There are many wells in the world, some that have a mysterious background, others that are mysterious themselves. There are people that revere them because they are like portals to another realm, shrouded in darkness, and in some instances, even death. The land of Japan is one of those mysterious places that is engrossed with the world beyond the grave, with many wells littering the island from one end to the other.
However, there is only one well in all of Japan that emerges from the depths of legends onto the surface of the truth. A well that is thirsty for blood . . . and pennies.
Her brush with death had scarred her. Even though Shizune Hakura had managed to escape the enraged Shinigami last night, she couldn’t get to sleep afterwards. She was terrified of him. It had all happened so quickly--and without warning! The death spirit had chased her all the way back here to this shrine, and battled what she believed to be an angel that had protected her from it.
Why had the Shinigami attacked her without provocation? And why had an angel protected her? And why tell her to go to her grandfather’s shrine to look for a treasure? On top of that, the angel expected her to go back to the Shinigami well in the grove?! She didn’t care if he was a divine presence, he was nuts if he wanted her to really go back to that place!
Shizune angrily threw her hairbrush coated with her black hair across the room and flopped down on her bed, her violet eyes glaring up at the ceiling. This whole situation was stupid! Here she was, stuck in her own room, afraid to go outside because of that Shinigami. And if her grandpa found out about her late night stroll, a lecture was imminent. It’s not like she could just ask him how to protect herself from one point blank.
“Shizune!” she heard her mother call from downstairs. “Shizune, get down here.”
The girl bolted up from her bed, disgruntled, and stomped downstairs, expecting another slew of orders. After all, the whole reason her family had moved here just outside of Tokyo was to help her grandfather with the Hakura family shrine. And because Hojo Hakura refused to hire outside help, Shizune was stuck doing chores. It wasn’t fair! First, she had to uproot her life for her father, now she had to take care of a grandfather she hadn’t seen in five years! She barely remembered the man!
Sure enough, once Shizune was downstairs, her mother promptly “suggested” she go to the shrine and help her grandfather clean up.
“Fine, I’ll go!”
“Shizune, your grandfather is old,” her mother stated flatly. “He can’t do everything by himself anymore.”
“Why not hire somebody? He has the money!”
“Because it’s more important to him if the family runs the shrine. You know that.”
“Important enough to interfere in my life?!” Shizune demanded angrily, standing by the front door. “It was so important that he had to take me away from my friends and--and--the things I knew?!”
She slammed it shut before her mother could say anything and stormed towards the huge Hakura shrine, flanked by small statues of armor clad samurai, a total of six altogether, three on one side, and three on the other.
She found her grandfather inside, sweeping debris from the nearby trees out into the open.
“Hm? Ah! Shizune!” Hojo Hakura smiled, his white mustache and beard curving upward. “There you are! Would you be a sweetheart and help your old man out with the artifacts in the storage?”
“It’s not like I have a choice,” Shizune muttered under her breath.
“I said yeah,” Shizune replied impatiently.
“Great!” The elderly man picked up his cane to replace the broom and started to hobble ahead. “Come with me, Shizune. We store the Hakura possessions in the back.”
Shizune started to tag along, noticing the shrine dedicated to whatever spirit it was her grandfather guarded. The shrine itself was built like a small Japanese home on a stand. Flanking it on either side was a statue of a fox that she believed to be the spirit of Inari, who preserved the rice. She found this odd seeing as how most of the surrounding area was nothing but valley and mountainous terrain. The land wasn’t fertile enough to produce rice.
In the shrine gleamed a beautiful rectangular shaped blood red gem.
Shizune couldn’t help but to remember the cryptic voice in her head the angel had spoken in. He had commanded her to find a treasure and take it to the well.
She quickly shook her head to forget the bad memories of last night and trailed her grandfather to the back of the shrine where the storage was located. Immediately, her grandfather had her sorting out boxes and dusting things, rattling off about old tales she had no interest in. She tuned him out fairly easy, focused solely on the job at hand.
“. . . and that was how the kappa was vanquished!” Hojo proclaimed as she stacked the last box in place. He turned towards her and nodded approvingly. “Nicely done! It is so wonderful to have help like this! It takes a lot of my shoulders. And you know, I’ve been guarding this shrine since I was your age, Shizune!”
“Why?” Shizune asked bluntly, merely annoyed. “What’s the point? What are you guarding it from, Grandpa? From the weather?”
“No. I’m upholding the royal decree that was dictated to the Hakura family five hundred years ago.”
Shizune’s violet eyes lit up. That number sounded oddly familiar. “What decree? What happened five hundred years ago?”
