Chapter 1:

Chapter One: Kuchizuke

Ayakashi Monogatari


Ever since I was a little girl, I always wondered what it would be like if the fairytales I read didn`t have happy endings. What if Hansel and Gretel never escaped from the witch? What if Jack never got away from the giant? What if Pinnochio never fulfilled his wish of becoming a real boy?

Pondering those hypothetical scenarios never failed to intrigue me. Those stories may sound familiar to you, but where I come from, we have a set of fairytales all our own, and many of them do not end happily. Bloodthirsty Oni that terrorized villages, spirits of the damned that hunted the innocent, and sly Kitsune that tricked unsuspecting passersby to their doom.

Strangely enough, I liked those fairytales more than the happy ones. Since the day I first discovered my eyes glowing red under the soft light of the waxing full moon, I imagined I had some sort of connection to those old stories. Until one day, a chance encounter changed everything...

I needed to wake up. I didn`t know what was going on, but something was happening, and I needed to do something. I was trapped in a void of dreamless sleep, clawing at the blackness to reach the one white thread dangling down from the abyss. As I clambered, my fingers clutched the single hanging string of consciousness, and I tore myself free. I jerked upright, gasping for breath, trying to scream, but no voice would leave my parched throat. Boiling beads of sweat slithered down my bare skin. I scanned about frantically, searching for danger. Tonight was a night like no other.

The full moon shone bright in the sky outside my window, its surface a deep blood-red. I felt a sharp pain behind my eyes, followed by an intense heat, as my irises illuminated to match the color of the moon. I sat on the bed in my pajamas, frozen by indecision. What should I do? Was it just a nightmare I couldn`t recall? Should I try to go back to sleep? While a million thoughts surged through my mind, my locked state was shattered by a piercing scream.

I got a sudden heavy feeling in my gut, like a rock in the pit of my stomach. I leapt out of bed and burst out of my room. I stood in the hallway, looking around like an idiot. My first thought was my mother. My nerves charged with an intense electric sensation, I tipped back on my heels and bolted down the carpeted hall. I threw open the first door to my right- and immediately found myself wishing I hadn`t.

Tendrils of a thick, inky sludge-like substance dripped down the walls and from the ceiling. Blood was splattered on the wall behind the headboard. It belonged to my mother. She laid sprawled out on the white bedsheets, which were now dyed a deep crimson. The massive, gleaming blade of a sickle sat lodged in her chest. A pair of white-gloved hands were wrapped around the metallic shaft, belonging to an individual I could only describe as the Devil.

He was a very tall, pale-skinned man dressed all in red, the same red of the blood staining the sheets. His eyes were a sharp maroon, with vertical, slitted pupils like a snake`s. All the red contrasted from his long, pitch-black hair, as dark as the night. It flowed all the way down to his hips. The Devil was hunched over my mother`s corpse, pinning her body in place between his legs.

I was petrified. I couldn`t move. I couldn`t scream. I could barely breathe. I knew I needed to run, but my legs were locked in place. My muscles turned to stone, and the blood in my veins seemed to stop flowing. My mouth was as dry as sand. I may as well have been a stone statue.

The Devil`s sharp eyes shifted to me. His lips peeled back in a grin, displaying a mouth filled with teeth like saw blades. "Hello there, little girl." His voice was almost like an entity in itself. It was dark and deep, and it seeped into my brain like black sludge, rattling me to my core. What else could this monster be but the Devil himself? He had murdered my mother in cold blood, and now he was going to drag me down to Hell.

Beneath my feet, the carpet morphed into a pile of writhing snakes. All at once, all the terror that I had taken in from the grotesque scene crashed down on top of me. Every drop of horror that I had been forced to hold in from the second I opened that door was let loose in a piercing, deafening scream that threatened to tear my throat asunder.

And with that, my world turned to black.

THREE DAYS LATER...

After that night, I didn`t sleep for two days straight. I couldn`t make myself. I just couldn`t forget what I saw on that night. After the Devil spoke to me and the snakes appeared, I had fainted out of sheer terror. I woke up surrounded by police that cordoned off the bedroom and whisked away my mother`s bloody corpse. The only explanation as to how they ended up here was because the neighbors heard how loudly I was screaming.

