The woman lay in the open field, raped and beaten almost to death. A samurai sword through her gut held her pinned to the ground. Through her broken, mangled mouth she spewed blood and curses at the four men standing over her as she struggled to pull the sword free of her body. They stared in disbelief and horror, nursing the wounds she had inflicted on them. "Why wonít she die?" one whispered. A fifth man stepped out of the night and bent over the dying woman.
"Tanaka!" she spat. "Iíll come back for you. Youíre a dead man." Tanaka
straightened up, and delivered a vicious, deadly kick to the side of the womanís head.
"All right, sheís dead now. Letís go." The four men stared at him as they had stared at the dying woman. "What?" Tanaka asked, alarmed at their looks.
"She cursed you with her dying breath." one man said softly. "She was shinobi-nin, Ninja."
Tanaka laughed. "Yeah, Iím shaking. Now move!" He strode off towards a waiting car, the four men limping along behind him. The woman had inflicted serious damage on her attackers.
As the men disappeared into the darkness, another figure appeared. Tall and regal, it approached the womanís corpse without hesitation, extending a hand. The womanís spectral form reached up from her dead body and accepted help to her feet. She stood for a moment, looking at the body that had been hers, then at the man who had assisted her present self. "Who the Hell are you?" she asked. She still felt rage at her murderers.
"I am the Lord of Darkness, called the Reaper."
She looked him up and down, all seven feet of him. There was a savage beauty in his face and form. He was dressed all in black, his long red hair falling loose around his shoulders. Tattoos covered his muscular arms. A neatly trimmed beard gave him a sinister look, but his face was ageless, his eyes a dark sea-green with a hint of cruelty about them. The woman felt a strange attraction to him, yet resisted strongly. "Youíre here to claim my soul." she stated matter-of-factly.
"Yes." he answered. But this soul confounded him. He had never known one to take the death of itís body so calmly. He could feel the anger and rage still present, but she was quietly assessing her situation. "Come with me." The Dark Lord extended his hand to the newly dead woman.
"I donít think so." she replied. "I have a vow to fulfill." She reached for the katana sticking out of her body, and was perturbed when her hand passed through it. She stood up straight, closed her eyes, and began making arcane hand movements that the Dark Lord was unfamiliar with. She finished, took a deep breath, and reached for the sword again. This time the spectral form of the sword came away in her hand.
Reaper was amazed. In his centuries of soul taking, he had never seen anything like this. A new dead soul claiming an inanimate object! "How did you do that?" he found himself asking.
"Katanas have souls, too. This one is mine." She sheathed the sword in her spectral belt, turned and started walking across the field.
The Dark Lord stared after her. No soul had ever walked away from him.
"Woman!" he called. "You do not know how to survive in this form!"
"Iíll learn." she called back over her shoulder, and continued walking.
Now the Reaper was truly annoyed. He had been drawn to this soul by itís rage, the violence of itís demise, and...something else. He never expected one strong enough to refuse him. He stood with his hands on his hips, watching the departing woman. Some souls are meant to wander, he told himself. Sheís too stubborn to make a good minion anyway. He turned to leave, then stopped and looked back. Whatever had drawn him here still exerted a strong pull. He could be stubborn, too, and he wanted this soul. He disappeared and reappeared a few feet in front of the woman.
She stopped, and drew her sword. "Stand aside, soul taker, I have business to
"Vengeance. I understand it well. It will be difficult for you without my help."
"Iíll figure it out. Iím pretty smart for a white girl."
He cocked his head at her. Not only stubborn, but a smart-ass, too. He was
starting to like her. "I am the Lord of Darkness, and I have claimed your soul. If you
refuse me, you will wander this realm for eternity."
"And if I go with you?"
"You will become a creature of the Dark Side, with powers you cannot imagine."
"Uh huh. And be your servant as well, I suppose."
"No thanks. Iíll take my chances here. Now if youíll excuse me, I have work to do."
