He is still a child when they murder his father. His father's throat is spilling across the floor, his entrails twined across fate, laid bare before the eyes of the heathens.

With no father, there is no name. His sister takes to the skies, dragon's breath bursting from her jowls as she sobs and peacock-feather tears streaming from her flanks in her wake. The air cradles her, currents carrying his most honored sister far away. It is her duty to mourn their father, just as it will be his duty to mourn their mother when she dies. That will not be for a long time, a very long time.

"Goodbye, boy," his sister's voice mewls and echoes through the tempest. She crests the mountains and at last the fog takes her. He will never see her again.

He is still a child, the world is still a child as well, but what child should be asked to wear the blood of its father?

He leaves the future-starved fools to desecrate his father's corpse, to skin him and take his rings and eyes as their own. They will suffer for it; there is no one but no one who may steal the sight and power of another. They will suffer, the child knows this. It is difficult not to mourn; it is difficult to want to.

With no father, there is no name, there is no meaning to the blood, the blood in his veins and the blood staining what he wears (skin and cloth are the same, in that their differences are too irrelevant). He makes his way to the stream, whose banks he was born on; he makes his way to the waterfall and gazes up at the unchanging sky.

"My father is dead," he tells the sky; still a child, but with no one to rear him, perhaps he is not.

The heights of the trees pity him, he does not understand pity. He only understands the blood on his bare feet (blood spilled from his father's white throat) and the name he has lost.

He abandons his robe on the banks, whispers for flame and watches as the fabric shrivels, much like his father. One day he will forget his father, it will go the way of his sister, and it will go the way of his blood, which freezes as he sinks into the ice-blade currents of the river. The waterfall sprays him with foam and he closes his hypoxic eyes. He will grow into life yet, for he is still a child.

His father's blood washes from his translucent porcelain skin, he does not even have to scrub, but he does, he claws at the veins until the sharpness of his fingers sinks in and he empties himself of his name. With no father, there is no name, but he was born on the banks of this river, the waterfall crashed with his first breaths and so the water takes him back, cleans him of the blood and returns him. The river, she is a kind nurse; she lets him sleep a while.

ζ

It is in the glade beyond sleep that he first encounters the bound one. There is no horizon on the glade's island. There is no shore, there is no sky, there is abyss and there is mist and there are trees. Drooping willows with tormented names forgotten by even the gods who chained them there. Perhaps the bound one still remembers; he has been here with them a long time.

The bound one, the dark one who turns to face him, his black eyes coming to life as he realizes, "You can see me, child?"

The boy is cold and white and naked. He drips clear snowflakes of river water and he envies the dark one's golden robes and vermillion sash (vermillion is a color very much like the blood spilled that day). He is a child, simple yet, but perhaps more sly what for the loss. He nods silently and watches from behind graveyard blue eyes as the dark one gazes back at him.

"You can see my face, child?" the dark one whispers, waving a fan of fingers fussily. His breath is anise and the blood in his eyes is a startlingly sunset bright.

The boy reaches out his hand, his own blood still caught in the fine lines of his fingernails as he traces the golden sigils across the dark one's brow and down the slope of his nose and along the bones of his cheeks.

"I can touch your face as well," he says icily and the blood in the dark one's eyes is hungry.

"You can see me, child," he praises and draws the boy's small white body into his embrace. The willows, which border the glade beyond sleep, weep for the child. Run, back to your family, child, their whips and sea-green leaves wail in the chaos of the abyss. The child has no family to run to. His eyes are as steady as moonlight and he returns the bound one's thirst. Bares his throat to it, for he is brave (he is empty).

"I will teach you about monsters, child," the dark one promises. His tongue is like a serpent. His fangs ooze poison and the child bleeds anew, dripping his new blood; fatherless blood. The dark one can taste this, can taste it in the copper, and can feel the loneliness as garnet beads slip down his throat.

He is still a child when the bound one takes him, holding down his squirming spirit and hungrily licking away his white-crystal tears. He smiles and growls a deep shadow sound as the boy's claws scratch at him; as the boy's fangs sink into him.

