Five hundred years ago, Japan. Sort of. The place has the feel of Japan 500 years ago, but it isn’t. This is the realm of Kotobuki. Alright, that’s not what everyone calls it. Pretty much only the people of the Kotobuki race living in the Kotobuki village--Kotobuki was a real egotist, ne?--call it that. It is a world of many races: Elf, Human, Goblin, Kotobukian, etc. But anyway, it’s a world of magic and swords; a realm where demon prowl the night and Lilim, both evil and good, work their way into people’s lives and their beds as well.
[Two villagers walk along the dirt roads through their village, making their way to the home of the Kotobukian elder, Tamashii. One of them is tall, and rather handsome. He appears to be in his late teens. The other is younger, only 12 years of age. His eyes are cold reptilian slits.]
Shito: Big Brother.
Tsurugi: Yes Shito?
Shito: Tomorrow is your birthday, correct? And that means that you’ll be undertaking the Right of the Spring?
Tsurugi: Yes, you know very well tomorrow is the day. I’ll be 18.
Shito: Have you chosen what spring you wish to enter yet?
Tsurugi: I have. It is the one which will turn me into a female human.
Shito: Pervert... [sigh] A fine choice I suppose. I think I’ll choose to become a demon when the time comes.
Tsurugi: Why are you so obsessed with demons?
Shito: Commanding them is my skill. [he unconsciously touches the center of his chest where his mark of destiny emits a small, steady spark. He realizes where his hand is and concentrates for a few seconds, causing the kanji for oni to burn higher as a blue-green flame beneath his hand and shirt] They are my destiny.
Tsurugi: Rather grim destiny if you ask me. I have little room to talk though, being the Crimson Blade.
Shito, smirking: Don’t worry brother. These marks on our bodies give us power, but they do not control us, unless we allow them to of course. I summon and control many creatures, not only demons, because I am able and it can be useful for me to do so, but not because some blazing emblem I was born with forces me to. My destiny and my mark are separate; it is pure chance that they should coincide.
Tsurugi: Man, you’re serious today.
Shito: Keep in mind that I have my greatest power level when I remain calm. To summon and command my allies I must be in complete control of myself first.
Tsurugi: Yeah, yeah... [sigh] Gods I hate it when you’re serious...
Shito: And you are quite aware of the fact that I prefer to remain calm so that my power can-
[Shito is cut off by a lollipop held in his face by Tsurugi. He calmly pushes it away.]
Shito: That trick will not work, I have no cause to be enticed by--
Tsurugi: It’s sweet and sugary...
Shito: Sweet and--No, you will not ruin my collected state.
Tsurugi: It’s from the SilverMoon candy shop...
Shito: Of course it’s from the SilverMoon candy shop, you don’t exactly see many candy shops in our village, and those human villages, talk about primitive. Where else would you get it.
Tsurugi, his destiny mark an ember: It’s from Landria, now take it. You’re a kid, act like one.
Shito, sighing: Though my body is that of a child my psychological growth has been--[Tsurugi’s flame grows as he glares at Shito. Shito sighs and then speaks monotone] Yay. A. Lolli. From. Landria. Joy.
Tsurugi: Well, if you don’t really want it.
Shito, his flame a bit dimmer: Who ever said that I didn’t want it!?
Tsurugi, fighting a smirk: Well, you didn’t seem all that enthused, that’s all...
Shito, flame gone, eyes wide and human: GIMMIE THE DAMNED LOLI!
[Tsurugi lets the smirk out as he gives Shito the lollipop.]
Shito: Yay! Thank you!
Tsurugi: I gotta get to the elders place. Prep for the Right of the Spring and all that.
Shito: ‘kay! C-ya.
[The brothers part. Tsurugi continues his trip to the elder’s home. Shito skips away licking his candy.]
Tsurugi: Tamashii, you in?
Tamashii: Tsu-chan... how you’ve grown since your birth. It’s good to see you so grown up and strong.
Tsurugi: But of course, what more could you expect from one of the Best of the Village.
Tamashii: What was it that won you that title? I’m sorry, an old woman forgets...
Tsurugi: You’re not so old.
Tamashii: I am, so don’t try to flatter me, young one.
Tsurugi: Well.. the title... It first came from Shito and I running off to the mountains after Akatsuki had been attacked by goblins. It turned out that it was an entire den that we had to clean out.
