Light, love, and lessons learned

The creature emerged from his hiding. Legs veined and muscular. Skin ashen purple. The arm I had once cut from his body had grown grotesquely disproportioned from the other, bearing claws and twitching with eagerness. The Shogun’s face was stretched with horror over an alien skull. His mouth perpetually open in a gaping and hungered maw, moaning in both anguish and thirst for blood. His eyes were milky and wandering. Hair fallen off to show the deep black veins pulsing all throughout his person.

What a curse put upon you, to appear both the same outside as in.

Once the Shogun’s eyes finally met with mine his face frowned as much as it could while so tightly wrapped around his misshapen head. His moaning turned to frenzied chattering as he stumbled forward like a baby learning to walk.

The Shogun had turned into a monster with no recollection of balance or speech, the only thing inside his mind was his feverish hunger for pleasure and his hatred for me. With a body in continuous pain and a mind no longer capable of rational thought, the only pleasure the Shogun would find was in revenge.

Finally, what was once the Shogun’s mind clicked with the natural dexterity and predator like nature of his new species. Ducking low to the ground, he jumped toward me and attacked.

I leaped to the side, letting myself roll back on to my feet once I hit the snow. As the Shogun failed his lunge he let himself drop to all fours and began galloping towards me. It seemed it didn’t care to take the time to think of new strategies, he just wished to constantly press the attack.

The Shogun barred his jagged teeth as he got close. I only tightened my grasp to my katana. I dodged far too great so I could witness his maneuvering capabilities, now that I had learned how the creature that was once a man moved, I could parry his attack and reward his eagerness with a cut.

The Shogun outstretched one arm as he used the other to continue his stride, trying to pull me in range of his teeth. Instead of fruitlessly trying to dodge, I braced myself and swung my sword forward, letting the beast’s smaller arm release itself from his body.

Purplish black blood sprayed from the stump at the Shogun’s shoulder as he yelped in pain.

I took a sigh to keep my concentration, letting hot breath and cold air mix to steam the air in front of me. Clouds for the new light of day just halfway to the horizon now, spreading like a bright watercolor over a bleak canvas.

I looked behind me to see the yokai that was once the Shogun clutch his shoulder. With such a grievous wound, this fight would be over in a matter of moments.

But instead of bleeding, his gash clotted. The demon’s monstrous body shivered throughout as he let go of his injured shoulder, blood and tendons shot forth and twisted together in demonic matrimony to regrow the hewn arm.

That was a problem.

The Shogun stumbled forward on two legs, newly formed claws stretching and readying themselves for use. Feet dug through snow as the beast leaned forward and began sprinting towards me once again.

An enemy with infinite stamina and unrelenting healing… There seemed to be but one solution.

As the Shogun frantically ran towards me, arms swinging, I lifted my sword high. I had become vulnerable, but I had to aim for his head and kill him instantly if I wished to win. As I readied to strike, though, my gut started to churn. With my foot partially severed my sense of balance was ever so slightly off, and my positioning wasn’t correct.

That was perfectly fine, if there was one lesson I had learned through these years to reclaim my honor, it was patience and humility. With both of those in mind, I slid to the side and let the Shogun stumble himself to a halt.

There is only you and yourself. The only person you must defeat is the anger and the restlessness inside you. Everything else will follow.

With another deep breath, I stomped my feet into the ground, anchoring myself and bringing perfect balance to my form. The Shogun was sprinting towards me screaming and wailing in the demonic tones of yokai just like before, but this time I was prepared.

Once he was in range, the yokai lowered his head to tackle me to the ground, leaving me the perfect opportunity to slice deep into his brain. With his remaining momentum, both the Shogun and I fell to the ground.

Even with his exponential size and weight, I still managed to push the beast off of myself in an instant.

I looked at the Shogun’s corpse, black fluid pouring from the motionless husk.

With a sigh, I began to look over to Amaterasu and my companions, but a stirring arose below me. Ashen purple fists clenched to the snow as the Shogun’s head reformed into its previous hideousness and began moaning in pain and horror once more.

I had dealt a killing blow through the most vital organ… Yet, he still lived…

The old and deranged Doctor crawled out from under the upturned carriage in amazement of his own creation, simply chuckling with wide eyes as I grimaced.

From the sky flew an arrow with a direct course to the Shogun’s head. Sora the undeterred was appreciated, but the arrow he struck into the demon’s cranium only hindered him for a brief moment.

The Shogun stood, and raised his head into the air, screaming a horrible scream that echoed throughout the mountainside.

Chitters and screams responded in a similar tone eerily close. More yokai were flocking to us like moths to the flame.

Once he was done calling for the others of his kind, the Shogun looked back to me with a vicious fire in his eyes. He swung his claws wildly, letting me simply step back to dodge. It didn’t matter if I countered or cut, the husk that was once the Shogun would continuously regrow. The Doctor had truly created something unkillable.

Another swing and another dodge. My mind wildly raced from one prospective plan to the next, but nothing arose. In all my experience, I had no earthly idea of how to succeed in this fight. In all the demons I faced, none were as unrelenting and horrid as this.

I continued to back further towards the center of the plateau, watching my love and my companions’ retreat from the uncountable hordes of yokai crawling towards them. There were many hiding in the shadows, waiting for their new master to call upon them. No longer a twisted lord of men, but of demons and beasts without thought.