"Yes," he hisses and grins his feral grin at the tiny body he has invaded. "Yes, child, I will teach you."

The dark one has hair the color of ash and it cascades across his shoulders, strands sticking like spider web to the ivory child's carnation lips.

ζ

The beast is still inside of him when he awakens. The sunlight is sharp, reflecting silver daggers off the river. And the bound one is still bound, but now inside of his flesh. He is no longer a child and his skin feels stretched thin over too many bones. He is cold and he is naked, but the sun has dried him and… he feels the dark one's fingers touching him, tracing his spine and his intestines; dragging his nails along the inside of his throat and he gags.

The sword is in the grass beside him; his hand falls on its jeweled scabbard as he struggles to stay upright. The world spins and immense heat floods through his skin as his veins go cold. He moans and the dark one feels larger than ever.

There is a kiss to the backs of his eyes and the boy shivers, fights to take control of himself. The bound one is comforting, like arms wrapped around his ribcage, but bulging (and grotesque) from beneath his flesh.

The world looks different now, and perhaps, perhaps, it is no longer a child either. The air is louder, brighter, addictively acidic in his lungs. The grass is talkative and wild against his hand; a rabid kelly to his eyes. And when the birds screech from the twisted treetops, he hears their voices individually and understands them all.

The world is a cacophony, a painful explosion of meaning that he had only an inkling of before and it seems as if looking into the golden eyes painted across the dark one's body has taught him everything, everything those eyes know…

There is still much to learn the dark one is in his ears. I will teach you, I will teach you what is beyond nature.

The sword clicks its teeth in a mocking assent.

ζ

There is much to learn about the sword, about the way its eyes glitter, about the way its blade will feel when unsheathed. It has not yet been unsheathed, but he has felt much power, much more power than his father had ever known.

This is why they do not unsheathe the blade; this is why he sheathes the dark one inside of his flesh. His ribs itch and the bound one scratches, murmuring, Listen closely, listen closely, boy, because there are things you need to know about the nature of Oleander…

It is learning, learning through the bound one's knowledge, learning through feeling, by senses. The days of his childhood flit away on drug smoke and firefly songs.

To fight the beasts you must understand…

Moments of rest are few and far between and the white-skinned child (no more, in no sense, not with this, his demon, ensconced so carefully within) has only just begun to see.

Your flesh is weak, the dark one murmurs to him in an affectionate coo, touching where he breaks and where he bleeds, Your mind is weak.

He still tastes a kind of loneliness deep within his host's mind; dark corners, infected corners. When the boy sleeps, he attacks these places viciously, destroying the memories of his father's white throat and of his sister's phoenix-peacock tears.

The boy (masculine only in the sense of his movements, but his elements are contradictory; water and earth and perhaps the bound one completes him with his shadow-bringing fire and fire-feeding air) sleeps restlessly on these nights, tossing and turning, his dreams awash in acids and poisons.

He dreams of the beasts the dark one speaks of so often. They are senseless beasts that cut throats and steal jewels and eyes and drive beautiful mourning women into the sky on a trail of rainbow gems. They are fanged and clawed, more so than he, they are stronger but they are slow and they are hungry. He fears them, for now.

He fears the vastness of the sky, for now.

"You are a demon, are you not?" he wonders, he still speaks in the voice of his father, but the bound one's calm-fanged inflections are beginning to take root within him.

What makes you so sure you aren't? the dark one replies, words tinged with the gold of the eyes of his order.

The boy considers his words carefully, as he was never stupid, even as a child. "I do not believe… I said anything to that effect."

The dark one's laughter makes him shudder. Yes, I am a demon.

"Then why do we prepare to hunt others?"

Because they spill blood, because the gods have decided you should, because by guiding you I am free of my prison until such time as you die. Perhaps you will not.

"What have you done that you should be imprisoned?" the boy asks. They have no need for names here, they are who they are and what they are is what they shall always be.

Merely possessing the power to challenge a god is… he is laughing again, ironic like crystal blades. Merely possessing the power is enough.

