May steel devour you with zealous purpose

The blinding light faded, revealing the valley once more.

Blood soaked into the snow all around us. But in the gore stood Lee.

His arms glowed a soft orange and his eyes showed revelation. The Ember within him was set alight with uncontrollable power.

A yokai that was previously occupied with a now-deceased soldier saw Lee and tried to swing it’s crimson soaked claws at him.

Lee quickly sensed its attack and ducked under its arm, slicing most of it off on the way. The creature took no notice nor felt the pain of the wound, but only tried to attack again. As it reared back to use its good arm to hit, Lee planted his sword within the demon’s heart with deadly accuracy.

The next came, and as before he ducked and weaved with the utmost of precision. And in a single swing, the second yokai fell.

Sora quickly got up from his spot in the snow and joined Lee. He drew multiple arrows from his pouch and held them in his hand as he shot them one by one in rapid succession.

They had the south protected, so I turned to the north, which didn’t nearly look as hopeful.

I started sprinting over to the group of undefended spearsmen as I saw Yasuo.

Without assistance from an Ember or partner, he killed yet another yokai, but not before it clawed deeply into his chest. Although he was far away, I could see the red cover his body. An eye was missing, an arm looked as though it was barely useable. But Yasuo still kept pushing himself. He didn’t look like he even noticed.

Before I could make my way over to assist him, a glimpse of ashen black was caught in the corner of my eye.

I quickly jumped sideways as the yokai swept its arm.

“Of course…” I muttered to myself as I noticed the features of this particular demon. Its skin was scarred and pierced by arrows, and it’s face held a grim satisfaction at its revenge. The yokai that we had come so far to kill…

My hands adjusted around my sword to gain the tightest grip possible. It was finally my chance to regain part of the honor I had lost so many years ago.

An eternity seemingly passed as the yokai and I just stared at each other, both of us deciding what to do.

After that eternity, that endless moment, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins.

Demon, shroud in the dark.

My legs sprung from the cold snow as I sprinted towards the evil creature. In a moment I felt steel clash with foul flesh. The yokai had sacrificed its forearm for defense.

The thing pushed me away and began its own attack.

Before I could gain a stable footing it moved in. It’s grotesquely long hand grabbed me as its maw opened wide.

I tried to pull myself away, but I could feel the sharp sensation before I succeeded. It’s crooked and blood-soaked teeth sunk into my neck.

My mouth opened and I screamed in pain, but it was drowned out in the shrieks of countless others.

No, I couldn’t give up, I had to move, I had to fight.

My sword blindly stabbed into the yokai’s stomach. It wasn’t forceful enough to kill the beast, but it was enough to make it release me.

I felt the bite on my neck. It hadn’t punctured my windpipe or arteries, so I didn’t need to worry about it until we had escaped our hellish situation.

The yokai started moving sideways, so I mirrored it, buying a small bit more time.

We circled each other for a moment, thinking. Our first set of attacks were pitiful, and the fight was getting worse, so if I wanted to be the one to kill the yokai I’d have to do it quickly. And if the yokai wanted to be the first to kill me, it would have to do the same.

Again, I ran towards the creature, causing it to lift up its worn arm again in defense. But instead of striking blindly like last time, I ducked down and swung low, and prayed that my obsessive sharpening and care would pay off.

My eyes instinctively closed as the steel furiously clashed with bone.

Although I didn’t cut through, I could hear an audible crunch as my katana came to a halt.

I pulled the sword out of the yokai’s leg, causing it to fall onto its knee.

May steel devour you with zealous purpose.

The katana sought its way through the yokai’s exposed neck, coming out the other side covered in black liquid.

I stood in the blood-soaked snow as the yokai that had brought us so much distress faded into ash.

But it wasn’t over yet. Yasuo still needed help, so did nearly everyone that hadn’t run off into the forest yet.

I ran as fast as my legs could carry me over to the north side with Yasuo.

