Over the next few months, Reaper continued teaching Yunomi the ways of the Dark
Side. Time was different there, it wasn’t as important. Things moved at their own pace.
Yunomi found that Sandia was right, she did sleep a lot more. She also realized that
her Lord had not shown her where he lived, or the gates to the Human Realm. She
assumed that when she was sleeping, he was too, but she had no idea where. She
asked Sandia about it once, but she didn’t know either. They fought Demons off and
on, but faced nothing like Huena’s attack. In fact, Demon incursions to the Dark Side
Reaper took Yunomi to the farthest reach of the Dark Side, the Roaring Mountains. It was one of the most beautiful places she had ever been, reminding her of her childhood home in Japan. Yunomi ran happily through the dark forest, breathing in the pine scented mountain air. Reaper sat patiently on a boulder, watching her with curiosity. She seemed very much at home here. She ran up to her Lord, breathless with joy. “This is like the place I grew up in,” she explained. “My father was a student of kenjitsu, and my brother and I were born in Japan. We lived way up in the mountains at a beautiful old dojo.”
Reaper nodded. He seldom came here and was not that familiar with the area or it’s inhabitants. Yunomi suddenly spun around, drawing her sword. She stared hard at the edge of the forest, then called out in Japanese. A strange creature stepped forward from the trees. It’s body was human, but it had the head and feet of a crow. It was dressed in medieval Japanese garb, and carried a staff as well as a katana. Yunomi was beside herself, speaking rapidly in Japanese and continually bowing to the creature. She had sheathed her sword. The creature answered her, and they spent some time in conversation.
Reaper sat silently; he did not know these creatures and it disturbed him. They were Darksiders, and he should know them. He saw that Yunomi was indicating him to the creature. They approached him, and both bowed. “My Lord, this is Hiro. He is Tengu, a mountain spirit. He says his folk have heard of you, and he apologizes for not making your acquaintance sooner, but they are very ancient and very secretive.” The Tengu bowed low. Yunomi performed seiza, the formal sitting bow, before her Lord, touching her forehead to the ground. “Lord, I have a really big favor to ask. I want to go with Hiro to the Tengu’s dojo.”
Reaper was annoyed. “You have only been with me a short while, Yunomi, and now you would leave my service?”
“No, my Lord. I would never leave your service. But the Tengu are master swordsmen. They can teach me things I only dreamed of learning. With their instruction, I could become unbeatable. Think about it, Lord. Those first Demons I fought came close to killing me. If I study with the Tengu, my skills would improve so much that wouldn’t happen again. And my skills would be in your service. Please, my Lord.”
Reaper was thoughtful. There was something to what she said, and she hadn’t asked for anything from him before. He reached his decision. “Six months. I’ll meet you at this spot in six months. You are not released from my service, and you will return to me at that time. I expect a lot from you, Yunomi. Do not disappoint me.”
“I won’t, my Lord. You’ll not regret this. Thank you.” She touched her forehead to the ground again, then rose, bowed, and walked into the forest with the Tengu.
Reaper watched them disappear, and wondered if he’d done the right thing. He had sensed that Yunomi would deeply resent this missed opportunity if he had denied his permission. He didn’t want her to become bitter as Sandia had. Shrugging, he turned to go. He could use this time to figure out what was going on in Hell, and how Yunomi was going to fit into his life.
He returned to The City, and went to tell Sandia that Yunomi would no longer be living with her. He had decided that it would be better for Yunomi to have her own home when she returned. Sandia’s attitude could rub off on her if they were together too long.
Sandia took the news very calmly. She seldom disputed her Lord’s wishes, no matter how she felt about them, but she always made her feelings known. She would miss Yunomi. They had formed a bond of friendship in the short time they had lived together. That’s just like Reaper, she thought, to bring me a friend at last and then snatch her away again. Her bitterness deepened.
“Sandia. I need to know what’s going on in Hell. Huena had a whole batch of souls to test, Carnivean must be up to something. I’m sure he has spies in Dark Side. See what you can find out for me.”
“Yes, my Lord.” Sandia was too compliant. Reaper looked at her sharply. It was not like her to be so agreeable. He could feel her submerged anger.
