We have had our share of legends and myths but one nation that excels at legends has been so far excluded - which is why I am now going to create a tale based on the fantasy of Japan but with my own version of said mythology (in other words do not expect this to be an exact replica of Japanese folklore by any means): this story shall take place in Book IV.
Many centuries ago the Yōkai roamed freely across much of what is now known as the Far East, these spirits were neither demons, god nor Fay but a unique and diverse otherworldly species in their own right who varied by individuals from mischievious or malevolent: the one thing that united all Yōkai were the alien behavior that they often displayed, which made them feared and respected by humans and other species.
In time however the Yōkai faded away as the sway of magic decreased, though they managed to cling to the mortal world for a longer time than most other supernatural beings - eventually, despite much fighting, the Yōkai became scarce and many began to believe them to be legends and myths rather than real beings.
Akemi was a girl who knew the tales of the Yōkai better than most, from an early age she knew she was different and while many were led to believe she was a superhuman the reality was that Akemi was half-Yōkai and although she was raised by her human mother she had annual visits from her Yōkai father by cover of night.
Akemi was never afraid of these encounters and her mother taught her to respect the balance between the human world and that of the Yōkai - making her appear a somewhat shy girl, though capable of being fierce when defending herself or those she loved.
Little did Akemi know that on the eve of her 16th birthday she would find herself having to rely on that inner-fire as she began what would become one of the great modern quests, one that would see her rise to the challenge and defend both the world of humans and the world of Yōkai against impossible odds..
"Akemi! Wake up! Your father will be arriving soon!" a voice called out, causing Akemi to awaken from her light slumber.
Akemi quickly hopped out of her bed and dusted off her white robes, moving to a nearby mirror as she combed her hair - "Alright mother! I'm up!" she called out.
The sounds of footsteps alerted Akemi to her mother climbing the stairs and sure enough her bedroom door soon opened to reveal her, dressed in a Komon Kimono - as she always did when Akemi's father visited.
"You look very pretty, Akemi - your father will be so proud.." she said with a smile.
"Thank you mother, do you think he will remember my birthday tomorrow?" Akemi asked.
"Of course he will, Akemi - you are his daughter after all.." Akemi's mother replied.
"Indeed you are" a voice speaks from the mirror, causing Akemi and her mother to jump slightly as a strange figure resembling an old man with a head shaped like a gourd and dressed in a kesa emerges, sliding off the table and landing on the floor as Akemi scrambles out of the way.
"Father!" Akemi said, her surprise soon turning to joy as the old man opened his arms and the two hugged.
"Hello Nurarihyon, I trust you are well.." Akemi's mother said, smiling to her husband.
"Oh, I am as I am.. now.. Akemi, tomorrow you will be of the sixteenth cycle.. I have something for you, which you must keep safe.." Nurarihyon replied, clenching his hand for a moment before releasing a sandal that hopped onto the floor by Akemi's feet as she moved back, kneeling down as the sandal danced in place.
"W-what is it, father?" Akemi asked, somewhat confused but knowing better than to question the often strange ways of the Yōkai.
"This is one of the Bakezōri - they are harmless enough and will help you.. should you ever lose your way.. the Bakezōri will guide you to where you need to be.." Nurarihyon explains.
"You spoil her, Nurarihyon.." Akemi's mother said, though she still smiled.
"She is my daughter, it is my right.." Nurarihyon replied as he stood up and moved over to his wife - "..each year you bring me such happiness, it is only just that I bring you and Akemi something in return..".
"Thank you father, I will take care of it - I promise" Akemi said as she picked the strange sandal-creature up much like one would a pet, the creature wiggling and squirming in response.
"We have prepared a feast, Nurarihyon - I imagine you will have invited many guests.." Akemi's mother said, knowing her Yōkai husband all too well as the sounds of said guests could already be heard down the stairs.
"Indeed, come my family - let us have good food and good fortune!" Nurarihyon said with a smile as he led the way.
Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs Akemi could already see the large table her mother had set out and the many guests her father had somehow spirited into the house - as varied and colorful as the Yōkai themselves but also consisting of other creatures from varied lands and worlds.. Nurarihyon having pushed that extra mile to make this night extra special for his daughter.
