Kuni Shinonome was one of those great characters that sprang full-fledged into my mind when I first thought about playing a Crab, who also made a great contrast to my other L5R character, Kakita Nasami (who is currently enjoying a stint of fame in my L5R-Samurai7 crossover stories).

"The Darkest Dawn" is her story.


The Darkest Dawn

Prologue

Revenge. A word frowned upon by the samurai of Rokugan.

"My lord!" Hida Yoshinori called out. "I would beg of you the chance to hunt down these foul maho users and send them to Jigoku's judgment."

"Your unit is assigned to the western watchtower, Yoshinori-san, not exterminating the maho-tsukai."

Yoshinori swallowed hard and bowed his head in assent.

"However, the recent return of Hiruma Ryuku and his men from their third Shadowlands patrol means that they cannot be sent out into the corrupted lands again for a month. I will have to assign them to another duty."

Kisada turned to look at a group of samurai standing near the entrance of the hall.

"Ryuku-san."

One samurai who had been leaning heavily on the shoulders of another stepped forward and bowed.

"Daimyo-sama."

"You and your men are to get one full day's rest, then you will take up the position of guarding the western watchtower, while you and your men, Yoshinori-san, will take that day to prepare for the change of guard. Once Ryuku-san and his men arrive, report back here to escort the Witch Hunters in their search."

Pride shone in the young bushi's eyes. "Thank you, Kisada-sama, I won't let you down!"

Hida Kisada considered the samurai, only five years past his gempukku. Then his eyes slid past him to fall upon the woman who sat quietly beside her fellow shugenja. Her eyes were ostensibly downcast as befitting a woman, but the Great Bear was certain that those dark grey eyes were watching Yoshinori.


Revenge implies a lack of control, a bloodthirstiness unworthy of a samurai.

"The bastards just keep coming, Yoshinori-sama!" a young Kaiu choked out, swinging his yari again. "No matter how many of them we kill, it just doesn't stop!"

Yoshinori's katana swept through a zombie as it shuffled toward him, eyes dead and vacant. "But we must give the Witch Hunters more time to prepare! And if that means we keep killing these things, then we keep killing!"

A rough Crab curse came from an older Hida whose tetsubo had just pounded yet another zombie into the ground. "I haven't seen anything like this outside of the Shadowlands! What in Jigoku is taking the Kuni so long?"

Suddenly the ground erupted in an explosion of rubble and dirt, and the whole unit nearly fell to their knees trying to keep their balance as up from the ground surged an enormous Oni.

"Damn it all!" Yoshinori screamed, reaching for the pouch at his waist that contained the precious jade powder all Crab carried. In one lightning-fast motion, he covered his katana with a fine layer of the powder, and in the next, he lunged at the Oni with a hoarse battle cry. The other Crab did the same, but all of them were wondering why the Kuni still hadn't arrived.


It implies a passion and lack of discipline over one's emotions.

Seven figures stood watching the slaughter.

"Shall we use them all?" The voice of the maho-tsukai was raspy, like sliding gravel.

"All we need is one. Destroy the others." The second maho-tsukai's voice was colder than the ice capping the mountains of the Dragon clan.

The other five maho-tsukai raised their hands, and black fire leapt toward the samurai. In an instant, all of the Crab were annihilated, save one. He was dragged forward and thrown to the ground, his katana and wakizashi seized from him and thrown aside, and the seven maho-tsukai gathered around him, chanting the spell.

"What is your name, samurai? Speak it, that it may be given to another…"

The samurai screamed in agony as his lifeforce was entwined with that of an Oni, while a dark shadow gathered in a corner, waiting patiently for its name…


It also implies failure.

"They're all dead…"

She staggered weakly toward the inn, the only building left standing in the whole ruined village. Unnatural light glowed from within, and she could hear tortured screams inside.

In her fevered thoughts, she thought she could also again hear the screams of the Kuni Witch Hunters as they were massacred by Oni.

"… if I don't get there soon…"

She winced with every step, and she shook her head to try and clear away the fog of exhaustion as her hand pressed hard against the deep gash in her side.

"… must hold on…"

Shinonome's other hand tightened on the satchel of scrolls.


In the eyes of Kuni Shinonome, revenge implies something else.

The seven maho-tsukai turned to look at the woman in the doorway, just outside the dark circle they had invoked for the binding. She ignored them all, having eyes only for the samurai writhing in the circle.

"Yoshinori…" she whispered, and the Oni screamed in triumph as it heard its name.

With a supreme act of will, the samurai turned to look at her and tried to speak.

"Shi… no…"

The same black fire that had destroyed Yoshinori's men engulfed her as well.

From the middle of the raging inferno came a cry of inhuman fury.

A cry more powerful than any spell she could have uttered, any curse she could have spoken.

A single word.

"BELOVED!"


Something to fill the emptiness where her heart once was.

The flames roared in frustration, trying to consume the woman, but at her cry, they flickered into darkness. From her hands came a surge of brilliant light and a hailstorm of jade, and the seven maho-tsukai fell back.

Then she dropped the scrolls she held, and drew forth something else.

Yoshinori's wakizashi.

She flung it into the circle, and the samurai weakly caught it. With gritted teeth, Yoshinori drew the blade from its saya, but for a single moment, he raised his eyes to meet hers.

Then he drove the wakizashi into his belly, crying out the name of Hida.

The Oni howled in impotent rage.

The maho-tsukai cursed her as they fled using their dark magic.

Shinonome's scream of grief was louder than them all.

Redemption.