Birth of a Dark Ronin
I am a vampire rejected by my maker.
It is, I think, rather ironic. In my former human life, I had been similarly abandoned by my master.
Then, I was deemed unworthy of life. Now, I am unworthy even of Death's embrace.
In life, I journeyed as ronin—a masterless samurai. My former lord, Goda Kokichi, had banished me from his lands after discovering my secret love for his daughter, Mariko. Such an offense invites instant death, a price I fully knew. My lord was an important nobleman in Kyoto and had a thousand warriors at his command. All were willing to carry out my execution, to right the shame and treason I had caused. Lord Goda, however, extended his merciful hand to me. He considered the years of devotion and service I had given. He knew my father, Gouken, well. He allowed me to live. But in return I had lost his protection.
What did I feel? I had dishonored the house of my master and lusted after his only daughter. I deserved—no, I myself had wished for death. But Mariko swore to me that if I died, then she would follow. So I lived, surrendering to shame so that she might one day see me again. My peers called me coward, dishonorable snake, vagabond, and much worse. They swore vengeance on myself and on my bloodline. I was cast out of the patronage of my lord and of my love. I was banished from the lands of my birth, never to return.
So I traveled aimlessly along the countryside. What was I to do? I mingled with the peasants from village to village, my infamous name already having spread to the warrior classes outside of my province. I offered my services to merchants, most of whom wanted nothing to do with me. I slept with whores and drank saki, all the while thinking of my cherished Mariko. From time to time I would hear of a price on my head. Weeks I would go into hiding; I could not die...I could not break Mariko's heart. I remember many rainy nights under bridges where I wept, cold and drowning in desperation.
For years I had wandered as such. My goal was to leave the southern plains of Honshu and make my way to the north. There I hoped to find work, for trade had been reestablished with the Koreans by the Shogun's decree. My path led through barren plains, up rocky mountains, over the Oi River. Though my body yearned to break, my will remained as iron.
In Shinano province, I finally heard of a job. A merchant was looking for escorts to deliver a shipment to the port city of Edo, a journey that would take three weeks. To my dismay, it was a shipment of illegal arms, meant to be sold overseas to the Koreans. For my honor, I could not have accepted such an assignment. But my fears soon overcame me and so I took the job, anxious for the promised money. Two other ronin were hired with me, their stories likely as lamentable as mine. I did not ask their names, nor did I want anything to do with them. I only wanted to be paid for my services. We were to take the delivery by wagon to Edo, where it would be loaded onto a cargo ship. Once we had done so, a man on the docks would pay us equal sums of gold. Most importantly, we were not to be seen by anyone during the journey.
Our route was discrete and took us over the mountains. The inadequate rations we were given left us in the first week. We were forced to hunt wild game and pick berries. It was only a matter of time before the quarrels began. The three of us fought and bickered for hours on end. By the end of the second week, one of the ronin left us. The other, his name Katsu, found new courage and was determined to collect the deserter's share for himself. I cared not and wished that time would pass quickly. I wanted to collect my money and be elsewhere.
"Why did you take this job?" Katsu had asked one night. He was a very young man, too handsome and energetic to be masterless. There could still be hope for him yet. I was somewhat older, already set in my ways.
"To start a new life," was my reply. I stared into the fire we made, my soul longing for my love.
"What, was your former life so bad compared to your life now?" Katsu jested.
No, I thought. I should have chosen death, rather than live apart from my beloved. He would not understand. "Go to sleep, we have two more days' travel."
Finally, we arrived in Edo. I had never been to this grand port city, only having heard tales from friends and family. After hiding our stash, we went to a local tavern to meet the merchant's man. He told us the ship would leave at dawn the next day; we were to load the arms late that night, while the dock's guardsmen visited the local brothels. I had quite a few hours yet, so I took it upon myself to tour magnificent Edo. Amazing, how the Shogunate buildings were so painstakingly handcrafted, the walls made of the finest cedar. Marble statues of the great Tokugawa Ieyasu—the Great Unifier—towered over squares. Streets lighted by bright oil lanterns, peasant and samurai alike mingled together, and festive music filled the air. A sense of joy filled me, as I was happily welcomed by strangers everywhere I went. Then, an idea came to me. I could live here in Edo, to start life anew. If the gods favored it, I could steal Mariko away to this place as well, to begin our lives again. I resolved to make Edo my new home, and my hopes for a blissful life rekindled.
