Long, long ago, the great god Susanoo encountered a grieving family. The family had been ravaged by an eight-headed serpent that had eaten seven of their eight daughters and would soon return for the last. Susanoo agreed to defeat the monster, but in return he desired the eighth daughter’s hand in marriage. The family quickly accepted the god’s demands. Susanoo transformed the girl into a comb he wore in his hair during the fight to keep her by his side and bring him courage and power during the fight.
Susanoo prepared eight vats of sake. He placed each vat behind a fence with eight gates. When the serpent came for the girl, it push one head through each gate to drink from the barrels of sake. Susanoo closed all the gates at once and trapped the beast. With the beast ensnared, Susanoo chopped off each head and the serpent’s tail. Within the tail he discovered a brilliant sword which he gave to his sister, the sun goddess Amaterasu.
At least, that was the story told to me by the priestess who gave me my sword. The tsurugi sword appeared to be made from a single piece of black metal with a circular hand guard and a plain blade. Aside from the near constant headaches and the occasional hallucinations, living in feudal Japan wasn’t too bad. Better than some of the other places I’d been trapped thanks to the malfunctioning time machine, such as Rome or the American Civil War. Since receiving the sacred sword, I’d wandered the countryside as a mostly mute swordsman on account of not speaking Japanese. No job was too great. No task was too simple or menial. I did everything from cleaning stables to slaying demons. Sometimes I’d get lucky and deal with someone who spoke English, almost always a Portuguese trader. I considered myself the Gentleman Swordsman, working mostly in exchange for food and shelter.
Through a combination of selfless service and sleeping with his daughter, I angered a local warlord. I heard the warlord hired mercenaries to kill me, but I remained mostly unconcerned. I walked around in a WWII flak jacket and helmet while the locals used arrows and spears. I assumed I’d be fine. One night, while riding my horse through a field, several dozen men surrounded me. A massive spear pounded into my horse’s head. I leaped from the dying animal as it collapsed in the high grass. I firmly grasped the hilt of my sword. I plucked a weed from the waist-high field and clamped it between my teeth. I said, “You fuckers have no clue who you’re dealing with.”
Hundreds more men appeared from the woodline at the edge of the field. Nearly a thousand tiny flames sparked to life in the twilight as warriors lit arrows aflame. A wall of fire soared through the sky. The arrows crashed down maybe one hundred feet from me, turning the field into an inferno. I frantically swung my tsurugi, cutting the grass around me. Waves of blue light danced from the blade to speed up the process, but the massive pyre drew closer. I slashed violently at the grass, desperate to escape the blaze. With my next swing, a massive gust of wind exploded out of the sword like a sonic boom. The burst of air blew out a large portion of the flames.
I examined the blade for a long moment amidst the chaos. The priestess had said the sword’s strength could arise from necessity and its true power from love. Clearly I needed the blade’s strength now. Concentrating on the sword and wind, I slashed at another section of the fire. Another explosive gust of wind erupted from the blade and blew out flames. I hopped around, shooting bursts of air from the sword until the fire died down.
I softly swung the sword in upward arcs from many angles. Gentle breezes came forth, mimicking the sword’s movement. The small winds charge the fire in the field, forcing it to grow into a massive tower of flames. The winds from my sword pushed the fire toward the treeline, engulfing the attacking army.
I sheathed the sword and walked quietly on my way. A horrible sound and vibration rang from the chronometer on my wrist. I crossed my arms over my chest and said, “Here we go again,” as blue light swallowed me.
With a blue blaze, I launched across the sky into a field. I had stopped keeping track of how much the device tossed me about the timestream. Although, it seemed to be happening more frequently the last few weeks. Brushing myself off, I found a dirt road and followed it to a small town in the distance. Just outside the village, I stumbled upon a lone farmhouse bathing the path in warm light from the windows. I walked around the perimeter of the home a few times before creeping up to the back of the house.
Peering through the window, I spied a table covered with tools, knives, chunks of meat, shattered bones, and copious amounts of blood. A grizzly man wearing an apron hacked at meat, cleaving it into smaller pieces. A woman walked in behind the man and watched him work. She asked the man something in what sounded vaguely like Italian. The butcher responded with a long rant while gesturing at the meat. As the man rambled on, he dragged a carcass onto the table. The bloody flesh was clearly that carved torso of a small child.
I pushed away from the window. I wanted to scream, but the words wouldn’t come. Instead, I ran away. I tucked my chin to my chest and sprinted into the darkness. Seconds later, I slammed into an old man, throwing us both to the dirt. I apologized and helped the old man up. I dusted off his ornate red and white robes and handed him the golden staff he’d dropped.
“Oh, man,” I said, voice shaking, “I’m really glad I ran into you. We’ve got to find the police or something. We’ve got to get someone to that house as quickly as possible.”
