“This story starts like all other stories about good and evil. Good fights evil. Evil fights good. Darkness absorbs light. Light casts away darkness. Symbols dramatically affect other symbols in very dramatic ways. Then, in the middle of all this, we have actual humans. Fragile water containers sloshing from one side of the planet to the other, with no real care for good or evil save to not be a complete jerk ass and yet still get a good piece of the pie. It had been this way since he had first shown up. Even before then, when He had first come about.
“And everyday the sun would rise with its light and the people whom the light shined for were all happy and stuff. They would bounce around singing their songs, dancing through their fields, having their banquets and declaring their bloody wars on each other. This was of course as it should be and everyone was all for it apart from the old folk, who couldn’t bounce around so much, or sing through dry throats, dance on bad backs, eat as much as they used to, or understand the need to adapt to a defensive strategy when being attacked by a garrison of 40 horses, 80 spear men, 100 archers and 200 swordsmen, all armed to the teeth in the latest of Roman weaponry.
“So as the days went on the people continued to be joyous and happy and thinking ‘why not?’ and just doing it right there in the field. Afternoons would come about and then the evenings, and still there were good reasons to dance and bounce and pillage with all those around them in awesome ignorant happiness.
“It was only when the darkness of the night came their happiness would be cut abrupt.
“The night was when the Onikage would come to them.
“That was when the dancing and the eating and most of the sex stopped, and everyone rushed inside their houses making sure each and every light was snuffed out, doing their best to hide themselves in the absence of both light and shadow. There, in the dark, they would all huddled around each other with their eyes closed, tight as could be. Mirrors would be covered with the oldest, dirtiest rags they could find. Even their fingernails they would hide within their fists to prevent any simple refraction of the light. It was there, in the dark, they would wait for it to pass, holding their children tight, fearing the presence of the Onikage. For it was a terrible thing for the Onikage to approach you. Even more so for the children. After all, they were the ones who the Onikage came for.
“Now no one knew why the Onikage wanted the little ones, or why it took them away. But it did, any time it could, any time just enough light existed to create a shadow in the darkness. It wasn’t just children though. Sometimes it took older teenagers, even a few young adults. The eldest that it took was twenty-three, but he was never that grown up in the first place.
“No one knew what it did with the children, though the evidence presented itself soon enough. That terrible scream heard throughout the village, the blind dash in the darkness and a child gone again for three nights.
“When the child finally did return, it would be a confusing sight. He or she would be covered head to toe in a mix of different coloured face paints and a funny clown wig. They would also look like they had gained a few pounds, mainly in the stomach area, like someone had been feeding them sweets non-stop those past three days. Some, though not all, would even be found wearing shoes that were three sizes too big for them.
“But all would be dead. Not a single one able to tell of the wonderful time they had with the Onikage, only their fixed grins able to spin the tale.
“Now, no one knew what was really happening at first. Hell, the entire situation was boggling. I mean, clown wigs didn’t even exist back then. Even so, it encouraged the legend to always keep all lights off at night, since the creature that was doing it was said to be a shadow demon – that was where the name came from, by the by. Because it was a shadow demon, it needed just a little light to reflect a shadow. Just an absence of darkness, a little place to call its own, and then it could come out and snatch all the children it could.
“This would go on forever, but as with all demons, especially those one never actually sees, the village folk would rationalize its existence away with their own problems. Bandits, runaways, that drunk who always had stories around him attacking someone but no one could never say that they themselves had been attacked. And in recent centuries: communism, drug peddling and angst suicides. Whatever was available to blame really.
“It doesn’t take long for a demon to be thrown into myth and even worse, obscurity, but when it happens, there are very few who are able to stop it, and the demon is able to continue on for eternity. As is the case of the Onikage, who has now been at murder for two thousand years to this very night.”
Futabatei Tenma fell silent, bringing her water bottle to her pursed lips. She had already forgotten what question had prompted the story.
“…And how much of that is actually true?” said Jez from ahead of her, keeping an eye out down towards the hill, the moonlight reflecting in the paddy fields. Despite his bulk, the young man was a step too far away from the fire to feel its effects and was shivering through his anorak.
“Hhhmmm, probably none of it,” she replied, leaning back and resting the matchbox on the top of her forehead. “There were the bits the elders told me that are kind of believable, but then there’s the contradiction that there’s no legends about keeping lights turned off at night. And then you have to take into account I made a significant portion of the whole story up as I went along. So I’m guessing… the last third bit? That was kind of true.”
