Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Jwar Tales part 6

Mizuki Ito cursed the Prefecture fools again, rearing up on her powerful coils, she watched as the Dragon clan deployed for battle.  Why her would be allies had decided to betray her she could only guess.  The alliance would have allowed them to take the fight to the Jung pirates that had plagued the Islands over the last few months and put an end to their raids. It made no sense to her why the ruling clan would not want to put an end to the pirates? Regardless they had decided to not only dishonour the treatise, but to attack her retinue. The betrayal was doubly offensive and could only be repaid in blood.

Looking left to right, she watched her kin deploy with grim determination. The giant Hebi samurai - Taisei, with his No-Dachi would protect the smaller Hebi archer - Kaihime, her poisoned arrows would be vital in keeping the foe at bay. On the other flank, Yuui, the last of the Hebi samurai in her retinue and armed with twin swords, slithered around the base of the ancient statue and took up her position.  Either side of her stood the only bipedal members of her warband. Ji, the Temple Asp stood close by his priestess, the tight grip on his katana the only sign of nerves showing, his devout faith in her and Orachi would ensure his bravery in the coming fight.  Lastly, the mysterious Hebimiman - Akimoto the Red stood stock still, his glittering cobra eyes fixed on the approaching enemy. 

Arrayed before her, the Dragon clan retinue spread out.  The young lord Hiro Takashi led the delegation, flanked by the ward of the court - Iiju Makoto.  Two minor members of the Takashi family lurked in or around the two lords, clearly there to provide a bodyguard for the nobles. More astonishingly, the rumours were true - one of the legendary dragons had risen from their slumber to aid the Takashi family in consolidating their hold on the Prefecture, although Mizuchi was young by dragon standards, he still counted his age in centuries.

Under the watchful eyes of the colourful statue of the great wyrm Sui Riu, the Prefecture fools marched toward the Mother and her kin.

"My family, let us show these treacherous creatures Orachi's disfavour, let my husband's poison run through their veins and show them we are not to be betrayed!" she shrieked.

Kahime the archer bowed her head and slithered quickly forward, raising her bow and loosing a shaft in one quick motion.  The arrow flew true and lodged in the elbow guard of the male retainer's armour, with a yelp the man withdrew his arm and tugged at the willow shaft until it dropped free, a tiny drop of blood on it's point.  Grimly he marched on, heading toward the centre of the small garden where the two clans fought.

Taisei raised his huge No-Dachi and rushed forward to cover the more vulnerable Kahime from the melee orientated Prefecture, his massive presence a comfort to the smaller hebi as she forced the enemy to find cover from her arrows.  Akimoto the Red, focused on the steady advance of his prey, sprang forward and spat a length of bile green poison at the approaching Dragon clan.  Iiju Makoto, ward of the court and scion of the Hare clan ducked the deadly stream and continued his approach, breaking into a swift run just before crashing into the hebimiman with his armoured form.  The slighter, unarmoured Akimoto was bowled over by the young samurai, who followed up the attack with a slash from his two handed sword.  The heavy weapon tore through the thick neck of the snake man, decapitating the monstrous beast with a single blow.

Mizuki shrieked with dismay as she saw a loyal warrior fall to the big human.  Fixing Iiju with her burning gaze, she drew on her considerable Ki, transfixing the young man like a mouse under the control of a striking viper.  Dreamily, the ward lowered his weapon and slumped his shoulders as the Bride of Orachi sapped his will and implanted suggestions into his now receptive mind.

Unaware of this uneven battle of wills, the female retainer Bachiko Takashi strode up behind the transfixed young man, urging him to advance on the nearby Ito Bushi.  With a snarl, the ward spun on his heel and swung his sword one-handed at the slight female.  Taken by surprise, Bachiko barely had the wherewithal to parry the massive blade and narrowly avoided a grievous wound.  A series of attacks followed, pushing the retainer to the very edge of her skills in an effort to defend herself.  The glazed look in Makoto's eyes enough for her to consider him bewitched, she painstakingly avoided any retaliation.

Ji the Ito Temple Bushi, took advantage of the distracted samurai and lept into combat with the male Takashi guard.  Screaming prayers to his god, the acolyte of Orachi delivered a withering series of slashes and blows in an effort to get past the darting point of the guards yari, to no avail as the two combatants fought to a stalemate.