"You have so much strength?"

The dark one flexes inside him and the boy groans deep in his throat and feels the beast lap up the sound with his harsh tongue.

Not so long as I am bound, whether it is within you or in that immaterial place beyond sleep… I prefer it within you…

His lust is for flesh (for life and for blood; his fatherless blood), it is a heated feeling, a penetrating feeling that seems always in the back of the boy's mind, but grows stronger as the dark one's arousal flares. His mouth fills with saliva and he cannot Chouke fast enough.

As long as you hold me, I am free. Will you hold me, child?

It is a confession as much as a threat and the boy writhes in the grass, rubbing his bare skin desperately against the earth. "Yes," he promises and is ashamed of his weaknesses. "Yes," he repeats.

He will be stronger, one day.

ζ

It seems an incalculable amount of time; the boy is resistant to losing, to forgetting, to being shaped. He must be wooed and coaxed and it has been a long time since the bound one has been refused anything. He teaches, days, years, moments, he teaches the tongues of the beasts, their nonsense rhymes, their slavering growls.

He tortures the boy, forcing him to learn the difference between the minutest shifts in energy and mood. The boy sleeps poorly, haunted by the ministrations to his mind and disturbed by the tears of butterflies in the night. He will learn how to control himself, the dark one has faith.

He is an adolescent when he first unsheathes the blade. He has sniffed out a darkness in the land, traveled from the cradle of his birth and into new territories which smell strange, which speak differently. He follows the smell of standing water to a harassed village being threatened by the growing of a black swamp.

The boy feels the spirit's rage, its claws prickling at his heightened sensitivity. He hunts as he has been taught; he asks his soft-spoken questions, listens to the variety of answers and lies. The night a woman dies, dragged into the swamp by algae-ridden tentacles and ripped apart, is the night he knows the truth.

Tell me its shape, the voice within him reminds gently. The boy does not need the help, but he says it aloud. "The whole of this swamp is its shape."

Tell me its true form, the voice continues. The dark one waits for the boy's indignation, it does not come, he is pleased. "Their true forms are the children murdered and hidden here by their mother and her lover." They might have saved the mother had she told them the truth, her shame had kept her in check. Her shame had fed the creature, spurred on its revenge, but revenge never has eased regret.

Then the reasoning is clear, yes? The boy feels his demon shifting in anticipation. He will unsheathe the sword and the bound one will taste freedom. The boy hesitates; he is frightened that he will not be able to reclaim his body. He is frightened that what he does is wrong.

These beasts do not belong here, whether their reasoning is just or not, the voice reminds, trembling with rage at the delay. The boys hands tighten around the hilt and scabbard, the jewels are burning cold against his skin, the sword's teeth chattering.

"Mother is god," the boy decides finally before pulling free the blade.

The immense power is overwhelming. The full of it begins in his stomach, an intense cramp and intense heat and intense pleasure building up from the knot of his intestines. The world rings like perfectly tuned crystal struck with silver. The world is dripping with color and his knees are weak and his veins are full and he is Chouking on the force shoved down his throat.

Asphyxiation is a sure thing to him, drowning without air, moaning and swooning, the world fading to black but even in unconsciousness he feels the invasion, the violence and power ripping into his most fragile places. His heart has gone wild in his chest, bucking against its cage. He is dripping with sweat, tears in his eyes, frigid knives running along his skin, carving the golden sigils into him with ice and blood.

This intense agony and ecstasy lasts a lifetime and he is unsure of whether he has become numb or if the sensation is fading. He feels like a mirage, as if he is watching himself watch himself. There is still a burning feeling in his hips and in his collarbone, there is still a ringing in his ears and yet in his fingers and his knees there is power and control and it flows like silk through him.

The children, an older sister and younger brother, rear back in frustration and pain, their emotions rippling outwards from the swamp. They are vulnerable and so the boy and his demon strike as one, an extension of the sword. Slitting the betrayal and sadness and rage up its center with the sharpness of their golden light, it eats away at the black miasma.

