Chapter 1: Villains
Background music for the scene, enjoy!Godsfall, the land of such prominence and history, but in these modern times it lays forgotten and undisturbed. Except for today. Today, two parties embarked on journey's starting from different locations but seemed to be on a collision course. Both sides, within moments, would be upon the other, in this vast desert graveyard.
Within one party, there were simply two individuals. One, a tall figure wrapped in a black hooded cloak. Next to this figure would be a smaller figure with a large leatherbound tome clutched in their arms. The smaller figure would glance up to the larger one.
"Are you ready, Grand Master?"
"Everything is as it should be."
The smaller figure would nod as they would continue onward.
The other party would be a much larger procession. One figure would march at the forefront, a man who carried himself with pride and purpose. Behind him would be a row of seven figures of various sizes and appearances. This party, if an outside observer were to spy them, would be of much more notoriety than the party of two. The seven lined up behind the primary figure would be those figures who had been highlighted within Sunagakure no Sato as the remaining members of The Sovereign. Seven individuals who alone possessed otherworldly powers. At their head, the lone figure leading their group was none other than the Daimyo of Wind Country, Ishii Shiro.
""Why did it require all of us for this meeting?""
"Silence, Ni. This was a request of our master. Comply, that is all you need to know."
"What a foreboding moment, do you feel a little rattled yourself, Ichi-san?"
"Silence yourself, Nao."
Nao would chuckle to himself as it seemed that no one else was in a playful mood.
"Got to admit, it is interesting having all of us together like this... we need more bonding moments."
These two forces would come to a stop out in the middle of this vast wasteland once they reached proximity to one another. Each group would continue until they were now merged into a little gathering, while still maintaining some degree of separation. The leaders for each party would take a few additional steps forward until getting close enough to embrace, but this was not going to be that sort of meeting.
Ishii Shiro had said little in the trek out into the desert even though he had not wanted to come in the first place. He'd known that there would be some sort of retaliation or punishment for the brazen way he'd defied the orders of his mysterious foreign benefactor from the way that the Otokage's subordinates at looked at him during the tournament following a brief staredown between Shiro and Kageoni. The typically unflappable Sound... sennin?
Was that the right word? Shiro could never be bothered to truly devote the silly names that shinobi chose for their military ranks to memory and that Otogakure bucked the trend by having completely different ones made remembering them even more challenging.
The typically unflappable Kurohane Kitai had warned him that retribution was coming in an uncharacteristically grim tone. He'd found her to be a woman that feared nothing and yet there had been a twinge of concern in her voice when she'd told himm that the "Grand Master" was cross with him. Still, what could Kageoni actually do to him at this point? The "war" -- if you could call it that, even -- had cooled to a series of brushfire conflicts and neither Sunagakure nor the Ishii Regime had managed to truly gain a solid foothold over the other since the official declaration. At this point, if the Otokage decided to try and pull his support it would only result in decades of wasted time, effort and resources.
Then there was the matter of the Regime itself. If Kageoni believed that he could simply snuff out the power base that Shiro had built for himself then he was delusional. They had become powerful enough to challenge any shinobi organization even the enigmatic Sound Village could not discount the threat they posed.
"We have traveled far, Kageoni. Perhaps now you will deign to tell us why you have brought us out to this... wasteland?"
Shiro wasted no time with pleasantries as he arrived at the coordinates that the Otokage had informed his servants that he would be expecting the Daimyo. He knew that the choice not to address Kageoni as "Grand Master" or use title was a petty jab but it was one that he was proud of. No other man in Wind or Tea Country could dare to say that they had addressed the Grand Master of Otogakure in such a way. That was the kind of power that Ishii Shiro wielded and as that thought crossed his mind the Wind Daimyo smirked to himself unconsciously.
Inscrutable as always, the feminine facial features of the Otokage betrayed nothing of Kageoni's intentions or emotions. If Shiro's passive-aggressiveness had any effect on him at all then Kageoni had masked it well. Still, small victories were victories none the less.
"Everything will become clear soon enough." Replied the Otokage, gracing Shiro with a small inclination of his head in greeting. It was more than Shiro had offered and less than he'd expected but he was the one that had set the tone of their meeting as one of passive-aggression. "I see you complied with my wishes for your abominations to be in attendance for our meeting. I was concerned that you had forgotten how to follow instructions."
Shiro bit back a surge of anger at the Otokage's brazen insult. They were less than a minute into the meeting and it was already clear that this was not to be an amicable one; not that the Daimyo had expected or intended it to be. He'd been surprised that the Otokage had requested that he bring his Sovereign with him to the meeting and suspected that it was because Kageoni had made the decision to wash his hands of the brewing civil war and wanted to rid the board of Shiro's pieces all at once but Kageoni had never seen the Sovereign in action and understimated them if he thought to do battle with all of them at once.
