LATEST UPDATES

Honoo no Mirage - Volume 5 - Chapter 7

Published at 7th of February 2016 09:09:13 PM

Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Vengeful Dragon


Night swallowed the girl.

She knew exactly where she was even in the bottomless darkness. Beneath her feet were the familiar steps of the shrine-path to the summit of Mt. Shigi. Dilapidated red-painted arches stretched endlessly into the darkness before her. Her destination remained ahead of her no matter how far she walked. Her tired feet grew heavier and heavier, but countless arches waited to be traversed.

“Are we there yet? How much further?” she could remember asking someone again and again while walking this same path.

“Almost there. We’re almost there,” a voice coaxed. “You can do it. Just a little further.”

Her beloved mother’s voice, encouraging her and calming her tantrums on the steep, endless road to ‘Kuuhachi-san’ when she cried, “I wanna go home! Let’s go home!”

“The dragon god is up there,” her mother told her, taking her hand as they continued towards the summit. “We’re going to make a wish together. We’re going to wish that Nagi will grow big, that you’ll be okay even if you’re alone. We’ll pray for the Dragon God to protect you, okay?”

Her mother’s voice receded into the distance, and Nagi found herself standing alone in front of the Dragon God’s temple at the summit.

“You’ll be okay even if you’re alone, won’t you?”

Her mother’s last words echoed back to her, the last words her mother had said that morning as she saw Nagi off to school.

By the time she returned, her mother had already stopped breathing. She had fallen across the living room table, a medicine bottle and white pills scattered around her, the motionless body still slightly warm.

Her mother had committed suicide during a fit of neurosis, and no one shed a tear for her at her funeral. Her relatives looked on, as expressionless and cold as ever, as her stepfather buried her with less interest and emotion than he might have given to paperwork at the office.

He had, after all, just rid himself of some troublesome baggage. Nothing else matter if he could have the company. On the contrary, the death of his wife had probably come as a relief to him.

He had driven her mother to this. He had only used her as a stepping-stone to his ambition.

The rest of the family had viewed her mother’s elopement as a betrayal and blemish on the Shiohara name and treated her with contempt. Forced to stand helplessly by while an outsider had uprooted the company from their grasp like a sudden hurricane, they had heaped all their unfulfilled hopes and expectations on her mother.

Crushed beneath the weight of a mountain of censure and blame, her mother had spiraled into depression and mental illness. She was moved in and out of hospitals, but even at the end could only yearn hopelessly for the past. “I want to go back. I want return to the time when the three of us were together, he and you and I,” she had repeated over and over again, her eyes far away.

So her heart and mind walked the paths of memory to those days that would never come again, to the only place where she could find peace.

“In the house where I could see ocean...”

 
Nagi remained dry-eyed at her mother’s funeral, feeling only rage within her heart. She hated the ones who had hounded her mother. She hated those faces full of calculation, those slimy smiles. They had killed her mother. Her mother had been murdered...!

They all deserved to fall to Hell.

She heard, in that moment, a low voice booming out of the darkness.

«Dost thou wish to lead them to Hell?»

Nagi’s shoulders quivered, and she looked up.

Something began to glitter and dance like gold dust in the depths of the deep night, the particles multiplying until they looked like a gold wave rolling towards her.

«Dost thou hate...?»

It was a man’s deep voice. The gold dust coalesced and swelled before her eyes.

«Dost thou wish to kill—...?»

!

Nagi backed away in terror. The gold dust began to transform. A moment later, a gigantic golden dragon hovered in the air before her.

«Thy hate summoned me. Awakened me.»

Nagi couldn’t speak. She wanted to run away, but her feet refused to move. The golden dragon’s enormous body undulated in place, its ferocious eyes fixed on her.

«I shall grant thy wish. I will lead all who are subject to thy hate to Hell. Fear thee not, nor evermore. I will protect thee.»

«Thy hate is my power. It hath awakened my vengeful soul. Let us become one and fulfill our vengeance. Whomsoever thou dost hate shall fall into Hell. Thou shalt become my power.»

The dragon pressed against Nagi. She cowered, her arms wrapped around her head. The dragon roared thunderously, «We shall not be defeated! We will take Nobunaga’s head!»

Nagi covered her ears.

She felt as if something were forcing itself into her, that her heart might shatter under the pressure. She cried out, begging for someone to save her. But whose name could she call? Neither her mother nor her father could answer her any longer. Who else did she have?!

“Help me.”

«I shall protect thee.»

“You’ll help me...?”

«I will kill. Whosoever thou dost hate.»

Nagi screamed. She didn’t want to be alone. She wanted someone to be there for her, someone to care for her.

