• Long ago, before the sky or earth existed, there was Nothing, but two celestial beings. Hizashi would later be known as the Sun God. His eyes shone like the Sun, cutting through the darkness that was, and his strength was unmatched by anything that had ever been or would ever be. His jaw was always set in determination, and he held a sword made of the hottest flames. Sukage would be called the Moon Goddess. Her eyes were as deep and dark as the night itself, but they shone like stars when she laughed, and she laughed often. She held a shield made of the thickest ice that would never melt. However strong Hizashi was, Sukage was just as swift. Her speed outdistanced Hizashi at every turn.

    Hizashi and Sukage had been locked in battle since before the very beginning of time. They knew not why they were fighting, each only knew that the desire to conquer the other was overwhelming. Hizashi pursued Sukage through the Nothing. Every time he caught up to her, his face set with resolve, she would slip away from him, her laughter ringing in his ears, and his sword would only glance at her shield. At every place the celestial beings collided, a star was left behind, and unknowingly, over many millennia, they filled the Nothing. It was driven out by the songs of the newborn stars.

    Hearing this music, Hizashi and Sukage stopped fighting to pause and listen. The singing of the stars was the most beautiful thing they had ever heard, and for the first time, they agreed with one another: What they had created was good.

    Hizashi, ready to resume the battle, lifted his sword of flames and hurtled towards Sukage. Furious at being interrupted while listening to the songs of the stars, Sukage for the first time firmly held her place instead of using her speed to escape. She raised her shield of ice with anger, ready to reflect Hizashi’s strength back upon him. The unstoppable force of Hizashi’s sword met with Sukage’s immovable shield, and with a crash that would have deafened mortals one hundred times over, Hizashi’s unstoppable sword was thrown backwards, as was Sukage’s immovable shield, and the Sun was born.

    Again, Hizashi and Sukage paused and looked upon what they had created. Hizashi was pleased with the Sun’s power. It burned with a strong flame that reminded him of his own sword. Sukage was pleased with the Sun’s beauty. It shone with the light of the stars that sang such beautiful songs, and reminded her of the glimmer of her shield.

    Hizashi raised his sword again, wanting once more to resume the battle they waged. But Sukage was no longer interested in fighting, only creation. She drew closer to the Sun to examine it. The Sun glowed bright and the stars sang beautifully. Sukage loved these things. She gathered a handful of stars and cupped them in her hands, gently shaped them together to form the Moon, which glowed with all the light of the stars and sun shining upon it. Pleased with this new beauty, she laughed with joy, and threw up her handfuls of stardust, letting it sprinkle itself across the universe.

    Hizashi was not to be bested. He gathered a handful of the Sun’s fire, and molded it with his strong arms, pressing it together and pulling it apart. He breathed on it to cool the fire into rock, then gathered more fire to add onto it. He created the Earth. Sukage was enthralled with the Earth, and clapped her hands with delight when he was done.

    Hizashi, annoyed, raised his sword again, only to find Sukage was nowhere in sight. Thinking she had eluded him again and glad their silly games were over, he looked around to try and locate her. However, she was nowhere nearby, and Hizashi quickly realized that Sukage had abandoned their fight, had taken the form of a woman, and was now walking the Earth he had molded with his own hands.

    Hizashi was left with little choice; he sheathed his sword and followed her.

    * * *

    The world changed and grew over many millennia. The people on it, created and once protected and blessed by the Sun and Moon gods, had forgotten their creators. They fought for their own survival, now, slaying demons who posed a threat to their homes and villages, sinking their picks into the dirt to plant their own crops, and going out into the forests to hunt their own game. Some mortals chose the path of the farmer or the fisher, who grew or collected food for his fellows in exchange for gold with which he could buy his own provisions. Some humans chose the path of the explorer, who set out to chart distant lands and often did not return. Some took it upon themselves to slay the demons of distant lands, be they large or small, to protect their fellows and improve the quality of their lives.

    One such mortal, called Jericho Tabour, was celebrated by many for holding a sword that had never failed in battle. Jericho was a brave warrior who fought many evils, and sent as many as he could back into the darkness from whence they came. He was well-noted for having never been tricked by a demon, though he kept the trick to his success a tight-lipped secret. One of the most dangerous demons he ever encountered was a dragon with eight heads who had disguised itself as a merchant visiting his hometown and tried to spirit away the young girls to its nest in the mountains. The dragon was a fearsome beast with a shield made of the toughest ice, and nearly overwhelmed the young man who attempted to slay it. Had the shield not been cracked, Jericho would have perished, but cracked it was, and wide enough for a blade to slip though and destroy its holder.

