Looking at her soft, pale skin, her face a perfect mask ivory, Gengo knew he must have her, he needed her, maybe she would make him warm again.
He had come to the hamlet days earlier after days of long and tiring travel up the highway from Ryu to Kita, the name escaped him and there was nothing much of note here, nothing to distinguish it from the dozens of similar stopping off points linking the two great cities.
Gengo had had to leave Ryu quickly as the Prefecture were starting to pay too much attention to his trade and the disappearance of a young geisha from a tea house in the merchants quarter a cycle earlier. Gengo was used to the constant hounding and discrimination of the Clans towards his people, it had happened long before his time and would continue long after his bones were dust and all memory of his life lost to the sands of time. Gengo had on many occasions considered joining the Silver Moon Kumi in Ryu as a way of gaining some protection and respite from the abuse, but being a selfish and self-centred man at his core he knew he wouldn’t have been able to serve with the unquestioning belief the Oyabun demanded, and this would likely cost him his life or worse. And so with little choice but to keep moving this was Gengo’s life, that of a traveling butcher, he would do what others were repulsed by, not that there was much work and Gengo often ended scavenging to earn his supper. Never staying to long in any one place, despite his girth he was easily forgotten, lost in tide of traveling folk moving across Jwar from one town to the next, seeking respite from the never ending stream of dangers. Shiho bandits raiding and striking indiscriminately in the wilds, clan samurai and their retainers traveling the common lands and taking what they wanted shielded by their “right” to respect, many were no more than common thieves in armour. Then there were the risk of the Jung pirates raiding if you were near the coast, but in the cities there was the risk of crossing the Silver Moon. Despite the dangers of living in such dangerous and risky times, the distractions offered by these looming threats did mean that Gengo could “treat” himself on occasion, if he was careful.
The young Geisha worked at the old, traditional style tea house situated on the highway at the bend in the road, just at the rise of a hillock. Gengo had to hand it to the builder as they had chosen a particularly appealing spot for a weary traveller to rest after a long march along the coastal road. The innocent girl would be Gengo’s next “treat”. Although he had not spoken to her, he could tell she was beckoning him to her with subtle signs and signals meant only for his eyes and that only he had noticed. To the casual observer one would merely see a fat burakumin at his work butchering a lame horse, across the highway from the small but busy tea house. Over the past two days from the shack where he worked, set back from the rest of the buildings in the hamlet, Gengo had watched.
She reminded him of his first. He had been young then, maybe only fourteen winters, it had been at the Mountain city of Fuwa, the stronghold of the Minimoto clan. He and his father had travelled to the city in search of work in the mines which gave the Great Bears their wealth. She had been another traveller looking for work to support her young family. She never found employ. If Gengo closed his eyes he could still smell the lily scent in her dirty unwashed hair, a small effort to have something for herself, for her to feel special. Gengo suspected she had done it for him. She had been the first but not the last. After her Gengo had had to leave his father, he left in the night taking the few meagre coins and without word. Gengo had heard some cycles later that his father had been arrested for the girl’s murder after the Yoriki found some of her clothing in their lodgings, and beheaded. It was some years later when Gengo’s soul was truly lost. He had become transfixed by the dead eyes of a “treat”. The perfect white orbs, now stained red, stared, unblinking, accusingly at him, it was the first time Gengo felt truly cold. He had sat there with her in his arms unable to move as those eyes bore into what was left of his twisted soul.
He didn’t realise the girl’s father and brother were in the room until the shovel, swung with the strength only fear and grief can gift connected with the side of his head. It caught Gengo just about the ear, its blunt edge cutting deep into his sweaty scalp. Even as he fell, crumpling to the floor, her body dropping limply parallel to him on the rough tatami mat she had called her bed. Her eyes remained fixed upon him. Gengo was losing consciousness, his vision blurring as the father dropped to his knees to cradle his lost child. And then it happened… The beautiful perfect porcelain face, lolling lifelessly lifted but something was different, even then, in Gengo’s terrible state; vision blurred, head ringing, blood pouring from the large gash in his head, half dead, he could see.
“Do you wish to live Gengo?” the cold and lifeless lips moved, although the father and brother seemed oblivious. Time seemed to slow and the world blur, all that was left was the face. Gengo could make out every crack, curve and crease in the skin, her smooth and dry lips with perfect clarity.
“I know what you are Gengo, give yourself to me and I will save you,” the head jolted to an unnatural angle, looking directly at Gengo only now the pure eyes were black as jet.
“Give me your soul and I will show?” the voice did not seem to come from the corpse but all around. Still the father and son seemed oblivious.
“Serve me,” the corpse’s arm lifting from its limp position to reach out to Gengo.
“Serve me, or spend eternity in Jigoku,” the hand was so near.
Gengo reached out and touched it. Immediately pain shot up his arm, it felt as if there were a hand as cold and hard as mountain ice grasping and crushing his heart in a vice like grip, he grasped and struggled as the breath in his lungs was squeezed out, like a wife ringing a wet cloth. His body laid numbed and cold, the mist of his last breath hanging in the air around him, the rest of the room frozen in time. Then he felt it, the warmth in his arms, he felt his strength return and more. He felt his senses sharpen and his life force return.
Gengo didn’t fully register the look on the faces of the father and son, masks of utter shock and confusion. They barely had time to stand before the demon man was upon them. His greasy, fat fingers closing around the boy’s neck, dragging him from his feet, and off the ground, kicking, squirming and scratching with all his will but it was not enough. The boy stood little chance against the dark force coursing through the murderer’s body, and as the light of life died in his young eyes, he said a prayer to the kami for his father. It was too late.
After that day Gengo had never been the same. The nights were no longer lonely but filled with twisted visions and dark desires. Although he had not heard the voice again whilst awake it often spoke to him whilst sleeping, guiding his travels. It was the voice that led him to her. Although Gengo no longer felt alone, even with roaring fire and thick blanket he couldn’t get warm, it was if the warmth of life had left his body. The thought didn’t trouble Gengo for long, his attention drifting back to the old, tea house on the rise of the hill…….