Tamashii: Ah, yes... yes... I remember now. Akatsuki was going to take his Right of the Spring...
Tamashii: Well, that is old news. Now it’s your turn. Hopefully the path will be clear for you.
Tsurugi: I hope so as well, but it’s not like I couldn’t get past anything that stands in my way. Remember I’m--
Tamashii: The Best of the Village, I know. You do also know of course that it isn’t just a title.
Tsurugi: What do you mean?
Tamashii: Young one, are you saying that you have not noticed? You and your brother, you are the best. Your magic and blade are both strong, and your destiny mark grants you power. Shito has great magical power even for one thrice his age, and his power over demons, not to mention transformation on the side. Both of you have marks of destiny that will not fade. You are permitted into the elven forests whenever you wish. You have access to their libraries of magic and weaponry. And even still I can see in you potential that is yet to be unlocked.
Tsurugi: So I’m really the best then? Wow...
Tamashii: In a way, yes. You surpass your brother only because of your age. Were that factor equal so would you two be.
Tsurugi: But with Shito you just have to get him excited. Unless he’s calm he can barely manage the easiest light spell.
Tamashii: You are not without weakness. Your power runs off of intense feelings. Rage, anger, aggression; these are the things that give you the most strength.
Tsurugi: I prefer to at least try to control my anger. It is my weakness.
Tamashii: It is a weakness wherein lies your greatest strength. You must not care so much about controlling anger as you should about controlling yourself while you are angry.
Tsurugi: I’ll bear that in mind. [Tsurugi glances outside]
Tamashii: You are eager to leave?
Tsurugi: No, it’s not that. It’s just that I wish to see Landria and the others tonight. Tu-Rihn-Nah too.
Tamashii: The human.
Tsurugi: Please give me no grief. I receive more that enough from my mother and Zanthax.
Tamashii: Alright, if that is what you wish of me. Though if you’ll accept a suggestion from an old woman, Landria would make a fine choice.
Tsurugi: Landria? No... she’d never love me that way and even if she did, she’s an elf. She’ll outlive me by 400 years at least. Besides, she’s the queen. Her people would never allow it.
Tamashii: As you like. You cannot deny that you have feelings for her though.
Tsurugi: No, that I cannot.
Tamashii: And are your feelings for her stronger than those for Tu-Rihn-Nah? No... forget that I asked you that. Most likely you don’t know yourself, and to think about it would drive you mad.
Tsurugi: You think that I have not thought of it before? I will love Tu-Rihn-Nah most. Any love between an elf and our kind will only lead to pain for them both.
Tamashii: Very well then, now I suppose that we shall move on to preparations for your Right of the Spring.
Tamashii: What spring do you choose?
Tsurugi: That of drowned young human girl.
Tamashii: Do you know the location of the spring?
Tsurugi: Yes, perfectly. I could find it with my eyes closed.
Tamashii: I wouldn’t suggest doing that… Have you considered all of the pros and cons of being blessed by this spring?
Tamashii: Alright, you’re done. Have fun tomorrow.
Tsurugi: That’s it!?
Tamashii: What’d you expect? A ritual bath and a goat sacrifice? Please... That’s all there is to the official pre-right.
Tsurugi: And what of the unofficial?
[Tamshii takes a small ornate box from a nearby shelf. Her hands move over its wood like those of a lover. She sighs and opens it. Inside is an amulet ornate to the point where it puts the box to shame. It has a fine chain fashioned of a pure white silver and a strange black silver. The medallion holds in its center a polished piece of obsidian in a setting that makes it look like an eye. She holds it gingerly in both hands for a moment before extending it to Tsurugi.]
Tsurugi: The Amulet of Kotobuki...
Tamashii: The Amulet of Tsurugi.
Tsurugi: I couldn’t-
Tamashii: There is one legend of our people that you have not heard. When Kotobuki died he decreed that five centuries after his death a child would be born with a destiny mark that would refuse to fade. ‘This child will be skilled beyond any other in the village. When he turns 18 this amulet should be given to him for he is the Child of Destiny. Keep it for him, he will come for it in time.’ Your birth came exactly 500 years after Kotobuki’s death, Tsurugi.
Tsurugi: You mean I’m…?
[Tamashii nods and Tsurugi takes the amulet from her. He starts to put it.]
