It was the end of March; the weather had been mostly mild as the season of spring hit the valley. A young man sat beneath a cherry blossom tree. The warm of the sun started to show some blossoms from the trees and fresh grass became noticeable by sight and smell. The farmers had started planting the rice as everyone in the village was ready for new beginnings, as every year now. The far-off mountains were covered in a gentle mist of morning.
A more beautiful sight was however another direction as a silhouette of a beautiful young woman came across a hill. The woman carried a square basket made from Ikebana root and bamboo. It contained what looked like pears, peaches, and a few tangerines. She made her way towards the man.
She sat down next to him and handed him a pear. The man smiled and took the pear. The two had this routine daily.
They met while the man was a boy busy with his daily training. They were attracted at first sight and spend most of their free time getting into the typical trouble of kids of the village. This was heavily looked down on the boy as he had great expectations. However, his master knew of young love and made sure the young man kept the correct balance to his life.
The young man was trained as a demon hunter. A profession that had become more ceremonial than anything over the last few centuries. There had been to sight of any major threats for over two hundred years. Mostly the post served as law enforcement and the occasional hunter of a kasa-obake that come to life, these are mostly pests to demon hunters as a parasol is not threat to a Honjo Masamune powered sword, that only a few highly skilled blacksmiths can craft as well as the rare silver infused with the steel. Because of the rarity of the swords only the men who showed the highest skill would be trained in the art of demon hunting. The man was due to travel to receive his sword in a month’s time, the journey would take a year’s time to return. Because of this and the love of the young woman, they were wed a week before he was to go.
The woman spent her days sitting under the same tree she greeted her beloved. Enjoying the view, always hoping to see her husband coming from the mountains, he was due any day now. The weather was once again becoming warm, except something was a little off. It was warmer that it normally is for a late March day. As she looked into the distance thinking of the day her husband would return the sky turned red, the mist became more ash then fog. The weather would be hot one second and cold the next. The village started screaming as if it was a single living thing. The woman started to run home.
Something stopped her, a voice, something freighting as it was calming. She slowly turned around. “I’ve come as you asked,” a bodiless whisper spoke.
The man was about 2 hours away from the village, even though weighed down by his new sword and armor. The armor was mad of mostly leather and wood, with magical black steel plates that accented the otherwise red leather and dark brown wood. It was surprisingly light for what it was, the design gave him free mobility at the arms and legs. This was his design in part, even though he was a tall stout man, he was also surprising quick so instead of what most men of his stature would choose, he went for agility over power. His sword seethed and attached to his hip bounced alongside him as he walked.
He never felt as happy and proud as he did this day. His training finished, his journey complete, and the love of his life waiting for his return. It was a life worth living and looking forward to, a life to have children of his own that would same day make him proud. Something he wished his parents could see or even his late master. Things happen for a reason he told himself and forced himself to stop thinking on those lines. He was home, that’s all that mattered.
Then he saw fire.
The man ran as fast as he could, the terrain was fair as he was on the road between his village and the closest to the north. He was finally glad for his training, growing up we never though he would need any of it, he still wasn’t sure if he needed it. Maybe it was just some fool setting his home on fire and no real threat. He knew better, he noticed the red sky, he just refused to ever think anything would happen to his village. They were simple people, nothing to draw the attention of anyone or thing.
As the man reached the tree line he finally saw the terror that was waiting for him. He did not see a single home untouched, the fields were full of ghost-fire. A glowing fire that did not give off heat, but cold and did not burn what it touched, but instead left a taint on the land. He did not see the monster that caused this attack on the rice fields, but he knew he wouldn’t. Basan never reviled themselves, either if it was by choice or some maddening spell. He knew from his training he must listen for this huge creature. Its feathers would give itself away soon enough. The man ran a wide girth through the grass and around the cherry tree that his love shared with him in better days. Then he heard a sound only a giant chicken would make. He drew his sword and leaped into the air and slashed. As he landed he knew he made the killing blow. He herds the last sounds of the monster and the blow to the plan as the body hit the ground. As the man looked back he saw the monster’s body, headless, on the ground.