"But first, a history lesson. Do you know where we are?" Asked the Otokage, turning away from Shiro and indicating the rocky and cracked wasteland which lay beyond and beneath the tall dune that they stood upon.
Choosing not to rise to the Otokage's taunt so quickly, the Wind Daimyo stepped forward and cast his eyes down upon the land beneath their vantage point. Curious crags of stone wedged deeply into the desert sands among a forest of equally curious spires of stone that rose out of the sand. Between the spires and flowing into the deep crags were something which immediately caught Shiro's eye; twisting and writhing black masses of... something surged between them.
"What... is this?" Distracted by the skittering black masses that Kageoni had unveiled to him, Shiro allowed his thoughts to audibly pass his lips as he tried to ascertain what he was looking at. They were considerably high up and the distance made observing the masses challenging.
"Patience Shiro. You are getting ahead of me." Smiled the Otokage as he politely indulged Shiro's wandering thoughts. "We are in Godsfall. The place where the One King stained the sands with the only true death that has ever been dealt to an Ancient Lord in all of human history."
Thoughts of the conflict between himself and the Otokage were smothered by the deluge of questions and possibilities that this presented... if what Kageoni was saying was the truth.
"Godsfall is a story told to children to excite them. You're saying that even though every cartographer, explorer and adventurer in recorded history has never concretely found it that you-- powerful as you are --have found that place even though you have only recently come to our country? How did you ever grow to be so fortunate, Kageoni?"
"Because I was there you impetuous child."
There was still no anger or emotion to speak of in Kageoni's words but the confidence with which the Otokage's made his claim caused the Daimyo's sulfurous blood run cold for a moment and sent an involuntary shiver down his back. The implications alone of those words were stunning but Ishii Shiro had not risen above men and monster to rule both by cowering in the face of relevations such as these. He opened his mouth to speak again but was instead cut off by the words of the squat, hooded figure that had stood alongside Kageoni at the crest of the sand dune which overlooked the valley of stones and writhing masses beneath them.
The small member of the larger cloaked figure's party would now take a step forward. From behind the Daimyo, an intense pressure would be felt like the seven members of the Sovereign reacted to this sign of aggression with flooding of bloodlust. The small figure would pluck out an assortment of pages and toss them up into the air. Instead of the gentle, slow breeze rolling through the area picking up these sheets and pushing them away, they would seem to come to life and float their way towards the Daimyo and his group. The pages would turn themselves in way that they could be clearly seen and read as the seemed to hover before the Sovereign.
""I am the Oracle of Chaos. I have been appointed by our Grand Master to oversee the Calamity that is about to befall this country. Originally, our Grand Master selected another Oracle to record your efforts, Daimyo Shiro, but the Oracle of Ruin is no longer needed. Instead, a new event will be washing over this land. I will remain to ensure that it is all recorded... for the sake of posterity and for the enjoyment of our Grand Master. To allow such a historic event to go unrecorded, anyways, would be a horrible oversight.""
"'What is this pissant saying, Ka--"
The Daiymo would be cut off as the ground would begin to rumble. It would be a small tremor at first but would slowly start to increase in frequency until it felt like the world was about to start shaking apart. Instead, the rumbling would stop and in the distance the quivering black mass halted its skittering movements for a moment before exploding in a geyser of what looked like ichor and blood and expelling two subjects high into the air that rapidly fell to earth again only paces away from where the conjoined party of the Otokage and the Daimyo's retinue stood. Both figures dripped with a translucent fluid and would have their faces covered but each would be dressed differently. One, wore a white mask and the clothing of a business person. Formally dressed with hammers and nails bulging from his pockets. The other was a figure whose face was covered in a metallic helmet, their body covered in armor, and the appeared as if their style of clothing was ancient, from a time long ago. They knelt before the Otokage and stayed unmoving as he silently regarded them.
"And who the hell is this?""
"Allow me, Daimyo Shiro, to explain... although I am merely a pissant to you, I am a pissant who has been recording the work of our guest for over the last two centuries. Before I explain who this is, please grant me the opportunity to tell you about a history lesson..."
The Oracle of Chaos would place their hand down upon their book as chakra began to be expelled from their palm into the blank page they touched. Upon the page, it would be noticeable that something was starting to form, words and an image.
As the self-proclaimed "Oracle of Chaos" finished its story the Wind Daimyo opened his mouth to speak but found himself interrupted again as Kageoni began to speak over the words that Shiro managed to conjure in response to the sight that was before him.