Tamashii: Don’t put it on yet.
Tsurugi: Why not? I’ve seen you wear it before.
Tamashii: A girl may hope, may she not? You must not wear it until after your Right of the Spring.
Tsurugi: Alright. Wait, what do you mean a girl can hope? I thought the legend said 500 years exactly.
Tamashii: Like I said, a girl may hope, even if it leads to only disappointment. I’m glad that you are the Child of Destiny.
Tsurugi: What does that mean?
Tamashii: I don’t know; Kotobuki never said. All he said was that the child would come and that the amulet was rightfully his.
[Tsurugi places the amulet in a pocket.]
Tsurugi: I may take my leave then?
Tamashii: With my blessing.
[Tsurugi whispers a few soft words and he is gone without a trace.]
Tamashii: Damned elves, why do they only give him access to their magic. I wish I could teleport… Ah well, an old woman can’t have all the wants.
[With another sigh she places the box back on the shelf. She sits silently staring at it as the scene fades out.]
Shito, licking his lolli: So, when ya gonna teach me how ta teleport?
Tsurugi: I’ve told you a hundred times, I can’t. Landria made me promise that I wouldn’t teach the magic of the elves to another soul within this world. I cannot betray her.
Shito: So, ya gonna go see her?
Shito: Could you stop by the candy store and get me some sweet and sour sugar tarts?
Tsurugi: If I have time, sure.
Shito: Yay! You’re the best brother in the whole world! Tsurugi?
Shito: Could I go with you on your Right of the Spring tomorrow? I promise I’ll be good! Please let me come!
Tsurugi: I’d like to, but the ritual says that I have to go alone.
Shito: Alright, if I really can’t then I won’t bother you... [sigh] but I really wanna.
Tsurugi: I know you do, and I wish you could. I’ll see you later.
Shito: Bye bye!
Tsurugi whispers a soft word and vanishes once more. Shito enjoys his candy.
SilverMoon, Royal Palace, Throne Room. All that China crap is gone here, this place looks like it was ripped out of Medieval Europe. Think Camelot in a forest and you’ll get a nice picture.
Chancellor: Lady Landria, there is a visitor to see you.
Landria sits on her throne in an elegant and elaborate dress covered if jewels. She looks like a goddess rather than just a queen.
Landria: [sigh] Gods, if it’s another official visitor on another official matter tell them to leave, I’ve had it.
Chancellor: Not exactly your highness, this visitor is--
[Tsurugi appears in front of the Chancellor. He bows low to Landria.]
Tsurugi: Getting tired of waiting to see the lovely elf that has known me since my birth.
Landria: Tsurugi! Finally, I was getting tired of waiting for you too. Chancellor.
Chancellor: Yes m’lady?
Landria: That will be all.
Chancellor: Of course m’lady. I shall see that you are not disturbed.
Landria: Thank you.
[With that the Chancellor and the two royal guards leave the chamber.]
Tsurugi: What’s with the dress? It really make you look good and all, but it isn’t you.
Landria: You are quite right actually.
[Landria vanishes without another word.]
Tsurugi: An illusion, cute. Good masking on that, I couldn’t even feel the magic.
Landria’s voice: Thank you. It had to be good enough to fool Chancy and all the nobles and crap that I had to put up with today. I’m in my bedroom.
Tsurugi: I’ll be right there.
[A few more words and he is gone again.]
[Upon magically entering Landria’s room, Tsurugi finds himself wrapped in a warm embrace from the elven princess. Her garb is that of well-off commoner, and it quite becoming, but it is hardly fitting her status.]
Landria: My little Tsu-chan is all grown up!
[Tsurugi is overly acutely aware of the contour of the body pressing against his. His conversation with Tamashii comes to his mind. He shifts slightly and uncomfortably. Landria smiles at this, though Tsurugi cannot see it. Reluctantly she releases him and falls back a step.]
Landria: So, tomorrow is the big day… Your Right of the Spring or whatever, right?
Tsurugi: Yes, that’s it. I’ll receive my life’s blessing.
Landria: I’ll never understand why your people actually throw themselves into those cursed pools… The elves have avoided that place since before your people even existed.
Tsurugi: What can I say? It’s been a tradition that both males and females would take a blessing to signify their coming of age.
