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Written by Christopher Ikpoh

Illustrations by Josh McMahon

Chapter 1


Late 21st Century, New Japan, Platinum City, USA

“Kids, lunch is ready! Come inside and wash up!” The voice of preschool teacher Ms. Azumi carried over the light summer breeze flowing through the outside play area at Toyotomi Hideyoshi Academy. A loud cheer came over the crowd of three and four-year-old Japanese kids. They were enthusiastic about the meal their hungry little bellies eagerly anticipated, and as their feet pitter-patted against the sidewalk leading to the classroom, Ms. Azumi noticed one child remained stationary inside the sandbox.

A small boy held a plastic turtle and a rubber snake in his hands as they were drawn from a puddle within a sandbox. Brown water dripped from them; each drop escaping from his skin and splashing against the water as a glacier top into the sea. His youthful voice was replaced by mumbling filled with masculine bass. “I must purge…”

In the surface of the puddle was the reflection of an ancient prince. His regal, Asian features were distorted, but not by the ripples. There was something ominous present, and as the little boy continued gazing at the water, his eyes began to glow bright yellow granting him supernatural vision. Thus, before him was no longer a sandbox, but the wild, prehistoric Japanese countryside. A dense wooded area filled the mountaintop landscape surrounding the prince as he knelt in the middle of a majestic river. In the air was the scent of ash and sulfur. The sky was lavender and deep orange, highlighting shooting stars and erratic movement amongst the northern constellations. However, it was the crimson water bubbling directly in front of him that seized his senses, for two unholy figures were emerging.

“Iori.” Ms. Azumi called out to the child to gain his attention. When he did not reply, she walked forward and inflected her voice with sternness. “Iori Miyamoto, I am talking to you.”

The river water before the prince grew wild as he witnessed two massive, demonic creatures surface – an ungodly tortoise and a sinister snake. The monsters’ dark power created pulses of energy in all directions, washing against the prince as the water did his legs, and the phenomenon suspended his long, black hair behind him in the wind. The tortoise roared with a fury only known to the mythical gods of underworlds, and the serpent hissed with a piercing, yet hypnotic melody. As they did, the prince felt a warmth flow from his abdomen. He looked down, and what he saw was a ghastly sight: the prince was holding his stomach and intestines. Blood poured from his torso into the current all around him. The prince then glanced up, and as he did Ms. Azumi witnessed Iori mimic the same movements inside the sandbox.

“Come now. We need to get you cleaned up before lunch,” the teacher instructed as she approached the boy. He could not hear her, though. He was engulfed by witnessing the giant serpent wrap itself around the tortoise, seemingly joining the two as one in the river under the swaying trees. Iori’s eyes grew a brighter yellow. Then, the air around him in the play area rapidly cooled. Ms. Azumi quickly brought her arms in tight and used her hands to close the sheer garment she wore over her blouse. The sudden, unexpected chill jolted her senses, tightening her skin as she breathed deeply from winter’s kiss taking her breath away under the summer sun. Iori, however, was unaffected.

“My generals serve me now and forever…” the boy mumbled to himself in unison with the prince.

“What was that, Iori?” Ms. Azumi inquired while standing over the boy, still looking around with utter confusion wondering why she was suddenly freezing.

The internal organs held by the prince dissolved into thin air, producing a trail of particles which floated on the winds to the demon tortoise and snake. Next, the dust of tissue and blood fused with their bodies. “Kneel,” the prince and Iori both commanded. A tremendous shockwave erupted from the ground as the tortoise genuflected. Leaves rustled all around them, and the water danced in excitement.

“Iori!” Ms. Azumi’s ankles and feet were splashed with water from the puddle before the child. The disturbance traced her eyesight to the sandbox where she noticed the turtle and snake toys were once again submerged. “What is the matter with you?” she queried intently.

The boy’s eyes exploded in flames as the prince rose to his feet. The two breathed heavily, inhaling the supernatural essence gained from the demonic creatures pledging their undying allegiance. “Genbu… RISE!”

“Gen… what?” Ms. Azumi asked in a perturbed manner. “Ok, that is enough…”

The teacher grabbed Iori’s shoulder gently and turned him toward her. In unison, the prince turned his head back toward Ms. Azumi. As he did, darkness riddled the eyes and skin of the monsters. Black goo oozed from their orifices. The demon tortoise and snake leapt up, releasing a deafening roar saturated with an anger older than time itself. The unbridled evil they possessed catapulted from their bodies as black flames smashing into their surroundings. Trees shattered becoming tiny bits of wood and leaves. The mountain top burst in the background, firing boulders throughout the sky. The stars exploded creating a cosmic display of destruction. Anarchy was alive.