On the left flank Mizuchi the dragon launched himself into the air and darted over the towering form of Taisei, landing in between the two hebi-samurai.  With lightning flicks of his muscular tail, the great beast delivered stunning blows to the snake warriors.

On the other flank, Hiro charged forward, his katana held high above his right shoulder ready to deliver a killing blow to Yuui, the female hebi warrior.  With precision he swept the blade down and wide only to feel the clash of steel on steel as the snake woman parried the strike with her left hand blade. Drawing his own sword back he launched a series of swift strikes that kept the Ito warrior on the defensive, ringing her twin blades with a speed that belied his single weapon.  However, Yuui was able to deflect all of the blows with only minor scrapes to show for his effort.  With the speed of a striking serpent, the hebi samurai uncoiled her muscular body and wrapped her strong tail around the human, pinning one of his arms to his side while hacking with her blades.  Hiro struggled to keep up with the lightning fast attacks and only his heavy armour kept him from receiving a major injury.

Strategically placed between the two snake samurai, Mizuchi the dragon launched itself at the unguarded back of the archer, sinking it's dagger sized talons into her back and piercing her heart.  With a sigh, the archer slumped lifelessly to the floor.

Mizuki, the bride of Orachi once again exerted her will on the ward of the Ryu court in an attempt to keep up the attack on the female retainer. With a trembling hand, Iiju Makato reached for a fetish tied onto his armour with a red sash. The Ki laced parchment flashed a bright silvery light, before crumbling into dust.  However the insidious hold on the scion of the Hare clan was broken and he turned on the spot to face down the oncoming Temple Asp.  The Ito Bushi grimly drew his katana and fought bravely, if not well, but eventually he succumbed to a well placed thrust of Iiju's sword.

The ward turned to the others, raising his blade in victory only to see the grey/green pallor of the male retainer.  "Han, what is it?" the ward barely had time to ask before the soldier dropped his yari from fingers that no longer had the strength to hold it. The retainer looked confused as he bent over to vomit a stream of green tinged bile onto the floor, then crashed to the ground in a heap.  Iiju, confused by the turn of events rushed to Han's side when he spotted the putrifying flesh wound at the soldier's elbow... poison!

Mizuki, the young dragon whipped his tail again and again at the enraged Taisei, desperate to keep the giant snake samurai at bay.  Time and again though, the hebi met the tail with his giant No-Dachi, the blade glistening with acid green poison.  Small nicks covered the length of the adolescent creatures scaly form and the dragon began to visibly slow as each cut penetrated his natural armour.

Hiro, slashed and stabbed with his katana, desperate to break the tenuous hold of the snake-woman's grasp.  However, the hebi samurai refused to let go and eventually more and more of her coils wrapped around the young lord, squeezing his torso until his armour plates began to buckle.

Poison coursed through the veins of the young dragon, the neuro toxin slowing his reactions and weakening his blows. In response the giant hebi samurai gripped his No-Dachi in both hands and lifting his upper body high on his snake-like lower half he drove the massive blade clean through the beast.

Mizuchi, screeched in delight as she watched the symbol of the Takashi clan fall to the floor in two separate pieces.  Gathering her Ki, she once again settled her gaze on Iiju and with an effort of will forced the ward to flee the battlefield, his cheeks flaming red with the shame.  Flushed with success, she nearly missed the quiet approach of the Takashi female, barely managing to deflect the swift strikes of the retainer's katana.

Desperately, the bride of Orachi parried the blows from the fearsome female, slowly but surely being driven backward toward the struggling Hiro.  As she fought for her very life, her concentration slipped and the control that she exerted over the ward Iiju wavered allowing the ward to break her hold over him.

Desperate to regain his honour, he broke into a trot and ran back toward the engagement, a grim smile on his face as he pictured his revenge.

From beneath a low bush on the edges of the battleground, a soft black nose pushed out of the foliage, followed by the orange brown snout of a fox.  With glittering eyes the creature watched as the two retinues continued to spend their strength in futile combat. Finally, the crafty beast had seen enough and withdrew silently into the surrounding woods, slinking away.  It's mission had been a resounding success, the treaty would never be and the Balance was safe.....for now.

hope you enjoy

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Jwar Tales part 5

Slowly, the green clad bushi made his way across the bare rock floor of the dank, gloomy cave.  Weak light from a flickering brazier, barely illuminated the path toward the stone dais and Ji, a third level Temple Asp, picked his steps carefully through the sacred serpents that littered the floor.  To step on one of Orochi's favoured creatures would invite Ji's instant sacrifice to the Snake Kami.

