By C. L. Werner
Koumajutsu: The Coming of Bagan
Part: Prologue -
It was an anachronism; a forgotten shard of the ancient past surrounded by the glittering towers of a modern megalopolis. A barren place, a place of bare, dead earth. Stone walls concealed it from the people of the city, but most knew it was there and offered prayers at a small shrine just beyond the stone walls. Few had ever seen over those walls, seen the huge mound of earth and stone that marked the final resting place of the head of Lord MasakadoTaira.
A thousand years had passed since Masakado had led a revolution and attempted to establish an independent state in central Japan. The uprising had been subdued and Masakado had been beheaded. The ancient spirit of Masakado had come to reside in this mound, the burial site of his head. When he had died, the Emperor of Dirt had vowed vengeance. But now, ten centuries later, Lord Masakado had come to be worshipped by millions as the guardian spirit of Tokyo. As dire as some of the calamities that have struck the great city in the past, many believe that far worse will come upon them should the grave of Masakado Taira be disturbed.
Only one man in all of history had been so bold as to confront the ancient spirit and try to put an end to its slumber. The result had been the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, a disaster that had virtually annihilated Tokyo.
A tall, gaunt figure stood before the crumbling mound. The figure was garbed in the green uniform of an Imperial Army lieutenant, a long green cape covering his shoulders and back like a shroud. Inhuman eyes burned from beneath the brim of his peaked officer's cap. Strange words slithered from the man's lips, words in an ancient and unholy tongue. The man gestured with his white-gloved hands, the white fabric of each glove marked by a black five-pointed star. As the sorcerer's incantation progressed, the crumbling mound of earth began to shake violently, eerie blue light escaping the living earth. Still, the demon continued to work his magic.
The ancient burial mound trembled, small stones falling from its ridge. The necromancer did not seem to notice when wisps of blue, mist-like light crawled from the mound and sank into the roots of a dead tree standing beside Masakado's tomb. He did not look up as the tree's withered branches shot towards him, their emaciated limbs reaching for his body like a rain of spears. The necromancer did not pay any attention to the coming attack. The branches shot towards the uniformed body only to shatter upon an invisible shell of energy two feet away from the demon's body. The wailing moan of a lost soul shuddered through the night as the blue mist evaporated.
'Why do you defy me?' the necromancer snarled through clenched lips. 'Has your slumber been so long that you have forgotten your vow of retribution? Rise, Masakado, and claim your vengeance, and mine!' The sorcerer's litany became still more forceful, his hand gestures more rapid. A smile tugged at the corners of the demon's mouth as he saw a red light begin to bleed from the cracked surface of the burial mound. The light began to coalesce into a shape, the apparition of a figure wearing ancient samurai armor astride a giant white horse. The steed's flesh was shriveled and broken, rot coursing through its hide. The figure astride the steed was no less horrible, dozens of arrows had pierced the armor and no head rose from above its shoulders. The necromancer exulted when he saw the manifestation. Soon, soon he would awaken the spirit of Masakado Taira.
Just as abruptly as it had formed, the apparition dissipated. The churning earth of Masakado's tomb grew quiet once more, the eerie blue light seeping back into the broken ground. The necromancer rose from his crouch, snarling a cry of rage. His eyes focused upon the red parchment that had appeared between himself and the grave, noting the spell inscribed upon it. The necromancer turned, glaring at the man he knew to be standing behind him.
'Who seeks damnation by disturbing the rest of Lord Masakado?' the second man challenged the necromancer. The new arrival was much shorter than the uniformed necromancer, slightly less than five feet tall. The man was dressed in the white habit of a Shinto priest, though there were slight variations in the costume which declared him to be something else entirely. The man's head was shaven, though a thick moustache crouched upon his upper lip. The man's bright, blue eyes focused upon the burning embers of the sorcerer's, met that terrible gaze, and did not shrink from it.