Yasuo was still strong, with ash and blood coating his entire body. He looked at me with his one useable eye as I drew near.

Yet more countless yokai jumped out of the forest, but both Yasuo and I quickly killed the demons. I shouted at him through the shrieking of men and the howling of yokai. “You need to go!”

His mutilated face smiled as much as the torn muscles would let him as he responded. “I have a responsibility.” He pointed off to a group of men still holding their own against the onslaught of yokai. “Go help.”

Before I could keep insisting he needed to run, Yasuo hobbled his way to the next group of men that needed help.

There was nothing more I could do for him other than follow orders, so I ran to the group of samurai.

It looked as though Kohei and the Huntsman had formed a circle with some others to protect themselves, but it was quickly collapsing.

I could hear the Huntsman shout as I got close. “I was supposed to kill it! I always kill it!!”

Kohei quickly shouted back. “Stop making noise!”

But it was too late, more creatures started to emerge from the wood towards us.

As I finally arrived at the circle, the Huntsman screamed and pushed his way through the samurai.

In a desperate attempt to keep his perfect record, he tried to swing at the nearest yokai.

The creature easily maneuvered out of the way, but the Huntsman only swung again, Screaming in frustration.

Another attack, another dodge.

With each swing, it seemed he devolved. Letting anger take over rational thought, and working on impulse rather than logic.

“I was supposed to win!” As he swung yet again, he let himself become too vulnerable.

One of the many yokai he was challenging jumped atop him and started clawing away at his chest.

But the Huntsman wasn’t done yet. With all the might in his body, he pushed the creature away and pushed himself back to his feet. “I’m the finest specimen! I’m nature’s greatest hunter!”

This time the Huntsman tackled a yokai. He barely pinned the eight-foot-tall creature as it’s much taller friends moved in to assist it.

Before the Huntsman could even hit the small yokai, the others jumped and piled atop him, quickly pulling him away and ripping his flesh apart in an anti-climactic display. The Huntsman had died.

Kohei cursed as the circle shook and started dispersing. “Shit!”

We were surrounded by yokai, and our prospects looked bleak. As Kohei realized this, he made his decision.

Kohei dropped his sword and grabbed a samurai by the collar of his kimono. He pushed him into the horde of yokai and sprinted through the small gap that had been formed because of his distraction.

The samurai, of course, was torn to pieces. Knowing that he was unsavable, I moved to the rest of the surviving men. We pushed through the small gap and killed the yokai that tried to grab any of us. Our makeshift plan was mostly successful as we burst through the swamp of demons.

Kohei was ahead, running for his life through the snowy field.

As he ran, however, a yokai saw him and sprinted out of the forest. As I opened my mouth to warn him, I decided against it. He had killed his own men, not just by protecting himself, but by insisting on this mission and letting the Doctor do all the things he did. For that, he was deserving of the sentence of death. Every instance of my body wanted to run forth and try to save him from his imminent doom. But I knew that it had to be done. If it wasn’t, he would tell the Shogun of all this and we would all be rounded up like cattle, only to be set on a doomed expedition once more.

The ashen black creature pounced on Kohei and started biting into his torso. A mist of blood sprayed into the air as the yokai pulled its head back. I closed my eyes as it finished off its prey. Kohei screamed calls for help, desperate orders to save him, but none came to his aid. His title of the camp’s leader had finally been completely revoked as he breathed his dying breaths.

After the yokai had finished, an arrow was shot through its skull. Sora quickly moved to the next after the yokai turned to ash.

I pointed towards a part of the forest that was clear of yokai and yelled at my group of samurai to run for safety.

Once they were out of sight I moved my attention to Lee and Sora. Sora was doing fine, but it was Lee I watched in awe. He made great use of his Ember, which I could only surmised gave him great precision and insight. He moved with complete efficiency through the hordes of yokai and killed more than any of us combined.

I shook my head, breaking out of a trance. There was no time to watch, they could handle themselves. So I brought my focus to Yasuo, who was nowhere to be seen.