Reaching the first step that led to the rough hewn altar, Ji drew a shaky breath.  His news was grave and he was terrified that the Mother would react poorly to his report. Before he could calm his nerves however, he heard a soft slithering that marked the presence of one of the Hebi.  Ji dropped into a submissive bow, shuddering as he was instantly eye level with dozens of deadly vipers. Still, he pressed his forehead to the cold, moist floor, eyes averted from the majesty of the Mother as she entered the chamber.

"Report..." a soft, seductive voice tinged with a sibilant hissing whispered from the darkness.

Clearing his throat, Ji croaked a barely audible prayer to Orachi for his blessing.  Before he could continue, the voice grew harder and tinged with power, lashing at the petrified Asp like a snake's flickering tongue.

"Do not implore my husband for his protection!" the voice snapped "It is I who will decide your fate.  Now begin your report!" Ki laced the command, driving through the bushi's terror clogged mind and forcing the words through lips stiffened with fear.  Ji felt his head come up from the submissive stance and behold the glorious fury of the Mother.

Mizuki Ito, once famed for her beauty and courted by dozens of samurai across the Jwar Isles, was now transformed into a bride of Orachi.  Her human half still retained the classic lines of nobility that had drawn the attention of her many suitors, albeit her hair replaced by a nest of vipers that writhed and spat as if separate from her head. Her lower half resembled that of an enormous snake, glistening red scales glinting in the pale light and coiled underneath her.

"The Prefecture, Mother.  The Prefecture are coming..." babbled Ji in a panic.

"This I know fool! we seek alliance with them." The Shugenja shrieked.

Ji threw himself back into the submissive pose, trembling in such great fear that his whole body shook.

"No Mother you are mistaken, they are arrayed for war.  They seek a fight!"


Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Jwar Tales part 4

Once again Akari delved into the silver laced streams of Ki, determined to find a way to disrupt the plans of the Prefecture and Ito and divert the threat to the Balance.  Once again, a telltale flash of red fur in his peripheral vision indicated the presence of the Kitsune.

Further and further, the Tanuki master pushed back along the thread, looking for the point that could break the alliance between the two powerful houses.  Tracing the long journey back to it's origin, Akari found himself in a plaza, near the Takashi palace.  Under the cover of darkness, the Takashi lord - Hiro was gathering his retinue together.  

"Aha" the Tanuki chittered to himself, clearly the lordling was acting furtively and doing a terrible job at it too.  Akari sympathised (nearly), the young samurai held to his honour and found any attempt at subterfuge distasteful.  

"Maybe this is a better chance" he muttered.  "A little push here could dissuade the Dragon clan from allying with the Snakes of Ito"  Looking around he was unsurprised to see the Kitsune manifest next to him. With a nod, she indicated her approval and promptly dissipated from his senses, only to reappear in the plaza in fox form.

Once again the Tanuki focused his will and the images of his righteous warriors appeared in the inky shadows of the plaza. With a nod to the Kitsune as she lined up alongside his brothers and sisters, Akari started the thread once more.

With a comical jump of surprise, Hiro spun to face the sudden arrival of the band of monks. Drawing in a giant gasp of air he bellowed like a parade ground Gunso - "TO ARMS!"

The sound of  drawn steel filled the air like the hissing of many vipers, sending a shudder down Hiro's spine.  Already sceptical about the upcoming alliance with the duplicitous Snakes of Ito, the young lord nerves were on a razors edge, as he half expected to see the scaly hides of the hebi-samurai slithering out of the darkness.  He was therefore very surprised to see the furry features of some Ro-Kanese monks. What they hell were they doing here? and why the hell were they in the company of some very young looking children?

Whatever the reason, they were obviously intent on intercepting the Takashi delegation.  Hiro shrugged his armour clad shoulders, his fathers orders were explicit - convey the offer to the Snakes, secure the treatise and between the two clans, the threat offered by the Jung pirates would be neutralised.  Honour dictated that he complete his mission, but the back stabbing nature of the Ito offended him and his honour  as did the manor in which this mission had been organised.  

While he understood the political wrangling behind the scenes and the precarious grip of the Dragon clan on the reins of authority within the region, he despised the need to hide a treaty that was supposedly meant to protect the innocent inhabitants of the Jwar coastlines from the Jung deprivations. If this treaty was supposed to bring stability to the people then why not shout it from the rooftops? Why not march openly to meet with the Snake delegation and send a message to the pirate clans?

