A little writing exercise to ease myself back into the hobby after a long break.
I hope you enjoy.
"Fields of bodies, Mountains of dead
Down Dragonspring river, Our country bled
A fiery god, Demon wolf in red"
- traditional folk song attributed to the lost kingdom of Ashina.
Ashina fell due to internal strife, a waning of power and a convergence of hostile powers intent on exploiting its natural resources. The 'Shura' figure of legend is believed to be metaphorical in nature, an attempt to rationalise the sweeping, senseless destruction and death that the war brought. To the common man and woman, unaware of the intrigues and secrets of the nobility, it must truly have seemed as if a demon had descended upon them all.
- Dr Bartholomew Oobleck, in 'Shura: Contemporary and modern myths of the fall of Ashina'
Shura? That's one old wives tale you want to watch yourself around. I don't know about the 'demon' part, but Shura himself? He's as real as can be.
There are rumours, you know. A warrior of Ashina who opened the gates for the enemy and then fought both sides. A loyal retainer to a noble who sold his soul for immortality. A tragic hero who fell to darkness after his country was destroyed.
You wanna know what I think? It don't matter where it came from. Shura's real, and he's sitting around this very fire, nestled nice and cozy in all your innocent little hearts
. Think on that, lads, the next time you take the torch to a caravan or the sword to some poor weakling. Take a moment to look into the fire, and remember what you could end up like if you lose yourself completely...
- Unknown member of the Branwen tribe, recalling a popular ghost story concerning the legend of Shura
Adam Taurus understood pain.
He could still feel the brand burning his skin, the red and shriveled mess of his burn underneath the bandages a constant source of agony. The 'treatment' he received hadn't made things much better. The guards would occasionally douse the wound in cheap spirits - 'disinfectant' they called it, and laughed. Laughed without caring about the little faunus boy writhing around on the ground, deaf to his screams of agony as the alcohol burnt at his face.
It didn't burn as badly as the brand, though. Nothing ever would.
Those three damnable letters. He could feel them, sometimes, if he focused past the pain. Etched into his very skin was the mark of those responsible. SDC. Schnee Dust Company.
He wondered how many objects on Remnant had those same letters imprinted into them. How many humans saw their snowflake logo and those three letters and passed it by without a second thought. Or, even worse, were encouraged to buy whatever it was that symbol was stamped on. The SDC is reliable. It's a big company, so they make good products. I love the SDC.
Now, he'd joined those illustrious ranks. Property of the SDC - handle with care. The guards had clearly missed the memo. Just earlier that week, a woman had collapsed on the job, and been dragged out of the mines by the guards. Her name had been Rosie. She had a beautiful voice, and would sometimes sing for him and the other children, after a particularly hard day.
He doubted anyone would ever hear that voice again, from the bottom of the pit her body was probably in by now.
The pain was agonising, but it was also a focus. Spark, kindling and bellows all in one - the ingredients needed to light the flame in Adam Taurus's chest, to plant the seed of an idea in his mind.
And so, between swings of his pick and trips pushing minecarts full of dust, he thought. He planned. He considered. His thoughts were fuelled by naivety, at that point - he could join protests, become visible and challenge the Politicians on what happened here.
But the brand on his face burned, and with every twitch and agonising expression, he understood everything so much clearer. The protests were never going to be enough. So what then? Could they fight? A second faunus revolution, freeing the people from their chains? He could be a hero, have friends and comrades he could rely on, count on to always have his back.
He dreamed of cleansing fire, burning away all the rot and filth in his world and leaving only the pristine future in its wake. Every time he was unable to sleep, brand burning, he'd lay in his rough, wood-hewn cot and think of that future.
Adam Taurus was 11 years old when the brand was pressed against his face. He was 13 when his freedom was granted.
He couldn't remember much from that day. It had been much like any other, and he and the other labourers had been too exhausted to think about anything too much. The laughter of the guards outside echoed in their ears - probably drunk on illegal spirits, again. They'd have to tread lightly to avoid some beatings.
