Those That Seek the Bride
Under a steel, gray sky, the oni sat on black sand, staring blankly ahead of himself. The landscape was mostly sand and boulders for as far as the naked eye could see. A few plants had found a way to grow in the wasteland, but their blackened colors made it difficult to tell if they were alive or dead. The air was thick with some sort of mist, but unlike the Mortal Realm, the atmosphere anything but moist.
The oni’s dumbfounded expression reflected his inner conflict over what had just happened to him. The furrowed brow of confusion had relaxed moments after his arrival to this plane. That beautiful voice, filled with sorrow and compassion, had stimulated the energy at the boundary. Despite the singer’s heartache, there was a hopeful impression left in his core being. How could a mere voice, or even a song, grant such influence?
While he prided himself in his prowess and knowledge, the yokai had never encountered power like that. It was obviously celestial in nature. His employer hadn’t told him anything about divine powers being involved besides the Karura. No wonder his brothers had been slain so easily. He had thought the appearance of the sorcerer was concerning, but this was a new variable that needed to be understood before another attempt could be made for the bride.
How was he to explain his failure to the clan though? He had planned to tell them about the sorcerer that knew of them. If someone had knowledge of them in the Mortal Realm, that would mean serious trouble in completing their task. It didn’t make sense though, since the Spirit Realm had fallen into myth and forgotten knowledge among mortals for hundreds of years. Who would hold any knowledge of a clan on the other side in this age of faithless mortals? As the beast continued sorting through his experiences of the last few days, a presence approached from behind unnoticed.
A sandy-brown colored fur coat walked forward on four legs. Holding its lupine head low as it observed, the pace revealed no fear of the yokai. Once a few paces separated them, the large wolf hunched its back upward as it shifted into a tall, humanoid form clad in tanned pelts of the same color of the fur. Hanging from his neck, an ornately decorate necklace draped to his lower chest of gold and blue beads with a golden symbol at the base. The handsome male’s silvery gray irises stared down at the oni with irritation.
“Staring into the abyss, are we?” The male spoke up to get the oni’s attention. Running a hand through his long, layered locks, he smirked. “Has the air numbed your simpleton mind finally?”
“Master Takayuki!” The oni turned his head around quickly. Anxiety swelled within his chest as he looked into the blade colored eyes. Crawling in a circle to bow to the other, the once arrogant hunter spoke in a rushed voice as if he didn’t have time to explain himself. “There have been unforeseen developments surrounding the bride! We need to reevaluate our strategy if we are to take her!”
“It sounds like you and your brothers weren’t up to the task of retrieving the bird after all,” the shapeshifter sighed heavily as he crossed his arms. “Is this rambling an attempt at excuses for your flop of a job, Ruen?”
“No, master!” The oni shot his head up as he begged the male to listen. “You misunderstand my urgency! The bride was not defenseless! Dogs of Meido gathered to defend her! My youngest brother was slain by one of them, and a strange sorcerer of some unknown practice killed the other! I tried to dispose of him, but the Karura stopped me! Also, the bride is not silent as you told me! I heard her voice just before I was forced back through the boundary!”
Takayuki squatted on the balls of his bare feet to look the frantic oni in the face. His placid visage was unreadable to the beast, forcing him to silence as he awaited a response. Reaching his hands up to pat the sides of the oni’s head, Takayuki blinked once.
“The White Wolves do not accept failure, Ruen,” he said in a bored tone. The clawed hands brushed up through the messy mane to the horns on the top of the oni’s head. Gripping them tightly, he paused briefly. “I expected better than childish excuses from the renowned oni strategist, but I’ll make sure no one knows you lost your nerve over a singing woman and her little guardians.”
Standing quickly, Takayuki flexed his arms to tear the beast’s head from his shoulders in one quick tug. The stunned gaze was frozen on the face as the male held the blood spewing neck to eye level. He jumped backward to avoid the limp body from falling on his feet, but the separated head still dosed his legs and pelt in the black blood. Looking down at the husk around the voluminous mane, he shook his own head in disappointment.
“You even lost my artifact, moron,” he groaned, tossed the head aside. “Let’s see the damage.”
Walking over the corpse, Takayuki reached up to touch the remains of the gateway to the Mortal Realm. The energy had depleted significantly. It was obvious the item he’d place at its core to strengthen it was on the other side, making him frown like a spoiled child.
“Guess I’ll have to contact the kijin after all.” Throwing his head back dramatically, the yokai made an exasperated moan. Hunching forward, the male shifted back to a wolf. Jumping over the oni, he left the body for scavengers.