While most ate, drank, and made merry, one figure stood in a far corner, hidden from the view of most; she was dressed in all black, fully covering her entire body minus her face, and could have passed for human, had it not been for her slit pupils. On her shoulders rested a brown fox that was sleeping soundly.
Akemi entered the room alongside her mother and Nurarihyon - the old man proceeded to jump onto the table and raised his hands in the air as he addressed the crowds:
"My friends - tomorrow my daughter, Akemi, reaches the sixteenth cycle.. though many of you have seen a thousand cycles this will not change the celebration.. come morning light I must return to the Yōkai realm and for the first time I shall take my little Akemi with me..".
Akemi's eyes grew wide as Nurarihyon says this, her mother also looking somewhat shocked - though neither said anything.
The brown fox opened one eye as Nurarihyon made his proclamation and shifted slightly on the woman's shoulders; the woman however continued to watch the proceedings intently, her reptilian eyes narrowing.
"Now, enjoy yourselves - we have the night ahead of us!" Nurarihyon says as he hops off the table, back to Akemi and her mother.
"Are you sure on this, Nurarihyon? Akemi is still so young.. the world of the Yōkai only opens once a year.." Akemi's mother asked quietly.
"She will be fine, my love - besides.. I will bring her home to you soon enough.." Nurarihyon replies.
"I know.. it is just.. perhaps Akemi should decide herself.. it is such a sudden thing.." Akemi's mother reasons.
Nurarihyon thinks on this for a moment, the Yōkai were impulsive beings and he had not thought on Akemi's feelings - "..hmm.. perhaps you are right..".
"I am right here, you don't need to speak as if I am gone.." Akemi said, somewhat annoyed.
Nurarihyon and Akemi's mother turned to face their daughter as if to apologize when suddenly the room turns dark as a swirling mass of energy erupts from the ceiling and causes many of the guests to scatter in fright as a hideous old woman appears, hovering in the air and surrounded by ugly demons of all shapes and sizes.
The brown fox gave a start. Now?
"Wait..." the woman hisses.
The swirling mass of energy crackles like lightning as the demons laugh and sneer, tossing plates and chairs around the room as the hideous old woman glares at Nurarihyon and his family - pointing a long, gnarled finger out as she shrieks "Nurarihyon! How dare you hold a feast and not invite me!".
Nurarihyon stands between the demons and his family as he stares at her with determined eyes, "..this is a feast of celebration, Onibaba - what use would a murderer of children have here?".
The hideous old woman forms a horrible smile, filled with rotten teeth as the demons surrounding her hiss and taunt in response - "you have grown soft, Nurarihyon - yet I am a kind and gentle Yōkai so I shall spare you further suffering.. all I ask is your precious daughter..".
The woman and fox suddenly sprang into action; the brown feline extended sharpened claws and bared it's fangs as it leapt at Onibaba, while the woman in black hurled shuriken at the surrounding demons with deadly accuracy, hissing the whole while.
Onibaba laughs a terrible laugh as the shurikens transform into dust and the brown feline into a ball of yarn - which soon rolls back to the mysterious woman: transforming back once it reaches her but the floor beneath her becomes like quicksand in an effort to hold her to her waist: Onibaba's magic obviously far superior to the Yōkai currently present in the room.
"Stop! You won't have my daughter and you won't hurt my guests! It was I who offended you so take me, Onibaba - leave them be!" Nurarihyon yells out, despite Akemi's mother's protest as she tries to hold him back.
Onibaba stops laughing, frowning as she rubs her chin in thought - looking to Nurarihyon as the little sandal-creature wriggles free of Akemi's grip and bounces over to the mysterious woman as if trying to aid her in its own strange way: Akemi clinging to her mother's kimono in fear as she stares at Onibaba and the demons.
The fox growled audibly. You'll pay for that, witch.
