Darkness Gathers - Chapter 2

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Da Gobbo's Grotto
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Darkness Gathers - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

 
Dark shadows lengthened, twisting as if possessed of a life-force of their own. True night was still several hours away but the light seemed leeched somehow from the landscape, casting it into a false dusk. The approach to the Tribe of the Yak’s village was difficult, winding through deep valleys and crossing treacherous rocky bridges that rumbled alarmingly when Aiko’s Guardian put his 500lb bulk upon them.  Aiko had laughed at the alarm shown by  Kenko, thinking it a fine joke considering the agility of the huge gorilla would easily keep them both safe, she had nudged her friend Koji and the two youngsters had giggled together at the older monks discomfort, Koji’s smaller simian friends joining in the raucous merriment.  Those light hearted moments now seemed a lifetime away to the young girl as the small band of monks and their animal companions entered the eerily deserted village. 
 
Ahead, large tents of animal skins and furs tented over giant tusks from fantastic beasts dominated the rocky clearing, forming a rough circle around three idols.  The idols shaped like lanterns, glowed more fantastically than their more mundane counterparts, at least it did to the Ki sensitive sight of the approaching monks.  Bright heavenly light shone from the closed shutters as if it couldn't be contained as the spirit energy escaped into the surrounding area, flowing through the clearing and spilling out into the world beyond the mountains. However when the light of the Kamis spilled to the north it came up against a rolling darkness that swallowed the heavenly glow like ground fog on a cold misty morning.  Aiko tried to peer into the gloom opposite their approach and flinched as she saw darker shadows moving inside, misshapen and unnatural. Sensing her unease, her Guardian padded closer to her and pulled her toward his massive chest, sheltering her from the evil it could sense.
 
Master Akari, chittered to Koji’s monkey pack indicating to the boy and his simian brothers to scout ahead trusting the animals heightened senses to warn the monks of any surprises.  Ahead the foul cultists began to reveal the true horrors that faced the righteous warriors, a skulking rat like creature that stood on it’s hind legs and as tall as a man, no two of the disgusting beasts! Aiko cast her mind back to her lessons with Master Akari, studying the various dark Yokai; these were Nezumi! Shape shifters that could call swarms of their rat minions, even assuming full rat form themselves. Aiko drew upon the streams of Ki that flowed around them, shaping the energy into a kanji of blessing and laid it gently on her Guardian’s broad, silver furred back hoping it would keep him safe from their foul touch.
 
Aiko shuddered when she spotted the creature that next stepped out from the shadows – a Penanggalan! Blessed Kami, it could not be!  although very young Aiko had been told tales of the vampiric Yokai  that wore the corpse of its victims, by the older boys in the nearby village. Once again she drew upon her Ki and blessed her loyal companion, doubling the power of the first kanji.  A loud tortured shriek as if two rocks were dragged passed one another, coming from behind spun her quickly around to see the earth Kami that had followed the Master, rear up on its hind legs and bellow again in anger, it's moss green eyes blazing with fury as it spotted a twisted, blighted mockery of its own elegant, if craggy form. Aiko watched as the dark perversion of an earth Kami began to spew forth a thick, choking mist that temporarily obscured sight of the followers of Yurei. 
 
Aiko’s eyes followed  Master Akari as he sped off toward the far conduit determined to lock down the icons so that their blessed light could no longer be threatened and confident that Kenko could manage to direct the fight in the middle of the village in his absence. The Master worked better alone, relying on his superb agility to keep him safe.  Unseen ahead, obscured by the choking fog, the young prodigy could sense the change in the Balance as the filthy Nezumi laid hands on the sacred conduits nearer to them, the spirit energy spluttering and fading. Aiko knew that the temple monks only had moments to realign the delicate kanji or the idols would be lost to them.
 
