Tales of Twilight: Honor in the Night

August 4, 2007

The story goes that, even as a young child, he was jealous of the Moon.

He was born to an honorable family. His father had been a former soldier who had distinguished himself when the devils had come down from the high passes of the mountains. Rumor said his mother was beloved by the Kami, for she walked each day to Heaven’s Shrine to say her silent words of prayer – and indeed, she had known nothing but fortune and health for all her life, and the same was true of her family.

But the boy cared not for war nor valour. He gave no heed to blessings nor faith. Indeed, he had no love for even his family, and none could call him friend.

He held himself apart form all others, and in the night, he looked up jealously at the Moon, so cold and pure in its endless, drifting solitude.

His parents saw how he held no friendship or love within his breast, and they tried to shake him from his nature – but neither words, nor gifts, nor threats could shift his mood. They called upon shamans and priests, wise men and silver-tongued tricksters… but the boy remained aloof, and looked upon all those who approached him with disdain.

It came to pass that they had another child, a daughter, and it is said her face shown as brilliantly as the sun from the day she was born. Putting their unworthy son out of their minds, the soldier and his lady gave all their attention to their daughter, and she began to grow up as cheerful and pleasant as she was beautiful, and all who saw her looked upon her with love and kindness.

Save for her brother. Her, he hated even beyond all others – she represented all the things in the world that made him frown.  As she grew, he did his best to stay as far away from home as he could – and now, finally granted a measure of solitude, he could roam the hills of the countryside, and in the night he would look upon the Moon and speak the wishes of his heart.

One night, a devil heard his muttered words – and heard, too, the darkness in his heart that had driven him away from all others. This was no true devil, now, but it had once held great power nonetheless – till death had claimed it in the war. But even the spirit of a devil can work dreadful harm and wicked magic, and here it saw a rare opportunity to do so.

“What is it you desire?” asked the spirit, and the boy looked up in surprise. He saw it standing there, a smoky form with black eyes and gleaming white teeth – but he did not run in terror, nor study it in curiousity.

Instead he stood up and turned away, muttering to himself, “I wish I could go where I liked without being bothered by any others.”

As he had turned his back to the devil, he did not see it grin.

When he returned to the city, morning’s light had broken across the streets. Children were playing in the alleys, and merchants stood in the doorways of their stores, or behind the carts they wheeled along, hawking their wares and greeting those they saw.

But none said a word to the boy. Nor, when a child chasing a ball collided with him, did the child apologize or yell – instead, the child simply looked confused, retrieved the ball, and then returned to play with the other children.

None of them, in fact, could even see the boy at all.

It did not take long for him to realize this, and the boy was soon filled with a sense of wonder. This was everything he had wanted – to be unseen, unheard, unknown. He spent the morning darting through the city, indulging in his newfound power – he could touch the world, but it could not touch him back.

He stole fresh bread, and fruit, and cheese, and even when he was full, he grabbed yet more to toss away into the gutters, and for the first time in his life he laughed, as the merchants looked desperately around, bewildered, as their goods vanished before their eyes.

He went to Heaven’s Shrine, though it was an exceptionally foolish thing to do, and he tore down the tapestries upon the walls, and threw piles of dirt into the holy pool of water where his mother would later go to pray – and somehow, the Kami did not strike him down. Perhaps the devil’s magic was truly that powerful – or perhaps they saw, and simply chose not to act.

He finally wandered home, and tripped three old men, a mother and her child, and two common men carrying a beautifully carved wooden table – it shattered as it hit the ground.

With one last laugh, he strode into his parents’ house – and froze, as his sister turned and looked directly at him.

She laughed, for she was only five, and his parents glanced in his direction to see what had caused this – but like the others in the streets, they could not see him. None could, save the fair-eyed child.

His sudden joy was swept away, and he felt despair building back up within him – and anger. He crept closer to his family, and his sister continued to laugh. He could tell by the confusion on their faces that his parents could not see him – and couldn’t stop him, if he decided to rid himself of the only one left to disturb his private world. He lifted one hand, reaching out for her – she was only five years old. It would be as easy as taking a breath.

He stood like that, hand out-stretched, for a dozen heart-beats… then he turn, and fled into the darkest holes of the city. He couldn’t bring himself to do it. He didn’t have the will or the courage.

Not yet.

Three days passed, and he lurked in the shadowy alleys at the city’s heart. He saw cruel men walking there, and once he saw a man stabbed and left to die in the middle of the street. He didn’t fear them, though – they could not see him. He stole what food he needed, and a blanket in which to sleep, and he sat and shivered in that alley as three days went by, and three nights… and he watched the Moon dwindling with every one.

