Cursed Loot In Yokonagawa
Ren walked through the burning rubble of the once noble village that lay before him. His companions racing ahead of the flames to pillage and plunder the beautiful buildings that still stood. But he wasn’t in the mood. Something wasn’t right here. He could sense it deep within.
While his friends whooped wildly and shouted gleefully, Ren continued to walk silently behind them through the smoke and ashes. He didn’t like the way his commanding officers had handled the situation and set everything up.
It wasn’t that Ren held any pity in his heart for the enemy. They deserved everything they had coming to them for the terrible things they had done to his people. This was war, and both sides did terrible things to each other that they felt deserved justice and revenge. A war that had raged back and forth for over a decade.
He paused to look up at the once tall building burning to the ground to his left. Ren cocked his head and crouched down for a better glimpse under the smoke. Not that it was much better. The thick smoke filled the air all around him.
Ren walked around the area analyzing everything. Trying to figure out what it was his instincts were telling him wasn’t right here.
Something inside the building exploded with a dull roar and the flames lept even higher and burned hotter than that they had been before. Driving Ren back a dozen paces to keep from singing his hair and eyebrows.
Three men raced past him carrying bats of loot as they whooped and hollered all the way back to the boats they had left at the river. He watched until they disappeared before turning back to continue in the direction they had come from.
His feet burned and he jumped out of a pile of smoldering rubble and coal that he had been walking through. Ren stomped his feet a few times before the burning subsided.
As much as he wanted and even needed his share of loot to pay off his debts, he couldn’t bring himself to go through with pillaging this village. They didn’t deserve it. They were neutral in the war. In fact, they had once been allies.
But over the years, they had settled their strife and made a truce with their enemies. Withdrawing from the war had infuriated Ren’s leaders who still had a bone to grind with their enemy. Their allies’ withdrawal now meant that they no longer had the advantage.
After many meetings and long talks around the fire, they had grudgingly accepted the truce and promised to honor it even though they would continue their war.
So, this surprise attack was a low blow. Plundering their village for no good reason just didn’t seem right. His commanding officers had used some lame excuses. Something about past offenses that hadn’t been righted. But Ren sensed that there was more to it than that.
The war had left them in dire straights. The constant battles left the men little time to take care of their own homes and businesses and farms. The little crops that their wives and children grew were often ravaged and burned by their enemies who seemed to grow stronger and stronger over the years.
Ren feared that if things continued to go this way, they would no longer be able to hold back the onslaughts of the enemy armies that swept through from time to time.
Deep down, Ren sensed that attacking their unsuspecting allies was just a desperate attempt to raise the morale of the army while coming up with some supplies to keep them going.
But even worse, Ren felt that something was really off here. Even if their attack had been a complete surprise, they shouldn’t have overrun the town this easily. Someone somewhere should have a put up a fight or formed some kind of resistance. They had once been fierce and formidable warriors themselves. A few years of peace wouldn’t have left them this vulnerable and open to an attack.
Ren paused and crouched again for another glance around. The burning fire made it difficult to look very far past them into the darkness beyond. He moved his eyes slowly around the area, watching with his peripheral vision for any sign of movement in the shadows.
Something was coming, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. Ren was sure of that. He could sense their former allies watching from the safety of the shadows and darkness to attack.
Suddenly, it hit him. He understood what was wrong. The silence was growing louder as if that made any sense. But that is how Ren sensed it. He didn’t hear so many whoops and hollers as before. As if, one by one, his fellow warriors were being eliminated up ahead.
Again, Ren watched a couple more of race past him toward the boat. Gleefully shouting at all the loot they had plundered from the Yokonagawa.
“C’mon, Ren! There is so much more back there! Hurry up and get your share before it’s gone.” Kota paused to yell out before racing off again to keep up with his companions.
Ren realized that all of the looting warriors were running back from the loot ahead, however, he hadn’t seen anyone come racing back from the boats after dropping their load off. Not one had returned to continue plundering the village.