Iori’s heartbeat rapidly observing the supernatural chaos, becoming overwhelmed with darkness. His spirit screamed with the voices of every ancestor in his lineage as they belted out cries for deliverance from the monsters’ damnation lusting to possess the boy’s soul. Then…

“Sorry, Ms. Azumi! I’m coming!” Round features accentuating the softest, sweetest face graced the teacher’s sights. Iori’s loveable smile stretched from ear-to-ear as he ran towards the classroom. The other kids enthusiastically waved for their dear friend to join them by the sinks where they were washing up.

Ms. Azumi, feeling the warm breeze of summer once more, unfolded her arms in further bewilderment. She stared at the puddle in the sandbox and saw the snake toy wrapped around the turtle, and as she did, she experienced a piercing sensation in the depths of her soul. Uneasy and eager to relieve herself of the feeling, she immediately moved towards the classroom while looking over her shoulder to ensure the ominous sensation was not following her.


Early 22nd Century, Mount Kurama, Kyoto, Japan

A sudden cloud of breath burst into the air from a forceful exhalation. The sky loomed as a dark velvet tapestry while riddled with soft, white specks. Then, the sound of snow crunching beneath feet transpired; a man stood after dislodging his wakizashi from the neck of a fallen creature both shadow and beast in nature. Black goo sprayed all around his shoes, and as the man continued to breathe heavily from exhaustion, he perused his surroundings.

Dead demons blanketed the extremely remote landscape. The river by the man’s side was polluted with their tar-like blood, dulling the diamond effect the moonlight and starlight were creating on the ripples. He also noticed the snow had adorned the color of molasses. Lifeless trees encompassed his position, and in the distance were conspicuous mountains. Above their peaks the northern constellations raged with an ominous glow. The man’s spirit was greatly unsettled. It recognized the maleficence emanating from the location. Thus, he knew he had finally arrived at his destination.

Just beyond the trees above the riverbed, the man discovered a cave opening. Etched into the rock were ancient symbols he did not recognize, yet he understood them. It was as if his ancestors were translating them into whispers within his mind. Familiarity coursed through his blood, and as he stepped past the cave opening, a subtle noise akin to a supernatural gasp reverberated throughout the hollow mountain space. Faint cackling could be heard in the distance. The hairs on the man’s skin stood erect, and every fiber of his being screamed for him to run as far from the cave as possible. Yet, he pushed on.

The man felt invisible fingernails rolling across the skin on his neck. The sensation of teeth indenting his flesh all over his body grew in intensity and frequency the further he continued into the cave. Nausea overwhelmed him, accompanied by dizziness and an intense migraine. His brain throbbed inside his skull causing his vision to blur. Nevertheless, the man forged his way through the agony.

Demonic snarling commenced all around the man. A burning, singing pain emerged on his skin, especially around his eyes; he was forced to constantly blink to keep them from being injured. The smell of sulfur painted his nostrils, forcing him to gag repeatedly. Then, the whispering grew to unbearable screams inside his head. He furiously rubbed his face as it felt blood was pouring from his eyes, nose, and ears. However, there was nothing. The man realized every dark force imaginable was present and assaulting him. The worst was yet to come, though.

Dropping to his knees, the man became immobile as images of terror flooded his consciousness. He saw the desecration and pillaging of his wife. He witnessed people, young and grown, being fileted and skinned by vile, grotesque demons while their fellow hellions bathed in the blood and entrails of the tortured. Amidst the victims were the man’s family and friends; a sight inflicting madness upon him. The man clawed at his scalp in a self-mutilating attempt to dig the horrors out. Red liquid and skin packed underneath his fingernails as he hollered in pain and agony. It was the utterance of one name, though, caused by a sight in the man’s nightmarish visions that finally pushed him over the edge.

“Iori!” the man exclaimed as he reached out into the darkness of the cave. Blood flew from his head and hands before he collapsed to the ground. As the name echoed, the ground beneath him began trembling. Rocks fell from the walls around him and the cave ceiling above. Nevertheless, the man did not flinch, for he laid on the ground catatonic and paralyzed. Sensing his demise was at hand, the man anticipated the flames of eternal damnation were about to consume him. Yet, through the red filter clouding his vision as blood dripped from his brow into his eyes, a bright, divine light graced his pupils.

“Baransu ga kaifuku suru!” An earth-shattering voice boomed from within the light, causing waves of the bright essence to pour over the man and cave, restoring balance to both. The whispers stopped. The demonic cackling disappeared. The horrible visions in his brain were no more. Every wound he suffered was instantly healed, and the light continued to pulsate as it cleansed all it touched. Then, as the man felt invigorated, he looked up to see a supernatural figure hovering before him. “Yoshikane Miyamoto, rise…” it said.