Rather than struggling against the quicksand-like floor, the woman flicked a forked tounge as she began to transform; her body elongated, her clothing seemed to meld with her skin into gleaming, black scales. Where the woman once stood was a large serpent with eerie green eyes that bared fangs at Onibaba, pulling itself free from the floor.
Onibaba shook her head "foolish move, I shall have to teach you a lesson" she says to the serpent before turning to her target "..for now however I will take your offer Nurarihyon.. I'll even be so kind as to help your family.." - with that the great Yōkai casts a spell that transforms Akemi's mother into an umbrella and imprisons Nurarihyon effortlessly in a cage that quickly appears next to her.
Onibaba chuckles as she notes to the serpent - "..Akemi may need your aid to complete the task I shall give her: retrieve for me the Kanabō of an Oni - then I will let your father free..".
Akemi simply looks in horror between the two Yōkai, still in shock at what she is seeing - the power of the serpent spirit and the frightening lack of care Onibaba shows as she continues to taunt the few still left in the room.
"..w-why? why would you give me this task?" Akemi finally asks.
The fox pawed the floor in frustration. For her own amusement, I'll bet.
The sandal-creature flops on the floor beside the fox, imitating the fox's movement as it chatters nonsense - as was the way of may mischievious Yōkai.
"Akemi! Don't listen to her! Go-!" Nirarihyon begins only to be dragged into the dark energy as the riotious demons spirit him away, cage and all - Onibaba simply looking to Akemi as she spreads a grotesque grin.
"The Kanabō makes an Oni invincible, I want that power.. you want your father.. it is really that simple..".
Akemi shivers slightly as she thinks this over, the umbrella which was once her mother hops over - as if on invisible strings.
"..If I do this will you let my mother go as well?" Akemi asks.
Onibaba thinks on this, eyeing Akemi curiously "..hmm.. if you care so much for a simple human.. I suppose.. yes.. I will afford you such mercy..".
Akemi looks to the umbrella, then to the fox and finally to Onibaba and the dark energy "..then I shall get the Kanabō as you ask".
The serpent narrows her harsh eyes. I ssssssmell trickery.
Akemi looks to the serpent, "..what choice do I have?" - she then turns to Onibaba once more and repeats "..I accept your challenge, so long as you keep true to your word..".
Onibaba grins widely and disappears into the dark vortex, stretching out a gnarled hand and placing a bowl of rice by Akemi's feet - "..when the bowl empties your time shall end.. as for how to reach me.. simply get the Kanabō and I shall come to you.. farewell, for now..".
With that Akemi can do little but watch as Onibaba vanishes, the umbrella which was once her mother tilting to one side and resting against her as if trying to comfort her - the mischievious Bakezōri however contents itself with jumping up and down much like a disobedient dog at the serpent Yōkai.
The serpent hisses once more before turning back into the figure of a woman cloaked in black, narrowing her slit, emerald eyes. The fox leaps upon her shoulders.
"So... how do we begin this quest?" the fox asks.
"Quiet, Satoshi," the serpent-woman said. "We have only one purpose here, and one alone. This is not our mission."
"But-" Satoshi the fox began.
"We're leaving," the woman said.
Satoshi snarled and leapt off of the woman's shoulders, heading over to Akemi. "Fine, Miyako. You leave. I'll stay here and help Akemi."
"Thank you, kind spirit but you do not have to burden yourself with me.. this is my curse to break.. I would not wish to put you further in harms way.." Akemi replied, looking down sadly at the ground as the umbrella remains resting against her side.
The Bakezōri stops jumping around as it seems to notice Akemi's sadness and hops over, creating a shōji door out of nowhere, large enough for Akemi to head through - a portal to the Yōkai world.
"Don't mind Miyako," Satoshi said. "She's just a stubborn, bitter woman... I'll gladly help you out."
Miyako narrowed her eyes dangerously at the brown fox before turning around and walking away. "Very well, then. See if I care when you die on your fool's errand."
"H-hey!" Satoshi exclaimed, taken aback, and slightly hurt. But Miyako did not turn back, and soon disappeared.
