Beiden Pass, Month of the Dog 1127
The moon was high and full as Hiruma Oshima crept along the outskirts of the Crab camp. He was certain that the Crab's alliance with the creatures of the Shadowlands had to be a trick of some sort. He would ascertain the truth and report back to Lord Kage. Whether it was loyalty or arrogance that led him to defy his Champion's orders was for more important men to decide. He only knew that his gut told him something was not right. As he made his way over the next hill, careful not to leave any noticeable tracks, he could see the secondary encampment. This one had a command tent for Kuni Yori, the family's daimyo, and a few smaller tents for the other Crab whose job it was to supervise and control the Horde's minions.
There were a few small groups of ogres, and more than a few large groups of goblins. Their stench was pungent and palpable. Adding to this was the fetid stench of the undead, zombies in various states of decomposition. Oshima hated them the most. It was one thing to fight an inhuman monster, it was another to have the desecrated remains of one's comrades and ancestors return to profane their memories. There were legions of them in all manner of attire and adorned in the trappings of many different clans. Oshima suspected that some of them were fallen enemies from the recent skirmishes against the ronin, Toturi, and his army of wave men. This made his stomach turn, imagining a Crab allowing maho, or worse using it themselves, to raise these abominations from the corpses of honorable opponents.
Unfortunately, they were his best chance to get close to the command tent. This, his gut told him, was where the truth was to be found. Both the ogres and the goblins could alert the Kuni to his presence. Oshima gritted his teeth and wiped beads of sweat from his brow as he whispered a quick prayer to his ancestors, then began making his way through the shambling hordes of the undead. Just as he started making his way past a regiment of the gibbering things, he realized that they all seemed to be watching him, a sinister malevolence piercing through their vacant stares. His pace quickened, his attention divided by the dreadful gaze of the undead. He stopped short as one of the things ambled into his path, regarding him with more intensity than he thought them capable. It was a large zombie wearing the tatters of blue and gray armor and a torn Hida mon. It had gray, desiccated skin that pulled back from its face, causing the mouth to form a disturbing rictus. The thing's sunken, lifeless eyes seemed to bore into Oshima's soul, scrutinizing him. He prepared to draw his katana, uncertain how he could have any hope of surviving the inevitable onslaught of this horde. At least he would die as a Crab, fighting the overwhelming numbers of his clan's ancient enemies.
Suddenly, its head tilted down slightly to regard the Crab mon on Oshima's light armor. It stepped aside and Oshima felt the mass of eyes turn away from him. He slowly released the breath he hadn't realized he was holding. After taking a moment to be certain that they were no longer watching him intently, Oshima continued making his way to the command tent. He snuck around to the far side of the tent, away from the entrance as dark clouds began to obscure Lord Moon's light. He could hear voices coming from inside the tent.
Carefully, so as not to be heard, Oshima made a small cut in the base of the tent with his tanto. Pulling the sides of the incision open, he could clearly see three individuals inside. They were standing at a small table, talking. Judging by their distinct Kabuki-style make-up, two of the men were clearly members of the Kuni family. The third man had his back to Oshima. He was large and wore the heavy armor of a bushi, which was old and spotted with mold and dried blood. He gave Oshima an uneasy feeling in his gut. The Kuni in the black cloak was speaking, "Lord Kisada will not be pleased with these recent failures. But soon, we will crush Toturi's pitiful band of outcasts. With Aramoro and his new troops, our ranks will grow as theirs dwindle. Wazinu, I want you to send a messenger back to Kyuden Hida."
"Of course, Lord Yori," the younger man replied.
"The Standard of the Fu Leng awaits a sacrifice, Yori," the large samurai interjected, his voice a gravelly death rattle. "Have you selected an appropriate 'volunteer'?"
"I have indeed, my dear Tsukuro," Yori replied. "We need someone who will serve to motivate our troops, someone who has failed the Crab. An example must be made. My apprentice, Wazinu..." Yori turned to regard the younger man. Wazinu's face paled. Yori continued, "...will send message to the head of the Crab's forces in Beiden Pass, Hida Sukune, that I must speak with him right away. His sacrifice, along with Aramoro's new zombie troops, will ensure our victory."
"Excellent, we already have a volunteer selected to carry the Standard," replied Tsukuro. "I will go and make the necessary preparations." When he turned to exit the command tent, Oshima's breath caught in his throat. He could see that instead of a face, Tsukuro wore a mask of human skin stitched together. It felt like those empty eye sockets bore into his soul as they swept across where Oshima was hiding. Yori finished writing a letter, rolled it up and sealed it. He handed the letter to his apprentice and sent him on his way.
Oshima was stunned. The Daimyo of the Kuni family was in league with the Shadowlands and he was about to sacrifice the son of the Crab Champion. Oshima knew he had to return to the Crab camp and warn Lord Sukune. He stood up suddenly and turned around. He found himself face-to-face with Tsukuro and became aware of a sharp pain in his gut. Looking down, Oshima noticed the sword sticking in his gut and felt the twist of the blade. "Eavesdropping, boy?" Tsukuro taunted. "We cannot allow that. Fear not, samurai, your service to the clan is not at an end..." The world around Oshima started to spin and his mouth felt dry. In a last act of defiance, he reached up and pulled the human flesh mempo from Tsukuro's face, revealing the skeletal countenance beneath. Oshima finally succumbed to unconsciousness.
The next day, the armies of the Crab Clan marched into Beiden Pass once again. Oshima marched at the head of his legion, the gaping wound in his gut having since bled dry. His skin was pale and gray. His eyes, glassy and blood-filled, stared straight ahead. Blood and drool gurgled from his lips as he moaned his assent to Tsukuro's orders for the zombie troops to march forward. Above him, on a battle standard made of human skin, hung the corpse of his Champion's son.