Five samurai stood impassively, trying to ignore the cold rain which fell incessantly from the midnight sky as their quarry approached. With features set grimly and traveling clothes soaked through, they were a striking contrast to the soft-toned and delicate woman who approached them from the eastern woods, her dainty parasol somehow protecting her from the unrelenting downpour.

Her demeanor bore all the hallmarks of a courteous and educated noblewoman—albeit taking a nighttime stroll through a driving storm—but the stony samurai noticed how her feet never seemed to quite touch the ground and her dress remained dry and calm even in the face of blustery winds. Whatever suspicions they had of her otherworldly nature from conversations with a fearful local populace, seeing her walk unimpeded toward the town as if on a sunny summer stroll, solidified them.

“Honorable lady,” the blue-clad Tortoise samurai stepped forward, the de facto voice of the group due to his comfort with political situations both high and low. He gave a slight bow in reverence—it was never advisable to be disrespectful to a spirit, even one causing mischief—and introduced himself. “I am Kasuga Debu, and we wish to speak.”

“Of course, Debu-san,” the ephemeral woman replied with a smile before mirroring his bow, her voice light and clear against the driving rain. “How may I be of service tonight?”

“We understand that you have attended the lord of this village every night for months now, keeping him from even an hour of sleep. This has become disastrous to the health of the entire community,” he stated simply, factually. Their investigations left no room for doubt that the lord’s perpetual wakefulness directly lead to the town’s steady decline over the past seasons.

“I only provide him what he wants,” she replied, head tilting beneath her pastel covering. “Is not a lord deserving of that which he desires?”

“My lady,” Debu bowed again, giving himself a moment to think. “It is far for me to decide what a lord does and does not deserve,” he evaded the question. “We have been called to look upon and assist the community as a whole, and have found that your distractions are harmful to the people here.”

One of his companions behind him inhaled sharply through clenched teeth. Having spent her life studying the relationship between spirits and the mortal world, she knew few entities would appreciate being called “harmful” or their machinations “distractions.” Spirits were manifestations of individual ideas, and even the most cruel did not think of themselves in such negative or dismissive terms.

“The lord has a powerful need, a desire to stave off the demons of his dreams for as long as possible. Too long was he tormented by that which he sees while sleeping, and his yearning called to me. It calls to me still, and I am happy to answer his summons.”

“Your business with the lord is of little concern to us,” Debu began explaining, warned to tread lightly by his companion’s clear reaction. “What does concern us is the result of the lord’s sleepless nights. The peasants lack direction and focus. The fields lay untended and taxes are unpaid. There is much worry about the future of the village, and how they are to weather the next season without guidance.”

“Is survival their desire?” the spirit asked, raising an eyebrow, showing sudden interest.

Debu looked back to his companions. They had surmised the Lady was a spirit of needs and wants, feeding on the aims and hopes of mortals for her own sustenance. Human morality and ethics had as little bearing on her as they would upon the wind or tides. His mind raced with ways to deflect the spirit from continued interference in the small town when her honeyed voice interrupted him.

“Or perhaps this is what you desire, Debu-san.” She looked at him, into him, through the stoic exterior impressed upon all samurai. He could feel her watching the very beating of his heart.

“There is another,” he rasped, his mouth having gone uncomfortably arid. “Another who wants far more than any in this place.”

She lifted an eyebrow, interested. Several of his companions’ narrowed, suspicious. Debu had managed to wind his way through many difficult and convoluted social situations, though his methods didn’t always meet the standards of honor and nobility with which they were accustomed.

In his mind’s eye he pictured Yasuki Kage, a bitter trade rival whose smuggling empire matched his own. They constantly butted heads over control of the region’s underground, all out of sight of polite company like Debu’s samurai companions, standing warily in the chilling downpour.

He desires much, Debu thought, hoping the fantastical spirit could read his mind. He has aims far larger than any small village lord, far larger than any in my group.

She pursed her ruby lips, weighing his suggestion, turning her attention to his fellow samurai. “Do you all accept this offering?”

One of his companions resisted the urge to grimace. “I trust Debu in all such matters,” she lied to herself. The rest nodded with quiet reservation, not willing to put to voice the fact that they didn’t know exactly what Debu had promised.

The woman smiled broadly, which elated Debu in ways with which he was not altogether comfortable. “A compact is made,” she purred, before turning to walk away. Pausing, she half-looked over her shoulder to the collection of samurai. “I will see each of you again.”

Most of the normally stoic nobles resisted the urge to shudder at her declaration. As she began walking back up the path toward the forest, she seemed to blur, growing indistinct and amorphous against the foggy downpour before all trace of her was gone.

“Debu, what have you done?” a sharp-tongued companion asked once they were alone again.

“What was necessary.”

Header image found on an unnamed Pinterest board, photographer unknown.