Blood, the mother's blood, she was still there, tormented by the feeling of her children there with her, demanding that she love them again and make the world perfect. Her blood is a spray and then a drip and when the swamp recedes, it is the only wetness left there on the banks.

The boy sheaths the sword with trembling hands and the bound one forces him to walk towards the blood. He crouches and whispers a few purifying words, spreads salt across all that remains and then dips his index finger into the puddle daintily.

Down the bridge of his nose and around his eyes he paints. Two dots he places on his cheek bones, one beneath each eye. The bound one strokes him from within, touches the place which had burned so brightly inside of him. It sparks a little still.

You did well, he congratulates affectionately, his tongue is everywhere inside of him.

It is a familiar sensation and as the boy has grown used to this, so too will he grow used to the power of the sword.

ζ

He feels the sadness and worries of creatures in the night; he feels their heat, their lust. He does not wish to feel, and yet, his demon has told him he must. Nevertheless, his body requires rest, even the demon must understand? It is in this exhaustion, this vertigo of constant vigilance and the need for sleep, that he slips bodily back to the glade beyond it where he and the dark one first met.

He remembers this place, remembers how empty he was when first he came here, a perfect cage for an ancient and troublesome demon. He extends his feelings; just beyond the circle of willows he notices once more the dreams and palpitations of his watch. Within the glade is a nebulous peace and so he smiles.

He places bells along the edge of the glade, strung with great twists of rope and hung along with paper charms, which will rustle at the smaller intrusions. The bound one breaks from him then, transfers from one prison to the other. The sudden loneliness is nearly unbearable, but he takes this moment to look at his demon.

The dark one is unchanged, though his expression is fond. "You exceed my expectations always, boy."

He is not a child any longer, the paint on his face says as much. "Boy?"

"You will never be as old as I." The demon smiles at him and glides closer, traces the violence of his nails along his young student's face, admiring the pale lines of it.

"Won't I?" he wonders, leaning in to this recognizable touch, from inside or out, he knows this feeling and at his words the bound one hesitates. He is unsure of the answer, truthfully, and smiles at the young creature's wit.

"A pleasing creature, indeed," the bound one murmurs. His fingers gliding along cheekbones, caressing ears and sliding back into his host's silken hair. "Exceptional." He draws the other to him, places a short kiss upon his mouth before he pulls loose the youth's scarlet sash and his hands delve the colored fabrics he wears.

"Willingly," the student says suddenly. His demon meets his eye curiously; his hand still and warm, like glowing coals, against his hip. One gold-painted brow arches, amusement quirking at his golden upper lip and in his black eyes. "I have accepted you once," the youth continues, unfaltering. "Your displays of dominance are unnecessary."

A predator's smile spreads across the bound one's dark face; the red of his eyes sparks boldly.

He lets the beast inside of him, welcomes the touch of poison, of fang, and claw. He opens himself to the tide, to the euphoria and to the agonies. There is… a strange taste to the feeling of it; ancient and dusty.

The bound one takes his time in fully unwinding the sash from him and then peels away the sleek robes with care. The bells strung along the edge of the glade are silent; the paper charms rustle only faintly, perhaps from their own breath.

He gracefully shrugs off the fabric of his own accord and raises his chin, looking up curiously at the other. His demon moves forward, winding claws up into his smooth hair, cupping the back of his head. Lank strands tumble from between his fingers as he pulls the youth to him, placing his golden lips first to his brow, then his eyelids, and his cheeks.

His willing student sinks to the spongy moist soil, his white lines spread and open. The dark one pauses, traces a single falun nail along angular collarbones, tracing out the same sigils which adorn his own neck. The scratches dip lower to perform the same ritual on the youth's chest.

"You have grown marvelously," he observes.

His pupil goes still, his eyes a landscape of surprise in charcoal, almost as if he had not realized his own growth, had not noticed. He has not been a child for some time and yet… The ivory of his fingers wraps around the demon's arms just below the elbow, trapping the snakes which wind down his forearms beneath his fleshy palms. The golden basilisks flex hungrily.

