Chapter 1

Ghost Relic: Chapter 1

Chapter 1.4: Fading Memories

Well. This is it! That was a whole lot of words. I’m not used to writing this much, to be honest. That leaves editing this monster then reposting it in full. Not that I’d expect you to read it twice, but it’s a good exercise for me.


 

Makoto had made the trek to the old battlefield. It had been three months since the Priestess and her companions had left the capital city, and three months since the flash of light cleared the blight from the countryside. In that amount of time, everything he expected to happen had come to pass.

When the light had faded, the demons were gone without any trace allowing the armies to close in. Where the vortex once swirled, the air was unnaturally still and the land had gone barren. There were few remains to tell of what had happened there. There were three bodies, impaled by stone spikes. One of those was a woman whose neck was slashed. The artifacts that survived were damaged and drained of their former power. There was no sign of any Ghoul or any Summoned Spirit and no one had any reason to think they had even existed.

Still, the Golden Temple had taken it all. The bodies of the fallen and those they could not recover were given funerals befitting heroes. The battlefield was cordoned off. After a while, the land was forgotten.

By the time he came to pay his respects, the land had grown over. New life was pushing its way through the cracks of dry land. In no time at all, all evidence of a battle would have been buried. He was sure that was what everyone else wanted. All memories of the horrors of the Darkness and the alliances forged to defeat it lost to time. This way, everything could return to the status quo.

He knelt down towards one of the piles of rubble and looked through. He had no idea what he wanted to find. He had already searched several other piles to only find more dirt. He dug down and felt something solid. He narrowed his eyes and fished out small stone statuette. Makoto looked down at it. It was warm to the touch and made of no material he had seen before.

He slipped the statuette into one of his pockets and headed back where he came. Both clans had been dismissed from the capital, leaving little else to do but return home and prepare for the day that memory of this battle had faded. He had a feeling it would not be long.

Ghost Relic: Chapter 1

Chapter 1-3.3: Broken Bonds

This is where everyone dies. I’m sorry.


 

Mei watched it unfold before her. The Light began to turn the Darkness as the Darkness once blighted the land. A smile formed across her face.

“WATCH OUT!”

It was Keijiro’s voice calling from behind her. No. She couldn’t be distracted. The bond between Kesshen and her could be seen as a beam that connected the two. They were moments away from it shattering forever.

Hrk…

Mei finally looked down. A stone spike had ripped out of the ground and thrust its way into her back and through her chest. She tried to scream out, but blood had filled her throat and snuffed her voice.

Why wasn’t she dead?

The spike was marbled with veins twisting through the stone. She didn’t notice it before in the dark, but it was hard to miss them now. They were glowing a sick green. The stone was blighting her flesh, rotting it black. The same green veins were now twisting its way through the blight and into her chest.

The plan was never to kill her. It was to poison him.

She realized it too late as she saw the bond between them start to flicker and turn, the light shifting to a similar green.

Kesshen, who was a giant compared to his a usual human shape, turned as the corruption also caught his attention. He turned away from the rift, letting it continue to burn away the darkness.

“Mei!” Keijiro was the one screaming out and ran to her. Before he could move a step, another stone tendril shot out of the ground, this time coiling around and shattering the Ninja’s leg. All he saw was white before he crumpled to the ground.

Yan tried to look past Mei to see the new source of screams. The tendril apparently did not need to corrupt him the way it needed the Priestess, it simply needed him out of the way. He saw a figure emerge from behind him. It was their apparent traitor.

“Tomoe.” Yan could barely hear himself breathe the name.

It couldn’t have been her. It must have been an imposter. After all, they had found the body, lifeless and alone. Not that they had any means to investigate that further. He moved closer, past the impaled Priestess and the fallen Ninja.

It wasn’t her. It was a ghoul. Or perhaps at one time, it was. They buried her in the forest, meaning to come back for her body once the crisis was resolved. The corruption must have taken her. It must have killed her, and once they had gone, taken the woman as its host.

I am already in your Realm.

It was the right choice. As much as Mei was the soul of their group, Tomoe was its mind: strategic, logical, and privy to all of their collected knowledge.

He couldn’t think of when the corruption even began. Even if he wanted to, he didn’t have the time. The ghoul’s cold, lifeless eyes stared through Yan. There was a moment of recognition before the ground began to quake, even more tendrils shooting out and piercing Yan through his limbs.