But now, there was no sign of the snakes, the Devil, that giant scythe, or anything aside from blood splatters. Only I had seen what really happened. When the police brought me in for questioning, I was a mental case. I refused to eat, and only spoke in short, choppy sentences. I tried to explain to them what had happened, but they didn`t believe me. Not that I expected anything different. Of course they wouldn`t believe me. Why would they believe that I witnessed my mother slaughtered by Satan himself? The police just thought I was too stunned by it all, and I had dreamed up that scene as some figment of my terrified imagination. Maybe they were right. Perhaps I really did imagine it all. But it didn`t matter. My mother was dead, and nothing was going to change that.

After that, I was shipped off to my aunt. My father had been missing in action since I was 9. He simply left one day and never returned. Now, at 15, there was still no sign of him. To this day, I don`t know what happened to him. I knew he wasn`t dead, that couldn`t be true. He was probably off living in another country with a whole new family and didn`t even remember my name anymore. So I was the one who accompanied my aunt and the rest of my family to my mother`s funeral.

I stood under the gray, overcast sky, dressed in mourning black. My long purple hair had been matted by the rain. I looked upon my mother`s corpse, taking in her deathly pale skin and flowing purple hair that matched mine. She almost appeared to be sleeping. I looked just like her. I could imagine myself in that coffin in her place. Thinking about your one of your parents dying is nearly unimaginable. It`s like pondering your own death. I had bawled my eyes out for the past three days, so when my mother`s funeral arrived, I didn`t even have any tears left to cry for her.

I just wished I knew what happened. Why did she have to die? What had she done to deserve such an awful thing? And who was really the monster I saw that night? Was he indeed the Prince of Hell, or was he something else? I didn`t know, and these grueling past few days had not yielded any answers. I would probably never find out. The police chalked it up to a simple murder. None of them would believe what I had seen. Now, I was alone in the world, and that hollow, empty feeling drilled a deep hole in my heart that could not be filled.

When the main funeral rites passed, my aunt and the others left me for a short time so I could be alone with my mother. This would be the last time I`d ever get to see her, after all.

The woman that had given me life and raised me ever since I entered this world...and she was gone. I would never again hear her sweet voice, or feel the warmth and comfort of her loving arms.

Chise Touma, 36 years old. She had died far too young.

As I said my prayers and paid my final respects, I heard the sharp sound of tapping footsteps. A voice called out to me. "Minami." I whipped around. A familiar-looking man with wavy purple hair and crimson eyes stood before me. He was dressed in a navy-blue yukata-like outfit with a black cape, kind of like a samurai. He regarded me with a steady, unwavering gaze. I almost didn`t recognize him at first. "D-Dad?"

His eyes softened. "Oh, Minami...I...I`m so sorry." He was indeed my father. Seimei Touma, the one who had abandoned my mother and I so long ago. "W-what...are you doing here?" I stammered. "Where have you been?"

"That`s what I`ve come here to tell you," Seimei said. "After I heard about what happened to your mother...I knew I had to find you. I hoped you would never get tangled up in all this..."

I shook my head. A few weak tears trickled down my face. My hands balled into fists. "Enough. I don`t want to hear your excuses. If you`re with another woman now, just come out and say it. There`s no point in lying to me. What`d you come here for anyway? To pity me? All those years you were gone, I needed you, and you weren`t there. Do you have any idea how many birthdays you missed?

Mom even thought you were dead for a while."

My voice raised to a shout. "You disappeared into thin air for six years straight! No phonecalls, no emails, not even a damn letter! And now you show up out of nowhere on my mother`s funeral?! For what!? If you wanted to apologize to her, you should have done it when she was still alive!"

My father reached a hand out to me, but I slapped it away. His face fell. "Minami, you don`t understand-"

"Understand what?!" I snapped. "What don`t I understand!? You won`t even believe me if I tell you what I saw the night she died! The police didn`t, my aunt and the rest of my family didn`t, and you sure as hell aren`t going to either! So what`s the point?!"

My father`s gaze turned firm and resolute. "Minami, listen to me. What happened to your mother was not an coincidence. In due time, he will come after you as well. You must come with me.

