Chapter 4:

04 Crows Come to Roost 1

The Four Wheel Saga

The boy had been walking for hours. He was lost in a vast, elaborate corridor, without a ceiling, doors, or windows, with walls that scaled the sky. The starlight illuminated his path, which seemed to go on endlessly.

He passed bronze statues, tiled fountains, and ashen murals. On and on he went, yet there was no end to the reverie.

Drained and parched, he tarried by a fountain to drink some water. As he slurped the cool liquid, something fell out from the water spout into his hand. The boy held it up curiously against the starlight. It was a rusted old key- with a bow made in the shape of a crow's tail.

With a sense of emancipation, the boy looked around and saw a heavy oak door ahead in his path. He approached it, slid the key into the keyhole, and turned the bow.

The door made a threatening rumble and unbolted; the boy pushed with all his might, throwing it ajar. It was a cavernous room that stank of death and decay. As he made his way in, the sound of bells reached him. It was a haunting knell that filled his heart with dread.

Cling clang cling cling clang cling clang cling cling clang

A series of steps led to the heart of the room. It was an amphitheater hewn from rocks. There were pews for the audience all around, from where the ringing of the bells seemed to come. However, there was not a soul in sight. The boy descended towards the center of the arena.

To his shock, he saw a man- stripped bare, and tied to a crucifix. The man raised his head as the boy approached.

Who are you? The boy asked.

The captive was silent. The face was familiar- a distant veneer, an obscure memory; a bloody visage- bruised and emaciated. It reminded the boy of someone he was close to.

Cling clang cling cling clang cling clang cling cling clang

Who are you? The boy inquired again.

Run! The man warned.

The boy flinched, taken aback.

Run from what?

The man raised his battered head to the skies.

Caw caw caw caw caw

An approaching danger screeched from above.

Caw caw caw caw caw

The boy looked up, seeking the source. A dark cloud descended from the ceiling; it was a murder of crows- flapping, fluttering, fanning; the rackety crows swooped down to the center of the arena—hundreds of them.


The man's eyes opened wide in terror, and he let out a piercing shriek.

The boy stumbled back and slipped on the damp floor. He fell and then clamored to his feet- climbing the steps.

The crows fell at the man- covering his entire visage- pecking at his flesh- taking chunks out; a fiendish crow bit his eyeball off. Another mutilated his genitals. The man screamed until the ravenous birds bit off his lips and cheeks. And then the scream died in a gurgle.

Cling clang cling cling clang cling clang cling cling clang

The boy backed away in horror to the entrance door and rushed out. And ran.

Who was the man?

What is this place?

Why am I here?


Who am I?

Caw caw caw caw caw caw caw

The crows had followed him out of the arena, darting towards him like a giant claw, reaching for prey. The boy ran, but his body was slow and callous. And the bells. They just won't stop ringing!

Cling clang cling cling clang cling clang cling cling clang

Hope drained out of him.

Help! Someone help me!

His lips moved but made no sound.

Nobody could hear him.

Kento, a voice called out.

Kento? Was that his name?


The murder of crows fell at him, and he felt their beaks ripping at his flesh, and he screamed, convulsing in pain.

Hands grabbed him by his shoulders and shook him.

Let me go!


Master Kento!

Gotou: "Master Kento! Please wake up!"

Kento opened his eyes and squinted. The curtains of his room were closed, but the haze of daylight came through and dappled the walls.

A middle-aged man hovered above him. At least seven feet tall, he had a strong but kind face. He picked a glass of drink from the bedstand and approached the bed. His face had regained its usual mask-like bearing.

Kento: "Gotou. How late is it?"

Gotou: "It is still early for the rest of the city. Nevertheless, the young master never sleeps past sunrise, just like his father. Here, I have brought your herb drink. I laced it with ginger, as you prefer. It should help you with your nightmares."

Gotou was the Chief of the Mikashita-kin household staff. He was also the personal attendant to Kento and his father, Senju Mikashita, the kin-lord of Mikashita-kin. Senju was the reigning Overlord of Karasuma village.

Only the Overlord's family used Gotou's name. For others, he was simply the Chief. Although the Chief was clad in the Mikashita red tunic and trousers, he stood out like a thumb. He dwarfed the tallest men in Karasuma, who were a little over six feet.

Gotou was forty-two years of age and had long, ash-gray hair tied in a neat pixie bun. He was a foreigner slave whom Senju had purchased from Karasuki village a year before Kento was born. In Karasuma, Gotou had lived as a free man for sixteen years now. He had the added privilege of serving the reigning Overlord and fostering his heir.

The Chief opened the curtains and let the daylight flood in.

Kento left the bed while sipping his herb drink and walked to the main panoramic window. The sun had barely risen over the westward peak of the Youjin mountains. The summit of Chojo hill was a plateau from which rose the Karasuma citadel, housing the estates of the eight warrior kin.

Interestingly, the eight kin-palaces faced eight due directions.

The Mikashita palace, built of stone, marble, and red gravel, faced due east.

From the precipice, the Reisui river was scarcely visible, with the morning fog sliding down the hill's lower slopes.

Kento: "Gotou, do dreams mean anything?"

Gotou: "I do not dream, young master. Not since my slavery days began in Karasuki village. But, my grandmother used to say that dreams are visions of other worlds- worlds made of fire and snow, worlds where gods walk and where there is no hunger and pain. To be fair, my grandmother was a batty old hag. It would be unwise to take advice from her. More so, as she is long dead."

Kento smiled. Gotou always cheered him up with his grandmother's absurd stories or prophetic remarks.

Meanwhile, the Chief had finished making Kento's bed and had placed fresh linen in his wardrobe. He conveyed a message from the Overlord before taking leave.

Gotou: "Ah, yes. There is a kin-assembly gathering on the estate training grounds after breakfast."

Kento: "What is it about?"

Gotou: "That only the Overlord knows, young master. And perhaps his wife. However, I was informed that we will have some guests from the Daigaku."