Updated: Aug 25, 2020
For those of you who've read Divinity's Twilight: Rebirth, you know I have a penchant for writing . . . lengthy prologues. The initial framing of a story is, after all, extremely important. It's the first thing a reader sees, so it has to draw them in, hint at where the story is going, and leave them craving more. Yet while Rebirth's prologue is a suitably titanic foundation for the immense series to follow, not all tales need the same level of exposition. Some can stand on a narrow pedestal, one filled with mystery and intrigue, desperation and audacity. So it is with the following preview, definitive proof that I can write a brief introduction to one of my worlds. Enjoy! Untitled Asian Fantasy Prologue "Are you certain you wish to do this?"
Hiritaka Senbei's eyes snapped open and pain came rushing back into his temples, a pounding migraine worse than any he'd suffered before. How could I have dozed off in the middle of such agony? Gingerly, like a newborn babe, he raised his head from the bloody palm of his gauntlet, fingers tracing crimson furrows on his mud-caked cheek.
The sight before him set his heart to racing in time with the invisible hammer wailing against his skull. Senbei's hand leapt for the short wakizashi at his side as he made to stand. Then clarity returned, and he slumped down on his zaisu seat. Back bent; strength spent; bereft of honor.
Waiting to die.
"I'll ask again. Are you certain you wish to do this?"
Was Senbei certain of anything at this point? Glancing up, he briefly met the Yokai's gaze. Brilliant blue, piercingly so. Frigid enough to cover his land, a domain that had never seen a snow, in ice and sleet.
But while the eyes were human, the rest was not. What human's robes flowed about them in an unseen wind, strands black as pitch that melded, broke, and danced to a tune all their own? What human's limbs could not be discerned? The creature—the demonic Yokai—had gestured at Senbei several times during their conversation. Yet when his arm withdrew, it appeared to join the shifting cloud—a mere tendril among hundreds that made up his spectral form.
Across the tent, one of Senbei's commander's found the courage to speak. "L-lord Hiritaka is master of all that surrounds us! An Aratama will not address him so casually!"
Aratama, an evil spirit. A Yokai bent on mischief and mayhem. It was an apt label for the revenant before them, one the phantom did not seem to mind. It turned in place, glacial eyes glinting at the commander, who looked straight down at the tatami mat beneath him, perhaps searching for the secret technique of its weaver.
Senbei imagined that to a being without mouth, nose, or ears, that shimmer was a smile.
"Lord Hiritaka was the chief power in Ishikara," the Yokai mocked in that melodic, forceful tone it favored. "But he is no longer. Your men are spent, your army lies in disarray, and the rebels will shortly overrun this camp."
"You—all of you," it expanded its amorphous darkness to take in the entire command tent and its occupants: Senbei and his samurai, the final eight lords still loyal to his cause. "Have a choice to make. Will you commit seppuku and retain some small dignity? Fight to the last? Or . . . ."
Its voice fell to a haunting whisper. ". . . will you accept my offer?"
A chuckle burst from Senbei's cracked lips, setting his temples ablaze once more. But he didn't care. Dead men were beyond such things.
His samurai looked at their lord like he had lost his wits, but he was the sane one. Why didn't they laugh with him? The tent was filthy, the mon banners at the entrance were tattered and worn, their tatami armor was slashed to ribbons, and he'd lost his helmet in the last engagement. Valresh, the chief deity of their pantheon, had clearly abandoned them to their fate.
Yet worse still, his father's daito—the long blade with which he'd won their ancestral land—was lying in the muck of the Kirento fields outside, waiting to be claimed as a prize by some peasant soldier who'd sell it for cheap sake. If Senbei didn't fall on his sole remaining sword this instant, did he have any hope of entering the next life with a shred of honor to his name?
Yes, Senbei did have a spider's thread of hope left.
And it was a Yokai with a devil's promise of power.
Senbei stopped laughing. In one swift motion that nearly split his head in twain, he jumped to his feet, prompting his commanders to follow suit in a chorus of groans and clanking dou plates.
Like rushing water, he drew his wakizashi and stabbed his left hand. Blood dripping between his fingers, the heat of his life emptying onto the mats below, Senbei clenched his fist and held it forth in offering.
"Do it!" he roared.
The Yokai nodded, blue eyes glinting, abyssal features inscrutable. "The agreement is sealed in blood, forever binding, never to be broken."
A gust of chill wind swept through the tent. Ropes were ripped from their stakes to snap like serpents in the air; cloth flaps pulled back, exposing the desolate camp beyond. Senbei blinked. The Yokai was gone, vanished, as were his headache and . . .
He opened his wounded hand, watching with slack-jawed wonder as the cut sizzled and sealed. Tiny tendrils of smoke curled from it as it healed, snaking from the chamber into the darkening sky beyond.
Suddenly shouts of exclamation rose from his samurai—not cries of despair or agony, but of amazement. They glowed faintly, and sweat beaded on their unshaved faces. Senbei yanked his right gauntlet off. His skin glowed even brighter than theirs, and though he couldn't feel the warmth, steam wafted from his flesh.
He'd never felt so powerful in all his life.
"It worked!" Senbei yelled. "It worked!"
The gale redoubled, tearing away the tent and carrying it off across the corpse littered plain beyond the camp. Senbei didn't notice. He was transfixed by the radiance pouring from his arm. So mesmerized, in fact, that he failed to witness the impossible flakes of snow drifting lazily from the heavens . . .
. . . or hear the screams erupting all around the battlefield.