowly, his grin growing even wider, if that was possible. Perhaps his madness might save me I wondered?
      "Zankurooooooooooo…" He purred.
      "Time enough for you later my little red-headed friend. After all, you're not going anywhere, are you?" he cackled again as he turned and strode towards the gate before us.
      No words would come to mind that could adequately represent my rage, so I snarled at him instead.
      Basara stopped in front of the gate, he looked so tiny and insignificant standing before it. He simply stood motionless for a moment, whether gathering his courage or savoring the moment I could not tell, and then he opened the doors.
      I half expected to see the gateway to Hell revealed, but it was only a great chamber. Old and fallen into ruin like all the others. Except for the figure in floating in the center of the room, in a pillar of ghostly fire.
      "Hazuki!!!" I yelled. But she did not answer. What had Amakusa done to her? Was that fire her prison? I could see that some strange pentagram was painted on the floor underneath her from which the fire originated. More of that sorcerer's wicked incantations. Oh, you're going to pay Amakusa, and pay dearly, I told myself. Another voice inside me asked: And how are you going to do that when you can't even walk Kazuki?
      Basara strode purposefully into the room. He stopped and regarded my comatose sister.
      "Leave her alone you Fiend!!!" I screamed, inwardly promising all sorts of nasty plans for Basara if he dared to stir a hair on her head.
      Basara turned and flashed me a wicked smile, but said nothing. He cautiously placed his hand in the ethereal fire, and seeing that it did not burn or cause pain, touched my sister inquisitively.
      "I'm warning you Basara…" I growled.
      But he had already turned away from, his attention pulled to something else; the great alabaster statue that rose majestically from the far end of the great hall. It was impressive, a great man, with long flowing hair and robes holding a gigantic blade aloft to the heavens. It looked familiar…
      "ZANKURO!" Basara mirrored my thoughts with a ghastly wail.
      He screamed something unintelligible and whirled, flinging his disc of doom with all his might. It struck the statue with a metallic thud and returned to Basara's hand. From my vantage point, it seemed the stature had not even been dented.
      Obviously I was right. Basara went into a rage. He flung himself at the cold monolith and attacked it with everything he had.
      "DIE! DIE! DIIIIIIEEEEEEEE!!!" He screamed over and over, slashing, kicking and striking the figure with every ounce of his being.
      But it was useless. Whatever the statue was composed of, nothing Basara could do would even scratch it. At last, he fell heavily to the ground, exhausted. But a second later he was on his feet again and renewed his attack with even more vigor. He threw all his weight against the statue and tried to push it out the window where it might shatter on the rocks below, but it wouldn't move an inch.
      Basara wailed like a demon, but he wouldn't give up. There had to be some way to destroy the thing, and he wouldn't give up till he discovered it, I almost pitied him.
      "Truly pathetic." A musical voice laughed from behind me. I turned my head and saw Him, the master of the castle, Amakusa!
      "Ha, ha! I mean him of course. You, my little pinned fly, are even less deserving of mercy!" Amakusa laughed again and smiled at me.
      The blood in my veins turned to ice, and I could only gape at him, my jaw mouthing words and nothing else. How he had gotten behind me unnoticed I could only guess, and my guesses did nothing to reassure me. I could see only my footprints in the dust. There were no signs of his passage or Basara's. Maybe I'm already dead I told myself, and this is Hell.
      "Mmmm? It seems you're a bit simple in the head, yes?" Amakusa giggled again, and bent down close to me, his ornate robes rustling.
      "Perhaps I know a secret that can stir your thoughts boy." He continued.
      "You see your lovely sister? A wilting blossom to be sure. I'm sucking her dry Kazuki. That's right. And when she's empty, Zankuro's power will be mine. And then…" Amakusa didn't need to finish. Already possessed with near infinite power, Amakusa would be absolutely unstoppable with the addition of Zankuro's.
      My paralysis broke, I lunged at him, at least as much as my restraints would allow. Pain shot down my legs, but I didn't care. Amakusa laughed and floated backwards out of my reach.
      "Now, now Kazuki. Calm yourself. You're about to see what no one has seen in millennia. The birth of a God. Me." He tittered again. "But first", he continued, "I have to deal with your little friend, he's ruining my carpets."
      He laughed again, and from within the folds of his robes, produced a crystal sphere. Black and opaque, it suddenly became clear and many colors burst forth from it.
      Amakusa cast it into the air, and it floated there in front of him. Favoring me with one last smile, that promised a dark future, he strode past me, the orb leading the way.
      He stopped upon entering the threshold of the chamber. Thunder crashed outside, and lightning immediately followed. Basara looked up from the ground. Seeing Amakusa, he leapt to his feet, but Amakusa was faster.
      He gestured towards Basara with his hand, and the orb flew at him like a missile. It crashed into Basara's chest and he flew backwards, struck the statue, and fell face first unto the floor.
      For a moment he did not move, then slowly, Basara rose; a smile from ear to ear, and blood running down his face.
      "Release the demon Amakusa, and maybe I'll let you live." He laughed.
