[Note: Due to time constraints I have recently I’ll probably be breaking these into smaller sections!]
The directions I had for the missing son’s house led me to a small cluster of abandoned buildings outside of the city. Squatters, thieves, and others the Taihoji couldn’t be bothered to clear out would often live in these sorts of abandoned buildings. This grouping was centered around an old well irrigation system that had since dried up. That would explain why the original inhabitants must have moved on, there were better areas for rice fields near the city than this.
Upon my approach, I could see that they mostly consisted of a large building that must have been a storehouse, a household living space and what used to be a temple. The last surprised me, while a shrine to a kami would be quite typical. A temple itself here seemed strange. Unless this was holy ground, but in that case, some priests would have stayed. While this was merely a one-roomed temple, it would still have a couple of priests to maintain it.
My first inclination was to call out, but something in my gut warned me not to. There’s something off about this place. Ikiru muttered in the back of my head as I moved up to the temple building’s doors. They were starting to fall apart, and an acrid smell of rot hung in the air. While it was indeed possible for the homeless to squat in a place like this something about it was unnerving enough to find it more and more unlikely. I’d come this far, however, might as well scout the place out… carefully.
As I gently nudged the door open, there was a wrenching sound, as if the slider was not only stuck but supporting more of the structure than it rightly should. Quickly I jumped away as a section of the door frame came crashing down where I had been, and other parts of the building followed behind it. After a moment silence resumed and I felt my body relax slightly. Whoever was here was undoubtedly alerted to my presence now. The silence that had clung to the buildings like a cloak resumed.
“Maybe there’s not anyone here?” I thought out loud.
You better hope not, Ikiru responded, might as well wake every hungry ghost from here to the underworld.
“Not funny,” I replied, trying not to think of what I’d gone through already.
Taking a careful breath, I peered carefully into the temple. The bell at the far side had fallen part way through the floorboards, and several holes in the roof were still dripping some rainwater from earlier. Statues of gods on the far side had collapsed into heaps as well, what little paint remained on them had mostly corroded. Stepping inside, the floorboards creaked unsparingly at my weight; this entire place seemed on the verge of collapse. It merely looked like an abandoned temple; maybe I was overthinking things. “I have a feeling he’s not—“ I should have been about to say “alive” when suddenly the hole in the floor came into view, and so did the ritualistically arranged body of a boy in his early twenties. The blood was smeared in the same manner as the previous murders.
Well, this just got interesting.
Even more so as I could now tell… the blood still smelled fresh.
I placed my hand on my sword hilt carefully. Whoever did this could easily still be there. Carefully I examined the body up close as I felt my stomach well up again at the stench of blood. How could I have missed the smell even outside? His body was cut into pieces and arranged much like the Geisha, this time distinctly forming the number four not death but… In Wokoken the way to say death and the number four was the same. That was different at least. Why the change? I thought to myself examine the murder.
The cuts looked ragged I noticed this time, almost as if I wild beast had ripped him apart before he was arranged in this position.
An Oni? They’re rarely seen outside of the levels of the underworld, a person with a ragged saw of some sort maybe but somehow that seemed unlikely. Ikiru began to ramble.
“Wait, what are you telling me?”
I’m just trying to figure this out too. This has otherworldly written all over it. Certainly blood magic.
“I’ve never seen a kind of magic that…” I started to speculate as Ikiru interrupted me.
“Me? What? No honorific this time?” I answered sarcastically.
I think it’s behind you.
I froze. Listening, not wanting to bat an eyelid. I could barely hear it, a slight sound of breathing some paces behind me. The thought of the red eyes in the dark cloud spilled through my memory. Whatever this was I had one chance, I could turn and draw in the same movement increasing my chances.
Griping my sword and spinning it out of its sheath hoping to catch it or whatever it was, in mid-charge, I instead turned to face—nothing. There was nothing there. The rain began to start pattering down again making the summer air humid once again. I listened once again, at first I could only hear the patter of the rain. Some of the rain hit me in the eye and broke my concentration enough for me to look up at the hole in the temple’s ruined ceiling. This thing wasn’t the same small shadow with eyes floating on the floor in front of me; on the contrary, it was massive. It just was on the roof, not the ground.
“What. Is. That?”
I form of Yōkai. One I’m not familiar with, however.
It stared at me. Instead of two bloodshot eyes, it had one colossal eye surrounded by shaggy blue fur. It seemed to be wearing the remnants of a priest’s robe with claws the size of my body gripping the roof like a bird on a perch.
Sometimes it’s best to know when to… Run.