“Oh, it’s such a dusty old story. You’re probably sick of hearing my stories.”
“Tell me, Grandpa!”
The old man straightened up and popped a few joints in his back, exclaiming at this exertion.
“Oh, alright. But only because you asked.” He became quite serious. “The truth is that much of the story of the Hakura decree has regrettably been lost to time and disaster. But this much my grandfather knew. When I was a little boy, he took me aside and told me what he knew.
“The Hakura Shrine was originally a temple built to honor the Emperor’s son in the year 1510. He declared that unless his son found a suitable woman to marry and ascend the throne with, not even the lad would claim the throne. It would be turned over to the Emperor’s brother instead upon the current ruler’s death. Now, I could tell you all sorts of rumors about how the Emperor’s son died. Some say it was disease, others say he ran away. But whatever the reason, the Emperor’s son simply left the face of Japanese history.”
Shizune scoffed. “He just--disappeared?”
“That’s right.” Hojo Hakura nodded. “Gone. No trace of him to be found. You can imagine the Emperor’s woe! Now, the Emperor’s son had--like all royalty--a faithful knight to protect him. His name is recorded as being Ixinizhi.”
Shizune’s nose wrinkled. “What kind of name is that? That’s not Japanese!”
“No, it wasn’t. But you have to know that the Emperor’s son was rumored to have been involved with some dark practices . . .” Hojo murmured. “Legend says that any of his personal guards the heir claimed he stripped them of their birth name and gave them a name that no one could decipher. Have you seen the statues outside this shrine, Shizune? Those statues are the representation of the six samurai that loyally followed the heir of Japan. There are five other shrines on this island and five only that resemble the Hakura shrine.”
“Why? What’s all this have to do with why you’re stuck guarding this place?”
Hojo sighed. “Anyway, right after the heir vanished, the Emperor grew sick and died, wasting away with grief. Ixinizhi, the most faithful of the six samurai, came to this place with a piece of parchment and slew himself on this spot.”
Shizune started. “He--killed himself? What for?”
“There was no one left for him to serve. No doubt he saw his existence as needless,” Hojo frowned. “The piece of parchment turned out to be a last request upon his death. It was his will that our great, great ancestor, Hajime Hakura, Ixinizhi’s vassal at the time, convert the temple into a shrine dedicated to the lost heir of Japan. However, Hajime loved his master so much that instead of dedicating the shrine to the lost son of the Emperor, instead, he had the shrine made in memory of Ixinizhi.”
“So . . . you’re protecting the shrine because of something that happened five hundred years ago?” Shizune said slowly. “I’m not saying it’s not a sad story, but--don’t you think it’s time to let go of things? Five hundred years have passed!”
“You don’t have to watch this shrine if you don’t want to,” Hojo remarked. “I definitely don’t expect that from you. But this is a part of my heritage. It was such an honor for a measly peasant family like us to have been chosen to protect the shrine dedicated to the memory of the very samurai who was at the side of the Emperor’s only son!”
Shizune shook her head. “I don’t get anything. First of all, why waste your life for someone else that just abandoned you? Second of all, why die for them? And then try to dedicate a holy temple to that person?! People were really naive back then!”
“Don’t say that!” Hojo lifted his cane sternly. “You insult every person in the Japanese history that ever believed in something more than what this new generation knows! You youth nowadays live in a world of peace and where sacrifice isn’t needed. You’re spoiled rotten compared to what our ancestors endured.”
He had struck a nerve with Shizune. She let him have it, not holding back an inch.
“Oh!” she barked. “And I didn’t sacrifice my life for you?! I didn’t uproot myself from everything I knew and move here just so I could listen to you tell me how spoiled I am?! Damn it, what gives you the right to tell me what I deserve? When was the last time we even saw each other?! Five years! You don’t even know me anymore!”
And with that fiery vehemence, Shizune whirled around and stomped out of the Hakura shrine, venting. She didn’t care how hurtful her words were. She was convinced that everything she had said was the truth, therefore, it was justified.
She sat in her bed, lights off, in the dead of the night. She was glaring at the shining apparition staring back at her at the foot of the bed, motionless. It was now going on three hours since this staring contest had begun.
After the shrine incident, Shizune had gone back to her room without any disruptions, throwing herself in bed to wrestle with her anger. She hadn’t gone down to dinner and no one had called her down to the table, but it was okay. She was not in the mood to eat. She was just too furious.
However, as night had began to creep into her room, Shizune fell asleep, and awoke at about ten o’ clock to discover that the very angel that had saved her from the Shinigami was hovering at the foot of her bed, radiating that bright, untainted light.