Although I wanted to, I knew I couldn’t go looking for him. Yasuo would want me to search for more survivors, so that’s what I did. I noticed a pile of bodies only a short run away. There could be someone stuck underneath the corpses, I thought. So, I moved over, avoiding making any sound as to not alert more yokai to where I was.

My nostrils were filled with the familiar scent of iron as I grew close. And the smell only got worse as I pulled the corpses off the pile to whatever was shuffling underneath.

A voice hissed at me as I grew closer. “You’re ruining my hiding place!”

I instantly recognized the foul old man’s voice through the howling, and after pulling the final body away, I saw his face. Without hesitation, I pulled him from his gruesome fortress and threw him onto the snow.

He was immaculate, unharmed. The Doctor quickly stood as he yelled. “You’ve soiled it! All of it! I could have captured one. I would have had more power than any Emperor or Shogun could dream! If we could control this force? Your mind is too small to imagine.”

Although he spoke, I didn’t listen, my thoughts were on one thing. “All those months ago, I let you live, and I suffered from it ever since… I don’t think I can make the same mistake again.”

I was massively conflicted. Was it just to kill the Doctor? Even though he was the foulest of human beings, I found myself hesitating to draw my sword. Under any other circumstance, I wouldn’t. But in this situation, with someone capable of causing so much pain. I decided to make the gruesome decision, in killing the old man, I would be saving countless others and avenging the ones that fell victim to his twisted experiments.

My sword unsheathed as I walked closer.

His eyes widened as he realized what I was about to do. But almost just as quickly as he realized what I was about to do, he smiled with some sort of plan. “Do you really think this is how she would have wanted you to act?”

It felt as though I had been punched in the gut with those words, the premature guilt of what I was about to do instantly took over my mind. I muttered the words out slowly. “How do you kn-”

But before I could question the old man, I felt a sharp incision in my stomach. I couldn’t be loud, so I held my mouth closed as I grasped my sword tighter. He had closed the gap in the blink of my hesitation.

The Doctor spoke as he quickly pulled his scalpel back to the place he hid it in preparation of this exact moment. “You let on more than you think. A logical mind can surmise anything.” I tried to lift my sword, but raising my arm felt as though it opened the gash, making the bleeding significantly worse. “And a surgical hand can incapacitate even the most frustrating of nuisances… Best not move if you want to live.” I very, very reluctantly listened. The old man smiled grimly as he watched me just stand there. “Good.” We stood there and looked at each other for a moment or two. I was like a mouse watching a cat peer down at it. But soon enough, the Doctor made his move. He quickly jabbed into my wound, which made my body shake and contract.

That was enough pain to have me yell and fall to my knees.

I watched the Doctor run into the forest opposite of me as yokai howled louder. They all ran to me, attracted to my noise and vulnerability. “Oh, shit.” One was close, two more were following a ways behind it. “Shit!” I groaned.

Painstakingly rising to my feet, I started to run in the opposite direction, but I wasn’t nearly fast enough. I would have to make a stand.

The first grew close. It was small, but that wouldn’t matter much if I couldn’t even lift my sword.

But before I was doomed, I had an idea. I took my sword and threw it into my other hand. It would be tough using my left, but it was better than dying without a fight.

With a bit of effort, I was able to lift my arm and swing at the oncoming beast of shadow.

I ducked to the right as I swung with my left. And by a lot of effort and an insurmountable amount of luck, the yokai fell limp, turning ash soon after.

All that was left were two more, much larger than the last.

As I gripped tighter, an arrow shot past my head and into one of the yokai’s. I quickly looked behind me and saw Sora and Lee, both running over.

But they weren’t going to make it in time, I would have to kill the last yokai myself. As it got within range, I held my sword to it.

It was clumsy and slow. It had a snout like a dog’s and arms shorter than its body. So I would need to concern myself more with its mouth than its claws.

The yokai was in range. It was time to fend for myself.

