This story is meant to continue where Alichino Volume 3 abruptly ended. I know there were several chapters published after the third volume, but I've only seen a few of those pages. They at least inspired this attempt at a continuation, but I certainly make no claims of knowing what Kouryu-sensei's grand plan was.
Chapter 1: The Sun is Silent
Tsugiri's smock was still too large for him; it had been a castoff like all of his other possessions. Its hem snagged on every tree branch, but Tsugiri took care to detach himself without tearing the cloth. Mother would have to mend any rips, and he didn't want her to strain herself any more than necessary. Although he was only six, he understood a little of the adult world. Out there, there were evil men and wicked creatures who wished to hurt him and his mother. That's why it was necessary to flee from village to village, living as beggars and keeping their faces hidden. These details scarcely bothered Tsugiri: in fact, he had been enraptured by it all. Perhaps his mother was a princess, hiding from an evil sorcerer. He would protect her, absolutely! He often practiced fending off imaginary assailants with a broken stick while his mother watched, smiling fondly, but even Tsugiri could see the troubled lines at the corners of her eyes.
The branches clawed at his clothes and Tsugiri cursed under his breath, a habit he had picked up from the village children that his mother would have scolded him for. She would have scolded him for walking home through the woods, too, but it was the only way he could avoid the larger children who taunted him for his strange accent and shabby clothes. He didn't see why he had to go to school, anyway... he belonged at home, where he could protect his mother.
It took a few moments for Tsugiri to realize that the thin fingers pulling at his smock did not belong to trees. Ghostly pale figures swirled, their legs disappearing into thick vapor. At times they had the heads of women or beautiful boys, and sometimes they were fanciful animals that Tsugiri had never seen. Gossamer wings crumpled and collapsed like those of a butterfly freshly emerged from its chrysalis before melting into clawed feet or silky fur. Their ever-changing forms made them impossible to count, but Tsugiri could feel at least a dozen of their insistent presences, and he sensed larger ones keeping their distance. A beautiful girl's face laughed at him with the sound of a chirping bird before being clawed by a silver-coated tiger with the wings of a dove. They pushed and bit at each other, struggling to touch the small child at the center of it all. The lucky few were able to tear away a few strands of hair or perhaps a button, to the great envy of their companions. Tsugiri did not know what the creatures were called, although some called them fairies. Some whispered a name in hushed tones, as if it were a taboo word. "Alichino." There were many kinds of demon, or so it was said. The fire-breathing Draghignazzo, the Barbariccia who took the form of beautiful, sensual women at night but lived as beasts by daylight, the flesh-eating Ciriatto, the Farfarello who churned the skies during thunderstorms... but among all of these, the Alichino where the most like humans, and therefore the most dangerous.
Tsugiri hated "Alichino." He hated their faces, human and yet not. He hated their cold fingers as they caressed his cheek, the way bolder ones tried for a kiss. Naked white bodies writhed like worms before his eyes. "Leave me alone!" he demanded.
"Little boy..." whispered the strongest, the one best able to maintain a human form. "You are never alone."
"I'll kill you!" The cold hands touched him again. He swatted at them, sending a few to spiral back into vapor. "I'll kill all of you!!"
"Tsugiri's talking to himself again!!" squealed a voice that was decidedly human, and young. "He's totally crazy. Everybody says he lives with his crazy mum in a shack!" A boy Tsugiri's age but much taller crept out of the underbrush, followed by more that Tsugiri recognized as his schoolmates. Ever since he had come to this village, the local children had harassed him far more than the shape shifting ghosts ever did. And unlike the Alichino, the children were not satisfied until they saw Tsugiri bleed.
"My dad says it's his mum that's put a curse on our chickens. They don't lay eggs no more. Let's beat him!" The boy pounded his fist into his palm and gave Tsugiri a long, cruel glare. Suddenly, though, his eyes blinked and squinted. "...Hey, look at that! Do you guys see that?"
