Just a story that hit me on the spur of the moment. I kinda wondered what it would be like if Haruka did have a family and the whole story just materialised and started bugging me to get it written. Anyway, please r&r. Thanks!
"Kenji, are you awake yet?"
I opened my eyes slowly with a yawn. The first thing I saw was my beautiful wife, Sakura, standing in the doorway, a charming scowl on her face.
"I'm up, Sakura."
I sat up, yawning widely and rubbing my eyes.
"Well, hurry up, Kenji. It's already daybreak. You'll be late for work again."
I heaved myself up. Already I could smell the food Sakura had prepared. Sakura disappeared from the doorway as I dressed. I headed to the kitchen to see my son, Takahiro, already having breakfast.
"'Morning, Otosan!" he greeted me, ramen dangling from his mouth.
I ruffled his short, black hair affectionately as Sakura said, "Don't talk with your mouth full, Hiro-chan!"
As I sat down, Sakura placed a bowl of ramen in front of me, saying, "Eat up, Kenji. Quickly now."
"You're such a bully, Sakura!" I grumbled.
"Otosan, my shamisen sensei said that I am his best student!" Takahiro said proudly.
"Hiro-chan! Don't boast! Do you want to become a tengu?" Sakura scolded our son.
"That's good, Hiro-chan. Keep it up," I said, ignoring Sakura's mock-angry splutter as I gulped down my food and stood up, taking my rice-hat.
"I'm leaving!" I called, heading for the door.
"Be back soon! Don't forget, Takahiro has shamisen lessons tonight!" Sakura called after me.
The air was crisp and clean and the sky overhead was clear as I walked towards the small plot of land we used to plant paddy. The paddy was mostly ripe, the stalks bent almost double under the weight. I got to work at once, harvesting the paddy. The sun continued to climb the sky and was directly overhead when I had harvested almost half of the land.
I sat down for a moment under a shady tree, pulling out a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off my face. I took out the food Sakura had packed for me and ate hungrily. Her cooking, as always, was delicious.
Suddenly, I heard the flutter of wings. I looked up in time to see a huge black crow land on the freshly harvested paddy.
"Shoo!" I shouted, leaping to my feet. "Get away from that, you stupid bird!"
The crow ignored me completely. Instead, it began pecking at the golden paddy. Angrily, I seized a stone and hurled it at the accursed bird. It squawked indignantly, but stayed where it was. Incensed, I picked a bigger stone, aimed and threw it.
Crack! Bullseye! The crow fell to the ground behind the stack of paddy, bleeding from its head. Suddenly, there was a moan of pain. Horrified, I ran towards the sound. Behind the stack, in the spot where the crow should have been, lay a man. His head was bleeding and his hand was pressed against an enormous gash at his temple.
For a moment, I wondered where he had come from. Then I saw the pair of black wings spreading from his back. He was the crow! His long black kimono was splattered with blood and he groaned as I knelt beside him. I had never seen a tengu before. He (obviously) was one.
"Foolish mortal!" he cried, "You've killed me!"
"You stole my paddy!" I said angrily, remembering the crow.
"I was hungry! I haven't eaten in days and now, you've killed me just over a few grains of paddy?!" Spasms of pain wracked his body as he glared at me. "Foolish mortal! Curse you! Curse you to live my life and suffer!" he shouted, blood and spittle flying from his mouth.
Then his eyes glazed over and his bloody hand fell from his head. A soft gust of wind made his body disintegrate into black feathers, floating gently. I stood up. Stepped back. What had I done?
The sky turned overcast within minutes. There was a clap of thunder and it began to rain. The floating feathers rose suddenly in the form of a gigantic crow. It swooped down at me. I screamed, turning to run, but it was too late. The feather-crow plowed into me and exploded. There were feathers over my eyes, nose, mouth, hands everywhere!
I tried to pull them off but more came each time until I was blinded by black feathers. I thrashed about, unable to see. My foot connected with something hard and I fell, sprawling on the now unseen ground. I heard the low, guttural cry of a crow as I felt myself being lifted off the ground by some unknown force.
The voice of the dying tengu echoed in my mind. Curse you! Curse you to live my life and suffer!