The man moved on, this one monster was not able to do this on its own, or even want to. This was a full assault on the village. Why the man had no idea, they had not a temple filled with ancient magic. There was simply no reason for demons to attack. And where did these demon’s come from. Hopefully they were all like what his studies told him, like the basan.
As the man ran into the village, dogging the falling debris that fell all around him, he saw a group Dodomeki. Again, not a demon that would openly attack a village, and not one that would normally be sieging alongside a basan or even be seen in groups. The dodomeki were punished souls for a lifetime of stealing. They had long arms and hundreds or bird eyes. The continued to steal in this corrupted form. They offered no real threat to himself, but at this point he knew there was a greater evil among them and dispatching them would be difficult with alerting whatever else was out there.
The man had a plan, he saw the remains of a house that the group was wondering around, probably looking for whatever valuables were spared from the fire. If he could get to the house, he could ambush them and hopefully take them out in one movement. It was a move he practiced but never though he would ever need it. Of course, he didn’t think he would ever need any of this.
The man quickly moved alongside what was left of a fence and made it through a window on the far side of the house. He then made it for the upper loft and hoped it had just enough strength to hold him there for a moment. It did, the man took a deep breath and then looked over what was left of the roof to target the spot of the attack. The dodomeki were very busy picking up scrapes of things the man did not want to think about. The man leaped down landing perfectly between the monster and spun himself around with his sword extended. The demons fell, without a sound. The man was grateful that is worked. He was far from a master at that technique, but he felt it was the only option at the time. The area seemed to be clear of any demons so he took this chance to go to the home he was going to start his family. The one he knew no longer stood, the only hope was he did not find his wife there. That somehow along with many of the villagers made their way out before any of this happened.
As he approached his home his heart sank in horror. All that stood was a few stalks of wood, the damage was the worst he saw of any of the village so far. Nothing was left but black wood and clay, if not for his memories you could not tell what used to be there. The odd thing was unlike the rest of the village that was burned or forced to collapse from the outside, his home seemed to be pushed outward like an explosion of some sort occurred. As he heavy heartily walked around the remains he could not see any sign of anything that would cause such a thing. Then, unleavable to the man he could fell any more depressed and unworthy of life, a new darkness gently brushed up against the back of his neck. The hairs brought sharp pain across his spine. He man turned around.
There stood over a dead animal that could not be identified at its current state was a futakuchi-onna, devouring the deceased beast using her monstrous hair to rip and carry the food to its monstrous rear mouth, while its seductive smile from her human side of her face focused on him.
“Welcome home hero,” the demon spoke.
“What have you done here demon!” the man yelled out. “Why would you attack this village when your kind has not been seen for centuries!” the man continued shouting making his voice harsh.
“Oh, my my, you’re a naive one. Aren’t you?” the demon spoke as it finished its meal and start walking towards the man. “Do you think this was an attack? Do you think this was all my doing?”
“Do not come any closer, or it will be the last thing you do!” the man interrupted. The man knew he was probably already dead, this demon was unlike any he had heard of. The futakuchi-onna did not eat raw meat like this, they hid themselves as normal humans. They were not hostile, there was something more to this demon, it could not be of the type it was showing itself to be.
“Well you don’t have anything else to lose, now do you handsome?” the demon mocked the man. It could sense what he was feeling and noticed the small twitching of his body he was trying so hard to hide. “But I did make a promise, so I will not kill you, at least not your body,” as the demon spoke the mouth that was doing the speaking came to a spine-chilling snarl and the man could feel the other mouth was doing the same.
The man knowing this was his final stand drew his sword and ran towards the demon, leaping towards it as he was within a few feet of it sword raised.
The valley was colder than most days of summer. There was more and more wind as the years went by. The wild parts of the world became unsafe as demons showed themselves more and more. There were no legends that told of this, no one was prepared. The demon hunters regrouped and expanded. There was more need for normal soldiers and warriors to be able to depend travelers and traders. It was not war as the demons were not organized, there was not an evil plot to destroy mankind. Most people grouped up forming larger and more secure cities. This made the rich, richer and the poor, poorer. But at least they were alive, safe from the demons the world now again possesses.
