“May the gods smile on your venture and bring about the change this world needs to begin anew in peace and freedom from the evils of the demons.”
The Head Priest bowed to Haruko, Emiyo, and Korin as they stood at the main gates, several of the higher priests and priestesses standing around him as they wish the trio well on their departure. Four horses had been loaded with provisions and supplies to start off their journey toward the Kingdom of Shihaicho, Haruko’s first declared target.
Haruko gave a slight smile and bowed in return, clasping an arm across his chest in half salute as Korin followed suit while Emiyo bowed deeply in respect. Emiyo shot a look at Korin but she didn’t say anything out loud, it wasn’t her place to correct proper courtesy 20to the priesthood.
“Thank you, Priests of Harkumet. With good fortune, this world will be cleansed of all evils after our journey is finished.”
Emiyo listened to Haurko’s answer, wondering if he was telling the truth with his answer. She kept the pleasant smile on her face as her doubt swirled in her mind. She kept reminding herself that he couldn’t be trusted with anything he said. Even if she had yet to actually find anything he told her as a lie, oddly it was more he was going out of his way to tell her the truth.
He had her scour the library for information about the recent activities in the kingdoms while spending most of his own time “training” with Korin. Coming back to the room filled with the smell of sex had become so common that Emiyo was almost inured to it now. She decided to mostly stay out of their way and handle his request, ignoring them outside of mealtimes while. overhearing small tidbit of conversation how the two fighting had become a spectacle to watch for those who could find free time to peek on occasion. That didn’t bother her too much since she was certain she would be very close to the scene soon enough.
Other exchanges of farewell were made before they mounted and began to ride off toward the northern border of the village. The Kingdom’s border was only a few days away from the Temple, which itself was secured on neutral ground in the center of the Ten Kingdoms. Harkumet was the worship of all gods and the land which the stories say the Ten Heroes landed, under a treaty, the land was declared protected by the Seven and no king or ruler could invade this land for fear of the wrath of the gods. Though that didn’t stop wars and the territory around the Harkumet to change hands over the millennia. Only three of the ten kingdoms now controlled the lands around Harkumet. Shihaicho to the north and eastern borders, Hokkaido on the west, and Kenzai to the south.
The remaining seven kingdoms had spread out around the three and extended out to the ten mountain ranges that acted as the border of the reclaimed lands. Outside the borders was nothing but wastelands and places that stories claim were still burning after the war of the Divine and Demon God. No life, no monsters, water, nor even demons lurked outside the borders, nothing could grow past the mountain ranges even soil brought from outside could not be used to sustain life. The land beyond was nothing but death. All that lived in this world was here.
Emiyo sighed quietly to herself, this was the first time she had left the temple lands since her apprenticeship as a Miko had begun. That had been a small trip with her mother to test her abilities to become one of the Demon Sealing Mikos of the temple. Now she was riding off with a Demon Lord turned hero and his dere-dere slave to destroy all the demon lords and who knows how long she would live throughout all of this.
“Is there a reason we are heading to Shihaicho? Weren’t you the Demon Lord of that kingdom?”
Haruko chuckled and brushed a few falling leaves off his shoulder, the early autumn weather still warm even with the changing of the trees. His cloak was more modest than she had thought he would take but all of them had dressed closer to common travelers instead of adventurers or heroes.
“I was, and also its founder. Have you ever heard the proverb ‘before cleaning another’s mess first ensure your house is clean first?’ Just because I’m not controlling things there doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of problems to handle. I don’t need my brothers trying to backdoor me and take over my kingdom. The benefits of having my network under control will help with dealing with the brothers who are in hiding.”
Emiyo looked at his with her head tilted to the side trying to keep her chestnut mare next to his black stallion in spite of the horses wanting to ride in single file. She really didn’t want to talk to his back, nor ride in front of him and worry over what lewd comments they could make about her.
“Your network? After you died everyone scattered, what is left?”