The black feathers around me transformed into millions of blades, driving themselves into my skin. Thunder roared in my ears, drowning out my agonised screams. Lightning split the sky as a new wave of pain rippled through my back. It felt like someone had pushed a sword through me and was slowly twisting the blade in my back.
The world started spinning as I plunged to the ground. I felt something hard strike my head and everything went black.
It was already dark when I awoke. The rain had stopped and the air was filled with chirping crickets. There was an insistent buzzing in my head which was quite irritating. I got up, wondering why I had fallen down in the first place. The past hour seemed a blur. The last thing I remembered was sitting down to eat…
My eyes fell suddenly on a stone. There was something oddly familiar about it. Bending down, I picked it up and examined it, wondering why it seemed so important…
Then it hit me. The stone I held was the same stone that I had thrown at the crow. It was the very stone I had tripped over and the one I had hit my head upon. In a flash, it all came flooding back, hitting me so hard that I staggered.
At that instant, I heard the soft rustle of feathers near my ears. I leaped backwards, crying out in fear but there was no one behind me. Yet, the quiet rustling continued. Dread seized me suddenly, like a snake pouncing upon its unwary prey. Steeling myself, I turned slowly, looking over my shoulder. No amount of bracing could have prepared me for what I saw.
Huge, black wings, spreading wide from my back. My breath caught in my throat as I stared at the wings unbelievingly. My clothes melted away and I found myself dressed in the garb of the yamabushi. I felt as though I had been thrown headfirst into icy-cold water. The tengu's angry last words rang in my ears. Curse you! Curse you to live my life and suffer!
The life of a tengu.
Was that what I had become?
My mind reeled in fear and panic. I whirled around and bolted. My bare feet slipped on the wet grass, but I pressed on. I could hear the sound of my kimono flapping and the feathers fluttering. My feathers.
Out of the sea of chaos that was my mind, one thought rose. Home. Must get home.
I raced back home. The soft light from an oil lamp illuminated the doorway. Sakura was standing there, her brow creased in a frown of worry. Takahiro was by her side, holding his shamisen. Their eyes were searching the darkness. Evidently, they had been standing there for a long time.
Finally, Sakura heaved a weary sigh. "Come, Hiro-chan," she said, ushering him in, "we'll wait for Otosan inside."
"Hai, Okasan," said Takahiro, though he kept looking out as though he could actually see through the gloom.
Sakura lifted the oil lamp, smiling reassuringly at our son. "Don't worry," she said, "Otosan'll be back in no time."
Takahiro raised his trusting eyes to Sakura before going in, but Sakura hesitated. She looked out into the night again. "Kenji, where are you?" she whispered, concern and worry evident in her voice.
I could not stop myself from stepping forward and calling out her name softly.
Sakura stopped. Turned back. "Kenji?" she murmured, her eyes sweeping the darkness as she held the lamp out before her.
"Sakura, it's me," I said quietly, taking care to stay in the shadows.
Sakura glimpsed me, though. She set down the lamp and ran towards me, throwing her arms around my neck. I hugged her tightly, trying to keep from breaking down. She had obviously not seen me clearly, or she would not have come out at all.
I was so worried about you," she murmured.
I tried to say something, but the words stuck in my throat. Instead, I ran my fingers through her long hair, inhaling her sweet scent. The flow of tears from my eyes was unchecked now.
"Kenji-Kenji, are you alright?" she asked, pulling away slightly from me.
Even in the absolute darkness, I could see her eyes shining like twin stars.
"Oh, Sakura!" I took her hand and pressed her fingers against my lips.
"Kenji, what's wrong?" asked Sakura. She pulled a handkerchief from her obi and brushed away my tears.
"Sakura…" I pulled her close to me. "I love you. I will always love you."
"Kenji?" Sakura sounded confused now.
Her handkerchief fluttered to the ground as I took her hands and gently placed them on my shoulders, sliding them down my back ever so slowly until she touched my wings. Her eyes grew wide with horror as she felt my feathers. Tensing, she stepped away from me.
I reached out to hold her hand but she pushed me away from her with all her might and ran back to the doorway.
I ran after her but she was faster. She sprinted up the steps, caught the oil lamp and whirled around, shoving it in my face. I cried out, shielding my eyes from this sudden blinding light. Unconsciously my wings rose as my eyes adjusted. Sakura's hand was shaking, her eyes wide with terror as she beheld me properly for the first time.