'Who are you to entertain death by interfering with me?' the necromancer challenged back. A gloved hand reached beneath the folds of the cape and produced a slip of black parchment, like an over-sized playing card, its dark surface emblazoned with a red pentagram. The necromancer hurled the card at the other man. Mid-way between the two men, the card began to twist and contort, becoming a fanged and winged creature, as much shark as it was bird. The small shape-shifter sailed towards the man in white, its fangs snapping in anticipation. The man in white made a gesture with his hands and a bolt of burning, searing light crashed into the oncoming demon. The shape-shifter fled from the parchment, leaving the slip of paper to return to its card-like shape. The card fluttered down to earth to rest at the feet of the white wizard. The old man reached down and retrieved the parchment, examining its surface.
'This is the Dooman Seiman,' he said, pointing at the pentagram. 'Then you are Kato Yasunori.'
'If it pleases you to know the title of your destroyer,' Kato sneered, bowing slightly as the wizard said his name.
'I am Hoichi,' the wizard introduced himself, with all the calmness and good nature of a man at a tea party. 'My family has stood watch over this grave since 1927, when you last attempted to disturb Lord Masakado's rest. I am honored that you have chosen to return during my life.' The wizard bowed to the evil sorcerer, returning Kato's mock courtesy.
'Your clan has stood watch over this grave for nearly eighty years then?' Kato said, taking a step towards Hoichi. 'Your hatred for me must be great, to have awaited my coming for so very long.'
Hoichi laughed, the sound causing Kato's face to show the first sign of any emotion since he had first begun parlaying with the wizard. It was a look of surprise.
'No, demon, I will not fall into that trap,' Hoichi said, merriment still in his voice. 'To hate one like you is to give your evil a path into my soul. Only by remaining without emotion can a demon be destroyed. To do otherwise is to drain the ocean with a sieve.'
'Filled with hate or no, you shall not stop me,' Kato returned, his voice low and menacing.
'I do not need to thwart you, demon,' Hoichi stated. 'Lord Masakado has already found his redemption. He does not seek destruction. He protects this great city with his powers. Behold the great calamities that have set upon Tokyo over the years. Yet fewer have died here than elsewhere when tragedy has set upon other places. Look at the prosperity and fortune of this great city, which rises from the ashes to grow ever stronger, ever more brilliant. It is Lord Masakado's blessing that makes this city thrive, not his curse.'
'This ground is holy,' Kato snarled. 'It is consecrated by the blood of the dead. They cry out for vengeance upon those who would build this vile abomination upon their tombs.'
'I hear no such cries of anguish, demon,' Hoichi shot back. 'The spirits I sense revel in the prosperity of their descendents and gaze in wonder upon every new marvel the minds of men and hands of men construct.'
Kato roared back at the wizard. 'Then you hear nothing old fool!' The necromancer gestured towards Hoichi and a gloved hand seemed to shoot from the sorcerer to strike the old wizard. But, just as Kato had warded away the spirits motivating the branches of the tree, so to did Kato's black sorcery crash harmlessly against an invisible shield of magic.
'I thought the secrets lost,' Kato said, amazed that Hoichi had been powerful enough to ward off his attack. 'I had thought in this abominable age there would be none who would embrace magic before the heresies of science.'
'So long as demons like you stalk the earth, Kato Yasunori, there shall be need of white magic to counter your evil.' Hoichi threw his own sheet of parchment at the necromancer. The slip of white paper transformed into a sharp-beaked bird and flew at the necromancer. Kato responded by hurling his own shape-shifters at the oncoming spirit. The three black fanged demons tore the white bird to shreds, the savaged parchment slowly fluttering back to the ground. Kato recalled his own shape-shifters. They dropped to the earth, assuming shapes like grotesque black monkeys and scuttling across the dirt to return to their master.
'Your magic is feeble, wizard,' Kato mocked. 'Perhaps I cannot harm you, but you certainly cannot harm me.'
'You shall not succeed here, demon!' Hoichi cried, alarm breaking through his calm façade. 'Lord Masakado shall not bend to your will. He will not let you destroy this city.'
'Then I shall find a different instrument to exact my vengeance!' Kato spat. The sorcerer rose into the air, his booted heels hovering above the earth. The wind howled, whipping his cape around him. As Hoichi watched, the necromancer's body shattered into a swirling mass of darkness and was carried away on the wind.
'Return to the grave you have denied for so long!' the white wizard cried after the departed sorcerer. 'Let this city be!'
The only answer the wizard received was a sound that was carried back to him on the wind, the sound of a demon's laughter.