Kenko walked confidently forward into the fog, one of Koji’s macaques leading the way, the grim monk determined to end the threat to the balance.  Aiko’s Guardian was less serene in its approach, always sensitive to her moods the 500lb silver back bellowed his anger at the offence caused by the unnatural beasts.  Thumping his meaty chest with enormous fists, he activated the first of Aiko’s kanji causing pure white flames to erupt along the length of his muscly arms.  The flames cut through the hellish fog like a beacon, illuminating a path to the twisted Kami.  With a deafening roar of defiance the gorilla leapt forward covering the short distance in the blink of an eye and smashing into the misshapen rocky being. Reaching out a huge hand it swatted the Kami hard, the blessed flames scorching the creatures tough hide and causing it to rear back. Lifting both enormous fists above its head, the Guardian smashed its fiery knuckles into the “face” of the abomination over and over, reducing it to rubble in moments. Spying one of the Nezumi cowering behind the smashed Kami, the massive simian grabbed hold of a trailing leg and with a casual show of contemptuous strength threw the monster away from him.
 
The other Nezumi, seeing the fate of its companion threw back its head a let out a high pitched squealing that threatened to burst Aiko’s eardrums. From the darkness, came a multitude of tiny squeaks -  hundreds of them, coalescing into a wave of vermin that poured into the light of the centre conduit, crashing into one of Koji’s pack and taking the tiny macaque off its feet. The tortured cry as the poor monkey was overwhelmed by the flood of rats, pierced Aiko’s heart and she looked over at Koji, to see tears roll down his grief stricken face.  That grief turned to determination as the boy hefted his Bo staff and ran forward to join the others in the fight for the centre.
 
Stood back from the fighting Aiko could only oversee the events as they unfolded, but she was determined to aid the fighting with her gifts as and when she could . But she was not the only child that was standing back and providing support. Aiko watched as a little girl, bound with rope and her eyes sown shut came stumbling forward, she was joined by a young boy, younger than Koji even, who carried a drum and also had his eyes sown shut like the girl.  Aiko began to move forward, thinking to go to their aid when she paused, closed her own eyes and really looked at the children through her Ki.  She flinched as she saw the dark Kamis that lurked within the bodies of the young boy and girl, evil spirits that possessed the empty vessels that transported them in the physical plane.  She stood rooted to the spot, fear coursing through her as the boy sat cross legged on the floor and began to play the drum. Slowly at first, discordant sounds slightly off beat and then becoming faster and faster until the sound become a vibration building up to a crescendo, all the while dark Ki energy swirled and coalesced around the boy until with a flourish the boy crashed to the ground panting but with a dark, evil smile upon his face. The silence that followed was broken by an unearthly roar as the wicked spirit poured from his mouth, forming a monstrous entity. Squat, pale with an enormous gaping maw, exuding power it waddled toward Kenko with murderous intent. 
 
Not to be outdone the undead girl began to screech, an eerie tone that tore through the fabric of reality.  Aiko drew a ragged breath as first a large, ethereal hand tipped with knives appeared to rip the very air in half vertically, followed by a tall, thin shadowy figure stepping through the tear – the word “sharp” described this monster.  The Kami towered over the little girl, gathering its power after such a manifestation before breaking into a loping run straight toward the Guardian, screeching it’s hatred of the majestic beast.  Not intimidated in the least the huge silverback answered with a roar of its own, grabbing the spirit by its neck with a single meaty fist and ignoring the gouging cuts from the creature’s finger knives that tore large strips of flesh from the gorilla’s torso. With his other hand the enraged simian grabbed hold of the monster’s thigh and with a display of amazing strength, ripped the Kami in half tossing the broken pieces away with contempt. Bleeding heavily from its wounds, the gorilla drooped a little as the pain broke through the adrenaline. Aiko’s brow furrowed with worry for her burly protector, then smiled as she remembered the blessing she had bestowed upon him before the fight. Concentrating on the glowing kanji she had drawn on his torso, she imagined the blood flow slowing, the skin knitting together and the pain easing.  With a snort, the great beast shook off the remnant of the injury and trotted toward the centre conduit.  
 
