He slipped a foot onto the temple’s polished stone floor without a sound. A hundred feet ahead of him lay an inconspicuous blade, a thousand names throughout the ages upon it, on the gold adorned Alter of Kashima-no-kami. Its age was unknown but thought to be ancient enough; the Japanese-styled katana glimmered with the light of hundreds of temple candles. Waxy white, the nightlights radiated from behind a dozen scarlet-robed, yellow-sashed monks. They lined the hall on either side, sitting crossed-legged, arms folded, their heads bowed in prayer. Beside the alter itself, another monk in a yellow robe and scarlet sash stood in deference of the weapon. The monk did not hear the intruder’s footstep but he sensed it nonetheless. As the unwelcome visitor glanced another foot forward, the monks flanking the polished stone floor stirred from prayer and began to draw swords from the scabbards at their waists. Their uninvited guest withdrew his foot and the monks sheathed their weapons in synch.
“What god is so bold as to enter the Temple of Hachiman?” the chief monk asked in a forgotten ancient tongue. He raised the rim of his pointed kasa to see.
“What is a god?” the stranger asked flatly.
“No mortal can step in here and live,” the holy man notified.
“I was mortal once,” flat words came again and trailed off.
“You are something else then, a demi-god perhaps,” the monk smirked. “What do you think you are doing here?”
“I have come to claim the Blade of…whatever name it goes by now,” the stranger clad in earthly, medieval black leather armor said. Two short wakizashi within an overhand’s reach were strapped to the man’s back. Automatic handguns were strapped to either thigh.
“Only two beings lay claim to the blade. Are you Shiro Winter or Noira Winter?” the monk asked.
The man stepped forward anew and again the praying monks began to draw their weapons. Their heads lifted up, flickers of flame now in their eyes.
“I am Shiro Winter, the founder of this temple and your order. You will stand down and let me possess the sword.” These were orders, not a suggestion.
“We are bound by oath to slay whomever comes for the sword, whether they own the sword or not. Or has it been so long you have forgotten your own edict?” The yellow-clothed monk drew an impossibly long broadsword from behind his back, too large to have been concealed by his person. Shiro knew that the weapon had been hidden from view somewhere in time and was now brought into the present.
Shiro lowered his head. A cool breeze passed out over his lips. “I have not forgotten. I was hoping you had,” the founder replied. He tossed his long black hair back and burned a look across the hall. “I don’t want to hurt any of you. You know what I can do. It is probable that I can take the sword and be gone before any of you can strike.”
“Probability does not equal certainty,” the high monk replied. “We have had much time to study you and your sister and have prepared accordingly. The zealot tilted his head. “We have already begun our defense. Did you not notice?” the holy man broke across the still air.
A trio of red-robed monks clashed their swords together in front of Shiro’s face as he whipped his head back. One of the monks had come uncomfortably close, shaving a few atoms off their intruder’s nose.
After a momentary blur, Shiro drew a hasty breath and leapt towards the alter with a speed invisible to mortals but not the monks. They were fast, already in midflight, in mid-fight, blocking his path to the alter. The demi-god spiraled, contorted, and crooked his body like a flickering bat to avoid eight sharpened edges of death. A ninth monk, in position high above the alter, could not be avoided. The defender’s sword pierced Shiro’s heart and exited his back. He grunted in pain as his body slammed into the monk and the pair landed on top of the high monk’s sword. The sect’s leader wrapped a hand around the back of Shiro’s neck and pulled him and his fellow monk towards himself; the tip thrust through the two entwined combatants entirely.
His eyes wet, the temple’s founder drew a handgun and pressed it against the high monk’s head. “You’ve fulfilled the task I’ve required of you. Thank you. Now stand down before you force me to kill you.” The highest of the temple order, three-thousand years old himself, opened his mouth to speak but took a bullet to the head instead.
“I saw you refuse,” Reyson mumbled as he shoved the two monks away from him, their swords with them.
The demi-god turned towards a score of charging monks with a grimace as blood poured out of his body. They were too fast. He could use his ability to manipulate time and cut them down or slow down the damage to his organs, but he wouldn’t be able to do both simultaneously. He opened his arms wide and motioned for the temple’s defenders to attack. Shiro was run through with nearly a dozen swords. The monks pressed their gnarled faces against the intruder’s, intent on watching him die.
Shiro’s lips rimmed with red life. “Do you have it?” he asked weakly.
“I’m here, brother,” Shiro answered solemnly from the alter. Shiro, pin-cushioned, could only nod in response. “Yes, I have it,” Shiro at the alter confirmed.
A few moments passed as the monks that impaled him with their swords slowly withdrew. Their task was not to be surprised but to kill anyone, everyone, who came for the sword no matter how many of them there were.
“It…hurts,” Shiro, falling to his knees dying, managed.
“Without the sword, the Order of Time will cease to exist,” the high monk, a quarter of his skull missing, mumbled looking up from the floor. The chief clutched the demi-god’s leg as Shiro reached for the long, slim sword sitting on the alter top. “If you take that you know what you must do,” the priest, failing, murmured.
“It is the only thing that will kill Noira,” Shiro shook his head but acknowledged. He clutched the hilt but could not pick the blade up; it was infused with collapsed star matter and therefore too heavy to wield without his full powers. He displaced it in time to recall later, just as the high monk had done with his weapon.
“Noira…” the highest echoed, though it sounded more like a question. “You know what you must do. First you must kill Rayu Nomura,” the monk said at his last.
Reyson lowered his head again and said nothing. His ‘brother,’ his doppelganger created just a minute ago when he jumped back in time so fast all of his atoms split into two, laid in a heap on the ground. The demi-god’s eyes twitched at his slain self. Watching yourself die. I hope this is not a sign of things to come, Shiro thought.
He rerolled the dice, casting his eyes at the remaining members of the order charging him. They were barely moving, though. Slow, much too slow now, even at their fastest. Eleven swords minced thin air. Shiro was already gone.
In possession of a terrible sword, the sullen, wired-haired warrior took a seat on a crop of rocks overlooking the Temple of Hachiman in the dark green valley below. The sky was royal blue with a faint red glow that sailed like a stream though the middle. Countless stars penetrated the darkening cloth. He frowned; he hadn’t wanted any of the monks to die but their job was to ensure no imposter got their hands on the ultimate weapon. They knew the risk. They took the vow. Still…
Shiro slumped a bit, quivering down to the bone, weary from pulling that stunt back in the temple. It’d cost him half his energy and half his life, figuratively and possibly literally. He was going to need to sleep soon, a few centuries perhaps, to recover. Whether it was worth it wasn’t relevant. It had to be done. Noira had to be stopped, even if it meant enduring the nightmarish vision of himself dying over and over again while he slept.
He slipped a handgun from its holster and unlocked the clip. Still twelve rounds in it. He hadn’t used a bullet himself. Alone for an epoch, he’d resolved long ago to die for what needed to be done though he hadn’t needed to do so until now. But he would die again and again and again if it meant getting the arrow of time right, right until the absolute, very end.
All Rights Reserved © January 2019 John J Vinacci