I swung, but the creature easily dodged it. Within a moment from my failed attack, the yokai jumped onto me.

It was out for blood, and I wouldn’t be killing it pinned where I was and in the state I was in. So the only thing I could do was stall it.

My arm raised in sacrifice as the creature clamped its jaws on the first thing offered. It bit and tore into the cloth and flesh.

I tried to punch it with my right as it mangled my left, but I couldn’t lift it with enough force. The yokai unclenched its jaw for a moment, trying to get a better grip on my arm and to look around, I took that as my opportunity.

I quickly grabbed onto my metal shoulder pad. All of us had the most minuscule of armor, and it was barely useful, except in this situation.

The metal pad unlatched from my chest plate and lodged itself into the yokai’s mouth, just before it had closed its maw.

its teeth still sunk into my arm, but not nearly as badly.

And within a few more moments, the yokai was pulled off of me by Lee. He quickly stabbed into the creature as Sora picked me up.

Sora spoke with a face full of concern. “Are you going to be alright?”

I played it off as little more than a scratch. “Yes… I’m fine.”

Lee looked around the body and blood covered battlefield as he spoke. “Where’s Mahiro?”

I frowned deeply as the thought was brought back into my mind. “He… didn’t make it.”

Lee shook his head. “Alright, alright. Where’s Yasuo?”

“I don’t know. Last I saw him he was over there.” I barely pointed with the last strength in my arm over to where had I seen the spear-wielder.

Lee started sprinting to where I pointed as Sora helped me up. We all ran over to the spot.

The only thing that we were greeted with was a trail of blood and piles of ash, quickly fading into the breeze. Lee looked at the blood, and without a word started following it.

We walked along the trail, which lingered wherever there must have been anyone that needed help. Lee caught a glimpse of something and ran ahead. He started gagging as Sora and I got close enough to see.

Sora could only say. “Oh…” as we looked at the severed arm.

Lee panted for breath as my mind raced. “No… This doesn’t mean he’s dead! The trail keeps going. Come on!”

I was the first to move on, then Sora, then Lee.

The trail moved only deeper into the fight, of course.

Slowly it grew fresher and fresher until we were met with the large man once again.

Yasuo was leaning against a tree, gasping for breath. He smiled as he saw us, I can’t say I was doing the same. “Hello, Kenshi. Hello, Sora. Hello, Lee. You all seem to be doing well. I see that Ember that laid dormant in you finally revealed itself, Lee. I knew you had one…”

Lee chuckled. “And yet I still can’t perform as well as you. Do you realize how many people you saved today?”

Yasuo kept smiling as he used his one arm to position himself better. “Well, hopefully, a few… But as long as even one is saved I will be happy…”

I spoke as I got down next to him. “You’ve saved countless people, Yasuo. Be proud.”

He chuckled in between his coughing up blood. “That’s good…” His attention slowly drifted from me to ambient space. “You three. If you ever find yourselves in Kamakura, would you tell my parents I love them, and that I told them you can have all the tea you can drink.”

Sora nodded. “Of course.”

Yasuo’s eyes closed. “Thank you… It’s been a pleasure leading you all…”

Soon his chest no longer moved up and down, his face no longer smiled. Yasuo had passed.

Few yokai showed themselves the rest of that night, and Lee quickly disposed of them.

We buried Mahiro and Yasuo next to each other underneath a cherry blossom tree. I took the sun lily that had been attached to my breastplate for so long and planted it between both of them. It flourished there. Even in the darkness, it stayed blooming and beautiful.

Rest well, Yasuo. Be at peace, Mahiro.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Oncoming storm

I walked along the sandy road towards the large merchant city. My hands fumbled through the new kimono I had been given to wear, searching for the piece of paper I had been given.

After a moment of searching, I finally pulled the note out of the blue and black cloth. The list read a variety of food, horse feed, and other commodities that would be useful for our oncoming hunt.