“Yunomi will be back, she’s doing something she feels is important. It’s time for her to have her own place, too. You’ve put her up long enough.”
Sandia was surprised. Reaper was giving Yunomi a lot of leeway, and he never explained himself to anyone. This woman was changing him. Subtly, but changing him nonetheless. Sandia looked at her Lord questioningly. “Yunomi’s something special, isn’t she. What is she to you, Reaper?”
The Dark Lord stared at his minion. “I don’t know yet. She has potential.”
Yunomi had never been happier in her life. To find that the Tengu not only existed, but were willing to teach her their arts, was beyond her wildest dreams. The Tengu were fun loving and mischievous, but they practiced hard, too. Yunomi spent hours in the dojo every day, and her nights drinking sake’ with her Tengu mentors. Yunomi’s taste for alcohol and sense of mischief were enhanced. They played tricks on both Humans and Darksiders, so she learned to pass back and forth between the realms. She learned Tengu magic; healing spells, invisibility, all the things a Ninja needed. Her sword skills improved dramatically. She engaged in long chases through the dark forests with her Tengu friends, practicing ambushes and concealment. They performed misogi, the purification rites of standing under waterfalls and plunging into icy mountain streams. She became the warrior she’d always dreamed of being. Yunomi had become more Tengu than Human in six short months. She awoke one morning after a night of serious drinking to find Hiro sitting at the foot of her sleeping mat.
“Sensei wants to see you. It’s time for you to return to your Lord, and he has a gift for you.”
Yunomi was devastated. She had completely lost track of time, in fact had forgotten that she was not to be with the Tengu forever. She dressed and followed Hiro to her waiting sensei with tears in her eyes. She performed seiza before her sensei, and thanked him for his teachings and kindness. He bade her to rise and approach him, then took her left hand. He pushed up the sleeve of her kimono, and began to draw on her sword arm with his finger. When he was done, a spiral of flying crows started at her wrist and wound around her forearm to her elbow. The drawing had become a tattoo. Yunomi knew the design well; it was an evasive battle tactic called tomoe karasu, the circling crows. It was a beautiful reminder of her time with the Tengu. But another gift waited. Her spectral katana had been forged with a Tengu blade, making a sword usable in all realms. Yunomi thanked her sensei, and all her Tengu friends, then returned to her quarters to gather her few possessions.
Hiro accompanied her to the place at the edge of the forest where she had left Reaper six months before. He was waiting, arms crossed. Yunomi bowed low to him. “My Lord, I have returned to your service as I promised.” Hiro disappeared into the forest as Reaper looked Yunomi up and down. She was leaner, and more graceful. Self-assurance emanated from her. He had not thought improvement was necessary, but here she was, more beautiful and more dangerous. Then he saw her tattoo.
“What’s this?” He grabbed her wrist and pulled her arm straight to examine it. “Who marked you?” he thundered. “My sensei did.” She answered without fear. “It’s tomoe karasu, the circling crows.”
“No one marks my acolyte but me!” Reaper was truly angry. “My Lord , it is a gift from my sensei. It is a reminder, nothing more. He and the Tengu lay no claim to me, as you seem to.” Her eyes flashed dangerously.
Reaper stared hard at her. “You will wear my mark in time, woman. But you’re obviously not ready yet. Come, I have something to show you.” He kept his grip on her wrist as they disappeared.
They arrived at an old house in a forest clearing. “I found this place for you. It will be your dwelling in Dark Side. I’ll show you how to put protection and locking spells on it.” Reaper behaved as if he and Yunomi had parted only hours before, rather than months. He asked no questions about her time with the Tengu, or her enhanced abilities. Yunomi was annoyed. Her dwelling was apparently far from any Dark Side settlement, and needed a lot of work. Her Lord was isolating her. That, and his reaction to her tattoo, made her wonder if she’d made the right choice in returning to him. But she had no choice, really. He was her Lord, she was sworn to him.
