UKIYO – end
I thought I’d meet fury. I assumed anger would greet me. She was eager and anxious but only to move.
But then fury.
She swiftly decapitated the dozen ajisai I extended. A swift flash of her short sword along with a momentary flash of anger that dissipated even before the first petal hit the ground.
Raven squawked from above, ‘Should’ve brought akaibara.’
I shot him a look. He had to right his path lest that tree…
She spoke. ‘They were dead anyway and we must move.’ And that was not an unkind act. Something warmed inside of me to see some of her original mischief returned. Still there was urgency in her voice, then a slight hint of anger returned. ‘Your half witted act has impelled the half wit to act. Let’s go.’
I knew better than to ask questions and didn’t need Raven’s two-sense caw of warning from the window sill either.
I quickly mounted the steed and gave him a quick hug and whispered greetings in his ear. Enough said and we followed Niko and the mare.
Many questions were answered merely by heading in the direction of the citadel.
Raven flew on ahead and disappeared from sight.
On the high bluff heavily populated with poplars, we dismounted Kazan and Umi. I encouraged them to graze on the lee side of the hill, the side hidden from the fortress. It was grassy and good eating for a horse. To Kazan I made hand gestures that indicated the plan to stay alert and listen for my whistle should we need auxiliary.
Long hours we waited. There was no moon and it was pitch black. The fall air had a chill and a fire would have been obvious if obviously we had not been in vigil.
Just past midnight a red light flashed from a crack in the sky. We knew it was time.
Niko went left as we had agreed. Raven and I went right.
We were right there none too soon as the first cry of pain pierced the night. We had suspected the necromancer would bring friends, we just hadn’t known which. The yōkai, knee-high homunculi, had razor sharp teeth and claws. The little monster that had taken a chunk out of the guard who had cried out didn’t see the shuriken flash from my hand. For him it was too late. Raven swooped down on two more in quick succession. I’d let fly a handful more razor-sharp stars to wink at the night and cut down a few more.
Just as I was reaching for both blades the remaining imps scurried together into a perfectly round fur ball. The ball rebounded high into the air and came down with thunder that shook the ground and nearly knocked me off my feet.
There in the clearing dust stood one big version of the little hobs they had been. There it stood on hairy and gnarly feet. It beared its claws and teeth, letting out an otherworldly howl that was nearly too much for the ears to take.
‘Do not look it in the eyes!’ Raven crowed.
I’d but glanced the fiery yellow. I looked instead to Raven. ‘That’s why you are called Chie, my friend!’
Raven nodded and ascended.
It leapt. I went low. Raven stayed high. We each drew blood. I upon its terrible abdomen. Raven took an ear. Twas a din to fright a monster’s ear. I remembered a line read to me in my youth from my deceased father in a far-off land…
It gave me strength. It gave me speed. It gave me power. As rat-faced goblins they were quick and a multitud, better to use both katana and wakizashi. This beast was as tall as two men stacked and as wide as four or more abreast. Terrible to look at. He inspired fear. His greatest weapon. Bigger and stronger than the pack, he was slower. I left wakizashi sheathed and held katana in both hands, perfectly centered.
In three movements, the beast fell to its knees as its throat opened and spilled blood. The cadaver melted into a sludge and seeped into the ground.
Raven and I never gloat. Even if we did, there was no time. We flew, one with wings the other with feet.
I have nothing against red. It is one of my favorite colors and not only a wink or allusion to blood. I think of sunsets and a certain someone’s lips but only with plume in hand after the fact. Raven and I had managed to save a number of guards. Others had not fared so well and their red painted much of the gray of the stone walls of the corridor that glowed the sinister red of which I speak, spilling over the threshold of the last chamber.
We approached slowly, silently, and with caution. I had two shuriken at the ready. One for the forehead of the necromancer, one for the throat of his lover, the sister of my lover.
But behold. I had imagined two against one and Niko in desperate need of my aid. Happy I was to see the two sisters together against the one and despicable magician. Niko and her sister each held wands that threw blue and green bolts against the red cast by the nemesis. I knew the now straight, hard and bound braid, which lent him power, was my stolen topknot. I let shuriken fly.
They were not to injure, not directly anyway. When a fraction of his power and attention diverted from the other fight to knock the chromium quasars out of midair to crash upon the floor, it was enough for the sisters to knock my topknot turned wand or dome baton or crown caduceus or spine scepter from his hands, I sprang, took him down, and pinned one arm over the other. Raven was coming in for an eye but sister used her baton to hold him at bay as Niko using hers, tapped his forehead.
Now he sleeps.
I know little but not enough to talk of the topknot magic except that Niko and her sister had cured and treated them for years. Theirs had been fashioned only one long strand at a time and only on propitious dates. The necromancer used the dark arts and stolen vertebral nectars i.e. mine to fashion one in less time.
Niko picked up the heinous staff. She and her sister walked off into the forest for some moments to confer with their mother. My guess, to burn or bury the thing.
Appearing at the door, why neither Raven nor I suspected treachery and double cross from the sister? Because it is Niko. She would never have let it get that far along if she was not sure.
Sister Daitan (now safe to say her name?), having survived the same, is sure the dark spell can be broken and now visits and sits beside the failed necromancer as he continues in repose. She whispers to him many things.
Niko and I speak much about the sea air. I am in the kitchen capping off on my scribbles. Another round of sake has been heated. She waits for me in the other room and has unfurled maps she only acquired hours ago. Raven, Kazan, and Umi will come along too.
As talk continues, more vibrant all the time, so our itinerary grows.
WHO IS CAPTAIN B?
Captain B. Seafarer. Lover of shore leave. Collector of heads. Disseminator of tales. Twitter: @NPeligeiro