But Fate decreed that it was not to be. I met my maker later that night, and was soon to bid farewell to my old life forever.
Katsu and I loaded the arms in the dark of night, with the merchant's man keeping guard. When all was done, we were paid twenty gold pieces as promised. We never saw the man nor the shipment again. Thrilled by his new fortune, Katsu bid me follow him to celebrate at the tavern. We walked along the docks, stumbling in the night like drunkards to find a welcome light. Katsu talked about how we would save his money to buy land of his own and to one day get married. I listened, happy for him and wishing good fortune.
The moon cast its full glory upon the shimmering sea when she came to us. We were striding along in front of a warehouse when a dark, shawled figure stepped out from the shadows. For a second we were stunned, but I quickly realized what a sight we beheld. It was a woman, young and beautiful. Her perfect skin was lily white, her lips thin and red, and her hair long and golden even in the moonlight. And the most beautiful of all were her eyes—auburn eyes that were deep and penetrating. She looked like a Westerner, a foreigner...one of many who traveled to our land since Commodore Perry opened our ports to the world. We were immediately struck by her profound beauty. Her attire, a scarlet silk dress, only complimented her wonderful body and spoke of her wealth. So speechless were we, it was the woman before us who broke the silence.
"Such a fine night for a walk, do you not agree?" she smiled at us, her voice sultry and inviting.
Katsu and I glared at each other in disbelief. She spoke the Emperor's tongue so fluently, as if she herself was of the royal line!
"Ah, Edo," she sighed. "I have waited far too long to visit the lands of the East. I hope you gentlemen may be hospitable to me during my visit."
Still awed by her beauty, I watched as Katsu stammered a response. "Certainly, my lady! Allow us to show you all the best places for—"
Before my companion could finish, I saw the woman's arm strike out at him with incredible speed. Her gloved hand bent Katsu's head to one side, exposing his soft throat for all the gods to see. He choked, his cries gargled by the delicate fingers that gripped his vocal chords.
My feelings of terror became legion. I reached for my sword, but found I could not move. It must have been sorcery! In one swift motion, like a feline, the woman glided against my poor companion and held him steady with her graceful arms.
"Be still, my pretty," she whispered softly. "Your death has a purpose for me."
I then saw the inhuman teeth of the angelic demon, white and sharp like a serpent's. Gods, what was standing before me? She closed her eyes, lost in ecstasy, as she sank those horrid teeth into Katsu's flesh. He whimpered strangely, and his body became limp. His eyes softened as his life was leaving him. The demon caressed the back of his head as she sucked and drank at the wound, her breath getting heavier with each passing second.
I knew that she was killing him, indeed, taking his very life out of him with her deceptive lips. I realized by then that the creature was kyuusetsuki—a blood-sucking demon. I had heard the wives' tales of such abominations during my childhood, but never did I take them as real beings. Now I stared at one in front of me, killing a man right before my eyes!
Yet, I was not at all repulsed by her damned act. I watched, at first in terror, then curiosity, and finally with desire. I wanted to imitate her, to be in total control as she was, to have complete power. I wanted her. Never before had my lust for a woman been so overpowering. My heart raced, my mind hoping that she would hear my every beat.
Her task took no more than a minute. She threw her head back upon finishing, licking ruby lips that glistened in the moonlight. The corpse of my companion, now a lifeless husk of flesh and bone, slipped to the ground. In the darkness I heard his gold coins rattle against the wooden boards, the sound of them making me sick once again. The Katsu that I knew had passed on from this life.
"Mmm, so delicious," the monster murmured to herself. "The blood of the East is quite an experience indeed." She then turned to me, her face a mirror of my desire.
I gathered all of my courage. "Stand fast, demon, or you shall die by my sword this night!"
