One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.
Now he has broken free.
Start reading the epic sequel to Shadow of the Fox now:
Chapter 1:Birth of a Godslayer
One thousand years ago
His throat was raw from screaming prayers into the wind.
The storm raged around him, beating the cliffs and sending sprays of ocean water crashing against the rock. The night was pitch-black, his drenched clothes were icy cold, and he could barely hear himself over the howl of the wind and the roar of the sea. Still, he kept chanting, the scroll clutched tight in shaking hands, the lantern flickering wildly at his feet. His vision blurred from salt spray and tears, but his voice never wavered as he shouted every line on the crumpled parchment as if it was a challenge to the gods themselves.
Crying out the final prayer, letting the wind tear it from his lips and fling it over the ocean, he collapsed to his knees on the stones. Gasping, he bowed his head, his arms falling limply to his sides, the opened scroll fluttering in his grasp.
For several desperate, pounding heartbeats, he knelt there,
alone. The storm bellowed around him, slashing and clawing with foamy talons. His wounds, sustained from fighting a demon horde to reach this place, throbbed. Blood seeped down his chest and arms and over the scroll, staining the parchment pink.
Many yards out to sea, the ocean stirred. Waves surged and roiled, and the surface of the water began to lift as if something monstrous was shifting just below.
With an explosion of spray and the howl of a god, an enormous dark shape rose out of the depths and coiled up into the night. Lightning f lashed, illuminating massive horns, fangs and glimmering scales the color of the tide. A rippling mane ran down the length of the creature’s back, and a pair of whiskers as long as a ship writhed and f luttered in the wind as the Great Dragon curled in the sky, f lowing in and out of the clouds. A pair of eyes like glowing moons peered down at the tiny figure below, and a perfect, iridescent pearl shone like a star in the center of its forehead. With the rumble of an approaching tsunami, the kami spoke.
“Who summons me?”
Clenching his jaw, the man lifted his head. His heart trembled with the knowledge that he should not gaze so boldly upon a god, the Harbinger of Change himself, but the despair and hate-sickness deep in his soul drowned out any other emotion. Swallowing the pain from a throat raw from screaming, he raised his voice.
“I am Kage Hirotaka, son of Kage Shigetomo, and I am the mortal who has called upon the power of the Dragon’s prayer.” His thin, raspy voice faded into the wind, but the huge creature cocked its head, listening. Its inhuman gaze, carrying the wisdom of eternity, met his own, and he suddenly felt as if he were falling into a bottomless pit.
The warrior placed his hands on the ground before him and bowed, touching his forehead to the rough stone, feeling the
gaze of the Dragon on his back. “Great Kami,” he whispered, “by my right as scroll bearer, on this night, the thousandth year after Kage Hanako made her wish upon the scroll, I humbly ask that you grant my heart’s desire.”
“Once more, a Kage calls upon me.” The deep, thunderous voice sounded neither amused nor surprised. “Once more, the Shadow Clan toys with darkness and holds the fate of the realm in their hands. So be it.” Lightning f lashed and peals of thunder shook the clouds, but the Great Dragon’s voice rose above it all. “Kage Hirotaka, son of Kage Shigetomo, bearer of the Dragon scroll, what is your heart’s desire? What wish would you see come to pass?”
The word was barely audible, but the air seemed to still as he spoke it. “My family was killed by a demon,” the warrior went on, slowly sitting up. “It slaughtered everyone. My men and servants were strewn from one end of the house to the other. My wife…my children…it didn’t even leave anything to bury.” He closed his eyes, trembling with grief and rage. “I couldn’t save them,” he whispered. “I came home to a massacre.”