“That is why daughter you must stop wanting to go out and fight these demons.” An old man of obvious wealth continued his lecture to a young woman.
“But father, if we have a chance to remove these demons from the world, shouldn’t we?” the young woman asked.
“Kanna, my love, the leaders of this world all agreed that the risk was not worth it.” The demons do not openly attack and in ways it brought back some balance to the world.”
“I know what was decided father, but I can’t help not wanting to help our people and others to go back the way it was. It happened a short time before I was born, but you knew what it was like without the treat. Do you not want to go back to it?”
“Everyone that remembers would like it to go back, but most of us have come to terms with it. That is enough of this matter. You are not going to try and take the emerald and seal the source of the demons. Promise me Kanna! Even if some miracle you would make it that far it probably would not work. It was just some crazy plan some of the monks made up as a last-ditch effort if the demons would start attacking us. They are not end of story.” The old man removed his stern look and replaced it with a smile, “I love you Kanna, your place is here.” The old man walked away to return to his daily duties.
Kanna sat down on a nearby bench. She knew her father was right. She was not a warrior, but she heard so many storied of about the world before the demons. She wanted that to come back for everyone. Everyone has dreams, she thought to herself, they can’t all come true. She stood up and decided to make her way to the market to see what was going on today.
“The demon stood as tall as a house, it started running towards the great warrior, breathing ghost-fire all over the land before him. The great warrior leaped above the demon’s head and removed it all in one motion, thus saving the village. However even though the villagers offered their riches and the prettiest woman for the great warrior to marry, he refused. He spoke of only doing his job and that saving them all was the greatest reward, then he walked off into the sunset, never to be seen again.”
The nearby towns folk were packed closely together listening to this strange looking man’s story. The man was taller than most and was sought. But resent years were not kind to him, he had a few too many bowls of rice and fish not to mention a few to many drinks to go along with those meals. You could tell however he was once a greater man then an old drunk who told stories. His face was bruised from past battles and his arms were strong from carrying armor and swords.
“Do you have any more stories?” a voice came from out of the crowd.
“Of course, I do, Kaito the great has seem many great things and have survived to tell others. I do however humbly request payment of these as many of you can see, I am not able to support myself with these adventures from the past.” He said while bowing to the audience and nudging a small bowl in front of him.
“Your stories are not that good” another voice from the crowd shouted, and half the group went back to their work or chores.
“Don’t listen to him,” another voice spoke out and walked up to drop a coin into the bowl, “I know they are shit, but you tell them well.”
“Thank you kindly,” Kaito said unsure what to think of what he just heard.
The crowd disbanded soon after with enough of the crowd leaving there favor and telling Kaito they hope to hear a new story tomorrow.
As Kaito counted his earnings for the day a young woman covered with a worn hood came up to him.
“Sorry miss, you look a bit young for me and even though my storied are mostly true I know they are not worth that.”
A quick motion from the woman reviled a hard slap to Kaito’s face.
“How dare you speak to me in that manner!” the young woman sternly spoke. “If I did not have questions I would have you thrown in jail.”
“I am very sorry, you said you have questions? What might they be?” an emotionally wounded Kaito replied.
“Have you fought demons before? Are you a demon hunter?” the young woman asked.
“I have fought them, but I am no demon hunter. I do travel with one though.” Kaito hesitated as he did not know if he should speak of it anymore, “He was one, now a Ronin, a retired one at that.”
“Can I meet him? I have a proposition for him.”
“I do not think so, he does not welcome new faces. Even beautiful ones like yours.” As he said the latter part he flinched ready for another quick strike.
“Please Kaito the great, I have an important request and I can pay. Because of disrespectful speech towards me I will tell you who I am, as that may show you how much I can pay.” The young woman straightens her stance and after a deep breath,” I am Kanna daughter of the lord of this land.”