He waited a few moments. Listening in to the silence between the crackling flames and snapping timber. A few more men came running back from their plundering with bags on their backs.
“Hey, wait!” Ren yelled out to them. “I don’t think you should go down there.”
But they didn’t listen or didn’t hear him over their own whoops and hollers of excitement. Again, Ren realized that the only whoops were coming from behind him where the others were still plundering and pillaging the Yokonagawa homes before torching them to the ground. But nobody was hollering or making noise back at the boats.
A pang of fear mixed with anger flowed through him. He had known that this wasn’t going to bode well for them. Ren had tried to warn their commanding officer of his vision, but the old man had laughed at him after calling him a coward.
Ren began walking back toward the boats, but instead of walking straight back down the path his companions had gone, Ren circled around the burning buildings off the beaten trail.
It felt good to get out of the smoke and breathe fresh air once again. Ren moved quickly but silently through the trees, making his way back down to their waiting ships. Carefully watching for any enemies waiting to ambush him.
The waiting ships lay silently in the dark harbor. He didn’t see the guards who had stayed behind. Had they decided it was safe and abandoned their posts to loot and plunder with the others?
Ren watched with bated breath as he planned his best course of action. Rushing in would be foolish. He could die before warning his companions that something was wrong. If he waited to figure out what was going on, more of his returning companions would die, but if he left, he still wouldn’t know what was going on.
He decided that his best course of action would be to return to the men to warn them that something wasn’t right. Then together, they would figure out what was going on and how to protect themselves.
Ren slipped back the way he had come under the cover of the trees that hid him from the light of the full moon and stars illuminating the surrounding countryside.
He was about halfway back to the place he had come from when he heard another group of men returning with their loot. Whooping and hollering like those that had come before them.
Looking around carefully to make sure no one was watching, Ren waited till they were in sight before rushing out into the open air to meet them at the edge of the burning buildings.
“Hey! Stop. You can’t go down that way. Something is wrong. No one is returning.” Ren shouted in a hushed voice.
“C’mon, Ren! There is so much to plunder. We’re all going to be filthy, stinkin’ rich after tonight. Get up there with the others.”
The group had already moved on past Ren for him to physically stop them, and he didn’t want to yell after them to let their enemies know that he was onto them yet. A couple of more men came trotting down the trail under the weight of their bags of newly found treasure. Ren focused his attention on stopping them.
“What are you doing, Ren? Move out of the way. We’ve gotta drop this stuff off so we can get back up and gather more.” one of the men growled in an irritated voice when Ren wouldn’t let them past.
“You don’t understand. Something is wrong. No one is returning. I think they’re being killed when they return to the ships.”
“What have you been chewing on, Ren? There is no one here but us. The Yokonagawa all fled when we got here. Jump on this chance to grab yourself some goods.” the one named Ichiro said with a laugh.
“Yeah, Ren. We were going slow because my missus is a little larger than average, so it took me longer to find things that’ll fit her. And I saw a bunch of people come down here to drop stuff off and then come back up while we were still scavenging around. They must have gone back up on the other trail. You just didn’t see them.” Souma whined as he tried to push past Ren who was still blocking the path.
“Fine, go down, but be careful. And return this way to let me know you are okay on your way back.” Ren replied, letting them pass.
Ichirou and Souma both nodded as they raced past him without bothering to reply. Ren stood there for a minute watching them disappear toward the boat. Wondering if he was mistaken. Maybe he was just being overly cautious. Perhaps he was missing out on a ton of loot that everyone else was gathering without him.
Thoughts of treasure and great wealth filled his mind, driving out the worries that had plagued him since they had arrived. Ren continued walking up the trail towards the unburnt houses slowly. Waiting for Souma and Ichirou to come back up and tell him that everything was okay.
Other groups of looters passed Ren, and he was careful to warn them to keep an eye out for potential dangers. But like Souma and Ichirou, they all scoffed and brushed his warnings off as foolish advice.