"If you insist on coming I will not stop you.. you can carry this.." Akemi says, passing the bowl of rice to Satoshi as she stands up, sliding the door open to reveal a blinding white light: the Bakezōri bouncing up and down as Akemi takes a step back, picking up the umbrella as she braves it and moves into the light.
Satoshi's form suddenly began to morph into that of a human with light, brown eyes, and broad, gentle hands which took the rice bowl and held onto it carefully.
Akemi soon disappears into the light along with the rest of the group, when their vision finally clears they find themselves standing in the streets of a stylized version of Ancient Japan: the area bustling with excitement as innumerable spirits of all shapes and sizes, many completely alien, wander around - parodying a busy city of old.
"..well, we are here now.. yet how does one find an Oni in this land of spirits?" Akemi wonders aloud, keeping the umbrella in her hands as the Bakezōri moves around much like an excited dog.
"I doubt we will be finding any Oni here," said Satoshi. "Nasty little buggers," he added, muttering beneath his breath.
Akemi nods and looks around, as she does so a large shadow appears before her - which soon forms into a massive wall which stretches far and wide: blocking the group's progress as a voice speaks out: "..you seek the Oni? then you must be Akemi, daughter of Nurarihyon - it will take more than a half-Yōkai and her pets to survive this world, let alone defeat the power of the Oni..".
"...PETS?!" Satoshi exclaimed, somewhat offended.
"Do not be afraid, the Nurikabe is prone to fearmongering - however it is unlikely to attack you, save with empty threats.." a voice speaks out from behind, revealing a humanoid rabbit: his arrival was greeted with obvious contempt by the ghostly wall that blocked the path, which shook slightly.
"Usagi.." the mysterious voice noted, Akemi looking between the two Yōkai and trying to make sense of the situation before she finally spoke out.
"Forgive me, great Yōkai - I don't understand.. I simply wish to find the Oni and free my family from an unfair curse set upon them by Onibaba.. please.. do not trouble us further..".
Satoshi held the rice bowl closer to his chest and took half a step back, staring between Usagi and the Nurikabe.
"This girl seeks to pass, Nurikabe - I suggest you honor her request.." Usagi spoke, the rabbit calm yet also somewhat frightening - he was (as expected) not that intimidating a figure, no larger than an eight-year old human child, yet he showed no fear when confronted with the gigantic wall which made up the Nurikabe.
"Nurarihyon was a fool, he brought the Yōkai World to shame with his attraction to the human race.. you of all Yōkai should understand, Usagi, the terrible error of assuming we Yōkai can exist with humans in peace.." the Nurikabe replied.
"Why do you block our path?" Satoshi asked the Nurikabe, licking his fingernails as an animal would lick it's claws. "Is it out of some misguided loathing towards humankind?
"When human and Yōkai fall in love only tragedy and ruin can follow - you seek to free your family of Onibaba's curse, Akemi? I shall stop you.. Nurarihyon was a disgrace to the Yōkai World.. I will not allow his half-Yōkai daughter further that shame..". the Nurikabe continued.
"Enough!" Usagi says, his calm momentarily broken as the small rabbit's face turns dark with anger - stepping forward as Akemi watches, the rabbit coming to a stop a few feet away from the Nurikabe.
"It is true, Nurikabe - I understand the error of falling in love with one not of my kind.. yet we can not help what we love.. long ago I lost my lover to the treachery of Onibaba.. yes, my lover was human yet the pain Onibaba inflicted was upon me.. a Yōkai like yourself.. so before you talk of dishonor think on this: Onibaba is an enemy to both humanity and the Yōkai.. if you aid her then you too are an enemy.. a traitor to the Yōkai and a disgrace to this world..".
As Usagi speaks, a strange look overcomes Satoshi's face as he goes deep in thought.
"You speak of things you can not understand Usagi.. I will not move.." the Nurikabe replied.
Usagi frowned and hit the wall at the bottom with a single clenched fist, instantly the Nurikabe shuddered and broke apart as the Yōkai fled the scene - Usagi standing quite still as the wall vanished: he then turned to Akemi and Satoshi and bowed slightly.