Lighting another match against the coarse edge of her knuckles, she stared at the spark combusting on top of the stick, watching it as it flickered from blue to orange before slowly started to eat away at the wood. She silently asked it if it could burn away her boredom as a small favour for bringing it to life. She tossed it to the roaring embers when it refused.
“Now, my love…” he said, his voice a mumble in the wind as he continued to canvass the darkness. “You know better than that. The elders have always shown themselves right before,”
“Shut up, yer dick,” she replied, watching the flames as the heat bounced off her face, keeping her yellow painted cheeks uncomfortably warm. “I know how this goes already. I say the elders are wrong. I go out to prove them wrong. I come back the next morning with broken arm and a dead demon. Rinse and repeat; different limb each time.”
“Well,” he muttered, coughing to himself in a failed ploy to hide his discomfort. “As long as you understand, then we can stay prepared.” He began to vigorously scratch the back of his head, tracing the line of short hair above where his backbone resided.
“For what?” she snapped, keeping a sharp edge to her voice, angry more out of boredom than anything else. “Just because the demon may or may not probably exist doesn’t mean it’s gonna come tonight. Just because we’re ‘children’ and we have a fire doesn’t increase the probability of a demon appearing. We’ve been sitting here for hours, and nothing has shown up. Why are you even here anyway? You’re rubbish company unless you’re naked.”
Counterfeit anger really, but for good reasons. Her favourite show was on tonight, and she had to tape it on the half broken video recorder.
“B-because I am the youngest in the clan that can take care of himself,” Jez said timidly, trying to keep his resolve. The wind picked up, pushing the flame in his direction. He didn’t look young. He was around six and a half feet tall with sexy, muscular arms that would have glinted off the fires if he wasn’t wearing that dorky coat, yet he was only a month younger than she was. “Plus… w-we are married and all,” he said, sounding like he had proposed a joint suicide completely out of the blue. “Aren’t we supposed to watch over each other like this?” There was an uncertain apprehension in his voice this time. He honestly wanted an answer- but more importantly, she wanted to piss him off.
“Pfft, stupid clan and their stupid arranged marriages,” she mumbled, leaning back and trying her best to ignore the crickets, playing with the yang amulet around her neck. “Just because we started sleeping together didn’t mean they had to do this to us. It’s like reading a book y’know? Once you get told you have to read it for your final exam, you don’t want to touch it.” She grinned as he used a sudden coughing fit as an excuse to look the other way, becoming suddenly fascinated in the endless layer of black blanketed above them. The flames flickered a little too long and she braced herself. She must have been quite the distraction. He hadn’t noticed it at all.
“Listen, Tenma, I…”
“Shut up and be get ready,” she said calmly, flipping her legs forward, the momentum allowing her to stand up. “We can come back to your stupid angst half hour special after demons have been beaten up.”
“Demons? What? Where?” he said, now fully alert, his body instantly moving into a fighting stance, his calm nervousness leaving as the adrenaline flooded his body, ready for action. Tenma took her time to stretch the kinks out her back, wipe the grass off and yawn as he looked around. Always far too serious.
“Behind you.” she called out with a yawn to back it up, seeing him turn to face the nothing in front of him and gawking when he finally caught a glimpse of it. It must have looked kind of impressive, to eyes that sucked so bad that they didn’t even have magic installed into them as a mystical birthright- a shadow dancing in the darkness. He reached for a log off the fire, scorching his protected hands, to confirm that the demon was really there.
Even with his eyes, which were sharper than the hawk’s in boring normal human terms, he would only just be able to make it out. It was part of the ground, which seemed obvious now, seeing that it was a shadow. The only thing that made it different from a regular shadow was the way it was shifting, more like a plague snake in the desert sands than an absence of light, yet still confined to the light of the flame, dancing around in its changing margins.
“Want sssssome candy?” it asked with a ghoulish, high pitched hiss. The two lovers watched as three caramel fudges rose out of the ground and fired at them. Tenma caught all three, her hands moving in a blur that surprised even her. Opening her hand to look at the sweets it quickly dawned on her what had just happened.
“Hey, don’t do that!” she shouted at him angrily.
“Er…sorry, but I was holding the torch. I couldn’t catch them myself.” She threw them at him harshly, holding back a laugh as the third one stuck to his forehead and stayed there.
“If I want you to take control of my body, I’ll order it, understand?” she shouted though clenched teeth, bringing the commanding tone to her voice. “Now, keep the torch focused.”
“You’re not like the other kiddies, aren’t you not?” the shadow hissed again, flowing in a circle around the girl, as she closed her eyes and concentrated. “You were waiting for me. You’re more mature. I. Don’t. Like. That.”
