The Grave Worms

How quietly the grave worms tread

And tunnel through the fertile earth

For now I lie here cold and dead

Devoid of sorrow, done with mirth

 

But yet I hear them whispering

To centipede and fly and ant

That they can hear me breathing still

Did Death consider and recant?

 

“We’ve eaten them alive before,

So even if they haven’t died

We’ll feast on warm flesh bountiful

Before he claims a demon bride.”

 

The wood that forms my coffin creaks

And rodents too join in the fray

But dead blood never, ever leaks

Dead eyes don’t see the light of day

 

And yet I hear them

Scraping, scratching, clawing, whispering

Whispering still

 

I wonder will my hearing stop,

Or will I hear them eat their fill?

 

How quietly the grave worms tread

And tunnel through the fertile earth

For now I lie here, feeling dread

Devoid of sorrow, done with mirth.

Soyala and the Troubadour

The banquet lasted through the night, and Teirtu was exhausted, having played every tune he knew from his extensive repertoire, as well as with his wealthy host’s own musicians, his children, and finally the host himself,

None of them were particularly talented, but they weren’t awful, so he flattered them anyway, as sincere as he could without making his real thoughts obvious, though he suspected they already knew.

The weight of the purse he received for his night’s labor told him he’d been obsequious enough to please the man.

Some distance from the mansion now, he found himself walking down a smooth and pleasant path, and heard his stomach rumble. He decided to stop and eat some of the food the pretty kitchen girl had set aside for his journey.

In parting she also gave him a deep and tasty kiss, and rubbed the heel of her hand on the front of his pants to give him something to distract him from the fact that it was a cold morning.

Intrigued by her forwardness, he silently vowed to return, knowing deep inside he probably never actually would; kitchen girls were notorious, and he could bring to mind a few, but what good would it do him now.

A pleasant scene of dappled sunlight shining through the high summer leaves got his attention, and there seemed to be an opening that one could pass through.

He ambled through, calm, assessing his surroundings, delighted to see there was a slow moving river with flat rocks on the shore that was bperfect for laying out his small repast.

 A good place to rest and eat.

Leaving his small wineskin alone, his mouth still fuzzy with its taste from last night, he decided he no longer wanted it at all.

Pouring the wine in the river, he rinsed and filled it with the clean running water.

As the skin filled and he tipped it to rinse the residue of the wine out, he saw, just outside the copse of trees, the figure of a young woman in a green, elegant gown not suited for the forest.

Her honey-gold hair spread across her shoulders and spilled down her back in waves that jounced slightly with her steps.

She was smiling at him, and he waved at her, and beckoned her to sit with him.

Her walk was as stately as her dress, but there was something in her eyes that evoked curiosity as well as dread; they were preternaturally bright, just short of glowing.

“Welcome, young bard.”

“Madam.” His eyes slowly roamed her form under the gown.

She noticed, but didn’t take offense, or blush, or give any indication she was uncomfortable with his rudeness; if anything, she seemed amused.

“Are you a long way from home?” he asked.

She smiled. It was a beautiful smile. “This is my home.”

“You live in the woods.”

“We live in each other; there’s an understanding that’s too deep to go into now, and I seem to have interested you, but interrupted your meal.

“I will go.”

“No, oh no, please, don’t.” He scrambled to get in front of her. “I’d like some company.”

“And your own is not up to the task?” she teased.

He chuckled. “I spend enough time alone that I don’t need anymore at the moment.

“Please join me.”

He offered his hand to help her up, and she made herself comfortable beside him, and he noticed that she really did seem quite at home in her bearing; there was no fear of him emanating from her at all.

He considered her enigmatic comment a moment.

“So you live here.”

“I do.”

“How is that possible?”

She didn’t answer him right away, but was looking at the lute he carried.

She reached toward him. “May I?”

“What…? Oh. Oh, yes, by all means.” He unpacked it and handed it to her.

“It’s a fine lute, much used.” With nimble fingers, she plucked a pleasant chord.

“…and much cared for, and loved.”

He shifted, just watching her, noticing how she played, and how beautifully she hummed along.

