NIHONGI: THE DARK YOKAI
Written by Christopher Ikpoh
Illustrations by Josh McMahon
Chapter 2 – Page 2
In New Japan, Platinum City lied Danzo’s Temple. It was a pillar of hope and strength for the entire district. From the impoverished, to the homeless, to those seeking spiritual enlightenment, the Temple provided aid to all who arrived on its steps. Danzo’s Temple and Danzo were much more than anyone in the world knew, though. He was the grandmaster of the once thought-to-be-extinct Iga Clan, and the Temple was their home.
Thousands of ninjas lived beneath the surface of Danzo’s Temple in a vast and intricate set of abandoned tunnels originally made for large semi-trucks and tankers to transport construction materials while New Japan was being developed. The subterranean tunnels spanned the entire area of New Japan, containing housing, training facilities, schools, medical centers, worship centers, laboratories, armories, entertainment venues, restaurants, and markets; every aspect of the real world existed in the underground ninja village, and Danzo ruled over all of it.
The soft breeze of a perfect spring day caressed the skin of a man walking gingerly down a path in a forest of the Iga Province in 1850s Japan. He was hunch-backed and disheveled in appearance; his hair sprouting every which way underneath his straw hat. His attire was tattered and worn. His face was lightly soiled with soot. His sandals were handmade, and the wood comprising his walking stick aiding his gait appeared older than the trees surrounding the trail. Yet, he joyously greeted everyone who crossed his path as he entered the small village market; his eye-patch covering the wrinkles around his eyes as he smiled widely. It was a great day for the man.
Each merchant was visited by him, and they discussed the goings-on of the day. Laughs were shared. Wisdom was imparted. Transactions were conducted. The man made sure to visit each person selling and trading goods, showing his appreciation for them bringing their commerce to the Iga Province. Fruits, vegetables, meats, art, and common items were flowing to and from the makeshift wooden vendor tables, and the man was in the mix with all of them. Though a stranger, he was warmly received.
Among his new friends were also the local daimyo’s forces sent to oversee the market and collect the daimyo’s cut from each merchant at the end of the day. They were a cold, ruthless, and violent bunch. Yet, he was able to regale them with stories of his epic battle against a wild boar as he was on the verge of starving to death. The man compared the tale to what he believed the warriors have encountered fighting the daimyo’s enemies using hilarious details, which caused the bunch to laugh. In all the comparison’s absurdity, they found the man harmless and entertaining, for even they grew tired from the marketplace’s monotony. Thus, they welcomed his company.
However, during their conversation the jovial mood was jolted by an emerging argument between barterers. As some of the daimyo’s men went to quell the situation, another spoke to him unassumingly. “Of course. Just before the daimyo is to arrive. Typical peasants.”
The man’s eyes filled with a sense of alarm as he bowed profusely. “I have monopolized the daimyo men’s time. Forgive me. I’m sorry.”
“Nonsense, old man. You were the best thing to come through this doldrum of a town today, but it is time we get back to work.”
“Of course. I’ll leave you be.” The man bowed again and began his slow gait away from the marketplace, eventually working his way down the path he arrived on and disappearing into the distance.
About 30 minutes later, the daimyo arrived at the marketplace. As he perused the merchants’ goods, the people were visibly shaken. The daimyo was colder, more ruthless, and more violent than his men, apparent in the posture of all present. Their heads were low, eyes facing the ground. None of them dared look the daimyo in the face. Thus, the local ruler helped himself to anything he wanted, free of charge. This was not limited to goods, either, for he also selected certain women he wished to take back to his estate, regardless of them being single or with their husbands and families. The daimyo was a parasite, leeching off those under his rule, slowly killing their livelihoods and their lives.
At the end of his pillaging, the daimyo’s men gathered all the ruler’s things. The men were forced to watch their wives be taken away in chains while fighting back rage and the impulse to attack. They knew doing so would see them killed on the spot, and the daimyo’s wrath would also come down on the women.
Children cried while being torn from their mothers, as well; their tears streaming down their faces were much louder than the cries exiting from their mouths. Merchants looked upon their depleted inventory with no money earned from them, realizing the big losses they just incurred. Then, amidst all of this, the daimyo turned to the people and spoke loudly for all to hear. “Ensure my men do not come back empty-handed. I still expect my cut from all businesses at the end of the today.” What little life was left inside the merchants was sucked from their souls upon hearing the daimyo’s words. They were utterly crushed. Until…
Throwing stars emerged from the tree line! They struck the daimyo’s men with lethal precision, entering and exiting necks and heads with extreme force. As numerous warriors fell, the terrified daimyo rushed to his plush carriage while surrounded by his forces. However, before he could get inside, it exploded! Debris flew everywhere, and the force of the blast knocked over the daimyo and those with him.
Through the smoke emerged blurs of figures clad in black. The sound of metal-on-metal rang throughout the crowd. Red splashes colored lingering gray clouds as smoke bombs went off, further disguising the living streaks of death amongst the carnage of bloodshed. Warriors yelled in confusion and fear, as one-by-one they were dismembered, beheaded, and cut down with controlled savagery. Their screams did not last long, though, for in a matter of moments silence overcame the marketplace.
