Fictober, Prompt 17 – “I’m with you, you know that.”
Original fiction, vaguely Japanese-inspired fantasy.
Warnings: nothing graphic, but: past deliberate burning of a home, implied death.
I stood beside a rocky outcrop, looking down at the vast plain below. The rock did nothing to shelter me from the hot wind that blasted up from the bare rock and sand below, whipping my tattered clothes around me. Once vivid with blues and greens and golds, the robes were mostly gray now, frayed at the hems, and patched too many times. But I had so little left, after the fire, and I was loath to give them up, even now.
Even if I’d been willing to part with them, I wouldn’t have been able to afford much better.
The short sword at my left hip was the only thing I really had left of my family’s legacy at this point, and the only reason that I had any real recollection of what our crest was supposed to be.
Soft footfalls behind me, and then the strange, soft whoosh that was the only sound accompanying Yū’s shifting. Slightly louder steps, sandaled feet on rock as he came to stand behind me, looking out easily over my head at the army assembled below, their fires beginning to glow brighter as the sun dropped toward the horizon in a spill of blood-red light.
I waited, but the yōkai said nothing…which was its own answer. It hadn’t really been in question anyway: my enemy was below, surrounded by an army, and if any planned to stand against him before it was too late, they were not yet in evidence.
It was just me, then, me and a plan for vengeance that was as insane as it was just.
Me and Yū.
As if reading my thoughts (a talent he had never confirmed or denied), he said, “I’m with you, you know that.”
My eyes closed, trying to hold back tears at the surge of gratitude his words brought.
I still didn’t really know what I had done to attract the yōkai’s interest and support. He had found me weeping in the remnants of my burnt-out home, years ago, and stayed with me ever since. I’d done everything I could to be a good companion, of course, especially in the early years when he had kept strictly to animal forms. They had never been quite normal animal forms, and of course the fact that had shifted between them had told me of his true nature from the beginning.
I had never asked outright, and the only thing he had ever said himself on the subject was that he had existed on or near my family’s ancestral lands for a very long time. That, and his easy acceptance of my quest to see justice done against the man who had destroyed us (and so many others), were probably all the answer I would ever get…or need.
Having him at my back now was more than I could ever possibly repay him for, never mind everything else he had done for me since that terrible day. My near-worshipful thanks seemed to be all he truly wanted in return, no matter how I pressed.
“We are stronger together,” he said, and I felt the warmth of his power rise at my back. I let my own power, hard-won but at least not gained at the cost of anything I could not afford, circulate and rise to my skin in answer.
“We are stronger than you know,” Yū whispered, stepping closer, so that we were nearly touching.
I smiled, and opened my eyes. “I believe you.”
“I know. That is why.”
I nodded acceptance, of his support and of whatever would come next. Looking below, I saw that the fires were bright and numerous across the plain. The army would be settling in for the night – with no rival power to challenge them, they would have set only a standard watch.
“Come,” Yū told me, “let us show them what we can do.”
One last breath.
yōkai – the closest English word is “specter,” but in Japanese this covers a whole class of supernatural entities/spirits which I feel is not reflected well in the word specter. They can often shapeshift, and range across a spectrum in terms of their potential benevolence or malevolence toward humans. The Wiki article about them seems decent.