“Oh please, help me!”

 

 

 


The phone rang at around four in the morning, awakening Naoe. Chiaki was the only one who would be calling at this hour, so something must have happened. He picked up the receiver and answered, his voice strained, “Hello—...”

The ringing had also awakened Takaya. He heard Naoe’s voice through a fog of sleep and sat up abruptly. Naoe was talking into the receiver. Takaya glanced at the time: 4:15. Why was he here? he wondered, blearily combing back his hair.

“All right. We’ll head over now,” Naoe said, and hung up.

“Chiaki...?”

“Yes. Were you awake?”

“No, the phone woke me. What’s up with Chiaki?”

Naoe hurriedly began to change.

“Nagi-san is missing. The ‘Hiragumo’ appears to have taken control. Oda’s onshou is after her as well. As we thought, the one who attacked us yesterday belonged to the Oda.”

“Oda...? Ranmaru and his lot?”

“No—” Naoe answered in a tight voice as he thrust his arms into the sleeves of his shirt. “Our opponent this time is a general called Sassa Narimasa.”

“Sassa...Narimasa...?”

“Formerly a warlord of Ecchuu, said to be one of Nobunaga’s most loyal vassals. This is the first I’ve heard of him entering the «Yami-Sengoku» as one of Nobunaga’s commanders, but judging by the fact that he has the «power» to perform kanshou, we must not let our guard down against him. We need to set out immediately. Kagetora-sama, please get ready. Has the alcohol dispersed from your body?”

Takaya climbed out of bed.

“Get ready? ...We’re going to join Chiaki?”

“Yes. He’s at Yamato-Koizumi Station now. We must find Nagi-san before she either reaches Matsunaga Hisahide or is attacked by Narimasa.”

Naoe was already moving towards the door with car and room keys in hand.

“Kagetora-sama. Please wait for me at the entrance. I will bring the car around. Hurry as much as you can.”

“Got it,” Takaya responded, moving quickly now, wide-awake.

 

The approaching dawn had already dyed the clouds stretching across the sky a faint purple by the time they rendezvoused with Chiaki in front of the JR Yamato-Koizumi Station.

Chiaki raised a hand at Takaya and Naoe in greeting as they climbed out of the car. He came towards them, a sour expression on his face.

“Sorry. I lost sight of Nagi. I chased her all the way here, but...”

“You said she was flying—really?”

Chiaki nodded at Takaya’s question. “That’s the ‘Hiragumo’. It gets its power from feeding off the hoihoi fire, which it was calling. That monster awakened the kaki of Mt. Ryuuou because it wanted dinner. Goddammit!” He punched his palm with his fist.

“What about Oda’s people? Have they found Nagi-san?”

“I don’t know. That asshole Narimasa is planning to kill both Nagi and the ‘Hiragumo’. Both the parasite and its host. If we don’t do something quick...”

“Not so good,” Naoe said, raising a hand to his chin. If they only knew where Nagi was headed...

After a long moment spent in deliberation, Takaya said decisively, “...Guess I’ll have to give it a try.”

Naoe and Chiaki both turned to Takaya.

“Give...what a try?”

Takaya stretched exaggeratedly, then straightened.

“Search for the ‘Hiragumo’. You’re pissing me off with all this bullshit about how I’m a burden and have responsibilities and crap, and I’m sick and tired of hearing it already. Not that I think this‘ll work, but I’ll try sending a ’Gohou Douji of the Sword’.”

“A Gohou Douji...?”

Naoe inadvertently stared at Takaya.

“Kagetora-sama. Have you regained that much of your memories?”

“I remembered when we were talking about Mt. Shigi. ‘Cause it shows up on that thing, the ’Scroll of an Engi-Era Faith-Healing’ from the Legends of Shigisan Picture Scroll, right?”

Chiaki looked at him oddly. “You know the Legends of Shigisan Picture Scroll pretty well, huh? Why is that...?”

“Why...?”

He swallowed his reply before it left his mouth. True, he remembered studying the scroll in Classical Literature, but he certainly couldn’t have learned about the ritual for summoning a ‘Gohou Douji of the Sword’ in class. That knowledge could only have belonged to Kagetora.

“...”

Now Takaya looked bewildered. He was, without question, steadily retrieving Kagetora’s knowledge. Naoe’s eyebrows also drew together slightly as he gazed at Takaya...

But he said, fighting back his private emotions, “Kagetora-sama. Please give it a try. It would be the fastest method for finding the ‘Hiragumo’.”

Naoe’s words called Takaya back to himself. They looked again at each other and pulled themselves back to the task at hand.

“...Okay.”