At first, she had been rather frightened, but when nothing further had happened, she just curled up with her knees to her chest and watched him watch her. He said nothing, and she heard no voice in her head. She already knew what he was there for.
His bright green eyes were piercing. Shizune felt like she was being studied molecule by molecule and judged accordingly. She hated that. She hated that he was here now, perfectly still, only his red, red hair floating in a nonexistent breeze, the looming white wings framing his body. His magnificent sword was in his hand, prepared to defend or to attack. All he needed was a reason.
Go away. Go away!
However, the angel didn’t waver. He just continued to gaze at her, almost accusingly. He wanted her to go down to the shrine and collect a treasure to give to the Shinigami that wanted to kill her. But she wouldn’t. She refused. There was no reason why she should do something so suicidal.
Shizune couldn’t take it any longer. At long last, her lips moved and the sound of her irritated voice shattered the tense silence.
“What the hell do you keep looking at me for?! Get the hell out of my room!”
She seized a random object off her dresser and hurled it at his head. He vanished for half a second as the object smashed against the far wall, and then his image reappeared in the same exact spot with the same exact countenance he had been wearing before. It irked her how she couldn’t at least get him to change that stupid blank expression.
“Are you deaf?!” Shizune snarled. “I said to get out!”
“Maybe I didn’t make it clear enough to you. I am not ever going back to that well, even if I was paid to! You can’t make me! Now leave me alone!”
At last, his thin lips grew thinner. His green eyes flashed dangerously, enough to make her momentarily shudder. He had such a terrible face when displeased. What kind of expression did he take when infuriated?
God Himself commanded of me to command of you. Who are you to refuse such a Being?
“I’m Shizune!” she retorted, satisfied to hear some sort of communication from this shining creature. “Just Shizune! And that’s all! I don’t know who you think you are, but you can’t just show up and tell me what to do!”
Though it is true I have no power over you because of the Law of Free Will, I must remind you that I can be very persuasive, human.
Shizune grimaced at the way he’d said it, as though he were trying to make a point to her.
“I’d like to see you try!” she snapped.
He raised his sword, as if to strike her. She shielded her face, but instead, he merely pointed the blade directly into her face. And the glint in his eye truly terrified her so much so that she quivered in her bed, paralyzed with the fear she felt from his expression alone.
So be it! I will not hold back anything. Remember this: You brought this misery upon yourself! Heed my warning! Go to the shrine and do as was instructed of you, or be forever plagued with the woe I bestow upon you!
He vanished from sight. Shizune sat there for a moment, expecting the roof to fall in on her head. But there was only silence. She swallowed hard and dared to glance in all directions of the room. But nothing occurred. Convinced that he had been bluffing, Shizune immediately went back to bed, snidely remarking,
“Oh no! Not the dark! Anything but that!” She snorted. “At least he’s gone now. Maybe I can get some freaking sleep without having some sort of crazy phenomenon hanging off the corner of my bed.”
The crazy phenomenon was doing much more than hanging off the corner of her bed. It was everywhere. It all started the moment Shizune woke up that Tuesday morning. She heard whispers no one else seemed to acknowledge. And things seemed to teleport to other locations without anyone else’s knowledge. The voices gradually turned into visions of floating dead people, and the moving objects escalated into flying projectiles that seemed to randomly fly past Shizune.
Scared out of her mind, Shizune had tried everything to block them out, from shutting herself into the closet with the headphones on her ears to actually leaving the shrine. But the dead were everywhere. They seemed to know she could see and hear them, because they kept on pestering her!
The closet apparently had occupants, her headphones became telephones, the earplugs were jerked out of her head and any space in the house at all had some sort of apparition there. Her mother had no idea some creepy looking man was hovering right behind her as she fixed breakfast. A woman with a transfixed stare tagged along behind her father as he attempted to work on the family car. Not even her grandfather was spared. He had his own fan club following him around as he did the chores!
Despite the fact that Shizune tried her best not to communicate to her family at all, they still noticed that she acted oddly, to the point that her mother finally asked if taking a walk would help. Shizune then got the idea that perhaps it was just the shrine that was infested with spirits, and proceeded to leave the grounds.
She couldn’t have been more wrong. There were spirits in the form of spheres flying in the air by the hundreds. This whole mountainous side of Japan was just covered with the dead. She had no idea that there were this many souls around her all the time! And to add to that, even though the Shinigami wasn’t anywhere to be seen, his hounds were certainly still around. The moment they saw her, they gave chase--in broad daylight! Narrowly escaping once more back under the Myojin torii gates, Shizune settled down to weep as the hounds paced back and forth in front of the barrier she was now able to visualize.
