Niigata’s townspeople, terrified, clung together in shivering groups. Toshiro knelt weeping beside the body of his sister, his palms grinding against the smashed glass. Oblivious to the gathered mass of the townspeople, he suddenly jerked his hands from the ground, fresh cuts already oozing blood.
Pieces of the scattered crystal were moving, drawn together as if guided by a fiendish intellect, cutting trails through Toshiro’s blood and tears that mingled in the dirt. The boy snatched his sister’s body from the ground, away from the malefic magic that had destroyed her, and placed her in Ishita’s arms before once again turning to face disjointed apparition forming before him.
The fragments drew together into a mound, the dull blue chips clacking against one another, piece by jagged piece. As they swirled in unison, a diamond-shaped head emerged from the pile, blunt-nosed and ragged. While a fledgling tail swished around the pedestal, the remainder of the living stone formed rings of coils as the statue completed its transformation into the Kami of Shattered Glass. Its head swung back and forth with an eerie fluidity impossible for its ragged components.
Anger spread across Toshiro’s face, a wave of emotion barely contained. When the Kami’s misshapen jaws clicked open, an exact replica of baby Jade’s laughter tinkled across the plaza, distilling Toshi’s rage into a single drop that ran from the corner of his eye. When that single bead met the combined bulk of his anguish, the rage building inside him reached the flash point and poured across the floodwall. Reacting with unnatural speed, he leapt forward to challenge the Kami with teeth bared. The Kami did not react, merely continued its rhythmic sway. Loosing a horrific cry, Toshiro’s muscles bunched as he set his might against the stone pedestal, flinging it down upon the twisted spirit. The power of his hatred was sufficient to release the energies that animated the crystal, and the fragments once again lay still, their blue tint bleeding away into the air.
Ishita, still holding the lifeless body of Niigata’s first casualty, closed his eyes in disbelief. Women in the crowd were moaning, supported by their husbands and sons. The collective confusion was absolute; even Ishita himself, though he had spoken with the Kami on several occasions, was struck dumb by the rapid-fire sequence of events. As he looked down at Jade’s angelic face, he also began to cry. Consumed by his passions, he wept openly, the sobs wracking his body.
When Ishita came to, he was standing at the foot of the temple. Looking out across Niigata, and its gathered people that had followed him, he felt a great sadness. He could feel the Kami, the spirits with whom he’d spent a lifetime building trust, turning against them. Though he wanted nothing more than to wither under the weight of the burden hanging on his shoulders, he knew that these people needed a leader.
Ascending to the platform below the sacred flame, he swept the emperor’s scroll hastily from the table and placed the girl’s body gently upon the cold marble. He knelt and performed the ablutions required to ready Jade for the afterlife, then stood to address his peers.
“People of Niigata! Do not be afraid. I will commune with the Kami and make our amends.”
The priest sensed the presence of the Kami through the heat on his back before he heard the sound. A hissing whoosh swept through the temple, flapping Ishita’s robes. The wind continued to rise in intensity, bringing with it scents of brimstone and the cracking of dry twigs. Ishita turned and faced the sacred flame; though outwardly calm, his insides roiled with panic.
The brazier flared to twice its normal height. When two embers burst in a shower of sparks, a set of eyes snapped open. A Kami clothed in flame rose clumsily from the brazier, gripping its iron sides for support. Its forked tongue flashed from ungainly lips as it vaulted the side of the brazier to land crouched on the burnished wood floor. When it approached, Ishita stood firm, though the intensity of the flame had crossed the threshold from heat to pain.
“Revered Kami, please tell me what have we done?”
“Your leader would forsake us, and usurp our honor.” His voice escaped the inferno in a sibilant hiss, like the crackling sap in burning pine.
Hashi, standing at the back of the crowd next to Toshiro, noticed movement to his left. Looking out over the expanse of the lake, he saw a wave sliding erratically across the water. Whitecaps rippled away when the blue-veined shell of a River Kaijin broke the surface, its powerful jaws snapping at the air. The spirit continued its agitated circles in the water, but maintained its distance; Hashi sensed motion behind him and whirled to face it.
The village was alive with Kami. Zubera were emerging from the woodlots the townsmen used for firewood, their long tongues slathering acidic spittle wherever they walked. Houses were collapsing as Kami wreaked unknown mischief inside, and smoke rose from those that had not yet burst into flame. Kabuto Moths were thick in the air, their exposed stingers gleaming in the afternoon sun, though none of the spirits intruded on the huddled mass of humans waiting in fear below.
Ishita gathered his robes in one hand as he fell to his knees. The temple behind the Kami was beginning to catch as the burning divots in the wood that marked its steps spread to more combustible material. The priest’s mind was warping under the strain of conversing with the Kami. Every moment the crowd drew closer together, huddling against their gods and protectors turned antagonists. Ishita bowed deeply to the Kami of Fire’s Roar and made his final plea.
“We are prostrate before you! You have but to explain how we may right this wrong, and we shall repay you!” he cried. The Kami was so close that his skin was burning and his eyebrows singed.
