Part I: Night
Barely past midnight and the whole town was woken up. Defiant screams, fueled by liquid courage and the desperation of those hanging to the shreds of what little reputation they think they have left. Threats against the Devil that had shamed them earlier in the day. Threats against the whole town. Better to leave it a smoking ruin than let it be a place unafraid of their antics.
There was a shred of sympathy left for them in this blind heart. They had lost much that day: four of their friends, whatever self-respect they had left. Couldn’t help with the latter, but felt an apology was owed for the former. It had been a senseless massacre, and had Sasuke found wisdom instead of foolish heroics a single death or a deep wound would have been more than enough to scare our assailants off. As it had happened, Sasuke’s wretched death had left them all ronin dead in turn. It wasn’t something to feel proud about.
But of course they wouldn’t listen. Caught up on the single person that had shown them as cowards to all. In the middle of all of them, paid no mind. Four ronin, the leader drunk as a monkey, his followers not quite so much. Drunkards don’t make for great warriors, but there were too many of them to fight off at once. Worse, they could easily torch the whole place down before being routed.
The Devil and the Monk were making their way out of town, unseen by the ronin. It wasn’t a plan but it worked as one. They distracted the wannabe arsonists from their torching goals. Stopping the arson was still a long shot. Slowing them down felt the least bad of a menu of bad ideas and so the ronin leader felt his left leg pierced by a straight blade. They wouldn’t even realize who did it, but it was then that they saw the one they were looking for and… off they went.
It was at that point that the distinct whistle of arrows was heard overhead. The gasps and screams… fire, help, water that followed made it clear: the drunk ronin themselves were a distraction, the town would be set fire from afar. What to do was clear if the town was to be saved. Run into the darkness, towards the twang of the bows.
The two archers were sober, and they knew what they were doing. Surprising traits among this lot. They had done a good job of staying outside the light and outside sight. Which was to prove their undoing. Given no time and no desire to reveal their location to the townsfolk or the devil they so feared, they fought in the darkness against one who always did.
It was a lopsided duel, the two swinging their swords at darkness and air. The first one fell of two true swings of the staff blade. The second one saw enough, and heard enough, that he could have chosen differently. He could have plied his trade elsewhere. The Kagame clan sure needed warriors for the upcoming war, there was little need to follow his companion to the next life. Yet, he proclaimed, he would rather die a warrior. That provided some comfort while the deed was done. That they would accept a death by a blind girl as an honorable one. They had to be stopped, they didn’t have to be killed, but they would insist. It wasn’t too bitter a fight. It remained a bloody one.
Things hadn’t been so… clean between the torch-bearing ronin, the Monk and the Devil. Making the way back to them with the bows of the defeated archers, aiming to discourage the ronin from more fighting. Needn’t have bothered. Whatever fearsome reputation the Devil had gained earlier in the day had gone down in flames. Literal flames, for the Devil was on fire, bloodied from two good katana cuts. He was also beating up the ronin leader and had set on fire one of the others. Truly stroke the devil figure, unconcerned by his wounds and his burns, hellbent on being feared again.
Even the Monk had joined in, beating down the ronin with his bo. They both sounded, acted like people who were feeling too close to the receiving end of a massacre. They weren’t anymore, but they were too worked up to realize. There was little on display but the reckless pursuit of survival. The ronin, they knew of losing battles and were making distance. But for their leader, crippled and left behind.
It was then that the Devil truly embraced his nickname. The ronin were retreating, scared and battered. But he wouldn’t let go, he wouldn’t let his enemy escape alive no matter how little fight there was left in him. The dazed, crippled ronin found his head grabbed from behind, his neck a fountain of blood as the Devil took his due. A shocking end to a dirty, exhausting fight.
Part II: Aftermath
The fires had not spread, the townsfolk had not been hurt. There had been threats of revenge by the escaping ronin. No one needed to hear them, everyone knew they’d be back looking for payback.
No love lost for the bandits, but everyone knew that there were more than enough left of them. The risk that the next fight wouldn’t end the same was too high. No one was expecting the bandits to be gone for good. The townsfolk would stay and face the consequences. It was time to cut their losses and hope that the bandits know to spare those who, after all, provided for them. It was time to say goodbye to the Devil. As a token of gratitude, they would still let him and the rest of us sleep the night.
Us three, we all took it differently. The Monk, he later told us, spent the night in the forest, meditating. Calming himself down, reflecting on the fight, his own actions and Tomas’. The Devil just went to his room and, best as we can tell, got precious little sleep. Myself, got enough rest.
The morning was bittersweet. Alan came in soon, can’t reach enlightenment without breakfast. He smelled like someone who had slept outside, of morning dew and the forest underbrush and stains of dry blood on unwashed clothing. The devil was nowhere to be seen, not even the aroma of grilled trout would bring him out.
It was worth worrying. Rather, Amal was worth worrying about. Tomas the Devil could take care of himself. So I went check them out. Amal sounded tired, and she admitted she had not slept well. Strange dreams of an aged lady surrounded by weaponry, with the banner of the ouroboros behind her. They must have been vivid dreams for she was shaken. She was also hungry and left for breakfast when prompted. The Devil himself, he didn’t feel as if he had rested at all. There was more to talk with him.
He was defensive, angry and frustrated. He was excusing himself. He deserved it, he said. Maybe. There would be no lack of people glad to hear of that ronin’s fate. But there are things even those lowlifes try to avoid, like stabbing defeated enemies in the back. We call them lowlifes because we think they are the kind of people who may do that. I had no pity for the ronin, but if he Tomas wanted to truly be though of as a Devil, he was doing an exemplary job of it.
The Devil also claimed self-defense, that his mind was clouded by survival, that it was the way of his homeland. They must truly be barbarians there. But it felt like much had happened to him before the last night, things that had brought him to the edge. He didn’t appear to have traveled to our fine country but under duress, he sounded as he had lost much and carried the kind of grievances that would darken any man’s heart. Even then, I implored him to aim to conduct himself with some honor. If not for its own sake, to make his travels in this country safer for him and his charge.
He stormed out of the town soon after. Amal was left to depart with us two, angry and tearful. I couldn’t make out their discussion before the devil’s departure, but there was thunder.
As we walked away from the nameless town I found myself cheerful, much to my own surprise. Whatever else may have come from the events of the last day, we had all found company for the trip. Now if only we could figure out where to go… Our only lead, the Ouroboros of Amal’s dream. Scary, for dabbling in the affairs of the powerful is a surefire way for the humble to find doom. And yet, there we go. If only we could find that pesky devil again…