      "Worship me Kubikiri Basara, and maybe I'll let you die." Amakusa purred, and struck him savagely with the crystal again. I heard ribs snap, and Basara fell to one knee. And he continued to fall! Once again Basara sank into the shadows.
      "This might prove interesting after all." Laughed Amakusa as he advanced on the patch of ink that had swallowed Basara.
      Suddenly, Basara's weapon came spinning out of the darkness. Amakusa barely sidestepped in time, the blade flew in an arc and returned into the shadow. Basara's laughter echoed throughout the chamber.
      "Clever, but your tricks won't save you." Amakusa snarled and cast his crystal into the shadow. I heard Basara scream in pain. Amakusa laughed, and began to gesture with his arms. A tower of blue light suddenly burst forth from the shadow, carrying Basara and the crystal with it.
      Basara smashed into the ceiling, and then fell down to the ground again, hard. I heard bones snap again. Surely, Basara was finished?
      But no, slowly, he forced himself half erect with his arms and dragged himself to where his weapon lay. Amakusa followed him slowly, his sphere orbiting his body at great speeds.
      Amakusa allowed him to grasp his weapon, and then sent the magic crystal smashing into his body again. Basara collapsed. He was done; Amakusa was just too strong.
      Basara slowly lifted his head, and looked at me. His wild hair hung in his eyes and his face was smeared with his own blood. A look of absolute failure and hopelessness graced his fallen face. He turned his head to view Amakusa, then the statue, my sister and back to me again. Then he smiled, the most horrendous smile I had ever seen, he gave me a fiendish wink, and then he laughed. He rolled quickly to the side, grabbing his blade from the ground again and stood.
      "You really are an annoying gnat. But you can take punishment, I like that." Amakusa laughed again, his hands at his sides.
      Basara smiled at me again, ignoring Amakusa. What the hell was he up to now? He bent his arm back to throw his blade and let if fly once more, at a new target.
      Amakusa and I both saw what he intended too late. My sister fell to the ground, headless. Decapitated by Basara's wheel of death. There was no blood. She just crumpled to the earth.
      I screamed in agony, but I might as well have been mute. Amakusa's howl drowned out everything.
      "YOU FOOOOOOOOOOL!!!!!!" He wailed.
      There was another great rumble of thunder, and then the world burst with light. I was blinded almost instantly, but for the briefest of seconds I saw it all. Amakusa was literally ripped in half by the blast. Basara merely stood defiant, leering like a ghoul. And the statue! The light came from the statue!
      Zankuro. The demon. The destroyer.
      For what seemed like a long time, I was completely blind. The castle continued to shake and shudder, but this slowly subsided. I blinked my eyes, but the white remained like a heavy fog. Then, slowly, specks of color began to dart and flicker before my eyes, and the world slipped back into focus.
      At first he was just a great blur of many colors, blended into each other like so much pain, but then the colors took on more definition and I beheld him. Zankuro.
      He was a giant of a man. Nine or ten feet tall, a veritable titan. He stood as if in a daze, digesting his surroundings like a favorite meal. His snow-white hair billowed around him, a stark contrast to his tanned and heavily muscled flesh. And his sword, I had never seen such a large blade. Its length ran longer than my height or Basara's.
      Basara. Where was he? I didn't see him, but I could feel him, lurking in the shadows. If Zankuro wasn't careful, he would find himself very dead, very soon.
      The thunder crashed again and Zankuro stirred from his trance. His head slowly turned and our eyes met. He smiled. A humorless creasing of the flesh. And to my horror, he began to walk towards me, his blade bobbing back and forth before him matching his stride.
      My mind barely registered what happened next, it was so fast. Basara was a faint blur of hair, chain and darkness as he dropped from the shadowed curtains above. Zankuro didn't even turn. He swung his arm out in a graceful motion, catching Basara in midair by the throat. In the same motion he whirled and flung Basara, at the same time slashing downward with the great katana in his other hand.
      Basara screamed as he flew, headlong, into the shadows on the other side of the chamber, a trail of his dark blood followed him into the blackness.
      All of this happened in the space of one breath, and Zankuro never faltered in his stride towards me. Once again, I tried to free my legs, but it was no use. Zankuro was going to slay me like a dog, and I was powerless to prevent it.
      "Zankurooooooo…" A musical, haunting voice whispered like a scuttling spider.
      Zankuro stopped and grunted. He slowly turned his head left and right, peering into the corners trying to locate the source of that voice.
      The air between Zankuro and myself shimmered and warped. A blue light began to glow there. Suddenly, it took shape. It was a beautiful young woman, nude, with rich flowing hair the length of her body. Or at least she had been beautiful. Her body was tattooed with the scars of hundreds of cruel slashes. I pitied this spirit, in whatever former life she had once known, she had literally been cut into pieces.
      "Zankuroooooo…your time has come. You willlll butcher noooo morrrre…" The ghost continued to wail in its soft/sad voice.
      Zankuro slashed out at the ghost violently. Her form wavered slightly whenever the blade passed through it, but other than that, it had no effect. This enraged the demon, and his face twisted into a snarl, his eyes glowing a dull red.
