The Mists of Paoru
Trees Tell The Best Lies
30th Day of the Dog, Year of Heavenly Spirit, 3454
The Asta wagons were lined up along the side of the road, their panels painted in bright landscapes and pastoral scenes. The lanterns lit up in various colours that proclaimed to any in the know exactly what each wagon offered. But today, they offered nothing but sorrow and the buzzing of Goreflies.
The ground around the wagons was trampled and torn, littered with the bodies of the Asta clan. One woman was pinned to a wheel by 3 arrows, the last through her head. Several of the able bodied men were found in a heap in the ditch by the road, slashed almost to pieces, the cuts so deep.
Behind the wagons in the trees, a child’s keening wail was abruptly cut off as a maora man walked from between the wagons cleaning his blade of blood. Others followed behind him, cleaning their weapons. Two that brought up the rear were laughing about some joke as they sheathed their swords.
The leader stopped at the sight of an Eola male astride the path, dressed in a white kirtle and simple monk’s foot wraps, armed only with a long iron staff decorated with rings. In front of him stood a stooped figure in layered robes rubbing her hands together.
“Is it done? Did you catch them all?”, she whispered nervously.
The maora man bowed low and proclaimed, “Your dark deed is finished per your directions, and now to the matter of payment.”
She visibly relaxed and said, “Of course, 10K Shen as we agreed.” as she waved her hand negligently and a dark wooden chest appeared in front of the bandit and his men.
“It was a pleasure doing business with you, my lady, but you must forgive me if my men are far less trusting than myself. I, of course, would never dream of insulting your integrity, being myself a civilized man but my crew have led less than stellar lives.”
“Count it, Gaohuang” she said with a warning glare.
He smiled and bowed again as he stepped aside for his men to grab the chest and open it. There was a faint pop and a flash of silver as it opened and the men were gone. The Archive glanced at a faint movement near the trees as she smirked watching Gaohuang run in her mind’s eye. Hun began to move towards the treeline as she raised her hand, stopping him.
“Check the bodies and count them, no mistakes this time.”, she said with a raised eyebrow.
Half an hour later and Hun returned with a worried look on his face. He raised his hands in a signal and her eyes opened wider. “What do you mean, there’s 1 missing? Which one?” she said as her voice rose in anger.
Hun’s shoulders slumped as he looked at the ground and made a few minute gestures with his right hand. The Archive turned towards the cliff face on the opposite side of the road and screamed, her scream reverberating through the area as the parts of the cliff cracked. She calmed herself visibly and turned slowly back to Hun.
“I was going to let that incompetent weasel go but he has failed me and that’s a failure that doesn’t go unpunished. Find him, Hun, and skin him alive.”
Hun smiled at her and turned to the wood and disappeared into the trees.
She rested her head against her staff and closed her eyes. “Stars and stones, she was the one variable that needed to be taken care of and I have handed her over to Fan on a silver platter.”
Her shoulders straightened as she took a deep breath and held her hand out and began to whisper. A few minutes later, the trees nearest the wagons began to shift as the yokai within awoke and stepped towards her.
“You called for us, Archive?” they said with voices like the groaning of old wood.
“I need you to shape the trees and the grass around these wagons and create the appearance of battle magi killing the Ast. It is the only way to bring the true culprits to justice. This I have seen in the stars and the wind.”
“We obey as always, your eminence” they said as they turned and began to make wide gestures at the trees and the wagons. Here and there, marks of magical fire appeared on the barks of the trees, while the wagons were knocked here and there. The wounds on the Asta appeared as if spells were what murdered them. After a short time, they finished and bowed to the Archive. “We are finished, Archive, what more would you have of us.”
“Nothing more, my old friends, go back to sleep now.” she said as she waved her hand at them. They walked back to their trees and stepped inside, merging with the wood and vanished.
She raised her hand and closed her eyes as she bent down and drew a single mark on the ground. It began to glow as she held her hand over it and a wave of violet light spread outwards burning the mark on the road. the light struck the trees and the dying wails of the yokai faded away in the wind. Other painful moaning sounds emanated from all around as the light extended as far as she could see in all directions. The faint puffs of silvery smoke denoting other yokai dying around. Tears slowly came down her cheeks as she lowered her hand.
“I am sorry”
Hun returned some time later, his kirtle splashed in blood and a fevered look to his face. He picked up the Archive and they vanished.
The thunderbeak slowed it’s trot as the rider pulled the rains back coming around the bend in the road. the rider though tired from traveling for 3 days almost non stop was suddenly wary. She should have heard the music by now and smelled the cook fires. the familiar sounds of the wind chimes were missing but what was present the steady stench of blood and soot.
She came around the bend and slowed the beak to a stop as she saw the damage wrought upon the caravan of wagons. She weakly slid off the bird and began to walk towards the nearest wagon, turned over on it’s side. Its marks proclaiming it Sung’s home. Sung was in the ditch nearby, his head barely attached. His face surprised.
She sank to her knees near him and slowly reached out to touch his shoulder. It was the lifeless flesh of the dead with no warmth or reaction.
she vomited and shuddered as the tears slowly crept down her face. She stood and began looking for the others, hoping she didn’t see the faces she knew so well.
She found them behind the wagons in the trees, they had been herded there while the stronger members of the clan fought. Herded there to die. They lay where the weapons had thrown them, some with missing limbs and others with barely recognizable features.
She saw the familiar teal silk of her sister’s gown, the one her mother had saved for three months to get the material for, just so Little Yumao would have something nice to wear on her coming of age day…today. Her steps faltered as she saw her sister’s hand burned almost to the bone, holding onto a larger, charred skeleton. what little remained of the clothing showed it was their mother. She wasn’t sure when her feet gave out but she realized she was sitting on the ground as the sun set. The green light of little brother shining over the hills to the east. She crawled towards her family and heard a faint crunch as her knee cracked something. A wooden piece of scabbard, well worked and engraved with a partial symbol of Chenmo.
She stared at it for a moment before standing up with it in her hand. She shoved it into her waistband and set to work burying the dead. That gods forsaken shit beetle at Chenmo had killed her family to teach her a lesson. That no one throws the wool over his eyes. She had a few lessons of her own to teach him as well and they could start with her nine ring sword.