Dented but not Broken
An empty nothingness. A pair of imponderous shackles. They were but fleeting thoughts to describe what the mighty Ta'aro felt. He looked at a black void all around him, yet saw nothing. Listened to the low roll of infinity, yet felt deaf. He could feel the shape of his former body, sense the curl of his fingers, the turn of his neck. But there was still nothing there. Dead. Ta'aro was dead. The realization edged into his thoughts. His life had come to an end, he remembered. Yet the end of that and the beginning of this felt vastly blurred. How long had he been here? Was this really him who was thinking these thoughts? But more importantly... Why did death feel so empty? Ta'aro had lived many lives, and had lived under the same fear as everyone else. Of what lied beyond life. He remembered the power he had been given, still felt its pulse. That power had staved the sting of death time and time again. Every time, Ta'aro had died, but did not experience death. Except now. There was no mistake. This was death. And it disappointed Ta'aro. He thought of life. Of the chaos and strife everyone lives through. He thought of the loss, the pain. The regret. Then, he thought of death. Of the blackness, the void. Nothing. Was this all that awaited those who suffered? Surely, it could not be. The incorporeal thoughts began to race. Ta'aro wouldn't accept that this was all that was. There needed to be an answer. A heaven's seal. A hell's chains. He didn't care, just... something. ... But nothing came. It was only Ta'aro. Then, he repeated that thought. It was only himself. There wasn't only nothing, there was him. He was the answer. This place, death, would not accomplish what Ta'aro hoped to find every day of his life. Peace. No, this place was useless. Death was nothing. If Ta'aro hoped to quell the chaos of life, he'd need to do it himself. He would show how powerless death was, how much purpose it lacked in the end. He refused to let this be it. He demanded he live on until chaos was wiped from the face of his world. Then, he felt his feet. Felt them touch some sort of ground. It was eerily soft, cold. Unnerving. Then, he saw it. Mist. A dense coat which concealed the entire ground he stood on. But where the floor was mist, the sky was still that empty blackness. The atmosphere began to change. It took on the same deathly cold as the ground beneath him. Was this still the realm of death he walked? Or something else? The unanswerable question grinded against his mind, and it angered him greatly. Suddenly, a strange voice spoke into Ta'aro's ear. "Fresh spirit." Ta'aro flinched away from the voice, but where he looked, nothing was there. The voice was a solemn whisper, yet it uttered that last word with an unusual emphasis. Like a stomach that was empty, wild. Animalistic. "Show yourself." Ta'aro stood his ground, fists clenched. He felt the words he spoke, though the movement felt foreign, unexplainable. They were words he'd never heard before, yet knew exactly what he was saying. "We are never hidden. We are ignored." There was silence for a moment. Of what Ta'aro hoped to find in this place, metaphors weren't exactly near the top. "The fact I'm speaking to you now disproves that." Shuffles in the air vibrated past Ta'aro, like a soft chuckle. Sinister, even. A ways in front of him, the white mist began to rise in many different spots. Began to take shape. The whiteness of the clouds turned an eerily dark, and the shapes assumed themselves like normal persons. Two arms, two legs, a head, yet still mist and faceless. In the distance, Ta'aro began to see the void horizon brighten ever so softly. The ground began to change again as more spots of the mist rose up quickly. Their sizes were larger, with quick speed shaping themselves into the images of high-canopy trees. It was a savannah of mist. Ta'aro noticed the figures had shifted closer, mist still coalescing into more detail. "What is this place?" Ta'aro questioned. He saw a pocket of mist part on one of the mist people's heads, a mouth. "Fresh spirit. The Bedlam smells your will. We shall consume you." The mists suddenly vanished in a puff from the five figures, leaving behind solid human-like bodies. Ta'aro saw their weapons, the recognizable armor they wore, the faces that looked at him with unnatural rows of fanged teeth. He saw some wore the reddened armor of a Mirain warrior, a heishi, and others, dark clothing similar to that of his empire's. He saw several wielded sword and shield, at least three others a strange glaive. Another one twirled a long hooked chain in its hands, and many more weapons Ta'aro saw. It was an arsenal in their hands. And he was surrounded. Instinctively, Ta'aro reached behind him for his fabled weapon. But he found nothing. The numerous figures continued to encroach on Ta'aro. But with each step they took, Ta'aro swore he saw that horizon get brighter and brighter. "Fresh spirit. Spirit who refuses death, submit your ripened soul to the Bedlam." He looked upon them all. He could hear their breaths, desperate, like a starved beast trying to hold back on a cooked piece of meat. "I submitted it once already," Ta'aro began, raising his clawed hands in fists, "and you'll face me before you get to it." And the figures lurched at him in a frenzy.
