Kami – Michael Santiago

Do you remember the day you died?

I do.

It was that fateful night I stood watch atop that cliff. The cliff I had fond memories of from childhood. It overlooked the sea. The sound of waves cracked at the base as the wind howled below with the sharp scent of cherry blossoms in full bloom. The horizon spanned endlessly. This was meant to be. A portrait painted by the gods.

But behind me, my village was in flames. Our wooden houses were the perfect fuel, and the hay that laced the roof gave the fire life. Echoes of agony pierced the night. Kasuya would be no more. Our home was now in ashes.

Blood trickled down my brow. An arrow protruded out of my left shoulder and another out of my thigh. My body was broken, mangled, but my soul endured. It had to.

In front of me, my wife and child. Their lifeless bodies were strewn across a patch of blood stained grass. Slain by the invading horde, I could not save them. I could not save my people. Death was imminent. And so, I knelt and prayed to the gods as the embers of my home dissipated.

“Stand, Takeda,” spoken in a soft, shallow tone.

“Tsu…Lord Tsukuyomi?” I hesitantly replied.

“Yes. Husband of Amaterasu and emissary of the moon. You, Takeda, will not be defeated just yet. You still have some fight in you. Now, pick up your sword. Go back to the village and bring me their heads. For this. I will make you a kami,” Tsukuyomi persuaded.

“Kami? But I am just a mortal. What of my wife and child?” I muttered with a confused look.

“Yes. A kami. I have been watching you for a long time. Of all the warriors in this land, you, Takeda, stand with honor, and vengeance sparks your soul. Your family will become kami, but not the same as you. For you, are bound to become one of vengeance. A life born anew. If you act out as I have instructed. Though I warn you, the path will be muddled, and an unlikely foe will present itself,” Tsukuyomi proclaimed.

As I began to stand, I gripped my sword firmly and nodded in agreement. “Ok, I will act out and slay those savages as you have instructed,” I said. Tucking my blood stained sword under my armpit, I pulled it out gently to cleanse it of savage blood.

“Yomi. Maki. I will be back. You will not wait long for me,” I said to my family as I mounted my horse.

My steed galloped as hard and as fast as her worn body could allow. She, too, was littered with arrows, but she was always trusting. Her breathing was faint and I knew this would be our last ride together. Her tattered limbs would make it as far as the village. This was certain.

“Ha. Another to throw onto the pyre. Let them burn. They did not understand Mongol might, for this was their greatest mistake. The Kahn will be pleased to hear Kasuya and these animals are burning. He warned they would not submit. That samurai was a stubborn breed. Inu. That is what the Kahn referred to them as. Yet, they are not as smart as dogs, just loyal to a fault,” a gruff Mongol spoke.

“You are wrong, Mongol. Dogs and samurai share more than you think. Fierce, devoted, and honorable. You vermin, on the other hand, are treacherous boars who see no sense in anything other than your savagery,” I yelled as I dismounted.

“Look. Another wayward samurai hoping to stand against us. Why do you fight us so vehemently? Why resist? Do you see anyone around that’s going to aid this fruitless plight of yours?” the Mongol responded.

Unsheathing my sword, I raised it above my head and charged forward. Slashing the throats of two and beheading a third. I pointed my blade at the Mongol that spoke with misplaced fervency. “Good enough for you, Mongol?” I spoke with a dead stare.

“No, not good enough,” he spoke.

He spat on the floor and blew into the cattle horn for reinforcements.

“What is your name, samurai? I want to know so that we can share the story of the dog that bit its masters after we conquer this land,” he said with a cynical grin.

“Takeda. And that name will be the last you utter,” I replied.

With a swift motion forward, I severed the head of that pig who spoke so ill of our people. The Mongol collapsed and his head rolled across the ground. It tumbled along the soot from our homes like a tumbleweed. 

“The samurai is over there,” a Mongol shouted. My gaze shifted over to our homes that were still burning, and I could see droves of Mongols running to my position.

I whistled for my horse, but just as she began trotting to me an arrow zipped past me. She screamed and fell on her side. This arrow was lodged into her neck. There was nothing I could do to save her. I whispered, “thank you. You have been the most loyal creature. The kami will look after you as you fade into the next life.”

I took out my sword once more and firmly planted it into her neck. She struggled. Kicked. But this was the best thing for her now. Her suffering and her service had come to an end.

“Samurai, on your feet,” a Mongol ordered.

