A GHOST STORY
Yoshida Sayuri closed her eyes and listened to her grandfather’s tale with earnest attention. She wanted to listen, really listen, and wanted no other distractions. She loved Yoshida-sofu, and treasured his tales, even if they were scary. Despite the fact that spring had come early this year, the story brought shivers to Sayuri’s spine, and sent a crawling sensation across her skin. She admitted to herself that the story of the Winter Wind Monastery had always frightened her, but now that she was twelve, she knew she’d need to make herself an example to her younger cousins, and to her little brother, Sato. Sayuri would not show her shivers, and she would listen as she’d never done before, for this tale was a true kaidan, a true ghost-story, and it involved one of her very distant ancestors. No, she would be attentive and brave.
Jiichan well described the terribly frigid mountainside and the cleft where the Yuki-Onna spirit deceived the poor monk, Koyamata Ito, into believing she was a celestial Kami. Sayuri swore she could feel the nip of winter air on the otherwise temperate spring breeze. She pictured in her mind’s eye, the white woman of surpassing beauty, and how Koyamata-san, desperate for warmth in that terrible winter, could so easily be fooled. He agreed to serve her, becoming a yamabushi and erecting a great shrine and monastery in that very crevasse, high on Mount Kochiyama.
It was then that her grandfather paused, and the white tufts of hair over his eyes pointed downward. His voice became as quiet as snowfall as he began the recitation of the lineage of their ancestor, Doniya Isamu. Isamu was a brave and honored warrior, called by an angel in a vision, to travel to the monastery on the mountain, and save it from the terrible fate that the Yuki-Onna would wreak upon the monks, for the vow Koyamata Ito had made, the bargain agreed upon in the delirium of frost-numbed delusion, was to sacrifice himself and all his minions when the vile spirit returned in her cycle of fifty years.
The ancestor, Doniya Isamu was blessed with this vision and the truth of what would befall the monastery. And so, leaving his family and his loved ones forever, Isamu-san took his ancestral swords, the Doniya clan heirlooms, those swords that had seen the terrible War of the Nine Black Banners, had been key in the destruction of the Army of the Fell Rose, the very blades that had slain the warlord known only as the Crimson Snake, who’d enslaved generations of innocent Kaidanese.
Armed with his legacy, Doniya Isamu began his great journey to Mount Kochiyama. But the forces of darkness would never let this hero near enough to the terrible mountain, nor would they allow anyone to stop the Yuki-Onna from fulfilling her terrible desire, to remain on the earthly plane permanently, never again being banished for five decades at a time to the spirit realm. And through a despicable intervention, a warrior of an enemy clan encountered Isamu on the road, his allied oni minions having set forth an ambush against him. The terrible man, Toyama Dishuko, was unknowingly given seven invisible oni to aid him in the slaughter of the hero Isamu. One of the oni appeared to Isamu as the vision of his lovely wife. Sensing trickery, Isamu went to draw his ancestral blades, but the other six oni were holding them tight in their sheathes. Although Isamu ultimately slew five of the oni, they distracted him long enough for the one impersonating his wife to place a deadly kiss upon his lips. The mortal enemy, Toyama Dishuko then stepped in and beheaded the beloved ancestor and stole his weapons, claiming them as his own. The surviving two oni flowed into the enemy’s body, taking with them some of the soul essence they had stolen from Isamu, which allowed Dishuko to draw and wield the ancestral swords, bringing even more shame unto the Doniya Clan.
This villainous warrior, parading around with the sacred ancestral swords and driven by the oni spirits which now possessed him, traveled on to the Monastery of the Frozen Wind, joining their ranks and eventually earning the title of master of swords. But the evil that dwells in such spirits is fickle, and as the Yuki-Onna had promised, all of the monks at the monastery were slain upon her return fifty years after that fateful, frozen night when Koyamata Ito had been tricked into sacrificing himself and his followers.
Grandfather paused, and those white tufts above his eyes raised in wonder. “It is said,” he spoke at last, “that the Wheel-Breaker himself, along with his gaijin companions visited the monastery on the night the Yuki-Onna returned.”
Sayuri felt a warmth spread through her at the mention of the Wheel-Breaker. She had heard the forbidden stories. Others said that this celestial champion was simply a myth told by the resistance to bolster their resolve, but something about this part of her grandfather’s story spoke to her. The truth of it warmed her, spreading through her like hot tea sipped against the chill of winter’s night.
“The Wheel-Breaker, through the mists of time, did not arrive, it is said, to slay the winter spirit. He and his minions were sent to put the souls of the lost monks to rest, and to recover something which was long stolen. Or so goes the legend. We of the Doniya Clan believe, of course, that the all-knowing Wheel-Breaker journeyed to that accursed mountain monastery to retrieve our powerful ancestral swords, and that when he deems the time to be right, he will return them to us, and we will celebrate with him, and join him in defeating the ever-living menace that threatens Kaidan.”
It was too much to hope, Sayuri knew, that the Wheel-Breaker would return during her lifetime. It had been centuries since the prophecy had announced the savior and his gaijin companions. Her grandfather’s grandfather had told such tales, and she imagined her grandchildren’s grandchildren would pass them down the line after her, until finally the time would come when the great Wheel-Breaker would return and reunite the people of Kaidan and overthrow the abominable and accursed royal family. But Sayuri, despite the unlikelihood, clung to that thread of hope, as tightly as she’d held onto her childhood doll, who had protected her from all the Yurei, Yokai, and Bakemono from her grandfather’s tales, for so many scary nights.