The whoosh of wind shot past Ta'aro, lurching just in time out of the way of one of the hooked chains. In that split second, he saw the chain begin to retract, and he grasped onto it. With momentous strength, he yanked hard, sending the creature off its feet towards him before its head connected with one of Ta'aro's closed fists and slammed to the ground. Ta'aro didn't have even a second to look at the damage before three others were on top of him. He could feel them pulling and dragging, trying to bring Ta'aro to the ground. But he didn't let his body budge. He felt the weight of a fourth figure land onto him, and curled in on himself. "Rraaaahhh!" Ta'aro's arms and torso shot up in an intense roar, sending the four creatures flying away from him and onto their backs. This time, he wasn't swarmed in the next second, and assessed his enemies. Many of them still stood, but another many were also badly beaten and on the ground. Ta'aro had lost track of the time that had passed, didn't know how long this fight had been going on. With each creature he fell, more kept coming. Cuts wound themselves all around his body. The aches inside himself burned like wildfire. His breaths were ragged from the metallic taste of battle. And he loved it. Tear away the complexities of emotion, the formalities of civility, and all one is left with is raw instinct. It was something Ta'aro learned to crave. There was nothing else like it. All thoughts cast aside. No strategies, no tricks. No riddles. Just action. And now he gazed upon what he believed may be the one of his greatest fights yet. Perhaps the realm of death wasn't too bad after all. The figures stood expertly still, weapons still readied. Ta'aro steadied his stance again. "Will any who is truly powerful step forth?" He called. A large number -- maybe twelve, Ta'aro didn't know -- shot forward at him. Within seconds, a glaive was in his hands along with a broken chain. Most of them lied at his feet motionless while the others had drifted back to the ranks of their kind. Then Ta'aro finally saw the horizon, took in the glare that started to emanate from its light. No longer was it a dark void, but a brightening sky. It made the entire realm Ta'aro stood in look vastly different. Thwick. Intense pain shot through Ta'aro's abdomen. There, a shadowy shaft of an arrow protruded from a hole in his chest. At the end of its head, was a piece of white substance that he noticed evaporate into the air. Immediately he sought out the one who had landed this shot. He traced the back of the arrow over to where a lone creature rested on one of the mist trees. Unlike the others, this one had six arms, and held three different bows in its hands. Its pose was stoic, confident. Taunting. It infuriated Ta'aro. If it thought he was going to sit idly by, then it was sorely mistaken. But he heard many voices speak out in unison. "A piece has now left you, fresh spirit. Your end draws closer." "Tell that to your friends who lie at my feet." Ta'aro took a step forward. Umph. An agonizing pulse ran through him. Suddenly, his legs felt slightly heavier. His breaths were much shallower. His mind started to twirl from vertigo. What had happened? Had it been that arrow? Was it special in someway? Or had it been what came off that arrow instead? Ta'aro shook his head violently to snap out of it. Just in time, because a pair of razor sharp war fans slashed at him, which he fiercely batted away. His eyes stayed rested on that figure in the tree. He could feel his strength diminishing. His fingers didn't move as well anymore, and his breathing felt heavier and heavier. But it didn't matter to Ta'aro. That thing had done this to him, so he would show it that the Slayer of Wills' power was undefeatable. And so he charged forward. It did ache with every step he advanced. He did flinch with every breath he took in. But he ignored it. The creatures in front of him braced with their weapons, opened their fanged mouths, smiling with anticipation. Ta'aro continued forward. And right before he crashed into their masses, he pushed his feet up, leaping high over them. They weren't what he was focused on. In one jump, he soared over them all. Toward that tree. Toward that six-armed freak. The glaive in his hand was ready. He lifted it overhead as his arc began to descend. One swipe was all he needed. Closer, and closer he came. Yank. Ta'aro's body came to a wind-breaking halt, midair. The glaive was swung down, inches from the figure's head. Ta'aro tried to roll his body and move, but was completely shackled to the air. An intense glare flashed into his eyes. Shielding them, he saw the sky was turning into an expansion as bright as the sun. There was no more darkness wherever he looked. Suddenly he felt a tug, a pull at his chest. At first it was light, then it became heavy. Painful. The six-armed figure stared at Ta'aro. "Fresh spirit, you escape... for now." It said. Ta'aro had no time to respond, because all the figures, all the ground shot away from him as if it was flung down a hole. Quickly, Ta'aro was once again cast into a vast darkness. Except the pain never left Ta'aro's chest. It was like a ginormous boot pressing down harder and harder into his heart. His teeth gritted from the overwhelming torment. And then it all ceased. For a moment, Ta'aro felt nothing again. The pain gone like the snap of a finger. Then, light filled his eyes, and air filled his lungs. His whole body lurched up atop a pile of stone rubble all around him, drenched in the surrounding trickles of salt water. He smelled the ocean breeze. Heard the crashing of waves. Saw a female sitting just in front of him. Long, greying hair, elegant yet damp blue dress. Clutching a small vial shaped like a serpent in her hand. "It actually worked, you're alive." Said Naru, wife of Kobe Ozaki.