“Calm,” the old man said. “I am not concerned with the house at this moment. I came to investigate the blue fire in the sky.”
“Well,” I said, “That was me. Long story, really. There are more pressing matters. The people in that house are cannibals eating children.”
Ignoring what I said, the old man asked, “Do you have a name?”
“I’m Cletus. That’s really not important right now.”
“I’m Nikolaos of Myra,” the old man said. “Now, what is the problem with the house.”
“I already told you. Some guy cut up a bunch of kids and is going to eat them. We have to do something.”
“Yes,” Nik agreed, “I can feel a horrible darkness within that home. Come, child, let us go check on this butcher.”
I followed Nik back toward the house. “You are aware that there’s a guy who just diced little kids into pork chops in there, right? Yet you want to go to the house? You can sense something dark, but you want to go towards it. You’re insane. It’s best to avoid weird shit, not seek it out.”
“I do not speak Inglese well,” Nik said, “but think I understand. Perhaps I am strange to go to this house when I know it to be dangerous. Perhaps I simply feel a duty to help others.”
“And if this dark presence tried to kill you, what then?” I asked. “I’m not going to save you. I’m tired of fixing other people’s problems. I just want to go home.”
“You claim to be tired of helping, yet you too return to this house with me,” Nik said. “If the need arises, I can stop whatever we face without your aid.”
He had a point. I knew cannibals filled the house, and I still found myself heading back to help. “How will you stop the darkness?”
“Magic,” Nik said calmly as we moved off into the butcher’s lawn.
“They call me Wonder-maker,” Nik said.
Nikolaos knocked on the door of the house. A few moments later, the short, grizzly butcher greeted us at the door.
“What brings you at this hour, bishop?” the butcher asked, somehow in English.
Magic, I thought.
“You know why I have come,” Nikolaos said with a strange glint in his eyes.
The butcher fidgeted with the tails of his shirt for a moment. He slumped his head and shoulders down in shame as he said, “Yes, bishop, I know why you are here.”
“Bring them to me,” Nik said with a soft, fatherly voice.
“It is too late,” the butcher said with a wild grin. “I’ve already cut them up! They’re meat now.”
“Bring them to me,” Nik repeated.
The butcher laughed maniacally as he disappeared into the house. A moment later, he returned with a large wooden barrel filled with fresh chunks of meat and salt. “They’re curing,” the butcher said gingerly. “I’m going to make ham out of them. I’ll sell the meat to the village.”
Nikolaos raised his left hand. A blast of magnificent, white light shot from his palm, knocking the butcher several feet away into the grass. Nik knelt down by the barrel. Holding his right hand over the bloody mess inside, Nikolaos began to murmur. White light poured from his hand and filled the barrel. The next moment, three young boys climbed out of the container and ran away.
I felt the hair on the back of my neck raise as a chill rushed down my spine. I turned to search behind me for any danger. A mass of black smoke rushed violently from the butcher’s mouth and eyes. The smoke swirled savagely in the air, twisting into a humanoid shape. Over a dozen black wings sprouted from the smoke creature’s back. Countless eyeballs filled the air around it. All those eyes turned to lock onto me.
“Hey, Nik,” I said as I tapped the old bishop on the shoulder with one hand and drew my tsurugi with the other. “We’ve got a problem, Nik.”
The bishop rose to his feet and faced the monster. “This is no problem, Cletus,” Nikolaos said. “This is merely an annoyance.”
Nikolaos held his staff high in the air and muttered enchantments. Beams of white light sprang from the staff and engulfed the creature. As the light trapped the beast, it wailed so eerily that I could feel the sound in my bones.
“While I’m holding it, boy,” Nik said, “do away with it.”
I slashed the air with my sword as hard as I could. A powerful gust of wind combined with a wave of blue energy erupted from the tip of the sword. The blast struck the monster and became a vortex of horrid wind and energy that ripped the smoke monster apart.
“Good job, my son,” Nik said as he lowered his staff.
“All in a day’s work,” I said while sheathing my sword.
“You’ll be on your way soon,” Nikolaos said. “Just remember, Cletus. Never forget who you are. Regardless of what you tell yourself, you care about others.”
“Nah,” I said. “People are awful and manipulative. I just want to go home.”
Nik said, “I’ll be putting something nice in your stocking this year. Maybe it will help you realize the good you do. Be careful on your journey. Know that home is never too far from where you are.”
“And what will you be doing, Nik?” I asked.
“Well,” Nikolaos said, “I know a very poor farmer who can’t afford a dowry for his three daughters. The only work for young, unmarried girls is not so good. I’ve got three bags of gold to toss through a window tonight. Of course I’ll throw a little extra in to pay for the broken window. I also have a bag full of gifts for all the village children that have remembered to wash their boots and leave them outside.”
“You’re a weird old man,” I said as my chronometer began to whir.
The next moment, I disappeared in a blaze of blue light.