On the third night, he left the city, and returned to the hill he had been at before. He saw the devil’s shadowy form appear, and it too could see him fully. Three things saw him that night – his sister, the spirit of a devil, and the Moon floating through the sky.

“You gave me a wish,” he said, and the devil’s blazing eyes focused on where he stood.

“I can give you another,” it answered, smiling its clean white smile.

“No one can stop me from stealing food, or gems, or clothes… but there is one thing I can’t take. Give me the power to take it.”

The devil’s smile grew even larger, and the boy felt his heart go cold and hard, and he knew his wish had been granted.

He returned to the city. He returned to his parents’ house, and he entered his sister’s room, where the young child blissfully slumbered away.

And as he looked upon her, he could see a glowing spark within her, the tiny light that made up all she was, her joy, her laughter, her light… and he reached out, and grabbed it, and took it into himself. The child gave out one, last, soft breath… and the light faded, and he walked away.

As he left, however… they say he felt that which he had taken begin to burn. He had not expected it – and certainly the devil, likely, had not either. But the spark may have been taken from the chid, but it still carried all the glorious light it had been before, and now it burned within the cold, dark heart the devil had gifted him with.

He fled the city, and this time searched out the deepest, darkest cave he could find, fleeing into the underground tunnels and labyrinths beneath the land. In a place miles from light, and hope, and life, he collapsed to the floor, screaming, as he felt the light and the shadow warring within him.

And when the light grew stronger, and burned brighter, he felt remorse for all the things he had done – the murder, the thefts, and even the casual cruelty he had shown his parents and all others. And when the shadows dwarfed the light, and froze within him, he felt the certainty that he stood alone in the world, and he alone had to find the power to choose his path.

Many nights passed, and he finally left the cave. Shortly, he found himself once again upon the same hill, staring up wistfully at the sky. After a time, he felt the devil stir, and it approached him as it heard him sigh.

“You still do not seem content. Would you like another wish?”

He stood, and faced the spirit. He glanced again at the Moon, which once more blazed at its fullest, and he let the longing and jealousy show forth upon his face, until finally returning the devil’s gaze.  “Yes… one wish more. Can you grant it?”

The devil smiled, for it knew that upon a third wish, the boy’s soul would belong to it, and it could slither into his body and work true horrors ni the world of man once more. “Of course, master. Tell me your desire.”

Again the boy raised his head, looking into the sky. “I can take anything upon this earth, but yet some things remain out of my grasp. Give me the power to truly steal anything I desire.”

The devil’s smile grew, and the boy knew his wish had been granted – and then, swift as sin, he reached out and plucked out its soul and tore it to shreds. He felt its death wail wash over him, but the light burning within held strong, and he was untouched. Then he stepped into the shadowy form it had left behind, and wrapped it around himself, in shadow and darkness and the cold color black, and even the Moon could no longer spy him upon the ground.

And then, it is said, he walked into the city, unseen and unheard, and set to righting his wrongs. He held the devil’s power, now, and more besides, and he restored food to those who he had taken it from, and healed those who had been injured when he had knocked them down, and repaired the beautifully carved wooden table… and then he came to his parents’ house, and the wrong he knew he could not heal.

But to his surprise, he saw a dim light in his sister’s room, and as he entered, he saw his parents kneeling beside her bed. There her body slumbered, and he could see her ever so faintly drawing breath. Here she had lain for days on the verge of death, her spirit taken away, her body lingering on – preserved, perhaps, by the health her family was blessed with.

And though none could see it, the boy smiled, and he breathed out the light he had swallowed, and let it fall back into the girl, who opened her eyes and smiled back at him, for he no longer needed her light to show him the way.

Then he left, for he was no longer a boy, but something far more. He no longer needed her light, for he felt his own spark burning within, cloaked in shadow and darkness and the cold color black, tempered in the long cold nights in the dark places of the earth. And he walked through the city, for though he had righted what wrongs he had done, he knew his task was not yet done – and here and there he averted small disasters, and turned aside evil intents, and did small works of good beneath the light of the moon.

His name was lost long ago, but though none have seen him as more than the barest shadow or the slightest whisper of night, they say he still walks the world to this day. Many whisper prayers to him, and those who seek redemption hold him in highest regard… but the deeds his does are chosen by him alone.

He is a boy no longer.

He is the one called Honor in the Night.

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