When the ghoul turned its onslaught onto the two companions, the green glow in the stone veins started to waver. It was the chance Mei needed to pull herself off of the spike. It had missed her heart. After all, it needed her alive. She looked upwards at the glowing giant coming towards her, trying to fulfill its purpose and protect her.

That was more of the trap. The closer he got, the faster the corruption moved along the bond. She would not let it have him. I’m sorry, she mouthed, before coughing out enough blood for a final order.

‘SAVE YOURSELF!’

Razor sharp shards had littered the ground where the tendrils had grown. She grabbed one, the edges digging into her palm. She took one more look at her fallen comrades and dragged the stone across her throat.

The blighted land and twisted sky shook as the Darkness screamed out, watching the bond disintegrate before the corruption could reach the enraged spirit.

It was already too late.

Without the Priestess to anchor her magics, the rift was now uncontrollably. Light poured out from the heavens and burned away the darkness. It was blinding, draping itself over everything it touched as it grew outwards and flooding the summoned Spirit.

When it reached out as far as it could, covering all of the blighted lands, time froze again.

Then, in a blink, the light receded back to the rift, leaving in its wake ground scarred from the accursed energies. For all those outside of the vortex, it all happened in a breath.

Within the vortex, all that remained was Kesshen.

His mortal allies had fallen. The ghoul that wore a familiar face was being penetrated by light from the rift. Then, the light started to return. He saw the edges of the vortex start to draw in. He looked between the Ghoul, where every instinct he had said to strike it down first. Then he looked at the rift.

Save Yourself.

No, he reached out with his sword drawn. He raised its edge, ready to end this once and for all.

SAVE YOURSELF.

The compulsion halted him in his swing. He could advance no further. The bond was severed yet the orders remained within him. Kesshen was full of the rift’s light. When it began to call the light back, it pulled him with it.

No. NO.

He tried to fight it. He felt the pull dragging him back. He thrust his sword into the ground and tried to keep hold.

Nothing worked.

He turned to the rift, just moments before making contact with it. He knew what lied on the other side. The Spirit Realm. Beyond that, the Heavens. If he let it take him, he would no longer be alone. He looked to the ghoul, who seemed to be resisting the Light’s influence. He needed no convincing. He turned his sword and sent it flying at the rift.

The tip pierced the rift. A ring ran through the vortex. Again, there was an explosion of light. And then, there was nothing.

Ghost Relic: Chapter 1

Chapter 1-3.2: Broken Bonds

Ever get that feeling that you can’t wait to finish just so you can go back and fix everything? I feel like that right now. But, I’m almost there!


 

Her eyes glowed again, piercing in the deep darkness of the vortex. The Tome and Mirror were both tied to her back. When she pulled the strap, they fell but never made it to the ground. They suspended in mid-air before flying to arm’s level. The Tome opened, and the text glowed. The Mirror’s surface glowed in kind.

This got the full attention of all of the demonic creatures who turned to the now empowered Priestess. Even those engaged with the Soldier left to throw themselves into her glowing shield, letting out an unholy shriek as they hit.

“GET BACK!” she ordered. Mei drew power from the staff and the shield sent out a pulse of her own, knocking the cursed beasts to the ground. The display of strength was out of character for anyone who had met her, with the exception of her traveling companions. They saw her grow into this warrior who, for the rest of the world, was still a timid Temple Maiden.

“Time to end this!” she called, reading the glowing words before her, the mirror’s surface filling with a pure, golden light. The light shot a column into the sky, fighting to pierce the billowing clouds.

A roar shook the very air, screaming the party down in a demonic tongue. For the Soldier and the Ninja, the words were indiscernible and scratched at their very bones. She understood, thanks to the knowledge gathered in the Staff.

The only end to be found here is yours. Close this door, if you must, but others remain. I am already in your Realm. There is no escaping me. It is already too late.

Mei did not waver. She knew there was some truth in what the Darkness declared, but she realized in that moment she had always known. This was her one journey. She had already made peace with that.

With her free hand, she raised it over her head. The ribbon that held her small statuette to her wrist slipped away. The statuette too joined the other artifacts. She pointed to the Darkness’ Heart and the statuette whipped away. It tore through the beam of light, still pouring out of the mirror, giving it an otherworldly glow, brighter than it had ever been.

She pulled the dagger from her side and sent it flying after. It was going to do more than a mere blessed pebble. When it struck, it was going to cut the statue clean through and unleash the whole power of Kesshen and his small pocket realm.