The cold, indifferent observer waiting in the clouds said nothing. The warrior’s hand strayed to the sword at his belt, and his fingers curled around the sheath. “I don’t want it dead,” he rasped, his voice choked with hate. “Not by a simple wish. I will kill the monster myself, drive my sword into its black heart to avenge my clan, my family, my wife.” His voice quavered, and the knuckles wrapped around his sword turned white. “But when it dies, I don’t want its spirit to return to Jigoku. I want to trap it here, in this realm. To know pain and rage and helplessness. To understand there is no relief, no way for it to return as the demon it was.” The warrior bared his teeth. “I want it to suffer. For eternity. That is my wish.”
Overhead, the Great Kami peered down through the storm,
lightning f lashing off its blue-black scales. “Once spoken,” it rumbled, its voice as impassive as ever, “there is no going back.” It tilted its head, those endlessly long whiskers f luttering in the wind. “Are you certain this is your heart’s desire, mortal?”
Thunder growled, and the wind intensified, shrieking as it beat against the warrior and the rock. The Dragon seemed to fade into the storm until only its eyes and a glimmering gem shone through the darkness. Then they, too, disappeared into the black, as the clouds swirled faster, faster, until they resembled a great whirlpool in the sky.
A blinding streak of white descended from above, striking the center of the rock, mere feet from where the warrior knelt. The samurai f linched and shielded his face as stone shards f lew everywhere, cutting his f lesh where they hit. When the brightness faded, he peered up and squinted painfully as blood and water ran into his eyes. For a moment, he could make out only a thin, bright shimmer against the darkness. Then his eyes widened, and he stared in awe at what the lightning bolt had left behind.
A sword stood upright in a smoking crater, the point jammed into the stone, its blade gleaming against the darkness. An almost hungry power pulsed from the sword, as if it were alive.
His wounds forgotten, the Kage samurai rose and walked on shaky legs to the weapon, which glowed faintly against the black, as if fed by its own inner light.
“It is done.” The booming statement held the finality of death, of a sword cutting the life from a body. Though the mighty serpent had nearly faded once more into legend, its voice echoed through the storm. “Let it be known, the Wish of this era has been spoken, and the winds of change have shifted their path. Let no mortal call upon the power of the scroll for another thousand years. If this realm survives what is to come.”
“Wait! Great Kami, what should I call it?” The warrior
reached out and touched the sword hilt, feeling a tremor race up his arm. “Does it have a name?”
The warrior felt the Dragon slide from the world like an eel slipping through a net, returning to its kingdom deep below the waves. One last rumble of thunder rolled out to sea, and on the echo of the wind, he heard the kami’s final word.
Kage Hirotaka stood alone on the bleak platform of rock, wind and spray still whipping around him, and felt a savage smile cross his face. Kamigoroshi.
Chapter 2: The Demon of the Kage
Silence fell as Master Jiro finished his tale.
“That demon,” I said, as the priest reached for a wooden pipe sitting next to the firepit. “The one that killed Hirotaka’s family. Was it…”
Master Jiro nodded and stuck the end of the pipe into his mouth. “Hakaimono.”
I shivered, and around the campfire, the rest of the party looked solemn. We had taken shelter beside a trickling brook, surrounded by shaggy pines and towering redwoods, and the air was tinged with sap and the slight hint of frost, as we were still very close to the mountains that bordered Sky Clan territory. Summer was ending, and the days were growing cool as autumn took its place.
Okame sat against a mossy redwood, gazing into the shadows with his back against the trunk and one foot planted on a
root. Firelight washed over him, accenting his lean, lanky form, reddish-brown hair pulled into a tail and narrow face uncharacteristically grim. The normally cheerful, outspoken ronin was quiet as he stared over the riverbed, his eyes dark.
“So, Kamigoroshi came into existence through the Dragon’s Wish,” Taiyo Daisuke mused. The Sun Clan noble sat cross-legged against a log and wore an expression of stoic serenity. Across the fire, Reika shot him an exasperated look. The noble’s arms were wrapped in bandages, and strips of bloody cloth peeked from under his robe, mementos from our last terrible battle. He should not be up, Reika had scolded earlier this evening. He should be lying down, resting, before he tore open the wounds she had spent the night stitching closed. But Daisuke insisted he was fine. Even with his once beautiful kimono torn and filthy, his skin pale and his long, silvery-white hair hanging limply down his back, he emanated poise and elegance.