"Sakura, please, let me explain-" I began, but Sakura stepped back, shaking her head. Her free hand was pressed against her mouth, suppressing her scream. She darted into the house, slamming the door in my face.
I stood there the whole night, pounding on the door, begging and pleading with Sakura to let me in. At daybreak, I heard her soft footsteps and the sound of her unlocking the door. I stepped forward hopefully, but Sakura held out a talisman before her, a wild look in her eyes.
"Get lost, tengu! Don't bother us anymore!" she shouted.
"Sakura-" I reached out to her but she swung the talisman at my hand. It burned like white-hot metal against my skin and I cried out, staggering back. The smell of scorched flesh filled my nostrils.
"Leave me and my son alone!" Sakura shouted vehemently.
I bit my lip. The talisman had left a flaming-red burn on my hand.
"Sakura, don't you recognize me?" I whispered.
Confound you, tengu! Go away!" Sakura began to advance, swinging the talisman over her head in wide arcs.
"What have I ever done to you to deserve this?" I cried, stumbling away from her.
"What have you done? What have you done?!" Sakura shrieked. "You let me believe that you were my husband; you even took his semblance to deceive me and you ask what have you done?!"
The talisman flew from her hand in my direction. I dodged it and it fell harmlessly on the grass. Sakura made a dive for it but I caught her before she would hit the ground. She tried to twist away but I held her firmly. Squeezing her eyes shut, she gritted her teeth, turning her face away from me.
"Sakura, don't you understand? It's me, Kenji!" I said urgently.
"LIAR!!!" Sakura screamed.
She pulled her hand out of my grasp and gave me a resounding slap. I reeled backwards in shock. Taking advantage, she pried my fingers apart, leapt forward and snatched up the talisman. I did not chase her as she rushed into the house and slammed the door shut.
I just stood there silently. My cheek was stinging and my hand throbbed painfully, but these pains were so…insignificant…compared to what I felt inside. My own wife did not believe me. How could I prove to her that I was Kenji if she would not even look at me?
That night was the first of many more nights to come that I was totally alone. I missed the sound of Takahiro practicing on his shamisen and Sakura's grumbling as she bustled about the kitchen. The night was cold and everything was quiet. I was sitting on a branch on a tree quite a distance from the house. I could not understand why, but I felt safer there than on the ground.
My breath misted before my face in the chill air and I shivered, longing for a warm fire. My fingers and bare feet were numb from the cold. Blowing and rubbing them did no avail. I huddled up, hugging my knees close to my chest, and spread my wings over my body. It blocked out some of the cold, giving a little warmth.
For the umpteenth time I examined the burn on the back of my hand. I still could not believe that Sakura had deliberately injured me. I felt so lost and alone. The light went out in the house and it was silent. I found myself wishing that I was lying down to sleep in my warm, comfortable bed with Sakura by my side.
I desperately wanted to prove to Sakura that I was Kenji, but I did not know how to. Sakura, apparently, never wanted to see me again. She had placed wards all around the house, preventing me form coming too near. I had not seen Takahiro at all. Sakura had probably kept him out of my sight for fear that I might hurt him.
I sighed, feeling helpless and forlorn. In Sakura's eyes, I was a tengu trying to disturb her. It had been almost two days since I had gone out to harvest the paddy. I could not help wondering if Sakura felt worried about me. She must be wishing that I was by her side instead of her being left alone with Takahiro and a tengu which might be dangerous. But I was the tengu. Did she reject me because she thought I might harm her or did she realize I was Kenji, but refused to accept the fact that I was no longer human?
The stillness was broken by the sound of wings. I looked up in time to see a crow flying overhead. Somehow, I knew it was just a normal crow, not another tengu. It spotted me in the tree and turned around, heading towards me. I was not exactly thrilled at the prospect of seeing another crow up close, even if it was no tengu, but before I could move away, it swooped down and landed on the branch before me.
I scrambled away from it until I was backed up against the trunk. I did not love crows and my last brush with one had left me out here in the first place. The crow cocked its head, beady eyes glittering with intelligence as it observed my antics.