The argument between Hiro and his father regarding the mission had gone on for some time before the Daimyo had simply ordered his son to obey him.  Hiro seethed as the memory of the shame he had felt at being reduced to a little boy once again burned through him.  Almost gleefully he ripped his razor sharp katana from it's smooth, lacquered sheath.  At last he could regain some honour in a straight forward fight!

With a banshee-like shriek, Mizuchi launched himself into the air, stretching his elegant neck to gain height before crashing down in front of the great ape dressed in crafted armour and who easily swung a brass shod club that a muscular human would struggle to even lift.  Like a lightening flash, the dragon flicked his muscular tail at the orangutan like a bull whip, delivering a stunning blow that opened a line of bright red blood across the thigh of the powerful simian monk.

Undeterred by the agonising wound, Kosuke grabbed the stunted forearms of the giant serpent and pulled the surprised dragon closer.  With a twist of his barrel shaped torso, the red haired ape launched the juvenile beast clear across the plaza, narrowly missing the charging form of the Takashi ward - Iiju Makoto.  The great ape, panting from the show of immense strength in throwing the dragon, barely had time to raise his club before the scion of the Hare Clan cleaved through his pitiful armour with his No-Datchi.  With a sigh the Temple monk slid to the floor, a terrible, jagged wound across his chest.

Iiju Makoto allowed himself a nod of satisfaction as he wiped the simian blood from the broad blade of his two handed sword.  The orangutan had been dangerous, immensely strong and skilled, it was good that he had put down that beast.  That sense of accomplishment dissipated as he felt an even bigger hand thump down on his shoulder.  With a nervous twist of his head, he barely caught sight of the enormous leathery face of a silver backed mountain gorilla before being launched sideways with an incredible show of power.  With a crash, the heavily armoured ward clattered into lord Hiro, throwing both samurai to the plaza floor.

oops Damon's fingers...
More bestial roars filled the air as Kuma, the giant panda warrior monk of Ro-Kan powered into the fight.  With brutal efficiency he charged the slight figure of the female messenger, intent on ending the threat contained within her bag. Drawing her katana, Bachiko tried desperately to block the flurry of blows from the enraged monk's Bo-staff.  However, her vain efforts inevitably weakened as the onslaught continued unabated and with a final horrendous crack, the sturdy oak staff clubbed her to the ground.

Mizuchi the dragon subtly shifted his coils as he slowly fought through the haze in his head.  He had landed hard after being thrown by the enraged orangutan, his skull connecting with the pillar of an ancient Tori Gate.  Cracking his eye open, he glanced around the battlefield looking any immediate dangers.  Spotting the fallen body of the red haired primate, he snorted with glee (and a little relief) at seeing his enemy laid low.

Feeling stronger by the second the young dragon raised his head, only to find himself face to face with a young girl.  Mizuchi was unable to put an age to any human, they lived such short, fleeting lives but she clung to an old stuffed bear for comfort and had to be pre-pubescent.  Shifting his sight from the mortal world she virtually shone with the flow of Ki that penetrated her every fibre.  She was far to precious to the Balance and the Kami to destroy, but she did represent a threat to his warband.  Mizuchi pushed his gargantuan frame higher and higher, towering over the diminutive figure of the child, who was frozen in terror at the uncoiling beast.

Far across the plaza, the giant gorilla known only as Aiko's Guardian felt her fear.  With his hand still clutching the ankle of Prefecture samurai he turned, desperately searching for his tiny companion. Flinging the unfortunate soldier away, the mighty simian beat his chest with his huge fists.  Canines flashing in the failing light he roared his challenge to the dragon as it unfolded its muscular coils to tower over his diminutive charge.  Rearing to his full height, he goaded the powerful serpent into attacking him instead, to no avail as Aiko fainted dead away, leaving herself very vulnerable to the dragon.

The Guardian, seeing Aiko fall, blinked in confusion.  He could still feel their bond, but she lay stock still in the manicured lawn of the Tori.  Hiro Takashi, taking advantage of the giant ape's distraction, stepped behind the huge primate and drove his katana deep into the spine of the beast.  With a grunt of surprise the gorilla crashed to the floor and lay still.