People were walking along the coast to my right, gazing at the night sky. To my left was a great patch of forest, something I could get lost in, something no one had a chance of finding me in.

I shook my head, there was no more option for escaping. If I were to leave, Hayato would pay the price. Once I had been chained and trapped physically, but now there really was no escape besides completing my task.

My mind wandered back to my surroundings, I had reached the city while I was busy thinking. The merchant city was familiar, the very same city I went to with Asao all those weeks ago. The same Hayato was stationed in.

Unlike others, there were no walls protecting the city, making it easy for me to enter.

I merged into the small crowd of people easily. I had almost gotten used to people avoiding me and staring. I enjoyed the fact that I was now clean and presentable.

A red structure caught my eye as I almost walked past.

I rushed the people around me and moved out of the crowd. On top of the ornamental red structure sat Hayato, his eyes were closed as he concentrated.

People emerged from the foggy portal beneath him and pushed past me as I stood against the flow of traffic.

I moved out of the crowd’s way and called for the Samurai. “Hayato! Hayato!”

Hayato’s eyes slowly opened as he looked down at me, the foggy portal deforming into nothingness. “Kenshi?” He moved from his sitting position and climbed down from the structure. “Kenshi, why are you here so soon?”

“I’m here to fetch our company supplies, and to notify you of what’s happening.”

His eyebrow raised. “And what might be happening?”

“The Shogun has ordered our company to hunt a yokai.”

Hayato paced for a moment, thinking. “Well… Have you spoken to your superior officer?”

“I’ve tried, but he is more than eager to gain the Shogun’s approval…” I had to collect our oddities quickly. If I wasn’t back in my allotted amount of time Kohei would suspect that I’d tried to escape. “I must get going, Hayato.”

He stopped pacing and looked over at me, then to his seat at the large wooden structure. “No one will notice if I’ve left for only a few moments… Let me assist you with your supplies.”

Hayato most likely shouldn’t have left his station so abruptly… But if he was willing to leave, I decided I might as well take the company. “Then let us start moving.”

I turned and Hayato followed. Pulling the list from my kimono once again revealed the materials we needed. “First… We go left from here, towards the sandstones.”

We turned to the left at the crossways and started making our way to the small stall. As we walked, I noticed Hayato look down, then back to the path ahead. He spoke. “I’ve noticed, your leg looks completely healed.”

I hadn’t taken much thought of it, but now that my leg was mentioned, I realized that I walked with no hint of a limp, as I used to. “That’s right. I’ve almost forgotten about my leg.”

We reached the small shop. The stall owner looked at both Hayato and I, in our military uniforms. He spoke, trusting us to act according to standards. “Just leave brass on the counter, sirs.”

I took the few sandstones we needed and left the money Kohei gave me on the table.

The stones sat at the bottom of the large sack I was carrying. I pulled out the note once again and read our next object. “It looks like next… We need rice.”

Hayato looked around for a moment and pointed down the path. “The rice stall is that way.”

We turned and started making our way down the road.

It was my turn to reinvigorate the conversation. I spoke the first question that came to mind. “So… How is your brother, Hayato?”

He thought for a moment. “I’m not quite sure. It’s been months since last we met.”

That was strange. I thought that given their ember, the distance wouldn’t matter. “Can you not transport yourself to him?”

Hayato looked frustrated, like this had been on his mind. “No… We can only make a portal with a vessel and concentration. So the only place I can open the portal is with the pair of gates. And even then, I would be concentrating too much to walk.”

The rice shop was getting closer, but I still had time to speak. “Have you been training then?” Hayato looked curiously at me. I supposed he’d never tried to use he and his brother’s ember abstractly. So I explained further. “To use an ember is an act of will. You have placed these rules in your mind that doesn’t even exist. Your mind is holding you back, so you must train it as a muscle and go beyond your limits.”

Hayato paused in the road for a moment. “But, I’ve heard tales of the conception of Embers. And they’ve said that in the beginning, the old samurai could use their extreme powers with ease.”