"..many Yōkai are hostile to those of the human world, however they are often cowardly.. as our Nurikabe friend has shown.. I wish you luck in freeing your family: I know all too well the evils Onibaba can unleash..".
"Indeed." Satoshi said quietly.
"Thank you kind sir.." Akemi said, returning the bow as she began to move down the path - yet she only went a few feet forward before she stopped, as if in thought: turning back around to Usagi, who had already turned as if to leave.
"..wait.." Akemi began, then paused, unsure what to do next as Usagi also stopped in place - making for a somewhat awkward silence.
"Hm? Akemi?" Satoshi asked, also stopping as well.
"..you helped us against the Nurikabe.. you speak of Onibaba.. maybe you can aid us in finding the Oni? please.. my family.." Akemi began, looking to Usagi - however the rabbit ddid not turn to face her.
"You would put your trust in me so quickly? I aided you against a Nurikabe yet you think I would do the same against an Oni?" Usagi spoke, his tone was hard to translate - almost as if he was thinking aloud.
"You and I both know of the suffering Onibaba is the cause of," Satoshi interrupts, speaking to Usagi. "Would you let this girl and her family suffer too? Join us or not, it is your choice to make. Let's go, Akemi; time is of the essence."
Suddenly a rush of wind was felt and before Satoshi or Akemi fully knew it Usagi stood on the path in front of them, the rabbit speaking calmly despite a dark expression on his face - "..know this, kitsune - I do not watch as others suffer.. you seek the Oni? I shall aid you.. however you know as well as I do Onibaba has sent you on this quest in order to see you dead.. which is why you will follow my guidance: is that clear?".
Akemi blinked a little, almost dropping her umbrella as the Bakezōri hopped up and down slightly - after a moment she nodded and bowed slightly "..we'll do as you wish..".
Satoshi is silent for a momenet, but reluctantly says, "of course."
Usagi turns and walks down the path, Akemi looks to Satoshi for a moment then follows Usagi - the group continue to walk for a few moments in silence before Akemi once again tries to speak:
"Forgive me for asking but you spoke of Onibaba in the past? did she also curse you? or your lover?".
Usagi continues walking as he replies "..Onibaba killed my lover along with an entire village, a misguided fool sent her to fetch me.. yet like a rabid dog she would betray her would-be-master just to see more pain in this world.. this is the darkness we face, Akemi, one that will not be content until all things are as hideous as she has become..".
"Miyako..." Satoshi thought to himself.
"I am sorry, it must pain you - to lose someone so close.." Akemi began, though she was to silence herself - afraid of angering Usagi, who had shown himself capable of changes in temper, though the rabbit did not seem to react as he simply continued along the path.
"I have learned that one can not always save the ones they love, however one can honor them in the actions one does - that is why I will aid you in your quest, as I have done for many others.. in doing good for others I ensure a part of my lover lives on: as well as the honor of the village.." Usagi explained, then paused as the group came across a small house - the sun beginning to set.
"..we should rest here for the night, I shall take first watch.." Usagi declared, motioning towards the house.
"If you say so, old hare," Satoshi said, stepping into the house. He quickly found a corner, set down the rice bowl, and transformed into his fox-form, curling his body protectively around the bowl.
Akemi entered the house but paused as she looked over to Usagi, the rabbit sitting down cross-legged by the entrance - she looked to Satoshi for a moment then approached Usagi again, speaking quietly as she knelt down next to him.
"Usagi? please - I need to know.. my father.. is he?" she paused, fearful as Usagi simply stared into the horizon.
"Onibaba will not kill Nurarihyon.. it amuses her far more to keep him prisoner, believing us to be destined to failure.." Usagi replied.
Akemi bowed her head sadly, the umbrella once again falling to one side - Usagi moving for the first time as he gently lifted the umbrella and held it out to Akemi.
"Then we will prove her wrong, Usagi.." Akemi whispered, taking the umbrella and holding it close before she headed back into the house and curled up on the floor.
Usagi did not look back as he continued to stare at the horizon, a faint memory entering his mind as he flicked an ear - showing Feudal Japan and a young woman sitting next to a youthful Usagi, underneath a blossoming tree. "They believe we are destined to bring misfortune to this land, that our union is somehow corrupt.." Usagi stated, the woman holding his hand as she replied "..then we shall prove them wrong, Usagi".