The dark angel only gazed at me, her hands running up and down my frozen chest. Her eyes absolutely captivated me. "Brave words from a mere mortal," she whispered in a seductive tone. Her arms then wrapped around my neck, and we were face to face. I felt her warmth, the blood that must have been my companion's now flowing in her cheeks. "Yet you do not wish to kill me, do you my darling?"
Powerless, I could not resist. "N-no...I...I only want you!"
I did not lie to her then; I will not lie to you now. I only echoed that which my heart desired.
She smiled at my response. "I felt you, my darling, I heard your thoughts as you watched your companion die. Do you want me? Wish you to become as I am? A creature of darkness, a devourer of human blood?"
"Please," I gasped. "Please, tell me who you are, my lady. What is your name, so that I may learn to cherish it forever!"
Her eyes softened at my words. She leaned forward and kissed me deeply with her lips. "I am called Aurelia," she whispered, pulling back from our embrace.
I knew then that I wanted to be hers forever. It sounded as music to my ears. The dark angel had a name. My maker had a name…Aurelia. The Lady Aurelia.
"Wish you to become as I am?" she repeated, her eyes looking deep into mine, hypnotizing me, enslaving me.
"Yes!" I panted. "Take me now, make me yours forever, my lady!"
She smiled again, bringing a soft hand to my cheek. "You are strong. Worthy to be my new companion in this strange land. I smell hundreds of your experiences, thousands of your emotions. I will make you mine, and you will be a part of me for eternity."
With that, she kissed me again, exploring my mouth with her luscious tongue. I returned in kind, lost in the heat of my desire. She pushed me towards the wall of the warehouse, our lips still locked in that unholy embrace. I could move freely again, my arms finding their way to her neck, the curves of her rear, the small of her back. Her kisses wandered from my lips to my cheeks, my eyes, my chin, and finally to my neck. Strange that I did not feel her breath. When she finally commenced the dance of death, I felt no pain. Her teeth sank slowly at first, just piercing the skin. She moaned in bloodlust, and then clamped down with inhuman force. My body convulsed violently then, and my brow broke into a sweat. With a hand, she gripped my katana sword and flung it away, while her other hand searched my kimono and found my erect penis. Slowly, she stroked and caressed my hardened manhood, which only further fueled my lust.
Poor Katsu, I remember thinking, his was not such a pleasurable experience! As the angel drank from my soul, I felt the life leaving me. Just before I crossed the threshold of death, she pulled away, her face somehow immaculate and unfettered. She kissed me again, then slowly slithered out of her clothing. She stood before me, her perfectly sculpted nude body beyond anything I could ever imagine. With a long sharp finger, Lady Aurelia sliced across her silky, pale bosom. She then forced my face down and smothered me with her own red blood.
"Drink, my child," she spoke tenderly, "feed from me as I did you, so that we may seal our hearts' desire."
Without hesitation, I drank hungrily from her bosom, lapping up the thick, warm liquid. I do not know long I lay there drinking. I only knew that I belonged to someone now, this unholy beauty that stood naked before me.
"Come, drink," I heard her moan. "Come, be with me for all of eternity..."
I drank until I could drink no more. I fell back, the world fading before me. The final sensation I felt was the gentle press of her lips on mine. And then, my last thoughts as a man vanished into oblivion.
Thus I abandoned my human life and came to be reborn as a creature of the night. Kyuuketsuki, vampyr, nosferatu, blood demon, undead...there were many names created for us over the millennia. But none were mine. I knew what I had become, but I knew very little of myself.
The next I saw the golden-haired Aurelia was under the light of a blood red moon. She stood over me, watching me with prided satisfaction as I crawled out of my shallow grave like a worm. My mind was not yet fully re-awakened then; the dark beast within me had full control.
"Yet we are not beasts," Lady Aurelia told me in time. "We are also not human. We are something more noble than both beast and man combined."
My mistress now had the formidable task of teaching me the ways of the kyuuketsuki. Lady Aurelia insisted that I heed her every word during my instruction, for young fledglings such as myself were vulnerable to the physical world that we still occupied. Fledglings, I also learned, were especially vulnerable to the madness that came with crossing over to the Un-Life. Lady Aurelia was patient with me, comforting me, soothing me with her assurances. The first few nights of my new life were torturous. My body, attempting to adjust to its new form, was constantly wracked with pain. But with her familiar touch and her loving voice, I survived.