She stopped, smiling at him. “Eat, troubadour. I will play for you.”

He ate.

As she played, she hummed a perfect harmony, clean and sweet, and he stopped eating and closed his eyes.

His heart seemed to keep time.

Soft wind blew tendrils of her hair across the contours of her smooth face, lifted now to the westering light.

A memory of hi mother’s face, smiling down at him as he sat on her knee, singing as he played…

“That song,” he whispered. “From my childhood. How could you know?”

He looked, but she was no longer beside him.

She’d taken his wineskin and was drinking from it, but not putting her mouth to it.

She finished, and laughing, wiped her lips on the bell of her sleeve.

“Singing is thirsty work. I am Soyala.”

She handed the wineskin to him, and as he drank, he found that it was soemthing fruit flavored, with a hint of honey.

He didn’t know if it was wine, as such but it was heady.

“What are you?” He stoppered the skin.

“I am what you want me to be, my young troubadour.”

The reply opened up for him a world of crude possibilities he could say, but her bearing would not brook such insults, and they died stillborn on his tongue. She had an ineffable quality that intrigued him, even though it slightly annoyed him.

He ventured a smile. “How about my patron?”

She laughed, not at him, but clearly amused by the remark.

“Anything but that, good sir. The rifts between friends when such things are undertaken are the stuff of legend.”

He laughed as well. “I would have to agree. Soyala, you sing and play beautifully.”

“Thank you.”

He took another pull of the exotic elixir, looked out at the river flecked with sparks of sunlight.

“You have questions,” she said.

He nodded. “Many.”

“I could answer, but you have not understood even the simplest of them.”

“That you and the woods live in each other.”

She smiled approvingly. “Your memory’s good.”

“It would have to be to do what I do. That was the simplest? You don’t just mean that you live here, and are familiar with your surroundings, you mean they’re somehow a part of you.”

“Yes.”

“I won’t pretend I understand, and I’ll probe no deeper for today, but I’d like to return sometime to talk with you.”

“You are welcome here. Tell me your name.”

“Teirtu.”

She laughed, and he smiled, knowing why.

“That is what you are called, but not your name.”

“You have the right of it.”

“Does it pertain to you, or your profession?”

“All stories are essentially lies, Soyala.”

“In their essence perhaps, but at their core, there is always a seed of truth.

“You intrigue me, Teirtu; your name is a riddle.”

“Do you like riddles?” He handed her back the wineskin.

“I do.” She drank and gave it back.

He smiled again. “We’ve essentially kissed.”

“But at the core, we haven’t.”

He laughed. “We could make it true.”

She tilted her head, her eyes amused.

“You’ve had your meal, and song, and wine; there is no need for you to linger.”

“The trio’s not complete.”

“Trio?”

“Wine, song…woman.”

“Ah. That trio. A bard’s love is plural.”

“I’m not interested in plural.”

She walked up close to him.

“I’ll not kiss you, Teirtu. You’ll need a reason to return, and if I give you what you desire, you may not.”

“What if I promised?”

“The promises of men are breath, nothing more, and the promise of a troubadour…”

“Less so. Yes, we do have a bad reputation, and not undeserved.”

He stepped away.

“I’ll walk with you to the road.”

“I’d like that, Soyala.”

She reached for his hand.

********************

“I will write a song for you.”

“I will hear it when you sing.”

“Kiss me, Soyala.”

She touched his cheek, and leaned in, and he closed his eyes, but the kiss never landed.

When he opened his eyes, she was gone.

He chuckled and shook his head.

“You are a riddle of your own, Soyala.

“I will return to solve it.”

 

 

There Are No Monsters Here

Knock-knock

within your closet

child

There are no monsters here

 

Knock-knock

beneath your bed

my child

There are no monsters here

 

Knock-knock

upon your dreams

dear child

There are no monsters here

 

They’re all inside your head

my child

That’s where the monsters dwell

 

I promise in the morning

child

you’ll find them in the well,

 

For there they find

the entryway back into

childhood’s hell.