They walked onto the big front porch, and Reaper showed her the spells he’d mentioned. They went inside. The front room was huge, with hardwood floors and a fireplace at one end. Yunomi immediately decided that this would be her practice room. A door to one side of the fireplace led to a large front bedroom. From there, a hall led to the shower room and a small sitting area. Another large bedroom was at the back of the house. Parallel to these rooms and also opening off the front room was a dining area leading into a roomy kitchen. A back porch off the kitchen completed the house. Yunomi liked the house very much. It had possibilities, and was not as decrepit inside as it appeared outside. “It’s very nice, my Lord, thank you.” she said.
Reaper looked to be sure she was honest with him. Seeing that she was, he spoke. “Then I will leave you to make yourself a home. Sandia has been scouting for me, the Demons are up to something. You and I will go hunting in a few days.” He left her then, and did not return for almost a week.
Yunomi set about making her house a home. She found a gate to the Human Realm in the woods not far from the house, and began going on scrounging trips. She covered one wall in the front room with mirrors so she could check her form as she practiced. On the wall opposite the fireplace she placed her sword altar. In the corner between the fireplace and the door to the dining area, she hung her heavy punching bag. Yunomi polished the hardwood floor to a high gloss so that her feet would slide easily during her kenjitsu practice. Pleased with her personal dojo, she turned her attention to the rest of the house.
The front bedroom remained basically empty. She hung a few weapons on the wall, and put a traditional futon and sleeping mat in. In the sitting room, she put two big overstuffed chairs and some bookcases. She chose the back bedroom for herself, and it was her most personal space. There was another traditional Japanese sleeping mat, and a red laquered wooden chest to hold her few clothes and possessions. She also set up a CD player and a simple rack to hold her CD’s. Music had been her one indulgence in her Human life, and she wouldn’t let it go. She loved the darker stuff, Goth, metal, and industrial, although her collection varied greatly. She had over a hundred CD’s, all stolen or scrounged from the Humans.
The dining area remained empty, but the kitchen was big enough to hold a small table and three chairs. She put the usual kitchen things in, especially a coffee pot. Yunomi loved coffee, and made a very strong brew which she drank black. Few others could stand her coffee. As a Buddhist and a Ninja, she kept her material possessions to a minimum. As a Darksider, she had even less use for property, and the house was a study in the minimalist style.
There was a knock on the door one day, and Yunomi was pleased to see that
Sandia had found her. “Hey, girl, nice place! Reaper found this for you?”
Yunomi shook her head. “He was angry with me about my tattoo, but I didn’t feel
like I was in danger.”
Yunomi had settled in nicely when her Lord returned to take her hunting. He showed a respect she had not expected by knocking on the front door. She knew he had retained the key spells to her house and could let himself in any time. “My Lord, come in. I’m glad to see you.” The truth of the matter was, she was beginning to get bored out in the woods alone.
Reaper looked around. He seemed to silently approve of her spartan
decorating. “You live very simply, Yunomi.”
A Dangerous Game
The Demon incursions into Dark Side had increased during Yunomi’s absence. Sandia reported that they were indeed up to something, but had become even more secretive. She had been unable to find out much. “Carnivean wants a war,” Reaper explained to Yunomi. “The Dark Side is all that stands between Hell and the Light Realm, and he would rule here, too. But he is a coward and will not confront me personally.” Reaper didn’t mind Demons coming occasionally to Dark Side for their own reasons, but Carnivean had begun sending over groups to do battle with the Dark Lord.
He and Yunomi were constantly accosted, sometimes even in The City. Their battles were fierce, but solved nothing, the Demons usually escaping back to Hell without much damage to either side. Yunomi gained a reputation as a fearsome warrior, with many kills to her credit. She would take the little fingers of her most valiant opponents and make beads from the finger bones. Trophy taking was something she learned from the Demons themselves. Reaper told her that they often hung the bodies of their enemies in Hell to suffer abuse even in death.