The Dark Lord was starting to get angry again. Electricity crackled in his eyes and hands. The woman kept him at sword point, backing around to continue on her way. "Woman, do not refuse me!" he roared. "Your spirit is too strong to waste." A flash of lightning flew from his fingers and struck just to her left. She kept her eyes on him, and easily parried the next bolt with her sword. "Woman, I can send you straight to Hell!" He was really angry now.
The woman stopped backing away, but kept her sword up. Uncertainty was beginning to show in her face. "Iíll be in Hell anyway if I donít finish this. My honor depends on it. Bushido demands that I be avenged, and there is no one else to do it."
"I told you I understand vengeance. Iím willing to help you, but you must give
your soul to me."
"I wonít be your slave, not even for Dark Side powers."
Reaper looked carefully at the woman for the first time. She was of medium height and build, with shoulder length red-blond hair. She moved with an earthy grace and strength, head up and shoulders back. There was a certain directness in her manner, but a certain slyness, too. Her blue-gray eyes were full of mischief, fearlessly taking him in, as well. She could stare holes in a man with those eyes, Reaper thought. They sized each other up for a moment, then the Dark Lord made a decision. He would not give up this soul. "All right, letís make a bargain. Iíll begin teaching you to use your powers now. Iíll show you enough to gain your revenge, and when youíre done, youíll come to the Dark Side with me."
"As your slave?"
"No. As my acolyte."
A slow smile crept across the womanís face. She had been a student of okuden, the dark arts, for years, and was intrigued to find that they were a reality. To be acolyte to the Lord of Darkness...she could not resist. She sheathed her sword and extended her hand. "Okay, deal." The Dark Lord and the warrior soul shook hands. This could be the beginning of a very interesting relationship, she thought. He was wondering what the Hell he was going to do with an acolyte.
"Before we begin, you must accept me as your Lord." Reaper told his new
"I accept you as my Lord according to Bushido." She bowed deeply to him.
He stared at her thoughtfully. This was the second time she had used that term,
and he was unclear on the meaning. "What does that mean, exactly? Bushido?"
"Itís a way of life. Honor and duty are of the greatest importance. It means that by accepting you as my Lord, I would give up everything for you, including my life. But you also have certain obligations to me. My honor must be respected, and if you betray me, I will seek revenge."
He nodded. "Samurai. I understand now, and accept your pledge." Reaper glanced around the open field. "We should go somewhere more secluded to begin your lessons." He extended his hand to the woman and she took it.
The next thing she knew, they were in a deserted country cemetery, deep in some unknown forest. Her Lord seated himself on a gravestone, and indicated the one opposite him. She sat down. "You can will yourself to be anywhere you have been before, or anywhere you can see. As your powers grow, so will your ability to move in this way. You can take another with you by concentrating and taking hold of them."
She nodded. Her years of training in ninjitsu and Buddhism made concentration
fairly easy for her.
"You can also manifest your aspects."
"How?" This notion intrigued her greatly.
"There are different aspects within you that you can take on the appearance of. The easiest one for you to start with would be your own dead body. You may also find that aspect useful in your quest."
The woman was hesitant. The horror and pain of her death were still fresh. "Itís only an appearance." her Lord reassured her. "You will feel no pain. Remember what your body looked like, pull it from your being and become that. Try."
She pictured her body as she had last seen it, pulled the image out of herself and put it on like a cloak.
"Good! Good! You learn very quickly. Now resume your new aspect." The woman changed back to her spectral form. "I need to do something before you try your next one. Hold still." He placed his hands on either side of her head and leaned forward until his forehead touched hers. She felt a presence in her mind. He pulled away, but the presence remained. "All right, think of the animal you identify most strongly with. See if you can become that."
She concentrated for a moment, then looked down to see her glossy black feathers and narrow four toed feet. She had taken the aspect of a raven. "Can I fly?" she asked excitedly, but only a harsh cawing came from her beak.