I learned much from her about my new race. We possessed incredible strength, more than thirty grown men. We were able to move in the blink of an eye, so quickly that we could travel unnoticed among humans. We could slip in and out of shadows as we pleased. Our wounds healed as quickly as we received them; flesh sealed as soon as it is cleaved. I also discovered a new heightened sense of hearing, smell, and sight; in this new life, the world appeared so much more alive and vibrant. And finally, we were immortal. Never again would I have to worry about aging another day or losing my abilities over time. Indeed, vampires lived outside of time itself.
We also had our limitations. The one element that could truly destroy us was fire, whether it be from a blazing torch or from the fiery brilliance of the sun. Without question, the sun was our most feared enemy; to walk about exposed in daylight was to risk being charred to ash. Water dissolved a fledgling's pale smooth skin as acid. If our throats were gouged open, we had only moments before annihilation. Piercing of our undead hearts meant instant paralysis. We were also never to drink from a corpse; to do so would poison our already undead bodies. And perhaps the most painless end, total decapitation. I found it ironic that I had to watch my own neck while attacking another's. Like all creatures, we needed rest; we slept during the day in whatever crawlspace or hole available. For most injuries, a day's sleep was enough to restore us to our full vitality.
I learned easily and quickly all that Lady Aurelia imparted on me. I was eager to find release for my bloodlust, to feel the warmth of human flesh at the tips of my fledgling fangs.
We fed for the first time together some nights after my rebirth. My mistress showed me how to move about in the cover of night to stalk a prey. I learned to smell panic, anxiety, desperation, and fear. Our first victim was a poor fisherman, coming home from a disappointing catch that evening. With a deft swiftness Lady Aurelia appeared before him, seducing him with her wiles. From behind, my hands viciously tore apart his neck, ripping into arteries and tendons. I fed voraciously on the bleeding flesh for no more than a second when my mistress struck me with her hand. The power she dealt lifted me off of the ground and sent me crashing into the nearest wall. So forceful was the blow that I felt I could die a second time.
"I abhor such carnal inclinations!" she chided, standing over me. Lady Aurelia always produced an aura of nobility about her. How foolish I was then, not to have realized what she had been trying to instruct me. "How dare you reduce yourself to an animal!"
I did not understand. "Are we not to feed on humans such as this?" I hissed. "Are they not oxen for us to enjoy and eat our fill? Are we not wolves on the hunt?"
She turned away to stare at the hideous corpse I had created. "Feeding is an intimate act, young one," she replied, a hint of pity in her voice. "The exchange of life blood is profound and noble. It is not the same as wolves mindlessly ravaging a carcass!"
Aurelia took it upon herself to demonstrate on our next victim, a young prostitute lurking in a dim alleyway. I watched my mistress tenderly stroke the girl's hair and body. She kissed the harlot's neck gently, as tears flowed from the girl's trembling face. To my amazement, Aurelia whispered comforts before slowly sinking her teeth into the pulsing jugular. The girl's face was lost in silent bliss. My mistress beckoned me with her eyes to join her. I gently bit down on the other side of the girl's neck, and heard her gasp slightly before letting her blood flow into me. I felt a wave of pleasure unlike anything I had ever experienced before. The sweet taste of human blood overwhelmed me so that I nearly gorged myself. This was what real feeding was meant to be, not tearing into flesh like rodents the first few nights of my rebirth, nor lapping up blood as a dog would with water. As I fed on this young girl, I learned to control myself, the speed at which it happened, and even the amount of pain I inflicted. Lady Aurelia nodded her approval at my redemptive act, her eyes locked onto mine. When the girl slipped away, we released our death hold on her and embraced. We spent the rest of that glorious night loving one another.