He was glad to have his warrior acolyte to watch his back. Yunomi proved her worth to him time and again, gaining many more scars in the process. It was during one of these battles that she saw her Lord injured for the first time. A giant Demon hurled a boulder at him from ambush, catching him in his leg and breaking it. Yunomi sprang on the giant with such ferocity that he was left in many small pieces. She returned immediately to Reaper’s side, but he was already well on his way to healing. Broken bones took a little longer, he explained, and left to return to his own secret place. Yunomi didn’t see him for days, but soon they were hunting together again. It was the first of many times she would see her Lord recover quickly from horrendous wounds. As the war progressed, the Dark Lord and his acolyte came to trust and depend on each other more than either was willing to admit. He even began allowing her to help him heal himself.
She came to hate Demons with a passion her Lord lacked. He accepted them for what they were, but Yunomi had no use for them at all and killed as many as she could. The Demons came to fear her, and concentrated their attacks on her. Reaper came to her defense more often, as the Demons would sometimes ignore him to try and kill Yunomi. Months went by, and the attacks lessened. Carnivean seemed reluctant to lose any more Demons to Yunomi’s sword. Reaper began leaving Dark Side for longer periods to attend his business elsewhere. Yunomi continued to hunt, sometimes with Sandia, and sometimes alone.
It was on one of her solo trips that she was caught out in the open by a Demon pack. She was holding her own, dead and dying Demons at her feet, when the remaining attackers suddenly withdrew. Hearing a slight sound behind her, she spun around and was struck hard by something, the blow almost knocking her down. Stunned, Yunomi saw a grotesquely fat Demon reloading a crossbow. Glancing down at herself, she realized a bolt had struck her in the chest, just below the heart.
“Damn, I’ll have to adjust these sights.” the Demon was muttering as he raised the crossbow again. The other Demons had scampered to his side, gibbering and capering with joy as the fat one aimed carefully. Yunomi brought up her sword to parry the bolt, but her wound slowed her and it sank into her left shoulder. She was bleeding internally, and couldn’t gather the energy to attack. The Demon was raising the crossbow for a third shot when it exploded in his hands with a thunderous flash of lightning.
“Carnivean, you know better!” The Dark Lord’s voice roared across the battle scene. The Demons all withdrew in fear, Carnivean holding his burnt hands and howling. They vanished as a group. Reaper turned to see Yunomi lying on the ground, barely conscious. He gently picked her up and took her to her house. He laid her on her bed and carefully pulled her clothing away from the two bolts. “I haven’t seen wounds like these in centuries.” he muttered. “Damn Carnivean! He knows he can’t use Human weapons! It’ll take me a minute to remember how to heal these. Be patient, Yunomi.”
“Yes Lord.” she groaned. The pain was bad, and she was terribly weak. Reaper closed his eyes and templed his fingers, searching his memory for the way to heal arrow wounds.
“All right, I’ve got it.” He placed his hands around the bolt in her chest and breathed a spell. Then he tugged gently, and the bolt slid out, the wound closing behind it. He repeated the spell for the bolt in her shoulder. “Sleep now, you’ll be fine when you wake up. I’ll return then, and we’ll settle this with Carnivean.”
Yunomi awoke several days later. She felt strong, but a little sore in her chest
and shoulder. She got up and went to work out in her dojo. After a couple of hours, the
stiffness was gone and she felt ready for anything. She took a shower and went to the
kitchen for coffee. Reaper sat at the kitchen table, drinking a beer. Yunomi was
startled. “My Lord, I didn’t know you were here.” She was somewhat taken aback.
“I wouldn’t let Carnivean kill you, especially not like that. Today we’ll go and settle this. I’ve called the meeting. Wear something fairly impressive, something dangerous looking. We’ll leave from here.”
Yunomi went to her room and looked in her clothes chest. She felt that her idea
of ‘dangerous looking’ was quite different from her Lord’s, and wasn’t sure what to do.
She usually wore loose drawstring pants and a sports bra top, sometimes with a
tee-shirt over it. She had a habit of cutting the sleeves and hems off her shirts. Now
she had to look a little more impressive. She thought about her kenjitsu uniform,
hakama and ghi. No, not right. She considered how her Lord was dressed, black jeans
and sleeveless black denim shirt, not that different from how he usually looked. He
was also wearing a short silver chain whose links were tiny skulls. She had never seen
him wear jewelry before, except an earring now and again. She wore none herself,
jewelry being considered a liability in her style of fighting. Yunomi sighed. How do you
dress to meet a Demon Lord?