"Yes." She heard her Lordís voice in her head. "But be careful, you could hit something in the dark." She took off, flying two quick turns around the cemetery. It was too dark, and she landed back on the gravestone, cawing with joy and excitement.
"Speak with your mind, not your voice." She heard her Lord in her head again.
"How are you doing that?" she wondered.
"Itís a gift I share on occasion with my minions, but I have made a permanent link with you. If you are to accompany me, there will be times when we need to communicate quickly and secretly."
"Whatís the range?"
"Iím not sure. We have to be on the same physical plane, I think. Weíll have to experiment."
"So you can read all my thoughts?"
"At the present time." He smiled wryly. "But Iím sure youíll learn to hide things from me soon enough."
She changed back from her raven aspect. A sly look crept over her face. "I want to try some more." She became a fierce samurai in full battle regalia. Her Lord nodded appreciatively. Then she changed directly into a strange fish/reptile/human aspect, with large eyes and mouth, and flapping gills.
Reaper was surprised. She had become a Dark Side creature. "Where did this
come from?" he asked.
"Itís my favorite movie monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I loved him when I was a kid. He kept the other monsters away." Her Lord looked at her curiously. She could feel him rummaging around in her mind. She didnít try to keep anything from him, she just let him look around.
Finally he said "Youíve walked on the Dark Side for most of your life, and didnít really know it. Youíre an extraordinary soul, woman. It will be a pleasure to teach you." He looked up at the horizon. "The sun is rising. I must return to the Dark Side. On this plane you are spirit, and can move about freely and unseen. Use this time to your advantage. I will return for you in two nights." He rose to leave.
"Wait! Can I kill in this form?"
"Yes. Itís not easy, but as you said, youíll figure it out." With that, the Dark Lord disappeared, leaving the spectral woman alone in the cemetery. Concentrating, she willed herself to her former home, to begin her search for her murderers.
"I was under the impression that no harm would come to her." The womanís
brother was speaking to Tanaka.
"Your sister was obstinate. She refused to see things our way, but now the way is clear for our deal. I donít think you have too many regrets, my friend."
"I saw her body, Tanaka." the man said quietly.
"Yes. Well, that was regrettable. Iím afraid my associates get carried away sometimes. Now about our deal...."
"Here is the paperwork. I believe everything is in order. The property will be yours in ninety days. It seems my sisterís untimely demise slowed things just a little."
"Not a problem. Youíll receive your check at that time. Oh, did you know your sister was a student of the dark arts? She gave my associates quite a hard time."
Tanaka chuckled. "They believe Iím under a curse or something. I hope that makes you feel a little better about her Ďaccidentí."
The man paled. "She studied ninjitsu for years. Her curse could be real."
Now Tanaka laughed openly. "I doubt it. Thatís all superstition. Itís been a pleasure doing business with you. Iíll not be seeing you again, my lawyers will handle the final transaction. Good-bye." Tanaka left the office quite pleased with himself. He was, or would be in ninety days, the sole owner of a valuable piece of real estate. All he had to do was demolish the dojo occupying the lot. And the seller hadnít done badly, either. In addition to a reasonable price for his property, he was also rid of a troublesome family member. Such a deal!, Tanaka thought.
The womanís spirit floated freely from place to place. She saw her brother identify her body, and followed him to his meeting with Tanaka. In life, she had butted heads with Tanaka often. He admired her ninjitsu skills and tried repeatedly to recruit her for his Ďcompanyí. But she was satisfied running her dojo, a business she started with her brother. Eventually, her brother turned away from Bushido, and became a capitalist investor. He needed money from the sale of the dojo property to finance other ventures. When his sister flatly refused to sell, he allowed Tanaka to take matters into his own hands. Tanaka had enjoyed killing her. She had spurned him many times, both in business and personally.