Yoshikane stood to his feet. He touched his face and ran a hand through his shorter length, black hair to reassure himself he was whole again. After his faculties returned, he then focused on the entity responsible for his salvation. “Hosho. Sang-gye. The Father of Dharma. The Voice of Buddha. The Zhibdean Master.” Yoshikane paid homage to the deity as he knelt in reverence. “I am honored. You have saved my life.”

Hosho continued to hover, swaying ever so slightly from side-to-side. His burgundy Buddhist monk attire gently moved in unison with him, as did his long white beard. Majestic blue beads were wrapped around his left forearm and hand, peacefully rotating on their own as if they were alive. Light continued to pour from Hosho’s body, and his eyes were beams of white light erupting from his face. The sight of such massive divine power captivated Yoshikane.

“I seek counsel, Hosho,” the man began explaining to the deity.

“This is why you have slain the demons of this haunted land and endured the Trial of Rengoku; to earn my favor. Do you not?” Hosho queried as he circled around Yoshikane while hovering.

“Yes. I believe an ancient demon is coveting my son.”

The deity explained, “The gates to the north beyond the Imperial Palace of your ancestral home have been abandoned. The tortoise and snake generals became one years ago during Iori’s childhood whilst entering their peak season. They have sensed the emergence of your son’s incredible chi and his boundless spiritual potential. Genbu, the dark yokai, seeks to possess his soul and claim it eternally.”

“Who or what is Genbu?”

The deity floated closer to Yoshikane before answering, “The dark yokai was once an ancient prince named Genbu. He sought divinity through spiritual enlightenment, and to achieve this, purging himself of all impurities was essential. While his mind was able to be purified, though, his body still ingested food from the Earth. Thus, sin remained in Genbu’s physical core, and to eliminate it he cut out his stomach and intestines to cleanse in the river of this mountain. What Genbu did not anticipate was the evil inside them transforming his organs into a demonic tortoise and snake that would ravage the people of the land. Genbu eventually subdued them and showed mercy by allowing the demons bearing his name to serve as generals guarding the northern gate of the heavens to atone for their sins.”

“Why then, after all these millennia, has Genbu been freed?”

“The universe need not provide explanation for blessings nor calamity. Not to man nor deity alike.”

“Then, why my son? Why not me or any of our ancestors?” Yoshikane inquisitively expressed.

Hosho ceased circling behind Yoshikane, causing the man to turn and listen intently as the deity declared a revelation. “Your spirit, and those of your ancestors, pale in comparison to that of Iori’s. In him is housed a pure energy born from the culmination of your bloodline.”

“A culmination?”

“Every house rises and falls. Yours, the Ashikaga, know this all too well. Alas, bloodlines rise and fall, as well,” Hosho expounded.

“And Iori is the best of us.”

“Indeed, and if Genbu achieves integration with Iori, your son will be lost forever and only the dark yokai will remain.”

“Can you not intercede? You have power over the supernatural, both divine and evil.”

“In your desperation, Yoshikane, you forget something imperative. We Zhibdean entities were created to maintain spiritual harmony on Earth. Thus, we are both the light and the dark, and since Iori’s fate has yet to be written, there cannot be intercedence from us. Only after balance has been eliminated do we act.”

Yoshikane lowered his head despondently. “If you cannot save him, then my son is damned.”

Hosho circled back toward the place he emerged from, the pulsating light dimming rapidly. However, before he dissipated into the ether he replied, “Though Genbu tempts Iori, it does not mean your son cannot overcome the dark yokai, for salvation has as many faces as damnation.”

Yoshikane stood harboring a sense of defeat while the cave grew dark once more. After more than two decades of watching his son battle Genbu’s ever-growing presence, a looming sense of finality was emerging. This spurned Yoshikane to assume the gravest of dangers by journeying to the birthplace of the dark yokai to seek Hosho. He knew he would have to battle demons and withstand unfathomable horrors. Yet, those threats to his life and sanity were miniscule compared to the immeasurable love he had for his son. Hope fueled his unwavering, undying resolve; a hope that traversing the mountaintop battlefield and Trial of Rengoku would enable him to obtain Hosho’s allegiance, the one entity powerful enough to save Iori. Alas, Yoshikane was to leave without aid, and as he stood with despair in his heart contemplating this, he could sense the grand evil of the cave restoring all around him. Thus, he exited the cave expeditiously to escape and journey home.

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