"The golden sigils," he whispers, stretching upwards towards his prisoner, his neck taught and his gray eyes half lidded, "I do not feel them—the softness, the malleability—not when you are inside of me."

The bound one touches his mouth with his own, bites at the curve of his lower lip and then smiles. "I do not wear them inside of you, you are my freedom."

The youth exhales softly, eyelids fluttering rapidly. He releases his grip on the demon and instead takes his own initiative to release the vermillion obi, to gently tug open the pyrite robe and draw his demon close to him.

The closer they become the headier the flavor, thick, burnt and caramelized. There's a seedling in his stomach, bursting from seedcoat in leaps and bounds. Exploding in verdant sprays of roots, entwining with his entrails, lining his ribcage with lichens and with moss.

He gasps, head thrown back as the questing vines tickle his throat. The demon licks white-crimson paths along his neck.

ζ

He wakes suddenly, bathed in sweat, skin flowing with electricity. His hands shake as he pushes his fine white-honey hair from his eyes.

He heads for the river to wash the sweat from his skin. Beneath the early morning sun the waters are ice-bright, but he removes his robe and treads the cold waters without hesitation.

How… diligent… his demon laughs from within. His presence flexes, straining against its borders to catch on the current.

In the years of childhood it had been the boy's manner to be serious and stoic. As focus has become effortless, the world has grown more beautiful to him. He finds himself laughing as he scrubs his hair with a familiar mixture of flowers and oil. He finds his pale lips smiling as the sun dries him.

He feels peaceful and fulfilled.

He gathers a few plants until the noontime zenith of the sun, with its grinning face above him, he reflects.

You are ready to leave the valley?

"Yes," he says. "My time in the cocoon is over."

ζ

He is a man a long time before he meets Kayo. He has killed many spirits, he has learned many things. He has cultivated the tools of his craft.

He acquires a carrying case for his medicines in a town decimated by yōkai. The owner is dead and perhaps it makes him seem like a scavenger, but even the carrion are a part of nature.

A pair of blood-drop earrings are a gift from a tiny water sprite whose loved one's vicious spirit he cleanses.

The paper wards he writes by hand, seducing the spirits of the ink to his cause. By the end of his many many years he has become very skillful.

The rings he wears in his hair are delicately carved in runes so old he could not read them until the bound one taught him how. They are prayers of peace and serenity; he whispers them whenever he catches the scent of those most hated Ayakashi, always hoping against hope to soothe them. His hopes are never fruitful. "Perhaps one day, when he is stronger, they will," the old mountain queen says to him as she imparts the gift.

The mirrored sun around his neck is a gift from the dark one. Like the glittering sword with its clacking teeth, the mirror reflects into himself and heightens his powers. He burns like a star as he meets the demon's gaze within its still mercurial surface.

The scales he crafts from pieces of himself (hair, bone, nails, teeth, tears and thoughts, and spirit), from the world and from the worlds beyond. They are as delicate feathers, and they are as infallible as the North Star. He uses the bound one's dark pulsing heat as his forge. He does not know how long it takes him, only that he is up to the task.

The enigmatic smile he hides behind his sweet-thin lips comes from what he sees as he observes the curious motions of the world. What he sees is not entirely clear, but its systematic chaos seems to amuse him. There is a kind of affection to his smiles.

The will to bring balance he has always possessed… for children should never watch their father's blood spilt.

ζ

He comes to her master's house and Kayo loves him the moment she sees him. She loves his cruel searing stare, his beautiful robes, his lovely hair, and his dirty secrets. Her whole mind is infatuated with him. He is a mystic, a savior, powerful and masculine even for his vulpine anima.

He smells like a sweet charlatan as he whispers in her ear, special medicines to make your ecstasy last longer, to heighten the pleasure, special implements. She lowers her lashes, blushing at the thought. Maybe he'll show them to her and maybe he'll try them with her later tonight. Everyone in the compound will be invited to celebrate the young mistress' wedding, and what better a way?