When the dagger did hit the statue, time froze, causing a ring to reverberate through all realms. There was the light burst from which Kesshen would be born from. This time, the light blinded and burned the darkness away. Kesshen was still a swordsman, but this time he was still more Spirit than Man, made up only of the pure Heavenly Light. His sword formed of the same stuff and he cut a line down through the Darkness’ Heart. The rift that opened tore the vortex apart and the demonic howl that emerged was an unadulterated pain.

It worked.

IT WORKED.

Ghost Relic: Chapter 1

Chapter 1-3.1: Broken Bonds

I keep calling this ‘Chapter 1’ but now I am convinced this is a 3 chapter arc because each ‘scene’ is so damn long. I don’t know. We’ll see how I feel after I edit it. but I’m pretty sure. If anything, this story has taught me I can’t spell the word, ‘Traveled.’


“The heart,” she whispered, “The heart, I can see it!” Mei was nearly in tears, exhausted from the trek. The distance was shorter than others they’ve traveled, but fear and anxiety had a way of draining whatever energy one had managed to hoard. Nothing really brought about a prime vintage of fear and anxiety than pushing through a whirling darkness that slowly degraded everything it touched.

But not them, thanks to their Sorcerer. He called himself Dukun, but they could never tell if that was his name or a title he had given himself. Either way, the man was nothing if not benevolent. Something drove him deep into the wilds and took away any reason he would have to want to leave. However, even he could see the damage the Darkness was doing to the land. In a matter of time, it would find him too. This was why he agreed to accompany them.

One of the last things he did was prepare the philter. He made enough for the party. With their casualties, it was split among the three of them. Blessed at the temple, when they ingested the mixture, it protected them from the worst of the degrading energies. Otherwise, entering the twisting winds would have eaten away at them until they were ghouls.

But, so far, they survived. They had made it to the Heart of the Darkness, a central vortex from which the cursed energies emanated, changing the world around them. It was that which had to be destroyed. It was likely that doing so would not heal the damage already incurred, but it would at least remove the poison from the land and the air, allowing life to grow again.

She looked to her friends for support and frowned. They weren’t there. No, of course, they were fine. They promised that so long as she lived, so would they, or something similar. Yan was ahead of her, blazing the trail and attracting any danger to him. She could see the outline of him, cutting down the small demons formed from the Heart, while the more battle hardened had already breached the vortex and engaged the armies at the edge.

Their Ninja had kept to the rear, picking the stragglers off who attempted to scratch at the Priestess from the shadows. She hadn’t seen him in some time, but she could feel whiffs against her robes, proof enough that he was still there.

She clenched her fist around the Staff, magic flowing from the core and into her arm. The Staff passed along the knowledge of wizened gurus and brilliant scholars, allowing her to see the vortex through better eyes. For her, parts of the vortex began to pulse like a heartbeat but flash like lightning.

The clouds began to bear down, turning towards them. For a moment, it looked as if it was staring back at them. Studying them. Then, it moved. It cut through the sky directly to them. She leaped forward, thrusting the staff outwards. A field of light pushed the clouds back, shielding them from a barrage of sharp black crystals.

“Now or never,” she muttered to herself.

Ghost Relic: Chapter 1

Chapter 1-2.6a: Homecoming

I was super pressed and couldn’t really put anything out. Instead, I altered the ending of the last chapter. When I do a full read/edit of Chapter 1, this will be the ending in it. If you’re curious, you can still see the original draft of Chapter 1-2.6.


 

“I may kill him when this is all over.”

“Promises.”

“Do you two even have a plan?” she asked, irritation deep in her voice.

The two had fallen silent, barely sharing a glance.

“Well?!”

“If it’s the same plan, I’m not going to be the one to tell her,” Keijiro sighed.

“We will wait for them to come after you.”

“Me?!”

“You are the next obvious target. Keijiro and I will apparently dissent and leave you unprotected. You are the only critical part of this plan.”

“But to catch them, you’re going to let them kill me?!”

“That is not what I said. We will wait for them to come for you. So long as either Keijiro or I still stand, no harm will come to you.”

“Perfectly said,” Keijiro agreed.

“Stop. Please.” Mei held up her hands to stop the two from talking further.. “I understand. There are orders to kill each other but no one will. Apparently, someone will come for me, but you won’t let them. Fine. They’re still letting me go, so we’ll continue as planned. If you wish to witness the ritual, I can arrange that. Then, we’ll imbue enough power into the mirror to open the Path to the Heavens.”