    After defeating the dragon, Jericho traveled to the Palace of Ambi, a place where the rain poured eternally without pause. Hearing of this cold and bitter rain and thinking that a demon might have cursed the palace, Jericho approached the doors with great caution, sword out, and shield of ice in hand. But when he reached the palace after his long walk, he found no demons. He entered and walked the long halls of the palace, tensed every minute to defend himself. But he came across no one in the first tower, nor the second, and only walked through six towers before night fell; he left without exploring the seventh tower, and it remained untouched. The terrible feeling of despair and bitterness in the castle made him come to realize that there was no demon or evil spirit in the castle, simply a presence who was bound to the walls with sadness. Jericho left the shield of ice at the door as both a warning to other travelers, and an offering to whatever spirit still lingered in the gloomy castle. He penned a note on a piece of parchment he had handy, and stuck it beneath the door to keep it dry. Then he left the Palace of Ambi and its eternal rain for good.

    The palace was so big—indeed, it could be seen from many miles away— that the inhabitants there did not discover the shield of ice for several years. It was a young woman who ventured all the way down out of her home in the seventh tower and found the shield, and she brought it back up to her only companion in the castle, who sat on the floor at the window at the top of the tallest tower. As far as the young woman knew, she had always been sitting there. Surely her appearance had once been very fine, but now bright eyes had diminished to glowing embers, and dark hair showed streaks of gray. A gown that must have once been the purest white was now faded and creased and yellowed, with threads hanging loose from the frayed hems. There was a wilted crown of flowers on her lap, and an open box of ivory by her feet. Out on the balcony, standing in the rain, was a pure white horse with a golden saddle, the dark sky around it making it look brighter than anything in the palace.

    The woman’s eyes slid over to the door as it opened, and her voice, quiet from many years of disuse, was almost drowned out by the sound of the rain when she spoke. “What have you there, Kirei?”

    “A most curious thing, my Lady Eve,” Kirei said, bowing at the waist. Her dark hair fell in a curtain around her face. “It is a shield made of the coldest ice, that does not seem to melt.”

    The woman called Eve turned from the window, slowly, as if every movement pained her. The wilted crown of flowers was placed in her box of ivory and the box was locked without the use of a key. Eve got to her feet, perhaps for the first time since Kirei was born. It was a few minutes before she finally reached Kirei, her eyes set on the shield the girl held.

    “This was mine, once,” Eve said, sounding dazed. “I gave to...my husband...where in the world did you get this, Kirei? I must know.”

    Kirei’s eyes widened. “I—I found it resting by the front door, my lady. There was a note attached. The demon slayer Jericho Tabour found it on an eight-headed dragon in the mountains.”

    “A dragon...” Eve’s eyes closed, and she took the shield from Kirei, slinging it over her own back. Her eyes opened again, and she gently touched Kirei’s face. Her fingers were as cold as the shield she had just held, and colder. “Child,” she asked, “do you think my husband could be dead?” She not wait for an answer. “Nothing could break this shield. Such a powerful force would surely have struck him down.” Eve wiped at her own eyes, now, as she had started to weep. “The man you have all been searching for so long...all this time, he was in the other world...no wonder you could not find him.”

    “But you told me that he was like you—he couldn’t die.”

    “And that is what I knew to be true. But if he can die, then so may I.” Just as slowly as she had gotten up, she walked past Kirei to the door of the room, to a set of ornamental daggers on the wall. She pulled one free and Kirei shrieked as Eve drove the dagger hard into her own abdomen. Though blood poured from the wound, staining her gown scarlet, there was no sound of pain, no sign that she had felt anything save for a grimace. Eve pulled the dagger free, and her expression changed to one of confusion. The blood faded from her gown, and from the dagger. Shaking hands were placed on her stomach. “Perhaps I was wrong, little Keeper,” she breathed, eyes wide.

    Kirei had both hands on her mouth. “My lady...”

    “I could call down an avalanche to bury me...I could drink the foulest poison, leap from this balcony, jump into the stormiest ocean, even burn myself till I was naught but ash, and I would always return to this.” Eve moaned, hands covering her face, now, and she sank to the floor is despair. “It has always been that way. I made it so. But something must have killed him, Kirei! Something more powerful than a mere dagger. It must have been a great evil...”

    “Y-you don’t know,” Kirei started timidly, voice shaking, “that he’s—he’s—I mean, the shield is only ice, anything could—”

    “No.” Eve drew her breath in a huge sigh, and again got to her feet. Walking more quickly, now, she went out to the balcony, not flinching when the cold rain touched her skin. She walked over to the white horse, touched its face. Abruptly, she drew back, as if burned, and let out a wail. She began to paced to and fro on the balcony. Her gown was weighed down with the water, her hair stuck to her face, but she didn’t seem to notice.

    Kirei followed Eve outside, bound by oath to follow her to the ends of the earth if she chose to go there. Eve paused her pacing to look up at Kirei, and Kirei stopped in her tracks, starting to shiver as the rain soaked through her gown, too. “Um...”