Master Akari had explained the conduit ritual to all of them during the journey to the village and Aiko knew just how easy it was to turn the idol’s alignment in order to preserve the balance.  Reaching out with her Ki, she impressed upon her mighty Guardian’s consciousness the simple procedure and urged him to lay his enormous hands on the delicate khors, gently directing him to turn them in the correct pattern, neutralising the damage caused by the Nezumi.  Akari himself stood at the furthest idol and was busy locking the conduit into the open position, his clever Tanuki paws manipulating the khors with ease. The flow of Ki stabilised and  brightened, forcing the dark shadows to withdrew slightly.  Aiko began to move over to the idol, frightened at the approach of the monsters and drawing strength from the presence of her powerful, if diminutive  Master.  As she turned she saw the squat evil spirit that had possessed the boy, bearing down on Kenko. Drawing on her Ki she traced her finger in the air in front of her, the clean pure light forming a kanji of blessing.  Looking over at Kenko she blew gently on the blessing, sending it fluttering like a beautiful butterfly toward her friend.
 
Kenko braced himself as the monstrous Kami ran the last few strides between them, propelling itself into the air on its short, powerful legs into a devastating strike with its pudgy fists.  The speed with which it moved defied the size of its corpulent form and caught the monk off balance, the punch landing fully into his torso and winding him. The beast, flush with success aimed a second blow for Kenko’s unprotected face just as Aiko’s blessing brushed against his back.  Instantly his skin rippled with power, hardening until it resembled iron, the kami’s fist connected solidly in the young man’s face causing it to rock back with the impact but causing no damage.  With a rueful smile, the monk threw a quick wink at his helpful companion that caused her to blush, before turning back to the matter at hand.  With an explosion of power, Kenko kicked out with his right leg, catching the creature in its fat waist and bending it over double, bending his knee and withdrawing his foot from the folds of flab he planted his right foot solidly on the ground in order to drive his left knee into the face of the monster, both of his hands interlocked behind its head in order to drive the blow home harder. As the creature stumbled backwards he delivered a stunning two handed “mountain punch” that dropped it to the floor in a heap. Kenko stepped forward to finish the foul creature, but as he took a single step floods of filthy black rats answered the call of the grey whiskered Nezumi that was skulking by the last idol, the tiny vermin streamed toward him, getting underfoot and threatening to topple him.  Kenko knew that if he fell to the floor, the veritable carpet of rodents would devour him in no time.  A hard nip to the back of his leg from a rat caused it to buckle and Kenko dropped to one knee, instantly causing a wave of rats to surge forward. 
 
Aiko watched as her friend and mentor fell to one knee, surrounded by the filthy sewer rats.  Her heart leapt into her throat as rodents flung themselves at the monk  seeking to latch onto his exposed skin and tear it from his bones, time and again it was only his swift reactions that deflected the creatures batting them away with quick chops of his hands but he was still  unable to rise to his feet.  Just as it looked like he was to going to be overwhelmed, the remaining pair of Koji’s macaques bowled into the tide of vermin in a shrieking fury.  Grabbing the wriggling, furry bodies with their clever hands and flinging them far away, they used their amazing agility to dodge the gnashing teeth of their tiny foes.  The timely arrival of the simians allowed Kenko to get to his feet and he rejoined the battle, stomping and striking the rat swarm like a rampaging giant.  Another of the macaques fell beneath the tide of rats, causing Koji to bellow in anger as he ran to attack the younger looking Nezumi or Nezumi – Kun, looking for revenge on the evil were-rats, battering away with his Bo.  The blessed earth kami joined him and together they forced the repulsive lycanthrope back with a flurry of attacks that drew Yokai blood.  
 
As Kenko stomped the last of the black rats into mush the grey furred Nezumi howling in fury, charged into the fight swinging its Kama fashioned from a man’s thigh bone. Only the timely warning screech from the remaining monkey saved Kenko from being seriously injured, turning slightly and allowing the Kama to run the length of his outstretched forearm, deflecting the blow safely away.  In reply, the young monk launched a series of strikes looking for a weak spot in the yokai’s defences.  Back and forth they went, blow and counterblow with neither gaining advantage, the Nezumi able to match Kenko’s speed with its own.  
 
