The following is an unofficial fiction regarding the win at the Omaha, Nebraska Kotei won by Chris Pottorf. I chose to do this piece because it was unlikely that AEG would be able to finish it themselves and the subject matter inspired the story you see below.
Please understand that this is unofficial and not canon-endorsed by the L5R Team. I did ask the Story Team Lead, Shawn Carman, for permission to post this as an unofficial piece and it was granted. It is possible that we’ll make it “official” but I think at this point it’s good to just have a story.
I like writing stories
My thanks to Case Lopez for the long car-ride conversation back from Omaha to Denver which helped formulate the story, to Nancy Sauer for edit help, and the rest of the Story Team for their help. InuBy C Thomas Hand
The dog licked himself. He was sprawled lazily on the floor of the hut. Despite vigorous attempts, he could not get clean. The scent of fear and spoiled blood stuck in his fur. He had rolled about in the bare earth of his Master’s hut to no avail. His tongue was dry from the dust.
The Master made the sound that meant his name. “Kiba, stop your slurping!”
Kiba understood the tone. The Master was frustrated. The Master was Alpha, to be obeyed. It was the dog’s duty to listen. He sniffed a final time and hot air blew dust from his hindquarters.
He lowered his head to the floor. Nostrils flared, Kiba scraped his muzzle across the ground to fill his nose with mud, to block the putrid stench. It was wrong, that smell.
In the center of the room was a table. On it a thing that smelled like man. In the corner was the previous occupant and its exposed guts revealed that these “men” were not always what they appeared.
The Master hated it.
A smaller man poked and prodded and dug around inside the body at the Master’s direction. He didn’t eat it. The dog couldn’t understand these actions, but they did not surprise him. He had seen them many times before.
“We dig and dig and find nothing. I could sense him from afar,” the Master pointed at the discarded body. “There must be something. There is always something in a Spider’s lies.”
“I will keep trying, my lord.”
The Master and the small man rooted for hours. The actions didn’t concern food, danger, or any of the dog’s baser desires, so he ignored them.
The dog dreamed of running across the endless Kuni Wastelands, dry earth and lifeless sand kicked up a storm. He raced the wind. He hunted. A beast, much larger than a man, bigger than nature should allow, ran on four fiery hooves ahead of him. It was afraid of the dog. It should be. When Kiba caught it he would rip it apart and shred its body into pieces and eat it whole.
No, spoke the voice of the Master. The dog faltered and slowed. Even in the dream his duty to the Master dominated. He remembered. From the Master, the dog learned restraint in the kill. Obedience. What flesh would mean death to devour. He would not eat this beast on four legs made of fire and corruption.
But he would kill it.
The dog’s eyes snapped open. Someone was coming. In one instant he was awake at the door of the hut, low growl deep in his throat. The earth rumbled outside. The dog heard man-steps and falling rock. He smelled churned earth, pure and clean, and the paint like the Master wore. His muscles relaxed as the visitor rapped his knuckles on the doorway.
“Good, Kiba,” Renyu said absentmindedly and the dog’s great tail wagged. “Come Seifukusha.” The door slid open. One of the Master’s former students stepped inside.
“There is another. At the northern edge of the Wastelands we found a body, like his,” the Kuni pointed to the once-man eviscerated in the corner. “Surrounded by more than a dozen eta and peasants, bled dry.”
The Master growled. The dog’s hackles rose. He bared his teeth at the woman. The Kuni backed away and held up a hand.
Renyu did not smile, but the dog could feel his pleasure like a heat. The Master liked that the dog defended him, scared enemies and friends alike.
“Down, Kiba.” The Master’s command was soft. The Master prepared to leave. Kiba plodded over on heavy feet and stood heel at the Master’s side.
Kuni Renyu ran his fingers through the dog’s fur and scratched behind his ears. “No, Kiba. You will stay. I will travel faster without you.” The dog’s tail flattened between his legs. He understood “stay.”
“Lead the way, Seifukusha. I will follow.”