Running across the black sands, the wolf moved swiftly as the vacant terrain changed to a rocky canyon. He leaped up onto the rocky towers before they became walls, jumping from one to another to cross the gorge quicker. The rushing sounds of a river echoed below him as he progressed above the pass. Though the muted sky gave a depressing atmosphere, the clear river rushing through the gray, brown, and black of the canyon conveyed a pleasant contrast.
The wolf dropped below when the canyon opened up to a valley of dark-green brush and trees surrounded by the rocky walls. Running along the riverbank, he reached a village of thatched huts and log cabins. Smoke drifted above from smith shops and smokehouses. The wolf continued to run through the streets toward the center, where he finally shifted to his bipedal form once again.
“Did you find anything at the gateway, Lord Takayuki?” A taller, scarred male in a brown and black pelt asked from inside the lodge Takayuki entered. He gaped at the dried, oni blood on his legs and pelt. “What happened?”
“Ruen had been cast through the boundary, and the artifact was lost,” Takayuki said with a bored sigh. Walking over to a basin, he grabbed a cloth to start cleaning the blood off his legs. “He wasn’t making sense anymore, some kind of spell, so I put him out of misery. I’ll contact the client about the lost stone.”
“You didn’t even bring him back for information?!” The older yokai barked. “This is precisely why we haven’t gotten anywhere in two centuries on this request! The kijin do not possess unlimited patience, Takayuki! If they turn their blade’s against us-!”
Takayuki glanced at the male with an annoyed expression. The older quieted, but it was not out of intimidation. The decorated male walked up to the other, placing a wet hand on his shoulder. The hateful gaze from the older proved there was no camaraderie between the males.
“You don’t raise your voice that way to your daughter, do you, Yama?”
Yama’s nostrils flared at the question as his amber eyes glared back at the silver ones. Grinding his fanged teeth, blood seeped through his pursed lips. He never broke eye contact with Takayuki, but he said nothing either.
“I didn’t think so,” Takayuki said with a sly smile, lifting his hand from Yama’s shoulder. “Rin seems like the type a father doted on her whole life. She’s so fortunate to have a loving father. I’m jealous, really.”
As Takayuki returned to the basin to clean himself off, Yama collected himself a moment. The bastard always brought his daughter up whenever he questioned his authority. Why shouldn’t he though? Their clan had changed drastically under his leadership, and in Yama’s opinion, it had not been for the better. Still, wearing that necklace, there wasn’t much he could do when the clan worshiped its wearer.
“Before you speak to the kijin,” Yama finally spoke up, “did you learn anything from Ruen before you dispatched him? He’ll want an explanation for another failure.”
“Well, the big oaf was rambling about Meido dogs, sorcerers, and singing,” Takayuki replied as he pulled a vile of oil down from the shelf above the mirror at the basin. “For being a ruthless strategist, he sure turned out to be a coward in the end.”
“Did you just say singing?” Yama asked with concern.
“Yeah,” Takayuki said as he rubbed the oil into his pelt loosening the dried blood from the fur, “he said the bride wasn’t silent, whatever that means.”
Yama grasped his face in a clawed hand as he furrowed his visage in frustration. Their leader might be strong and cunning, but his arrogance left too many mistakes in his wake. If only he had gone with him to investigate the gateway when their mystics said they couldn’t sense it anymore. He might have gotten more definitive answers out of the oni. Ruen was no fool, but his knowledge was as good as lost, especially if Takayuki had disposed of him.
“If the bride is singing, that means her voice is stirring, my lord.”
Takayuki glanced over at the other suddenly. His face looked surprised at the news. He looked like a child that missed an obvious detail. Yama tried not to reflect a displeased parent.
“What are Meido dogs then?”
“Shinigami of Meido that serve under Lord Prince Eiji, the son of the Judge of the Dead, Great King Enma.”
Takayuki sat on his rump, realizing he had acted rashly. Staring off to the side, the leader mentally kicked his pride. It seemed Ruen could have been of some use after all. Instead of falling into a panic over his mistake, a swishing sound on the ground came from behind him. His tail was moving side to side on either side of him for Yama to see. The wolf was thinking.
“So... I’ll tell the kijin that a sorcerer and shinigami have started guarding the bride, and she’s started to stir finally.” He glanced up at Yama for approval. “Sound good enough for some desperate kijin?”
“It’s all we have, for now, so yes,” Yama groaned, turning to leave the lodge. He stopped at the entrance before pushing the woven drape aside. “Your luck won’t last forever, Takayuki, and despite holding my daughter under your roof, I’m not the only daiyokai you should be watching in this limbo.”