Landria: To each there own I suppose. There’s a party, right? You do realize that I plan to show up.
Tsurugi: I’d be upset if you didn’t. The celebration will start at sunset the day after the ritual. Come then.
Landria: You can count on it.
Tsurugi: Are the others around?
Landria: I don’t know. They’d be easy enough to find if you need them.
Tsurugi: That’s alright, so long as they show up for the celebration.
Landria: You know Katrinth will, and she’ll drag her brother, Sylvaph will follow him, and Yesod will most likely tag along with the others.
Tsurugi: I’ll see them in a few days then, you as well. There is more that I must do tonight, and so I fear I must take my leave of you…
Landria: Then farewell… [Tsurugi nods once, speaks a soft world, and vanishes] …my darling… [Landria sighs, sits on her bed, and reinstates her illusion spell.]
Human village of Kartael, southeast of Kotobuki. Chieftain’s dwelling, Chieftain’s Daughter’s room. The village appears to be one from the middle ages in Europe.
[A human girl in her upper teenage years is milling about the room, trying to make everything look perfect as if for an honored visitor. Her clothing is rather crude by the standard of the Kotobuki people, and most certainly to the elves, but among her people it is the finest garb available. She makes effort to clean herself and to make herself look pretty, desirable. Desirable she is indeed. Her father is the ruler of the most powerful of the human villages in the area. She has no siblings, younger or older, male or female. Her husband will take over the position of Chieftain when her father steps down. On top of that she is comely maiden. Though all the young men of her village and others around would do anything to win her favor, there is only one who may hold it, and he is not of their people. He is a race outside their own and is thus hated, feared, and shunned. Her people are forbidden contact with his, and yet it is for him that she waits this night. Emerging from the passages of magic, Tsurugi appears behind her.]
Tsurugi, in a hushed voice: Tu-Rihn-Nah…
[The girl turns. Her face displays quite well the excitement and joy she attains from his presence.]
Tu-Rihn-Nah: Tsurugi! [Tsurugi is startled by the volume the girl puts into her voice. He glances nervously at the door that separates her private chamber from the main room of what is her father’s dwelling. The girl throws herself at her beloved, wrapping her arms around him and sending them both toppling down onto a crude construction which serves as a bed.] Oh, don’t worry about father! There’s a meeting in the village center tonight between father and the chieftain of the other villages. Discussing crops and livestock probably. He'll be busy for a good bit of time. We’re alone…
[Tsurugi gently sits up, pulling Tu-Rihn-Nah with him to seat her beside him. He looks deeply into her admiring eyes, as if searching for the soul within.]
Tsurugi: My Right of the Spring is tomorrow. I wanted to see you before I leave for the ceremony.
Tu-Rihn-Nah: That’s my Tsu, always so formal and serious. [She smiles at him.] You should have a bit of fun once in a while… [She leans against his body]
Tsurugi: No, I know what fun you’re thinking of, and I can’t…
[Though the sexual form of a human is currently near him, all Tsurugi can feel is the memory of the pressure of a lithe elven from pressing against him. Tu-Rihn-Nah suddenly moves away from him]
Tu-Rihn-Nah: There’s not someone else, is there?
[Tsurugi winces internally to the question but takes care to let nothing show externally. Thoughts race through his mind. It’s not that he doesn’t love Tu-Rihn-Nah, he loves her very, but Landria… He has loved her all his life. Now their physical ages are all but equal, and she is very beautiful andTsurugi banishes these thoughts to the back of his mind. When he is old and rotting Landria will still be young and fair. He will not force her to suffer as he has heard his elven great-grandfather, Landria’s brother, had suffered watching his Kotobukian wife die of old age. His love for Landria is stronger because he has known her longer and knows her better. They have traveled and fought together. As time passes spent with Tu-Rihn-Nah his love for her will grow until it swells over his love of Landria. That is how things must be.]
Tsurugi: No one. You are the only one I can love.
Tu-Rihn-Nah: I was hoping you’d say that! [She throws her arms around Tsurugi causing them both to fall into a lying position once more. Her voice turns seductive.] Now…when will I get that love?
Tsurugi: Not now…
Tu-Rihn-Nah: Why not? My father is out and won’t be back. We won’t be discovered, we won’t be disturbed… [Wind comes in through an open window. The door shakes very slightly. Neither on the bed notice]
Tsurugi: [He sighs] It is forbidden before the Right of the Spring. [He lies well.] Afterward I will come for you and take you away from this place. Then, and only then, may we be one. [He kisses her lightly.]