She was trapped, no matter which way she looked at it. If she stayed here, she was prone to break down from mental strain. Not all of these spirits were exactly friendly-looking. Some of them looked downright awful. But on the other hand, if she tried to leave the shrine grounds, the hounds would rip her apart. Either end was filled with misery.
Misery . . .
Shizune’s violet eyes narrowed, and she abruptly stood up, shouting at the sky, “This is all your fault! Why are you torturing me like this?! I never did anything to you! You’re the one that showed up and just--just took over my life!!”
Something hard cracked her in the back of the head, and she winced. Growling, she glanced down at the ground to see what it was that had hit her. A lone chestnut from a nearby tree had been the culprit. She stooped over and grabbed the nut, launching it at the tree that produced them.
“There!” she snapped. “Take your stupid seeds! I hope you get chopped down!”
And with that, she returned to her house, unable to do anything else.
That night wasn’t much better. The spirits were determined to aggravate her. A bunch of them whispered constantly in her ear, but whenever she woke up, no one was around. And just when she thought it couldn’t get any worse, one of the spirits decided that it was time for American Idol, and started to sing in a rather screechy, off tune manner.
And once again, Shizune completely lost her temper. She jumped out of bed and screamed into the dark room,
“FINE!! FINE!!! I will drag my butt out of bed in the middle of the night, go down to the damn shrine, take the stupid jewel and go to the well!! Are you happy, God?!”
She jerked on a top and some shorts, snatched up a spare flashlight and went outside into the cold night air, her teeth grinding in her jaw. Now that it was night, the spirits seemed to be more active. There were oodles and oodles of them everywhere she looked. It was like snow.
She stormed into the shrine and angrily approached the column where the blood red jewel was housed. She seized it and placed it in her shorts pocket, then demanded, “Okay! I got the jewel! Now what the hell am I supposed to do, huh? Those hounds are still out there!”
The apparition of the angel briefly appeared at the doorway of the shrine, then vanished. Shizune gave chase, wondering what was going on.
“Hey! You! Get back here!”
He had reappeared a few feet away in the middle of the stone pavement. She ran after him as he vanished and manifested over by her grandfather’s home. But when she reached him, he vanished once more, only to show himself starting down the dirt drive that led away from the shrine and towards the grove.
“Is he insane?” Shizune panted, a temple throbbing on the side of her head. “Those dogs are still out there! Even though that Shinigami is gone and it was in the middle of the day, they were still roaming around like they belonged there. If I step outside of the shrine grounds, they’ll tear me to pieces!”
However, she did remember the fight that had ensued between the Shinigami and the angel before her. Every time it seemed as though Shizune was about to die, he always saved her. Several of those times were from those big hounds.
She gasped. The angel’s voice was strong and commanding inside her mind. She hesitated, not sure whether she should go or not. But the sight of all these spirits and the thought of what another day of torture would hold for her made her break into a reluctant run after the angel.
And just as she had thought, he indeed led her down to the border of the shrine grounds, where the gates stood. So far, Shizune could see nothing from the tree line of the grove, but--that didn’t mean they weren’t being watched.
The red haired angel vanished from in front of her and reappeared on the other side of the barrier, his green eyes beckoning her to follow.
“I can’t!” Shizune said impatiently. “Those things are out there!”
And you would believe I would have you die at their hands?
She bit her lower lip. “Prove it! Prove to me you are an angel. A real angel! I may not be a Christian, but I’ve heard my fair share of stories about angels that weren’t angels at all! How do I know I can trust you?”
I cannot drag you to the well by your hair, but perhaps you need further convincing?
Shizune glanced nervously over her shoulder at the spirits, who were starting to crowd around her. She leapt forward and over the boundaries of the shrine grounds, standing in the middle of the dirt road. And as though waiting for this, the hounds exploding out of the grove trees, their blue eyes shining with bloodlust like their master’s. Shizune screamed, frozen to the spot.
The hounds attacked the angel, their gaping mouths open, teeth flashing. But the angel merely cut them in two as though they were moving in slow motion.
Go to the shrine! he ordered.
“I could die!” Shizune shrieked as a hellhound rounded on her. In an explosion of black mass, the angel dispatched the creature and bellowed in a tone that outmatched the thunder.
She screamed and broke into a run, not sure which way she was headed. She dove into the grove trees, her heart racing. The nightmare began again. The vivid memory of being chased through the dark, foreboding forest was resurrected into reality. She could hear the howls of the pursuing giant dogs, hunting her enthusiastically. They had long since been bored with waiting for her to come out from the shrine territory, and now that she was growing farther away, it only excited their hunger.