“Yes,” Master Jiro confirmed. “Because Hirotaka wanted revenge against the oni that killed his family and the woman he loved. A way not only to destroy the demon but to make it suffer, to know pain and rage and helplessness. He got his wish. Not long after summoning the Dragon, Kage Hirotaka faced Hakaimono on the field of battle and, after a terrible struggle that nearly wiped out a village, managed to slay the demon. But instead of banishing the oni back to Jigoku, Kamigoroshi sealed the oni’s soul within the blade, trapping it for eternity.
“Unfortunately,” Master Jiro went on, “that was the beginning of the Kage’s downfall. The demon drove Hirotaka mad. It did not possess him—perhaps its inf luence was still too weak, or perhaps it did not know it could do such a thing yet. But, little by little, it broke down Hirotaka’s resolve, using his lingering rage and grief to overwhelm him. Until, one night, when Hirotaka finally lost himself and changed the course of the Kage forever.”
Daisuke stirred, realization crossing his face. “The massacre
at Hakumei castle,” he said, looking at the priest. “The interrupted treaty between the Hino and the Kage.”
“A scholar of history.” Master Jiro nodded in approval. “Yes, Taiyo-san, you are correct. The following spring, there was a meeting between leaders of the Fire Clan and the Shadow Clan, to discuss a marriage between the two families. The rivalry between the Hino and the Kage was growing out of control, and war was imminent if an accord could not be reached. The treaty never happened. In a room full of unarmed diplomats and courtiers, with a typhoon howling outside, Kage Hirotaka appeared and slaughtered every member of the Fire Clan. Not a single Hino survived that night.”
“That was the beginning of the second Great War,” Daisuke stated. “After the massacre at Hakumei castle, the Hino vowed to wipe the Kage from existence, and they rallied the Earth Clan and the Wind Clan to their cause. The Kage turned to the Water, Sky and Moon Clans for aid, and the resulting war lasted nearly two hundred years.”
“Nearly destroying the Kage in the process.” Master Jiro nodded again. “Because one man made a wish on the Dragon scroll with hate in his heart and unknowingly invited a demon into his soul.
“That is the story of Kamigoroshi and the Dragon’s prayer.” Master Jiro blew out a long curl of smoke that writhed away over my head. “Now you know how the sword was created, and how the Dragon’s Wish, well intended as it might be, brought ruin and disaster to the empire.”
“That’s why the scroll was split into pieces,” Reika added. The shrine maiden was also sitting on the ground with her legs crossed, the billowy white sleeves of her haori folded to her chest. Chu and Ko, a pair of small dogs that were really komainu shrine guardians, lay curled up in her lap, dozing on the red hakama trousers. “No one knows the exact details, but it’s said
that as the war raged on, a council of kami, yokai and an order of monks came together to discuss what should become of the Dragon’s prayer. They made the decision to separate the scroll and hide the pieces throughout Iwagoto so that something like the last wish could never happen again.” Reika’s lips thinned. “It was the right choice. The scroll holds far too much power for a single person to be trusted with it. Look at the chaos and destruction it’s caused this era already, and the Dragon hasn’t even been summoned yet.”
Across the fire, Okame snorted. “So, if the scroll is so dangerous, why don’t we destroy it?” he asked with a shrug. “Sounds like an easy solution to me. Toss the thing in the fire right now and let’s be done with it.”
“It is not that easy,” Reika said. “And it has been tried before. But the Dragon’s prayer is a sacred artifact, a gift—or curse if you wish to look at it that way—from the Harbinger of Change himself. Much like Kamigoroshi, if you destroy the Dragon’s prayer, it will simply reappear in the world again. Always in a place where it will not only be discovered, but to a person who will unfailingly summon the Dragon and make a wish.” The miko’s eyes narrowed. “The scroll wants to be found, Okame-san. That’s why it’s so dangerous. If we destroy it now, it could reappear in the hands of the very people we are trying to keep it away from.”