"Let me start with the first of your questions. Beneath us, you behold a marvel of man's ingenuity though they have turned far from the path that I had set for them. They are the Unbent; children that are begotten of regretable misapplication of my work. Still, they are beautiful in their own way, aren't they?" There was a genuine fondness in the way that the Otokage spoke of the hideous flood of chitin and inchor that the Daimyo now understood to be a budding swarm of unbent.
The unbent were mostly a nuisance to the frontier towns; horrors spawned by the desert which occasionally descended on small communities on the fringe of civilization and butchering them to use the life energy of the living creatures there to procreate more of their loathsome kind. It was rare that an unbent swarm managed to grow terribly large for they weren't remarkably dangerous on an individual level but if the all of what Shiro was looking upon were a single swarm there were hundreds of thousands of creatures slithering between the crags of Godsfall before them.
"So that's it. You brought us out here to feed us to your monstrous pets; is that it?" Growled the Daimyo, flames gathering at his lips as he seethed each word. The conclusion that he'd arrived at had not been terribly difficult to come to. He'd already come her expecting a battle and that the fight he'd come looking for was to be against the Otokage's alien pet monsters instead of Otogakure shinobi made no difference. His Sovereigns had slain plenty of inhuman beasts before and this would be no different.
For his sake, the Otokage made no movement other than to turn back to attend to the glowering Daimyo with an expression that one might reserve for a tantruming child. Shiro hated that look. The look of control; of arrogance. This day was long overdue, he resolved.
After all Ishii Shiro feared no man, monster or god.
"Did you expect that I would cower before this? Me? Even if your profane beasts could overcome my Sovereign; did you forget that I am immortal in the glory of Ja--"
The words caught in his throat as Kageoni's expression twisted into one of disdain for a moment and he stepped forward, grasping something in the air which Shiro realized half a moment too late was a glimmering cord of red-orange light that snaked its way into his chest just where his heart was housed. Then with a jerk of his arm, Kageoni tore the cord from Shiro and the world blurred as though he'd been struck over the head with a club. Each of the Sovereign began to move to protect their leader but suddenly found their limbs refusing to respond in a similar fashion as Nao-- no, the Otokage's apprentice --revealed his own duplicitous role in this moment through a rapid series of handseals and a single seal that he held before him that caused each of the Sovereign'ss bodies to tense and freeze. Much in the same way that the Otokage had been the one that had given Shiro much of his power, Nao had been the one that had created the Sovereign. He understood the grim alchemy that animated their malformed and twisted bodies better than anyone else in the world... except perhaps the Otokage himself, Shiro belatedly realized. Stumbling for a moment before tumbling to his knees as the color drained from his vision, the Wind Daimyo craned his neck up at Kageoni struggling to understand what was happening to him as the Otokage loomed huge in his vision like a terrible thunderstorm of ominous black clouds.
"Who was it that arranged for that immortality? For all of the knowledge and power you have? For everything that you have become? Was it not I?" Hissed the Grand Master as he brought his face close to Shiro's. "I made you, Ishii Shiro. And somewhere along this path, you seemed to forget that I can unmake you."
"But... the plan..." Shiro managed, his words coming out as wheezes as he turned his head over his shoulder to look at Nao-- the man that he'd regarded as a brother for most of his life. Nao had once confided in Shiro that he hated the Otokage and if... no when things came to a conflict between them that he would choose his brother over his master. At this moment as Shiro struggled to even lift his head high enough to see Nao and behold the callous, almost bored expression on the Sound-nin's face Shiro painfully realized that all of their years of friendship and everything they had shared together had been a lie. A lifetime long lie to entrap him for this moment. "Why..."
He couldn't rationalize it. It felt wrong. Had he truly gone so far in disobeying the Otokage and offering him some small disrespect as to deserve this? To throw away decades of preparation and action to achieve a goal over... a bruised ego?
"Alas, I should not blame you, Shiro. You were the opening stroke of a master's brush that became so caught up in the brilliance of its creation that it mistook itself for the sum total of the masterpiece. You were only ever a means to an end." Kageoni ran the back of one of his fingers down the side of Shiro's cheek as the warmth continued to fade from it. "Now you are going to take your place in history as the first casualty in the next chapter of Wind Country. You should be honored."
"Grand Master, it is time." Croaked the Oracle of Chaos quietly so as to avoid rousing its master's ire in the moment.
Kageoni spared one last pitying look at Shiro before rising and turning back to the valley below that still crawled with unbent endlessly dying and being reborn as they waited to be unleashed into the world at large.
TBC in Chapter 2