Seeing his brethren fall, Kuma piled into melee with a yari armed samurai.  The human used the length of the weapon to try and keep the enraged bear at bay and almost succeeded, until he felt a razor cut through his hamstring dropping him onto one knee.  The Kitsune danced back away from the retaliatory swipe of his spear, lightly stepping over the weapon and offering an apologetic shrug before skipping away as Kuma lifted the human into a bone snapping bear hug, that crushed his spine.

Master Akari rifled through the documents that seemed to be so vital to the Prefecture retinue. "Ah" he muttered to himself, noting the details of the treatise and the promises made from the Lord Takashi.  "Right then, enough of this violence" he continued. 

With a shift of focus, the scene stilled.  Akari walked the perimeter of the plaza, noting with sadness the broken forms of his fellow monks and their companions.  "This will not do either" he chittered in the secret Tanuki language.  Spotting the Kitsune, he carefully picked his way over to the trickster Yokai and bowed deeply.  

"My thanks sister, for your aid in determining the path that we must follow.  The Balance as always remains on a razors edge and could go either way if we follow the path of blood.  Perhaps then we can employ a different stratagem and follow the path of guile?"

The Kitsune nodded her agreement, the alliance would fail before it began, she would see to it personally.  

This concluded the first two games between the same two factions, with Damon playing Prefecture and me playing my beloved Temple of Ro-Kan.  We then played a further game but I changed it up a little by playing another faction.  Part 5 will pick up the story from there.  However now writing these stories up, I'm a little dissatisfied with the abrupt ending here - what did the Kitsune do? The trickster Yokai has a mission still and all the tools she needs to complete it.  I think I may have to come up with a set of rules to cover the infiltration or I could use the "Rise of the Kage" rules by GCT.  Either way, expect a "spin off" adventure....

hope you enjoy

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Jwar Tales part 3

Hi all

over the last couple of weeks I have been laying the groundwork for a short series of games of Bushido.  The games, played by Damon and I aren't particularly linked but I have taken them and turned them into a narrative AAR.  There won't be any rules or "he threw a double 6", just a short story each week that gives you a flavour of the games played (or how I remember them!) in, what I hope is an entertaining way.  

I hope you enjoy

Master Akari drew deep on the Ki that flowed through him and slowly the images became clearer and more focused.

His band of Righteous Warriors took shape until he could picture them clearly. The stalwart Kosuke, a visiting monk from the distant reaches of the Empire. The child Shugenja, Aiko and her powerful Guardian, a huge silverback mountain gorilla. The orphan boy, Koji and his pack of villainous monkeys and lastly Kuma, the giant Panda warrior.... "wait, was that a flash of red fur?" the Tanuki mused as a sleek creature streaked out from under some foliage.

To his surprise (particularly as this was HIS probability thread), the shape coalesced into the form of a Kitsune, who stood ready to fight alongside his fellow monks.  The enigmatic yokai often had their own reasons for lending aid to the Temple, but it was always welcomed, albeit with a sharp eye kept on them...

Akari recognised the young lordling that led the retinue, Hiro, a scion of the ruling family Takashi.  He was beginning to make quite a name for himself, both as a warrior and a general.  With him was a ward of the Hare clan - Iiju Makoto and a couple of retainers from House Takashi. Most impressively though, the samurai had managed to persuade the juvenile dragon Mizuchi to join him on the expedition - clearly the messages contained in that bag were pivotal!

Akari sat back, figuratively, on his haunches and watched to see how the encounter would unfurl.

With a huge snort through his simian nostrils, Kosuke lumbered forward.  His waddling gait belied the speed that he moved over the rough ground of the forest floor and he soon crashed into the armoured form of Hiro Takashi.  Swinging his huge club in a low arc, easily avoided by the young samurai, Kosuke followed through with a series of feints that used the handle and head of the great weapon in tandem to keep the lordling on the back foot.  Finally he finished his sequence with a flourish, pivoting on a single leg he grabbed the surprised Takashi with his other foot and using the weight of the giant club to gain momentum flung the samurai to the floor several feet away.

Both warbands rushed forward, the Takashi retinue keeping tight around their messenger and the juvenile Dragon taking to the air with a triumphant scream.  Aiko's Guardian responded with a huge roar that shook the trees around them, beating his mighty fists against his enormous chest. 

The powerful gorilla leapt forward and grabbed the dragon by it's tail disrupting its flight and bringing the creature back down to earth.  Matching the ferocity of the giant primate, the dragon ripped at the beast with it's talons drawing red furrows into his hide. 