Okame grunted. “This is why I don’t trust magic,” he muttered, leaning back against the tree. “Inanimate objects like swords and scrolls should not want to be found. They should not want anything. How annoying would it be if my sandals decided they didn’t want to carry me anymore and wandered off into the woods?” His sharp black eyes f licked to me. “Don’t get any ideas, Yumeko-chan.”
I giggled at the image, but sobered quickly. “What happened
to Hirotaka?” I wondered, looking at Master Jiro. “Did he ever regain control of Hakaimono?”
The priest shook his head. “Kage Hirotaka was captured and executed by his clan, long before the end of the war,” he replied. “By then, he was far too gone, and his crimes too great, to have any hope of redemption. Kamigoroshi, or the Cursed Blade of the Kage, as it would come to be known, was sealed away and vanished from history for six centuries. But such artifacts of evil cannot stay hidden forever. Four hundred years ago, it reemerged alongside the coming of Genno, the Master of Demons, when Hakaimono escaped the sword to possess its bearer. It is unclear whether Genno orchestrated the demon’s release, or if Hakaimono simply took advantage of the chaos that came with the uprising, but Kamigoroshi once again carved a bloody path through history until the blood mage and his rebellion were put down.
“After Genno’s death,” Master Jiro continued, “his army of demons and yokai scattered to the wind, and the land was left in chaos. Kamigoroshi disappeared again for a time, but then, the first Kage demonslayer emerged, able to wield the Cursed Blade without immediately falling victim to Hakaimono.” He shook his head, puffing out a cloud of white smoke. “How the Shadow Clan trained their demonslayers to guard their souls against the demon’s inf luence is unknown, but the Kage have always walked the very edge of darkness, knowing they f lirt with disaster. And now they have fallen to it once more. Hakaimono has been released, and the land will not be safe until Kage Tatsumi is killed and the demon returned to the sword.”
I straightened, my stomach twisting as I stared at him over the fire. “Killed?” I repeated, as the priest’s sad gaze met mine. “But…what about Tatsumi? I know he must be fighting this. Is there no way to save him, to bring him back?”
I felt sick, like a millstone was pressing down on my insides.
I’d met the cold, emotionless demonslayer when a horde of demons led by the terrible oni Yaburama had attacked my home, the Silent Winds temple, and I was forced to f lee while they massacred everyone there. I’d convinced Tatsumi to accompany me to the capital to find Master Jiro, the only person who knew the location of the hidden Steel Feather temple, because the temple held one piece of the object everyone was looking for.
The Dragon scroll. The thing that could summon the Great Kami into the world to grant the bearer’s heart’s desire. The item everyone was desperately searching for, was willing to kill for. Including Tatsumi. His clan leader had sent him to retrieve the scroll, and he would have stopped at nothing to acquire it.
When we’d met, I’d told the demonslayer a tiny white lie: I said I didn’t have the scroll, but I could take him to where one piece of it had been sent—the Steel Feather temple. What Tatsumi didn’t know was that I had that piece of the scroll hidden in the furoshiki cloth tied around my shoulders. And maybe that had been terribly deceitful, but if Tatsumi had known I possessed a fragment of the scroll back then, he would have killed me and taken it to his daimyo. And I’d promised Master Isao I would protect that piece of the prayer at all costs. It was my greatest secret, well…aside from being half-kitsune.
But, Kage Tatsumi had his secrets, too. The greatest one being Hakaimono, the oni spirit that lived in his sword and was constantly fighting him for control. During the final battle with Yaburama, the demon in the sword had finally overwhelmed the demonslayer, and Kage Tatsumi was no longer the quiet, brooding warrior I’d come to know over our travels. Gone was the boy who was fearless and pragmatic, who had no sense of self because his life was dedicated to serving his clan. Who was cold and unfriendly and standoffish, until you learned that it was his duty as the bearer of Kamigoroshi that made him shy away
from people. The knowledge that he had to remain in control at all times, or a demon would possess him.