According to legend, the ‘Gohou Douji of the Sword,’ a servant of Bishamonten, had appeared on the pillow of Emperor Daigo in the Heian Era in answer to the prayers of Mt. Shigi monkMyouren for the emperor’s recovery from illness. This was the scene depicted on the Scroll. Takaya wanted to use this ‘Gohou Douji of the Sword’ to look for Nagi.


Sponsored Content

“Chiaki, you’re carrying a knife, right? Lemme borrow it for a bit.”

“This?” Chiaki asked, handing over the 20-centimeter 1 dagger he had used earlier. This was the weapon Chiaki carried with him for self-defense, a knife from an unknown maker, in actuality a votive sword which had once belonged to some small shrine.

Naoe prepared paper and pen and presented them to Takaya. Takaya closed his eyes and began to chant as he unhesitatingly wrote Bishamonten’s mantra upon the paper in Sanskrit. He then wrapped a portion of the blade with the paper and held it up reverently in both hands. He gathered his power, still chanting Bishamonten’s mantra, as he sank into trance.

“On beishiramandaya sowaka, on beishiramandaya sowaka—...”

He drew Bishamonten’s seed syllable in the air above the dagger as he chanted.

“On beishiramandaya sowaka.”

Then he placed the fore- and middle fingers of his right hand against his forehead.

“Let the Dharma of the Sword open mine eyes.”

He touched the sword to his fingers, and the Sanskrit-inscribed paper wrapped around the blade ignited. A figure appeared within the fire: the gold-skinned bearer of a thousand blades, ‘Gohou Douji of the Sword’.

The Gohou Douji summoned a cloud and rode it into the sky, all in space of a few heartbeats.

Following it with their eyes, Naoe and Chiaki sighed as they had many times before at this casual display of Kagetora’s power.

“He’s not your ordinary kid off the block, that’s for sure...”

“Kagetora-sama. The Gohou Douji is heading towards the south-east—”

Takaya finally opened his eyes and looked at the knife-blade in his hand. An image had formed there: a reflection of the Gohou Douji’s field of vision. An airplane-like view of towns and rice paddies blurred across a portion of the blade.

“South-east? But there’s nothing... Hmn?”

Takaya blinked. The Gohou Douji was descending. Reflected there was...a tomb? Whose tomb? It had been destroyed, but, by whose hand?

“Tsutsui Junkei...” Takaya murmured. “That’s Tsutsui Junkei’s tomb. It’s been smashed apart. ...Where is that?”

Naoe quickly searched a map. “Directly south of here. Near Hirahata Station. Is that where Nagi-san is?”

“No, she’s...” Takaya started to say, but ended with an “Ah!” She was standing behind the tomb. And around her were—fireballs!

(It’s Nagi...!)

The Nagi within the blade turned towards him. There was an odd glint in her eyes. No question about it—she had noticed him. At that moment...!

 

 

Fwoosh!

Something that looked like gold fire gushed out of her mouth.

“!”

Pure white light exploded from the blade. Takaya cried out and covered his eyes.

“Kagetora-sama!”

Startled, Naoe and Chiaki shielded Takaya. Takaya lifted his head. He’d turned away just in time to save his eyes from getting scorched. His lips curved into a dangerous smile.

“I’ve got you now, you ‘Hiragumo’ bastard. So you’ve gone to vent your bitterness at Tsutsui Junkei’s tomb. Yeah, like you’re gonna get any revenge on a guy’s who’s already been purified.”

“Kagetora-sama—...”

“The Oda weren’t around. Looks like the ‘Hiragumo’ got away from them, too. We should be able to catch that monster now. Let’s get moving.”

“Yes.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Chiaki agreed, and added, grumbling, “Now you take control. Lead if you’re gonna lead, but hurry up and remember everything already, ’cause this is a pain in the ass.”

Takaya stopped, tight-lipped with annoyance.

“What? You got a problem?”

“Not at aaaall,” Chiaki drawled, and climbed into the car. Takaya looked cross again, but took the passenger seat at Naoe’s urgent request.

 

 

 

“What? All the «nue» have caught by that monster?”

Narimasa only clicked his tongue in disgust when he heard the report. The nue he had sent after the ‘Hiragumo’ had all been sucked dry of their spiritual powers.

Sassa Narimasa had set up camp with the rest of those Oda troops he led near Houryuu Temple while awaiting information. His «nue» were on alert, but those essential few he had sent after the ‘Hiragumo’ had become its victims.


Sponsored Content

“You damned monster...”

Rage twisted Narimasa’s indomitable features. Someone spoke behind him.

“The truth of Hisahide’s secret weapon pales not to its rumor. We must not look upon it lightly.”