In the meantime, he gives her some hachis to indulge in and she pulls his cold palm up the length of her brown thigh. He smiles at her sharply and she flutters her eyes.

She gossips the house's dirty secrets to him, her interest in the subject selfish and lively. Yet, when he asks her questions, she lowers her gaze and begins to lie. Her touch of self-consciousness is an endearing flaw, he thinks. His demon adores her luscious abundance of spirit, would find nothing averse to joining with her for a night.

However, she's shooed off like a rat; brown and hating.

The older huntress takes her turn to prowl after the ethereal stranger. He minds her very little, distracted as he is. The air smells like bone and his demon burns brightly within him with kinship. He hears their squealing from within the young mistress's spirit. Their raucous drowns out her screams and she dies.

Kayo's spirit is without guilt, her spirit has the will and right to survive, and she is trusts him… So he is able to save her. Though he cannot save her from the horrors she sees or the lessons she learns.

"The way people think…" he tells her softly, when he sees in her face the devotion and infatuation she might give him, "is different from the way demons think."

"Are you a demon?" she asks him, she is not afraid. His affection for her spirit swells, but he shakes his head.

"But neither am I human."

He has become a disciple of balance, he is between all places, all races. He knows what it is to be alone, but he is not. His demon—his self—supports him.

Kayo, to her credit, seems to understand, a little.

They part ways. He follows the reek of betrayal and loneliness. She follows the roads the humans have trod out, looking for a new place to call home.

ζ

Kayo dreams of him when he has gone. As she sleeps restlessly in a foreign bed, she sees him as she saw him when the red-eyed demon had flowed through him, had changed him. She had seen him as he was inside that beast.

She dreams of it, of his white body bound tightly with red thread, the crisscross of lines leaving purple bruises at his joints and bloody trickles where they cut.

His hair, like milk and honey, is a soft disarray around his ethereal features, his pointed canines, his pointed ears and his great delicate eyes.

In her dream, he looks up at her as she watches. His eyes are the same shade of blue as the robes he is not wearing. The cloth is spread out in the darkness before him like a butterfly, like a shadow. The great golden eyes at his sleeves are watching Kayo, just as she watches him.

As their eyes meet—his ocean saline to her chestnut brown—he smiles, slowly.

"Kayo," he whispers and he seems pleased. He lets her kiss and hold at him, fuss at his wounds. He shakes his head, his eyes very content. "Kayo," he murmurs, "I will see you again."

His words make an impression on her. She stops her mothering to absentmindedly play with the red threads woven around him, as if they are harp strings. She accidentally cuts her finger on one, it quivers soundlessly and her blood makes a thinning line of red across his white skin.

She doesn't really understand. She looks up in her dream, as if looking for the sky but all she sees are white masks, their features painted in red. A canopy of lifeless beasts and demons and gods.

He smiles at her and she kisses him on the mouth passionately with her full pink lips; her eyes falling closed.

ζ

His demon loves Chou, laps up the decay of her soul with contented relish. The medicine seller pities her deeply, feels affection for her broken spirit. The hunter sees only the tracks of something greater.

She learned how to behave in bed from a servant boy. She'd never told her mother. Her husband accuses her of it, but his filthy words slide from her skin in a tarry ooze.

It is the way of demons to tempt, her relief, her vengeance for the small price of her connection to the real world. All torments can be crafted by mortal hands. She loses herself to the warm run of blood; her cold-hearted self-hatred makes her beautiful.

She bleeds rivers and oceans and the little boy inside of the medicine seller recalls the way it felt to watch someone bleed dry.

She is trapped, wrapped up in a palace of intricate cloth patterns and ribbons which the laughing voice of her husband suggests should be tied in front, over her crotch so they can easily be loosened at a whim.

She screams and the demon is there to cradle her, a dark skinned beast with ashen hair who never shows her its face. Perhaps she always knows it is a puppet, something sent to comfort her until the bridge between her soul and her body finally breaks.

When the medicine seller finally appears before her, she has recognizes him. The malleable golden aura of the fox-masked demon rises up from within him and she loves him even as she fears to recognize him.