The Ice-Blue King

I see him on the throne

in this cavernous hall,

alone, utterly alone,

as all around him slowly chips away,

and crumbles,

and dies.

 

He waits, but not for me.

A longing puts an aura round him

and fills the hollow alcove

with a shimmering

sky-blue burst.

 

Breath becomes ice crystals,

and flesh becomes blue,

but he is waiting

for something, or someone,

somehow still living

in the crippling, crumbling

cold now draped about him

like a royal robe

 

There will be no spring thaw

of his ice blue gaze,

no warming of his iron blue heart,

no budding blossom of love.

 

His wrath will fall,

hard and cold

as his kingdom,

when his people return…

 

if  they return…

 

if they ever  return…

 

before the castle

crumbles, and collapses

on the crown of

the ice-blue king.

Melchora’s Spells

Melchora’s spells

enrapture me

capture me

sap me of strength

and will

to defy the

tidal pull

of her lunar love

 

Melchora’s spells

bind me

blind me

and find me helpless

at the base of her heart

 

Melchora’s spells

lift me

gift me

and seal the rift

between my need

and her mind

 

Melchora’s spells

smell of lilac and lavender

and honey and ginger

as I breathe deeply and

my soul turns

to ashes and smoke

 

Melchora’s spells

are vital

and gentle

and my reason’s reality

is contained between her hands

 

And I want to look away,

And I want to walk away,

And I want to be away

from her,

But that too, is part of

Melchora’s spells….

 

 

 

And Yet He Guards the Ruined World

And yet he guards the ruined world,

hearing echoes of long-dead men,

the clang and rattle of long buried swords,

the screams and moans of pleasure and pain.

 

He smells the candles in the temple,

And the perfumes of the maidens,

And the poisons of the traitors,

And the flesh he’s burned in battle.

 

The laughter of the children rings

through the cavernous passages.

 

The hawking of wares in the marketplace

shout in abandoned streets.

 

He is king over ashes,

and ruler of rubble,

with broken towers his castle,

and cracked and blackened bones his subjects.

 

The scavengers that remain

give him obeisance, and

bow and scrape for leave to

hunt scraps.

 

But on the watching wall he stands,

constant as the cosmos,

unyielding as stone,

unchanging as what has been

written before…

 

Unfettered, he is free to fly

and soar and kill and burn

 

And yet he guards the ruined world,

Until it stops to turn

 

Light Upon Me Here

Light upon me here,

and give me kisses

and wishes,

and the essence

of dreams of longing

long unfulfilled

 

Give me the plunder of legends

you’ve carved in runes on ancient trunks,

and whispered

’round eventide’s eldritch fires

 

Show me the paths through trees

older than the tongues of men,

and the dusky hiding places of the

demi-goddesses.

 

And in the niche

of night’s knowledge,

In the enchantment of the

encampment you inhabit,

Let me be no Stranger,

nor Harbinger,

but Lover,

and light upon me

Here

 

 

The Breaking of Chrystal Belle

“Is she dead?”

“Mostly.”

“Why not completely?”

“I’m not finished; you said to prolong it.”

“It’s been prolonged enough. Finish it.”

“She’s said nothing. If I finish it, you’ll get nothing.”

“It’s been three hours. You’ve done everything but…”

“I could do that. She’d need to be cleaned up first, but I can do it.”

“Would you? Would you really? Even now?”

“Why not?”

He looked at me a long moment.

“You’re going to tell me I’m a monster? A fiend? A devil?”

“No.”

“ ‘No’,” I imitated his voice, “ ‘I’m just going to think it.’ Right?”

“I…I’ll leave you to your work.”

“Ha! It’s your work, wizard; I’m just the tool you’re using.”

That stopped him in his tracks, but he didn’t turn around, and after a heartbeat or two, walked out.

I went back to work.

 

****************

“You heard him, Chrystal?”

Her voice was raspy from screaming and the smoky torches, deliberately dabbed in something to make them so.

She nodded.

I leaned in close: “He doesn’t care if I kill you. Do you?”

She nodded again.

“I’m going to take off the gag, all right? Just tell me what I need to know.”