Takayuki watched the doorway a moment after the older wolf left. While it was true that he did not rule the White Wolves out of loyalty, he had never felt reason to fear for his position. After all, his strength and self-preservation were greater than the majority of the clan, and the ones that were stronger, like Yama, were under control.
The elder had made a valid point though. He had been lucky all these years, and the intimidation he had set in the hearts of the clan had begun to wane with this unresolved job. Yama and the other daiyokai of the clan feared the kijin more than him, but if he lost the approval of their employer, that might create enough dissent to start an internal conflict. They couldn’t have that happened again. He needed to start getting results, but he still had his one, last trump card in hand. Hopefully, it would keep him in the game.
“Takayuki, have you news of my lord’s bride?”
On a large mirror, Takayuki’s upper body was visible to the speaker. The clay walls of the room were lit by torchlight. Weapons decorated the walls of ancient civilizations. Melee, single, and two-handed designs littered the arsenal. The light source came from sconces of gold, fashioned into the shape of demon heads. To each side of the grand mirror, glowing crystals that appeared to grow from the wall itself fed energy into the mirror.
“Our latest attempt did not go as planned,” Takayuki spoke in a calm voice with a bored expression. Resting a hand on his hip, he tried to convey a confident presence. “However, the agents we dispatched were able to gather some intel for us that I thought you should be made aware of, Lord Yasha.”
“What sort of intelligence?”
The speaker’s placid countenance was contrasted by the protruding fangs reaching upward past his lips. The sapphire complexion with golden headdress and long, draping earrings conveyed a level of noble status. The stocky, muscular frame clad in ornate armor was a testament to his warrior nature. Despite the ferocity of these details, the clarity in his golden eyes was gentle.
“Your master’s bride gained additional guardians beside the Karura at some point. It would seem that shinigami are the source of interference we’ve been facing, and a sorcerer is among them. The enchanted stone you gave us was taken by the enemy, as well, so the boundary we located near the bride is closed to us.”
“So Meido was involved all along,” Yasha said with some weighed interest in his tone. “A sorcerer's presence is concerning. That might explain some of the failures in our efforts. I can replace the stone to restore this secure gateway for us. Were there any other developments? My lord grows restless for his bride’s company.”
“Yes, the bride’s voice has begun stir from what I understand.”
Yasha gaped at the news. It was unclear if the expression was positive or negative, but the surprise was clear to the yokai. Takayuki furrowed his brow at the change. Perhaps he had some room to lay down some demands.
“My people grow frustrated, Lord Yasha. If you have been withholding important details from me that could assist us in your request, I need to know them now. We were not informed of any other significant threats than the Karura. Before I send out another group, you need to come clean with me about what I’m dealing with here.”
Yasha’s countenance was not offended by the tone of authority from the wolf. Raising eyebrows, he seemed impressed by the display of dominance. Nodding his head to the other, the warrior’s placid expression returned.
“You have due cause for your frustration, Takayuki. Allow me to conduct some research with my own resources, so that we may better equip you to complete our request. Please wait for me to contact you with information and a relic. I will speak to my lord of your efforts on his behalf to secure additional compensation.”
“I appreciate that, Lord Yasha. Please keep me informed.”
Before Yasha could respond, a faint voice echoed from beyond the room. It was saturated with heavy sorrow and mourning. Even Takayuki paused when he heard it, gawking at the level of emotion the voice carried.
“Sleep, sleep in the darkness, where all may rest with care... Wake, wake in the morning to breathe the fresh, clean air... Rise, rise with the dew, and bask in warm sunlight... and when the sun does set for you, embrace a sweet goodnight...”
“Please excuse my lord,” Yasha said softly, placing a hand over his chest at the song. He appeared saddened to hear the singing, but he didn't seem surprised either. “As I mentioned, he longs for his bride’s company, and at certain times, he calls for her this way.”
“I see...” Takayuki said, stunned by the song. In all the time he had spent on this request, he had never heard from Yasha's master. If this was a taste at how desperate he was to retrieve the tennyo girl, who was this master?
“Until next time, Takayuki.”
The image on the surface of the mirror faded away as the crystals’ glow died. Yasha turned to leave the room. His eyes saddened as the grief-stricken singing continued on. Its echo filled the halls as he exited the armory room. He had a great deal of work to put into motion.
“Be strong, my friend," the warrior whispered. "I shall bring your beloved to you soon.”
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