The River Skirmish

This short story is a fan fiction based on the cards in the Kamigawa block of the Magic the Gathering trading card game.

The moth dashed through the sky its wings flickering as they beat hastily in the sunlight. It dove to and fro, its movement dictated by the swirls and eddies of the wind. The moth flew with more consistency and direction than its minute, lesser cousins. This moth was large enough to carry a man upon its back, a warrior who had trained the moth measures of discipline equal to his bushido code.

The mothrider was lightly armoured, he wore a mask to protect his face and his helmet was strapped tightly against the fierce winds of the high elevation. His legs were slotted into limb-sized sheaths on either side of the saddle, positioned on the moths back behind its mane of crimson fur. The moth itself was armoured against assault, a decorative lacquer mask covered its face and acted as blinders for ease in the controlling of the mount. Its wings beat rapidly making them difficult to distinguish but cast a blur of white and pink shades around the samurai.

He rested his left hand on the hilt of his katana, sheathed and resting on the back of his waist. Below the mothrider lay the sweeping plains of the Araba. Mostly barren wasteland with large cracks and clefts wrought into the landscape by the constant assaults of the kami. A river ran through this part of the landscape, reeds growing along its meandering banks with grass and other greenery making feeble attempts to grow in its vicinity.

The wide waters of the river ran in a silver streak southwards, its northern source buried in the mountains to the north, a red glow was cast upon them by the sunlight that streaked through the cloud gaps. East, the direction from which the moth had flown, nestled a forest that bordered the patrol route the mothrider was navigating. A banner bearing the symbol of Lord Konda had been embedded in the earth at the forest edge to mark the territory. Beside the banner was a statue made of jade and resting on a stone plinth. Weather beaten and ignored since the war had broken out the statue had once represented the lion-like form of a shishi, a guardian kami.

Out of the corner of his eye the samurai noticed something over the river. He tugged gently at the moth’s left antennae and the creature dipped to the left, diving several feet before spreading its patterned wings and levelling off. With a better view the mothrider could see clearly the unique form of a kami.

This spirit had a humanoid form, though taller and thinner in unnatural ways. It was seated upon a rock that floated lazily over the flowing river, with its clawed feet gripping the sides. Long straggly hair covered the majority of its upper body, with only its long, deformed faces poking out, one on either side of its head. One face was twisted in sadness and pain, the other screamed silently in rage. Around the kami floated a dozen lesser spirits, tiny creatures drawn to every greater kami, they looked like flowering roses with their stems curling and twisting like tails as they moved.

The mothrider considered the spirit for a moment, the kami seemingly unaware of its sky borne watcher. A single kami he might be a match for, though no foe should ever be underestimated. The spirits could appear at any time through the veil though so the mothrider elected to use caution. Signalling the moth to fly even he clapped his hands together and allowed his mind to rest into a meditative state.

Channelling magical energies he felt the density of the earth far below him and the fluidity of the air that swirled around him. He focused his mind to be able to see through the eyes of the animals around him. He was searching for help, fellow warriors to aid him. Far distant across the plains he felt the vague presence of some kitsune, but they were too far to provide assistance, he could not count on their timely arrival. Then he sensed a samurai, north, clambering down the steep ridges of the mountains accompanied by two great hounds. Undoubtedly a ronin of the mountains.

The mothrider hesitated, then sent out the mental call, he sensed the ronin adjust course to cover miles of plain between them. Ordinarily no samurai would accept aid from a ronin, a savage, honourless cur. But the great kami war had changed everything, now every man had to stand together against the incursions of the spirits.

The mothrider returned his attention to the floating kami. He unsheathed his katana, its curved blade catching the sun, gripping it in both hands and with his legs directed the moth into a violent dive. Accelerating towards the kami the samurai swung his sword as the moth curved upwards, skimming across the river water. The kami, surprised, did nothing to defend itself and though the moth did not pass close enough to deliver a mortal blow. The katana sliced through a floating rose and rent a gash into the arm of the kami.

It turned a face of anger after the moth and rider as they darted away. The spirit screamed, the sound audible and painful like the howl of the dead. The moth wavered and nearly sank into the water, the rider recovered quickly though and directed the moth up into the air once more.

