A good person leaves an imprint on the people they’ve touched. Once they pass, the people they’re around will always feel like something is missing. An even better person leaves a part of themselves with the people around them. Engraving their ideals and thoughts into the people’s hearts.
I suppose I rejected this. And now I’m only part of who I was.
But there was no amount of pondering that could change this. The only thing that could change me was an abundance of will I didn’t have.
But enough self-loathing. I have a story to tell.
The path was soft and made the daily trudge to the market a bit easier. A forest surrounded me while I walked, keeping the eternally setting sun from invading my eyesight.
But my solitude and shade didn’t last for long. Soon I was engulfed in a crowded rat race of a road. People shoved past each other to be but a small bit closer to their destination. I kept with the flow and kept from drawing attention, as were the rules.
But apparently, I couldn’t keep enough focus to not notice him.
A young boy, all alone, was pushed by the traffic of people. And with enough of a push, he stumbled, tossing the dozens of brass coins he was previously counting into the air.
Keep with the flow, and don’t draw attention to yourself.
I passed the boy without another thought. I was no longer the hero type.
But even though my eyes were ahead and on the track, my ears deviated. I could still hear the child aimlessly shuffling in the dirt, painstakingly picking up each piece.
His face was engraved in my mind. Maybe it was because I saw a part of myself in him. Something about it, about his situation and his familiarity. I found myself leaving the traffic and breaking my rules.
The boy looked up at me as I squat down. We were in silence as I helped him retrieve his brass.
After we finished, I started to leave. I had broken enough rules for the day. But, of course, I didn’t get back to my regular day. A small hand clutched my arm as I tried to merge into the crowd. I instinctively turned at the unexpected sensation.
The child stood there, not letting go of me. He spoke. “Um… Thank you, sir.”
At that moment, I was trapped. You knew this would happen. “You’re quite welcome.” A person like you can only be a bad influence. You’ve done your good deed, leave it at that.
The child spoke again before I could break from his grasp. “My name’s Asao.”
His familiar face captured my attention. Somehow, I had forgotten my long trodden rules. Something about speaking to a child. Their innocent outlook was intoxicating, something I’ve forgotten over the years. I responded nicely. “It’s nice to meet you Asao. I am called Kenshi.”
He smiled. “It’s nice to meet you too!”
We stood in silence for a few moments. I could tell which words he was hoping came out of my mouth. And I found myself speaking them. “Well, Asao. Is this your first time going to the market by yourself?” He answered with a nod. “Ah, I see… Well… I believe I could use a companion on my trip. I would love the extra pair of hands. If you aren’t too busy, of course.”
He answered excitedly. “I’ll help!”
I waved at him to follow as I entered the crowd of people. I kept myself from speaking. You’re still no mentor for a child.
But, my silence didn’t stop Asao’s childlike curiosity. He pointed ahead, at the oncoming gate and spoke too quietly for me to understand past the idle chatter of people.
The gate was something unusual. An ornamental and red wooden gate stood in the center of the road. A samurai sat on the top, his eyes intensely shut and focusing as his armor hid an orange glow radiating from his chest. Focusing to keep the foggy portal below him open.
I leaned down a small bit and spoke to Asao, like this we could speak through the crowd. “The gate? Have you never seen an ember using samurai before?” He shook his head. Asao must have come from a smaller village if he’s never seen an ember user. I continued. “So. An ember is a piece of lady Amaterasu. Her divinity shines in the samurai that she gives it to, and they gain uncanny powers. This man is quite famous. Lady Amaterasu gave him and his twin brother a shared ember, letting them make a portal between each other. Thus, letting the people of Nihon travel from the east to the west almost instantly.”
Asao’s eyes lit at the thought of supernatural powers. He spoke in remembrance. “Oh! We had a samurai like that pass through our town. He could move the earth with a wave of his hand. But I thought he was just a magician or something, that it was fake.”
We were close to the portal. I could only speak one sentence before we passed through. “Oh, they’re quite real.” Asao stopped for a moment in hesitation, then entered the fog. A moment of grey. Then the embrace of salty sea air, and the sound of waves crashing against a sandy shore.
Asao was amazed by the sudden change of scenery. “Woah. It worked!”
I nodded my head. “Of course.”
We went back to walking in silence for a while after that conversation had run dry. A stall was set with fish on display, that would be our first stop.