The first indication that something was wrong was the acrid smell of smoke. It crept into the room subtly, passing under doorframes and through thin windows and walls. Nobody noticed at first, perhaps somebody had asked an innocent question, like 'Do you smell that?' or 'Is that smoke?'.
Then, they heard the gunshots, and the alarms started blaring. The automated voice that reported their work hours to them began to repeat a message in its dull, monotone voice.
"Alert. SDC Encampment #32 is under attack. All non-security personnel are advised to evacuate to the landing pads immediately"
The message began to repeat, and now people were standing, murmurs turning to panicked discussion and rapid movement. The shared bedhouse, lined with uncomfortable bunkbeds from end to end, ignited with movement - workers hurriedly grabbing what few possessions they had, or otherwise just running for the doors. The assumption was that it was a Grimm attack, and the miasma of terror that accompanied the mention of those creatures was enough to get all but the most broken of faunus workers dashing for the landing pads.
It was night outside, but stepping through the doors in a crowd of rushing people, the white glare of the floodlights and the reddish-orange glow of the flames that were rapidly consuming the complex. There was screaming now, distant, desperate, agonised screams that pierced through the cacophony of gunfire and panic. Those that could started running. Those that couldn't either desperately clung to family members and friends, or were trampled under the crowd.
But as the crowd carried him away, every jostle and shove made his bandaged eye twitch. With every drifting ember, the flame inside it grew a little bit brighter, a little bit hotter, and a little less caring
They reached the landing pads quickly, but, of course, there weren't enough Bullheads to take everyone in the camp. Women and Children were offered up - although more than a few men tried to claw their way past the white wall of uniformed soldiers.
Adam hadn't said anything, struck dumb by shock and enraptured by the fire all around him. That same, purifying fire as from his dreams. The human men and women of the SDC were caught up in it, burning just as easily as any kindling, their dying wails drifting upwards as they did so. The guards who had so readily tortured and abused them purified into ash by the sweeping inferno
He looked at those burning men and women. He had never realised that fire could be so beautiful.
Someone caught his arm, half-dragging half-flinging him to the front of the crowd. It was a woman, and she was making desperate cries for somebody to take her and her son - him, of course. The face of one of the guards twitched in pity, and with a push, they were in a cargo bay, the thrum of engines rumbling underfoot drowned out entirely by the desperate cries and pleas of those left behind.
Adam continued to watch the fire. He looked deeper, past the crumbling ruins that had once been buildings and to those still standing. The guards had their weapons raised at something he couldn't see, firing round after round into the blaze as if they could put it out through firepower alone.
A flash of fire, the distant screech of a blade and the pain-filled screams of the dying signaled the result of their efforts. A shadow passed through the space they had been in. Adam thought that the flames might have been following it.
Adam saw a ragged coat, more rags than any form of functioning attire, each ruined end burning alongside the flames. He saw a long blade of crimson, surrounded by black miasma that drifted through the air alongside the smoke and embers. He saw long, unkempt hair, and a thickly wrapped bandage over the only eye he could see from this angle - a streak of flame in the middle, as if the wounded organ were burning in its socket.
The hangar doors rumbled shut to the sound of panic, and Adam Taurus thought he'd seen a glimpse of his future.
Tonight's Top News Story: Tragedy last night as numerous SDC Mining Complexes are attacked and overrun by Grimm. Numerous faunus workers and security personnel perished in the fires, supposedly started by mishandling of volatile Red Dust crystals, forcing the abandonment of the facilities once the damage became too extensive to maintain operations. Experts say that the impact on the Dust supply is likely to be minimal, thanks to subsidies and insurance covers put in place by CEO Jacques Schnee.
In other news…
And with a mighty swing, brave Isshin felled the demon Shura. But even when faced with a Demon, hideous hatred incarnate, noble Isshin gave mercy, recognizing the suffering of the creature he had bested. His great blow had removed not Shura's head, but his left arm, trapping the demon within the limb and freeing burning Sekijo from its clutches.