      "Be gone spirit!" He growled, "I raped and reduced you to ribbons once before, and I'll do it again. Stand aside, lest I send you back to the pits where you belong!"
      And he continued to slash at the thing, more viciously than before. His mind refused to register that he could not harm her.
      And then, magically something sprouted from Zankuro's shoulders - a dark misshapen thing, all cruel angles and dancing light. Basara's blade. Zankuro ripped the razor from his body and yanked it. The chain followed it, as did Basara, whose arm was attached to the chain. He sprawled to the ground at Zankuro's feet with a crash.
      Zankuro raised his foot and stomped on Basara's chest. His body spasmed and a plume of blood flew from his mouth. He was pinned like me, a gnat under Zankuro's great heel.
      Zankuro laughed and ground his foot in deeper. Basara screamed and I heard sickly, wet sounds coming from inside his chest.
      With what little life he had left, Basara grabbed Zankuro's leg in a lover's embrace.
      "You're going to Hell Zankuro, and I'll gladly drag you there and hand you over to the Christian devil myself if I have to!!!" Basara hissed through his bloody lips, and suddenly that darkness opened up beneath him and both he and Zankuro fell into it. The last thing that disappeared was Zankuro's hair, white against the blackness.
      Everything was silent. The spirit was gone; she faded out of existence with Basara and Zankuro. I was left alone with the dust and death.
      My eyes went to poor Hazuki. Oh, poor, beautiful sister! To die so badly, and so young! Nothing but a small pile of dead flesh and a gray kimono now… And Amakusa, his remains littered the barren floor as well. Two halves of his torn robe and naught else.
      "Zankuro had better kill you bastard, or I'll do it myself." I said darkly - My mind held nothing but twisted fantasies about torturing Basara very slowly.
      The silence began to bother me. What was happening? Had Basara really opened a portal to Hell, and dragged the great Zankuro there kicking and screaming?
      To answer my question, there was an ear-shattering crash and the entire castle lurched to the left. I went flying, as did the statue that pinned me. I slid down the floor, rolling, another large statue barely missing me. My relief at being free disappeared as I struck the wall, hard. I felt my own ribs snap, and I sucked in my breath as my chest exploded with pain.
      Basara's mad laughter filled the room. I couldn't place its source, everything was upside down and none of the angles made sense anymore. His black shadow opened on the cracked wall, a few feet away from me. Zankuro's head appeared out of the blackness, his giant body did not follow. It dropped to the ground with a dull thud and rolled to a stop. His face was frozen in that horrid snarl of his and his tangled white hair was now pink with his own blood.
      Basara emerged; his entire body dripped with blood and one of his arms was missing at the elbow.
      "Your turn Ninja!" He cackled and as he took a step towards me. His tattered legs kept walking but the rest of his body did not follow. His upper body crumpled to the ground, his laughter trickling off to a gurgle before becoming silent. His legs and waist continued for another step or too, and then they too collapsed.
      The castle shuddered again, louder this time. And it did not stop, it sounded like something very big, and very angry was rapidly ascending the lower floors and would soon overtake us all. A pillar of fire burst through the floor, vaporizing Basara's upper half. Another burst forth at the end of the hall. The heat didn't bother me, fire has always been my one true companion, as water has been yours, and it soothed my pain.
      Then there was light, far brighter than that which had awakened Zankuro. And fire, and a blast of such magnitude, I couldn't even hear it, I only felt it as it tore me free and flung me into the madness. Then everything went black, and that is all I know until you came upon me brother, half conscience. And I swear by our dead sister, that is the truth of it, nothing less and nothing more.

      Sogetsu said nothing. He looked at his broken brother with great admiration and endless sorrow. Kazuki's eyes had seen too much, his spirit was as broken as his body. Would I have been that strong in his place, Sogetsu wondered?
      Kazuki closed his eyes again, and began to cough badly. He couldn't stop. Telling his story had taken the last of his ebbing strength.
      "G..go.…" Kazuki waved his hand furiously at him, as he doubled over with pain.
      Sogetsu stepped backwards; the air was growing unbearably hot.
      Kazuki slumped to the ground once more, his coughs subsiding to small rumbles.
      He opened his eyes one last time and smiled at Sogetsu.
      "Be strong big brother, Hazuki and I will watch you always…"
      Kazuki's hair burst into flames, so like his real hair that it was hard to believe otherwise. His gi blackened, smoked and followed suit. And then the blaze exploded into life. The intensity of the fire was only slightly less than that of the sun, and soon Kazuki's body was just more ash dotting the landscape.
      "Goodbye brother Kazama…Kazuki…" Sogetsu whispered. All that remained of his brother was his short sword. Sogetsu picked both Kazuki's and his blade up from the charred earth and tied them to his sash.
      He turned and began to walk away. One sandaled foot in front of the other, across the broken, lifeless landscape - a landscape that mirrored his empty heart and soul. There would be life here and in his heart again one day, but not for a long, long time.

Mark Patraw

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