She gasped, and I gave her some water to wet her throat, clean the blood, and deceive her into thinking I just might be merciful.

“Where are the others?”

“He told you to rape me.”

“Yes.”

“You told him you would, if he wanted.”

“Yes.”

She paused a moment, then said “What if I said you didn’t have to force me?”

I smiled in shocked amusement at her pluck.

“Do you think I’m so easily bought? I could have you whether he granted me permission or not.”

She gave a smile of her own, red rimmed as it was. “You know that’s not true.”

Interesting. It had been a statement meant to rattle her.

“You’re stalling, Chrystal. When he returns, he expects me to hand him your corpse.”

“You’ve broken me up inside already, and what have you gained?”

“I told him that, but I believe you know where the rest of your kind is hiding, and…”

I picked up a branding iron, spit on it to let her hear the sizzling hiss.

“I would so hate to ruin that lovely face.”

“Do it. I don’t know where they’re hiding, and it no longer matters.”

I took off the hooded mask I wore, and she flinched at my appearance.

Walking toward her now, I saw her shrink back, and I smiled, which made her flinch even more.

“Before I do…”

Gripping her chin, I forced her lips to mine a long moment, heard her retch in her throat, and I stuffed the gag back in, and jammed the brand onto her thigh.

As she thrashed against the bonds and screamed behind the gag, a thought occurred to me.

Maybe I am going soft…

 

*****************

The pain shooting me through me made me drop the brand, as if I’d burned myself with it.

Chrystal was still kicking a bit, her eyes watery, and mucus and saliva pooling around the gag made her unlovely.

I knew immediately where I’d made my mistake, and I could torture her no longer; everything I did to her, I would now feel. Already I could see bruises appearing, feel the aches she felt, saw the cuts I’d made on her now slice my own skin open and weep with blood.

I could see the brand on my own leg.

Her eyes were still defiant, and if I weren’t going to go blind in the doing, I would’ve gouged them out with my thumbs.

The gag dissolved, and her smile had that same smarmy slyness when she told me I couldn’t have her without permission.

“Free me. Now.”

“You marked me.”

“You marked yourself with your lust, Bressal. You knew, or said you did, of our powers.”

I freed her.

“Are you going to kill me?” I asked her.

“No. You’re going to kill the wizard for me. When he comes, don’t bother dragging it out.”

She walked over to my array of bloodletting toys, and picked out an axe, one I’d trusted through the years for other duties, but it was somewhat dull now, as I’d not used it in some time.

I bowed my head in defeat.

“Put this through his skull,” she said.

“It’s dull.” I could no longer meet her eyes.

She laughed. “As are you. My husband has made his choice, now I’ve made mine. Strike as many times as you have to; I’ll be back to see what you’ve done.”

Her eyes narrowed, and I felt something like a fist around my heart.

“And if I see no body, Bressal, I’ll know you’ve betrayed me, and make you wish you were never born.”

The fist let go.

I didn’t like being threatened. She’d bested me, and now felt emboldened to boast.

“We will one day have reckoning,” I said to her retreating back. “I will break this spell, and then you, Chrystal, into shards of bad memories your husband’s maid will sweep under thick carpets.

“My ruined face will be the last thing you see, my kiss the last thing you feel, as I take your womanhood along with your life.”

The door shut on my tirade.

I wiped at the tears in my eyes that baptized me into her service, but I couldn’t stop them, and decided to blame it on the acrid torches.

Then I took the axe, put it across my lap, and waited.

 

 

Leiko and the White Wolf (5)

5)

 

As it often happens when in a strange place for the first time, Leiko couldn’t sleep, and got up to skulk about the monastery to explore whatever piqued her curiosity, which was just about everything.

The dark halls with single torches intrigued her most, but she knew the monastery was likely labyrinthine, and didn’t want to risk getting lost.

She decided to see if Akira was up; perhaps he could make some sort of sleeping tea for her, if he wasn’t too angry at her behavior during dinner.

A bit peeved to find that she cared what he thought of her, she figured it was best to go apologize; he’d been kind to her, all things considered, and she hadn’t, as he’d promised, come to harm.