The Alichino had coiled around Tsugiri in a possessive embrace, melding together until their filmy bodies were visible even to ordinary eyes. Tsugiri stood motionless in the center of a great storm of wraiths as they changed their shapes to more beastly creatures.
"H...he's got devils in him!" shrieked a boy brandishing a large stick. He took a swing at Tsugiri, passing right through some of the smaller Alichino. Before his stick could connect, though, one of the Alichino beast-girls had grasped his arm in a huge, scaly paw. Her other hand raked down the side of the boy's face, which had frozen in a wide-eyed expression of terror. The village boy made no sound, even as her clawed fingers dug into the soft flesh of his cheeks until they were dyed crimson. It was as if she were sucking everything from him - his blood, his voice, his very soul. The other children stood transfixed, either in terror or voyeuristic fascination. They did not notice the other Alichino, in the forms of winged snakes, as they tangled about their legs.
Finally, the Alichino dropped the boy's body to the ground. Save for the cuts on his face, his body was undamaged - yet there was no question that he was dead. Soon his soulless body would rot like an overripe fruit until there was nothing left. The children died with that thought half-formed in their minds as Alichino swarmed over them like hungry ghosts.
Tsugiri had closed his eyes. That smell... the smell of blood and death. It was familiar to him, stirring at his earliest memories. By the time he opened his eyes again, the Alichino had fled, leaving the forest floor littered with corpses.
"Boy..." whispered an awestruck voice. Tsugiri turned in fear.
"I didn't hurt them, I swear!! It was the Alichino!"
"I know. It was the Alichino." The speaker was a young man with unruly, dark hair. He was much older than Tsugiri or the other village children, but his face was youthful and kind. His clothes were those of a traveler, yet he carried a drawn sword like a soldier. However, the village guard never looked as kind as this young man. He stared at Tsugiri as if he expected to see something other than an underfed six-year-old child.
"You're lucky to be alive, kid. Alichino exist to grant wishes, and at that moment those children wanted you dead. The Alichino took their payment, and they would have killed you if something hadn't stopped them." He sheathed the sword in one smooth motion. "Be thankful that you were spared, and run home."
"I don't have a home anymore... we'll have to leave tonight," began the boy, tugging nervously at his smock. The traveler raised a thin, questioning eyebrow. "The spirits always come to me, and it's not the first time they've hurt people... Mother and I will have to run." Unbidden tears welled in Tsugiri's eyes. He would not regret leaving the village, since his only memories would be of taunting and beatings. Mother, however... Mother was so tired.
"The Alichino come to you, but don't take your soul?" The traveler frowned like a scholar savoring a difficult problem. "From what I saw, it was as if they wanted you more than any of the other children. There's something odd about you, but I don't know what it is. It's like they're moths drawn to a flame... they know they'll be burned, but they can't resist." His frown deepened as he muttered words that Tsugiri didn't understand. There wasn't time to think about it – the afternoon sunlight was growing dim, and soon night would fall. These dead children would be missed at dinner. The parents would come with lanterns and dogs and torches, like they had so many times before. He had to run, had to warn Mother and run.
Tsugiri set off at a run, only to be grasped firmly by the collar before he had gone more than a few steps. He was now at the mercy of this man who carried a sword and did not fear Alichino... "It's rude to run off without introducing yourself, kid. I'm Hyula." The grip on Tsugiri's collar was released. "You're shaking like a leaf in the wind. I don't blame you for being afraid."
"I... I'm not afraid! I have to protect Mother!"
"A boy your age?" Hyula laughed pleasantly. "You're still a bit small, but I guess if you can face a pack of Alichino, you're not as weak as you look." With a stretch, he clapped his hand down on Tsugiri's thin shoulder. "Well, I'm suddenly tired of traveling alone. What if I helped you and your mother? Now why don't you tell me your name, so we can be friends?"
"Tsu...gi...ri. My name is... Tsugiri."