He laughed and shook his head, his hands lightly on the reins of his own horse, it following his lead obediently without the struggle she was having with her own horse. Keeping them heading straight down the road and seeming to enjoy himself as they rode along. Korin was riding along behind them on her black and white spotted horse, keeping the heavyset packhorse under control and guarding the rear, though Emiyo had suspicions that she might be doing something else considering the flushed face she was wearing not long into the ride.
“After five thousand years, do you think I would just keep rebuilding everything each time a hero came to destroy me? What fell apart on my death was disposable, pieces that willingly sacrificed themselves for the sake of keeping the rest of my influence a secret. I’ve lost very little in the grand scheme of things. Though if I’m right some pieces might be trying to dismantle themselves if Jouichi is running things…”
“Who is he?”
Haruko sighed and then grinned looking down the northern road, his eyes seeming to catch something but dismissed it quickly. He chewed on his lip a moment as if he was considering something.
“He was my number two right-hand man for the last cycle. And quite the idiot. I guess he got it in his head that he could take control of everything. I’m suspecting that Sasuke or Shiro is involved in his rise to power. It could be both, but those two can’t get along enough to make a sandwich much less dismantle my underground empire.”
“It sounds like not all your people were that loyal.”
Haruko laughed and bent over his saddle, continuing to chuckle as she looked at him with a puzzled expression. What was so funny.
“One thing you learn is that sometimes you need those you can’t completely trust. He had a specific purpose, and I have to say he’s performing it splendidly. Really, it’s more out of morbid curiosity than any desire to know why he turned on me,” he flashed a large grin at her and she felt a shiver go down her spine, “at least one of my brothers has now given me the key to finding them easily.”
“He’s a pawn, a trap for your revenge plot!” Emiyo felt her body heating up with anger as he talked about a single life so dismissively. “A person you just manipulated to get what you want!”
“Yes. Though to be fair, he was slime before he even joined my ranks. I just gave him a purpose in life that kept him away from destroying someone else’s life work. His whole life is devoted to leeching off his betters. To have everything he desires and does nothing for his lessors, respects nothing but his own greed and plays pretend as long as you are useful and could hold power over him. Is that a man you can get upset for being used to fulfill a greater purpose that ends with his final just punishment?”
She bit back her first idea of a retort, this man was very crafty in his words and she could feel them ringing true somewhere inside her. If this Jouichi was as the demon lord claimed was it so bad that he had put him to a purpose that will serve the gods? She shook her head, no that couldn’t be right.
“Someone could have tried to save him from himself. Maybe he could have changed, become a better person instead of joining you and your corrupt ways.”
Haruko chuckled and shook his head, slowing down his horse slightly as he smirked and turned to look at her in the eyes.
“He was beyond salvation years before I met him. He was deep in his sins and had turned away from anyone who might have saved him. If anyone could have changed him, those days had long past. I know what such people are, my lady. I chose him for that reason so he would have some use before his final days.”
She sat there in shock as he spoke, she couldn’t believe him, She wouldn’t believe him. Didn’t the temples say that no man was beyond saving? Well, Demon Lords were the exception, right? They had willingly turned against the gods and used the power of the fallen demon god to gain the strength to challenge them. Were other men able to fall that far without turning as evil?
Haruko chuckled softly as he watched her facial expressions. Clicking his tongue he started his horse into a trot, moving ahead of her while he called over his shoulder.
“My lady. this adventure will open your eyes to just how evil humans can be without my help. The real-world lessons begin now.”
What happened next was unavoidable, Emiyo tried to scream as she saw what was coming and felt it catch in her throat. A long thin hoop attached to a rope flew out from the trees, the inside edge was a blade sharp enough to rend flesh to nothing. Korin rushed forward on horseback with a longsword drawn in her hands trying to move swiftly to stop it.
Haruko only managed to glance the other way as the hoop landed over his head and around his neck before the rope was jerked taut. A swift pull was all it took and Haruko’s head was separated from his body. Blood splattering everywhere as it tumbled to the ground and landed in the dirt. His horse rearing up and sending his body crashing down as it raced away down the trail.
The Demon Lord turned Hero was dead before his adventure began.