Ren finally made it past the last burning house and into the section where his companions were still ransacking and pillaging. He set his sights on a house that seemed to be relatively untouched, and almost started heading toward it when he remembered that he was still waiting for Souma and Ichirou to return.
He looked back but they were nowhere in sight. If all they had done was drop off their bags and come racing back as excitedly as they had gone, they should have passed him well before now.
Ren sighed. Why did he always have to be like this? He regretted always having such a strong sense of moral duty to others. Putting them before himself. He had missed out on a lot of great opportunities because of it. And had almost died a time or two as well.
The thought of all those treasures waiting to be gathered was almost too much of a temptation for him. Maybe he could just gather a little bit for himself to have ready when the time came to leave while he warned the others.
He moved in the direction of the house, shouting out to others who were preparing to head down the trail, but none of them gave him any heed.
Ren was at door to the house. It was a small house. That’s probably why the others had passed it over in favor of the larger homes with more stuff to loot. But Ren could see that it was made of the finest craftsmanship. Whatever was inside would be top quality and fetch him a fine price.
He reached out to push the door open and step inside. Ren looked to the side and saw a large group of looters walking past him toward the boats. He felt that same strange sense of foreboding that he had earlier. Ren sighed and smacked his fist against the door with a growl.
Spinning around, he followed them from a distance. He could always come back and pillage later. This was a large town and there were still plenty of unburned houses. Just a quick jog down to the river to make sure his companions were okay. Then he would come back and ransack every last house and burn them himself.
It didn’t matter that they had once been allies. His leadership had just declared war on them with this act and they would all pay dearly for it, now that they would be waging battles on two fronts. Ren didn’t care. He had been raised to fight since the time he could walk.
He would plunder and get all the loot he could like everyone else to make the rest of the battles to come feel like they were worth something, Ren pondered as he followed the men racing down to the boat.
Ren watched as they raced excitedly across the planks onto the ship and disappear. He breathed a sigh of relief. At least they hadn’t been attacked like he thought was happening. With a smile, he started to turn and walk back up the trail.
Then stopped and cocked his head to the side. What were the men doing? Why hadn’t they dropped off their bags and come back for more? What were they doing up there? He pursed his lips and tried to imagine what they were up to.
Ren moved swiftly, but silently toward the ships. He slowed down when crossing the wooden planks to avoid making any more noise than necessary. He boarded the ship and looked around. Everything was silent and still. Bags of loot lay everywhere, ready for the journey home. But none of his companions were on board.
He made a brief but thorough inspection. No one was around. Had he boarded the wrong ship? Ren walked to the edge of the boat and looked around at the others in the harbor. All were silent and still as well.
“What could have happened to them?” Ren wondered.
Another group of rowdy looters came trotting down the trail toward the boat. Ren moved back behind some cartons to watch and see what would happen to them.
They came running up the planks excitedly and tossed their bags of loot down. As soon as they did, each man turned and ran past Ren to the edge of the boat and leaped over the edge. Ren heard a quiet splash below, and then that was it. Nothing else. No commotion. No splashing around or calling for help.
He looked over the edge of the boat to the dark waters below. The bodies of the men who had jumped had completely disappeared as if they had sunk out of sight. But all around, the bodies of other companions floated listlessly in the waves.
Ren moved around the edge of the ship in horror. He recognized the faces of his companions under the light of the moon, as they rolled around in waves. Hearing the voices of others coming he raced off the boat to meet the men before they crossed the planks.
“Stop! Stop!” he hissed wildly as he flailed his arms. “Don’t go on the ship. Everyone who goes up there is dying!”
His companions laughed. “Don’t be silly, Ren. You were just up there.”
“I’m serious. Please, just put your bags down and come look over here to the side so you can see behind the ship. It’s full of our drowned companions in the water. Ichirou and Souma and everyone else. They are all there in the water.” Ren insisted.
The men looked at each other and shrugged.
“Ren wouldn’t be so stupid as to try to steal our loot. There is plenty for everyone tonight. But just to be safe, you stay with the bags, Jirou, while I go look.” Takuya said motioning for Tetsuya to follow him.
