-They steal souls, Kudako. Suck the heart right out of people. Then, they send the shells of men out on the battlefield. All in the name of their idea of perfection…-
His brother’s words haunted him here, in the homelands of his ancestors. The sound of the voice faded in Kudako’s memory with the passage of centuries, but time didn’t diminished the meaning of those parting words.
-What they have done to you is wrong, Kudako. And they will pay for it.-
Instead, the passage of time lifted the fog within his mind. Now understanding burned strongly, spreading like a fever throughout Kudako’s body.
-The whole concept of the Spiral is wicked. Everything that is done to our people goes against nature itself.-
Crouching silently upon the knotted branches of a blackened tree, the Dragon waited. He knew his challenge would be met by the Armsmaster. Pride would not allow such a thing to go unanswered.
-I know you cannot understand that yet. I know that you cannot feel what it is I’m trying to express to you, Kudako.-
The Armsmaster would come. For Kudako was the last of the Re clan. All of his people died there upon the dark day that clan rose against clan in the Spiral. The day that his brother set his hand to action… the day that the Re clan turned in rebellious uprising against the Armsmaster.
-I can only fight so that one day you… and our family can be free.-
Kudako couldn’t remember why he didn’t take part in that battle. He might have been out on one of his training expeditions. All he could remember was what he found when he returned home. His clan’s homelands, ripped and scorched from border to border. Bodies were piled and scattered – men, women and children alike — left to bloat and melt under the merciless sun.
He had stood, simply peering over the destruction. For sorrow was as alien to him as any other emotion – the Implant did not allow Kudako to weep or mourn. For the first time, something buried deep within his primal senses told him that the lack of emotional reaction… was wrong.
Though centuries had passed, the landscape of his homelands changed very little. Nothing grew there, nor dared to take up residence over the scorched grounds. It was likely that no member of the Spiral set foot on the darkened earth until now.
Kudako had returned to his homeland. And still, he found that he could not weep.
Instead, there was a building pressure within him, hot like flame. The taste of sweat and tension filled his mouth. This was what Lord Zemi promised Kudako upon his return to the Spiral – a chance at vengeance for the Annihilation of his people. Vengeance for the souls lost to the Spiral.
While Lord Zemi and Zento continued to the Keep to begin their encounter with the Golden Lion, Kudako remained there. Upon the ruins of his homeland, the Dragon waited for the hour of his retribution to be fulfilled. Kudako did not have to wait long.
“I am here,” a guttural voice growled from below, like one struggling with the sounds in his throat. “Come show yourself.”
At the sensation of approach, Kudako stirred from where he was hidden among the branches of the heavy-leaning tree. Feet balanced perfectly upon the thick bark, his golden eyes watched as his adversary strode underneath. Not even the wisp of his breath sounded in the air. All was perfectly still. All was composed and ready.
He had arrived. UragiRu, the Armsmaster.
The one that lead the battle to wipe away the last traces of the remaining Re Clan. The one who had spread his banners over the Spiral, claiming to be the next Armsmaster in the bloodline of Chieftains. Even the mark of insanity was there, having passed like poison through the generations.
Today, it would end. The prophecy, be it real or simply delusional, would be fulfilled. The boy that Kudako had trained, ZenToYa — now fully grown into his power, would rise up and strike the Spiral a fatal blow. And the soulless nation would fall into dust.
Kudako made sure to claim UragiRu. His final vengeance would be carried out by his own hand. For all the blood that he spilt upon the innocent lands of the Inner Realms, one last death would repay them all.
With the passing of the Armsmaster, the creation of the Implants would also pass. The Annihilators could never be created again. Kudako would make sure of it.
UragiRu, the Armsmaster. He was unremarkable in physical stature. Of normal height, a wiry build that belied what strength he might have had. But the years had begun to touch him – he had been quite young in the days of the destruction of the Re Clan.
However, time had done nothing to touch Kudako. Time was his friend in non-passage, at Lord Zemi’s will. Another advantage that the Dragon would hold over the soon-to-be-lifeless body of his enemy.
The Armsmaster appeared to carry himself without fear. But it was a ruse. Kudako had learned from Lord Zemi that the very Implants that the people of the Spiral were forced to take… the Armsmaster himself did not. Therefore, one had to wonder about the virtue of the very thing that made the warriors “perfect,” without emotional blemish, if the leader of the nation did not choose to be like his own people.
The Dragon’s fingers tightened on the grip of the dual bladed staff. The smear of blackness upon the ground made it easy for Kudako to pick out his target. The shaggy yellow hair of the Armsmaster was unkempt, beginning to grey with age. The various braids and attachments of his position seemed unwashed and matted. The armor that he wore creaked in a sound that spoke of little use.
UragiRu, once full of the fires of youth, had grown careless and soft in his elder years. He must not have thought that enemies of his past still lived. Had he remained cushioned in his fine home as the young warriors of the nation laid down their lives for the sake of his imagined perfection? It certainly seemed so.
All this Kudako could sense, peering down upon his enemy from the tree. Soon, it would be over. The dance of death and the final dirge. UragiRu would die upon the blackened grounds of the very people he sought to slay to the last.
The Dragon dropped from the tree, landing lightly on the balls of his feet. A crouch, motion of silence, the dual blades flashing in the light of the shifting sun.
A distant explosion, flame light burst upon the horizon, coloring the bottom of the clouds blood red. Then another. And another. The Dragons had come, striking down the distant ring of outposts in deadly flame. Just as Lord Zemi said they would.
“The Annihilation of the Spiral has begun,” Kudako spoke, his voice flat.
UragiRu turned on his heel, a battle stance. His hands gripped at the hilt of his blades for comfort. It was obvious that he did not recognize Kudako. Not as Kudako had now become, a Flawed Dragon. But he would know soon.
