Yokai Slayer Meiko

After the battle, flowers grow. Meiko was that flower, watered by blood, shaped by atrocities, but not defined by them. A humble Kensei dedicated to the protection of her people, Meiko was a beloved warrior, one of the few who took the time to enjoy the rare beauties of a harsh world. This was, more than likely, the reason why she was most often spotted with a smile on her face – even in the midst of battle. There was a spark in her eyes, one that could never be dimmed, no matter the circumstances. But Meiko’s resilience was tested when the Yokai were freed from their prison.

After being dormant for generations, the monstrous demons were let loose upon the Myre. When Meiko’s younger brother Motoori was taken, something changed in her. The spark took a darker shade, and the smile was put to rest. In order to face the Yokai, Meiko took the responsibility of wielding the Mamono Dagger. The blade was the only weapon capable of killing the Yokai – but wielding it came at a great cost. Every Yokai the dagger claimed was contained inside of it. The more it killed, the more powerful it became. And the more it threatened to consume its wielder. But Meiko had no choice. If she had any hope of saving her brother, she had to face these demons. Those both outside, and within.

The Ghosts of Torment

Part I.

Motoori’s footsteps splashed in the wet ground behind her. She looked back at her brother, reminding herself that he knew how to take care of himself now. All Meiko could do was stare right in front of her, at the heavy wooden door that, despite her best efforts to run as fast as she could, still seemed much too far away. All her life, she had been responsible for her brother. After losing their parents at such a young age, she had taken it upon herself to raise him. She had cared for him, traded goods for him, and ensured he always had a roof over his head. She was also the one who taught him how to fight – a decision she made after a young Motoori came home one day, beaten and bloodied, his cheeks covered in dried tears. Heathmoor was an unforgiving place, and she would ensure that he would have the strength and the skills to stand tall in a world where everything was looking to tear you down.

But that was a long time ago. Now, Motoori was a fully-grown young adult, a mighty Orochi and she, a proud Kensei. And yet, here they were again, running like frightened children. All she could think about was keeping her brother safe. The door was too far ahead. They wouldn’t make it in time. They had to do what she had taught Motoori: stand and fight. She gave him the signal, and he quickly tapped her shoulder, a silent understanding they had perfected when they were young. Meiko planted her feet and pivoted, allowing Motoori to swoop past her and circle to her side, both siblings unsheathing their swords in one fluid motion.

Even if she knew exactly what was coming for them, Meiko still felt a great rush of fear upon looking at them. The two creatures wore Samurai armor, but that was the only thing human about them. Their skin was discolored. Their faces were distorted beyond recognition. Their eyes glowed with an unnatural light. And their screeches. Their screeches would have filled even the bravest warriors in history with paralyzing dread.

The two possessed Samurai approached with broken movements punctuated by the sound of crackling bones. One of them dragged the tip of his blade on the ground, as if the weapon was too heavy for him to hold. But the undead assailant had no trouble lifting it and swinging it at Meiko, who blocked the attack with precision.

The Yokai screamed in her face, a twisted and unnerving howl that woke sleeping children miles away. Meiko sliced her opponent’s arm right off, but it didn’t slow down or back off. It just kept coming at her, with snapping teeth and sharp claws for fingers. And what was that unnerving sound coming from its throat? Was it laughing?

To her side, Meiko could see Motoori struggling against his enemy. He too seemed to be fighting a hopeless battle. When they were young, Meiko and Motoori had been told stories of the Yokai -- demon spirits from another realm, capable of possessing both objects and people. Long ago repelled by their ancestors, and kept at bay in a cave sealed by an enchanted stone. Children used to dare each other to travel into the forest outside the village in the dead of night, and to go touch the stone seal. Young Meiko had risen up to the challenge – but not Motoori. He had still been too young. And too frightened. But these were stories for the young. Bedtime tales, meant to keep them snug in their blankets. No one believed in the Yokai. Not anymore.

Yet now here they were. Awake. Voracious. And unkillable.

“We need the dagger!” her brother yelled. And she knew he was right. The Yokai couldn’t be stopped. Not with their swords. They needed the Mamono Dagger. Another tale. Another myth. A blade that, if legends were to be believed, could kill these monsters.

In the chaos of battle, Meiko was pushed back, thrown and dragged away from her brother. She could still hear him fight against the Yokai, but she was too busy avoiding her own enemy’s rabid attacks. That is, until the creature suddenly stopped. There it stood, motionless, a lonely scarecrow born of hell itself. Meiko could only recover her breath as a foreboding silence fell upon her – and, it seemed, the entire village. A squelching rustle startled her. Had it come from behind her? Or above? She turned to look back at nothing at all. She turned again. The one-armed Yokai was gone. It had retreated into the dark. For a moment, Meiko was left puzzled. What could possibly frighten something born of fear itself? The sudden silence was then broken by a sound that caused Meiko’s heart to nearly leap out of her chest. The sound of her own name, desperately cried out by her brother.

