8.8 The Demon

16 September, 2012 by katelaity

“Who was it?” Maggiormente asked, but Eduardo shushed him with one huge paw. Myojo did not seem to notice the interruption. Seito sang a simple piper’s tune.

“The samurai turned. The voice that beckoned him came from a tiny old woman, who walked with a bent back. Her abundant white hair piled on top of her head, knotted elaborately and held in place with a pair of ebony chopsticks.

“‘You are not safe here,’ she warned him. Her voice was gentle and even, but the concern in its tone was plain. ‘The demon of Green Snake Mountain has driven everyone from this place except me. I am only allowed to remain to care for the temple.’

“‘I have some seeking a beautiful woman the emperor has seen in his dreams. He believes her to be held captive in the mountain,’ the samurai declared.

“The woman blanched at his words,” Myojo said, her hands flying up to protect herself as she had become the old woman. ‘Do not speak of this! It is forbidden.’ She looked over her shoulder as if someone might be watching her.”

Seito suddenly fell silent and the alchemist and his lion felt a strange thrill of fear and looked worriedly around them, as if they had entered the temple, too.

“However much the samurai pressed, the woman refused to speak of the matter, but it gave him hope that he was in the right place. The caretaker’s distress moved him, but he knew he must try to find the mystery.

“At last the old woman realised he would not be thwarted. ‘I can tell you nothing,’ she repeated with a deep bow, ‘but if leave an offering at the altar in the inner, flowers are best. And don’t forget to light the incense.’

“Then she disappeared and he was left with the memory of her sad smile. The samurai squared his shoulders and turned toward the interior of the temple and found the inner chamber. The statue of a beautiful goddess drew his eye to the main altar. Amaterasu looked as beautiful as a summer morning and his heart lifted despite the dark mysteries of this place.”

Seito began to sing a song of powerful joy that made Maggiormente and his lion sigh with happy peacefulness. Myojo’s words and hands made the entire scene so vivid. They felt as if they were in the temple looking over the samurai’s shoulder as he lit the incense. Then he stepped outside and gathered some blossoms from the flowers that surrounded the temple.

“The samurai spoke as he spread the flower petals before the goddess,” Myojo continued. “‘Great Amaterasu, I ask for your help and guidance that I may please my emperor and find this woman he seeks and who seems to be in so much trouble. Her I must aid. I ask you this for my emperor, for this imprisoned woman and for my wife and children whose love fills my heart always.’ He bowed low before the altar, his breast full of hope and affection.

“When he arose, the samurai gasped. The flower petals danced on the air, swirling like autumn leaves. A sprightly tinkling music filled the temple and even the light of the air seemed alive.”

Seito’s jaunty tune made the alchemist want to jump up and dance, but he did not want to break the spell of the story. Eduardo seemed to sense the feeling, too, and he lashed his tail about him to show the excitement.

Myojo continued, “The samurai felt certain this was a sign of the goddess’ favour, so he bowed low again to show his gratitude, then stepped lively to where Dawn’s Light awaited, leaped into the saddle and headed to the path that led up the mountain.

“His horse climbed higher and higher and he began to feel as if all would be well, when suddenly a horrifying shriek filled the air. Dawn’s Light shied with fear and it was all the samurai could do to remain on his back. He hopped down and held the reins as he did his best to soothe his mount.

“The samurai looked around in wonder but at first he could see nothing. He looped Dawn’s Light’s reins over a branch and continued up the path on foot. It had become rather steep but he was making good progress.

“As he crested another rise, the samurai saw a dark cave. Perhaps the woman was held captive inside there. In his eagerness he picked up speed again, though he also drew his sword, for the terrible cry had unsettled him.

“He had come within some hundred paces of the cave, where he could see a blue light flickering, when with a roar an enormous demon leapt onto the path before him. It had many arms each with a sword and many heads, all roaring the same terrible sound.”

Seito managed to make an admirably terrible sound from her tiny throat that awed the alchemist and Eduardo. Surely the demon’s voice resounded a thousand times more, but for a wee bird, the feat amazed.

“The samurai took up a fighting stance and challenged the demon. They both cried aloud, a warrior’s yell, then the battle began. The samurai had been trained by great masters and had survived many battles. His sword flew and parried and the mountainside rang with the clash of weapons. At first the samurai felt a sense of satisfaction as he was able to both protect himself from any blows and deprived the demon of several arms and even a couple of heads. But then he noticed a terrible thing.

“They grew back; each head that fell and rolled away was at once replaced by another horribly grimacing one and each new arm the dropped and became a snake immediately gave rise to another.”

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