As the battle raged on, Aiko could see that the Ki stream spilling from the conduit that had been shut down by the cultists finally sputter and die. Tears rolled down her face at the loss of the spirit energy and the effect on the balance in the Isles. The destruction of the conduit was permanent as was the loss of Ki and the world would be poorer for it. Standing next to the idol that Akari had locked in place, Aiko was heartened by the outpouring of the sacred Ki, here at least there was a chance for the balance, now if the righteous warriors of the Temple could just secure the middle idol there would be a chance.  Closing her eyes, she felt for and found the spiritual connection with her Guardian, following the gossamer thread of Ki until she joined with the simple soul of her burly simian protector.  When she reopened them she could see through his eyes as well as her own, a dizzying sensation but one she had practiced with Master Ekusa time and again in the she sheltered grounds of the ancient Temple in Ro-Kan.  Looking around she spotted the blessed earth Kami driving the repulsive Nezumi-Kun further away from the conduits, pounding with it’s rocky arms and shrugging off the blows of the were-rat with impunity.  Master Akari was poised, ready to defend the far idol from any roaming monsters from interfering with the conduit before the locking process was considered permanent. Koji was sneaking up to the middle idol, intent on finishing the task.  There then, Aiko thought, that's where we make our stand. If she could buy time for Koji to lock the conduit open the darkness would recede and the day won. The gorilla continued his scan of the immediate area with his ghostly soul mate riding behind his eyes, spotting Kenko in his deadlocked battle with the filthy older lycanthrope, Aiko prompted her Guardian forward. 
 
With a deafening roar, the great beast threw itself into the fray. Enormous canines flashed in the dying daylight and massive fists thumped the earth as it charged forward at a terrifying speed.  Seeing the approaching silverback and likely it's coming death the Nezumi cowered in fear, spraying its musky urine in an uncontrolled fashion, the repugnant odour driving the howling simian into a greater frenzy.  Huge fists pounded the poor creature and only its supreme agility kept it from being totally overwhelmed although it was sorely wounded.  Kenko, seeing that Aiko’s Guardian had the situation in hand turned his attention back to the fat Sloth Kami, launching a series of high kicks drawing the evil beasts attention ever higher before reversing direction and sweeping the loathsome beasts legs from it and sending it crashing to the floor again.
 
Koji, attention focused solely on the conduit, tapped the kanji in the order driven into him by Master Akari on the journey up to this blasted mountain hamlet. Sacred Ki poured from the idol, spilling into the village square as his fingers drew the simple pattern that would lock the idol in place forever.  The fighting intensified around him as his friends and brothers strove to keep the darkness at bay in order for him to complete the ritual. With a flourish he tapped the last symbol and the grating of stone against stone was music to his young ears as the lantern like cap of the idol swung closed, locked in the open position. A howl from the evil beasts surrounding his companions, a particularly welcomed accompaniment.
 
Aiko drew her consciousness back from her companion, elated that the monks of Ro-Kan had completed their mission. Looking across the village square she saw the cultists withdraw into the shadows, un-pursued as the monks paused to take breath and take stock of the situation. Aiko watched Koji’s shoulders slump as he made his way over to the limp forms of his beloved macaques that had fallen in the defence of his friends. Her heart overwhelmed with sorrow she drew upon the pulsing Ki that flowed so richly around them, shaping it into kanji of healing and sending it to her friend’s brave companions. As Koji reached the side of his fallen brothers the first blessing landed over it’s breast, sinking into it’s heart. A soft glow surrounded first one monkey, then the other filling them with Ki and opening their tiny lungs once more, hearts began beating and in no time at all small simian eyes opened.  Koji’s astonished but relieved laugh rang out around the village, a soothing balm to Aiko’s soul that helped drive away the lingering oppressive darkness and letting the natural twilight take its rightful place.
 
Damon Carlton
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Nice. Next one

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