A few hours passed by before Akemi suddenly awoke with a start as a noise came from outside the house, Usagi leaping into action as an unseen aggressor suddenly begins to fight - alarmingly the fight does not last long before Usagi is sent crashing through the entrance, clutching his chest in obvious pain.
Satoshi leapt up, entering the fray and leaping at the assailant, with his claws outstretched.
However Satoshi did not get much chance to attack before a massive snake-like being smashed into the room, using its tail to whip around the fox-spirit and hissing violently as it extended its jaws - revealing fangs glistening with venom: Usagi leapt forward and kicked the snake in the face, causing it to fall back but only for a moment as it slashed Usagi with its claws, showing it to have a humanlike torso and arms.
Akemi gasped as she stood up and began to approach "Usagi! Satoshi!" she exclaimed.
Satoshi was not deterred by the serpent's assault; he leapt back as he readied his claws. "Akemi, get back!" he commanded, as he leapt once more towards the serpent to close his jaws around the beast's neck.
Akemi hopped back instinctively, looking over as the bowl of rice spilled a few of its precious contents: her eyes growing wide as she rushed over and covered the bowl protectively.
Meanwhile the great serpent quickly shows itself to be both incredibly strong and agile as it trashes, attempting to dislodge Satoshi as it wraps its tail around the fox-spirit: constricting like a boa.
"Usagi-san, you have doomed yet another innocent to an early grave - how many more lives shall you destroy? how many innocents shall you force me to slaughter before you understand, everything that has happened.. all this madness.. is because of you..".
Satoshi struggled against the serpent's crushing grip, biting and clawing in a frenzy, yet all of his fighting was in vain.
The great serpent continues to constrict Satoshi until a flash of silver appears, a small blade hurling at great speed and cutting the serpent's face - causing it to release Satoshi as it covers its face in pain and slithers away with great speed.
"..no.. Hebi.. you can not have them.." Usagi declares, standing and clutching his chest with one hand before slumping down against a wall - Hebi's claws having cut into him and leaving blood trails over his shirt.
Satoshi coughed, dazed slightly as he staggered back and slumped upon the floor.
Akemi looks between Usagi and Satoshi - clinging onto the bowl of rice, trembling slightly as she fought the urge to rush to their aid, scared that more of the bowl's precious contents would spill in the process:
"Usagi! Satoshi!" she calls out.
"I'm fine- tend to him," said Satoshi, gesturing to Usagi as he made his way back to Akemi and the rice bowl before slumping down.
"No Akemi.. do not approach me.." Usagi warns, still holding his wound as he looks into the distance "..I will not be responsible for another innocent death..".
"No! None of us will die! I won't allow it!" Akemi snaps, suddenly becoming angry as her form glows like a flame - lifting herself off the ground she unleashes a wave of energy that envelops Usagi and Satoshi, healing their wounds - moments later Akemi lands back on the ground and the glow fades, the girl's eyes growing wide as she steps back and seems shocked with herself.
Satoshi's reaction was of equal surprise. "What in Amaterasu's name was that?" he wondered aloud.
Usagi looked to Akemi, as if in thought - then declared in a near-whisper "..Akemi, the beauty of dawn.. from which all darkness flees.. of course.."
"What does her name have to do with anything?" asked Satoshi.
"Nurarihyon's daughter has a power within her, it seems.. greater than any Oni.. now I see why Onibaba attacked.. she sees the power within Akemi, to undo her own evil.." Usagi explains, somewhat cryptically.
"Right," said Satoshi, confused. "Explain that again, old hare?"
Akemi's expression changes to confusion as she takes a step forward as if to speak with suddenly a terrifying roar emits from the distance, echoing across the land and causing birds to fly across the sky - the Bakezōri diving for cover as if afraid. Satoshi's fur stood on end.
"Nevermind, something certainly doesn't sound too happy," said Satoshi, readying his claws.
