All MegaTeni references, and characters, are copyright Atlus. Other characters are copyright their respective owners, to be mentioned as they may occur. A fanfiction by Six-string Samurai

The fires burned raggedly leaping up to consume more and more of Loan's ancestral home. Just beyond the stone walls that marked the edge of the property, stood the young man, refusing to turn away from the glow despite the fluttering in his stomach urging him to do so. No, he would wait until nothing remained but ash and memory, just in case. Besides, the heat and light would drive most of them away. It was small reassurance, and even less of a respite, but after the last few hours, the longhaired shaman would take what he could get.

Late into the night, the once proud home burned, until only faint embers remained reflected in the glasses of the sole surviving Nemuri.

Once he was assured that the job was done, Loan reached down to pick up the small pack that he'd prepared earlier that evening. Giving the strap that held a rolled tatami-mat atop the pack a sure tug, he hefted it up with a faint grunt. Clasping his hands together in a final prayer, he bowed three times before taking his leave; the steady clip of wooden sandals echoing down the twilit-street the only sign of his departure.

Izumo was a long ways away.

"A Cry in the Dying Light"

The man in the moon / Has become homeless / Rain clouded night

-Matsuo Bashō

A Prologue

January 6th, 2001. Tottori, Japan

Pushing wet strands of hair from his face, Loan muttered a faint curse for the hundredth time since the skies had opened earlier that afternoon. The deluge had finally slowed to a sprinkle, but having past the last roadside bus stop two hours ago he was at quite a loss for suitable shelter from the elements. The shrine at Izumo was still far by foot, and so he pressed on. Besides, he'd likely have company soon, and the open road was a more ideal place as such, even if the weather wasn't on his side.

He didn't have long to wait. With the setting of the sun, two of the little bastards caught up to him a few kilometers later, just when he spotted a farm in the distance. Even out in the open, the smell of rotten meat hit him long before the telltale pitter-patter of tiny limbs scrambling through the rice-field. Gaki.ii

Stepping back to the opposite side of the road, he shrugged off the heavy pack, letting it fall to the cracked asphalt. Gaki were small, weak and stupid, but what they lacked in intelligence, they made up for in speed. Reaching one hand into the folds of his hakama, he fingered a mostly dry sheaf of wards. Risking a look downward, he noted the ink thankfully hadn't smudged, yet.

As one, the little abominations made themselves known, their twisted little purple bodies leaping out of the muck to scramble onto the road a few meters away. The closest one to him shook its head sideways in 

a jangling fashion, clicking and chortling something to its companion in their strangled language. It must've been something funny, because the other Gaki grinned and strangled out a laugh, swishing its tiny bald head. The rusty metal rings in its ears clinked together in time with the wet choked laughter. Just as he decided to take advantage of their little discussion, they came at him, gibbering and clawing.

Loan barely managed to get a ward up in time as the first one leapt toward his face, but he did, and plastered the thin slip of paper to the back of its head as he dodged to the side. Scrambling sideways in an effort to keep the tiny demons in front of him, he fished out another ward. Ignoring its fallen comrade, the remaining Gaki gnashed its teeth and scrabbled for his legs. On the ground behind it, the fallen demon writhed and convulsed, motes of light sparked where the ward was stuck to its skin.

The second one gave the long-haired shaman a bit more trouble, proving to be a much more agile opponent, obviously more wary now that its companion was down. It continued to avoid Loan's wards and had left the shaman with a few shallow scratches for his trouble. But eventually one lunge was a bit slower than previous and it too, fell screaming and snarling to the muddy roadside, quickly succumbing to the effects of the Hama imbued Ofuda, sundering the demon's hold on the earthly plane.

As the demons dispersed Loan took the time to catch his breath before retrieving his pack. Taking a rest at the farmhouse was beginning to sound better by the minute.

The bedraggled shaman set his pack down in the darkened kitchen and set about making himself comfortable. He'd let himself in through a window on the second floor after giving the farmhouse a once over to assure that no one was home. He'd pretty much doubted that would find anyone around, even out away from the urban area. Surprisingly the home had been in good condition, and he hadn't found any sign of a struggle, or other damage for that matter.

But, the place had clearly been abandoned as the remains of a meal sat uneaten on the table in the living room. He'd checked all the rooms, just in case, and had found most of the closets half-empty, as well as the cabinets in the kitchen. This far out, the family had obviously had plenty of time to evacuate. That was all well and good for him; he could spend the night resting instead of with one eye open, after he got something decent to eat.

Fumbling with the wet strap that bound the tatami he'd brought, he finally succeeded in unbundling it and set it vertically on the kitchen floor. Kneeling next to the roll, Loan clapped his hands twice and leaned forward until his face was almost touching the woven surface. "Maki," he whispered softly. "Maki, it's time to get up."

The shaman sat back on his heels once he heard a small acquiescent sigh. The tatami unrolled slightly until it formed a cone. From the impossibly dark shadow inside the cone-shaped mat a little girl's face blinked sleepily. "Mm, can't I sleep a little longer, Loan?" Maki rubbed her eyes with a small pale fist, even as her other hand started to pull the corners of the tatami closer around her body.