The meeting place was a tavern on neutral ground in a town where Hell and
Dark Side overlapped. Reaper and Yunomi entered the private back room; Carnivean
was already there, his monstrous bulk ensconced on an overstuffed chair. He eyed
Yunomi hatefully. “I thought this was to be a private meeting, Reaper. She has no
Carnivean looked Yunomi up and down with a nasty leer. “I suspect she has
more to offer you than fearlessness and devotion, Reaper. She’s quite an attractive
At that, Reaper became uneasy. There was something about Yunomi that he
didn’t understand, but Carnivean seemed to have a clue about. Reaper was attracted
to Yunomi as he had never been to anyone else, and it disturbed him. She had an inner
power that was a mystery to him. “Yunomi, leave us. I would speak with Carnivean
Reaper decided that Carnivean was bluffing. The Demon Lord had read his unease about Yunomi and was using it against him. “This meeting is at an end. Do not use weapons again, Carnivean, and I would strongly advise you not to make another attempt on Yunomi’s life. You know what can happen when my anger is aroused.”
Carnivean glowered at the Dark Lord. “Yes, I know. But be careful yourself. You don’t know what you’ve brought to Dark Side.” With that, the Demon Lord vanished.
Reaper shook his head. Carnivean was impossible to deal with. He left the
room, and found Yunomi sitting at a table in the tavern, drinking a beer. He sat with
her. “I’m not sure anything was settled,” he told her. “Watch yourself, Carnivean can’t
be trusted. He’ll probably try to kill you again.”
Yunomi was at a loss. She couldn’t imagine why a Demon Lord would seek her
life. She and her Lord left the tavern, and walked along the streets of the town, both
puzzling over Carnivean’s allusions. Suddenly, Yunomi stopped, a stricken look on her
face. “Lord, something’s wrong,” she gasped, then doubled over in pain. Reaper
caught her, and laid a hand on her stomach. She was in terrible agony.
Yunomi struggled with the effort, but whispered “Tengu.” Reaper nodded, assuming that she wanted to return to her mentors to die. Holding her in his arms, he appeared in the clearing where he had reclaimed her over a half a year before. “Tengu!” he called. “Yunomi needs you!” After a minute or two, a Tengu appeared at the edge of the forest. He studied Reaper and Yunomi, then approached cautiously. Yunomi lay in Reaper’s arms, shivering and moaning softly. The Tengu touched her, then beckoned Reaper to follow.
They walked through the forest to the Tengu compound. The creature called out in it’s own language and the healer priest came out of his dwelling. Reaper could understand nothing of what was said, but could see concern and compassion in their strange bird faces. They took Yunomi from him and disappeared with her into another building. He stood restlessly in the center of the temple complex, unsure of what to do. A young Tengu approached, bowed low, and beckoned him to follow. The Tengu led Reaper to a small house next to the healer’s dwelling. There was a sleeping mat set up there. The Tengu pointed to himself, and said “Taku”, then bowed. In one corner of the room was a low table and a tatami mat. Taku indicated that Reaper was to sit there, then brought him a container of sake and a cup. Taku sat on his knees at Reaper’s side, facing him, then poured a cup of sake and offered it to the Dark Lord. Reaper accepted it and tasted it cautiously. He was unfamiliar with Tengu ways, but realized that he was being shown respect.
After a short while, the healer and his assistant came in carrying Yunomi wrapped in a blanket. They had stripped and bathed her, washing away some of the poison. They settled her on the sleeping mat, and covered her with a comforter. She was still in a great deal of pain, twisting and moaning under the blankets. The healer came and knelt in front of Reaper, and began to earnestly explain something to him. Reaper shook his head. He could understand none of their language. The healer placed his hand on Reaper’s forehead and began to send thoughts.
The healer turned his attention to Yunomi. His assistant brought purifying teas, and helped her to drink them. They wrapped her tightly in her blankets, and put warm compresses on her face. Her fever began to rise.