“Then we finally cleave the Darkness,” Yan finished.

Mei nodded. “Assuming we make it to its heart, yes.”

 

Ghost Relic: Chapter 1

Chapter 1-2.6: Homecoming

This is it! One more then I’m out of this Chapter. Probably. I hope. Oh wow why is this so long…


 

Mei navigated the twisting back alleys of the Capital, nerves causing every muscle to clench around her bones. Even as she made every effort to hide, she still felt exposed. Now that she had been cleaned and subsequently purified, she no longer felt as connected to her environment as she did under layers of dirt and travel.

When she felt disconnected, she felt obvious. The high-quality silks of the Golden Temple could never blend into such common surroundings. Even the traveling cloak she used to cover herself did little to ease her anxiety.

Before she had left, she sent out two tiny spirits to meet with her friends and lead them to a restaurant she used to frequent as a child. It was still there and lit, a lucky turn of events considering the rest of the streets were dead silent from the curfew. She managed to slip through the back exit and into a private room which was pitch black inside.

She lit a candle only to find someone there already, seated calmly with his eyes boring straight to the door. “Yan!” she yelped.

“Mei,” he greeted calmly.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, trying to calm herself as she pulled off her cloak.

“You summoned us.”

“That is what she does,” Keijiro spoke up from behind her, causing her to nearly jump out of her skin. Again. He took the hesitation to move around her and sit on the floor.

“I mean.. How did you get here ahead of me?”

“Easily,” Yan said simply. “Were you followed?”

“Of course not!”

“Of course she was,” Keijiro corrected. “A couple soldiers. One of the Kora. But not to worry, I dealt with it.”

“You dealt with it.” She frowned, settling across from them, kneeling on her heels.

Keijiro rolled his eyes and slid the door closed behind her, often baffled at her utter lack of self-preservation. “I distracted them. With each other. This way they had no time to positively identify you or find out which way you went. Honestly, I thought they were loud. I’m surprised you didn’t hear them.”

“I see. Thank you,” she said, trying to be polite. “May I ask what your leadership has told you regarding our trip?”

“Nothing important.”

Yan only nodded.

“Oh, except that they want me to find Saki’s killer.” He then followed with a very loud whisper. “They think it was Yan!”

“What?!” she yelped.

Yan looked over at him. “You are the one suspected of killing her. And everyone else. In fact, I do have orders to deal with you because of it.”

“Me? That’s so sweet! How much?”

“No bounty, just orders.”

Keijiro pouted and sank to his elbows. “Well, that is disappointing.”

“You have to kill each other?!”

“You are so loud,” Keijiro sighed and stretched out on the floor.

“Victory is easiest to claim and blame easiest to dispense, when no one is around to argue,” Yan explained as matter of fact. “None of the organizations wanted to work together, that is why they only sent representatives instead of organizing full support missions. Casualties provide a good excuse to prevent such alliances from becoming permanent.”

“Then what are you two going to do? You both have your orders…”

“My obligation is to House Takaaki which makes finding evidence of Lady Tomoe’s killer my priority. Since it is likely the same person who killed Saki, Keijiro and my goals are the same, which makes killing him short-sighted.”

“He likes me more than he lets on,” Keijiro said, smiling to himself.

“That is inaccurate.”

“The sweetest!”

“I may kill him when this is all over.”

“Promises.”

Mei held up her hands to stop the bickering. “I understand. There are orders to kill each other but no one will. Fine. They’re still letting me go, so we’ll continue as planned. If you wish to witness the ritual, I can arrange that. Then, we’ll imbue enough power into the mirror to open the Path to the Heavens.”

“Then we finally cleave the Darkness,” Yan finished.

Mei nodded. “Assuming we make it to its heart, yes.”

Keijiro smiled, “I love a plan that’s brilliant in its simplicity!”

Ghost Relic: Chapter 1

Chapter 1-2.5: Homecoming

Oh my god I swear this is the last unbearably long conversation. Probably. If only because by the third time you have to relay the same conversation with different people, it becomes kind of a bear.


 

Mei was sitting in silence in the Temple. Her feet were tucked beneath her and her head was bowed. Lit candles filled the room, illuminating the various paintings and scrolls that decorated the walls. At the head of the room was the altar upon which the artifacts her party had gathered sat on display. On one end was a tome of arcane origin which gave them tremendous insight of the battle they were about to wage. Then there was a jewel encrusted dagger, impractical for combat. On the other end was a philter the sorcerer had made but was now irreplaceable with him gone. Next to that was a staff that would allow the bearer to see the knowledge of its previous owners. In the center was a mirror of polished silver. The expedition to recover the artifacts had come at a great cost and the priestess could not avoid thinking of the allies they had lost to retrieve them. The altar in a way felt like a memorial.