I will take you to Seimei Shrine and protect you. It`s the least I can do to make up for being such a terrible father."

I prepared to yell at him again, but my breath suddenly died in my throat. 'He?' Did that mean...my father had seen the Devil as well? I couldn`t believe what I was hearing. I felt sick to my stomach. "How...do you know that?"

I got no answer. My father was gone. He didn`t even walk away, it was as if he had vanished into thin air. "D-Dad...?" I stuttered. "Wh-what`s going on?" A strange sensation of darkness swept over the cemetery. There was no sound. Not the sound of distant chatter, the applause of nearby trees, or even wind. Nothing but dead silence hung in the air. I got the feeling that I was being watched.

Off in the distance, I spotted a white rabbit. Its eyes were the color of fresh blood. I was entranced, almost hypnotized by the sight of the snow-colored rabbit. I took a few shuffling steps forward. As it bounded off into a nearby wall of fog, I followed it. The words from Alice in Wonderland echoed in my mind. 'You shouldn`t chase the White Rabbit. The Queen will cut off your head.' But I followed the rabbit anyway. My stilted creeping morphed into a sprint, and I too vanished into the mist.

I blinked, only to find myself in a whole new world. I was no longer in the cemetery, or even on my own plane of existence, for that matter. I stood in the center of a forest. The tall, spindly, leafless trees towered above me, and their limbs were weaved tightly together like ghostly fingers, blocking my view of the night sky. My heart thumped in my chest. All of a sudden, a small flash of white cut through the darkness.

Without thought, I gave chase, pursuing the rabbit as it appeared and disappeared across the forest. It seemed as though it were teleporting. My sprinting picked up to a biting, feverish pace. I ran and ran, until I broke free of the woods and discovered cobblestone beneath my feet. Spreading before me was a traditional Japanese village straight out of the feudal era. It reminded me of the Japanese fairytales I read as a child. All of the buildings had been faithfully reproduced in traditional pagoda style, gleaming in red and gold. The village was luridly lit by scattered paper lanterns. The sweet, yet smoky scent of incense wafted in the air like a thick smog.

Strangely enough, the village was in fact populated. People in kimonos and yukatas casually strolled around, going about their business as usual. There was something off about all of them, though. Some had animal-like ears and tails, while others possessed features like wings, horns, reptilian scales, and all manner of other inhuman features. In that moment, I was so mesmerized, I even forgot about the white rabbit.

I wandered the village, gazing around at the beautiful architecture and the freakish denizens. I was torn between a mix of terror and wonder. Whatever the case, I really had wandered into another world. This was the twilight realm, the dimension I had read about so often in my childhood stories. The land of gods, ghosts, demons, spirits, and mythical beings- the Otherworld. I didn`t know what to believe anymore. My own eyes were betraying me. First, I witnessed my mother`s death at the hands of the Devil, and now, I was standing in the middle of the Otherworld. I had been spirited away, like the movie.

I became entranced by the magic of this bizarre world. A cluster of wispy blue flames gathered around me. They were like little balls of azure fire with comet-esque tails streaming out behind them. The flames danced in the night air and hovered around my head in a playful manner, as if they were living entities. I lifted my hand up, and the mischevious fireballs slipped between my fingers.

At first, I didn`t know what they were, but as I watched them flutter, vague memories of an old fairytale resurfaced. "Onibi..." I muttered. Onibi meant 'demon fire,' and they were the flames created by Oni to lure prey and suck out their life force. As I recalled the old tale, I suddenly found myself feeling drowsy. My legs felt weak, and my eyelids began to sink. A pang of terror burst in my gut. Summoning up the last bits of my remaining energy, I swatted at the Onibi like insects, trying to chase away the wicked little fireballs. "Go away!" I hissed. "Get away from me, demon fire!"

The Onibi scattered off like little bugs, but after the demon flames dispersed, I came face to face with something even worse. A tall, slender young man stood before me, bearing a flowing black-and-red yukata, sharp teeth, and short, pointed horns sticking up from his wispy black hair. His long fingernails looked more like claws. A hollow gasp fled my quaking lungs. An Oni. He must have been the one who summoned the demon fire. A hungry grin split across his face. "I thought I smelled something tasty," he sneered. "The Onibi led me right to a delicious little snack..."