Kaito immediately bowed hearing those words. “I am sorry for the disrespect, even though I do not look the part anymore I am a civilized gentleman and former samurai, even though the road has made me forget some of my manners.”
“You are forgiven if you can arrange me to meet your friend.” Kanna responded.
“I will talk to him, meet me at the inn down on the corner in an hour. I will let you know of his decision.”
“If that is the best you can do, then I will comply, thank you Kaito. You showed your civilized demeanor.” Kanna then walked away towards a food stand.
Kaito now was nervous. He knew his friend did not approve of his public story telling of his stories, but tolerated them to a point as that allowed them to eat, drink, and sleep a few nights out away from the cold. This however broke the boundaries set on this agreement, he had to hope his friend was in a good mood this evening.
Kanna was nervous as she walked away from Kaito. He hated her status in society as she did not feel herself greater than anyone. She believed in most things she was probably the lesser compared to others. She felt she had to try something, how often do you meet warriors that could counter the demons and maybe save the land and return it to its former glory. It was a chance she had to come through on, even if she had to use her influence to get her way. It will be only this one time she told herself, maybe once more if they agree to take her up on her offer.
Kaito entered the watering hole, the evening sun gave everything in the dimly lit dining area a golden glow. It was moderately full of patrons, many whom worked the day in the market. It was hard for Kaito to think in the crowd as the talking in the room created a wall of sound that penetrated his head. This was a good thing Kaito thought to himself, the less I think about telling his friend about his encounter the easier it would be.
He pushed by crowd to a corner table where a large figure sat. The table was as well-lit as the rest of the room, however the figure positions itself so a shadow cover its face. As Kaito approached he took a deep breath and sat down at the table.
“Riku! How was your day?” Kaito said as he waved over to a serving girl to come over and take his order.
“It was productive,”Riku replied.
“Good, does that mean we will be moving on tomorrow?” Kaito asked.
“Maybe not tomorrow, but the next day for sure. The man who I went to talk to only had rats to kill not demons, large rats, but only rats.” Riku said with a grin.
“So it didn’t pay well?”Kaito said in a worried voice.
“It paid well enough, assuming you had some earnings with your stories?” Riku questioned Kaito.
“Yes, it was a good day from that view, however there is a matter that came up.” Kaito said nervously.
“Hmm,” Riku said not looking up from his meal. “I hope it won’t interfere with tomorrow, the man with the rats did point me to an official that does have a real job for me.”
“I’m sure it won’t, Kaito said still nervous. “It’s just this also came from an official in a way.”
Riku looked up with a bothersome look on his face, “What have you done?”
“Nothing, I was just questioned by the princess to assist her on a quest.” Kaito said looking down the entire time.
“What? How did that happen?” Riku said in a stern voice as his eyes burned through Kaito.
“I didn’t do anything, I was just telling my story to the market place and I guess she was in the crowd. She was impressed with the story she heard and is interested in paying us for some work.”
“What kind of work? Princesses are not the ones making formal requests.” Riku remarked.
“She didn’t say,” Kaito said still looking into his hands. “She wants to meet you to talk about it.”
“You know I desire no such work or attention, my glory days are over and do not wish to do more than live out my days fighting demon pests to be able to drink daily. Princesses and lords do not have such small matters, when does she want to meet?”
“Here, soon, outside. Sorry I didn’t know what else to do, she was not taking no for an answer.”
“It’s find, your my only friend, and a good one most of the time. I will listen to her and then politely decline her request.” Riku stood up and made his way to the door. “Come on then and introduce us, the sooner this is done the sooner we can drink ourselves to sleep.”
Riku and Kaito walked out into the evening air, it was starting to get cold with a small breeze the smell of cherry blossoms helping it along. The sun was about set in the mountains and the lanterns started taking over as the primary source of light. There stood a young woman in a hooded cloak. Kaito led Riku over to the princess.
“This is princess Kanna. Princess this is Riku, my friend we talked about earlier.”
“I heard you wanted a word?” Riku asked.
“Yes, master demon hunter,” Kanna bowed slightly and Riku followed in respect. “If those stories your funny friend told where true I think you are the man I’m looking for.”
