“We live and die by the sword,” Mikoto said, facing the revelers with a frenzy in her eyes. Blood trickled down her face from where a piece of shrapnel had cut her. “As we all know, life can be cruel, short, and oftentimes meaningless. There isn’t a day that goes by that we aren’t reminded of this in some way. Sometimes I’m reminded by the smoke on the horizon. I’m reminded by the stench of rot wafting from a nearby battlefield. Or maybe I’m reminded of the fact that we have an infant child sitting on the throne.”
Shindara tried to sleep that night but he found it nearly impossible. As he curled up under the stars, he closed his eyes and felt as if he couldn’t breathe. The breath rattled in his chest and he sensed the shadows pressing in around him. His heart pounded louder, almost insistently when the night approached.
He wasn’t sure whether it was a sign of anxiety or if the darkness was awakening his connection to the Yomi. Regardless of the cause, he couldn’t escape this outpouring of desperation.
When at last he fell asleep, his worst fears were realize...
“Extraordinary,” Mikoto breathed. “You opened a gateway to another world.”
“And as you can see, I was punished for my arrogance. This darkness around my hand festers like a disease, constantly feeding and driving me into the shadows. When I stand in the sunlight, I feel like dry tinder about to burst into flames.”
“Well, it seems I was wrong to label you a demon. Is there any way to undo this curse?”
“I fear not. This curse is slowly spreading from one part of my body to the next. As for the final outcome, my body...
Beneath the blood and dirt, the soft edges of her face drew a contrast to the ferocity in her eyes. There was a powerfully seductive quality about her smile that made the hairs stand up on the back of Shindara’s neck.
She wore a distinct breastplate made of black leather scales and metal, not unlike the “do-maru” of the lesser samurai. A skirt of iron plates was laced to her belt and her arms were wrapped in chainmail. Indigo blue silk was a prominent element in her armor, whether it tied the shin guards around her calves or strung together the p...
Shindara panted for breath. He was kicked in the ribs and dragged to his feet. He winced as fingers coiled around his throat. A demonic face peered back at him through the smog, scarred with deep ridges and furrows. As his pain subsided, he realized the face was wrought of metal, not flesh. The red mask was carved in the likeness of a demon or “yokai.” Fangs curled and protruded from the mask in an unnerving snarl.
Two pronged horns jutted from atop the man’s helmet. His narrow face was completely concealed except for his eyes.
Shindara couldn’t comprehend how the samurai reached the city as swiftly as they did. He ran through the temple compound, calling out for Aya.
His love had to be somewhere among the refugees seeking shelter. Damn Priest Kobo for not bringing her soon enough. If they outlasted the siege, he vowed to kill the monk himself.
“Aya!” he screamed.
Arrows arched over the walls and the monks before Shindara writhed and crumpled to the ground. He tumbled down the stairs as a second and third volley followed, blanketing the steps outside Nigatsu-Hall.
The samurai were locked in battle with the warrior monks of Nara. Shindara was stunned by how well the monks were faring. That is, until he realized the Taira samurai were unarmed.
They couldn’t raise a sword or bow in their defense, otherwise they surely would have. Shindara’s masters were butchering the Emperor’s messengers at their doorstep. Those who weren’t quick to flee were forced to their knees and beheaded.
Once more, Shindara’s hand drifted to his sword. He often watched the monk soldiers train in the temple courtyard, so he knew how to h...