The Master and the woman whispered words together in singsong voice, chanting in deep bass rumble. The dusty kami rose to embrace them both in a cocoon. The dog’s head cocked to the side, low whine in his throat. The two Kuni waded down, down, down into the ground and vanished.
The Master was a strange beast, but cunning. Kiba had seen the Master destroy enemies he himself could not attack. The dog understood his place, his purpose. The Master’s dominance was based on his greater power, his canny mind, and his ability to oppress the weak. The Master controlled man and beast and the strange unseen creatures that the dog could sense, but not with eyes or nose, ears or mouth. The Master was strong. The dog obeyed that strength.
Kiba moved back to his spot on the floor, made three short circles, and fell abruptly. He closed his eyes and felt every rock and pebble against his flesh as comfort. The earth was safe and reminded Kiba of the Master.
Any who observed him would see only a great hulking beast, more wolf than dog, bred to kill. The dog did not feel the complications of man’s world. He served the Master not out of honor or a dictated system of status, but because Renyu was Master.
The Master provided food and protection and companionship. The Master was his pack. The dog protected the Master, watched his back, defended him.
The dog did not sleep. He could only doze while the Master was gone. He felt nervous, on edge. He did not think of what would happen if the Master never came back. The future was too far ahead. Instead, he knew only that the Master was not there. The absence was like losing a piece of himself.
The door slid open.
The dog’s head rose slowly as if in a dream. There had been no sound. He could smell nothing. But there, in the opening of the hut, was a woman not of the Master’s pack, covered in blood.
The dog bared his teeth and dug his claws into the earth to leap. His movements were sluggish. He faltered as he tried to stand and fell back into a sitting position.
The woman bared her teeth in a wide grin. A drop of bright red liquid dripped from her palm to the earth below.
The world turned red. Kiba was held fast. Now the odor of blood filled his nostrils, saturated his teeth. It was like chewing chunks of copper. He barked, but it came out as a whimper. He snarled and strained against the oppression. Images of the aftermath of battle filled the dog’s mind as if the room had been stacked high with recently butchered foes.
“Good puppy,” the woman said. The dog’s eyes lolled towards the Master’s servant and the man on the table. He too was frozen, implements of his craft in his hands. The woman’s chin titled up and the servant rose high, arms spread-eagle.
Kiba felt the strangeness that accompanied his Master’s chanting, but her voice made his skin crawl. His fur stood on end. Dust and bile rose in his throat.
The woman strained. Kiba did not know it, but she was barely able to summon her dark spirits in the desolation of the Waste.
Unwilling, the servant gripped tight his implements and turned them towards his chest. His toes barely touched the ground. A grunt from the woman and he slammed the blades deep into his own lungs.
The woman coughed blood into her palm. The servant fell. She shuddered, weak, and snarled, lips pulled back in a rictus grin. She whispered scratchy words and Kiba felt needles dig into his ears. He whined and snarled and strained against the mystic bonds.
The woman-in-blood worked quickly. She covered the body in markings of her own blood. She spread them on the walls and barren floor. A sharp whisper and her worked became invisible.
She staggered and Kiba felt the bonds weaken. His whole body tensed, but the woman regained control. She laughed, low and hearty.
“I like you, puppy. I think Renyu does, too. Let us see if he likes you after the kiss of my blessings.” The woman lifted her palms and whispered softly and Kiba felt his bonds release. In an instant he was on her, snapping jaws clamped tight around her forearm. The air filled with crunching bone and tearing meat and the woman’s screams.
But this was wrong. Her laughter drowned out all other sound. The blood in his mouth was thick and slimy. Kiba staggered.
The world went dark.
Hours t slipped by as the dog lay on the earth, feet kicking in his sleep. He was hot. Trails of frothy saliva made a puddle of mud. He whimpered and barked with feeble aggression. He dreamed in fever.
The dog was a puppy carried high above the ground in the thickset arms of the Crab Champion. He licked and licked at the thick cotton kimono until a wet patch soaked through the Hida mon. The Champion spoke in friendly tones to another man, head bent down over a table of scrolls and open tomes. This new man’s face was reddened, twisted in anger. The puppy was afraid. The Champion held him out and spoke soft words and the other man shook his head and said “No.”