As I tensed up to run away, he reached out and gripped my arm. His fingers squeezed me so tightly, needles of pain shot down my wrist. My sleeve fell, exposing a silver bracelet studded with diamonds, bearing a crescent moon within a winged star shape at its center. That bracelet was the last present I had ever received from my father before he vanished into thin air three days after my ninth birthday. It was meant to be a symbol of protection, so I kept it clipped to my wrist ever since.

I squirmed and thrashed against the Oni`s iron-hard grip. "L-let...let go of me!" The beast`s other hand coiled around my throat. "Now why would I do that? I haven`t come across anything this scrumptious-looking in ages!" His tongue slithered from the depths of his jaws and glided over his lips. I clawed at his arms and kicked at him, but my feeble struggles were fruitless. I simply wasn`t strong enough to pry free. Damn it, I thought. My mother dies in front of me, and now...I`m going to be killed...

If death was going to arrive, it had better come swiftly. Surprisingly, that request was fulfilled- in a less than literal way. All of a sudden, a spray of blood shot out at me, splattering across my black mourning dress. The grip of the fingers binding me in place loosened and slipped. The Oni`s body had been sliced across the midriff. Gushes of blood flowed from the gaping wound, and the horned beast collapsed, slumped over in a pool of deep red. I screamed and staggered back, tripping and falling to my rear end on the cobblestone. Just when I thought things couldn`t get any more horrifying, HE showed up.

The Devil appeared, the tendrils of his long red coat flowing in the wind. A waterfall of shaggy black hair spilled over his shoulders. In his gloved hands, he clutched a blood-stained scythe- the same scythe he used to butcher my mother. He grinned, revealing those same saw-blade teeth. His demonic voice seeped into my brain once more. "We meet again, Minami Touma. What`s the matter? You look like you`ve seen a ghost."

Seeing a ghost would be like meeting Mickey Mouse compared to this. Terrified didn`t even begin to describe my fear. My mind went blank. I couldn`t even think about doing anything. Prickles of terror stroked every part of my body. My stomach turned to lead. Even though my throat was as dry as sand, I got the overwhelming urge to vomit. Why? Why was this happening to me? Out of all the wicked people in the world, why did the Devil have to choose me?

"It seems I made a slight miscalculation," the Devil continued. "I was under the impression that your mother was meant to be the next Lord of Seimei Shrine. But I was wrong. You are Seimei`s daughter. You have the right to his throne. Unfortunately, I didn`t realize that until after that woman was already dead. But you`re here now, and that`s all that matters." He raised his sickle. "Don`t worry. Death is swifter than you think. After all, I am Death incarnate."

My blood turned to ice. My mother`s murder was a mistake? I was the one meant to be killed? She was dead...because of this demon`s error? Rage boiled deep inside me, but in that moment, I was so afraid, I didn`t even have the capacity for anger. The situation at hand was overwhelmingly clear to see. This monster`s goal was to kill me. I had to get away- now. If I didn`t run, I was going to die, simple as that. I wasn`t ready to join my mom. "S-stay away from me, you Devil!"

By a miracle, I was able to force my legs to move. I jumped to my feet and took off like a scared little bunny. I ran and ran, praying that I`d escape him. My heart pounded like African war drums. A wall of flame stopped me in my tracks. It sprouted up from the ground and surrounded me in a ring-shaped, fiery arena trap. Only a few feet away, the Devil beckoned me. He chuckled darkly. "I`m afraid you`re mistaken, young lady. I am no Devil, I am but a mere Shinigami. You may call me Satan, but my true name is Asura."

His name registered in my terrified brain. An Asura was a hellish reincarnation of a wicked human, and a Shinigami was nothing less than a God of Death. In other words, he was our version of the Grim Reaper. Asura surged toward me like a bolt of lightning and grabbed me by the scruff of my neck. I didn`t really notice it at first, but now that I was locked in his clutches, I realized he was incredibly tall, at least eight or nine feet. I screamed and squealed, flailing in Asura`s rock-hard grip. At his monstrous size, I didn`t stand a chance. He easily overpowered me, and he grabbed me up in one hand like a doll.