With a single strike, Isshin Ashina had saved his country from the worst of threats, and saved his great friend from the clutches of the fiery demon. His mighty deeds will be remembered for all time.
- translated excerpt from the ancient epic poem Song of Isshin Ashina. Modern scholars largely consider the work to be mythological, and to have little basis in fact.
"Hesitation is defeat"
- popular saying amongst Huntsmen and Huntresses, originally attributed to Isshin Ashina
Mercury Black hated a lot of things.
Actually, it would be more accurate to say that he hated one thing, and everything associated with him. That thing was his father, Marcus Black. Infamous contract killer, alcoholic and all-around terrible parent.
He hated himself, for being half-Marcus. He hated his last name, for reminding him of Marcus. He hated his life, because of the exquisite hell that Marcus made it.
That was who he was. Marcus. Never 'father'. Definitely not 'dad'. He could go through the motions, call him 'Pops' or 'Old man', but he held onto that conviction no matter what. Marcus Black would never be his father.
So he endured the beatings. The 'lessons' too, which were often worse. But every bruise, blemish and broken bone was a step. A step on the path to strength, to leaving this godsforsaken hellhole behind and forging his own path in this cruel world.
One day, his father sat him down after a particularly brutal session. Mercury could barely think - he'd taken one too many blows to the head, and his poor, punished aura would need time to bring him back to his senses. Marcus didn't care, obviously. For him, it was a learning experience - 'Maybe this time, that damn brat will stop getting hit,' or something along those lines.
"Listen, boy. You ever hear of Shura?" his voice was low and cautious, the type of voice he adopted when talking about business. Talking about how best to snap a neck, or where to plant a knife to guarantee a quick death.
Mercury hadn't, and was barely clinging to consciousness, so he shook his head.
So Marcus told him. Told him a story. About nameless assassins, blood, and fire. As Mercury's aura scraped what little of itself was left together to stabilize his condition, he began to listen more and more intently. The story twisted and turned, with death, loss and struggle. They slew hideous and magnificent creatures alike, great warriors and innocent bystanders without hesitation or care.
Finally, at the end of the story, only two remained. A father, and a son. The father was overjoyed. He'd killed and killed and killed, consigned thousands to die for his ambitions, but he finally had what he had so craved, and he savored the moment.
Right up until his son's blade drove itself through his back.
As the father fell, betrayed in his hour of triumph. He looked back to see not his son, but a horrific demon. Shura reached down slowly, claimed the dying father's blade as a trophy, and then watched the fires rise over the ruined nation. In his quest for power, the father had created something horrible, nurturing and feeding a flame he hadn't even knew existed until it was too late, and his son and the world alike were consumed in fire.
That was where the story ended. Mercury wondered what the point of it all was. He'd hardly been expecting a fairy tale, but that was a little grim, even by his father's not-so-high standards. He did enjoy the part where the son had killed his father, though.
It must have showed on his face, because Marcus Black threw back his head and laughed.
"Oh, you stupid brat. One day, you'll understand. For now, though? Let me give you some advice"
He leaned in, like he was whispering the secrets of the universe, his breath stinking of alcohol . Once he was certain his fists were nowhere near striking range, Mercury leaned in a little too.
"There's nothing wrong with killing, boy. I've done it all my life, and you will too. But whatever you do, whoever you kill, always do it with a reason. Do it for revenge, do it for money, hell, do it for a pretty woman. Never kill just for the sake of killing, because once you start? There's no stopping you. You'll get drunk on it, only satisfied with another kill. It won't matter who or what, you just have to kill and kill and kill, and once that happens? Shura takes you"
Mercury shivered. He imagined the demon, clad in rags and flames, wrapping his arm around his neck (just like Marcus taught him to) and killing him in a single strike. It was a harrowing image, but a silly one. Shura wasn't real - there'd be no wolfish demon to slay him in the night. No, Shura was a demon who existed entirely in the mind, and that was one arena he wouldn't lose in.