The water rippled near the kami, a bulge rose gently out of the river. The water took form, another elongated limb and thin-bodied kami, small flames burst into being in the air around it. It sat in a meditative pose on the river, the water stagnant and eerily calm in a circle around it. The first kami began chanting and as it did so its floating rock rose into the air.

Before the mothrider could be concerned at being out numbered a raucous barking and growling surged across the plain. Two large hounds, all fur and jaws, bounded forth, they were held on chains by the ronin of the mountains who sprinted after them. As they neared the kami the ronin released his grip on the chains and the hounds leapt into the river smashing into the water kami. Rallied the mothrider took another sweep against the floating kami, the two combatants now aerial as the floating kami continued its elevating chant.

A shimmer passed over the river and as though peering from behind a curtain an eye appeared. The solitary eye was soon joined by human legs, feet, arms, hands and a torso. Each hovered independently, the limbs orbiting the torso. Some were twisted and folded in on themselves as though looked at through a curved mirror.

The samurai responded quickly, they pushed forward in their battles once more. The mothrider let out a rallying warcry and fought with redoubled effort. The ronin and his hounds delivered several blows to the water kami, the spirit barely able to recover from the violent, splashing onslaught. One of the hounds split off, pounding across the riverbank to bite and claw at the floating eye, the torso of this spirit faded through the veil before it could be assualted. Its floating limbs darted forth and the hands grasped the liquid body of the other kami and dragged it beneath the water, neither leaving a trace behind.

Like a tear in the sky a new kami appeared and descended on the battle, flying with the speed of a diving bird. Its bulbous form incorporating a large mouth and purple tendrils that trailed an oily vapour. Pebble size slabs drifted like a crown about its head with empty eyes embedded in them.

A friendly cry called out across the plain and the ronin turned to see another warrior in arms darting towards them. This new ronin had two more hounds held on chains and was accompanied by a young and unsure looking soldier wearing the basic, scaled cuirass of a samurai in training. The mothrider clocked the pair and new that once the battle was won he would have to investigate whether this trainee had thrown his lot in with the ronin.

It was the wrong moment to loose focus and the new kami fell upon the first ronin, swallowing him whole in its gaping mouth. The hounds fell upon their master’s attacker but fell to the gnashing teeth and whipping tendrils. The new ronin, in a rage, descended upon the kami with his hounds and slew it. The kami, defeated, faded from existence.

As if in response two golden jugs slipped through the invisible veil that divided the material and spiritual worlds. They began to pour endless water, which spooled into a large amorphous shape hovering in the air. The water shifted and changed, forming lanterns and swords before falling back and reforming again. The face of an elderly man emerged from the water, eyes closed in a trance. The samurai recognised this spirit immediately as Chisei, the one they called the Heart of Oceans. It was one of the greater kami who appeared and disappeared with the ebb and flow of battle.

The water of Chisei swelled up and formed tendrils, whipping at the replacement ronin and his hounds. The trainee samurai could only watch, too aware that he was not strong enough to combat a kami yet.

A large, black shape arrived in the darkening sky, an elder moth carrying on its back another mothrider samurai. The moth was grey in colour and larger than the one that currently duelled the floating kami. Its rider was suitably dressed in stronger armour and carried the bearing of a veteran. The two dove into the fight without pause, aerially assaulting the body of water that was Chisei.

Chisei drained away, its water cascading into the river, the face and the golden jigs disappearing as though defeated, though the spirit had not suffered many blows. Its disappearance was accompanied by a great rumbling of thunderous clouds over head.

In a flash of lightning a new kami appeared and its presence brought about an ache in the minds of the warriors. Accompanied by human faces with snake bodies this flying kami had an amphibian appearance. Its own face leered out from within the toothy mouth of the bloated, toad like creature and it was carried on enormous dragonfly wings. Thunder and lightning accompanied it as it flew towards the battle.

Nearby, on the edge of the forest at the sight of the banner and the jade statue a new samurai emerged from the trees. Bedecked from head to toe in silver armour and with a deep red cape the helmet of the samurai did not hide the unmistakeable fox head of a kitsune. Blade drawn and held sturdily before it the kitsune held a jitte in its off hand, perfect for defending against enemy blows.

