Katsuo ran. His steps sounded loudly against the floor.
A monster was quick to appear in front of him, at a hall intersection, so he turned the other way, before it could react, and kept running. He circled around another, stepped out of one’s leap by a hair’s length, and kept running.
Turning a corner, he created a clone of shadow and sent it the other way, splitting the group hunting him even if briefly. When he met head on with one of them, in the middle of a corridor hardly wide enough to fit the beasts, it took him one of his best tricks to survive.
The monster leapt at him, he again stepped to the side while running but the monster hit the wall to push himself into crashing against Katsuo…if it was really him. The monster overlapped against Katsuo, dispersing his image into the air as the real Katsuo formed out of the wall’s darkness, on the opposite side.
He ran back to the room they had robbed, leading what was now a group made up of dozens of enemies behind him. There was one of them standing guard, Katsuo threw a smoke bomb at him and slid in-between its legs while it was dazed, allowing it to take the blunt of another beast, who had leapt to catch him.
When the smoke cleared, and the beasts began to enter in masse, Katsuo was standing atop the obelisk-like pedestal that had held the stone they had stolen. They were quick to surround him, but then stopped. They eyeed him in dreaded silence, as if perplexed at him just standing there.
“I have lived an honorable life,” Katsuo said, “and am ready for it to come to an end. Nevertheless, I will resist.”
“YOOUUU!” The voice made Katsuo shiver, more from being startling than from actually being scared. He looked down to see the leader, the one he had previously seen in the war room with the map. His throat seemed overly damaged as he spoke, as if he had never used it…his vocal cords gnawing at every letter.
Katsuo’s mind ran fast, Power? Does he mean the stone? Why would he call it…
“Tell…” the leader threatened, “…or die.
“Were you not here just now? Or were you not listening? I am prepared to die.”
The leader seemed confused about the notion, about the fact his threat did not incur effect.
“How…did you…know a…bout it?”
I could probe for information, he seems easy to manipulate. But…I will never be able to pass it on. On the other hand, whatever time is gained on conversation, it is time gained for the two to escape.
“Did you think we were so helpless?” Katsuo faced the leader’s dark, evil eyes, with his own sharply deadly ones, even though it was likely they couldn’t be seen behind his mask. “We knew you were coming, heralded by this damned mist. We know you and your weaknesses, you have lost the war before it even began.”
It took a second to react, as if he was translating what he had heard to himself. Then he grinned. And then he laughed. And then they all laughed, the chamber was filled with amused and patronizing laughter, all but his sounding echoed. Shadow now understood that the beasts were likely armors of some kind.
That reminded Katsuo of something. Suddenly, his mind tracked back to his past, to when he was surrounded by all his clansmen, those of his child-like age… they also laughed then.
“Laugh away,” he had said in protest, “but the honor will be mine!”
At a flash, he was a bit older, and now throwing a diamond ring at the ground. It created a silent room out of grown ups and his fellows. The diamond was shaped like a crown and easy to identify, Katsuo would never forget it.
“The crowned ring of the Shogun! Now a property, a trophy! Of the Kagekawa clan. I will succeed the Shadow!”
This naturally took him to the day he became the Shadow. He was barely an adult, and was sleeping on a tree branch.
An old man dressed in the rich but simple kimono of the clan leadership came to him. He had been his mentor as a child.
“The decision has been made,” his voice had sounded out, knowing Katsuo was listening, “when the sun rises in the morrow, your eyes will be covered, your body dressed, and you shall live out the rest of your days as The Shadow.”
“It is an honor,” he had said, betraying no emotion. It had been beaten out of him many years before. “I am grateful.”
“Your parents would be proud. The Shadow represents the Kagekawa in the underworld, along with The Darkness. Thief and Assassin, together the world’s best.”
“The best…” he had hesitated, “honestly, I cannot be sure I am capable of such a feat.”
“We are never sure of anything, Katsuo-kohai.”
“…wrong,” he had stated, firmly, jumping down to stand before his mentor, “I am sure of my commitment. And I am best among my brothers; that much I know.”
The old man had bowed to him then. He remembered his tone of voice was one not of pride, not of relief or any such feeling. It simply lacked any shred of doubt.
“And so you become The Shadow, Katsuo-senpai…for the glory of our clan.”