“You cannot make amends. You must die.” The Kami’s reached out with his stunted limbs and grabbed hold of Ishita’s forearm. The priest’s body convulsed and smoke fumed from his mouth. As Ishita fell to the floor, unconscious, the Kami melted into the flames devouring the temple.
This was the straw that overburdened the people of Niigata. Their assembled ranks broke into chaos and confusion as the Kami attacked. Kabuto moths wheeled from the sky in droves, skewering adults and children alike; those that did not perish immediately succumbed within minutes to arcane venoms. Hashi watched in horror as a Genju of the Spires rolled with incredible speed from the low foothills surrounding Niigata, obliterating an entire family before crashing to a flaming halt in a half-collapsed house. A man ran screaming from the ruins of the house, his skin cracked and bubbling under the assault of the otherworldly flame, to be devoured by the very ground itself. As the panicked people died and dwindled, spirits began to fight over the remainder, playing a grotesque game of tug-of-war over the bodies of the fallen.
The call of the samurai snapped Hashi back to his senses. They had gathered near one of the only remaining structures and strained for some semblance of organization. Though Hashi’s mother was nowhere to be seen, Baiku had joined the ragtag band of resistance fighters attempting to defend the town.
Hashi squinted into the burning temple to discren the fate of Ishita. Toshiro stood by the priest’s prone body, seemingly unaware of the building collapsing around him. Sprinting up the steps with little regard for his personal safety, Hashi jerked Toshiro by the neck of his robe.
“We’ve got to get out of here! Help me with Ishita!” Toshiro did not react save to turn and walk slowly through the temple, despite the flames that licked angrily at his clothes and exposed skin. Hashi hefted Ishita’s body and ran lopsided back to the open air, before laying him carefully to the ground in the midst of the chaos; he would protect Ishita, who had given him guidance after the passing of his father, or perish trying.
The attempted resistance by the samurai was met by slaughter. Even those that had managed to retrieve katanas and bo staffs had no little defense against the arcane forms of the Kami. Baiku was one of the last remaining when he was beset on all sides by ravenous spirits; his blows were clumsy and ineffectual, sailing clean through his enemies’ ethereal forms. The Kami did not attack or defend, so his body remained weak and frail, lacking the benefits of his Bushido training.
“Toshiro! Baiku is in trouble! Help him!” Hashi shrieked, his voice hoarse from smoke inhalation. Toshiro’s blank stare had lost any acknowledgement of the intimacy he’d shared with Hashi’s family; ignoring the spirits and destruction around him, he turned and strode from the village.
The Kami gathered around Baiku flew forward and burrowed into his body as he cried in agony. His body swelled immediately, his muscles bunching and growing as his training responded, but it was no defense against the enemy that lived within. Hashi screamed his brother’s name once more, pain clawing his chest as he watched his brother die. Baiku turned to face Hashi as blackish-purple welts rose like goose bumps across his skin. He smiled through the pain wracking his body and struggled to speak.
“I… love you, Hashi.” As he uttered his dying words, he used the last of his strength to lift one arm towards his brother. A faint white aura appeared on his palm before streaking out past Hashi’s shoulder.
Hashi turned just in time to see the jet black Kami bearing down upon him. As the spirit entered lethal range, the flash of white magic connected and enclosed it in layer upon layer of ghostly hands. The final technique Baiku had learned in his samurai training, the Cage of Hands had saved his brother’s life. The snared spirit floated in midair, gibbering in a guttural, incomprehensible language before slinking away, unable to consummate his murderous intent.
The other Kami assaulting the village were pulling back as well, dissolving back into ground and the lake, receding into the mists that had spawned them. Hashi sat alone save the unconscious priest, gazing at the ruins of his homeland. The masterful architecture had been razed, and the beautiful land had bent rent asunder in gashes and uprooted trees.
The fundamental core of Kamigawa, the bond between corporeal and ethereal, was riven. The citizens, once steadfast in their devotion to the Kami, were dead.
Though Hashi had not been a child since the Hana Kami had disappeared from his sight, he became a man the day he buried his family. He apologized to the Kami that he could not perform the same service for the rest of his village; he knew that his prayer had gone unanswered when carrion beasts began to dot the sky.
He tended Ishita to the best of his novice abilities, providing water and healing salves to his burnt skin. It was just past noon when he woke, his voice cracking and dry despite the treatments.
“Hashi… I thank you for saving me. But I am not long for this world.”
“Ishita, please, do not leave me alone. I am scared.”
“Quiet, young Hashi. You need not fear. I must tell you what I should have revealed long ago.” Ishita took a long, congested breath. “Your father was descended from Hasharu himself… your namesake.”
“I don’t understand. What am I to do?” The priest’s breath was coming shallow and fast, and he was having difficulty maintaining consciousness, his eyes rolling in his head.
“You must live up to your name, young mystic, and save Kamigawa. Hashi Takashita… you must become… the bridge between high and low.”
Closing his eyes, Ishita took a last shuddering breath, and died in Hashi’s arms.