“What is your interest here?” UragiRu’s thick voice demanded in a piggish way.
“Your blood,” Kudako obliged in a light tone.
Then the Dragon took one step back, a measured motion of pure balance. The weapon spun effortlessly between his hands, his crouch sliding into the circle of desolation that was marked upon the ground. Nothing would leave the circle alive.
“KudakoRe is dead,” UragiRu told him.
“No. He is not.”
“Then, KudakoRe has sent a hireling in his place,” UragiRu demanded.
“No. He has not.”
“Where is the one that challenges me?” UragiRu’s voice rose. There was an edge of a squeal upon it. The dawning of fear.
“He stands before you,” the Dragon held his weapon still, point leveled, golden eyes meeting the pale blue of his adversary. “I am KudakoRe.”
UragiRu took an involuntary step back. “You have been turned into a monster!”
“No. I have not,” Kudako began to advance, slowly. Deliberate. “I have been turned from living as one.”
“You bear the likeness of an animal!” UragiRu hissed, hands clasping the blades, readying for battle.
“And because of it, I sense your fear, UragiRu,” the Dragon’s voice grew deep.
“I know your secret,” his face had grown dangerous. “You turn the people soulless while you, retain emotion. Your false ‘perfection’ is a blemish. I have come to wipe the stain from my Clan’s name.”
“That stain of rebellion and shame can never be cleansed,” UragiRu growled, fighting to regain his composure. “Your brother wished to overthrow the Spiral and take control for himself. And you follow in his footsteps!”
“Wrong,” the Dragon’s graceful steps becoming more menacing the closer he came. “My brother fought for the freedom of our people. Just as I do.”
“He sought to destroy the very thing that has kept our nation protected,” came the gruff argument. “Our people seek perfection, and that requires sacrifice!”
“How would you know what our people want? They never had the choice to speak freely for themselves!” Kudako retorted quietly. He lifted his blade, leveling it at his adversary in one practiced motion.
No more talk. The battle would begin.
Silence. Silence of the dead. UragiRu could see it reflected in the beastly depths of the Dragon’s eyes. And yet, he raised his weapons. The Armsmaster made a charge.
Kudako sprang to life, a death-dance design traced over the blackened ground. To his eyes, his enemy’s blades came slowly. It was nothing to dodge, duck, slip under the desperate swings of a man long-lost to the practice of the art of killing. It was almost disappointing.
The only joy that could be found in this worthless battle was in fear. UragiRu would fear.
He would fear as much as the collective, countless souls that fell to the blade of the Annihilator. For the loss of mercy and the rise of tyranny brought by a prophesy borne from the chambers of a maddened mind.
He would fear this much, and more.
Kudako’s weapon whistled high through the air. Quick, light slices. Marks of red began to appear across his enemy’s armor – too old and light to bear up against the onslaught of true vengeance. Fear began to rise. He could sense it, the odor thick in the air. Taste the bitter sweat mingled with the thick, smoky air.
UragiRu knew there was nothing left to him. Still, his pride would not allow him to surrender. Nor would Kudako’s vengeance allow such a thing.
Rivets of red flowed freely. Only a taste of the final demise. UragiRu stumbled back against the heavy tree, senses overcome by the tempest of terror ripping him from every side.
The sight of blood was intoxicating. No emotion left, falling back into what he had once been, Kudako only longed to see more. More. Just as he, the Annihilator, was created to desire. If such a thing as himself could desire anything at all.
The bladed staff lifted, a forward thrust of full strength, pinning UragiRu through one shoulder into the tree. The crack of brittling bone under ruthless Dragon strength. A shriek, nothing more than the madness of pain.
The blade twisted slowly, pulled back and thrust again. Into the opposite shoulder, this time drawing a slice diagonal, through the chest cavity. The wet sound of things inside bursting. Froth of blood coming from UragiRu’s mouth, streaming down his chin.
The Armsmaster could do nothing more than stare. Pale blue eyes locked in horror at the crimson-stained blade as it withdrew from his body. His limbs spasmed, legs buckling under him.
The blade thrust again. Into the throat. Shattering the jaw. Ripping the last of the air from the bloodied mouth. A twisting slash let the head roll free. The staff swung around for a final blow and pinned the slumping body to the tree with the opposite side of the blade.
A pool of red crept across the ground, mingling with the black ash. The flames on the horizon had grown in size, the sky bursting in crimson, reflected in the thickening streams of blood.
The Armsmaster was dead. The price of freedom, won. The people of the Spiral would not understand the gift they had been given, he was certain. Not until generations had passed and the teachings of the Chieftain had faded into the haze of diluted memory.
The clan of Re was avenged.
Yet, in the pooling of red Kudako found no solace – did he really search for such a thing? And if he did, when had that search begun?
Perhaps he thought that after the death of UragiRu something extraordinary would happened. That the world would know of the passing of tyranny through some wondrous supernatural display or vast fanfare.
Yet there was nothing. The lifeless body of UragiRu slumped unceremoniously on the end of the blade, like any other. And soon it would decay away like any other.
In that haze of drifting smoke, Kudako saw the image of his homelands broken and burned away. In his memory, he saw the piled bodies of his clan’s people laying defeated, left under the sky to rot. The distant buzz of his brother’s words faded in and out of his mind’s ear. And vengeance for these wrongs had been earned, yet…
It was not victory that Kudako felt. It was something else. Something that he could not find the words to describe. Something intolerably lonely and cold. Not at all the way one should feel upon winning back the honor of one’s clan.
For the first time ever, KudakoRe turned his back to the battle site. He sought refuge in the silent vitality of the forest.