At least, that was what he thought. His father's words lingered in his ear long enough for the next punch to impact the side of his head, for the next 'training' session to break his arm in three separate places. He didn't think about Shura for a long time after that.
One day, when he was a boy full grown, as tall as his father, and able to better fight against him. The crackle of flames and the rising of smoke in the distance was the only thing about the forest-scape surrounding their home that was off. A forest fire, or maybe a bandit raid. Nobody would fuck with Marcus Black.
Until Marcus stood up, ordering him away and into the training room. Mercury had hesitated, but complied. He needed to be stronger to battle his father when he was sober, so he resigned himself to preparations for another beating.
Except it never came. He sat in the padded, thick-walled room for half an hour, waiting for his father to descend. He'd probably just gotten shitfaced and forgotten - more free time for him. After forty five minutes, though, he decided to investigate. He pushed himself up with a groan, and climbed the staircase that lead back to the rest of the house.
He emerged into an inferno. Crimson-orange flames were consuming the house, and his father was nowhere to be seen. His childhood home - the thing in life he'd wanted to burn and collapse more than anything, except perhaps his father, was burning down.
His eyes widened. His father. Had there been an attack? He was fine, right? He wouldn't lose to some roving bandit tribe or Grimm - he was too dangerous for that. He couldn't die, not before he'd given back what he'd stolen.
He began to search, frantically moving among collapsing timber and ruined memories, calling his father's name as he went. Soon, he found him, slumped against a beam that hadn't quite given in to the flames yet, but was nevertheless marked by glowing embers and burn marks, soon to erupt into fire and consume the whole structure. There was a puncture wound in his neck. Against an opponent without aura, it'd be instantly fatal, but somehow it seemed he had enough aura to heal him and keep him alive. It wouldn't be enough, though - he was dying, and his death would be slow and agonising.
And it hadn't been Mercury who did it.
Marcus laughed, his voice raspy and ruined from the heavy wounds.
"Took you long enough, boy. Shura finally came for me," Shura. The demon from the story? That lingering specter of blood and fire that hung over all who took lives? That wasn't possible. Shura wasn't real. Marcus had a lot of enemies, maybe one of them had finally snapped - succumbed to 'Shura' and decided that targeting a legendary assassin was worth it just for the chance to take another life.
Marcus's eyes were delirious and wide. Blood loss had rendered him nearly insensate, and would soon end his life.
"Listen, boy" Marcus leant forwards, gripping his arm weakly, "Remember what I taught you. Always... always have a cause. Or one day, Shura'll come for you too"
Mercury wasn't listening. He saw the weakened, bloodied body of his father, so vehement about strength and never showing weakness, and he stood up, laughing a little to himself as he went. Shura, crazed assassin, bandit or Grimm. Whoever had done this? They deserved a medal.
Marcus looked up. The last thing he saw was the heel of the twisted, crude prosthetic that was now Mercury's left leg rushing towards his head.
Mercury Black walked out of the burning ruins of his father's house burnt, alone, but alive. There, he met a woman in red who asked him about his father. He told her he'd killed him, and one question later, just like that, he had something to fight for. Nobody ever asked about what had happened that night, in the burning house atop the mountains, and so Mercury never told.
He would never be his father. Shura would never catch him.
Many years later, on the outskirts of Vale, Mercury paused at a cheap street vendor's stand. Adorning it were numerous homemade arts and crafts projects, but most prominently among them were numerous little paper symbols, covered in writing.
"Hey," the tired vendor looked up at him, "I'll take two of those".
The vendor brightened immediately.
"Very good choice, sir! Spirit Emblems! There are no better charms for warding off evil spirits!"
"I know what they are". He handed over the lien. Expensive, for two pieces of paper.