Soon my desperation had caught to my physical self, causing me to trip as I watched us become hopelessly surrounded.

The Shogun jumped toward me, but I hadn’t given up completely just yet. A clawed hand swung towards me and a clawed hand was severed. A mouth moved to tear out my throat and a jaw was cut from his skull.

I frantically cut from my spot in the snow, but the Shogun only continued to grow back at an increasing pace, each failed attack getting ever so closer to ending my life.

Finally, the demon of my past grew too close for me to swing my sword, so I lodged my katana between his teeth and let his claws dig into my abdomen.

The world grew slow as I felt the daggers pierce flesh. Everything I had worked for was at stake. Everything I wished to reclaim would be lost again. Seventeen years in hiding only to come back to the light and lose it all again.

No. I wouldn’t let myself fall into nothingness once more. I wouldn’t lose my last opportunity to live the life I had lost.

With all my strength, I pushed my katana as deeply through his head as I could before I felt no more resistance. In the instant the Shogun went limp, I rolled out of his grasp and stood.

The demonic thing was quick to regrow his head and follow, watching me writhe in pain with its obelisk eyes. With one hand clutched to my bleeding stomach and the other holding the katana gifted by Amaterasu so many years prior, I glared back at the creature. One final attempt at victory had crossed my mind as I stared at the yokai, backlit by the beam of sunlight shooting from the summit’s mouth.

I ran forward, and so did he. He was heavy, but I was determined. My feet dug into the snow as I continued to push. His claws tore into my back but I failed to care.

Lifting the yokai I once knew as the Shogun from his feet, I screamed in pain and determination. I could barely see from the light of the sun, I could only feel the blades leave my back as I pushed the Shogun off of me.

His face so horribly stretched over a foreign skull seemed confused as he shrieked in desperation. The Shogun stumbled trying to bring himself back to his feet in time, but he was too lazy and too stupid as he had been from the start.

His body emerged into the flowing pool of light, vaporizing into ash on contact. The only thing to be heard was the echoes of his horrid shrieking across the mountaintop. The world was finally rid of the fat and selfish Shogun. A weight left my shoulders as I finally accomplished the task I had sought to do so many years ago.

Finally, the beam of light at the summit ceased as the sky turned bright blue.

The sun shone from the peak of the sky, it’s light flowing down and burning the yokai surrounding us.

The evil and shadow in the world screamed in plea one last time as the light scoured the land, ending the demon therein.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The tormentor I had grown so acquainted with was dead. The demonic creatures I had failed to exterminate were eradicated. Only a final enemy remained.

Sheathing my katana, I turned back and looked to the broken carriage. The Doctor stared at me in horror. I had destroyed all he had worked for, letting us both know this was the end of our game. He began to run towards the end of the plateau as I walked steadily closer to him.

An arrow shot from Sora rendered his knee useless, causing him to quickly buckle under his own weight. The rest of my friends sheathed their swords and began to make their way to us.

Falling onto his hands and knees in the snow, the sniveling Doctor turned to look at me with fury. I looked back down at him with nothing but determination to finalize it all.

“He was immortal! We could have all been immortal! You fool!” He hissed as my companions grew near.

I didn’t care to respond, as I had no remark to make. The only fool was the man kneeled before me, using his lies and cruelty in a vain attempt at godhood. “No one lives forever.”

Under his breath, the old man let out one final disdainful retort. “I could have…”

I shook my head as my hand hovered to the hilt of my sword. “May those you wronged find peace. And may you find justice.” For all those times you called me your friend, I still feel no sadness at your departure.

His eyes grew in selfish realization. Hastily forming another malformed lie, the Doctor shouted. “I-!”

My katana reflected the light of the blazing sun in a beautiful glowing streak. In its wake, nothing but a misty cloud of sanguine red.

It was finished.

I took in a breath in the cold air of Mt.Fuji. Clarity and peace that I hadn’t felt in decades washed over me as I looked at the stark expanse of daylight. Even though I was injured, I felt as though I was born anew.

Hayato was the first to put a hand on my shoulder. My friend that had been with me from the start of our journey. With the smile he seemed to always wear, he spoke. “I knew you could do it, Kenshi.”

Sora nodded, his blank exterior breaking to show a genuine smile. “I am… Happy to see the day again… Thank you.”

Lee nodded with confidence and optimism. “We did well. I’m happy I was able to help us make it here.”

Anzen looked at me as he moved aside for Amaterasu to enter our formed circle watching the beautiful view of Nihon. “My faith was well put. I wouldn’t have wished for anything else but to fight this fight with you.”

Finally, Amaterasu ran up to me and gently wrapped her arms around my shoulders, being aware to not squeeze my injuries as she leaned in and kissed me. “I missed you more than you could imagine. And the sky is more beautiful than I had ever seen before.”

I smiled at her as we turned our attention back to the vista at our feet. The entirety of our home shimmered in bright colors as the heat of the sun beamed down on us.

A smile came across my face as I held tightly to Amaterasu, with no intention of ever letting go again.

Through the wind rustling the lilies and the birdsong in the trees, you could hear it.

Bliss.

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.