As the smoke dissipated, the merchants and customers were overcome with shock and awe. None of them were harmed; no one had as much as a speck of blood on them, let alone any dirt that was kicked up from all the commotion. The women were freed from their shackles. The goods unjustly taken by the daimyo were all returned in perfect order, as well.
Thus, as the women ran to return to their husbands and families filled with joyous relief, most of the merchants and customers also began to celebrate. Others, however, looked on with great concern. The cheerful triumph was capped by an even greater sight, though, for as the smoke was almost completely cleared, a mesmerizing, imposing figure was unveiled in the center of the marketplace.
The person stood covered from head-to-toe in sleek, black armor. The long black cape on their cloak flowed in the breeze. Beneath the hood on their head was a black mask only revealing the eyes of the person, which glowed white with energy. A sword was clutched in one hand, dripping in blood. In the other hand was a fistful of hair attached to the severed head of the daimyo. Blood trickled from the neck onto the dirt below, staining the epicenter of the marketplace. As everyone stared at the figure, the person spoke with a commanding voice of a man with great power. “People of Iga Province. Your oppressor has been killed. No longer will he torment and rob you.”
Then, one of the merchants responded. “Danzo, you have killed us all! There will be retaliation by the other daimyo for this!”
The Iga Clan grandmaster replied, “Fear not. At this very moment, my ninjas are executing the other daimyo in league with that which lays dead here today. His allies are extinct.”
“And their successors? They will not stand for this!” another merchant shouted.
Danzo retorted, “I have been planning this for some time. We implanted members of our ninja clan in the courts of the daimyo many years ago. Once all worked their way to be second in line to succeed their daimyo, we struck. All those who will rule the people of Iga will be your allies. The power structure is shifting from the wicked to you.”
“You mean to you,” a merchant said.
“I am of the people, and I serve the people. I have shopped at your marketplaces, traded goods with you, shared laughs, and gotten to know your families.” It was then a murmur came over the crowd, for they realized the mythical Danzo, grandmaster of the Iga Clan who fought against the tyrants oppressing Japan, was the same man who graced their marketplace earlier.
It was then a woman stepped forward and asked, “Why has the renowned Danzo chosen to come here today to help?”
“There are supernatural forces at play. Oni have infiltrated our homeland, and the demons are targeting those in power to do as they wish with mankind. The most nefarious, and hardest to track, was your daimyo. After receiving some supernatural aid of our own, we were finally prepared to battle the demons. Therefore, I came here to confirm his location and handle the execution myself.”
“It was for glory? To say you have slain the worst of the oni?” she inquired next.
Danzo paused for a moment. He was in deep contemplation, unsure if he should share his truth. However, he answered, “This demon destroyed my home village when I was a child. Our forces were not strong enough to fight back. I know, firsthand, what you have endured. That is why I came.”
The crowd continued to speak amongst themselves after hearing Danzo’s revelation. Their nervousness and fear of retaliation was subsiding. For the first time in forever, they felt a sense of freedom. This increased their chatter from whispers to expression of elation and gratitude.
“The Iga Clan will not abandon the people. We will be wherever we are needed,” Danzo declared as people began to crowd around him.
“How do we find you?” a merchant asked.
“Yes! How do we communicate with you when we need you?” another inquired with animation.
Danzo answered, “You will not need to look or ask for us. My ninja will always be amongst you. We will always be present, watching, listening, setting things in motion to right the wrongs and deliver vengeance for the oppressed and violated. Continue to welcome the least of you with warmth as you did the old, crippled man earlier today, and all will be well.”
As the crowd thanked Danzo, he placed his sword in its sheath before performing a set of hand gestures. This created a field of energy around him, concealing him from the eyes of the people. In a flash, he was gone. The people gasped and looked all around for the grandmaster, but he was nowhere to be found.
A moment later, Danzo appeared behind the tree line out of view of the people in the marketplace. “Iga.” The grandmaster’s voice quietly traveled through the area, summoning his clan. Slowly, a large group of ninjas emerged from the shadows of the forest. They moved with ethereal speed towards their master, who still clutched the head of the oni-possessed daimyo.
One of the ninjas spoke to Danzo. “Who knew you were such an orator?”
The grandmaster replied, “They were scared. Confused. It is imperative the people know not to fear us. We are here to protect them from the supernatural threats of our land.” The ninja nodded in agreement before Danzo continued. “Come, Oshiro. It is time we return to the Temple out of sight.” Finally, Danzo and his ninja disappeared once more into thin air.
Danzo’s spirit returned to his body from its time travel through meditation. Reinvigorated, he moved to inform the rest of his clan about Genbu’s possession of Musashi, and the tragic end Haru and their fellow ninja met.
Meanwhile, in the ancestral Miyamoto estate in Kyoto, Japan, Yoshikane was slumbering after his harrowing excursion to Mount Kurama. He was exhausted, slumbering deeply next to his wife, Iori’s mother, Harui. However, his spirit sensed the possession of Musashi by Genbu back in New Japan, causing Yoshikane to have a vision of his own…