All the while, Taku sat by Reaper, refilling his cup and occasionally offering food and tea. Reaper dozed now and again, but remained sitting, carefully watching the healer work. Hours passed. Yunomi had become delirious with the fever that was burning the poison out of her body. She called out in both Tengu and Japanese, while the healer and his aide comforted her. But when she cried out for her Lord, he was at her side instantly. Reaper laid a hand on her cheek, and spoke softly to her, while the healer and his assistant looked at each other knowingly. Yunomi was obviously more than a valued warrior to her Lord. He sat beside her for some time.
After many hours, her fever broke and she entered the deep, renewing Dark Side sleep. The healer approached Reaper and touched his forehead. “She will sleep now. You sleep, too.” Taku pulled back a screen to reveal another sleeping mat. Reaper used sign language to tell Taku that when Yunomi awoke, he wished to be awakened also, then settled into a deep sleep himself.
Yunomi and Reaper slept for days, the Tengu watching after them. Yunomi awoke first, sore and groggy after her ordeal. The healer took her to the bath house, where the last traces of poison were washed away. “You must go and awaken your Lord, Yunomi. He has stayed with you the whole time,” the healer told her.
Yunomi put on a plain black kimono and returned to the house where Reaper slept. She knelt beside his sleeping form and softly called, “My Lord? You wished to be awakened.”
Reaper smiled. Yunomi had saved her own life by telling him where to bring her. She was much stronger than he had realized, and now she was immune to Demon poison. She’s really something special, he thought. He took her hand and kissed the back of it. “I’m glad to see you. I thought you would die. I didn’t want that.”
Yunomi felt him distance himself from her. He had been so close...no, she wouldn’t allow herself to believe that he felt anything more than a Lord would feel for his samurai. They sat staring at each other, neither knowing what to say. The healer entered the room, and spoke to Yunomi. She nodded and said to Reaper “The healer would like to speak to you alone. I’ll go visit some friends while I’m here.” She rose and left the house.
The healer placed his hand on Reaper’s forehead. “Yunomi is an extraordinary soul, Dark Lord. She has a strength you are not completely aware of. You must trust her, and trust your feelings for her. She will never betray you, but your mistrust will cause you to betray her. The two of you will accomplish great things. You will bring each other terrible sorrow, and incredible joy. Treasure her, Dark Lord, as she treasures you.”
Reaper stared at the healer, realizing he had just received a prophecy. “Why does the Demon Lord fear her?” he finally asked.
He was not alone with his thoughts for long. Taku entered, bowed, and motioned Reaper to come with him. They went to the bath house, where two female Tengu attendants waited to introduce Reaper to the pleasures of the Japanese bath. As he soaked in the steaming water, Reaper’s mind wandered over ancient texts he had read. There was something in one about a Storm Child, a woman of light and dark. He couldn’t remember it exactly, but for some reason the healer’s words had called it to mind. The attendants came in with a black yukata, the warrior’s robe; a towel and combs. They fussed over Reaper, dressing him and making him sit still while they combed his long hair. All the while, the Tengu softly giggled and chattered in their bird language. Reaper wondered what they found so amusing about him. They pulled back the hair around his face and tied it, leaving the rest to fall loose over his shoulders. They dressed him in hakama and kimono shirt, black embroidery on black silk. When they were finished with him, Reaper looked very much a Lord in the Japanese style.
Yunomi had been happily visiting her Tengu friends. They were throwing one of their all-night drinking parties that evening to celebrate her return and survival of the Demon poison. She went back to the healing house to look for Reaper and convince him to stay another night. When Yunomi entered and saw her Lord, she stopped and
stared openly. He was more regal and beautiful than she had ever seen him. Seeing her stare, he frowned. “What?” he asked, irritated.
The tavern keeper stood uneasily before the Demon Lord Carnivean. “Was the poison administered?” the Demon inquired.
The taverner bowed, and left quickly. He was not proud of what he’d done, but feared Carnivean too much.
Several days later, Huena reported to Carnivean. “We cannot find them, Lord. Reaper and his whore have vanished without a trace.”