Feudal Japan, known by its isolationism or Sakoku for 214 years was established to stop the growing colonial and religious influence of Spain and Portugal in the archipelago. But long before that, the country had been in a warring state and social upheavals during the Sengoku period. Ezo, now known as Hokkaido, especially its southern parts, had become a place to settle for the Wajins, mainlanders, to avoid battles, but it also turned into a series of conflicts and revolts between them and the Ainu of the North, the original settlers of the land.
In the early1500s, the Miyamoto family, one of those who settled early in the South of Ezo, was shunned by the people and feudal lord because the head of the family, Miyamoto Saitō, refused to commit seppuku after his master died. He reasoned that he saw his master’s killer from a distance, and he must avenge him before taking his own life. However, his fellow samurais and retainers did not believe him as they were surrounded by forests. His samurai status was degraded to a rōnin and they lost their lands and fief. For several decades, the main family lived quietly in the suburbs and endured and lived in shame brought by Saitō’s status and were often the subjects of taunting and ridicule by neighboring villages.
A century later, the main family of the clan continued living quietly in a humble house near the port of Hakodate. Miyamoto Shōtarō, the current head, worked as a merchant trader, with the help of his two sons: Shō and Ryō. Albeit contented with their simple life, the two would always wonder why they were hated by the people.
Shō lowered his head while walking through the village on their way home. “Father, why do they show us contempt every time we pass by their houses?”
“Is it because we are living in the outskirts?” asked Ryō.
Shōtarō’s eyes softened as he looked at his clueless sons. He did not want them to know the clan’s history and would like to continue living discreetly. He knew the family’s name would only bring nothing but pain and shame, and he was sorry that they had to inherit those. However, what he was worried about the most was their unusual chikara or energy. His forefathers knew that something was different from them and used Saitō’s ronin status as a reason to live in seclusion.
“This power shall not be known outside the household,” Shōtarō’s mother would always tell him when he was made aware of what he could do.
He did not know when or how or from whom it had started, but he knew they were one of the descents of modification . . . of a lone line of evolution. As his father would say, kamigami no riki—they possess the power of the gods.
It was also the reason why his wife, Emiko, died. During the night of her labor with Ryō, the elder who assisted her witnessed a horrifying sight—Emiko’s eyes slowly changed from brown to a hazel-like color as she gave birth to her second son.
The elder’s feeble body trembled as she looked at Emiko. “B-Bakemono . . . (Monster . . .)”
Worn out, Emiko reached for her son in the arms of the elder. “M-my son . . . give me my son . . .”
Still dazed and scared by her eyes, the elder started backing away while chanting some prayers. Shōtarō just stood at the side of his wife, unsure of what to do, until the elder refused to let their newborn son go.
“Monster!” she yelled as she attempted to leave the house, but he was faster. Shōtarō forced the door close, but before he could get their son, he felt an intense pressure and killing intent from his wife.
Her hazel eyes turned more and more to shades of green as her expression turned cold. “Give me back my son.”
All of a sudden, the elder’s face was frozen in a silent scream. She let go of their son and Shōtarō immediately caught him. When he looked up, he was horrified when he saw the elder floating a little while holding her neck, as if someone invisible was choking her. He turned to his wife’s direction and she was staring at the elder with controlled hatred. He knew it was her doing.
He tried to break her from the trance but to no avail. He could only watch as the life drained from the elder’s eyes while Emiko’s started shedding tears of blood.
That night, two lives were claimed by the power of the gods.
“Ah!” Ryō exclaimed when they arrived home. “Perhaps it is because of father’s peculiar eyes?”
Indeed, they were peculiar. Shōtarō had light brown eyes, but almost hazel now, as well as his mother and father, and probably most of his predecessors. A chill ran down his skin when he remembered how his wife’s eyes changed that night and how it became the cause of her death.
He felt the curiosity in his sons’ eyes. He knew they would be different, too, and would inherit whatever curse or power their bloodline had.
Shōtarō knelt before his sons and gave them a stern yet worried expression. “You shall never talk about our eyes’ peculiarity to anybody. Hear me?”
Shō and Ryō knew their father was unusual. He did not seem to be proud and would always lower his head whenever someone would talk to him. Still, they were thankful that they had several patrons who buy their goods despite their father’s stiff politeness.
“Do you think father has a foreign blood?” Ryō asked his older brother while they were lying on their bed.
Shō met his brother’s gaze. “Because of his eyes?”
Ryō nodded. “People are saying we have tainted the code of honor. I wonder if it is because father and our predecessors have foreign blood.”
“Maybe,” Shō murmured.
Wajins or any people from their land were not allowed to marry an outsider. Besides, they were under Sakoku, and having a relationship with a foreigner was comparable to treason. However, their family was never proven to be harboring any outsider, nor marrying one. But from the perspective of the people, now they could somehow understand the hatred of the people toward them if those assumptions were true.
