From an empty field in the woods, a waft of bloody mustiness slowly drifted. Youkai cadavers littered the ground; their blood had dyed the previously green leaves crimson. Kejourou walked among the deceased carefully, trying hard not to step on any of them. Although each had served one of her enemies, they should be respected in death, for that they were once alive as well.
Kejourou was searching for Shuten-dōji; they had been forced apart during the chaotic battle. Now, with the battle having ended, she eagerly sought information on his whereabouts. That was how she learnt that Shuten-dōji, planning to eliminate the enemy commander, had gone alone to a cave not far away. Although she was well aware of Shuten-dōji’s abilities, her worry still drove her to rush hurriedly to the cave.
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: ‘Just a while longer, Lord Shuten-dōji. You will see; I will be by your side again very soon.’
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: Lord Shuten-dōji, are you okay?
Shuten-dōji: Kyoko? What are you doing here? Actually, forget that. You are just in time to watch me defeat this piece of scum.
Youkai Toad: Hmpf! Shuten-dōji, bullcrap! I am gonna beat you so bad, you couldn’t drink soup through a straw!
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: Wow, Lord Shuten-dōji. That was amazing. No youkai can stand up to you!
Shuten-dōji: Didn’t you say you are going to beat me so bad that I can’t drink soup through a straw? Why beg for mercy now?
Youkai Toad: Please, my lord, forgive and forget. Let me live. I will give you control of the whole territory. I don’t want it anymore.
Shuten-dōji stared at the Toad Youkai, salivating. He stood and turned to Kejourou, before saying:
Shuten-dōji: Kyoko, I still have things to take care of. Head back with the others; I will be there soon.
Kejourou stole a glance at the youkai toad. After ensuring that Shuten-dōji would not be in any danger, she gave him a small bow before turning to leave. Just as she was exiting the cave, she realized the protective amulet she always carried was missing! She hastily turned back and fortunately, found it. After patting off the dust, she returned it to her kimono.
That was when she saw an unbelievable sight; Shuten-dōji was eating the youkai toad! He had the dying creature underfoot, taking large bites out of its body. With every bite, Shuten-dōji’s expression became increasingly satiated.
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: Lord Shuten-dōji! What are you doing! It is also a youkai!
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: Didn’t it already beg for mercy? Why did you kill it? And now, you are eating it? What’s wrong with you?!
She rushed over to stop him, but was shoved into the cave wall, injuring herself.
Shuten-dōji: Piss off! It’s none of your business! If you stay out of this, you shall be devoured as well!
She looked at him in shock. From the first day they met until just moments before, Shuten-dōji had never treated her this way; not only had he never lay a hand on her, he had never even raised his voice against her.
She felt as if only the shell of Shuten-dōji was present, and that the Shuten-dōji standing in front of her was a total stranger. Tears streamed down her cheeks, their flow as if a burst dam. She stammered out of the cave, appearing as helpless as those who had been displaced by the wars.
Her heart was shattered into a million pieces, unable to place back together. The pain that caused traveled through her body. No matter how much she cried, it did not alleviate. She took out the protective amulet, absent-mindedly playing with it in her fingers.
She had stitched the protective amulet herself; each thread within it contained all of her passion and love for Shuten-dōji. Yet, she had never anticipated that he would no longer be by her side before she could give it to him.
She wiped off her tears with the back of her hand. Her mind was clouded by distress. She had no idea what she should do next...
Rain was falling hard. All youkais stayed indoors, leaving the streets desolate. Only Kejourou remained, aimlessly wandering, unsure of where to go. Her eyes were drifting and without focus; besides the tearing pain throbbing from her heart, she felt nothing else.
Kejourou could not help thinking about what had happened in the cave. She simply could not believe Shuten-dōji had become this way. He had promised in the past that he wanted to end the custom — survival of the fittest — that governed the Orient. He had also vowed never to allow anyone to hurt her.
Yet, he had become someone else altogether. Not only did Shuten-dōji not let off a warrior who had already surrendered, he even went as far as hurting herself. His conduct had completely violated everything he had promised.