“Motoori,” she cried out.

Meiko ran back to her brother – where she had last laid eyes on the door the siblings never reached. But there was no Yokai. No Motoori. All she found was her brother’s helmet. What was it that covered it… Spider webs? Could it be? Could it really be her? Yet another story. Perhaps the worst of all. One that, if true, meant she had very little time.

Her brother was gone. She would find him. She would find him, if it was the last thing she ever did.

But first she needed a weapon. She needed the dagger.

Part II.

The old house stared at her from the top of the hill, almost daring her to cross its threshold. Meiko carefully walked along the beaten path, flanked by tallgrass that didn’t move an inch. The air was completely still, and the only sounds that filled the black trepidation of the moment were the chirps of distant insects and the croaks of unassuming frogs, none too bothered by the missions of man. Meiko climbed the creaky wooden stairs that led to the porch. Only then did she unsheathe her sword, before pushing the tattered dirt-brown cloth that served as a door to the side and stepping inside the house.

It had only been two days since Motoori had disappeared but, to Meiko, it had felt much longer than that. More and more Yokai were running rampant throughout the village. A true sense of unruly terror had overtaken the people. Most had barricaded themselves inside their homes. And those who ventured outside either disappeared or became horrifying spectres, hosts for the living dead. Meiko’s first stop had been the Mamono Dagger’s altar, but she was shocked to find it empty. Another warrior had claimed the relic in a futile attempt to rid the village of the Yokai. This warrior had since disappeared, and Meiko had spent all her time retracing their steps – until finally, she had found the lonely house on the lonely hill.

The floorboards groaned under her every step, announcing her snail-like progress through the house. Not a movement was wasted. Alert to every flicker of dust hovering in the pale reflections of the moonlight, Meiko studied her surroundings, searching for any clue as to the dagger’s whereabouts. A slithering laughter made her stop to a standstill. She paid no mind to the cold sweat dripping down her back. She simply couldn’t afford to give in to fear. All that mattered was her prize. The laughter continued, circling around her, drifting from far away to what felt like mere inches away from her. Yet, there was nothing to be seen. She resumed walking, both hands firmly wrapped around the handle of her sword. She walked past overturned chairs, broken pots and blood-stained rags. No one had lived in this house for years. But now something called it home. And it was all too eager to have a guest.

The laughter stopped, but before Meiko could get used to the silence, it turned into the cries of an infant. Despite her best efforts, she followed the sounds into the next room – what would have been, once upon a time, a kitchen filled with warmth and laughter. But instead of a dining table, Meiko’s eyes were transfixed on what stood in the middle of the room: a wooden crib – the source of the increasingly loud and unsettling cries Meiko heard. Instantly, she recognized it. It was exactly like the crib her brother slept in after he had been born.

“Motoori,” she whispered, approaching the crib. Whatever was inside, Meiko couldn’t see because it was covered with a blanket. Seeking to put an end to the nearly deafening cries, she removed the blanket – but there was nothing inside. Nothing but cobwebs that stuck to her hands. Horrified, she hurriedly wiped them off, and turned back to leave at once – only she was met with a monstrous face with bright white eyes bellowing right back at her. Screaming in return, Meiko stumbled backwards, tripping over the crib and falling to the floor.

The spectre tormenting her took shape in front of her, forming elongated legs that allowed it to stand and thin long arms that hung lifeless along its sides. “You can’t save him,” the entity said with a hollow, raspy voice. “She has him.” It took a step forward. “It will all be over soon.” Another step. “Poor little baby brother.” And another. “Poor, poor Motoori.” And another. “At the mercy of mother.”

Unable to take her eyes off the Yokai, Meiko’s hands fervently searched all around her for the sword she had dropped. She scurried back, trying to buy herself some time, until something caught her gaze. Behind the walking spectre, next to the overturned crib. A glint in the middle of the white blankets. The glint of a blade. The Mamono Dagger.

The creature swung its long arms at her, but Meiko leaped out of the way. With a somersault, she reached for the dagger, and didn’t hesitate to grab its handle. Her grip firm, her aim true, Meiko planted the dagger right in the Yokai’s chest. The monster screeched in agony, as its lifeforce was pulled out of its body – and siphoned into the dagger. When it was gone, silence returned, and Meiko fell to her knees.

The blade glimmered blue in her hand, as a new heartbeat took root in her very soul, slithering along the side of her arm. The monster she had just killed, she could feel it, writhing inside, threatening to break free. In that moment, she knew the legend to be true. The dagger was not just a weapon – it was a prison for the demons it killed. And the longer someone held onto it, the longer they would become afflicted by it. But it didn’t matter. If that was the cost of freeing her village – of saving her brother – then she would gladly pay it.