There was no threat here, at least not from the Brothers, but she could also sense an undercurrent of contained power, controlled, but almost throbbing like a heart, inside the walls, under the ground, a vibrancy running like a warm current tickling the fine hairs on her arms.

It was a sense of gathering power, and it gave her an excited, anticipatory fright.

If that was what they were going to teach her to harness and wield, she dreaded the learning of it, and never desired anything more.

Some of the doors were open, and she looked in to see the men packing large satchels. When they saw her, they hurriedly looked away, almost shamefaced.

She stood in the doorway of one, and the monk came over to close the door, but she wouldn’t leave.

“Leiko, I need privacy.”

“Are you leaving? Did Hakurou send you all on a journey? A mission?”

She saw his face change at the words ‘journey’ and ‘mission,’ and something clicked into place.

“You’re leaving.”

“Please…” he pushed the door at her again, not hard, but firmly, and she had no choice but to back away or let it hit her bare toes.

The lock clicked, and she heard him shuffle away.

They’re leaving because of me.

Disturbed, she went in earnest to find Akira, and ask what problems she’d be facing with them now that she was living here.

 

****************

“Come in, Ko.”

She went in, saw Akira standing by the small window, looking out at the yellow moonlight on the green grass, giving it a bluish cast.

“You knew it was me?”

He chuckled, but didn’t turn to her.

“No powers needed there; the brothers aren’t prone to knocking, and they’re a ham fisted lot if they do.”

“You called me ‘Ko.’ Hakurou changed my name. You call him master, but you defy him by using my old name.”

He turned to her then, looking at her intently; her observations were keen for one so young. Tigress by the tail…

“Between you and me, you will always be ‘Ko.’ That is the name I found you under, and the name in which you branded your father’s cheek with your spittle.”

She reddened at the memory, and looked away.

Good.

“It is also the first cord of our bonding, and I will only call you ‘Leiko’ when Hakurou is around.

“Are we agreed?”

She nodded, not wanting to speak yet, fearing her voice would squeak.

“You are not asleep; tomorrow, Hakurou’s going to start your training in the path of the Rei.”

She sat on the edge of his bed. “Some of the men are leaving because of me. I saw them.”

Akira inwardly cursed them for cowards.

“There is nothing to be done for it, Ko. Those that remain…”

“Those that remain…?”

He shook his head. “What is it you want?”

“Besides returning to Iwai? I’d like a sleeping tea, if you have any.”

“I do. I will even join you. Any later, and we will both see the sun before we topple.”

 

*****************

 

Hakurou’s voice was low thunder.

“I am grieved…so grieved I can no longer call you Brothers.

“You are craven, useless dogs.”

“You said to consider carefully, Hakurou. We all have—“
“No spines!” Hakurou’s fist slammed the large table they were sitting around, and they all jumped, blinking at the sudden fury of the motion and his expression.

Another monk spoke. “Maybe you shouldn’t issue edicts you don’t mean then, Hakurou.”

Hakurou sat down, the blood slowly leaving his face as his hand worried at his beard.

“You’re right. If you didn’t leave now, you’d prove a weakness in the fighting, and run, or die. Either way, you’d have the witches victorious, and this is not the time for people like you. I would say ‘men’, but that doesn’t fit you.”

The monk who first spoke stood. “I’ve had enough. You said we could leave. We’ve done our part, and served our gods; we want to go on serving them. We don’t want to die.”

Hakurou gave a bitter laugh.

“And if the witches win, pup, do you think they’ll leave you be?”

That gave them pause, and some of them remained sitting.

“He’s turned you? With that simplistic question, he changed your mind?”

One of sitting monks sighed. “He’s right, Brother Milal, there is no place to run they won’t find us.”

“But there’s a chance they won’t; there’s a chance we’ll survive, and as long as it’s there, I have to try. I have to take that chance.”

“Best be leaving then,” Hakurou said. “The sun is up soon, and Leiko’s first session will start at first light.”