From then on, I sought to imitate the nobility of my mistress. I convinced myself that feeding was nearly a sacred act—the transfer of one life to another. On evenings when I fed alone, I would remind myself how my mistress would command herself. I perfected a technique to feed by causing as little pain as possible. Sometimes, I even spoke tenderly to my victims while taking their life. I was determined not to disappoint my mistress again. She had created me, given me this divine new life. I could only begin to repay my debt to her by adhering to her wishes.
For months we remained in Edo, living off all sorts of people. Even after all of that time together, I managed to know very little about my mistress. Aurelia was a very old vampire, that much I knew. She claimed to have lived in Imperial Rome during her human life, but explained to me that her memory could not be completely trusted. There was mention of siblings born of her human parents, but nothing more. For centuries at a time, my mistress would enter a deep slumber. The times when she would awaken, she had no power to decide. Often Aurelia likened this aspect of her vampiric life to a curse. She did not usually produce fledglings; I was changed because she desired a companion to journey with in my homeland. Much of the last 400 years she traveled all over Europe and Africa, sampling its peoples and admiring its many splendors. She knows of dozens of different cultures and just as many languages, some of which she began to teach me. She did not encounter members of her kind often; when she did, Aurelia did her best to keep to herself.
Her beauty remained unchallenged in my eyes. She had the look of a young woman in her mid-twenties, though she had undoubtedly experienced countless lifetimes. Her strength and stamina were truly a sight to behold. At first I paid no heed, but my mistress always carried a crystalline jeweled necklace with strange engravings on it. Sometimes she placed it around her neck, letting it touch upon the roundness of her ample breasts; other times she would wind it around her wrist. Unlike most vampires, my mistress carried weapons: one a slender rapier with an elaborate golden cup-hilt, and the other an emerald-encrusted dagger. In my adoration of her, I allowed myself to carry a two-handed masamune katana of the highest quality; strangely enough, I found myself naming it Maru, after my human grandfather.
There are times when I could swear by the gods that Aurelia possessed magical powers—the same powers that she likely used to paralyze me on my birth night. During the times I suspected her use of sorcery, she would utter a strange and distant tongue (later I learned that this was ancient Latin). When answering my inquiries, Aurelia readily denies any sorcery and dismisses me immediately. It did not matter; as long as we were together, I cared not what sorcery she commanded.
Lady Aurelia herself learned from me a great deal about the Eastern lands. I taught her the many dialects that existed, and I refined for her the language of my forefathers, with the same tenderness she had bestowed upon me in her instruction. She studied our texts, our government, the history of the islands and their relationships to the Shinto gods. I taught her many forms of martial arts, and trained her to use a katana so well that even the great general Kitabatake would look down from Heaven with pride. I knew that her reason for coming to this land was to learn as much as she could. I was filled with resolve to teach her all that I knew, and to find out how to teach her all that I didn't. There were times then that I felt I could never be happier, being with her and learning with her. But there was no way to be certain that our bliss might end. After all, we would be together for eternity.
A year had passed, and we made plans to leave Edo and explore the rest of the country. We stood on the roof of a Buddhist temple, taking in the magnificence of the great city one more time. The lights of the hundreds of street lanterns caused the clouds above to seem ablaze with fire. Never would I forget Edo, the city of my second birth.
Aurelia suddenly turned and embraced me passionately. "My child, we have spent a full year together here," she sighed. "But it has struck me recently that I have never known your name."
Her eyes had a sorrowful look about them. I reflected on this a moment and found it to be true. Not once had she ever asked me for my name. "So you haven't, my Lady."
She smiled, the sad look remaining. "Tell me, my darling. What was your human name?"
"I have none," I said simply. "I am no longer human."
"Yes, you are correct. You are something more. But you will require a new name, for all of our kind to praise in the coming legends of us."
I reflected again. A new name. What would I be called? Who had I been? A human who dishonored his master for the love of a lifetime. What was I now? Had I really even changed?
There was only one possible answer for me.
"My name shall be…Kagirinai Watarimono," I proclaimed. "The eternal wanderer."
I could not have chosen a more perfect name. I thought it to be appropriate. It reflected who I was, who I am, for the whole of both my human and vampiric lives. I was forever a wanderer, always searching for a purpose in the darkness.
Lady Aurelia only smiled again.