A short, white-haired old man with a bent back stepped out from the shade of a pine tree. But the voice coming from the old man’s mouth belonged to the spirit who had possessed him. Narimasa’s face smoothed over.

“... Akanue, is it?”

“It doth appear, Sassa-dono, that thou art having a hard time of it.”

“Has Ranmaru-dono ordered you to come keep an eye on me?”

“Fie, Sassa-dono,” the Oda spirit called Akanue denied, pushing through the wet grass to Narimasa’s side. “I have merely heard report of the unwanted attention of Uesugi’s Yasha-shuu, so have come to lend thee a hand.”

“I have no need of your help. Go back and tell this to Mori-dono: I will take responsibility for the ‘Hiragumo’. I’ll take care of things here on my own.”

“That I cannot.” A thin smile appeared on Akanue’s long, narrow, deeply-wrinkled face. “No difference wouldst make to thee if I take the measure of Matsunaga Hisahide’s ‘Hiragumo’ here. We must destroy such a dangerous weapon without fail, Sassa-dono. Our best advantage lies not with Hisahide retaining this power.”

With a hand against his chin, Narimasa looked back at Akanue. His ferocious eyes glinted coldly.

“This is about Akechi Mitsuhide?”

“...”

Akanue nodded silently. All expression vanished from Narimasa’s face. The stagnant hatred in his heart began to rise to the surface.

“I have heard talk of it.”

That there were suspicions of Matsunaga Hisahide forming an alliance with Akechi Mitsuhide, who had been resurrected near the old capital.

Akechi Mitsuhide.

The instigator, as history well knew, of the events at Honnou Temple that resulted in Oda Nobunaga’s death.

Akechi Mitsuhide, who had led an insurrection at Honnou Temple in Kyoto with the war cry ‘Our enemy is Honnou Temple’ and taken his master Nobunaga’s life even as he had been within sight of unification of the country. He had been defeated by Hashiba Hideyoshi (later Toyotomi Hideyoshi) immediately after at the Battle of Yamazaki, then killed at Ogurusu on his way back to his stronghold at Sakamoto.

Nobunaga’s death—

Narimasa had been at Uozu Castle that nightmarish night. The next day he would take the castle in a violent offensive, ending a three-month siege of the Uesugi stronghold in Ecchuu. But the news of the death of their master turned the momentum of the Oda forces on itself. Even now Narimasa still recalled the shock and anguish of that time.

He had given his life and gambled his entire existence on Oda Nobunaga, his one and only master, and Nobunaga’s dream of ‘the country united under military rule’. Mitsuhide had stolen, along with Nobunaga’s life, Narimasa’s hope of living with him in that dreamed-of country.

And now Mitsuhide was leading the onryou of the provinces around the old capital in an anti-Nobunaga campaign.

Narimasa, his gaze fixed on midair, clenched his fists.

(Damn you, Mitsuhide. Have you gone so far as to resurrect yourself into this world in order defy Lord Nobunaga...?!)

“Sassa-dono, ’twould be a grave threat indeed for the ‘Hiragumo’ to fall into Akechi’s hands. Even now do spirits filled with hatred for Lord Nobunaga gather in secret near the old capital. If the might of those from Mt. Hiei and Iga are combined with that of Mitsuhide, passing onto them a power such as this could only bode ill for us...”

“I understand that perfectly well,” Narimasa cut him off sharply. “Since the defenseless «nue» cannot deal with you, cursed ‘Hiragumo’, I will destroy you with my own hands. You won’t be able to exploit the powers of a kanshousha clad in the armor of his body. Damn you, Matsunaga Hisahide, Akechi Mitsuhide. I will wipe the both of you from the face of the earth before Lord Nobunaga awakens!”

 

 

 

Naoe drove due south in pursuit of Nagi. In the backseat, Chiaki leaned forward to ask Takaya, “How’s Nagi doing?”

“She’s on the move. I’ve sent the Gohou Douji after her.”

“She is probably heading towards Hisahide,” Naoe guessed, hands steady on the wheel. Takaya concentrated on the reflection of the Gohou Douji’s field of vision within the dagger-blade.

Chiaki commented as he opened a map, “I guess that monster’s consciousness is somehow tied to Hisahide’s.”

“What?” Takaya lifted his head and looked over his shoulder at Chiaki. “What do you mean?”

“Nagi heard the Dragon God speak to her when she got possessed. He said that he would protect her. That’s what she told me, anyway. She believes that I’m his servant.”

“Dragon God? You don’t mean that it’s...”

“Probably Matsunaga Hisahide. Nagi prayed at Mt. Shigi. I don’t know if she prayed for a curse on her stepfather or what, but I think her hate and Hisahide’s grudge melded together.”