They stood, and filed out in silence, giving the old wolf at least that much respect, dropping their pendants and rings in a reliquary beside the main doors.

 

***************

Leiko and Akira saw them leaving, and before Akira could react, she was off, running toward them.

“Wait! Please! Please wait!

The monk who spoke to Hakurou first stopped the rest of them, watching her wild eyed approach.

Seeing he was the leader, she went up to him.

“If you leave, sir, you weaken the monastery. You weaken us all.”

“I have no part in this war. It will be a bloodbath, and none of it theirs. You seem like an intelligent child, for a peasant’s daughter. Demand Akira return you to your homeland.

“Dosojin Monastery will be destroyed in the battle to come.”

“Are you a seer, now?” Akira interjected.

Milal looked at him as if he’d just bled on a hymnal.

“No, I’m a realist.”

“If you believe your god is real, ‘realist,’ then why don’t you stay and ask for victory? Your brothers need you.” Leiko said. “And I need you.”

He looked at her, incredulous: her rudeness knew no boundaries.

“He is not a god of warriors, you fool girl, he is a god of the temple. He watches over us in peace and in life, if we should so pray.”

She looked at him a long moment. He was bristling, but dared say nothing in front of Akira. He was shifting his feet under her gaze, and not making eye contact, but summoning backbone to stand straight and say:

“If there’s nothing else, child, we must go.”

She stepped aside, and as they filed past, the leader stood glaring at her, and she calmly bore it until it was his time to step forward on the path of stones.

As he passed her, she murmured so only the three of them heard her:

“Pray hard then, Milal.

As Akira began to close the door, she the fear in Milal’s eyes, but his pride wouldn’t let him capitulate.

He swallowed, and turned away from them, and walked out.

As the lock clicked, a roll of thunder resounded in the far distance.

 

 

 

Leiko and the White Wolf (4)

The evening meal, as it turned out, was less a somber affair than Ko would’ve thought; the monks were smiling, even chatty, after grace was said.

They passed the plates along with good natured jokes about round stomachs and big appetites.

The servants, probably neophytes, hung around behind the monks, waiting with refills, smiles of amusement on their faces; Ko took notice of that too, and thought it a good thing they weren’t being reprimanded.

She sat next to Koji, who did have a round stomach and big appetite, and didn’t seem to care what the others thought of it, and he served her from the platters of food that came his way.

Her stomach growled, and she had to force herself to exercise control.

The scents of the cooking here were different, more smoky and pungent; in her home it had always been tangy, with some sort of orange spice her mother liked to use. It was peasant fare to be sure, but it was filling, and Ko couldn’t remember ever going to bed hungry.

Her diet had consisted largely of fish and the things that preyed on fish; her mother grew her own vegetables, and was fast in the kitchen after long years of arduous experience in her own mother’s small kitchen.

But the monks here seemed to eat well, despite the seeming indolence of their calling.

She noticed Akira watching her, and gave him a small smile to assure him she knew what was going to happen, and she was prepared: he was ready to introduce her to the rest of the monks.

The servants cleared away the dishes and utensils, and Akira stood and signaled for silence, which came as abruptly as the chatter had after grace.

“Brothers, I have news.”

They gave him their full attention.

“We have, in our midst, a young lady that we have taken from her homeland, and her parents’ side, to train in the path of Rei, thunder and lightning,  for reasons she does not, as yet, know, but will in time.

“Brothers, I give you Ko of Iwai.”

Ko stood, stepped back from the table, and bowed low.

Murmurs of approval at her manners and training buzzed briefly through the assembly, and when Ko straightened, Akira had sat down, and they were all watching her.

A thrill of nervousness coursed through her, as her eyes fastened on the man at the head of the table, the one whose eyes now bore into her as if they would have her soul or know the reason.

He was tall and broad, with a silver mane and full whiskers, luxurious and immaculate, handsome in a long, dark blue hakama with a white wolf head sewn over his heart.

“Welcome, Ko, to Dosojin Monastery.”

Ko thought his eyes could pierce granite, but she decided not to be cowed; it wasn’t an easy decision, since she couldn’t stop her knees from shaking.