Asao and I got to the stall, and we bought a few fish. Next was rice.
We had already started moving down the wooden road before Asao came up with another question. “Kenshi. You know a lot about the samurai and lady Amaterasu, right?”
General knowledge came with my age, I supposed. “I know enough.”
Asao pointed to the horizon, where the sun sat locked. “My parents have talked about the sun moving in the sky once, and how the sky would change from light to dark. If lady Amaterasu is the sun, why is she no longer doing what she used to?”
I grimaced. Our world had been damned for so long, the boy doesn’t even know what night and day were. “Well… Have you heard of yokai? The monsters that hide in the dark.”
“My parents told me about them.”
“Good. Then you know that they dislike lady Amaterasu. I think that she’s in trouble. That’s why she gave the brave all these powers.”
He pondered for a moment. “Well. Why haven’t we helped her?” Man was a selfish creature. She gave us power and expected to be protected in return. But we only take.
I responded simply. “I don’t know. Maybe when you turn of age you’ll get an ember and help.”
And with that statement, Asao’s train of thought turned. “I can have an ember?”
“Only the brave and honorable get an ember. So I’m sure you will.”
Now, where had the rice shop gotten off to?
I turned sharply to the right to the stall. Asao followed quickly.
Another shop, the same interaction as always. With that, I had collected all that I had set out to collect, and it looked like that was all Asao needed as well.
With a wave we started going back. Or, I started going back. It looked like Asao was no longer following. I turned back and spoke to him. “What is it, child?”
Asao looked down for a moment, then responded. “Well. There was one last thing I needed to get.”
“And what is that?”
He blushed for a moment. “Well. There’s this girl in my village. I like her but she doesn’t pay me any attention. I thought…” He paused for a moment. “I thought I would use my extra brass to buy her flowers.”
I let out a chuckle. “Let’s go find the best flowers Nihon can offer, then.”
There was a flower shop on our way back, luckily. So we kept on our way back and stopped at the stall.
Asao stood there, staring intimidated at the options. “Uh, I want a… A…”
I picked up a flower and showed it to Asao. “If I were you. I’d pick the sun lily. It’s lady Amaterasu’s favorite flower. And a symbol of everlasting love. Just remember that it only blooms in the sunlight, so keep it out of the shade.” Asao took the flower from my hand and looked over it happily. He reached deeply into the pocket of his kimono, searching for his few coins. I held my hand out and stopped him. “Allow me.” It was only a few brass, and I was more than happy to pay.
The florist took the money and waved us goodbye. Sadly, our time was ending.
We started back to the gate.
A smile unknowingly came upon me. I had decided against my rules, yet I felt like I hadn’t been the influence I feared I would be for the child. Asao was happy around me, something I didn’t think anyone could be in my presence.
Maybe it wasn’t that bad to be around people.
As we got to the gate, I could hear bystanders mumble and gasp. Eventually, my attention drifted from their faces to where they were looking. At the horizon, the sun was setting. Something I hadn’t seen in decades. Something Asao had never seen.
I turned to the boy. “Asao! Do you-”
Asao looked at the ground on his hands and knees. After a moment he wretched a foul black substance. The boy looked up at me. “What… What is-” Again he wretched the black liquid.
I kneeled down beside Asao. I started to speak but was interrupted.
Asao’s body jerked back and forth. In a fit of seizures, his body started to mutate. The child’s pale skin ripped and tore into a mass of black. Bones broke and grew in size. Shrieks of pain turned to moans of an animal.
Finally, the demon stood. A yokai looked at me with its glassy eyes. It’s maw gaped open and closed. The thing started slowly moving towards me in its new body.
I stepped back with each step it took. “A-A-Asao… You…” It didn’t pay any attention.
Again I moved back and hit a fishing stall. Nowhere for me to go.
My hand slid over the counter until I blindly grasped a fisherman’s spear.
I then pointed it at the thing that was once a child. “Please…” Still, nothing but death showed in its eyes.
Eventually, the yokai grew too close. I had to strike to survive. My feet barred and my grip tightened. I-
A yell broke my concentration. The samurai that was sitting atop his perch awoke from his meditation as he heard people screaming. He leaped into the air, holding his sword.
Steel plunged into the yokai’s gnarled spine. What was once Asao fell to the ground.
That day the sun set. And our world was left in eternal night.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t help you Asao. You will forever be a part of me.