    “A demon,” Eve said, sighing again. “It had to be a demon. A very, very powerful one. I can create that. I can create anything.”

    Kirei backed one step away, a little scared. She believed what Eve was saying, and the amount of power she was thinking of at the hands of someone who was clearly unstable was a very frightening thought, indeed. There was reason now to worry for more than just her own life, but still she stayed on the balcony. The oath, she thought furiously. I must stay.

    Eve was leaning out over the railing of the balcony now, gazing out at the world spread out below her. “My children,” she mused softly, so soft that Kirei almost didn’t hear it.

    “You—you have children?”

    “Yes.” Eve tightened her grip on the railing. “They will help me. They can. I can make them...” Eve was climbing unsteadily onto the railing, now. Her feet were bare, and the rail was slippery with water, but she seemed to have to have no fear of falling. Once she was balanced precariously on the edge, she drew in a deep breath, and shouted, “My children! Your mother calls. Come to me!”

    The sky grew dark and the world began to rumble. Unable to keep her balance, Kirei fell to her knees, and squinted through the rain and the dark to see pinpoints of light in the sky. They slowly grew larger, coming towards the balcony until they were so close that it almost hurt to look at that brightness, after living a lifetime in the rain. One by one, the balls of light gathered around Eve, in a kind of wide circle. The light spread out until the shapes of adult humans formed—four males and three females, hanging in the air without support from above or below. Kirei shakily got to her feet, but nearly fell again when one of Eve’s children spoke, for his voice shocked her. She would be unable to describe such a sound, later. It was like music playing backwards, like ten thousand voices melting into one, ageless and genderless, soft and loud all at once.


    Eve looked at each of the people around her in turn, and swallowed. “It’s been a long time.”

    “Why have you called us?” one of the females asked. Kirei couldn’t bear to listen to their voices, but at the same time she wanted for them never to stop speaking. “Mother...you look so old...”

    There was silence, for a moment, save for the eternal pounding of the rain. Then Eve spoke again, and her voice sounded just a little more like theirs. Chills crawled over Kirei’s skin when she saw the cruel smile on Eve’s lips.

    “Forget everything I have taught you.” At that sentence, her children froze where they were as if taken by shock. “If it is only demons that can kill me, then it is demons I shall make. I care not who dies with me. End this world, and end me with it.”

    The bright light that Eve’s children possessed dimmed, then began to seep out of them as though it were liquid. As it hit the stone floor of the balcony, it faded into nothing. One by one, Eve’s seven children became weak human beings and dropped out of the sky. Half of them fell down out of sight, and the remaining half hit the balcony, laying in the puddles as still as death. Shaking from head to toe, Kirei approached the nearest one, a female, and knelt to lay a gentle hand on her shoulder. “A-are you...all right?” she gasped, teeth chattering. There was no response.

    Eve’s crazed laugh nearly startled Kirei into jumping away from the woman on the balcony. Shadows had gathered around Eve’s fingertips, and Kirei realized her feet were no longer touching the balcony railing, but that she was actually floating in the air, hanging as if suspended by a great invisible string. Still staring up at Eve in horror prevented Kirei from noticing the woman beneath her fingers shudder. She didn’t look down until she heard a low moan, but the face that turned up to hers was not the face of anything human, or the beautiful face Kirei had seen before. Her eyes had turned red, and her skin and hair were as black as night. The woman screamed, a horrible sound like the cry of a wounded animal, and Kirei stumbled backwards with a cry of her own, looking around wildly at the others who had all become the same way. They became taller, claws grew from their fingers, and the shadows that surrounded them seemed to consume the light around them.

    “Go,” Eve told them. “Consume my earth...and everyone on it!” The shadows grew darker, and spread to cover the walls and the floors of the once beautiful Palace of Ambi. Eve’s humorless smile widened into a twisted grin. “I’ll see you soon, darling...”

    The shadows on the floor were spreading faster, now, moving towards Kirei’s feet. She backed away. Kirei knew without a doubt that if they touched her, she would die. With guilt and sorrow weighing heavy in her heart, Kirei broke her oath—she turned and mounted the pure white horse. She was planning to save it by riding it down through the halls, but the horse seemed to have other plans. Kirei shrieked as two long wings unfurled from its sides, tossing off the ornate blanket that had covered its back. The horse reared up and then leapt down off the balcony, and Kirei screamed. Just before they impacted the ground at a speed that would have crushed her bones, the horse flapped its wings and slowed the fall. The moment the horse’s hooves touched the ground, it began to run faster than the wind itself, carrying them both away from the hell the Palace of Ambi had just become. Kirei held onto the horse for dear life, not looking back, wishing she couldn’t still hear the agonized crying of demons behind her.