I watched as it opened its beak wide…wider…
And said, "Tengu scared of bird?"
"AAARRRGGGHHH!!!" I leapt back, quite forgetting that I was on a tree branch. Losing my balance, I fell headfirst, landing on the ground below with a thud.
Then I remembered I had wings. Too late.
I heaved myself up. Other than a few bruises, I was quite hale.
"Tengu all right?"
I started horribly backwards. The crow had flown down and was now looking up at me. It began hopping forward. I stumbled back, tripping over the hem of my clothes in my haste.
"St-stay away from me!" I gasped.
The crow halted its advance.
"Tengu no like bird?" it said, sounding a little hurt.
"I-it's not that…I just…" I blinked and shook my head. "Oh no…I'm losing my mind. Is this what it's like to go crazy?"
"Bird think tengu not crazy."
"The crow is talking to me," I said, enunciating each word slowly. "But that's insane. Crows don't talk. Crows can't talk."
"Tengu can understand bird because tengu is bird," explained the crow patiently.
"What?" I said, "You mean I can understand you because I'm a crow too?"
The crow gave an "Arrkk!" hopping up and down excitedly.
My head throbbed painfully. "Now I'm talking to a crow. I am going nuts."
"Tengu want nuts?"
Maybe crows were not as intelligent as they looked. As my initial shock at seeing a talking crow began to wear off, misery returned. What difference did it make that I understood crows? Sakura still rejected me. It did not change anything.
"Tengu wears white?" the crow said, sounding surprised as it noticed the colour of my garb for the first time. Man, this bird was slow!
"So?" I said irritably.
"Tengu wears white? Not black?"
"What's wrong with wearing white?"
Remarkable how quickly I got used to talking to a bird. The crow dipped its head respectfully.
"Forgive bird. Bird no recognize tengu. Bird no realize tengu is Onikui."
"Huh?" I was getting more confused by the second.
"White! White!" the crow cawed madly as it spread its wings and took off, "Onikui tengu come! Onikui tengu come!"
"Wait! Come back!" I shouted after it in vain.
Silence engulfed me again. For some reason, it did not feel safe anymore. I glanced around cautiously. I could sense every sentient being, even the trees and plants, was alert and watching me warily. It made the fine hairs on my neck prickle with unease and I mentally cursed the big-mouthed crow. Whatever it had called me was enough to frighten almost every living thing near me.
Gritting my teeth, I knelt on the grass, looking straight ahead. "I am not the Onikui tengu," I said clearly. I could feel the awareness of the living creatures, paying attention to my words. "I don't even know what an Onikui tengu is."
"But you wear the white robe," said a growling voice behind me.
I leapt to my feet, whirling around to see a man standing in the shadows. His clothes were very peculiar. Instead of cloth, what seemed to be fur covered his body. His eyes were glowing strangely in the dark. He raised a hand and I glimpsed claws sprouting from his fingertips. They were sharp, like a bear's.
He brandished a claw at me, growling, "How do you defend yourself when your robes proclaim you for what you truly are?"
I took an involuntary step back. My wings rose without thinking, spreading to their extent.
"What do you want from me?" I asked, trying to keep a quiver of fear out of my voice.
The man made a rumbling sound. "To challenge you, of course. A duel to the death! I can already imagine how I would be greeted, 'The youkai that bested the Onikui tengu!'"
He bared his teeth and I was horrified to see jaws filled with long pointed teeth.
"I-I'd much rather not," I gasped, feeling a little faint.
"What is this? The Onikui tengu afraid of a duel?" the youkai taunted me. His tongue darted out to moisten his lips. "At least I might get a bite out of you."
He lunged suddenly without warning. I barely managed to avoid his attack, but he landed on his feet, pivoted and leapt at me, claws outstretched.
I ducked under him, rolling on the grass but a claw nicked my cheek. I backed away from the youkai as it turned to face me, an exultant gleam of hunger in its eyes.
"Ah, see now," it growled, "I've cut the Onikui tengu. Well, that means I surely can finish him off!"
With that, it raised its hand, claws glinting it the moonlight. I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping that it would be quick and painless. Instead of the feel of claws tearing my flesh apart, I heard a snarl of pain. I opened my eyes to see the youkai crouching on the ground, cradling its head. Blood dripped from its claws.