Tu-Rihn-Nah: [She sighs] I’ll be waiting.
[Tsurugi kisses her one more time before he disappears. When he is gone Tu-Rihn-Nah stares for a moment at the space he had occupied. She begins sobbing lightly and then with ever increasing strength. As the door to her room creaks open she breaks into fierce crying. One of her father's messengers, Gar-Tath-Nah, steps into the room.]
Gar-Tath-Nah: You did well, I doubt he suspected a thing.
Tu-Rihn-Nah: He’s not to be harmed! That was the deal!
Gar-Tath-Nah: Of course. You betray him by not warning him of the plans you were not supposed to know of, and we allow your would-be lover to survive. This works out to our advantage. If he truly is the ‘Best of the Village,’ and he truly will be gone, things should go easier. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must report to the war council.
[Tu-Rihn-Nah sits up and wipes her tears away. She makes herself look regal and defiant.]
Tu-Rihn-Nah: Gar, tell the chieftain… Tell Kuth-Rihn-Nah that should he betray his daughter… he will not have a daughter upon his return. She will be dead.
Gar-Tath-Nah: I will, lady.
[Gar-Tath-Nah exits Tu-Rihn-Nah’s room and closes her door behind him. Hidden from the world, she returns to her weeping.]
The Ground of the Springs. Hundreds of springs cover the flat basin of a valley nestled among the tall peaks of the Fuhen Mountains. Towering about the rest, to the west of the springs, is Mount Namida where Kotobuki is said to have been entombed.
[Tsurugi stands before a crystal clear spring. His clothing lies in a neat pile beside the spring, on top of it rests the Amulet of Kotobuki. Next to the clothing is an enchanted container designed to keep the water inside hot.]
Tsurugi: So, this is the spring which is to grant me my life’s blessing. I grant thanks to the spirit of the girl which grants this spring its power.
[Noon comes. Tsurugi jumps into the spring. He feels an awkward sensation as his body shifts into what it has never been. That of a female; that of a human. He climbs out of the spring a she. A moment is taken in examining her feminine self. Hands glide of soft flesh in amazement. Fingers run over ears once elongated, slightly pointed, half-elven, now smaller, rounded, and human.]
Tsurugi: I am pleased with this form, but… [Tsurugi stares at his left hand as he clenches it into a fist. Concentration should spark a bright crimson flame, yet no flame comes.] This form is weak. The magic of my ancestors that runs with my blood vanishes in this body. No matter. This is the from of my blessing I shall hold all my life, and it has advantages of its own. I name this body Tsuin.
[With that Tsuin lifts the magical container; it feels heavier than it had before. The warm water is emptied over Tsuin’s head bringing Tsurugi into the world once more. He sets the container down and tests his flame once more. It burns with concentration, a mark on the back of his left hand in the shape of the kanji for sword, tsurugi. When concentration ceases the flame extinguishes.]
[Tsurugi lifts the Amulet of Kotobuki from its resting place atop his clothing. He studies its strange, and almost grotesque, beauty for a moment before he tentatively lowers the talisman’s long silver chain over his head and around his neck. The second the amulet makes contact with the flesh of his chest Tsurugi wishes he had never seen the cursed thing. Living darkness erupts from the reflective black stone in the medallion’s center. It moves rapidly to devour Tsurugi as he tries futilely to rip the amulet from his being, but he may as well try to tear out his own heart. His eyes turn black with anger; they mirror the appearance of the obsidian. His flame burns brightly as it is fed it favorite fuel, rage, with a seasoning of frustration. The darkness reaches Tsurugi’s head. It delves into his mouth and steals his breath. Frantically he fights for air, but he knows that it is a fight he cannot win. The darkness covers him completely. It is inside him as well as out. He will die, he knows, but yet, the darkness is warm and strangely comforting even through his terror. His lungs burn and then burst. His heart follow suit. Tsurugi feels himself falling.]
The Darkness. Perhaps that is not the best name for it, as it is not dark at all. It is simply featureless. All is black. The is no sky of ground, or if there is, they cannot be identified. All is darkness, but not from the absence of light.
