Kiyomi returned to Higo with her father to meet with Kicuchi Aritaka. Aritaka was the younger brother to Kicuchi Takefusa, who was daimyo or master of his province. Aritaka longed to be his brother's equal and had become cruel and intolerant of all outside influence. He viewed Japan as blessed by the creator and supreme to all. As a result, Aritaka was interested arming himself with information about the world beyond Japan and in knowing what beliefs the European traders held. Kyomi's father met with Aritaka at his fortress, a single dwelling surrounded by wooden palisades, built for defense against an ever-growingly hostile Mongol neighbor. It would be another few hundred years before towered structures of beauty would grace the different provinces.
Aritaka and Kyomi's father lingered over tea, where Aritaka listened to tales of the conversation with Alberto, as well as all the other happenings in Goryeo. Kyomi's father told of how honest the trader had been, and spoke of the discussion he had with Alberto about his choice to live a godly life and to spread the gospel of someone called Jesus Christ. Alberto had no idea that he had sealed his fate with such a narrow statement. What Alberto had seen as a mission, Aritaka would now view as the ultimate threat. Aritaka saw the idea of spreading "the gospel" as Westerners pushing his religiously curious emperor brother towards expanding the boundaries of hi province.
Aritaka ordered assassins to fall upon the port city of Byuklando, and to eliminate all outsiders trading there. He held firm to his belief that the outsiders were, in some way, driving the emperor's expansionist ideals. He believed if he struck a blow to the port city, it would send a signal throughout China that any ideas of spreading Western influences would cease.
Aritaka's assassins were an ancient breed of mercenaries who lived in an encampment in the foothills surrounding the Mt. Aso mountain chain. The master of this band of ninja was one Yamashita Masahiro, who had handpicked his warriors from throughout Japan, all accepting discipleship as an honor. They would each give up their worldly longings, lives, and loves to take the mark of his clan. Secrecy was imperative to become a disciple, and leaking any word of the order of Yamashita would earn a swift beheading.
Yamashita was, in his own mind, an honorable and just man. Those he had chosen for his order were of the same mind. He stood before his disciples and delivered the decree of Aritaka, the man to whom he had at one time sworn allegiance. Aritaka had not always been so power hungry, nor had he always been so blind to outside influence, but with power comes pride, and with pride comes ignorance. Aritaka longed to surpass his elder brother in fame and clan ranking.
Yamashita appeared to be in his mid-thirties, but his oldest disciple, now 157, knew better. There is no history as to how old Yamashita was when he became master, nor how old he was when he was turned, but he was the oldest of his kind left in Japan. Since he would go to his death if ordered, knowing would have mattered little to him.
Yamashita was Kyuketsuki, or vampire, though at that time in history the word did not exist. Instead, they were known as the Obake, a mystical clan of shape shifters. He was, in this form, of average height and weight, and all lean rippling muscle with jet black hair. He wore black silken pants, a black sash, and black tabi. His torso was always bare and as chiseled as a statue carved in stone, each sinew outlined by the wrapping of the next. He had worked his entire life, devoting it to Bushido, the way of the warrior. He bore the character of blood tattooed on his bare chest in black ink, as did all his order. It was, after all, blood that gave them sustenance and the eternity they called life.
The vampire Obake were able to take the form of any person whose life essence they drained. Their natural identity was often unknown until death. Along with the victims' images, all their memories, understandings of life, and language were assimilated at the time of draining, which allowed an Obake to serve as the ultimate assassin. He or she could kill someone, become that someone, and ultimately live his or her life as that someone for at least the next few years or until people realized the Obake was not aging. The Obake would then assume another identity and just move on in time.
Yamashita had been around for so many years that all those who knew him at his turning had long ago disappeared. Trying to kill him just to reveal his identity would be pointless. At his stage in life, he had taken or turned many of the finest martial artists known to man. Many challenged, but none survived.
Outside of the order, vampire commonly hunted vampire. Though humans made tasty snacks, there was little to learn from a mortal, whereas draining another vampire who possessed a century's worth of knowledge would leave one stronger and wiser. It was not uncommon for vampire to stalk vampire or to lie in wait to take one or two by surprise. The order was a rarity, having so many vampires living in harmony, bound by loyalty. Outside of the clan, vampires rarely traveled with more than one companion, and the second was almost always sired by the first. More than one companion made temptation and thirst for knowledge a two-headed snake.
Turning a newborn is difficult. Having been inflicted with the bite of a vampire, turning is unavoidable, as the process begins immediately, venom sweeping through the veins of the victim, killing who was, and making who is to come. The only ways to destroy infected newborns are decapitation of the bitten infants or cremation of their bodies during transformation. Vampires, while they do hunt more frequently at night, are not bound by daylight or nightfall. They promote the rumors of their weakness during daylight, allowing them to mingle among their prey anonymously. Who would suspect a person they knew, walking in daylight, to be a vampire? All other myths of how to kill, deter, or repel them are equally welcomed, allowing them closer access to prey who then deem themselves protected. Some vampires actually enjoy the aroma and flavor of garlic.
Vampires, for the most part, appear as normal as any mortal, save for the lack of aging or death. They eat, drink, and enjoy the finer delicacies of life just as any mortal does. Blood is only required in small doses, though once a vampire opens a vein, he or she might finish off the victim. They can choose a life of blood, but this ultimately leads to their demise; even as they grow stronger, they become so addicted to blood that they ultimately feed themselves into a trap.
Yamashita blindly accepted his orders from Aritaka, and the clan set sail aboard their own fleet of small swift boats for Byuklando. On the day of their arrival, the little ships dropped their sails and held position just out of sight of land, awaiting nightfall. The clan grew anxious knowing that soon their appetites would be whetted by the blood of any who got in the way of their mission. The sun dropped beyond the horizon, as gulls glided toward their nesting sites in the trees along the shore, and a blood red moon rose into the early evening sky as the boats closed on land with near-silent oars. Soon the shores of Byuklando would be covered in bodies. The gulls would feast well upon the flesh of the fallen.
Yamashita's clan fell on the unsuspecting town with merciless intent. The order moved ashore slowly, taking first the port's guards and shifting into their forms, so as not to be recognized by anyone in the streets. The bodies were beheaded after draining to prevent transformation into vampire. The order, having assumed local identities, cast the decapitated bodies into the surf, where ernes and shark feasted upon that which was left swirling in the waves.
Yamashita assumed the identity of the local drunk. He had to admit that the alcohol level in his blood was high enough for him to feel the sake in his system, but he was not displeased with the taste, having been known to partake of the drink from time to time himself. He stumbled up the road singing one of the many songs that he had taken in from the drunk's essence and positioned himself outside of Alberto's home waiting for the fear to set in. The only thing that tasted better than wine in the blood of one's prey was a fresh dose of adrenaline. Yamashita found that fear was often the perfect ingredient to prepare his favorite meal, so he would allow the fires to start, the smoke to fill the air, and the screams to set the ambiance for his dinner.
The scent of blood and death filled the air, increasing the frenzy of the Obake. Fires took hold on the outskirts of the village as the clan moved ever closer to Alberto's home. Yamashita felt the veins in his neck pulsing with anticipation as he watched the sky fill with smoke and ash as the night sky turned to flames of orange dancing against plumes of grey smoke. Yamashita tapped his fingers against his knees as the thirst grew within him. Like a lion, lying in wait for the perfect moment to leap into action and consume his prey, Yamashita waited. He stopped tapping, now clenching his fist. The time had come to take action, and closing his eyes, Yamashita imagined the taste of blood as if he were already slurping it across his lips and savoring it across his tongue.