Aiko, watching her mighty protector taking hideous wounds drew on her Ki, with a wave of her delicate hand she sent a stream of spirit energy toward her burly companion, easing his pain and partially healing the grievous wounds.

Buoyed with renewed vigour, the Guardian pounded on the muscular flanks of the dragon, dislodging scales and winding the powerful creature. In retaliation, Mizuchi latched onto the massive arm of the simian and drove it's dagger length teeth to the bone.  Too late the young dragon realised it's mistake as the gorilla with a roar of defiance simply smashed his arm into the earth with a jarring crunch that stunned the magnificent serpent. 

With incredible speed, the Kitsune shrunk into fox form and dashed forward. Ducking under the flailing dragon, locked in it's struggle with Aiko's Guardian, she emerged next to the struggling behemoths.  With a brief shimmer, she once again regained humanoid form and lunging forward with her sword, tore a long and mortal wound down the length of Mizuchi.

Iiju Makoto, cried out at the loss of his adopted clan's kami and charged forward intent on severing the tricky Yokai's head.  Sword held high, he slashed at the Kitsune, only to stumble to the ground when the magnificent blade failed to connect.  Shaking his head in puzzlement, the Takashi ward looked around only to find the Kitsune yards away, a smirk upon her fox-like features.  The mirage of her slowly fading away as Iiju screamed his frustration at the mischievous creature.

So far so good, Akari muttered to himself with a small satisfaction.  The dragon had been neutralised and his warband were in position to intercept the messenger, disrupting the plans of the Prefecture and the Ito and their disastrous impact on the Balance.  

Hiro shook his head to clear his vision, further aided when he adjusted the tilt of his helmet.  Skittering away from the powerful orangutan, the samurai adjusted his grip on his katana ready to re-engage the simian monk.  Before he took one step however, he was confronted by a small, wiry boy armed with a Bo staff. 

With a wave of frustration, he motioned for the boy to move aside.  To his amazement, the boy not only shook his head but with a wry smile stepped forward and levelled the staff at the astonished samurai. Shrugging his shoulders the Takashi lord readied his sword and took stance.

Before he could engage, the boy pursed his lips and gave an odd little whistle.  Another step was all Hiro managed before two brown bullets shot from the dense undergrowth of the forest trails and flung themselves at the lordling.  Two mature macaque monkeys clung to his arms, interrupting his movements and causing him to slow and drop his guard.  In a flash, the boy darted forward and swung the Bo in a hefty blow that rang Hiro's helm like a bell.  Stumbling backwards, Hiro almost crashed against the stocky build of the Temple monk Kosuke…

Hiro shook his head again to clear the fog from the child's blow, enough was enough! With an armoured gauntlet he reached across and in a swift move, snapped the neck of the macaque dangling from his arm.  With his sword hand free he parried the incensed boy's attacks.  Calmly, he stepped aside as the giant brass shod club thumped to the ground beside him.  With a swing of his other arm he threw the remaining monkey away from him, the tiny macaque colliding with a tree trunk with a bone crunching crack.  Once again he parried the increasingly erratic swings from the grieving boy, before stepping in and delivering a stunning kick that propelled the boy backwards to land in a crumpled heap.  Finally free from the annoyance of the child and his pets, Hiro faced the powerful orangutan.  Wise to the four limbed attacks of the beast now he drew deep upon his Ki and cleansed the fatigue from his limbs.

Narrowing his eyes, concentration at peak, Hiro launched a series of blows and feints that defied the laws of physics.  His katana flickered faster than a serpents tongue, cutting and slicing, forcing the simian's defences further and further away from his body until the precise moment came. With Ki boosted strength he powered the blade through the bronze chest plate of the ape and split the creature's heart in two.  With another sigh from his simian nostrils, the great ape slid to the floor.

Barely had he drawn the long blade from the orangutan's body when the air was shattered with the bestial roar of the giant panda monk.  Kuma - his fang lined snout pulled back in a snarl, sprang forward... to be met with a sweep of Hiro's katana. Stepping nimbly to one side, despite his cumbersome armour, Hiro drew his magnificent blade back and sheathed it in a single motion.  The monk stumbled forward for two more steps before crashing to the ground, his throat opened wide pouring his blood into the earth...

"No more!" shouted Akari as he withdrew his consciousness from the thread.  Slowly the picture unravelled as he once again became pure spirit energy.  The cost was too high!  The loss was too much to bear.  There had to be a better way and he had to find it now.