[Tsurugi stands within this darkness, though on what he in not certain. He is aware that his chest does not rise and fall with the intake of breath, and also that his heart has ceased his work. Realization dawns of him.]
Tsurugi: So this in the after…
Voice: No, child, it is not.
[The voice was male. It was strong, yet old, tired, yet patient. Tsurugi blinks as a figure takes shape in front of him. It is the form of a man to match the voice. Visibly he is strong, yet there is a certain aura about him that seems ancient. His face is tired, as if rest has long been denied to it. The eyes seem to hold within them the wisdom of eternity. On the mans neck glows a flame with the same color as Tsurugi’s. Within this flame is a mark that Tsurugi recognizes.]
Tsurugi: Kotobuki… You are Kotobuki.
Kotobuki: A part of him, yes. When Kotobuki died he used him magic to split his consciousness into separate pieces. Half of him was permitted to pass for the after, but the other half was split once more and left as guides for the Child of Destiny. I am the guide of the amulet, the other piece of Kotobuki waits in a cave on Mount Namida which is hidden to all but the Child of Destiny. The child that is you.
Tsurugi: What does that mean?
Kotobuki: Tell me the meaning of the mark on the back of your hand.
[Tsurugi glances to his left hand. His flame glows there though there is neither anger nor will to feed it.]
Tsurugi: Tsurugi or ken, meaning sword.
Kotobuki: And now your other hand.
Tsurugi: I have no mark there--[Tsurugi stops as his eyes go to his right hand. Sure enough, on its back burns a second mark.] I don’t understand…
Kotobuki: The first mark shows some aspect that shall fill your life, or some aspect of yourself. The color does the same. Do not fret. Your flame is the color of blood, which may be grim to some, but it is the color of life. A blade may be used to kill, but also to protect. What you make of this mark and color is up to you. The second mark is known as your True Destiny. It shows your ultimate fate, and only when that fate is fulfilled. If the True Destiny burns its holder will die.
Tsurugi: Why have I never heard of it before?
Kotobuki: Power grows with the burning of the Destiny Mark, and a great amount of power is needed to ignite the True Destiny. It is not surprising that such energy has never been summoned. Great energy is released when the True Destiny flames. Now, tell me what the mark means.
Tsurugi: Inochi, mortal life.
[Kotobuki shakes his head while smiling. It seems though that there is a certain feeling of pity within him.]
Kotobuki: That is most certainly not your fate. That mark also can be read as ‘mei’ which holds the meaning of destiny.
Tsurugi: So then…
Kotobuki: The Child of Destiny is one with a fate of destiny, or rather to alter it. When that mark glows events will change and you will see what would have been.
Tsurugi: I’m not certain I understand.
Kotobuki: You are not expected to. There is more that I must tell you, and already I feel the pull of the After. When I finish here I shall join myself there. You know of the legend that I was immortal, but sealed the power that kept me so within this amulet, yes?
Tsurugi: I do.
Kotobuki: Right now the amulet is instilling that magic into you.
Tsurugi: I’ll be immortal then. What if that is a fate I do not choose?
Kotobuki: You have no choice in the matter.
Tsurugi: If it is my destiny then I may alter it.
Kotobuki: It doesn’t work that way, sorry. The curse is yours as it was mine. I was able to remove it in time, and so should you, eventually. Now, I will leave you with gifts, most of which are in the cave on Mount Namida. For now, the amulet you wear holds two abilities, one it increases magical energy. A spell sent through the amulet will become stronger. Two, while worn it will keep you from inadvertently affecting fate.
Tsurugi: You said that I required a large amount of energy to do that.
Kotobuki: In some realities, yes, in others destiny is nothing more than myth. I see from your expression that you don’t understand that either, but you will. One other thing I give you now. The darkness that enfolded you shall serve as clothing. It will alter itself as you will it. It will become quite useful when you learn to ‘travel,’ and also for the alternate form you have chosen. It is not part of the amulet, so do not fear losing it. Another part of what once was Kotobuki awaits you in Mount Namida. Fare Thee Well, Tsurugi Sei, Child of Destiny. The Seal to your Soul shall soon break, and your true power will emerge.