Takuya tossed his bag down and the other men followed suit. Immediately they all turned and walked up the plank onto the ship. Ren reached out to grab onto Tetsuya’s sleeve. But Tetsuya shook himself free and continued to walk toward the edge for the ship.
Ren dashed forward again and grabbed onto him again, this time by the arm. He also tried to hang onto the back of Takuya’s tunic as he pulled himself over the railing and threw himself into the cold waters below. Ren couldn’t hold onto him and concentrate on keeping Tetsuya from climbing over the edge.
He let go of Takuya and focused on preventing Tetsuya from jumping off the ship, but his companion was larger and stronger than he. Tetsuya shook himself free and jumped to join Takuya and Jirou in the water below.
Ren screamed in frustration and kicked at the railing. He raced up the trail while trying to understand what was causing this. He came to another group of men returning to the ships and tried to explain to them what was going on back at the ships.
They seemed worried and put their bags down on the ground. As soon as they did, each one began walking toward the ship with a strange look in their eye. Ren did everything he could to stop them. He knocked them over, but they just got right back up and kept on walking like Ren wasn’t even there in front of him.
He tried punching them. Kicking them. Pushing them around. But it didn’t matter what he did to them. They just kept walking toward the ship until they got there and threw themselves overboard into the cold, dark waters.
Ren ran back up the trail and tried again with another group. He got the same result. Everyone that put their bag of loot down immediately walked down to the ship and threw themself overboard.
He tried over and over with every group headed back, but it was completely useless. One by one, his companions drowned themselves mindlessly like a pack of lemmings. It was as if they became obsessed with jumping into the water after letting go of their bags of loot.
Ren even tried tying some of them up to trees to keep him from moving to the water. But they either cut themselves free, or another one of their mindless lemming friends would cut them loose.
As the moon moved across the night sky, Ren watched dozens and hundreds of his companions drown themselves under the light of the silent, twinkling stars.
After watching the last of his friends jump overboard, Ren fell to his knees in the middle of the ship and wept. Grieving the loss of his friends and companions. Frustrated at his impotence to stop whatever curse had caused this. Sobbing as he looked at the bodies of his drowned friends floating in the waves of the harbor.
Waves of emotion washed over him. Regret at not having demanded more from his superiors and understand why they had been sent here to their deaths. Guilt for not having been able to save his friends. Shame for being alive while they were all dead in the waters below. And rage. Fiery rage at whoever had done this to his friends.
Ren leaped to his feet with a roar. No longer afraid of making noise and being heard. Whoever he had sensed watching them earlier knew he was here. Knew he was still alive.
“Come and get me you cowards,” Ren screamed as he raced up the path toward the burning buildings. “I’m going to finish what we came here to start.”
When he arrived at the houses that his companions hadn’t yet ransacked, Ren began to torch them one by one, as fast as he could. Pulling firey torches of wood from the already burning houses and throwing them into the houses that still stood darkly against the night sky.
He worked swiftly and silently. Ren knew that he didn’t have much time. They probably hadn’t calculated on someone not-so-greedy person not touching their cursed objects. And right now, at this very moment were conjuring up some sort of incantation to try and stop him.
“Cowards! Come down from where you’re hiding in the hills and fight me like a man.” Ren screamed out into the darkness beyond the burning flames as he continued torching houses up and down the streets around the town square.
Ren didn’t have a death wish. He didn’t want to die foolishly. But his fury was so great that he wanted to kill his enemies just to avenge the death of his friends.
He heard them coming before he saw them. The patter of their feet as they raced down the street in his direction. Trying to come in behind some burning buildings. Hoping to catch him by surprise.
But Ren was ready for them. Trained by the most revered master in the land. A mighty warrior with every sense honed to the sharpest degree. A hardened soldier enraged beyond measure and thirsty for justice.