The woman followed Tanaka, hoping heíd lead her to the men who had raped her and stabbed her with her own sword. She only had two days to complete her revenge, and she wasnít about to break her deal with the Dark Lord. Tanaka did indeed meet one of the men. Since she knew where to find Tanaka, she followed his associate to a remote location, a ramshackle old lumberyard. He apparently had been sent to ambush someone, or make a pick-up of some sort. She didnít care. Assuming the aspect of her dead self, she approached him, spirit katana ready. He glanced up from lighting a cigarette to see her floating towards him. The horror of recognition shone in his face as he dropped his cigarette. He stared in disbelief as the ghost raised her sword, and brought it down in an arc, slicing him in two from collarbone to opposite hip.
She glowered at the split body, satisfied with her work. He had recognized her
before his death. But now she was feeling faded, like she had used too much energy. It
had required a tremendous amount of concentration to make the katana tangible
enough to cut flesh and bone. How could she kill four more if it took this much effort?
She retreated to a dark corner and immediately felt better. Thatís it! she thought. The
dark. I draw power from the dark. It was turning towards dusk, and she could feel her
strength growing. A car pulled up to the deserted building, and two more of her
murderers emerged, calling for their comrade. The woman could not believe her luck.
Finding his body, the thugs drew their guns and began nervously searching the
building. The woman grinned wickedly, and appeared out of the shadows in front of
one of the killers. He screamed and emptied his gun at her as she split his head. The
other man came running, but stopped when he saw the ghost floating over his partnerís
corpse. He turned and ran for his life. The woman appeared in front of him. "Where is
the other?" she wailed in her spectral voice. Terrified, the man fell to his knees.
"Where is the fourth?" she asked again.
"I donít know." he pleaded. Weíre all supposed to meet Tanaka tomorrow night, at his club."
"When?" She held her horrifying face close to his.
"Ten oíclock. Please donít kill me!"
"Did I beg for my life? I think not. Youíre pathetic." With that, she sliced his head from his body.
She spent the rest of the night in meditation, gathering strength. She wasnít sure how she was going to deal with her brother, and she wanted Tanaka to suffer as she had. Besides, her funeral was tomorrow, and she wanted to see who showed up.
The day had started out nice, but by the time of the funeral dark clouds had gathered. The womanís body had been cremated, in accordance with her wishes and Buddhist belief. Her sensei, who was also a monk in her sangha, read from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The sangha was predominately Zen, but she and her sensei had followed the Tibetan way according to Ninja tradition.
The womanís spirit lingered in the shadows. She knew her sensei could feel her presence, he had looked directly at her twice. She longed to speak to him, but could not. He wouldnít understand, and would feel sorry that she was now a hungry ghost. She supposed she was a hungry ghost, in a way, hungry for vengeance. Only her sensei and a couple of students from her dojo attended the funeral. Her brother came in at the last minute. He had abandoned Buddhism years before.
The ceremony was brief and simple. She had not expected many to come; she had few friends and no family except her brother. After the ceremony, her spirit hovered around the temple for a while. It was the only place besides the dojo where she felt at home. As darkness fell, she let go, and left the temple forever.
She traveled to the club where Tanaka would meet his remaining henchman. She wondered if he knew three of them were already dead. Again, she hid in the shadows, waiting. The thug burst in to Tanakaís office, breathless with the news that his partnerís bodies had been found, all killed with a sword.
Tanaka paled. He was the one the woman had cursed, but now three of her murderers were dead. He didnít believe in ghosts, but someone was avenging her. He doubted it was her brother; the money meant more than his sisterís life. Her sensei was a monk, and none of her students were adept enough to take his men by surprise. It was a mystery, and a dangerous one.
He left the club by the back door, accompanied by his remaining henchman and
his driver. They walked toward the car parked in the alley behind the club, keeping on
guard. The driver walked ahead to start the car and open the door for his boss. He
never made it. An invisible blow knocked him to the ground, then the dead woman
appeared before Tanaka and his thug. She raised her katana and neatly split the
henchman from crown to crotch. Tanaka turned and ran. She floated along behind him
easily, terrifying him further. She followed him until he collapsed in exhaustion, panting
as he lay against an alley wall. "Who are you?" he gasped.