"Fantasy," she murmurs, adrift. "The demon who I thought loved me is only another fantasy…"

The medicine seller takes her hands carefully into his own. "No," he promises. "His love for you is true and if it were our place to do so, Chou, we would take you away from this place."

She hangs her head, her mind going blank. It is the only way she lives, by force of will, by blocking out every sound and every light.

"It is not my place," the medicine seller says again as he begins to draw the sword which will cleanse her.

She can see the demon whose shadow had fallen in love with her, there is no love in his eyes and he smiles at her. He knew their love could not be, he says to her without moving his lips or exposing his sharp canine teeth.

He severs her from her sicknesses, sucks down the last of her diseased morrow and then releases her new spirit like a burst of smoke from his lips.

She hears the medicine seller and his demon speaking to one another as she takes wing from the strange ethereal world which they had brought her to in order to confront her stagnant horrors,

"Do you despair?" the medicine seller asks the demon.

The demon shakes his head, "We have lost that luxury, there will be more like her, like the ones we have loved and have lost. We shall never be with them, for we live too long and our purpose is too sure."

"Do you resent the gods who imprisoned you and enlisted me?" the medicine seller inquires philosophically.

"Yes", the demon replies, "But we all accept out place in their games eventually, once we are sure of the prize."

The medicine seller thinks about the satisfaction of the balance. He thinks about truth, form, and reason. He thinks about spirits and about art. He closes his eyes and thinks on beautiful Ochou who, like his sister, has fled to the misty beyond-lands after witnessing the terrors of the middle kingdom.

He melds into his demon's embrace. "Let us carry on," he understands.

ζ

The world changes around him, the beasts he hunts grow colder, entangling their claws and lies deeper and deeper into the very mechanics of the heart. They are learning and the mortals of the world are still as blind as they were in the dark days.

The medicine seller moves among them, an oddity they do not wish to see except those who know what to look for.

A city witch gives him a ring she's crafted from the blood and bone of infrastructure. It is a gift after a service well rendered in the expulsion of a frightful apartment complex run savage with the pain at the joints of the stairwells.

The spirit of a young pickup truck teaches him how to calm the spirits of oil after he assists it in crossing a desert which thrashes and rages against all men and man-made contraptions which try to pass through it.

He sees many faces; he sees many of them again. Some of them like bright-eyed Kayo and tragically-beautiful Chou are not such unwelcome sights throughout the years. Others like the savage Nue are not so well received.

The years become the dreaming; time becomes a liquid flow the moment intertwined with every memory and sensation of the past. The boundaries between mortal and demon blur and the two souls which once copulated and coupled become wholly intertwined. Their separation now would mean death.

Death is inevitable and the gods are mercilessly cruel to those who dare defy them. To those who dare to believe in the scriptures of form, truth, and reason above the mythical powers of Peace Absolving Central August Spirit Exalted Ancient Buddha Most Pious and Honorable His Highness the Jade-Emperor Xuanling High Sovereign and the pantheon of his blood.

It was written in the entrails of his father long ago.

ζ

He dreams.

He dreams of himself, bloody and sloppily bandaged. He dreams of his pain, of the sticky heat of his own blood draining from him. He dreams of the blindness of his vision, he dreams of his prayers; the rites to his mother.

He dreams of the violence which caused him to be so crippled. He dreams of demon claws and of demon fangs. He dreams of his dark one, dying with him from within.

It has been too long, he dreams his mononoke is laughing as he spreads his wings and they are free.

He dreams that with each breath more and more of his soul is escaping him.

He dreams that he hears his sister's mourning shriek.

He dreams of the spectral rites that are his mother's due, he has kept them in a pouch around his neck for many years now.

He dreams he spreads them to the winds with the last of his strength.

He dreams his veins run dry and he dreams that, at last, the blood of his father flows through him once more.

He dreams of white euphoria.

He dreams. The world is perfect black, as he has always known it to be, and at last, once more, he sleeps.


Standard Disclaimers.