The shaman shook his head in mild amusement, "You've been asleep for two days it's past time to get up. Besides, we're not at home right now, and I've got some work for you."

Maki blinked and widened the mat a little to get a better look around, almost as if she didn't believe him. "Oh, this is a good house, Loan! Are we gonna stay here?"

"Only for tonight. I thought it would be best to rest a bit before we hit the mountains."

The pale face gave a little nod in understanding.

"There's plenty to work with around here, so if you could whip up a little something for dinner, that'd be great." The shaman gestured down at his sodden clothes, "I'm going to go get cleaned up in the meantime."

Maki gave a little smile glad to finally have something to do. Back home, the Nemuri's hardly ever let her do her job properly. "Okay Loan! I'll give it my best!" The small Zashikiiii spun around a couple of times to get a good feel for the kitchen, and got down to work.

Loan smiled to himself at Maki's evident enthusiasm and scooped up his pack, as he headed to the bath.

Fed and dry, the bespectacled Nemuri allowed himself to relax in the living room. He'd already taken the precaution of warding the two major entry points to the house, and Maki had long since attuned to the building, so he really wasn't too concerned with anything making a visit unannounced. All in all, it was a welcome change to the past few hectic days. Something had happened New Year's day, and even though his father was no longer with him, Loan would heed the old man's advice. The demons had made the journey from Yomi to the mortal realm, but they couldn't have done it on their own. Someone had to have opened one of the Gates, and the only one in Japan was sealed away within the shrine at Izumo.

Still, he couldn't afford to be completely lax, and as such, was bundled in a layer of blankets on the couch to ward off the chill. Maki had wanted to start up a fire in the heater to warm the floor, but Loan had decided against using any lights in the house, in order to keep away potentially curious eyes. Not that bathing in the dark had been the highlight of his day, but sacrifices had to be made.

The Zashiki had raised an uncomfortable question in the middle of dinner. And Loan had waffled, not really wanting to answer. He knew full well that Maki tended to be rather emotional when it came to family, and as much as she deserved to know the truth, Loan wasn't ready to dwell on it, much less talk about it with someone else. Even if Maki amounted to the only family he had left, especially then.

Maybe he'd try before they made it to the shrine; if anything that gave him plenty of time to sort it all out in his head. With that he rolled over to lie down and try to rest.

The night passed into early morning without further incident, and the two occupants of the borrowed home readied for the day.

"Loan, do we have to go so soon? I'm just getting comfortable," the child-like house spirit made a show of pouting.

"Hey, don't start that now. We've been over this already, twice now as a matter of fact," the shaman responded with a small shake of his head as he finished re-packing his belongings.

"But, Lo-oan, it's still raining! Can't we wait just a bit?"

Loan's glasses flashed as his hand shot out to snag the edge of Maki's tatami. "And the longer we stay here, the worse it's going to get out there, you know that. I don't like being out in the wet anymore than you, trust me, but if I stick around here too long, more than just a few Gaki are going to find us."

"I'm not scared of any stupid purple mhm-," she was cut off as he yanked on the mat, rolling it up with practiced ease.

"That's what you said last time; remember where I found you hiding?"

The tatami roll went limp in his arms as he packed it away.

"That's what I thought," he chuckled as he made sure the mat was secure and in no danger of unfurling. Loan glanced out the front window, to make sure there were no surprises lying in wait. The grass was silent and the path leading to the dirt road was empty.

"It looks clear. But, I wouldn't bet on it staying that way for long. Besides, I don't want to overstay our welcome." He shouldered the pack. "Come on; let's see how far we can get before sundown."

The door swung open with a click and a whisper, bathing the entryway in the bright morning glow. There wasn't a cloud in the sky from last night's rain, but Loan just shook his head. If anything, this was the calm before the real storm began.

Author's Notes: As I began writing the first chapter, I realized that the previous version of the prologue was missing something. Rather, it read as if I were just cutting out in the middle of an event, so taking that into consideration, I decided to flesh out the beginning into lengthier piece. I've re-written this bit, and shall be posting the previous first chapter as a separate entry, making this story more episodic in nature, as opposed to a continuous effort.

I've decided to change the name of Loan's Zashiki-warashi from "Hotaru" to "Maki" to avoid character confusion with the series "Bishoujou Senshi Sailor Moon."

Also, due to the heavy Megami Tensei influence, and mythology in general, I will include a small reference to creatures and places that may be unfamiliar to some, in later chapters.

i Megami Tensei / Shin Megami Tensei. Popular PC/Console Role-playing Games dealing with themes of reincarnation, the apocalypse and demonic occupation of the world.

ii Gaki is the Japanese equivalent of the Hindi malevolent spirit known as Preta in the world of MegaTen.

iii Zashiki-Warashi, a Japanese household spirit that is both benevolent and tricky. The Zashiki are often childish in nature and appearance. Though they bring fortune to the house they reside in, if they leave, or are chased out, the household generally suffers for it and falls into disarray and poverty.