"You know me. I will have my vengeance." she wailed.
"Yunomi, please, I had nothing to do with it." He had misunderstood her, mistaking her statement for her name. He had no idea that this was the ghost of the murdered woman.
"You know me, Tanaka. Look at me. Who am I?"
Tanaka stared, then realized at last what he faced. His scream echoed through the alley as she beheaded him. As she stood staring at Tanakaís body in satisfaction, she heard a voice behind her.
"Your revenge is complete, Yunomi. Come with me now."
She spun around to face the Dark Lord. "Thatís not my name."
"It is now. What you were has been left behind. You are Yunomi, acolyte to the Lord of Darkness, a creature of the Dark Side. Come with me."
"Thereís one more thing I have to do."
"Your brother." the Dark Lord stated.
"Yes. He showed no honor. He betrayed me."
"What will you do?"
"I donít know yet. I must confront him." She disappeared, but the Dark Lord followed close behind. She reappeared in her brotherís study. He was at his desk, going over his investments. Feeling her presence, he looked up, and gaped in horror. The woman still wore the aspect of her murdered self. "Why?" she asked simply. "Does money mean more to you than honor? Than family? Look what youíve done to me, brother!" She took a step towards him, and he fell screaming from his chair.
The Dark Lord stepped out of the shadows. "He is insane with guilt and fear, Yunomi. Will you kill him now?"
She looked at her brother as he cowered and whimpered at her feet. "No. This
is enough. He does not deserve to die with honor." She reached out a hand to her
Lord. "Iím ready. I swear my service to you, Lord."
He took her hand. "Then letís go. You have much to learn."
The Dark Side was not exactly what Yunomi had imagined. They arrived in a town, a small city, actually, made up of a melange of old buildings. Reaper explained the metaphysics of Dark Side existence. Buildings had spirits, much like her katana. When they were torn down in the Human Realm, they often wound up on the Dark Side. Most were haunted, but some were open for dwellings. Others supported gathering places, bars and pool halls mostly. Darksiders loved their entertainment.
The infrastructure was interesting. All power derived directly from the Dark Side itself. If you wanted electricity or running water in your dwelling, it was there. Darksiders had no need to eat or drink. Their power also came from the Realm itself. They could eat if they wished, it just wasnít necessary. Darksiders never got sick, but they could get drunk, or stoned, or killed by a variety of methods.
Yunomi found she could change her clothing as she changed her aspect; by willing it so, but she would save energy by keeping a few basic things around to wear. Tangible goods-furniture, dishes, personal belongings-were usually scrounged from the Human Realm. These were the basics of Dark Side life, explained to her as she walked the streets of the town with her Lord.
Reaper turned down a lane lined with ancient one-story stone rowhouses. He knocked on the door of one about a third of the way down the street. "Sandia!" he called. "I have a favor to ask!" The door was opened by a young woman with close-cropped blond hair. She had a boxerís build-wiry, thin and strong.
"What is it, Reaper?" She sounded annoyed.
"This is Yunomi. Sheís new to Dark Side and has no place to stay. She also needs to learn the ropes around here. Will you help her?"
Sandia sighed, and looked Yunomi up and down. "Okay, come on in."
"Sandia is my minion." Reaper explained. "Sheís an excellent hunter and has been of great service to me."
"Thank you, Lord." Sandiaís tone was slightly acid.
"A hunter?" Yunomi asked.
"I hunt souls and Demons for my Lord. Also information. I expect your tasks will be similar." She looked at Reaper with a raised eyebrow.
"I will oversee Yunomiís training myself." he said.
"I bet you will." Sandia muttered under her breath. Reaper pretended not to hear, but Yunomi looked questioningly at Sandia. Reaper put a hand on Yunomiís shoulder.
"Settle in here, learn what you can. Iíll be back tomorrow to show you more." He turned to Sandia. "Thank you, Sandia. Iíll find her a place of her own before long." He showed himself out.