[The form of Kotobuki vanishes, leaving Tsurugi alone to ponder those final words. He looks at his right hand, then his left, but both their flames are dormant. Gradually Tsurugi becomes aware that he had, as some point, started to breath once more. Checking for his pulse Tsurugi finds it strong yet slow. Also he realizes that he is tired, more so than he had even felt in the past. His eyelids fall shut as the magic of immortality courses through his blood.]
The Ground of the Springs
[Tsurugi lies besides the spring of his blessing. He is clothed in a loose fitting black attire, though the garb he had been wearing sits in a pile next to him. The Amulet of Kotobuki rises and falls with the movement of his breast. The sky reflects in the obsidian center. The sun is soon to set. Tsurugi stirs, and then suddenly sits up.]
Tsurugi: A dream? Then I wouldn’t have these clothes. [Tsurugi wills the garb to shift into what he had been wearing. It complies.] It was all too real…
[Tsurugi stands and gathers his things. He walks to the path through the mountains that leads from his village to the springs. At the crest he should be able to see the smoke of cooking fires preparing the evening meal. At the crest Tsurugi stops. His arms fall limp, the items he carries become meaningless and fall to the ground. Fear, anger, sorrow, and outrage well up in Tsurugi’s being. Smoke does rise from his village, but it is not smoke of cooking. The village is burning. Flaming to the wrist Tsurugi need only to think and he vanishes from the path.]
Kotobuki. The village is in ruins. Bodies of dead, both human and kotobukian, lie everywhere. Yet the battle rages on. While some Kotobukians are powerful, many others have no fighting skill whatsoever. Most of them have already been slaughtered. Few remain, and they drop like flies to the endless hordes of the human invasion.
[Shito is perhaps the only Kotobukian left in the village able to fight. He stands over the body of his dead mother, his mortally wounded father lies by her. He is holding himself together with his own hands. He fights to summon the energy for any final spell that may help his son. Shito fights a battle to remain in control of himself. Seasoned warriors may be tempted to break down and cry had they gone through Shito’s torment that day, but if he did he would lose control of his minions that were keeping the humans at bay. Living shadows slash through flesh with razor claws. Strange beasts crush the bone of those who venture too close between their jaws. Sweet beads of Shito’s face. His flame is bright, but his power is waning. He is near exhaustion. A tall male figure emerges next to him from paths of magic. A flame, whose origin lies in a mark meaning sword, has engulfed the man’s forearm and threatens to crawl up the rest.]
Shito: Brother, how good of you to join us in our clan’s final moments.
Tsurugi: What has happened…?
Shito: The humans decided that we weren’t good enough to share the world with anymore, so the time came for genocide. To my knowledge we’re all that lef
[Shito’s words break into a sputter. The shaft of an arrow, with the feathers marking the Nah clan, embeds itself in his neck. I will die, he thinks to himself. With the final force of his will he seeks out the archer. His spectral minions converge on their master’s killer. The screams on the dying man carry great agony. The shadows fade as Shito’s flame dies. The child falls to the ground, dead.]
Tsurugi: Brother? Brother! No!
[Without Shito’s minions to hold them from attack, the humans converge on Tsurugi. Weaponless, he has no hope to defend himself. A ball of flame erupts among the humans. There flesh is charred, they fall dead. The final act of Zanthax. More humans more forward, but they more cautiously, not wishing to die as their fellows. Tsurugi’s entire arm is aflame, his eyes shift from black to blood. He takes a sword from the body of a dead member of his clan who will no longer need it. Tsurugi prepares to face his attackers boldly. A voice, one all to familiar and hated to Tsurugi, command a halt.]
Kuth-Rihn-Nah: So, this is the bast of the village who wants to steal my daughter. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you; you’ve been sneaking into my home for quite some time. How does it feel to know this is all your fault?
Tsurugi: I’ll kill you…
Kuth-Rihn-Nah: A challenge is it? I accept. [Kuth-Rihn-Nah draws a mighty broadsword.]
Tsurugi: You’re going to die for this, I promise you.
Kuth-Rihn-Nah: Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
[Kuth-Rihn-Nah nods in signal. A sword plunges through Tsurugi’s back, cuts through heart and lungs, and emerges from his chest. Tsurugi falls.]
Kuth-Rihn-Nah: I would have expected someone smarter as the best. No matter. Tell the men to loot what they will, and dispatch the messengers. Tell them we’ve killed them all, even the so called, ‘Bests of the Village.’