He didn’t even pull his sword to meet them. Ren ran directly at them. Sliding into them and bowling them over. Parrying the blows of their sword with his torch. Using their own momentum against them, Ren tossed them into the fire of the house burning beside them. One by one they fell kicking and screaming into the flame.
All of his rage and fury focused on avenging the death of his friends. Years of training, honing his skills to perfection. Ren didn’t even have to think. Punching. Kicking. Dodging when he needed to dodge, Ren made short work of his enemies.
And he still hadn’t even pulled his own sword. Sometimes using their own weapons against them. But most of the time, it wasn’t even necessary. His rage provided an almost superhuman strength to his killing spree. Breaking bones. Crushing their resistance. Tossing them into the fire as if they were ragweed.
The years of truce and lack of fighting had made the Yokonagwa soft. But they continued to pour down from the mountains. Eventually, Ren tired of toying with them and pulled his sword. They fell before Ren like hay before a scythe.
Soon there were bodies piled up in the center of the burning building and it took greater effort to toss them up there, so Ren moved the fighting back to another room in the house and continued to dispatch his enemies from there.
Eventually, his hand went numb and clave to his sword, but he continued to wield it wildly. Dispatching his enemies left and right as the building burned down beside him. Eventually, the flames consumed all but the pillars that had once held up the homes and darkness once again swallowed the town. And still, Ren continued his feud with the Yokanagwa, until every last one of them had been put down.
Ren looked down at the sword in his hand. He couldn’t open his fist to let go of the sword by willing it. He had to pry his fingers open to remove the sword. The exhausted warrior slid the sword back into its sheath and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve. Then looked around and sighed.
Seeing the bodies heaped up within the burning pillars was an eerie sight. It brought him no joy to look upon them. No sense of elation at the victory he had wrought single-handedly. But there was a sense of completion at having performed his duty.
He had finished the task his commanding officers had sent him here to fulfill even though he hadn’t agreed with it. And he had avenged the deaths of his fellow warriors. Not that it would do much good to bring any one of them back from the dead.
Ren moved out of the path of smoke coming in his direction and then stood there for a moment letting the cool, night breeze wash over him. Cooling his sweat-drenched body. He untied his hair and shook it out. He looked around for a place to sit and rest his weary bones.
“Well done, mighty warrior!” a loud voice boomed from behind him. “I have been searching for one as great as yourself.”
Ren spun around and jumped back at the sight before him. A large, majestic figure stood silhouetted in the darkness of buildings still burning behind him. He took a step backward with each step it took toward him until he was almost up against the building that had burned down behind him.
His brain tried to process what he was seeing exactly. The creature didn’t seem to have much of a face. The only distinct feature he could see clearly were its burning red eyes and the two large horns coming out of its head. A skull tied into place between his horns stood out with the skulls stuck to the shoulder pads of his leather and fur outfit that was covered with some sort of armor.
“Your heart is pure. Unaffected by greed as the others were. And you fight like an Ergavyan. Your father must be proud to have raised such a fine son as yourself. It’s too bad, you must die tonight. My orders are to make sure no one lives.”
Ren’s head reeled at the information he was processing. Trying to recall the Ergavyan legends he had heard from his mother’s bedtime stories as a child. This couldn’t be real. They were mythical creatures of magic and might who had once ruled the land. Remnants of their once great civilizations were all that remained in far-off desert lands.
“Come, mighty warrior. Bow to your fate like a man. It is a rare privilege for one such as yourself to even see an Ergavyan such as myself, much less have the glory to be killed one of my kind.”
Ren snorted in disdain. It may have been more out of fear than of disdain, but he didn’t want to appear weak before the strange being that had just appeared.
“I bow to no man. Nor do I bow to any Ergavyan. And if you think men bow to fate, you are sadly mistaken.” Ren shouted loudly and more courageously than he really felt as he assessed his situation.
Unsure of his chances of standing his ground and fighting, Ren fleetingly considered fleeing. He had never fought an Ergavyan, nor had he ever seen anyone else fight one for that matter.