The Champion put the puppy down on the dirt of his brother’s home. The puppy squatted and he peed. He looked up at the Champion’s brother and plodded over on too-large feet. He fell onto his back and barked and the man who would become his Master could only smile.
In the fever dream, Kiba howled. In the real world, he shuddered and continued to dream.
Kiba raced around his Master as hundreds of people screamed and the world was on fire. A great explosion rocked the ground and the city stank of fear. People ran everywhere setting fires, stabbing with man-blades. Any that approached the Master had their throats torn out and were tossed back by the huge beast of a dog.
Kiba turned as the Master roared and pointed at a man who ran away. Kiba could feel that the Master hated that man and wanted him dead. He launched himself forward but the Master’s bright blades of light took him down. The Spider flailed about in agony and the Master smiled.
From the crumpled dog’s mouth came pink spittle, frothy bile. Eyes rolled around in search of something real.
In their time together the Master taught the dog to feel his moods. Kiba knew when Renyu was truly angry and when he wore his fury like a mask. From Renyu he learned how to inflict great harm. The time in the hut was Kiba’s favorite. There, with the Master delving into his work, Kiba lay by his side. When the Master’s voice rose, all hate and fury and frustration, the dog did not understand the words. He would raise his head into the Master’s waiting palm and Renyu’s anger would subside.
Memories faded and the fever dream subsided. The dog lay exhausted and spent upon the floor. He felt the Master return and tried to rise. He had wormed his way into a dark corner of the room and could not see as the door slid aside.
“What?” Renyu said as he stepped inside. The body was no longer upon the table. Instead, two lay sprawled on the floor, insides exposed. At first, it looked as if the Spider had joined his companion. From behind the Master a shadow peeled off the wall and lifted a blade high.
Kiba whimpered. The Master turned to see the dog. He whispered a sharp word. The hut exploded with light and the dark marks the woman had made.
“Kinuye,” whispered the Master, but still he did not see the blade as it plunged down.
Kiba had no energy to rise, but had to save his Master. He must be defended. He must be saved.
The dog felt the woman’s blood in his stomach, in his veins. It called to him like a distant voice. It offered power. It offered a chance.
He took it.
Kiba snarled, claws flexed, muscles tensed, feet dug down into the earth. He leapt. In the blink of an eye he was upon the shadow -man who once lay upon the table. The dog’s jaws wrapped about the skull, closed like a vice until the bone collapsed. An eye popped free onto his tongue.
The dog twisted and jerked with supernatural strength and the two exploded out the side of the hut into the Kuni Wastelands. The Spider, a dead creature whom Kinuye made live once more, stabbed and stabbed into Kiba’s flesh and the dog ripped him apart with the fury of devotion.
The dog was covered in blood and gore. He swallowed some of it and felt the need for more. He breathed heavy and fast and looked up to see the Master, quiet in the doorway, hands afire with holy light.
“Kiba…” the Master whispered and lifted his hands to strike, to kill the corrupted beast who was once his friend.
The dog took a step forward, fueled by dark power, but a deeper whisper held him back. This was the Master. His pack mate. His friend.
The dog sat back on its haunches and bowed its head low. It would not fight the Master. It would die.
Kuni Renyu struggled, face screwed up in agony. He fell to his knees and reached out; the light vanished from his fingers. He paused just before touching the dog’s head. Kiba could smell his fury. He could smell the wet paint streaming down his face.
“Kiba…” the Master whispered.
The dark power called to the dog. It demanded that he tear out the throat of this weak-minded prey.
The dog rose. It lifted its muzzle. The Master felt the dog’s hot tongue between his fingers, heard the great beast whimper.
Kiba backed away. He would not kill the Master. The Master did not wish to kill him.
The dog turned to the south. He stood and he listened, head cocked to one side. He looked back over his shoulder. There a man’s shoulders were hunched in furious defeat.
The dog turned and plodded south on reluctant paws, out of the Wastes, towards the dark voice calling from far away. The Dog – Omah Kotei Fall 2015 - Chris Pottorf