Naoe interjected, “So what she believed to be the Dragon God of Mt. Shigi was actually Matsunaga Hisahide? Her intense emotions awoke him, and he invaded Nagi-san’s body with the ‘Hiragumo’, which could be called a part of himself... Which means her hatred was strong enough to fuse with Hisahide’s grudge? But did she really hate her stepfather so much?”

“She probably did...”

Takaya’s expression was grim. Their childhood experiences and family circumstances were similar enough that he understood her feelings painfully well.

“Her mother was her only friend. She wanted to protect her mother more than anything. I mean, even you—” this he directed at Naoe in the driver’s seat— “if you had only one person in the world and that person committed suicide, wouldn’t you naturally hate the person who drove her to it? You’d hold a grudge against them too, wouldn’t you?”

Naoe glanced at Takaya, but remained silent. Silence was the only answer he could give to that question from Takaya’s lips—but yes, he did understand now, very well indeed.

“But I would never let that person commit suicide in the first place.”

Chiaki sighed in exasperation and poked the back of Naoe’s head. “Idiot. That was just a ‘what if’. I know you. You’d perform «choubuku» on anything that moved before you’d let that happen, right?”


Sponsored Content

“Huh? Really...?” Takaya asked, surprised. “So you’re actually the type that flies off the handle, huh?”

“...”

Naoe was silent again, a tangled mass of emotions warring for expression on his face. Chiaki gave a long whistle as he turned away. He commented dramatically, “Well, it’s certainly true that for a certain someone, he’d totally lose all distinction.”

“???”

Naoe interrupted in consternation, “Never mind that. Kagetora-sama, how is the Gohou Douji? Please do not take your eyes off Nagi-san.”

“Eh...? Ah, right.”

Takaya fixed his eyes again on the dagger.

Chiaki looked out the window. The goldfish ponds dotting the rural landscape glowed with the light of the morning sun.

“Hmm?”

For a moment he had caught a glance of something odd moving parallel to the car. Chiaki blinked and pressed his face against the window.

“What the?!”

Takaya turned at Chiaki’s shout.

“What...? Gah!”

It was a fireball, skimming through the air beside them as if it were racing alongside the car. The single fireball became two, then ten, and in the blink of an eye had coiled around the car like a glowing fog.

“Naoe!”

“Right!”

Naoe stepped on the gas. The Presia picked up speed in an attempt to shake them off, but the fireballs refused to release their hold.

“That’s the hoihoi fire?!”

“Naoe! We’re surrounded!”

“...!”

Naoe cut the wheel sharply, swinging them back and forth across the road, but still could not manage to get them free.

Chiaki leaned towards the window and made a valiant attack with «nenpa», but the fireballs that were torn apart and scattered quickly regained their original shape.

“Nagahide! They’re onryou clad in fire!”

“«Choubuku», then?!”

The swarm of fireballs had now completely covered the car, blocking their view of the road.

Takaya yelled, “Naoe, stop! We’ll settle this once and for all!”

Naoe didn’t fancy dealing with the rental agency over a fireball-scorched car, either. He slammed on the brakes. Takaya and Chiaki let loose with «nenpa», and the cloud of fireballs danced into the air. They tumbled out of the car.

“This is the Mt. Ryuuou hoihoi fire? Why’s it attacking us?”

“Hisahide must be commanding it to do so. He appears to have gained control of the hoihoi fire—and even Toichi’s «nue».”

“So he’s trying to stop us from going after the ‘Hiragumo.’ Asshole!” Takaya’s eyes lifted. “Let’s stop standing around and start putting these things away.”

Next to him, Chiaki grinned. “Ooooh, yeah. That’s what it’s all about.”

The swarm of hoihoi fire, now dense as smog, bared their flaming, blood-thirsting faces. Whoosh! A hot wind howled and whirled around them.

The hoihoi fire was attacking!

Takaya, Naoe, and Chiaki formed the ritual gesture of Bishamonten.

“ (bai)!”

The onryou froze in place.

“Noumakusamanda bodanan baishiramandaya sowaka!”

As he chanted the mantra of their guardian deity, Takaya shouted, “Namu Tobatsu Bishamonten! For this demon subjugation, lend me thy power!”

Power gathered in his fist as silver plasmatic light raced through their bodies. The onryou struggling desperately to attack could not break out of the paralysis holding them in place. Their gasping screams throbbed in the air like thunder.

And the energy concentrated in their clenched hands exploded across their entire field of vision...!

Takaya roared at the nue—

“«Choubuku»!”

 

footnotes

~7.9 inches


COMMENTS