She simply walked on, before coming to the side of the lake. This was where she and Shuten-dōji had their deepest romantic memory — he had given her a present and surprise, each her first. All of that had happened here. She distractedly sat on a rock at the lakeside, her hand rubbing the protective amulet as her mind drifted back to their past...
Shuten-dōji and Kejourou sat shoulder to shoulder, enjoying the sight of elves and fireflies dancing by the lake.
In her hand was a musical box, a present from Shuten-dōji, which was now playing a soft melody. This moment Kejourou believed that they belonged solely to each other.
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: I have heard that all life come to this world with a wish. When that wish is fulfilled, the time has also come for that life to end...
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: I suddenly had a thought; perhaps it would be my time soon.
Shuten-dōji: Hmpf, death?! That’s not something even worth thinking about. As long as I am here, no one can lay a finger on you!
Kejourou leant onto Shuten-dōji’s shoulder, and closed her eyes. She hid the scene in the depths of her heart, fearing one day when this all important sentiment would be lost.
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: ‘Of all of the bliss that had existed back then, now only reminiscence remained.’
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: ‘I can look back upon it, but never again touch it. Time can be neither reversed nor held still...’
As her mind returned to her present, the lakeside where they watched the elf dance had become barren. The starry skies were concealed behind a shade of thick clouds. Rain was still falling onto her, becoming indistinguishable from her falling tears. Frustrated, she looked up, allowing the rain to fall onto her face, in hopes that it would wash away her grief.
Time passed on and it was a while before the rain finally stopped. Kejourou looked at the protective amulet in her hand, and realized something — she loved him. The mist clouding her mind cleared, and her heart following reached clarity. She tightly gripped the protective amulet, and a belief to stand guard for Shuten-dōji arose.
Kejourou began pondering the source of the problem. Since she had always been at his side, she could not understand how she failed to notice such a major change within him. She rushed through the city streets, paying no attention to her surroundings and with a crash, she had run right into another youkai.
She apologized profusely to no avail. The youkai grabbed her collar, and was about to beat her up when a familiar voice rang out patronizingly:
Ibarakidouji: If I were you, I would let go... Death can come swiftly!
Angry Youkai: This piece of trash ran into me. What, are you going to tell me to just take a deep breath and everything would be okay?
Angry Youkai: Bull crap! Darned if I don’t teach her a lesson or two!
Before she even finished raging, a blade formed from hair was resting on her neck. The malice was palpable in Kejourou’s words:
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: Let me go... Or else, you would never have the opportunity to take another breath!
The youkai felt a powerful wave of youkai pneuma surging forth from Kejourou. Realizing she had no chance for victory, the youkai released Kejourou and hastily escaped.
Ibarakidouji: Haha! She had no idea who we are; otherwise, how would she have dared treat you like so!
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: We haven’t seen each other for some time. Where did you go? Why did you suddenly disappear?
Ibarakidouji: I don’t know where to begin. Brother did some things... I can’t face him anymore.
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: Him cannibalizing youkais?
Stunned, Ibarakidouji nodded. Just as she was about to respond, the enraged youkai from before reappeared alongside a group of minions. They charged the pair, malevolence palpable.
Angry Youkai: Darned scum! Watch me whoop your butt!
Ibarakidouji: Never interrupt me when I speak! I can’t stand imbeciles who doesn’t know how to judge the atmosphere of a conversation!
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: The world is full of these imbeciles; they never know who they are messing with...
Only when the youkai escaped with her angry minions in tow could Ibarakidouji and Kejourou continue their earlier conversation. She learnt that he had discovered Shuten-dōji was devouring youkais to absorb their pneuma. He could not dissuade Shuten-dōji from continuing, and so, he chose to leave in search of ways to help Shuten-dōji stop.
He journeyed throughout the realms before meeting a pair of Onmyō practitioners who told him what had happened to Shuten-dōji, and how to save him. The practitioners have once fought Shuten-dōji and sensed a darkness within him, distinct from his own youkai pneuma, and quite possibly the cause of his change.
Ibarakidouji had returned to help expel the darkness, as Shuten-dōji would need to combine both resolute belief and the support of his comrades to succeed.
Ibarakidouji: I do not know the extent of this darkness’ power. Yet, I believe my relationship with brother can withstand this challenge!