"Put those things away.." Usagi declares, standing up and heading towards the door - looking out towards the mountains on the horizon and narrowing his eyes.
"..the Oni of the Mountains has sensed Akemi's power - that is not a cry of anger.. it is a challenge.. one we must now accept..".
Akemi stood in silence as Usagi continued to look to the mountains in the horizon, the roar fading as an eerie silence filled the air.
"Usagi? Onibaba said I had retrieve the Kanabō - yet I am confused.. what is the power you are talking about? why am I so special?" Akemi finally asked.
"You are the one who has the power to slay the Oni, Akemi - and by extension to eventually slay Onibaba herself.." Usagi replied, still staring into the distance.
"I.. don't understand.." Akemi began, only to watch as Usagi suddenly moved out - motioning towards the mountains.
"Many can harm, Akemi.. yet you have the ability to heal.. now.. come: we have much left to do.." Usagi noted, continuing towards the mountains.
A blizzard raged around Miyako as she trudged up the mountains, knee-deep in snow. She squinted her slitted eyes as she tried to make out her surroundings. Setting her face into a scowl, she continued moving, unperturbed by the frigid wind.
Then, quite suddenly, she saw the silhouettes of two figures before her- two familiar figures. A man, holding an infant in his arms.
A cry tore from her throat. She pushed on, harder, faster, and more desperate, trying to reach the silhouettes. Yet they seemed to move away from her, tauntingly, like a mirage...
With a jolt, her eyes snapped open, and she growled in frustration once she realized that she had collapsed from exhaustion. She glanced up; the figures weren't there. There was only the seemingly endless storm before her.
Suddenly a shōji door appeared impossibly in the area, signalling the arrival of a fellow Yōkai, sure enough within minutes the door opened and a large male snake slithered out - rising up to look at her with a face still baring an ancient scar across his left eye, revealing a humanoid torso and arms in the process, the spirit not seeming to care about the blizzard raging around it.
"..my poor girl, the time is not yet for you to die.. not when your friend is in the hands of a murderer and thief..".
"S-Satoshi?" asked Miyako, half-demanding, half-fearful. She shivered in the bitter, howling wind. "Y-you know of Satoshi? Is he hurt?"
"Not yet - however he is in great danger.. he is in the company of Usagi, a creature without honor.. he has already tricked the half-Yōkai into heading towards this very mountain in the search for the Oni.. fully prepared to abandon them at the slightest sign of trouble.." the snake replies.
"W-where is he? How c-can I g-get to him?"
"He shall come to you, soon enough - yet you shall to stay alive.. there is a way but you must trust me.. are you willing to do that?" the snake says.
Miyako remained silent for a moment, deep in thought. Then she looked up to the snake.
"F-first, tell me... w-who are you?"
"I am simply someone who has lost as much as you have to Onibaba, the scars on my face are evidence enough of Usagi's betrayal.." the snake states, showing said scars.
Miyako was silent for a moment, then looked up to the snake. "V-very well... just help me... help him... please..."
The snake nods a little and before much else can be said a large hairy humanoid emerges from the cold, reaching over to Miyako in an attempt to lift her over one of its massive shoulders - "..don't be afraid, the Hibagon is a gentle creature - it shall take you to a cave nearby.. your friend shall come there, I assure you.. I know Usagi.. it won't be long..".
Miyako could barely give a nod before she slumped over the creature's shoulder, the cold piercing through her flesh like daggers. In moments, her sight began to fade and she slipped once more into the black embrace of unconsciousness.
The snake simply watched as the Hibagon carries Miyako into the distance, towards a great cave situated in the mountain - "..don't disappoint me, Usagi - come.. let your "heart" be your undoing." he hisses, fading into the snow like a ghost.
Sure enough it only took a few hours to pass before Usagi and the others found their way to the edge of the mountain, looking up the rabbit frowned slightly "..the mountain will be unkind, yet we have little option.. before we ascend however we require something to stop us freezing to death.. even spirits are not immune to nature's wrath".
"So...how do we plan on fighting an Oni in the mountains and not freezing to death?" asked Satoshi.