Perhaps they were slow and he stood a good fighting chance. Or maybe they were swift as lightning, like the Yovian Elementals in his mother’s bedtime stories. Ren fanned his fingers and flexed his fist as he prepared to grab his sword.
“Be careful human. Or you will face the wrath of Ergavya upon you. Look what I have done to your comrades without laying a hand upon them. Imagine what I could do to you.” The creature growled.
“Or maybe you are slow and don’t know how to fight. So you hide behind your magic in the darkness with your trickery.”
Ren reached for his sword and pulled it from his scabbard, and crouched for the charge. The Ergavyan smiled menacingly and shifted forward in anticipation. It charged at him without pulling a weapon.
It was surprisingly fast for its size. Ren ducked the first swing of its giant fist and took a swing at it. But his sword hit mostly leather and metal. Ren moved around it, dodging punches and blows while simultaneously seeking a weak point to connect the sharp blade of his sword that would do some damage.
The Ergavyan blocked his swing with the protection on its left forearm and swung at Ren with its right. Ren was tiring from his dance around the Ergavyan and ducked too slowly. Its fist connected with Ren’s body and smashed him back toward the burning remains of the building where he had tossed the bodies of the enemies he had annihilated.
“Had enough yet human?” the Ergavyan growled as it walked toward him.
Ren pulled himself to his feet and braced himself for his final battle. He glanced around him for something to climb up onto. Something that would get him high enough up to take a swing at its head. The pile of bodies behind him was the only thing around.
He flipped backward onto a body at the bottom of the burning heap and then jumped from one to another till he reached the top. The burning pillars of the building lit up the scene around him like one of the Hive Gnome deathmatches he had once seen while on a diplomatic trading journey to the lands in the North.
Ren sensed that this was the end for him. He had to pull out all the stops. There was an ancient form of calling up fire that his master had once taught him. But it was painful and sucked all of his energy. He had been sick for two weeks after. So, he had never used it again. He had never been in a position where it had been necessary.
He didn’t even want to do it now. His body had aged since then. And he was tired and weak from all the fighting he had already done. Ren sighed and raised his sword over his head. He closed his eyes and lifted the knuckles of his left hand to his lips.
Calming his breathing and focusing his attention inward toward his belly. He let his mind wander into the night air around him. He could feel the power and magic that lay heavy in the air. Ren had never felt it this strongly before. He breathed in sharply, channeling that power and magic through the crook of his fingers. He could feel his own strength growing.
The Ergavyan stopped coming at him and cocked its head to the side. “Where did you learn how to do that human?” It asked as if genuinely curious.
Ren didn’t answer but continued to suck in sharply and channel the power growing within him. He felt heat building up within him and he willed it into his sword.
His sword burst into flames, and Ren swirled the weapon around his head, leaving a glowing yellow trail of light that extended past the tip of his sword, effectively extending his reach.
The Ergavyan growled nervously and charged toward him. Ren leaped to meet it. Swinging his sword downward with all of his might. The Ergavyan’s arm sliced off cleanly and dropped into the burning flames that surrounded them. It howled and backed off. It roared at Ren again. He charged at it, but it turned tail and raced off into the night.
Ren was too tired to chase it. His energy was low. He had pulled enough power and energy from the air around him that he didn’t feel sick like before. But still, it had drained him. He stopped running after it and bent down to catch his breath.
It would be out there in the darkness. It would try to weave some magic spell against him as it had done to his companions. His best bet would be to get off the island.
Ren set all but one of the ships on fire and bid his companions farewell as he sailed out of the harbor. Careful not to touch any of the bags of loot that lay scattered across the deck.
He would return again another time to hunt the Ergavyan down and fight it as his ancestors had many years ago just like his mother had told him about in his bedtime stories. He would return with those trained to sense magic and they would hunt it down.
And if there was one, that meant that there would be others. He would unite the three kingdoms against their common foe and put an end to this senseless bickering and endless feuding.
And one day, he would lead his people united in battle against the Ergavyans to finish what his ancestors before him had started to wipe out this evil that killed his companions.