Then I heard a voice, the last voice I expected to hear. "You leave Otosan alone, youkai!"
Indeed, there stood Takahiro a little distance away, his slingshot in hand, face set in a scowl of anger. My wonder at seeing Takahiro faded quickly as the youkai raised its head, looking at Takahiro. Its nose was shattered and blood was pouring down its face.
"Hiro-chan, run!" I shouted.
The youkai gave a tremendous roar of anger as it lifted a fist and brought it down on the ground. To my horror, I saw cracks forming in the earth. The cracks raced towards my unsuspecting son.
"No! Run, Hiro-chan! RUN!"
The youkai's face was a bloody mask of satisfaction as the ground under Takahiro's feet opened up. Panic welled up in my son's eyes as he began to fall. Before I knew it, my wings were spread wide as I flung myself into the air. I dove quickly into the newly-formed rift, desperate to catch Takahiro before he hit the bottom. Takahiro was now within an arm's length. I reached out…only to have my hand driven against a solid invisible shield. A jolt of pain shot through my being and I cried out as it hurled me away from Takahiro, slamming me against the wall of the chasm.
"OTOSAAAAAAN!!!" I heard Takahiro's drawn out scream, calling to me for help.
There was a thud and a sharp crack. Then silence.
I let myself freefall down into the darkness, pulling up short inches from the ground.
Keeping my wings outstretched, I scanned the ground frantically.
"Hiro-chan, where are you?!" I shouted.
I caught sight of a small figure sprawled on the ground. It was unmoving.
"Hiro-chan?" I ran towards it. "Hiro-chan!"
Then I stopped short.
Takahiro's eyes were open, staring blankly at me.
"No, Gods, please, no…"
His neck was bent at an odd angle. The ground was stained with a dark liquid.
I dropped to my knees, staring at the lifeless body of my son.
My flesh and blood.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" I screamed.
Takahiro's glazed eyes seemed to be asking me, imploring me, even accusing me for not saving him.
Tears fell from my eyes as I reached out to him, but felt again the shield, pushing me away. A talisman around Takahiro's neck glistened in the moonlight.
"Hiro-chan…" I choked out, wishing that I could gather his slender torso into my arms or ruffle his hair for the last time.
"My, my, how touching," the growling voice of the youkai mocked my loss.
I stood slowly, anger quickly replacing misery.
"Why?" I whispered.
"What is that you said?" The youkai seemed unconcerned about the life he had just taken.
"Why did he have to die?" My hands were balled into fists, quivering with rage. "Your battle was with me alone. Why drag in an innocent soul?"
"Ah, so the child was telling the truth then." The youkai chuckled. "The Onikui tengu has a human son. Or 'had' more like it."
At that, I saw red. Before I knew it, I was upon the youkai. I did not know what I was doing, only that I wanted to hurt it so badly that it would beg me for mercy.
The youkai's eyes were wide with surprise as I drew back my fist and buried it in the remains of its nose. It howled, swinging its paw and flinging me off.
I was hardly aware of the pain as power and warmth surged through me. A blinding light erupted from my hands. I heard the youkai's bellow of shock, but I paid it no heed as the light solidified into a long ring-topped staff in my hands.
It called to me, singing a song filled with power, a song that was power itself. The rings jingled softly as I raised the shakujo, pointing it at the youkai. Its smug look was gone, replaced with an expression of pure terror.
I was surprised at the calm in my own voice as I said simply, "Die."
A brilliant flash of light burst suddenly from the sky, descending into the rift in a jagged streak at an incredible speed. I heard the youkai scream as the bolt smote it. The sickly smell of scorched flesh filled the air as thunder followed in the wake of the light.
Coolly, I lowered the shakujo, looking down at the spot where the youkai had been. Nothing remained except for a black crater in the ground, still smoking.
I turned back to Takahiro's body. The momentary calm fled as grief returned in full force, slamming into me like a wave of sorrow, threatening to pull me under, to drown me.
The shakujo clattered to the ground, forgotten, as I knelt beside the body, meeting Takahiro's reproachful gaze.
"Forgive me, Hiro-chan," I whispered. "This all happened because of me. Forgive me for not being strong enough to protect you."