As they grew older, they became more conscious of the animosity they were receiving. Despite Shōtarō telling them not to mind it and continue living quietly, it was difficult to ignore the hurtful words thrown at them. What was worse was their father’s health continue to deteriorate but people would not stop sending ill will to him.
Ryō, who loved his father dearly, started resenting his behavior, as well as the people’s treatment to them. He could not understand why his father would just accept everything even if it was already unreasonable and unfair, but Shō would always tell him to understand everyone’s perspective.
“Hate is a strong word, brother,” Shō told him. “It corrupts even the nicest people and inflicts nothing but pain.”
“But those people are also throwing hate to us, aren’t they? Why can I not do the same, brother?”
Shō smiled and adjusted the small deer they managed to hunt and kill in the forest on his shoulder. “I know it is hard, but father told us not to hate them. Father is a kind man, and he wants us to be like that, too.”
Ryō swung his knife onto its holster and picked up his face. “Kindness is not always right, brother,” he muttered. “Too much and the greedy and the wicked will take advantage of it. Father is kind, but also naïve.”
They came home to see their father struggling to even get up. Shō, who was nineteen, was undoubtedly the head of the family who had to take care of his decrepit father and younger brother. He understood where Ryō was coming from, and sometimes wanted to talk back to people, too, but he wanted to know the root of their hatred. He wanted to learn about their family’s oddity.
That night, they were about to sleep when Shō felt something strange. Even Ryō felt it and looked at his brother in concern and confusion. There was a continuous wave of chill on their skin, as if their mind and body knew that there was a looming danger. But what surprised them the most was when their father showed up in their room, looking horrified and worried.
“Father! Why are you—”
“Quick,” he said, cutting off Ryō. “Leave this place.”
They were about to ask what it was all about when Shō felt a piercing pain in his head and eyes. He clutched his head and closed his eyes, hoping for the throbbing to stop, but it became worse. He only realized he was wailing in pain when he heard his brother crying his name.
His eyes fluttered open and suddenly he could see better . . . no, not just better . . . he could see everything . . . and he could see through everything.
Beads of sweat formed on his forehead as he tried to make sense of what was happening to him. But he didn’t have the time to get his bearings because he saw several villagers heading to their house with torches and blades on their hands.
“F-father,” he called. “People . . . there are people heading here.”
Ryō looked at him with a confused face. “What are you saying, brother? Are you alright?”
Instead of answering, Shōtarō’s expression darkened. “It has manifested,” he murmured.
Shōtarō pulled his sons away from their room. Few seconds later, they could make out the number of people who were standing right outside their house from their silhouettes. Shōtarō knew it would end up like this, but he continued hoping that the villagers would just let them live in isolation. Years of regrets started surfacing. For once, he felt like he should have told his sons the real reason why they should not associate themselves to ordinary people.
The people started chanting ‘monsters’ as they demanded to kill themselves for the sake of the peace in the village. For them, they were the reason for every problem and tragedy the village encountered. Because their predecessor defiled the code of honor, they would bring nothing but misfortune and would always be blamed for it.
They started throwing the torches at their rundown house. Shō and Ryō were appalled that people could do this to them. That they could kill a family just because they were viewed as bad luck.
Never in their lives they had seen their father cry, but this time, silent tears streamed Shōtarō’s face as he hugged his sons with his frail arms.
Ryō couldn’t believe it but in his heart, he was yearning for this moment. “Father?”
Shōtaro gently pulled away and took the prized possession of his clan—his ancestor Saitō’s katana. Shō and Ryō flinched as they felt the change in their father’s presence.
“F-Father?” Shō called.
Shōtarō turned and the two stepped back, taken aback by his blazing eyes in the dark. “My body has turned feeble because I suppressed my chikara.”
In that moment, he understood why his predecessors died early. They restrained the power that was flowing in their body, in their blood, because they treated it as a curse. The body could not handle it and would corrupt it from the inside. If only they knew how to handle it properly. If only they had embraced and learned how to control it. His wife died because of the sudden release of that power during her weakened state. And he knew he would die this time, too.
He unsheathed the katana and turned toward his sons, a forlorn smile on his face. “The truth is, I have always hated humans, but I do not want you to share the same sentiment because not all of them are bad.” A single tear fell from his right eye. “No matter how hard it is, live well, Shō, Ryō. Live and prove that it is not a sin to be alive just because we are different.”
With a swift swing of his left hand, their shadows expanded. The next thing they knew, they were already falling into it.
That night, a monster was born, but not from Shōtarō’s feat, and would be known in the next few years as the Shinigami—the grim reaper.
Shō was in a stupor when he opened his eyes. He remembered hitting his head on a rock while trying to secure his brother’s safety. His surveyed the surroundings and realized they were in the forest. His brother was lying a few meters away from him and he scrambled his way to him.
He shook his brother’s body and heaved a sigh of relief when he regained consciousness a few seconds later. He helped him sit up.
“W-what happened—” Ryō’s body stiffened when he recalled what had transpired before passing out. “Father!”