Sandia looked at Yunomi. "You smoke dope?"
"Uh, no, I donít."
Sandia shrugged and threw herself on the couch, pulling half a joint out of the ashtray. "Thereís beer in the kitchen." she said, lighting up. Yunomi went to get a beer, then sat in a chair across from Sandia.
"So what did you mean about him training me himself?" She was curious.
"Nothing." She let out a plume of smoke.
"Look, if you two are lovers, I have no intention of interfering."
Sandia choked and almost doubled over laughing. "Me and Reaper? Lovers? Thatís too funny!" She regained her composure somewhat. "No, no, heís my Lord, thatís like my boss. I have no interest in him that way whatsoever, and if youíre smart, you wonít either. He can be incredibly cruel."
Yunomi was silent. One of the reasons she had come with the Dark Lord was
the strange attraction she felt towards him. He was the most beautiful man sheíd ever
seen. She thought about something else. "How did you come to the Dark Side,
"My lover murdered me. Reaper found my soul, and brought me over."
"Are there many like us here?"
"Weíre the only two women I know of, except Laura. Sheís Bobís wife. Reaper has other minions, but I donít like them. Theyíre sneaky. Heís picky about the souls he takes, he likes ones that are full of rage and hatred."
Yunomi shook her head. "Thereís no hate in me. Iíve had my revenge. As for rage, well, that comes and goes."
"So what happened to you?"
"I was raped and murdered by my brotherís business partners."
"Business partners?" Sandia looked amused.
"Oh, well. Thatís different. How did you get revenge?"
"The Dark Lord gave me two days to find my murderers before I came with him. I killed them all."
"Really! Thatís a first. Reaper doesnít negotiate with souls he claims."
"I guess he really wanted mine."
Sandia looked at Yunomi with new regard. There was indeed something unusual about her, but Sandia couldnít pin it down. An aura of some sort, she guessed. She wondered what Reaper had in store for this woman.
Yunomi studied Sandia, too. She seemed angry and bitter for one so young. But then there was no way to tell how long she had been on the Dark Side. Sandia wore a thin-strapped tank top and cut-off jeans, so Yunomi could see that her arms and shoulders were covered in tattoos and scars. There were scars on her legs, too, like scratches and cuts. Her tattoos were like the Dark Lordís, seeming to glow with their own light.
Sandia noticed her staring. "Like my tats? Reaper gave Ďem to me. Youíll get yours soon enough." The bitter tone returned to her voice.
Yunomi was uneasy. She had one tattoo, a small kanji representing her Ninja clan. But she associated tattooing with the Yakuza, the men who had killed her. It was strange that she had no problem with her Lordís tattoos. Maybe she could accept more markings from him.
"So what do you want to know? Iím supposed to teach you about the Dark
Side." Sandia had a stoned smile. She had finished her joint, and flipped the roach
away. "Thereís so much to learn, I donít know where to start."
"Okay, then, Iíll explain the Realms to you. Thereís four-Dark Side, the Human Realm, the Light Realm, and Hell. Humans are pretty much ignorant of what goes on. Weíre constantly at war with Hell, even though Dark Side overlaps with it in places. Carnivean, the Demon Lord, has a real personal problem with Reaper. When he gets souls in Hell who thinks theyíre tough, Carnivean will send them over to take on Reaper. They always get their butts kicked. I guess itís supposed to be a humbling experience for them, but it pisses Reaper off. The Light beings are what we call Angels-Seraphim, Cherubim, like that. Their Lord, Iuvart, thinks Reaper sucks and gives him grief when he can. We donít see much of them over here, though. They think theyíre too good for us Darksiders."
"So you hunt Demons to keep them away from our Lord?"
"Pretty much. They donít have any business being over here anyway. They smell, and they start trouble." Sandia justified her work.
"You donít seem very happy to be in our Lordís service." noted Yunomi.