The windows were covered and the smell of incense wafted through the air. There was a time when the smell would give her comfort. But now she could not help but long for the scent of the woods and the crackle of the campfire. It was because she was free there. Or at least, free of scrutiny. Even through her meditations, she could feel the High Priestess judge her for her losses. The woman wasn’t even facing her, instead was seated just ahead, also facing the altar and also in deep meditation.

There was no one else there. The Ashikaga Lord had gone after some short discussion with the High Priestess. Still, the weight of the both pressed down upon her.

She heard the High Priestess shift her weight and turn in place to face her. The candlelight created dark shadows across her face. It was nearly as unnerving as the monsters they had fought to get there.

“Mei.”

She lowered her eyes and answered softly. “Yes, High Priestess?”

“Please. Tell me everything.”

She nodded slightly and took a steadying breath. Mei started from when she left the city initially with Tomoe and Yan. She explained how she came upon Keijiro who was traveling alone and managed to save them from a monster crawling out of the shadows. Then about how he spoke on their behalf to his clan, gaining their support for the war. News had traveled quickly, leading them to an altercation with Saki and the Kora clan, who after no small effort also joined them in an uneasy alliance. Then finally, she told her of the Sorcerer they had found in the forest. He bore unprecedented knowledge about Demons and Gods, as well as means to keep them all at bay so he could live undisturbed in a foreign forest.

She paused then, remembering their group in full. The camp was loud. As stoic as most of them usually were, everyone was comfortable and bickered like family. She had never had that before. It truly sank in she might never have it again.

“Mei, please continue.”

Mei nodded and began to speak softly again, this time using her energy to keep her voice from cracking as she relayed their downfall. As they collected the artifacts all to produce a well of light to push back the darkness, they began to suffer casualties. First Tomoe died. Her death and all of its questions causing a schism between the two rival Ninja as well as causing their bodyguard a great deal of personal tragedy. Then, before even a day passed on completing the philter, the Sorcerer was killed, strangled in the dark. Had he not hid the philter, it too might have been destroyed. Finally, Saki was poisoned. In spite of their contentious relationship, Keijiro seemed the most disturbed. The final piece, the polished Mirror, was retrieved with only the surviving trio.

“What of your summons?”

She looked up. Mei was sent because she was the only one with such a natural gift for it. She could call spirits to her aide for small tasks. Some, like Kesshen, she could call for more things more involved. “They helped, but they take a great deal of energy for me.”

It was only a partial falsehood. It did exert effort for her to call forth the spirits, especially one like Kesshen. But they tended to take care of themselves once they came into being. She wanted to explain it no further. She knew it was her responsibility to protect them, and she was not about to let on the Kesshen was more than a bound spirit. He was alive.

“Of course. The tome has the ritual we need to call forth the light?”

She nodded. “Yes, High Priestess. But we must do it in their weakest spot. If we do it from here, it will never reach the heart of the Darkness. There are too many demons ready to sacrifice themselves to defend it.”

“Can you teach anyone else to do this?”

“Not in the time we have.” She closed her eyes and focussed, drawing energy from everywhere around her. The candles dimmed and the artifacts glowed. The scene in the mirror changed from a simple reflection to a panning view of caverns lit by torches and bonfires, brimming with horrific creatures that nearly blocked all of the light. Then the glow faded and the candles returned to their full flickering brightness.

The High Priestess only nodded as she would never let anyone see her flinch. She had watched the girl’s power grow as she grew up in that temple, but the trip outside made it spike beyond any of her predictions.

“I see. Mei, you do need rest and I need to speak with House Ashikaga. We will devise a plan to get you to where you need. For now, return to your room. The city is on curfew until the crisis has ended.”

Mei frowned. “With all due respect, I would like to see my allies first. I would not have made it this far without them and I must assure them that I am well.”

“Nothing that can’t wait until morning.” The High Priestess stood slowly and started towards the door. As it slid open for her, she paused. “And mind the guards. House Ashikaga is invested in protecting us as well as our artifacts. Of course, if you stay inside, you will be less likely to get underfoot.”

She bowed deeply, brow against her palms which were flat against the floor. “Yes, High Priestess.”