“Your land…” the evil voice spoke, pulling Katsuo’s attention back to the present, “will fall…but you…don’t have…to.”
“I am a man of my land, and I will die before it comes to harm.”
Again, a few moments of lagging understanding. He then produced a slight blink.
He motioned towards Katsuo and two of the beasts leapt against the obelisk. Katsuo threw a smoke bomb at the ground, the flash of light ignored by all the beasts, now accustomed to it.
From the smoke, a number of Katsuos’ surged, quick and fast and hard to discern and all of them clashed and dissolved against several different beasts. Confused, they were alerted by Katsuo’s voice.
“What seems to be the problem?” They looked up at him, noticing he was standing upside down on the ceiling, held up by his ankles being submerged in a dissolved shadowy mist. “Did you see a shadow?”
The leader grunted something and the two monsters grabbed unto the obelisk and propelled themselves upwards to catch Katsuo, who let himself fall , spinning to avoid their claws. He felt a deep cut in his right thigh, but worst yet, his left foot was cleaved straight through.
Landing, he dashed and ducked under a claw, losing a small piece of the back of his head, but at the same time, the swing hit another monster to his side just as he heard the other two crash against the ceiling, the two who had cost him his foot.
He noticed the sizzling and sparkling of wires and metal breaking apart, further confirming that the beasts were some kind of machine. He rolled to the side, hopped and landed atop a claw and then jumped over the foe so another claw could cut that claw in half, and a bit of his back.
As he landed though, a great rumbling surged and shook everything, and that in turn shook the beast which in turn made him lose his footing.
Quickly, he stepped out and jumped out only to find everyone again standing still, looking startled. The rumbling wasn’t stopping…
The leader let out a yell then, voicing out in utter rage, waving all the others to step aside. He looked straight at Katsuo with a maddening gaze, and said the words that did not seem to be directed at him.
“The power…has left us. We…now descend…again.”
Katsuo stared at the leader as he walked towards him. He felt blood trickling down the back of his neck, his foot was hurting so much he didn’t want to look at it, but he was already just standing on his right, a bit hunched so his lack of footing wasn’t clear. He felt blood streaming down his legs inside his clothes.
His conscience was waning but he still heard the leader speak to him.
“You have…ruined this…but only…for a…time.”
Katsuo could feel it. He blinked his eyes, trying to keep it away, but his head was hurting so badly it was hard not to just die. But he wouldn’t, he refused. If he was to die, he would die by being killed.
“I-I am the Shadow! Of the…Kagekawa clan,” Shadow spoke, as strongly as he could, but not as strongly as he wished. “I will be replaced. And should you come back…you will be stopped.”
The man darted so quickly the ground broke under his first step. The Shadow vanished but the leader stretched out his right arm and caught him in the transparent form, by the neck. Katsuo looked startled at the man, feeling a quick sense of fear he had no idea was still in him to feel.
The monstrosity thrust his hand through Shadow’s belly and it was such a strong sudden pain Katsuo couldn’t help but wince, let alone cough out blood in a sudden violent spasm.
He let go of Katsuo’s head and it immediately dropped, bleeding out the mouth and out the wound on his belly, where the hand was still stuck on.
“When we…return you…all die.”
Despite his best efforts, Katsuo’s eyes started to cry, his arms hanging down and streaming blood.
Through the tears, due to the effort to stop leaking them, he saw a vision of when he took up the mask. The Kagekawa leader, old and impeccably dressed in shining robes, had stood behind all the gear he now donned, the mask and eye-slits included.
“All men die,” he had said, and Katsuo forced himself back to reality. He filled his senses with pain and the rumbling and the trembling and all the tears that felt oddly relaxing and all the feelings that he had bottled up for years and years. He was not used to them, and for however briefly, they surged and ran rampant inside of him. They intensified the pain he was feeling.
“GAHK!” He lifted his head nonetheless, for he would not die looking down. “All men die…”
“But!” He looked straight at the leader. “Their shadows live on!”
The leader didn’t need moments to understand the overbearing defiance Katsuo was feeling. Katsuo saw him frown in pure anger, insulted, and added satisfaction to the torrent of feelings that were thrusting through his heart.
His foe thrust his hand towards Katsuo’s eyes almost immediately, giving Katsuo one last feeling.