The kitsune watched as the original mothrider and his floating kami opponent battled and drifted closer. The mothrider swooped over the floating kami and attempted to swipe downwards at it. The kami’s rock shifted sideways, dodging the blow. The katana clanged against the red jade body of the statue and jarred the samurai’s hand. At that moment the lightning kami charged after him screeching, sparks flying from its mouth. The kitsune called out a warning and the mothrider turned to face the new threat. He winced as he held his blade at the ready, the vibrating pain not quite gone from his wrist.

The floating kami dropped low, hovering over the ground as its chanting changed form, the unpronounceable words flowing forth. The chanting resonated with the lightning kami and an arcane thrum filled the air. It gestured with its hands as though pulling a rope and in response the lightning kami was jerked back, out of harms way.

The kitsune, focused on looking for an opening in the aerial battle, waiting for the combatants to fly low, did not notice the green eyes of the jade shishi statue blink. Nor the paw slowly lift off of the orb it held down and turn towards it. The lion-esque shishi crouched low. It pounced only to find itself caught in a tight grip. The kitsune had not been travelling alone, a human samurai had leapt in, dropping his spear and, like wrestling a bear, held off the statue until it stopped fighting, the arcane thrum in the air fading and the statue remaining inert, paws raised.

Back at the river the elder mothrider, trainee samurai and ronin watched as a large shadow flowed beneath the waters. In its wake three kami bodies emerged each formed of water. Two, accompanied by floating flames, resembled the earlier water-bodied kami. They sat calmly, legs crossed and arms held out. The third rose between them with a feminine form and orbited by a small band of turtle shells, a fanged mouth and eye slits formed on its back surrounded by long lashing tendrils.

Their appearance heralded another surge of the deep vibrations of arcane forces. Sparks surged around the lightning kami. The jade statue moved once more, it bounded forward running over air as the floating kami chanted. It knocked back the sturdy, human samurai and mauled the kitsune, who valiantly defended against the blows.

Recovering his spear the human samurai left his kitsune companion, confident in his abilities, and charged the greater force of the river kami. He speared one of the watery bodies, the creature collapsing around the point of the metal. At the same time the ronin’s hounds delivered a fatal assault to the other water kami. The flames of both fallen swelled and shifted to orbit the remaining water kami.

Heralded by screaming and shouting a crazed looking ronin tumbled out of the forest, stained with blood, glistening with sweat and flecks of spittle spewing forth from his raging mouth. He raised his naginata high ready to bring it down on the dueling jade statue and kitsune.

In his wake came the arcane thrum and with a great sucking sensation a gaping maw appeared having trailed him through the forest. Engulfing leaves, mud and animals. The mouth, as large as a house, was filled with a great, white void and as the ronin roared he was sucked inside it and swallowed. The maw fading with its meal.

The shishi pounded, with its paws, the kitsune lying prone on the floor. Eventually the armour gave way, the rib cage smashed. The kitsune breathed his last as the shishi beat him to a bloody end.

At the river the last water kami beat down with its whip like tendrils. The spear wielding samurai was disarmed and grabbed about the waist before being pulled under the river and drowned. The other tendrils continued to thrash, knocking out the ronin, its accompanying fires singing the fur of the hounds before engulfing and immolating them. The young samurai, witness to this, turned and fled towards the mountains.

In the sky the lightning kami streaked after the elder moth. It gripped the flying mount with its reptilian claws and sent surge after surge of electrical currents, before dropping the moth, the samurai rider dying from the fall.

The first and the last fighter in this skirmish, the mothrider, continued to battle with the floating kami. His blows were evaded, his strikes held back with arcane might. His moth mount was growing in exhaustion and taking more scratching swipes from the kami. The last blow came as the kami gripped the moth’s wing and rent it off.

The moth flapped vainly with its one wing as it spiralled to the ground. Its rider felt the impact, his helmet caving in on his skull. Lying on the earth his vision fading he watched the kami disappear, one by one, through the veil. They showed no rage at the battle, no joy in the victory. Their implacable nature impossible to discern, they would move onwards to attack others in their merciless assault against the living.

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