Kejourou pulled out the protective amulet after listening to Ibarakidouji’ s words. She prayed that the thoughts of herself and Ibarakidouji can pass into Shuten-dōji’s heart through this protective amulet...
Ibarakidouji and Kejourou returned to their main camp. The atmosphere here had once been boisterous, with Shuten-dōji hammering in drink after drink with his youkai subordinates. Scenes of Shuten-dōji and Ibarakidouji arm wrestling, or Kejourou’s graceful dancing flooded into their minds. Yet, none of that remained... Perhaps Shuten-dōji’s cannibalization of youkais had been discovered, frightening his former followers.
A strong wave of youkai pneuma surged from the attic; while it was obviously Shuten-dōji’s, it was also not fully his. Ibarakidouji and Kejourou took a quick glance at each other, as both fully acknowledged that the Shuten-dōji who awaited them now was not the one they knew.
They were unsure of how to proceed; while they would not be able to bring themselves to kill him, they were also worried that it was too late to save him. As Ibarakidouji stood hesitant, Kejourou patted him on the shoulder, as if directing confidence right into him. She softly said:
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: I have faith that Lord Shuten-dōji, the most powerful youkai, would not lose to anything in the world.
Shuten-dōji: Haha! I am now the most powerful of all youkais! The day of my suzerainty and hegemony over the Orient shall soon arrive!
Ibarakidouji : Brother! Please stop this! Where has the Shuten-dōji who would aid the weak, and defend them from the strong gone?
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: Lord Shuten-dōji, do you truly believe this would work? Your old companions have all departed from your side; none remains. Is that truly what you want?
Shuten-dōji: You are so annoying! I thought that at least the two of you would understand me!
Kingpin of Youkai - Shuten-dōji: Screw this, I shall devour the two of you as well. That way, your youkai pneuma shall remain inside my body forever.
Shuten-dōji had fully succumbed to the control of the darkness. When he looked upon his best friend and beloved, all he could see were food that would enhance his own youkai pneuma. Each strike he swung at Ibarakidouji abounded with power, every attack he struck out was aiming to kill.
Originally, Ibarakidouji remained unwilling to truly retaliate out of their past bond, and sought only to parry Shuten-dōji’s attacks. Yet, he gradually realized that Shuten-dōji was not holding back. If he did not retaliate with maximum effort, he and Kejourou would both perish under Shuten-dōji’s katana. This left him with no choice, but fight on.
Kejourou the Bloody Geisha: Both of you! Stop! Cut it out!
Yet, Kejourou’s words could not reach them. In their eyes, all they could see was their respective katanas swinging at the other. When one parried the other, a match of vigor would ensue. Shuten-dōji and Ibarakidouji were relatively equal in strength , leaving the two stuck in a stalemate.
That was when a strange darkness surfaced from within Shuten-dōji, immensely increasing his strength. The sudden force not only sent Ibarakidouji sprawling onto the ground, it also knocked the katana out of his hands. Seeing Shuten-dōji lunging with his blade, a streak of yellow vaulted out from the side, shielding Ibarakidouji from the lethal thrust with her body...
None could have anticipated this result. Kejourou’s strength drained out of her, as she slumped onto the ground. Shuten-dōji dashed forward, catching her in his arms. He had been radiating with an unknown darkness, and malice had been palpable in his eyes; yet, the darkness was no longer there, and the depths of his eyes, one could only see her reflection. This was the Shuten-dōji she so loved.
Shuten-dōji: You are going to be fine, Kyoko.
Shuten-dōji was summoning his youkai pneuma, but was stopped by Kejourou who grabbed his hand. She slowly shook her head; she knew her injuries were beyond treatment, and therefore, did not want him to waste any of his youkai pneuma.
She pulled out the protective amulet from within her kimono, handing it to him. She wanted to deliver her sentiments to him and her wish to guard over him, and when he took the amulet, she smiled. Her greatest wish was finally fulfilled.
Her raised arm dropped, and her eyes involuntarily closed. Yet, her smile remained etched on her face. Although they could never be together again, she felt no regrets even if it meant sacrificing all she had. In return, all she wished was that Shuten-dōji’s life would be one of bliss, not worry...