Sandia sighed and stared at the ceiling. "Iíve never been happy in his service. I came with him because I didnít know what else to do. Itís been a long time, and Iíve seen a lot. Reaper is not particularly pleasant to work for. Youíll find that out for yourself."
"Do you fear him?" Yunomi wondered.
Sandia gave Yunomi a hard stare, then seemed to change her mind. She lowered her voice almost to a whisper. "Yes, very much."
Yunomi nodded. She could see how that was possible. "Tell me about the Dark Side." she changed the subject.
"We get all kinds over here." Sandia brightened. "Humans, orcs, goblins, elves, you name it. Any kind of creepy mythical creature you can think of, theyíre all here. Ghosts, zombies, ghouls, itís incredible. Never a dull moment. Well, sometimes." She started rolling another joint. Yunomi got the impression that Sandia was bored a lot.
"How often do you hunt?"
"Not often enough. Reaper hasnít hunted souls in some time, and Hellís been real quiet. Somethingís up, but I have no idea what. Youíre a big surprise. I didnít even know heíd gone to the Human Realm. Then again, he doesnít share much of his business with me." Sandia looked at Yunomi strangely. "It has something to do with you. Reaper hasnít brought anyone over in a long time, and thereís an aura around you. He has big plans for you, girl." She took a drag off her fresh joint, then stubbed it out.
Yunomi was silent. Reaper had not introduced her to Sandia as his acolyte, so she assumed he didnít want Sandia to know. "Well," Sandia said, "Iím going to bed. Youíll find that we sleep a lot here, our power is renewed that way. You know the old saying, ĎIíll sleep when Iím dead.í? Itís true!" She let out a stoned giggle. "Reaper will probably start teaching you protection spells tomorrow, but youíll be safe here for now. You can sleep on the couch, Iíll bring you a pillow and blanket." And so Yunomi spent her first night on the Dark Side.
Reaper came for her in the morning as he had promised, and began showing Yunomi around her new home. He liked having an excuse to visit all the areas of Dark Side. He hadnít done this in a while, and it was good to remind Darksiders of his presence. Yunomi quickly became used to the gloomy Dark Side weather. It wasnít really daylight, although a pale sun rose and set. The landscape was strange, too. Everything was slightly out of kilter, skewed, as it were. It just wasnít quite right. As in the Human realm, there was a variety of scenery. Forests, deserts, and hills existed, with a few rivers and mountains on the far edges. The plants were wild and exotic looking, and strange creatures peered from the undergrowth at them.
Yunomi found herself more at home here than she had ever been in the Human Realm. It all seemed right to her. She enjoyed seeing the different beings who inhabited the Dark Side. She learned that Humans, ghosts and ghouls lived throughout the realm, but that other beings tended to stay in their own territories with their own kind. Reaper watched her closely for any sign of fear or disgust at what he showed her, but none ever came. She took in everything with an open curiosity, and absolutely no fear. He was pleased.
She spent her nights at Sandiaís, when she wasnít with Reaper learning basic spells and survival skills. He told her about the city where she lived, that it was the largest in Dark Side. It had many names-Dark City, Tanelorn, Cynosure, Gotham-but everyone just called it The City. There were other towns on the borders with Hell and the Human Realm, and smaller communities all over Darkside.
One day they visited a border town near Hell. Reaper explained that Hell overlapped Dark Side in places, and creatures like Orcs, Goblins and Gargoyles passed easily between the two, with shifting allegiances. He was showing Yunomi the actual boundary between Dark Side and Hell when seven Demons crossed over and accosted them.
"Well, what have we here?" the leader cackled. He was a tall, slender thing with a humanoid body and an amazingly ugly face. Like most Demons, he was nearly naked, and his skin was...unpleasant. "Itís been a while since weíve seen you, Dark Lord, and with a new minion, at that. Got bored with the other one? Or did she get bored with you?" The Demons all chuckled evilly.
A slight smile played about Reaperís lips. "And I see you have a batch of new
recruits to impress, Huena. How do you plan to do it?"