Tree limbs and growing shrubs assailed her body as she sprinted through the foliage, only this time, she had a flashlight for assistance. She remembered the creek that she’d accidentally fallen into last night and kept her eyes open for it so as not to repeat her misfortune.
The woods seemed to go on and on forever, and her sides were aching. She wasn’t going to last much longer. And the hounds were gaining. Shizune questioned her reasoning. Was this really what she’d picked over being haunted by a few spirits? A race against death? She was crazy!
“How much further is it?!” she shouted, mostly to herself.
Her flashlight bounced wildly all over the ground until the light hit a great log that had fallen over. She heard the sound of rushing water and automatically knew she had found the creek. The girl bounded over the tree with little hesitation, knowing her time was short. The well wasn’t far from here. At least she was going in the right direction.
Her legs were starting to cramp, and now, she could see the bright blue eyes of the hellhounds tracking her. They too were panting heavily, but far from giving up unlike Shizune. Not now. They had spotted their quarry.
Shizune’s last bit of adrenaline surged through her legs, and she finally burst into the clearing, crying out triumphantly at the sight of the lone well sitting in the middle of the open where the dirt path ended.
“Alright!” she shouted at the sky. “I’m here! Now what am I supposed to do?!”
The hellhounds crashed through the trees, snarling. Shizune whirled, gasping. She instinctively shielded her face, waiting for it to tear her arm off her shoulder. Instead, the red haired angel burst out of the trees and buried his wondrous sword into the skull of the hound, causing it to explode.
Call upon the spirit! the angel said telepathically. Approach the well, and summon him to the surface!
“How do I do that?!” Shizune gaped.
The angel did not reply. He instead began to battle the numerous canines in a frenzy of flashing blades and teeth. One of the dogs snatched ahold of a large wing and attempted to tear it from his shoulder blade. The angel sliced the dog, however, there was blood seeping from the wound, stained feathers floating to the ground.
The horrified girl clambered to the well’s side, shining her flashlight down into the depths.
“H-hey!” she called, unable to think of anything else to say. “Shinigami! I’m back! You want to kill me, don’t you? Get up here!”
Distinctly, at the bottom of the well, she saw two bright blue lights flash open, and the glass to her flashlight exploded, causing her to fly back, screaming.
A loud chorus of ghastly howling followed by a sharp wind and a chilly atmosphere set in, heralding the Shinigami’s approach. The angel stopped fighting long enough to glance over his shoulder at the well. Shizune trembled as a skeletal hand regaining its flesh clamped onto the well’s mouth.
As the Shinigami arose from its grave, his compelling white light grew brighter and brighter, his enraged blue eyes shining like a deity. His snow white hair was covered in multiple blood spatters, his black robes long and flowing. The skull armor glared mercilessly at her shocked countenance. The ice blue sash draped around his waist floated around his body, both his head and where his feet should have been. In his hands was the infamous black scythe of skulls, whose blade sang the song of death.
Shizune recalled the fear clearly now. She was so frightened that she’d forgotten how to breathe. Her chest was paralyzed.
“SHIIIZUUKAAA!!!” the Shinigami bellowed, his voice like an earthquake. The black aura around his body was raging like a fire.
“Aaaargh!!” Shizune screamed.
The angel spoke into her head, dashing to her side, his sword ready.
Present the jewel! Present it if you want to live!
Shizune thrust her hand inside her pocket and dug ferociously, her fingers wrapping around the crimson jewel. The Shinigami swung his scythe back, this ungodly malice etched across his face.
Shizune lifted the jewel, and a vivid, blinding red light flashed, making her clamp her violet eyes shut. The light was so bright that the spirit of Shizuka Grove was even temporarily incapacitated, lowering his scythe.
There was a long, long silence. Shizune dared to peek at the scene. And slowly, both eyes opened and widened considerably. Standing before her was a man that she had never laid eyes on before. His hair was long and black, strips of red complementing his vermillion eyes. He was dressed in armor, and wielded twin katana in his belt. But that wasn’t the extraordinary thing about this man.
The most incredible thing about him was that he had a pair of red fox ears atop his head, and a tail poking out the back of his body.
The spirit of Shizuka had completely seemed to have forgotten about Shizune. Instead, his ice blue eyes were fixed upon the being in front of him, his scythe dropping to the ground.
In a bare whisper, in which all other noise was rendered silent, the Shinigami choked out a word that Shizune was sure she’d misheard.