He paused, taking the emblems in hand and turning them over once. "Yeah. I do. My old man was a big fan of scaring me with stories about Shura"
The vendor chuckled. "I understand completely. That is one spirit I would not wish upon my worst enemies. All the best to you, sir"
Mercury nodded, and left without another word. His 'partner', if one could call the working relationship they had that, scoffed at the little paper emblems in his hand.
"Charms and wards?" Emerald Sustrai sneered, "Really? I didn't take you for the type"
He didn't respond, slotting one of the little emblems into his breast pocket, over his heart. He might forget about it, especially while he was focused on 'work' - carrying out Cinder's 'requests', but it would be there. A little reminder of his humanity.
"Got one for you". He held the other out to Emerald. After a moment's hesitation, she took it, turning the paper over in her hands.
"What's it do?"
"Wards off evil spirits. Reminds you who you are. Plenty of stuff"
Emerald scoffed again, but Mercury didn't miss how she tucked the item into her pocket. He snorted and looked back.
"So? You planning on wasting any more of our time, or shall we get going?"
"Me?! You're the one-", satisfied with his work, Mercury let Emerald's furious ranting fade into the background, and the memories and thoughts of fire to slip back into the recesses of his mind.
No, Mercury Black didn't believe in Shura. But that never stopped him from spending that little bit extra on lucky charms and wards, just in case. He'd let Emerald laugh and rant, but he knew that the money he spent on those little regretful paper foldings would always be worth it.
"The fact remains that there is simply no proof of any kind a 'Shura' figure had any role to play in the fall of Ashina. What's more, it is easily explainable through historical context. Isshin Ashina, the great hero of Ashina, was sickly and dying, and his heir Genichiro, while well-intentioned and noble, simply did not command a sufficient reputation to prevent the attacks from surrounding nations. What's more, Genichiro's assassination by the traitor Usui Ukonzaemon - also known as 'the Owl' - and his subsequent betrayal sealed Ashina's fate. It is not just that there is no evidence for Shura's existence, it is simply not required to explain the events that occured in Ashina at that time. To believe so in the face of all the evidence is as ridiculous as believing any other fairy tale".
Dr Ivanovka Vermillion, in 'Jumping at Shadows: Definitively debunking the Shura myth'
"He comes cloaked in rags that burn with the eternal flames of his hatred. His eye, wrapped and covered when it could no longer bear to look at the horrors he inflicted, burns as well, the external flame within manifest. His passing blights the land, the earth is scorched, plants shrivel from the heat, and wildfires start wherever he steps. He carries three swords.
iIn his right hand, Kusabimaru the Wolf's Fang, stolen from a great hero of Ashina after he became another victim of Shura's wrath. Legends claim it remains stained and rusted with his blood to this day. In his left, he carries Kaimon the Open Gate, a fearsome black blade that drags unworthy opponents who challenge the demon into the Underworld, a Mortal Blade that has claimed the lives of countless. And finally, on his back, most terrible of all. His final blade has many names. Hairui, the Gracious Tears. Fushigiri, the Severance of Immortals. The true Mortal Blade. Legend has it that anyone struck by this crimson blade is slain, even immortals. It is a weapon of death and destruction, the ultimate symbol of Shura's hatred.
So remember, children. Listen to your parents, and grow up wise, strong and kind. No matter what you do, though - never forget the shadow of Shura that looms over all our hearts. Give him the opportunity to strike by growing evil and bitter, throwing away your humanity for the sake of power and control, and you will find Shura's Mortal Blade will slay your heart, leaving your body behind as a vessel for his will.
- Traditional folk tale concerning the demon god Shura. Claims that the description of Shura's appearance once came from survivors of the fall of Ashina are largely considered to be false
"Don't mind if I do. Hmm... it's damn good. But it does make my old wounds ache. My left arm... this sake was a favorite of the man who cut it off. Lord Isshin. He... did it for my sake. I was on the verge of being consumed... Shura...
Well, whether you believe me or not, that's for you to decide. But you'd do well to beware Shura's shadow."
Read and review if you enjoyed, or otherwise have things you'd like to see. I'm interested to see what people think of this.