[The last thing Tsurugi feels before darkness falls over him is the impact of Kuth-Rihn-Nah kicking him full force. His flame winks out, and so Tsurugi dies.]
[Time passes. The humans sweep from home to home, taking anything they consider of value and burning the rest. Though night has long since fallen, the light of blazing dwellings allows for ample sight. The bodies of the kotobuians was left to rot where they died. Eventually everything is looted. The humans yet to return to their clans are holding celebration on the outskirts of Kotobuki. An intoxicating brew of the kotobukians, as well as fine elven wine that had been a gift to Tsurugi, now wets the throat of Kuth-Rihn-Nah and his marauders.]
[Tsurugi stirs. Life had returned to him some time ago, but he slept a dream filled sleep for some time. Visions of how he had failed his people came time and time again. He stirs once more and then awake with a gasp. Cold sweat dots his brow even with the blaze around him. Smoke stings his eyes. Sleep leaves, memory returns. His flame goes from nothing to his entire arm. His eyes are of blood. He stands and looks about his village. His flame grows further; his entire left shoulder burns. His breathing is ragged, as if he were sobbing. He whispers "no…" so soft that only he could hear, but there is no one else to hear anyway. His hands clench into tight fists. Rage burns away sorrow and uses it for greater fuel for the flame at slowly spreads ever further across his body. He looks to his step-father and to his mother. He says stronger, with defiance, "No." Still there is no one to hear, no one to answer. All are dead, including him. His eyes go to his brother, to the arrow protruding from his neck. The arrow with the marking of the tribe to which the one he’d loved had belong, but now he was dead. Hatred, anger, fury, sorrow, despair, they all assault Tsurugi and drive his flame further. A word of command swirls in his head. A word, that it English, a language unknown to this world, means a furious, uncontrolled anger, swirls around in his brain. Only once before has Tsurugi uttered this word. Then he has released it in a primal yell, now he collapses to his knees and utters in with deadly calm and certainty. "Rage."]
[Tsurugi’s entire body is aflame. Spasms of pain cause it to contort in anguish as its form begins to change. Seven blue beads like teardrops emerge from its flesh. It doubles over only to arch backward violently as two sets of wings rip from its back. The outer set is feathered white, angelic; the inner pair are a black membranes, demonic. Power concentrates to the point of visibility as it rises from the ground and enters the body. The infusion of energy grants more pain than transformation. The body rises. Its skin is death pale, but black markings adorn it. A howl of agony and rage erupts from its lips.]
[This does not go unheard. The humans cease their drink look with dread toward the village’s center. They fear the unholy sound is the cry of the souls of the dead being dragged into the inferno of hell. They are not far off from the truth.]
[The vast energy lifts the body like a doll. The four wings of angel and devil melt together. New wings grow to take their place. Six wings of black feathers; those of a Dark Seraph. The blue tears sink back beneath flesh. Demonic markings vanish as skin regains color. The scream continues. When it halts it is only for the time needed to draw in breath before it begins anew. Power ceases to flow into the body, for it can hold no more.
[Tsurugi feels something within him shatter. Not bone or tissue, but rather something deeper, the Seal to his Soul. Crimson lines of energy emerge from his being. The swirl rapidly around him and slice through all they encounter. They extend further and further at a rapid pace. It seems as if, on the back of Tsurugi’s right hand, a second kanji struggles to light, but cannot. The obsidian eye on the amulet glows with a strange radience.]
[The energy reaches the humans; Kuth-Rihn-Nah is the first to fall, cleaved in two as he begins to lead a party back into the village to investigate the horrid noise. His men turn to flee, but they cannot out run the growing blades. In the end no human within a mile of the village center survives.]
[The energy dissipates and leaves Tsurugi in a rush. His wings return to hide within him, though a few scattered feathers of black and white remain. Tsurugi falls to the ground in a heap. His flame is gone, his rage spent. His hatred turns inward and tears fill his eyes. Every death had been reported to him by the energy. He couldn’t control its wrath, or perhaps, he had not wanted to.]
[A strange whispering music carries of a light breeze, a bitter sweet song of death that Tsurugi knows must only play in his mind, there is no one else left alive to hear it. As the first rays of the rising sun grant light to the ghastly scene, Tsurugi slips into the sweet rest of death; eternal for most, but not for him.]