“I’m sorry to tell you you’re wrong. I am not looking for a grand adventure. I’ve lost too much in my life to want any more adventures.” Riku started to turn away,” I apologize if my friend lead you to believe something else, goodnight.” Riku started to walk away.
“No! Stop! Please!” Kanna grabbed Riku’s arm. “You must hear me out, I might have a way to stop the demons. That is your duty to this land demon hunter.”
“I turned my back on that creed a long time ago. I cost me everything and gave nothing in return except a lifetime living out this life.”
Riku shook off the Kanna’s grip and went back into the building.
“I’m sorry princess, I knew he would not do it. He is a dead man walking in many ways.” Riku said in a sad voice.
“Men like that are never truly defeated, they just need to find their path again.” Kanna looked into the sky took a large breath.
“What happen to him?”
“He lost his wife and village a long time ago. At the beginning.”
“No, you’re not saying that is the demon hunter from Kimohama?” she said with her eyes widened. “I’ve heard the stories like many have. I though he died.”
“No not dead, at least his body is not. Well goodnight princess.” Kaito bowed and started to walk back to his friend.
“Tell your friend that I will be ready to travel to Kimohama in two mornings. I am going to stop the demons once and for all.” Kanna turned and started to run back to the palace.
Kaito shoke his head and went inside to tell his friend the news.
Kanna ran the entire way back to her room. Her lungs burning not able to hold air anymore. This was the sign she was looking for. A legendary demon hunter in her village, a true demon hunter not one of the solders to provide bodies against a demon raid, but a fully trained demon hunter that fought the initial demon attack and though to have perished, only to be alive waiting for his redemption. Even if he didn’t know it yet. Kanna knew she had a lot of work to do. Her father would not allow her or anyone else to go on a mission like this. That would mean she would have to steal the gem and find a way of the village. She yawned and knew she had a whole day ahead to scheme. It would be difficult, but this adventure was completely worth it.
Kaito seated himself back at the table and looked at a distraught Riku.
“She has good intentions, even if foolish.” Kaito tried to get Riku to start talking.
“She’s a fool, and there is no way to defeat the demons, not when they are as powerful as some.” Riku lowered his head as he spoke trying to fight off the terrible memories of his past.
“She told me she was going to leave in two mornings to Kimohama.” Kaito fought the words out of his mouth knowing they would lead to an awkward dialog.
“Why would she be going there?” Riku looked up in a maddening look of anger at his friend.
“She did not say, you don’t think she is referring to the theory of that magic gem?” Kaito said trying to keep eye contact with the devoted angry stare of Riku.
“That is the only reason anyone has to travel there.”
Kanna had a plan, it might not be a great plan, but it had to work. This was what she dreamed of for so long. She knew the quest would be almost impossible to complete, but this would be the most difficult she could image. Even after she would get the gem, there would be repercussions to her actions, ones that would only have a change to end well for her if the entire quest was completed successfully. She also knows this was something she either would complete and survive or die trying. She was the princess, as long as she timed the patrols correctly she could slip right in, take the gem, and get out. She did need to get the key from her father. She had her ways to get what she wanted from him.
“Greeting Father, lovely day, isn’t it?” Kanna said in a cheery voice trying to emulate her composure from her youth.
“Kanna, my dear, you look in good spirits this morning,” the lord said in a great smile remembering Kanna as a younger child. “What has you in such great spirits?”
“The weather father, isn’t great? The tress in blossom, the birds soaring through the sky, the clear blue sky touched with a hint of clouds. What else could there be father?” Kanna said as she turned up the charm.
“I guess you can’t ask for much more dear, would you like to have lunch outside today?” the lord asked his daughter.
“Well that would be grand, but I would love to have a dinner party.”
This was her plan, having guests over and having drinks and food would have everyone off balance. It would make it much easier to sneak in and take the gem and get out first thing in the morning before anyone noticed yet. Then her quest could begin. Plus, it would be nice to have something that nice before she left. It could possibly be the last time she would be able to do such things.