And now, it had happened. Kage Tatsumi had been possessed by the terrifying and wholly evil Hakaimono, and I had no idea how we were going to bring him back.
“There must be another way,” I insisted. “A ritual, an exorcism. You’re a priest, right? Can’t you exorcise Hakaimono and get him to leave Tatsumi?”
Master Jiro shook his head. “I am sorry, Yumeko-chan,” he said. “Were it a normal demon, a yurei ghost, or even the spirit of a tanuki, it would be possible. But Hakaimono is not a normal demon. He is one of the four great generals of Jigoku, one of the strongest oni that has ever been spawned. If freeing the sword bearer could be done, the Kage would have found a way, and I am only one priest.” He made a small, hopeless gesture with one wrinkled hand. “In the past, it took entire armies of men to bring Hakaimono down, and he still left a trail of bodies and destruction behind him before his rampage was brought to an end.”
“We can’t worry about the demonslayer,” Reika said, her voice firm. “We have to deliver your piece of the scroll to the Steel Feather temple. Let Kage-san’s own people deal with what he has become.” At my horrified look, her eyes softened, though her voice remained hard. “I’m sorry, Yumeko. I know you and Kage-san grew close as you traveled together, but we cannot waste time chasing down an oni lord. Protecting the scroll is more important.” She jabbed a finger at my furoshiki. “Everything we’re facing now—Hakaimono, Kamigoroshi, the demons, the blood witch, the possessed demonslayer—it’s all because of that cursed scrap of paper. Because humanity has proven that it cannot be trusted with an item of ultimate, world-changing power. We must deliver the scroll to the Steel Feather
temple and make sure the Dragon cannot be summoned in this era. That is the only thing that matters.”
“Hang on.” Okame sat up, frowning. “I admit, the demonslayer is pretty scary sometimes, and he’s threatened to kill me on occasion, and he has the personality of a disdainful rock…” Reika glared at him, and he hurried on. “But that doesn’t mean we should abandon someone who fought with us against a blood witch and a demon army. How do we know he can’t be saved?”
“What is your solution, ronin?” Reika snapped. “Track Hakaimono across the empire? We don’t even know where he’s gone, and there are still things out there searching for the Dragon scroll. Even if we do find him, what then? Attempt an exorcism? No mortal has been strong enough to drive Hakaimono out once he takes control.”
“Oh, I see,” Okame shot back. “So, your solution is to ignore the insanely powerful oni lord and hope he becomes someone else’s problem.”
“No, Okame-san. Reika… Reika is right.” My voice came out choked, and my eyes blurred with tears. It felt like a mirror had shattered inside me, and the shards were cutting me apart from within. I swallowed hard and continued, even though I hated it. “Getting the scroll to the temple…is more important,” I whispered. “The Dragon’s prayer was entrusted to me, and everyone at my temple died to protect it. I have to finish what I started, what I promised Master Isao.
“But,” I added, as a somber silence fell, “that doesn’t mean I’m abandoning Tatsumi. When this is done, after we reach the Steel Feather temple and deliver the scroll, I’m going to find Hakaimono and force him back into the sword.”
One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.
Now he has broken free. Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. But she has a new enemy now. The demon Hakaimono, who for centuries was trapped in a cursed sword, has escaped and possessed the boy she thought would protect her, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan.
Hakaimono has done the unthinkable and joined forces with the Master of Demons in order to break the curse of the sword and set himself free. To overthrow the empire and cover the land in darkness, they need one thing: the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. As the paths of Yumeko and the possessed Tatsumi cross once again, the entire empire will be thrown into chaos.
Soul of the Sword by Julie Kagawa will be available in store and online from June 17th 2019!
Posted on April 24, 2019 by harlequinaustralia