A few meters behind me, a dozen Mongols snarled and clasped their swords. I rose and turned around. Staring at a group of executioners ready to end my life. I was not afraid. I did not fear death. I welcomed it. With a sly grin, I ran towards them with my sword ready.

“Takeda, STOP,” a voice screamed behind the men.

I came to a grinding halt and looked on. “Toyotomi?! Wha… what are you doing with these vile beasts?” I yelled back.

My brother, Toyotomi, was clad with Mongol gear as he brandished a lance he could hardly wield. He looked pleased with himself. Snickering and snarling back in my direction. He looked like an ant amid oxen. Much smaller in stature than the overgrown Mongols; he was out of place.

“There’s no use for samurai in the Kahn’s vision, brother. This way of life is outdated! Our country is always at war. We are always fighting for our lords who are too afraid to fend for themselves. Under Kahn, we will be unified. He has already conquered much of China and the Korean peninsula. Our island is yet a pebble in the vast sea of his dominion. This will be the new way of things for our people. If you choose to follow us,” Toyotomi confidently spoke.

As a child, Toyotomi was always the runt of the litter. He never fit in. He could barely raise a sword above his head, and now he was holding a lance much bigger than himself. His brother can never be a samurai. I wondered to myself what these Mongols had offered him for this betrayal.

“There you go again, Takeda. Always in your head. Scheming. Plotting. Oh, wait… this time it was me who was smarter than you. No longer the runt. I have finally filled my boots. Never good enough to stand like a samurai, but here I am, a Mongol warrior. I led them here brother. I told them when to attack and how,” he said with a smile.

“Brother, I would dissuade you from this path, but your treachery has claimed the lives of our people. My wife and daughter, your niece, was slain by these brutes,” I replied.

Toyotomi began pacing back and forth in front of the group, gripping his lance with both hands. Charging forward, he thrust his weapon towards his kin. Unable to land a blow, he got increasingly frustrated and ordered the Mongol brutes to attack. They laughed but complied.

Takeda dodged and parried attacks from all sides. He jumped back as a mace swung close to his face. Ducking, he sliced the shins of the men surrounding him. His katana moved effortlessly in his hands as he slit the throat of one foe to the next. In a flurry of swift strikes, the brutes collapsed.

“I count four. Are you going to continue to let these Mongols do the fighting for you, brother?” I stated.

As Takeda began to laugh at his younger brother, a sense of dread loomed over him. He knew that Tsukuyomi had foreshadowed this very moment. That the path he set out on was not what he would have expected.

Once more, Toyotomi, disheveled, threw his lance around aimlessly. Tired from his maniacal frenzy, he fell to his knees. The remaining Mongols looked on, baffled, and awestruck by the display. “Will you not help your brother to his feet?” Toyotomi questioned.

As Takeda made his way to his brother, he placed his sword in his sheathe and extended his hand out.

“Fool,” he shouted.

A well-placed dagger lodged its way into Takeda’s neck. “I should have known,” I whispered.

“I’ll remember this day. When Kasuya fell and the Kahn rose. When brothers fought. When I became more than what you saw,” he snickered.

“Silence this dog, will you?” a Mongol said to another.

With a single swipe of a Mongol sword, Toyotomi froze as his body was split in two.

“Thank you. I had enough of his intolerable wailing. The Kahn would never honor someone so disgraceful,” Another Mongol stated.

Bleeding out. I began to tremble. Walking towards one of the Mongol horses, I placed one foot into the stirrup and rode back to that cliff as the Mongols looked on. This steed was now bathed in my blood. As it came to the foot of the cliff, I fell off. Lying next to my wife and daughter, I began to pray once more.

“Tsukuyomi, I am dying. Have I fulfilled, at least to some degree, what you asked?” I asked.

“Yes. Within reason, I will allow what transpired to make you a kami. Your life will be born anew, and you will be in servitude to me. As a spirit of vengeance. With this, your life, your new life, now starts here,” Tsukuyomi professed.

“Thank you. Grant the souls of my family safe passage, please,” I begged.

“Let it be so,” he spoke.

As I bled out next to my family, I thought of those fond childhood memories atop the cliff. This is how it would end. This was the day I died and the day I was born again.

Michael Santiago is a serial expat, avid traveler, and writer of all kinds. Originally from New York City, and later relocating to Rome in 2016 and Nanjing in 2018. He enjoys the finer things in life like walks on the beach, existential conversations and swapping murder mystery ideas. Keen on exploring themes of humanity within a fictitious context and aspiring author.

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