“Zip it, freak,” she mumbled, bringing her hands together and beginning the prayer to a god only she could worship. Her breath slowed down, mentally shutting out the cold that had rushed in with the demon’s presence before reaching deep inside.
This was the bit to be annoyed by. It took time. She carried on her silent meditation and hoped that her movements would amuse it long enough for her to finish, the emerald crystals already starting to tear through her skin, droplets breaking out and growing down into the land below. She felt the twinge of pain that came with her eyes losing their natural green to the power, the life energy draining out of her.
“You kids should be more innocent. More playful. You don’t fight. That’s not right. You shouldn’t play in bed with others. That’s what adults do.” It continued, its voice rasping with whatever words it could, sounding like a helpful suggestion somehow. “Why not come play with me. And my friends. Just forever. Just until you can’t go on no more.”
“Friends?” Jez mumbled. She sensed two creatures pulling themselves from the shadow that was the demon. “Tenma. It’s brought company.”
“Then handle it,” she commanded, her voice sounding oddly distant. It was so easy for her to hate this bit, the loss of control, the choice to sap her own will. The ritual of Kotodama remained insane no matter how many times she did it.
Jez cursed under his breath. She made a mental note to tease him about it all night later. As he stepped towards the enemy, she could just about make out the man slamming the burning log into the ground before walking up to meet the newcomers.
“Greynock and Draynor,” he announced. “The elders will be pleased that we took care of you tonight.” She knew the names instantly. Greynock and Draynor were two of the most mindless, snarling demons one could ever hope to meet, and two of the most famous in her clan’s recent history. It was their mindless nature that must have made it child’s play for the Onikage to control them. Draynor, once but a mix of rusted iron and brand new, shiny steel, now lived with a large eye that filled its shifting body. The demon had no head, merely a hole on the top of its body that looked like you could insert a neck if you had the right size fittings. And its huge, muscular forearms looked like they could destroy buildings by being near them. Only its tiny legs that looked like they should have snapped long ago made it struggle to approach her.
Greynock didn’t have this problem, the velvet rope with pink and purple scales crossing each other a thousand times over darted straight towards her the instant it left the vortex of shadow, intending to pierce her with its arrow-like head. There was no need to even flinch though. An inch in front of her, the serpent rope was yanked back, snarling at her stomach as it failed to reach her smooth skin, jaws snapping as it spat acid at her. Jez had caught it on its way out, now holding it like he was in a tug o’ war. With no hesitation, he slammed his large fist into the nearest part of it, bringing it to the ground, before bringing it back around and whipping it into the Draynor, allowing the two to tie each other up.
She grunted slightly. She didn’t notice why.
Draynor looked to its partner, seemingly annoyed that it would be playing around at a time like this, and flexed its grossly misshapen muscles, causing the other demon to shatter onto the grass in a neon sparkle. Draynor looked around in horror of what it had done to its ally, howling out in fury from a mouth that did not exist.
Not wanting to blame itself, it looked around for the nearest possible cause and charged towards Jez, its tiny feet slowly getting the job done that its arms could do in a flash. Jez was bracing himself, unsure of whether to retreat or not, his own strength being nothing compared to the demon’s. She counted slowly to three.
Then, she stopped everything.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Tenma said, allowing herself to be cocky, the green emerald now encasing both her hands, shards coming out in all directions as they continued to grow out of her. Draynor looked to her with its one big eye, doing its best to turn around, to show its paralyzed protests through mindless violence, failing when it found its body refusing to move, freezing up, the emerald shards now embedding in its legs. “And just in time too,” she stated, looking underneath her. The Onikage was trapped, its formless mass halfway through absorbing her into the ground before it had been forced to stop, the emeralds embedded within it being quite insistent.
“Excellent work, my dear. Superbly…”
“Sealing demons. Continue to be quiet,” she called out, silencing him. Chanting a small incantation to herself, the words of which were so old and lost in time that not even the elders really knew what they were, her mind cursed those that made her do this every night. She tried to put it aside. The chant sealed demons. That’s all that should matter to her at this point.
Beginning with the two summoned demons, she started pest control. These types were easy to seal. She had done it a thousand times before. It was simple logic, no matter how dumb it was. They were the type of demon that brought themselves into this world through curses on certain objects, and slowly evolved around said object, warping the original forms until there was nothing but a grotesque replacement living in its place. Pulling her hands apart, she concentrated one on each demon. Both monsters started to sizzle away, screaming in ungodly agony as they bubbled and hissed their ways into the crystals that surrounded them. Quickly they soon became nothing but a corrupted form of what they once were. The gauntlet of an old, angry yet strong knight, now transformed with chaotic-looking spikes glistening on the bracer, and a hook that, she figured, once connected a swing to a tree, now a sharpened arrowhead connected to a sturdy, thin yet velvety rope that wasn’t very shatter resistant.
