Two men crested the mountain-pass of Sōzō-ryoku as the blood-orange light of the rising sun fell like blinding spears upon the twisted, leafy enclosure surrounding, whereupon there came a haunting cry from the shrouded darkness of the mangled, mist-bound wood.
“I don’t like this place,” Haru Fujiyoshi declared, more to himself than to his companion, he, a tall powerfully built man, with wild red hair, banded plate and a fearsome brand about his waist.
Ayumu Akechi, slender and stylishly garbed, assessed the visage of the bigger man with serene amusement, “Your skiddishness belies your frame, my friend.”
“I feel as if I’m being watched.”
“That is because you are. Listen.”
Both paused and surveyed the circular clearing of the pass, where stood, barely visible through the mist, to the left, a old shrine, and to the right, a cluster of odd-angling rocks, like the shattered and fossilized blade of some ancient giant. Shortly, a guttural hooting emanated from the trees and grew swiftly louder. Increasing in intensity, savagery and volume with every second passed.
The travelers tensed as shadowy forms—the source of the sound—pierced the pall.
Monkeys, large and angular and wrathful, bounded from tree to tree, some dropping down from the boughs and pounding the ground in the itinerants’ direction.
Eyes wide. Canines bared.
Haru, gripping the handle of his longsword, began withdrawing the blade but was halted by Ayumu’s outstretched left arm.
“No need for that,” he stated firmly, removing a flare from his coat with his bandaged right hand. He lit the fuse and brandished the effulgent artifact before the baying, hairy mob, who shrieked and drew back from the clearing into the sanctuary. The simians snarled as the man approached and when he passed the shrine in the middle of the clearing they yelped and fled into the black heart of the wood.
Ayumu turned to his companion with a smile.
“They fear the fire because they can’t control it.”
Continued in §.02