By Eduardo Lavin and Gabriel Espejo
I can still feel your soft, sand colored fur. The scents of the earth and the lavender flowers are heavy on your body as you eagerly await our next run through the woods. It was on one of those runs when I realized the woods were crying. The trees felt heavy, the flowers smelled of rotting flesh and you didn’t want to go any further.
You were with me for as long as I could trod around; meeting my infantile cries with a plethora of wet kisses that could always make me laugh. Now I comfort you, coaxing you onward with me. Koharu’s shrine is just ahead…
You taught me me what it was to be fearless. You are the embodiment of courage. A paragon of what it means to protect the ones you love. I didn’t see the fox when I was picking flowers for Koharu’s shrine as a child. The fox pounced, but you were there; my golden savior. The light reflected brilliantly off of your golden fur. You were glowing. You intercepted the fox and held nothing back in your vicious attack. No one would ever hurt the one you loved. Be it the fox in the woods, or the demonic, corrupt creature, you held nothing back in keeping me safe.
A hooded figure looked up at the sky, peering through the thin slits in its scarred, wooden mask. Like always, it was dark. The figure couldn’t remember the last time it had seen light, or the last time the light had touched this land. Though to be fair, there wasn’t much it could remember.
There were few memories that the corrupted had were more often than not hazy and fragmented. Less coherent images and memories, and more just echoes of feelings or emotions. They were often melancholic, gloomy, and dark. It was agonizing, having nearly the entirety of one’s identity stripped from them, and then forced to live out an eternity confused and lost, chasing after a closure they would never find.
However, for this Shadow, there were occasional moments of clarity; of brightness. An echo of something happy, a light that shone in the boundless darkness. Something they held onto strongly enough before their transformation. It drove it to wander throughout Kokai, endlessly searching for this lost piece of their fractured past. An answer to a long forgotten question.
The Shadow turned its eyes down the road to the abandoned forest village in the west. It was inexplicable to it, but there was something that drew it towards it. A call of some kind. A urge that almost felt like… familiarity.
Wrapping the cloak around itself again, the Shadow went on its way.
They whisper here and there of her departure. The ultimate betrayal of our beloved Goddess. All-knowing. Fair. Just. The baker states that it is only a matter of time. The butcher states that we should prepare. Ration our food, train the youth in our town to prepare them for the worst. He suggests you and I should go hunting more. But you don’t like taking a life. Everytime I take you, you frolic with the deer. You play with the rabbits and chase them to their homes, never and chase them to their homes, never going for the kill despite having every opportunity to do so.
The view from the hill overlooking our village has always been our favorite spot for a picnic. I stuff a few slices of the moist ham in between two pieces of the fresh bread and being to eat. The shade from the massive oak and the fragrance of the flowers in the nearly meadow make the experience surreal. You ravage the ham I laid out for you on the grass. If only your poor, pacifist heart knew how that ham was made.
My laughter causes you to perk up and you throw your full weight on me to kiss me. Spots of sunlight peek through the intertwining branches and your fur begins to glow again. It’s as if you were enveloped in fire.
The hill overlooks the woods. It seems a storm is coming. It might be best to stay inside for the next few days.
The village was desolate. Houses and buildings were collapsed and in various states of disrepair, and it was apparent that the last time humans had stood here may very well have been when the light touched it so long ago.
The Shadow stalked along, hiding in the buildings and alleyways, out of sight of the other dark creatures that wandered ar the streets. The corrupted felt no kinship with one another, as for most their minds were far to degraded for them to comprehend such a concept. The darkness had made most of them feral, animalistic. They kept to themselves for the most part, but it wasn’t uncommon to see them fight amongst themselves for little reason. Violence seemed to be the only language they understand, and it was only the presence of something so different and alien that caused these creatures of darkness to join together as they attempted to either assimilate the foreign entity, or destroy it.
The Shadow didn’t pay them any heed as it left the village and headed into the forest nearby. Like the small town, the forest seemed to call to the Shadow. As it traveled deeper into the woodland, the pull felt stronger, drawing the fragmented memory closer to the surface. An image of a creature wreathed in golden flames, majestic and beautiful. A radiant aura that seemed to completely eradicate the dark and melancholy thoughts. It was bright, happy…and slowly, it faded away.
The Shadow opened its eyes to find itself before a grotto where an old shrine stood. It was desolate and in disrepair. However, what caught the Shadow’s attention was the creature laying down next to a nearby pool. It was canine, and its fur was as dark as the night. It turned to look at the Shadow, its sharp blue eyes narrowing in on it. For what may very well have been an eternity, the two stared down one another silently judging one another and waiting to see what the other would do.
Ultimately, the creature turned away and left the Shadow alone. The Shadow remained still as it reached up under its mask, feeling a stream of liquid running down its face.
I’m trembling in the corner of our home. I’ve barricaded the door and I can hear them pounding and scratching at the door. The Bakers corpse is being devoured by these demonic creatures. The butcher is putting up a fight. But it’s only matter of time…
It is in my most desperate moments that my mind drifts to you. You, who were like a brother to me. My canine guardian.
I am not the valiant hero you always were. I am not the unwavering warrior I always wanted to be. I couldn’t keep you safe.
The sky consumes the town in a premature night. The darkness has overwhelmed my home, and I can feel an overwhelming desire I’ve never felt before…
The sound of some fighting awoke the Shadow from its slumber. As it opened its eyes, it could see corrupted of all types charging in one direction. Curious, the Shadow stood up and followed along. As it got closer to the source, the Shadow could sense some kind of power seemed to call to it. The image from its past started to surface, and the Shadow broke into a run. Whatever it was that was drawing it towards it felt warm and almost intoxicating. It overrode all of the Shadow’s instincts as it raced to the source. A rush of what would’ve been adrenaline had the Shadow still been human pushed it towards it.
The Shadow reached a clearing, at the center was a masked being, though they weren’t a being of darkness, wielding a sword that glowed with a brilliant radiance that was mesmerizing. It was the source of the power that the Shadow was drawn to, and it would have continued towards it had the figure not been surrounded by dozen of corpses of the corrupted.
The Shadow stood still as more corrupted mindlessly and furiously charged towards the swordwielder. It watched as they were cut down by the being’s blade, and something inside of it stalled; something like a sense of preservation, a desire to protect itself that stemmed from the memory it had held onto for so long. It knew that while the light given off by the warrior was tempting, it had seen enough to know what would happen to it if it joined the others. Still, there was something about this masked being. Something familiar, something about it that intrigued the Shadow. Perhaps it was the Shadow’s long held memory fragment that the swordwielder seemed to reminded it of. Or maybe it was the mesmerizing aura that the sword gave off. Whatever it was, the Shadow decided that it would follow it. Observe from a distance. Become its shadow, so to speak.
Not all are corrupted equally. While indeed for all, their homes, their lives, and the loved ones are all taken from them. But for some, they hold onto something from their past lives. Memories, or at least fragments of them. Though, without context or coherence, they often cause more harm than good, and instead of giving the corrupted solace, they find only more strife as they aimlessly wander Kokai in search of something even they are not aware of.
This Shadow was one of those creatures. But unlike most, it had found something. Something that might even bring it the answers it has been seeking for so long.