"Mother, when's Father coming home?"
Seven-year-old Youou was lying in his bed and was about to be tucked in by his mother. Yet he wasn't sleepy at all because he was pressing to know about his father's welfare. His mother, the priestess, was about to raise the sheets with her graceful hands when she paused to weigh Youou's question carefully.
"I'm afraid I do not know, dear," she said with faintness in her voice.
Youou immediately noticed her concern. He didn't like seeing his mother so sad. "Is it because Father has to fight a lot of demons?"
"Yes." The priestess folded her hands in her lap and bent her head in a quick prayer even though she was away from the shrine. "But do not worry. I could feel the wards staying strong around the borders. Your father is doing well in the battlefield."
The boy smiled and leaned his head back against his pillow, content with his mother's reassurance. At the same time though, he wasn't really surprised. His father was the lord of Suwa Province, loved and revered by the provincial people for his warmth and kindness. It was the lord's duty to protect the people and the borders from demons and other threats.Owing to the increasing presence of enemies as of late, his father had to leave home frequently for a longer duration of time while his mother continued to pray here at home for his success as well as maintain the strong wards that fortified the province.
"That's because Father is strong!"
"Yes, he is very strong," she said, smiling. "And that is because he has the dragon spirit."
"Dragon spirit?" Youou repeated, confused. "What do you mean, Mother?"
Chuckling, his mother said, "My dear son, you should be sleeping now. I will have to tell you some other time."
"But I'm not tired, he protested, pouting. "Not when Father's away." He then furrowed his brows, bearing such a boyish, grumpy determination that unwittingly made her sigh and relent. Youou was such a stubborn child, much like his father.
"Well, alright, if it will help you sleep, then I see why not. But first, tell me what you know about dragons."
"Oh, that's easy, Mother," he said, blowing a piece of flyaway hair out of his eye. "They're everywhere watching over us and can be scary, too."
"That is certainly true," she affirmed. "Suwa's beloved guardian is the silver dragon of water that watches over the people. According to Suwanese legend, the dragon has granted its powers to the noble family line. So tell me, Youou, what is one of them?"
"Ginryuu!" he promptly said.
Youou, of course, was referring to the Suwa Family's treasure. His father had described to him the magnificence of the sword one day. The hilt was immaculately carved into the shape of a dragon's head, with its scales made with the purest of silver and its ornate eyes crimson that the heirs in the family possessed as well. Ginryuu was a precious possession that had been passed down the Suwa Family line for as long as anyone could remember, and it was said to be imbued with the strength and protective charm of the guardian dragon it was named after. As powerful and extraordinary it was, Ginryuu was only called for as a last resort to be used by the reigning lord and protector when the situation of the land was truly grave. Fortunately, in his father's lifetime so far, Ginryuu never had to be summoned.
"But Mother, what does that have to do with Father?"
"It has to do with the guardian dragon's other gift to us. Can you think what else it may be?"
Youou tried to probe into his head as best as he could, but he then shook his head. "No."
"It has to do with what you said about our great guardian."
"You mean how it protects us no matter what?"
"Yes," she said, nodding. "For not only has it granted its power in Ginryuu, but it also bestowed its strength and the desire to protect in the hearts of our ancestors - in other words, its spirit."
"Oh..." The young lord's eyes widened at the revelation of his mother's tale. "Oh, so that's why Father's so strong!"
"Yes," she said, beaming.
The boy once again had an inquisitive face. "But Mother, what happens if a dragon fails to protect?"
The priestess was stunned by her son's questions for the second time that evening. Maybe it was because he was tired, yet he was still anxious to reunite with his father, whom he loved and admired so much, that caused him to have such a terrifying idea. He waited for her to answer as patiently as he could.
"Well..." For a moment, there was a lingering trace of sadness, even fear, in her gentle eyes. "When a dragon loses something it is bound to protect, it will become furious, the likes one hopes never to see. That is why one must never take away a dragon's precious item, or else one will suffer the dragon's fury. But, Youou, I hope you are not underestimating your father's ability to protect."
"Course not, Mother," he said, regretting that he had made her worry about any doubts he had. He would never dare question his father's strength. On the contrary, he always believed him to be the very best, hoping that one day he would be just as strong when he became the lord in his father's place.
"I'm glad to hear that," his mother finally said. Any signs of concern and sadness left in her had vanished in that moment. "Now that I had told you everything you wanted to hear, it is time for you to sleep."
"Okay," he said, yawning with perfect timing. Smiling, she finished pulling the sheets up and tucked it under the boy's chin, but not before he spoke again.
"Mother, will I have the dragon spirit, too?"
"Of course, my dear," she reassured, kissing his forehead. "You are your father's son after all." With a demure smile, she gently bid him goodnight and he did likewise.
Long after she left his room, Youou fell asleep, comforted knowing that his father would be alright and that he too would inherit this dragon spirit, just like the lord and all of the heirs before him. He couldn't wait to start training with his father on sword fighting and become just as strong as him. Naturally, the dreams he had that night - and the many ones to come while he and his mother continued waiting for the beloved lord's return - were those of him being a strong guardian and warrior who protected the people he loved. He even dreamed about wielding Ginryuu and managing to save Suwa from despair.
Blood seeping. Buildings burning. Humans' screams and demons' roars echoing into the night air. His mother, impaled by a mysterious sword, lying dead in his arms. His father, gone, dismembered arm clutching onto Ginryuu. The limb, consumed, dropping the sacred blade. Nobody, nothing, left to protect because he had failed, failed.
Numbness, anguish, despair. Grief, disbelief, hallowed emptiness. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Anger...anger...
Fourteen-year-old hands wrenched Father's serpentine sword from the ground, and with Mother's body in his arms he lunged for the foul demons. Protect her body, protect his sword, no matter what.
His dragon spirit left him that tragic night.