Takahiro said nothing. He would never say anything ever again. I would never hear his voice or his laughter once more.
My vision blurred with tears as I tried again to hold him with no more success than before. My only son was dead and I could not even touch him because of what I had become. None of this would have happened if it were not for me.
Guilt weighed down on me even as I caught sight of my hands. Claws were sprouting from my fingertips. I noticed too a difference in the feel of my teeth. Running my tongue over them told me that they had morphed into sharp pointed fangs.
At that moment, I despaired, giving up any lingering hope that I might still be human. I was a tengu, a youkai, doomed to suffer throughout my unnaturally long life.
"Forgive me, Hiro-chan…"
A sin like mine could never be forgiven. Never.
I do not know how long I sat there and cried. No father should ever have to mourn his son's death, to experience that gut-wrenching agony of loss and despair.
It seemed centuries later when the sun rose and I heard Sakura's voice from above, calling Takahiro's name loudly. I stood slowly. I had to tell her. She had to know.
Sakura was bending over the chasm, looking down into the darkness when I emerged, exploding out of the shadows into the light. Seeing me, she gasped, stumbling back. I landed before her as she backed away from me. The sight sent a stab of pain through my heart, emphasizing my alienation.
Sakura recovered quickly and said coldly, "What've you done to my son, tengu?"
Guilt made me lower my eyes. I looked down at my blood-splattered clothes and my clawed hands. Even not meeting her gaze, I found it hard to speak the words, but I forced them out.
"He is dead."
I repeated myself just as reluctantly. My statement was met with silence.
Then Sakura said, "You're lying."
I said nothing.
"Where is he?" Sakura demanded.
I turned to look into the chasm.
Sakura's voice trembled slightly. "Show me."
I looked back at her. "I will have to carry you down."
Sakura hesitated before ripping off her talisman. At once I surged forward, gathering her into my arms and taking off. Sakura gasped, throwing her arms around my neck as I hurtled down into the darkness. Her hair whipped wildly about until I opened my wings, slowing our descent. Landing gently a few feet away from the body, I set her down on her feet. She practically leaped away from me, so anxious was she to get out of my embrace.
I watched, careful to keep my face blank, as she ran to our son. A heart-rending wail escaped her lips as she knelt beside Takahiro, gathering him into her arms.
I felt a stab of jealousy as she rocked Takahiro's motionless body gently. Takahiro's eyes were on me again, staring over his mother's shoulder. I looked away quickly lest I be overcome with emotion once more and my eyes fell on the shakujo, lying on the ground. I held out a hand and it appeared suddenly in my grasp.
"Why did you do this?"
I heard Sakura's grief-filled voice suddenly, demanding an answer from me.
I sighed, allowing my shoulders to slump a little as I rested my head on the shakujo. I did not look at Sakura. She evidently thought that I had murdered our son. Indirectly, I had. After all, his death was my fault.
I had to bite down another surge of envy as Sakura stood up, cradling Takahiro's body.
"Get us out of here," she ordered. Her voice was firm and did not quiver though I sensed the depth of her despair and her anger towards me. "If you don't, I'll kill you with my bare hands."
I let the shakujo disappear from my hands before picking Sakura up. Her combined weight with Takahiro was a feather in my arms as I flew upwards, out of the chasm. As soon as my feet touched the ground, I put Sakura down gently. She said nothing to me, merely turned around and walked away, still holding Takahiro. I could not hold back any longer and threw myself at her feet.
"Please," I begged, "please, let me touch him one last time."
Sakura ignored my desperate plea, staring straight ahead and continued walking.
"Sakura…" I reached out a clawed hand beseechingly towards her retreating back, tears falling from my eyes, "…please…"
She kept on walking, going into the house and closing the door without even looking back. I felt so helpless. My wife and child were gone, ripped away from me. I was left alone now.
With a heavy heart, I climbed to my feet and took a last, longing look at my house. That youkai was only the first. More would come after me, I knew, and I could stay here no longer. Even as I turned away, I knew for sure that I would never see Sakura again. I had to keep away from her so that she would not be killed as well.