"Hmmm, I wonder how I should kill you?" Asura mused. "I could just stab you with my scythe, but that would be far too boring. I need the daughter of Seimei to suffer in a more entertaining way. Perhaps I should bite your throat out, or maybe I should just eat you alive. I could easily swallow you whole, and you do smell like a rather tasty little treat. Ahhh...yes, I like that idea indeed." A happy little growl lisped between his fangs. Despite my wild thrashing, he lifted me up higher, dangling me above his wide-open mouth. "Any last words, little bunny?"

All I could do was shudder as I gazed into the pitch-black depths of his throat. Another harrowing scream left me, but my horrified squeals reached deaf ears. No one would come to save me.

If I wanted to live, I`d have to fight for my life on my own. I was NOT going to die here. As the tips of my toes pressed against Asura`s razor-sharp teeth, I threw back my head and howled,

"LET ME GO NOW!"

A burning pain shot down my wrist. It radiated throughout my entire body, from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head. I felt as if I had been lit ablaze. The protective bracelet hanging from my arm hummed loudly and glowed with an intense reddish light. The crescent moon shone bright silver. Asura was taken aback by the sudden outburst. His grip loosened, and I kicked away from him as soon as I found an opening. I flipped back, and then...something extraordinary happened.

Ribbons of soft white light eclipsed my body. They wrapped around my arms, legs, and torso, materializing into a solid form. A pair of knee-high, lacy white stockings crept up my legs, completed by short black boots with metallic fittings. On my arms, a pair of elbow-length white gloves appeared. A billowy, thigh-high dress bloomed around my body, the classic white and red robes of a miko. It reminded me of the robes my mother used to wear when she was still a shrine maiden. But above all, the most distinguishing feature of my new outfit was the pair of large white rabbit ears that sprouted up from my purple hair. I even had a puffy rabbit-like tail at my lower back.

A bizarre-looking gun materialized into my hands from a stick of light. It was pure gold, with a flared-out end much like a trumpet and a little pair of bunny ears affixed to the top of the muzzle. Fully suited up in my otherworldly attire, I struck out my weapon and fell flat on my feet.

Unfortunately, I was still in just as bad of a situation as before. I remained flanked on all sides by Asura and his roaring flames. The only difference now was that I was dressed in some kind of ridiculous magical girl outfit carrying a gun I had no idea how to use. I didn`t even know how it happened. The bracelet seemed to trigger it, but I couldn`t seem to get it through my head that a piece of jewelery could possess any kind of magical abilities. My mind was even more scrambled.

Asura`s face broke into a wicked smile. "I knew it! You really are your father`s daughter! You`re a Moon Rabbit, just like him! Now this is getting interesting!"

"M-Moon...Rabbit?" I stammered. Asura swung his scythe at me, and I raised my odd-looking golden gun in defense. There was a loud metallic clang as the blade of the sickle slammed to a halt. But it hadn`t struck me, or even the weapon I clutched. It had been bounced back by some sort of invisible shield or force field that emanated from my body. Asura staggered back. "Wh-what?! What is this!?" He fell silent for a brief moment. "Hmm...I see. Seimei put a protective charm on you. How clever of him. As long as that spell remains, I can`t kill you outright. However...that doesn`t mean I can`t do other things to you..."

He tilted his head to the side, and his hair fell down, revealing his right eye. Or rather, a lack thereof. The skin surrounding it was torn and ragged, and the eyelid was sealed shut.

"Your father did this to me, Minami Touma," he rumbled. "He took my eye. Since I can`t kill you right now, perhaps I should take yours as repayment. As they say, an eye for an eye."

Everything happened in the span of less than a few seconds. The Shinigami lunged at me and caught me in his clutches once again. He raised a single withered, bony finger to my right eye.

I expected him to drive that gnarled talon into my eyesocket and gouge it out, but that didn`t happen. Instead, a needle-like pain stabbed into my eye. The pain drilled all the way down into my brain. I felt as though something was boring into my skull.