With worried hearts, they got on their feet and struggled to find their way home. They were also thinking about what their father did and how did he do it, but Shō’s thoughts receded when he saw a horrifying sight from a distance.
He ran with urgency and his younger brother followed, the worst situation playing on Ryō’s head. They did not mind the cuts and grazes from the trees and thorns. All they could think of was their father whom they had left alone.
Shō stopped on his tracks when he saw his father’s body lying lifeless on the ground. He prayed and prayed that his vision was just giving him the thought that scared him the most, but it turned out to be real.
“Father!” cried Ryō as he ran toward Shotarō.
His heart dropped as he watched his younger brother cry in anguish. It pained him to see the cuts and stab wounds on his father’s body, but as his breath got caught in his throat when he saw the bodies sprawled a few meters from them. Four of the villagers who rallied in front of our home were dead.
He did not know how much time passed by while they were mourning for their father’s death. At the same time, they were mystified at how his eyes became amber-colored, almost gold with flecks of green, after what happened.
“We cannot allow them to see this,” Shō remarked, knowing that the villagers would paint him as a real monster and would pour scorn on him more than they had already did.
They carefully carried and buried his body at the forest, ensuring that people would not know its location. Shō was also worried how Ryō was quiet the whole time. He wanted him to rest but they could not return to their home anymore. Fortunately, the forest had enough materials to build a temporary shelter.
“We should rest for now,” he told his brother.
Ryō held their father’s katana tightly between his hands as he stared vacantly at the trees in front of them. He slowly turned to Shō’s direction.
“Brother, your eyes have changed,” he commented with a deadpan expression. “It’s lighter than usual.”
Somehow, Shō knew something had changed in him when he sensed the danger they were in few hours ago. He felt nauseous now that he could see everything clearer. And not just that, he could figure out even the minute details even in the dark and see beyond solid blocks. His perception of the surroundings also changed. It was as if his senses and awareness were heightened to the extremes. The hair on his skin bristled as realization kicked in. He had no blind spots.
Kamigami no riki. He obtained a vision and instinct equal to the gods.
Ryō drew his breath and slung the katana on his waist. He let out a snicker. “Perhaps we really are monsters. Father’s eyes. Your eyes. Even the mystery surrounding mother’s death and our clan.”
Shō could not argue. He, too, felt the same sentiment, but more than anger, he was curious about their lineage . . . their peculiarity. Thoughts lingered in his mind. Are there other people like them? Are they treated the same way? Do they possess strange abilities? How are they different from them?
Never did he think about what was outside of their land. After all, they were in the early stages of closing borders under Sakoku policy, and anyone who dared attempt to get outside was punished. However, for once, he wanted to see what the world looked like. He wanted to know the people who share the same irregularity if there are any.
“Do you want to see the world?” Shō asked.
Ryō remained impassive. “What for?”
“What if there are others like us? Don’t you want to—”
“And what if there are, brother?” he returned. “Do you think they are treated differently from us? People who are different from the normal will always be regarded as outcasts. As freaks. As monsters.”
There was a moment of silence between them. He wanted to reason that not all people share similar views, but his head began pounding painfully. Like someone was drilling a hole into his skull.
“Rest, brother,” Ryō said. “I will take the first watch.”
Shō did not argue anymore because he was exhausted from everything that had happened. He closed his eyes, hoping the pain would eventually go away, not knowing the menacing thought brewing in his brother’s head.
He woke up gasping for air.
Shō dreamed about his father’s demise and how he regretted living a pitiful life. His last words kept echoing in his mind: I should have done this from the start. I should have accepted what we are. Shō, do not follow the way I have lived my life. Live yours without regrets, son.
He was still disoriented from that terrible nightmare when he felt something odd. That was when he realized Ryō was nowhere to be found.
His heart thumped loudly, worried that something might have happened to his remaining family. “Ryō!”
Shō was about to search for him when he saw him from a distance. Dread registered on his face as he caught sight of Ryō’s state. His clothes were soaked in blood. Their father’s katana was dripping with a sinister tint of crimson. His eyes . . . they gleamed like gold in the dark. And albeit blank, he could feel their contained rage.
“What . . . what did you do, Ryō?”
Ryō stood in front of his brother and swung the blade, blood splattering on the ground. A smile grew on his face. “I continued father’s unfinished business.”
His blood ran cold after realizing what his brother had done. Anger and hatred had totally consumed him.
“Ryo, tell me . . . how many did you . . .”
“Do not worry much, brother,” he replied. “I only killed those who attacked us first.”
He, too, wanted those people to suffer the consequences of their actions, but not to this extent. Not by taking their lives. Hatred would only create more sufferings and tragedies. He feared his brother would be consumed by it and would ultimately be controlled by this destructive emotion.
“Doing this will just make them hate us more,” he said.
Ryō sheathed the katana back to its koshirae. “They do not hate us, brother.” He met his brother’s gaze and gave him a sinister smile. “They are afraid of us.”