How such mundane items could create such monsters didn’t have time to bother her, and she turned her attention to the one underneath her. This one was nothing special either really. Just a moronic demon that hunted children for dumb, personal reasons. The idea of a demon having psychological issues like this made her laugh, and she pulled its entire form out of the ground without mercy, making the demon feel like it was being torn in two, its existence as much a part of the ground as the darkness and the light. It screamed immaturely in agony, like a child having its precious blanket taken away.
Sighing in annoyance, she prepped herself. The bit she hated most was coming now. The Onikage wasn’t bound to a material possession like the others and so was admittedly a bit more powerful. She’d have no choice but to store it in herself for the time being. It wasn’t the first time, but each time she felt one of these things touch her soul, she wished it were the last. She groaned as it flooded into her like water, pouring into the glass that held her soul, knocking it over and refusing to clean up the mess, staining the ground and revealing all within her to those who cared to look.
She hoped Jez wouldn’t notice. It was her own fault for not telling him sooner, but she still wanted to tell him on her own grounds.
Then it was over, the demon froze within her soul and she let herself collapse. Just for a second though, her foot stopping her descent even before she was halfway down. She couldn’t show too much weakness.
Bleeding from the Draynor, she noticed her hands also had minor cuts on them, but that was expected.
“It got you? But I thought I…” Jez said, full of his usual worry.
“It had an astral form, it looks like,” she grunted, standing back up to her full height, which was about two feet less than Jez. She could see his awe as she ignored the pain. This was nothing. Her bloodline was the strongest in the clan and showing pain, no matter how much she wanted to tell him, was practically forbidden. The man quickly ran to pick up the gauntlet and whip, before running back to her, a large goofy grin on his face that he only allowed during the times he forgot he was supposed to be the serious one.
“Well, regardless,” he said, looking like he wanted to bow like the servant boy he once was. “May I congratulation on another sealing well done. I…” As he reached her, he stopped dead.
“No. No, you may not,” she said jokingly, holding her stomach from the spiritual blow she had received. “I just want to lie down and stare at dreamy rock singers for the next two hours. But before that, I want…” She stopped, now realizing he was staring at her with that more than usual seriousness look.
“You’re pregnant?!” he exclaimed, sounding like he wasn’t entirely sure if he was asking a question or speaking a fact. Her eyes must have bugged wide open. He looked bigger for a second.
“Ah crap,” she blurted out, turning around to walk away, not wanting to deal with such a minor thing, tonight of all nights.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, chasing after her. She couldn’t tell his reaction, but it was probably the usual, a mix of being not sure if he should be happy, or getting ready to accept her decision to abort it.
“Because dreamy rock stars are on TV tonight,” she replied, keeping the cockiness going. “I figured it could wait until the morning.”
“Wait until…” he began. “Do you know what will happen if you seal a demon when you’re pregnant, even if it’s only been a few days? Not only will it dilute the bloodline, but…”
“I know what it does, Jez,” she retorted, wishing he would shut up and go away. How dare he see her like this? A momentary slip just because she didn’t get a chance to tell him earlier, big arms wrapping around her and bringing her the warmth only he could? She should remove his eyes for even daring to see the tears fall down her own, showing the side of her she had wanted to show for all these years? He just stared at her, both wanting to help and numb with shock. No one had seen her cry before. She was Tenma! Of course she wouldn’t cry, but now… Something took the legs out from under her.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” she heard him say, trying to reassure her as he grabbed her limp body and held it close to him, clearly trying to reassure himself as well. He was shivering like he was in the arctic and he was a retarded man holding a retarded woman because they had been retarded together for six hours non-stop a few retarded nights ago.
“I can’t be like this, Jez,” she stated. “Not now, my ceremony starts tomorrow. We have to…” He kissed her lightly on the top of her head, feeling her voice tremble into nothingness.
“I know,” he sighed. “We have to get going.” He went to pull away, thinking it was what she wanted. Instead, she grabbed him and pulled him in harder, never wanting to let go. She held him tighter than he could ever hold her. She didn’t want to admit it- given the circumstances, but it felt nice to be the one being held like this for a change, with him comforting her instead of the usual way round. She felt him bring his hand to her stomach, and held hers over his.