"By kicking your ass and taking your minion for Carnivean."
"Letís go, then." Reaper agreed. Yunomi drew her katana and took her fighting stance. The Demons stared at her in amazement.
"She has a weapon!" one hissed.
"This is Yunomi, my acolyte. She is Ninja, the weapon is allowed."
"An acolyte!" Huena howled with laughter. "Since when does the Dark Lord have an acolyte?"
"Since I say I do. Are you going to fight me, or talk me to death?"
With a growl, Huena launched himself at Reaper, only to receive a boot to the face. Four of the others broke off and came after Yunomi. When she split the first oneís head, the other two joined in, leaving Huena and Reaper to fight alone. The Demons circled Yunomi, slashing at her with their long claws. They moved much faster than any Human opponent she had faced. One snaked out a tail and wrapped it around her ankle, trying to unbalance her. She sliced the tail with her sword, but another took advantage of the opening and raked her across the chest with itís claws. She spun, cutting off the offenderís arm at the shoulder, and disemboweling another with her continuing stroke. The one with the cut tail caught her across the back and buttocks with a vicious slash of itís claws, leaving deep gashes. She almost fell, but turned her sword behind her and thrust it through the Demonís heart.
Meanwhile, Reaper had dispatched Huena back to Hell easily and stood leaning against a nearby wall, his arms crossed, watching Yunomi fight. She was bleeding badly, and the last three Demons were closing in. The one with the missing arm hung back, giving her the chance to go on the offensive. She mustered her strength and cut down one with an arcing blow, then ran the other one through. The last one turned and ran, holding itís bleeding stump and howling. Yunomi reached into her clothing and flung a shuriken after it, catching it in the back of the head with the deadly star and killing it instantly.
She sank to her knees, weak from blood loss. Reaper walked over to her.
"Congratulations. You just survived your first Demon fight."
"Have I?" she answered, staring at the blood covering her, Demonís, and her own.
Reaper chuckled darkly. "Of course. Here, let me see." He pulled Yunomi to her feet and lifted her shirt, running his hand over the gashes in her back. She couldnít see what he was doing, but it felt really strange. "Take your shirt off." he commanded. She complied. "Now watch." He ran his hand along the cuts on her chest, and they began to heal. "Itís like everything else here. Decide what you want, and concentrate. Now heal your butt." Yunomi blushed, but untied her drawstring pants and put her hand on her ass. She was surprised to find that it worked. Her wounds were completely healed, leaving thin, white scars like the ones sheíd seen on Sandia.
"You can heal yourself to a large degree. More serious damage would require
my help. Once you know healing spells, it will be easier."
"Thank you, Lord." She was not angry with him for letting her fight alone. Her ninjitsu training had been similar, though not as damaging.
Reaper looked at his acolyte with amused pride. She was surely one of a kind.
No whining or complaining, and she fought like a Demon herself, then had the respect
to thank him for the lesson. He took her hand and raised it to his lips, kissing the back
of it. "You fought well. You might survive here after all."
Yunomi smiled. "Oh, Iíll survive, my Lord, and Iíll be one Hell of an acolyte to you. Just watch me."
Meanwhile, in Hell, Carnivean was livid. "I entrusted you with six souls to test
against the Dark Lord, and youíre telling me some woman killed them all?"
"Not some woman," Huena simpered, "the Dark Lordís acolyte. She had a sword."
"I donít care if she had a f'ing army!" Carnivean spat. "And whatís Reaper doing with an acolyte? Somethingís wrong with this picture." He hoisted his bulk off his throne and waddled to a nearby cabinet. Pulling the doors open, he removed a huge book and opened it on the table under the shelf. Carnivean thumbed through the book at length, while Huena stood restlessly. "Here it is," he finally said. "And the Lord of Darkness shall have many lovers, but hold one above all. She shall be like the storm, darkness shot through with light, and will bring power to the Realm of Darkness." Carnivean closed the book with a bang. "This could be bad. Tell me everything you know about this woman."
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