I always blamed myself for my son's death and never had peace or happiness. More youkai did come to confront me but I annihilated them with ease. They meant nothing to me. The youkai however, began to fear me and very soon, none dared face me. They called me the Daiyoukai Onikui Tengu and shivered whenever I passed. They shunned me because I was different. I was different even from them.
I knew nothing but wretchedness. Loneliness and guilt became my only companions. Every night, I cried to the heavens for Takahiro to forgive me. The other youkai fled whenever they heard my voice.
A thousand years passed me by but I was hardly aware of the passage of time as I remained unchanged. Youkai did show up occasionally, more of the younger sort. They too tried to defeat me until I started killing them on sight. Then no youkai came looking for me again. I grew used to being isolated, but Takahiro's blank eyes would never leave me alone.
Then one night, while I was sitting in the branches of a tree, looking up at the stars overhead and grieving for my son, a young Shinto priest came looking for me.
I did not notice him at first until I sensed him standing just under the tree. Surprised, I looked down into roseate eyes. He was an albino. His long snowy hair cascaded down his back and his priestly robes were as white as his hair. He was looking up at me, head tilted, an eyebrow raised quizzically. I had never seen a human after so long and could only stare back.
Finally he said, "You're the Onikui tengu, aren't you?"
I started but said, "Who are you?"
He did not answer, but his mouth tightened.
"You've been killing many youkai, tengu."
Standing up, I leapt off the branch, landing agilely on my feet.
"If I did not kill them, they would have killed me first."
"Does that give you the right to kill youkai whenever you see them?"
I sensed trouble and the shakujo appeared in my hands, giving me strength and confidence.
"What I do and who I kill is none of your concern," I snarled.
"Oh but it is," said the priest in a matter-of-fact way. "Every youkai you kill is still a life. If you can take youkai lives without difficulty, nothing would prevent you from taking human lives just as effortlessly."
"I will not if they leave me alone."
The priest sighed. "Then you leave me no choice."
His hands moved quickly and he hurled something at me. My wings spread wide as I took off instinctively, holding the shakujo out protectively in front of me as the thing he threw fell harmlessly on the grass. I glanced at it. It was a piece of paper with a sealing kanji inscribed on it. He meant to seal me!
Rage clouded my mind as a bolt of lightning erupted from my shakujo. It flashed down towards the priest who threw himself out of the way in time. I called upon more bolts, striking the ground and blackening it but each time, the priest managed to just escape being hit. Even so, I could see his steps begin to falter, sense exhaustion creeping upon him. After all, he was only human. Humans tire rapidly.
I alighted before him. He lurched backwards, panting as I raised the shakujo, ready to bring it down upon him in a death-dealing blow.
His eyes were wide with fear as he looked up at me. Suddenly the world around me dissolved and I found myself looking right at his soul. What I saw made me drop the shakujo and take a horrified step back.
"H-Hiro-chan?" I whispered in disbelief.
Takahiro's frightened walnut-brown eyes gazed at me before melting back into the rubic eyes of the priest. My son…had been reincarnated as this priest! And I had almost killed him!
Suddenly, I found myself unable to move. The priest had a look of triumph as he stood up, dusting his clothes. I had accidentally stepped on the sealing paper when I saw his soul and was now completely immobile.
"You are too dangerous to be let loose, tengu," the priest stated, pulling another piece of paper from his sleeve.
"Hiro-chan…" I felt all my guilt and pain resurface. "Forgive me. Forgive your father, please!"
The priest said nothing as he held up the paper and began chanting.
"Hiro-chan, forgive me!" I shouted even as the ground began to rumble.
Solid rock began creeping up me from the ground. The priest kept on chanting, paying no heed to my words. The rock began encasing me, stilling all movement as it flowed slowly up my waist. I did not fight back. I could not. The rock was now at my neck and moving up the back of my head. Only my face remained visible. The priest stopped chanting and gave me a sad smile.
"You will stay here for a thousand years, tengu," he said, "until someone comes to release you."
Tears were trickling down my face as I gazed at my reincarnated son.
The priest drew himself up as a hard glint appeared in his eyes. "My name is Ichinomiya Hatori."
The rock was sliding over my lips and nose. Ichinomiya Hatori's eyes softened a trifle as he whispered, "And I will always love you, Otosan."
Then the rock closed over my eyes, plunging me into a thousand year-long darkness.