I cried out in agony. On instinct, I raised my golden gun and squeezed the trigger. The weapon began to vibrate as a churning ball of golden light energy burst from the muzzle and slammed the wicked demon in the stomach. Asura sprawled backwards, growling in pain. The projectile had indeed hurt him, but there wasn`t as much as a scratch upon his body. And he looked no less ready to rip me to shreds. But at the moment, I had bigger problems.

I fell to my knees and clawed at my face, expecting to feel my eyeball dangling out of its socket. Thankfully, it remained in its rightful place, but whatever Asura had done to me blinded my right eye. My vision was sliced in half. I felt warm blood drip down my cheek. I lifted my head up, coming face to face with Asura. My frightened image was reflected in his single crimson eye. While my left eye was its normal red color, my right was completely yellow, sclera and all. A black clock-shaped sigil replaced my iris. It was like a brand that had been burned into the surface.

My jaw hung slacked as I stared in horror. "Wha...what have you done to me?!" Asura grabbed me by the chin, forcing me to look up at him. "Why, you`ve been cursed, my dear. While I would have loved to devour you, this is truly the most fitting death for you. It`s too bad your father didn`t think about protecting you from curses. With this curse of mine, your life is in an hourglass. Slowly, you will deteriorate and writhe in agony as you suffer and die. Soon enough, your soul will belong to me. After that, I can finally take my revenge on Seimei and his freakshow menagerie!"

He broke into a fit of harrowing, demonic cackling. I sat there trembling, clawing at my blinded right eye. I knew I needed to run. If there was any chance for me to escape, it was now. But I was gripped by the same paralyzing terror that struck me when my mother died. It seemed as though every bone in my body had melted into a puddle. I just couldn`t swallow the fact that I had been cursed to die by the God of Death himself.

A deafening sound echoed above me, followed by a blast of wind. Instantly, the flames encircling Asura and I were extinguished. I turned my head up to the sky. A massive dragon-like creature dominated the heavens. It possessed huge wings and a coat of glinting sapphire scales. Asura quickly took notice of it. "Damn dragon!" I felt sick. For all I knew, this monster could be here to eat me. It seemed like everything in this realm was out for my blood.

The dragon swooped down, sweeping over Asura and flying right at my face. Its claws coiled around me and scooped me up as the creature carried me off into the sky. I gazed down at the sheer drop below me and froze in place. Although I feared where the dragon was taking me and what it planned to do with me, wriggling around in its grip would not be a smart idea. For my own sake, I tried to remain as still as humanly possible, which was made difficult by the repetitive up-and-down jerking motion the dragon made with each heavy flap of its gigantic wings.

Tears dripped down my face. I wished this had all just been some terrible nightmare. Fate was intent on tossing me from one horrifying situation to the next. At that point, I didn`t even care anymore. The dragon could eat me if it wanted to. At least it`d be quicker than dying a slow, painful death from Asura`s curse. It wasn`t as though I had anything good waiting for me in the human world anyway. Everything was gone. I just wanted it to stop.

Although it felt like an eternity, I only spent about five minutes in suspended flight. The dragon`s wings flapped a bit slower as it lowered itself down to the ground below. It touched down with an earth-shaking rumble. The creature`s grip loosened, and I slipped from its claws and landed flat on my face. Exhausted, I flopped back my rabbit ears and clambered to my feet. I stood at the entrance to a shrine.

The dragon was gone. Instead, a man with slicked-back black hair and razor stubble beckoned me. His eyes were the same shade of red as my own. A scaly sapphire tail emerged from his lower half, and a pair of reptilian wings spread from his shoulders. Curved ram-like horns sprouted up from his head. "Sorry about that, little rabbit," he apologized. "Just got there a little late, that`s all. The name`s Draco Ryugamine. I`ve heard a lot about ya, it`s nice to finally meet you." He nodded to the shrine. "Follow me, kid. Your dad and the others are waiting for you."

I blinked. "You...know my father? Are you...the dragon?" Draco nodded. "Of course I know your dad. I work for him. We specialize in some...unusual business. And yeah, I`m the dragon that grabbed you up and whisked you off here. Looks like I got to you just in time. Sorry if I scared ya. Now come on, ya don`t wanna keep them waiting." I followed the draconic man to the front steps of the shrine. He slid back the wooden doors and strolled inside. I walked in after him, and I was greeted by pitch-darkness. 

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