“Welcome? It was not my choosing; my father sold me for reasons I don’t know. Akira has tried his best, but to be honest, elder, I am not a little angry.”

The table buzzed again at her forthrightness.

“I know that I’m here because you feel you need me; how I can deliver you from whatever it is men such as yourselves are threatened by, you will have to reveal to me sooner rather than later.

“For all that I’ve been kidnapped, since I cannot return to Iwai, it seems I must do what I can.

She turned to Brother Koji.

“Thank you, Brother Koji, for taking care of me. If you will excuse me, Brothers, I slept through most of the afternoon, and I need to make a list of belongings that I, as a female, will need.”

Hakurou and Akira remained expressionless, but the looks around the table ranged from surprised affront to amusement.

“May I be excused, elder?”

“You may, Leiko.”

“With respect, my name is Ko, elder.”

“I am changing it for the duration of your time here; you are Leiko now.”

She seethed, but bowed in resigned acquiescence.

“Thank you.”

She left, her mind swirling with emotions: surprise at her boldness, bordering on disrespect, and a slight flush of pleasure at the reaction she got.

Her name, Ko, meant dutiful daughter.

The name he’d given to her, loosely translated, meant ‘sarcastic one.’

Given her behavior, she supposed she earned it.

She was smiling in spite of herself.

Leiko. Thunder and lightning indeed.

 

****************

 

Hakurou roared with laughter, and the monks themselves, not quite knowing what to make of things, laughed too, albeit nervously.

“Akira,” he sputtered, “you’ve grabbed a tigress by the tail.”

“It would seem so. I will go speak with her.”

Hakurou waved his hand. “Bah, leave her be. She said nothing untrue, and slighted no brothers. Think on it a moment, and if what happened to her happened to you,” he looked around the table, “any one of you, you’d be inclined to be ill-mannered too.

“Send for a village girl to get the supplies our female will need.”

He sat down, the gaiety leaving his eyes, and as he regained his breath, he addressed them.

“The threat from across the sea grows, gentlemen. The witches play their pipes, and light their fires, and mate to sacrifice the offspring, and the isle mist has a scarlet cast to it, and it is darkening despite the resplendent dawns we enjoy here.

“It is a real and distinct possibility that they could be lost to sight, if the mist gets thick and dark enough.

“I know they’re beginning to conscript an army, wielders of steel, to slay us outright, so their magic can be saved for the extraction of their treasures from our soil.

“You know the history of our battle, and our victory came dear.

“Now we have a weapon, one girl against an army, and the path of Rei has been forbidden us for centuries, if not millennia. It is a dark and terrible practice, but we have weakened ourselves, and there is no time for us to catch up to them.

“We needed a woman to fight against women, for a man trained in the way of Rei will not be effective. The battle is aligned by gender; male for male, female for female.

“This is the way the Rei have always done it.

“Leiko is that weapon. Her feistiness could prove to be a two-edged sword.”

He cast a sidelong glance at Akira, and grinned, briefly, “Akira, I trust that you are up to the task.”

There was light laughter.

Akira didn’t share in it, only nodded.

Brother Koji spoke. “As her attendant, I too, will do what I can to aid Akira.”

“Thank you, Brother,” Akira said.

“Yes, Koji, that would be appreciated,” Hakurou said.

“Hakurou?” one of the other monks asked, “If she invokes Rei, will it not destroy us too?”

“It could. But we have ever known that it is better for both to die, than for one to be unleashed, unchecked, across the world.

“In the taking of their lives, we may be sacrificing our own; the path of Rei has been untrammeled for longer than men can remember, and in its dormancy, it gathers power.”

He leaned forward across the table and looked at each man until they were newly focused on him.

“That means that when she destroys the island, it may be too much for her to control, and we will die as well in the ensuing destruction, by tsunami, by earthquake, by fire, and there will be no escape.”

He sat back.

“Consider carefully what lies ahead, and if any one of you wishes to leave, see me no later than midnight tonight, and be on your way by first light.

“Leiko’s training starts tomorrow.”

 

 

 

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