There was no more time to waste. “I’m coming, brother,” she whispered. “Just hold on.”

Part III.

Meiko barely understood where she was, or what she was doing. She heard people yelling around her, barking orders at one another as a horrifying screech tore though the air. A burning body ran beside her, but everything was slowed down. She had no idea what was real, and what wasn’t. The fog burned against her skin. Every movement, every step forward, was agony. The demons had taken shape on her skin, and they were fighting inside her, wrestling one another – and herself – for control.

After she had secured the dagger in the lonely house, she had gone on a warpath, killing half a dozen demons, each more frightening than the last. The legends of the Mamono Dagger claimed the more Yokai the blade destroyed, the stronger it became. And that much was true. She could feel the power coursing through her entire body, a raging storm aching to break free of its fleshy confines. With every kill, she became more powerful. But with every kill, she lost more of herself. The demons were speaking to her. Screaming. Begging. Wailing. Inviting her to come join them in the shadows. And with every second that passed, she was tempted more and more. It would be so easy to accept. To give in to them. To let them take her over. But she couldn’t. Not when she was so close.

The creature’s infernal shriek warned of a coming attack, and Meiko reacted by pure instinct, a brief moment of clarity, a veil of blackness lifted, pulling her back into the here and now – and the palpable nightmare at hand: the spider. Bigger than any man or animal. Its legs as thick as trees, its talons sharper than the deadliest of swords. The masks of its victims attached to its massive abdomen. And, on top of its gigantic frame, the torso of a woman, her masked face draped with silky white hair. She would have been oddly beautiful if she wasn’t the most horrifying thing Meiko had ever seen. Jorogumo. The queen of carnage. The mother of demons.

Meiko focused on the dagger in her hand. The cool handle against her palm. The weight, that was both incredibly light and impossibly heavy at the same time. The feeling of every etch, every imperfection against her fingers. The echoing voices became clearer. These were not the voices of the Yokai – but of the warriors who had chosen to fight beside her. Meiko couldn’t remember their names. But they knew hers. They kept shouting it, asking her for help. Just then, she remembered where she was – in the heart of the Market Place – and why.

With all eight of her legs, the spider moved with a strange grace that was almost mesmerizing. A surreal beauty that was merely the preface of slaughter. One warrior was ripped in two right in front of Meiko. Another was sent flying, every bone in their body shattering on impact. Someone was caught in a raging ball of flame, right before their head was sliced off. Covered in the blood of the fallen, Meiko realized she was crying. Only she couldn’t tell if the tears were hers, or those of the demons inside her.

With every warrior dying, sacrificing themselves in the improbable hope that they would defeat the unthinkable, Meiko got closer to the Jorogumo – so close she could smell the spider’s foul, hot stench. The blade trembled in her hand. It was fighting against her will, holding her back. The Yokai’s voices flooded back into her head, a raging current that could no longer be contained. She wanted to scream at them, to tell them to leave her alone. Again, she tried to focus on what mattered – why she was doing all of this in the first place. Motoori. She thought of his voice, his strength. She thought of his heart. His unwillingness to approach the cave when they were little. His eagerness to prove himself by performing the Night of Wails. Her love for him. It was all she needed.

With every ounce of strength she had left, with the might of the formidable Kensei, she plunged the dagger into the spider’s heart. The creature let out a piercing cry, a vivid blue light emanating from its very corpse as its essence was absorbed by the blade. The last of the screams’ echo died out, Meiko fell to her knees, the light faded, and it was all over.

She lay on the ground, fighting convulsions, every bone in her body threatening to snap. She could feel her own blood in her hand, her grip on the dagger so strong that it imbedded into her skin. Her vision began to blur. She didn’t have a long. Somehow, Motoori appeared in front of her, and she was thankful for a final sight born of love and not horror. Only she realized this was no vision. Motoori was here. He was real. His hair and clothes were covered in cobwebs. She didn’t know which of her allies had freed him from the spider’s nest. But it didn’t matter. She had done it. He was alive. He was safe. A promise kept.

With tears in her eyes, Meiko wrapped her brother in her arms. The siblings were reunited. But it wouldn’t last long.

“Motoori,” Meiko said, her voice quivering between every syllable. “I need you to do something for me.”

***

Everyone in the Temple Garden knows the tale of the Kensei Meiko, who sacrificed everything to save her brother – and her village. After she killed the creature known as the Jorogumo, it was said that Meiko, fearing she would become an unstoppable Yokai herself, asked her brother to seal her inside the cave that once served as the malicious demons’ prison.

Today, children continue to dare each other to go touch the cave’s stone door. But none are motivated by fear. They all give their respect, and draw bravery from the one called the Yokai Slayer.

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