We reached the rice shop. I looked from the note to the sizes of bags, then proceeded to buy while I spoke. “Embers have evolved over the years…” I handed the coin to the vendor. “The more people granted with Embers, the more people had to refine themselves to use their Embers properly.” I looked down at the note again, our list was growing shorter.

Hayato looked very interested in what I said. His world was two dimensional and goal oriented. Since all he had to do was use his Ember how it was, the thought of improving upon it slipped his mind. He spoke after taking it in. “That makes sense. I suppose that’s why they say that the first Ember had unspeakable power.”

With a nod, I replied. “I want to see improvements by the next time we meet.”

Hayato reminded me again of how new this all was to him. “How would I improve?”

I shrugged. “I’m not sure… If I had to suggest a routine…” I thought for a moment. To break barriers created by one’s mind, the same mind had to figure out how to destroy them. All I could do was try to push him in the correct direction. “Every time I see you using your Ember, you’re always in a tranced state. So try keeping your eyes open. Watch the waves pass by as you work instead of focusing entirely on one task.”

Hayato thought for a moment. “Indeed. I’ll keep you informed on my progress.” He looked around for a moment. “Our next stop?”

The list was short, we only had one stop left. I pointed behind us, towards a stall we had managed to miss. “Over there.” We walked along the path closer to Hayato’s station.

Something in the corner of my eye caught my attention as we moved forward. Hayato took notice and spoke. “What is it?”

He wouldn’t understand. “Um, nothing.” He shrugged it off and we kept walking, but I couldn’t let this get away from me. “Hayato…” I fumbled around in my pocket and grabbed the note, along with the last of Kohei’s brass. “Take this and buy the last of my supplies, will you?” Without letting Hayato say a word, I handed him the coin and moved on my own path.

I walked quickly to the small stall. It held dying flowers and dead shrubberies. Except one lonesome lily in a large pot of soil.

I grabbed the man’s attention as I finally reached the shop. “Sir, is that a sun lily?”

He nodded, pleased that someone finally showed interest. “Yes sir, our last! It’s in bloom as well!”

“That’s strange. I thought they only bloom in sunlight?”

“They do. But I suppose this one is an oddity. It perked up only a few hours ago.”

I picked the small flower from the pot. “I’ll take it.”

“Wonderful! That will be-” I picked the last of the coins I had been saving since the sun set. It would be more than enough for a single flower. The man looked at the pile of coins on the table and smiled. “A pleasure to do business with you!”

The flower sat carefully and hidden in the pocket of my kimono.

Giving a wave to the flower shop owner, I set back to Hayato.

Hayato was leaning against the stall with supplies in hand, waiting for me to arrive. He stood as he saw me. “You’re back.”

He handed me the objects and I quickly transferred them to the sack I was given. “That’s all we need.”

We had spent longer than I had expected in the merchant city. Both Hayato and I would have to hurry if we wanted to keep ourselves from punishment. Hayato looked around. “We better move quickly, I’ve been away for far too long.”

I nodded my head in agreement as we started walking along the path once again.

The red structure was close, so we picked up the pace.

Within a few moments, we had reached the gate.

I talked as Hayato quickly climbed atop it. “I should be back to report in a few days.”

He reached his perch and responded. “I’ll be expecting you.”

We didn’t have time for much more conversation, so I left with a nod to keep myself from overextending my stay. As I moved back I saw Hayato frustratingly force his eyes fixed upon the sea as he opened the gate once again, keeping himself from falling into his usual tranced state. He gave after a few moments and reverted to normal, but at least he had tried.

But enough with tutoring, I had to bring the supplies to Kohei. So I set back down the sandy path towards our camp, dreading every moment.

My anxiety was palpable. A team of powerless miscreants set off to hunt a demon, and I was in the forefront of the fight.

Well, at least I had been able to go shopping beforehand.

A bleak homage

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.”

He smiled.

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.