Ta'aro couldn't believe it. Wouldn't believe it. Alive? Hadn't his final act among the living been something he was told he'd never return from? A process so great not even his power over death could withstand it? "What I'm about to ask transcends any power I have given you, Ta'aro." Those had been Uso Tsuki's words. Yet here Ta'aro stood. Silent, he looked out at the landscape of destruction, coated in the floods of ocean water. The structures that were toppled and incinerated in places. The rubble that rose up out of the waters like mountain tops. The stench of death that Ta'aro was all too familiar with. He recognized this place, though it looked nothing like he remembered. Tosh'u was the thriving capital of the empire, yet here it sat crumbled, its streets buried beneath the waves of the Akuhei Sea. Ta'aro took it all in at once. What had happened? There was an object in his hand. He grasped it firmly and looked down. His weapon, Razaro, rested in his grip. Untouched, despite the ruin around him. Ta'aro's eyes landed back on Naru, who still watched him. He saw her expression. Far from any kind of optimism. Her face was laden with stress. With confliction. Something was wrong. "Naru," Ta'aro broke the silence, "I don't know how I have returned, so you'd see it beneficial to give me answers." She held out the vial in her open hand, showing it to Ta'aro. "This. Ember- Uso Tsuki gave me this. It brought you back." "Uso made it very clear of my death's importance. Do you realize what you have squandered?" "Ta-aro-" "Is that why Tosh'u lies in shambles!? I was her anchor for her powers! By using such sorcery you've-" "Uso is gone, Ta-aro..." Slowly, Ta'aro rose to his feet and Naru did the same as well. "Gone?" "They're all dead Ta-aro." Ta'aro went to respond, to rebuke Naru in disbelief, but she continued, not giving him a moment to spare. He was told of the empire's fall following his death. How the ritual Ta'aro had gone through had caused the destruction of the capital. How her husband, Kobe, had died that day. He was told of the destruction Uso Tsuki -- Ember -- began raining down upon the land. Told of the demonic hordes she ushered forth into all the provinces. She spoke more, but Ta'aro had ignored the rest. Until he was told of Ember's defeat. Of her demise at the hands of a group of mortals. Uso Tsuki was dead. Everything Ta'aro had done to ensure she restored peace to the world, all for not. A small boulder exploded and shattered upon the blade of his weapon, Rozaro. Anger and denial coursed his veins. But Naru continued speaking. "Just before the ritual that killed you, she had given me this that day." She held up the vial to him once again. "The trial he shall face is easy. What lies before me requires the strength of a god. But Naru, I give you this vial in fear that I fail. Ugeroth has promised me the way to bring peace back to the world. For Ta'aro, that is all I wish to achieve. But if I don't succeed, if I perish, then it will be up to him to restore peace. Find him if the time comes, and life shall be returned to him if he drinks it." Naru let her arms fall to her side. Her gaze shifted away, eyes swallowed in contempt. "Those were the words she had spoken to me." Ta'aro didn't answer. His eyes felt hot like fire. Anger was rising deep within him. "We are the only Kaga-Unsei left." To think chaos still reigned within the world. Ta'aro's thoughts drifted back to the realm of the dead he had walked, the Bedlam, as those creatures had called it. He thought of his testament to himself, that drive he felt to make life right, knowing how wrong death was. Something he had fought those demons violently for. And now here he stood. Yet his strength for Uso Tsuki had not been enough. To hear those close to him had perished. To know it had not come close enough in the end. His lips pressed together. His chest rose in a breath. Ta'aro grew vehemently enraged. The answer to the world's disorder had drawn near, and it had been taken away. He looked at Naru. "Who?" She blinked. "What?" "Who killed Uso?" "The criminals. The Aku no Hana." A name he had heard once before. Faces he had seen briefly at that tea party of Kobe's. Once again he had cast aside the complexities of life, did not need to hear a single word after, for that instinct had already taken over. He knew who he needed to kill. Ta'aro climbed over the rubble, moving past Naru who followed close behind. "I have not thought farther than this, Ta'aro." She said. "Where are you going?" "I don't know." A small silence. The splash of water as they waded through a stream. Then Naru spoke again. "What do you plan to do?" The world was still filled in chaos. Ta'aro thought again of the demons that attacked him in the Bedlam. The fighting had been exhilarating, endless fun. As opposed to the unanswerable questions of life, he might not have minded living out his existence in endless combat. But that is not the path he chose. His will, his spirit was not done. He would hold off on fighting his demons, for something else demanded his attention. "I plan to slaughter the Aku no Hana."